Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Museum Day

So the Lovely Bride and I got out of the house (and away from too many games of Lego Indiana Jones) and visited two art museums today, along with Pike Place market for shopping and lunch.

I took the LB to the Frye this morning. I've raved about the Frye before, as Seattle's best free art museum, and this was the first time I took the LB there, not knowing about what the contents were. Three exhibitions running: One on the Frye founding collection (cue the appearance of Franz von Stuck'sSin, a couple rooms on American Modernism (admitting that Modernism is a loaded, controversial term), and a large exhibit called Old, Weird America, on folk art.

Now I know that most people view post-mod art with the words "I could to this" forming in the back of their brains. I'm that way with folk art. There is always a trippy Addams Family vibe to it, and harnessing that power to deeper meanings about Americana just pushes it to 11 for me. Still, the LB loved the venue, so I probably will be able to drag her to other shows.

Anyway, lunch at Pike Place and a walk down the two blocks to the SAM, for two exhibitions that are also closing soon. The Michelangelo exhibit of the artist's sketchwork is the more popularized of the two, but it feels like an attempt to make more of what was present. A dozen sketches by the Master showing his skill, a sculpture rough by a student, a letter, and several examples "After Michelangelo), It all felt kind of, well, sketchy. My takeaway was the church censorship of the Last Judgment to clean up some of the more irritating bits.

More delightful to me was the Alexander Calder mobiles and stabiles. I didn't expect to get into it as much as I did. But Calder's work is one of the first art pieces I remember, from the mobile Pittsburgh which hung in the rotunda of the old Pittsburgh International Airport (and still shows up in Pittsburgh when its not elsewhere on display). The piece apparently has its own checkered past but when I first saw it, the color "Calder Orange" was imprinted on my brain, so I expected a lot of that shade in the exhibit.

And Calder Orange is present, along with Calder dots, Calder floor-mounted mobiles, Calder jewelry, and Calder toys. In fact, there is a playfulness in the Calder's work that functions better in a mix of different sizes than in one monolithic installation (I'm looking at YOU Olympic Sculpture Park). There are tiny jewel box models and large mobiles with "rings of death" etched in the floor to keep the observers from interacting TOO much with the art.

And to be honest, I really wanted to shove my hands in my jacket pocket, extend them out so the jacket becomes a huge sail, and the then run around the exhibit, kicking up a breeze. Because while the minimalist white wall presentation created cool shadows that added to the art itself, the very lack of breath in the halls kinda kills the importance of a mobile in the first place.

So all in all, a good day, but I think the Lovely B and I have both had enough pressing through crowds for a little while. I think it is back to nesting and having friends over for a while.

More later,

Monday, December 28, 2009

Comics: This is the Year that Wuz

There's an old Doonesbury strip from the Carter administration, how the Energy Czar declared the energy crisis to be over. After all, if you've gotten used to the new status quo, it can hardly be a crisis, can it? And there was much celebration.

That's sort of the way its been within main-universe continuity for the major comic companies this year, though they handle it in very different ways. DC has been trudging through an endless Blackest Night while Marvel has been actually using the Dark Reign mega event for some interesting open-ended world and character development.

Blackest Night first, which has felt like an interminable evening where the dead heroes and villains rise and are equipped with black lantern rings (every color has its own jewelry, these days) and challenge the living. Originally part of a mega-crisis over in the Lantern books, it has spilled over into the rest of the continuity, and though the plastic finger-ware they've been offering is nice (I have a full set hanging on the horns of my Galactus figure), two things become apparent.

1) When you strip the color, insignia, and facial expressions from a comic book character, it is devilishly hard to figure out who is who. Everyone is grey and black, they have the insignia of the Black Lantern Corps, and they have zombie faces. So unless they are wearing, say, a cowboy hat, you don't know who these guys are. Oh, also the fact that they may have been dead, in continuity for several years makes matters worse. And furthermore:

2) We have one story here, as far as the tie-ins are concerned. We open with a couple pages of flashback to remind us WHO this dead character is, then sics the dead character on the living, who defeats (or at least ties) the dead character at the end (for an unstoppable, regenerating menace, there seem to be a lot of ways to stop them). Not since the "Red-Skies" tie-ins of the original crisis ("Look, Batman! The sky is red!""No time for that, chum, the Riddler is on the loose!") have the tie-ins taken such an obvious route.

So it is thundering along for a while, as important things happen in the main title, and eventually Bruce (Batman) Wayne will be back (Oh, like you're surprised).

Over at Marvel, the Dark Reign starts with a seemingly equally iffy proposition. In the wake of the Skrull War Norman Osborn is put in charge of SHIELD, an idea almost as stupid as making Tony Stark the Secretary of Defense (oh, wait a minute...). Anyway, the former Green Goblin puts together his own illuminati of villains, with the idea that, now they have power, they aren't going to lose it.

Normally this sort of thing may be a couple issues, and the villains always lose it by overstepping their bounds and everyone realizes the heroes are cool and everything snaps back into place. But they've been going is some interesting directions with it, such that the original mob has broken up, so Osborn has recruited a new mob, Dr. Doom has been renovated back into a first class bad guy, and parts of the Marvel U that are usually kept apart are being brought back together. And at the heart of it has been the Avengers family of books, which has dealt with fake Avengers, rebel Avengers, and new Avengers (which feel decidedly West Coast in nature).

Problems? Yep. There are a couple plots that played over and over -
- There is a challenge that requires fake Avengers to fight alongside real heroes, and no one dies.
- Norman Osborn gets punked.
- One of the heroes is captured by Norman Osborn, and Must Be Rescued!
- The Sentry, created as the latest Marvel Superman Clone (see: Wonder Man, Gladiator, et al) and retrofitted into their continuity, continues to get slapped about with amazing regularity. The best Sentry story was actually an X-Men tale (what did I say about parts of the universe working together) and does not even feature the Sentry, only his supposed Dark Half.

Oh, and Steve (Captain America) Rogers is back (in a badly bungled return in which he is showing up in regular books before his "return" comic is completed). Comic book inertia rivals gravity when it comes to pulling all the pieces back together again.

But in general, there is a lot more life and opportunities in the Marvel Universe crisis than in the DC version. A lot of writers over at the MU were confronted with the new bag of apples and made new types of applesauce, while at DC we saw the same recipe again and again.

There have also been some major behind the scenes things in comics in the past year. Disney has bought Marvel (which probably will have less of an effect on the continuity), while over at DC, long-term veteran writer and president Paul Levitz was replaced by someone from within the Warner hierarchy (which probably WILL have more of an effect on mainline continuity).

And yet the biggest behind the scenes thing in comics is something that I'm not sure is official, but it feels like it. I think the comic book companies have switched up how they figure profitability of their books. Instead of looking for a particular title to deliver X number of sales, they are looking for a particular week to deliver the required numbers. That would explain the sudden explosion of one-shots, bookends, miniseries, hiatuses, secondary stories, and other stunts that have showed up recently. I'm not 100% sure if I am right about this, but it sure feels that way. Which again, will have more of an effect on continuity than we assume.

More later,

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Beef Is Red

So, this Holiday Feast, we took a small excursion outside our culinary comfort zone, got a might bewildered, but in the end found our way back.

Let me explain. We've done holiday feasts before, Christmas Day, for several years now (so much that some of the seating tags have given up the ghost and now must be replaced). Usually that means a brined turkey, prepared in the manner prescribed by Uncle Alton Brown, with lots of sides brought by the other participants.

This year, we did a turkey for Thanksgiving (to good reviews and minimal leftovers). So a month later we decide to do a poached salmon and a beef roast. And there the fun begins.

Now the turkey is a noble bird, not in the least because it comes packed with copious amounts of two types of meet, so dark meat fanciers are as satisfied as their lighter meat companions. Beefeaters are divided into two main camps - the welldones and the mediumrares. And while the mediumrares are united in name, I have found they include the "rares" and the "mediums" who figure they will find a couple pieces they like.

So we bought an 8 pound roast and I spend a good chuck of Thursday trying to figure out the logistics. This is supposedly my "thing" when I'm doing sou chef work with the Lovely Bride - I build the master schedule and figure out when stuff goes into the ovens (we have two), and how to coordinate them and the stovetop so everything arrives at the table at the correct moment.

Anyway, the recipe we were using was from Bon Appetite and believed in the fast-sear/slow-roast school of cooking - 450 for 15 minutes, followed by 350 for about 30 minutes to get us to medium. No mention of how long for well done. So I started hitting the other cookbooks in our possession as well as the Internet to figure out, if we divided the eight-pounder into 3 and 5 pounds, how long it would take, and if I would need both ovens.

And I found a generation gap. Most sources agree that medium rare is 140-145 and well done is 170. However, the older cookbooks use this as the temp where you pull the beef, while the new recipes take into account carryover heat (the meat will continue to cook after you remove it from direct heat). So I had a plethora of times I could pull it, along with other unmentioned factors, like whether it was bone in or not (it was). In the end, after numerous scratchpads of calculations, I figured that a small roast and a large roast in the same oven would hit the finish line at the same time with different levels of doneness. Which was good, since we needed the other oven for other things like twice-baked potatoes and spinach pie. After all the calculations, the doneness would be determined with a thermometer, and to be honest that sort of thinking plays hobbs with my schedule.

Oh, and the other thing the newer recipes had differently was a bitter hatred of well done. If you like your beef well done, you, sir, are apparently worse than Hitler. This cheeses me off because, while I like my beef pink in the center, I have respect for those who like theirs, as one diner put it - "crunchy'.

Back to the story. I put a sage/thyme/rub on the beast, and the guests arrive and I pop the combined roasts in the over. At the appropriate time, I pull them out and...

The internal temperature at the heart of the beast is 54 degrees. 65 degrees for the smaller, to be well-done roast, but no amount of carryover is going to make up the difference. And I've got rolls waiting for the oven space and the twice-baked are ready and all the sides brought by the guests are queuing up.

Exactly what happened to the roast I cannot tell until the CSI team is done with the crime scene. Perhaps it was a bad recipe (every other beef recipe I found as a low-and-slow roasting of several hours, so I can't compare things). Perhaps it was the fact that the beef was frozen solid 24 hours prior and while we thought it was defrosted, we were in serious error.

Fortunately, we had several things going for us.
1) The Lovely Bride is level-headed and used to such culinary challenges.
2) We had a lot of appetizers, including rumaki (bacon wrapped olives and scallops), sausage-stuffed mushrooms, cheese, and seafood salad that was pretty amazing.
3) Our thoughtful guests brought a plethora of sides, including but not limited to broccoli and cheese, mushrooms, green beans and mushrooms, a brown rice mushroom risotto (that was to die for), a coconut-infused brown rice (completely different and ditto), squash, and corn cut fresh from the cob.
4) Out thoughtful guests brought a lot of wine, which we refreshed while the LB and I were scrambling in the kitchen.

In short, we had enough sides for two courses, so that's exactly what we did. We led with a poached salmon, and after about forty-five additional minutes, the welldone was done enough to rest and serve, and the mediumrare was in good enough shape to just slice up (as I said, some of the mediumrares were really fans of rare, and some were really fans of mediums).

Wine was consumed. Plates were passed. Given the length of the meal, there was very little in the way of leftovers, the deserts (baklava, cookies, fresh fruit from Pike Place, and a perfectly acceptable cheesecake) were fantastic. The conversation bounced along nicely, since our guests (brilliant that they are) can be left alone to talk while the LB and I are putting out culinary fires in the kitchen.

It is always nice to have a plan, but a requirement that you have to figure out what to do when that plan meets reality. In the meantime, I think I'm going to be figuring out the mysteries of the roast in the coming year.

More later,

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas

Grubb Street is closing briefly for the holidays.

May all our readers have a safe and thoughtful holiday season. May all travelers reach their destinations, and may we all celebrate the season with those we love.

More later,

(Detail from Rest on the Flight to Egypt by Olivier-Luc Merson, 1880)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Bits and Pieces

So, the results from the King of the Monsters contest, which I helped judge, are up and running over at Kobold Quarterly. So far we have revealed the new Afanc and the Echidna (the mother of monsters, not the marsupial hedgehog), with eight more to go, followed by a vote for the King of the Monsters.

Meanwhile, the podcast at Dial P for Pulp reviews the short story collection Worlds of Their Own and gives a nice mention of my story "Catch of the Day". "Catch" was one of my favorite stories, and I always want to get back to that world and write more. Dial P also takes a good look at AE Merritt's "Ship of Ishtar" and features "Two Minute Danger Theatre", with a bit that could very neatly into an episode of "A Prairie Home Companion". Check it out.

And finally, Leo Lynn posted a letter which cartoonist Jon Kovalic posted on his site and Jessica Stover made a video and Stan! brought to my attention by his blog. It covers some of the same ground as Mike Selinker's own most excellent musings (which is why I sometimes list my faith as "Peanuts Presbyterian"). Ain't the Internet Grand?

More later,

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Word Dreams

I dreamed up a new word the other night. Literally. I was dreaming, and in the middle of the dream, I encountered the word, asked what it meant,and was given the following meaning:

Binter (adj) (BIN-ter): to disappear or become anonymous within a corporate organization. No one has seen Bob for weeks - he's gone binter.

The dreams themselves don't give me much meaning - they were about serpent women (don't ask), so I don't know where the word, or its meanings, come from. Here are three possible origins.

From Bint, Noun, BRIT SLANG (Offensive), for a girl or woman. Used as a pejorative in the long-running series My Man Sam on the BBC. For example, in describing his three hapless helpers, Sam describes them as "Bint, Binter, and Bintest". Only the second word caught on to refer to an ineffective presence in an all-male domain.

From LEWIS BINTER, AMERICAN, developer of the three-hole punch, which was one of the most important office tools of the mid to late 20th Century. They were always found in offices, even when those offices no longer used three-ring binders. Therefore, to be ubiquitous in an office is to be binter.

From Bunt, Noun, AMERICAN BASEBALL, to purposefully tap the incoming pitch, forcing the catcher or pitcher to field the ball, usually used to sacrifice for another runner. Through a typo in The Guide to America's Sport (1972), a recurrent typo from early computerized typesetting referred to this as a "bint". From there, it traveled into common parlance to represent an otherwise invisible component in life, observed by many but never seen.

So yes, I can't even get away from English in my dreams.

More later,

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Adventure: Pulp Tentacles II

Madness in London Town by Rick Maffei, an Age of Cthulhu Adventure from Goodman Games.

Since I am in a Cthulian mood, I should review the second offering (Vol. II, it says in the upper left hand corner) in Goodman Games' Age of Cthulhu series. The series is supposed to embrace the pulpier end of the Lovecraftian spectrum, and a lot of what I said about its predecessor, Death in Luxor applies here, both for good and ill.

As far as the good is concerned, I could repeat much of the previous write-up. The writing is solid, and the pacing good, though given a team of regular adventurers that did not sabotage themselves, can at the end be running about a day ahead of schedule, so that the imperative of driving them forward with a harsh deadline was not as dire as it might be.

My group were the surviving members of the previous adventure - a best-selling authoress and her adventuring hero sidekick whose adventures she is chronicling, an archeology student, a Chicago mobster who plays the cello, and a photographer (replacing the Egyptian cabbie who was dragged to his death and eternal torment by an elder god in the previous version). The typical CoC "odd lot" of adventurers, and as opposed to waiting 2 years to gather them together again (and coming up with another reason for doing so), I placed this adventure three months after Death, with the group hanging out together in civilized Paris to recover from the Egyptian adventure.

And that's the first challenge with the new adventure - there is not much of a link between Vol. II and Vol. I. Apparently it is assumed there would be a TPK at the end of Death, or that interim adventures would wean out some previous adventurers, since there is not a word about how to make the two adventures fit together. There are a slew of new Pregenned PCs in the back (so you don't have to have Vol I to play Vol II), but the in-story linkage that is supposed to bring Death and Madness together is incidental and dead-ends quickly without letting the PCs get any further with it.

In addition, the sequel has the problem that its plot is much the same as its forerunner - the adventurers are invited to a distant local by an old friend, who might as well be signing his own death warrant by inviting investigators over to "just come hang out". And the ending also consists of an eldritch beast slouching its way into our dimension. But between the two points, Madness gives a number of nice set pieces in Jolly Old England - Dinner parties! Wax Museums! Tea Shops! Standing Stones! Sort of like watching old black and white reruns of The Avengers. Each occupies its own chapter, making it easy to jostle when the players go off the rails of the adventure (and yes, they will). The best of the chapters is at the start, where there is a reception at the British Museum and, in a nice move, the adventure provided a page worth of what the various attendees/suspects looked like. I photocopied the page, cut up the pictures, and put them in a hat, letting the PCs schmooze at random.

The adventure also suffers from the Curse of Cthulhu in regards to the maps. There are doors that are mentioned in text that appear in different location on the maps, houses without windows, and doors on the maps that are not mentioned in the text that exist on the map (The flow of the Wax Museum chapter was short-circuited when the players ducked back down the alleyway that was on the map but nowhere in the description). The full-page "map" of London is a disaster of lick-and-stick, and resembled more of a color-your-own stained glass window than the City in the Smoke.

But the greatest challenge to the DM is getting so much factual material wrong. You don't get off a passenger ship at the docks in London. You don't check out books from the British Library (that's why they had their great reading room). Contrary to the Internet, there are no tigers in Kenya. These are no pedantic quibbles - our group includes a couple top-flight game editors, amateur historians, and a Tolkien scholar, and several members with access to Wikipedia at their fingertips. There is a cool historical nature to playing CoC, and such laughable errors do nothing to help establish the bona fides of the world.

More of a challenge, even to a GM without such an intelligent group, is that the book does little to address how a group of (assumed) Americans would deal with British laws and law enforcement. Scotland Yard is out in force early on, but afterwards they vanish, even though the PCs leave a trail of dead bodies, burning buildings, car crashes and a full-fledged massacre in their wake. Yes, this is high adventure pulp, which makes it all the more important that we have an idea of what the local constabulary will do when the PCs arrive in their small town, bringing wounded from a car wreck that involves obvious bullet-holes. I made that section up out of whole cloth, forcing them to spend some of their precious time that had previously earned being interviewed as "People of Interest" in the case.

And the lack of research hurts, I'm afraid, in that the final encounter deals with a famous British Monument, which was undergoing its own challenges in the late 20s, when the land it occupied was handed over to the National Trust and renovations occurred which may have altered the original appearance. This would be a nice piece to work in, which we did in our game, as well as the fact that maps of the era show a small cafe less than a mile away that made a suitable launching point for the final encounter.

In general, despite all of the above going against it, Madness in London is an OK adventure. A good GM can tailor it to their players and their own needs, but it will require a little more work. Death in Luxor was the better of the two projects, but I remain interested in seeing where the entire adventure arc ends up (If is does end up - there are no other adventures currently on the Goodman site, and when my turn to GM comes around again, I may go forward with Cthulhu Britannica.

More later,

Friday, December 18, 2009

Thursday, December 17, 2009

On The Road Again: The Apology Blinker

Ah, the holidays. The time of year when people who have no business driving in the first place set out in weather that would normally keep people home. In Seattle, such weather means heavier rains than normal, slick roads, and early darkness. And the end result is bad drivers aplenty.

And the latest incarnation I've noticed this week is the Apology Blinker. The car in the next lane over pulls into your lane. It may be a rapid cutoff or a slow, unyielding merge that ignores your presence in your lane. Yet AFTER they have completed the merge, always without a turn signal, and they are in your lane, THEN and ONLY THEN do they turn on their turn signal.

This behavior baffles me. What are they saying? "This is what I just did"? Or do they feel that they've righted the cosmic imbalance they've committed by flipping on the signal later? Or is it an apology blinker, a sheepish admission of "Yeah, I screwed up"?

I dunno, but I've had it happen three times in the last three days, and I for one am sick of it.

More later,

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

More on the Trailer

I mentioned earlier that we've released a new trailer for Guild Wars 2. Now we have a "behind the scenes" video for the trailer with interviews with Steve Blum, Felicia Day, Kari Wahlgren, and Troy Baker.

Also, the folk at Massively did an analysis of the original trailer and have continued the discussion in their most recent podcast. Some points are right on, some points are not. Which are which? Ah, that would be telling...

More later,

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Elliot Bay

Oog. I am currently hip-deep in hip-deepness at work. What could bestir me from my appointed and exhausting tasks? What could rate over reviews, comments, thinking about dwarves as Greeks, Call of Cthulhu as Old School Gaming, and other minutia?

This. Elliot Bay Book Company is relocating from its digs in Pioneer Square up to Capitol Hill, into a low building/former garage next to the Oddfellow's Hall between Pike and Pine. From a beautiful (but creaky) brick building that dominated its corner to a (hopefully to be renovated) structure with smaller total space but more "selling space", situated off in a near-alleyway off the two main east-west streets that cross lower Broadway.

I like Elliot Bay. It is a "first choice" bookstore when I'm looking for a particular new volume. It has sections you don't find in the Big Boxes. Heck, it has BOOKS you don't find in the Big Boxes. It is worth an excuse to go into the city. I like its selection, its help and its ambiance. It has good sections and organization, and it is extremely strong in supporting the writing community.

I also like it, though, as a building. I like the creaky floors and exposed brickwork and multiple levels and small stairs. I like the downstairs area, with its coffee shop and massive amount of space to read and talk. I've worked on books down there, and read while Kate was at Saturday morning Tai Chi, listening to a regular Saturday morning group of astrologers talking about their stock portfolios. I like their performance space, low-ceilinged as it is, and I've listened to Alton Brown and Kij Johnson there and kicked myself innumerable times for not catching other writers as well.

But by the same token, I recognize I am a tourist - I come in from Outer Exurbia, mostly on the weekends and in daylight. The neighborhood can be sketchy at times, but I've hit bookstores in Chicago that in nastier parts of town. My big concern is always parking, and beneath the viaduct is an ideal location, free on weekends and within easy walking distance (The viaduct will now go away as well). And my book purchases are few as I always seem to be playing catchup with my reading. So am I and those like me enough to keep a bookstore moored at Pioneer Square. No. I help, but probably not enough.

So when the press release talks about parking issues, I am unimpressed. I've taken classes in the Oddfellow Hall, and know that parking in the new location is a pain in the kiester on Cap Hill, particularly on weekends (which is my book-brousing time). And safety? Its current region has a slew of urban challenges, but Cap Hill is hardly Kent Commons when it comes to bars, questionable characters, and incidents. I've had scarier encounters with homeless individuals in Cal Anderson Park than in Pioneer Park.

In short, I'm sorry to see Elliot Bay leave its location, and hope that its departure does not create a black hole that sucks in the other smaller bookstores in its orbit. But I note that moving to a "reader's neighborhood" does not guarantee success - Bailey/Coy went under just recently there, and a couple used bookstores I used to frequent, like Pistil, no longer exist in meatspace.

Brick and mortar print is a tough sell, and I hope that the new digs can maintain the charm and raw usefulness of the old. It is a major expenditure to relocate tons of books and an entire culture up the hill, and I hope that it works out. But I will miss the spacious basement and its exposed brick. And the astrologers with their stock portfolios.

More later,

Friday, December 04, 2009

New Trailer

We've posted the new trailer for GW2 HERE. It is our "Races of Tyria" trailer, written by Ree Soesbee, and featuring the voices of Steve Blum, Troy Baker, Jocelyn Blue, Kari Wahlgren, and Felicia Day.


More later,

Thursday, December 03, 2009

The Monkey King is a Geek!

Wolfgang Baur, better known as the Monkey King and the publisher of Kobold Quarterly, is the PI's Geek of the Week.

Congratulations to Wolf!

More later,

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Play: Suitable Lies

Equivocation by Bill Cain, Directed by Bill Rauch, Seattle REP, through 13 December.

There are plays by Shakespeare and plays about Shakespeare, and I think the latter outnumber the former. There are funny Shakespeares, romantic Shakespeares, mystic Shakespeares, and completely imaginary Shakespeares. And here we have a political Shakespeare and a work-for-hire Shakespeare inhabiting a sprawling play that has more inside references than a semester of Bardic studies and more levels than a Gygaxian dungeon.

Here's the short form, such as it is: Shag (one of the alternate names for the Bard, played by the dynamic Anthony Heald) is hired by Robert Cecil (played with dark relish by Jonathan Haugen), Lord Salisbury, spymaster for King James, to write on the behalf of the crown a new play - "The True History of The Gunpowder Plot". Guy Fawkes has been found beneath Parliament with 36 kegs of gunpowder, a watch, and matches. The conspiracy uncovered invokes nobles of high station and Catholic faith, and eventually Jesuit priests as well, all tied up in a tidy bow. The official story is laid out neatly for Shag - he just has to dramatize it.

Shag's compatriots in his bickering company ("we are a cooperative venture") are pleased with the royal commission, but Shag is unsure. The story as presented has no real ending - Parliament fails to blow up. And small details niggle at him - if they dug a tunnel underneath the building, where did the earth go? How did noble men dig a tunnel?* His investigations take him into the cells of the conspirators and the accused priest, Father Henry Garnet, who in addition to knowing the conspirators had written a book on equivocation, in effect of telling the truth when the truth is deadly. Shag goes through numerous drafts, from the government end, from the conspirators side, and tries to present a truth he can believe in, all the while unsure where the truth lies.

But Shag is troubled not only by the King's spymaster and his own conscience. He is still in mourning for his dead son, and distant from his daughter (Christine Albright), his son's twin. His company (more of a cooperative venture) is at each others' throats over parts and the danger of speaking truth to power. And Shag himself is near the end of his career, and wondering if he has lost his ability to charm and entertain.

It is a great swath of trouble and strife, punching through at many levels, where most of the characters (Cecil in particular) are presenting their own stories, shading the truth, or at least equivocating. And it is presented beautifully, moving effortlessly from stage to private quarters to prison cells, sparing little of the grisly nature, grasping politics, and religious intolerance of the age (and of this age as well).

The production company is not local, but rather imported from Ashland, Oregon, where the piece was debuted last year as part of the Shakespeare Festival. And while I rail in these pixels about the value of local talent for a "Repertory" theater, I must enthusiastically endorse this company, of the original players of the piece. They bring depth and character to their parts as befits the people who created them in the first place. While I may recommend local chefs, even I can recognize a meal created with the skills of the classically trained and deeply confident with the material. The spirit of Ashland haunts these proceedings, and that is a good thing.

The players, all save for Shag and his Daughter, play multiple roles as well (similar to the earlier "The Thirty-Nine Steps" - perhaps a theme is shaping up this season). Young actor becomes tortured prisoner becomes King (John Tufts), Co-founder of the company becomes accused priest (Richard Elmore), and solid supporting fool becomes accusing prosecutor (Gregory Linington). Their work is brilliant as they meld from one character to the next (and in a choice bit, Tufts gets to play King both on stage and King in the royal box simultaneously).

The downside is a small one - the play is awash in knowing references to the Bard and his career and his stake in posterity. Plays are quoted, noted, and winked at. The hordes of royals and nobles that Shakespeare has slaughtered with his pen are commented upon. Hamlet, Richard III, Cymbeline, Lear, and the Scottish Play are all invoked. A few lines feel like the comments of a Shakespeare scholar and not necessarily the words of the King's spymaster or the Bard's daughter.

Yet on the whole it is a brilliant piece of work, similar to "Opus" and "The Thirty-Nine Steps" in that it is a limited company, but great and deep and holding up the mirror (as in MacBeth) to show us for who we truly are. Strongly recommended.

More later,

* Yes, I will pick a nit here. There was no dirt because (in defiance of the popular myth), there was apparently no tunnel. (Per Wikipedia) Parliament had an undercroft at the time, an open basement that was used for storage, and relatively easily accessed. Fawkes, a war veteran and not a noble, had hidden the kegs of gunpowder under a pile of coal and firewood, had been chased out the first time the officials, warned of the plot searched the undercroft, and then caught when the soldiers searched it a second time.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Ten Years Ago

Ten years ago, the Lovely Bride and I were at SeaTac, newly returned from a Thanksgiving vacation. We had heard there were incidents at the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle. The first day had gone big and gone well, but now things were getting dicey. Rumors of tear gas and dumpsters on fire.

"Honey," I said, "Can I go downtown and fight the man?"
"No dear," said the Lovely Bride, "We still have to get our luggage".

Ten years ago there were massive peaceful protests and there were vandals. There were sympathetic officers and there was a police riot. There were friends tear-gassed in their homes and an armored "Peace-Keeper" rolling through Capitol Hill.

And where did we learn in ten years? One one hand, more people keep saying how the protesters were right, and that more enviro and labor voices are being heard at the table. And on the other hand that such protests have become passe in the after-Eleven world where public dissent is condemned and villified. And on the third hand, how things haven't really changed at all. It is just that you don't see them unless you go looking.

More later.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

As God is My Witness ...

Grubb Street is going dark in preparation for Thanksgiving Day, but wishes everyone and their families a safe, sane, and happy Thanksgiving.

(Interestingly, I could not find this on YouTube. The Internet, she is being settled quickly).

More later,

Monday, November 23, 2009

Play: Magnum

Opus, written by Michael Hollinger, directed by Braden Abraham, through 6 December, 2009, Seattle Repertory Theatre.

This is an ideal Rep play. Small company (five actors) engaged is a brisk, well-written, well-directed performance. And most important of all for a theater that claims "Repertory" in its name, the actors are all local or have local experience. Most of them I've seen before, and am glad to see again. One-woman road shows and original New York cast performances are all well and good, but Seattle has excellent home-grown talent, and it is a pleasure to see it shown off here.

The five actors are members of the famous Lazaro Quartet, and with five actors for four positions, right off the bat you have an idea of the dynamics at play. The group consists of high-strung Elliot (first violin), laid-back Alan (second violin), elder, grounded Carl (cello) and trippy, mystical, talented Dorian (viola), whose behavior causes him to be ousted from the group and replaced with spritely newcomer Grace. (And yes, the names all begin with the string names). Dorian has "crossed a line" and Grace is a hotswap replacement, unsure of her place in the group or the dynamics swimming under the surface, with a week to prepare for the group's performance at the White House.

The play moves effortlessly through time and space, from the apex of the group to problematic recordings to the breakup and Grace's appearance and back again. Part of it is captured in a portrayed documentary (a string quartet with a rock-star level documentary on them - huzzah!), and you get a great feeling of how it all worked when it all worked together.

Now, like some rock bands (the Monkees come to mind), the actors do not play their own instruments, and if you're going to have the actors play their musical parts in dumb show (the bowing is good, the fingerings non-existent), you'd best have damned fine actors. And the actors are absolutely brilliant in this piece. Allen Fitzpatrick (previous at the Rep in Private Lives) is perfect as the fussy martinet of a first violin. Shawn Belyea has a surfer-dude rock tour attitude as Alan. Chelsey Rives was excellent last year in boom and even better here, both capturing the nervousness of newcomer Grace as well as the drive necessary for creativity and personal success. And Charles Leggett (Toby Blelch in Twelfe Night) is the solid, mature Carl, the cellist. And yeah, I identified strongly with the character, both as a former cellist and often as the supposed grown-up in the room.

And Todd Jefferson Moore as the flighty, druggy, mystical Dorian was by turns wonderful and worrisome, enchanting and frustrating. I have to admit, most of the irritation I felt towards the actor because of his earlier performance in Thom Pain (based on nothing). Such irritation has been paid off by this performance (mind you, I believe the in Thom Pain the audience was supposed to loathe the performer, and Moore had succeeded all too well). He is a perfect Dorian.

And the actors were supporting a snappy, well-written text that cut to the heart of creative cooperation. Perhaps that is another reason for my enjoyment - I've not only been in discussions like those among the quartet, but I have been in discussions EXACTLY like those of the members - a four-way marriage of age and experience and old slights and scabbed-over wounds. Yeah, it captures the nature of cooperation and compromise in a creative effort.

The setting itself is indeterminate, a pair of shifting walls that by turns become the various members' homes, backstage at the performances, and the backdrop of the documentary. Unobtrusive and well-mannered, it neither abandons nor overwhelms what happens before it.

All in all, this is the Rep firing on all cylinders - smart, intelligent, engaging, and enthralling and native grown. An excellent play put together by a talented group. Go see it.

More later,

Sunday, November 22, 2009


Forty-Six Years ago, President Kennedy was shot in Dallas.

I first encountered the above document, I think, in William Manchester's The Glory and the Dream, which was a history of the "swing generation", from 1932 to 1972. Excellent book, and it was the first time I read about the Bonus Army and the Wanna Go Home riots.

In any event, Manchester was making the point that in the wake of Kennedy's assassination, there was a great national forgetting that anyone hated or even disliked the man in the first place. He offers the anecdote that more people claimed to have voted for Kennedy after his killing than actually voted in the 1960 election (though it was probably, to be more accurate, a higher percentage of the polled population claimed to have voted and voted for JFK).

In any event, this document was offered up as being distributed on the streets of Dallas the week of the shooting (though not by Oswald - he was more of a "Fair Play for Cuba" kinda guy). But embiggen it and read the charges, and you may get a whiff of the modern age and how things have not changed.

Main Header: Accusing the President of the United States for Treason? Well, let's see what the logic is:

Item 1: Betraying the constitution (restating the main point) by turning the US over to the communist-controlled United Nations: Yes, the UN and its world government has been a cornerstone of conservative protest for decades, even by this point. At almost 65 years, it has been the slowest takeover ever. Anti-immigrant and isolationist tendencies have coalesced over the years into an abiding distrust of the UN and anything UN based

Also Item 1: Betraying our friends (Cuba, Katanga, and Portugal). By Cuba they mean the Batista regime in Cuba, which was booted out in 1959 by the Castro regime. JFK oversaw the Bay of Pigs debacle, in which US-supported exiles invaded the country, expecting the local population to rise up in support, which they failed to do.

Katanga was a a breakaway province (1960) from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which itself had just gained its independence from Belgium. Katangan independence had the support of Belgium business interests, but was opposed by member states of the UN (There it is again), and the province was forcibly reintegrated.

Portugal I had to do some digging before I came up with Gao, a Portuguese colony on the west coast of India. In 1961 India captured Gao, and while the administration condemned the action, it did not reduce foreign aid to India.

Yeah, its a little nuanced. Its also the last time anyone on the right really talked about Katanga OR Portugal.

Also also Item 1 (OK, its not well organized - its a pamphlet): Befriending our enemies (Russia, Yugoslavia, Poland). Because if you're not actively hitting them, you're befriending them. No idea why Poland is on the list, other than that it was one of the more moderate (though still oppressive) communist governments of the time. And as for Yugoslavia, under strongman Tito its Marxism was more Groucho than Karl.

Item 2: Being WRONG on numerous issues. Of course, being wrong is treason in itself (um, no its not). And the litany of incorrect issues reads as - if something occurred near JFK's watch, it is his personal responsibility, and is by its very nature wrong. We're looking at a laundry list of woes.

Item 3: Lanessx in enforcing Communist Registration laws. Communistic Registration Laws, both local and federal, required communists to register with the government, for the good of public safety. Replace "Communist" with "Muslim" and you have a familiar level of hysteria. Of course, JFK may well have been lax, since Ike negated the laws with the Communist Control Act of 1954, which just outlawed the Communist party entirely (which, by the way, didn't really take, either).

Item 4: Support and encouragement to Communist inspired racial riots. Another piece of right-wing gospel - the racial upheavals of the sixties were the result of foreign-sponsored agitators taking their orders from Moscow.

Item 5: Illegally invaded a sovereign state with Federal Troops. Sounds serious? We're talking about enforcing desegregation in Mississippi and Alabama in 1963, while scrupulously ignoring Eisenhower doing the same thing earlier in Little Rock. Interesting how the bells of state sovereignty peel out whenever someone you don't like is in charge.

Item 6: Consistently appointed Anti-Christians, upheld the Supreme Court in its Anti-Christian Rulings, and allows aliens (no, not that type - no, not that type either - by aliens read "foreigners" - no, not the band) and communists to abound in Federal Offices. Light on anything that sounds like a specific example, and also undercuts the initial assumption - if you SUPPORT the Supreme Court, how are you being treasonous (of course, the Supreme Court is treasonous as well, in this mindset).

Item 7: Caught in fantastic LIES (not just lies, but Fantastic LIES), and gives the example of JFK's Secret Wife. Yes, this is the Birth Certificate uproar set in another time and place. The woman in question, Durie Malcolm Appleton, was supposedly married to JFK sometime in the late thirties or forties, and while annulled, never divorced in a civil court, making JFK a bigamist! Ahah! And even if he had been divorced (and Joe Kennedy had destroyed all documentation, the crafty old man), the US should never have a divorced man as its Commander-in-Chief (until, of course, Reagan, but that was completely different).

Now, with all of the above, there is the frisson of recognition here. The strong rhetorical similarities between the birchers and the birthers, and the level of anger and raw hatred that bubbled up at the time for the first Catholic president of the US. And more importantly, a level of rage and indignation that seems awfully familiar to that of the past, and while the particulars change, the methodology remains.

History does not necessarily repeat, as make Twain noted, it sometimes rhymes.

More later,

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

King of the Monsters

So the Monkey King has asked me to serve as a judge for the new contest from Kobold Quarterly King of the Monsters, a (you guessed it) monster design contest.

Now normally, I take this sort of thing with a great amount of scholarly stoicism and professionalism, but at the moment, I'm instead viewing it all with a bit of bemusement. You want ME, the guy that helped bring about the MODRONS, to judge monsters? OK, but you know what you're getting yourself into.

And I'm getting this whole Iron Chef America vibe off of this. Fellow judge Scott Gable gets to be Kevin Brauch. Wolf gets the Alton Brown role. And I get to play out my lifelong fantasy as The Chairman, operating from my mountain fastness that is Game Design Stadium. Plus, I get whooshing sound effects when I turn and suddenly look at a document. Cool!

So with an open mind and an overly-active imagination, I say to you in the words of the Great Gygax -

"Allez Gaming!"

More later. Oh yeah, more later.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Mashup - Video Gaga

So apparently they still make rock videos - who knew? (surely no one who watching MTV in these later, benighted days) And the latest chanteunatrix is named Lady Gaga, resplendent in her slick hooks, sexy lyrics and fetishwear like a Later Day Madonna (Madge, not Mary).

So what would raise all this to the attention of Grubb Street? Add Christopher Walken.

And how do you make it still MORE awesome? Add the Fatboy Slim "Weapons of Choice) video for good measure.

More later.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


OK, truth to be told, I have been living a single man's life for the past two weeks and change.

No, nothing's wrong. The Lovely Bride took her mom to Greece for a long-anticipated tour. Nardi (short for Leonarda) has been wanting to visit Greece forever, and as she's had more problems with her hips in recent years, this might to be the last chance. So the two of them went on a church-sponsored tour titled "In the Footsteps of St. Paul". Given that the LB is pretty militantly ex-Catholic, it promised to be an interesting sojourn. But more on that later, perhaps. What we're talking about is, of of course, me.

I find I like solitude, in general, and it takes a couple days of no human contact before I start roaming the house looking for things to do. I picked up the other half of the house duties (laundry, dishes) without too much pain or unnecessary adventure. I did my own cooking, which resulted in me eating less in the evenings (since the beginning of October, I've lost 15 pounds, but most of that was due to a three-day bout with food poisoning). On the other hand, I was nowhere as culinarily active I wanted to be - I never made bread (which I often do when I'm bored), nor tried any new recipes. By the same token, I avoided breaking out the mac and cheese, so I guess that's a victory.

Oh, and I made omelets, which I never do when the LB is in the house (allergies).

My greatest challenge was dealing with the Lovely Bride's Fortress of Technology - otherwise known are the downstairs TV, where she records a lot of SciFi (sorry, Syfy) and crime shows. She has two separate VCRs hooked up that needed tapes changed at particular times, along with the fact that Comcast, in upgrading the system, has added some additional bells and whistles into the system. Oh, and right after she left, we had the time change from Daylight Savings. End result was about seven little yellow sticky notes with copious instructions on how to handle various situations. If all goes well, she gets her shows. If not, we will never speak of this again.

Also in a big pending pile is the mail. I separated it into four piles - Bills (which I paid in her absence), Bills and important stuff (due after her return), unimportant mail that MAY be important, and catalogs. Yeah, she's going to have fun.

On the lawn, I was spared any major personal effort by the fact it has rained almost every day since she left. I did manage to take down the dead and rotting tomato plants she had, pulling the last of the viable crop. Severed those up in the omelets.

The cats of course, viewed me suspiciously for the first three days, as if I were some invader in their quiet lives of following the LB from room to room throughout the day. By the end of the fourth day, Harley decided to switch allegiances and become my new BFF, following me everywhere, in hopes that I would suddenly go mad and feed her again. Victoria remained cool and imperious, condoning to sit on my lap only in the past few days.

Of course, when the LB returns, they will go running back to her. Traitors.

All in all, I think I can survive being on my own, but its not nearly as much fun (The Lovely Bride, reporting from Greece, wishes I was there, since she could drag ME into climbing various Greek peaks and finding restaurants down dimly-lit alleys). I was ill this week, knocked out with what I think was a flu bug - temperature of 101. And that was no fun at all to facing alone.

But, the LB returns tomorrow, and life returns to what approximates normal around here. But for the moment, I haven't destroyed too much, and still know I can shift for myself, if I have to.

More later,

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veteran's Day

I was going to repost "On Flanders Field", as is my wont, but I am feeling more hopeful with the process and discussions regarding the men and women who, at home and overseas, seek to protect us.

So instead, I provide the link about Kobold Quarterly's Adopt-a-Soldier promotion.

Small but Fierce, indeed.

More later,

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Carl Sagan Day

Today is the first annual Carl Sagan Day. Please remember to set your mind a couple decades ahead for the duration of the day.

More later,

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Election: Aftermath

So where did we end up? Here's a round up, and a reminder that the ultimate goal is not to have your "side" win, but to provide good governance and decisions.

I-1033, the latest Tim Eyeman magic pony initiative, went down in defeat hard. Lacking even the basic support of the usual suspects, it was hammered in the polls. This does not mean that there will not be ANOTHER similar Tim Eyeman initiative next time - he has figured out how to successfully monetize the initiative process, and as long as that exists, we will continue to see such foolishness.

R-71 passed, allowing the state to say that "Yeah, we're cool" with domestic partnerships. A triumph for common sense, the Seattle Times is quick to warn that the measure did not carry on the far side of the Cascades (they even have a map to demonstrate it). Pity for the Times that it is people, not land, that votes, and the bulk of those people live on THIS side of the mountains (over 50% of the population in King and its adjacent Puget Sound counties).

Dow Constantine has handily won King County Executive over Susan Hutchinson, and again, the Times, which endorsed Hutchinson and softpedalled here conservative cred, now is filled with morning-after declarations of how she should have been more direct with her political views while seeking a political post. Lost in the noise is the fact that non-partisan conservative Hutchinson did better than the last two official Republicans who ran for the office (and maybe further back - the official King County site is wimpy on archiving old election data).

The charter amendments all passed. The candidates who ran unopposed all won handily. For assessor, Loyd Hara (previously from the Port) won over Bob Rosenberg. And for the Port of Seattle, we split the vote with Rob Holland winning, but Tom Albro beating Max Vekich.

Downballot and local, Tim Clark took our local school district post,Allan Barrie took King County Fire Protection District No 37, Commissioner position No.1 and Alice Marchall is in at Soos Creek Water and Sewer District Commissioner Position No. 5. And Public Hospital District No 1 Position 4 went to Dr. Aaron Heide, which was my "toss-up" vote, so we'll see how we do with reforms at the hospital.

And the Panther Lake area voted for Annexation to Kent. Not sure what happens next, and what changes it will bring. More on that as it evolves.

There were a number of things I did not get to vote on. The big local one is the Mayor's race, which is still "Too Close To Call" (yep, its our winner this year for razor-thin decisions. So the next mayor will either be the pro-enviro with limited big city governance experience, or the business-type with limited big city governance experience. Both have strengths and weaknesses, though I am always suspect when someone states they're going to run a government "Like a business" (given how most businesses are run).

Big blowout in things I did not get to vote on was City Attorney, where the long-term incumbent got crushed by the challenger. That one was a surprise as well.

And nationally, the GOP took two governor's races (which is apparently REALLY BIG NEWS) while the Democrats expanded their House seats in an off-year election (which I understand rarely happens, but is apparently NOT really big news AT ALL). But locally, things worked out pretty well. Now the work, as they say, begins.

More later,

Monday, November 02, 2009


Yep, this is the pre-election-day nag about the importance of voting, particularly if you are in King County.

Yes, I'm talking to you. You. Go and dig out the ballot that you got in the mail a couple weeks ago and tossed onto the "important bill" pile by the front door. This bill has come due, and it's time to exercise your franchise, as it were.

Best place to start is to go through the candidates statements in the Voter's Guide. But if you want some other help, here are my recommendations. And Shelly's. And Publicola's. And the Stranger's (though the Stranger's recommendations should always be considered NSFW and read only while garbed in your radiation suit).

This is an important election just because it IS an off-year. Less voters = your vote counts more towards the total. And yeah, there is a lot opportunity to do serious damage to ourselves if we're not paying attention.

What, you already voted? Well, then reward yourself with this story by Kij Johnson, which won the World Fantasy Award for short story (Congrats, Kij!). But don't read it unless you've voted!

More later,

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Book: Tin Type

Boilerplate - History's Mechanical Marvel by Paul Guinan and Anina Bennett, Abrams Image, 2009.

Where I got this book: Spy Comics. It was a light week for my regular comics pull, and the cover of the 168-page hardback shows Pancho Villa posing next to a Victorian robot. Call me an easy sell.

Boilerplate is a pictorial history of the robot of the same name who made its debut at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair and disappeared in action during WWI, and during its brief time experienced just about every important moment of that age without changing history in the least. And it makes for a very entertaining book.

Boilerplate the robot is the creation of Prof. Archibald Campion, constructed in the wake of the death of the fiance of his sister, Lily, in a military action. With the aid of fuel cell inventor Edward Fullerton, mad-science genius Nikolai Tesla, and the brilliant Frank Reade Jr, who had previous invented a steam-powered man, Campion created Boilerplate, a free-standing, self-propelled, talking robot who was supposed to replace man on the battlefield.

All those people in the previous paragraph, with the exception of the fiance and Tesla, are fictional. Furthermore, they are the ONLY fictional people in the book. In fact, Frank Reade Jr was a fictional character from earlier source: the early Edisonades, the star of Frank Reade and his Steam Man of the Plain,. Everyone else is a historical figure, including Hugh McKee, the fiance, who did die in a military action in Korea in 1871.

And that is the strange thing about Boilerplate - he and his creators Forrest-Gump their their way through the First American Age of Imperialism without leaving much of a ripple. Here is Boilerplate making his debut at the Hall of Machinery in the Chicago Exposition. Here are Archie and Boilerplate in the Klondike. Here is the robot is working with TE Lawrence, Black Jack Pershing, posing with Pancho Villa. Here is Archie dealing with the house arrest of Queen Lili'uokalani of Hawai'i. Yet in no case do they jostle history in the slightest. It is all sort of "And here is Teddy Roosevelt and the Roughriders charging up San Juan Hill (actually Kettle Hill), oh, and Boilerplate is there as well."

Boilerplate, for being a weapon of war (created so men would not be lost in battle) is extremely progressive, even for his age, and Archie and his marvel hobnob with buffalo soldiers, suffragettes, Pullman strikers, and child laborers. They peel back the cultured veneer of that gilded age and get to the human beings that the beaux-arts columns are resting upon.

The book itself is lavishly illustrated, with pieces either duplicating the artistic styles of the age (Boilerplate in a Winsor McCay piece) or using period photographs (identifying the original photographers) and inserting Boilerplate and Archie. The latter is usually targeted as being some mustachioed individual, while the latter is tucked in the background somewhere, oddly ignored for what he is.

And through it all, the book is historically accurate, once you, you know, ignore the robot, which is what a lot of those present seem to be doing. The history is rock-solid, peeking into areas forgotten by modern Americans. Yet the robot does not affect that history, other than to give it the same result as we have in our timeline. Boilerplate passes effortlessly through the process, a quiet tour guide, an excuse to pay attention to the era, but remains unchanged and changing little of the world around it.

I highly recommend this book as an tour of the Age of Imperialism and Gilded Age of America, a time when America was mechanizing and dealing with larger social issues. The period from the end of the Civil War to WWI is blipped over to a great degree in our schools, with only a head-nod to the Maine. It is an excellent history book, sheathed in the cladding of a imaginary robot, and brings a lot to the table.

More later,

Thursday, October 29, 2009


The seasons changed while I was comatose. The Puget Sound region reached the end of a glorious summer, tripped over the skateboard concealed in the detritus of big leaf maple leaves and pitched headlong down the stairs into autumn, at the base of which it now lies, twitching occasionally and hoping that some passerby will hear its mewling cries for help.

Most of the northern US classifies fall as being emotionally signaled by the first frost. For us, it is the first fall storms, which wind up through the valleys, bringing hail and thunder and leaving in their wake a chill in the air. We don't get the swath of color, but rather bursts of turning leaves against an evergreen background. The clouds clear and Rainier is wrapped in a mantle of new snow.

And being Seattle, we tend to overreact just a tad. The initial rained turned all eyes to the levees in the Green, while it was the Snohomish that had worse flooding. And every flooded porch and patio is the harbinger of the upcoming floodpocalypse. Always skittery about snow, the populace is now particularly freaked about rain.

Freaked about the rain. In Seattle.

Yeah, its going to be an interesting autumn.

More later,

Monday, October 26, 2009

Fever Dreams

Personal media and social software such as facebooks, blogs, myspaces, twitters and whatnot rely on user-generated content. They also are positive pressure systems - they count on more stuff coming in over time. There is nothing pulling that content into the system other than the users' own desire to participate.

One of the results of this, though, is that someone you normally feel connected to, through their webpages or livejournals or tweets can suddenly drop off the face of the earth for a few days or even weeks, and only by more traditional forms of communication (or by the return of the prodigal)does it become clear what happened. Friend X had a family tragedy. Blogger Y was in the hospital with the swine flu. Facebooker Z is dealing with a breakup.

This stuff won't get into the system unless the poster so chooses it. In fact, unless you're paying attention to that particular individual and know their habits well, you might not even notice they were gone.

So in my case. I've been radio silent not because I've been out of town (a usual reason), but because I have been recovering from one of the nastiest cases of food poisoning/stomach flu it has been my misfortune to get.

Thursday lunch I has a "almost reuben" from a local sandwich shop, sent into the office. the coleslaw tasted a little iffy, but I did not think much of it at the time. That was about 1 PM. By 2 PM I started feeling queasy, and by 3 PM I started getting cold shakes. I went home at 4 which proved wise because by the time the Lovely Brid got home at 6, I was totally incapacitated with at temp of 100.4.

Now, as you can guess, I got better (well, getting better - still a bit woozy and break out in a sweat when I have to lift anything heavier than a mug of tea) but I completely lost Friday, and missed most of the weekend (a Bookfair, Steamcon, and my Sister In Law was up for a visit - she didn't see me until Sunday and was convinced that "Jeff has a stomach bug" was a cunning plan the LB had dreamed up to cover the fact she had killed me with a trowel and buried me under the tomato beds).

But man, the dreams from Friday - color, three dimensional primitive atari art dreams (mind you, I don't think I actually dreamed in color, but I remember dreaming in color, as my fever-infused mind tried to deal with with overheated surroundings). Here's what I ended up with:

Our universe is bounded by other universe (nothing new there), connected by tubes in which the nature of other universe pour into our universes (an upsurge of magic from a more magical universe, an upswing of evil from a more evil universe, an increase of fresh water from a fresh water universe)and vice versa (nothing surprising there).

But the competition is not between opposed universe (evil vs good, salt vs fresh), but rather by factions within each of the universes - those who favor incremental changes versus those who prefer sudden, major jumps in the influences levels. Think of the first as damage over time, and the second a damage from a single hit of a weapon. Gradualists versus Catastrophists.

And agents of each side are convinced that their method of maintaining the tubeways is the correct one - the gradualists feels that the sudden shocks of the catastrophists weakens the structure of the multiverse, while the catastrophists feel the gradualists are slowing the nature sudden ebb and flow of the multiple cosmos. Both sides think of themselves as the good (well, right) guys, and that the others are sworn, wrong enemies.

And it came through is such incredible interwoven clarity that such dreams of capable of, that the curtain has been pulled back and now I get a view of the workings of the cosmos itself.

Basis for a fantasy campaign? Maybe. Foundation for a religion? Heck yeah. And anyone who picks this up remember that I get a piece of the take (no martyrdoms, please)

More later,

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


So I'm leaning on the porch rail of an apartment downtown, looking at a vista that included the Smith Tower, Pioneer Park, and Quest Field. It is an impromptu fundraiser for R-71, supporting domestic partnerships, which is on the ballot this fall. And I thought to myself, in my best Dave Byrne interior voice "Well, how did we get here?"

And it is a bit interesting.

You see, the laws that we are voting on, supporting domestic partnerships in an "everything but marriage" context are already on the books. This involves such basic matters that married couples take for granted - sick leave to care for a domestic partner, wages and benefits, adoption, powers of attorney, insurance rights, child custody and support. This referendum is an "Are you REALLY sure?" vote pushed by people that don't believe in domestic partnerships. Actually, despite the chaff that's being thrown up by those who don't want domestic partnerships (and there is a lot of it), the main reason to vote against it is simple homophobia.

The most recent laws for domestic partners (who are mostly, but not exclusively, gay men and women) swept through the state legislature and were signed into law by the governor. Hang on, say the opponents. It is not enough for our duly-elected officials to make such a law, we the people should have the ultimate say. And got enough signatures to challenge it and put it on the ballot.

So, the people who DON'T want domestic partnerships put a measure on the ballot in order to confirm domestic partnerships because they want that measure to lose. Yeah, its a bit of a mind-twist.

And who would be dumb enough to sign a petition for such an initiative? We dunno, because the names are being held secret. And I actually think this is a good thing. The people who signed the petitions may be haters, delusional, illusional, or just plain wrong. But I don't think anything can be solved by, um, "outing" them. Oddly enough, our GOP Attorney General disagrees with me, thinks they should be released, and the matter will end up at the Supreme Court. Yeah, I'm to the RIGHT of a Republican. Told you this was a bit of a mind-twist.

We do know about the people behind this referendum (which they want to defeat) - and well, it ain't pretty (and I picked the most innocuous report about them). One is a save-traditional-marriage type on his third wife (and with accusations of abuse from a previous wife). The other is a minister from Oregon (yeah, out of state) who has had a spate of tax problems. I don't know if it bothers me that these guys are hiding behind family and cross, or that this is the best the field could offer as leaders.

And most of the learned heads think this is referendum is a foolish idea (which means that the learned heads SUPPORT it). Most of the major state newspapers AND both candidates for mayor AND both candidates for King County Executive support the referendum. You have to get pretty deep into the religious weeds to find those speaking against the measure.

So how can these guys carry the day to defeat the measure they put on the ballot. By lies, mostly. Ginning this up as a "Marriage for Gays" measure. It's not, it's pretty much "Everything BUT marriage. And even if it were, my marriage is pretty much unthreatened by gays getting married (too bad about yours). There is also a commercial about how the government is wasting its time with this instead of solving real problems (ignoring the fact that the government settled this issue - its the anti forces that are wasting more time and money). And the idea that gays get "special rights" ("special" in this case means "the same as other people"). And it's NOT a free speech issue.

But last night I got a robo-call, a push poll from some letter-jumble "survey firm" which pitched the question as "Homosexuals have put R-71 on the ballot" (They didn't, unless there's something about the sponsors that we don't know) and after sneering at it a couple times, asked my opinion. I pressed the button indicating support. Then I also told them I was a conservative pro-life Republican.

Hey, they lie, I lie.

Go and support R-71.

More later,

Update: This blog is reposted over on Facebook, and a comment from Geoff Simpson sent me to this bit of high bigotry in an mailer from up in Snohomish, sort of a grand central station of lies on the subject, debunked by the PI. (and the complete text of this vile and noxious concoction can be found at Publicola).

Oddly, for some reason, we don't get many mailers at Grubb Street anymore. Wonder why...

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Election 2009: The Jeff Recommends

If you live in King County, you have received your 2009 Civic Intelligence Test, better known as the ballot. As is my wont, I'm sharing my endorsements and encouragements for things I can vote on. I will attempt to be short and pithy, and reserve the right to come back to this stuff later.

Remember, the penalty for failing your 2009 Civic Intelligence Test is that you get the government you deserve. Oddly enough, that is also the benefit for passing it.

Now turn over you papers and begin:

Initiative Measure No. 1033, hiding in the lower left-hand corner of your ballot (if it were a menu, that would be the dead zone), is this year's Tim Eyeman Magic Pony initiative. I don't remember ever seeing an initiative that has had more serious opposition across the political spectrum, from Republicans to the hipsters at The Stranger. Vote NO on this.

Referendum Measure No. 71 is an "are your sure?" referendum about the recent "Everything but marriage" granting of rights to domestic partners (said partners being mostly, but not exclusively gay). I am a "Everything including marriage" kinda guy, so I recognize this as a small step in the right direction. Vote Approved on this one.

King County Charter Amendments are deep geek civic wonkery for the most past, the first three tidying up the language on the Charter. The fourth, however, changes how the county handles lands with "high conservation value", which includes of the open public land, including Cougar Mountain, and requires a larger majority and public hearings when the status of those lands change. Vote Yes for all of them, in particular number four.

County Executive to replace Ron Sims for the last month of his term and then a full term thereafter. Dow Constantine is not as flashy as his Reaganite opponent, but has done well on the County Council, and has already been facing the problems (budgets, getting a preliminary declaration of emergency for the Green River) that will test the next County Executive. Of course, I'm always a fan of granular, progressive policy-wonkiness. Vote Dow Constantine

Sheriff, Metropolitan King County Council District No. 5, Court of Appeals, Port of Seattle Commissioner Position No. 1, and similar offices. It is not the position of Grubb Street to venture opinions and endorsements for candidates running unopposed. However, Susan Rahr should be commended for firing the officer that was caught on tape beating the crap out of teenage girl in a holding cell. Just saying.

Assessor causes me to address something that I have not seen from other sources that engage in recommendations and endorsements. Last time out, I reviewed all the available data and endorsed incumbent Scott Noble. Earlier this year, Mr. Noble, driving under the influence of alcohol, went the wrong way on I-5 and crashed into another vehicle, injuring two women. Mr. Noble has stepped down, but there is the fact that I said "Yeah, let's keep him." In other words, take everything said here (and elsewhere) under advisement - we don't EVER have complete knowledge.

That said, the seat is open and there are a number of strong candidates. I recommend Bob Rosenberger, who has served the assessor's office, has the experience and the ability to get the job done.

Port of Seattle Commissioner Position No. 3 - Ah, the port, my favorite hive of scandal and villainy. I am pro-reform on this as such recommend Rob Holland for the position.

Port of Seattle Commissioner Position No. 4 - Ah, the port, my favorite hive of scandal and villainy. I am pro-reform on this as such recommend Max Vekich for the position. I will note that his opponent, Tom Albro, gets an Outstanding rating from the Municipal League, but provide the grain of salt that he's served as the head of the Municipal League. I don't think that's a secret, but just so you know.

Kent School District No. 415 Director District No 5 OK, I am seriously downballot now, and there is going to be like THREE people who will vote on this AND read this blog AND unfortunately, there is no way to PUNISH the school board for handling the teachers' strike so badly (one incumbent is running unopposed, the other is running for Mayor of Kent). Because in addition to ALL this, there is another screwup. There were three candidates originally, and after the primary the lower two were separated by a fraction of a percentage. However, the winner of those two has publicly dropped out, leaving Tim Clark as the only candidate on the ballot who can take the position. However, there is a write-in slot if you want to vote for Dave Watson, the guy who got edged out, anyway.

Really into the weeds now, King County Fire Protection District No 37, Commissioner position No.1 - Allan Barrie. Soos Creek Water and Sewer District Commissioner Position No. 5 - Alice Marshall (with a headnod to the work of incumbent Connie Sullivan as well). Public Hospital District No 1 Position 4 ....

Yah got me on this one. One one side we have a lot of new development at Valley Medical, with a strongly endorsed incumbent in Mike Miller challenged by the scandal de jour and Aaron Heide. I'd go tentative to Mr. Miller over Dr. Heide, but keep up the heat to keep the board public.

You will notice a definite lack of snark in all these proceedings, and I appreciate your patience, for the last item on my list is Panther Lake Annexation Area Proposition No. 1 Proposed Annexation to the City of Kent. I strongly endorse For Annexation. Grubb Street is situated in one of the suburban archipelagos of unincorporated King County, and I think a more local government (one within arm's reach) better serve us. The area around Panther Lake as grown and developed extensively in the short decade I have been here, and it is time to join up with a more local (as opposed to county wide) authority.

When I started going through the Voters' Pamphlets, it was with an eye towards pointing out the well-intended, the underqualified, and the raving nutters in the pack. But with the recent reforms, I will admit, there isn't as much in the way of characters and sprawling rants as there once was. But for your own amusement, go read the Voters Pamphlet writeup on this. I will direct you to the last line of the "Rebuttal of Statement For" - "The ShoWare Center hosts a Lingerie Football League team. Women’s rights groups say it’s degrading to women, Kent says it’s entertainment."

Yep, that's why we should vote against annexation - lingerie football. Of course, they also have roller derby, and I think they call THAT entertainment as well.

So get out there and vote, people. And more later,

Friday, October 16, 2009

Song of the Cosmos

The Voter's Guides are out, the ballots are arriving in the mailboxes, and I will be doing my recommendation thing. But in the meantime, have a Carl Sagan/Stephen Hawkings mashup.

Two things here - it may look so cheesy and "Star Trek Next Gen" now, but Carl Sagan was a spokesman that married knowledge with eloquence and poetry. The other thing is that it reminded me about something George Carlin once said - "Comedy is music you make with your mouth". The cadence and rhythm of Sagan's statements, easily parodied ("Beel-yuns and beel-yuns of stars") was one of the things that made him so listenable.

More later,

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

DOW Breaks 10000 (uh, yay)

The Great Intercession continues, and you have to admit the all the intervention of the previous year (when the DOW last stood at this point), has brought things back, at least for Wall Street.

In fact, there is almost a feeling that it came back too fast, like those chest pangs that subsided after a quick aortal boring. But after a few days of salad, the patient start reaching for the back ribs dipped in chocolate again. We got through the emergency room, but unless we see some major reforms from those ordering off the menus, we may be back in ICU, sooner as opposed to later.

I'm not quite ready to trade in my "Wall Street getting its comeuppance" duds for my "well Wall Street is doing well, how about some love for Main street" ensemble, and it is much too early to declare recovery on any front. But that time may come sooner than even I think.

More later,

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Cthulhu Recthidered

A while back. I pitched the idea of 6 Ages of Lovecraft, looking at how the mythos has evolved. The last of those generations seemed to me to be a bit loose, and after thinking about it a while, I realized I was honing in on one particular modern phenomena while ignoring others. So here goes, with a new Generation 5 - The Ages of Lovecraft's Mythos.

Generation 0: The Progenitors. These are the fantasy writers that predate the Mythos, who were evoked by Lovecraft and his contemporaries, and, as we shall see, later grouped into the mythos long after their earthy remains had rejoined the soil. Lord Dunsany is here, as is Arthur Machen, and Robert Chambers and his Yellow Sign. They are laying the foundation work for the shared universe that is Lovecraftian horror. They are Romantics to a great degree, and seeking to evoke an emotion in their work.

Generation 1: The Originators. Lovecraft, of course, and I would include Clark Ashton Smith as well. They were notable not only for their writing, but also for the fact that they corresponded frequently (the primitive Internet), critiqued each other, and most importantly, shared their creations back and forth. It was a bit of game in that a Lovecraftian creation popped up in a Smith story and vice versa. We are not looking at a coherent mythos here, as the creations sometimes varied from story to story by the same author (making opportunities for later writers). They are looking for mood and effect, and the mythos horrors are tools to that end. Their motto - "Here be uncaring monsters of the universe - gaze upon them in wonder."

Generation 2: The Organizers. August Derlith, who kept the flame alive, is the central figure of this generation, thought Lin Carter is also of this group and maybe Robert Bloch. These are the folk who have seized on the idea of a unified mythos and expanded it out. They conceived the mythos as an organized pantheon. The downside is that they (Derlith in particular) put into handy slots and assigned elemental sides, the Great Old Ones don't look nearly as great. Their motto: "The Monsters are definable"

Generation 3: The Explainers. Call these the 50s and 60s generations where Lovecraft's horror is adopted fully by Sci-Fi with the result that the gods are not uncaring beings but merely scientfic archtypes. Azathoth is a nuclear reaction, Cthulhu the dreamstate id, and the Mi-go are from Pluto, not Yuggoth. Fritz Lieber was the American version of this generation, but the king was Brian Lumley, who converts the big bads of the Cthulhu mythos into hapless villains to be foiled by Titus Crow. I'd throw a lot of Lovecraftian movies into this bunch where they seek to explain the mythos. Their motto: "The Monsters are nothing more than science. They can be beaten".

Generation 4: The Gamers. We jump track entirely from short fiction to RPGs as the chosen vector for expansion. The Call of Cthulhu game by Sandy Peterson, of course is the heart here, but Lovecraftian tentacles are found throughout the gaming industry, right down to the D&D mind flayers. The gamers went back to the hopelessness of fighting the mythos to create a different type of story than the standard RPG "Kill-the-monster-take-the-treasure". As they expanded, they are more responsible for gathering up the Generation 0 and Generation 1 creators and putting them into a one-stop shop for all your mythos need. The team-approach of Derlith is pushed aside, as is the rational successes of Titus Crow and his crowd. Their motto: "The monsters are unbeatable - take what solace you may."

And the new 5th Age.

Generation 5: The Diaspora. The Cthulhu mythos has always been a shared world, but a combination of copyright laws, dicey ownership, and accommodating licensing has opened the door to a broad spectrum of Cthulhiana from multiple sources and multiple viewpoints. This ranges from the dark modern horror of Delta Green to the pulpiness of Goodwin Games and the both-camps approach of Trail of Cthulhu, with sidepaths through the stuffed Cthulhu dolls, web comics, and Steve Jackson Munchkin expansions. Every historical time period seems to spawn its own Cthulhian bit - Rome! The Colonial Period! The Middle Ages! The mythos has become a canvas, and its creatures merely paints on the palette. Lovecraft would have loved some of this, hated other parts. "The monsters are ours, to do with as we see fit." And the elder gods have never been popular.

Yeah, that feels right.

More later.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Play: What's Opera Doc?

Lend Me A Tenor by Ken Ludwig, Directed by Lee Paasch, Valley Community Players, Carco Theatre, through 18 October.

I'll be honest. I went this performance because it has cost our gaming group its paladin, and cost our paladin his beard. I'll explain this later, but first let's talk about the play.

Lend Me A Tenor is a behind-the-scenes comedy set in Cleveland of the 1930s. The local opera group is celebrating its ten year anniversary by bringing in a great Italian opera singer, Tito Merelli (Peter Herpst). Tito accidentally overdoses on sleeping pills and is thought dead. The opera's General Manager, Saunders (Jon Loina) and his hapless, nervous, weak-kneed assistant Max (James Wyatt) hatch a plan - Max will impersonate Tito for the performance. But Tito is not really dead, and soon there are two Titos dressed up as Othello (in blackface - deal with it, it's an opera thing) running around. Plus all the women, including Max's girlfriend Maggie (Wendy Enden) want to sleep with the famous tenor.

James Wyatt (who is Max) is part of our Thursday night dungeon group, and is our group's paladin, tank, and general meat shield. So we have been suffering the past few weeks as my warlord, usually a supportive class, has been taking most of the damage while he's been preparing for the role. Furthermore, James is normally bearded, and shed his face fuzz so that he can add a beard to imitate Tito over the course of the play.

Because, you know, a beard and blackface will convince people who know you that you're someone else. It is that sort of sitcom reasoning that pervades the plot, a tenuously-moored edifice constructed by Ken Ludwig (who also wrote the Three Musketeers adaptation at the Rep last year) which threatens to crumble if you think about it too much. So don't think about it too much.

And there is much to distract you from deeper thoughts. The stereotypes are broad and humor effective, though the first act is used pretty much to get things up to speed for a second act filled with mistaken assumptions, double entendres and slamming doors. And James has a marvelous singing voice (who knew?) and his duet with Herpst's Tito is the highpoint of the first act.

The production does have the errors wont to plague small community operations - Peter Herpst and James are hardly doubles, the latter having six inches of height on the former. And when you do a door-slamming force, you really need the doors to stay shut once slammed.

But really, the disappointment is not on the stage, but in the audience. We attended a Friday night performance at the well-appointed and comfortable Carco Theater, and to say the house was light was to be kind. I mean we're in Renton - what else is going on that would compete? Yes, this is a "eat-your-vegetables" rant about the importance of local theater. Community theatre is not the REP, but is a homebuilt, local, volunteer operation that delivers laughs, songs, and entertainment. You really should check it out. Even if your paladin isn't playing the lead.

More later,

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Space Invaders

Rather busy at the moment, so enjoy some Science Fiction from the New Yorker

Yeah, the New Yorker.

More later,

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Play: Step by Step

The 39 Steps, Adapted by Patrick Barlow, Based on an Original Concept by Simon Corble & Nobby Dimon, Based on the book by John Buchan, (but based more on the Alfred Hitchcock-directed movie written by Charles Bennett (adaptation) and Ian Hay (dialogue)),Directed by Maria Aitken. Seattle Repertory Theatre, Through 24 October 2009.

The Seattle Rep slides into its new season with a comedy, not exactly lightweight but definitely buoyant, based on a movie based on a book.

As can be denoted from the annotated credits above, The 39 Steps has a storied heritage. Indeed, it seems like the Book of Matthew has fewer "begats". Originally a popular pre-WWI Spy novel by John Buchan, it was reinvented (keeping the name, tweaking the main character, adding female characters, changing the meaning of the title) by Alfred Hitchcock into the version that modern audiences know. The play, then, is deeply based on this Hitchcock version.

Here's the overview. Richard Hannay (Ted Deasy) is bored and goes to the theater, where he hooks up with a foreign-accented damsel in distress (Claire Brownell), who meets a horrible fate in his digs, for which he is blamed. To prove his innocence, Hannay flees to Scotland, where he confronts a larger plot and gets himself into more scrapes and escapes as he struggles to figure out the meaning of the Thirty-Nine Steps.

Turning a movie (with motion, chase scenes, vistas, and changing scenes) into a play (with constricted space and time limitations) is a challenge, and all the moreso since the team uses but four actors - Deasy as the stiff-upper lip Canadian Hannay, Brownell in all the female roles, and Eric Hissom and Scott Parkinson as everybody else. Yes, really, everybody else. Hissom channels an inner James Coco, while Scott Parkinson elastically and plastically morphs between characters with a frightening ease.

And unlike the film, it is played for fun. The characters are very much aware that they are in a play, from the running gag of continual wind blowing to uncooperative terrain for a flight across the moors. There are evocations of Python and rapid-fire 30s banter, and eye-rolling shout-outs to other Hitchcock films. Every accent is dialed up to 11 or 12. Despite that, the thriller aspect refuses to be subdued, and bubbles to the surface, capturing a chase across the top of a train and a singularly Hitchcockian moment when the hero is mistaken for a wrong man, but in this case mistaken for a man about to give a political speech (a basic fear played both lightly and with the growing suspense of being discovered).

And there's a bit more going on here, a little bit of depth about the Hannay's own personal journey. He's a Hitchcock hero - the wrong man in the wrong place, but over the course of his fight resolves his own internal problems that exist at the play's outset. So we have the recognized layer of the thriller, with a coating of comedy on top and an underlying bit of real character development beneath.

So we have a piece that has passed through the creative processes of a numerous talents to create a final process. It works, it is a light beginning to the season, and an excellent afternoon's play. You don't have to be a fan of Hitchcock (and the audience was younger than usually expected) to enjoy it.

More later,