Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Political Desk: Governor

So, it has been a rocky term for the executive branch of the great state of Washington State. We've seen escaped inmates from Western State, hellacious tolls on the 405 HOT lanes, and the state auditor being put on trial by the Feds (more on him later). And the icing on the cake has been a little billet doux that the Viaduct Tunnel (unloved by many Seattlites, pushed hard on the state level) will need three more years and 223 millions more of buckage.

Some of are unforced errors, some are unexpected, and some are leftover from previous bad ideas coming home to roost. The trouble is, they are all coming home to roost right on top of the head of incumbent Jay Inslee. Even if you mumble into your tea how all this is not really his fault, it is his administration, and ultimately he takes the fall. Which is a pity, since Mr. Inslee has been pretty good, having to deal with a legislature that varies between hostile and inert.

And having Democrats at the state level is a pretty good idea. Washington has been solidly blue, and is rocketing up. And you know who else is doing well with Dems in charge? California. That state is ON FIRE and it's bringing its got a budget surplus. On other other hand, Wisconsin and Kansas, GOP held and led, have been cratering.

But in any other year, Mr. Inslee be vulnerable, and rightly so.But this is not any other year. As mentioned in the PSA, the lack of leadership at the head of the ticket will depress GOP votes more than any disenfranchising effort. Also Mr. Inslee's opponent, Bill Bryant, comes out of my favorite pit of scum and villainy - the port commissioners. Even in the quietest of years, I can look to the Port for a good dose of shennanigans.

Shell kept telling the Port Commission that it was just
a big kayak, and no one would notice.
While Mr. Bryant is running full-page ads in the times about transparency and hugging the environment, his term at the Ports was marked by the secret backroom deal that brought a polluting Shell drill rig into Seattle for a rest-up from despoiling Alaska. You know, the deal that ended up with about a bajillion people in kayaks filling up the waters of Puget Sound in protest? Yeah, THIS is why you don't run Port Commissioners for higher office.

Oh, yeah, Mr. Bryant also refuses to tell anyone if he supports the Presidential candidate for his own party. Republicans should growl at him for not supporting Mr. Trump, Democrats for supporting Mr. Trump, and everyone else gives him the hairy eyeball for not publicly taking a stand.

Yet despite the monkey business of Mr. Bryant's last job and his unwillingness to even comment on the top of his own ticket, he is not the craziest person running for the office. The others vary from well-meaning to endearing to vile. They include:

Goodspaceguy is a perennial candidate who has been running on the issue of minimum wage for years. Unlike practically everyone else, though, he's against it.We will only attain true economic freedom when we are free to pay people the absolute minimum. He is a Republican, but he is not the craziest person running for Governor.

Bill Hirt declares that light rail will not solve all the congestion problems we are facing, so we should not do it at all. He invokes the story of the Emperor's New Clothes, but gets in a little deep assigning all the roles (I am not sure if I am a weaver or a wise man). He is also a Republican, but is also not the craziest person running for Governor.

Mary Martin is from the Socialist Worker Party. As might be expected, she hates war, quotes Malcolm X, and wants to overturn the dictatorship of capital,  She also wants the FBI and Oregon police arrested for the slaying of one of the Malheur NWR protestors/occupiers. OK, I guess that makes sense in a big-picture, all government is bad sorta way, but I doubt the ranchers will be voting for you. Not the craziest person running for Governor.

Steve Rubenstein is a self-declared Independent. Pro State Income Tax and Capital Gains tax. A self-admitted "tree-hugger." I like the cut of his jib, and if Inslee is not the man for you, I would recommend Mr. Rubenstein.

David W. Blomstrom of the Fifth Republic Party wants you to know about the jewarchy, the Seattle Mafia, and Bill Gates' crappy software. If he adds the word jewarchy to your vocabulary, he will consider his campaign as success. Thanks, Dave, but I already know that word from researching George Lincoln Rockwell.

I suppose this is as good a place as any to mention, appropos of nothing, that King County Elections is not authorized to edit statements, nor is it responsible for the contents therein. Don't know why that came to mind. Anyway:

Johnathan Dodds prefers Democrat, thinks well have a great economy no matter whose in charge, and that the issue is how to "manage the social pressures that are derved and suppressed"(derved?). Plus free up the people from the suppressive measures put in place as legislation. Nope, don't know what all that means, either.

Patrick O'Rourke is a Democrat, and supported Bernie Sanders (there are more people on this ballot who will admit to supporting Mr. Sanders than have admitted they like Mr. Trump). Pro-Union, pro-education, pro economic justice. Yeah, that's good. Another good one if Inslee does not float your boat. Also, though it goes without saying, not barking mad.

Christian Pierre Joubert is the Holistic Party, and came in third in the classic Gregroire/Rossi scrum in 2008. He wants to create a new Consciousness movement, restore the people's wholeness, and build a magnificent "New Era" Staue of Holistic Responsiblity. He also wants to treat you to a one week health spa vacation. Not only is not the craziest person running for Governor, I think he's got a good chance.

And finally, James Robert Deal. Democratic Party (OK). Wants to tax the to 10% (OK), Single payer healthcare (Fine). Cut congestion through Uber-style van pools (Ummm, OK). Build gigabyte internet. (That's good). Fight fluoridaition (Wait, what?). Not the craziest person running for Governor.

And yeah, you can see the Summer of my Discontent, distilled down in this one ballot.

More later,

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Political Desk: US House of Representatives

I really wish I was in the 8th, Dave Reichart's district, so I could recommend Santiago Ramos for the position. But they pulled back the borders of Mr. Reichert's district so exclude more people of blue  persuasion (as well as other shades), and so I am in the 9th, the Seattle Arcology which runs from the Tacoma Dome up to Cap Hill, with a spur picking up Bellevue and Mercer Island. In this domain we have Adam Smith.

Adam Smith is pretty darn good. He's the head Dem on the Armed Services Committee, places himself as a progressive and though the House is as woefully unimpressive as the Senate these days, he's been one of the good ones. He's going on to the fall election through sheer inertia, and that's a good thing.

Other than that? Doug Basler ran as the Republican against him last time, and is running against him again. He pushes a lot of moderate positions, and his web site still has this creepy burning US Great Seal of the US. He also has really cool yard signs, which are narrow and thin. Sort of like the guy who gives you the business card that is half the size of the normal ones you collect.

Though Adam Smith pitches himself as a Progressive, there are two guys running to the left of him. Both Jesse Wineberry and Daniel Smith are supporters of Bernie Sanders, so if you're a Dem that can't bear to vote to Mr. Smith because he wasn't a Bernie Sanders supporter, take a look at these two. Daniel Smith would get the edge in the not-Adam-Smith department only because he offers Edward Snowden a job at the NSA if elected. That sounds like a fun job interview.

If everyone is a progressive, what about the rest of us? We have a centrist Republican, a progressive incumbant, and two even more progressive Democratic challengers. Fortunately, to pick up the spare we have Jeary Flener, of No Party Preference, who claims ideas from the Constutionalists, Libertarians, Democrats, Socialists, and Republicans, but believes that the federal government should be the least of our governing bodies. He is apparently legion, for he contains multitudes.

OK, on to the really grisley stuff. More later.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Political Desk: US Senate

Let me not bury the lede: Patty Murray for US Senate.

She was here when we moved out, and she has done nothing to convince me that she's hasn't been effective and positive in her job. Her successes are notable, and this "mom in tennis shoes" has proven to be an effective Senator both for the county and the small chunk she represents. She plays well with others (even those across the aisle) and throws elbows when she has to. Good call.

So this goes against all your griping, right? Well, no.

Right now Ms. Murray, as a Dem, has been in the minority in the Senate. For most of the past eight years, Washington has been divided government, initially between the GOP-held house and the Democratic Senate. And so nothing was really accomplished. Yet with the last Senatorial election, the GOP seized the Senate as well. AHAH! Faced with a lame duck presidency, they will get some things moving, even if it may be in the wrong direction. Activity!

No such luck. If anything, this most recent Congress has been MORE inert than previous ones. There are bright spots, and Ms. Murray is one of them, but for the bulk of her GOP Brethren, they could be Disney Automatronics in desperate need of a upgrade.

So I'll say upgrade. Chase the Dastards out, but keep Ms. Murray.

But who else is running?

On the Republican side, the leading candidate is Chris Vance, who comes out of the State Legislature, another hotbed of stoic inertness in the face of the common good. Odd that his writeup in the Voter's Pamphlet does not mention his work as Chair of the Washington State Republican party. Back during the Dino Rossi for Governor campaign, he was all over the media and remained for years as the go-to guy for a good GOP establishment quote. It is not a question of leaving it off, as he has been one of the high-level Republicans to denounce the current GOP presidential candidate, Mr. Trump. There's a lot of bi-partisanship rolling around in his write-up, and I expect him to be the "other" candidate in the fall.

And over on the Libertarian side, we have one candidate there, and if you're willing to consider the Liberts for the top spot, you should check them all the way down. The candidate is Mike Luke, and to his credit, he actually has positions on his writeup in the Voter's Pamphlet. He is against the TPP, against war, and for marijuana. I'd swear he was a Democrat, but like many Libertarians, he is a former Republican.

And the rest (of which their are many) have write-ups that range from impassioned pleas to personal statements to tone poems. All have a "Preferred Party" (Washington State doesn't officially recognize the part system in the primaries, but there is a wink and a nod at who the establishments want), and some of these parties have their own strange spirit.

Phillip L. Cornell (Prefers Democratic Party) is rocking on economic justice, and also dislikes the TPP.

Sam Wright (Prefers The Human Rights Party) likes universal health care and taxing capital gains.

Uncle Mover (Prefers Republican Party) is perennial candidate Mike the Mover, who uses his space to speak of the importance of marriage and how Congress can't fix divorce, only we can. Sort of a Prairie Home Companion moment, there.

Zach Haller (Prefers Independent Party) provided no information or headshot. Therefore I will provide the information that he is the Lost Prince of Gemworld, and seeking to garner support to return to his homeland and take the throne.

Donna Rae Lands (Prefers Conservative Party) wants you to know that she successfully fought against a government that wanted to put a Sewage Treatment Facility uphill from her home.

Moahammad Said (Prefers Democratic Party) supported Bernie Sanders, has a long list of other things he supports, including traditional marriage, expanded states' rights, and the U.S. Congress to meet in states by rotation. Which are core Sanders values, I guess.

Eric John Makus (Prefers Republican Party) lists being an author in his work history, so naturally I had to scout that down. His own site declares he wrote two reference works, and a check on Amazon indicates two books by Eric J. Markus - The Los Angeles Town Compass and the Seattle and Puget Sound  Town Compass, both of which are phone numbers conveniently arranged. Mr. Makus also has the best second-best campaign slogan this year - Makus Great Again.

Alex Tsimerman (Prefers Standupamerica Party) endorses Donald Trump, which is more than the chosen Republican candidate wants to do. He also wants to "Stop fascism with idiotic face". I never noticed this before, but the header of the Voter's Pamphlet says that "King County Elections is not authorized to edit statements, nor is it responsible for the contents within."

Dr. Pano Churchill (Prefers Lincoln Caucus Party) will take on a slew of "Big" opponents who have been doing bad things to the country, and promises to Reboot Washington. Probably by turning it off and waiting a few seconds, then turning it back on.

Ted Cummings (Prefers Independent Party) also will take on the Big Banks and Wall Street. It is almost like everyone wants to take on the Big Banks these days. It is like playing Pokemon Go.

Thor Amundson (Prefers Democratic Party) says nice things about Washington State (one of the best states of the union) and will not take PAC money. He will "stir the very dredges of the old guard in Washington." I'd buy a ticket to see that.

Scott Nazarino (Prefers Republican Party) has stood up for numerous issues, and understands our economy through his work in the Financial Services Industry.

Chuck Jackson (Prefers Independent Party) declares that we are under a Tyranny of Debt. He also lists his Education as School of Hard Knocks with a major in U of L (I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that's the University of Life).

Jeremy Teuton (Prefers System Reboot Party) also wants to reboot the system. It is the name of the tin. But I've already used by reboot joke for Dr. Churchill.

Most of these candidates are at the highpoint of their electoral arc - they have their 15 minutes of fame and 300 words to get their message out, and maybe sway a couple votes. They are in generatl against big government and big business, but have a faith that the system is not broken, merely sprained, and needs only bed rest, not walking on it, and chicken soup for the soup to get it up on its feet again.

And people wonder why I'm so grumpy.

More later,

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Political Desk: Public Service Announcement

The big thing about the upcoming primary are candidates who are not even on the ballot. The presidential candidates cast a long shadow over the proceedings. What's going on with them affects what is going to happen downballot. So let's talk about the elephant (and the donkey) in the room, and also warn all as to my political leanings.

First off, I have to come clean and tell you how much I admire the current guy in charge. The past eight years, while a challenge, have been SO much better than the previous eight. Mr. Obama has done a fantastic job. ACA is still alive, Bin Laden is still dead. Economy has recovered well enough to make people worry about the next recession, Armed forces out of the mideast (yet, hang on,going back again), and the administration has been relatively scandal free (though insufficiently transparent). Voted for him. Would vote for him again. Seriously.

Unfortunately, that's not an option. The Democrat choice for president is former Senator, former Secretary of State, former First Lady Hillary Clinton, who is OK. When push came to shove I voted for Mr. Sanders, but I would be happy with Ms. Clinton in the position. I've watched her in debates and listened to her, and while I don't agree with her on all things, I agree with her on more than enough, and think she'd be a fine choice.

And this is not a hold-your-nose vote. This is, however, a hold-their-feet-to-the-fire vote. I'm voting her in, then I'm going to agitate for her to deliver. Even when someone you LIKE gets into office, there's this doubt that they will make good on their promises. I'm willing to push it. This is OK, because if elected, she will be the most watch-dogged presidency ever.

Ms. Clinton comes in with thirty some years of people trying to send her up the river. There is an entire industry dedicated to showing that she is evil, hates America, and rips the tags off mattresses. Yet every one of these scandals always seems to peter out into a fragrant cloud of "Well, she must be up to SOMETHING". But nothing ever sticks, which either means that she's generally OK, or that those who are chasing her are complete incompetents who should never be left near the mechanisms of political power. And I'm good with her administration being the most tightly scrutinized in history - during the debates she literally could not go to the bathroom with it becoming part of the next day's news cycle. Vote for her and keep an eye on the silverware.
OK, she looks good in this one. And yes, this photo has kicked
off another investigation.

Downside? Most of the time she can't take a good picture. Seriously, I watched the debates and she came across as a serious candidate who is knowledgable and interacts well with an audience, and then someone prints a still photo from the same event and it looks like she's about to unleash the flying monkeys. OK, that's going to make things going tough as well.

But, if you cannot stand Ms. Clinton (And I can grok that, though you're wrong), may I recommend presumptive candidate Jill Stein of the Green Party? Strong progressive chops, not as much experience as the Senator from Vermont had, and some wonky views (she's anti-vaxx). Unfortunately, she belongs to a minor party, which means that when the media shows up, it is to interview the guy with a boot on his head, and when the candidate is covered, it is because she's said something outrageous. Take a look beneath the surface, and see if Ms. Stein works for you. Do not operate heavy machinery after considering Ms. Stein. If Ms. Stein causes side effects, sit down until the dizziness passes. Do not taunt Ms. Stein.

Over on the Republican side, it is not so much holding your nose as it's donning a full radiation suit and warming up the decontamination chamber. Mr. Trump is woefully incompetent candidate who would be a woefully incompetent president. I've been listening to the reason people give for his candidacy, and they both hilarious and frightening. "He's getting better." "He's going to learn on the job." "He'll have good people to explain things." and the all-time favorite "How bad could it be?" Sounds like he's getting an employee review after six months working the fryalator at Burger King.

I AM pretty chuffed by the fact that I'm not one of those bloggers who feel obligated to report EVERY stupid thing Mr. Trump says, because I already have a full-time job. It seems that his strategy is to "Flood the Zone." Say SO many stupid things that you can't clear one up before he's five more ahead of you.

I think the biggest thing worrying progressives in all this is that Americans may actually get the leadership they deserve. That would keep me up nights.

OK, let's say you're not a die-hard progressive, Ms Clinton feels more centrist but you don't trust her, and Mr. Trump makes you break out in hives. May I strongly recommend you check out the Libertarians?

Like the Greens, the Libertarians are a minor party that normally shows up on the evening news because one of the delegates performed a strip tease instead of giving a speech at the convention. But they, without much fuss and bother, picked a couple good candidates for President and Veep - Gary Johnson of New Mexico and William Webb of Massachusetts. Both are former Republican Governors, but they are ones that actually fall into the "Sane" category, and failed to completely bankrupt their states when they were in office. Both of them also look like Sam Waterston from Law & Order.

Seriously, this may be the moment to be a Libertarian. I'm not voting for them, because I don't like them on issues, and  "Not as crazy as the GOP" is praising with faint damns, but you should take a look.

And I'll be frank, the other option is none-of-the-above. Usually I'm of the "If you don't vote, you can't complain" school, but this year, I'll give dispensation in this race. Go ahead, DON'T vote for president if you feel the need, but vote from everything else. You can even still complain. I'll still mock you, but you can complain.

OK, I've gotten all THAT off my chest. Let's get down to brass tacks. More later.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Political Desk: Summer of Sixteen

Now is the summer of my discontent, for I fear I face this year's (real) primary and fall election with a inherent grumpiness that rarely extends into the political sphere on this page (hah!). Yet the ballots for the 2 August Primary (the one where your vote actually means something) have gone out, and I am just not feeling it.

The Political Desk's Mascot
Part of this is because the presidential primaries here in Washington State were such a bust. The Democrats chose their candidate in caucuses which ignored the primary, while the Republicans chose their candidate in a primary which their caucus-chosen delegates hated. Also there is the regular low-level irritants of watching politicians in office, which, though not as horrible in Washington State as elsewhere, is often grating enough to make determining rulership with trial by combat an increasingly sound option

But yet I persist. Blame my dogged determination that is my goo-goo nature (That's Chicago shorthand for "good government"). Blame the cynicism that affirms that  Democracy was the worst form of government, second only to all the others (Churchill said it, but claimed he was requoting). Blame it on force of habit. But be warned, this year, you are dealing with a grumpy cat (well, grumpier than normal).

So, then. We have a primary in early August, though that doesn't bother me because here in Washington State it is a mail vote thing. I mean, yeah, expecting people to take off one of the few nice days in Seattle in order to vote in a traditional go-to-the-polls sense will reduce the results. But asking them to take the time one evening to fill out the ballot? Please. I'm not a fan of the earlier vote (because the political parties have more time to irritate us), but it is not a big thing.

And the primary is top-two, which is to say the top two vote-getters go onto the election. And I do miss seeing Mike the Mover and Goodspaceguy and anyone from the Libertarians get on the fall ballot, but I'm willing to go with the flow on this. The online Voter's Pamphlet is here, and I will admit, that for a lot of these guys, that's all I really know about them. [UPDATE: The link I provided only sends you to the King County list, which then just sends you to the various candidates' websites. It's pretty useless. And you wonder why I'm grumpy. Try this one instead, which is more old school, but actually functions.]

But with all that in mind, let me start out by pointing people in the direction of OTHER groups that are making endorsements. These guys have their own bag of stuff, but they are worth paying attention to:

The Seattle Times has decided that the one thing they are going to concentrate on this year is education funding. The legislature has been screwing around with this for a couple years now, such that State Supreme Court has found them in contempt (because, paying for K-12 is, like, in our constitution). Every candidate gets graded on their education policy, and their willingness to work towards a solution. I bag on the Times regularly, but am impressed with their focus this year.

The Stranger Election Board loads up on cocaine and energy drinks and pulls an all-nighter, seeking snarky humor as well as progressive positions. They're always readable, that's the good news, but their concerns seem to end a block south of Safeco Field, and they've really needed to get out to the 'burbs more.

Voting for Judges concentrates on one thing, and does one thing well - that's the elected judges of Washington State. They do a good job.

The Municipal League of King County rates the candidates on their experience and responses to the a survey. They don't do judges, and that makes them a nice complement.

Others will weight in over time - Crosscut and Publicola often show up for the dance, and I'll add them if they have something to say.

So, after a paticularly churlish public service message, we'll get to it. More later,

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Yo, Yeoman

Poster from 1897, re-used for the program here.
The Yeomen of the Guard or The Merryman and His Maid, by W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan. The Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society, Bagley Wright Theater, through July30.

The Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society is a local organization dedicated to the light opera works of Gilbert & Sullivan. They are enthusiasts and amateurs, and produce but one production a year, in the heart of the summer, usually overlapping with the Bite of Seattle (which was also this weekend - I overheard several in the audience complain about the traffic, but I found that a Food festival running at the same day was a perk, not a bug).

The society makes bank on the big three G&S Productions known to all with a passing knowledge of the oeuvre - Pinafore, Penzance, and Mikado. But they also feature works that are not as common or well known. Yeoman of the Guard floats to the top of the general knowledge list in general, particularly those who remember Peter, Paul, and Mary and their cover of "I have a song to sing-o" which appears here.

Very quickly, the production is excellent - the voices range from fair to fantastic, with a heavier number at the upper end of that register. Morgan Duterte as Elise Maynard, a strolling singer, is in particular strong, and Mark Rabe as her jester boyfriend is bright and sarcastic.

The opera itself is a bit odd, though, and it may just be modern sensibilities trying to be applied to older forms. Forgive me if I go on about this, but it leaves me puzzled. Here's the plot (Do spoilers apply to an opera from 1888? Fine, I've giving it all away here):

The initial setup is that brave, handsome Lord Fairfax is in the Tower of London, about to be beheaded on trumped-up charges, guarded by the yeomen. Most of the yeomen think its a darn shame Fairfax will lose his head, including Sergeant Meryll, whose daughter is sweet on Fairfax. Father and daughter conspire to free Fairfax by breaking him out but then passing him off as Meryll's son, Leonard, who had just been appointed to the guard but who no one has seen. Fairfax, though, to keep his money out of the hands of his evil cousin, arranged to get married before his death. A traveling jester and his girlfriend/singer are recruited into the scheme, and the singer, Elsie, is married, blindfolded, to a man who will be dead in an hour.

But Meryll's plot works. Phoebe gets the keys from the love-besotted head jailer/assistant tormentor, and Fairfax escapes, but had to maintain his role as a guardsman looking for himself and pretending to be Pheobe's brother.

Now here's where it goes off the rails a bit for me. The plot suddenly switches from Phoebe's romance with Fairfax to Elsie's. Elsie cannot marry her jester boyfriend, because she is already married to Fairfax, who failed to die. The jester and head jailer cook up a scheme where they claim to have shot Fairfax in the river, which frees up Elsie to marry the jester and removes the jailer's competition for Pheobe. But, Fairfax, having figured out that Elsie is his wife, proceeds to woo her under the jester's nose as Leonard. Elsie must refuse, of course, which endears her to the lord.

And the Meryll's plan starts to fall apart. Pheobe, jealous of Elsie, inadvertently reveals to the jailer that Fairfax still lives, and must agree to marry the jailer to keep his silence. The Sergeant is similarly trapped and forced into agreeing to marry the Tower's housekeeper, the formidable Dame Carruthers. Word comes that Fairfax is pardoned, and Fairfax comes to claim his bride, who is heartbroken because she now loves Leonard. She is delighted to see that Fairfax is her Leonard, and after a reprise of "I have a song to sing - o", takes her place with her husband, and the jester collapses in grief.

And what the hey? I feel like I'm missing something - not in the performance, not in the songs, not in the opera's internal logic (of which, we are informed, we should take the immortal advice " Repeat to yourself its just a show, you really should relax"), but in how it is framed as a story. We're set out with the idea that this is the story of Meryll's family springs the lord who Pheobe is sweet on. But by the end, the play is really about the jester and Elsie, who are parted as Elsie ascends to a new social station, while Meryll and Pheobe are trapped in engagements they do not want.

What happened here? Only Elsie gets a happy ending, but that's a bit wobbly given that her noble husband is more than a bit shallow and a cad - Happy to dally with Phoebe while still officially married to Elsie, and only brought back into the fold by Elsie's loyalty to him. And even then he plays her, wooing her as Leonard and causing her further heartbreak. And the original conspirators, who are not presented as horrible people, are lashed into their own unwanted marriages. The jester falls insensible. None seem to have done anything to deserve their fates.

All this may be in the nature of stage roles for singers. As far as I can tell (in G&S, at least), tenors tend to be the romantic leads, but their characters are rather cloth-headed, vain, and unempathic. Soprano parts also skew to the brainless end of the category. Mezzo's are usually the sidekick/best friend of the Soprano, until they become women of a certain age, where they become a formidable contraltos - marriage hungry and dominating. And the baritones get all the good characters and all the good laughs.

And this is a "serious" Gilbert & Sullivan - lacking the mocking of British customs and politics, much of the normal topsy-turvey legalisms, and, despite the arrival of the pardon at the end, does not feel like a god has been cranked out of a machine. And the music is extremely strong, a step above most. But the framework of the plot, even ignoring the internal logic, leaves me puzzled.

So, excellence performance, which makes me extremely happy to be in a part of the country that has such things. I think I just need to figure out how this comic opera thing is supposed to work.

More later,

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Gaming: Excellent. Most Excellent

The Excellent Traveling Volume  A Fanzine of M.A.R.Barker's World of Tekumel

It should not be a surprise to readers of this blog that I am a big fan of M.A.R. Barker's Tekumel and its first public incarnation, the Empire of the Petal Throne boxed set from TSR. I wrote about it way back here, discussing all its updates new rulesets, and probably have to update it further since new and exciting material, like Jeff Dee's Bethorm has shown up on the scene, and Brett Slocum's Heroic Age of Tekumel is in the offing.

But what I really want to talk about right now is fanzines. I'm a fan of fanzines, in particular since they drill right down to a specific, almost obsessive, level. On the creator's side, they are a labor of love, rarely money-makers, closer to hobbies, and contain only that which the the creators themselves wish to see. On the consumer side, they are for a very, very small group who have a deep interest in the particular subject. One without the other, and the fanzine ceases to be by or for fans.

Enter The Excellent Traveling Volume by James Maliszewski, who formerly ran the late, lamented Grognardia blog. It is a Tekumel fanzine, and even further concentrates on the original TSR (later reprinted by Different Worlds) versions of the game.

TETV is a hand-crafted music box of a 'zine, each issue laying out expanded content for the game. The original set concentrated on Tsolyanu, but the booklets increase character creation for the Red Hats of Mu'ugalavyani, the Salarvya, and the descendants of the dragon-riders of N'luss (No, I'm not putting in the accent marks. Live with it.). This expanded section gives both personal names and clans of the nations, and bits about their culture and religions, and how they compare back to the Tsolyanu that most fans are comfortable with.

Maliszewski also delivers in each issue patrons who can be the foundation of overland adventures. One of the challenges of Tekumel in its various incarnation has been a lack of what you do when you get there, though there have been definite attempts to rectify this. The patrons provide that vibe, very much in an old Traveller-style mode, where you get the background on the character, the job that is being offered, and then several options on what is really going on. It is both a good read and provides good hooks for the game.

Also in the issues to date have been small adventures, originally part of a larger dungeons for more traditional adventuring, but now expanding to a full tomb or abandoned spaceship (why yes, they have spaceships in Tekumel - didn't you know?) Again, this hits up the old canard for GMs unsure about what to do with their characters. Lastly, there are articles about new monsters, or races such as the Mihalli, or various Underpeople. All within 32 pages of nicely dense text.

And the art. It is charming in its own right, and evokes earlier zines like the early Unspeakable Oaths and old-school games like Arduin Grimoire. The cover shown above is by Zhu Bajie (A pseudonym from Journey to the West?), and interiors range from OK to excellent.

I am actually of two minds in recommending this 'zine. On one hand, it is very, very good, and if you are a fan of Tekumel, and the original EPT,  then it is worth the cost (ten bucks a pop, Paypal only). But one of the greatest dangers of a fanzine it is its own popularity. Success often drives improvements to the work, but often robs it of its charm. I loved the original digest-sized, color-paper cover versions of the Unspeakable Oath, for Call of Cthulhu. It felt like from fans, for fans. That 'zine still exists in a glossy, irregularly-published version with more ads from the increasing Cthulhu market, but it's not the same.

TETV is produced at Mr. Maliszewski's own speed, which produces excellent work but not a strict schedule (Call it Quarterly-ISH). There is no subscription (and with that no pressure to produce on a treadmill, allowing the work to grow), but he has a mailing list for announcing when the next volume is out. He has been making older issues available, and it is worth checking them out.

The Excellent Traveling Volume succeeds in its greatest form - it makes me want to play in Tekumel again. And that is high praise.

More later,