Friday, April 30, 2010

Friday Night Videos

I like Jewel, but don't think she ever quite lived up to the promise of her first single, "Who Will Save Your Soul." It's a funky, soulful folk-pop fusion that evoked for me some of the great singer-songwriters of the 70s, the type of song you simply don't hear today. Must be that Hammond organ. She's got some clever wordplay, a sly delivery and the requisite social commentary themes running throughout. Even the video's edgy in its own way. Unfortunately, this is the only song she's ever done in this style. Everything else off her Pieces of You album is in the angsty, melodramatic, weepy style she built her career on (and I understand there's an earlier version of the song left off the album that was recorded in a more bleak, Jewel-like style). "Who Will Save Your Soul" is my favorite of hers, and I long for something more in this style.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... The Producers.

Now Playing: Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers Live at the Fillmore West

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


At home there are a number of grape vines growing in the back yard. Grapes, if you are unfamiliar with them, have clusters of tiny flowers that are easily overlooked during the brief time they blossom. They have no petals or flashy colors, and are normally missed among the large green leaves. So yesterday, near sunset, I suddenly thought I'd grab my camera and try my hand at a few macro shots of these tiny bouquets using my 50mm Nikon AI-s lens coupled with a reversing ring and a Vivitar 2x telextender. Not the most professional of setups, I know, but it's fun to play with until the day I can afford a dedicated macro lens.

Unexpectedly, there was a visitor on the blossoms barely bigger than the tiny flowers--a little fly that mimicked the appearance of a wasp. I've since learned this is a type of hoverfly, a species that specializes in flowers and is an important pollination agent for plants not serviced by bees or butterflies. I didn't know that at the time. All I saw was a glittery, metallic wasp-like fly that showed no fear as I pushed the lens scant inches away from it and clicked away. Dozens of shots were wasted as focus was difficult to get and even harder to maintain in the fading light, but ultimately I salvaged a few keepers. I'm pleasantly surprised, but it does make me wonder what I could do with Canon's 65mm f/2.8 dedicated macro...




Now Playing: Clandestine The Haunting

Friday, April 23, 2010

Friday Night Videos

Growing up in tiny Columbus, Texas didn't afford too many entertainment opportunities, but during my high school years, a band calling themselves The Emotions (no relation to the female R&B group of the 70s) played the K.C. Hall every few months. Those were weekends of great excitement. Sad, I know. They were a cover band, and didn't introduce original material until a failed record deal, and their breakup followed shortly thereafter. They did, however, play a wide array of covers from an eclectic mix of artists, some of which us ignorant high school kids assumed were originals. "She Sheila" was one of those, a staple of their closing set for the entire four years I went to their dances. My senior year, I believe, I learned that the original was by a band called the Producers (no relation to the Mel Brooks movie and stage play) off an album titled You Make the Heat. Being the music junkie I was at the time, I bought that tape and wore it out. Nothing else on the album was quite up to the level of "She Sheila," but then who would expect otherwise? Enjoy the flashback to high school days.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... The Kinks.

Now Playing: Tom Petty The Last DJ

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Hey, if it worked in La Grange...

The great thing about politics is that nothing has to make a lick of sense for a major news story to develop. And that's exactly what has happened with Republican senatorial candidate Sue Lowden's admittedly silly suggestion that patients could barter with physicians for medical care.
"Before we all started having health care, in the olden days, our grandparents, they would bring a chicken to the doctor," Lowden told a local news station. "They would say I'll paint your house."

The suggestion has now been derisively labeled "Chickens for Checkups," and I have to wonder if I'm the only person who thinks she, being from Nevada and all, may be confusing her grandparents' doctor visits with trips to the infamous Chicken Ranch?
As the Great Depression hit and the economy fell, Miss Jessie was forced to lower her prices. Though initially she still had plenty of clients, as times grew harder, customers were not so plentiful and the girls grew hungry. Miss Jessie therefore began the "poultry standard" of charging "one chicken for one screw." Soon chickens were everywhere, and the establishment became known as the Chicken Ranch.

So, what we have is a Nevada politician suggesting a barter system that includes poultry, from a state with a working brothel known as the Chicken Ranch, which lifted its name from the Best Little Whorehouse in Texas that legend has it used a barter system that included chickens. I don't know anything about Lowden's positions on the issues, so I'm not going to comment on her qualifications as a candidate, but I guarantee before all is said and done she'll wish she'd have chosen her words more carefully...

Now Playing: Clandestine The Ale is Dear

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


On the commute home from work today, The Wife calls and asks me to pick up a pizza order for dinner, as it's a Girl Scout night and there's not much time for dinner otherwise. So I get into New Braunfels and exit I-35 onto Walnut Street, and stop at the stoplight as I've done hundreds, if not thousands, of times before.

And the engine in my car stops.

Just like that. No go anymore. No sputter, no coughing. It just shut down as if I'd turned the key. Now, I've been having problems with the cooling fan, so my first panicked thought was that the engine'd overheated and died on me, but this wasn't the case. Water temp was still relatively cool, which makes sense since I'd just exited the highway. Cranking was useless. The engine would turn over, but it wouldn't catch. There was more than a quarter of a tank of gas left, and plenty of battery power, so it wasn't the alternator gone bad.

In any event, I had a lot of irate people behind me at the stoplight. I get out and push my car through the intersection into a parking lot, and wait to have it towed (cell phones are nice in this situation). I leave the car at the garage, drop the key in the drop box and pull all the important stuff from my car as The Wife drives me home.

I'm hoping whatever's wrong with the car is a relatively simple (ie inexpensive) fix, such as a burned out distributor cap or somesuch. I'm not holding my breath, though. Seems like whenever something goes bad on a car I drive, it costs half the value of the vehicle to get it fixed...

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Friday, April 16, 2010

Friday Night Videos

"To The Bone" was the final single put out by the Kinks prior to the band's... well, I can't call it a breakup, since they never officially stopped working together. Dissolution? Evaporation? Dispersal? In any event, the double-album of the same title was part of the wave of acoustic "unplugged" reinterpretations of artists' catalogs in the mid-90s. So, naturally, the Kinks defied that trend by electrifying some of the tracks. But still, if you are going to get only one Kinks album, "To The Bone" offers a great cross-section of their decades-long career, spanning from the early British Invasion days through the arena rock period, including as many great but obscure album tracks as big hits. Highly recommended.

But that's getting off-track. The single "To The Bone" (originally titled "12 Inches and Black" according to Ray Davies in a VH1 show) is one of two original songs on the album (the other being the quite good rocker "Animal"). To be blunt, "To The Bone" is a melancholy, bluesy piece of work that showcases some of Ray Davies' best songsmanship ever. For someone who's reputation in the music business is built upon his clever lyrics, that's saying a lot. I've always imagined the "old double-pack" album he refers to in the song is actually their mid-80s "best-of" collection, "Come Dancing with the Kinks" and although they don't go so far as to show this in the video, the fact that Ray himself is the cause of the relationship breakup echoes those self-referential vibes I pick up from the song. The video itself is odd, and Ray can't resist hamming it up in his post-hippie 1970s persona that he originally played in the "Predictable" video, but still. You'll just have to watch to understand.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers.

Now Playing: Peter Gabriel Peter Gabriel I

Friday, April 09, 2010

Friday Night Videos

Hmm. Haven't don't Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in a long while, so let's feature them in tonight's Friday Night Videos installment. "Don't Come Around Here No More" seems the obvious choice, with the Alice in Wonderland theme, but I featured that video a while back. So instead I'll go with one of his more obscure hits, "Jammin' Me" from the late '80s. So obscure that it didn't make his Greatest Hits collection, which is baffling, since it was a top 10 charting single if I recall correctly. I've still got the 45 around here somewhere. Yeah, I bought singles in high school, and read Rolling Stone religiously. At any rate, it's a good song. Enjoy.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... XTC.

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Tuesday, April 06, 2010

My cold case crime scene adventure

Back in 2008, during my semester-long foray back into academia, I (along with everyone else) had a final project due for my Photojournalism 101 course. Being 20 years older than the other students, and being, you know, a real, live, actual journalist, I had a strong suspicion that More Was Expected Of Me than my callow classmates. Nevermind that my photography skills were still marginal. I was taking the course to become a competent, if not decent, photographer, so by golly I'd pull out all the stops.

I'd turn in a cold case crime scene photo essay as my final project.

To be painfully honest, that's not exactly the way things came together. At the time, I put up a brief blog post about it, but for some reason never went back to expand on the details like I'd originally intended. I blame it on finals. The reason I mention this is because I escaped jury duty this week, in part, by discussing my participation in this excursion. I posted as much on my Facebook Feed, and several people wanted to hear more. Well, here it is.

Back in 2008, Texas State University finally moved forward on a long-planned Forensic Anthropology Center, a facility dubbed a "body farm" by author Patricia Cromwell. I worked publicity and media relations for the formal opening, which included a lecture by famed forensic anthropologist Bill Bass of the University of Tennessee. Now, realize that access to the Texas State facility is strictly controlled. Other than the opening, media generally isn't allowed, and photography is greatly restricted. I'd gotten to know Drs. Jerry Melbye and Michelle Hamilton, the directors of the program, fairly well, though, and asked if I could shoot the facility during the opening for my photojournalism final project, in exchange for giving them non-commercial usage of my shots. They agreed, and I spent a day dealing with media while shooting as many pictures as I could, whenever I got a opportunity. The opening went well, and the university go some very good press out of the event. The images below show Jerry Melbye, the former director of the facility (he retired last year), reporter Andrew McIntosh doing a stand-up intro to a news story from an open shallow grave and a decomposing swine carcass within a cage to prevent scattering by scavengers. There were half a dozen of the swine about in various stages of decomposition. Let me tell you, those suckers stank!



I counted the event a success for myself, especially after my photojournalism instructor--who freelances for the Austin American-Statesman and San Antonio Express-News--grumbled that he'd put in a request to shoot the Forensic Anthropology Center himself with the intent of getting images similar to the rotting swine above, and had been denied. So I had a good start, but needed more to finish out the photo essay. I put in another request, asking if I could perhaps shoot a classroom session, or an instructional trip to the center. I was told that might be possible, but they had something better in mind if they could get permission. Well, this certainly was cryptic. Two weeks later they filled me in: The forensic graduate students would be accompanying the Texas Rangers to a cold case murder scene in Falls County, and I'd been cleared to accompany the group and photograph the recovery operation (Below, graduate students excavate the site; A spade marks the location of a human pelvis bone).



We met in Austin at DPS headquarters, and convoyed up I-35 to Bruceville-Eddy with a pair of Texas Rangers and a dozen forensic anthropology grad students. We almost died in a horrific traffic accident when an 18-wheeler abruptly cut about 20 car off in a construction zone, and I barely avoided getting crushed by driving 50 yards or so through the median. Miraculously, nobody got hurt. At least the DPS would've been on the scene quickly. After that wake-up call, we rendezvoused with the DPS Dive Recovery team at a convenience store and then drove out to the rural location. It is interesting to note that maybe 90 percent of the graduate students are women. And not just any women, but attractive, ambitious and professional women who might just as well be pursuing an MBA or law degree. This is an interesting fact, remarked upon by Melbye, Hamilton and Bass. It seems that 20 years ago, fewer than 10 percent of all forensic anthropology students were women, but with the advent of strong female forensic researchers in television shows such as The X-Files, Bones, CSI and the like, the discipline is now perceived as much more glamorous than it once was, and the gender breakdown has undergone a dramatic reversal. I find this fascinating (Below, outfitted in protective dry suits, members of the Texas State Department of Public Safety Dive Recovery Team churn through pond mud looking for human remains; Graduate student Kristina Gavit searches for evidence).



The crime scene scenario, to the best of my recollection, is this: Sometime during the mid- to late-80s, a woman was murdered and buried atop a brush-covered knoll in a shallow grave, adjacent to a pond. She was wrapped and tied in a curtain. Sometime after 2000, the skull was found along the shore and the crime discovered. Students from Baylor University did a forensic search of the site and recovered several bones, but all in all did not do a very thorough job. The identity of the victim remains unknown, although for various reasons the main working theory is that she may have been an immigrant from Asia without any family in the U.S. The goal of the Texas State excavation was to recover as much remains as possible, with a particular emphasis placed on finding the jaw so that a forensic reconstruction artist could produce a fairly accurate image of what the victim may have looked like. Because of the length of time that had elapsed since the original crime, preservation of the site was not a concern. Animals had scattered bones, and the skull itself was believe to have washed down from the knoll during a particularly heavy rain. Chainsaws were used to clear the brush and brambles from the top of the knoll, and a front-end loader was used to speed the excavation (Below, Graduate student Daniel DiMichele displays a recovered human tooth; Members of the Texas State Department of Public Safety Dive Recovery Team, the Falls County Sheriff's Office and the Texas Rangers sift through earth in a front-end loader bucket).



Because the skull had been found on the shoreline, the possibility more bones had washed into the pond was a consideration. The DPS Dive Recovery Team had planned a full dive to search for remains, but because of severe drought conditions, the pond was no more than 3 feet deep and mostly thick, sucking mud. So the divers instead donned their dry suits and spent the day churning through the vile, pasty mess. That stank pretty bad as well, but their efforts turned up nothing (Below, Investigators use a sieve to sift through dirt and debris; Graduate student Ingrid Marrero, Texas Ranger Marquis Cantu (bottom) and Bradley Whitaker of the Falls County Sheriff's Office use a sieve to sift through dirt and debris while searching for human remains).



Although it was November, the weather was quite warm and the work was tough. Everyone was sweaty and soon covered in dust. Whenever a piece of remains was found, they were flagged, bagged and cataloged. There was much excitement and enthusiasm among the grad students--they sincerely wanted to find all the remains and contribute to bringing the killer to justice. Handling the recovered remains was a surreal experience. Yes, this had once been a living human being, but 20 years of exposure to the elements had created a philosophical detachment that blunted the horror. Her life was long over, but here were two dozen people volunteering their time in an effort to achieve a measure of justice. Over the course of eight hours, give or take, multiple ribs, vertebrae, teeth, digits and both halves of the pelvis were uncovered, along with buttons, bits of cloth and other artifacts. Sadly, the jaw remained elusive. Despite that disappointment, we left the site that evening tired and sore, but feeling we had accomplished something (Below, raduate students Christopher Hodges, Briana Curtin and Kristina Gavit examine a scrap of clothing uncovered by Connie Parks; Students discovered numerous human vertebrae as well as a pelvis, multiple ribs and other assorted bones and articles of clothing during a search of a cold case crime scene in Falls County, November 14, 2008.)



Sorting and editing the thousand-plus images I shot was a massive effort. I ended up burning three CDs--one for the Forensic Anthropology Center, one for the DPS and one for my class project. You'll be happy to hear that I finished with an A in the course.

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Friday, April 02, 2010

Friday Night Videos

XTC was a fairly popular group my final two years of college. They had back-to-back albums that got a good deal of airplay on the college radio charts, "Oranges & Lemons" and "Nonesuch." Probably their biggest hit at that time was "The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead." I liked the song a lot, but never got around to picking up the album. One of the lyrics, "Showed the Vatican what gold's for," annoyed me for being one of the most persistent of anti-Catholic stereotypes, but with the Vatican itself doing its best to validate as many of those stereotypes as it can in recent weeks, I remembered this song and thought it apropos. Enjoy.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Herman's Hermits.

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Spare a blooming pear?

Hey, anyone in the area between Austin and San Antonio have a pear tree that's currently blooming? And if so, can I have a branch that's got blooms? To make a long story short, my Moonglow is blossoming like crazy, but my other pear tree is showing no signs of flowers. I love pears, and really, really want to make a crop this year. I'll be happy to trade passion vines or similar to sweeten the deal.

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