Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Home is the Hunter . . .

To discover, that while he was away, all of November was taken from him.

Back in town from Duesseldorf. From Pittsburgh. From New Jersey. Long travels now come to rest. Digging through the mail, the emails, and trying to figure out why the upstairs water heater conked out in our absense. Yes, I have more to winge and moan about, but that will be for later.

More later,

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Light Blogging

Still mostly offline, still trying to figure out how to re-attach my laptop to the Internets, still in contact with the outside world based on the kindness of other people's systems, still in New Jersey. Will rectify all of this one way or the other very, very soon.

However, I caught the local news on Black Friday (only our business community aided by a compliant press. could try to spin that name into a positive thing). In the local paper, the "Big Sales Launch Great Christmas Season" story was on page 1, while the "Local shoppers riot, cops called out, people hospitalized" story got bumped to page 3.

More later (quit pushing),

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving

From Grubb Street. I have been kept offline by travel and a not-always-reliable Internet connection (Oh, and the smoke alarm going off from the turkey). When I get back online for any appreciable time, I'll update with a bunch of stuff.

More later (no, really)

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Back in the USA

So I got back Sunday afternoon, slept for 18 hours, caught the Lovely Bride's cold, and am dragging myself around the house like some tomb-lost lich, bemoaning my fate and trying to keep up with various promises.

More later, when I recover. Promise.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

The Old Job and the New

So, Duesseldorf.

A week ago Friday I left my job at Pokemon USA. Two days later I got on a plane for Germany.

No, nothing was wrong with Pokemon, USA. I was pleased with the work I had done, some of which has shown up, some of which has yet to appear. I liked the challenges, the people and the view, though I detested the commute with an ever-increasing passion (which is odd because it is the same commute I had with Wizkids). And my corporate masters seemed pleased with what I doing. But no one had had "the talk" with me about keeping me on once the contract elapsed, so I kept my ears open to other opportunities.

Enter Blue Byte Software, a subsidiary of Ubisoft. They were looking for a story writer for a new title and had gotten my name from someone in the Seattle/Vancouver area and would I be interested? Several emails and story pitches later, they offered me a contract position, initially for a few months but, like Pokemon USA, with the potential of turning into something much more long-term. I thought about it, and the new job would be a great opportunity to build a computer game's story from the ground up. I said yes.

Good, said they, can you come to Germany? Say, early November?

And that, children, is what I am doing in Duesseldorf right now. I've spent a very productive week working with the core team (Benedikt, Andreas, Alex, and Arne (hi guys!)), understanding both their process and their goals with the new game. Things have gone remarkably well - they are a talented bunch, both receptive to new ideas and forgiving when they have to explain that they had already thought of my latest brainstorm and had to discard it for some reason I had not realized. It has been a bit of a whirlwind, and I am surprised that I have fit in as smoothly as I have.

Of course, I can't tell you what I'm doing until the project is much, much further along, but when I can say, I shall. But I'm real excited about what I'm doing, and eventually you will be too. Trust me on this one.

More later,

Friday, November 11, 2005

The Battle for ANWR

So, you going to talk about Dusseldorf?

You mean Duesseldorf? Yes, but not yet. Instead I want to talk about good news that happened because of a Republican's principled stand.

You're kidding.

Not even for a moment. Most of the time I hear the plaintive wail "I would support the GOP if only they had sane candidates." But here's a case where a Republican did the right thing and has as a result significantly increased his chances of re-election.

Here's the deal. For years now, Big Oil and their sock puppets in national government have been agitating to get into the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve. Having gutted most of the North Slope for crude, the now-rich remains of this easily-reached oilfield is just there for the taking, if only for the fact that, you know, those pesky animals live there. So there have been regular, increasing attempts to give the go-ahead to bore drillheads into this fragile pristine landscape. Most of the bills to allow it have been defeated by ever-smaller numbers. Eventually, the thinking went, they would succeed.

So most recently they put the permission to drill in a big budget bill. The only way you can vote against it is to vote against the budget. The GOP controls both sides of the Congress, so that was not expected to be a prob. Even if the Dems vote against it, it would go through, if the Reps showed their acclaimed party loyalty.

They did in the Senate and the bill sailed through. Not so in the House, where a group of 22 moderate Republicans dug in their heels and pointed out you once you start the omlet, you can't uncrack the eggs. They were going to vote against the budget if the odious rider was attached.

Now normally this would have resulted in some arm-twisting and deal-making, but in the case the GOP managers blinked, and dropped the rider.

And what makes this interesting is that amoung those 22 rebel moderates was my district's Rep, Dave Reichert. Being a first-termer usually means you lay low and toe the party line on votes, but Reichert has proved to be independent on issues that he has been knowledgeable on. This in the past has included police and national security (he's the former King County Sherrif). Now he's willing to buck his party's conventional wisdom on environment as well, reminding his brethren that he represents his constituents, not the party brass.

When a politician does the right and the principled thing, he deserves to be rewarded. Good move, Mr. Reichert. I speak for the people of the 8th when I say I'd like to see more of it.

More later,

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Electoral Post Mortem

The results are in. The Monkey King and Jason have both done post-election reports. Here's mine (for those living out of state who have had to listen to my observations) and a few notes.

I mentioned the initiatives earlier in the journal, and the results were in general pretty good. I-900, which supported performance audits, passed, as did I-901, the more stringent smoking ban. I supported the first, did not support the second. I've spent the past four days in Duesseldorf, Germany, which has a good population of smokers, but really have little to complain about. The evil twin medical initiatives, I-360 and I-363, both went down to defeat, though the anti-lawyer one lost by less than the anti-insurance company one. Despite the defeats, I think the amount of heat and invective poured into the campaigns should be a sign for our legislature to address the issues raised.

Excuse me?


You just said you were in Dusseldorf?

I've seen it spelled Dusseldorf and Duesseldorf, but yes, I've been here for the past four days or so. I am currently writing at 6 AM local time (jet lag is a pain) at the window of my hotel on Kurfurstenstrasse, since that gives me the best reception for the hotel's wireless hub. Moving on, I-912 . . .

No, no, no. WHY are you in Dusseldorf?

I'm talking to a software company. When things finally gel (and the contract is in the last throes of rebellion now), I'll pass things along. May I continue?

Oh . . . OK

I-912, the anti-gas tax initiative went down to a glorious and explosive defeat. For all of the call-in show bloviation and stories of taxpayer rebellion, the bulk of the populace got the message that people wanted safer roads and were willing to kick in for them. The final outcome of the initiative did two things - it showed a unity among a hugely diverse group of interests from enviros to corporations, from fiscal conservatives to social liberals. It also showed that a lot of drumbeating from the radio waves on behalf of this initiative was an echo chamber, something that usually pops up on liberal blogs, where everyone quotes each other and creates the illusion of a popular will. And in this case, I-912 was more smoke than fire.

Similarly, Ron Sims reduced his GOP opponent to a fine, red electoral paste (13 points up on him, the last figures I had). Just three weeks back, there was a poll showing the two men in a tight race, but since then a lot of attention on the blogs and other media went into really looking at the challenger, and finding some problems.

This actually reflects a pet peeve on the national level for me - you see polls saying that the president would lose badly to "A democrat" if the election were held today,which ignores a)that election is not being held today, b) the president never has to worry about this situation ever again, and c) "A democrat" would not be running, but rather an individual. I think the earlier polls reflects a concern about Sims' activist policies (and he is all over the joint), but when "A republican" solidified into "Dave Irons", then people took a good, hard look and decided that Ron wasn't that bad at all.

OK, back to local. Most of the rest of the field was pretty expected. Susan Rahr took King County Sherrif handily. Greg Nichols, unapposed by an official GOP candidate, won Mayor, the independent running against him doing almost as well as Dave Irons did against Ron Sims. All the "incumbents" for King County Council were elected, including Reagan Dunn for the 9th and Julia Patterson for the 8th. The makeup of the KC Council is 5 Dems, 4 Republicans, with one of the Dems a wild-card (Ferguson of the 1st). The big-business candidates tended to edge out the blue-green labor/environmentalist candidates at the Port of Seattle (of which I probably should have said more at the time, but the Port Authority is this large, sprawling semi-elected operation that required a lot more time to investigate it - the Mgt. regrets not wading in deeper). A city initiative for a shorter Monorail line was voted down, leaving that project in limbo, and perhaps finally dead.

In general, this election has been a vote of confidence for the local incumbents. The voters turned out big for a politically gutsy move by the Governor and state Dems and GOP to help repair the roads. The more radical initiatives went down, though people want a bit more oversight. People are generally happy with where we are, but still have ideas as to where we are going.

It was a good day for Democracy.

More later,

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Public Service Message

Well, it is Election Day evening back in Seattle, and the early results are coming in. But before I dedicate an entry to the mourning after, I want to make a plea to the public at large.

The election is over. It is time to remove your bumper stickers.

I'm not talking about the stickers from today's election. I am talking about the stickers from LAST year's election.

It's time to go. I'm talking to you, the Saab-owner with the Kerry/Edwards bumper sticker - you're a mobile stereotype. The same goes for the owner of the pickup truck with the "W" sticker - yes, there's a ragged edge where you tried to pull it off with your fingernails, but now's the time to remove it entirely. Ditto for that Range Rover with Dino Rossi sticker and the suspcious key marks along the side panels. Give it up. And the hybrid with the "Kucinich for President" sticker? That's right up there with "Don't blame me, I voted for Kodos" in the irony department. We got the joke. Now move on.

It's time to give it all a rest. Deep breaths, folks, and just take them down. Now. From here on in, you can gripe about the results of THIS election.

More later,

Monday, November 07, 2005

Deja Vu (Local Politics Version)

Before I get into all this, I want to point out to fellow Seattle-natives that Shelly in Seattle has put her recommendations on Initiatives. She and I don't agree on everything, but I think she makes a lot of good points, and I recommend you tune her in.

Done? 'Cause let me sit down because I'm getting deja vu all over again with the upcoming election for King County Executive. It feels like it is the year 2000, compacted down to a county-sized bite.

Here's the sitch - we have a Democrat who has brought the county from a nasty economic time to its best rating ever, strong on environment and family, but is plagued by a scandal (in this case the voting huggamugga from the last Governor's election - a scandal that produced much more heat than light). On the Republican side, we have one of those guys who swear he's going run the government "like a business" but who owes his business experience to his family name and backing, and who jumped ship (as COO) from one company just before it augered in. Add to that some murky issues of personal integrity (which has resulted that not only his former co-workers but his own family coming out publicly against him), a now-hidden agenda or two (involving previous support for running a highway through Seattle's watershed, not talked about much now), and baleful cries that the Dems are saying horrible things about him (Like sending out mailers showing him holding a Bush/Cheney sign, knowing full well that our commander in chief's approval ratings are only slightly above freezing).

Does any of this sound familiar?

Oh yeah, add a third party candidate to the race who operates on the left but is positive that he will take as many votes from the GOP as the Dems. NOW does it sound like the US back in 2000? Does King County finally have the chance to fall off its high horse and choose the pig in the poke? Do we have a chance to prove that we're just as dumb as the rest of the country?

Hang on, because it does get worse. In a last-moment assault, the State GOP loudly and publicly "found" almost 2000 "illegal" voters, bringing back the questions of that scandal-prone vote count (never mind they never came up with anything - the accusastions are enough under a relentless drumbeat of repetition). Trouble is, the next day they had to back-pedal on about ten percent of their accusations (and more coming) as those disenfranchised turned out to be both a) real voters, and b) real angry about this stunt.

Yep, it's our old favorite, Vote Supression - if you make it tougher for people to vote the odds are that your core voters will count for more. Because, it is unlikely that the people who were "accidentally" bounced off the voting rolls would vote GOP (at least, not anymore).

So here we are again, with a flawed vessel of a candidate being put forward by a strong-arm campaign. The thing is, the GOP stands a decent chance, because it has been two terms of a Democrat who has never met an idea he didn't want to play with. (some of which I like, some of which I don't). So some folk think it may be time for a change.

Not this time. We need to send a message of our own about all this, so I am strongly recommending and endorsing Ron Sims for King County Executive.

'Cause, yaknow, the similarities are so striking, that if the Republicans get in, by this time next year we'll be invading Pierce County.

More later.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Medea on Trial

Purgatorio by Ariel Dorfman, Directed by David Esbjornson, Seattle Repertory Theatre, Through November 26, 2005

The stage is a bare white room with white furniture, brilliantly lit. The actors are but two - "Man" (Dan Snook) and "Woman" (Charlayne Woodard). The plot moves forward of its own volition and counts on you being bright enough to catch up. And you're thinking - OK, we're trapped in another interesting backchannel of theatrical world - the postmodern play.

And it is, but its really a lot more than that. It's an excellent play about redemption, healing, forgiveness, and personal growth. It makes loops in time and character development and leaves the viewer connecting dots that may or may not truly be connected. It engages and makes you think. That's a good thing.

The white room is one of millions in the afterlife waystation of Purgatory. This is not Dante's Purgatory, but something closer to Albert Brook's Defending Your Life, where souls are placed for therapy to determine if they are fit to be recycled into new life or obliterated entirely. The Woman is Medea from the play by Euripides - she who gives Jason the Golden Fleece, runs off with him, bears him two children, is cast aside for another woman, and kills other woman and children. The Man is, well, an angel or servitor or other spirit who is her counselor, evaluator, and sole contact in this afterlife, who will make the decision on her continued existence.

Woman/Medea rails and collapses, advances slowly but surely, fails and recovers and rages, and is forced to face her worst fears and the horror and responsibility for her actions. Then we blackout and reverse roles. When the lights come up, Man is the prisoner in this Purgatory, and is Jason, who pulled Medea away and then betrayed her and killed himself. Woman is now the counselor, evaulator, and contact. Man/Jason moves through a similar-but-different process, and then we black out and flip again. By the end of the play you have a connection between Jason and the Male counselor, Medea and the Female counselor, Jason and Medea, and both with the nature of Purgatory itself in a funhouse mirror resolution.

The actors are simply excellent. Charlayne Woodard was previously in In Real Life at the REP, an autobiographical one-woman show of her time with Ain't Misbehavin' (before I started keeping this journal, but trust me, she was great). Here she moves with the power of the sorcerous and sensuous Medea, raging against life and afterlife and driving the play forward. Dan Snook starts with the lower-key, reactive roll, but as the play's plot unspools, his very reserved nature makes sense and folds back in on his behavior, and he becomes a volcano about to go off.

There is a third character, even more quicksilver than the two players - a Purgatory that exists without heaven or hell. As we move through the play, the nature and rules of a time-bent place seem to curve back on themselves. Purgatory is in turns a mental hospital, a place of judgement, a prison, and a faceless bureaucracy. It has both a healing hand and fascist armlock. Just as the characters affect each other, they seem to warp the nature and the rules of the white room they occupy. As a result, at the end, you're thinking about both characters and place and the redemptive natures of Dorfman's universe.

This is a thinking person's play, and the REP pulls it off well (though again, it is one better suited for a more intimate stage, though for different reasons that King Stag). It is well-recommended if you are the type of theatre patron that likes to see the play, then spend the next hour or so taking apart its meaning over Thai food.

The Lovely Bride enjoyed this as well - she knows her Medea legend well, and liked how, within the minimalist environment, the author has curved everything back on itself, to create a play that is both tidy and open-ended. Oh, and of great importance to her - no puppets this time. For this she is greatly appreciative.

More later,