Rewriting filk history

Finally, after a lot of rewriting, Tomorrow’s Songs Today is looking something like a book and not just a list of events. It’s past 50,000 words, and if for some reason I had to release what exists right now, I wouldn’t be totally embarrassed. There are still facts I’m trying to pick up, typos and grammatical errors to be fixed, a narrative to make smoother, a layout to finalize, and a cover to add, but the result is in sight. I’m going back and forth with Terri so she can pounce on whatever needs to be improved and make sure that I get it right.

January delivery still looks like a reasonable hope. I’ll keep you all posted.

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Selfish giving

When I give money, I do it selfishly, to advance my own values. Giving money altruistically doesn’t take much thought or planning; it just has to be to someone else, preferably someone I don’t care about. Sending my money where it will accomplish things I want requires research and careful consideration. Here are a few organizations that I think are worth my money; I’ll also mention a couple that I definitely won’t support.

The Institute for Justice is one of my favorites, because it not only fights for freedom but shows concrete results. It regularly challenges laws and regulations that favor the politically connected over outsiders, giving cartels a legal advantage.

The Cato Institute provides very good libertarian analysis of issues. Take a look, for example, at “Obama’s Executive Action Is Good Policy, Bad Law, and Terrible Precedent” by Ilya Shapiro. Its articles present a variety of perspectives, not a monolithic position.

I have a special loathing of diseases that take away mental abilities, and the Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research works on finding ways to prevent, slow, or cure Alzheimer’s.

Locally, I support New Horizons for New Hampshire, which helps the poor and homeless. This is the way I think the poor should be helped: by people’s voluntary choice, not by forcible transfer and welfare systems that often trap people in poverty.

I support the Humane Society for Greater Nashua. Cats. Anyone who knows me knows that’s all I have to say.

Selfish giving means avoiding causes that actually hinder what I value. I don’t support the Salvation Army. It tries hard to distract people from the fact that it’s a church which holds that everyone is “totally depraved” and only Christians will get to Heaven.

The American Lung Association is on my no-give list. As people are slowly coming to recognize the stupidity of drug prohibition, and marijuana bans are starting to go away, the American Lung Association wants to go in the other direction, applauding bans on tobacco. Thomas Carr, its director of policy, responded to a proposed ban by Westminster, Massachusetts on all tobacco sales by saying, “We commend the town for doing it.” If the ALA had its way, criminals would have a huge new market dwarfing all existing drug markets, and cops would have tons of new opportunities to smash into people’s homes at midnight.

Finally, there are cases where support seems good but turns out not to work. A couple of years ago I gave a small amount of money to Massachusetts General Hospital after Alice “Badger” Washburn spent the last month of her life there. Since then I’ve been inundated by donation requests from them; they must have spent more than I gave them asking me for more money. They aren’t a bad cause, but local hospitals have priority for me, so I’m not likely to give them more money soon. Nobody won from this.

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GAFilk’s harassment policy

GAFilk’s harassment policy isn’t as bad as FilKONtario’s, but it does have its problems. It defines harassment as follows:

Harassment includes harmful verbal comments, sexual images in public spaces, deliberate intimidation, stalking, following, harassing photography or recording, sustained disruption of concerts, circles, or other events, inappropriate physical contact, and unwelcome sexual attention.

There’s some circularity: Harassing photography is harassing and Grumpy Cat is grumpy, but that doesn’t actually tell us anything. The inclusion of “following” (not even “harassing following”) must be a mistake; at the end of the concerts, everyone except the first person out of the room would be guilty of harassment. “Stalking” covers whatever following can be legitimately prohibited. But I’ll grant that those are just careless wording.

The big problem, as with FilKONtario, is regulation of speech. What constitutes “harmful verbal comments”? If you say you don’t like a song or performance, that might be “harmful.” In practice, “harmful” usually means “unpopular.” Worse, as I’ve noted before, that kind of prohibition can shelter actual harassment. If you warn people that someone is dangerous or untrustworthy, that’s certainly harmful to their reputation, and they can use the con’s policy to intimidate you.

Is this really worth worrying about? Shouldn’t we trust the concom to enforce the policy reasonably, even if the wording is poor? It is, because certain disturbing trends in society shouldn’t spread to fandom. In the academic world especially, we’ve seen speech restrictions that are intolerant in both their phrasing and implementation. Bergen Community College tried to make a professor undergo psychiatric evaluation for posting a picture of his daughter in a Game of Thrones t-shirt. The University of Wisconsin-Stout threatened to bring criminal charges against a professor for putting up a Firefly poster outside his office door. There are 4300 or more signatures on an online petition to ban Bill Maher from speaking on the Berkeley campus. I read a post recently on LiveJournal that claims the word tolerance doesn’t “mean what you think it means” if you think it extends to views you seriously oppose. But it does mean that, Inigo, or it means nothing. If conventions enact rules against comments that are “harmful,” “belittle,” or “cause personal embarrassment,” then it’s only a matter of time before they’re used to silence opinions someone doesn’t approve of.

I’ve never attended GAFilk, since it’s a long trip in winter, though I’ve heard many good things about it. As a participant in the filk community, I’m simply concerned with the tendency of cons to impose speech codes. At ConCertino, we’ll be doing all we can to keep the environment safe, and this includes making sure people feel free to talk about problems.