Weekend Update 5/25/2019: Is irony officially dead?

Sometimes you just have to laugh: Owners of biblical replica of Noah’s ark sue over … rain damage (and it wasn’t even 40 days and 40 nights). In case you aren’t familiar, the Ark Encounters theme park (and Creationism Museum) in Kentucky was built with an $18,000,000 (that’s 18 million) from the taxpayers. This should have seemed an obvious violation of the U.S. Constitution’s ban on establishing a religion, but no, politicians insisted that it was really about jobs that the theme park was going to create thanks to the millions of visitors who would show up to see the park. Never mind that the park insisted not just that employees be Christian, but they have a very narrow definition of Christian: prospective employees have to declare that they adhere to a litany of anti-gay and ultra conservative doctrines to be hired.

By the way, those supposed millions of tourists have never shown up. They dispute those numbers, yet they also have come back begging the state for more money to make up for the lack of income, so…

Anyway, they had some flood issues that caused damage to one of their roads, and their insurance companies have refused to cover more than a fraction of the cost of the repairs: Not The Onion: Ark Encounter Sues Over Rain Damage.

These are the same kind of people who insist that thoughts and prayers will end gun violence, and also claim their god will always provide and so forth. So, why the heck are they suing their insurance companies.

But then, remember, these same people decided two years ago to start lighting up the Ark with rainbow lights as an anti-gay statement. Again, I’m not kidding! They claim that they have taken the rainbow back from the queer community by lighting up this money pit like it’s a giant Pride Parade float: ‘Look at this gay boat’: Creationist’s use of ‘God’s rainbow’ colors for Ark park lighting gets hilariously mocked.

Irony is when people are (tragically) unaware that their perception of their situation or their actions are at odds with their actual situation. Clearly, irony is very much alive and kicking for the Ark Encounter wingnuts.


Speaking of wingnuts, Ben Shapiro is spouting off racist/facist/nazi nonsense, again. He and the alt-right are always disavowing each other, they because he’s Jewish, and he because somehow he thinks that people can’t see that he is saying all the same things they are. But don’t take my word for it, go read this incredibly good explanation: On the Right & Civilisations. “I know there’s already a thousand takedowns of this whiny crap from Ben Shapiro but good grief it is whiny crap.”

It’s definitely worth the read!

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Friday Five (epistemic spillover edition)

(Click to embiggen)


It’s Friday! it’s already the fourth Friday in May–and it’s Memorial Day Weekend. Already!?

My week has been dominated by severe hay fever. The pollen count has only been moderately severe, but my sinuses decided that DefCon 5 wasn’t enough.

Anyway, welcome to the Friday Five. This week I bring you: the top five (IMHO) stories of the week, five stories of interest to the queer community, five stories about forces closing in on the alleged president, five stories about other deplorable people, and five videos (plus some things I wrote).

Stories of the Week:

Epistemic spillovers: Learning others’ political views reduces the ability to assess and use their expertise in nonpolitical domains.

Good Omens is a Delightful Apocalypse We’d Be So Lucky to Live Through.

What your ability to engage with stories says about your real-life relationships.

What Happened to All of the Universe’s Antimatter?

The Politics of Going to the Bathroom.

Queer stories of the Week:

Actor Michael D. Cohen Has Something to Say: ‘I Transitioned’.

Children are never too young to know homophobic bullying is wrong.

The Maine Millennial: Speaking out against Franklin Graham’s anti-gay gospel.

Transgender Woman Attacked in Viral Video Last Month is Fatally Shot in Dallas.

Rainbow Railroad: The organization saving LGBT citizens from hostile governments.

This Week in Bad News for the Impeachable One:

Trump is considering deputizing the military as a civilian police force. Wow. More literal Nazi tactics…

Prosecutors examining tens of thousands of Trump inauguration documents.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg: Trump Pretended To Be Disabled To Dodge The Vietnam Draft, Emanates Racism.

‘I’m an Extremely Stable Genius’ Trump Insists in Bonkers News Conference While Attacking ‘Crazy Nancy’ Pelosi. If you have to keep telling people you’re stable…

GOP defies Trump and joins with Democrats on measure to block president from abandoning NATO.

Awful, Deplorable People:

County aide: Falwell cut him out of South Beach hostel deal – Documents detail how Jerry Falwell Jr. went into South Beach venture with ‘pool boy’.

Miami Candidate’s Campaign Workers May Have Tampered With Absentee Ballots.

Russian documents reveal desire to sow racial discord — and violence — in the U.S..

E.P.A. Plans to Get Thousands of Deaths Off the Books by Changing Its Math .

Leaked Proud Boys Chats Show Members Plotting Violence At Rallies – The extremist gang claims it’s just a pro-Trump “drinking club.” But chat logs leaked to HuffPost reveal they plan weaponry and tactics months ahead.

Things I wrote:

Weekend Update 5/19/2019: wrongs, rights, and a hero.

But what is it? Or, why we worry about sf/f, sub-genres, and fictional rules.

We have always been here, part 3.

Videos!

The View: Pete Buttigieg – SNL:

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

Pose | Season 2: Pray Tell Teaser | FX:

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

Taylor Swift & Brendon Urie – ME! (Live on The Voice / 2019):

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

Adam Lambert & Dimitrius Graham Perform “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen – American Idol 2019 Finale:

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

Vampire Weekend – This Life (Official Video):

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

We have always been here, part 3

Look at this African-American girl gleefully reading comic books in the 1940s...

Look at this African-American girl gleefully reading comic books in the 1940s… (click to embiggen)

So, this third installment in a series about misperceptions of what diversity means and how it has occured in science fiction/fantasy has been sitting in the draft queue for a long time, in part because I needed to do some more research to shore it up. But now, thanks to Cora Buhlert, I can leverage this excellent review: The Golden Age Was More Diverse Than You Think of this year’s Retro Hugo ballot. The whole post (and her many links) are worth the read, but I’m going to steal quote an important bit:

Survivorship bias can be found doubly in the Retro Hugos, because not only do people (and the Retro Hugo nominator base is small compared to the current year Hugos) tend to nominate the famous stories, the ones that endured, they also tend to nominate and vote for writers (and editors and artists) whose names the recognise. This is why unremarkable debut stories by future stars tend to get nominated for the Retro Hugos, while better but lesser known works and authors tend to get overlooked…

But even taking the known problems with the Retro Hugos into consideration, the breadth and variety of stories on the 1944 Retro Hugo ballot is astounding (pun fully intended), as is the fact that quite a few of them don’t really fit into the prevailing image image of what Golden Age science fiction was like. And this doesn’t just apply to left-field finalists such as Das Glasperlenspiel by Hermann Hesse in the novel category or Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and The Magic Bed-Knob by Mary Norton in the novella category, neither of whom I would have expected to make the Hugo ballot in 1944, if only because US science fiction fans wouldn’t have been familiar with them. No, there also is a lot of variety in the stories which originated in US science fiction magazines.

As I said, go read her entire post, it’s worth your time.

Among the claims that is constantly put forward from some quarters are that:

  • until very recently, virtually all sf/f was written by straight white men,
  • until very recently, the vast majority of readers of sf/f were straight white men and boys,
  • for most of fandom’s history, the vast majority of people organizing clubs and conventions were straight white men (young and old),
  • even now, the vast majority of “real fans” are straight white men and boys,

…therefore any sf/f that features protagonists other than straight white men, and talks about any issues not of interest to straight white men, isn’t real science fiction or fantasy, but it is so-called message fiction.

But the truth is that all four of those claims are false. And that isn’t a matter of opinion. Go look at the 1944 Retro Hugo ballot. More than a single token woman author. And even more intriguing, a rather large number of protagonists and major characters in the works are women and people of color.

In a previous blog post, I linked to some of 1930s, 40s, and 50s sf/f fan publications, showing that some of the most prominent founders of U.S. science fiction fan clubs during the Golden Age were queer men and women (who also became active in the gay/lesbian rights movement).

Go to the staff meeting of any medium-to-large sized fan-led sf/f convention today, and take a look at just how many of the people in that room are not male. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find a disproportionate number who are queer. And that has been the case for at least three decades that I know of (I didn’t attend my first convention until the late 1970s, and didn’t start paying attention to how they were run until the late 80s, so I can’t offer personal testimony beyond that).

Look around any big convention at how many girls and women are doing cosplay, or staffing booths in the dealer’s dens, or are panelists. It’s harder to find how many are queer, but next time you’re at a convention, look for some panels whose titles mention queer topics, then go stick your head in the door of a couple and see how full the rooms are.

Listen, I’m an old literally white-bearded white guy. I grew up reading Heinlein and Clarke and Asimov in the 1960s. But I’m also gay. And I was also just as fervently a fan of Ursula Le Guin, Andre Norton, and Madeleine L’Engle back then. But more importantly, one reason I was a fan from such an early age was because my mother was one of the biggest fans of Robert Heinlein and similar sci fi of the 50s and 60s you will ever meet. I am a second generation fan, but it wasn’t my dad who was reading sci fi (he preferred spy novels and westerns), it was my mom.

I’ve written before in a different context how my mom’s old, worn copy of Dune (which she told me I had to wait until I was older before I could read it) often tantalized me on the book shelf when I was a kid. A couple of things I should add to that story: she bought the Ace paperback brand new when it first came out in 1965, and it was looking very worn around 1969 when she decided to move it to a less tempting location. It looked that way after only 4 years because she re-read it frequently.

I know that’s only one anecdotal sample, but I also remember that when we went on our regular visits to used book stores when I was a kid, my mom was never the only woman browsing the sci fi/fantasy shelves.

People of all genders read, create, watch, and love sci fi and fantasy (and comic books and horror and thrillers and weird fiction and all the other sub-genres). People of all sexual orientations read, create, watch, and love sf/f. People of all races read, create, watch, and love sf/f. People of color, queer people, women, and nonbinary people all exist, and together, they outnumber straight white men in world population (and also U.S. population, if you’re one of those people who think that the phrase “Third World Country” is objective terminology). If you’re trying to exclude people of color, queer people, women, and non-binary people, you are the one focusing on a niche market.

If you are a writer excluding any or all of those categories of people from your cast of characters, whether you mean to or not, you are serving a misogynist, racist, homophobic agenda. And that’s definitely not a non-political stance. Those stories are not non-political fun.

Science fiction was arguably created by a young woman/teen-age girl (Mary Shelley), for goodness’ sake!

But what is it? Or, why we worry about sf/f, sub-genres, and fictional rules

“I'm not a science fiction writer. I've only written one book that's science fiction, and that's Fahrenheit 451.. All the others are fantasy.” —Ray Bradbury

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I was reading (and participating) in the comments on Camestros Felapton’s excellent review of one of the Hugo nominated stories, and found myself thinking a lot about how and why we humans like to classify everything in general, and stories/movies/et cetera in particular.

For instance, what is the difference between science fiction and fantasy? When I was much younger, I would have answered that fantasy was “just making any old thing up” while science fiction required an understanding of and adherence to science! (and was therefore superior). But as Thor observed that all words are made up, so too all stories are made up. The usual definition isn’t far from what younger me said (minus the hypocritical and judgmental bit): Science fiction deals with scenarios and technology that may be scientifically possible at the time written, while fantasy deals with supernatural and magical occurrences that have no basis in science.

Of course, that phrase “may be possible” includes a lot of hand-waving. Faster-than-light travel seems less and less likely to be possible as our understanding of physics has grown, yet everyone is quite happy to classify space opera as clearly part of science fiction.

It has been persuasively argued that what dictates that one novel is shelved in the science fiction section, while another is shelved with fantasy, and yet another shelved in horror all comes down to marketing. Not because marketers are trying to advance some sort of agenda, but because a lot of readers like having books offered in familiar categories. Unfortunately, the marketers (and associated persons in the publishing industry), being human, can make those distinctions on rather dubious criteria. One of my favorite authors, who writes books that cross over many genres (and has won at least one major fantasy award for a work of horror), often finds her books being reviewed as “Young Adult” simply because she’s a woman and the books tend to explore sf/f themes.

Of course, that opens up another can of worms. Who decided that “Young Adult” was a genre? It’s an age category, like Middle Grade and Early Reader, right?

It’s useful, sometimes, to talk about a specific work of fiction in reference to similar works of fiction. The aforementioned comment thread I was involved in included a discussion about why portal fantasies seem to be resurging lately, which is why I starting thinking about what portal fantasies are. I know several works that everyone agrees are portal fantasies. When I suggested that the Saturday morning live action children’s show Land of the Lost from the 1970s (I don’t want to talk about the more recent movie) might be a portal fantasy, someone else pronounced it portal science fiction.

The conventional definition of a portal fantasy is a story in which people from our mundane world enter into a different, fantastical world, through a portal of some kind. In Land of the Lost, the family on a rafting trip go through some kind of hole in space or time and land in a world where there are dinosaurs, some primates that might be precursors of genus homo, and humanoid reptileans. Sounds pretty fantastical to me! I mean the dinosaurs and primates may have overlapped a bit in Cretaceous–Paleogene boundary, but none of those primates were the size of chimpanzees, nor had brains anywhere near the size of the critters in the show. So it isn’t a time warp they went through to an earlier part of Earth’s history.

So is it a portal fantasy with some sci fi trappings? Or are the sci fi elements enough to call it something other than a fantasy?

Let’s set that aside for a moment and talk about magic systems. Because one of the things that often distinguishes science fiction from pure fantasy is the presence of magic. But some fantasies involve very strictly defined magic, with laws that seem to be as rigid as physics, and logical ways one can deduce what is and isn’t possible to do with magic from those laws. Yet, how is that different than the fictional science that underpins many science fiction stories? The author is just positing a different set of discoveries of natural law.

I described my younger self’s definition of sci fi as hypocritical because I’ve found myself, for the last decade or so, far more interested in writing fantasy. I have a couple of sci fi tales still rattling around in my collection of works in progress, but fantasy has been where I keep finding myself. And while most of my fantasy stories involve magic, I’m not one of the authors who thinks it is necessary to work out very precisely how the magic works in my universes. I have rules of my own, and I write my stories within them, but I don’t think it particularly interesting to have one of my characters (no matter how much the Mathemagician, for instance, may love giving lectures) deliver an info dump about the limitations of magic in his world. When it is important to the plot, I work it in, so that the reader understands what is happening and what’s at stake, but otherwise, I leave it to things like: dragons can fly and breathe fire, sorcerers can hurl fireballs and ride flying carpets/magic brooms, priests can smite their enemies and their blessings can cure wounds, and all of these things have costs commiserate with the extent to which reality is being bent.

And I admit one reason I don’t like going into any more detail than that is because ever since my early days of roleplaying (late 1970s, before Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, First Edition existed), the people I liked playing with least were the ones who got into long tetchy arguments about the rules before and after every single dice roll. Your mileage may vary, so if you want to write down all the laws of magic for your stories, go right ahead.

But, the fact that most fantasy stories do have rules of how the magic/supernatural stuff works, and most fantasy authors try to follow those rules and keep them consistent, I still have trouble seeing how some people can so blithely draw a strict distinction between science fiction and fantasy. XKCD had a great cartoon not that long ago around the fact that you can describe the tiny nuclear power cells in the two Voyager spacecraft as “orbs of power!” Because they are balls of a very rare metal which, once assembled, simply radiate energy for many, many, many years. Not only that, if you touch them (without proper protection), you can die! It sure sounds like a cursed magical item, such as an Infinity Stone, doesn’t it?

To circle back to the Land of the Lost–the humanoid reptiles had some very sophisticated science fictional equipment, but it was all powered by mysterious little crystals. Put the right colored crystal in the right spot and voila! A portal opens and a healing beam of energy comes down or something. Again, is that science or magic? Because, seriously, crystals?

These sorts of questions are why the late, great Jack Chalker was fond of saying, “All science fiction is fantasy, but not all fantasy is science fiction. And some science fiction becomes fantasy as our understanding of science changes over time.”

Weekend Update 5/19/2019: wrongs, rights, and a hero

You tell ’em, Betty!

Time for another post about news that broke after I posted this week’s Friday Five (or didn’t come to my attention until afterward). And as usual I have some opinions that I wish to expound upon.

First up, if ever a headline deserved the word finally: GOP Rep. Amash becomes first Republican to say Trump ‘engaged in impeachable conduct’. Representative Amash has always described himself as a Libertarian, so he’s never been lock-step with the more overtly evangelical or authoritarian wings of the Republican party. So it makes sense that he would be one of the people who would look past partisan loyalty and talk about defending liberty. The sad part is that so far none of the other self-described Libertarians have been willing to do the same thing.

If you’re wondering why so far no other single Republican has been willing to do their duty and uphold the Constitution in the face of the blatant unfitness and corruption of the Trump administration, this provides a nice explanation: Why Justin Amash stands alone. The short version: Congressional Republicans fall into roughly three camps: 1) they know he’s corrupt and unfit, but they’ll get the judges and tax laws they want until things come crashing down around him, at which point they’ll all say they were always secretly opposed to him, 2) those who recognize that they’re financial futures are tied to being about to stay in the Conservative Bubble Racket, so if they oppose Trump, they won’t get those lucrative Fox News or Think Tank jobs when they retire, 3) and then a lot of them are genuinely racist, homophobic, and otherwise hateful and actually believe in everything he’s doing.

I’m not ready to label Amash a hero, because Trump’s violation of the Emoluments Clause at the very beginning of his administration should have brought some protests from Congressional Republicans. And in various tweets and statements while trying to attack his perceived enemies, Trump admitted to the obstruction of justice about two years ago, long before the blatant refusal to respond to Congressional subpoenas now. Amash should have been making these kind of critical statements then. He was probably in Camp 1 above, though not very enthusiastically. I see Amash as more of a glimmer of hope that maybe his decision was driven by those polls showing a larger and larger number of Americans who believe Trump is guilty, and so we may be reaching the stage where the rest of Camp 1 will start peeling off.

I said was a glimmer, but a big one.

While we’re on the topic of why it matters that the Republicans in Camp 1 and Camp 2 have been derelict in their Constitutional duties for three years: Alabama’s Extremist Abortion Bill Ruins John Roberts’ Roe Plan — SCOTUS was all teed up to quietly gut America’s abortion rights. Then Alabama happened. The Alabama abortion bill is awful, and it isn’t just about abortion: it effectively outlaws a lot of medical treatments that people need. It makes the penalty for getting an abortion, even in the case of rape, more severe than the most severe penalty given to rapists! It’s just horrible. It’s also taking aim at the legal basis for the ruling that overturned sodomy laws, making it legal for gay people to have consentual sex in the privacy of their own homes.

And despite what the headline says, I don’t believe for a moment that the Supreme Court will go ahead and uphold it when it gets to them. Roberts may have hoped to destroy abortion rights in a continuing series of small steps where he could pretend that he was just allowing reasonable restrictions, but he was clearly on board with the goal. So I’m not holding out much hope.

And as I have tried to point out many times to some gay men I know who keep insisting that abortion has nothing to do with them: the exact same reasoning–a person has the right to decide what to do with their own body–that underlies the landmark abortion rights case, was also used by the justices who overturned sodomy laws, and it is part of the reasoning for the ruling the legalized marriage equality. This is just another domino in a long line of ways that some people want to take away rights from a whole lot of us.

And that’s depressing, so I’m going to switch gears and share this story about a situation that almost turned into yet another school shooting, but was stopped, not by a good man with a gun, but by an unarmed good man: Former Oregon Ducks wide receiver hailed as hero at Parkrose High School.

Friday Five (risks and indictments edition)

It’s Friday! it’s already the third Friday in May.

By Sunday we had returned to typical weather for May in Seattle: cooler with the occasional shower. I, for one, have really enjoyed this week!

Anyway, welcome to the Friday Five. This week I bring you: the top five (IMHO) stories of the week, notable obituaries, and five videos (plus some things I wrote).

Stories of the Week:

Don Norman on how design fails older consumers.

Hullabaloo: What are the risks of *not* impeaching Trump?

NRA Chief’s Extravagant Spending Criticized By Former Staffers.

Georgia Christian Coalition Leader Surrenders To FBI On Charges Of Stealing $2 Million From Ex-Employer.

NEVADA: Dem Gov Signs Ban On “Gay Panic” Defense.

In Memoriam:

Doris Day, Legendary Actress, Dies at 97.

Doris Day Was America’s Sweetheart With Added Steel.

Hollywood Icon Doris Day Has Died at 97.

Tim Conway, Star of The Carol Burnett Show, Dies at 85

Tim Conway, uninhibited crack-up artist on ‘The Carol Burnett Show,’ dies at 85.

Peggy Lipton, ‘Mod Squad’ and ‘Twin Peaks’ star, dies at 72.

Peggy Lipton, ‘Mod Squad’ and ‘Twin Peaks’ Star, Dies at 72.

Things I wrote:

Weekend Update, 5/12/2019: Things that rock.

Oh, you dirty devil—or The preacher and the pool boy….

Don’t stick a fork in the reader, or, getting the ending right.

Videos!

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez grilled Gilead Sciences CEO Daniel O’Day on the high price of an HIV drug that the taxpayer paid to develop:

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

Alabama’s Abortion Ban; Trump’s War on Congress: A Closer Look:

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

Go Behind the Scenes of Netflix’s ‘Tales of the City’ Reboot in a New Revealing Featurette:

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

Ezra Miller and His Queer Bandmates Cover The Pussycat Dolls’ ‘Don’t Cha’ for the Ogling, Lustful Heteros:

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Adam Lambert – New Eyes (Official Video):

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Don’t stick a fork in the reader, or, getting the ending right

“Beginnings hook readers. Endings create fans.” plotwhisper.com

“Beginnings hook readers. Endings create fans.” plotwhisper.com

We talk about beginnings and opening lines in fiction frequently. I’ve written about it many times myself1, as well as participating in panels at conventions on the topic. We spend less time talking about endings. One reason why is because it’s a more complicated topic, because for the ending to work all of the stuff in the middle of the story needs to come together in a satisfying way, and ideally the ending will tie back to the opening. So it’s easier to give advice about moving character arcs along, making them work with the external conflict, and so forth, and assume that the ending will take care of itself if we get all the rest right. I’ve been thinking a lot about endings lately in part because I’ve been seeing the topic talked about a lot on various social media—but also because over the course of the last week I’ve watched season finales of three shows that I’ve been following for years2.

First, an ending doesn’t have to be a happy ending to be satisfying to the reader. Tragedies have been around for a long, long time. But most readers do want a character they can root for throughout the story, and if the character fails in the end, the reader still wants to feel that they were right to root for that character. Maybe the protagonist’s death allows others to escape a terrible fate. Maybe the cause was worth the sacrifice and the way the protagonist failed leaves the reader with a glimmer of hope that someone else will succeed where they failed. Maybe all the reader needs is to know that the protagonist believe their sacrifice was worth it—making an effort against the forces of darkness is better than not trying at all.

Even happy endings have to feel earned. The reader isn’t going to be satisfied if it doesn’t feel as if the struggle was real.

And surprise endings? Surprise endings can’t feel as if they came from nowhere. You can surprise the reader at the end, sure, but a second after the surprise is revealed, the reader should go, “Dang! I should have seen that coming!” The surprise has to make sense within the narrative frame and the character arc(s) you’ve already led the reader through.

I’ve written about that particular phenomenon once before, specifically in the context of murder mysteries and similar stories, so I’m just going to quote myself:

For me, part of the fun of a good mystery is finding the puzzle pieces in the storyline and admiring how well they are constructed, or how good a job the author does of putting them in plain sight while not making them obvious.

Sometimes I am completely blindsided, and if that happens without the author cheating, that is just as much fun as figuring it out before the reveal.

Bad mysteries aren’t bad simply because they are predictable. They’re bad when they are too predictable. When the author (or author and director, in the case of a movie or show) clumsily gives things away or relies on cliches, there is no delight in the reveal. If the author cheats by simply withholding information, or otherwise pulling something bizarre and shocking out of nowhere, that also spoils the fun.

And, as in all stories, if the author makes us care about the characters, even if the puzzle isn’t terribly difficult, we can still enjoy the battle of wits between the detective and the puzzle.

Getting the ending right isn’t easy. And if you get it wrong, the reader doesn’t just dislike the ending, they feel as if all the time they have spent on the story was a waste. And remember, it is a sin to waste the reader’s time. This doesn’t mean that you have to give the reader the ending they want—it means your ending has to make sense, it has to pay off any questions or themes you teased the reader with before, and it has to feel earned. It has to be the best ending you could deliver, not a prank you pulled on the reader to show how clever you are.

It isn’t easy, but nothing worthwile is.


Footnotes:

1. The Night Was Sultry, part 1—adventures in opening lines, The Night Was Sultry, part 2 — more adventures in opening lines, The Night Was Sultry, part 3 — finding the emotional hook, The Night Was Sultry, part 4 — fitting the opening to the tale, The Night Was Sultry, part 5 — closing the circle, openings and endings, and Begin at the beginning, not before for instance.

2. Specifically Lucifer, Arrow, and The Flash. Which I feel I need to mention, because I know that one reason so many others are talking about this topic is because of the final season of Game of Thrones which is not a show I have ever watched—so none of this is intentionally about that topic.

Oh, you dirty devil—or The preacher and the pool boy…

It sounds like the opening line of a joke, but it isn’t…

This story has been a few years in the making, and until the most recent developments, hadn’t really made a ripple in the news landscape. The story of the famous anti-gay, anti-muslim, anti-abortion, anti-birth-control, anti-sex evangelist and a scandal involving a pool boy sound like a joke, rather than a serious news story. So much so that when one of the queer news sites I regularly read linked to the latest developing story, one of the first comments on that post was a bewildered long time reader asking, “This is real? I thought all these comments people have been making her about Falwell and his pool boy was a running gag…”

It all started back in 2012: Jerry Falwell Jr & his wife met a young pool boy on vacation. Then they started ‘helping’ him.. The Falwells were staying at a ritzy hotel in Miami, where 21-year-old Giancarlo Granda was working as a pool attendant. The hunky young man started mysteriously spending a lot of time with the middle-aged couple during their stay. And later he started flying with them on their private jet to various places. He was seen hanging out with the couple on many occasions, without any explanation.

Pro-Trump Pastor Jerry Falwell Gave Hot Young Pool Boy $1.8 Million & Flew Him First Class on Personal Vacations While Promoting Anti-Gay “Christian Values” as Liberty University President. Shortly after befriending the pool boy, the Falwells asks some associates to help them find a business they could buy in order to give their new friend “a good income.” They eventually settled on purchasing a “youth hostel” in Miami, providing the $1 million down payment on the mortgage (the property was valued at more than $4 million at the time), plus $800,000 to renovate the place. After the renovations, promotional material for the hostel listed the former pool boy as the owner, though later court papers list the owner as a shell company that is owned by the Falwells, their son, and one other family member.

This youth hostel was actually the first part of this whole sordid affair that came to light in 2017 when a reporter for Politico wrote: My Weekend at the Falwells’ South Beach Flophouse and Falwell, Jr. Opened ‘Gay-Friendly’ Youth Hostel With 21-Year-Old Pool Boy . The hostel offers what is described as dorm-like accommodations for $20 a night. There is a bar on the premises, a liquor store next door, and a sign on the front door that lists things not allowed inside, including both politics and religion. It is also described as veery gay friendly, with posters for cabaret shows at local gay clubs on display in the aforementioned bar, for example. In other words, it is a business making money on things that Falwell, his ministry and his university all regularly and vitriolically condemn. But you’ll notice when you read that story that most of the reporter’s concern is about possible tax-evasion that this purchase of a youth hostel may represent.

Was It Jerry Falwell Jr. In The Outhouse With The Pool Boy? DOES WONKETTE WIN THE GAME OF ‘CLUE’?

The story finally started registering when this happened: Jerry Falwell Jr and pool boy sued over business venture. Two Miami businessmen, a father and son with the names Jesus Fernandez Sr, and Jesus Fernandez, Jr. had consulted back in 2012 or 2013 with the former pool boy about possible business ventures that he could enter into with the backing of the Falwells, and they had at least one meeting with both Jerry Falwell Jr. and Granda the pool boy. They allege that they were promised shares in the business and other payments, which have not been forthcoming. It was in depositions for this trail that the amount of money the Falwells had given to the pool boy (that $1.8 million above) was revealed. Falwell claims it was a loan, but has so far not produced any proof that there is a repayment plan or that any money has been coming back to them.

Still, at these point it is all a little odd, and several people were making guesses about the nature of the relationship between the Falwells and the pool boy (I mean, why did they suddenly take an interest in a much younger pool attendant to the point of flying him around in their private jet, putting him up at their home at least once, and handing him nearly two million dollars?). Those of us who were guessing various sexual shenanigans (are the Falwells into something like a hot-wife or cuckold kink? Do they just like threeways?) weren’t being taken seriously.

Until this bombshell: Exclusive: Trump fixer Cohen says he helped Falwell handle racy photos.

So Michael Cohen (currently serving a 3 year federal prison sentence for tax evasion, bank fraud and campaign finance violations over his hush payments made to a porn star Donald Trump had an affair with in order to keep the affair secret) was asked by Jerry Falwell Jr to recover some “racy photos, the kind that should remain private between a husband and wife” that someone was trying to blackmail him with. Cohen flew to Miami, and claims that he met with the person, made some kind of offer, and that the person destroyed all of the photos–except one that Cohen himself kept. This happened just a few months before the 2015 Iowa caucuses, and crucially, just before Jerry Falwell, Jr stunned a lot of people by endorsing Donald Trump. An endorsement which, by the way, has been widely reported to have been engineered by Cohen.

Some people will ask why this whole sordid affair is newsworthy. First of all, Jerry Falwell, Jr. is a public figure who regularly endorses political candidates and causes, encouraging his large following to vote and donate in these political issues. He does with the aid of several large tax-exempt organizations (some of which are legally forbidden from advocating specific political causes, by the way). There are legitimate questions about just how much of his supposedly private for profit business ventures have been financed with tax exempt donations to the non-profit entities. In which case, these businesses are being financed illegally with taxpayer money. Among the favorite targets of Falwell’s tax-payer subsidized condemnations are the civil rights of gay people, the health and reproductive rights of women, the civil rights of muslims, et cetera and ad nauseam.

On top of all of that, it appears that his endorsement of Trump, which came at a crucial moment just before the Iowa caususes, may have been a repayment to Cohen and Trump for helping to make the sex scandal of the “racy pictures” go away.

Falwell hasn’t just railed against what he calls sexual perversion, he has actively worked to roll back laws protecting everyone’s right to decide their own reproductive health, including trying to legally regulate what consenting adults (straight and queer alike) can do in the privacy of their own relationships. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention to such issues for the last several decades that someone who publicly reviles other people for their personal sexual activity has some sexual skeletons in their closet, yet here, once again, that appears to be the case.

Now, we don’t know the exact contents of these racy pictures that Cohen paid someone to destroy. We don’t know for a fact whether the pool boy engaged in some kind of kinky sex with Mr & Mrs Falwell beginning in 2012 and continuing through early 2016 when they were still regularly seen in his company (remember, he was living, attending college, and running that business in Florida, which the Falwells live in Virginia, so all the times they were seen together weren’t merely a matter of happening to bump into a neighbor). We don’t know if that is what so endeared him to them that they shelled out $1.8 million to buy him a sketchy business in 2013. We don’t yet know how much money nor where said money came from that Cohen paid out to someone in Miami in 2015 to make the racy pictures go away. Likewise we don’t yet know who it was that was using those photos.

Now, since one of the times that the pool boy stayed at the Falwells’ mansion in Virginia was after Cohen made the racy photos go away, I think it is very clear that the pool boy wasn’t the person trying to blackmail them. It is very possible that the pool boy is in some of those photos—Cohen described the pictures as “very bad,” so they clearly can’t just be pictures of Falwell and his wife having sex all on their lonesome, as is implied by the phrase “of the sort that should remain private between a husband and wife.”

I have no beef with people living a monogamish relationship. I certainly don’t begrudge anyone the right to engage in kinky sex. One of the points I frequently make when talking about the injustice of sodomy laws, restrictions in reproductive rights, and civil rights for queer people is that as long as no one is getting hurt and everyone involved is a consenting adult—what people do to get their rocks off should be their own business, and outside the review of the law.

But I do have a beef with hypocrisy from people who are actively engaged in taking those kinds of rights away from other people. Particularly if they are either making their living from the tax payer (politicians, prosecutors, police, and so on) or making their living from tax exempt activities (which means indirectly funded by tax payers). If it turns out that Falwell’s decision to endorse self-described pussy-grabber Trump in the Republican primaries in part in gratitude for trying to make the scandal of the racy photos go away, well, we enter an entirely different level. Falwell more than meets the legal definition of a public figure, and this affair—whatever the salacious details—involves public money, the outcome of political campaigns, and the subsequent assault on the rights of LGBT people, women, immigrants, people who do not subscribe to Falwell’s brand of evangelical christianism, and others.

Giancarlo Granda, now in his late twenties and attending grad school in Georgetown, has issued a number of terse replies to various reporters over the series of events. When asked whether he knew anything about the photos, his reply was that he wasn’t the person who attempted to blackmail the Falwells. Which wasn’t exactly the question that was asked. He has a few other gripes with the way the story has been reported: Jerry Falwell’s Pool Boy: Stop Calling Me “Pool Boy”. Sorry, Giancarlo, that isn’t likely to happen. You were doing your job in a skimpy swimsuit as a pool attendant at a Miami hotel when the Falwell’s met you and pulled you into their life in whatever capacity. You went on those trips with them on their private, tax-exempt jet. And I don’t know anyone who believes it was because of your business acumen. So I’m not willing to think you’re a completely innocent victim in all of this.

It will be interesting to see what comes out of the Fernandez’s lawsuit. And if Cohen really did save one of the pictures, well, who knows what will happen, next?

Meanwhile, you might enjoy this video: Rachel Maddow: Michael Cohen Said He Fixed ‘Racy Photo’ Problem For Falwell Jr (Rachel also warns you may feel the need to take a shower after hearing some of the details):

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Weekend Update, 5/12/2019: Things that rock

There was a whole series of stories I intentionally kept out of this week’s Friday Five because it’s an involved tale that falls into a theme I’ve blogged about a lot, and I had more than a few thoughts on it. So I had planned to run it as a Weekend Update post. I also kept this week’s Friday Five a bit more succinct than has been typical, of late, in part because since I had Friday off, I had intended to spend Thursday evening binging Lucifer season 4 on Netflix. Which I did.

No spoilers: I laughed, I cried, I gasped, I cheered, and please oh please let there be a season 5!

Anyway, my extended weekend started off both relaxing and productive. I had some errands and chores I wanted to get done, and most of those have been attended to. I’ve also napped more than I meant to, I’ve gotten a lot of reading in, and so forth. By Saturday morning when I originally planned to finish the other blog post, I just didn’t want to. Because, often my weekend updates are about really sordid things, and that’s what this series of stories is. I just wasn’t in the mood, or rather, I didn’t want to put myself into the sort of mood I would likely be after I finished that post. And I thought, well, there is a certain resonance to posting it on Sunday, so maybe I’ll work on it then.

Instead, I got up, took my meds, did a little bit of tidying in the kitchen, then laid down and slept for something like five ours. And I still don’t want to go there. So you’re getting a brief, and late, Weekend Update that is about good or cool or rockin’ things, instead of the sordid stuff about a public figure.

First up, just a nice little feel good story: Mom Gets a Surprise When She Skips Her Own Graduation to Attend Her Son’s. Woman goes back to school later in life, and finds out that the day she is supposed to accept her Bachelor of Science in Business Administration at one university, is the same day that her son is getting his Bachelor’s in Music at a different university. So she decides to skip her ceremony to attend her son’s. A classmate of the son happens to have a workstudy job in the office of the university president, and told the president the story. So the president calls the president of the other university and the cook up the scheme to surprise both mother and son, by presenting mom’s diploma at their ceremony.

Novelist and comic-book writer Chuck Wendig has been tweeting a lot about the family of foxes that have a den not far from his writing shed, and he’s posted an album of the adorable photos for all to see.

Finally, a couple of cool things:

Coeur d’Alene artist turns decaying tree into little library:

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GOOD OMENS in 35,000 dominoes:

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Friday Five (decade in the red edition)

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It’s Friday! We’ve reached the second Friday in May.

We’ve gone from weather than feels like spring to temperatures that would be more appropriate in summer. So we’ve been making meals that minimize how often we turn on the stove. Including grilling things outside.

Anyway, welcome to the Friday Five. This week I bring you: the top five (IMHO) stories of the week, five stories related to various political things, and five videos (plus some things I wrote).

Stories of the Week:

A Certain Looking White Woman .

“Are You Gay, Like Your Character?”.

Humanity Is About to Kill 1 Million Species in an Epic Murder-Suicide.

we carry each other.

Don’t call it a ‘hate crime.’ This is terrorism.

This Week in Political Developments:

Decade in the Red: Trump Tax Figures Show Over $1 Billion in Business Losses and ‘Art of the Deal’ ghostwriter says he’d be fine if book is recategorized as fiction following Times reporting on Trump’s business losses.

Pete Buttigieg: ‘I have no shortage of batting practice when it comes to dealing with bullies’.

Scott Walker’s Foxconn Deal Has Major Problems.

Pete Buttigieg Is Exposing Tensions In The LGBTQ Movement.

Asked if a Woman Can Win, 2020 Candidates Offer an Easy Answer: ‘I Have’ .

Things I wrote:

Confessions of a bad son, part 3: the myth of regret.

I hate the term “fan service,” or, don’t forget you’re writing to an audience.

Videos!

Trump Lost Over $1 Billion in 10 Years: A Closer Look:

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Lucifer | Season 4 Official Trailer [HD] | Netflix:

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

Rachel Maddow Explains Why the White House is So Terrified by Don McGahn’s Testimony That They Just Ordered Him to Defy a House Subpoena:

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

Taron Egerton Releases Updated Version of ‘Rocket Man’ Ahead of Elton Biopic Release:

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SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME – Official Trailer (Spoilers for Endgame!):

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

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