Wednesday, July 31, 2013


Forgive me, loyal readers, I have been remiss. In this week of anniversaries, I missed a significant one. Forty years ago yesterday, that Little Ole Band from Texas, otherwise known as ZZ Top, released its third album, Tres Hombres. This was a career-defining album for the group, a wicked blues/rock fusion that became a top 10 hit and launched them to stardom. More germane to our purposes, the lead (and only) single from the album, "La Grange," took a classic John Lee Hooker blues riff and wrapped it with growling lyrics about a certain famed brothel on the outskirts of town. It's a little-known fact that "La Grange" was release--and garnered extensive airplay--well before the album came out. Which means all of America (or at least those tuned to FM rock stations) was listening to "La Grange" in late June and all of July, well before Marvin Zindler launched his TV crusade against the Chicken Ranch. That's why the Chicken Ranch wasn't the worst-kept secret in Texas--to be a secret (even a worst-kept one) people at least have to pretend it's a secret in the first place.

As far as the album is concerned, has a nice little writeup about it with comments from Billy Gibbons.

And as tomorrow's major milestone continues rushing at us in breakneck pace, folks here and there are starting to take notice. The Fayette County Record has two stories on the Chicken Ranch in this week's edition, which is worth noting. The stories aren't available for reading online without a subscription, but if you're passing through Fayette County this week, it might be worthwhile to stop in at Hruska's in Ellinger and gab a couple of kolaches to go with a copy of the paper.

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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Chicken Ranch report no. 39: Ghosts softcover and more

After some fits and starts, I now have a softcover edition of Ghosts of the Chicken Ranch available for those who want a copy but are a little more cost-conscious. The softcover edition has a slightly redesigned cover, but contains the same photography and text as the original hardcover.

As always, both versions may be ordered online through the link above. If you are from La Grange, Texas, or plan to travel through there in the near future, I'm pleased to announce that the Fayette Library, Heritage Museum and Archive will carry the book starting in August. You can buy your copy there to help support a good cause--they really maintain a fantastic historical archive, and their assistance to me was invaluable in my research.

Now Playing: The Kinks BBC Sessions 1964-1977
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Monday, July 29, 2013

Chicken Ranch report no. 38: Marvin Zindler died today

There are a couple of big Chicken Ranch-related anniversaries on tap this week, the first being the anniversary of Marvin Zindler's death from pancreatic cancer back in 2007.

Zindler, of course, is forever linked with the Chicken Ranch, as his series of exposés on the brothel directly led to its closure. I have it on good authority many hate him for that to this day, and have never forgotten, nor forgiven. Myself, I cannot bring myself to hate the man. Despite being a raging egomaniac, he was a powerful champion of the downtrodden in his lifetime, and did a tremendous amount of good. Where the Chicken Ranch was concerned, he let his lust for fame and the spotlight get the better of him, and this allowed people with a vendetta against the Chicken Ranch to manipulate him from a distance. Zindler was a person who firmly believed in his own righteous infallibility, and once it became clear the vast organized crime conspiracy behind the Chicken Ranch's operation did not exist, well, Zindler doubled down on the conspiracy angle rather than admitting he'd been duped. He went to his grave insisting on criminal conspiracy and corruption, although he was never able to prove any of his claims.

Zindler was a fascinating character, capable of great charity but also possessing feet of clay. His journalistic ethics early on in his career were non-existent, and improved only marginally once he became a television personality. As a radio and newspaper reporter, he was guilty of a multitude of sins that would shock journalists today, going to far as to splatter ketchup on a stabbing victim before taking his picture because the victim didn't look hurt enough. Yes, he symbolized everything wrong with sensationalistic, yellow journalism. But it's almost inevitable he, or someone like him, showed up on the scene in 1950s Houston, which was about as tough a wild west city that existed in the 20th century. Preserved tapes of Zindler's old radio news program on the long-gone KATL radio station serve as a fascinating time capsule:

In a very real way, Zindler is the reason I got involved in this Chicken Ranch project in the first place. I'd grown up seeing his cartoonish antics on television long before I'd ever heard of the Chicken Ranch, but by the time he died in 2007, I'd heard plenty of stories (of dubious accuracy) as well as seen The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas movie (with even less accuracy) and knew he'd been involved somehow with the whole affair. Being the inquisitive sort that I am, I started looking for a more thorough account of what actually happened. How had Zindler actually pulled the closure of the brothel off? The Wife--who'd grown curious about the place as well--gifted me with a book on the place by Jan Hutson for our anniversary in 2008. I read the book and... well, if it were any good, I wouldn't have had to write my own, now would I? I read that waste of paper cover to cover, and came away physically angry that anything so bad could see publication. The Wife didn't even get through the first chapter. But had Zindler not died, had I not known of him previously, the spark that started me on the slow burn toward writing what has now become two books on the subject never would've happened.

Now Playing: The Kinks BBC Sessions 1964-1977
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Friday, July 26, 2013

Friday Night Videos

This week has been a stressful and exhausting one. Despite the month of July being traditionally the slowest, quietest month of the year at work, I've been incredibly busy with a variety of irons in the fire. The biggest of these irons is currently earning significant news coverage across the U.S. and is a likely future National Geographic article and/or television special: The excavation of a remarkably-preserved 19th century shipwreck off the Texas coast in waters nearly a mile deep. What's not in the linked article but announced yesterday is the fact that two additional shipwrecks from the same era were also identified close by, indicating this was either a convoy or a privateer with it's captured prizes that went down in a storm two centuries ago. Wow. So it strikes me as appropriate that today's featured song be the Renaissance festival and folk-singer favorite "The Mermaid," performed here by Makem and Clancy:

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Blue Öyster Cult.

Now Playing: R.E.M. Automatic for the People
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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Chicken Ranch report no. 37: GHOSTS walk among us

I am happy to announce that Ghosts of the Chicken Ranch is now available for purchase! A companion volume to my yet-to-be-published epic history of the infamous Chicken Ranch brothel of La Grange, Texas, Ghosts of the Chicken Ranch takes readers on a visual tour of the historic ruins, touches on some history, dispels a few prevalent rumors and generally gives this well-known but often misunderstood and chronically neglected Texas historical site its due.

August 1, 2013 marks the 40th anniversary of the Chicken Ranch's closure by Fayette County Sheriff J.T. "Jim" Flournoy, following a call from Texas Governor Dolph Briscoe. A week-long series of exposés by Houston consumer affairs reporter Marvin Zindler of KTRK Channel 13 stoked the flames that led to the closure. In light of the historical significance of those long ago events in the summer of 1973, I felt it important that the occasion be marked somehow, and thus this book was born.

Feel free to pass this along to anyone who has ever expressed an interest in Texas history, watched The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas or happens to like good photography of ruined buildings. Ghosts of the Chicken Ranch makes good wedding, anniversary, birthday, Valentine's Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day and Christmas gifts, but that pretty much goes without saying.

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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

149/365: Fireworks

Well, boys and girls, it's been fun (some of the time) but my 365 project is coming to an end, well short of the finish line. Actually, it's already bit the dust, I'm just so far behind on posting that it isn't apparent. Today's photo, for example, I shot on July 4 with the intent of posting it July 5. Didn't get around to it until now, half a month later. And that's the rub--I've got a number of projects demanding my time and only so many hours in a day. Despite helping out The Wife, photography remains a hobby for me, and a much lesser priority than, say, writing and publishing books. I've never, ever been someone content with simply shooting a cell phone pic and Instagramming it to satisfy my 365 commitment. If I can't envision and execute a concept to my liking, I don't want to do it. I don't have the time to develop my vision into images I find acceptable. In light of that, I am re-allocating my resources elsewhere. There are still some backlogged photos, so they'll trickle out over the coming weeks. But we're going to fall significantly short of 200, much less 365. Just so you know.

Fireworks. Lisa On Location Photography, 365 photo project, New Braunfels, San Marcos, San Antonio, Austin

Camera: Canon 7D
Lens: Tamron 28-75mm 2.8
Lisa On Location

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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Farscape: Thank God It's Friday, Again

My Farscape rewatch continues with "Thank God It's Friday, Again." To confess, I actually watched this episode (and quite a few others) months ago, but didn't get around to posting a writeup. So I'll be working my way through some of the backlog in the near future.

The episode begins with D'Argo experiencing "Luxan hyper-rage," a kind of testosterone-fueled meltdown which prompts him to want to kill Crichton. Crichton, sensibly enough, hides, so D'Argo takes one of Moya's shuttles and lands on a nearby planet. It makes more sense on the screen, trust me. Crichton, Aeryn, Zhaan and Rygel follow after allowing D'Argo several days to cool off. When they find him, though, the Luxan warrior is all "peace, love and happiness." He's joined up with the orange-skinned agrarian natives, a kind of hippie commune that digs weird root vegetables by day and parties well into the night, because "Tomorrow is a day of rest." Things get strange, quickly. The next day isn't a day of rest, but rather a repeat of the previous day, right down to the "Tomorrow is a day of rest" bit. Crichton is abducted and a parasitic worm forced into his gut. Zhaan falls under the "Peace, love and happiness" spell. Someone tries to kill Rygel with explosives, so Aeryn takes him back to Moya. Crichton tracks down his abductors and learns a drug from the plants harvested is put into the population's food to keep them docile and disrupt memory, so they effectively work as slave labor. The worm they forced into Crichton's gut metabolizes the drug, so Crichton won't fall under its influence. Aboard Moya, Aeryn (with some reluctance) runs tests and discovers nobody attempted to blow Rygel up--rather, his unique body chemistry reacted with the vegetable matter/drug and turned his bodily fluids explosive. Rygel and Aeryn return to the planet, meet up with Crichton and help overthrow the populace's ruler, in part, by having Rygel pee and them (which creates some pretty impressive fireworks). It turns out that the roots being harvested in the fields are regularly collected by Peacekeeper transports, then processed into fuel for the Peacekeepers' plasma-like weapons. The planet was once a lush paradise before the people were enslaved and their agriculture militarized. Moya's crew then departs, shaken by the realization that the Peacekeeper reach extends much farther into the Uncharted Territories than they'd realized.

Commentary: This is a standard, SFnal stand-alone episode common amongst many shows of this type. There is an element of Scooby-Doo mystery here, as they uncover the truth at the end. I almost expected the weird, albino ruler to shout "And I would've gotten away with it, too, if it weren't for those meddling aliens!" Despite being a stand-alone episode, there were several references throughout that integrated it nicely with the ongoing season 1 story arc. It's certainly a worthwhile episode in that the writers begin to push the envelope some in regard to character behavior (Crichton wakes up to find Zhaan's hand firmly placed on his crotch and awkwardly extracts himself from the situation) as well as what I consider the single greatest dialogue exchange on the series, and the start of Aeryn's long-running struggle to master the "Engrish" language (see below).

Quote of the Episode:: Aeryn: "She gives me a woody. ... Woody. It's a human saying. I've heard you say it often. When you don't trust someone or they make you nervous, they give you..."
Crichton: "Willies. She gives you the willies."

Now Playing: Don Henley California Desperados
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Monday, July 15, 2013

Kaiju Theater: Pacific Rim

I'm a fan of giant monster movies from way back. A number of writer-types I hang out with during science fiction conventions fell in love with the form having first seen King Kong, but for me, Godzilla was my gateway drug of choice. The Saturday afternoons of my childhood were filled with hours upon hours of watching the "Creature Feature" on one of the Houston television stations, along with Friday evening's themed "Movie of the week" which often featured giant monsters going at it. This is how I first got exposed to King Kong, Godzilla, Gamera, Ray Harryhausen's work, THEM!, The Land that Time Forgot and the like. I also took in a steady diet of Ultraman, Battle of the Planets and a variety of anime, so when a movie such as Pacific Rim comes along, I am pretty much their target audience.

I am happy to report that Pacific Rim is a whole heck of a lot of fun. Guillermo del Toro is a magnificent director, and while this film isn't nearly as intimate as most of his other work, it still boasts a depth and character to it that is wholly lacking in other films of this sort. Raleigh Becket and Mako Mori (played by Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi) are both characters reeling from personal loss who need to overcome that trauma to help save the world. Mori in particular is an ass-kicking powerhouse occasionally crippled by her inner demons, and easily the most charismatic character in the movie. The commander of the Jaegers, Stacker Pentecost (played by Idris Elba) chews pretty much every piece of scenery around him, but remains fun to watch. Only Ron Perlman's black market Kaiju parts-dealer Hannibal Chau is too over-the-top for my taste, but given that Pacific Rim is very much a live-action anime, his character type is immediately recognizable and is appropriate for the role. Pacific Rim manages to be a smartly-written film whilst simultaneously embracing pretty much all the conventions of giant robots vs. giant monster films. That sounds weird, I know. There's rubber science galore in this film, but it's generally consistent and well-defined, enabling the willing suspension of disbelief.

I took my entire family to see this, including The Wife, Monkey Girl (14), Fairy Girl (12) and Bug (7). Monkey Girl loved it, picking up on all the anime references (and in truth, this movie is very much like a live-action anime with all the neon colors and over-the-top characters). The Wife mocked the cliches, although she seemed to enjoy it for the spectacle. Fairy Girl thought it was "Okay." Bug, the youngest, enjoyed the giant monster battles quite a bit, although his attention flagged during the human-centric buildup to the final mission. Historically, for me at any rate, the characters are always the weakest link during giant monster movies, filling time between the big monster smack-downs by sleepwalking through meaningless sub-plots. Pacific Rim does a much better job than most of tying the main characters' actions together with the big battles to make everything that happens relevant and engaging. De Toro doesn't radically alter the formula or reinvent or deconstruct the form. He takes the existing conventions and simply does them very well.

The story (if you don't already know) is set in the near future. Giant Kaiju monsters emerge from a dimensional rift on the Pacific Ocean seafloor and begin destroying coastal cities. It takes days of constant battle for conventional weapons to kill these monsters, so the Jaeger program--giant combat robots (otherwise known as mechs)--is launched to better combat the Kaiju threat. For five years, the Jaegers successfully intercept and destroy Kaiju, but abruptly the monsters start coming more frequently and get larger and more powerful. Jaegers begin to lose. Eventually, Kaiju are destroying Jaegers faster than replacements can be built. After seven years of battling the more powerful Kaiju, only four Jaegers out of a total of 51 remain, and the program is scuttled in favor of building a giant wall around the Pacific to keep the Kaiju from threatening population centers. Guess how well that works out?

Quite a few reviews have lavished praise on the special effects of the film, and while that's often a way of damning with faint praise--the implications being that the rest of the film doesn't hold up--in this case the attention to detail adds a great deal to the film. The Jaegers show significantly diverse personalities for giant robots, reflections, no doubt, of their human pilots within. My biggest disappointment came from the fact that (Spoiler Alert!) the Chinese Jaeger, "Crimson Typhoon," and the Russian Jaeger, "Cherno Alpha," both met with pretty abrupt defeats despite coming off as the most badass of the surviving Jaegers. Cherno Alpha is a Mark I Jaeger, the oldest and most primitive, and has a magnificently industrial, blunt-force-trauma design to it. Crimson Typhoon, by contrast, is a spectacular three-armed Mark 4 Jaeger piloted by triplets. It has rotating blades for hands, and looks like an insane martial arts nightmare. The two surviving Jaegers--following the battle for Hong Kong--are "Gipsy Danger," a recovered and rebuilt Mark III model formerly based in Alaska (and the Jaeger of our viewpoint characters), and "Striker Eureka," an Australian Jaeger and the only Mark V model built prior to the discontinuation of the Jaeger program. Both of these Jaegers are fun, but their designs are too sleek, too clean (despite significant wear and tear). They're both cut from the same cloth, aesthetically-speaking, whereas the Russian and Chinese Jaegers were much more distinct even when standing still. Yes, I wanted more on the other Jaegers and their crews--who were introduced only long enough to be killed off. But that's a flaw this film shares with many others.

As for the Kaiju... well, they were okay. I'm not sure any rise to iconic status, although all are more interesting than the pasty, gaunt monster from Cloverfield. Despite insistence that the designers took pains to avoid paying homage to any historical Kaiju from old Japanese monster movies, one in particular--Knifehead, pictured bottom left--is for all the world a hard-core update of Guiron, a knife-headed monster that battled the flying turtle Gamera in 1969's Attack of the Monsters. On the other hand, Otachi and Leatherback, two Kaiju that attack Hong Kong, are physically similar enough in broad strokes that I had a great deal of trouble telling them apart during the battle. Part of it comes from the color schemes used--Leatherback has an EMP generator that flashes bright, neon blue, while Otachi spits a like-colored acid from a glowing sack in her throat. Both are big and bulky, and while one has hidden wings a long tail, it's hard to tell during the mayhen of battle that these creatures don't share all of these attributes. That's part of the problem with the battle scenes taking place at night and (often) in the ocean: For practical reasons, it's easier to animate a convincing giant monster in these conditions, as the darkness and water obscures much of it's body. The downside is that much of the monster is obscured, making it much more difficult to get a clear visual identification. The Kaiju shown during the day are mostly seen through stock footage or news broadcasts, and not engaged in battle. Likewise, during the final battle of the film, the two Category 4 Kaiju--Scunner and Raiju--both swim around so quickly in poorly-lit conditions it is difficult to tell that they are distinct types, and not duplicates of each other. The third Kaiju in the battle, Category 5 Slattern, is more easily distinguished by its immense size and three tails.

The finale of the film is probably the most disappointing aspect of the whole shebang. After the excitement of the battle for Hong Kong (which is a whole lot of fun) the battle at the Rift is a lot more by-the-numbers. Remember in The Avengers, how Iron Man closed the dimensional portal and destroyed the invading army bent on conquering the world? Well guess what? That's exactly the same as what happens here, a parallel made all the more striking by the fact that the Jaeger Gipsy Danger is essentially the Iron Man armor scaled up really big. Apart from that, the general thrust is one we've seen time and again dating back to Star Wars and probably before.

Despite the film's shortcomings, Pacific Rim is a whole lot of fun and infinitely better than the bombastic Transformers movies. It doesn't transcend or transform the genre, but accomplishes all the goals it sets for itself. I left the movie theater happy and buoyant, unlike Man of Steel, which left me overwhelmed and numb (and later, angry). There's not a lot else to be said for it. If you like action spectacles, if you watch the animes Mobile Suite Gundam or Neon Genesis Evangelion, if the names Godzilla or Gamera or King Kong make you smile, then this is a movie you're probably going to like. Is it Star Wars for a new generation, as some have breathlessly hyped? Hardly. But it's a good movie, one that's likely to take in more than $400 million worldwide even if it only grosses $100 million in the U.S. and is thus declared a "flop." This is a film that's going to sell lots of DVDs to those who missed it in the theaters, and grow in popularity over the coming years. It's good, solid entertainment that doesn't talk down to the audience, and for those of us who've been consistently disappointed by offerings in this genre (Godzilla 1998, I'm looking at you!) Pacific Rim goes a long way toward righting those wrongs.

Now Playing: Clandestine The Haunting
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Friday, July 12, 2013

Friday Night Videos

The kids and I have been watching more than our share of giant Kaiju films this week in preparation for seeing Pacific Rim this weekend. It's not fair, really, but the sheer number of rave reviews have spiked my cautious optimism for the movie and raised the bar for my expectations. Not sure if even a great movie can meet that challenge. But being a longtime Godzilla and Gamera fan, today's featured video can't be anything other than Blue Öyster Cult's "Godzilla." And for the record, yeah, I'd love for someone to throw money at me to write some Kaiju fiction.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Kim Carnes.

Now Playing: Clandestine Music from Home
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Monday, July 08, 2013

Chicken Ranch report no. 36: GHOSTS OF THE CHICKEN RANCH

This is what I've been working on for the past two months, Ghosts of the Chicken Ranch, a coffee-table/fine art book that takes readers on a photographic tour of the infamous Chicken Ranch brothel as it is today:

Ghosts of the Chicken Ranch, coffee table book, photography book, Chicken Ranch book, La Grange Texas, brothel book, bordello, bawdy house, cat house, Lisa On Location photography, fine art photography, San Marcos, New Braunfels, San Antonio, Austin

This book developed as a companion piece to my other Chicken Ranch book, the definitive history of the place that is currently under consideration with a number of agents/publishers. When it became clear late last year that, even under the best of circumstances, the Big Book would not see publication in time for the 40th anniversary of the Chicken Ranch's closure on Aug. 1, I knew I needed to do something to mark the occasion. Then it struck me--The Wife and I had visited the ruins outside of La Grange many times over the previous four years, extensively photographing the site. By presenting some of the best and most interesting of our images in book form, we could allow readers to explore and learn about what is and what was. I also include a bit of history as well, mostly in the context of relating to the property itself. I have to admit I'm pleased with the way it turned out.

The book should be available for purchase online within a few weeks--certainly before Aug. 1. I will provide information on that as soon as it is available. So for everyone out there who has strongly urged me to self-publish my Chicken Ranch materials over the past year or so, here's your chance to prove your case. Who knows? If Ghosts of the Chicken Ranch moves in significant numbers, I may be forced to look seriously as self-publishing that other book...

Now Playing: Blue Öyster Cult Workshop of the Telescopes
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Tuesday, July 02, 2013

148/365: Castle Falkenstein

Here's one of what appears to be quite a few 365 photos I took earlier this years but failed to post back when classwork got the better of me. I'd completely forgotten about some of these. This, for example, is Castle Falkenstein in the Texas Hill Country. It's supposedly based on plans designed by Mad King Ludwig but never built by the Bavarian monarch. Weddings are occasionally held there, but unfortunately, The Wife and I have never photographed one.

Castle Falkenstein, Texas. Lisa On Location Photography, 365 photo project, New Braunfels, San Marcos, San Antonio, Austin

Camera: Canon 7D
Lens: Canon FD 500mm f/8 reflex
Lisa On Location

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Monday, July 01, 2013

147/365: Lutea foliage

Last fall, the family and I made our annual pilgrimage to the Texas Renaissance Festival. Whilst there, amongst all the jousting and grogging and wenching, I discovered to my delight an extensive growth of passiflora lutea. Now lutea is a small, unassuming passion flower type with small, subtle yellow flowers that can easily be overlooked. This plant not only had a bunch of the little flowers in bloom, but was heavy with ripe fruit. Decaloba-type fruit are about the size of blueberries and generally inedible, but full of seeds. I collected several and after a few months of refrigeration for stratification of the seeds, I planted them. And I've been rewarded with a bunch of little lutea seedlings sprouting for me.

passiflora lutea, passion flowers, 365 photo project, Lisa On Location photography, New Braunfels, San Marcos, San Antonio, Austin

Lutea, as I mentioned, isn't a flashy passiflora species, but it is a Texas native, and I'm happy to add it to my collection.

passiflora lutea, passion flowers, 365 photo project, Lisa On Location photography, New Braunfels, San Marcos, San Antonio, Austin

Camera: Canon 7D
Lens: Canon 100mm 2.8 macro
Lisa On Location

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