Tuesday, November 30, 2004


We ended up at Work Song (see below for the review) as a result of Frank and his wife A, who invited us out. Frank is an old, old friend (and inspiration for Dragonbait from Azure Bonds), and we accepted, totally unaware that we were attending opening night. It was a different feeling in a theatre knowing that the production manager was four seats down, a well-respected Pittsburgh actor was your seatmate, and the reviewer from the Post-Gazette was four rows ahead of you (his review was a two-column extravaganza that left one wondering if he liked the play or not).

The New City is located on the South Side, across the Mon River from Pittsburgh itself. In my youth, it was a rough ethnic neighborhood, near the Homestead mills. Now the mills are gone, replaced by big-box theme restaurants, and East Carson Street holds what passes for Pittsburgh’s nightlife. We took an inadvertently long walk after the play looking for a place to eat and chat (one place was closed, a second too noisy, a third occupied by what were either mobsters or gay men or gay mobsters). The street itself was lined with clubs and saloons, and it did feel like most of Pittsburgh in the 21-25 age bracket was on the street.

Pittsburgh has a rep as a geriatric city, an old town, but East Carson Street on the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving rivaled State Street in Madison for lights and raw body-age. After a few days in the suburbs, it was nice to change pace, even though the phrase “old enough to be their parents” was high in my mind.

More later,

Monday, November 29, 2004

Play: Concrete in Compression

Work Song: Three Views of Frank Lloyd Wright by Jeffrey Hatcher and Eric Simonson, Directed by Eric Simonson, City Theatre, Pittsburgh, through December 19th.

True story – I owe my very-comfortable bed to Frank Lloyd Wright. When I first moved to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, I bought a waterbed from a family that had moved into a house designed by one of Wright’s students. As a result of the Frank Lloyd Wright-style design, there was no place in the house for such a large bed, and no wall space sufficiently uninterrupted for the headboard. That’s sort of the way I have always felt about Wright’s designs – they always required some form of compromise from the user.

Work Song requires compromise as well – it is three different plays with a common group of actors, and like Wright’s work requires some accommodation. Set at different periods of Wright’s life, it feels disjointed, and lacks a common central support to hold it all together.

Act 1 (Form and Function Are One) is pure bio – the rising young lion branching off, designing homes as opposed to skyscrapers, leaving his conventional first wife for his radical, Emerson-quoting second, building Taliesen, and the fire and murders there. It moves with great, Citizen Kane-like leaps, years peeling away as the sets dance across the stage. Sam Tsoutsouvas as Wright stormclouds his way across the stage, irascible, hardly lovable, both cerebral master and slave to his own emotions. A second character, a servant from Barbados, picks up as well, but the two streams do not really combine until the climax of the act.

Act 2 (What a Man Does, That he Has) is smaller in location (the rebuilt Taliesen) and in time (a compressed evening and a day). Now Wright has become old guard, yet to see his phoenix-rebirth with Falling Water, holding court with his third wife and his architectural minions. Though some of the same characters from Act 1 spill over, it has the feeling of a backstage comedy, touching on farce. In particular, Morgan Hallett delivers a comic version of Ayn Rand that reduces her to Nora Desmond-like absurdity. Wright in the play, like in life, feels derailed at this point.

Act 3 (Truth is Life) is even smaller in set, a FLW-designed house occupied by a young couple and smaller in time (a single afternoon). A one-act play in itself, it evokes the ghosts of the previous acts but does not come to resolution. Wright by now is at the end of his life, working on the Guggenhiem, curmudgeonly, elfin, forgiven his ego for his recognized talents and achievement. The great man comes to the common people, insults their furnishings, seeks to recapture a bit of his past, and leaves.

The tripartite and disjointed nature of the play(s) are reinforced by the set design. In act 1, everything is fluid, the sets little more than Wright-designed screens rearranging to form the various scenes. Act 2 the sets move still, but it more pivoting, larger pieces to evoke the Taliesen style. And Act 3 is resplendent in the prairie-style of wood- and brick-work, solid and grounded.

The acting was excellent as well. Tsoutsouvas manages to humanize Wright without sacrificing the architect’s ability, ego, or style. The remaining actors play multiple roles, and pull them off admirably, coining new personalities with the costume and makeup changes. Morgan Hallett as first wife Catherine, Ayn Rand, and then Chicago homemaker Carolyn was excellent, as was Robin Walsh as both second and third wives.

Yet in the end, the play itself seems to lack a central core and theme. The moral seems to be that Wright could make houses but not homes, and that his own demands of accommodation by others was not matched by compromise in himself. Form and function are one, but he never seemed to tweak to the function of his ultimate users, the family that occupies his structures. The play feels overlong and muddy in places, and abounds with loose ends that are abandoned and discarded, much as in life itself. It was well directed and acted, but in the end leaves a enigmatic puzzle about its subject.

More later,

Someplace Special

I spent the past week in Pittsburgh for Thanksgiving, with a flurry of familial activity. Family meals, seeing both sides of the family, taking the nieces and nephew out for book shopping. Pittsburgh is not the stone age – my computer-savvy nephew has DSL, though my parents (who have kept the same computer for ten years) get by with dial-up. So I have been effectively incommunicado for the week, and I thank the Monkey King for feeding in updates written previous to my departure.

The whole Santorum thing has been interesting on the local scene, primarily from the speed of which the local media is responding. And by responding, I mean trying to forget it as quickly as possible. The real-news front had already passed through by the time I hit the ground on Sunday, and there was little in the press on the subject. Indeed, the media seems to be bending over backwards in Santorum’s favor – the archconservative Tribune Review has run articles on how important cyber charter schools are to Western PA’s future, while all-talk KDKA spent an entire morning kissing the senator’s butt as he co-hosted the morning shift (“He’s a local guy! And just another Pittburgher! Not scary! Or elitist!”). And he finally showed up for Jury Duty, which he's misseda few times, but made sure the press was there to cover the event.

My mom is a talk-radio fan so I caught a nice helping of the Senator while working on a project at the dining room table. I missed any comment on the Penn Hills matter, which may have been early in the program, so instead heard him fielding oozy compliments from the co-anchors, softballs with the turnpike workers going on strike, and a not-scary but misleading bit on stem cells. Of the Senator’s comments, he seemed to justify his positions by popular vote – no candidate who supports Social Security privatization has failed to win re-election, so that must be good. A southern candidate who proposed an income tax was shot down, so income tax must be bad. Its an interesting line of argument, particularly since in Washington State, pols who deceive their constituents tend to get the boot.

More later,

Sunday, November 28, 2004

You are Number 6

Take a number, any number.

You Are the Peacemaker
You are emotionally stable and willing to find common ground with others. Your friends and family often look to you to be the mediator when there is conflict. You are easy going and accepting. You take things as they come. Avoding conflict at all costs, you're content when things are calm.

More later,

Friday, November 26, 2004

Blast from the Past

Found this on the net a few days ago.

Just remember to laugh back.

More later,

Wednesday, November 24, 2004


Thanksgiving, and a good time to reflect on how things have been.

I remain employed, and after a dicey few weeks it looks like my company will return to its normal over-loaded schedule, as work that the Big Client was unsure it wanted suddenly becomes wanted again, and wanted at the original deadlines. In addition, my casting about for other work has resulted in a small bit of game development for WotC and a literary project for Christmas next year. So it's going to be a very busy December for me after all (I’m noting this in advance for everyone I may stiff on Christmas Cards).

Other than that, things are pretty solid. Friends are busy with life. Kate is busy with tax preparation preparation. The sole person I know still in the Gulf is short and will be hopefully rotated back in a couple months. An old friend who has been struggling has picked up a management position with H&R Block for the spring. My own writing is getting off the ground again. My knees and back are better, thanks to Tai Chi and exercise, though I still could stand to lose a couple handfuls of poundage.

So, Healthy? Yeah.

Wealthy? Enough.

Wise? No more or less than is usual.

So it’s a good Thanksgiving. More later,

Monday, November 22, 2004

School for Scandal

This one is political but not local, at least not local for most of the readers of this blog.

When I was a younger adult, Rick Santorum moved onto my parent’s street in Mount Lebanon, PA. Sometime later he ran against the incumbent U.S. Representative, pointing out that then-Rep Walgren did not even live in a house in the district he represented (he had one, but he parents lived in it). Much was made of this during the campaign, and Santorum won the seat.

Those of you who have read my comments about local carpet-baggers know what happens next – Santorum moved OFF my parent’s street, moved to Washington, and pretty much ignored the hypocrisy as he moved his career forward.

Now time wounds all heels, and this popped up a few days ago on the several media radars. The Virginia-based, now-Senator Santorum DOES own a house in Penn Hills, though he doesn’t live there. But he does claim it as his primary residence for the purposes of educating his kids. His kids attend an on-line charter cyber-school, but since he has a primary residence in Penn Hills, the Penn Hills school district is responsible for covering the bills, to the tune about 40 grand a year, or about 100 grand to date – both numbers are accurate. Either way, the house has proved to be a nice investment, even if the Senator does not live there (It is currently occupied by a niece and nephew, according to one report).

So this ties up a couple themes here in one nice little package – carpet bagging, leaving the constituents in the lurch, and the messy nature of charter schools. The cyber-school has offered to cover the Senator’s kids, but that would probably then create another ethics problem, and Santorum has pulled his kids out of cyber school and returned them to home schooling.

It is as yet unknown if ethics is on the curriculum.

More later,

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Play: American Game

Take Me Out by Richard Greenberg, directed by Joe Mantello, Seattle REP theatre, though December 4.

I really enjoyed this play, though I thought it a playwriting challenge. It's an all-male cast, so the script has to accurately handle how men communicate (which is to say, badly). It's a sports play, so it has to take a baseball diamond shrink it down to the stage while capturing the magic of the park. And it deals with gay and racial themes, which creates a whole new set of challenges of making the characters human and not going all preachy.

And it pulls it all off, by creating spot-on characters who are not stereotypes. Darren Lemming (M. D. Walton) is a young, multiracial, priviledged, incredibly talented superstar player for the fictionous Empires team. He's also a bit of a jerk, but more from the standpoint of cluelessness than anything else. He also reveals after the All-Star Break that he's gay. Not that he's seeing anyone. Not that he's about to be outed. Not that he's embracing the gay subculture. Not that he's doing it for any real reason that anyone can initially figure out. But he's gay.

This revelation creates ripples in the clubhouse, the events narrated by shortstop and team philosopher Kippy Sunderstrom (Doug Wert). It's a good peeling back of the social interactions that go into the team, or any organization. The team seems to weather the news well enough, but the pitching staff goes into a slump, necessitating the Empires to call up the brilliant reliever, redneck Shane Mungitt (Harlan George) from Triple-A ball. The nearly-monosylabic Shane speaks his mind about his fellow team-mates to the press, sparing no euphemisms, and things go downhill from there, with attempts to repair the breach making things worse.

Its a comedy with a tragedy at its center, but it works well, and it does so by bringing out all the characters in the cast. No one character is portrayed as ultimately noble or completely unredeemable, and victor and victim tends to turn upon who is talking. In addition to great job done by the three main actors of the ensemble with their parts, Robert Wu as Japanese pitcher Takeshi Kawabata and T. Scott Cunningham as Lemming's newborn-fan accountant Mason Marzac soar with their roles, but every actor digs into meaty parts on a great play.

One of the great things that the playwrite did well was handling clubhouse philosopher Kippy Sunderstrom, the smartest guy in the room. I had him pegged as the author stand-in, the guy so smart that he will come up with the answers to resolve the play. I hate that guy, and I've seen him in a lot of plays. Kippy is the smartest guy in the room, and the supposed answer man, but his own answers are what drive the plot to its ultimate tragedy and reveals that the smartest guy in the room has his own problems and shortcomings. Nicely, nicely done.

One big word of warning - if bare female shoulderblades on Monday Night Football give you moral reservations, stay away from this play. All-male cast. Baseball players. Shower scenes. You do the math.

More later,

Friday, November 19, 2004

Dinosaur Birds Update

Back in the March 13 entry to this journal, I mentioned the fact that Renton (Motto: "We're that cluster of old buildings you pass to get to the IKEA") had the largest heronry (nesting site for great blue herons), in King County. And I mentioned that developers wanted to put up a housing development real close to it, which might have a detrimental effect on said herons.

So the city of Renton (Motto: "You know Fry's Electronics? We're near that") scheduled a hearing on the matter, and, after shifting the date three or seven times, finally met, and the hearing examiner, after hearing both sides, recommended to the city that they at least procure an Environmental Impact Statement before proceeding and breaking ground.

City Council of Renton (Motto: "You pass through us on the way to the real shopping center in Tukwilla") then held a meeting on 8 November (Here's the link for the minutes in pdf format). At this meeting they chose to overrule their own hearing examiner's ruling and press on. Further, they ammended the examiner's findings to cast doubt on the conservationists' case. The logic they put forward is that the burden of proof lay with the heron-supporters, and after the council modified the findings and ignored the recommendations, insufficient proof existed to stand in the way of development.

Yeah, it makes my head hurt, too. It was a 4-3 vote, and the minority entered their own dissenting opinion into the record, (Why have a hearing if you're going to ignore your own examiner? Why is the burden of proof on the conservationists instead of the developers?) During the comments section, the overwhelming number of audience members, politely as possible, told the city council they were crazy.

Of course, nothing is ever in stone, so now this will likely move to the courts, but I think the City Council has really dropped the ball on this. I mean, here's a reason for people to come to Renton in the first place, and they want to mess with it? Instead of pretending they're not going to chase the birds off, they should inaugerate "Heron Days" in March to draw people into the downtown area and run shuttles out to the nesting site. Heron Parade! Heron Pagent! Special Heron Discounts! This sounds pretty wild, but I've been up in Skaggit Valley, in little towns like Concrete, where the highways are clogged with people pulled over just to watch an lone eagle sitting in a tree across the river. And we just caught a similar break.

And the biggest predator of great blue herons? Bald eagles. More herons = more eagles. Take THAT, Skaggit Valley!

And if the herons move on, you know, then you can still build. Its not like the land is going anywhere. Though looking at that bluff they want to build on, I can't be 100% sure on that, either

More later,

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

States of Mind: Superior
and the Toledo War

Once you start prying under the history’s floorboards, all sorts of things start popping out. In researching the State of Jefferson, I found a bundle of other proto-states and sharded states, independence movements and stillborn political entities. These are not secessions in the traditional sense of forming new countries, but rather regional entities that want to pull away from its current government and then rejoin the union, usually pulling an end run on distant and unresponsive state governments.

These proto-states are tricky, glimmering creatures, existing as footnotes to American History, alternate lines of descent along the evolutionary tree of politics. I found a reference to a state of Shasta movement in the fifties in the same general region as the state of Jefferson (the motivating issue for the fifties rebellion was water rights, not transportation, but the online record is unclear), as well as a proposed state of Jefferson in East Texas, free of interference from Austin. Not to mention Kanawha, Sequoia, Greater Kansas, and Franklin.

And then there was the State of Superior, currently known as the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Its statehood movement peaked in the mid ‘70s, with a couple bills that failed to pass, a book (Superior: A State for the North Country), a passel of bumper-stickers, and a proposed state slogan (“Ta heck with ya”). But in digging around on Superior, I found out that it was a part of Michigan in the first place because of a war between the states.

No, I mean the war between the states of Michigan and Ohio, in 1835.

An entire timeline is here, but here’s the short version. When the state of Ohio was founded, there was a question about its northwest boundary, near the current site of Toledo. The original Northwest Ordinance (which created the Northwest Territories in 1787) put Toledo and a wedge of land about eight miles wide outside and north of Ohio, but the Enabling Act of 1802 that created Ohio changed that language to allow Ohio’s claim to the land. The Michigan Territory, seeking its own statehood 30 years later, went back to the original claim and said that chunk of land (which had gone from swampy area to a growth area thanks to the proposed Wabash and Erie Canal) was rightfully theirs. Numerous surveys were run over the years, each supporting opposite sides of the dispute.

Michigan Territory wanted statehood and also wanted the original border (which would give them Toledo). Ohio passed legislation declaring the Toledo Strip theirs. Michigan passed legislation making the enforcement of Ohio’s control illegal in the strip. Both sides held elections in the disputed territories. A sheriff’s posse from Michigan moved on Toledo and arrested people guilty of supporting Ohio. A force of Michigan militia encountered an armed Ohio surveying party and arrested them, but not before shots rang out (The Battle of Phillips Corner). Both sides piled on the political invective – Ohio was supporting “tyranny”, while Michigan encouraged “savage barbarity”.

There was a modicum of pushing, shoving, and maneuvering between both sides for the rest of the year (though no more clear-cut “battles”). Michigan declared itself a state and elected a governor, senators, and representatives. The US government declined to admit Michigan unless it resolved the border matter. And by “resolved” it meant give up its claim on the Toledo Strip.

In exchange for renouncing its claim, Michigan got the Upper Peninsula, which was pulled back from the newly-formed Wisconsin Territory. No wonder there was a feeling of alienation among the natives of the UP. Not only were they a consolation prize, they were the consolation prize for Toledo. The remoteness of their location (frozen-in during the winter months until the Mackinac Bridge was built in 1957), contributed to both a sense of isolation and independence. But by the time enough power coalesced for a true independence movement, technology had linked up the UP with the rest of the country to the point of reducing the need for it. But much like Jefferson, Superior continues to have its own independent mindset.

And the Toledo War becomes another ghostly footnote in US History – spun today as more of an intramural disagreement than a real conflagration, or as nothing more than a disagreement between strong-willed Governors. In fact the write-ups go out of their way to stress ultimate harmlessness of the conflict (shots were fired, not one was hurt, well, one deputy was stabbed, but he recovered). But troops were rallied, shots were fired, people threatened and imprisoned, and emotions ran high. Wars have been fought for less.

And once someone gets away with something, they’re just encouraged to do it again. I understand that Ohio has been eying the West Virginia panhandle, just waiting for the chance.

More later,

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Play: Cthulhu Puppet Show

Theater of Horrors based on the Fantastic Works of H. P. Lovecraft, Directed by Ron Sandahl, Oct 8-Nov 13, Open Circle Theater

This was Stan!'s idea - he mentioned that a small local theater group always performed a tryptic of horror plays based on the writings of pulp writer H. P. Lovecraft each Halloween. Schedules being what they were, we attained critical mass for about ten of us to attend on closing night of the performance. The Open Circle is a hole-in-wall theater located in the soon-to-be-developed South Union area, with a small performance space for about a hundred patrons. We were not the only ones to hear of this, since the joint was packed for the final performance, such that they had to pull out folding chairs to handle the house.

Lovecraft, with his eldritch horrors, strange geometries, and terrors of the mind and soul, creates a challenge to more visual media. The creeping horror brought to life in the imagination from the printed page does not compete well with the rubber-suited monster. The Open Circle embraces the limitation with the use of puppets (with black-hooded puppeteers), coaxing humor and horror out in the process. As my wife said on the way up, "How bad can it be? It's puppets."

Actually, it was pretty good. The first play, "Nyarlathotep", was little more than a vignette - two individuals confronting a conjurer who is truly the messenger of the Elder Gods - and was stitched together from a number of Lovecraftian sources (the original source material was a three-page fragment). The puppets show up in force in "The Doom that Came to Sarnath", a narrated performance with a hooded storyteller spinning the tale of an ancient genocide and the revenge that was worked a millenium later - a solid tale in the original, Lovecraft evoking Dunsany, with a nice stinger put into place in the adaption.

But it was the third play that held together the best, because it allowed the horror to build over time. "Dreams in the Witch House" was written in "doomed-protagonist" manner that Lovecraft did so well, but comes alive on the stage through the adaptions humor and humanity - things that Lovecraft did not do well. Nerdy mathematics student Walter Gilman (Ray Tagavilla) finds a hole in the walls of the universe, and discovers the dark minions beyond. Here the mixture of humans and puppet-monstrocities come together nicely, but more importantly, the adaptation creates viable characters and allows them to develop over time, allowing the horror to rach out to audience.

All in all, it was a lot of fun - one of the better Lovecraft adaptions. In addition to Tagavilla, the other performers/puppeteers (Aaron Allshouse, Andy Justus, and John McKenna) pulled off Lovecraft without overindulging in excessively in melodrama. Yes, its been a yearly thing in the past, and I'll keep my ears open come October next year to see if they're at it again. I hope so.

More later,

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Mr. Grubb Goes to Oly

The recent election cycle brought me to Olympia, in the shadow of the renovated capitol building, for a job interview.

No, really.

Here's what happened - After the election, I sent congratulatory messages to Pat Sullivan and Geoff Simpson, who took the two positions for state representative from the fighting 47th Distict. Geoff wrote back to say a) thanks for the congrats, b) that he was a reader of this journal, c) that he had read my entry about the work slowdown and my reduced hours, and d) that the House Democratic Caucus was hiring for the upcoming legislative session. He gave me a name to contact, a Melinda McCrady, the Communications Director. I made a call and we set a date for Friday (yesterday) for an interview.

So I ended up going down to Olympia in the afternoon, a town which reminds me a lot of Madison, Wisconsin (seat of government, lot of young people, used bookstores, really cruddy parking situation). Ms. McCrady's office is a stone's throw away from the domed legislative building, still under repair from the Nisqually Quake a few years back. After the quake, the legislators moved into the nearby offices, and the communications staffs moved into the basement. When I entered the building and asked for the Democratic Caucus, I was told "You're standing on their roof" by the security guys (the GOP Caucus was at the other end of the basement hall).

The digs definitely had a boiler-room decor to them - low ceilings, lots of "reformatted space", but had a friendly feel to them as well (plastic swords stashed by the door, political cartoons on the wall, old democratic memorabilia in the office). People lived, worked, and played here. It also had that "university between terms" vibe - a little empty, and those there present were dressed for comfort, not panel hearings (As usual, I overdressed for the interview - at least I passed on the tie this time). Ms. McCrady herself was preparing for an upcoming legislative retreat, but we spoke for about a half-hour, and I was impressed with her openness, knowledge, and dedication. I found out a lot about the process of what they did and what they were looking for, and showed off some of my own work (a couple books, and a CD-Rom my team has been working on).

Upshot of it all - the job was not a good fit. I was looking for freelance to supplement my current situation, they were looking for someone to work on-site for the legislative session (Dec-April). But I was glad to have gone, both for the experience and as a reminder of how accessible our government truly is. As a writer, I am always telling people how thin the membrane is between fan and writer - we don't live in great towers on the hill. You want to write, you write - boom, you're in the Brotherhood. The same applies to our government. You want to be a part, you be a part. And that thought made me smile all the way back home.

More later,

Friday, November 12, 2004

City Of Lawyers

What the heck?

Here's the short form: Marvel Comics Group is suing NCSoft and Cryptic Studios over their massively multiplayer online RPG, City of Heroes. The reason for the suit is that their hero-building part of the game, where you make your characters, allow you to make Hulks. And by Hulks they mean Hulk-like avatars - big muscular green guys in purple shorts. You can even name your hero Hulk, and while they discourage that (as in - would violate the terms of service and justify your removal from the game), they can't keep you from naming your character Hunk, Bulk, Sulk, or Holk.

But because you can make a big green bruiser with purple shorts named Holk, Marvel is unleashing the lawyers, because NCSoft/Cryptic is enabling the players to engage in a trademarkably risky venture. They may go after Crayola next, because it sells both green and purple crayons in the same box. I don't think they're afraid of The Inedible Bulk bouncing through Paragon City as they are about what, if this is allowed to pass, could happen next. You know the idea of the Matrix, where we're all really plugged into a massive machine with a virtual reality? Lawyers sold that idea in, since it would reduce liability for their robotic masters.

Now the interesting things is that while you can build Holks, or Magnuttos or Wolvereens, in-game, those who do so are looked-down-up as being unimaginative (or to use the lingo of these kids today, being a Lam3er). Pretty much the same way that a comic character from one universe is viewed as being a weak ripoff of another (say, Marvel's Moon Knight as a cut-rate Batman). So there is a social balancing in the world that keeps the play environment from being overrun by Hulk clones.

Me, I think they're just irritated that the Paragon City Sulks are better-animated than the Hulk movie was.

More later,

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

News and Information

Moving from the national to the local:

National - Ashcroft resigns as AG. The Department of People Who Are Never Happy suddenly becomes concerned that he will be replaced with someone that is both Evil and Competent. Alberto Gonzales, a former counsel for Enron, is nominated as his replacement. The Department of People Who Are Never Happy are still not happy. There is no pleasing some people.

Actually, I like Ashcroft's declaration in his letter "The objective of securing the safety of Americans from crime and terror has been achieved." This is Nixon-in-Viet-Nam strategy - declare victory, then leave. And I for one am all in favor of this approach, provided that they then remember to leave. "Mission Accomplished! Beer me!"

State - While the gubernatorial election is still too close to call ("It's Gregoire! It's Rossi, It's Gregroire again!), candidate Rossi has publicly announced his transition team. You know, forming a transition team even though the election is still up in the air is not a bad idea at all. Making a public press release for it is more than just a little presumptive.

Local - We're going to get a new neighbor down in Renton - the Federal Reserve. According to the Seattle Times and the P-I, the Seattle branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco is moving its offices from downtown to the Renton, at the site of the old Longacres racetrack. They chose the location for a better security perimeter, and will construct a new building. The location is a long block away from my current building.

Now, on one hand, I can point out a lot of empty buildings that near ours that might be suitable, saving construction costs. On the other hand, as a result of the new building, the city is talking about making another connecting road over railroad tracks that divide the Renton/Kent valley lengthwise. That rail line currently channels east-west traffic into a handful of conjested roads, so another road is a good idea. But if you make a connecting road, you're going to increase traffic in that area, which may not be best for security.

On the flipside of the proposed move, the departure of the Fed from downtown makes its old building a possible location for a monorail station. But the guy who was pouring money into the astroturf campaign to cripple the monorail (which got pounded as an initiative) wants to buy the building himself. Even though the lack of a potential station was one of the reasons that he opposed the monorail. Which just makes my head hurt.

So Local You Could Plotz - They put in a new telephone pole in on our property. Two days ago. And I just noticed it this evening. I mean, it doesn't leap out at you, but I've been blowing leaves in that lawn around it, and it didn't register until tonight. The Department of People Who Are Never Happy are . . . verklempt about this. Went in with a minimum amount of fuss and disruption, and raises up a low-hanging line. Nice.

More later,

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Comics: Good Grief

The Complete Peanuts Volumes 1 (1950-1952) and 2 (1953-1954), Charles Shulz. Fantagraphics Books.

Charles Shulz provided me with a lot of words in my childhood: Good Grief. Kite-Eating Tree. Security Blanket. Supper Dish. Beethoven. World War One Flying Ace. Psychiatry 5 Cents. Naturally Curly Hair. Great Pumpkin. Fussbudget. Joe Cool. Woodstock. Stupid Cat Next Door. Sidney or the Bush. Can't Stand Coconut. Goat. Blockhead. Crabby. Slugs. Little Red-Haired Girl. Sweet Baboo. Gully Cats. Daisy Hill Puppy Farm. Happy Dance. Blech.

Happiness is a Warm Puppy. Good Ol' Charlie Brown.

Peanuts started seven years before I was born, but when I was growing up, we had the square-bound books of the collected strips in the house (Peanuts, More Peanuts, Good Grief More Peanuts) and read them and re-read them to tatters. And the first Christmas and Halloween specials were just rolling out, establishing the strip as the hot replacement for L'il Abner in the American comic lexicon. We took a lot of our cues from the gang - frustrated loser Charlie Brown, bossy Lucy, intellectual Linus, creative Schroeder, and in particular Snoopy as the dog with an extensive fantasy life. So when the first volume of the complete collected strips came out, I picked it up, and then waited so long to write about it that the second volume came out.

The collected sets overwhelm me with both a sense of nostalgia and a sense of admiration. In these early volumes, we see the stuff that is to come, the pieces falling into place, both in pictures and in words. The early graphic world of Peanuts is much more three-dimensional than the later years - things live in the foreground and background, and characters do bits of business that have little to do with the task of propelling the last-panel gag. The gags themselves are more "smilers" than "laughers" - bits of observational humor and personal interaction that underscore the idea of kids as their own proto-adult world.

But the pieces are falling into place. Early Charlie Brown is more mischevious. Lucy is more childlike and needy than bossy, she and Schroeder being the youngest of the group at the start. Piano prodigy Schroeder is more of the group's intellectual, since Linus, arriving on the scene later, is still pre-verbal in his early appearances. Snoopy is more like a dog than a raw expression of fantasy. Shultz is trying things here, and blessed with hindsight, we can see the bits of the universe coming together.

Not everything works, and the strip's history records that as well. Snoopy has a voice balloon in a couple strips, but has yet to embrace his thoughts on-page. Unseen adults have lines from off-panel, which changes the dynamic from kid-kid relationships to child-adult ones, and that goes away over time as well. A multi-Sunday strip epic shows up, continuing from week to week (young Lucy goes golfing) an experiment that is not repeated, as similarly unrepeated was an attempt to name the Sunday strips.

The core at the start is Charlie Brown, Sherman, Violet, Patty, and Schroeder, with Lucy showing up soon afterwards as a near-toddler. Linus arrives as a target for Lucy's growing selfishness, and Pig-Pen shows up early as well to great success. But in the closing pages of Volume 2, we meet Charlene Braun, the forgotten member of the Peanuts gang, one I never knew existed, because her strips never showed up in earlier collections. A loud young girl with curly hair and a similar name to Charlie Brown, Charlene never got the traction she needed - her loud voice was sucked up by Lucy, and her curls regenerating in with the similarly ineffective later character Freida.

These volumes are great presentations, lovingly assembled, the first with an intro by Garrison Keillor, the second volume by Walkter Cronkite. The first volume reprints a Fantagraphic interview with Charles Shulz that shows the man as an honest, open, caring man - Charlie Brown grown up. I found myself awash in memories and smiles as I reconnected with the gang.

More later,

Monday, November 08, 2004

Wisdom Gained from Married Life

Any conversation with your spouse that begins "You missed your turn, there" is probably not going to end well.

No, really.

States of Mind: Jefferson

So on the way down to Corning a few weeks back, Kate and I passed an open-sided hay barn on the east side of I-5. The roof was covered with a banner with the words “State of Jefferson” on it (and it being the 21st century, a web site address. Being the curious person I am, I searched it and came into contact with the colorful, if brief, history of the State of Jefferson.

Here’s the short form: during the Depression, the natives of the rural counties of Southern Oregon and Northern California were irritated about not getting their due of state support, in particular in regards to transportation. In November of 1941, they announced their own secession movement, planning to leave their original states and form their own 49th state. Originally the proposed name of this new state would be Mittelwestcoastia, but wiser heads (and a newspaper contest) selected Jefferson instead. Declaring that it would secede “This Thursday and every Thursday until recognized”, gun-toting proponents set up barricades on the main highway, (then I-99), stopped motorists, and handed out their proclamation of independence and windshield stickers advertising Jefferson. Their currency was going to be the wooden nickel, and the state flag a gold pan with two “x”s on it, showing the double-cross they were getting from the state governments in Salem and Sacramento.

Their grievances were solid, though you get the feeling that tongues were deeply lodged in cheeks. In taking the course they did, the locals brought a lot of attention to the area (newsreel crews from Hollywood, and a reporter from San Francisco, Stanton Delaplane, who would win a Pulitzer for his coverage). On December 4, local judge John L. Childs was elected governor and inaugurated after a torchlight parade in Yreka. Looking back after 60 years, you get the feeling that the rebellion was equal parts civic boosterism and civil disobedience.

Of course, three days later, Pearl Harbor. The would-be secessionists put away their banners, the governor stepped down and called for national unity and the counties joined the country at war.

The Jefferson “State of Mind” has persisted, in ways that the original founders would probably be amused by. A chain of NPR stations. A “chamber of commerce” doing road clean-ups. A jazz band. One of the founders of the current movement builds solar-powered homes. This is the legacy of the rebellion, just as quirky as the original secession.

But there is another legacy, one not covered in the website, but rather marked at the Klamath roadside oasis just south of the CA/OR border. The oasis is rather luxurious, and named after California State Senator Randolph E. Collier, the “Silver Fox”, who served in the state house 1938-76. A quoted supporter of the secession movement, Collier ended up on the State Transportation Committee, and used his influence not only to get Northern California its major roads, but oversaw the entire California Interstate system, model for the national system. The three-day independence movement in Northern California (as well as its mineral wealth) probably had something to do with freeing up southern dollars for northern transportation issues.

More later,

Saturday, November 06, 2004

A Legend In My Own Lunchtime

So, with everything else happening this week, I DID come across three things that were amusing.

First off, Dungeon Magazine published a list of the best D&D Adventure Modules of all time, and one I worked on, Queen of the Spiders, took the first place. This tickles my fancy both because I haven't done a LOT of D&D adventures over the years (like, less than 10), and because this one was a filling-out of really classic D&D stuff from the dawn of time by Gary Gygax and Dave Sutherland. It fell to me to update it and provide some connective tissue, for the first time really putting it in the World of Greyhawk. Its very much a "seeing further by standing on the shoulders of giants" kinda thing, but I was surprised it (and not the original modules themselves) took first place.


Oh, yeah, the mega-babe cover by Keith Parkinson did a lot for its popularity, I have no doubt.

Secondly, 30 years of Adventure: A Celebration of Dungeons & Dragons, finally made it out to the stores, and looks pretty nice. Of course I made an ego scan through it and found myself well-represented, in particular in the Forgotten Realm section. I enjoy the line describing me as "the twin father to this 800-pound baby" (which, I suppose, is much better than being the 800-pound father to twin babies).

And finally, I found out that one of my former co-workers, bride to Mystical Forest, went to the Halloween Party as . . . me. Its an easy costume - the loudest hawaiian shirt you can find and a name tag. I told her that for bonus points she should have gone around grousing about the perils of freelancing. If I find a photo I'll post it.

It's kinda nice being a medium-sized fish in a relatively medium-sized pond.

More later,

Friday, November 05, 2004

Electoral Storm: The Mourning After

To say it has been a weird week is an understatement. Over the course of twelve hours, late Tuesday to early Wednesday, I found myself transformed from the voice of needless concern to a voice of cautious hope. I went, without changing an atom of my being, from being Doubting Thomas to Peter the Rock, from worrier to stalwart. I don't think I changed, just the rest of the world.

I work in a pretty young, liberal office – not quite a wild and wooly as when I joined, but what we do (creative stuff) nurtures a tolerant, smart, open-minded, progressive mindset. So as the tracking polls started ticking upwards, as the moons came into alignment, as the tea leaves danced around the bottom of the cup, as even Fox news pushed the challenger ahead, spirits rose. We could see this insufficient president turned out.

I heard about the “Redskins lose their last home game before the election – the incumbent is toast!” about five times. I pointed out that no team in baseball has ever come back from a three game disadvantage to win a national championship. Until this year. My point (Causality does not equal corelation) was waved off.

And then the national results rolled in. A defeat, a near one, but a clear defeat nonetheless. And with it a scary sense of otherness in my friends – how could so many people disagree? How could so many people endorse the status quo? Wednesday was like a lid had been dropped on the place – a stunned silence. I think part of it was because hopes were high, the results were particularly crushing. A lot of people took electoral rejection as personal rejection.

And so I went to triage, talking to folks, sharing experiences. I benefit from the fact that I’ve been here before, only worse in both raw percentages and electoral votes – Mondale, Dukakis. I benefit from having conservative friends, in that I remember what they went through when we returned That Man (as one called him) to the White House in ’96. I benefit from a political life well-lived, and pointed out when I was 15, I was really, really smug that “my man” Dick Nixon had routed those anti-American McGovernites almost across the country (and look where that got me).

The net was as bad if not worse – one friend swearing off politics, another swearing that he would become more involved. Long silences from some, loud screeds from others. Threats, curses, primal screams, dark allegations. And I can only advise patience. Politics is a process, not an end result.

To those that supported the losing side, I can only say – “I wasn’t wrong, I was outvoted.”
To those that supported the winning side, I can only say – “May wisdom guide our leaders.”

One last piece – I really hate the Electoral map, which reinforces the idea of the two physical Americas – If blue got 51% of a state, it is blue, and all the red voters suddenly don’t count, and vice versa. This one popped up and I’d like to share it:

Purple America

I like to think of my glass as 48% full, thank you.

More later,

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Electoral Storm - The Morning After

Well, I was right about it being huge. Even though we're nationally yet again dealing with a situation where a single state with hinky election processes is making the final decision, it has been a tremendous turnout. All the cool kids voted. If you didn't vote, you still have the right to complain, but I will mock you.

President: Still hanging fire in Ohio, but there's a couple big differences between this year and four years back. Now the OTHER guy has the popular vote, and a third party candidate is not a factor. I'm willing to be patient and get this right, and then live with the results. And while I am disappointed about the prospect of another four years, I will note that most of the places I deal with and care about (California, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New York, Rhode Island, and of course Washington State) all went blue. Good or ill, we get the government we deserve. That's why its a democracy - putting our faith in the people that made Survivor a #1 show. Thanks to everyone that voted!

Governor: Moving more local, this is the incredibly tight race that I'm paying attention to. It definitely will bode a recount regardless of who comes up with the prize (why yes, we have paper ballots). Gregoire was surprisingly soft against Rossi in a state where so much went Democrat. More on this as it resolves.

Minor State Offices:A good year to be an incumbent. All the usual suspects are coming back, though Sam Reed saw a greater challenge than I expected for Secretary of State, and Cooper made an excellent run at taking over for Sutherland at Public Lands. The big dif is that we're looking at a Republican in Attorney General - McKenna over Senn. Now this one is a disappointment but not unforseen, as Senn took a lot of hits in both the Primary and the General, and the local media, still mooning over Mark Sidhran, were not horribly supportive.

Senator: The other big immediately-called race was incumbent Murray over dumbass Nethercutt. No surprise - she thrashed him (Note in terms - +10&% is a thrash, +20% is a trounce, +30% is a pummelling, and +40% is the regular victory margin for Jim McDermott). While I regret the loss of comedic material in Nethercutt's departure, I'm pretty pleased with seeing a competant person at the helm in these perilous times. Now let's talk port security.

US Rep, 8th District: I called this at the start - if Reichert was the GOP Nominee, he'd take the general, and while the election has not been called, he's still ahead. Good hair, strong law-and-order rep, recognized name, sleaziest local campaign I've seen in a long time. Gets two years to prove that he's not just a lock-step Republican.

State Legislature, 47th District: Geoff Simpson is cruising to re-election at position one, and at position two - challenger Pat Sullivan? By the same margins? Huh? Yep, this is the upset that I really didn't expect, and I don't have a clue about why, other than Pat ran a strong and clean campaign by the old-school rules of politics. I'm delighted by this turn of events.

Statewide Initiatives: Mixed bag. Here's the good news - No to Slot Machines, Yes to Hanford cleanup, No to Charter Schools. The less-good news - Yes to the Top-two primary (It was nice knowing you, Libertarians, give my regards to the Green party when you see them in political oblivion). No to Education Fund.

Local Initiatives: Yes to less representation on King County Council, near-even split on whether we should commit political suicide now or next year. Yes to the Transit plan and the prefered method of payment being a excise tax on new vehicles. Big news - the well-funded astroturf campaign to kill the Monorail went down in flames (that would be a "trounce"). Its not over - Pittsburgh's Skybus died of litigation, not legislation, but here's a case of definite voice of the people: Build that sucker.

Judges: Highly promoted and well-funded Jim Johnson and controversial and well-known Richard Saunders both go to the high bench - wackiness will undoubtedly ensue. Darvis and Washington in the races at the lower levels.

And that's about it. If you're looking for people whinging and moaning and tearing at their garments, there are a lot of them out there in the blogosphere today. And while I regret sucking SO much space out of this blog (when I could be, yaknow, griping about how sucky TV Guide has gotten) on politics, I'm glad I did it. And as things move forward (the political parties have already said they would challenge the top-two primary system in court), I'll keep yah posted. For now, we go on with life.

More later,

Tuesday, November 02, 2004


This is going to be huge.

Normally I vote before I come to work. I leave the house around eight, drive down to Meeker Elementary, and vote. The polls have been open for about an hour by the time I get down there, and I’m usually the first voter in microscopic Rush District (we tell people we’re named after the rock band). I make small talk with the elderly gentleman who is the election monitor, and I vote. Kate votes in the afternoon – she’s usually number seven.

So this morning I go down. Nothing is really out of the ordinary except for a security guard keeping the kids clear of the doors to polling area. I sign my name, and – I’m number 20. Its eight AM for our tiny district, and I’m number 20. And as I sign in, two more people line up behind me. I’m a line!

So I voted – twenty-three small spaces to fill in. You know who I voted for – I did the endorsement thing. But I also voted for my college friend Keith, who just got back from Baghdad. And I voted for Doug’s daughter, who is still in Kuwait. And I voted for Tony, who may be shipped out any time.

I voted for my friends struggling to find work. I voted for friends with kids. I voted for one of my poker buddies and her wife. I voted for my D&D group on Thursday night. I voted for for my co-workers who are worried about their jobs.

I voted for a competant Republican for my conservative brother. I voted for a Governor strong in women’s issues for my super-mom sister. I voted for my father who is still waiting to get a flu shot. I voted for my mother who worries about her grandkids. I voted for my neices and nephews, my in-laws, relatives that would disagree with me and people that I have never met. I voted for the future.

All on one ballot. And when I left finished it, the line was longer in front of the Rush district table.

This is going to be huge.

You vote?

More later,

Monday, November 01, 2004

The Republican Message

Jeff's Note: So I've been bagging on the GOP of late, so in the interest of fair and balanced reporting, I now provide time for the Republicans. Ladies and Gents - the Republican Message:

Don’t Vote.

Voting is messy and needless. It’s a drain on your time. You could be doing something more important, anything more important, than schlepping to the polls. You don’t even know where they are, do you? It’s been four years, maybe longer, since you’ve voted last.

Voting is unnecessary. They’re all crooks, anyway. It really doesn’t matter who is in charge. The office doesn’t have any real power. They’re all owned by bigger fish than you. Who really cares what you think?

Voting is embarrassing. You might vote for the loser, and spend the next four years having to live with the shame of voting wrong. Worse yet, you might vote for the winner, and have to spend the next four years apologizing, as he proves to be such a disappointment. No, let’s just save the embarrassment.

Voting requires too much effort. If you’re going to do it, you have to do it right. And who has time to do it right? You’ve been pelted with messages from all sides. Most of them are untrue. We know ours were. So why not take a rest? It will be all over soon. It’s all for the best.

Voting is an American Right, but we’ll forgive you if you don’t use it. We won’t make you feel bad if you leave it for wiser heads to choose your future. We’d actually prefer it that way. You can’t be a Silent Majority if you keep insisting on speaking up. We’ll tell you when you can talk. When we want your opinion, we’ll send out a press release.

Voting is an impediment to a smooth ruling government. Changing leaders is difficult. There’s a lot of paperwork. We know what’s best for you. Honest.

Trust us.
Jeff again - Now go vote.

It's Been A While, But . . .

One of those "What X are You?" quizzes. . .

You're Nova Scotia. People have spread rumours
about you and you have suffered from
stereotyping. Few people take the time out to
get to know the real you. You hate labels. You
are patriotic and loyal.

What Canadian Province Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

Man, I was hoping for British Columbia :(

More later,