Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Earth’s last decade has been primarily defined geopolitically by what’s now commonly referred to as “The Clash of Civilizations”, East vs. West, Muslims vs. Judeo-Christians, and so on. Depending on how this stretch of history plays out, the years 2001 to the present will likely be held up by historians as a time when the descendents of the Ottoman Empire attempted, successfully and with stealth, to reassemble the empire in the West. It may be a quiet and unplanned revolution, but it’s a revolution nonetheless, and how Europe (and to a lesser extent, the US) responds to it is a story that’s only growing in magnitude every year. Burqa bans, headscarf bans, minaret bans and increasingly loud disdain for Muslim ways have been on the rise in Europe the past few years. The terror threat from the East continues to be a real fact of life on the ground in Europe, as elsewhere. I was glad to see a book that tried to make sense of it all, how Europe very quickly became a continent of immigrants from outside of Europe, and what it will mean for the 21st century.

And I suppose I should make my prejudices clear before I go further: I’m a huge champion of American immigration in all its forms. My philosophy is that people follow the jobs, and if the jobs are there, let the people come to fill them, whether legal or illegal. If the people abide by the norms and rules of the “host culture”, and don’t expect taxpayer subsidization, then they’ll have no bigger champion than myself. I can envision a time in the future where national borders cease to be meaningful, and I like the sound of a world in which that’s the case. Oh, and I’m also a raging atheist. I also, uh, dislike terrorism very much, and am willing to go out on a limb and culturally profile the perpetrators of 21st-century terrorism as overwhelmingly Muslim. I sympathize with a Europe that sees its liberal traditions and even its physical well-being as being under assault by Muslim immigration, while being bemused and even a little alarmed at the simultaneous withering of those liberal traditions in response to it.

So cutting to the chase, Christopher Caldwell’s recent book, “REFLECTIONS ON THE REVOLUTION IN EUROPE – Immigration, Islam and The West” is a fascinating, if flawed read. If you’d like to get a sense of how Europe got to its current quandary around immigration – a combination of loose rules, half-truths, religious decline, demographic decline, general apathy and a surfeit of political correctness – this is great book to tackle. Caldwell nails the well-meaning approach to immigration in Europe over the past 40 years, and how it rapidly accelerated and started violently confronting European norms about 15 years ago. His best writing regards how Europe slowly woke up to the key differences between Muslim immigration to Europe, and quick-assimilating immigrants to the United States:

The marital behavior of immigrants and their children (not to mention the entire history of colonization) shows that you can migrate to a place while being hostile to it, or at least while holding it in no special regard. Yes, immigrants “just want a better life”, as the cliché goes. But they don’t necessarily want a European life. They may want a Third World life at a European standard of living. They may want to use the cosmopolitanism made possible by Western rule of law to secure citizenship for their nonfeminist brides and their pre-Enlightenment ways.

This is what Europeans are waking up to in all sorts of funny and sometimes even enlightened ways. The Muslim immigrants, by and large, are replicating their home countries’ ways of life, just on European soil, and often at European taxpayers’ expense. Caldwell blames Europeans’ abandonment of their traditional culture, and of Christianity, in favor of the very liberal social consensus that rules the continent now as being part & parcel of why it was so easy for, say, Algerian or Turkish culture to gain such a strong foothold in, say, France and Germany. He loses me when he puts too fine a point on this thread – particularly the religious part. One can admire the values that are attributed to Judeo-Christian traditions, without fully buying into them being divinely inspired (I certainly don’t). If only Europeans got some religion again, he seems to say in various spots, Europe would have an effective bulwark against its centuries-long foe, Islam. I don’t buy it. I think Europe’s secular evolution is one of its post-WWII strengths, and I tend to agree with the assassinated Dutch politician Pym Fortuyn and his protégés, who argued that Europe had created a culture of liberal tolerance, enlightenment and intellectualism that was very much worth fighting for and defending.

Islam has the upper hand as things stand today, at least as portrayed by this book. It knows what it stands for, and it knows what it stands against. It is rapidly gaining in numbers both in Europe and around the globe as European population declines. Caldwell believes, as I do, that “moderate Islam”, while being something that exists for millions of people, is a red herring for cultural relativists who prefer to see peace and harmony where there is actually war, fear and religious antagonism. This will continue to be a signature issue for years to come, and while I found Caldwell’s old-school religious conservatism a little hard to stomach at times, I applaud him still for laying out the boundaries of the problem so clearly.

Monday, November 29, 2010


I was going through a mementos box that I’ve been keeping for a while, and came across this flyer for an exceptionally memorable rocknroll show I went to in early 1987. I drove five people up from Santa Barbara in my 4-person 1980 Mustang to go see Scratch Acid, but they, mind-melting as they were, were not the real story of the night. The real story was the opening band GROUP SEX, from Nipomo, CA, and their jaw-dropping 3-minute set. In it those of us in attendance witnessed a lifetime’s worth of frustration, rage, love, disco dancing, little people, and the negation of the human spirit.

I recounted this evening in 2005 on my old blog Agony Shorthand, but figured it needed to be told again, since I found the flyer and all:

I think even back in March 1987, I knew I was pretty lucky to have seen SCRATCH ACID play live, not simply because I could sense that they'd break up soon (which they did), but because they seemed fairly groundbreaking in their way even at the time. The show was at a dumpy club in small college town San Luis Obispo, California with two bands I'll have a hard time forgetting: "GROUP SEX" and the "WIMPY DICKS". The latter were some dumb-ass local favorite funnypunk band with songs that ragged on their town, but the former were just on fire the night I saw them.

Whenever someone asks me about memorable shows I've seen -- which, truth be told, never actually happens -- I tell them about Group Sex in SLO, CA. The band came on stage with two identical-twin bearded drummers with full kits, the sort of beer doggie dudes you'd expect to find sucking down Coronas at the Cabo Wabo Cantina, and this boyfriend/girlfriend pair on guitar and bass respectively. (I later learned that their names were "Ron E. Fast" and "Janey"). The two drummers started in together with this ripping-fast hardcore-tempo pattern, and the guitarist started to hiss and feed back and play some generic HC riff. After about 10 seconds, though, someone -- it appeared to be the bass player -- screwed up, with unleashed a torrent of filthy invective from Ron E. Fast ("You motherfucker goddamn sonofabitch whythefuckcan'tyouplay etc."). Janey actually started to blubber and cry right into her mic, and profusely apologized to the crowd.

So the two goofball drummers started up their hardcore beats again, but this time "Fast"'s guitar shorted out or something, and everything ground to a quick halt. He immediately hefted his guitar, and shattered it into a bazillion pieces with one swing against the brick back wall behind the stage. The shocked whole crowd let out a collective "whoooa....", and then Janey just started crying again. She stood there at the mic bawling and shaking, "You don't understand you guys, he's really a nice guy, he really is, we're really a lot better than this, please don't hate us you guys....". Just then, the house lights came up, and the soundman quickly threw on some 1976 vintage disco music, "I Love The Nightlife" or something, and in seconds, Ron E. Fast and Janey jumped from the stage and immediately started disco-dancing together on the now-cleared floor. As everyone stood watching them in total awe, a "little person", also bearded, scampered out from behind the sound board and started picking up the guitar pieces from the floor. It was beyond belief, and they were only the opening band! We ran out to the car immediately to relive and retell the moment over a 6-pack of Mickey Bigmouths. W-o-w.

So thanks for letting me get that tale off my chest; it has only lived on via the oral tradition thusfar, and of course, it was far more weird and ridiculous than it likely reads to you on the screen.

This post received a comment from Ron E. Fast himself in 2008, saying “and i was pissed that the guitar was fuckin up not at janie......were married 25 yrs now”. So in other words, it wasn’t the bass player – his wife – who was having the problems, it was Fast’s guitar, and the “filthy invective” that I remember hearing was entirely self-directed. A magical evening, one that I hope I was able to recreate at some level.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


I used to get pretty hopped up about Christmas beer season. Before brewers started making experimental and limited-release brews a regular feature of their lineups, the only way to escape the clutches of the yearly pale ale/amber/stout tyranny was the brewer’s annual November/December foray into spiced, malty, (sometimes) higher-ABV holiday beers. Not anymore. These days Christmas beers are, to my way of thinking, often an afterthought, something a brewer needs to do to maintain seasonality and possibly shift few extra units, but rarely are they the best beers you’ll drink all year. The really stellar ones tend not to be “holiday” beers per se, but happen to be dark, heavy and released in the Winter months. So color me a little more jaded than in years past – which doesn’t mean I’m not still gonna try a whole passel of them this year anyway.

Here are three we’ve explored to start off the 2010 winter drinking season:

THE BRUERY – “3 FRENCH HENS”(pictured above). I’ll happily pay $11.99 or more for any beer THE BRUERY bottles, and that’s what this one set me back. Last year’s “Two Turtle Doves” was a revelation, and it speaks truth to my aforementioned lie about the general decline of holiday beers' quality. This year’s model, to of course be followed by “4 Calling Birds” next year, made me sit bolt upright and declare, “Sweet Jesus It’s Christmas” as I brought the first sip down my throat. It’s 75% “Belgian strong dark ale”, 25% aged in French oak barrels, and it brings a real silky texture with a mix of oriental spices mixed with cinnamon stick. Is it possibly overspiced? Maybe it is. I enjoyed every moment of it except for the three or four when I was asking myself that question. 7.5/10.

NINKASI BREWING – “SLEIGH'R” – They call this one a “dark double alt” and I couldn’t resist, even though of the three NINKASI BREWING beers I’ve tried, only one – “Tricerahops” – was above average (and that one was way above). This has all the ingredients of the classic Christmas beer – nutmeg and spice, dark roasted cocoa taste, but its thin-ish body left me wanting something with a little more oomph. This, alas, wasn’t it. 6.5/10.

ANCHOR BREWING – “OUR SPECIAL ALE 2010” – In San Francisco, where I live, the annual Anchor Brewing “Our Special Ale” is a rite of passage into the new year. You’re just not complete until you’ve tried this year's formulation. More often than not, it’s excellent and sometimes revelatory. Lately it seems to be slipping a bit, however, and 2010’s the worst in recent memory. A bland, uninspiring malt bomb with only a hint of spicing, thin body and even a little aspirin in the aftertaste. What just happened? 4.5/10.

So it’s THE BRUERY in the early rounds for Xmas beer-off 2010. Watch this space for a report on Rounds 2 and 3 as the true drinking season commences.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


It’s sort of incongruent with my growing dependence on pop music (and my back-breaking “back catalog” record, CD and mp3 collection), but one of my favorite bands right now is the trippy dub/psych/jamz duo THE FABULOUS DIAMONDS. Their debut LP in 2008 on Siltbreeze was a stripped-down, echo-laden keyboard-and-drum fest more in line with Augustus Pablo and the 70s dubbers than with anything “modern” – although there was no mistaking them for a rock and roll band. Theirs is a minimalist sound that washes over you in lines and color, repeating itself in earworms that you’d rather take with you than flush out. I was wondering when they’d be getting around to making a new record for me.

“FABULOUS DIAMONDS II” is more lush and noisy than its predecessor, but it’s every bit as good. They don’t pull (or push) any punches in song titling either – each song’s length is its name, (i.e. “12 mins 15 secs” is the number that kicks things off). If you’re a partisan for synth- or keyboard driven pre-punk bands like SUICIDE and SILVER APPLES, I’m guessing you’ll find a lot to love here – but so will the space rockers, dubheads and FALL fans. There a lot of chant-like incantations over the groove, which lyrically won’t make sense to anyone besides the two Australians who are chanting them. To say it’s “hypnotic” is not to succumb to a cliché, because music this repetitious and stretched-out is by definition hypnotic if you’ve already decided to hang on for the ride. In only one place does the band start pooping around too much, and that’s the closing track, which repeats stabbing keyboard noise for about 90%, and when it finally softens a bit to let something resembling a song in, the thing’s over. Bo-ring. But that’s one bum note in a record that doesn’t have any others. I saw them live in 2008 and they were outstanding – let’s hope they can make the trip over from Down Under again and deliver us to the astral plane yet again.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


As I understand it, there’s a new TV program on the Discovery Channel called “BREW MASTERS” that is a beer-centric version of Anthony Bordain’s shows, in which Dogfish Head Brewing’s Sam Calagione travels the globe to create new, increasingly wilder beers using lost or local ingredients. I had heard some whispers of this a while ago; it debuted this past Sunday, and THE DRUNKEN POLACK already has a review – not just of the show, but of the very beer we’re going to be discussing today. I Tivo’ed the program and will likely dig into it over this Thanksgiving holiday. The first episode concerns this very beer, the very limited and very hyped BITCHES BREW.

We can tackle this from all sorts of angles. I can tell you how I think the original Miles Davis record this beer was named after is more than a little overrated, and then you can go into the comments and tell me, “no wayy mang, u r so stupid get ur head out of ur ass”. We can talk about the release of this beer, which was quick and merciless. I think some may still be around, but you’re going to have to hunt – especially after the Discovery Channel show. I bought mine a couple of months ago, made a special trip to CITY BEER in San Francisco just to do so – and they told me I was getting one of the last 2 or 3.

Or – how about this – let’s talk about the beer itself. BITCHES BREW caught me off guard a little. Since it’s made with “honey and gesho”, whatever gesho is, I was expecting a light golden ale. Out comes tumbling an inky, deep black roasted ale that gives off strong indications of hot cocoa and chocolate. There’s some sweetness, and yes, there’s a honey taste as well. This medium-bodied bodice-ripper is right in the Russian Imperial Stout wheelhouse – a big 9% ABV, jet-black and uber-powerful – yet still something experimental and different. Extremely malty, like a milk (not dark) chocolate malt, really smooth, and hey, there really are some mysterious ancient ingredient secrets buried in here. I’m all over this one. 8/10.

Monday, November 22, 2010


I’m not going to implore you to watch this fun trifle of a film on its cinematic merits - but that said, I’m also not going to get all uppity and pretend that I didn’t really enjoy what was essentially a blockbuster-y superhero movie (or perhaps a parody of same). No, it’s really not something that’s much of a cry from certain other good-vs.-evil adaptations of Marvel and DC Comics. In many ways, “KICK-ASS” reminded me of the Spider Man films, two of which I’ve actually seen. You can’t get that time back once you’ve spent it, can you? Sigh. This one has a picked-on kid who takes matters into his own hands, tries to become super, fails, but gets caught up fighting bad guys anyway, with a big climactic denouement that takes place in a skyscraper, with superheroes soaring through the air in triumph at the end.

No, “KICK-ASS” probably doesn’t stand up for eternity if not for one character, and a far-reaching decision made by the filmmakers. They cast little Chloe Grace Moretz, an 11-year-old pixie who looks like an 11-year-old pixie, into the scene-stealing role of “Hit Girl”, a fantastically violent, horrifically foul-mouthed whirling dervish who pretty much annihilates anything she fights. I read about it beforehand, but it was funnier than anything I imagined. Her first real fight scene is so good I’m going to post a video link to it here. Hit Girl surprises the pretend superhero “Kick Ass” by rescuing him from certain death at the hands of a drug gang. She kicks off her frenzy of garroting, limb-slashing and head-lopping with a what-did-she-just-say, "Okay, you cunts. Let's see what you can do now!". Then she lets loose to the sound of The Dickies’ version of “The Banana Splits Theme”. I think I may have piddled my pants during this particular scene.

Later, when the naïve and dumbfounded “Kick Ass” asks how he can find her in case he needs help again, she mockingly tells him, “You just contact the mayor's office. He has a special signal he shines in the sky. It's in the shape of a giant cock”. It’s funny just writing it – just imagine it coming out of the mouth of an 11-year-old girl who has just flayed several gangsters to a violent, bleeding death. When she’s on screen, this film is great. Otherwise, it’s still kinda fun. Hedonist Jive thinks you might want to check it out.

Saturday, November 20, 2010


If I could vainly flatter myself with an all-purpose descriptor of my worldview, I’d probably have busted out something along the lines of “I’m a, uh, rational optimist” before the release of this book. The “rational” part of my character is certainly open for debate, and I’ve certainly been party to sky-is-falling pessimism at times. Yet when I saw this book on the shelves a few months ago, it took only a minute of thumbing through it to know it was coming home with me. And to find out that the science writer Matt Ridley, the guy behind other books on evolution I’ve been wanting to read ("Genome" and "The Red Queen"), was the author – well, it sealed the deal. I have long maintained – thankfully on the basis of acres and acres of evidence – that the lot and fate of mankind is rapidly and dramatically improving. This book takes in the great sweep of human history, and lays the cultural and economic groundwork for why.

In two words, we humans engendered a quantum leap in our collective well being thanks to two concepts that we eventually stumbled onto: specialization, and trade. We fast separated ourselves from lower life forms as a result. Ridley makes a case so convincing for these two facets of human behavior as being central to our rising prosperity that I truly can’t imagine what the rebuttal might be. Markets are the dominant force in human progress, and have been for hundreds of years. Gains come from exchange of goods and services, which make possible gains from specialization in the creation of those goods and services (your talents are traded for some of my talents until we each have things we couldn’t otherwise make ourselves), which in turn make possible technological innovation. In other words, my quote-unquote specialized expertise in marketing high technology products (!), and the products that are purchased as a result, is traded for the specialization of others in medicine, art creation, home building, food production and so on. The less friction applied to these exchanges, the better off we are on both an individual and on a collective basis. Like, duh - right?

This self-evident fact has a long history of struggle with those who’ve seeked to control and plan markets - emperors, dictators and central planning-driven governments - and with those who’ve looked at rising prosperity and living standards and still found nothing but some new disaster lurking around the corner. Or worse, looked at modern life in all of its dynamic complexity, and found it easier to over exaggerate an idyllic time when people were all self-sufficient in catering to their own needs from their own back-breaking efforts, and were far more happy as a result. As the British Ridley says a few times in this book, “Balderdash”. Someone has probably written a book about the often self-sabotaging and pessimistic nature of humanity and how it fits into the larger evolutionary pattern, and if so, I’d like to read it.

Ridley does not discuss something that I’ve also long believed, that our rising standard of living, and the resulting better food nutrition that comes from it, has also helped human to evolve bigger and higher-functioning brains – which continues to perpetuate our collective prosperity and growth as a species. Our innovation perpetuates itself into greater innovation, in search of outsized gains from specialization and trade, and one of the greatest things our chattering classes could do is to embrace this creative destruction and just what it has done for the West and large portions of the East.

If you think this book is just another survival of the fittest libertarian jerk-fest (it’s not in the least - its scope is as wide as human history itself), or have heard that it’s a climate change denial book, let me say that it’s not – though it does convincingly pour water on worst-case scenarios of all stripes and sizes. This is a first class book of social science, arguing with facts and logic on how we got to be so prosperous and healthy as a people, why that pace is accelerating all over the world, and what we as a species can do to make sure it continues to do so in Africa and elsewhere. Definitely one of the best books I’ve read this year and something that I can see changing and/or strengthening a lot of deeply-held worldviews.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


We beer fiends live for the thrill of the hunt, and for the fulfillment of that hunt with treasures that we know are once in a lifetime. You may know of Tampa, FL’s CIGAR CITY BREWING; I certainly do, mostly be reputation. This is a brewer who started out making beers on the proverbial edge of brewing experimentation, and delivered a marketing strategy based on barrel aging and scarcity. Their “Humidor Series” has made many a beer pilgrim weep with unbridled joy. Me, I’ve tried two of their beers so far, both in New York or thanks to the kindness of New Yorkers – JAI ALAI IPA and IMPROVISACION. Both big and beautiful, and both scoring a 7.5 on the HJ scale.

This one also came to me in a trade with MCM, a New York denizen who has supplied me with some of my best east coast discoveries to date. It’s called 110K + OT, BATCH #3 – and according to Beer Advocate, it’s supposed to be a West Coast-style IPA. No friggin’ way. Sure, take a look at my photo – it looks like one: still, silent, thin-headed and a little deadly. And oh yes, it’s very hoppy. But this deep copper brown ale trends far more heavily into the oaked-up, sweet caramel realm – no, make that salty caramels, cooked for hours in a vat full of delicious booze. Yum. It’s a total tongue coater, leaving your taste buds covered in a thick, hearty oak syrup. True genius, made in a small batch one time – and never again. Beers like this is why I’ve turned beer consumption into my most dorkified hobby. 8.5/10.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


We’ve been out of commission here at The Hedonist Jive for nearly a month now, and though we’d ease back in with a beer review of whatever the most recent thing was that we’d tasted. Where have we been, you ask? Where do we start. Work, mostly. Home, a lot of the time – mostly for sleep. I ran a half marathon this past weekend, so there’s that. My reward beer Sunday evening was EERWAARDE PATER, a strong and dark Belgian brown from the heretofore unbeknownst BROUWERIJ HET ALTERNATIEF from Izegem, Belgium. “Alternatief”? Alternatief to what? Let’s find out.

My 7-year-old son says to me, after seeing me repeatedly haul out 22-ounce bombers of rarified ale for solo drinking these past few years, “Wow Dad, that’s a small beer”. I guess I felt a little funny after he said that, and almost went down and pulled up another one. This comes in an 11.2-ounce bottle and was indeed someone of an alternatief to most beers I’ve tried recently. While it’s a brown ale matured in oak barrels, it has some of the heaviest, most acidic fermentation I’ve tasted in years. Are you familiar with kombucha? It’s that sort of acidity – and I’m not saying it’s bad. Perhaps it’s even good for digestion. Tastes are of brown sugar, oak and some maple – and I know there are a lot of foamy beers out there, but this was totally extreme. It’s a live one! Interesting and different, and something that you can probably find in the US at a store with a good Belgian beer selection. 7/10.