GenCon Schedule

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)

Thoughts on Star Wars

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 wyndstormhntrss we sat down and watched the six films, nearly back to back. The results were fascinating.

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Dance of the Day - Swing

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.


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.

Post 9/11 World

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.


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.