ideatrash

Writing, publishing, geekdom, and errata.

The War On Halloween

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Ms. Anderson's voice grated.  "Are you enjoying trunk-or-treat, Billy?  You make such a cute angel!"  She handed him several cubes of low-fat, low-sugar, low-taste caramel.

Billy scowled.  "I wanted to be a werewolf."

Billy's mother blanched.  "Billy, is that any way to be on Beggar's Night?"

Billy shook off the costume's wings and walked away.  "It's Halloween," he muttered, low enough that neither woman heard him.

In the brilliance of the headlights, the congregation planned their defense against the War On Christmas.

Billy looked past the lights, past the suburbs, to the moon beginning to rise.

Billy began to howl.



(I originally wrote and posted this five years ago; I thought it appropriate to bring up again.)

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It's time for the last flash fiction challenge before NaNoWriMo (and Halloween)!

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It's almost time for NaNoWriMo and Halloween; get in the habit and take an hour to write with us this weekend!

Several of us have started our own, self-hosted, flash fiction challenge over at a website we're calling Obsidian Flash.  It's on a forum behind a password, so that anything you write and submit is considered unpublished.  Registration is quick, free, and pretty painless.



Seriously, this thing is the perfect thing for you to do if you think writing is hard (or finding time for writing is hard), and especially if you haven't been writing for a while.  It's also great if you have problems with getting past ideas that "you suck" (every first draft sucks, face it) or self-doubt.  Here's why:

1. Challenges like this are great for stimulating creativity.
2. You're supposed to write for an hour (ish); you can make that time.
3. You don't have the time to critique yourself.
4. You'll get helpful feedback from published authors and editors like myself, Donna Munro, Anton Cancre, and more.
5. We are friendly, despite all appearances to the contrary.  :)



The next challenge is scheduled for THIS weekend.  The prompt will go up this Friday (THAT'S TODAY, FOLKS) at 8pm EST.  Anton is our flashmaster!

Go sign up now at http://obsidianflash.com/forum and we'll see you writing this weekend!

Here are the rules:

1. All stories should be complete, written and posted within 24 hours of the prompt being posted, and can be anywhere from one sentence to 1,000 words in length.  Typically the prompt is posted by 8pm EST on Friday, and stories are posted by 8pm EST on Saturday.

2. You may choose to write your story in any genre.

3. Your story must be built around the restrictions—words, themes, photo prompts, word limits, etc.—provided by the Flashmaster at the beginning of the challenge.

4. Once the participants’ work is posted, the voting and comment session begins and continues until all votes are in. Time limit for voting will be determined on the spot, depending on how many people finish the challenge.  Typically this is within 24 hours of the end of the writing portion, or 8pm EST on Sunday.

5. The winner becomes Flashmaster and chooses the prompt(s) for the next contest.  Also, you get all the Internet Bragging Points you think you can get away with.

Don't wait - get going and register at http://obsidianflash.com/forum right now and join us!

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You can learn a lot about racism from a game of Monopoly

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It's rare that anything is absolutely 100% clear when it comes to people and the way they divide themselves. And it's even worse when the words we use are unclear themselves.

Specifically, the words racism and prejudice.1

Prejudice is generally an individual's (negative) opinion about another. In this context it's particularly due to some kind of external appearance or signifier that doesn't have anything to do with the person's worth. Anybody - and really everybody - has prejudices. This is almost always what we're talking about when someone says "People in [GROUP] can be racist too"; that lack of clarity makes talking about this so much harder.2

Racism is signified by power. This power can be physical, emotional, or social - it doesn't matter. It is because of the power aspect that you will hear phrases like "black people in America can't be racist".  Prejudiced, sure.

Because it is about power and the structures of power, racism does not require prejudice. The Monopoly example from Privilege, Power, and Difference is an example of how the effects of an action can be separated from personal feelings.

When you play Monopoly, the objective is to screw over the other players. It has nothing to do with who they are, what race or ethnicity they are, or how you feel about them. It's simply how the game is played.

A classic real life example is the self-fulfilling prophecy of profiling. If you have equal rates of drug usage among the entire population, but search more people of color for drugs, you'll find more people of color being arrested for possession. That then turns into an after-the-fact justification for the profiling, but does not mean that the people actually doing the profiling are prejudiced against people of color. They may think they're just following the data, not realizing that the system has skewed the data in a racist way. The way we fund public schooling in the United States likewise perpetuates a racist system by making it harder for those who are not already well-off to get a quality education.  Or prosecutors giving better plea deals to white defendants.

Let's go back to the Monopoly example.

Several circuits of the board have been played, and the original players have left. Four other people have picked up the game where it stood. One player finds out he has far less opportunity than the others. Less money in the bank, fewer properties.  

This inequality is not the fault of any of the players currently sitting at the table.

But it isn't equal. Not at all.

If we were to try to make it equal at this point - if we were to make it a fair game based on skill of the players - something drastic would have to be done. Maybe we would take some of the money from the other three players. Maybe we would give that fourth player an extra turn, or give the fourth player extra money every time they passed "go".

Because giving that "advantage" to the fourth player would be the only way to make the game fair for the people playing now.

It might not feel fair at first to the other three players. It might feel like they were being discriminated against (which is what we see in real life)... until they recognized that the game they inherited wasn't fair to begin with.

This is where the example of Monopoly breaks down. Because Monopoly is an adversarial game. Monopoly is not a game about community or cooperation or citizenship. It is - and was designed to be - a game showcasing the worst aspects of capitalism. It was a game originally designed as a warning about the corroding influence of pitting people against each other in the real world.

In the real world, in our country, we have ideals and standards about cooperation. About helping each other to succeed, and having others help us when we need it. 

We have ideals about trying to be fair, and giving everyone an equal chance.

Following those ideals might break the game of Monopoly.  We might have to completely change the way the game is played.

But following those ideals, helping others, reducing inequality - even if, and especially if it's not our fault - strengthens our country.

And that's a far better goal than collecting cheap plastic hotels.


1 Please don't quote the dictionary at me. Dictionaries do not prescribe definitions, they describe them.
2 You can substitute sexism or other forms of bigotry for racism; the argument holds.

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The True Lesson of Halloween (and problematic costumes)

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I shared the image presented below on Facebook.



The image had this caption: "Halloween is all about having a good time! Just make sure you're not having fun at someone else's expense. "

Notice how passive that phrase is. Notice how unoffended it is.

And then a bunch of people took offense at this suggestion. Maybe they weren't hearing themselves as they filled my bingo card with "but it used to be okay"/"PC police"/"taking all the fun out of it"/"you're looking to get offended". The comments ended with (as I'm writing this, though I'm sure there's more by the time this post goes live) a person saying (paraphrased) "So I guess we're not going to dress up and celebrate Halloween, then."

I don't expect children to understand the differences or the nuances or the politics around racial, gender, and ethnic identity. I don't expect children to understand what fetishizing the other means, or how reducing groups of people to a stereotype is offensive, or how dressing as a different gender for a laugh minimizes the experiences of those experiencing gender dysphoria.

I remember making Polack jokes as a kid. I didn't know any better and nobody stopped to correct me. They didn't even seem like racist jokes to me until I heard the exact same jokes being used with black people instead of Polish ones.

I remember being taught about "Indians" (yes, I'm old enough that I remember before we said "Native American", though this applies to that term as well) in school and in Scouts, and not realizing until much much later that the various First Nations were very different with distinct cultures and ways of living.

I didn't know any better because I was a kid.

We aren't children. We are adults and parents and we can teach our children to be better.

The mock outrage of the "I guess we can't dress as anything" crowd is pretty easy to dismantle. Go for imaginary characters like werewolves and zombies and vampires. Or better, go for professions like lawyers and doctors and firefighters.

And if your child insists on dressing as a character portrayed by someone of a different race or gender, take a cue from the cosplayers: gender or race bend that character. A female Joker. A black Superman. 

I have to wonder if these folks have stopped and listened to the words they're saying. How close their arguments about costumes sound like those who decry "how you can't say anything anymore" as they hurl insults and slurs at women, PoC, LGBTQIA folks, or anyone different than themselves.

But that really clarifies it for me.

Sure, this is to some degree political. This is, to some degree, about privilege and power in society.

But it's simpler than that.

This is about being empathetic and kind to others. About treating people the way they want to be treated.

And that's a lesson we definitely want to teach our children.

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Getting Covers To Show Up From MPD to MPDroid - SOLVED

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I use MPD (the music player daemon) for my everyday music playing - both around the house and streaming to my phone. It's great being able to play whatever music (or playlist) I want without relying on someone else's webserver, decisions on what ads to play, and so on.

There's a little bit of a hiccup, though, in serving out covers to your phone client. (I use MPDroid (Google Play, GitHub), but this happens with other clients.)  You can try having it search online sources, but sometimes they're wrong, and dammit, I didn't spend all this time tagging my music collection properly to have it screw up.

You can have your covers on any server - I put together a one-liner script to be able to export your covers (only) to your webserver - which is nice.

But I kept having problems where MPDroid wasn't pulling in covers from the LAN, even though I followed the directions on the wiki. (I use apache instead of nginx or lightppd, but still.) Which is strange, because when I looked at the server logs, MPDroid actually looks for LOTS of variations of the cover name, even when you've got it set up to look for a specific file name:



So what was going on? Turns out that I was a little too smart for my own good, and the answer was implied in the wiki page. See all those 301 redirects? I'd set up my server to only serve out HTTPS links (as one should). And that's what screwed me up.  I had this in my .conf file for my server:

RewriteEngine On

RewriteCond %{HTTPS} !=on
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ https://%{HTTP_HOST}%{REQUEST_URI} [L,R=301]

It was easily fixed by adding a line (or two, because I couldn't remember whether it was "cover" or "covers") so that those are served directly over HTTP:

RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_URI} !^/cover
RewriteCond %{QUERY_STRING} !^/covers
RewriteCond %{HTTPS} !=on
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ https://%{HTTP_HOST}%{REQUEST_URI} [L,R=301]

And with that, boom, I was getting my covers quickly and smoothly, directly from my own server again.

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Easily create a native webapp for your operating system for ANY web page

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While looking for something else, I stumbled upon Nativefier today. It promises to wrap up "any" web page as a native application for your operating system, and so far, it seems to fit the bill.
 I used it here to make applications for Blogger (what I'm writing this on now), Out of Milk (the shopping list app I use), and Remember The Milk (which has the things I'm supposed to be doing instead of this).

In terms of technology, it's simply an Electron wrapper around the site, but what's pretty cool about it is that it does allow you to have each site in it's own sandbox... but does two important things.  First, you can see that each application has its own icon (in some cases, that I've defined myself) in my taskbar.

 This is something you're not going to get if you're running, say, web versions of all your messaging apps in a different browser.

Second, unlike running a separate browser (or browser window), it's trivial to open links from one of these created Electron apps in my normal browser where I do the heavy-duty work.

It's also super easy to install Nativefier (and then super easy to install anything else) if you've already got Node/NPM installed.  Highly recommended and available on GitHub.

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Trump's Legacy: Dishonoring the Troops

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I'm having a hard time formulating my thoughts about the Trump Administration and the way that it is currently treating immigrants who signed up for the Armed Forces.

(Yes, it's real.  See the LexisNexis Legal Newsroom post as well as the DoD memo.)

I am having a hard time formulating my thoughts because I am so shocked and ashamed of this administration.

I am having a hard time formulating my thoughts because I remember being in AIT.

I remember my classmate at Ft. Sam Houston, an immigrant who came from Italy, and chose to serve in the armed forces though she was not yet a citizen  because she loved America so much.

She has loomed large in my memory.

When I read Starship Troopers, with its central thesis that the best measure of citizenship is the willingness to put the good of the citizenry and the country above one's own well-being, I thought of her.

Because for all Starship Trooper's flaws - and it does have flaws - that central thesis is still powerful. That central thesis is why people keep telling me "thank you for your service" even though I only served in MEDDACs and troop medical centers. Because though I was not a combat arms MOS, though I never served in a combat zone, I was willing to fight and, if needed, die. I signed up knowing that. Every recruit signs up knowing that, and knowing it's a very real possibility.

Especially now.

I spent a lot of time while I was in the military around new recruits. Some of them were the stereotypical Steve Rogers type. Far more were like me, wanting to pay off student loans or support a family.

But.

Regardless of our reason for signing up, we were all soldiers. That is what was important. I was continually impressed by those who signed up for the most banal and mundane of reasons who were still willing and ready to do what was necessary for their country.

And none impressed me more than those who were not yet citizens but who were willing to place their lives on the line to defend a country they believed in.

And with this action, this Administration dishonors them all.

This action is disturbing because it harkens to the paranoia of the Japanese internment camps and Korematsu v. United States. This action is disturbing because it harkens to the nationalism and jingoism of the pro Nazi rallies (dressed up as pro-American ones) by the American Bund that we have largely forgotten.

But what makes this action shameful, what makes this action deplorable, is the gross disservice and dishonour that it does to those who want to defend our country, though they are not yet citizens here. 

This is a decision that does not support the troops.

This is a decision that dishonors them all.

Ignore stupid "scary" music. More creepy stuff for this season.

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Were there not enough spoopy sounds for you last time? Very well; let's continue with more creepy-ass music for your amusement.

First, let's start with some game soundtracks that I've mentioned previously that are go-to tracks for me when writing creepy stuff: No More Room in Hell and Project Zomboid.  Both take different (and nicely creepy) takes on the zombie theme, and feature gorgeous soundtracks well worth a listen (and purchase).

And can we somehow forget the master of creeptastic: Trent Reznor? The Quake OST is delightfully dark (though not able to be purchased outside of the game, AFAIK) and definitely points the way to the atmospheric sounds later developed in the soundtracks for films like The Social Network and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  This is nowhere as evident as his (along with Atticus Ross) cover of the Halloween theme:



And that brings us to Cristobal Tapia de Veer, who did the soundtracks for both Humans and The Girl With All The Gifts, both delightfully understated and creeptastic scores that raise gooseflesh and will serve you well for your macabre feasting.

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I believe you when you say "me too"

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For all the things I've done (and I'm sure that I've done something) - consciously or not - to contribute directly or indirectly to anyone feeling harassed or taken advantage of, I apologise unreservedly.

If you feel comfortable doing so, please call me out on any such behavior so that I may change it and help others change their behavior.

To all those saying "me too": I believe you.

And Woody Allen, Oliver Stone, and all the rest doubling down on victim-shaming: screw you.

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It's time to write this weekend, folks! Join us!

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Take just an hour to write with us this weekend! 
Several of us have started our own, self-hosted, flash fiction challenge over at a website we're calling Obsidian Flash.  It's on a forum behind a password, so that anything you write and submit is considered unpublished.  Registration is quick, free, and pretty painless.



Seriously, this thing is the perfect thing for you to do if you think writing is hard (or finding time for writing is hard), and especially if you haven't been writing for a while.  It's also great if you have problems with getting past ideas that "you suck" (every first draft sucks, face it) or self-doubt.  Here's why:

1. Challenges like this are great for stimulating creativity.
2. You're supposed to write for an hour (ish); you can make that time.
3. You don't have the time to critique yourself.
4. You'll get helpful feedback from published authors and editors like myself, Donna Munro, Anton Cancre, and more.
5. We are friendly, despite all appearances to the contrary.  :)



The next challenge is scheduled for THIS weekend.  The prompt will go up this Friday (THAT'S TODAY, FOLKS) at 8pm EST.  Donna is our flashmaster!

Go sign up now at http://obsidianflash.com/forum and we'll see you writing this weekend!

Here are the rules:

1. All stories should be complete, written and posted within 24 hours of the prompt being posted, and can be anywhere from one sentence to 1,000 words in length.  Typically the prompt is posted by 8pm EST on Friday, and stories are posted by 8pm EST on Saturday.

2. You may choose to write your story in any genre.

3. Your story must be built around the restrictions—words, themes, photo prompts, word limits, etc.—provided by the Flashmaster at the beginning of the challenge.

4. Once the participants’ work is posted, the voting and comment session begins and continues until all votes are in. Time limit for voting will be determined on the spot, depending on how many people finish the challenge.  Typically this is within 24 hours of the end of the writing portion, or 8pm EST on Sunday.

5. The winner becomes Flashmaster and chooses the prompt(s) for the next contest.  Also, you get all the Internet Bragging Points you think you can get away with.

Don't wait - get going and register at http://obsidianflash.com/forum right now and join us!

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Posting images to forums using Postimg or ImageTitan: HOWTO

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When we do the flash challenge (yes, it's time again this weekend! Join us!) every other week, and have a visual prompt. The thing is, posting images on forums can be a little tricky to get it large enough. I'm going to provide a walkthrough here for two services: postimg.org and imagetitan.com.

First, I'm going to recommend an ad-blocker. Why? Because (especially for postimg), the ads are simply overwhelming.
Too. Many. Ads.
So the first thing is to go to either of those two websites (logins aren't required).  They show where to upload images very prominently.


From there, select your image and it'll upload it to their servers.  Here's where the "fun" part comes in.  Both provide copy-and-paste code... for thumbnails. That's good "enough", I guess.


But you want full-size images to show up. So here's what you do:

POSTIMG: Select the "Hotlink for forums" code. That should actually do it just fine. Failing that, use the "Thumbnails for Forums" code

[url=https://postimg.org/image/eq3q0sbwl/][img]https://s26.postimg.org/eq3q0sbwl/2014-06-14--1402788637_1366x768_scrot.png[/img][/url]

And then replace the part inside the [img] tag with the code from the "Direct Link" section.

[url=https://postimg.org/image/eq3q0sbwl/][img]https://s26.postimg.org/9eotg2pu1/2014-06-14--1402788637_1366x768_scrot.png[/img][/url]




IMAGETITAN: Select all of the "Clickable Thumbnail for Messageboards/Forums" text.

[URL=http://img4.imagetitan.com/img.php?image=16_antininja.jpg][IMG]http://img4.imagetitan.com/img4/small/16/16_antininja.jpg[/IMG][/URL]

See the part after [URL=? Copy that to the part inside the [IMG] tag.

[URL=http://img4.imagetitan.com/img.php?image=16_antininja.jpg][IMG]http://img4.imagetitan.com/img.php?image=16_antininja.jpg[/IMG][/URL]


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Comparing apples and ottomans: Topic Diversion

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A friend criticized Mike Pence on Facebook the other day. Most of the responses were what you'd expect, until this one:

"But Harvey Weinstein!"

That person - let's call them Douchecanoe - kept harping about Weinstein's wrongs as a response to a criticism of Pence.1

This kind of topic diversion happens in political, religious, and relationship discussions, and is a huge red flag in any of them.

Topic Diversion is a tactic where a criticism or critique is responded to by a true, but irrelevant fact.

Because the person using topic diversion is saying a true thing, it can give the appearance that they're "right", or make it harder to refute the argument, or just simply move the discussion away from the thing they don't want to talk about.
REASONABLE PERSON: "Our roommate acts oddly toward me."
DOUCHECANOE: "But they do all the things on their part of the chore list!"
RP: "Yes, I know, but..."
DC: "If they do everything on the chore list, why are you complaining?"
BACKGROUND: ROOMMATE stabs nails into Voodoo doll of RP.
In such a situation, if you think the other person is still acting in good faith, you can acknowledge their point while still focusing on what was originally brought up.
RP: "I hear your point that they do all their chores. We can talk more about that later. Before we talk about that, I want to discuss the Voodoo doll she's holding over my head."
Pointing out the redirection may help you get the conversation back on track. What it will also do is let you know how intentional that redirection was.

If the other person/people won't address your concerns and keep doing this kind of topic redirection, that's a huge red flag and an indication that they're working to "win", not to reach a resolution.

1 He later said it was awful to compare the two men's actions, even though he was the one who did so, FFS.

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The important news about Harvey Weinstein isn't what he did.

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The important news about Harvey Weinstein isn't what he did.

Don't get me wrong - what he did (and really, is there any point in putting "allegedly"?) is horrible. But sadly, it's not new news. Whether we're talking about Weinstein, Whedon, Cosby, Louis CK, or so very many men in politics (grab 'em by the ...), there's missing stairs in pretty much any area of public life where men have power. Even in our small part of sf/f/h fandom, we've had to deal with missing stairs in publishing and conventions of every size. (And yes, it happens to men too - including people like Terry Crews).

The important news, the real news, is that missing stairs are no longer being tolerated.

These predatory assholes have always been there. They have been part of every movement, every group1.

Their atrocities were always happening. That, sadly, is not new or news.

What is important, what is news, is that they're being outed. They're being named. And they're being shunned in ways they never were before.

And that, my friends, is good news indeed.




1 Pointing this out because at least one person I've run into has tried to do the "but a liberal was like this too" schtick. If you're going to judge a group, judge them by how they respond to this kind of revelation of a missing stair: do they cast them out, or do they elect them to office?




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The consequences of failure don't fall evenly: The Lowest Difficulty Setting applies here too.

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I've been thinking a lot about what it means to be a failure these days.

Largely because I have failed in many of the areas of my life that I've been trying to succeed. (Those of you waiting for an exhaustive list of my failures, comb through the archives of this blog yourself, thanks.)

Two things occur to me:

1) Some of my current successes, particularly in relationships, owe a lot to my failures in the past. By paying attention to my failures I've learned what not to do or how to do things differently.

2) Everybody fails sometimes. The failure can be large or small, but they do fail. But failure is not equal.

I should have failed much worse and much earlier. But through the advantages of my birth, family, and friends, my failures have not been catastrophic. Yet

Those are not things that I earned.

Even if you want to argue that the privileges of me being a straight white educated male coming from a middle-class family did not contribute directly to my successes or somehow don't count as playing life on the lowest difficulty setting (and if you want to argue it, you should probably watch/listen to this TED talk first), it is inarguable that those advantages and privileges have softened the blows of my failures.

This is what I want people to think about when they think about privilege now. This is what I want people to think about when politicians try to remove safety nets, or make things harder for people who have had unexpected events happen in their lives.

I want you to think about your failures. I want you to think about the help you have gotten, and how much worse it would be if you had not gotten that assistance. 

If you were denied assistance, whether that denial came from family, friends, or the government, think about how much easier it would have been to recover and to make things right if you had gotten that help.

And then I want you to think about the (almost) uniformly well-off well-to-do and inherited money that makes up our politicians in the United States.

Like this guy
I want you to think about how none of this affects them, because they have nothing but privilege and advantages. Their idea of "failure" is losing their place in politics and moving straight into the revolving door and getting an average 1,400% raise.

If you've experienced failure - even on the "easy" setting I have - you know the feelings that come with failure.

I want you to think of all the shame, all the frustration, all the hopelessness, all the grief you felt.

And I want you to feel the rage at these assholes who will never feel that way, and want to make those feelings all the stronger for you and me.

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The Good Samaritan was not "pro-life" like Paul Ryan

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If you're someone who labels yourself "pro-life", I beg you to read this to the end. If you are not, I hope that you will pass it along to others.  Thank you.

House Passes An Abortion Ban After Letting Children’s Health Program Expire

I get it. We might disagree sometimes on what "pro-life" should mean (though maybe you should read my manifesto about being both pro-choice and anti-abortion).  But this?  A move that the Trump administration says is supposed to "foster a culture of life"?  John Paul II must be spinning in his grave.

This position is not pro-life - it's merely pro-birth. A nun said it far better than I:

I'll freely admit that what Sister Chittister calls us to is far more difficult than simply being anti-abortion.  But nobody said taking a moral stand was going to be easy. If anything, these "Right-To-Life" chains and setting up displays outside of churches and demonstrating outside of the (few) clinics left that will perform abortions are seductively easy.  It's not real ministry.

What would real ministry be like?  It'd be working to make sure that single parents can support their children on one income. It'd be protesting to make sure that healthcare is available to children, not taken away from them. It'd be helping those in need.

Instead we have folks either standing around feeling smug and superior or lawmakers actively making things harder for parents.

Jesus shocked his disciples by telling them how a heretical Samaritan was more deserving of eternal life than a priest or a Levite (politician), not because of what they preached or how they followed the Law, but because of how they acted towards those in need.

So tell me, you who want to follow in the footsteps of Jesus: Which character in that parable are these supposed "pro-life" politicians?

And tell me: whose example will you follow?

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