Sunday, November 30, 2008

Thanksgiving Break

So I go away for a week and no one complains? Sounds like the death of blogging as we know it.

OK, it was a holiday weekend, and I spent the bulk of it either preparing to go (wrapping up stuff) or going (to Corning, California), or coming back. And now I'm back, with not much to report.

Corning is a pleasant town at the head of the Imperial Valley (that big green thumbprint in the middle of the California topo map). It is best know for its olives, and eating new olives will spoil you for more traditional vectors forever, so be warned. We had T-Giving dinner with my sister-in-law (who lives there with her husband) and mom-in-law (who was visiting there and is now visiting here), sat on the veranda overlooking the almond and olive groves, taunted the cats and played tug with the dog. A pleasant time.

And the weather cooperated - very warm, very sunny in CA, only a few showers coming back north. Even the trip wasn't bad - brother-in-law lent me a set of lecture takes on genetics, which always have been a weak spot in my knowledge base (most of my knowledge on the subject being limited to the Astonishing X-Men).

Back home, and Seattle is fully in the grip of fall - grey, drizzling, roggy, and with too much leave clutter being tracked into the house. Ah, it is good to be back home.

More later,

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Play: Faw Down Go ...

boom by Peter Sinn Nachtrieb, Directed by Jerry Manning, Seattle Repertory Theatre, through Dec 14.

Here's a little plug before we get down to cases: The Seattle Rep has a blog. Promotional and bits of backstage stuff, and worth checking out.

So, where were we? Ah yes, boom is a play about the end of the world. And while not all end of the world plays are science fictional in nature, this one is sufficiently so that the Lovely Bride said upon leaving the theater, "You know, there should be more science fiction plays."

I'm not sure about this sentiment, but let me get back to that after the summary.

boom is about the end of the world. Mad, muddled, ichthyologist Jules (Nick Garrison) has proof of the upcoming extinction-level event and comes up with a half-assed plan for humanity to survive, which includes selecting his Eve from an online ad. Acerbic Jo (Chelsey Rives) answers the ad and shares his bunker, but isn't looking for anything beyond a story to tell. And then there is Barbara (Gretchen Krich) who plays god (and the tympani), unseen by the other two actors. Barbara is guardian spirit and embattled bureaucrat and storyteller, and much of the resolution of the play is about how stories are told and what the heck we are really seeing.

And part of this is because this is a science fiction play, and in saying that you create a set of values and expectations. When you say something is a murder mystery, your mind immediately locks into the mode of identifying the victim, and later the villain, in the piece, such that it can overwhelm the rest of the story. Ditto a lot of science fiction - if all those decades of Twilight Zones and Outer Limits have taught us anything, it is that sf has a twist and moral message and you're suddenly looking for the trick instead of concentrating on the story itself. And part of the craft hinges of pulling off the trick without cheating the reader/viewer.

Nachtrieb pulls it off, such that I was looking for the trick, then got pulled back into the characters and the multiple levels of the play, so that the trick (well, tricks) became part of the fabric itself. And Nachtrieb (and director Manning) plays fair with leaving out all the clues so when the reveals are made, you are neither astounded nor indignant - rather, it is sewn into the flow of the play itself.

Garrison makes a soft, sad sack Adam to the new world, having a plan but lacking the heartless nature needled to carry it out. Rives is his Eve, sharp-tongued and angry, both at her captor and her life. And Krich, decked out in a flowing pantsuit that looks like something from the Star Trek (Original Series) garage sale, sells the point beautifully as we realize that her goofy, new-agey mannerisms are not that goofy after all. She is a slapdash Wizard in her elevated Oz above the stage, with percussion and switches and a lit panel answering to greater powers.

The other thing about SF is that we expect all the pieces to fit together. And not all of them do, here, but then its not QUITE the science fiction play. Good theater opens other doors, and the questions of storytelling and legacy filters into this play about Armageddon. So I will disagree with the LB - It is not quite an SF play, but it is close enough for army work, and it carries itself off well.

It was the end of the world as we know. Yeah, I feel fine.

More later,

Friday, November 21, 2008

Department of Teh Cute

Because I wish to destroy your productivity, I give you Puppy Stalker!.

Ooooooh - whoozah puppy? Yes you are! Yes you are!

More later

Thursday, November 20, 2008


So I'm lost in personal introspection at the moment. Have a meme instead - Typealyzer - What Type is Your Blog:

ISTP - The Mechanics
The independent and problem-solving type. They are especially attuned to the demands of the moment are masters of responding to challenges that arise spontaneously. They generelly prefer to think things out for themselves and often avoid inter-personal conflicts.

The Mechanics enjoy working together with other independent and highly skilled people and often like seek fun and action both in their work and personal life. They enjoy adventure and risk such as in driving race cars or working as policemen and firefighters.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

DOW Breaks 8,000!

OK, things are dire right now, as we all watch the values our diminishing 401k's, but the media seems to be slipping easily between denial ("Just a rough patch, folks!") to despair ("Ohmighod! We're all going to die!") with nary a breath in between. Mind you, part of it may be that that we have gone from "economic softening" (Mattel sheds 1000 jobs) and "fullblown recession" (the Seattle Times newsroom starts losing staff (Oh, including their political cartoonist, which finalizes the uselessness of the editorial page)).

And somehow in all this mess, there is a growing meme that this is somehow the new guy's fault. Mind you, the first 5500 points of DOW drop under the current administration is somehow a "gimme" and this last 500 points is the fault of the guy we just hired. Never mind that we're two months away from his start date.

I can understand this thinking. I, for one, am disappointed I have yet to receive my flying car. And every morning, I stand in my driveway, waiting for it. And yet, despite my hopes and dreams, it never comes. Perhaps it stopped to pick up my recovered 401k on the way over.

Where's my instant gratification, gosh darn it?

More later,

Monday, November 17, 2008

Whither, Viaduct?

So, if you like traffic porn, here is the site for you - Eight different scenarios under consideration for replacement of the SR 99 Viaduct and Seawall along the Seattle waterfront.

I've mellowed about the viaduct over the past few years. In the wake of the Nisqually Quake, my attitude was we need to replace it now, darn it, and with something that won't fall over! Since them (with a fortunate lack of calamities (touch wood)), I have moderated my view.

First off, I don't think that the current viaduct is an eyesore. No, I'm serious. From out on the sound, coming in by ferry, it has a model-car track feels. And it keeps the city from spilling all the way to the shore. It doesn't block a whole bunch of "sound views" since the city climbs up the hill from that point, giving great views ABOVE the road line. In fact, if we build more structures on the remains of Alaskan Way, then more views will be lost that are currently there.

Plus some of the best views in the city come from the viaduct itself, which actually encourages me to use it. Just saying.

The current elevated structure also provides a needed commodity downtown - parking. Not only does the shadow of the viaduct provide (relatively)cheap parking, but also the location for small retailers that would have no place in a heavily mauled/malled main street. Small art galleries and places that sell Doc Martens and real grinding skate stuff. I'm just surprised that there isn't a comic book shop down there. All of that - small shops and warehouses and parking, all go away (And may go away regardless of the choices - sigh - but whatever choice is made needs to replace lost public parking).

And looking at these proposals, I think that the big question in my mind is - what is the purpose of the SR 99 corridor? If it is to feed the downtown district, a surface street option makes sense, with the note that this will increase traffic flow through not only these streets but the other north/south roads as well.

I, at the moment, favor the idea that the purpose of the viaduct is not to get people INTO Seattle, but rather to get the PAST Seattle. To facilitate the northern suburbs to get to SeaTac and the southern ones to get to Everett. The exit off the current viaduct in midtown just drives me crazy, and I don't feel we should keep that particular error should we decide that the viaduct is to get us past the city.

So I can grove behind an elevated replacement, with a lidded trench as a second choice. The surface street options make me raise an eyebrow, and I think that full-bore (heh) tunnel may be a bit risky below the water level (remember, this area is mostly fill over the years - the fact that it is a structural nightmare is born out by the state of the current viaduct).

But it does look like a cool gathering of options (and includes changes to I-5 and the Mercer Mess, so take a look.

More later,

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Dept. of Teh Cute

My niece in her Halloween costume.The net is eternal, so when she's up for that Supreme Court nomination, this is the photo that is going to turn up. Bwahahahah!

More later,

Friday, November 14, 2008

Signs of the Times

So I have been watching, and increasingly noting in these columns, the slow and apparently inevitable demise of the Seattle Times.

Theirs has not been a sudden death, like the buy-out and immediate crapification of the Seattle Weekly, but rather the slow wasting illness, as capacity is slowly lost and tolerable quirkiness is confirmed as a growing and dangerous lack of capability.

The signs and portents have been gathering like crows along the roofline. The business section ceases to be an independent section. The editorial section is gutted, its letters sent on-line. Doonesbury shrinks to almost unreadability and is dispatched to the comics page. Loss of top talent like Postman, who could maintain both online and press presence. Sell-off of other properties owned by the paper (a brace of papers in Maine). Hamhanded attempts at building a Web 2.0 community by recruiting readers as contributers (don't think of them as scabs - think of them as unpaid interns).

And now, job reductions. About 140 total, includes 31 in the newsroom, including 19 of which chose to leap as opposed to being pushed, and therefore getting a better class of parachute for the trip down. Editors, reporters, photographers.

And I have mixed emotions on it all. The Times makes great pains to pitch itself as a local paper, in terms of being locally owned. And any loss of locally-owned media is worrisome. But that local ownership tends to be conservative in nature, and is often an odd match for the readership it claims to serve. Usually its conservative nature confines itself to the now-useless editorial page, which considers the important litmus test of the past decade to be elimination of the Estate Tax. This was a pretty tolerable arrangement.

But in its dotage, it has let that slant expand, not only to its placement of articles but to the nature of those articles as well. It has become a given that bad news for the Dems gets front page treatment but problems for the GOP are buried in the back of the B section. For example, the questions of whether endorsed faves Dino Rossi and Dave Reichert may have violated campaign law are minimized, or completely absent from the paper.

But that a Dem candidate may have misrepresented her Harvard education? Front page material, A-section. With an enthusiasm that would make a neophyte lapdancer blush, the Times serviced the needs of the Republicans with a hit piece so virulent that they had to change their online versions to hide the worst of it. Turning a tight race into a significant win for the incumbent, the Times not only rewrote the press release given to them but gave it prominence. It is a sign of the diminishing capabilities of the paper that not only they ran such agitprop, but did so in a clumsy matter that left their fingerpints all over the weapon.

So the question becomes, at what point does one abandon a newspaper? The Times has continually had good science and ecological reporting, and its book two-page spread in the Sunday edition remains one of its few readable parts of the paper (My Sunday-morning reading experience as been speeding up over the past few months). It still has columnists worth seeking out, like sports reporter Ron Judd, who actually made me care about the America's Cup. But the goods are increasingly being replaced by the bads and the absences.

And before I hear from my all-tech friends, a newspaper remains portable, recyclable, and semi-permanent. You can set your cereal bowl on top of it with little problem. You can clip something out of it without printer technology. And if you spill your coke on it, the loss is pennies as opposed to four figures worth of dollars. Macy's ads are not as nearly as irritating as popups.

So for the moment, I only support as I can, correct where I must, and hope for the best. Recovery is possible, but with the economy tanking and the Seattle Sports teams exploring the depths of despair (it could have been worse - we could have still had the Sonics in town), it is likely that things will worsen before they improve.

More later,

Update: I mention the paper's superior science reporting, and they turn around and deliver this excellent report of MRSA in our local hospitals (Short form: Preventable but we're not doing it). Good reporting, and I hope the reporters still have their jobs.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Hard Rain

Hmm, the sun is finally coming out.

It has been a rainy two weeks in the Puget Sound region. About seven inches up on Grubb Street (did I mention I have a rain gauge on my back porch?). The rivers are high, but primarily north and south of the Seattle area proper. We had a small dam go but so far have avoided the major flooding of last year (touch wood).

But the rain itself has been definitely non-Novemberish. As we move into winter, we look at gentle, evening rains, usually with a good solid windstorm late in the month (the Lovely Bride uses this event to gather downed pine branches for the Christmas wreath). The rains of the November have been hard, almost eastern rains, heavy drops that command the use of an umbrella (or at least a hat or hoodie). Most Seattle rains are mists which are casually ignored by the nataives.

And now we're watching as the creeks rise and the levees are reinforced in counties north and south of here. Weather news dominates the local broadcasts. It will pass, and things will get back to (mostly) normal.

More later,

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veterans Day

In recognition to those who have served.

More later,

Monday, November 10, 2008

The 'Kids Are Not All Right

The announcement came under the simple heading Announcement.
The Topps Company announced today that WizKids will immediately cease operations and discontinue its product lines.

Scott Silverstein, CEO of Topps, said “This was an extremely difficult decision. While the company will still actively pursue gaming initiatives, we feel it is necessary to align our efforts more closely with Topps current sports and entertainment offerings which are being developed within our New York office.”

Upon notifying our partners, Topps will immediately pursue strategic alternatives so that viable brands and properties, including HeroClix, can continue without noticeable disruption. To that end, WizKids will continue supporting Buy it By the Brick redemptions for Arkham Asylum, and the December Organized Play events for HeroClix.

For consumer announcements, please refer to over the coming days for further information.
I want to say one word to you. Just one word. Are you listening? Plastics.
- The Graduate

The sudden and unexpected demise of Wizkids has many likely causes, and if I knew anyone still there, I might even find them out. But since I worked for the about five years back, most of the original team have left, voluntarily or involuntarily or in a combination of the two. So while I can guess about what goes through the Topps' executives minds, I can't really speak to it.

But I do know that oil prices have shot up in the past few years, and with the price of oil, the price of plastic. And that cannot be good for a company's bottom line.

We have a tendency to say that games are "recession proof", but I point out that our games today are not the games of the 70s - we depend a lot more on economies of scale and higher production values than we did back in the early days of the hobby. We have made real the dreams of inexpensive, prepainted miniatures, but those dreams have depended on an economic framework that may no longer be viable.

My sympathies for those that have been "reduced" by this latest business move.

More later,

Update: Wizkids plastic figures come out of the boomtown of Guangzhou, which is now emptying out as a result of factory closings. The story is here. Loss of liquidity is the big reason for the closings, and up to 130,000 people per day are leaving the city to go back to their home provinces.

And this will come full circle to Seattle in that the West Coast ports do much of their business with Asian manufacturers.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Book On Tape: Oy, Alaska!

The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon, Harper Audio, Read by Peter Riegert, 2007

In an alternate universe, homicide detective Meyer Landsman has to deal with a shooting at his fleabag hotel. The victim is a junkie, who left behind a chessboard, an assumed name, and big mystery as to the hows and whys of his demise. The detective, hotel, and dead junkie, however, are all in Federal District of Sitka, which for sixty years has been the temporary home of Jewish refugees from the Holocaust in Europe. The timer is about to run out, dumping the Jews of Sitka, including Detective Landsman, back into the Diaspora. What the dead junkie has to with the Reversion of Sitka and the fate of the Alaskan Jews is the heart of the novel.

This is at its heart a detective novel, and as such it plays by detective novel rules. It spins it way through a number of suspects and clues, reaches an apex, then winds its way back through the suspects to the one ultimately responsible, learning in the process the whys and wherefores. And like a good detective novel, it is also about redemption, both for the victim and for the investigator - Meyer Landsman has to understand the victim, as well as deal with his own lack of faith and his own past failures in unspooling the crime.

This is also an alternate history novel, and as such to stops (almost lurches) at the point that it identifies the point where the everything goes that different direction. In this case it is death of Anthony Dimond, who in our world successfully fought against the plan to create a homeland in Alaska (in our world, the plan didn't have a lot of support among the American Jewish Community, either, and FDR never mentioned it in public). But at this point in the book, the demands of the alternate world novel (to explain the divergence) intrude on the demands of the detective genre, and you get the feeling of two genres passing each other like trains in the night. Its the one rocky part in the novel for me.

Lastly, it is Chabon novel, and while I have only read Kavalier and Clay, I note that both have the sense of family within them, in particular the relationship of a distant cousin from another culture. For Union, the cousin is Meyer's partner, who is also his half-Tlngit cousin, Berko Shemets. And Meyer's new boss, in the waning days of the FD of Sitka, is his ex-wife Bina Gelbfish. So there are all the connections from the story, and all the connections of the story before the story begins.

The books on tape are well-presented, but the length of the cuts is too long, particularly for a mystery. Sometimes you have to back up to catch what a clue from earlier, and while a simple thing for a book, inevitably it will be five minutes earlier on the disk. Peter Riegert is a good reader for this, and while it helps to be able to tell a schlemiel from a schmuck, context will help for most of the goyim.

The book itself won the Hugo for best SF Novel this year, which begs the question - what is Science Fiction? It definitely is an award-winning book, but does it break genre or merely exist outside it? I've mentioned this to a couple other writers, and got the response "It happens in an alternate world". But doesn't all fiction, whether it is Sherlock Holmes or Cthulhu or Tom Sawyer? Aren't these all alternate worlds? How broad is must the definition of SF be in order to include this but exclude anything else?

In the meantime, its a worthwhile listen, and an excellent book. Check it out.

More later,

Saturday, November 08, 2008

The Dust Settles

The votes have been counted, the last of the concessions or declarations have come in. Let us see where we ended up.

President: Barack Obama
(You may have heard about this one. What is remarkable about this was the hearty and generally peaceable celebration both in the country and around the world. One of my co-workers complained about "Drunken Hipsters Turning Up the Dumb" on Cap Hill (Of course, he was one of the ones that helped clean out the QFC of champagne there)).

US Rep, 8th District: Dave Reichert.
(Alas, the votes are tight, but not getting any tighter, and Darcy Burner has conceded. We keep an innocuous Republican who, now freed of his GOP masters, may actually start being the moderate the Times pretends he is.)

Governor: Christine Gregoire
(Everyone called this a nailbiter, but it wasn't. Dino Rossi went down by a sizable majority and delivered a concession speech noting that he didn't really want the job anyway. The investigation into his fundraising activities should continue - if it was illegal on 3 November, it should be just as illegal on 5 November.)

Lt Governor: Brad Owen
Secretary of State: Sam Reed
State Treasurer: Jim McIntire
State Auditor: Brian Sontagg
Attorney General: Rob McKenna
Commissioner of Public Lands: Peter J. Goldmark
(Tight, but definitely a win. Apparently if your policies bring down the side of a mountain and flood Chehalis there ARE repercussions. Who'dathunkit?)
Superintendent of Public Instruction: Randy Dorn
(Another changing of the guard. Dorn stated in the campaign that it wasn't about the WASL, so now we're going to change the WASL).
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

King County Superior Court, Pos 1 – Tim Bradshaw
King County Superior Court, Pos 22 – Holly Hill
King County Superior Court, Pos 37 – Barbara Mack
(1 out of 3, but these court positions have been races between very good candidates, so either way, the people of Washington win).

King County Amendment 1 (Elected Director of Elections): Yes
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): Yes
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): No
King County Amendment 8 (Make executive, assessor, and county council nonpartisan offices): Yes
(There will be such headslaps when some of these go into effect. Remember, the answer to "who's bright idea was THIS?" is found in the mirror).

King County Fire Protection District 2 (Bonds for new stations): Yes
Maple Valley Fire and Life Safety (Restore levy for funding): No

Washington State Initiative 985 (Magic Ponies): No
(Of everything on the ballot, this was the most dramatic crash and burn. Its major proponent, Tim Eyeman, has as a result declared victory and promised to return next year with another initiative. Yeah, I'm excited about the prospect, too.)
Washington State Initiative 1000 (Allow terminally ill access to lethal drugs): Yes
Washington State Initiative 1029 (Certify long-term care workers): Yes

Sound Transit Propositions 1: Yes
(The other big surprise. Conventional Wisdom said that a mass transit package without a big juicy giveaway to the roads lobby would fail. Instead, unshackled by its connection, this one soared. Now the big argument is - why do we have to wait so long before we get it?)

And that's it. Now I can get back to talking about comics, games, and collectible quarters.

More later,

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Hug Your Street Musician

I must report with sadness the death of Edward McMichael. Name does not ring a bell? How about the Tuba Man?

And if you're a local sports fan or have spent time in Seattle Center, the penny drops, the mental relay closes and the sadness is shared. McMichael was that guy. The street musician. The older guy with the funny hats. And the tuba.

The tuba is an inherently a funny instrument, best in holding down the beat at the deeper registers. When carrying the melody, it is like a fat guy doing ballet - it can be brilliant, but the overwhelming whimsy of the concept overwhelms the delivery. The Tuba Man got that. His venues were often surrounded by concrete (like the narrow canyon outside the Opera House). His joyful noise resounded halfway across the Center itself. He would play very un-tuba like tunes, and like an elephant dancing, the inherent joy would come out. It was music that always made me smile.

McMichael was assaulted on 25 October by a group of toughs. He was beaten and robbed and was slowly recovering when he was found dead in his room on Monday. Two of the youths responsible for the assault are in custody, and the other three are being sought. The Seattle sports community, who know McMichael from myriad Sonics, Seahawks, and Mariner games, is taking it hard. Losing the Sonics was painful - this tragedy strikes to the heart of a community. KOMO-AM has helped establish a fund for the services and relatives at any Bank of America branch. Donations can be mailed to Edward the Tuba Man McMichael Memorial Fund, PO Box 4935, Federal Way, 98063.

Street musicians have it rough - inclement weather, walkby critics, low contributions, and yeah, possible attacks. So the next one you see, listen for a moment. Say thank you. And drop a few coins into the box.

For the Tuba Man.

More later,

Update: Janna has a remembrance and a photo.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Office Politics

I want to thank Barack Obama for keeping me from looking like an idiot.

Let me explain. I work in an office made up of young people. And as such, we have deep, meaningful discussions. Like – who would win – Captain America or Batman?

And in the midst of the discussion (Which Batman are we talking about - The Adam West version or the JLA-beating one? What part of the phrase "Unbreakable Shield" are you unclear on?), I opened my mouth and said “Captain America would win. Hope beats Fear”.

And that quote, like so many off-hand comments, stuck, and metastasized into a phrase that kept coming up again and again, in particular in regards to discussions on national politics. There was a lot of hope on one side, and a lot of fear on the other. A lot of promise versus a lot of scary words and scary images of a scary world. A soaring rhetoric against a relentless drumbeat of worry.

And coming up to the national election, there was that nagging doubt in the back of my mind. What if I’m wrong? What if, as we have before, we as a people faced the choice and turned aside, turned to the apparent safety of the rhetoric of the past? What if we as a people were too scared to go forward? What if the call came and we did not answer?

The answer was in long lines at polling places and the suddenness of the results, the immediate response of Pennsylvania and Ohio, faster than I had anticipated. It came in a gracious acceptance speech and a glorious acceptance speech. It came in the mention that Obama’s kids are getting a dog. There are still some parts where the jury is out, and parts of the reporting that are downright wonky (like, um, Georgia), but we got our answer.

Good Game, America.

Hope beats Fear.

More later,

Update: Here's some amateur video from Capitol Hill, corner of Broadway and Pine. It's dark, but gives a great feel for the vibe. Apparently there are a couple co-workers in that teeming mass of youngness.

Hey you kids - GG.

A New America

The next president of the United States is younger than I am.

Yeah, I'm cool with it.

More later

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


Now Go Vote.

More later,

Update: The Lovely Bride and I have voted, down at Meeker School at the bottom of the hill. We arrived just when class was starting, school buses were arriving, the parking lot was a mess, and the kids were all huddled beneath the overhangs from the rain, blocking the entrances. We had to wade through pre-teens in order to preserve democracy!

The place was busy but there were no lines, and by the time we left people were starting to stack up at the registration and the voting kiosks were all full. It looks like its going to be a brisk day, and the Poll Workers themselves seem excited about what is happening today.

Monday, November 03, 2008

The Day Before Tomorrow

OK, have a seat. It’s time for the grown-up talk.

Tomorrow is Election Day, and it’s a big one. In our little corner of the world, its President, Governor, all of the Administration, US Rep, two state legislators, three initiatives, 1 traffic proposition, and a partridge in a pear tree. Your mileage may vary, but the odds are it is going to be big.

So here are some things to think about:

Vote early – To those of you who have already mailed your ballots in – Thank You. I’m rather suspicious of the whole mail-in thing, imagining some disgruntled letter-carrier with bags of ballots in his broom closet. But given the huge tide of voters this year, it’s important. Warn your boss you might be in a little late. As an added bonus, you can nag your nonvoting coworkers with impunity.

Be patient in line – This one is for me – I am used to dropping in on my favorite polling place about 9 AM on the way to work, chatting with the poll workers as they check my identification, usually being one of the first five to vote in Rush district, and then being on my way. Like I said, there are a lot of people voting and a lot of stuff on the ballot. Bring a book.

Be Patient Afterwards – We may not have enough data by 8 PM tomorrow to say who won on a national level, and it is dead-certain we won’t know for a couple days for a lot of the state and local offices. Part of this is because of the process – we get a lot of votes from urban centers (which overwhelm the system) and a lot of votes from the rural areas (which overwhelm the system). I have seen winners become losers. We’ll wait, but Count All the Votes.

Vote anyway – It may be that by the time you get off work, the presidential campaign is over from the numbers back east and the contender has conceded. Vote anyway. Run the numbers up. And there are more than enough other things that are Washington State-centric that need your attention.

Just chill out – There are going to be a lot of narratives being thrown around tomorrow. Some people will find out they were purged from the polls. Some districts will discover that the restless dead are voting, or the neighborhood dog, or the restless dead’s neighborhood dog. There are going to be machines that flip votes and things very strange results. Nader will carry a small town in Indiana by more votes than there are people there. It’s a sloppy, nasty operation, but chill out. One of the reasons to vote is to reduce the amount of whackiness in the system. Real votes reduce the power of bogus votes.

No, I mean it, Chill Out, Dude. This is not a football game, it is a new hire. We’re hiring someone for one of the toughest jobs on the planet. Some damned fools are going act like it’s the Superbowl, and some are going to go all Soccer Hooligan when their team punts.

OK, that’s about it. Here are my choices, if you’re still up in the air. Here are Steve and Shelly’s, for other opinions. Here are those for the Times and the P-I and the Stranger. The Weekly doesn't pay attention to real world anymore.

And lastly, here is my favorite YouTube video from the campaign:

More later

More late.

Sunday, November 02, 2008


This was a disappointing year for campaign mailers. I blame the massive tide of money that has flowed through the system, which resulted in huge amounts for the air war (radio and TV and, I suppose, the Internet) and left precious little for mailers. A small pile of the mailers sit by my chair, but compared to four years ago, they are pitiable, mewling brood, with only a few bright points among them.

Let's get the positive ones out of the way - Sullivan (2), Simpson (3), Burner (2), Holly Hill (1). Nice boiler-plate stuff. Families, education, pictures of kids. All sponsored directly by the campaigns.

Then there are the mostly-positive ones from related interest groups and larger campaigns. A nice one for Dave Reichert from the US Chamber of Commerce which doesn't say you should vote for him, but instead that you should just call him up and tell him how awesome he is (awwwwww). One from the Sierra Club with its recommendations (Gregroire, Goldmark, No on I-985, Yes of Prop 1, Simpson and Sullivan - more to be found here). And one from the Democratic Central Committee for Burner that compares "The same old guys" (Bush, Reichert, McCain) to "The New Team" (Burner and Obama - who look like the early team for Action-Four News at Five (*With Joe Biden and the Metrolink Weather)).

Then we hit the very negative ones, which reveals the tin ear which pops up once you put these things in the hands of professionals. The winner in this race to the bottom is probably the Anti-Gregoire, Pro-Rossi mailers from the It's Time For a Change, a fully-owned arm of ChangePac, which is in turn heavily funded by the BIAW, for whom Rossi does fundraising (its all like an ever-shifting jigsaw puzzle). These mailers come so close to science fiction that I am thinking of submitting them for consideration for a Hugo award. Washington State's Economy is on life support (despite Forbes telling everyone that its a great place to do business). Gregoire is an old-west bandit, killing jobs just to see them die (this just in - the jobless rate, already below the national average, dropped last month). And most importantly Change is Good! Any change! Even a Change for the Worse!. I've got about five of these, each goofier than the last. But the capper was the final, which shows a bad picture of Mr. Rossi in scary black-and-white, over-exposed, looking like a very tired vampire.

You're doing it wrong, guys. You got the file photos confused - that's the scary picture that was supposed to be run on the ANTI-Rossi mailers.

Let me jump over to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee for second place in this race to the bottom, in its negative advertising against Geoff Simpson's opponent Mark Hargrove. These are a thematically prettier, and have a common theme with poker chips, a roulette wheel, flipping a coin and dice - Don't gamble on our future. Thematically it works without being too over-the-top. But its still an attack ad - special interests, lack of experience, and accusing the candidate of negative attacks that I have neither seen nor heard.

(I did get robocall from the Hargrove campaign, recommending I check out "Mark Hargrove and Geoff Simpson" on the net to find out their positions. I did so, hoping to find a site with direct comparisons. Instead the top hits were for the righty blog Sound Politics, also complaining about these mailers. I did track down Hargrove's site, which nicely lays out his (conservative) positions and his endorsements. Not my cup of tea, but a strong site. I was surprised to see an endorsement from Dino Rossi, making it the first firm statement I've heard from that candidate. But I digress ...)

Special mention goes to the Washington State Dental Political Action Committee (yes, dentists have a PAC), for a similar-looking mailer that declares - "OLYMPIA - No Place For On The Job Training". Sadly, I must strongly disagree. While previous experience is a great thing for the state house (Pat Sullivan was Mayor of Covington), our state government is the perfect place for newcomers to the system. Before entering the legislator, Geoff Simpson (who this mailer supports) was (and remains) a firefighter. This one's a headscratcher that doesn't hold up. Sorry, Dentists. Let's go back to talking about the importance of flossing.

Ah, and lastly we have the Burning Benjamins of the Republican Governor's Association, showing hundred-dollar bills being burned with a wasteful amount of matches to symbolize Gregriore's shameful destruction of the state's surplus. Of course, Gregoire helped create that surplus, and if you want to talk about damaging deficits, there's this national one that we've been running up for eight years. But, most damaging to this mailer's cause is the fact that its a MALE hand that's doing the burning. Did no one tell the suits that made this ad back on Penn Ave in Washington DC that we have a female governor?

And that's it. Not a lot. Some blatant falsehoods, some poor uses of image, and most of these go directly into the recycling bin. All in all, I'm disappointed. I expected a lot more of our politicians (or in the case of the PACs, a lot less), and am saddened that bad mailer design is becoming a lost art.

Ah well, there is always 2012.

More later

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Grading Gregoire

OK, smart guy. If you have such reservations about Dino Rossi, what about his opponent, the incumbent, Christine Gregoire? Surely you have an opinion about her.

I do. She is an uninspired speaker and a bit pedantic. She neither dazzles me with brilliance nor befuddles me with bullpucky. I'm not getting a lot of entertainment value out of her administration. She's a B+ kind of leader. And I'm pretty happy with that.

Mind you, I'm perfectly willing to dump all the woes of the world on the guys supposedly in charge. But the things that bug me on a national level don't seem to reach down as far as the local level. The War and the status of my 401k aren't really decided in the State House - they're the ones I yell at about traffic and taxes (more on those in a moment). And due to Washington's geographic position, quirkiness in its form of government, business climate, and yeah, leadership, we haven't done too badly for the past four years. In effect, it hasn't sucked, which for a politician is high praise indeed.

When I say quirkiness in government, I can point at we have a fully elected administrative branch, which means we get a mixed bag of views in office and sends us towards moderation. We also have a part-time legislature, which seems to remove some of the tendency for making trouble. And as a result, we have been, if not scandal free, running at below the national average for mischief.

Our state is running below the national unemployment rate and our home values haven't tanked as badly here as elsewhere. The administration has gotten awards for its transparency, and socialist rags like Forbes Magazine gives us shout-outs for being great for business. Considering that the Dems have been "in charge" for the past couple years, none of the evidence of apocalypse has manifested.

OK, what about this kerfuffle about the Native American Casinos? Big contributors to the Gregoire campaign, and in turn she has pushed legislation to help them protect and expand their franchise. Quid pro quo, right? Well, not really. The Times, that old staunch conservative paper, has let the air out of that one (though after months of listening to the GOP Governor's Association go on about "Casino Chris" in attack ads). If anything, it looks like she listened to the citizenry on this one.

And during the past four years Gregiore's leadership was tested, with the floods in Lewis County, our mini version of Katrina. She mobilized the state resources in a fashion that brought praise from Republican legislators, was there when needed, and went looking for root causes. She gets good marks for that.

But traffic? Traffic sucks. I have what is called the worst commute in the Puget Sound area - Renton to Bellevue along 405. Fifteen miles and it can take up to forty-five minutes for me. But I would be less than honest to point out that a lot of my delay is from all the construction crews on the road fixing the darn thing. Not that this will reduce my complaints, but I have to recognize that the state is at least doing something.

Heck, she's even got me mellowing on my opinion of the viaduct. I still don't believe that it should have an exit into downtown, but I could get behind a replacement elevated structure as opposed a surface street.

And taxes. Bleah. We have a truly regressive, nasty little sales tax system in the state, but until someone is going to give that third rail of state politics, a unified income tax, a big friendly hug, I don't know how I could deal with it better. The current administration, across the political spectrum, is all about moving limited resources to where it will do the most good.

We're looking at a budgetary shortfall in two years - about $30 million, at last guess, in part due to the fact that when the economy turns sour, our tax support drops. But that is a drop in the barrel compared to, say, California, which needs 9 Billion with a B dollars and right now, dammit to stay in business. Heck, we seem almost respectable.

And with all the news coming out of Alaska about corruption and abuse of perks, the worst we get out of our governor's office is this: The Governor and her friends go to a bar. She gets carded. She doesn't have her ID. They refuse to let her in. She goes home. The bar changes its sign that says "We'd card our own Mother" to "We'd card our own Governor".

Yep, its pretty boring. Right now, I can use boring. So I'm good with a desperate lack of material from the state government, and I endorse their efforts to keep themselves off these pages through hard work and low profiles.

We all can use that level of boring.

More later,

Rainfall on Grubb Street in October: 2.6"