Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Driving Mr. Daisey

This is in part a preview of A People's History of the United States, presented by Mike Daisey, which the Lovely Bride and I are seeing on Sunday at the Seattle Rep. How can I do a preview of a play I haven't seen? Hang on, this takes some 'splaining.

I've talked about monologist Mike Daisey before. We first saw him ages ago at the old Intiman, doing 27 Dog Years @ Amazon.com. I caught three of his four monologues on "Great Men" up on Cap hill. Saw The Agony and The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs at the Rep, and followed up on the craziness of his encounter with "This American Life". And now he's back in Seattle, at the Rep, doing A People's History.

That's all very well, Jeff, but why are you talking about it now, as opposed to after seeing the play? That is  your usual MO, after all. Well, you really should go see it, and I want to tell you that before we get there ourselves, because I've been listening to the performance in advance.

Source Material
Here's the deal: The People's History is 18 different monologues, all pulled from and based on Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, one of the great, truthful, and depressing history books of all times. So he is doing 18 different monologues. In our Pokemon-obsessed universe, how are we going to collect them all? The Rep has helped, with MASSIVE discounts after the first ticket, but even the time requirement will suck up half your week for several weeks.

So Mr. Daisey made an offer. He said: Here are the recordings so far. Download them, and listen to them. But, the deal is, you have to talk about them.

And so I'm going to talk about them. But to be honest, it has not been easy as it sounds. First message came through as MIME files with broken links. He fixed that, but then I was sent to LA for a few days. Then I got the files, but they were in an audio format I could not get my car computer to read (Yeah, Tech World problems). So I brought them in on a memory stick to work to change the format and promptly lost the stick (and I am deeply afraid one of the resident dogs has eaten it). Got the files into my Dropbox, which promptly went over its limits (they are big files). FINALLY I got it all set up so I can listen to them on my hour-plus-long commute from Grubb Street to downtown.

And it has been worth it. Mr. Daisey is a geek, a nerd, one of us, and turns that level of wonkiness to the American History. Knowledgeable and acerbic, profound and extremely profane, he's the guy who swallowed the encyclopedia as a child and can bring up the facts in a direct, meaningful, smartass way. He's the history professor you've always really needed.

Now A People's History is one of those depressing, truthful books. I've had it on my shelves for years, and I have read it in full, but in bits and piece. And I've read it in bits and pieces because prolonged exposure can really dampen your soul. The book can be summarized with a quote from Jimmy Cagney in The Oklahoma Kid "The strong take it away from the weak, and the smart take it away from the strong." The inhabitants of earth who actually lived in those past times, who actually did the work, who suffered so we can be her today, have been erased, forgotten, molded into faceless economic trends and social mores while we concentrate on the great men and the great battles. They are pushed aside while we build a suitable narrative for ourselves, construct a history shorn of its blemishes and genocides.

Tough read. And Daisey doesn't shy away from its warts-upon-warts-and-all description. There are bright moments of light, but the overarching tone of our own history is one of venal greed and violence. As I'm listening, he is still making jokes as he strikes hard against our foundational lies, and I hear the audience go quiet. This is tough sledding.

He starts with Columbus, who within my lifetime has been toppled from his heroic throne. As a young man I was instructed in his legend as one of the bedrock stories of our society, but here he is, damned in his own journals and actions. Genocide against the natives and a lust for gold. He has diminished both in achievement (The Vikings and others were first, though not as effective in destroying the neighborhood), and in iconic statue. And here's the thing: Columbus Day as a going concern really started in the mid-nineteenth century, about the same time as a unified Italy itself got established. Columbus himself would not call himself an Italian, but rather a Genoan, in the service of Spain. Yet it is identified strongly as an celebration of Italian-American Heritage. Part of the lessening of Columbus Day, I think, has come from the assimilation of the Italian immigrants into the Ameriborg body politic, escaping from the cities into exurbia. Less of a group that would defend the man as embodying their virtues.

This is the sort of thing that Daisey's work does to you - it gets you thinking and takes you down some strange passes to some very uncomfortable conclusions. And that's a good thing.

Here's another one that occurred to me on the way up I-5; History never ends, but history never really begins, either. The sighting of the New World is a convenient starting point for the History of Europeans in America, but the Spanish treatment of the native population has its origins in the reconquista that "recaptured" Spain from the North African Muslims, and the slave trade found its roots in the Portuguese use of radical new tech (deep-hulled caravels and galleons) meeting large, organized nations in Africa who found a good bargain in dealing with a oversupply of conquered peoples (Lest it sounds like I'm trying to spread the blame, it was still our ancestors who created the horrible Middle Passage that claimed half of the enslaved peoples it carried.)

History is messy and nasty and ugly, and the narratives we have used to tame it are like how we explain our dreams - filling in bits and excising uncomfortable truths. I'm glad I'm getting a chance to get in on this on the ground floor, as it were, and am looking forward to the performance itself. But I recognize that its going to be a rough one.

More later,

Sunday, October 28, 2018

The Political Desk: The Jeff Recommends

Let's see, in the week since I started this, we have had a string of bombs sent by a man living in a van covered with pro-Trump stickers, a guy shooting two black people in a Krogers and declaring "Whites don't shoot whites!" and eleven people die when another whacko conservative unloaded with an "assault-style rifle" at a synagogue. I lived for many years in Shadyside, right next to Squirrel Hill. So, yeah, forgive me if I'm a little strident this time out.

Let me reiterate my initial statement - No Republicans. Not all Republicans are fascists, or nazis, or alt-righters, or racists, or rapists. But if you find yourself in any of those categories, then the Republican party (and all its connective tissue) has your back. They will blame your victims, deny your crimes, encourage your delusions, and spoon-feed you a steady stream of entitlement, then walk away when you do something, saying "I have no idea where they get these ideas, but it's the liberal media's fault."

I'd like to say that saying this out loud makes me feel a bit better, but it doesn't. You know what will make me feel better? Voting. Voting will make me feel better. Let's see what's up there.

Initiative Measure No. 1631 - The Carbon Fee  -YES (The opponents are calling trying to make it sound like it is a direct tax on you - it ain't. It's a direct tax on the people who are pumping crap into the atmosphere, and with it a potential reduction to the shareholders).

Initiative Measure No. 1634 - Prevent Soda Taxes - NO (The opponents are LYING you when they say this will tax all your groceries, and they are doing it with daily mailers. This one passing lets corporations dictate to your local government (more than usual)).

Initiative Measure No. 1639 - Firearm Safety - YES (Unless you still want to stand around and look at you shoes instead actually DOING something about it. And yeah, this is only a very small part, literally the least we can do, but it still a start).

Initiative Measure No. 940  - Reduce Police Shooting - YES (This is a strong compromise bill from numerous sources. I'm a fan of giving the cops more options).

Advisory Vote No. 19, Engrossed second Substitute Senate Bill 6269 - Maintained, even though it is advisory and the gummint don't have to pay no attention. Its about holding oil companies responsible for spilling oil. The companies are always declaring they have incredibly safe pipelines and there is no chance of oil spills, so this REALLY shouldn't be a problem, should it?)

United States Senator - Maria Cantwell, who has done a real good, if centrist, job. Also, No Republicans, and in particular no Republicans that are Trump-apologists.

United States Representative Congressional District No. 9 - Adam Smith. Yeah, I went back and forth a couple dozen times on this, and if you go for Sarah Smith, I will forgive you completely. The fact is that he, like Cantwell, has been doing a good job. Retain Smith.

Let's see ....  what else do we have? No one running against the incumbent, no one running against the incumbent, opponent dropped out, no one running against the incumbent. Ah, here we go:

State Supreme Court Justice Position No. 8 - Steve Gonzalez. Every time I see something about his opponent, Mr. Choi, he's either not talking to the press or engaging in conspiracy theories. However, one early poll shows he is in the lead, so this is one of those places where we need an EDUCATED electorate. Go to Voting for Judges, which I have used for years for my recommendations, and Vote for Steve Gonzalez.

Stuff that is not on my ballot, but I think it is important in the local area:

United States Representative Congressional District No. 8: Kim Schrier, a pediatrician, over real estate millionaire Dino Rossi. The Times actually tone-policed Schrier in their endorsement of Rossi, saying that Dr. Schrier might actually put up a fight against the heavily-entrenched Republican majority, while Rossi will roll over on his back for belly skritchles. So, Yeah. Go with Kim Shrier.

State Legislative District No. 47. State Senate. Vote for Mona Das. Her views line up with mine, but let me lay on the line. Incumbent Joe Fain has been accused of raping a woman 10 years ago. I don't know if this is true. I'm not a court of law, and cannot dispense justice or find truth. But I damned well want to find out before hiring him for another term. Vote Mona Das.

State Legislative District No.  47 Position No. 1. Vote for Debra Entenman Again, she lines up with a lot of my own views. She is also a target of a lying mailer campaign from a nutter with access to photoshop, who has been encouraging progressives to write-in for candidates who are not running, Kent City Council member Brenda Fincher has been dragged into this mess, and minced no words in shooting it down, identifying it correctly as another form of vote suppression. Because, you know, that's what Republicans are known for. Vote Debra Entenman.

And Lastly, Stare Legislative District No. 47, Position No. 2. Vote for Pat Sullivan, who has served for many years and has not been accused of sex crimes or had nutters try to split the vote for him by sending out lying mailers. Hey, in the current environment, that's a ringing endorsement.

That's it. And regardless of where you are, it is time to step up. I'm not asking you to march. I'm not asking you to  confront. I'm not asking you to man the barricades. I'm asking you to vote. I know I am lucky in this state, with mail in ballots. We have a paper trail. We don't have voting booths located far away from actual voters. We don't have long lines. We don't have electronic devices that switch votes while you watch them. I'm lucky that way. I'm going to ask you to vote anyway.

Also, No Republicans.

More later,

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The Political Desk: Public Office

Usually I would  break these down into a handful of entries for easy digestion, but we're not looking at a lot of real races here (though, of course, they are important). So here are all the public offices: Federal, State, County, and Court, that have competitive races this year:

US Senator - Incumbent Maria Cantwell has done a fine job so far, with most of the criticism I see being lofted at her is as a result of her being TOO mainstream and willing to work with conservative voices.. I'm OK with that. Her opposition, former TV newsreader Susan Hutchinson spent her time in the debates lofting Limbaugh-level conspiracy theories and repeating White House talking points. Yeah, no. Go with Maria Cantwell.

US Representative District No. 9 - This, the battle of the Smiths, is the only challenging race for me, and I've flipped a half-dozen times already. Incumbent Adam Smith is a liberal, yeah, I'll say it, progressive voice in the rejiggered 9th district, and he has been around forever. Sarah Smith is a liberal, even more progressive voice who brings youth and energy to the table. My game-playing brain says that, should the House change undergo new management, we would be well-served to have someone with experience and seniority in the office, while my narrative heart says that we would be well-served to have someone to push harder on more progressive issues. I still remain in flux, so color me UNDECIDED. They're both good.

My State Reps have no competition. Congratulations to Zak Hudgins and Steve Bergquist. And yeah, I'm not going to vote Republican in any event, but GOP? Really? You really need to keep the local franchise going. There is no depth in your backfield, which may account for some of your problems around here finding any traction.

The sole county level election, Prosecuting Attorney, was going to be former-Republican Dan Satterberg against Reform Democrat Darron Morris. I would go for the reform-minded Morris, but he dropped out for health reasons. though his name is on the ballot. So I have NO ENDORSEMENT this time out, but I wanted you guys to know that this is really one more one-person race.

Judges! Eleven positions! No waiting! And only one of them has a choice between two candidates. What, is this the era of good feelings? Justice Position No. 8 has the highly regarded Steve Gonzalez against Nathan Choi, who doesn't want to talk to voting for judges but last time set up a lot of signage in unusual areas, much of which lasted for weeks after the election.Go for Steve Gonzalez.

And that's it for my ballot. What about the rest of the state? Kim Schrier in the 8th Congressional. Mona Das in the 47th State Senate.Debra Entenman for State Rep from the 47th. Pat Sullivan for the other State Rep from the 47th. I used to live in these districts, until they shuffled the borders around, leaving the political map the world's worst jigsaw puzzle. It is almost like they're afraid of me ....

More later,

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Political Desk: Rolling for Initiatives

The initiative system in Washington State has pluses and debits. It allows the people to make an end-run around the legislature to support a new law. You means it you can get enough people together on an idea, you can have it implemented. It also means that, if you enough money, or access to people with enough money, you can put an initiative on the ballot and sell it to an ignorant electorate. It ALSO means that the initiative can be challenged in a court of law, often on specious grounds, but that's just icing.

We have four initiatives up in Washington State, and an Advisory vote. Three of the initiatives are "to the people" which means they came from the ground up (but see above), which the fourth is "to the legislature" as a double-check for legislation someone doesn't like. Advisory votes are a remnant of an earlier initiative which was partially struck down, and now required the legislature to check in when they spend money, but they don't have to pay any attention to it. More whining about that later. Here are the four initiatives and the Advisory Vote

I-1631, also called Initiative Measure No. 1631, also called the carbon fee initiative. Remember the middle of the year, when all the surrounding wildfires filled the Puget Sound region with a smokey haze? That was a natural occurrence, that was a rarity in the modern age, and that was one situation we'd like to keep rare. Throwing on a "pollution fee" for sources of greenhouse gases and using the money to promote more clean energy is a good idea. Washington State is taking the lead of reducing this type of pollution and should do more. Vote YES. [And the big argument is that the polluters will just pass the cost along to consumers. That convinces people, then the polluters jack their rates ANYWAY because war/scarcity/distribution problems/added value to their shareholders. Tell you what: I'd vote No on this if you let the voters decide EVERY price rise from here on in. Any takers?]

I-1634, also called Initiative Measure No. 1634, also called the soda tax initiative. Here's the story on this one. Seattle passed a tax on some carbonated beverages. Big Gulp, consisting of the soda companies, freaked out and want this initiative to keep any other locality from getting ideas and  doing the same. As a result, they have been wallpapering the mailboxes with scare mailers and peppering the local channels with farmers fearful that they will have to give up the back forty if we tax Bouncy Bubbly cola. This is what you call an astroturf campaign - it looks like grass roots but it ain't. Give localities the power to make their own decisions. Make corporations buy politicians the old-fashioned way, one at a time. Vote NO

I-1639, also called Initiative Measure No. 1639. also called the gun safety initiative. I don't know about you, but I'm tired of looking at my shoes. You know what I mean. Someone shoots up a school, or a night club, or a church, and there are coffins and eulogies and we all look at our shoes and feel bad that we didn't do more to keep it from happening. This is about handling a whole bunch of gun stuff - safe storage, decent background checks, training. Will it eradicate all guns? No more than Speed Limits eradicated all cars. I just want to not look at my shoes as often. Vote YES.

I-940, also called Initiative Measure No. 940. which doesn't have a short-hand name. This is the result of carefully crafted negotiations between civic groups and law enforcement agencies to reduce the chances of cops shooting people, by giving the officers more tools and training to use as well as remove language that makes it harder to deal with such situations (currently, you have to prove the officer was MAD at the victim to prosecute - So casual and off-hand shootings were OK).  It was made a law. It was contested in court. Now it pushed back to the people to make the call. And even then, it will probably go back to court. Schoolhouse Rock never prepared me for this. Go with YES.

Advisory Vote No. 19, Engrossed Second Substitute Senate Bill 6269, also called One of the reasons why no one wants to be in state government. This is about raising the taxes and fees on petroleum products to cover the inevitable leakages. Given that at the national level they REALLY want more oil (though China isn't going to order from us for a while, apparently), this works for me. Actually, the ADVISORY part of the title tells it all - this is a poll at best, if we're good with this. Go with Maintained, anyway.

Next up, we get personal. As in, we talk about people running for office.

More later,

Monday, October 22, 2018

The Political Desk Opens For the Fall

If you're in Washington State, you should have received your ballot already, along with a good-sized voter's pamphlet (two of them if you are in King County. It feels like voting season is a little tight this year, so you need to turn those around pretty darn quick.

And yeah, this election is important. OK, EVERY election is important, but this one has a lot more riding on it. At the national level we've been seeing a plundering of the public treasury, with a promise of more to come should the Republicans maintain their majority. And yeah, there is all sorts of gerrymandering, suppression, and downright lies being cast about from the conservative and corporatist sides. We have to stop this crap.

And I say that realizing that, from a personal standpoint of what I can affect, I'm not in a bad position at all. I said "NO REPUBLICANS" in the primary, and I pretty much have gotten my wish. The GOP did not put opponents for our State Reps in my district, The County Prosecutor scratched Republican off his descriptive tags,the US Representative battle is between two liberal Democrats, and the US Senator race is between a veteran incumbent and a conspiracy-theory media hack.There are not a lot of Republicans to vote AGAINST for me in this election. 

But before I tell you about my ballot, let me point you in the direction of some other people with opinions:

The Stranger has grown up. Yeah, they will pepper their endorsements with f-bombs just to show they can hang with the cool kids down at the skate park, but they are probably the best set of recommendations you can find for locating functional adults who want to be in government. That's right, you're reading an endorsement of an endorsement. They've even been spreading their wings beyond the Puget Sound area to talk about other races elsewhere. You go kids - just clean up your act.

The Seattle Times is ... well ... don't bother. I'm not even going to link them this time. I'm used to them carefully pawing around the issues, then choosing the more traditional, pro-business candidate, but this time their editorial board has really crapped their pants. After whinging about transparency for almost every Democratic candidate in the primary, they have endorsed for US Rep a millionaire real estate investor who won't share his tax returns and is involved with people stiffing their contractors (in other words, a typical modern Republican). And they decided to double-down and re-endorse a State Rep after said rep was accused of rape. So they're spending their time cooing in your ear "Don't worry,.THESE Republicans will be different from all the other Republicans we've recommended over the years". The Times talks a good game about good government, but when push comes to shove, they will sell all y'all out for the price of a two-page spread.

Who else is there? Well, here are the Progressives, and we line up pretty well, but they may have better arguments than I do. Voting for Judges does its normal excellent job, but face the same challenge I do with a lack of competition in most of the races. The Municipal League's site has not been updated since last year, but they are launching ReadySetVote.Org, which acts as a clearing house for other people's endorsements (including a few I will not mention here). The Washington State Conservation Voters are here. The Chamber of Commerce has formed a new pro-business alliance, and are asking for money, but don't seem to have endorsed anyone. The Seattle Transit Blog checks in here

All of them suffer from the same malady as Grubb Street - We have a couple very, very important races, but a lot of incumbents running against empty chairs. Me? I'm thinking of branching out.

More later, 

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Theatre: A Paradise Lost

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Ursula Rani Sarma, based on the book by Khaled Hosseini, with original music written and preformed by David Coulter, directed by Carey Perloff, Seattle Repm through November 10.

The Rep begins its season with a tough one - a story of women in the face of an oppressive society, sent against the Afghanistan of recent memory. Based on a novel by Khaled Hosseini of the same name, the play intertwines the lives of two women against the chaos of a collapsing world.

Young Laila (Rinabeth Apostal) loses her home and family in Kabul in a rocket attack. She is rescued from the rubble by neighbor Rasheed (Haysim Kadri), who takes her as his second wife. The first wife, a brow-beaten Miriam (Denmo Ibrahim), does not approve, but has no say in the matter, setting up a very hostile household. This is made worse by the decay of the country as it falls under the sway of the fundamentalist Taliban, and by Rashid's own brutality. The two women must unite in order to survive in a world that has no other allies for them.

It is brilliant performance. We watch Laila age on stage from girl to mother. But , more importantly, we also watch Miriam grow and find for herself redemption and purpose in her life. Their relationship grows as the play unspools and you find both pity for Laila being beaten into the system, and sympathy for Miriam who has become inured to its unfairness (the advice from her mother was - "endure"). For his part, Kadri plays the venomous Rasheed with just enough vulnerability and true believer fanaticism that you can believe him as a real individual (though you still want to take a swing at him - repeatedly).

But the play itself has the far-away, fantasy landscape that makes the viewers happy that they are not in such a world. In "othering" the action of the play, even to real-world Afghanistan, there's a safe distance between Rasheed's society-endorsed, abusive behavior and our own. When I was first brushing up against theatre in college, I noted that plays of abusive families were almost lower class, urban, and usually Catholic. Now we expand it to other continents. The Lovely Bride, for her part, noted the similarities between Suns and The Color Purple, which also puts the perils further away from the audience.

The fantastic nature is enhanced by the stagecraft, which is beautiful. Flying backdrops, lighting which capture the mood, props that move the locations around the actors, the stage is the stark, wild, empty lands that surround Kabul,  from the surrounding mountains to the tight, imprisoning household. It capture the mood of the play, in all its barren beauty.

And then there is the music. This is the first play in some time I remember having live supporting music, in the form of David Coulter, ensconced off to one side with a variety of instruments, including a musical saw, which stresses the alien nature of this world on the other half of the globe. It has been a while that I have seen music woven so tightly into the mood of the play itself.

So, the short form? It is a tough play, hard to watch, and difficult to review. It is also a beautiful performance, rich and deep. Go expecting to feel a little more troubled and thoughtful afterwards.

More later,

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

A Week In Books

It does not rain but it pours.
It has been an interesting and thoughtful week, in that three beautiful sets of books arrived at Grubb Street. But I don't think my reaction is the same as most other people, but I highly recommend all of them. Here's the picture of the haul:

In the middle is the Prince Valiant Storytelling game, and beneath it the adventure book. Both are beautiful books, illustrated with Hal Foster art that takes me back to the comic section of the Sunday Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The game itself is simple and sweet, and the Episode Book has contributions from an all-star squadron of creative talent (yours truly among the gang).

Yet, these books are bitter-sweet for me. First off, Stewart Wieck, who was putting them together in the first place, passed on (his brother Steve, finished the work). Then, the day after the books arrived, I learned of the passing of Greg Stafford, the original designer of this game, White Bear and Red Moon, and Pendragon, and creator of the fantasy world Glorantha.  I don't have any great Stafford stories - we chatted at the occasional convention but our paths did not cross that much. Still, one more of the original gangsters of gaming has passed on, and we are all lessened for it.

Soon afterwards Cthulhu Invictus (on the right, with coins and a decal) showed up at my door, a Kickstarter from Golden Goblin Press. And on first blush the book is SO textually dense. I remember picking the Chaosium Invictus back in the day and noting the wide margins and large leading (something Chaosium is not alone of doing - check out some TSR products of the age). This version is heavily packed, the script-like font running nearly to the edge of the page. Golden Goblin does some of the best material in this new golden age of Lovecraftian gaming, and I am slowly making my way through it.

And with it comes a sense of both opportunity and obligation. My gang has talked off and on about doing some adventures set in the Roman Empire, and this may just push me over. But that becomes one more thing to work on. If I get around to it I will post.

And on the right, the big powerhouses are two different editions of Art & Arcana, which showed up Saturday morning. Several months ago the authors came over to the house, where they took some pictures of the original art I have on the wall, and and listened politely as I blathered on about told stories of the old TSR.

I haven't dug in too deeply, but the final project is absolutely beautiful.Old guard gamers will remember the Art of Dragon books - this is SOOOO much better. Larger, heavier, glossier, meatier, amazing. Here's the visual history of Dungeons & Dragons. The deluxe edition is boxed, has some separate art (suitable for framing) and a photostat of the original Tomb of Horrors when it was an adventure run at GenCon 1975. I did not know this existed. It looks it it was originally typed on mimeograph paper, but I can't be sure.

And it feels like going through a old high school yearbook, and each picture reminds me of something else that happened in those bygone days. I've leafed through it, and said "Ah, that reminds me of a story ..." and there is a lot of me and the other greats of the Bronze Age of TSR, plus great stuff from the giants that came before us and the brilliant creators who came after.

So. Sadness, Opportunity, Nostalgia. Not what I normally get in the mail.

Check out all three.

More later,