Better than salt money

Work like you were living in the early days of a better nation

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Gerrymandering: Surprises lurk in the shadows


The House is, for all that every member is up for re-election every two years, not likely to flip to Democratic control any sooner than 2022, and probably not even then. The reason is simple, the party in power gets to stack the deck every time the census comes around. Gerrymandering doesn’t have to happen, the politicians do it that way to prevent random cases of democracy breaking out.

But there is no way to gerrymander the senate. Each state gets two senators, and they are elected at large. There is not way to rig the game to make sure one side isn’t given a fair chance to win.

The clearest example I know of is California.


Calif voting record









California is, by the numbers, a fairly blue state. 2/3rds of her voters voted for Obama.  What does her House delegation look like? These days it’s pretty close to those numbers; prior to the passage of Prop. 20, in 2008, that wasn’t the case.

What does that mean for the next president (who needs to have some support, somewhere, if anything productive is going to happen)?  That, as they say, depends. Incumbency is a pretty powerful thing. Lots of people say “turn the bums out”, but when pressed think their bum is ok.  I remember, some years back, being at a party. It was a party full of Quakers. Of liberal Quakers. Liberal Quakers who had David Dreier as their Representative.

The host of the party, a moderately liberal Quaker, had a David Dreier yard sign, in 2002. When asked why he said, “He’s done good things for Monrovia”.  That’s the power of incumbency.

But, lots of states have so gerrymandered their House districts that the Senate is at greater risk. Looking at the House Delegations (and remembering incumbency) seats look safer than they are.  But years of being disenfrachised, on the one hand, and the present level of disarray in the Republican Party had already put some Senate seats in moderate play.

Then Scalia died. The level of obdurate, obviously partisan, obstructionism the Senate got a huge spotlight.  The Senate, you see is supposed to be above that sort of thing (not that they have been for, at least 20 years) but before this they could appeal to the “Senate’s tradition of bipartisanship” and folks would believe it.  The real problem is there was a bout of this a few years ago, which was resolved with the “Gang of 14” who were supposed to see to it that, so long as no “extreme” judges were nominated, there would be “up or down votes” on nominees.

That failed. It very quickly became obvious that the definition of “Extreme” was anything to the left of Roberts.

But the public could ignore than when it was Federal judges being stymied. The crises at the district (and circuit) levels isn’t that visible to most people. The one time they pay attention to the recommendations of the Senate Judicial Committees is when there is a Supreme Court nominee.

Which couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Republican Party.

Because the question of who gets to appoint justices to the Supreme Court is usually theoretical. It’s something policy wonks worry about, but most people don’t watch the court closely enough to consider it. They see nominations as random. They don’t look at actuarial tables and wonder who is likely to die.  This year it’s right there, in the open.  And those blue states with Red Senators… suddenly have a big reminder of how much their vote matters.


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Making things

I have a Patreon, mostly to deal with writing about making things. I’m not sure how much political ramblings would go over. On the one hand, keeping different platforms for different things seems to be a recipe to let some things slide, on the other there is something to be said for keeping those things more likely to irritate paying customers to a minimum.

The other aspect is, of course, that I shall probably start to delay the release of things I write; so as to give some incentive to supporting most of what I have to offer, which is writing, and putting the political up on a delay seems counter to the purpose. I do know that having sat myself down to write about this and that was inspiring to write more about other things, so it’s also a case of habit (though I really don’t like the keyboard on the Dell Envy. I may fire up the Pavillion and use it as a writing platform; use this for games and photo editing).

So this isn’t going away, but if you like this, and feel like putting a bit in the tip jar, there’s now a place to do that.

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On Roosh and PR

Before it fades to the usual background, I have some thoughts about Roosh. Roosh wasn’t new to me, nor was the Manosphere. I’ve been aware of it since the middle-80s when “Father’s Rights” started becoming a thing.¹ In the intervening years I spent some time in the bowels of the internet, bearding some of these idiots in their dens. Which is where I first encountered Roosh the Doosh.²

Roosh is a scammer. He’s of the grifter mindset. He wrote a number of tracts on how to “Bang *insert country*”. They were banal examples of “How to Pick Up Girls” which mostly boiled down to, “go to someplace where your money buys more than it does here, and pretend to be rich”. This trick works. But that’s all it is, a trick. I’ve seen it play out in Ukraine, where the hotel I was staying in was being used for a “bridal fair”. The Americans who were there, were (in a word) repulsive. Women were things to buy, and poor women were the best of the best, because, “they would be grateful, and obedient, for fear of going back to poverty”.

That’s what Roosh sells. It’s why he struck out in Scandinavia and had to engage in rape in Iceland. Yes, rape. He not only admitted it, he said he knew it was rape when he did it, but, “having sex is what I do”.³ The problem for Roosh is that his business model is not great. He sells e-books about how to engage in power-tripping in places where Euros and Dollars go further. Not only is that a limited market, but it’s one with limited subjects. Unless you think the economic landscape in Poland, or Brazil has changed a lot, a new edition isn’t really going to sell.

It also costs money to do the “research”.

So a few years ago he decided to try converting to a different sort of guru. He started trying to sell social commentary. The problem was, that niche (telling angry white men how tough they have it because ANGRY FEMINISTS ARE DESTROYING THE WORLD) is full. AvFM is soaking up what money there is for that.

So Roosh went for shock. One of his tricks was to argue the problem with rape isn’t that it happens too much, but that women get to do something about it. He argued the way to “stop rape” was to make it too costly for women to be alone with men. He said that, on private property, rape should be legal. That way women would never allow themselves to be alone with men, so they would never get raped. Two birds with one stone. 1: Rape stats would fall. 2: the dread bogeyman of the PUA movement, “false rape” would disappear.

Non-PUAs noticed. That was when Roosh moved from annoying creep on the near fringes of the Manosphere, to What The Fuck, that Asshole is a Menace. He thought he’d hit the bigtime.

Because, for all they whine about Evil Feminists the MRM/PUA crowd don’t really think they matter. They think they feminism is a dead letter, because (like liberal) lots of people are afraid to self-identify as feminists (in part because assholes like Roosh gin-up hate mobs). They fail to take into account that a lot of the ideas of feminism are now seen as standards of decent behavior. This bit him in the ass when he decided to take his new schtick on the road for a series of seminars.

In Montréal he got hounded, pretty much shut down by people who didn’t like him telling his venues what sort of shit they were letting but space. Then he got seen in public, in a disguise. When he tried to put some moves on a woman in a bar, she tossed a beer in his face and he was chased out of the place.

He needed to regain some traction. Being shamed, by feminists (that some of the people chasing him out were male was even worse, this is a guy who thinks “do you even lift bro” is some sort of insult to other men. So he hit on the “Meet-ups”, and tried to riff on the Canada tour, which had some success before Montréal.

A lot of folks are talking about how either there was a great victory, because they were shut down, or a great failure because anyone paid attention. On the whole I think it’s a bit of both, but, in the short run, the pushback played into Roosh’s weaknesses, and he made lemonade. There was no way he was going to have more than 150 successful get togethers. He had four planned in NYC, and another one in Hoboken. There aren’t enough dyed in the wool MRA/PUAs to get more than 2-3 to show up to those. If he’d said he was having 20, and named 20 big cities, mostly in he the US, I might have thought it plausible.

Do I think he planned it all out? No. Honestly, I think he over reached. I’m guessing some 30-60 dudes said, “I’d be willing to host a meetup” and Roosh ran with it. Then he over-reached, assumed 1: all those dudes would actually do it (even with the best of intentions, and most willing of people, one needs redundancy to get that many disparate meet-ups going. Because people have lives). But he committed.

And got some pushback. I think that was a big part of the plan. I’m guessing he figured the pushback would be just enough to get the meet-ups talked about enough to spark interest. What he didn’t count on was how skittish MRA types (even more than PUA die-hards) are. I’m guessing the reaction started out well enough; with more dudes saying, “hell yeah! I’ll stick it to feminists!”, but then the volume of response, married to the ridiculous nature of, “Do you know where the pet shop is”, sooper-seekrit spy-shenanigans, caused even those few who had committed to it to waffle, or back out, and the flood of, “I’ll host in Topeka” types never showed.

So he got to save face, and gain some credibility with his base (because of the doxxing), rather than have to admit to an abject failure. I don’t think he planned that aspect of it. I think that was a fortuitos side effect of the years he’s spent being an offensive waste of carbon. In the long run, I don’t think he can last. His writing is getting more bitter. Less, “oh yeah, banging broads is easy” and more, “The world is shit and women are why”. Even if AvFM weren’t on the scene Roosh has neither the writing chops, nor the sort of backstory, which make converting that from a small base of angry fanboys to the sort of 30-60,000 dollars a year scam of AvFM.

He’s a one-trick pony, and this is pretty much his trick now. I don’t think he can keep racking up successful failures. So yeah, this could have gone a lot worse for him, but wasn’t a win.

¹Are there Men’s Issues that society needs to address? Yes. Are they what the Manosphere is talking about? Mostly no. For those that do matter are Men’s Rights Activists doing anything to improve things? No.

²I stopped needing to encounter them tertially when Dave Futrelle started his blog about the Manosphere, where I spent a fair bit of time, in the course of about five years. The nice thing about it was a pretty good commentariat, and a “honey-pot” aspect. LOTS of MRAs/PUAs/Bog Standard Misogynists/&c would show up to “teach the ladies” a thing or two. We had regulars, and intermittents, ad drive bys. Some, the NWOSlaves, and David Mellers, and Brandons were in turn ridiculous, terrifyingly comical, and depressing in their pathologies, and normalness. Others (the CrackMCees, and Peter-Nolan© types) were just ludicrous. Most were pathetically consistent in what, and how, they argued.

³He also seems to have engaged in rape in other places too. He admits to one in Poland, and has said he “can’t go back to Poland”. The implications are he left for fears someone reported him to the authorities for something.

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What Rubbish

It would appear that those who failed to game the system of the Hugos don’t read their own PR. Over at Black Gate there is a proposal for a new (name as yet to be determined) award. At first blush I say, “good on ’em.” If they don’t think the Hugos represent what they think should be praised in SF, I’m for it. We have lots of awards. The Rhysling (for poetry), the Prometheus (Libertarian), The Sidewise (alternate History) the Heinlein, the Asimov, The Locus, The Nebulas, the Nortons… regional awards, professional awards, really narrow category award (the Official Star Wars Film Awards).

One more award, is fine with me. It’s a good thing. I support fans getting together to express joy in what they like. It’s why I attend cons. It’s why I work on cons. It’s why I kick money to groups bidding for cons. It’s why I sit in bars with my friends and we end up talking about cons, and it’s why I write about cons. I’m a fan. Which is why I find this proposed award to be ridiculous.

The (insert name here) Awards

We the undersigned believe that those who recognize achievement in science fiction and fantasy (SF/F) have lost sight of the core question to be answered when evaluating a work in the genre: “Does it tell a good story?”

Therefore, we propose a new series of awards, to be named The (insert name here) Awards for Storytelling in Science Fiction and Fantasy, or the (insert name here) Awards for short.

The (insert name here) Awards will be granted as determined by SF/F fandom as a whole through a nomination, qualification, and election process managed initially by a committee of volunteers from across fandom. A Foundation shall be established and obtain recognition from the US Internal Revenue Service as a nonprofit corporation under the provisions of section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and the Foundation’s Board of Directors shall assume management of the Awards once it has done so.

The criterion for selection is simple: Does the work in question tell a good SF/F story? This is the focus of the (insert name here) Awards, and voters are encouraged to consider works exclusively on that basis. The Judging Committee will use the quality of SF/F storytelling as their sole criterion. Other awards exist to honor works for other qualities.

For those who don’t know the backstory, some three years ago an author complained that he wasn’t getting his due as a writer. The people nominating for the Hugo Awards weren’t putting his name in the ring. The Hugos are an open award. Anyone who has an interest can take part, by being members in good standing of the World Science Fiction Society (WSFS), which body oversees, and awards, the Hugos. They also throw a big party, once a year, in various places around the world.

Attending the party isn’t mandatory. Paying the annual fee (not really dues, but sort of like dues) and casting ballots are all one need do to be a part of the process. So this author wasn’t getting recognition from the 1,500-3,000 people each year who nominate. It hurt his feelings, and he told people about it, in the hope they would nominate him. Not enough of his fans managed to do this.

The next year the ante was upped, more people got involved, a list of works was bandied about, and a couple of them got on the ballot. They lost. This year’s awards were dominated by the factions which had come to be known as, “The Puppies” They put up two slates, and pretty much rammed them through. They lost. Fandom is no stranger to feuds. We’ve been having them since well before the first worldcon (where one group of fans excluded another group of fans from attendance). We’ll be having them long after this has become, like Nycon 1, a footnote in Fannish History.

The big argument they made was, “The Hugos don’t reflect what the fans want” conspiracy theories, Secret Masters of Fandom, Industry Collusion, vote-rigging, secret slates, bribes: all these things have been used to explain why the stripe of SF they like hasn’t been winning. They also argue that it’s all about LEFT WING SOCIAL JUSTICE POLITICS, not THE STORY!!!!!

I don’t buy it. I think it’s that the people who plunk down their ~$50US for a supporting membership, so they can vote, like stories a bit different from those the Puppies favor, and they outnumber the number of puppies willing (absent A Cause) to plunnk down that money; at least to an extent which means the Puppies tastes aren’t strongly represented. Guess what… my tastes are underrepresented too. It’s what comes of having one voice among many. If I were giving out The Terrys, I could have 100 percent representation. If I picked really good books the award might even end up being prestigious.  But it wouldn’t be the Hugos.

In some ways the Hugos are counterintuitive, unlike the Nebulas they aren’t selected by professional writers. Nor are they selected (as the Campbells are) by academics, experts in the field; and experts on writing, as a craft. They are the consensus of dedicated followers. Dedicated, because they pay to take part. Dedicated because, as the award has gained cachet, they have adopted the ideal that the books must be “good”*, and try to select the books they think the best of the what they’ve read in the previous year†. That’s what the Hugos are. A fan award, for fans.

I think, actually, that’s why they work. Look at that list of SFnal Awards. How many books have, Winner of the International Fantasy Award (which started in 1951) plastered on the cover? What about Pilgrim Award winning Author? Not many. Why? At a guess, it doesn’t reflect what people buy. The Hugos are prestigious because they are a fan award, and they are a fan award which speaks to a wide slice of Fandom.

Which brings me back to the “As yet unnamed Award”. The Puppies say they are unhappy about “the politics” they believe have been introduced to the Hugos in the past 15-20 years (apparently not noticing the subtext in Startide Rising [Best Novel, 1984], which I mention because that was the first year in which I voted for the Hugos).

The criterion for selection is simple: Does the work in question tell a good SF/F story? This is the focus of the (insert name here) Awards, and voters are encouraged to consider works exclusively on that basis. The Judging Committee will use the quality of SF/F storytelling as their sole criterion. Other awards exist to honor works for other qualities.

What? 1: The begged question is the implicit assertion that the Hugos aren’t being voted on in that way. 2: Who is going to vet the voters, to make sure they only look at the “quality of SF/F storytelling as their sole criterion”. 3: What makes it SF/F (Lucifer’s Hammer was nominated for a Hugo… the only SFnal elements in it were…. a comet hits the earth. That’s it. A comet hits the earth. Oh yeah, some of the characters talk about space exploration as a moral imperative, and a shout out to Asimov’s Foundation gets made while a couple is busy not having an affair in the foothills of the Sierra’s, and looking up at the stars, but SF, qua, SF? Not so much.)?

The Rationale

The rationale for the (insert name here) Awards is simple. Over time, the Hugo voters have considered other factors than the most fundamental when evaluating a work. They have chosen works based on their political emphasis, or the race or nationality of the author, or other criteria aside from that which defines SF/F. Attempts to turn the Hugo Awards back to the foundations of SF/F have been met with derision and outright hatred. Despite their previous claims to the contrary, the Hugo Awards voters and others now say that the Hugos represent the World Science Fiction Society’s choices, not those of fandom at large.

If this were true… well they’d have facts. There would be evidence. There has not been any presented to date, and (barring a mass confession on the part of the voting public) there is no way to say those criteria have become the way the Hugos are chosen, much less the way they are nominated. Nope, that requires a long, and careful; and amazingly secret/effective conspiracy. I’ve been in Fandom one way or another, since 1976. I worked Worldcons, WesterCons, LosCons, Arisia, filkcons. I’ve attended, hell, I can’t remember, how many local, regional, etc. conventions. I’ve got friends who are Smofs, and authors, and editors, and artists and neofans, and First Fans, and APAfans, and MediaFans and FilkFans, &c., &c., &c.. Somehow, with my tendrils in lots of pies I’ve never sniffed the least hint of this conspiracy. Not in 40 years of being in fandom, coast to coast, at from the bottom to the top.

What is actually happening is a difference of opinion. This group thinks the books that won are bad books.  They don’t understand how a majority of fans could like them well enough to give them Hugos (really, go read the comments, it’s what the specific complaints boil down to)

As to the Hatred… the jury is still out. A lot (an awful lot) of fans hated the system gaming††. They joined together to repudiate that. If saying, “we think this undermines the integrity of the award” is the same as hatred… well that’s the pot calling the kettle black. How then will the “As yet unnmamed awards” prevent this sort of drift (away from “pure story”)

The Mechanics

The nominees are then considered by the Judging Committee. The judges shall evaluate each work solely by its storytelling. The judges may disqualify any work they find to have an emphasis on other than telling a good SF/F story. They may disqualify no more than three nominees in any category. The disqualified nominees will be replaced by reprocessing the nominating ballots from the beginning as though those nominees had never been submitted; the judges may not disqualify the replacement nominees. This power is expected to be used very sparingly, as the awards are intended to reflect the choices of fandom at large.

So, Fandom At Large, as graded by The Judging Committee, will choose “the best SF story telling”, which will be categorised in much the same way as the present Hugos. The elephant in the room is… Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

The Eligible Voters

To become an eligible voter for the (insert name here) Awards, a person must be vouched for by one or more existing eligible voters. This is defined as having a trust level of 1 or greater. When first registering to vote, a person’s trust level is 0. An existing eligible voter whose trust level is 3 or greater may raise or lower the trust level of up to three other people by 1 each, and this number rises by 1 with each additional trust level until a maximum of a trust level of 10 is reached. The undersigned, as well as prior recipients of a (insert name here) Award and current and past members of the Foundation Board of Directors and Judging Committee, may raise or lower the trust level of any person by 1. A voter may not raise the trust level of anyone who raised his own, nor of anyone in the chain of trust leading back to those holding unlimited trusting privileges.

All registration and trust level processing shall be done automatically by the (insert name here) Award website. All records of trust levels being raised or lowered shall be retained for a period to be determined by the Foundation Board of Directors; this period is intended to be limited only by practical methods of data storage.

Nope, no politics there. One of “The RightFans” has to vouch for you. The more “RightFans” vouch for you, the more people you can then vouch in. This is a Tree House Fort, writ large. It’s High School Cliques as Honor Society. It’s the Antithesis of “fandom at large”, which is what they claim to represent. They have blackballing too. If someone things you are a “WrongFan” they can “distrust” you. Who will vouch for the people they hate? That’s the test of any system which purport to inclusion. How does it deal with those who are disliked? WSFS says, “pay the money, cast the vote”.

If you want to change how WSFS does things, come to the con, attend the business meeting (and one need not do that to put a piece of business before the meeting).

“The Puppies” don’t want to do this.  They have said Real Science Fiction™ has ENEMIES IN HIGH PLACES. They can’t work inside the system, because The System is hopelesssly corrupt. If this is a Puppy Dominant group are they going to let them in? Why should they? How could they? Unless the Board of Directors appoints them, and puts them in a place where they can’t become “untrusted”, there is no way to prevent the mob from running them out of town.

It’s not about “Quality of Storytelling”, as the comments discussing the award make plain (complete with discussions of how to maintain the ideological purity of the voting pool). It’s about not liking who has been winning, because they think the stories are political. Which is why I don’t think, even if they can decide on a name, and get them off the ground, they will go much of anywhere. It’s not about the stories. It’s about what they see as a culture war. While it may make for exciting times, it rarely makes for good fiction.


*A term of dubious merit
†Any examination of people discussing what books to nominate (and such discussions have gone on for decades) has a least a few people who aver they don’t nominate because they don’t read widely enough; who are told, almost universally, to vote their heart. If enough other people are of a like mind, then the book is worthy of nomination.
†† (and there is a lot of active dislike, repugnance; and yes, no small amount of hatred, for at least one of the Puppies, but his hatred of Fandom in general, and some specific fans in particular, is well known, and of long standing. That some reciprocate his feelings is unsurprising.

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On Kim Davis

What a shitshow.

It’s being touted, by her supporters, as a test of religious conscience.  Bollocks. She’s being compared (if one can believe it) to Martin Luther King Jr.  Bollocks.

What she did was break the law.  What she did was violate her oath of office.  What she did was hold the law, the people, and her religion in contempt.  Yes, her religion. She is a county clerk.  In Kentucky that requires taking an oath, this oath:

Kentucky Oath“…I will not knowingly or willingly commit any malfeasance of office, and will faithfully execute the duties of my office without favor affection, or partiality so help me God.

So, she had a legal duty to issue licenses.  She had a court order to issue licenses.  She was legally bound to issue them.  She refused.


Why did she refuse?  She claims her religious belief is so strong that she couldn’t violate it.  That it was so strong she not only couldn’t violate it herself, but that she couldn’t stand by while other people violated what she sees as God’s law.  She feels so strongly about this she is willing to break God’s law to defend God’s law.

Thou shalt not take the Name of The Lord, thy God, in vain

So there you go.  Just what is it she’s fighting for?  The right to treat one group of people differently under the law.  That’s it.  The law doesn’t demand marriage as a sacramental rite be extended to everyone.  It commands that marriage as a civic right be.  Nothing in that requires her to violate her conscience, unless her conscience requires everyone in the pruview of her office conform to her religious practice.

That’s not any form of democratic government.  That’s a theocratic tyranny, where Kim Davis is the tyrant.

So she’s in jail because she chooses to be. The judge offered her an out; all she had to do was let her junior clerks sign the forms.  She isn’t “approving” any icky same-sex marriages.  All the judge demanded was she stop standing in the way of her staff,  “faithfully execute the duties of my office without favor affection, or partiality”. She refused that.

She violated her oath, refused to carry out the job she is required to do by law.  She merits no sympathy. Even if I agreed with her argument, I can’t agree with her lack of principle.  She swore an oath.  If she can’t live up to her promise to God, that she would carry it out, an honest person would resign.

She didn’t.

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On fighting, and combat skills.


(There are lots of youtube links, as illustration.  I have anchored to the point I need, and (hope) I have indicated which one’s are specific, and about how long to watch them)

I’m going to assume you think our ancestors weren’t stupid.  I’m going to assume this because I assume you aren’t stupid. It happens, however, that lots of narrative about fighting is both stupid,  and assumes our ancestors were too.  Charlie Stross has a series of guest posts on “martial arts”*  they are good as far as they go§, but they gloss a few things.  Some because they weren’t relevant to the questions at hand, and some because we, as a culture, don’t see martial arts in our day to day lives.  We don’t have that many people who are trained in the practical aspects of beating people up, and the ways we use to commit organised slaughter are neither widely practiced, nor the sort of thing which makes for decent entertainment.

Not that books and films don’t try (see the posts referred to above, or any war flick in the past 40 years which has gunpowder).

Digression (topical, I promise):  I sell knives for my pocket money (technically I sell cookware, in practical terms my interests, and expertise means 80 percent of my time at work is spent behind the knife counter).  There is a lot of nonsense about knives, and sharpening, and everything which touches on cutting tools.  Honest, I heard a guy the other day saying, “I like damascus blades because they are lighter than steel.   Knife makers don’t help in this regard.  One (well known, and highly regarded, knife maker used to have literature which said European swords weighed a ridiculous amount (IIRC it was 50 lbs, but my mind refuses to accept that, so that I sort of want to say 15).

The fact is, european swords, and japanese swords (when they were a primary weapon) both came in between 1.75-2.75 lbs (there are some exceptions, at the heavier end).

Physics limits what one can do.  As an example go get a hammer.  Hold it at arm’s length… for as long as you can.  Even an 18 oz. hammer is going to be work to do that with.  Make it 5 lbs. and it’s a lot of work.  Make it a sword.  Now imagine your opponent managed to fool you into missing; now you have to get it back to a guard position before you get clobbered.

(blend digression back into conversation)

Which brings me to the bit about stupid.  I’ve read (lots) about how heavy/awkward armor is.  I read that nights couldn’t mount without a derrick, that if they fell they were helpless without someone to pick them up.


Assume that people aren’t (at root) stupid.  Who, in their right mind, is going to spend a lifetime training to use a weapon system which is designed so as to make them slow, and vulnerable?

Pop quiz, how much did a Roman legionnaire’s kit weigh?  What about a soldier at Waterloo?  How about Verdun?  What about guys landing on on the beaches on D-Day?  How about Inchon?  Guys slogging their way to Dien Bien Phu?  On the road to Baghdad in 2003 (which was my war).  All of them were about 60 lbs.  Which is a bit less than the armor of someone in “harness”† was carrying.

Why is this number so consistent?  Because it’s about the maximum someone can haul around, and still be anything like rapid in movement.  The heaviest I’ve ever been hauling, when we stepped off on a march, was 82 lbs of gear (don’t look at me, I didn’t make the packing list). With all that I was able to keep pace (about 2.5 miles an hour), and do all the things needed (flop to the ground, get up, run a couple dozen meters (crossing danger areas), take a knee (to scan the area/establish a hasty perimeter) etc.  At  the end of the hump (about eight miles), I was tired, but not worn out to the point of being combat ineffective.

So why do we think people couldn’t make adequate armor, which also let them move about?  Because we stopped using it. When it moved from a tool/weapon of battle, to a mark of status; and armor became a specialised sort of equipment; of minor utility (think cuirasses on lancers) because the hand weapons which could pierce it had pretty much disappeared from the battlefield; then the sword came to be the weapon of both offense and defense.

But the offense (understandably) became point focused, because it doesn’t take much in the way of protection to keep a sword’s edge from cutting you‡; the shift was pretty much complete by the early 17th century, because even if the edge wasn’t effective, the point would go right through. Because people no longer wore armor it was seen as ungainly.  Hell, it is ungainly if one is not practised in it’s use.  I used to work renaissance faires. I spent a few years donning a chain hauberk every morning.  I spent the entire day in it.  I walked, ran, climbed trees, did the occasional 270º flip in it (dramatic pratfalls go over well).

I also did swordplay in it.  No we weren’t going full-tilt, but we were using live steel.  I’ve been thwacked.  I got bruised. If you want to see what happens when someone gets hit while wearing plate:

Watch the first 42 seconds of this this piece of film on 15th century armored combat (we’ll come back to other parts later).  Did you see how little the guy who got thwacked seemed to notice?  (If you’ve not hit the videos in the third footnote, go do that now. If you watch it front to back it’s about ten minutes, but I’ve marked out the important bits, each of which is 10-20 seconds).  One of the other things to notice in that clip is how both of them were holding weapons with solid points, and the armor was specialised in ways to defeat points (smooth curves, and lipped edges).  These are things which we don’t see in depictions of armored combat.  The SCA (for all it’s good points) doesn’t really understand armored combat.  They are of the “hack and bash” school of thoughtˆ (in this they are not alone: Viking re-enactors do that, as to the people in the Armored Combat League (an international group which does SCA sorts of fighting with dead steel weapons: I do like the woman on the Spanish team; more than holds her own, but I digress)

In different ways both groups buy into the idea that swords go through armor.  The ACL also buys into the idea that a knight who fell down was hors de combat, since they are “live” until they fall down.  We know swords didn’t do that.  We know because people played at tournaments for fun.  We also know that deep cuts, esp. ones which introduced foreign matte into the wound were (as often as not) fatal, and often crippling.  Since knights weren’t dropping like flies after every tournament…

So how mobile were men in armor?  If we look at paintings, we get the idea they were pretty capable.  If we look at “books of defense” we see lots of energetic movement being taught.  I’m gonna go out on a (pretty strong) limb here and guess the techniques in the books weren’t that far removed from those being done when wearing armor, even though the pictures are usually not of armored men. 1:  It’s harder to learn two completely different techniques, 2: what books showing techniques in armor are similar styles, 3: when people try those techniques in armor, they can do them.

More examples, from another source: Fighting in harness.  If you practice Judo, or Aikido you might have a sense of deja-vu starting around 1:55.  If we look at the work required to do good stage combat, where the actors aren’t in armor, but the swords can still injure; but the fight must look realistic, we see that’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish: Reclaiming the Blade shows the same sorts of techniques in the harness fighting segment, being done by people in street clothes; as compared to doing things in harness. Note the level of physicality, esp. the amount of up/down movement.  Also note the actual weapon for killing the armored opponent is a triangular spike.

If we slip a bit earlier in the video we see just how agile one can be in plate armor.

Narrative (visual, and literary) tends to lose that level of ease.  We forget that people aren’t dumb, and that if someone were that clumsy, someone would have found a way to exploit it.

We also get confused by the vast power differential which skill in swordplay (even absent armor) gave a competent fighter.  Those swords all had points.  If we accept the idea that they were not just slashing/poking weapons, and that there were systems of use which made them weapons of leverage, then the peasant with a billhook is at a massive disadvantage against a single person who knows what he is doing.  In a melée that billhook could be used to pull someone to the ground (which is the purpose of so many of the twisty/spiky bits on halberds and other polearms of the day), where the confusion of being swarmed (those helmets had limited visibility, better than you might think, but a far cry from a wide field of view) would negate those advantages.  Make the peasant the sole focus of someone who is used to killing people, and give him a sword capable of the sort of smashing and cutting in the videos in the footnotes, and it would take a group of brave (to the point of foolhardy) people, willing to die, to deal with a marauding soldier.  Make a a group and nothing short of other soldiers is going to keep them from plundering the town (which is what made the 30 Years War so devastating, esp. to the Germanies, where so much of the contention was taking place).

Guns put all that to bed.  Swords, in short order, became specialist weapons; primarily for cavalry; where the problems of smoothbore innaccuracy, and the difficulties of reloading muzzle-loading weapons, meant that after a few rounds, the cavalry were either useless, vulnerable, or relegate to sword or lance (though we do get the pleasant, and peaceful, diversion of the carousel from the name for the (usually pointless) drill of firing while riding a circle.  It fell out of favor (in short order) because pistol and carbines were weak, and inaccurate: if the opposing horse put their spurs in and charged the group performing the caracole was usually routed, as they were quickly disordered.

Swordplay from horseback, however, is different to swordplay on foot.  By the end of the 16th century the idea of mobility in armor was gone, swords were lighter, and the sense that the larger swords of the previous era was to bash through armor seemed reasonable.

I suppose I ought next to deal with the idea of generalship in non-gunpowder armies, which, apart from logistics; motivation, was largely about being able to analyze terrain.


*I put it in scare quotes because what we tend to refer to as martial arts are forms of close combat, doe hand to hand; they fail to encompass most weapon arts (which includes distance weapons like bows and firearms), and don’t encompass questions of fieldcraft, which (as a soldier) I can say is both martial, and can be a game changer in a group on group fight).

§ I say that as someone who has been in my share of actual fights, as well as trained in a few martial arts (which includes a lot of weapons)

†Harness is the 15th century word (in English) for a suit of plate armor, it’s whence we get the term, “died in harness”.

‡This video is of people using late 15th century longswords to cut.  They are attacking “tamashigiri” which are tatami reeds, wrapped around a 1″ piece of bamboo.  When soaked in water they are supposed to behave as human limbs would when cut. Some interesting things at these points: at the 53 second mark we see an unsupported piece being split.  At  7:26 there is a  demonstration of “short” cuts (i.e. cuts without time to wind up). At 9:38 we see a demonstration of what happens to a pinned roll of tatami when covered with linen, in particular take a look at the effects from 10:11-10:23.

ˆIt’s not that SCA heavy weapons fighters aren’t good at what they do; they are, and I’d not like to be facing one in the lists, but their weapons aren’t swords/axes/maces, and they do things with them which aren’t doable with those weapons.  Which leads to a fighting style which, while interesting (and more subtle than most observers understand) doesn’t reflect the reality of how the weapons they are representing were actually used, nor what they are really capable of doing. Which in turn affects both how the make their armor, and what they do in it; which in turn affects how people who see them understand what armor is, does, and is capable of doing.

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Still on the road

Still abroad (but at least on my “home” continent).

It’s been a trip.  This is country number three (I don’t think a train trip, and an ale in Wales, counts as a separate country, nor the short layover in Frankfurt), and bed number 5/6 (depending on how one thinks of sleeping for two (freezing) hours on a banquette on the Ferry across the Irish Sea, from Holyhead to Dublin).  I feel oddly liminal.   I want to be back in Ireland, or England.  I also want to be home.

Toronto is hella familiar, to the point of being homey; but the past month has made some things which are different quite familiar.  I like some of them better (not paying to withdraw money, a better attitude toward alcohol, more readily available street food of good quality, etc).  Others (the quality of the coffee, the power outlets matching my plugs, the money being worth about what I expect, and the price of things being in keeping with what I’m used to paying, etc.) are nice to come back to.

So I am neither away from home, nor at home.