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FOR WRITERS

Readings: Saint Mary Blue

●So, no one knows for certain when the all-clear will sound. Hence, beginning Thursday, March 16th, 2020 at 12 Noon EDST (GMT-4) I will begin reading a chapter a day every noon from my recovery novel Saint Mary Blue (Internet willing and the creek don't rise). SMB is a story of very early recovery filled with laughs, tears, warnings, and hope.

●The Zoom reading meeting code is 292-024-0794. At the end of each chapter reading there will be some time for questions and comments. Hope to see you there.
●12:00 noon (-4 GMT) beginning April 16th, Zoom 292-024-0794. Pass it on.

 

For writers, I am often asked what the point is in doing readings. Publicity is the publisher and the marketing type's business, right? That is true, and if your only reason for doing readings is publicity, this is not for you.

 

Writing is about communication. For me the main avenue of communication is between me and myself. However, there are those out there, my tribe, readers who either like my stuff or are willing to see what I've come up with communicating with whom is fun, entertaining, sometimes poignant, and serves at times to powder this shameful little remaining need for validation I have.

 

That is why, back when we had science fiction conventions, I loved doing readings. Once the Covid-19 all-clear sounds, I expect we will have science fiction conventions again. Until then, it will be readings through Zoom and other video conferencing platforms.

 

Writing is a performance art, which means waiting a long time for the applause---sometimes forever. With readings the author gets live reactions from readers, and when they laugh and cry in the right spots, it is important feedback on several levels. The writer gets to see first hand what works and what doesn't work, but most important to me is finding the readers who get and stay on my particular wavelength.

 

Writing is a very lonely occupation. It is good to have company once in awhile.

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I Have to Stay at Home, I Have All this Free Time, So What's the Holdup Now?

It couldn't be any better for struggling writers. Covid-19 and you are supposed to stay home. Can't go to work, and many are being paid just the same. On top of that will be the stimulous pop if the state governments can manage to get out of their own way. Now we can really get some writing done, right? . . . right?

 

And now comes that moment of discovery. It wasn't your spouse or your parent urging you to get a real job, it wasn't the neighbor's dog barking, it wasn't that medical condition, the kids raising hell, nor was it all those people out there who really needed your help to raise awareness of whatever. What is keeping the words from getting written now?

 

It is called "fear." Most persons know what this word means both as noun and verb. If you don't know, look it up. Some folks attempt to deal with this paralyzing emotion through acronyms: FEAR: False Events Appearing Real, or, FEAR: Fuck Everything And Run! For writers and those wanting to write, it presents itself as word-jam, sometimes referred to as "writer's block." Sometimes it takes the form of wooden, totally expressionless writing. In all of its forms it is the writer standing four-square in his or her own way. To avoid facing that truth we point to a thousand different irritants and inconveniences that are the "reasons" the words aren't getting written.

 

Fear plugs up the creative process, and there are billions of excuses for your fear, and some proven ways out of it. Robert A. Heinlein's famous cure for writer's block was to (1) pick a word, any word, and put it on the paper (or screen, nowadays); (2) pick another word that makes sense placed next to the first word; (3) pick a third word that makes sense when placed after the first two words; (4) repeat as necessary.

 

The point is to tell your little blockage that, whatever it does or wants to do, the words are going to get written nonetheless. When I began writing, I got through this blockage by assigning myself 1000 words per day. I had to get that many words on paper before I could quit, even if all I wrote was my own name, or "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." After awhile, I got bored writing nothing and began writing something.

 

The biggest fears jamming up my words were (1) Am I wasting my time? (2) What will please readers (reviewers, editors)? How can I avoid making any mistakes? You will note that none of these fears have anything to do with story telling. I have a new set of questions now. (1) Is this a character I want to know? (2) Is that character in a place I want to go? (3) Will becoming this character and bringing it through its trials and victories be sufficient reward for writing this story? If I get three "yeses," there is never a word jam.

 

Find a character you want to follow, climb into your character and its setting, live the story, and scribble down your diary notes along the way. That is the thrill and the joy of fiction writing. If all it is to you is a way to get approval and put beans on the table, you may as well be jammed or get into academic writing. They're pretty much the same thing. See, in academic writing, you show what you know. In fiction writing, you show what you feel and what you think. In academic writing you display the facts and suppositions you have collected. In fiction writing you display who and what you are. That is what makes it so scary, and what makes it such fun.

 

Thanks to the Covid-19 bug, you have the time. All you need is a character who can drag you bodily into his, her, or its story. Go write.

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White Page Worries

So I was stuck. Writing is hard work. I had a project I wanted to do, but I had already gotten a few wags of disapproval from my agent and a publisher. The fear? Is this project going to be worth my time and effort? What if it will be nothing more than a waste of time?

 

Time and effort toward what end? Success? So what is my measure of success? Money? Fame? Publication? Crowds applauding and yelling, "Yaaay, Barry!"? I had all that in the bad old days, and I call them "the bad old days" because I was dying and leaning more and more toward welcoming death. I had to change my method of writing, my means of writing, my reasons for writing, as well as my measure of success.  It worked great for many years.

 

This morning, though, the old fear came over me. "Is this project worth my time?"

 

I consulted the runes and was told once again that creation is its own reward. My job is to create the stories that move me, unattached to outcomes. That means publication, nice reviews, sales, awards are all irrelevant. Is this a story I want to create? Yes. Will the living and writing of this story be sufficient reward for writing this story? Yes. Then, the only thing left for me is to get on with it. It's good to refresh one's motivation every so often.

 

Have a good writing day.

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GETTING IN THE GROOVE

I was watching a documentary on Amazon Prime on the life and career of jazz pianist Bill Evans titled Bill Evans Time Remembered. I recommend both the documentary and the music of Bill Evans to those who appreciate magnificent jazz. Through the course of the recording describing how his music evolved entwined with the events of his life, as did many musicians and composers of the era (and now), Bill Evans got into drugs.

 

Vocalist Jon Hendricks, in Time Remembered, said, "(Bill) wanted to be able to deal with the work, but not the pain. Heroin is particularly well-suited to that."

 

Jon Hendricks's characterization of the lure of mood altering drugs to creative individuals is spot on. Tired? Have doubts? Can't seem to get a break? Comparing yourself to the success of others? The piece you're working on means reaching in deep, way beyond your soul, into dark and foreign worlds, guilt-drenched, horrific, and painful? Walking around in a constant state of loss, deprivation, loneliness, and depression?

 

Then a drug comes along, pill, powder, or potion, and it seems to make everything look, seem, and feel better. And, no, it is not simply an attraction suffered by creative men and women. Take a self-conscious school kid walking those halls, frightened by bullies, intimidated by school work, perhaps a teacher or two whose life plans hadn't worked out the way they had envisioned and takes out the frustration and bitterness on his or her students. Kids, as do all humans, register this as pain. So lots of kids get into drugs; Lots of teachers do, too, as well as doctors, nurses, those in business, professional athletes, plumbers, electricians, carpenters, millwrights, the homeless, convicts, politicians, and those in the military.

 

The title of this article is "Getting In The Groove." There is a measure of fear, fatigue, frustration, and guilt associated with every occupation, non-occupation, activity, and endeavor on this planet. Most often these things present themselves as necessary pain—a vital part of the groove. Writers like to talk about, "First, open a vein." Athletes tell you, "No pain no gain." If you work or play in an area you enjoy, the meaning and benefits often outweigh this pain. Often it does not.

Things aren't going super, the job doesn't fit well, things a little rocky at home, and those guys doing weed or a few lines on breaks or after practice every day have a message for you:

Hey, this stuff is legal.

 

Try it; It's not really addictive.

Oh, there are ways of getting around piss tests.

It'll loosen you up and ease those aches and pains.

Your life didn't turn out the way you wanted; smoke this and you won't give a shit.

 

In my own experiences being a novelist and short-story writer, then drug addict, to kill the pain, drugs kill feelings: the fun feelings as well as the bad. Eventually even that stops working and all one is left with is a horrible life with horrible feelings and chasing down and using more and more drugs in hopes of preventing the feelings from getting even worse. The wreckage you leave along the way simply adds to the level of addiction's special kind of pain.

 

Stories are about people. People are about feelings. To write about people in your stories, you need to employ each character's feelings as well as your own. Your feelings modified by your imagination is what brings your characters alive—is what makes them believable story characters. If you have numbed your feelings until you cannot feel anything but indifference, depression, bitterness, and rage, all you can invest your characters with are borrowed feelings, that is, descriptions of feelings borrowed from other writings, movies, remembered emotional experiences of the past, likely none of them fitting exactly the character you are writing on in that particular story moment. Afterward there is the dilemma of whether to teach your feelings of being a fraud how to swim, snort, or shoot.

For those who already use drugs to "relax" or "expand one's thinking" while working or during breaks, to "deal with the work and not the pain," there is a lot of help out there once you have worked your way through your denial sufficiently to recognize that you have a problem: Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous, drug rehabilitation, counseling, detox units, and so on. Addiction is a prison with hundreds of escape routes. But as has been said, "The first step in escaping from a prison is to accept that one is in a prison."

 

Did I write some stuff that was great when I was using? Yeah, I think so. Could that stuff have been better without impaired feelings? That little ghost of a question follows me around wherever I go. I know since I got clean I have written stuff I think towers way above my previous work. That's just me, I know. But I am for whom I am writing.

 

For those of you who are experimenting or thinking of experimenting, the experiments have already been done. Science has proven that using addicts make terrible decisions about their work, themselves, their relationships, and their feelings.

 

Oh, you may not be an addict? Here is something to think about. If there was a new food product on the market with a one-in-six chance of ravaging you with a crippling horrific fatal disease that would also affect and possibly destroy each and everyone you love, would you try it?

It's a yes or no question. If you answer "yes," there is a game you might wish to try called Russian Roulette.  It is faster than addiction, but causes much less collateral damage, and is infinitely less painful.

 

PS: Yeah, Dufus. Alcohol is a drug.

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About Comments

Recently I've been getting comments posted to this page that are not written in plain text English. They appear to be some of the incomprehensible gobbledygook one gets when opening a text document or image using the incorrect program. The Authors Guild Sitebuilder program requires that I accept a comment before it can be published. If I cannot understand your comment, I have not and will not approve it. Plain Text English, please.

Some of the problems might be attempting to paste in commercial or political ads incompatible with the AG Sitebuilder program. Doesn't work. I don't take ads in any event (except for my own stuff, curiously). I may put in a link for someone else's stuff if I find it valuable. but that has nothing to do with the For Writers page. If you have a comment regarding a particular article, have at it. If your comments have to do with advertising reading services, don't post them here. Such services cannot tell you what your art is supposed to be. Early on, when I was searching for some assurance that I was not wasting my time, I sent a piece to a reading service. The response I got back was that I should quit writing and take training in driving a truck. A word to the wise.  Read More 
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On Reading Manuscripts

(In response to a new writer's inquiry)

I'm gratified that my writing has helped fill your day. About reading manuscripts, the only thing I could tell you is whether it works for me or doesn't, and stuff that doesn't work for me is published and wins awards every year.

There are plenty of teachers and authors willing to pass judgment on new writers' manuscripts, thinking themselves capable of deciding good and bad. All I do is tell new writers (1) produce art; (2) look at the art thus produced and decide if it is the art you intended. If it is, congratulations. If it isn't (3) rewrite until it becomes the art you intended or surpasses that. Whether editors or readers like it are business matters which do not concern me.

I'm the only reader I'm trying to please with my writing, which means I produce my art but renders me a terrible judge of what your art should be to you. Do you like your own stuff? When you read it are there passages that make you want to skip ahead? Do you have any doubts about it? Once you put it in such shape that you love your own stuff, then send it to someone who backs up his or her judgment with either check or rejection. If it's a rejection, all that means is that particular editor isn't into your art and go try the next editor. If no one likes it, give it a read and see if you still like it. If you still like it, welcome to the Van Gogh Be-Bop School of Art-Before-Its-Time of which I am a charter member.

But keep doing your own art no matter what, for therein lies creative fulfillment. If you want to write for money, fame, or approval see what the editor is buying, go forth and do likewise. Or you can write insurance or perhaps code. As with painters (artists), composers, and musicians, a great many writers and poets are fulfilled by making their own art. Very few make a living at it.

So, what is doing your own art? I've gone at length on this subject in The Write Stuff, but I was recently watching the Ken Burns series on the history of jazz. In that series I ran across the advice Will Marion Cook gave to the young Duke Ellington: "First, find the logical way. When you find it avoid it and let yourself break through and guide you. Don't try to be anybody but yourself."
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Finishing Up At Gettysburg

View from the Union position at Brian Farm
Back from the reunion in Staunton VA, and I completed the research at the Gettysburg Battlefield that was interrupted eight years ago by a heart problem. It wasn't book research. It had to do with a real unit in the North Carolina Infantry that my character was in, and whose individual members I had brought to life and followed through so many battles from New Bern all the way to Appomattox.

The unit was Company E of the 18th North Carolina Infantry, Lane's Brigade, Pender's Division, 3rd Corps. Its assault goal was just north of The Angle in what is popularly called "Pickett's Charge," but which in North Carolina is known as "Generals Pettigrew and Trimble's famous charge, sometimes referred to by the name of a Virginia officer."

The company's starting position, in the photograph, is just to the left of where those cars are parked in the distance. It is a little under a mile away. The view is from the Union position at Brian Farm on Cemetary Ridge. The original plan was to follow the steps of the 18th to find out if the ground had anything to say to me, and it did. I also was certain that the ghosts of that company would talk to me, at best; or give me a chill or two at least. Neither happened.

It wasn't July 3rd 1863, a hundred degrees Fahrenheit, with thousands of soldiers behind stone walls shooting down at me. I learned valuable things about the ground, however: where the men of Company E were in range, when the ground dipped and they were no longer in line-of-sight of the Union troops, when they were in open fields, when they were among trees, where the fences were, the streams and creek beds, the buildings, and so on. The novel is a work of fantasy, but the characters and background were very real. I'm grateful that I was well enough to follow those footsteps.

I managed to get my old GoPro working and made a video of my walk, and as soon as I can figure out how to piece it all together, I'll make it available. Read More 
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More Distractions and the Lure of the Other . . .

Bullock Road, Chancellorsville
So, heading down to Virginia in a few days to attend the SMA/VWIL reunion, which will give me the opportunity to do the Gettysburg Battlefield to complete a bit of research that was interrupted by a heart problem the previous time I was there eight years ago. My character, among other lives, also was a member of the 18th North Carolina Infantry in the famous assault upon Cemetary Ridge. I know from where they started and where they were supposed to end up. I had intended walking that route eight years ago, but ran out of air.

Well, in preparing for the trip, I realized I could remember almost nothing about the book I had written whose rewrite had been postponed pending another shot at Pickett's charge. So, I began reviewing the notes, the character names, the many peculiar situations my character gets in, the locations, then I turned to the manuscript. I fiddled with the title until I had a new one: Alan Trevane: Permutations. Then I almost turned to the first page----

----Jesus! This book is like quicksand, sucking me in, dragging my focus away from The War Whisperer. It's like a put-aside mistress I hadn't thought about for years beckoning from the shadows. "C'mon, Barry. You don't have to do a thing. Just look at the first page. One little peek---"

Got to concentrate on the War Whisoperer (or however the damn thing is spelled). Concen . . . funny thing about the 18th North Carolina. They were organized as the 8th NC, but in the larger organization their number didn't fit, see, so they were made the 18th, which meant new insignia, new flags . . .

. . . What? War Whisper what? I'll be there in a minute. . . .See, that picture. Well, that's where Alan Trevane stood that night at the Battle of Chancellorsville when he fired that shot that hit General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson taking him from the fray and eventually killing him. That's why the 18th North Carolina----
----Will somebody tell that other book to shut up?

*Puff, puff, puff*
. . . Now, where was I?
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"I'm so mad I can't write," and other distractions

Squirrel! . . . .
I was angry, then depressed, despairing for the sanity and freedom of my country. That kind of stuff is a loud horn next to the whisper of the story muse. It dries up the writing. What was it all about?

The neo-brownshirts managed to violently prevent another speaker from being heard at another college campus. Anyone with a love of the First Amendment, particularly writers, would look upon such occurrences with alarm, one would think—or, at least, I thought. One would think wrong, however. If the speaker getting pepper sprayed is politically to the right of Roger Moore, then there is no cause for alarm. If the students and ticket holders to the event came to hear such a speaker, then beating them, hitting them with pepper spray, denying them the words, and setting fire to the meeting place is okay to many persons in the media, commentators, the hoards on social media, and even some folks who at one time were rash enough to call me "friend."

I still have a lot of writing to do on my current project and can't afford to take time off to turn my crank and bleat my protests at the daily injustices I see before me. Words-per-day, every day, is the only way to get the book written. Still, I was hopelessly depressed and not writing anything until a tiny voice in my head said, "Don't waste it; Put it in the book."

My current project is a libertarian science-fiction epic in which, among many other things, violent forces attempt to shout down and beat down those with opposing views. It fit, what my character would do about it fit, and all of it fueled by my anger and despair? The scene began writing itself in my mind (I was on a treadmill). As soon as I'm finished with this post, I'm putting that scene into the story and tying it into the entire political matrix of the story universe. And I already know that scene will smoke.

You feel strongly against the results of the election, you feel strongly for the results of the election, don't waste it on Facebook or Twitter; Put it in the story.

Anger, fear, loss, disappointment, outrage, love, lust, obsession —it is all valuable story material, the kind that puts an electric edge on what you write. Listen to those little voices. they will inject life, meaning, and purpose into your writing. Don't tell your therapist about them, however. Word to the wise.
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SO . . . WHAT'S "A FEW NOTES ON VOTING TRUMP" HAVE TO DO WITH WRITING?

It doesn't have so much to do with writing. The previous post to the Webmansion Writers Blog has to do with being a writer. It also has to do with being a performer, artist, student, teacher, lecturer, or anyone else who holds social, political, or economic views different from those in control of that person's means of advancing or making a living. During the campaigns, I caught someone on camera attempting to steal my Trump sign that I had cleverly cemented into the ground. I put the pictures up on Facebook because I thought all of my "pals" would get a kick out of it.

The reactions were predictable, although I didn't see them coming. You see, most of the writers, publishers, artists, producers, college teachers, and book publishers I know consider themselves either "liberal" or "progressive," to use the more current term. Ask them about being open and affirming, advocating diversity, and freedom of thought, speech, and press, and they are all for them. Then it became known that I had a Trump sign on my property. The issue wasn't the thief who attempted to abrogate my freedom of speech, or the more amusing likelihood he dislocated his shoulder in attempting to do so as the vehicle in which he was riding took off. The overwhelming issue was, "What was a Trump sign doing on Barry's property?" That was fine, as far as it went. As I responded, "To catch the big ones you need to use great bait."

Then began a rash of comments linking Trump to racism, misogynism (I'm making that a word), Islamophobia, the Nazi party(!), disregard and destruction of the environment, an enemy of educating America's youth, and the end to life as we know it. By association, I was linked to these things, as well. Well, exercising a flaw I share with former President Obama, I attempted to state the facts and the conclusions I had drawn from them. Obviously my mistake had been an error in messaging. I posted what I thought was a reasonable take-a-breath and calm-down message.

Suddenly men and women I have known for years, and in some cases decades, are running around in the sandbox, waving their tiny plastic shovels, and screaming with their hair on fire. The sentiments were often insulting, hurtful, usually senseless, and they keep coming. Some of those comments were coming from fans of mine as well as former writing students of mine, so I patched up my Obama flaw again and posted "A Few Notes On Voting Trump" in this blog on writing.

Okay, all of the above is free speech, and freedom to react to speech with more speech. But writers, artists, actors, news writers and deliverers, screenwriters, college instructors, students all across America who hold either conservative or libertarian views have been held back and often frozen out of their occupations by those same persons who laud attitudes of openness, diversity, and freedom of expression. I won't burden you with all the examples I know of. Just a taste: How many conservative speakers have you seen on the news who have been turned away by either college faculties or thuggish student demonstrations at publically funded institutions where freedom of expression, and protecting that right, is law? If you are an actor in Hollywood and have conservative or libertarian leanings, you keep your mouth shut or parrot the party line, or you simply don't work. Conservative college instructors who got tenure? Hello. Your meeting is in the off-campus phone booth near the meat packing plant. Conservative students who insist on being vocal about it getting scholarships or accepted at certain institutions, or maintaining their positions on student publications? Lots of luck.

In my own little case, I have had manuscripts turned down for libertarian political content. I have had editors post with me or with my agent "Don't bother sending Longyear's shit here" notices, due to political differences with some of my tales. I haven't sold a novel manuscript to a recognized major publisher since 1998. If my agent didn't have other clients he'd be on food stamps.

Fortunately, we live in technologically enlightened times. Just as social media and cable news outlets have made it possible for modern celebrities and politicians to get around the censorship, slant, and choke points of traditional news venues, modern book publishing technology has made it possible for the individual writer to get around traditional publishing prejudices and reach the reading marketplace. The many dozens of my readers in my tasteful and highly select audience can get my more current works through Enchanteds, our own publishing imprint made possible by Amazon's Kindle and CreateSpace publishing platforms, and the Authors Guild Backinprint program. I do not reach the millions of readers available though big publishing marketing, but the economics of small publishing these days is such that my brilliant, discriminating platoon of readers are sufficient to keep coffee in my pot, pork chops on the table, and me writing and publishing more stories.

My current work, The War Whisperer, is something I have been working on, in fits and starts, since 1963. Through the eyes of an abandoned boy who was literally born into government service, we see through his trials and adventures what the world is, what's wrong, and the implementation of a way to harness human dreams and potential toward achieving those things that today have almost become meaningless as words: freedom, achievement, prosperity, fulfillment. It is a blatantly libertarian science-fiction epic. This work is currently under construction as seven books. The way I write, I need to have the last one written and all of the others subsequently rewritten before I can allow any of them out of the shop. It is a great story, an important story, and it is being written by me. Those who like my stuff will like how this is written. Those who don't like my stuff, put in an Amazon search for someone whose writing you do like. The point is, unless there are some major shifts in attitudes, personnel, or ownership of major publishing houses in the next few months, you are never going to see The War Whisperer coming from any of the big traditional publishers.

I am not the only author the publishing establishment chose to repress. I'd love to list a few names of conservatives writing with words dressed in progressive verbiage, but the guys currently doing it need to make a living. Today it is much like during the days of the House Un-American Activities Committee back in the Nineteen Fifties when actors and writers who were Communist Party members, or who just attended a meeting or lecture, were frozen out of Hollywood, publishing, and performing. You don't have to be very old to remember history and the Nazis firing university professors who were Jewish or otherwise did not follow the party line. The same thing in Soviet Russia after the revolution. If you weren't Red, you were economically dead.

And just as sure as eggs is eggs, those same anti-Trump, anti-conservative, anti-libertarian folks condemning me and the American electorate will see no parallels between the "spontaneous" demonstrations against Trump, and most recently against his pick for the Supreme Court, and the "spontaneous" Sturmabteilung (Storm Detachment, aka "brown shirt") demonstrations in the Nineteen Twenties and Thirties designed to disrupt Adolph Hitler's opponents and repress intellectuals, Jews, Gypsies, unionists, etc., etc. Well, yeah, many of the current crop of protestors are paid to burn buildings, attack people, riot to cut off free expression, slander, vandalize, and inconvenience everyone, but they don't march in step and don't wear brown shirts—most of them. And when you think about it, Trump voters deserve it, don't they? Just like back in Berlin with those dirty commies and Jews . . . Uh, who were supposed to be the Nazis again?

So, it all has to do with being writers and that pesky old First Amendment. If you write, and if what is important to you is what you write about, then the First Amendment is your protection against the brown shirts, the paisley shirts, and the paid agitators, but only if it is enforced. Whoever gets shouted down or frozen out is important, no matter who is choking off the words nor who is getting choked. It was the anti-communists choking off the lefties back in the 'Fifties, and the lefties choking off the conservatives and libertarians up until recently. Doesn't matter whether you think someone deserves to be unheard, confined, punished, and unpaid, the loss of that person's freedom to use words is everyone's loss.

Interesting dilemma coming up in New England, 6:30 PM, February 5th, on Fox, however. Except for a stretch in Northern Maine (where I live), New England is Hillary country. Boo, Trump! It is also the Red Sox nation, and you can be denied medical help if you are rooting for any team other than the Patriots in this year's Super Bowl. However, Patriot's quarterback Tom Brady voted for Donald Trump and has yet to repent. This means that Brady supports Nazi, misogynist, racist, Islamophobic, baby-seal beating, puppy-shooting Donald Trump, which makes, by association, Tom Brady a Nazi, misogynist, etc., etc., etc. What will the Pat's fans do? I'm not sure, but if you hear Patriots fans singing the "Horst Wessel" song instead of the National Anthem, don't be entirely surprised.
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