Friday, November 30, 2007

Play: Blue Bird

Birdie Blue By Cheryl L West, directed by Chuck Smith, Seattle Rep through 16 December

So the past Sunday, we (me, Lovely Bride, Lovely Bride's Mom) went to the Rep where we were in a half-full house for Birdie Blue. Half-full? That's a little unusual.

Part of it I can blame on the Seattle Only-Mildly-Charitable Marathon (Which cut the connections between I-5 and the Seattle Center, such that I had to detour through Wallingford to get there), but I think part of it is that this is an odd duck of a play for the holiday season, a sad and kinda painful production.

Birdie Blue (Velma Austin) is an old woman in Chicago who is tending for her now-demented husband (William Hall, Jr.). Over the course of the play she slips into her memories and maybe into her delusions. The walls between what is real and what is memory, what is delusion and what is truth are weak at this stage, and time and place slips around. This feeling is aided by a brace of characters played by Sean Blake, and a set design which is not particularly helpful for determining the sense of place (is the window hanging at stage left existing in the real world, the past, or just the imagination?).

But to a greater degree, the play itself frustrates, moving between the various times with little warning, you are left putting the pieces together on the fly. When Blake first appears as playing a child, is he Birdie's child from an early marriage or a younger incarnation of Hall's mentally-disabled adult? He's the former, but you are wandering lost for a little while. Non-linear movement adds to the frustrations, and I am still trying to pin down what characters were where in Birdie's life.

But the acting is strong, much stronger than the play itself. Sean Blake in particular gets the chance to rock the house with a beautiful voice, while William Hall Jr. moves between sweet reason for living to wracked shell of a man. Velma Austina is masterful as Birdie herself, by turns damning and redeeming herself. And while the ending is telegraphed like Western Union (she packing for a trip, continual mention of the local funeral home), but when it comes it still twists the knife and it hurts. But that hurt is from the force of the acting, not the script itself - in weaker hands it would fall flat.

Oddly enough, the play sees thematic competition from the very same building, where The Cook is still playing. Here we have another strong ethnic woman moves through the course of her life with strong political, historical, and racial overlays. The acting is just as strong in both (the REP is blessed with strong female leads), but the underpinning isn't there in the writing itself. Add to this fact that the Intiman, just next door, is running its Christmas powerhouse, Black Nativity, and you've got three productions competing in a similar niche.

So good marks for the courage to go into a crowded field, and kudos to a small, passionate, incredibly talented cast that makes the play a heartbreaker. But the writing is the weakest link.

More later,

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Producers

The Writer's Strike. The last time I wrote about it, I talked about how media buried the lede, and then listed the reasons for the strike right up front. This time I'm going to list exactly WHO the writers are striking against (drumroll please).

Disney
Time/Warner
Newscorp
Viacom
GE
Sony

That's it. Six companies that make up the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers. Six corporations that comprise the bulk of news and entertainment in this country. Calling them "the Studios" evokes images of Thalberg and Goldwyn and the golden age of Hollywood, but that's not these guys. Calling them "the Producers" calls up images of Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel (sorry, for you modern kids Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane) selling 350% of the ownership of "Cavemen", but that's not accurate, either. These are big companies that generate their own weather and ecosystems. It's a tough sell to portray them as the innocents here.

When the writers' struck in '88, there were some 40 members of the AMPTP. Now there are six companies that dominate it. That's what they're talking about with media consolidation. A few weeks back the FCC held, with very little notice, hearings in Seattle to talk about making matters even worse. The meeting ran until 1 in the morning, with almost everyone opposing it. The board listened, checked who was funding their campaigns, and promptly voted to allow more media consolidation.

Of course you heard about it. Well, no, you probably didn't, since the people giving you the news on it would be the same big companies that would get bigger. And similarly, most of the decent coverage of this strike are coming through non-standard channels, which the big companies do not control as directly (yet).

And it has pretty much worked - the corporations are back at the negotiating table much sooner than anyone expected. The writers (with loud support from the actors) have maintained a high profile, stayed on-message, and have rallied a great deal of public support (both local Hollywood and the various fan bases). Now everything goes quiet as both sides can't talk about what they are talking about, but it is a start.

Nikki Finke continues to do good reporting (Note the article on how the AMPTP has sacked their PR person). United Hollywood continues to be a great source from the striker's side. Their latest is the speechless video, which, as all things worth watching, has Bill Macy in it.

And Variety, which is a little behind the times (and more on the corporate side), notes how writers are seeking other opportunities in comics and video games. Comic fans of course know that TV writers have been regulars in the comic scene for years (Kevin Smith, Joss Whedon). And "vidgames" (as they call it) tend to use in-house folk, which sort of undercuts their point as well. But they do quote Flint Dille, TSR ex-pat and brother of my former boss Lorraine Williams. Small world.

Oh, and the Internet, 24, the Writer's Stike, and LOLCats all combine here. It is a perfect storm of comedy.

More later,

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

On The Road Again: Scramble

Shorter Danny Westneat:

"I don't live in Renton, and neither should you."

Watching the local political and media landscape heave and buckle in the wake of the defeat of the unified road/transit proposition has been illuminating and educational, if nothing else. It seems to have broken down into "Never mind the bollocks, fix my roads first". The rail folk are convinced that a rail-only proposal will sail past the electorate without problems, while the pave-to-the-grave crowd is banging the drum loudly about how everything is going to hell unless we replace everything, immediately, and damned to the consequences.

Case in point, the Seattle Times, which used its bully pulpit to campaign longly and loudly against Prop 1, but upon its defeat has been whining equally loudly about the dire state of the 520 bridge and how (horrors!) it might become a toll bridge in order to pay for its replacement. Surely there must be an easier solution that doesn't involve people using the service paying for it, isn't there?

Hence the Westneat column. Why, there's money right OVER THERE, being used for widening the I-405 (which, as readers know, is stressed out for most of the day, and with the growing success of Renton and Bellvue, is only going to get worse). We approved that cash five years ago, and now we're in desperate danger of actually DOING something with it. Quick! Let's rob from the South to fix our immediate problem!

The funny thing is, that Westneat leads off the column with a note about how no one thinks about the (more dangerous of falling down) viaduct anymore, and then proceeds to (you guessed it) ignore the viaduct in order to push the absolute necessity of replacing and upgrading this critical link for the North-of-Seattle to North-of-Belluve commute.

Sorry, Times. Go find your own revenue stream. The 405 expansion is necessary for the very growth that your Business section rah-rahs about (you guys should chat). Maybe you should embrace the idea of tolls, or (shudder) actually man up and raise licensing fees in order to pay for necessary repairs delayed by a penny-wise, pound-foolish approach to taxation.

Not to say that the 520 is not in need. It is, but ripping off Peter to pay Paul is not the way to do it, and fragments the taxpaying public further in what they consider to be "necessary repairs"

More later,

Update: It turns out (thank you Wikipedia) that the 520 WAS originally a toll bridge (those wide areas at the ends used as bus stops were originally where the toll booths were). Gee, I wonder why we moved away from THAT idea.

Update Update: Long-time Seattle resident Larry writes: "520's toll was IIRC, 35 cents, and once the bridge was paid for, it went down to 10 cents! Shortly after I started to drive, they took it down since it cost more to collect the toll, than the amount they were bringing in. The toll booths used to back up quite a ways during rush hour. Of course, it probably backs up much longer now! :)"

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

On The Road Again: The Ticket

On a Monday, I was arrested
On a Tuesday, I was locked up in jail
On a Wednesday, my trial was attested
On a Thursday, nobody would go my bail

-- Huddie (Leadbelly) Ledbetter

So I've been a little miserable for the past 24 hours, because I got a massive ticket. But I'm much better now.

Here's the story - the Renton police are heavily patrolling Kennydale neighborhood along Lake Washington Boulevard, which is a common alternate route because 405, as readers of this blog know, is an absolute crapfest. And yesterday morning, I saw a cop in a prowl car pull over a driver going the other direction.

And feeling glad that it wasn't me, I proceeded to California Stop the next stop sign, and the cop on the motor scooter wheeled out behind him and pulled me over. Busted.

(California Stop is also called a rolling stop . Yeah, you do it. You slow at the intersection, look both ways, and the gun it, the sudden speed making it feel like, in comparison, you made a real stop. Well, I did that, but did not happen to see the cop on the motor scooter, which sort of points out the weakness of this tactic).

And the cop pulls me over and is firm but friendly and asks me what I was thinking when I obviously violated the law and could I hand over my license, proof of ownership, and most current proof of insurance. I gave him the info and he went back to his scooter to check me out.

He came back much firmer and a little less friendly. The insurance card was expired. I said "no problem, I probably have the right one here," He stopped me and informed me that he had already written out the citation, which was an OFFICIAL COURT DOCUMENT (he said that a couple times, so it stuck), for me driving without insurance, but pointed out the number and the address on the form for the local traffic court and that I could get it knocked down if I presented proper documentation to THEM.

And through it all, I was in that creepy, kafkaesque limbo along the side of the road. The parking perp walk, where YOU are hauled off to the side, and all the OTHER traffic is moving past you, smirking that its not THEM. And you're stuck watching them, and seeing them do the self-same California Stop you were busted for.

Anyway, the moving violation was waived for the lack of insurance charge, and to prove otherwise I had to go to the court building sometime in the next 15 days to clear things up. So I'm not feeling my best, and when I see that the fine is listed a "550" I'm thinking the officer has bad handwriting, and meant to write
"$55.00", which is a bit much, but makes it worthwhile to go in and get reduced.

So I get the office (fully stopping at all stop signs)and call the number, and a cheerful young woman says, yes, you can get it knocked down if you bring in the right insurance document (which I had but failed to present when asked for) and pay a fee (not a fine) of $25. Oh, and the officer didn't have bad handwriting - the fine for driving without insurance was $550.

$550.

Which of course makes it well worth coming in. So I went down immediately, only to discover that "next fifteen days" meant "next fifteen days, but AFTER the paperwork cleared". So with dejection I spent most of the day is a cranky mood with a $550 bill hanging over my head.

And while I would love to spin this into a long story showing the horrible nature of bureaucracy and the poor common man caught in its vicelike grip, here's what really happened: On Tuesday I stopped in and paid the fee and got it cleared up. So the end result is that I spent a bit more time, but ducked a moving violation, and paid a small fee for doing not one but TWO stupid things in quick succession. Which really isn't that bad, justice-wise.

So the moral here?
- Make complete stops.
- Have your insurance Info handy.
- Make sure it is the right stuff. The officer stressed he wanted the most up-to-date info, and was in a "no-take-backs" mood. And I really can't get too hett up about that.

And when I drove up Lake Washington Blvd this morning, the same cop was there on his same scooter with ANOTHER car pulled over. And I drove carefully around them, but the officer didn't wave. But I was glad that it wasn't me.

Of course, I made a complete and full stop at the next stop sign.

More later,

Friday, November 23, 2007

Black Friday

I seem to remember, and Wikipedia confirms for me, that Black Friday did not exist by that name when I was a kid. There was the start of the Christmas Shopping season, when you'd go into the store and they were still hanging up the wreaths, and that was it. The term Black Friday is a bit of marketing spin, originally coined about how BAD it was to shop on that day, and then finessed into an economic urban legend about how it was the most important day of American Consumerism.

Me, I'm staying home. Of all the strange things that I can eat, it is increasingly obvious that pie (PIE!) is not one of them. Its the shortening in the crust. Sigh.

Anyway, it turns out that I'm not the only person cheesed off about those "Life Takes Visa" ads. The link was forwarded by NikChick. Thanks!

More later,

Thursday, November 22, 2007

T-Day

The menu (and major contributors)

Crab Rumaki (Janice)
Mushroom Dip (Janice)
The Wine: Cranberry Wine from Yakima

Brined Oven-Baked Turkey (from Me and Steve)
Mashed Potatoes (The Lovely Bride)
Sweet Potatoes (Shelly)
Stuffing (The Lovely Bride)
Home-Made Gravy (The Lovely Bride)
Home-Made Cranberry Sauce (Lovely Bride and Steve)
Cut Corn (John)
Stuffed Mushrooms (Shelly, but Wolf had to remind me)
Chive Chedder Rolls (The Lovely Bride)
Bacon Sage Corn Rolls (The Lovely Bride and Steve)
The Wine: Harvest White Rieslings

Chocolate Pudding Pie (Nardi)
Pumpkin Pie (The Lovely Bride)
Apple Pie (Janice)
Various Teas: (John)
The Wine: Various Ice Wines


And special appearance by Little Elf Hat, who is fascinated by our cats (Vickie was too imperious to approach, but Harley was a sponge for attention).

All in all, a very successful Thanksgiving meal. For everyone else, enjoy this.

More later,

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

More Tales from the City (I Haz Jetpack!)

It seems that gas is over Four Bucks a Gallon down in California. Found this out in passing on someone else's blog. Didn't find out about it from the newspapers or TV, where they probably sent it to same dark place that they put news about the War in Iraq or the Writer's Strike.

But that really doesn't matter, because I Haz Jetpack!

OK, more City of Heroes stuff. When I was "let go" by CoH (the program upgraded to the point that my year-old machine could not handle it, leaving me with pictures of people's shadows on the screen), they had just added a CB Radio feature. Which is interesting from a storytelling point of view.

In CoH, most of the story is driven through missions, which consist of "Go talk to Contact X". You fight your way across the city (fighting purse-snatchers and zombie vivisectionists) to get to Contact X, and he gives you a couple missions, usually of the "Go beat up Y Vivisectionists" or "Go into this warehouse and beat up what's there"). After two or three missions, the contact/mission-giver gives you a new contact, and you continue the process.

So the CB Radio is a wrinkle on this - instead you have the mission-giver with you. You click it to find out what's happening, which is usually of the "Go into this warehouse and beat up what's there" variety. But after about three of these, there is a "special timed mission" that pops up (which I had not heard of, and my co-workers who understood were out to lunch). So I accept it, and then proceeded to muddle through something new.

First off, I went to the place I was supposed to go, but did not realize I had to click on the local police van in order to start the mission. Then I had to "protect the bank" which means I had to find the bank on the map. As I approached, the bank was being robbed (more vivisectionists - guys with skull masks in lab smocks that create zombies), and the first supervillain I've seen.

Now this is important - most of the "bosses" so far have been just another military guy or gang leader or robot. This was a chance to fight other spandex. I was unprepared and got killed, but had the "awaken" tchotchie that allows me to rez (resurrect) in place. So I get back and defeat the bad guy before he escapes the bank.

And then I am given fifteen minutes to run around the instanced area just beating up hoodlums for bonus points (and on occasion, extra time). At one point the phrase "key found" sprung up, which meant nothing to me, as did the various trucks, crates and cardboard boxes which I could not interact it. The timer gave the mission a little more intensity, but I had no clear idea what I was doing or if I was doing it right (and yeah, I DO read the text - that's part of the job).

But when I got out, I had a jetpack for about two hours of game time, which is sweet.

A jetpack is good at low levels because some of the better class of bad guy are on the top of buildings, and lacking flight, you have to run all the way up fire escapes to get there. And sometimes you get there and there is no one there. Jetpacks make checking out rooftops fun.

They also a good combat thing is that you get agro on a bunch of rooftop robots (get agro = get close enough to them that they attack you), then land on the street. Robots follow you, jumping off the tall building and taking damage as they fall. You are now fighting half-damaged robots, making the fight shorter. Stupid robots.

So right now I am spending all my time jetting around with my new temporary toy, and have to figure out how to get another one when the battery wears out. In the meantime, I Haz Jetpack!

More later,

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Local Politics: Final Count

I have a lot of quibbles with vote-by-mail, which may soon be the only option in King County as early as next year. Part of it is the communal aspect of going somewhere to vote, part of is the concept that voting should be something of an decided act, and part of it that someday in the near future we'll find a former mail carrier in Spokane who has 10,000 ballots socked away in his closet.

But the quibble I will deal with here is that not all the votes can be counted in a timely manner. Since it all is based on postmark date, votes tend to dribble in (and be counted) after election day. Sometimes up to a week later.

Often this does not make a difference - the margins stay about the same, or they may close, but the winner usually remains the winner. There ARE a couple cases every year where the numbers flip, and that always leads to suspicion about the entire process (But ... but ... you SAID that Candidate X won! Were you lying then, or are you lying now?).

And this is particularly troublesome for King County, which is the state's largest county, and its late votes are larger than the vote tabulations from entire other counties entire populations (but don't tell tell them that - it only makes them peevish). It is always a little frustrating when reality doesn't match up with your personal reality.

Case in point, EHJR 4204, which was supposed to remove the supermajority requirement from school tax votes. If you remember, it was the only result that really disappointed me, as it was going down narrowly. Then the late returns came in, and it flipped from weak loss to reasonable win. So that's a good thing.

(Of course, the Radio Bombasts who looked at the initial results and declared that the people of Washington State were in a tax revolt heard the news and immediately declared that another election was stolen by their evil, evil tax-supporting librul foes. I don't think they even broke for station identification between the two thoughts.)

On the other hand, over in Port, lonely reformer Alec Fisken looked like he was going to stay in office despite a hardfought campaign by Bill Bryant (he of the Orca-insignia'd lawn signs). The last-moment mailer portraying Bryant as a just-folks Seattlite did the trick and he edged out Fisken. The Port celebrated by initiating an immediate tax increase, where outgoing Fisken was the lone commish to vote against it. Good going, voters (I don't think the Radio Bombasts picked up on this one at all).

Also amusing is watching the fallout from the rails and roads initiative, Prop 1. All sides have determined that the voters liked THEIR part of the package, but just hated everything else. So the 520 bridge repairs, a late addition that sucked up a third of the roads budget, MUST (according to the Seattle Times, who need it to make the commute) be repaired, while the Light Rail system will OBVIOUSLY have to be on the ballot by itself next year.

Good luck guys. If it doesn't involve a stargate a block away from my house, I'm going to be leery of the whole thing.

Oh, and one more thing - you can usually tell the losers in the election because their lawn signs are still cluttering up the highways. Yeah, its depressing, but it has been two weeks, now - clean 'em up! We need that space for Ron Paul signs!

More later,

Monday, November 19, 2007

I Belong to the City

I did many things this weekend - wrote two proposals, watched the Seahawks beat the Bears, dropped in on a game convention where Monkey King was running a game, and spent some time with my Mom-in-law, who is visiting.

I also re-installed my City of Heroes game and started playing again.

I never really abandoned City of Heroes - rather it abandoned me. I was an early player, and it was one of my first modern MMORPGs (No, don't try to pronounce it). And I enjoyed it greatly. Unlike most of the popular games, like Guild Wars and World of Warcraft, it did not follow the fantasy tropes but instead got into the comic book universe. So you're a hero in Paragon City (with an ornate character generation system so good that Marvel sued them over it), starting out fighting purse snatchers and working your way up to menaces like the Clockwork King.

But eventually, its upgrades got to the point where my machine (less than a year old) could no longer handle the graphic requirements, and I dropped out. And when I got a better machine, I was already in the grip of World of Warcraft and unwilling to spring either in time or price for multiple online addictions.

But I dropped from WoW and played a little with LotRO (Lord of the Rings Online), along with the ever-enjoyable Guild Wars (which is the day job as well), and didn't think about CoH. But now I loaded the darn thing back in over the weekend.

And it took 2 hours at highspeed rates to update the original program. After it was all said and done, it was like going back to your old neighborhood.

Mind you, CoH is now a mature online game, and looks it. There is more color on the streets in the form of signs and shops (relatively absent in the early draft). And there is some different behavior from the crooks. There is stuff that was added post-ship - badges and salvage and an auction house (Whoa! That wasn't there before).

And as as more mature game, things move a little faster at the lower levels. Drops (treasure) show up more often, and it feels like I am moving through the low levels more swiftly (part of this may be because I know the basics of MMORPGing by this time).

On the other hand, I could have sworn there were nazis in this game. Old fashioned nazis with the funky helmets. Did they go away, or was I just dreaming? And the "Lost", a group of the homeless turned supervillains - they seem to be in limited numbers as well - did the economy pick up and they all get jobs, to be replaced by Trolls (because WoW can only hire SO many trolls)?

And they merged City of Heroes with its sequel, City of Villains. I'm not sure what I think about that, but then I'm only just created my first villain, the Marmoset (I can't believe that name wasn't taken).

And since I am writing for Guild Wars, I am really looking at their storytelling now and picking nits. The first time I encounter the Order, I really should get a little more detail. And why is the Boss of that adventure called "Pyre" in the intro text when he is "Inferno" in the mission itself? But these are petty quibbles.

But most of all, the newbie areas do feel kind of ... empty. Most of the rush has gone through now, leaving only the latecomers and people working on their 23rd alt (Alternate character). It remains a fun game (You run around and Fight Crime!), but it also has an old feel, like the primary four-color comics that it duplicates. And it follows that tradition to a great degree, and moves along smoothly, without a lot of pressure. So I'll probably be back in Paragon City for a while.

More later,

Sunday, November 18, 2007

May I See Your Visa?

You know those commercials, where there is a bouncy tune like the "Powerhouse" theme blaring over scenes of people buying, buying, buying, effortlessly in an orgy of consumerism, a ballet of capitalism? And they're all using their Visa cards? And then some shlub tries to pay with cash, and everything comes to a screeching halt - the music stops, everyone stares, until the uncool shlub leaves and the enthusiastic party starts up again?

I really, really, hate those commercials.

That is all. More later,

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Play: Time and Revolution

The Cook by Eduardo Machado, Directed by Juliette Carrillo, Settle REP, through 1 December, 2007

This play works, primarily through the brilliance of its lead and the excellent feeling of the march of time through the confines of a kitchen in Cuba.

And this is interesting, because it has an uphill fight, as the play has well-rounded, not always likable characters, a polarizing subject (Castro's Cuba) and the overall feel and potential danger of pitching over into political polemic.

The play is broken down into three acts for three different eras. The first is New Year's Eve, 1958, when Castro is moving on the capital and Batista and his boys are leaving in droves. The setting is the kitchen of the upper class house, where Gladys, the cook, is desperately holding things together for the people upstairs, with the aid of two cousins and her husband, Carlos, the chauffeur. She must deal with demands like Baked Alaska and pushing the clocks back an hour so the Master of the house can get back in time (the timeless nature of the household gets inserted early). The elements of class and race come into play in the upstairs/downstairs relationship.

A phone call comes in from the Master, and Adria, the Mistress of the House books out, complete with fur coat and valuables, leaving the staff and partiers behind for the Communists. Before she goes, however, she elicits a promise from Gladys to preserve the house for her promised return.

That's the big drive for the rest of the play - Gladys keeping the house for Adria. Thematically, the house is Cuba, abandoned by its upper class, kept running on thinner and thinner resources by those left behind.

Jump to 1972, and we are in the middle Castro's regime, along with increased sexual politics between Carlos and Gladys. Carlos is now a middle-weight the Party and has a pregnant mistress. Gladys's cousin is a homosexual followed by the secret police. Gladys can save her cousin at a cost of giving Carlos ascendancy in the household. Her resolve is tested, and decisions are made.

Jump to 1997, and American tourists are arriving in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union. They have made the house a paladar, a small family restaurant, in order to keep it going. Carlos and Gladys are still together, joined by Rosa, Carlos' daughter by his mistress (who has since fled both Carlos and the island). Rosa is the voice of the New Cuba, who has grown up there. Adria finally returns, in the form of her daughter, Lourdes, an unapologetic Ugly American. You can see where this is going.

Where "The Cook" works as a play is that it internalizes so much of the history and the national politics within the confines of the Gladys' kitchen, and the heart of the play is how the rest of the world impinges of her domain. It is about loyalty misplaced, promises made, and about the progress of time, healing some wounds, keeping others fresh.

Zabryna Guevara as Gladys pulls it all off, aging with the old kitchen, moving from dedidated young servant to master of her own world easily and believably. Given the heavy import and deeper messages that roll around on the stage, it is up to her to pull it together, and like her character, Guevara pulls it off in a splendid, moving performance.

The supporting cast is almost equally as good - Al Espinosa as Carlos comes across as more than merely a communist cypher and strawman for the revolution gone awry. His goal is always one at control, and his final state, that of accepting and supporting Gladys, is one of the triumphs of the play. A.K.Murtadha as the homosexual cousin Julio is extremely broad, and he is the posterboy for showing the cruelty of the regime (like democracies do SO much better). Here we are in danger of pitching completely over into broad political moralism, but Guevara's strong performance and Glady's character pulls it back.

Where it fails is in the portrayal of the upper class characters, Adria and Lourdes, played by the same actress. While race is a definite component in the history of the house which is Cuba (the lighter-skinned Spanish descendants had the advantages and were capable of fleeing the country when the revolution came), Jessica Pimentel's peaches and cream complexion is too much, and she looks and sounds more Megan Mullally (from "Will and Grace") than a Spanish-descended noblewoman, more comfortable in the Hamptons than Havana. Her characters are called upon for the faintest promises and the cruelest betrayals, and this is a difficult proposition for any actress. She doesn't carry it across here, neither believable as Mistress of the house or as Judgment from America.

(And yeah, the toughest moment to "sell" would be when Adria declares her long-unspoken friendship with underclass Gladys, then leaves. If the friendship was so strong, why not take the devoted servants with her? Particularly since one of them (Carlos, the Chauffeur, is driving them to the airport anyway?).

I think the reason the play works despite this is that we are allowed to see and develop most of the other characters over time, and watch the slow shabbification of the set (done extremely subtly, such that only at the end did I realize that the plaster had fallen in and the tiles were missing in parts of the kitchen). The sense of time and that of growth and development, off-stage and on, helps bring the play and its characters to a fuller, richer life. And Gladys, the centerpost, the support for both the play and her household, has the richest life of all.

More later,

Friday, November 16, 2007

About the Strike

The Writers Guild of America (WGA) is striking against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). The reasons for this strike are:

1) The writers want residuals for their material put out over the net (or in the parlance - new media).
2) The writers want an increase in the residuals they get from DVD sales.
3) The writers want payment for material written specifically for the net.

I'm putting this early in this entry because these demands seem to somehow get lost in the media reports. There have been articles in the news about the writer's strike, but somehow, the heart of the matter seems to get lost, mentioned at the tale end, or put into paragraph 7 after the jump.

This is known as "burying the lede" - hiding the important part of the news report under the sizzle of "Wacky Writers go on Strike!" and "Stars march on picket line with Wacky Writers".

I am not a member of WGA, but I'm a writer, so I get questions in the office from people who assume I know all about it (OK, I get questions about ANYTHING involving writing "So, Jeff, what do you know about this Gutenberg guy?"). So I do the research. And as demands go, I'll agree that it is important and worth going out on strike about.

The AMPTP has its counter offer - Shut up and go back to work. No, really. There has been a lot of nothing from the other side except a lot of walking away from the table (I think they have walked so far away from the table the negotiators are lost in Kansas right now). They are pretty sure that they are able to stick to this position, since writers are by their nature a quarrelsome and lonely lot, and have a basic need to write and entertain others. That's how the producers benefit from the situation in the first place.

Except things are a little different this time. The writers seem more unified. The other unions are backing them. The fans themselves are rallying behind their favorite shows, and holding and the producers responsible for them not getting their regular fix. There are other venues willing to hire writers. And the Internet, the bone of contention, has proved a very effective way of getting the message out to the wider world.

That last one is important. Remember what I said about burying the lede? The same major media that is being struck against is also controlling the traditional means of communicating about this strike, so the details sometimes get lost under the gloss.

So, for those interested, here are some links to help out:

United Hollywood is the strike HQ with reports on the picketing.
Nikki Finke has the LA WEEKLY report for word from both sides.
Ken Levine, who wrote for M*A*S*H, Cheers, and Frazier has a personal angle (along with other stuff).
Comic book legend Mark Evanier has more as well (along with other stuff).
Here's a very good video laying out "Why We Fight"
And here's a less-serious video laying out the AMPTP position, from the writers of the Colbert Report (Yes, they are still writing, just not putting it on the network - the killer phrase is "unendangered birthday tiger").

There's probably going to be more on this, but it will have to be later,

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Singing the Body Eclectic

OK, I'm still a little drained from all the political coverages (and, I am embarrassed to say, it ain't over yet), so I am coasting with that proven space-filler - Meme-age!

I'm Nicola Tesla! Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzt!
Which Historical Lunatic Are You?


More later

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Man of the People

Actually, I am pretty pleased to be this accessible:

cash advance


More later,

Monday, November 12, 2007

DOW Breaks 13,000!

Whathaheck?

Wasn't it only a mere matter of weeks ago that the national economic thermometer was a thousand points higher, creating the idea that we might be shrugging off the last of these long economic doldrums and finally moving forward? How did this happen?

Many things happened, and some of them self-inflicted.

The price of crude is rising, in part to the fact that we cannot really control all the places we invade. Remember the nod and the wink that taking Baghdad would open the oil spigots and pay for itself? Now crude grazes against the 100 bucks a barrel limit and our prices at the pumps spin accordingly.

We've been selling our debt for the last little while, and sometimes it seems to be our largest export. Lenin's old comment about how a capitalist will sell you the rope you hang him with seems appropriate, but it really was the comment by a mid-level cabinet official that cast fear into the heart of Wall Street Profiteers. The comment was that they might be looking for other, stronger currencies to collect.

And then there is the depleted dollar, now surging well below the loonie (making Canadians in the office both confused and slightly smug (well, smug for Canadians)). Supposedly a weaker dollar is good for tourism, but "Psychotic TSA Agent" has replaced "Snooty French Waiter" in the pantheon of feared tourist enemies, and may have a negative affect on all those Canadians streaming south.

And finally, we have the weakening housing market, which is mainly due to massive defaults on sub-prime mortgages. This one is oddly self-inflicted. A few years back, in its corporate wisdom, our government chose to make it tougher for individuals to declare bankruptcy and get out of credit card debt. So now those in over their heads are defaulting on the mortgages instead. Good going, guys. Here's a basic in fluid dynamics which applies to economics as well - if you dam up the river, it will just go somewhere else.

Ah, well, so we are in danger of finding out that the past few months were "the good old days". Hope springs eternal, but the market is crying for another rate cut/cookie, and may yet get it.

More later,

Sunday, November 11, 2007

11-11-11

Eleventh Hour
Eleventh Day
Eleventh Year

Poppies

In Flanders Fields

IN FLANDERS FIELDS the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)
Canadian Army

More later,

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Writing Things

I am not involved in NaNoWriMo, though I know more than a few friends who are undertaking the task of a writing a book in the month of November, and I wish them well.

I AM writing, but I realize I don't talk about the writing much here. There are bloggers who regularly post with updates, and progress and odd, tantalizing questions ("Would the Bridge of Sighs in Venice decay faster or slower in a vacuum?"), but that part of the process is pretty private, and I don't like to share the starts and stops of the entire operation. And the dead ends. Definitely don't like to share the dead ends.

Another part of it is that I'm often writing about things I can't talk about yet. Sometimes it is a secret project, like this thing I'm doing for Guild Wars II. Sometime it is a project that has been announced but the details are still under wraps (like the Mission Packs for Guild Wars, which are coming ... uh ... soon. Real soon). Sometimes it is for a project that hasn't been announced (Like this thing I'm doing for a friend), or something that hasn't been approved or contracted (like this other thing I'm just starting to outline). And even when the project has been approved, contracted (mostly), and is public (like an upcoming adventure for Wolf Baur's Open Design project on the Arabian Nights), I don't like to mention it until after I have it all wrapped up (if then). Call me superstitious, but until the project is finished, turned over, revised, accepted, and paid for, I am still leery about it ever seeing the light of day.

So the only time I really feel comfortable talking about the work is when it is, well, out there. And then the work tends to speak for itself, and doesn't really need me to speak for it. In fact, the work would be just as happy if I shut up and let it do the talking. I gladly promote my work once it shows up, but up to that point, it is all sort of back-room-sausage-making, and filled with more perils and false paths than true.

But at the moment, I can safely say I am working on a lot of Things I can't really talk about. Weird, huh?

More later,

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Local Politics: Vox Populi

So, how'd it all turn out?

Proposition 1 (Roads and Transit) was voted down. Commuters celebrated this morning by a bumper-to-bumper parade along Northbound 405 between Renton and Bellevue. If you missed it, don't sweat - they'll be holding it tomorrow as well.

The various anti-factions are declaring that they love a unified transit measure, but not just THIS measure, and as soon as a plan is put forward that meets their needs (more concrete, no concrete, rails-only, busses-only, no taxes, everyone gets a pony), then they will gladly vote for it. Here's the story on that: 2009 at the very earliest before anyone sticks their political neck out for a comprehensive plan.

R-67 (Insurance company accountability) passed neatly, though, despite a huge ($11 million+) campaign from the insurance companies to defeat it. This just in: your rates are going up, because all the money to run that campaign had to come from SOMEWHERE.

I-960 (Supermajority taxes) passed, in the traditional tax rebellion of the season. Court case to show that it is unconstitutional begins in three...two...one...

ESSJR 8206 (Supermajority Rainy Day Fund) also passed, which is not horrible, but the language is so fuzzy I'm interested in seeing how it gets enacted.

SJR 8212 (Prison Labor for Profit) passed. Now the next step - prison terms for jaywalking! Gotta keep those profits up!

EHJR 4204 (REMOVE Supermajority for school funds) failed. Alas, this is the only one where I can truly say that the voters are dumber than a box of rocks. Must have been their schooling, which no one would pay for.

SHJR-4215 (University plays the Stock Market) passes. UW Chancellor seen checking out the tote board at Evergreen Downs.

King County Initiative 25 (Make the County Director of Electors a political race) passes. OK, just remember that you asked for it.

King County Proposition No. 1 (Medic One): Passes by a wide margin.

King County Prosecutor: Non-partisan Republican Dan Satterberg. It would be such irony that after the GOP put so much money into the race, that Mr. Satterberg turns out to really BE non-partisan. Local daily papers realize that there may have been actual money-laundering in this race in three....two...one....

Port of Seattle: Despite some of the most amusing political maneuvering I have seen this election, the reformers took it: Gael Tarleton and Alec Fisken.

King County Assessor: Brand confusion did not work - incumbent Scott Noble won.

Public Hospital District #1 - Wonder of wonders, the voters split the ticket. Incumbent Carole Anderson and newcomer Sue Bowman. Those on the board need to think of this as a shot across the bow, though - it is time to clean up.

King County Commissioner District Six: Jane Hague over Richard Pope, who made a very strong showing. Also, an extremely high number of write-ins.

Renton Annexation: Passes nicely. Now, when is Kent to going to get its act together?

So that's it - some wins, some losses, and the Republic moves on. I think I'm more steamed about the school funding supermajority hanging around than I am about the roads. But that's the problem is democracy - they let anyone in the door.

We now return to our regularly scheduled lunacy.

More later

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Election Day

So this morning, as I was heading out, the Lovely Bride was eating breakfast and looking over the voter's guide.

ME: Be sure to vote.
SHE: Looking at it now.
ME: You know, I did some write-ups on the issues for my blog.
SHE: I read them. (pause) I just don't agree with them all.

This is why I have no future in politics: I can't even manage a majority in my own house (and that's with the cats not voting - something about no opposable thumbs).

More later,

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Local Politics: Stragglers

So Washington State has been very successful with vote-by-mail, and will go to that fully next year. I'm a traditionalist, and will mourn the passing of the old-fashioned voting booth, but so it goes. What this means, though, is that a lot of people have already voted, while others are still thinking about it/putting it off. For them we put up the lists of Voting Suggestions and advice on how to figure out how to vote without slashing your own electoral throat.

Because the campaigns, even at this late date, are not going to be particularly helpful.

Example is a late mailer here from the Bill Bryant (Port Commissioner) campaign. It is pretty well-done, showing his opponent Alec FIsken on one side is scary b/w photo, and pull quotes about how the port is disfunctional from the PI and the online Crosscut. Now, the PI reference doesn't reference Fisken at all (talking actually about Bryant's allies), while the Crosscut piece actually holds opponent Fisken up as being one of the voices of reform for the port ("a very interesting new political phenom who might be a harbinger of Seattle politics to come"), but don't expect Bryant's mailer to say that - instead, among the charges leveled is that Fisken has spent four years on the job without breaking the stranglehold of the big business interests - oh, the horror!

The flip side is just as charming and disingenuous. It's time to clean up the port, says candidate and International Trade Negotiator Bill Bryant. And he is shown in a turtleneck! With a beard and aviator frames! And hiking boots! AND he has an orca on his brochure and his yard signs! He looks like he's from Seattle! He must be a good guy!

And Bryant may well be a good person and love marine mammals, but he is also the big business candidate who will more likely support the shennanigans going on in the Port at the moment, like big-ticket golden parachutes for former CEOs. So file this one definitely as "Flying under false colors" and vote for Alec Fisken.

Secondly, we have the King County Prosecutor race between interim incumbent Dan Satterberg and challenger Bill Sherman. Satterberg has made a big play for how the KC Prosecutor's office must be non-partisan, while running as a partisan candidate. The lib blogs and weeklies have been reporting on this, and the dailies are just catching up with the sudden cash dump from the Washington State Republican Party into the campaign, some of it little more than money laundering from big-ticket donors. Satterberg is apparently shocked, simply shocked, that all the people giving money to his non-partisan campaign are the usual GOP suspects. As a reminder, vote Bill Sherman.

And then we have ST/RTID Proposition 1, which, as you know, I think is a balanced, well-explained compromise in addressing Seattle's #1 headache - traffic. (so Vote Yes - it ain't sexy, but it works). But I did get a cute recorded message yesterday morning from some anti-folks. Which anti-folks, I can't tell, and I don't remember it exactly, but I think went something like this:

MUSIC: "Leave It To Beaver" theme song,
SFX: Funky old car horn
SAM (Folksy Vote): Hey, Mona, we've got an election coming up.
MONA (equally Folksy): Do we, Sam?
SAM: Yeah, and those scoundrels in charge of our government is trying to pull a fast one on us just plain folks.
MONA: Really?
SAM: Yeppers, with Proposition 1, which will raise our taxes more than our taxes have ever been raised before!
MONA: Really?
SAM: Sure Enough, and despite all that, it won't do a thing to making the highways less congested, because people will keep moving in unless we let our roads collapse.
MONA: Well, I don't like that! Bad roads are the only thing keeping all those Californians out.
SAM: That's right. And I understand that those supporting this measure are puppy-kickers!
MONA: Puppy-kickers?
SAM: Yep, they love to pour concrete and kick puppies! And raise our taxes!
MONA: Well, I'd never vote for concrete-pouring, tax-raising puppy-kickers!
SAM: Neither would I, and neither should you, person-we've-never-met-because-we're-recording-this-in-Chicago.
MONA: So vote no! Or else evil people are going to come over and kick your puppies!

Then again, I may have missed the exact quotes.

So hang on, there's some life in this election yet.

More later,

Friday, November 02, 2007

The Chronics

So last night a number of my co-workers attended the Sonics home opener. I didn't make it, but good seats were still available and scalpers were spotted visibly weeping.

The house was apparently 2/3rds full, which was a surprise given that the Sonics management was promoting the game with all the stealth usually reserved for a state legislator's pay raise. The game itself was described as three quarters of good basketball, followed by a complete self-destruct similar to that experienced in their season opener the day before.

And even the most die-hard fans among my friends accused the Sonics of taking a dive.

Here's the deal, for those outside the Sound. The Sonics were bought last year by a group out of Oklahoma, who publicly pledged that they would love, simply love, to keep the team in Seattle, as opposed to moving it to smaller-market OKC, a town which is best known as a site of right-wing terrorism and, in a bit of trivia, the aerial bombing of the poor (An aviator in the 20's bombed the black neighborhoods with dynamite).

Upon purchase of the Sonics, the new owners proceeded to demand the most expensive arena in the NBA, and when the fandom proved to be insufficiently stupid, declared that they have exhausted all options and have no other choice but to make the move and could-you-let-us-out-of-the-lease-early-thanks? The city was less than accommodating, winning the point in court and forcing the new owners to appeal to the NBA, who will gladly junk the agreement to keep their owners happy.

Mind you, in the midst of this, own of the owners had the poor judgment to publicly state that they were never planning on hanging around, anyway, and those rubes in Seattle were just being strung along. The other owners declared this a misstatement. Uh-HUH.

So now, to show that Seattle doesn't have the heart to love a major league team, they are delivering crap-tastic basketball in the hopes of driving as many fans away as possible, thereby expediting their escape to the heartland. And they have sent the message they will keep on losing until they get what they want, regardless of the desires of the fans or the players. Good game, guys.

Me, I don't care much about B-Ball except when my kid sister was playing (go Grove City!), but it strikes me as perfect local sport for local heroes and talented college kids, not an game of industrialized powers. But the owners have been jerking the city around from Day One, and having turned some of their most dedicated fans into suspicious antagonists (two lawsuits are already pending), they should not be surprised that no one around here has a handkerchief for their crocodile tears.

Oh, and it turns out that an investors group from OKC is ALSO sniffing around the Pittsburgh Penguins. Just so you know.

More later,

UPDATE: So one of my co-workers showed a small (quarter of a page) flier that was being handed out, with the Save Our Sonics logo and the office phone number of NBA head David Stern. Yes, he called, which apparently neither the NBA nor the SOS (who did not approve the use of the logo) appreciate. How frustrating it must be to let the fans interfere with letting the team flee the city!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Jeff Recommends

So, to summarize:

ST/RTID Proposition 1 (Roads and Transit) - Here's the deal - if we don't pass it, I don't want to see any of you on 405 northbound between 9 and 10, because that's when I need to get to work. Vote YES.

R-67 (Insurance Accountability) - So $10 million has been dumped into this campaign to defeat it, in the name of protecting consumers. How much has come from actual consumers? $700. Vote YES.

I-960 (Supermajority Taxation) - We say government doesn't work, and we want to make sure it doesn't! Another "Give me a pony!" initiative. Vote NO.

ESSJR 8206 (Supermajority Rainy Day Fund) - Let's push some cash away for an emergency, but then make sure we can't get to it. Sometimes I feel that way about the Girl Scout thin mints in the freezer. Vote NO.

SJR 8212(Prison Labor for Profit) - Prison should have to worry about punishment versus rehabilitation, not whether Bennie the Shiv and C-Block has made their fourth quarter numbers. Vote NO.

EHJR 4204 (REMOVE Supermajority for school funds) - Vote YES.

SHJR-4215 (University plays the Stock Market) - This I was wavering on. Do I really doubt the intelligence of a UNIVERSITY to invest in stocks wisely? Um, yes. Yes, I do doubt it. Vote NO.

King County Initiative 25 (Make the County Director of Electors a political race) - Yeah, THAT will make things move much smoother. Vote NO.

King County Proposition No. 1 (Medic One) - Why yes, when I'm have heart pangs, I'd like to have an ambulance. Hell, I'd like to have a transporter. Vote YES.

King County Prosecutor - Both men have good resumes and will likely do a good job, but the GOP candidate keeps trying to hide that he's Republican, stressing non-partisanship while at the same time taking gobs of money from the state party and doing fundraising for other GOP candidate. Vote BILL SHERMAN

Port of Seattle Position #2 - Go for GAEL TARLETON and keep an eye on her.

Port of Seattle Position #5- Keep reformer ALEC FISKEN and give him some support.

King County Assessor - OK, Scott Noble actually made a pun in his Voter's Pamphlet - he's the singular choice. Get it? SINGULAR? Because his opponent is named NOBLES? And they say Assessors have no sense of humor. Vote SCOTT NOBLE.

Public Hospital District #1 - Snake Pit. The incumbents have done poorly with their task, but their opposition is suspect. The foe of my foe is not necessarily my friend. Split the difference with CAROLE ANDERSON and SUE BOWMAN, and get a new CEO, stat!

And on the ones I cannot vote on:

King County Commissioner District Six: Jane Hague. Yep, flawed vessel, the weakness that flesh is heir to, yadayada. But that doesn't make her opponent obviously better (though he does have a Myspace page).

Renton Annexation: Oh, and now we have a City Council dustup where a religious stealth candidate running against King Parker (of King and Bunny's Appliances, up in the highlands) is striking back against a web site targeting her on how most of her support is coming from outside Renton. OK guys, on Annexation, you're on your own here, but you should know what you're getting into.

Feel free to print this out.

More later,