Wednesday, June 28, 2006

His Majesty Godwine and Fencing

A lot of people from the SCA have been finding their way to the Saga to get some information on His Royal Majesty, King Godwine of Meridies, because of the article I wrote about His coronation a few months ago. These visitors have come from threads on a couple of SCA message boards (the Drachenwald forums and Armour Archive forums), where His Majesty’s actions regarding fencing in Meridies are being discussed.

I’ve been hesitant to comment on this situation, because I’ve only heard second- and third-hand reports of what happened, but people who were actually involved have been describing their views on the forums, and I think both sides have now had the opportunity to present their stories. Besides, I don’t particularly like the idea of keeping my mouth shut because I’m afraid to say anything.

The controversy started when His Majesty (then still the Crown Prince) announced that there would be no Queen’s Rapier Champion during his reign. Such a choice is certainly His Majesty’s prerogative (assuming that Her Majesty is in agreement, I suppose), and this would hardly be the first reign since the creation of the award to not have a rapier champion. Nonetheless, the statement was upsetting, especially because of the way in which the news was originally passed on to the fencing community via a mailing list message from the Kingdom Rapier Marshal.
Greetings Rapier fighters of Meridies, and the others on this list. It is my sad duty to pass on to you all that their Royal Highnesses do not wish to have a Rapier Champion. Further They request that rapier not occur near them.
Perhaps His Majesty did not realize it because this is his first time as King, but when you wear a Crown on your head, all of your statements tend to be regarded as Royal Edicts. Consequently, reaction to this message from the fencing community prompted an official explanation from His Majesty, which was published on SCA Today. He said...
I am receiving news from all over the Known World that I have quashed fencing in Meridies. Let me be clear! This is not true! We will not be sponsoring fencing during our reign, and we will not have a fencing champion during our reign. I do not fence. I do not enjoy watching fencing. I have personal views on the safety of fencing and its place in the SCA as it currently performed, but these are my personal views which are not manifested in my royal prerogative. I do not wish to negatively impact fencing in Meridies.
His Majesty is not obliged to enjoy or support fencing, of course, but to say he is not going to sponsor fencing, to imply that it is unsafe, and to question its place in the SCA all in the same paragraph in which he says that he does not wish to negatively impact fencing in the Kingdom seems contradictory. The implication that fencing is not safe is particularly offensive to the fencing community and its marshals, especially since I am not aware of any evidence that fencing is less safe than any other martial activity in the SCA.

A more recent incident involving a member of the Order of the Meridian Blade has stirred even more unrest. I am not a member of the Order, so I can’t say with certainty what instructions they received from the Crown at the Order’s creation at Gulf Wars XIV. It is my understanding that the Crown instructed the original members of the Order to each found separate schools of fencing and organize them as they saw fit. Lord Ricarte Berenguer Halcon, for example, organized his school – La Gran Companiya – along the lines of a military organization, with himself as Captain and his students as privates, unit commanders, and champions. Other members of the Order had different plans, with the intent – as I understand it – to have a variety of Meridian traditions of fencing rather than adopt a particular tradition from another kingdom. I’m stating this because some posters on the message boards have said that the Order was overdue in specifying a single tradition for training and proposing new candidates, when I am not aware of them ever receiving such an instruction.

One member of the Order apparently decided to model his school after the White Scarf orders of other kingdoms, probably because he is himself a cadet to a White Scarf from Trimaris. Given the history of fencing in Meridies, the fencer might well have expected resistance from some members of the heavy fighting community and the Crown. According to message board posts, at least some people got the impression that he was trying to single-handedly force Meridies into the White Scarf Treaty. Given the context, I would have to say that using the trappings of the White Scarfs without consulting the Crown in advance was a bad idea, even though there are no specific Kingdom or Society laws against doing so.

That the Crown took offense at the fencer’s actions is not a problem. That His Majesty decided to put a stop to them is not a problem. How His Majesty chose to act on the matter is a problem, in my opinion. As I was not directly involved, I will not go into great detail: you can get information from people who were more directly involved from the linked message boards (particularly the thread at Armour Archives). The issue that bothers me is that His Majesty -- according to the KRM of the time -- held the entire fencing community hostage by threatening to ban fencing kingdom-wide in order to force an uncooperative individual to give up his fencing authorization. I have my own “personal views” as to whether such behavior is chivalrous or becoming of royalty.

I can only hope that we, as a Kingdom, can learn something from this drama. I think the Kingdom will be better off if prominent fencers think more carefully before taking such obviously provocative actions. I also think that the Crown should show more sensitivity to the feelings of its subjects in their pursuit of the Dream, whether the Crown personally enjoys those pursuits or not. I think both parties failed the Kingdom in this situation.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Psychic Interview

Brad Guigar has a wonderful cartoon about interviewing a psychic for a staff position at Evil, Inc. I think this is how all interviews with psychics should go. Get over there and check it out.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Skeptics' Circle 37

Autism Diva has posted the 37th Skeptics' Circle, "Live from the Bermuda Triangle". Exercise your little gray cells.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Advice from the Doctor

This little quote is dedicated to creationists, global warming deniers, Ann Coulter, and the Bush administration.

"The very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common. They don't alter their views to fit the facts. They alter the facts to fit their views."

-- Doctor Who, "The Face of Evil"

The Origins Debate Goes to the Stars

Thanks to Red State Rabble for bringing this VG Cats cartoon to my attention. I don't normally read VG Cats, but I may have to start.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

More Free Advertising for Futile Efforts

According to the Hollywood Report (via Yahoo News), Court TV is producing yet another show about psychic crime-solvers.

The premise of this spellbinding but nonetheless familiar-looking series, "Haunting Evidence," is simple: If ordinary detectives in small-town (or even big-city) America can't solve a simple murder case, then maybe Court TV can.

"Haunting" takes years-old cold murder cases and puts a new team of experts on the scene: psychic profilers, paranormal investigators and psychic mediums.

Together they solve cases that regular folk have not been able to up to this point.

It will be interesting to see how they spin the total lack of progress on these cases from psychic sources into some kind of endorsement of psychic investigators. Historically, psychics have never contributed any substantive evidence to any criminal case, despite their numerous claims (see the Wikipedia article on psychic detectives). I mean, look at their track record...

  • PsiTech reported that kidnap victim Elizabeth Smart had been killed, only to have her later found alive.
  • Psychics have been completely useless in the search for Natalee Holloway.
  • When 12 miners were inaccurately reported to have survived a West Virginia coal mine accident in January, Sylvia Browne promptly confirmed the report during a live radio interview. Unfortunately, the report was backwards; twelve miners had died.
  • Psychics couldn’t even find the lost show dog Fifi, who escaped her travel cage after the AKC Dog Show.
Psychic crime-solvers are an amusing bit of modern fantasy that the TV-viewing public takes way too seriously. In real life, they are utterly useless. This show will just be free publicity for people who are, at best, deluded or, at worst, con artists.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006


We bottled up the Amarone on Sunday. I’m a bit apprehensive, since in preparing for the bottling I discovered that the water level in the airlock had fallen to the point that it wasn’t really locking any more. Exposure to free oxygen is bad for wine in a number of ways.

To combat the possibility of oxidation and/or bacterial action in the wine, we added sulfites before bottling. This is something we were actually going to do anyway, since the kit instructions said that the wine wouldn’t age well unless some such measures were used to help preserve it. I had a taste as we bottled, and it seems sound, but it also had that “just added sulfites” taste, so I hope that drops away soon.

We’ll be looking to start a couple more batches of wine in the next few weeks; probably a Concord-Muscadine and a Maywine.

Evil Genius

I found an amusing little computer game called Evil Genius at Big Lots over the weekend. It’s a Real-Time Strategy game with the basic premise that you’re a James Bond-style villain trying to take over the world. It appeals to my fiendish little heart, and apparently it appeals to my wife’s as well, since she’s playing it, too. Not bad for a $4.00 purchase.

Evil Genius is a product of Sierra Software, and there’s a website for the game at The game apparently had some problems that required a patch (which I’ve already installed), and it still has a tendency to crash; I suspect these flaws may have kept it from being a big success, but it’s so much fun that I think it deserves a sequel from Sierra with some additional features, like some customization of your villain (currently you just choose one of three) and multi-player capabilities.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Contrapasso on Video

As I mentioned before, Lady Francesca and I performed Contrapasso for the Kingdom Arts & Sciences competition. I was quite pleased to hear from Lord Lorenzo Petrucci the next day that he had made a video recording of the performance and put it on the internet for me to download. I've uploaded the video to a Blogger post for your viewing pleasure.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Insight from Judge Jones

Red State Rabble put me onto an excellent article in the Philadelphia Inquirer about Judge John Jones, who presided over the Kitzmiller vs Dover case in which he found teaching Intelligent Design as an alternative to the Theory of Evolution to be unconstitutional. There’s a certain set of the public who think that judges should make whatever ruling is most popular with the masses. To quote the judge...
If a poll shows a majority of Americans think we should teach creationism in schools, we should just go with the flow?
And the simple answer to that question is, of course, no, as the judge actually says earlier in the article...
It's a bit of a civics lesson, but it's a point that needs to be made: that judges don't act according to bias or political agenda.
I think the real lesson that certain segments of the public need to learn is a particular decision is not necessarily right just because it’s popular.

It’s not a judge’s job to please any political constituency; a judge’s job is to apply the law fairly to each case as it’s presented in the courtroom. I think the founders of this country understood the need for an independent judiciary; that’s why the Constitution requires federal judges to be appointed instead of elected.

I ask you: who is more likely to protect the rights of a minority, a politician who needs to please his electorate in order to keep his position or an appointed judge who only answers to the law itself (as interpreted by a higher judicial authority, when needed)?

That’s why we need an independent judiciary. That’s why appointed judges aren’t accountable to the person who appoints them. The fact that Judge Jones was appointed by a Conservative Christian Republican President (George W. Bush) does not mean that he must or should make rulings to please Conservative Christian Republicans: that would be unacceptable “judicial activism”. When it comes to how he makes his judicial decisions, Judge Jones doesn’t owe George Bush anything.

Another Know-it-All ID Creationist

A commenter named Christopher at Jason Rosenhouse's Evolutionblog posted a series of questions which he must surely think is devastating to the Theory of Evolution. What it really shows is a lack of understanding of the theory, a lack of serious thought about the questions, and a complete lack of imagination (since all of these questions have been answered before).
How did the gecko develop its outstanding ability to climb? Were the hairs on its toes useless up until the time they were just right? Why haven't a host of other lizards developed such a beneficial ability?
Any competent biologist could tell you that geckos evolved their ability to stick to sheer surfaces over many generations. Their “sticky hairs” that cling by van Der Waals force had some value for climbing, which became better in later generations. Other lizards don’t have this ability because they aren’t descended from the gecko ancestor in which this feature first appeared. The gecko family of reptiles is evidence for evolution, not against it.
How did the bombardier beetle slowly evolve such a dangerous mechanism without obliterating itself into extinction? If the chemicals were not just the right strength or right ingredients, or if the control valve did not close when the explosion took place, think of the consequences. If the mechanism didn't work until fully formed, think of the extra baggage it would have been.
The bombardier beetles “explosive” chemical defense isn’t really that explosive, and the basic chemicals (hydrogen peroxide and hydroquinone) aren’t all that dangerous. To paraphrase Michael Wong, the “bomb” is more like a hot fart. The chemicals that go into this defense are found in many other insects, where they serve completely different functions; the bombardier beetle family simply evolved a useful way to put them together. There are, in fact, many different species of bombardier beetle with varying degrees of sophistication in their “explosive” delivery systems. The fact that such variation in the mechanism exists blows Christopher’s “if the mechanism didn’t work fully formed” argument right out of the water.
How did the hummingbird develop into such a high-metabolic bird? Why are there not many other birds similar to it? What fossils do we have that show its gradual development into what we know them as today?
The hummingbird line of descent evolved into what they are today because of the resources they exploited and the means they used to do it. Even a light bird can’t easily feed on nectar from a flower by landing on it; very few flowers will support even that light amount of weight. Thus, those that could hover long enough to get a meal from a flower could exploit this resource more effectively, and successive generations evolved to improve their nectar-feeding abilities. And let’s not forget that many flowering plants started to evolve to take advantage of these nectar-feeding birds. As for why there aren’t many other families with similar capabilities, the answer is simple: common descent. Birds that aren’t in the “family tree” of hummingbirds won’t spontaneously display hummingbird features; again, their restriction to a particular family line is evidence for the Theory of Evolution.
How did the giraffe slowly develop such a brain structure that would allow it to raise and lower its head without any problems? If they are the result of millions of years of evolution, wherein they grew longer and longer necks overtime in order to eat from the trees, why aren't there hundreds of other animals with such necks?
Obviously, the giraffe brain structure and circulatory system were evolving at the same time that the population was growing larger and longer in the neck to exploit trees as food sources. Does Christopher think each feature of a species develops independently of the others? Again, the lack of long-necked browsers in other family lines is evidence of common descent, not design. After all, wouldn’t a designer use this nifty feature in other lines and other places?
How did male seahorses ever evolve from non-pouch to pouch? Why would they ever develop a pouch in the first place? How did the eggs survive before the male ever developed a pouch, and who convinced the male to watch over the eggs once the pouch was developed?
OK, I’ll admit it: I don't know all the answers. Seahorse reproduction does seem kind of backwards compared to that of other fish families. Of course, I would venture to say that the eggs of seahorse ancestors survived before the development of the pouch in much the same way that other fish eggs dropped in the wild survive today: numbers, location, and luck. The question of how females started dropping off eggs with the males instead of males dropping off sperm with the females is one for a biologist who actually studies seahorses, but it wouldn’t occur to Christopher to do some actual research. The fact that I don’t personally know the evolutionary answer doesn’t mean there isn’t one.
If the platypus developed from some type of rat millions of years ago, how did its fleshy snout develop into a leather bill? How did the electric sensors evolve where none existed before? And why do they lay eggs? Why don't many other mammals lay eggs?
Maybe you just meant it figuratively Christopher, but leather is chemically “tanned” flesh, and a platypus’ “bill” is not tanned: it’s a variety of fleshy nose. Electric sensors aren’t that odd in nature; many fish species also have them. Their reproductive system suggests that their line diverged from those of other mammals (like rats) early in the divergence of mammals from reptiles. “Legacy” features from long-extinct ancestors aren’t that unusual in nature; you might as well ask why whales have finger bones.
These are questions that some can imagine answers to, but such answers remain just that . . . imagination. An Englishman by the name of William Paley wrote nearly two centuries ago in his book, titled Natural Theology, that design requires a Master Designer. If someone found a pocket watch, he said, lying on the ground, he would reach the conclusion that it had been designed by a watchmaker. The order and design of the natural world, Paley reasoned, also points to the existence of an omnipotent Creator Designer.
Imagination is part of the bedrock of science, Chris. It takes imagination to develop a hypothesis for how or why anything happens. But science doesn’t stop with imagination; it requires experiments and observations to build evidence either supporting or refuting the hypothesis. The Theory of Evolution has well over a century of supporting evidence on its side, and if there were any legitimate refute, scientists would have already dropped it to look for an explanation that did fit the evidence. The demands for evidence that other scientists can examine quickly eliminate flawed hypotheses in a very evolutionary manner. Only the most accurate hypotheses survive to become theories.

As for the incredibly ancient Watchmaker argument, I’ll just link to one of the numerous online refutes of that stale old canard. It basically boils down to the following: if something is complicated it couldn’t have evolved, so it must have been designed, and we need not do any further investigating.

Monday, June 05, 2006

X-Men 3

My wife and I went to see X-Men 3 last Thursday. I would have posted about it earlier, but preparations for the Kingdom Arts & Sciences and Royal University of Meridies event prevented me from getting to the blog until after the weekend.

Let me start off by saying that X3 is an entertaining movie that’s well worth seeing. That said, X3 is a noticeable step down in quality from the two previous installments. There is at least one noticeable deviation in character development from the previous two films, and this movie has continuity problems of a sort not seen in its predecessors. I blame these issues primarily on the change in directors; I just don’t think that Brett Ratner “gets” X-Men the way that Bryan Singer did. Singer left the X3 project to direct Superman Returns, which I’m not even all that interested in seeing (based on the previews so far).

Before I get into real spoilers, I’ll also highlight a problem that Scott Kurtz brought up in regard to X2. Do the writers of these movies just not like the character of Cyclops? His role was small in X1, negligible in X2, and it’s practically non-existent in X3. He’s an important character in the comics: why is he such an afterthought in the movies?

And another non-spoiler question: what was the point of bringing Juggernaut into this movie? In the comics, he’s not even a mutant, and he really has no place in either of the movie’s main plots.

For my opinions with spoilers, look in the Comments.


The combined Kingdom Arts & Sciences and Royal University of Meridies event took place over the weekend in Americus, Georgia, on the campus of Georgia Southwest University. While some people have issues with sites where classes and activities are spread over a fairly large area (at least four different buildings at this event), I really didn’t find that it bothered me.

Lady Francesca and I entered the performing arts category of the A&S competition with Contrapasso, an Italian dance published in 1581 by Fabritio Caroso. I know there were some video cameras trained on the stage during the competition, so I’ll have to see if I can get clip of us performing the dance and host it somewhere. Contrapasso is a dance for an unspecified number of couples, and dancers get to interact with each other quite a bit during the dance. Caroso described the dance we did last year, Laccio d’Amore, as an “encounter”, which we took to be a sort of “first meeting” in our interpretation. We danced Contrapasso as a “courtly love” expression between two people who have a romantic interest that they can’t really pursue except on the dance floor. That should give a few gossips something to drone on about.

We scored 18 out of 20 this year, which is just about as good as we could have expected to score. We lost one point on difficulty, which is better than I expected, since Contrapasso really isn’t a terribly difficult dance, and I couldn’t increase the difficulty without learning Italian and doing the translation myself. We also lost one point on artistry for not being dressed appropriately for the period: Francesca and I both wore modern shoes. I guess the quest for period footwear will have to begin if we want to get that last point.

Mistress Miramah asked those of us who taught RUM classes (I taught Contrapasso and Ballo del Fiore for a 16th century Italian dance class) to write an opinion of how combining RUM with KA&S worked. I didn’t manage to get it to her at the event, so I’ll share it with the world (in addition to emailing her a copy).

While combining the A&S competition event (KA&S) with the A&S teaching and learning event (RUM) sounds good in principle, I don’t think it works very well logistically, especially for those of us involved in the performing arts. RUM needs experienced teachers, but the A&S competition ties up many potential teachers in performances and/or judging. Consequently, the dance class schedule at this event was pretty light; I don’t know how classes for other performing arts were affected. Furthermore, a lot of the performing arts entrants will miss the chance to attend RUM classes that they would like to take because of conflicts with the performing arts competition schedule. Where someone (like me) chooses to both teach a class and enter the competition, the combined event creates a further scheduling headache for the event organizers, who need to somehow reconcile potential conflicts between the class schedule and the performance schedule.

If attendance or a shortage of calendar dates is driving the desire to combine RUM with KA&S, my good Lady wife Fjorleif suggested that combining RUM or KA&S with some other event that was less likely to create conflicts might be more feasible. For instance, she suggested that either event might generate fewer logistical issues if combined with the Kingdom Fighters’ Collegium. I’m not sure whether that would be a good solution, but it is certainly another possible experiment.