Wednesday, July 30, 2008


First the background, then the challenge.

In the beginning the was the Cleric, one of the big three of Original D&D. It occupied the middle ground, not as tough as a fighter, not as blasty as a magic-user, but had its bag of renewable hit points, and all was well, except that no one would play one except under duress. Good clerics cured light wounds, evil clerics caused light wounds, and all was right with the world. It really didn't matter who you worshiped, all good clerics came out of the same mold - plate and shield, blunt weapons, cure light wounds. It was an easy-access character class.

Then came Eldritch Wizardary and the Druid, which were a subclass of Cleric (meaning that they shared traits with the Cleric, mostly Wisdom as a core stat, which was important because it gave you an experience bump). But the Druids had a passel of new spells, only some of which overlapped with traditional Clerics. And there began the schism.

First Edition maintained the separate-but-equal natures of it with different spell description lists for the Druids and the Clerics, though a lot of the Druid list had - "See the clerical spell of the same name". But the idea was that, even though the Druid was a subclass, it required a full class treatment, and the sheer amount of work involved kept other godheads from getting into the act. You were a Good Cleric, Druid, or Evil Cleric. Neutral clerics were out there, but they existed in an existential detente with the Druids. Neutral Clerics could heal or harm, but since the hps involved were minimal, they were still sub-standard front line guys. But if you wanted your Cleric of Odin to wield a spear, well, no luck for you.

Second Edition mashed all the clerical/druidic spells together under the Priest class, and provided a door out of that problem - the priest of a specific mythos, of which the Druid was one type. So you had the Cleric and the example of the Druid. And the framework was created for making new mythos priests, a set of guidelines that might not get us fully from here to there.

And there the gates were open, and I have to take responsibility to for the next step. In FR Adventures, we did Priests of a Specific Mythos (renaming them Specialty Priests) for the entire bloody pantheon. Part of this was a response to specialty wizards, who were more limited in some schools but got bennies elsewhere (but schools of magic are another story). Now your Cleric could wield the weapon her god could used, and get a couple other cool powers. Now the explosion starts with a plethora of Clerical demi-classes. And while the base-line cleric was still a default, the Specialty Priest was an advanced character class, in that it required some thought and understanding of both the world and style of campaign before you went in.

Third Edition abandoned the default cleric entirely. Now you were expected to pick up your god at the get-go, and you get tailored powers for it. Running a cleric, once the sleepy backwater of play, now had a lot of investment at the get-go. And they solved the problem of customizing the gods for your campaign by granting the powers not by god, but by portfolio (another Realms wrinkle). So if you worshiped a god with the fire portfolio, you got fire buffs. Extremely popular in the day were gods that had the luck portfolio, which allowed you to, once a day, to force the reroll of a d20. We used to call that cheesy. These days we call them halflings.

And now, 4E. You can Channel Divinity class feature. Channeling Divinity opens up certain new abilities to your character. Some of them are available to all Clerics - Turn Undead and a limited Bless (Divine Fortune). But you also can get additional feats based on the god you worship. Now you choose your god, and your god grants you something specific in return. If you don't worship one of the gods covered in the book (or they don't exist in your campaign, you have a problem.

And that's my prob at the moment - I'm putting together a Kobold Cleric. I don't have any Kobold gods in the core books, so the whole Channel Divinity thing is up in the air. And there is no longer a "default cleric" that I can run back to.

I have three options, and I will talk about them next time.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

"The Face of Old-School D&D"

I was going to talk about 4E clerics, but James Sutter over at his blog at has posted some samples from the upcoming Worlds of Their Own collection, which collects stories from some of the industry's best world-building authors. He talks about me and Monte Cook, and includes excerpts from our stories, and says nice things about us.

Go enjoy. We'll talk about clerics later.

More later,

Monday, July 28, 2008


After a brief delay, the voting for the ENnies is up and operating. It is a pretty extensive listing of categories, but you are not expected to vote in every category, or rank every project. I have a piece of two projects in the running this year - Under 'Best Regalia', the powerful Hobby Games: The 100 Best, and under 'Best Electronic Book", the delightful Six Arabian Nights.

The voting will be open for two weeks. I find nominations like this extremely valuable in not only rewarding good work, but in indicating stuff that you might not otherwise know about. Go check it out.

More later,

Sunday, July 27, 2008


You know how some bloggers disappear for a day or two, and then come back and say they were working on "a project" which they can't tell about, so they're all so mysterious?

Yeah, I hate that, too. Instead I will direct natives of Washington State to this article in the Sunday Seattle Times about gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi and what he's been up to for the past few years since the extremely tight election of 2004.

And the answer is: Took a year off, then came back and started giving speeches to Republican groups that were close enough to his campaign speeches to get himself investigated for violating campaign law. Working with a non-profit that seemed awfully like a campaign, such that when he left it, it ceased to exist as a meaningful entity. Writing a book. And making a lot more money from the contacts he made in his first run, despite complaining that no one wants to talk to him anymore.

Its a pretty interesting and mostly balanced story - meaning that if you didn't care for him before you have some good reasons to back up this view, and if you like him, you can use the article to show how he's been in exile. Yeah, if you READ the article, it doesn't seem like much of an exile, but then, that's where the headlines lead you.

Actually, though, its the companion article that I found interesting - the one titled "Real Estate, Book, Helped Rossi Top $250k". And the bulk of the article is about the book, but the numbers, well, they just don't add up. Trust me on this one as an author. Even for a vanity project, sold through a giveaway for fundraisers, you can't jimmie the numbers well enough to turn 13,000 copies of ANYTHING into a significant percentage of $250,000 dollars. The headline might as well have been "Real Estate, Cash Found in the Couch, Helped Rossi Top $250k". The real estate is where the money is. The whole book thing? A bit of distraction, the icing on the cake.

Of course, we aren't going to find out how much the book contributed to the candidate's total take, or how much the total take really is, as Rossi won't share his tax returns (His opponent, the governor, has already made public hers at the request of the media). Here's the quote - "We've disclosed everything we need to disclose and by law are required to disclose, and that's what we're going to do," Rossi said. "Nothing more, nothing less."

That statement is completely true. And I think that would look dandy on a yard sign - "Nothing more, nothing less."

Nothing more later,

Friday, July 25, 2008

Near Jeff Encounter

I was almost creamed on my way home last night, and it has left me a bit rattled.

Here's the set-up. I live on an east-west road, heavily traveled these days as more houses go up around us. There is an north-south road that crosses half a block from my house. That road has a stop sign - the east-west road, the one I was traveling on, does not.

It was early evening, right after dusk. I approach the intersection from the west. There is a silver mini with a white top at the north part of the intersection. I maintain speed. I don't have a stop sign. I'm expecting it to wait until I pass.

It doesn't. The mini lunges forward into the interchange. No time to hit the brakes, no time to hit the horn, no time to curse - the driver hadn't even seen me coming, probably looking the other way. I jog the wheel to the right, making a wide curve around the front of the mini. It nearly t-bones me. Quick mental flash to when I was a kid, two weeks away from taking my driving test, getting clobbered by a driver pulling out of a driveway without looking.

And then I'm past and I swing back into the lane and I look in my rearview to see the last of the mini disappearing on the road south. No honk of horns, no pulling over, not even a squeal of tires. I live half a block from the crossroads. When I pull in, the Lovely Bride is getting out of her car - she had just gotten home.

I was shaken. Another random roll of the dice, and she would have heard the crash, seen the carnage. I was lucky, luckier than I deserved to be. I left one of my nine lives at the intersection, spend too much karma, too many action points, shaved off one of my regenerations, created a couple alternate universes with various casualties.

And in the middle of the night I awoke in a mild panic, fearful that I had not escaped, and that what I was experiencing was just a delusion and I was still at the intersection, waiting for the EMTs to pry me loose from the wreckage. It was a mindless panic, but one that could not be denied. And I sat up and thought about all the other cases where I had avoided horrible consequences, where there were an ever-growing number of alternate universes that were suddenly un-Jeffed.

One of the cats, wondering if I would feed her, nuzzled me. I picked her up and she twisted in my arms, catching me with a back claw for a sudden, inadvertent scratch. And with the pain I suddenly felt better that I was still in the real world.

More later,

Thursday, July 24, 2008

A People of Improbable Hope

Picture seventy years back, a family gathered together by the big cabinet-sized radio, listening to a speech from FDR.

Picture almost forty years ago, a gathering of friend around the black and white TV, watching a broadcast of the moon landing.

Picture today, a department in our company, all watching the download of Obama's speech in Berlin on their laptops.

These are shared moments, where media works.

More later,

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


So the ENnie folks are wrestling with probs with their voting software, so lets go back to gaffes.

The whole thing about gaffes is that they have a bit of inadvertent truth to them, of what is really being thought (or what you think is really being thought). The mask slips and bit of the tentacled mass behind it snakes out. Here's a couple more.

This one has gotten more play than I thought it was - the President, thinking the cameras were really off, gave a rather frank assessment of the current economic situation. Short version? "Wall Street got drunk".

More interesting to me was the revelation in the same clip that the president plans to sell the Crawford Ranch. He bought the ranch in 1999, just before running for president, and the ranch has been the source of numerous photo ops showing him cutting brush and looking folksy and hardworking. With the demise of his administration, the Connecticut-born politician is shedding the rancher image. Another inadvertent revelation, a bit of truth poking through from behind the mask.

More later,

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Longest Yard

This time of year, two things come up - molehills and yard signs. Molehills frustrate me more, so let's talk about this year's crop of yard signs.

The big thing I note this year is the rainbow of colors that have cropped up. For the past five years or so, everything has been red, white, and/or blue, with the dramatic exception of Ron Sims' yellow and black number a few years back. This year, there is a plethora of shades - oranges, teals, and purples among others. There is a lot of blue in the signs, and the few that I've seen using reds have been for Democrats.

Also missing, or at least severely reduced, is the "R" on the signs, which has been diminishing in size over the past few elections to the point of extinction. Lot of GOPs, though, in the hopes that the voters will think its a new party. If that doesn't work, they're going to call themselves the Whigs.

A lot of symbols as well. I mentioned the fighter jet earlier, but there are also a lot of scales and gavels for all the judge candidates. Scales speak out to "justice", while the gavels to "punishment". No one has put an orca on their sign yet, but it is only a matter of time.

At the governor's level, Rossi has recycled his design from four years back - yellow letters on a dark blue background, the "Dino" in a friendly script, an mere autograph, while the Rossi is full caps, heavy as the full force of the government. Gregoire has a lighter shade of blue with a highlight of red and a thinner serif typeface, but goes by "Chris", perhaps in hopes of concealing her gender from people who would be confused by the R/GOP switchup (And is "Dino" his given name? Does Chris have a middle name? The web is noticeably light on giving full names for either campaign).

And there already seems to be a victory in the yard sign war - the triumph of the traditional paper wrapped around a stick version. We have seen a lot of the plastic on wire-frame ones last time, and they always struck me as more difficult to place than one of those single-stake relics. Its good to see the old-fashioned signs are proliferating this time.

Already this riot of color is blossoming in the public spaces, along the road mediums and in the unclaimed spaces at the corners. Nothing has shown up in front of people's real houses, mind you. That war is just beginning.

More later,

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Beisbol Been Good to Me

It occurs to me that I've gone to more games at Safeco Field than at the mythological Forbes Field (a hazy memory of childhood) or at Three Rivers Stadium (a multi-use facility that made baseball a radio sport for me). But one of our folk at the company had four tickets to last night's Mariner's game he could not use and gave them to co-worker Steve, who took his wife Reyna and invited me and Albert along.

And it was a lot of fun. The Mariners, after glorious pre-season hopes, have dived to the bottom of their division, They were playing the Cleveland Indians, who after a promising start are in similar straits. Yet the stadium has a healthy multitude for this first game after the All-Star-Break, filled with group packages and hardcore fans and people taking advantage of a cloudless, warm Seattle evening.

The seats are along the first base line, about 20 feet past first, 27 rows back. Great location for watching the batters. There's a family of four in front of us, and behind us a pair of married couples. The guy behind me I mentally label "The Vet" since he speaks at length before the game about action his unit had seen in Europe in WWII. He was born in Cleveland, and has his hopes. Steven and Reyna both flip out their Nintendo DS's and hook up with the wifi in the stadium for stats and promotions. Later on, they order food through their game machines. Me, I'll wait for the headsup display mounted in my glasses. I hoof it and get a massive pile of garlic fries and a beer that costs almost as much.

The game was one of those good ones - the Mariners caught fire and won, 8-2. Four of those runs came off a grand slam bases-loaded homer by Raul Ibanez, a thing of beauty that sailed over the back fence without even a hope of being caught. The entire crowd rose as it powered out of the park, and I will admit to shouting "Kiss it goodbye!" (Pittsburgh reference)as it departed this world for that of baseball statistics and day-after reporting.

It was Felix Hernandez bobble-head night, but given the current status of the teams, it was also fan-foul-ball-accumulation night, as the seats along both baselines were shelled throughout the proceedings. Reyna at the far end of our group was next to a cluster of empty seats and almost got nailed as a foul pinballed around the ghosts. Another foul came to me, but too high and too steep. I couldn't get it, but turned to see where it went.

And there was the Vet, his hands closed together. And he opened them, to reveal the ball, nested like a bird's egg in his palms. He gave the ball to a wide-eyed kid in his row, and the rest of the section congratulated him both on the catch and his generosity. And we did the wave and argued about the origin of the wave (Reyna checked wikipedia, but I disagree with their conclusions). The Vet grumbled about how back the Indians were stinking up the joint. His wife hugged him. The crowd was in that fine mood that only a six-run lead We ate garlic fries and cheered ourselves hoarse, watched the roof slide shut after the game, and got caught in a massive traffic jam getting out of the lot (Safeco is a great field, but those same trains that you hear blaring past the stadium also block all traffic when the game lets out).

All in all, a great evening. Baseball was very, very good to us.

More later,

Friday, July 18, 2008

Caucus: Energy Crunch

So the Seattle Times Caucus Experiment continues, and it is starting to feel like a "Letters to the Editor" column in which the paper calls the subject matter. Everybody throws in on the general question, they winnow it down to a double-handful of different viewpoints, which they edit for the main web page (everyone's contributions are on another page if you're interested), and they take two or three choice comments and put it in the dead-tree edition.

This time, I got a mention on the front web page. This was the question:
The Labor Department says consumer prices shot up in June at the fastest pace in 26 years, and two-thirds of the surge is blamed on soaring energy prices. Assuming that oil prices are still breaking records and causing further economic woes when January rolls around, what steps should the next president take in his first 100 days in office to address the nation's energy crisis? Are there steps that the state Legislature and governor should also take?
I'm working on trying to keep the comments down to three paragraphs. Let's see if it works.
National - Re-evaluate all Federal benefits to the oil companies - tax breaks, leases, etc. Do not eliminate this funding, but redirect it to turn the energy companies towards non-oil based strategies (wind, solar, etc.) There is willingness among the energy companies to go in that direction (T Boone Pickens is pushing windpower, for heaven's sake), but our regulatory infrastructure is supporting the old ways.

As a minor point, put the bloody solar panels back on the White House.

State - Regional mass transit - its a challenge too large for any one city or county.
What I find interesting is that this is the first time I encountered the phrase "energy crisis" - it is almost as if we've been avoiding comparison to those dark days of the late seventies when prices soared to over a buck a gallon.

The dead tree edition had entries talking about the importance of conservation and the importance of drilling in Alaska (call me crazy, but if I have a limited resource, I want to use EVERYONE ELSE'S supplies before dipping into my own).

Meanwhile, I'm slowly working my way up the food chain.

More later,

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Prepare to be (Bill)Boarded!

About 8 years ago, there was a close election. You may remember it. It hinged on a small part of the total votes and went to court and the Republican won. And in the wake of that election, the conservative factions thundered about how the Democrat losers had to move on, had to put it behind them, had to not obsess about the loss.

And 4 years back, we had a very close election in Washington State, for governor. It hinged on a small part of the total votes, and went to court and the Democrat won. And in the wake of that election, the State Republican Party moved on, put it behind them, and refused to obsess about its loss.

In the words of an famous eighties sit-com: "Don't be ree-DEEK-uclous".

The 2008 governor's race is a replay of the 2004 race. Same faces as you've seen before. Of course the Democrats are sticking by the incumbent, Christine Gregoire. But the R's (running under the GOP side-brand) are pushing real estate broker and former state senator Dino Rossi, who missed by "this much" last time. And Rossi's supporters are running on a campaign of resentment and revenge.

Don't believe it? Here's a sign that's sprouting up in the hinterlands, on the far side of the Cascades.

Mind you, this isn't one of those "Join the Ron Paul Revolution" signs that show up at vacant lots and closed Arbie's. This is a freaking billboard.

When this beast first showed up, there was much denial from the State GOP about its ownership. Turns out it was funded by the BIAW - the Building Industry Alliance of Washington. The BIAW is a big R-Donor that feels it can do better without all those regulations and state law in the way and Rossi is the best man to allow them to do this.

Now this seems launching the negatives right off the bat, but who am I to judge? Oh, that's right, a voter. Read the article - the quotes from the BIAW spokesbeing verge on the hilarious. She blinks her eyes innocently and says they just want to remind people of the importance of voting.


I'm wondering if they would be so sanguine if signs went up that said "Vote Democrat - don't let the GOP kill your grandmother!"

Didn't think so.

More later,

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

DOW Breaks 11000!

Jiminey Cricket, that was fast.

It seems only a couple weeks ago we noted the plummet past 12000.(And yeah, we dipped down below 11000 last Friday, but this journal tracks by end-of-day and only the DOW. We're quirky, but consistently quirky).

Things are looking pretty dire, and the only good news is that the chattering classes are saying that its going to get worse. And I say that's good news, because the various sage talking heads have been wrong about so much so far, that its a good bet that the markets, hearing themselves declared dead, will immediately reverse themselves and usher in a new golden age.

Meanwhile, one of the major candidate's advisers went off the deep end and declared that the current economic woes were "a mental recession". The candidate's campaign quickly distanced themselves from this remark, saying only the candidate really should speak for the candidate. Of course, the candidate has already said he doesn't know much about economics and that he relies upon ... the advisor who said it was all in your head.

Mental recession? It sure doesn't feel like to the people who are not on the bus. Mind you, the recent sale of Bud to a Belgian/Brazilian consortium had definitely helped the candidate's household, as his wife has a lot of Budweiser stock. So they're doing mentally dandy right now.

Maybe it IS all in our minds. Maybe it's, dare I say it, a malaise. Yeah, that's it.

I mean, that phrase worked so well the last time.

More later,

UPDATE:A good history of the context of the infamous "Malaise Speech" can be found here.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Urban Kobold

For a brief period last month, I had copies of the new 4E Player's Handbook and the first adventure, Keep on the Shadowfell, but not the Monster Manual or DMG. So armed, I put together a kobold as a PC race.

This would not be the standard kobold, but rather a Kobold of Zobeck, which is Wolfgang Baur's campaign and site of some of his Open Design projects. Wolf's kobolds are not rural creatures who venerate dragons, but rather a former slave race, freed but still operating in the lower classes of society. The Zobeck Kobolds are a little more urbanized than their standard D&D form.

So I wrote it up and sent it off to Wolf. Now since he operates a commercial site (he sells stuff and has ads), he was reluctant to post it. But since I am doing pretty much a fan site (charitably - I believe to be a "fan" site you have to honestly like something), I thought I'd put it up here, and include my thoughts and design notes:

Ladies and gentlemen, for your playtesting enjoyment and general ridicule, I present:

The Urban (Zobeck) Kobold
Short, scrappy, fiercely independent reptilian humanoids who eek out their existence both in the wild and the shadows of human civilization.

Ability Scores: +2 Dexterity, +2 Constitution
Size: Small
Speed: 6
Vision: Low-light Vision

Languages: Common, Draconic
Skill Bonuses: +2 Thievery, +2 Streetwise
Kobold Weapon Proficiency: You gain proficiency with the sling and spear.
Trap Sense: You gain a +2 bonus to defenses against traps.
Mob Attack: You gain a +1 to hit for each other allied kobold adjacent to your target
Shifty Step: You can use shifty step as an encounter power.

[Design Notes: As noted, I put this together between KotS/PH and MM/DMG, so I was pretty impressed with the good guesses - the skill bonuses (The racial traits of height and weight I had no idea, so use those provided in the MM). Since the Zobeck version of the Kobold comes out of strong mining background, I gave them low-light instead.
Similarly, I chose Streetwise as a skill, even though this does not get the double bonus of additional ability score plus skill bonus. It fits with the more urbanized Zobeck Kobolds.
I think I have one too many special abilities on the list, Either the Trap Sense or the Mob Attack should probably go for PC Kobolds. Oddly enough I can’t see Trap Sense being a big NPC power, unless kobolds regularly stand in the middle of their own traps (which would be kinda cool, but not do much for PC survival).]

Shifty Step
Hey, he was here just a moment ago!
Encounter (Special)
Minor Action Personal
Effect: Twice per encounter, you may shift 1 as a minor action. You may not shifty step in a turn in which you have already run, and may not run in a turn in which you have already used shifty step.

[Design Notes: The traditional kobold shifty ability is pretty darn impressive if used as an at-will power. It gives the kobold the ability to move up, attack, and then dance back out of combat in a single turn. Not to mention move up, slide around a target to gain flanking, or using the shift to disengage, then run for the hills without taking an opportunity attack. For these reasons I added two limitations for the Urban Kobold PC – one making it an Encounter power with a limited number of uses (similar to the Warlock’s inspiring word) and one limiting its use with run, which in normal situations would grant its opponent combat advantage. While the shifty ability is a cool at-will when fighting kobolds, such creatures are not supposed last more than a single encounter, so the reduced shifty step should make things work better.

Kobold Feats:

Heroic Feats

Shiftier Step [Kobold]
Prerequisite: Kobold, shifty step racial power
Benefit: Whenever you shift, you can shift into terrain that would normally disallow shifting.

Dragonblessed [Kobold]
Prerequisite: Kobold
Benefit: You gain the Dragonblood’s dragon breath ability, blast 2

Kobold Friend [Kobold]
Prerequisite: Kobold, mob attack racial power
Benefit: When choosing this feat, name a PC race. You treat that race as kobolds for the purpose of the mob attack. Each time you select this feat, choose another PC race.

Paragon Feats

Fleet of Foot [Kobold]
Prerequisite: Kobold, shifty step racial power
Benefit: You can use shifty step even when running in the same turn, and may run when you’ve used shifty step.

Shiftiest Step [Kobold]
Prerequisite: Kobold, shiftier step
Benefit: When you shift, you can shift 2, and use shifting ability even when a skill check is called for (such as swimming or climbing).

[Design Notes: If you’re going to do a new race, you should do feats appropriate to the new race. This is probably one too many feats, and some of them serve to bring the PC kobold up to NPC power levels through spending Feats, which I am not sure of.]

Anyway, that's the basics of the Urban Kobold. Take it out for a spin and tell me if it works. I'm thinking of unleashing one of these suckers on Wolf's campaign (heheheh).

More later,

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Meanwhile, Back At The Multiverse...

It has been a while since I've checked in with the various comic book universes (And these write-ups are always long and geek-filled). But if you remember, the mighty myriad Marvel Universe has been suffering from crisis-shock in the form of multiple super-hero civil wars and invasions from space over the past few years, while DC has been counting down to a big finale and a supposed new beginning.

So how have things been going? Oddly, Marvel seems to have its act together while DC is in the grip of a not-too-obvious internal civil war.

Marvel first. I mentioned that the latest mega-epic, the Secret Invasion showed promise, and now, a few months in, it has been paying off nicely. The short form is the Skrulls, a shapechanging alien race, have infiltrated earth, replacing a number of heroes, and are now invading. And after the oddness of seemingly random sides in their Civil War, these stories are firing on all cylinders. The Skrull opponents have a lot more depth than in previous incarnations, and they actually seem to have a long-term plan. They are not responsible for all the weirdness on Marvel-Earth of late, but have fit their plans into it. Good marks for maintaining modern continutiy.

As a result the core book is small sliver of time, throwing off sparks that catch in other lines and produce interesting stories (which is sort of the point of continuity, ultimately). I thought the Skrulls-replace-heroes tales would be kinda lame (we know that Yellowjacket has been Skrulled because we see it in Issue 1, what more do I need to know), but the story itself weaves nicely through the continuity of the past few years and gives it a solid grounding.

In addition, we're seeing tie-ins that cover the full spectrum of the Marvel Universe - a Magical Heroes story that centers on the Marvel UK group, and a storyline in the Incredible Hercules that deals with the Skrull gods that is extremely impressive. Even the tie-in one-shots have been well-written.

The end result is taking the universe out for a spin in a way that provides surprises as well as keeping true to your roots. You feel like the story is going somewhere. Oh, and after what seems like years of Tony Stark being a complete ass (and getting said ass handed to him), you're actually rooting for the guy. That's probably the most impressive part of it of all.

DC, on the other hand, has been deeply troubled of late. Its weekly Countdown series, which was supposed to bring us to their highly-touted Final Crisis instead just grounded out, in a way that made its predecessor line, 52, look inspired. Worse yet, the big final crisis takes off and ignores/denies a good chunk of its own predecessor work. The "Death of the New Gods", which was supposed to be a big revelation in FC, but had been made a mini-series almost immediately before (with a completely different ending).

Here's what I think happened (and all this is speculation). DC turned over a lot of its big-crisis continuity to an extremely talented writer named Grant Morrison, but forgot to send out a memo to the other creatives (writers, editors, artists, etc). Morrison worked his way at DC from the outside in, deconstructing and rebuilding many minor characters into interesting and groundbreaking books - Animal Man and Doom Patrol among them. He is known for major revisions within the established canon, and fundamental changes in the nature of the characters. This can be real cool for the characters and sometimes problematic for the surrounding universe - He wrote some incredible stories over at Marvel for X-Men, and in the time since then, almost all of his changes have been uprooted and changed back, usually by major continuity crisis.

Morrison's work has a couple major themes. He believes in the relationship between the fictional and real universe (particularly letting characters meet creators). He challenges basis assumptions about the fictional universes (heroes win in the DC universe because of the nature of this universe to have the good guys win). He has a love of the Silver Age and working its major coolness into the present (His All-Star Superman is a big, hearty valentine to that era, but the All-Star line was set up to be non-canonical). But by the same token does not pay attention to the current continuity as well. And finally, he has no problem doing really horrible things to his protagonists. He's not above ripping the legs of the Flash, for instance.

Grant Morrison is an excellent writer, and as time has gone on, he has orbited into the heart of DC Continuity, writing a core Batman Book and now, Final Crisis. But his work functions within his own universe ("DC books by Grant Morrison") as opposed to within the larger universe that has to pay attention to whether Riddler is a villain or not this week. So characters that die in one of his books show up alive elsewhere and vice versa, and the larger issues from his books are not addressed for characters who are supposedly live in the same universe.

Hence, there is a quiet civil war in DC, not of hero against hero, but of creative vision against creative vision. On one side is the Morrison-verse, which is really cool but going to break a lot of toys (Old fan-favorite Martian Manhunter is dead and they did a funeral issue to stress just HOW dead he was). And on the other side is, well, not the rest of the creatives (they are a wide and disparate lot), but those who are maintaining a flowing modern continuity.

The result, in terms of the universe, is a mess. Some books are tied into Final Crisis, or into final crisis-like events, while other lines are not (not so much as a "red sky"). For the continuity maven, the best approach is to judge each book as to whether it fits into Morrison's larger themes, or matches up with baseline continuity.

So instead of a universe with 52 (or 51, or whatever) worlds, we have two complete universes that are continually diving and twisting around each other. And I'm not sure about how that is going to work out.

So Marvel - pulling everything together from the standpoint of a coherent universe. DC? Showing a lot of strain at the seams. It is going to be an interesting summer.

More later,


So the President's recent performance at G-8, as reported here has percolated up into the mainstream press. The Seattle Times even made mention of it on their front page, pushing the reader far into the back pages of section A for the details (Where they normally hide reminders about the current administration). Here's what the Times said:
Oops! President's gaffe catches G-8 Colleagues off guard
The article itself is titled "Bush Pollution Gaffe Surprises G-8 Leaders".

This pushes the word "gaffe" into some new territory. The general definitive of a gaffe is a social or political blunder. A faux pas or a noticeable mistake. There is a component of a gaffe being accidental or at least unintended to offend. You make a mistake, like not realizing the mike is on, and say something not for broadcast. That's a gaffe. You get your mixes all worded up. That's a gaffe.

Obama gave a speech this week in which he neglected to ask people to support Clinton in retiring her campaign debt. That's a gaffe. Rev. Jackson expressed a desire to remove Obama's testicles on a live mike on FOX. That's a great gaffe. Taunting your allies about your lack of concern about the environment and ending it in a fist-punch ain't a gaffe.

When you use the word gaffe you also include the assumption that the person making the blunder has some remorse about what happened. Obama comes back to the mike to put in a final plug for Clinton and gets a laugh. Jackson regrets not so much for his comments but because they were aired. Cackling at the other wealthy nations about how much of a pig you are? I'd put that into insult territory.

Indeed, irony being what it is, the Times put this little nugget next to a larger piece, titled "Action on Warming left to "Next President" - Administration defies Supreme Court Ruling". This pretty much removes the idea the idea that our fist-pumping farewell was either accidental or regretted.

This wasn't a gaffe. This was Administration Policy.

It's going to take a long time to dig out from the damage inflicted by this administration.

More later,

Friday, July 11, 2008


So the Time's Political Caucus experiment continues, though it is looking more like a comment thread for the Stranger Blog than a meeting of the minds. Speed matters for placement (I'm on the second page with my response), and the questions seem to be pretty media-standard issue. So I've decided to start crossposting my responses here.

Here's the question: "Political pundits, bloggers and newspaper columnists cite Barack Obama's vote on Wednesday in favor of expanding the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act as an example of how he is moving to the political center to capture votes. Is this a good strategy for Obama, the presumed Democratic nominee for president, to follow? Will it make you more likely or less likely to vote for him in November?"

Hmmm, McCain's camp is telling us that the recession is all in our minds while the DOW kisses 11,000, and the burning political question of the day is whether Obama is insufficiently liberal? Needless to say the question brought out the stock answers - Betrayed Liberal (Shocked, simply shocked), Pragmatic Liberal (well, yaknow, these things happen), and Vindicated Conservative (See! We TOLD you he was a no good nogoodnik!).

Here was mine:

I don't think the candidate has moved nearly as much as the camera. If you go into Obama's legislative history, you find a number of "centrist" ideas, such as his co-sponsorship on McCain's Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act in 2005.

Obama benefited from a media portrayal as a more progressive candidate than he was early in campaign, and now benefits from a similar portrayal as him being more centrist. He has always worked closer to the center than he has been portrayed.

I do not agree with Mr. Obama on a number of subjects, including this recent FISA bill, but I would rather vote for a candidate that I agree with 70% of the time that is paying attention, than one that I agree with 30% of the time and doesn't seem willing to talk about it.

I have relative doubts about how this is going - one more collection of sound and fury, heavy on the smoke, light on the light. I'll stick it out until the end of the month, and see where it ends up, but things don't look particularly promising so far.

More later,

Old Guys

So yesterday an old friend came into town. His name is Joe, but he also answers to Skintlah the Cleric and Super-Pin, the Pro Bowler of Steel. Yeah, he's a friend from college (Waaaaay back in the day), when we were still playing AD&D and Project: Marvel Comics (the precursor to Marvel Super Heroes. Joe was passing through with lovely wife and kids en route to an Alaska cruise.

We went to Verrazano's a favorite Italian place with a great view of the sound, sat on the deck, and drank and ate too much.

Recovering, now.

More later,

Thursday, July 10, 2008

He meant to say: "So long, and thanks for all the fish!"

Sometimes you read something and you say. "No, that CAN"T be what happened".

The American leader, who has been condemned throughout his presidency for failing to tackle climate change, ended a private meeting with the words: "Goodbye from the world's biggest polluter."

He then punched the air while grinning widely, as the rest of those present including Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy looked on in shock.

I mean, seriously, is this administration being scripted by the staff at The Onion?

ENnie Nominations

So the ENnie Nominations are up, and I have a piece of two nominations. The ENnies are a set of gaming awards given at GenCon, named after the site, which in turn is named after founder Eric Noah (man, that's a long walk to explain a short name).

Anyway, the ENnie nominations are selected by the "gray eminence" method of a panel of sage and learned souls, and voted on by the general gaming population online. It looks like a good group this year, and with a nice mixture of big players and small presses (gaming awards have the perennial problem of either being dominated by the big guys, which makes them look mercenary, or excluding the big guys and thereby looking irrelevant).

The full listings are spread over several pages, but here we see nominations for Hobby Games: The 100 best under "Best Regalia" (which I think means "Best Game Stuff that aren't Games),and Six Arabian Nights, from Open Design, under Best Electronic Book, which I also contributed to. Six Arabian Nights is in a tough category, up against Book of Experimental Might as well as Open Design's Empire of the Ghouls. Both Nights and Ghouls are in addition patron projects, which means that the people who got them were those that paid up front for them, so I don't know what that means for reaching a wider voting audience.

Voting kicks off on 21 July and will last until 3 August, it uses an Instant Runoff System, which is pretty straightforward despite an arcane explanation, but should provide a definitive result. Remind me to post a reminder when it comes up.

More later,

Update: Open Design has also been shortlisted for the Diana Jones award, along with founder and fellow Allit Wolfgang Baur. It's been a very interesting day.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

I Do My Part for Local Media

A little while back Shelly tagged me with a note that the Seattle Times was looking for everyday people to write in and comment on political matters. So I went to their site and signed up.

"They can't afford real reporters anymore," noted the Lovely Bride, "So they're looking for free labor. You're a scab."

"More of an intern," I replied, "A scab would get paid."

Anyway, it is a bit of an experiment on their part and mine, and sort of a online letters column with a captive contribution list. The first one is a fairly mild question (Who should the two major candidates pick as Veep?), and the results are here. And it looks like we're pretty much in the conventional wisdom category, though I steered against the currents by saying the Wesley Clark would still make a good veep despite, or rather because of, the latest hyperventilation by the chattering classes.

I'm listed as "Jeff Grubb of Panther Lake" since it was shorter than "Jeff Grubb of that little bit of unincorporated King County just south of the piece that Renton just sucked up which is supposed to be annexed by Kent, eventually". And yeah, there's a nice globby typo in the middle of my writeup, which is my doing, not theirs. And I wrote it on a Friday and it was put on-line five days later, which is an eternity on the Internet.

But you know, it is an experiment, so we'll see if this goes anywhere.

More later,

Time to Go

So among the many (many) things that the current administration has said about Iraq was that when they asked us to leave, we'd leave.

Well, they have. Now what?

More later,

Update: We change the subject: "OMG! Iran haz teh Missiles! Everybody Panic!"

Update Update:The cool picture of missiles being launched? Photoshopped. Hope their missile program is better organized.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Game 101: Empire of the Petal Throne

So Hobby Games: The 100 Best won an Origins Award, raising my lifetime Origins Awards to something like 1.68. And I’m really happy to have had the chance to share a favorite game, Tales of the Arabian Nights. But in coming up with the subjects, we went back and forth on which game to write about, and there were numerous favorites. Most of the ones that I suggested were picked up/already claimed by other writers, but there is one favorite game that didn’t make the final cut.

In early 1976 I was getting into D&D, like most of the nerdisphere of the era. The original three booklets were out and the first supplement – Greyhawk, which did not talk about the campaign but instead provided valuable additional rules like Paladins and Thieves. And as we were working through these new options, there was this massive box that showed up – a huge box costing an unbelievable (for that age) 35 bucks - Empire of the Petal Throne (EPT).

There are very few things I regret in life, but one of them is that I didn’t get a copy back then. I mean, D&D cost like 10 bucks – why would I pay so much for a game? Yet EPT, more than anything else, would set the standards for what was to come in gaming, and with it my career.

Empire of the Petal Throne (Publication date of 1975) was the creation of M.A.R. (“Phil”) Barker, a language professor in Minnesota, and like Ed Greenwood’s Forgotten Realms, predated D&D itself as a setting for stories and linquistic studies. It was the first published boxed campaign setting ever, and predates Greyhawk (1980 for its Gazeteer), the Known World (later called Mystara, which showed up in adventure X1). Its closest competition for first setting are Jim Ward’s Metamorphosis Alpha (also 1976), and the late Bob Bledsaw’s City-State of the Invincible Overlord (GenCon of 1976). I think EPT beats them both in timing and in presentation.

Empire of the Petal Throne was complete game and campaign setting, its ruleset an expansion and adaptation of the D&D system. It had sumptuous full-color maps (a rarity for the time) and a heavy plastic-ring-bound booklet. Even the art had moved up from the early D&D Universe, a combination an old manuscript style and the work of such early pioneers as Dave Sutherland.

Empire of the Petal Throne is set on the world of Tékumel. It is a fantasy world with with a science fiction origin – it was a terraformed world of the far future which fell into another dimension, taking its ancient technology, alien races, and strange native lifeforms with it. Some of the magic comes from old technology that has now been mostly abandoned by the inhabitants, plus spells granted by powerful extradimensional gods that cropped up in their new universe.

Tékumel is also light in minerals, so we don’t see as much iron and steel. Instead weapons and armor are formed by peeling the hides of the chlen beast (there are no horses here, either). And the planet and its dominant languages descended from Earth, but at sometime in the past the northern hemisphere of our planet blew itself up, so it was the southern hemisphere that reached the stars – and the base language descends and culture out of Indian, Mayan, and Mideastern cultures, and pale, blonde-haired Europeans would be considered demons. Non-standard fantasy, indeed.

Tékumel is also a very hot world, so casual nudity is common, particularly among the lower classes (and yeah, it has a strong class structure, something not done in a lot of later games). And this heavily casted social structure is based on slavery, making it a more mature game. As the industry aged and strained to be more mainstream and acceptable, such concepts would be avoided, and when used touted as being “edgy”, but EPT was there first, at the dawn of time.

So the game was a small revolution – boxed set, extensive maps, non-western and mature setting, strong alien language, fixed social classes. You are not yourself transported into a world with comfortable analogues, but rather a stranger is an even stranger land. Oh, and extensive writeups of the gods, a balanced godhead split between Stability and Change (Law and Chaos). Here we see a lot of the predecessors for later TSR worlds such as the Realms, in presentation, depth, and subject matter. Much that would follow comes out of this fertile soil.

The game itself did … OK. I played it (though I didn’t own it) and had a great time with the strange monsters and realistic dungeons (meaning there was a reason they were there). Eventually it was cut loose from the TSR pantheon, before even AD&D showed up. Part of it was the fact that, with all the color maps, it was expensive.

The game system, as noted, was a D&D variant, taken from close to the original roots – three classes (Fighter, Magic-User, and Priest), abilities that included Comeliness (with the high numbers being in danger of being kidnapped), and the very basic combat system that was just a notch above the Alternative Combat System of the original game. Before there was D20 and OGL, there were games like this, Gamma World, and Metamorphosis Alpha, taking off from a common root stalk.

Over the years new sets were published from other published, with Barker’s input and permission, but slightly different goals. The Swords & Glory boxed set of 1983 from Gamescience was a brick of wonderful impenetrability, its world section wonderfully detailed, its rules set a ponderous, impenetrable tome, its DM Guide unfinished. Gardasiyal: Adventures in Tékumel, from Theater of the Mind’s Eye (TOME, now gone), stressed the social end of the scale and your place as a part of the larger whole, trying for full-fledge immersion. Tékumel: Empire of the Petal Throne, was published in 2005 by Guardians of Order (also now gone), both for their house system (Big Eyes, Small Mouth) and its D20 versions, but none truly grasped the wonders of the original set, not set off such a ground tremor that can still be felt today.

Yeah, I’m a fan, and have all those sets, along with the first draft of Mitlanyál, book of the gods and the demonic Book of Ebon Bindings. And I picked up the Different Worlds reprint of the original EPT in 1987, but its not quite the same. But going through it, I see a lot of what was to come, and what could be, in roleplaying games.

More later,

Monday, July 07, 2008

Yellow Jacket

So I'm in a bit of a mood right now, since I was stung by a yellow jacket. While seated at my desk.

Normally I am cool with intrusions of wildlife into my daily life, even to the extent of the mosquitoes that got in over the weekend. But my first warning of this particular intrusion was a sharp pain at my elbow when I moved it to a place the yellow jacket did not care for, and it lashed out at me.

As a kid, I was always afraid of bees, but two weeks on Kangaroo Island in southern Australia, catching and painting honeybees, had apparently cured me those issues (but that, as they say, is another story). Nonetheless, I cast the yellow jacket down and stepped on it. A couple times, but after the second it was purely out of spite.

So there were some local folk wisdom as well as the Internet for what to do. Since I am not allergic and there was no obvious stinger harpooning my flesh, I iced down the area and took a couple aspirin. The Internet also recommends applying an onion or baking soda to the area, but we were fresh out.

The yellow jacket fared much worse than I, but as I said, it has left me in a mood.

More later,

A Simpson's Dream

I've stated before that I believe our dreams to be messy emotional states, and that what we call dreams to be an attempt to impose order onto that messy state. And yet the other night I dreamed an entire episode of the Simpsons. In the traditional three-act arc. No opening couch gag, though.

Here's the story: Bart and the other kids are playing space ships (The Simpsons universe is oddly retro – there are hoboes and references to the Rat Pack in it). There have been stories of UFOs around Springfield. Bart takes a tumble. Martin, the class nerd, shows up with a working space ship, inspiring the others to come up with their own working versions as well. Ralph has one that works on the principle of two pie plates banging together. The cool thing is, they all work, and they go looking for UFOs. They are attacked by aliens. We don’t see the aliens, but Bart is captured and put into suspended animation by the Alien’s Minions – Ned and Skinner.

Bart wakes up and all the other kids have grown into their parents or adult analogs. Ralph is a cop, Nelson is Snake, the creepy twins have become Marge's sisters. Lisa is an adult with Marge-style hair. Maggie is a sullen rebel. The world is surviving but post-apocalypse, in the fashion of an old Twilight Zone episode with the old man in the mountain. Lisa says that the aliens did this, but since she was the most adult, she weathered it better. Maggie sends Bart to the mountain, where the old man giving out all the wisdom is … Homer.

Bart leads Homer back down into the city, and Lisa is angry – she’s been using Homer as a false god to keep everyone in check under the aliens. The former kids rebel but Martin (now Professor Frinke) finds a way to send Bart back in time to prevent the aliens from succeeding – don’t call attention to yourselves with the flying ships. As he heads back, Maggie whispers something in Bart's ear.

Bart returns from after he takes his tumble. He belittles playing spaceships, and everyone goes and does something else. The exception is Martin and Ralph, who fly off in Ralph’s pie-plate craft. We see them head off, and they are followed by a space ship. Bart remembers what Maggie whispered to him - "There are no aliens - we become adults eventually regardless."

Over the closing credits, Kang and Kodos appears, to gloat that they finally appear in continuity on the show. Kang points out that the future may have changed, and besides, they only are seen in the closing tag, which gets cut in syndication. Kodos screams “nnooooo!”.

And I woke up, the plot fully-formed in my head, but as I tried to remember it, I was aware I was making linkages and explanations and filling plot holes. Now the only question is: How do I make a pitch?

More later,

Sunday, July 06, 2008


It's a bit chill and overcast in the real world, so I've been doing some clean-up on the virtual Grubb Street today. In the process I've taken everything over from Blogger's old busted-down "templates" to their new-fangled "layouts". And in doing so I am striving to make the new version look pretty much like the old version. And I think I'm close.

One thing that really bothers me is it feels like there is too much space between the body copy of these entries and the sidebar column. (Or to be more accurate - the sidebar column is too wide). I'm not sure about how to tighten this up, and if anyone has the knowledge, drop me a line.

Also, I'm taking recommendations on counters. I had one up here as an experiment, but it just measured concurrency (number of people looking at the page at any one time), not hits. The old one did have a nifty "heat" map, which said that most of the people tuning in were the US East of the Mississippi and small patches in the Pacific NW and Northern Europe. Which was cool and all, but not what I was looking for.

The new draft has many of the old links in place, and along with that a bloglist for new entries for some of the contributors. We'll see how this one works out.

So if you're not getting this in any sane fashion, or have further suggestions, drop me an email (under the photo) and I'll see what can be done.

More later,

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Secret Tape

So I've got a secret illegal tape that's fallen into my hands, from a couple months back, after Super Tuesday. After careful consideration and vetting, I've decided to share it with everyone, since it couldn't possibly do any damage at this late date.

Male Voice: Hello?
Female Voice: Barr? It's Hill.
Male Voice: Hilary? You know what time it is?
Female Voice: Three AM. I knew you'd be up. Look, we should talk.
Male Voice: Sure, what's up?
Female Voice: I'm doing the numbers, and I can't catch you.
Male Voice: Yeah, we figure the same thing. There ARE the super-delegates - they could make a difference ...
Female Voice: Yeah right, like they're going to go against the will of the people. We aren't Republicans, you know.
Male Voice: True. So you've been looking at the numbers...
Female Voice: And I can't catch you. I mean, if these were winner-take-all ...
Male Voice: ... unfortunately, we aren't Republicans.
Female Voice: You got it. So I'm going to drop out. Give you a clear field.
Female Voice: Did you hear me, Barr? I think I'm going to ...
Male Voice: I heard you. I just wish you wouldn't.
Female Voice: I'm surprised to hear you say that. It's been bitter the past few weeks. The party needs to heal.
Male Voice: The party has plenty of time to heal. Here's the thing - the news is going hot and heavy about you and me, right?
Female Voice: Yeah.
Male Voice: And what are they saying about John?
Female Voice: Not a lot. But as soon as he lines up all his ducks in a row ...
Male Voice: That's just it, without media attention, he can't get anything going.
Female Voice: (Pause) Because we're sucking all the air out of the room fighting each other.
Male Voice: Uh-huh. Not only that, we're making the room bigger as more and more people come in on your side, or my side. And even if some of them walk afterwards - there will be a few, and it will be heavily covered - there will be more people engaged than there would be if either of us had a clear run.
Female Voice: We're making the pie bigger.
Male Voice: Right. And if the 24/7 news cycle WASN'T nattering on about you and me, what WOULD they be talking about.
Female Voice: The usual, probably. Misquotes...
Male Voice: ...Bowling scores...
Both Voices: Flag Pins! (Both Laugh)
Female Voice: You realize what you're asking here? Its going to rocky for you, if we go forward. And for me as well.
Male Voice: If we wanted to be liked, we would not be in politics.
Female Voice: True that. Ok, I'm in, but let me warn you about the press.
Male Voice: I'm cool with them.
Female Voice: Not you. Michele. If they can't nail you on anything, they will go after her.
Male Voice: Speaking from experience?
Female Voice: God yes. Before the election, Bill was this big likable lug, dumb as a post, and I was Angela Landsbury, secretly controlling him.
Male Voice: Why does it always come down to The Manchurian Candidate?
Female Voice: (Laughs) I don't know. OK. I'm staying in. This will give me a chance to be more of shot-and-a-beer candidate, anyway. That'll make people's heads spin.
Male Voice: Cool. Glad to be running against you.
Female Voice: And Barr, the deal still on?
Male Voice: Supreme Court Justice Bubba? You bet. Of course, they'll just say you're secretly controlling him.
Female Voice: (laughs) I wish. See you on the campaign trail.
Male Voice: You too. And thanks.

More later,

Friday, July 04, 2008

Indepen Dance

"This is a revolution, dammit! We're going to have to offend SOMEbody!"
- - William Daniels as John Adams - 1776

Rock out on your freedoms, America.

More later,

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Sonic Screwdriver

A court decision is like a coin flip. Not that it is random or capricious, but rather because that when the coin is in the air and resolution is about to be determined, you truly realize what you really want the result to be and what you're willing to do to bring it about.

So it is with the decision for Clay Bennett and the city. The judge was to announce her ruling at 4. Instead she announced that the city and the ownership group have settled without need of her acting like the grown-up.

Here's the short form:
- City gets 45 million, up from the 20 million the owners had previously offered.
- City gets another 30 million if they don't get another NBA club in 5 years, but that depends on the state upgrading Key Arena.
- Bennett gets to go. Now. B'Bye.
- Seattle keeps the name, the colors, and the history, put into storage until the team is reborn.
- The suit from the previous owner, Howard Schultz, that Bennett negotiated is bad faith, is still on. Hopefully Schultz isn't using K&L Gates as his lawyers.
- Both sides declare victory.

That second point is interesting, in that it is a bounce-pass from the city's Republican lawyers to the Democrat-controlled legislature, who is now expected to drive hard to the basket. The problem is, the legislature has been listening to its constituents, who are noticeably cool to the idea of municipal giveaways to groups of wealthy individuals in exchange for their bread and circuses. So this is a challenge - can we find a funding vector that will not bleed public treasury, nail the basketball fans, and hold the (new) owners to responsible behavior?

I'd like to believe there is a way. Now's the time to revisit the Bellevue plan, the Renton plan, and that thing that looks like a trilobite they were talking about near Safeco. Key Arena has a great advantage in that it does fit in with its neighborhood as opposed to being a big box on a parking pad, and it sounds like there are enough concerts and other venues to keep the place going. The key (heh) to a new arena, or refurbishing the Key (again), is finding a funding plan that does not give away the bank.

But something else occurred to me during all this. When the owners were trying to sell the Renton arena idea, they trotted out studies that showed how advantageous the new arena would be to business. But when trying to scoot out of its responsibilities, the same owners trotted out more studies that showed that leaving town would not hurt business in the slightest.

Obviously this means that gaining an NBA franchise generates cash, while losing one incurs no loss. If the NBA is to be believed, they have found the economic equivalent to cold fusion - all gain and no downside.

So here's the plan - the government takes over the NBA - now to be known as the Nationalized Basketball Association. This new NBA would be moved from city to city (they do it now, so the owners can't REALLY complain) in order to speed the economic recovery of cities in hardship. Biloxi hit by a hurricane? Send them the Knicks. There are wildfires outside Corning, California? Patch in the Celtics. Flooding in Iowa? Give Cedar Rapids the Lakers for the season. Since gaining a team is all win, and losing one is no loss, these gypsy teams will go where they are needed, spreading economic largess in their wake.

Yeah, there's probably something wrong with that solution, but it looks great on paper. More later,

Burning Daylight

So no sooner than I declare that the sunny days of high summer have arrived in Seattle than a storm brews up from the south, and restores the town to its trademark gray, rainy state.

They mock me, the weather gods, they mock me!

Well, in truth its been hot and fiery in California of late, and all that warm, unstable air is coming north. We do have rain in the summer, but usually it is soft and at night. Last night was a thunderstorm of impressive (though not quite midwestern) quality, boiling up out from the foothills of Rainier.

The good news with the increased cloud cover is that it reduces one of the untold perils of Seattle in the summer - too much daylight. Yeah, you hear about the lack of light in the winter, when you go to work in the dark and come home in the dark, but the opposite occurs in the summer. The sky lightens at 5, and even at 10 you can see the silhouettes of the trees against the dying sky.

The result of all this, though, is that we are awake ALL THE TIME. Forget coffee culture, we are up earlier and going to bed later. And as a result, we're just a little more exhausted after it is all said and done. We're getting more done, but it starts to wear on you.

So a little bit of rain is not the worst thing in the world.

More later,

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

High Summer

We suffer, here in Seattle, the curse of meteorological amnesia.

We forget, every year, that our springs are grey and cool and rainy. We forget we sometimes get snow and ice in winter, particularly in the foothills. And we forget about high summer.

High summer is that time after the last chill patch of spring, usually starting sometime in June and lasting to mid-August. It is a time of clear days and dry weather, when the non-corporate lawns start to turn brown and the rain barrels start to empty.

This past June was particularly cold and rainy - two inches of rain up on Grubb Street, with the bulk of that in the first week, a time of sub-normal temperatures that made the natives clutch at their fleece and the local nutters to write in to the local papers, decrying global warming. But suddenly all that falls away, the sky turns blue, the nights are clear, with the occasional hot patch stirring up thunderstorms in the foothills.

Now is the time when you will not be able to get across town on the weekends, what with all the parades, festivals, marathons and street-closing car shows and art fairs that are all squeezed into this temporal window. Now you get a mountain day (when can see Rainier or Baker) before the ground haze of modern living cloaks the peaks, keeping them shrouded until the next rain (usually in the evening). Now is when people honestly stop wearing jackets all the time.

And we forgot this was coming. We do it every year. And now instead of muttering about the cold and rain, we as a city will start pouting about the heat and the effect that it will have on the snow pack and the water table. It is an annual thing, but it always catches us by surprise.

And so it will go to late August, when the rains will roll in and the skies will grow overcast, and we will go back to complaining how bad the weather is out here.

More later,

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Canada Day

This day celebrates the formation of the British Colonies of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Upper and Lower Canada (Ontario and Quebec) into a federation in 1867, a move encouraged by the fact that American Civil War veterans kept invading the country, seeking decent beer and cheap prescription drugs (see the Fennian Raids for more on this).

Starting from this basis, it took Canada only 115 years to attain full independence from Britain. Goes to show that you can have change without resorting to violence - slow, slow change.

In commemoration, I provide this link from the Arrogant Worms:
Come back proud Canadians,
To before you had TV.
No hockey night in Canada,
there was no CBC.

In 1812 Madison was mad,
He was the president you know.
Well he thought he'd tell the British
Where they ought to go.
He thought he'd invade Canada,
He thought that he was tough.
Instead we went to Washington,
And burned down all his stuff!

More later

Poisoned Well

So tomorrow, a judge will rule on the whether the Sonics can break their lease on Key Arena and decamp to Oklahoma City. And while the local media has been making hopeful, happy noises, I think the city is in big trouble, and Sonics fans will have to determine what stage of grief they are going to be in.

Here's the story so far: The previous Sonics management, consisting of a bunch of local investors headed by Starbucks guru Howard Schultz, sold the team to a group based out of Oklahoma City headed by Clay Bennett. The new owners immediately began to lobby for a new arena to replace the Key. Many expensive options were cast about, including building the most expensive venue in the NBA in Renton. Ultimately, it went nowhere, and Bennett's people turned their tear-stained eyes east to relocate the team to Oklahoma.

But then memos turned up that Bennett's boys were always planning on vamoosing to the heartland from the get-go, and the entire negotiation was just a scam - huge demands they never planned on being accepted. So the situation spiraled down to this point, where before a judge, the two sides have to show why the Sonics should be/should not be allowed to skip out on the last two years of their lease.

It seems kinda straightforward. The city needs to show the OK mob were negotiating in bad faith, and as a result their tender Okie feet should be held to the fire. I think everyone expected that Bennett's side would be on the defensive, trying to argue with their own emails.

Bennett's team, however, went in a different direction, attacking the city for themselves negotiating in bad faith and trying to force the new owners to sell out by forcing the team to stay in town, and then making it too hot for them to maintain ownership.

And the thing is, they've got a point, as it turns out. The city hired the prestigious K&L Gates law firm, which had on its team former Republican Senator Slade Gorton, who was notable for keeping sports teams in Seattle regardless of what people living there thought on the subject. Like him or not, he's generally regarded as being a sharp customer who was good to have in your corner.

Problem is, K&L is ALSO representing a group that was looking to buy the Sonics from the OK business team. This might be construed as a potential conflict of interest, and a wall would have to be erected between the two groups to keep everything on the up-and-up.

This didn't happen. Gorton was ALSO on the buyout team, along with Microsoft honcho Steve Ballmer, former Sonics president Wally Walker, real estate developer Matt Griffin, and former Republican senatorial candidate Mike! McGavick. And Bennett's side presented evidence that Gorton had a confidential meetings with the NBA, then reported back that info to the potential new buyers group.

Uh-oh. Well, at least they didn't leave an embarrassing smoking gun from these meetings. OK, Hang on there. Yes they did.

As part of the presentation for the potential new buyer's group, Mike McGavick prepared a PowerPoint representation titled: "The Sonics Challenge: Why a Poisoned Well Affords a Unique Opportunity". For local sports, this is probably the most on-the-nose named document since "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the U.S". Now the "poisoned well" the document refers to was the existing bad blood as opposed to making a bad situation worse, but suddenly the city was the one on the defensive, parsing its words and declaring its innocence.

In terms of a relationship, its like accusing your spouse of cheating when said spouse had Polaroids of you polka-ing the night away with another partner. Making matters worse, the city's lawyer (from K&L Gates, again) was regularly overruled by the judge, who also instructed the lawyer (read: schooled him) in the finer points of law during the course of the trial.

So for the moment, I would say that things do not look good. While the basics of the case remain (do the Sonics have to honor their lease?), the OK boys have denied the city the moral high ground, and exposed a nasty little potential power play on the behalf of the city. or of at least its legal representation. I'm not a fan of the fast-talking smoothies from the heart-of-the-heart of the country, but I have to admit that they nailed our people to the wall.

We'll see what happens tomorrow. More later,