I am constantly saving various images to possibly use to illustrate a post, then wind up using only a fraction of them. Between the recent slushmageddon and my being sick, I’m behind on lots of things and have way more errands to run than usual. So, rather than rant about some news developments that have happened since I compiled yesterday’s Friday Five (sold them the rope edition) here are some of my recently collected images/memes/what-have-you:
Finally, some of you may know that my latest musical obsession is Panic! At the Disco—specifically lead singer Brendon Urie, so when I saw this tweet I laughed outloud and said, “Welcome to the club!”:
It’s finally Friday. It’s the final Friday of February!
I caught a cold or something last weekend. My work week has consisted of working and sleeping. I either take a couple of naps each day or go to sleep several hours earlier than usual then sleep like a log until the alarm goes of. Several co-workers have also either taken a few sick days or worked from home to keep from bringing their germs into the office. Fun.
Anyway, welcome to the Friday Five. This week I bring you: a disturbing story the crosses categories, the top five (IMHO) stories of the week, five stories about deplorable people, and five videos (plus a notable obituary and the one thing I’ve written).
I don’t want this story to take over tomorrow’s Friday Five, and I have a bit to say about the Smollett story. Joe Jervis, who runs the Joe.My.God blog, has stated many times his policy that he doesn’t link to reports about hate crimes unless one of three conditions have been met: 1) there has been an arrest of a suspected perpetrator, 2) there is video of at least part of the crime available, 3) there are uninvolved eyewitness accounts. In the years since articulating the criteria, he has made exceptions to the rule only when the national mainstream media was reporting it. Which everyone was shortly after actor and singer Jussie Smollett first reported being attacked by two men three weeks ago.
My first take when I saw the story being shared on twitter was, “I guess he isn’t famous enough to have an entourage with him all the time…” And because the same people who were insistent that Brett Kavanaugh was the victim in his Senate confirmation hearings were immediately claiming it was a hoax, I thought, “I need more details, but I think this falls under the ‘believe victims until proven otherwise’ rule.”
When I found a story with details, I have to admit I was a little bit confused. I had assumed from the initial headlines, that he must have been out at a known gay nightclub, maybe on his way to his car or something. I mean, I know who he is because I watched the first few seasons of Empire and was happy they had more than one queer character in the cast, but I didn’t think that he was famous enough that the typical white Trump-supporting Fox-news-watching bigot would know who he was. Right? I mean, yeah, if guys like that saw men coming out of a gay club they might harass them, and maybe a black dude would be more likely to draw their attention, but I don’t imagine many MAGA-hat-wearing white guys are familiar with the secondary cast of a prime time melodrama that is entirely about an African-American family who own a hip hop recording studio, you know?
However… the story was linked on the Joe.My.God blog, and I knew about Joe’s policy. I had also read a story where a spokesman for the Chicago police denied that they were considering this a hoax. So I included a link in that week’s Friday Five and waited to see if there were more developments.
Now, I still believe that on a personal basis, ‘believe victims’ when the report these things is a good rule of thumb. Statistics indicate that less than 2% of reports of this kind of assault are later proved to be fake. Yet, the vast majority of victims who do come forward are disbelieved and often harassed and threatened for doing so.
This is especially troubling now. Between 2006 and 2016 there had been a steady decline in hate crimes in America. There was a sudden surge right after election day 2016. The FBI described 2017’s figures as a “significant jump” over the previous year, and all indications are that 2018 continued the trend. So moving forward there will likely be more victims of real hate crimes, but people will be more skeptical of any reported hate crimes.
There’s another aspect about this that bothers me. Smollett is being charged with a felony for falsely reporting the crime and wasting police resources. But I want to know why Pool Patrol Paul wasn’t charged for falsely reporting a black family was trespassing? Why wasn’t BBQ Becky charge with making a false report when she called police on a black family using a public park? Or Golf Cart Gail, or that Starbucks manager, or the Nordstrom manager, and many, many other white people who called the cops claiming a black person had committed a crime when no crime had happened? I mean, sure the unrelated Pool Patrol Paula faced criminal charges–but she was filmed assaulting one of the black teen-agers she chased from her community’s pool and the assaulted the cops that came to question her.
But all those other white people last year made false reports to the police—but oddly, none of them were arrested and forced to put up bail.
Smollett seems to be the boy who cried wolf. And yes, he should face consequences for what he did. But there is an important part of the story of The Boy Who Cried Wolf that few people think about. He keeps yelling that wolves are attacking the town flock when the aren’t, because he enjoys seeing everyone come running. In the original Greek version of the fable, when the townsfolk stop believing the boy, the wolves show up and eat all the sheep with impunity. This doesn’t just hurt the boy, it hurts the entire village, as the sheep were part of the villager’s livelihood. The moral of the fable isn’t the wolves don’t exist.
Similarly, it isn’t just Smollett that is facing consequences. Unfortunately, any other person of color or queer person who is a victim of hate crimes going forward is going to find that they’re painted with the same hoax brush.
It’s finally Friday. It’s the third Friday in February in a very cold and slushy February for Seattle.
We’ve been snowed in most of the week. We’re on track to have the one of the coldest Februaries on record. Our street is full of ice and slush that keeps refreezing every night.
Anyway, welcome to the Friday Five. This week I bring you: a special story of the week, the top five (IMHO) stories of the week, five stories about writing and reading, five stories about deplorable people, and five videos (plus a notable obituary and the things I’ve written).
Some stories are so awesome they deserve a heading to themselves:
It’s estimated that about 1.7 million teen-agers are homeless in America at any time. Of those, about 40% identify as queer (that’s 680,000 kids). According to research by the True Colors Fund and similar groups, the single biggest cause of those queer teens being homeless is family rejection because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The next most common reasons are abusive homophobia or transphobia in their school, church, or community, even when their parents don’t go to the extreme of kicking them out. That bullying and rejection is why queer teens and children are five times as likely to attempt suicide than their cis and heterosexual peers. Note that the first study which concluded that the high queer teen suicide numbers is due to discrimination was concluded and published by the George H.W. Bush administration. Though numerous studies since have reached the same conclusion.
Similarly, when marriage equality began being enacted, the Centers for Disease Control and other agencies found that queer teen suicides and suicide attempts decreased by 14%. Which would confirm that perceptions of societal acceptance his a significant driver of the problem.
This is why I get so angry when politicians, such as our current Vice President, scream bloody murder when anyone criticizes the anti-gay policies and teachings of any of their favorite institutions. Adult religious freedom shouldn’t be an excuse to bully children to death. Period.
The rate at which LGBT teens are thrown out of their homes, bullied, and driven to suicide is exactly why queer adults and our allies get upset when, say, the wife of the Vice President of the United States goes to work at a Christian school which rejects queer students. It isn’t about her religious freedom, it’s about the health and welfare of children. And if you don’t believe me, you can listen to a queer person who attended and that very school:
When we talk about this sort of thing in relation to private schools, a lot of people who think of themselves as open-minded respond by pointing out that attending a private school isn’t mandatory. As if a five-year-old kid is the one deciding which school their parents are going to enroll them into. Part of the problem with these institutions is that they are part of an entire ecosystem—an anti-gay (and usually also anti-science) bubble in which kids are brought up surrounded by misinformation. More than a little bit of that misinformation being quite harmful to one’s health.
Let’s get a few things out of the way. The overwhelming scientific and medical consensus is that sexual orientation is not a choice, it can’t be changed, and whatever the cause seems to be set sometime before the age of two. It is also the overwhelming scientific and medical consensus that the differences in health outcomes and such that are sometimes cherry-picked from studies to prove that being queer is harmful are actually evidence that anti-gay discrimination is harmful.
Queer kids are born into all types of families. And even when the adults around us don’t notice or suspect us from an early age, we all notice that something is different pretty early. And the older we get in an environment where our feelings and interests don’t match what is expected by the adults around us, the more we try to hide our true selves and contort ourselves into something that will please our elders and peers.
“When you’re young and consistently told that who you are is incorrect and needs to be eradicated, you listen and start to eradicate yourself.”
—Luke Hartman, Immanuel Christian alumnus
As Luke points out, being raised in a church that taught that gays are abominations, and going to a elementary school and then middle school where everyone believed that and the curriculum assumed that non-straight people don’t even exist, stunts a queer kids emotional growth. When none of the role models match their feelings, they just go through motions without many important social developments happening. It was only when he transitioned to a public high school (because the private school didn’t cover the upper grades) that he began to get a hint that people like him even existed.
“I believe the most hurtful messages are the ones that are expressed silently. It was an unspoken truth that being gay, or deviating from a narrow definition of sexual orientation or gender identity, was a no-fly zone.”
They don’t learn how to form healthy romantic relationships in a context that matches their orientation. They also internalize all the absence as much as the outright bigotry. If the only possible acceptable visions of your future are things that you can feel in your bones aren’t who you are, well, that must mean that something is profoundly wrong with you. It’s like one queer author once observed: in myth monsters don’t have reflections and don’t cast shadows. If people like us don’t exist in any books, movies, stories, et cetera that we see growing up—if people like us aren’t reflected in the culture, and if our accomplishments aren’t acknowledged—then the only conclusion is that we are monsters.
That leaves scars and deep trauma—trauma that studies show makes physical changes to the brain just like that seen in war zone survivors!
And that’s why it’s important to call out the people who claim they are just exercising their religious beliefs. They aren’t “merely” doing anything. They are imposing those beliefs on children. And before you let them claim that they have a right to raise their children as they like, let me remind you that children aren’t property. They are a responsibility. We impose severe penalties when parents physically brutalize and even kill their children. We need to realize that abuse and trauma isn’t limited to broken bones, contusions, and concussions.
New residents to the Seattle area always get amused when snow is in the forecast. Native Seattlites and long-term residents leave work early, make grocery store runs, and prepare for the worst at any forecast of more than a dusting of snow. “It’s only 2/4/6 inches!” these recent arrivals shout. “You guys are really overreacting.” If those people still live here the following winter, they do not repeat that folly. I grew up in the central Rocky Mountain region, where temperatures of -25ºF were common, where snow was deep enough most Octobers that you had to wear snow boots and a heavy coat to go trick-or-treating as a child, and so forth. So I thought I knew all about snow and cold weather. As a teen-ager when we first moved to western Washington I didn’t get it either.
There are several reasons it is different. First, we just don’t get that much snow here, at all. Maintaining large fleets of snowploughs that only get used about once every three years just doesn’t make sense for most city and county governments. We have plows, but most are the kind that can be attached to generic utility trucks. So they aren’t quick to deploy, and the drivers don’t get much practice most years.
A related issue is that usually we just don’t get that cold. The ground (and especially the asphalt on roads) stays much warmer throughout the winter than at other places. That means that if we get more than a dusting, the first bunch of snowfall immediately melts when it hits the roadway, but then as more snow falls, the asphalt gets cold enough that that melted snow turns into a sheet of ice. Which more snow is falling onto. Anyone who has lived in places that get lots of snow and has driven on it should know that there is a big difference between driving on snow and driving on ice hiding under snow.
Then there is geography. It’s very hilly here. Really hilly. And again because we don’t get freezing weather and snow often, people build houses on hills that in other parts of the country no sane person would. Several of the small towns I lived in back in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and Nebraska had one or two stretches of road on steep hills. Those roads never had houses or businesses along them, and every winter the city would put up big roadblocks to completely block that section of road until spring. It was a convenient short route during the summer, but the rest of the time it was closed because it is too steep to drive on safely with snow. About 80% of the roads in Seattle are as steep as the hills that used to get blocked off every winter in those small towns.
All of those hills and the many bodies of water mean that we have microclimates. My favorite example was back when I lived near the ship canal. One day I needed to walk up to a friend’s house that was a mere six blocks from my place. Six blocks up a steep hill. It was very cold and raining hard at my place, down at the bottom of the hill, and it looked like a fog bank was engulfing the hill. I started walking. About half way up, I hit the “fog bank” which was actually snow. There was almost an inch of snow at my friend’s place, and it had been snowing for a couple of hours (so she was surprised I had shown up). I picked up the stuff I was supposed to collect and walked back down the hill. It was still raining hard with no sign of snow there, just six blocks away. So you may leave your house one morning thinking you only have rain to deal with on a short drive, and suddenly find yourself slipping and sliding on ice and slush. Probably sliding backward, because you were going uphill…
Because of the microclimates and how easy a very slight shift in the upper atmosphere can flip us between snow, rain, sleet, or freezing rain, we occasionally get situations where the ground and sidewalks are covered in deep mixtures of snow, ice and slush. That is extremely hard to walk on, and your clothes get soaked with barely-not-freezing water. So even if you try to avoid driving, it can be an ordeal just to walk to a nearby store or to get to the nearest bus stop or light rail station.
The sidewalks are particularly bad because while it is the responsibility of property owners to shovel the walks, most people don’t own snow shovels (cf. above mention that we only get significant snow about once every three years)—one of the local news blogs shared a video earlier this week someone posted online of a neighbor shoveling snow using a Swiffer (indoor mopping gadget). When you combine that with how many stretches of sidewalk go past large apartment buildings (whose owners are just as unlikely as individual home owners to own a snow shovel) and how many stretches of road go past green strips and other public property which doesn’t get shoveled (or in my end of the region, how many neighborhoods don’t have sidewalks at all), well, it’s just a mess.
This year’s event has been a combination of several of our worst problems. The first big snowfall a bit over a week ago turned into sheets of ice with snow on top. Arterials were plowed and de-iced, but more snow kept coming, and sides streets all over the region remained icy slip-and-slides of doom. And more snow keeps coming. We get a break and people go out and try to shovel their drives and sidewalks…. and then it snows again. Then we got the rain/snow mix that put heavy ice on power lines and tree branches resulting in 90,000 households (including us) being without most of the night.
For some perspective: in the last 10 days we’ve had 8 times more snow than Boston has all winter. We are already the snowiest February recorded in the area in 35 years. Seatac Airport has broken a record for most snow in a single day set in 1949.
And we don’t know if it is over. Things are melting a bit today. It’s supposed to be much warmer tomorrow, which will cause more melting (at which point more trees will fall as the ground on all those hills I mentioned above turns to mud) and we may get a bit of flooding some places. Then another cold air mass looks to be moving in late Wednesday night, meaning all those wet street will turn to ice again just in time for the Thursday commute… and another wet air mass is coming toward us from the south hitting either late Thursday or early Friday. That might mean more snow. It might mean rain. It might mean freezing rain. It is likely going to mean all three just depending on where you are.
I have a favorite coffee mug. It’s purple and holds a large amount of coffee. It’s a nice, solid mug that isn’t top heavy (a feature that a previous favorite mug did not share, which resulted in a lot of spilled coffee and swearing). You know those markings on the side of most automatic drip coffee carafes that tell you how many cups are in the pot? If my favorite mug is completely empty and I fill it from such a pot, the numbers on the side indicate that I’ve poured out a bit more than four cups from the pot. A standard-ish modern coffee mug usually holds about two cups. So when I said this one is large I meant it.
I like the mug a lot.
There really is only one problem, which I have been dealing with for several years, ever since we bought our current microwave.
For various reasons, most mornings when I go to get myself my first cup of coffee at home, there is usually enough cold coffee leftover from the previous day to fill my favorite mug. So I fill the mug and stick it in the microwave and immediately face a dilemma. If I press the 1 minute button on the microwave, by the time it is done, the coffee in the mug will be only barely warmer than tepid. If I select, say, 1 minute and 30 seconds, when I reach for the mug I will find that handle is scalding hot, while the body of the mug is only slightly warm, and the coffee is also only slightly warm. If I select a full two minutes, the coffee itself will be a very nice temperature, but not only with the handle of the mug be too hot to hold, but the body of the mug will also be a warmer than is pleasant to hold.
Exactly why the mug itself heats up more than the coffee in this microwave doesn’t really matter. The thing is, according to the Laws of Thermodynamics, once the mug has reached a point where it is warmer than the coffee, one should need only to wait for a bit, and the mug will cool down while the coffee absorbs some of that heat the mug is losing and warm up. So you would think that the ideal option would be to select the one and a half minute cycle, carefully carry the mug grasping the body and not the too-hot-to-touch handle over to my desk or whatever, and in let’s say five minutes time everything would be perfect.
But it doesn’t work. Most of the mug handle’s heat, instead of going into the rest of the mug and eventually the coffee, seems to mostly go into the air around it. The upshot is that by the time the mug’s handle is cool enough to comfortably grip it, the coffee has cooled down closer to room temperature than the warmth it had before.
Once a fresh pot is made, I have an easier time managing the temperature. Usually the coffee is cold by the time I’ve drank half the mug, so I can top it off from the bot and it reaches a nice warm—not too hot, not tepid. And if can do a little 30 second zap if the coffee is a bit cooler than I like. So long as I don’t let it get back down to room temperature, anyway.
I’m sure there’s some sort of life lesson I should be able to derive from this. It’s like the tiniest annoyance in my life. It’s been on my mind more lately because between one or the other of us being sick and all the weird weather, I’m been working from home a lot more often. And this will surprise some people since I seem to by such a coffee addict, but I almost never make coffee at home on days I go into the office. My first caffeine of the day on those days happens is the free stuff they have in the kitchenette down the hall from my desk.
I started this post Saturday, but there were several competing things in the news that I wanted to talk about, and so many of them are depressing, that I decided to put on cold weather gear to go out and free up the snow-covered bird feeder to give myself a mental break. Then I realized that I needed to make coffee. And that made me decide to clean the kitchen counters, unload the dishwasher, and go talk to my husband about dinner plans (since whatever we made would likely require defrosting something from the freezer)… and by the time I had done all that and got back to my computer, I decided to work on my novel instead of doing a Weekend Update post.
It’s finally Friday. It’s the second Friday in February in a very weird February for Seattle.
After two months of warmer than normal weather, we’re suddenly having much colder than normal plus a lot more snow than usual. It’s just weird.
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 stories about deplorable people, and five videos (plus a notable obituary and the things I’ve written).
Among the albums my parents owned when I was a kid were a number by comedians who were popular back in the 50s and 60s—and there was one where the guy told a long, hilarious tale which ended with the words, “I told you that story so I could tell you this one.” Which led into another that was quite entertaining, but even moreso because you had heard the previous one. Which is a long way for me to say, I’ve been wanting to write this post for a long time, but first I really needed to write about Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series. Which I did last week.
When I heard McGuire say that as a child she loved stories where the child protagonists went to a magical world where they became heroes and warrior-princesses and the like, but was always so angry that they then had to go back home, I was nodding emphatically in agreement. I wanted to get lost in the misty woods and find myself caught in a war between goblins and elves. Or go around a bend on a lake shore and find myself face to face with a giant beetle who greeted me and told me we had to run because danger was coming and so forth.
Except I didn’t want to have to come home again after the first adventure was over. The other world was so much better than the real world. I recall one time when I asked a teacher I trusted why the stories always ended there, she wasn’t very understanding. “Wouldn’t you rather be home with your mom and dad and all your friends?”
She didn’t know what to say when I asked, “What friends?” I didn’t add that if I could run away and never see my father again I would be the happiest boy in the world. This isn’t to say that I never had friends as a child. But being the kind of kid who was always quickly labeled a sissy (or worse words) and a weirdo whenever new kids met me, combined with the number of times we moved because of my dad’s work in the petroleum industry (ten elementary schools across four states), I never had a lot of friends. This particular conversation happened less than two months after we had moved yet again, and I hadn’t yet really found a friend at the new place.
Another time that I told someone how much I wished I could live in one of those magical worlds, the person tried to convince me that the things which seemed like an adventure would not be fun. “Real monsters aren’t just scary, they actually hurt you.”
I had learned through multiple experiences that if I told such adults that I already lived with exactly the kind of monster who actually hurt you that I would be disbelieved at best. Because the kinds of adults who will see a ten-year-old with stitches and multiple contusions on his face and one arm in a sling, look that kid in the eyes, then lecture him that if he was just more well-behaved his father wouldn’t do these things to him not only don’t know what monsters are—they enable monsters.
That reality is precisely why portal fantasies appealed so strongly to me as a kid. And why the endings were always so frustrating.
Let’s pause a moment to go over some terminology. A portal fantasy is a story in which people from our mundane world enter into a different, fantastical world, through a portal of some kind. Classic examples are falling down a rabbit hole in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, or through the enchanted wardrobe in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, or carried off by a tornado in The Wizard of Oz, or being injured and losing consciousness to wake up elsewhere as in the Thomas Covenant books.
A portal fantasy is different than an immersive fantasy, where all of the action occurs within the fantastical world and there are no characters who come from the mundane world. Think of Lord of the Rings or The Last Unicorn or any of the Conan the Barbarian stories. It is also different from an intrusive fantasy, where magical/fantastic creatures somehow come into what otherwise appears to be our mundane world—sometimes the narrative assumption is that the magic has been there all along, but for whatever reason most of us are unaware of it and thus don’t believe in it. Think of Dracula or Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone or A Wrinkle In Time.
The particular appeal of the portal fantasy for a kid like me is that in the fantastic world, I would have options that aren’t available to me in the real world. I didn’t see how any of the monsters and evil overlords in the fantasy books were worse than things my father (and the whole structure of society that enabled child abuse) did to me. As a kid, I may not have really understand the concept which is summed up by the old adage, “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t,” but there was one thing that the protagonists of the portal fantasies had that I didn’t have in the real world: agency. The kids transported to the magical kingdom may have been put in perilous situations, but they weren’t powerless.
It wasn’t just when I was a young child that other people critiqued my enjoyment (and enthusiastic recommendations) of portal fantasies. In my teens and later, an additional critique was added: “You just want a happy ending.” This was usually served with a heaping helping of cynicism about how happy endings don’t exist in the real world, and people who don’t understand that are defective in some way. All of that judgmental cynicism is also the foundation of critiques (that often comes from certain people who call themselves fans of sf/f) which dismiss many works of speculative and fantastic fiction as merely fan service.
I have two responses to this line of argument.
First, go back up and re-read the bit about having to survive beatings from my dad that led to hospital trips. I suspect I know far better than the people who make the happy ending argument just how bad the real world can be. And I survived that. And you better believe that part of the reason I survived it is because fantasy books helped me to imagine a life where the monsters could be conquered. That alone should justify the existence of so-called escapist literature.
For the second and more important response, let’s go back to the Wayward Children books and the author thereof. There are two things I’ve come to expect from a Seanan McGuire book:
At some point in the story she will break my heart,
By the time I get to the end, I will be holding my hands out (metaphorically) toward the author like a Dickensian urchin and will plead, “Please, may I have some more?”
And to be clear, I mean there are things that happen in the stories (not just this series) to the main characters that make me physically shed tears as I’m reading. Sometimes McGuire has left me sobbing uncontrollably with some developments that happen. Characters in her stories do not always get a happy ending. Many very unhappy things happen to them. So if all I wanted was happy stories where nothing bad ever happens, why do I keep reading her stuff (excitedly pre-ordering things when I can; and recommending the stories to others)?
Because I never get the feeling that she is doing it just to shock me. She never allows harm to happen lightly—even to the bad guys. Death never happens senselessly. By which I mean both that the bad things always makes sense within the world, but also because the bad things are integral to the plot. It always feels genuinely that she knows this pain and she understands it. These stories don’t sensationalize or revel in pain and suffering, they show pain because real people suffer things that hurt this much. In the real world, far too often the pain of many types of people is ignored, rationalized, and even celebrated.
I don’t want to celebrate pain. Celebrate the moments of happiness and love that characters seize despite misfortune? Yes, please!