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.