Friday, October 27, 2023

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

And now for something completely different: Shel Silverstein performing "Show It At The Beach," with a cameo from Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show (for whom Shel wrote several popular hits as well as multiple album cuts). Silverstein's prowess as a poet is well-lauded but his songwriting skills are often overlooked. His wry social commentary may be more relevant today than it was back in the 1970s when he recorded this.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Peter Gabriel.

Now Playing: Brian Wilson Smile
Chicken Ranch Central

Chicken Ranch anniversary: Sheriff T.J. Flournoy (1902-1982)

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. Zindler returned to La Grange on December 30, 1974 to do a follow-up story, and that's where he encountered Sheriff Flournoy. The altercation ended with the Sheriff stomping on Zindler's toupée in the middle of the street, and Zindler heading back to Houston with several cracked ribs. Lawsuits flew back and forth for years, before the two eventually settled out of court.

Autographed copies of Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse 50th anniversary edition are available from my Big Cartel shop. It's also available as an ebook in the following formats: Kindle, Nook, Google Play, iBooks and Kobo.

Now Playing: Buffalo Springfield Retrospective
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, October 20, 2023

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

Peter Gabriel played Austin earlier this week. I wanted to see the show, as he's one of my favorite performers who I've yet to see live, but the stars did not align for me. Bummer. So instead I'll share the song of his that I love above all others "Shock the Monkey." My freshman year in college I dressed up as the "tribal" Peter from the video. I looked amazing with full face paint. Sadly, absolutely nobody knew what I was supposed to be. Typical.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... The Mike Curb Congregation.

Now Playing: Don Henley California Desperados
Chicken Ranch Central

Thursday, October 19, 2023

I watched all of Clone Wars so you don't have to (but maybe you should)

Darth Maul and Ahsoka Tano lightsaber duel from The Phantom Apprentice
So I watched the entirety of the Clone Wars animated series. I know there are many who are passionately devoted to this show and Dave Filoni is drawing on significant elements of continuity established therein for the live-action Disney+ shows, so I wanted to grok all the interconnected threads.

Being the obsessive that I am, I started with the Genndy Tartakovsky Clone Wars shorts. I didn't get Cartoon Network when they first aired so had never seen them. I'm glad I made the effort. Highly stylized and action-oriented, these shorts introduce character who play significant roles in Filoni's Clone Wars series, even if Tartakovsky's version is no longer canon.

The animated Clone Wars movie that launches the series introduces Padawan Ahsoka Tano and pairs her with Jedi Anakin Skywalker. This movie was met with much criticism upon release. It's not great. It tries very hard to be hip and edgy for pre-teens but only manages to come off as annoying. Quality wise, it's about on par with the direct-to-video animated sequels Disney used to pump out for their classic films. It is understandable why this one is not held in high regard. It almost put me off watching the series, but I soldiered on.

Seasons 1-4 of Clone Wars is much better, relatively speaking. I didn't feel it great, mind you. Compared to the animated shows aimed at kids from the 80s and 90s, yes, these episodes are more sophisticated and polished. There's still an echo of shoehorned "life lessons" apparent throughout, though. It's still a kid's show, albeit one parents can watch with their kids and not get too restless. The mid-Atlantic newsreel voiceover to start the episodes was certainly a choice, but I don't think every Star Wars project needs to replicate the opening crawl from the original films. The stylized animation took some getting used to but I came to accept it. So yeah, light years ahead of Ewok Adventures and Star Wars Droids.

Season 5 sees an interesting shift. Stand-alone and two-part episodes are abandoned in favor of five story arcs. Some are juvenile with those pesky life lessons, but others... Darth Maul returns. There is intrigue on Mandalore. Ahsoka is framed for murder and expelled from the Jedi Council. The series takes a serious turn and stops being a kiddie show. I take exception to George Lucas' revisionist history that Star Wars was "always a kids show." No, the original Star Wars was an "all ages" show. There's a big difference. In season 5 Filoni took Clone Wars from being a kids show to being an all ages show. It started feeling more like Star Wars and less like a Star Wars spinoff.

Season 6 and 7 came about after Clone Wars had been cancelled by Cartoon Network. At the time, they had 65 unfinished episodes in various stage of production for (presumably) three more full seasons. 25 of these unfinished episodes were ultimately completed (heavily referencing some of those other unfinished episodes that weren't so fortunate) to comprise two final seasons of 13 and 12 episodes. Again, these seasons lean heavily on multi-episode story arcs. What's more, they directly reference events from the prequels and build on the personalities of various clone troopers established earlier in the series. There are stakes here. Even a casual fan of Star Wars knows the ultimate outcome of many of these plotlines, but it's engrossing because we don't know how it will play out, who will live or who will die or who will fall somewhere in between. The final four episodes take place concurrently with events from Revenge of the Sith and presented as a story distinct from the rest of the Clone Wars series. And it works so well. The final two seasons of Clone Wars elevate all three of Lucas' Star Wars prequels, flawed though they may be. This isn't some backhanded compliment like saying JJ Abrams' sequel trilogy making the prequels look better in comparison. No, these final 25 episodes genuinely make the prequels better, filling in certain plot holes and adding context and character and a great deal of "what if?" for roads not taken.

It's doubtful seasons 1-4 could ever had achieved that level of sophistication and depth given the corporate and studio mandates Filoni was operating under, but the early cancellation likely gave him the freedom to go for broke and tell the stories he truly wanted to tell, corporate pushback be damned. If that's the case, then bravo, sir. Success on all counts.

Now Playing: The Moody Blues Time Traveller
Chicken Ranch Central

Sunday, October 15, 2023

2023 Annular Eclipse

Jayme in front of telescope during annular solar eclipse Oct. 14, 2023
So, the 2023 annular eclipse has come and gone. I have long harbored interest in astronomy, and by extension, astrophotography. Alas, due to a number of frustrations my efforts have dwindled almost nil over the past decade. The coming double-whammy of the anular eclipse and total solar eclipse sparked a stirring of ambition in me, and I resolved to photograph both. As New Braunfels is outside the zone of totality for both eclipses, I had to travel west to experience the full effect. Unsure of how many people would turn out for this thing (many otherwise free public parks were charging admission!) I hit upon setting up my viewing in a somewhat obscure picnic area on Interstate 10 between Boerne and Comfort. Sure enough, when I arrived shortly before 10 a.m. on Oct. 14, the picnic area was mostly deserted save for a handful of truckers pulled over to grab a bit of sleep.

I quickly staked out my preferred site and set up. For those intersted in the techical aspects, I used a Meade 645 Newtonian telescope with a basic, worm-screw tracking drive. I plugged the drive into a inverter connected to a deep-cycle marine battery for power. I rough aligned the tracking mount using a compass to determine north. Over the front of the scope I attached a filter I constructed using Baader Planetarium AstroSolar Safety Film--the same setup I used to photograph the transit of Venus a decade ago. The camera I used is a Rebet T3i modified for astrophotography. Camera settings were 100 ISO with a shutter speed of 1/2000. Aperture is f/5 set by the telescope. Focus was manual and seeing (turbulence in the atmosphere) was only fair, hampering my efforts to get really detailed images. To the camera I attached a Neewer remote programmed to trigger the camera once every 20 seconds, resulting in three photographs per minute.

The clouds stayed mostly away. I managed to capture some sunspots in my images but beyond that there was almost no detail for my simple setup to capture. In hindsight, I did better with focusing than I thought at the time. I'll be better prepared what to expect next April for the total eclipse. Ultimately, I ended up with 566 photos, start to finish. I'm working on a detailed edit of a selection of them, but here's a sampling with a quick bit of processing:

Annular eclipse from Texas Oct. 14, 2023

Annular eclipse from Texas Oct. 14, 2023

Annular eclipse from Texas Oct. 14, 2023

Annular eclipse from Texas Oct. 14, 2023

Annular eclipse from Texas Oct. 14, 2023

As i said, the picnic area was mostly deserted when I set up but it didn't stay that way for long. By peak eclipse I'd been joined by dozens of folks who pulled off the highway to watch. One guy from Houston had a nice little Celestron scope he was shooting the eclipse with--he hadn't set up any alignment but was using the electronic controls to slew the scope and manually track the sun. Another guy brought his daughter all the way from New Jersey(!) to see the spectacle--they'd originally planned to go to Hondo, but early morning weather reports indicated cloudy skies so they decided to head to Kerrville instead. Unfortunately the rental agency botched their reservation and they almost missed the show. We had a good talk and he took selfies with myself and the Houston astronomer before rushing back to San Antonio to catch a departing flight. Another couple sat on the picnic tables behind me and chatted amiably during the event. Once the "ring of fire" broke and the moon began to uncover the sun the crowd dissipated quickly. Only myself and the Celestron guy from Houston stuck around to the very end.

All in all, I quite enjoyed the experience. I've only experienced partial solar eclipses before and had never gone into any with purpose. I'd planned my strategy, packed my car the night before and everything went as planned--whick is unheared of for me. I learned some valuable lessons this outing and am hopeful that I will be better prepared for the total eclipse in April of 2024. We shall see.

Now Playing: Andre Kostelanetz Lure of Paradise
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, October 06, 2023

Book signing news

Pecantown Books and Brews in Seguin
In the "let's try this again" category, I have a book signing and discussion for my book, Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch, coming up on Oct. 7 from 1-3 p.m. at Pecantown Books and Brews in Seguin. Those of you who've been following along may recall a previous attempt at a signing here back in September had to be scrubbed because of an unexpected conflict. But we're back and looking forward to seeing folks turn out on Saturday. Pecantown is a nifty shop with several rooms filled with books plus a wine and beer bar. I think every bookstore should have a wine and beer bar incorporated into the general layout. Everybody wins!

Monkey and Doge Books logo, Fort Worth
I also have fresh news to share--as in just confirmed minutes ago. I'm finally coming to the Metroplex for a signing event! After many false starts, misfires and schedule conflicts dating back to 2016 I am delighted to announce that I will be at Monkey and Dog Books in Fort Worth on Nov. 4 for a 2-4 p.m. signing and discussion. The Dallas-Fort Worth area plays such a significant role in the history of the Chicken Ranch--both in Miss Edna's early days as a sex worker before she found her way to La Grange, to the start of that brothel's weird afterlife when the parlour section was shipped to Dallas to become a short-lived, chicken-themed restaurant. I mean, it's crazy I haven't made it up there, isn't it? Well, I go where I'm wanted and Monkey and Dog Books want me, so I hope to see you there in November!

Now Playing: Various artists The Virtuoso Trumpet
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

"Kelly's Heroes" is probably my favorite war/heist movie. Its lunacy and irreverence brings me unconditional joy. I love it unconditionally. And you know what else I love? The film's defacto theme song, "Burning Bridges" by the Mike Curb Congregation. This group never really did anything else that managed to hold my attention, but this one song is certainly a relentless earworm. And Mike Curb himself carved out an interesting and varied career.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Greg Kihn Band.

Now Playing: Martin Hummel Eternal Love: 17th Century German Lute Songs
Chicken Ranch Central