Friday, August 30, 2013

Friday Night Videos

With Lone Star Con 3 now in full swing, it seems only appropriate that I feature some genre-themed video in observance of the spectacular concentration of science fiction in San Antonio. So, hey, how about "Paranoimia" by Art of Noise, featuring that iconic pop culture cyberpunk avatar from the 80s, Max Headroom?

Previously on Friday Night Videos... David Lee Roth.

Now Playing: Billy Joel Turnstiles
Chicken Ranch Central

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Farscape: PK Tech Girl

I'm going to attempt to squeeze in another Farscape rewatch right quick before heading off to Worldcon, so pay attention, because "PK Tech Girl" is an important one, for reasons which will soon become clear.

The crew of Moya finds a battle-damaged derelict Peacekeeper warship in orbit around a planet in the Uncharted Territories. This turns out to be the Zelbinion, the bad-ass Peacekeeper flagship or something, and pretty much the toughest ship in the Peacekeeper fleet. Coincidentally, Rygel had been held captive on the ship for an extended period before being transferred to Moya, during which time he was tortured by the sadistic Captain Durka. Chronically low on supplies as always, Moya docks and the crew search the Zelbinion for anything worth salvaging (and also to try and figure out what happened to the warship). The ship has already been effectively stripped by scavengers, but they discover a Peacekeeper technician, Gilina, hiding on the ship. She's from Crais' ship, and was left behind with a tech crew to investigate the derelict. Unfortunately, once Crais moved on in his hunt for Moya, a dumpy, lizard-like alien race called the Sheyang moved in and killed the tech crew. Did I mention the Sheyang can breathe fire? Well, they can, which is why they killed the techs so easily. But Gilinia--not the warrior type--hid, and subsequently survived. But the Sheyang return, and their weapons can destroy Moya before the Leviathan could undock and starbust away. So, in an attempt to buy time, Zhaan broadcasts a raging D’Argo tantrum, which makes the Sheyang back off. Nobody wants to fight Luxans. But D'Argo is uncomfortable carrying on the deception because it is not honorable. Meanwhile, Crichton and Gilina attempt to repair and install a damaged shield generator from the Zelbinion onto Moya. Crichton and Gilina get mighty cozy whilst doing so, and Aeryn gets jealous. They manage to activate the shield just as the Sheyang see through D'Argo's bluff. The Sheyang then launch fighters to attempt to penetrate the incomplete shield. One makes it through, and Aeryn battles the boarding party as Crichton and Gilina attempt to complete installation of the shield generator on Moya. Once the boarding party is killed, the Moya crew transmit a distress signal to Crais, at which point the remaining Sheyang flee. Moya then departs, leaving Gilina behind for retrieval by Crais. Oh, and Rygel confronted the dead corpse of Captain Durka, getting some closure there and overcoming his bad case of PTSD.

Commentary: This is it. This is what started my Farscape obsession. I first saw this episode in late 1999 or early 2000 on a visit to my parents. Flipping through the channels that Saturday afternoon, I came across this weird science fiction show on the SciFi Channel. It looked like nothing I'd ever seen before. It was weird with these bizarre, fire-breathing aliens and what looked like Muppets--sophisticated animatronic Muppets to be sure, but Muppets nonetheless. I was all like, "What the hell is this?" I couldn't make heads nor tails of it. I could tell there was complex interpersonal relationships going on, but I couldn't sort everything out beyond this apparent love triangle between the astronaut guy (Crichton) and the pixie blonde and amazon brunette. This show became something of an obsession. I absolutely did not understand it, and I had no idea whether I liked it or not. Do you have any idea how annoying that is? It's like an itch you can't scratch. I ended up catching the final three episodes of the season, and things clicked. Far from confused, I grokked the show and understood exactly where it was coming from, and what it was trying to do. I approved. I was hooked at that point.

So, what about the episode itself? Well, it carried on the fine Farscape tradition of using throwaway, placeholder titles for the aired episode. And it also introduced probably the single most disruptive element of the entire series in Gilina. Coming to this episode without any understanding of the Farscape universe, I picked up an instant chemistry between Ben Browder (Crichton) and Alyssa-Jane Cook (Gilina). This is problematic because up until this point in the series (which I have gone back and watched, after all) it's clear the showrunners intend for Crichton and Aeryn to become an item, but their relationship has been prickly and standoffish, without any substantive hints of romance. There've been glimpses of friendship, maybe, and grudging respect, but romance? Nope. Couple that with the fact that Crichton and Gilina's interactions are overtly sexually charged--apart from kissing each other, Gilina makes a sly reference to Crichton having an erection, the implication being that she's got a place she'd be happy for him to put it. This is good for the series, in that Gilina serves as a catalyst to jump-start the Crichton/Aeryn romance, but I'm convinced it worked too well. Instead of Gilina being a one-off plot device, she lives beyond the end of the episode. Her continued existence means Aeryn has a serious rival for Crichton's love--more than serious, as Gilina, being essentially an engineer/scientist has much more in common with the engineer/scientist/theoretical physicist Crichton than does the decidedly tech-unsavvy warrior woman Aeryn. How the writers handle this issue in the future is... awkward, to say the least.

Other than that, the episode is a lot of fun. The whole Sheyang thing is like some drug-induced SFnal trip, something that might've shown up in John Carpenter's Dark Star had Carpenter actually had a budget to work with. Rygel's PTSD is a small part of the episode, but pays off well in future episodes. And adding the shield generators to Moya also has payoff later in the series. In fact, this is the episode where Farscape stops thinking of itself in terms of standalone episodes and starts laying the groundwork for more complex story arcs. Oh, sure they had bits about Crais hunting them and bits about Peacekeepers having a presence in the Uncharted territories, but with this episode the writers channeled their inner Chekov and started hanging guns over the mantlepiece willy-nilly. There's a clear vision shift in this episode--albeit viewed in hindsight--and the series is set to soar because of it.

Crichton Quote of the Episode:: "They spit fire? How come nobody tells me this stuff? How come nobody tells me they spit fire?"

Now Playing: Billy Joel Piano Man
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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Worldcon programming change

I have received word that my Friday Worldcon panel, "A Brief History of Modern Steam Punk," has been axed from the schedule. I've no idea why, but am not suitably curious to bother to find out.

Instead, I've been added to "Steampunk: Trend or Genre?" 1 p.m. Friday. I think the premise inherent in the panel title is a little wonky, but hey, we'll make it work. See you there!

Now Playing: Earth, Wind & Fire The Eternal Dance
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, August 23, 2013

Friday Night Videos

David Lee Roth was so gloriously crass back in the day, yet there was such a good-natured, effortless air about him that it was easy to tolerate his excess. Later on... not so much. But with his early solo efforts, he had a flawless instinct for picking the perfect songs to fit his oversized ego. Case in point: "Just a Gigolo/I Ain't Got Nobody," Roth's cover of Louis Prima's 1956 hit. If you've ever heard Prima's original, you'll know how closely Roth stuck to the original, but his over-the-top Dave persona cranks the action up to 11. And the video... wow. What is there to say about this video other than it couldn't possibly have come into existence for any artist other than Roth during the very heart of 1980s MTv pop culture. It makes me smile every time I see it.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Parliament Funkadelic.

Now Playing: Count Basie and his Orchestra The Atomic Mr. Basie
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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Zumba: Guess who's not going to jail?

Zumba Madam Alexis Wright joins a long list of madams prosecuted for prostitution--Mayflower Madam Sydney Biddle Barrows, Hollywood Madam Heidi Fleiss, D.C. Madam Deborah Jeane Palfrey and Soccer Mom Madam Anna Gristina. Unlike those women, however, Wright's clients aren't getting a pass through anonymity. The Chicken Ranch's Edna Milton escaped prosecution, but lost everything while the high-rollers who kept her in business never faced scrutiny.
My ingrained disgust with hypocrisy--particularly regarding issues of sexuality and prostitution--have compelled me to keep up with the ongoing Zumba instructor prostitution case up in Maine. Those of you keeping score at home will recall earlier this summer how Alexis Wright was sentenced to 10 months in jail for accepting money for what she could otherwise legally give away for free. At the time, I predicted that since this obviously dangerous woman was now off the streets, the issue would quickly be forgotten and her many customers would not see any jail time (as is always the case in these high-profile prostitution scandals). You know, I hate being right all the time, but I suppose we all have our cross to bear:

Former Kennebunk High School hockey coach, Don Hill, who was charged with patronizing prostitute Alexis Wright, was acquitted after Justice Roland Cole banned prosecutors from showing jurors Wright’s business ledger — a central piece of evidence in the prosecution's case against Hill and eight other alleged johns.

....

The court did allow the prosecution to introduce photographs depicting the Hill visiting Wright, but because Wright would not be able to testify that the evidence was in fact her business ledger, Justice Cole deemed the evidence inadmissible in court.
Apparently, the acquittal comes down to the fact that Wright could not be compelled to testify that the business ledger was in fact a business ledger due to that pesky old 5th amendment. Which raises something of a logical conundrum: If the prosecution cannot prove Wright had any clients, how then did they prove she engaged in prostitution? The prosecution contends they will press forward with other cases, but a six-pack of Shiner Bock says they get zero convictions and eventually drop charges against any remaining "alleged" clients.

To add to the injustice, for patronizing a prostitute, Hill faced a single misdemeanor charge where, if convicted, he faced a fine that could amount to as much as $1,000. Think about that for a minute. Wright landed a 10-month jail sentence, and her clients avoid the equivalent of a speeding ticket. How's that justice for you? In his defense, Hill did have an airtight alibi: He thought he was dating Wright. Never mind the fact that Wright was married and Hill gave her cash up front to get naked and spread her legs--that's just how these crazy kids do things these days, right? Yeah, that's Hill picture to the right. Would you let this man coach your son's hockey team? He's either a disingenuous sleaze or the stupidest Y chromosome on the planet. Either way, he deserves his share of public shame.

Again, I'm not an advocate of prostitution. But prostitution laws in this country are as out of whack as drug laws, saddling the prostitutes with the lion's share of the blame (and jail time) whilst the men involved--the victimizers, or at best, enablers--tend to get off unscathed. This ingrained idea that men aren't responsible for their actions and are only led astray by temptresses dates back to Biblical times, but that doesn't make it any less wrongheaded. Something's got to change.

Now Playing: Billie Holiday Her Finest Studio Recordings
Chicken Ranch Central

Worldcon schedule

As everyone else in the known universe is posting their finalized schedules for Worldcon, aka LoneStarCon 3, I figure it's high time I do the same. I'll be pretty busy over the course of the convention, which is pretty generous considering I've been mostly absent from the genre publishing scene these past few years. Highlights include my serving as ringmaster for the Joe R. Lansdale show, and multiple pairings with Mark Finn, some or all of which will likely involve beers and ales of various sort. It should be a great weekend, and I recommend it highly!

A Brief History of Modern SteamPunk
Friday 16:00 - 17:00
Steampunk has become a huge movement, but when did it BECOME “SteamPunk”? At what point did “Fantasy” and “SciFi” which take place in the Victorian Era, become Something MORE than Victorian writers, writing “SciFi” and Fantasy”? Where did the phrase “SteamPunk” come from, in the first place? Come explore and discuss how we got from there to here.
Emilie P. Bush (M), Jayme Lynn Blaschke, Drew Heyen, David Boop

Adapting Bubba for Film and Other Tales
Friday 17:00 - 18:00
Joe tells all! Jayme will be asking Joe about making the film version of Bubba Ho-Tep, as well as his latest film adaptation project. Got a question for Joe? Saddle up and join us!
Jayme Lynn Blaschke (M), Joe Lansdale

Literary Beer: Mark Finn, Jayme Lynn Blaschke
Saturday 15:00 - 16:00
Jayme Lynn Blaschke, Mark Finn

Reading: Jayme Lynn Blaschke
Sunday 12:00 - 12:30
Jayme Lynn Blaschke

Autographing: Jayme Lynn Blaschke, David Brin, Joe Haldeman, Rick Klaw
Sunday 15:00 - 16:00
Jayme Lynn Blaschke, David Brin, Joe Haldeman, Rick Klaw

Comic Book Movies: From the Page to the Screen
Monday 10:00 - 11:00
There have been more comic book movies in the past decade than in the entire 20th century combined. How do they hold up? What are the best and the worst examples of a successful transition? Our panelists draw comparisons (and maybe even blood)!
Mark Finn (M), Jayme Lynn Blaschke, Lawrence Person, Weldon Adams, Paige E. Ewing
Now Playing: Dave Brubeck The Best of the Dave Brubeck Trio
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, August 16, 2013

Friday Night Videos

I miss the Summit in Houston, before it was converted into yet another megachurch. I saw some great concerts there--Billy Joel, Aerosmith, Chicago--and even took in a few hockey games. It was a fun venue. Not the best acoustics, but good enough for an arena. Still, it kind of blows my mind to think of Parliament Funkadelic rockin' the house in H-Town like this. Wow. I was only 6 at the time, and it probably would've terrified me (I grew up listening to both kinds of music in my household: country and western) but if I could go back in time this would be a blast. Here's "Cosmic Slop" from their Mothership album.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Jim Croce.

Now Playing: Clannad Legend
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, August 02, 2013

Friday Night Videos

If you somehow missed it, yesterday was the 40th anniversary of the closure of the Chicken Ranch brothel in La Grange, Texas. To carry that theme over to today, obviously I considered featuring ZZ Tops' "La Grange" as today's song, as the album, Tres Hombres also celebrated its 40th anniversary this week. But I've featured "La Grange" before, and don't like to repeat myself. Likewise, songs from The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas come to mind, but 1) that's a little too obvious and 2) I've already featured some of the best from the movie soundtrack. So instead, today we get a flashback to the no. 1 song from this week in 1973, and it's a good one: "Bad, Bad, Leroy Brown" by the legendary Jim Croce!

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Makem & Clancy.

Now Playing: Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band Nine Tonight
Chicken Ranch Central

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Chicken Ranch report no. 40: It was 40 years ago today...

On this date in 1973, the infamous Chicken Ranch brothel of La Grange, Texas, closed its doors for good. The closure followed a week (give or take--it's been tough to pin down exact dates) of broadcasts by Houston TV station KTRK's consumer affairs reporter Marvin Zindler, accusing the brothel of corruption and conspiracy. The Chicken Ranch had survived attempts to close it before, but the white-hot media spotlight proved too much for it. The brothel claimed a history dating back to 1844, back during the Republic of Texas days, and if those claims couldn't be substantiated, there was at least evidence of organized prostitution dating to the 1880s. Throughout the latter half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, rare was the Texas town that didn't have a whorehouse of some fashion. The one thing that really made La Grange unique is that by 1973 the Chicken Ranch was (the Wagon Wheel in Sealy aside) the only one left.

I'd hoped to greet this anniversary with a brand-new book, hot off the presses. While Ghosts of the Chicken Ranch certainly qualifies, it's not what I had in mind, nor what I'd spent four years of my life researching and writing. Ghosts is mostly pictures, the other is mostly history--110,000 words worth. In all the time I've been commenting on this project here, on this blog, on my website and elsewhere, readers may have come away with the impression that I'm pro-Chicken Ranch and pro-prostitution. That's not really true. I don't subscribe to the view that the Chicken Ranch was some sort of idealized, candy-coated heaven on Earth for both prostitutes and clients anymore than it was an evil blight on the community fostering danger and corruption. Prostitution is as old as civilization, and no civilization has ever succeeded in reining it in whether through criminalization or legalization. It is a complex issue that people keep wanting to deal with in simple terms. That's never worked, and I'll wager it will continue not working. As far as the Chicken Ranch is concerned, I'm convinced it was the best manifestation of an otherwise bad situation for many women. No girl grows up aspiring to be a prostitute, but some, by circumstance, naivety or flat-out poor choices find themselves in that position. At the Chicken Ranch they still sold themselves for money, but in exchange they had a safe place to live, good food to eat, medical care and a madam in Miss Edna who was fiercely protective of them. Some women it offered a bit of respite, so that they could get their feet under them and get out of the business. For others, it was just a temporary stop on the way to turning tricks in Austin or Houston or Dallas or elsewhere. The women working there were human beings. That's often forgotten. The Chicken Ranch wasn't wholly good, or wholly bad. It simply was. Hopefully, when my history is finally published, everyone will be able to see clearly what I've inartfully tried to express here.

To mark the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the closure of the Chicken Ranch, I offer up this excerpt from Chapter 12, never-before-published, chronicling the final hours of the famed brothel. I hope you'll find it interesting, enlightening and evidence that I haven't actually been sitting around twiddling my thumbs rather than writing all this time:

"Why don’t you call Sheriff Flournoy yourself, Dolph?" Colonel Wilson Speir, head of the DPS, suggested out of the blue.

As the trying day turned into an equally trying night, Governor Briscoe continued to talk with Colonel Speir to find some way out of the impasse. During their discussion, the governor--a long-time South Texas rancher--realized he’d known Big Jim from way back, when the sheriff worked as the foreman of the McGill Brothers Ranch. Big Jim resented outside interference in what he considered a strictly local matter, but Marvin Zindler had shone a glaring spotlight on it. Clearly, things could never go back to the wink-and-nod tolerance of before. The sheriff didn’t accept that the DPS had any authority over him, but if Governor Briscoe himself gave the order...

"Sheriff, it’s just too much. We’ll just have to close it down," Governor Briscoe said as soon as he got Big Jim on the line.

"You know, there’s a lot of furniture out there and we have to get those girls moved out," Big Jim answered in his slow drawl. "Why don’t you let us run two more weeks just to let things taper off?"

"No sheriff, you’re just going to have to shut it down. That’s all there is to it. There’s too much heat. Everybody’s embarrassed by this thing," Governor Briscoe said. "Sheriff, I am ordering you to close what is known as the Chicken Ranch."

Big Jim paused a long moment, then answered with a simple, tired, "Okay."

"He and I both knew that I had no authority to order him to close the place, but it was a practical way for us to get the law enforced in that county," Governor Briscoe said later. "For several days afterward I kept waiting for someone to point out that I had no legal authority to close the place down, but no one did."

All that remained was for Big Jim to inform Miss Edna, a phone call he loathed to make. Miss Edna’s nephew, Robert Kleffman, was visiting when his aunt disappeared into her office to take the call. When she returned, her mood was grim.

"She said, ‘Dang it Robert, Mr. Jim's got to shut us down. He's got to. The Governor's on his way,’" Kleffman said. "She sent all the girls home except for two. I went and got a shirt--Edna'd bought me some new shirts, she was always buying me clothes--and I pulled the cardboard out of it and I drew the block letters of CLOSED. I stuck it on the front screen door with a bobby pin and shut the door and locked it.

"Edna had everybody get their cars and took 'em around back. In a little bit, there was a knock on the door, and we just didn't answer it," he said. "We sat back in the back. There was a bottle of Cold Duck, and me and those two girls sat back there drinking that bottle of grape juice, watching TV in the dining room.

"Edna sat back there, kinda daydreaming and looking out the window, thinking the way she does. We just refused to answer the door," he said. "That was the end of it, because we were told the Governor and the Texas Rangers--that's the story as I remember it--were coming down and were going to close the place. So we just put a closed sign on the front and didn't answer. We made like we weren't there."

The news hit Miss Edna like a ton of bricks. She sent the few customers there that night home, then called the girls together and told them the story. Most of the women packed their bags that night and left by morning.

"One or two little girls--they were young but they were not kids--I got tickled with them. They came in and got in my lap and put their arms around my shoulders and neck and everything. I had to kind of grin," Miss Edna said, smiling at the bittersweet memory. "It was sweet of them, you know. They’d been there long enough where I was family to them. Those little girls, I’ll remember forever.

"Later, another one came in I wasn’t expecting and did the same thing, nearly. It wasn’t quite rehearsed, but nevertheless it could’ve been," she said. "If something had happened and I could’ve reopened and gotten those girls back... well, I wouldn’t have made pets out of them, but it would’ve been hard for me to ever raise hell with them [if they misbehaved]."

Despite all of Marvin’s publicity, Miss Edna never truly believed the Chicken Ranch might close down. Since the brothel claimed origins dating back to 1844--before Texas became a state--she believed the Chicken Ranch had a grandfathered exemption to any modern anti-prostitution laws. Armed with that, as well as a long list of powerful business and political clients that stretched from Austin to Washington, D.C., she considered fighting the order that long, dark night following Big Jim’s call. Even if she didn’t win, she could bring a whole bunch of cowardly hypocrites down with her--and probably take out half the Texas legislature and congressional delegations. By morning, though, Miss Edna threw in the towel.

"The whole damn thing, in a nut shell, was that I didn’t want to keep it open and I sure didn’t want to guilt somebody to mess up or sell to somebody even if they got somebody to finance it or otherwise. I was just tired," Miss Edna said. "It needed more hours than is humanly possible for a person to do. If you’re putting in 14, 16 and 18 some days 20 hours. You get a little tired after a while. And it doesn’t take very many years to kill you.

"After awhile you get so tired, and I did. Toward the last, so damn tired of everything. I was ready to get the hell out of there," she said. "If I hadn’t been so terribly tired I might’ve fought them, to keep it open. But I was just tired."
I'll see you back here for the 50th. I've got no specific plans yet, but I'm certain I'll come up with something by then...

Now Playing: ZZ Top Tres Hombres
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