Saturday, December 29, 2012

Theatre: Playing Catchup

Party People by Universes (Mildred Ruiz-Sapp, Steven Sapp, William Ruiz, AKA Ninja), developed by Liesl Tommy. Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
Troilus and Cressida by William Shakespeare, directed by Rob Melrose, Oregon Shakespeare Festival
The Very Merry Wives of Windsor, Iowa by Alison Carey, adapted from the play by William Shakespeare, Directed by Christopher Liam Moore, Oregon Shakespeare Festival
Henry V by William Shakespeare, Directed by Joseph Haj, Oregon Shakespeare Festival
Animal Crackers by George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind, Music and Lyrics by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby, Reconceived from an Adaptation (deep breath) by Henry Wishcamper, Directed by Allison Narver,Oregon Shakespeare Festival

So there have been all of three posts on Grubb Street this December - This one, one wishing everyone a Merry Christmas, and one recommending other peoples's stuff. And there's a couple reasons for this sparcity of posts - part of it is a general post-GW2-ship lethargy, concealed briefly by the huggamugga of political posts that were, of course, time sensitive. But another was that I had a lot of things in the hopper I wanted to talk about, particularly play reviews from my now-temporally distances adventure in Ashland with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF). I accomplished two reviews in detail, but have the other six sort of clogging the pipeline. I COULD abandon them, because, really, who wants to read reviews about closed plays?, but they are still out there hanging. But to do so would mean I abandoned a personal goal, and I want to talk about them. And hey, it's my blog, and so here you are.

So this one is to bat cleanup, saying not nearly enough about them, but collecting all my notes.

Party People is a musical about the Black Panthers and the Young Lords gangs from the 60s. No, no, it's really good, in the music comes off the street, fits snugly with acting, has heart-felt, has engaged performances, and attempts to give a well-rounded view of the rise and fall of these community gangs in the 60s. The central theme is 60s revolution as reunion. A lot of old party members are gathered together by two of the new generation, Jimmy (Ruiz) and Malik (Christopher Livingston) both to commemorate and to be confronted with their past. There is not a lot of shirking of responsibility here, nor is there a surfeit of those responsible for the faults and failure of the revolution.

Except the revolution didn't really fail, did it, at least in terms of getting people to the table. The sixties were a messy, turbulent, violent, deadly time, and over the years that followed, it enabled more peoples moved out of the shadows and into the common discourse.The struggles of the era were not for nothing, in that it enfranchised people who were up to that point excluded from body politic.

The other thing I've noticed with both this play and the earlier All the Way was the casual nature of government infiltration. Back in the day, the government swore up and down they were not spying on its own people, yet here we are fifty years later when we are all "Oh yeah, we were spying on our own people". Which begs the question about currently declarations of innocence about federal-authorized crimes.

This was an excellent one, a ground-level response to All the Way. If it tours, go see it.

Troilus and Cressida is half a great play. The first half, the story of the union of the Trojans Troilus (Raffi Barsoumian) and Cressida (Tala Ashe), set against the greater epic of the Illiad, hums with the wit and verve of the best Shakespeare. Their marriage is arranged by Cresssida's uncle, the aptly named Pandarus, who is taken for a great comic turn by Barzin Akhavan. All of this is set against the Iraqi occupation, where the Greeks (Achilles, Ajax, et al) are Americans, and the Trojans are mideastern. Neither of the sides come off well, as the American Greeks are militaristic brutes, and the Mideastern Trojans (with the exceptions of the title characters) indolent elitists. 

Anyway, in the opening acts, Troilus and Cressida are united, Pandarus capers and connives, the Greeks posture and strut, and Cressida gives us the depth we come to expect from Shakespeare's women. And then after intermission, the wheels fall off. The play now concentrates on the Greeks and the Trojans and their war. Cressida is given to the Greeks as the price for her father's cooperation, but her story and that of Troilus gets lost against the backdrop of the war itself. Indeed, Cressida folds in on herself in a manner similar to Kate in Taming of the Shrew, throwing in with her new captors - a turn of events that is played in later presentations as a range from surrender and Stockholm syndrome to a knowing play for survival. But the truth of the matter is that we don't know the intent, and in this presentation, Cressida ends the play in enemy hands, her intent unknown, Troilus is in despair and gives himself up to battle, and the Trojans retreat with the body of Hector. It is a bleak ending that grinds home the merciless and unthinking brutality of war, but in doing so, undermines the work of the first half. It feels as if, in collecting this play, something was left out to bring it together, and as a result it lands with a thump.

The Very Merry Wives of Windsor, Iowa falls into the category of Shakespearesque plays - leaving the plot intact, but moving the verbage and setting elsewhere. In this case, picking up the pieces of the original Merry Wives and dropping it into modern, post pro-gay voting Iowa. So Master Ford and Mistress Ford are now Alice and Francie Ford, gay couple, the messages Falstaff delivers are by text, Windsor Forest is now the Iowa State Fair, and the famous laundry basket is now replaced with a recycling bin. And Sir John Falstaff, the brawling, lecherous, drunken antihero, is replaced with Senator John Falstaff, loser of the Iowa caucus.

And for me, that's where it all falls down. The acting is spot-on from all sides, turning Iowa into a mock-Shakespearean wonderland where Slender Shallow, a gender-changed chainsaw artist, sounds like Keaunu Reeves warping Shakespearean verse, and the Mistresses Ford and Paige shoving Falstaff around with great merriment. But Senator Falstaff (David Kelly) is portrayed as Romneyesque - Good hair, tall, charismatic, nice dresser, fast-talking. But Falstaff is also a womanizer, a drunkard, and chronically short of change, all of which cannot be attributed to Romney. So Senator Falstaff comes off as venal as opposed to overblown, a lesser-than-life figure. The end result is a bit of fun, but empty at the core.

Henry V, on the other hand, was one of the highpoints of the OSF, the resolution of the previous years of Henry IV Parts 1 and 2. Falstaff was promised to return at the end of H4P2, but the play opens with him dead and the manner of his death recounted by the former members of his court. Something happened here off-stage - I suspect (though do not have the resources to confirm) that the actor identified as Falstaff died or left the company between the two plays, and was so identified he was written out as opposed to recast. If he had perished, it was a fitting testimony to the character, if he had left the company, it was a bit of petty revenge. Someone with more Shakespearean knowledge than I could give a more decisive discussion (because I safely assume that, given the breadth of Shakespearean studies, someone likely has done so).

In any event, John Tufts was fantastic in taking Prince Hal fully into Henry V. This is the play with the great speeches, including the Band of Brothers speech and the positively meta narration of the chorus. There is a culmination here, both in history, in writing, and in acting. This is a moving performance, and one of the OSF's best.

We did, though sit next to a couple who came up from the Bay area just for the day, and they were slightly bewildered at the break about what was happening in the play. I told them that it was as if they had experienced Star Wars by seeing Return of the Jedi first, and then gave them a short potted history of the previous plays, so the scene where Henry killed one of Falstaff's followers suddenly makes sense. It was a great play, and a wrap-up of several years of this series of histories.

Animal Crackers is in the category of the non-Shakespearean Draw for the OSF - the non-Shakespeare play that can put butts in the seats. Pirates of Penzance did it the previous year, and it looks like My Fair Lady fits that category for the coming season. Yes, this is the Marx Brothers movie, and is based on a revival of the Kaufman play. I had a chance to read the revival text, and would have liked to have read the original play itself, just as a purist.

I say that because the play is dealing with so many veils of movie versions and revivals (just look at the credits, above) that the original material, slender as it is, gets a bit lost. The plot is grand dame Mrs, Rittenhouse (K.T.Vogt, Cinderella's Godmother in Medea/Macbeth/Cinderella), scores the coup of snagging Captain Jeffrey T. Spaulding (Mark Bedard, or rather Mark Bedard playing Julius Marx playing Groucho playing Captain Spaulding) as a houseguest. Chico (Daisuke Tsuji, brilliant) and Harpo (Brent Hickley, rubber-faced) arrive as musicians for the house party. Zeppo (a versatile Eddie Lopez) is in the movie Spaulding's secretary, but here takes on a slew of roles as the manpower-heavy Broadway production is converted into a smaller revival. That conversion is done with a bit of wink-and-nod stagecraft. In any event whackiness ensues, and the conclusion to the supposed plot is no more sound than in the movie version.

The actors are playing within the expected bounds for the most part. Mark Bedard as Spaulding (as Julius as Groucho as, well, you know) felt weak even for the matinee performance, and he seemed to take some time to warm up to the role. Daisuke Tsuji, on the other hand, brought a Chico that understood that vaudeville is a competition sport, and had an infectious enjoyment. Yes the jokes were old but he delivered them as if they were newly minted. We had nosebleed seats, and the miking on the actors was inconsistent, a rarity for the OSF. Some were miked, others were shouting to the bleachers.

Yet the biggest failing in the production was at the core. The movie version thrived on sending the madcap Brothers Marx into a straitlaced upper class household. Here, the household is as madcap as the Marxes. Mark Evanier, over in his blog, talked about making a Marx Brothers movie where Margaret Dumont was trying to be the funny one. This one did exactly that, and while Vogt neatly stole more than her fair share of scenes, it undercut the entire operation. Looking at the text, it feels like the socially-ambitious Rittenhouse is the only truly honest person in a mansion filled with gossips, art-thieves, impersonators, and, of course, Marxes (Marxi? Marxeses?)

In the end, it was great fun, but the serious Marxist in me (did I just write that?) wanted something a bit more. I'm glad this was not quite the museum piece I expected, but by the same time, felt that it was a bit underdone. Definitely worth seeing in the great pack of OSF plays, but a bit tepid on its own.

So where did it leave me? Loved Henry, Party People, All the Way. Can appreciate Animal Crackers and Troilus and Cressida for what they were. Felt meh about Merry Wives., but STILL found it better than most other theatre. Still looking for an aspiring dramatic student to explain what Medea/Macbeth/Cinderella was all about. And I'm looking at next year's collection with interest.

More later, 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holiday Season from all of us on Grubb Street.

More later,

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Meanwhile, Out on the Internet ...

Well yeah, with the release of Guild Wars 2 coming on top of Midgard and Star Wars: Scourge novel earlier this year, I'm in a bit of dry period. So let's see what some friends are up to -

Stan! (yes, that exclamation point is supposed to be there) Brown has been doing a Kickstarter for his cuddly cthuloid Christmas story The Littlest Shoggoth. The book has already made its basic numbers, and with about a week to go, is into stretch goals. If he gets to 10K, you get color interiors. If he gets to 13k, there's a stylish hardback in your future?

But wait, there's more! Check out the latest video!

Also, Tracy and Laura Hickman are writing their own Christmas tale, in process and available on-line. They are writing it as a serial novel (shades of Dickens) and making the entire project available as an e-book on completion. Go can go check it out here.

And since I am talking about private artistic-based operations, old friend and mighty TSR artist Larry Elmore. What began as a modest Kickstarter to create a Complete  Elmore Artbook has blossomed into a cascade of ever-shattered stretch goals (the most recent one being an invite to drop by the house and go for a motorcycle ride with Larry).

And finally, while I was writing this up, I was surprised to discover that Midgard (the world I've been working on with the likes of Wolfgang Baur and Brandon Hodges) has its own potential miniatures line on Kickstarter. Yeah, I probably missed a memo or two in the process, but go check THIS one out as well.

I swear, I have to get back in the saddle again. More later.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

The Political Desk: Wrapping Up

So the election has come and gone, and in Washington State, we have to wait for all the mail-in votes to show up to be certain (which, by the way, is a good thing), but a lot of races have been decided by the votes already cast. So here are the results as they stand right now. I put results different from those I recommended in Red, and comments in brackets.

Proposed by Initiative Petition
Initiative Measure No. 1185
(Retain supermajority to raise taxes) - YES

[I will start on a downer, in that we have a blind spot about wanting government services (good schools, streets, that sort of thing), but as a people are allergic to anything that smacks of paying retail prices for it. This will pop up a couple times in this discussion.]

Proposed by Initiative Petition
Initiative Measure No. 1240 
(Approve charter schools) - YES

[Currently close, but I'm not seeing any movement on it.]

Passed by the Legislature and Ordered Referendum by Petition
Referendum Measure No. 74
(Marriage Equality) - APPROVED

[My Facebook page is aflutter with suddenly-announced engagements]

Proposed to the Legislature and Referred to the People
Initiative Measure No. 502
(Decriminalize and regulate marijuana) - YES
[Let me set out warnings - This is the start of the process. A lot (including how this fits in with the national picture) still needs to be worked out. What it specifically means is that, starting 6 December, you can have an ounce of grass on you and not be prosecuted. On a greater scale, it is an interesting twist on the traditional "Power of the States Vs. Federal Power".]

Proposed to the People by the Legislature
Amendment to the State Constitution
Engrossed Senate Joint Resolution No. 8221
(Changing debt collection and definition of general state revenues) - APPROVED

[So, we can't raise taxes, but we can shift around definitions. I think what sold this was the promise to reduce debt, and devil take the details.]

Proposed to the People by the Legislature
Amendment to the State Constitution
Senate Joint Resolution No. 8223
(Allow Washington universities to invest in private companies and stock) - REJECTED

[This was the most clear of the state economic initiatives, and once explained clearly, was rejected.]

Advisory Vote of the People
Advisory Vote No. 1
Engrossed Senate Bill 6635
(Close a Loophole) - REJECTED

Advisory Vote of the People
Advisory Vote No. 2
Substitute House Bill 2590
(Extend a tax on oil companies) - REJECTED

[I called it legibabble at the time and stand by that judgement.Most people saw the phrase "Shall this tax increase be maintained?" and gleefully voted against anything that was called a tax increase. Note to future initiative-writers - call everything you don't like a tax increase.]

King County
Proposition No. 1
Regular Property Tax Levy for Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) Services
(What it says) - APPROVED

President and Vice President of the United States
Barack Obama and Joe Biden

[I'd like to say that Mitt Romney was the best possible candidate the Republicans had this year. And still that wasn't very good. No, you won't do better if you go out and offend MORE people next time.]

[The Dems pretty much run the table on this from here down. Spoilers.]

United States Senator
Maria Cantwell

United State Representative Congressional District No. 9
Adam Smith

Jay Inslee

[The loser in this race is not Rob McKenna, who made a strong attempt to woo the populous King County, but the Seattle Times, whose owner threw away its journalistic integrity to run full page ads for McKenna. When you're getting beaten on your reporting by the liberal stoners at the Stranger, you have strayed far from the path.]

Lieutenant Governor
Brad Owen

Secretary of State
Kathleen Drew or Kim Wyman

[There is always one race like this one - so close that a recount may be needed, no one can call it either way. Both were good candidates, but it is ironic that the office that oversees elections has a really close race].

State Treasurer
Jim McIntire

State Auditor
Troy Kelley

Attorney General
Bob Ferguson

Commissioner of Public Lands
Peter J. Goldmark

Insurance Commissioner
Mike Kreidler

Legislative District No. 11
State Senator
Bob Hasegawa

Legislative District No. 11
Representative Position No. 1
Zack Hudgins

[Again you're going to hear me whine about taxes. Jim Flynn was a One Issue candidate, but it was an issue I support. This was a lopsided defeat, beyond even the comforts of incumbency, and shows that no, we are not ready to have that discussion.]

Legislative District No. 11
Representative Position No. 2
Steve Berquist

King County
John Urquhart

State Supreme Court
Sheryl Gordon McCloud

Superior Court
Judge Position No. 42
Christopher A. Washington or Susan Parisean

[Future Hazy: Ask Again Later]

City of Kent
Proposition No. 1
Levy to Support Kent Parks and Street
(Yeah, that) - REJECTED

[Again, its that tax thing. ]

Are there lessons to be learned from all this? On a national level, the bulk of the people liked the centrist, wonkish leadership of the current administration, and have given the mandate to keep fixing the stuff we broke previously. On a state/local level, we're still grasping about on how to pay for the stuff we want. The good news is that the economy has been improving, particularly locally, and with that we will see some improvement to state revenues, but that's a dangerous thing to use for long-term planning.

More later.

Friday, November 02, 2012

The Food Desk

So, here's a break to talk about food.

Top Chef, a now-venerable cooking competition show, returns on Bravo this week with a the series set in Seattle. Meaning, that we get a lot of local foodie places and bumpers showing ferries. The trailer (I'd give you a link, but then you'd have to deal with insulting ads from Carnival Cruise Lines, who are big investors this season) shows them embracing the Seattle eating experience - Canlis, the Space Needle, and most of all, clamming. Yeah, that's the nastiest thing I think I can do to a bunch of out-of-town chefs - making them hunt clams on the Hood Canal.

While I won't link to the site, I will pass along this story from the Seattle Met about the filming this past summer. It was very much a stealth operation, an open secret that the media we encouraged not to dig too deeply into.

Speaking of Canlis, here's a much better video on the Staff Dinner for the restaurant.

More later,

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Political Desk: Summing Up

So, putting everything on the ballot in one place, here's what we have:

Proposed by Initiative Petition
Initiative Measure No. 1185
(Retain supermajority to raise taxes) - NO

Proposed by Initiative Petition
Initiative Measure No. 1240
(Approve charter schools) - NO

Passed by the Legislature and Ordered Referendum by Petition
Referendum Measure No. 74
(Marriage Equality) - APPROVED*

Proposed to the Legislature and Referred to the People
Initiative Measure No. 502
(Decriminalize and regulate marijuana) - YES

Proposed to the People by the Legislature
Amendment to the State Constitution
Engrossed Senate Joint Resolution No. 8221
(Changing debt collection and definition of general state revenues) - REJECTED

Proposed to the People by the Legislature
Amendment to the State Constitution
Senate Joint Resolution No. 8223
(Allow Washington universities to invest in private companies and stock) - REJECTED

Advisory Vote of the People
Advisory Vote No. 1
Engrossed Senate Bill 6635
(Close a Loophole) - MAINTAINED

Advisory Vote of the People
Advisory Vote No. 2
Substitute House Bill 2590
(Extend a tax on oil companies) - MAINTAINED

King County
Proposition No. 1
Regular Property Tax Levy for Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) Services
(What it says) - APPROVED

President and Vice President of the United States
Barack Obama and Joe Biden

United States Senator
Maria Cantwell

United State Representative Congressional District No. 9
Adam Smith

Jay Inslee

Lieutenant Governor
Bill Finkbeiner

Secretary of State
Kathleen Drew and Kim Wyman

State Treasurer
Jim McIntire

State Auditor
Troy Kelley

Attorney General
Bob Ferguson

Commissioner of Public Lands
Peter J. Goldmark

Insurance Commissioner
Mike Kreidler

Legislative District No. 11
State Senator
Bob Hasegawa

Legislative District No. 11
Representative Position No. 1
Jim Flynn

Legislative District No. 11
Representative Position No. 2
Steve Berquist

King County
Steve Strachan

State Supreme Court
Sheryl Gordon McCloud**

Superior Court
Judge Position No. 42
Christopher A. Washington.

City of Kent
Proposition No. 1
Levy to Support Kent Parks and Street
(Yeah, that) - APPROVED.

More later, but right now I need a bit of a lie down.

* So while I was writing this list up last night, I got a robo-poll from a group called "Preserve Marriage" or something like it. My choices were: Punch 1 to maintain marriage as one man and one woman, or Punch 2 to redefine marriage. No third choice was offered, so I punched 2. Apparently it was the right answer, since it quickly told me that was the end of the questionnaire. So you get a robocall like this, you can get out of it easily by punching 2, even though you're not redefining, you're recognizing. Pah-TAY-toe, Pah-TAH-toe.

**MASSIVE ERROR - I put the wrong candidate down here initially. See the Law and Order entry for the reasoning.Thanks to Wolf for catching it.

PS - And Furthermore, My friend and Tolkien Scholar Sacnoth is writing up his views as well.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Political Desk: Picking Up The Spare.

So, we're done, right?

Not quite.

The city of Kent, my new home town, has been oddly quiet this year, with no one on the ballot for any of its positions. To which I can safely say, thank goodness for that. But it DOES have Proposition No. 1 - Levy to Support Kent Parks and Streets.

It is a tax increase, a property tax increase, to fund improvements to parks and streets. And they sent out some flier about which particular parks and streets would be covered by this. It's not like the money is dumped into a big bin and pulled out until the bin is empty. They've done the due diligence, and have a list and a schedule and ...

Hmmm. It looks like my road is on the list. OK, I'm surprised. Not because we can use some improvements - the area is seeing a massive increase in population of late, and the roads, while hardly a gravel path (that would be our driveway) are a Frankenstein-quilt of cuts and patches to handle both the additional locals and the increased car traffic. What surprises me is that we're so far up on the list, what with the Panther Lake neighborhood just joining Kent officially a few years back.

OK, I'm sold. Vote Approved on this. Because I'd do the same to improve your roads.

More later,

The Political Desk: Law and Order

OK, let us move into Judges and the County Sheriff. I will only be making recommendations for races that are actually races. For some of the Judgeships, if a candidate gets more than 50% in the primary, they just go onto the final ballot without a challenger. Which is why you should vote in primaries (but you've already heard me go on about that before).

So, law and order -

King County Sheriff  - Normally this would be the entrenched establishment type against a new broom. The strange thing here is that the new broom is the incumbent, and the good old boys is the challenger. Steve Strachan was appointed to the office with the departure of the previous Sheriff, Sue Rahr, and has done a good job in moving the department forward. He's been progressive, positive, and has cleared away a lot of the debris that tends to grow up around any entrenched operation. That's a good thing (casting a baleful eye at the Seattle Police department, which now has to have the Justice Department holding its hand). His opponent, John Urquhart has been part of the old guard. I've talked to those who follow this sort of thing, looked at the Muni League endorsements, and I'm going with Steve Strachan.

State Supreme Court Justice Position No. 9  - Sheryl Gordon McCloud. She gets good marks from the Voting for Judges. I'm good for that. Her opponent, Richard Sanders has a strong libertarian streak that shows up in ill-considered, inflammatory  and often racist statements. He was a former Supreme and got voted out for his shenanigans before (like yelling "Tyrant" at a Bush-appointed AG), and now he wants to be back.Yes, go for McCloud.

Superior Court Judge Position No. 42 - I went for Sue Parisien in the primary, but am flipping for Christopher Washington. I was good for Parisien even though Voting for Judges gave Washington better endorsements, but since the primary there have been a spate of the candidate claiming endorsements that were not particularly true. I'm going to recommend Christopher Washington.

Just one more, then we sum up.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Political Desk: State Legislature

Let me tell you something about the Washington State Legislature. It is triple-A ball. The minor leagues. The governmental equivalent of the QA department. It has a lot of gifted amateurs and first-time politicians with potential. And that's a very good thing.

Our state legislature is a part-time operation. It is not continually in session. The pay is respectable but modest (about 42k). As a result, it attracts people starting out, those who have a passion for governance, people with day jobs. This is a place where you have firemen, local council members, real estate agents, writers, florists, and others who are help running the state as a side job. Some are professional politicians  Many are not. Experience is preferred but not necessary. This is the entry-level job, where you get the experience.

And as a result, we tend to have a responsive legislature which is in contact with its constituency. And I'm good with that.

So, for the 11th District, here are my recommendations:

State Senate - Bob Hasegawa. Mr Hasegawa is an upgrade from Rep to Senator (he even just made a slight modification to his yard signs - thrifty!). He's in the department of experienced, and worth going up to the Senate.

State Representative, Position 1 - Jim Flynn. Allow me my pure personal preference on this. Both Jim Flynn and fellow Democrat Zack Hudgins are in favor of reforming our state budgetary mess by ditching our state sales tax and creating a state income tax, but Flynn is REALLY in favor, making it the centerpiece of his campaign. I'm always saying this would be a good thing, and this is a place to put my money where my mouth is.

State Representative  Postion 2 - Steve Berquist. Mr. Berquist wasn't even on my radar in the primaries, but his message is that if we're going to deciding education issues in the legislature, it makes sense to have at least one teacher present. He's right. And keeping with what I said above, the State Legislature is a great place for people to turn interest into concrete results.

So, having dealt with that, let me take a couple more swings at the Seattle Times. Here are their recommendations, written before they shredded their rep by paying for ads. Those ads which, by their own analysis, are not completely true. Go read it.

Their endorsements are Thomsen, Hudgins, and Berquist. That's cool - they have their opinions. But their logic is tortured to the point that we should bring in UN Observers.

Hasegawa is bad, apparently, because he opposed five bills the Times liked, and supports a progressive income tax, and his opponent, though lacking experience, is more in line with what they want. And that's OK, it is their editorial page. But then they note that Zack Hudgins ALSO opposed the bills that Hasegawa opposed, AND supports progressive income tax, but they're endorsing him anyway because his opponent is even more committed to a progressive income tax. So Hudgins is ... OK, even though he believes the same thing as Hasegawa? And while Hasegawa's opponent is OK despite a lack of experience, Bergquist's opponent is not OK because of a lack of experience.

I've read this a couple times, and it makes my head hurt with every iteration. I mean, it's their editorial page, and they are free to promote as they see fit. But if you can't maintain consistency of thought through a single article, you've got some problems going on. Were it a hardcore conservative (or progressive) screed, I could understand it, but the reasons given in paragraph five are completely subverted in paragraph seven. Do they not see the problems? Did three different people write this? Did the board provide a list of names and expect the writer to come up with something? Were they celebrating the passage of I-502 a WEE bit too early?

I mean, I expect this sort of thing from the Stranger, but not from a paper that purports itself to be Seattle's paper of record.

Next up, Law and Order (and I try to stop being such a hard-ass on the Times)

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Political Desk: State Executive

I think it is clear by now I have a political "type" - Wonky, goal-oriented, achievement-based, progressive-minded, centrist in results, consensus-driven. I WILL vote against a particular candidate from time to time, and there are a couple on the ballot that I will throw my weight against. but I'd much rather vote FOR someone. Just so you know.

In any event, Washington State elects it ENTIRE EXECUTIVE every four years, timed with the national elections. So we have a lot of ground to cover.

Governor - Jay Inslee fits the above-mentioned type I favor. Former US Rep, centrist, strong on green energy and jobs. Yeah, I think he's do the job. He doesn't make me take to the streets in support, but he sounds pretty competent. And he's pro-environment, but then, in Seattle, who isn't? (oh yeah, the guys who want to run coal trains through downtown to send coal to China) Vote Inslee.

By the same token, Rob McKenna has evolved into the type of candidate I will vote against. He strikes me as the cartoon-Republican we see parodied on the Daily Show. Runs as an outsider while he's been part of the administration for the past eight years as Attorney General. He started strong in that role, but is known best for opposing things (ACA, a case against the Bureau of Public Lands) than accomplishing things. And then losing in court in that opposition. Talks small government and thrift while his department got bigger and his paycheck heavier. Slew of gaffes early on, such that he's currently laying low with the aid of a compliant press and acting more moderate.

Yet, despite my misgivings, I still suspect McKenna is going to take this. We've had of lot of Democrat governance for the past decade and this could be a change election.  Plus, the Seattle Times is running its own ads for the guy, and should be expecting a payout if he wins.

And note to the Times: If you're going to trash your journalistic ethics to campaign for a candidate, the least you should do is make some good ads. The one in yesterday's paper would get lost on a mailer.

Lieutenant Governor - On the other hand, I will gladly endorse Republican Bill Finkbeiner. Finkbeiner was for marriage equality before it was cool, and is more to the left than the incumbent. Yeah, let's go with him.

Secretary of State. No endorsement, because I simply can't make up my mind. Both Kathleen Drew and Kim Wyman are excellent candidates. They have good endorsements and ideas. They would be challenged to fill the shoes of Sam Reed (the wise and understanding grandfather of Washington Politics) but either would be up to that challenge. I've written this paragraph five times, and each time ended up endorsing one or the other. Let me endorse both, then. I mean, its my blog, after all.

State Treasurer - Jim McIntire. Incumbent. Competent. Should be re-elected.

State Auditor - Here's the flip side of the Secretary of State. I didn't particularly care much for EITHER of these guys in the primary, but hey, we're a democracy. I'm going to go with Troy Kelley because he is less conservative and anti-government than James Watkins. And you really should have people in government that LIKE government.

Attorney General - Bob Ferguson shows up for the job and has a couple armfuls of endorsements. Opponent Reagan. Dunn is running off name recognition, the hope you won't notice his voting record, and deep out of state pockets. Said pockets (Karl Rove's Republican State Leadership Commission) are running a scare ad against Ferguson about him working to defend a cop-killer. Twenty five years ago. When he was a law student. And by "working for" we mean seeking to get death row criminals decent representation. Yeah, that's all they got, a lot of faux outrage. Did I mention that this outrage did not extend to the Washington State Patrol Troopers Association, which endorsed Ferguson? Well, now I have.

This ad has been running in heavy rotation during sports games for the past two weeks. The Times only has chosen to address it once the Dems starting running their own pearl-clutcher of an ad about Dunn making deals with criminals (which in the real world is called "plea-bargaining"). Because as a referee of public discussion, it only worth reporting if the other side hits back.

Commissioner of Public Lands - Peter J Goldmark, unless you're a Redskins fan. Even then, you might think again.

Insurance Commissioner - Mike Kriedler. see above for Jim McIntire.

Next up, we go to the State Legislature, and I beat up on the Seattle Times some more.

More later,

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Political Desk: Federal Level

Grubbstreet endorses Barack Obama and Joe Biden for President and Vice President.

I know, you're stunned.

The simple fact of the matter is that Obama has done a lot of things that have been on the to-do list for some time. Saving the economy is one of those. So is getting Bin Laden. For most people, that would be enough., But there is a lot more, and here's a nice, boring list of some of thing accomplished by the Obama' administration. Here's another one, even longer and more acredited and therefore more boring.

Here's what I take away from all this - capable, competent, almost wonkish, a little boring at times, working within the framework to accomplish things. Deserving of a second term.

Perfection? Hardly. There is a lot I don't like about this administration. Gitmo, Drones. Hardline drug policy. And the ACA really could have used Single Payer. But the simple truth is that I don't seem anything getting better on these fronts from a Republican administration  and given that the GOP's current brain trust are the guys that got us into this mess in the first place, I really don't want to toss them the keys quite yet.

As for Mr. Romney, I have no doubt that he has some firm convictions and ideas, but I have no idea what they are. While I've gotten used to "Say-Anything" candidates, he's the first "Say-Everything" candidate I've ever encountered, where his statements vary according to audience, live mikes, location, time of day and phase of the moon. There HAS to be some version of Romney that you'd vote for in all that, but I have no idea which one is going to show up for work on Day One. (In the last debate, he moved from condemning the President's foreign policy to endorsing it over the period of three weeks).

I understand that some people may be repelled by both candidates, and for that reason I recommend cruising through the other names on the list, for no other reason to appreciate the two guys in the majors. I flirt with Libertarianism, for example, but what they have is socially progressive but internationally isolationist and economically crazy even by GOP standards. The Greens have that earnest, hey-kids-let-put-on-a-show vibe but the only ones who really want to talk about climate change. But, I point them out as a viable options if Biden backed over your dog, and then Ryan tied him to the station wagon's roof.

Also at the Federal Level, for Senate I recommend Maria Cantwell, who is also a deep-hearted wonk who has brought enough business into Washington State to make even the Times happy. Her opponent has attacked her for her support of the war, and I strongly recommend that the State GOP find more office-seekers like this and run them in races where they actually stand a chance.

And finally US Rep, I'm going to go with Adam (not the Wealth of Nations guy, the other one) Smith, who has been a workhorse as well, and looks to represent the new redrawn district well. This is a first-time vote for Smith, and we'll see where we go with this.

More later,

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Political Desk: Initiatives

Let's start with the most painful part, since it is at the start of the ballot and likely to dissuade others from proceeding.

I've been a critic of the initiative system in our state for some time. Created with an eye to encouraging more direct democracy, it instead sometimes feels like handing a paint gun to a child in the depths of a sugar rush. We get some good ideas, a lot of bad ones, and some that arcane to the point of no return.

And it is made event more confusing by mudging together Initiatives, Referendums, Amendments, Propositions and Advisory Votes (oh my).

Let's get down to cases.

I-1185 is the return of the Magic Pony initiative, which requires that tax increases require two-thirds legislative majorities or receive voter approval. The old initiative that does this is going away, and thi\e purpose of this is is to keep the state from having too much money to spend. Because, you know, forced austerity has worked out SO WELL for the past few years. The promised result is, with less money, the state will be more budgetary responsible. The real result we reduce the amount of money the government can spend, and then complain about how it can't do anything. I vote NO, but it will probably pass, given that everyone is afraid of taxes.

I-1240 is another repeat, for Charter Schools, which has gone down three times so far. I would be more pro Charters if I had a good handle on whether they were effective in the other forty-some states where they are. So far, some are, and some aren't, which leads me to believe that they might work with proper oversight. Unfortunately  the lack of oversight is something that is promoted as a positive thing for Charter Schools. I remain dubious, and say NO.

R-74 is not a Initiative but a referendum. Initiatives are new laws proposed by the citizenry, which gathers sufficient signatures to put them on the ballot. Referendums are a REACTION to laws passed, while citizens seek to overturn them by popular vote. Just so you know the difference. Washington already PASSED and SIGNED INTO LAW a marriage equality law, and those who don't like it are trying nullify it. So you are voting to confirm something that the guys your elected to represent your will have already voted on. Confused? Welcome to our more direct form of democracy.

Did I mention the REIN FIRE RANCH?
R-74 recognizes same-sex marriage. I support this idea. In fact, I not only support it, I will point out that an ideal place for your wedding reception is the REIN FIRE RANCH, operated by Rich Kaalaas, who was my boss for a while. Nestled in the "serene Sugar Loaf Mountain Valley", a short drive from Renton, the REIN FIRE RANCH is a great place for your reception, regardless of the gender of the participants. That's REIN FIRE RANCH.

Oh, and yeah, R-74 should be APPROVED.

I-502 sounds like another reason to not let the citizens make up their own laws. It decriminalizes marijuana and allows it to be licenced and regulated. Despite my curmudgeonly nature, I'm in favor of this, because our drug war has been a pretty big bust (Heh. you see what I did there). The history of marijuana regulation shows nothing but the frustration of trying to enforce prohibition, and it is time to start making the change. This version has real law enforcement people on its side, so I'm paying attention.

Yes, the Feds will come down on this like a ton of bricks, but you know, that's what we need if we're going to figure out how to get the war on drugs under control. Left to its own devices, it just keep sprawling, and this administration has shown that when folk push, it will listen. So push. YES on 502.

And these were the easy ones. From here on in it gets dicey. I freely admit I could be wrong on these, but they have terminology that threatens to throw you on the first curve.

Engrossed Senate Joint Resolution (ESJR) 8221 is a great example of illegible legibabble. It reads like the terms of service you have to agree to before playing a video game. You hit "Agree" but you wonder if two big guys named Louie are going to come over and take your cat. Nearest I can figure out this is to reduce the debt (that's good), but it does so by rejiggering some definitions of what counts as state revenues (that's bad). From the Voter's Guide, those against it are concerned that the process will increase the interest rates, actually giving us LESS money to work with. I think. I will admit to confusion, and in the process, I will REJECT it.

SJR 8223 allows the Washington universities (UW and WSU) will give them more freedom to invest public fund in private companies. Because private companies are safe and secure places to put our money., Ummm, let's REJECT this one as well.

Advisory Vote No. 1 - ESB 6635.  This is arcane beyond belief. This is an advisory vote, which means it is more of a poll question.And as a result, we DON"T get for/against argument in the voter's guide (thanks, guys). But if I understand it correctly, This is about closing a loophole, ending a tax break. So yeah, I think its a good idea.

BUT, it uses the phrase "This tax increase should be:" and that's what has me fired up a bit. We make it damned near impossible to raise taxes (see I-1185 above), and then define everything as a tax increase. BRILLIANT!  Sorry, this is not a tax increase. This is closing a loophole. Vote to Maintain.

Advisory Vote No. 2 - SHB 2590. Same thing as before. This is NOT a tax increase so far as I can tell, despite the language. This is delaying the expiration of a tax. This is loopy tax logic, but if it doesn't pass, it encourages everyone who has to pay something to the government to call that a tax increase and challenge it. What's next? I made more last year, so I have to pay more, and its a tax increase? Vote to Maintain this tax on its current schedule.

And finally, we have one at the County Level:
King County Proposition No. 1 Regular Property Tax Levy for Automated Fingerprint Identification System. (Oddly, the description of the Levy is longer than the title, which I did not expect). This is a re-upping of a system by which we share fingerprint information with other communities through a central database. I think its a good thing (Some may differ). I vote APPROVED.

Believe it or not, this is the worst of it. It gets easier after this.

The Political Desk Opens Late

Sweet Mother Malarky, the ballots and voting guides have arrived, and we are little more than two weeks away from the elections, and I am rousted from my sluggard nature only by the fact that some of my regular readers (of which I have tens if not dozens) in Washington State have already voted. So now I am under the gun for a quick turnaround.

I've been doing this for a while now, and the regulars know that I'm a tad bit left of center in my recommendations. But let me point you to some other options as well, for the Seattle area. The online version of the Washington State Voter's Guide is here, and that for King County is here. Voting-For-Judges does a good job compiling judicial recommendations. The Municipal League is here for candidate and here for a couple ballot measures. If you like your recommendations liberal and foul-mouthed, the Stranger provides for that need here. If you go for a more lefty but polite version, here are some of Publicola's (they don't seem to compile them so you'll have to bounce around). And if you rely on the Seattle Times editorial page ...

Well, why would you do a damned fool thing like that?

The Times editorial page is conservative but not arch, and does lend its considerable weight to progressive causes and often endorses Democratic candidates. But it would, all things being equal, prefer to see pro-business Republicans in charge, and it shows strongly both on their editorial page and in their presentation of the news itself. They are more than wiling to carry water for the State GOP on the occasional hatchet job on Dem candidates, while keeping mum on GOP problems until they are commonplace on the local blogs (and/or in the pages of the aforementioned foul-mouthed Stranger). Democrat sins are to be dwelt upon on the front page, Local Section, while Republican candidates in dire straights merely "face challenges" and their travails show up deeper in the paper (sometimes after the comics). They just did a endorsement of Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell, but were so effusive about her Republican challenger I had to double-check the lede. Their own "Truth Needle" can be a flaccid thing, draped over the EMP. Such behavior is pretty much par for the course.

But this past week, the Times has announced that it will now be writing, creating, and presenting their own in-paper political ads for a candidate, in this case Republican Candidate Rob McKenna, in addition to supporting R-74. They have stated that this is an experiment to show that newspapers still matter. This is not the owners of the paper buying space or keeping their opinions to the editorial page or supporting a particular initiative, but rather the newspaper's editorial board campaigning directly for a particular officeseeker. It is a pretty radical move, and its own reporters are pretty staggered by it.

This is, of course, a horrible idea, and puts into question their coverage of everything they report on, regardless of political slant. As the only daily paper in town, and a paper that is deeply proud of its independent roots, this one is a messy, self-inflicted wound. The Stranger (did I mention it was foul-mouthed?) is blatantly and obviously biased as well, but even it is not creating ads for its chosen candidates.

But here, have some ammunition. I will catch up when I can.

More later,

Friday, October 05, 2012

Commercial Message

This Saturday is "Star Wars Reads" day, with events all over the country. In Seattle, I will be at the University Book Store up at UW at 6 PM, signing my Star Wars: Scourge book. If you're in the area, and/or a fan of Star Wars, stop by and say hi, 'cause that's where I shall be.

May the Force be with you. More later,

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Play: Theatre in the Abstract

Medea/ Macbeth/ Cinderella Adapted by Bill Rauch and Tracy Young from Euripides' Medea, Translated by Paul Roche, Music and Lyrics by Shishir Kurup, William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, Music by Richard Rodgers, Book and Lyric by Oscar Hammerstein II. Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Bowmer Theater.

Short Version: A Brief History of Theater. I think.

This is a mystery basket of a play. No, really, like when you’re watching Chopped, and they open the basket for the appetizer round and the chefs are given watermelon candy, Brussel sprouts, and reindeer meat and given twenty minutes to come up with something? In this case, the basket contains The classic Greek play Medea, Shakespeare's Macbeth, and the Broadway version of Cinderella. You have three hours. And your time starts - now.

And the result is sort of like watching three televisions tuned to different channels. Sometimes the connections of there (the overlap of conversations answering questions asked in another dimension), and save for the three are protagonists, there isn’t a lot obviously binding them together.Our entry character into the play is an usher (Mark Bedard) who finds himself impressed in a number of minor roles through the play, shoved out to be a servant or a herald or some necessary piece of exposition, but he is more framing device than viewpoint character. He pitches down this rabbit hole and is soon as lost as the rest of us. And while some characters do flip over (Banquo's ghost dances with the Ugly Stepsisters at the Prince's ball, The Fairy Godmother (a sparkling K.T. Vogt) transforms to Hecate to speak with Macbeth's Witches), most of them stay in their dimensions, acting out the play in parallel dimensions.

Deja Vu: Lady Macbeth at the Tate
They run at the same time, the conversations of one supposed to be overlapping the others, creating noise from which you can pick out the plots. At first I thought it was a microphone problem, but soon you succumb to the cacophony and get to an initial first point - its not about the words. Instead you start following the general arc of theater as a performance in itself. Here is exposition. Here is rising action. Here is the first crisis point. Here is the initial decision by the protagonist. Here is the big number before the intermission. Here is the complication. The exact nature of these developments are different for every play, but they are still there - we're showing off the integral building blocks of a play.

Another thing happens as we progress - we start deconstructing the actors themselves. The Medea cast is female and masked. The Macbeth crew is decked out in Modern Regulation Shakespearean and mostly male: Lady Macbeth (Christopher Liam Moore again) is wearing the green Ellen Terry dress that John Singer Sargeant painted (and I saw a month ago at the Tate in London). Cinderella has all the costuming gewgaws of Broadway. But as we move to the final resolution (Macbeth fights Macduff knowing he will lose, Cinderella agrees to try on the slipper, Medea confronts Jason), the masks and costumes are shed in a slow striptease that leaves the actors in their basic black shirts and slacks, their characters themselves peeled away from them.

So this is a comparative history of theater, taking three examples, running them over each other and looking for commonalities. The true interweaving the the characters happens at the 11th hour and may not make sense if you've been thrown earlier on. It is a play with a lot of words, but the words are not important, actions but the actions are deceptive, characters where characterization is ultimately secondary, where knowledge of the source material both helps and hinders (I never had seen the R&H Cinderella and thought it the Disney version initially, while the Lovely Bride says that she has spent thirty years trying to forget the "Impossible" song, only to have it be laid on her brain anew). It is an abstract approach to theater as a whole, which is good, but like abstract art, can completely throw the viewer.

At heart, I liked this play, but it is a tough, uphill sort of affection, more applied after the fact than when you're trying to come to terms with it in its midst. I have bagged on traditional theater for not reaching more. This one does, but it is wobbly about whether it achieves it.

More later

Monday, October 01, 2012

Play: Hey, Hey, LBJ

All The Way, Robert Schenkkan, directed by Bill Rauch, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Bowmer Theater

Short Version: Lyndon Baines Johnson schools everyone on politics. 

A little personal background.This is set (only slightly) before my time). I was 7 when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed. My political depth of that age consisted of sending LBJ a birthday card (since we share the same birth date). I got a response, thanking me, which was nice, and typoed my last name, which makes me feel sad to this day and probably accounts for my deep cynicism of political office, a cynicism which would blossom in the Nixon era. 

The story pulls a chunk of LBJ's life from between his ascension as an "accidental president" (his words) to his re-election (and with it his validation), and in particularly his work on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 played out against the politics of the era. Jack Willis is LBJ, wheeling with others as well as dealing with his own limitations. Kenajuan Bentley is a stern, cautious Martin Luther King, Peter Frechette is both Hubert Humphrey (his Happy Warrior feels like he is huffing laughing gas) and Strom Thurmond (at his unctuous best). Jonathan Haugen is a bumptious, bullying George Wallace. Christopher Liam Moore is Walter Jenkins, LBJ's aide, deeply supportive, but in the end betrayed by the very realpolitik forces that LBJ trafficked in,

The great thing about Jack Willis' portrayal is that he never truly tips his hand. His LBJ almost feels Nixonian in nature, willing to play any card, pull any favor, make any threat in order to get what he wants. And through it all, we don't know if he supporting Civil Rights because he believes in them, or because he sees it as a means to the end of his own re-election. We see him maneuvering around his conservative opposition while manipulating the liberal wing of the party at an arm's length (MLK and Humphrey in particular, who he schools in the fine art of politics). Willis's LBJ is both restless and focused, deeply aware that he is changing the nature of the Democratic party, both for the better and to his own ends (much is made in recent years of Nixon's "southern strategy", adopting the hard-core former confederacy, but that transferal of conservative loyalties goes back through LBJ to Thurmond's Dixiecrats in the 40's).

The facts are all here, both the major (Freedom Summer) to the forgotten (The seating of the Mississipi Delegation at the convention) to the ignored (the Gulf of Tonkin is considered a distraction and a sideshow). Decisions are made both on the shortest of short-term goals (beating Goldwater) and the longest (improving the rights of a large chunk of Americans). It is a great history lesson wrapped up in theatrical form.

The set is simple with with a open center and rising desks around it, flexing from Congress to the Oval Office to the Campaign trail. The gallery is always occupied, as the cast takes on general roles as observers when they aren't in their main roles, with the end a reminder that the whole world is watching. The play is written by Robert Shenkkan, who penned By the Waters of Babylon, a smaller play that did not impress me. Here, on a larger stage, he excels. 

The strength of both the writing and the acting makes this a solid tour de force of American history, and shed light on the ugly and brutal methodology of how change really occurs within our political system. Bismark is credited as saying that anyone who loves the law, or sausage, should not watch either being made. Bismark would have watched this play, and taken notes.

More later, 

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Notes from the Columbia

So, a couple weeks back, the Lovely Bride and the Lovely Bride's Mom (Nardi) and I headed south for a long-planned vacation to Ashland. And en route we chose drive up the Columbia to the Maryhill Museum and back, and take in a couple Confluence Project sites along the way.

The Confluence Project is a series of installations along the Columbia river created by Maya Lin, the artist responsible for the Vietnam War memorial in Washington DC. In this case, she was commissioned to install seven pieces along the Columbia on the route that Lewis and Clark took at the turn of the 19th Century. We had tried to find these sites before, but no one seemed to know about them, even locally, which made them a sculptural scavenger hunt, this time aided by the net.

Land Bridge, with Lovely Bride
The first we visited was the Land Bridge, an overpass that crosses State Route 14 just before Interstate 5 crosses the Columbia into Oregon. Built at the site of the reconstructed Fort Vancouver, it was about what I expected from the artist - a large installation that brought the terrain into the structure itself, with three resting points for Land, People, and River. Done in sand-colored stones and concrete with dark metal accents, the installation gave a chance for meditation above the traffic. I also could give a view of the Columbia itself, though in our case it was blocked by a parked line of train cars along an adjacent rail line.

Being an overpass, it also allowed access from the Fort to the river itself, at the site of the Oldest Apple Tree in Washington, a sad ent  of a tree on life support, situated behind multiple fences, reinforced with guy wires and concrete, kept long beyond its lifespan.

Bird Blind
The second site was the Bird Blind at the Sandy River delta. This one is at the end of a long, dusty mile and a quarter hike in a dog park near Troutdale. The structure was simpler than the Land Bridge, a ramp leading up to a circular blind, with each slat of the blind a two-by-four dedicated to a creature that Lewis and Clark encountered and noted on their trip. Each had the date they mentioned it in their journals, what they called it, what the current name is, the scientific name, and its status (threatened, endangered, or extinct (only one is such)). While we hiking, dogwalkers stopped us and asked what we were doing (since we didn't have dogs). No one we spoke with knew about the installation. Sculptural scavenger hunt, indeed.

The third site was at Celilo Park, above the Dalles Dam. Before the dam was installed, the Dalles were a set of rapids and waterfalls, which made it both a site of salmon fishing and a hub for native trade. All of that is under the water now. The site, which dealt with the salmon fishing, was to be completed by fall of this year, but when we were the looked unbegun, a rough breakwater sticking out into the river, with a pair of local fishermen with numerous lines at the end.

Maryhill Museum
Maryhill Museum is a small museum just beyond that site, located on the bluffs overlooking the Columbia. Built by Sam Hill (the "good roads" Sam Hill, not the "What in the" Sam Hill), as a mansion which overlook his utopian community, it was turned into a museum after his wife booked out and his ideal community fizzled. As a result, it is an odd collection of material grounded in the turn of the 20th Century. Marie, the Queen of Romania came all the way west to dedicate it, so there is a large display of her regalia and furnishings. Her highness was in the mob that Hill ran with. Actually, that's a good description of Maryhill in general - stuff from the crowd Hill ran with. Sam Hill did the art patron thing with a number of Americans in France and Britain before the Great War, such as the dancer Loie Fuller, who was romantically involved with the sculptor Auguste Rodin, bought a lot of his works, got into financial trouble, sold her Rodins, convinced Hill to pick up her Rodins, and convinced Hill to turn his abandoned house into a museum. She was also in tight with the (you guessed it) Marie, the Queen of Romania. Which is why there are a large collection of Rodins on a bluff overlooking the Columbia in Washington State.

Rodin. Yeah, that guy.
The collection is interesting and eclectic. The Rodins are the big attraction center, but there is the Romanian regalia, and a large number of works from the collection, which they have increased over the passage of time. The have a large but unimpressive collection of Native American Art. They also have a hall on Fuller, who made her name as a dancer. The upper house is unchanged, but they have done a lot of extremely imaginative expansion on the cliff-side - most of it for things like a cafe and educational facility, but also expanding out the basement for more room for other works. Right now, the new acquisitions seem to be sculpture, and are pretty darn impressive.

Maryhill is near another Sam Hill project, the Stonehenge re-creation, which I've talked about before.

Back down the Columbia, evening at a snazzy hotel in Portland, then the long haul along the width of Oregon to Ashland. I've talked about Ashland before, so I will summarize for this trip - Anne Hathaway's is an excellent B&B (we stayed in the Annex a few doors down, which had a nice sense of privacy for us), recommended restaurants include Kobe (excellent sushi) and Beasleys (they bragged about the clam chowder, and yeah, it is worth bragging about). Great chocolate torte from Coquina down by the railroad track (so good we went back the next evening just for desert).

And now on to the plays. More on those later (I hope),

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Notes from Europe

I suppose I need to write about one adventure before beginning the next.

So, Europe.

Doing stand-up in Stockholm
To promote the release of Guild Wars 2, I and Lead Character Artist Aaron Coberly were dispatched to Europe for a whirlwind promotional tour - four cities over the course of five days. The bulk of our tasks involved talking to the media about the game - ensconced in a venue with an introductory video, machines set up to one side to play the game, and Aaron and I available for interviews. It was very much a business trip, where we saw a lot more of airplanes, hotels, and restaurants than of the cities themselves. But here are some notes from the trip.

Overall, if I have to compare US security with that of Europe, I found the US model of huge queues with bellowing agents to be inferior to the polite but continual approach encountered in Europe (it only felt like I was being asked for my passport every five feet. In reality it was more like fifteen).

And this is sacriledge in Seattle, I know, but the Airbus interiors are superior to those of the Boeings. Even among the same airline, the difference between the two is noticeable in the amount of legroom the fully kitted-out Airbus provided. Sorry guys.

Surf Munich!
Anyway, Munich was the first stop, and I actually got in a day early, the better to accommodate the time shift (which did not work that well - I must be getting old). Munich itself was gripped in a heat wave, with a temperature of around 37 (98 for us Ammurikans). I had a chance to walk around, and I was impressed with the community's bike culture (everyone was pedaling) and surfing. Yeah, surfing. The English Garden, which is a huge park rivaling NYC's Central, has a powerful stream flowing through it. And where this stream issues from beneath a bridge, there are a set of hydraulics (standing waves), which wet-suited young Germans surf on. It is much more like watching a bucking bronco than a beach.

Also got a chance to get to the Neue Pinokothek, an art museum on covering 19th and early 20th Century art. Excellent Van Goughs, a version of Von Stuck's Sin that is also hanging at the Frye, and a lot of Greek-related art - did not know that for a time the son of the King of Bavaria was the King of Greece.

We stayed at a place called the Cocoon, which was a tidy traveler's hotel that felt like staying in an IKEA flat pack (and me without my Allen wrench). It was full of transformer parts (the bathroom door slid across the sink complex to be the shower door, the heavy curtains were also the closet doors, the shower overlooked the bedroom itself through a clear wall). An amusing place.

The venue for the Munich presentations itself was a bar/cafe/restaurant nearby, its windows open in an attempt to get some circulation in the oppressive heat. We did have some heat-related crashes, but Aaron and I had it easy in that the presentations themselves were in German and we were on hand for interviews and answering questions from the press.

Immediately after the presentations, we headed for Hamburg. Here's one of those traveler weirdnesses - In America, we boarded by row number or zone, and everyone milled around in an unruly mob until their number was called. In Germany they said "Everyone get on the plane" and, much to my surprise, everyone got on the plane. Amazing!

The last time we were in Hamburg (for another press tour), we went to this wonderful restaurant at a hotel called The East, which had fantastic sushi (Yes, sushi. Deal with it). It turns out we pulled up in front of the East as our hotel. Comparing to the spartan/smart/compact nature of the Coccoon, the East was a James Bond lair of huge beds, massive windows, and sinks made of false rock. The presentation was within the hotel itself (In a meeting room called The East Kitchen with a full kitchen), and they catered the operation with ... the sushi I spoke of. It was great, I ended up consuming a lot of wiesbier in the bar, and had probably my best steak in several trips to Europe, in a restaurant overlooking the one of the bays.

Two nights in Hamburg, then a quick bounce over to London. An afternoon off on arrival, which was nice. Got to the Tate Britain, which I had not been to before (partially closed, alas), and ended up drinking in a pub that Aaron had always passed when he lived here, but never stopped in. Much alcohol, you may notice, was consumed over the course of the trip. Aaron also insisted that we get some hummus at a local grocery - Waitrose which was fantastic (picture the two of us, leaning on a fence across from Hyde park, with crackers and hummus).

Not shown: Edna and Patsy
That evening, we were taken out to the Golden Oven, an Indian place in Soho. I am normally not of fan of Indian food, having suffered too many bad Indian buffets, but this was the platonic ideal of Indian food, of which all others were merely shadows. The hotel was just north of Hyde Park and we were packed into a tiny room that made the Cocoon seem like the East, but it was for a single night and by that time we were getting used to crashing completely.

The venue for presentations in London was different again - a penthouse flat that had been rented for the day from the owner overlooking Soho, done entirely in white - white walls, white floors, white furnishings (our white t-shirts actually provided camo in the building). A large buddha head dominated one glass wall, and the Guild Wars 2 art replaced the normal art, and fit well against it. It was strangely like working in an episode of AbFab.

There was a party there that evening, but we did not get a chance to partake - we were en route to Stockholm. We arrived after midnight (as was becoming a habit), and I remarked that Stockholm must be a very pretty city in the daylight. The hotel was "Western" style, which means that the ground floor was the 1st floor and they were putting a celebrity chef restaurant for Marcus Sammuelson. Aaron and I had it easy, by the way, because we did not need to do set-up, so we could at least sleep in.
Other than that, the interview went well.

I had the chance to do an interview on P3, which was the Swedish equivalent of the BBC. After getting lost in the vastness of that building, we found our way to the interview, which was marvelous. The hosts were knowledgeable and warm and made me feel very comfortable. Back to the hotel for more presentations and interviews, and then, to wrap up the trip, a presentation and a Q&A at Webhallen, a game store. We had maybe 400 people total, and it was a lot of fun.

And at last a late celebration dinner, in the restaurant district across the river. The front desk said it is a ten minute walk, and I pointed out that the front desk consisted of very athletic young people whose idea of a fun was to ski and shoot rifles at the same time, and could wrestle bears if they needed to. So half an hour later, my compatriots dragged this overweight, sleepy American to a delightful place, where he feasted on reindeer steak (and of course, had more beer). 

Then of course, up at Oh-God-Early and back to the airport to get home, our mission complete. As we were en route to the airport, back in Seattle, they threw the switch and Guild Wars 2 went live. As I write this, we  have just crested 2 million registrations, a number that leaves us blinking in the blinding glare of sudden importance. It all feels very strange, that after all the worldbuilding and after all the interviews, after talking on the phone and hosting people at the office and flying to foreign countries, that the game is now no longer just ours, just the mad project we have hidden behind the curtain. That now belongs to the greater world. It feels good, but also a little weird.

So naturally, I've left town again. This time, Ashland. More about that later.