Friday Links (keep it in the family edition)

“Gangsters don't hire family members because they're qualified. Gangsters hire family members because they're less likely to talk to the FBI.”

“Gangsters don’t hire family members because they’re qualified. Gangsters hire family members because they’re less likely to talk to the FBI.” (Click to embiggen)

It’s Friday. July is flying by. We’ve had 34 consecutive days without rain, which isn’t a record, but would surprise some people about Seattle. We have to go at least 18 more days before we’ll tie the existing record. After the wettest winter in the recorded weather history, it would be appropriate if we broke the rainless summer record, too.

This week has been another of very long hours at work, so the links round-up may be small.

Anyway, here are the links I found interesting this week, sorted into categories.

Links of the Week

Creation and consumption.

Why every office should scrap its clean desk policy.

This Week in Economic News

The Cost of a Hot Economy in California: A Severe Housing Crisis.

This week in awful people

Fact Check: Does Oregon CPS “Err” On Believing Kids Who Allege Abuse?

Parents Who “Gifted” Underage Daughters to “Prophet of God” Will Go To Prison.

News for queers and our allies:

“American Gods” Super-Producer Bryan Fuller Reveals How TV Studios Kept De-Gaying His Characters.

Queer Geek News Roundup: July 16, 2017.

Bosom Friends: The Gay Anne of Green Gables Scandal.

5 Canadian Queer Beach Reads.

Science!

Six-Legged Giant Finds Secret Hideaway, Hides For 80 Years.

Dinosaur that looked like a massive bird discovered in Canada.

Science Fiction, Fantasy and Speculation!

One of the greatest science fiction magazines is now available for free online.

Sleeps With Monsters: Stop Erasing Women’s Presence in SFF .

Before ‘Valerian,’ ‘The Fifth Element’ Subverted Sci-Fi Movies.

This Week in History

Local Japanese Americans remember their imprisonment during WWII.

This Week in Tech

Apple previews new emoji coming later this year.

Apple’s risky balancing act with the next iPhone.

Culture war news:

Why I’m Leaving the Southern Baptist Convention .

Rev. Barber: An open letter to clergy who prayed with Donald Trump – The Scripture cautions us to lay hands on no man suddenly, lest we become a party to his sins.

This Week Regarding the Lying Liar:

The Late, Great Jimmy Breslin’s columns on Donald Trump.

A breakdown of the latest New York Times Trump interview.

News about the Fascist Regime:

Pope’s Confidantes Pen Blistering Critique Of Steve Bannon’s View of Christianity.

Why did Don Jr.’s emails surface? Because Robert Mueller is already changing Washington’s lying ways.

The GOP failure on health care is just a hint of what’s to come.

Vulnerable Republicans Just Showed Why Fighting For Trans Rights Is A Political Winner.

This week in Politics:

Colorado to require advanced post-election audits.

Why isn’t voter suppression considered political corruption?

Farewells:

Martin Landau Dead at 89: Oscar-Winning Actor in Ed Wood, Mission: Impossible.

George Romero, ‘Night Of The Living Dead’ Director, Dies At 77.

Things I wrote:

Being reactionary – bad rules and good expectations.

Definitions matter, except when they don’t — more adventures in dictionaries.

Videos!

Christopher Marlowe was a Gay Atheist Spy (Yes, really.):

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

Caught On Video: Bison On The Loose In Gilford, New Hampshire:

Can’t embed, so, click here.

Definitions matter, except when they don’t — more adventures in dictionaries

The oldest book I own is an English/German German/English Dictionary published in 1856. It is only one of the books on my four and a quarter shelves of dictionaries/thesauruses in the living room of our new home.

The oldest book I own is an English/German German/English Dictionary published in 1856. It is only one of the books on my four and a quarter shelves of dictionaries/thesauruses in the living room of our new home.

I’m a word nerd, obviously, and there have been many times that I have based an argument upon the definition of a word. Sometimes, though, that is a disingenuous tactic—the person citing the definition is choosing one that sidesteps or distracts from the main issue at hand, rather than to engage in a genuine discussion. The argument becomes a matter of nitpicking and source citing and burying your opponent in a flurry of trivialities. It is a way to appear to win when all you’ve really done is, in essence, shouted the other person down.

Anyone who has ever dealt with an internet troll has seen this tactic.

Unfortunately, anyone who is paying attention to Seattle politics right now are witnessing a particularly loathsome use of the tactic. I’ve written before about the allegations that Mayor Murray hired teen-age prostitutes and/or sexually abused teens in his care 30-some years ago in Oregon. The allegations came to light because of a suspiciously timed lawsuit filed on behalf of an anonymous man, and the lawyer pressing the case behaved strangely—filing motions with the court that weren’t legitimate filings but rather press releases citing strange gossipy items about the mayor (leading the judge to both warn and fine the lawyer). The mayor decided not to seek re-election. When, not long after the filing deadline to run for mayor and one day before the first sworn answers to question were to be given by the plaintiff/accuser, the lawsuit was suddenly withdrawn, a lot of us thought that maybe there wasn’t anything to the allegations.

And since time immemorial, people have accused all queer people of being pedophiles or other kinds of sexual predators, so it was easy to see this as just another example of that prejudice, right?

Murray maintained that when the accusations came to light about 33 years ago and were investigated by both the police and other agencies, he had been cleared—investigators, he said, had all agreed that the accusations from the teens were unfounded. We knew the country prosecutor had declined to file charges. Oregon’s child protective services said that the case had been closed and that most of the files related to the case had been destroyed some years ago. Given how anti-gay the police and prosecutors in that part of Oregon were known to be in the 80s, it seemed that there must not have been any evidence to sustain the charges.

Well, now we know that’s not quite true.

Some of the records that were thought to be destroyed have been found. And after getting permission from the person who was the teen-age accuser at the time, redacted versions of the files have been released. Murray had been a foster parent at the time of some of these accusations, and one of the people who alleged he had sexually abused him was a foster teen in his care. The agency investigated and concluded that there was reasonable cause to believe abuse had occurred. Murray’s certification to be a foster parent was therefore revoked, with the agency officially finding that he should never be allowed to be a foster parent again.

The mayor’s response to this revelation has been to claim he had no idea of the finding and then argue that child protective services always errs on the side of believing the child, therefore the accusations shouldn’t be believed. There have been a series of statements from his lawyers in which the goalposts have been moved a few times while trying to draw a distinction between the criminal law standard of guilt of “beyond a reasonable doubt” and the standards adhered to by agencies like child protective services.

It is technically true that the standard for conviction in a criminal case is higher than the standard used by child protective services. But statistically it is absolutely not true that those sorts of agencies believe the kids all of the time, or even most of the time. The vast majority of the time when such accusations are investigated, the agencies determine that the allegations are probably unfounded. Unfortunately, other statistics indicates that they reach this conclusion erroneously more times than not.

We also now know that at least one prosecutor was convinced that Murray was guilty. She withdrew charges related to the foster child not because there was insufficient evidence, but because the troubled teen ran away from the group home he’d been moved to, and was literally unavailable to testify.

The teens were all kids who Murray had encountered because they were already troubled. They were in the system because of parental abuse, neglect, or abandonment. They had drug issues. They were exactly the sorts of kids that people wouldn’t believe. We know now from numerous studies that they are exactly the sorts of victims certain time of abusers seek out, precisely because of that lack of credibility.

When the agency concluded the allegation of abuse by the foster teen were founded, they were required to notify Murray that his certification was being revoked and offer him a change to appeal the finding. Murray didn’t appeal. He instead left Oregon and returned to his home town, Seattle. Given the timing of his departure, I’m having a very hard time believing that he never received the notice and the offer of an appeal. So I don’t believe him when he says he never knew about the finding.

And that throws a shadow of doubt over the rest of his denials.

Each time the allegations were brought up to him over the years, his first reaction was immediately attack the credibility of each teen involved. Then it was to attack the credibility and question the motives of any lawyers or investigators who were looking into the allegations. And now, by asserting that child protective services always errs on the side of believing the accuser, he’s attacking the credibility of the agency.

And what makes it loathsome, is that each day he remains in the office of Mayor and gets away with attacking the credibility of the accusers, investigators, and agency charged with protecting kids has a chilling effect on other abuse victims out there. It sends a clear message that if they come forward, they will not be believed. If anyone believes them, those people will be discredited.

Whether Murray committed the abuse or not, the chilling effect helps abusers and hurts abuse victims.

So much time has passed and the waters have been so muddied that these allegations from 30-some years ago probably couldn’t be proven beyond a reasonable doubt in a criminal court (which we’ll never know because of the statute of limitations). But “charges dropped because the witness went missing” is not the definition of exonerated. And “reasonable cause to believe the abuse had occurred” sure as heck isn’t the definition of unfounded. It doesn’t have to reach the criminal law definition of Guilty for reasonable people to conclude Not Innocent.

It has been argued that the city council can’t impeach the mayor because the charter only allows them to do that if he commits a willful violation of duty, which is general meant violation of his duties as mayor while serving in office. But the charter also says the mayor my be removed over an offence involving “moral turpitude.” Turpitude, according to my dictionaries, is “an evil way of behaving.” Whether he committed the abuse or not, I certainly think his behaviors of lying about knowing that the charges had been found as probably true and attacking the standard of proof that a child protective agency should use could be described as evil, don’t you?

Being reactionary – bad rules and good expectations

“Sorry but your password must contain an uppercase letter, a number, a haiku, a gang sign, a hieroglyph, and the blood of a virgin.”

“Sorry but your password must contain an uppercase letter, a number, a haiku, a gang sign, a hieroglyph, and the blood of a virgin.” (Click to embiggen)

I was reminded this week of the Dumbest Password Policy Ever™. I was working at a company that was a subsidiary of a large company that had a bunch of divisions and subsidiaries all over North America and was in turn a subsidiary of a multi-billion dollar international company. And one day we got an email in the form of a memo from the President of all the North American divisions informing us of the new updated employee manual and drawing our attention to the new password policy included in the handbook which everyone was expected to read and conform to immediately. So I downloaded the handbook and found that policy and read with both horror and amusement: every employee is required to write down their passwords for all company owned systems, and are to keep this hardcopy of their passwords hidden somewhere in their work area, and are to show their supervisors where that password list is, and the password list must be updated whenever a password is changed.

Which anyone who knows anything about security knows is the most insecure way to treat passwords.

My boss called everyone in our department together and said, “Do not write down your passwords! If we get audited, I will tell them at of course we comply with the policy and of course each of you showed me where your passwords are hidden, but darn, I seem to have forgotten.” Which is what every other manager in our division told their direct reports (And I suspect a whole lot of managers in all of the divisions).

I understand how a policy like that comes into being. Someone who was the only person with admin privileges on some important system in one of the other division was out sick or on vacation or maybe even had died and there was a great deal of trouble that wound up costing a lot of money (either just from all the time spent by a lot of people trying to fix the problem and/or other people not being able to do certain tasks for a while). The solution to that is not to make every single bit of proprietary information available to anyone who can sneak into an office and snoop for a while. The solution is to make sure every system always has multiple people with admin rights. As long as you have someone with admin rights who can reset other account passwords or give other people rights to access files or whatever that are only accessible ordinarily to the one employee who is unavailable, you can solve any of the other problems.

Right?

Trying to avoid repeating a mistake is a natural (and not unreasonable) reaction when something goes wrong. Unfortunately, in some circumstances involving certain sorts of people a very simple “solution” that is worse than the original problem is adopted.

I’ve been worrying about this a little bit because as part of the move we’ve been trying to make some changes in our behavior to avoid problems we kept having at the old place. Some are fairly east: don’t let dishes pile up in the sink; it’s all right to run the dishwasher when it isn’t completely full. Others are a little more difficult to stick to: take out the trash or recycle as soon as we notice it’s full.

Those are examples of things we kept meaning to change before. There were issues with the outside garbage and recycle bins at the old place that provided an excuse to put off dealing with the trash at certain parts of the week, but the real issue was procrastination and habit. Habits are reinforced by all sorts of things, for example, getting used to seeing dishes piled in that sink. So maybe the change in visual cues will help us develop a new habit.

Some of the new ways of doing things are because of issues we didn’t realize were happening until we packed up. We discovered all sorts of unexpected things lurking in the back of closets, or the back parts of shelves we couldn’t see easily, or behind furniture that was seldom moved.

But I also recognize that slavishly adhering to rules without regard to unintended consequences can create worse problems. So I’ve been trying to think of this as merely establishing new norms: not strict rules, just expectations.

And maybe that’s the secret: don’t be inflexible!

Friday Links (other people feel the pain edition)

“When you are dead you do not know you are dead. All of the pain is felt by others. THE SAME THING HAPPENS WHEN YOU ARE STUPID.”

“When you are dead you do not know you are dead. All of the pain is felt by others. THE SAME THING HAPPENS WHEN YOU ARE STUPID.” (click to embiggen)

It’s Friday. It’s the second Friday in July!

This week’s round up is a bit smaller than usual. Still trying to figure out how much time I should put into these posts, and still being way busier than usual at work and such.

Anyway, here are the links I found interesting this week, sorted into categories.

Links of the Week

How This Year’s Pride Gave Me Hope .

Digging in the Trash — THE BITTER SOUTHERNER.

Education: The Great Leveler and the Great Divider.

Happy News!

Disneyland’s Captain America talking to a guest in sign-language will make you happy cry.

This week in awful people

‘Valuable’ Clues Uncovered in Case of 4 Young Men Missing in Bucks County, Pennsylvania; Person of Interest Arrested.

Captain Awkward #992: “My husband is dating my mom.”.

Minuteman co-founder gets 19½ years for sexually abusing 5-year-old. All 3 of his daughters say they’re also victims.

Fate of disgraced Joe Arpaio, who once said ‘nobody’s higher than me,’ now in judge’s hands.

News for queers and our allies:

Fraternity Brothers Say ‘I Do’ After 10-Year Romance.

The church’s trans epiphany will ease the way for others like me.

Rugby player at Pride parade sends crowds into frenzy with marriage proposal.

Small town, big pride: Erie, Pennsylvania.

This hero dad has become an advocate for his trans son.

Scott Frantz, offensive lineman for Kansas State, comes out as gay.

Science!

Super Gonorrhea Is About to Get the Trump Bump.

Science Fiction, Fantasy and Speculation!

Seattle Review of Books – Future Alternative Past: Dividing past the dividing lines.

Ship’s Log: 12 Queer SFF Books with Upcoming Sequels .

Franchise Addiction, Movie Studio Dealers, Series Re-Visits, and Why We Need New (better) Drugs.

Friday Five: 5 SF/F Books that Ace the Bechdel Test.

This Week in Love Conquers…

A Widow’s Rage Defense of Patton Oswalt’s Engagement.

This Week in Tech

SoundCloud sinks as leaks say layoffs buy little time .

This Week in Covering the News

After obtaining his contact information through its accidental exposure by the Washington Post, a high school reporter contacted Secretary of Defense James Mattis for an interview – and it’s a good, solid interview:.

This Week in Police Problems

Lawsuit Accuses Baton Rouge Police Of Excessive Force During Protests Over Alton Sterling’s Death.

Culture war news:

A massive pilot study demonstrates the subtle ways LGBTQ people are disadvantaged when seeking housing.

This Week in Fighting Back in the Culture War:

For the Second Year in a Row, Anti-Trans Activists Fail to Turn in Signatures for Their Ballot Measure.

This Week in the Resistance:

LGBTQ Rights Group Launches Massive Anti-Trump Effort For 2018.

This Week Regarding the Lying Liar:

The Trump-Russia Conspiracy Is Now Very Simple.

U.S., Russia Offer Conflicting Accounts of Trump-Putin Meeting .

News about the Fascist Regime:

The GOP health bill would cut benefits for very poor households by an average of $2,500 a year, economists say.

Republican Lawmakers Buy Health Insurance Stocks as Repeal Effort Moves Forward.

This week in Politics:

In Defense of Talking About Misogyny In a City That Hasn’t Had a Female Mayor in 92 Years.

Things I wrote:

Weekend Update 7/8/2017: Scandals and Schadenfreude.

We need to take the victories when we get them.

We’re living in the future, but a lot of people don’t get it.

Confessions of a gift-guilty packrat.

Zen, Bradbury, and the Hugo Awards – more of why I love sf/f.

Videos!

Kesha – Woman (Official Video) ft. The Dap-Kings Horns:

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

Selena Gomez – Fetish (Audio) ft. Gucci Mane:

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

HAIM – Want You Back (Official Video):

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

Zen, Bradbury, and the Hugo Awards – more of why I love sf/f

A quote from Ray Bradbury's “Zen and the Art of Writing” (click to embiggen)

A quote from Ray Bradbury’s “Zen and the Art of Writing” (click to embiggen)

Recently someone posted these images of a couple of paragraphs out of Ray Bradbury’s book Zen and the Art of Writing which is only one of the times he told this story. At the age of nine Bradbury fell in love with the Buck Rogers comic strip in his local newspaper, and began cutting out and saving the strips and so forth. His classmates at school teased him for loving such a ridiculous and unlikely story. The teasing eventually drove him to tear up with collection of carefully cut out comic strips. And he was miserable for some time afterward. The bit I found most profound in this version of the story was his realization that the classmates who made fun of the stories he loved weren’t his friends, they were his enemies. It was a realization that resonated deeply.

A later paragraph from Ray Bradbury's “Zen and the Art of Writing” (click to embiggen)

A later paragraph from Ray Bradbury’s “Zen and the Art of Writing” (click to embiggen)

But it’s a realization that is difficult to remember when one is on the other side of that divide. We’ve all been there: a friend or relative is completely enamored with an activity or book or series or movie that we just can’t stand. And try as we might, we can’t understand what they see in it. Assuming that the pastime in question isn’t something that harms anyone (so let’s leave dog fighting and fox hunting and the like out of the discussion), it shouldn’t matter to us where their enthusiasm goes, right?

And yet it it can bother us a lot.

Some works of art (movies, books, TV series) are racist or sexist or misogynist or homophobic or transphobic or ableist, but still have some redeeming qualities. We’ve all liked something which had some problematic stuff in it. The original Dune novel is homophobic (the more evil a character was, the more gay they were, no good character is even bi-curious), for instance, but I still really enjoyed the novel when I read it as a teen (and the first few sequels). I still like the book, but now that I’ve become aware enough to recognize the homophobia, there is a caveat when I recommend it.

I wrote a lot of fan fiction in my late teens and early twenties and some of it utilized the same problematic trope as Dune: the few bisexual and gay characters I wrote back then tended to be at least a bit on the wicked side. This was true for a while even after I started coming out to myself as queer. So while I can’t excuse the inherent homophobia in a lot of stories written in the 50s, 60s, and even the 70s, I understand that it doesn’t always come from an actively malicious place. I’ve also written before about how shocked I was when, after someone pointed out a certain amount of sexism in a story I’d written, that when I looked at a lot of my other works with that in mind, there was casual sexism all over the place. So just because someone is able to enjoy a piece of art because of a small amount of problematic content that doesn’t necessarily mean that they endorse the prejudice.

However…

While I’m willing to let other people like whatever they want, I’m not required to approve of their choices or withhold judgment. If someone only likes things that are extremely anti-semetic, for instance, it’s perfectly okay to infer from that predilection that the person is more than okay with anti-semetism. Furthermore, if:

  • the only works a person likes pushes a misogynist, homophobic, racist agenda;
  • and/or if they actively try to exclude works that give marginalized people a place at the table;
  • and/or if they actively harass fans who recommend works that center marginalized people;
  • and/or if they campaign against writers or artists because of their race, ethnic background, sexual identity, et cetera;
  • and/or if they say that portraying queers or people of color and so forth in a positive manner represents an existential threat to civilization…

…they have clearly shown that, like Bradbury’s classmates, they are not friends, and are actually enemies. Not just enemies of queers and other marginalized people, but in my not-so-humble opinion, enemies of science fiction/fantasy itself. I firmly believe and will always insist that sf/f is ultimately about hope. Even the most dystopian sci fi and gruesome horror hinges on a glimmer of hope. I am not being a hypocrite or intolerant if I decide to stop spending time with enemies (which includes exposing myself to their opinions). I am simply following Bradbury’s example: I’m taking my dinosaurs and leaving the room.

That’s enough about that, for now.

Voting on the Hugo Awards ends soon, and I’ve been fiddling with my ballot off and on for a while. Because of the move, I didn’t get around to downloading the Hugo Packet until later than usual. And because the unpacking is still going on and June at work was all about lots of very long hours, I’ve been having trouble reading all the stuff that made the ballot which I hadn’t already read.

Anyway, the status of my ballot as of Wednesday night is behind the link…

Read More…

Confessions of a gift-guilty packrat

“Guilt: the gift that keeps giving.” —Erma Bombeck

“Guilt: the gift that keeps giving.” —Erma Bombeck

I’ve written more than once about being a packrat, especially recently, as the process of packing, purging, moving, unpacking, purging some more has really driven home just how much stuff we had squirreled and stashed away all over the place. One aspect of the packrat I’ve only touched on briefly is the guilt over gifts. Anxiety comes in many forms for packrats. We worry that if something we need breaks, or is stolen, or stops working or whatever that we won’t be able to afford to replace it. We feel guilt at the thought of spending money to replace something that we could have avoiding spending if we had simply kept a backup. We worry that someone we care about will be left in the lurch if something they need breaks and they can’t afford to replace it. We grow up being taught that people who waste money, or who don’t plan for an equipment or other failure, or who aren’t in a position to help a loved when when something breaks down are bad people. And so on.

It’s a really complex web of guilt trips that we’re programmed with. And while most of those guilt trips are about necessities, not all of them are. We also have been taught to feel guilt over a lot of useless stuff. Specifically: anything that has ever been a gift. Don’t get me wrong: I love gifts. I love finding gifts for people I love. I love giving them. I love when someone gives something to me. Most people do. But we’ve all gotten those gifts that leave us scratching our heads. Why did this person think I would love this strange, ugly thing whose only purpose is to hang on a wall or sit on a shelf and isn’t like anything else I own at all?

The truth is, we know that we’ve made similar mistakes in gifting to other people. We found something we thought was cool, or that they would like, but it’s really not. So when we get gifts like that ourselves, we smile and say “thank you.” And we are grateful that they thought of us and went to the trouble and expense of getting this thing for us, even if we have no clue what we’re going to do with it.

But no matter how useless or inappropriate the gift is, we packrats have a very hard time getting rid of it. Years later it will still be on a shelf or in a closet somewhere, next to a bunch of other things I never use. Even if I’ve decided that it’s time for a purge and I’m specifically going through a part of the house looking for things to take to the thrift store, I’ll pick up the thing I never use that was a gift and immediately hear my grandma’s voice in the back of my head: “You can’t get rid of that! So-and-so gave it to you, and what sort of ungrateful person would get rid of a heartfelt gift?” Getting rid of the gift would be the same thing as saying I don’t love that person as much as I think I do. Getting rid of the gift would mean I don’t appreciate how lucky I am that people think of me fondly enough to get a gift. Getting rid of the gift means that I’m a very bad person.

All of that runs through my head at the thought of getting rid of any gift. Even a silly old knick knack that I don’t merely don’t like, but actually think is repulsive. Even gifts given by people who are no longer a part of my life.

When my parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and various aunts and uncles were inducing all this guilt, they weren’t meaning to turn me into a borderline hoarder—they were trying to teach me not to be ungrateful. Thye wanted me to treasure friends and value friendship and be thankful for the love that came into my life. Just as they had been taugt. The fact that they were all packrats because of it didn’t eve cross their minds.

Every single weird little kickknack and odd odject d’art that was crammed into the homes of each of my great-grandparents had a story. If I pointed at something and asked about it they would tell a story about the dear friend or long-deceased relative or whoever that had given them the thing. The story they told didn’t always involve the gift itself. But it was about the person and how wonderful or funny or dear they had been. Each dusty item was a memorial to someone they cared about.

And it isn’t just gifts that do that. My late husband, Ray, was even more into plushies than I am. Some of the plush tigers and bunnies and such he owned for a very long time before we met. Many of them had spent years in storage while he was living in a series of rented rooms in other people’s houses. But some went with him to each of those rooms. Some were later kept near his favorite chair in the apartments he and I shared.

The problem is that Ray was a heavy smoker—like his mom and sister and brothers who liked to visit a lot. And many of those plushies became badly nicotine stained. I’ve spent years periodically taking the stained ones out and trying various cleaning solutions on them. Some cleaned up easily, but other have just resisted.

But every time I thought it was time to throw in the towel and admit they couldn’t be cleaned, I would immediate think, “But Ray adored it! What kind of heartleass widower would throw away something your husband loved!?” So they would go back into the closet or the back of a shelf until the next time I tried to clean them.

The process happened again during the move. For the first time in a long while I had all of the stained ones in a single place and I went through trying to clean all of them yet again. As before, they resist the commercial soap and various homemade concoctions I’ve put together from recipes on the web and so forth. They just won’t come clean. And since they are so badly stained, they shouldn’t be donated to a thrift store. When I mentioned this to Michael, he very delicately suggested it was time to “retire” them. I probably should have made a Bladerunner joke, but instead I just said, “I know. I just may have to hold a funeral for them.”

When Grandma died, we found literally hundreds and hundreds of teddy bears, easter bunnies, and assorted other plushies, each packed in plastic bags and crammed impossibly densely into a couple of closets. A lot of them had little notes attached in Grandma’s handwritting with some person’s name and a date. The vast majority of the names were people none of the family recognized. Grandma did lots of volunteer work at church, and over the years she helped and came to know a dizzying array of people who were there for a while and moved on with their life when they got through whatever calamity had brought them to the charity program. And Grandma seemed to remember them all.

For a few years after her death, everytime I saw either my mother or my aunt, they would try to foist some of those plushies off on me. “It belonged to your grandmother!” they would protest if I suggested donating it to a thrift store. It didn’t matter that many of them looked like they had come from a thrift store before Grandma got them. It didn’t matter that they had been hidden away somewhere in some cases for many decades. It didn’t matter that none of us had any knowledge of their existence before Grandma’s death; not one of us had a fond memory of Grandma telling the story of how this one was given to her. To my mom and my aunt, suggestions that we didn’t want them amounted to saying we didn’t want to remember Grandma, or something.

I don’t want to be that person. I recognize that hanging onto these things that I don’t and can’t enjoy simply because they were his is as irrational as my Mom being upset when I suggested a hunk of junk that had clearly once been a dime store window display that one of Grandma’s charity cases had picked up as salvage somewhere and given to her wasn’t a family heirloom.

There’s a difference between hanging on to something that you love or reminds you of someone you love (and that you have room for and you can enjoy and/or it serves a purpose), and hanging on because you feel guilt toward someone who is not going to be harmed in any way if you don’t keep it.

But I’m still probably going to hold a little funeral for the plushies…

We’re living in the future, but a lot of people don’t get it

An magazine ad from 1968: Western Electric is crossing a telephone with a TV set.  “What you'll use is called, simply enough, a Picturephone set. Someday it will let you see who you are talking to, and let them see you.”

An magazine ad from 1968: Western Electric is crossing a telephone with a TV set.
“What you’ll use is called, simply enough, a Picturephone set. Someday it will let you see who you are talking to, and let them see you.”

Some years ago I was attending a meeting of the committee that ran one of the local science fiction conventions. I had just joined the staff, and it was my first full meeting. One of the topics debated that day was a proposal that the committee obtain an email address that several committee members could check, because people kept asking why they didn’t have an email address. The only means that were available to the public (and thus people who might want to attend the convention) for contacting the organization was to either mail a physical letter to the club’s post office box, or to leave a voice mail message via a phone number that didn’t actually ring a phone. A system that was troublesome because if you didn’t check the voice mail box often enough, it would fill up with messages and no one could leave a new message.

During the debate, one person admitted that he had voted “no” each previous time the question had come up, but he had recently realized that it was as inconvenient for him and his friends that he didn’t have an email address of his own, as it had been inconvenient for he and his family that his elderly great-aunt refused to get a telephone. He wasn’t the only member of the committee to admit that they had been resisting adopting that “new technology.”

And this was a bunch of sci fi nerds.

Admittedly, it was sci fi nerds in the 1980s. Personal computers were still complicated gadgets that cost more than a car (the first IBM PC/XT had 128kilobytes of RAM and cost $5000, that’s the equivalent of $12,000 in 2017) and often had parts you had to solder together yourself. But my point is that even people who think they are forward thinking and tech savvy often have big blind spots about technology.

Such as the current dismay I keep seeing expressed online because so many politicians on both sides of the aisle have been talking about rural broadband. “Is this really a pressing need?” As a matter of fact, yes. It is nearly impossible in the modern era to apply for a job if you don’t have access not just to email, but a robust enough internet connection to fill out the often very-poorly scripted online applications. When my husband and I were recently looking for a new place to live, not only were the only reliable places to find available properties online, but often the only way to inquire about a property was to fill out a web form. Even after that point, we had to each fill out applications for background checks via a different website and system than we’d used to contact the property manager.

(click to embiggen)

The primary means to access services such as unemployment insurance, disability benefits, and so forth, is over the web. And that means needing more than a basic internet connection, you have to have a decent amount of bandwidth, or things time out. When new medical equipment is handed out, they doctor’s offices don’t have the time to show you how to use it, they give you a web address to access videos online. That’s how I learned to properly inject myself with insulin (including how to troubleshoot the injection pin and so on): they sent me to a webpage to watch the videos and read the warnings and disclaimers myself.

Internet access, particularly high speed/high bandwidth access, is no longer a luxury. Society, both businesses and institutions, have embraced the new technologies. Just as phones ceased being a luxury decades ago, then cellphones ceased being a luxury about a decade ago, and now smart phones have also crossed that line. For a number of people, particularly poor people, their smartphone is their only reliable way of accessing the services they need to get and keep their jobs, to take care of their kids’ needs, and so on.

Douglas Adams observed in an article in 1999:

“I’ve come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:
1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.”

Which is accurate, but also just a bit dated. Technology doesn’t just move forward, but the rate at which things change accelerates. Adams’s rules could use a couple of additions. For instance, we might add “Any new and exciting thing creating jobs when you’re in your 20s is a dying, obsolete industry by the time you turn 40.”

And there are the people who don’t understand how mass production and the commodification of products makes things that once were terribly expensive available for a fraction of the cost. This comes up a lot in relation to iPhones, in particular. In certain circles it is popular to hold up the ownership of an iPhone by someone who is struggling financially as proof that the person is only struggling because of bad priorities. This doesn’t take into account the many, many ways that someone can obtain slightly older versions of currently expensive gadgets extremely cheaply. We’ve already established that have a phone, specifically a mobile phone, has become a necessity in our modern society. Getting a refurbished unit of some previous year’s model or a non-refurbished unit of a model from a couple of years ago for free or close to it as part of a cell phone contract is quite common. And then there are various sales and special offers one can find.

That doesn’t even get into the hand-me-down process. Lots of people, when they upgrade a device such as a phone or tablet or laptop, rather than try to sell it somewhere, wipe their data and give the device to a friend or relative who can’t afford a new device themselves.

Luxuries aren’t what some people think they are. Sadly, the people least likely to understand this also don’t realize that being able to look with condescension on others for having or wanting nice things is a form of luxury on its own.

We need to take the victories when we get them

An image from Seattle's Trans Pride March a couple of weeks ago. More here: http://www.seattleweekly.com/news/photos-seattleites-march-for-trans-pride/

A marcher holds a sign urging people not to support the the previous anti-trans initiative campaign. Image from Seattle’s 2016 Trans Pride March. More here: http://www.seattleweekly.com/news/photos-seattleites-march-for-trans-pride/

Last Friday was the deadline for people filing initiatives to the people to turn in their signatures in order to attempt to qualify for the fall ballot. One of those I was worried about was I-1552, the second attempt at enacting an anti-transgender bathroom bill into law. The anti-trans group that has been collecting signatures had made an appointment at 3pm on Friday to turn in the petitions (the Secretary of State’s office asks groups to make these appointments in part because receiving & cataloging the boxes of petitions requires a lot of people), but 3pm came and went and there was no sign of the group. Not long after 3pm word leaked that the group had apparently contacted the Secretary of State’s office to say they weren’t bringing in their signatures. So a flurry of happy and triumphant press announcements went out that the measure wasn’t going to be on the ballot.

I decided not to make this news the topic of my Weekend Update because I couldn’t find any confirmation of those triumphant announcements. Only one of the news sites I checked even mentioned the fact that, technically, the group could miss their appointment, they could even call and cancel, but if they arrived at the office at 4:59pm with thousands of signed petitions, the state would have to accept them and begin the process of verifying signatures. And some of the folks involved in the push for the initiative have played fast and loose with the rules before.

Anyway, I finally did find confirmation: Election Rarity: No Initiatives Qualify For November Statewide Ballot In Washington. So didn’t show up at 4:59 with petitions. No one did, even though about 30 different initiatives were filed this time. There’s more good news besides the fact that for a second year in a row the anti-trans people were unable to get enough signatures to even turn them in and attempt to qualify. I’ll come back to that.

As late as Thursday morning, the anti-trans folks were sending out money-beg emails to their supporters in which they claimed they had more than enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, but they still needed to fundraise because those evil queers and their nefarious allies were preparing to challenge the signatures. I just want to clarify that we were prepared to do more than challenge signatures. Evidence had already come forward that some of the signature gatherers were circulating two versions of the petitions that didn’t conform to the law: they didn’t have the official approved ballot title on the top (instead having a misleading one), and others didn’t contain the full text of the law on the back. Those of us following this case knew that, and the organization leading the Decline to Sign campaign (and preparing to run a No on I-1552 campaign if it made the ballot), had lawyers standing at the ready to raise that issue, among others. Signatures on petitions that don’t meet the legal criteria aren’t supposed to be counted, right?

Anyway, the didn’t have enough signatures, and so decided not to turn them in: WASHINGTON STATE: Haters Fail To Submit Signatures To Place Transgender Rights Repeal On Ballot and Transgender bathroom rule won’t be on fall ballot; group seeking rollback fails to get enough signatures. So that’s good news, for now. This is the second time this has happened. They claim to have collected more signatures this year than last. Because they were prompter to get filed and so forth this year, they had more time to collect the signatures. This time around a lot more Republican politicians and former politicians came out urger voters not to sign, though some waited until awfully late to do so.

But the other bit of good news is that none of the other initiatives filed on other topics turned in signatures, either. Some of them were quite worrisome. I’m very happy that perennial anti-tax, anti-gay, anti-well-anything-decent initiative filer Tim Eyman had a bunch of his usual garbage filed as of January and he was fundraising as usual right up until March, when the state Attorney General filed a lawsuit against him and one of his paid signature gathering groups for campaign finance violations including money laundering and Eyman diverting a lot of funds for his personal use: AG sues Tim Eyman for $2M, says he profited from campaigns. Suddenly, all of his fundraising efforts shifted to begging supporters for money to pay his legal fees: Eyman cries for contributions to counter AG’s ‘stunning witch hunt’.

The guy’s full-time job for a couple of decades has been running these shitty initiatives. He’s been having fewer and fewer successes as time has gone by, and previous disclosures have found a shrinking pool of people willing to donate. The bulk of the money coming into the campaigns and into his so-called political action committee has been coming from a single anti-tax crank millionaire for a while, now. And given the lies, distortions, and evasions he has engaged in over the years in the campaigns, it’s really a wonder he wasn’t charged with something sooner.

In the midst of so much anxiety-inducing news around the world, we need to remember to take the victories that we do get. Even if they’re only in the smaller battles just now.

Ooops!

Fumble fingers again!

If you got to this page from a notification sent out on the weekend, the post was only half-written then and I clicked the wrong button. Now you can read “We’re living in the future, but a lot of people don’t get it” by clicking the link.

Weekend Update 7/8/2017: Scandals and Schadenfreude

Muppet News Flash!

Yesterday’s round-up of news links (which covered two weeks because I’d been swamped at work then went on a short trip to deal with some family things) ended with a video of Tim Minchin singing his song, “Come Home, Cardinal Pell.” Which is a good song, but I failed to include a link in the news section about how the named Vatican official has finally been charged with sex abuse related crimes and ordered to return to Australia to face the charges. So first, a little background: Sex abuse scandal has followed Cardinal George Pell for decades.

The tl;dr version: back in the ’70s and ’80s he was the Catholic official in charge of educational institutions and programs in a region of Australia that included the notorious St. Alipius Primary School, a place described later by investigators as “a pedophile’s paradise and a child’s nightmare.” When Father Gerald Ridsdale, one of the worst offenders at that place and similar places for decades before, was finally charges with sex crimes in 1993, then Auxiliary Bishop Pell walked with Ridsdale as he was escorted into court (in hopes that his appearance and support would get Ridsdale a more lenient prison sentence), which cemented in the minds of many his dismissive attitude about accusations of sex abuse.

Eventually Australian legal authorities began turning up more and more evidence of people who had reported the sexual abuse to Pell over the years. Pell conveniently was transferred to a job at Vatican City, and then when the Royal Commission summoned him to testify, he suddenly conveniently became too ill to travel. Eventually, bowing to political pressure, Cardinal Pell agreed to testify via video conference.

“If kids got raped at Denny's as often as they get raped at church, every Denny's in the U.S. would be burned to the ground.” —Dan Savage

“If kids got raped at Denny’s as often as they get raped at church, every Denny’s in the U.S. would be burned to the ground.” —Dan Savage

Most of the allegations against him have been an all-too-familiar tale: Catholic official learns about priests or nuns sexually abusing children in their care, the situation is hushed up, the abuser is whisked away and given a job somewhere far off where they still have access to vulnerable children, the official denies any knowledge of the issue and takes other actions to protect the reputation and financial assets of the church, completely ignoring the victims. And, of course, said official continues in their own job, often rising to higher positions in the church: How Cardinal Pell Rose to Power, Trailed by a Cloud of Scandal.

Finally, it seems, Pell’s past is catching up with him: Police statement: Cardinal George Pell charged with multiple sexual offences – video and The charges against Cardinal George Pell – explainer.

So, we don’t yet know what the charges are. It’s possible that the criminal charges are for not taking action when crimes were reported to him (at least one occasion of which he admitted to during the video testimony). We’ll have to wait and see. Personally, I hope he spends the rest of his life in prison.

While we’re on the subject of officials behaving badly, former Congressman Aaron Schock (of whom I’ve written about a few times) has recently asked, once again, that the court throw out the 24-count indictment for corruption against him. While continuing to proclaim his innocence, he filed a 44-page brief which basically boils down to a claim that House Ethics Rules aren’t laws, so the fact that he violated them can’t be prosecuted. That’s right, he says he’s innocent, and then he says that he did the things but because of legal technicalities he shouldn’t be charged: Schock Rips DOJ, Urges Toss Of ‘Defective’ Indictment.

There is so much I could say about this, but I think this time I’ll give the final word to the Editorial Board of the St. Louis Post Dispatch, who observed:

“Former U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Peoria, once known for his six-pack abs and $5,000 office chandelier, is due in court next month on 24 criminal counts, including theft of government funds, fraud and making false statements.

The German word, schadenfreude, meaning to take joy in the misfortune of others, must have been created for this. It was hard to like Schock, 36, who flaunted the good life, allegedly achieved by treating government and campaign funds as a personal piggy bank. He gaudily redecorated his office to look like “Downton Abbey,” modeled for the cover of Men’s Health and charged thousands of dollars to his government-funded office account for such things as private flights, new cars and tickets to the Super Bowl.

Schock, who was the youngest member of the House when he went to Congress in 2009, resigned on March 31, 2015, immersed in scandal.”

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