•  Last Fortunes Countdown #6 •  Last Fortunes Countdown #5 •  Last Fortunes Countdown #3 & #4 •  Last Fortunes Countdown #2 •  Last Fortunes Countdown #1 •  Fortune for October •  Your Guide to this Fall's Bodily Fluid Moons •  Rinse. Wash. Repeat. •  To the Pole! •  Just a Box of Games, Box 4 •  About Damn Time •  Fortune •  Once More Unto the Breach •  I Surrender •  Just a Box of Games, Box 3 •  Just a Box of Games, Box 2 •  Just a Box of Games, Box 1 •  Gun Belt •  A Man, A Man, A Plan, Not Approved •  Come Home, George McGovern

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©2003-2019 Darrel Plant

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»  December 20, 2014

What the...?  

Last Fortunes Countdown #6: Barbara and I went to the Hunan Thursday night together for our last time:

You will always be surrounded by true friends.

Sat Dec 20, 2014

»  December 18, 2014

What the...?  

Last Fortunes Countdown #5: The penultimate fortune for our Hunan trips together:

Treat yourself to a good book for a needed rest and escape.

Thu Dec 18, 2014

»  December 13, 2014

What the...?  

Last Fortunes Countdown #3 & #4: From last night and tonight, with less than a week to go before the last time Barbara and I can eat together at Hunan:

Now is a good time to try something new.
A pleasant surprise is in store for you soon.

Sat Dec 13, 2014

»  December 6, 2014

What the...?  

Last Fortunes Countdown #2: From tonight, my birthday and Barbara and my anniversary:

Watch for a stranger to soon become a friend.

Sat Dec 06, 2014

»  December 5, 2014

What the...?  

Last Fortunes Countdown #1: The Hunan, which Barbara and I have considered "our" place for more than a quarter of a century, is closing on December 29th. We've celebrated many anniversaries and birthdays there. We went there the first anniversary of the day I survived my pulmonary embolism. Really, it's been the go-to place when we wanted a meal out. We were already planning to go Saturday for our 26th anniversary, but after we heard the news, I decided to squeeze out every last bit of Hunan that I can from life, so Barbara and Dad and I headed there yesterday.

You will make a change for the better.

Fri Dec 05, 2014

»  October 23, 2014

What the...?  

Fortune for October: Lunch with Barbara at Hunan:

Be prepared to modify your plan.
It'll be good for you!

Thu Oct 23, 2014

»  October 7, 2014

What the...?  

Your Guide to this Fall's Bodily Fluid Moons: Click to enlarge!

Tue Oct 07, 2014

»  September 13, 2014


Rinse. Wash. Repeat.: Anyone remember how we got into this mess?

Saudi Arabia Will Grant U.S. Request for Anti-ISIS Training Program

Sept. 10, 2014

AMMAN, Jordan — Saudi Arabia has agreed to an American request to provide a base to train moderate Syrian opposition fighters, American officials said on Wednesday.

US pulls out of Saudi Arabia

29 April 2003

The United States has said that virtually all its troops, except some training personnel, are to be pulled out of Saudi Arabia.


But our correspondent says the US troops have become a potent symbol of Washington's role in the region, and many Saudis see them as proof of the country's subservience to America.

Saudi Arabia is home to some of Islam's holiest sites and the deployment of US forces there was seen as a historic betrayal by many Islamists, notably Osama Bin Laden.

It is one of the main reasons given by the Saudi-born dissident - blamed by Washington for the 11 September attacks - to justify violence against the United States and its allies.

Sat Sep 13, 2014

»  August 11, 2014

What the...?  

To the Pole!:

“FATEFUL CHOICE  [Robert Falcon] Scott’s ship, Terra Nova, carried Siberian dogs and Manchurian ponies, which required bulky fodder and close care. Scandinavian snowshoes of twisted cane helped some ponies; those without waded up to their knees in snow. The best means of transportation was much debated: [Roald] Amundsen’s original Arctic plans had included harnessing polar bears.”
—photo caption, “The Man Who Took the Prize” by Caroline Alexander,
National Geographic, September 2011

“‘It is quite true,’ said Capt. Amundsen, ‘that I intend to try polar bears to haul my sleds. Hagenbeck is training four bears and guarantees that they will be perfectly docile.”
—”Bears Will Draw Him to the Pole”, The New York Times, October 16, 1907

*  *  *
September 1, 1907
Karl Hagenbeck, Hamburg

Herr Hagenbeck,

The polar bear show put on by your circus (which I made a point of seeing while on a recent speaking engagement in Belgium) is very intriguing, particularly the act where some of your bears—75 polar bears!—drew carts. What possibility would there be that I could persuade you to train several bears to draw heavy sleds for an attempt to reach the North Pole? I spoke to your brother Wilhelm about the feasibility of such a plan but despite the obvious facility of the many bears in the circus, he seemed rather dubious and referred the matter to you as the proprietor of your animal purveying operation.

I hope to hear from you at your earliest convenience,

Capt. Roald Amundsen

*  *  *


September 15, 1907
Capt. Roald Amundsen, Oslo

Dear Captain Amundsen,

Your letter finally caught up to me; the plan sounds eminently practicable and the scientific nature of the expedition would bolster my proposal for the Hagenbeck Tierpark as more than a mere zoological garden or circus immobile. Wilhelm is the master in the art of training wild beasts but he is sometimes cautious regarding the introduction of new tricks and routines. I shall cable him to move this project forward or—as you Norwegians might say—Fram.


Karl Hagenbeck

*  *  *

15 SEP


*  *  *

16 SEP


*  *  *

September 16, 1907
Karl Hagenbeck, Hamburg

Dear Brother,

I could not in telegram form express the concern I have regarding Amundsen’s plan. He is truly a great explorer but I fear he knows nothing of undomesticated animals save their shooting for safety or ration. His intent is to drift in his ship with the polar ice pack for a period of five to six years then sled for the pole, counting on the Winter hibernation cycle of the bears to reduce the need for provision over the years. As you well know, our circus performs throughout the Winter in Northern climes and the polar bears never hibernate. They do not hibernate if there is a ready food source, such as is available at the Circus Hagenbeck. Presumably, the members of Amundsen’s expedition would also provide a fine Winter food source. At least for a brief time.



*  *  *

September 20, 1907


I apologize for leaving town before your return with the bears, but a shipment of animals is due to Paris this week. I have left instructions regarding the particulars of Amundsen’s needs. Proceed with the bears you have brought; he will want the best half dozen of them.

Karl Hagenbeck


*  *  *

September 22, 1907
Karl Hagenbeck, Hamburg

Herr Hagenbeck,

I see your knowledge of polar expedition is up to date. Yes, we are attempting to secure Nansen’s ship Fram for the venture; it is integral to our plans.

Fantastic news regarding the bears! How long will the training take? I will be leaving for New York via the Oscar II on a lecturing and fund-raising tour early next month. If we can complete negotiations prior to my sailing, our joint venture can be announced in Europe and America before my return, which would no doubt pique the interest of newspapers and expedition underwriters. Please cable any progress reports and let us finalize a contract.



*  *  *

28 SEP



*  *  *

October 23, 1907
Karl Hagenbeck, Hamburg

Dear Brother,

Reuben writes that sled training is going well. He hasn’t mentioned how training not to eat people in the Winter goes.

The vision of Amundsen’s pet bears pulling his team to victory in the race for the pole has certainly fired up the imaginations of the popular press. The papers say he is off to America for a seven-month tour to spread the polar ursine gospel.

The gaps left in the performance schedule by the bears working with Reuben have been bridged. I will be returning to Hamburg myself for the final stages of training.

I am worried, Karl. The training of polar bears poses particular difficulties. They are crafty, suspicious creatures apt to turn on the trainer with the least warning. Only a few of our bears truly enjoy their routines. Constant vigilance is our only safety with them in the confines of the Circus. God only knows what would happen over the course of several years on their home territory in the polar ice fields. Actually, I think I have a pretty good idea of what would happen, as well.



P.S. With Amundsen overseas until the summer, what are we going to do with two dozen bears trained to pull ice sleds? Can I have them back with the Circus?

*  *  *



*  *  *

February 24, 1908
Capt. Roald Amundsen, Minneapolis

My Dear Captain,

I do hope this missive finds you in a timely fashion; your Oslo office gave us your expected itinerary and I have attempted to allow for trans-Atlantic transit time as well as movement through the American mail system.

Lieut. Nilson and his team have embarked with six bears and customized sleds for Hammerfest, per your orders. I am somewhat ashamed to have to admit, however, that neither my brother Wilhelm or our lead bear-keeper Reuben Castang was willing to accompany them to the edge of the Arctic, so your men are on their own as to the care, maintenance, and management of the bears. I did my best to persuade each man to take the reins—as it were—but they were rather adamant in their refusal and I do not have the gift with their wills that they have with those of the bears.

To the Pole!

Karl Hagenbeck

*  *  *

April 1, 1908
Capt. Roald Amundsen, New Orleans

Sir, the polar bear sled plan may be less than optimal.

First, while our team was training with the bears in Hamburg, Wilhelm Hagenbeck informed me that polar bears do not always hibernate in winter. Indeed, it was winter while we were there, cold (if not Arctic cold) and the bears seemed as active as you might ever expect. This will necessarily impact our provisioning plans.

Second, it is currently our experience that a carnivore as heavy as a draft horse is not easily swayed to our purpose and that a half dozen of them compound the problem far more than six-fold.

The closer we came to Hammerfest and the arctic ice, the more restless the bears became. As we took the first out of his enclosure, he stood on his hind legs. A fine trick when done in the circus but rather disconcerting when two of you are holding him with control sticks attached to a collar from either side and the effect is to lift you off your feet, swinging into his flank within range of his massive foreclaws. This unexpected behavior startled us so much that Hans and I both let go our grip and the bear took off at full speed North to the ice, with the sticks essentially airborne.

We were particularly careful after that incident, moving the bear-carts into one of the facilities used to process fish before we tried to move the bears out of the carts and harness them to their sleds. This seemed to work well—although it would be a bit impracticable to replicate in the hold of a vessel or on the ice—and we steered our charges out onto the town’s streets, where mid-afternoon gloaming was brightened by the electric streetlamps and the Northern Lights. Onlookers gathered round at a remove as Lars climbed into one of the sleds and took the reins. Then all five bears leapt forward along the path blazed by their brother. Lars could be seen hauling on the reins with seemingly no effect, as the bears passed quickly out of our view. We put a party together to find him, and recovered three of the sleds—though much damaged. Of Lars and the other sleds we have not yet found a trace.

Lieut. Thorvald Nilson

Mon Aug 11, 2014

»  August 10, 2014

What the...?  

Just a Box of Games, Box 4:

Time to open up another box, I guess.


Avalon Hill, 1980
Diplomacy meets Risk meets lots of cool-sounding names at the height of the '70s craze for things Japanese. Never got a chance to play it more than once or twice.

Traveller, Deluxe Edition,
High Guard, Traveller Book 5
The Imperium,
The Spinward Marches

Game Designers' Workshop, 1979 and 1981
Scouts & Assassins
Merchants & Merchandise
Paranoia Press, 1980 and 1981
Just a portion of the extensive Traveller material in my possession. The Deluxe Edition box was a replacement for well-worn copies of my original books. High Guard covered space navy character generation. The two "Approved for use with Traveller" supplements covered a couple of different classes of citizens, the maps were official supplements, and the computer printout in the lower right was one of apparently dozens of space "sectors" that I wrote a computer program to generate (far beyond the needs of my little game-playing circle) with names created using a Japanese syllabalary (would that I had spent as much time actually studying for my Japanese language class).

Avalon Hill, 1975
My grandfather served in North Africa duringWW2, so this had some interest for me early on in my gaming days, it's one of the earlier real wargames I picked up. The map is completely featureless. It's a throwback to the days before easy access to photocopiers, when AH made some money selling pads of tally sheets for crew rosters and damage charts.

Alpha Omega
Battleline, 1977
Tobruk...in space! Space tactical simulations had it easy as far as maps went, because there's literally nothing there. I think this title might have been put out to capitalize on the burgeoning sci-fi gaming market that followed Star Wars in the same year, but it sat on the shelves at our shop for many years before I felt sorry for it. The artwork wasn't particularly catch. Even I never played it.

Dark Nebula

Game Designers' Workshop, 1978 and 1980
Maybe Alpha Omega was just too early. Maybe the box was too big. Because Mayday came out just a year later (although from an established company with a developer distribution channel) and won awards for what is essentially the same type of tactical space battle game, also with completely-featureless maps. Dark Nebula, on the other hand, is a strategic game with a map that changes from game to game, and it loosely tied into GDW's official Traveller universe.

Game Designers' Workshop, 1980
Designed to be used with GHQ 1:285 models to simulate tactical operations in a Soviet/US battle in Europe (weren't those the days?) this was the serious stuff from GDW. No unit markers or maps included, just indicators for smoke, hits, and other tally elements. Big thick deck of cards with combat statistics for armor and aircraft.

Up Front
Desert War

Avalon Hill, 1983, 1984, 1989
Relative Range, Issue Number Two
Michael P. Nagel, 1994
Up Front was perhaps one of my favorite games ever. Straddling the line between wargame and role-playing game, it had an enormous amount of complexity and flexibility, but was fast-paced and fun (once you got things set up). If you didn't want to get sued, you might say a number of elements were ripped off by Magic: The Gathering a decade later. Players set up according to a scenario, placing cards representing individual soldiers, crewed weapons, and vehicles in groups facing each other, then draw from a thick deck for cards representing terrain, obstacles, attacks, and fortifications. They take turns moving and playing cards on their groups (and their opponent's groups), so you never know exactly what you're moving into. No dice, the cards are used for random number generation, as well. You could get two sets of cards and set up a multiplayer wide front game, which was a gas. The original set covered the European front's primary combatants: Germans, English, Russians, and Americans, with Banzai expanding to the Pacific theater, and Desert War adding in French and Italian army units. Ron Shigeta, one of my Reed College gaming buddies sent me a copy of Relative Range, an Up Front newsletter from Princeton long after the last game I played. Atoll was a package of scenarios I wrote for use with Banzai. I see that at least one time we played this, my friends and I were having so much fun (and probably drinking so much beer) that we had to label which side of the cardholder was for discards.

Lord of Hosts, 31 Jan 1990
Robert E. Sack, 1990
Perelandra #76
Pete Gaughan, 1990
World DipCon II / DipCon XXIII / DixieCon IV Newsletter #3
DipCon, 1990
Diplomacy Today, Blue Edition Winter 1903
Darrel Plant, 1989
I was mostly unaware of the wider world of Diplomacy zines when I started up Diplomacy Today. I knew the game was frequently played by mail (and I had my own experience developing a PBM game) but the fact that there were collations of multiple zines was something unfamiliar. When I started it up, desktop color printing was not at all available, and the colophon to this issue mentioned I printed from the Apple Macintosh II (2MB RAM!) to an Apple LaserWriter IINT ($10,000!) that I had access to. When the service bureau I used for work got a QMS thermal-transfer color printer I sent a copy of the first color issue off to Avalon Hill's magazine, The General. Managing Editor Rex Martin sent me back a proposal that we might run selections from one of the games (to be the Red Edition) in his magazine and he would be one of the players. Regrettably, the whole thing fell apart, as so many diplomacy-related things do. The other material was sent to me by Pete Gaughan, after Rex sent him copies of my newsletter. Neither the Red or Blue games got very far.


Flying Buffalo Inc., 1976 and 1981
Lords of Valetia
Gamemasters Publishers Association, 1976
Starweb is pretty much Patient Zero in computer-moderated play-by-mail gaming. It was there before the dawn of the personal computer and, apparently, it's still there. It's a game of 15 stellar empires competing for 255 worlds (a handy number for old computer systems). You picked one of 6 different players types, who got points for different activities, then you race to see who makes the goal. Send your turns in by mail and get a computer printout. Starlord was a similar game in some ways, but the printouts were in color! Lords of Valetia, I never actually played, and I have no idea what the turns looked like or even how you were supposed to encode what you wanted to do. The rulebook is thick but vague. It does, however have a pronunciation guide, if that was to be of any help.

Oil War
Simulations Publications, Inc., 1975
Good ideas never die. Almost forty years ago, this game caught my adolescent eye, and I brought it home to play with my brother. Another of the earliest "real" wargames in the collection, it was one of SPI's Folio series that brought the price into the reach of kids like myself, essentially repackaging the type of games published in Strategy & Tactics magazine into a folder and shrink-wrapping it; a paperback to the hardcover maps and boxes of Avalon Hill's products. Lots of familiar names here.

The General
Volume 24 Number 4
Volume 24 Number 6
Volume 26 Number 1

Avalon Hill, 1988-1990
Featuring Raid on St. Nazaire, Thunder at Cassino, and Merchant of Venus, respectively (none of which I have).

Security Station

Metagaming, 1978-1981
Raid on Iran
Steve Jackson Games, 1980
A slice of game evolution, these four games are all from Austin. The trend toward inexpensive, fast-to-play titles continued with Metagaming's early releases, packaged in paperboard boxes with small maps and counters. Wizard built on the huge fantasy market created by Dungeons & Dragons, with the magic component of a combat system initiated by the earlier Melee. They dispensed with the storyline aspect of D&D and got right down to the fighting. Recognizing the fact that a lot of fantasy game players were isolated nerds, releases like Security Station provided scenarios that could be played solitaire (or as part of a group). Helltank appealed to a different aesthetic, particularly those drawn in by Metagaming's first release: Ogre. The designer of Ogre, Steve Jackson, started his own game company, stayed in Austin, and released Raid on Iran, a speculative piece on what might have happened if the raid to free the hostages at the American Embassy in Tehran hadn't been aborted) which came out within months of the attempt.

Lost Worlds: Skeleton with Scimitar and Shield
Lost Worlds: Dwarf in Chainmail with Two-handed Ax
Lost Worlds: Giant Goblin with Mace and Shield
Lost Worlds: Woman in Scale with Sword and Shield
Lost Worlds: Hill Troll with Club
Lost Worlds: Barbarian with Two-handed Sword
Lost Worlds: Fighter Mage with Magic Sword
Lost Worlds: Wraith with Sickle
Lost Worlds: Cold Drake
Lost Worlds: Halfling with Sword and Shield
Lost Worlds: Lizard Man with Scimitar and Buckler

Nova Game Designs, 1983-1984
The success of Nova's Ace of Aces WWI air combat game led to this expansion into fantasy one-on-one combat, using a similar system of pictorial booklets paired with charts of actions. The series won a Charles Roberts award in 1983, but like many of the other games in my boxes, it was soon to meet the deadly interface of the computer. In some nice cross-marketing, each of the characters was modeled after a figure from Ral Partha's fantasy miniature collection, and a coupon for 10% off the miniature's purchase was included in the box.

Victory Games, 1983
An attempt to make a Squad Leader-style game playable by a single person, Ambush! used a bunch of 8.5"x11"scenario cards slipped into a "Mission Cartridge Viewer Sleeve", charts, dozens of pieces, maps, and another deck of cards to make playing a game by yourself feel like storming a beach in Normandy.

Ace of Aces Powerhouse Series
Nova Games, 1981
Autoduel Quarterly, Vol. 3 No. 4
Steve Jackson Games, 1985
Journal of the Travellers' Aid Society, No. 10
Game Designers' Workshop, 1981
Top Secret
TSR Games, 1980
A couple of stragglers, I covered Ace of Aces in Box 2, along with ADQ and the Journal. Top Secret was one of TSR's first non-fantasy excursions, none of which were ever near as popular as the D&D franchise. It was an espionage-based RPG that just seemed kind of lame compared to the fantasy and sci-fi RPGs.

The Strategic Review
Vol. 1 No. 1
Vol. 1 No. 2
Vol. 1 No. 3
Vol. 1 No. 4
Vol. 1 No. 5

The Dragon, Vol 2 No. 8
Dragon, Vol 6. No. 10
Tactical Studies Rules/TSR Hobbies, Inc., 1975, 1978, 1982
The first five (possibly the only five?) issues of The Strategic Review came out in 1975, I picked them up as back issues a year or so after publication, completist that I was at the time. There was no useful information in them for a budding D&D player, things were moving much too fast at that point. The first issue listed for sale (besides the original D&D boxed set): Cavaliers and Roundheads (miniatures rules for the English Civil War), Tricolor (Napoleonic War miniatures rules), Warriors of Mars (Barsoomian miniatures), Star Probe (map-based space exploration), Chainmail (medieval miniatures rules that spawned D&D), Tractics (WW2 miniatures), Panzer Warfare (large-scale armor miniatures), miniatures themselves, and polyhedral dice. By issue 5, multiple D&D expansion books were on the list, along with Empire of the Petal Throne, Boot Hill, and games based on football, auto racing, Civil War naval battles, and Lord of the Rings.

That was a big box.

Sun Aug 10, 2014

»  July 18, 2014

What the...?  

About Damn Time: From the Hunan:

Your talents will be recognized and rewarded.

Fri Jul 18, 2014

»  June 13, 2014

What the...?  

Fortune: Fujin's gone. My mom's gone. Fortune from the Wan Lung, where we had dinner with my father on Friday the 13th:

Remember three months from this date. Good things are in store for you.

Fri Jun 13, 2014

»  October 25, 2013


Once More Unto the Breach: And Crispine Crispian shall ne're goe by,
From this day to the ending of the World,
But we in it shall be remembred;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers:
For he to day that sheds his blood with me,
Shall be my brother: be he ne're so vile,
This day shall gentle his Condition.
And Gentlemen in England, now a bed,
Shall thinke themselues accurst they were not here;
And hold their Manhoods cheape, whiles any speakes,
That fought with vs vpon Saint Crispines day.

    Henry V, William Shakespeare

Fri Oct 25, 2013

»  April 23, 2013


I Surrender:

"Behold, the Underminer! I'm always beneath you, but nothing is beneath me!"

—The Incredibles, Pixar

"The key question is whether workers who have been unemployed for a long time eventually come to be seen as unemployable, tainted goods that nobody will buy. This could happen because their work skills atrophy, but a more likely reason is that potential employers assume that something must be wrong with people who can’t find a job, even if the real reason is simply the terrible economy. And there is, unfortunately, growing evidence that the tainting of the long-term unemployed is happening as we speak.


"So we are indeed creating a permanent class of jobless Americans."

—Paul Krugman, "The Jobless Trap," The New York Times, April 21, 2013

Hey, I'm still here. Is this thing on?

It's not the longest period of time I haven't posted anything—a whole two months went by just between posts in mid-November and mid-January—but it's felt like a long time.

It's been a crazy six months, and the last month hasn't even been the craziest part, although it's been rough in a way all its own. Most of it's not germane to the quotes above, so I won't bore anyone with every detail, but Krugman—as he often does—speaks the gospel.

I got my official State of Oregon Private Security Provider (Unarmed Professional) card yesterday, a little over a month after going through a two day training course with some folks who, frankly, had a lot of trouble reading aloud the simple questions we were prepped for on the exam. They passed, too. So forty hours a week—mostly in the middle of the night—I'm a security guard. The card is comically cheesy-looking, on the thinnest of white card stock, chunky in form because it's a quarter-inch shorter on the long dimension than a business card, just black type over a blue-green state seal, and unequal margins between the type and the edges of the card as little as 1/16" on one side.

It was seven-and-a-half years ago that I was hired for The Last Director Job in Portland (although there was one other), and it's been almost six years since I was laid off from it. Over the intervening period, I've applied to literally hundreds of positions—even applied for the same position when whoever took it moved on. Very few of those resulted in even a rejection letter. Even fewer got to the interview stage. Seriously, less than ten in nearly six years. And I wasn't holding out for a job with the salary I'd been getting. I had a little bit of freelance work, so I was more than willing to take something for less money just to smooth out the valleys: I applied to delivery jobs and convenience stores (something I'd actually done). But no takers.

It was twenty years ago, in the flush of the first year publishing my book review magazine, that a columnist from the Oregonian put me on his list of "the most interesting people in Portland." I was preceded (alphabetically) by discount furniture salesman Tom Peterson and then-senior VP of operations for the Trailblazers Geoff Petrie, and followed by Oregon wine-making pioneer Nanci Ponzi, and Medical Teams International founder Ron Post. The review got me a front-page photo on the cover of the Portland Business Journal in September.

That was twenty years ago, though, and now I'm watching electronic monitors on doors in Hyderabad (rather, one of the Indian Hyderabads, I'm not sure which one), Noida (an Indian city with a population greater than Portland I'd never heard of until a month ago), Grenoble, Munich, and other places—countries if not the actual cities—where I once though we might visit. When I'm not watching the monitors, I'm walking through literally two miles of empty corridors of software engineering offices (plus some assorted other buildings) thinking about poor life choices. I was making a security badge for a woman shortly after the bombing in Boston, and she mentioned that she'd graduated from electrical engineering school there in 1983, which was the same year I would have graduated EE from Oregon State if I hadn't lost my job, moved back to Eugene, quit school when the '82 recession hit, yadda, yadda....

It's not as if I was resting on my laurels after the book review died. I went out on my own as a freelance multimedia developer the next year. I started off renting a cubicle from one of my clients; moved into a (cheap) downtown office with Brad Hicks, a designer I'd met working in the printing industry; then eventually moved with Brad and Peter Sylwester to a space on Hawthorne Boulevard. I taught at Portland State University's Professional Development Program. I wrote a book, then a few more books. I gave a presentation at Macromedia's User Conference in 1997 on time-based animation—a topic that's old hat sixteen years after the fact, but one that was relatively new to a lot of multimedia developers at the time. I also talked about using Bézier curves for animation paths so long ago that my primitive page on the subject is still on the first page of Google searches for "bezier curve."

My office partner, Brad, came out of a design and marketing firm catering to high-tech clients. One of the clients who stuck with him when he went solo was acquired a couple years later. I used to do the print production on brochures for both companies. A dozen years later, I'm working there as a security guard.

Sometime correspondent Dennis Perrin (author of Mr. Mike: The Life and Work of Michael O'Donahue and Red State Son) went from being a New York writer, comedian, and activist to being a janitor in Michigan. He's back on the circuit again, in DC and NYC, but it took seven years and getting his hours cut and in the process his marriage broke up. And he had more success prior to his fall than I did (my email tag: "I was never enough of a been to be a has-been"). My resume's a lot more technical; time erodes those accomplishments a bit more quickly.

Lots of people have suggested re-training. I did plunge into Xcode and iOS development several years back, with the hope that I'd build up enough of a skillset to make myself palatable to the numerous mobile developers in the Portland area, but for whatever reason that hasn't happened. My ambitions for personal projects always seem to outstrip my knowledge, though, and I run into obstacles somewhere beyond the simplest tasks. My game sold about 40 copies. I've tried to train up in a couple other disciplines, but whatever I chose, I'm not going to have the expertise for the jobs I see. Unless one of those disciplines is time travel engine building and I can find three-to-five years of on-the-job experience.

Tried to sell a book on politics about post-Vietnam foreign policy, going so far as to meet the late George McGovern. Wrote a graphic novel series proposal based on an idea that's been kicking around in my head for thirty years. Shopped some of the work that Barbara's written over the years. Blogged—a lot—on politics and headed to Philadelphia to meet up with Atrios and the gang to see if I could get some ideas. But it's been 0 for whatever.

At the end of February, I submitted an application for a Flash job in Seattle. Now, I've been working in Flash as a programmer for over sixteen years. I know I'm not a Flash superhero and frankly, as a freelancer, most of my work's pretty pedestrian: kiosks and the like, done on small budgets. If I was working on big-budget jobs, there wouldn't be an issue. But it was sort of a gut-punch when, after being asked to submit some code samples, it took less time to be rejected than it took for me to put the samples together. If I can't get even an interview for a Flash programming job, I have a hard time imagining why anyone would look at my resume and think I was qualified for anything else.

Then, a week later, I got the call. The very first job offer I've had in five years and nine months. And I took it with the sinking feeling that it meant the end of whatever chance I had of regaining a professional career.

It's a different lifestyle at the bottom end of the pay scale. In inflation-adjusted dollars, I'm making less than I was when I left the bookselling job I had during my second college stint. And I gave notice at that job on April Fool's Day, 1991. I work four graveyard shifts, then a day shift, so I don't actually have two "days" off. Monday and Tuesday, I'm getting off work right at the morning commute; I spend close to a full shift in transit each week. And I'm actually one of the lucky ones, I get paid more than most of the folks I went through training with because we use computers.

The sleep schedule thing has had me cat-napping on the couch a lot; I don't think I've spent more than two or three nights a week in bed. That, in turn, has affected my functionality on the freelance projects I have. Working long hours isn't a problem. Programming when your sleep cycles are messed up might be.

And that's a definite concern going forward. I took the job because I haven't had enough freelance work to support my end of the household expenses. But if I lose the freelance work (each of the small jobs I've had in the past couple months pays roughly a month's wages), I'm back in the same financial bind, but with no chance that I'll get a bigger project. Neither revenue stream by itself is enough, my time is more restricted, both in terms of flexibility (take off for Adobe MAX for the chance of learning something new? I'll get a week of vacation starting April 2014) and volume (difficult to learn something new when you're working two—or one-and-a-half—jobs). I live in constant fear of my computer dying (my iPad screen kicked the bucket yesterday) or an OS update that forces a software update cascade. That portfolio's not getting any fresher.

The thing is, we're still better off than most. The house is probably going to be paid off soon—one good decision I did make was to push to get us something permanent back in 1990 while the neighborhood was still full of skinheads and junkies. My small retirement account is gone, but Barbara has hers. We've got health insurance. But the downward pressure feels awfully strong.

Tue Apr 23, 2013

»  March 13, 2013

What the...?  

Just a Box of Games, Box 3:

The third box is mostly boxed games and includes some titles from the earliest days of my collection.

Richthofen's War
Avalon Hill, 1972
One of the games from this collection that belongs to the era when I was playing mostly against my brother at home, and one of the first games we had that was more complex (much more so) than the standard kids' board games. A true "wargame."

B-17: Queen of the Skies
Avalon Hill, 1983
A fantastic solitare game that could keep you busy for hours. B-17 was originally published by On Target a couple years earlier, but the AH release gave it much wider exposure. It got great reviews at the time and was the perfect way to while away those pre-computer game afternoons, picking through charts and rolling dice. You're trying to get your bomber crew through their 20 required missions. I remember a computer version coming out at one point, long after I'd played around with writing one for myself.

West End Games, 1986
Continuing on with the aviation theme, this was another attempt at a solitare game system, but I found it more of a hassle to set up than B-17: the map required a lot more room, there were more counters, etc. The larger scope of RAF lessened the appeal, as well.

Civilization, Civilization: Trade Card Expansion, and Civilization: Western Extension Map
Avalon Hill, 1981, 1982, 1988
Synonymous now with the name of Sid Maier, he had nothing to do with the board game version of Civilization. AH picked the game up from the British company Hartland Trefoil and its original designer, Francis Tresham, after it hit the European market in 1980. A great game with four or five players, but it last seven or eight hours. The Trade Card Expansion added some of the, well, trade cards used to move your civilization up the ladder. The Extension map added Iberia and Northwest Africa. Never got a chance to play it.


Avalon Hill, 1976 & 1982
Two different editions, with the earlier wooden fleet and army markers and the later plastic markers. Time and color-blindness have made the Italian and English wooden markers virtually indistinguishable to me.

Star Fleet Battles: Task Force Game #4,
Star Fleet Battles: Designer's Edition,
Star Fleet Battles Expansion #1,
Star Fleet Battles Expansion #2
Task Force Games, 1979-1982
SFB first appeared as a shrink-wrapped game in digest size and quickly proved popular enough that it came out in a full-sized boxed edition. Not that the artwork got particularly better. SFB walked the line between a boardgame and miniatures simulation (see the previous box for examples of some of the ships). The expansions had new ships and new scenarios.

Avalon Hill, 1971
Another early acquisition that I played with my brother. I have to admit, I played a lot of games of Luftwaffe against myself, as well. Very well-constructed markers that can be re-inserted into the original card. This wraps up the third box, with a final aerial combat boardgame (and the third from Avalon Hill alone).

Wed Mar 13, 2013

»  February 28, 2013

What the...?  

Just a Box of Games, Box 2:

This second box of games took a little longer than the first. Lots of little things, stuff mixed together, well, you'll see.

Traveller 15mm lead miniatures
Martian Metals, 1980-82
Obviously, I never did much of anything with these. Too small, for one, and our Traveller games never really seemed to need them.
(left to right, bottom to top)

2002 Adventurers #2, 12 assorted fig.
2005 Imperial Marines (Tech Level 13-15)
2007 Troopers (Tech Level 8-10)
2003 Thugs & Ruffians, 12 assorted fig.

2005 Imperial Marines (Tech Level 13-15)
2001 Adventurers #1, 12 assorted fig.
2009 Vargyr (Tech Level 8-10)
2013 Zhodani (Military TL 12-13) (circa 1040)

2011 Mercenaries, 12 assorted fig.
2014 Aslan (Military TL 9-12)
2012 Patrons, 12 assorted fig.
2017 K'kree (Military TL 12)

2020 Sword Worlds (Military TL 9-12)
2018 K'kree (Military TL 10-12) Vacc Suit
2019 Zhodani (Military TL 12-14)
2017 K'kree (Military TL 12)

Starline 2000 Miniatures for Starfleet Battles
Task Force Games, 1982
I always thought it would be cool to do spaceship battles with miniatures, but we never really got around to it. RPGs and board games sort of stole our time.
(left to right, bottom to top)

7013 Federation CL (light cruiser, lead)
7043 Klingon D-7 Battle Cruiser (lead,
mislabeled as 7200 Small Freighter)

7081 Gorn CA (heavy cruiser, lead)
7141 Hydran Ranger (lead)
7011 Federation CA (heavy cruiser, plastic)

Avalon Hill, 1982
This game was pretty enjoyable, if a little slow for a gun duel/battle. An innovative card-based action system and quality components (including counters that could snap back into the sheet for storage) make me want to drag it out to a game night somewhere.

James Bond 007 Basic Set
Victory Games, 1983
An attempt to cash in on the RPG fad with a non-fantastic (well, a little fantastic) plotline set in the current day. Victory Games was a division of Avalon Hill. TSR had a spy system, as well: TOP SECRET. Not sure how successful either of them were; I know this one didn't get much use.

Call of Cthulhu
, Cthulhu Companion,
and Shadows of Yog-Sothoth
Chaosium, 1981-1983
You had me at evil creatures from the Nameless Beyond.
Cthulhu came around as most of my RPG friends were trailing off into other pursuits, or I'd have spent more time with this series.

Elric: Battle at the End of Time
Chaosium, 1981
An Elric board game! It must have seemed like an exciting idea when I bought it.

3M, 1966
I don't know when this edition was published, but it was an entertaining little board game that included actual rocks in one of the bags. Supposedly based on an old Egyptian game, it has a number of variants, but the basic idea (if I remember it correctly)is that you drop rocks in the pits one-by-one, capturing the stones in the last pit. Or something like that.

Ace of Aces, Handy Rotary Series and
Ace of Aces, Flying Machines

Aldred Leonardi, 1980 and Nova Games, 1982
The things we had to do in the pre-computer gaming era. It's not that there weren't computers (and computer games have been around from about minute 1 of the computer age) but as your grandparents will tell you over and over, they were nowhere near as prevalent. Ace of Aces was a revolutionary concept that was the closest thing to a PSP2 flying game as you could get at the time. Each player had a book (books in the Handy Rotary Series were the Sopwith Camel and Fokker DR1; Flying Machines were the Airco DH2 and Fokker E III), they started on a pre-determined page, then made maneuvers on a maneuver chart at the bottom of the page. The books were cross-indexed so that an intermediate step would put each player on the same page number in their respective books, with views of their relative positions. A pretty fast, fun play. Nova Games went on to do some hand-to-hand fantasy combat books with the same sort of structure.

Pig Mania
David Moffat, 1977
They're like dice, only they're pigs. Various points awarded for particular configurations of touching pig dice.

Starship Duel II: USS Reliant v Klingon L-9
FASA, 1984
A rather blatant attempt to turn the success of Ace of Aces into a Star Trek-inspired spaceship battle. They couldn't copy the patented system of AofA, and their attempt to solve the problem with technology (just get a computer, already!) just made it clunkier.

Phoenix Games, 1980
I was fascinated by all things Japanese in the late '70s. In fact, the whole country seemed to be a little Japan-crazy. I don't know if it was James Clavell's book Shogun that started it (the movie starring Richard Chamberlain was released in 1980) or if it just rode a wave of Japan awareness that washed across the country like a fleet of import cars, but I wasn't alone in my interest and Bushido made some inroads into our game world. You can just about see the box for one edition of the game in the photo accompanying this article.

Autoduel Quarterly
Steve Jackson Games, 1983-87
I owe a huge debt to Steve Jackson, whose games were both entertainment and inspiration to me. We played a lot of Car Wars, which hit right around the time of the Road Warrior film (though it had plenty of other antecedents). I was enough of a fan that the letters page of the very first issue of the Car Wars magazine Autoduel Quarterly was kicked off by yours truly.

Vol. 1, No. 1
Vol. 1, No. 2
Vol. 1, No. 3
Vol. 1, No. 4
Vol. 2, No. 1
Vol. 2, No. 2
Vol. 2, No. 3
Vol. 2, No. 4
Vol. 3, No. 1
Vol. 3, No. 2
Vol. 3, No. 3
Vol. 5, No. 2

Taincraft, 1980 (board and counters),
Wm. F. Drueke & Sons, Inc., 1951 (rulebook)
Despite the interest in Japanese culture, go just never took off in our little circle.

Autoduel Champions
Autoduel Champions Cardboard Heroes

Steve Jackson Games, 1983
Crossover rules between Car Wars and Hero Games' Champions RPG, the Cardboard Heroes counters for the game were twice the dimensions of the regular counters for Car Wars.

Illuminati Expansion Set #1
Illuminati Expansion Set #2
Steve Jackson Games, 1983
More about these later.

The Journal of the Travellers' Aid Society

Game Designers' Workshop, 1979, 1983
No. 2, No. 3, No. 15
The official magazine of GDW's
Traveller RPG.

Uncle Albert's Auto Stop & Gunnery Shop, 2035 Catalog
Steve Jackson Games, 1985
Issues of Autoduel Quarterly had fake ads for Uncle Albert's, featuring new weapons and accessories you could add to your vehicles. The Catalog collected a lot of them into one place and added some more.

The AADA Vehicle Guide
Steve Jackson Games, 1984
A catalog of vehicle designs for people who didn't want to go through the trouble of designing their own, and inspirations for those who did.

Car Wars Expansion Set #4, Armadillo Autoduel Arena
Steve Jackson Games, 1983
Maps only. There's more coming up.

Car Wars Reference Screen

Steve Jackson Games, 1983
Classic Dungeonmaster screen.

Car Wars Expansion Set #7, Off-Road Duelling

Steve Jackson Games, 1985
Big color maps and rules for the mud.

Sunday Drivers

Steve Jackson Games, 1982
The first of the Car Wars expansions, before they began numbering them, this was a set of maps covering part of the town of Midville.

Car Wars
Steve Jackson Games, 1981-83
This represents several of the first editions of Car Wars, which originally appeared as a thin, stapled rulebook and a slick fold-out sheet, along with some cardboard counters which had to be cut apart, all in a ziplock baggie. One panel of the sheet served as the "cover" image for the game. Road sections and charts were printed on other sheet panels, which led to them being cut apart. There are two early plastic boxed versions: the first with tabs for the closure mechanism and the second with a simpler (less prone to fatigue) snap mechanism, which also bears a sticker for awards from Origins and OMNI (1982) and GAMES (1983).

Car Wars Expansion Set #1
Steve Jackson Games, 1983
Road sections and counter sheets. Shown are one of the road section foldouts and the display card.

Car Wars Expansion Set #2

Steve Jackson Games, 1983
More counters and a turning key. Display card shown.

Car Wars Expansion Set #3, East Midville,
Steve Jackson Games, 1983
Maps, counters, and scenarios to expand the Sunday Drivers expansion. Is your mind expanded yet? Display card shown.

Car Wars Expansion Set #4, Armadillo Autoduel Arena
Steve Jackson Games, 1983
Maps and counters for a stadium. Display card shown.

Sunday Drivers
Steve Jackson Games, 1982
Rulebook for the original expansion.

Truck Stop

Steve Jackson Games, 1983
Counters and map for big-wheelers. Rulebook shown.

Car Wars Expansion Set #6, The AADA Vehicle Guide Counters

Steve Jackson Games, 1984
Cardboard counters to accompany the AADA Vehicle Guide.

Cardboard Heroes, Traveller Set 3: Zhodani

Steve Jackson Games, 1983
15mm cardboard characters.

assorted Car Wars counters
Steve Jackson Games, 1981-1985

Car Wars Expansion Set #2
Steve Jackson Games, 1983
turning keys

Cardboard Heroes, Cops, Crooks & Civilians
Steve Jackson Games, 1982

Cardboard Heroes, Traveller Set 2: Imperial Marines
Steve Jackson Games, 1982

assorted miniatures

including Ral Partha, Steve Jackson Games, and Martian Metals, various dates

6207 Cycles, Steve Jackson Games, 1983
6209 Sidecars & Turrets, Steve Jackson Games, 1983
2200 Air/Raft, Martian Metals, year unknown
Among the items in there are a mounted figure inspired by a Frazetta painting, a Balrog, a bunch of 'John Carter of Mars' figures including a couple Tharks, some wizards, hobbits, and 'Lord of the Rings' Guard of the Citadel.

assorted miniatures

including Ral Partha, Steve Jackson Games, and Martian Metals, various dates

Dragonslayer dragon, Martian Metals, 1981
tie-in with the movie (missing foil provided for wing membrane)

Thu Feb 28, 2013

»  February 20, 2013

What the...?  

Just a Box of Games, Box 1:

I've got a lot of games. More specifically, I've got a lot of old games. Mostly not ones you've likely heard of, unless you were hanging around game shops that sold something a little beyond Monopoly and backgammon sets back in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Most of this stuff has been sitting in boxes or containers of one sort or another for nearly thirty years. I had to root around in them a little for some research on my (disastrous) Ignite presentation back in the early fall, and I realized there was some personal stuff—both game-related and not—mixed up in there that I wanted to sort through. In the process, I figured I might as well catalog some of the material. So here's the first box.

Boots & Saddles: Air Cavalry in the 80's
Game Designers' Wordshop, 1984
Lots of these ‘Russian-tanks-pouring-through-the-Fulda-Gap’ scenarios made it to wargames back in the Reagan years.

Tunnels & Trolls, 5th ed.
Flying Buffalo Inc., 1979
Nearly pristine copy because my friends and I were already D&D players and the last thing we needed was another fantasy RPG. They did helpfully provide a pencil for players without one.

Twilight: 2000 and The Free City of Krakow
Game Designers' Workshop, 1985
A world where RPG also means ordnance and "twilight" has nothing to do with vampires. More post-apocalyptic scenarios from the '80s. Krakow is a scenario for TW:2000; the box is full of computer-generatednon-player characters and some competing Morrow Project stuff, the manuals appear to be elsewhere.

Federation Space
Task ForceGames, 1981
How down and out was the Star Trek franchise in the late 1970s? So far down that a minor company like TFG could get the rights to the license for board games, most notablyStar Fleet Battles, which has been revived under a different publisher.

Western Desert: The Campaign in Egypt and Libya, 1940-43
Game Designers' Workshop, 1983
Number seven in GDW's Europa series of WWII games, it featured huge foldout maps and never really got played.

Lakeside Games, 1978
More of a mass-market game than most of the others here, Duell is a sort of chess/dice hybrid.

Triplanetary (2nd ed.)
Game Designers' Workshop, 1981
Apparently based on one of GDW's first designs from the early '70s, it was wildly optimistic about when we'd get done kicking Soviet patootie in Germany (Booth & Saddles) and start the space wars (see also, Twilight: 2000). You get to draw to draw on the map!

Game Designers' Workshop, 1977
Once we've moved on from war in Europe and the solar system, on to the galaxy! This came out the same year as Star Wars, not sure whether the cruiser in the box art indicates before or after the movie.

Fifth Frontier War: Battles for the Spinward Marches

Game Designers' Workshop, 1981
A tie-in with the Traveller RPG universe, I don't remember specifics about this game, and the only thing in the box was the map.

Bloodtree Rebellion
Game Designers' Workshop, 1979
One of those games that sat on the shelves of the game shop (along with Triplanetary and Imperium) for years without anyone buying them. I've got copies, though.

Azhanti High Lightning
Game Designers' Workshop, 1980
A major adventure package for Traveller, with a stack of big multi-colored maps for each level of an enormous ship (some levels were identical, natch). Dungeons in Space!

Game Designers' Workshop, 1979
Close combat rules for Traveller that included a small spaceship map. Missing box; inside Azhanti High Lighting (which used the same basic combat system).

Double Star

Game Designers' Workshop, 1979
Another space game from GDW that tried to capitalize on the Star Wars buzz of the late '70s and the early success of their Traveller RPG (without actually being a part of the same universe). Also sat on the shelf.


Avalon Hill, 1977
The three hard-board foldout maps are completely featureless, it's just ocean, ocean, ocean in a game much more complex (and slower) than Battleship.

That's it for the first box. Believe me, I do have something other than GDW games in the others. And there are quite a few of them.

Wed Feb 20, 2013

»  January 21, 2013


Gun Belt: So, some Oregon sheriffs in what I'm going to dub the state's "Gun Belt" have decided that they're not going to enforce whatever laws they think infringe on the rights of gun owners, come the Obama/Biden/Hitler/Stalin clampdown on assault weapons and big-ass magazines. They've managed to get a lot of national press,papers are full of letterssupporting and denouncing them. Everyone's happy with the controversy.

You can kind of see the wheels set in motion, though, for the following scenario in the counties where these guys and their ilk across the country take their stand. Some bozo (B) with a bunch of guns gets a pass from Sheriff X. B's cousin D takes one of the items X should have xonfiscated from B (according to federal law, aw least) and kills or maims citizen Y. Y's family sues X and the county government he works for for failure to enforce the law.

The courts haven't looked kindly in the past on suits of failure to enforce laws. Drunk drivers have been stopped by police, let go, and been involved in fatal crashes, and legal action against the departments involved have been fruitless. There are gaps in the enforcement of restraining orders that have been the bane of domestic abuse cases for years. But a creative legal mind might be able to piece together a winning strategy that would circumvent the courts' customary reluctance to hold officers accountable for their lack of action.

Mon Jan 21, 2013

»  November 22, 2012


A Man, A Man, A Plan, Not Approved: In a profile of Democratic US Representative Kurt Schrader in yesterday's Oregonian, reporter Charles Pope inserts these two explanatory paragraphs after a mention of the Simpson-Bowles National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform:

Simpson-Bowles is a reference to Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, who co-chaired a committee appointed by President Barack Obama charged with writing a blueprint for reducing the deficit. They did, producing a work that cut the deficit by $4 trillion over 10 years through a combination of spending cuts, tax hikes and changes in Medicare and other entitlements.  

It was ignored.

As anyone who's followed the history of the commission is well aware, it was established with a requirement that the "final report will require the approval of at least 14 of the Commission's 18 members." The report that came out of the committee received only 11 votes, however, and was therefore unapproved.

Yet Pope's article—like much reporting about Simpson-Bowles—elides that part of the story, through unfamiliarity with the subject or willful ignorance.

There are two particular points in the quotes paragraphs that I thought were particularly misleading. "They did" in the second sentence clearly—to me, at least—refers to the committee and its appointed task of writing a deficit-reduction plan. While it's technically true that a plan was written, it was never approved by the committee (under the committee's own rules) so it seems a shade untrue to claim that they accomplished their task.

The three-word paragraph "It was ignored.", set apart for obvious emphasis, further implies that the committee's plan was one that had been agreed to. If the plan wasn't approved, there's really nothing to be ignored. What you have instead is a plan that didn't meet the criteria for implementation.

I pointed out the fact that the plan hadn't been passed by the committee in emails to the Oregonian Letters page and to the reporter, then received this note back from Therese Bottomly, the managing editor.

Thanks for your note. The story said they wrote the blueprint. It doesn't say anything about the committee approving it.
My response added that reasoning was further clouded by the paragraph about the plan being ignored, to which Ms. Bottomly reiterated:
Hi, I think it is clear that when we say "they did" we mean they did write a blueprint. Thanks for reading.
I pointed out that this ignored the part about the unapproved plan being ignored. Her last response:
Hi, it might have been better to include that it did not clear the committee, but the overall point is there was a lot in there that could have been worked on. There is a lot of history to that plan the story did not go into.
I guess that's good enough for the Oregonian. It doesn't matter if the story's facts are accurate so long as it feels right. Truthiness will out. My last note to the editor:
The history that it does go into is flat-out wrong, though, which is the reason I wrote. Merits or detractions of the plan aside, saying the plan was "ignored"—the longest of three words in a paragraph clearly meant to emphasize the point that no action was taken—itself ignores why the plan wasn't implemented.

It was never approved. In order to be implemented, it had to get approval of the committee. Without an approved plan, there was no official committee report and there was nothing to ignore.

These are basic facts that were wrong in the story. You're not doing the public a service by pretending it was accurate or that more explanation would have cleared things up. It's simply inaccurate to claim that a plan was produced by the committee and then ignored—which is the gist of the two paragraphs I referenced in the article—when, if fact, no plan was released by the committee.

Thu Nov 22, 2012

»  October 16, 2012


Come Home, George McGovern: Today's news of former South Dakota Senator George McGovern's move into hospice care came as no major surprise, given that he'd been hospitalized a couple of times already this year, but there's an added poignancy that it's taking place so close to the 40th anniversary of his attempt to defeat the criminal administration of President Richard Nixon.

McGovern's name will be forever linked (as it is in the Washington Post headline) with an "historic landslide" by Nixon. That's been the take-away for most people about McGovern for four decades, it's the one thing people learn about him now—if they learn anything at all—and it's been a story that the folks in the party who brought you the Vietnam War and its legacy have been more than happy to peddle. 520 electoral votes for Nixon, 17 for McGovern; just Massachussets and the District of Columbia, lost his home state, blah, blah, blah....

Sure, McGovern lost an election to the only man in American history to have to actually resign the presidency. A man whose administration was so corrupt his closest advisors went to jail. Whose vice presdent had to resign—less than a year after Nixon's "landslide"—because of bribery charges. Whose former attorney general/re-election campaign manager went to prison for conspiracy, perjury, and obstruction of justice. The guy whose replacement attorney general was also convicted of perjury. No problem running a campaign against a bunch of crooks, right?

Hopefully, we won't know for a while what will be at the top of the Post obituary for former Vice President Walter Mondale, but it probably won't be that he was beaten in a landslide by President Ronald Reagan in 1984, despite the fact that Mondale got fewer electoral votes (14) than McGovern. Mondale won his home state (and DC), but that was the only state he won, and even though he got 40.6% of the popular vote compared to McGovern's 37.5%, it's a fair bet that the shellacking he took isn't going to lead the story.

How can we tell? Well let's take a look at Barry Goldwater. When he died in 1998, The Post story on him was "Barry Goldwater, GOP Hero, Dies". His loss to President Lyndon Johnson is mentioned in the third paragraph as preparing the way for Reagan. Goldwater carried 6 states in 1964 (Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, and South Carolina) for 52 electoral votes but received just 1% more of the popular vote than McGovern.

What's most annoying about the McGovern headline is that it was the Post that was a major player in the exposure of Nixon's abuse of power. "Ex-Sen. George McGovern, who tried to defeat the criminal Nixon syndicate, enters hospice care" would have been a more appropriate headline, if the 1972 election was the lens they wanted to view this through.

Anyone who's bothered to read this blog over time knows that I've had a bug for McGovern for some time now. I had some hopes about writing a book on the Democratic reaction to the 1972 campaign that sparked a couple years of research and my trip to South Dakota, but never managed to get any interest from a publisher and then other things intervened. But I'll leave you with a little math.

As we know from the 2000 election, the Electoral College system is a screwed up way to run a democracy. But it could have worked to McGovern's advantage, if just a few more people had known about Nixon's crimes a little bit sooner.

McGovern carried Massachusetts and DC with 54% and 78% of the vote, respectively. But there were a number of key states he lost by margins of 10% or less. In fact, McGovern could have carried the election in the electoral college with a change of just 6% of the popular vote.

To win in the Electoral College, a candidate needs the majority of 537 votes, or 269 EV. In 1972, George McGovern got 14 for Massachusetts and 3 for DC.

In Rhode Island (4 EV), McGovern took 46.8% of the popular vote; a change of just over 3% would have given him a victory there. Around 4% of the vote switching from Nixon to McGovern in Minnesota (46.1%) could have garnered 14 EV. Another 4 EV from his home state of South Dakota would have been his if he'd gone from 45.5% to 50.5%. Changes of between 7% and 9% of the popular vote would have landed McGovern California (45 EV), Michigan (21 EV), Oregon (6 EV), and Wisconsin (11 EV). That's 122 EV with less than 10% of the vote changing in seven states.

Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, and New York all switch with 10% of the vote, for another 83 EV: a total of 205 EV. Changes of between 11% and 13% bring in Maine, Montana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Washington. 65 EV and a total of 270 electoral votes. If McGovern could have won 17 states and the District of Columbia (the ones where he had the highest percentage of voters), he would have won the race.

The number of voters needed to effect that change: 3,424,000, or 4.5% of the 76,341,970 voters in the 1972 election. McGovern would still have gotten less than 43% of the popular vote, but he would have won the Electoral College. Even if I would have cheered results like that, that's one screwed-up system.

State Pop. Vote (Actual) % Pop Vote (Actual) % Change % Pop Vote (Changed) Pop Vote (Changed) EV
MT 120,197 37.9 13 50.9 154,824 4
ME 160,584 38.5 12 50.5 210,606 4
WA 568,334 38.6 12 50.6 711,167 9
OH 1,558,889 38.1 12 50.1 2,004,358 25
PA 1,759,951 39.1 11 50.1 2,260,247 27
CT 555,498 40.1 10 50.1 684,496 8
IA 496,206 40.5 10 50.5 607,218 8
IL 1,913,472 40.5 10 50.5 2,374,333 26
NY 2,951,084 40.3 10 50.3 3,593,362 41
MI 1,459,435 41.8 9 50.8 1,737,947 21
CA 3,475,847 41.5 9 50.5 4,079,361 45
OR 392,760 42.3 8 50.3 442,361 6
WI 810,174 43.7 7 50.7 912,399 11
SD 139,945 45.5 5 50.5 154,742 4
RI 194,645 46.8 4 50.8 210,834 4
MN 802,346 46.1 4 50.1 249,362 10
DC 127,627 78.1       3
MA 1,332,540 54.2       14
TOTAL 29,171,791       32,595,881 270

Tue Oct 16, 2012