Fannish innuendo campaigns

It’s a pattern I’m seeing too often in fandom: Someone has supposedly done something horrible, so this person shouldn’t be a convention guest, be on the program, whatever. Details are scant. If you ask, you might be pointed at some large corpus of work in which the person in question has said horrible things. Somewhere in it.

How are you supposed to decide if it’s true? Well, really, you aren’t. Your friends are saying so, and you’re supposed to agree with them. It amounts to a campaign by innuendo. If you question it, you may be a questionable person yourself.

The accusers may just not want to give their target free publicity, but they have to make a choice. A lot of times the right thing is to keep the dispute private, but if you make claims, you have to back them up. They might be concerned that the person they’re accusing said hurtful things, and they don’t want to subject more people to them, but they need to choose. It’s often better just to deny a jerk publicity, but an accusation without details is an injustice. It doesn’t give the one you’re accusing any chance to make a defense, and it doesn’t let your audience make a decision for themselves.

That sort of accusation can also be a power play. The technique of discrediting an enemy with bogus accusations has been around forever. The threat of doing it can be a tool for bringing people in line. One person in fandom tried it with me; it didn’t get my cooperation, and if she ever tried to carry it out, it was so complete a flop I never noticed. It did make me more wary about believing rumors, though.

If you have a complaint about somebody and want me to take it seriously, provide details. It’s not my job to do the research on your accusations.

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DFDF 2014

DFDF, Das Frühlingsfest der Filksmusik, is a very small but energetic filk convention in northern Germany. Usually I prefer to go to FilkContinental, the fall convention, because more of my German friends go there, but I also wanted to visit Vienna, which is much nicer in May than late September. DFDF has its own features; it’s in a hotel which is much more comfortable, if not as atmospheric, as the medieval castle in which FilkContinental used to be hosted, and the town it’s in is very nice. (FilkContinental will be in a new location this year.)

The guests of honor were Pavlov’s Duck (Peredar and Thesilée), who provided lots of fun with bells and duck calls as well as good music.

I arrived from Vienna on Thursday so I’d have time to settle in, and a few others arrived that day. I offered to help out but never quite managed to be there when there was stuff to be done.

Pavlov's Duck at DFDFA lot of my favorite people were at the con: Alexa, Sib, Franklin, Volker, Steve, Katy, Eva, Rafael, and others. I was sad that Ju and Crystal couldn’t make it. Programming was relatively light. One of the most unusual features was the “Aquapella” singing session at the pool, complete with laminated lyric sheets. We sang some rounds, including one with lyrics improvised on the spot, and attempted a bit of barbershop harmony.

Franklin Gunkelman and Steve Macdonald, DFDF auctionThe auction, which helps support the convention, raised an impressive 1,334 euros, an average of more than 30 euros per person. I didn’t bid on anything, since I didn’t want to have more stuff in my luggage coming home, but I donated some New Hampshire maple sugar candy. The committee arranged with the hotel to let people pre-order a buffet dinner on any or all of Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights. This worked out very well, since it let us get back to the convention faster than ordering from the menu would have allowed.

My concert set on Sunday included “Con Chair’s Song,” “The Hare and the Hedgehog,” “Der Besenmacher,” “Paperless,” Kari Maaren’s “Kids These Days,” and “Jalapeño.” I discovered how enthusiastic this crowd was when I was asked, for the first time in my life, to do an encore.

Not everything scales down for a small convention. You still have to negotiate the hotel contract, make arrangements with the guest of honor, assemble a program, get people registered, and make sure everything happens smoothly at the convention. Highest thanks to the committee for all their work, as well as to Volker for running sound.

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Thoughts on language learning

While I was at DFDF, I noticed that some people who have spent more time than I have in Germany have more trouble with the language than I do. I don’t claim to be fluent at it, but I can generally understand people and be understood. Several years ago I reached the point where if I talked to strangers in German, they’d usually answer me in the same language instead of switching to English. That was a major milestone for me. At this DFDF, there was a workshop on translation. I was the only native English speaker there, so we used German, and I was invited to ask about anything I didn’t understand. I got through it understanding almost everything and participating actively. It was a thrill to be able to do that!

Why do some people get to a pretty good skill level at a language, while others put in just as much effort but still struggle? I haven’t done any scientific study on this, but here are a few thoughts from my personal experience.

1. Be bilingual before you’re six. This advice is certainly too late for nearly everyone reading this blog, but I think I benefited a lot from knowing some Greek from an early age. It got me used to the idea that there’s more than one language, to speaking with two sets of phonemes, to seeing relationships and differences between languages.

2. Use the language. Textbooks and language labs are fine, but the only way to make a language stick is to use it in real life. Look for publications that interest you, even if you can only understand a little at first. Join forums or mailing lists that are tolerant of beginners. If you have friends who know the language, exchange email with them in their language. I started talking to my cats in German. They’re very accepting of grammatical errors. It’s gotten to be such a habit that I now talk to cats in general in Katzendeutsch. I enjoy listening to science podcasts in German, learning something new while getting practice in the language. When you’re talking with people, you may have to push back a little when they switch to English; explain that you’d like the practice, if they can stand it.

3. Make mistakes. The only way to learn a language is to use it, and you have to be willing to get it wrong before you can get it right. Accept corrections. Get a little better each time.

4. Pay attention to grammar, but don’t let rules paralyze you. I see advice in a lot of places not to worry about grammar till you know the language well. This is the way children learn their first language, but it doesn’t work when I approach a new language. The advice may be the result of an excessive, paralyzing emphasis on getting grammar right in years past. Human languages aren’t like computer languages; you can’t apply a set of rules that will unfailingly tell you which sentences are right and which are wrong. But learning how sentences are put together and how gender, case, and number work is much easier than pure induction from examples.

5. Enjoy the language. If you think of it as a struggle, with a reward coming only after years of study, it will be a struggle. I think a big part of my success in German is that I enjoyed learning it, pulling out bits of comprehension, looking at strange books, making silly mistakes, and doing sillier things in it like talking to cats. Enjoy the ride, and you’ll get there.

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Rogue Weare, NH police lose in court

I have more posts lined up on my trip to Europe, but this morning I just want to add to the well-deserved adverse Internet publicity that the Weare, NH, police department is getting. The story is on the Reason website. Here’s the court decision, naming the guilty parties on the police force.

Carla Gericke, currently president of the Free State Project, was subjected to a bogus charge of “wiretapping” by the Weare cops for attempting to make a video of their official activity in a public place. The court has ruled that they engaged in retaliatory prosecution for activity protected by the First Amendment. There’s no mention of an award in this ruling, but it sets the stage for the Weare taxpayers to have to pay out for the rogue actions of their cops. Hopefully this will motivate them to get rid of the cops responsible, and will serve notice to police elsewhere in New Hampshire that they can’t hide their misdeeds with fabricated charges against the people who record them.

The Free Keene group says that this isn’t the only time Weare police brought fabricated charges against people recording them. (The link to an old Union Leader article is broken.)

Good cops like having their actions recorded; it protects them against bogus accusations. Bad cops don’t like being caught.

Update:Doing a bit more research, I found the Weare police killed an unarmed man in 2013. I’m staying the hell away from that town.

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Vienna is Mecca for classical music lovers, and I’ve just returned from my Hajj. It’s everything I hoped it would be.

The U-Bahn is clean and reliable. By getting a weekly ticket, I could ride all over the city. Vienna follows the usual European honor system; in my extensive traveling, my ticket was checked only once, and rather casually. If it had been the previous week’s ticket, I don’t think the checkers would have noticed.

A few bits of Austrian German are different from what I’m familiar with. Saying “Grüß Gott” (greet God) just sounds silly to me, so I stuck with “Morgen” or “Guten Tag,” and I ordered “Kartoffeln” (potatoes) rather than “Erdäpfel” (pommes de terre). That way if people noticed oddities in my speech, they’d just think I was German. Overall, I used German about 80% of the time.

Unfortunately, I left my camera in my car in Canada, so I had to fall back on my iPod for taking pictures.

Food festival in StadtparkThere was a big food festival in the Stadtpark (main city park) over the weekend. The booths mostly had local cuisine, so it was hard to find anything with a name I recognized. I got a Wildwurst (wild sausage, presumably caught by expert sausage hunters) on brown bread.

Beethoven statueBeethoven lived for a while in Heiligenstadt, then a suburban village, now a part of Vienna on the U-Bahn. I visited the apartment where he may have lived when he wrote his despairing Heiligenstadt Testament. This stop was a bit disappointing; it’s just a two-room apartment, and historians aren’t even sure if it’s the one he actually lived in. There’s another house nearby where I’m told he definitely lived, but it’s been converted into a restaurant. (He moved around a lot; the jokes about “Beethoven’s fourth movement” have some truth to them.)

The Mozarthaus was more interesting. It’s in the heart of Vienna, and it was clearly an impressive residence. It’s been made into a Mozart museum with some nice exhibits. Incidentally, while I was in Vienna, I came across a TV cartoon called “Little Amadeus,” about Mozart as a child. It gets some things historically right, including the names of his family members, and it uses his own music, even if it’s music he hadn’t written yet. It’s available on DVD (region 2, of course, but I’m equipped); I’ll have to order some episodes.

The Haus der Musik is a museum of sound with a split personality. I didn’t care much for the purely acoustic exhibits, which were sometimes unpleasant to hear, but the historical displays were very good. In retrospect, I recommend getting a combined ticket for the Mozarthaus and Haus der Musik; they aren’t far apart, and I’d have saved money by doing that.

NaschmarktThe Naschmarkt (nosh market, or close enough) is a permanent food market with more recognizable foods than the festival in the park. Some shops are open-air stands, others closed buildings. I went to a shop called Schoko Company, which some websites told me has the best chocolate in Vienna. It’s a nice, friendly place; I asked for recommendations and left with a bunch of chocolate, including one bar which they told me is “die beste Schockolade der Welt.” I’m saving it for the MASSFILC meeting; we’ll see if it lives up to that.

I attended two performances at the Volksoper. The first was a set of ballets on Debussy’s Prélude à l’Apres-mide d’un Faune, Ravel’s Bolero, and Orff’s Carmina Burana. The simple story of the first piece was the most convincingly presented. Bolero was done as a group dance without any story, and I would have enjoyed it except for the fact that the piece drives me nuts. I was afraid I’d be earwormed with its repetitious music for the next two years, but Carmina Burana is one of the few things that could push it back out of my mind. The Orff was the most ambitious part, of course. It was technically well done, but the dances generally had nothing to do with the content of the songs and seemed aimed at shock value. I’m pretty sure there are no cannibalistic monks in the text.

Volksoper buildingThe next day I saw Die Fledermaus. Of course, this is what going to Vienna is all about. It was performed in the traditional style, with no attempts at modernization aside from a few improvised gags such as having “kein Internet” in jail. This turned out to be a special occasion, as the music director was honored for his birthday, and one of the actors gave the count of the performances (in the thousands) and premieres he’d led.

There were street musicians, mostly of very good quality. One of my last experiences in Vienna was a player with a full-sized harp in a U-Bahn station. In the Karlskirche area I heard a horn player doing a Mozart concerto without accompaniment. In the Stadtpark there was a one-legged accordion player. Of course, I remember to support street musicians whenever I can.

One prediction which I repeatedly heard didn’t come true; I didn’t gain weight, and in fact lost some. This wasn’t for lack of eating; I had Wiener Schnitzel, Turkish fast food, and other goodies. But when I’m in a European city on vacation, I do vast amounts of walking, and that more than countered the eating. The restaurants don’t seem to know much about vegetables beyond potatoes and sauerkraut.

Ich liebe Wien!

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I am not a Rand Paul supporter

Rand Paul sometimes says very good things, and I’ll cite them when it’s appropriate. However, I’m not going to support him as a presidential candidate, and I’d be very worried if he became president. He is, by his own statement, not a libertarian, and on an issue which greatly matters to me, he’s less libertarian than many mainstream candidates. He thinks the US border is insufficiently militarized. From his own website:

However, millions of illegal immigrants are crossing our border without our knowledge and causing a clear threat to our national security. I want to work in the Senate to secure our border immediately. In addition, I support the creation of a border fence and increased border patrol capabilities. … Instead of closing military bases at home and renting space in Europe, I am open to the construction of bases to protect our border.

The southwest of the US has been turned into a police state through anti-immigrant hysteria. People are stopped and questioned on major highways without cause. Some are forced to undergo body cavity searches just to satisfy the sadistic wishes of the Border Patrol. So far this hasn’t happened in New England, which falls entirely in the so-called “border region” which the Obama administration has declared to be outside the Fourth Amendment Zone. Attempts to implement this in New England have been relatively rare and have faced strong protest. Under a Rand Paul administration, I might well be living in the same “Your papers, please” world that people in southern California, New Mexico, and Arizona have to submit to. Bostonians recently showed that they’ll submit to suspicionless searches on public streets if the threat of terrorism is waved at them enough; Paul might well conclude he can get away with it here.

Electoral politics isn’t, in today’s world, the path to freedom. No candidate today has a chance of being elected without pandering to people’s desire for other people’s money, hatred of foreigners, or desire to be shielded from the tiniest of risks at any cost. Rand Paul, if elected, will betray the principles of freedom, and the left will say, “See? This is what comes of reducing government power.”

It’s necessary to focus on ideas, not dreams that some candidate will provide a short cut to freedom.