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Thursday, October 8, 2009

Tips on Good Em Dashes and Blogging for My Fellow Citizens at Abstinence Clearinghouse

When the Abstinence Clearinghouse uses the word proof, you know something's going to go wrong.

I read "Proof-Abstinence Education Does Work," a post by "Jane Olson." I geared up to deflate the fallacious reasoning of the author "Jane" parrots (not one line of the letter provides evidence of the effectiveness of abstinence-only education, which is what Abstinence Clearinghouse means when it says abstinence). I prepared to recite the evidence that abstinence-only education doesn't work. But the flaws in AC's own blogging provided so much fun, I lost track of the main point. So...

"Jane Olson"... really? Come on, is that real person, or just some poor staffer sitting in the office falsifying a multitude of voices? But then most everyone at AC is a ghost, anonymous voices locked in commentless echo chamberage.

"Proof-Abstinence" Education? The improper punctuation forced me to spend a moment sorting out that "proof-abstinence" was not an adjective modifying yet another crazy scheme to use the federal government to impose ideological messages in the classroom, but merely a victim of a misused hyphen. Check this out:
  • "Jane" used a hyphen: - . You make it with the key next to the zero/end parenthesis key, straight up from the right pinky. Among other functions, it connects words that are used together as a single compound modifier. For instance, a light green jacket is a jacket that is both colored like a leaf and suitable for cool but not cold weather. A light-green jacket is a jacket that is a paler shade of green. Free-range beef is not free, and it is not necessarily for my range; the hyphen indicates that free and range work together to modify beef in a way neither word could alone.
  • "Jane" meant to use an em dash: — . The em dash connects two distinct thoughts in a single sentence. It may represent one thought or statement that interrupts another. It is also occasionally used (as "Jane" perhaps intended) as something like a colon to introduce a new idea that serves as an example or otherwise logical follow-up to the preceding thought. The em dash, alas, does not appear on the standard English keyboard. The standard workaround is to type a space, then two hyphens, then another space -- like so -- between the thoughts to be connected. If you want to be fancy, the HTML code for an em dash is &mdash or &#151 or &#8212 (don't forget to put a semi-colon after the code!). Or, if coding isn't your thing, you can also come back to the Madville Times and just copy em dashes to your own blog. I use them frequently—some might say religiously—and always—always!—correctly.
Web Illiteracy: Whoever writes AC evidently abstains from basic web-literacy practices for bloggers. No comments for discussion (even Pastor Hickey takes his chances with open discourse). No author profiles. And most importantly, darn few hyperlinks. "Jane" never uses them. In this post, she provides an author name, but no title, no complete address, just "Caller.com," which leaves readers Googling for the original text until they eventually stumble upon this original text.

A blog without comments is lonely but tolerable. A blog without hyperlinks is a bicycle without wheels. I'm not the only who argues that the hyperlink is one of the most important inventions of the last hundred years. If you are blogging, use them. They are the quickest way to cite and direct people to the original source of the text you are taking advantage of. They let your readers see for themselves, a fundamental ethos of blogging.

And they are easy! AC uses Wordpress: watch this tutorial (or this one) to learn how to add links. Or go basic and code your links from scratch. Whichever way you choose, give other authors credit, give them the Web traffic: use hyperlinks.


  1. Come on Cory, you gotta have better barbs than attacking someone's name... hell the name "John Smith" is a good example... any wrestler worth his weight knows Smith was a 2-time Olympic gold medalist and currently the head coach at Oklahoma State.

  2. Easy on that sensationalist language you mainstream-media types enjoy, Matt. I'm not "attacking"; I'm questioning whether a rather generic name represents a distinct individual or a pseudonym in an echo chamber. AC provides me no means by which to verify the identity. Googling doesn't help. Jane Olson, if you're out there, would you care to comment?

  3. Same argument could be made for Cory Heidelberger, or Matt Hendrickson for that matter

  4. And for the record, I'm about the farthest thing from "sensational" as you can get... don't believe me, ask my family! LOL

  5. No relativism allowed this morning, Matt. The same argument couldn't be made about our names. My name links to a profile. I Google up all over the place. Your profile includes a direct e-mail address, plus enough info that I could triangulate your workplace and distinguish you from other individuals. AC and its bloggers provide no such information.

  6. It would actually be a light, green jacket when you are referring to a feather-heavy, grass-colored jacket.

    I have no problem with abstinence education, as long as it's a part of a comprehensive plan. She doesn't mention abstinence-only sex education. But I couldn't get through the whole thing. I read up until she mentioned the Heritage Foundation and quit. I've read their garbage for a paper, and what they do can hardly be called studies.

  7. I agree, Adam: telling kids the benefits of abstinence makes sense. Telling them that abstinence is the only way to make sure you don't get pregnant is fine. But kids need the full picture... and you and I both know that when AC says "abstinence education," they mean "abstinence education and nothing else!"

  8. You still haven't thrown the comma I feel is necessary in the post.

    But yes, people like whoever we're talking about want abstinence-only, which you and I both know is a joke. Nearly as big of a joke as the Heritage Foundation.

  9. Ah, the comma! Now I understand the distinction you were making. I was focused so much on the meaning of the hyphen, I neglected to include that comma for perfect clarity. Point taken!


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