Wednesday, August 09, 2017

The Model of Major Middle Manager

The Red Sphinx by Alexandre Dumas, Translated by Lawrence Ellsworth, Pegasus Books, 2017

Provenance (Or how I came to read this book): I asked for this book as a gift from my Lovely Bride for our anniversary back in February, and she delivered, noting only in passing how massive (800 pages plus) the tome was. I had found out about it on Facebook, where I follow Lawrence Ellsworth. Actually, I follow Lawrence in his identity that gamers may recognize, Lawrence Schick. That would be Lawrence Schick the designer of White Plume Mountain and the current lead loremaster on Elder Scrolls Online. I don't know Lawrence all that well (his tenure and mine at old TSR did not overlap, and we have met maybe a handful of times), but I always liked his work and found the idea that he had translated a "lost" Dumas book was intriguing.

Review (Or what I thought about the entire thing): The book is an unfinished, partially published, manuscript from Dumas. Back in the day, Dumas serialized his stories in Parisian magazines. As a result, his completed books tend to be a bit... long and perhaps even ... rambling. This one in particular was titled The Comte De Moret, and was a bout a figure from the swashbuckling age who was the recognized bastard son of King Henri IV, and therefore half-brother to Louis XIII. Count De Moret was a historical figure, and was involved in one of the other royal brother's rebellions against the crown, and was supposedly killed in a battle against the Louis's forces. He has his own mythos that has grown up over the years, as the "good, loyal son" of Henri.

But in the book, as presented, De Moret is more of a supporting character, and Ellworth is completely within his rights to rename his translation after the true protagonist - Cardinal Richelieu. Yes, those who have seen numerous adaptations of The Three Musketeers think of Richelieu as the bad guy, the scheming spider in clerical red. But Dumas admires him, and presents him, not only sympathetically, but as the hero, the only man who cares about France, even if its king is a fool and his family are greedy intriguers.

Richelieu is, within this book, the perfect middle manager. His boss is a fool, but the Cardinal has gathered together a team of loyal, devoted, and talented individuals to make the entire country work. This is most dramatically shown in a section where, having lost a crucial argument with the Crown, Richelieu lays down his tools and retires to a private life, and the King attempts to do his job. In quick succession, every agent of the Cardinal lays out how dire the situation truly is, how everyone thinks the King is an idiot, and then resigns themselves. Less than a week after his resignation, the King implores Richelieu to return to govern the kingdom correctly. Richelieu is free with his favors, loyal to his workers, and has no fear about getting directly involved to get to the truth of the matter. The Cardinal could write his own business advice book and do a decent TED talk about management.

This is a 21st Cent translation of an 19th Cent book set in the 17th Century. And, though it has not seen much print in English, it feels very much like the shared-world adventure fiction I've read and written, and it makes the case that Dumas is very much an antecedent of popular fantasy as Tolkien or Howard.

To spoil just a bit, the book opens on a professional duelist (dueling is banned in France) who is approached by a hunchback to duel and kill the Count De Moret. De Moret has apparently stolen the affection of woman away from the hunchback. The professional refuses, because he knows the Count as a good man (though not above sleeping around) and the hunchback and his colleagues set upon the duelist with their swords and leave him for dead ( spoilers - he does not die). The hunchback and his colleagues then leave, but one of the colleagues reveals that HE is the one sleeping with object of the hunchback's affections, which results ANOTHER swordfight, in which the hunchback is badly wounded and feared to die (spoilers - he does not die, either). Both duelist and hunchback survive, only to have YET ANOTHER duel while they are both wounded and seated in sedan chairs on a street in Paris.

This entire exchange feels very Realmsian, and could have transpired on the streets of Suzail or Waterdeep. And the adventure fiction of the age can show strong connections with the shared worlds that TSR launched in the 80s and 90s. In this case, instead of a lore bible, the cornerstone of these tales come from the history and legend of France itself. If you are a fan of Ed Greenwood's work, yes, you should check out Dumas in a good translation.

The translation helps in all this. As opposed to a bowdlerized and simplified translation, Ellsworth embraces the passion of Dumas' language and subject, and creates a readable text. This reader freely will admit that there are sections where Dumas deals with history (from a Francophile view of course) that I put the book aside, but quickly returned as the action and plotting picking up again.

So the manuscript is unfinished - the magazine Dumas was serializing it in went under and he never got back to it. Ellsworth puts forth that he had an ending in mind from a short story he had written decades earlier about the count and Isabel, who he is in love with (despite dallying with others) in the earlier section. Set after the battle in which the Count had supposedly perished (Dumas played fast and loose with the truth), the two lovers are reunited by a carrier dove, and have numerous near misses before their relationship resolves.

I'm not so sure. I think Dumas was aimed at this as an eventual ending, but the two texts are dramatically different. The short story is completely epistolary (consisting of letters and diary entries), and the characters more passionate than shown at the start of their relationship/the end of the manuscript. The Cardinal is here in passing, wise and willingly fooled to help reunite the two. Dumas may have been aiming at the facts of the short story as his endpoint, but would have been involved in much revision should he have ever reached it.

In general, this is worth hunkering down and reading, particularly if you are a fan of the old Realms or DL novels. Swordplay, battles, plots, treachery, and the most effective middle manager that France has ever seen. Go read it.

More later,


DOW Breaks 22,000!

And it is not so much of a "break" as it is a slow oozing over the line. Usually such news gets a lot more excitement, but most of the stock market news has been "three steps forward, two steps back:, while there hasn't been colossal collapses, but by the same time no fantastic rallies. It has been a slow progress. Even the news articles have been filled with "meh" and a warning eye towards its sluggish pace.

Part of that probably comes from the uncertainty in the rulerleadership of the States, but even there Wall Street has pretty much decided that what damage will be done can be limited to particular industries and short time frames. Business as an organism indicates that they adapt to situations if they are going to survive and thrive. And this does come under the current administration's watch, even if their primary contribution has been to not screw things up too quickly or two much.

In the meantime, we'll cast baleful eye upon the housing prices in this neighborhood, the challenges of abandoned trade agreements, and the ongoing retail apocalypse, and coast this pleasant trend upwards as far as it goes.

[UPDATE: Annnnnd the President is talking about nuking North Korea and the stock market drops 200 points. Ah, well.]

More later,

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

The Political Desk - Results (The Late Edition)

OK, it's been a week or so, and most of the results are pretty much settled (stuff still comes in, sometimes things are close, but pretty much the dust has settled). Here's what we got for Fall:

King County Proposition No. 1 Sales Tax for Cultural Access Program: Rejected

King County Executive: Dow Constantine versus Bill Hirt

Port of Seattle Commissioner Position No. 1: John Creighton versus Ryan Calkins

Port of Seattle Commissioner Position No. 3: Stephanie Bowman versus Ahmed Abdi

Port of Seattle Commissioner Position No. 4:Peter Steinbruek versus Preeti Shridhar

City of Kent Mayor: Jim Berrios versus Dana Ralph

City of Kent Council Position No. 2: Satwinder Kaur versus Paul Addis

City of Kent Council Position No. 4: Toni Troutner versus Tye Whitfield

Kent School District No. 415 Director District No. 4: Bryon Madsen versus Denise Daniels

Soos Creek Water and Sewer District Commissioner Position No. 2: Alan Eades versus Merle Reeder

Public Hospital District No. 1 Commissioner District No. 1: Aaron Aboudara versus Pete DeLeyser

You'll note that I'm not highlighting the ones I recommended because a) it is not about my batting average, it is about getting good people into office, and b) I'm pretty bad at picking horses right now. Moving forward, I'm going to revisit all this when we get closer to the election day, but here are some guiding principles:

If you're an incumbent, what has happened on your watch to part of the discussion.
If you're say you hate politics, I am less inclined to make you a politician.
If you want to run government as a business, remember that that trick never works.
If you're a Republican, I'm giving you a particularly hard look. All these positions are non-political, so it is inevitable that I will recommend a Republican, either not knowing any better, or the fact that we actually have some competent Republicans out here. But you're starting at a disadvantage.

And that is it until the next ballot shows up. More later,

More later,

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Political Desk - In Which We Summarize.

So,

Primary Day is August 1st, which is a really stupid day for a primary. Part of it is because we're looking at the height of summer, when people's minds are miles away from the political scene. It is also the first day of the month, which means most people won't think about it because it's next month.

The end result is that is that fewer people are likely to vote than normal, even given things like the over-stuffed race for Mayor of Seattle (which I can't vote on, but I will mention Bob Hasegawa and Mike McGinn in passing).So your vote counts more than usual.

You've heard the drill - in these elections, old people tend to carry the day, because we've (and yep, I am officially an old duffer these days) have been trained through years of voting and seeing our candidate or the other candidate winning, and having to deal with the consequences of an election. So ultimately, I want youse mugs to vote.

And don't just listen to me. When I started this tour through my own ballot, I laid out a list of resources that are available, including other people's endorsements. Go read them. Weigh the options. Cast your votes.

So, here's my two cents worth:

King County Proposition No. 1 Sales Tax for Cultural Access Program: Approved

King County Executive: Dow Constantine

Port of Seattle Commissioner Position No. 1: Claudia Kauffmann

Port of Seattle Commissioner Position No. 3: Ahmed Abdi

Port of Seattle Commissioner Position No. 4: John Persak

City of Kent Mayor: Elizabeth Albertson

City of Kent Council Position No. 2: Satwinder Kaur

City of Kent Council Position No. 4: Tye Whitfield

Kent School District No. 415 Director District No. 4: Denise Daniels

Soos Creek Water and Sewer District Commissioner Position No. 2: Merle Reeder

Public Hospital District No. 1 Commissioner District No. 1: Pete DeLeyser

And with that the Political Desk takes break, until the results come in next week.

More later,

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Political Desk: And the Rest

Now we are clearly far from the lands that we know and love. School, Water and Sewer, and Public Hospital. Here is where the foundation of a well-informed voting populace breaks down entirely. Even the local papers are bit lax on coverage, the municipal league knows not, and we are left with only their desires expressed through the voter guide write-ups. I feel the need to hire a private detective, a slouching, chain-smoking type, to use his contacts to find out who has the rap sheet, who has the business in trouble, or who has been getting free pizza from the local chain store.

But anyway ....

Kent School District No. 415 Director District No. 4. I tend to like people who know the territory, who have been in the building, and know the job (and who have not be indicted, to the best of my knowledge). I'd go with Denise Daniels, an administrator in the school district, for this one.

Soos Creek Water and Sewer District Commissioner Position No. 2 has an incumbent in Merle Reeder, who replaces Larry West, who passed on earlier this year. This is for the remainder of Mr. West's term. Sure.

Public Hospital District No. 1 Commissioner District No. 1 has been surprisingly quiet for the past year or so. The District, which includes Valley Medical right down the hill, has been a swirl of controversy for many elections involving the pay for its CEO, and culminating in the merger of Valley into the UW Medical system, which still leaves some folk uncomfortable. The merger leaves the elected officials outnumbered on the board by the appointed officials, which really reduces the effectiveness of the voters in all this. I've got two candidates who, in their Voter's Guide descriptions, are calling out the current situation - And of the two I would with Peter DeLeyser, who has some volunteer experience with the hospital itself.

And that's a wrap. One more entry, with a summary, and then Dobie is free (until November).

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Political Desk: A Taste of Kent

And here we start getting deeper into the weeds once we reach the borders of Kent, my home town. The big newspapers to the north think the world ends at the southern edge of Georgetown, and we are left with candidate statements and what forums the Kent Reporter covers. I would almost recommend grabbing some dice.

But that would be wrong, because the mayor and the council are facing some pretty dire challenges in the next few years. They did OK with the dangers of the Green  River flooding, but their budget is going to come under some strain soon. And part of it is my fault.

And by my fault, I mean my neighborhood up near Panther Lake. Almost a decade ago, we were unincorporated King County, but the county pressured the localities to adopt these ungoverned municipal islands, and offered Kent a tidy sum to annex us. This is the political equivalent of hanging a pork chop around our necks to get the dog to play with us, but it has in general been a good thing, and I am positively disposed to the local organization as a result. However, we're getting to the end of the ten year agreement, and that money is going to disappear from the budget. So they have to deal with that.

Furthermore, there's been a change on how state sales tax is collected, which reduces the share that communities with warehouses and factories get. And the valley floor is thick with warehouses and light industry. So the budget will take another hit, which means fewer services or higher taxes. And since they are grown-ups, they are talking about it now as opposed to after the election.

Now, by the same token, they've had great success with instituting a B&O tax, to the point that they are bringing in twice of what they anticipated? Good news? Not quite. When they sold that tax in, it was with the idea that it would be used to repair the local road systems (warehouse means a lot of trucks which means a lot of wear and tear). So while the money is there, there's some question about whether we can/should/be allowed to tap it. Business interests, which weren't too happy with it in the first place, say no now that they have it.

And then there's the idea of selling of city property. Last year, the city sold the land of Pine Tree Park to a developer. Problem was, the park was part of another annexation packet, and part of the agreement to annex was that if the city sold the park, they would have to provide land of equivalent value. That and the fact that the sale was a bit of a surprise to people in the neighborhood left the city to break the deal, at a cost of $800,000+.

And then there was the fate of the par3 golf course. Here the deal goes through (so far), but the developer is getting a major tax break to come play ball. As a result the larger golf club is still in the red.

All of the above sends me more in the direction of newcomers as opposed to old hands in facing the various challenges to the city. Elizabeth Albertson is running for mayor, and while a former council member, hasn't been part of the shenanigans of the past five years. So let's go for her.

Looking at the council itself, I'm going with Satwinder Kaur (who is packing a buncha endorsements plus has experience with previous budgets) for position 2,. And Tye Whitfield (who is also heavily endorsed, but also had the most earnest robo-call I ever received) for position 4.

But to be honest, check out your own research on this one.

More later,

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Political Desk: Portal to Portal

Ah, the Port of Seattle. Come rain or shine, this agency, responsible both for the physical seaport and the airport, can always be relied upon to provide political entertainment and frustration.

A few years back, the port welcomed a Shell drilling rig into the Sound as its winter home-away-from-home when it gets too cold in the Arctic. This managed to cheese off environmental types (who, armed with kayaks, swarmed the rig) as well as other traditional democracy-fanciers by doing it in the political dead of night with little public input. But that's old news. The new news is that the CEO of the Port (chosen by the Port Commissioners) seized on a measure to give non-union port employees a raise to give HIMSELF a raise to the tune of $24k. Said Port CEO is no longer with us, and Shell has decided we're saving too much gas to make drilling in Arctic worthwhile for the moment, but we still have the Commissioners that make things like this all possible.

And incumbency and name recognition counts, so the incumbents will likely be back. So let's look at this with an eye towards who can handle them.

Commission Position No. 1 has John Creighton and the incumbent, who has been burdening my mailbox with fliers about how great things are going, if you only ignore the kayaks and CEOs. Oh, and trying to keep airport employees exempt from the new minimum wage law. There have been times when I've been on his side. Not this time. I see Claudia Kauffman is on the list. Claudia was my state senator, and didn't embarrass us (which is always a plus, in my opinion).  Bea Queida-Rico actually has experience working in the port, so I think she's be a good add as well. But for the primary I'm going for Claudia Kauffman.

Commission Position No.3 has Stephanie Bowman and the incumbent, who has not been particularly bad, but asleep at the wheel things keep happening under her tenure. Opposing her are Lisa Espinoza and Ahmed Abdi. I'm going for Ahmed Abdi, but we'll have this discussion again.

Commission Position No. 4 is a jump ball, as there are no incumbents here. There are a couple regulars that show up on ballots every so often, one or two that have no visible signs of campaigns, and a couple good ones. Of the good ones, it boils down to Preeti Shridhar and John Persak for me, and if pressed, I will look at John Persak's union bonafides and give him the nod.

More later,


Monday, July 17, 2017

The Political Desk: County Executive

This one is going to be between experienced incumbent Dow Constantine and, well, a candidate with an axe to grind. Goodspaceguy (who refers to himself in the Voter's Pamphelt as GoodSpaceGuy - get with it, ballot people) is against the minimum wage. ANY minimum wage. Bill Hirt is anti-light rail and is running to gain attention to his anti-light rail blog. Stan Lippman starts with his anti-vaccine stance, then goes onto his plant for a solar farm east of the Cascades and turning the monorail into a maglev system.

I'm looking at the names on the ballot, and thinking of creating a contest: King County Candidate or Dude in the Star Wars Cantina Scene? Anyway one of these other guys we will see again. But for everyone else, Dow Constantine.

More later,