Archive | January 2019

Lost Dreams and Wayward Worlds – or, more of why I love sf/f

<em>Every Heart a Doorway</em> by Seanan McGuire kicked off the Wayward Children series and won a Hugo award, Locus award, Nebula award, and an Alex award.

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire kicked off the Wayward Children series and won a Hugo award, Locus award, Nebula award, and an Alex award.

I bought the Kindle edition of Every Heart a Doorway several months after it came out in 2016, but it sat in my library for a while unread. Several people had recommended the book, but there are always so many unread books in my queue. I think what prompted me to read it was that it was showing up on people’s recommended lists for books to nominate for awards in January 2017. I plunged in and devoured a lot of things that had been in my queue for a while in the first few months of 2017, in part because reading fiction was so much less fraught than paying attention to the real world right then. I liked Every Heart…, even though it broke my heart. And at the end, I really, desperately wanted to know what happened next. I understood that a sequel was coming out, but wasn’t sure when.

Then my husband and I attended Locus Awards weekend in June of that year, where McGuire was a guest. There’s an autograph session during Locus Awards Weekend, and the University Book Store sets up several tables with books that have been nominated for the Locus, along with other books by some of those authors, and I was delighted to see that the sequel to Every Heart… was available. So I wound up buying both a hardcopy of Every Heart a Doorway and Down Among the Sticks and Bones (even though I already had the Kindle edition of the first), so I could get them autographed.

As of this month, there are four books in the series (I should note for the pedants: these are short books; for awards purposes they count as novellas rather than novels). I just finished the fourth a week or so ago, and I had originally intended this post to be a review just of the fourth book, but I realized I don’t want to review it without talking about the entire series.

Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and emerging somewhere… else.

On a panel at Locus Awards Weekend, McGuire talked about why she wrote the first book. She described stories she adored as a child, where a kid or kids who didn’t seem to fit in at home would find themselves transported to a magical kingdom, have incredible adventures, save the world… and then were forced to go back home and just be the ordinary, unappreciated kid they had always been. “And I just wanted to know why? Why couldn’t they stay and keep being heroes?”

So the first book introduces you to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. Eleanor was, herself, a girl who slipped through the shadows into another world, before eventually having to return to ours. She set up the school as a refuge for those children who were not happy to be sent back to mundania. She tells the parents and other outsiders that her goal is to help the children get over their delusions and learn to cope, but that’s just to keep them from worrying. The school is full of children who have been to many different kinds of worlds, and in the first book, seen through the viewpoint of the latest arrival, Nancy, we learn a bit about the many magical worlds, some of the rules of how they operated, the theories of why some children are drawn to those worlds and why the worlds discard them or push them out after a time.

We also deal with a series of murders that begin happening in the real world at the school. That’s where my heart got broken, because McGuire didn’t pull any punches. Characters the reader becomes very attached to are not spared, if it makes sense in the story that they die.

The second book is a prequel. It tells the story of two of the children we met in the first book, and how they fell into their magical world. The Moors are kind of an old Universal Studios Monster Territory. There is a nobleman (The Master) that everyone knows is a vampire. There are villagers who know that if they abide by certain rules they can go about their lives mostly unharmed and protected from other horrors that roam the countryside. There is a mad scientist (Dr Bleak) who can bring some of the dead back to life, and help put people back together if they are injured or maimed. The children who fall through are a pair of twins, Jacqueline and Jillian back home, though they prefer to go by Jack and Jill. Jack becomes the apprentice of Dr. Bleak, while Jill becomes the ward of The Master. More choices are made, and alas, some characters pay the price of other people’s choices, and we learn how the girls came to be sent back from the Moors, and why one of them did the things she did in the first book.

The third book, Beneath a Sugar Sky begins at the school, where we meet a couple of new characters, Cora and Nadya. Cora is a brand new student, recently returned from a world where she was transformed into a mermaid and became a hero. Nadya has been at the school longer. She also went to a water world, though hers was a much darker one than Cora’s. Their day is interrupted when an impossible girl falls from the sky and demands to be taken to meet her mother. The reason Rini is impossible is because her mother was a child who died in the first book, having never found a way to return to the magical candy land kingdom, yet Rini claims that her mother did return, re-unite with the farmboy she had a crush on before and defeated the evil Queen of Cakes. Rini was born about 9 months after the defeat of the Queen, and everything in her life was going famously until her mother mysteriously disappeared. And now Rini’s body is slowly vanishing.

Eventually Cora and Nadya join two boys we met in the first book, Kade and Christopher, in a quest with Rini to figure out how to bring Rini’s mother back from the dead and get fate back on track before Rini vanishes altogether. They wind up visiting two different magical worlds before everything is sorted out.

Cover for <em>In An Absent Dream</em> Book 4 in the Wayward Children Series by Seanan McGuire.

Cover for In An Absent Dream Book 4 in the Wayward Children Series by Seanan McGuire.

Which brings us to book four, the one I read most recently. In An Absent Dream is another prequel, telling the backstory of one of the characters we met in the first book. We meet the little girl first at her sixth birthday, when she makes piece with the that that, in part because her father is the school principal, she will not have friends at school. A couple of years later she finds a mysterious tree with a door in it and goes through, where she finds the Goblin Market. She finds a friend and a mentor there, has some adventures, and makes more friends. But while grieving over a death she returns to the real world, and is not able to find the door back for a couple of years. For the rest of the book we watch as Lundy tries to make a life going back and forth between the worlds. Because she does love her family (especially her younger sister), yet she loves her best friend in the Goblin Market, too.

Trying to balance both, she makes a magical deal that doesn’t quite work how she wishes.

This one is different in tone than the previous one. The narrator has more of a personality, rather than feeling objective. The narrator directly addresses the reader from time to time, telling us a bit about what is about to happen. Those of us who read the first book already knew how Lundy’s story would end. More so than we did for Jack and Jill in the second book. So I think the narration had to be framed this way.

I do believe that the second and fourth books can be read as stand-alones You don’t need to know anything that happened in the other books to understand anything that happens in them.

I’m less certain about the third book. The story carries on just fine, but I’m not sure a reader who had not read the first book would find it as compelling. Mainly because a lot of the emotional drive of the third book is whether the one character who died in the first book will be brought back. And it was in the first book that the reader meets her and gets to know her, and therefore would be invested in saving her.

I find the entire series a lot of fun. Not everyone gets a happy ending, or the happy ending that you want, but the stories contain joy and some triumphs. And there is more than a bit of the found family theme in several aspects of the series.

McGuire has mentioned on social media that the publisher has contracted for eight books so far in the series. She’s also said that her plan is to continue the pattern established thus far: odd-numbered entries will be stories that take place at the school, even-numbered books will be portal fantasies in which we see a wayward child or two find their magic door, of fall down the rabbit hole, or slip through a shadow in the back of the cupboard to find a magical world.

I’m looking forward to the rest!

Get over it

“In 202, there will be a candidate competing against Donald Trump for President. It is likely this candidate:
1. Isn’t your first choice
2. Isn’t 100% ideologically pure
3. Has made mistakes in their life
4. Might not really excite you all that much
5. Has ideas you are uncomfortable with
Please start the process of getting over that shit now, instead of waiting until 2020.”

Get over it.

Sunday Funnies Update: Mueller indicts a cartoon villain

“I just realized that Roger Stone is the villain from Who Framed Roger Rabbit.”

“I just realized that Roger Stone is the villain from Who Framed Roger Rabbit.”

This is another story that broke on Friday, after I have already posted this week’s Friday Five, and I was going to do a Weekend Update about it, except I kept thinking, as I gathered more background information, that I couldn’t write about Roger Stone and his arrest in the same post where I was going on about the end of the government shutdown. More importantly, Roger Stone is such a strange, over-the-top, alt-right, Republican apparatchik that he appears to be a character who has literally walked out of a comic book. Reading stories about him and some of his antics makes rational people think that they are reading a parody.

So, the basic headline first: Roger Stone, Longtime Trump Associate, Arrested After Mueller Indictment. He has been indicted for one count of obstruction of proceeding (interfering with an investigation into one or more crimes), five counts of making false statements (lying to Congress under oath), and one count of witness tampering. Let’s be clear, this means that a grand jury has found that the prosecutors have established a prima facia case that he is probably guilty of these crimes.

According to the indictment, Stone informed members of the Trump campaign that wikileaks was illegally in possession of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee, which he could make available to the campaign so that campaign may use the information in the political campaign. I want to note, here, that nothing in the hacked emails indicated that any crimes were being conducted by anyone in the Clinton campaign or the DNC. The so-called damaging information was either stuff that could easily be taken out of context to imply more unsavory things, or indications that many of the running a bunch of political campaigns were ruthless and sometimes held grudges. It can be embarrassing, but hardly illegal.

Obtaining the emails, on the other hand, is a criminal act. Using illegally obtained personal communications can also be a crime.

Anyway, Stone is charged with lying about this under oath multiple times, trying to convince at least one other witness to lie, and generally attempting to impede any legal investigation into the crime of hacking the email servers, stealing the information, and sharing it. This is serious, not just because it ties someone with long-running close ties to the Alleged President to the Russian Collusion case. It also implies that Congressional Republicans didn’t try very hard while investigation Russian interference: Roger Stone’s Indictment Proves the House Republicans’ Russia Investigation Was a Whitewash.

Stone has been an infamous figure in Republican politics for years. He’s well known for various dirty tricks. Be he is also well known for his obsession with disgraced former President Richard Nixon. Stone famously has Nixon’s face tattooed on his back (seriously, be posts pictures of the tattoo on line, himself!). When he came out of federal court on Friday after posting bail, he literally (and intentionally) posed in a manner identical to one of Nixon’s famous things: holding both hands out at an angle from his body, fingers on each handing making a V for Victory, and grinning like a madman.

Seriously, none of these photos are fake. This is how he dresses!

Seriously, none of these photos are fake. This is how he dresses!

Less pertinent to any actual crimes, but the source of many memes out there comparing Stone to the character of Judge Doom, the villain in the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Look at these pictures! This is how the guy dresses when he is going to places. He looks like he’s cosplaying a a villain from the campy 1960s Batman TV show, for goodness sake! There are more, so many, many more! And I know it is silly and superficial to focus on such a thing, but there is more to his cartoon-ish personality and life choices.

And that is relevant in a few ways: Roger Stone’s Greatest Liability – The longtime Trump adviser’s attention-seeking ways made him an easy target for Robert Mueller.. An easy target, much easier than any one of the thirty-four other people who have either already pled guilty to various crimes related to the Trump campaign or have been indicted before Stone. That Mueller waited this long to get Stone tells us that he has already locked down enough to start going for big fish, as it were.

There is a bit more, though. I mentioned above that Stone is obsessed with Nixon and likes to talk up his relationship to Nixon all the time. Dozens of stories, including at least one of those I’ve already linked to, often refer to his time working on one of Nixon’s presidential campaigns. Specifically indicated that he was involved in the official Nixon campaign organization. That, it turns out, isn’t true: Nixon Foundation disowns Roger Stone.

You have to be pretty bad to have the Nixon Foundation disavow you!

The truth is that Stone was 16 years old the Nixon successfully ran for President in 1968. He was 20 years old when Nixon ran for re-election, and it is true that he volunteered for re-election activities. It is even true that his official title in that capacity was as a “junior scheduler.” But he was not working for the Nixon campaign. He wasn’t even working for one of the state-level committees to re-elect the President. He was the junior scheduler for the committee that was formed by his University’s Young Republican Club to promote Nixon on campus.

My grandpa used to like to tell the story about when I was four years old and I got into an argument with my dad because I thought that Barry Goldwater would be a better President than Lyndon B. Johnson. That didn’t make me a Goldwater campaign aide. And being a member of a campus Young Republican Club supporting the re-election of the then current Republican President doesn’t make one a Presidential Campaign Aide, either.

Stone eventually became the national president of the Young Republicans, and he became infamous for amassing dossiers on all 800 delegates to the national meeting of the club. He and his close friend Paul Manafort used information in those dossiers to blackmail other members of the organization in order to make them vote for his proposals.

Stone did work for the Nixon Administration briefly after college, but he was an extremely low-level Federal employee. As the Nixon Foundation’s official statement said, “Nowhere in the Presidential Daily Diaries from 1972 to 1974 does the name “Roger Stone” appear.” Stone later worked briefly for Senator Bob Dole, but was fired over allegations that he had been involved in various unethical campaign activities.

He did become a campaign strategist for a Republican gubernatorial candidate and later worked on both of Ronald Reagan’s campaigns and for the elder President Bush’s first election campaign. He was one of many founders of the National Conservative Political Action Committee. He worked on various Senatorial election campaigns. And in the 1990s he became a paid lobbyist for one of Donald Trump’s companies

He went to work for Senator Dole again while Dole was running for President, and then had to quit when it was discovered that he and his second wife had been placing ads in various “racy” publications seeking sexual partners for threesomes and more-somes. At the time, he accused a former employee with a drug problem of placing all the ads to embarrass him, but later admitted that the ads were his. And while I don’t think the ads or the private sexual practices of he and his second wife made are usually anyone’s business—remember that politicians he has worked for and promoted and raised money for have actively tried to restrict and criminalize the consensual sexual activities of other people, so it becomes relevant. And then, of course, trying to frame someone else for it is also indicative of his being an immoral, unethical liar.

So it should be no surprise that Trump has praised him: “Roger’s a good guy. He’s been so loyal and so wonderful.”

Roger Stone Made His Name as a Dirty Trickster, But the Trump-Russia Coverup May Finally Bring Him Down.

Again, he looks like a crime boss out of a comic book!

Again, he looks like a crime boss out of a comic book!

Stone was an informal advisor to Trump’s campaign. But then, Trump has claimed that one of the campaign chairman wasn’t actually involved, so we can’t lean too heavily on that word informal. It makes perfect sense why Stone and Trump get along. I mean, when you see those pictures of Trump’s living quarters and so forth with the gold furniture and other super tasteless over-the-top decorating choices, you realize that he isn’t really rich. He likes people to think he is so he lives the way that poor people think rich people would live. He tries to make his real life look like it came out of the pages of a Richie Rich comic book. And Stone, for whatever reason, likes to dress like villains from old comic books. They’re perfect for each other!

Weekend Update 1/26/2019: Trump’s losing streak continues

Things are looking up for America... relatively.

Things are looking up for America… relatively.

So, the government shutdown is over. Well, temporarily. Even though this wasn’t the only important story that happened after I cued up yesterday’s Friday Five post on Thursday night, today’s Weekend Update is going to focus entirely on Trump’s surrender on the issue of the government shutdown and the wall. Let’s get a couple of important headlines up there, first:

President Trump signs bill that ends government shutdown without wall funding, caving to Democratic demands.

Trump ends shutdown with nothing to show for damage wrought.

A senior Democratic aide told the Daily News that the deal started with a meeting between Schumer and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in his office Thursday evening.
McConnell proposed a short-term funding bill with a down payment on the wall, but Schumer rejected that, suggesting Democrats would commit to the path that Trump announced — an agreement for the House and Senate to work out border security in a conference committee.

And I want to get the timeline completely clear: Back in December, before the shutdown, when the Republicans still controlled both Houses of Congress, Democrats and Republicans hammered our a spending deal, Trump had agreed to sign in, and then, when presented with the actual bill that he had already agreed to, Donald changed his mind. Vice President Pence urged Trump to sign the bill and not shutdown the government. Trump, apparently being egged on by one of his slimiest advisors, Stephen Miller, vetoed the bill. A couple weeks later, Democrats officially took control of the lower House and immediately passed the exact same bill that Trump had originally agreed to. Senate Majority Piddler Mitch McConnell, despite private calls from other Republican Senators, refused to even schedule a vote of the bill. As the House passed 9 more versions of the spending bill (one unanimously), members of McConnell’s party began to publicly call for him to schedule a vote.

Pelosi informed the President that there would be no State of the Union Address while the shutdown was going on. Donald got into a snit, seeming to think that the earlier letter from Pelosi suggesting the date (back when everyone assumed the Senate Republicans were going to vote to re-open government sooner) somehow constituted a legal contract(?). Then insisted he could just show up and give the speech. At which point finally pundits on Fox News even had to admit that it doesn’t work that way. The State of the Union is defined in the Constitution as a report from the President to the Congress. And the Constitution also makes the Congress and co-equal branch of the government, and gives each House absolute control over its own chamber. The President cannot address either House without a resolution from the House inviting him. The Senate might pass such a resolution (though it was looking as if that wasn’t certain), but if the House doesn’t pass a matching resolution, and if Pelosi doesn’t approve turning the cameras on in the House Chamber, Donald isn’t going to get his big stage and those hundreds of thousands of viewers that he craves.

So that was the first surrender that Donald made this week: because it was clear that even his loyal Fox News wouldn’t call or cover any speech given anywhere else the same as a State of the Union.

I’ve been seeing a bunch of people claim that Pelosi didn’t really win the fight over the shutdown, that the Air Traffic Controllers did, as delays started to occur at major hub airports. I understand the attraction of that argument, but the timing is off. Trump already had caved, and was sending his surrogates to find a way to give in while saving face before that happened. Yes, the Air Traffic Control situation surely is what pushed a bunch of Congressional Republicans who had been holding out before, but Trump was already giving up.

Don’t believe me? Well, would you believe one of Donald’s most fervent fanboys from Fox News? Lou Dobbs: Nancy Pelosi “Just Whipped” The President.

“She has just whipped the president of the United States. You know I’m an animated, energetic supporter of this president, but you’ve got to call it as it is. This president said it was going to be conditional, border security, building that wall, and he just reversed himself. That’s a victory for Nancy Pelosi.”
—Lou Dobbs, Fox Business January 25, 2019

I know it’s more complicated than just one person. ‘Complete, total surrender’: Why Trump waved the white flag – The sudden erosion of support from Senate Republicans ultimately forced Trump’s hand. But that’s the way it is with these battles. There is a context.

And obviously, the fight isn’t over. The bipartisan conference committee has to meet and hammer out some kind of deal. And clearly our Alleged President is willing to throw anyone and everyone under the bus to try to get his way. But I’ll take victories when we get them.

Friday Five (losing fight edition)

© Matt Wuerker/POLITICO (click to embiggen)

Wow! Here we are. It’s the fourth Friday in 2019, (and in the month)!

It’s been another weird week. And I’m not just talking about the news. It’s more than a little worrying how many of my co-workers are sick, taking care of a sick kid at home, or (like me) still don’t feel fully recovered from being sick recently.

Anyway, welcome to the Friday Five. This week I bring you: the top five (IMHO) stories of the week, five stories of interest to queers and our allies, five science stories, five stories about the shutdown and the deplorable people causing it, and five videos (plus things I’ve written).

Stories of the Week:

‘Does Israel Have A Right To Exist’ Is A Trick Question.

10 Things You Didn’t Know About Noah Webster, the Inventor of American English .

The government’s secret UFO program has just been revealed, and it’s something out of a sci-fi movie.

Data Broker That Sold Phone Locations Used by Bounty Hunters Lobbied FCC to Scrap User Consent –.

Gizmodo: Trump’s Social Media Pictures Are Often Manipulated to Make His Body Thinner and Fingers Longer

Queer stories of the Week:

Sex Education’s Ncuti Gatwa: ‘Black, gay experience isn’t often told’.

Veteran teacher: Karen Pence’s school erases LGBTQ people; that damages children .

Gay couple hospitalized following attack by a group of men in Austin.

Trump gives South Carolina foster agency the right to discriminate against LGBTQ & Jewish people.

Vehmently Anit-gay Rev. Ernest Angley Admitted Sexual Encounter with Another Man. Because of course he’s a self-loathing closet case—like all the others!

This Week in Science:

We may finally know what causes Alzheimer’s – and how to stop it.

See a rock smack the moon during the super blood wolf eclipse.

Did Supernovas Kill Off the Monster Shark Megalodon?

Warmest ever start for January in Seattle.

Is Sunscreen the New Margarine?- Current guidelines for sun exposure are unhealthy and unscientific, controversial new research suggests—and quite possibly even racist. How did we get it so wrong?

This Week in Government Shutdown News:

Dueling plans to reopen government both fail in Senate – Six Republicans Voted For Plan Offered By Democrats.

Aviation Unions Issue Dire Shutdown Warning: There’s No Telling When The Entire System Might Break Down.

Trump White House grows eager to escape losing shutdown fight – After a day of failed Senate action, Trump and his advisers realize they may never win over Democrats in a battle that is costing them dearly.

The Shutdown Is Not a Result of Partisan Bickering .

‘This is your fault’: Republican senators screamed at Mitch McConnell and Mike Pence about shutdown in closed-door meeting.

Things I wrote:

Weekend update 1/19/2019: is there a new Deep Throat?

What are you doing for others?

Carmeggeddon! Viadoom! (Or maybe not).

Videos!

Stephen Colbert – The State Of The State Of The Union:

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Seth Meyers – Cohen and Giuliani Cause Problems for Trump: A Closer Look:

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Stephen Colbert – Donald Trump Is On A Losing Streaking:

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SHAZAM! – In Theaters April 5:

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Spider-Man: Far From Home | Teaser Trailer:

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Carmeggeddon! Viadoom! (Or maybe not)

Oh, Homer!

A couple weeks ago every local news site, local TV and radio station, and neighborhood blog was filled with dire warnings about how horrible traffic was going to be when the rickety elevated highway (known as the Viaduct) was finally closed and the final work would be done to connect a highway and other roads to our new gigantic tunnel. Because state and local transportation departments were using the term “maximum constraint” some folks have been calling it the Seattle Squeeze.

One of the local stations had a more pessimistic term: Viadoom! They used it in stories leading up to the closure, and during the first two or three business days after the closure the stories were headlined with “Day 1 of Viadoom” and “On Day 2 of Viadoom…”

We are now in week two of the Squeeze and so far, traffic has not been apocalyptically bad. No one wants to be the first reporter or blogger to say those fears were overblown, because the situation could get worse. The current conventional wisdom is the the first week went okay because some people are still on holiday break, many commuters are working from home, others who normally drive have switched to transit and/or biking. But many are convinced that most of those people are either going to get “fed up” with transit or will decide that because traffic has only been a little heavier than normal that there is no problem and they’ll all hop back into their cars.

Maybe they will. But I think the fears were always overwrought. For one, traffic analysis and computer simulations had shown—back when a replacement for the elevated part of the highway was being debated more than ten years ago—that all the traffic could be diverted to surface streets without causing gridlock. The horrible paralyzing gridlock that happens from time to time when there is a serious accident on that highway is because people are caught by surprise and are already on routes feeding to the unexpectedly blocked road when things go bad.

Those simulations also assumed that the number of cars being driven each day would be decreasing (because things were already trending that way). Lots of people were skeptical of that. Some thought the downward trend was temporary or something. Guess what? Single car ridership has declined faster than those simulations assumed. Many more people are already taking transit, carpooling, telecommuting, and so forth than before.

Other folks are focusing on the fact that the replacement tunnel has less capacity that the old viaduct, and that it’s going to be at least a couple more years before we have finished removing the old structure and making street improvements along its old route. There is also a big worry that, because the tunnel will be tolled, too many people will avoid it to avoid the tolls.

Yeah, while construction is disrupting other streets, things will happen. But anyone who has lived or worked in Seattle for any length of time already knows that there are only two seasons here: Rainy Season and Construction Season. We manage to keep getting around during Construction Season.

It’s never pleasant to be stuck in traffic. When traffic becomes persistently bad, people change their behavior. We try to find ways to work around it. We adapt. Well, most of us do. There are those whackos who decide, instead, to file initiatives to try to repeal or financially cripple big transit projects because they are so convinced they have a god-given right to drive an enormous gas-guzzling behemoth all by themselves and dang it, the state should just make the roads wider so they can do things the way they always have. I hate those guys.

I’ve been riding the bus to work for over 30 years. Yes, I have amusing stories to tell of some misadventures and unpleasant people I have encountered on the bus. But those rare times that I have driven instead of taking the bus have also led to stories about misadventures and reckless drivers. Because if you’re in your car, you’re surrounded by people just as much as you would be on the bus—it’s just that each of them is armed with a ton of glass, steel, and composites. And maybe you feel like you’re in control in your car in a way that you aren’t on the bus or train. But if there’s an accident up ahead, and you’re stuck in the middle lane of a long bridge, you don’t have any more control than the passengers in a bus.

Anyway, I think it is mildly funny that, so far, Viadoom hasn’t materialized. The station that was using the term has stopped posting daily stories detailing how the commute went, because each day there has been nothing to report. And really, how many times can you say with a straight face, “None of the bad things we predicted have happened yet, but just you wait!”

So, I’ll keep riding my bus and keeping my fingers crossed.

What are you doing for others?

“Life's most persistent and urgent question is, What are you doing for others?” —Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, What are you doing for others?” —Martin Luther King, Jr.

As a white-bearded pasty-pale very white old guy, I feel I shouldn’t do anything to drown out the voices of people of color, specifically African-Americans, and what they have to say on this day to commemorate the legacy of Dr. King. So I am not going to. Instead, I want to refer you to this excellent article by Tyrone Beason published today:

Former Olympian John Carlos Raised a gloved fist for justice 50 years ago, but his act should inspire us today.

Go read it.

Weekend update 1/19/2019: is there a new Deep Throat?

Woman holds sign at Trump protest: “Long after this moron is dead, history will remember the cowards who kept quiet and let this happen.”

“Long after this moron is dead, history will remember the cowards who kept quiet and let this happen.” (click to embiggen)

It is once again time to share some news that either didn’t make it into yesterday’s Friday Five or that updates something linked to previously, et cetera. Along with some amount of commentary, snark, and/or analysis by me. Before I jump into that, I was looking through some of the past Weekend Updates trying to find an particular image of that I thought I had used to illustrate it, and I was a little bit surprised to realize how seldom that last year or so that I haven’t had a Weekend Update. The first few were months apart. Not sure what that means, but I guess this is a regular part of my week, now.

One of the stories I didn’t link to yesterday was a Buzzfeed piece that only broke on Thursday, but by the time I was working on the Friday Five Thursday night, I had seen so many people link to it or re-reported it that it felt both like old news or at least something that everyone saw, so I didn’t link. Let me remedy that because late Friday a boatload of new developments happened: President Trump Directed His Attorney Michael Cohen To Lie To Congress About The Moscow Tower Project.

I should also admit that, besides seeing so many links to it throughout Thursday, it also just feels like a headline you’ve already read, right? I mean, didn’t we already know this? Except we didn’t know this one, and if a fraction of the details are right, it’s a bigger deal than some of the other well-documented lies and corrupt acts of the Alleged President: BuzzFeed’s Trump-Cohen Story Describes Clearly Impeachable Crimes- The tale of a presidential coverup is familiar — and troubling. This is different than most of the other things we’ve heard about this case because, if the story is correct, it is talking about things Trump did after taking office. If true, it also is a serious crime (and criminal conspiracy) regardless of whether the interactions of the Trump’s campaign organization with Russian officials rise to the legal definition of collusion.

Lying to Congress is a crime. Lying to Congress under oath is a serious crime. A government official (including by not limited to the President) instructing someone else to lie to Congress under oath is a crime. Doing so for the explicit purpose of obstructing one or more criminal investigations (and remember, Mueller’s office is not the only one investigating various possible criminal activities surrounding these events) is a serious crime.

Of course, supporters of the Alleged President got what they think is vindication Friday night (and even he thinks it is, because of course he’s tweeted about it already): Special counsel office: Parts of Buzzfeed article tying Trump to Cohen’s lies to Congress are not accurate. Oh, well, in that case, never mind, right?

Well, no, because you need to both read the actual statement from the Special Counsel’s Office, and you need to think like a prosecutor when you do:

“BuzzFeed’s description of specific statements to the Special Counsel’s Office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s Congressional testimony are not accurate.”

Parse that like a lawyer and you realize that all the Special Counsel’s Office is saying is that 1) the don’t have all the details right, and 2) there are nuances or details which the article omits or misinterprets.

It is not a repudiation of the core of the story: Here’s What Legal Experts and Former Gov’t. Officials Say Mueller’s Statement on the Buzzfeed Story Means. In other words, what the Special Counsel’s Office is saying is that parts of the story are right, parts are wrong, but they can’t tell us which parts are without revealing information that would compromise the current investigation.

Buzzfeed has since responded that they stand by their story. The speculation is that someone in one of the other prosecuting offices has leaked this information. I mentioned above that Mueller’s office isn’t the only one, right? We know that the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York is also investigating many of these things, because they have been filing joint motions to federal judges regarding sentencing and so forth of a bunch of the conspirators who have already either pled guilty or been indicted. We know that prosecutors in Germany are investigating some aspects because of raids they have conducted on bank offices and such over there, and the public warrants filed in conjunction with those raids. There is a strong suspicion (but less public proof) that state prosecutors in New York are also conducting a parallel investigation. There are hints in some of the other activities that numerous other state prosecutors have been given information relevant to state crimes that the Special Counsel’s Office as uncovered—this is not unusual for federal investigators, when finding evidence of crimes that they can’t pursue in federal courts to refer that information to the jurisdictions that can prosecute the crimes.

So it is very possible that someone in one of these other offices, for whatever reason, decided to leak the information to the press. One possibility is that several of the statements made this week by the Attorney General nominee have made it seem likely that he will let Mueller complete his investigation, but then not pass the report on to Congress, instead writing his own summary report. This could make law enforcement officials believe that the information is never going to reach Congress or the public unless someone leaks some of it and gets enough people looking into it that it becomes impossible for a corrupt Attorney General to suppress.

This, by the way, was the motivation that led an FBI official named Mark Felt to start passing information about crimes committed on Nixon’s behalf to two reporters for the Washington Post. Those leaks eventually led to the Watergate investigation and created enough public furor that Nixon resigned from office before Congress could impeach him. For many years, the two reporters refused to reveal the name of their source of secret information, referring to him only as Deep Throat.

This raises the question, why would Mueller say anything at all about it, if it wasn’t his office that leaked it? My guess is two reasons. First, he probably believes that he has already set up enough contingencies against interference from a new Attorney General that the investigation’s results will reach the public. Second, he is very angry at whoever did leak it, even though he isn’t sure who did the leaking. He isn’t worried that the information he gathers won’t eventually become public (because of his contingencies) but he is worried that a spooked Alleged President will find another way to shut down the investigation before he finishes.

So, issuing this statement calms Cadet Bonespur down, giving him reason to tweet about how even Mueller agrees with him the Buzzfeed is wrong. And buys Mueller a bit more time.

Which makes me suspect that he is really, really close to nailing down irrefutable evidence on something. He’s got a lot of people who have been found or had pled guilty to all sorts of things already, which means he’s got a lot of thumbscrews being twisted to flush out more evidence.

It might be time to break out the popcorn soon!

Friday Five (birthday girls edition)

(click to embiggen)

It’s the third Friday in 2019, (and in the month) and I am behind on all the things!

I freaked out just a little bit this week when I saw the Betty White was trending. Then I saw the actual tweets and posts and remembered it’s her birthday. Yay! She’s still with us!

Anyway, welcome to the Friday Five. This week I bring you: five stories about people celebrating birthdays this week, the top five (IMHO) stories of the week, five stories of interest to queers and our allies, five stories about deplorable people, and five videos (plus notable obituaries and things I’ve written).

This Week in Birthday Girls:

Happy Birthday, Betty White!

Betty White looks sprightly as ever on stroll ahead of 97th birthday.

Betty White says the secret to her living long is vodka and hot dogs

Barack Obama Posts an Adorable Throwback Photo for Michelle’s Birthday.

Michelle Obama’s Birthday: See Her Most Gorgeous Looks Ever.

Stories of the Week:

The Knitted Radio .

Public transportation is 10 times safer, analysis shows.

No, Evolution Did Not Make Us Into Selfish Capitalists.

One month after controversial adult-content purge, far-right pages are thriving on Tumblr .

Violent crime in the U.S. has fallen sharply over the past quarter century

Queer stories of the Week:

LGBTQ-inclusive bullying laws associated with fewer teen suicide attempts, study says.

A pastor posted an anti-LGBTQ church sign so his congregation kicked him to the curb.

Colorado courthouse honored for issuing gay marriage licenses — in 1975.

Producers say ‘Family Guy’ to Phase Out Homophobic Jokes. Phase out? PHASE OUT? Why not just quit doing it? Is this a tacit admission that they are addicted to bigotry and so have to slowly wean themselves of it?

Leaked Emails Reveal Jesse Singal’s (Bigoted) Thoughts on Trans Issues

Awful, Deplorable People:

Referees Still Targeting Andrew Johnson.

Border Patrol agent who confessed to killing four women last year pleads not guilty.

No notes from Trump-Putin meetings: not just unusual, unprecedented.

Mitch McConnell could end the shutdown. But he’s sitting this one out.

Trump Separated ‘Thousands’ More Migrant Families and Children Than It Previously Revealed: Federal Audit

In Memoriam:

Marriage Equality activist Diane Olson dies at 65.

Carol Channing, Iconic Broadway Star of Hello, Dolly!, Dies at 97.

Carol Channing’s Colorful Life, In 47 Stunning Photos.

Carol Channing Is Dead.

Things I wrote:

Weekend Update 1/12/2019: The wheels of justice may grind slowly, but Alex Jones, they grind on you!

Sunday Update 1/13/2019: This is not a sci fi movie.

This isn’t a political post, but this image was too funny not to share.

Confessions of an information junkie.

Sometimes someone needs an explanation

Misleading notions my teachers taught, Part 1: Democracy’s Not What You Think.

Videos!

Grimace Puts Trump On The Hot Seat:

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

Trump Is Losing the Shutdown Fight: A Closer Look:

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

Now Apocalypse | Official Trailer:

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

Steve Carell To Star in Netflix Comedy ‘Space Force’:

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

Cub Sport – Party Pill (Official Video):

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

Misleading notions my teachers taught, Part 1: Democracy’s Not What You Think

U.S. population isn't equally distributed, which wouldn't be a problem except that the Constitution apportions several important thing by state. (click to embiggen)

U.S. population isn’t equally distributed, which wouldn’t be a problem except that the Constitution apportions several important thing by state. (click to embiggen)

I believe that it was one of my fourth grade teachers who first explained to me how the Founding Fathers designed our government. First she explained that seats in the House of Representatives were allotted proportionately to each state’s population. Then she explained why the Constitution gave every state two Senators, regardless of their population: “They were afraid that the big states would gang up on the little states.” And she pointed to Virgina on the map as an example of a big state, then Rhode Island as an example of a small state. For elementary students this choice evoked a very specific idea, because we were all familiar with the experience of a kid who was bigger bullying a smaller kid, as well as how gangs of bullies seemed to form on every school yard.

There were problems with the teacher’s analogy, of course. The first is that Virginia was a “big state” for purposes of the actual Constitutional question, not because it was physically larger, per se, but because it had a much higher population. The second is that, while a state is a governmental entity that in theory represents the people inhabiting it’s territory, that entity doesn’t always represent the needs and wishes of all of its citizens equally.

Now, at the time the Continental Congress was drafting the Constitution, state population densities were not as lopsided as they are now, so there happened to be a rough correlation between the physical size of most states and their populations, so it is easy to understand how the geographic size became conflated with size of population.

There was a fear among the states with lower populations that the higher population states would, if given power in the new government proportionate to population, overrule concerns raised by those states. That is one reason why the original Continental Congress had consisted of an equal number of delegates from each state, and why each state only got one vote (despite having multiple delegates). It is also why under the Articles of Confederation, the Congress (which consisted of only one house, and was the entirety of the Federal government for the first ten years of independence—there was no executive branch nor a judiciary) had also consisted of an equal number of delegates from each state, regardless of population.

It wasn’t a fear of a few big hulking bullies, it was a fear of the tyranny of the majority.

So, when the states all agreed in 1787 that the Articles of Confederation weren’t giving them an actual working government, they called a Continental Congress (separate from the federal Congress) to draft a solution.

That process created a Congress of two houses, one had members (in theory) proportionate to the population of each state, the other gave equal representation to each state regardless of population. At the time, this seemed like a brilliant compromise. Another portion of the Constitution laid out the election of the President in a similar way: each state would get a number of votes equal to the total number of representatives and senators it had in the Congress. This gave high population states more votes than low population states, but also gave the low population states more votes than they would be entitled to due to population alone.

I mention above that the representation in the lower house is only proportionate in theory, and here’s why: every state, regardless of population, gets at least one representative. There are currently three states whose populations are fewer than the average population of a congressional district in more populous states. And, because the size of the lower house hasn’t been increased in 90 years, these disparities get weird even when comparing only states that have more than two Representatives in the House: some districts are nearly twice the population of others.

Because the Electoral College is skewed by both the two-senators-no-matter-population rule and the mathematical disparities of the apportionment of the House, that means that voters in the less densely populated states have, for all intents and purposes, four times as much say in selecting the President as voters in some of the more densely populated states.

Because of this disparity, half the population of the country only accounts for 18% of the votes in the Senate. That means that the other half get 82% of the votes.

Because of this disparity, half the population of the country only accounts for 18% of the votes in the Senate. That means that the other half get 82% of the votes.

When maps like the second one here are shared by conservatives, the question that gets asked, “Do you really want only this much of the country to elect our Presidents?” This plays into the same misconception that my teacher gave about big states and little states: Even though it says right there in the text by the map that these nine states comprise a full half of the population, emotionally you process the size of the other states as representing a majority, when it doesn’t.

The fact that 82 of the 100 members in the Senate represent only half the population of the country, is also one reason why we frequently have Congressional gridlock. And it is certainly playing out in the current government shutdown.

How to steal and election. Gerrymander.

How to steal and election. Gerrymander. (click to embiggen)

Gerrymandering of district for electing Representatives also contributes to these problems. And gerrymandering can be very powerful. My favorite example is to just look at what happened in my state, Washington, during the 1994 midterm elections. At the time, Washington had nine Representatives in Congress. In that election, just over 60% of the voters of Washington state voted to have a Democrat represent them in Congress. Knowing that 60% of the voters chose a Democrat, you would expect that out of 9 seats, at least 5 of them would be filled by Democrats, right? That isn’t what happened. Instead, only 3 seats went to Democrats, and 6 went to Republicans. That was because of gerrymandering.

When I’ve written about these issues before, some folks have pointed out that fixing it would require amending the Constitution—which requires supermajority votes in both houses of Congress and then a supermajority of states have to ratify. Plus, fixing the Senate is a particularly difficult issue. And no one likes the solution I suggested (half-jokingly), which is a Constitutional amendment that requires any state whose population isn’t large enough to justify three Representatives must cease to be a state and merge with a neighboring state.

But there are things that can be done to alleviate the problem which don’t require amending the Constitution. The first is to simply increase the number of Representatives in the House so that the district disparities are alleviated. There have been a number of bills proposed (and some with bipartisan sponsors) toward this end. One popular solution is called the “Wyoming Rule.” Not because it was proposed by Wyoming, but because Wyoming is the lowest population state. The Wyoming Rule would set up a system where each time when Congress does reapportionment after each Census, part of the process is to increase the total number of Representatives so that the average size of a Congressional District equals the population of the least populous state. Many nations of parliaments/assemblies/what-have-you that are much larger than our House of Representatives and they manage to conduct business just fine.

Increasing the number of Representatives alleviates at least two of the problems: it decreases the odds that a Presidential candidate who lost the popular vote will win the electoral college, and it makes gerrymandering much more difficult.

Another couple of things that could help: Statehood for the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. D.C. has a population larger than two of the states of the union, and they have no vote in either house of Congress. D.C. statehood has been opposed by National Republicans for several years because the demographics of the district make it likely that it was most often elect Democrats to the Senate. Puerto Rico has a population that exceeds the three least populous states added together! In fact, it has a higher population that 21 of the states. Again, National Republicans have opposed statehood for the territory because it is assumed it would likely add two more reliably Democratic seats to the Senate. And that is precisely why statehood for each would alleviate some of the problems of partisan imbalance in the Senate.

Then, of course, there is the movement to change the way the states appoint their electors: National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.

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