Friday, October 31, 2014

Political Desk - The Jeff Recommends, 2014 edition

These type of elections are tough. It is one thing to believe whole-heartedly in a candidate or a measure and to see that, under the best of circumstance, they have a long haul to an outside shot of passing. It another to be confronted by a relatively empty ballot, populated by referendums that are advisory only and positions that have either no or token opposition.

Still, there are some measures worth measuring here, in particular the ones dealing with education and gun safety. So, go dig out the ballot from under those Fred Meyer circulars and get cracking, because while you have until Tuesday to mail it in, they will start counting early, and release the first results Tuesday night.

Initiative 1351 (Minimum Class Size) - YES
Initiative 951 (Gun Confiscation) - NO. No. Just a big steaming mug of Nope.
Initiative 954 (Close the Gun Loophole) - YES

Advisory Referendum 8 and 9. Sigh. Fine. Whatever. MAINTAIN.

US Rep, 9th District - Adam Smith

Washington State Supreme Court:
Position Four - Charles Johnson
Position Seven - Debra L. Stevens

State Legislature 11th District, Position 2 - Chris Bergquist

Kent Position A (New Police Station) - YES

And that's about it. It is not a lot, so you have no one to blame but yourself for not voting.

More later,



Political Desk - Kent Proposal A

If you've been driving around Kent the past few weeks, you'd be forgiven if you thought that the hottest big-ticket item on the ballot involved the police. There have been huge signs demanding we support public safety and our police by voting Yes on this proposition.

And what is this proposition?

The City Council of the City of Kent adopted Ordinance No. 4118 concerning a proposition for public safety and officer training facilities. This proposition authorizes public safety improvements – constructing and equipping new police headquarters, improving the firearms training range, improving the city’s jail, and completing other training and public safety facilities – to be funded through the issuance of up to $34,000,000 in city general obligation bonds, maturing within 20 years, and annual property tax levies in excess of regular property tax levies, as needed to repay the bonds (estimated average levy rate of about 19 cents per $1,000 assessed value). 

Yeah, I know - the guys who don't like I-594 because it was too long and confusing just had an aneurysm halfway through that paragraph.

But this is what we're talking about - Kent wants to build a new police station. They're split up between about four locations right now, and the jail really isn't big enough to handle all the people who have moved into the neighborhood since the current building (which used to be a library) was converted back in the long-ago. They want to put a new HQ on the site of the old one, improve the jail and firearms training area, get a secure lot for the police cars, and pay for all those big signs.

And I'm good for that. We're a bigger community than we were, and an upgrade makes sense. It is like I-1351 that led off this discussion. Yeah, it is something that we should pay for, and we should go into it clear-eyed and say yes, getting stuff costs money. And it is not like they're buying used tanks from the military (also note to the Kent Police Department: Don't buy any tanks - they won't be able to get up the hills in the winter).

So why all the huggamugga? Well, for this proposal, not only does it have to reach 60% approval, it has to have a certain minimum floor. In other words, this is a case where a low voter turnout actually HURTS the proposal, since it may just get 51% (which is enough for most laws) and or may get enough but not enough floor votes. So yeah, vote YES.

More later,

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Political Desk - 11th District State Legislature

Here's what happened in Olympia. After the last election, a couple Democratic Senators threw off their masks and cloaks and revealed themselves to be really lizard-men Republicans, tilting the upper house to the GOP. And taking their cue from the national GOP, they proceeded to not do much, such that the Supreme Court has found Olympia in contempt for not acting on basic education. So now comes the clarion call to throw the bounders out and hold the flames to the feet of the new Dem majority to get stuff done, right?

But then I realize I'm in the 11th, which sprawls down from Downtown Seattle and rounds Lake Washington to the Renton Highlands, and realize that I've already GOT Democrats in charge, and besides, we aren't dealing with a State Senator this time out. Well, there's still the holding the feet to the fire bit.

(And truth be told, I'm really kinda jealous that Grubb Street has been kicked out the 47th District, which has a talented veteran Dem (Pat Sullivan), a talented, young GOP (Joe Fain), and a guy who really should be sent to the showers (Mark Hargrove - seriously folks, consider Chris Barringer.)

Zack Hudgins is running unopposed for representative position 1. Chris Bergquist is the incumbent in position 2 against challenger Sarah Sanoy-Wright. Bergquist got in on the idea that he's been a teacher, and we need that voice in the state house. He was right then, and in the face of the current struggles, he is still right. Both the Times and the Stranger has praised the man with faint damns, so yeah, Chris Bergquist. But let's get the flames ready.

More ready. 


Political Desk - US Rep 9th

OK, US Representative. Every two years we get to check in on these guys, and despite all the huggamugga, we tend to like 'em. We may gripe and moan about Congress, and the Reps have a popularity just above ebola in the polls, but when it comes to our particular guys, the guys who represent US, we tend to stick to our guns and return the incumbents. So we usually (and sometimes sadly) DO get the representation we deserve, And things like redistricting tends to make these cases more-so, as both parties tend to favor safe districts.

And the 9th, which sprawls between Tacoma and the north shores of Lake Washington, should provide enough diversity of opinion to make it a bit of a run. In reality, we'll probably return Adam Smith to the position. And that's OK - Smith is good at the job, works hard, represents us well on a number of committees and has not embarrassed us (which, you'd think, should be less of a problem than it is in an age where John Stewart's writers just follow Congressmen around waiting for them to open their mouths and provide the material for the next day's monologue).

But let me pause for a moment for his opponent Mr. Doug Basler, Yep, he's a tad overmatched (Even the Times went for Smith), but his website is about the environment, energy, and equality. He seems steady, pro-business, and generally sane, a break from a lot of GOP congress critters. Yeah, the burning great seal of the US on the web page is a bit much, but still, this is the sort of "traditional" Republican we need in the race. More of this, please.

More later,

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Political Desk - Supreme Court Judges

So, the State Supreme Court. Big ticket items, right? Well, this year, not so much.

In Positions 1 and 3, the incumbents are running without opposition.  So Mary Yu and Mary Fairhurst will return to the bench.

In Position 4, Charles Johnson has been in office forever. Such that I went back through previous endorsements over the past decade and a half, and found out that in every endorsement, I note that Charles Johnson has been there forever, yet I still keep endorsing Charles Johnson. And part of it is because he's been good in the position, and part of it is because there never seems to be any serious opposition. So. Charles Johnson.

In Position 7, Debra L. Stephens is the incumbent running against John (Zamboni) Scannell. And it is always a warning sign when a candidate has his nickname listed in parenthesis. Further, Mr. Scannell has been disbarred, which is surprisingly is not a career-ender when talking about Washington Supreme Court justices. And he was disbarred by the person he's running against. Soooo. Yeah. Debra L. Stephens.

Sorry guys, not a  lot here. Let's just move along.

UPDATE: And, double checking my ballot, I am looking at NINE local judge positions plus the King County Prosecutor which have only a single name on the ballot. Yeah, it is a little empty out there.

More later,


Political Desk - Referendums 8 and 9

Referendum 8 says:
The legislature eliminated, without a vote of the people, agricultural excise tax preferences for various aspects of the marijuana industry, costing an estimated $24,903,000 in the first ten years, for government spending.

While Referendum 9 says: 
The legislature imposed, without a vote of the people, the leasehold excise tax on certain leasehold interests in tribal property, costing an estimated $1,298,000 in the first ten years, for government spending.

Annnnddd it really doesn't matter. Because these are advisory votes. The horses have left the barn and the legislature is shouting to you that they did it and would that be OK? But we have on the books a law from a previous initiative that when they do this, they have to put it to a vote, which they are not bound by. Yeah, I don't really get it, either, and I pay attention to this stuff. We've been doing this for a while - has the legislature ever looked at an advisory vote and changed its mind?

The thing to note is when they say these initiatives cost x dollars, they are saying that it is bringing IN that much to the state coffers over the next ten years. So a million bucks is pretty good, but over a decade, not so much. Just so you're aware.

On the juicy parts, Referendum 8 denies special agricultural tax breaks to pot growers, and Number 9 puts tribes on the same status as over governmental agencies when buying property. I go with MAINTAIN for these only because I'm cool with this.

But I am really waiting to see the Referendum where we get to vote on all the tax breaks we have awarded large corporations for "job creation". No, really, when is that one happening?

More later, 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Political Desk I- 594

Here's the text on I-594:

This measure would apply currently used criminal and public safety background checks by licensed dealers to all firearm sales and transfers, including gun show and online sales, with specific exceptions.

And yeah, it makes sense. You buy a gun from a licensed dealer, he has to work through the paperwork, and use the nation-level process to make sure you aren't forbidden to have a gun, and it takes an extra 20 minutes of your life. You buy a gun from a guy named Milt at a gun show, and you don't (and as far as I can tell, licensed gun dealers will make the check, even at a gun show). That loophole for large-scale private sales doesn't make a lot of sense. To use the car analogy, I buy a car from Milt, and we have to work out the transfer of title and everything, so why not a gun?

Yet, this seems to represent the creeping, insidious reach of the government mucking with our lives. But most of the arguments against the initiative don't seem to hold water. This does not create a new database of gun owners, but uses an existing process. We've got a study that shows that yeah, where the gunshow loophole is closed, there are fewer fatalities. Here's one where they connect repealing background checks with an uptick in murders. (I take all studies with a desire to dig through the data and a note that causality is not necessary correlation, but hey, studies). And yeah, we have a lot of cases where real criminals (like the infamous Whitey Bulger) who cannot get a gun through normal channels rely on gun shows as their firearms quick-e-mart (when they finally caught him, Bulger had 29 pieces in his possession, the vast bulk of which had not history).

The exceptions they mention in the ballot write-up? They deal with all the obvious corner cases so yeah, you can use a relative's gun without having to fill out a form, or use another's gun at a shooting range. And all these corner cases have in turn lead to the complaint that law is too long and confusing. Which sort makes the speaker sound like they would confused by the instructions on a PEZ dispenser.

So I'm going with YES on this one. This is actually something that gun proponents are always saying they are looking for - it addresses a specific case in clear terms and will not lead to the gun confiscation van coming around to your house to pick up any guns you bought since last week. Heck, even the NRA was favoring universal background checks fifteen years ago, and this is an approach that cuts down on some seriously abused forms of gun sales while leaving the regular gun owner unaffected.

More later.

Political Desk I-591

Here's the text on I -591:

This measure would prohibit government agencies from confiscating guns or other firearms from citizens without due process, or from requiring background checks on firearm recipients unless a uniform national standard is required.

I know what you're thinking - gun confiscation? What gun confiscation? Did the gun confiscation truck come by last Tuesday, when I was out, and they missed me? Should they have left a note saying they found me not at home, and I should show up to get my gun confiscated at a local Post Office between the hours of 8 and 4?

And yeah, we tend to HAVE due process, particularly when it comes to guns. So what's with this initiative?  Well mostly, it is in the second part, which limits background checks unless a uniform national standard is adopted, as well as putting the kibosh on any gun safety legislation.

And that is weird, since much pro-gun activity is tied to conservative thought (not all, but most, and definitely the loudest), and conservative thought is more about local control. Big government, after all, are the ones who are trying to TAKE AWAY your guns, according to the web forums (and apparently, I-591). Why demand a national standard in this case?

Well, because it is easier to block at the national level right now. Fewer politicos to frighten or purchase. So requiring a national standard actually weakens the law. Nice trick.

And, in a weird similarity to the normal talking points about gun safety legislation, this particular initiative is a bit overeaching in its scope. Replace the word "Firearms" with "Automobiles" and see how it reads. Yeah, I'd like to reduce the number of local laws on cars unless a national standard is required. Like, say, the speed limit. Or license plates. Or stopping fully at stop signs. Those need a national standard if you really want people to pay attention to them. And in the meantime you can stop giving me tickets on these subjects. No, really.

Apparently a vote for I-591 is also being pitched as a vote against the NEXT Initiative in the pile, I-594, which closes a loophole in the existing law. Well, that's wrong. If you want to vote against I-594, you simply vote "NO" on I-594 (and to be frank, you can Vote NO on both if that takes your fancy). You don't need another initiative, which will pretty much clog up the storm drains of the initiative process to make your point. Regardless, I'm going with NO on I-591. 

More later,

Political Desk Initiative I-1351

Here's the entry for I-1351 as it appears on the ballot:

This measure would direct the legislature to allocate funds to reduce class sizes and increase staffing support for students in all K-12 grades, with additional class-size reductions and staffing increases in high-poverty schools.

Sounds pretty straightforward, right? You like schools, I like schools. We all like schools. And as a now-registered old person, I think kids are dumb enough already, and I really don't want to slide the bar any further in the stupid direction. 

But, this will cost. There's no two ways about it. If you reduce the size of the classes you have to have more teachers (third-path option - half-day school, but nobody seems to want to bite on that one, and you STILL have to pay the teachers). And you need more places to teach. Yeah, its a toughie - just how much do YOU like educated kids?

Of course, our state legislature doesn't look particularly good in all this. They are already in contempt of court (state supreme variety) for not delivering on promised K-12 education, so they have not shown a lot of gumption in the first place. Worse yet, while the state pleads poverty for educating its kids, last term they had no problem finding 9 Billion in cuts and tax breaks to keep Boeing from shipping the assembly of a new plane out of state (the plane-maker thanked the state legislature, took the money, then shipped out about 2000+ engineering jobs, making the legiscritters looks like prize bumpkins). So yeah, left to their own devices, Olympia probably ain't gonna deliver without a lot of people making serious growling noises behind them. This is a serious growling noise.

So I say YES on this one, but go in with your eyes wide open. This is a good thing, but one that will come with a price tag. One which we really should be paying.

More later, 

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Political Desk 2014

So, with the coming of fall and ghosts and goblins and long-legged politicians comes the election. And while interesting in that there are very a few contests which may have a great national import, as far as Seattle is concerned it is pretty darned quiet. Three initiatives, a couple state elections that may move the needle in Olympia one way or the other, some judgeships that should not be an issue, and some local issues. And that's OK - every election does not have to be of vital import, but each election does have a cumulative effect, so, even if it feels a bit boring, you should vote.

And you should go armed. Not just by my puckish responses to the issues of the day, but by grown-ups who have actually put thought it this sort of things. The Stranger delivers its normal foul-mouthed, drug-induced recommendations here. The Seattle Times delivers its calmer, more conservative, but sometimes even more hallucinatory endorsements here.  The Municipal League rates the candidates here, and the Voting for Judges site gives Washington State a unique ability to rate judicial candidates here.

And of course, the Voters Guides for the State of Washington and King County always provide a basis (though not always the full story).

OK, dig out that mail-in ballot from all those charity requests and Christmas catalogs, and follow along at home. If I'm lucky, I can actually get this wrapped up before the ballots are due in.

More later,

Saturday, October 25, 2014

An Abundance of Riches

The Political Desk is making some foul, grumbling noises, but before descending into THAT particular madness, let me tell you about all the cool RPG stuff I'm currently ignoring. Part of said ignoring is because I have way too much on my plate at the moment (there is also a horrendous headcold, but that matters little - just trust me when I say I've been a bit busy), but part of it is that there is so MUCH of it right now.

It used to be, in the before-time, previous to the Internet, in the land of hobby gaming, the late summer/early fall would be the best time to release the game. Part of this would be the presence of GenCon, where all the gamers would coalesce into an uncritical mass, and then disperse, to colleges and high schools across the country, bearing with them the news of the latest releases. So getting a game released at GenCon was always a big thing. But with the passage of time, releases hit all through the year, and people are in continual communication, so it is not a such a big thing.

This year, however, it feels different. Part of it is the release of the newest edition of D&D (which is damned good, but is still in the process of being released, so I'm going to dodge it for the moment), but part of it is that there are so many things coming out, such that it overwhelms the reader and may lead to a number of cool things being missed in the greater tumult.

In my case, I have this ever-growing "to-read" pile that I cannot seem to get the chance to go through. Normally, I prefer to read, digest, and even PLAY the stuff I am working on before talking about it, but here are some quick hits to make everyone aware that there are really cool things out there right, and that we are currently passing through a bit of a golden age. Enjoy it while you can.

Calidar: In Stranger Skies from Bruce Heard gets the lead because it is likely the one you likely haven't heard of, having charted its course into this perfect storm of releases. It is very much the descendant of the D&D Known World/Mystara and Bruce's own stories of the Princess Ark from DRAGON magazine. As a result, it has the wonderful air of adventure of that late 80's/early 90's gaming era. The hardbound leads off with a massive tale of the Star Pheonix and its crew, then drills down from the solar system to the planet of Calidar to the kingdom of Meryath to the city of Glorathon, and concludes with a set of Pathfinder stats and a collection of skyships. An excellent laying of groundwork here, beautifully presented.


13th Age Bestiary by Rob Heinsoo et al, which popped up just before everything got crowded, goes to the other end. It is the "monster manual" for 13th Age, but exists in a postmodern, post 4E/Pre 5E space, and shows a direction the industry could have gone if 5th Edition never crested the horizon. There are a lot of old-fashioned beasts within, but with new spins on them, as well as a slew of varieties for use in the game and a host of 13th Age specific monsters. Conversational in its presentation, this is my "I have five minutes" hardbound right now, and the main reason I haven't delved too deeply into the new 5E Monster Manual as deeply as I might otherwise.

Tales of the Crescent City: Adventures in Jazz Era New Orleans from Oscar Rios' Golden Goblin Press has been parked by the bedside and is one that I am slowly moving through before bedtime. It is part of the bulging golden age of Call of Cthulhu adventures that we have seen over the past few years. Golden Goblin has got the entire kickstarter thing down - their first product was Islands of Ignorance, which was a bulging volume of lore and adventures, and this one does the job for New Orleans. Set within the bounds of the Big Easy, it summarizes the city and then lets loose with a plethora of adventures, including a revised version of Kevin Ross's "Tell Me, Have You Seen The Yellow Sign?". The group just wrapped another kickstarter for Cthulhu Invictus, and I have high hopes of reading that (slowly) when it comes out as well.

Guide to Glorantha by Greg Stafford, Jeff Richards, and  Sandy Peterson poses an interesting challenge to the reader - where do you read it? Clocking in at a two-volume, 800+ hardbound, full-color pages, this coffee-table book-sized guide to the homeworld of the original Runequest is massive, defying the ability to read it in bed or curled up in a favorite chair. Currently I have it enshrined the text the living room, though I might have to get a book stand for it. Another Kickstarter, this underscores that method's ability to reach a niche audience directly, as something of this size would daunt even the most established publisher. Yep, it's expensive, but worth it (and did not get to support the Kickstarter, but I was fortunate enough to pick it up at PAX).

New PDFs - Not all of my game-reading list is in ink on dead trees, and I have a host of projects where I have gotten the pdfs early, but will not get to them in print for a little while. Yet despite this early advantage, I have barely cracked their pixelated covers. Part of this is the challenge of the computer/kindle/iPad - yes, you have the ease of having the text right there at a touch of a screen, but you also have every other distraction in the world at the same touch. So I have in hand (well, in pad) the new Call of Cthulhu 7th edition, Cthulhu Britannica's London Boxed set, and most important of all, Jeff Dee's new Bethorm game for Tekumel, home of the Empire of the Petal Throne.

And someday, perhaps soon, I will get a chance to READ all of this stuff.

More later,


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Threat Assessment

There comes a point where to remain silent endorses the problem. And so you get a story.

Back in the '80s, we were in the grip of what is now called "The Satanic Panic". The devil was supposedly abroad, sowing suicide among the young people, led by things like rock, videos, and of course, role-playing games.
Jeff gets a death threat.

I was working for TSR at the time, and received hate mail addressed to me at work. All caps. Lot of exclamation points. Suitable biblical verses and extremely graphic descriptions of my inevitable fate as a sinner. I will be struck down. I deserve to die. And the final line was "God will judge you and >I< shall be his instrument".

And of course I handled this with the derision it well-deserved. Well, no. Actually, I beetled into Kim Mohan's office, sounding like Beaker from the Muppets. This guy was coming after me! It was a Wisconsin postmark! He had my address! He knew where I worked! He was god's instrument! (Oboe? Bassoon? Flugelhorn?).

Kim, to his credit, merely opened the bottom drawer of his file cabinet and said "Drop it in, on top of all the others".

So I did, and as I put it together later, this particular chucklehead, hepped up on god and cheeses, went to his local Waldenbooks and pulled down a copy of Monster Manual II and sent copies of his death threat to everyone on the credit list. Nothing further came of it, but in the years that followed, this became my defining line. The point where the discussion just stops being stupid and goes full-on dangerous.

And in the years this has served me pretty well. I work in an industry where it seems that half of its people are mad at the other half at any one time. I have seen personal vendettas and principled stands. I have seen good peoples' names besmirched and scoundrel justifying their crimes, but also justice done, talent rewarded, and good people recognized. I have seen the blistering stupid and the inspired. And for the most part, I don't feel an overriding need to comment or take sides, trusting that truth will win out.

But this. This is way over the line.

Anita Sarkeesian does feminist criticism on a series of youtube videos, most recently a series of Women Vs. Tropes. Go check them out - they're really good. A couple days ago, she was here at ArenaNet speaking to interested members of the company (we have a program where we bring in people to give lectures - yeah, it is pretty damn cool). And she shared not only the history of her criticism but also things she working on. And she provided numerous examples of her points, Numerous. A lot of them are fair cops. And some of them, actually, were really teeth-grindingly bad. Stuff that makes me want to stand up and declare "You have to understand, in the 90s drugs were cheap and readily available".

And I picked up a bunch of things as well, such as the fact that we're STILL engaging in obvious and questionable tropes, but often doing the "ironically". Which is like me "ironically" having another donut - in the long run, its still the same thing as far as my weight is concerned. It was a good talk, and while I did not agree 100%, there was nothing there that made me feel threatened either for my gender or the future of gaming (in fact, I think criticism is good for the future of gaming, which is a good thing since we get criticized all the time).

Anyway, Ms. Sarkeesian was scheduled to speak at a college in Utah the next day. And that engagement was canceled when some chucklehead threatened a massacre if she showed up.

So now we're over that line.Way over, into deluded domestic terrorism territory. Such a cowardly attempt to shut down communications is a threat to everyone and poisonous to our industry. Yeah, its one utter nutter and does reflect the bulk of humanity, but hell, it makes the gaming community look like a hopeless bunch of vindictive losers. It reflects badly on all of us. It is reprehensible. It is shameful. And it saddens me that clownballs like this will become the poster kids for our industry. Enough. Debate on the facts. Share your opinions. Keep your death threats in your pants.

There is a point were, to remain silent becomes a tacit endorsement of such behavior. No. You don't get that endorsement. You may think you are the chosen instrument of your particular dogma but you are not, and the rest of us will not let you drag us down.

More later,