Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Legend of Korra

Just watched the first season.  It's set in the world of Avatar: The Last Airbender, long enough later that the children of the original characters are old enough to have children of their own.

Technology has evolved to what I would describe as Shanghai Dieselpunk. I enjoyed both the characters and the worldbuilding. If you liked the original series you will probably like this.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia

This Friday I visited the collection of the Barnes Foundation in its new home in Philadelphia. Thank you, oldest daughter.

I visited this wonderful collection many times when it was in its original home in Merion, PA.  I think the transplant was a success.

First of all, the new location will allow many more people to see the art. In Merion, local zoning severely limited the number of visitors per week. It looks like about four times as many will be able to visit in Philadelphia. Based on my experience, the current number of visitors does not significantly degrade the experience for visitors.

Second, the new location provides more space for both conservation and the educational mission of the foundation.

Third, the new location faithfully recreates the arrangement of the art in individual rooms at Merion at Barnes' death, with great respect for Barnes' quirky juxtaposition of high art and what are often considered the lesser crafts of metalwork and furniture. The most significant differences are better lighting and the replacement of tape on the floor warning you not to stand too close to the paintings with wood inlay. Also, the new site makes it easier to appreciate the Matisse Mural The Dance II in the main hall.

While the new location retains the laconic labels of the original collection, each room also makes available folders with more information based on more recent scholarship. Barnes was sound on the impressionists and later art, but less so on earlier works. For works prior to the 19th century, he often accepted erroneous attribution, accepted copies as originals, accepted 20th century forgeries as authentic and missdated authentic pieces by more than a century.

If impressionistic or post-impressionistic art gives you joy, go to this place.

Traditional Marriage

Traditional marriage has always been between one man and at least one woman. That sounds so awkward when phrased that way.

Traditional Judeo-Christian marriage has always been between one man and one woman for about a thousand years. Unless you were a Jew living south of the Pyrenees, in which case being polygamous was a somewhat expensive option in Spain until about 1400, or elsewhere in the Islamic world until some time in the future.

In traditional marriage, "husband and wife were one person in the eyes of the law, and that person was the husband", until the middle of the 19th century.

In traditional marriage in the United States, marital rape did not become a crime anywhere until the mid 1970s, and did not become a crime in all 50 states until 1993.

The institution of marriage has changed over time and will continue to do so.

Friday, March 29, 2013

"Considerable Disagreement Among Sociologists"

“If you redefine marriage to include same-sex couples you must permit adoption by same-sex couples, and there’s considerable disagreement among sociologists as to what the consequences of raising a child in a single-sex family, whether that is harmful to the child or not." said Justice Scalia in Supreme Court arguments March 26.

There's only considerable disagreement in the "two schools of thought" sense of Tom Baker's crazed Elizabethan sea captain in Blackadder II. There are two schools of thought on the subject: Mark Regnerus and everybody else.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Comforting the Afflicted

Today Pope Francis washed and kissed the feet of twelve prisoners, two of them women and two of them Muslims. He then gave each one an Easter egg.

This is contrary to the canonical but optional Holy Thursday mandatus liturgy of washing the feet of twelve men.

So much the worse for canon law. There's never a bad time or way to comfort the afflicted. I'm sure St. Francis would approve, let alone the man who started the Christian foot-washing tradition. Charity is not limited by the liturgical calendar.

And the Easter eggs were a joyful touch.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Problem with Regnerus on Parents with Same-Sex Relationships

As same-sex marriage is argued before the Supreme Court, conservatives are dragging out a 2012 study by Mark Regnerus, suggesting that parents who have same-sex relationships are bad for children.

Where to begin? To start with, the benchmark is intact biological families who are still intact when the children are surveyed,  at age 18 to 39. A lot of heterosexual families would fail to clear this bar.

Same-sex parents are described as any that ever had a "romantic relationship with someone of the same sex", according to the child. This over-counts those that preferred same-sex partners.

This captures the climate for households formed 18-39 years ago, not the present. The stigma against same-sex households was greater then.

The "parents who have had a same-sex relationship" mostly came from failed opposite-sex relationships. Almost half were originally  married to the biological father. Only about 20% were from households where the biological father was neither married to nor living with the mother.

To understand the limitations of the study, consider that it would classify Kelly McGillis as a lesbian mother, even though her daughters spent most of their childhood in a conventional heterosexual marriage.

Life is complicated.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Of the array of knychtis lordes and vtheris, 1429

Of the array of knychtis lordes and vtheris.

Anent the maner of grathing of gentilmen and utheris for weir.

4. Item, be the awyse of the haill parliament it is statute and ordanit that ilk man that may dispende yerly xx lib. or at has jC (100) lib. in movabil gudis, that he be wele horsit and haill enarmyt as a gentill man audit to be. And vther sympillaris of x lib. of rent or L lib. in gudis, haif hat gorgeat or pesane, with rerebrasaris vambrasaris and gluffis of plate brest plate panse and legsplentis at the lest or better gif him likis.

Anent the maner of grathing of yemen for weir.

5. Item, that ilk yeman that is of xx lib. in gudis haif a gude doublat of fence or ane habergeone, ane yrn hat, with bow and schefe, suerde buklar and knyfe, and all vther yemen of x lib. in gudis haif bow and schefe, suerde and buklare and knyfe And the yeman that is nane archer na can nocht deyll with a bow sail haif a gude souer hat for his  hede and a doublat of fence, with suerde and buklar and a gude ax or ellis a brogit staff.

Anent the maner of grathing of burgessis for weir.

 6. Item, it is statute that ilk burges hafand jC lib. in gudis salbe hail enarmyt as a gentil man audit to be, ande at the yeman of lawer degre ande burges of xx lib., be bodyn with souer hate and doublat habergeone suerd buklar bow schefe and knyfe, ande at he that is na bowman haf a gude ax' or wapynis of fens, as is forsaide. Ande the balyeis sal rayse the payn in the burgh gif it be nocht kepit as is forsaide, that is to say of ilk harnest man iiij s. at the first warnyng, at the secund warnyng viij s., ande at the thrid tyme a mark and sa furth, whil he be wele enarmyt, ande of ilk yeman at the first tyme ij s., at the next tyme iiij s., and at the thrid tyme viij s., ande sa furth whil he be wele enarmyt.

Brogit staff: spiked staff
Gorgeat: gorget
Grathing: dressing, making ready
Legsplentis: leg protection
Panse: pauncer, belly protection of mail or plate 
Pesane: pisan, mail collar
Soure: sure, assured

Scotland, Cosmo Innes, and Robert Renwick. 1868-1919. Ancient laws and customs of the burghs of Scotland. Edinburgh: Printed for the Scottish Burgh Records Society. Vol. 2 pp15-16

Mid-Century Modern Dream Homes of DEATH

Projectophile has a morbidly funny collection of the lavish opportunities Mid-Century Modern homes offered for children to plummet to their DEATH, alternating with opportunities to drown in the conveniently available reflecting pools or tumble into the blaze in the convenient open fireplace.
Do you do poison? Do you do staircases? Quite steep ones without a railing? Next to a water cascade from a reflecting pool so they are covered with slippery moss? Next to a steep drop with pointed rocks at the bottom? Could the fall kill a woman? Say, a 50 year old woman who looks LIKE THIS?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Still Another Star Saga Illustration

Star Saga 1 by ~WillMcLean on deviantART

Rules for Mounted Swordplay at the Pas du Perron Feé of 1463

The first shield on the right signifies that you (the defender) will be bound to confront on that Sunday, from sunrise to sunset, one after another all the knights and squires who wish to touch it with their rebated sword. All the noble men who wish, without touching the said shield, to come to the entrance of the list, will be presented with a sword as well as a lance which they may use at their discretion until it is broken or lost. Then, they may strike until the assailant has given twenty-two strokes of the sword: whoever strikes the most will win against his companion.
Thrusting was allowed: the horse of the defender, Philippe de Lalaing, was knocked to the ground by a sword thrust by Jean de Damas. Several times a champion dropped their sword and had it returned to them to continue their fight. Lalaing fought four opponents on the first day of this combat, six on the second, eight on the third and six on the last. The overall winner of the combats with lance and sword was the count of Saint-Pol. After they shivered their lances they struck great sword blows against each other until Saint-Pol had struck twenty-two blows to Lalaing's twenty. The overall winner was apparently not decided simply by the number of sword strokes alone: Josse de Lalaing struck twenty-seven blows to Philippe's twenty-one, more than Saint-Pol, but failed to hit with the lance.

These relatively simple rules should be of interest to those interested in recreating medieval armored combat. They provide an imperfect simulation of what was required to win in all out, unrestricted combat, but that's true of any practical modern simulation. And they allow an excellent recreation of one form of medieval sportive simulation of that sort of combat.

Régnier-Bohler, Danielle. 1995. Splendeurs de la cour de Bourgogne récits et chroniques. Paris: Laffont p.1170 Translation by Will McLean, 2013

Monday, March 18, 2013

Le spectacle des joutes and Splendeurs de la cour de Bourgogne

Régnier-Bohler, Danielle. 1995. Splendeurs de la cour de Bourgogne récits et chroniques. Paris: Laffont

Nadot. 2012. Le spectacle des joutes. Sport et courtoisie à la fin du Moyen Age. Rennes: PU Rennes.

Le spectacle des joutes is fortunately not actually just about jousts. It also covers tournaments and deeds of arms on foot, and focuses primarily on 1428-1470 and the zone where pas d'armes and emprises d'armes were popular. This relatively narrow focus allows detailed coverage of the chosen temporal and geographic range, and several of the encounters and sources were new to me.

Splendeurs de la cour de Bourgogne is a valuable source I found through Nadot. It includes a detailed account of the combat between Henri de Sasse and Jean de Rebremettes in 1458 and the Pas du Perron Feé of 1463. More on that pas in a later post.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013


Belluck by ~WillMcLean on deviantART

Another of my brother's AD&D characters. The case on his back is for his backup magic staffs. Because the day you leave your second best staff at home is the day you use up all the charges on your primary staff.

The box on his right hip is a wand case. First edition AD&D was very much about kill monsters find treasure. Do it long enough as a magic user and you have a collection of wands, so you want a way to carry them neatly and find them easily.

Terms of Venery

The old Knight shook his white head doubtfully. "There is so much to be learned that there is no one who can be said to know all," said he. "For example, Nigel, it is sooth that for every collection of beasts of the forest, and for every gathering of birds of the air, there is their own private name so that none may be confused with another."
"I know it, fair sir."
"You know it, Nigel, but you do not know each separate name, else are you a wiser man than I had thought you. In truth none can say that they know all, though I have myself picked off eighty and six for a wager at court, and it is said that the chief huntsman of the Duke of Burgundy has counted over a hundred—but it is in my mind that he may have found them as he went, for there was none to say him nay. Answer me now, lad, how would you say if you saw ten badgers together in the forest?"
This passage from Conan Doyle's Sir Nigel errs in setting the fully developed vocabulary of terms of venery in the 14th century, but it's probably right on an important point. Most of the terms probably entered the language when an erudite expert invented them when they "found them as he went, for there was none to say him nay."


Bard by ~WillMcLean on deviantART

One of my brother's AD&D characters. First edition, so he had more hit points than a pair of mastodons.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Two Earliest English Hunting Manuals and Terms of Venery

The Master of Game 1406-13 Mostly based on Livre de Chasse, by Gaston Phoebus, 1387-88, but with five additional chapters and some omissions of content not relevant to English hunting.

The Art of Hunting. Original Anglo-Norman text c1325, translated into English c1425.

The number of collective nouns is small compared to the erudite profusion invented in the mid and late 15th century. Of beasts that are hunted, The Art of Hunting mentions only herds of harts, hinds, bucks and does, sounders of wild boar and bevies of roe deer. The Master of Game also lists routes of wolves and seven different terms for droppings, depending on the beast responsible.

Other pre-15th  century sources refer to a covey of partridges, a bevy of herons, and a sounder of starlings in English and of jays and finches in French.

Incidentally, William Twiti, author of the Art of Hunting, had a cameo role in The Once and Future King.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Laser Bees

The Planetary Society is working on a study of the potential for using swarms of small, laser equipped spacecraft to divert an asteroid.

Undead Collective Noun

A shamble of zombies.

Telepresence Robots with iPad Heads

Thanks to sci-fi movies, people prefer robots they could overpower if something goes wrong, says Yeh-Liang Hsu, a designer of telepresence robots at Yuan Ze University in Chungli, Taiwan. He says heights of 70cm or less are best.
Much more from the Economist, which believes that the Telenoid, a large  humanoid phone in a rubbery skin, is "is unlikely to catch on outside Japan."

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Egregious Hydra

It sounds like the bestiary entry that falls between the Crested Hydra and the Variegated Hydra. In fact it is a new imprint of Random House, soon to be part of Random Penguin. Its egregious contract terms are lovingly eviscerated by John Scalzi, Writers Beware and SFWA, with cruel but fair follow-up malleting here, here, here, and here.

As for me, what he said.

Update: more from Scalzi.

Further update: Hydra has revised their default contract offer, making the terms less egregious.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Fascist: Either Words Have Meaning or You're Doing It Wrong

It will be seen that, as used, the word ‘Fascism’ is almost entirely meaningless.
George Orwell, 1944

And probably even more true today. Which is unfortunate, because it was once understood to be a a fairly specific variant on the unfortunately common meme of nationalist statist autocracy.

Nationalist statist autocracies came in many flavors: that of Louis XIV, for example. We need to do better than calling them all fascist.

Fascism Classic added some additional wrinkles: corporatism, anti-Marxism, valor as a universal male virtue, imperialism as a proactive virtue, and public politics as performance art.

(There were of course, British imperialists that were rather proud of their empire when they awoke to the fact that they had somehow stumbled into having one. I think this is fundamentally different from the Fascist notion that your national honor requires you to proactively march off and conquer stuff and erect triumphal arches)

Also, an inordinate fondness for snappy color-coded uniforms and chilly monumental architecture.

So, when people describe the late Hugo Chavez as fascist, the rectification of names is clearly called for.

Yes, nationalist statist autocrat, granted.  There have been a lot of those.

Corporatism? No, a classic nationalizing pro-union socialist. Anti-Marxism? BFF with Fidel Castro. Valor? Who has he invaded lately? Imperialism? He was against it.

Snappy color-coded uniforms? Red polo shirts without a matching tie? Mussolini is spinning in his grave, Also, no Fezzes. Fezzes are cool.

And what has Venezuela done for chilly monumental architecture lately?

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing

Fred and Wesley meet cute.


Lord Ballister Blackheart has a point to make, and his point is that the good guys aren't as good as they seem. He makes a comfortable living as a supervillain, but never really seems to accomplish much - until he takes on a new sidekick, Nimona, a shapeshifter with her own ideas of how things should be done. Unfortunately, most of those ideas involve blowing things up. Now Ballister must teach his young protégé some restraint and try to keep her from destroying everything, while simultaneously attempting to expose the dark dealings of those who claim to be the protectors of the kingdom - including his former best friend turned nemesis, Ambrosius Goldenloin.

History for Music Lovers II

The Trojan War
The Mahabharata
Illuminated Manuscripts
The Divine Comedy
Black Death 

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

I would rather discover one true cause than gain the kingdom of Persia

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

A Palestinian Border Proposal

In May of 2008, Palestinian negotiators presented a proposal for a permanent border, with land swaps allowing Israelis to keep their West Bank settlements closest to the pre-1967 border. It was later leaked with the other Palestine Papers in 2011.

A comparison with Olmert's September 2008 "Napkin Map"makes it clear why the Palestinians thought the Olmert proposal inequitable.

A caveat on the Olmert map: Olmert was apparently treating this as his last, best offer, and was unwilling to give a copy of his map to the Palestinians unless they agreed to the proposal. A Palestinian negotiator was forced to sketch it on a napkin as a record. The map based on the Palestine Papers, evidently from a Palestinian source, is probably not perfectly accurate, but it does probably correctly reflect the broad intent of the offer.

It would have reduced total Palestinian territory relative to the pre-1967 borders, and allowed Israel to annex several salients driving deep into the West Bank. Also, it is unlikely that a neutral judge would think the swath of the Judean Desert proposed as part of the swap offered equal value per square mile to the territory Israel wanted to annex.

It's striking how little the proposed Olmert border resembled the one a rational defender would design when actually expecting a serious military threat.

For another attempt to achieve a permanent border by equitable land swaps, see the Geneva Accord.

Here is an interactive map looking at border options.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Medieval Silkwork

Medieval Silkwork is a blog about textiles and clothing of the Late Middle Ages and Early Modern Times.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Coat Armor, Badges, Devices, Liveries and Jupons

Coat armors were garments that displayed the particular arms of a specific individual. They might be worn by that individual, or the heralds that served him as direct representatives.

Badges were more general. National badges like the cross of St. George might be worn by all who were members of, or who served, that nation. Household badges might be worn by all those that were part of, served, or supported a great household.

Devices were usually more specific. They might be an emblem chosen by a single individual for limited purpose: such as a single man who sought a single opponent for a deed of arms. Often they were only slightly broader: a small group of companions who sought opponents willing to fight on equal terms.

Liveries allowed great and middling households to identify their members and allies. The most closely affiliated supporters got clothing of particular colors and a badge. Less closely affiliated supporters got the badge alone. Livery clothing was often of more than one color to increase the number  of clearly distinct liveries.

Some urban militias also wore uniform clothing. Froissart describes the Flemish army before Roosebecke:
The men from each town or castlewick had similar uniforms (parures semblables) so as to recognize one another: one company wore a coat made of  blue and yellow, another a black band on a red coat,  another white chevrons on a blue coat, another wavy stripes of green and blue, another checkered black and white, another quarterly white and red, another blue with one red quarter and another cut with red above and blue below.
The London watch of 1378 distinguished groups of wards by the color of their lances: white powdered with red stars, all red, white environed or wreathed with red, black with white stars, and all white.

Jupons were also worn over armor in the 14th and 15th century. The term seems to have generally referred to garments without heraldic arms and so distinguished from coat armor, although they might be covered with brocade or other patterns.

When did men-at-arms wear coat armor, and when did they wear something else? It's a complicated question.  On the one hand, men-at-arms wanted their individual valor and prowess to be recognized. On the other hand, coat armor was expensive, or fragile, or both.

Also, not all men-at-arms had arms to display. In 1389, John Kingston was thought worthy enough to sustain a challenge from a French knight, but he then had neither arms nor formal rank as a squire, and so both were granted by letters patent.

Further, it seems that "divers men" on the Agincourt campaign assumed arms for the campaign that they had neither inherited nor been granted. Henry V's band of brothers were allowed to keep their assumed arms, but in 1417 he prohibited assuming arms unless the bearer "possess or ought to possess the same in right of an ancestor or by gift of one having sufficient power."

And not all of the men entitled to bear coat armor on the battlefield always did so. 14th and early 15th c. manuscripts frequently show men-at-arms bearing arms on their shield or horse trappings but none on their body, and frequently a jupon of an entirely different color than any in their arms. The mid 15th c. Beauchamp Pageant shows the Earl of Warwick in coat armor for most of his battles, but in white harness fighting against the forces of Owen Glendower in 1402, identified only by his crest of a bear and ragged staff.

14th and 15th c. manuscript illuminations almost always show only a minority of the men-at-arms in a battle wearing coat armor.

While marching infantry are shown in livery coats, I've seen no clear evidence in iconography of men-at-arms wearing them in battle. Two apparent exceptions appear in MS M.804 a version of Froissart's chronicles from ca. 1412-1415. It turns out that both fol. 338r and 347v are showing Flemish urban militia as described above, but drawn as men-at-arms with full leg harness because that is the artist's default way of portraying soldiers.

One should be reluctant to draw conclusions from iconography alone.  Fortunately, the closely related Agincourt accounts of Jean Le Fèvre and Jean de Waurin shed light on who wore coat armor and when.
To tell the truth, the king of England had wanted to lodge in another village which had been taken by his herbergers, but he, who always observed proper and honourable practices, did what you will now hear. It is true that whenever he wanted to send scouts before towns or castles or any matter, he had the lords or gentlemen take off their coats of arms when they went off and put back on again when they returned. It it so happened  that on the day that the king left Bonnières to go up close to Blangy, there was a village which had been commandeered by his harbingers, but he had not been told of it. Not knowing in which village he was supposed to lodge, he went on by a bow shot and rode past it. Then he was told he had  passed it. Then he stopped and said 'As I have passed, god forbid that I should return as I have got my coat of arms on'. And he moved on and lodged where his vanguard was lodging, and moved the vanguard further forward.

...But to return to the king of England, before he crossed the river at Blangy en Ternoise, because the crossing was narrow he had six bold men of his vanguard take off their coats of arms and cross over in order to find out whether the passage was guarded. They found that there was no one seeing to its defence, so they crossed quickly.
From these accounts it appears that coat armor was particularly associated with pitched battles, and that anything that could be considered retreat could be considered dishonorable once it was put on. For that reason Henry did not want it worn when scouting, because the men would necessarily have to return to the main body, and this could be described as retreat. Also, coat armor was worn not only by commanders, but by at least some of the ordinary gentlemen.

Later, Le Fèvre and de Waurin tell how Anthony, duke of Brabant, rode in such haste to the battlefield that he left the main body of his men behind.
As he would not wait for them, because of the haste with which he had come he took one of the banners from his trumpeters, made a hole in the middle of it, and used it as his coat armour.
So, the duke did not have coat armor with him on the march, but thought it so important to wear it in battle that he made improvised coat armor from a banner.

Other contexts:

Participants in deeds of arms for single or group combat by mutual consent probably wore coat armor even more frequently than on the battlefield. The phrase "his coat of arms on his back" recurs with monotonous regularity in accounts of these combats.  The exceptions tended to be individuals who wore sumptuous finery designed for that particular deed of arms, as when Jacques de Laing wore "a robe of sanguine silk all strewn with blue tears" for one of his combats at the pas of the Fontaine des Pleurs, or to make a political statement, as when Juan de Merlo wore "a vermillion-coloured mantle, with a white cross on it, like to the badge of the French" in 1435.

Jousters might wear their personal coat armor, but often wore team uniforms, often designed for a particular joust, or other garments according to their fancy.

Tournaments, in the traditional sense of mounted melee combats, had become quite rare by 1350 everywhere outside Germany.

King René, when he attempted to revive the tournament west of the Rhine  ca. 1460, expected that coat armor would be the norm for noble participants. Illuminations of tournaments ca. 1350 are more ambiguous, with some participants wearing their arms on their clothing  and others wearing clothing completely unlike their arms.

Curry, Anne. 2000. The battle of Agincourt: sources and interpretations. Woodbridge: Boydell Press. 


This is a blog about crafts in general, and historical (mainly medieval) crafts in particular.
The authors do nice work. My thanks to Thomas Taylor for spotting this.

Dragon CRS-2 Arrives at Space Station

The second operational mission shows the increasing maturity of commercial ISS resupply, but a thruster glitch that delayed rendezvous by a day reminds us that it's not routine, and will not be for a long time. Space is hard. The venerable Soyuz capsule, which first flew manned in 1967, has experienced significant landing anomalies as recently as 2008. Columbia was destroyed on the 113th Space Shuttle mission. has a gallery of photos.

The manned equivalent, commercial crew, would be of great value to the United States and ISS. It is unfortunate that commercial crew is so undervalued and underfunded by Congress and NASA relative to the expensive, unnecessary  and counterproductive Space Launch System. These misplaced priorities are glaring in NASA's sequester response, which starves commercial crew in favor of SLS.

Friday, March 01, 2013