Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Things I am Proud Of

So I bared my soul last time with a project that I never completed. On the flip side, what am I particularly proud of?

I'm proud of most of the stuff I've working on over the years. However, what makes me smile are not particularly big things. It is the small tweaks, tight mechanics, and cool explanations that I've discovered over the years. Here are a few of them:

The Universal Table (Marvel Super Heroes) - I've talked about this before, and recognized its origins in the CRTs (Combat Results Tables) of earlier wargames. But the way it fits together, the way it works, the sheer .. universality of it all, still makes me happy. It is a table that carries a lot of load, and I was very happy with it.

The Nine Hells and, more importantly, why they descend (Manual of the Planes) - Here was my problem in MotP - the layers of the Outer Planes are supposedly limitless, infinite in all directions. So how do we create a typical Dante-esque hell where you keep climbing down to get to the nastiest layers?. My answer was that all the gates INTO a layer of the Hells were on the tops of mountains, and those OUT of a layer were in the valleys. That way, you are always descending. I was pretty darn smug about this one at the time.

A d8+d12 random monster table. (Monster Manual II) - I was reading the new edition of the DMG the other day (as one does) and noticed that some of the random monster tables were with 1d8 and d12. I did this in MMII, back in the day when monsters had rarity levels. The d8+d12 produces a bell curve with a large flat space on the top. The Common monsters would be found on the top of that plateau. The Uncommons were found on the sloping sides, the Rares further away from that, and the Very Rares were at the 2 and 20 levels, with about a 1% chance of each. So you could have a random monster table where demons were not as common as orcs

Those are the ones that make me smile. There are a lot of others - Phlogiston and the Crystal Spheres from Spelljammer.  Karma as a spendable experience point system in Marvel. Making Ashnod (Brother's War) and Varesh Ossa (Nightfall) female characters. Cheeeese. The Great Stone Men from Neither Man nor Beast. A good chunk of the Modrons. Tinker gnomes of Dragonlance. The names of the Asura  in Eye of the North (which sound like sound effects from Mad magazine). But those top three make me particularly happy.

More later, 

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Bases Loaded

Is it all right to feel bad about an assignment that is 33 years late?

John (Sacnoth) Rateliff has been clearing out his files, and has come across a number of old artifacts of the middle age of TSR (the 80's). Among these artifacts is a page from a 1984 catalog, describing various upcoming products. most of which never saw the light of day. And one of them was Bases Loaded, a Gangbusters adventure by yours truly. A project that was never finished, and hardly begun, and I still feel bad about it.

For those of you not of venerable age, Gangbusters was a boxed RPG, originally based on Bloody Twenties by Rick Krebs who sold it to TSR, where it was expanded/revised by Mark Acres. The default setting of this 1920s Mobsters and G-Men game was Lakefront City, an ersatz Chicago. And the local ball team was going to be the Mudcats (which was a variant on my phone number at the time). The project got approved with a bare-bones pitch - The Black Sox scandal, where players fixed the 1919 World Series.

One challenge in all this, I knew very little ABOUT the Black Sox scandal. And my resources were fairly limited to be able to find out (no Internet in the modern sense, nothing much at the local library, the movie version, Eight Men Out,  would show up in 1988).  It landed on my desk in the schedule with me having done precious little research, and I scrambled to little effect - I had a murder early in the mix as a way to get the players involved (a catcher who would no go in with the others), but I bogged down in research on details, building my own league in the process. But it didn't really hang together, and the deadline loomed and I had precious little to show for it.

And then, the specter of defeat moved on from me. Bases Loaded (and more of the other games on this list) was cancelled as TSR decided to concentrate on other games (like, um Dragonlance and Marvel Super Heroes). I was spared, but to be honest, the onus of defeat, or not delivering the product (and not having much of a plan on how to deliver it) has continued to haunt me to this day.

Maybe that's why I am tolerant of Kickstarters with good intentions but overdue delivery dates. To these people I say - it is OK, but show us you're working on it.

But that's not all the sad nostalgia that this particular catalog page brings me.

One of the projects listed was Tin Man, by TSR Staff (which means they had not assigned it to anyone). It was one of my pitches as well. Originally in the pitch called Operation: Tin Man, it was going to be a hacker adventure. The description is horribly bollixed up in the catalog, but the idea was that the agents were going to be at JPL when the first pictures came back from a martian lander. The first pictures from Mars comes back, and there, on the Mons Olympus, is a banner stating "Surrender Dorothy."

And from there it would become a search to find out who hacked into the supposedly-secure JPL feed, and what else these hackers found. This was in 1983. The year the term "Cyberpunk" was coined. The year after Blade Runner came out. The year before Neuromancer showed up. Years before the Secret Service turned up on Steve Jackson's doorstep wanting to know about the Legion of Doom. It would have been ahead of its time, and concentrated on the "real world" work as opposed to sleuthing through the matrix. Alas, that one was never officially assigned, and nothing ever existed but the pitch. Unlike Bases Loaded, which I still feel bad about.

Sigh. More later,

Monday, December 11, 2017

Play: The Center Does Not Hold

The Humans by Stephen Karam Directed by Joe Mantello, Seattle Rep through 17 December 2017.

Thanksgiving on Grubb Street has for many years been a "Waifs and Orphans" affair, a term I picked up from Zeb Cook, who did something similar in Lake Geneva eons ago. The Waifs and Orphans Feast was set up for people who can't get back to their families elsewhere for the holidays, but has since turned into an event where friends come in from out of town to join friends in a fine meal. I brine a bird, the lovely bride would supervise the kitchen and dining room, and friends bring sides, deserts, and wine. It's pretty good, and I may have mentioned it before.

So imagine my delight at getting the passive/aggressive thrills of internal family feuding found within a  Thanksgiving with The Humans. yay.

Here's the basic info: On Thanksgiving, Erik (Richard Thomas) and Deirdre (Pamela Reed) are visiting daughter Brigid (Daisy Eagan) in her new, two-level basement apartment in New York's Chinatown, where she lives with her organized boyfriend Richard (Luis Vega). Erik and Deirdre brought with them Erik's mother, Momo (Lauren Klein) who is confined to a wheelchair and suffering from dementia. Also attending is other daughter Aimee (Therese Plaehn), who has broken up with her girlfriend, is losing her job, and has a major medical conditions.

Indeed, medical conditions tend to dominate the table talk, which fits in with a lot of American Family Gatherings these days. Erik's got a bad back, Momo slips in and out of lucidity, Richard has suffered from depression, Deirdre is fighting her weight. Aimee is facing major surgery, which she tells her sister but never gets around to telling her parents. It feels like the characters live in a domain where they can survive, but not thrive. Maybe, but I'm not sure if that's the point of the play.

And the apartment is a precarious place itself, in a quasi-gentrifying chunk of New York's Chinatown, in the flood zone of the rising sea, balanced precariously on a hostile future. The unseen upstairs neighbor drops - things- (which sound like battleship anchors) on the floor above, the washing machine churns loudly, the lights flicker and go out. It is a haunted house of an apartment, its inhabitants reduced to cave-dwelling. But I'm not sure that's the point, either.

I'm not sure what the point is, honestly. I've seen some comments talking about the death of Middle Class as a subject of the play, but I'm not entirely sure about that, either. Perhaps if you think about it as individuals who have been clawing upwards who suddenly realize they are slipping back, losing ground, and finally realize that they are not even going to be able to maintain their previous status and lives. Maybe. It's not clear.

Even the title is a bit of a wash for me. Erik dreams of monsters, and Richard talks about how from a monster's point of view, humans are the monsters. But these humans are not monsters - their crimes are pretty petty for the punishments the universe doles out to them. And the monsters that the humans are facing - death, dementia, pain, poverty, the upstairs neighbors, don't seem to be fearing them at all. So I am hard-pressed to tell you what the play is ABOUT. (OK, it's about 90 minutes long, without an intermission. Bah-DUM-bah).

Parts of the dialogue are witty, poignent, and natural, but they don't seem to support a central cause. The actors are excellent (Thomas, Reed and Klein in particular), but seem a little lost on the stage. The set itself feels like a gimmick for the play, the two-tiered stage allowing characters to move easily out of reach of the others and back again. One thing I've noted about these "Put the characters in the room and don't let anyone leave" type of plays is the No One Ever Leaves - they head for the door, but never seem to reach it. The Humans does not do that, but it feels like we're left with characters hanging out, waiting for someone to re-enter.

So that's where I am. The Tony-Award winner is sort of the thematic tent-pole for the season, which talks about Real, Messy, Human, as bywords for promoting the season. And for this they're right. The Humans is human and very messy and real. But it also doesn't seem to have a center.

More later,

Sunday, December 10, 2017

DOW Breaks 24,000!, No, wait, 25,000! No, wait ...

Last month or so has been interesting. The stock market was rising and falling slowly. but in the general rising, then all of s sudden everything took off, with one hundred, two hundred, and three hundred point days. It surged forward with a vibrancy of speculation that almost would lead one to think that a tax bill aimed at putting as much money into the hands of corporations and the wealthy was surging through government, with conservatives, who usually were concerned about increasing the national debt, cheering it on.

And yeah, this is exactly what's happening - the Republican-controlled Congress gleefully abandoned its post, not only declaring that deficits don't matter, but running up the tab on the current one by 1.5 trillion bucks. The Senate voted on its version of the plundering of the treasury in the dead of night, after Friday, on a bill marked up with pen scrawls that they would not let anyone read. The same people who cringed in fright at anything like a minimum wage gleefully shoving money down the pants of the wealthiest members of our society like a frat boy at his first strip club. 

This was such a heady feeling that even news that one of the President's men has turned state's evidence and making clear his dealings with the Russians could only knock off a few hundred points. And indeed, with the deed finally done, the wish list shoved through Congress, they really don't need him at all anymore.

The House and Senate bills were different in many awful ways, and in the week following they discovered they botched the job,but  there is enough pain for the bulk of Americans. The retail apocalypse is still hollowing out the malls, student loans threaten to be the next housing bubble, Medicare and Social Security are on the chopping block to pay for this boondoggle, the rich get richer, and the poor get ... children.

But the end result for a big kick in the pants for the economy, with much of the results unforeseen and still unfolding. Some companies used the humongous windfall to actually raise pay and give bonuses to employees. Some used the money to lay off people, close stores and reorg. Some actually did both. But all this movement of capital and investment creates friction, a heat created from money being shoved from one side of the table to another. And that's what the DOW is giving us right now, a rise of temperature from money being moved from one set of pockets to another.

Wall Street has no longer been connected with Main Street for years now. Now it feels that it has lost full contact with the rest of the universe as well. There are those calling for a "correction", and while the signs are there, it should be another couple thousand before it all hits the fan.

More later,

Thursday, December 07, 2017

The Reading

So, how did it go? Very well, thank you.

Earlier this week, we had a reading for "Human Resources", a play I wrote.  Here's the backstory:

This play had its start in a class at the Seattle Rep. We were supposed to end the semester by presenting a short scene. I wrote one about layoffs. It was well-received. Our class stayed together and formed a writing group, meeting once a month up on Queen Anne Hill at the home of one of our group. We would read scenes. We would start plays, change plays, create scenes out of order, retrench, rewrite, revise. And of the bunch, I finished first, and my question was: What now?

I started looking around for a venue to read the play. Not perform, but just let it out into the wild and solicit comment and feedback. There are a number of small groups through-out Seattle (a theatre-heavy town, thank goodness), and I checked out the Seattle Playwrights Salon at the Conservatory, the WARP group at the Armory, and the Seattle Playwrights Studio at the Burien Actors Theatre. At the last they were looking for someone to read one of their plays. I had said I had one and they scheduled me for the first Monday in December.

And so the madness begins -

I was responsible for recruiting a group of actors. I chose as a lead an actress I had seen the previous month at the BAT. Two old friends with acting/stage experience. A co-worker. A young man I knew who was working at ArenaNet. These were my strolling players. We had a table read at a local restaurant the week before. Rust was shaken off, and the readers got a chance to work out bits of business in the play. We had dinner.

And we sent out invites. Members of my writers' group. Members of my gaming group. Co-workers (telling them that they were not in the play. Really). Friends of friends. I did not count the house, but I had a lot of people show up - on previous evenings the readers outnumbered the audience. We had about 20 folk show up that evening.

The SPS is based out of the Burien Actors Theatre, which is located in a community center in Burien, just north of the downtown district. We don't get the auditorium (young people were rehearsing a Christmas pageant), but rather one of the large utility rooms. A mixture of cushioned chairs and sofas for the audience. Readers in a semi-circle facing them, seated in folding chairs and with their scripts perched on their music stands.

And it went very well. My readers were excellent, and I thank Carol, Stan! Janna, Jorge, and Micheal for their help. The crowd failed to bolt at the intermission, and afterwards had a LOT of comments, so many that a lot of them got back to my afterwards by email. They disagreed with each other, revealed some things I was worried about, and made connections that I did not even see. I picked up a lot, and know I have a lot to do to bring this up. And when I got home the Lovely Bride and I went through the bulk of them.

The next step? A revision. Some of the comments can be addressed by a line or two, but the bulk of them involve fundamental changes, knocking out narrative walls and rewiring the plot. It should be interesting, and I learned a lot.

And I have a plan for the next stage of this adventure. More later,

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Invitation to a Reading

So a while back I solicited in this space about readers for a play I've completed. Well, I've got them, and we're going to be reading next Monday, 4 December,  for the Seattle Playwrights Studio at the Burien Actors Theatre. Here are the details:

Human Resources
A Corporate Comedy by Jeff Grubb
Monday, 4 December, 2017
7 PM

Burien Actors Theatre
14501  4th Ave SW, Burien, WA 98166

I have cast the five roles (four actors and someone to read the stage directions):

                Grace will be read by Carol Stanley
                Bob will be read by Stan! Brown
                Angela will be read by Janna Silverstein
                Peter will be read by Jorge Rodriquez
               Stage Directions will be read by Michael Yichao
I'll be the one hiding from everyone in the back.

If you are interested, you are more than welcome to come.  As I mentioned, this is a reader's theater, where my readers are sitting around reading the play through, and I get a chance to hear my words when they're NOT going on in my head.

More later,

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Book: Welcome Back My Friends

The Show that Never Ends: The Rise and Fall of Prog Rock;  by David Wiegel, W.W.Norton & Company. (c) 2017

Provenance: I discovered this book through a review. In particular, THIS review, which was not so much about the book as about its subject matter and why that subject matter wasn't worth much in the first place. As a review of a review, I'd say it's not much of a review, but it was on a subject that was a part of my college years: Progressive Rock.

Review: I got into Prog Rock in the late 70s (don't judge) after my John Denver phase (I SAID don't judge). ELP and Yes and Peter Gabriel-era Genesis. Progressive Rock was loonnnng songs with involved, often opaque lyrics that disdained the prepackaged, 4/4, lovesong nature of radio pop. Emphasis on musical techniques, centered on the keyboards as opposed to the guitars, strong influence of classical music, leading edge on tech, displays of arcane knowledge, long percussion solos, bizarre time signatures, and a lot of noodly bits. A lot of these properties, interestingly enough, Prog Rock shared with Dungeons & Dragons, and there was great amounts of overlap in both the performers and the audience.

Weigel intros his book with a nostalgia cruise for Prog Boomers, identifying them as a quirky bunch of anoraks, like model train enthusiasts, but quickly comes to grips with where progressive came from, both from a tech end (the rise of the Moogs and other electronic devices) and the rebellion against the extant commercial pop world, supporting performance over packaging. He follows King Crimson and other early pioneers through the great domain and dominance of the progressive groups as they formed, splintered, and reformed again. He gets into odd trivia (Lemmy of Motorhead was a member of the Moorcock-inspired Hawkwind? I did not know that) and tries to show the forces working to create Progressive Rock - touring, the rise of arena shows, record labels willing to take risks and develop talent, new tech, and the music media. He tries to describe various pieces in detail, which works if you know the songs in question, but otherwise sends me to YouTube for reminders. (writing about music is akin to dancing about politics - a completely different mindset between the words).

Weigel covers the halcyon days of prog with an eye towards personalities and personal development and new ways of putting together music. Then, with the suddenness that it appeared, prog was declared a dinosaur - too expensive, too baroque, too engaged. Punk and Disco (yes, Disco) arose in response to the over-technical banks of keyboards. What was rebellion was itself rebelled against. The rock media turned, the labels looked elsewhere for cheaper acts and quicker turnarounds, and the prog groups faded or transformed, mammal like, into something that could survive the new era.

I liked to book. Weigel's style moves quickly, bouncing from a high-level overview to personal anecdotes and back again. He reminds me of early groups that I had not thought of (like Van der Graaf Generator) and later incarnations I should check out ( Porcupine Tree, Majesty). And a lot of a music of the era that I really liked (though truth to be told  I always found ELP's "Lucky Man" to be a bit twee). So yes, part of this is nostalgia and part is pure rediscovery. If you lived through the era, you should check it out.

More later,

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Meanwhile, 99 years ago

In Flanders Fields

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

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

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)
Canadian Army

More later,

Friday, November 10, 2017

Cthulhu Lies Dreaming

Let's do some gaming stuff.

At the recent GameHole Con (Quick review - great convention in Madison, you should go), I ran a part of a Call of Cthulhu campaign I had done years ago. Then characters were all underclassmen at Miskatonic University in March of 1925, when, according to Lovecraft's original short story, The Call of Cthulhu, the Great Old One stirred in his sleep, disturbing the dreams of people throughout the world.

And for this I created some pregens, gave them backgrounds, and had them make a POW check. Those that succeeded got strange dreams. Then I asked them what their term project was in the class.  Here are the characters:

Frank Johnson was our athelete, a football hero playing with the Miskatonic Badgers.
Deborah Blaine was our "New Woman" journalist.
Virginia Frink was our science student - her parents disappeared at Devil's Reef, near Innsmouth
Skip Cavanaugh was our dilettante, changing majors six times in six semesters.
Jedediah Wright comes from a long lines of Congregationalist ministers. He is studying theology.
Samuel Whately is pre-med, and comes from a farming community in Vermont. He interns at St. Mary's in Arkham.

Some made their Power Check, some didn't, but it was an interesting writing challenge. Here are their dreams

Frank Johnson’s Dream

You are in the woods, a thick pine woods. It is a summer night, but a full moon provides ghostly illumination, and the stars twinkle overhead. Your path leads west, towards a clearing. As you approach, white flowers glow in the field below you glow like fireflies, and the stars are obscured by a mounting thunderhead. You watch its moon-limned edges grow on the horizon, until it looms over you.

Then the thunderhead turns, and you see two huge yellow eyes emerging from the mass, and you know the towering creature is no cloud. It screams and you scream and you are awake.

Please make a SAN check.

Deborah Blaine’s Dream

You are at a trendy party, mingling with guests in tux and tails, or sequined gowns. There are waiter carrying trays of champagne and appetizers, and no one seems to care about Prohibition. There is jazz music playing in the distant in an odd minor key. You walk towards people and they turn away from you, some in disinterest, some in fear. You are concerned and try to join small groups that break up as soon as you arrive, and soon you are moving quickly from person to person, only to find the other guests flee from you. Something is wrong with your face.  

You reach a mirror and recoil in horror at yourself. Your face has melted, the skin gathered in on itself to form long, looping tendrils around you nose and mouth. You try to scream, but you cannot – the tendrils themselves coil of their own volition. You reach out to the mirror and your reflection touches you as well, but it reaches through the mirror and grasps you by the wrist, seeking to pull you inside. You awaken in a cold sweat.

Please make a SAN Check

Virginia Frink’s Dream

You are in an old house. Belonging to your parents? You are not quite sure. It’s night, and the ocean thunders outside, and you know without looking that the house is up on a cliff (your parents’ house was nowhere near the shore). There are shouts outside, but you know (someone warned you?) not to look out the windows. The sound of the surf grows louder, and with it the groaning of ancient timbers under sail, and the shouts grow louder as well.

You finally look out the window to see a great sailing ship breaking up on the rocks. The crew is abandoning it, and other dark figures are swarming over it like ants, killing the seamen they encounter and shredding the sails. Behind the wrecked ship is a great wave rising out of the ocean, a single pinnacle of water streaming off all sides.

Then the wave parts and reveals the tip of a huge leathery wing, the ocean itself draining off its flesh. The creature it belongs to, some massive dragon, turns towards you and you sudden awaken.

Please Make a SAN check.

Skip Cavanaugh’s Dream

You dream of a strange, burning city. Even on fire, its buildings seem to flicker and fade into and out of phase with the world, and twist inwards on themselves in patterns that seem to make sense but deny all reality. The buildings are huge, built by ancient giants, and you see people like ants trying to scale them, climbing up their burning sides to avoid the waters below.

Waters. Yes. You are now waist-deep in thick, salty waters. The tide is coming in. No. The city itself is sinking, and the ocean is coming in. You try to run to one of the towering, flaming structures, but you are trapped in mud. Not mud. You are ensnared by tentacles, looping round your legs like strong ropes, holding you in place and dragging you beneath the surface. You open your mouth to scream and salt water pours into your throat.

Please make a SAN check.

Jedidiah Wright’s Dream

You are in a church. Anglican, you would guess, from the amount of decoration and stained glass, and the smell of incense and heavily oiled wooden pews. There are parishioners in the benches, but you have a hard time focusing on them. They seem to fade in and out like ghosts. The stained glass seems to shimmer as well, and its scenes are aquatic in nature – coral, tropical fish, and octopi.

The minister is your father, or your grandfather, with a full white beard and wild white hair, gesticulating and shouting loudly. His words are unclear, but it is a hellfire speech. As you walk up the aisle, you see that he is bleeding from the eyes, the blood running down into his beard. And then you realize it is not a beard at all, but rather a nest of snakes, coiling and coiling like tendrils round his saw-toothed, lamprey-like mouth.

You awaken with a start. Please make a SAN check.

Samuel Whately’s Dream

You are in the morgue in the basement of St. Mary’s. It doesn’t look like the morgue you know, but you are sure of it. Instead of a small room with a bank of drawers holding the deceased you are in a great marble-shod palace, the biers of the dead laid out with military precision in all directions, each body covers in a translucent white sheet. Somewhere, far in the distance, a gong sounds.

The gong sounds again, and the cadavers begin to stir. The gossamer sheets slide from them and you see they are monstrosities, partially unmade through partial autopsies and botched studies. Great surgical wounds crisscross their forms, the skin pulling away from the stitches to reveal the oozing muscles beneath, the organs straining to escape. You run, but there is no place to run, the dead are everywhere.

You awaken in your bed, breathing hard. You catch your breath, and hear you roommate snoring across the room. In the distance you hear the university bell tower. Then the arms of the dead things reach up from beneath your bed and seize you dragging you down beneath the floorboards to join them. You awaken again, but are unsure if you are truly awake.

Please make a SAN check.

More later,

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

The Political Desk - The Dust Settles

So, how did things go?

Those not residing in the Evergreen State may be surprised to discover that we DON'T always know how elections are resolved the night of, or even the morning after. This is because we are all mail-in ballots, and the postmark on the ballot needs to be by election day. So stuff shows up late. Meanwhile, the AMOUNT of votes (even in the reduced circumstances of an off-year election) from Seattle makes for slow counting as well. Short version: the numbers will flux, and the nature of the flux tends towards urban, Democrat, and progressive voters.

Still, this year there have been some major blowouts where it is safe to say, regardless of what rally may await in the uncounted votes, someone (or something) has succeeded)

Advisory Votes 16, 17, and 18,  All REPEALED by 57%, 65% and 62% respectively. Pity that, as advisory votes, they don't really count, but this should give fodder to anti-tax crowd to intimidate officials who believe we should pay for what we get.

King County Proposition No. 1 Levy Lid Lift for Veterans, Seniors, and Vulnerable Populations, which does matter more - APPROVED (66%)

King County Executive - Dow Constantine (75%).

King County Sheriff - Mitzi Johanknecht (52%).

Court of Appeals, Division No.1, District no. 1 - Michael S. Spearman (74%), despite a lot of promotion for his opponent.

Port of Seattle Commissioner  Position No. 1 - John Creighton (51%). This might be the one to flip on later ballots, but it is unlikely. [[Note from Five Days Later: Of course I was wrong, for the very reasons that I noted earlier - younger and more progressive voters voted late. At this point, the percentages have neatly reversed themselves and Ryan Calkins now has 52% of the vote]]
Port of Seattle Commissioner Position No. 3 - Stephanie Bowman (67%).

Port of Seattle Commission Position No. 4 - Peter Steinbrueck (63%).

Mayor, City of Kent - Dana Ralph (52%)

Kent Council Position No. 2 - Satwinder Kaur (54%).

Kent Council Position No 4 - Toni Trouter (67%).

Kent Council Position No. 6 - Brenda Fincher (72%). Ms. Fincher's opponent is notorious for saying in his voter's guide that he didn't really want the job, anyway. And yet there are a lot of other results that at this level of landslide this year.

Kent School District No, 415 - Denise Daniels (53%).

Soos Creek Water and Sewer District Commissioner Position No. 2 - Alan Eades (53%).
Public Hospital District No. 1, Commissioner District No 1  - Erin Aboudara (67%)

And some other things:

Mayor of Seattle - Jenny Durkan (61%). Actually the only one I am sad to see, but even so I think a competent candidate won the position.
State Senate, 45th District Manka Dhingra (55%). The Democrats have retaken the State Senate by a slender margin. Now comes the time when feet are held to the fire and results are demanded.

And with that, the Political Desk shuts down for the winter. It will be back, of course, but I'm going off to write other things for a while.

More later,

Monday, October 30, 2017

What is an RPG?

I was going through some old Call of Cthulhu books in preparation of running a session at the upcoming Gamehole Con in Madison (this coming weekend), and came across an interesting document. It was on the back of some scribbled notes for an adventure I had put together. The document is unsigned and undated, and while the erratic use of punctuation and Significant Capitals looks like something I would write (represented uncorrected below), the language is not mine (words like "fiat" and "playgroup"). Here's what it said:
Roleplaying Notes:

A Roleplaying Game is

A social activity in which the players engage in mental competition according to agreed-upon rules, in which the players take on artificial personas which have an effect on that competition.

Social Activity - must include others.
Mental - Relies on communication skills as opposed to physical attributes of the players
Competition - There is a rewards system inherent within the game.
Agreed Upon Rules - Previously determined porscribed activities with the game, in the form of a rulebook or generally agree-upon behavior.
Artificial Personas - Within the game, the player pretends to be someone he is not.
Which have an Effect - That persona affects the nature of the game itself.

A TSR Roleplaying Game is:
An RPG that in addition to the previous definition, has the following elements:
     - One player in plays a co-ordination and storytelling role, known as the dungeon master or moderator.
     - There is a conflict and event resolution system which is a combination of agreed-upon moderator fiat and randomized factors.
     - Playing the game entails willing suspension of disbelief among the players for common experience, the full nature of which is unknown to the individual players at the start of the game.
     - The game is expandable in that it encourages serial, episodic play
     - The game has common rules to the game that may be taken from playgroup to playgroup.
     - The game places the non-moderated personas in heroic, dynamic roles.
     - The game encourages players to interact with the game when in non-social settings.
    - There is no universal requirements as far as components or presetation of TSR Roleplaying Game.

Looking at this (and ignoring the grammatical errors), it still makes sense over the years, but I can't exactly date it. Late 90s? After the WotC purchase? Anyone recognize it?

More later,

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Political Desk The Jeff Recommends

I always feel sorry for people who seek out my personal blog, hoping that I will talk about game design or history and instead find long tracks on local politics and collectible quarters. C'est La Guerre.

Anyway, suming up. Let me point back to this entry at the very beginning, which links to a variety of other voices, some of which are well-considered and some of which are the Seattle Times. Then let me hit up the major points (candidates running unopposed don't get an entry, as usual).

Advisory Votes 16, 17, and 18, which really don't matter - Vote MAINTAINED anyway.

King County Proposition No. 1 Levy Lid Lift for Veterans, Seniors, and Vulnerable Populations, which does matter more - Vote APPROVED.

King County Executive - Dow Constantine.
King County Sheriff - Mitzi Johanknecht.

Court of Appeals, Division No.1, District no. 1 - Michael S. Spearman.

Port of Seattle Commissioner  Position No. 1 - Ryan Calkins.
Port of Seattle Commissioner Position No. 3 - Ahmed Abdi.
Port of Seattle Commission Position No. 4 - Preeti Shridhar.

Mayor, City of Kent - No Recommendation. 
Kent Council Position No. 2 - Satwinder Kaur.
Kent Council Position No 4 - Tye Whitfield.
Kent Council Position No. 6 - Brenda Fincher.

Kent School District No, 415 - Denise Daniels.

Soos Creek Water and Sewer District Commissioner Position No. 2 - Merle Reader (and I had to go look that up).
Public Hospital District No. 1, Commissioner District No 1 (have you noticed the abundance of commissioners this year?) - Pete DeLeyser

End of Ballot, BUT
Cary Moon for Mayor of Seattle
Manka Dhingra for State Senate, 45th District.
Anyone Other than Dino Rossi for 8th District US House of Representatives.

But then, that last one is for next year.

More later,

Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Political Desk: A Miscellany

Si, what's left on the ballot?

Not much, and that which is there we talked about way back in the primary. But let me be a completist.

Soos Creek Water and Sewer District Position No. 2, I'm continuing with Merle Reader. And for Public Hospital District No. 1 Commissioner District No. 1, I still recommend Pete DeLeyser.  But to be honest, the amount of information on the ground is extremely scarce right now.

And I guess that's it, but I will mention a couple things I CANNOT vote for (as a result of, well, not living in the particular jurisdictions).

I mentioned earlier that the City of Seattle has two good candidates for mayor, which can have the tags "Mainstream Democratic" and "Progressive Democratic" only by comparing the two together. Personal preference? The slightly more progressive of the two - Cary Moon.

Across the water, Bellevue and its environs in the 45th District are voting for a State Senator to fill out the one-year term of Andy Hill, who has passed on. Despite being a one year term, there is some serious cash being flung around in the race between Republican Jinyoung Lee Englund and Democrat Manka Dhingra. Both are women of Asian heritage, which is cool but may give some Republicans east of the Cascades cardiacs. This election is important because it can swing the razor-thin margin of GOP control in the senate back to the Dems, and to that end, conservative groups have been running bogus ads about how voting for a Democrat would turn Bellevue into just another Seattle (you know, crowded, young, and successful). Because the State GOP believes that the eastern part of King County is a bunch of rural rubes who would believe that stuff. Needless to say, I would recommend Manka Dhingra, swing the senate back to the donkeys, and then hold their little donkey hooves to the fire to get things done.

And lastly, there is NEXT election. Yeah, they're already running people for 2018. In particular in the US House, 8th District, which was redrawn to be more safely Red. Despite this, there are a lot of folk already running for the position with incumbent Dave Reichert stepping down, and expect a lot of money to flow into this one as well. I would just like to cast my endorsement for SOMEONE OTHER THAN DINO ROSSI, the anointed GOP candidate. The Political Desk cut its eye teeth on the Rossi/Gregroire election many, many moons before most of the rest of you moved here. The resulting lawsuit showed Mr. Rossi's team to be oilier than a Wesson handshake (fun fact - at the time his lawyers shared the same building as Pokemon USA, and they had a tendency to talk in elevators, About their strategy. Loudly.), and, yeah, I will remind folk of it if he chooses to stay in the race.

Yeah, I guess I had a few more things to say. Next up - Summing up.

More later,

Monday, October 23, 2017

The Political Desk - Lighting up a Kent

You know what I really like? An election with candidates that both have strong points. For example, in Seattle itself, former US District Attorney Jenny Durkan is squaring off against local activist Carry Moon. I like Moon, but feel OK with the establishment candidate in this one, because they would both make good mayors. This is the way elections are supposed to work.

I just wanted to get that off my chest, because I am less sanguine about Kent's choices this year. Both candidates. former councilbeings Dana Ralph and Jim Berrios, failed to impress me during the primaries. It is really little things, I will admit, but it got my goat enough at the time to sour me on both candidates.

Back during the primary, I got a robocall from Dana Ralph's campaign toting about her not being a politician, despite a) being a councilperson, and b) running for political office. Both of those kinda make you a politician. (Also making you a politician - campaign contributions). Jim Berrios, on the other hand, in a debate played down that we're going to lose a chunk of municipal cash because in a change in the state sales tax, which sounds like wishful thinking and makes me nervous as well.

So for this year, I give NO RECOMMENDATION. Ultimately, I'm going to have to figure it out, but I don't feel comfortable directing people in one direction or the other, so you're on your own. Hey, it's my blog, I'll do what I want.

More locally still, let's see who we have for the city council: We don't get enough general information on this because, other than the Kent Reporter, there is not a lot of raw data. I almost want to hire a private detective, some hardened gumshoe which the assignment to patrol the bars and paw through the old records to see who has the most parking tickets or the secret support of Old Man Burns who lives up on the hill in his mansion (the one with the hounds). Lacking that, I'll go with recommendations I made for the primary - Satwinder Kaur for Council Position No. 2 and Tye Whitfield for Council Position No. 4. And since I'm in the neighborhood, let me re-recommend Denise Daniels once again for Kent School District No. 415, Director District No. 4  (interestingly, Agda Burchard, who came in third in the primary for this position, also endorsed Ms. Daniels/

Now for most of these positions, the statements in the voter's guides are veritably identical - lived in Kent for X number of years, putting citizens first, importance of enough officers on the beat while keeping Kent an affordable place to raise your kids, and of course they are honored to be running. So it was a breath of fresh air to see Russel L. Hanscom, candidate for the Council Position No, 6, to lay out his own opinion. Here's a direct quote from the guide:
Frankly, I'm not really sure I want this job. The pay is crummy, it takes time away from my family, and it's pretty thankless a lot of the time. 
However, my lack of enthusiasm does not diminish my competence or honesty.
I'm writing this statement on August 4 and I'm right in the middle of starting a business. If the business takes off like it's supposed to, between now and November, I sincerely doubt I'll have enough time to be an effective representative for your concerns. 
I honestly don't know what else to say. This is the reality I'm facing today.
And while I can admire the honesty (he said later that he was writing this on a particularly bad day), I'm going to take him at his word and go with Brenda Fincher, and hoping that Mr. Hanscom's new business has taken off.

More later,

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Political Desk - Bottle of Port

Ah, the Port Authority. Always the site of some shenanigans. The past couple years have been more shenaniganny than usual, what with Shell parking a drilling rig here, highly overpaid port CEOs,  runarounds involving a proposed basketball arena, and, oh yes, not paying employees at the airport. I am filled with an incredible desire to cast the dastards out. So let us do this.

So for Position 1, let's go with Ryan Calkins over John Crieghton. Some years I've been cool with Crieghton. This is not one of those years. Ryan's positions sound more in line with what the Port needs to move forward.

For Position 3 I'm in with Ahmed Abdi over Stephanie Bowman, who seems less odious than Creighton, but still asleep at the wheel. Same logic, same recommendation.

Position 4 doesn't have an incumbent to throw out, but I sill recommend Preeti Shridhar over long-time councilman Peter Steinbrueck. Mr. Steinbrueck may make a good member of the port, but I'm feeling my oats right now and recommending new folk.

More later,

The Political Desk - Book of Judges

Usually I put the judgeships later in the list, and give people a good nod to Voting for Judges, which collects endrosements and statements on the candidates, and does a good job for the people of Washington. But there is only one big Judgeship - Court of Appeals, Division No. 1, District No. 1, and it should be an obvious choice, but for one interesting facet.

The incumbent is Michael S. Spearman, who looks good and has a great record and endorsements from all over the legal place. His opponent, though, is Nathan W. S. Choi, and while Mr. Choi may not have the depth of background, experience, and endorsements of Mr. Spearman, he has come up with a surprising amount of financial support. I am making this assumption purely from the plethora of full-color yard signs that have appeared throughout the region, and, much to my surprise, on signboards (ranging from the A-frame types you see in front of coffee houses to constructed wooden ones) that have popped up downtown (where there are not a lot of yards) like dandelions after a rain. Someone has thrown some serious coin in this race.

Nevertheless. Michael S. Spearman is the better candidate, so I am strongly endorsing him.

We have a couple local municipal judge positions down here in Kent as well, but both Karli Kristine Jorgensen and Glenn M. Phillips are running unopposed. Congratulations to both on their successful employee review.

More later,

Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Political Desk - Lineman for the County

Let's drill down to the County level, then, and start off with ... another tax discussion!

(Gosh, it's like they don't WANT you to vote).

In this case, there is actually has some teeth to this vote, so pay attention. King County Proposition No. 1, Levy Lid Lift for Veterans, Seniors and Vulnerable Populations is pretty much what it says on the tin. The old levy that provides services for these populations is coming to an end, and this is a renewal. Yes, have to vote on the renewal. And it is pretty much universally recommended that we APPROVE this, from the Times to the Stranger. Who am I to argue. Let's do this thing.

Now we finally get to voting for people. Our next County Executive is incumbent Dow Constantine. He's not running unopposed, but his opponent, who is running on the platform of reduced transportation options on the Eastside, may define "niche candidate". Mr. Constantine has done a good job, and should be allowed to continue to do so.

King County Sheriff is on the other hand, as the kids say, problematic. Incumbent John Urquhart has established himself an having a low tolerance for officer malfeasance, has cleaned up the department a lot, and that counts for a great deal, BUT he also has strong questions directed against him about several rape accusations (speaking of malfeasance), retaliation against officers,  AND has been caught on tape tailoring his answers on the campaign trail for his audiences, hoping that they wouldn't compare notes (Bad news - they did). His opponent is long-time officer and current commander Mitzi Johanknecht who is not as hardcore but has a cleaner rap sheet. Is it a toss-up? No way in hell. I'm recommending a vote for Mitzi Johanknecht  and encouraging she continue the strong governance that has served the King County Sheriff's department well and was established by Mr. Urquhart.

More later

The Political Desk - Ship of State

Sadly, I have to lead all this off with a big, fat nothing.

No big state offices up for grabs this year, so this category leads off with very quietly and ineffectively. What's interesting is not what is on this part of the ballot, but what isn't. In particular, this is the first year I can remember when there hasn't been an initiative, proposed by the citizens, promoted/opposed by special interests, enhanced by signature gatherers, on the ballot.

And that is weird, because in off-years like this one, we tend to see an up-swelling of conservative issues coming up for election. And that's good gaming theory - in the off-years, the regular voters show up, who tend to be older, paler, and more conservative. Your latest tax rebellion or bathroom police bill does better when it is not on the same ticket with more attractive lefty candidates and causes. Yet this year? Nada.

There are three Advisory Measures on the ticket. And by advisory it is just that. This is the wreckage of a previous tax-hating initiative that was declared partially unconstitutional, It still requires the state to check over its shoulder when it passes new taxes (with a broad definition of what is a tax). But by the same token, doesn't require the state to DO anything about the results. So you can vote, but no one cares.

Anyway, Advisory Vote No. 16  (Engrossed Substitute House Bill 1597) raises taxes on commercial fishing licences to help the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Advisory Vote No. 17  (Engrossed House Bill 2163) closes some loopholes and exemption to help the general fund. And Advisory Vote No. 18  (Engrossed House Bill 2242) is actually a big one, which raises property taxes in order to improve our school systems from criminally underfunded up to merely woefully underfunded. 

And yet it fails to matter as these votes are purely advisory. They may be used for anti-tax mavens to wave and rant about the will of the people, but it is really just a required stamp at this point. I'd go with MAINTAINED on all of these (since I tend to like fish and wildlife and students and am not a fan of loopholes) but it is, as I said, a bad way to lead off the ballot.

More later,

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Political Desk: Here Comes the Election

So, we have an election coming up. And since I've had a bit to say about the primary, it behooves me to follow through and comment on the upcoming votes.

The first and most important thing, of course, is that you vote. In elections such as these, there is usually a reduced voter turnout, so your votes really do count for more than normal. Plus, we're a mail-in ballot state, so it really is not an inconvenience, other than, you know, doing the research and drawing pictures on the back of the forms.

And that's where we help, here at Grubb Street. Not only by offering our own ill-considered opinions, but giving you the links to OTHER PEOPLE'S ill-considered. opinions. Because we want you to get a more opinions than you can shake a stick at (if shaking a stick at opinions is something you are wont to do)..

So, here's the now-bi-weekly Stranger's recommendations, whose staff loads up on drugs before offering their endorsements. And here's the opinions of the Seattle Times, whose staff loads up on the REALLY GOOD drugs before wading in (How good? They've already conceded the 2018 House of Representative seat to three-time loser Dino Rossi). On the more rational end of the spectrum, here's the Progressive Voter's Guide, the Municipal League's input (though you have to wade through their primary listing) and Voting for Judges, which does a very good job of analyzing the judgeship that are up for election (yeah, in Washington State, we elect our judges. It seems to have worked out). The Seattle Weekly has finally returned to talking about politics just in time for it to be transformed from an alt-weekly to a Penny-Saver-style broadsheet. So enjoy them while they're still around. And the blog Crosscut has shown up with its recommendations. And finally here's King County and the State of Washington's Voter's Guides, so you can see the candidates' statements yourself.

So you really don't suffer from a lack of options, here. And if more get added, I will add to this entry. For my own part, I will try to collapse this as much as possible into bite-sized bits.

The ballot arrived this afternoon. So, let's turn over the test papers and begin ....

{UPDATE: The C is for Crank also weighs in on Seattle-based stuff]

Thursday, October 19, 2017

DOW Breaks 23,000!

Well, that crept in on little cat feet. Minimum amount of fanfare, the only mention in the morning paper that it occurred on the 30th anniversary of a Black Friday that pummeled the stock market way back in 1987. I just noticed it by accident, and don't even have much of a rant prepared this time.

Even the standard amount of fear that this, too, will end, seems to be ebbing, or even going fully into abeyance. And indeed, in this part of the universe, our problem seems to be financial success, not ruin. With every thousand points the DOW climbs, I seem to add another 10 minutes to my commute, as the congestion of people heading to jobs seems to get worse. So I'm not saying we could use an economic shudder to the system, but I look at all the red lines on my GPS and think about it, sometimes.

Politically, I'm good with this milestone as well. Anyone who claims that this is the result of the current administration's policies (or lack thereof), is just setting themselves up for the next bit of economic bad news. You can't really blame your predecessor when you've claimed success for yourself. But that reckoning may not come for years.That's cool - I am good with things getting better for a bit longer.

So I've got nothing at the moment. We've got enough on our hands at the moment on the national level. And I am hearing furtive scratchings from the Political Desk in the corner as we near the first week of November.

More later,

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Open Call for a Readers' Theater


Despite my best intentions, I have written a play. What's more, I have scheduled a reading of this play for the Seattle Playwrights Studio in Burien, Washington, on the first Monday of December, 2017.

And I need people to read the play. Out loud. In front of an audience.

Here are the details:

The play is called "Human Resources". It's a corporate comedy. Modern, not fantasy, not science fiction. Not my standard sort of fare.

There are four roles, plus someone to read stage directions. I may do the stage directions if I can't find someone for the task.

The characters are:
                Grace - Female, mid-thirties, receptionist, earth mother type.
                Bob - Male, Late forties, sales, bombastic jerk.
                Angela - Female, early forties, executive, angel of death
                Peter - Male, twenties, engineering, poor damned soul.

IMPORTANT: There's no money in this. I'm still trying to figure out how to get paid myself. I may have found a type of writing that pays less well than fantasy adventure stories. I can't even claim this will give you exposure.

The reading will be December 4th, first Monday of the Month, at the Burien Actor's Theater in Burien (that's south of Seattle, west of the airport) at 7 PM. You'll have music stands for the play, and chairs (I don't want anyone except the stage direction guy standing for the duration of the play). Play currently clocks in at an hour and half. Add a fifteen minute intermission. No blocking, no costumes, no big production.

What I need from you:
  •  You read the play in advance. I've watched a couple of these that were cold reads. It did not go well.
  •  We do a table read (maybe) before the performance. Everyone gets comfortable with each other. Get some of the timing down (some characters interrupt each other). We may do this at a restaurant or at the house. I will feed you (which is NOT the same thing as paying you).
  • We show up at 7 at the Burien Actor's Theater (parking is no problem). It will likely be a small crowd. We may outnumber the audience.
  • We read the play and solicit feedback.
  • I tell people you are wonderful on my small scrap of social media. 
Still interested? Here's what I'm looking for.
  • You're in the Seattle area (well, duh). Better yet, you're in the southern part of Seattle, because it’s a schlep to get down there.
  • You've done this before. Actors, readers, streamers, people who have made presentations.Good voices.
  • Did I mention that none of us get paid for this?
If, after all this, you ARE STILL interested, do following:

Send me an email at the address. Tell me what role you want. Send picture if I don't know you personally. I will respond before the end of October.

Hey kids, let's put on a show!

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Play: Jane, Unserious

Pride and Prejudice by Kate Hamill adapted from the novel by Jane Austen, Directed by Amanda Dehnert, September 29 to October 29, 2017, Seattle Rep.

You know how on the Facebooks people admit to all sorts sorts of social crimes and faux pas that they would never confess to in polite society? Here's mine:

I've never read Pride and Prejudice.

Not only that, I don't think I've sat all the way through a movie version of the book,or a fourteen-part presentation of it on Masterpiece Theater. I'm not an Austen fan, though I have no problem with her writings, nor with people who love her works to pieces. That's cool. Put me down as an Austen Ally. Maybe even Austen-Adjacent. But not as someone who goes out of his way to partake of even a bit of Austen.

So I looked upon this production with a jaundiced eye (I had dodged the musical version of Persuasion earlier in the year, but there is only so must Austen one can flee from before one must succumb to the inevitable). My feelings of concern were increased by a scathing review in the Seattle Times, which notes (among other crimes) that they pared the characters in the book down to eight actors (a sister from the novel disappears entirely). Adding to my disquiet was the fact that the Lovely Bride and a friend attended the tech rehearsal, and gave it pretty neutral reviews - "Not for purists" would be the kindest statement.

And they are absolutely right.This is a much more theatrical version of the book, its characters broader, louder, more colorful, and ruder that in the more stuffy, proper Merchant Ivory versions. Beware: here be pratfalls. And double entendres. And cross-talk and very un-British emotions.

You know the story, I know the story. Elizabeth Bennet meets Lord Darcy and finds him to be a complete a-hole. Over time she recognizes that her own attitudes (and bad advice from others) have colored this opinion. Meanwhile Lord Darcy has fallen for this strong-willed, intelligent woman, but the very structure of society prevents the two from just sitting down over coffee and talking about it. She realizes he is an ideal mate after all and hops down from her perch to really fall in love. This is against the background of the Bennet household, where there are four daughters (downsized from five), a distant father, and a mother actively campaigning to get them all married off.

And the actors bringing all this across are really good. Kjestine Anderon is a smart, neurotic Lizzy (The Lovely Bride, who is an Austen fan, noted that the movies always have a beautiful Jane but a still-stunning Elizabeth). Kenajuan Bentley is a perfect Darcy, and you can see the ice flaking off him as he has to come to terms with his affection for Lizzy. He also freestyles, which would not happen in a proper adaptation.

These two are the "sane" ones in the production, and as we move out, they get loopier. Cheyenne Casebier treats Mrs. Bennet (the secret protagonist of the original book) as top sarge in a military campaign to get the girls married off to good connections. Emily Chisholm's Jane is more gob-smacked into silence by Bingley than too polite to confess her attraction, and hilarious at it. Hana Lass's Lydia is a Visigoth of a youngest child, and heel-turns neatly to portray Lady Catherine, Darcy's elite, effete, aunt. Brandon O'Neill takes up three roles - the military bounder Wickham, Bingley's sister as a turbaned lady of fashion, and Mr. Collins, a clergyman melding bits of Jerry Lewis and Austin Powers.

And there are actors in actresses roles, which I thought I would hate to bits. Rajeev Varma melds neatly between Mr. Bennet (giving him some weight and gravitas) and Lizzie's practical friend Charlotte. But Trick Danneker seems to have the best time of the lot, playing both Mr. Bingley as a Labrador retriever and as Mary, the plain Bennet sister, whose appearance often startles the others. I thought this would cheese me off, but actually it works, and both characters are completely sympathetic. He is a secret gem in the cast, which has a lot of good actors.

The stagework also surprises, the open square in the center flanked by the dressing tables, props, and costumes. Actors off-stage watch the proceedings as they unfold. This is the Seattle Rep, so large backdrops fall from the ceiling, as does a disco ball for the dance sequences., Yes, a disco ball. You just can't take this too seriously.

It can be rough going in the first fifteen minutes, dealing with cringe-worthy innuendos and puns that have no place in the stuffy renditions of Austen oeuvre. But once you accept the more frantic tone (and indeed, the Lovely Bride noted, this captured the chaos of a house full of women better than the novel itself), and the raw theatrical nature of it all, it rollicks. Oh my, how it rollicks.

So, the short version? If you're a purist who likes the most correct adaptation possible, stay far away. That is not what Ms. Hamill is serving up here. But as theater, as an adaptation from one media (from several hundred years back) to this one, it is definitely worth the afternoon.

I suppose I have to read the book, now.

More later.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Book: Office Space

Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy L. Sayers. HarperPaperbacks 1993, Originally Published 1933
This was the edition I read. Can't say I
like the cover, but it is difficult to
portray someone falling down an
iron spiral staircase. 

Provenance (Why THIS book): This is a re-read, a return to a book previously enjoyed. I always liked Murder Must Advertise, and declared it at one time to be one of my favorite Sayers books, but for the life of me I could not remember exactly why. So with a long vacation in Pittsburgh, it and a handful of Rex Stout/Nero Wolfe mysteries became my traveling volumes.

[And yes, I had my iPad, loaded with all types of books, but you can't read an iPad on takeoffs and landings. Well, you shouldn't. Also, battery life.]

The Review: Murder Must Advertise is a Lord Peter Wimsey mystery, set in the interwar era that creates nostalgic grist for the Masterpiece Mystery Theater mill. A copywriter takes a tumble head-first down an iron spiral staircase at Pym's Publicity, an advertising firm. His replacement shows a keen interest in the situation, and we the readers quickly discover that this new bloke, Death Bredon, is Lord Peter Death Bredon Wimsey, traveling in mufti, passing himself off as a common scribbler when he is really an investigator with connections (through marriage) with the police. And his interest is not just murder, but a potential scandal for Pym's itself that involves a dope smuggling scheme.

And as a mystery, it's OK. The howdoneit gets answered fairly early, while the whodunnit and whydunnit take a leisurely stroll towards completion, and the book takes some side trips to scenes without Lord Peter to fill in bits and pieces of the plot. Yet what attracted me (and continues to attract me) is the portrayal of life within a corporate entity. Sayers herself worked in advertising, and her understanding shows off here, not only with the procedures of creating copy for ads but also in the little things - the petty gossip and the office pools and who is kicking in for lunch. There is even an off-site event for the collected employees as a morale raiser. Add to that the respect (or lack thereof) among colleagues and all manner of internal social strata and departmental rivalries. Yeah, it feels feels familiar. If Gaudy Night shows Sayers' knowledge of academia, Murder Must does it with business, with often a wry twist and an unjaundiced eye. This is the heart of the story - the mystery is just the frame of it all.

Something else that applies on re-reading is that, as far as the mystery, Sayers plays fair with the reader. There are places where she presents what is happening as Wimsey and the dope smugglers square off (often without realizing it), often resulting in odd shifts of POV. But here she shows the results but do not call them out as such. Only when you hit the reveal and the connections are made do you realize what has gone on, and then it is more of a slight "ah" of comprehension than an "ah-hah" of sudden enlightenment.

The big thing that struck me on this revisiting is that Wimsey himself, while being on stage for most of the book, is not really here. He is hiding behind his Death Bredon character within Pym's, and as his own ne-er-do-well cousin among a clutch of high-living dope peddlers. He's sort of Batman pretending to be the unassuming Bruce Wayne and the criminal Matches Malone. Indeed, Wimsey is Sayers superhero, who indulges in playing himself to be weaker and less effective as copywriter Death Bredon and as more flamboyant among the Harlequin infiltrating his way into the dope circle.

Much like superheroes, his cover is "almost blown" a half-dozen times, and he's expected to cover for himself about how much he looks like Lord Peter. Maybe this is one reason I tend to like this book - the real Wimsey only surfaces occasionally. And up to a final exposure (when he is struck by a ball at the company cricket match and, irritated at the insult, suddenly transforms himself back into Peter Wimsey, champion batsman) he manages to deflect the suspicions, which makes me fell like his challenges (both major and minor) are diminished,.

The nature of the dope smuggler's ultimate plot is a little wobbly as well, with a few holes in the plan that are not revealed because, well, Wimsey wouldn't know them. And Wimsey's ultimate nemesis seems both extremely effective (people connected with start dropping like flies when things get going), and extremely amateur, Yet, that's not what the book is ultimately about.It is about office-workers infiltrated by a man who could be from Mars for all the difference it made.

Lastly, of course, I see the novel as part of "Appendix N" for the 1920s/30s games, in particular Call of Cthulhu. I found myself slowing regularly to examine how someone makes a phone call, or drives a car, or picks up a newspaper. The process of how mail is delivered bears interest. It is a purely personal interest, but someday we will look upon smart phones as curiosities as well, and wonder how people survived without subdermal implants.

It was good visiting an old friend, and remembering why they were a friend in the first place. No, it won't get me back to Busman's Honeymoon any time soon (and besides, I just saw the play version), but maybe The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club. Maybe next long vacation.

More later,

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Play: Community Theatre

The Odyssey; By Homer (unaccredited in the program book) Adaptation/Music/New Lyrics by Todd Almond, Original Concept and Direction by Lear DeBessonet, Directed by Marya Sea Kaminiski. Seattle Rep, Sept. 8-10 (Yep, it's over).

When last we left the the Seattle Rep, they had ripped out most of their seats to turn the venerable Bagley Wright into a disco for David Byrne's Here Lies Love, an opus about Imelda Marcos. Now they return for a one-weekend-only event (sorry folks), a rendition of Homer's Odyssey. And in doing so it pushed the borders of modern theatre back in different ways.

One of the challenges of modern theater is manpower. You've seen it - plays that are four to five actors, tops, dealing with tight little stories or people in multiple roles. This version of the Odyessy, done through Public Works Seattle, is one huge crowd scene. The cast lists 80+ characters, not counting a host of cameo artists (more on them later). Four of the cast are Equity actors, the rest volunteers of various stripes. The result is you can have huge vibrant mobs moving across the stage and a variety of voices being heard. This is pretty darn impressive.

Oh, and did I mention this was a musical? Yeah, musical. One part Hamilton, two parts Disney rhyming schemes. And it all worked.

The plot you should already know. Odysseus is en route back from the Trojan War and gets delayed for a decade. Wife Penelope is cooling her heels back in Ithaca fending off a bunch of suitors and raising her son Telemachus. Odysseus is fighting to get back home to her. Cyclops, Circe, sirens, whirlpool, monster. You know the drill, right?

And all of this is here, but what makes it work is that the focus is placed on community, both in Ithaca and for the crew of Odysseys' ship. The massive tide of people are not a mere Greek chorus, but have their own voices and their own moments. I was amazed time and again by the strength of the voices in song and acting. Yeah, a lot of it was punching over their weight class, but it was impressive.

And there are the cameos. Circe is played by a drag queen that tempts man with burgers from Dick's and Pagliacci pizza. She's backed up by a pair of flamenco dancers. Small children are ghosts from Hades. A symphonic orchestra sets up for the voyage home to Ithaca. And the Seahawks Blue Thunder drum corps helps wrap up the entire deal with the suitors. They appear as guest stars for a number or a scene, then move on. But they are part of the community as well.

And the Equity Actors? Terrence Achie is an amazing Odysseus - strong-voiced and sympathetic, both crafty hero and doubting human. Justin Hertas last showed up in his original musical Lizard Boy and serves as narrator/master of ceremonies, and creates the glue between the present and past. Alexandra Tavres (last seen in Constellations) is Penelope, holding the stage and Odyesseus' equal and keeping the motorcycle-jacketed suitors at bay. Sarah Russell is the leader of a tripartite Calliope (with Rheanna Atendido and Jala Harper) who are our musical Greek Chorus. What is missing here is the direct presence of the gods, though they send in messages and help from time to time. And that's OK, because there's not a lot of room left on the stage for them.

This is an amazingly audacious production, born out of the idea of community coming together in the theatre. This is theatre of and for the people. Yes, it has a happy ending, and everyone gets a curtain call in a celebration that spills off the stage and into the audience. This is a theater taking big risks, and even should the rest of season settle into more traditional fare, it is an excellent start.

And keep your eyes peeled should they try something like this again.

More later.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

The Model of Major Middle Manager

The Red Sphinx by Alexandre Dumas, Translated by Lawrence Ellsworth, Pegasus Books, 2017

Provenance (Or how I came to read this book): I asked for this book as a gift from my Lovely Bride for our anniversary back in February, and she delivered, noting only in passing how massive (800 pages plus) the tome was. I had found out about it on Facebook, where I follow Lawrence Ellsworth. Actually, I follow Lawrence in his identity that gamers may recognize, Lawrence Schick. That would be Lawrence Schick the designer of White Plume Mountain and the current lead loremaster on Elder Scrolls Online. I don't know Lawrence all that well (his tenure and mine at old TSR did not overlap, and we have met maybe a handful of times), but I always liked his work and found the idea that he had translated a "lost" Dumas book was intriguing.

Review (Or what I thought about the entire thing): The book is an unfinished, partially published, manuscript from Dumas. Back in the day, Dumas serialized his stories in Parisian magazines. As a result, his completed books tend to be a bit... long and perhaps even ... rambling. This one in particular was titled The Comte De Moret, and was a bout a figure from the swashbuckling age who was the recognized bastard son of King Henri IV, and therefore half-brother to Louis XIII. Count De Moret was a historical figure, and was involved in one of the other royal brother's rebellions against the crown, and was supposedly killed in a battle against the Louis's forces. He has his own mythos that has grown up over the years, as the "good, loyal son" of Henri.

But in the book, as presented, De Moret is more of a supporting character, and Ellworth is completely within his rights to rename his translation after the true protagonist - Cardinal Richelieu. Yes, those who have seen numerous adaptations of The Three Musketeers think of Richelieu as the bad guy, the scheming spider in clerical red. But Dumas admires him, and presents him, not only sympathetically, but as the hero, the only man who cares about France, even if its king is a fool and his family are greedy intriguers.

Richelieu is, within this book, the perfect middle manager. His boss is a fool, but the Cardinal has gathered together a team of loyal, devoted, and talented individuals to make the entire country work. This is most dramatically shown in a section where, having lost a crucial argument with the Crown, Richelieu lays down his tools and retires to a private life, and the King attempts to do his job. In quick succession, every agent of the Cardinal lays out how dire the situation truly is, how everyone thinks the King is an idiot, and then resigns themselves. Less than a week after his resignation, the King implores Richelieu to return to govern the kingdom correctly. Richelieu is free with his favors, loyal to his workers, and has no fear about getting directly involved to get to the truth of the matter. The Cardinal could write his own business advice book and do a decent TED talk about management.

This is a 21st Cent translation of an 19th Cent book set in the 17th Century. And, though it has not seen much print in English, it feels very much like the shared-world adventure fiction I've read and written, and it makes the case that Dumas is very much an antecedent of popular fantasy as Tolkien or Howard.

To spoil just a bit, the book opens on a professional duelist (dueling is banned in France) who is approached by a hunchback to duel and kill the Count De Moret. De Moret has apparently stolen the affection of woman away from the hunchback. The professional refuses, because he knows the Count as a good man (though not above sleeping around) and the hunchback and his colleagues set upon the duelist with their swords and leave him for dead ( spoilers - he does not die). The hunchback and his colleagues then leave, but one of the colleagues reveals that HE is the one sleeping with object of the hunchback's affections, which results ANOTHER swordfight, in which the hunchback is badly wounded and feared to die (spoilers - he does not die, either). Both duelist and hunchback survive, only to have YET ANOTHER duel while they are both wounded and seated in sedan chairs on a street in Paris.

This entire exchange feels very Realmsian, and could have transpired on the streets of Suzail or Waterdeep. And the adventure fiction of the age can show strong connections with the shared worlds that TSR launched in the 80s and 90s. In this case, instead of a lore bible, the cornerstone of these tales come from the history and legend of France itself. If you are a fan of Ed Greenwood's work, yes, you should check out Dumas in a good translation.

The translation helps in all this. As opposed to a bowdlerized and simplified translation, Ellsworth embraces the passion of Dumas' language and subject, and creates a readable text. This reader freely will admit that there are sections where Dumas deals with history (from a Francophile view of course) that I put the book aside, but quickly returned as the action and plotting picking up again.

So the manuscript is unfinished - the magazine Dumas was serializing it in went under and he never got back to it. Ellsworth puts forth that he had an ending in mind from a short story he had written decades earlier about the count and Isabel, who he is in love with (despite dallying with others) in the earlier section. Set after the battle in which the Count had supposedly perished (Dumas played fast and loose with the truth), the two lovers are reunited by a carrier dove, and have numerous near misses before their relationship resolves.

I'm not so sure. I think Dumas was aimed at this as an eventual ending, but the two texts are dramatically different. The short story is completely epistolary (consisting of letters and diary entries), and the characters more passionate than shown at the start of their relationship/the end of the manuscript. The Cardinal is here in passing, wise and willingly fooled to help reunite the two. Dumas may have been aiming at the facts of the short story as his endpoint, but would have been involved in much revision should he have ever reached it.

In general, this is worth hunkering down and reading, particularly if you are a fan of the old Realms or DL novels. Swordplay, battles, plots, treachery, and the most effective middle manager that France has ever seen. Go read it.

More later,

DOW Breaks 22,000!

And it is not so much of a "break" as it is a slow oozing over the line. Usually such news gets a lot more excitement, but most of the stock market news has been "three steps forward, two steps back:, while there hasn't been colossal collapses, but by the same time no fantastic rallies. It has been a slow progress. Even the news articles have been filled with "meh" and a warning eye towards its sluggish pace.

Part of that probably comes from the uncertainty in the rulerleadership of the States, but even there Wall Street has pretty much decided that what damage will be done can be limited to particular industries and short time frames. Business as an organism indicates that they adapt to situations if they are going to survive and thrive. And this does come under the current administration's watch, even if their primary contribution has been to not screw things up too quickly or two much.

In the meantime, we'll cast baleful eye upon the housing prices in this neighborhood, the challenges of abandoned trade agreements, and the ongoing retail apocalypse, and coast this pleasant trend upwards as far as it goes.

[UPDATE: Annnnnd the President is talking about nuking North Korea and the stock market drops 200 points. Ah, well.]

More later,