Saturday, September 30, 2006

On the Road Again: Qui Bono

One of the cool things about running your own online bit of media is that you can run your own retractions, and as a bonus, figure out why you were wrong in the first place, a luxury that most media outlets either cannot or do not engage in. So a while back, part of an Alaskan pipeline was shut down, and some of the big media cast dire predictions of Four Dollar a Gallon Gas. I bit on this as well, and cast aspersions that the whole thing might be political in nature.

So what happened? Gas prices have since fallen like a stunned falcon. About 50 cents here in the Sound, and 70 cents elsewhere. Now, while $2.60 gas is nothing to write home about (indeed, it makes you wistful for the good old days of the energy crisis, when gas topped a buck a gallon and people bought those dorky gascap locks). But the strange thing is, no one has a good reason for why it is dropping.

Its not like that pipeline has mysteriously healed itself. Or that the Middle East is suddenly more stable. Or that China just went solar. Or that the uprooted platforms that Katrina ripped up are suddenly all back. Or that Venezuela has suddenly started liking us. The oil companies say that there is less demand for gas after labor day, but a 20% drop? So naturally, there are news stories about how this price drop is (wait for it) political in nature.

Uh-HUH. Actually both of these are examples of qui bono, which is Latin for "who benefits". If old man Hutchinson turns up dead at the bottom of the stairs, and Young George is his only heir and has been piling up gambling debts, George gets to go to the top of the suspect list. However, qui bono is a valid starting place, not a conclusion. If can give you the likely suspects, but does not conclude that they are therefore guilty just because they are able to get some mileage out of the situation.

The current national administration has done truly horrible and stupid things as a result of the events of 9/11, but that does not therefore mean that they were behind 9/11 - sorry, conspiracy theorists. You have to find the smoking gun, or in the case of the gas story, the dripping pipeline - some other evidence that this was a fix. A meeting, a memo, an informant. More likely factors for the gas price drop is that it was artificially high, propped up by fear and uncertainity in the marketplace, and as things came under control, the price began to drop. Add to that the fact that, with higher prices, the oil companies are getting a lot more attention than they want from the government, and less attention (in the form of sales) from the gas-buying public. That old invisible hand of the marketplace slaps them upside the head, and they respond - not quickly, but they respond.

Similarly, Wal-Mart has just announced that it was getting into cheaper generic drugs. Again, this benefits an administration that has made a complete hash of its medical systems, but it much more likely the result of a large corporation seeing an opportunity than any midnight meetings where the GOP is pleading with big business to cut them a break, else the voters will eat them alive in November.

But that's just what I think this week. Give me some documentation, and I will gladly change my mind again.

More later,

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Lester Smith, Poet

My writer's group, the Alliterates, has a lot of advantages, including a "no-homework" policy, a gathering of like-minded individuals, a mailing list that holds us together though we are in many different locations, and a preference for venues which serve alcohol. It also has our Poet Laureate, Lester Smith,

Lester, like most of the Alliterates, comes out of the ur-matter of the RPG shared worlds of novels and game design, and of late has turned his prodigious abilities to poetry. Which he shares with the rest of us by the mailing list. Sometimes we tweak, we suggest, we critique, and most often we praise. This is one that made me smile, and with his permission, I am sharing it with the larger world:

At first, my boy, they're always fascinating.
Each fresh new face conceals a mystery,
an undiscovered personality,
which we spend every week anticipating.
Then, even once the novelty's abating,
there's comfort in familiarity.
At each old joke, we chuckle faithfully
(our sense of humor undiscriminating).
And when, at last, the sameness becomes grating
(or worse, begins to spread a dull ennui),
it's best to terminate them gracefully,
before their antics grow humiliating.
So now you know why God invented death, son.
(Though we can always hope for syndication.)  

--(c) Lester Smith, 25 Sept. 2005

I think Lester's work is getting better all the time, and if you're interested, you can find more of it at Popcorn Press.

More later,

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Drinking With Liberals

So last night I got to do something I have been meaning to do for well over a year. I went to the Montlake Ale House in Seattle for an edition of Drinking Liberally, a collection of progressively minded individuals plus alcohol. I've been seeing the announcements for it on Seattle major league progressive blog, Horse's Ass for a long time, but Tuesday is Tai Chi nights, and while I may never master the kicks necessary for the chen form, I know I am a better person for going there instead of to a bar. But Tai Chi is on hiatus while our sifu is visiting family in China, so I had a free evening.

So I get there and it is a nice place, with a small crowd at the start, Mariners on the flatscreen, and a couple guys with laptops at the bar. One of them looked a little like Ed Greenwood, so I figured I must be in the right place. I introduced myself and the gentleman turned out to be Darryl from Hominid Views, who had just published this excellent interview with Darcy Burner about her experience in the Civilian Air Patrol as a young woman. Darryl was very kind to the noob (that would be me), and he pointed out the other regulars whose blogs I read, including Lynn from Evergreen Politics, Mike from Blatherwatch, which covers local radio, one of the guys from NW Progressive Blog, and the ascerbic and uncensored Carl Ballard, who has just returned to blogging with Eff'n Unsound. Yeah, yeah, I know, it doesn't matter to you, but I've been reading these guys for a while, so it was Comic Book Creator fandom all over the room. Goldy, who runs Horses' Ass and is sort of the group's Jack Kirby, came in late, so I didn't get to meet him until the end of the evening.

The place filled up and the more heavyweight political bloggers moved to the back of the bar to do a podcast (headphones, and the bar noise loud enough to reduce any attempts at evesdropping moot), so I ended up chatting with the rest of the gang at the bar. And what was really cool was that at no time of the evening was I author Jeff or designer Jeff. I was 8th District Jeff talking with Darryl and Presbyterian Jeff talking with a parole officer about religion and root causes and Blogger Jeff talking with a insurance agent about the perils of blogging and even Engineer Jeff (a part of me that I haven't used for years) talking to very nice gentleman who might have the solution to the viaduct mess (more on him later). It was actually a vacation from what I've been doing, and greatly appreciated. I did a lot of listening, as well, and the Ale House was pretty cool.

And at the end of the evening, I hunted down Darryl to thank him, and then introduced myself to Goldy, going all Big Name Fandom on him. He was very pleasant despite my interuption, and said he hoped I'd come back. And I probably will.

More later,

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Local Politics: Meet Darcy Burner

You'd think they would give you a breather, after the Primary. But no, without missing a beat, more mailers have shown up.

Two days after the election, an elderly gentleman came to the door stumping for Darcy Burner, the Democrat candidate for the 8th District. The Lovely Bride assured him she was generally Democrat and would probably vote for Ms. Burner. The gentleman asked about me. She assured him I was generally Democrat, but could she have the mailer anyway, as I tend to report on them for my blog. He gave her one, along with a strange smile, as if she had told him I was in the backyard juggling anvils.

And the mailer (From the Washington State Democratic Central Commitee) is pretty much what I have come to know as Darcy Burner boilerplate - a good full-color introduction to the candidate, her story (army brat, brother served in Iraq, Harvard grad, Microsoft manager), why she's running (country going wrong direction), endorsements (Sen. Murray, Congressman Dicks), policies (pro-middle class, pro-veteran, pro-health care, anti-oil company), and even has space to take a swing at "the other guy" (who is against stem cell reseach, pro-Big Oil, pro-privatizing Social Security, Anti-vet benefits). As you might guess, its texturally dense, and pretty informative. A good introduction to a candidate, giving the voters a lot of various reasons to consider her.

And few days later we got one in the mail(1) from the National Republican Congressional Commitee, a mailer which ALSO wanted to introduce us to Darcy Burner. But this was the EeeeVIL Darcy Burner, the one that isn't "Ready for Leadership" (as opposed to the guy who has two whole years of experience in the job). And how do they know Darcy isn't ready? Because she Failed to Vote in a number of local elections! AHAH! An anarchist!

But I look at this mailer and I say - "Two million? This is what two million from the NRCC buys these days?" A cookie-cutter two-color attack mailer that looks like it was laid out by an intern learning to use Photoshop who wanted to play with all the fonts? It has a lot of what we in the publishing industry call "creative use of white space", which means you don't have a lot to say and you're dressing it up as best as you can. Two million? Really?

Worse yet, however, is that they got some of their (few) facts wrong. While they could have made some hay off the elections she legitimately did not vote in (2000 Primary, for example, joining a large chunk of the rest of the state), they had to pump their numbers by including elections that she could not vote in (like those in Redmond, where she worked but did not live). So they didn't even do the basic research.

And of course, there's the idea that we should forget whatever problems have plagued the King County Sherriff's Office when the current Congressman was in charge, because it wasn't his fault, and it was so long ago (back in 2004). But whether the challenger voted in 1999 school board elections! That's NEWS, by gum!

I'm just waiting for the one that goes "Challenger Youngwoman wrote in a high school report said there were nine planets. Scientists agree that there are EIGHT! Challenger Youngwoman, WRONG on the number of planets, WRONG for Congress"

And of course I love the tag line "She Can't Be Trusted to Be There When We Need Her" (what, the "to" didn't rate a capital letter?). Thanks, NRCC, for reminding everyone who gets this mailer that one of Burner's points is that the guy currently in office can't be particularly trusted to vote beyond the instructions of the NRCC.

Of course, this is the standard blockheaded political approach, the opening gun of the smear campaign (Right down to the defensive declaration - "She's a negative campaigner! Not like we are! No, not us! We're just pointing it out! And she went first!") I don't think they realize we're spoiled out here in Washington State. After the recent BIAW-funded judge's race. we KNOW what 2 Large can buy in the way of targetted ads, push-polls, and grainy black and white photos of the opposition (Burner even looks GOOD in the attack mailer - I swear, the Intern whipped this up before going back to college). Somebody is putting a lot of the 2 Million into their pockets, because very little is getting out in the finished product.

I mean, who did they farm out this assignment to - Haliburton?

More later,

(1) Thank to the increasingly political Stranger Blog for the scan.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Comic Book Politics: Civil War

So, those of you who follow comic books instead of/in addition to local politics are aware of Marvel's Civil War. No, it's not about the slave-holding Inhumans duking it out with the abolitionist Fantastic Four (though that would be a very good idea for a series). Instead, it is about how a super-powered battle took out civilian casualites (blew up a school in Connecticut) and as a result, the Feds decide to register all superheroes, an act which has split the superhuman community. And it is not a bad idea for a discussion about the question of how much responsibility comes with great power.

But as a discussion it has pretty much gone off the rails, with the pro-registration forces (headlined by Iron-Man, Mr. Fantastic, She-Hulk, and Hank (Ant-Man and everything else) Pym), fighting against the anti-registration forces (Captain America, Luke Cage, and much of the rest of the list). Spider-Man is currently on the Pro-registration side, but is quickly questioning the wisdom of the pro-reg forces as atrocities start to pile up. The rest of the Fantastic Four have already walked out on Mr. Fantastic, leaving him a Fantastic One. The X-Men are officially neutral, but the shadenfreude of seeing all their non-mutant buddies now going through exactly what they went through with Mutant Registration is practically palpable. The Pro-Registration guys keep getting behind boneheaded, horrible decisions (extradimensional prisons, allying with supervilians, blackmail of allies, cloning Thor), and sympathy has swung to the Anti-Reg side, which has Captain America. Others have noted this, but really, how can the side with Captain America leading it be wrong?

Some folk are pitching this as a fight between Right and Left, between Conservative and Liberal, and indeed, between the basic and ongoing discussion of Security versus Freedom. But its not a good fit, primarily because a lot of heroes don't fit in a neat Conservative or Liberal modes. Captain America has fought leftie and rightie fantatics with equal aplomb, while Iron Man has moved from Anti-communist Munitions Maker to Progressive Business Mogul to Conservative Secretary of Defense without surprising anyone. Part of this is because heroes tend to embody ideals as opposed to agendas. Captain America, even when he is on the outs with the government, is still presented as the embodiment of the American people. Tony Stark, regardless of the political fashion he is wearing, is all about technology, and the responsibility that comes with it.

No, Civil War is not about right versus left. It is about brain versus heart. About logic versus emotion. This is Spock and McCoy brawling in four-color uniforms. The Pro-registration/security side is stacked heavily with the smart guys of the Marvel U - Reed, Tony, Hank. These guys cloned Thor, for Kirk's sake! They embody that "we know better" tendency that is seen on both the right and left when those in charge assure you they have thought it all out, and know more than you (which is usually a warning that the wheels are about to come off). On the Anti-registration/freedom side we have characters like Cap, Falcon, Luke Cage, Daredevil, Dagger - figures that did not think their way into power. and, perhaps more importantly, were often the RESULT of someone else's actions than anything they built for themselves.

There are some guys in the middle, embodying both worlds, and you can see them crossing the lines. I mentioned that the rest of the FF (feelers, not thinkers) have already left, and Spider-Man is having doubts (being a combination of heart (and accidental powers) and brains (web-shooters, back when he had them, but more recently the metal spider-suit that Tony gave him). Wolverine is on the Pro-registration side, but is uncovering evidence to show that he may flip as well. On the other hand, Nighthawk started with the rebels, but he's a thinker (a Batman clone, to be exact), and he just bailed for the pro-registration force. Absent from the mix is Hulk/Banner, the personification of the rational and the emotional, who the "thinkers" sent off-planet. Doctor Strange is given a special leave of absence and moved off stage right, a thinker who feels too much. Black Panther, a combination of Cap AND Iron Man, has been sent on Honeymoon (no, really). The only other candidate who embodies both thought and feeling, the Beast, has been mysteriously reduced to a minor role in all this.

And I think that's why it is so hard to show a balanced view of all this. Right and left I think we could manage. Conservative and Liberal can be done and done well (Looking at the classic Green Lantern/Green Arrow teamups, conservative Hal Jordon gave as good as he got with liberal Ollie). But this has wandered off the boards entirely, and it is increasingly the smart kids against everyone else. And as time goes by, the justifications for horrible actions get more and more logical, and easier and easier for a smaller and smaller group of decision-makers who are stovepiping their own decisions and suspicious of anyone who voices even the slightest dissent. I think that's the intent of Civil War - not to create a balanced discussion, but to show the dangers when the mind is not coupled to the heart.

But those are just my thoughts on the matter.

More later,

Sunday, September 24, 2006


Meanwhile, it started raining. Three inches in the past week, after three months of barely a drop.

Meanwhile, the natives of Seattle have forgotten how to drive in the rain, resulting in hellish traffic jams.

Meanwhile, the dishwasher died and had to be replaced

Meanwhile, the Seahawks won their first two games. Update: Make that three.

Meanwhile, we had a chimney sweep in.

Meanwhile, the cats Harley and Vic have adapted to Gozer's absence, and now act like they run the house.

Meanwhile, the gas fireplace in the bedroom needs a new thermocoupler.

Meanwhile, I got to the Friends of the Library sale, picked up some Hunter Thompson, books on paleontology and the Great War, and the Tarassuk and Blair version of The Complete Encyclopedia of Arms and Weapons

Meanwhile, I wrapped up the Warhammer game and Bill is back as GM, running a Spelljammerish D&D session.

Meanwhile the refrigerator died. Repairman in on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, I started reading Neil Stephenson's The Confusion again.

Meanwhile, Autumn, Rosh Hashanah. and Ramadan all arrived on little cat feet.

Meanwhile, we got a hot tub. From Monkey King and Shelly in Seattle. And that is a story in its own right.

Meanwhile, I finished listening to Annie Proulx's That Old Ace in the Hole, and have returned to listening to Patrick O'Brien's Aubry novels on the way to work.

Meanwhile, the front doorknob broke.

Meanwhile, I totally forgot about Foolscap being this weekend.

Meanwhile, we found out our electrical box was bad and had to be replaced.

Meanwhile, the Guild Wars Nightfall World Preview is going pretty good. Now we have a month to polish up the rest of it.

Meanwhile, I'm going to be busy.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Book World, RIP

Just now Jennie (sp), the pleasant young woman I buy comics from, called to say that the store, Book World, has closed its doors. I have followed Book World through several moves and renovations, and the store provided a variety of used books in addition to carrying weekly comics. There were apparently financial problems for the owner, and both Midway and Kent stores have been closed.


So I am comic-bookless at the moment, and looking for a new dealer for my favorite obsession. So if any local Seattlites know of a good local store in south (Renton/Kent) or East Side (aw, come on, it's geek central out here), drop me a note courtesy of this journal.

More later.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Free Weekend

So, this weekend, you have the chance to play Guild Wars Nightfall for free as part of our World Preview Event. You don't even need an account. All you do is download the client, launch it, and create a new account using the numbers here.

What happens next is the game I have been working on for the past few months. This is a preview, so it is only the opening section, but it has a lot of fun quests, beautiful graphics, and some really nice cinematics (if I do say so myself). It is worth checking out, and doesn't cost anything on your side.

The past few weeks we've been polishing this up for presentation, as well as wiring, rewiring, programming, reprogramming, testing, retesting, and doing wonderful things to pull this all together. This is the computer game equivalent of the movie advance preview, or catching a Broadway show before it hits the Great White Way.

If you're a gamer, or even if you're not, its worth checking out.

More later,

Update on Friday Morning: We are currently pounding some bugs out. If you have been trying to get online without success, or experiencing technical difficulties, it's not you. We should have it up and operating later today. (Ah, modern technology)

Further Friday Update: Looks like we're good to go. Go have fun!

Local Politics - Returns

So, color me surprised.

I fully expected to be in cynical-old-guy cursing-in-his-beer mode about the election to the State Supreme Court of a special-interest-backed lawyer with no bench time but gobs of money. And it turns out I was wrong, spoiling a totally good opportunity to get besotted.

Here's the tale: For Position #8, State Supreme Court, BIAW-backed candidate John Groen (and by backed, we mean about 2 mill in attack ads) lost out to incumbent Gerry Alexander in what could be termed an upset, given the heavy media bombing that was going on, up to and including mailings that Gerry Alexander was going to take your house, sleep with your spouse, and leave the lid off the cottage cheese in the fridge. Alexander fairly pasted Groen 55-45 percent. Though many votes still need to be tallied, particularly in King County (more people=more votes=more votes to count), Groen conceded.

So whahappened? I think a good part of it is that Washington State voters of all political stripes have a strong resistance to negative campaigns, and are willing to push back. In my experience so far in a decade out here, the negative campaigns that have worked have been outnumbered by the ones that have blown up in their faces. But I think a larger part of it is that the conservative wing of the party just stayed home this time. There were no real Republican contests to bring them out, and as a result, the allied non-partisan races suffered accordingly.

In other court news, for Position #9, Tom Chambers took out Jeanette Burrage pretty handily (58-42 by the last count). This means you won't have to think about either Chambers or Alexander until they make a decision that you don't agree with. Their jobs are safe.

However, the presence of three minor candidates for Position #2 split the vote to the point that no one got 50%, so that means that you will hear more about Susan Owens and Steve Johnson. Owens packed in 46 percent of the vote, Johnson 33 percent, and the remainder was split among three candidates that were there pretty much to keep one side or the other from reaching 50%, including ANOTHER Johnson. Johnson states he will be running a clean campaign, which means that the his buddies in the building industry will be revving up ads saying that Susan Owens is going to take your house, sleep with your spouse, and leave the lid off the cottage cheese in the fridge.

Both Cantwell and McGavick got their party nominations for US Senator, with Cantwell getting 90% of the vote, and McGavick getting only 85%, which if the numbers were reversed, would have been played as Cantwell being vulnerable. Instead, the New York Times trumpeted it as a victory for Cantwell's pro-war stance, and asks you to please ignore that in her victory speech, she spoke of the need to change the course in Iraq and bring our troops home. Of course, the New York Times also typoed McGavick's name and referred to him as an insurance salesman (he was CEO of the insurance company that has naming rights to our pro baseball team's field), so that about par for the course for accuracy.

And for US Rep we are seeing Burner versus Reichert, and here we have an idea of the GOP base staying away in droves. The 8th is supposedly a conservative district, with parts of it reaching south into rural Pierce County. But Burner picked up slightly more total votes than Reichert. The GOP will have to be doing some serious GOTV (get out the vote) work this year, a tough prospect giving the company that Mr. Reichert is keeping.

Most locally, Claudia Kauffman beat out Ed Crawford. Hey, I preferred Ed, but I'm more than willing to throw my support Ms. Kauffman, even though she gets the support of a lot of "establishment" Dems.

So the Secretary of State's website has nothing on the King County AFIKs program or the Fairwood Incorporation (what's the story with that, guys?). Nothing on the law enforcement fingerprint database from a Google search. The Fairwood vote, according to the Seattle Times, is extremely tight, and there may have been voting errors (oh, you know we couldn't get out of an election without one). Apparently voters that were eligible to vote on the incorporation were not given ballots with the incorporation issue. Actually, being on the border, my own district was one of those where some voters would be in Fairwood, while others (like me) would not. I noticed that the pollworker had two stacks of ballots in front of her and double-checked before giving me my ballot. So expect more fireworks on this one.

But for the rest of Washington State, take a deep breath, hold it for a moment, then let it out, as we plunge into the heart of the matter - the General Election.

More later,

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


So what has Pro Football taught us this week?

It doesn't matter that you're Super Bowl Champs. If your star quarterback had appendix surgery just two weeks ago, and is currently running an 104 degree temperature, and hasn't scored in three quarters, you MIGHT want to think about putting someone else in.

A Super Bowl Ring does not convey invulnerability. You have it confused with a Green Lantern Ring.

I'm just saying.

More later,

Update: Coach Cowher corrects his QB's temperature, making it 100.4, not 104. Which is a prefectly good reason to let the opposing team's defensive line maul him.

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Jeff Recommends: Primary

So, tomorrow is a day we have been planning for at Grubb Street since the beginning of the month. I speak, of course, of Talk Like A Pirate Day.

I mean, whoever put a primary on that date must have been planning for some amusing victory speeches.

As a public service, I want to remind everyone who is voting, by absentee ballot or otherwise, to remember to choose you party affiliation. Due to the recent huggamugga regarding our formerly open primaries, our political parties do not trust the populace to vote their preferences, but to engage in chicanery. Chicanery is, of course, the provide of political parties, so we have to choose from the limited set of candidates they offer. Usually they offer only one candidate for a particular position, which makes such choices easy. And then they wonder why no one votes in primaries anymore.

So, starting with the important ones, Grubb Street endorses Judges Alexander, Owens and Chambers for the Supreme Court positions, as opposed to the guys that are not Judges. The odds are very good that at least one of these individuals will be bought out of their position through the deep pockets of the BIAW, but that's the problem with elections - the other side may have billboards, TV ads, hate radio, mailers, and really annoying ads before the movies (which will probably COST them votes), but at least the incumbents have small-time local bloggers. Every so often. IF they behave themselves.

For Senator (Democrat), let's go for Maria Cantwell. For Senator (GOP), I recommend the burning wreckage of the Mike McGavick campaign (though if you're looking to this journal for advice on Republican candidates, you may want to seek professional help). In one of many weirdnesses of the upcoming campaign, Cantwell's early ads push her as Tough in Homeland Security, while McGavick is running warm touchie-feelie ads that are soft on the issues.

Over in the US House race of the 8th, it going to be Dave Reichert versus Darcy Burner. Just get used to it. Incumbent Reichert got a fundraising visit from Karl Rove just last week, and, eager to show off what he learned, immediately blamed the problems of his tenure as King County Sherrif on the guy who hired him, Ron Sims. And soon after that, he got a big check from the NRCC to run attack ads on Burner. All of this is just coincidence.

Locally in the 47th, look to see more yard signs for Geoff Simpson and Pat Sullivan as they work to retain their seats. And for the state senator post, I am going to recommend Ed Crawford, though to be frank, I'll be just as happy with Claudia Kauffman. It is a choice between two very good candidates.

There are a couple other things out there right now. There is one for an additional tax levee to fund an Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) for King County. A noble goal, but it is odd that we can't find room in our ever-increasing budgets for this noble goal, and therefore have to pitch it to the commonwealth to give it a thumbs up. I'm not down with it, so I say No if I get a chance. On the other hand, there are several Fire Protection Districts that need a bit of boost as well, and though I'm not a member of any of them, I am more charitable and supportive, and say Yes.

And lastly there is a measure for the incorporation of Fairwood as a city, right next door to where we are. No, I'm not a part of that future community, being confined to the northern border of the future Greater Kent. but I would vote Yes on it. I think a local authority would have more say in its future, including its development future, than being part of a larger (though more well-funded) entity that tends to have its attention focused on Seahawk Training camps, possible Sonics stadiums, and driving herons out of the Black River.

So remember - Tomorrow, when you cast yer vote, matey, you have to tell them if you're a Dee or and ARRRRR!

Why yes, I WAS waiting two weeks for that joke. More later,

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Local Politics: Supreme Money

So, according to Voting for Judges, a huge amount of cash is being dumped in to the Groen and Johnson campaigns from the BIAW and an out of state business group called It's Time for Change (ITFAC). So what does all that money being poured into the Supreme Court races buy?

It buys you TV and radio ads. This was the path to power of the previous Johnson to be lofted onto the court, Jim Johnson. Heavy ads on rightwing talk stations paved the way in name recognition alone. There's more than that this time, since attack ads are common, such that even the major media has to pay attention (though they must be "fair and balanced", complaining about both sides). I wish I could analyse them, but I've been on a deadline and been spared the torture of television to a great degree.

It gets you billboards, like the one outside Spokane from the BIAW that declared that Groen will be "Putting Criminals Behind Bars". When it was pointed out that the Supreme Court handles civil cases, not criminal cases, this was quietly changed to "Keeping Criminals Behind Bars"

It allows you to target your market. In liberal areas, you get to rail about how the incumbents are weak on personal freedoms. In more conservative and rural areas, you get to rail on them about property rights. They're incumbents - it is their job to makes decisions, so you have a buffet table of nastiness to dish from. All the better if your candidates (Johnson and Groen) don't have any bench time to compare against them. And it is not like the various regions of the state are going to get together and compare notes (or that the media is going to do it for them).

It gets you yard signs. Lots and lots of yard signs, most of them still confined to public spaces like interchanges. There are now more highway exits with big, oversized Groen yard signs than there are ones with homeless veterans panhandling, a major achievement. In an amazing twist, I've now seen Johnson yard signs which copy the colors and design of the Maria Cantwell yard signs, a new step in the evolution of yard-signery.

And it gets you ground troops. The Lovely Bride answered the door to find a nice little old lady with a bundle of mailers for GOP Candidates Watts (State Rep), Riley (State senate), Franz (State Rep, other position), Reichert (US Rep), McGavick (Senate), and Burrage and Groen (so much for non-partisan politics in the Supreme Court). The conversation between the Lovely Bride and said little old lady was pretty rocky from the get-go, and got worse when Little Old started talking about those evil homosexuals wanting to get married, and how only the Republicans could stop them. I understand the resulting detonation from the Lovely Bride's response triggered earthquake sensors on the sides of Mt Rainier, and the only thing that saved the woman was that I was calling on the phone (I had felt a tremor in the Force, as if a million conservatives suddenly cried out, confronted with a changing demographic).

And it gets you the mailers. Most of them are the "Hey, I'm a good guy" mailers that come from the campaign, and some are the vacuous, sceptic, oozing types released by these shadowy support groups. One particularly odious one from ITFAC, grabs a majority supreme court decision to back off accidental murder of child from homicide to manslaughter, and lays the decision entirely at Justice Alexander's feet in breathless terms. How could this evil, evil, insufficiently conservative judge let a child-killer go free (after, of course, he served 20 years in jail). But of course that's besides the point - the important thing is that the evil, insufficiently conservative Chief Justice is "soft on crime", while Groen and Johnson, we are assured, will leap from the bench and mete out death sentences with their little hammers, if they need to (even though they don't hear criminal cases).

But actually, that vile little piece of postal crud is not the worst offender of this season. I got a mailer, the corner torn off so I don't know who sent it, who accused Alexander and Owens of wanting to give your house away to developers! Yes, your house! To Developers! How dare they! Yep, this is the ultimate, and I really want to know who was behind it, but as I said, the corner was mysteriously removed. But it uncovers that Alexander and Owens are in the pockets of the developers, so you should vote for Groen and Johnson, who are ... getting huge piles of cash ... from the developers to run stuff like this.


The only good news I have is that, come Tuesday, it will all be over, and things will go back to normal. Except for the increasing drumbeat of the General Election.

So remember to recycle those mailers, since that way they will have accomplished something good in their short lives.

More later,

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Local Politics - The Supremes

And now we get into the really murky, almost-alien territory, where the stakes are high and the voter's pamphlet provides scant clues to help. For this one, I'm calling upon a larger force, Voting for Judges, which serves as an aggregator of bios, stands, funding reports, and endorsements, and recommend you check it out.

But let me make it clear at the outset. I strongly suggest you support Susan Owens, Gerry L. Alexander, and Tom Chambers, for reasons that will soon become increasingly clear. No even-handedness here - the Supreme Court is under siege.

In Washington State, our Supreme Court is elected as non-partisan positions. The candidates tend to be lawyers, lesser court justices, and local politicians (usually GOP but not always), and tend to have conservative (legal view) tendencies. Because they are non-partisan, there isn't a lot of money floating around in the races, and they don't attract a lot of attention. Indeed, a lot of them tended to be settled in low-turnout primaries, since you need only to get 50%+ to take the office.

This, unfortunately, all of the above is a recipe for mischief, and that mischief has manifested in the form of the BIAW (Building Industry Association of Washington), pro-business Chambers of commerce, and out of state developer interests that are throwing money into these races. Much like developers seeing an old-fashioned drive-in on the borders of a spreading suburbia, their mouths water at the prospect of the potential this situation presents. As a result, a huge horde of money has been poured into this race, in hopes of replacing these conservative (legal view) incumbents with conservative (give business a cookie) challengers.

And they would be amusing if it all wasn't so serious in the end. The BIAW-backed candidates have an army of yard signs and a fleet of mailers, messages on the answering machine and ads on the air. This is beyond the idea of merely making sure their names are well-known to the primary voters and into the hardball politics of personal vilification and questionable tactics. It is with all this in mind that I steer my way into the Voter's Pamphlet, and into this election. Most of the Voters Pamphlet bios are pretty stock (Importance of the court, legal background, judicial experience, endorsements). The BIAW-backed guys are usually easy to spot because they use the "property rights" headnod - which they expect you to think means your property rights, but really means the BIAW's ability to develop more property.

For Justice of the Supreme Court Position 2, there are five candidates - two majors, and the rest pretty much chaff to keep either one from getting a majority outright. But here's a clue - when four of the five candidates talk about "special interest money", it usually means the fifth candidate is the one getting it. And that refers to Stephen Johnson, who was my State Senator, and as far I can tell didn't do a heckuva lot during his tenure outside of pushing the standard conservative memes. I expect him to do the same if he gets in here. And he has a good chance, packing a lot of endorsements from the business side, including a couple mid-level Dems so he can call himself bi-partisan. Because of the presence of three small candidates (Richard Smith,Norman J. Ericson and ANOTHER Johnson, Michael Johnson, it is likely this one wile go to the general election, which means more vilification of the incumbent, Susan Owens.

The one the BIAW/Chamber of Commerce is trying to win outright this time is Position 8, where they have one of their regular lawyers who has no bench experience, John Groen up against the venerable Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Gerry Alexander. And given the nature of the state supreme court, it still comes down to name recognition, and Groen has been flooding the zone with his powerful backers. As a man with no experience as a Judge, Groen gets to assault every decision made in the last 12 years to sew FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt), while staying extremely coy about his own background. Alexander, for his own part, stands on his achievements and endorsements. It is the New Politics/Old Politics competition playing out, and I worry that Old Politics will get stuffed as a result.

The undercard in all this is Position 9, where the Big Business/Big Property candidate is Jeanette Burrage against incumbent Tom Chambers. Burrage is one of the few judges that has broken into view - as a King County Superior Court Justice, she demanded that female lawyers in her court wear skirts, not pants. The dust-up may have cost her the position and, oddly enough, does not show up in her bio (Mr. Chambers, being too much of a gentleman, does not bring it up, but does note that he was the 2006 Outstanding Judge of the Year as awarded by the King County Washington Women Lawyers).

Burrage is a dark horse, Johnson is likely to go against Alexander in the main primary, and a huge amount of money, invective, and spleen is being thrown behind Groen to get Big Property's regular lawyer on the bench. And what does all this cash buy? Tune in tomorrow.

More later,

Friday, September 15, 2006

A Brief Word

So, the latest PC GAMER, out today, has a very nice and expansive preview of my company's upcoming game: Guild Wars Nightfall, featuring copious quotes from yours truly. This posting is directed at those fans who read the article and then decide to Google my name, got to this page, and then wondered why the heck I'm ranting about politics, and local politics at that.

OK, so most of the regular readers are probably wondering the same thing.

The reason for the coverage is that we (meaning folk in Washington State) are facing a primary next Tuesday, and since all politics is local politics, I tend to cover what's happening, particularly with an eye towards how the candidates and the parties communicate with the people - voter's pamphlets, press releases, mailers, yard signs, the whole shmear. It's something I have an interest in, and the presence of an online journal spares me the pain of boring the same people over and over (I get to bore an entirely NEW audience).

I also talk about books, comic books, theater, daily life, cats, and collectable state quarters, but for the moment, we're in the grips of an election, so you get local politics from the Panther Lake area of Washington State. Deal with it.

One thing you DON'T get is a lot of secret information about the job. No gossip. No gripes. No secret cheats for the game. Sorry, this is a broadcast medium, and I keep the day job to one side. While I will promote what we're up to at the company, as well as whatever writing I've been able to do, there will be very little behind-the-scenes stuff going up here. For that, you have to find me in person at a convention and buy me a beer. Make that several beers.

The simple fact is that my day-job writing for Guild Wars is co-operative, collaborative, and team-oriented, while my writing here has the luxury of being personal, selfish, and sometimes just a tad bit cranky. And I like it that way.

So anyway, if you're interested in Jeff Grubb but NOT in Local Politics, tune back in Wednesday. Hmmm. Make that Thursday. I probably will have to do a wrapup for the local results.

And then you get to listen to me whinge about comic books.

More later.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Modern Media

Meanwhile, in the offices of a Great Metropolitan Newspaper:

"Kent! Get in here!"
"What's up, Perry?"
"You've been following what's been happening with Lex Luthor's senate bid, right?"
"A little. He left Lexcorp with a phenominally high severance package, which he's using to fund his run. He admitted to a DUI, but in the confession didn't let on how bad it really was. And Lexcorp under his managment had steep layoffs and engaged in potentially illegal activities. He's trailing badly in the polls, and most people think he has a problem with the truth."
"You know what needs to be done, right?"
"Right. Investigate him and get to the truth of the matter."
"Clark, Clark, Clark, I'm suprised at you. What we need to do now is go dig up something bad on Senator Incumbent."
"I'm sorry, Perry, I don't follow you."
"It's Journalism 101. We have to be fair and balanced. That means whenever a Republican screws up, we have to find something the Democrat did wrong in order to balance it out. Otherwise we look like we're playing favorites."
"But Senator Incumbent didn't do anything wrong."
"EVERYONE has done SOMETHING wrong, and when we find it, it will balance out Lex's drunk driving and the corporate irresponsibility. Here - here's one I got from a GOP blast fax. Senator Incumbent borrowed money from a lobbyist."
"Actually she loaned money to the lobbyist in question."
"Fine, fine, but still it was a lobbyist."
"But she loaned him the money before he was a lobbyist."
"So it was still unseemly behavior for a Senator."
"But it was before she was a Senator. And the only reason we know it is because she reports it as an outstanding loan, every year, as required by law."
"Fine! So the story then is, Senator Incumbent is friends with a Lobbyist!"
"But Lex himself WAS a Lobbyist when he was arrested for the DUI. That's why he was living on the East Coast at the time."
"Kent, you're JUST not listening! If we don't point out that the Dems are as dirty as the GOP, then people won't be able to make a careful choice between them."
"Even if we have to inflate the Democrat offenses in order to do so."
"Exactly! That's what we call fair and balanced. We have to reduce the offender's crimes to make them more like the innocent. Otherwise there's anarchy!"
"Similarly to the fact that we don't talk much about the money conservative operations are pouring into the State Supreme Court races until the Moderates and Liberals do the same."
"Exactly! Now you get it, Kent!"
"So, Perry, does all this fairness have anything to do with Lex Luthor's promise to reduce the estate tax on middle-aged editors of Great Metropolitan Newspapers?"
"Clark! I'm shocked, simply shocked that you would even THINK such a thing!"
"Sorry, Chief, I don't know what got into me."
"And don't call me Chief!"

More later,

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Local Politics: State Senate (47th)

Back to the local politics and our Voter's Pamphlet, this time with the State Senator position from the 47th. This is an open seat, since the BIAW is buying incumbent Stephen Johnson a seat on the State Supreme Court (but more about that later). We have a single GOP candidate for the slot and two Democrats running for the position.

Hey, how did THAT happen? Someone must have slipped up in shipping.

The two Democratic candidates are Claudia Kauffman and Ed Crawford, and both hit the ground with a fistful of personal background and endorsements. Kauffman? Lifer Democrat, mother, foster mother, Chamber of commerce, small business owner (her site DOES identify the business - Red Morning Star Enterprises (Native American Regalia)), director of Intergovernmental relations for the Muckleshoot tribe. Endorsements from Former governor Mike Lowry, Ron Sims, EMILY's List, League of Education Voters. Her mailers (attaining almost Reichert-esque levels of frequency and variety) show her with Maria Cantwell and Hillary Clinton. Heavy stuff to bring to bear just for the primary, but she's prepared for a fight.

As for Ed Crawford, he's a former (award-winning) Kent Police Chief, packing endorsements from the 47th District Democrats, the Washington State Labor Council, the Sierra Club, the Washington Education Association, and (an endorsement that carries weight in this area) the Kent Firefighters. No, I'm not making it up - getting the firefighters on your side (and often on your yard signs) is a major force. He also, according to his bio, A stand up guy. His mailer operation is a little more subdued, much more in the "hey, I'm running category".

The strange thing is, this sounds like a win-win situation, a choice between two positive, industrious candidates. To get a better idea, I went to the Municipal League site for advise. Crawford got an Outstanding rating, which Kauffman got a Very Good rating, which is nothing to sneeze at. So we are in that weird position where there are two good candidates on the ballot, either of one of which would be a strong contender. I am partial to Crawford only because I know a case of integrity - during the recent heated elections for Kent' Mayor, he said he'd step down from Police Chief is one candidate won. That candidate did win, and rather than back off or temper his decision, Crawford stepped down. Its a small thing, but in a field where politicos find reasons to back off earlier claims, it is noted.

On the GOP side we have one candidate, Mike Riley, who talks about 9/11 with actually a little more believability than most who wrap themselves in the debris of that day. This is his big background card - he was working in an air traffic controller during the attack, and in his own words "It was my job to tell unbelieving pilots that they had to land their plane mid-flight or they would be forced down". It may be cruel, but images of a Bob Newhart routine gone desperately, desperately wrong flashed through my mind when I read this. His positions are in the line of running for government with the intention of crippling that government's ability to get things done. Which, of course, has worked out so well for the past few years on a national level. And his site identifies him as the heir to Stephen Johnson's seat.

But more about Johnson next, as the nastiest battle lies just ahead.

More later,

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Osama Bin Missing

Is it finally time to talk treason? Yes, perhaps it is.

Here's an Awful Truth: We never caught Pancho Villa either.

Doroteo Arango Arambula, better known to us gringos as Pancho Villa, was a bandit turned politician and general in the Mexican Civil War. In the ever-shifting political environment of that war, Villa rose in power, proved to be a brilliant tactician, gathered followers and supporters, was seen as a Robin Hood Figure by the disenfranchised population, learned how to work the media, built schools, and at one point had the support of the US Government, his more cruel actions of the time swept under the rug. There's even a picture of him posing with Black Jack Pershing.

Sound a bit familiar? Hang on, it gets more interesting.

After the US Government withdrew its support for another general, Villa started targeting American assets. He went first after US Military and government personal, but then, 90 years ago, in 1916, invaded the US with a large force and burned the town of Columbus, New Mexico, killing 18 soldiers and civilians. The Punitive Expedition, led by Black Jack Pershing, invaded Mexico with their then-government's permission to bring him to justice. The expedition used the most modern technology (including aircraft - the Curtis Jenny), but ultimately was unsuccessful, miring itself in the hinterland as Villa's forces melted into the friendly terrain. After a friendly fire incident where the US killed loyal troops in the village of Carrizal, the support of the Mexican government was withdrawn, and the US pulled back its forces. The US declared the expedition a success, having taken out several of Villa's aides, but never got the man himself. The expedition was overshadowed by a larger, greater war overseas. Villa himself outlasted that war and made peace with a new Mexican president in 1920, retired to his hacienda, and was assassinated in his car three years later (another politician took credit, but the assassins were never caught).

And here we are 90 years later. A horrendous crime has been carried out against our country, and after two invasions (and the early, fertile drumbeat for a third), we have not got the man who has claimed responsibility. We were apparently close in Afghanistan three months after the event, at Tora Bora, but, to use the lingo of the neocons - did not "pull the trigger". Instead we let him slip away. We let the trail go cold. We assigned our assets elsewhere, to gin up a case against Iraq. He even fell out of the parlance of our government for a while, though he's been making a comeback as a convenient boogey-man. A task force that was assigned to bring him in was disbanded back in July. And apparently, our allied government in Pakistan is offering him sanctuary, a move that was announced, denied, then kinda-admitted later to, leaving a swirl of questions in its wake.

And all through this we have used this criminal as a justification for all manner of actions, from reduced civil liberties to extralegal arrests to pillaging our treasury to invading nations that didn't even like the guy. And yet, through it all, we have not been able to get the man responsible. Funny, that.

Is it time to speak of treason? Is it time to speak of betrayal? Perhaps it is.

More later,

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Local Politics: State Reps (47th)

So having dispatched the big Primary races for US Senate and Representative, we slip down to the local, local stuff. In my case, its the Fightin' 47th Legislative District, which is delivering both Representatives to the State House and the State Senator as well. Let's do the easy ones first, with the State Reps - two positions, two candidates from each party, no waiting.

Both the 1st and 2nd Position for State Representative are held by the Democrat incumbents - Geoff Simpson and Pat Sullivan. Long-term readers of this journal know them from previous races, and not a lot has happened to change my stand on them as good, solid, competent individuals. And their writeups in the Voter's Pamphlet are pretty straightforward - both get to run on being fiscally responsible (The state is currently running at a surplus), tough on crime, and both pro-strong economy and pro-education.

The Republican writeups are also short and sweet. Donna Watts is a former Boeing employee who advocates fiscal responsibility, pro-strong economy and pro-eductaion. Andrew Frantz is veteran of Iraq (First Iraq, I think, though neither his bio or his web site is particularly clear on the matter) and a small business owner (nature of business also unclear), and is pro-education, fiscal responsibility, and pre-clean environment. Pretty straightforward welcome-to-the-campaign-trail stuff (and pretty close to what the incumbents are saying). Where I see the difference is head-nods to property rights and property taxes, which are usually a hot-button issue in this part of the state.

All in all, very traditional (not that that's a bad thing at this stage), and pretty much a setup for folks who are alone on their Primary tickets. Nothing major, but worth noting in passing.

More later,

Friday, September 08, 2006

Damnable Facts

The Awful Truths by Brian Thomsen, Illustrations by James Fallone, Collins Books.

So most folk, even with a limited exposure to this journal, will know I'm a bit of a contrarian (see my recent note on Labor Day, below), and while I don't subscribe to the "everything you know is wrong" school, I do believe that "everything you know should be held up to the light and shaken a bit every so often". So my friend Brian sent me his latest book in ringbound uncorrected page proofs, and made me promise I would not talk about it until after it hit its street date.

I've known Brian for years, and he is often that "friend from New York" who sends me books (usually starting the offer with "I have an extra copy of THIS" or "I was in a used bookstore and found an old copy of THAT"). We talk on a regular basis, and so for the months before the release of this volume, our phone conversations have included his most recent excavation. Just so you know where I'm coming from on this.

The Awful Truths is a collection of short-short essays on things that everyone knows which are, of course, wrong, or at least slanted. Saint Patrick? Not an Irishman. Baseball? Not created in Cooperstown (and forget about Doubleday), Emancipation Proclamation? Didn't free all the slaves. Jimi Hendrix? Former paratrooper. Tight, nice little essays. And while some of it involves a little wiggle room in the titles (The Emancipation Proclamation DID free the slaves - in the rebellious states), it makes for good reading of the type that you can split the book open at any point and pull out a couple good stories.

And being a contrarian, I knew a lot of these, so my experience was "knew that, knew that, Ooo that's interesting". Some of the truths are little nuanced (Doubleday was PROBABLY not the inventor of baseball, and Nathan Hale was a Terrorist IF you were a Tory). And while he handles pop history as well as politics, Brian doles out pain across the political spectrum, from the ugly reminder that the Democrats were the party of segregation for a good chunk of our history since the Civil War, to his last entry, linking "Baghdad Bob", the reality-challenged master of the Baath party propaganda during the Iraq war, with the current administration's mad spin-cycle following the debacle of Katrina. But I think he's going to catch the most flack from Star Trek fans by attributing its later incarnations to Baywatch.

And being a contrarian, of course I am not just interested in what we believe in, but why we believe in what we believe, whether it be from cultural blinders, patriotic education, or a willingness to swallow what "everyone knows". But the book is a cornucopia of cool stuff, challenges to convention wisdom, and a great starting point, even if you don't agree with all the truths so portrayed.

And for the moment, he's run out of new truths to hit me with.

At least until he starts working on the next volume.

More later,

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Local Politics: US Rep (D & R)

So while I'm popping through the Voter's Pamphlet and checking out the candidates, I'd like to direct you to the fact that Shelly in Seattle is doing the same, starting at the Non-partisan races and working up. She's up in Kirkland, so some of her local races will not jive with mine, but she's handling the same state-level offices and is worth checking out for another voice.

So. US Representative, 8th District of Washington. No flurry of minor candidates here, but rather two candidates without competition, though each has been so anointed for different reasons.

First, the incumbent, Dave Reichert (R). First-termer, and therefore, like Maria Cantwell, supposedly vulnerable. He's kept the first commandment of politics: For god's sake don't embarrass us. Indeed, in an political party where corruption is rife, personal misbehavior is tolerated, and federal indictments are increasingly common, he has kept his nose clean and his chin up. Two years back he was recruited by the party for the position, and after dispatching the Democrat then-anointed (a talk-show host - what were they thinking?), was installed with a subcommittee chair and the general note to keep his head down, his profile low, and vote the way he was asked to.

Reichert's problem at the moment is that the people who have put him there are currently horrendously unpopular. To his credit he has chosen to dance with the guy that brought him, and doing so at a time when a lot of politicians, trying to keep their jobs, are fleeing from the President and his band in droves. He has chosen to fundraise with the President, the Vice-President, and in the coming weeks, with Karl Rove. Each time he does it, he does raise more money. For the Democrats. But you have to admire the determination and loyalty.

Congressman Reichert's voter notes are pure boilerplate - He's been honored to represent us, a brief resume of the work so far, several reminders that he was Sherrif (protector role), an amusing statement about standing up to Big Oil (which everyone seems to be doing this day - If I they stand against me, will I be able to get record profits?), and a polite thank you. Pretty typical stuff, but then he's not running against anyone in this race, and by the time we get to the general, the info here will be overrun by events of the campaign. Much like the man - low risk.

His opponent is anointed by the Democratic apparatus by a different path. Darcy Burner is not "of the body" of the local Dems - not one of the locals. About a year ago, the Dems were not thinking seriously about the 8th as a swing district, and whoever took up the run would be more of a sacrificial lamb. Into that environment comes former Microsoft manager Darcy Burner, who through strong grassroots and Internet fundraising, managed to move aside the usual suspects and become, much the surprise of those in charge, the anointed flagbearer for the Dems in the 8th. At the same time, faith in the dominant national party has dropped through the floor, and the 8th has moved from "safe Republican" to "toss-up" - indeed, a recent poll just put Burner in front of Reichert for the first time, and this is while she is still introducing herself to the electorate.

Burner, as benefits the challenger, comes out swinging. Lays out her story - army brat, microsoft manager, mom, self-made woman. Then she hits the issues in a series of italicized points. Accountability. Real support for the troops and vets. Standing up to Big Oil (told you - all the cool kids are doing it). Protecting Social Security. Improving Education. Each a heading with a punchline. Simple and direct. Reads like a Power Point presentation.

I have a warm spot in my heart for Burner, in that she fought her way to the table and gained her sole position on the ballot, as opposed to being recruited by a group of supposedly wiser heads (As I mentioned last time - they ended up with a radio talk show host). She's a fistfull of new ideas at a time when everyone is realizing that the old ones aren't working out. Her fundraising has been prodigious, though Reichert, other than his taxpayer-funded carpet bombing of pamphlets, has kept his powder dry. He's saving up his cash and his support from the mainline Republicans, for the big fight.

And it looks like its going to be a big fight.

More later,

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Seal of Approval

Found this toy on the Internet and could not resist
"In MY day, we didn't have this fancy-schmancy open source gaming!"

More later,

Monday, September 04, 2006


So yesterday, the Lovely Bride and I celebrated the Labor Day weekend by going to Bumpershoot. More on that in a moment, but let me deal with the holiday itself.

The easy joke is to point out that we celebrate the American Worker by taking the day off, but the interesting thing about Labor Day is that it is an astroturf holiday - one created to elbow out another, more dangerous holiday.

In the early days of union activism, the unions would hold parades and protest marches. And the wikipedia entry on the Labor Day states that the Knights of Labor held marches in New York City in September, starting in 1882, which was the start of our Labor Day. But the wiki also notes elsewhere that the Knights led a parade in 1886 in Chicago on 1 May, demanding an eight hour work day. The parade spiraled into further marches and protests and strikes and resulted in the Haymarket Riot on the 4th of May. So the first of May is became connected with worker's rights, labor unrest, and later International Socialism, while the US government (under Grover Cleveland) latched onto the September date as being a celebration of labor that wouldn't have such radical overtones. So the rest of the world celebrates the workers on 1 May, harking back to the efforts of American workers, while the American version of the day is a punchline that is celebrated by non-involvement in labor.

But I digress. Bumbershoot.

The Lovely Bride and I are nesters, and normally would spend the weekend catching up on housework, freelance work, and in the LB's case, preparing for the tax classes she teaches. We've lived in Seattle for years, but never attended Bumbershoot, which occurs over the Labor Day Weekend. But there was a Mike Daisey monologue at the Bagley-Wright, and we hoisted ourselves out of our relative creature comforts to go.

So Bumbershoot is sort of Seattle's urban county fair, with more music and less farm animal smell. The Seattle Center, home to the fountain, space needle, EMP, a number of theatres, and an opera house is overwhelmed with young people, music, and art. And looking over the schedule for Sunday, I realized that I had moved officially into Old Fogie-ness. I knew none of these bands. OK, Blondie was playing on Saturday, and the Steve Miller Band was playing on Monday (those I recognize, thank you) but I was at a loss in the face of young music, world music and hip-hop. New Pornographers? Dengue Fever? Spoon? It made me want to go chase some kids off the lawn.

We had also been warned that traffic was going to be a mess and parking impossible, so we chose to head out in about noon to catch Daisey's early evening performance. Actually, the traffic was lighter than it usually was on the days of any other festival in Seattle Center (like, say, Estonian Festival), and parking, though a little pricier, was pretty typical for an event day (and much more accessible than when the Stones were playing Key Arena). The huge hordes in the Center were mostly younger and/or thinner than I, and as such had walked, biked, carpooled or public transported themselves go get there.

And their were hordes. Packed with people. The Lovely Bride and I wandered, relaxed, and ate. I caught a long set by a young singer named Sonya Kitchell and some Afro-Caribbean fusion by Gohk-Bi System. The LB got a new skirt and a shawl. We noshed on fair food, which was better than average fair food (philly steaks, crab cakes, pizza with real cheese). I was fitted for a utilikilt (alas, they were out of fat-boy sizes - it had been a busy day). The LB got a hug from strangers. We wandered among an art exhibit of fragmented houses south of the fountain, and took in the art shows the Frye had set up in the Northwest Rooms, near the carefully-hidden but fully-appreciated jazz stage. And we ran into long-time Bumpershoot denizens Chris and Nikchick (whom, you can tell from their journals, DO know who these bands are).

Then Mike Daisey. Full house of non-theatre-goers (you can tell them by the fact they don't turn off their cell phones). Daisey's monologue was Monopoly!, both talking about the game and the business activity and weaving his personal and family life in-between. In the process he went through the games of my youth (Risk, Monopoly, War), Wal-mart (venting both the frustration and the benefits of the megalithic giant), Mad scientist Nikola Tesla, his own earlier involvement with a Tesla coil, and his experience with Microsoft and Bill Gates in a company training film. And in this Daisey talks about modern life, but also expresses his true geekness, his D&D heritage, his gaming roots, and his bit with Bill Gates is both touching and hilarious in a way that reaches out to the inner geekiness in all of us (yeah, the LB and I howled - no, I'm not going to give away the bit here).

And after Daisey, we walked around the fountain, caught a pyrotechnic dance show on the lawn (the only thing better than young amazon bellydancers with swords is young amazon bellydancers with flaming swords), and then back home.
And today we are celebrating Labor Day the way Americans are supposed to celebrate it - by not working.

More later,

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Local Politics - Senator (R)

Now the flip side. Just as the Dems had their anointed one and four minor challengers, so too does the GOP have its chosen fair-haired child and five folk fighting for attention. Here's their stories, from the Voter's Pamphlet:

On Mike McGavick there is much to say, and there will be the opportunity to say it, as like Cantwell, he's the one that has the support of his party's apparatus. He was sought out by his party heads, looking for someone to cross swords with the incumbent, who was only a first-termer and should be at her most vulnerable. But right now his campaign is dealing with the self-inflicted firestorm that came about when he decided to come clean on his sins (including a DUI arrest) but sort of shaded the details of said arrest, hoping that everyone would applaud his candor and not check out the facts of the matter (bad news - they did). But for the moment, let's take a look at his bit in the Voter's Guide.

McGavick has taken a novel approach in his profile - he's running against the Senate. Against the GOP-controlled Senate. It is bickering, gridlocked, do-nothing, glory-hogging, spending like there's no tomorrow, not doing enough to protect us from terrorists, and partisan. His solution? Add another Republican. Yeah, that will sort things out - in Bizarro World. I mean, most of these comments are intended, in a very civil way, to reflect on the Democratic incumbent, since she is part of the organization, but most of this bunch of do-nothings are GOP, and are still going to be there if you get in. You got a plan to deal with your fellow do-nothings once you get there, or are you planning on just getting rolled and voting the party line?

Yet, McGavick has the second-best profile of the lot. Compare him with the versatile Brad Klippert (minister, paramed, National Guard pilot, law enforcement officer) who starts off with evoking 1776 and ends up invoking 9/11, asking his supporters to "Like the five brave men on flight 93, join me now as I stand up and step forward to make a positive difference". Yep, it's time to charge the cockpit, metaphorically speaking. Between the two points he hits every conservative buzzphrase in a greatest-hits collection and even quotes Martin Luther King. Impressive, I tell you.

Scarier still is William Edward Chovil, who starts out with the admission that if you want to, you can vote for the Democratic Communists, and then works himself into a fine NWO-style rant. His tag line? "If you believe America can do better with more National and Global Communism and Socialism and less Americanism I can't help you." I'm surprised he doesn't just tell you to go pound sand. It has all the fresh pungency of a 1949 issue of The Saturday Evening Post.

Gorden Allen Pross, surprisingly, tops Chovil with an incoherent explanation of our tax system, using not on just pennies, but "redheaded Lincoln pennies" to make his point. I'm not sure what he's saying - it reads like Bill Boroughs in the depths of an ether binge, but I think the thrust of it is that the rich have too much money, so we should cut taxes on them.

In comparison, Warren E. Hanson shows a return to something that resembles coherency. He apparently is another long-term candidate, running on immigration issues (meaning: America for the Europeans), but also wandering into territories like lobbyist reform, term limits (I'm assuming for Senators), campaign expenditures and congressional franking. And he, like Mike the Mover, is angry at Victoria's lack of waste treatment. Maybe he and Mike would like to team up against Ted Stevens.

And finally, B. Barry Massoudi, who is . . . sane. No, I'm not kidding. A civil engineer and planning commissioner on Mercer island (here's his site). Massoudi is talking about actual conservative values, like fiscal responsibility and planning for the future. I'd like to say I have some snarky comment on his profile, but it has the combination of patriotism (appreciative, not rabid) and policy wonkiness that I can actually admire. He's a wonk. A genuine, intelligent, GOP wonk. I thought they went extinct in the 80s with John Anderson.

OK, no endorsements, but I will call it for McGavick, with the hope that Massoudi, like Tran, will garner enough of the vote to make the people running the party pay attention.

More later,

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Local Politics - Senator (D)

So it begins. Armed with my Voter's Pamphlet (the link will take you to the electronic version), I press on into the darkness.

Starting at the top, we have the campaign for US Senator, Democrat flavor. Maria Cantwell is the incumbent, a freshman senator who has in the past year emerged from Senior Senator Patty Murray's shadow. A bit of a policy wonk, Cantwell makes strong points on the environment and women's rights, but has swerved into moderate-conservative territory with initial support of the Iraq invasion, voting for the PATRIOT Act (twice) and has voting against both Supreme Court Justice Alito but ALSO against the cloture vote that would have prevented that vote from happening (it's a fine point, but should be noted). So she's not lockstepping with us dad-blum liberals in Seattle, but as the incumbent she is the Democrat's anointed one. She's hardly the Lieberman some have made her out to be (she lacks the public scolding personality and regular presence on FOX news), but she's definitely more of a centrist, and is catching it from the left as a result.

And her Voter's Guide profile is a little punchier than I expected (most incumbents do the "It has been my pleasure to serve the people of Washington" routine). She rattles off a string of topics that she's been engaged in - Strong foreign policy, fighting drugs at a local level, protect education, protect seniors, and a nod towards biofuels. If anything, her profile needs a little tightening up, a little MORE focus than it currently has. It feels like they had a page worthy of achievements and tried to edit it back. So she's the front runner, the likely candidate, and the one getting most of the Democratic largesse.

And looking at her competition in the primary, you can see why. Most of these guys seem to know that this is their big moment, their chance to shine in the sun, where their finances and political approaches really deny them a viable opportunity otherwise. Take Mike Goodspaceguy Nelson, whose solution to the problems we are facing is to go into space. No, I'm not kidding. His writeup reads like very old school Asimov/Bester/Clarke sci-fi. And like the scifi I enjoyed as a lad, all the answers to other issues come back to the same solution - let's go into space! Pollution? Space! Wars? Space! Trade imbalance? Space!

perennial candidate Mike the Mover is here as well, with a scatter-shot listing of solutions that include: Putting Saddam back in charge of Iraq (since we've screwed up so badly), declaring war against Canada over Victoria dumping untreated wastewater into the Straits of Juan de Fuca, and challenging ancient Alaskan Senator Ted Stevens to a bare-knuckles brawl at Key Arena. Yep, this approach will get him some votes, and he may outdraw Mike Goodspaceguy Nelson.

And then there is Mohammad H. Said medical doctor from Ephrata and former candidate for President of the Palestinian Authority. He starts off well with listing all the problems besetting the country, then takes a very, very sharp left-hand turn into laying it all at the feet of American support of Israel. Healthcare? Israel! By the time he's blaming our foreign policy on the 1948 election, you have to ask yourself which of these three guys you'd LEAST want to be trapped in the elevator with.

And lastly, there is Hong Tran, who is running not only as the anti-war candidate but as the anti-PATRIOT act candidate and the "not Maria Cantwell" candidate, and doing a pretty job at all three. While it is easy to view this as quixotic quest, Ms. Tran actually comes across as a real person whose life has led to this moment and who actually has something to contribute to the political dialog, and who would actually be capable of serving in the office she is running for. Her biggest problem (as noted in her web site) is that she is being frozen out by the Democratic party mainstream, who have backed up behind Cantwell and will not brook any discussion and dissent. Which is a pity because I think she has something worth saying.

So I'm not making any endorsements, but I think we'll see Cantwell as the overwhelming victor, Tran making a solid enough of a showing to make people nervous, and everyone realizing that one thing you don't do is cheese off Mike the Mover.

More later,

Friday, September 01, 2006

Local Politics: Once More Into the Breach

It is the first of September, and while the weather is still frighteningly warm and sunny, it is time for Grubb Street to suddenly turn boring.

I mean POLITICAL Yeah, that's what I meant to say! We're going to turn political. With autumn fast approaching, the yard signs are already mulitplying, the commercials are starting, the mailers are out and the politicos are already choking on their penny loafers as they put their collective feet in their mouths. Ah, the smell of politics in the morning!

Part of the reason for the early start is that we have an early primary this year, scheduled to allow more time to sort out the results of the primary before getting to the general election. Now in many cases, the party's choice has already been selected. These individuals will be noted here as the "annointed" candidates. There are a couple reasons for annointment, as they are either the incumbent or the poor shlub that has been pushed into the path of the incumbent by well-wishing supporters, or, very rarely, individuals who have gracefully navigated the early going sufficiently well that they sudden appear, like Athena sprung from the head of Zeus, as the main contender. For them the primary is just an opening gun for the long run ahead.

But this primary is also very important from our "non-partisan" posts like State Supreme Court. Should a candidate gain over 50% of the vote in the primary, they don't have to run in the general. They get the position. That simple. This is why so many of the signs you see are for Supreme Court Candidates right now - they have a chance to grab the prize in a low-turnout, early election. And while these are usually down-ticket, low-attention positions, they have been seeing a LOT of money come their way. But we'll get to that in the days to come, as we tick down to the 16 September primary.

A final reason for squaring the decks away early is that we are sailing to a perfect storm of an election. No, we are not choosing a president or governor this time, but it feels like we're choosing everyone else. Here in the Panther Lake area where Grubbstreet is located, have up for grabs the positions of US Senator, US Rep, two state reps, our state senator, and three state supreme court positions. And that's not counting the various initiatives that may/may not be on the ballot. That's a lot of ground to cover. And so, armed with my voter's guide, mailers and snarky commentary, the season has begun.

Strap in, it's just going to get ugly from here on in.

More later,