Sunday, August 21, 2016

Fifteen Authors

So, there's been a meme rolling around the facebooks about fifteen authors who have influenced your work. And while my name has been dropped a couple times (which is appreciated), I have not yet been tagged. But I do have my list, and am putting it here, since it requires a few more comments than I would want to burden the nets with.  The thing is I wanted to think about authors that influenced me, and note how they did so.

Here we go:

Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens)  is the quintessential American Author, and the first one that left his mark. Read Finn and Sawyer and Yankee in my youth, and devoured as many of his short stories as a man could humanly consume and still leave room for desert (though for the life of me, have never been able to finish The Innocents Abroad). Returned to the books I read as a kid and found so much more there. His satire was biting, and his writing style was natural and colloquial - you imagine him sitting on the front veranda listening to him spin a tale, a thimbleful of brandy untouched on the settee next to you because you don't want to interrupt him by reaching for it.

J. R. R. Tolkien is of course at the foundation stone for any western fantasy author of the past forty years. Grandfather Tolkien distilled the mythology of Northern Europe into stories that epitomized the middle of the Twentieth Cent. Gary Gygax always denied that he was influenced by Tolkien in D&D, and I believe him. But the the other influences he did have were niched or out of print by the time the game arrived and unknown to his market, while Tolkien was not. Plus the fact that the races available to the players (and therefore their first experience with the game) were directly out of the Council of Elrond. From Tolkien we get the epic nature of fantasy, the intensity of world-building, the ensemble as a fantasy trope, and, for good or ill, the idea of fantasy lives in trilogies and is sold by the pound.

Ursula K. Le Guin is my anti-Tolkien. Compact, neatly plotted, and personal, her fiction is stands in comparison with the massive triple-deckers that docked in the bookstore shelves in the 80s and 90s (a few of which I might have penned). Earthsea's first three small books in particular was delightful for what it did not reveal as opposed to what it did - there is worldbuilding here, but it did not get in the way of the characters. Loved Lathe of Heaven but could not get my teeth into Dispossessed.

P. G. Wodehouse should be of no surprise to those who have encountered Giogi Wyvernspur and Tertius Wands. I came upon Wodehouse early in my marriage, at a time before the Fry and Laurie version on the TV, when knowledge of the pair was more limited, and found Woodhouse's banter delightful. The saying is that Wodehouse wrote one story for sixty years, but his plots really were as convoluted as a door-banging French farce, and the raw pressure moving the story forward is incredible. The one to read is Code of the Woosters.

Hunter Thompson probably is a surprise (or not) because of his drug-fueled cynicism and habit of installing himself in his nonfiction. I found him when he was writing for Rolling Stone and I was in college. He is responsible for my use of the word "mojo wire" for any form of electronic communication. Foul-mouthed and observant, his best is Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72. A cleaned-up version of him (with more than a dash of Chicago columnist Mike Royko) showed up as the protagonist in Liberty's Crusade.

Arthur C. Clarke brought me into SF in junior high. In the Titusville Library, I found a copy of 2001: A Space Odyssey, which started with the line: "Behind every man alive now stands thirty ghosts". (It's wrong, but it's a great opening line). Loved Childhood's End (though it seriously creeped out the Lovely Bride). His short fiction, collected in books like The Wind from the Sun and Tales of the White Hart, is where he is at his best. I love how he could put a stinger in his final line of a story ("If any of you are still white, we can cure you").

Ray Bradbury, on the other hand, is the lyrical master, the wordsmith, the Norman Rockwell taking small-town America to the stars. Martian Chronicles was the one that kept coming back to me, stitched together of  published stories and vignettes to create an interplanetary How the West was Won. He is both comfortable and chilling.

Harlan Ellison is like Clarke in that he is a master of the last line. There was a time when EVERYTHING he wrote was in print and available on the shelves at Von's bookstore in West Lafayette, Indiana. He excelled at short stories, but gains his status here as an editor - I discovered his Dangerous Visions earlier in high school, and had my mind blown by the borders of SF being pushed back. His career has gone from terrible infant to grey eminence, but he has been my favorite sort of writer - a working one.

Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler are a matched set for me, and I will get the two confused. Hammett gave us characters like Sam Spade, Nick and Nora Charles, and the Continental Op (who is a favorite for me). He encapsulated noir, where the hero suffers for doing  justice. Chandler taught me the importance of location as character - his stories of Phil Marlowe made LA (legendary from the Gertrude Stein quote of having no "there there") into a character. Chandler also wrote what is to my mind (and a bunch of other people as well) the best opening paragraph ever:
There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot, dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge. - "Red Wind"
He evokes the setting, but the undercut at the end, the joke, the punchline is what drives it home.

Frank Herbert wrote one of my favorite SF books: Dune, and for that if nothing else he deserves his place on the list. There is so much stuff going on here: Adventure Fiction, Man against Nature, Coming of Age, Strong Female Characters, Court Intrigue, Mysticism, Utopia, Dynastic Revenge, Cultures in Conflict, all wrapped up in an epic tale on a distant planet in the far future. It is what I was shooting at with The Brothers' War - a huge book that did not feel padded. Dune was muscle tissue all the way through. For me, it was a perfect book that could have just stopped there. The sequels were OK (Children of Dune was excellent), but the longer it went, the more of the life was bled out of it, and I never followed up on the authorized postmortem texts. Always the book I pick out from the shelves  on a whim and then find myself fully rereading.

William Gibson is the author I read in hardback. I may know his literary moves by heart these days, but starting with Neuromancer he has charted a course in the future that has looped, by sharded realities, back onto the present. Again, he's a master of the first line, building the world and encapsulating it on the welcome mat. "The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel". Not "a" television, but just television. The rest of the world just follows naturally.

Barbara Tuchman represents for the Non-Fiction-Authors for me, her A Distant Mirror is as meaty as any Tolkienian Appendix. She managed to pull off both common life and political machinations, and influenced my part of Cormyr, a Novel with Ed Greenwood (I wrote the past chapters, he wrote the modern stuff). Daniel Boorstin's The Discoverers and William Manchester's A World Lit Only by Fire also deeply inspired my work and worldbuilding.

George Orwell and Sinclair Lewis round out my fifteen, as they both fit in my mind as "political writers". Animal Farm is Orwell's best to my mind, while I found his Down and Out in Paris and England to be excellent, it arrived late in my own career arc. Lewis's Babbitt I read in high school and keep by my computer just to plunge into a few paragraphs of his pithy observations of 1920's booster-ism and American life. Sort of like the News from Lake Wobegon with more teeth.

There were a lot of near misses. Just recently discovered Nero Wolfe, devouring his work with the passion of a mid-life fling, but cannot call him an influence. Patrick O'Brian's naval stories define the genre, but reading them was something I picked up from Margaret Weis, and except for one short story, that potential influence lies unrealized. Zelazny's Amber Chronicles (the first five, thank you) were just nudged out by Dune. I like Lovecraft yet cannot fully embrace his nihilism. I cannot endorse C. S. Lewis without confessing I never read Narnia. I enjoy both Howard Waldrop and China Mieville but cannot say they have been influential. Bill Burroughs pushes out beyond Hunter Thompson into stranger lands. I will confess that, when left alone in the house, I will pull a copy of Allen Ginsberg's Howl I purchased at City Lights bookstore in SF off the shelf and read it aloud, scaring the cats.

 Of my own ragtag bunch of colleagues and contemporaries, Lester Smith and Rob King's work will be discovered and discussed long after our fantasy realms are forgotten, and Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman embody Chandler's exhortation to "exceed the limits of a formula". Troy Denning and Doug Niles will be rewarded for their long labor in the literary fields in some retrospective. And in the aforementioned Cormyr, Ed Greenwood did a fly-through of a second-story restaurant in Arabel that has nothing to do with the plot but is just flat-out brilliant. But they are the writers of my time and place, and my considerations of their works are wrapped up with late-night conversations, parties and volleyball games, and drinks at a Lake Geneva bar, their influence more than just words on paper, and that very personal connection takes them off the list (with my apologies).

Those are my fifteen. What are yours?

More later,

Sunday, August 07, 2016

The Political Desk: Primary Results

So, how did things go? Well, here are some notes and observations before we get to the results.
  • First off, for all these results, we're looking at a top-two victory. The two highest results goes on to the general. If there are only two guys in the race, well, you know what the ballot looks like.
  • That said, if you get over 50% of the results, you're doing pretty well going forward. I'm noting the current percentage for the higher of the two candidates.
  • Even getting less than 50% isn't bad if you're in a crowded field or there are multiple strong candidates. 
  • It will be a while before we know the final official results. Washington has mail-in votes, with the postmark on election day. So there are a lot of birds still in the air. General results will likely hold, but if there are close elections (and there is always one or two that are hanging fire), you may see a switch in late returns. 
  • And since King, Pierce and Snohomish counties have the most voters, it may take a while before everyone gets counted. I did a rough draft of this on three days ago, and while the positions of the top two may have switched, the numbers are holding.
  • Which is why I'm waiting a couple days before posting this.
  • It was a good time for incumbents.
  • It was good for Republicans, despite the sadness at the national level. We will have a Republican State Treasurer, and the GOP took the top slots for State Auditor and Commissioner of Public Lands.
  • Libertarians showed up in two slots. This is how you build a national party.
  • Stuff my blog recommended are in Boldface. 
And with all that, the envelopes please:

US Senator, State of Washington: Patty Murray (53%) vs Chris Vance
US Representative, 9th District: Adam Smith (56%) vs Doug Basler

Governor: Jay Inslee (49%) vs Bill Bryant
Lt. Governor: Cyrus Habib (22%) vs Marty McLendon
Secretary of State:  Kim Wyman (48%) vs Tina Podlowski 
State Treasurer: Duane Davidson (28%) vs Michael Waite (Both Republicans. Welcome to top-two voting!)
State Auditor: Mike Miloscia (36%) vs Pat (Patrice) McCarthy
Attorney General: Bob Ferguson (72%) vs Joshaua Turnbull (hey, a Libertaian made it to November!)
Commissioner of Public Lands: Steve McLaughlin (38%) vs Hilary Franz
Superintendent of Public Instruction: Erin Jones (25%) vs Chris Reykdal
Insurance Commissioner: Mike Kriedler (58%) vs Richard Schrock

State Senate, 11th District: Bob Hasegawa (79%) vs Dennis Price (Another Libertarian!)
State Representative, 11th District, Position 1, Zack Hudgins (66%) vs Erin Smith Aboudara
State Representative, 11th District, Position 2: Steve Berquist vs. Write-In Candidates (which aren't even mentioned on the Secretary of State's website, which is a pity)

State Supreme Court, Position 5: Barbara Madsen (63%) vs Greg Zempel
State Superior Court, Position 44: Cathy Moore (55%) vs Eric Newman

Less than a hundred days to the election. Thank goodness.

More later,

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Political Desk: The Jeff Recommends - Primary


Well, it has been a long trudge for the tens of people who follow this blog for its semi-lucid political posts. I started this years ago and just don't know how to stop.

However, over the course of the writing of these entries, I found myself re-engaging with politics in general and with the two major party conventions in particular. After the crapulence of the GOP convention (exceeding even the worst of the Democratic Party's telethons in the 70s), and the full-court press positivity, professionalism and challenge of the Democrats' version, I am reminded that there is a difference between the big parties, and a reason for pressing forward. And for some reason I am not as grumpy as I once was.

And so we press forward - the nominations, please.

US Senator, State of Washington: Patty Murray
US Representative, 9th District: Adam Smith

Governor: Jay Inslee
Lt. Governor: Cyrus Habib
Secretary of State: Kim Wyman
State Treasurer: John Paul Comerford
State Auditor: Pat (Patrice) McCarthy
Attorney General: Bob Ferguson
Commissioner of Public Lands: Mary Verner
Superintendent of Public Instruction: Erin Jones
Insurance Commissioner: Mike Kriedler

State Senate, 11th District: Bob Hasegawa
State Representative, 11th District, Position 1, Zack Hudgins
State Representative, 11th District, Position 2: Steve Berquist

State Supreme Court, Position 5: Barbara Madsen
State Superior Court, Position 44: Eric Newman

Here are some other endorsing bodies:

The Seattle Times which did a pretty solid job this year and concentrated on K-12 Education

The Stranger Election Board which was giving "Death-Hugs" all over the place, reminding people why they should be mad at the people they recommend.

Voting for Judges which seems to be waiting for the general election before putting all the pieces in place.

The Municipal League of King County which is a good resource if you have more than two people running for office in your district.

I've done my bit - now its time for you to do yours.

Don't boo. Vote.

More later,

Friday, July 29, 2016

The Political Desk: Judges - Supreme and Superior

The Washington State has had some very noisy judges of late. Usually expected to defend the status quo, the current bench has made some waves by actually enforcing the state constitution, pointing out the legislature's criminal behavior in not funding K-12 education and shooting down charter schools as unconstitutional (though the legislature put a patch for that in place which might work, but has to run through the courts again). Such activities do not go unpunished, so each Supreme Court justice up for re-election has at least one challenger.

And there is an interesting article in the Seattle Times about all this. It mentions that these challengers have be rounded up to challenge the incumbents by a conservative-led coalition, but declines to mention who leads that coalition. The article also talks about one candidate has appeared to testify before the legislature at the request of a Republican State Senator, but declines to mention it. Apparently, if you are conservative or Republican, apparently, you are in the Witness Protection Program, as far as the Times is concerned.

And this particular vote is less worrisome than most, in that we've changed how Judge elections work. Previously, a candidate getting more than 50% of the vote in the primary was just re-elected, meaning that low-attendance primaries had more pull than the general. That's gone. So this is a rough draft for most positions, and might explain why Voting For Judges, which I normally rely on for information, is quiet on the challengers at the moment.

For Justice Position No. 5 is Barbara Madsen as the incumbent, and gets good marks down the line. Her secretly-recruited opponent is Greg Zempel, who wants the Supreme Court to be less political. Plus, he adds diversity, since there is only one other member of the court from Eastern Washington. Also in the running is a disbarred lawyer named (Zamboni) John Scanneli (no, that's how it is listed on the ballot) who is not a fan of the Washington State Bar Association at all.

There's a similar situation at Position 1 for incumbent Mary Yu, who gets Exceptional marks down the line, and is facing off against David Dewolf, who is as yet unrated, is from the Eastern Side of the state, and thinks the court is too darn political. But that vote won't be until November.

Ditto Charlie Wiggins at Position 6, incumbent, against Dave Larson, who is NOT from the Eastern side of the state, but yes, feels the court has gone astray by being too political.

Seriously. These folk are running on a platform that, if elected, they should do less at the job than the people currently doing them. Me? I'm going with the Barbara Madsen and the incumbents this time out. It is the legislature that needs to get in line.

Meanwhile, at the Superior Court level, we have one election with more than two candidates. Position #44 has Cathy Moore, Eric Newman, and Jackson Schmidt. All three are qualified according to VFW, with Ms. Moore and Mr. Newman slightly ahead of Mr. Schmidt. All three have strong endorsements, again with Mr. Schmidt only slightly behind. The Stranger likes Ms. Moore. The Times likes Mr. Newman. Mr Schmidt is the one with yard signs and mailers (so far). I'm going with Eric Newman on this one, but I can be easily argued out of it, and this is the weakest of my recommendations this year.

One last thing. Between the rough draft of this entry and the final, THIS article showed up, saying that Ms. Madsen's opponent is getting his heavy-funding from a charter school group (and most of THEIR funding comes from one person, the wife of a former Microsoft CEO). So the mysterious recruiters may not be so mysterious after all.

More later,

Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Political Desk: Legislature

Ah, the state legislature. Rivaling the Port Authority recently for and shenanigans, malarky, and entertainment value. Sadly I'm not in the market for entertainment value. I'd like a heaping helping of actual government, please. The Senate is in the hands of a thin GOP coalition, while the House is on a thinner Democratic majority. And they've been stumped for the past couple years for things like how to adequately fund our schools.

And while we have some sane responsible types on the Republican side (shout out to Joe Fain, who will eventually be the first Republican Governor in decades in Washington State), we have the standard collection of wincible moments from the GOP side. Like the Representative who decided it was a good idea to publicly ask teenagers if they were virgins in front of their peers and parents. Like the Representative who kinda exaggerated his service in the military (Mind you, he served, but let his war stories get away from him). Like the Senate Leader who has anger management issues, has made it clear that she is pay-to-play, and is being investigated by the FBI. Now, an investigation is not an indictment is not a conviction, but Ms. Roach's approach to leadership would bring a tear to a Chicago ward heeler's eye.

So what can I do about this? Not a bloody thing. Hence the discontent. Because I'm in a safe democratic district, the 11th, which stretches from my neck of the woods up I-5 to Georgetown. Because my needs as a voter coincide with those of the Museum of Flight at Boeing Field. We have three good effective Democrats in the eleventh who obey my first commandment of politics: They don't embarrass us. Bob Hasegawa is running against a Libertarian. Zach Hudgins is running against a Republican. Steven Berquist is running against Clint Eastwood's empty chair (which had been invited to the Republican National Convention, but begged off because it needed to be revarnished). All of these races will be run again in November.

So let me seethe. We really could stand a return to Democrats, and effective Democrats (yes, there's a difference). But short of recommending you vote out YOUR Republicans, there is little I can do here, other than to give them a good hard look, and consider the options. (Except for Joe Fain - he's actually been pretty damned effective).

(grumble grumble)

More later,

The Poltical Desk - Insurance Commissioner

Finally, I am seeing the light at the end of the State Executive Tunnel. I mean, we run the ENTIRE top tier for re-election every four years. Here's the Insurance Commissioner, which is a short one. As always, I favor the Bold one.

Mike Kreidler, Democrat, it the incumbent. His Voter's Pamphlet writeup points out what he's done in the past four years - saved consumer money, recovered cash on wrongly denied coverage, touts his independence. Yadda yadda. Short form: He's done the job well. Interesting that most of the Democrats I encounter talk about how they're independent, and most of the Republican about the need for working with Democrats. I'm going with Kreidler.

Justin Murta is the Libertarian candidate, and surprisingly has not help any previous positions as a Republican. Concerned that ACA sends people to Social Security sooner, stressing that system. Like market choices. Hates tort law. Not my pipe of tea, but glad to disagree on the issues.

Richard Schrock, Republican, tosses a few bombs at the current administration. He talks about how Seattle Children's filed suit in 2013 to get coverage by insurance plans (not noted is that several insurance plans said "sure" in 2014 and things were sorted out). Also darkly refers to a whistleblower revealing scandalous conduct in the OIC in 2014, of which I can't find anything based on those limited clues. Going to Schrock's website to find out more takes me to a GoDaddy page that tells me the site is available for rent. The sad thing is, despite the lack of effort, Mr. Schrock will likely go on to the general and Mr. Murta will not.

Well, that's out of the way. Now to kick back and... what? I still have the Legislature to do? And Judges?

Well, crud.

More later,

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Political Desk: Superintendent of Public Instruction

Oh my god. Nine candidates for this office, and the Voter's Pamphlet doesn't even give me a clue about their political leanings. I am doomed.

All right, time to be ugly about it. If your voter's write-up does not include a working web site, just see yourself out the door. I am sure that you have very sound ideas, but this is 2016, and you need to come to class prepared. I am sorry, Mr. Blair, Ms. Prouty, and Mr. Runte.

That gets it down to a manageable size. Let me say on behalf of all the candidates that education is important, bipartisanship is vital and the children are our future. Then let's see what they're saying after we cut all that away.

Chris Reykdal promotes equal funding for schools, reducing standardized testing, and more career education programs. Former state legislator. Lots of endorsements, mostly from the Democrat side of the fence. First Superintendent in 30 years to have kids in the system (which is true, but on a technicality).

Ron Higgins is all about the Freedom, and making kids into good citizens for our Constitutional Republic. Supports homeschooling and charter schools, and notes we should treat boys as boys and girls as girls. Recycles. Wants you to get off his lawn. Oddly, no endorsements on his web site.

Robin Fleming comes in from a strong health background, has some modest endorsements on her site, Running against the politicians running for office - of which there are few. Actually, one - Mr. Reykdal. Claims she is the only candidate that with the qualification and experience to improve the life opportunities of the state's children. Not sure she is the only one on that score.

Erin Jones is the choice of the Stranger and the Times, and it always makes me nervous when these guys agree - they're either onto something or taking something. But Ms. Jones also has a long list of other educators, just about every Democrat that Mr. Reykdal missed (and some overlaps) and even a couple smart Republicans. A teacher herself whose kids just graduated, she has some mean chops.

KumRoon (Mr. Mak) Maksirisombat states the problems well, but is lacking on specifics. His site is a bit light on endorsements as well.

David Spring cannot be faulted for not having a plan, and may be the most sweeping of all the candidates. Better teacher pay! Reduced class size! Two years of free college! Homes for homeless children! How to pay for it? Close tag loopholes for corporate welfare! Addresses the other ideas of the candidates but declares they do not go far enough. I didn't expect an old-school rhetorical bomb-thrower in this race. Author of the book Weapons of Mass Deception. No endorsements I found, but you know, I can't say he's wrong. He should be running for Governor on this platform, and he wouldn't be the craziest candidate to do so. Not by a long shot.

And as much as I would like to see Mr. Spring role up to the state house with a tank to demand the legislature pony up the funds to accurately pay for quality education, I lean to both Mr. Reykdal and Ms. Jones. And if faced with the aforementioned tank would give the nod to Erin Jones, and want to know more. Let's go with her.

More later,

The Political Desk: Commissioner of Public Lands

Peter Goldmark is stepping down, which is a pity. I liked him. So we have seven people vying for his position, which oversees the Department of Natural Resources, licenses state-held land for timber harvests, protects wildlife, and deals with increasingly common wildfires. Oh, and landslides. They try to keep that to a minimum as well. There are six folk up for the gig:

Hillary Franz is a Democrat with a lot of experience. Endorsements from the Stranger, Washington Conservation Voters, Dow Constantine. Wants healthy forests, promotes clean energy jobs, and protect working farmlands and forest from the development pressures. As more and more land around here gets put under the developer's plow, that's not a bad thing at all.

Mary Verner, Democrat, is a former mayor of Spokane. Former mayor, you say? Has done a lot of mayoral stuff, but also salmon restoration and is not afraid to say the deadly words "climate change". Most importantly for the current discussion (and something she softpedals in her Voter's Guide writeup), she comes out of the DNR. Knowing what you're managing is a good thing. Mr. Goldmark's success in the position really opens me up to the idea of the office leaning heavily on the other side of the Cascades.

Steven M Neilson is running as a Libertarian, which means he used to be a Republican (yeah, there are former Democrat Libertarians - I just don't know if any of them are running). He puts forward that poor forest management of the past threatens jobs, jeopardizes wildlife, and reduces access to quality education. That last one is may sound weird at first blush, but timber leases are used in part to help fund schools. Cut down some forests, but it's for the kids! Sounds pretty Republican, but pushes hemp development so you know he's Libertarian.

Dave Upthegrove has the Times' endorsement, and comes out of the political end of the experience, King County Councilperson, State Rep, Chair on the House environmental committee. Not afraid to say "climate change". Pushes renewables over coal terminals Slew of endorsements from the powers that be, including Chris Gregoire, Adam Smith, Labor, and more Democrats than you can shake a stick at, if shaking a stick at Democrats is something you wish to do. This is a position that I favor talented amateurs as opposed to old political hands, but DAMN, he's got a resume.

Karen Porterfield, Democrat, also wants to balance preserving the environment with generating revenue for schools (I dunno, can we maybe do ... both?) She wants to take a business approach to our public lands, which sets off all sorts of warning bells for me. Surprised she isn't a Libertarian.

Steve McLaughlin, the lone official Republican in the race, is ex-navy who, after the fires in Twisp and landslides in Oso, realized he could use his experience could help. And in dealing with natural disasters, of that I have no doubt. Of the rest of it, he's talking about balancing the environment and education as well. Such talk does make me a tad nervous.I want him on the response team when the next big one hits.

John Stillings, Democrat and Olympic Medalist (rowing), sounds like a good soul. Big worry is about wildfires and rising sea levels. He's up against some solid competition here.

So, for me, I like Ms.Verner's approach and qualifications, though even I am awed by Mr. Upthegrove's resume and endorsements. I will recommend Mary Verner, and if she has to square off against Upthegrove, I will have to think things through.

More later,