First Steps

My brother told me my niece’s first steps were taken on Plymouth Rock last week, where at least some of our family is reputed to have have arrived nearly 400 years ago.

Meanwhile, sometime this winter I’m going to have to relearn a few moves myself, after fracturing my knee (yes, on the same leg I broke the ankle of six years ago) last week.

I used to use this image for the background of my business cards:

It’s Like He Lives In My Brain

Too broken to write. Just read Dennis Perrin:

You could start by asking all those liberals now appalled by McCain’s politics why they gave him a free pass and enthusiastic praise for so many years. Like Joe Lieberman, McCain hasn’t changed all that much. He’s simply become inconvenient. Back in the ’90s, when liberal McCain love was strong, libs yelled at me for not showing this war hero the proper respect. Couldn’t I see that McCain wasn’t like the other Repubs? The man not only slaughtered Vietnamese so we could enjoy faster service at Wendy’s drive-throughs, he had conviction, morals, and personified patriotism. Well, that’s all down the memory hole; now it’s the media’s fault for pushing this war-crazy old man and his gun-toting MILF on the rest of us.

Huey Long Died 73 Years Ago Today

On this 73nd anniversary of the death of Louisiana Senator Long (he was shot on 8 September 1935 but died two days later) I feel it’s important to encourage people to look at the actual accomplishments of the man, and not what people who were threatened by his agenda accused him of.

To that end, I humbly submit my 1992 review of T. Harry Williams’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Long (the review’s been on the web so long it’s still on the first Google page of searches for “huey long”). If you can find a copy, one of Ken Burns’s earliest projects was on Long. While it’s hardly a detailed study of Long’s policies or actions, it’s particularly interesting for the interviews in which members of the state’s ruling class express their hatred for Long and his intrusion into their turf, which puts one in mind of the Washington elite’s attitude toward Clinton.

There’s much more out there, but, as always, I like to close with words from Huey Long himself, from his autobiography Every Man a King:



The increasing fury with which I have been and am to be, assailed by reason of the fight and growth of support for limiting the size of fortunes can only be explained by the madness which human nature attaches to the holders of accumulated wealth.

What I have proposed is:—


1. A capital levy tax on the property owned by any one person of 1% of all over $1,000,000 [dp: $14,275,000 in 2005 dollars]; 2% of all over $2,000,000 [$28,550,000] etc., until, when it reaches fortunes of over $10,000,000 [$145,750,000], the government takes all above that figure; which means a limit on the size of any one man’s fortune to something like $50,000,000 [$728,750,000]—the balance to go to the government to spread out in its work among all the people.

2. An inheritance tax which does not allow one man to make more than $1,000,000 [$14,275,000] in one year, exclusive of taxes, the balance to go to the United States for general work among the people.

The forgoing program means all taxes paid by the fortune holders at the top and none by the people at the bottom; the spreading of wealth among all the people and the breaking up of a system of Lords and Slaves in our economic life. It allows the millionaires to have, however, more than they can use for any luxury they can enjoy on earth. But, with such limits, all else can survive.

That the public press should regard my plan and effort as a calamity and me as a menace is no more than should be expected, gauged in the light of past events. According to Ridpath, the eminent historian:

“The ruling classes always possess the means of information and the processes by which it is distributed. The newspaper of modern times belongs to the upper man. The under man has no voice; or if, having a voice, his cry is lost like a shout in the desert. Capital, in the places of power, seizes upon the organs of public utterance, and howls the humble down the wind. Lying and misrepresentation are the natural weapons of those who maintain an existing vice and gather the usufruct of crime.”

—Ridpath’s History of the World, Page 410.

In 1932, the vote for my resolution showed possibly a half dozen other Senators back of it. It grew in the last Congress to nearly twenty Senators. Such growth through one other year will mean the success of a venture, the completion of everything I have undertaken,—the time when I can and will retire from the stress and fury of public life, maybe as my forties begin,—a contemplation so serene as to appear impossible.

That day will reflect credit on the States whose Senators took the early lead to spread the wealth of the land among all the people.

Then no tear dimmed eyes of a small child will be lifted into the saddened face of a father or mother unable to give it the necessities required by its soul and body for life; then the powerful will be rebuked in the sight of man for holding what they cannot consume, but which is craved to sustain humanity; the food of the land will feed, the raiment clothe, and the houses shelter all the people; the powerful will be elated by the well being of all, rather than through their greed.

Then those of us who have pursued that phantom of Jefferson, Jackson, Webster, Theodore Roosevelt and Bryan may hear wafted from their lips in Valhalla:


First and Six

AMC Pacer in University of Washington colors

Driving up north the other day, I saw a familiar squat shape pulling onto I5 between Tacoma and Seattle, and as we pulled up next to it, it was indeed an AMC Pacer, which was the first car I ever had (and which had been my father’s car for several years). Regrettably, a lack of money for regular maintenance didn’t do my Pacer any favors, and I didn’t have it (running) for many years. We went a couple years without a vehicle of our own, then bought a relative’s Volkswagen Rabbit — which broke down one too many times and ended up being replaced with a new Ford Escort hatchback. The Escort was dependable and sturdy, managing to take out an SUV and a van in the only accident I’ve ever been involved in. In a tragic mistake, we replaced it with a used Escort hatchback that we were able to buy outright with the insurance money. The transmission on that baby stripped out on us on a dark September Friday evening near Mary’s Peak. For the past decade, we’ve been driving its successor, a trusty (new) Escort wagon.

My sixth car is the smart. And you can see its dash reflected in the window of the photo, bringing the car line full circle. I still have a soft spot in my heart for the Pacer, though.

All the World’s a Game

Spy Trackdown

I went up to Seattle on Saturday to get my copy of Spy Trackdown, a new game from Wild Planet‘s Spy Gear series of toys (I have to get the remote-controlled camera/tank to go with my shocking tanks).

I even got a chance to play it with my friend Jon and his son Dane, and I think a fun time was had by all, despite the fact that I won the game rather handily and that we’re all well above the age range at which the game is targeted. I guess that the hours I spent coding for the prototype engine paid off, and the developers even told me that the programmers who wrote the final version for the chip that runs the game’s electronics used my my original Flash code as their template.

In Spy Trackdown you’re one of up to four agents travelling across the world’s continents (except for Antarctica), going from city to city (referred to as “zones” in the game but associated with city names on the board). Each continent has a number of zones, ranging from about ten down to four for Australia. A “covert agent” is placed in a random zone on each continent; the “enemy mastermind” is placed randomly in an unoccupied zone anywhere in the world. All the players begin in the same randomly-chosen location.

The whole game is controlled by the Spy Phone: a device with a speaker, an ‘X’ and an ‘O’ button, and an ‘Enter’ button. There’s a little cradle on the board that the Spy Phone fits into; it has its own function in controlling how loud the speaker is and also triggers modal changes.

Spy Phone

During setup, players identify which of the four agent colors are playing (by pressing X or O) and player order is randomly assigned. A player turn consists of two code entry sequences: the player enters a four-character sequence of Xs and Os (it’s binary numbers! for kids!) then either confirms the action with the Enter key or puts in a new code to override. Zones have from one to four travel modes available (motorcycle, sports car, helicopter, jet), all to different destinations, and each mode has its own unique four-digit binary sequence, which means that as the codes are entered, the chip can keep track of where each player is.

Most of the time, the Spy Phone is in its cradle and the instructions and information it reads out can be heard by anyone, but when a player ends their turn, the Spy Phone tells them to pick up the phone and press Enter to hear their secret messages. Most of the time, all the player hears is the shortest number of zones separating them from the covert agent on their current continent. By triangulating (and sheer dumb luck) the player can figure out how to end their turn in the covert agent’s zone. The first player to end their turn on a covert agent zone on that continent is entitled to four Covert Action cards; the next player there gets three, and so on. The catch is that they don’t get the cards immediately, they only get cards when they leave the continent.

The Covert Action cards themselves have other codes on them, giving players the ability to set traps (which lets them steal cards from other players), take extra turns, find out how far away the mastermind is, what direction the mastermind is, and to capture the mastermind. Capturing the mastermind wins the game.

All in all, a pretty nice game of logic and luck, based on a great concept by some folks I’d last worked with ten years ago. I wrote a little ActionScript A* path-finding algorithm that ended up getting replaced by lookup tables in the chip version (because the chip didn’t have the processing power to do the path-finding). The prototype had voice fragments that I could string together and generate sentences which the final version does as well. I’m proud of the way the whole project went.

Kerrying McCain’s Water

Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) on This Week With George Stephanopoulos, discussing the nomination of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin for the GOP’s vice presidential slot:

KERRY: What John McCain has proven with this choice — this is very important, George. John McCain wanted to choose Tom Ridge. He wanted to choose Joe Lieberman. He wanted to choose another candidate, but you know what? Rush Limbaugh and the right wing vetoed it.

Why carry McCain’s water for him? Saying that he had to choose Palin because he was told to choose her lets his judgment off the hook and leaves the impression that Kerry thinks McCain would have made a good choice if left on his own. It promotes the idea that McCain’s essentially a decent guy, just a “prisoner of the right wing,” and that he’d be better if they’d left him alone. This kind of constant excuse-making is why the Democratic party is still saddled with people like Joe Lieberman. It’s why they have a hard time making a case for effective change (presuming they want to).