Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Song Lyrics



People always put poetry and songs on their blogs, even though the best that songs can do is trip the memory of the original song for those people who have heard the song, and remain a mystery to others - thereby being both simultaneously inscrutable and mundane.

Anyway, here's one from me - it could be a song about blogging, but there were no blogs when it was written, back in the 90s.

Really meant to read that book one day, yeah/
Always planned to travel far/
I realy meant to stay in touch with you, yeah/
I really meant to do the things I really meant to do

Oh hye, I can hear you saying "stop talking, its late in the day"/
Please don't think I'm delaying/
If you could only see/
All the things I meant to be/

- The Affordable Floors "All things I meant to be"

More later,

Monday, September 29, 2003

Life and Times



And sometimes life just doesn't work out.

When I first came out to Seattle, I was invited to join a small writer's group known as the Thousand Monkeys. About eight people, ranging from battle-hardened writing veterans to aspiring newcomers, all gathered in Cap Hill at the apartment of Kij and Chris. Said pair has decamped to the Great Plains since then, and the rest of us sort of ambled on, getting together once in a blue moon.

So I put out an invite for this evening. Tried to put the band back together. We had some who couldn't make it, and as meeting time approached, it was increasingly clear that those that were going to come weren't going to have anything ready for review (life gets in the way - I'm guilty of that myself). So after loosing a couple more, I ended up calling it off until we had amassed some work to discuss. Which was just as well, because I came home exhausted and stuffy-headed (Change in weather as a marine trough moved inland), so I ended up camping out in front of the Monday Football with BLTs and chocolate ice cream.

It could be worse - I could be a Bears fan (they got clobbered and clobbered badly, and are now 0-4).

And in any event, its not been that bad an evening at all. I got a copy of The Repentant from Technobooks in the mail, a horror anthology which leads with a story I wrote. The story is called "Lycanthrope Summer" and its my "Lake Geneva Werewolf" story. Reading it over reminded me how much I had enjoyed that one, and maybe I'll get my act in gear to start real writing again.

More later,

Sunday, September 28, 2003

Hanging with the Cain Boys



Topdog/Underdog by Suzan-Lori Parks, Directed by George C. Wolfe, Seattle Rep Theatre.

The Rep is on short rations these days, down from 9 plays cycling through two theatres simultaneously to a rump schedule of 6. It leads off with Topdog/Underdog, Pulitzer prize winner for 2002.

Topdog/Underdog is about two brothers who are brothers, living at the lowest possible level, held together by family ties and 3-card monte. Its Cain and Abel, but in this case both are Cain. Lincoln, the elder brother played by Harold Perrineau, is Brother Order and has a sit-down job with benefits” – he plays President Lincoln at a local Arcade, where people pay money to shoot him. Booth five years his junior, played whippet-nervous by Larry Gilliard, Jr. Booth is a petty crook and a big talker, and takes his older brother into his absolute bottom-level apartment when Lincoln’s wife throws him out. Call Booth Brother Chaos.

Yeah, Booth and Lincoln. Only two people in the show. We see a handgun in the first act. You wonder how THAT’s going to turn out.

Three-card-monte is the patter and the mantra – Lincoln gave up the game, Booth wants to master it. The character progression is interesting, and the actors are just fantastic, wrestling this oddly-shaped relationship play to the ground and pounding it into recognizable shape. Order succumbs to Chaos and Chaos punishes him for it.

What bothered me about the play most was the non-setting – “Here” and “Now”. Actually it takes place in Theatre-Land, that mystical universe where allegories run free and time and space can be mutated to make a point. It works if by “Here” we mean Times Square after the Second World War. And by “Now” we mean a shifting timeframe where the technology hasn’t advanced since the 70s. Booth boosts clothes with old-fashioned scams that don’t work anymore, and goes on a talk about how giving a woman your phone number means you have a home and a phone and no woman (It means you have a cell phone, these days). Lincoln’s job is Paleolithic as well – with Times Square’s arcades being Guillianized, is there no place a man can go if he wants to shoot Lincoln? All theatre is imaginary universes, but this one is more imaginary than most, and that was the highest hurdle I had to climb over.

So that leaves me with a comment that I’ve made before on other subjects – “Pulitzer? This is a Pullitzer?” I’ve had that reaction before – Pulitzer is the Good Housekeeping Seal on verbage, and I expect a lot more than I get sometimes. I guess I’m going to have to dig up how they award these things, because this is not the first time I’ve stumbled onto this realization.

More later,

Friday, September 26, 2003

The Blog Goes Ever On And On



So this week I hit the blogging wall for the first time - No new posts for most of the week. I've joked about how most blogs I've encountered have two entries - the first one states "Hey, I'm Blogging!" and the second one states "Well, its been three months since the first post, but I'm blogging again!". It makes me think of all those CB radios they sold in the 70s that sat in closets.

Not that I've run out of things to talk about - I've finished two books on tape, a novel, work is going suprisingly well, I have my regular gaming groups, I have yet to even talk about comics (my guilty pleasure), and I have a discovered an interest in local politics (and I have some facts I want to share). And it hasn't been that I've been too busy. Its just been that I haven't gotten to the keyboard with the intention of forming coherent thoughts (curse you, Civilization III!).

I have done too much blog-reading of late, and there are a number of left-o-center political blogs (like here and here). As a general warning, though there seems to be the same echo chamber in political blogging that you see over in talk radio. Actually, echo chamber is probably a bad analogy - that creates a cacophony of undifferentiated noise. Instead think about how a laser works - light bouncing along the length of a partially-reflective gem, until all the wavelengths fall into the same patern and it bursts loose in a coherent stream. As a result, blogs have a tendency to copy each other, one blog pulling stuff from another, and may result in the same tendency that an opinion gets transformed into a fact, or a rumor that suits the political agenda becomes an assumed truth (example - Drudge and the rightish websites covered the fact that the Dixie Chicks are leaving Country Music. T'aint true (though if you read the Chicks sarcastic retort, you thinkthink, if you don't have a sense of humor). Anyway, the resignation hit the Conservative Webs because it reinforced a long-held value, but as far as I can tell, none of them have printed a correction. (Drudge is always amusing - his big scoop of the moment - General Clark said NICE THINGS about the PRESIDENT! Wow, that sure disqualifies him for office!).

And the above goes for the conservative political blogs as well as the libs, of course. I just have a hard time wrapping my brain about the right's concerns ("Clark is evil! He's just a stalking horse for Hillary! (Now, Red America, we made a deal - I get over Florida, and YOU get over Hillary - Have you forgotten to take your meds again?)).

I'm probably going to have to start a backlist blog of information (like a normal private journal), and slot it in during the week. More later.

Primary Education


So it has been proposed, and the Governor has endorsed, the elimination of the Presidential Primary in Washington State in 2004. And I think that's just fine.

Yeah, below you can find my support for the blanket primary system, but in this case, the Presidential Primary is a bit of a gaffe, and an expensive ($6Million) one at that. And, unlike the normal primaries, we have no great tradition of Presidential Primaries here in the state until after 1986.

Previous to that year, both state parties chose their delegates from caucuses, much like Iowa. However, in that year, the Repub Caucuses were seized by well-organized conservatives, who made Pat Robertson the choice for candidate. Other Repubs freaked, and we suddenly have Presidential Primaries.

Now, this upcoming year, the Repubs don't really have an alternative to the incumbant, and the Dems aren't even going to use the vote (Huh?). Yeah, the Democrats were going to use caucuses in February to determine the bulk of their votes, and then the last 20% to be determined by Primary. But the national party bridled at the idea as too confusing (or democratic), so they are choosing by caucuses, with the primary nothing more than a bit public poll.

Hidden away in all this discussion is the matter I pointed out below - the 9th Circuit Court has done away with our blanket primary. Killing the 2004 primary election (and yeah, its a non-starter) gives the state more time to craft a response, or even overturn the new ruling. Saving money is nice (of course), but I don't think its the main thrust here.

More later,

Sunday, September 21, 2003

Theatre



I’m not a regular movie-goer. The joke is that if its in color, I have probably not seen it. The fact that another identical version of the movie will be on later in the day, or tomorrow, or on cable, or available on VHS makes it easy to push them off for a later day. I am also noted for taping things and never watching them – time shifting to oblivion.

Kate and I, however, are regular theatre-goers – we have a subscription to the Seattle Rep and this year took a flex-pass with INTIMAN. Theatre is different; in particular in the way we look at the viewing experience.

Theatre represents commitment. It is more event than activity. You are going to a particular rendezvous with a large number of like-minded individuals to watch a singular performance that will be similar but not identical to other performances. It carries with it the instantaneous, the fresh, and the irreproducible. Plays are hand-crafted and personalized. Plays are a dinner party.

Theatre is also adventurous, in that with a subscription you are committing to plays, including a number that you might never see on the spur of the moment. You commit, you get the tickets, you really should show. Innate politeness to the practitioners has gotten me to plays that I would never have considered otherwise For example, Sugar Plum Fairy – excellent, excellent play which, broken down into its basic concept (one-woman-show about her Christmas experiences as a young ballerina) would have sent me fleeing, were it a movie.

Not all plays will be reviewed, only if I feel I have something to say – a recommendation, a warning, an insight, or occaisionally, a lack of insight.

Play: Death By Afghanistan



Homebody/Kabul by Tony Kushner, Directed by Bartlett Sher, September 12-October 11, INTIMAN Theatre

That all being said, Tony Kushner is not for the faint of heart or slow of mind. He’s a black diamond ski trail of concepts, a type 5 of white-water writing, a New York Marathon of playwriting. His language is large, lyrical and elliptical, looping back on itself, and his plots try to link the grand scheme of things with the personal. He’s also wordy beyond compare. Were he to write limericks, he would end up with sonnets. Nothing is easy or clear, and his most well-known play Angels in America, had to be broken into two separate evenings (and HBO is apparently picking it up for a 6-hour miniseries). His writing ability, plus and minus, is on full display in Homebody/Kabul.

The play begins with an extended one-woman monologue – The Homebody. Overly educated, thesaurus-speaking, deeply medicated and non-adventurous, she is about to launch on a grand adventure sparked by an outdated travel book and the need to buy hats for a party, a grand adventure that leads to Kabul, in Afghanistan, in the wake of the initial American attacks in 1998. The monolog was originally written as a stand-alone, a holds its own well – indeed, it is an actor’s dream and challenge, filled with obscure words and turns of phrase, engaging conversation (though the Homebody, of course, does all the talking), and at the heart of it deep passion. The actress taking the role was an understudy (I wish I had her name – this is one of the joys of theatre) and was bright and dotty and frightening and excellent.

The Homebody provides a number of clues of what is to happen and why, in fact a plethora of hints to the future. She exits the stage and leaves a hole in the rest of the proceedings. Indeed, the rest of the play is about the hole she leaves, and the people she pulls in after her.

The Kabul section picks up a short time later. The Homebody has gone to Afghanistan and has been slain. Indeed, the opening of the sequence is the graphic coroner’s report on her attack and death. But no body can be produced – it has been lost, which creates the question of if she is really dead or has been transformed into an Afghani woman, shrouded by the Taliban beneath a burkha. The remainder of the play is the attempts of husband and daughter to find out. They in turn are transformed by the search.

But nothing is easy in the play, and it takes a great deal of time to reveal that nothing is easy – 3 1/2 hours, plus intermissions. And at the close of it nothing is quite resolved, nothing is absolutely known. Several of the characters have entered Shroedinger’s Box, and are maybe-alive, maybe-dead. Which is part of the point. And I say part because even the morning after I am not entirely sure where we are.

I think, within the play, Afghanistan is gingerbread, decoration, and etcetera. Yes, it is a draw, but for the basic concept and question, the Homebody could have disappeared in Nam or the Soviet Union or Detroit and the play’s basic message would hold up. This is not about Afghanistan, no more than Angels in America is about angels. Given a choice, I am going to choose the smaller picture as the point, not the larger one.

The acting was excellent. Homebody was a great presence, as she needs to be to hold up the rest of the play. Lawrence Ballard, who is a Rep/INTIMAN regular, held his own as the father whose fa├žade breaks and who spills into his own depths in the wake of becoming unmarried. Kristen Flanders was a finely-build edge as the daughter, but her own beautiful singing voice belies her chain-smoking character. And Jacqueline Antaramian (I'm pulling from the program, now) was perfect at the Homebody’s doppelganger – Pashtun, former librarian, and supposedly mad.

This is a rough play, hand made and jagged. The pacing is odd, and the act breaks seem placed more out of actor/observer endurance as opposed to resolving action. The play's characters are realistic in that they are a mass of contradictions, and as such hard to get a grip on one way or the other. Indeed, the characters, and the play itself, actively fight against your acceptance and understanding. Kushner does engage in broad strokes in one area – all the white westerners are substance abusers to some degree, underscoring his idea of old empires “succumbing to luxury.” Beyond that, its a journey that you pull out that which you care to, and like a trip through a foriegn country, it remains unaffected by your decision. It’s a marathon of a play – long, deep, and often frustrating.

More later

Friday, September 19, 2003

I Meet A Candidate



So I came home at a reasonable hour today, and for my efforts had a chance to talk with Barbara Heavey, Democrat Candidate for the 9th. Yeah, you probably thought I was done with local politics after clowning around with the Primary, but I did note that all the Repubs said they were doorbelling and didn’t see a one of them. Heavey I have now met. I took the pamphlet, told her I had voted for her once and would do so again, and wished her well.

Then I remembered something important and chased her down, and ended up standing with her talking politics in a slight drizzle across the street for about 15 minutes. Yeah, me with my head cold.

Here’s the thing that I had remembered. My neighborhood, the Panther Lake area, indeed most of Benson Hill and Fairwood, are King County for services, but are being merged into nearby cities like Renton and Kent. This has been a supposedly ongoing process, but with the tightness of the budget, the county is trying to expedite the annexation both through special incentives to the annexing cities, as well as by reducing services to the areas they hope to be annexed. Seeing my services reduced, this makes me concerned, and I brought the concerns to Ms. Heavey.

She was up to speed on the matter, and while she encourages moving the “urbanized county” areas into metropolitan government, she does not approve of the “starve them out” tactic so far in use. Instead she proposes two options – one is joining with an existing city, outsourcing the added service burden back to the county until the city is fully prepared to take on the added population (indeed, that’s something that, according to the Times yesterday is now being being kicked around), The other, which I had not considered, was forming a new city in the highlands above Renton and Kent.

Now, that’s not as screwy as it sounds. Apparently about 10 years ago, The Fairwood area considered it (and Ms. Heavey was a part of that attempt), but there were a lot of unknowns. Since then, both Maple Valley and Newport both formed, so there are fewer unknowns. The big problem would be tax base – apparently in the initial annexations, the nearby cities grabbed the commercial land (bucks) while leaving King county with the residential areas (spending). There has been more commercial development since then, but I don’t know if its enough to float our own city. I’m going to have to dig up a map.

The idea of a City on the Hill also appeals, since I tend to shop “up here” more than “down there”, and Kate tends to try to avoid needless trips down in the valley (gas and wear and tear on the car). And there is a difference in direction between the older communities in the valley and the newer places up here. The Hill is often an afterthought. Maybe its time for us to have our own voice.

Back to the candidate. Ms. Heavey struck me as sharp, knowledgeable, and very willing to get into the details. She gave me a lot of information on the issues and the campaign in general. She pointed out that Public Disclosures on on-line and that her description of “developer money” came from identifying the individuals making those donations (and a lot of it coming into the Republican pockets came from development interests to the north of the 9th, which is something I had not considered). She also feels that a fair amount of the votes for Hammond were more votes against Roach, and that her doorbelling has given her a lot of support to this theory. I remain convinced that Hammond is in the enviable position of being both the heir to the throne and a new kid on the block, and by not specifically offending Roach and Fortunato supporters, makes it easier for them to support him.

I told her about this blog and gave her the address, though if she tunes in, she should be warned that this reaches literally dozens of people, of which maybe 8 live in the 9th district, and of those maybe 4 are registered to vote (and yes, that’s a nag to you, Bill – get registered, you’ve been here longer than I have).

More later,

PS – I checked the election results, which take into account absentee voting (a big thing out here). Add about 5k votes to the total, but the percentages remain unchanged.

The Blog Goes Ever On And On


Fighting an unpleasant headcold which is going around the office. Offices are built for easy transmission of disease, and ours more so than most. In addition to the veal-pen-like proximity of the workers (the cubes are low and close - excellent for both communication and communicability), we have a large number of young people on the staff with children, who with the return of school become their own disease vectors, which get carried in-house.

We also have a thick-headed policy of the "time bank" - they lump all vacation and sick time together, and you take it from a common source as personal time off. Problem is, most people would rather take personal time off for vacation as opposed to illness, so in most borderline cases ("I'm not dead yet!") would rather show up for work as opposed to take the necessary downtime. Its one of those corporate policies that had to be created by someone who never had to work under it.

Lastly, of course, there is the simple fact that the work is very enjoyable and rewarding. Despite the cost of personal time, I would have thought twice about coming in if not for the fact that I just had a peer review of a new design, and am cracking to implement some of the suggestions.

More later,

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Election Redux



About 20% of the eligible voters in the 9th voted yesterday, making it about 14k people total. Of those votes, Hammond got 27%, Roach 22%, and Fortunato 16%. Heavey got 35%. So it will be Hammond versus Heavey in the main election.

All in all, things look pretty good for Hammond - he conducted himself generally like an adult, though challenges to the other two Republican campaigns could be traced back to his supporters. I can more easily see Roach and Fortunato voters coming over to his side than his voters going to Roach or Fortunato if the vote had gone the other way. Roach did very well despite the lack of official support.

Heavey, on the other hand, has her work cut out for her. Her "Attack Moderate" ads on the Repubs may have helped Hammond more than hurt him, because he looked like the most responsible. Heavey added up all the donations for all the campaigns from developers, which made Hammond look like the least of the three weevils. And a later mailing, describing the three as "career politicians" tends to cling lightly to a man that is holding his first political office. It almost seems that she is pulling this stuff out of the standard-issue playbook, and will need to get serious, in particular in farm country to the South and East of here.

In other news, the vote that probably everyone knows about is the shooting down of the "Latte Tax", with a 68% no vote. The one that few people outside of Seattle knows is a vote to shuffle marijuana busts to the bottom of the Seattle Police priority list. That one got a 59% Yes vote. Local law enforcement declares that the vote will not affect their law-enforcement procedure, and grass busts have only about 150 prosecuted cases a year (In other words, Kate noted, they ALREADY are a low priority).

More later,

Tom Lehrer



I'm not one to post links, but Wolf found this one, and I had to share. Its a flash animation file.

More later,

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Primary Day



Primary day today, which in my case involved driving to the local polling place, discovering that it had been moved to another school, going to that other school, finding it to be at the exact moment everyone is dropping their kids off, finding the room, and discovering that, despite the fact that the polls had been open for a half-hour, I was the first voter in the five voting precincts to find the place and vote. That was followed by a miserable commute that involved being held up in traffic because of a street sweeper, a motorcycle cop, a heavy rainstorm, and a goat. But that's not what I want to whine about today.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has handed down a foolish ruling.

No, not the one involving pushing the Recall vote back (though I am queasy about this one - I'd rather be trusting old busted-down technology for that vote as opposed to the new technological hotness). They have ruled Washington's open primaries to be unconstitutional.

Here's how it has worked for 67 years in the state of Washington. You go to the polling place. You get a ballot. You vote. That's it. No party declaration needed. This morning, I could have voted for Heavey, Fortunato, Roach, or Hammond, regardless of my personal allegiance. And though tempted to make mischief (choose the weakest Republican to face Heavey), I would rather see two competant candidates going against each other.

It works. And the local political parties (Republican, Democrat, and even the Libertarians) HATE it. Because, of course, there is the chance of mischief, but more importantly, because it keeps the core voters (Right, Left, or Just Out There, depending on the party) from dominating the process. I mean, how do you propose to run a democracy if you just let ANYONE vote?

The weirdness is that they have challenged this blanket primary of the grounds of the right of free association. Not the individual voters, but the right of free association of the political parties. Its an interesting idea, effectively saying that they can restrict the procedure only to a few of their choice.

So now the state (whether it wins a Supreme Court Appeal or not) is going to have to spend time and money putting together an alternative to the blanket primary in time for 2004 (when, in a reverse of the 9th district, we're going to see a bunch of Democrats versus a single Republican) in order to make the parties happy. Its pretty sucky, and goes against one of the interesting parts of Washington's political climate, forcing the voters into little pens where they can be more easily handled.

Such is the nature of political progress these days.

More Later,

Monday, September 15, 2003

Friends of Mr. Fortunato (Continued)



It is Monday, the primary being tomorrow between the ghostly trio (Hammond, Roach, and Fortunato). The local news creates some interesting notes in this contest:

- While Roach is painted as a the darling of the developers in Heavey's ads, she is being stiffed by the Master Builder's Association. The MBA is doing this at the request of the Repub party, because The GOP Heads have endorsed Hammond (This is reported out in the open in the local papers, by the way - Hammond is "our boy").

- Despite this, Roach is out-fundraising Hammond 43k to his 39k to date, with Fortunato with 11k. Roach is also retaliating for Hammond's people challenging her residency by having HER people file complaints with the State Public Disclosure Commission. The Commission will not be able to report until after the election, but it is a nice going-away present from one campaign to another, regardless of the outcome.

- There are about 78,000 voters in the 9th, but only about 17,000 of them will vote tomorrow (which means the Republicans are spending about 5 bucks a vote).

- Both Fortunato and Roach state that Hammond will come in third in the race.

- All GOP candidates were declaring that they have been ringing doorbells all weekend. We never saw any of them, but they may either have written the Panther Lake area off as a pro-Democrat stronghold that is going to be absorbed by Kent eventually, or the temple bell and dragon in the front yard scared them off.

So here comes the handicapping - I'm going to go with Hammond as the GOP choice to go after Heavey, and do a pretty good job. Roach will be a strong second, and Fortunato, alas, a distant third. Hammond has the party backing, the mantle of his predecessor, and the developer money, and the reputation of be easier for the council to deal with. Roach has sheer cussedness.

Of course, Phil Fortunato gets the last word, scoffing in an interview at "this notion that all council members have to like each other."

More later,

Sunday, September 14, 2003

Flash Mobs



Yesterday morning, at 10:35 AM, about a hundred and fifty people gathered around the base of the Seattle Space Needle, jumped up and down, shouting “The Doctor is In!”. The Seattle Times duly reported this in their Sunday edition on the front page. This proves:
• People in Seattle are even weirder than you thought.
• The Media will report anything at all to avoid facing real issues.
• Howard Dean has serious traction.
• Garry Trudeau has way too much power.

OK, this is tied into a recent strip in Doonesbury, in which Mike’s daughter forms a flash mob over the Internet with the above orders, then ends up worrying that by politicizing the flash mob, she defeats the purpose of the flash mob. In the Seattle Times write-up, this is pitched as the latest reportage of the silly season, of instant crowds of strangers. Its new hotness, and they claim to speak with the creator.

Except the creator should be Bruce Sterling. Back in 1998, he published a book called “Distraction”, which was political humor so dry and subtle that apparently no one got it. However, the book opens with the protagonist watching a group of supposed total strangers destroy a bank. Its not noted as a flash mob by name, but the basic approach was there. So much for the “new hotness”.

By the way, I had an alibi – I was at Tai Chi at the time.

Friday, September 12, 2003

The Friends of Mr. Fortunato (Cont).



Meanwhile, in King County’s 9th District, the Republicans are putting their best feet forward, dishing their opponents only slightly, and there is a curious sighting of the Democratic contender.

The official vote pamphlets are out, the local media has made its endorsements, and we are four days away from the election. Now we see the mailings.

Phil Fortunato is almost restrained this time, pitching himself as “The Taxpayer’s Choice”in a red, white, and blue mailing that stresses that he has real ideas to solve the traffic problem, and, given his background as an environmental consultant (and property rights advocate) he can bring all sides to the table. He also supports Family, Small Business, Seniors, Mom, Apple Pie, and Bunnies. It’s a pretty standard mailer, and surprising only in its restraint.

Incumbent Steve Hammond is also pretty straightforward, running as “Respected. Effective”. He rolls out the endorsements of both the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Seattle Times (though wisely excerpts those primary endorsement from the entire editorial, which describes him as “the best of a weak field”). He also claims the mantle of his predecessor, bringing the wife of the previous office-holder in with a quote that Hammond is the recognized heir to the throne. He does deplore his opponents both for saying that he is not the true dauphin, and also chides them for “playing games” with their residency “in order to get a political paycheck”. Its fun to watch the incumbent run declare his opponent to be a “career politician.” A few swipes here, but nothing really horrible.

So we have to turn to Pam Roach, who has put four mailings into my mailbox, including a four-color newpaper-style version, for more fire and brimstone. She’s putting the cash in for this, and has a couple great moves that show up repeatedly, including linking Sexual Predators with Higher Property Taxes. It’s a bit of a bend, but every time she mentions the need to keep sexual criminals at bay (her personal accomplishment is that she got the state to move a half-way house elsewhere) she follows up with a push against higher taxes. Obviously the two are connected! She wants lower taxes, but also supports GPS tracking for sexual predators, because that, of course, will be money well spent.

She is also running against Hammond, since he was put into office “by Democrats”, and that “Liberals are planning to increase utility taxes Unless We Stop Them.’ Just a whiff of grapeshot, there, the Republican rallying song. She is, of course, the Taxpayer’s Friend, with Experience That Counts (Phil and Steve’s experiences, of course, do not count, and she notes it accordingly). She also warns that her opponents are bringing out “attack mail”. Cool. I’m still waiting for it.

Also regarding Ms. Roach, a King County judge has ruled that Pam Roach is able to run, despite her most recent move to the area. The P-I reported this news using the words “dubious” and “reluctantly” in describing the judge’s decision. The Times was more neutral, but brought up some of Roach’s past actions, including her reportedly threatening her aides with a handgun. Roach remains her own worst opponent.

Yet it’s the Democrat who provides the most ammo in the fight this week, which surprises me. Barbara Heavey has been invisible through most of this process, the George Harrison of this quartet. Without an opponent in the primary, she can gather her forces against the winner. Yet she’s in four-color territory with both of her mailings, but I don’t know why.

One of them is pretty smartly-aimed at the demographic here – “It’s not about a Party Line, It’s about the Bottom Line.” She’s put herself in as a pragmatic Democrat – lower taxes and smaller government, supporting our medical resources, and positioning herself as a moderate. “Vote the person, not the party.” It’s a good push for this region, and I don’t believe that she’s not what she claims.

The other mailing is interesting in the extreme – it’s a 4/4 foldout attack on the three Republicans. The outer folds tell how bad “sprawl” in (more taxes, worse highways, poorer services), and then on the inside goes after the three Repubs for their campaign contributions from developers and “pro-sprawl” special interests. Its meant to swing people over to her “person of the people” stance, but instead it raises questions -
• What’s a pro-sprawl special interest, anyway? Is it a box you check on the form?
• Why count entire careers? Yeah, Pam Roach got 85 K, but only about 2 K of that for this campaign. Hammond, listed as 13 K, got 6 of it for this campaign (7k for a failed big for State Representative three years earlier that I hadn’t known about).
• And this is interesting – Phil pitched that his was a small campaign, but according to this (and its pulled from Public Disclosure Commissions Records), he’s gotten 3 K from these interests, more than supposedly Developer favorite Pam Roach (The Times identified Roach and Hammond as having strong developer support, but not Fortunato)
• So Barb, thanks for the information, but where are YOU getting your money from?

This is an interesting development – an Attack Moderate. I can’t imagine this playing in the more rural neighborhoods further to the south, and this mailing may only be targeted to the Benson Hill area. Are her cash reserves that secure? Does she want to make a solid showing against the split Repub field, making her seem a sure thing? Is she doing groundwork to show her opponents as being “too controversial” for elected office? I don’t know, but I’ll keep you posted.

More later.


Thursday, September 11, 2003

Two Years Ago



Two Years Ago the phone rang early in the morning. It was Nardi, my mother-in-law, calling from southwestern Pennsylvania. Almost all our family lives in southwestern Pennsylvania, in the Pittsburgh area.

“Oh my god, Jeff,” she said, “They blew it up!”

After finding out who “they” and “it” were, I gave the phone to Kate and walked down three flights to the TV room. By that point the Towers were on fire and there were reports of an attack on the Pentagon. The pictures were only of the Towers from a distance, pyres of smoke rising above the skylines. The pictures we would remember would come later. The first tower may have already come down by that time. I don’t think it had. One, at least, was still standing, wreathed in smoke, a jagged shard against the sky.

I hugged Kate and went to work, following the news on the radio, and when I got to work, on the net. Not a lot of work to be done, in the face of everything. The second tower came down, and there were some stills of the devastation leaking into the office. And the news of a fourth plane, downed in southwestern Pennsylvania, in the Pittsburgh area.

Almost all our family lives in southwestern Pennsylvania

I made phone calls to family. My brother Scott said that the plane came down near Somerset, far to the south and east, near my niece’s horseback-riding camp. My parents were at rehab, doing the treadmills, watching CNN on the screens when the second aircraft hit the Towers. My sister’s husband came home early from work. There was no work really to be done. Not that day.

Later, reaching out through net and phone, I found out where the others were: friends in New York watching from their rooftops. A friend I thought was in Texas was 10 blocks north of Ground Zero with his dying father. Two friends returning from Europe felt the plane shift and heave, and the sun move from one side of the plane to the other as they returned to the continent, Newfoundland already being full. Other friends were scattered around the country, getting the news the same way I was. No one was at Ground Zero, no one I knew.

I was playing in the side yard that November day when Kennedy was shot. I was perched in a seat in the basement of my parent’s college dorm when the first men landed on the moon, watching the painfully distorted pictures on a black and white TV. I was dressed up in an psuedo-Native American shaman, my face painted half-white and half-black, with an buffalo headdress, watching Nixon resign. I was talking with Harold Johnson when Tracy Hickman burst into the room with the Challenger news. These are the connecting points, the supporting joints, of my generation, when we were all together, when we were all gathered together in one space, in one mind, in one emotion.

That’s all

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

Novel: Pattern Recognition



Pattern Recognition by William Gibson, Putnam Press

This is Gibson’s best. Not his best since Neuromancer. Not his best since Difference Engine with Bruce Sterling, but quite simply his best. Not that he doesn’t get into trouble in a few spots, but we will get to that. In Pattern Recognition, the present catches up to Gibson’s future, so that he is writing in our presently tense time.

I mean tense both ways. First, he’s writing in present tense, which is often a writer's stunt but he pulls it off, luring you in with its immediacy. Its also present tense because it is set in our After Eleven world, and the Fall of the Towers gives this piece a more meaty underpinning and relevance than would be in a piece of science fiction.

Here's the summary: Cayce Pollard is, for lack of a better term, a socially functional freelance mutant. She can look at a logo or design and know immediately if its going to work or not in the world-wide market (the marvel of such an ability is not whether it exists but how you would realize such a talent, and more importantly how you would convince others that it was worth paying for). The down side is that she is vulnerable to particular logos and media overload (she has an allergy to, among other things, the Michelin Man). Her father was a security expert who disappeared in lower Manhattan on 9/11. In addition to her ability to make money off her mutant talent, Cayce is also a fan of “The Footage” – fragments of a film being uploaded onto the net by persons unknown, which has attracted its own fan following – footage-heads tracking on the latest appearance of a single shot or a hundred frames, and arguing about their meaning.

Cayce is hired to track down the creator of the footage, and that in turn sends her pinballing across the modern world at the relatively rarified level of front-of-the-plane travel and first-class accommodations. In the process she deals with allies, enemies, allies who should be enemies and enemies who could be allies. This is meat-and-potatoes cyberpunk without the punk, but what holds it together is that, unlike the cold-edged finish of the eighties movement, the character Cayce is interesting, as she tries to come to terms with her father’s maybe-passing and her own life, which always tethers back to, but never enters, American airspace.

Gibson’s language is spot-on as Cayce travels through the altered landscape of the present. He captures both local mannerisms and customs with the skill of a world-traveler/observer, but also puts it terminology that is immediate and temporary. In a decade the language used here will look stilted – in twenty years it may be as impenetrable as Gilbert and Sullivan seems today. He pulls it off, and it reads incredibly well.

Even so, there are two places Gibson’s narrative trips you up. The one is pure Gibsonian, the other just a writer’s convention that can bounce you out of the book entirely if you don’t hang on. The Gibsonian one is The Phone Call From God – All Gibson novels are really two books – the one you are reading and the one that is happening while you are reading it. Towards the end of a Gibson book you get the Phone Call – which tells you what has been going on behind the scenes, where the secret plots are, explaining a lot of why people are doing what they are doing. Yes, there is Phone Call sequence in this book, the reveal what is going on. To Gibson’s credit, he pulls it off pretty well, but has become a part of his stock in trade in much the same way Thin Man movies end with all the suspects pulled into one room.

The second matter is less forgivable, and is a test of reader understanding and forgiveness. The entire last act hinges on Cayce doing something that she would not normally do, given what we know about her to date. So this action is presented as an accident, one that we are not prepared for, but one that sends her off on that eventual collision course with the Phone Call From God. Either Gibson needed to prepare the ground better (show her doing the type of thing that leads to “the accident” – there are opportunities earlier in the book) or give her more of a reason (in which case it was not an accident, but an act of commission). It may simply be that the original outline put her at this point making this decision, but in adding the meat to the bones, Cayce grows to the point that she would not consciously commit the action she is called upon to do. Hence the accidental action, which is a writer’s cheat, an action committed by the protagonist, but without the protagonist meaning to. When you see it happen, you might want to close the book, which is a pity because of the strength of the rest of the text.

And yet, this is Gibson’s best – meatier than his cyberpunk books and more human, warmer. It is also more immediate, not only because of its tense but because of its timing. As we move out of the shadows of the Towers, the immediacy of that tragedy will fade, and with it the connections. It belongs to its time – not a Fin De Cycle novel but a "Premiere" De Cycle novel, and as we move forward through the decade, will seem quaint or even blatently wrong.

This is a book with a timer. Read it now.

More later.

Monday, September 08, 2003

Potporri



A number of the lesser things in life:

Freak Chili Accident



So Sunday night I burned myself in a freak chili accident. I was not cooking the chili. I was not serving the chili. No, I was just carrying the chili across the kitchen and jostled the bowl to avoid running into someone else. This jostling spilled the chili onto my wrist and arm. I dropped the full bowl of chili on the kitchen floor as I screamed in pain, cursed (which is always optional in such situations) and ran for the kitchen faucet. Spent the rest of the evenings nursing my burned wrist (neosporin and ice), and now have four brilliant red stripes on the underside of my wrist where the lava-hor chili seared my flesh (it is striped because I was holding my hand in such a way that the flesh bunched up where it was burned). Kate did the cleanup, and noted that the teapots on the lower shelf needed cleaning anyway.

This is why I don't tell my mother I blog - this would get a phone call from her.

Weather Report



It rained here last night, the first sizable rain in two months, a quarter-inch up on the hill. Seattle is legendary for being rainy, but is less-well-known for a dry, high summer, which this year was drier and higher than normal. All the local lawns perished, and even ours, with the benefit of shade and a motley collection of different grasses, turned more brown than green. We emptied the water barrels in the back that we use for gardening, and were working on the front ones.

It was about a quarter-inch, and to be frank, its just a start. We could use a long, wet fall and winter to recharge the aquifers and reservoirs. We can also use the wet weather to convince people not to move here - Seattlites sort of "round up" when they talk about how wet it is out here, because otherwise more people will come here.

The continual sun and warmth did start getting to people. Even Kate, who is a hot-weather fiend, felt the oppression of continually blue skies ("Creepy" she says). Now things seem to be getting back to normal (rain overnight, nice overcast days) and people should relax a little.

Flag Day Redux


Kate, by the way, doesn't read this blog (or claims not to, anyway). However, we do talk about it, and she had this to add about the recent Flag Day article. We were at a stoplight, next to a pickup festooned with flag bumper stickers and declarations of American bravado.

"These colors don't run," she read aloud. She paused a beat, then added, "But they sure do fade."

And that's why I married her.

More later,

Saturday, September 06, 2003

I Join the Circus



I've mentioned the Cirque Du Soleil before in this space - its tent went up in the Boeing parking lot in Renton. For those that don't know, it is a European-style circus out of Quebec which features live acts (no animals) and clowns coupled with an allegorical storyline and sumptuous costumes. Its been shown on the BRAVO network, has a permanent gig in Vegas, and has been satirized in both the Simpsons and South Park. The current traveling show in Seattle is called Alegria. For my birthday, Kate got tickets - not just general admission tickets, but the VIP tour, which meant good seats, a separate reception area, appetizers and champagne.

When describing the show itself, words fail. Seriously. Most of what I have read on it sounds pretentious, and I will probably do little better herer. It is a crystalized fancy, a waking dream, continually in motion, continually spinning out its performances and framing them in small acts. The live acts themselves are wonderful (aerialists, trampoline artists, gymnasts, contortionists, a fire dancer, a strong man, and of course the clowns, both friendly and grostesque), and on the open stage beneath the great tent there is continual activity, continual engagement. By intermission my mouth was dry merely from my jaw being dropped open for so long.

There is a dream-like quantity to this circus, and a hazy connectedness to reality and myth. Bluejay women and acrobats from the Elven Court spin across the stage. Corsairs dance among the highwires and a genie swirls overhead. We see an alien bodytwister in a white owl cape stalked by a crippled angel, henlike clowns, a hunchbacked ringmaster, chantueses backed up by an almost-doll-like clockwork band, exotic acts arriving without fanfare or introduction and build to amazing resolutions. You're expected to keep up, or at least to accept that which unfolds before you. Forget analyzing, forget commenting. Just let it wash over you.

And then, after the intermission, I joined the circus, briefly. One of the singers, the White Faerie Queen, sang warmly in French, then descended from the stage to flirt among the front rows. She stopped before me (I had an aisle seat), and took me in both hands, singing as she led me to the stage (I stumbled on the top step, she kept me upright, still singing). We danced at center stage, only a few steps, I'm sure, but time expanded for me beneath the lights, such that it seemed much longer. Then the Strongman, who had graduated in the first act from being a caged beast to becoming the protector of the faerie women, grasped me around my waist from the back, hauled me a foot in the air, carried me to the edge of the stage, and, under the direction of the hunchbacked ringmaster, sent me back to my seat.

I don't remember how the song ended - by the time I recovered the clowns were on the stage again, trying to deliver a letter by imaginary horseback. It was magical and amazing and hillarious. Kate swears it was the funniest thing she's ever seen me do (I think I was blushing through-out, but completely confident that they would let no harm would come to me or my ego in the process). I get more than just a little stage fright, but it happened so fast, so effortlessly, so naturally, that I had no other choice but to embrace it. It was, quite simply, magical.

The Alegria show travels, to Portland at the end of September, and I don't know where from there. If you get a chance, go see it. You don't have to get the big tickets, or dance with the White Faerie Queen, but you'll find it is a fantastic, exciting, and overwhelming experience. There's a lot of talk and joking about feeding the "Inner Child", and this did exactly that. Even before I was swept onto the stage.

Go see it.

More later,

The Friends of Mr. Fortunato (Cont.)



For those coming in late, the first installment of this is found in the archives under the above name. The short version is - I live in the 9th District of King County, a strongly rural Republican turf with a wedge of Suburbia in its northwest border. Three hard-conservative Repubs are contending for the seat on the King County Council made vacant by the previous office-holder's death (Kent Pullens, another Republican). The three are - the current appointed conservative Republican (Steve Hammond), the opportunistic conservative Republican (Pam Roach), and the populist conservative Republican (Phil Fortunato). There's also a Democrat in the greater race, but its assumed that whoever gets the Repub nomination in the primary will get the seat.

Now, all three have platforms which are pretty darn similar, and of course, are written in code. Translations are provided for their near-identical stands.
- Reduced Government (Translation - take King County Council from 13 district-voted positions to 9 county-wide positions, which the Republicans hope they may dominate).
- Reduced Spending and Taxes (Translation - Reduced spending on anything that does not immediately affect the southeast corner of King County).
- Increased Services (Translation - Increased spending on anything that DOES affect the southeast corner of King County)
-Better Highways (Translation - We get contributions from developers, and they can't make money if we don't get them more roads).

That's pretty much it. Beyond that, it gets nasty and personal. Here's some of the latest:

Fortunato, despite the number of yard signs (campain hint - its a bad idea to put "Another Friend of Phil Fortunato" signs on a vacant lot), is being pretty much ignored by the other two. Regarded a bit of a gadfly, and has been wrapped up with a small business scandal (this is from the Seattle Times - a bookkeeper had accused Fortunato of altering two checks). He's got good name recognition, and is pitching himself as the people's candidate, unafraid to ask tough questions. This is to say that he gets on people's nerves. He says that the current office-holder, Hammond, "owes" the council for his position, and as such would not be a independent voice. Needless to say, county Republican leaders are not fond on independence. Fortunato is trailing in the money race, with less than 10k of contributions.

Pam Roach is the carpetbagger, a very mobile candidate that has changed residences depending on the openings in various local governments. She refers to Hammond as "The Placeholder", and portrays herself as the rightful heir to Pullens (she was one of his aides). She was a state senator for 13 years, and as a result has the best name recognition of the three (Fortunato is close, Hammond is far behind). Unfortunately, as a State Senator, she has a lot of baggage as well, in particular for stunts like standing up on the Senate Floor to demand who moved a bouquet of flowers from her desk. Per the Times, she's gota campaign fund of about 20k, mostly from trucking and development interests. While none of these guys are environmentalists (and I say this knowing Fortunato's job is as an Environmental Consultant), Roach is the most pave-the-earth of the lot.

And then there is Steve Hammond, the current office-holder, a minister from Enumclaw, who is the party leader's choice and has a war chest of 31K, mostly from Republican Party sources and the afore-mentioned develpment interests. He's ignored Phil, but makes the fact that he is a "real resident" part of his mailings and statements for the press, taking on Pam as an interloper. The best thing he has going for him is that, except for his term replacing Pullens, no one knows about him, so he hasn't had a chance to really cheese people off - Fortunato and Roach are in many ways running against their own records as much as against an incumbent.

Anyway, they've been sniping at each other in mailings and in the press, and since there is not a lot of primary action (most of it is incumbant versus sacrificial lamb), this particular race has gotten a lot more press than it might otherwise get from the city newspapers. It has been nasty between the three of them so far, and will probably get nastier in the next two weeks. Fortunato, in particular, is a master of the 11th-hour blitz.

And now you know why I don't comment on California recall election - we have too much fun at home.

More later.




Friday, September 05, 2003

Dragon*Con Bingo



Through the help of Kevin Goddard and Jon Leitheusser, I have managed to get Dragon*Con Costume Bingo published. You can find it here.

More later

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

T-Shirts at Dragon*Con



Spotted At Dragon*Con

"I am a member of the bomb squad. If you see me running, do try to keep up."

"You're a little short to be an Imperial Auditor"
(I wanted to get this one for Kate).

"Mine's Tighter"
(Sold at a corset booth. Again with the Corsets)

"I have a catapult. Give my your money or I will drop a large rock on your head"
(written in Latin).

And one that made me laugh every time I saw it (usually on very nice-looking young women):
"You don't need to see my chest
These aren't the breasts you're looking for
Move along."


More later.

DRAGON*CON


And, by someplace quiet, I meant a gathering of 30,000 fans of science fiction, fantasy, comic books, media, hacking, gaming, and other sundry vices and habits.

Dragon*Con is one of the largest such conventions in the country, and the largest in the south. It is Mardi-Gras for Wonks. Where Nerds Collide. Geeks gone wide. Every trekker, comic geek, fanboy/fangirl, gamer, costumer, filker, goth, larper, vampire, and furry in the American South are concentrated in one spot over the Labor Day weekend. And that's not to mention the corset-fans and women who like vinyl nurse outfits with 8 inch heels.

Our team (seven from Seattle, and two sculptors from Ohio) ran a booth and a tournament area, aided by our Envoys (a crew of talented volunteers who ran demos and oversaw tournaments and proved to be just about essential (I always wanted my own set of minions)). We were quartered one of the two main convention hotels - The Marriot Marquis. This I quickly named the "Hotel Azathoth" since it was constructed of stacked truncated ellispes with a curved triangular elevator shaft (with external pods) rising in the center of its tremendous atrium, this central shaft throwing off spans in seemingly random directions. Its vertigo-inducing, a Fritz-Lang version of StarFleet Headquarters. Perfect for the convention.

The other hotel, the Hyatt, had the advantage of having the best-functioning bar, and as a result became the center of people-watching. Dragon*Con is one of those conventions where wearing a loud Hawaiian shirt does not make you stand out - if fact, it leaves you a little mundane. There is a lot of dress-up at this con. We had a lot of pirates (Johnny Depp has a lot to answer for - marrying the themes of pirates and eye shadow together), Ren-Faire, Media costumes (A trio of Batmans, a brace of Matrix Monsigneurs, Stormtroopers aplenty (including an Elvis Trooper and Groovy Tie-die Trooper), teams of Ghostbusters and Stargaters, magic staffs and live steel, all manner of fetishes (leather, latex, dom wannabes, schoolgirls, and did I mention the corsets?) enough body-piercings to put the Atlanta TSA agents on full alert at the metal detectors, and painted nudity. The crowd was strongly female and relaatively uninhibited.

If anything, this year was LESS salacious than the last DRAGON*CON I was at, nearly a decade ago. They moved most of the pornographic material out of the dealer area and put it into the hallway costumes, where it belongs. That is to say, that it is much more in the hands of the fans as opposed to the various dealers and companies, which is a little easier to handle.

So we had a good time. Long, long days (dealer's room open until 7 PM) and longer evenings (at least I could use my advanced age to excuse myself early in the evening - like 1 AM). Our games are hot sellers, and we are liked by the fans, and the few stabs at public speaking I made went off without a hitch. Throat hurts, feet hurt, head hurts (but that's more from flying Delta than anything induced at the con), but in general it was a successful convention.

More later on that, including our invention of Dragon*Con Costume Bingo.