Tuesday Tidbits 8/6/19: Smirking and Inciting

I frequently save memes, cartoons, and the like to use as an illustration for a blog post or Friday Five. I always gather a lot more than I can actually use, so every now and then I share some that I didn’t use.

If playing video games caused mass shootings, we’d see a lot more mass shootings outside the U.S.(Click to embiggen)

As the stock market drops further while China stops buying our farm goods, and buys more from Russia and Brazil.

“Two things Republicans hate: 1. Being called racist, 2. Brown people.”

Yep! (click to embiggen)

“I'm starting to think that someone who paid $290,000 to have sex twice is maybe not really a super expert in making good deals.”

Illegal diversion of campaign funds to cover it up… (click to embiggen)

“Planned Parenthood isn't killing children. You're thinking of the NRA.”

Yep!

“Jesus doesn't how how many Bible verse you have memorized. Bu he will know the bastards that put kids in cages.”

(Click to embiggen)

Since there is almost certainly going to be more outrageous political news by the end of the week that will be more urgent for the Friday Five, I also wanted to share some more stories and op-eds on the horrible crimes that happened this last weekend (which I wrote a about yesterday):

If you think the El Paso shooting wasn’t about LGBTQ people, think again – The white nationalist fear of change to “our way of life” extends from immigrants to people of color to, yes, LGBTQ people. That can lead to violence. It’s hate all the way down.

Trump smirked at idea of shooting migrants at rally three months before El Paso massacre – ‘How do you stop these people?’ US president said about undocumented Mexicans.

El Paso shooting: Prosecutors to seek death penalty for “domestic terrorism”.

Republicans Insist: White Nationalist Violence Nothing to Do With White Nationalism.

What Both Sides Don’t Get About American Gun Culture. While he has some points (which I have made myself), he is also super-over-simplifying if he thinks that there are only two sides to this debate.

US in the midst of a white nationalist terrorism crisis.

Ohio shooter kept a ‘hit list’ and a ‘rape list’ – Classmates say the gunman was suspended for compiling a “hit list” of those he wanted to kill and a “rape list” of girls he wanted to sexually assault.

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The appeal to worse problems fallacy, and other unhelpful responses to domestic terrorism

“President Trump, America is scared and we need bold action. It's time to Ban Weapons of War”

Front cover of today’s New York Post.

Another week another mass shooting, or wait, no at least two more mass shootings. And oh, all the usual nonsense from people who are deeply invested in making sure we don’t do anything to cut down on the number of preventable deaths. I’ve written about this too many times already: Why thoughts and prayers are worse than inadequate, for instance. And then this analysis of the most popular arguments from those who claim there’s nothing we can go: They used to insist that drunk driving couldn’t be reduced, either. Not to mention this bit about leaping to conclusions without examining underlying assumptions: Oh, lord, the leaping!

I am slightly heartened that a newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch, the owner of Fox News, has joined the ever growing chorus calling for a ban on certain categories of guns: The Post urges Trump to take action on assault weapons.

We’re used to all of the usual suspects trotting out their logically fallacious arguments (most of them commit a variation of the Nirvana Fallacy, also known as the Perfect-solution Fallacy: if whatever changes proposed can’t guarantee there will never be a gun death again, well, then we can’t do anything at all! Bull.

This weekend, thanks to Neil deGrasse Tyson being his usual smug self, we got one of the other fallacious arguments, and not for one of the typical rightwing types at all! Tyson had one of the most vapid and tone-deaf hot takes ever, in a tweet where he made the claim that in a typical 48 hours there are far more deaths in the U.S. due to medical errors, and due to the flu, and due to suicide, and due to car accidents, and due to homicide by handgun then these too mass shootings. Therefore, we should, you know, not get upset. Hit the link to see the tweet in question.

In one tweet he managed to pack several logical fallacies, which—if we weren’t talking about people being murdered—would be funny coming from a smug wanker who has made a career out of pretending to be the smartest guy in the room.

The first logical fallacy he is committing is the Appeal to Worse Problems (more formally known as the Fallacy of Relative Privation). All of these other things, he argues, cause more deaths, so we shouldn’t waste any time worrying about mass shootings until we eliminate all of those other causes of death. It’s a specialized kind of false dichotomy or dilemma: implying that we can only choose to worry work on a solution to one of the things in front of us.

Another problem is that several of the things in the list have no relationship whatsoever to the problem at hand. That the couple that could be argued to have a relationship, it’s a very weak one.

Medical errors, by definition, are not intentional acts. One has to be licensed as a medical professional and in most jurisdictions receive regular training and sometimes re-certification in order to practice medicine. Another way they differ from mass shootings is that we have systems in place designed to study such errors in order to find ways to make them less likely to happen. We have systems in place to apply those lessons. We have nothing like this for mass shootings.

Flu is not an intentional act by a human, it is caused by a virus. We have vaccines to reduce the incidence of flu. We have medications to reduce the severity of flu when it happens. We have entire teams of experts constantly studying flu and looking for ways to improve the vaccines and educate people in other ways to reduce their odds of catching flu. We have nothing like this for mass shootings.

Suicide is an act of self-destruction. We have suicide prevention hotlines. We have other forms of medical and psychiatric help available. We have groups of medical experts studying suicide (and proving again and again that there are ways to reduce the incidence of the act—that’s a topic for another day). But, those studies do relate slightly to the mass shootings discussion, as it has been shown that, for instance, banning guns in the residential parts of U.S. military bases (a program first undertaken at bases with a high incidents of service members committing murder-suicide of their families) doesn’t just cut down on the instance of gun deaths, but also reduces the rate of all categories domestic violence.

The vast majority of car crashes are not intentional acts. And again, we have experts in both the private and public sector who study car crashes and car design and relevant laws to find ways to reduce the rate of car fatalities. And we’ve significantly reduced them! Again, nothing like that exists for mass shootings. Also, you are required to have a driver’s license and regularly renew it to be drive. Cars are required to be registered and have their plates renewed periodically. Most jurisdictions require that you carry auto insurance for each car you own. Many jurisdictions require periodic inspection of the car to retain its registration. None of this applies to gun ownership.

The only one of his claimed worse problems to have more than a slight connection to mass shooting is homicide by handgun. And those findings about domestic violence on military bases give us at least some reason to suspect that the easy availability of guns contributes to the incidence of violent crimes in general. There seems to be something about the way that we perceive guns as opposed to knives and other weapons that has far-reaching effects. But, again, we don’t have large systemic ways of studying gun violence in this country.

The reason we don’t have systems in place to study gun violence is because Congress, under the influence of the gun lobby (usually in the guise of the NRA) has made it illegal to do so. And if there were no relationship between the availability of guns and the incidence of gun violence, why else would gun manufacturers be willing to spend millions each election cycle to prevent anyone from studying it?

Humans are social animals. Working together and the ability to divide labor is one of our species’ survival traits. We can work (as we already are), on other problems and the scourge of gun violence at the same time. Putting effort into universal background checks, and voluntary gun buy back programs, and studying other ways to reduce the incidents of these crimes. Red flag laws, which at least some Republican Senators have signaled they are willing to pass, would be a nice start.

Figuring out how to unpack toxic masculinity, racism, and how the mega-rich use our prejudices to blame economic uncertainty on marginalized groups instead of the hoarding and exploitation by corporations and billionaires, isn’t going to be easy. But if organizations like the National Institutes for Health could start studying gun violence systematically, we will find at least some ways to combat those contributing factors.

But it isn’t going to happen unless we ignore the excuses and demand action.

Weekend Update 8/3/2019: damn lies, stupid lies, shocked deniers, and the end of a campaign

(click to embiggen)

Time for another post about news that broke after I posted this week’s Friday Five, or didn’t come to my attention until afterward, or about a previously linked story which has new developments. And as usual I have some opinions that I wish to expound upon.

Let’s jump in: With Ratcliffe, another Trump nominee withdraws with a damaged reputation. So, Ratcliffe was an attorney in Texas that George W. Bush appointed to a position in the Department of Justice where he worked for five years (including a brief stint as an Interim U.S. Attorney). Also during that time, he was serving as Mayor of the small town of Heath, Texas. Which would indicate that he may not have been burning the midnight oil at the Department of Justice all the time.

But he eventually ran for Congress in a campaign that heavily relied upon certain racist dog-whistles, such as claiming to have arrested 300 illegal immigrants in a single day! Never mind that it was a blatant lie. He also frequently claimed to be a special prosecutor in a large and somewhat famous anti-terrorism case against the Holy Land Association, which was a closed down as a fake charity funneling money into terrorist groups. This, it turns out, was also a lie—a whole pack of lies, since both is official web site and all his campaign materials included many untrue anecdotes and false statistics from his supposed involvement in that trial.

His supposed involvement in that trial was really his only qualification for being nominated as the Director of National Intelligence. And when rumors came out just before his nomination, lots of people (including a lot of conservative pundits) were pointing out that it was an awfully thin resume for an intelligence chief. That was before this week, when news came out is was all lies: Trump brutally mocked after his intel nominee crashes and burns in just 5 days: ‘It is called VETTING you idiot‘.

And when asked more politely by the press about it, Trump Withdraws Ratcliffe DNI Nomination, Jokes Media Does White House ‘Vetting’ – Report. Except, I’m sorry, I don’t think he was joking.


Speaking of ridiculous things the alleged president says, Fox Host Cuts Away From Trump To Explain That Trump Is Lying Yet Again About China Paying Tariffs (I’ve also embedded the video below). Trump keeps repeating the lie that the countries we levy tariffs against are paying those tariffs. They aren’t. The people who pay the tariffs are American citizens. The tariff is levied on imports, and that means the prices go up. All of us are paying higher prices for all sorts of things because of this trade war.

If this is news to you, it might prompt you to ask what the purpose of an import tariff is? The economic theory is that you impose tariffs on certain foreign goods in order to encourage people to buy locally produced things instead. But that only works if there are local sources of the goods in question. And since some of the earliest tariffs were raw materials that some of the few industries we still have in this country (raw materials that we can’t mine because we’ve already strip-mined all of ours), that simply causes U.S. companies to shut down those factories and move production elsewhere.

This is why economists keep pointing out that trade wars don’t work.

There isn’t any simpler way to put it: China Isn’t Paying These Tariffs. You Are.

I sincerely think that Donald doesn’t understand. It’s like just before Acosta, the Secretary of Labor (who resigned over his past connection to sex trafficker and sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein) left, Trump was touting the marvelous employment rates as if Acosta was delivering them. The Department of Labor doesn’t stimulate the economy or manage it in any way that effects job numbers. The Department of Labor is responsible for enforcing labor laws—making sure companies aren’t exploiting workers and so forth. It has nothing to do with how many people are employed! Trump clearly doesn’t understand that.

Similarly, I think he really doesn’t understand the tariffs, either. Yeah, China doesn’t want the tariffs, because it means that their industries will likely sell less to us, but the tariffs hurt the American consumers long, long before the pain is felt by the exporter.

Argh!


This one belongs in the, “how can you be so clueless this surprises you?” category: Reagan called President Nixon to slur Africans as ‘monkeys.’ Of course there are tapes. And then the reaction: Presidential Biographers Absolutely Stunned to Find That Ronald Reagan Was Racist. Every single campaign speech in 1980 included racial dog whistles! Every one! From the comments about “welfare queens” to his frequent use of the phrase “young bucks buying steaks with food stamps” not to mention all the “states rights” talk.

It was all code to appeal to the racist fears of white voters.

Ronald Reagan: No defence for ‘monkeys’ remark, says daughter. That’s right. There is also no excuse for not noticing the racist, misogynist, and homophobic polices of his administration throughout the eight years he was in office. As others have noted: Why is anyone surprised by Reagan’s racism?

I keep saying it: Trump is not at aberration: his is simply blatant about what the Republicans have believed for decades.


Let’s move to something that is probably just an amusing footnote to the looming presidential election: Gravel and his campaign teens end presidential run. Mike Gravel retired from representing Alaska in the U.S. Senate back in 1981. In 2008 he made a run for the Democratic nomination for President and didn’t make much of a splash. He tried to nab the Libertarian Party nomination the same year and also failed there. And he’s been an executive for a marijuana products company.

So no one was sure how seriously to take it when, with the help of a couple of teen-agers on twitter, he launched his bid fo the Democratic nomination earlier this year. Mike Gravel Ends His Unorthodox Twitter Campaign for the Presidency – The 89-year-old former senator turned heads with his unique campaign strategy.

The announcement that he’s winding down the campaign mentions that the aforementioned teens are moving onto jobs with a liberal political committee, so maybe that was the point all along? I’m not sure. I really don’t think anyone was expecting Americans to vote into the White House someone who would turn 91 just a couple months after being sworn in.

But who knows?

Anyway: Gravel to form liberal think tank after suspending campaign.


Fox’s Neil Cavuto Wearily Explains Again That Trump Is Wrong to Say China Is Paying Tariffs:

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

Friday Five (courting foreign interference edition)

This man is a traitor. Mitch McConnell blocked a duly nominated candidate for Supreme Court Justice, contrary to the U.S. Constitution. McConnell also conspired to prevent the American voters from knowing about Russian hacking using coercion. McConnell belongs in jail, not in the Senate.

(Click to embiggen)

And now we’ve reached August…

It’s been a busy work week and I have an insane deadline. Meanwhile, my personal laptop is being repaired so I’m working it a slightly older machine borrowed from my husband.

Anyway, welcome to the Friday Five. This week I bring you: the top five stories of the week, five stories of interest to the queer community, five stories about deplorable people, and five videos (plus things I wrote and notable obituaries).

Stories of the Week:

Our Language Is Evolving, ‘Because Internet’.

Amputee can feel objects again with prosthetic arm inspired by Luke Skywalker.

The Many Different Faces of ‘Franchise’.

Washington House hires outside firm to investigate a member.

Stun Belts in Court: Restraint or Punishment?

This Week in News for Queers and Allies:

Author of bestselling Christian book apologizes to LGBTQ community. I’m glad this guy has done this, after getting his publisher to agree not to print new copies of his books, and I’m glad he’s getting out of the grip of the fundamentalist evangelical church he was raised in.

Should a Public Library Rent Space From a Church That Condemns Being Gay? The City of Salem Says Yes.. “I’m certain there will be many, many people who won’t use the library in the church building. It’ll leave hard feelings for a long time.”

The GOP tried to censure a Congressman for marrying a gay couple. It didn’t go as expected.

Changing the Game Depicts the Joy and Agony of Young Trans Athletes.

Second Arrest Made in Hate-Motivated Homicide of Gay Social Worker.

This Week in Racists and Other Deplorables:

Schumer suggests McConnell is blocking election security measures because he wants ‘the Russians to interfere’.

Letter: Bring Trump before the Hague.

Police: White Supremacist Gilroy Shooter Acted Alone.

Ronald Reagan’s Long-Hidden Racist Conversation with Richard Nixon. In newly unearthed audio, the then–California governor disparaged African delegates to the United Nations

Trump’s race playbook: Excoriate the left and enthrall his base.

In Memoriam:

Atlanta Gay Activist and Politician Dies at 81. In 1988 he was the first openly gay delegate to be sent to a Democratic National Convention.

HAROLD PRINCE, WHO BROUGHT ‘FIDDLER ON THE ROOF’ TO THE STAGE, DIES AT 91.

What Broadway legend Harold Prince meant to American theater.

Russi Taylor, the Voice of Minnie Mouse and ‘Simpsons’ Characters, Dies at 75.

Things I wrote:

Sunday Update 7/28/2019: The dubious finances of men with no morals.

He has no sock(puppet)s, and he must cry wolf*—bullied bullies are everywhere.

Only hours left to finalize your 2019 Hugo Award ballot—and I’m still waffling!

Videos!

CNN’s Democratic Debate, Night Two: A Closer Look:

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Goats escape into the neighborhood!:

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Rare encounter with piglet squid leaves deep sea explorers at a loss for scientific words:

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God Bless America, Except Baltimore:

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More adventures in replying to spam:

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Only hours left to finalize your 2019 Hugo Award ballot—and I’m still waffling!

The 2018 trophy, designed by Sara Felix and Vincent Villafranca. (Photo by Vincent Villafranca)

The 2018 trophy, designed by Sara Felix and Vincent Villafranca. (Photo by Vincent Villafranca)

The final deadline for this year’s voting is upon us (midnight tonight in my timezone), and I think that I’m finished fiddling with my ballot. Maybe. I may give in to temptation and login to move a couple around. Once again, I’m happy to report that all of the categories have plenty of excellent entries. Which isn’t to say that I absolutely loved everything nominated. But even those stories that weren’t particularly my favorite, I can appreciate how well they were crafted and understood why someone nominated them. This is, again, a vast improvement over the situation a few years ago. I think we can see that the rules changes instituted to limit the effects of block voting have been a success. And we should keep them.

I mentioned the temptation to move things around, and I should explain that a bit. The Hugos use a ranking system, so you pick which entry is your first choice, your second, and so on. Along with the option to placing No Award in the ranking. And one of the recently adopted rules adds a kind of instant run-off along with the ranking. It’s all well and good that the system has a way to break ties, but that doesn’t help the individual voter when you sincerely feel too or more nominees in a given category are equally excellent.

So one place where I had that dilemma this year was Best Novel. Three of the novels I nominated during the nomination phase made it to the final ballot. When I first saw the ballot announcement I was over the moon. Yay! I loved three of those books! And other people liked them, too! But then I started trying to decide how to rank them… and see in the nomination phase you just list five books things in a category without regard to whether any of them are better than the others. They are all five my favorites! Yay!

But now… now I have to pick. I can’t just say, “they’re all wonderful!” I have to rank them.

It was easy to procrastinate, because while three of the books were ones I’d already read and thought was great, the other three were ones I hadn’t read, yet. One of those other three was a book I had purchased and was in my to-read pile (because my husband had enthused about the audiobook), but I hadn’t read it yet. Obviously I couldn’t rank the category until I had read all the books. Similarly, there were at least two stories in each of the other fiction category that I hadn’t yet read, either.

Anyway, while several of the categories were ranked on my ballot weeks ago, I hadn’t touched the novels until Monday night. Because I finally finished the last novel that day. And I’d gotten through everything else. So I didn’t have any excuse.

It was so hard. I like them all. I want to give a Hugo rocket to each of them. I made a choice. I ranked them.

There is another category that I think is giving everyone problems. It’s the relatively new category of Best Series. To be eligible the series has to consist of a minimum of three works totaling a minimum of 240,000 words.

When the new category was being debated, one of the arguments that swayed my opinion was the the category would allow us to recognize the excellence of a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. A long-running series might consist of a bunch of merely good books, one or two mediocre entries, and only a couple of truly stand-out stories—yet the overall story, the long arcs that play out of the course of the individual tales, is award-worthy. The category offers a way to recognize the skill of spinning a larger tale, of keeping the reader coming back for more, in a different way that the individual book and short fiction awards.

Implicit in that idea, to me, was that Best Series should go to a group of books that had otherwise been overlooked by the Hugos.

But then, the very first year it went, the award went to a series which had won two Nebula awards, two Locus awards, and four Hugo awards. Now, it happens to be a series that I loved, and okay, I admit, I put it at the top of my ballot that year. But not without some trepidation about whether the award might better to another series. I rationalized this by reminding myself that the six most recent books in the series had not won awards, even then three of those were my favorites of the whole series, two of which I thought were absolutely robbed by not getting an award.

The next year the winner was a different series written by the same author. The first book of the series had won a Mythopoeic award; the second book won the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards. While the total number of awards the series had won was smaller, it was also a shorter series (only three books and a bunch of short stories). Again, it didn’t feel as if it was a series that had been overlooked previously.

On the other hand, both of those wins went to series that had been going from many years, and since one of the objections that other people raise to the category is to ask, “Can you really judge a series that isn’t complete?” Since the speed at which new entries in both series as considerably slowed, and each have had a book published that feels like an ending to a saga, it can be argued that they meet that objection as close as you can meet it without making a rule that the award is only allowed to awarded posthumously.

And I don’t like that for several reasons. To the extent that awards are recognition, I prefer recognizing excellent work while the author or artist is alive to feel the love, you know?

A few nominees each of the three years the award has existed thus far as series that seem quite clearly to still be in the middle. So I have some issue putting them at the top of the ballot. And I remain uncertain what criteria we ought to be using to decide which is best. Is the idea to look for qualities of the series that span multiple books, or is it okay if a series just has a bunch of great entries?

I don’t know.

I figured out how I picked my number one in this category this time. And I know since the only rules the Hugos have ever had is to define eligibility, I don’t think anyone is going to make it clearer how we ought to be judging them.

He has no sock(puppet)s, and he must cry wolf*—bullied bullies are everywhere

April, 1958 issue of Amazing Science Fiction. Cover art by Ed Valigursky

This cover art by Ed Valigursky for the April, 1958 issue of Amazing Science Fiction shows a completely different kind of sci fi puppy than we’ll be talking about today.

I started to assemble this post about an aggrieved conservative sci-fi writer last week, but other things kept coming up, and since the kerfuffle seems to have blown over, I wasn’t sure there was much value in throwing in my two cents. But then a couple of the most recent developments in some national news stories made certain similarities between the actions of certain distressed pups and other angry white men. I decided that with so angry white men claiming to be victims, and maybe it was worth looking at a fairly inconsequential example that played out over a handful of days to get some insight into the motivations of the others. So, first, the meltdown of one of the fringe members of the melancholy canines.

Note: At no point in the following will I link directly to the angry, profanity-laden posts of the bullied bully. All links are to others talking about the situation. Some of them link to the rants, if you really need to read them.

So, a writer who markets himself** to a particular subset of science fiction fans—conservative, pro-gun rights—got really upset when some editor at Wikipedia tagged his wikipedia page to discuss possible deletion. The original article looked like it was lifted almost entirely from his own web page, and the only citations it had was to his blog and webpage. Under various editorial guidelines of Wikipedia the article certainly didn’t appear to meet the minimal criteria for keeping. I mean, come on: a bunch of the links on the first author’s page were places where you could buy his merchandise and his custom knives!

Of course, this happens all the time. Articles get flagged. There is one author’s article (that got referenced in some of the rants) that was tagged over seven years ago… and it has never actually been deleted. Part of the purpose of tagging such articles is to try to get some attention to them so that people will clean them up, add citations, and so forth.

Anyway, because of the angry screed, dozens of people went to Wikipedia and screamed at the editors, accusing them of being angry libtards targeting conservative writers. Which, given the fairly well-documents conservative bias of Wikipedia editors, is more than slightly hilarious. Said wikipedia editors quickly determined that a certain number of the angry attack accounts were sock-puppet accounts belonging to the aggrieved author, and banned his account (though the discussion continued).

Equally of note is that a large number of identifiable actual liberal members (or not-so-liberal but still despised by the aggrieved author and is allies) of the sci-fi community logged in to argue against deleting the conservative author’s page, arguing that his long publishing history, award nominations, and so forth qualified him as notable. They also helped clean up the article and added a lot of third party citations (to places like Publisher’s Weekly, Locus Magazine, Wall Street Journal, Stars and Stripes, et cetera). In other words, the people he always claims are out to get him were actually helping.

But that wasn’t enough! No, being an angry little white puppy he was absolutely certain that there is a conspiracy to bully people like him, so he started predicting specific conservative writers would have their articles flagged next. Then, lo and behold, a few hours after each time he went online to make such a prediction, the authors he named had a deletion tag added to their Wikipedia page by a mysteriously recently-created wiki account. Many of those were very quickly untagged by the administrators.

It should be noted that, in addition to the sock puppet activities that got his account banned during this kerfuffle, the author has a history of getting accounts suspended on other social media platforms for setting up sock puppet accounts to follow him and agree with him. So, applying Occam’s Razor, we can assume that his predictions are not proof he is an oracle, but rather a troll.

The upshot of all this is not only was the aggrieved author’s page spared, but so were all the others that supposedly had been targeted.

The aggrieved author and his allies are so defensive that they don’t notice who is willing to help them. I also think contributing to the problem is how incredibly insular they are. The old version of his wikipedia page and a couple of the others that were briefly flagged only had links to pages controlled by the people who were the subjects of the articles. Yeah, some of the pages had a lot of self-promotion, but I think it doesn’t even occur to them to search for mentions outside their own favorite web portals. It didn’t take long for other people to find dozens of articles outside that insular bubble that mentioned the author or his work.

But despite overwhelming evidence that the content of the articles was the issue rather than any politics, and that people they insist are enemies are more than willing to help out if they see a problem, they insist that they are victims. It’s a classic persecution complex: a delusion that they are constantly being tormented, stalked, tricked, or ridiculed.

Except I think it goes beyond delusion. Being despised is their life blood. One commenter said on one of the blog posts: “Nobody hates them as much as they seem to need to think someone hates them and that is just a miserable way to go through life.” They feel miserable because they aren’t receiving the adoration or acclaim or praise they feel entitled to. But, they can’t admit that they are to blame for how other people perceive them. They need scapegoats. If other people hate them and are conspiring against them, then their misery isn’t their fault. Yes, it is a miserable way to live, but to them it seems less miserable than holding themselves accountable.

And that brings us to other, more serious ways this need to be hated can effect all of us. It begins yesterday when Senator Mitch McConnell took to the senate floor to whine about American citizens pointing out that his actions in blocking election reform again and again despite overwhelming evidence of foreign interference in our elections isn’t in the best interest of Americans. How dare we, the citizens who of the country whose Constitution he has sworn to uphold, express an opinion about his actions! How dare we present the evidence that of actions that at least border*** on treasonous!

His actions aren’t the problem, he insists. No! The real problem is all of us haters. Oh, and any of us citing this evidence are being just like McCarthy—you know, the angry Senator who in the fifties destroyed a bunch of people’s careers and lives without ever actually presenting any evidence that they were enemies of the nation. This is an interesting twist on crying wolf, I must say.

Similarly, the alleged president is still screaming at congresspeople and people of color who disagree with some of his policies, in between is constant stream of insults hurled at various US cities, territories, states, and even people who call him ‘Mr. President’—while at the same time pushing a narrative that people who criticize the US should leave.

Again, the problem isn’t him attacking anyone and everyone, the problem is all those mean haters. And if you think I’m stretching things to compare the alleged president to the aggrieved author: remember the many times that Trump has called into various radio shows and the like, claiming to be someone else praising Trump.

So, I guess a fondness for sockpuppets is another way to spot these angry bullies who think they’re victims.

They claim to be defenders of free speech, yet they are always throwing tantrums when other people say things they don’t like.


Footnotes:

* The title is a riff on Harlon Ellison’s Nebula- and Hugo-winning short story from 1966, I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream. In no way should this be read to infer that the late Mr. Ellison is involved in any way.

** When describing this situation to some friends I mentioned that all of the author photos available for him feature him holding a gun. And in at least one I saw, holding it incorrectly. I must state for the record that that characterization was wrong: there are also biographical pictures of him holding various hunting knives, swords, or wearing bandoliers of shotgun shells.

*** Personally I think he went way past the border when he blocked the release of the information about Russian interference just before the 2016 election. Everything since has just been him going deeper and deeper into treason.

Sunday Update 7/28/2019: The dubious finances of men with no morals

"Wealth is no proof of moral character... On the contrary, wealth is often the presumptive evidence of dishonesty" — Thomas Paine, 1795

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Since I was busy with friends most of Saturday (and thus I started my usual errands earlier than typical), I didn’t have time to do a Weekend Update. So, here are some stories that either didn’t make the cut for this week’s Friday Five, or broke after that post was assembled, or just provoke a desire for more extensive commentary than I like to put into Friday Five.

First, I have written more than once about financial and other shenanigans of local political gadfly and perennial anti-tax, anti-gay, anti-well-anything-decent initiative filer: Tim Eyman. A while back Eyman was caught on video stealing an office chair from an Office Depot. The video was kind of funny: he finds the chair set up near the door, sits in it, spins around in it, then stands up and wheels it out to his car. Moments later he came back inside and bought some other stuff. According to the testimony of the employees, he did not mention the chair to the cashier. He did not pay for the chair. When the cashier called someone over to help Eyman carry his purchases (which included some heavy printers), Eyman tried to turn them down. When they insisted, he led them to his SUV, and had the guy stack things next to the back of the SUV but pointedly did not open the back of the vehicle until after the employee had walked back into the store.

Eyman claims he meant to pay for the chair. But the sketchy behavior in the parking lot clearly said otherwise. Anyway, the case came to a close this week: Lacey lets Tim Eyman off with $193 fine for stealing chair. He also is barred from entering that Office Depot for nine months. The sheer pettiness and stupidity of stealing a $70 office chair when he’s going to be paying for $300 worth of printers other things is, to me, the perfect metaphor for the kind of entitled scam artist that he is. He hasn’t worked an honest day in decades. His only source of income for many years are the political campaigns he wages to cripple the state’s tax system or take rights away from gay and trans citizens.

And that income isn’t all on the up-and-up, either. He’s involved in a lawsuit over campaign finance violations, and he had some bad news there this week: Thurston County judge finds Tim Eyman in contempt again. According to the judge, this charge is for “refusal to disclose complete information related to hundreds of thousands of dollars of payments he solicited from individual donors.” Back in 2002 he settled a campaign finance lawsuit by paying a $50,000 fine and agreeing to a lifetime ban on being the “signer on any financial accounts” for political committees. In the current lawsuit, in which the state says he illegally funneled $300,000 from a 2012 initiative campaign into his personal accounts, the state is seeking $2.1 million dollars plus court costs and a lifetime ban on handling any finances of any political campaign. His previous contempt charge, for not turning over required documents, has been racking up a daily fine that the state says adds up to more than $200,000 so far. I don’t know if this second charge means more daily fines or what.

Meanwhile, another of his initiatives to severely limit local and regional citizens to tax themselves for capital projects will be on the ballot in the fall. He previously filed for bankruptcy protection, but then withdrew that once he learned that monthly reports on his personal finances would be available to the public, and might make some of his supporters question whether they wanted to keep donating to him. It has been said that the most dangerous place to be in this state is standing between Eyman and a TV news camera. Strange how he keeps refusing to turn over information, huh?

His wife filed for divorce last year—he claims that it’s because the state is being mean to him. Which is a really funny way of spelling “tired of being in close proximity of all this negative publicity that her husband’s actions have brought down on him.”


Speaking of men with no morals and sketchy finances: Financier Jeffrey Epstein found nearly unconscious in jail cell, suicide attempt suspected. You may recall the Epstein has been arrested in connection with sex trafficking and sexual abuse of underage girls. You may also recall that the evidence against submitted to the court includes what was described has a massive drove of photos of said underage girls in sexual situations. You may also recall how he got a sweetheart deal on similar charges years ago that meant he didn’t have to do serious jail time and was allowed to leave the jail 6 days out of every week to keep running his so-called business? And that after serving his ridiculously short sentence, he failed to report his movements to law enforcement as required under his plea deal?

Well, the case isn’t exactly looking any better for Epstein: The Feds Want to Talk to the Pilots Who Flew Jeffrey Epstein’s “Lolita Express”. Yes, the feds issued subpoenas earlier this month to Epstein’s pilots. I wonder if that may have prompted the alleged suicide attempt. And I’m using alleged for a couple of reasons, but mainly because it hasn’t been ruled out that he staged the stunt to get transferred out of the prison and into a hospital or mental institution.

Anyway, for years (and even just a few weeks ago) news stories have frequently referred to Epstein as a billionaire (though Forbes magazine famously refused to: Why Sex Offender Jeffrey Epstein Is Not A Billionaire).

It’s always been a little unclear how he made is money. He started his own financial firm some years ago, claiming to only take clients who would deposit $1 billion; yet he never, ever mentioned any client except one, Leslie Wexner, the owner of Victoria’s Secret: How Jeffrey Epstein Used the Billionaire Behind Victoria’s Secret for Wealth and Women. Wexner cut all ties with Epstein years ago after Epstein was arrested on the previous sex trafficking charges that were never prosecuted. People have been wondering ever since how Epstein still lives his opulent lifestyle. Some theories have emerged: ‘I Think He’s Engaged in Blackmail’: A Jeffrey Epstein Expert on Where He Made His Money or How Jeffrey Epstein Made His Money: Four Wild Theories.

One of those wild theories is based on something that Alexander Acosta (the former U.S. attorney who made that sweetheart deal years ago, and who was forced to resign as Trump’s Labor Secretary when the new Epstein charges brought that old deal back into the press) during the vetting for the Labor position. He said that old deal with Epstein wouldn’t be a problem because the only reason he made the deal was that someone warned him to back off because Epstein “belonged to intelligence.” The implication was that Epstein had been providing some sort of information to U.S. intelligence agents. That’s the one I think is least likely. But his secretive money management funds might actually be a big Ponzi scheme, or blackmail could be a major component (and might be a better explanation for why someone would warn Acosta away from the case), or all his off-shore account, besides being a tried-and-true way to avoid paying taxes might also be a money laundering scheme.

I hope that it all comes to light as his trial proceeds. And I hope all the men who participated in the sex parties filled with young girls get what’s coming to them. Whoever they are.

Friday Five (grandma was right edition)

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Here we are at the fourth Friday of July.

While many parts of the world were experiencing record-breaking heat, we were having daytime highs in the 70s. Work continues to be crazy. The pollen count remains high. And I spent way more time reading than writing this week.

Anyway, welcome to the Friday Five. This week I bring you: the top five stories of the week, five stories of interest to the queer community, five stories about the impeachable one, five stories about haters and their ilk, five stories about the lack of exoneration, and five videos (plus things I wrote and notable obituaries).

Stories of the Week:

Our Churches Are Burning, Racist Terrorism Is Rising – I Should Have Listened To My Grandma About American Racist Terrorism.

Can’t read just one: Slate’s daily advice columns are strange, funny, deep, and increasingly a major traffic driver for the site » Nieman Journalism Lab.

The Crane Wife – Ten days after I called off my engagement I was supposed to go on a scientific expedition to study the whooping crane on the gulf coast of Texas.

Meeting My Brother For The First Time. Adopted writer used genetic service and found her half-brother.

The Democrats Are Experiencing a Generational Clash – Saikat Chakrabarti, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff, is working to build a generational movement.

This Week in News for Queers and Allies:

The House unanimously passed a bill to give money back to same-sex couples – The bill would return up to $67 million to gay and lesbian taxpayers and remove gendered language from the tax code.

With ‘Old Town Road,’ Lil Nas X Sets New Precedent For LGBTQ Musicians – The rapper’s track, featuring Billy Ray Cyrus, is the longest-running No. 1 single by an openly queer artist in history.

Dear Gentlemen, Your 60-year-old Wedding Pics are Ready – LGBT History project is trying to identify the men in these once confiscated photos of a same-sex wedding iin 1957. Go look at the pictures!

I Could Spend All Day Looking at the Covers of These LGBTQ Publications.

North Carolina Reaches Agreement to Protect Trans Restroom Access- The state can’t limit access in buildings under its control, says a settlement of a case involving a notorious anti-transgender law.

This Week in the Impeachable One and Related Disasters:

Trump has not built a single mile of new border fence after 30 months in office.

Trump Is a Petty Racist, Not a Master Strategist.

The Death Penalty Is Already a Farce. William Barr’s Plan Might Make It Torturous.

Lawyer: US-Born Teen Lost 26 Pounds While Detained By Border Patrol For Weeks.

Trump Chillingly Tells Students’ Group the Constitution Gives Him ‘The Right to Do Whatever I Want as President’.

This Week in Not Exoneration:

Actually, Robert Mueller Was Awesome – History will show that he had one big goal, and nailed it.

What the Mueller investigation was always about.

Senate Intelligence report on Russian meddling sounds alarm for 2020 and then 2020 election security: GOP senators block bills hours after Mueller warns of Russian interference .

Trump was not exonerated by my report, Robert Mueller tells Congress.

No Knight On A White Horse – House Democrats have spent the last two years waiting for someone else to solve the Trump conundrum. It is now up to them, and to them alone.

This Week in Homphobes and Other Deplorable People:

A “Straight Pride” Parade In California Plans To Celebrate Western Civilization And “Whiteness” – The thinly veiled white supremacist rally aims to celebrate “Western civilization,” Christianity, and “whiteness,” according to one of the organizers. The hate is getting more blatant…

Anti-LGBTQ GOP Lawmaker Resigns After Grindr Messages Reveal ‘Burning Desire’ for ‘Down and Dirty Guy’.

Mom who sued trans daughter for transitioning is taking her case to the Supreme Court – Her teenage daughter was legally emancipated and living on her own, but she says she should have been able to deny her child medical care.

Christian Hate-Preacher Steven Anderson Has Been Banned from Entering Australia.

LGBTQ-friendly church in Battle Ground, WA targeted by vandals.

In Memoriam:

Chris Kraft, 1st flight director for NASA, dies at 95.

Chris Kraft’s Greatest NASA Accomplishments.

Remembering Chris Kraft.

Paul Krassner Is Up In Heaven Now.

In Fond Remembrance of Mad Magazine.

Rutger Hauer, ‘Blade Runner’ Co-Star, Dies at 75.

Remembering Rutger Hauer, Black-Armored Knight of the Genre.

Tears in rain: 8 of our favorite moments from Rutger Hauer’s career – Though he was most famous for his unforgettable turn as Roy Batty in Blade Runner, there was so much more to the career of Rutger Hauer.

Things I wrote:

Weekend Update 7/20/2019: Crystal cathedrals, berated bigots, and racist racisms.

Chock-full of meaning, or more adventures in dictionaries.

Videos!

Boyfriends Talk About Being Creative While In Love:

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Scientists Just Discovered Fresh Water Under the Ocean, and It’s HUGE:

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SUCKERS – Randy Rainbow Song Parody:

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John Oliver Describes Boris Johnson, England’s Very Own Trump:

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Sam Smith – How Do You Sleep? (Official Video):

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Chock-full of meaning, or more adventures in dictionaries

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A discussion about writing advice crossed my social media stream this week. One topic was archaic similes that literate people know the meaning of, but because they refer to practices or objects that are no longer part of daily life, no longer conjure a vivid picture in the mind of the reader. The first example was “hoist with his own petard,” which many people more-or-less understand, but since almost none of the people who recognize it knows that a petard is a small explosive device, and that the word hoist in is the past participle meaning to “lift and remove.” So the full meaning of the phrase as Shakespeare first used it is that a person who has tried to set a bomb against another person has instead had it blow up in his own face (and removed them from the situation).

An informal survey I conducted many years ago among acquaintances at a gaming event proved that a substantial number of people were certain that a petard was part of a sailing ship, and so the image they all had was of people being hooked on some sort of winch and raised into the air. One could argue that that is close enough, but it is definitely a different image than the evil bomber who is taken out by his own bomb.

Someone else suggest that the phrase “chock-full” fell into the same category because many people don’t know what a chock is. And… well, it is probably true that a lot of people don’t know what a chock is, but the noun, chock (meaning a block or wedge of wood) didn’t enter the English language until the 1700s, where it derived from a French word meaning a log. Whereas chock-full was an English word more than 400 years before chock, and it has no connection to the noun.

chokkeful Middle English crammed full

The earliest written version is from the year 1400, but there is reason to believe the word is older than that. And it has always meant “crammed full.” Which is kind of amazing, when you think about it. The only thing that etymologists aren’t sure of is whether it is a derivative of the Old German (and Saxon and Old English) word chokke which as a noun originally meant “jaw or cheek” and as a verb meant to grasp a person by the jaw, or if it comes from on Old French word choquier which meant to “collide, strike, or crash.” If the former, than the image our 15th century ancestors was imagining was a mouthful. If the latter, the image was of someone forcing more things into a container than it ought to be able to hold.

Now, if the argument is that one must imagine the exact same physical manifestation of a word for it to be meaningful, I guess you could say people ought not use chock-full, given that some people think it has something to do with chocks. But if that is the standard, than no words can ever be used. Besides, I abide by a slightly different school of thought. Chock-full hasn’t been a simile for at least 600 years. It is simply a word that means “crammed full” and since that meaning has been the same for all that time, well, the only native English speakers who are going to be confused by it are those that are over thinking things.

If chock-full is a word that you use in every day speech, then if it seems to fit in something you’re writing, use it.

The problem with making word choices while writing isn’t whether a specific word would be defined exactly the same by every reader, but whether the word flows naturally in the narrative. For a lot of people, “hoist with his own petard” is an affectation that has been inserted into the narrative to emulate Shakespeare. And every writer goes through a phase where they are trying on styles and phrasings of writers they admire. If you do that, the reader will seee that inauthenticity right away.

So the first rule is: is it a word that you use yourself without having to think about it? If so, it fits your style and is probably okay to use. The second rule is, is the way you use it one of the commonly understood definitions, or it is jargon—is it a specialized meaning of the word that is only understood by members of a particular profession, sub-culture, or clique? Well, then maybe limit its use.

Of course, there is a difference between word choices in the narration than words used in dialogue. Maybe your character fancies themself a Shakespearean hero and is constantly quoting (or misquoting) lines from famous plays. Of course a character like that is going to use the phrase “hoist with his own petard,” and you, the author, will likely have another character ask what it means or correct him when he says it wrong (and I have heard so many people, probably because they think a petard is a winch or similar rather than a bomb, say it “hoist on his own petard”). That works just fine!

There is also the choice of audience. Maybe you intend your story primarily for members of a particular community. Even then, I still point back to rule number one: stick to words you use conversationally yourself. And if you’re not sure, read the whole scene outloud. Any phrase or sentence that trips up your tongue needs to be re-written, because if you can’t say it without getting tongue-tied, it isn’t written in your voice.

Don’t choke on the vocabulary, don’t shove in pretentious phrases, and don’t get cheeky.

Weekend Update 7/20/2019: Crystal cathedrals, berated bigots, and racist racisms

“If the pope was ever like, 'Hey, I just realized, that we could cure world hunger...”

“If the pope was ever like, ‘Hey, I just realized, that we could cure world hunger…”

“...if we sold some of these gold cathedrals.”

“…if we sold some of these gold cathedrals.”

“The next day that would be like, 'Oh no! The pope died!'”

“The next day that would be like, ‘Oh no! The pope died!’”

I thought I was getting over the current illness, and since when I woke up Friday morning I saw that my husband had gone into work rather than call in again, I figured he was feeling better, too. Well, not so much. I do not want to go into graphic details, other than to say that we spent a good portion of the evening, for different reasons, taking turns in the bathroom.

Speaking of things that turn one’s stomach,

Catholic Church Spent $77 Million To Remodel Crystal Cathedral Built By Scamvangelicals. A long, long time ago (1955) an evangelist named Robert H. Schuller rented a drive-in theatre in Garden Grove, California one Sunday morning. He invited people to come to church as they were in their cars. It was a drive-in church. He also preached at more traditional church building he rented about a mile away, but the thing that got him coverage in the news were the services (complete with an organ) at that drive-in. As money poured in, he eventually bought a 10-acre plot nearby, and in 1958 broke ground for a “walk-in, drive-in.” That’s right, he had a regular church building, but also a drive-in style lot with an enormous screen where he projected the sermons. Eventually he built the 13-story “Tower of Power” as an office building with a 90-foot illuminated cross on top, and then bought another 10-acres and constructed the “Crystal Cathedral” — hailed as the largest structure in the world constructed completely out of glass, and it contained the fifth-largest organ in the world. By this point he was broadcasting his sermons on television as the “Hour of Power” while continuing to have the drive-in section outside the church and was raking in the dough like never before. They built a giant Prayer Spire beside the building, they opened a private school on the property, the built a memorial garden (a portion of which was an actual cemetery). They staged elaborate holiday pageants at Easter and Christmas every year, charging $45 per person if you wanted to sit inside the church to watch it (admission fee? wouldn’t that mean this wasn’t a church service?). Anyway, despite the fact the Schuller literally once said that spending all those millions was better than trying to feed the poor because “the poor will always be with us, but this monument to god will stand for the ages” money just kept pouring in!

Until it didn’t. As Schuller aged, he eased into retirement, first appointed his eldest son as pastor in 2006, and then due to unspecified disagreements, asking his son to resign and eventually appointing one of his daughters in 2009. In 2010 the church’s board filed for bankruptcy protection. Eventually court filings would reveal that the money problems had been ongoing for a few years, with the board borrowing heavily from the endowment to pay the lavish salaries of the many relatives of Schuller who made up most of the senior staff. Hundreds of more modestly paid employees were laid off, actors and musicians and costume-designers and set-builders who had already put in months work for that year’s Easter Pageant were told they weren’t getting paid after all and so forth.

In the midst of all of this, Schuller’s wife fell ill with pneumonia, and in a particularly tone-deaf move, the church sent out a plea to members to make meals for the Schullers, but not to take them to the Schullers’s home, but rather take them to the Tower of Power and leave the meals with the limo drivers who would deliver the food to the Schullers. I kid you not!

Anyway, as part of the bankruptcy settlement, the property was eventually sold in 2012 to the local Catholic Archdioceses for $57 million dollars. The Catholics have since spent about $77 million dollars more renovating the building (including shipping that enormous organ off to Italy to the refurbished, then shipping it back). And this week, they consecrated the main building, now renamed the Christ Cathedral.

I give all these details because, as an ex-evangelical myself, throughout my childhood and teen years there were always people in my life who watched Schuller’s show faithfully. I thought it was always clear that he was in it just for the money. Schuller died in 2015, but despite the horrible bankruptcy, Schuller’s grandson is still broadcasting the Hour of Power every week from their new home, a nearby Presbyterian building called Shepherd’s Grove. Schuller’s eldest son runs his own ministry, broadcasting services online. His daughter is now a pastor at another church in Orange, California: Sheila Schuller Coleman: Hope Center for Christ opens in AMC Theater.

Which I guess is a very long way of saying, the scam goes on?

While the Catholics distract us with their shiny new glass cathedral in California, look what they are failing to do in West Virginia: Vatican Declines To Defrock Bishop Accused Of Sexual Harassment And Lavish Spending.

Of course, the Catholics aren’t the only church with sex scandals: Bail Denied For Megachurch Leader After Testimony About Threeway Sex Tape With Minor Enrages Judge. Sex trafficking, production of child pornography, coercing underage girls into having sex because otherwise god will be angry at them? Why does that sound familiar?

Okay, I have to stop looking that the religious news, because that’s all too depressing. Oh, look! Consequences: Three White Supremacists Get Prison Sentences For Charlottesville Rioting. Three of Trumps very fine supporters who were identified from the videos punching and choking counter-protestors are getting some prison time. Good.

Meanwhile, how is the so-called straight pride parade doing on lining up corporate sponsors? TripAdvisor Zaps ‘Straight Pride Parade’ Organizers with Cease-and-Desist Letter Peppered with Gay Anthems. Netflix and TripAdvisor aren’t the only ones sending cease and desist letters or otherwise doing everything that can to distance themselves from the hate groups (Patriot Front, Resist Marxism, American Guard, and others) behind the parade: Not One of the Straight Pride Parade’s “Sponsors” Wants to Be Associated With the Event. On the one hand, good for all these companies. On the other, I can’t help but think that each of this stories is just more publicity for the haters.

On the other hand, at least some of the cease and desist letters are entertaining.

Let’s end this with this. The alleged president has “so many racisms, we don’t have time to cover them all!”

Full Frontal with Samantha Bee | A Rundown of Trump’s Racist Racisms:

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