Print order placed for Tomorrow’s Songs Today

I’ve placed an order to print 40 copies of Tomorrow’s Songs Today. This is a signed and numbered edition. Nineteen of these will go to crowdfunding supporters, three to Interfilk for auctioning, one to the Texas A&M Library, and a few others to specific people. Of course I’ll hang on to two or three for myself. This will leave ten or so to sell, mostly in person at cons. I figure on charging $25 a copy for a wirebound book with a card stock color cover. The rather high per-copy printing cost will preclude selling it at a reasonable price through dealers, so you’ll have to get in touch with me in person if you’re interested. I’ll be at Boskone and expect to have books and tote bags there. Look for me in the filk room.

Tomorrow’s Songs Today, now available!

Who first published recorded filk? (It wasn’t Leslie.)

Where did the word “filk” come from?

When and where was the first filk convention, and who organized it?

What was the original tune for “Mary O’Meara”?

How did Off Centaur Publications rise and fall?

How did the Pegasus Awards and the Filk Hall of Fame originate?

Why do you see so many dandelion symbols associated with filk?

You’ll find the answers to these and many more questions — well, at least my answers, based on a lot of research — in Tomorrow’s Songs Today: The History of Filk Music, available for immediate download as a free e-book!

It’s been a long effort, and I owe thanks to many, many people. Terri Wells’ editing and Matt Leger’s cover have made it a much better product than it would have been otherwise. Beyond that, I don’t want to fill this post with the huge list of acknowledgments, so just download the book and read them for yourself.

The limited print edition will follow. It’s mostly to provide the promised rewards for my IndieGoGo supporters, but I’ll be making some copies available for sale. It’s rather expensive to produce a small run of a book and have it look good, so I have to apologize for the rather high price I’ll need to set. There will also be a few tote bags available.

The release party will be at Boskone.

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Cultural separatism and fandom

Arisia and Boskone both released their schedules recently, and I noticed a disturbing item on each of them. Arisia has this:

We all know bullying is wrong, but what about other behavior that might fall under the radar? This includes things like fannish gatekeeping, and tagging your hate and cultural appropriation under the guise of fandom.

On Boskone’s schedule we see this:

Writing diverse characters necessarily requires writing people who are not like you. When these characters come from groups that have been traditionally underrepresented or targets of discrimination, it is necessary to approach this task with care — but the need to be careful sometimes scares off well-intentioned authors. What techniques can be used to understand and communicate their perspectives? Where is the line between writing inclusively and co-opting a story that is not yours to tell?

“Cultural appropriation,” according to Wikipedia, is “the adoption of elements of one culture by members of a different cultural group.” It’s something which has happened ever since cultures have met. Stories from The Arabian Nights found their way to Grimm, and “Cinderella” is said to have descended from a medieval Chinese story. Cultural appropriation is a wonderful thing, creating ties and understanding between cultures. For some people, though, it threatens the purity of their culture.

Musicians like Benny Goodman and Elvis Presley used stylistic elements that came from black American culture. In doing so they paid tribute to it and made mainstream music more exciting. This outraged some people. Bono (whom I still despise for dumping his trash on my iPod, but never mind) put Elvis’s contribution this way:

I recently met with Coretta Scott King, John Lewis and some of the other leaders of the American civil rights movement, and they reminded me of the cultural apartheid rock & roll was up against. I think the hill they climbed would have been much steeper were it not for the racial inroads black music was making on white pop culture. The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Creedence Clearwater Revival were all introduced to the blues through Elvis. He was already doing what the civil rights movement was demanding: breaking down barriers.

Today, some people want to bring “cultural apartheid” back. They presumably want mainstream American music to be purely European, and I chuckle to imagine their sputtering rage when they encounter filk music, which gleefully grabs songs from everywhere. It’s not surprising that people want to build walls against people who are different, but what is this trend doing in fandom, which is supposed to be about welcoming differences?

Update: It gets worse. An Arisia 2015 panel description on “Writing and Racial Identity” reads: “What does your race have to do with what you write? Depending on your race, are certain topics forbidden to you? Obligatory? None of the above? If your race matters, how do you know what it is? By what people see when they look at you, or by what you know of your genetic background? By your cultural upbringing? By what you write?” Seriously. A science fiction convention is opening the question of whether some topics should be forbidden to writers of some races. On Martin Luther King Day, no less.

Hitler’s Children

This morning I watched a movie on Netflix called Hitler’s Children. It consists of interviews with and presentations of descendants of some of the highest-ranking Nazis. None are literally Hitler’s descendants, of course, but they include descendants or close relatives of Himmler, Goering, and Höss, mostly two generations removed.

I wanted to find something to bridge the huge difference between the Germany that I know and the Germany of the Nazis, and I found something of that. It was hard to watch. All of the people presented had repudiated and spoken against their Nazi forbears, but they mentioned having relatives who just wanted to forget the whole thing, or in some cases who still supported the Nazis. I’m sure there were many more people who wanted no part in the documentary than agreed to be in it.

What did I learn from it? One thing was that the distance between ordinary daily life and monstrous actions can be very small. The family of a concentration camp commander lived right outside it and lived a normal life, paying little attention to it. Some people had the truth concealed from them; one woman’s mother told her that her father governed a “work camp,” not a death camp, and she learned the truth only years later from a survivor of the camp.

I saw that these were Germans not very different from ones I know, closely connected without choice to people who’d done horrible things and having to deal with it. That’s not quite right; they had the choice to deal with it or ignore it, and others in their families had chosen to turn their backs on it. By speaking about it, they showed that blood isn’t destiny (one of them explicitly made that point) and helped me to understand what Germans have to bear.

Usually I go through a bunch of edits on my posts, but I’m going to put this up in one shot, then go off and see if I can stop shaking.

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Tote bags for Tomorrow’s Songs Today are here!

These were on my doorstep when I came back from a walk. Some of them will be going out soon as perks for people who supported my IndieGoGo campaign, a few will become gifts, I’ll keep one or two for myself, and I’ll be offering any that are left for sale at filksings or at Boskone.

Tote bag for Tomorrow's Songs Today

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Your doctor doesn’t care about you

Recently I had routine outpatient surgery to remove a scalp cyst. I’ve had a number of these done before, so I didn’t consider it a huge deal. Today, though, I got a bill telling me that my insurance covered less than half the cost, and I owe hundreds of dollars. This is annoying because on the one hand, the options for avoiding these situations are few, but at the same time I wasn’t paying attention. While I was working at Harvard I had top-class insurance coverage, which meant I never owed more than a few dollars, and I got careless. I still have insurance, but it’s a lower level of coverage.

The problem is that our health care system has turned into one where the patient isn’t the doctor’s customer or even the insurance company’s customer, but the product. Lopsided tax incentives, and now Obamacare’s tax on the uninsured, pressure everyone to get insurance from their employers if at all possible, and laws require that they provide very broad coverage. People believing that they’re entitled to have their medical bills paid (the recent righteous demands for mandating birth control coverage are a case in point) add to the push. Today I talked to someone who told me his health insurance should be free. I said, “You want me to pay for it.” He said, “No, I mean free!” Magical thinking is America’s leading political philosophy.

Doctors assume you’re covered by insurance and don’t take the cost into account when making referrals. The doctor who performed the procedure is a plastic surgeon; if I’d been thinking more carefully, I’d have realized that would mean a large bill and asked some questions. For the cyst before that, I was in a hospital operating room, with an anesthesiologist standing by doing nothing, but I was at Harvard at the time and my insurance paid everything but a token copayment. Or maybe the insurance compensation was so low because the doctor performed the procedure in his office instead of an operating room and I’d have been better off financially with the full surgical team. It takes a greater expert than me to know. In any case, the lack of economic connection between patient and payment have made costs rise at escape velocity.

Have you ever tried to get a quote from a doctor? I need to push harder for that next time, but from what I’ve heard, it’s impossible to get one that’s more precise than a factor of ten between the low and high ends.

For me a bill that size is an inconvenience. For people with no income at all, they may not get great treatment, but their bills will be paid for. The people who get squeezed the worst are self-employed people with low incomes, such as a lot of musicians. It’s not uncommon for them to get stuck with huge bills that threaten to ruin them financially. Upper middle-class progressives have driven medical costs up with their “I wannit” philosophy, and the people in the lower income brackets get hit hardest.

I need to learn how to ask the questions that doctors don’t want to answer. It has to be possible to grab some measure of control back, even if it takes a lot of work.

A god who must die

Muhammad saying "C'est dur d'être aimé par des cons."There is a god who needs to be destroyed. These days he most often assumes the name Allah, but he’s also the god behind the Jericho massacre, the Aztecs’ human sacrifices, Salem witch trials, the slaughter of the Huguenots, and doubtless many atrocities of religions I’m less familiar with. Even atheist Sam Harris paid homage to him in The End of Faith when he wrote, “Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them.” He is the god Holy Murder. He’s around wherever people accept the doctrine that the alleged words of a deity are the sole standard of right and wrong, or when they just want an excuse to kill people they can’t control.

Good will and courage are necessary to destroy him: enough good will to categorically reject the idea of killing people for the propositions they believe, and enough courage not to be silenced. It’s a mistake to concede any religion to him; as long as there are people within it who refuse to accept him as their god, they deserve support.

Je suis Charlie.

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Crowd stops police aggression

Here’s one of the most encouraging news stories of 2014, just before the deadline. Two cops approached a house in Delray Beach, Florida, intent on arresting some people for allegedly smoking marijuana. A visiting New York City resident reported that “people formed a semi-circle around police questioning them as to why they were there. When police started yelling at them, he said, the people became more agitated and began shuffling around.”

Police Sergeant Nicole Guerriero (whose name appropriately means “warrior”) said “were afraid of what could happen in the situation and called for backup.” Oh, really? They were the aggressors. All they had to do was leave. In the end, they did, though we don’t know what kind of retaliation they’ll engage in now.

The people who obstruct shoppers and commuters when protesting police abuse could learn a lesson from this group, which had the courage to stand up to the police instead of taking it out on somebody safe.

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