Friday, December 31, 2021

Snowed In

As you may have heard, we've had a a bit of snow up here in the Pacific Northwest. It is not unusual to have snow once or twice a year, and by snow I mean snow-level-at-sea-level, lasts-more-than-a-day type of snow. We're used to snow with visiting rights - if we want snow, we can just go up to the passes, or to watch it at a respectful distance from the foothills. Rarely does it come to visit, squatting down in your driveway, and showing no intention of moving on.
After the first wave

This is one of those times. The there was a light set of flurries just before Christmas, and the main onslaught began that night. About 6 inches up here on Grubb Street, judging from the pile-up on the deck railings. Then a few days of flurries as the high
dropped into the 20s, then another wave of about 3 inches more. Currently it is hovering just around freezing, with most of the blacktops clear from melting.

So, enough to shut everything down - this level of snow is so rare that the local authorities are limited in response. King County has all of 14 plows. Kent itself has 8 de-icer or sander trucks that have snow blades on them. Kent does have a priority list of streets to plow. Odds are that your street is not on that list. Businesses are either shut down, running with reduced staffs, or closing early before the roads freeze. I haven't had a newspaper delivered to the house for a week, though the Post Office, Amazon delivery guys, and milk deliveries have been uninterrupted (thought one of them has lost his gloves in our driveway - if you're missing brown fur-lined gloves, they are on the bench out front).

Snow Halfling
Still, this is an opportune time, and not just because so many folk are still working from home. Hitting the Christmas break puts a lot of kids at home from school. Our department had already decided to take off between Christmas and New Year's. We managed in the break between storms to get out to the grocery store, and while the deli counter was shutting down (not enough workers that day) and the bread aisle was severely depleted, there were neither major shortages or panic in the aisles.

Swedish Snow Lantern
And the housemates have been playing in the snow, making both a snowman and a set of Swedish snow lanterns. The Lovely Bride and I have been keeping to the warmth of the house, and I have enough new books to tide me over.

We still have power and the Internet, so that puts us ahead of game, as opposed to several years back, when the power went out and we relied on the fireplace and wind-up emergency radio. So we are fortunate. Rumors (meaning the weather report) say that it should warm up in the next few days, then we get hit with another round of snow. Nothing is overheated, nothing is on fire, so we are doing well. And we at Grubb Street hope you're doing well, too, and have a safe and sane New Years.

More later.

Monday, December 27, 2021

Ten Movies

 So, talking about other things, I considered what my favorite ten movies were. And I had to think about I would mean as "favorite". There are movies that a really like, and would recommend to others, but probably not watch again. They were a great experience - blockbusters, indie films, but they were one-and-done for me.

And there are "films" where you want to take apart how the plot is unspooled, how the shots were taken, how they got that take, or sought out that emotion. Films can be analyzed. Movies are just embraced.

And then there are the films that I will watch. Every time. Channel hopping or random streaming, coming in on the middle of them, and I will hang on until the end credits. I know the lines. I know how they end. I know the stories behind them. But these are movies that I will WATCH again and again. This is what I'm talking about.

Not all of these are great movies. Not all of them have "worn" well since their release. Some of them are a bit cringe. Many of them lack deeper meaning. A lot of them bunch up in my teen aged years. Some are even in Black and White. But I will watch them. Every. Damn. Time.

Here are ten movies:

The Thin Man (1934)

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

The Longest Day (1962)

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)

The Great Race (1965)

The War Wagon (1968)

Ice Station Zebra (1968)

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Star Wars (1977)

Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

So what are YOUR Ten?

More later,

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Season's Greetings

 Wishing you a safe, sane, and secure Holiday Season.

Art by Eyvind Earle

More later, 

Monday, December 20, 2021

Seattle Weather

When we moved to Seattle twenty-some years ago, I started encountering weather features and climate conditions that I hadn't encountered before, or had few references to. Here's a handy list for new arrivals:

Weather Forecast: Fiction. 

5-Day Forecast: Science Fiction. 

Mountain Day: We are surrounded by mountains - Cascades to the east, the Olympic range to the west. But when we say "The Mountain is Out" (and we do), we are talking about Mount Rainier (rah-NEER), which looms to the south like something out of Greek Myth.If we can see it from base to tip, we call it the "Full Mountain".  People are usually happy when we can see the Mountain, despite the fact that Rainier is an ACTIVE VOLCANO (not erupting, but not quite dead, either).

Sunbreaks: The opposite of Partly Cloudy, but rarer out here. It a term used from the Fall to Spring, and usually means "You might see some sun today." Most of the summer is pristine, blue, and cloudless. That's when your relatives from back East visit and tell you how nice it must be to live out here. You want people to stop moving to Seattle? Invite them out in the dead of winter.

June-uary: When we say "summer" in Seattle, we don't count the first two weeks in June. Sure, May is nice, with soft rain in the evenings and fogs in the morning, but a grey overcast dominates the landscape in early June, so much so that it gets its own month. Also called June Gloom.

Atmospheric River: A recent term, it reflects the fact that Washington State doesn't really have any large agricultural states to the west of it we can call up and ask for steady weather forecasts.What we often see on the doppler radar is the thick stream of heavy red bearing down on us. Makes the weathermen on the evening news excited.

Pineapple Express: When the atmospheric river commutes from Hawaii. Really makes the weathermen excited.

Convergence Zone: I mentioned the Olympics, they are a massive upthrust of mountain due west of us. They tend to stand in the way of the atmospheric rivers that buffet the coast. Of course, the weather tends to go AROUND this big chunk of mountains, so Seattle is often at the point where the weather coming around the northern side hits the weather coming around from the south. When they hit, we get interesting, local effects. So Kirkland can get heavy rain and hail while Kent gets nothing.

Rain Shadow: The flip side of the convergence zone. Because the mountains are in the way, some places get untouched by rain while it rains heavily to both the north and south. The Olympics become Seattle's umbrella, and like an umbrella, a treacherous wind can turn it inside out.

Microclimates: As a result of the differences in altitude, plus the rain shadow and convergence zone, microclimates mean that you can have radically different weather in relative close proximity. While in certain parts of the country, the saying is" If you don't like the weather, wait fifteen minutes" in Seattle it is "If you don't like the weather, drive fifteen miles."

Misting: What Seattlites call it when it really ISN'T raining. You don't need a slicker. You don't need an umbrella (a sign of being a tourist). It's just misting. Works up to the point when you start seeing hail.

Thunder:  A rarity. It happens maybe once a month, consists of one long, rolling peel. and people will talk about it at the office the next day. It is so cute to those who come out from the Midwest. 

Snowed In: More than a quarter inch on the roads. Everyone forgets how to drive. Archaic term now that everyone is working from home.

Snow Level: Snow is measured by altitude here, and as winter proceeds the snow level descends down from the mountains to the sea. So we really pay attention to where the snow level currently is. "Lowland Snow" sets off alarm bells and closes schools. Grubb Street is located at the 500 foot mark, just in case you were wondering. 

Seattle Freeze: Has nothing to do with the weather, but is as close as we get to feeling chilly. 

Black Ice: Not a uniquely Seattle phenomenon, its the scarier way of saying "It's a little slick out there".

Closing the Passes: The main east/west highways out of/into Seattle go over the Cascade Mountains, and as winter arrives, travel over them become perilous and often avalanche-y, until finally the passes are closed, sealing us off from the rest of the northern US. We're pretty happy with that.

Polar Vortex: Not so much a Seattle thing, this is a weather effect that has been picked up on the national reports. It is bitter cold with heavy snows and wind - what Wisconsin used to call "A pretty average winter".  The weakening of the Jet Stream around the Arctic Circle results is sudden bulges of cold air descending on the heart of of the country, giving Climate Skeptics the chance to complain "Where's your Global Warming, now?"

Pyroclastic Flow: We have an active volcano nearby (see Mountain Day, above). Someday, it will go off, and send a cascade of molten rock, hot mud, and melted snow down the surrounding valleys, including the Green River valley, where Renton, Kent, and Auburn lay. This is a reason that Grubb Street is up on a hill. Have a pleasant day. 

Subduction Zone: The Big One - that massive earthquake that will cause the West Coast to fall into the sea, belongs to us, Oregon and California, so it not unique to Seattle. However, we DO talk about the tectonic plates far out to sea that have the potential to slip and create a Tidal Wave, which, given the narrowing of the Straits leading to Puget Sound, will channel it like a shotgun blast at the city.

Tsunami Route: You can see signs occasionally. I'm not sure they're being kept in order. They are usually pointing towards higher ground (well, yeah), in case the subduction zone triggers a tidal wave that will swamp the low-level areas of the Sound.

Solstice: Solstice is an important holiday in Seattle. We are the furthest north major metropolitan center in the continental US. We are further north than most of the population of Canada. So this means that our day/night cycle takes wide swings back and forth during the year. In the summer months, we are used to the sun setting in the Northeast, and twilight showing up around 10 PM. In the winter months, we are looking commuting in the darkness both to and from work. Both are a bit wearing on the senses, and the Solstice is the moment when the pendulum reaches its furthest point, and starts slipping back.

Happy Solstice. More later.

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Book: Jail Break


Help, I'm Being Held Prisoner By Donald E. Westlake, Titan Books, original publication 1974

Provenance: Half-Price Books. When I am in a used bookstore, I check the mysteries to see if there are any Rex Stouts I am missing. In the same area of the alphabet I found this Donald Westlake in trade paperback format.

Review: So, Donald Westlake is an incredibly accomplished author, and wrote the original Parker novels. He also wrote the novel The Hot Rock, which became the film of the same name with a screenplay by William Goldman, starring Robert Redford, George Segal, Paul Sands, and Zero Mostel. Funny movie. So if you want funny crime stories, Westlake has you covered. And the original publication of this book falls hard on the heels of The Hot Rock movie, so there was probably a demand of funny crime stories.

And it is a prison fantasy, in that it takes place in a prison, but is scripted in a way that breaks your sense of reality if you think about it too hard. 

The unfortunately-named Harold KΓΌnt (with an umlat - it just gets worse the longer you look at it) is inveterate and uncontrollable practical joker whose latest stunt on the Long Island Expressway gets him sent up the river for a short stint. He falls in with a band of tough guys who have tunneled out of the prison, but they are not planning an escape. Instead they leave the prison, commit a few crimes, go out to dinner, take in a movie, then come back for roll-call. Harold accidentally and easily crashes the party, and after some deliberation, the tough guys take him in because they have a big plan - they are going to knock over not one, but two banks in the town the prison is located in, then come back to prison because that's the last place anyone would think to look for criminals.

And we're ignoring stuff like, you know, fingerprints. Like I said, let's park reality at the door for this one.

Its a fun, light read. Harold is a nervous wreck, trying to keep himself from committing any more practical jokes, plus keeping the gang's secrets, plus dealing with someone else pulling practical jokes and him taking the blame, plus trying to keep the gang from finding out that he is NOT a tough guy, plus desperately trying to keep the gang from robbing the banks. So most of the book consists of him going to greater and greater lengths to keep all the balls in the air. Sort of French farce, with a lot of door slamming, but the doors have bars on them in this case. 

I have to call out the Paul Mann cover of this one, only because, in the tradition of hard-boiled mysteries, it conveys the theme while misrepresenting what is going on inside the covers. The protagonist is a broad-chested he-man dressed up in classic hamburglar stripes (he is not, and the book is set in a period of Folsom prison denims). The babe is all legs and bare;y-buttoned men's shirt (there is a love interest, but not as dolled up) with an obligatory gun - It is something something off the old Carter Brown covers by Robert McGinnis. 

So, it is a fun book, and a nice break from change ringing in the fens of East Anglia, but not one to hunt down. 

More later,

Monday, December 13, 2021

The Things On The Doorstep

Recent Acquisitions, with a Cameo from Kia

Here are some of the game products that have been piling up here at Grubb Street. The bulk of them are Kickstarters that have delivered. Kickstarter has a been a boon for small and medium publishers which might otherwise not have the reach to find their audience.

This Kickstarter boom, though, has been kicked in the teeth of late by the global situation, not just the perils of the pandemic but the shipping crisis as well. The backup has delayed delivered even further and small shipments are getting lost in the shuffle. And, given Brexit, I do think twice before ordering anything from England, as the shipping fees can rival the cost of the product itself.

However, I do have a long trail of material that I've ordered previously which continues to show up at my door. And this is a very mixed bag this time. As always, these are not reviews,. in that I feel you need to play the game in order to review it fully, but a rather is a first glance and reactions to them.

Southlands (Richard Green, with Wolfgang Baur, Basheer Ghouse, and Kelly Pawlik; Kobold Press; 316 page hardbound) as well as the Southlands Player's Guide (Green, Marks, McFarland, Merwin, Pawlik and Suskind; 80 page softbound) and City of Cats by Richard Pett; 202 page hardbound). The Southlands was originally detailed for the Pathfinder Game, but makes the transition to D&D 5E with this volume. It deals with the territory south of the core Midgard territories and is a melding of Arabian Nights, Dynastic Egypt, and Lost World African themes. Looking forward to reading it in more detail, given my background with Al-Qadim. The Player's Guide gives you a lot of the nuts and bolts for creating characters and new races in this region for 5th Edition. The City of Cats looks at first blush to be this world's Cairo analogue, with a lot of urban fantasy intrigue. Full color, high production values, excellent maps.

Bayt Al Azif (Jared Smith, editor; Bayt al Azif Inc.; Issues 1-3; 80-120 pages squarebound magazine) This is an irregular magazine on the Call of Cthulhu game. The release schedule is "When the Stars Are Right" which means I have three issues so far, the most recent from 2020. I got it off Amazon, but you can order it in real-world or pdf form off DriveThruRPG. Really high production values, echoing the old World of Cthulhu magazines from Pegasus Spiele. Contents are a mix of adventures and articles, the latter being about the history of the game, and reviews/overviews of recent Cthulhu products. Their website is here.

The Oracle #14 (Stephen Hart (writing/design/layout) and Jane Spenser (editing); The Grinning Frog; 50 page squarebound). Ordered this during the 'Zinefest on Kickstarter, but to call it a 'Zine is to round down. Landscape formating, glossy stock, excellent art,. This particular issue deals with a fantasy version of Venice, with canals, duels, masques, masks, and magic. Great on flavor and inspiration, light on mechanics. Website is here

The Dee Sanctions Adventures - (Paul Baldowski and Richard August; 44 pages squarebound) I got the ruleset for this a while back, and while the kickstarter included these rules in pdf, I picked them up in print and got a bonus adventure as well. Short version - John Dee's Suicide Squad. This one is softback and nice production values.  Website is here.

All Must Bow (Ryan Hatt and Joshua Flaccavento,; Bleak Horizons Press; 58 page saddlestitched) This one is weird, and more of art-project than a game setting.The idea is that there are uncaring, monstrous Dreadful Ancient Things in our universe, and you're working with/for  them to achieve - whatever it is you think they need to achieve. It mentions the use of X-cards at the start and actually feels like it may need it. System Agnostic (with hints and helps about particular systems in the back  it almost feels like it is an experience hung on an RPG's blasted skeleton than a full RPG itself. Includes a sealed envelope that I am quite frankly a little frightened to open. Company website with links to other sites is here.

Nahual (Miguel Angel Espinoza, 288 pages Squarebound)- This one is very interesting. An RPG by designer of Latino heritage, Nahual is based on a comic book that has only been published in Mexico, where the angels, representative of Western Colonizers, are hunted by descendants of native shamans, Upon slaying the angels, the shamans turn the bodies into drugs and food served from taco trucks  Powered by the Apocalypse Engine but complete in and of itself,with high production values and good B/W art, it is an urban fantasy not based on traditional western tropes. . Website? Here.

Orun (Misha Bsuhyager, Jerry D. Grayson, Eloy LaSanta; New Agenda Publishing; 288 hardbound) Also from diverse voices and avoiding traditional western tropes, this game is billed as Post-Apotheois Afro-Futuristic Space Opera. So that's a bit of a niche market, but it looks great. Pulling from  the "Lost Present" school of SF (like Tekumel and Dune, our present is far in the game's past and Western Civilization has wiped itself out long before mankind made it to the stars), the game uses Nigerian/Yoruba terminology like Oya (for Earthers) and Orisha (for ascended humanity) to craft a futuristic setting with multiple planetary heavens and a Sauron-level meme-devil as an ultimate big bad. The product itself is high production values - Hardback, full-color, glossy stock, with a book ribbon and a slip case. Worth a deeper dive.

The Black Hack (David Black, Black Label/Squarehex, 124 page hardback)- Hacks are something that have popped up in the past decade - Minimalist designs, using old-school games that push ease of play over detailed background. Take a system (usually a 3d6 one) and reducing it to its most basic components. This Black Hack is the revision and has a clean presentation and art that would fit in the liner notes for the Gorillaz Clint Eastwood album. Player's section has four classes, like the classic. DM's section has a lot of tables for random results. The Kickstarter came with a bunch of small tchotchkes, like mini-booklets for maps, lore, and spells. This one (and the Dee Adventures) actually shipped from England, and made it in a timely fashion. Stripped-down web page is here.

And that's about it. If I get a chance to actually play any of these, I will come back to them. But in general, Kickstarter has produced some really fine opportunities to get hold of games that might not otherwise make their way to your friendly neighborhood gaming store.

More later,

Friday, December 03, 2021

Book: Whom the Bell Tolls

Mass Market Paperback The Nine Tailors Book

The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1934

Provenance: Picked up at Page Turner Books down in Kent, took with me as an airline read.

Review: I've said before that Dorothy Sayers mysteries are about other things, which just happen to have a mystery, a murder, and a detective mixed in. Murder Must Advertise gets into the weeds with advertising and office culture. Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club deals with men's clubs and the casual damage from the war. The Nine Tailors is a mystery that involves deep discussions of  bellringers and water management in the fens of East Anglia. The full title is The Nine Tailors: Changes Rung on an Old Theme In Two Short Touches and Two Full Peals.

And I'll be honest, the book put me to sleep on the trip back from Florida. I don't sleep on planes as a rule, but it put me under for a good two hours.

That's not bad in any way, shape or form - if there is anyone who can write about bellringing and East Anglian fens, Sayers is the person to do so. But there is a lot of text to be waded through, and much of it steams of a writer showing off their research.

So here's the general gist of it. Lord Peter Wimsey and his manservant Bunter get into a car accident near the village of Fenchurch St. Paul. They are taken in at the local vicarage, and Lord Peter lends a hand with a nine-hour ringing session of the church bells for the New Year. He stays for the funeral of the Lady of the local manor. He returns a few months later for the funeral of the Lord of the local manor, but when they open up the Lady's grave to inter the Lord's body, there is another unexpected body in the grave.

There are more tropes here than in an episode of Murder She Wrote. The befuddled minister. The town fool who speaks in riddles. The old-timer who remembers everything. The busybody who is incensed about the placement of the mourning wreaths. The young heir with the grumpy uncle. The well-meaning souls who cover up for those they think guilty. The key piece of evidence destroyed by someone washing up. The body where it shouldn't be. The missing emeralds. Add to that clues which are in code using the script of campanology and the ever-present threat of flooding in the fens, and there is a lot going on here.

Lord Peter does his detective thing, but he almost feels incidental. He doesn't have much of a character arc for himself in this one other than to hunt down clues and make deductions. He's not in his native clime, but adapts well, people like him, no one is really working against him. He sort of Mary Poppins his way into the lives of those at Fenchurch St. Paul. By this time (9 books in), Wimsy's personality is pretty much crystalized, but his reaction to a sudden flood (which gives him the final piece of the puzzle) still feels overwrought and unexpected. 

Oh, and the nine tailors of the title are not about men making suits, but about the nine tolls of the bells to commemorate the death of a man.  There is a lot of jargon within the book, particularly about bellringing (more exactly, change ringing), and it is easy to lost in the Stedman's Trebles and the Grandsire Triples..

Mind, Sayers can write, and she writes up a storm. Her writing is eloquent and literate. If you are forced, through circumstance or at gunpoint, to read a mystery featuring bellringing and water management in the East Anglian marshlands, this is as good as you're going to get. This volume has a reputation as being one of her best, and if you love it, you love it utterly, and if you hate it, it is one of the worst. I would not make this a first read for the series or the character, but it stands well of its own right.

More later,

Monday, November 29, 2021

Book: The Gygax Years

Game Wizards: The Epic Battle for Dungeons & Dragons by Jon Peterson , The MIT Press, 2021

Provenance - One of my housemates heard me mention that I interested (and maybe mentioned in) this book, and she ordered me a copy. I read it in the evenings over my stay in Disney World.

Yep, I'm mentioned in it.

Review - Jon Peterson has been doing a fantastic job detailing the history of roleplaying games. His Playing at the World is a voluminous history of the hobby from the first Kriegspielers to the arrival of Dungeons & Dragons. The Elusive Shift is a detailed study of the early TTRPG gaming environment, its fandom, and the effect that fandom had on the development of D&D. This time he gets into the meat of the situation - the business history of TSR, D&D's original publisher, from its conception to when Gary Gygax lost control of the company.

Peterson uses primary sources to great effect. He's not relying completely on the stories of those who were there, as memories fade and are often refurbished by their owners over time. He's done the digging through old records and sales information and memos that have survived to this day. And as a result, the picture he paints is detailed and accurate.

The core of the story begins with the creation of the game and the foundation of the company. Originally a group of hobbyists codifying rules, it tracks through the early Geneva Conventions (GenCon, in the old Horticulture Hall) to the conversations between Lake Geneva and Minneapolis to the creation of a going concern that actually paid people to early success and later challenges.

Peterson credits both men for their achievements - Arneson for the key components of roleplaying and Gygax for developing and presenting them. The bone of contention is what happens when that development outstrips the original concepts. To a great degree, the evolution of D&D left Arneson behind, and that lack of not only recognition but also recompense lay at the heart of their disagreements.

This was a slow read for me, as I would read a few pages, then stop to reflect. Is this something I already knew about? Is this new information? Does it fit with what I knew at the time? There are a lot of stories from the past that surface here - The passing of original founder Don Kaye, Dallas Egbert and the Steam Tunnels, BADD. And there is stuff that I have tucked into the back of mind over the years - Gygax versus the small press, the Origins/GenCon Rivalry, the Avalon Hill Rivalry. And there is stuff that I really didn't know much about - for example, the original split not only between Gary and Dave, but  between the Lake Geneva and Minnesota crews, or that the original Chainmail published by Guidon games, or the idea that GAMA (the Game Manufacturers Association) was founded in response to TSR's actions in the hobby at large.

I was there for part of the time covered, but this isn't my story. The design department of 1985 - Me, Tracy, Zeb, Doug, Bruce, Merle, are sources, but we're minor actors in this particular passion play. At the time we were mushrooms (literally, our offices on Sheridan Springs Road had no windows). We were hobbits (to quote one of our managers, who referred to himself as a Ranger protecting Hobbitown). We were the country mice in our rural environment, far from the cool stuff in Hollywood. We were the little folk we. We would hear the distant thunder. We were mostly innocent bystanders, and on more than a few occasions, collateral damage.

So I am here, but as a cameo. My arrival (and Tracy's) is noted in passing, as are our early work during this turbulent time (sales, to my surprise, were declining when I was hired, but by the time the torch was passed, we in the design department were "pulling its own weight" financially, and we started such projects as Dragonlance and Marvel Super Heroes). There's a picture of us in a tug of war contest from a company picnic, and we look like the Junior Achievement branch of the Not Ready for Prime Time Players - I am in denim jeans and a denim vest, wearing a headband - I look like I was an extra from "The Warriors". 

But the main players here are Gary and Dave, and the conflict that came out of their early collaboration. Peterson delves deep into the lawsuits and the sales records to bust some earlier myths and to track the economic history of TSR. He makes the case that Egbert, BADD, and the horrendous 60 minutes episode served to raise people's awareness of D&D and with it the game's popularity. I have to concur, but I think another factor was the rise of the mall and big box bookstores - TSR was distributed at the time not by another publishing group, but by Random House's merchandising department, who was looking to fill space in these now-larger venues.

Peterson tells much but not all and, I will still have stories to tell over beers. Things like the Dungeons & Diamonds game show, or the D&D Amusement Park we were going to set up in Lake Geneva. Or any of a half-dozen other blue-sky projects or wild ideas that may have been spun with moonbeams. Peterson treats most of his subjects gently, pushing points that he can support only through factual material. Gary's lifestyle in Hollywood is portrayed as merely "wild", and Lorraine William in credited with saving the company, and comes off as rational and sensible.

I'd be very interested in seeing "what happens next", but I don't know if the circumstances would allow it. The post-Gygax, post-Blume years at TSR were a bit of a tighter ship, absent a lot of the internal and external drama of the earlier years. There are fewer source documents and internal memos to rely on, less public denouncements of our competition, and less of a paper trail. Still, it would be interesting to see. 

If you play D&D and want to know its history, this is the book to pick up. It shows where the bodies are buried and unearths treasures from the past. It was a different world in the 70s for game design, as opposed to today, and it is solid tale of relationships, design, and the growth of RPGs.

An Epic Battle, indeed. More later.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Theatre: Here Be Monsters

We've Battled Monsters Before - Book, Music, and Lyrics by Justin Huertas, Directed by Mathew Wright, Arts West, Through December 28.

Theatre is back. Sorta. The Lovely Bride and I attended what turned out to be opening night for We've Battled Monsters Before at the Arts West. They were checking vaccination cards at the door and the audience remained masked through the performance, and empty seats were more the case of social distancing than lack of interest. But, it was live theatre after too many months of empty stages.

Arts West is set up in a former department store at the Junction neighborhood in West Seattle, a neighborhood that is now mostly cut off from Restof Seattle by the anticipated collapse of the West Seattle Bridge. So between plague and impending construction, it is not the easy access venue that it once was. But on the other hand parking was not as hard to come by (though my lot of choice is soon to be plowed under for more condos). As for the theater itself, the performance area itself was in the round (well, in the oblong, at least), with a raised stage and for this play, a tree about three feet away from my seat at the top of an aisle.

The tree exists in the Whisper, a timeless (literally) chuck of property outside of Seattle. Here is a rift in time that grants wishes, and is used by a family of Filipino babaylan wise women. The current generation consists of the not-so-wise Adarna (Rheanna Atendido) and her brother Diego (Justin Huertas, who is also playwright, lyricist, and takes on the role of Lola, their grandmother, when need be). Adarna is studying to become a spellcaster, and aches to be a warrior for her people. Her attempts, even when well-meaning, often affect Diego (he becomes a werewolf. And then becomes a GIANT werewolf, but the play is focused primarily on Ardarna). It is about spellcasting, responsibilities, family, and food. Oh, yeah, it's a musical. 

Huertas has a wonderful flair for urban fantasy and magical realism (his songs aren't bad, either). His Lizard Boy was super-heroes in Seattle. His Last World Octopus Wrestling Champion was a chunk of NW folklore turned mystical. Here he pulls from the tales of his own heritage to transpose Filipino folklore into a modern age. This one was good - I liked Last Octopus more, and the Lovely B still prefers Lizard Boy, but this was a small, tidy, personal musical which sought out the magic and found it. It is an excellent start to the Arts West season, and worth a trip to the distant wilds of West Seattle.

More later.

Monday, November 08, 2021

Book: Life In Dis-United States

Break It Up; Secession, Division, and the Secret History of America's Imperfect Union by Richard Kreitner, Little, Brown, and Company, 2020

OK, we're done talking about politics. Let's talk about a book instead ... about politics!

Provenance: Purchased from Amazon after seeing it reviewed on a progressive website.

Review: History is a big bag of stuff, from which we spin out narratives and create our own national backstory. George Washington is a folktale figure, his lore filled with cherry trees and skipping coins across the Potomac. Washington is the great man of Valley Forge and the First Presidency. George Washington is the man with dentures made from the teeth of slaves. George Washington is a land speculator seeking to keep the Forks of the Ohio out of the hands of those Pennsylvanians, and in the process kicking off the Seven Years' War in Europe and America. All these are stories, all have their truth, and if you pick apart the threads of our past, you can see a number of them all functioning at the same time.

In the case of Break It Up, the story presented is that United States has never been particularly United, and at any one time part of its population is threatening, edging, or dashing for the exits. Krietner's work overturns a big box of data points to make the case that US and its people have always been heading for a crack-up.

How could it be otherwise? The thirteen English colonies were founded for different reasons by different groups. Here is a prison colony, there a group of religious separatists, over there a failed business venture or three, and here's one to pay off a debt by the Crown. We swallowed New Amsterdam, and New Sweden, expanded into established Native American lands and grabbed territories claimed by other European Powers. Those groups that were not disenfranchised were set up in continual rivalries. The Beta Test of the whole shebang, known as the Articles of the Confederation, crashed and burned.

And the big elephant in the room for much of our history is slavery and the elites that supported it. Even within the Constitution itself, which by counting the South's declared property as partial people for representation, put Virginia in the driver's seat for many years (Such that four of the first five presidents were from Virginia - there's a reason for that). From that moment on, our political history is a case of "Make Virginia (and by extension the South) happy". And where things happen like New England seceding (yeah, it was a thing), it was because the northerners felt Virginia had TOO much power. 

And that's sort of where secession comes from - You won't let me do something, at a state level, so I'm going home. From nullification acts to outright secession, the ruling class of those states pushing headlong into separatism are fired up about their rights being trampled. In example after example, those heading to the exits are claiming that they are the "real" Americans, the followers of those original founding fathers that believed in life, liberty, and often the ownership of slaves. 

Further, where states break off from other states, it is because they don't feel they are getting their slice of the power - the brief state of Jefferson comes to mind, as well such nascent movements as the Upper Peninsula and east of the Cascades. Heck, in the last few elections, nonbinding resolutions in Oregon have eight counties expressing a desire to join Idaho.

The flip side of "Make Virginia Happy" is "Virginia Gets Kicked In the Teeth", which could be the title of another book with much of the same facts. Virginia's original colonial claims went out to Minnesota, yet the same spirit of compromise whittled it back and eroded its power. When push came to shove in the 1860s, they lost about half the state west of the mountains (which didn't like the eastern half that much anyway - see previous paragraph) to form Kanawha/West Virginia. Of course, Virginia got their part of the original District of Columbia back so they could still bring in slaves through Alexandria. 

Krietner grabs fistfuls of examples in the first hundred years, though in doing so chooses to glances briefly over a bunch and other parts gets lost in the shuffle. He addresses the Mormon migration and Deseret, but not the other utopian communities that set themselves up apart from the world, like the Shakers, Millerites, and Amish. He hits the origin of Texas as an independent nation playing into the them of separatism but gives a short shrift to Hawai'i. And the fate of the Indian Reservations and federal lands throughout the west are not addressed (And the nature of the reservations to the rest of the country? The most recent examples are that Oklahoman law does not apply to the area that at one time wanted to be the state of Sequoyah, and Elon Musk is setting up dealerships on New Mexican reservations to avoid NM's prohibition of manufacturers directly selling their cars).

The bulk of the book is antebellum America, where the spirit of compromise and consensus passes the nation through an ever-narrowing set of gates, such that ultimately secession seemed inevitable, though each generation would make sure it didn't happen on their watch. After the Civil War, the book jumps about 50 years to tensions on the borders with Mexico in the First World War. The Civil War was a period when we went from the The United States are to the United States as a singular, but still, such a large gap it undercuts the argument.

And he makes connections between the separatism of the prewar and that of today's Red and Blue America. The thing is, I don't see this current crisis as being Unity versus States' Rights, but rather about who is controlling the whole shebang. Further, the weakening of States' Militias (and the rise of the National Guard as a national military unit) has weakened the ability of entire states to walk away. Still, the thriving right-wing militia movement (which hit a high point on Jan 6 of this year) and the ongoing attempts of Nullification of Federal Laws by Texas indicates that the nature of the battlefield has changed, but still remains a battlefield.

I think that Separatism, Factionalism, and Sectionalism are features, not a bugs, in modern nations regardless of their origins and intentions. This is not just a US thing. I'm looking at a European union that is currently dealing with Brexit and Polish nullification. Britain itself deals with continual calls for Scotland and Northern Ireland to go their own ways. Canada has always had to deal with its Quebec problem. And the entire Soviet Union collapsed on itself like a shaken souffle, and its primary inheritor, the Russian Federation, is trying to put the pieces back together. 

One thing I am going to dun Kreitner for is his footnotes, particularly coming off the latest Three Musketeers novels. This book's foot notes are not numbered where they appear, so you have to check in the back to see if there are any references or additional comments for that particular line or quote. Worse, the footnotes in the back are not tied to page numbers, so you really don't have any idea what is getting footnoted or not. That's a basic error, and weakens his presentation.

From a gaming side, this book does have some resonance. We designers love to carve up the map. Shadowrun. Cyberpunk, Castle Falkenstein, Crimson Skies. Deadlands. Heck, even my own FREELancers took a shot at it. The idea of separatism a (even if we don't aspire to it) and a balkanized United States is a gaming trope - it creates conflict, and out of that, stories.

But there is another interesting gaming intersection here I want to touch on briefly. In the classic (1975) White Bear and Red Moon, the foundation of Runequest and Glorantha, the two cultures in collision are guided by separate and equally powerful principles. The Lunar Empire believes that "We are All Us", while the barbarian Sartar live by the motto of "No One Can Make You Do Anything." Inclusion vs. Individuality. Oddly, that echoes with the current situation.

In the books I want to write but never probably will is one called "Worst Election Ever", which works off the initial idea that EVERY presidential election is worse than the one preceding it. Given the tonnage of data points I can utilize, I think I can make a good case for it. Kreitner gives a great amount of points, but needed to carry through on how the separatism of the Antebellum period downshifted into the current state of affairs. Same battles. New battlefields.

More later,

Friday, November 05, 2021

The Political Desk: The Dust Settles

 I wait a few days after the election to post the results because of the nature of elections in Washington State. We vote by mail, so it takes several days for the final results to be determined. Votes postmarked by the evening of election day need to be counted, and they can often swing the election. In most places, that will often swing conservative as older voters finally get around to voting on election day. In King County, it goes the other direction, and the more left-leaning, younger folk tend to get their ballots in under the deadline, so leading on election night is not a definite victory.

On the other hand, if you're ahead 10+ points on the first count, it is likely you're good for the position, in particular in elections with low voter turnouts (and we're talking about 33 40 percent of the eligibles this time out).

OK, so how did things turn out up here in the upper left-hand corner of the country? Here are the results three days after election day.

Advisory Vote No. 36 - Engrossed Second Substitute House Bill 1477 -  Maintained. Like, you know, it matters.

Advisory Vote No. 37 - Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 5096 - Repealed, but it still kinda close. Like, you know, it matters. (Whups, it flipped to Maintained. Still doesn't matter).

Advisory Vote No. 38 - Second Substitute Senate Bill 5315 -  Maintained. Like, oh, you know the drill.

King County Charter Amendment No. 1 Preamble - YES

King County Charter Amendment No. 2 Initiative, Referendum and Charter Amendment Timelines and Processes - YES

King County Executive - Dow Constantine

Metropolitan King County, Council District No 5 - Dave Upthegrove

Port of Seattle Position 1 - Ryan Calkins

Port of Seattle Position 3 Hamdi Mohamed

Port of Seattle Position 4Toshiko Grace Hasagawa (Both Mohamed and Hasagawa were slightly behind on the day one count, but made up the difference and are now ahead).

Mayor of Kent: Dana Ralph

City of Kent Council Position Number 4 -  Tina Troutner

City of Kent Council Position Number 6 - Brenda Fincher 

Kent School District No. 415, Director District No. 4 Awale Farah

Kent School District No. 415, Director District No. 5 - Tim Clark

Soos Creek Water and Sewer District Commissioner Position No. 4 - Darold Stroud

Soos Creek Water and Sewer District Commissioner Position No. 5 - Logan K. Wallace

Public Hospital District No. 1 Commissioner District No. 2 -  Jim Griggs (but, again, close).

Public Hospital District No. 1 Commissioner District No. 4 Monique Taylor-Swan (and this one actually made me nervous - Ms. Taylor-Swan's opponent ran as an open-communication and transparency candidate, but is reported by KUOW to be a stealth anti-vaxer and was at the Jan 6 rally that kicked of the insurrection. So now I guess I'm going to have to check out candidates' social media as well).

General overview? Incumbents did well, except where they didn't. A lot of work on the ground game from those who won - Mayor Ralph did a LOT of mailers and positive robo-calls ("We've done well and have more to do."). You want to win? You get out the vote. 

The Centrists did OK. I recommended some more progressive candidates, and they didn't do as well. But it is not like rooting for a sports team. The goal here is to put good people in office, and we're fortunate that in most cases that we had a choice of good candidates, with only a couple choices of good versus Oh-My-God.

One thing to whine about? The Stranger finally got outside its Downtown-shaped bubble and reported on us out in the hinterlands. On election day. Yeah, thanks a lot for that timely advice, dudes. 

And with that the Political Desk goes dormant for the winter. More (about other stuff) later.

Monday, November 01, 2021

Eating Disney

 Who in their right mind goes to Disney World in a pandemic?

>Sheepishly raises his hand.<

So, here's the story. We made reservations - park, plane, hotel - like, eight months previously, on the assumption that we would be over the worst of it by then. Disney World was running a EPCOT Food and Wine Festival, and this was a good a reason as any. And when it seemed like the worst of it was NOT over, the Lovely Bride was headstrong in her desire to go, as long as we made proper preparations.

So we went to Florida and emerged OK.

Mind you, we were vacced, and there was solid mask discipline throughout, particularly in the park (the Lovely B did call out a couple people indoors w/o their masks, at the cost of harsh looks but higher safety). I brought KN95s, which were surprisingly comfortable.The few maskless I encountered seemed to also have a minimal understanding of sunscreen as well, so they were easily identified. And I was chided on the plane down by a flight attendant to not keeping masked while chewing (OK, I feel that inner Karen rising, but it was a fair cop). We were cautious and generally smart, and afterwards we self-isolated on the chance that we did pick something up (though to be honest, I always welcome the opportunity to not see other people).

And we were helped by perfect weather - warm but not too hot, low humidity, no rain. Some of the natives were commenting that it was the best weather for months.  Crowds were containable, except for the lines, which were long. Drinking at EPCOT is apparently a major draw - I saw a lot of varieties of "Drinking Around the World" T-shirts, but I saw surprisingly few drunks. It was in many ways a magical kingdom. 

OK, fine. You went to EPCOT for the food. How was it?

It was good. Really good. In addition to their regular restaurants scattered among the various national districts, they installed a host of other locations to sample. Belgium. Australia.Hawai'i. Brazil, Germany. Much good food. Many small bites. Many mimosas (we started to keep our dead soldiers, and returned with a host of plastic stemware). There was a booth selling lobster with a bisque sauce that was a highlight. Weirdest booth? A place selling hand-made noodles called "The Noodle Exchange." Wait, what? (OK, it is not as weird as being in the Canada district and hearing "Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" on the background music. Is that the new Canadian anthem?).

Of the established restaurants, we had favorites that we went back to, and a new one. The top three were:

Morocco - Spice Road Table - Small plates - hummus, lamb kefta, tiroptakia, served in the open air part of the cafe. A friend had posted pictures of  a recent meal, and I felt challenged to respond in kind. Only meal we did photos for, because we kept forgetting to take pictures unitl after we ate.

Japan - Tokyo - Some of the best sushi I have had, hands down. Incredible service, though we arrived late, then ordered another round after the initial. They were incredibly accommodating. "Yes, we've had sushi, but what about second sushi?" Also, no Sapuro beer (the sole case of the shipping crisis casting its shadow on us). Closed the joint down - we were last ones out the door.

Animal Kingdom - Tiffins - An upscale restaurant in Animal Kingdom that you would normally miss on the way to get on the Pandora/Avatar movie rides. Spices from South Asia and Africa. The LB had scallops and steak, I had a perfect veal. I mean, platonic ideal of veal. Incredibly well-presented, well- seasoned, and generally fantastic. One of those hidden gems. 

The worst meal we had (and it is in my all-time five bottom meals) was at a hotel off the property - Il Mulino at the Swan. Air conditioning full blast, cafeteria-loud venue, snippy front desk, slow service, long waits between courses, inedible saltimbocca. I can groove on a two hour meal, but not a that level of discomfort. So yeah - go for the park for the food.

However, the Swan (and its companion, the Dolphin, where we stayed) were excellent hotels otherwise. Close enough to be in walking distance to parks, plus had boat service to EPCOT and Disney Hollywood. Boats running so often we never had to wait long. And, the gondolas from my youth (and Disneyland) were back, hooking up Hollywood and EPCOT with some of the other resorts, and to be honest, we spent a morning riding those.

The rides were great as well. We abjured the Magic Kingdom, did EPCOT for two days, Animal Kingdom for one, and Hollywood (also known as "Everything else Disney owns") for a day and change. Star Wars Land/Galaxy's edge was good. Rise of the Resistance was worth the two hour wait and an intriguing study in presenting an experience themed around a ride. Smuggler's Run (you get the fly the Millennium Falcon) was great, and we went back a second day to improve our score. The Flight of Passage Pandora ride was worth the wait, the slow boat Na'vi River Ride not so much. The new Ratatouille ride was amusing, but not overwhelming. And I finally got to ride a couple rides that I never had time for before, like the Test Track at Epcot (another nice total experience) and the Tower of Terror (I went alone, the LB waited drinking mango rum slushies from a nearby place of safety, then we had great ice cream to celebrate from Hollywood Scoops - go hunt it down if you're there.

And the people working the park were pretty darn impressive as well. The staff was omnipresent and positive without being creepy. While we were there, they rolled out a new app for line management and reservations, which promptly crashed, so the bulk of the staff I saw (mostly but not exclusively young people) were spending a lot time showing guests (mostly but not exclusively older) how to use their phones. 

And that was it. If you are a person who bridles at $3.75 cokes at a hotel, you don't want to take this type of vacation. But if you can throw caution to the winds (or have a Lovely Spouse who is actually spending the money), it was a delightful break, and the first time out of the house for a real vacation in two years. 

More later,

Saturday, October 30, 2021

The Political Desk: Summing Up

So, we end the week with a summation of endorsements. As a reminder, here are the Strangers' smack-talky suggestions. Here are the Seattle Times' fears and fever dreams. Here's the Progressives, and the local transit blog. Here are the Urbanist's. UW's The Daily.The Seattle Medium. And here is a neighbor's recommendations. 

But you gotta vote. At the time I am writing this, there have been approx. 220,000 votes turned in, out of 1.4 million potential voters in King County. That's about 16%. Pitiful.  Further, almost half of those who have voted are 65 or older. So unless you want us old folks steering the car, you might want want to get your ballots in.

You can mail it in. You can drop it off. But you gotta vote.

In meantime, here's a summary of endorsements and recommendations from Grubb Street.

Advisory Vote No. 36 - Engrossed Second Substitute House Bill 1477 -  Maintained

Advisory Vote No. 37 - Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 5096 -  Maintained

Advisory Vote No. 38 - Second Substitute Senate Bill 5315 -  Maintained

King County Charter Amendment No. 1 Preamble - YES

King County Charter Amendment No. 2 Initiative, Referendum and Charter Amendment Timelines and Processes - YES

King County Executive Joe Nguyen

Metropolitan King County, Council District No 5Shukri Olow

Port of Seattle Position 1 - Ryan Calkins

Port of Seattle Position 3 Hamdi Mohamed

Port of Seattle Position 4Toshiko Grace Hasagawa 

Mayor of Kent: Dana Ralph

City of Kent Council Position Number 4 -  Cliff Cawthon

City of Kent Council Position Number 6 - Brenda Fincher 

Kent School District No. 415, Director District No. 4 Awale Farah

Kent School District No. 415, Director District No. 5 - Tim Clark

Soos Creek Water and Sewer District Commissioner Position No. 4 - Darold Stroud

Soos Creek Water and Sewer District Commissioner Position No. 5 - Logan K. Wallace

Public Hospital District No. 1 Commissioner District No. 2 Dustin Lambro

Public Hospital District No. 1 Commissioner District No. 4 Monique Taylor-Swan

So now I'm going to talk about Disney World, if you don't mind.



Friday, October 29, 2021

The Political Desk: Guest Editorial

 So in talking with a friend, she said that she agreed with much what I said, but not everything. And I volunteered the space here for her to give her own recommendations. So here is Janice Coulter, formerly of the Social Security Administration, who does not have a blog, and is spouse to our resident Tolkien expert, Sacnoth:


If all politics is local then have I got an election for you. Aside from 1 fellow running unopposed in a judicial race and the three advisory votes all the November 2, 2021 contests are on the county, city, and even further down the ballot than that level. But that doesn’t mean that this election isn’t important. Whoever wins these races is going to have a serious impact on our lives so we’d best pay attention.

First up the Advisory Votes. Think of these as gentle political warm up exercises. You can stretch your political thinking to its limits knowing full well what you decide will have no consequences whatsoever.  

Advisory Vote No. 36 — You’re asking me if I’m willing to pay 24¢ per month per phone line increasing to 40¢ per month per phone line beginning in January 2023 for a suicide prevention hotline? Yes I am willing to spend $1.20 per month (3 lives X 40¢) to save a human life.  Maintained. 

Advisory Vote No. 37 — I’d be happier with this tax if corporations were also subject to paying 7% tax on capital gains of more than $250,000 but for now I will have to settle for taxing rich real people while the fake ones go scot free. Maintained

Advisory Vote No. 38 — Captive insurers have done the near impossible. They’ve made traditional insurance companies into almost sympathetic businesses. Maintained 

Then comes the slightly more rigorous King County Charter Amendment votes. These votes have consequences but no one is going to suffer regardless of how you vote. Except for maybe the team responsible for the typo being corrected via Amendment No. 1. Let’s use this election to end their suffering.

King County Charter Amendment No. 1 — I have to look up the difference between insure and ensure every time so my heart goes out to the folks who have been staring this mistake in the face.  It’s silly that it must be put to the voters and past time to correct the mistake. Yes 

King County Charter Amendment No. 2 — Speaking of silly questions, Yes King County should comply with Washington State laws.

Now that we’re fully warmed up it’s time for the heavy voting. None of these folks have access to nuclear weapons codes but that doesn’t mean they don’t have the capacity to change our lives for decades to come. Don’t take my word for it. Ask the people of Flint, Michigan if they wished that they had been paying attention to who ran their water district.

King County Executive — You know what you did Dow Constantine! If you hadn’t disrespected Kent at the start of the pandemic I would have happily voted you in for another term. But you did and you’ve got a competent challenger so Joe Nguyen gets the vote.

Metropolitan King County Council District No. 5 — Dave Upthegrove is another candidate that I would gladly have voted for again if only … Multiple agencies that have endorsed him in past elections threw their support to his opponent. How did Upthegrove go about wooing them back? He demanded to know if they dropped him because he’s a White Guy (apparently being openly gay doesn’t count as being a minority in King County) and threatened their funding. He of course denies he said any such thing. So what does he do with everything hinging on his credibility? He claims credit for fighting Sound Transit to “save a landmark South King County business.” While there’s no arguing that Dick’s Drive In is a landmark Seattle business they opened their first and only South King County restaurant on December 12, 2018. So while he might not be technically lying he’s not being entirely honest at a time when he’s up against a competent opponent. Shukri Olow gets the vote on this one.

Port Of Seattle

Commissioner Position 1 — Ryan Calkins is exactly the kind of policy wonk with fresh ideas that I enjoy voting for.

Commissioner Position 3 — Vote Hamdi Mohamed because Stephanie Bowman fought against the $15 per hour minimum wage.

Commissioner Position 4 — Vote Toshiko Grace Hasegawa because she’s willing to put actual detailed plans on the table instead of the usual platitudes.

City of Kent

Here’s where it gets interesting so I’ll get the easy endorsement out of the way first.

City Of Kent Council Position NO. 6 — Brenda Fincher has been doing good work. She earned my good opinion when she responded via email, telephone, and an in-person visit on a weekend the first time I contacted her. She’s kept my good opinion by continuing to do good work. 

My next two picks are about creating a team. If Dana Ralph is your choice for mayor then you should also vote for Toni Troutner. Their views align and they would work together to achieve their goals. If Dawn Bennet is your choice for mayor then you should vote for Cliff Cawton because their views align. Both teams share the same goals (reduce homelessness, bring jobs to Kent, fight crime, etc.) but they have fundamentally different approaches to solving our problems.

City of Kent Mayor — I’ve generally been happy with Mayor Ralph’s work but I am throwing this one to Dawn M. Bennett because it’s time to try new approaches to the same problems we face year after year. Both Ralph and Troutner want to continue to throw more and more police at problems that Bennett says can be better addressed with a different approach. Rather than have 7 full time police officers devoted to working with Kent’s homeless population (they steer them towards services, help them get SSN cards and IDs, etc) Bennett wants to have social workers take on that job. She’s also the only candidate who is talking about solving the affordable housing crisis by instituting rental caps. How much Kent rents have gone up in the last few months is a regular feature in the Kent Reporter. Prices are only going to get higher with the light rail extensions opening in 2024. We really need to do more than throw platitudes at this problem.

City of Kent Council Position NO. 4 — Cliff Cawthon because he would work well with Dawn Bennett. 

Kent School District No 415 Director District 4 — Awale Farah gets the vote because his opponent, Bradley Kenning, is intent on carrying on the tradition that only the Germans should own up to their crimes against humanity. 

KSD No. 415 Director District 5 — Tim Clark gets the vote because while both candidates seem genuinely concerned about the students Clark has the credentials and experience necessary to make the tough choices.

Public Hospital District No. 1 Commissioner District No. 2 — Dustin Lambro won on the endorsements. AG Bob Ferguson endorsed him for this nonpartisan position. 

PHD No. 1 Commissioner Position No. 4 — Monique Taylor-Swan because she’s a board member of Caregivers Union SEIU 775 and the union should have a seat at the table. 
Thank you, Janice. I'll do my own summing up tomorrow. 
More later,

Thursday, October 28, 2021

The Political Desk - And The Rest

 Now we're getting really down into the weeds - these are small offices, rarely well-paid or well-regarded, but vital to the functioning of the community at a local level. And the thing is, these are positions which probably have more direct impact on your immediate community and how your vote has more of an effect, since the voting pool is smaller.

First up, the School Board.

Kent School District No. 415, Director District No. 4 Awale Farah walks in with a good resume, a solid background in the community (yes, I'm going to recommend someone from the Kiwanis Club), and a strong endorsements. His opponent in a Q&A with the Kent Reporter is concerned that teachers are exposed to Critical Race Theory. Kent is the most diverse city in the state, so, yeah, let's not expose people to equality. Anyway, go with Awale Farah.

Kent School District No. 415, Director District No. 5. This one is a little easier on the soul. This blog has endorsed Tim Clark before for the position, and he gets good marks both as a former councilperson and a former teacher. I like putting teachers on the school board. Ms. Franklin has good chops as a representative of the communities they serve, but I have to give Mr. Clark the edge. The Q&A with the Kent Reporter is here.

Then there are the Special Purpose Districts- which involve water, sewers, and the local hospitals. I am usually grasping at straws at this point, relying on what reporting is available as well as the Voter's Guide. And what I have said in previous elections.

Soos Creek Water and Sewer District Commissioner Position No. 4 - Gail Anderson gave me nothing to work with for the Voters' Guide, so I'm going with incumbent Darold Stroud.

Soos Creek Water and Sewer District Commissioner Position No. 5 - I've recommended Logan K. Wallace before, since he's an engineer and I think that's good thing for the position. But in addition, I got a sponsored link to his campaign page on Facebook where he effectively is doing an AMA (Ask Me Anything). People came up with specific questions, and he delivered specific (sometime deeply wonky) answers. He also had the typical collection of  comments like "All Politicians are Bad" and "You showed the map in Blue! Don't you know that Blue is a communist color!" and responded like a grown-up. So. Logan K. Wallace.

Public Hospital District No. 1 Commissioner District No. 2 - Jim Griggs and Dustin Lambro are the candidates.. A while back, our local hospital, Valley Med, gave up local elected control to trustees from University of Washington Medicine, which is to say, the majority on the board are these trustees, with some elected officers. Every election we see candidates who are against this change. Dustin Lambro is against it, and says that if he cannot change it, he'll step down. I'm good with that promise. Also, lots of endorsements. So, Dustin Lambro.

Public Hospital District No. 1 Commissioner District No. 4 - Monique Taylor-Swan and Katie Bachand are the candidates. Both look good on paper, but I'm going with pro-union: Monique Taylor-Swan.

 And that's it for my ballot. Of course, there's stuff going on beyond my little patch of the Shire, so I may mention that as well.  

More, of course, later. 


Wednesday, October 27, 2021

The Political Desk: City of Kent

The bad news is that the major Seattle papers don't really care about a suburb this far south. The GOOD news is that the Kent Reporter has done an admirable job interviewing the candidates and publishing the results. Go take a look at them and see what you like. Me? I tend to lean towards incumbents that have been doing the job well, unless I get impressed by the challenger. Elections at this level are very much a a job review, with a candidate waiting in the wings in case the job should suddenly open up. 

This year we have been deluged in mailers, all of them thankfully positive and supportive of their own candidate. The incumbents may have gotten a deal on printing, since all of them are the same size, while the challengers come in a variety of sizes. But let's get on with recommendation:

Mayor: Dana Ralph has shown she's got the chops, but I have to say I think Dawn Bennet would be a fine choice as well. Gods, I feel spoiled by competent candidates!

City of Kent Council Position Number 2: This blog does not endorse unopposed candidates as a matter of course. Satwinder Kaur is running unopposed. Pity, because if she had an opponent this blog would recommend her. 

City of Kent Council Position Number 4: Tina Trouter has done an admirable job, but Cliff Cawthon rolls in with a fistful of solid endorsements and the policy background that will help in the position.

City of Kent Council Position Number 6: I have done Brenda Fincher a disservice over the years. She has been there time after time, but has always gotten a "yeah, I guess" from this blog. Lemme give her a hearty recommendation this time. 

More later,

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

The Political Desk: Any Ports in a Storm

 So let's talk about the Port of Seattle. Their purview has been the airport and the docks, and so it is a pretty big deal. Over the years it has been a hotbed of minor political brushfires and scandal, and my go-to involving political shenanigans.

Not this year. Not only has the Port Authority kept its nose politically clean for a while, but  several of the challengers come across as strong candidates. In many cases, both sides have achievements they can point to, and are not political tyros. And both sides are relatively close together on matters of trade, employment, and the environment, and can point out specific instances of this. 

If anything, I would prefer to see more not on the airport, but on what they can be doing to help alleviate the global shipping crunch. One big reason - the port is too small for the mega-carries that have come online in the past decade - but even so we have ships on the water, waiting to dock. Is there a way to help take the load off LA?

I usually tend to lean towards the incumbents in cases like this. If they haven't been screwing up, they should keep their jobs. But that is a low bar, and I really am looking at their credentials, their statements, and their endorsements. For that reason, I'd recommend:

Port of Seattle Position 1 - Ryan Calkins - Incumbent, competent, capable, well-regarded.

Port of Seattle Position 3 - Both incumbent Stephanie Bowman and challenger Hamdi Mohamed look good, say the right things, and wave a fistful of impressive endorsements. Mohamed edges out with concern for the local communities. Hamdi Mohamed.

Port of Seattle Position 4 -  Amusing thing - the Seattle Times has been running a lot of pieces on how a citizen's initiative, run by Incumbent Peter Steinbrueck's father, saved the Pike Place Market from urban redevelopment. That's probably just because we're moving up on 50 years since that salvation, but it does a lot to put the Steinbrueck name out there. Toshiko Grace Hasagawa is pulling down the endorsements. Both are good, bu I think Toshiko Grace Hasagawa will be better. 

But I'm going to be honest, this is a situation where you the voters do not have a bad choice. Enjoy the feeling while it lasts.

More later,

Monday, October 25, 2021

The Political Desk: King County

There are some interesting things going on at the county level, but first we must do a little bookkeeping. King County has a Charter, and if we're going to mess with that charter we have to put things to a vote. Often this is minor, minor, stuff, but still, we put it to a vote. I'm not as indignant about this as I am about the advisory votes, since it does involve really checking with people. This is very much a be bear-with-me-we'll-get-to-the-juicy-stuff-soon sort of thing.

King County Charter Amendment No. 1 Preamble is correcting a typo. OK, quit laughing. In addition to "Change Insure to Ensure in All", it also puts forth Equity and Promotion of a Superior Quality of Life as goals. OK. Vote YES. 

King County Charter Amendment No. 2 Initiative, Referendum and Charter Amendment Timelines and Processes has to my mind its own typo (I believe in serial commas, thank you), but is to bring such things as initiatives, referendums, and charter amendments into line with the state. Sure, why not. Vote YES

And FINALLY, we get to the point of voting for living, breathing candidates. 

This one has some serious activity. A lot of it involves areas that I don't vote in, because of the quirky way we've divied up the county council.

King County has an executive and a council. The council is divided up into nine regions which elect people to the council. So while you may have have some say in your elected officials, you can't necessarily run the board. This year we are looking at the Executive and the odd-numbered districts. And while I can't vote in some of these, I will pass on the highlights for your enjoyment. 

King County Executive - Dow Constantine has done a good job over the years, and I am normally disposed towards people who do a good job over the years. However, at the start of the COVID crisis, he had set up a quarantine motel in Kent. That's cool. But he did it without conferring with the local Kent government. Surprise!. His challenger, Joe Nguyen, is full of promise, short on experience. Both men are intent on confronting homelessness, promoting safety. Both would fit under the "Progressive" banner. It is a tight choice, and at the moment, I'm going to say Joe Nguyen, but we are in the fortunate position of having a choice of a good and better. 

Metropolitan King County, Council District No 5 - This is my district, and should be relatively quiet normally. Dave Upthegrove (still a great name) is challenged by Shukri Olow, and both candidates also come from the Progressive end of the scale. But a huggamugga emerged from when some traditional Upthegrove supporters switched their endorsements to Olow. Supposedly Upthegrove's campaign responded with threats of HIM no longer supporting those groups in legislation. The campaign denies they made those threats, but the information came from several formerly supporting groups. It is a mild political scrum of who-said-what. I'm going to with Shukri Olow on this one, but note that Upthegrove's mailer notes that he has a orange tabby named Dobby. So there's that.

Then there is some stuff for the Council that I can't vote on, but this year there has been more of that type of activity than usual than usual. In addition to the Upthegrove huggamugga, we've seen activity in other districts as well. 

District 1: Ron Dembowski is running with minimal challenge, so naturally he should get his own scandal - Verbal abuse against a chief of staff leading to that chief's resignation and subsequent lawsuit.  Dembowski has been admonished and owed up to his sins, which is easier to do when you don't have much of a challenge.

District 3: This should be a straight up fight between Centrist/Conservative Kathy Lambert and Centrist/Liberal Sarah Perry. Then the Lambert campaign released a mailer accusing Perry of being a puppet of Bernie Sanders, fellow councilmember Girmay Zahilay, Kshama Sawant, and Kamala Harris. Or, to put it in other terms - a jew, a black man, and two women of color. The cringe meter went to 11 on this, old reliables like the Seattle Times pulled their endorsement of Lambert and she stepped down from all her positions on the council. This is one incident, but didn't she have anyone on her campaign to double check this thing to see if it could go horribly, horribly, wrong? If you live in the District, go with Sarah Perry.

District 7: No one seems to have a major problem with incumbent Peter von Reichbauer. The Times likes him, the Stranger skips over this position entirely, and the Progressives over at Fuse declare there are "No Good Choices". But we'll mention this here since we're running the full list.

District 9 has been Reagan Dunn's since the middle of the last decade, with the borders moving eastward all the time to keep him viable. Once, long ago, he represented my district, so I keep tabs. In the Primary he has a weird self-own on his stand on the homelessness problem ("Its a problem, it's worse than it was, so re-elect me!") but has settled into a more law-and-order approach for the general. His opponent is Kim-Kahn Van, who is from the Renton City Council. Sounds like a good time to upgrade.

And that's it for King County - next up, the Port Authority!

More later, 

Sunday, October 24, 2021

The Political Desk: Statewide

So, I'm back from Disney World (and it was a lot of fun, good food, masks in abundance, thanks for asking), and I expect you've all filled out your ballots already and we can get on with book reviews.

Eh? You haven't touched the ballots since I left? Fine. No, no, that's fine. No worries.  Let's just get this over with.

I mean, I understand. This is in many ways not an important election, but also is an important election because all elections are. When the Washington State Election Voters' Pamphlet showed up a couple weeks back, and it was a bit ... anemic, in the words of a friend. All the major statewide offices were up last year, and the only candidate for judge on my ballot (Court of Appeals, Div 11, Dist 1) is running unopposed (This outlet does not endorse in situations where there is only one candidate, but merely offer our congratulations). 

In addition to a sparsity of statewide measures, the ballot leads off with is the lamest of the lame. We have is a trio of dreaded advisory votes, the lasting political legacy of anti-tax grifter and accused chair thief Tim Eyman. You've heard me whinge about advisory votes before - badly worded questions that scare people about tax measures that don't necessarily affect them. Close a loophole? That's a tax measure. Continue a tax? That's a tax measure. Fix a previous measure? Oh yeah, that's a tax measure. 

And it doesn't mean much, other than a push-poll to allow you to growl at Olympia for using your hard-earned dollars for the community good. It is electoral spam. It wants to know if you want to sell your house. It's been trying to get in touch with you about your car's warranty. It claims to be from the Social Security administration, and wants you to know that it will be dispatching officers to your house unless you buy it a gift card. At its most charitable, it is a way of taking the political body's temperature, but not a very good one.

It is so bad that both the Seattle Times and the Stranger agree that it is pretty miserable as a method of trying direct democracy. AND the local progressives have put a web site, stating a lot of what I've been saying for years - that this a waste of time and effort, is used badly, and you should vote Maintained anyway.  

OK, enough kvetching. Here is what they got. 

Advisory Vote No. 36 - Engrossed Second Substitute House Bill 1477 - A tax on telephone lines to help expand and fund behavioral crisis response and suicide prevention.  Yeah, Vote Maintained.

Advisory Vote No. 37 - Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 5096 - A tax on Capital Gains over a quarter of a million bucks. You made over a quarter of a million bucks on Capital Gains? How nice. This is a pin-prick of a tax operating at that level, so naturally it must be stopped. Yeah, vote Maintained.

Advisory Vote No. 38 - Second Substitute Senate Bill 5315 - A tax on captive insurers. What is a captive insurer? It is when a company forms its own insurance company to offer insurance, effectively paying itself for health care without supervision and avoiding taxes that other insurance companies must pay. This closes a loophole in the existing laws, so, naturally, so it must be stopped. And of course, I say vote Maintained.

OK, That's it - more later

Friday, October 15, 2021

The Delayed Re-Opening of the Political Desk

 So, the ballots have shipped, the media recommendations are trickling in, and we are looking at another election. And you're going to have to wait a while for me to pontificate on it, because, well, I'm a little busy.

OK, fine, I'm going on vacation. But I will get back to it before election day, OK? If you want to go ahead, without me, here are a few resources:

The Seattle Times, which tends to promote centrist/conservative/pro-business candidates and policies (unless it doesn't), has been making recommendations here.

The Stranger, who in the years since they legalized pot have swung around to a more pro-density, anti-car agenda (but still snarky) can be found here.

Neither one of these reaches much further south than the main gate of T-Mobile Park, which is a pity. But for the hyper-localized news, the Kent Reporter has been doing an excellent series of interviews of the candidates, can be found here (with an apology that you're going to have to do some digging - the reporter responsible covers a lot of ground).

Seattle Transit Blog is here. I'll add others as they show up.

And here's the Voters' Guide for King County. Ballot measure here, and candidates here.

The great majority of positions are listed as non-partisan. The candidates, however, are not.  One of the things to look at when going through the guide is to check on endorsements. Who do your local pols support? Who gets the endorsement of the police, the unions, or the conservation groups? One regular red flag for me is usually candidates with the backing of the Chamber of Commerce, but after the drubbing they took last year trying to buy their way onto the city council, they've been quiet. But check out who is standing with the candidates. Also a good idea is to look at who is getting funding from whom.

This electionis one of those small but important one, particularly for your local offices. Nothing national, and the state-wide elections consist of those useless election-spam advisory votes and a judge running unopposed. And there is a lot of interesting stuff going on in various areas because I can't vote on. Seattle's got a strong mayoral race, but I'm not in Seattle. There are also some interesting races for King County Council, but I don't vote in all of those.

Be patient and do your research. I'll check back. 

More later,