Monthly Archives: March 2014

“Some of my favorite books have maps…”

Just resting my eyes…
This month we actually managed to make it to our friend’s monthly “Drink ‘n’ Draw” meet up. I had meant to take at least a few pictures, but between visiting, trying to draw, and some editorial pow-wowing, I never got around to it. It was a very pleasant way to spend the afternoon.

Our friend, Jared, had agreed to give the manuscript of the first novel in the Trickster series a copy edit pass. He handed back the pile of pages, and we discussed topics other than mechanical copy edits. One of the questions he had for me was whether I planned to create a map of the fictitious world to include in the book.

One reason was that there are some places where it is a bit confusing where some of the groups of traveling people are in the story.

I have a very rough map sketched out in my notes, along with description that would just be long exposition in the book. There is description of the setting, but generally I keep it short and focused on the immediate vicinity of the characters. I really don’t want to write a scene where one character says to another, “As you know, Philippe, the empire is bordered on the south by four independent lands: the Duchy of Molalla, the Duchy of Falatin, the Tlatskan Marches, and the Duchy of Matilla. The river Klitwatchee defines the border, and it’s many tributaries define the major trade routes between the larger cities of each…”

When one of the characters is actually at the river, I mention that the opposite bank is another country, but no one really wants a detailed geography lesson plopped into the middle of the adventure tale, right?

I feel a little reluctance to put in a map because of a number of reviews I recall reading some years ago (as in, when I was in my teens) disparaging such maps in fantasy novels. I don’t really recall all of the reasons that were given for treating the maps with such derision. I remember a suggestion it denoted either laziness or a case of copying all the more successful epic fantasy novels. Or something.

Which I realized is weird. I have somehow internalized these opinions that I only vaguely recall reading, and it’s made me ambivalent about the idea of including a map.

While I was talking about this, a couple of our other friends scoffed at the derisive commentaries. One said, “Some of my favorite books have maps!”

The consensus seemed to be that a map wouldn’t hurt. Since the plot of the novel does involve several characters traveling, not to mention a battle with multiple armies, a map would probably be quite useful for at least some readers.

So I guess I need to draw a better map.

Time to go camping!

I’m still working on wrapping up the second novel in the Trickster universe and getting the third going. So to help with that, I signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo. Which is intended to work in the same the same way that I did NaNoWriMo anyhow: set your own goal and it doesn’t have to be a new project.

In related news, I have spent a frightening amount of time this week using Scapple to map out some family trees and the subplots and complications of book three.

I received an enthusiastic review and demo of A Novel Idea earlier today. While I’m not sure it does things I don’t already do with WriteRoom1, I think I will give it a try because my Mom has been asking about more apps she could use on her phone for plotting and planning her book3.

Thinking about this reminds me that I need to migrate my PlainText app stuff over to PlainText 2 at some point… or, alternatively, look into a different iOS doc editor that synchs with Scrivener.4.


1. Which is no longer available for new purchase on the iTunes store, alas2.

2. While there are lots of things I like about app stores and mobile computing on phones and iPads, one thing I don’t like is that the current models don’t allow app developers a revenue stream for updates. I love WriteRoom for iOS and for Mac since I first got them several years ago, and have recommended them to people looking for a good distraction-free writing solution that works across devices. But updating the software to keep up with operating system upgrades takes effort, and developers find themselves in the very unpleasant position of either doing that work for free, or trying to convince loyal customers to pay the full price of a new app in order to upgrade. Which means that the small developers who create software that meets any sort of specialized need are constantly going out of business and customers having to find something new to do what they were already doing with a tool they liked perfectly well.

3. Mom was one of my writing buddies last year for NaNoWriMo, and wants to do it again this year.

4. Since the maker of WriteRoom and PlainText sold his iOS apps to another company, said company has come out with an updated version of one of those products, PlainText 2. The original PlainText only worked on iPad, while WriteRoom worked on iPad and iPhone. WriteRoom was meant as a distraction-free program, so it was stripped down to the bare essential features of a writing program, while PlainText could do a lot more. PlainText 2 does work on both the iPhone and the iPad, and seems to interact with my other programs as I like, which is good. Right now I’m using the free version to test it out5.

5. On the other hand, if I’m going to have to go through the process of switching to another app anyway, and if getting all the features I want on said apps will require me spending some money, I should look at more than one, which is why I’ll probably also be playing with Textilus, which has been strongly recommended by a few friends.

Friday Links! (an asteroid with rings??!)

Amazingly, it’s Friday, again! Here’s a collection of news and other things that struck me as worthy of being shared:

A recent study has shown that if American parents read one more long-form think piece about parenting they will go f—ing ape shit.. Worth at least a couple of chuckles.

The Genderbread Person v2.0. Thanks to Dehd for pointing out this adorable and concise way to talking the topics of gender identity, sexual orientation, and all the tangled related topics!

Why the bizarre ocean dandelion is like an ant colony on steroids.

Astronomers Surprised to Find Asteroid With Rings.

New Dwarf Planet Found At The Solar System’s Outer Limits.

We Are All Mutants. On the hunt for disease genes, researchers uncover humanity’s 
vast diversity.

The real, true story about how parents adopted out their child when he came out as gay.

Oregon’s Next Export? Discrimination, the Anti-Gay Ballot Measure That You Will See On the Next Ballot.

New trailer for new Spiderman movie opening next month:

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

Famed cartoonist Mark Fiore explains the Miracle of Anti-Gay Denial:

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

X-Men: Days of Future Past:

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

Calculated – Brett Gleason:

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

Oppressed oppressors
An oldie, but a goodie by D.C. Simpson.
So, Mozilla, the non-profit company that produces (among other things) the Firefox web browser, recently appointed a man as their new CEO who, a few years ago, donated the maximum amount allowed for individuals to the Proposition 8 campaign. And several developers, most of them gay married developers, have decided to boycott. Note, since the entire purpose of Proposition 8 was to take away the legal right to marry from an entire class of citizens, and since it won and did then remove those rights, one can understand the sentiment.

I’ve seen several people say it’s wrong to do this, because boycotts don’t accomplish much, it’s hypocritical of gay people to demand discrimination against others, and beside, a company isn’t legally allowed to make hiring decisions based on political affiliations.

Two of those statements are unequivocally false. And the third isn’t much better.

I’ll tackle the last one first: there is no federal law prohibiting private companies from hiring, firing, or promoting because of one’s political affiliations. There is a federal law against the government doing so, but no such federal law applying to corporations, non-profits, et cetera. Only a limited number of states have such laws applying to private employers.

Even then, most of the legal protections for employees’ political activities are fairly narrow: in five states it’s specifically only illegal for employers to post or announce that workers will be laid off or fired if a particular candidate is elected or fails to be elected. Only two states have a more generic ban against any attempts by an employer to coerce employees to vote one way or another. Several states (I could find five) have laws prohibiting employers from retaliating against employees for off-duty political activity, but most of those have exemptions that are broad enough that even a passing reference to their political opinions in the workplace is enough to qualify as political activity on-duty, and therefore subject to being fired. And, of course, one may recall the employer in 2004 who threatened to fire all the workers who had John Kerry bumper stickers on their cars. That was totally legal.

So, no, it would not be illegal for Mozilla’s board to decide not to hire this guy because he is known to have supported (and actively took part in enacting) a law that took away civil rights from a number of their own employees, vendors, et cetera.

Second, everyone over simplifies boycotts. They say a boycott doesn’t accomplish anything if the target doesn’t immediately reverse their position, for instance. It is true that the outright and instantaneous admission of wrongdoing and a change of policy is a very rare thing. But that doesn’t mean the boycotts accomplish nothing. The boycott of Florida orange juice in the 70s because the Florida Orange Commission’s spokesmodel, former beauty queen and singer Anita Bryant, had become prominently involved in a number of campaigns to pass anti-gay laws around the country, didn’t effect the outcome of the first several votes. However, the boycott got more coverage than Bryant’s speeches. And though the Florida Orange Commission never admitted that the boycott and negative publicity was the reason they significantly reduced Bryant’s sponsorship deals, it was clearly a factor.

Bryant had a difficult time getting any sponsorships after that, and went from donating her time and semi-famous face to the anti-gay cause to charging exorbitant fees to speak at churches and religious events about various moral issues. In other words, diverting money that might have been spent on more campaigns to take away our rights to trying to pay off Bryant’s enormous debts.

When the Coors Brewing Company starting routinely giving polygraph tests as part of the hiring process, and one of the questions was whether a person was gay, a boycott was called. The company never admitted when they dropped the questions for the test and added nondiscrimination language to their employee’s handbook that that was the reason why. It was decades later, when Scott Coors, an openly gay member of the family that still controlled the company, was unable to buy a Coors beer at a gay bar in San Francisco (because the Coors family charity foundation had continued to donate huge amounts to anti-gay causes), that we learned that internally the leaders of the company had been very aware of the boycott and specifically the publicity. On the other hand, Scott’s surprise indicated that the boycott’s effectiveness had sufficiently diminished when the media stopped paying attention (which they had done as soon as the company changed its anti-gay hiring practices). The company had been well aware of it, and had been trying various ways over all that time to convince gay bar owners that the foundations activities had nothing to do with them.

A boycott’s publicity doesn’t just negatively affect a company, a boycott serves as a way to raise awareness within the community as to who some of the culprits out to hurt us are. Talking about and debating the boycott within the community and with allies gets more people talking about the situation.

Boycotts are also personal statements. I can decide that I don’t want to spend money supporting someone who promoted discrimination against me. Whether they are hurt by it or not isn’t always the point.

Don’t forget, every time the queer community even hints at a boycott, the right wingnuts all start screaming that boycotting is homofascist intimidation, intolerance, and bullying. They also insist that calling a boycott tramples their religious liberty and right to free speech. If boycotts didn’t accomplish anything, why do the wingnuts get so upset?

Third, we throw around the word discrimination without qualifying the difference between fair and unfair discrimination. To discriminate is to draw a distinction between things. When we decide not to hire a person because they have no experience applicable to the job, we have made a distinction between candidates, but we have done so in an area that is pertinent to the job. Everyone agrees that that’s fair. If we decide not to hire someone because of the church they belong to, most people would agree that (unless you are a church yourself hiring a pastor) that’s not pertinent to the job, and isn’t a fair distinction to draw.

A CEO is not just a manager, they serve as a spokesperson for the company. You want a CEO to represent a company’s values to current and potential customers, as well as to vendors, partners, and even the employees within a company. So what sort of value is represented by a CEO who actively worked to take away civil rights from his fellow citizens? And make no mistake: this isn’t just a privately held belief. A privately held belief means you keep it to yourself, voting in the privacy of the ballot booth, and never say anything to anyone except possibly close personal friends.

When you donate the maximum amount of money allowed under the law for an individual to donate, you have become an active participant in the political process. In the case of Proposition 8, it was an extremely focused effort. The only effect was to target a specific group of people and strip them of a right to marry that they had recently won. To strip them of the other 1000 federal rights that come with marriage and which are not available by any other means. To strip them of the right to designate their partner as the person to make medical decisions if they are incapacitated, to strip them of community property rights, to strip their children of the rights that come from having both parents legally acknowledges as guardians, et cetera, et cetera.

Supporting Proposition 8 literally and unequivocally makes him an oppressor.

And the real problem here isn’t that he supported this thing a few years ago that has since been overturned. The problem is that he has not disavowed his position. He said he didn’t want to talk about it at the press event, and then he talked about it for quite a long time before finally saying that, of course he will abide by the law. And did he mention that the company has a nondiscrimination policy?

Sure, the company has a right to hire him if they want. But all of the rest of us, especially their vendors and partners and customers who happen to be members of the community which was the victim of that attempt at oppression, has a right to tell the board of directors that selecting this man tells us that we aren’t part of their values. It tells their gay and lesbian employees that respecting their rights isn’t part of their values.

And that sure as hell is pertinent to that job.

This photo of Edith Windsor greeting the crowd of supporters after stepping out of the Supreme Court building one year ago today after the court heard arguments in her case against the Defense of Marriage Act adorned the cover of Pride Magazine.
It’s true that Prop 8 was overturned. In fact, exactly one year ago today, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on challenges to Prop 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act. And eventually the court overturned a crucial section of DOMA, and let stand the lower court ruling declaring Prop 8 unconstitutional (without actually declaring it unconstitutional themselves). It can be argued that we won. It has certainly been argued that we should be gracious winners. But we have only won the last few skirmishes, we haven’t won the war, yet. Remember: we haven’t won until every queer person has full equality before the law. Everywhere. Not just marriage rights in some states (with other people having the right to discriminate against us because of the gender of our spouse), but all rights, everywhere.

Instead of having to argue about one of the oppressors who tried to take rights away from some of us (and seems to still wish he could keep the rest of us from getting them) we ought to be hailing our heroes. Such as Edith Windsor, who went to court to defend her right to inherit property from the woman she legally married in one of the few jurisdictions that allowed it back then, and eventually fought it all the way to the Supreme Court. Which got us last summer’s ruling that is beginning to look like the tipping point that may eventually bring marriage equality to every state.

Bullied bullies, part 3
The “Jesus would stone homos” sign was vandalized.
The church sign which two weeks ago said that Homo white demons were stealing black men from good black women, and then followed up by proclaiming that Jesus would stone homos, has been vandalized. The vandals spray-painted “God is Gay” onto both sides of the sign. Security footage shows the guy initially trying to rearrange the letters on the sign, perhaps to spell out his message that way. It’s unclear.

Pastor Manning, who has used the sign to proclaim anti-gay messages many times over the years before the “homo white devils” proclamation that got him headlines, has said he isn’t surprised, since homosexuals are “outright bullies” and he has been expecting “some violence.” He also claimed this was a violation of his right to free speech.

I don’t approve of vandalism. If there is anything that will make me have a violent reaction, it’s seeing some crap you can barely read spray painted across someone else’s private property. Admittedly, one of the reasons I have such a violent reaction is because of having the word “Fag” spray painted on my car when I was 17 years old. So any time I see spray paint like the words on that church sign, I have an immediate flashback to that morning when I came out of the house to drive to school and saw what some cowardly person had done to my car.

So, the first time I saw a news story with that picture of the hateful sign vandalized with the spray paint, my first thought was, “damn it, why did someone have to do that?”

That said, I pretty much everything that Pastor Manning said in interviews about this crime have been wrong. Not just quibblingly not quite accurate, but unequivocally, factually incorrect.

First, this is vandalism is not bullying. Bullying has very specific definitions according to the experts. In order to qualify as bullying the behavior has to satisfy three criteria:

  1. It has to be verbal or physical aggression
  2. It has to be repeated over time.
  3. It must involve a power differential.

All the experts further agree that the final criteria is the most essential. If that imbalance of social and/or physical power doesn’t exist, the behavior doesn’t induce the some long-term stress related trauma that typifies bullying. Bullying is socially coercive. The intent of bullying is not just to terrorize the victim, but to remind the victim that they are not in charge, that they don’t have a say in what happens to them. Bullying leverages all of the ways that we, as humans, are hardwired to conform or try to get along with “our people.” It is not merely being mean.

Spray painted words certainly can constitute verbal assault, but it is a bit muddled when those words aren’t implicitly or explicitly a threat. “God is Gay” isn’t a threat. Further, it is in direct reaction to (and covers up) words that absolutely did constitute a threat. A single act of self-defense, even one like this one which I think steps over the line, does not constitute an act of bullying.

It’s a single action, not repeated. So, under the second criteria it fails. Not bullying.

One man with a paint can does not have more social or physical power than the guy who has a church full of people, the pulpit from which to preach, the church sign that spreads his message to the whole neighborhood, a weekly podcast that spreads his message to whoever wants to hear it, a youtube channel to spread it further, and the ear of the entire rightwing-o-sphere to rush to his aid because of those mean, mean gays!

I mean really, how dare a homo object to your public declaration that gays should be stoned to death? Clearly the solitary homo with a spray paint can who objects is being the bully there, not the man using the power of the pulpit, podcasts, youtube, conservative radio, in addition to the sign to call for the violent execution of all the gays. [End sarcasm mode]

So, this incident doesn’t meet any of the three criteria to qualify as bullying.

Now, to the accusation that gays are violent. As I pointed out in part 1 of this series, contrary to what many on the right have been claiming, there are ten times as many hate crimes against gay, lesbian, trans, or bisexual people than crimes motivated by hate toward Christians. When you take into account what a large proportion of the population Christians are, and what a small proportion gay people make up, that makes the likelihood that a trans/gay/lesbian/bi person is going to be the victim of a hate crime monumentally more likely than a Christian is going to be targeted for such a crime.

Finally, the free speech argument. Do I really need to explain that the right to freedom of speech is not the same as the right to speech with no consequences?

Obviously, the pastor doesn’t understand this. Legally, freedom of speech means that the government cannot preemptively censor your expression, nor is it allowed to legally punish you merely for the content of your speech (with certain narrowly defined exceptions, such as making a credible threat to commit harm to another person, or communication in aid of a conspiracy to commit a crime, or the famous ‘yelling fire in a crowded theatre’). It does not mean that the government has to punish people who react badly to your speech. It does not mean that other people aren’t allowed to say bad things about the things you said. It does not mean that other people aren’t allowed to think you’re a horrible person because you have said hateful things.

And even though Pastor Manning doesn’t believe what he said was hateful, he knew he was proclaiming a message that would anger some of his neighbors. As Justice Scalia, of all people, said a few years ago when some rightwing Christians from my state were trying to prevent the release of the names of the people who had signed the petition to put an anti-gay measure on the ballot here in my state, “Politics takes a certain amount of civic courage. The First Amendment does not protect you from civic discourse — or even from nasty phone calls.”

Spray painting the words “God is Gay” doesn’t even constitute a nonspecific threat, so you can’t even make the argument that the vandal is trying to intimidate Pastor Manning into silence.

His sign has been vandalized. I wish it hadn’t happened. I think we should be able to call out the Pastor’s hate speech for what it is without resorting to damaging property. Such as the woman who showed up and said she was there for her stoning.

But freedom of speech means that other people have the right to disagree with what you say, and to tell you they disagree, and even to be less than nice about it. It means we have the right to laugh at you, to call you a bigot, to tell other people the awful things you have said, and so on.

That isn’t bullying. That is simply consequences.

…is just a red herring

Lupo via Wikimedia Commons
Real herrings are never this red.
When a writer (particularly a mystery or detective story author) places details in a story to distract the characters and/or the readers to a false conclusion, that’s called a “red herring.” For many years, dictionaries and other references claimed that the origin of the phrase was a reference to a technique that used to be used to train hunting dogs to stay on the trail and not be distracted. When certain kinds of fish are preserved by being smoked and/or brined, the flesh of the fish turned a brownish red, and they often had a very pungent odor. Such “red herrings” or kippers supposedly could be used to throw a dog off the scent.

That origin is now generally accepted to be apocryphal, with the actual origin being from a political article written in 1807 in which the author said that he once distracted a dog with a red herring, and then accused other journalists of having been deceived in a similar way by a rumor. There is no indication of any actual hunters or dog trainers making it a practice to regularly use such fish in the training of hunting dogs.

But the apocryphal story remains useful in explaining the figurative meaning: distract the reader by placing a hint that appears to lead to something interesting in her path.

For the red herring to work in any type of story in which the characters are trying to solve a puzzle, it isn’t enough for the red herring to be a distraction. The red herring should point the characters (and the reader) toward a plausible alternative solution. When the trail turns out to be a dead end or a wrong solution, the trail itself still has to be something that plausibly would happen in that world.

It’s been annoying me about a lot of series I’ve been watching lately. Characters have a problem to solve, some information is found that points in a particular direction, when suddenly, blam! a supporting character that is loved one of one of the protagonists is attacked mysteriously. For the rest of the episode, everyone runs around like chickens with their heads cut off accusing people that have absolutely no motive at all for being involved in either problem. Eventually protagonist is confronted by the very person that clues which were seen before the distraction pointed to in the beginning. And here’s the part that’s crazy: either the mysterious attack is never explained, or it was done by some random person completely unrelated to the bad guy who is revealed three episodes later as a new big bad, but no rational explanation for why the new big bad attacked that character three episodes earlier is ever given.

I’m not sure if the problem is that most shows are written by teams where there may not be a clear “coordinator” with a strong artistic vision of what the story line is supposed to do, or if they simply think that throwing random stuff at the reader/viewer is what you’re supposed to do, or if they’re always in a rush without time to think things through. Or maybe they have fallen into that trap of thinking that, since sometimes meaningless things happen in real life, it’s okay for a story teller to do it, too.

It’s not okay. It shows that you are a bad writer. Yes, random things happen in real life. And you can even have some events happen in the story where the explanation in the story is that it was just dumb luck. But you are the story teller, and it’s your story. You have chosen to show this random action happened to your character. You need to have a reason, a reason that furthers the story or reveals something about the characters, for showing the bad luck to the reader/viewer.

It is okay if a red herring occasionally leads to a laugh without furthering the plot. If you have previously established one supporting character as being a bit of a dork or a goofball, for instance, you can one clue that leads to something completely unrelated to the plot that this funny character is doing. But it needs to be something that the readers/viewers will immediately think, “Oh! That’s so like him.”

Let’s say your current puzzle involves someone apparently attempting to kill a teacher by leaving some sort of deadly device for him. While the protagonists are following up clues, they discover that the teacher’s car in the parking lot is sparkling clean, as if someone wiped down the entire exterior. You can have the characters waste time trying to find a bomb of something on the car that never turns out to be there. Eventually, another supporting character finds video showing one obscure supporting character who is a student lurking around the car earlier. Eventually, the protagonists find out that said student, but realize that he’s failing said teacher’s class, and has been trying to curry the teacher’s favor.

It was suspicious behavior, it leads to a dead end, but it also makes sense within the story and is completely believable as something that could happen independently of the real stalker. Good writing.

On the other hand, having two supporting characters shot by a mysterious person off screen, who leaves them huddled together, holding each others wounds while waiting for an ambulance, and then never showing who shot the characters? Not so plausible. Or, showing who shot the characters three episodes later, but the person who did it is someone the audience would expect to want to kill the characters who were shot, and there was absolutely no reason for her not to have finished the job three episodes earlier? Bad writing.

It’s your story, yes. But you need to tell it the best it can be told.

Responding to the devil talkers
A parents group started a fundraiser in response to the hateful church signs.
I hadn’t planned to spend nearly all last week talking about the very un-Christian actions of some so-called pastors. It just happened to several stories came to light at the same time. There are a few people who have done more than talk and spread the word, and I think those folks deserve our thanks.

A group of parents in Harlem, tired of the many hateful messages appearing on a church sign in their neighborhood (and the hateful sermons of the pastor there), have started a campaign to raise money for the Ali Forney Center: Harlem Against Violence and Homophobia. The Ali Forney Center is a non-profit dedicated to helping homeless LGBT youth. The Center provides a safe, home like environment for kids on the street who are not welcome with their families because they are gay. They’re asking people who are upset about the messages from Pastor “Jesus Would Stone Homos” Manning to donate to the center.

I can’t think of a better way to respond to such hate, than to send some love and support to some kids who really need it.

Another person from Pastor Manning’s neighborhood, inspired by the trans woman who dared an anti-gay lawmaker to stone her in January, Jennifer Louise Lopez went to the door of Pastor Manning’s church and told them that she was there for her stoning. She took a video of her conversation with the person who answered, and has posted it:

(And the first time I posted this, the embedding worked, but later it turned into gobbldeguck, so click here to see the awkward moment.)

It’s funny how uncomfortable and timid people become when confronted by the meaning of their words. I do wonder why there is so little outrage from mainstream America at the outright incitement to violence of Pastor Manning’s most recent church sign, though.

Meanwhile, the leader of the God Hates Fags Church finally died this week. I’ve already seen some people repeating the early speculation that he might have had a change of hear late in his life being reported as if it is true, even though there is not one single shred of evidence to support it. In fact, the person who is probably the world’s expert on the church (she wrote her doctoral thesis on them after spending a few years attending their services every Sunday and even traveling with them on a couple of their road trips to picket funerals) has pointed out that the leader was probably excommunicated simply because he was dying. The church’s theology includes the firm belief that Jesus is returning any day now, that the “elect” alive right now will not die. If someone who is alive “now” does die, then they aren’t going to heaven because of this last of the last days belief. The church hasn’t held a funeral for any of its members since 1986, and has excommunicated each of the members that have died in that time.

Anyway, Rachel Maddow did a wonderful Not-An-Obituary for the guy, “Pseudo-religious hate-cult leader fails, dies.” You really should watch it, because it isn’t about their hate, it’s about the good that it brought out of the rest of the world.
I would embed the video, but won’t let me for some reason. Click on the “watch it” link in the paragraph above.

Some years I wait longer than I meant to

Cat with Christmas lights wallpaper
Time to take down the lights!
The last many years, I’ve left the icicle lights that we hang around the porch up for a significant time after we take down the rest of the Christmas decorations.

The first year I did it was way back after our current landlady bought the place (and moved in down stairs). All of the porch lights for all the units in our little four-plex are controlled by a timer in the basement. We can’t turn our own porch light on or off. As summer changed to fall and then to winter, sundown went from well after 9:30pm1 to about 4:30 pm2, but the porch lights weren’t turning on until after 9. It was freakin’ dark around our front door. The icicle lights were controlled by a light sensor that I have plugged them into, and they made it possible for people to see to walk up and down the concrete steps, and for me to find the right keys to unlock the door.

We eventually found out where the switch was, and tried to teach the landlady how it worked, but she just didn’t understand. However, she gave us permission to adjust it throughout the year, and that’s what we’ve been doing since.

The next year, because we had control of the porch light, we took down the icicle lights right around New Year’s Day. And the landlady was very sad. She asked why we took them down, because she liked the lights. Also, after the lights came down, when she drove home from work after sundown, she kept driving past the driveway3, because she couldn’t tell which house was which, and she’d have to turn around and drive back more slowly to find the driveway.

The problem is, when I leave the lights up well past Christmas, I start feeling judgmental attitudes from other neighbors and strangers who pass by. I recognize that this is mostly just in my head, but it bugs me. Also, the PCV plastic on the lights isn’t really designed for prolonged exposure outside, and the longer you leave the lights out, the fewer Christmas seasons you will get to re-use them.

So we came up with a compromise. I agreed to leave the lights up until Daylight Saving Time starts, at which point sundown is late enough that usually when she’s coming home there is enough light for her to tell the houses apart by color.4 And she agreed to talk to her business partners who had nagged at me to take the lights down.5

Since Daylight Saving Time’s start keeps getting moved earlier, I decided to change my date to the Spring Equinox. Sundown well after 6pm by then, and twilight lasts a while after.

This year, I also left all the other outdoor lights up, though I had unplugged them. I didn’t mean to, at all. But every weekend since New Year’s Day has been either very rainy, or we had a lot of things going on, or I was really sick.8

This week, since I was going to take the icicle lights down, I was determined to get the rest of the lights no matter what. And I did. I haven’t heard from the landlady, yet, but I know when I next see her, she’ll be very sad that the lights are down.

So I’ll just have to remind her that she only has to get by without them until October, because that’s when I’ll put up the Halloween lights.9


1. That’s one of the advantages to living as far north as we are.

2. And that’s one of the disadvantages.

3. She lives in the unit behind and downstairs from us.

4. She isn’t completely happy with this, because when she comes home later she sometimes still misses the driveway, and has to circle back.6 She also admitted that she just thinks they’re pretty and wishes everyone left their Christmas lights up all the time.7

5. Turns out she didn’t. Last year when she and him were meeting us and an inspector as part of the refinance of the mortgage, he started to give me shit about the lights, and I told him they were still up because she asked me to leave them up. She very sheepishly explained to him what was going on. He thought it was weird, but seemed happy when I told him I took them down at after the equinox.

6. I have pointed out that we have a bunch of those solar light sticks on the flowerbed running up the driveway, and by that time of year there’s enough sunlight during the day for the lights to glow until after midnight. I know they aren’t as easy to see as lights hanging from an eave, but I still think they should work.

7. When I pointed out that most years she doesn’t even put lights in her own window, she said that it’s mostly because she’s too tired and/or busy each year.

8. Several weekends, all three were true and my husband was as sick as me!

9. Of course I put up Halloween nights! Halloween used to be the high holy days of queers everywhere. Until the straights co-opted it for Heteroween. But that’s okay. Straights need a socially sanctioned night to dress up as sexy nurses or sexy firemen. They’re so reppressed the rest of the year!

Connections, rainbow or otherwise

I’ve spent some time this morning crying at weddings more than a thousand miles away. I’ll likely spend a lot of time this weekend doing that. A federal judge ruled yesterday that Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional (given all the other rulings that isn’t much of a surprise).

Detroit Free Press and
Couples getting married in Michigan today.
He refused to issue a stay on the ruling, pointing to the evidence presented in the trial that denying the marriages causes harm to the thousands of Michigan children already being raised by same sex couples. This is different than other such rulings, or the situation in Utah where the state simply didn’t think to ask for a stay until the weddings had started.

The Court finds Sankaran’s testimony to be fully credible and gives it great weight. He testified convincingly that children being raised by same-sex couples have only one legal parent and are at risk of being placed in “legal limbo” if that parent dies or is incapacitated. Denying same-sex couples the ability to marry therefore has a manifestly harmful and destabilizing effecton such couples’ children.

The clerks in four counties, so far, have opened their offices on the weekend, to give out “no waiting period” marriage licenses. State and county officials have come in to work on their own time to facilitate the weddings. Judges, ministers, and other people legally authorized to perform the ceremonies have also come in to perform them. Ordinary citizens, some of them friends and families of the couples, but others just people who believe in equality, have come in to help, to congratulate, to cheer.

Couples who have been together over 50 years have been among the people married this morning.

My favorite part of this judge’s ruling (in his findings of fact—that will be very important during the appeals process), is his total evisceration of the notorious Regnerus study:

“The Court finds Regnerus’s testimony entirely unbelievable and not worthy of serious consideration. The evidence adduced at trial demonstrated that his 2012 ‘study’ was hastily concocted at the behest of a third-party funder, which found it ‘essential that the necessary data be gathered to settle the question in the forum of public debate about what kinds of family arrangement are best for society’ and which ‘was confident that the traditional understanding of marriage will be vindicated by this study.’ While Regnerus maintained that the funding source did not affect his impartiality as a researcher, the Court finds this testimony unbelievable. The funder clearly wanted a certain result, and Regnerus obliged. Whatever Regnerus may have found in this ‘study,’ he certainly cannot purport to have undertaken a scholarly research effort to compare the outcomes of children raised by same-sex couples with those of children raised by heterosexual couples. It is no wonder that the NFSS has been widely and severely criticized by other scholars, and that Regnerus’s own sociology department at the University of Texas has distanced itself from the NFSS in particular and Dr. Regnerus’s views in general.”

(You can read Judge Bernard Friedman’s entire ruling here.)

A little girl with rainbow star stickers at a courthouse in Michigan with morning. (Photo by Steve Friess)
In case you are unfamiliar, Regenerus compared a few hundred children whose parents had divorced, and in which the non-custodial parent later came out as gay or lesbian, to a control group of children raised by parents who never divorced. Not surprisingly, the children whose early childhoods were disrupted by a divorce tended to have trouble in school and show the other typical problems that have been documented many time before when families experience “household instability and parental relationship fluctuation.” Regenerus then claimed that this proved that children raised by same-sex parents have worse outcomes than children raised by opposite-sex parents.

Except that this doesn’t show that, because none of the children in that group were actually raised by a pair of same-sex parents. None.

It is true that his study also included two children whose parents divorced and the custodial parent came out as lesbian. Those two children did spend part of their childhood being raised by their mother and her same sex partner. Regenerus was forced to admit under oath that these two children did better than average in school, and otherwise had “better outcomes” in all the areas he measured than the others.

So, the only children in his ‘study’ who actually were raised by a same sex couple were success stories, rather than the horror story he has claimed.

So far, every state that is defending bans against marriage equality has cited the Regenerus study, despite its having been debunked many times before this. As far as I can tell, this is the first time that a court has specifically gone into the reasons that they have not been persuaded by the study.

“The Washtenaw county clerk @kestenbaum hands out xeroxes of the 14th amendment, equal protection.”
Freelance journalist (and former POLITICO writer, and now an instructor at Michigan State University) Steve Friess has been at a courthouse in Ann Arbor covering the story all day. He posted a link to his dropbox folder containing photos he’s been taking all day, which he is offering free with attribution. But I think my favorite is one he tweeted earlier: a print-out of the 14th Amendment one of the county clerks is handing out, reminding us that this has nothing to do the activist judges, and everything to do with enforcing the constitution.

I’m going to go look at more wedding pictures. Pass me another box of kleenex.

Update: Alas, the Sixth Circuit Appeals Court has issue a stay at least until Wednesday, when they will hear arguments as to whether the stay should be permanent until the Appeals Court rules on the original case. It’s disappointing, though not entirely unexpected. I do have to re-ask the question of just what the attorney general requesting this stay hopes to accomplish? He can’t be so delusional as to think the the whole country is going to reverse course on this sometime soon, can he?

Friday links!

Amazingly, it’s Friday, again! Here’s a collection of news and other things that struck me as worthy of being shared:

Measles was on the brink of being eradicated, but Thanks, Anti-Vaxxers. You Just Brought Back Measles in NYC.

Anti-science Wingnut Jenny McCarthy Asks; the Internet Slam Dunks.


Country resistance to gay marriage an urban myth – in Australia.

NASA releases 680-gigapixel interactive mosaic of Lunar North Pole.

Oregon AG Files Brief: Marriage Ban Serves No Rational Purpose And Harms Citizens.

Why doesn’t god kill Bill Maher?.

GOP Obsessed With Birth Control Banning, OK With Penis Pumps And Viagra.

Why Are So Few Books From the 20th Century Available as Ebooks?.

Republicans Outraged Americans Are Happy With The Affordable Care Act.

McConnell fundraiser: Wives have ‘obligation’ to sleep with husbands. Except he didn’t say ‘sleep,’ of course, he said “sexual relations regardless of their mood.”

Louisiana Public School Finds Out It Can’t Force Christianity On Students. (You may have seen the story earlier of the teacher who singled out a buddhist student in her class to explain to the other kids how “stupid” such beliefs were.)

How Not to Sound Like a Creationist to a Trans Person.

Fred Phelps, Founder of God Hates Fag Church, Is Dead. My grandma taught me to only say nice things about the dead. “He’s dead. How nice.”

RIP, Fred Phelps: Your Legacy Is Not What You May Think.

When An Arkansas High School Tried to Silence a Gay Student, He Spoke Even Louder.

Power Lines Look Like Terrifying Bursts of Light to Animals.

Scientists Discover Why Dark Chocolate Is So Good For You In Most Delicious Research Project Ever.

Geek Girls Night Out: Truth Hurts. And I’m not just linking to it because Joi, the author, is a friend. I’ve written about a similar topic myself.

Harlem parents counter hate sign with support for LGBT youth.

Kylie Minogue – Sexercize:

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