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5th-Dec-2013 11:11 am - He should know better!

No idea what this guy is talking about.  There is nothing modern at Pennsic.  Nothing at all.  NO sci-fi nor fantasy fandom related either.  No top 40 pop on stage at official Pennsic productions, no elf ears, no modern costumes nor mundane clothes.  Never has been.  Never will be.  Not one bit.  Not ever.

Ask me how I know.


posted by David Friedman @ 1:40 PM

Creeping Mundanity at Pennsic

(This post is about the SCA, a historical recreation group with which I have been involved for many years—readers unfamiliar with it can get some of the context from essays of mine in the Miscellany, a book my wife and I self-publish.)
Over the years, Pennsic has gotten both better and worse. There is an increasing amount of period mass entertainment such as the shows put on by the commedia del arte troupes, more interesting period work at the A&S exhibition and in the university classes and, I think, a gradually rising ratio of period tents to modern tents. But I think there is also a gradual increase in the acceptance of strikingly out of period things at Pennsic, including entirely unnecessary ones.
The clearest example of the latter this year was the sign, shown below, outside the lost and found tent. It is a reference to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a popular science-fiction book that not only has nothing to do with the middle ages or the SCA but deals with subjects such as aliens, space travel, and the like, strikingly inconsistent with what the SCA is about. There were other references to the book scattered about the Pennsic pamphlet and elsewhere, all inspired by the fact that this was Pennsic 42 and the number 42 has a special significance in Hitchiker, but this one was obvious even to someone who had never heard of the book. The population of the world was not 6.8 billion at any point in SCA period and if it had been it would not have been expressed in exponential notation.

My conclusion was that at least some of the people responsible for running this year’s Pennsic viewed the SCA as part of science fiction fandom. It is, I suppose, an understandable mistake for someone heavily involved in fandom—sf cons often have SCA demos at them, after all. But it is still a mistake. There has always been a substantial overlap between the two groups, but also many people in the SCA who have no connection to fandom; my impression is that the fraction of such has increased over time. Perhaps more important, the spirit of the two groups is very different. The SCA centers on recreation of real world history, fandom on fiction. Wearing elf ears at an sf con is entirely appropriate, clearly inappropriate (which is not to say it does not happen) at an SCA event. Discussions of modern science and technology fit into a con but not an SCA event.
I found the sign particularly disturbing because it not only clashed with the medieval ambiance, it implied that such clashing was not merely tolerable but a good thing, part of what was being presented by the people running the event. It is hard to see how members of the Pennsic staff can object to elf ears or insist that “You can keep a trailer in your encampment for storage or living space, but it must be disguised to look period” (from the Pennsic web page) when they themselves are going out of their way to present something strikingly out of period.
There is always a temptation, in the SCA context, to make a joke out of the contrast between medieval and modern, as in songs about an SCA knight in chain mail going through an airport metal detector. Such jokes might have been funny the first ten or twenty times they were made, but that was decades ago. And every such joke makes it that much harder for participants to imagine, even for a little while, that they are actually in the middle ages—something that is, I think, part of the attraction of the SCA, what some people like to describe as the magic.
There are other ways in which the activities of the people running Pennsic subverted the medieval ambiance and endorsed other people ignoring or subverting it. There may be good reasons why some staff people need walkie-talkies, but they ought to be used with a bad conscience, as unobtrusively as possible. There may be reasons why golf carts must occasionally be used for transportation but I find it hard to imagine any good reason why they should be nearly as common as they are. Now that practically everyone has a cell phone, all it takes is one security station somewhere, preferably out of sight, with a couple of golf carts and a few people, to make it possible to get security staff to any point at Pennsic where a problem requiring them arises. As best I can tell, security at Pennsic mirrors in miniature one problem of urban policing—that driving around in a police car is pleasanter than walking a beat but does less to discourage crime. Riding around in a golf cart is not only less work than walking, it marks you as a privileged individual—and humans like status.
So far I have been talking about mundanity creeping in at the top. The situation at the bottom, among ordinary participants, is more complicated. On the one hand, an increasing fraction of participants who cannot walk very far or up and down hill and so require some sort of transport make the effort to pretend that their motorized wheelchairs and similar devices are horses, with suitable modifications. It is not a very good solution, but it may well be the best solution practical.
On the other hand, my impression is that ornamental mundanity, things obviously inappropriate to the medieval ambiance done not for convenience but for show, is becoming increasingly common. The picture shows one example—an encampment one of whose structures was outlined in electric lights.
Within the SCA, any attempt to maintain a medieval ambiance is under pressure from two directions. One is the fact that doing things in a period way is often harder and less convenient than doing them in a modern way—one reason why, outside the SCA, modern technology exists. A Coleman stove is less trouble to turn on, turn off, and cook over than a campfire. A flashlight is a more convenient device than a candle lantern. If we insisted on doing everything in as completely period a way as possible we would do very little and there would be very few of us doing it—the mistake I think of as making the best the enemy of the good. The least unsatisfactory response to that problem, in my view, is to regard mundane conveniences as a necessary evil to be minimized but not eliminated—while at the same time using the problem of how to minimize them, how to provide period alternatives, as a valuable spur to learning more about how medieval people lived.
The second source of pressure is the attraction of the cheap joke. Learning enough about past societies to make medieval or renaissance humor—for example, commedia del arte performances—requires some effort. Wearing elf ears or making jokes about dragons does not. It is unfortunate but not, I think, surprising, that individual participants often yield to to the temptation. It is disturbing when the people running the event do so.

20th-Dec-2011 10:26 am - Random and Various
Getting the ShadowCon booklet put together,  handmade cards for folks who asked for 'em are going out today, and more loaves of beer bread than you can shake a blurry stick at were baked for work potlucks (both hubbie and self!)

Baking adventures abound as I tried my first ever cake for public consumption, with acceptable results, if I say so myself. Grey Niche X-mas party had Ammaretto and Buttercream, apricots and raspberries, and it was pretty if nothin' else.  need a pinch of salt in the frosting for next time, and perhaps whipped cream, as suggested by my chef buddy Vinnie.

Eye on the future - GW stuffs feel like the days when I'd take Nikko to the dog park in Overton, and let her launch.  Sure, it felt like pure tangible sunshine to hug her close, the penultimate hug of hugs, but then again, watching her run and play made my heart soar.    If only all the other transitions in life could be this smooth.  Imagine changing mundane jobs with a smile and an easy hand-off of notes.  Imagine moving from house to house with the click of a mouse and a few happy e-mails.

Seriously considering whether or not to throw my hat into the ring for baronial A&S officer.  Been happy to serve as duct tape while the current officer tended to matters far more important (getting her degree! huzzah!)  but I didn't really view it as a permanent gig, for a variety of reasons.  Told her I'm happy being Deputy Z,  why rock the boat?  Also gonna close out the baronial herbal guild and recommend that everyone on the list just go join the kingdom one.  zero activity for a year makes it pretty clear.

Possible site work down on the coast next week.  need to hear back from both the weather report and my co-peeps in site improvement before putting that plan into concrete.  ha ha ha .  get it.  'cause we'd be setting posts in concrete if we go.

signs.... need to work on those "Al Mahala This Way"  signs that Edwina wanted.  never did get around to doing that
19th-Oct-2011 10:04 pm - Did I mention that it was cold
Work day concluded, changed to jeans, picked up Vincenzo to make supply run
to Occupy Memphis. We gave blankets, hot packs and other supplies donated by ShadowCon Staffers to the chilled heroes, and on the way back to return Vincenzo
to his abode, we passed a demolished church and scored many many bricks
for completing walkway in front yard.

We thought we had to ask permission from the overall-wearing men who were onsite, but found out they were fellow scavengers - scrap metal and wires. Every penny counts when you are the 99%

11th-Oct-2011 02:53 pm - Time to say

Tried to come up with a wordy essay to tackle the topic of learning to brag.

After considerable time spent trying to find flowery phrases that are both humble and happy, I can not come up with anything other than to give a list, and if some bragging spills out, so be it.  It was not all acheived by the puny sweat of my brow alone, so when I brag, I brag on a team.

G.W. classes and activities for the last few years:  win-win.   The word win appears twice because not only was our schedule full and our course offerings and activities innovative and interesting to the populace, but also, the win was behind the scenes, too.   Specifically, the drama and .... ahem.... personality clashes.... managed to settle down and behave themselves, leaving everyone to simply enjoy their vacation week in March, as it should be. 

Two years running of perfection, built upon three prior years of ever-improving, ever-growing ambitions and projects, is plenty good for me.  Mission accomplished; what's the next assignment? 

Well, I have a landcrat offer that I am considering, an exchequer offer that I am honored to have received but must humbly decline, and the amazing prospect of an A&S office that is turning out to be quite fun.  I also have now membership in the Order of the Silver Lamp, and while receiving that recognition is both an honor and a treat for me, the membership also comes with the implication that I am an artisan and/or scholar of some kind, and not merely the wrangler of them.   For all the offers of offices, perhaps my chance is now to spend a little less time on administrative duties, and a bit more time actually getting my hands dirty.

And such dirt to get into.  From the saffron crocus crop now on it's 3rd year in my garden (yet still never worked up into an entry), to the full-on historically accurate living history environment demo that Mistress R. keeps encouraging me to enter, to the viking garb I've inexplicably started researching and entering at events, there's stuff I'd like to be doing now. 

On a more personal note, once my fears get conquered, and make no mistake- this job certainly provided a couple of large big bad paper tigers for me to face down - once I get them conquered, well, why stay and do the same'ole same'ole?  Sure, enjoy the hum of a nicely repaired engine for a while, but geez, no reason to hang around and gloat. 

For those looking to say something nasty (and aren't there always those few?), this isn't casting off an undesirable job.  I've enjoyed it tremendously, and the connections and friends I've made in the process I wouldn't trade for a bucket of gold.  Time to face facts tho:  in most Gulf Wars positions, three years, not five, is the norm.  I'm ready to rotate around, (have you seen the size of my hips?  When I rotate around, I really rotate a ROUND).  I'm ready to make A&S entries and teaching my SCA focus for a while.  I'm ready to get into other things.

Or, in the inimitable words of John Hodgman:

"You're Welcome."


16th-Sep-2011 09:12 pm - and now?
So does the story end here?  Actually, Stephen's employment quest will go on.  This meager-waged dead end spot actually pays less than Stephen's unemployment check,  and the cost of parking is astronomical.  Thankfully, he enjoys the work, and if they keep accomodating his class schedule, it will be just the thing til finishing the degree.  While it may pay as much, and offer fewer benefits, as compared to slinging french fries, it is what is needed for now.

Employment issues, as you can imagine, have become a bit of an issue for me.  Just the whole "unemployed need not apply"  trend is mind-boggling, the latest in a long list of deliberate decisions that corporations have made to damage this country, to drive wages down and to turn us against each other, scrabbling and fighting for crumbs.   Needless scrabbling, of course, as the top 2% withhold jobs, resources and every opportunity in every corner that would make the difference for billions of us.  Take a look sometime at legislation that's targeting small farms, small dairies, small businesses - and follow the money to see which multinational CEO's are sponsoring it.  Yeah, 'cause some family with a couple acres selling heirloom tomatoes are such a threat to fucking Moasanto and Kraft. 

My house has tubbies of fabric and garb, piles of games, books and magazines, rooms too cluttered to actually use - and we are therefore labled as "in need of help".   A friend of mine kept over 30 dogs, rather than kill off any un-showable or un-sellable puppy from purebred GSD litters - she was labled and they came in and took each and every single dog away, sellng them for their own profit, or killing them when they wouldn't sell.  So hoarders are bad people, right?

When are they going to stage an intervention with the top 2%, hoarding all that money and opportunity?   I volunteer to hold my nose,  put on the paper suit, rubber gloves and help load the truck.  
Today Stephen began his first day of full-time employment - first time in 20.5 months.  

I am delighted that he has a job at all, delighted that the job is vaguely within his field, and really delighted that they are willing to tweak the schedule a smidgen so that he can still go to school.   Not quite so delighted at the cost of his commute, not cheerful that pay is what it is - far lower than what he had been making before - and downright speechless to find that there are no benefits, but it is indeed a full time position, M-F.    In this completely corporate-controlled country we now live in, I should just be glad he's not paid in script, or company-store tokens. 

For those who want to slap me for my lack of gratitude, get over it.  Yes, my husband has a job.  Yes, it's a job with some good points, and some bad points, and that is what it is.  It's good.   It is good.  It's good, not great.  But it's good.
I can't do much, but at least I can say when I was wrong.  So here goes:

I owe some friends of mine an apology.  And another one a happy welcome back.

Smart Friends of Mine Who Shall Remain Nameless:  You were right.  Keep the door open.  Burn no bridges.  Shrug off offenses that were given, and look to the future.  My reaction was to dig a hole and hide in it - I just wanted to run away from what was happening and never ever see or deal with any of the parties involved ever ever again.  Your reaction was to stay calm and hold out your ever-open hand of friendship.  I called you "soft" and "naive".  You were actually right.

Returning Friendly Acquaintance of Mine Who Shall Remain Nameless:  Welcome back.  Stephen will be so glad to see you again.  So will all your brothers.
21st-Mar-2011 12:12 pm - Best. Year. for Classes. Evah.
Just wanted to send out the kudos to people who made this the most successful Al
Mahala class schedule ever, and I say that with no exaggeration. With more than
37 instructors and over 75 classes, there were less than 3 cancellations, a
nearly spotless record that has Al Mahala being the envy of other class areas.
Huzzah! Huzzah!

Thank you instructors, each and every one of you, and extra thanks to those of
you teaching multiple sessions! Best. Year. for Classes. Evah.

Also extra thanks to people who put forth so much effort improving the camp,
either with the annual fixtures, such as the lighting and all the carpets on the
dance floor, or with permanent camp improvements like the fence posts and
earthen oven. This team of dedicated folks includes Sir Asad, Tom, Al, Morgan,
Bryce (please forgive any mis-spellings), Jeremy, Mitch, Eckhart, Amina and
Brioninin. Special mention must be given to Karadeniz, who did his share of the
digging and shlepping twice over and then came back and dug and packed and moved
stuff even more - easily three times more than his share of the chores, only to
have to leave early! All of Al Mahala is deeply indebted to you, Dennis.

I must also sing some huge praises to Majda and her crew, who organized the
advertising for the events, coordinated with the musicians, AND took on some
dirty messy jobs in setting up the main tent to be a beautiful public space.

There's so many other people to thank - where to start? Even tho they aren't Al
Mahala staff, these folks did the little things that made Al Mahala the place
that it was this year: T'shya, Ananda and Catriona, you three bring not only all
your efforts, but a special aura and air about you that is both instructive and
entirely unforgettable. So too, the gracious donations and assistance from
Willemina and Mistress Isolde in support of the Social - I am speechless with
humble gratitude.

Neighbors! Falcon Rose continues to be a good neighbor in both deed and spirit
- we can't make it without you, the warmth from your encampment is like the sun.

Of course, all hats (and turbans) are off in tribute to Edwina, who has slaved
like no other to put this all together - what can be said for the glue that
holds it all together, the foundation of the entire empire?

There are certainly others, if my typing today has missed anyone, please be
gentle with the reprimand, I do not want to leave anyone out.

In Service,
17th-Feb-2011 03:30 pm - not as if the deck is stacked... nah.
So Stephen is in school, loving every minute of it.  Unfortunately, could only afford part time classes for him, next semester, maybe he'll qualify for a loan or federal funding.

In the meantime, this is what he has to look forward to.  (he's already run into this problem in his job search)


In 2008, Michelle, a 53-year-old Illinois resident with 19 years experience in information technology, became another casualty of the Great Recession. More than a year later, after a long and fruitless job search, she finally heard from a headhunter who thought she sounded like a great fit for a post he was looking to fill.

But when Michelle told him how long she had been out of work, the headhunter turned apologetic: His client, he said, wouldn't accept people who had been unemployed for more than six months. Michelle would go on to stay jobless for so long that she ultimately exhausted all her unemployment benefits, and, for the first time in her life, was forced to apply for food stamps and welfare.

Michelle's tale was recounted at a recent Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) meeting devoted to the issue of hiring discrimination against the unemployed. As the commission found, Michelle's experience is far from unique. No one officially tracks how many job openings explicitly bar the unemployed, but several news reports since last summer have uncovered numerous online job postings that require candidates be employed during the application process. One such listing was posted by the cellphone giant Sony Ericsson--a move the company later called a "mistake."

Job-placement professionals say that over the last year, more and more employers have made it clear they won't consider job candidates who aren't working. "A lot of our recruiters have had clients who have come across this," Matt Deutsch of TopEchelon.com, which brings recruiters together to collaborate in finding jobs for candidates, told The Lookout, calling the practice "unfortunate."

With the number of Americans who have been out of work for six months or longer at a whopping 6.2 million, and with 4.7 unemployed workers for every job opening, advocates for the jobless say this growing form of hiring discrimination creates another hurdle for the increasingly desperate ranks of the unemployed.

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