Monday, July 30, 2012

Political Desk: The Jeff Recommends

So it is interesting to note that when I'm talking local politics, the number of hits on this site just plummets. But yet I persist. And while we're more than a week out from when the ballots need to be mailed, so let's summarize the past week.

King County Proposition 1 Children and Family services Center Capital Levy - APPROVED

United States Senator - Maria Cantwell
United States Representative Congressional District No. 9 - Adam Smith

Governor - Jay Inslee
Lieutenant Governor - Bill Finkbeiner
Secretary of State - Kathleen Drew (though Kim Wyman get good marks)
State Treasurer - Jim McIntire
State Auditor - Craig Pridemore
Attorney General - Bob Ferguson
Commissioner of Public Lands - Peter Goldmark
Superintendent of Public Instruction - Randy Dorn
Insurance Commissioner - Mike Kreidler

State Legislative District No. 11, State Senator - Bob Hasegawa
State Legislative District No. 11, Representative Position No. 1 - Jim Flynn
State Legislative District No. 11, Representative Position No.2 - Bobby Virk (though Stephanie Bowman is also good).

State Supreme Court - Justice Position No. 2 - Susan Owens
State Supreme Court - Justice Position No.8 - Steve Gonzalez
State Supreme Court - Justice Position No.9 - Bruce Hilyer
Superior Court Judge Position No. 25 - Elizabeth Berns
Superior Court Judge Position No. 29 - Sean O'Donnell
Superior Court Judge Position No.30 - Doug North
Superior Court Judge Position No.42 - Sue Parisien
Superior Court Judge Position No.46 - Gary Ernsdorff

And that wraps us until the NEXT big collection of elections in the fall. I know, you're as excited as I am.

More later,

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Political Desk: Picking up the Spare

The Washington State Primary doesn't have any state initiatives or referendums on it, but it does have KING COUNTY PROPOSTION NO 1 Children and Family Services Center Capital Levy. This is a measure to allow the coung to levy an addition regular property tax of 7 centers per $1000 of assessed valuation for nine years to replcace the Children and and Family Justice Center.

Now, this is where I growl and grumble, and then reach for my wallet anyway. Thanks to a cowardly and possibly unconstitutional initiative we have on the books, you can't raise taxes save with a supermajority in the legislature or one of these voting operations. So the people have to deal with this type of hostage situation every time - either we increase funding, or we face things falling down around our ears (Seattle is looking at a similar measure on its Libraries, which we DON'T get to vote on down here).

So, grumble, grumble, let me get the checkbook. Vote YES. Not a fan of this type of funding, but still see the need. If only we had a trustworthy elected body of some type to handle this sort of thing...

Next: We recapitulate. No, that would take too long. We sum up.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Political Desk: Judicial

There are bunch of Judges up for election this time around, and as a general research I recommend the Voting for Judges site to get a feel for the candidates as well as endorsements and money raised. If a judge gets over 50% of the vote in the primary, then that judge is given the position.

STATE SUPREME COURT POSITION 2; Susan Owens. This space has endorsed her before and just about everybody is endorsing her again.

STATE SUPREME COURT POSITION 8; Steve Gonzalex, who, like Ms. Owens, is getting major recommendations

STATE SUPREME COURT POSITION 9: This one has a wrinkle. Richard B. Sanders was a Supreme Court Judge who lost his election two years ago, but is still hanging about wrapping up old cases, so he is still on (or at least near) the court. (This may be really what happened to Mitt Romney, who stepped down from his job and then took three years to clean out his desk). Sanders is a bit of what you call "a character" but has some name recognition. Better, however to go with Bruce Hilyer, though both Mr. Ladenburg and Ms. MeCloud are no slouches in the strong recommendations department.

SUPERIOR COURT POSITION 25 has three good candidates. I am going with Elizabeth Berns, who is getting high marks from both the Stranger and the Times, yet seems to have cheesed off someone at the King County Bar Association.

SUPERIOR COURT POSITION 29 has Sean O'Donnell picking up a huge number of endorsement. OK, I can be swayed.

SUPERIOR COURT POSITION 20 has Doug North with the experience.

SUPERIOR COURT POSITION 42 finds me actually listening to the Stranger's logic (which is a sentence I never expected to write) and going for Sue Parisien.

SUPERIOR COURT POSITION 46 wraps us up with two candidates who's credits practially glow, according to the Vote for Judges site. Both Judy Ramseyer and Gary Ernsdorff are very good and very well matched. I'm going to go for Gary Erndorff, but this is one of those cases where you can't get a bad result.

So, we're done? Not quite. There's one more.

More later,

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Political Desk: State Legislature

Now we're dealing with one of the most granular pieces of politics - the State Legislature, where representation can change over a mere matter of blocks. So I know this reaches a very small group. So for everyone else, I'd like to point out the League of Women Voter's site, which is a huge aggregator for election info across the US. And is easier to navigate than the Washington Elections site.

We're getting down in the weeds here, but this merits attention, because if nothing else my neck of the woods has changed Legislative hands and I'm looking at a new crew to elect. And while I still get mail from Mark Hargrove and Pat Sullivan, I just have to tell you guys, I've moved on. It's not you, its me.

And I am a little more hard-bitten about the State Legislature than about the executive positions, in that a few months back, the Republicans, aided by a trio of Dems that included now-Secretary-if-State candidate Kastama, seized control of their house and held the budget hostage for a couple days. There we much in the way of threats and demands, then ended up with the same budget anyway. This sort of confirmed the prejudice I've gained over the past few years that Republicans understand politics but not governing, and for this election (at least), you're going to have be damned good to get into my good graces.

So let's open the boxes see what the mystery ingredients are here in Legislative District #11.

STATE SENATOR, DISTRICT 11 - This has two candidates, and for these offices, the top go forward, so really this is just the world' most accurate poll. Bob Hasegawa is the Dem and the incumbent. His challenger sounds like a nice person, but I really don't want to see the Legislature fall into the hands of the guys who pulled the stunt. Sorry.

STATE REPRESENTATIVE, DISTRICT 11, POSITION 1 - This ALSO has just two candidates, and they're both Democrats (Looking good, Top Two Primary!) Both look good, and Zack Hudgins is an incumbent. Jim Flynn is the first guy I've hit in the Voters' Guide who actually wants to talk about replacing our antiquated and regressively weird sales and B&O taxes with an income tax. This is the third rail of State Politics, and yeah, let's start the discussion. For the primary, I'm going to vote the issue, and go for Jim Flynn.

STATE REPRESENTATIVE, DISTRICT 11, POSITION 2 - DOES have a Republican running among the five candidates, but she lists her Tea Party support as the rest of us quietly back out of the room and try not to make eye contact. Of the four other candidates, all of them have endorsements from different groups, which gives you a mix and match approach, and we'll likely see two Dems squaring off. And while Stephanie Bowman has done an excellent job in introducting herself to the community, I'm going with Bobby Virk for his pile of endorsements being just a tad bit higher.

Next, here come the Judges, More later.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Political Desk: Statewide

Washington State has the great ability to put the entire legislative branch up for election. The whole shebang goes up for election this fall, starting with Governor and working down to State Auditor. The incumbents have an edge here, even with the financial challenges that have faced the state, because everyone knows the job they're doing. So the interesting stuff shows up when there is no incumbent.

GOVERNOR: Jay Inslee is a smart, personable Congressional Representative. As a result, he's not well-known statewide and is in the process of introducing himself. Despite this, he's managed to close the polls with his better known opponent, Rob McKenna.

McKenna comes the high profile state position of Attorney General - same as the current Governor, Chris Gregoire. McKenna's got good marks for consumer issues and identify fraud, and is the darling of the Times editorial board. But he's also launched failed lawsuits on the ACA and Superintendent of Public Lands, has had to weather a recent racial scandal in his campaign staff, and is not horribly transparent or willing to deal with non-synchophantic media. Still, he's the favorite in this race.

Which is a pity, because the more I pay attention to Inslee - progressive, pro-local business, the more I'm liking what I'm seeing.

LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR: I've never been a fan of incumbent Brad Owen, one of the more conservative Democrats in state government, and have in the past recommended capable republicans in his stead. This year is no different - Bill Finkbeiner, who is packing the usual suspects for support, plus the endorsement of the Washington Convservation Voters and outgoing Secretary of State Sam Reid. He also supported gay marriage before it was cool for Republicans to do so. (and by the way, the state GOP has a PRO-marriage equality plank).

SECRETARY OF STATE: Long-standing incumbent Sam Reed is stepping down, and his work to keep the election system above-board and free needs to be recognized. He's always stepped forward to the right thing as opposed to the political thing, and this blog has been a long-time supporter. In his wake, there's a couple good choices: Kathleen Drew comes in from the Democrat side, and Kim Wyman from the Republican, and both look to continue and expand Reed's legacy. I've always been fond of Greg Nickels, but I don't see him in Secretary of State. Self-declared Democrat Jim Kastama's idea of bipartisan efforts consists of helping Republicans hold the state budget hostage earlier this year. I think I'll go with Drew or Wyman.

STATE TREASURER: Jim McIntire has no opponents on the ballot. It is not the policy of this blog to endorse candidates running unopposed, but Mr. McIntire has done a good job and deserves an attaboy.


STATE AUDITOR: It is also a great sign of your tenure when the majority of the people that want your job after you step down invoke your mantle. Per the Voters' Guide, Troy Kelly says that retiring auditor Brian Sonntag says "He [Kelly] gets it!", James Watkins says Sonntag said he (Watkins) is "extremely well qualified" and Mark Miloscia says that that he worked alongside Sonntag. (As a side note, Brian Sonntagg has not endorsed any candidate at the present time).

Craig Pridemore doesn't claim anything of the mantle, so I'm going to go with him for the Primary - None of these guys are politically scary, and I reserve the right to change my mind before the general.

ATTORNEY GENERAL: Two candidates here that should go on - Bob Ferguson and Reagan Dunn. The third candidate lists himself as an author, which always gets my interest - until I discover his book is a self-published conspiracy tome for the "Birther Movement".

So, two candidates. Both Ferguson and Dunn are on the King County Council, which makes comparison easier. Ferguson has a rep for showing up and getting the job done, whereas Dunn is more sporadic in attendance and jumps ship soon after the meeting start. Go with Bob Ferguson.

COMMISSIONER OF PUBLIC LANDS: Peter J. Goldmark, a rancher from Eastern Washington, has done a fine job, including standing up to Attorney General (and Gubernatorial candidate) Rob McKenna, and winning.

SUPERINTENDENT OF PUBLIC INSTRUCTION: Randy Dorn came in on the concern about the WASL tests and has enacted reforms. Yeah, he's done the job.

INSURANCE COMMISSIONER: And the same can be said for Mike Kreidler. Has done the job.

Next up, we get local. More later,

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Political Desk: Federal Level

I'm breaking this down much like the Secretary of State's site - Federal, Statewide, Legislative, and Judicial. It's a good enough place to start, and will hopefully prevent these from getting too long. I'm not going to cover every candidate this time (sorry, Mike the Mover), but call out the most likely and the ones with notable entries in the Voters' Guide. I do recommend the Voters' Guide, because it has a strong sense of self-selection - you can get the idea of those who really want to serve against single-issue candidates and those who use the space and attention for personal rantings, free verse, and political word salad.

Turn over your papers and let's begin. My recommendations are in boldface, only because I can't put them in Comic Sans.

US SENATOR: Maria Cantwell is the incumbent, and at this point you even like her or you don't. She's strong on Boeing, Pell Grants, small business  reigning in Wall Street excess and investigating gas-price spikes. I like her, think she's made the case for re-election and has help down the progressive end of spectrum pretty well. She's my main choice, and will likely be that choice this fall.

That said, Michael Baumgartner sounds like that type of Republican that I often fear is a dying breed - sane, consensus seeking, and positive. His Voters' Guide write-up hits all the right notes for a Republican in a very Blue state - fessing up to the fact that our economic problems go back more than four years, that its time to bring troops home from Afghanistan, and does not shy away from his faith but shows how it moves him delivering on it through good work. This is great first introduction to the candidate, and while I know that the Reps are treating this as a road-kill position this year, he's setting himself up nicely for future political work.

US 9th CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT: I'm going to miss Dave Reichert, my former congressman, but in the reapportionment they shifted him to a district that is safely red, so he won't be threatened by nasty techno-progressives from the north. No, this time he's getting challengers from the RIGHT, and if you want good reasons to vote for Reichert as a moderate, go read challenger Earnest Huber's write-up in the Guide, which spends most of its time not promoting its candidate, but railing on all the durn lubral votes that Reichert made in office. My favorite line? "He [Reichert] voted to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell, enshrining homosexuals in our military". Enshrining? Can't wait to see the Stations of the Cross on that one.

Now this office is in the 9th District, the new "minority-majority" district, a designation that riles me just a tad. Specifically designating a district for have more minority members sound like it operates off the assumption that diverse minority groups lockstep the same way (or even that all members of a particular ethnic group voice one way). And of course, the first election for this "majority-minority" district is five white guys. Um, tah-dah?

The incumbent here is Adam Smith (no, not the one from Wealth of Nations - the other one). Much like Reichert, his district has shifted, and he's lost Fort Lewis (Smith is the leading Dem on the Armed Services Commitee) and picked up the more techno-friendly areas of Bellevue and Mercer Island. And cue the irony in that he's being challenged on the LEFT for his military votes by progressive Tom Cramer, who has been the one candidate robo-calling (way too much) in our district. I'm going to go with Smith, but recognize that if you looking for more of a progressive, take a look at Cramer (oh, all right - the rest are traditional Republican Jim Postma, "FDR Democrat" (read LaRouche Democrat) Dave Christie, and Libertarian John Orlinski. Well at least there is diversity in the political positions (though everyone seems to want to bring back Glass-Steagall).

PRESIDENT: There's no primary for these guys in Washington State this year, but you knew that, right? Besides, I think you know who's running.

Next time, we go State-wide.

More later,

Monday, July 23, 2012

Political Desk: The Beginnening.

The lawn signs have sprouted. The first commercials are nosing their way into our lives. The robocalls have started and the wind promises the first hints of mailings in the Panther Lake area.

Primary season.

I usually cover the elections from my perch here on Grubb Street, but I'm a little off-kilter this time out. Perhaps I'm getting jaded. Maybe I'm getting too old to be sufficiently snarky. Maybe I'm turning cynical about the process. Maybe I just think there are enough people doing politics, and I can't maintain the entire sense of continual outrage that seems to be a base-line requirement for political blogging. Maybe I've just lived in Washington long enough to get irritated at politically-drawn district boundaries, a seriously busted initiative process, and a top-two primary system.

But then, someone always sends me a note thanking me for my recommendations, even if they don't agree with them. And that's pretty cool.

As voters, many Washington State voters are less well-armed than normal this year, in that there is no paper voters' guide being mailed out by the state this time out. King County was good enough to launch its own paper voters' guide, which is interesting - the most populous county gets to be the best informed. For the rest of you, you can head for the state's miserable-to-navigate site, but that's about all the democracy we want to pay for this time around.

But, there are resources. The online site for the state voter's guide is here, as noted. Voting-For-Judges, an nonpartisan aggregator site for judicial recommendations is here. The King County Municipal League weighs in here. And for those who want more cursing in their recommendations, the Stranger is here. The Seattle Times also makes recommendations, but to be frank, their editorial board often seems like they're taking more recreational medications than the Stranger. (Nope, still snarky).

And the thing is, this stuff matters.We are putting the entire state executive branch up for vote this year. Most of the "top-two" is going to boil down to the Democratic-endorsed candidate versus the Republican-endorsed candidate squaring off for the big show in November. But the Judgeships are an exception, in that if a candidate gets 50%+, then they just get the position and the bye. And that's pretty important - some judicial positions will be decided right now. So pay attention.

In addition, because of redistricting, you may not be in the same legislative district that you were in before, so some of the names on the ballot may be new to you. Registered votes should have gotten cards (Grubbstreet is Congressional district 9, Legislative district 11, and Kent City Council district 5, just so you know). 

I'll get these out over the course of the coming week or so.

More later,

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Cannibal and the Thin Man

So a week back I got a chance to watch one of my favorite movies - "The Thin Man". (There's a difference between "favorite movies" and "great films", but that's a blog for another day). And as a result, I found an old copy of Dashiell Hammett's The Thin Man on the shelf and read it through, which I don't think I had done before.

Here are the facts of the matter - the book, by Dashiell Hammett, was set in New York of 1932, just before Prohibition ended, but published in January of 1934 (Alfred A. Knopf, but I had a Permabook reprint edition published in March of 1961). The movie was adapted by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, was filmed in two weeks, and was released in May of the same year, just before enactment of the Hollywood Production Codes, and was a surprise hit. Nick and Nora Charles are supposedly based on the relationship of Hammett and Lillian Hellman, and the adaptors Goodrich and Hackett were a married couple as well. And in the movie we have William Powell and Myrna Loy in the roles.

Now if you haven't seen the movie, you really need to. It is the first and the best of the series, and it's a movie that holds up even when you know the nature of the mystery as well. I was looking at the differences between book and film, and there are many. The story in the novel is told first person by Nick and we meet him on page one. The movie sets up most of the other characters, including the "Thin Man" - Clyde Wynant, and only introduces Nick and Nora well into the film (Powell makes his appearance in a high-class speak, instructing the bartenders in the correct methods of using a cocktail shaker, in a moment establishing Nick Charles as high-class, intelligent, and a lush).

And both book and movie involves Olympics-level ingestion of alcohol - I got to Chapter 15 in the book before I hit a chapter where someone wasn't drinking, and then only because that chapter took place for the most part in a police station. And the main characters and the general plot are pretty much the same, but the minor characters and a lot of the details move around - Mr Jorgensen has a darker secret in the original text, and the book lacks the high-tech detection and the gather-the-suspects at the dinner party. What does stay is a lot of Hammett's banter, which works its way in other characters mouths or in different scenes, but kept the relationship solid.

But then there's the bit about the cannibalism.

OK, in both book and movie, the younger son of Clyde Wynnet is named Gilbert, and is a bookworm with a macabre fascination about the criminal mind. In the movie he's pure poindexter - hair split down the middle, thin rimmed glasses, and placed mostly for laughs. He's a little more sympathetic, but still has the fascination with death. So Charles pulls down a volume from the shelf, and has the boy read a section about Alfred Packer, who may or may not have killed and eaten his companions in the Rockies in 1873. and Hammett reports this article to us in full.

And then the plot resumes and everyone goes on, and no mention of it was ever made again, and I'm left asking - what was THAT all about? Was it a ghost of an earlier draft, one where cannibalism would be a result? Was it foreshadowing for the fact that a character' body is cut up later in the book? Or is it just a bit of wordage that Hammett thought was well-written and hadn't been paid for and hey, if fills out the chapter, so why not put it in? Is it to push a boundary, to charge it up a little?

I mean, Hammett is writing about the New York he knows, so there are references to places and performances that are going on at the end of '32 (both book and movie are set over Christmas, but are light on the entire celebration of the holiday). And there is an Oscar Levant in-joke that I got on the first bounce. But there is a reference to a book, The Grand Manner, which I have no clue on, and then this long section about cannibalism. 

This is one of those things that bothers me as a writer. Just so you know.

More later,

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Adventure: Pulp Tentacles VI

A Dream of Japan, by Brendan J. LaSalle, an Age of Cthulhu Adventure from Goodman Games.

Let me cut to the chase here. This was an interesting and surprisingly deep Age of Cthulhu adventure that is totally and completely sabotaged by its presentation.

Now, problems in production and graphic design are not uncommon. TSR had products where the maps went out with FPO still on them (FPO= For Position Only, meaning that what was there was just placed to make sure it fits, and may not be the final version). And we had a legendary FR sourcebook where one of the plates (yes, we used glass plates in those days) was mounted backwards, messing up the deserts of Amn (and then we KEPT it that way for numerous reprints, promising always to "fix it when it went back to press"). But A Dream of Japan seems to be purposefully and completely fubared.

Let me tell you about the story itself. It is a globe-girdling adventure that deals with suicide and leads to Aokigahara forest in Japan. Aokigahara, known as the "sea of trees" is a large forest at the foot of Mt. Fuji. It also is a popular suicide location, almost matching (according to wiki) that of the Golden Gate Bridge in the US. It is known for its lack of wildlife, meteorite deposits, dense tree canopy, mythically reputed to be a place of demons and ghosts and historically as a place where those who could not feed themselves were left to die. Real place, and perfect for a Cthulhoid adventure (some spoilers as we move forward).

The adventure itself states in New England (adapted to London for my regular crew - Novelist, Adventurer, Archeologist, Reporter, and Mobster with a Thompson in his cello case). You are hired by a upper-class friend whose niece has disappeared. You quickly put together that she is considering suicide and has booked passage for Japan, intent to off herself in the Sea of Trees. Telegrams and foreign embassies not existing in Japan (Yes, that's sarcasm), it is up to the players to get there and stop her. Most of the group, being used to going places to find out that the person that invited them had met a grisly and Mythos-related death, are not holding out much hope, but go anyway.

The adventure plays strongly into the xenophobia of interbellum Japan, of the rising tide of nationalism and the fear of Western influence. At first this irritated me - I've sent this crew all over the planet, and NOW they're running into people who might not like them? But the Goodman Games series has been (intentionally or not) good at providing platforms for analyzing modern problems - Colonialism and revolution in Indonesia, Communism in Leningrad, and cultural imperialism in Egypt. Ascribing xenophobia and racial hatred to Japan of this era is fair, but worse fear of the unknown pervades Lovecraft's wine-dark hills of New England. The end result, throughout this adventure, is that just about all the major NPCs, regardless of heritage, can be fairly unpleasant.

The adventure also has the challenge in that there are things that are going on that are never revealed to the players. The nationalistic Black Ocean Society is interested in their movements, but this doesn't see much of a resolution. There are many red herrings, false leads, and padding to keep the players from getting to their goals too easily. And there is a secret reason for their journey to Japan, one which they are never told, but can slowly uncover in additional play that goes beyond the adventure itself (which is strange because most of the Age of Cthulhu adventures are effectively convention one-shots, down to including PCs in the game to play).

This oddity of extended play, along with dealing with suicide as a theme, sets this adventure apart from the others in the series. However, all of this is balled up by the production values, which renders the adventure useless without outside help. I've attested to the "Curse of Cthulhu" that is its maps before, and these vary between the useless (a dark smear with a scale and a label for "The Cave of Wind") through the confusing (the potential suicide's apparement doesn't match up with the text) to the perfectly serviceable. No, the handouts were the mess in this case.

The art in the game by Bradley K McDevitt is very good for evoking mood, but should never have been used as handouts. The descriptions of locations in the text do not match up with what the artist has presented and either one or the other needed to be changed. The description of a library talks about a couch, hanging ferns, a conference table, a coffee service, an antique globe, a bust, and a bay window. None of these things are in the illustration. Similarly, when showing the forest itself, I had to ask the players to ignore the skulls shown in the lower corner.Then there are the in-jokes - a copy of DCC in the library, the note "Brendan Rocks" sidewise to look like Japanese writing, which are amusing as interior illustrations but risable in play.

But such things make the game merely difficult, but not unplayable. But to include these, the publisher jettisoned REAL handout material, including a potential suicide note that is then referred back to in the text. Goodman games was called on this one, and have made that information available on-line. They offer this as a bonus - "Here are some extra handouts to use in your game, as hinted at in the adventure" but this is disingenuous. These are things are directly referenced, not hinted at, and supposed to be used. They screwed up.

So A Dream of Japan is an odd duck indeed, which seems to have a lot more potential than was delivered. For dealing with a real life location and the sensitive matter of suicide, it deserves high marks. But these good intentions are completely undercut by its production values and decisions, creating a product that requires a little more GM effort to pull it off.

More later,

Monday, July 16, 2012

The (Thrilling) Return of No Quarter (Part III)

For a while, there, I thought I was off the hook, and I would not have to continue this series. I hadn't seen any of the 2012 National Park Quarters (officially - The "America the Beautiful" series) in circulation, and for a moment actually thought that they had gone the way of the Presidential Dollars.

The Presidential Dollars? Yeah, they were a series that had all the presidents on them, carved in all their ghost-eyed three-quarters-view greatness. No one really wanted them, and the Mint ended up with huge piles of them that they then had to pay large prices to store. So they finally pulled the plug, somewhere around Garfield. [UPDATE: A check shows that they are pulling the plug on circulation of the coins. The ones from Chester A Arthur up will still be released, but in limited, collector-level print runs. So fans of deceased Oval Office holders (and you HAVE to be dead to get a coin) can still fill out their collections].

But it seems that the dollar coin is not a failure because we don't like women (the Suzie B), Native Americans (the Sacajawea) or manhole covers (the Eisenhower). We just don't like dollar coins, and when dead presidents don't move your merchandise, you might as well give it up.

So we rate this year's crop of National Park coins on design, from A (way cool) to E (the Wyoming mudflap). And this particular group tends to drift up to the top of list.

El Yunque National Forest

Apparently you can have a national forest without being granted statehood. Forestry Service, Si! Representation in Congress, No! But I fear that is a discussion for another time.

El Yunqe is parked in the upper righthand corner of Puerto Rico, which looks on the map like the box that the Bahamas came in. The forest is, per the Wikipedia, the oldest forest reserves in the Western Hem, having been set up as such by Spain in 1876. It picked up its current name (which means either "white lands", or "anvil", or "something that rhymes with "in the trunk") in 2007. It is a rich rainforest of crags and waterfalls. So it has an amazon on the coin.

Don't get your hopes up, cowboy. The amazon I'm talking about is the parrot. And in the lower left we have the coqui, which is a native frog with funny-looking toes. I don't know if amazons eat frogs, but from the look on the parrot's face, I'm not taking any bets.

Rating: B (Not Bad), A only if you're a Jimmy Buffett fan.

Chaco Culture National Historic Park

I like this quarter, not only for its subject matter, but for its design. The park is the site of a large pueblan community, and those big round structures in the foreground are kivas, underground worship structures, belonging to the original inhabitants.

But what is cool about the coin is its creation of depth. The focal point for the illustration is to the left, still on the coin itself, about halfway up. Follow the lines of the tops of the cliffs and the wall, along with the line formed by the kivas to find that point, from which the entire vista unfolds.

That use of white space in the upper right is particularly telling, in that it offsets the detail on the rest of the coin and gives it a nice feel between the fingers. In fact, it rates up with the Connecticut State Quarter in being a coin that causes you to look at it after handling it, which was how I first encountered it in the wild. A well-done and well-executed bit of currency.

Rating A (Way Cool)

Acadia National Park

It is good to see that Maine has chosen to commemorate native Stephen King's boyhood home, the place where he returned to as a young man to write The Stand, the Dark Tower series, and film those American Express commercials that made his name.

Wait, what?

Oh, all right. Actually, it the Bass Harbor Head Light, a structure inside the Park itself. I think. Actually, it looks like Maine lighthouses in that area all were built with the same kit. But I'm going to go with Bass Harbor.

The area of the park itself was at one point the haunt of the upper classes - Rockefellers, Morgans, and Carnegies. It was an unspoiled territory within easy reach of the centers of civilization, where they could build large estates and call them cottages. So there was some motivation to keep the area protected, and this evolved over time into a full-fledged national park.

The coin itself shares some of the properties of the Chaco Culture coin, with a solid white space in the upper right. But is it a little more similar in the rest of it (water, rocks, lighthouse) that it doesn't have the same level of different textures that the New Mexican coin has. Still, it is a solid design and shows the evolution of such carvings.

Rating B (Not Bad)

Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park

The first Lovecraftian quarter in the series, this coin shows Cthugha rising as an amorphous and leprous flame, pressing apart the cracked ebon skin of the world to return to its task of destruction.

Nah, I'm kidding. Actually we're looking at an eruption of Kilauea, which is still erupting, adding land to the Big Island and subtracting houses from those who choose to build developments near that land.

The coin itself is beautiful, with a strong central image and a variety of design techniques to differentiate between the volcanic rock, lava, and erupting magma. Ultimately it depends on the carving itself to determine how it will feel in the hand. This one has real potential, and captures a dynamic moment, a difficult thing for quarters that are primarily about land. It depends so much on the final rendering that I am tempted to give it an I (Incomplete), but it looks so cool.

Still, I wonder if we can get some non-euclidean geometry for an American Samoa quarter.

Rating A (Way Cool)

Denali National Park and Preserve

After a strong showing for the other quarters, the year closes out on a bit of a dud. The combination of Mammal+Mountain is sort of the National Park Quarter version of the grab-bag of state symbols that plagued the earlier State Quarters. It has been done (Washington's Olympic and Montana's Glacier, for example), and is the coinage equivalent of fast food or syndicated sitcoms - empty calories that do the job and little more.

Mind you, we ARE dealing with National Parks, and their bread and butter are scenic wonders such as mountains as well as the local wildlife. But we've seen this before, and I fear, will see it again as we move through the rest of the states. It is not a horrible coin by any means, but we need to break away from this. There are still a lot more states to cover.

Rating: C (Meh)

Next time: New Hampshire, Ohio, Nevada, Maryland, and South Dakota. The South Dakota coin is for Mount Rushmore, making it a repeat from its State Quarter.

More later,

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Hat Squad

The interesting thing about PaizoCon last weekend was that I didn't even plan on showing up.

The Secret Masters of TSR
No, really. I've been kind of busy (and ignoring this blog), and while someone at Paizo had sent me an email about the panel, either I did not respond or I missed a memo or something, so I had forgotten about this local convention over in Redmond. And I was cool with not going, until Wolfgang Baur mentioned at our Fourth of July game day that I was sitting on a panel with him (because I HAD told him I would do this, and he remembered I had told him), and there was a meet and greet at a local pizza place and I was in the program book and he had already got me a badge.

Got me a badge? Local con? OK, I'm in.

And it was a good con. Larger space, and though some of the gaming was forced outside in tents, the weather was thankfully wonderful. In addition, there was the Redmond Farmer's Market right next door on Saturday, which had among other things great sausage subs and fresh duck eggs.

So I did my panel (on Midgard, by the way) and was on my way back to work when I ran into Stan! and he said "Jeff! We're going to be on the Secrets of TSR Panel!" And I said, "I'm not listed as a panelist." and he said, "Neither am I! Let's go!"

So we crashed the panel, with Dave Gross, Rob Lazaretti, Pierce Watters, and Wolf. And, the thing of it is, when we got there and the panel started, all the others looked at me and I suddenly because the moderator for the proceedings.

And the filmed results are here, with some off-screen comments from Lisa Stevens. And while there were a few personal tales told out of school (I think we forgot we were being taped), it was pretty good.

Oh, yeah, the hats. Totally accidental. Dave has worn that style of hat for years at public appearances. Ditto Stan, though primarily in the summer. I had picked up my hat a few weeks ago at the Fremont Solstice Parade. It's not like there's a conspiracy or anything.

Really. No conspiracy. I'm serious about that.

More later,

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Player One

So, about that DeLorean.

A couple weeks back, Ernest Cline came to visit ArenaNet. He brought his DeLorean. The DeLorean he's giving away. And yeah, that was me posing in front of it.

OK, I'm going to back up a moment. Ernest Cline is the author of Ready Player One, a NYTimes bestseller about a dystopian future with free WiFi, where the creator of that ultimate virtual reality network chooses to leave his wealth to whoever solves the puzzle hidden in his creation. And it is the story of the young man who solves the puzzle. And it is a massive love-letter to the geek culture of the late 70s and early 80s, the rich loam from which a huge amount of references to old computer games, movies, and, of course D&D.

Apparently the 70s have become the good old days. I blame Topher Grace.

In any event, Ernest is running a contest along the same lines as the puzzle within his book, where he hiding clues in the book and elsewhere and challenging the readers to find it. 

Photo Op (with product placement)
Which gets us back to the DeLorean. To promote the paperback edition of the book, the author is giving away the DeLorean (he has one of his own - the car shown if for the giveaway). And he DRIVING it across country to his various readings and appearances (and the question I had to ask was "How does it handle?" and part of the answer is "No power steering"). 

And Ernest is both a fan of Guild Wars 2 (he's been in the Beta) and of the old D&D stuff that I had been a part of, so we had a great time talking about writing and movies and old gaming conventions. And the DeLorean. And a lot of the team posed with the car (including me), and then he was off on his book tour, the lonely quest of the writer huxtering his work. With his DeLorean.

I have to admit it was really cool. No doubt about it. But next book tour, I want an airship.

More later,

Monday, July 02, 2012

Bits and Pieces

So you may have noticed that the ol' blogstead has been a wee bit empty for the past few weeks. Part of that is sheer exhaustion from the relentless promotion of my first Star Wars novel, but much of it has been stuff going on with both the personal life and the day job. And if you've been following stuff about the day job, you know its just going to get busier for the next couple months.

But there are a couple quick things in passing I would like to mention:

In regards to the Star Wars novel, there's a really solid review on the Star Wars Action News podcast. Most of the show is dedicated to discussing Star Wars toys and collectibles, but the review kicks in around minute 53:30, and while spoiler-lite, it really gets down into the characters and their motivations. Cool.

Also, Zak from Playing D&D with Porn Stars (an accurate description of the site, so its tucked behind an adult filter, though it mostly talks about games and gaming), had a conversation with me and Cam Banks, who is the design of the new Marvel Heroic Roleplaying from Margaret Weis Productions. Its a pretty good brackets of old school and new age superheroic RPGs.

Also, I posted an essay on Booklife on the similarity and differences between shared-world and "traditional" novels. When I wrote it, I felt that some of my thinking was still a bit mushy. On rereading it about a month later, it holds up better than I had first thought, but merits further discussion and refinement.
Yes, That's Matthew Moore and Mike Z in the background.
AND I gave a brief history of myself over at Meet the Gamers, a cool little site that posts gaming questionnaires to the mighty and the mild of the gaming profession. Worth checking out.

Oh, and I have this picture of me with a DeLorean. Yes that's a hoverboard. Yes, that's a stuffed Rytlock by the flux capacitator. Yes, I'm holding a copy of Ready Player One. Yes, that's a tale for another time, when I get a chance to tell it.

But more about that later,