Monday, September 15, 2014

Babylon 5: Mind War

I am re-watching the entire Babylon 5 television series. I had not seen a single episode since B5 completed its tumultuous run. Does J. Michael Straczynski still have the touch? Come along and find out.

In Valen's Name: Talia Winters' telepath mentor, Jason Ironheart, shows up on Babylon 5, running from the Psi Corps. He had volunteered for Psi Corps research into creating stronger telepaths. It turned out that the experimental treatment was intended to create stable telekinetics, and succeeded in spectacular fashion. Not only could Ironheart manipulate matter and energy with his mind, he could see into the mind of any telepath, no matter how powerful. That's when he discovered his telekinesis was intended to be weaponized, used for covert assassinations and the like, so he killed the program head and fled. Hot on his heels is Alfred Bester, a tough, ruthless Psi Cop intent on taking him down. As Bester rampages through the station (relatively speaking) breaking telepath rules right and left, Talia brings Ironheart to Sinclair. Ironheart explains his discoveries to Sinclair and warns that the Psi Corps is growing too powerful to trust. Ironheart himself is growing more and more powerful, losing control of his abilities as they outstrip his mastery of them. He is becoming a danger to the station. Bester and his team catch up with Ironheart, there's a fight (Bester loses) and Ironheart transforms into a being of pure consciousness or somesuch, infinitely more powerful than before. Then he waves "Bye" and goes off to wherever supremely powerful entities go. Bester intends to bring Sinclair up on charges for harboring a fugitive, but Sinclair threatens to do the same with Bester for all the Psi Corps and telepath laws he violated, so their pissing match ends in a draw.

Meanwhile, Sinclair's lady friend Catherine is about to launch a lucrative scouting mission to the abandoned world of Sigma 957 to search for Quantium 40 deposits, a very valuable material used in the manufacture of jump gates. G'Kar warns her not to go, indicating strange things happen around that system. Catherine ignores him, and once there encounters a massive, mysterious ship that vanishes leaving her without power in a decaying orbit. This is the first appearance of one of the elder races of the B5 universe, outside of the Vorlons, of course. At the last moment, Narn fighters sent by G'Kar arrive and rescue Catherine. It's one of the first time G'Kar is shown making a gesture that isn't wholly self-centered.

What Jayme Says: I remember first seeing this episode, and being surprised to see Walter Koening guest-starring. I also geeked a little when they revealed his name as "Bester," which of course is a reference to Alfred Bester, author of The Demolished Man which has some influence on this episode. I was a little disappointed when they revealed the character's full name as "Alfred Bester," which pushed the homage into elbow-in-the-ribs territory. This episode is our first real introduction to the active menace of the Psi Corps, Ivanova's hatred of them because of her mother being a bit too removed to drive the point home that the Corps is a menace to everyone, not just unwilling telepaths. Bester is bad news, all the way down to his black, fascist uniform. That said, the teeth are pulled from this episode pretty quickly. Despite warnings of dire consequences to come if she helps Ironheart, Talia helps him repeatedly with no real consequences. Yes, she's mind probed, a painful process clearly analogous to rape, but that comes early in the episode to show how ruthless Bester is, and Talia passes anyway. There are no consequences for Sinclair, who openly defied and obstructed Psi Corps business, and there are no consequences for Bester, who disregarded and broke countless regulations and laws in his pursuit of Ironheart. Realistically speaking, this sorry incident should've ruined all three parties rather than preserve the status quo because of the blackmail fodder each party has on the other. It also has one of the most Star Trek endings in all of Babylon 5, in which a character inflicted with god-like powers evolves into a higher form of being and is never seen again, thus resolving the moral choice the regular characters would otherwise have to make. And while I like Andrea Thompson/Talia far more than Lyta Alexander/Patricia Tallman, her acting is undeniably stiff and stilted here. False notes like this, coupled with the abysmal performances in "The Gathering, gave rise to that long-running and (in my opinion) misguided claim that Babylon 5 is rife with bad acting.

Ultimately, "Mind War" isn't among the series' best episodes, but is notable for what it sets up for the future.

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Friday, September 12, 2014

Friday Night Videos

Genesis hasn't always had the best videos to go with their singles, but that changed with "Land of Confusion." Talk about bizarre. Those puppets are freaky beyond reason. And the mild satire here give the impression of being edgy, but is ultimately pretty inoffensive. I saw Genesis in concert a few years later, on their "We Can't Dance" tour. Of all the concerts I've seen, that was one of the more disappointing ones. They did a few token Peter Gabriel tunes, and the rest of the show was almost entirely from the Invisible Touch and We Can't Dance albums. No "Follow You, Follow Me," no "That's All," nothing from Duke at all that I can remember. The whole thing felt overly packaged and polished, with even the "spontaneous" moments feeling like they were scripted. To make matters worse, there was a trio of drunks behind us who managed to spill their beer all over us and kept yelling at the top of their lungs, "PLAY THE OLD STUFF! WE WANT INVISIBLE TOUCH!" over and over. I still like Genesis, but in the unlikely event Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford ever convince Phil Collins to do a reunion tour, I'll pass.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Crazy Joe and the Variable Speed Band.

Now Playing: Aerosmith Get a Grip
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Friday, September 05, 2014

Chicken Ranch passing

Niki Zindler Niki Devine
The Las Vegas Sun is reporting that Niki Devine has died. "Who is that?" you may well ask, "and what does she have to do with the Chicken Ranch?" The connection might become a little more clear with the understanding that at one time she was known as Niki Zindler.

Yes, that Zindler. As in married to. She met Marvin Zindler in Houston in 2000, they married a few years thereafter and remained together until his death from cancer in 2007. She even became part of Marvin's media circus on occasion.

Obviously, she was not married to him in 1973, when the whole Chicken Ranch episode blew up in La Grange. Consequently, she had no real involvement in that. But during my research, one of my major goals was to gain access to Marvin's papers. I vaguely recalled him donating such to a library or institute in the early 2000s, but my efforts at finding it on my own (not to mention pestering all manner of research librarians) turned up nothing. I got to the point where I now think I imagined it. But Zindler had in his possession the original copies of some documents that survive only in small fragments, files that would fill in a lot of context for my research, and maybe answer persistent questions that I currently can only speculate about. So, unable to find an archive with his papers, I decided to try the estate, and to that end I wrote to Niki Zindler at her Houston address in 2010, explaining my project and requesting her help.

Out of the blue, she telephoned me some months later from Las Vegas. She, too, was interested in Marvin's papers. She didn't have them, and didn't know where they might be, or if they even still existed. She had no access to the estate of her late husband, no communication. She didn't come out and say it, but from her tone and word choice, I got the strong impression that she and Marvin's children did not get along. She suggested I approach Marvin Zindler, Jr., as he would be most likely to know where such materials are if they still existed, but did not think he would be very cooperative (For the record, I made multiple attempts to contact Marvin Zindler, Jr., even leaving telephone messages at his Houston office. He never responded).

Before the call ended, Niki agreed that his papers should be archived where they'd be preserved and accessible. She asked me to let her know if I ever found out information about the papers, their location, who had them, etc. I promised her I would. Alas, that's one promise I've not been able to fulfill.

The article indicates she battled Alzheimer's since 2009, but she was lucid and sharp when we spoke. I never suspected. She lived a very interesting life, and as the Sun's obituary states, "She prided herself on marrying colorful men." I don't think anyone can argue with that.

Now Playing: Miles Davis Cool Jazz
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Friday, August 29, 2014

Friday Night Videos

"Eugene" was a hit for Crazy Joe and the Variable Speed Band in 1981. Not a huge hit, but it charted higher than singles from Billy Squier, Blue Oyster Cult, the Kinks, Rick James, Rush, ELO... you get the idea. Not even Ace Frehley's connection to the band can explain this success. Watch this video and tell me the early 80s wasn't a messed-up time.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... San Harris.

Now Playing: The Beatles Abbey Road
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Sunday, August 24, 2014

What's Jayme drinking?

So today The Wife and drove over to Texas Mead Works in Seguin to drop off my entries for the Texas Mead Fest homebrew competition. I entered two meads--my plum melomel (which, as an aside, I have to say turned out better than my review indicated. The bottle I reviewed was not entirely full, being the last of the batch. I don't know if excess oxygen was the culprit behind the off-putting odor, but upon opening a new bottle, the bouquet was inoffensive. Yay!) and a vanilla ice wine metheglin.

Now I know what you're thinking--"Jayme, you fool! Ice wine is a specialty wine, made from frozen, late-season grapes! What you've got is a pyment, not a metheglin!" And normally, you'd be right. But I didn't use any grapes--frozen or otherwise. Follow: I started this particular mead by adding two split vanilla bean pods to the secondary fermentation. I was hoping for a mellow vanilla taste, but the mead was dry and vanilla by itself is awkward and uninspiring. Vanilla tends to enhance other flavors very well in mead, but doesn't fly solo well. I back-sweetened with additional honey, and while this improved it some, the drink as a whole was still lacking. So on a whim, I added a bag of Ice Wine Tea (black tea infused with ice wine for the curious) which we'd picked up on our vacation trip to Vancouver back in June. I steeped it in the vanilla mead for a month and hoped the flavors would play well together. They did. Ergo, this mead is a metheglin, as I added various "spices" as opposed to grapes.

How did it turn out? Fantastic! This is, without a doubt, my best mead ever. The Wife liked it, and she rarely likes my meads (with good reason--they're usually not very good!). It pours a pale, lemon-yellow. The aroma is a mix of honey and floral notes, with a slightly spicy undertone--I want to say rosemary, but that's not quite it. Mouthfeel is lightly viscous, a bit thicker than the color and scent would lead one to believe.

Taste is medium-sweet. We're not talking sack mead or port here, but more along the lines of a moscato. The tannins and acid blend I added during the fermentation process add just the right amount of counterbalance to the honey sweetness. And the honey flavor definitely comes through. Honey is the first taste that hits the tongue, followed by a tumbled rush of orange citrus, cinnamon, ginger and cloves, all held together within a floral riesling embrace. Then the honey reasserts itself, darker and more muscular than those initial honeyed flavors. This is when the alcohol makes itself known, with a distinct warming sensation in the back of the mouth and throat. I have to admit I overshot the mark on this one--I was aiming for around 11 percent alcohol, but didn't neutralized the yeast effectively when I back sweetened with more honey, and fermentation started again. I don't have an accurate measurement, but I'm guessing the final alcohol content is pretty close to 13 percent.

This is a deceptively light, easily drinkable mead that packs a stealthy punch. It is not syrupy, but definitely sweet. The spicy flavors are easy to pick out individually, but collectively they're disconcerting (in a good way). I really, really like this one, and need to work on standardizing the recipe so I can 1) replicate this beverage reliably and 2) make a larger batch next time.

Now Playing: Genesis Duke
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Friday, August 22, 2014

Friday Night Videos

Sam Harris scored a minor hit in 1984 with "Sugar Don't Bite, which is probably more than it deserved, because it's not a great song. What secured its place as a footnote of 80s music, however (other than the video's unfortunate mashup of 80s fashion with 70s disco), are the striking similarities betwixt it and a certain big hit from Madonna just a few years later. Coincidence? You decide.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Stevie Wonder.

Now Playing: Ray Davies The Kinks Choral Collection
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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

What's Jayme drinking?

Plum melomel mead honey wine home brew
Got a little something different tonight: Plum melomel. For the uninitiated, that is mead (honey wine) made with plums. I made it myself. It's been in the works for quite a long time, the initial honey fermentation starting back in November 2012, keeping the fermentation cool by sitting the carboy in a water bath filled with ice and wet towels draped over it. This had the effect of slowing fermentation to prevent the formation of yucky fusel alcohols. I added the crushed plum juice to start secondary fermentation in June 2013, and finally bottled it in April of this year. That's a long time to invest in something to drink.

I have to say, though, the aging and cool fermentation has proven worth it. The mead pours a clear, light amber in the glass. No carbonation. The mead is not terribly viscous in the glass, not clinging to the sides when I swirl it around. The bouquet... well, that leaves something to be desired. The scent of rubber, dry wood and licorice hits my nose, along with some faintly sour esters and tired honey that give a slight chemical tinge. The traditional "Listerine" profile that marks the presence of those nasty fusels flashes through my mind. After a cautious sip, those worries are dispelled. There's a bright, cheerfulness on the surface here, light cherries, apricot, raspberries and, yes, plum. There's a light, demi-sweetness at work here, not quite comparable to a white zinfandel, but close. It's not cloying. It is, in fact, almost exactly the balance I was hoping for. The mild acidity balances the light sweetness very well, and the tannins give it just the right amount of body to ensure a robust mouthfeel. There's a heavier after taste of dark cherries, stronger plum and maybe currants. There's also an earthy undertone I'm struggling to place. It's almost woody, but not oak. Finally, the alcohol is not obvious in the mouth, but once swallowed there's a definite heat in the throat. The original alcohol potential of the honey was right at 11 percent, but with the addition of the plum and a little additional honey for back sweetening (fermentation hadn't quite been knocked out at that point) I'm guessing the final alcohol content is closer to 13 percent. That's a little higher than I'd intended, but certainly within the realm of acceptability.

I have to say that while imperfect, this batch of plum melomel is among of the best I've made since I started experimenting with mead. The scent is truly unfortunate, as it is quite off-putting, but getting past that it's quite a nice drink. I've got about two cases laid up, so I'll be able to enjoy this vintage for quite some time to come.

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