Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year

We leave 2010 with these words, apparently a traditional poem but gathered, set to music, and sung beautifully by Pete Seeger:

I get up each morning and dust off my wits
Open the paper and read the obits
If I'm not there I know I'm not dead
So I eat a good breakfast and go back to bed.

Happy New Year, everyone.

More later,

Monday, December 27, 2010

Commercial Break

Busy at the moment, but I wanted to note a couple things before they get past me.

First off, the new Guild Wars novel: Edge of Destiny, by J Robert King, is now on the shelves, and it is, in a word, excellent. Strongly recommend it for fans of both Guild Wars and of fantasy in general. Here's Chapter One as a PDF.

And speaking of Guild Wars, my co-author on the first Guild Wars book, Matt Forbeck, sees the US release of his original novel, Ammortals. Also worth checking out!

And finally, I've done a foreword for a new PDF product from Zombie Sky Press, called The Faerie Ring, designed by Scott Gable, on the Lords and Ladies of the Fey.

OK, back to the subjects at hand.

More later,

Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Holidays!

Art by Joseph Christian Leyendecker
Merry Christmas from everyone at Grubb Street, and best wishes for a safe, sane, and festive Holiday Season.

More later,

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


Now begins the long climb back to daylight.

More later,

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Power of the Hat

So one of my favorite gifts this year arrived early. The Lovely Bride has been trying to get me a Santa Claus hat for like three years running, and encountering some basic problems:
     1) It is too early in the season. Apparently despite the fact that you've been bombarded by Christmas carols on the Muzak since Halloween, the hats don't show up until later. Like after 1 December.
     2) It is too late in the season. Near as I can figure, only three Santa hats are delivered to each store, and they disappear within twenty minutes of delivery.
     3) No one makes plain Santa hats. Previous experiments involved ones with antlers, and one with a salmon through it. They didn't fit me anyway, so they get put on the stone dragon out front, or on the bronze cat out back.

Yet this year the Lovely B was in the correct spot at the correct time and gave me a hat of the correct size, and I have been wearing it throughout the season, eschewing my normal baseball caps. The results have been interesting to say the least.
     - It is a perfect disguise. People see the hat and not me. Had a couple encounters with people who looked right through me. since I looked so unlike me in the hat. I became amazingly invisible. Should I ever launch a multi-state crime spree, this is the hat I will wear!
     - Strangers talk to me. Usually it is a "nice hat" kind of comment, but it took me aback the first time it happened. Now I manage a "ho, ho, ho" in response.
     - Small children find me amusing. I am asked if I am Santa. I tell them that I am temping for him. That seems to put them in a quandary about my status, since I am obviously not an elf.
     - Older friends are merely amused. And these are people who know I wear Hawaiian shirts in the dead of winter! They know for a fact that my fashion sense is not on the same scale as, say, Daredevil's radar-sense or Spider-Man's Spider-Sense. But still, they are amused by this daring fashion choice. It takes nerves of steel to wear a Santa hat
     - People think I work there. When I've been shopping, people assume I am a sales person, because who ELSE would where a hat?

All in all, I would say that it is a most successful present, and I am delighted to be wearing it. And the Lovely Bride has sworn she will steal it back and put it away as soon as the season is over, so everyone is spared having to put up with this in June.

More later,

Friday, December 17, 2010

Busy Box

So Mark Evanier, over on his blog, always posts a picture of Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup whenever he's busy, a state that lasts one, maybe two days at the outside. I've been busy for the past week and feel like I'll be busy for some time to come, so you guys get Campbell's Cream of Tomato. Why? Because I like Cream of Tomato better.

I am busy because of:
   A) The Day Job
   B) The Novel
   C) Christmas
   D) The new season of Iron Chef.

And the answer is:
  E) All of the above, plus I now have an iPad.

This last was a Christmas gift from the company (yes, I will pause for a moment as everyone says "I wish -I- worked for a company like that). A couple years ago it was a Kindle, which brought me into the world of E-books, something I would not likely do of my own volition. So I am dragged, with only modest kicking and screaming, into a new thing.

And to be honest, I am still discovering what I want to do with this new device. How it fits into my personal cosmology. The Kindle turned into my travel book, and has not slowed my purchase and consumption of dead tree editions. The iPad is still up the air, and has been used primarily so far for 1) impromptu access to the Internet, and 2) playing games. For the former, I've ended up installing a WiFi hotspot up here at Grubb Street, and for the latter, I've started slow (because of the other four things on my list). I started checking out Rogue clones, and ended up with a very good descendant called 100 Rogues - more compact and colorful than the original type-face version. But beyond that (and the free planetarium program), I really haven't had much chance to explore.

So where do I go with it? I don't know quite yet. It feels like it could be a large chunk of life in 2011, or just a interesting distraction. I'll keep you posted, when I have more time.

More later,

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

What New York Superheroes See

I found this particularly amazing:

More information on the flight here.

More later,

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Old School Tekumel

So a group of us had the chance this afternoon to play Empire of the Petal Throne. Not the more mind-bending Sources and Glory version, or the more genteel TOME version, or even the GOO version. No, the original, first published by TSR in 1975 (!) and later reprinted by Different Worlds.

It was the old, refreshing rush you get from the old National Geographics that have been in your grandparents' attic for a bajillion years.

The plot was fairly straightforward - the group in Jakalla, gets word of an abandoned temple of Ksarul (Doomed Prince of the Blue Room) up in the hinterlands, decides to check it out. Kidnaps a priest of Ksarul en route as a guide. Since I got there late, I entered the game as said Priest of Ksarul, and we fought Vorodla ("the Flying Undead") and Hra ("the Bloodsuckers") before my priest angered the god Ksarul (grabbing a magical scepter that the god specifically told me NOT to grab) and being bodily lifted into the Blue Room, where he would be tortured forever. Then I generated a slave we uplifted from the group to carry on the fight.

And it was fun. A definite roll back to the good old days of roleplaying. Character creation was easy, and life was cheap. The mechanics were simplistic to the extreme, but there was a lot of room the PCs and the GM to move around. Most of the mechanics were ill-formed to handle the challenges of the adventure (How do you detect a trap in those pre-Thief days?). We were making stuff up on the fly. My Priest managed to face down a horde of Ksarul-created undead (at least once - then I had to have magical help). And one of our players ran through three characters over the course of the afternoon.

It was a great reminder of how wonderful and how frustrating the old rules were, and how you could not take it horribly seriously, and how the interaction between characters would be as interesting as those against the monsters. (The party wizard was a Wizard worshipping Thumis, Ksarul's rival, and my priest was planning an accident for him before we left the ruined temple). And it had all sorts of wonkiness, like award XP to the one who killed the monster, which encouraged kill-stealing but also made it possible to give XP over the course of battle. Or making everyone over 4th level divide XP by two, which meant we would be forth level forever, except the wizard (sorry, magic-user) who found the Book of Qiyor and ended up skipping a level immediately.

And a good time was had by all. More later,

Friday, December 03, 2010

Make 'Em Laugh - 15 Things

So we talked about 15 influential games, and 15 things which influenced my games. And then one of co-workers mentioned 15 things that influenced her sense of humor. And I thought about it considerably longer than 15 minutes, and come up with the following list of 15 things that influenced my strange sense of humor:

The Dick Van Dyke Show: I am not alone with this - about half the scriptwriters in Hollywood were sold on the idea that this was how comedy was written, and in a broader sense, how corporate creatives lived in the world. You worked with people you liked. You made jokes. Your bosses were mildly insane. You were married to Mary Tyler Moore. When everything is working well, this is the TV show I am living in.

M*A*S*H: The TV show, not the movie. The show was in endless syndication even when I was in college, and represents the TV show I am living in when things are not going so good. I and my design colleges have talked about "Meatball Design" and "Editorial Triage" like we were honestly subjected to attacks by Five O'Clock Charlie.

George Carlin: Representing the stand-ups, George was another college addiction, with his album Class Clown. I was too young for Lenny Bruce, which is Carlin's predecessor, but Carlin's love of language roped me in. Plus, ANYONE can do his "Hippy-Dippy Weather Man, with the Hippy-Dippy Weather, Man" routine. He got old and more pointed but I still love his stuff.

Tom Lehrer: Of course this is obvious, from other entries in this blog, but he gets the nod from the album/musician comics and the political comics, edging out Alan Sherman. "Pollution" was the first one I remember hearing, but his stuff is just a cool now as it was in the 60s (though now it sometimes requires footnotes to explain what we thought was so troubling back there).

Doctor Demento: Wind up your radios! I got to hear a lot of Tom Lehrer and others thanks to the good doctor, broadcasting on Friday or Saturday or Sunday nights on the Pittsburgh radio. That and Pirate games (with Nellie King and Bob Prince) were reasons to have a radio.

Monty Python: Back to college, where the Pythons were a regular feature of late-night PBS out of the Chicago stations. It was, for many people, the first introduction of what Britain was supposed to be like.

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World: Edges out A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To the Forum only by the fact that I saw it first. The first time I saw it, at the old South Hills Village theater, I didn't know most of the cast, but I knew they were funny. Only later did I get the idea that this was a collection of the comedic talent of the age. Others have tried to replicate it - Cannonball Run, Rat Race, but none have succeeded.

Woody Allen: From the movie people, he just edges out Mel Brooks. Yeah, there was standup before, but What's Up, Tiger Lilly, Bananas, Take the Money and Run, Love and Death and Sleeper were a run of seriously funny films.

P.G.Wodehouse: Does this surprise anyone? I mean, does this surprise anyone who encountered Giogi Wyvernspur and Tertius Wands, who were cut, if not of the same cloth, of at least cloth two bolts down? Before the entire Stephen Frye and Hugh Laurie presentation on BBC, I read a lot of the adventures of Bertie and Jeeves. And it was genre as high art form - there was a single plot with continual variations.

The Odd Couple: The TV show, the movie, and the play that predated both of them. You can see the eroding effect of other media on the characters as you make the progression between them. Still, though the combination is classic (Two and a Half Men really should be sending a piece of the action to Neil Simon), Klugman and Randal are the best Oscar and Felix. Oh, and like Monty Python instructed about Great Britain, so did the TV show instruct about New York City.

Blackadder: Back to the Brits, with this funny, erudite, and literate bit of fun, which unleashed Rowan Atkinson on the rest of the West. The second and third seasons are the best, when Blackadder gets to devour the dictionary and spit out the best parts.

Warner Brother Cartoons: I know way too much about stars of the 30s and 40s from watching these as a kid on TV. They were on TV because they were cheap, and if the kids didn't get the references to Bogart and WC Fields, who cared? I think my interest in that era (and black and white films) comes out of those old cartoons.

Marx Brothers: And speaking of old movies, the Brothers Marx were the gold standard of the era. Yeah, they were creatures of vaudeville, and Groucho's character was an evolution of the stock figure "The German Teacher", but still it was classic comedy, and they get the nod for that era.

MAD Magazine: Another view into New York City, it showed you could go after both political and economic issues. By claiming Madison Avenue as one of its early targets, it had a lot more depth than any of its imitators, and infused an entire generation with good-natured cynicism about the consumer marketplace.

Firesign Theater: Another group that reached me by a comedy album, they were more head-oriented than Cheech and Chong, and that's saying a lot. Their most coherent production, and the one I would send you to first, was "The Adventures of Nick Danger, Third Eye," which was on the album How Can You Be Two Places At Once When You're Not Anywhere At All, which had the album cover of the cast (duplicated) in front of a poster saying All Hail Marx and Lenin (with Groucho and John Lennon) shown below.

And you wonder while I am such a strange individual.

More later.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

The Triumph of Intellect and Romance

OK, I was going to post something else here, but this just completely boggled me.

More later,

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Dancing On The Edge

Dancing at Lughnasa: by Brian Friel, Directed by Sheila Daniels, Through 5 December, 2010.

Many (many) years ago I had the chance to see this play at the Milwaukee Rep, but demurred. Instead the Lovely Bride took a Good Friend to it and enjoyed it thoroughly, such that it went into the category of "things you really should have seen" that would pop up every so often in our conversations in the years since.

I, for my part, felt little guilt about passing up on this opportunity, as the play had been presented to me as being a) Irish, and b) about five sisters. For the first case, I am only merely tolerant of plays in Irish brogue - it takes about ten minutes for my ears to properly callus up and I can understand what is being said. Further, theater about the Irish (in particular theater about RURAL Irish) usually deal with bonecrushing despair, deprivation, and oppression, and English-Language theater loves it because its within walking distance of London.

For the second point, I knew that it would be about female bonding, and any males presented would be fool or leches or both. Team that up with Irish and you know you are not heading towards any kind of happy ending.

Still, when the opportunity presented itself once again to attend it with the Lovely Bride, I did not shirk, but faced this Irish play like a man. And while it was very much as I expected it (indeed, the couple next to me bailed at intermission), it was very good, well-written and well-acted, and worth the trip (sorry, couple next to me - you lose).

The play is the adult reminiscence of the adult Michael (Benjamin Harris) of a summer in his aunts' cottage in rural Ireland (warning!) in 1936. He is the illegitimate child of Christine (Elizabeth Raetz), and the pair live with Christine's four sisters - inflexible Kate (Mari Nelson), joking Maggie (Gretchen Krich), motherly Agnes (Linda K. Morris), and simple Rose (Cheyenne Casebier). Elder brother Jack (Todd Jefferson Moore) has returned from Africa, where he was a chaplain at a leper colony and has gone a bit off his nut (male figure as fool). And Michael's bio-father (Troy Fischnaller) is a con artist whose infrequent returns delight Michael's mother and then plunge her into depression when he leaves.

And the household is both light and dark - struggling to get by while at the same time exuding warmth and family. The dancing of the title fits in as analogy for sex, for society, for the world outside, and for tradition. And all this brightness as adult Michael foreshadows the storms that will swamp the home.

And about half-way through the final act, I finally get it. This is what it is all about - that last summer when they are all together, when they are dancing. After this everything caves in slowly as the family breaks up, as hearts are broken, as the flesh weakens and the mind wanders and things will never be the same. But for the moment, everything fits together, everything works, and there is hope for survival. Yeah, that makes the trip worthwhile.

The cast is generally brilliant, in particular the women. Maggie swaggers and kids effortlessly. Kate is brittle almost to the point of breaking, Agnes has deep waters flowing, and Christine is by turns commanding and vulnerable. And Cheyenne completely disappears into the role of Rose.

The men are a bit more of a mixed bag. Harris engages as our mouthpiece into this world. Moore, as Jack, plays the fool, broadly at first, but with increased dignity as he recovers in the family (though with a dark edge as they cannot expect what he recovers to become). Fischnaller was the sole disappointment, in that if he's got a welsh accent, I'm a member of Monty Python.

The production values were high and convoluted, to the point that the stagecraft was at points blocking the action.

Do I still not regret going to the first version of is some 17 years back? No. Am I pleased to have gone now? Yeah, for reasons that would not have been clear to me as a callow youth back in '93.

More later,

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Snow. My. God.

So, counting the physical time in the car, the dinner, the evening spent working at the friends' house, the sleeping at the friends' house, and the omelets in the morning, it took me just over 19 hours to get home yesterday.

No, I'm not talking about commuting from the East Coast. I'm talking about a normally thirty- to forty-minute commute from Bellevue (where my company is based) to Grubb Street (which in near Panther Lake on the East Hill of Kent - the key word here is "hill").

Yes, it is the start of the snow season here in Seattle, where madness rules on the streets and we all tip towards anarchy.

I thought I was smart. I had packed a travel bag on Monday morning and took it with me to work. I left the office early, at 4, before the sun went down. Little did I dream that it was already far too late and that I was doomed.

Doomed, I say! Already thick flakes were coming down, adding to a snowpack that had been accumulating all morning. An inch, maybe, and mere sundry in Pittsburgh terms, but in this land of insufficient plows and sparce sanding, enough to completely shut down the city. Already the roads were slick, and made worse by the fact that there were people who had no clue how to drive in snow (I'm looking at you, little miss "5 miles an hour with your flashers on" - thanks for completely snarling the traffic behind you for miles with your sociopathic rejection of standard commuter mores).

Still, only a half hour to reach Renton itself, at the base of the hill I needed to climb. Still daylight. But then everything fell apart. My first choice route up the hill was solidly blocked. OK, we go to the second. A half-hour later I am still not moving on my second choice. Another half-hour not moving at my third choice. Apparently there were accidents on I-5, and they were channeling the traffic onto the surface streets. At in the meantime the snow beneath my tires had become ice and things had a hard time moving even on level. There was no way I was going to get up the hill and home.

A call the Lovely Bride who called friends in the Kent Valley, a level shot from where I was currently stranded. They were more than willing to help, and I did bring my own luggage. So I spent a very nice dinner and evening working (I had also brought hard copy to work on), and crashed on the spare bed in one of the offices.

And in the morning, the roads still glistened with now-compacted ice. I made a valiant attempt at omelets (better than I normally do, but still too brown) and made another attempt at the now-mostly-empty hill leading up to Grubb Street. With the direct sun and the passing traffic, it was mostly easy, but once getting on the roads on top of the hill the ice returned.

Now I am home safely. The Lovely Bride is making a fire and the Houseguest is working on her files. And I get to change into some dry socks, which I did NOT pack into the go bag.

Ah well, I learn as I go forward.

More later,

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Someplace Special

Still busy - have another video. This one is of my home town, Pittsburgh, and my old neighborhood appears around the 15-17 second mark.

It is interesting in both what they counted as worth seeing and what they did not. Carnegie Museum gets a reference for Flashdance? When right across the street is a statue for Steven Foster? Phipps Conservatory and Beuhl Planetarium get the short shrift? We miss both Point Park fountain and the stadiums (and Clemente park)? And you give us Warhol's grave but not his museum?

Oh, and you drive right past the Galleria without noticing it, but that I can understand.

More later,

[Update]: The other thing to notice is that most people get around Pittsburgh by back roads and local routes. Everyone has their own way to get through town.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

We Are A Global Community

Busy right now, so here's Harry Potter singing Tom Lehrer's "The Elements"

Oh all right, here is the original

More later,

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veteran's Day


In Flanders Fields

IN FLANDERS FIELDS the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)
Canadian Army

More later,

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Play: Maiden, Mother, Crone

Three Tall Women by Edward Albee, Directed by Allison Narver, Seattle Rep through 28 November.

Not content to merely lead off with God of Carnage described in numerous locations as "Albee-esque" or "Albee-lite", the Rep decides to bring us a big steaming chunk of original, caffeinated, leaded, fully locked and loaded Edward Albee himself.

And it is a reminder that Albee is a much better writer.

One truism I stand by is "If you do something wrong long enough, it becomes a style". So when one goes to an Albee play, one knows what one is getting into - plot is minimal to non-existent, will take place in one room of a house, characters provide their own Greek chorus as phrases are picked up, reiterated, spun back on the speaker, there is a lot of talk, and most of it is about sex and death. To complain about such things is like grousing about the coldness of snow or the blueness of a summer sky. It is just so utterly useless.

So, the plot, then (and spoilers abound). Act One deals with three women, A, B, and C ....

OK, I guess I have to step in here, because by denying the characters names, Albee unbinds them from the narrative flow. That's important, later on, but at the outset it feels like approaching some modern art piece that is a random assortment of pigments, and titled "Untitled, No. 57". OK, back to the plot.

There are three women, A, B, and C. A is elderly, going senile, her body and mind failing her, her emotions as brittle as her bones. B is a middle-aged caregiver, jollying her along, tolerating the abuse, both supporting and mocking. C is a young woman, sent over by the family lawyer, to get signatures on documents that will not be forthcoming, pedantic and confused by dementia. The three spiral through the old woman's stories and are frustrated from accomplishing anything or moving forward. No central plot or theme seems to emerge. Then the old woman has a stroke. Curtain.

Act Two, the three woman are back, but the youngest is dressed as a flapper, the middle-aged woman as a 50s society wife, and after a few moments, the eldelyr woman herself enters in a sensible gown and stands regally over her dying body in the bed. Yes, it all works, and the play proper begins. The first three women you met were just to lay some groundwork - the real play is with these three incarnations of the dying form in the bed. They could be metaphysical echoes of the old woman's life, or the last dying memories caught between the synapses. That doesn't matter, because they rewind the woman's life and, this being an Albee play, talk about death a lot.

The only way to take on Albee is at full speed and head-on - nuance just lies there. And the actors are for the most part up to task. The elder goddess is played by Megan Cole, who snaps neatly between Alzheimer victim to grande dame who know what the others think (for she lived those parts before). The middle child is Suzanne Bouchard, who is a bit too carnivorous in the first act, but carries the pain of her age in the second. Alexandra Travares is the youngest version, irritating as the lawyer, a slender reed in the second. Cole does the best of the three versions (though the Lovely Bride preferred Bouchard better). Nick Garrison appears in a dumbshow role as "Boy" (Yeah, its an Albee play).

It is a better play that God of Carnage, in part because it dispenses with the artifice of a constructed plot. No single event brings together the women of the first act, nor divides the women of the second. At no point can any of them throw up their hands and just leave. They do not have the problem of Xeno's Exit - there is no place to go and no one gets out of here alive. The gravity of their universe pulls them together. No comedy here, but humor is present, and unlike God, you don't hate the characters by the end. And in the end you realize what you have is a single character study, from the outside in (the old woman of Act One is the center of that universe that cannot hold), and then from the inside out.

And after it all, there is a bit more meat here than in the earlier play, more to chew on. It is serious theater with a capital sear, and done very well indeed.

More later,

Monday, November 08, 2010

Election Day Cleanup

So here we are, about a week after election day and I finally get around to reporting the results. Part of it is the result of not having a machine over the weekend (another story) but part of is because of the nature of Washington State Elections. We vote by mail, and the ballots must be postmarked by election day (In California, they have to have arrived by election day). So the result is that close elections will hang fire for a couple days before the near-final results are known. Oddly enough, I'm good with this, but this is why people in the business of shaping a narration for this election thought our Senate race would make us the "New Florida" (Spoiler Alert - It didn't).

So, how did things go?

Some things surprised me. Some things saddened me. Only one did both.

I-1053 (Tim Eyeman hearts the oil companies) PASSES - This is the one that both surprised and saddened me. Really, really bad idea that will come back to haunt people (Heck, in the time since the election, Eyeman has already challenged a fare increase for the ferries fares as a "tax").
I-1082 (BIAW hearts big insurance) FAILS
I-1098 (Bill Gates and his Dad want to pay taxes) FAILS
I-1100 (Costco wants to keep the Stranger staff drunk) FAILS
I-1105 (Smaller distributors want to keep the Stranger staff drunk) FAILS
I-1107 (Beverage companies want to avoid taxes) PASSES - this is what happens when you put a candy tax on the ballot so close to Halloween.

R-52 (Cute Puppy wants to repair schools) FAILS
Amendment 8225 (Redefine interest calculation to let the state take advantage of Federal loans) - PASSES (which is surprising because it is a relatively complex issue, which voters supposedly would not understand)
Amendment 4220 (Allow judges to deny bail under narrow conditions) PASSES Handily.

And what have we learned? The people have pretty much sent a message that new taxes, new fees, and closing loopholes are off the table. Get ready for deep and painful cuts in services, since that's the only option you've got left.

King County Amendment 1 - (Revise charter's preamble to put business on same level as environment) - PASSES
King County Amendment 2 - (Remove duplication of effort in Public Disclosures) - PASSES
King County Amendment 3 - (Allow Sheriff to negotiate collective bargaining, but not for important stuff like wages or benefits ) - PASSES
King Count Proposition 1 (Cute Puppy wants to keep cops, firemen, and rest of the government) - FAILS

US Senator - Patty Murray (the media hesitated long and hard even though more King County votes piled up in her favor - finally, denied of their promised narrative)
US REP, 8th District - Dave Reichert

State Senator, 47th District - Joe Fain, who out-hustled Claudia Kauffman (and I just found out he's brother to a local sports radio host - the stuff you don't learn until later).

Representative, 47th District, Position 1 - Mike Hargrove (Two-Thirds majority to raise any tax, plus Representative who has pledged never to raise a tax = what could go wrong?)

Representative, 47th District, Position 2 - Pat Sullivan.

State Supreme Court Justice Position #6 - This is, oddly, the one that is hanging fire, refusing to resolve. When the ballots first went out, Sanders had a comfortable incumbent's lead. Since then, though, a lot of stuff that happened recently (racially-tinged statements made alongside fellow Justice Jim Johnson, who, alas, was running unopposed on this ballots), combined with articles from the Stranger and Times on past questionable behavior has resulted in late ballots breaking towards challenger Wiggins. At this point, things are so close that Sanders is already claiming fraud.

Position #3 - David Meyer
Position #6 - Matt Williams (I'm O-for-2 on this one).

And what is the larger picture? Well, pretty good considering that the recent election was supposed to be such a massive rejection of the current administration that time and space would be ruptured, Bush would be put back into office for a third term, and the Rangers would retroactively win the World's Series on a 5-4 decision. Instead, a populace frustrated with the economy turned the more volatile House over to the party out of power. Sounds about right (In the state house, the Dem majorities are reduced by not overturned).

Actually, what is interesting is that most of the US House Dem losses occurred in areas where conservative "Blue Dog" Democrats were running AWAY from the achievements of their party, Of the thirty+ Dems who voted against Health Care Reform, less then a dozen are coming back. Meanwhile, the "progressive wing" of the party held its own, with a couple notable exceptions.

But as noted above, the state government is charged with covering anticipated shortfalls without increasing taxes, raising fees, or closing any loopholes. So buckle down for a slew of "local Cute Puppy lacks funds, must be tossed into shredder" stories. Because that is now the new narrative.

More later,

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Theatre: Lovecraft at Play

H.P.Lovecraft's Pickman's Model, Adapted by Vincent Kovar, John McKenna, Dustin Engstrom, and Ron Sandahl, Peon Circle Theater. through Nov. 13, 2010.

Dying=easy. Comedy=hard. Horror=Really tough in live theater.

Horror lurks best in the mind, so its champion media is the printed page, equaled perhaps by the glory days of radio, when the eldritch horrors are conjured in the mind. Even movie-making, whether it is the shadow of the knife or the Grand Guignol, has more tools available to it to chill the blood and disturb the soul. Live theater, in particular small live theater like the Open Circle, now in Belltown, has a greater challenge. Yet every Halloween they unearth Lovecraft's cadaver and make the bloody best of the media.

Pickman's Model is a mash-up of the title piece, broken into two acts and adapted to Seattle, and The Music of Erich Zann which is played pretty straight and inserted into Act One as a piece of performance art. The construction is by a small horde of adapters, and does not hang together as neatly as one would like. There is info about the connection the Malicious Dr. Reid and the artist Pickman in the first act that is forgotten in the second, and the Malicious Dr. R starts promising and villainous in the first act but recedes to an afterthought in the second.

Let me back up to the main frame of this picture. Act One is a gallery opening for Richard Upton Pickman's latest work, and while attempting to present a backstage look at a gallery show gives us a bit of a jumble. The proceedings include a dance performance of Music which really works in and of itself, though attempts to link the music and the paintings are a bit strained. The latest portrait is revealed (all pictures are blank canvases to us, a very good move as we fill in the unpleasant details), and everything goes to hell. Pickman's former artistic agent Thurber (Marianna De Fazio) and news photog Eliot (Kenna Kettrick) decide to go off and confront Pickman about what he's really up to.

Act II is that confrontation, with Simon Astor creating an amused, definitely plummy Pickman, too clever for his own good and delighted by the chaos he creates. Many hints are dropped, and the history of Seattle's Underground is rewritten to good effect, before the nasty devils below come to take their due, leaving the protagonists slamming around in the dark for a while, firing off camera flashes, while we the audience, are led to imagine the worse. It goes on for a bit too long, and I seemed to be always facing the flash when it went off.

Act II holds together much better than Act I, and shifting two of the protagonists to female characters works nicely, and it made the old story set in the East quite at home on the west coast. Lacking the mighty special effects of a Seattle Rep, the small theater does its best with blank paintings (good), flash cameras in the dark (irritating and silly in places) and unearthly tones (which went from irritating to creepy and back to irritating). The connection between Zahn's music and Pickman's paintings through the lizard-brain is well-researched, but still feels tenuous, a ghost that vaporizes if considered too long.

Adaptions do not need to lockstep into their original forms, and this one actually manages to deliver both straight and evolved versions of Lovecraft's tales. Worth checking out, even if we are past the due-date on that Halloween pumpkin.

More later,

Monday, November 01, 2010

DOW Breaks 11,000

Well, broke. It happened a couple weeks ago, when I was busy going into all the initiatives. But I'm sure that you heard about it from other sources, since even such a transient benchmark like this is worth reporting. Right?

No? Well, you probably were out enjoying your tax cut. What, you didn't hear about that, either?

Actually, there is a lot we don't hear about, and a lot of things that we think are true that, turn out, aren't quite as right as we thought.

You know, if only we had a 24-hour news source that could get this information into the hands of the people. It feels weird, but it honestly feels like we know less now than we did back when Walter Cronkite talked to people for a half-hour (and he was quoted that when he said "for more details, see your local newspaper", he meant "for ALL the details, see your local newspaper").

I don't know if the media is just naturally contrafactual or just behind the times. When we first pitched into this rabbit's hole of a recession, the media seemed to be deeply in denial, yet now that we are (painfully slowly) working our way out, we seem determined to hide promising signs as much as possible.

It is not just economics. We seem hellbent on cultivating our fears. An ironic rally in Washington outdraws a hatefest a few weeks earlier and is brushed off. We pull combat troops out of Iraq two weeks ahead of schedule and there are grumbles at best. A real, live terrorist threat that is foiled and everyone shrugs because that's the way the system is SUPPOSED to work.

I mean, I'm supposedly cynical, but it feels like this part of the room has gotten really crowded over here. And if no one else is going to say nice things, I'm going to have to do it. No, no, don't thank me. I give myself about three days before I gos back to my grumpy ways.

More later

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Fifteen Influences

So I promoted the "15 Games" meme, and following it around, found one guy who talked about the fifteen things that influenced him. And that was a different question than the 15 games, so I started to put together a list of influences (though it took more than 15 minutes to put together - memory being what it is).

I concentrated on things that influenced be before I started writing professionally. Everything influences to some degree, but I looked at the foundation material, so it is all pre-1980. Here's my list.

Lord of the Rings/Hobbit - Makes sense, in that the massive infodumps of the intros and appendixes, not to mention "The Shadow of the Past" all were foundations in the art of worldbuilding. That influence does not extend to the Simarillion - I had moved on to other things by the time that came out, and while I read it, it felt dry compared to the previous books. But all of the above (and Tolkien's short fiction) got me in gear with Tolkein's idea of "Subcreation" - as we are created things, so too do we create.

The Bible - The Bible comes in at all sorts of odd angles - Bible as Moral Operating System (Gospels), Bible as Historical Record (Pentateuch), and Bible as Science Fiction (Revelation of John, Ezekiel seeing the Wheels). The DL Gods came from my gods who took their name from Rev Barker's book Everyone in the Bible.

Silent Planet Trilogy - OK, you read the four Tolkien books out, what is next? Written by fellow Inkling CS Lewis, the trilogy that starts with Out of the Silent Planet is science fantasy (oddly, never embraced Narnia). My original campaign Toril (whose the name later went to the Forgotten Realms' planet) was originally called Torilandra.

Face In the Frost - As book about wizards, again in the era where anything with magic in it was billed as "In the Tradition of Lord of the Rings". It think it gave me a lot of thought about people who were inside the "profession" as it were, where the profession was magic.

Emerson Lake and Palmer - Listened to this a lot in college - call it Anthem Rock or Arena Rock or Progressive Rock, ELP and Yes and Genesis (Pre-Phil Collins) and Led Zep were all influences. Oh, and the Roger Dean covers as well for Yes!

Harlan Ellison - Found the original Dangerous Visions in the school library in the early seventies, and it pretty much blew my mind for alternate views and showing the SF could be more than Asimov and Analog. In early college, most of Ellison's oeuvre was still in print, so I got to load up. He was a master of the first line and the last line of a story (and a rival for Arthur C. Clarke for that last line stinger). I always credited Ellison with the idea that the gods need worshipers more than vice versa.

2001: A Space Odyssey -Speaking of Clarke. Not the movie (saw it years later in college), but the Clarke "adaptation" which grounded in to me the idea of unexplainable aliens and mankind's possible place in the universe.

The Raven - Not the Poe, but Roger Corman's brilliant adaptation that ignored everything from the original poem but the name. Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, Vincent Price, and a young Jack Nicholson. The wizard duel at the end pretty much set a LOT of D&D spellls (No, go look). I watched it on "Chiller Theater" - late night Pittsburgh TV with Chilly Billy Cardille(y).

Sword in The Stone - The Disney movie - another piece that kept with me was the whole Merlin/Morgan polymorph duel. Not much else, but that just was brilliant.

Fafhrd and Grey Mouser - Another discovery in early college, set up the whole idea of the urban fantasy (That is to say, a city in a fantasy world). Loved the early works, though the later stuff, sadly, ventured into softcore porn.

Connections - James Burke's series was influential in the idea that everything needs to fit together, though not in the fashion you might think. His pinball delivery and hands-on example was pure science history porn. I thought it was earlier in my life, but actually showed up in 1979 in the states.

Earthsea - Another book that was "In the Tradition of Tolkien" - no it wasn't, but it was short and pognient and concentrated on moral decisions as opposed to explaning everything. Again, the first three were my base.

Omniverse - A fanzine (!) by Mark Gruenwald that pulled together the various earths of DC and Marvel and started for me the idea of continuity through multiple products and issues. In the ages before the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, this was the coolness. Add to that the old Marvel Team-Ups and Marvel Two-in-Ones and you have the basis for the nascent comic book campaign that became the Marvel Super Heroes game.

Roy Thomas's Conan stories - While on the subject of comics - Never read the Howard originals - they did nothing for me, even with the Franzetta covers of the age. Instead I found myself attracted to the B&W versions of the stories. John Buscema's Conan (and Frank Thorne's Red Sonjas) defined those characters in a way that broke canon, and most people don't even care (and yeah, the Wikipedia notes that these guys were not the first to protray these looks, but they were the definitive appearances when I was young).

The Early Steampunk Movies - The Great Race, Those Magnifient Men in the Flying Machines, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Around the World in 80 Days. Heck, even Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Steampunk before Steampunk was cool.Amazing how many of these were done decades before the entire "goggles as fashion statement" era of today. Of the group, The Great Race is probably the best - Tony Curtis, Natalie Wood, Jack Lemmon, and Peter Falk as Max, as in "Max! Press the Button!" (a major tagline of my earler campaign.

There are more - the Princes in Amber, Elfquest, Cerebus, Monty Python as well as stuff that didn't impact me - Lovecraft showed up late for the party, and though I loved Bradbury, I felt closer to Malacandra than Mars (and John Carter didn't show up at all).

More later,

More later,

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The REAL Election

So when I arrived last week for the Thursday D&D game, M opened the door and asked "Who are you voting for?".

And I told her I had already posted my endorsements. She waved a hand and said, "No. In the REAL Election."

And the penny dropped and I knew what she was talking about, and I said "Braniac V".

OK, let me explain. I knew M was a hard-core Legion of Superheroes fan, and that they are electing a new leader. Now for everyone else I will bring you up to speed on what this means.

The Legion of Super Heroes showed up originally in the 60s as part of Superboy comics. It consisted of super-powered teens from the FUTURE, which allowed Superboy to have science fictiony adventures and gave him a group that they didn't have to worry about in the rest of continuity. The original group was, in the methodology of the 60s, white guys and girls, with notable exceptions like Chameleon Boy (Orange) and Brainiac V (Green) and they all came from different planets and all had goofy rules like no married couples or duplication of powers.

Now, one rule was that the leader of the legion was an elected position. AND that the fandom (in those days, the kids who wrote into the magazine) could vote. This was an ancient version of a transmedia feedback loop, where the consumers are invested with decision-making powers. It is also a reason why "Legion Fandom" was one of the first and most enduring of the various comics sub-fandom groups.

This was easier, by the way, when comics were stories were smaller (a backup feature in Superboy, with fewer pages than even a standard story today) and were published every 6 or 8 times a year. Now people follow entire continuities of interlocked books, with major events rewriting and rebooting things at a regular spate. The Legion Elections went by the wayside.

But now we are in the age of the Internet, and it is easier to get that direct feedback, so DC is running its elections online here, with all the advantages and dangers of such actions.

Now the current incarnation of the Legion has been around for only six issues or so, so most of the votes will be for the previous incarnations and memories of those characters. For me, the golden ages of the Legion were way back in the sixties when they were a backup in Adventure comics, as well as the 80s, when they played holographic D&D.

OK, you're caught up, to point of where I told M that I supported Brainiac V, the descendant of the Superman villain. And she pointed out that Brainiac V regularly went crazy from being too smart, but that's sort of the point - with Brainiac V its not a question of when he's going to wig out, but how much damage is done in the process. I'm looking for a good story, not good governing.

M, by the way, was torn between Chameleon Boy and Phantom Girl, so I present her opinions as well. So get out there and vote for Legion Leader!

(Oh yeah, and go vote in the other election, too).

More later,

Thursday, October 21, 2010

November: The Jeff Recommends

If you live in Washington State, you have received your ballot and voters' guide (two voters' guides if you live in King County). And you've pulled out the handcart and brought the voluminous amount of paper into the house and put it right next to the gas bill you've been meaning to put in the post.

Now here's the thing - don't forget it (don't forget the gas bill, either, but do you need me to tell you that?). This year they need to be mailed by the 2nd of November, which means some of you will think of it as a WHOLE MONTH away rather than less than two weeks. I know you. I think the same way, and never fail to be surprised by the tyranny of the calender (sure, it gives us an extra day every four years, but in FEBRUARY. How about an extra day of summer instead?).

Here are Grubb Street's endorsements for the ballot, based on the long march through the initiatives and the previous primary. I may come back to some of the points later, time permitting, but I want to get these down for those who are voting right now, dammit.

I'm not alone in telling you how to vote - here are some other guys, and I will update as I go along. To my surprise, I find myself agreeing with the Seattle Times more often than the Stranger.
The Seattle Times is the local paper of record, and represents the more traditional voting blocks.
The Stranger is the snarky hipster weekly, and its endorsements are NFSW, but they gets major creds for inviting people that disagree with them onto their blog
Publicola is lefty and urban in its outlook, but unlike the Stranger gets out beyond the Seattle city limits and actually thinks about Olympia.
The Seattle Weekly has woken up and finally realized that its uptight Seattlelite market actually cares about politics, but have yet to get into the endorsement biz. Their blog, however, is starting to pay attention to politics.

Here goes (you might want to dig through previous entries to get past the snark):

I-1053 (Tim Eyeman hearts the oil companies) vote NO
I-1082 (BIAW hearts big insurance) vote NO
I-1098 (Bill Gates and his Dad want to pay taxes) Vote YES
I-1100 (Costco wants to keep the Stranger staff drunk) Vote NO
I-1105 (Smaller distributors want to keep the Stranger staff drunk) Vote NO
I-1107 (Beverage companies want to avoid taxes) Vote NO

R-52 (Cute Puppy wants to repair schools) Vote YES
Amendment 8225 (Redefine interest calculation to let the state take advantage of Federal loans) - Vote YES
Amendment 4220 (Allow judges to deny bail under narrow conditions) Vote YES
NOTE: On 8225 and 4220, I had some crackerjack jokes set up for them, but they haven't gotten a lot of attention so I'm running their descriptions straight.

King County Amendment 1 - (Revise charter's preamble to put business on same level as environment) - vote NO
King County Amendment 2 - (Remove duplication of effort in Public Disclosures) - Vote YES
King County Amendment 3 - (Allow Sheriff to negotiate collective bargaining, but not for important stuff like wages or benefits ) - Vote HUH? (OK, NO)
King Count Proposition 1 - (Cute Puppy wants to keep cops, firemen, and rest of the government) - Vote YES (but is really suspicious of the Cute Puppy right now).

US Senator - Patty Murray
US REP, 9th District - Suzan DelBene

State Senator, 47th District - Claudia Kauffman (Note: I want to point out, if I don't get a chance to mention it elsewhere, that challenger Joe Fain has run a textbook perfect campaign. But even recognizing the organizational skills, Fain takes credit for one of the dumber moves for local democracy - making King County Board positions non-partisan, allowing candidates to hide affiliation. But that's a rant for another day).

Representative, 47th District, Position 1 - Geoff Simpson. (Note: Yeah, that surprises me, but the potential combo of I-1053 requiring a supermajority for raising fees or closing loopholes PLUS any candidate who swears never to raise taxes is a bad combo).

Representative, 47th District, Position 2 - Pat Sullivan.

State Supreme Court Justice Position #6 - Charlie Wiggins

District Court, Southeast Electoral District: Note - these are races you haven't heard of and most of you couldn't care, yet these are the ones where the fewest number of people will determine the winner. The good news is checking with Voting For Judges, and a little googling shows that all four men are qualified, sober, and capable.
Position #3 - Darrell E Phillipson (incumbent)
Position #6 - David Tracy

I don't do endorsements for races with a single candidate (sarcastic hat-tip to our state for letting Supreme Court justices being determined in the primary). As I know more, I will post it.

More later,

Saturday, October 16, 2010

15 Games in 15 minutes Meme

This one has been bouncing around the net, and I thought I would give it a shot. Originally it was for computer games, but it's jumping the species membrane and gone viral.

The rules: Don't take too long to think about it. Fifteen games you've played that will always stick with you. List the first 15 you can recall in no more than 15 minutes.

Here are mine:

1. D&D (in all its versions)
2. Magic: The Gathering
3. Panzerblitz
4. Monopoly
5. Risk
6. Civilization (Sid Meier's, though AH's is good)
7. Traveller
8. Project Marvel Comics, which evolved into Marvel Super Heroes
9. Call of Cthulhu
10. Diplomacy
11. Bridge
12. Eurorails (and all of the Mayfair train games)
13. Freedom in the Galaxy
14. City of Heroes
15. Empire of the Petal Throne

Ones that showed up after I had reached 15 were Mah Jong, War of the Rings, Mille Bourne, and Guild Wars (d'oh!). What is interesting is that each of the games is attached to a particular age or a particular place, or most of all a particular friend or friends, which is what made them memorable. Cool.

Oh, and consider all y'all tagged.

More later,

Friday, October 15, 2010

Referendum and Amendments

Well, I am kind of proud of myself - I managed to get through all the initiatives just in time for the ballots to come out. Now all I have to do is check with my Voters' Pamphlets (there are two in King County - one for the state, one for the county) and ...

... What's this? There are MORE?

Yep, and here's what I know about them.

The big one you probably have heard about is Referendum 52. Referendums are different than initiatives in that they are referred to the voters by the legislature, as opposed to initiatives that are proposed by the people (They also require half the number of signatures, so they are easier to put onto the ballot). R-52 allows capital improvements to schools, providing environmental improvements, through selling bonds. These bonds are in turn financed by extending a sales tax on bottled water that is due to sunset in 2013.

I refer to such measures as "Cute Puppy" bills - we really need the money for the cute puppy (education, public safety, parks) but we understand if you don't want to fund it, but then we have to toss the cute puppy in wood chipper. This cute, sad-eyed puppy. I mean, we don't get to vote on sweetheart deals or loopholes for corporations, but THIS we get to vote on. Yeah, I think it is a worthy cause and say vote Yes but this particular approach to revenue increase is about at the end of its tether.

Senate Joint Resolution 8225 should have a lot more attention than it is getting, but then it doesn't have some huge financial juggernauts with a vested interest. A Joint Resolution (whether it origins in the House or Senate) is an already-passed bill presented to the people to be voted on. This particular one allows the state to re-figure its debt limits in order to take advantage of federal programs to subsidize the interest on the state's behalf. In other words, the feds are offering to cover some of the vig, and by changing the language, we can borrow more without topping out at the interest limit.

The opposition cries Shenanigans! on this, but similar things have been done on highway projects, bringing them in at a bargain. I am a Yes vote on this.

Engrossed Substitute House Joint Resolution 4220 allows judges to deny bail to the accused in cases where the crime in punishable by life (including Class A felonies) and there is sufficient reason to fear for public safety. This comes in the wake of the Maurice Clemons shootings and it is specific enough to justify a Yes vote (I would probably have added wording on flight risks). No, I don't know why some of these resolutions are engrossed and others are not.

That's a the state level. Let's look at the King County level. The first three are charter amendments, meaning they are changing the language of the county's charter. Some are major, some are less so.

Charter Amendment 1 changes the Preamble (for those people who get into a really good preamble). It tweaks the language to bring the charter into line with what the council is doing anyway, so when it says "insure responsibility and accountability" it means that this applies to "local and regional governance and services" and when it intends to "preserve a healthy environment' it really means "preserve a healthy rural and urban environment and economy". Hmmm it feels like it pits environment against business and gives the council legal wiggle room to come down on the side of business, I say No on this one, but yeah, it's just the Preamble.

Charter Amendment 2 allows the filing of campaign receipts and expenditures with the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission satisfies the requires as stated in the Charter. Sounds like a simplification of now-duplicated effort, so Yes.

Charter Amendment 3 is an oddball. Currently the county heads up collective bargaining with the public safety unions and guilds. This will leave compensation and benefits negotiation in the hands of the county, but move everything else (like working conditions) under control of Sheriff. This sounds ... Odd. The idea of giving the public safety department two masters feels like a recipe for disaster. I'm working on it, but I go for No

Finally, King County Proposition No. 1 is the county-level version of the Cute Puppy proposition. In this case, it is a sales tax increase for public safety, criminal justice, and other government. If it doesn't happen, we're looking at layoffs and reduced services (that would be the wood chipper). The language of the bill is such that only a third of the new revenues are guaranteed to go to the Cute Puppy, even though 70% of the county budget is for public safety. The numbers bug me, but I can muster the meekest of Yes votes on this one.

And THAT finishes all the initiatives, amendments, and referendums that I can vote. Yes, there are more in your local area, including ANOTHER attempt to annex Fairwood into Renton. But if you think I'm walking into that snake pit, you're crazier than I've been.

More later (including a summary sheet for easy voting).

Thursday, October 14, 2010


I am mildly irritated about sin taxes. Not because I feel bad about charging people more for engaging in activities of which I do not approve (that doesn't bother me). And not because I worry that part of the taxable flock is being culled out for a specific shearing (I'm good with that as well).

No, the source of my unease stems from the idea that when the state begins to tax something, they become part of the problem as opposed to part of solution. If this stuff is sinful and bad, then should they really be pulling a chair up to table and dealing themselves in? Eventually the government relies upon it as a dependable income source, so that if everyone gave up cigs tomorrow, the state would be in deep trouble (a note to anti-tax folk - stop smoking and starve the beast).

But despite this mild concern I'm really ambivalent about I-1107, which will overturn taxes recently placed on sodas and candy. And that is odd since it is MY particular ox that is being gored, as over the past few years I have been drinking sodas in amounts that lab rats would turn down. So shouldn't I be lining up to support this initiative, which (as so many others on the ballots this year) supposedly keeps government at bay?

Well, to be frank, I'm pretty good with the taxes as they stand. In fact, if it encourages me to stop poaching the M&Ms in the break area, it would probably be a good thing for my general health. And if this tax reduces or transforms the amount of soda and candy in the break room, that's a cross I shall bear (though as a note to the management, should they be reading this: Ree wants us to bring back the Wheat Thins. They wouldn't be taxed under this plan. Just saying).

In addition to rolling back a tax installed to help with the current shortfall, the measure re-opens a loophole that had just been closed. Remember loopholes? Back when Olympia was fussing about the budget, there was popular sentiment to close loopholes to taxes. This was one, for processed products (like chili). For this measure, this closed loophole is a fig-leaf behind which rest of the initiative can cower behind, and it's a big part of the "They're taxing food!" scare you're getting from that nice actor who looks like a grocer from forty years back.

And that commercial is part of a 16 million dollar campaign that is heavily supported by Big Beverage - the cola companies that are petrified that expense may move some of the docile consumers away.

You heard that right. 16 million dollar. Someone figured out that would be three Diet Cokes for every man, woman, and child in the state.

And I suppose that's the big reason I'm going No on this one. All the push here is coming from the American Beverage Association, and it is such overkill that it threatens to drown out anything that sounds like a reasonable discussion. And obviously they're doing well enough that they can drop 16 huge on a race like this.

But it also gets me to thinking ...

I think I want to run an initiative myself that all moneys spent on a state initiative campaign must be spent in Washington State. None of this "ad shot in Chicago" or "uses the leftover pamphlets from a similar measure in California". Heck, we can turn it into profit center - launching initiatives that threaten powerful out-of-state interests, then sit back and watch the cash flow in to defeat them.

That's just a thought. In the meantime, vote No on this foolishness.

More later,

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

1100 and 1105

Back to the slog. You guys SO have to buy me a beer after this, because these two initiatives make me want to start drinking.

If I-1053 is the Mad Hatter and I-1082 is the March Hare, I's 1105 and 1107 are the Tweedledee and Tweedledum of this particular tea party. Similar initiatives with the same stated goals slugging it out in public.

The goal of both initiatives is to put the state liquor stores out of business. In Washington state, hard liquor (but not beer or wine) are only available at state-run venues. Obviously, this is yet another case of the government getting all up in your grill and telling you what you can and cannot do, and saddles you with horrible, horrible bureaucracy.

Is it that bad? No, not really. In fact, the liquor control board does pretty well, and the limited amount of booze dispensers has not turned us into a dreary prison camp suitable only for mocking by Banksy at the start of The Simpsons. I am originally from Pennsylvania, and if you want badly-run state liquor, that's your utopia. The only question when I visit Pittsburgh is whether the latest scandal revolves around the State Stores or the Allegheny County Coroner's Office. But I digress.

No, the state of Washington's crime is apparently that they are standing in the way of OTHER people making money off booze, and that's why we have this terrible twosome on the ballot, depending on who wants to be standing beneath the downspout when the money storm starts.

I-1100 gets the state out of direct sales and distribution by allowing anyone, for a fee, to become a liquor distributor, including would-be liquor retailers. That means a large operation that can operate on economies of scale count make a deal with wholesalers, then sell it themselves or distribute to smaller operations. This one has strong support from large operations like Costco.

I-1105 gets the state out of direct sales and distribution but keeps the distributors and retailers as separate provinces and allows the state to set price controls. This one if favored by the smaller distributors who would be hurt by the landrush that I-1000 would create.

Both are pretty foolish initiatives, consisting of powerful interests who are looking for a big payday at the expense of everybody else. The state will lose money on the deal at a time when cash is tight - the only question is how much. Worse yet, if both pass, we have no procedure for resolving two competing initiatives that affect the same issue. AND, if we pass the I-1053, any rejiggering of the state system could be seen as a new tax and require the massive mega-majority.

I don't think these two are doing to do well. In the first place, their differences are so nuanced (and I had to do some digging to figure out which did what) that most voters will shoot them both down. Second, Washington has always had a problem with voter-approved sin (the first Initiative back in 1914 was a Prohibition initiative (which passed)). Third, it is easier to mobilize a push against BOTH amendments than either individual one. And lastly, that push, for all of its wrapping in protecting communities and maintaining state services, has its own sugar daddies - the beer and wine distributors, who will see their market share get seriously impacted if they have to share shelf space with hard liquor.

Now, if you want to read a really poorly-written, poorly-researched article in FAVOR of this mess, head over this Stranger article, and read the comments as its few facts are disassembled. After all the yelling, it all boils down to a desire to be able to buy liquor at 7 PM on a Sunday. And as writers and other professional alcoholics will tell you, if you run out booze before you run out of weekend, that's just poor planning on your part.

I-1105 is better than I-1100, but in the end, both are bad ideas. No to the pair of them.

More later,

Monday, October 11, 2010

Play: Smart People Acting Stupid

We interrupt this slog through the initiative system for the following review:

God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza, Translated by Christopher Hampton, Directed by Wilson Milam. Seattle REP through 24 October.

The Lovely Bride and I have season tickets for the Seattle Repertory, which means I often see plays that I would not otherwise get out of the house for. Sorry, I don't wake up on a Sunday morning with an overriding desire to watch a play about multigenerational females living in the same house or chance encounters in an Irish pub. Season tickets are already committed to, and just as important, paid for. For the most part, things work out, I pick up some things, and at worst I feel challenged and improved for my participation.

And sometimes it just doesn't work out. God of Carnage is like that.

The play itself is pretty basic. Two couples are brought together by an incident between their children (one thwacked the other with a stick and damaged his teeth). Soon, everything quickly unspools as each character gets to play accuser and accused, alliances form and dissolve, and the kids are quite forgotten, because everyone is shallow and selfish and deeply unhappy. And soon the participants are crushed and screaming and bound together by the experience.

Couple number one is Michael and Veronica Novak (Hans Altiwies and Amy Thone). Michael is a just-folks household-supply store manager. Veronica is a brittle advocate for civilization who is pushed too far. The parents of the other kid are the Raleighs, cell-phone wielding lawyer Alan and vapid wealth-manager Annette (Denis Arndt and Bhama Roget).

And if it sounds like Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe by Edward Albee, you aren't the first to pick up on this (both the Lovely Bride and the Seattle Times made the connections). But this is a comedy and the wit is brighter, but at some point you wonder why you are laughing and you feel first sorry and then irritated with them. It's a short play for a reason.

So it's a loss? Not really, because this is an actor's play, and the actors are very, very good. Each one shines in their roll, balancing their virtues and their petty villainy. Hans plays Michael as both agreeable facilitator and repressed thug. Thone as Veronica keeps that knife-point edge, a verbal assault that can go off at any moment. Arndt as Alan is first out of the chute as villain, is both patriarch and patronizing, and shows depth and even affection for the character. And Roget as Annette has great comedic timing and reactions, layering more to what feels like a vacuous character. With takes, double-takes, and nasty slow boils, Roget digs in deep.

The problem is, these characters don't have a lot to do. The point of this type of thing is to keep the motion and emotion rolling forward, not giving the audience the chance to think things through and try to find their own solutions. Characters keep moving towards the door and escape, but that would end the play, so no one ever reaches escape velocity (it is Xeno's Exit - you go but never get there). There are moments when if someone just acts like an adult, things will calm down, but that adult never arrives because if it should, then the play is over as well. So the continual bickering exists as its own reason-for-being, and let nothing set it asunder. It is claustrophobic and painful at the same time, like a horrible meal with horrible people.

So it is a mixed bag - great actors, all of whom have trod the Rep's boards before and all of whom make me happy to see them in a new piece. But the play itself is a bit of stumble (Tony winner be damned), and feels like an echo of the 60s when the idea of squabbling couples on stage was fresher. Now it just leaves me with the feeling of relief for having escaped these horrible people, and thinking unpleasantly of being that petty in the past.

More later,

Saturday, October 09, 2010


So this is the only initiative I can get behind, even in a tentative way. But I have to point out, that like all the others, it is backed by individuals with deep pockets, and I will give it the same warts and all fisking that you're used to.

Initiative 1098 places an income tax on natives of Washington State. EVERYBODY PANIC!

OK, wait a minute. The initiative puts an income tax of 4% on folk making $200,000 ($400,000 filing jointly). And it reduces the odious B&O tax to the point of nonexistence for small businesses. And it reduces property taxes by 20%. And the money is earmarked for education and health care. So ... everybody panic in a more measured, reasonable fashion.

When I first moved out here to Washington State, one sell point I heard a number of times was "We don't have an income tax". Now, I never thought the PA or WI income taxes were particularly horrible in the first place, but hey, it was a sell point. What I wasn't told that was we DID have nasty sales taxes in place, along with tough property taxes. I guess it pays to read the fine print.

In fact, our sales tax is one of the most regressive ones around - and by regressive, I mean it hits the poor harder than the wealthy. A bigger percentage of the middle class paycheck goes into taxes as opposed to higher income brackets. In addition, the sales and property taxes are tied deeply into the market - the fact that so many government services are being cut is not a reflection on government waste (They've been pretty good at handling that) but the mere fact that there are less sales, and therefore less sales tax, to pay people with.

So I'm good with an income tax. If fact, if you come up with one that reduces the sales tax, I'd even sign on for one that affects all Washingtonians, not just the wealthiest. But until that bit of enlightened lunacy shows up, I'll have to support the one that is on the ballot. So consider this a Yes on the initiative.

But I said that the initiative system is invested with people with money, and 1098 is no different. In this case, the moneybags are centered on - Bill Gates Sr.

Say what? The guy pushing us to tax the rich is the father of one of the wealthiest men on the planet, and no slouch on his own. And he's got his son on board as well (Paul Allen and Microsoft itself are against the plan, which should make for some frosty moments at the next company picnic).

But still, Bill Gates, father and son. It is hard to call it a class war when some of the upper class is providing artillery support for the poor folk.

This initiative has produced some interesting commercials at least. The pro-side puts the elder Gates in a dunk tank. The anti-side lumbers in with a riff on the Mor furniture ads "TIRED of not paying enough taxes?" with enough scare quotes for a Halloween haunted mansion. In fact, the Seattle Times, which doesn't like its rich owners to pay taxes, pretty much went morally bankrupt trying to say nice things about the advert, and then only after extreme contortions could they get it to "half-true" (alas, the paper's examination of the political ads so far have been pretty horrible, even when I agree with their conclusions).

Now I know some Washington State natives who WOULD be affected by this tax, and in general I have found them to be open, progressive, and as concerned about education (where this funding is going) as anyone else. But even so, I'd understand if they voted against this at the ballot box. But I will note that if this goes down in flames, they're buying the drinks from here on out.

More later,

Friday, October 08, 2010


I-1082 privatizes workman's comp insurance. If that alone doesn't send you running towards the No button, nothing I say here will convince you of changing from your poor, damned path.

Workman's compensation is a state-collected and managed fund which covers workers with workplace injuries and lost-time compensation. We all kick into the fund as part of the money from our paychecks. It is a disaster insurance to some degree. It is actually well-run and does what it is supposed to do.

So naturally it makes sense to take such a thing out of the hands of the big bad government, which is in theory supposed to be responsive to its citizens, and put it in the hands of an insurance company based out of Boston with an ultimate responsibility to their bottom line. I'm sure nothing bad would come of THAT.

So who's behind this bit of weirdness? That would be the BIAW, the Building Industry Association of Washington. The BIAW usually collects and co-ordinates workman's comp in the construction industry, skims a bit off the top, and then plows that money into conservative campaigns - weakening environmental legislation, reducing government effectiveness, and eliminating oversight. You know the usual stuff. The BIAW is one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the state, and purchases judges with regularity.

Alas, time has not been kind to the BIAW. The economic downturn and its attendant lack of new housing starts has kicked it in the shorts. Plus the fact that the legislature has chosen to actually reduce its easy money-making schemes. Plus the fact that its biggest component pieces, the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish counties, is mad at it has set up their own operation, and went to court to get their money out of the BIAW. Plus it lost a court case on mishandling funds put into their trust. Oh, and plus the fact it has a half-million-plus-dollar fine on it for its shenanigans on behalf of Dino Rossi in that pol's LAST election.

And that's only in the past year. And THESE are the guys telling you the STATE can't handle its finances well (would it surprise you to find out they work out of a mansion in Olympia?).

But what do you do when the political climate turns cold on you? You engage in a little electoral terraforming. So this bill takes workman's comp out of the hands of the state and puts it in the hands of the BIAW's NEW best friends, the insurance companies, like Liberty Mutual and AIG.

AIG. Wow. First BP and now AIG. It's like ALL the corporate villains of the past year have teamed up and decided to buy the Washington elections.

The BIAW is very open about its goal of chasing government out of its business of building whatever and wherever it chooses, and this bill has an equal honesty about how it is totally anti-government, without passing along that it would leave workers much of a safety net. You can almost see the insurance company execs tying on their little bibs, each with a guy in a construction helmet on it.

This is not about privatizing workman's comp, it is about profitizing it. And that means paying more money for less return for Washington and more cash going to the BIAW's new BFFs. So yeah, you might want to vote No on this.

More later,

Thursday, October 07, 2010


So we're going in numerical order here, and the first out of the chute is our regular Eyeman Initiative.

Tim Eyeman often inspires eye-rolling and teeth-gnashing, but you have to admit that he has figured out how to turn a profit on the initiative system (one more reason to fix the damned thing). Every election cycle, he lofts a new initiative or three onto the ballot, usually backed by one or more donors with deep pockets. Said initiatives are usually intended to a) cripple state government and b)give everyone a pony. Oh, and c) served as a profit center for Tim Eyeman.

Here's the initiative in a nutshell: All state tax increases require a two-thirds majority to pass, as opposed to 51% for ordinary legislation.

The logic behind this proposal is attractive but flawed - if state government uses its money poorly, we should make it harder for them to get money to play with. Sounds good on the surface, but the past couple years they have had a LOT less money to play with, and as a result they have ... cut essential services.

Hmmm. That didn't work out the way we planned.

One of the reasons that the state has been woefully unprepared? A big part of it is our regressive tax system (but that argument is for another post), but another part has been I-960, a previous initiative which put similar constraints on the legislature. When the pro forces argue to "reinstate" earlier law, they are talking about this piece of steaming legislation (which was passed, you know, with 51% of the vote - democracy is apparently for chumps).

The end result of all this is akin to tying a couple anvils to Apolo Ohno and then complaining about his time trials (which can only be solved by -- More Anvils!).

Now, here's the twist - usually the annual Eyeman Initiative is funded by a couple of rich guys who fell for a power point presentation. This time, however, we're looking at major backing from the likes of BP, Tesaro, other oil companies, and banks. Yeah, BP, which you already know from the bang-up job they did in the gulf, and Tesaro, who ran that refinery up in Anacortes which blew up back around Easter, and who have been accused of criminal negligence.

So why are the oil companies wading in on this one? It's actually a bit of a trick shot for them. There has been popular movement in the legislature to up Big Oil's responsibility for cleanup for their messes, and that would be an increase in "tax" for them. So if they require any increase of tax to require a two-thirds majority, they have to buy fewer legislators. Profit! Sorry about sticking the rest of you with the bill.

Actually, it gets even better from a corporate standpoint. Close a loophole that's been bleeding the state dry? Sorry, that's a tax increase! You need a supermajority! Profit!

It's a great scam, and I only regret that I can't get in on it. Needless to say, since I can't get in on it (and neither can you), I'll strongly recommend you vote No.

More later,

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Taking the Initiatives

I've been living in Washington State for well over a decade now, and after watching its political process, I think I am capable of wading in with an opinion on the Initiative system, which this year lofts an impressive 6 items onto the ballot for your consideration. Here's the opinion of the current system:

It's broken.

Broken, I say. More broken than a World of Warcraft exploit. More Baroquen than a Mozart concerto. And like many broken things, it worked perfectly well at one time.

Here was the idea: For various reasons, important issues may not come up in the state legislature (often because those in charge were either wealthy or actively courting the favors of those who were). So citizens, of their own sweat and blood, could put initiatives onto the ballot for voting by the general populace.

Cut out the middle-man. Make the state more responsible to the people. Reduce the corrupt influence of petty payola. Brilliant!

The problem, of course, comes from the fact that they need a threshold of signatures to put it on the ballot, that threshold being 8% of the number of people who voted for governor in the last gubernatorial election. That is a non-insignificant number, and runs this election to 241,153 people. That is about the population of Spokane and Olympia combined - every man, woman, and child. In nerd terms, with that much experience, you'd be a 22nd level Warlord.

So to gather that many signatures, you need to have some kind of organization, or at least some system of hiring large chunks of professional signature gatherers. Which means you need money. And you know where this is going, right?

Right. All of the initiatives have somebody with deep pockets standing behind them, pushing hard. In fact, this year in particular, the folk paying for most of the initiatives are pretty much big guys. The citizen voter is pretty much cut of the deal, except as rubber stamp.

Too cynical? Perhaps. But I do note that one of the few initiatives that came close but failed to make it to the ballot was one to decriminalize marijuana. Certain usually dependable lefty strongholds (Democrats, unions) failed to push this one, and as a result, it had to rely on the little people. Who didn't get enough signatures to push it through. Yay, democracy.

So this is a season of autocratic initiatives, each claiming to care about the common man but having very few common men behind them. Simply put, I'm going to (spoiler alert) tell you to vote NO on the bulk of them, with one exception (yeah, that's a tease). You can usually figure out who benefits from it all by looking at who is doling out the money here.

But what we really need is an initiative to fix the initiative process.

More later,

Tuesday, October 05, 2010


So John Scalzi impresses. He writes excellent science fiction. He is the current president of SFWA. He is a creative consultant for Stargate: Universe. He also keeps his own blog, invites comments, and has no problem with smacking down the fools that he does not tolerate kindly (he refers to said smacking down as "the Gentle Mallet of Correction").

And recently he wrote about Atlas Shrugged, and makes a number of good points about the book both as a book and as a philosophy. And here is one of them:

All of this is fine, if one recognizes that the idealized world Ayn Rand has created to facilitate her wishful theorizing has no more logical connection to our real one than a world in which an author has imagined humanity ruled by intelligent cups of yogurt.

All of which is all fine and good. But John Scalzi, being John Scalzi, then proceeds to write a short story ABOUT humanity being ruled by intelligent cups of yogurt.

And here it is.

Like I said. John Scalzi impresses. More later.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Fall Cleaning

So I've made a few tweaks to the blog - no, I'm not screwing around the formatting, since the one thing that irritates people more about a poor, boring design is CHANGING that poor blog design, but I have made a few tweaks to the blogroll off to house right.

The Alliterates are pretty much all there, though to be honest I'm tempted to winnow through them, since many of them haven't been updated for a year. Ditto on the Friends and Colleagues, as some of them have devolved into little more than twitter relays. And some are just hanging on the borderline with only a few posts in the past few months. And some have changed addresses without sending out a note, and I've caught up with that. Y'all know who you are.

Stuff I'm reading is just that: stuff I'm reading. When I stop paying attention, that's when they go (and since I get this question: Mt. Lebanon PA is where I grew up and how I knew they had a massive windstorm this past week).

Larger changes are in the funny pixels section. Gone is Doodlestan, only because Stan! has stopped doing it for a while (he is still doing 10x10 Toons). Added to the list are:
- Abominable Charles Christopher I put this next to Freakangels, since it is a weekly, but has great art and has talking animals and is something I don't normally follow but it is really, really good. All the talking animals are presented as real animals with human problems, while the protagonist is a mute bigfoot of a creature. Worth following from the begins.
- Scenes from a Multiverse is daily Mon-Fri, and very weird and enjoyable, each cartoon taking place in a different plane of existence. Except when they repeat. Like the stuff with the Empress of the Universe who is about to invade a planet just for the antiquing.
- Surviving the World is similar to the Tree Lobsters and xkcd in that it deals with science. In this case it consists of a guy in a lab coat with a baseball hat and chalkboard. Wonder where he could find a chalkboard in this age of whiteboards and markers.
- 9 Chickweed Lane I know what you're thinking - "Hey, this is a newspaper strip!" Well, it's not in MY newspaper anymore, and is one of the sexiest strips still in the business, along with one of the few that actually runs longer story arcs. At its best when it is talking about dancing, arts, and the hallmarks of felinity.

That's about it. It is a rainy Sunday afternoon and, despite their best efforts, the Seahawks won against the Chargers. And I know I'm going to have to start talking initiatives Real Soon Now - just don't rush me.

More later,

Monday, September 20, 2010

FR vs. DL

Over at the SF/Fantasy site Grasping for the Wind former TSR/WotC editor Phil Athans delivers a freaking brilliant article on the differences and similarities between Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms as intellectual properties, with quotes from Ed Greenwood and Tracy Hickman. Go read it.

More later,

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Cowgirls and Empire

Despite living in the Seattle region, I'm not a coffee drinker. I prefer tea, and have done so since long before Jean-Luc Picard radically nerdized my favorite brew by ordering "Earl Grey, Hot". But despite that, I am aware of the spread of the Cowgirls Espresso chain. Most recently, I've noticed two of the espresso shacks on my commute - LP's down on Park Place and The Boulevard Bean near Gene Coulon Park, have suddenly undergone a rename and a repaint, boasting now the black and white Holstein marks of the Cowgirls line.

Drive-through espresso joints are relatively ubiquitous out here - they are relatively small, and can be fit on odd-shaped chunks of land and in the middle of parking lots. They are pretty much local operations, lurking like mammals in the shadow of the Starbucks brand, which occupies more pricey real estate. They also don't require much in the way of training, supplies, or oversight.

The drive-through joints make their goal speed and convenience, are relatively low-cost, and as such have popped up everywhere in the same manner (and for the same reasons) as all those photo huts back in the 70s (and some are on the same sites and in the same buildings). So we see an explosion of corporate organisms into the various niches. And now we see the more organized and successful ones consuming the less-successful ones. Corporate nature, red in ink and claw.

So why is Cowgirls taking over other former independents? Well, it looks like they are taking the "Hooters" approach - a perfectly serviceable product is made more enticing when provided by attractive young women in scanty outfits. Yep, Cowgirls has combined a dramatic exterior (the black and white buildings) with the sexy baristas. And on "fantasy fridays" they have sexy nurses or naughty schoolgirls (or so declare their signs).

And while it is probably wrong to ascribe Darwinian principles to social and economic models (others have done so, with predictably miserable results), the encroaching corporatized sensuality pushed by Cowgirls has allowed it to succeed and thereby expand its niche of corporate evolution. It will be interesting to see if this adaptation fuels future expansion, or if some other trait (corporate organization, or franchising, or local laws) will intercede and place other limitations on its growth.

But I'll leave further research on the matter to others. The idea of driving about with hot liquid between my thighs just leaves me cold, if you pardon the mixed metaphor.

More later,