The “discriminating” reader

Lately there’s been a really bizarre and disgusting notion going around. It’s a “challenge” to spend a year reading only books by people of specified racial or sexual characteristics. Its source is an article by K. T. Bradford, titled “I Challenge You to Stop Reading White, Straight, Cis Male Authors for One Year.” It wouldn’t be worth paying attention to except that I’ve seen others seriously discussing it. Now K. T. can read anything or not for any reason. It’s the “challenge” which is offensive.

K. T. Bradford (I think), warning you not to read Neil GaimanIf you accept Bradford’s advice, you have to start by deciding whether you’re allowed to read the article itself. Is K. T. a man or a woman, and of what skin shade? There are several pictures on the page which don’t actually say they’re of Bradford, but it seems likely; I’ve linked to one of the pictures so you can decide before clicking. Of course, anyone who’s taken the pledge can’t read this post either, so that really doesn’t help.

People who take the pledge will have to research the authors of every piece they decide to read. That will pretty much kill their reading for the year, thus solving the problem. Or there’s an easier way: You can let gatekeepers give you a list of permitted reading. Bradford is, just by chance, available to provide you that service. The article ends with “some reading list seeds to get you started.” Relying on Bradford and other gatekeepers of permitted literature is really the only way a serious reader would make it through the year without sinning.

The idea seems to appeal to some readers as a way to explore new material they might have otherwise missed. As a way to find new material to read, with ideas that might challenge their usual ways of thinking, seeking out authors off the normal path can offer value. But for Bradford, it’s the exact opposite of this. She’s retreating into her comfort zone:

Because every time I tried to get through a magazine, I would come across stories that I didn’t enjoy or that I actively hated or that offended me so much I rage-quit the issue. Go through enough of that, and you start to resist the idea of reading at all.

I can sympathize with wanting to avoid upsetting material; there are a lot of books I’ve given up on and a few I’ve tossed across the room. But she decided it was the race, sex, or sexual orientation of the writers that was upsetting her.

A discriminating reader will ask questions like: How good a writer is the author? What outlook on life do the author’s works present? For fiction, what kind of story do they tell and what kind of characters to they portray? For nonfiction, how good is the author’s research and presentation? But the “discriminating” reader, in a much uglier sense of the term, will ask: What’s the author’s skin color? Is the author male or female? What kind of sex does the author engage in? It’s the supermarket tabloid mentality.

Let’s judge authors by what they write, not by their appearance or private choices.

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Fundraising

I’m making plans for a fundraising campaign for a friend with serious medical issues. This turns out to be rather complicated if I don’t want to get hit with income tax on money that I’m not keeping. I’m not ready yet to reveal specifics; this post is about exploring this issues. If anyone knows more, please let me know.

Fundraising and gifts for an individual are not tax-deductible. If I collect the money and pass it through, the income is the recipient’s, not mine, but if I don’t carefully document that, the IRS could get nasty.

The plan is a crowdfunding campaign, and the key question is what account or accounts the money will go into. I’ve found an article on the Massachusetts Attorney General’s site which looks useful. It appears that opening a special bank account jointly with the recipient is the safest way to go. Commingling money with my personal funds can look bad, so I shouldn’t use my PayPal account; the recipient may have one, or we may have to go with credit cards only. There will be expenses, so I’ll need to have access to the money myself.

If you have suggestions, let me know. I already understand that comments don’t count as legal advice.

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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.

Here it is! The cover for Tomorrow’s Songs Today

Here it is at last: Matt Leger’s cover for Tomorrow’s Songs Today! This art will be reproduced on the tote bags and hard copy versions that are going to the book’s IndieGoGo supporters, and there will be a few more available.

Cover for Tomorrow's Songs Today

The cover by Matt Leger for Tomorrow’s Songs Today


Excellent work, Matt!

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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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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.

OVFF

I’ve just come back from the Ohio Valley Filk Festival, where I conducted fifteen interviews for Tomorrow’s Songs Today. They included people from the US, Canada, and Germany, who’ve had a significant role in the history of filk. I’ve now got more information, more perspectives, and more good quotes to include in the book.

Matt Leger has sent me a draft and a revision of the cover art. I really like it, and so did all the people I showed it to at OVFF. The final illustration will go on the tote bags and hard copy books, as well as the e-book. I’ll be making some extras of each available for sale as well as delivering the promised perks.

Terri Wells has started going over my drafts and delivering some very useful recommendations.

The project’s turning out to be a bit more work than I thought, just because people have been so enthusiastic about providing information, but it will be a better book for that. The book should be out before the end of January, which will let me deliver the perks on time.

Sadly, with all the interviewing, I didn’t sing even one song at OVFF, but I had a lot of fun. Your support on IndieGoGo helped make the 1500 miles of driving possible.

Philcon’s insecure online registration

While it’s the data breaches at big companies that make headlines, small operations are often the sloppiest. A few days ago I started to register for Philcon. The only option was online registration. I chose one adult full membership and was taken to the following URL:

http : //2014.philcon.org/index.php/component/hikashop/checkout?Itemid=131

(WordPress automatically turns anything that’s syntactically a URL into a link, so I’ve put spaces around the colon to prevent this.)

That page asks for either a login with an existing password or registration with entry of an existing password. In either case, the password will be sent as cleartext. This is seriously bad security for any site that’s handling money.

I wanted to see if it would do the same when asking for my credit card information. If it did, that would be egregiously bad security. Here, though, things just got weird. I entered clearly fake information, selected Visa for my payment method, and clicked to continue. This brought me to a page that had a message at the top, “You cannot access the private section of this site,” but was still allowing me to proceed. It claimed that I had chosen PayPal for my payment method. I tried going back but couldn’t find any way to change the payment method.

When I clicked on “Finish,” I was taken to a secure PayPal page, where I stopped. I went back to the Philcon site and found that my shopping cart had been cleared; at least that’s worth something as a security touch. I tried to log in again, and kept getting “You cannot access the private section of this site,” this time keeping me from going further. (If I entered the wrong password I got a different error message, so I had successfully registered and was using the right password.) As a further check, I tried logging in from two other browsers, first clearing all cookies, and got the same error message about the private section. I don’t know what the “private section” is or why the server thought I was trying to access it; maybe that’s where credit card payment happens if you can get there.

I would have been happy to register with a paper form, but the site didn’t provide one. A couple of days ago I learned from another person with the same problem that he was being told that no one else was complaining. I gave him permission to say I was complaining too, and now there’s an option to download the flyer. Philcon’s online registration is frighteningly buggy, so I recommend using the paper form.

See you at Philcon, if they don’t ban me for posting this.

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