Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Night Before Hallowmas

Ah, Halloween, also called Hallowe'en, a perfect holiday of my childhood, existing as it did in a temporal bubble of relatively new neighborhoods filled with families with young children, of home-made costumes (devils, one year, Uncle Sams, the next (thanks Mom!)) of real candy bars before the bite-sized mass-packs. It is still like that, in many places, but increasingly its a party for the young 'uns elsewhere while us oldsters glut ourselves in the undelivered candy. Even though we have a lot more neighbors with the various housing developments going up all around us, few come down the dark, shadowy gravel driveway to that house far from the street.

Little did I know as a child that my experience was a transient phenomena, something that belonged to a particular part of America. Halloween, Hallowed Eve, the night before All Hallows Day or Hallowmas, wasn't all that big a thing before the 1950s. Our nation's early holiday-free years were absent of the day entirely, but with the arrivals of strong Irish imigration in the 1850s and Scottish in the 1970s, the holiday took root (it traces its origins to pagan celebrations co-opted by the church). Even then, for a hundred years it was more of a social gathering sort of thing as opposed to the house-to-house search for jumbo Snickers bars. According to the wikipedia it was more a case of Scots pride, much as Italian Americans use Columbus Day, Irish Americans have St. Patrick's, and Mexican Americans are increasingly using Cinqo de Mayo to celebrate their heritage.

And then, with the post-war baby boom and more disposable income, things changed. More costumes, more candy, more of a neighborhood adventure. One parent would man the door, the other (or an elder sibling) would take the youngsters. It was about the kids, but also a chance for the adults to visit, within the limitations of the patience of a small child hopped up on chocolate.

Since then, we've drifted a little. There are more local parties, in particular ones hosted at schools, in the daytime. Its a bit of nostalgia for the cool autumn nights, the houses with real pumpkins carved in front, the small ghosts, goblins, and princesses moving alonside their chaparones. Not for a time that never was, but for a time that existed only briefly, at a confluence of greater societal forces, and then continued to evolve.

More later,

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Local Politics: The Jeff Recommends

So today I cooked breakfast, recovered from the head cold, watched the Seahawks lose, carved a pumpkin, and voted (absentee ballot). And so as a result you get Grubb Street's endorsements.

At the top, for US Senator, I'm going with Maria Cantwell. For a freshman senator, she's done a lot, and her creds for environment, security, and veteran affairs are very strong for a one-termer. Her opponent, businessman and lobbyist Mike McGavick, started slow, then joined the ranks of self-immolating GOP candidates like Nethercutt and Rossi.

For US Representative, 8th District, vote Darcy Burner. Incumbent Dave Reichert, another freshman, has less of a sterling record, and though he is not under investigation (a rarity for GOP members of Congress), he has been pretty much in the pocket of his party, not his constituency. It is time to clean house in the other Washington, and I don't see Mr Reichert going in with a broom. Burner is a self-made candidate, the national party arriving late in the day to help out.

For Supreme Court, I strongly suggest Susan Owens over Stephen Johnson. Interesting thing that there was a lot of attack ads in the primary targeting Owens was (along with Chambers and Alexander, who won their positions). The BIAW, who has been funding Johnson, promised more of the same for the general. But then things went quiet, at least around here. Either the BIAW spent some of its money on real research and discovered this neck of the woods was not particularly friendly to their pave-the-earth approach, or they're just hoping that Johnson's generic name would carry through - this is one of those cases where more people would be more likely to vote for him if they didn't know what he stood for.

For the local-local races in the 47th, let's put up a cheer for Claudia Kauffman for State Senator, and Geoff Simpson and Pat Sullivan for the two State Rep positions. I've supported Simpson and Sullivan before, and to be quite honest, both men have done a good job. With all the work I've been doing on the game, I've missed that there has been a really sleezeball campaign coming from the state GOP against Simpson, stating that his marriage has problems. Yeah, I know, the GOP lecturing on family values is like the Holy Father of Rome going on The Dating Game, but Mr. Simpson has come out swinging, smashing the otherwise innocuous and inexperienced Donna Watts flat. So now the state GOP is robocalling, whining that Simpson runs negative campaigns (As a point of fact, no. I was paying attention the last time, it was the state GOP that was running the negative campaigns then, as well). Enough of this foolishness - Vote Simpson.

Then there are the initiatives. I-920 involves cutting taxes on rich, dead people as the expense of education. That simple. Its supporters could have scored points by coming up with an idea on where the money they were saving for the wealthy was going to be made up in the budget, but that woud be - you. Heck, even Bill Gates Senior supports the estate tax. Vote No on this mockery.

I-933 is another "gimme-gimme" initiative, where if you're prevented from putting a subdivision in your backyard, the state must either reimburse you for the lack of potential value of your imaginarily-increased property, or let you proceed. In other words, the state should either let you break the law or pay you for obeying it. This initiative is not only repulsive but badly written, and far from encouraging growth will choke it off in costly lawsuits as people try to figure out what it really means. Oregon has had to pay out six billion to date on a similarly badly-thought-out law. I'm not saying we're naturally smarter than Oregon, but this is a good place to prove it. Vote Hell, No on this one.

I-937 will require utility companies to seek out and develop alternate energy source, which is pretty much wind power. Similar laws have done well in Colorado and elsewhere, even saving money for the states, so this is one that's been driven around the block. Vote Yes on this one.

House Joint Resolution 4223 allows the state to up the withholding for personal property from $3k to $15K. It is one of those arcane measures that you look at and wonder why the heck they're asking you, but its a good deal. You want to help the small business that the I-920 and I-933 supporters cravenly hide behind? Vote No on the initiatives, and Yes on this resolution.

King County Proposition #1 is even more arcane. Sadly, it is not the Seattle Proposition #1, which involves whether strippers must stay four feet away from clients (which would have been more fun to research), but rather whether the county can sell or trade property that they bought in 1910 and whose bonds were paid off in 1936. Sounds pretty dry, but some of that property is on Lake Union and close to Boeing Field, so it could be valuable (Yeah, I use mapquest to find some of the land, but some of the descriptions were positively opaque). I'm going to say vote Yes on this one, but I really would prefer some assurance that the County will get a good deal on this, and not see some sweetheart deal move in. Keep and eye on this one.

King County Proposition #2 is more direct - raising taxes a smidge for better mass transit. Controverial, but as Dick Cheney would say, it's a no-brainer. I'd rather see more people on busses. Vote Yes on this one.

The rest of my ballot are guys without opponents, so if the issues and candidates in your neighborhood are not covered here, I suggest you go looking to find out the answers you seek. Then post them on your own blog. Because knowing is half the battle.

And now you know.

More later,

Update: One more thing you should know. If you're voting by mail, be sure to put 63 cents worth of postage on the letter. Democracy is expensive.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Play: Flop Sweat

Thom Pain (based on nothing) by Will Eno, Directed by Jerry Manning, Seattle Rep, October 5 - November 5, 2006

Blame the exhaustion from making the live date. Blame the nascent headcold I am nuturing. Blame the two glasses of overpriced wine. Blame the fact that I had just started reading Scott McCloud's Making Comics and was really enjoying it and would rather still have been reading it. Heck, blame the fact that I'm finally becoming an old fuddy-duddy. But I found Thom Pain to be a shining example of bad theater at its worst.

I wish I was making this up. It was an angst-driven, whiny, confused one-man show, an impressionistic painting of swirling oils that, if you let it wash over you and against you, will eventually clot into a picture, but not a particularly, deep, enjoyable, or interesting picture, and in any event ends up making your skin itch. Sort of a theatrical magic eye painting. You look hard enough, you might see something. Or you might just strain your eyes.

The play starts and stops fitfully, with the actor breaking through the plane of the stage's edge to engage the audience, then proceeding to bite them. Every damn time, until he has forced a sort of fearful victimhood on his prey. Sort of "Knock Knock", "Who's there?" "Only retards answer knock-knock jokes!" No, this line was not in the play, but it could have been. Worse were. Pretentious, mean-spirited and ultimately predictable, from the opening monolog in the darkened stage to the protagonist in business suit and no socks to the lack of a curtain call - instead the actor doing a meet-and-greet in the lobby afterwards. This is tolerable for the first work of the angry young man in some loft space or community college, but out of place here.

How bad was it? Imagine you're hanging out with that bipolar friend, the mildly schizo one? That overly intense pal from college that wants to prove that life sucks, that his life sucks, and therefore, YOUR life must suck, who wants to engage you so desperately that you are thinking of fleeing the room just to escape the terrible gravity of the black-emo-hole that is his world.

One did flee, in the opening five minutes. He was, I think, a plant, an innoculation, calculated to keep the rest of us captive by showing the actor flying off at the mouth at him. The next six people that took off, though, were real, quickly hitting the limits of their tolerance of this foulmouthed, unlikeable, unengaging character.

The actor himself, Todd Jefferson Moore, was pretty good, considering that he was charged with the task of carrying this huge chunk of emptiness onto the stage and creating a character of the type best avoided on public transportation. He wasn't responsible for the bile-driven naration and attempts to wade his way out of it, and best of all (and this is a good point)- sells the character truthfully. Mind you, he isn't a character would want to talk to for one minute more than absolutely necessary.

So what we have here is an avant-garde play that is completely predictable, a mounting rage against the world that neither illuminates nor entertains, a postmodern joke without a punchline.

Knock, Knock.

More later

Friday, October 27, 2006

It's Alive!

Nightfall went live late last night. Hilarity ensues.

More later,

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Massively Multiplayer

The shoe dropped yesterday that the World of Warcraft expansion, Burning Crusade, already delayed to the end of November, is further delayed to the end of January and perhaps beyond.

In other, unrelated news, Guild Wars Nightfall is set to go live in less than two days. Just sayin'.

More later,

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Dream - Space Suit Mummies

So in the dream I was in my car (the little Hybrid), at the Mt. Lebanon High School parking lot, a wide expanse of asphalt with a great view. Except I didn't get a great view - the car was surrounded by pickup trucks and SUVs, so I looked away. When I looked up, the trucks were gone, and I surrounded by mummies in space suits. I knew they were mummies and not zombies because they were very, very dry through the visor, and they were wearing the suits because otherwise the rain would disolve them.

One of them reached for the doorhandle, and there was that moment of I-must-move-but-cannot you get in dreams and horror movies. Then I reached for the keys and fired the engines up, and drove of in a heavy rain, space suit mummies in hot pursuit.

Yeah, my subconscious is trying to tell me something, but it might as well be in Catalonian for all the difference it makes.

More later

Monday, October 23, 2006

In Other News

Ms. Julia Martin is recovering well. Eric at Mystical Forest keeps us up to date.

I have developed a nasty addiction to "Top Chef", running on Bravo, which is one of those "Reality-Survivor-Shows" (which I loathe) but this one involves Cooking! I can just imagine the three-beat they used at the meeting for this one (and I am already rooting for the French Chef - we are soooo easily manipulated).

And speaking of easily manipulated, the Seattle Times claimed to examine each candidate individually, and then chose from the select group that backed their publisher's pet campaign to get rid of taxes on rich people. They endorsed both Republicans Dave Reichert and Mike McGavick. The Times has not matched the Wall Street Journal's chasm between what they report in the news section and what they say on the editorial page, but you can see it from here. Meanwhile, the P-I endorsed Burner and Cantwell, which involved much less denial of their own reporting.

The RNC, by the way, has bailed on sending any more money to McGavick's campaign. He joins Burns of Montana and Santorum of PA for those left to their own devices.

And yes, I can think of a Republican who is not in deep trouble this election cycle. Schwarzenegger. Weird, huh?

I have received my absentee ballot, since I will not be in town on election day. Go and do likewise.

So both the Seahawks and the Steelers lost their quarterback and the game last weekend. However, all coverage of the Seahawks mentions how the 4-2 team is "cursed" by the loss of last year's Superbowl, while the 2-4 Steelers are still destiny's team, sure to be back for the Big Show. This particular situation could be used in journalism classes to teach about slanted coverage, if only anyone was still teaching journalists anything anymore.

On the other hand, Seattle's new slogan is "Metronatural". Yeah, even I think it's a crock - "It's not natural - it's Metronatural."

The new Doctor Who is great. Yeah, he's one of those people who can wear dark-rimmed glasses and not look like a total nerd.

And lastly, we go live in less the four days. The wear is starting to tell, particularly on the younger designers who are putting in plenty damned hours.

Most later,

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Robocall

Bringggg-Bringgg!

Hello! This is the National Republican Congressional Committee. We're calling you today to tell you that we're pouring $1.3 Million into the race for the Washington State Eighth Congressional District.

And we're not using that money to tell you what a swell guy Dave Reichert is. That would be too much work. Instead, we're using all that money to tell you that Democratic Challenger Darcy Burner is a bad, bad person.

She wants to raise your taxes! She wants to let illegal immigrants sleep in your beds! She wants to give away your job to farm animals!

How do we know all this? We're making it up! We grab some random quote off the radio that we never show and then run down the hall, screaming at the top of our lungs! Its easy to do, particularly when you're trying to run a smear campaign from the other side of the country!

How can we get away with it? We assume that you're all morons. That you won't bother to check out the facts behind our attacks, and just be scared enough to vote for our guy. Hey, it's worked for years. Why not now?

Back to Burner. She's a negative campaigner! She's a horrible nasty negative campaigner! She's a negative campaigner because she keeps showing pictures of Reichert hanging out with the President. Our horrible-unpopular GOP President! If that's not negative, we don't know what is!

Why are we doing this? Well, we're kind of desperate. We're hip-deep in this scandal where we've been keeping skeevy GOP Congressmen in office because, even if they may have a host of nasty little perversions, they're still Republican. And as you know, it's OK when a Republican does it. No, really! So if we sound a little strident and whiny, that's why.

We figured a year ago that we had this seat in the bag. The Incumbent does what we tell him to do, and doesn't ask a lot of questions. Now, all of sudden, this nobody shows up and starts running a real campaign. Next thing you know, the Conventional Wisdom on the race has gone from Leans Republican to Toss-Up, and our opponents have all this archival footage of the horribly-unpopular Prez hanging out with our boy.

And it's not just here! We're tossing money into Idaho! Ida-freaking-ho! And Montana! How can we screw something like Montana up? Man, someone is going to get promoted to a position where they can't do as much damage over that one!

And we're giving up on races that we don't think are going to work, like the Senate campaign of Mike McGavick. Which is why he is suddenly trying to turn himself into an anti-war candidate. You see, when you don't give them cash, they go off the reservation!

So you're going to get a lot of mailers that look like they came out of a high school art project and radio ads with scary music and TV ads where we show Darcy Burner's face in black and white (Black and White! Bad!). And robocalls like this one, where you can't talk back. Lots and lots of robocalls. How can we do this?

Did we mention we're pouring 1.3 Million Bucks into this race?

Bringggg-Bringgg!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

DOW Breaks 12000!

After six long years, we get a totally new milestone. A sign that corporate America is finally on the mend after world terror, uncertainty, and general economic mismanagement.

The business section of your local paper says you should be happy about this. If not, why not? Discuss among yourselves.

More later,

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Julia Martin

Julia Martin, an old friend and editor of more D&D projects than you can wave a stick at, is in the hospital with what may or may not be a stroke. Our thoughts are with her and her husband Eric.

Update: Here.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Seattle Weekly, RIP

Once, a long time ago, I watched a lot of AMC, American Movie Classics. It ran a lot of old movies, black and white stuff, and a smattering of original programming, with no commercials. Then they decided to "improve" it, and added commercials and sent most of the B/W films further up the pay-channel scale and got most its movies from the same 70s-80s vault that TBS and TNT pull from. And I stopped watching.

Ditto TV Guide. Once this was a necessity in the household, a digest-sized weekly booklet that told you not only what program was on, but what episode, and did movie summaries as well. And then its owners decided to improve it to make it more marketable, and turned it into another People Magazine clone, its TV schedule outdone by the Sunday newspaper. Farewell, TV Guide.

And now the Seattle Weekly. It is one of our free weekly papers, and if you're from an urban area, you know what that means. Tabloid sized giveaways in honor boxes and bars, some content up front, restaurant and club news in the middle, and skeezy escort ads and personals in the back pages. Usually left-of-center and struggling, their success measured in the size of their editions and the thickness of their advertising.

For many years, the Weekly was the best little local paper in Seattle, with a stable of solid columnists, a local, left-of-center political view, and real investigative journalism. Youth oriented, activist, and willing to handle stories that the big two (the P-I and the stodgy, estate-tax-fixated Times) would not.

Then it (along with its related papers, including the Village Voice out of New York) was sold to New Times Media, a group out of Phoenix, who kept the Voice name (now called Village Voice Media) but has been gutting its papers of alternate voices in favor of more "local events". So the interesting stuff at the front has disappeared, along with investigative journalism. Such old political columnists like Mossback and Geov Parrish are history, replaced with features on Pet Obituaries and (I wish I was making this up), a humor column called "Ask a Mexican".

And I fell away, but I did pick up a copy the past week to see how the mighty had fallen. The lead article was on long-lasting, high-priced restaurants. There was a humor article about Mayor Nickels sending nerdy emails that was listed under the heading "news/investigations". The Ask a Mexican was sent to the back of the mag, but the skeevy ads for adult clubs seem to have moved forward. Most telling, the letters section, usually one of the more interesting areas (the old Weekly published hate mail like a badge of honor) consisted of two letters, both supportive of the paper.

The Weekly has jumped the shark, seeking an audience that won't read it anyway. I was in a favorite watering hole on Friday and picked up this copy, which is important - used to be you couldn't get a copy after Thursday. There was a big, untouched stack of them by the door, and a much smaller, picked over stack of the Weekly's rival, the Stranger, which has its own rep about being more hip than those hippies over at the "Weakly".

But in the wake of the destruction of the Weekly, the Stranger has been changing as well, its political antenna vibrating in the breeze, its coverage moving in the voice the Weekly has left behind. And so The Seattle Weekly has succeeded where the Stranger has for years failed - it has made the Stranger a relevant, enjoyable paper.

Now if the Stranger would hire Geov Parrish.

More later,

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Local Politics: Lies, Damn Lies, and Initiatives

So, the initiative process in Washington State was set up a method of allowing more direct access to government by the people. For many, many years, it was considered to lawmaking what the public access channel is to cable - strange but generally harmless. But now that huge amounts of cash can be directed through these initiatives, they have become yet another avenue for the wealthy and the corporate to steer the state, without having to worry about that meddlesome legislature.

There are three initiatives currently on the ballot this fall. Two of them are the wealthy trying to manipulate the less-wealthy to the advantage of the wealthy, but all three deal in deception.

Let's start out with I-920, which will get rid of the estate tax, a bothersome nuisance to the half-a-percentage point of estates that are large enough to qualify. Unfortunately, the people with these estates have money, which they will cheerfully pour into this campaign, using such megaphones as the Seattle Times (whose owner, being among the wealthy, is apparently determined not to die until he gets the tax repealed).

And so there is a lot a noise about how unfair this tax which hits the rich (which affects about 250 households a year) is to the little guy. Yep, you. About how it is horrible for family farms (in reality - family farms are exempt from the current estate tax). How it is horrible for small business (the definition of small business is rather large). How it punishes the wealthy unfairly (it does not tax the first 4 million of the estate. Let me say that again. First Four Million) and how it really is a nuisance tax (to the wealthy, perhaps - the tax provides about $100 million, which is directed to the school systems).

There is a lot of smoke about this one, but the bottom line is - feel free to vote for this initiative if your full-time accountant tells you it will work for you. You don't have an full-time accountant? Then you might want to vote no on this.

But actually, that's not the most odious and loathsome initiative on the ballot this year. That honor belongs to I-933, which basically states that if you can't develop your property because of regulation, the government must either reimburse you for the loss of value or waive the regulation holding you down. Funded heavily by out-of-state developers and supported by the Washington State Grange, the idea is that if you want to put in a subdivision, or a strip mine, or a hog farm on your property, and those nasty little regulations keep you from doing it, then you should be paid for not building it as if you had built it.

And like the anti-estate tax loons, the anti-regulation guys pitch I-933 as being a good thing for you, the little guy. How dare the government tell you what you can and cannot do with you land. Of course, the flip side is that the same laws that keep you from putting a dozen homes on your two acre lot also keeps your neighbor from putting a dozen homes on HIS two acre lot. A similar law was passed down in Oregon, and since then the state has seen a combination of outrageous development (strip mines in state forests) and a huge cash drain (about four billion with a b and counting). Plus the fact the initiative is so badly worded, that would be a field day for lawyers (and don't count on the State Supreme Court tossing it out - the developer-friendly BIAW has been working on packing the bench for years now).

Yeah, this is a hit-yourself-in-the-head initiative, which depends on you, the little guy, being really, really, really stupid. Vote yes on this only if you're planning on selling your property and moving to another state that has saner controls on property.

Finally, there is I-937, which will require utility companies to hit target numbers of energy conservation and use of renewable energy resources. It feels like the type of initiative that the system was put in place to enable - broad-support that should benefit the community in the long term. Cost (according to the Fiscal Impact Statement), is about $167,000/year over 14 years - a drop in the bucket compared to the other two give-aways. And similar bills in other states (like Colorado) have produced savings over the long term.

Here's the deceit, though. This is a wind-power bill. Doesn't say it, but it is. Hydro is excluded, geothermal is not sufficiently online (odd, given our location in volcanic territory), and similarly solar is undermanned (and before you make the always-cloudy joke, we have a lot of clear skies east of the Cascades, thank you). I'm a fan of wind power, ever since I first saw turbines dotting the hillsides overlooking Oakland, and I think its a viable option we should encourage. But just so you know - this is about wind.

So three Initiatives - two of the insanely bad (so vote no on I-922 and I-930), one with good intentions (I-937). Welcome to the vox populi of the initiative system.

More later,

Friday, October 13, 2006

Spy Comics

Ooog.

No, I haven't been out of town, and I haven't been sick. I've been tired. Very tired. We go live with the game in two weeks, and it has been sucking all my attention and my energy. And its going very well, but it is going to need the two weeks to get it right.

In the meantime, I've found another comic books shop. You will remember that Book World, which was local, then shifted about location about four times, finally shut down, leaving me without the stready fix of soap opera superheroics. Fortunately, I found another place to supply my needs, Spy Comics, over in Federal Way. Situated in a low mall across from an area that they have yet to develop for major mallage (just give them time), Spy is a excellent, full-service shop run by Rick and Paula. They also have a pretty nice website, which even tells you what is coming out each week (which is appreciated as well).

Now making the switch over to a new shop has given me a chance to evaluate what I'm buying, and to drop some deadwood. I pulled together a new pull list, and discovered a few things:

- I am still pretty much a Marvel Zombie - almost half the regular take is Marvel books.
- The remainder is split evenly between DC and Indies (including Wildstorm, which is distributed by DC but has not been swallowed by the Infinite Universe, but not the Ultimate Marvel Universe, which is a different flavor of Marvel).
- About 40% are ongoing series, though many of these are the "last issue" of stuff that has been overdue for a while (Seven Soldiers of Victory, anyone?)
- No Batman. No Green Lantern. Aquaman's gone as well. Wonder Woman's schedule has been so bad she isn't there at the moment. No Iron Man. Thor's still on hiatus. The only Spider-Man is Amazing, the only X-books are Peter David's X-Factor and Joss Wedon's Astonishing whenever it shows up. Only Superman is Grant Morrison's All-Star.
- Yes, I do buy for the authors.
- A lot of team books. About two thirds of them. So definitely the soap opera.
- Some nice experiments I have liked. Action Philosophers. Battler Briton. Elephantmen.
- The best time to drop your favorite books? Write after the initial arc following a major mega-event. That way you know if things are getting back to status quo (which means you can drop them) or if they are ignoring the past (which means you can drop them).
- Second best time? When the team goes off into space. Seriously. It is a good six-month vacation.
- And there are the guilty pleasures. I keep meaning to drop Black Panther and cull back Atom but they both have been delivering good stories, so I'm hanging around.

And that's about it. I've got a nice pull service at Spy, and I've even gone so far as to back-order stuff (Godland and Scott McCloud's Making Comics, which is something that I almost never do.

So at least I have some steady guilty pleasure working for me in the face of the increasing pressure. And I appreciate that.

More later,

Monday, October 09, 2006

Columbus Day

As fate would have it, today is also Leif Erikson Day.

Discuss.

More later,

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Gassing Up

So I think I finally understand it.

"It" being the relative huggamugga about the suddenly-lowered gas prices. Yep, this is the fourth posting on the idea, but the meme that prices are coming down as a result of some conspiracy is strong, such that even the Seattle Times got into the act. And like all the other articles I've been reading, it is a compilation of guesses and coincidences with a definite air of "who benefits?", and ends up with a shrug of the shoulders, like we were discussing the number of licks we need to get to the center of tootsie pop.

I don't understand why prices have been coming down, but I think I do understand why we seem to be paying so much attention to it. And why a lot of people think that there is some sort of conspiracy behind it ("A lot of people" meaning "More people than those who think the President is doing a good job").

The idea is this - there wasn't a lot of fanfare about prices going UP in the media over the past five years - in fact, when mentioned at all, it was in the lines of "Well, of COURSE they're going up, because [Slot in something that just happened in the news]. Now, with the prices coming DOWN, there is a sudden feeling that there was no real reason for them to go UP in the first place. I mean, has the news from oil-producing countries really gotten BETTER of late?

In other words, I think that what is driving this is a feeling from people that they have been had. The huge profits from the oil companies have been posting just fuels this idea. If the market says that gas should be around 2 bucks, then why has it been grazing the 3 buck limit for so long? The idea that there is a conspiracy to lower gas prices now carries with it the nagging suspicion that there was a conspiracy to raise them way back when.

And that is why people are cheesed off. And I think that's also a reason that, after a six-year grind, the DOW has finally gotten above its Clinton-era levels, and people (that is, people who don't live on the Business Page) are not enthusiastic with this development.

But that's just one more theory.

More later,

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Local Politics - GOP Blues

It sucks to be Republican Candidate out here in Washington State right now. Part of it is the craziness that is going on in the "Other Washington" (where it seems the national party is using every excuse in the book all at once in the desperate hope that something, anything, sticks). And part of it is that the President has an approval rating of only 34% here (Utah, by the way, seems to be the only thing that is keeping that man's grade point average alive - Utah, the Art Appreciation Class of conservative politics).

Actually, the big problem is that the media has, for reasons unknown, suddenly decided to pay attention to the candidates, with the result being that the candidates are really being, you know, examined. Questioned. Challenged. And the results have not been pretty.

Let's start with Congressman Dave Reichert, incumbent GOP, who had a few weeks ago had a piece in the Seattle Times, which quoted him about doubting the existence of Global Warming. This particular quote has not played well in the WA-08th, and even nationally the conservatives have fallen back to "Well, there may be Global Warming, but it's not our fault" excuse. Anyway, Reichert's campaign went after the papers, but in the process muddied the waters and reinforced the original statement.

Follow that up with a fund-raising event with gun enthusiasts, at a venue notable for its poor gun safety.

And follow that up with a in-depth report from the P-I (about two years late) about Dave Reichert's career as King Country Sherriff, which was more than a bit, um, truthful, in its descriptions of Reichert rounding up on his resume and claims to fame, making some poor judgement calls and general bad management. This one picture, with Green River Killer Gary Ridgeway, is particularly damning, in that it makes the Sheriff look like Leslie Neilsen from the Naked Gun movies.

But no more damning than the photos that the Burner campaign has been running, trying Reichert strongly to Bush, and using footage from the President's fundraising visit early in the year - again and again and again. This is a little unfair, since the visits from Bush and the other GOP national leaders have raised a lot of money for the Burner campaign, and helped move the race from Leans Republican - to Tossup in the rankings.

And Reichert is being "helped" by the NRCC, known on a national level for protecting skeevy congressmen, with anti-Burner attack ads. The latest, arriving at the house as I write this, has a picture of and alarm clock and that "You should be Alarmed" that Burner has missed critical votes as a citizen, and so cannot be trusted to run for Congress. Yep, you've heard that before - they've already hit summer reruns - the NRCC is creatively as well as morally bankrupt. Burner, for her part, has set up a rather sharp-toothed Truth Page to swat down the accusations.

OK, so it is bad to be an incumbent right now. How about in the Senate Race, where GOP Challenger Mike McGavick is going after Maria Cantwell? That should be going better, particularly since McGavck (who is using the tagline MIKE! on his signage) is past his truthiness problem about a DWI arrest a few years back (The truthiness being involved with the fact that he was arrested when he said he was warned, and that he was very, very D at the time).

Unfortunately McGavick's relationship with the truth continues true to form, as he has denied that he worked as a lobbyist while in DC. One of his campaign's big things is that, as a new broom, he would sweep through that old corruption and logjams in other Washington (I don't know how that played with the incumbent Riechert campaign, but hey, at least he's standing for something). Yet despite numerous reports of him lobbying, he is not a lobbyist. He hired lobbyists. Such subtle shades of grey may be lost on an electorate that doubts him already.

Then, a few months back, he came out for privitizing Social Security. This stood for a couple months, and was even mentioned on the challenger's web site. Then he suddenly comes back and declares that he never had said that, instead favoring some grey nebulous system with some modicum of government oversite. Similar to Reichert and Climate Change, he didn't mean what he said at the time, though he might have thought he meant it.

Meanwhile, he has made a lot of him turning around Safeco Insurance, and promises that he can show that can-do experience in office. The problem there, of course, is that he threw a lot of employees out the doot in order the manage this particular miracle, and may have involved the company in Credit Scoring, an illegal activity. I say may have, since the court in the documents refers to maybe-Safeco as "Company 1" in its judgement against the activity. So leading with your Safeco experience is not the best.

And finally the (other) Washington Post weighs in to kick the man around about his commercials, stating that they give the impression that either McGavick is a moron, or he thinks the voters are morons. Now, as someone from Washington State, I'm a little insulted by this. McGavick is a (mostly) native, and I think we're quite capable of determining who the moron is here, thank you very much.

The only good news for McGavick camp is that the NRCC has yet to offer him any attack ads. And he should send them a thank-you note for that.

More later,

Friday, October 06, 2006

New Toy

Three weeks to go. Three weeks before Guild Wars Nightfall goes live. And the silence of the collected ur-brain that is putting this together gets deeper as we all make a sudden, mental downshift for that climb of the last hill, reviewing that which we have accomplished and weigh it against that which we wish to accomplish. The WoW expansion has moved out of our intial launch window - we have a month free of the two million pound gorilla's landing. And Neverwinter Nights 2 has slipped, ever so slightly, from before our arrival to slightly after it.

All systems are go.

But enough about that (and I probably speak of it only through weariness). Instead the weekend, before the final push, I plan to curl up with Wolf Baur's new release, Steam and Brass, which I received yesterday by dint my being a patron of this unique experiment. And by "being a patron" I mean waving a twenty at him and shouting "Flying Monkeys" in a Wicked Witch of the West voice. And while I was not as deeply engaged as some patrons (never even checked out the ongoing LJ), I am glad to be among the few and proud that have a copy of it.

And it is interesting, in that we have a limited number of people engaged with this project, so it truly is a limited edition. This is no module or sourcebook that anyone can get - instead it gives all of its owners a leg-up on running it. One of the down sides of being a hard-core Cthulhiac, for example, is that you (and most of your hard-core gaming group) will pick up the latest product, which makes it a little hard to run "Masks of Nylarthothep" (and given the tendency to reprint, very difficult indeed). Here, we're fewer in number.

Anyway, for the moment, I'm just to veg out with the new toy, making notes in the margins and devouring it wholesale. And if I run it, I'll tell you about it. And for those that missed out, he's planning on doing it again on a new project.

In the meantime - Flying Monkeys!

More later,

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Updates upon Updates

You ever say something, then find that you keep having to double back as more information comes in? Even if it is to restate what you've said before? That's the sort of thing I'm looking at with my comments about our plummetting gas prices. Shelly in Seattle has sent me this link from yesterday's Slate which combines the Goldman Sax argument with the Strategic Petroleum Reserve argument and comes up with pretty much the same conclusion I did: Maybe yes, maybe no.

Actually, the article seems to give the administration more of the benefit of the doubt than I, or than the majority of the American people, who smell something foul in the air that is not just hydrocarbons. The author trots a number of other influences reducing gas prices that range from incorrect (The 'Potential Big Find" of oil in the Gulf of Mexico sort of went away on further review) to arguable (I haven't noticed people fleeing in droves from buying trucks and SUVs - In fact most of the articles I've seen have been to the tune of "Despite High Prices, Americans love their gas-guzzlers"), to kind of scary (The US Economy is heading for yet another recession - oh, yeah, if I was in charge, that would be how I would want to manipulate the economy). So while the article states the administration is benefitting from some sort of dumb economic luck, it actually makes a pretty good case for somebody rigging the numbers somewhere.

Anyway, the question remains open for me, since all this manipulation seems to be bringing MORE ire down on the administration than when prices were higher. But further updates on this front will be handled by our newly-formed Grubb Street Strategic Petroleum Reserve Desk, which happens to be located over at Shelly in Seattle's journal.

Take it away, Shelly! :)

More later,

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Updates

So we have achieved refrigeration once again, and the week and a half when we were without it was an inconvenience, not a crisis. We discovered that both our coolers have leaks in them, that buying ice is an irritant, and that we would not cook overly much since we could not preserve leftovers as well.

Other than that, I have been pushing forward in a low-grade state of exhaustion. The Guild Wars Nightfall game goes live in about three weeks, and we are in a frenzy to debug, polish, fix, explain, test, and retest every part of it. I must confess it has left me tired - our office has become relatively silent, the creative bull-sessions giving way to constant IMing and debugging, and it has been difficult to sleep, because I know what still needs to be addressed. In general, it is looking very, very good - our early responses have been very positive, and we are going to hit our live date (touch wood).

But it has been wake, drive, work, drive, personal time, sleep. Rinse lather repeat. The personal time has gotten smaller and smaller, and therefore, like all small things, more valuable. It has been a few hours, usually spent on the journal, but also on reading (still The Confusion) and recently, re-engaging with World of Warcraft. It seems weird that I would, after hours of bashing on a computer game, come back and play on its chief rival, but it is sort of nostalgic in a way, suddenly turning my GW-attuned brain to WoW (I'm doing much better). I'm on the Kilrogg server, primarily because another friend, Irishninja, is looking for Taurens to form up a new guild (The name is Baka - contact him when he's on and he'll sign you up). And we've got the hot tub working but still not fully approved (though the list of things wrong has gotten smaller every time).

And there are other things. After my post on gas prices plummetting (which seem to be ticking people off more than when they went up in the first place), Shelly in Seattle sent me this link on the current status of the Strategic Petroleum Reserves. I remember when we were filling up the reserves, but didn't know that we had "loaned" them out to the oil companies in the wake of Katrina. That was mighty nice of us, considering that the oil companies cranked up the prices anyway. And now we're putting off buying more, perhaps to keep those prices low. Hmmm. And Horse's Ass has a bit, quoted from The Agonist of another bit of potential conspiracy that may be afoot in all this.

I have a hard time buying that, but then, I had a hard time buying that Ashcroft got a warning in mid-2001 about a potential terrorist attack involving commercial jets, so he switched to flying in private planes. Turns out that one was true, so what do I know.

I do know that I'm in the middle of personal time. Then comes sleep. Then the wheel turns again.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Local Politics: More Eeeevil Burner

The GOP mailer bombing of Democratic Challenger Darcy Burner is continuing, and they aren't getting much better, either in presentation (awful) or in content (minimal). Now, the slimeballs that are putting these out ...

Pardon? I'm using the word "slimeballs"? Isn't that a little over the top? Not really, since the folks responsible for these pustulent extrusions of the US Mail are the National Repulbican Congressional Committee, who are responsibile for putting into office (and keeping in office) GOP candidates. And they and in particular their committee head, Tom Reynolds (NY), are hip-deep in covering up the abusive, predatory actions of a fellow GOP Congressman from Florida. Like the Catholic heirarchy covering up predatory priests, they were hiding the truth, keeping you in the dark, minimizing the damage, and keeping a molester in their midst, but WANT YOU TO TRUST THEM when they tell you Darcy Burner is evil.

Yeah, I think in this case, "slimeballs" is appropriate.

This leaves me with the goggle-jawed astonishment I have not felt since the first pictures came out of Abu Ghraib, showing stuff that would make Mapplethorpe blush. I mean, do you HAVE to be a shorteye perv to get work as a conservative politician these days? And I say this knowing the Spokane just went through the same exact thing with their mayor - what gives?

Right. Back to Darcy. She is eeeeevil, according to the ever-trustworthy NRCC because (gasp) she wants to raise your taxes (Duh-duh-DUH!). This pair of badly-laid out mailers (and I would make another Intern-with-Photoshop joke here, but now I'm afraid that I'm hitting too close to the mark) are light on content and heavy on the fear factor. They pull a pair of comments from Burner off the radio (true? accurate? beats the heck outa me - they were on the radio, and the mailers don't give the quotes, only helpfully summarize them in such a way to spread fear and loathing). And they are presented in such an obtuse faction, that you would have to have an expert on taxes to figure out if they had any base.

Oddly enough, I HAVE an expert on taxes at hand, so I asked her. What about the one that starts "2,092 Rea$on$ to Vote Again$t Darcy Burner" (pity she didn't have an "s" in her name, but they missed turning the "c" into a cents sign - maybe the font they were using didn't have one). The Lovely Bride, my tax expert, shrugged her shoulders and said "There's no way of knowing, given the information they give. Its all smoke and no heat."

Hmmm. How about this one, with the bites taken out of a quarter and a note that Darcy wants to take a bite out your paycheck (Boo! Scared yah!). Even though it has LESS information than the previous one, the LB had an opinion - "Reconfiguring income for SS taxes would affect your paycheck - If your regular salary is more than 100k or so. For most people, it has no effect. They don't mention that." Ah yes, the GOP, wanting you to get upset over the hardships of the wealthy.

Both mailers encourage you to "Vote No on Darcy Burner" (who is a Negative Campaigner, they shrilly announce), but give you no clue on who to say "YES" to. That is probably is because their GOP Candidate, Dave Reichert, has been pretty much invisible on the radio, in the mailers, and even on the floor of the House. And I don't think he's coming up for air any time soon - he is in the uneviable position of either being dumb or evil. If he didn't know about the problems between his fellow congressmen and house pages, he is stupid or willfully blind - not something you want to admit if you made your bones for your current position as Law Enforcement Officer. If he knew, he's guilty of keeping a dirty cop on the beat. So expect more silence from the GOP candidate as the GOP's molestor-funded message machine continues to try to keep reform out of the House. And though Reichert's people have at least scrubbed his site of pictures showing him and Congressman Foley together, they did not do it before the progressive site HA got a set for themselves.

More later,

UPDATE:Another one in the mailbox today! More of the same - shoddy layout, clip art (this time of an empty wallet and hand grabbing dollar bills, sourced but unreported statements, and we're clipping her head shot tighter and tighter, almost as if she's MOVING towards you, her hands outstretched to take those singles from your hand! And of course, one of the accusations is that she'll give tax breaks to Oil Companies! Gasp! What Republican would EVER do that! Meanwhile, the head of the committee extruding this mess has taken to making press appearances with underage children, in the hopes that reporters will not bring up S-E-X in front of them.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Play: No Doubt

Doubt By John Patrick Shanley, Directed by Warner Shook, through October 21st, Seattle REP.

Last year was rocky for the Seattle Repertory Theatre. It was a changeover between old and new artistic directors. A mix of old farewells and new intentions. A mish-mash of styles and subjects. A building year. In baseball terms, it was the equivalent of the last three Mariners seasons - entertaining but in the end not leaving you with a lot to think about.

Not this time. The REP starts its season swinging for the bleachers with a tough, excellent, thoughtful, intelligent play. Doubt is set in a parochial school in Boston in the mid-sixties (removing it three times from my common experience by faith, accent, and time). Sister Aloysius (Kandis Chappell) is the principal, an ancient, iron-handed, caustic, totalitarian nun-from-hell whose suspicions of her students' baser natures approaches almost Nixonian proportions. She is introduced comically, relentlessly correcting Sister James (Melissa Brown), a younger nun who wants to be liked, in a wandering interview in which she gets to imperiously declare her dislike for art, dance, Vatican II, puberty, ball-point pens, and everything that seems to bring people joy. She is not a complete haridan - she is intelligent and zings in fast ones over the plate, but hardly a sympathetic figure in her relentless protection of the school as she sees it.

Enter Father Flynn (Corey Brill), a younger, more hip, more caring, more social priest. He respresents the new wave flowing through the Church. He plays basketball. He is well-liked. He uses a ball-point pen. Sister Aloysius comes to suspect Flynn of improper behavior with one of the students, and, using Sister James as her agent, starts boring through the truth of the matter.

But the truth is a cagey thing, and for most of the play the audience is unaware if Sister Aloysius is right, or just engaged in a paranoid jihad. Sister James shows the stress of the investigation more than either of the primaries, and as Sister Aloysius digs, she find out more that makes the matter secular grey than clerical black and white. Plus, as a defender of the old faith, the sister is bound by the very limitations of the heirarchy she defends.

And yet, and this is where the play succeeds, everyone in the audience comes to that horrible moment, at different times, of what if she's right? What if Flynn is a molesting priest (though in the sixties, the term was alien to both thought and tongue, and even here it is truly a sin whose name cannot be spoken)? And as Sister Aloysius presses, Father Flynn engages in sorts of tricks, all of which offer reassurance but none of which address the truth of the matter - he makes excuses, he denies, he offers alibis which turn out to be partial in natures, he gives advice that might be (just might be) threats, he falls back on heirarchy. He is no capering villain, and that makes him all the more potentially frightening.

This is a great play, and actors Brill and Chappell both create memorable, natural, believeable characters. The old line about it being set in the past but having modern overtones is very apt, since this past Friday a Congressman in Florida resigned after it was revealed that he engaged in improper (in the same manner as noted above) discussions with minors who worked as pages. And adding to the irony was that the Congressman was the chair of the House Missing and Exploited Children’s Caucus, and that his superiors in the party were not only aware of his actions, but helping him cover them up. So the wheel continues to turn, and plays such as Doubt continue to resonate.

More later,