Maybe just a little bit of schadenfreude

Someone at BBC One and/or STV has a wicked sense of humor

Someone at BBC One and/or STV has a wicked sense of humor (click to embiggen)

I really had intended to write some more posts about things I like rather than delve into some of the horrid things going on in the world this week, but a few of these things can’t wait for Friday links:

Scalper taking loss on tickets to Trump inauguration as secondary market interest on the mogul’s swear-in wanes

Donald Trump reportedly using paid seat fillers at his empty inauguration

Scalper can’t even get white supremacists to buy Trump inauguration ticket

Even a Bruce Springsteen cover band is canceling its inauguration gig

All the artists who won’t perform at Donald Trump’s inauguration

There’s also been a lot of churn generated over the fact that several Democratic congresspeople are not attending the inauguration. I say churn because the truth is that every inauguration has been skipped by a bunch of the congresscritters. One of Washington state’s Democratic reps admitted this week that he’s only attended two during his 20 years in office. Many have announced that they’re not attending specifically as a boycott. And the person who has been getting the most criticism for that is Georgia Representative John Lewis.

John Lewis to skip inauguration for second time in congressional career

Lewis had previously skipped George W. Bush’s first inauguration. It was particularly hilarious watching trump supporters calling Lewis out on Martin Luther King Jr Day. See, Lewis worked with King, back in the day. Way back in 1960 he was one of the original 13 Freedom Riders. By 1963 he was involved in the leadership of Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, an early African-American civil rights organization. He participated in King’s marches. He organized marches of his own. He endured beatings, survived firebombing, and more.

So to see clueless white people, particularly clueless white D-list celebrities, try to lecture him on what Martin Luther King would do or say if he were alive today (or to see them lecture Lewis of all people in what it takes to win civil rights battles) went beyond both hilarious and pathetic.

I do agree that we shouldn’t spent too much time and attention on who is boycotting the inauguration and other symbolic acts. Symbolic acts are important, but much more important is to fight for our rights. We need to get more people doing more than just tweeting, even if some of it is satisfying in a gallows humor sort of way: Dismayed Trump voters tweet about losing their Obamacare benefits and GOP Congressman, Overwhelmed by Constituents Concerned About ACA Repeal, Sneaks Out of Event Early. And then, of course, there’s this: Donald Trump may have just destroyed the Republican effort to repeal Obamacare.

Of course, that’s only one of the dozens of fronts that the Republicans are hoping to roll back people’s rights, take money and benefits away from ordinary Americans, and give massive tax cuts to a very small number of people and corporations that are already mega-rich.

But, part of the fight is going to involve getting Trump riled up. We can’t use ordinary tactics to deal with him. He doesn’t respond to reason, to polls, or to the usual forms of political persuasion and leverage. A couple months ago when I was having a very difficult time finding any aspects of the election outcome to be hopeful about, I re-tweeted someone’s comment about impeachment, which started a conversation with a friend who made the assertion that Trump is a control freak who will resist being manipulated by the Republicans as much as he resists other things. I think that is a serious misunderstanding of Trump’s personality.

He is absolutely not a control freak.

Control freaks work hard. Yes, I am speaking for personal experience. Control freaks actually need to be in control. Control freaks need to micromanage every aspect of things in their lives. Abusive control freaks monitor the people under their control constantly, and yes get really angry if they feel they’re being manipulated by the people who they expect to obey them. Trump is not a control freak, because all that paying attention and monitoring and micromanaging takes time and effort that Trump doesn’t want to expend. It takes effort and attention that I think he is fundamentally unable to focus on.

Trump is an attention whore who takes credit for other people’s work.

That’s a very different dynamic. There’s a reason that Trump’s son approached the various vice presidential possibilities with an offer to be “the most power veep in history” because the vice president would be in charge of all domestic and foreign policy while the president was busy “being in charge of making America great again.” Trump will make pronouncements. He loves making pronouncements. He loves barking out orders and expecting other people to do the hard work to make it happen. He loves belittling people. He loves getting applause. He really loves it when people fear him. So he will make threats. He will fire people. He will try to turn the full power of the presidency on completely outmatched targets out of petty vindictiveness. He’ll be inconsistent. He’ll change his mind on something a half dozen times.

But he’ll sign off an anything and everything that he doesn’t perceive as interfering with his real goal: which is to get all the attention he can get, while looking for ways to enrich himself. He has no shame, no empathy, and no sense of decency. He is dangerous, as much for the kinds of people he enables and empowers as for his own capabilities. He will never take the high road.

So it’s okay to feel happy when things don’t go his way. We just can’t stop at the feeling.

Myths about bigotry: respectful disagreement

“Over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed in the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negor's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to 'order' than to justice: who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.” — Martin Luther King Jr, Letter From Birmingham City Jail (1963)

Quote from Martin Luther King Jr, Letter From Birmingham City Jail, 1963 (click to embiggen)

I always feel a little nervous posting anything on Martin Luther King Jr Day, as I don’t want to co-opt another marginalized community’s hero, day, or message. Especially after seeing several people of color on my various social media feeds caution against talking rather than listening. But during his life, King said more than once that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” and I believe we have entered a very dark time in our nation’s history where all of us who believe in equality for everyone need to stand together. So while I may be a white guy, as a queer person I have some experience with oppression and believe that I have a responsibility to use whatever gifts, privilege, and platform I have to promote justice.

A lot of people, not just the moderates that Dr. King talked about in that quote from Letter From Birmingham City Jail, rationalize and deny the existence of bigotry by making appeals to certain fallacies. Academically, we often state those myths as five fallacies:

  • Individualistic Fallacy: racism/homophobia/antisemiticism/etc is perceived as being only interpersonal, ignoring the systemic structural realities (such as underfunded schools)
  • Legalistic Fallacy: the belief that abolishing racist/homophobic/religious laws automatically ends the bigotry.
  • Tokenistic Fallacy: the inference that the presence of members of the marginalized class in influential positions in society proves that all bigotry has ended.
  • Ahistoric Fallacy: the belief that the denial of basic rights in the past has no lasting effect on subsequent generations (“but slavery is over!”).
  • Fixed Fallacy: assumes there is one and only one kind of discrimination, not recognizing new forms that emerge in context of societal and legal changes.

There’s an academic paper that explains all of this: WHAT IS RACIAL DOMINATION?, by Matthew Desmond & Mustafa Emirbayer of the University of Wisconsin—Madison, if you want to get into it. It’s rather long and involved, but if you open the PDF at the link and search for Five Fallacies you can jump right to their discussion of the fallacies. The paper is focused on racism, but the fallacies apply to all kinds of bigotry.

All of those fallacies contribute to that preference for an absence of tension rather than a passion for justice that Dr. King talked about. It’s the classic “Can’t You Get Past it/Live and Let Live Fallacy.” Or maybe another name could be the “Respectful Disagreement Fallacy.” It’s the belief that as long as a person isn’t physically attacking you right this moment, and is framing their critiques in polite-sounding language, than it can’t possibly be racist/homophobic/antisemitic/misogynist/etc.

So the bigot talks in dog whistles (coded language that doesn’t sound overtly like bigotry to people who don’t know the code), claims to respect or even feel love for the community targeted by their language, and if we point out that they are being racist or misogynist or antisemetic or homophobic, we’re the ones causing a problem. And people who think of themselves as moderate or enlightened turn on us. They don’t just look the other way from the bigotry and bigoted policies that the community is enduring, they actually enable it.

Which means they’re part of the problem. They’re not being neutral. They’re not seeing things from both sides. They’re not being nuanced. They’re oppressing other people.

I wish there was a simple solution. I wish I had some words of wisdom. Instead, I’m just stuck with this regrettable conclusion, having to try to educate people who don’t think they’re being an enemy.

“Over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed in the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice: who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.”
— Martin Luther King Jr, Letter From Birmingham City Jail (1963)

Sunday Funnies, part 21

Another in my series of posts recommending web comics that I think more people should read:

lasthalloweenThe Last Halloween by Abby Howard is the creepy story of 10-year-old Mona who is reluctantly drafted to save the world when, one Halloween night, the monsters find a way to escape the shadow realm and start killing humanity. Since there is at least one monster for every human (all seven billion of us), the odds are stacked against our unlikely hero even more than usual for these sorts of things. Abby Howard is also the creator of The Junior Science Power Hour which I’ve recommended previously. Abby created this strip as her pitch in the final round of Penny Arcade’s Strip Search, which was a reality game show where web cartoonists competed for a cash prize and other assistance to get their strip launched. Though Abby didn’t win, she started writing the strip anyway.

I like it a lot. It’s one of the strips that I binge read in chunks. It’s a bit darker than I usually like, but also very compelling. And the story keeps going in different directions that I expect. It’s very nightmarish. I think more so precisely because Abby works only in black and white. If you like the comic, you can support Abby in a couple of ways: she has some cool stuff related to both of her strips in her store, and she also has a Patreon.


Some of the comics I’ve previously recommended: Some of these have stopped publishing new episodes. Some have been on hiatus for a while. I’ve culled from the list those that have gone away entirely.

dm100x80“Deer Me,” by Sheryl Schopfer tells the tales from the lives of three friends (and former roommates) who couldn’t be more dissimilar while being surprisingly compatible. If you enjoy Deer Me, you can support the artist by going to her Patreon Page!

The logo for Scurry, a web comic by Mac SmithScurry by Mac Smith is the story of a colony of mice trying to survive a long, strange winter in a world where humans have mysteriously vanished, and food is becoming ever more scarce.

title
And I love this impish girl thief with a tail and her reluctant undead sorcerer/bodyguard: “Unsounded,” by Ashley Cope.

Screen Shot 2016-03-12 at 3.18.45 PMCheck, Please! by Ngozi Ukazu is the story of Eric “Bitty” Bittle, a former junior figure skating champion from a southern state who is attending fictitious Samwell College in Massachusetts, where he plays on the men’s hockey team. Bitty is the smallest guy on the team, and in the early comics is dealing with a phobia of being body-checked in the games. He’s an enthusiastic baker, and a die hard Beyoncé fan.

Screen Shot 2015-08-02 at 5.36.43 PMMuddler’s Beat by Tony Breed is the fun, expanded cast sequel to Finn and Charlie Are Hitched.

The_Young_Protectors_HALF_BANNER_OUTSIDE_234x601The Young Protectors by Alex Wolfson begins when a young, closeted teen-age superhero who has just snuck into a gay bar for the first time is seen exiting said bar by a not-so-young, very experienced, very powerful, super-villain. Trouble, of course, ensues.

logo-1Fowl Language by Brian Gordon is a fun strip about parenting, tech, science, and other geeky things. The strips are funny, and he also has a bonus panel link to click on under the day’s strip.

3Tripping Over You by Suzana Harcum and Owen White is a strip about a pair of friends in school who just happen to fall in love… which eventually necessitates one of them coming out of the closet. Tripping Over You has several books, comics, and prints available for purchase.

The Junior Science Power Hour by Abby Howard logo.The Junior Science Power Hour by Abby Howard. is frequently autobiographical take on the artist’s journey to creating the crazy strip about science, science nerds, why girls are just as good at being science nerds as boys, and so much more. It will definitely appeal to dinosaur nerds, anyone who has ever been enthusiastic about any science topic, and especially to people who has ever felt like a square peg being forced into round holes by society.

12191040If you want to read a nice, long graphic-novel style story which recently published its conclusion, check-out the not quite accurately named, The Less Than Epic Adventures of T.J. and Amal by E.K. Weaver. I say inaccurate because I found their story quite epic (not to mention engaging, moving, surprising, fulfilling… I could go on). Some sections of the tale are Not Safe For Work, as they say, though she marks them clearly. The complete graphic novels are available for sale in both ebook and paper versions, by the way.

NsfwOglaf, by Trudy Cooper and Doug Bayne is a Not Safe For Work web comic about… well, it’s sort a generic “medieval” high fantasy universe, but with adult themes, often sexual. Jokes are based on fantasy story and movie clichés, gaming tropes, and the like. And let me repeat, since I got a startled message from someone in response to a previous posting of this recommendation: Oglaf is Not Safe For Work (NSFW)!

mr_cow_logo
“Mr. Cow,” by Chuck Melville tells the tale of a clueless cow with Walter Cronkite dreams. If the twice-weekly gags about a barnyard of a newsroom aren’t enough excitement for you the same artist also writes and draws (and colors!) some awesome fantasy series: Champions of Katara and Felicia, Sorceress of Katara. If you like Mr. Cow, Felicia, or Flagstaff (the hero of Champions of Katara) you can support the artist by going to his Patreon Page. Also, can I interest you in a Mr. Cow Mug?

Hacking and phishing and spying, oh my!

thesecurityawarenesscompany.com/

thesecurityawarenesscompany.com/

I’ve got a slightly different weekend update than usual, today. Neither of these are related to specific stories I posted yesterday, they’re all stories that I came across later in the day Friday that should be shared fairly quickly. The first one is not just your typical phishing attack story, though:

Wide Impact: Highly Effective Gmail Phishing Technique Being Exploited The tl;dr version: this particular hack involves the hackers sending emails from a hacked account, to people in that account’s contact list. So it starts with you getting an email from someone you already know. But it’s much more clever than that! They take text from previous messages that person has sent, and it isn’t random. They find messages where the person has sent attachments, and they construct the new message from it. So if it’s someone you know, the phrasing of the subject and the text sound like something that person would write. The attachment in the new message is merely a screen capture, and it hides a link to their fake Google login in page. So you click on the attachment from a friend, and you’re told to view the attachment you need to log in to Google, and they get your username and password. And within seconds, they’re going through your account and sending more hacked messages to your friends.

They’ve even constructed the login page so that if you take the precaution of looking at the address bar in your browser before you start to sign in, you see “https:accounts.google.com” so you think you’re at the real Google. You’re not.

Once they’ve got your password, they can read all your email and do other things to your account.

The linked article has screenshots and advice for how to recognize this kind of attack, as well as steps for what you can do to see if you’ve already been hacked. Check it out!

And this one is less about hackers: Security backdoor found in end-to-end encryption system used in WhatsApp. The Guardian reports that security experts have found that since buying WhatsApp, Facebook has added a back door. In updates, Facebook denies that his is a backdoor to government agencies and claim they will fight any attempts from governments to access accounts.

Which is meaningless.

The existence of the backdoor means that when Facebook loses that fight (because of court orders, for instance) that the backdoor will be used to read the supposedly secure communications. The original design of WhatsApp and similar end-to-end services didn’t have a backdoor because if one exists, it will be exploited eventually. Also, Facebook’s description of the service currently lies and says that they can never read the messages. With the backdoor there, yes they can.

Joy.

While we’re on the subject of cyber security: Cellebrite, a Major Dealer of Hacking Tools, Has Itself Been Hacked. This is one of the companies that makes tools that allow people to hack your phone. After indulging in a moment of schadenfreude that these hackers have been hacked, we then have to worry about what is in that 900GB of data that was stolen from them. Since the dump “contains what appears to be evidence files from seized mobile phones” among other things, who knows whose personal information has been stolen. Supposedly Cellebrite only sells their tools to law enforcement agencies and the like, but it has been previously shown that those agencies include some very shady regimes. And in the case of their mobile hacking devices, those things could be resold or stolen from those agencies and be in anyone’s hands.

And let’s do one more: E-Sports Entertainment Association hacked; profiles of 1.5 million customers exposed. The leaked data includes real names, phone numbers, and birthdates. Very useful for identity theft. Not much you can do about it once the information has been stolen.

I didn’t think I was this sick…

Kitten in a blanket.

I just want to stay under the covers.

The only reason I even saw the doctor today was because I already had a follow-up appointment for another matter scheduled. If that appointment hadn’t been on the schedule, I would have just muddled through another day. But I’m getting ahead of myself. I should tell things in order. I’ll try not to let it turn into a “what I had for breakfast” post.

So, if you want to know more, click through…
Read More…

Friday Links (queens of the underworld edition)

The true face of Senator McConnell

The true face of Senator McConnell

It’s Friday! The second Friday in a new year. And it’s hard to get excited when so much of the news is so outrageous

We’re having a worse than usual flu epidemic in our area. Several people I know either have pneumonia or had it over the holiday. And my husband and I are still trying to shake off the cold/flu or whatever it is we’ve been fighting for weeks.

Anyway, here are links to stories I found interesting, sorted by category.

Links of the Week

Rejected Princesses: The Queens of the Sydney Underworld.

I Want to Take My Womb Out of Retirement and Give Birth to a Black Daughter So That She Can See Hidden Figures.

Florida activists continue to feed homeless, despite arrests by police.

This Week in Friendship

Obama throws Joe Biden the best surprise party ever.

This Week in Weather

Portland experiences the heaviest snowfall in a decade.

This Week in Difficult to Classify

Punitive Practices Do Not Keep Children Safer at School. We Need More Supportive Policies.

4 Ridiculous Questions People Asked Me When My 11-Year-Old Came Out as Gay.

This week in awful news

Victims of Fort Lauderdale airport mass shooting that killed five, wounded six had minds on family vacations.

A Nevada woman dies of a superbug resistant to every available antibiotic in the US.

News for queers and our allies:

Cynthia Nixon Reminds The World That LGBT Families are Just Families.

9 Books to Better Understand Today’s Sexual Landscape.

George Michael Was the Kind of Gay Man We Now Whisper About.

KERRY SORRY FOR PAST STATE DEP’T DISCRIMINATION AGAINST GAYS.

Moonlight Named Best Picture by National Society of Film Critics.

IBM Just Debuted a New Logo and the Reasoning Will Make You Smile.

Science!

A Massive Tunnel Tree in California Has Fallen.

Earliest, Brightest Galaxies Shine A Ghostly Green In Surprising New Find.

NASA just explained why Moon dust is ‘levitating’ above the lunar surface.

The Milky Way’s black hole is spewing out planet-size ‘spitballs’.

Your appendix might serve an important biological function after all.

Obama is the first US president to author an article in Science magazine.

A star heading this way could knock millions of asteroids towards Earth.

There’s A Massive Metal Dragon Hiding Inside Earth’s Outer Core.

We always knew our ancestors were microbes. Now we found them.

Flipping A Switch In The Brain Turns Lab Rodents Into Killer Mice.

Science Fiction, Fantasy and Speculation!

The CW Renews The Flash, Supernatural, Crazy Ex and 4 Others.

Disturbed by Lovecraft, whose racism and hate weren’t merely a product of his times.

Hugo Nominees 2017 Wikia.

Turns Out, ‘Young Justice’ Had Gay Superheroes All Along. Except this is, once again, a creator claiming it afterward, trying to get credit while being too timid to actually represent…

The Hugo Awards (2016 – 2017).

Tech 100: How Princess Leia Influenced This Woman in STEM.

Chuck Tingle Launches Buttbart, a Lovecraftian, Anus-Rich Parody of Breitbart.

The Future Alternative Past: this dystopian hope. Nisi Shawl, an author I greatly admire, is now doing a regular sf/f column for the Seattle Review of Books. Check out this, her third monthly column!

Did Inadequate Women’s Healthcare Destroy Star Wars’ Old Republic?

This week in Writing

The Rise of the Word Police.

Four Literary Questions.

This week in Words

The Largest Historical Dictionary of English Slang Now Free Online: Covers 500 Years of the “Vulgar Tongue”.

Do You Need a New Language Peeve? Sure, it’s popular to complain about words ending in ‘-ize’. But what about words ending in ‘-ate’?

Transgender vs. Transsexual: What’s the Difference?

This Week in Tech

Keep the Internet Weird.

Using real names online ‘leads to discrimination and harrassment’.

This Week in Inclusion

How not to write about gay guys in 2017.

Behind the Scenes of Queer, Latina Remake of ‘One Day at a Time’.

Culture war news:

Nearly a quarter of Americans are not religious: Why doesn’t that diversity show up in politics? About 1 in 4 Americans has no religious affiliation — but only 1of 538 members of Congress admits to that

HRC Mourns India Monroe, Misgendered After December Murder.

What’s Behind the New Wave of Transgender ‘Bathroom Bills’.

Virginia bathroom bill is even worse than North Carolina’s.

NO GOOD, VERY BAD BIGOTS DO EXACTLY WHAT THEY PROMISED THEY WOULD DO, FILE ANTI-TRANS BATHROOM BALLOT INITIATIVE.

Black LGBT Ministers Speak Out About Kim Burrell, Shirley Caesar.

Please Note: The Legislator Behind Virginia’s New Anti-Trans Bill Is Completely Nuts.

Republicans plan to overwhelm you so you don’t know what’s going on. And it’s going to work.

Watch Cory Booker Reprimand Jeff Sessions for Years of Voting Against Marginalized Americans.

This Week in Fighting Back in the Culture War:

Graphic essay: What the Civil Rights Movement can teach us about surviving Trump.

WHO IS TO RECEIVE GOD’S LOVE? A RESPONSE TO KIM BURRELL’S HOMOPHOBIC SERMON.

News of Orange Julius Ceasar

BBC’s Paul Wood: There Are Four Sources For Claims of Possible Trump-Russia Blackmail.

Trump’s Plan To Isolate Himself From Company During Presidency Falls Short Of Blind Trust.

Donald Trump Is Very Upset That The Media And American People Are Mocking Him.

This week in Politics:

c1990gdwgaa2ybe-jpg-largeChuck Wendig on “Why We Need the Affordable Care Act”.

Trump’s best option on Obamacare is to get Democrats to walk the plank with him.

Major Christian group condemns Trump’s cabinet picks, policy agenda. In a statement, the group calls his cabinet picks “morally inconsistent with Christian principles.”

Sanders urges Dems against obstructing Trump. I… have no words.

State Department Apologizes for 1950s Anti-LGBT Witch Hunt.

This Week in Racists, White Nationalists, and the deplorables

Searching for Richard Spencer: What I Found in a Small Montana Town at the Center of a Neo-Nazi Troll Storm. Pulitzer-winning local author Eli Sanders spent Christmas with relatives in Whitefish, which has become embroiled in a dispute with the guy who literally invented the term “alt-right” to rebrand white supremacists.

Jeff Sessions Wanted to ‘Drop the Case’ Against KKK Lynching, Attorney Testified.

Donald Trump and the Tainted Presidency.

D.C. Dress Shops Dispute Trump’s Claim That They Are ‘Sold-Out’ for Inauguration: ‘There’s Never Been Less Demand’.

Activists catch James O’Keefe’s group bribing people to riot at Trump’s inauguration.

Intel chiefs presented Trump with claims of Russian efforts to compromise him.

Kellyanne Conway dispatched to scare up money after Trump ‘struggled’ to pay for transition team.

Nazi Group Fails To Raise $125 Permit Fee For Planned Rally, Claims Event Will Be Rescheduled.

This Week in Hate Crimes

Dylann Roof Is Sentenced to Death in Charleston Church Massacre.

Farewells:

Clare Hollingworth, Reporter Who Broke News of World War II, Dies at 105.

Utah artist James C. Christensen dies at age 74.

Tony Rosato, cast member on both SNL and SCTV, dead at 62.

Bronski Beat keyboardist Larry Steinbachek dies at 56.

Things I wrote:

Weekend Update 1/7/2017: Funeral for our favorite general and other stories….

More social media thoughts.

Living in a bubble–more thoughts on social medi.

Bubbles and misinformation (going way beyond confirmation bias).

Writing Concoctions: scenes, chapters, and other artifices.

Videos!

Oregon Zoo polar bear Nora and other animals in the Portland zoo play in snow 2017:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Bronski Beat – Smalltown Boy ORIGINAL VIDEO:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Michael Is Alive: Official Trailer #2 | Season 5 | PRISON BREAK:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Writing Concoctions: scenes, chapters, and other artifices

http://www.gdefon.com/download/kitten_computer_keyboard/465238/1920x1280

If only I were this adorable when using my Mac.

In the last two weeks I’ve noticed several writers either writing new posts about how they decide where to end a chapter, or re-posting a link to an older blog post where they’ve already talked about that. From which I infer that someone somewhere asked about how writers decide where to end chapters and they’re all responding to it. I originally started this post quite a while back, and never got around to finishing it. Seems like now would be a good time to pick it back up!

Whether you write your story in order or more free form, there is usually some form of modularity within the story. A very short story may consist of a single scene, but longer stories are usually broken up into multiple scenes, groups of which may be gathered into chapters (or acts), and so on.

These modules of narrative provide a means of packaging bits of your story into digestible chunks. How you structure them controls the rhythm of the story, providing a sense of movement through time and or space.

And they can be tricky.

Unfortunately, the way I do a lot of my own writing is intuitive, now. I’ve been writing fiction since grade school, and I started reading articles in magazines such as The Writer and Writer’s Digest also during grade school, so I’ve internalized a lot of processes to an extent that I do them without a lot of conscious thought. My honest first answer to the question, “How do you decide where a chapter ends?” is, “It ends when you get to the end.”

So let’s start with some definitions. These aren’t necessarily authoritative definitions. You’ll find a lot of writers with similar but still different definitions of these things.

A scene is a building block of the story. You can think of it as a single brick in a wall, or the next pearl on a necklace. A scene usually happens at a single location and for a short, continuous period of time. Every scene in your story should fulfill a purpose. Ideally they should serve several purposes. The sorts of purposes scenes can serve are:

  • Advance the plot
  • Introduce a new character, theme, or problem
  • Create suspense
  • Establish or develop the setting, a character, or a problem
  • Provide information the reader will need later to understand the action
  • Foreshadow coming events
  • Create atmosphere

These aren’t the only purposes scenes can fulfill. It can be argued that some of the purposes I have listed are subsets of others. Creating atmosphere could be thought of as a specific type of establishing the setting and problems facing the characters in it. I’ve seen other lists of possible purposes for scenes include as separate items things with which, to me, are simply subsets of the ones above. For instance, a lot of people list building sympathy or antipathy for a character as a separate purpose, whereas I think of that as just one type of establishing or developing the character. But those are quibbling details.

The important thing to remember is: a scene shouldn’t be in your story if it doesn’t serve one of the purposes for furthering the story.

I like to write scenes from a particular viewpoint character. Most of my stories are written in third-person subjective. That means I look at the scene from a particular character’s perspective. I’ll tell you what that person sees, hears, and feels, but without getting into the head of any of the other characters in that scene. So that means that if I need to get into another character’s head, I need to have a separate scene for the character.

So you can think of a scene as a single incident in the chain of your story. For instance, “When the lieutenant asked the maid about the abbey,” or “When the young noble spoke to his imprisoned mother,” or “When the princess argued with her husband about a family visit.”

A chapter is harder to define. Chapters are, largely, the result of tradition, rather than having a clearly defined purpose in a story. The usual explanation is that chapters were invented when scrolls were replaced by books. A single bound book would contain stories, records, or other information that had been in a scroll. The pages which represented a single scroll would be demarked as a chapter. During the 19th century, when many novels were serialized in magazines before being gathered into a book (if at all), chapters were often the monthly or weekly installment of the story. So, one answer to why books have chapters is because people expect books to have chapters. They don’t always, of course. Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books, for instance, seldom have chapters. There are breaks between scenes, but no marked chapters.

If a book has chapters, one of the purposes they fill is to break the story into bite-sized chunks. They can provide breaking points where your reader knows she can set the story down and come back easily. Of course, one of the secrets of an enthralling book is chapter endings that entice the reader to keep going, so you don’t want the break to feel like a finale.

Chapters can help organize the story in ways other than “this happened, then this, then this…” If your characters aren’t all in the same place, you can use a chapter to gather all of the scenes which happen at the same (or nearly the same) time but with different characters. Or you can gather a bunch of scenes which have some thematic parallels (though if they are happening at very different times, you may have to take extra pains to communicate to the reader when each scene occurs).

I like to think of chapters as episodes in a serial story. If my book were a television show, for instance, with each season having an overarching plot, each chapter would represent a single episode of the series. So each scene is an incident, then each chapter is a collection of related incidents.

For me, a chapter needs to convey something that feels like a satisfying episode. Which doesn’t necessarily mean it tells a complete story, but when the reader reaches the end of a chapter, it should feel as if they have completely an important step in the journey, with a clear feeling that there is more journey ahead.

People often, therefore, recommend ending chapters on cliffhangers. And I agree with the sentiment, but dislike the terminology. Don’t get me wrong, I end plenty of chapters on cliffhangers. But the term cliffhanger is often interpreted to mean that one or more of your characters are in physical peril, and not everyone’s story has a lot of moments where characters finds themselves looking down the barrel of an unexpected gun. Cliffhanger can be any form of unresolved character tension. If one of your characters is being question by the police, most of the scene can be revealing the character’s personality while revealing various details about the situation, and a perfectly acceptable cliffhanger is for the interrogator to reveal a piece of damning evidence that ties the character to the scene of a crime. Even better if the character thought they were being questioned about a robbery, and the revelation is that there is also a dead body at the scene–you’ve raised the stakes to murder! Any situation that makes the reader asked, “Oh, no! How’s he/she going to deal with this?” can be your chapter ending.

You don’t have to end the chapter at each moment that evokes that curiosity, of course. Sometimes I have a bunch of cliffhangers within a single chapter. In a fantasy novel I’m working on right now, there’s a battle in which a dragon and her ally (a witch) attack a carriage carrying three monks and a runaway prince. I depict the battle in a number of scenes, each from the point of view of a different person involved in the battle. Each scene in the story ends at a moment where the viewpoint character has just tried to do something, or finds themself confronted with something unexpected. Then I move to a different character and show what’s happening from that viewpoint. You can do this with the other sorts of cliffhangers, too. If your chapter is a collection of scenes happening at nearly the same to characters who are in different locations, you might end each scene with that character making a discovery or realization that gives them pause.

I tend to be a seat of my pants writer in so far as I seldom write up a formal outline until I’m in a revision stage. But I usually have an idea when I start a new chapter which incidents I want the cover next. I also tend to make the chapters close to the same length. So sometimes if I notice the word count is getting higher than I thought in a scene, I’ll decide to move one of the scenes into the next chapter… which means I’ll have to think about how to make the scenes that share the next chapter feel as if they belong together.

I don’t always make chapters exactly the same length. In one of my current projects, for various dramatic reasons, I have one chapter that is a single sentence, and another that is only eight sentences.

This is a rather long rambly way to get back to my original answer: I end chapters when they end.

Bubbles and misinformation (going way beyond confirmation bias)

A so-called American Patriot tries to explain to my Senator that repealing Obamacare has nothing to do with the Affordable Care Act.

A so-called American Patriot tries to explain to my Senator that repealing Obamacare has nothing to do with the Affordable Care Act.

A bunch of people are sharing a Facebook conversation from a guy cheering the repeal of Obamacare while a bunch of acquaintances and strangers try to explain to him that the Affordable Care Act, which is where the guy’s health insurance comes from, is Obamacare. And him not believing them. And many of those people sharing it are asking if this could possibly be real.

Let me answer that for you definitively: it is very real.

I have had the exact same argument with a number of my relatives for years. It doesn’t matter how many times I tell them that their ACA health care is Obamacare, and that if Obamacare is repealed they will lose their health insurance, they don’t believe me. It doesn’t matter how many articles I show them about it. It doesn’t matter if I get other people to explain it, they keep listening to the Obama-hate spewed by friends and acquaintances and Fox News and start talking about how Obamacare must be repealed because it’s a failure.

It’s like the whole birther thing. I don’t know how many times I have explained to my sister that 1) the Obamas aren’t muslim, they’re Methodist, 2) even if they were muslim, what part of religious freedom does she disagree with, 3) Obama was born in Hawaii, it has been settled and proven many times… she falls back into listening to the rantings of the Fox News echo chamber and feels the need to tell me again how much she is looking forward to the day that the Muslim pretender is out of the White House so real Americans can have their country back.

When people talk about how we all live in bubbles, what they’re usually referring to is either confirmation bias or the groupthink effect. We tend to hang out with people who agree with us on many things, we get our news from sources that tend to reinforce our beliefs, et cetera. Recently I linked to an article that showed even which shows we watch for entertainment have polarized: people who tend to vote conservative watch different comedies and dramas and such than people who tend to vote liberal. So our pop culture, presumably, subtly reinforces those worldviews. The notion is that these folks who are voting against their own self-interest are doing so because they never hear information that challenges or contradicts their beliefs, hence the term “low information voter.”

But it isn’t a lack of information.

Some of it is the backfire effect. If your deeply held beliefs are challenged with facts, you hold the beliefs tighter. You rationalize reasons to dismiss the new information. You talk about bias or lies. Just as confirmation bias shields you when you seek information, the backfire effect defends you when the information is given to you unsought, when it challenges you.

There’s a related phenomenon, sometimes referred to as “rumors are sticky” or a subset of the availability cascade effect. In order to debunk a misconception, you have to repeat the misconception as you explain whats wrong with it, right? The repetition of the falsehood actually reinforces it in the mind of the person you’re trying to enlighten. They heard the rumor from several sources, including you, the person who usually disagrees with those sources. Never mind that what you said was, “vaccines don’t cause autism, and here’s the proof” the part that sticks is the part that aligns with information the person already had “vaccines… cause autism.”

Then there’s something some people call the just world hypothesis, the belief that this world is fundamentally just (because, for instance, god is in control) and therefore anything which appears to be unjust that happens to someone must have been deserved. That same notion has a lot of corollary effects, particularly if the religious beliefs underlying the just world hypothesis are of a fundamentalist nature. Because then everything that happens in the real world is seen as proxies for the “true battle” between good and evil happening behind the scenes. And once you’ve gone down that rabbit hole things get really weird. To come back to our original question about Obamacare: they’ve been told again and again that Obama is a tool of the dark forces, so anything associated with him must be evil. Obamacare is obviously one of these bad things, otherwise it wouldn’t have his name on it, right? They don’t have to know what it actually is, so long as they know it’s his.

And that’s how they get people who depend on the Affordable Care Act to vote for and cheer for its repeal.

Living in a bubble–more thoughts on social media

“Broadcasting: The fastest, simplest way to stay close to everything you care about.”  (Vintage Social Media Twitter parody © 2010 6B Studio

“Broadcasting: The fastest, simplest way to stay close to everything you care about.” (Vintage Social Media Twitter parody © 2010 6B Studio)

Lots of people have been talking about bubbles, lately. People who lean left politically are accused of living in an elitest bubble out of touch with hardworking ordinary folks. People who lean the other way are accused to living in a faux news echo chamber devoid of information about the real world. I’m not going to argue that both of those perceptions are equally incorrect. I’m sorry, I can prove statistically that one side ignores more facts than the other. But it is true that everyone has blind spots, and everyone is susceptible to confirmation bias.

But there is a difference between an unconscious blindspot and willful ignorance.

For example, there’s a complaint I’ve heard a million times from many people, most recently it is usually directed at social media, but I remember as a kid hearing it directed at newspapers: “I already know the world is full of bad things, I don’t need to read/view/listen to {fill-in-the-blank} to be reminded.” Another popular variant is, “How can you look at {fill-in-the-blank}? It’s just a cesspool of hate and drama!”

So, for instance, not too long ago I was commenting about a really wonderful comic series that I had discovered thanks to Tumblr, and several acquaintences felt compelled to explain why I shouldn’t look at Tumblr because everything they saw there was inter-personal drama and hate and outrage. And they didn’t seem to understand when I said, “You must be following the wrong blogs, because I never see that?”

Okay, so never is a slight exaggeration. There have been a couple of blogs that I followed because the person running it posted several cool things that I really liked, and then later the blog devolved into the person posting angry rants about people I’d never heard of, but you know what happened next? I unfollowed that blog. Similarly on a lot of other internet services. I make liberal use of blocking, muting, and unfollowing functions.

On social media that is sometimes a tricky thing. But social interaction always has the potential for awkwardness. We meet someone in a particular setting, have a wonderful time chatting about something we’re both enthusiastic about, and everything seems wonderful. Then, after we’ve known them for awhile, sometimes an incident happens and we discover this person we thought was the life of the party is actually just another version of that awkward uncle that everyone tries to avoid getting stuck sitting next to at family gatherings because he’ll spout off his embarrassing racist or sexist or religious opinions, right? And just as you can’t simply tell Uncle Blowhard he’s not welcome at the next Christmas Eve get-together without upsetting a bunch of other family members, you can’t always block a social media contact without experiencing a little blowback. So sometimes there is a trade-off to be considered.

That’s not the only kind of trade-off you have to consider. While I am a firm believer in making choices about how you spend your time, I’ve always been frankly baffled at people who make the blanket decision to never pay any attention to the news. Sure, no one wants to hear about bad things all the time… but blocking all news altogether is like putting on a blindfold before you drive somewhere because you don’t want to see any of the bad drivers. You’re exponentially increasing your odds of having not just an unpleasant experience, but a disasterous one!

And before you say my analogy is flawed, remember: humans are social animals. Working together and taking care of each other is a survival trait of our species. Unless you’re living as a hermit in some distant part of the wilderness and not using any resources ever produced by another person, and never interacting with another person, you’re taking part in society. You’re on the road, behind the wheel.

Does this mean that I think you are an irresponsible member of society unless you pay attention to as much news as I do? No. A responsible driver doesn’t just watch the road, they also take pains to eliminate distractions. Just as I unfollow blogs that I don’t find valuable, I try to exercise some discretion in what news and politics and science and other types of information I do pay attention to. And I think other people should do that as well.

But I do know that it’s unwise to blindly ignore entire swaths of the world. And it’s a mistake to pretend that ignorance is a virtue.

More social media thoughts

© 2010 6B Studio

Vintage Social Media. © 2010 6B Studio

One of the things I listen to semi-regularly is The Blabbermouth podcast sponsored by Seattle’s own snarky weekly alternative paper, The Stranger. In my most recent Friday Links post I included an article from the Stranger about former Stranger contributor Lindy West’s decision to leave Twitter, as well as linking to Lindy’s article written for the Guardian explaining why she had decided to leave Twitter. Lindy’s writings for various publications have appeared in many editions of my Friday Links over the last few years. She’s funny and insightful and writes about topics I like.

She was on the Blabbermouth podcast after writing about her decision to leave Twitter, and one of her comments there hit on a topic I’ve found myself thinking about a lot. “One of the things that makes Twitter so useful is because it’s the place everyone is.” I made a similar observation about LiveJournal last week. It was so useful for many years because it was the place everyone was. To different degrees and Facebook and Twitter have supplanted that particular aspect, but they’ve done so in very different ways.

Facebook has become, for many of us, a place we’re obligated to be on if we want to have any hope of getting news from family members. Facebook in particular has some serious drawbacks in this regard. A few years ago I missed my niece’s wedding because rather than send out invitations of any sort, my niece mentioned the date on Facebook. And she expected everyone who she wanted to be there to see it and attend. When I tried to explain later that Facebook only shows some of the things you post to some of your friends, she didn’t understand, because other people saw it and showed up. One of the professional writers I follow on Twitter recently pointed out that her official Facebook author page has 8000+ followers, and those followers have lately been sending messages asking when a particular new book is coming out. But the announcement answering the question which she put up on that page was only shown, according to Facebook’s own states, to 136 of those 8000 followers. If she wants more of them to see it, she needs to pay Facebook to promote the announcement. And maybe for something you’re trying to sell that’s a not unreasonable expectation, but the same sort of distribution algorithms are applying to people’s announcements of deaths in the family, weddings, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

And both Twitter and Facebook have issues of mixing all of our communities together, so we wind up offending each other whether intentionally or not with various political and religious comments.

Not that this is something new because of social media. We have a tendency to blame the new technology for dysfunctional behavior that are simply manifestations of human nature. For instance, two times recently things have come up that reminded me of a particular instance of dysfunctional family communication:

Back in the late 80s, when I was still mostly closeted as a queer man, I was informed by at least three relatives (one of my grandmothers, an aunt, and my mom) that one of my cousins (specifically, a first-cousin-once-removed1) who I hadn’t seen in years (but we had spent a lot of time together as kids) had died. Which was a bit upsetting on its own, more so because we were the same age, so he was in his late 20s. But the other upsetting bit was that both mom and my grandma told me, in very hushed tones, that they had heard it was from complications of AIDS, which of course we weren’t supposed to mention to anyone outside the family2. My aunt went much further, telling the lurid tale of how the cousin had been incommunicado and secretive for a few years, and then how his mother (who lived in northern California) had gotten a call from a hospital in San Francisco, and she had barely made it to his death bed before he died, and isn’t that a horrible scandal?

As if I needed more reason to be worried about how my family might take the news that I thought I might be gay, right?

Over the years, any time I happened to mention a story from my childhood involving that particular cousin, various family members would either say what a tragedy it was he had died so young, or change the subject, or in at least one case act as if they didn’t remember his existence4.

Then a few years ago this same aunt posted an old photo on Facebook of a whole bunch of us cousins from a big family get-together that happened in the 70s, and she tagged all of us that were in it with our Facebook accounts. Including D–. To say I was confused is an understatement. So I sent a friend request to this person with the same name as my supposedly dead cousin. And he accepted and the next thing I know I’m looking at photos of him and his husband, along with recent pictures of a holiday get-together with some other members of that branch of the family, including a few who had talked to me personally about his tragic death years ago.

What actually happened? (You’ve probably already guessed.) He came out of the closet back when we were both in our 20s. His immediate family did not react well, at all. At least one of his parents begged him to essentially go back into the closet. When he refused, a decision was made to disown him and treat it as if he had died, and some of the family members went along. Others thought he really had died (and since many of us lived far away and hadn’t been in touch for a while, it was easy for us to believe). He lived his life maintaining contact with those few immediate family members who were supportive.

As time went on and attitudes shifted, less effort was made to maintain the ruse. Until now another form of denial has set in, where almost none of the family members (who are still alive, anyway) who went along with the original ruse wants to even admit it happened.

I came out of the closet in my early 30s, and so far as I know no one on this side of the family told people I had died5. But there was a period of about six years or so when I was estranged from most of my closer family members. The main parallel to my cousin’s situation is that a narrative has been adopted with a bunch of the family that I’m the one who cut everyone off for reasons none of them could fathom, and it was only after my first husband died and I became involved with Michael—who many of them now adore6—that I came back.

Cousin D– and I have had some interesting conversations since all this. It’s been particularly weird this last year during all the election hype where some family members have been saying and sharing extremely homophobic things, while expressing shock and dismay that we don’t feel loved or safe around them because of it8.

All of which is to say: it isn’t just social media algorithms that hide information. It isn’t social media that makes humans react irrationally to news or opinions or decisions we don’t agree with. It isn’t social media that makes some people gaslight others by insisting something we experienced together never happened, or didn’t happen the way we remember it. It isn’t merely because of social media that we put ourselves in bubbles where we never see information that challenges our assumptions. Social media and modern communication in general can make some of that happen faster and have further reach. But our tools have these sorts of functions (hiding information, proliferating misinformation, et cetera) because those are things that we humans sometime chose to do to ourselves and to each other.

And when I say “we” I am very intentionally including myself. There’s more to say on this topic, but I think I’ll try to tackle that in a separate post.


Footnotes:

1. I was lucky enough to have all four of my great-grandmothers live until I was at least in my teens (one actually lived until I was in my 30s!). And all of my great-grandparents had rather large families that tended to try to keep in communication. So I knew most of the siblings of all of my grandparents, as well as their kids and their grandchildren. Some family gatherings when I was a child were huge!

2. The reasoning being that because dying of AIDS meant that he was probably queer, and having a queer family member was something to be deeply ashamed of. There was also an uncle who died of complication of AIDS in this same time period, but anytime that Uncle B– was mentioned after that, someone was quick to point out that he had contracted the virus through intravenous drug use3, which was also a shame and a tragedy, but clearly, since we were allowed to talk about Uncle B–‘s death and the drug use, but not this cousin, not nearly as shameful.

3. At least that’s the family story. Uncle B– served time in prison more than once in his tragically short life, and he was a much smaller than average man, and if you know anything about prison rape culture, you know there was more than one probable vector for B–‘s infection.

4. There was one particularly weird moment about 15 years back when we were going through great-grandma’s photo albums that had been in storage for a long time. We happened upon a picture of the cousin and someone asked who that was, and I said, “so-and-so’s youngest son, D–” and my aunt listed off the names of all of the cousin’s siblings and said, “That’s the only kids they had! They never had a son named D–.”

5. On that side of the family. On my dad’s side of the family people weren’t allowed to mention my name within earshot of several family members. I had this confirmed by multiple sources, but mostly just ignored it for a variety of reasons, not the least being that I was already persona non grata long before I came out for the incredible betrayal of telling the judge overseeing my parents’ divorce that I didn’t want to live with my physically abusive father.

6. I honestly don’t understand why their brains don’t explode from the cognitive dissonance. They do genuinely seem to love my husband, and claim to love me, but they actively pray that we’ll somehow magically be cured of our queerness and leave each other to marry nice christian girls. They also mention us by name as proof they aren’t homophobic while explaining how we’re going going to burn in hell for eternity and deserve any hate crimes that might befall us7

7. That was literally the last post I saw on Facebook from one relative before I blocked her in November—not even being metaphorical.

8. I understand the concept that we can disagree about things and still be friends. But that depends entirely on the nature of the disagreement. When the disagreement is whether I get equal protection under the law, or whether I’m allowed to get health care or any other service, or whether it is okay for me to be the victim of hate crimes, or even whether I have a right to live9, then no, you aren’t my friend.

9. When you post or endorse statements that homosexuals are deserving of death, or if you claim that merely allowing us to live openly and enjoy some legal rights is going to cause god to destroy the nation, you are giving encouragement to gay-bashers to kill us. And then when juries refuse to convict our murderers (which happens a lot) on various flimsy grounds, that just proves my point.

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