Saturday, December 26, 2015

What's Jayme drinking?

Last week we had a White Elephant gift exchange at work. In addition to the kitschy Christmas novelties that dominate these things, bottles of wine have become popular amongst my coworkers in recent years. I didn't get a bottle of wine this year. Instead, I came away with a bottle of Strange Land Brewery's "The Old North Road," English strong ale brewed with vanilla, rum and oak. I can assure you, there were several people quite envious of my steal (yes, I stole it--score me!). I mean, how could anyone who appreciates complex, interesting beers not be? Strange Land's based out of Austin and seems to be a newcomer on the local craft brew scene. They've got some interesting stuff on the shelves--braggot, saison, dubels--but as you know, potential and ambition can only carry a brew so far.

It poured a clear, dark tea color. Much lighter, in fact, than I expected. And much darker than it appeared in my mug--a dense, chocolaty darkness with a faint hint of red. The head, goodness gracious, I've never seen anything like it. The head billowed up quite aggressively despite my attempts to keep it under control, and formed a central peak extending at least an inch above the rim of my glass. The, very slowly, the sides of the head subsided leaving a thick, blotchy network of lacing all along the sides. The central column persisted a good 20 minutes, like a foamy Devil's Tower. I've never seen any kind of beer behave like this.

The nose is surprisingly subdued. Faint hints of chocolate, a tinge of alcohol, maybe vanilla... not much else. For a robust ale with a super-aggressive head, it simply doesn't have much scent. So, there's nothing to it but to drink. Lots of oak and dark chocolate hit me on the first sip. There's some woodyness apart from the oak--cedar maybe--plus the usual dark fruits, plum and cherry. There's almost a cherry cordial thing going on here, although it's not sweet beyond the restrained maltiness. The aftertaste is boozy, a little more than the 8.9 percent alcohol level would lead me to believe, and here's where the fleeting hints of rum appear. I'm not one that really goes for liquor, but I must confess a soft spot for rum, and I do wish that flavor was more pronounced in this ale.

It's an interesting beer, but not quite as interesting as it should be. It shares many traits with some of the strong Belgians that I like so much, but lacks that distinctive Belgian yeast identity. Of course, this is an English ale, so a Belgian profile isn't to be expected. Still, I feel it's missing something. If anything, I'd like a little more hops here, a touch more bitterness to counteract the dark fruit. Anyone who knows my taste in beer is probably on the floor right now, as I despise IPAs and am in no way a hop-head. But the Old North Road, while enjoyable, is almost, but not quite, there yet. A little bit of tweaking the recipe and I suspect Strange Land will nail it. Until then, I've got my eye on trying some of their braggot.

Now Playing: Gene Rains Far Away Lands
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Friday, December 25, 2015

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

It's not Christmas without the Kinks. Have a good one, folks.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Straight No Chaser.

Now Playing: Gene Rains Far Away Lands: The Exotic Music of Gene Rains
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Monday, December 21, 2015

Babylon 5: Survivors

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

In Valen's Name: Earth Alliance President Luis Santiago is visiting Babylon 5 in several days, and bringing along a new fighter wing for the station. Naturally, there's an explosion in one of the hangar bays. Obviously, not good. Although initially thought an accident, it quickly begins to look like sabotage. What's more, evidence--including a medlab accusation by a dying construction worker injured in the blast--points to Security Chief Michael Garibaldi being behind it. Major Lianna Kemmer, the president's security overlord, arrives to investigate. This is bad for Garibaldi, because her farther, Frank Kemmer, had befriended Garibaldi back during his drinking days on Europa, and Garibaldi indirectly contributed to his death. Naturally, Major Lianna blames him for it, and wants to pin the sabotage on him, convinced of his guilt. Her assistant, Cutter, finds blueprints of the hangar bays and a bag of Centauri money. Garibaldi goes to ground, and convinced nobody will believe he's being framed, crawls into a bottle. He's captured, but "Homeguard" materials--the xenophobic anti-alien political faction--are found in the quarters of the dead worker. This is the first evidence that his claims of being set up are true. Garibaldi convinces Lianna to make a personal inspection of the hangar bays, and Cutter attacks them, knocking Lianna out before Garibaldi subdues him. Cutter is a Homeguard plant as well, and placed bombs in the hangar to go off when the fighter wing launches to greet the president. Lianna then lets her hair down and she and Garibaldi reconcile.

What Jayme Says: This is the "Michael Garibaldi" episode of season one, part character study, part info dump wrapped around political intrigue. Trouble is, when people accuse Babylon 5 of having bad acting, this is one of the episodes they point at. I could say Elaine Thomas, the actress who plays Lianna, is wooden, but that would be an insult to wood and wood by-products everywhere. She's stiff, stilted, tense and monotone. That undercuts the entire episode, and for the life of me, I can't get beyond it. This episode backfills a lot more of Garibaldi's history--until now, all we know is that he's screwed up on a series of jobs and this is his last chance at redemption, courtesy of Commander Sinclair. We also learn that it doesn't take a whole lot to push him off the wagon--I mean, really, how stupid is it to get stinking drunk when you know there's a conspiracy out to get you? This is also the first hint we get that various political factions vying for power are willing to potentially endanger the Earth Alliance president's life. I mean, blowing up half of Babylon 5 upon the president's arrival isn't exactly the model of restraint. Nothing is particularly clever or subtle in the script. Apart from Garibaldi's detour into drunkenness, the story moves in a very linear fashion--Garibaldi's set up, Garibaldi exposes the conspirators, happy ending, the end. All in all, not an episode I'm craving to revisit.

Now Playing: London Symphony Orchestra Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
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Friday, December 18, 2015

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

"The Twelve Days of Christmas" is probably the most tedious Christmas song ever inflicted upon the English language. It's not the worst, but it still gets pretty old, fast. That's why it's so ripe for parody, with Bob and Doug McKenzie, Bob Rivers and a host of other folks doing funny riffs on it. To arrange the song in a way that's new and distinctive, and not a parody, however, takes a type of inspiration that's on an entirely different level. That's what we get with Straight No Chaser. Not only is their interpretation acapella, it's also a mashup of many familiar holiday songs (as well as one very non-holiday song) in an inventive and entertaining way.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Ray Davies and Chrissie Hynde

Now Playing: Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Songbook vol. 1
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Monday, December 14, 2015

Babylon 5: Believers

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

In Valen's Name: A mother an father of the Onteen race have, in desperation, brought their terminally ill child to Babylon 5 to seek medical treatment. Dr. Franklin assures them that while their son's condition is serious, he can be saved with a simple surgical procedure. The parents recoil in horror at this idea. Their religious beliefs hold that the soul resides within the body cavity, and that any surgical incision would allow the soul to escape, rendering the child a soulless abomination. There's much back-and-forth on ethics and morality, with Dr. Franklin appealing to station Commander Sinclair for support and the boy's parents appealing to the various ambassadors. In the end, Dr. Franklin operates on the boy against orders and against the parents' wishes. The parents subsequently kill their "cured" child in a ritualistic manner, ending his life as an abomination.

What Jayme Says: This was the very first Babylon 5 episode I ever saw. Looking back, I probably caught it on its original air date. I'd known about the program before then, obviously, but I'd missed the pilot and wasn't aware the series proper had begun until this point. My initial impression was that this episode was very Star Trek-like, and all these years later, that impression still holds. The fact that it was scripted by David Gerrold, who contributed memorable scripts to both the original Star Trek and Star Trek the Animated Series and served as story editor the first season of Star Trek the Next Generation. While this episode feels very much like a Trek episode to me--indeed, perhaps the most Trek-like of all the B5 episodes--there are clear differences. I can't recall any Star Trek character receiving such brutal comeuppance as Dr. Franklin receives at the end of the show. Nor can I recall any Trek character operating with such smug self-confidence. Dr. Franklin is incredibly arrogant here, although, to be fair, his arrogance comes from the best and noblest of intentions. I can't see this narrative playing out the same were it Dr. McCoy or even Dr. Crusher in his situation--they're both much more mature than Franklin is, both personally and professionally. If anything, this feels like a moral quandary Commander Will Riker might face on TNG.

Perhaps it's a sign of the times, but this episode resonates more today than when it first aired. There's been a steady stream of stories in the news these recent years where various parents of fervent religious belief allowed their children to die rather than take them in for simple medical treatment to "prove" how much faith they had in God, children beaten to death or starved to "force demons out" and even parents who refuse to allow their children to attend school because the Rapture is coming soon and therefore any education would be a waste of time. For all that, I thank God we live in a civil society, although far too many people would rather see it become a theocracy. I have no problem with people believing any off-the-wall thing they want (some would find my personal beliefs ludicrous, no doubt), but draw the line when they want to impose those ideas on others who don't share them. Likewise, the imposition of certain beliefs and practices upon children amounts to little more than child abuse. As a parent, this is not an academic hypothetical for me--I come down squarely on Dr. Franklin's side (although, given the rapid pace of medical technology, several work-arounds to the parents' objections come to me as a way to address the purposefully-vague ailment suffered by the boy). Were that the extent of it, there wouldn't be much of a story. But the alien family comes from a sovereign world, and Babylon 5 is intended as neutral territory. Commander Sinclair's actions in ordering medical treatment of Ambassador Kosh in direct defiance of Vorlon orders is thrown back in his face, and he's faced with the quandary of creating an interplanetary incident by overruling the parents' wishes, they themselves members of a minor race that has very little sway in galactic politics. A cruel complication to an already cruel problem.

All in all, my initial impression was that this episode was very much following in the footsteps of the formula well-established by Star Trek, but that the series was trying to push the boundaries within that formula. That impression would hold for the better part of the remainder of season 1.

Now Playing: Billy Joel 12 Gardens Live
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Saturday, December 12, 2015

What's Jayme drinking?

Tonight, as I settle down for another exciting night of index-preparing for Texas' Legendary Chicken Ranch, I've poured myself a mug full of Real Ale Brewing Company's Black Quad, an imposing beer in the Belgian style. I'm a big fan of their Devil's Backbone Belgian Tripel, so I'm optimistic about this one going in. It pours a dark cola color, not quite as dark as I'd have expected however. There's little head at first, but after a bit a foamy caramel head of about a finger's width grows over the course of a minute the veeeeery slowly subsides, leaving prominent lacing behind.

The nose is not as bold as I'd have thought, either. There's some coffee, a little malt but the overall impression is yeasty. First sip is sweet caramel with plums, dark cherries and a sharpness reminiscent of... cranberries? It quickly transitions to dark chocolate then with a coffee-bitter aftertaste that grows quickly before subsiding. Subsequent sips reveal more complexity of flavors--there's banana and vanilla underlying everything, with maybe a hint of oak. Mouthfeel is smooth and creamy, not quite a robust as I'd expect (I'm saying that a lot, aren't I?). Unlike others of this type I've had, the malty sweetness isn't so prominent as to disguise the 10.5 percent alcohol content. There's a definite alcohol burn present throughout, so this isn't a brew that's going to sneak up on you.

Overall, it's well-balanced and competent, nothing here to complain about, but nothing that makes me sit up and say "Wow!" It's a decent beer at a very nice price, but not operating at the same level as Devil's Backbone, and as such, a little bit of a disappointment. I'd drink it again, but Backbone is definitely a superior interpretation of a Belgian classic.

Now Playing: Postmodern Jukebox Selfies on Kodachrome
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Friday, December 11, 2015

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

Let's start the Christmas season off with a newer song that's, well, more tangentially about the holiday than most. But it's still wistful and nostalgic as many of the best Kinks songs are. Here's Ray Davies and Chrissie Hynde in a rare duet, "Postcards from London."

Previously on Friday Night Video... Tim Wheeler.

Now Playing: Mike + The Mechanics Living Years
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Thursday, December 10, 2015

A very Chicken Ranch Christmas!

Since I'm still working on pre-press preparation of my long-promised history book, Texas' Legendary Chicken Ranch: Truth Lies and Legacy of a Lone Star Whorehouse (coming this summer from the History Press), it's easy to overlook the fact that I already have another book on the Chicken Ranch in print: Ghosts of the Chicken Ranch. I bring this up because Blurb, the publisher, currently has a deal going where you can save 30% off purchases with the coupon code: GIFTS30. Enter that code during check-out and you save a bundle.

I mention this only because we're in the middle of the biggest gift-giving season of the year. I've been assured by people who've taken the plunge that they make excellent Christmas presents. It's available in both hardcover and softcover. Ghosts of the Chicken Ranch takes readers on a photo tour of the existing ruins, so for those planning on pre-ordering Texas' Legendary Chicken Ranch when it's available, overlap is not something to be concerned about. These are two very different books. In case you wondered. ;-)

Now Playing: The Benidictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos Chant Noel
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Monday, December 07, 2015

Babylon 5: Deathwalker

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

In Valen's Name: Na'Toth attacks an alien, recently arrived from Minbari space, accusing her of being the war criminal "Deathwalker" from the Dilgar War 30 years prior. Deathwalker was a cruel and sadistic mass murderer and medical experimenter along the lines of Josef Mengele. Rumors spread throughout the station, and it is soon revealed that the woman in question is indeed Deathwalker, the last of her species (Earth Alliance's entry into the war turned the tide and drove the Dilgar back to their home system, where their sun conveniently went nova). And here things become tricky. The League of Non-Aligned Worlds demand she be tried for her crimes, but the Narn, Centauri and even Minbari had collaborated with either Deathwalker or the Dilgar during the war (despite being victimized and/or repulsed by the Dilgar's ruthless tactics) and block the trial. To make matters worse, Deathwalker claims to have invented an elixir that grants immunity from age or disease. All the major powers are locked in a bidding war for it, as Deathwalker's ageless appearance seems to validate her claims. Prior to departing the station, Deathwalker gloats that the elixir can only be created through the death of living beings, so essentially one must die for another to live forever. Thus, whichever race gains the secret to her elixir will become savage and hated throughout the galaxy for farming other races to fuel their immortality. As she flies away, a Vorlon warship pops out of hyperspace and blows her up. The end.

What Jayme Says: Talk about a heavy-handed metaphor. There are no heroes here among the alien races, as even Earth tries to gain control of the elixir despite Deathwalker's abhorrent history. That's cool. I like morally ambiguous, no-win scenarios as much as anyone, but the show takes the cheap way out with the Vorlons eliminating the macgffin, justifying their intervention by saying the younger races aren't ready for immortality. No mention of moral or ethical concerns is mentioned by the Vorlons, so I can only assume had they deemed one of the younger races "ready" then enslavement and harvest of other species' lives would've been hunky-dory with them? And that doesn't even being to address the fact that all the proof Deathwalker offered that her little vial of elixis was genuine was the fact that she appeared 30 years younger than she actually was. I mean, maybe she'd found a really good plastic surgeon and filled that vial with her own piss in a grand "F- you" gesture? It's just absurd. Every one of the alien races is ready to go to war at the drop of a hat over this Deathwalker, a decision based solely on rumor and speculation. What a mess. The subplot of the episode, of Vorlon Ambassador Kosh hiring telepath Talia Winters to mentally scan a cyborg (who is secretly recording said telepathic scans) is weird and intriguing but ultimately irrelevant. It's a particularly attractive piece of parsley garnishing the main dish.

All in all, very much a by-the-numbers, wrap-it-up-in-45-minutes episode. Skip it and you don't miss much, other than the fact that Vorlons are weird and powerful. Yet we already knew that.

Now Playing: Whitehorse The Fate of the World Depends on This Kiss
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Friday, December 04, 2015

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

This summer's most-overlooked animated movie, Shaun the Sheep, is now out on DVD. If you like Aardman's stop-motion animation work, Wallace and Gromit, Chicken Run and the rest, you owe it to yourself to check out this silly, cute film. Although there's not real dialogue in the film, it's got an excellent soundtrack, and what has got to be the standout song is "Feels Like Summer" by Tim Wheeler. It's an infectious, catchy song, which is good enough. But it's a note-perfect period pastiche, sounding for all the world like something you've heard before but forgotten in the intervening years. It's an original composition, but feels like it sprang to life several decades ago. With the weather turning colder as winter approaches, it's a good song to warm things up with.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Ray Davies.

Now Playing: Pink Floyd More
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Monday, November 30, 2015

Babylon 5: And the Sky Full of Stars

Egads! I just realized it's been more than a year since my last B5 post. Not coincidentally, my previous review appeared just prior to our big move. I've watched more episodes since then, just not written them up. I'll try to rectify that.

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

In Valen's Name: Two paranoid, xenophobic conspiracy theorists from Earth, going by the monikers "Knight One" and Knight Two," arrive on Babylon 5 and promptly abduct Commander Sinclair and connect him to a kind of neural virtual reality simulator. Through it, Knight Two is able to confront Sinclair in a deserted simulation of Babylon 5 and force the Commander to relive the Battle of the Line. The Knights are convinced Sinclair's "missing time" during the battle contains proof that Sinclair is actually a Minbari agent working to destroy Earth Alliance from the inside. Through various plot twists, Sinclair's resistance to the machine breaks down and he finds himself leading his squadron on a disastrous attack against the Minbari fleet. His Star Fury damaged, he tries to ram the nearest cruiser but is captured and taken aboard where he is tortured and taken before the Grey Council. There's he demands "What do you want?" and pulls the hood off one of the council members... and seed Delenn. The shock of seeing her allows him to break free of the neural device and overcomes his captors. Hallucinating, he see station personnel as Minbari and tries to fight them, but Delenn intervenes and talks him down. Sinclair pretends to remember nothing, but privately vows to discover what the Minbari were doing with him and Delenn's mysterious role.

What Jayme Says: Not the greatest episode, but it does stand out in the series and hints at much, much bigger story lines to come. It address some questions first raised during "The Gathering" which hadn't received much attention and casual viewers may have forgotten about. In some series, such big questions are posed and never touched on again (*cough* X-Files *cough* Lost *cough*). Namely, the initial mystery surrounding Sinclair, "There's a hole in your mind." Lost time, alien abduction, etc. Sinclair certainly didn't have an easy go of it, not as a Minbari prisoner, and not as a captive of the Knights. And Delenn is finally, unambiguously connected with such shenanigans, although we've suspected this for some time. The point's driven home once again just how badly Earth's defenses were defeated by the Minbari, and no hint of why that alien race abruptly surrendered is given. Answers aren't given, but the questions are given clearer context and viewers are promised they won't be left hanging indefinitely. Also, the dysfunctional, unpleasant nature of Earth politics are reenforced--something that is repeated and amplified in future episodes.

Now Playing: Wynton Marsalis Live at Blues Alley
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Friday, November 27, 2015

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

Christmas gets all the attention when it comes to music. There just aren't that many Thanksgiving songs. The great Ray Davies rectifies that some with "Thanksgiving Day." Have a good one, and travel safely.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam.

Now Playing: R.E.M. Dead Letter Office
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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

My World Fantasy Award trophy!

The World Fantasy Award has issued a "Call For Submissions" so let me be the first to make my submission. They're paying me nothing for my artistic efforts, but even so, I think WFC is getting their money's worth, because this is inarguably the end-all, be-all of fantasy award trophies:

According to the guidelines posted online, "The ideal design will represent both fantasy and horror, without bearing any physical resemblance to any person, living or dead." Well, this fantabulous design does that in spades. Let me walk you through it, okay? First off, it resembles no person, living or dead. Check! In fact, I didn't include any people at all, so I avoided that issue entirely. And I ran it through some Photoshop filters so viewers could better see what it'd look like in 3D. So let's start with the base. It's make of purple amethyst crystals. This is clever on my part, because we all know crystals have magic properties, and amethyst, being kind of purple, is the magicalist of them all. Plus (and here's the real clever part) Amethyst was Princess of Gemworld, so comics fans will get the reference, but as comics are unworthy of literary awards, it's like "BOOM! In your face, comics fans!"

Then we have a big, green dragon rising up from the amethyst crystals, because that seems like a very dragonish thing to do, as well as breathing red fire, because red is like the complementary color for green. And it's breathing fire at a pink pegasus, because pink pegasuses will draw in the teenage girl demographic. But everyone knows a pink pegasus can't survive a fight with a green dragon, so I gave it a magic fairy wand to even the odds. Fairy wands being one of the oldestmost symbols of fantasy (I thought about making the pink pegasus a unicorn pegasus, but that would've been tacky, and I'm all about good taste).

And speaking of symbols of fantasy, how could I not include a wizard hat? I snuck in a pentagram there to appeal to real-life wizards and/or metal heads. Because you can never be too inclusive. Finally, to address the "horror" mandate (which I confess I totally forgot in my preliminary design efforts) we've got the devil. You'll see he's got horns and a pitchfork and barbed tail, and is a totally different color of red so that people don't confuse him with dragon fire. Although he's emerging from the dragon fire, so that's a clever design element. I started to put in wings, but that struck me as too Childhood's End, and those SF writers have their own awards. But none of those awards are half as AWESOME! as this one here.

You're welcome.

Now Playing: Shakira Laundry Service
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Friday, November 20, 2015

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

I heard this song the other day, probably for the first time in 20 years, and was struck by how much it sounds like something Debbie Gibson would've put out in that era. Not that anyone is likely to confuse Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam with Debbie Gibson, but "Lost in Emotion" is one song that could go either way. The video, though... It's something that could only have come out of the 80s.

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

Now Playing: Dire Straits Alchemy
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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Chicken Ranch report no. 55: Houston and back again

Some of you may be wondering what I've been up to since I announced my publishing deal back on October 21. That's a good question. The short answer is that I've been keeping busy. Very busy. Take a look at that photo to the right. See that? That's what I put myself through for you. History Press wants more photos for the book than I'd originally planned, so for the past month I've been making research trips to various libraries and archives hither and yon to track down various relevant photos that I might include in my book. Today I made what I hope is my final official research trip. I've needed to go to Houston, to visit the Houston Metropolitan Research Center, which has an incredible archive of photos from the long-gone Houston Press as well as the Houston Post. I'd planned to make the trip twice before, but both time I had to cancel for various reasons. Tuesday was the only possible day this week I could make the trip. Next week was no good because of Thanksgiving goings-on, and I really, really wanted all of my photos in place before December. So today it was.

Unfortunately, the weather chose to not cooperate. Around 6 a.m., powerful thunderstorms rolled over New Braunfels. It was raining steadily at 8 a.m. when I dropped my kids off at school and started my trip. Once I reached I-10, I caught up with the storms and they paced me all the way to Houston. The posted speed limit is 75 mph all the way, but at times I slowed to 45, so heavy was the rain and strong was the wind. Slow trip. And dangerous, too. Right at the Gonzales/Fayette County line, I came upon a white sedan that'd apparently just run off the road and crashed into the median fence. Visibility was so bad I was past it before it registered what I'd see. I called 911 on my cell, and the dispatcher, after taking my report, said, "Oh, is that the white pickup?" I answered no, because right at that moment I passed the wrecked pickup, jackknifed on the side of the road with a flatbed trailer. The dispatcher sent out a second response team.

But I made it to Houston in one piece, and other than having a devil of a time finding parking in the pouring rain, things went very well. Tim Ronk was very helpful, and even took me behind the scenes to go through the curated boxes of Houston Press photos searching for two infamous images by Marvin Zindler--one where he splashed ketchup on a stabbing victim because Zindler didn't think he looked hurt enough, and another where he broke into a house to photograph millionaire Shepherd King III and Egyptian bellydancer Samia Gamal asleep together. Sadly, we found neither of these, but I did come away with some good stuff and met some interesting people.

So from here on out, I'll be doing what I've been doing for the past few weeks, that is, reformatting my book to comply with History Press' guidelines, compiling photographs and assigning them to individual chapters, and other stuff, like finishing the bibliography, tackling an index, etc. I'll be quite busy for the next month for sure, but I should meet all my deadlines with time to spare.

Whilst I was driving to and from Houston, however, I had lots of free time to think, which is always dangerous. And an incredible thought hit me, that I will leave you with now:

A Bollywood version of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.

You're welcome.

Now Playing: ZZ Top Tejas
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Monday, November 09, 2015

What happens when you mix axis with whitetail?

Okay, I have a little bit of familiarity with cervidae--deer species--from my family's exotic deer farm. I've seen native whitetail deer all my life, and right now my neighborhood is one of those that has more deer in it than squirrels. There are 4-5 whitetail doe lounging around in the front yard as I type this. But with the deer farm work, I got to become very familiar with axis deer from India, as well as fallow, red deer, sika, elk and lots of different types of antelope. For my money, axis are probably the most beautiful deer species and do very well in Texas. They're raised on game ranches and many have escaped to form feral populations in the Hill Country. While I've read literature that axis bucks have chased after whitetail does during rut, nothing I've ever seen has indicated they could interbreed. Until now.

axis whitetail hybrid in New Braunfels?

I saw this guy chasing after some whitetail does about an hour ago as I went to pick up today's mail. I saw him from behind, illuminated by my headlights, and from the angle I thought he was an axis. His body was bulkier and more stocky--if you've watched axis much, you'll know they are physically more robust than whitetails. But the antlers are what really sealed the deal. Axis antlers grow vertically with one main beam on each side with several large secondary tines, generally growing vertically as well. Whitetail antlers grow in a horizontal crescent, with secondary tines growing vertically from the beam and (occasionally) drop tine that grow down. Whitetail antlers are generally lighter in color, whereas axis antlers are somewhat darker at the base, becoming light at the tips and are generally smoother overall. This fellow was kind enough to pose for me head-on, looking away and in profile. If those aren't axis antlers (albeit slightly atypical) growing on a beefed-up whitetail buck, I don't know what is. Hybrid? That'd be my guess. It crossed my mind that it might be a melanistic axis buck, but all the images I found online of those are a much deeper chocolate color all over. Also, the brow on this buck isn't as prominent as on most axis bucks. But it does strike me as more pronounced than on most whitetail. And this guy's got a serious weight advantage over the other bucks in the neighborhood. Look at that neck! Very, very curious. If anyone at Texas Parks & Wildlife or Texas A&M's exotic livestock research group has a definitive answer for me, I'd love to hear it!

axis whitetail hybrid in New Braunfels?

axis whitetail hybrid in New Braunfels?

axis whitetail hybrid in New Braunfels?

Now Playing: Voyager Recordings Symphonies of the Planets
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Sunday, November 01, 2015

The great flood of '15

Okay, so flooding sucks. Let's just get that out of the way. Before we bought the new house, we made a careful check to ensure it wasn't in any flood plains, which was prudent on our part. But we soon learned that our property is at the confluence of two drainages from higher ground. We're at the edge of the Texas Hill Country, with limestone outcroppings and shallow soil, so even a little rain can produce considerable runoff. A couple months after we moved in, we learned this as a heavy rain turned out front yard into a whitewater river. Unnerving at first, but we soon figured how things were. Our house is high, the yard broad and flat. It floods quickly but doesn't stand around long. The water drains quickly and everything returns to normal.

Except this past Friday. The forecast was for rain, at times heavy, but no severe weather. So The Wife leaves at 7:15 or so to take Bug to school, which is maybe half a mile away. Around 7:20 the skies just open up. Realize, I'm getting ready for work and am not aware of this, until The Wife starts screaming at 7:30 "JAYME COME HERE!"

I double-time it to the garage door, baffled as to what's going on, and am dumbfounded to see several inches of water in the garage, stuff floating hither and yon.

Here's a video of our front yard.

The big rush of water flowed across the end of the driveway and front yard, turning it into a whitewater river, as usual. But there was so much of it, so fast, that the secondary drainage that comes down from behind the house backed up and had nowhere to go, so it overtopped the limestones lining the driveway and took the path of least resistance--right into the open garage. Had the garage door been closed, it would've deflected down the driveway, no problem. But the door was open. Remember that we've only been in the house for a year, right? I spent the last 12 months or so building The Wife's photography studio (good news--the fixes I made prevented all but a tiny water leak from penetrating the studio, and I know how to fix that as well) rather than my office/library. The upshot of this is that I still had many boxes of books stored in the garage, along with some old toys, various minor keepsakes, drywall, insulation, power tools and various things used in the construction of the studio and office/library. Water is not a good mix with this stuff.

Fortunately, only four boxes at the bottom of the stacks got soaked. And some of the books at the top of the wet boxes escaped unscathed. But I did lose some books. I went through the "Well, maybe I can dry them out..." thought process, but no, they were too soaked and already swelling. Some were sticking together. I didn't lose anything irreplaceable--like my autographed Jack Williamson novels, for example. I lost two autographed Neil Gaiman books, none of the Sandman collections, thank goodness, but as odds are low I'll ever get close enough for him to sign anything again, I took a razor blade and sliced out the autographed pages. I also lost several James Bond books, a Greg Egan, The Essential Ellison, both volumes of Maus and a number of old-school anthologies. I've had a lot of these for decades. The biggest hit I took was my Steven Gould collection--Jumper, Helm, Wildside, Blind Waves... pretty much everything apart from Jumper: Griffin's Story, which almost didn't count. Fortunately, I can replace all of those, and I see Unka Stevie often enough that replacing the signatures shouldn't be too onerous.

Several people have remarked at how I've been able to keep this in perspective. Do I hate losing books? Of course I do. I valued some of these highly, and some of the non-genre books lost are not easily acquired, if not outright rare. I'm annoyed. I'm disappointed. But I saw all the books in boxes that didn't get ruined and realize how lucky I am. I spent all day Friday and part of Saturday running the Texas State University media relations office from home, because 1) I was flooded in, and even if I wasn't 2) San Marcos was pretty much flooded out. Areas of the university took some flood damage. Classes were cancelled for two days. Areas of San Marcos that suffered severe flooding back in June were hit again. Swaths of New Braunfels near the rivers--and even away from the rivers--got hit with some seriously high water. People lost homes and cars and RVs and a few people died. San Marcos got more than 15 inches of rain in the span of a few hours. As near as I can figure, we got close to 9 inches at the house in about 90 minutes. Not even the National Weather Service saw this coming, until maybe 30 minutes before it hit.

I had some good fortune come my way in recent weeks, with the potential for more on the horizon. So I'm not fixating on the loss here like I might have at some other time. I'm counting my self lucky, and budgeting for replacements over the coming year. That's more than many others can do.

Now Playing: Whitehorse The Fate of the World Depends On This Kiss
Chicken Ranch Central

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Chicken Ranch anniversary: Sheriff T.J. Flournoy dies

On this date in 1982, Fayette County Sheriff T.J. "Jim" Flournoy died at the age of 80. Big Jim, as he was known, was the longest-serving sheriff in Fayette County history, had a two-year run as a Texas Ranger during World War II and several stints as a deputy in various jurisdictions. He shot to fame, of course, by defending the Chicken Ranch brothel when KTRK-TV newsman Marvin Zindler campaigned to shut it down.

Big Jim would not have been happy with my writing Texas' Legendary Chicken Ranch: Truth, Lies and Legacy of a Lone Star Whorehouse (coming summer 2016 from the History Press, if you didn't catch that earlier).

Despite the late sheriff's misgivings, today I'm heading to the Texas State Library and Archives for another photography research run. There's only one or two more of these on my calendar, then all that will remain is compiling the images and captions to go with the manuscript text. There is going to be a lot of photos in this book once all is said and done. Heck, I'm impressed, but then again I'm easy that way.

Now Playing: Pink Floyd Raving and Drooling
Chicken Ranch Central

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Chicken Ranch report: WE HAVE A PUBLISHER!

Folks, I cannot express how pleased I am to announce that I have a publishing contract! My long-in-the-works book, tentatively titled Texas' Legendary Chicken Ranch: Truth, Lies and Legacy of a Lone Star Whorehouse will be published in 2016 by the History Press. Go show 'em some love for their august taste in historical literature.

If all goes well (that is, if I meet my deadlines) we could see the book as early as this coming summer. This is a quick turnaround, so I've got my work cut out for me. Such a publishing date would ensure the book's availability at the 2016 Fayette County Fair, various fall book festivals and other potentially fun venues.

It's been very, very difficult reining myself in these past few weeks. I've come close to signing with other publishers in the past, only to have the deals fall through. I've been holding my breath on this one, certain that something would happen to put the kibosh on the deal. But you know what? The folks at History Press--in particular, acquisitions editor Jose Chapa--have been fantastic thus far. It's one of those apropos coincidences that the finalized contract arrived yesterday whilst I was away on a research road trip to Sealy, Bellville and La Grange. The History Press has requested more photos for the book than I'd originally planned on, and I'm surprising even myself with some of the interesting images I've uncovered. The book will be worth it for the photos alone.

It's hard to believe that when I started this project back at the beginning of 2009 I anticipated it would take six months, tops. Here I am, six years later and only now in sight of the finish line. I have to admit, there were times when I was profoundly discouraged and wanted to chunk the whole thing. The very real prospect of everyone who has supported and assisted me in this Quixotic quest over the years (and there have been a lot of people who fit that description) finally getting to read this book they've been taking on faith... well, that makes it all worth while. Thank you to everyone who has helped make this thing possible. I literally could not have done it without you.

Now Playing: Handel Hallelujah Chorus
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, October 16, 2015

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

I have to admit, Tom Petty pretty much sums up my current state on multiple levels with "The Waiting." Yes, it is, Tom. Yes, it is.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... The Rolling Stones.

Now Playing: Blue Öyster Cult Workshop of the Telescopes
Chicken Ranch Central

Monday, October 05, 2015

What's Jayme drinking?

I stopped by Spec's this evening to pick up a bottle of rum, because necessities. Whilst there, I caught sight of a bottle of Black Quad by Real Ale Brewing Co. out of Blanco. I'm a big fan of their Devil's Backbone Belgian tripel--faithful to the style at a reasonable price--so how could I not give the Black Quad a try? I picked up a bottle, wholly on impulse.

It poured like a clear, dark cola. So far, so good. The carmel-colored head was slow to form and subdued, maybe half a finger thick, but persisted quite a long time. More than an hour later it was patchy on the surface of the beer, like one of Louis Pasteur's petri dishes. The nose is alcohol forward (not entirely surprising for a 10.5 percent beer) with notes of dark cherries, malt and currants. The taste... holy moly. There's a sweet, malty rush of caramel, chocolate and toffee, with dark fruit--the usual plums and cherries--along with a slight tobacco-like sharpness. Mouthfeel is smooth and creamy, quite appropriate for a Belgian with this heft. Monkey Girl saw the clear mug sitting on the counter and mistook it for a cola. I told her it was a beer, and offered her a sip. She tasted it, and raised her eyebrows in surprise. "Beer's nasty," she said. "But if I liked beer, I'd like that."

I'm not a hop-head. IPAs just aren't my thing. I've made no secret that Le Terrible from the Quebec brewery Unibroue is my all-time favorite beer. Black Quad is not better than La Terrible. I won't even go so far as to say it equals La Terrible. Black Quad is inferior. But only just. Black Quad is definitely a worthy representative of the Belgian quadruple style. And it has the distinct advantage of costing just half of La Terrible. I mean, La Terrible is better, but it's not twice a good. Not by a longshot. I'm definitely going to make Black Quad a regular pick-up.

At a time when all the Texas microbrews seem to be chasing the "how many hops can we cram into a single bottle" trend that is raging nationwide, it's gratifying to see Real Ale Brewing Co. swimming against the current and taking up the challenge of producing complex, interesting Belgians. I hope the market rewards them, because damn, they're creating some worthy beers.

Now Playing: R.E.M. Eponymous
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, September 25, 2015

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

Sir David Willcocks died last week at the age of 95. Willcocks was the most influential director of choral music in Great Britain, if not the world. The man knew his stuff, and loved what he did. Tellingly, he wasn't a musical snob, and brought his considerable talent to bear on an array of genres. Perhaps his most widely-recognized work wasn't even released under his own name, but it proved to be a massive hit for the Rolling Stones--"You Can't Always Get What You Want."

Previously on Friday Night Videos... The Producers.

Now Playing: The Hooters Nervous Night
Chicken Ranch Central

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Chicken Ranch anniversary: Sheriff Jim Flournoy's birthday (1902-1982)

On this date in 1902, Thomas James Flournoy was born to Tom and Etta Flournoy on a ranch near Rock Island. He would grow up to work as a ranch hand on the famous King Ranch, a Texas Ranger patrolling the Big Bend region during World War II and--most famously--as the long-serving sheriff of Fayette County. Sheriff Jim famously defied political and media pressure to close down the infamous Chicken Ranch brothel outside of La Grange in 1973 before acquiescing to a direct order from Governor Dolph Briscoe. A year later, Sheriff Flournoy confronted Marvin Zindler on the town square, ripping off the reporter's hairpiece and throwing it in the street. The resulting lawsuits and counter suits were eventually settled out of court with a large donation to the Shriner's Children's Hospital.

Sheriff Flournoy died on October 27, 1982, from heart problems. He would've been 113 years old today.

In other news, I'm still waiting to hear back from the latest publisher that's shown interest in my comprehensive history of the Chicken Ranch. My website traffic is way up in recent months, so something must be in the air. Fingers are crossed that this time isn't another false alarm. In the interim, I want to remind everyone that my photo book, Ghosts of the Chicken Ranch, is still available and makes a great Christmas/Chanukah/Kwaanza/Equinox/Solstice gift. Use the coupon code EARLYFALL5 to get $5 off on orders before the end of the month!

Now Playing: ZZ Top Rio Grande Mud
Chicken Ranch Central

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Texas Mead Fest 2015 report

Back from Texas Mead Fest held in Gruene/New Braunfels today and thought I'd give a quick Cliff's Notes version of the day. I forgot my camera, alas, so I won't have any cool photos to share this year.

I had a good time, which isn't terribly surprising, as I've been to three of these now and always enjoy myself. It was held at Rockin R, which is a river tubing outfitter maybe 10 minutes from my house, making it *real* convenient to attend this year. Meaderies in attendance were Meridian Hive, Dancing Bee, Enchanted Manor, Texas Mead Works, Rohan Meadery and Griffin Meadery. There were supposed to be eight meaderies in attendance, but apparently two didn't show up.

The Wife and I ordered ahead of time, online, so we got eight tasting tickets for $20 plus a Mead Fest tasting wine glass. That's a pretty good deal in comparison to other wine festivals. Between my eight and The Wife's eight, we only came across one mead that we actively disliked. Rather than go down everything I tried (I wasn't taking any notes) I'll just list a handful that stood out for me:

Griffin's "Scarlet" was a semi-sweet black currant melomel that had a very wine-like profile, with a nice balance of tart and tannin and a big, bold currant profile that was reminiscent of dark plums.

Meridian's "Frontier" is a semi-sweet dry-hopped session mead. I'm not a fan of hops in mead but this one really surprised me. Light, crisp and citrusy. Slightly sweet, but that was secondary to the flavors. After sampling The Wife's, I went back and got my own glass.

Texas Mead Works had a "Desert Pear Pomegranate" made with prickly pear fruit that was light, crisp and refreshing, with just enough pomegranate to give it good color and an edge to the flavor. The showstopper, though--and I heard other meaderies talking about it--was Texas Mead Works' "Necromancer." It's not what you'd expect with a name like that. They explained to me that it's triple oaked in distinct barrels to give it a specific flavor profile. And wow, does it ever. It tastes for all the world like a liquid banana bread/ginger/vanilla fusion that is heavenly. And I say that as someone who doesn't even like banana bread. Have you ever walked into a pastry bakery? You know that essence of dessert that's in the air? This is like putting that in your mouth. It's definitely a sweet mead, but by no means cloying and the 16.5% alcohol is not obvious at all. The Wife and I discussed this as the perfect mead to spring on unsuspecting guests after Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. It's an amazing dessert wine and I expect them to sell many, many bottles of the stuff over the coming years.

That said, there were some issues with this year's Texas Mead Fest. First, a couple of minor peeves. Almost all the mead available was sweet or semi-sweet. In that heat, the sweetness did not sit well and we were actively seeking dry. I think there were maybe four dry meads total, and two were at Meridian Hive. Last year in La Grange I recall there being significantly more. No way can you convince newcomers to mead that it doesn't always have to be sweet if all you have to offer are sweet meads. My other peeve was no bee keepers. The advance in the paper promised bee keepers, and as I am seriously considering installing a couple of hives on my property, I'd looked forward to talking and making some personal connections with area bee keepers. They had some for the first fest in La Grange three years ago, so this was disappointing, but sometimes these things happen.

Of far more serious concern was the venue. We've attended numerous festival-type events at Rocking R. It can be a good venue. There's a lot of asphalt parking, but also areas heavily shaded by trees. Most festivals are set up under the trees, but for some reason, Mead Fest was set up adjacent to the parking lot. Zero shade. Direct sun. Temperatures in the mid-90s with the asphalt radiating nearby. It was not a good combination--I normally stay for the homebrew competition results, but we were both wiped out quickly and dragged ourselves home to try and cool off. I don't know if Rockin R made Mead Fest set up there or the festival organizers thought that location would be more convenient, but it was a very, very bad location. To make matters worse, there was only one food trailer present (not multiple trailers, as indicated in the local paper's advance write-up) and they didn't have anything to drink. They informed us they were instructed to not bring water bottles to sell. Between the alcohol and sweating in the sun, we were feeling dehydrated before we'd finished four drink tickets. So we left the festival and walked up the hill to Gruene proper to get something to drink and cool off in air conditioning at Rio Cantina. Again, I don't know who made that decision, but it was a terrible one.

Finally, Texas Mead Association stages this event to promote the mead industry in Texas, but they've simply got to do a better job marketing and getting the word out. An advance ran in yesterday's Herald-Zeitung, and that's it. Nothing in the weekly TX Citizen, and nothing on area radio that I'm aware of. I understand the association doesn't a have a large advertising budget (if there is any budget at all) but there are low-cost ways to get the word out. There are banners available over the main thoroughfares in town. They use these with the Gruene Wine & Music Fest as well as the NB Wine & Saenger Fest, so the Texas Mead Fest shouldn't be any different. Several locals in Gruene stopped us to ask where we got the cool wine glasses. We told them about the mead fest down the hill and they were shocked--"We hadn't heard anything about it." Heck, when I posted here about going a month ago, most replies were from folks who had never heard of it. The association should have a presence on the Homebrew Talk Forums--not a hard-sell, used car salesman presence--but there are a bunch of there who homebrew their own mead, and they are the target audience for the homebrew mead competition. If they have any ad budget at all, they should run a few spots here and over at Got Mead, etc. Partnering with local establishments--I know the Grapevine carries mead from a handful of those meaderies present today--to increase awareness locally. That's what it's all about, right?

Like I said, I had a good time but there were definitely some rough edges that need to be given serious thought when they start planning the 2016 event.

Now Playing: The Grateful Dead The Best of the Grateful Dead
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, September 18, 2015

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

News broke last week about a new biopic about Lucille Ball going into production, starring Kate Blanchett. So today's video is "I Love Lucy" by the very 80s band, the Producers. It's not "She Sheila," but then again, what is?

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Taylor Swift.

Now Playing: Jerry Jeff Walker Viva Terlingua!
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, August 28, 2015

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

I'm not what you'd call a Taylor Swift fan. Not a hater, either. I've found a handful of her songs entertaining, but on the whole, I'm simply not her target demographic. That said, "Blank Space" has been locked in my head for the better part of the week. The narrative structure of the lyrics is fascinating. There's an elevated self-awareness that both embraces and defies the various public personae the media has crafted around her. And the video--holy geeze, the video turns all that up to 11. Swift has done a moderate amount of acting, but the range she shows here--all the while lip synching her lyrics--damn, but she sells it. Actually delivering lines plausibly differs significantly from performing in, essentially, a silent movie (with soundtrack) but I wouldn't be surprised if her acting career moves front and center in the next few years. Apart from that, I want to reiterate that this song's been stuck in my head for far too long, and now it can be stuck in yours, too. You're welcome.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... "Weird Al" Yankovic.

Now Playing: Bob Marley Exodus
Chicken Ranch Central

Monday, August 24, 2015

On the spaying and neutering of puppies, sad, rabid and otherwise

The 2015 Hugo Awards have come and gone, resulting in a record five (5) categories where "No Award" was given in response to the Sad Puppy/Rabid Puppy attempts to game the system and ensure the treasured rocket ship trophy went to those deemed appropriate by their particular clique. Log rolling's happened with the Hugo Awards before, as well as the Nebula Awards, but this is the first instance I am aware of where said efforts were fueled primarily by ideology as opposed to friendship and/or personal desire.

To put this in context, there have only been five total "No Awards" in the entire history of the Hugos up to this point. Here are the results (detailed breakdowns may be found here):

BEST NOVEL The Three Body Problem, Cixin Liu, Ken Liu translator (Tor Books)
BEST NOVELETTE “The Day the World Turned Upside Down”, Thomas Olde Heuvelt, Lia Belt translator (Lightspeed, 04-2014)
BEST GRAPHIC STORY Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal, written by G. Willow Wilson, illustrated by Adrian Alphona and Jake Wyatt, (Marvel Comics)
BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION, LONG FORM Guardians of the Galaxy, written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman, directed by James Gunn (Marvel Studios, Moving Picture Company)
BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION, SHORT FORM Orphan Black: “By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried,” written by Graham Manson, directed by John Fawcett (Temple Street Productions, Space/BBC America)
BEST SEMIPROZINE Lightspeed Magazine, edited by John Joseph Adams, Stefan Rudnicki, Rich Horton, Wendy N. Wagner, and Christie Yant
BEST FANZINE Journey Planet, edited by James Bacon, Christopher J Garcia, Colin Harris, Alissa McKersie, and Helen J. Montgomery
BEST FANCAST Galactic Suburbia Podcast, Alisa Krasnostein, Alexandra Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts (Presenters) and Andrew Finch (Producer)
BEST FAN ARTIST Elizabeth Leggett
By any measure, the Puppies' efforts have been a spectacular failure on their part, but they've been crowing loudly online that blocking otherwise worthy works from making the ballot, hijacking the awards and forcing no award in several categories if victory in their eyes. Essentially, they're gloating at others' misfortune. The whole mess is a blemish on the genre and just makes me sad more than anything else. There have been both Hugo and Nebula winners in the past that I did not agree with--heck, there have been some that incensed me (generally cases where a brilliant central concept or wish-fulfillment element pandered to the SF reader, masking excruciatingly clunky writing)--but never did it occur to me to organize a group to 1) ensure my genius prose was nominated and 2) ensure those other, lesser works rewere not nominated. Awards voting is driven in large part by tastes, and tastes change. Don't believe me? Check out the past winners of the Hugo Awards. Changes in readership tastes are reflected in the winners throughout the decades. If the Sad Puppies are upset by recent Hugo winners, I can only shudder at the thought of their outrage when the New Wave overtook SF in the 60s and started winning awards, or when Cyberpunk went nova in the 80s. Truly, I thought the Puppies' premise fatally flawed and their response misguided at best. I was acquainted with a few involved, but when I tried to broach the subject, it quickly became apparent there were very different worldviews at work. I'm not talking apples and oranges, I'm talking apples and polyester leisure suits. So rather than tilting at this particular windmill, I relegated myself to the sidelines, as I had little hope of changing any minds, not to mention the fact I had no works nominated nor was I voting on the awards this year. My biggest involvement came via reposting some of George R.R. Martin's clear-eyed analyses of the so-called "Puppygate" via my Facebook page. File770 also has an extensive round-up on Puppygate-related links, if that's a particular rabbit hole you choose to fall down.

Apparently, that was enough to earn membership in PC Parasites of the SFWA, an elite group of 20 writers defined as "Humanity replaced by PCness. Immoral, vicious, insane monsters feeding on society." I've never considered myself to be "Politically Correct," but then I don't go around intentionally being an asshole women and minorities or people with different ideas than my own to prove I'm not PC, so your mileage may vary. Maybe common courtesy and civility are passe now--I can never keep up with these things. In any event, fellow Parasites include George R.R. Martin, Jim C. Hines, Laura Resnick, Steven Brust, John Scalzi and Stephen Gould, among others. So the company I'm keeping is pretty damn impressive. Naturally, I'm going to add this to my official biography and resume. I'm just afraid someone will eventually realized I've allowed my SFWA membership to lapse and kick me out.

Alas, even though the Puppies lost in spectacular fashion, I doubt this means the end of Puppygate. The fact that they pooped in the punch bowl and gave unending amounts headache and heartache to many, many people is a badge of honor for them. They consider this heroic. Most rational observers consider it psychopathic. Even the authors only associated with the group on the fringes have shown a remarkable tone-deafness to the entire scope of the problem, refusing to see the forest for the trees (if I may badly mix metaphors). The bad blood and ill will engendered by this controversy will not dissipate any time soon, and I have to wonder about long-term consequences to careers and friendships.

I would hope that lessons have been learned, and that cooler heads will prevail in the future, but I fear the only lessons learned are bad ones and there's a big future in kerosene and matches.

Now Playing: John Williams Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Chicken Ranch Central

Saturday, August 22, 2015

What's Jayme drinking?

Brother Thelonius Belgian style abbey ale
In observance of the most angrily contentious Hugo Awards in recent memory, if not history, I'm purposefully not watching the live stream so as to not completely lose my faith in humanity. Instead, I'm drinking a beer and sharing the experience with you. I've long had my eye on Brother Thelonius Belgian Style Abbey Ale from North Coast Brewing Company, and yesterday I pulled the trigger, picking up a bottle. There's something about uncorking a big, complex Belgian that builds the anticipation. The process of drinking one is more wine-like than polling open a brewski, and that ambiance tends to make Belgians more of a luxurious, indulgent experience. For me at any rate.

First off, the beer pours a rich, clear mahogany color. Very pretty. The head is creamy, sand-colored, and while it doesn't grow very high, it persists for quite a while (30 minutes as I type this). The scent is strong on malts, as expected, but also toffee, vanilla and a hint of chocolate. Mouthfeel is rich and well-rounded, with excellent body for this beer's 9.4 percent alcohol content. The flavor is upfront with molasses and coffee overtones. There's a mild bitterness toward the back (hops?) and dark, sour cherries. The aftertaste is almost citrusy. This is a very dense flavor profile, not broad or expansive. It's complex, but very compact, concentrated. My favorite Belgians have a flavor profile that's expansive, bigger than the bottle that contained them, as it were. This one's the opposite of that, concentrated. This doesn't make Brother Thelonius a bad brew, but it's not amongst my favorites. As with all big Belgians, the flavors are richer and more rewarding as it approaches room temperature.

Overall, it's a solid effort. Not bad, but not great. Definitely a middle of the pack example of the basic Belgian abbey ale. Would drink again without a problem, but probably wouldn't seek it out.

Now Playing: Jimmy Buffett Beaches, Boats, Bars and Ballads
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, August 21, 2015

Friday Night Videos

weird al, yankovic, mandatory tour, mandatory fun, majestic theatre, san antonio, concert, lisa on location photography

In observance of "Weird Al" Yankovic's most excellent Mandatory Tour (which I review here) today I feature one of the best songs off his latest album, Mandatory Fun. Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" had a catchy R&B vibe going that I loved (which makes sense, since he lifted it from the great Marvin Gaye), but the misogynistic lyrics--not to mention video--made my skin crawl. To say that Weird Al became my savior with "Word Crimes" is a little overboard, but it's not coincidence he hit the top 40 with the parody. It's an incredibly clever grammar lesson, touching on many of my personal peeves. I rank it right up there with "Stop Forwarding That Crap to Me" as message music for our modern times.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Whitehorse.

Now Playing: Earth, Wind and Fire The Best of Earth, Wind and Fire vol. 1
Chicken Ranch Central

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Mandatory Fun

I became a "Weird Al" Yankovic fan in junior high--pretty much the same as every other Weird Al fan. "Eat It" had just come out, and the very concept of a song parody was novel to us--much less his scene-by-scene remake of Michael Jackson's "Beat It" video. Classmates--and I'm talking the cool kids, not just the geeky types like me--were transcribing the lyrics from the radio and passing them around in class. Follow that up with "I Lost on Jeopardy" and I was hooked. I tracked down his debut album and did a killer record mime to "Mr. Frump in the Iron Lung" that even won me a trophy in speech and drama competition. Then came Dare to be Stupid and Polka Party and Even Worse. When I got to college I hit that stage where I thought I'd outgrown him, but then Yankovic unleashed "Smells Like Nirvana" I just about injured myself laughing so hard.

Which is a long way of saying it's inexplicable that I hadn't actually seen him in concert until last night in San Antonio's Majestic Theatre. We gave Bug tickets for his birthday back in the spring, as my son--an aspiring class clown--professes that Weird Al is his hero. He's 9 years old, which is pretty much a great age to get hooked on parody. Having been a fan for decades, I thought I knew what to expect. Boy, was I wrong. Weird Al is wildly entertaining in person. His videos and television and movie appearances are amusing, but don't convey his showmanship and sense of timing. The Wife, who likes some of his parodies but is hardly a fan, laughed nearly continuously from start to finish in spite of herself. A friend visiting from Australia (who had only passing familiarity with him) went along as we had an extra ticket, and afterward admitted she hadn't expected to enjoy herself but was, in the end, blown away.

weird al, yankovic, mandatory tour, mandatory fun, majestic theatre, san antonio, concert, lisa on location photography

I'm not going into a exhaustive set list here, but there are some highlights I have to share. Yankovic started the concert over in the adjacent Empire Theatre, singing "Tacky" to an empty house. As we watched on the big screen, Weird Al proceeded to dance his way outside and romp down the street in an approximation of his "Tacky" video, getting hilarious double-takes and shouts of excitement from unsuspecting folks he passed on the street. Then he entered the Majestic and romped down the center aisle, and the packed house went nuts. He went into one of his patented polka medleys, "NOW That's What I Call Polka!" and while these are a silly staple on his albums, it reached an unexpected level of hilarity with the original artists' videos playing on the screen behind him.

weird al, yankovic, mandatory tour, mandatory fun, majestic theatre, san antonio, concert, lisa on location photography

The point where it really and truly dawned on me how special this show was came during his performance of "Wanna B Ur Lovr." This isn't one of my favorites. Yes, I can see the amusing nature of the tone-deaf would-be Cassanova lines, but otherwise it does nothing for me. I normally skip over it when I'm listening to his Poodle Hat album. But live... holy cow! He wears a suit decked out in flames with a fedora, and proceeds to grind and slink his way into the audience with such narcissistic machismo that I actually started crying I was laughing so hard. Seriously, it was one of the higher points in a show filled with many high points.

weird al, yankovic, mandatory tour, mandatory fun, majestic theatre, san antonio, concert, lisa on location photography

I want to point out here something that is normally overlooked by people--including myself--discussing Weird Al, and that is his attention to musicianship. His band has been together for decades, and they're tight. I mean, really tight. They were a well-oiled machine, and the ease with which they slipped between musical genres doesn't come through on studio albums, but was obvious live. It's not just a funny band, it's a good band, period. Nowhere is this more evident than during the acoustic set in the middle of the show, itself a parody of the old VH1 "Unplugged" series. They even open with Eric Clapton's infamous slow, bluesy version of "Layla," only Weird Al substitutes the lyrics to "Eat It." It shouldn't have worked, but it does. They continue with unpluggified versions of "I Lost on Jeopardy" and "Like a Surgeon" and it's kind of amazing how they make all these parody songs work even though they no longer sound musically at all like the songs they originally parodied. And then there's the legendary "Yoda" chant, a tiny, simplified fraction of which can be experienced here. Again, that doesn't do it justice. Even though the chant is composed in large part by fragments and snippets of other songs, choruses and onomatopoeia, the complexity and harmony and dissonance and unison delivery was a thing to behold--even if it was baffling and incomprehensible. I'm sure there are Weird Al superfans out there who've memorized it all, but the original composition and arrangement of such a Frankenstein's monster of an a capella piece takes a certain kind of insane genius I don't think the world has seen before outside of Frank Zappa. And I don't think Zappa himself ever pulled off something quite like this.

weird al, yankovic, mandatory tour, mandatory fun, majestic theatre, san antonio, concert, lisa on location photography

The new songs stood up well to the classics. The video clips he ran between costume changes were funny and kept the show moving at a nice clip. Afterwards I realized there was almost none of the normal on-stage chit-chat you usually get with live concerts, but then again Weird Al's been doing this a long time. His show was tightly choreographed and had very little flab. He was there to entertain, and in that he succeeded.

weird al, yankovic, mandatory tour, mandatory fun, majestic theatre, san antonio, concert, lisa on location photography

weird al, yankovic, mandatory tour, mandatory fun, majestic theatre, san antonio, concert, lisa on location photography

weird al, yankovic, mandatory tour, mandatory fun, majestic theatre, san antonio, concert, lisa on location photography

weird al, yankovic, mandatory tour, mandatory fun, majestic theatre, san antonio, concert, lisa on location photography

weird al, yankovic, mandatory tour, mandatory fun, majestic theatre, san antonio, concert, lisa on location photography

weird al, yankovic, mandatory tour, mandatory fun, majestic theatre, san antonio, concert, lisa on location photography

weird al, yankovic, mandatory tour, mandatory fun, majestic theatre, san antonio, concert, lisa on location photography

weird al, yankovic, mandatory tour, mandatory fun, majestic theatre, san antonio, concert, lisa on location photography

weird al, yankovic, mandatory tour, mandatory fun, majestic theatre, san antonio, concert, lisa on location photography

weird al, yankovic, mandatory tour, mandatory fun, majestic theatre, san antonio, concert, lisa on location photography

weird al, yankovic, mandatory tour, mandatory fun, majestic theatre, san antonio, concert, lisa on location photography

weird al, yankovic, mandatory tour, mandatory fun, majestic theatre, san antonio, concert, lisa on location photography

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