Saturday, July 31, 2004

Conventional Wisdom - Part One

So I followed the recent Democratic convention the way that most Americans followed it - not at all. I've been busy, and didn't even have time to watch The Daily Show, much less the keynote speakers. So what I picked up I picked up from osmosis - friends, the web, and the media (yeah, I know, that's scary). But I want to put down a few things in this hammock between the two conventions.

The Conventional (heh) media wisdom was that the convention would be a snore, and, if the Dems did things right, it would be. Stuff that makes good television usually makes for bad politics - 68 in Chicago? Great television, good for democracy in general, lousy for the party. So if they got through the week without major gaffes, without horrible things happening, and with modicum of positive spin, they've done the job. Everything after that is gravy.

The Conventions are not (contrary to opinion) a big commercial - they are about firing up the base and about the ground-level connections that make any group work. Not only among the various factions and committees and delegations, but with the those reporting on the efforts. This convention is just like the International Pipefitting Device Convention in Peoria, its a meet and greet, a place where faces are put to communications.

And just so you know - San Deigo Comics convention? 85,000 attendees. Democratic Convention? 35,000. So don't complain about not getting enough ink.

That all said, the Democrats did real well. There were a few gaffes, and no one really got out of line. For the Democrats, this is amazing. This is a party that has more wings than a John Madden turkey has legs, and to see them all pulling in the same general direction is a scary thing to behold.

The Democrats also revealed something that most of us have forgotten - the power of speeches. Time after time, I heard about how great the speeches were. Clinton was great. Carter was great. Obama was fantastic. Edwards was spot-on. Kerry's was "the best speech he ever gave" (That's praising with faint damns from our media). And in one brief, shining moment, the Dems understood the attractiveness of Ronald Reagan as the late president's son spoke about stem cells. Yeah, you could see the synapses firing in their brains - This is why his father was popular.

Couple minor gaffes - The possible future first lady told a newspaper reporter to "shove it". And by reporter I mean editorial writer. And by newspaper I mean the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, a cross between Fox News and My Weekly Reader. Unlike most commentators, I can honestly say I have read this paper, and state that its been picking on Mother Teresa since she was married to Senator John Heinz (the late Republican senator was insufficiently bloodthirsty to satisfy the Scaife owners of the Trib). It was a minor dust-up (compared to, say, the Veep tossing around the F-Bomb on the Senate floor), and the end result was to make the candidate's wife "fiesty" and "independent". Which makes me think it may have been planned.

And on THK, I did catch part of her speech. While the commentators are trolling obscure European films to place her accent, most of America is going to think of one thing - Eva Gabor from "Green Acres". OK, admit it, you just got the image of Kerry and Kerry in the American Gothic pose. John Edwards as Eb. Bill Clinton as Mr. Haney. This has been a filmways production darlink.

And there was also an attempt to embarrass Kerry with a picture of him in a blue clean suit at NASA, looking like he was auditioning for the road-show version of Harvey. The Reps are still hoping for a "Dukakis in a Tank" moment, an image that can crystalize a negative spin, but they should be avoiding photos - the Dems just have to flip the flashcard of the "President in a Flight Suit".

OK, the speeches were amazing, even filtering down to my level. The biggie in the early part of the week was Barack Obama, who is the "new Mario Cuomo" in that a good speech thrust him to the forefront of the party (no one wants to mention that a good speech at the convention also thrust Mike Dukakis to the forefront of the party). The big paragraph that gets quoted is:

The pundits, the pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don’t like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and yes, we’ve got some gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq.

We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America. In the end, that’s what this election is about. Do we participate in a politics of cynicism or do we participate in a politics of hope?

Awesome god. Awesome text. I'm a sucker for a unity message.

In many ways, the coverage of good speech after good speech seemed like the media was itself creating a story here - building up for big expectations for Kerry's own acceptance speech. Kerry is not as stiff as claimed, but he did have a helluva warmup band. And yet he spiked it, laid himself out, presented his background and his intentions. In effect, introduced himself in a way that the media had pressed him to do. And in turn they (even the right-o-center commentators) gave him good marks. Even a Democrat convention director cursing live on-air about the balloons not falling could not mar the moment.

And we have to fold away the tinfoil hats - the Clintonista Democratic Leadership Committe did not pull out any coup to put Hillary on the throne. But we can keep the tinfoil hats on hand - Stories that Pakistan was being pressed to deliver a High Visibility Terrorist during the convention were realized when, two hours before Kerry's big speech, Pakistan delivered a High Visibility Terrorist. But even that got buried by the convention news (it showed up on page 11 of the local paper) - in part because the Pakistanis bagged him five days previous, but only made the announcement at what was hoped to be a advantageous time).

As one blogger put it "If it takes a Democratic Convention to get the administration to get serious about terrorism, let's hold one every week!"

The bloggers themselves were there in force, being subsumed into the body politic. They were taken more seriously, and made their media and political connections as well. In part, the positive spin from the mainstream media may be in part from the presence of the bloggers, who could beat out the mainstream in speed, had a left-of-center view, and were reporting both on the convention and on the media coverage (who watches the watchmen, indeed?). I am sure that more than a few bloggers saw long-range opportunities here, and that political blogwriters will soon join the pundocracy of talking heads.

If the bloggers had the juice at this convention, protesters didn't. The "free speech zones" were a joke, looking like prison camps, and only covered by the media to show how oppressive they were. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette covered a mock conflict between LaRouchies and a bunch of guys dressed up as pirates, but for the most part the protesters were uncovered and forgotten. I think this was part of a media "theme" as well - if the mainstream Dems are supposed to the left, it confuses the issue to show people protesting that they are too conservative (which was where most of the protests came from)

And so its done, and the city of Boston and the Democratic Party both get to breath a sigh of relief. Interesting news at a convention is not always a good thing, and the Dems showed, much to my surprise, that they could get together under one roof and put on a show. That bodes well for their level of organization.

More later on the subject, after New York,

Thursday, July 29, 2004

On The Road Again: Declarations

So on the way to work yesterday morning I got caught behind a Slow Driver. Actually I got caught behind a SUV that was behind the Slow Driver, who had been apparently following the SD for a while before I came up behind the pair of them. The SD was driving below the speed limit even for a rural stretch of road, and I while I could not see the SD, I could see the driver in front of me fuming and bobbing his head and cursing. We've been all been this type of situation, but the fact that I had just joined the procession made me a little more tolerant.

And as we approached the stop light at the end of the road, it was green, but the SD did not rush it. In fact, the SD threw on the brakes (I can tell from the sudden flashes of the SUV driver who THOUGHT the SD was going to at least try to make the light), and the light changed before we got there. Now the SUV driver was really ticked. Leaning out the window and yelling ticked.

The light turns green, and I the SD makes the turn onto the main road, and I can see her for the first time. A small red car with an American Flag in the back window, a couple "9-11, Never Forget " Stickers, and personalized plates that read (and I'm not making this up) "G Bush".

And it made me smile, because if the SUV driver was a Bush supporter before, there was a greater chance that he wasn't one now.

But that underscores in general the foolishness by which people put statements on their cars, then drive in such a way that reflects badly on them, and, by connection, on their declarations and loyalties. I have been cut off in traffic by people with "Save the Whales" stickers, and not only am I mad at them, I'm mad at the whales, and willing to take a couple pot-shots at those big, blubbery, menaces that would cut me off . And its not the whales' (or the President's) fault that someone is screwing around on the highway in their name.

And it goes past just bumperstickers and personalized plates. My very car, a Hybrid, is a statement. So is the SUV from the top of the story. There was a Letter to the Editor page of the Seattle Times, where a driver got really, really angry that the car in front of him in the HOV lanes was (hold onto your hat) doing the speed limit! I know its hard to believe, but since the HOVs are to the left of the "fast lane" of the highway, obviously its the "lightspeed lane", reserved for very fast cars with more than one person (an unwritten rule that I agree with, by the way). What struck me is that the author immediately projected his image of the Hybrid driver (smug, self-satisfied, obeying the letter of the law as opposed to the "spirit of the road") that spilled out in his letter. If it has been a car with Jesus fish, would his ire be as dire? Or a Kerry sticker? Or something about saving those pampered, smug, self-satisfied, krill-hogging whales?

Myself, I find my little Hybrid to be deceptively fast on the highway, and plan not only to try out the "spirit of the road" argument (that was in his Letter) the next time I'm stopped by the traffic cops, but to keep that editorial handy as proof that I'm just trying to dispel horrible stereotypes about Hybrid owners. In the meantime, I'm think about giving the SUV owners (who have their own image problems) a break on the highway, and not assume that just because you're driving one, you are automatically a short-tempered hazzard to everyone who crosses you. You have to pay more per mile than I do in gas, and, worse yet, you get caught behind Bush-supporters who brake when approaching a green light. Isn't that punishment enough?

More later,

Monday, July 26, 2004

Non-Fiction: Coming to America

1421 The Year China Discovered America Gavin Menzies, Perennial (Harper Collins), 2003

Here’s the short form: in the early 1420s, the Chinese Emperor Zhu Di sent out a number of large treasure fleets to explore the world. These fleets, made up of hundreds of immense ships, made it practically everywhere, mapping South America, Australia, Antarctica, the Americas, and Siberia before returning home. Upon their return, the fleets discovered that in their absence their nation had been wracked by tragedy, their emperor was dying, and a rival, anti-naval faction had come to power. The fleets were grounded and left to rot, all knowledge of the voyages removed from the books, their names chiseled from the monuments, and the lid slammed down on a great age of exploration.

Gavin Menzies is former Royal Navy with extensive submarine background, who started to unspool this tale, starting with old maps that showed lands that Europeans had not yet reached at the time these maps were created. Menzies’ theory is that the highly-advanced Chinese circumnavigated the globe, and created the maps which first the Portuguese and then Columbus used to reach the New World. His evidence is impressive in amount, and presented in a great heap, like a Central American step-pyramid. Remove one (or a dozen) stones and the structure can still stand.

And there are stones that can be removed, and the reader has to keep a watchful eye at creeping assertions, as theories move to fact quickly within the text. There is an onslaught of evidence - plant and animal species in non-native locations, genetic markers in disparate populations, mysterious shipwrecks, native artwork of horses in Australia and the Americas. And, of course the maps, showing lands the Europeans had yet to reach.

The maps are the cornerstone of Menzies’ arguments, and include such charts as the Kangnido, the Piri Reis, the Waldseemuller, and the Vinland maps. A lot of these maps are controversial in themselves: The Vinland map was declared a fraud (though Menzies exhumes and rebuts the claim). The Piri Reis, which reputedly shows Antarctica, has been used previously as “proof” of ancient astronauts and Atlantean civilizations. In comparison, crediting it to the Chinese makes a lot more sense.

One problem with the map evidence is that Menzies has to “widget” the facts a little in order to make them fit. His source maps don’t exactly fit reality, but fit better once he “corrects for Longitude” – as the Chinese at the time did not have Longitude fix (they got in on another voyage at the same time). That sort of widgeting makes me suspicious. In a similar fashion, the maps of the Caribbean islands work better if the sea levels are 6 feet lower, but Greenland can be circumnavigated only if we have unseasonably warm weather. Menzies argues both options in different sections, which strikes me as being contradictory (Won’t less ice mean higher sea levels?)

Similarly, his argument is that the South American Coast shown on the Piri Reis map is the area near Tierra De Fuego, pointing out that the animals shown on the map are in areas where the animals would be found in the real world. That’s a good argument, until you look at the entire map, where it becomes clear that what he is claiming to be Cabo Blanco in southernmost Patagonia is more reasonably the part of Brazil closest to Africa. A good argument for a bad point undermines his reliability elsewhere.

Menzies also has “White Wolf” disease. In White Wolf’s World of Darkness, everything important is tied back to vampires – every important historical figure is a vampire, was a thrall of vampires, or fought vampires. Similarly, here it feels like every mystery has its answer in the highly-advanced Chinese, from the Bimini Road (underwater stone structures in the Bahamas) to a possibly pre-colonial tower in Newport, Rhode Island, to the Vinland Map. The Chinese become our “Ancient Astronauts/Altlanteans” spreading civilization and knowledge across the globe.

Of course, European sea travelers spread something else – disease, and on this the volume is silent on the effects of full Chinese Colonies on indigenous populations in California and Peru. Evidence of a sudden dip in population, a few plagues (and they were in China – that was one of the things that brought down the adventurous emperor), would support his theory well.

Finally, the great travels of the Chinese fleet go everywhere in the world EXCEPT Western Europe. Much like the Bush military service records, this absence is intriguing, particularly since one of the fleets supposedly got to Iceland and the northern shores of Russia. No one thought to point out that there was a large civilization just to the south. Similarly, there is no Aztec evidence of their presence, and only a glancing mention of the Incas and Mayans. Given that Menzies has presented extensive evidence for India, Arabia, Eastern Africa, and Australia, as well as the oral traditions of California Native Americans, the impact on supposed Chinese contact with the American Empires would be supportive.

Menzies is an excellent and accessible author, though he elevates the Chinese by pressing down others. The Western Europeans are little more than barbarians in thatch huts, and the Intuits could never produce jewelry of the quality found in Greenland. Columbus himself was nothing more than a conman, using Chinese maps stolen from the Portuguese that already showed what he would “discover”, then ginning down the distance to the Spanish Crown in order to get funding. The Portuguese colonies (in Puerto Rico fifty years before Columbus) are less-enlightened than the Chinese ones, and the Henry the Navigator’s people stole the spice trade from the retiring Chinese.

All in all, the book holds together, and even if fifty percent of it is off-base, it’s an excellent re-thinking of pre-Columbian exploration. I am unwilling to buy Chinese settlements in Greenland or Rhode Island, but am more willing to allow Chinese ships off the coast of Oregon or South America. A hundred and fifty years ago, Troy was considered a myth. Until the 1960s, respectable scientists felt the fact that South America and Africa fit together like puzzle pieces to be coincidence, not Continental Drift. And even with the Vinland Map controversy, people now believe it likely that the Vikings made it to the continental US, So too I think this book will be a “tipping point”, where we go from disbelief in the Chinese achievements to a basic understanding that this is so. And we'll wonder why would we ever think differently, in the face of all the available facts?

More later,

Sunday, July 25, 2004

I Get Mail!

I never know when I post what will get a response, what will pass without comment, and what will turn out to be a part of a bigger blogging movement.

For example, while I felt my Linksys rant was purely a rant, I got two real-world comments and a couple e-mail comments on it. All of them were along the general lines of "yeah, I know 'em, they suck", but two of them mentioned that Linksys was purchased by Cisco a while back, and serves as their entry into the homeowners' market. I hope Cisco improves Linksys's merchandise and their tech support.

Not really. I hope Cisco burns the Linksys assembly plant to the ground and then salts the earth with spent uranium rounds as a warning to other companies. But that's just me.

Also, my comment about I-844 and the severity of state taxes brought some questions, a little research, and a change of opinion on my part. One post noted that the sales tax is by nature a regressive tax, in that it costs the poor more than the rich based as a percentage of total income, and raising it thereby hurts the poor more than the wealthy. This is one of the reasons that sales taxes are not usually extended to "necessities" as food and shelter (and in PA, clothing). With a little research, I find that Washington currently has the fourth highest "on-paper" state sale tax in the country, figuring in the average local, city, and county taxes as well. So upping the State Tax, even in a good cause, may not the smartest thing to do (and, while we're at it - does education get to keep its chunk of the budgetary pie that it already has, or does that part get sent elsewhere?)

However, it's usually not the sales tax that people (well, politicians) are complaining about when they are talking about the state's tax load, but rather other taxes that supposedly "bad for bidness", like the Business and Operating tax. On the plus side, Washington State does not have a personal or corporate state income tax, something several people noted to me when I first moved out here. Add all state taxes into the figures above, which they did at tax , and Washington State plummets to # 21 in tax severity. Ahah! We are not (horribly) overtaxed! (New York is #1)

BUT if you add in Federal Income Tax, again according to Tax, we bounce back up to #8. Ahah! But THAT number is a little tricky, because the Federal Income Tax is a progressive tax, with supposedly more taken out of the pockets of the wealthy. We pay more because there a larger chunk of the state in upper tax brackets. The highest-taxed state under this method? Connecticut, with its smaller population and a higher average income.

And to muddy the waters even further, the Small Business Survival Council puts Washington State at #8 for positive small business climates, so the tax situation must not be hurting us too much as far as corporations are concerned. Note that this last ranking put a chill through a lot of pro-business interests that have been telling their folks that TAXES ARE TOO HIGH, so there have been some push-back on this in the local business press.

So the change in opinion? Not that we are not too heavily taxed - as you can see, different manipulations of the numbers produce different results, so any pol anywhere in the country can make the claim for his patch of ground. After the research, I feel now is the time to institute that long-feared State Income Tax (personal and corporate) and in the process, create some Sales Tax relief - something that will be really felt by consumers. The opinion that has changed is the one where I said that Ron Sims (running for Governor as a Dem against establishment candidate Christine Gregroire) would not get anywhere running on a State Income Tax platform. Now, I'm not so sure - A Tax Reform platform which moves the load away from Sales Taxes and onto Income Taxes, might just be a tonic that this state is ready for, and has been endorsed not only by the media in the Sound area, but in more "red territories" like Spokane as well.

OK, enough on taxes.

Finally, there are those days that you suddenly wake and realize that you've become part of a bigger movement, that something you've talked about suddenly gets a much wider purchase and play. The "This Land" video has become the newest "Only in Kenya" video on the web, crashing servers and reducing productivity across the US and the world. It's been written up in the local papers, gotten web play, and been sent to me about a gazillion times by people who thought I'd be interested (and who don't read this journal, apparently). I suddenly feel like part of that great media machine

On the other hand, the rest of the world has yet to pick up on my "John Kerry is the Joker" meme. So I'm bummed by that.

More later,

Friday, July 23, 2004

DOW Breaks 10,000!

Wait a minute. Hang on. Uh, Never mind.

It's that old deja vu all over again.

So the amazing thing about this is that the media meme of "The Recovery is Here!" has been slowly replaced over the past few months by one of "The Recovery is Here for Some People! But not you! Yet!" Among the "some people" that were supposed be benefitting from this nascent recovery were Corporate America, whose success would lead us all to a great big beautiful tomorrow.

So why is their stock prices so crappy? And why, if we're recovering, is the average below that of what we had at the start of the year?

More later,

Thursday, July 22, 2004


Mystical Forest has a bit about the internal mental flip-flops required to be a Republican these days. I think its accurate, but a bit harsh, and instead offer this from the Portland Oregonian.

I am a conservative. I believe in staying solvent and out of debt.

I am a conservative. I believe in keeping my nose out of other people's business, their nations and their bedrooms.

I am a conservative. I believe in conserving our assets and our resources -- our air, our land, our water. Accordingly, I don't support or engage in wastefulness, inefficiency or lavish excesses.

I am a conservative. I think an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Therefore I support appropriate government spending on such things as infrastructure, schools, social welfare and crime prevention, because in the long run it's cheaper and more effective.

I am a conservative. I don't sign on to risky schemes. I think if you give Bob a dollar, it helps Bob, but it may not necessarily help Oscar, Fred or Maria.

I am a conservative. If I am attacked, I respond appropriately and conservatively. I do not swat mosquitoes with dynamite.

I am a conservative. I don't deal falsely or prematurely with facts.

I am a conservative. I understand the purposes of various institutions. It is the job of government to govern, the job of religion to address spiritual needs, and the job of business to secure profits by producing needed goods and services. I do not confuse these institutions.

I am a conservative. I understand my position in the world and that my opinions are not the only valid ones.

I do not have an exclusive claim on what is right, good or patriotic, and those who disagree with me are not automatically evil traitors.

What's really weird, though, is that I've always thought these things, but now everyone calls me a "liberal"!

More Later,

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Electoral Storm - Initiatives

About two weeks back was the deadline date for state-wide initiatives for the fall ballot. Washington State has an initiative system to grant the people more of a say in government. Mind you, often those initiatives are overturned or flat-out ignored, but its part of our process, and it does have an effect on State Government. We have an initiative and a referendum that are automatically on the ballot as a result of the State Gov. putting them there, and three more are likely in from overwhelming signatures (and there may be a couple that squeek in as well when all the signatures are counted).

I-844 is one of the initiatives that came in on a tide of signatures. It proposes upping the retail sales tax by 1% and targeting that for education. While I'm a big fan of education, and will likely support it, I'm always a little leery of targetted taxes - they indicate that we're not spending the money in the right place to start with. Opponents, like the Citizens for a Sound Economy, are rallying against it because it will increase our taxes and reduce our attractiveness to businesses (contrary to the local agitprop, Washington State does not have the highest taxes in the country, and is actually in the top ten for attracting new business).

I-892 is another intitiative brought in through signatures and backed by the Tim Eyeman machine, and intends to increase gambling opportunities to reduce property taxes. This is the one I was push-polled a while back on, and since then the referendum has metasticised from loose slots into electronic scratch-and-win tickets. This one is getting big bucks from gambling interests from outside the state (Its biggest funder is the Great Canadian Gaming Corporation) and is being opposed by the tribal casinos, which already offer such tickets. Eyeman is pitching it as "Look! Those Indian casinos are getting an advantage we don't have! We want it too!". Oddly, that sense of egalitarianism wasn't around when we were handing out smallpox blankets.

Eyeman's group of professional signature gatherers had another initiative on the board - I-864, which would cut all local property taxes not directly approved by the voters by 25%. This one augured in, failing to make its required signatures, which is a surprise - previous "everyone gets a pony" initiatives have at least gotten on the ballot. Maybe people are tired of having to vote in every budgetary increase.

The third intiative that looks likely is sponsored by the Washington State Grange, and while it sounds like an arcane operation from the 1800's, is a player in state politics with both money and grass-roots support. I-872 is a backlash initiative to the eradication of the open primary. This will install a Montana-style top-two primary system as opposed to a party-based system, and is pretty much intended to give the political parties a good swift kick for getting rid of the open primaries in the first place. I've got my doubts about this - Montana is not what you would call a politically diverse culture, and applying it here may result in no Dems or no Reps on the final ballot in some places. Still, if the primary becomes a major screwup (and what are the odds, really?), then this will be a strong initiative in the fall.

The initative already guaranteed on the ballot is I-297, which prohibits shipping additional material to the Hanford nuclear site until we clean up what's already there. Hanford is a government-owned, Chernobyl-style reactor on the eastern end of the state, which pops up in the news every so often when they talk about a leak from some decades-old tank containing material with a half-life of tens of thousands of years. This has a national angle, since the Feds are now looking to start stashing glowing stuff in Yucca Mountain, Nevada (and no, the people in Nevada aren't particularly happy about this).

We also have a guarenteed Referendum, which differs from an Initiative in that it doesn't get signatures and is pretty much the State saying "We're doing this, OK, yeah?". R-55 is a yes-or-no on Charter Schools, which have been shot down in the Seattle area twice now but were negotiated through the State House. I'm a little unsure about this - Corporately funded schools have some success stories and some black eyes, and after more than ten years of national existence, seem to function at the same level as public schools. What strikes me in the discussions is the "cure-all" nature of its proponents - Your kid is struggling in Public? - Charter Schools. Your kid isn't being challenged? - Charter Schools. No discipline? - Charter Schools. Too much discipline? - Charter Schools. Don't like cafeteria food? - Charter Schools. The argument against Charters is that it pulls money out of the regular school budgets on a per-head capacity, and we have a Initiative giving more money to the Publics because they are underfunded. And, in the department of the weird, the same forces that don't want to spend more money on public education are supporting Charters, because Charter Schools are a business (and, of course, corporations know best).

In addition to I-864 cratering, also unlikely to appear on the ballot are I-890 and I-891 which were various smoking bans, and I-895, which would allow insurance companies to offer bare-bones insurance coverage. I've got a note on another primary-revising Initiative, I-318, which would provide for "instant runoff elections" like in San Francisco and Ireland, but I think that may be for another election cycle. If any more pop up, I'll mention them here.

More later,

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Router Madness

Linksys. Its a name you should consider when buying a router. Mainly it's a name you should consider avoiding.

A few days back you heard the tale of woe and intrigue about losing the router very near to its three-month anniversary, my (mostly positive) experience with Comcast and my (mostly negative) experience with Linksys. So I went looking for answers elsewhere, in the form of one of Kate's gaming group, who works in IT and is well-versed in such things (Thanks, Chuck!). After walking through the problem, pinging the box, and all that cool tech stuff (which included holding my hand as I went out in DOS, which is like being on the outside of the spaceship looking in). After about five minutes of consult we pretty much settled on the fact that, yep, the power light shouldn't flicker that, and the router box wasn't recognizing that anything was plugged in. Looks like hardware on the fritz.

So fortified, I went back into the hell that is Linksys Tech Support. My personal opinion is generally that tech support is a really crappy job, and a lot of customers bring an attitude to start with (they wouldn't be calling if life was going well for them). My previous experience with Linksys Tech Support severely tested that theory, and the most recent one shattered it into little tiny pieces. The new tech support also had problems with English, tended to mumble, was hard to understand and ended every sentence with OK, yeah?. Also, while we had a case number, I had to walk through everything done by the previous tech, and everything I did with Chuck. Then there about fifteen minutes of various arcane actions with the restart button ("OK, now hold down the reset button for thirty seconds, then unplug the router and hold it down for sixty seconds, then plug it back in and hold it down for thirty seconds, OK, yeah?"). And through it all, a blanket ignorance of the fact that the bloody lights that showed its was plugged in were, in fact, not showing that it was plugged in.

Over the course of the discussion, I finally forced the Tech to admit that they did not support Macs, and they didn't know what they were talking about. When I started talking about a return the tech started talking about how it was absolutely necessary I try some more tests with a PC platform before they could even consider it (there were several discussions in the middle of this with her manager when I pointed out that Washington State had a "lemon law" on electronics).

So they left me hanging (and I had to put my protocols back on my own), after about an hour and half of total discussion, and a series of experiments that I swear was going to end with the suggestion "Put the parts in the bag, stand out on your front yard, wave them over your head and scream like a chicken!*. Exasperated, seething, and deeply frustrated by the total lack of response, I took the only reasonable course.

I gave up. I drove up to the Mac Store in the U District, bought a new router that WAS Mac-supported (that's the Mac Store, for ALL your Mac-related needs) for ten bucks CHEAPER than I paid for the Linksys Hunkajunk, came home, put it together, and got that part of my life back under control. Of course, Linksys, who made the crappy router and has perfected the customer deterence factor known as tech support, remained unpunished, but I am at least free of their foolishness. And some times the bad guys get away with things like this.

Except I have a journal, a mechanism to pass word along to others, a means of sending warnings. And if in this tale of woe and intrigue might convince you, when making your own router choice, to avoid Linksys like the plague, and to pass onto others that Linksys is to be avoided like the plague, I would be greatly appreciative. And if I cost them one sale to make up for royal screwup they handled me, I will feel vindicated. Two or more would be icing on the cake. And if you mention to the poor saps selling this crappy material that they are, in fact, selling this crappy material, hey, that's a bonus.

Linksys. Remember the name. Crappy workmanship. Really, really, crappy tech support.

OK, yeah?

*Dick Van Dyke Show reference.

Saturday, July 17, 2004


So after having to put it off for a few weeks because of life and other obligations, Kate and I finally got to see that highly talked-about film, the one with the smart-mouthed working class hero who irritates the wealthy, the powerful, and the irresponsible media. I am talking about, of course, Spider-man 2

This isn't a real review, per se, but just a few thoughts that popped up during watching the film, but spoilers abound, so if you are in the remaining five people who haven't seen the film but intend to, go over to Haetmonkey's page and badger him about posting more often. Coming from a strong comics and storytelling background, four things came to mind:

One - the working class roots of this Spider-Man. I thought about this from the first movie - we haven't seen houses like Aunt May's since All in the Family. We're talking lower middle class, here. Even the comics themselves tended to give young Peter Parker a yard, and a porch, and some physical distance between him and his neighbors. The movie version of his boyhood home works real well for Parker and even better for Mary Jane. Mary Jane in the comic always seems a little too dreamy and little too facile in the comics - like Peter was marrying up. MJ's own lower-middle-class life gives her a great starting point for her own character's advancement

Two - Doc Ock was never this good in a comic book. In the originals, he was the typical mad scientist driven even further mad by one of his experiements. Sort of a Dick Tracy villain - all flash and no underpinning. Yet the long first act of this movie lets Alfred Molina shine as a strong, intelligent, warm and happy man, so his later madness is a greater tragedy (the long opening act also is intended to grind in how sucky Peter Parker's life is, such that when Dr Octavius does show up on the screen, he's a welcome chance). In the same fashion as Ock's background, the movie has done more with the arms, both collectively and individually, as a force and personality of their own. Ock's strange hand-puppet relationship with them makes him both master and slave, and that's something that brings him depth that he never had in the comics.

Three - The New York of this movie is different than the one of the first movie - its thirty years younger. The first movie, in the shadow of the World Trade Center, you could feel the hole, the emptiness in the sky. Now we seem to move further back in time, to the late 60s of the Spider-Man era - straphangers on the elevated, fifties-style planetariums and a reference to playing football on the moon. This is a world without Iraq, as if they punched through the temporal barrier to restore an older, sweeter New York. (It is also a smaller New York, where everyone knows everyone - Parker's Professor knows Doc Ock who is working on a fusion device for Peter's best friend Harry Osborne)

Lastly - Why the movie works as a sequel - the hero continues to grow. In a lot of superhero films, the first movie in the origin story, and then anything afterwards lacks the creative steam - the character has emerged from the mold, fully minted and unchanging. You can challenge him, but you won't change him (the Supe and Bat franchises have this problem in spades). At the end of SM1, Parker makes his decision. By the end of SM2, he has grown as a person, reversed his decision, and rather than separating himself into another peson to be a hero, embraced it. His mask is off more often than it is on in the last half-hour of the film, and he comes to terms with it, resolving a number of problems from the first film (and creating a few more the third). This is the big reason the movie works - its a rejection of the "Never reveal yourself" meme that is part of the superhero genre - be colorful AND anonymous. While the city rolls back thirty years, the story itself moves forward into the present day, and I think that's one thing that will make people excited for the third film.

OK, that's it for me. More later,

Friday, July 16, 2004

Novel: Cthulhu At War

Delta Green: Denied to the Enemy A Cthuhu Mythos Novel of World War II; Dennis Detwiller; Armitage House 2004.

Delving into the Lovecraftian mythos has always been a small-press thing, even from its outset. The original Weird Tales printed on cheap pulp, the mythos additions coming out of Arkham House in Sauk City WI, the role-playing game material, none of it has made been major publishing houses (Del Rey on occasion pulls out the original stories for a reprint book). In many ways, Cthulhu fiction puts its readers in the same situation as many of its protagonists - forcing them out of the mainstream and into small, arcane bookstores, stalking long-ignored shelves for rarely-seen texts. The advantage for the reader over the protagonist is that search is often rewarding and usually less perilous. Armitage House (and its RPG compatriot, Pagan Publishing) continues the tradition of producing excellent material that hits a relatively limited audience.

Armitage and Pagan are both masters of the creative head-fake, particularly in its graphic design and promotion. For most novels (and in particular game products), you can all-too-often judge a book by its cover. Squiggly horror on the cover indicates squiggly horror inside. Armitage/Pagan, benefiting from a small house where the authors are part of the publishing process, instead sees can disguise the point, creating visually intriguing covers which hint at what's going on within without giving the game away, and promote the book without revealing the horrors within.

I will try to refrain from undue revelation as well. As the book declares that it is set in WWII, you expect occult-welding Nazis. And they are here, but the story soon spins into odd dimensions and strange aeons. What makes this very, very cool is the fact that this underscores a "core ethos" of the Mythos - that the achievements of mortal men (including their wars) matter little against the larger tapestry of an uncaring universe populated by more powerful beings. This is not Hitler with the Spear of Destiny. Its much, much worse.

Detwiller pulls off this revelation by concentrating tightly on his main characters. Its Cthulhu, so you emotionally know you don't want to get too attached poking around the edges of the unkown, but Detwiller presents them as fully rounded, empathic figures. The entire story nests within the "Delta Green" continuity that Armitage/Pagan has carved out, but Detwiller takes it further, adding more than just flesh to the outline but muscle and heart as well. The author grapples with dual tasks of personal conflicts and cosmic horrors, and delivers on both. He also takes great leaps in geography (it is a global novel) and in time (Chapters presented out of temporal order, so you will have a reference to the Australian expedition before you explain what happened to them). This last bit actually nicely covers one of the limitations of the pre-Internet universe - information takes time to percolate through.

There are quibbles, but only a few - a character in the prologue, set in 1961, bemoans detente, which was a 70s meme. What is very impressive is how Detwiller embraces a universe that both has the lumbering weight of predestination and the potential for free will, yet darkly sides with the former against the latter. In effect, you have free will - but it doesn't matter in an uncaring universe. And its thoughts like this that are more frightening in their own way than any rugtose horror in the crawlspace.

This is out of the ordinary, stuff that you have to go look for, down darkened aisles and odd corners of the 'net. So go look for it.

More later,

Thursday, July 15, 2004

This Land

I really liked this animation - go look at it, then come back (online is free, download costs). Oh, its a long load, so, of course, do it at work.

OK, so what did I like about it? John Kerry dressed up like a weiner? George Bush riffing on Slim Pickens from Dr, Strangelove. The fact I like Woody Guthrie?

Naw, its the fact that at the end everybody is together for the closing scene. Its a "come-together" moment that we need more of in real life. I think Woody would have approved.

Group hug!

More later

What I've Been Up To

So the major thing is putting together another online journal, this one for my writer's group, the Alliterates. Now, those who have been clicking that link for the past, oh, three months have gotten nothing, owing to a problem with the domain name (tale of woe and intrigue available upon request). So in a blast of semi-creativity, I put together the Alliterate News, which will serve as a clearing house for news from our group. Its an experiment - some of our band are quite chatty, while others make John Salinger look positively loquacious.

Everyday news, personal stuff, political opinions and the like will still be covered here, but I'll put out the occasional release on the new site as well as things get published.

The minor thing is that I am having router trouble. Yeah, its sounds like something you need a laxative for, and it may not be that far off. Since we've gotten Digital Cable in the house, we run both Kate's Mac and mine (and occasionally the PC Laptop) off a router box. Well, a couple days ago the box went on the fritz and lost its settings, so it doesn't work. Now, Major Props to Comcast - their help line was informative, polite, and productive, and we quickly determined the problem was in the router (by bypassing the router entirely, we can have only one machine on a time, but we know the cable works). Major Headaches, however, to Linksys, the router's manufacturer. Their online help was confused, frustrating, and may not have had English as a first language. After a number of failed attempts that involved using third-party shareware, their proposed solution involved a PC, a CD-Burner, and what the on-line tech said was "simple instructions" (I bailed after the second page of detailed description of PC-jargon that had me wandering around outside the Windows shell). So I'm working through it, and will probably have to call back to start from scratch.

More later,

Monday, July 12, 2004

This and That

Its not that I don't love you - I've just been a little busy the past few days. One of the reasons that I've been busy will show up tomorrow. in the mean time, here are a few random political things:

Birthdays and Politics: I helped Janna celebrate her birthday at Elliot's Oyster House, and through chance ended up seated to a young woman who had been a local reporter for many years, so I got a great heaping chunk of cool stories about the local political situation. She also told me about how the new primary system was driving a friend of hers crazy. The friend is out of Orcus Island, and while she votes Democrat at the State/National level, she votes Republican on local issues (land use is a big item for her). Now, with the new Primary setup, she either has to ditch her Democrat leanings at the upper level or her Republican leanings at the local level. In other words, one party or the other has lost a voter, while the other has gained one that may not want their candidate to win. Way to go, guys.

Whatever Happened To Condoleeza Rice? A few months back she was all over the place, and now she's just vanished entirely. What gives? And how is it that National Security is so imperilled that there is serious talk about postponing the election but not so dire that Dick Cheney is still allowed out of his secure location?

More on Moore Now in its third week, I'm kinda amazed by the effort the right-wing has made to keep this movie present in everyone's mind. Most of my left-of-center friends, who have been paying attention to the twists of national politics for the past few years, have just given a nod and said, "Yeah, its OK". Its the right that seems bound and determined to make people see it. First among equals in this case are the Brainiacs who are making it available as pirate online versions, claiming that Moore doesn't like corporate ownership, so he can't complain (I doubt he will, but the corporate owners will). So lets see - we have a movie critical of the current presidency, and in order to get people not to see it, you're making it even easier to get ahold of. Yeah, that's bright.

And finally, Darn the Luck! I am deeply disappointed to learn that the microfilm records of the President's military service were inadvertantly destroyed in the mid-nineties. The very documents that could prove that he was where he claimed to be. Oh, the luck! Oh, the perfidious luckI

More later,

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Home Alone

So now it can be told - Kate's been out of town for the past two weeks, and I've been on my own. She just got back late, late Tuesday night.

My reason for not mentioning it is similar to my reason for not mentioning when I'm going out of town - I really don't feel like hanging a sign on my house saying "Not Here!". We had a break-in a few years ago, and as near as we can figure, the thieves were casing the joint, waiting for a time when both of us were out of the house. So I really don't tell people when I'm leaving the house unoccupied (Unoccupied, of course, except for Loki and Satan, my dobermans, who spend their free time disassembling and reassembling AK-47s. Blindfolded).

So I've been on my own for the past two weeks, and in general, it was pretty tedious. I know, images of empty pizza boxes dance in your mind. Wild parties. Blogging in my underwear (OK, let's NOT have that image). Actually, it was mostly work and sleep. Work and sleep, repeat ad infinitum. The first weekend was a complete crash and burn, while the second was much, much better, only through sheer determination to not be a bump on a log.

I told you about my day off Friday, which was one of three exceptional days in a row. Saturday was the company picnic for True North, held out at the Rein Fire Ranch, where Rich and his partner Bill raise racehorses. The WotC web team was invited as well (since we do a lot of work with them), and Eric has pictures here . I was in these shots, but through the magic of photoshop, was airbrushed out and replaced by a fat guy in a Hawaiian shirt.

Sunday, the 4th was an equally nice party at Sue and Monte's. I don't remember any cameras being present for that one, so I can safely say that I was thin, nattily-dressed, and devilishly handsome. Lots of industry chatter, general banter, and a few games as well. Very nice.

After the party, I eschewed the public fireworks and instead did something I've been meaning to do for a few years - climbed up on the roof and watched the locals set off their firework stashes. We're in firework country out here, with all manner of pyrotechnics available (the good stuff comes from the reservations). Even though our property is surrounded by trees, I had good sight-lines to about a dozen would-be Masters of Destruction, particularly those setting off rockets on the school grounds. A very nice display.

But other than that, the past two weeks have been a bust, and I am delighted to have the other half of my life back on this coast. And since she was helping her mother settle into a new apartment, Kate's glad to be back - she's been walking around the house, muttering "All this space, and its all mine."

"Ours" she adds, when she catches me looking at her.

More later,

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Electoral Storm

I haven't been doing local politics here for a while, and I must admit it's for two reasons.

First is my disappointment with the fact we have abandoned the Open Primary system. Previously a voter walked in and voted in a Primary. Democrat for this position, Republican for that. Mix and match. But our political parties, fearful of mischief-makers crossing the lines to vote for weak candidates in the opposing camps, sued to change that process. The 9th Circuit Court agreed, and now you have to pick your political affiliation when voting. One side or the other. Independent? See you in the general election.

Now the net result of this, to my mind, is fewer choices = fewer voters. Most local offices have settled on one party candidate well in advance, so a vote to just confirm them is more trouble than most people want to take. In addition, the hard-core voters who will vote regardless for how many people are on the ballot tend to be more to the extremes. So you may be getting the weaker candidate anyway, but now you just can't blame the other guys.

I see primaries as promotional tools for both the party and for civics in general. This decision is going to turn around and bite the very parties that sought it out on the butt. But my frustration is just one part of the story.

The other reason for my lack of reportage is the huge amount of stuff to wade through this election cycle. We've got the Big Show with the Presidency, of course, but Washington State is also electing a Governor, a US Senator, and most of the state's executive branch. Our particular neck of the woods, we have a US Representitive and two positions in the State House. And then there are the initiatives.

To say that this is a target-rich environment is a bit of an understatement. So buckle in and put on a pot of coffee, this is going to be a long one.


OK, everyone is aware of this one. Here are the short versions of the campaign messages so far.
Democrat Heck of a hole you've got there.
Republican It's not a hole, and if re-elected, I promise to stop digging.

This morning, Kerry surprised the world (well, surprised the New York Post) by choosing Edwards as his running mate. What's been impressive is the amount of mileage that the candidate has gotten out of the choice, whipping the media into a frenzy over second-guessing him for what (to me as a part-time Edwards delegate) was an obvious and logical choice.


So Gary Locke is stepping down, to the surprise of many. The Dems have two candidates in the fight, and the Republicans, seeking a unified front, have one.

The Dem candidates are State's Attorney General Christine Gregoire and Seattle Commisioner Ron Sims. Gregoire is the establishment choice, and has done a pretty good job as AG, but has a serious black eye from a major screwup in her office (a failure to file an appeal on time) that cost the state $18 million. That's a big number. Despite this, the Dem establishment has lined up behind her. Ron Sims is running on a more liberal platform that includes a State Income Tax. Not a vote-getter, but given the weakness of the new primary system, he may actually get the nod because he is popular with the hard-core. There was a third candidate who looked pretty good, Phil Tamadge, but he dropped out for health reasons.

The State Reps, after screwing up in earlier elections by running hardcore conservatives against Locke, have been pushing hard for more moderate candidates. They have found one in Dean Rossi, who has the advantage of no one knows who he is. So he gets an easy run while Gregoire and Sims dig up bad things to use against each other. I really thought well of Tamadge, but I think Rossi is in the best position of the three at the moment.

US Senator

The Republican candidate for Senator on the other hand, only wishes he could be as unknown as Rossi. George Nethercutt ran for US House on a term-limits platform, which he discarded as soon as it was going to apply to him. Then he made a foolish quote about how the media is not reporting on the good things in Iraq and concentrating on the little stuff, like combat deaths ("which, heaven forbid, is awful"). Then he got mad at the media for quoting him ("which, heaven forbid, is awful"). But most recently he benefitted from the President coming out to shill for him (and to the rest of the US that paid for the gas for Air Force One - thanks for picking up the check!).

Now, as if his party didn't think he looked odious enough, the State GOP is publicly putting the kibosh on his intermural opponent (whaddaya think this is, a democracy?). Reed Davis is a hard-core, old-school conservative who was banned from speaking at the State Convention because he refused to sign a document enforcing the 11th Commandment ("Thou shalt not speak ill of other Republicans"). Davis is suspiciously absent for the GOP web site as well.

On the Democrat side, we have Patty Murray, who has been comfortably left-of-center, and has made a faux pas or two on her own. In particular, she's known nationally for a statement that sounded vaguely supporting of Bin Laden (actually, she was asking the question "Why do some people like him?" and failed to come up with the answer "Because they are evil!"). Hillary was out here stumping for her (no idea who paid the freight on her trip, but at least she's not in her own plane). The only note I have is that Ms. Murray is rather petite, and tends to get lost behind the microphones at the podium. Get the woman a box to stand on! (And I'm surprised I have to tell this to Democrats, who used to bolt FDR in place for his speeches).

US House, 8th District

Republican Jennifer Dunn is stepping down (what, is EVERYONE leaving government? Is the Private Sector THAT GOOD nowadays?), kicking off a frenzy of activity. Both the Reps and Dems seem equally goofy in this position, and the effects of the "new primary" system will likely be felt here.

On the Dem side, the early going was long-time candidate Heidi Behrens-Benedict and new money Alex Alben. Both struck me as stable, solid candidates (though I lean towards Behrens-Benedict). Not content with that, however, some wise guy in the Dem party wanted someone with more charisma, and sought out radio talk-show host Dave Ross to run. You know, its tough enough running on your record as an elected official - now your opponents get to dig through years worth of daytime radio chatter to look for sound bites and smoking guns.

One of the reasons that the Dems are looking for more star power is that the GOP actually has a headliner in the mix on their side. Dave Reichart is King County Sherrif, oversaw the capture of the Green River Killer, and has recently been awarded Sherrrif of the Year from the National Sherrif's Association (narrowly beating out Andrew Taylor of Mayberry, NC). I actually was on the same plane with Reichart on my last trip to Boston, and the cabin staff were gossipping about how nice he was. Running against him are Luke Esser, Conrad Lee, and Diane Tebelius, all of whom are no doubt good Republicans but whom I know nothing about (sorry folks). If Reichart gets the nod (and again, it's a screwy primary), then he should take the position.

Executive Branch

We don't just get a new governor this year out here, we renovate the entire executive branch - Lt. Gov, Secretary of State, Attorny General, State Treasurer, Insurance Commision, Public Lands, the whole shmear. I'm going to do these guys a major diservice by glossing over all of them except for State Attoney General, and just talk about the Democratic side at that. In a one-round cage match, we pit Deborah Senn, former Insurance Commisioner and a real scrapper, against Mark Sidhran, the former Seattle City Attorney who was responsible for the city's "civility laws". Its sort of pit bull going up against Squidward from Spongebob Squarepants. I'm going with Senn for the moment, but as I've said many times, it's a screwy primary season.

State House, 47th District

I don't know why the fighting 47th District is electing two of its three members of the state house in the same cycle, but it is. Most of the group here you've met before, and each party has One (1) candidate for each slot, so I'll skim.

The boyishly handsome but politically experienced Pat Sullivan is running against Jack Cairnes of the oddly creepy official mailing. Geoff Simpson, who in addition to being a red-meat Democrat has taken the lead on state issues like Canadian Pharmaceuticals, is being challenged by Repub Steve Altick. Altick didn't get the GOP memo for this election cycle - he's a conservative who uses all the required code words on his web site - "Judeo-Christian", "Charter Schools", and "Tort Reform". Oddly enough, there isn't a link between the State GOP site and Altick's home page.

I think Sullivan has a good chance if he gets the message out, and Simpson should be pretty stable.


Washington State has an initiative process, which supposedly reflects the will of the people but is gamed like any other component of the political system. Sometimes intitiatives are passed that are then ignored, undercut, or legislated against by those in charge. And sometimes they are just bad popular ideas.

An anti-smoking initiative (well-meaning, but bad) is not on the ballot, since it did not get the required signatures. An initiative on allowing slot machines in non-tribal casinos, backed by the professional signature-gathering Tim Eyeman organization and a lot of non-tribal gambling intests did make the cut (Short form - lower property taxes through Nickel Slots!). And there are a couple initiatives to reform the reform on the primaries, and by the time we reach the general election, people may be ready for it.

Whew! OK, that's it for the moment. More later,

Sunday, July 04, 2004

Quote of the Day

I cede the floor to the Gentleman from Virginia.

"When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

More later,

Saturday, July 03, 2004

Film: Corporate Animals

The Corporation a film by Mark Achbar, Jennifer Abbott & Joel Bakan.

Documentaries have a point of view. The media spin that they don't shows a ignorance that rates up with, oh, I don't know, the declaration of "If the President had done that in the private sector, he'd have been fired". Whether its the Time/Life films of our youth ("Science is GOOD") or the Civil War documentaries of Ken Burns ("It was about slavery"), there is POV in documentaries. What documentaries do that other films do not do is to be more up front about it.

In the The Corporation the basic argument is that the modern corporation is disfunctional on both a local and global level. It is legally a person, but if it was a person, it would be a psychopath (I would argue sociopath, but regardless, the corp is someone you don't want at your barbeque). The movie brings in a lot of firepower to bear, including former CEOs, a corporate spy that takes his clues from old Mission Impossible episodes, a couple whistleblowers punished for their good citizenship, and a collection of left-o-center talking heads including Michael Moore, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, and Naomi Klein. So you get a good feel for where the slant is working. Rupert Murdoch is conspicuous by his absense.

The film feels scattershot to me. It works hard to dispel the myth that it is only "a few bad apples" that are responsible for corporate wrongdoings, but as a result the film goes all over the place, with a large number of stories. It is a long film, but it feels overpacked as it is, with example upon example of corporate misdeeds. Here's BGH in milk, and here's privatization of water in Bolivia and here's genetic patenting and here's sweat shops. Any one of these will fill out an hour, and they're all in one place. If you want a general overview, its great, but it leaves me wanting to know more on the details.

And there is a lot I didn't know in this film. I didn't realize that the 14th Ammendment was used in court more to expand the powers of the corporation as opposed to protecting the rights of African Americans. I didn't know of communities that have stripped corporations of their personalized legal status. And I didn't know of Monsanto's promotion of BGH in milk nor of their legalistic suppression of opposing viewpoints. On the last, this was one of the interesting sections, and focused on a pair of FOX investigators given carte blanche to investigate BGH, only to enter bureaucratic hell when Monsanto put the lean on their network. Its kind of fun in a train-wreck sort of way to watch FOX freak out. (Though the net result is less fun - yeah, you got BGH in your milk in the country (not in Canada or Europe). Yeah, it hasn't been really tested. No, you're not going to find out about it from a media that depends on Monsanto advertising).

The film also gives hope in the form of various CEOs who have had their "Road to Damascus" experiences, and work within their systems to try to make things better. And yes, these CEOs are as limited as any other worker to trying to change the system. One of the great entries talks with the former CEO of Shell, who, when protesters showed up on his doorstep, met with them, offered them tea, talked, and found common ground. The problem is that the deck, in the form of the corporate Prime Directive of cashflow, is as stacked against him as against everyone else (yes, Shell is working to clean things up in some areas, but others have gotten worse).

There's also hope in the power of individuals. By raising the awareness of the consumers, they in turn give corporate awareness value in the marketplace. And anything that has value shows up on the corporate bottomline. Why are corporations concerned about the environment? Because you are concerned about the environment.

Against this, the weaknesses of corporations show through. Part if it is deniability - individual actions do not have consequences. Part of it is disengagement and distance - if the trash is on the other side of town, then its not their worry. Part of it is herd mentality. Part of it is fear of the shareholders - you don't pad the bottom line, they may find someone who does. Its a big mountain, but it can be climbed.

One thing that hit me in watching this was the the idea of Corporation as Vampire (and I'm talking about the White Wolf style of Vampires). Here we have a vitually immortal, immoral, image-conscious, predatory being in our midst, which looks to us for sustenance. And, like the Vampire: the Masquerade Vamps, it thinks of itself as both a victim and as a valiant figure. One of the sayings in Vampire the Masquerade is "Beast I am, lest Beast I become." Sounds like a working slogan for even the most kindly of corporations.

After seeing the film, I am less apt to think of Corporation as person as I am to recognize it as a man-made structure, more of a building than an entity. If the building is unsafe, you tear it down. Yes, it will displace people, but its an unsafe building, and has no rights in and of itself. Corporations are a construct of human interaction, like the medieval guilds, the Gilded Age trusts, the Master-apprentice relationship and the Hanseatic League. All of those have gone by the wayside as the world around them changed.

The greatest danger is that corporate structure as it now exists allows for horrible decisions with minimal thought - IBM helping the Third Reich through punch-card technology. And no one is invulnerable to the siren call. While watching the film, where they're talking about how toy companies did research on kids nagging their parents to help the kids nag better, I had my own minor epiphany that explained part of what I was doing in my company. Its a scary moment here, out here on the bypass around Damascus, and I'm not quite sure what I want to do with this knowledge yet.

Michael Moore gets the last word, pointing out that the very corporations that do horrible things in turn give him money in order to point out these horrible things. He calls this a flaw - a businessman will sell you the rope he's going to be hung with. I think its a feature of how corporations function, and not the only one. And by taking them apart identifying these features, and figuring out why they function like this is one of the first steps to altering them to serve us better.

Its either that, or break out the stakes, garlic, and holy water.

More later.

Friday, July 02, 2004

Jeff's Day Off

Well, actually it was an afternoon, but it was enough. After another 50+ hour week, I knocked off at noon, came home, pilled the cat, and headed out to Cap Hill.

Capitol Hill is one of several counterculture neighborhoods in Seattle (Fremont, Alki,and Green Lake also come to mind). It gets its name from the fact that the State Capital was going to be there. Actually, the Capital ended up being a little further south. In Olympia. But the name stuck, and its Cap Hill and its one of those creative and strange hubs in the Seattle area.

Actually, I ended up at the Frye Museum on First Hill (the hill closer to the downtown) first. The Frye is one of my favorite museums in Seattle, and probably one of the least-known. Here's the story in a nutshell. Charles Frye (and wife Emma) made it big in meat-packing during the Gold Rush Years, and starting collecting art, with an eye towards the more realistic painters of Germany, France, and the US of the end of the last century. When they passed on, the collection was to be left to a museum that would exhibit the works for free. No one took up that offer, and as a result, the Frye Museum itself came about. In addition to a great collection of mid-to-late 18th Century art (You ever heard of the Munich Succession? Me neither, until they had an exhibit on it), they have great curated shows. A show of Mucha prints that ran when I first came out here. Western watercolors. Holocaust dioramas made out of Legos. Its a very small but very rich museum which always surprises me.

Case in point. I look three steps into the lobby and immediately swung left, attracted by a picture of three red "Barrel of Monkeys" monkeys (the ones with the question mark arms) on a plate with a mousetrap next to it. It was a still life, but unlike any I had seen. Most still life art I've seen has been of the late 18th/ early 19th - flowers, bowls with fruit, that sort of thing. Seeing such a mundane and modern presentation just floored me for the moment, and halted me in my tracks, literally slack-jawed.

The artist is named Steve Fraser and he does amazing work that mixes the modern with the traditional and the transient with the truthful. A skull in bubble wrap. Goldfish crackers laid out in patterns. "See no evil/Hear no evil/Speak no evil" worked out with pears. Stuff that has both whimsy and deeper feelings beneath it. I can see why I've always disconnected with Still Life art in the past - those were historic records for me, while this was amazing and contemporary in a way that much modern art fails to be.

So I picked up a book at the Museum shop (The museum, as I noted, is free, but this is the third time I've been there that I've ended up picking up a book connected with the exhibit there, something I'm usually immune to). And the young woman behind the counter was former WotC and recognized me, and we chatted about the state of the company. I mentioned I was doing web design and she recommended a book on Information Architecture.

Then I hit Broadway, the spine that runs down the length of Cap Hill. Its a great people-watching neighborhood -a lot of young people, strangely colored hair, and locals with pets. Hit a couple bookstores (including Twice-Sold Tales, a used bookstore run by the widest cats in Christendom (and a few support-humans to run the register). Got a short story collection that included a nonfiction piece on the real-world events that inspired The African Queen and a book on the supposed Chinese discovery of America in 1421. Sat for an hour at a coffee house and watched humanity swirl by. I tried to locate another former WotCer who has been our administrative assistant, but her goth art shop had since been replaced by a bondage boutique. On the other hand, a new "Museum of the Strange" opened up near the north end of Broadway, which covered Fortean subjects (Bigfoots, UFOs - they were going have a Weird Science meeting this evening and create some ball lightning, but I had other plans).

And then on to a movie with Michael Moore. No, not the one everyone is talking about, but rather The Corporation, which was very good but very long (the seats at the Harvard Exit theater were not made for 2 1/2 hour marathons). Actually, the movie review should get its own entry, so I'll give it one next time, since I am still digesting it all.

And home. And while it was but a mere afternoon, I felt I got more accomplished for myself then I had in a very, very busy week.

More later,