From the fevered mind of Brother Magneto, a nerd-based quiz that I did NOT do incredibly well on:
Congrats! You're about 52% knowledgable of fantasy worlds and/or London Tube stations.
Congrats, you're either fairly well-read in your fantasy or you have a better than average knowledge of London. Either way, these skills will come in handy for you someday as a London cabbie or a panelist at GenCon.
I'll keep it short, mainly because I haven't caught much of the buzz and none of the hooplah. Part of it is because our local media is in such an uproar, but also because I haven't felt much of a media through-line, a moral story that makes this game the ultimate justification of whatever needs to be justified. There doesn't even seem to be a strong us-versus-them line of that-which-makes Pittsburgh mighty versus whatever-it-is-that-makes Phoenix great.
Snow versus sun? Steelworkers versus retirees? Some great player's final hurrah? It just doesn't have the natural dualism that previous games seem to have had. There just is a shrug and a feeling that the Cardinals meeting the Steelers are like those turkeys meeting the shredder in that Sarah Palin video. And watching the commercials will have that tinge of 'So THIS is what they laid five hundred people off for'.
In Seattle, I am getting the whiff of sour grapes - heck, its a spoiled vineyard out here. We should have been at the top of our no-challenge division, but managed to lose to the Cards and destroy the whole Super Bowl as Holgren's last hurrah line that the media would have loved. And Seattle is just a tad bitter that whenever the national media talks about the Steelers, it is always in terms of "The Steelers, who have not been to a Super Bowl since they kicked the Seahawks to the curb, ate their lunch, and gave them a collective wedgie." So yeah, there's a little bitterness here.
I'm a native of the 'Burgh from before they started calling it "the 'Burgh". I'll root for the hometown team, but I haven't been there for them the most of the season. I don't know the center's name (yeah, most Steeler fans do. Most Steeler fans know the center's mother's maiden name). I fear I in this battle I am a sunshine Steeler, a summer soldier, a good-time fan, my terrible towel somewhere in with the napkins and the silverware. I expect a quiet Super Bowl, with an unexpected Steeler win.
About a week ago, the Lovely Bride brought home a copy of the local Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and I was struck by how much it reminded me of the newspapers I have grown up with. Mostly B/W, lot of pages, lot of ads, multiple sections and inserts. There was even a political cartoon and letters to the editor on the editorial page.
Two things amazed me. One was how pared down my regular daily, the Seattle Times had become. The other was the realization that the heavier, meatier paper, the P-I, was the one that was going out of business and may be history by March.
It is kind of a weird feeling. It is like having two older uncles, both of whom are getting up there in years. One has a terminal diagnosis but seems hell-bent on living his life as he has lived it up to the last possible moment - that's the P-I. The other has gone on a strict regimen, has dropped weight to the point that he is a mere shadow of his former self, seems determined to press on, yet is continually surrounded by nebulous rumors that he too is not long for this world, and when the end comes it will be with suddenness that will surprise everyone.
The rumors are that the Times is about to seek bankruptcy protection. That they are trying to sell a lot of useful real estate is a cruddy market. That there is a hang-up in their unloading of some newspapers in Maine (the Seattle media always calls them "the newspapers in Maine", when they really should be called "The largest newspapers in Maine"). Meanwhile, they have continued to revise and experiment with what they are putting in the paper, cutting down their diet, using more color, referring more to the web, running thinner editions with more items per page (and with that, fewer ads). They even, upon outcry, brought back the NYTimes crossword (since a crossword is one of those places where newsprint is superior to pixels) and restored the comic "Candorville" (though at the price of smothering "Lola" with a pillow in the middle of the night and burying her in the online editions).
But it remains a weird time for print media in general. Even if the Times does declare bankruptcy, it would put it in company with a number of media giants like Chicago's Tribune Company. And I mention the Tribune because all the pieces of the Tribune organization seem to be making money, they just can't handle the debt load of all their acquisitions they have made. And in the end that may be the greatest sins of all these companies - not that they are losing money, but rather bought some big vacation homes and suddenly are having trouble with the mortgages.
And as long as I am beating the relative analogy to death, there are the two weird cousins, the Seattle weekly newspapers. Since it was swallowed by Village Voice Media (despite its illustrious name a Potemkin village for a more conservative chain out of Arizona), the Seattle Weekly has suddenly gone from swaggering political reporting to gingerly avoiding such sensitive subjects, like the cousin whose new spouse does not appreciate such outspoken antics. Despite this, they still manage a good, solid article every blue moon, like this one which provides a good history of our senior senator, while performing the double backflip of simultaneously congratulating and chastising her for bringing more federal money into the state.
And the Stranger shows up in this journal more often, and has been that skate punk cousin that suddenly turns out to be surprisingly knowledgeable about how local government functions. I've talked about them before, and one of their strong points is their online presence, which provides rapid but often extremely localized reporting (Shooting in Belletown? All over it. Floods in Lewis County? Not so much).
In fact online may be the final resting place of read local news. Most of the old hipsters of the Weekly, the ones that refer to the Boeing crash of the 70's as 'the good old days', have ended up at Crosscut, which is seeking a working model for financing. And a new entry is Publicola, which is already reporting inside conflicts and intraparty brawls from Olympia, something that has been missing for a while in more traditional venues. So I suppose there is still hope.
As for me, I'm kinda hoping Seattle's sports teams improve, since watching the media seems to have replaced watching the Mariners limp along and hoping that Oklahoma City's new NBA team continues to suck rocks.
Well, T'Ed Stark inflicted this double-dog-dare on me over in Facebook, so here goes -twenty-five things you may not know about me.
Jeff Grubb ...
1. ... was once stepped on by a bear while he was sleeping. While Jeff was sleeping, not the bear. 2. ... reads odd dictionaries and encyclopedias 3. ... likes working with people younger than himself. Which is nice because he has less and less choice in the matter as time goes on. 4. ... thinks the best deep-dish pizza on the planet comes from the Original Chicago Pizza place in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, across from the Post Office. 5. ... has insomnia about one night every three months or so, and uses it as a chance to watch the sun come up. 6. ... rates drinking hot tea while watching the sun set at Crater Lake among his perfect moments in life. 7. ... has a false front tooth from being hit in the face with a hardhat at a caving expedition (Famous last words - "Throw that thing up here, willya?") 8. ... has stood on the shores of an ocean not on any American maps. 9. ... can't sleep on airplanes. 10. ... misses Brian Thomsen. 11. ... stays until the end of the credits of movies. 12. ... named his first D&D city "American Pie". 13. ... voted Republican in his first presidential contest. 14. ... still thinks "The Purdue Exponent" is a great name for the school newspaper for an engineering school. 15. ... is starting to wonder why he keeps all those back issues of National Geographic. 16. ... would have called his private design label, corporation, or band "Rock Wallaby". 17. ... still loves "Amazing Grace" even after that Star Trek movie reduced it to cliche. 18. ... is really excited about his current projects. 19. ... enjoys Lovecraft, hates horror movies. Go figure. 20. ... remains a fan of John Denver. 21. ... is an Eagle Scout (bronze palm). 22. ... has restless brain syndrome. Don't bother looking it up, it's a new thing. 23. ... has used "The Dick Van Dyke Show" as a guide to life. It's been pretty successful. 24. ... believes more in the afterlife the closer he gets to it. 25. ... has decided he needs a FAQ
And I refuse to tag anyone else on this one, but you if you want to play, go nuts.
The Road to Mecca by Athol Fugard, Directed by Leigh Silverman, 15 Jan to 14 Feb 2009, Seattle Repertory Theater
This is a tough review to write, because I don't want to scare you off, nor do I raise your expectations to the point that no amount of mere mortal theater will slake your thirst. But ...
The Road to Mecca is an excellent play, well-written and beautifully acted and staged, and well-worth hieing yourself hence to go see it (scared you off, yet?).
The play is based on the true story of Helen Martins, an outsider artist who transformed her home in South Africa into the "Owl House", which now, years after her death, is a pilgrimage site for those who embrace folk art (but during her life was considered that eyesore built by that crazy lady).
But saying the play is based on her story is sort of like saying "Mutiny on the Bounty" is based on a trip to Tahiti. Yeah, it catches the basic notes (and gives the play its "hook" for the liner notes and people asking "So, what is the play about?") but the play is about a lot more than that.
Here's the play version - Miss Helen (Dee Masske) is the elderly woman who, since the death of her husband, has been transforming her house into her own folk art regime, her lawn filled with concrete statues facing towards Mecca, and her interior festooned with candles and mirrors. She is being pressured by Father Marius (Terry Edward Moore), of the very Calvinist (Dutch Reformed) local congregation, to check into the church's home for the aged and leave behind her work. In response to a panicked letter from Helen, an old friend (who is a much-younger schoolteacher), Elsa (Marya Sea Kaminski) drives the ten hours to Helen's home is middle of nowhere, South Africa, to provide moral support.
That's the gist, but there's a lot more going on. Helen is both more vulnerable and more strong-willed than she first appears. Marius is not quite the villain he is made out to be, and Elsa carries a lot more baggage with her than her own overnight bag. Secrets revealed, deeper truths uncovered, and a resolution, of sorts, is reached that leaves a new equilibrium.
And the actors are marvelous. Marya Sea Kaminski was brilliant in My Name is Rachel Corrie and is completely fantastic here without evoking that earlier role, building Elsa from the ground up as a fully-rounded persona. Dee Maaske as Helen keeps up with her, by turns helpful and helpless, sharp-tongued and soft, comic and stern. She's just great. And Terry Edward Moore as Marius captures that stiff spine of Calvinistic caring that I both recognize and empathize with. All three are beautiful in their work. Master craftsmen working with the best materials.
And here's the bit where their ability is truly on display - the play itself has long, long speeches about responsibility and art and darkness and and mortality and love and trust and other deep matters. Not only do each of the actors hold the stage for their parts, but the other two actors are there supporting, wordlessly, what is going on. I know that sounds like a small bit, but their engagement is the cue for our engagement with what is going on (which is why I may have such problems with Edward Albee plays - they always seem like the characters are just waiting for whoever is talking to finish up so they get on with their say).
As a warning, I'll tell you that the performance takes few prisoners with its authentic accents. Kaminiski plays a sharp Brit talking a kilometer a minute, such that you're sometimes playing mental catchup. Maaske is blessedly softer, but her Afrikaner burr is there, blurring and shaping the words and hiding as much as they reveal. And Moore is Dutch enough to be on an Old Masters cigar box, and pulls it off as native.
And usually, when there are unfamiliar words to the audience (for example the word Dominee - the minister of the DR Church), there's usually a hint of stress to favor the audience. As in "here, this is a word you may not know about, though it is in you program book". Not so here - they go barreling through and expect you keep up. And what they're doing, what saying, is important and interesting enough that you DO keep up. You feel the auditory software in you brain get rewired as you come to understand each character in turn.
As for the set design, it was good, though I realized they could have managed with only a blank stage and sea of candles. You never see the sculptures outside (nor should you), and the interior feels almost a little subdued. The interior exists, save in one important culmination of the play, just to stay out of the way of the play itself. For all the hook of folk art and strangeness, it does its job by letting the actors and the words do theirs.
It is a very good play, and touched me deeply with what it is saying about art and darkness, subjects close to my heart. So go see it, and don't be scared off by the praise.
Quick summary of the week - Monday AM was the vertigo attack, which meant that Monday and most of Tuesday were spent asleep from exhaustion and a massive valium hit. Wednesday I went to work - the Lovely Bride driving since was still on medication. The LB takes those warnings about operating heavy equipment very seriously, and I doubt I could convince her to let me operate a blender, much less a vehicle, while on drugs.
Anyway, Wednesday was important since one of our design groups was grinding its gears without me, and ended up in a three-hour meeting that was (surprise) incredibly constructive. Gave me enough to work of for a Work-At-Home day on Thursday (another LB trait - if I claim I am working at home, she expects me to be, well, working - cruel taskmistress that she is). Friday went in as well, still on anti-nauseas and vals, but was rewarded by seeing some of the very cool stuff the group is putting together.
In general, it has been a very productive week, given all the weirdness involved. Today I was finally trusted enough to drive out and get comics, so I've been taking it easy reading comics and watching curling on the CBC. Slowly weaning myself off the drugs, and so far, except for that weird feeling where you turn your head and it takes a few seconds for you mind to catch up, things have been doing pretty well.
Oh, and my ears have been cracking. Nothing major, but just continual pressure-pops along the ear canals.
Anyway, I've missed a few big things and some small stuff, we'll see where we go from here. I am better but not 100%. Today is officially a bumming around and healing day, and I will leave it at that.
I think I mentioned that I’ve mellowed on the Seattle Viaduct. Yeah, the relic of the 50s has to be replaced, if for no other reason than a portion may come down in a heavy shake, but I have a hard time rustling up the venom against it. I don’t think its particularly ugly, nor does it block much of the waterfront (the hills rise right behind it). In its time, Seattle has moved from a working waterfront in that patch to more of a tourists digs - aquarium, restaurants, nice shops, and the parking beneath the viaduct made those locations more accessible.
So it was a shrug and a nod that I heard that the various ideas being pitched were reduced to two – a surface street option and new elevated structure. Either one works, but they do two different things, and that’s what the battle has really been about.
The surface street option is all about moving traffic inside the city. A lot of intersections, a lot of choices, but not a lot of speed. Mind you, I’ve driven through downtown Seattle, particularly when my goal is the Seattle Center and the Mercer Mess has I-5 tied up in knots. And while the lights are nicely timed, the continual traffic from all sides (people turning off side streets, street parking, pedestrians, driveways, all manner of drop-offs and pick-ups) makes the experience a cross between a highway safety film and the car chase from Bullitt.
The elevated idea is all getting traffic PAST Seattle. The city itself is located on a thin neck of land between Lake Washington and the Sound, and the two main thoroughfares through are SR-99 (The viaduct) and I-90 (which for reasons known but to the gods goes from 5 lanes to 1 ½ at one point). If I’m going north of the city, I’d prefer to use the viaduct as opposed to slogging through the street grid.
So suddenly the city, county, and state have announced a compromise – a tunnel. Whathehey? How is a tunnel a compromise between a street and an elevated? Well, it’s a compromise in that it does both things. The viaduct is replaced with the surface street option, while the tunnel takes the traffic intended to go THROUGH the city and pitching it cleanly out the other side. So the plan is really doing both.
And the current design answers my main concern about a waterfront tunnel (namely, that the land there is mostly fill to begin with, and any shake good enough to bring down the present viaduct would play hobbs with an underground. The tunnel concept sweeps inward to (slightly) more stable soil.
And it is not like we should be allergic to tunnels – we punched one through for the Light Rail System without a lot of hand-wringing or supplemental damage. Though I am leery of the idea that a tunnel should be easier since tunnel tech has improved in the ten years they’ve been arguing about it. With that logic, we should argue about viaduct replacement for another ten, because by that time the stargate tech should be coming on line (And here’s my thought on that – not going to happen).
No, the final argument will be the price, and while they’ve already got some funding lined up and good arguments for public works projects to patch the economy, I’m a little unclear on the idea of who’s going to pay for the durned thing. Seattlites will balk because the line will go through Seattle without even touching the sides. King County and State folk might bridle at the idea of funding a excavation with no immediate use for clearing THEIR streets. And tolls? Well, that may be a good, solid idea, but might shift some of your traffic right back onto the I-90 that is overloaded.
As for me? I’m back to being a bit mixed about the whole thing. A tunnel sounds like an awful lot of cash at a time when we’re trying to keep schools open, but something’s gotta happen before viaduct itself comes down and forces our hands. I’m dubious about the rah-rah state of the times in supporting it, and similarly doubtful about the claims from the anti-camp. So color me mixed, but I know I’m going to miss the old girl when they finally take her down.
What, you think I'd pass on this just because the New Guy just took on the job? Consider this the baseline, the initial determination, the chalk-mark in the tires of the economy, to see how (and if) it moves.
I'm feeling pretty good, but I'm not sure if that's as much from the Valium as the fact that we have a new leader for our country. I still want to call Mr. Obama "The Kid" if only because he is younger than I am, but out of deference for the office, I will settle for "The New Guy". In previous years I could usually be cajoled into trusting the man in charge because he is older and therefore wiser than us whipper-snappers, but the New Guy seems to have the answers and the attitude going forward, so I'm good for it.
And he will have his hands full. Let others dictate the depth of the mess we're currently in, I think that most Americans just want someone to fix it. I disagree with the idea of full forgiveness, of not going after the thieves and bozos responsible, though. If something was illegal on 3 November it is just as illegal on 21 January. Indeed, I think that not going after the problem children of the first Bush administration paved the way for their reappearance under the second. But then, I am a vengeful and petty god, and no amount of Valium is going to change that.
And the new guy will have plethora of his own bad choices, mistakes, and poor policies, though hopefully not in the droves we have seen in the past eight years. And while our media will get the vapors over any criminality, perceived or real, they will have a bit of a climb to better the travails of the previous administration. Things to consider before rushing breathlessly to air some new scandal:
Does this particular odious policy equal that of sending us to war on ginned up data?
Does this disastrous decision equal that of letting an American city drown?
Does this particular personal failing equal shooting a 79-year old man in the face with a shotgun?
Let's admit it, there is a high bar set by the New Guy's predecessors. And with it a new level of attention. I expect there to be a sudden concern when the undersecretary of labor is revealed to have pulled the tags off her mattress, or when some aid wrote in the box marked "Do not write in this box" the words "OK".
And that's fair, in that we were asking for better attention by the media than we got for eight years. But I'll be asking the previous questions when the media tries to get me to share their indignation. I fully expect the talking heads to be shocked, simply shocked, to discover that politics would be occurring in government buildings.
As for the speech itself, I missed the bulk of it, driving down to a follow-up appointment with my GP, but there was one line that stuck in a inauguration speech filled with choice bits. Here's the phrase, echoing Franklin:
"As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals."
Rejecting false choices, indeed. It should be strong and interesting four years ahead.
Update; Curmudgeon I may be, but THIS made me laugh out loud.
One nice thing about the blog is the sense of continuity. Back here I talk about a bout with an inner ear infection that left me incapacitated and heaving my guts out. That's about three and a half years ago.
Well, its back, though not with a vengeance, though mainly because I know what to expect this time, so I'm not dealing from ignorance.
Last night I was sleeping badly, rolled over my side, and was suddenly hit by both dizziness and a nasty feeling of deja vu. That was about 3 AM. The heaves set in quickly (we had Spanacopita (spinich pie) the previous evening for dinner, so I will spare you the gruesome details). By 4:30, and we were at the ER (the Lovely Bride driving, my eyes screwed tight to avoid watching the world around me).
Staff was polite and efficient, though I was parked on a gurney in the hallway (and here I thought that 4:30 AM would be a down time for the hospital). Toughest thing was for me to relax and trust them, a fact made easier after they were very nice and set up the valium drip. They did some basic tests and concurred with the diagnosis from years previous (The resident,a young man who gave me a "Scrubs" flashback, described being hit with is as "bad luck", indicating it is not punishment for my sinful ways, which I liked). Valium and something to calm my seething stomach, a referral for an EENT specialist, an appointment with my local GP, and I'm back home, and have spent the rest of the day sleeping in the waterbed with the cats camped out nearby, who are wondering if they can eat me if worse comes to worse.
The good news is that the Lovely Bride has been here to handle all the tough stuff (paperwork, prescriptions, etc...), and that this time I have a day job that provides health benefits. The bad news is that I really had things to finish today (though the good news is that my coworkers are smart enough to wrap them up without me). So I'm good.
And of course, I am writing this under the influence of drugs, and have the attention span of a flea, so I apologize if most of the words are spelled correctly this time.
I don't know about you, but I'm a little burned out on politics. Not a surprise, after a bruising political season just past. Yet here we go again, with ANOTHER election here in King County. You've probably got your voters guide (A slender thing about the thickness of a Seattle Weekly) and your ballots.
And there is only one major topic on the agenda - electing the new King County Director of Elections.
Now, readers will know that this blog felt that making Director of Elections an elected post was a stupid idea, and making it a "non-political post" was even stupider. But, vox populi and all that, so let's see what the people have wrought. The Renton Reporter, of all people, gives a good summary of those involved.
The best of the bunch is Sherril Huff, who a)gets an outstanding rating from the Municipal League, b) currently has the job, c) has got us through the most recent monster election without any major suits, and d) has the support of the local Dems. No problem, right?
Well, there is also e) she didn't live in King County while she was doing the job. She's moved to King County since, and while I am usually really nasty about folks moving into an area just to run for office, this is a case where Huff had to re-apply for the job she already has, and they've changed the requirements, so I'm a little forgiving on this one.
Oh, and here's a spoiler - I think you should vote for Sherril Huff. Just getting that out of the way.
Also "outstanding" according to the Muni league is David Irons, who ran for King County Exec against Ron Sims back in 2005. He's one of two recognized Republican candidates for this operation, and has name recognition. Problem, is, some of that name recognition is from a nasty family dust up, so caveat emptor.
The other notable Republican who is running is Pam Roach, who is "a character" to judge from her various campaigns and offices. She also has a blog, which, speaking from experience, is one of the best ways of cheesing off large numbers of people in a single quote (Here's a random pullquote talking about the decreasing number of reporters in Olympia - "For a conservative it just means fewer bullets. However, they will be higher caliber."). While I would admit she'd be the best choice for sheer entertainment value, she only gets a Adequate rating from the Muni League.
The Muni League's ratings in this race, by the way, are Outstanding, Very Good, and Adequate. Huff and Irons were at Outstanding. At the Very Good status is Bill Anderson, banking executive and software engineer. Downside, he has no political experience. Upside, until this election, neither did this job until this year. He running on the knowledge if not the exact credentials, and to honest, he'd be my second choice. Here's his site (but Bill, Bill, Bill! Don't have your video start up on opening. And you're looping it! Arrgh!)
Back down at the Adequate level is Julie Anne Kempf, who WAS King County elections director until being fired in a scandal in 2002. Which sort of set up the entire mess we're in right now. Then there was some additional extracurricular activity which led to an arrest. Problem is, some people are hearing about Kempf (former director) and ascribing it to Huff (current director), so the confusions is getting thick out here.
And adding to the confusion is Chris Clifford (Adequate rating from the Muni League), who is also filing suit to bounce Huff out for not living in King County, despite himself having a gig with a San Diego planning group without living, you know, in San Diego.
Clifford also gives us the quote of the election, in his Voter's Pamphlet entry: "There are actions I believe are unworthy of your vote. Filing a false declaration, lying about where you live, being accursed of assaulting your mother, being arrested for forgery, and being arrested for attempt to over a police officer".
Yes, the second line is a second fragment (He's a teacher), but more importantly it is a "Where's Waldo" of accusations against the other candidates (Note - not any single candidate is responsible for all of these accusations, but fitting which one to which took me the better part of an afternoon, and I still don't know who the forger is supposed to be).
But it does sum up my feeling on this election - it has not brought out the best and the brightest, but rather a collection of usual suspects, and will do little for improving the office of Director. At best, right now, I am looking to mitigate the damage. Go for Huff.
It has been almost a month since the woodpecker started attacking the power pole across the street, and I thought I'd update the damages.
The culprit, a pileated variety of feathered malefactor, has tunneled four holes into the pole so far, none of them more than six feet off the ground. They are:
- 3" long by 2" wide by 1" deep - 4" long by 3" wide by 3" deep - 15" long by 3" wide by 4" deep And a record scar of 26" long by 4" by 9" deep at the deepest.
The two largest cuts are across from each other, so our feathered saboteur is definitely working towards a goal. So far, I doubt the pole is coming down, but its not in the shape it was a month ago.
There is currently a small red ribbon tied around the pole, but I believe this to be the result of a local surveying crew as opposed to an intention to replace it. As the development wave sweeps through, they are planning to extend the sewer line down the street (which they just repaved and expanded a couple years back - go figure).
Tour de Lovecraft: The Tales by Ken Hite, Atomic Overmind Press, 2008
Provenance (or how I ended up reading this): I purchased this book at The Dreaming, up in the U-District, despite having read the first draft of its contents on the net. This is a blook (a word that will soon go into the annals of "words we don't want to use anymore") - a series of blog posts that evolve into a final edition. Ken Hite, on his regular site, took everyone on a guided tour of HPLovecraft's 51 stories, and this is the result.
And to be frank, the book's net origins show - the pieces are individually good but strain to hold together into a larger skein, though his final two paragraphs are worth the price of admission. It's a book worth having in a no-virtual form.
I've seen this book touted as a good beginners' guide, and I have to disagree. Hite does not summarize the tales here, and in fact assumes that you not only know Lovecraft's work, but the predecessors he is seeking to emulate (Machen, Poe, and Dunsany) and the literary critics and editors that followed in his wake (ST Joshi, Robert Price, Lin Carter, and of course Augie Derelith). Seriously, if you don't know what Lin Carter did to deserve the bashing he gets, you'd assume that he backed over Lovecraft's dog or something (which is kinda true, in a literary sense, but never mind that).
Because it is an assemblage of earlier smaller articles, so there is a bit of repeating and recapitulation. In particular, this involved Lovecraft's inherent racism, and whether it was intentional or inadvertent. This in turn opens the larger ongoing discussion of whether the creator's personal opinions are fair game within the larger framework of literary criticism. Me? I go back and forth on the issue, so I'm just aware that the ball is still in play.
So this is a very good companion volume to your dose of Lovecraft. It encouraged me to return to and reread some of the writers' lesser works (Most of which were gathered together in Arkham House's "Dagon and Other Macabre Tales" collection, which sadly concentrates Lovecraft to the point that the eldritch menaces start to blurr, a disservice to the individual stories). Ken brings his eclectic attitudes to the table and delivers a pleasant little meal that will satisfy those looking for a bit more about Lovecraft and his world.
And it has encouraged me to dig up my old collections of Ken's Suppressed Transmissions columns. Good weirdness, there.
I didn't make any resolutions to engage with new media this year, but that's just the way things are working out.
Case in point: My company gave its employees Amazon Kindles for Christmas. For those of you who don't glom onto the techno-gadgets, the Kindle is the new hotness e-book reader from Amazon.com. And it was a really cool gift, as it was definitely in the category of something I would not get for myself. And after staring at it for about a month (as it sat there, on my desk, in its box, mocking me with its cutting edge techno-goodness), I broke down and broke it out.
And its pretty good. Not something I would buy for myself(for reasons below), but something that I can use.
First off, the physical design is surprisingly sleek - an etch-a-sketch like screen with wide broad buttons for turning pages and a tiny keyboard at the bottom for those people who can type with their thumbs (as in ... not me). A roller/clicker that allows you access menus and move up and down the page. The screen is clear and the typefonts used very readable, and dare I say it - printlike. It is much easier to read than a computer screen.
The logic for using the interface takes a bit of poking about (remembering to click the previous page button, not the back button, for example), and you can choose your font size for readability. And it has limited access to the web, making it the perfect device to have on hand when you need to settle an argument in the bar (most useful site - Wikipedia).
Down sides - Its web access is pretty limited and clunky, but I think of it as a bonus, not a feature. To download books you need to have an Amazon account, and the Amazon website itself comes out pretty muddy on the screen. Screen size is not that great and it does not handle graphics well - I don't see this being used for gaming rules anytime soon (though the idea of being able to access your D&D rules with it would be kinda cool). The Amazon site is set up for computers, not Kindles, so you are better off finding what you want to buy on the computer, then downloading the exact title on the Kindle. The book choices are a mix of new titles right off the presses and shovelware just ported into Kindle format without any formatting (I almost got a complete collection of Twain, but it doesn't have any breaks between stories - instead being just one long file).
I bought a copy of Neil Stephenson's Anathem, which is pretty much the killer app for this device among SF fans. Stephenson's bug-smasher of a book shrinks down to a fairly containable size (along with a potential 199 more books), so in this way portability works in its favor. So I can carry around a book without the added weight. I'll use this for books that I don't really feel I need a hard copy of, or don't want to lug.
Since you can set your own font size, the concept of pages sort of goes by the wayside. Instead you can set bookmarks as you see fit (and write notes), but remembering to set them in the first place may be a challenge. Good news - it picks up exactly where you left off, so none of that fumbling about looking for the page you remember.
One challenge, as for all e-readers, is battery and storage. I can set a dead-tree book down by the side of my desk and not pick it up for months or years (yep, I've done this), and find exactly where I was before. The kindle needs charging every couple days (on sleep mode) or every week or so (if you turn it off). That's a point in favor of bulky, disposable dead trees.
So initial verdict? Interesting, better than anything else I have seen in the field so far. Good for a particular class of book (big, bulky, no illos or tables, and not intended to be permanent). Limited web features for the patient. Needs to grow its library further.
I'm in this for at least the first book - we'll see where it goes from there.
You know how it is - you're having a pleasant evening, and you open a bottle of wine. And you have a glass and it is quite tasty, so you have another, then another, then that bottle is running dry and you open another, less-expensive vintage because your taste buds have already been pickled and then you wake up the next morning and realize that you've done something you'd never do otherwise.
Like sign up for Facebook.
Actually, I didn't have that much wine, but I have been getting the continual pings from friends who mention that they are on Facebook, and you can come look at their Facebook and hey, the water's fine over here in Facebook! So I created an account, invited about ten people I know, and started poking around.
First, there's the networking thing. I've already got 50+ friends in about 12 hours without even telling anyone, so I guess that's interesting. And while some of them are fans, most are people I know in real life, and have talked to in the last ten years or so. And almost all are from the Hobby Industry, none from college or high school (though, of course, when I was in high school, we still had crank-handled telephones, so there may be an age thing going on here).
Still, it seems to be a low-impact blog, which for me is a bit of a challenge, since I tend to treat blogging as a full-contact sport. I don't quite understand the applications yet, and rage against the lack of customization available (I think I was looking for a place to stash my CV online - I don't think this is it). It also seems to be a timesuck at the moment, but I expect that to pass.
In general, though, it feels like a convention. You go to GenCon and wandering the floor is one of the regular features, if only to re-connect with the people you haven't seen since the last time you were at the convention. I don't know how the continual contact of networking software will affect this feature of convention-going, but I do find it interesting.
For the moment, I think I'll have some more wine, and check out this Linked-In thing.
As readers of this journal know, it has been pretty bleak for local dead-tree media. Seattle has been favored with two dailies, the Post-Intelligencer (PI) and the Times (Times). I've been detailing the slow decay of the Times in regards to the loss of features - decimation of its editorial page, loss of recipes, shrinking of Sunday Book pages (I have a note here from 2005 talking about when they had three pages - now they are down to one), loss of crosswords, no daily TV section, etc, as well as loss of key staff and reviewers.
Yet the diminishment of the Times gets swept aside by the sudden announcement that the P-I has been put up for sale by its parent corp, Hearst. And this offer is considered only a formality, required by agreement, before shuttering the paper entirely. So from one paper we've had a cascade of children tossed off the back of the sled to the waiting wolves, while for the other the announcement that the entire sleigh is going off the cliff.
The thing that is particularly concern-making, is that the staff had no clue. The initial report was from KING-TV that the parent Hearst group was going to offer the paper for sale. The newspaper itself had no clue, and the various reporters seem struck dumb by the suddenness of the decision. This is a concern not only for the P-Iers, but for anyone whose corporate masters are not within throttling distance. Those who chose to close the P-I were far removed from those who are to take the hit.
So we may go to one major daily, or maybe none (despite the perky concern-trolling from the Times on this, it ain't in great shape, and the idea that a major client for its printing is evaporating make not make up for the fact that a major competitor is going away. Over on the free weeklies side, the Seattle Weekly continues its painful diminution into irrelevancy, guided by the same people who are destroying the LA Weekly. Of the newsprint media, the Stranger, of all people, seems to be the strongest, yet that is supported by a extremely viable and vibrant online presence.
Mind you, the current economic crisis is the reason for "why now" in the same way that extremely cold winter is why great-grandma finally passed on. In reality, the symptoms have been evident for some time, and in many ways the recession gives management the cover to abandon all attempts to rebuild reader base and throw the readers to the wolves in hopes that the sleigh escapes.
I intended to do this during the holiday season - take a flat out day off from the day job and take the Lovely Bride to the SAM (Seattle Art Museum - best known for the "Hammering Man" outside its doors). I wanted to go on a weekday because the weekends tend to be a bit crowded. We haven't been there since the SAM re-opened after a major expansion. The excuse not to put it off any longer was the last days of S'Abadeb - the Gifts, a display of Pacific Coast Salish Arts and Artists. And I figured that even the Friday before close, it would not be too crowded.
Well I was sort of right. I had forgotten school groups, and a cascade of mildly hyper snowflakes was enough to put anyone off their reflective game. In general, though, the kids were well-behaved, but the voluminous hall of the display bounced what noise they made back on itself, so even now I have a mild headache.
The display itself was on the artistic end of the Salish peoples (who inhabited the Sound area before the Euro-Americans showed up), and while it covered all manner of fish clubs, cat-tail beaters, and wool spindle wheels, I don't think it made the link between these items and everyday life. Mind you, this is an art museum, not a museum of culture, societies, or anthropology, so any sort of display walks the careful line, and artifacts assembled varied from the mundane to the marvelous.
And for the Cthulhian-minded, they had a modern work, a bentwood cedar box by John Marston called The Legend of Octopus Point which just screams Lovecraft in the Pacific Northwest.
But what we particularly moving were the ghosts. There were a number of empty display podiums, lit but unoccupied, the explanation tag giving some quote involving loss. And if you hung about the displays (and the thundering snowflakes were not around), you could hear a rattle, or a chant, or a voice. It was actually very affecting about the idea of what has been lost in the acclimation of the Salish people to western ways, and made the other, physical artifacts all the more poignant.
There was also a small (10-piece) display on Edward Hopper titled Edward Hopper's Women, but which really could be called Edward Hopper - Even Creepier Than You First Thought, since it delves into more of his voyeuristic tendencies and obsessions. The presentation was tiny, and the LB noted repetitious in its commentary, but still nice.
Lunch at the Pike Place BrewPub at the market, solid food made wonderful by a very knowledgeable and friendly wait-person (who explained how and why they "air-fry' their fish and chips, brings the LB a brown mustard sauce they from another dish for her Reuben). Back to the museum for another short walkabout.
The rest of the museum is still a work in progress. For most of its history, the museum has been in a rather tight vertical operation, and now that they have spread out, it feels like when you moved into your first house and all the stuff from the apartment looks lonely and small. It's pretty much like that. The lobby is overtaken by a massive installation made up of ten white Ford Tauruses/Mercury Sables pitching end-over end in a three-dimensional stop motion animation of a car crash. It is called Inopportune: Stage One, by Cai Guo-Qiang. Supposedly a response to 9/11, it instead strikes me as the nature of an idea as catalyst - car take flight, is brilliantly lit up, flips out of control, but in the end comes to rest unharmed (though they have a museum docent at both ends of the installation to keep people from touching the parked cars). Trust me to see a happy ending in this piece of art.
Similarly, the museum now has space for Some/One, a 40'wide armored gown made of dog tags. Earlier it had to be tucked under itself. And there is room for Mann und Maus, a sculptural whimsy of a ten-foot tall rodent sitting on a sleeper's chest.
But in general it feels like the museum hasn't quite figured out how to live in its new space. African masks lead to Islamic writings lead to Egyptian/Roman, and Greek sculpture. Its not quite chronological not quite geographical, nor even thematic. It just is stuff that should be displayed, but does not come together yet in terms of making an entire presentation. How does the Italian room fit in? What about porcelain room?
Eventually, like people moving furniture about, the museum will figure it out, understand what its priorities are and how to present them. They did wonders with the economy of space they had allotted previously, and should, over time come to terms with the new opportunities presented.
And yeah, the Salish show closes on Sunday, but if you get a chance, check it out.
I was going to write about type faces, but instead the current situation drags me back to the current Weathermageddon. After the abnormal and heavy snows of December, we are now hit with abnormal and excessive rain.
Now rain in Seattle, despite our reputation, is usually soft and misty and relatively polite. This is serious midwestern rain - big globby spitballs from on high. And it just does not stop.
However, we, both on Grubb Street and in the greater Seattle area, are doing OK. Once again, the metropolitan area is in the rain shadow of the storm (I've been here ten years, and this year is the first that I've heard of Seattle being in a "rain shadow" (that is, mountains between us and the worst of the storm). Usually that term is used for Port Townsend out on the peninsula.
North, south, and west of us is another matter. The roads over the passes are closed, there was an avalanche at Stevens Pass and another large one at the ski resort up at Snoqualmie. South of here, it looks like I-5 will be closed again as the rivers in the Chehalis/Centralia area need somewhere to go (and most of the flatland has been taken up with new development).
The worst I've seen here is that we've got a leak at the office - not over any machinery, mind you, but still it is an irritant. For the moment, the lowlands around the office are not flooded (touch wood), but the rain continues to fall.
So it’s been a while, let’s see how the big comic universes are doing with their mega-events.
Once upon a time, comics existed in their own little self-contained vacuoles, such that the DC heroes had their own feudal cities (Metropolis, Gotham City, Central City, etc …) and the streams very rarely crossed. Then they got itchy and started teaming up all over the place, and with the Marvel Era all of them were in the same city, interacting up a storm. Then we got yearly “events”, which often played out in three summer months or in an annual were bunches of heroes were gathered. And then we had the maxi-events, which would change the world forever, create a new continuity, and make things as they never were before.
Worlds will live, worlds will die. And because of the popularity, these crisis books have become their own sense of continuity, ever-continuing, creating a cloud of subordinate books, and no longer tied into the books that birthed the characters. And sometimes that works, and sometimes it doesn’t. (Oh yeah - Spoilers from here on out).
One place where it worked pretty well was Marvel’s Secret Invasion, which involved shapeshifting Skrulls, a long-time Marvel alien race, replacing a lot of key people in the Marvel Universe as a prelude to a full-scale military invasion. The time frame of the eight issues was no more than a couple days, and the main book consisted of little more than a bash-em-up with a traditional three act framework (which is, as we know – 1) Chase the heroes up the tree, 2) Throw Rocks at them, and 3) Get them down). It did it well, and occupied such as small footprint of continuity that the mainstream books could work around them. Plus, the idea of using core books (like the Mighty Righty Avengers and New Lefty Avengers) to fill in the back story worked out nicely.
Furthermore, the big event spawned off a bunch of smaller limited series as well as directed attention to lower-selling books (like Hercules and the now-cancelled She-Hulk). And as a sales ploy, it worked – I picked up a lot of the smaller books and felt I had a good feel for the mega-event itself. Downside, when it resolved … well, it didn’t really. Sure, the heroes defeated the Skrulls (mostly by figuring out how to identify them as Skrulls and then punching them in the face), and a terrible price was paid (Luke Cage’s child went missing and Janet Van Dyne (the Wasp, one of the initial Avengers), died, but mostly it the last issue was used to set up the NEXT big crisis – Dark Reign.
Here’s the short form on that – the Heroes were thought to have screwed up so badly (Civil War, World War Hulk, and now some of them were Skrulls) that the US turns to the villains – namely multimillionaire Harry Osborne, formerly Green Goblin, and also formerly dead – to run things. Harry immediately convenes his “Dark Illuminati” – Loki, Red Hood, White Queen, Namor, and Doctor Doom, promising them what they want if they just play along. Having gotten the upper hand at last, they intend to keep it.
OK, that’s cool, but the fires of the Invasion are hardly out before the Reign begins. That’s my only real quibble. (Well, Hank (Ant-Man, Giant-Man, Yellow Jacket, Doctor Pym) Pym deciding to honor his late wife by becoming – the Wasp, is kinda lame as well).
Meanwhile, over in DC, its Final Crisis has produced the opposite effect from me. Plagued by delays, apparent revisions, and poor editorial coordination, it has kept me AWAY from books that tie in among its subsidiary mini-series. I am following the main maxi-series books more out of lurid curiosity than an expectation that I will like what’s going to happen. I use the phrase “dog’s breakfast” way too often, but this series is truly a morning culinary treat for Bowser.
Part of it is that the story has taken its fine old time chasing the heroes up the tree in the first place. Part of it is that they are throwing particularly sharp rocks at them (death, despair, torture, corruption). Part of it is that the story relies both on a very deep knowledge of continuity while demanding you immediately ignore continuity for it to work. Part of it is that it has no real connection (yet) with the parental books (there were some attempts early on, but once the delays hit, everything sort of shifted off into their own worlds). Part of it is that the story (Darkseid, the embodiment of evil in the DC Universe, finally wins) just isn’t a lot of fun.
Maxi-series crisis books are supposed to, at their base, enhance sales by attracting cross-over purchasers and expose new people to existing comics. This has done the opposite, repelling people from the connected books, cutting itself off from the books it has sprung from, and almost occupying it own reality Earth-Null, if you will.
Two universes, two companies, two major series. One makes all the right moves but in the end fails to resolve as a story, while the other aspires to greater things but collapses of its own weight and pretentiousness.
And in six months, they will have switched places again.
Pi (1998), Written and Directed by Darren Aronofsky, Story by Darren Aronofsky, Sean Gullette, and Eric Watson.
No, I'm not going to use the math symbol - it'll just show up on your screens as a black diamond with a question mark in it. Though a black diamond is a good idea of the tough sledding ahead.
The Lovely Bride borrowed this from Scarlet at her latkes party, and as the snow came down on Grubb Street, we loaded it up on the Playstation and hunkered down.
And its a Cthulhu film, worthy of showing at a Lovecraft film festival.
No, it doesn't deal with horrid tentacled entities. But it is invested strongly with the spirit of "Things man was not meant to know". Of toxic knowledge, information that is itself damaging by its very existence. This is the realization of the Elder Gods, or the Requiem for Shaggai, or the King in Yellow. It deals with paranoia and the trope that there ARE people watching you, even if you are paranoid. .
Sean Gullette is Maximillian Cohen, math genius, who is trying to prove reality through numbers, seeking the patterns that supposedly underlie everyday live. He lives a lonely life in his apartment, glancing off his neighbors (the concerned woman next door, the suspicious landlady, the child who uses her calculator to race his mental calculations. His one real contact is Sol Robeson (Mark Margolis), a retired professor who gave up his own attempts to determine the patterns of the universe following his stroke.
Max has his computer hermitage in his ant-filled apartment, and seeks to prove the patterns through predicting the stock market. His work is noticed by others, a corporate shill and a group of Hasidic Jews. All are seeking the patterns of the universe for different reasons - defying reality, manipulating the market, or finding the name of god. And as Max achieves, his goal, he realizes the toxicity of the perfect math upon the world.
The film is shot in black and white, overexposed and granular, which was experimental back when Warhol was alive and while it brings the madness closer and more immediate, makes it hard to engage with. Similarly, it is hard to determine what is real and was is delirium as the madness grows.
Oh, and add to Chekhov's Gun the concept of Aronofsky's Power Drill.
So does it work? Yeah, though it helps if you already have an grounding in mathematics and kabbalah, because they aren't stopping to explain a lot - indeed, Max's talk of golden rectangles and golden spirals may for many just be one more piece of madness for the viewer. And the title? Well, Pi is a set value, which makes it concrete, but it is endless and non-repeating, which means it defies full definition.
Its a worthwhile film, but strap in for a rocky ride.
... but it is snowing hard up here on Grubb Street.
Today was the Lovely Bride's birthday, and in celebration, we set off for Bahama Breeze, a Carib seafood restaurant down near the Big Mall in Tukwilla. As we left, at five, the large flakes were drifting down, and I had to brush a light dusting off the car. By the time we reached the valley floor, it was rain/snow and melting fast, so we thought no problem.
Fortunately, Kate took a seat facing the dining room, and I was facing a window as the rain/snow turned to just snow and then started to stick. By the time we left the restaurant, about 6:30, we had to brush a LOT of snow off the cars, and the roads were slushy. As we climbed the hill, the slush turned to hard-pack, and I had a lot of white-knuckle moments fighting to keep the car on the road, while watching out for every other driver. Oh, and every time we turned off a larger road for a smaller one, it got worse.
We're home safely, the snow is piling up. Weather.com said this was supposed to be rain, while the Weather Underground predicted snow. Meteorologists were calling for a rain/snow mix, but that was for yesterday. So the short form is ... we got no clue what awaits us at sunrise.
Ah, it is the end of Carmas, and with tomorrow, things get back to normal.
Carmas, also called Komuterwanza or Traffichaunaka, is a the longest traffic holiday of the year. It consists of removing drivers from the roads during peak hours by the fact that many people take a few days off around the holidays between Christmas and New Years. This is particularly true when those holidays fall mid-week, so there are bits of the work week left over at either end. Nothing is really going to get anyway, since other people will be out anyway.
The result is fewer cars on the road, a gift to everyone who showed up for work anyway. The trip to Bellevue, normally a half-hour to forty minute slog, comes out to a twenty minute jaunt. And I can use the highway! I'm just amazed. Plus, with the recent inclement weather, it extended far beyond the normal two weeks, edging into mid-December and now into the first week of January.
Tomorrow everything gets back to normal, and everything slips back into the normal grind until Easter or so. But for the moment, it was a brilliant, shiny gift.
So Joystiq has been running a series of "questions to the pros" about story and games, and I contributed a few lines. You can find the comments here, here, here, and here.
Now one thing that I want to expand on is the nature of identity in a computer game, in particular a MMO. Games differ from books or movies in that protagonist is united with participant. This is not unique to computer games - this is something that comes out of its ancestor RPGs, and even the early days of wargaming talked about "The Rommel Syndrome" (that is, should you optimize your strategy for the game or invoke the strategy based on the generals involved).
The protagonist is the viewpoint character(s), and while the reader/viewer should usual identify with him/her/them to some degree, there remains a distance between character and reader. A definite case of separation between what the character within the fiction and the individual participating (by reading or watching) that fiction. In an RPG or MMO, that space blurs and disappears, as you are cast in the role of the character.
Suddenly, things that would be acceptable for character (going into that spooky basement, accepting that suicide mission, not asking for more supplies and support) are suddenly anathema. "My character would never do that" is the chant that comes out of the RPG side. Indeed, failure is frowned on, which makes it tough to write story.
Indeed, one thing that is commonly done for story is - you fail, but that failure is not your fault. That works, provided you don't go to the well all that often, as it still frustrates the player that his avatar is being foiled. Once your protagonist is also your participant, a new level of demands arrive. The covenant between designer and player changes. While demanding more versatility, the player also seeks to minimize their own sense of risk, even though sense of risk is one of the reasons to play the game in the first place.
The odd thing is, in order to get more dramatic options for character, we have to pry the chill fingers of participant off it. There are RPGs which start off saying "You are X" - an investigator, a government agent, a monster and go from there. But in doing so, you run the risk of reduced audience, and that is something that is very hard to to for the current structure of an MMO.
Now, don't get too excited. There is usually an end-of-year rally, fueled in part by the fact that most of those on Wall Street on are vacation/out shopping their resumes/both. Still, it is nice to see a little bit of bounce, and with luck, we can see some stabilization in the markets that will let rebuilding occur.
Mind you, as much as a cynic I was when the markets were high, I find myself an optimist now that things are getting a bit ragged around the corners. I could write this off to my own counterfactual mulishness, but in this case it may be that I stayed in place while everything swerved around me. I doubted the sunniness of the golden promises years ago, and I am similarly leery of the ultimate end-of-the-economic world predictions now in the press.
Mind you, things are still dire, and we are not out of the woods by any stretch of the imagination. Things will get worse in a lot of different parts of the business world, in part because the same people who got us into this mess still have their fingers wrapped around the mechanisms of recovery. But I've got hope, and look forward to a year where, at best, things are about this cruddy at the end of year and no worse.
Yeah, I'm such a sunny person.
Rainfall at Grubbstreet since December 1: 1.25 inches (and about 15 inches of snow that didn't get into the rain gauge).
Update: Not to make anyone feel better, but I tried to go shopping at the local big mall down in Tukwilla Saturday, and gave up when I couldn't find any parking. This mall has been revised with parking structures, and despite (or rather because of) staff trying to direct traffic, it was a complete mess. Not that this is an indication of larger trends (much of it may be that this would be the first weekend some people felt comfortable leaving their houses), but it evokes Yogi Berra's famous line "No one goes there anymore - it's too crowded")
So I'm moving a little slow, this first day of 2009. Was up until 2ish as the Lovely Bride and I hosted a Gaming Open House for friends of our various gaming groups (The LB's Thursday night and Saturday games, my Thursday D&D session, and our semi-regular CoC/Open Design group). We ran from 2 in the afternoon to well after midnight, when the last guests headed to the door and we did some preliminary cleanup (because no one wants to look at a mess on the first morning of the year).
The general rule was "come when you can, and stay as long as you wish". I think I've found capacity for the house - about 20 people playing games, with the limiting factors being table space and room in the u-shaped driveway for cars (there was a lot of Tetris-like shifting as people had to get in and out). We had a huge amount of food and drink, and a lot of games.
I discovered Dominion, which was a very nice card game in a very big box with some interesting counter-standard mechanics. The group played the old regulars - Tikal, Formula De, Citadels, Flux, even some Magic: The Gathering. Sacnoth brought and taught an ancient game of Dogfight, from Milton Bradley, one of the first "warrish games" that I played as a kid. He and the Lovely Bride also led a group through Tales of the Arabian Nights, a more modern classic, that ran late into the evening.
And after it all, I'm a bit worn out, between the hosting stuff and the gaming to all ours. Time for a day off.