Friday, July 31, 2015

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

The Wife has Sirius XM satellite radio in her car, so I hear all sorts of things when I ride with her--some good, some bad. The other day, I heard Joey Scarbury's "Believe it or Not", which, as we all know, is the theme to The Greatest American Hero. I loved that show as a kid, and today have seasons 1 and 3 on DVD (not sure how I missed picking up season 2). Scarbury's not a household name, because that theme song was pretty much his only success as a singer. The other high-water mark of his career is recording the soundtrack to the animated Peanuts special, It's Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown.

Which brings us to this video. Dear lord, has there ever been a more disinterested, not-give-a-shit video produced for a hit song? You've got me. Normally when there's a soundtrack tie-in, the clips from the movie they pepper the video with are terribly annoying, distracting from the performance. Here, the scenes of William Katt flailing wildly through the air and crashing in the infamous "red jammies" are the highlight. I'm not sure what's going on with the women here, but it appears they lost a bad bet. And Scarbury--if that's him, because you never really get a good look at him--comes off as a participant in the Xanadu witness protection program. Seriously, it's so bad it has to be seen to be believed.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Camper van Beethoven.

Now Playing: Michael E. Johnson & The Killer Bees Live in Berlin
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Thursday, July 30, 2015

The lion and the dentist

Oh, the sad saga of Cecil the lion and Walter Palmer the dentist has utterly taken over the interwebz. Death threats rain like gumdrops from the sky and the dentist has gone into hiding and the End Times are well nigh upon us until next week, until the interwebz find another end-all, be-all issue to work itself up into a frenzy over.

The interwebz mob is way overboard, as usual. I have absolutely nothing against hunting. I did quite a bit of it myself in my younger years, although I haven't done so in years. I still delight in gifts of wild game from friends and relatives. I have zero interest in trophy hunting myself, but when it's done ethically, as part of a rigorous conservation plan, even the culling of individual animals from a population of endangered species can be a good thing for that species as a whole--certainly greater benefit than feel-good bumper stickers or online petitions. I have experience with exotics. There are species effectively extinct in the wild that survive only because exotic game farmers and ranchers are able to legally treat them as livestock and breed them for profit (through these domestic--not domesticated--populations, re-introduction into their native ranges are possible). That said, I have very little sympathy for Walter Palmer, the dentist from Minnesota.

Palmer has shown a history of disregard for hunting laws, as evidenced by his black bear incident. At the core of it, that's poaching, and I have low tolerance for poachers. He did not "accidentally" shoot that bear illegally and then "accidentally" try to pass it off as a legal kill from a different location. "But that's just one time! You can't judge him on one mistake," some argue. In my experience, people are not caught poaching the first time they do it. That's just merely the first time they got caught. Most are never caught.

There are significant laws regulating big-game hunts in Africa. The process for engaging in a big-game hunt, or vetting licensed guides, is not some arcane mystery. Although some people don't like the fact, big-game hunting is an industry the world over where the game populations are managed to grow and expand the genetic and biodiversity. Legal hunts are expensive. They can also be time-consuming, depending on the species a hunter wants to take. There's paperwork, waiting lists, etc. For someone with a sense of entitlement, to whom game laws do not apply (see bear above), waiting and following the rules are a needless hassle. Why not just talk to a guy who knows a guy who can get you a lion for $50K in just a couple of months? "And they'll cut through all that red tape?" the would-be hunter asks with only feigned interest. "Sure. They do it all the time." At this point, Palmer does not ask any more questions, does absolutely no checking on the credentials of his "hunting guides," because he does not want to confirm what he already knows in his gut: These guys are not legal, not permitted. But they can get him a lion, and that's what he wants. He cut corners. He turned a blind eye. Maintaining willful ignorance about them gives him plausible deniability. If caught, he'll merely claim he was a victim of unethical scammers, and had NO IDEA they weren't on the up-and-up. That's why Palmer's initial statement blamed everyone else for the lion's death while still insisting he acted properly and his kill was legal.

Here's the thing: Palmer pulled the trigger, or in this case, let fly the arrow. HE is responsible. Every responsible hunter knows they are ultimately responsible for every shot they make. You do not blame your shot on anyone else. It is the hunter's responsibility to make sure the permits are in order. It is the hunter's responsibility to ensure he's hunting on properly leased land. The hunter is responsible for his or her actions, regardless of whether they are solo or part of a group or guided hunt. When Dick Cheney shot his friend in the face on a South Texas dove hunting expedition, Cheney and his handlers immediately blamed the friend for moving into Cheney's line of fire, even though the first thing anyone learning firearms/hunting is taught is that when you pull the trigger, you are responsible. I have a big issue with people ducking responsibility. I'm having to deal with this with my children now, that regardless of what transgression was committed and who committed it for what purpose, "it wasn't my fault" is the refrain promptly followed by often elaborate explanations on why it's actually their brother or sister's fault. You're not a special snowflake. If you botch something, own up to it and take responsibility. Clean up your own mess. Better yet, don't screw up in the first place.

Cheney, obviously, was never taught this lesson as a child. Nor was Palmer, and it's a hard, cruel learning curve he's now experiencing.

Now Playing: Florence + the Machine Lungs
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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Chicken Ranch anniversary: Marvin Zindler (1921-2007)

On this date in 2007, KTRK consumer affairs reporter Marvin Zindler died of pancreatic cancer.

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

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

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

Speaking of which... I've noticed an uptick in the sales of Ghosts of the Chicken Ranch recently. Now, this isn't the extensive history book I've written, but rather a photo tour of the ruins of the infamous brothel. If you have any curiosity about what happens to history when it is ignored, I invite you to buy a copy (a preview of the first few pages may be found below). If nothing else, it's a great conversation piece!

Now Playing: Miles Davis The Birth of the Cool
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Monday, July 27, 2015

Armadillocon 2015 in the rear view mirror

Armadillocon has come and gone for another year. The 2015 edition was a very good one, indeed. Attendance seemed significantly up from last year, panels were well-attended and an energy permeated the con that had been absent in recent years. Most everyone I talked with seemed to feel the same. The guest lineup--GoH Ken Liu, Special GoH James Morrow, Editor GoH L. Timmel Duchamp, Fan GoH John DeNardo, Toastmaster Stina Leicht and Artist GoH Rocky Kelley--was very active and accessible, interacting with attendees and panelists all weekend. There was an impressive number of new panelists as well, the concom going out of their way to seek out and invite regional pros who haven't attended before. That injected a good amount of new blood to the regular panelists, and the panels themselves were stimulating and thought-provoking. Again, it was clear the concom didn't just recycle the programming items from past conventions, coming up with new topics, or clever variations on older topics, instead.

My panels were well-attended and boasted some very intelligent people who all had insightful commentary. For "Researching Your Book," I brought along a huge stack of Venus science books I'm using as reference for Sailing Venus just to scare people a little bit. J. Kathleen Cheney, Jaime Lee Moyer, Cary Osborne, Lee Thomas and Ernie Wood kept things lively and as you might suspect, each writer had different approaches to the question of how much research is necessary. I was then drafted to sit in on the "New Twists in Urban Fantasy" panel, as some of the panelists hadn't made it to the con that Friday. I kind of prattled on about the overlap between urban fantasy and contemporary fantasy, and how they're not necessarily the same. As I hadn't written any urban fantasy in quite a few years, I didn't have much to offer, but thankfully John Moore, Carrie Clevenger and Mari Mancusi knew their stuff. A lot of discussion was devoted to how publishers are declaring certain sub-genres like urban fantasy, dystopia, etc. "dead" and refuse to consider new work in these areas, but such work is still being published under different branding by an array of publishers, and quality work will always make it into print regardless of publishing trends.

On Saturday, my fellow panelists for "The Hobbit Movies" were Lillian Stewart Carl, Aaron de Orive, Paige Ewing, Shanna Swendson and Troyce Wilson, and while everyone agreed Peter Jackson had gone off the deep end with silly video game computer effects that went on far, far, far too long in the films, we disagreed a surprising amount on what the worst transgressions were and which additions actually improved the story. That doesn't change the fact that Jackson would've been better off sticking to his original plan for two films rather than three. "Writing a Strong Teen Protagonist" was the first of two panels I moderated, and Peni Griffin, P. J. Hoover, Jake Kerr, Mari Mancusi and Trakena Prevost all had far more experience writing YA than I, which made my moderating job so much easier. And interesting discussion of the differences between YA and Middle Readers ensued, along with some thoughts on the emerging "New Adult" category. Writing teens is hard, simply because teenagers are still figuring out who they are at that age, and their moods are inherently volatile. Writing teens as small adults is a no-go, and writing parents as incompetent boobs is just as bad a cliche. The absent parent--either through death, divorce or indifference--is another recurring trope that's difficult to stomach, but sometimes unavoidable as so many YA books are coming of age stories where the teens acquire their own agency, so to speak.

My other panel to moderate, "Speculative Fiction as a Mirror to Religion," went by fast. I mean fast. We started out and the next time I checked my watch, we'd run five minutes long and could've continued another two hours at least. James Morrow was the 800 pound gorilla on the panel, for obvious reasons, and he was wonderfully challenging in the best way possible. But he didn't hog the panel. On the contrary, Matt Cardin, Katharine Kimbriel, Ari Marmell and Shanna Swendson all jumped in with enthusiastic, thoughtful comments, having particular fun with the influence that the superstitious King James had on the translation of his eponymous version of the Bible. I used my story, "The Makeover Men," as an example of a exploration of misogyny that could not exist without both science fiction and religious fanaticism, but the story is currently not available online, unfortunately. This panel was probably the highlight of the con for me. So many ideas were flying back and forth that I cannot even begin to remember them all.

Other highlights include the Space Squid 10th anniversary shindig/flash fiction contest, Stina Leicht hitting no. 6 on the BookPeople best seller list, engrossing conversations with Don Webb, Sean Patrick Kelly, Joe Lansdale, Rhonda Eudaly, Bill Crider, Lawrence Person, Scott Cupp, Lillian and Paul Carl, lunch with Lou Antonelli, moving tables with John Picacio and drinking some of the magnificent Fin du Monde (a Belgian triple) at the Montreal Worldcon bid party. Oh, and I discussed with Chris Brown the possibility of reviving a misbegotten collaboration we threatened to write way back when, so feel free to be afraid. Good stuff all around, and I can't wait until next year.

Feel free to share the photos below, just be sure to include credit.

Now Playing: Violent Femmes 3
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Friday, July 24, 2015

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

So I'm working in the studio finishing up some detail work on the trim and such. During all this I'm listening to my collection of old Doctor Demento shows from 1997-2002, and what should come on but "Take the Skinheads Bowling" by Camper Van Beethoven. I was never the biggest Camper fan but this one got me nostalgic because it was part of the "Bowling Trilogy" that Doctor Love and the Erogenous Zones played during their shows during that brief, glorious run back during my college days. I found myself grinning stupidly as I sang along with a song I hadn't heard for close to 20 years. I believe I have one or two of their songs around on MP3, but I'd really love to get ahold of the entire first album they put out, along with the live bootleg they gave to hard core fans (mine eventually wore out, sad to say). Come to think of it, I also need to track down some of Sneaky Pete's music as well...

Previously on Friday Night Videos... R.E.M..

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Monday, July 20, 2015

The Armadillocon cometh

Armadillocon 37 is this coming weekend, and thankfully somebody forgot about that restraining order and invited me again. I'll be at the con all three days, catching up with old friends and participating in some interesting panels this time around. Here's my schedule for the coming weekend:

5 p.m. Researching Your Book: Cheney*, Moyer, Osborne, Thomas, Wood
Where to look, who to ask, what to do? How much is too much? What do you do with all the research that doesn't fit in the book? (ie, there's a Turkey City Lexicon entry titled "I've suffered for my art--now it's your turn!" That's pretty much this panel)

10 a.m.
Hobbit Movies: Carl, de Orive, Ewing, Swendson*, Wilson
A consideration of the series. (My consideration--somewhere amidst the 9 hours of mayhem, there are two excellent, 90 minutes films trying to get out)
1 p.m. Writing a Strong Teen Protagonist: Griffin, P. J. Hoover, Kerr, Mancusi, Prevost
What works and what doesn't when striving to create a memorable and believable teen character? (Geeze, I'm the moderator on this one, in which I confess that despite observing two teens up close on a daily basis, I still have no idea what makes them tick)
3 p.m. Reading: A reading! In which I read something! (Most likely to be Chicken Ranch related. I think I scarred Jim C. Hines for life at Apollocon the other month...)
4 p.m. Speculative Fiction as a Mirror to Religion: Cardin, Kimbriel, Marmell, Morrow, Swendson
Illuminating human institutions, belief systems, theology, and cosmology. (Hey! I'm moderator again! No worries--this is always an interesting panel, and the participants here make my job a lot easier)

Autographing: Clevenger, Duchamp, Fletcher, P. J. Hoover
In which I sit around watching other people sign stuff!
The entire Armadillocon 37 programming grid may be found in all its glory at See you there!

Now Playing: Ertha Kitt Purrfect: The Ertha Kitt Collection
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Friday, July 17, 2015

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

Since it's day 3 of Obama's apocalyptic, anti-Christ invasion of Texas via Jade Helm, it seems only appropriate that R.E.M. send us out this week with a song that pretty much sums up our embattled state.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Lindsay Buckingham.

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