Friday, December 31, 2004

True Conversation

So I'm buying my wife a machete for her birthday (Yes, she asked for one. Yes, it will be a surprise - she doesn't read this journal). And I go down to the local Sears:

ME: Do you carry machetes?
Salesbeing: No we don't. They're too dangerous.
ME: Excuse me?
Salesbeing: A maniac could hurt people with one.
ME: But you sell chainsaws.
Salesbeing: Well, yes, but they don't have any GAS in them.

So if you're a maniac planning to rampage through a Sears, remember to bring your own gas.

More later,

Counting the Count

The election has been certified for Christine Gregoire. The Rossi team, having pushed hard for the past two months to stop counting votes, now wants to find more votes and count them. Most of the counties are saying "no" to yet another recount, including many counties that went towards Rossi in the first place. Rossi is also pushing a "new vote", which was a possiblity he ignored when he was up by a smaller margin. And Rossi also wants to check out and make sure all our servicemen's and -women's votes were counted, somthing he was silent on when he was ahead. This last one may have legs, but some Republicans are steamed that the Rossi team only embraced counting every vote when it became clear it could not suppress enough votes to win.

I don't think that Rossi can afford to stop fighting, though not because he wants to be Governor. At the end of next month the state GOP is meeting down in Tukwilla. Party chairman Chris Vance, a man who is always there for the Seattle Times with a quick quote about how Democrats are evil, serves at the pleasure of the state's leading Republican. Currently that is still Rossi. Vance pushed the slightly-right Rossi, supressing the hard right in the primaries (to the point of refusing to allow other candidates to speak out against Rossi), and Rossi in turn supports Vance. The hard-core is not pleased at all with Vance and Rossi and feel that they had betrayed a lot of their core values in the run, and, more importantly, then lost anyway (Vance also pushed George Nethercutt in front of the speeding truck that was Patty Murray). But so as long as Rossi is a viable candidate, Vance keeps his job.

Coming from the left, I sympathize with the "Reagan Republicans" in the state. Their adventures within their party match my own on the local level where I walked into the caucus and confronted a gaggle of hard-core Kerry supporters. Dean was dangerous, was their mantra. Kerry was electable. Sure, he's not as lib as you would want, but he's electable. They kept coming back to that. Electable.

Of course he wasn't elected. Neither was Rossi. And I am sure the core state GOP is thinking that if they had only stuck to their guns, they would have walked away with this in better shape. And they might have - Gregoire performed much weaker than expected in the state.

As for Gregoire, I can't see the election having a greater effect on her policies - her democratic predecessor was heavily pro-big business, and she shows little intention to overturn his work. I think she will be more responsive to consumer and environmental issues, but I don't think its a leadpipe cinch for these advocates, only an opening of the door. And looking at the budget (Washington State is not allowed to go into massive debt like the national gvt.), she has some hard choices ahead of her.

Meanwhile, Rossi, Vance and company are going to continue the dance, despite what members of their own party say. And they are dancing because once they stop, the show's over.

More later,

Thursday, December 30, 2004


December 25, 2004
To: Fox News Employees
Fr: Management

I would like to congratulate everyone on the success of our Happy Holiday Holy War. With the efficiency that this news organization has made legendary, we have turned the holiday greeting "Merry Christmas" into a litmus test for faith and patriotism, casting anyone who extolls a "Happy Holidays" or "Seasons Greetings" to the outer darkness (as well as excluding anyone who happens to worship differently from our core demographic). We are delighted by the response that makes the dominant faith in this nation worried, because worried people watch the news.

Many of you think that our job is done, at least until Easter when we begin an assault on bunnies, chickies, and hard-boiled eggs. But rather rest on our laurels, we should steal a march while our heathen opponents are still rocked back on their heels. I am, of course, talking about the next great secular oppression found in the Calendar, New Years Day (NYD). Or as it should be traditionally known, The Feast of the Circumcision and Naming of Christ. In this Bible, this happened 8 days after the virgin birth (Luke 2:21), and feast day was traditionally set as January 1st. Obviously, our heathen/secular/godless opponents have highjacked this holy day, reducing it to late nights, hard drinking, and nursing hangovers. By restoring the Feast to its rightful place (We can concede to modern times by calling it simply Circumcision Day) we are doing a favor to the faithful everywhere, or at least the faithful who watch the network.

You know the drill - we'll need some fire-tempered religious authorities from Bible Colleges to square off with soft moderates. We'll need public polls taken in conservative chat rooms showing that most people are offended by the comercialization of Circumcision Day. We'll need bits on the safety of circumcision for the medical sections, and the celebration of traditional Circumcision Day events (more to follow as we figure out what these are). Have our sports reporters wonder aloud why there is no "Circumcision Bowl". It is too late for a history-based program, but we are putting together one about Hitler's desire to capture the Christ-child's foreskin, since we have a lot of WWII footage. And we will need our newsreaders to remain steely-eyed and challenge anyone who uses the secular phrasing.

By this time next week, I want everyone thinking about the Unit of the Baby Jesus. If we mobilize now, we can once again brand people using the wrong words - Happy New Years - as outsiders and as dangerous, while making our core audience worried about what their enemies are up to. And remember, worried people watch the news.

In the mean time, Merry Christmas to you, to your families, and to the horse you rode in on.

The Mgt.

(more later)

Wednesday, December 29, 2004


This is about writing and what you think about when you write but its more about what's going on on the far side of the world.

At the end of The Brother's War I had to blow up a large island, a land mass about the size of Iceland, in the climactic battle between the two brothers. It was in the world's "bible" as an established fact that the island was destroyed in the blast, and my job to report it. A fellow author, more logical than I, pointed out that if you vaporized a landmass of that size, you're not just going to have earthquakes and tidal waves, you're going to have an epoch-ending, dinosaur-killing, comet-comes-from-the-sky type of event. I concurred, but using the forces of "magic" as an excuse, backed off the level of destruction to the point that everyone nearby would perish at ground zero and then worked my way outward - incineration, seaquakes, earthquakes, tidal waves, and finally bone-shredding sandstorms at the furthest point from the destruction. As inspiration, I did research on Krakatoa and other major events and tried to translate it into human terms.

And to be frank, I rounded down on the devastation, since I needed to have some characters left after I was done. One escaped in an apocalypse-proof box (the advantage of a magical universe). Another became a god. Another teleported out (again the advantage of magic) but lost an arm in the process. The rest were lost, their last moments recorded just before the flash, just before the quake, just before the wave hit. Survival is an open question. It was an attempt to make this apocalypse personal and in some way understandable. As fantasy, it worked, though as reality it was less than accurate.

I've been thinking about the end of the book for the past few days, as first the reports and then the pictures have come in from the Indian Ocean. An event that is a minor shrug of the planet compared to my fantastic immolation has sunken islands, slain villages, destroyed communities and killed over 80k outright. It has recarved the coastlines and literally made the world skip a beat. I watched the footage and kept thinking "All those people they're showing. They're dead now." And for those who survived, the prospects are equally chilling - disease and hunger come ashore right after the first big swells.

So yesterday Kate and I got paid for some short stories we wrote. Its not a lot, but good money. I looked at Kate (I confess to being the tight-fisted one in our relationship when it comes to charities) and suggested a number. Kate matched it from her check. We made a contribution through Oxfam, to whom we have contributed before and who is concentrating on Sri Lanka and Indonesia. There are many, many others pitching in, including working with the Red Cross and trying to make supporting as easy as possible.

Go do. Time is of the essence.

More later,

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Comic Books: Heroes Go Boom

Avengers #500-503; Brian Michael Bendis - writer, David Finch -artist, Marvel Comics Group
Identity Crisis #1-7; Brad Meltzer - writer, Rags Morales - artist, DC Comics

Strap in, folks, there is deep geekdom ahead, along with spoilers. If you're a comic fan, you probably know about this, but here's a fair warning if you still want to be surprised.

I'm a comic book fan - have been since college - so I've been following the continuity of the major comic universes for some time. And like most fans I have a comfort zone with the four-colored heroes, and follow the soap-opera-in-tights that is comic book continuity. This is, by the way, one reason I don't pick on people who are fans of this TV show or that movie series - they've got their guilty pleasures, I've gotten mine.

Now, comic book characters reside in a level of Tarterus all their own. They don't get happy endings because happy endings are boring and don't sell comics. Rather, they are continually on a treadmill of conflict. Friends die, secret HQs blow up, sidekicks perish, universes change. Anyone who thinks of God as a thug and a bully only has to look at comic book writers for proof, as they are charged with making their characters' lives miserable for our entertainment. And against this regular background of continual turmoil, along comes a Crisis that shakes everything up, making major changes across a broad area. "Everything will be different now" is the general mantra.

Cases in point from the previous summer and fall - The "Avengers: Disassembled" story line from Marvel, and the "Identity Crisis" mini-series from DC. Both exist to shake things up in their various universes. One fails and one succeeds, though not as well as it might. And there are similarities in both. Here's the skinny on them:

Over in the Marvel Universe, the Avengers are having a very bad day. An old comrade (Jack of Hearts) returns from the dead and blows up the mansion, along with frying Ant-Man. The android Vision then plows a jet into the mansion and self-destructs as well, spawning a bunch of villainous Ultrons. Then the alien Kree invade, and in the process kill Hawkeye. The She-Hulk loses control and goes primal. In the end, it is revealed that all these attacks and misfortunes are the results of the heroic Scarlet Witch going mad from her own power. Her brain has to be blanked in order to stop her. Body count - Jack of Hearts, Ant-Man, Hawkeye, the Vision, Scarlet Witch, Agatha Harkness (kept preserved like Anthony Perkin's mom in Psycho), and Thor (whose own book is wrapped up for a relaunch and is not as connected to all this - call him collateral damage). Oh, and Avenger's Mansion gets blown up again.

The action is presented in action movie style - bang, bang, bang. Bad things keep happening, until you the reader are just bludgeoned into riding it out. The art falls down here with a muddy, bloody style, and the plot screws up on two vital points. First, all the Avengers are called after the attack, and it becomes clear that the Scarlet Witch is responsible because she's not there. The problem with this is that the art is so dark that you can't tell who is there or not. Second, the insanity plot is revealed by Doctor Strange (not an Avenger), who flies in to tell everyone that the Scarlet Witch, who has been claiming she uses Chaos Magic, is lying because there is no such thing as Chaos Magic. OK, but going Comic Book Guy on the good Doctor, Strange himself was a Chaos Mage for a short time, back when Jurassic Park was hot and Chaos Butterflies were cool. So accepting this means erasing a bit of continuity.

The end result is a four-issue crash that threatens to take down the rest of the universe with it (and there have been tie-ins all over the place). And the worst thing is that, for all the pain, nothing has been done that cannot be undone - the Vision was ripped to shreds but can be rebuilt, no body was found for Hawkeye, and even the mentally fried Scarlet Witch is picked up by her dad (the supervillain Magneto (told yah it was a soap opera) and carried off. And the Avengers get another start with another buncha heroes two months later. Pretty unsatisfying.

Over in the DC Universe (DCU), however, they have a rep for doing Crisis right, and Identity Crisis represents a cooler, more personal approach to torturing the good guys. Here we focus on the heroes, their secret identities and loved ones, and it succeeds in scaring the reader more than continual battle sequences. Indeed, this was a book that creeped me out as I was reading it, because I liked the heroes involved, and followed a lot of their soap-opera lives back in the Silver Age (Like when Barry (Flash) Allen lost his wife and Ray (Atom) Palmer got divorced). The art is well-done by an old friend, Rags Morales (who I worked with on the Forgotten Realms comic years ago - Hey Rags, write in!), and is perfect for catching the subtlety necessary in this story.

Here's the story of the DC crisis: Second-banana hero Elongated Man (Ralph Digby) has his secret identity publicly known. Someone breaks into his house and kills his wife, Sue. The slaying galvanizes the heroes of the DCU to find who is responsible, and brings up concerns about the risks they expose their loved ones to. An attempt is made on the Atom's ex-wife, a threatening note is sent to Lois Lane, someone sends a gun and a warning to Robin's dad, with the result that the dad and the villainous Boomerang kill each other. In the process of the investigation, it is revealed that a number of the low-level members of the Justice League (Green Arrow, Hawkman, and Zatana, more old friends from the Silver Age) have been mucking with the minds of the bad guys in order to keep their secret IDs secret. The villain is revealed as the Atom's ex-wife, who has gone crackers and used one of her husband's size-changing suits to give Sue Digby a brain hemorage, making it seem like there is a threat so the Atom and she would get back together (next time, sweetheart, send flowers). The Atom shuts her up in Arkham Asylum and things get back to (mostly) normal. Body count - Elongated Man's wife, Robin's father, Boomerang, and Firestorm (more collateral damage - he's already being played by another character in another comic book).

However, unlike over in the Avengers, this crisis opens a lot of cans of worms that will need to be resolved. First there is the matter of the lesser JLA mucking with people's minds, even with the best of reasons. The question of whether the major leaguers would stand for this is left up in the air. More importantly, it is revealed that they also mucked with Batman's mind as well to keep their secret, with the result that Bats may be more bats than we thought. Of the major leaguers, the Flash (Wally West now), knows this and is uncomfortable keeping the secret. Not to mention a couple upgrades of bad guys (a new Boomerang, Doctor Light, and Deathstroke) and the fact that the latest Robin has now lost a parent.

There are some plotting flaws in this story as well - the biggie being that Atom doesn't know the new Robin that well, and his ex-wife shouldn't know who the kid is unless she had additional information (Robin kept it from his teammates in the Teen Titans to keep Bat's identity secret). And the resolution feels like there was an executive decision at the end - the entire brain-wipe subplot should have ended up in posing the question of whether it was OK to purge the Atom's exwife's mind to protect the secrets (instead they lock her up in Arkham, where the inmates are all psychotic Batman villains - what are they thinking?). And there are more red herrings being flung around here than in the Pike Place fish market.

Both series have a frustrating "Gals Gone Crazy" resolution, in which long-standing female characters suddenly flip out for no apparent reason. But Identity Crisis hides that with layer upon layer of subplot and character interaction (Supervillains playing Risk? Wonderful and completely unconnected to the main plot. Ditto the theft of a Lex Luthor battle suit). Avengers just hides the facts from us, and expects the fans to be appreciative with what's been done. Avengers: Disassembled was blunt force trauma. Identity Crisis is more insideous, and should have a deeper effect on the DCU going forward. The Avengers book disappoints, and while the Identity Crisis frustrates, it does so by a lack of clear resolution. Identity Crisis writes a check which has yet to be cashed, and I do expect to see a payoff.

OK, Geekdom out of the system for a while. More later,

Monday, December 27, 2004

Counting the Count

Gregoire up by 130 after all the ballots are counted. Still a gnat's eyelash, though larger than Rossi's +42 mandate earlier in the process.

We have also reached the end of the legal pavement on this one. We reviewed and reviewed the review. We don't have anything on the books for the next step, with the exception of going into court - the electoral equivalent of going off-road. All the state GOP needs to do this is a basis for legal action, an activist judge and the strength of legalistic will.

It will be not be easy to find that basis. Despite the howls, the recount has been heavily monitored with an eye towards fairness, and towards the fact that others could come back and look at it yet again. Both Dems and GOP in the process itself, in King County and elsewhere have been surprisingly grownup and rational. The firebrands in the GOP will have to find fraud or error in large enough doses to overturn the results. And I think they've been looking since the first recount, for no other reason than to spike the Democratic cannons. If blatant shennanigans had shown up here, they would have clasped it to their bosum in order to cast aspersions on other legimate mistakes. If a ballot box was to be found in a field outside Yakima, it would have popped up by now. There may be something nasty out there from either side, but so far there has been more heat than light.

The State GOP also has a "hypocracy hurdle" to vault across. They benefitted from the initial recounts as well, their total going up in a number of counties. Yet Another Recount may have not only threaten those increases, it frames the GOP as using the same tactics that it publicly deplored during the recount itself. Further, anything it does on a state level can be spun around to look at the national level (so, how ARE things in Ohio?). And demonizing King County may play well across the Cascades, but has a negative effect on the county where 30% of the state population resides.

I don't know if Rossi should concede, which some are calling for. The process does not require it, as far as I know. If he were simply to call on the State GOP not to make further appeals, the election would be certified and resolved. Calling off the appeals would keep his rep as being the mature and "not insane" candidate (a major plus in the GOP), while giving the more conservative base something to fire themselves up with in the next election. That could be Senator in two years, or Governor in another four. He ran a solid race, and while I disagree with many of his positions, has shown that moderate Reps have an excellent shot in this state.

In the meantime, he'll have to live with the disapppointment. Maybe he should hang out with some National-Level Democrats and they can cry in their beer together. Out of courtesy, he should buy the first round

More later,

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Party, Party, Party

The Lovely Bride and I have exhaustedly emerged from the Christmas Season unscathed. This year I think we did everything we could to make sure the T-Giving to X-Mas time was as hectic as possible - taking on additional work, hosting visiting relatives for 10 days, adopting two cats. The summation of this hustle and bustle was three parties on three consequecutive nights. Now that it is all past, and we are trying to regain some level of and recovery.

The party circuit consisted of shindigs with Sue and Monte, then Wolf and Shelly, and finally culminating with our own Christmas day feast. Ours was eleven friends at the table, a brined turkey (I really am pleased with this process, pulled from an Alton Brown article in Bon Appetite), a large ham dubbed "hamzilla", rolls, mashed potatoes, gravy, dressing, string beans and two deserts. Oh, and the experimental cranberry daiquiris that were stronger than mere amatuers should have attempted. It was the best way to spend a Christmas afternoon that I know of.

So we've cleared the last of the dishes, cleaned the last of the pots, and run the last load of in the diswasher. Now we have a week of leftovers and no firm obligations. The new cats are less shy after being here a week and the old cat is now aware that they are in the house (amd there was much hissing). The only things on my agenda are figuring out how our new digital camera works, and this "world of warcraft" thing I've heard so much about.

More later.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Happy Holidays from Grubb Street

'Twas the day before the night before Christmas, and Grubb Street wishes you and yours a wonderful holiday season. Cue the Carollers!

Deck us all with Boston Charlie,
Walla Walla, Wash., an' Kalamazoo!
Nora's freezin' on the trolley,
Swaller dollar cauliflower alley-garoo!

Don't we know archaic barrel,
Lullaby Lilla boy, Louisville Lou?
Trolley Molly don't love Harold,
Boola boola Pensacoola hullabaloo!

Thank you, Walt Kelly. More later,

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Counting the Count

So yesterday word leaked out that Gregoire went ahead in the final count as a result of the King County votes. And by "leaked out" I mean the Dems made a public announcement. Subtle, guys.

Now, the supposed margin is beyond razor-thin - eight votes. I think you can find eight votes in your sofa. But the announcement does have an effect in that the courts will be hearing arguments today on admitting the 700+ uncounted, unrejected King County votes discovered during the hand recount. Now the court would not be "overturning" the election by allowing them to be counted.

Supporting the idea of admitting these votes is our GOP Secretary of State, Sam Reed, who notes that if we toss out the 700, we'll have to go back to five other counties and toss out later-discovered, uncounted votes. In a land of people desperately trying to avoid letting Washington State look like Florida or Ohio, Sam Reed has stood head and shoulders among the grownups.

For the State GOP, the vote, if it stands, is a bitter pill - they had their cabinet chosen and were walking around the Capitol building with color swatches. And while Rossi called upon Gregoire to concede when he was +42, he never responded to what he would do if the footwear was on the other appendage. So it will not be out of line to see the GOP try something to reverse this. Challenging the uncounted votes was one attempt. Another that's being talked up is to declare it a "do-over" and try again.

I would suggest that if they want another election, they put up Sam Reed as their candidate. He'd take it in a landslide.

More later,

Monday, December 20, 2004

The Cats That Came for Christmas

So the Lovely Bride and I do what is to my mind a small Christmas - tree up and decorated, candles in the window, Kate makes a wreath with the blow-downs from the inevitable windstorm from early December, baking cookies, last-minute shopping, and preparation for the big feast on the day itself. To this hectic holiday maelstrom, we add yet another element.

Two new cats. Victoria and Harlequin, formerly in the company of brainstormfront, have joined the Grubb Street staff. So far their duties have consisted of hiding behind the bookshelves, where no one has cleaned for seven years.

We have been at a two-cat deficit for several years now. Here's our cat history: first we had the grey-furred, green-eyed Rogue, who was the kitten we purposefully brought into our home. Then the black and white male, Longshot, the stray that followed us home (a scrawny, flea-bitten cat whom, we quickly discovered, had been surviving by eating corn left out for the squirrels). And then Emily, the psycho-kitty calico, who belonged to a TSR editor who was allergic to cats and kept her in the basement. The three did not get along, but settled into an uneasy truce over food, space, and laps.

Longshot passed on quietly a few years back, and Rogue, at age 19, grew so infirm that we made the hard decision and put her to sleep two years ago (That was a very hard sentence to write). So for the past two years, we have been a one-cat household where all the world knows we were a three-cat household. Emily, the survivor, was pleased to rule the roost finally, but we almost lost her earlier in the year. Kate and I made the decision to pamper the grand old dame and, after she passed on, get two kittens to begin anew.

The rest of the world had other ideas. Brainstormfront chose to relocate to Wisconsin, and needed a new home for Vic and Harley, a pair of four-year-old tabbies. So far they have only been mildly traumatized by the new digs, and while they know Emily is about, have not found her (we are keeping the two kids and Emily apart for the first few days so they get used to their scents before letting them both have run of the house at the same time). Kate and I have forgotten about what it was like to raise kids (they are finding new places to vanish into), so its a new experience for us.

And all just in time for Christmas. More later.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Play: Backstage Pass

Noises Off by Michael Frayn, directed by Richard Seyd, Seattle Rep Theatre, Dec 11, 2004-Jan 15, 2005.

A split decision on this one. I found it a whacky bit of fluff, while my Lovely Bride sniffed "Actors think theater is funnier than it really is". I think her comment is more a flashback to that one summer she, I, and a group of our friends all were dragooned into her Mother's summer stock production of Ten Little Indians (the less of which is said the better), but she's right is that we have had a bracing of comedies over the past few years about the theatre - Inspecting Carol, Beard of Avon, Light up the Sky. Of course if you banish all plays about the theater from the boards, all you have left are multi-generational family sagas, one-women shows and August Wilson.

So, Noises Off - the title an acting in-joke in itself, being a stage direction for stuff that is happening offstage, which is what the play is about. A small touring company in England is putting on the road a production of Nothing On, thunking little bedroom farce with slamming doors, props brought on and off, and sardines. The cast is thrown together and has not gelled as a working group. There is a backstage romance between the older actress and the younger actor, a double-dating director bedding both the ingenue and the assistant stage manager, and an elderly veteran actor who keeps sneaking off for a nip.

Act One is the dress rehearsal, a start-and-stop affair as lines are blown, motivation is addressed, and plates of sardines are moved about. In it the inherent harmlessness of the play-within-the-play is established. Then in Act Two, we pick up the play in the middle of the run - relationships have crashed, rivalries have developed, jealousies bloom, and the actors are caught in the conflict between acting professionalism and personal revenge. This act takes place completely backstage as the play unfolds on the other side of the set, and the characters weave their own personal lives and jealousies through the door-slamming of the farce. Finally, in the last scene we're back on the house side again as the backstage rivalries and relationships spill out onto the stage and completely sink the production.

Noises off itself is a cute gumdrop of theater, its stage business upstaging anything representing a deeper plot. The players are incredibly good, and watching them in action, particularly at the start of act 2, is watching a juggling troupe at work. And this is what is probably attractive about plays about plays - actors get to play two roles at the same time. They get to play the actor in the play, and the role in the play-within-a-play. In particular, playing a bad actor is a luscious little nugget - its a chance to embrace all the backstage stereotypes. Lori Larsen leads the squad as wacky housekeeper onstage/Grand dame ruler off, but they are all good - Clayton Corzatte as the impish alcoholic veteran, Mark Chamberlain as the imperial, two-timing director, and Bhama Roget, who plays the cringingly worst actor of the lot (not a reflection on her ability - you have to work hard to be that bad).

So, don't worry much about the plot, but go to see the ensemble function as a well-oiled machine, even though the purpose of that well-oiled machine is to simulate the theatrical equivalent as a complete nervous breakdown. Go have fun.

More later,

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Counting the Count

Of course, I speak too soon.

After using the illegally disqualified ballots as an argument for the judges to not get involved in the Governor's election ("See, we found the mistake on our own! No need to look over our shoulders!"), our GOP spins around and gets the illegally disqualified ballots re-disqualified ("Sorry! Too late! It might be a mistake but its our mistake! Pity about that!"). I swear they're taking their cues from Jim Carey's performance in Lemony Snicket.

More later,

Friday, December 17, 2004

Kate Grubb, Enrolled Agent

My lovely bride has passed the enrolled agent exam. Here's what that means.

Kate works as a tax preparer, and for the past few years have been the manager of a local H&R Block on the East Hill. For the past year (it seems like) she has been preparing for her enrolled agent exam, which is to tax preparers what the professional engineering exam is to engineers, or the bar is to lawyers.

Here's what it does - only three groups are officially allowed to argue cases directly with the IRS - CPAs, tax lawyers, and Enrolled Agents. Accountants know the numbers but are not as strong in the law. Lawyers know the law but are not as strong on the numbers. Enrolled agents are supposed to be good at both. Enrolled agents are a plus in the local offices, and are compensated a smidge more.

So for the past year (it seems like), Kate has been boning up for this big test - study groups, homework, the whole magilla. Lots of free time evapped over the summer as she lugged around this huge white-covered ring binders filled with tax law (including on our trip to Canada). The test itself was help over a two-day period. That was a couple months ago. The tests were graded, and then an appeals process set up (this is taxes, after all), for questions that might have been incorrect, then graded again.

Kate passed. She does not have the EA status yet, but this is the big hurdle. And I am very, very pleased on her behalf.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Nutshell: Social Security

In a nutshell, here's the argument for SS Reform:

"See that tree? In about 40 years, it may get sick. So you better cut it down now. Fortunately, I happen to know of a good lumberja . . tree surgeon."

More later,

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Counting the Count

I’ve been quiet about the gubernatorial recount because, like the rest of the state, I’m waiting for the outcome. And by commenting on it, I might be jinxing a process that has so far been (relatively) free of bone-headedness.

Story so far: In the election for governor, Republican Dino Rossi beat Christine Gregoire by an initial count of 260-some votes. With a mandated recount, that lead shrunk to 42 votes. The Dems ponied up the cash for a statewide recount, which is underway. So far, the recount has doubled Rossi’s margin, but the big dog county, King, has yet to report in.

Now for the curves – the Dems went to court to admit previously disallowed and therefore uncounted votes, and were turned down (good for the Dems to try, good for the court to say no). At the same time, about 500 votes turned up that were improperly disallowed and have been readmitted to the process – in a typically Washington State twist, one of the votes belongs to a Seattle City Councilman. Now this “new” 500 is exactly what the recount is about – making sure all the votes that are supposed to be counted are counted. The GOP actually used it in their argument before the court as a basis for why the court should not muck with the processs – “See? The system works.” Of course, after the ruling, they are whining about these recovered votes (which, being in King County, should break strongly but not overwhelmingly for the Dems). I’m waiting for the voting box to be recovered in the Yakima valley with more Rossi votes, but as I’ve said, the grown-ups seem to be running things.

Through this process, though, my opinion of Gregoire has notched upwards. She had kept her powder dry, and gone to lengths to argue with her own party about the right thing to do. She fought for a statewide count when the State Dems wanted to cherry-pick, and distanced herself from the court case. Rossi has come back from vacation to simultaneously support the process and cast aspersions on it.

Even the protesters (yes, we have them), have been pretty cool, though the heavy winter rains of the past week may have kept them at bay. They are out with their signs (Dems: "Count Every Vote!" GOP: "Don’t Change the Rules!" Libertarian: “Give Me a Cookie!”). The local media has been following the story without obsessing on it. And the national media is suffering from election fatigue, and is trying desperately avoif poking too hard at the process, lest they be called upon to look at other electoral weirdness. And the national media has also had juicier stories closer to home. (So let’s see if I got this right – We wanted to nominate this guy for Homeland Security who not only has mob ties, and was cheating on his wife with a NY publisher (among others), but he was using as a trysting ground an apartment originally donated to help 9/11 first responders with a view of the blast area? Let me join the rest of the country by saying “ Ewwwww!”).

More later, about the election, not the nomination weirdness.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Up for an Award

So something I worked on is up for an award. Its the 2004 InQuest Fan Awards, which are an online award in conjunction with InQuest magazine, a glossy publication that lusts to be a lads mag for gamers (Yeah, that's an image that will sear your retinas). The link is here, so go vote.

Anyway, their nomination process looks a little wonky, and their selection of nominees is ecletic if nothing else. I'm in the collectible miniatures catagory with the Rebel Storm set for Star Wars. I did some Heroclix as well that were well-received by the fans, but they didn't get a nomination. Like I said, eclectic.

Most of the rest of the catagories are really inside-the-beltway deep geek (do YOU have a fan-favorite artist? How about "best collectable card game that's not Magic: The Gathering? ), but its worth checking out (and of course I'm curious about where the Book of Erotic Fantasy shows up in the final count - like I said, A lads mag for geeks).

More later,

Monday, December 13, 2004

The Blog Goes Ever On And On

Still busy, but life goes on even if I cannot write it all down.

Our company had a lovely Christmas party at the Rendezvous in Belltown, at which I discovered chamborg and vodka martinis. I don't think I've had a hangover that bad in nearly a decade, and I was moving around carefully the next morning. That did not stop me from attending briefly the drinking afternoon of Frabjous Dave, though it did limit my intake to a single beer, recommended by the Dave.

In order to make Dave's, I ditched a performance of Bad Dates at the Rep, which was attended by my mom-in-law and wife (my sister-in-law had to get back to Cali, so by dodging the play I could drive her to the airport at a civilized hour as opposed to making her wait three hours at the airport). So no review of Bad Dates, though Kate said that she was worried that it would be a one-woman show about shoes, but things picked up when the Romanian Mafia showed up.

I don't know if I've mentioned it, but Nardi, my mother-in-law, is a professional actress. Her movie credits are here. Not listed is her most recent part, in The Bread, My Sweet where she played a meter maid giving Scott Baio a ticket.(take THAT, Chachi!)

Other than that, most of my weekend has been swallowed by the freelance project, which has hit a milestone. Now I have to worry about a short story, then back to the rest of the freelance project. Yes, there are still things I want to rant about, including our sputtering stock market, Tommy Thomson, and the fact that, despite the successes of LOTR and Harry Potter, Hollywood still doesn't quite understand the nature of cinematic adaptations of the written word. But that will have to wait for later.

And I just got word from a fellow editor that his daughter is on the ground in Kuwait, and heading for Baghdad. And her unit (Kansas National Guard) is handling transportation. So I'm suddenly very interested in the continuing lack of protective armor for our troops.

More later,

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Day of the Living Jeffs

Brainstormfront has posted the story of Jeff Grubb day over on his site. I have nothing to add except that I got off easier than DRAGON editor Roger Moore. In my case, a couple in Texas tried to get admission to a convention for free because "they were Jeff Grubb". A quick phone call straighened matters out (and set the ball rolling for Jeff Grubb Day). Roger was less fortunate - he was scheduled to attend a convention on the West Coast, but had to bow out. A fan stepped in to imitate Roger for the weekend, sitting on panels and answering questions as if he was Roger Moore, and THEN wrote us, volunteering to serve in the future as "The West Coast Roger Moore."

Yes, its a whacky world where people impersonate Game Designers.

More later

Friday, December 10, 2004

The Five People You Meet in Heaven . . .

. . . are all folks you flipped off in traffic.

Just thought you'd want to know.

More later,

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

The Blog Goes Ever On And On

No, I'm not out of town, I'm under the gun.

Remember a couple of months ago, when work was getting a little light? I went out and rattled a few doors. Well, the doors opened and work came spilling out. And simultaneously the work load picked back up for the day job. So as a result, I'm working on three freelance things simultaneously - I'm reviewing one short story, writing another one, working on collecting spells for a game product, and working on something for publication Christmas next year (OK, that's four things). And then there's the day job, involving a project I'll talk about when they make some sort of official release. And there's Christmas. And my mother-in-law and sister-in-law are out for a visit.

Sigh. I wish my excuse was that I had bought World of Warcraft, but that's not going to happen until Christmas.

More later.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

TSR Story: Salary

Along with many of the fellow bloggers, I am fighting a nasty cold, made worse by the fact that the Lovely Bride is fighting an even nastier one. We were fortunate for the break in the weather this morning that let us go out and get a tree (live-cut, down at Pfaff's), but both of us are paying for our holiday effort.

In any event, the Monkey King posted a bit on the D&D 30 Year Anniversary book, which got a horrendous review on Slashdot, and invited others to contribute TSR stories. While I can think of a number of TSR stories- Jeff Grubb Day, the Editor's Liberation Front, the old Hotel Claire, I instead noticed the bit on the same site about EA requiring its salaried designers to work 80-hour weeks (the latest bit of news is here, where EA is shocked, simply shocked, that they have been taking advantage of their salaried employees in that fashion).

Which reminds me of how TSR's in-house game designers got to be salaried employees.

This was early in my career - early 80's - I had joined TSR as a game designer (a story in its own right), and at that time we were hourly employees. Not only hourly, but punching in on a time clock. You worked your 40 hours. You worked less, you got a lecture. You worked more, well, you got a lecture as well, since TSR was not paying any overtime. For young designers on a deadline, the answer was easy - we would clock out when we hit our eight hours for the day, then went back up to work. Yes, the management was aware, and it was morally and legally hinky, but it wasn't the only morally/legally hinky thing TSR did back then.

You can probably guess what happened next - someone dropped a dime on TSR's free labor pool, and the company got a visit from the state's Labor Relation Board. I and others were asked to explain why we were working hours without pay - the answer I and others gave was that we had deadlines that would not move, so extra effort was required. The idea that the company might be balancing its own scheduling on the backs of its salaried employees never occurred to us. Yeah, we were young, but I can understand why the EA designers may be reticent to complain about real nastiness of seven-day work weeks.

The end result was that the salaried designers got a small settlement and the Monday afterwards we suddenly became salaried, non-exempt employees. And our deadlines? They got a little tighter, since management didn't have to worry about overtime pay anymore.

More later,

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Diminishing Returns

So I got home last night to find my invisible friend Schmedley packing furiously.

"Its time to go," said the imaginary elephant of my childhood, "Washington State has pitched into the abyss."

"I take it you saw that they certified Dino Rossi as Governor."

"It's horrible! Red state mania! We're all going Right-wing!" he gave me a hard look and added, "Conservatives are not friendly to Imaginary Americans."

"Its not that horrible," said I. "We had the initial returns. It showed a slim Rossi lead. Each time we counted, the lead got thinner. From a few thousand to a few hundred to a slender 42 votes. The Seattle Times had an article showing that if the people who wrote in Ron Simms had voted Gregoire, she would have won."

"And Mike the Mover!" opined Schmedley, "How could we not reach out to such an important voting block of nine people! The electorate hates us!"

"I'd say the electorate was more disinterested than disgruntled in the governor's race. It's easy to blame the candidate, but Gregoire ran a relatively "cool" and dispassionate campaign, on the assumption that people were generally content with Locke, and she would continue his policies. They attempted to show that Rossi was a right-wing nut, like previous GOP candidates, and when he failed to reinforce that image, got enough to pull out the barest of majorities. This state went large for Kerry, even larger for Murray. We're a bluish purple."

Schmedley looked at me hard, "It must be a conspiracy! I call shenannigans!"

"Possible. With such a razor-thin lead, it's even likely, from both sides. During the recount, the Dems were doing everything in their power to find uncounted votes, while the GOP was trying to keep those votes from being counted. Some valid problems were identified and addressed. But the way we elect here is pretty darned stable, in comparison to, say Ohio or Florida."

Schmedley sniffed, "We could demand a recount."

"That's part of the process," said I, "and even our Republican Secretary of State supports Gregoire's right to do so. But the Dems need to foot the bill and it needs to be state-wide. A recount of a few counties that just turns the election by an equally thin majority would be just as frustrating and suspicious as the squeaker we have, if not moreso."

"You're going to tell me its going to be all right," said the elephant.

"No, I'm not. It's going to be a challenge. Rossi is Big-D, as in Development. He's going to be tough on the environment. Locke was very pro-business in the first place, and Rossi is going to suck up even harder. He's also walking into the teeth of a healthy budget deficit. The good news is that the Dems hold the legislature, and Rossi has had a history of seeking consensus and putting together a deal. That's the Rossi that has been showing up the past couple days, as opposed to the Olympia outsider image that he was running on."

Schmedley thought for a moment, then said, "Maybe I'll move to a more friendly state, anyway. Maybe California."

I put my hand on the elephant's shoulder. "We have to talk."

More later,