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Prospective Schedule for 2012:

8:00 - SPA1233118 - Tai Chi
10:00 - SEM1229373 - Invitation to the Ball: A History of Ballroom Dance (note: I am running this event)
12:00 - SPA1229362 - Ballroom Dance for Beginners: Waltz (note: Cristin and I are running this event)
1:00 - SPA1229363 - Latin Dance for Beginners: Rumba (note: Cristin and I are running this event)
2:00 - LRP1230757 - Evil League of Evil Tryouts
7:00 - ENT1229381 - "Le Dorke d'Arthur: The Humpening"
9:00 - ENT1229371 - Glitter Guild Burlesque (geek-themed burlesque show)

10:00 - BGM1230586 - Last Night on Earth
12:00 - SPA1229366 - Ballroom Dance for Beginners: Tango (note: Cristin and I are running this event)
1:00 - SPA1229370 - Country Dancing for Beginners: Polka (note: Cristin and I are running this event)
2:00 - LRP1229801 - Raising the Imperial Standard (L5R)
8:00 - LRP1230760 - Peace of the Blade (7th Sea)

9:00 - SPA1234232 - Zumba with Sean
11:00 - SPA1229374 - Swing Dancing for Beginners: Jittberbug (single time swing) (note: Cristin and I are running this event)
12:00 - RPG1236849 - Technocrats on Ice (Mage: The Ascension)
4:00 - SPA1233897 - 70's/80's Dance
5:00 - SPA1229793 - Poi spinning for beginners
7:00 - SEM1229394 - Geek Psychology 101
9:00 - ENT1237593 - Gen Con Masquerade Ball

8:00 - RPG1229344 - Bureau 13: The Pittsburgh Ripper (d20 Modern)
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Over a winter holiday I had the chance to read one of the most engaging books of literary criticism I've come across in some years, Star Wars on Trial. The book is edited by David Brin and features numerous essays about the inherent merits of the Star Wars franchise. In summary, it fires eight charges at Star Wars, then presents an essay in prosecution and defense of each charge. They are:

Charge #1: The Politics of Star Wars Are Anti-Democratic and Elitist.
Charge #2: While Claiming Mythic Significance, Star Wars Portrays No Admirable Religious or Ethical Beliefs.
Charge #3: Star Wars Novels Are Poor Subsitutes for Real Science Fiction and Are Driving Real SF off the Shelves.
Charge #4: Science Fiction Filmmaking Has Been Reduced by Star Wars to Poorly Written Special Effects Extravaganzas.
Charge #5: Star Wars Has Dumbed Down the Perception of Science Fiction in the Popular Imagination.
Charge #6: Star Wars Pretends to Be Science Fiction, but Is Really Fantasy.
Charge #7: Women in Star Wars Are Portrayed as Fundamentally Weak.
Charge #8: The Plot Holes and Logical Gaps in Star Wars Make It Ill-Suited for an Intelligent Viewer.

It's a fascinating read and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in Star Wars, bothered by Star Wars, or with an interest in how literary criticism can and should be applied to popular culture. I'm not going to get into the different charges at this point, but I enjoyed the book because it got me to look at the franchise in a fresh light, to reconsider the value of the prequels, and question the significance of the franchise and the messages we take away from it. One of the more interesting essays in the book questioned the morality of the Jedi based on the films and proposed that a very different story of the Jedi is told wen we look at the films alone, and in particular when we examine them in chronological order. I was intrigued enough that over a recent holiday with [ profile] wyndstormhntrss we sat down and watched the six films, nearly back to back. The results were fascinating.

Fascinating )
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Every year UPenn does Dancing With the Professors, which is like Dancing With the Stars but makes the obvious substitution. I participated for the first time this year, dancing with my mom (she's not a professor but she is university faculty). We got second place. She did a great job and I'm incredibly proud of her.
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From a conversation with [ profile] sphinxfeather:

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Oh, hello!

I'm not going to apologize for not posting in awhile. I can't decide if there are two reasons I haven't posted or if they're the same reason, but it's been because my life is pretty repetitive these days so there's not a lot to say about it, and because I'm so busy living it there's not much time to write about it.

The overwhelming majority of my time (I can't even say "free time") is spent in competition practice. After Rutgers Ruth and I decided to make a big push to break into silver, particularly with our smooth (American style ballroom). There are six main tactics we use when getting ready for competitions:

1) Practice
2) Repetition
3) Practice
4) Private lessons
5) Practice (focused on the private lesson material)
6) Extra practice

All the hard work paid off in our dancing. I watch videos of us dancing now and videos from last year and it looks much better. Is it where I want it to be? No, but it's improving. As I frequently say, "I don't need to be perfect, just better than yesterday." Every day.

We've done three competitions since the beginning of October, Princeton, Cornell, and DCDI. Results have been pretty positive, though not as strong as we'd hoped. Wynd was wonderful and not only attended Princeton (and watched us on livestream for DCDI) but videoed us there as well. Videos of the other comps were not a priority; given how close they were I figured the dancing would not be markedly different, though the UPenn team got a few videos of us at DCDI.

Princeton Bronze American Smooth
Princeton Bronze International Standard
Princeton Bronze American Rhythm
Princeton Bronze International Latin

DCDI Bronze American Smooth: Waltz
DCDI Bronze American Smooth: Tango
DCDI Bronze American Smooth: Viennese Waltz
DCDI Silver American Rhythm: Swing
DCDI Silver American Rhythm: Mambo


We didn't do as well as I'd hoped but we did about as well as I'd expected. We made finals in three of our smooth dances (waltz, tango, and foxtrot), which was the style we'd put most of our efforts in, as well as being my favorite style. We placed last in each of those finals (8th, 7th, and 6th respectively) but getting there was a huge accomplishment, especially since it was the first time Ruth and I had ever gotten to finals in smooth.

Rhythm was weird; we were eliminated in the first round in rumba, swing, and mambo. The last was truly surprising as our first time at a contested event in mambo we'd made the finals (DCDI 2010) and 7th overall. That said, when I saw the video later I had to agree with Wynd's assessment that our timing was off. Swing, normally our strongest of the rhythm dances, was a surprise but we saw areas to clean up in the video so we could come back stronger. Cha cha, however, we made it to the finals 5th place overall. Oddly enough, we danced the syllabus bolero - meaning open to all couples regardless of level - and placed 2nd overall, despite being the only bronze couple on the floor (oh, and 1st and 3rd place were gold).

Standard we got quarter-finals in waltz, semis in tango, and made finals and 5th place overall in foxtrot, but nothing in quickstep. Was a little surprised we did better in tango than waltz, as tango's one of our weaker dances, and was annoyed that we continued to suck at quickstep, but overall it was pretty satisfying. Latin we got semi-finals in all our dances, which I was very proud of given that Latin is my worst style.

Generally we were pretty happy with our results and very happy with our dancing, but wanted another shot. I'd been planning on competing at Cornell the next weekend with Lauren, and persuaded Ruth to come along so we could get another shot at those dances.


Earlier this year it had looked like Ruth would be moving to North Carolina for a job, and so I agreed to temporarily partner Lauren, another UPenn dancer, whose partner was abroad for the semester, in Latin and rhythm. When the job didn't happen, I not only wound up with two partners, but Lauren was adamant about dancing silver, and so we come to Cornell. I actually ended up only dancing with Ruth in bronze, as Lauren got sick and was unable to dance. That said, Ruth and I got the best results we'd ever gotten.

Waltz: 3rd place
Tango: quarter-finals
Foxtrot: 1st place

Cha Cha: 2nd place
Rumba: 3rd place
Swing: 5th place
Overall: 2nd place

Waltz: 5th place
Tango: quarter-finals
Quickstep: quarter-finals

Semi-finals in rumba, and jive, quarter-finals in cha cha and samba.

This was easily the best results we'd ever gotten and were a very positive indication, especially with last week's results, that we were ready for silver. Even the low scores tended to come from one specific judge who has never graded us well (we have numerous rounds where every judge except him marks us for call backs, and in smooth foxtrot nearly every judge marked us first place while he marked us last) indicating that our flaws are somewhat subjective. In addition, we got our first ever call back for quickstep. One more comp in bronze, we said, then move up.

DC Dancesport Inferno

I was thrilled with how we danced this comp, but the results were largely disappointing. On the plus side, Ruth and I reached finals in smooth Viennese waltz, a dance we'd always come in dead last before, and placed 7th in a field of over 56 couples. Most exciting to me, we danced in the west coast swing fun dance - an event open to all couples regardless of level - and beat out every one of them to get 1st place! This was Ruth's time competing west coast and we kicked ass, beating much higher level dancers. Woo!

On the downside, smooth we only got semi-finals in foxtrot and quarter-finals in waltz and tango, something we're still not sure how to reconcile with Cornell and Princeton. Standard we got our second call back ever in quickstep but still only got quarter-finals in waltz and tango, and eighth-finals in foxtrot and quickstep. Again, not sure how to reconcile that with the previous comps.

Things with Lauren went much better than I expected. In rhythm we reached semi-finals in cha cha/rumba multi-dance and swing/mambo multi-dance. Latin we got nothing in cha cha/rumba but eighth-finals in samba/jive. Not bad for my first time competing silver. Ruth had a TBA parter and had no Latin results or with rhythm cha cha/rumba but got to the finals in swing/mambo with 5th palce overall. It validated the idea that we're ready for silver in rhythm and we're talking about moving up for our next comp.

What Now?

Well, more practice, obviously. We're tentatively planning to try silver in smooth and rhythm at our next comp, though we're debating what competition that will be and when. We've started choreographing new routines, and we're just gonna keep plugging away.
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100 years of fashion, 100 years of dancing, 100 seconds. Awesome.
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Not sure if this is racism or racial commentary. It's an amazing piece but I'm still a bit uncomfortable watching it.
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I've been listening to a Dan Carlin podcast series recently about the end of the Roman republic. One of the factors Carlin speculates contributed to the final end of the republic was that when Caesar took what was supposed to be temporary power he held it so long that an entire generation grew up under a dictator, never seeing how the republic was supposed to function. The autocracy was the norm as far as they were concerned and since life was good enough they had no reason to campaign for a restoration of liberty.

When Bin Laden was killed there was a story on NPR about college parties celebrating his death. Now we'll have the argument about whether it's ever appropriate to celebrate death another time, but the point is that the commentator was surprised that Bin Laden's death would mean so much to kids. After all, he said, they'd grown up with the war on terror so how much could this mean so much to them? The reporter said she'd asked the college kids that same question and they'd replied it meant more to them because they'd grown up with the war on terror. This was the end - or at least the beginning of the end - of a war that had gone on for over half their life.

All of this brings me around to the thoughts that have been circulating in my head lately, thoughts about what it means to grow up in a time of war, of suspended liberty, and what a return to normalcy really means. To those college kids, if the Patriot Act were reversed tomorrow it might be a cause for celebration but it would be a deviation from the norm, not a return to it. To my parents, on the other hand, it would mean a nominal restoration of American justice.

I, however, like several of you reading this, am caught in the middle. Not all of you, not even most of you. Very few in fact. You see, I was in my freshman year of college - barely into my first month - when 9/11 happened. Most of you are a few years younger or a few years older. You'd been adults for at least a year or were still teenagers. 9/11 was important for everyone, but for those of us born in 1983 it means something significant that I've never heard anyone speak about, not even once.

9/11 coincided with the dividing line between childhood and adulthood. In my case, they were only three months apart. I graduated high school, I turned 18, and now I was an adult ready to participate in this great republic I'd been primed for my entire childhood. I had a fantastic civic education. Say what I will about high school, Cheltenham had the best history teachers I've ever met. The best government teachers. A number of things had been impressed upon me, not the least of which was the concept of civic virtue, nor was I ignorant of the cost of liberty, historic challenges to freedom, or the high costs of maintaining a free society, costs that included blood as often as not.

I turned 18 in June, 2001. Three months later, before even the first election I could participate in, 9/11 happened and America changed. In October the Patriot Act was signed and the country I'd been taught about no longer existed. The rights that I'd come to not just praise but see as defining my country were now suspended. Now one can argue whether that America really existed - I'd argue that the beginning of the end really started with Roosevelt - but that's not the point: we'd been prepared for a future and now it was gone. It wasn't taken by the terrorists: they'd hurt us and threatened to destroy us, so we did it to ourselves first.

My generation was at the front of the line when it happened. Finally guaranteed participation in this society, just as we achieved our full citizenship it was yanked away.

Is it any wonder we're bitter? Is it any wonder we don't trust the government? We don't trust our leaders? We don't engage in civic demonstration or representative democracy? We don't expect anyone can fix the economy? Do you wonder why we don't expect there to be social security? Why we barely turn out for elections? We're too young to be cynical we're told. Bullshit. We're too old not to be and too young to be anything else.

Right now the legislature is in "emergency talks" to raise the debt limit and prevent a government default. The Republicans are cynically and manipulatively trying to pass a plan that will control how the default will spread so that they don't alienate seniors by allowing social security to dry up. The Democrats are doing their best to ignore the fact that the current fiscal situation actually is untenable. Both sides dither over numbers while ignoring two critical parts of the puzzle. One is that the military and military operations account for 40% of the budget, meaning that anyone who is serious about cutting the deficit must cut the military, and getting out of a prolonged guerrilla war is a good start. More important, however, is that America is not a budget.

America is not a budget. We are not a company. We are not a conglomeration, an incorporation, or a charter. America is an idea. America is a piece of paper. That piece of paper is bleeding.

America is not buildings and roads. It is not a miltary and guns. It is not a social security network or medicare plan or schools or cities or mountains or forests or anything else. These are things America has but not what it is. America is an idea, and that idea is freedom. That freedom hasn't existed for ten years.

Are you used to it? Do you think about it? Do you even notice it?

I do. Every damn day.

I can't not notice it.

Think about what it's like when you drive and you see a police car behind you. You're not speeding, you're obeying all traffic laws, but there he is. Perhaps he's not even following you, the officer's not even paying attention to you, but the car's route is coincidental with yours, at least for a stretch. Think of how it makes you nervous, of how much closer you watch the speedometer, how much more carefully you obey lights and traffic signals, how you studiously avoid your phone. I'm worse. When I was in high school and got my driver's license I had a Pennsylvania junior license. It restricted a lot of things for the first eighteen months you were licensed to drive or until you turned eighteen, whichever came first, which meant if you got your license after 16 1/2, you were probably going to get your actual license by aging out, not by passing the year and a half mark. Remember when 9/11 happened? Well just as I was coming off my junior license suddenly cops had a lot more power. I never left that sixteen year-old paranoia that the cops might report me to my parents, it just replaced parents with something else.

That happened with nearly every part of public life for my generation. We traded the supervision of our parents for the supervision of the government. We traded it right when we were supposed to be independent adults. And the worst part is that it was traded for us. Remember, the Patriot Act was passed before that first election we could participate in. We had no say in the officials who passed it, only disappointment in the officials we've elected who've maintained it.

I used to believe in America. Really, truly. I knew that I was naive, that America didn't work the way I'd been taught, but at least I would have a say in this country. At one point I'd even planned on military service and was on a list of three final candidates to attend the United States Naval Academy. I knew America was great, not because she had the best education or infrastructure or the biggest budget or any other metric of prosperity. I knew America was great because the idea of America was great. It was a two-hundred year old experiment in human potential and at last I was going to get to take part.

Then it was ripped away.

I remember being in shock, an almost fugue state, when the pictures of tortured Iraqi prisoners were released. I remember horror when our president refused to condemn torture. I remember disappointment when Obama stopped trying to shut down Guantanamo Bay. These were not things America participated in, I knew, but that America didn't exist anymore.

I've only just recently come to realize how significant it was that I was on the bring of that change. It affords a perspective on the path of this country that really can't be matched. I'm hardly a centrist - I'm a proud registered Republican yet I've never voted for one outside of a primary, and wrote in most of my votes to protest gerrymandering in the latest PA election - yet I manage to piss off both the left and the right in the rare situations when I can be persuaded to discuss politics. My political views are almost never politically-related, though they're doubtlessly politically-influenced, because the political institutions are meaningless. I watched them crumble. I watched them fall.

This year will be the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks. No doubt it will be solemnly commemorated and the dead honored and mourned, both of which are as they should be. I also have no doubt there will be renewed protests on the Patriot Act, it's renewal, and what I suspect will be a demonstration in poor taste about the death of America intended as a reference to the Patriot Act. Take all of that according to your own belief. I will mourn the dead and I will attend what protests I can, especially if they involve more than a meaningless petition or changing my Facebook status. Yet what I will be mourning for, privately and save for this post, secretly, will be the adulthood lost to my generation. The potential we never tasted, the citizenship in a free country that we were promised as that dream was ripped from us.

We are America, or at least we once were.

We can do better.
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The Onion's AV Club has a list of songs about dancing that they claim are undanceable. They are wrong.

1. Iggy Pop, “Nightclubbing”
Nice groovy beat. Good for west coast swing or a particularly dirty foxtrot.

2. Neil Young, “Dance, Dance, Dance”
Slightly harder. It's not as slow as they pretend and it's got a pretty clear QQS rhythm. A faster nightclub two-step would be my choice though it could also work for a slow polka.

3. Roxy Music, “Do The Strand”
How is this not danceable? It's got a very clear driving beat. East coast swing, baby. Or hustle. Or merengue. Or tango. Or paso. Come on, AV Club! Even if you're not doing ballroom how can you not hear this beat? Next.

4. Lou Reed, “Sally Can’t Dance”
Okay, they admit this one's danceable but that due to the lyrics it wouldn't be fun to dance to this one.

5. Bauhaus, “St. Vitus Dance”
Works for an awkard hustle.

6. Leatherface, “The Bastards Can’t Dance”
No sample, can't evaluate.

7. Violent Femmes, “Dance, Motherfucker, Dance!”
Great rhythm! This would be a hilarious jive! I will never get a chance to use this song (for obvious reasons) but I bet it'd be a lot of fun.

8. Modest Mouse, “Dance Hall”
Another jive. Feels like a satire of 50's rock and roll movie songs. Would actually be pretty fun to do a satiric beach-party showcase piece to this.

9. Lykke Li, “Dance, Dance, Dance”
Okay, this is really awkward because of intentionally disruptive percussion. You could do hustle to it, though I wouldn't try.

10. Patti Smith, “Dancing Barefoot”
Nice blues feel. This could be a great west coast swing. Why is this song on the list? It's groovy, it flows, it pulses. Why is this on the list?!?!

11. Pavement, “We Dance”
I imagine a lot of people would slow dance to this song. For me it's nightclub two-step but that doesn't mean other people couldn't do something. $5 says I get a wedding couple with this song in the next year.

12. King Harvest, “Dancing In The Moonlight”
Again, they admit you could dance to this but claim the lyrics are too irritating to make a good dance song. Um, no? It's happy, it's perky, it's celebratory. It's calm and casual but that doesn't mean you can't dance, it means you dance casually. I've had this song in my rumba playlist for years.

13. Pop Will Eat Itself, “Dance Of The Mad Bastards”
Strong driving rhythm. Would make an excellent hustle. If you're into punk you could also slam dance to this.

14. Prince, “Batdance”
Another easy hustle, though this song really is everything wrong with Prince in one place. I'd really hoped never to hear this song again.

15. T. Rex, “Cosmic Dancer”
What "awkward rhythm" are they referring to? Very clear QQS beat. Nightclub two-step. Next.

16. Dead Milkmen, “Instant Club Hit”
No link, no comment.

17. Sebadoh, “Dance”
Okay, this is on the list for excellent reasons. Too many breaks, horrible lyrics. You could force choreography if you really wanted to, but why would you ever want to?

18. Pere Ubu, “The Modern Dance”
Okay, it could be a hustle but an uncomfortable one. Still, if you're dancing club style the rhythm's clear enough that I don't know why this song doesn't work (save for the weird break about 50 seconds in, but that passes).

19. Nik Kershaw, “Dancing Girls”
Oh, more techno! It's more hustle! It's a bad song, but it's still a hustle.

20. Lindsey Buckingham, “Slow Dancing”
I was intrigued enough from the AV Club write up that I actually looked the album up on Amazon to hear the sample. It's not as bad as they say. I would never slow dance to it, but it would make a good slow (wait for it) hustle.

21. The Clash, “Rebel Waltz”
THEY TELL YOU THE DANCE IN THE TITLE! Okay, it's actually a Viennese waltz, but still. The write up is an endorsement of why one should dance to this song. Waltz is not primarily a romantic dance (although it can be); it's primary feel is that of a dream. Waltz is dream-like, it's a fantasy. The song captures that. Fail, AV Club! Fail!

22. Sick Of It All, “G.I. Joe Head Stomp”
Fast. Real fast. Not sure why this doesn't work for slam dancing (according to AV Club it doesn't). I like the rhythm. Maybe a real fast tango or quickstep. A punk quickstep to this could be kind of fun, actually.

23. Iron Maiden, “Dance Of Death”
Another waltz. Fast tempo though not quite in Viennese range. Could probably be a great showcase piece, though I'd rather get a different vocalist.

24. Death Cab For Cutie, “Stay Young, Go Dancing”
Guess we're saving all the Viennese waltzes for the end. This actually quite a beautiful song. I'm gonna go buy it from iTunes and play it at my next party.
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I've been thinking a lot lately about gaming and free will, particularly as it relates to the 7th Sea game I'm running with C--- and L---. 7th Sea is a game of high adventure that can support a number of different story types. Though the default game presented in the core book is one of swashbuckling adventure, it can encompass a great deal more. I believe one of the flaws with the game that directly resulted in its market failure was its refusal to embrace any given genre. Each supplement, including the nation source books, was intended for an almost entirely separate game. For example, the Eisen book focuses a great deal on mass combat and how to depict military relationships while the Montaigne book is about high culture and courtly life, however both books are largely limited to their respective countries. The implication is that all Eisen games are military games and all military games are Eisen; likewise for Montaigne/courtly politics, Vodacce/intrigue, Castille/guerrilla warfare, etc. and doubly or triply so for the Secret Society supplements.

That said, it's certainly possible to run 7th Sea picking and choosing the elements we like and transplanting them as we see fit, and we're attempting to do just that, but there is one aspect from the core book that we have wholeheartedly embraced: heroism. 7th Sea is a game about heroes, a fact which is even reinforced in the mechanics. Examples include:

* When PCs perform "evil" actions they lose Reputation score. When their Reputation reaches a certain point they become NPCs under the GM's control and the player must create a new character.

* NPCs are divided into Brutes, Henchmen, Villains, and Heroes, each of which has separate mechanics and are treated differently.

* Characters are not killed by default - even the strongest attacks will only knock someone unconscious unless another character deliberately takes a separate action to kill him or her. Thus even the most thuggish warrior subdues his or her opponents rather than resort to lethal violence.

Leaving aside all the various genres depicted by the supplements, this is very in line with the heroic swashbuckling genre depicted in the core book. The problem, however, comes about when players can't step outside that genre. Is it heroic to play a hero if one doesn't have a choice?

In "Grand Theft Auto and the Problem of Evil," Stokes makes the claim that morally correct actions without the free will to choose them are morally neutral and therefore it is the ability to choose good, or at least refrain from choosing evil, that demonstrates morality. He puts it quite succinctly, "... Grand Theft Auto is the most moral video game ever created. After all, no other game allows us to choose not to murder prostitutes."

Now 7th Sea doesn't give you that choice. One can murder prostitutes once or twice, but very quickly the character is taken away as an NPC and the players is forced into playing a hero. By Stokes' standard 7th Sea characters are amoral because while they are defaulted into doing good they never have the opportunity to choose good, and it is the choice that ultimately matters. This directly contradicts John Stuart Mill's utilitarianism that states the most good for the most people is good regardless of what caused it to arise.* Mill would say so long as players aren't murdering the prostitutes, it doesn't matter why and players are good for it. We might imagine that Stokes would counter with the argument that the player is no more moral than a dustbin: the prostitute is not murdered as a result of impotence on part of both the player and the dustbin, not because of any moral choice.

This is not a merely academic question but one that pertains to both how the game is written and how people enjoy the game. It is the difference between a novel where the plot occurs exactly as the author intends and an interactive experience where the participants make choices that affect the outcome. By definition, this makes the characters important because their actions - the actions they choose - are important in as much as they affect the world. A character who can choose to engage the pirates with cannon fire or a boarding party of marines is only choosing method, but the engagement itself is only significant if the character could also have chosen to allow the pirates to ransack the town or even sell out the town and join the pirates. In this example, the player is destined to fight the pirates no matter what.

The limitations need not be that extreme, however. While 7th Sea prohibits morally negative options, it does permit morally neutral options. Thus the player cannot choose to join the pirates (although he could pretend to join them so he could work as a spy or saboteur), but he could choose to pay the pirates a ransom, recruit others to fight the pirates, or let them sack the town while he works on a long-term plan to stop them further down the line. He could even choose to ignore the pirates. In this sense the character has free will to make choices, excluding a certain limited subset of villainous or evil choices. As such, the character has as much free will as people in most modern societies: able to make whatever choices they like within the boundaries prescribed by their societies; in other words, I have free will though I'm no more free to murder prostitutes than the 7th Sea character but my limitations are enforced by police rather than a GM.

This does restore a sense of significance to the players' choices, though the significance is more limited than total free will. How much that appeals to a given player will vary by players' taste but that brings up the concept of meta-morality which forms the crux of my argument. 7th Sea is a moral game, even more so than Grand Theft Auto, because the player has chosen to play it.

As a player I can choose to play whatever game I like. I can play an evil D&D game and portray a burning, pillaging, evil necromancer, during which it is probable I will murder a great many people, prostitutes among them. I can play Grand Theft Auto where I may or may not murder any prostitutes. Or I can choose to play 7th Sea wherein no prostitutes are murdered. If I choose the latter, I have preemptively saved those (fictional) prostitutes, whereas in GTA I am exposing them to my unknown future whims.

Consider vehicular homicide in conjunction with drunk driving. We recognize that a person cannot be held accountable for actions they did not have control over, but we still consider drunk driving a morally negative action. It doesn't matter that the driver did not have the motor coordination to avoid an accident nor does it matter that the driver lacked the inhibitions to restrain himself from driving while lacking said coordination. We hold the driver accountable because he did not restrain himself while still sober. A driver who turns over his keys to a designated sober friend prior to drinking is moral because he is making a choice to limit his future actions in such a way that precludes potentially harmful actions. It is the self-imposed limitation that is moral in this instance. Comparably, a player who chooses to play 7th Sea is self-imposing a limitation on his ability to choose villainous actions.

7th Sea characters cannot be moral but the decision to play a character in 7th Sea is highly moral.

This is where the crux of most of the player disputes we've had in 7th Sea have come from. As I've said before, not every character is right for every game, but that also means not every game is right for every character. Given how invested players become in their characters we may extrapolate that not every game is right for every player and thus not every player is right for every game. If a player wants to play a "grim and gritty" game of high drama where the PCs are constantly having to make difficult choices, 7th Sea is absolutely the wrong game, if only because the character can't necessarily make that choice. But if a player wants to play a game where he or she plays a hero and, even when the character is tempted will still do what's right in the end, 7th Sea is just about perfect.

* With extensive supporting arguments that say why it's not okay to kill 1,000 people in order to benefit another 1,001 people, which is basically the anti-Nazi qualifier.
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These guys were my favorite smooth couple for quite some time and I was sad when they retired. This was their competitive showdance routine the last year they competed. The style is Peabody: an old, obscure style of American ballroom that was really phased out in the 50's. It's almost never danced socially and very rarely competed.
suburbaknght: (Default)
Remember this?

Passed my exam with flying colors. Win!
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[a href=""]Big post[/a href] on the AEG message boards about moral philosophy in l5r. Come join the conversation.
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One of my students made this video about a protest event in Washington. Please watch the whole thing.

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From the 1992 movie. Given how much ballroom dance has become an expensive and therefore upper class form of recreation, it's easy to forget that many of the styles originated in lower class communities. Obviously Latin dances are Hispanic in origin, but how many people remember - really remember - that swing dancing was originally an African American style of dancing? I love its inclusion in Malcom X and consider its placement highly appropriate. Everything about it from the music to the steps was part of a minority subculture which in turn became part of a white counter-culture which in turn was co-opted and became part of mainstream white culture after it was sanitized. Real Lindy hop fast, loose, and dirty (A Day at the Races and Hellzapoppin both have scenes that better depict what it was really like) but it was there.

I wish I knew when things changed.

Edit: And, as [ profile] kittydesade pointed out, today is Malcolm X's birthday.
suburbaknght: (Default)
I saw Thor this afternoon. I liked it.

This will be spoiler-free.

Initially I was very suspicious the idea of Thor as a movie. A second-tier superhero at best, the idea of a movie about Thor generates even less interest than Daredevil did. Moreover, THor seems like the hero least suited for adaptation to the big-screen. This may work in a comic book...

... but it's hard to imagine that picture translating well to the big screen. Moreover, Thor runs into the same problem that movies about Superman run into: he's a god. What kind of stakes can a movie like that have? This felt mostly like an excuse for another Marvel action movie, and one I planned to skip. I see most superhero movies these days, but my time and budget are both quite limited and I didn't intend to go out of my way to see this any more than I did for the remake of The Hulk or X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

I became cautiously interested when I heard that Kenneth Branagh was directing. I respect his work as an actor and he's been very good about selecting his projects. When I saw the final trailer last week I decided to give it a shot at matinee pricing, if my schedule allowed. Thanks to an unexpected opening, it did.

The movie works, and it does so for several reasons. The first, and perhaps the most significant, is that it Branagh has his actors play everything completely straight. Comedy is present, but quite sparse compared to typical Marvel movie fare - much more so than either Iron Man - and is limited to a few low-key scenes. It is completely absent from the scenes that take place in Asgard and the movie benefits from this choice. Quite frankly, Thor has always looked ridiculous and the supporting cast doesn't fare much better. The movie refuses to acknowledge this. There is no point where someone tells Thor, "Your armor looks stupid," or tells Loki, "You look like a confused, retarded, lesbian cat confronting her sexuality" (he does, by the way). Nor does Branagh hide the designs. Instead, he fills his frame with them, early and constantly, so by the time the weighty drama is unfolding the viewer is used to them, if not completely accepting. Moreover, the different visual motifs used for Earth, Asgard, Jotunheim (the realm of the frost giants, ancient enemies of the Asgardians) give each a distinct feel so that we can take Asgard as is, if only because it is distinctly its own realm.

The other reason the film works so well is that Branagh is not content to simply film a comic book story, but seeks to make an epic. I don't know if screenwriters Miller, Stentz, and Payne intended literary allusions within their tale, but the story I find Thor resembling strongest is nothing from the bit of Norse mythology I know, nor even the Greek or Roman pantheon, but rather that of the epic of Gilgamesh.

Gilgamesh, the oldest known story in literature, is about superheros behaving badly. Gilgamesh is a powerful king who abuses his power and so the gods teach him humility, which yields to many a wacky yarn and in the end Gilgamesh becomes a great and wise king. I'm paraphrasing, obviously. At the very least go read a synopsis (here's one). While Thor doesn't attempt to follow Gilgamesh point for point, there are enough similarities that I feel comfortable calling it a spiritual successor.

This use of epic allows for several effects. The first is relevancy. Thor is a story about power. How one acquires power, how one uses power, how power can be abused, how power is shared, how power is lost, what power is good for, and what makes one worthy of power. While The Dark Knight handled the issue better and more effectively, particularly with regard to America's role as either world policeman or self-appointed vigilante, Thor makes a worthy attempt to grapple with these issues. The first act may be intended as a parallel for the start of the Iraq War, but rather than focus on what has already occurred, the remainder of the film deals with the consequences - the unexpected consequences - of what unleashing power has wrought. The film never hits you over the head with the parallel, to the point that I question whether it's even truly there, but the questions about power remain universal in their relevance, so perhaps that's why I'm able to apply them to Iraq. Regardless, it makes the theme quite significant and I applaud Branagh's deft handling.

The second effect of using epic is both the most obvious and the most subtle. Mosty mythologies about deities can be summed up as, "Gods behaving badly." This is just as true of Thor as most other such stories, such as The Illiad, and like The Illiad the effect in Thor is that the gods are humanized. It is easy to see Thor as an arrogant, presumptuous boy who is scared at what it will take to fill his father's shoes and is looking for an easy way to what he thinks is living up to his father's legacy. It is easy to see Odin as an old man who is worried that he hasn't done enough to teach his sons and is punishing them because he's frustrated and doesn't know how to be a better father. And Loki...

I promised no spoilers. I'm just going to say that Loki made the film for me. Everything about the character was perfectly done, from his plot lines to Tom Hiddleston's emotional and moving performance. Loki was what turned the film from camp to an epic.

Even if he does look like a retarded, lesbian cat.

Should you go see this movie? Eh. If you're not a fan of modern comic book movies, this one won't change your mind. If you've enjoyed the last decade's releases from Marvel, however, this is one of the good ones.
suburbaknght: (Default)
Time for my annual GenCon preview:

08:00 AM - 10:00 AM - BGM1119310 - Last Night on Earth: The Zombie Game
10:00 AM - 11:00 AM - SEM1122700 - Things You Think About Games
11:00 AM - 12:00 PM - SPA1118525 - Bellydance for EVERY Body

12:00 PM - 01:00 PM - Lunch

01:00 PM - 02:00 PM - SEM1123845 - 7 Words You Can't Say While Gaming
02:00 PM - 03:00 PM - SPA1117847 - Ballroom Dance for Beginners: Waltz (note: Wynd and I will be running this event)
03:00 PM - 04:00 PM - SPA1117849 - Latin Dance for Beginners: Cha Cha (note: Wynd and I will be running this event)
04:00 PM - 05:00 PM - SEM1120296 - Dirty Secrets of Game Design

05:00 PM - 06:30 PM - Dinner
06:30 PM - 07:00 PM - Costume Change

07:00 PM - 12:00 AM - LRP1120048 - Victim's Ball 3: City of Ladies* - Call of Cthulhu

10:00 AM - 11:00 AM - SEM1122698 - Hamlet's Hit Points
11:00 AM - 12:00 PM - SPA1118527 - American Tribal Style Belly Dance - Introduction

12:00 PM - 1:00 PM - Lunch

01:00 PM - 02:00 PM - SEM1120437 - Faith and Fellowship: Finding God in your Gaming
02:00 PM - 03:00 PM - SPA1117851 - Ballroom Dance for Beginners: Foxtrot
03:00 PM - 04:00 PM - SPA1117854 - Latin Dance for Beginners: Rumba (note: Wynd and I will be running this event)

04:00 PM - 05:00 PM - Shopping
05:00 PM - 07:00 PM - Dinner

07:00 PM - 11:00 PM - Running Heroes of Rokugan modules


09:00 AM - 01:00 PM - Running Heroes of Rokugan modules

01:00 PM - 02:00 PM - Lunch

02:00 PM - 06:00 PM - RPG1118485 - Summer Storms - Legend of the Five Rings (Heroes of Rokugan)

06:00 PM - 08:00 PM - Dinner

08:00 PM - 11:00 PM - LRP1118486 - Spoils of War - Legend of the Five Rings (Heroes of Rokugan)


09:00 AM - 01:00 PM - RPG1118893 - Swashbuckling 101 - 7th Sea

01:00 PM - 02:00 PM - Lunch

02:00 PM - 03:00 PM - SEM1120081 - Steampunk Gaming

* Notice for Dancers: This is a Call of Cthulhu larp that will feature opportunity for in-character dancing (big band era. Swing, lindy, Charleston, probably some foxtrot and quickstep).
suburbaknght: (Default)
Please reply if you're going to Gen Con this year.
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