Sunday, November 11, 2018

Meanwhile: A Century Ago

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.

- John McCrae, "In Flanders Field", 1915

More later

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Daisey Lecture Four: Buried Histories

Daisey's fourth lecture doesn't progress entirely linearly with the others, but rather deals with the large context of erasure. Erasure from history in their case of women, and erasure from the land itself in the case of its original inhabitants. And being neither female or of native american heritage, I really don't really have much to add to their experiences except a laconic "Aye-yup."

But I do have a few things to say about my own brushing up with how I know what I know. What I was told.That may have some bearing.

My grade school experience matches tightly with Daisey's - a school text that tended to gloss over the more unpleasant issues. The one I remember had a Conestoga wagon on the top half of the cover, and a steam engine on the bottom. Sort of showing progress in that process. But it was a bunch of initial stories that prepared me for learning other stories, sort of how you learn that atoms are little solar systems and then discover quantum mechanics and electron shells later on.

And my high school experience had a lot of readings, usually by established historials. A lot of Hofstader and Kissinger, and things like the J-curve (Note - I hate the dreaded Davies' J-Curve, but that's a story for another day).

But in Junior High something different occurred. I discovered primary sources. As opposed to going to some historian looking back and pre-chewing my thoughts, I found I could go (to a library, in those pre-Internet days) and get input from people that were around at the time. That was cool. That made history exciting in an Egyptian Archaeologist sort of way (This was before Indiana Jones).

Great Art is not necessarily Great History
Also cool was Mr. Mentecki, who was a history teacher, and who first embodied the idea that people, including the people giving you your history, lied. He would do this by lying. Continually. How his ancestor was with Washington atop Mt. Washington, and almost got it named Mt. Mentecki. How he was a race car driver. How he sang with the Four Seasons (his wife affirms that this last one was the truth - he was in the audience and drunk at the time). And someone would call him on his lies and he would congratulate the student and give them a free period. And the other students would not understand.

He would also do things like read a passage of history and ask about what the writer really wanted. Give different viewpoints of the Boston Massacre. Or show a picture of Washington Crossing the Delaware and pointing out everything that was innaccurate about it.* Decades before Lies My Teacher Told Me, I had a teacher telling me about lying.

I think this has left me open to new ideas, and even when a new interpretation of events shows up, another story, I am poking around the edges, looking for ulterior motives.

But anyway, Women in History. There aren't any. Well, that's not true. They had to be there - subordinate, helpmates, mothers, property. When the question came up of beating your wife in law, it was more of a case of when and where it was proper to beat your wife as opposed to the if the act itself was inhuman. But in the "official" history (as opposed to "official history"), there are not a lot of women in the narrative that concerns itself about great men.

Those that show up are mythologized - Betsy Ross, Pocahontas, Molly Pitcher, all reduced to their great moment (creating a flag, sparing John Smith, fighting the British) that pushes them into the same realm as Paul Bunyan and Captain Stormalong. And we have a couple who are known for being in proximity of great men - Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, Dolly Madison, and, most recently, Sally Hemmings. Nope. Not a good look for us.

But there is a moment for women in colonial history that we hit and then forget about. It popped up every year in school, along with set theory and clock arithmetic. The Salem Witch Trials.

The Salem Witch Trials are a good, safe story. It involves women (as victims, but still....) It can be laid at the feet of other women (even more useful) and against a religious group that most people think of as extinct (Puritans- The Congregationalists are a descendant, but you don't think of them, much, either (sorry, guys)). It shows that occasionally we all go a little crazy and kill people for stupid reasons. It shows us injustice happens, but it happens such a long time ago it doesn't have any real affect on today.

So, yeah. Salem Witch Trials. Women in history!

Native Americans, we have a lot more of in our books. Almost always as military opponents. Blackhawk. Pontiac, Sitting Bull, Red Cloud, Geronimo. A moment's reflection gets us to some who didn't die directly of European bullets - Tecumseh, Seattle, and, of course, Guyasuta, but who merely faded away. They were always the ones being swept away across the plains by the encroaching Europeans, making way for progress. Sacrifices must be made. They were them, and we remember them because they fought.

Zinn's A People's History of the United States was not my first "woke" text. That would have been Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee, which hit my life at about/slightly after Mr. Mentecki. Here was, as Daisey notes, the story we always knew but never really delved into. Everyone knew of Little Bighorn - Custer is seeped deeply into out bones, but not so much Sand Creek. This was one of those books that made me face the idea that, though the victors, we the citizens of the US were not the good guys (of course, in the same period - Viet Nam, which has other resonances).

History is vast, and filled with stories. Whose stories get told reveals a lot about both the storytellers and their world. The vanishing of women and Native Americans are only one component of editing our pasts to justify our actions in the present.

More later,

* Flag wrong, river too wide, real crossing happened in the middle of the night, and that's before you get to the questions of whether an icy Delaware would have been frozen solid and is that really James Monroe in the boat with Washington? But we are talking about something painted 80 years after the event.

Friday, November 09, 2018

The Political Desk - End and Begin

Because of the nature of Washington's voting (mail-in ballots, stuff trickling in for a while), I usually wait a couple days before posting the results. At least one contest will still be hanging fire by the time I finally update this. So how did it go?

Most of these are in the +5% differential on the initial ballot drop, which in terms we're looking at very much a vox populi. Boldface is for those of you keeping score about my recommendations at home.

Initiative Measure No. 1631 - The Carbon Fee  - No
Initiative Measure No. 1634 - Prevent Soda Taxes -  Yes
Initiative Measure No. 1639 - Firearm Safety - Yes
Initiative Measure No. 940  - Training and Oversight for Police - Yes

Advisory Vote No. 19, Engrossed second Substitute Senate Bill 6269 - Repealed (Not that it matters)

United States Senator - Maria Cantwell.

United States Representative Congressional District No. 9 - Adam Smith.

State Supreme Court Justice Position No. 8 - Steve Gonzalez.

And furthermore:

United States Representative Congressional District No. 8 - Kim Schrier.

State Legislative District No. 47. State Senate -  Mona Das.  This is the one that is really too close to call. Incumbent Joe Fain was marginally up on the first drop of ballots, the lead shrank to 90 votes. Ms. Das is now up by 200 votes, and it may shift again. Meanwhile, the day AFTER election, the State Senate decided that, yeah, maybe we should check out this rape accusation thing after all. Regardless of political affiliation, this should steam your clams. If Mr. Fain was responsible, voters should have been warned. If innocent, he should not have had to face the voters under such a cloud. I will update if the results change.

State Legislative District No.  47 Position No. 1 - V Debra Entenman.

And Lastly, Stare Legislative District No. 47, Position No. 2 -  Pat Sullivan.

Well, now that the election is over, we can all relax and get back to our lives, right? Hang on, slow your roll, podner. We're just getting started.

Yeah, you may have put the people into positions that you agree with, or showed your direction in inititatives, but now comes the tough part. You wanted a particular candidate for office because of their stand on health care, or corruption, or corporate favors? Let them know about it.

The quote attributed to FDR is: "I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it." Even if we agree with everything a candidate believe in (and we don't all agree about everything), we need to keep up the pressure. Because those who DON'T believe will keep up the pressure as well.

More later, 

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Furthermore: Shades of Washington

OK, I promised to deal with this one, even if Daisey mentions it in a later bit. Not seeing it in Zinn, but that's the job of the historian - to decide what stories get told. There are more than enough tales in the current narrative where the People decide to get frisky with all this freedom and stuff, and the Government decides to kick their teeth in, and here's one more.
This is the only statue I know of for the Whiskey
Rebellion. It is not where the actual fighting took
place, but rather in Washington, PA (also called
Little Washington), 20 miles south of us.

And it is important to us because it involves George Washington. And it is important to me because it is where I grew up.

I wrote last time about how my chunk of Western PA was the launching pad for the Seven Years War. And even afterwards there were competing claims about who owned the region - PA or VA. That was settled in 1784 with a survey. Things got better, right?

Well, then there was the Whiskey Rebellion. 1791-1794. It started two years into Washington's first term., and came to a head after his re-election.

OK, here's the short form: Early US Government was broke, needed to raise funds to pay for the revolution. Among other things, Hamilton pushed out a tax on distilled spirits. West of the Alleghenies this did not go over well. Whiskey was used as a modicum of trade, more stable than the government currency in places. Also it was easier and profitable to ship whiskey back east than the component parts. In addition to being a pain on the producers, the tax gave a break to big distillers as opposed to small operations, and there were a lot of small operations into Western PA.

And the guys who were most affected in this? White guys, with guns.

So from 1791 to 1794 there was a ratcheting up, with defiance to pay the tax, or the fines that came with the tax (you had to go to Philly to do that, which was way the hell and gone). Tax collectors were attacked, there were meetings about the degree of revolt, Moderates argued with Radicals. A lot of the tools of the Revolution were put into play - Liberty Poles and correspondence circles. Here was see the creation of Democratic-Republican societies, which would actually become the "other party" to oppose the Federalists. These whiskey rebels felt they were continuing the War of Independence many of them had fought in.

And seriously, if you tell a lot of people the war is about taxation by a distant government, they're going to get bent out of shape when the winner tax them from a distant government.

The Federal Government, finding their way out of the mess that what the Articles of the Confederation and the Panic of 1792, disagreed with this concept. From the Federalist standpoint, championed by Hamilton and with Washington's support, the Revolution had created a new sovereignty, and stuff that was OK during the revolution was no longer appropriate. Going with Daisey's note that the Revolutionary war was merely a change in the letterhead of management, that makes sense. All these frontiersmen threatening people was going too far.

And the strike of the point was the burning of the Neville house, up on Bower Hill, a couple valleys away from where I grew up, not far from the church I was baptized in. Walking distance, really. The whole process started when John Neville, put in charge of collecting the taxes, accompanied a federal marshal to serve writs against the rebels. They were fired upon at the Miller house and Neville returned home.

Later, a group of about 30 militiamen arrived to besiege the house. Shots were fired. Both sides retreated for reinforcements. About 600 rebels showed up the next night, Neville had fled at that point. The rebel leader, Major MacFarlane, was shot during an attempt at negotiations. The house eventually surrendered, the survivors within spared, and the building burned to the ground.

Neville was was a perfect example of the elite that Daisey talks about. Virginian. Wealthy. "As close to being an aristocrat as republican America west of the Alleghenies would allow", per his wiki entry. He had slaves who helped defend the household. When news of the attack reached back to the nation's capital at Philly, the new government had to decide whether they would negotiate or send in the troops. Washington did both - sent in some negotiation team and recruited militia from a few states and marched on Pittsburgh, along with Hamilton and Light-Horse Harry Lee. Only time a US President has led troops. Imagine Trump at the head of a tank corps rolling through Texas.

In the face of the armed forces of the Government, the rebels faded. Some lit out for further west (like Kentucky, which might as well be the back end of the moon in those days). A few were arrested. Fewer were tried. Two were convicted to be hanged. They were pardoned by Washington.

But this was a moment, one of those pivot moments where things could go many ways. Some saw this as betrayal of founding principles. Others put it as creation of a new nation that would not put up with this crap. For most people, it was a speed bump, forgotten in the wake of the Revolution, something that comes up in one of these Internet articles.

For me, it is local history. The house where the initial shots were fired is still there, in South Park (a large park known for picnics, county fairs, and the working model of Skybus, our monorail). Neville's house (sorry - Neville's OTHER house - he had one that is still around in  nearby Heidelberg) was replaced by a hospital and now by townhouses. Suburban sprawl has moved over the coal-dark hills and fog-shrouded creeks, so established the trees planted in the subdivisions have reached climax growth.

And yeah, I think George was done messing with us after this.

More later,

Monday, November 05, 2018

The Political Desk: Final Push

Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

Buried, like five entries below this, is the usual Jeff Recommends post. And SINCE I've buried it, here it is again, for you last-minute voters in the areas concerned, without commentary. 

Initiative Measure No. 1631 - The Carbon Fee  -YES
Initiative Measure No. 1634 - Prevent Soda Taxes - NO
Initiative Measure No. 1639 - Firearm Safety - YES 
Initiative Measure No. 940  - Reduce Police Shooting - YES 

Advisory Vote No. 19, Engrossed second Substitute Senate Bill 6269 - Maintained.

United States Senator - Maria Cantwell.

United States Representative Congressional District No. 9 - Adam Smith.

State Supreme Court Justice Position No. 8 - Steve Gonzalez.

And furthermore:

United States Representative Congressional District No. 8 - Kim Schrier.

State Legislative District No. 47. State Senate - Vote for Mona Das

State Legislative District No.  47 Position No. 1 - Vote for Debra Entenman .

And Lastly, Stare Legislative District No. 47, Position No. 2 -  Pat Sullivan.

In the WEEK since I posted the initial recommendations, we have the following updates on Republicans in the state:

Dino Rossi swore in an interview he knew nothing about foreclosures. Turns out he bought a house in foreclosure. Maybe he forgot. KIRO7 reported this, though I am sure that the Times will get around to mentioning it, like, oh, Wednesday or so.

The Times does talk about the rape accusation against Joe Fain, and how there should be an investigation ... maybe ... after he's re-elected for another two years. Meanwhile, an accusation against a Bellevue police chief was proved false. The chief went on administrative leave during the investigation. That was a smart move.

And then we have from Eastern Washington, Mike Shea, who's not only pushing for genocide against non-Christians (as defined by Mike Shea), but is doubling down on it. Because the Republican party is becoming a White Nationalist Party.  His opponent is Ted Cummings, who is not endorsing shooting non-Christians. Just thought that might be worth mentioning.

No Republicans. Go Vote, and Vote Hard.

More later, 

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Theatre: Our History is Now

A People's History  created and performed by Mike Daisey, Seattle Rep, Through 25, 2018.

So, you know that dream where you show up for class and its the final exam and you realized you haven't been there since the orientation session? I had a similar experience here. But let me back up a moment.

Monologist Mike Daisey is doing a show on American History. In 18 parts. Based on what he (and likely you) learned in school, compared with Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, and shone through the lens of his own personal experience. For the past few weeks he has started with Columbus and moved through American History to the present day.

Eighteen different shows. And he has made them available as audio files to those who were willing to talk about them. And I took on the challenge. So around here you'll see a lot of write-ups where HIS monologues have taken ME. But his stuff is better, so you should check him out. Also, it is probably going to get to Christmas before I finish this particular task.

But, as fate would have it, the show my Lovely Bride had tickets for was the LAST show of the first 18. Daisey has moved through the entirety of American History (I just got past Washington in my follow-ups), and this last show concentrated on Obama and Trump.

So I feel like I missed a couple beats here.

Daisey, pulling from Zinn distills American History into two basic founding principles - Genocide and Slavery. We wiped out one group of people to get the land, and enslaved another group of people to work the land, and that's why we are here where we are today. And he makes a good case, right up to today with the election of Obama, a representative of a race we enslaved, and with Trump, who has benefited ultimately from the relentless decade-long dogwhistling of the Republican Party against those people and the targeted marketing of Fox News.

And he does it well, and I'm not going to compete with him here, even in summary. There's a lot of good crunchy stuff in here on how the Republican Party is now a zombie, controlled by its "Freedom Caucus" and well on its way to becoming solely a White Nationalist party, and how the Democratic party, triangulating and big-tenting to the point where it has no meaning itself, is a fuzzy ally to humanists. But I'm going to save all that for when I get to the end of the audios.

But he does it all better, live. He lectures and jokes, he yells and he cajoles. He connects. He engages. He convinces. His journey through American History is a very personal one. Daisey never met Zinn, just as Dante never met Virgil, but the writings of the two earlier wroters informed their later authors as they guided them through the inferno.

I always mention the set. The set is for a monologue. Table. Chair. Class of water. Apple and name plaque. A map directly behind him with red lines streaming out like blood, or lancing in like lazers. You choice. Whatever, it rivets our attention on Daisey.

There are a number of threads throughout Daisey's epic presentation, but one of the important ones is - the world is changing, and the histories of the future will reflect on how we reacted in the rise of global climate calamity. And given our history, a house built on two pillars of genocide and slavery, is a house built on sand, and we will be swept away by the rising tide.

A People's History, having completed an 18-performance tour de force, now starts again. "This time, I might even get it right," he says. He gets it right. If you saw a performance already, tickets cost only 25 bucks. Go see it (unless you're a big fan of Hamilton - he just hates that guy).

More later,

Saturday, November 03, 2018

Daisey Lesson 3 - Shades of Washington

I'm going to have to say this - I'm not going to be able to keep up. I'm talking about Mike Daisey's A People's History. He's performing it here in Seattle at the Rep in the form of 18 different monologues and has made performances available to individuals by audio recording, provided we talk about it.

And I want to talk about it, since his work (and Zinn's original) fires off so many neurons and connections and memories about the entire process. The Lovely Bride and I will be attending the performance tomorrow afternoon (4 November), and I will go into more detail about the nuts and bolts of the live performance there .For the moment, I'm reacting to the 3rd Monologue - call it "Fireworks", since it starts there.And he talks about how we have totally screwed up the world, and it is primarily the fault of (usually) white, (almost always) male, (exclusively) rich people. And the definitions of those three terms have some flex in the story he is telling, but rest assured, the bog-standard history you learned in school? No really accurate.Not completely false, but a lot of bits get left out which serve the interests of white male rich people.
This is a detail of a statue called "Points of View". It is on Mount Washington,
overlooking Pittsburgh, and shows Washington meeting with a leader of the
Seneca, Guyasuta. They did not meet on this spot. The meeting happened in
1750, four years before the events that kicked off the Seven Years War. No one
really knows what they talked about. Welcome to History.

And that gets me to George Washington. Really, several George Washingtons. I am from Pittsburgh, and a lot of our history is wrapped up with this Virginia planter. We have county named after him. We have a mountain named after him. We have river crossing named after him. We have a major road named after him. We have all sorts of weird stuff named after him. And he has left deep, personal, marks in our area.

But I say there are several Washingtons. The first is the one we meet in the school books, the mythologized one. You know - cherry tree, never lies, crosses the Delaware, wooden teeth, great general, Valley Forge, BOOM! he's president. He's the guy you see on the dollar bill and huckstering for President's Day sales. And like certain other childhood mythologies, you grok after a while that he was not all that, and that these are stories, mostly elaborating upon or made up entirely in the nineteenth century to exalt our past and cover up the darker stuff.

Then there's the darker Washington. Zinn and Daisey know this guy. Really rich. Lot of land (52,000 acres at his death, scattered all over the place, including Western PA), Lots of Slaves (317 living people owned at his death, but we are told that some of them were his wife's, and some were on loan. As if that makes things better). And he had a mouthful of teeth from his black slaves. The wooden teeth? Pretty much debunked. Hippopotamus teeth, I've heard later. But most recently, there's been a fessing up and his dentures were made from the teeth of enslaved black men.

It is horrible and dark, but the story being told here is horrible and dark. I think I mentioned that at the beginning. Zinn's work  is measured, carefully meting out the genocide and charnel foundations of our nation. Daisey leaps into it, and makes you really, really uncomfortable that you have this guy's face on your money. People reject that truth, and that's understandable. But it is still a truth.

Another Washington, though, is the Doof. Tall guy, athletic, not the brightest knife in the shed.. And that worked for him over the years. Hardly the homespun backwoodsman, his adventures in the West made his name,  his ability to survive let him rise in the ranks, and his very non-political nature while leading a REVOLUTIONARY ARMY made him the go-too man for the first Presidency. While not a saint and not a sinner, that's a comfortable version for a lot of people.

And then there is the Washington that kicked off the Seven Years War. He's the guy I want to talk about here.

Yeah, as Daisey notes, we lay out stuff like that in broad daylight, we just don't direct your attention to it that much. But long before the Revolution, Washington was big part of the development of Western PA, with pushing the natives around, and with kicking off a war with the French. And the Indians. In fact, we call the Seven Years War, our first really global war, the French and the Indian War because that's what we worry about here in the provinces. And it started twenty years before the Revolutionary War.

Western PA, better known in those days as the Forks of the Ohio, was a bit of a territorial football in those days. We had natives inhabitants - the Seneca and others. We had the French, whose approach was to set up camps and trade, turning those natives into employable resources. And we had the English. Two competing groups of English at that - The Virginians and the Pennsylvanians.

Which group of Englishman was supposed to have a claim to the Forks was a bit of a mess - they were running off crappy maps back in England. Virginia's colonial grant was huge, including the chunk of land south of the Mon. The Pennsylvanians ALSO claimed that land. Both colonies were giving out grants and sending in surveyors to divvy stuff up.(my part of PA, south of the Mon, was actually part of this Virginia claim, and had its own county after the war - Yohogania (nope, didn't know about that until I started researching this posting). Washington, in his Young Surveyor capacity, had been one of the Virginians getting the lay of the land. So when the French built Fort Duquesne, the Virginians dispatched Washington to make them back off.

And they found a French scouting party and ambushed them. Then they negotiated with the French, and during the negotiation, Washington's Native American guide, one Tanaghrison, who was on the outs with the tribal leaders on the French side, killed the French commander. Much badness descended. and Washington got out of the territory by signing a confession accepting culpability for the assassination. People point out that Washington could not read what he was signing, but that just feeds into the Doof narrative. He was trapped in hostile territory with people who were REALLY mad at him about the death of the French Commander (including the commander's half-brother). So yeah, he signed a confession in the middle of nowhere and that was the end of it. The date was July 4, 1754.

Except that WASN'T the end of it, of course. The confession got back England, and the English dispatched a couple regiments to clean up Washington's mess, and, yeah, take the Forks of the Ohio for the British. General Edward Braddock, came up from Virginia and got his clock cleaned by the French and the indigenous population. Washington was part of Braddock's forces. Then they sent General John Forbes with more troops, who came in along the Pennsylvanian route. The advance stalled when Major James Grant got HIS clock cleaned by combined French and Native American forces from Fort Duquesne. While Forbes holed up, the French decided that it was probably best to book out and leave their allies hanging. The Brits get the Forks, build Fort Pitt (after the British politician) and we get Pittsburgh. Elsewhere, things quickly got out of hand, and we ended up with the Seven Years War.

Braddock, Forbes, Grant. These are well-known names to native Pittsburghers. I grew up in what had been, 200 years previous, a war zone. It never really clicked until years later.

By the way - My primary source material on all this? Fred Anderson's Crucible of War: The Seven Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766 (2000). Good book. There's a shorter version, The War That Made America, by the same author.  Strongly recommended.

And Washington? He came out of it just jake, and when the Virginians were looking for someone to lead the troops against the British, he there, already a war hero and an adventurer of Indiana Jones-level. 

But Washington is not done with Western Pennsylvania. I don't know if Daisey is going to mention the Whiskey Rebellion, but I will. Eventually. 

Daisey's monologue on Chapter 3 repeats on November 8 at 7:30 On Thursday, unless it is sold out. Apparently there's a lot of that going around.

More later, 

Friday, November 02, 2018

Furthermore: Rebellion Vs. Revolution

Yeah, I'm still thinking about the second Daisey monologue on A People's History of the United States, though I'm going further afield as a result. Good theatere does this to me - it gets me going onto other things.

So here's the question: How does a revolution succeed? At what point does it stop being a bunch of angry people in the streets or the provinces and becomes a viable, hopeful, winnable conflict? Is there a pivot point that, looking back, it becomes obvious that it was all downhill from there for the powers who are about to be overthrown.

In Mieville's October, he describes a scene that fits that narrative. Protesters are moving in a mob down the street. The Cossacks are ordered to block the street by their (elite, noble) superiors. The Cossacks, the heavy leg-breakers of the Tsars, ride forward to block the street. And stop right there, making no move to attack. The protesters pick their way among the horsemen, unimpeded, and continue their march.

The Cossacks switched sides in that moment. They had had enough of their imperial masters, and while maintaining the letter of their orders but not its spirit, abandoned their traditional loyalty. In Mieville's narrative, it was all downhill from there. Entire units of the Russian Army were now switching sides, and the navy weighed in with the Revolutionaries. The local fortresses, the bastions of the establishment, were suddenly in the hands of the people. The Tsar left town (and in doing so, left the narrative).

Same goes for the French Revolution with the well known Storming of the Bastille, though I suppose a good case could be made for the capture of the Hotel De Invalides earlier. The Hotel, lightly defended, was being used as an armory, though a lot of the gunpowder had been earlier moved to the Bastille itself. The Hotel fell easily, and the crowd pressed on to the Bastille. What followed was miscommunication that turned into an assault, and the commander of the Bastille surrendered when he felt he could not hold out or expect support from other units.

Yes, the Bastille was used as a prison and was a symbol of tyranny, but at the time of the attack, there were all of seven prisoners there. The rebels were after the gunpowder. The mob got the advanced technology. And it feels that after that, it was over and done.

But then there was the American Revolution, the revolution that Daisey/Zinn doubts was a really a revolution in the traditional sense. And I can't point at a single similar point where, afterwards you could say - AHAH, after this, it was all over but the shooting. Bunker and Breed's Hills were early. Maybe Valley Forge, but only in the fact that Washington was playing rope-a-dope with the British- the Brits kept winning battles, but only by losing resources that could not easily be replaced. Yorktown was the final curtain, when an exhausted Cornwallis, suffering several days of shelling from French ships, surrendered and put our narrative period on the war itself.

At Yorktown, a British band played "The World Turned Upside Down". It is a pretty innocuous piece, notable more for its ironic title than its content. Perhaps a better song title would have been "The World Has Just Changed Hands".

Anyway, just some ongoing thoughts.

More later,

Thursday, November 01, 2018

More Daisey: Rebellion Vs. Revolution

I am continuing to listen to Mike Daisey's A People's History, based on the history book of the same name by Howard Zinn, on my long, long commute. Second episode talks about rebellions, revolutions, riots, winners, and losers (spoiler - the winners are the rich white guys. This is something that will come up again and again). Anyway, Daisey has the ability to unlock all sorts of subordinate discussions, and has me going on my own thoughts.

Daisey starts with Zuccotti Park in 2011. Remember it? It was ground zero for the Occupy Wall Street movement. Oh, yeah, that. Camped on land that, by law, was reserved for protest, the Occupy movement was a cogent reply to the absolute mess our corporate masters have put us all in. It was protest and disobedience in its core form. And as such disobedience, it was tolerated for a while, then mercilessly locked down and beaten into submission (spoiler - this is going to happen a lot in this narrative).

From there. he flashes back to Bacon's Rebellion, and here's the difference between a Revolution and Rebellion. If the rebelling side loses, then it was a Rebellion. If they win, it was a Revolution. Rebellions have as examples Shay's, Bacon's, and Whiskey. Revolutions have larger, more impressive names such as Glorious, Russian, and French. And American.

But American comes with an asterisk. Daisey points out that other revolutions have a serious changing of management, usually by the noose, the firing squad, or the guillotine. The American Revolution kept the local elites mostly in charge, and it was the elites who were generally around the table when the decisions were being made.

That's not completely true, but is true enough. Look at the framers of the Declaration of Independence. Adams was not a slaveholder nor a major landholder, but still a lawyer (and inherited 9 1/2 acres from his father). Franklin, the grognard of the group, was a newspaperman. Both good, solid urban professions. The slave/landholder tag definitely applies to Jefferson, though (2.6 square miles of land). So, yeah, it was the elites - literate, philosophical, moneyed, who fired up the passions that sent others to war.

And yeah, there was a departure of Tories from the colonies following the revolution. Some fled back to England. Some went to Canada. Some went to the Caribbean. (back in those days, when the English thought of the Americas, they were thinking of the Southern colonies and the West Indies. They left, and as such fell out of our narrative. But a lot of them stayed with a minimum of fuss.

Lemme give you an example. My brain has been in Philadelphia for the past couple years, for reasons that may or may not yet be revealed. The British took Philly in 1777. We know that from our history books, regardless of origin, because we talk about the privations at Valley Forge. But in Philly, the British were, well, partying it up. Keep the rebels out in the hinterlands, keep the flow of supplies into the city, but otherwise, kick back, drink some madeira, and watch a play. It was the Revolutionary War's Green Zone.

Then, things changed. General Howe was recalled on accusations that he was too soft on the colonials. More importantly, the French entered the war. I cannot stress how important this was to the Revolution. Philly, up the river estuary, could be cut off by the French ships. So the British Army beat feet back to New York City, leaving all those loyal Tories high and dry.

And the remaining Tories were all lined up and shot. Well, no. There were retributions and confiscations, but in general loyalties shifted and those that stood with the enemy were now at best sidelined but better yet part of the revolution. The young ladies sipping drinks with the British officers were now sipping drinks with the Virginia planters. One of them, daughter of a Loyalist to the crown, ended up marrying the British Commandant of the city, Benedict Arnold (and you can surmise how THAT turned out).

The American revolution, as Zinn and Daisey put it, was more of a corporate takeover as opposed to a society makeover. I have a book on the shelf, The Cousin's War, that puts our revolution squarely in the middle of three civil wars among English-speaking people - The English Civil War, the Revolution, and the American Civil War. I don't know if I buy the argument that all these wars were in reality three phases of the same war, as the first led to a dark period of democracy of the type Daisey describes, the second is asterisked with a yeah, kinda sort of thing, and the last is a rebellion - big, impressive, but ultimately failed. If we had more control over the language, that last conflict would have been called the Confederate Rebellion, confining it to the other failures over the years.

But I am getting ahead of myself. These excellent monologues curve, ouroboros-like, and repeat, and there will be another chance to catch them. This chapter gets repeated at 7:30 PM on Saturday. You might want to take a look.

More later,

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Driving Mr. Daisey

This is in part a preview of A People's History of the United States, presented by Mike Daisey, which the Lovely Bride and I are seeing on Sunday at the Seattle Rep. How can I do a preview of a play I haven't seen? Hang on, this takes some 'splaining.

I've talked about monologist Mike Daisey before. We first saw him ages ago at the old Intiman, doing 27 Dog Years @ I caught three of his four monologues on "Great Men" up on Cap hill. Saw The Agony and The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs at the Rep, and followed up on the craziness of his encounter with "This American Life". And now he's back in Seattle, at the Rep, doing A People's History.

That's all very well, Jeff, but why are you talking about it now, as opposed to after seeing the play? That is  your usual MO, after all. Well, you really should go see it, and I want to tell you that before we get there ourselves, because I've been listening to the performance in advance.

Source Material
Here's the deal: The People's History is 18 different monologues, all pulled from and based on Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, one of the great, truthful, and depressing history books of all times. So he is doing 18 different monologues. In our Pokemon-obsessed universe, how are we going to collect them all? The Rep has helped, with MASSIVE discounts after the first ticket, but even the time requirement will suck up half your week for several weeks.

So Mr. Daisey made an offer. He said: Here are the recordings so far. Download them, and listen to them. But, the deal is, you have to talk about them.

And so I'm going to talk about them. But to be honest, it has not been easy as it sounds. First message came through as MIME files with broken links. He fixed that, but then I was sent to LA for a few days. Then I got the files, but they were in an audio format I could not get my car computer to read (Yeah, Tech World problems). So I brought them in on a memory stick to work to change the format and promptly lost the stick (and I am deeply afraid one of the resident dogs has eaten it). Got the files into my Dropbox, which promptly went over its limits (they are big files). FINALLY I got it all set up so I can listen to them on my hour-plus-long commute from Grubb Street to downtown.

And it has been worth it. Mr. Daisey is a geek, a nerd, one of us, and turns that level of wonkiness to the American History. Knowledgeable and acerbic, profound and extremely profane, he's the guy who swallowed the encyclopedia as a child and can bring up the facts in a direct, meaningful, smartass way. He's the history professor you've always really needed.

Now A People's History is one of those depressing, truthful books. I've had it on my shelves for years, and I have read it in full, but in bits and piece. And I've read it in bits and pieces because prolonged exposure can really dampen your soul. The book can be summarized with a quote from Jimmy Cagney in The Oklahoma Kid "The strong take it away from the weak, and the smart take it away from the strong." The inhabitants of earth who actually lived in those past times, who actually did the work, who suffered so we can be her today, have been erased, forgotten, molded into faceless economic trends and social mores while we concentrate on the great men and the great battles. They are pushed aside while we build a suitable narrative for ourselves, construct a history shorn of its blemishes and genocides.

Tough read. And Daisey doesn't shy away from its warts-upon-warts-and-all description. There are bright moments of light, but the overarching tone of our own history is one of venal greed and violence. As I'm listening, he is still making jokes as he strikes hard against our foundational lies, and I hear the audience go quiet. This is tough sledding.

He starts with Columbus, who within my lifetime has been toppled from his heroic throne. As a young man I was instructed in his legend as one of the bedrock stories of our society, but here he is, damned in his own journals and actions. Genocide against the natives and a lust for gold. He has diminished both in achievement (The Vikings and others were first, though not as effective in destroying the neighborhood), and in iconic statue. And here's the thing: Columbus Day as a going concern really started in the mid-nineteenth century, about the same time as a unified Italy itself got established. Columbus himself would not call himself an Italian, but rather a Genoan, in the service of Spain. Yet it is identified strongly as an celebration of Italian-American Heritage. Part of the lessening of Columbus Day, I think, has come from the assimilation of the Italian immigrants into the Ameriborg body politic, escaping from the cities into exurbia. Less of a group that would defend the man as embodying their virtues.

This is the sort of thing that Daisey's work does to you - it gets you thinking and takes you down some strange passes to some very uncomfortable conclusions. And that's a good thing.

Here's another one that occurred to me on the way up I-5; History never ends, but history never really begins, either. The sighting of the New World is a convenient starting point for the History of Europeans in America, but the Spanish treatment of the native population has its origins in the reconquista that "recaptured" Spain from the North African Muslims, and the slave trade found its roots in the Portuguese use of radical new tech (deep-hulled caravels and galleons) meeting large, organized nations in Africa who found a good bargain in dealing with a oversupply of conquered peoples (Lest it sounds like I'm trying to spread the blame, it was still our ancestors who created the horrible Middle Passage that claimed half of the enslaved peoples it carried.)

History is messy and nasty and ugly, and the narratives we have used to tame it are like how we explain our dreams - filling in bits and excising uncomfortable truths. I'm glad I'm getting a chance to get in on this on the ground floor, as it were, and am looking forward to the performance itself. But I recognize that its going to be a rough one.

More later,

Sunday, October 28, 2018

The Political Desk: The Jeff Recommends

Let's see, in the week since I started this, we have had a string of bombs sent by a man living in a van covered with pro-Trump stickers, a guy shooting two black people in a Krogers and declaring "Whites don't shoot whites!" and eleven people die when another whacko conservative unloaded with an "assault-style rifle" at a synagogue. I lived for many years in Shadyside, right next to Squirrel Hill. So, yeah, forgive me if I'm a little strident this time out.

Let me reiterate my initial statement - No Republicans. Not all Republicans are fascists, or nazis, or alt-righters, or racists, or rapists. But if you find yourself in any of those categories, then the Republican party (and all its connective tissue) has your back. They will blame your victims, deny your crimes, encourage your delusions, and spoon-feed you a steady stream of entitlement, then walk away when you do something, saying "I have no idea where they get these ideas, but it's the liberal media's fault."

I'd like to say that saying this out loud makes me feel a bit better, but it doesn't. You know what will make me feel better? Voting. Voting will make me feel better. Let's see what's up there.

Initiative Measure No. 1631 - The Carbon Fee  -YES (The opponents are calling trying to make it sound like it is a direct tax on you - it ain't. It's a direct tax on the people who are pumping crap into the atmosphere, and with it a potential reduction to the shareholders).

Initiative Measure No. 1634 - Prevent Soda Taxes - NO (The opponents are LYING you when they say this will tax all your groceries, and they are doing it with daily mailers. This one passing lets corporations dictate to your local government (more than usual)).

Initiative Measure No. 1639 - Firearm Safety - YES (Unless you still want to stand around and look at you shoes instead actually DOING something about it. And yeah, this is only a very small part, literally the least we can do, but it still a start).

Initiative Measure No. 940  - Reduce Police Shooting - YES (This is a strong compromise bill from numerous sources. I'm a fan of giving the cops more options).

Advisory Vote No. 19, Engrossed second Substitute Senate Bill 6269 - Maintained, even though it is advisory and the gummint don't have to pay no attention. Its about holding oil companies responsible for spilling oil. The companies are always declaring they have incredibly safe pipelines and there is no chance of oil spills, so this REALLY shouldn't be a problem, should it?)

United States Senator - Maria Cantwell, who has done a real good, if centrist, job. Also, No Republicans, and in particular no Republicans that are Trump-apologists.

United States Representative Congressional District No. 9 - Adam Smith. Yeah, I went back and forth a couple dozen times on this, and if you go for Sarah Smith, I will forgive you completely. The fact is that he, like Cantwell, has been doing a good job. Retain Smith.

Let's see ....  what else do we have? No one running against the incumbent, no one running against the incumbent, opponent dropped out, no one running against the incumbent. Ah, here we go:

State Supreme Court Justice Position No. 8 - Steve Gonzalez. Every time I see something about his opponent, Mr. Choi, he's either not talking to the press or engaging in conspiracy theories. However, one early poll shows he is in the lead, so this is one of those places where we need an EDUCATED electorate. Go to Voting for Judges, which I have used for years for my recommendations, and Vote for Steve Gonzalez.

Stuff that is not on my ballot, but I think it is important in the local area:

United States Representative Congressional District No. 8: Kim Schrier, a pediatrician, over real estate millionaire Dino Rossi. The Times actually tone-policed Schrier in their endorsement of Rossi, saying that Dr. Schrier might actually put up a fight against the heavily-entrenched Republican majority, while Rossi will roll over on his back for belly skritchles. So, Yeah. Go with Kim Shrier.

State Legislative District No. 47. State Senate. Vote for Mona Das. Her views line up with mine, but let me lay on the line. Incumbent Joe Fain has been accused of raping a woman 10 years ago. I don't know if this is true. I'm not a court of law, and cannot dispense justice or find truth. But I damned well want to find out before hiring him for another term. Vote Mona Das.

State Legislative District No.  47 Position No. 1. Vote for Debra Entenman Again, she lines up with a lot of my own views. She is also a target of a lying mailer campaign from a nutter with access to photoshop, who has been encouraging progressives to write-in for candidates who are not running, Kent City Council member Brenda Fincher has been dragged into this mess, and minced no words in shooting it down, identifying it correctly as another form of vote suppression. Because, you know, that's what Republicans are known for. Vote Debra Entenman.

And Lastly, Stare Legislative District No. 47, Position No. 2. Vote for Pat Sullivan, who has served for many years and has not been accused of sex crimes or had nutters try to split the vote for him by sending out lying mailers. Hey, in the current environment, that's a ringing endorsement.

That's it. And regardless of where you are, it is time to step up. I'm not asking you to march. I'm not asking you to  confront. I'm not asking you to man the barricades. I'm asking you to vote. I know I am lucky in this state, with mail in ballots. We have a paper trail. We don't have voting booths located far away from actual voters. We don't have long lines. We don't have electronic devices that switch votes while you watch them. I'm lucky that way. I'm going to ask you to vote anyway.

Also, No Republicans.

More later,

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The Political Desk: Public Office

Usually I would  break these down into a handful of entries for easy digestion, but we're not looking at a lot of real races here (though, of course, they are important). So here are all the public offices: Federal, State, County, and Court, that have competitive races this year:

US Senator - Incumbent Maria Cantwell has done a fine job so far, with most of the criticism I see being lofted at her is as a result of her being TOO mainstream and willing to work with conservative voices.. I'm OK with that. Her opposition, former TV newsreader Susan Hutchinson spent her time in the debates lofting Limbaugh-level conspiracy theories and repeating White House talking points. Yeah, no. Go with Maria Cantwell.

US Representative District No. 9 - This, the battle of the Smiths, is the only challenging race for me, and I've flipped a half-dozen times already. Incumbent Adam Smith is a liberal, yeah, I'll say it, progressive voice in the rejiggered 9th district, and he has been around forever. Sarah Smith is a liberal, even more progressive voice who brings youth and energy to the table. My game-playing brain says that, should the House change undergo new management, we would be well-served to have someone with experience and seniority in the office, while my narrative heart says that we would be well-served to have someone to push harder on more progressive issues. I still remain in flux, so color me UNDECIDED. They're both good.

My State Reps have no competition. Congratulations to Zak Hudgins and Steve Bergquist. And yeah, I'm not going to vote Republican in any event, but GOP? Really? You really need to keep the local franchise going. There is no depth in your backfield, which may account for some of your problems around here finding any traction.

The sole county level election, Prosecuting Attorney, was going to be former-Republican Dan Satterberg against Reform Democrat Darron Morris. I would go for the reform-minded Morris, but he dropped out for health reasons. though his name is on the ballot. So I have NO ENDORSEMENT this time out, but I wanted you guys to know that this is really one more one-person race.

Judges! Eleven positions! No waiting! And only one of them has a choice between two candidates. What, is this the era of good feelings? Justice Position No. 8 has the highly regarded Steve Gonzalez against Nathan Choi, who doesn't want to talk to voting for judges but last time set up a lot of signage in unusual areas, much of which lasted for weeks after the election.Go for Steve Gonzalez.

And that's it for my ballot. What about the rest of the state? Kim Schrier in the 8th Congressional. Mona Das in the 47th State Senate.Debra Entenman for State Rep from the 47th. Pat Sullivan for the other State Rep from the 47th. I used to live in these districts, until they shuffled the borders around, leaving the political map the world's worst jigsaw puzzle. It is almost like they're afraid of me ....

More later,

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Political Desk: Rolling for Initiatives

The initiative system in Washington State has pluses and debits. It allows the people to make an end-run around the legislature to support a new law. You means it you can get enough people together on an idea, you can have it implemented. It also means that, if you enough money, or access to people with enough money, you can put an initiative on the ballot and sell it to an ignorant electorate. It ALSO means that the initiative can be challenged in a court of law, often on specious grounds, but that's just icing.

We have four initiatives up in Washington State, and an Advisory vote. Three of the initiatives are "to the people" which means they came from the ground up (but see above), which the fourth is "to the legislature" as a double-check for legislation someone doesn't like. Advisory votes are a remnant of an earlier initiative which was partially struck down, and now required the legislature to check in when they spend money, but they don't have to pay any attention to it. More whining about that later. Here are the four initiatives and the Advisory Vote

I-1631, also called Initiative Measure No. 1631, also called the carbon fee initiative. Remember the middle of the year, when all the surrounding wildfires filled the Puget Sound region with a smokey haze? That was a natural occurrence, that was a rarity in the modern age, and that was one situation we'd like to keep rare. Throwing on a "pollution fee" for sources of greenhouse gases and using the money to promote more clean energy is a good idea. Washington State is taking the lead of reducing this type of pollution and should do more. Vote YES. [And the big argument is that the polluters will just pass the cost along to consumers. That convinces people, then the polluters jack their rates ANYWAY because war/scarcity/distribution problems/added value to their shareholders. Tell you what: I'd vote No on this if you let the voters decide EVERY price rise from here on in. Any takers?]

I-1634, also called Initiative Measure No. 1634, also called the soda tax initiative. Here's the story on this one. Seattle passed a tax on some carbonated beverages. Big Gulp, consisting of the soda companies, freaked out and want this initiative to keep any other locality from getting ideas and  doing the same. As a result, they have been wallpapering the mailboxes with scare mailers and peppering the local channels with farmers fearful that they will have to give up the back forty if we tax Bouncy Bubbly cola. This is what you call an astroturf campaign - it looks like grass roots but it ain't. Give localities the power to make their own decisions. Make corporations buy politicians the old-fashioned way, one at a time. Vote NO

I-1639, also called Initiative Measure No. 1639. also called the gun safety initiative. I don't know about you, but I'm tired of looking at my shoes. You know what I mean. Someone shoots up a school, or a night club, or a church, and there are coffins and eulogies and we all look at our shoes and feel bad that we didn't do more to keep it from happening. This is about handling a whole bunch of gun stuff - safe storage, decent background checks, training. Will it eradicate all guns? No more than Speed Limits eradicated all cars. I just want to not look at my shoes as often. Vote YES.

I-940, also called Initiative Measure No. 940. which doesn't have a short-hand name. This is the result of carefully crafted negotiations between civic groups and law enforcement agencies to reduce the chances of cops shooting people, by giving the officers more tools and training to use as well as remove language that makes it harder to deal with such situations (currently, you have to prove the officer was MAD at the victim to prosecute - So casual and off-hand shootings were OK).  It was made a law. It was contested in court. Now it pushed back to the people to make the call. And even then, it will probably go back to court. Schoolhouse Rock never prepared me for this. Go with YES.

Advisory Vote No. 19, Engrossed Second Substitute Senate Bill 6269, also called One of the reasons why no one wants to be in state government. This is about raising the taxes and fees on petroleum products to cover the inevitable leakages. Given that at the national level they REALLY want more oil (though China isn't going to order from us for a while, apparently), this works for me. Actually, the ADVISORY part of the title tells it all - this is a poll at best, if we're good with this. Go with Maintained, anyway.

Next up, we get personal. As in, we talk about people running for office.

More later,

Monday, October 22, 2018

The Political Desk Opens For the Fall

If you're in Washington State, you should have received your ballot already, along with a good-sized voter's pamphlet (two of them if you are in King County. It feels like voting season is a little tight this year, so you need to turn those around pretty darn quick.

And yeah, this election is important. OK, EVERY election is important, but this one has a lot more riding on it. At the national level we've been seeing a plundering of the public treasury, with a promise of more to come should the Republicans maintain their majority. And yeah, there is all sorts of gerrymandering, suppression, and downright lies being cast about from the conservative and corporatist sides. We have to stop this crap.

And I say that realizing that, from a personal standpoint of what I can affect, I'm not in a bad position at all. I said "NO REPUBLICANS" in the primary, and I pretty much have gotten my wish. The GOP did not put opponents for our State Reps in my district, The County Prosecutor scratched Republican off his descriptive tags,the US Representative battle is between two liberal Democrats, and the US Senator race is between a veteran incumbent and a conspiracy-theory media hack.There are not a lot of Republicans to vote AGAINST for me in this election. 

But before I tell you about my ballot, let me point you in the direction of some other people with opinions:

The Stranger has grown up. Yeah, they will pepper their endorsements with f-bombs just to show they can hang with the cool kids down at the skate park, but they are probably the best set of recommendations you can find for locating functional adults who want to be in government. That's right, you're reading an endorsement of an endorsement. They've even been spreading their wings beyond the Puget Sound area to talk about other races elsewhere. You go kids - just clean up your act.

The Seattle Times is ... well ... don't bother. I'm not even going to link them this time. I'm used to them carefully pawing around the issues, then choosing the more traditional, pro-business candidate, but this time their editorial board has really crapped their pants. After whinging about transparency for almost every Democratic candidate in the primary, they have endorsed for US Rep a millionaire real estate investor who won't share his tax returns and is involved with people stiffing their contractors (in other words, a typical modern Republican). And they decided to double-down and re-endorse a State Rep after said rep was accused of rape. So they're spending their time cooing in your ear "Don't worry,.THESE Republicans will be different from all the other Republicans we've recommended over the years". The Times talks a good game about good government, but when push comes to shove, they will sell all y'all out for the price of a two-page spread.

Who else is there? Well, here are the Progressives, and we line up pretty well, but they may have better arguments than I do. Voting for Judges does its normal excellent job, but face the same challenge I do with a lack of competition in most of the races. The Municipal League's site has not been updated since last year, but they are launching ReadySetVote.Org, which acts as a clearing house for other people's endorsements (including a few I will not mention here). The Washington State Conservation Voters are here. The Chamber of Commerce has formed a new pro-business alliance, and are asking for money, but don't seem to have endorsed anyone. The Seattle Transit Blog checks in here

All of them suffer from the same malady as Grubb Street - We have a couple very, very important races, but a lot of incumbents running against empty chairs. Me? I'm thinking of branching out.

More later, 

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Theatre: A Paradise Lost

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Ursula Rani Sarma, based on the book by Khaled Hosseini, with original music written and preformed by David Coulter, directed by Carey Perloff, Seattle Repm through November 10.

The Rep begins its season with a tough one - a story of women in the face of an oppressive society, sent against the Afghanistan of recent memory. Based on a novel by Khaled Hosseini of the same name, the play intertwines the lives of two women against the chaos of a collapsing world.

Young Laila (Rinabeth Apostal) loses her home and family in Kabul in a rocket attack. She is rescued from the rubble by neighbor Rasheed (Haysim Kadri), who takes her as his second wife. The first wife, a brow-beaten Miriam (Denmo Ibrahim), does not approve, but has no say in the matter, setting up a very hostile household. This is made worse by the decay of the country as it falls under the sway of the fundamentalist Taliban, and by Rashid's own brutality. The two women must unite in order to survive in a world that has no other allies for them.

It is brilliant performance. We watch Laila age on stage from girl to mother. But , more importantly, we also watch Miriam grow and find for herself redemption and purpose in her life. Their relationship grows as the play unspools and you find both pity for Laila being beaten into the system, and sympathy for Miriam who has become inured to its unfairness (the advice from her mother was - "endure"). For his part, Kadri plays the venomous Rasheed with just enough vulnerability and true believer fanaticism that you can believe him as a real individual (though you still want to take a swing at him - repeatedly).

But the play itself has the far-away, fantasy landscape that makes the viewers happy that they are not in such a world. In "othering" the action of the play, even to real-world Afghanistan, there's a safe distance between Rasheed's society-endorsed, abusive behavior and our own. When I was first brushing up against theatre in college, I noted that plays of abusive families were almost lower class, urban, and usually Catholic. Now we expand it to other continents. The Lovely Bride, for her part, noted the similarities between Suns and The Color Purple, which also puts the perils further away from the audience.

The fantastic nature is enhanced by the stagecraft, which is beautiful. Flying backdrops, lighting which capture the mood, props that move the locations around the actors, the stage is the stark, wild, empty lands that surround Kabul,  from the surrounding mountains to the tight, imprisoning household. It capture the mood of the play, in all its barren beauty.

And then there is the music. This is the first play in some time I remember having live supporting music, in the form of David Coulter, ensconced off to one side with a variety of instruments, including a musical saw, which stresses the alien nature of this world on the other half of the globe. It has been a while that I have seen music woven so tightly into the mood of the play itself.

So, the short form? It is a tough play, hard to watch, and difficult to review. It is also a beautiful performance, rich and deep. Go expecting to feel a little more troubled and thoughtful afterwards.

More later,

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

A Week In Books

It does not rain but it pours.
It has been an interesting and thoughtful week, in that three beautiful sets of books arrived at Grubb Street. But I don't think my reaction is the same as most other people, but I highly recommend all of them. Here's the picture of the haul:

In the middle is the Prince Valiant Storytelling game, and beneath it the adventure book. Both are beautiful books, illustrated with Hal Foster art that takes me back to the comic section of the Sunday Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The game itself is simple and sweet, and the Episode Book has contributions from an all-star squadron of creative talent (yours truly among the gang).

Yet, these books are bitter-sweet for me. First off, Stewart Wieck, who was putting them together in the first place, passed on (his brother Steve, finished the work). Then, the day after the books arrived, I learned of the passing of Greg Stafford, the original designer of this game, White Bear and Red Moon, and Pendragon, and creator of the fantasy world Glorantha.  I don't have any great Stafford stories - we chatted at the occasional convention but our paths did not cross that much. Still, one more of the original gangsters of gaming has passed on, and we are all lessened for it.

Soon afterwards Cthulhu Invictus (on the right, with coins and a decal) showed up at my door, a Kickstarter from Golden Goblin Press. And on first blush the book is SO textually dense. I remember picking the Chaosium Invictus back in the day and noting the wide margins and large leading (something Chaosium is not alone of doing - check out some TSR products of the age). This version is heavily packed, the script-like font running nearly to the edge of the page. Golden Goblin does some of the best material in this new golden age of Lovecraftian gaming, and I am slowly making my way through it.

And with it comes a sense of both opportunity and obligation. My gang has talked off and on about doing some adventures set in the Roman Empire, and this may just push me over. But that becomes one more thing to work on. If I get around to it I will post.

And on the right, the big powerhouses are two different editions of Art & Arcana, which showed up Saturday morning. Several months ago the authors came over to the house, where they took some pictures of the original art I have on the wall, and and listened politely as I blathered on about told stories of the old TSR.

I haven't dug in too deeply, but the final project is absolutely beautiful.Old guard gamers will remember the Art of Dragon books - this is SOOOO much better. Larger, heavier, glossier, meatier, amazing. Here's the visual history of Dungeons & Dragons. The deluxe edition is boxed, has some separate art (suitable for framing) and a photostat of the original Tomb of Horrors when it was an adventure run at GenCon 1975. I did not know this existed. It looks it it was originally typed on mimeograph paper, but I can't be sure.

And it feels like going through a old high school yearbook, and each picture reminds me of something else that happened in those bygone days. I've leafed through it, and said "Ah, that reminds me of a story ..." and there is a lot of me and the other greats of the Bronze Age of TSR, plus great stuff from the giants that came before us and the brilliant creators who came after.

So. Sadness, Opportunity, Nostalgia. Not what I normally get in the mail.

Check out all three.

More later,

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Book: October Country

October: The Story of the Russian Revolution by China Miéville, Verso, 2017

Provenance: I first found this book in an airport bookstore, mis-shelved. It is a history of the Russian Revolution, but it was in the Science Fiction section. Which makes sense in that China Miéville is a noted SF/Fantasy writer of the "New Weird" school, best known for books like Perdido Street Station, Un Lun Dun, and The City and The City.

But I did not pick it up then. Instead I purchased it at Third Place Books in Ravenna, a tidy little neighborhood bookshop. On the day of purchase, Third Place was donating their profits to organizations working against the brutal immigration policies of the current administration (and ICE in particular). So a political book purchase made perfect sense.

Review: I'll fess up, despite a lot of reading, I have only a passing knowledge of the Russian Revolution. The storming of the Winter Palace, Rasputin. Lenin. The Battleship Potemkin, Reds with Warren Beatty. Yet in my brain the events of the Revolution itself unspooled almost simultaneously. One day there was a monarchy, the next day the Soviet Union.

Actually, it was a continual and chaotic clusterfreak, unrolling over a period of months, with Saint Petersburg (which becomes Petrograd and will eventually become Leningrad before returning to Saint Petersburg in 1991) at its center. Then the heart of the Russian government, it was here that the people's uprising mattered. Out in the hinters of Baku or Finland or Moscow, rebellions of the workers could arise, either to the be crushed or to find some limited amount of autonomy away from the wellspring of then-modern Russia.

There are histories built around Great Men. There are histories built around Great Moments. Miéville's approach is built around Great Meetings. And there are a lot of them in the tempestuous times.The Duma, the provisional government, the nascent Soviet, the various factions within the revolution, the gathering of a dozen Bolsheviks when Lenin was on the lam from accusations he was a German agents. Meeting upon meeting, faction upon faction.

How many factions were there? Take a dinner plate, hold it at an arm's length, and drop it on concrete. That many. Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, Mezhriontskys, Socialist Revolutionaries, Kadets (Constitutional Democratic Party), the Military Revolutionary Committee, various garrisons, and subfactions of the above that range from moderate to revolutionary. The difference between the two big factions, Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, is whether the worker's paradise has to go through an intermediate stage of bourgeoisie, as the masses need to get up to speed with the concept of self-rule (The Mensheviks said yes, the Bolsheviks said no, and Lenin thought that if you topple everything right now, the rest of a war-torn Europe would quickly follow).

Miéville openly skews left/socialist politically, and that shows in where his attention lies. We get a lot of the Bolsheviks and their meetings, while the right shows up in turns as ineffective foil or a threatening counter-revolutionary force. Nicholas abdicates and vanishes from this narrative. The Duma, tethered to the Soviet in a dance of dependency, is rarely effective (and the Soviet itself, like Caesar, rejects opportunities to take command until forced to by Lenin's wing of the Bolsheviks). He demurs on whether things could have gone differently, or if the horrors of Lenin and Stalin were "baked into" the Bolshevik Revolution itself. There were more than enough opportunities for a different faction, or collection of factions, to "win" the prize of a starving Russian state.

Miéville  is also a urbanist, and most of his fiction is city-based or community-based (The Armada from The Scar, the railroad town from The Iron Council). So he is at home in this not-as-ancient city, built like Washington, DC to house a ruling class and a government. He is at his best when he is describing the city itself, and its inhabitants, either scrounging for food, marching in protests, or defending the barricades against the counter-revolution. Miéville captures the flavor and the feeling of those turbulent months of 1917 where Russia hung suspended through a decaying old system and and an unborn, chaotic new one.

We stop in October, with the Czar still alive, the nation still at war, and the Civil War yet to fully kick off. Miéville tells a great story, but it is an incomplete one, with the great tragedies yet to come. The retro-vision of "what would be" colors our judgement of those hides the concept that the future of the Revolution hinged on a single decision, a single political act, or a single meeting.

More later,

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Adventure: Hard Reign Gonna Fall

Reign of Terror by Mark Morrison with Penelope Love, James Coquillat, and Darren Watson; Call of Cthulhu RPG; Chaosium, 2017

Here's my deal on reviews: I have to play the game in order to review it properly. Reviewing a game or game adventure without playing it is akin to reviewing a play simply from its script. Now. uou can review a script as a script, analyzing why it works and how, and guess how it will all play out, but you really aren't reviewing a performance. For that reason, I read a lot of RPGs and adventures but don't review them. I'm more than willing to promote stuff I haven't played, particularly by friends and colleagues, but reviewing? Not so much.

Oh, and there will be spoilerish things here, so if you want to run this, or never will run this, proceed, but if you want the thrill of playing in it (and its a bit of thrill ride), you can bail now.

My regular Saturday night group has of late been more anime and kaiju movies of late, particularly since we wrapped up the massive Horror on the Orient Express (which I COULD review under my rules, because I was a player,but not a GM/Keeper). I came across this at The Dreaming, up in Seattle's U-District (good comic and game store - my choice for the Lovecraftian stuff), and since we HAD wrapped up Horror, thought this a good tie-in.

Now Horror was set in the 1920s and ranged between London and Constantinople and back again, but the latest incarnation also had a number of vignettes for the past that helped fill in bits and pieces of the story. These vignettes had pregens and gave the players a break from playing their normal characters. Cool idea, particularly since Call of Cthulhu can have a rather lethal body count.

Reign of Terror is really two adventures. The first takes place in Paris in 1789, at the dawn of the revolution, and the second five years later at the height of the Terror, when the guillotine made messy work of those who were out of favor.

And the first adventure works really, really well. The pregen characters are soldiers in Paris, assigned to guard the catacombs as bones are moved from the overflowing cemeteries to new homes underground. They have an encounter with Count Fenalik (who for opur group was a recurring foe in Horror), which gets them involved with revolutionary pamphleteers, palace politics and several decadent dinner parties. The adventure ends with some interesting footnotes tying the characters into the Tennis Court Agreement and the Storming of the Bastille.All of this is really solid.l

The second part happens five years later, after the revolution and the Terror that followed. This is the age of the guillotine, where informers are rampant and the ambitious use false accusation to clear out political and personal opponents. A minor character from the first adventure gets hold of unspeakable knowledge and plans to sacrifice all of Paris to an Elder God (I did mention spoilers, right?).

This part didn't work nearly as smoothly, for several reasons. One is that in the first section, the players are all effectively on the same team - they are soldiers, one of them in the sergeant, so there is chain of command. Also they have specific orders and are expected to obey. And they can expect some sort of support from their superiors. In the wake of the revolution, though, that command is broken down. Not all the characters are still in the army (our romantic young soldier is the group became disillusioned, quit the army, and became a busker on the streets), and some of them may have actually fired on each other at the Bastille. They don';t have superiors who are giving them direct orders, and have a lot more leeway in their actions.

In fact, the adventure turns on the characters, who previously have been expected to obey orders, disobeying those orders for the plot to proceed. In our case, they chose to not disobey orders, forcing the Keeper into quickly coming up with how to proceed the story further. Often, keeping the story moving forward has the whiff of railroading, but this was a case where the game leaves you a bit high and dry as how to proceed (we managed, but it required some impromptu rewiring).

A second challenge is that both big bads are very similar. Singular, aggressive, elite, and powerful (both in physical abilities and in social position). Both are unkillable until a certain set of circumstances come together. Their goals are very different, but how the players interact with them is similar. In the case of the second adventure, the second big bad taunted the characters with a very Fenalik sort of grin, and AT THAT MOMENT the group decided that, whatever he was up to, they were going to take him down. They skipped the next two sections of investigation and went directly to judicious application of kegs of gunpowder in a closed space to defeat him.

Third, and this is one of the biggest challenges of the second half, the shadow of the guillotine hangs over them, but the process of how one gets there is unclear. How is the arrest made? How long do you sit in jail before the kangaroo court sets down a decision? The book does talk about such things as how condemnations functions, but not once the process is rolling There's a definite gap between The Second Big Bad decides to send the Committee for Public Safety against the players and the tumbril rolling up to the guillotine, and one that the keeper had to play by ear..

Production values are extremely high in the final product. The art is wonderful, and the page layour both clear and sumptuous. One challenge as games move to full-color production is the handouts - Older CoC games benefited from easily photocopied handouts. Chaosium has the handouts on their site, but while that works for players with electronic media or color printers, the old fashioned among us with B/W printers and photocopiers have to deal with it.

Liberty Leading the People, by Eugene Delacroix, a classic image
of the Revolution painted forty years later.
The presentation also has some padding. Two-page spreads of famous art. No less than 6 maps of Paris. A full-page reproduction of the Rights of Man (in French). Good stuff, but there it is occupying space we can for other things.

What other things? A short bit to be read to players of what happens between part one and part two would be good (and don't lecture me on boxed text - there is a BIG section at the start of the adventure). There is a lot of data in the book on the French Revolution, much of which is aimed from a historical end and less from the viewpoint of those on the ground (short version - it sucked). For all the  information provided for the characters, I had to wing it on whether the soldiers had a barracks or what (I went with yes, but the commander lived with his family nearby).

Also, a pronunciation guide would help. Yes, we know what French sounds like, but I come from a part of the country where Versailles is pronounced Ver-SAILS and Dubois as DUE-boyz, so I am working through my high school French to manage pronunciation in places. None of my players have been to France (Quelle horreur!), so in general we went with "Hollywood French", either ignoring pronunciation challenges or, sadly, rolling out a Ree-DEEK-you-louse Frange AcCENT. So, a guide would be useful tools for the Keeper.

And the volume does suffer from the "Curse of Cthulhu" as far as map/text agreement. The dwarf violinist lives the garret of a three-story building, which has five floors on the map. The description of Fenelick's grounds don't quite line up with the text. And, while the Pregenned PCs have useful info, one of them is lacking a vital part as to his political alliances. (in the book. They did make the correction to the pdfs, so go there for the characters.).

So in general? Not an adventure for a first-time keeper. First half is solid, and definitely good if you're playing/have played/would want to play Horror on the Orient Express. Second half requires more work from the Keeper and can potentially go off the rails. Keep the wikipedia handy so you know more about the Herbertists and Dantonists and why it would be important to a bunch of soldiers.

But is also great for putting the players in two very different dystopic realms where life in cheap and justice cannot be found. From the golden halls of Versailles with its wealthy elites to its revolutionary remade France stalked by the Terror, the players are forced to deal with challenges to their characters beyond the traditional 1920's milieu. It is an excellent doorway into the past for playing the game. Check it out, but be prepared to work for it.

More later,