Since some of you may not read the Rialto, I thought I should send out these postings to the list. As some of you will realize, the form of two of them is inspired by a posting, I think by Tim McDaniel, on the period way of disagreeing with your King. There may be detailed differences between these and the versions posted, since I did a little further editing while posting.
I am saddened to see my Sovereigns so badly advised as to have lent their royal names to such a document. As a knight of the Middle, it is my duty to point out what I believe to be the grave errors therein, in hopes that the scales may fall from Their Majesties' eyes, leading them to put away from them those who have advised them so ill.
The letter is long, so I will make no attempt to deal with it entire at one sitting. Instead, I will spend this post discussing one of its features that I find particularly disturbing. Throughout the letter, its author assumes that anything said by the Board is true. Questions are asked, the Board's answer or the answer of one member of the Board is given, and the enquiry stops. Nowhere is there any attempt to ask whether the answer presented is true or even plausible, or whether it justifies the actions that the Board took.
In some contexts, this might be a reasonable policy; we do not usually start out by assuming that other people, especially other members of the Society, may be deceiving us. But one of the charges that has been made against the Board, by quite a number of different people, is that its public letter was designed to mislead rather than to inform. That charge may be mistaken--but we cannot find out whether it is if, at every point, we simply assume that whatever the Board says is true.
It might be argued--although not by me--that to believe the Board is our obligation as chivalrous people. If so, the letter betrays a curious double standard. Its author is perfectly willing to believe, on very little evidence, that the crowns of other kingdoms are acting for bad reasons. It is only the Board that gets the benefit of all doubts.
At times, the assumption that the Board always tells the truth leads to peculiar results. One such I pointed out in my previous posting. The letter claims that:
>Per L. Jane Richards the cost of folding the mass mailing would
>have exceeded any savings on envelope / postage.
The issue here is whether it was worth using a smaller envelope in order to get the mailing down to one ounce. Doing so would have saved about $.23 per letter in postage. One telephone call to a local copy shop would have been sufficient to show that the claim attributed to Ms Richards was false--the folding cost is less than a tenth the postage cost. One call to Ms Richards, by someone willing to ask her for actual numbers (as I did), would reveal that she had no idea what folding would have cost, nor what the letters weighed. All she knew, and said, was that folding cost something.
Next consider a somewhat more serious case. The attachment to the Board letter said:
"Board Officers & Meetings -- In 1994, Board meeting expenses will continue to increase as in past years, due to increases in travel expenses and other meeting expenses. Also, Board and Corporate Officers expenses have continued to rise with the increases in membership and responsibilities."
This makes it sound as though the increase is roughly equal to inflation plus the increase in membership--perhaps 15%. In fact, the figure given in the attachment (the projected budget for 1994) was $94,975. The projected budget for 1993 showed an expense of $40,072. So it looks as though the actual increase is about 137%. Considering that the verbal statement was not accompanied by any figures for previous years, that looks like deliberate deception. What explanation are we offered?
"Previous BOD Expense Budget numbers were not in line with reality. At this most recent Executive Session, the Board re-categorized expenses more appropriately. The new expenses reflect all of the costs of the Board where before the costs of board telephone, mailing, and a host of other items were in other categories." (Letter signed by Their Majesties of the Middle)
That sounds reassuring, but it raises an obvious question. In order to make the numbers come anywhere close to fitting the verbal description, the "re-categorized" expenses must have been very large. If so, where were they in last year's projected budget? "Other categories" is not very specific.
The only place that seems to fit is "General and Administrative" expenses. But those were $125,358 for 1993 and $153,600 for 1994. Suppose that $40,000 of G&A in 1993 really ought to go in "Board, Officers & Meetings" in order to make the 1993 definitions consistent with the 1994 definitions. That gets the growth in expenses for "Board, Officers, &Meetings" down to 19%, which is consistent with the Board's statement. But after the change, the (redefined) G&A is only $85,358 in 1993. It rises to $153,600 for 1994--an increase of 80%. The Board's attachments state that "General & Administrative costs reflect increases in rent, utilities and moving costs. Also included are expected increases for insurance coverage for 1994..... Increases for 1994 are expected to be approximately 25% over 1993"
It is a shell game. If we believe the Board accounts as they were sent to us, the description of what has happened to the expenses for Board Offices and Meetings is grossly misleading--an increase of 137% attributed to increasing travel costs and membership growth. If we believe, as the letter seems to suggest, that enough expenses have been reclassified between the 1993 and 1994 budgets to make the description accurate, we then have to recalculate the growth in whatever part of the budget those expenses came from--making that part of the Board's financial report false. The letter, of course, does not tell us where these large sums were hidden in last year's budget.
What is most disturbing is that it apparently never occurred to its author to ask. If someone presents you a budget, and then explains discrepencies of tens of thousands of dollars between the verbal description and the (partly omitted) numbers as due to changes in what got classified where, it seems only natural to ask to be shown what the budget looks like after taking account of the changes.
Perhaps the best comment on this was in a posting by Baron Ian Mitchell of Clan Mitchell, Viceroy of Ostgardr and a CPA by profession. He wrote:
"When I'm doing financial analysis and a statement changes in format, I first check to see if it has done so to increase information available. Then, if it does not, I try to figure out what is being hidden."
Finally, consider one of the issues at the heart of the dispute--the Board's decision to impose required membership. Nowhere in the letter can I find any defense of the claim, repeatedly made by Board members over the past month, that this was necessary for budgetary reasons. We are left with the statement that:
"Recognizing that the need for pay-to-play was generated as much by a need for legal protection as by a need for funds"
No legal arguments or evidence are given, quoted, referred to--it is straight assertion. Assume, however, that it is true. U.S. tort law has not changed, in any significant way, in the past two years. If in 1992, when the Board asked for membership comments on the issue of required membership, they had had a legal opinion saying that it was absolutely essential, they would have mentioned it. So we either have a situation where several lawyers say that, on the whole, we are better off with required membership but can manage without it, or where the old legal opinion said we did not need it and the new one said we do. That may be a good reason to rethink the question--but it is not an emergency that requires the Board to act without consulting the membership.
The SCA has been around for quite a long time without required membership--and is still here. It is possible that we would be legally better off with it--since the Board has presented no legal arguments, I don't know. But it is very hard to believe that we could have survived the past 28 years if the legal consequences of open events are so deadly that we cannot even wait an extra few months to get comments from the membership before we impose it. The membership, after all, contains a considerable number of attorneys. If we have a new legal opinion saying that we need required membership, the obvious thing to do is to make the opinions and the arguments behind them public, open the issue to the membership, and get some additional commentary.
There is, however, one obvious explanation for why the Board made the decision first and explained it--or failed to explain it--afterwards. In the "real world" which the Board claims to be leading us into, "legal advice" is commonly used as a way of jusifying decisions that management wants to make but does not want to have to defend. Most lawyers are smart enough to figure out what their clients want them to say, and some are willing to say it. Since I know almost nothing about the Board's attorney, I do not know if he fits either category. But, having read the Board's letter, I am pretty confident that whoever wrote it regarded compulsory membership as a good thing.
Let us go back, for a moment, to the history of the required membership issue. This is not a new question--I have been arguing against it, and other people for it, for many years, and many on both sides feel strongly. In 1992 the Board asked the membership for commentary on a number of proposals for expanding membership requirements (no proposals for changing in the other direction were on the list). On the proposal that we should have required membership after some introductory period, letters ran 84% against. The Board's summary of the results was that, in the fact of such overwhelming opposition, the proposal was being dropped for the foreseeable future. It next surfaced at the 1994 Board meeting where, with no previous announcement, it was passed.
How does the letter justify that? What it says about the fact that the decision (along with several others) was made without any further notice or consultation, in apparent violation of Corpora is:
"The Board deemed the situation to be exceptional and requiring immediate emergency action - certainly not the "normal circumstances" that are affected by this law."
But "the Board deemed" is not the same as "it was true." Insofar as the reason for compulsory membership was that it might be legally useful, there was no sudden emergency, merely a change of opinion--the law was the same last year. The author simply takes it for granted that anything the Board says, or anything a Board member says the Board believed, is true.
What about the request for comment? The letter says:
"There was not a Poll of the membership, merely a request for commentary (of 2% of membership, 94% were against required membership) This was not an unbiased sampling or an official poll."
It was not an unbiased sampling or an official poll. It was, however, the way in which the Board of Directors chose to get information about the opinions of the membership. The Board, then and now, refused to consider petitions, form letters, or (I think) letters with multiple signatures, on the grounds that they were only interested in the views of people willing to go to the trouble of writing their own letters. Now they say that the comments are irrelevant--because they only represent the views of the minority willing to go to the trouble of writing their own letters.
If the Board believes that the right way of getting information about the membership is a random poll, it should run a random poll. Having used a different method and gotten a result it does not like, it is stuck with it. When the same method--asking for written comments--gave a majority in favor of required membership for fighters, the Board was happy to take that as evidence that the membership supported their position.
Finally, the idea that nothing short of a random poll gives any information is silly. The opinions of those who responded are not a perfect measure of the opinions of the membership, but they are the best measure the Board has. If the President asked voters to send him their opinion on his health care plan and got three million letters back, 84% of them against, he would not dismiss the result as meaningless on the grounds that only 2% of the voters had responded.
What is wrong with the letter can be summed up in its comment on the Board:
"We are satisfied that the current Board of Directors acted in good faith for the betterment of the Society. The consensus of Middle Kingdom gentles is that the decisions were not as offensive as the presentation thereof, and the majors areas of concern centered about the ramifications of the implementations strategies. Note: members of the Board have admitted that they could have better handled the communication and they have taken due notice for future reference."
The current Board of Directors voted to impose, without warning or consultation, a policy they favored and that, according to the best information available to them, the overwhelming majority of the membership opposed. They have offered no evidence of any urgent need to impose the policy, on either budgetary or legal grounds, despite many opportunities to do so. Since that action, despite a level of public opposition to their actions unmatched in the history of the Society, they have said not a word suggesting that they made a mistake or are prepared to cancel their decision.
It isn't the communications that are the problem. The Board's letter did a very good job of communicating the Board's attitude. It is what is being communicated that is the problem.
In the hope that I may, by wise counsel, free Their Majesties from the toils of the bad advisors who now lead them astray, I remain
Cariadoc of the Bow
Senior Knight and Senior Duke of the Middle Kingdom
The Board at Second Hand
Much of the letter recently published over the names of Their Majesties of the Middle appears to consist of statements made to them by members of the Board. Much of the rest consists of views of the author or authors of the letter, based on such statements. Almost none of it is based on public information--statements made by the Board (or others) over their own signature, somewhere where the rest of us can see them. In effect, the Board is conducting its defense of its behavior at second hand, using Their Majesties as middlemen.
There are some fairly serious problems with this approach to conducting a conversation. Suppose one of the relayed claims turns out to be provably false--as has already happened with the claim that folding the Board letter in order to get it into a smaller envelope and thus get the weight under an ounce would have cost more than it saved in postage. If the statement had been made by a Board member over his own signature, he would now have to either admit he was mistaken, admit he was deliberately misleading us, or, as occasionally happens on the Rialto, deny both and, in the process, demonstrate both.
By making his claim through Their Majesties, the Board member is protected from any such embarassing possibilities; he can make claims without having to take responsibility for them. If they turn out to be false, he either says nothing or explains, again through Their Majesties, that Their Majesties must have misunderstood him.
Consider a more complicated example of the same thing. The financial information in the attachment to the Board's letter appears to be inconsistent with the numbers for the 1993 budget (not included in the attachment) and the 1994 budget (included). An anonymous Board member, speaking through their Majesties, explains this as the result of reclassifying "the costs of board telephone, mailing, and a host of other items" that before "were in other categories" but in the 1994 budget were classified as expenses of the Board and officers.
If he had posted that explanation over his own name, I could (and would) have replied by asking him to fill in the blanks--to tell us just what expenditures, for how much money, the Board's new definitions had moved from where to where. Once he had done that, we could then see whether the redefined budget was consistent with both the Board's claims and previously published information. My own guess, based on calculations I am publishing in another post, is that it would not be. The Board can redefine their budget as much as they like--it exists, at most, as a piece of paper in their possession--but they are still limited by the rules of arithmetic. Anything they put into Board and Officer's Expenses for 1993, on the claim that it is in their 1994 definition, they have to take out of something else in the 1993 budget--which is likely to effect other numbers reported in the attachment to their letter.
By making his argument through Their Majesties, the Board member avoids any such embarassing need to defend it. I cannot ask Their Majesties to fill in the blanks, to tell us how many dollars should be transferred from one item to another in the budget in order to make the 1993 and 1994 definitions consistent, because they do not know. I cannot ask the Board member whose statement they are repeating, because he is deliberately staying out of the conversation--I do not even know his name, although I may be able to guess it.
If Board members want to defend their actions, they ought to be willing to publish them, here or in some other public forum, over their own names--and defend them. If Their Majesties and Their Majesties' advisors do not wish to be used by Board members to make statements without taking responsibility for them, they should base their arguments on information that their informants are willing to publish and stand behind.
In previous posts, I have tried to show that my sovereigns, misled, no doubt, by bad advisors, have uncritically accepted and repeated explanations for the Board's actions, some of them almost certainly false, and accepted and approved of actions by the Board that have not been, and probably cannot be, justified. In this post I must deal with a still more serious matter.
Prior to reading this letter, I read at least three statements from the royalty of other kingdoms--one from Ansteorra, one from the East, and one signed by eight royal pairs and Their Highnesses of Calontir. To the best of my memory, not one of them attributed bad motives to other royalty, or even hinted that those who refused to go along with them might have done so for self-interested reasons. Thanks to this pernicious letter, Their Majesties of the Middle have, I believe, the distinction of being the first sovereigns in this dispute to question the motives, and so the honor, of their Cousins. The author of the letter writes:
"It is possible to infer from the wording of The Proclamation, its tone, and the tenor of the meeting that some of the promoters could have been motivated by self-interest rather than any desire to work to solve the SCA's problems. This Document leant itself only too well to unspoken, but recognized, personal agendas on the parts of many (not all) of the Crowns involved."
That is slander. What it implies, separated from all of the indirection, is that some unnamed "many" of the sovereigns who signed the proclamations did so not for the good of their kingdoms or the Society but for their own good.
Neither Their Majesties of the Middle nor their advisors can read minds. The letter assigns bad motives to people who disagree with its author and provides no evidence for the charge. Its author does not have the courtesy to name the pople he is slandering--"many (not all) of the Crowns involved." He does not even have the honesty to come out and say what he is hinting at--he must hide behind "It is possible to infer that." Doubtless when charged with slander, he will reply that he did not actually say anyone was "motivated by self-interested rather than any desire to work to solve the SCA's problems"--not in so many words. He only said "It is possible to infer ... ." And this from someone who wrote, earlier in the letter, that the Estrella proclamation "was definitely not in keeping with the ideals that are the very foundation of Our society - those being courtesy and chivalry."
Later in the letter (point 11), the author takes it for granted in his arguments that what the crowns signatory to the declaration are proposing is a permanent system of Board members appointed by the crowns. In fact, as he knows or ought to know, most of the signatory crowns have publicly stated that that is not their objective--that royal appointment is simply a temporary expedient to deal quickly with the present emergency. To make such charges while deliberately leaving out the evidence against them is dishonest. To make such charges without troubling to discover what those you are charging have said about their own actions is grossly irresponsible.
It is a shameful passage. Posted to the Rialto by someone none of us had never heard of, it would lower the tone of our discourse. Over the names it is over, it besmirches the honor of Their Majesties and the honour of Their (and my) kingdom. Allah send Their Majesties better council upon the morrow.
[After this was posted to the Rialto, Her Majesty, to her credit, posted a message which amounted to an apology for having appeared to question the motives of the signatory sovereigns. His Majesty, to his credit, replied to a posting by a well meaning but unreasonably suspicious Middle Kingdom opponent of the Board, who thought His Majesty was asking for the names of opponents with the intention of punishing them, with a very courteous and conciliatory response.]