Friday, October 31, 2008

Reservations on Rossi

So many people have been talking politics on their blogs, that once I delivered my recommendations, I felt I could coast for a while. But there are a couple things that I still need to work out of my system before Tuesday.

And one of them is Dino Rossi, Republican/GOP candidate for governor.

When this blog was in its early days, Mr. Rossi provided good content, both with the razor-thin margin of his loss and with the massive, overblown lawsuit that followed. And now here it is four years later, and we're back to the same battle with the same candidates. A do-over. Sort of like if Gore ignored all those people calling to "Move On" and decided to run again in 2004. Not that there is anything really wrong with a rematch (Darcy Burner is making her second run for Dave Reichert's seat), but you expect to that the candidate has improved over the interim.

From what I have seen in the Rossi-Gregoire race, I'm not convinced. I think Mr. Rossi run a very slick campaign, as he has before, which hinges on a couple things, and may yet see him victory. But if anything, I've got more reservations now than I did four years back. Here are the high points:

Different messages for different audiences: To Washington East of the Cascades and the redder rural areas, the Rossi message has been one of bitterness and resentment - "Don't let Seattle Steal THIS election" announce the angry billboards. In the Puget Sound region, it is all about "Change", trying to hook his wagon to the Obama campaign. "He's for change and so am I!" says the technicolor message board in Fife. In general, the Rossi campaign has been much more willing to embrace the Democratic presidential candidate than the Republican one, if that will get more votes. Which brings me to -

Running under the Radar: We mentioned earlier about the Rossi campaign using the "Prefers GOP" tag to put some additional distance between himself and the national train wreck his party has become. And indeed, in a tight election, a few confused voters might make a difference. If that doesn't work, he may very well run next time as a Whig. And he'd still do pretty well, because of -

Friends with Deep Pockets: The BIAW (Building Industry Association of Washington) is one of the state's most powerful sources of political funding and Rossi's sugar daddy, to the tune of over 7 million bucks. Impressive (and it might be more - the cash flow seems a little dodgy here). That's a lot of money for a campaign, and could take a good dent out of the impending budgetary shortfall that should hit in two years. We should save the BIAW's number and hit them up for a loan, if we need it.

[Digression- Just to be straightforward on this, the BIAW spreads a lot of cash around in elections on both sides of the political fence - what do they want out of the deal? There's a good article here. The short form - they want lower taxes and few regulations for their members, the housing developers. Who would pick up the slack? That would be ... you.]

Controlling the Message: Questions that Mr. Rossi does not wish to answer do not get answered. Information that Mr. Rossi does not wish to share is not distributed. Reporters that Mr. Rossi does not care for are not admitted to press conferences. That makes getting the message out much easier, particularly if the media you are favoring includes conservative-friendly operations like the Times. But a friendly media is only helpful if you are -

Being Technically Legal: This is a big one. The Rossi campaign and its supporting operations patrol the grey areas of the law with ruthless precision.
Here's an example - the candidates' sources of income. The current governor shared all her tax forms. The Rossi camp, instead, delivered the minimum as required by law and not a comma more. Legally, he was not obligated to, so those interested could just go pound sand.
Here's another: A foot-dragging Mr. Rossi this week had to give a deposition about his fund-raising for the BIAW. His argument is that he was not a candidate at the time he was raising huge amounts of money for a group that would then invest heavily in his campaign once he DID become a candidate (again). Now frankly, I think he has a point (that is, it's a lame and relatively toothless law if it can be circumvented is such a brazen manner), but this seems to be a hallmark for the campaign. That which is not expressly demanded is optional. That which is not expressly forbidden is permitted.

So from all this I get an idea of how Mr. Rossi would govern. More stonewalling than is found in a backyard English garden. Eager to obey the absolute minimum as required by law. In the pocket of a major, major donor. Limited communication. The transparency of a cinder block.

And I think that all this is the big reason I can get comfortable with Darcy Burner in her second run and not Dino Rossi. Burner spent her enforced time-off coming up with plans and positions and reasons to vote for her. If anything, she's grown on me and reassured me as to her intentions. Rossi played games with our election laws and has sewn resentment and confusion in his wake. And while a Rossi Governership might make for more stirring headlines and funnier blogging, I would prefer my elected officials to be more competent than entertaining.

Really, I'm good. I don't need new material.

More later,

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Memes, Notes, and Plugs

First the meme: Copy this sentence into your livejournal (well, blog) if you're in a heterosexual marriage, and you don't want it "protected" by the bigots who think that gay marriage hurts it somehow.

Let me go futher: I am particularly cheesed off at the cowards who hide behind my marriage to further their hate. On things that grind my gears, it is almost up there with the cowards who hide behind the flag. If these clowns were truly worried about the health of my marriage, they would work to close garden stores to keep the Lovely Bride from buying too many annuals every spring (A rite referred to in the house as "Honey, this space alien possessed my mind and made me buy marigolds and petunias").

But talk is cheap. Stan! takes a stand on the matter - on a street corner. His story is here.

The Jeff Recommends has gotten a lot of good feedback, and some of my fellow local bloggers have gotten into the act (Yay them!). For alternate views, go check out Shelly (and check out her comments as well) and Steve Miller (whom I disagree with on a lot of points, but value his views).

Also on the political front, fellow Alliterate Steve Sullivan has put together books on Barack Obama and John McCain. Perfect gifts for your last minute Election Day shopping.

And FINALLY Worlds of Their Own is still available at Paizo, a jam session of writers best known for our shared world stories cut loose in original stories. Check it out.

More later,

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Songs of the States

So the question came up in the office: Are all 50 states represented in song? And then we had to define further - we would exempt all official states songs, as well as all fight songs. We started with "Sweet Home Alabama" and soon rolled in "Country Roads" and "There's a Pawnshop on the Corner in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania" (which I remember from my youth), but hung up on New Hampshire and some of the more esoteric states.

Well, the net provides. Norman Geras has done the work so we don't have to.

Thank you Norman. Thank you, Internet.

More later,

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Fall

It has been an interesting autumn so far, in particular since it has lasted so long.

Autumn in the Puget Sound area is a time for evening rains and morning fogs. We've had both of these so far (Panther Lake and the length of Benson Hill have been wrapped in what might best be called low clouds, but regardless they have presented a cotton-wrapped commute each morning). But we also usually have a good cold snap that brings down the leaves in one fell swoop with very little chance for fall color.

Not this year - it has been a mild cooling, resulting is a golden canopy as the deciduous trees turn. The wide blanket of pines keep their deep green as a backdrop, and we have the accent of crimson flame from maples along the way.

All in all, it has been positively pretty.

More later,

Monday, October 27, 2008


In its continuing effort to make its editorial page even less relevant, the Times have moved Doonesbury to the comics pages.

I report that with a wry grin, since the reason Doonesbury was usually be found on the editorial page in the first place was that the editors were concerned that such a "political" strip might be found by impressionable young minds and people whose morning mental exercise was the Word Jumble. It always seemed like a cheap way to avoid the usual controversy by given the strip its own "Free-Speech Area".

But now half the strips are talking about the economy, and Candorville has spent the past two weeks looking for John McCain's honor, and the conservative base is given its reassuring dose of Prickly City> (typical joke - Boy, that Michael Moore is FAT!). And Mike and the gang don't look all that edgy anymore. Sadly, they remain about three grade levels above the Wizard of Id and Garfield so explanations may be needed to those encountering the strip for the first time (Yahsee, Zonker's nephew Zippy is using Sarah Palin's style of interview answers with his college prof - it's satire!).

Of course, when such a move is mandated, someone must die, and the loser is .... Cathy (who has spent the past week talking with her accountant - high comedy, indeed). I have to admit that I pulled out the Thursday paper (Friday and Saturday putting the comics in its bizzaro magazine format) to find out who went MIA, and I was surprised that it was Cathy who taken out behind the bunker and given two shots to the dome. There are comics that are a LOT less funny still taking up valuable space (not a whole lot, but still ...)

Now I warned them - mess with the Doones at your own peril. And I am not alone in this judgment. I see nothing but tears coming out of this.

More later,

Tony Hillerman

I lived in Arizona for a year when I was young, and what I remember most about it was the air - dry, warm, baked on the terracotta mesas beneath cut diamond skies. And sometimes in the distance, you saw falling in the distance that never hit the earth, evaporating before it strikes.

That is called a "male rain", and I learned about it years later, when I read the mystery novels of Tony Hillerman, who has passed on at age 83.

Hillerman created a beautiful series of books the evoked the loneliness of the land, the culture of the Navajos, and the rural poverty of New Mexico. His heroes, first Joe Leaphorn, and later John Chee, live in both western world and in that of the Diné, and Hillerman found a deep well from which to draw. His novels, always strongly paced and with grounded characters, rose above genre to produce work that has stayed with me.

Farewell to Mr. Hillerman, and to Lts. Leaphorn and Chee.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

People Who Need Plays

On further reflection, I have a few more subjects who would make for interesting plays:

Milady De Winter
Joe Wurzelbacher
John Andre
Henry Wentworth Akeley & Albert N. Wilmarth

Any others?

More later,

Update: Brainstormfront makes the following suggestions -

Adam Worth, the Napoleon of Crime
Joshua Abraham Norton, Emperor of the United States

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Front Burner

Things got interesting in the past few days in the for US House District 8, between incumbent Dave Reichert and challenger Darcy Burner. The air war (TV and Radio) has been intense and ugly between the two as Republican Reichert is faced not only with a highly organized opponent but also with an ever-growing blue wave.

But then, on Thursday morning, the Seattle Times, ever kind to conservatives, rides to his rescue. Darcy told people that she can help the economy because she majored in economics at Harvard. However, the report breathlessly informs us, she did not - her major was in computer science. AHAH! Darcy is telling fibs! She's a fibby fib-teller! They even interviewed someone at Harvard to confirm it!

Mind you, this was front page material, below the fold. When Burner's home caught on fire a few months back, that only made the front of the Local News section. And most of the Dino Rossi shenanigans involving his fund-raising for the BIAW gets pushed back as far as it can without hitting the weather page. But then, the Times is very kind to conservatives.

Me, my first reaction was - Harvard. Really? Huh. She went to Harvard. That's cool.

But it turns out there is more to Darcy's side of the tale than first revealed. Harvard doesn't have majors, it has concentrations or some other wonky name. And yeah, she took a lot of economy classes and wrote papers in addition to her computer sci work and you could say she had a minor in economy (if they have minors, at Harvard). Or if you're feeling generous, a double major (If they had majors, you know, at Harvard). But the Times wasn't being generous, instead cherry-picking the quote from the Harvard prof they interviewed (and you know the progressive blogs were going to double-check, which is where the whole thing starts unspooling).

By the way, Burner's campaign also shot back. Reichert has been telling folk he has a bachelors from his college (Concordia Lutheran), when he really has a 2-year associates degree. So on Friday ANOTHER front page below the fold article on the matter, which repeats the initial claim and then does a little defense work for Rep. Reichert (their conclusion - not his fault).

What GOP (and its supporters in the Times) is hoping for is a "crystalizing moment" - some gaffe, error, or fabrication that they can show as revealing the true nature of an opponent (or rather creating the illusion of a true nature). The Dean Scream. Biden liberating a line from a speech in Britain. Gore being boring. Give the voter some reason, any reason, to vote against the candidate. And it often works.

Even with the help, four-year incumbent Reichert has his work cut out for him. This is a change election, and he hasn't got a lot on the ground to make his constituents happy with the national status quo. He has been supportive of the traditional Republican platform, and even had the President out to help raise funds. But a continual loyalty to failed policies (and a bit of excess when it comes to mailing out free stuff on the taxpayers dime) are about the only things you can pin on him. He has avoided both political and personal scandal, and in the GOP that's sadly more the exception than the norm. He has served as an innocuous back-bencher, trying to scuttle progressive legislation but when forced to vote when people are watching, will on occasion vote for his constituents as opposed to investors.

So the Times has done Reichert a solid, with a nasty report splashed on the front page two weeks before the election. And while the RNC is throwing cash into his campaign pulled from other doomed causes, the incumbent still faces potentially long presidential coat-tails, along with a gubernatorial candidate that not only wants to avoid using the Republican brand but has his own shady background. So Reichert's campaign can use whatever help he can get, be it carefully crafted front-page reporting or ethically-questionable free time on the local media.

But like I said - Harvard. Didn't know that. Yeah, I'm pretty impressed, too.

More later,

Update: So the Burner campaign asks the head of the com-sci undergraduate degree program at Harvard to talk about Darcy. Ah, the miracles of this instantaneous communication.

Yeah, Harvard.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Video Experiment

OK, this is to see if I can embed video here. It seems like all the cool kids are doing it:

Someone dropped this in my in-basket and I really liked it. And it just seems like it is the opening credits for a new comedy about twenty-somethings debuting on Thursday night on NBC.

More later,

Update: Man, this song and the video has been following me all day. The song because it's a pretty catchy ditty, but what underscored it was the "meet the band" video. The band is called Dealership, by the way, and I don't have any idea if the members of the group are like their supposed filmed avatars. But by the end of the day I had turned them into the NBC sitcom I mentioned, and here is who they are:

Ray is the guy at the start of the video. Lives in a hotel because his most recent girlfriend threw him out of the house for sleeping around (note woman's underwear in scene, but no woman - she walked out on him as well). He's a hound. He sleeps all day and drums all night. He's a slacker, with no prospects, great dreams and no practicality at all.

Ari is the girl (napping in the forest with her keyboard? - its symbolix). Free spirit, smarter than she looks, always has the right answer, wise though innocent. Music is her way of cracking the code of life. Weirdness magnet - stuff happens to her and she sees nothing wrong with it. She writes the lyrics, effortlessly. She is a seeker.

Sam is the office drone. Hates the job, drinks his lunch, keeps his job through sheer bureaucratic inertia. The rational one, the one trying to live a "Real Life", and therefore the one with most pressure on him. He writes the music, and for him it is an effort every step of the way.

Those are the characters. Sam has a house, Ari lives in the attic in her own private wonderland, Ray probably moves in by the end of the first episode. They are all strugglers, but everything comes together when they play, and the band is the redeeming factor in their world - sort of like in Hard Days Night (The only time the Fab Four are in control of their lives is when they are playing). Ray and Ari probably had a thing way back, but are more friends who are protective/jealous of new relationships. Ari is Ray's muse, and often has the immediately correct answer while Sam has to struggle for it. Ray figures he has a sweet thing and strives to keep the balance between the two that lets him slack. If they become a real couple, he's out of a place to live. If the band breaks up, he's out of job.

Anything missing? Probably need a sound tech - the weird old guy in the Mini. Sixties survivor, says things like "I suppose that makes me the adult supervision around here - yep, we're all damned to hell!".

Anyway, I needed to get this out before it ate me alive. If it turns into a real show (like maybe Ken Levine pitches it), be sure to drop off my part of the cut. You know where to find me.

More later,

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Old, Older, Oldest

Old: One of your co-workers gets a ringtone from a young lady. You're the only one to recognize the melody.

Older: It's the theme from "Love Story".

Oldest: You proceed to sing the first four lines.


More later,

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Jeff Recommends (Annotated Version)

So unlike the primary, I’m not going eat up a lot of blogspace death-marching through every bloody candidate, but give it to you in one big chunk. I’m doing it now because a vast bulk of the ballots are already in the mail, and winding my way through the voter’s book (hardly a pamphlet this time – they could have made this squarebound) will just take too long.

But I will footnote, and reserve the right to come back to these subjects at a later date. Here we go:

President: Barack Obama

US Rep, 8th District: Darcy Burner (1)

Governor: Christine Gregoire
Lt Governor: Marcia McGraw (2)
Secretary of State: Sam Reed
State Treasurer: Jim McIntire
State Auditor: Brian Sontagg
Attorney General: John Ladenburg (3)
Commissioner of Public Lands: Peter J. Goldmark (4)
Superintendent of Public Instruction: Teresa Bergeson
Insurance Commissioner: Mike Kreidler

Legislative District 47 (Pos 1): Geoff Simpson
Legislative District 47 (Pos 2): Pat Sullivan

Supreme Court Justices: Mary Fairhurst, Charles Johnson, Debra Stephens (5)

King County Superior Court, Pos 1 – Tim Bradshaw [Not Bradstreet, as originally noted. Tim Bradstreet is an artist, so that's what caught in my mind. Thanks to Shelly for catching me on this. The Jeff regrets the error.)
King County Superior Court, Pos 22 – Julia Garratt
King County Superior Court, Pos 37 – Jean Rietschel

King County Amendment 1 (Elected Director of Elections): No (6)
King County Amendment 2 (Expand definitions of discrimination): Yes
King County Amendment 3 (Restructure regional committees): Yes
King County Amendment 4 (Set requirements for some offices): No
King County Amendment 5 (Create forecast office): Yes
King County Amendment 6 (Move up budget deadlines): Yes
King County Amendment 7 (Increase requirements for Initiatives): Yes
King County Amendment 8 (Make executive, assessor, and county council nonpartisan offices): No (7)

King County Fire Protection District 2 (Bonds for new stations): Yes (8)
Maple Valley Fire and Life Safety (Restore levy for funding): Yes

Washington State Initiative 985 (Magic Ponies): No (9)
Washington State Initiative 1000 (Allow terminally ill access to lethal drugs): Yes (10)
Washington State Initiative 1029 (Certify long-term care workers): Yes

Sound Transit Propositions 1: Yes (11)

1) Incumbent Reichert’s campaign was pretty positive early on, but apparently the numbers have closed since they are now running attack ads in which Ms. Burner is heard to say that the recent FISA bill “Sucks” as proof that she is divisive. Um, that would be the bill that lets the telecoms off the hook for spying on us at the orders of the White House. Which Dave voted for. Yeah, I think “sucks” pretty much sums it up.
2) This is a Rodney Dangerfield of an office, but I am recommending the GOP candidate because she is pro-choice and pro-drug reform. Not that the office gives her more than a bully pulpit to work from. But I want to see the King of Spain knight her.
3) Incumbent Rob McKenna is in a miserable spot right thanks to gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi’s fiscal shenanigans. He has to prosecute Rossi and the BIAW which has supported McKenna in the past, or it looks like the fix is in. Go for the equally qualified Dem this time.
4) One of the contests I am passionate about. Incumbent Sutherland was asleep at the wheel in overseeing the timber industry (major contributors) and a good chunk of the hillsides came down upstream of Chehalis and flooded Lewis County. Enough of this foolishness. Vote for Goldmark.
5) Don’t like these guys? Tough. They were elected back in the primaries. Pay attention, next time.
6) Most of these initiatives are sound like busywork, but there are couple nasty little items hidden in here. This is one. Just for grins, lets NOT make the guy in charge of the elections not subject to the same money-hunting chase as other politicians.
7) This is the other nasty little gem buried in the details – I call it “Incumbent Employment Program”. Giving the voters LESS information to work with is not a good idea.
8) I know you’ve thought this as well: Why do we always have to vote to see if we want fire departments, while large amounts of cash go out to other interests with nary a note? Can we make voting on government salaries part of these ballots?
9) This is a mess of an amendment, one of those rotten deals that steal from everyone except the road-builders.
10) I believe in living wills and DNR orders. I am at the age when I have heard the phrase “When the end came, it was a blessing” more than I should. Even so, I cannot give this more than a grudging approval, and then only because it is so tightly written that I can’t rules-lawyer any reasonable exploits off it.
11) OK, I was wrong. I figured mass transit was dead after the last vote. This version cuts away the pave-the-earth bennies and concentrates on the good stuff. It’s a light out of the transit tunnel, and the opposite of I-985.

Got it? Good. Now go vote.

More later

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Play: Flashing Blades

The Three Musketeers by Ken Ludwig, Adapted by the novel by Alexander Dumas, Directed by Kyle Donnelly, Seattle Rep, through 15 November.

Let me say this at the outset - Dumas's original just begs to be rewritten.

Trust me, I'm speaking from personal experience with the tome. I've read the bowdlerized young folks versions, pecked my way through the original French, and watched the Lester films. More importantly, I've just finished the Richard Pevear translation from Viking, which, if you're a fan of the story, I would recommend strongly.

That new translation shows that while the story is a classic, it is separated both by time and culture. Modern sensibilities may rise an eyebrow at D'Artagnan's romancing of his landlord's wife (while said landlord was in the Bastille, no less), or Porthos' blatant exploitation of his older patroness. And the entire moral muddiness over who the bad guys are (the English? the Huguenots? The Cardinal? and why are we helping the Queen cheating on the King?) makes it a bit more challenging.

So the story is rewritten, much as the original seriously revised the story of the original d'Artagnan (and much like the American dime novels revised the stories of real-life Edison, Doc Holliday, and the James gang). D'Artagnan in this version is much more the youthful, pure-hearted male ingenue (ably played by the Andrew William Smith, with more depth than his surfer-dude Cleante in last year's Imaginary Invalid). Richelieu (A dominating Jim Abele) harks more towards Darth Vader than Charlton Heston in all his badness. And the Three Musketeers have hidden bases, and act more like Batman than bravos. And there is the matter of d'Artagnan's kid sister.

Yeah, you heard it right. New character inserted into a crowded cast, in the form of Sabine, "D'Arty's" younger sister. She replaces Planchet, d'Artagnan's manservant (for that matter, the other menservants vanish entirely from the play). And at first blush, this sounds about as wise as giving the moody Anakin Starwalker a spunky teenage sidekick, but Montana Von Fliss makes us forgive this incursion as well, and again, from modern sensibilities, makes the ending play out a bit neater than in the original.

She also keeps this from being the all-boys' club of the original and provides a counterpoint for Cheyenne Casebier's devilish Milady. Jennifer Sue Johnson is good as Constance, but the plot requires the poor lass to carry the idiot ball at the worst possible moments. Milady is strong and deliciously malicious, and played beautifully by Casebier, holding her own with Abele's Richelieu on the stage. The only thing that I will quibble with is, that if Milady was hung years ago, those open-at-the-throat gowns would reveal the rope marks. But that is a quibble.

Simplicity gets down to the title three as well. Hans Alweis as Athos is the crushed romantic, the fallen noble. Jeff Bender's Porthos is more into his vanity. And Ryan Shams as the priestly Aramis throws off biblical verse and serves as straight man for Sabine's romantic interests. This, by the way, is one of the hardest things to do with these three inseparables - they are thought of as a unit, and most people cannot remember which is which. The original backup band.

The sets are Eifel Tower turned Transformer, with shifting props and making full use of vertical space from the first appearance of the musketeers (sliding down from ropes on the ceiling). Indeed, they use the full stage and spill out into the audience during their battles. The swordplay itself ranges from well-choreographed ballet for the larger pieces to a lot of Doug Fairbanks bog-standard (swing up right, swing up left, swing down right, swing down left - they are attacking the sword, not attacking the man behind the sword). But that's a minor point that only us SCA-veterans would pick up, and the regular crescendo of crashing live steel and muskets keep the action up.

So, a lot of bits are glossed over and some motivations are mangled a bit. Not going to replace the book, but the book has to be taken with a huge chunk of understanding as well. Worth bringing the kids to (and yeah, the average age for a Seattle Rep plunged with this one - its a good intro to the grown-up theater for the kids).

But you know who really needs her own story? Milady. She really needs that "Wicked" approach (and part of that is just because she really pulls out the stops in the last quarter of Dumas's book, which never gets covered). I'm just saying.

More later.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

More Cheesesteak

So the last Presidential Debate was held last night, and, depending on your political preference, it was either an Obama victory or "Hey, the season finale for Project Runway is on!" Here's a bit of the highlights

As Mark Twain said, History doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

Anyway, when I talk politics, I get emails and conversations at the office and over the gaming table. When I talk games, I get emails and conversations at the office and over the gaming table. But when I talk cheesesteak? I have laid my tongue on the culinary third rail of the American appetite.

The discussion started with a local sandwich shop called "Sacks" which offers a "Classic Cheesesteak" with "Prime beef, grilled onions, dill pickles, tomatoes, mild cherry peppers or hot jolapenos, provolone cheese on an 8" roll. Choice of marinara or no sauce."

What fresh hell is this? Leaving aside the pickles and tomatoes, who puts marinara sauce on a cheesesteak?

Many people, in fact. And they prefer it that way, I have been assured. And while I have to admit that the marinara sauce does a lot for the sandwich from Sacks, I would hesitate to bequeath upon it the name "cheesesteak". And many agreed with me, calling it a pizziola or a pizza roll (and I would quibble with that one - a pizza roll is a long calzone, but that's another food fight).

I am no conservative in my cheesesteak outlook - My favorite cheesesteak is from Donkey's Place (pronounced DUN-kee's), which is run by the Lovely Bride's relatives and has for 65 years has been serving Camden with a great steak sandwich. And they are heretics for serving it on a kaiser roll as opposed to a long roll, I will admit. But the spices are what makes it all worthwhile, and elevates it to the top of the cheesesteak ranks.

But marinaro sauce? Sorry, just too kinky for me. I may enjoy it, but cannot call it a cheesesteak, much less a classic cheesesteak. I fear we must agree to disagree.

More later,

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Night of the Living Smoke Alarm

So late yesterday afternoon, the Lovely Bride called me at work and said "Will you pick up a 9-volt battery on the way home?" I dutifully did so, thought it meant risking a supermarket parking lot during a rising full moon.

It turns out when the LB got home that afternoon, there was a chirping in the upper hall. Short, sharp, metallic beeps, hard to exactly locate, but definitely in the upstairs hall. One chirp a minute or so. The hall was pretty empty, except for two smoke alarms in the ceiling. Kate had pulled the obvious unit, but it was wired into the house, and still beeping. We thought it was because the battery was dying.

So we switched batteries with the one I bought, and it was still beeping its dead-battery song. OK, the battery I purchased was for some reason dead. Lovely Bride went out and bought another battery. Came home, put it in. Still beeping.

Perplexed, we hit the web site for the smoke alarm. Under the FAQ on the site, it provided a list of what to do if you're getting the dead battery beep, including vacuuming the device and turning off all the power to the unit.

We went down the list, down to killing the power for that part of the house. Still chirping. Tripped the circuit breakers for almost ALL the house. Still chirping. We were prepared to rip it entirely from the ceiling, but we had no idea how if the power was still live. How could the smoke alarm still be getting power?

Then the Lovely Bride stopped for a moment, and decided that it had to be the OTHER smoke alarm in the hallway. The hallway is mostly empty, and it was difficult to tell where the sound was coming from. We repeated the process with the second smoke alarm. The eerie, sharp chirping continued in the darkness, mocking us.

Finally, the LB figured it out. It wasn't a smoke alarm at all, it was a warning device in the upstairs closet, where the water heater lives. THIS device was to detect if there was a leak in the hot water heater, and would ALSO chirp when its battery was weak. Since it wasn't hooked up to the house current, it would stay live (and chirping) when the rest of the house was in darkness.

All in all, the adventure took about five hours, including rebooting our Internet after we killed all the power to the house. The Lovely Bride did a lot of stomping about, trying to figure out what happened and hunting for tools, while I played with the cats in the dark.

Ahhh. Good times.

More later,

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Election Day

If you're reading this and you're in Canada, go vote.

I have to admit I'm a little jealous of the Canadian system. They have strict limitations on spending, and relatively short campaign seasons (the longest, according to wikipedia, was 74 days. And, until recently, they didn't have set dates for the election itself, just a five-year "sell-by" date.

That last I think works in their favor, and against us in the US. The nature of the fixed election days seem to poison the act of government, such that economic plans are not aimed at long-term growth, but just making sure that everything doesn't go sour before the next big election. Indeed, the "October Surprise" this year seems to be that the economy cratered so badly BEFORE the election, despite efforts to reduce and/or hide the damage (Our fundamentals, as you know, are strong).

The Canadian political landscape is different as well. A friend in Canada once told me that the Conservatives are like our Moderate Democrats and the Liberals are like our Progressive Democrats. The New Democrats, on the other hand, operate in a temporal/spacial zone that cannot be comprehended by we in the Lower 48. And then there's Quebec, which is their own particular cross to bear. Hey, you can't have everything.

So if you're in Canada, go vote. Then, regardless of your political persuasion, you can light up a cigar, grab a snifter of brandy, sit on the back porch, listen to the loons, and chuckle at us poor Yankee sods.

More later,

Monday, October 13, 2008

Writing About Theater

So go read this. Go ahead, I'll wait.

Back? OK.

I like this article. It, the comments attached to it, and my recent OD on theater this weekend has gotten me thinking about writing about theater, both in the casual environment of the blog and in a larger sense of the outside world. The article is pretty much in line of the "Theater is too stuffy", which is a common complaint. But I do like the idea of ripping off the business plan of religion and other successful businesses and applying it to the arts.

Think about it - Church. A lot of people go to church on Sunday, but the Sunday sermon (the performance) is actually just the visible part of what the church does (missionary work, outreach, counseling, youth activities, etc ...). Professional theater (at the REP and Intiman level, which the article seems aimed at) has that same general mission statement to the community, one which is more than occupying a stage three days a week.

Aside from the idea of theater as secular church, I like the idea of concessions. For movie theaters, concessions are where the profit is (which is why they count the cups at the end of the day). Your ticket price? The movie itself, with a minimal bit for heat and light for the building.

In any event, this has gotten me thinking about writing about theater. There seems to be a feeling that the critic by his very nature must criticize. Critics come off as grumpy old goats, cranks with an unfinished novel in the closest and painful memories of losing the lead in the high school production of "Fiddler on the Roof" that left them scarred for life. When you're reading a criticism in a paper or on the web, you're expecting to find someone looking for nits, motes, and the occasional beam in the production. Liking the play, or even most of the play, seems abnormal.

Plus there is the demand for the critic to entertain in his own right. You know -well, the play was just rotten, but let me get my pound of flesh out by making your chuckle about how bad it was.

And I compare this belief to other boosters in the media. The business section is relentless in its rah-rah of business in general and local business in particular. When a local business is caught with its hand in the cookie jar or cratering all over the place, the local media switches to "stern disapproval" but remains sure that once things are corrected, all will be bright again.

Ditto sports reporting. You have to go, oh, 1 and 4 (just to pull a number out of the helmet) before the local sportswriters will finally abandon the glowing hopes of preseason. And then, the story line is still positive and about redemption ("Can they turn it around?").

Yet theater (and other arts) seems to have an adversarial relationship with its media. Part of that is probably because business and sports contributes a huge chunk to the bottom line of media, so going after them hard might have an adverse effect. You're not a GOOD critic unless you show a desire to rip the living flesh from some small production, or lob javelins at some established theater group, or doubt the raison d'etre of some publicly funded group.

Me? I'm not sure I'm a critic, but I do write reviews, and they're usually in the tone of what it means to me. I suppose I have more sympathy to those on the stage and behind. I've seen some bad plays, and unless they are absolutely horrible, I just don't mention them. I don't see it as a public duty to blast a few more holes in the boat just because I spotted a rat in the bilge.

I'm not sure about this, but that's what I'm thinking at the moment.

More later,

Update: Huh. If you wondered if art was important - well, its important enough that Initiative I-985 (A dog's breakfast of magic pony promises and devils in the details) wants to steal from it.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Play: Other People's Kids

The Night Watcher written and performed by Charlayne Woodard, directed by Daniel Sullivan, Seattle Repertory Theater, through Oct 26, 2008

So from one pole of American theater to the other. All The King's Men was large cast, epic plot, based on a classic book, cut down to a spare three hours, accounting department fretting over how many bodies go into the seats. The Night Watcher is small shiny at the other end, one woman show, personal in nature, with sparse set design and props.

And when the one woman is Charlayne Woodard, who returns for her fourth one woman show at the Rep, it is about as close to a lead-pipe cinch that you can manage. The Rep opens its season with a comfortable production that laughs and cries and works so apparently effortlessly. We caught our first of her shows back in 2000, and she was good then, and she is a guarantee for good now (OK, go check out her IMDB entry - you know you want to).

A self-described "blue-collar actress", Woodard goes into detail on her role as aunt and godmother for a small host of kids. She combines her own admittedly facile moments (buying a coat for a dog?), with a deep understanding of children and parents grown up from personal experience. Not fitting into the normal hierarchy of kids and grandkids, she is both wild card and confessor, first choice and court of last result. She spins out her tales freely with a dishy vibe and the ability to transform herself into her major characters at the drop of a chair.

I know from whence she is coming - the Lovely Bride and I have cats, not kids, and parts of our experiences parallel hers. But her world is much more sprawling from the size of family, and is a rich mine for her tales. There is darkness and humor and honesty in her tales, and it is infectious into the audience and a soft, sweet delight, neither pretentious nor preachy.

Its a good opening for the season, and worth seeking out.

More later,

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Play: Humpty

All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren, Adapted by Adrian Hall, Directed by Pam MacKinnon, Intiman, through 8 November, 2008.

Oh right, we take a break from politics to go to a play about ... politics? Such are the times we live in.

All the King's Men, based on the novel (and later movie) of the same name, tells the story of Willie Stark (played by John Procaccino), a Huey Long-style radical populist who grows from a small-town reformer to dictator of Louisiana, right down to both men's final fate. Stark, like Long, is a conflicting character - a tyrant who improved Louisiana more than decades of more legal government before or since. But that part of the story is the flash, the fireworks, the excitement of the tale. It's that larger-than-life plot that the other story is hung upon, which is an individual's story.

Leo Marks is Jack Burden, born to bayou elite, cynic who is first attracted to and then shepherds the young Willie, finally falling into the governor's adminstation as the Stark's "fixer", capable of being able to convince others to do the governor's business with a minimum of threat and bother. Burden starts as a cynic, moves to a supporter, gets emotionally gut-shot at the end of the first act, becomes an uncaring nihlist, then as the rest of the empire goes down, finds some good and acts nobly himself at the very end. I think that the story that we're supposed to see - Burden's tale resolves, while Stark's doesn't, but the two men's stories seem to pull in two directions.

The collapsing of a novel into a play accounts for part of that, I suppose. Less real estate on the stage than on the printed page, more of a drive to cast the nuance in a few lines. But as a result the pacing felt off, and there were a couple places where I fell a step behind. Flashbacks swirl and eddy like oxbows in the river, and one of the early ones left me hanging - where was I in time and space with these people? Only later did I piece together that I had gone back to the beginning of the tale.

The actors (part of a huge cast) are up to the entire proceedings, aging and backing up through the course of the three hours. Leo Marks is flinty and acerbic as Burden, while Procaccino develops Stark's character from stumbling small fry to Kingfish. The rest of the cast pulls main roles and ensemble support with equal aplomb.

The adaptation also merged in the music of Randy Newman into the play, with is another odd vibe to cast into the muddy political waters. Except for a strong, blunt mention in the Newman song "Rednecks", the black man is invisible in this version of Depression-era Louisiana. I'm a fan, but Newman's is one more voice in an already crowded choir.

However, in the end, its a powerful piece of theater, and recommend it strongly. The temptation is to point at current situation, with its messianic messengers of change and power-abusing governors, but by hewing close to the legacy of Huey Long, it belongs where it belongs, and lets you take what piece you choose from it.

Still, it makes me want to read the book.

More later,

Friday, October 10, 2008

DOW Breaks 9000!

T'ain't funny, Magee*

Wow, this is massive. After years of promising the benefits of trickle-down theory to the masses, we are finally see it come to fruition - all of the pain is coming down squarely on the folk who have helped support our behemoth financial institutions for years. When times were good, the rising tide lifted a lot of yachts. But now that times are growing increasingly harsh, there is a magnanimous nature in the sharing of pain.

Wall Street has gone beyond its tantrums and is in full-fledged panic now. People are scrambling around looking to stop their losses in any possible. Wealth is vanishing at a frightening clip.

And still it could be worse. Your social security could be in this mess.

More later,

*And yeah, if you were alive when that quote was first coined, then you remember how dire things can really get.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Lunch Question

I know there are more important things going on in the world at the moment, but I have to ask. Since when is OK to serve marinara sauce on a cheesesteak?

More later,

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Bonfire of the Virtues

Depending on your political leanings, the debate last night was either an Obama victory or a very boring evening.

But I get tired of the politics, the economy, and the weirdness that results from a light comic book week, and I turn to the Citizens of Virtues site to become spiritually refreshed.

I'd recommend it to you, too.

More later,

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

DOW Breaks 10000!

Well, I didn't think I would see THIS headline again. In part it is because the current administration has two major talents - blaming things on the previous administration and pushing off problems to the next administration. I fully expected the announcement that we are officially in deep kimchi to show up on January 21st, 2009. The economy for the past few years has been like a game a musical chairs, where you see that the chairs have already been pulled, but as long as the music doesn't stop, there is no problem.

But then the music stops.

I've been of mixed emotions about the big rescue/bailout. The initial proposal was a mess ("hand us your wallet and no one gets hurt"), and I sent letters to my senators and rep to that effect - no bailout without oversight.

Rep. Dave Reichert, who voted no both times, sent back an email explaining his reasoning that the initial bill lacked taxpayer protection. Patty Murray, who voted for the Senate version, said the initial pitch was "a non-starter" but felt that with the added protections for individuals it could work. Maria Cantwell did not respond but voted against it.

And those are the horns of the dilemma facing these guys - is it worse to trust in the very market forces that got us into this mess, or to grab the controls, trying to steer the liner to safety after it hits the iceberg?

Back in the early days of the Republic, we had "Panics". There would be a run on a bank, where people pulled their money out, which spread to other banks and brought everything to a screeching halt (this still happens - a rumor of gas shortages in Nashville a few weeks ago created a panic, and as a result a gas shortage). When the banks started working with each more, we shifted from panics into "Depressions", until we got one of those that overwhelmed the entire financial system. With that, the government got more directly involved with guarantees like the FDIC, and we shifted into "Recessions" - trying to smooth out the dips while still giving us the potential for bull markets.

And now I think we need another term, where the situation becomes so bad that we need to throw in more controls on the economic systems. We've always been a bit socialistic in our capitalism, and with this disaster, we need to see more short-term control, which can then be lifted as the national economic health recovers (we know how to do deregulation - we love it, and we did it way too well, and that contributed to this mess).

I think we need a new name for this. The old recessions of the Nixon and Reagan eras don't seem to capture this new, globalized disaster. Just as panic and depression have moved into the history books, so too do we need a term for when the government has to take a more direct hand.

I favor the term "Intercession".

It sounds pretty cool, fits the the previous names, and sums up the fact that any government intervention will have to have an expiration date and an exit strategy. It is possible to recover the economy, protect the homeowners and workers, and then step back, with the hope that, given proper limits, we don't pitch into this rabbit hole again.

Intercession. Good word. And if it gets picked up, just remember you heard it here first.

More later

Monday, October 06, 2008

McCain Mutiny

I've always been weird. Back in the '80s, I read The Rolling Stone for its political coverage.

No, really. I found William Greider's commentary to be excellent, and when he left the magazine, my subscription soon followed. Since then they have been off and on, dealing softballs and solid work and Hunter Thompson, who could be in both camps at the same time.

And then there is this summary of the John S. McCain. While hardly supportive, it does address the major points in the candidate's biography, and helps explain how the former Keating scandal coverboy could evolve into a campaign reform proponent, how a former POW could come to support torture, and why some of his supporters feel that he can flip once more after he gets in office. It also pokes into some areas that even I didn't know much about. Like candidate McCain or not, it is a must-read.

More later,

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Hard Knock Life

You know its been a tough weekend when the high point is finding the scissor tongs you thought you had lost. The tongs were in with the measuring cups.

I know, I probably could have fit that into a twitter, if I believed in such things.

More later,

Thursday, October 02, 2008

All Quiet on the Northwestern Front

I tell you, it's creepy.

Long-time readers know that I look at the ground game when it comes to elections - yard signs, door-to-doors, mailers, voters' guides. I don't track the push polls and the robocalls as much, and armed with with books on tape and a TV remote with a mute button, I can remain invulnerable to the inanities of both radio ads and TV (Though Dino Rossi always ends up looking like that insincere cousin at the reunion who's getting his life back together).

But here we are, a month out of the election, and things are dead quiet on that front. Seriously. Where are the attack mailers? Where are the bad photoshop jobs and clip art from the GOP public folder? Where's the hate, people?

And after the flurry of yard signs in the primary, the only new ones involve the Proposition 1 Transit initiative. The No ones are recycled from the LAST Proposition 1, while the Yes ones show a light rail and a bus coming out from a mountain. Very nice detail, but from the highway it looks like a big "X", which sort of defeats the "Yes" message. Don't these guys check this stuff out? But this is a bright point in an otherwise clutter we've seen for months.

Now I understand the lack of attention from one standpoint. On a national level, the McCain campaign has apparently abandoned Washington for more battleground states, like Indiana and North Carolina (how the HECK did NC become a battleground state?). And on a state level, the Rossi campaign is running hard elsewhere to "Not let Seattle steal THIS election" while hoping that enough metropolitans will be confused as to whether GOP is a new party to blunt the votes here.

But even on the local level, there is a lack of attention. Where are the inevitable sexual predator mailers? The fast-and-loose math involved in the 2304 tax increases that the incumbent voted for? The barely veiled racism when invoking the Indian Casinos? Have the parties realized that this sort of stuff can do more harm than good?

Or maybe they have defined the Panther Lake Neighborhood as not being cost efficient anymore. We've been getting denser of late (in number of people, not IQ), so the mailers may have moved off to more profitable terrain, where the populace can be easily startled and bolted.

Or maybe this blog has scared them off. That they realize that if they send me a bad mailer, they will get mocked. Maybe I'm on a very, very small political "do not call" list. Maybe they're afraid of me.

Maybe ... Naahh!

More later,

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Stern Letter to the Times

Rainfall since 1 Sept: 1.25 inches

So, quietly, the Seattle Times has dropped its letters to the editor on its editorial page, in the continued shrinking of this major metropolitan newspaper.

I have mixed emotions about this. On one hand, our letters to the editor are not always the most inspired, but it is always nice to see global warming deniers crawl out of the woodwork after every cold snap ("I had frost on my windshield this morning! Take THAT, Al Gore!"), and an easy method to astroturf (multiple identical letters showing up from supposedly different sources). On the other, it reduces the community nature of the newspaper audience.

Now, they are going to showcase one letter a day as a link to push traffic to their new blog, but that's hardly the same thing. It is not the rich variety of the normal LttE section, where you can find left complaining about right, right complaining about left, and the regular traffic outrage.

The traditional LttE also are, well, edited, which is something that's not a forte for the online world. As the LttE becomes a group blog, the attention to the individual letters drops off. I always felt that the editors worked to soften the letters they received and make the writers look LESS like screaming nutbars. Indeed, reading the letters in "Grandpa Simpson" voice is a source of merriment. And the fact that they are doing this right before an election is madness, simply madness.

Still, life and technology moves on. We're down to a single page, now, with the company opinion, a couple syndicated columnists you've already read online, Doonesbury, and a political cartoon gently chiding the Republicans. I'm spending less time with that section, and so the slow downward spiral of the print media continues.

But if they touch Doonesbury, I am SO outa there.

More later,