Tuesday, January 31, 2006

XL: Ouroboros

So, after a week of intensively and relentlessly pushing the fact that Bettis is coming "home" to Detroit for the Big Game, I saw this crawl on ESPN - Is the media attention about Bettis coming "home" to Detroit becoming a distraction?

It is only Tuesday, and the Press has already swallowed its own tail.

More later,

XL: The Narrative Emerges

So the Big Game is upon us, and like most big games, it has to be more than just two teams meeting on the field. It has to have greater importance, deeper meaning, and act as a metaphor for our lives. It has to have an underlying narrative.

In the weeks of the playoffs, the expected narrative was overturned, and the story-tellers have been scrambling to regain their footing ever since. The Narrative was supposed to be "The Unbeatable Colts" - a championship run that would rival the old Dolphins. It was going to be a coronation following a championship year. Well, the Steelers put an end to that dream, knocked the Conventional Wisdom off its pins, and left it groping for concepts.

The Steelers, Conventional Wisdom said at the start, were lucky to get into the playoffs at all. They were the sixth seed, the "Miss Congeniality" of the playoffs, soon to get bumped off by more powerful teams. Except they didn't. They were supposed to lose to Cincinnati, then to Indianapolis, then to the Broncos, and they failed to fall on their swords. Instead they played very good football.

Ditto the Seahawks. CW stated that they would at least get into the playoffs, maybe a wild card, because their division was weak and they had a cake schedule, but once the playoffs started, they would be pasted by more capable teams. That failed to happen, and they rolled forward as well, much to the chagrin of people who were supposed to know better. And a week and a half ago, we were seeing these two teams earn their way to the Big Game.

And at the time I wondered what the spin would be. Given that the media did not prepare its fans for this result (indeed, even in the last quarter of the Steeler's rout of Indianapolis, you could hear the announcers straining for say how Indy could still turn it around), how would they recover. Was this game going to be New Tech versus Old Tech? Xboxes against rolled steel? West against East? White Collar against Blue Collar? The Nation's Richest Guy against the Wage-Earners (don't look at the Steeler salaries - we're talking about image here).

Actually, it looks like it's going to be Good against Evil. And Seattle is being fitted for the devil suit.

In the press, the Seattle team is being ignored at best. We have the Runningest Running Back in the bidness in the form of Shaun Alexander, but the Narrative is fixed on Jerome "The Bus" Bettis, who is returning to his home town to play what may be his last game. Over on the QB side, Matt Hasselbeck has matured into an excellent quarterback, but the attention is on Hot (!) Young (!) Talent (!) Ben "Big Ben" Roethlisberger. (Maybe Paul Allen should put a few bucks in the budget next year to buy his guys nicknames).

But in the warm and fuzzies that surround the Big Game, Seattle the location is being villified. We are strangers in our own land, kids from the boonies, unknown and suspect. Vaguely unamerican. Lattes, sushi, liberal politics, with a city government that is not going broke. You know, suspicious. There is a lot of mention of the Lenin statue in Fremont, not so much for the Troll three blocks away (because that doesn't fit the narative). Meanwhile, Pittsburgh is being hoisted up as the working man's city, broad-shouldered, burly and patriotic. It is Steelworker Chic, even though the only steel it produces these days is its defensive line. Pittsburgh haven't rolled steel since the team went "One for the Thumb in '81", the old mills are cold and converted to light industry, reseach labs, and movie-plexes. Still, the memories give Pittsburgh as supposed superiority as a city, which then informs the rest of the reporting. Everything is supposedly BETTER in Pittsburgh, validated by its teams successes. I actually read an editorial in the Seattle papers from a Seattilite living in Shadyside extolling, among other things, how better Pittsburgh's traffic is (OK guys, you can quit giggling).

Now of course, it is relatively . . . dumb . . . to tie the self-worth of any town solely to the success of its sports team. One does not connect to the other. Seattle housing prices or sandwiches from the Primanti Brothers have very little to do with the exploits of the men of the field. In a larger sense it is a shame because football teams are more regional now, and focusing on Seattle the city and Pittsburgh the city sort of misses the point of the regional boosterism. People who are frustrated by Pittsburgh the City bleed black and gold when it comes time to play the game, and strong support for the Seahawks come from the surrounding suburbs. But I suppose a game between the Puget Sound Seahawks and the Western PA Steelers wouldn't have the same resonance. And it is all about the Narrative.

I think part of the rising good/evil narrative is in part the result of the Steeler fans. Sorry, the Steeler Nation. While Seattle is proud to have its 12th man (note to Texas A&M - Bite us), its fandom is relatively young and unblooded, aided by excellent team play and home field architecture that funnels the sound into the center of the field. Pittsburgh has fandom down to a generational science, from the terrible towels to the really, really goofy sports songs (something that is missing out here, which makes us even more . . . suspect . . . . in the minds of others). I have watched the chattering classes go from admitting that the Steeler Fans "travel well" to conceding home field advantage in Pittsburgh. Its easy to identify with the wielders of the Terrible Towels. Seattle remains mysterious, and therefore mildly threatening.

So the new Narrative? Coronation of Pittsburgh, Return of the Conquering Hero in Bettis, Start of a New Steel Dynasty. Seattle is merely a bump in the red carpet. The Steelers want it more, demand it more, and therefore should get it. How dare the Seahawks rain on this parade?

The only warning I can post is that the Conventional Wisdom has previously picked each of Pittsburgh's opponents as going "all the way" and failed to take into account the fact that Pittsburgh kept winning simply because it is a very good team. Now that the CW has swung to their side, I'd be worried. The CW's track record isn't that good. And Seattle is a very good team.

More later,

Monday, January 30, 2006

May the Kinetic Force Be With You!

So "Joe" sent me this quiz.

(For those who aren't familiar with the game, Plo is an alien Jedi who has a bell-shaped figure (much like yours truly) and as a result is relatively hard to knock over in the game - he's sort of Jedi Wheeble.

More later,

D&D's Children

From The Onion's interview with Stephen Colbert:

AVC: You were into Dungeons & Dragons as a kid, were you not?

SC: Yeah, I really was. I started playing in seventh grade, 1977. And I played incessantly, 'til probably 1981—four years.

AVC: What's the appeal?

SC: It's a fantasy role-playing game. If you're familiar with the works of Tolkien or Stephen R. Donaldson or Poul Anderson or any of the guys who wrote really good fantasy stuff, those worlds stood up. It's an opportunity to assume a persona. Who really wants to be themselves when they're teenagers? And you get to be heroic and have adventures. And it's an incredibly fun game. They have arcane rules and complex societies and they're open-ended and limitless, kind of like life. For somebody who eventually became an actor, it was interesting to have done that for so many years, because acting is role-playing. You assume a character, and you have to stay in them over years, and you create histories, and you apply your powers. It's good improvisation with agreed rules before you go in.

I always wondered what would happen when the kids who played D&D became the movers and shakers of society.

More later,

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Mighty Moon Massacre

So, this is a World of Warcraft post that shows unintended consequences - or rather, something that sounded like a good idea at the time.

As one of their events, they are celebrating "Lunar Festival". This is a time when both factions (Alliance and Horde) can get together in Moonglade, neutral turf, and set off fireworks and dance. As two of the activities, high levels fight an ancient evil from beneath the lake while low levels can gather coins from various elders across the continents, which they then turn in for special prizes.

Oddly enough, the second activity is killing more players than the first one.

These elders are in easy locations (racial starting areas, main cities) and tougher ones (in higher-level locales, and "instances" - dungeons). But what is an easy local for one faction is a difficult one for another. So now Horde players have a reason to break into the Alliance citadel of Stormhaven and while Alliance figures can visit the Horde starter town of Brill. And while the starting areas may have low level PCs, they are protected by high level PCs. And low level coin-gatherers can quickly find themselves outmatched.

And now fields of broken skeletons crunch underfoot around the major cities as people try to get as many of the coins as possible. And the end result of this celebration of the united races of Azeroth results is more massive carnage than usual. You have to wonder whose side these elders are on.

More later,

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Fixing a Hole where the Meme comes in

My fingers ache from the typing for the past few days, so you people get a meme (sorry about that).

You scored as Discordian. You are a Discordian! That makes you a real oddball, and this is a fact in which you take great pride! Everything is funny, and really, who cares anyway? Synchronicity is the Great Cosmic Comedy, and meaning is where you find it! Have you hugged your paradigm today?



True Alternative




White Lighter






Aimless Eclectic




What Subversive Alternative Paradigm Are You?
created with QuizFarm.com

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

How to Handle the Scandal

[A Political Monologue]

We would never to THAT.
Never, ever.
Trust us on that.
THAT would be wrong.
THAT would be illegal.
THAT would be un-American.
We’re offended that you would even think we would do THAT.
What’s that?
There are reports?
About THAT?
Well, sure there are reports.
Rumors, Innuendo, Gossip.
People who just hate America.
But there is nothing to it.
Because we would never do THAT.
No one would believe it if we did, anyway.
What’s that?
There are photos?
Who would be so low as to take photos of THAT?
Only someone who hates America.
That’s who!
We Demand to know who took those photos!
Which we didn’t do.
Who would dare accuse us of THAT?
A four-star general?
Well, sure.
We heard some of his medals were fake.
We didn’t say they were fake.
We said we heard they were fake.
No, we don’t want to talk about our own military record.
But we still maintain we never did THAT.
Which, we’ve decided, is legal after all.
Just now.
In special circumstances.
No, you can’t know what the circumstances are.
They’re secret special circumstance.
Look! A Terrorist!
Osama’s Right Hand Man!
OK, so it was his dentist.
OK, so it was a complete stranger in a fez.
Where were we?
Are you still going on about THAT?
Yes it happened.
But Clinton did THAT too.
Did we say Clinton? We meant Carter.
Well, he would of done it if he wasn’t such a big wuss.
Fine. Let’s talk about THAT.
We did THAT.
Everyone knows we did THAT.
Why are you acting like we kept it some big secret?
So that’s THAT.
We would never do THIS OTHER THING
Never, ever.
Trust us on THAT.

More later,

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Football Theology - XL Edition

So here's the question for both football diehards and sunbreak fans - Your current NFL home team has made it to the NFC playoffs. They need to win this one to make the Superbowl. You have another commitment. What do you do?

Here's another one - Your childhood NFL team has made it to the AFC playoffs. They need to win this one to make the Superbowl. You have another commitment. What do you do?

And of course, the topper - Both your childhood and current NFL teams have made it to the NFC and AFC playoffs. You have another commitment. What do you do?

I chose the other commitment, on a matter of faith.

The other commitment was a private party and partial screening/update for The Gamers: Dorkness Rising, which I first wrote about back here. They had set the date and rented the hall (the Historic University Theatre, just north of the U-District) before it became clear that both the Steelers and the Seahawks would have championship years. I strongly considered passing on the shindig at the last moment, but I went and I am glad I went.

First off, it's because my bits are still in the movie. I excel in my role as Office Extra, and I have a few lines (which are still there). And they look pretty good - there are number of industry types doing cameos in the film, including Monte Cook, Ed Stark, and Rob Stewart (who also have lines and also look good). But more important than my mere ego, the movie itself is hilarious - it captures just the right balance of gaming humor and broad comedy timing. It was a friendly house (everyone in the theater had worked on the film), but we were roaring, despite the fact its an early draft without SFX or music. The humor is broad and very typical for your standard gaming night. I'd say more, but they NDA'd everyone, so I'm just waiting for it to come out. Find out more about it here.

And they also ran some of their podcasts, which you can find on the Dead Gentlemen site. And they were broad and hilarious as well, and yeah, some of you may think less of me because I laugh at these things. I'm willing to take that risk. They used to have a comedy show in Seattle called "Almost Live", which was had both Pat Cashman and Bill Nye the Science Guy. This was funnier.

Anyway, how do I justify ditching my childhood/current teams? Turn my back on the 12th man and the Terrible Towel? Easy - I felt that if I stayed home to watch, it would be saying that I felt that these would be their last games, and that I was sure they were going to lose. By going, I was declaring my faith that they would win. And they both handily handled their opponents (I caught the back half of the Seattle game, after all), showing that my faith was not misplaced.

Now here's the final theological question. Your current NFL team and your childhood NFL team are in the Superbowl. Who do you root for?

More later,

Saturday, January 21, 2006


There is a problem with the freelance life: Half the job is getting the job. Half the job is doing the job. And Half the job is getting paid for the job. Yeah, there's a math error in there. I said there was a problem."
- Me

So the Workstorm: A very heavy week of writing, a triple witching hour of deadlines, a couple opportuntities and a disaster or two.

I don't normally talk about the job, since what I'm doing is so far ahead of the schedule that there are things that aren't yet announced or may change serveral times between then and now. But this week I was involved in creating a new character for a lecensed card game, finishing up a bit of short fiction of another card game, delivering dialogue for a computer game, revising that dialogue when last-minute changes were made to the design (and the recording session was scheduled for Thursday), revised the new character for the card game, revised the dialogus again (the recording is still to be made by Thursday), wrote an introduction for a friend's book, shared some thoughts about game experience, had two interview/lunches, and got feedback for the short fiction for revision. All of which went very well ( meaning the people that I gave stuff too liked it) but it resulted in a lot of late nights.

And a project blew up that I was planning on working on, knocking me back a few squares. And I'm a little bummed out abou that, but this is one reason I don't announce what I'm working on, so I only bore close friends with the details.

Still, I pretty much weathered the storm intact. Working out of the home office has been pretty nice, and I haven't had to slog out into the rain (10 inches since the begining of the year, thank you very much). I' ve been able to sleep in until 8, and my biggest distraction is Harlequin the Cat, who wants me to walk around the house dragging an old bootlace for her to chase.

What I haven't been able to do yet has been clean out my office, organize my receipts for the Lovely Bride, get that book outline I promised out the door, or start in on the Archive Room, which is sort of like the Bat Cave, except is has a bajillion old games and comic books in it instead of supercomputers and a big penny.

I guess that's this week.

More later,

Friday, January 20, 2006


Yes, the Workstorm has abated a little (I am starting to think of Friday as my Saturday, since I spend Sunday in preparation of Monday), but instead of talking about that, I want to go into the Washington State Quarters Three designs have been chosen as finalists, which are, from left to right, Pretty Lame, Kinda Lame, and Kinda Cool.

Pretty Lame is the one on the left, your standard grab-bag of state images thrown into a mixmaster and thrown against a map of the state (Just in case you forgot what it looks like). A salmon, an apple, and Mt. Rainier. Definitely put together by a commitee to not offend anyone, and typical of the bulk of bad designs we've seen on the quarters (so there is precidence for it). I'm really curious if Wyoming (the Box State) and Colorado (The Other Box State) are going to go for the state boundaries look as well.

Kinda Lame is the middle one, which reduced the number of images (Rainier and salmon) and at least has some idea of a illusion of depth of the viewing plane. Still, its an animal and a natural feature, which other states can do as well.

Kinda Cool is the third one, a pacific NW tribal presentation of an orca. I like this because it is a single image, but also because I think it will also give the coin a particular feel to the touch (The Connecticut quarter with its Charter Oak does the same thing - I think this is a great coin). Yes, I have examined quarters I've pulled out of my pocket when they feel different - most of the unique state quarters just get pushed into the coke machine without a second thought. This one is stylistically different from the rest of the breed, and will stand out like the flag of New Mexico always stands out among the cluttered calvalcade of other flags.

But that's my vote. Scarlett is running her own poll, in case you're interested.

More later,

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Memory Lane

So the new issue of the Comics Buyers Guide is out (#1615), with a lot of articles about fantasy comic books (complete with Red Sonja cheesecake on the cover). Among the other excellent articles, there is a nice article about the history of D&D in comic books, written by James Mishler and featuring numerous quotes and stories from yours truly and TSR Vet and fellow Alliterate Steve Sullivan.

It was good to think about the work on the D&D Comics,Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and Forgotten Realms, which have slipped into the collective memory of "oldies but goodies". And it reminded me how much fun it was to write comics - it was a collaborative effort (much of it with now fan-favorite Rags Morales). And it is something that I would love to do again, if the opportunity presented itself (hint hint).

In the mean time, the workstorm is continuing to blow, though it should taper off sometime today.

More later,

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Quote of the Day

Still in Workstorm, but had to share:

" From age eighteen to twenty, I read nothing but E. E. Cummings as a rule. - Well, E. E. Cummings and Dragonlance. - Which I guess explains everything."
- Tycho, from Penny Arcade

More later

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Well, crud

You Should Be A Virgo

What's good about you: you have a quiet determination and aren't swayed by emotions

What's bad about you: you are an insane perfectionist and easily find faults in others

In love: you are obsessed with making your partner happy

In friendship, you're: helpful and giving - eager to be a true friend

Your ideal job: poet, flight attendant, or natural healer

Your sense of fashion: casual, upscale, revealing, conservative - you look good in all of it

You like to pig out on: a well prepared five course meal

Because, you know, I am a Virgo. Though I never wanted to be a flight attendant.

More later, the workstorm is still going.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Under the Deadline Gun

While I am delighted to see that we are heading to a Pittsburgh/Seattle Superbowl, I am facing a two-project deadline that has become a three-project deadline. Ah, the joys of freelance. I will check back in in the next day or so.

More later,

Saturday, January 14, 2006


I tend to accumulate football teams. If I've lived in an area for a while, I tend to become a fan for the local team, and when I move, I still root for that team. This doesn't happen in baseball, but over the years I have and am a fan of Pittsburgh, Chicago, Green Bay, and now Seattle.

[Note that while I went to school in Indiana, Indianapolis is not on the list, because they a) didn't have a team when I lived there and b) got their team by declaring that Baltimore had weapons of mass destruction and moved out in the dead of night.]

Anyway, this weekend, Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Seattle are all playing. And they aren't playing each other (yet). AND, as a added bonus, Pittsburgh is playing Indianapolis.

So I'm parking the laptop in front of the tube and letting myself get swept up in the moment.

More later,

Friday, January 13, 2006


In the first 12 days of January, we have had 7 1/2 inches of rain up here on the hill, according to the rain gauge on my back porch (which my parents sent me soon after I moved to Seattle). Add another 6 inches from December (most of that in the last two weeks of that month), and we have a truly wet winter on our hands.

The situation out here is serious but not critical. There have been mudslides and foundations threatened and overflowing banks and sandbags and submerged docks in the Puget Sound area. Closer to home, the Panther lake has spread out as far as the road, but thanks to some irrigation work, has yet to spill over the asphalt. The house itself is doing well (touch wood) save for more branches coming down. We're on pretty stable, level ground, high up, and not near the edge of any large drop-offs.

There is a lot of talk about records right now, particularly one in the 30s for 30-some days of rain. Those of us who remember a 91-day period of daily rain would quibble, but there is a difference between the two records. The long previous period of rain was pretty much Seattle Rain - overcast and a little drizzly, getting harder in the evenings. A very pleasant rain. This current spate has been hard and continual, and midwestern-style rain of heavy drops. And with the ground totally saturated, it is running off as flooding.

Seattlites are notorious for favoring the wet, and through the long, clear high summers, the continual blue skies actually makes them a little twitchy. But I think even our most hard-core precipiphiles are nearing the end of their tether, and ready for a few mountain days.

More later,

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Comic: *

Asterix and the Falling Sky; Written and Illustrated by Albert Uderzo, Orion Books.

I'm a fan of Asterix from way back. I first encountered them in an early French class, and when I was in college collected as many of them as I could find. Written by Rene Goscinny and drawn by Albert Uderzo, the comic series was about a plucky band of Gauls fighting off the Romans, who had conquered the rest of the country. They manage to keep their independence through the wiley hero Asterix, his hefty companion Obelix, and the wizard Getafix (named Panoramix in the French) who brewed up a magic potion that functions for Gauls like spinach for Popeye.

So when I heard there was a new book coming out, I was interested. Goscinny had passed on a few years back, and Udzero was taking on both roles. More interestingly, the news I got was that the story was the gauls facing two alien races, who were based on Americans and Japanese. There was the standard ruffle over the French picking on us Yanks, and why politics should show up in a comic book, but I was interested in knowing how things were going in the little Gaulish village.

I was not the only one. When I was in Europe, the book rolled out to a good deal of fanfare. I'm talking window stickers announcing its arrival and obelisk-shaped book dumps in prominent locations at the bookstores. And in the airports, I saw French, German, and Dutch editions. But nothing in English.

But when I was down in Portand, I mentioned I stopped at a store called CounterMedia, which has comics, art books, and fringe literature in the front, and erotica in the back. A British edition ofFalling Sky was on the racks (in the front of the store) and I picked it up.

So is it worth the kerfuffle about politics? Not really. Here's the plot. Two rival alien races, the Tadsilweny (anagram for Walt Disney) and the Nagma (Manga), both show up at the village, wanting to seize the magic potion (something the Romans have been trying to do for 30+ issues). The Tadsilweny looks like a purple mickey with bobbed ears, and has a legion of super-clones - identical, humorless supermen. The Nagma flies a ship like a shogun warrior, and has beyblade/pikachu robot rats. Oh, and the Tadsilweny' rule an interstellar nation of fifty stars, and their leader is named Hubs.

And that's about it as far as the deeper political meaning go. I don't know from reading it if the story can be applied to American and Japanese foriegn policy or just the influence of those cultures as far as European comics are concerned. The Tadsilweny is generally helpful and technologically advanced (sometimes haughty), while the Nagma is aggressive, funny-talking, and comic-threatening (sort of like the Romans). After much chasing about, the alien races realize they can't use the secret weapon they seek. the Nagma leaves in a huff, and the Tadsilweny erases everyone's mind to reset the story back to the beginning.

Of more interest to me than the supposed politics is seeing how the artist does without the writer. The art is a lot more animated that I remember from the past, and Goscinny makes use of larger panels and epic, sweeping action. But the writing itself is not a clean and pun-filled as it earlier (yeah, I am talking about making puns in French work in English, but they pulled it off). And the pacing is very much a trotting out of all the familiar faces and routines of the Gauls - Unhygenix throwing a fish, Cacofonix singing badly, Romans getting beaten up, and a pirate ship sinking (why? because in an Asterix book they ALWAYS sink a pirate ship). In other words, its not the supposed political or sociological bent that bothers me, or the presence of aliens in Asterix (the Romans have always been a jumble of modern-day anachronisms - that was part of the fun). Its just that from a story angle, it unspools like one more episode of a time-worn favorite comedy. OK, but not great.

So in the end, its a nice little visit to an old familiar place and some familiar faces. And that's about all it needs to be.

More later,

Wednesday, January 11, 2006


So I was going to write about other things, but the bathroom light just exploded.

No, really. Yesterday the bulb went out in the uppermost bathroom. It is a pretty nondescript fixture, a white frosted glass dome held to the ceiling by three screws. In all the years I have been here, I have never replaced those bulbs, so I unscrewed the screws and discovered that there were two burnt-out 60-watt bulbs, one of a brand that I had never seen before. So I pulled out a couple new 60-watt bulbs and screwed them back in, and reattached the glass dome securely with the three screws.

Let the record show that I reattached it firmly. I always have this weird "Sword of Diamocles" vibe when I am under a heavy glass dome held by three small screws. I double-checked. Really.

So this morning, while the Lovely Bride was showering, I heard a crash upstairs. At first I wondered if it was the cats (one of the important reasons to own cats - you hear a strange noise, they take the fall). Then the Lovely Bride let out a plaintive cry and I stormed upstairs, to find the glass ceiling dome in 1807 pieces on the bathroom floor. I fetched the Lovely Bride a pair of sandals so she could escape the bathroom, and I started picking up the pieces.

Now, I am cleaning up the mess, positive that, despite my cranking and checking, I had not screwed the dome in tight, but the Lovely Bride offers another theory. She thinks the dome exploded, then fell, as opposed to the other way around. And indeed, a lot of the pieces were pretty hot. Which creates another possibility - that the old dome was not used to the sudden temperature of TWO 60-watt light bulbs (hey, they run EZ-Bake ovens off one) and gave up the ghost.

Regardless, it is one of those nasty cases where you make a repair and then things get worse.

And the bulbs on the overhead just above my desk chair have just gone out as well. Sigh.

More later,

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Business Porn

[Here's another one that has been laying about, waiting for its opportunity]

So before leaving for Germany, I wanted to get my hair cut. This was while I was still at Pokemon USA, so I took a late lunch and headed for one of the small barbershops in the first floor of nearby office building.

What I found was a single chair with a barber groomed the ever-thinning hair of an executive. The chair was turned to a big screen video, which was tuned to a business news channel.

And what the TV presented was hilarious in a stomach-churning way.

The subject was the latest proposed tax reforms, which pretty much were hard on the middle class and easy on the upper stratas. I’ve mentioned the relentless boosterism of business media before, but this one was being spun to escape velocity. It reached a level of go-go promotionalism that exceeded anything I have seen on the Sports programs. I really thought the Talking Head commentator would orgasm on the air in his delight about the latest hand-out to people who would be too rich to have to get their hair cut in an office building barber shop.

Here’s what it sounded like:

TALKING HEAD: We’re talking about this incredible new tax reform. It’s amazing, and fantastic and it will promote growth beyond your wildest dreams! Wow! I have here Senator Latchkey, who is fronting the plan for the administration.

SENATOR LATCHKEY: Glad to be here, Talking Head.

TH: Now, you’re going to tell us why this is such a fantastic plan!

SL: Well, it promotes growth.

TH: Oooh! Oooh! Say that again. Slower this time.

SL: Promotes . . . growth.

TH: Ooh, baby, that’s the stuff! And how does it do this?

SL: Because it is simpler. Everything simpler promotes growth. The new tax form can fit on a single 3 by 5 card.

TH: So it’s easy for the peons to use! Who can argue with that? Not me! I feel all sweaty just thinking about it!

SL: You see you, on line one you list all your wages.

TH: God, this is incredible!

SL: And on line two you send all of it to the government.

TH: Oh, Baby! Yeah! Give it to me! Harder! Faster!

SL: And since wealthy people don’t have wages . . .

TH: It promotes growth. Yes! Lovely, throbbing, tumescent growth! Thanks for the impartial view, Senator Latchkey!

SL: Glad to be here. Can I cash the check now?

TH: When we come back – Organ Harvesting! How to get the most of YOUR office staff! Wow! I need a cigarette!

What can I say? I faked a cel phone call, ducked out, and went back to work. And on the way back home I stopped at the local hair boutique, where three stylists were arguing in Tagalog about a missing ten-spot from the till.

It was much, much, more lucid.

More later,

Monday, January 09, 2006

DOW Breaks 11000!

[Contrary to popular belief, I don’t publish everything that comes into my damn-fool head. Some things I wait on to check a reference, or hold because I think might appear mean-spirited, or just have to wait for events to unfold.

That last is the case here. A while back, when the DOW was continually diving towards the ten thousand mark, I tracked it and mocked it. And now that it has regained some of its lost ground, it is only fair for me to note that as well. Here’s what I wrote in preparation at the time, and if the details seems a little moldy and the predictions a bit out of date, please forgive.

So the DOW, to no one’s surprise, surged above 11000 today, capping a long and sustained rally. And with that milestone I have to flat-out admit I was wrong. When the current administration stated that it would “run government like a business”, I tightly gripped the seat of my chair and braced myself for the worst. Totally through years of watching business in action (yes, count it as two words). I expected bureaucracy, cronyism, favoritism, and the exploitation of the have-lesses by the have-mores.

And I was wrong. I have to admit it. Careful planning that put the “serve” in Conservatism has resulted in a rebound boom that in well on its way to erasing the popping of the dot-com bubble, and resulted in an economy that is strong across a variety of sectors, without either the dangers of unemployment or speculation ‘bubbles’.

Similarly, when accusations of corruption arose within the administration or within the party (as often happens whenever large sums of government money are involved), rather than fall back on Nixonian excuses and subterfuge, the present team came forward, identified the offenders, and turned them out until a full, nonpartisan hearing was held. Rather than reflecting badly on the party, it sent the message home that they were running a clean shop, literally a new broom.

Indeed, the care and consideration of this administration shows the concepts of the “best and brightest”, not only in economics but in foreign policy. Well-equipped forces of a broad-based coalition conducted a campaign in Iraq with clear goals and were welcomed as heroes. While we had to prove Saddam’s thrice-reported death with DNA evidence (flown to the scene expressly for that purpose), the sight of Osama Bin Laden, chained and turned over to the World Court, will remain a high point of 21st Century law.

And while, as a lefty liberal, I can growl and moan about the details (Hilary Clinton to the Supreme Court? Talk about stealing the left’s thunder!), I have no other choice, but to admit that this administration is paying attention to details and keeping their eye on the ball. They are all about good government, and they are now reaping the rewards with strong economic growth that will carry them effortlessly through the next election. While the Dems scramble for any topic to challenge this juggernaut, I have to admit that we are looking at a Reagan-era landslide that will validate the previous questionable election. There will be a clear mandate next year in 2004, because you can argue politics all you want, but you can’t argue with results.

More later,

Sunday, January 08, 2006

The Day Off

So I declared Friday a day off and headed for Portland. Now, I know you're thinking "You're freelance, every day is a day off". Actually, every day is a day on the job, and you have to specifically go out of your way to make it otherwise. Yes, it is an advantage that you can take an unstructured afternoon to mow the lawn, but in general, a freelance life involved more hours at the desk than in a more organized environment. And it takes effort to make a day off, in that there is always something going on that you need to attend to - a lunch, a meeting, a rewrite, a proposal, a deadline that will still be there, looming over your monitor like a gargoyle, when you get back. It took me two months to get to a stage where I felt comfortable making a pilgramage down to the Rose City, when everything was under control and I had no pressing issues weighing down on me.

But in the end I found it all a little depressing, and it left me more frustrated than refreshed.

Part of it has been the weather. The rain wasn't bad (in fact, it was the best weather around here for the past two weeks) but it was grey and overcast. But the music I listened to on the way down was "Classic Rock" which, it soon was apparent, was the same crap I was listening to when I was was a kid and Jeff Christie (better known as Rush Limbaugh) was spinning platters at 14K (Better known as KQV). You know, the era where making a principled musical stand was to say you were in favor of "Silly Love Songs". It should have prompted nostalgia, but instead just left me marvelling at the barreness of corporate rock.

The rest of the world seemed to share my funk. Red State Sam, a right-wing billboard along the highway, was out of material, railing about International Building Codes and the World Court. The Waddles, a venerable old resturant sign and clock just inside the Oregon border, was being stripped of its neon, to be replaced by a Hooters. I did get to see the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile, but that was the lone bright spot of a long trip.

Powell's City of Books, which is always the Mecca in Portland, disappointed mildly as well, not having two recent books I was searching for. In my search, I was struck by how my reading interests were being influenced by the Monkey King's friends list. I got a copy of Old Man's War, by John Scalzi, who was on MK's list for a while. And a copy of the Wuxia-inspired Weapons of the Gods which was recommended by Gareth-Michael Skarka, also on MK's List. And one of the books I did not get was Fantastic Victoriana, which I had passed on earlier but changed my mind after an excellent review from Prince of Cairo (Also, of course, on MK's list - did I mention the Monkey King kept a very good list?). In addition, I got a book on EBay and found at another nearby bookstore (Countermedia) a copy of the latest Asterix book and a book on news reporting from the Disinformation guys.

And, frustrated with the "Classic Rock", I got a book on tape - City of Fallen Angels, only to discover upon putting it into the car's tape player that the sound was weaving in and out. It could be the tapes or the heads on the tape player, but the people at Powell's were very, very professional in giving me a refund (which was a bright spot, but I would have rather had the tape).

I think the thing that frustrated me most, contributing to this funk, was the new parking meters in Portland. The old "Shove a nickel in and twist the dial" versions have been replaced there (and in Seattle as well) with an electronic station on each block that takes change or charge cards (not bills) and prints out a sticker you slap on the windshield with a time that your parking elapses.

Now, at first light, it seems like the same thing, but in reality there is a key difference. With the hand-cranks, you can extend your time easily, and in the past I would buy books, pop another couple quarters in, then go back for more, or decide to get something to eat, or just hang out. Here, with a specific time on the sticker, you can only buy a new sticker, so if you aren't there exactly when the time is up, you are either risking violation or paying twice for the same time. In my case, I was close to the timer going off, and instead of hitting a small hole-in-the-wall lunch place in town, or going back to brouse more leisurely, I chose to leave.

I ended up stopping at a Mac's on the way back north, something I only do when I'm bummed out (fries and shakes are a portable comfort food). And they shorted me a cheeseburger.

So I'm a little bummed out after a day off. I think its time to go back to work.

More later,

Thursday, January 05, 2006

A Year in Azeroth

So I've been playing World of Warcraft for over a year now. My highest level character is Samarius, a 48th level Priest on the Argent Dawn server. And the fact that I'm playing a computer game for a year is pretty major, and a testament to the strength the game. And now that I have driven off all but the most hardcore of gamers, here are the things have impressed me from a design angle, and some things that I found were irritating.

Among the stuff that impressed:

The Theme Park Geography: The world is broken down into regions, and each region is stacked with areas holding challenges for a particular group of levels. These areas are stacked together cheek to jowl, but create the impression that they are distinct and distant from each other. Sort of like Disneyland, this world FEELS larger than it is.

Graphic Varieties with Design Similarities The various regions have distinct and dramatic looks, so that when you enter a region for the first time, you get the feeling of entering a new world. Very Dorothy opening the door to Oz. Elwynn Forest looks like something out of a twisted Snow White cartoon, while the neighboring Westfall lives in the eternal gold of harvest. Dun Morogh is ever-wintery, the Barrens look like the African Grasslands, and Mulgore has the gentle undulations and color of a putt-putt golf course. Yet within each area, there are similarities in effect - you interact with the bulk of the region in the same fashion. Yet you come into new areas and it all feels different.

Always Something New: In addition to differing appearances, there are some small special effects for each of the areas. The main Tauren city in Mulgore has elevators (painted in NW Native American designs) to reach it. Ironforge is centered on a huge foundry. Westfall is haunted by big robotic scarecrows in straw hats. The sense of discovery is rewarded for wandering around - I just found the Noxious Lair, a rocky desert with huge curving spires that rise from the pitted landscape. Then I realize that these structures of insect legs jutting out of the group. And they were twitching. Ewwww.

You Gotta Have Friends: One of the things that has kept me in play has been others - Real Life friends who have been involved in the game. I started out on the Horde side with one group, and played extensively, but the Guild broke up and people drifted away, and I pretty much retired the character at level 44. At the same time, the Argent Dawn group got started with a core bunch of four of us, and we've actually made play dates to go adventuring together. Four more people have joined up as well, so that's been pretty nice. I have found myself staying up late to help friends finish up quests.

Anachronism can be a GOOD Thing: Back in the early days of fantasy roleplaying, guns and other tech was abjured. The gnomes of Dragonlance were a particular exception, and groundbreaking their way. With Warcraft's background, heavily influenced by TSR and Games Workshop, we see a lot of tech. Guns, zeppelins, aircraft - it tends to be stacked away to other races (including gnomes) but still does not overturn the fantastic nature of the world. Rather, it underscores the quirkiness of the world. A recent quest involved me finding lost runes in an ancient ruins, avoiding nagas and sea-walking giants, in order to reach a landing strip (!) lit by spotlights (!) and using a signal flare gun (!) to summon a dwarven scout plane (!!). And the weird thing is, it works.

Special Times of the Year: So one of the things that has kept me engaged has been various special events they run. They are just getting out of the Season of the Winter's Veil Festival, where Santa gives out quests to gather milk and cookies, and if you rescue a red-nosed reindeer, you get something that lets you turn your mount into a reindeer. Previously we've had Halloween, a New Year's Eve celebration (fireworks on the hour) and a "Children's Day" festival that encouraged people to zip around the world. It keeps folk tuning in.

New Year's Eve fireworks over Stormwind Castle

And there are some things that I don't care for:

Instances and Elites So within this theme-park world, there are particular, more challenging "rides" - called dungeons or instances. For these you usually need a group and at least an evening of play, and are inhabited by more powerful versions of the monsters called Elites. Normally you can handle a monster at your power level. With Elites, you are definitely out of your weight category with a monster of your "level" and perhaps with those of several levels lower. So I have bad guys that are tougher than I am, and better organized as well. Add to that the fact that most of these Instances are "mazes of twisty passages" and I tend to get lost easily. Its not a horrible thing, just frustrating.

Ironlag: The worst thing I can pin on World of Warcraft is the result of its own popularity. There as so many people on the servers that the machines can't keep up, so there is a lag between what you type and seeing a result. The worst offender is the Dwarven City of Ironforge. Due to its layout, there is always a huge knot of players at the main entrance - there is an Auction House and a Bank and it has become the general hang-out joint. Oh, a during the holiday season, Santa is there as well. As a result, lag is at its worst in at these main gates. Given that there are pits with molten steel nearby (Its a foundry, right?), and my character regularly falls into a pit while just trying to get across the main plaza. Its embarrassing, I tell yah.

So for the moment I am still wrapped up with the world, and have a couple low-levels as well that I have been playing. I find it interesting and intriguing and showing that, yes, you can get a lot of the fun of a table-top RPG into a computer game. It does work, and it does hold my interest.

More later,