Friday Five (heeding the call edition)

Gun massacres fell during the assault weapons ban (click to embiggen)

It’s the fourth Friday of February!

Seattle is in the middle of a record breaking cold snap, even while other parts of the country are experiencing record breaking heat. We seldom get snow in Seattle at all, and this winter we’ve had it several times. They’re saying it’s going to be this cold for several more days, at least. And the same large atmospheric phenomenon giving us all this icy weather it also what’s making it so warm elsewhere.

Once again I bring you the Friday Five: The top five (IMHO) stories of the week and videos (plus notable obituaries and a recap of my blog posts).

Stories of the Week:

More Than Twice As Many Women Are Running For Congress In 2018 Compared With 2016.

The Pro-Trump Media Has Its Match In The Parkland Students.

Democrats Should Run on Gun Control All Over the Country.

Gov. Greitens indicted for felony invasion of privacy stemming from affair. He is also accused of attempted blackmail. So much for family values…

What Ever Happened To Brendan Fraser? This article is not about what you probably think it’s about.

Death:

Billy Graham: Neither prophet nor theologian. I so seldom agree with George Will, but maybe only a curmudgeonly old ultra conservative can get away from saying (among other thing) in an obituary: “Graham frequently vowed to abstain from partisan politics, and almost as frequently slipped this self-imposed leash, almost always on behalf of Republicans… On Feb. 1, 1972, unaware of Nixon’s Oval Office taping system, when Nixon ranted about how Jews “totally dominated” the media, Graham said “this stranglehold has got to be broken or this country is going down the drain.” He also told Nixon that Jews are “the ones putting out the pornographic stuff.” One can reasonably acquit Graham of anti-Semitism only by convicting him of toadying.”

Even a Graham can’t save Trump. (This is more about Franklin Graham and his ilk and Trump, but the opening paragraphs nicely sum up the way Billy fit into the lives of many, many evangelicals in the 50s through at least the 80s)

Anti-gay evangelical Billy Graham has died, aged 99.

What the Obits Aren’t Saying: Evangelist Billy Graham Was a Homophobe.

Far from being ‘an exemplar to generation upon generation’, Graham is an example of how religion is so often successfully leveraged as a means of making bigotry appear somehow acceptable, even something to aspire to.

Things I wrote:

It can’t be too late for common sense about guns, right?

No, today’s official holiday name isn’t what you think.

When the roll is called up yonder, or queer confessions of an ex-evangelical.

Videos!

Trump vs. The World: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO):

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

The Kids From Florida Aren’t Acting:

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

Fox News retracts story mocking Olympic diversity:

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

Legion Season 2 “No Secrets” International Promo (HD):

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

Matt Gresham – Home (Official Video):

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When the roll is called up yonder, or queer confessions of an ex-evangelical

Me wearing part of the uniform for the interdenominational youth touring choir I was a member of for many years.

Me wearing part of the uniform for the interdenominational youth touring choir I was a member of for many years.

Just a few months ago I was trying to explain to a friend who lives in the U.K. the weird hypocritical dogma of the typical American fundamentalist Christian, and wound up mentioning that although I disagreed vehemently with many things that Billy Graham preached, I always felt his basic faith was sincere. This is in contrast to my opinion of Graham’s son who has taken over running the ministry, who both on air and in-person came across as an especially unethical used car salesman.

Even so, I was a bit surprised at my reaction to the news that the 99-year-old Billy Graham, oft described as “America’s Pastor,” died yesterday. Let’s make no mistake: while Graham was unusual among Southern Baptist ministers in the 1950s to embrace desegregation (“there is no segregation at the foot of the cross”) and at least gave lip service to decrying racism, he was an unrepentant homophobe. Statements he made over the years included: “Let me say this loud and clear, we traffic in homosexuality at the peril of our spiritual welfare.” Or: “Is AIDS a judgment of God? I could not be sure, but I think so.” Graham claimed to be non-partisan, but often came down on the Republican side of many issues. “At 93, I never thought we would have to debate the definition of marriage. The Bible is clear — God’s definition of marriage is between a man and a woman.” And it’s really hard to justify some of the comments he made while discussing Jews and the media with President Nixon in the 1960s.

But Billy could preach! Oh, how he could preach! It’s difficult to explain to someone who didn’t grow up in an evangelical community in the 50s, 60s, or 70s the cherished place Graham inhabited in the hearts of the faithful, semi-faithful, and faithful-adjacent. Graham wasn’t just held up as an example of a good man and great preacher, people were so certain he was inspired by god, that quoting him sometimes had a stronger effect than quoting from the scripture.

As a teenaged Southern Baptist (very closeted) queer boy in the 70s, I was perhaps more acutely aware of how much Graham was revered than most. While many saw my flare for the dramatic as a troubling hint of queerness, others saw it as a calling from god to become a preacher. The combination of that theatricality with my ability to memorize and recall huge sections of the Bible, as well as a facility with language, and being quick-thinking on my feet had people talking about what a great preacher I would make when I was still in grade school. Once I was older, and had more experience thanks to musical groups, drama club, and the debate team, well, it surprised no one when elders of the church started trying to convince me to get ordained in my late teens.

At the same time, completely unbeknownst to me, Mom and several women in our church were meeting once a week to pray that god would “rescue” me from the temptation of homosexuality. I hadn’t come out to anyone, at all, at the time. And while there are been some very furtive sexual relationships with a few boys my age during middle school, by the time people’s suspicions had risen to that point I was celibate, secretly praying even more fervently than they were, and doing everything I possibly could to be straight.

Which is precisely why, when I was approached about ordination, I started meeting with one of the associate pastors and studying to become a minister. Like millions of religious queers before me, for some time I thought that embracing “full-time Christian service” might be the only way to make my feelings for other guys go away.

I should mention that in Southern Baptist churches at the time, ordination was something that happened usually at your local church before you went off to Bible college. Which is the reverse of the way most other denominations do it. So I was still a teen in my first year attending community college while meeting with the pastors and deacons of our church several times a week to study and pray about my future.

I wish I could say that what caused me to back out was an epiphany about my sexual orientation resulting in self-acceptance replacing the self-loathing I had been taught all my life. That tipping point wouldn’t come for a few more years, yet. I also wish I could say that it was learning that the origins of the Southern Baptist denomination were much was racist and pro-slavery than I had been taught. That shocked me a little bit, but I was already quite familiar with the fact that only a few years before this the Southern Baptist Convention had finally denounced segregation of the races.

What did bring me to my senses were two conversations that happened close together, each with a different deacon in our church.

In the first, the elder in question took issue with my continued interest in science, particularly my interest in astronomy and evolution. He was quite unimpressed by my argument that a god who could plan and carry out a plan involved 15 billions years of stellar evolution eventually leading to humans was a far more impressive feat then simply waving a magic wand and making everything at once. While he referenced the Baptist principle that interpreting the scripture was something each person must do on their own, he also made it clear that my adherence to scientific fact was not an asset for a pastor.

In the conversation with another deacon, I mentioned an article I had read recently in which I learned that Fred Rogers, famous as Mister Rogers on PBS stations, was an ordained Presbyterian minister, who considered his work producing the children’s show his ministry. I thought it was a great example of how doing god’s work could take many forms The deacon had a very different view. First, he pointed out that (in the opinion of typical Southern Baptists), Presbyterians were “soft” on Biblical inerrancy. Further, if Rogers was actually doing god’s work, he would use that daily television show to tell children directly the story of Jesus. Since he didn’t do that, he wasn’t doing god’s work, according to this deacon. Finally, he said, “You know that Billy Graham was raised Presbyterian? He joined the Baptists because we’re actually doing god’s work.”

And those two conversations were the final nails in the coffin of me becoming a Baptist minister. The epiphany I had after those conversations was that all of the church leaders who had been urging me to become a minister didn’t really see the makings of a pastor in me. Instead, they thought that anyone who had Talent, whether it be intelligence, a gift for language, or whatever, who didn’t use that to evangelize wasn’t doing god’s work. That simply being a good person and doing what you can to make the corner of the world you were in a better place and to love your neighbors wasn’t enough.

I didn’t call things off until the end of the Sunday evening Church service where, as part of the process, I delivered a sermon and otherwise conducted the service. I still think that my John 16:33 sermon is an incredible work of art. But even as I was giving it, I knew the whole thing was a mistake. I suspect if I hadn’t called it off, that the deacon who was so concerned about my love of science would have done what he could to derail things. Regardless, there were to more times over the next couple of years that leaders in that church and related churches came to me and asked me to prayerfully reconsider become a preacher.

I had learned my lesson: if the evangelical faith couldn’t accommodate both scientific fact and Mister Rogers, well, it didn’t have a place for me, either. I didn’t find my real place until several years later, but that’s a story for another day.

No, today’s official holiday name isn’t what you think

Several years ago my employer did a weird re-arrangement of the holiday calendar that results in the office being closed for almost a full week at Christmas, but we no longer observer MLK, Jr Day, Washington’s Birthday, or get a floating holiday. So I had literally forgotten today was even a holiday until after getting on my bus which was far emptier than usual and never filled up, riding on roads that were very empty, finally walking through downtown front the bus to my office through a downtown that is nearly deserted.

If I had remembered, I might have scheduled the post that published this morning for later in the week and written a new post about Washington’s Birthday and the myth of President’s Day. Instead, I’ll repost something I wrote on this line originally three years ago. Enjoy:

That’s not the name of the holiday

usafederalholidays.com

usafederalholidays.com

I’ve written before about the fact that President’s Day is a myth, the official name of the holiday is Washington’s Birthday Observance. Click the link to read about the history of the holiday, the few states that do observe a holiday called President’s Day (though some observe it in completely different months), and so on. Today, I want to talk a little bit about why there has never been a Federal holiday honoring Lincoln’s birthday, and how that contributes to people thinking that today’s holiday is about anyone other than Washington… Read More…

It can’t be too late for common sense about guns, right?

I’ve written about the most recent incident last week, and laid out how all the usual arguments for why we can’t do anything about mass shootings have been trotted out by other industries and proved incorrect a while ago: They used to insist that drunk driving couldn’t be reduced either. I had some more stuff I was going to follow up with, but almost everything I wanted to say is summed up by Emma Gonzalez, one of the survivors of last week’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida: Teen who survived massacre rips Trump to pieces in emotional takedown. I’m just going to quote a bunch of that article:

[S]he responded directly to Trump’s tweet, which blamed students at the school for not reporting on the shooter’s behavior before the event.

“We did,” Gonzalez said, “time and time again, since he was in middle school.”

“We need to pay attention to the fact that this isn’t just a mental health issue,” she continued. “He wouldn’t have harmed that many students with a knife.”

“How about we stop blaming the victims for something that was the shooter’s fault?” she demanded, and called out those who do deserve to shoulder that blame.

“[The people] who let him buy the guns in the first place. Those at the gun shows. The people who encouraged him to buy accessories for his guns to make them fully automatic. The people who didn’t take them away from him when they knew that he expressed homicidal tendencies. And I am not talking about the FBI. I am talking about the people that he lived with, I’m talking about the neighbors who saw him outside holding guns.”

The NRA gave $30,000,000 dollars to the Trump Presidential campaign alone, not to mention the tens of millions to various senators and congresspeople. Last year, when Congress passed a law making it easier for mentally ill people to buy guns (and Cadet Bonespur signed it), the NRA sent out a bulletin to all of its members bragging about it.

The NRA routinely pours millions into defeating laws that NRA members themselves claim to support. When gun sales plummeted last year after Cadet Bonespur was inaugurated, they spent a bunch of money producing advertisements that portrayed Black Lives Matters protesters and such as dangerous violent people. The ads were blatant calls for white supremacists to buy more guns and prepare for a race war.

The NRA as an organization is demonstrably not promoting responsible gun ownership and hasn’t been for decades. It’s only goals are to protect and increase gun manufacturer profit; and if any of its leaders aren’t racist (a highly difficult proposition to prove), they are all absolutely fine fanning the flames of racial fear to keep the money rolling in.

So, anyone still supporting them is supporting an organization that sees mass murders of children and racial tension as marketing tools. You aren’t nobly defending a moral principle if you support them.

It’s time to end this bloody charade.

“The common refrain when shootings happen in that if you restrict access to guns, they'll just use knives. This is a switchblade. It's illegal to own in 11 states, illegal to sell in 13, illegal to open carry in 14, and illegal to concealed carry in 17. Itf we can agree that certain knives are so efficient at killing that we shouldn't possess or carry them, why can't we agree the same about guns? Keep in mind, knives meet the legal definition of arms referred to in the 2nd amendment.”

“The common refrain when shootings happen in that if you restrict access to guns, they’ll just use knives. This is a switchblade. It’s illegal to own in 11 states, illegal to sell in 13, illegal to open carry in 14, and illegal to concealed carry in 17. Itf we can agree that certain knives are so efficient at killing that we shouldn’t possess or carry them, why can’t we agree the same about guns? Keep in mind, knives meet the legal definition of arms referred to in the 2nd amendment.”

Friday Five (delighted devil edition)

The Republican Party has a HUGE PROBLEM and BLOOD on their HANDS!

The Republican Party has a HUGE PROBLEM and BLOOD on their HANDS!

It’s the third Friday of February!

It’s been a weird week for us. My hubby caught another cold. Work has been a weird mix of “Rush! Rush! OMG Please hurry!” and “let’s not get ahead of ourselves.” This weekend we’re host Writers’ Night, meeting a friend for a birthday celebration, and will try to see Black Panther.

Once again I bring you the Friday Five: The top five (IMHO) stories of the week and videos (plus notable obituaries and a recap of my blog posts). This week I’m also including for links related to the 19th mass shooting of the year, because awful news sometimes needs a separate category.

Stories of the Week:

Christian Writer: ‘The devil is delighted’ to see evangelicals defending Trump and the GOP at all costs.

The Follower Factory – Everyone wants to be popular online. Some even pay for it. Inside social media’s black market. The interactive graphics on this story alone are with the click!

Jeff Sessions Celebrates “Anglo-American Heritage of Law Enforcement”. A lot of people keep defending this on the grounds that Anglo-American is a technical legal term used sometimes used to refer to the U.S. interpretation of common law. But it wasn’t in the prepared speech, it is something he added over the advice of others, and every racist dog whistle that ever existed is technically a term of something that exist. Doesn’t make it not racist.

‘Skating was always there’: Eric Radford’s road to becoming the first openly gay man to win gold at the Winter Olympics.

Inside Apple’s HomePod Audio Lab.

Horrible News:

Our Moloch.

Leader Of White Nationalist Militia Says Shooter Was Member, Took Part In Paramilitary Drills.

New assault weapons ban will prevent mass shootings, experts say.

How Donald Trump’s Defense of White Supremacists Puts National Security at Risk.

After the Parkland shooting, let’s call GOP hypocrisy on guns what it really is: complicity.

In Memoriam:

These are the innocent victims of the Florida school shooting.

Florida shooting victims: Tributes pour in for students and teachers killed in Parkland school massacre.

Florida school shooting victims identified by authorities, remembered by friends, family.

Things I wrote:

Offended offenders — the joke is on who, exactly?

A Writer Writes: Where do I find my subplots?

“But he wasn’t a very good illusionist” — or, all is fair in camp, love, and war.

Great-grandma’s Gun.

Videos!

P!nk Belts Out the National Anthem! | Super Bowl LII NFL Pregame:

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Adam Rippon skates clean team event free skate:

NBC won’t allow embedding, so click here.)

Former GOP House Rep. David Jolly: If You Want Any Action On Guns, Democrats Must Flip The House:

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STAND BY YOUR MAN (Donald Trump) – A Randy Rainbow Song Parody:

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Otter Snow Day at Shedd – 2018:

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Great-grandma’s Gun

My sister and I with Great Grandma St, John. I'm 9, my sis is 4, and Great-grandma is 74 in this picture.

My sister and I with Great Grandma St, John. I’m 9, my sis is 4, and Great-grandma is 74 in this picture.

I have often found myself in weird discussions/arguments with people who assume that because I favor many extremely liberal policies, I must be one of those evil anti-gun people. So before I get into this tale, let me begin by saying that I used to be a card-carrying member of the NRA. I have owned guns. I have fired guns. I have almost never fired guns on a gun range, because we didn’t have many in the Rocky Mountain towns where I grew up. I was taught how to shoot a gun by being taken out into the wilderness by my father and grandfather and firing it for a couple of hours at various things we set up as targets. Then after the third of fourth weekend of doing that being told I needed to go shoot a rabbit or two if I wanted to eat that night.

Long before we got to that point there had been many, many gun safety lectures, because there were lots of guns (mostly hunting rifles) in the homes of most of my extended family. I knew how to take apart, clean, and put back together a bolt-action rifle and how to re-load bullet cases (by which I mean, measure out gunpowder, put it into a spent casing, align a new bullet and insert it with a hand operated press, and install a primer cap) years before I was allowed to hold a loaded gun and shoot it.

There were winters when the only reason there was enough food on the table for the whole family was because some of us had gotten a deer or elk during the appropriate season (not to mention rabbits, pheasants, and grouse). I should also mention that I was raised to look down my nose in disdain at people who hunted pheasant and other birds with a shotgun. As my Grandpa said, “If you couldn’t hit a rapidly flying grouse or dove or pheasant with a rifle, you had no business pointing a gun at anything.”

I should also mention, in case it isn’t obvious from the part about learning how to turn spent cartridges back into bullets, missing was considered wasteful. We couldn’t afford to waste a lot of bullets getting the food.

But as the title of this post suggests, today I need to tell you the story of Great-grandma’s Gun… Read More…

“But he wasn’t a very good illusionist” — or, all is fair in camp, love, and war

“Men should be like Kleenex — soft, strong, and disposable.”

One of many awesome quotable lines from the movie Clue. (click to embiggen)

Despite the fact that some people have accused me of being a hopeless romantic, one of my favorite fictional characters of all time is Mrs. White as portrayed by Madeline Kahn in the 1985’s Clue the Movie. Mrs White is a multiply-widowed woman who is assumed to have murdered several of her husbands. And those aren’t the only relationships she seems to have carried out in less than exemplary fashion. At one point in the movie she is asked how many husbands she has had, and immediately rejoins, “Mine or other women’s?” Afterward, she admits to five of her own, and then observes, “Just the five. Husbands should be like Kleenex: soft, strong and disposable.” And in more than one way she’s right. At least, what I mean is, when you realize that a relationship has reached its end, you should feel no guilt moving on, so long as you’re both able to be civil and neither of you behave abominably or do anything unethical to the other.

The truth is that the course of love and romance seldom runs true, as the old saying tells us. Mostly people misunderstand that saying, however. A lot of people operate under the mistaken notion that a relationship ending is the same thing as a relationship failing. Which is crazy. Living in a relationship is a whole series of tasks requiring multiple skills. And the only way to learn how to do a skill well is to try, fail, and try again.

Depending on your viewpoint, I can think of many reasons one could argue I’m a terrible spokesperson for Valentine’s Day or the topic of romance. I’m an out queer man, and there are a lot of people (including the man currently sitting in the office of Vice President of the U.S. not to mention a number of my relatives) who would insist that I don’t understand love because queers can’t love. A related group of people would say that because my first marriage ended in divorce (ignoring the whole orientation thing), that means I obviously suck at relationships. Others might quote Mrs. White from Clue and argue that “Life after death is as improbable as sex after marriage!” and therefore since I and my husband have been together for 20 years now that I have long forgotten what real romance is. And so on.

I feel compelled to point out that in college I was active in Debate and Speech competitions and in 1980 I won a number of awards in the After Dinner Speaking category, including eventually winning the Western Region Championship (beating out every one competitor west of the Mississippi) with a speech entitled, “How To Pick Up Girls.” So, this queer guy may know a thing or two about romance?

Of course, there is that divorce. But it may not mean what you think. You may be surprised to learn that some years after my divorce from Julie, that she asked me to be the Maid of Honor at her second wedding. Just as you may be surprised that we remain friends to this day. There are many reasons for that, not least being that Julie is an incredibly warm, loving person who is able to empathize with others and truly see things from multiple perspectives. I consider myself lucky to know her, and remain endlessly grateful that once we realized that I wasn’t bisexual we were able to stick the dismount.

Now, before she married her second husband (who is an awesome man who is perfect for her in thousands of ways that I was not), she had another relationship. This one with a man that, well, as soon as I met him I realized that he was NOT in her league intellectually and otherwise. But I was the ex-husband, and the queer ex-husband, at that, so at the time my opinion belonged tightly clamped behind my lips. But when that relationship fell apart, as a good friend, I was ready to offer sympathy, support, and to openly hate the ex (which was really easy because he was an idiot who didn’t deserve her).

So one evening she, I, and a bunch of our friends from the (now defunct) Seattle Lesbian & Gay Chorus, were standing around smoking (yes, I used to smoke, it has been 23 years since I quit, if you’re curious), and offering our condolences and so forth. She told a story of a particularly douche-y thing that he did to her during the break up, flaunting one of the women he had been cheating with. We all expressed our low opinion of him, and she equivocated, thinking maybe we were being too hard on him. I jumped in to say, “All men are pigs!”

One of the other friends, an extremely butch bisexual woman, laughed and said, “Oh, honey! He knows! Listen to him!” Several others chimed in all agreeing that I was right, all men are pigs.

And I was sincere. I’m a man who has dated a lot of men, and I can testify to the universal truth that men are pigs. As Mrs. White observed. “Flies are where men are most vulnerable.” She’s right. Sometimes we’re ruled by the wrong head. And when we let that head get us into trouble, we seldom manage to get out of such situations without hurting some of the people around us.

All men are pigs. Really and truly. It’s something I’ve known for many years.

However…

I’m addicted to pork. And I ain’t the only one!


Because some years ago a humorous post misled at least one of our friends to think that my husband and I was breaking up, I feel compelled to add this clarification: I love my husband with all my heart and we are still happy and together and I continue to remain astonished that he stays with me, because I don’t deserve him.

A Writer Writes: Where do I find my subplots?

“Adds diabolical subplot to torment protagonist.”

(Click to embiggen)

While working on last week’s post about subplots, I had several digressions that didn’t quite fit in the final version. That happens on most any topic I write about here. I wound up taking those sentences, fragments, and so on, dropped them in a new post with a temporary title “The next time I write about subplots.” This post is not made from those fragements. I started trying to expand them into a full-fledged post this weekend, but it wound up being just a few short paragraphs. So I thought maybe I could use those small points as an anchor for a post where I would include links to advice other people have given about subplots.

So while I was gathering some links, I hit on this one post entitled “How to Add Subplots to Your Novel.” When I saw the title, I thought, “Someone has some advice for people who can’t think up subplots. Brilliant!”

Except that wasn’t what the article was about at all. It’s a good article, don’t get me wrong. It explains what subplots are and the purpose they serve in a novel–basically the same info I wrote about last week. There is some additional advice about mistakes to avoid when weaving the subplot around your main plot and so forth, but nothing for the person who realizes their story needs the extra depth of subplots, but can’t figure out what the subplots should be. As I said, it’s a great article, just with a misleading title. The title should have been something like, “How to Properly Use Subplots in Your Novel Once You Think Them Up.”

Clearly, I need to write about this! First, though, I should admit that I’m having to do some reverse-engineering to write this. My problem has never been thinking up subplots, it has always been restraining myself form using all of them that pop into my head. My subconscious just churns them out by the gross, but I have a good idea of how it does this. Because of that overabundance, I have often been asked by members of Writers’ groups and other people reading drafts questions such as, “Why did you add this sequence in?”

My flip first answer was, “I didn’t add it! It’s just there.” What I meant by that is, when I think about all the characters in my story, I always think about things they are doing throughout their day and who are the imporant people in their lives. For instance: one supporting character runs a deli that she and her husband own. Her husband works as a handyman with a number of clients mostly in their neighborhood, including helping with the business, but she’s the one who runs it. She hires and supervises the staff, makes decisions about where to buy ingredients, designs the menu, and so forth. She also has a sister who she doesn’t always see eye-to-eye with, especially when it comes to religious matters. Her husband, unbeknownst to most of the family, is secretly one of the Elders of the Brotherhood of Chaos. She refers to these activities as her husband “taking care of some lodge nonsense again.”

I could keep going on and on about this supporting character who isn’t even directly involved in the main plot of the novel where she was introduced. All of those details I mentioned about the other people in her life, the business, et cetera, each has potential for subplots. Her deli is where one of the important conversations one of the protagonists has early in the book takes place. Her son is another of the protagonists (this novel has three protagonists).

Even though her first involvement in the novel is that conversation I mentioned, that isn’t why I created her. I was figuring out who my main characters were, and when I was looking at the third protagonist, I asked myself who was important in his life, and started jotting down ideas. Once I had a few sentences about her and her husband, I moved on. I was doing a similar exercise for another protagonist who runs an antique shop, and was wondering what other businesses share the same road, and I immediately thought of the deli-running character. Which gave me a connection between two of the protagonists.

So, if you are stuck for subplots:

  • For every character in your story, jot down the names of a few people important to them (this doesn’t have to be loved ones), a few facts about their life that have nothing to do with the main plot, and at least one ongoing activitiy (it can be as simple as “goes to work every day”)
  • For the characters who have significant roles in the main plot, think about times that they are not on center stage, and ask yourself what were they doing when they were gone. And don’t settle for, “Well, she has to retrieve the holy relic from the monastery then meet back up with the others.” Right. So who does she meet on the way? How does she get there? Where does she eat? What could happen that might delay her?
  • Think like an actor in a stage play: when the character is on stage but not the center of attention, what is the character doing? If two of your supporting characters are having lunch while the protagonist consults an oracle, what do those supporting characters talk about?

Not all of these things will be subplots. If you tried to make all of them subplots, it will look like one of my first drafts. But that’s where most subplots come from: answering the questions about what else is going on in the lives of your characters and their neighbors and friends and enemies outside of the main plot.

Offended offenders — the joke is on who, exactly?

“When art becomes merely shock value, our sense of humanity is slowly degraded.” — Roger Scruton

“When art becomes merely shock value, our sense of humanity is slowly degraded.” — Roger Scruton

We hear it all the time: “How dare you call me racist! I don’t hate anyone! I was just making an observation.” And there’s: “It is so rude of you to call me a homophobe! I’m just advocating for my beliefs {that queer people don’t deserve legal rights/to exist openly in public spaces if at all}. You’re the real haters!” Let’s not forget: “Can’t you take a joke? You’re trying to silence me!”

People behave like jerks, make threatening remarks, harass people, advocate for policies and propositions that will cause actual harm to others, and then get angry if other people take offense. They try to hide behind the idea of free speech—they’re just expressing themselves, and everyone has a right to do that, right? But the defense is built on one or more false equivalencies. The most basic is equating disagreement with censorship. If you say that all Freedonians are criminals, and I point out that isn’t true, and show the statistics to prove it, you haven’t been silenced. If other people decide the don’t want to listen to your rants about the evils of the Freedonians anymore, they stop inviting you to their social events and if you show up uninvited they ask you to leave, that also isn’t silencing you. The right to express an opinion doesn’t obligate other people to listen. Then there’s the false equivalence that accurately describing some of their statements as bigoted is just as bad as the bigotry we’re decrying. And so on.

But the defense that really annoys me is the, “But I’m only joking!”

I have several responses to that. The first is: every bully and abuser who ever lived has tried to claim that they were only joking, or they were just playing around. They didn’t meant to cause those bruises or broken bones or to break that laptop or whatever. It’s a lie. Maybe the bully and the bully’s audience were laughing, but real harm is being done.

The second response is: the fact that you think a particular topic is suitable for joking demonstrates the ignobility of your intentions. They only way that one can think the sexual assault is a joking matter is if they either don’t think the sexual assault is a bad thing, or if they think the victims of sexual assault are worth less than other people. There are topics that go beyond the pale, understanding that requires moral fiber and empathy. Not knowing that tells us you possess neither.

The third response is that doing something like “ironically” pretending to believe neo-Nazi ideology is indistinguishable from actually doing it. In other words, if you’re pretending to be an asshole, it doesn’t sound or feel any different to your targets than when a “real” asshole behaves that way. It also has a very scary normalizing effect. The more people feel it is acceptable to express racial bias, for instance, the more likely some of them are to act on the racial bias.

And my fourth response is that jokes are supposed to be funny. Calling entire classes of people inferior, saying they are a waste of space and so on isn’t funny. The objection that is usually raised around this point is that they are just trying to make people think, and they have to shock people out of their complacency to do that. I’ll agree that good political humor pokes at us to get us to think outside the box, but these guys aren’t quite getting it.

“Have you ever noticed that anyone driving slower than you is an idiot and anyone driving faster than you is a maniac?” “Electricity is really just organized lightning.” “Fighting for peace is like screwing for virginity.” “At a formal dinner party, the person nearest death should always be seated closest to the bathroom.” “'I am' is reportedly the shortest sentence in English. Could it be that 'I Do' is the longest sentence?”

Several classic George Carlin one liners. (Click to embiggen)

Let’s look for a moment at the work of a comedian who was often characterized as offensive. The Late George Carlin said things that shocked some people’s sensibilities. Go listen (many recordings abound) to his notorious “Seven words you can’t say on TV or the radio” routine and tell me that wouldn’t give people in the Religious Right conniptions. And sure, you can pull out individual lines from his routines and make him sound almost like some of this current generation of jerks with their racist or homophobic or misogynist rants on their Youtube channel. But that’s taking him out of context. Look over the classic Carlin corpus (excluding the last few years where he seemed to turn into a prophet of doom and things got a little weird) and you’ll find the most prevalent underlying theme is summed up in one of his best one-liners:

“Have you ever noticed that anyone driving slower than you is an idiot and anyone driving faster than you is a maniac?”

While the line works great on its own, it was actually the introduction to a longer bit, where he went on to make humorous observations about foolish and dangerous and weird things that people do while driving. It ranged around for a bit, and the audience laughed. You could certainly characterize the routine as making fun of bad drivers. And that doesn’t seem all that different from someone else having a comedy routine where they make fun of women, or immigrants, or queer people, right? But that’s not what the routine does. Every version of it I ever heard him perform varied a bit, but all stuck to one underlying theme. And it’s in that line I quote. That line isn’t just a joke, it’s a thesis statement.

Read it again: “Have you ever noticed that anyone driving slower than you is an idiot and anyone driving faster than you is a maniac?” Explicitly it says that we classify and judge people in categories like stupid and maniac by extremely subjective criteria. But implicitly it is also saying that sometimes all of us are idiots, and sometimes all of us are maniacs. Because implicitly everyone that we observe is an idiot for driving too slow, knows they we are maniacs. And every person that we can see is a maniac for driving too fast, can observe that we’re driving slow and therefore we are idiots.

Yes, the point of his routines is that some people do very foolish things and isn’t it ridiculous that such people exist? But by the time he has covered the subject, there is a point where he says something that hits close to home. We, the listeners, see ourselves in some part of that routine. In that way, his routines adhere to the classic definition of political humor: to hold a mirror up to society.

That is humor with a purpose. That is how you jostle people out of their complacency. You hold up a mirror, so that we look into it and see our own foibles and flaws. But what these other guys are doing? They aren’t working with mirrors. No, they are putting targets on other people, aiming their fans at those targets, and encouraging the fans to pull their triggers.

That is why the rest of us don’t listen to their rants. We disinvite them from our events. We tell them that their behavior is not welcome at our conventions or on our forums and so forth. That isn’t censorship, that is making a choice of who we will associate with. It’s deciding that we don’t need jerks and abusers in our lives.

Friday Five (emerging awareness edition)

When class consciousness emerges...

When class consciousness emerges…

It’s the second Friday of February!

Work was less tense this week as we scrambled to make the crazy deadline and now we’re picking up loose ends and planning for the next crazy deadlines.

Welcome to my Friday Five: The top five (IMHO) stories of the week and videos (plus notable obituaries and a recap of my blog posts). Also this week I’m including five stories from my local news sources.

Stories of the Week:

Russians penetrated U.S. voter systems, top U.S. official says.

Thomas The Bisexual Goose Will Be Buried Beside His Male Partner Of 30 Years.

Meet a Briton From 10,000 Years Ago.

Why Are Murders Of Gay And Bi Men Up A Staggering 400 Percent?

Tillerson Warns Russia Is Meddling In 2018 Midterms, Methods Evolving.

Local Developments:

Mayor Jenny Durkan: Why Seattle Is Erasing Misdemeanor Marijuana Convictions from People’s Records.

As the oceans change, can oysters adapt?

The Mystery Tree Fall Near Lake Quinault: Why Did It Happen? Part I and Part II.

‘We thought we’d pulled a dead person out of the water’: Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation machine saved her life.

Seattle, Tacoma among worst traffic congestion in U.S.

In Memoriam:

John Mahoney, who played cranky dad on “Frasier,” dies at 77.

The Late, Great John Mahoney Was Frasier’s Father, and Yours Too.

Why John Mahoney is an inspiration to late bloomers everywhere.

Things I wrote:

Coffee, coffee, everywhere — and why half of what you know about it is wrong.

Self-loathing self deceivers—they are never just hurting themselves.

A Writer Writes: Subplots and subtexts are not the same thing.

That doesn’t mean what it used to — more adventures in dictionaries.

Videos!

VENOM – Official Teaser Trailer (HD):

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

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR Official Super Bowl Trailer (2018) Marvel:

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

Deadpool, Meet Cable:

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

Of Course Trump Wants to Throw Himself a Military Parade: The Daily Show:

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

Matt Palmer – Solo Act (Official Music Video):

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

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