Saturday, March 31, 2007

Caerulean blue

Last year about this time I bought a passiflora caerulea from the Texas A&M Horticultural Gardens spring plant sale. Although it grew all summer, it set few flowers--a grand total of three. I started to grow concerned that maybe I'd gotten a dud--occasional plants grown from seed have a genetic mix that makes them reluctant to flower. Well, no worries on that count this year. The vine is growing like gangbusters and has set well over 100 buds. Here's the first one I was able to get a shot of a day back, and four more flowers opened today.


By this time next week, half the vine will be in flower. Plus, my p. caerulea var. Constance Elliott (a white flowered variation), which didn't set a single flower last year has a dozen or so buds growing as well. I'm thinking I'm going to have to set up a gallery to show off all the cool passion flowers I'll have this year.

Now Playing: Jim Croche Photographs & Memories: His Greatest Hits

Friday, March 30, 2007

Friday Night Videos

Big Bam Boom was a huge album for Hall & Oates, and that's interesting since it was, for the most part, a departure for them. One of my favorite songs off the album--and favorite video as well--is, as you might come to expect from me, one of the more obscure tracks. Possession Obsession was something of a minor hit, especially in comparison to "Out of Touch" and "Method of Modern Love" but it's still my favorite. It's just so silky smooth with a darker subtext that I can't resist. I also have to confess a predisposition to support the underdog, and it's nice to see John Oates get some lead vocals for a change. But Daryl Hall isn't forgotten--get a load of his hair during the chorus!

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Kim Carnes.
Now Playing: Violent Femmes Why Do Birds Sing

Monday, March 26, 2007

Battlestar Galactica: Crossroads part 2

I hate Apollo. I mean, really, really hate him. He has become the most offensive, sniveling, self-absorbed character on the show. Which really sucks, because I know the writers intend for him to be this pure, noble idealist. But he's not. The man has had his spine surgically removed. The only time he takes a stand is when some obscure, abstract point of navel-gazing morality stands in the way of practical, pragmatic solutions to immediate problems faced by the few remaining survivors of the human race. He hasn't achieved anything of his own--command of the Pegasus on down has been handed to him on a silver platter, and he has the audacity to whine about this because life somehow isn't fair on a cosmic scale. Please, somebody, frakkin' kill him now.

Galactica won't be back until 2008, and I don't think I care. If blowing up the Pegasus wasn't their "jump the shark" moment, then basing an entire episode around Dylan's (or Hendrix's depending on your tastes) "Along the Watchtower" is most definitely a great white moment. Talk about destroying any semblance of verisimilitude with a gross anachronism like that. Since the show actually showed Earth in the psychedelic closing sequence, I think we have to accept Starbuck's contention that she's been there and can lead the fleet to it at face value. The other contention of the episode, that Col. Tigh, Chief Tyrol and those other two are actually Cylon sleeper agents and members of the "Final Five" (as ill-conceived a macguffin as any I've ever seen) is utter and complete bullshit. Tigh's got a 40-year service record. The android Cylons are a relatively new invention--unless they plan to explain that the real Tigh was abducted and replaced with a Cylon duplicate just a few years prior to the miniseries, they're facing some horrible continuity blunders that I don't think I can overlook. Especially when this "Final Five" idea itself is a fairly recent development--hell, I can't find it now, but at the time Lucy Lawless showed up as a Cylon model Ron Moore said in an interview that we'd now seen all the Cylon humanoid models, that the other models had been "boxed" as flawed. That plan, apparently, is out the window. They're rapidly losing all credibility with me--making it up as you go along is one thing, but pretending that you're not is just weak.

Now Playing: nothing

Friday, March 23, 2007

Off to Aggiecon

In a few minutes I'll shut down the computer and hit the sack. In the morning I'll be off to Aggiecon in College Station. Gene Wolfe is the author guest of honor, and I'm looking forward to having him sign my personal copy of Voices of Vision. I've got a reading on Saturday, a full hour, and will be doing "The Whale Below," the story I have coming out in Jeff VanderMeer's pirate anthology Fast Ships, Black Sails. Here's my schedule--If you're at the con, drop by and introduce yourself.
5:30 p.m. Texas Writers
6:45 p.m. The Future of Harry Potter

3 p.m. Pimp Your Book
8 p.m. Reading "The Whale Below"
9:15 p.m. Life Extension and Cloning
10:30 p.m. Penetrating the Rift (18+)

11:15 p.m. The History of SF

There's also an autograph session in there somewhere. Aggiecon's always a fun event, and I haven't missed a single one since attending my first, Aggiecon 20, 18 years ago. Wow. I think that make me officially an old fart.

Now Playing: Kenny Loggins Back to Avalon

Fun while it lasted

Memphis and A&M played a heck of a game. Both teams missed a truckload of point-blank shots, and the two coaches made some good strategic moves from the sidelines. I'm ticked off that A&M lost, make no mistake. I really, really wanted the team to reach at least the Elite 8, but in all honesty, playing in the Sweet 16 after going 0-16 in Big 12 play three years back is undeniably awesome. My only real gripe is the refs taking more than a second off the play clock at the end. Even the TV announcers thought that excessive, and it forced A&M to rush the potential game-winning play. There's no shame in losing to Memphis, but I wish such an even, back-and-forth contest could've ended on a less controversial note.

Now Playing: Kenny Loggins Back to Avalon

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Draft Gore

Apologies for my long absence. Last week was spring break, and I've found that during holidays when my routine is disrupted, I rarely get online, much less post. And this week has been quite hectic.

I don't go into politics all that often here, but I've had a growing certainty over the past six months or so that of all the potential presidential candidates out there, the only one I'm comfortable with in office right now is Al Gore. I voted for him in 2000, and sorely want to do so again in 2008. Only he isn't running, so I've joined the thousands who've signed the "Draft Gore" petition online. I found this in my inbox today, and thought I'd share it with you.
Dear Friends,

Today Al Gore testified before Congress on the issue of global warming,
and the New York Times carried this as their lead story. This is a
crucial time for us to make a bold statement about the need for Gore
candidacy. When Gore makes news, we get ten times more visitors than
normal -- including media. Let's impress them with the biggest petition
possible and take some bold actions. Today. Together. Please join us.

There are four things we'd like to ask of you. Please take a few minutes
to read this. It's never been more important than now.

1. Forward the petition link to at least one friend (hopefully more)
2. Make a contribution -- we can't do it without you!
3. Ask DFA to include Al Gore in their presidential poll. Their
endorsement hangs on this.
4. Write Al Gore -- his birthday is 3/31.


We currently have more than 61,000 signatures on the petition. For a
petition of its kind it's enormous. (Most similar petitions get stuck at
3,000 or less.) But for us to demonstrate the strength of our movement,
we need to double this number now, and then aim for far more in the
months ahead.

And it's easy if you all forward the link
( to as many people as
you can -- friends, neighbors, coworkers. Or tell them to visit and sign the petition. It can make a huge difference. We
rely on you.


For each one of us there are millions of Americans who would love to
join this movement but don't know we're here. They will never find us
unless we advertise. Ads are the biggest expense of a campaign. Right
now we cannot afford to reach large audiences beyond internet activists.
With YOUR help we will take out big ads that will tell the world Draft
Gore has arrived.

Anything you can afford will make a big difference. Your dollars COUNT.
And for each contribution you'll receive a beautiful color
bumpersticker. You can pay either by check or securely and quickly
online through either ActBlue (the Democratic fundraiser) or by PayPal.


Democracy for America is running a poll right now asking people to pick
a candidate for 2008. Based on this poll they could make an endorsement.
To our disappointment, Al Gore is NOT included in the poll. The DFA
membership is extremely Gore friendly. If Gore were included, he'd win
in an instant. Please write to DFA and ask them to include Gore in their
presidential poll. You can do it by taking the poll and selecting
"other" for the candidate, or by writing them directly. Here are the


Al Gore's birthday is coming up on March 31. This is the perfect time to
write him a letter to send him your wishes and tell him why you think
it's so important that he run for president. Here's his address (sorry,
no email ... same thing, with a stamp ;-)

The Office of the Honorable Al Gore
2100 West End Avenue
Suite 620
Nashville, TN 37203

Thank you very much for your continued support,

Draft Gore

One last thing--Lisa and I, through the magic of NetFlix, watched An Inconvenient Truth the other night. A fantastic, engrossing film. Despite what Republicans such as Joe Barton and James Inhofe would have the world believe, there isn't any scientific doubt over the human role in, and carbon dioxide impact on climate change. I know researchers at Texas State that are studying glacier retreat who are downright exasperated at politicians' dismissal of their overwhelming evidence. So while Gore's documentary is slick and stylish while playing up the drama (how often do you hear those words used in conjunction with "Gore" and "documentary") the facts, science and conclusions in the film are real and solid. Gore makes a few references to the cigarette industry, which got me to thinking that An Inconvenient Truth and the hilariously evil Thank You for Smoking would make a great double-bill. Check them out if you're able--excellent films.

Now Playing: Christopher Franke Babylon 5 vol. 2: Messages from Earth

Friday, March 09, 2007

Friday Night Videos

I went through a Kim Carnes phase right near the end of her biggest sustained popularity. I really got into her "Barking at Airplanes" album, and from there tracked down a lot of her previous albums. Very interesting songwriting. I also find it interesting that she never changed her image--pretty much her entire career has her sporting the white-shirt-black-suit look. Bette Davis Eyes was her biggest hit, but is also her most stylish and prototypical 80s video. And it's still such an odd piece that I'm baffled as to how it succeeded as it did. In today's slick, programmed era of radio, it'd never get any airplay. Which explains, I suppose, why Karnes hasn't had a hit in more than 15 years.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... The Police.

Now Playing: John Cougar Mellencamp American Fool

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Spring greenery

Boy. What a day I had. An exhausting, time-consuming problem cropped up at work, and petty, paranoid turf-war types conspired to make it more complicated and difficult than it really needed to be. But I got some help from different quarters, and a solution--albeit an imperfect one--was struck. But I'm pretty drained.

So instead of waxing poetic on any SFnal subject right now, I'll be content with reporting that spring has arrived in my yard. The Santa Rosa plum looks like a popcorn tree with all the blossoms bursting on it, and the Methley plum, along with the two pomegranate bushes, are leafing out. One of my incarnata passion vines and the affinis passion vine put up shoots in the past few days, but they were pretty tender and the combination of cool nights and bright daytime sun fried them. But they'll be back. I finally got around to pruning my pear trees and spreading the branches--mainly the Moonglow, but also the Warren to a lesser extent. I'm hoping for some good growth this season, and maybe some fruit next year. My biggest efforts, however, were reserved for my grape vines. I've got a muscadine that's struggled a little in my alkali soil, so last summer I took one vine and ran it through a soil-filled pot to try and get it to root. It did indeed root (layering works, and is easy!) so today I cut the vine free from the parent plant and potted it up. There are several more moderate sized vines I plan to do the same way in the next week or so. My other two vines are both Orlando seedless, a self-fertile variety I chose mainly for its resistance to Pierce's disease. They've done a little better in my soil, and had a lot of wild growth I needed to prune back. I cut the vines back to two leaders which I've trained along the top of the dog run fence, and hope to have some good growth again this year. Last season they set flowers but didn't set fruit. I'm hoping for better luck this year. The remaining pruned vines I cut into 12"-18" lengths, bagged up with moist peat moss and placed in the refrigerator. I've got maybe two dozen of them, and ideally most of them with mature into viable grape cuttings. Next week is spring break at the university, so I should be able to clear them out of the fridge and set them up to begin developing calluses and roots.

Don't I lead an exciting life?

Now Playing: Pink Floyd Meddle

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

HEROES: Parasite

After my complaints of a rash of filler episodes, Heroes has really turned it up a notch these past two weeks. I missed last week's episode, "Company Man," but fortunately was able to watch the archived version on the NBC website (yay for that!) and have to say that was probably the best episode of the run thus far. I normally criticize the show mercilessly for aping Lost, but "Company Man" used the flachback-interspersed-plot to perfection, filling the viewer in on a great deal of backstory while actually advancing the narrative. A good number of things that seemed half-assed before from previous episodes suddenly started making a lot more sense (not that I believe all of these elements were introduced with such foresight--I suspect the writers of "Company Man" took great pains to integrate all that had come before, and kudos to them for their efforts).

So normally with Heroes, a really good episode is followed up by one which narratively treads water. Except not this time. "Parasite" moves things forward in impressive fashion, and several subplots come to a head. Hiro finally gets his sword, and is reunited with Ando. Hiro does get his powers back when he obtains the sword, and the duo escape from Linderman's goons into the future, and discover New York City remains a devastated wasteland. Cheerleader Claire, fleeing the X-Files conspiracy front paper company, ditches the Haitian and hightails it to Peter Petrelli's, only to be confronted by Petrelli's mother and the Haitian. Petrelli's mother apparently knows far more about the super powered goings-on than previously suspected. Petrelli, for his part, tries to pull off a sting of Linderman in Las Vegas, but psycho Jessica kills his FBI handlers, leaving him high and dry. Nikki, apparently reasserting her control over her body for brief periods, warns Petrelli off, but Petrelli decides to kill Linderman instead. Linderman himself, played smoothly by Malcolm McDowell (brilliant casting) instead tempts Petrelli with knowledge of all the super power manifestations occurring, plus promises him the vice presidency of the United States within a couple of years. The junkie painter falls off the wagon after killing his former girlfriend, shoots up, and paints himself with his skull sliced open, which ties in with Sylar learning his address earlier in the episode. And as for Sylar, man. Mohinder "Boy Genius" Suresh puzzles out his evil identity, and nails the super-killer big time. But in true overconfident Lex Luthor style, underestimates Sylar and believes he can keep him safely captive (where have we seen this before?). Note to self: If you ever capture a super-powered serial killer, off him the first chance you get rather than use him for experiments. The last we saw of him, he had Mohinder stuck to the ceiling and bleeding profusely, and was busily slicing the top of Nathan Petrelli's skull off.

Nathan, of course, will survive. Cheerleader Claire's regeneration powers with patch up his head and he'll be able to fight Sylar off. Bennet (aka HRG for hornrimmed glasses) has a fate less certain. Although he had the Haitian wipe his memory, the company nailed his complicity fairly easily. What's interesting is that now although he's on the side of the "Good Guys," HRG's conversion didn't come about willingly--only after his daughter was threatened by the company did he stop happily trapping and abusing the supers he tracked down. Not to put too fine a point on it, but that doesn't stop him from being an evil sonofabitch, and I hope the writers keep this in mind and don't start giving us Alias-style personality flip-flops. Hiro's sequence was also sloppy. With the sword just inches away, Hiro gave up when a security officer warned him to stop. WTF!? If the sword was his only means of escape, his only means of accessing his powers to save New York, then why would he give up so easily? That made absolutely no logical sense. Ando's convenient arrival as a security guard made little sense as well. Saying "I've been following you" is a sloppy, hand-waving contrivance to get these two back together. Let's face it: having these two friends bicker and get each other into trouble is a lot more fun than watching Hiro feel sorry for himself. I'm somewhat disappointed that Hiro's powers snapped back on the moment he got the sword--we've seen Hiro still has the use of his abilities, and that the sword is more of a placebo than anything else. "Dumbo's feather," if you will. At least, those are the signals I've picked up along the way, and I just wish there's been some additional hint of that when he finally obtained the sword.

Still, excellent episode. I wish all of them packed this much plot into an hour--the fact that there are only five episodes left in the season, and they'd better get on the stick if they're going to have a resolution might have something to do with it. And I think the whole "exploding New York" storyline will conclude by season's end. Even though series creator Tim Kring claims to be unfamiliar with comic books, his writing staff is obviously well-versed, and the series is structured like a serialized graphic novel (in comics, almost all storylines are six issues long, which facilitates their collection into a single volume reprint for bookstores). Following this premise, a climax and resolution are necessary if the show is being honest with the audience--think the season-long storylines of 24. That's not to say that new plot complications and cliffhangers can't arise from the finale, which is, of course, another tradition of the serialized comic book form. Either way, I'm definitely looking forward to the next five episodes.

Now Playing: Joanne Shenandoah and Lawrence Laughing Orenda

Monday, March 05, 2007

What the hell is going on with Galactica?

This show has me utterly baffled. They lost me so completely with last night's Starbuck episode that I can't even tell if I hated it or not. It's just... bizarre. I've never been a big fan of prophecy as a plot motivation, and here the fixation with the mystical is pulling the series farther and farther away from it's grounded base. Ron Moore has said in interviews he abandoned plans to reintroduce the "Ships of Light" from the original series because they were too "woo woo." More or less. My words, not his. But man, what they're coming up with now...

I'm sorry, people. Starbuck going off the rail and blowing herself up isn't a plot. It's barely a character study, no matter how much backstory about her mother you suddenly invent whole cloth and tack on to try to make this seem well-planned. It's not. Drawing circles on the wall a few episodes back does not constitute foreshadowing. I know the whole setup is designed to make the viewer believe Starbuck is a Cylon--maybe she is, or maybe this is a honkin' big red herring--but right now Galactica is getting more and more like Lost because I can't escape the feeling they have no idea where they're going with this thing, and are making it up as they go along.

Now Playing: The Moody Blues Time Traveler

Friday, March 02, 2007

Friday Night Videos

From the instant I heard that the Police were getting back together, I knew I'd have to have a Friday Night Videos feature dedicated to the band. Now when the Police were at their peak with "Synchronicity" I was an underclassman in high school. They came through Houston on tour and I didn't go, and I've been regretting it ever since. So this is a show I'd very much like to see. But rather than just pick a Police video and be done with it, I'm going with an unprecedented triple shot today--highlighting a couple of semi-obscure solo projects along the way.

First up is Andy Summers' 2010. I love the movie immensely, and think it a very good adaptation of Arthur C. Clarke's novel (even if that patronizing voice over in the film undermines all the awe and sense of wonder). I bought the soundtrack solely for this techno-infused interpretation of Strauss' "Also sprach Zarathustra." I mean, check out that ungodly base line! I saw part of this video exactly once, and never again, but it was enough for me. The rest of the album turned out to be fascinating as well, as it is a great example of a synthesized electronica soundtrack, predating Christopher Franke's work on Babylon 5 by a decade. Interestingly enough, Summers' "2010" isn't actually featured in the movie.

Sting's made quite a name for himself as an artiste, but I remember there was a tremendous amount of curiosity about his initial solo album. Would it be more Police-style pop/rock? When it turned out to be a jazz-pop infusion instead, Sting got very rich indeed and earned a whole lot of new fans. While I enjoy the album overall, one track really jumped out at me, simply because it was so different. And when it was actually released as a single, with its brilliant, brooding Orwellian style, I was blown away. Still am. You have to remember that this was in the latter days of the Cold War, when Glastnost hadn't yet taken hold and shake apart the old Soviet Union. To this day, Russians remains my favorite Sting song and video.

And now, the main event. You know, for a superstar band (or one that attained such status in retrospect) their videos weren't all that great until "Synchronicity." I remember when "Every Breath You Take: The Singles" came out and folks were baffled by the rerecording of "Don't Stand So Close to Me '86." I like the original better myself, but thought the revamp an interesting experiment. There was a Police feature in Rolling Stone at the time, and Sting explained that he'd wanted to reinterpret all of the singles, showing that there were many different creative ways to approach the music. Now get this: Sting said that they'd recorded "Don't Stand So Close to Me" and "De Do Do Do De Da Da Da" before Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland walked away, saying, essentially, "this is pointless." Apart from that interview, I've never heard mention of this version of the song (the reference is cited in the Wikipedia entry). It's not included in the "Message in a Box" set which claims to have every piece of music the Police ever produced. So I dunno. I still want it, though.

But enough about tangents. Here is, what I consider, the Police's best video. Deceptively simple, but man, the timing and coordination required to make it work. And the huge size of the soundstage isn't obvious until the very end. Wrapped Around Your Finger may not be the Police's most popular song, but it is, simply, and elegant video.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Peter Schilling.

Now Playing: The Vaughan Brothers Family Style

Thursday, March 01, 2007

GOP afraid of... Gore?

I've noticed something very curious this past week. Right-wing hatchet men, including the notorious Drudge Report and other so-called news outlets have been dogpiling on Al Gore in the wake of An Inconvenient Truth's Oscar win for best documentary. The attacks are following classic Karl Rove strategy of undermining an individual's strengths--in this case, calling into question the energy bill of Gore's Tennessee estate in order to portray him as a hypocrite in matters of climate change and environmental issues. Even though Gore's estate does use more power than the "average American home" the accusations and implications are seriously skewed. Gore famously buys "carbon credits" on the open market to offset his personal "carbon footprint," and the energy they actually use is green, in that it is from renewable sources and therefore costs considerably more (a fact that the right wing pundits must find terribly inconvenient, as they consistently fail to mention it). Keith Olbermann does a pretty good job of exploding this mishmash of half-truths and innuendo, and rightly exposes it as another neocon attempt at climate change denial.

But there's a lot more at work under the surface, I think, and while Olbermann gets it, I'm surprised that nobody else in the mainstream media--the blogosphere either, for that matter--has focused on this development more. The issue isn't that the GOP's hatchet men (from Limbaugh on down) are taking shots at Gore, but rather why are they taking shots at Gore? Remember, Gore isn't running for any office. He's been happily scooting around the country for the last six years, giving speeches at universities and showing off his mastery of Power Point. He's doing Saturday Night Live and winning Oscars. Heck, even Karl Rove took a shot at Gore on Tuesday with an "I invented the internet" barb. Why are they wasting so much energy on a non-candidate while leaving Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama relatively unscathed?

Because I think the GOP is terrified of Gore entering the race. Clinton carries a lot of baggage that will motivate the GOP base come '08. Obama, rock star though he may be, has a severe experience deficiency that would readily be exploited by John McCain or Rudy Guliani in the general election. The Republicans would love to go up against either of these two. Gore, though, isn't an easy target no matter what some may say, and is far more popular as a person now than he was when he won the popular vote back in 2000. Is it any wonder the GOP is worried about Gore pulling a latter-day Nixon-style comeback?

Now Playing: The Moody Blues


John Lopez from the Houston Chronicle has an interesting take on last night's for the ages game between the Aggies and the 'Sips, focusing on the two best players in the Big 12: Now do you know what I mean about Durant & Law IV?
Law is not nearly the talent that Durant is, of course. He doesn't have the numbers or overwhelming presence on every possession that Durant has. He is not the absolute physical marvel. And until he final moments of a game, no team will build their entire defensive strategy around stopping him. Case in point: The triangle-and-two defense Aggies coach Billy Gillispie used against Durant.

Durant is the best player in America.

But Law is more important. He IS the most valuable player in the league.

Good stuff. Too bad both of these guys will be gone to the pros next season.

Now Playing: The Moody Blues Time Traveller