Wednesday, April 27, 2011


I've decided, after several years of ponderance, that the Belgian beer style known as the "dubbel" is, in fact, the finest beer style known to man. This utterance is not without some informed research. No, I have been enjoying dubbels like ST. BERNARDUS PRIOR 8 and CAPTAIN LAWRENCE ST. VINCENT'S DUBBEL for as long as I've been seriously contemplating beer, which began shortly before I started writing about it in early 2006. (Mind you, I've been ingesting fine ales for two decades now, but only dorking out about it for five years or so). But it was only recently, while sipping and contemplating the refined glory of an EMELISSE DUBBEL, that I had the good idea - the epiphany, really - to actually make a sport out of hunting down and drinking all the great dubbels of the world. All of them!

Well, not all of them. Calmer heads prevailed - mine, when I sobered up - and I decided to instead tackle Beer Advocate's Top 10 dubbels that I think I can find. No, this isn't the post where I review them. I haven't even started yet. The goal is to find, trap and then drink each of these in the very near future - and then report my findings. Will the candi-sugar, spiced and malty glory of the Belgian dubbel still be quite as figuratively intoxicating as it is today? We shall find out, my friends. We shall find out together. Onward!

Here are the 10 best dubbels, as rated by Beer Advocate readers, that I can actually find and therefore include in this survey:

1. EMELISSE DUBBEL (I get to have another one!)

That's my shopping list. 7 Belgians, 2 Americans and a Dutch. Only three I've never had before. And oh, I might actually sneak a few more dubbels into the "project", depending on what I can find. Stay tuned and watch this space for the results.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


Violent sectarian war between Protestants and Catholics in Ireland was totally baffling to me as a kid. I grew up as IRA and UDA partisans were blowing each other and everyone around them to bits in Northern Ireland, and, not knowing the ancient and impenetrable hatreds that self-perpetuated and multiplied over the centuries, it struck this American as colossally stupid. Two sets of Jesus-lovers killing each other ad nauseum and to no real end! Turns out that having these hatreds play themselves out in violent fashion right before your very eyes is no more illuminating, as journalist KEVIN MYERS' outstanding memoir from these times, "Watching The Door - Drinking Up, Getting Down and Cheating Death in 1970s Belfast", makes abundantly clear.

Sure, the Catholics of the time would tell you they had proximate cause - the presence of British troops in Northern Ireland - as would the Protestant defenders of the status quo, especially once the bombs really started exploding in the early 1970s. Myers, an Irishman brought up in England, came "back" to Belfast in 1971 as an exceptionally low-paid newspaper and magazine writer to document what he and just about everyone else thought would be a short set of over-and-done skirmishes. Yet Myers ended up becoming such a part of The Troubles themselves that he met everyone, drank with everyone, was threatened with death by just about everyone, and was one man among few who got this close and actually escaped with his life. His memoir is absolutely riveting. Myers lived a reckless existence, the sort of hard living that war correspondents through the years have worn on their sleeves with pride. He was an early 20s young male interested primarily in women and drink, and secondly and I think halfheartedly, in the vogue Leftist politics that at that time very much identified themselves with the IRA cause. But mostly women, drink and excitement of all stripes.

Myers' abundant self-effacing humor and sense of pacing really make this book. Quickly, after some harrowing and up-close views of death, including a British solider shot and killed in front of him, he has the pulse-quickening realization that he actually likes this line of work, and he retroactively documents the follies and heedlessness of his youth - untold amounts of drink, nameless sex with nameless girls, and a sickening amount of death, all rolled up into one big imperial pint glass of recklessness. Myers was barely even working, truth be told, and could have easily left Belfast at any time. Yet he bought a house, albeit one that lost half of its value very quickly after it became identified as being in a bomb- and killing-ridden section of town.

That was the thing that I learned from this book - just how hideously bad this war was. I knew there were senseless IRA incidents, but I didn't know just how many people were murdered in places like Belfast and Londonderry and Armaugh during the 1970s, and just how often they were murdered simply for walking down the street or for purportedly talking to the wrong person. Myers gives them all their names, names that otherwise would be forgotten to most historians, and does his best at each turn to humanize the needlessly dead and the impact of their deaths upon their families. At least he does this with the innocents; he also eviscerates the guilty and their stupidities with much wit and mocking, and in retrospects suffers absolutely none of the many appalling fools he comes across. My favorite part was when he described the Irish dockworkers who were upset that a Japanese company had bought a port from an Irish company, particularly one who dismissed the entire transaction with, "Fuck the Japanese. Them's all Chinamen anyway".

Yes, in many ways it's a growing-up story. We all have youths typically more colorful than our truly adult years, some of us more than others. Certainly Myers "grew up" fairly dramatically, formed by the searing traumas of his 20s. I was in Rome last month on vacation, where I read this book, and ran into some late-fifties Irish women in the Catacombs on a tour & asked one where she was from. "Belfast", she told me, less than 24 hours after I'd finished this book, which chronicled what was no doubt the horrific backdrop of her youth as well. Naturally I had to burble and sputter about this great book I'd read, and she proceeded to lay out the miseries that she, and what turned out to be her accompanying sister and cousin, had witnessed. A husband blown up here, a cousin shot there; a house firebombed next door here, a killing in front of their house there.

Then I told her that the writer's name was Kevin Myers. "Aye, Kevin Myers, oh boy, that's too bad, he's a right-wing nutter, he is". I learned that evening with some internet research that Myers, now a regular columnist for the Irish Independent, is indeed a bit more conservative than he was in his youth. Aren't we all, right? I read some of his columns, and they have all of the opinionated, humorous and learned bluster of this book - and then I liked him even more. Put it this way - if you appreciate Christopher Hitchens, who is the man who steered me to this book via a shout-out in his "HITCH-22", you'll love this similar Left-to-Right conversion story, which takes place in a backdrop considerably more dangerous & maddening than anything even the well-traveled Hitchens experienced in his own memoir.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


The alternative culture that I was fake-soaking in for much of my teenage and young adult life continues to make its way to the documentary screen as its participants begin the "genuflection" stage of their lives. This excellent film focuses on the weird Kuchar-level outsider film scene that grew up around punk rock in New York’s East Village from about 1976-1985, and as such, predates any active involvement I myself might have had in consuming it. I was seeing provocatively ugly & humorous R. Kern and Nick Zedd 1980s short films like “You Killed Me First”, “They Eat Scum” and “Right Side of My Brain” on friends’ couches in college right after the time period covered by this movie; the more remarkable story are the seventies filmmakers who worked in the punk and no-wave era, and even took part in the bands themselves amidst a bankrupt New York of legendary squalor and lawlessness.

1970s New York is always an endless source of fascination for me, whether it’s an ESPN documentary on the 1977 Yankees, Patti Smith’s recent memoir, a Lindsay/Koch/Dinkins/Giuliani book or Amos Poe’s CBGB documentary “Blank Generation”. It’s truly phenomenal to look at the broken-down, trash-strewn Greenwich Village of only thirty or so years ago, to say nothing of “53rd and 3rd” (now home of the beautiful Time Warner building, and down the street from Bloomberg), and compare it to the NYC of today. Only people who weren’t living in both epochs in Manhattan, or the deliberately delusional, can truly bemoan the loss of “old 70s New York”. Poe himself was at the screening I attended, and the inevitable question came from the audience after the film about how he feels about New York today, with the subtext being a great big snarky opening the questioner left for Poe to rail about yuppies, money and safety. He reminded the audience of how much he prefers the safety and sanity of modern NYC, even if the most dangerous thing that can happen now is “getting your foot run over by a stroller”. I was happy for his candor and willingness to stay away from cheap point-scoring, though I’m sure it disappointed the questioner.

“BLANK CITY” is a beautifully-edited film, with thousands upon thousands of snippets from the deeply underground punk films of the era. Thankfully, many of the era’s participants are still very much alive – perhaps more than I’d imagined – so there’s great commentary throughout from Ann Magnuson, Nick Zedd, Lizzie Borden, Jim Jarmusch, Lydia Lunch, John Lurie, Beth B and Scott B, Lung Leg, Richard Kern, Charlie Ahern and even Fab 5 Freddy and Debbie Harry. The picture given is a film scene born of complete poverty and artistic vitality, along with much intermingling between musicians, directors and “actors”. Quote marks are used here because one of the main tenants of this scene was the use of non-actors, along with a dedication to debauchery, excess and an uber-aggressive assault on the mores of the time.

At first, the films were made with borrowed cameras, shot in a day and distributed amongst friends. It remained that way for some time, and many of these trash-works were only discovered several years down the line as the participants found greater infamy as “real” actors (Steve Buscemi, Vincent Gallo, John Lurie) or as musicians (Lydia Lunch, who was omnipresent in just about every area of Lower East Side subculture). Eventually a movie house called NEW CINEMA opened up in NYC that catered to these films, and the home video revolution a few years later allowed some of them – most notably the shocking Zedd and Kern films – to make their way to college couches across the USA.

I would be remiss if I didn’t weigh in a little on the actual content of the celebrated films featured in “BLANK CITY”. Having made a similar point in my piece about the Kuchar Brothers and their documentary, I think it’s important to note that broke twentysomethings with handheld cameras and transgressive notions about what constitutes cinematic art does not in itself constitute a watchable canon of films. On the contrary, most of these Super-8 snippets are abstract or drugged-out beyond absurdity, and feature clipped performances, sound abominations and a parade of wretched imagery expected from nihilistic artistes. You couldn’t pay me to sit through a day of these films, with the obvious exception of latter-day works like DOWNTOWN 81 and WILD STYLE, both of which I am chiding myself for never having seen. Watch “BLANK CITY”’s clips from loopy John Waters-knockoff films like “Rome 80” and tell me that you could stomach it better than I could. That’s one strong stomach you have there.

“BLANK CITY” has the power to truly allow you to overlook the actual content of the films and instead lets you revel in the decadence and artistic drive that got them made. It’s backed by a pulsating soundtrack of no-wave, early rap and CBGB punk from Mars, Theoretical Girls, Grandmaster Flash, Television and too many others to count. It’s a barrage of imagery for nearly two hours, and I left with a huge appreciation for the time period and the city, and for a scene that seems like it took place on another planet. It leads one to wonder where and how the next groundswell of creative energy will erupt, and whether it can truly meld art, music and film together the way these sub-Godard, sub-Waters scenemakers attempted to do. Big thumbs up if this comes to your town.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Yeah, so I announced a few weeks ago that me & the family went to Rome, Italy for 10 days, but I never really followed up on the pronouncement. No travel photos, nothing. Instead, I figured, since you're probably somewhat interested in beer & all, that you'd want to know what sort of imbibing goes on in Rome, much heralded of late as a craft beer mini-mecca. I'm here to report that yes, if you want to drink outstanding beer in Rome, you can. You need to look around a little more than you might in, say, New York or Portland, but if you do your homework in advance, you can get yourself to bars that serve oceans of Italian craft beer suds.

I found myself at the conveniently-named BIR & FUD, one of two raucous microbeer bars located right across the street from each other in Rome's cobblestoned Trastavere neighborhood. I wanted to try both, but instead parked my kiester on a stool at Bir & Fud for an evening and proceeded to wildly choose Italian beers I'd never heard of, or certainly ones I could never get back home. Did they hit "Belgian" or even "San Franciscan" quality levels? Let's break them down one by one:

BIRRA DEL BORGO ENKIR - A 6% abv saison from the superheroes who make the excellent EXTRA RE'ALE, which you may recall I reviewed here. Alas, this may have a strong taste and loads of delicious foam to blow off onto a scowling, American-hating Italian's shoulder, but it's missing the farmhouse funky fresh feel of a great saison. Too sweet for my britches. Or something. 5.5/10.

BIFFIFICIO RURALE SETA - Well what about this one then? Yeah, this hits the spot. A blonde ale that clocks in at a mere 4.9% alcohol. Carbonated pretty heavily, really fresh and something that probably would wash down a plate of cacio e pepe most fantastically. I was going gang busters on it before remembered to snap the photo you see above. 7/10.

LOVERBEER MADAMIN - I had to stop after this one (what, you think I'm a drunkard or something?), and unfortunately, this one night was my only foray into the dark heart of Italian beer. So why not make the last one a "Loverbeer", right? This is a Flanders red ale, sour and foamy and (again) really fresh-tasting - and yet a far cry from Belgium. It's like - the Italians just arrived at good beer after decades of producing swill. Rather than build slowly, they leapt right into the tough stuff - Flanders red ales, highly-hopped American IPAs, dubbels and whatnot. So comparing their wares to those of the Masters, with their hundreds-of-years head start, is certainly not "fair". At the end of the day, you've still got to assign a score - and with an extra .5 thrown in for gumption, I give this a 6.5/10.

Would be very interested if anyone in the reading audience has any Italian ales they'd like to give a shout-out to. I'm new at this game, the Italian good beer game - just like they are.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


It could have been a car, a mistress or I could have started a band. Instead, four years ago I immersed myself in the most intense bout of athletic activity I'd ever mustered in my then-39 years of life, and somehow, it's only grown in intensity since then. Sure, I played some Little League and some soccer as a young lad, and have been an outstanding armchair student of professional sports my whole life. I've even had waxing and waning gym memberships over the years, and some years I even got my money's worth. Yet running - throw-the-shoes-on and go-out-style running - has been a true midlife salvation, particularly as it counteracts what my severely declining metabolism, moderate-to-heavy craft beer intake and morning bagel obsession would otherwise have wrought.

If it's truly a midlife crisis, then I have to admit it's one I'm pretty happy about. I'm running 20+ miles a week and "competing" (well, against myself) in sanctioned races at least once every two months. I ran my first Half-Marathon in November, and survived. A marathon, once totally unthinkable, is actually starting to appear thinkable. For a skinny yet at-times doughy, uncoordinated non-athlete who shunned jockitude for much of his life, this running thing's been pretty revelatory and one of my favorite things to do every week, painful as it often is. I mean, it took a while, but I'm actually kinda good at it now. All things being relative of course. The other day I ran a sanctioned 10K along San Francisco's Embarcadero, and despite finishing right behind a shirtless, hairy-backed, sixtysomething little wisp of an old man, I pulled down a time of 49:53, which effectively had me at just over 8 minutes a mile. Of course I was gunning it, and my heart was about to leap out of my chest at the end, but it was intensely gratifying on a personal level when I clocked in below the psychological fifty-minute barrier, and at 43 years of age no less. Of course it meant nothing - simply that the hours I'm putting in every week are their own reward. I guess.

Now that I've been thoroughly exposed to the subculture of runners, there are many things that have me bemused. For instance, some of the pseudoscience and old wives' tales that seem to surround the sport, and how seriously people seem to take them. After my first race in 2008, a 10K (6.2 mile) race from AT&T Park in San Francisco to Candlestick Park, I remember seeing runners who'd just finished the race at 10am streaming to the post-race pasta table, loading up their plates to the sky with piles of "carbs" and wolfling them down with gusto. This after a mere 6-mile race that took all of 50 minutes to finish. Wow, you well-conditioned athletes must be really depleted! Then there's the people running down the street who bounce in place and jump to the heavens while at stoplights, lest they mar any momentum they had toward whatever it was they were chasing. Seriously, if anyone ever sees me do that in public, you have permission to flog me at will. I find it embarassing enough to stretch my pasty-white legs before an audience, let alone bob around like I'm fit as a fiddle. Oh, there's also the constant "wooooooooo" you hear at a race from the sidelines and even from other runners by your sides, with people clanging cowbells and screaming at you to "come on, you can dooooooo it!!". Is it possible to love and loath something at the same time? I believe it is.

Another reason I took up running is easily proven by my previous two posts. My love for good beer didn't precisely coincide with my desire to "run for health", but the two are intricately linked. If I weren't drinking, I might not be running. If I weren't running, I can almost certainly say I wouldn't be drinking. If given the choice between one or the other - and this is a tough one - I'd forgo drinking entirely. I'm serious. It's either that or the fat farm for me, because I'm just not going to "diet" the way some people seem to be able to. I'm fortunate enough to keep my weekly beers in the 2-5 range, and my enthusiasm for drinking for drinking's sake has almost completely disappeared. I admit that replacing such a passion, to say nothing of my lifelong music obsession that's truly fallen by the wayside, with sneakers and distance running strikes me as exceptionally uncool as well. But it is what it is.

Running is definitely a "know thyself" kind of sport. I've now figured out how to prevent the two injuries I've had, the foot pain known as plantar faciitis and a knee-area injury known as IT band inflammation. Both were painful and nearly had me give up the whole activity - yeah, there are always tempting reasons - but now I'm pretty sure I know how to avoid them in the future, or fix them quickly if they reappear. I've also figured out over the course of 4 years that I hate running with headphones; I thoroughly dislike treadmills or any kind of indoor running; I need to be fully, uh, excreted before I head out for a run lest disaster strike; I'll run in a full downpour if that's what it takes; I do my best to avoid any "walking" or "jogging"; I usually don't like running with other people; and that it's best to torch your running clothes after eight months or so of running in them, lest you bring your barnyard funk out into public every time you run.

My favorite way of going about my routine is to pick a distance I want to accomplish, set up my distance-tracking GPS watch (a recent splurge), and then spontaneously make up some route I've never done before. I've seen weird corners of San Francisco this way, along with some cool business trip or vacation runs in places like Seattle, Atlanta, New York City; Kansas City; and Bend. Oregon. I know there's some residue of Type A personality in my DNA that compels me to do this, and it also ensures that once I've picked a distance - say, 7 miles - I'm going to complete that distance, no matter what. When I've had insomnia I've run with the late night/early morning raccoons in my neighborhood, and once encountered a possum glowering at me in the distance. I also tripped over my own untied shoelaces that first year, cutting up my palms and the side of my leg pretty badly. Of course I played it hard for sympathy back at home, and made sure to "triple tie" every run thereafter.

Next up is this thing called THE RELAY that I've doing with some people from my work. It's a race from Calistoga in California's wine country, down to Santa Cruz, which is about 90 minutes south of San Francisco. No, I'm not running the whole thing. I get three legs of roughly 7 miles each (20.1 miles total, to be exact), run over the course of less than 48 hours, including in the dead of night. What kind of masochistic idiot would run something like this? Uh, someone dealing with "the middle years" with the usual obsessive/compulsive behavior that seems to have defined an entire life.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


If you talk to sour beer dorks, and counterintuitively, their legion is growing rapidly, you'll hear a lot of hootenannying about "THE RED POPPY" from Southern California's LOST ABBEY. Oh it's sour all right. I'm even drinking it as I type this review. I was introduced to it by a couple of friends who'd gotten their hands on one of the limited batch of bottles that came out last month, and they gave me the lowdown on how to find my own bottle without selling a kidney to get it. "Just go to the Potrero Hill Whole Foods - they got a whole palate of 'em", I was told. This, after trying that same day to procure one at one of those specialty beer stores I frequent, a store that sold out of their allotment of THE RED POPPY in like an hour. I scored one at the aforementioned grocery store, and, well, here we are.

Like I said, its reputation preceeds it. I still count the easily-found MONK'S CAFE FLEMISH SOUR ALE as my personal favorite sour beer, along with a host of RUSSIAN RIVER BREWING masterpieces like "Temptation" - but it's truly hard to argue with an ale this well-made. Its rarity may be what gets tongues flapping, but you and I know there are plenty of rare beers. This one actually delivers, with a strong dose of sour cherries and that oaked, musky undertone that Lost Abbey has perfected in so many of their barrel-aged beers. I mean, you don't have to have the most sophisticated set of taste buds to notice right off the bat how fresh and delicious this is, even as you're reeling a bit from the puckering that comes from one of these "barnyard beers". You may taste almonds, tart cherries, dark fruits and even a little sweetness way off in the ether somewhere. Sweetness! It's one of those instances where I feel I got my $16.99's worth for only a mere 12.7 ounces. That price/quality ratio equation was the goal, and tonight I'm happy to announce: mission accomplished in spades. 9/10.

Monday, April 11, 2011


One thing about DOGFISH HEAD BREWING - they of their own Discovery Channel TV program "Brew Masters" - they don't stand in one place for too long. They rightly deserve their place in the hallowed pantheon of master American brewers for their lifelong commitment to experimentation and excellent beermaking with decidedly bizarro ingredients. That's why we love 'em.

This one's not as "off-centered" as some of their others. "RED & WHITE" comes in a beautifully-labeled bottle that says "fancy-schmancy" from the word go. As it turns out, it's a simple Belgian-style witbier at heart - orange, coriander and lots of yeast. The curveball is the (heavy) introduction of pinot noir grapes into the mix. Let's put it this way - you're not going to miss 'em. This is a very wine-like beer, with all the carbonation and frothiness of a true craft ale. And funny thing, it taste like a white zinfandel or other white wine to me than it does pinot - but what the hell do I know? It's quite a thin - and as you can see here, foamy - beer, but it's ultra-complex and another win from the Delaware destroyers. Hedonist Jive did a little soul-searching before settling on a respectable 7/10.

Friday, April 8, 2011


Patti Smith’s excellent bestseller about her young adulthood & deep relationship with the artist Robert Mapplethorpe shows just how far she’s evolved over the decades both in perspective and in her ability to write true prose. I’ll admit that when the book came out I passed it by simply due to the fear that she was still overwriting in that beat-generation bohemian stream of consciousness style, as she did in the mid-70s. Then my wife started reading it and initially confirmed some of my worst fears by reading egregious passages aloud (“His name was Cherokee, and he had one foot on the ground and another in the Milky Way”). Fear not. “JUST KIDS” is truly one of the most moving, revealing and even inspirational books I’ve read in some time. Far from wallowing in ego, Smith, with the perspective of nearly 45 years from the book’s autobiographical starting point, shows the fragility and intense artistic drive of her and Mapplethorpe’s youth, and how the two of them sustained each other as lovers, muses and artists despite some pretty significant obstacles – Mapplethorpe’s drug use and homosexuality among them.

It’s hard not to be moved by the story. By the end, which culminates in Mapplethorpe’s death from AIDS and Smith’s promise at his deathbed urging to “tell their story”, as she has in this book, I’ll admit to some serious welling up. Mostly I was taken with their growing-up tale, and the way Smith uses short, compact, clipped sentences to tell it. These are two kids, each barely 20 years old, who found each other by happenstance when they each arrived in New York City in 1969, completely broke and in Smith's case, so bereft of connections or money that she was sleeping in public parks in the middle of Manhattan. Both recognized early on that, in this most countercultural of times, all they wanted to do was create art - abstract, ornamental and often sacriligious art for at least their first two years, before they found their individual distinct paths as poet and photographer respectively.

Mapplethorpe and Smith were more or less instant lovers who lived together, and essentially spent every hour not spent working on non-art jobs together. I was sucked in at the recounting of each individual's search for their essential selves in both art and in life. Smith, who didn't drink nor do drugs and who worked a normal 9-5 job in a bookstore to support the couple, was able to unhinder her artistic energies as a result, though it's pretty clear that Mapplethorpe developed faster as a true "artist" despite his depression, lack of focus and often destructive behavior. By the time she'd found herself as the quote-unquote punk poet we know her to be from her 1975-79 albums, Mapplethorpe had already developed a pretty significant body of photographic work - such that it is. He only truly gained artistic fame for his S&M photography and dark, transgressive imagery at the end of his life and after his death. The story of the non-stereotypically "gay" Mapplethorpe trying to tell Smith that he needed to go to San Francisco's Castro district in the early 70s to "figure things out", and her complete inability to understand what he was talking about, is pretty telling at the bond that these two shared. She could not even imagine it could be severed - and the book makes it clear that it really never was.

"JUST KIDS" paints these two as the ultimate risk-taking bohemians, and what sleazy New York City life was like in the pre-punk rock intersections of art and music, even when dirt-poor. Wildly fun if you were in the right places - like living in the Chelsea Hotel down the hall from eccentric oddball music curator Harry Smith, as these two were. I admire Patti Smith's modesty about herself and her development - she truly comes across as a wonderful person who has probably meant a great deal to the people in her life. I quibble a bit with some of the namedropping of famous acquaintances like William S. Burroughs and Janis Joplin, which seem a little perfunctory, but granted, meeting your heroes must've been a pretty big thrill - I just wish she'd balanced the book a little with more true tales of non-famous friends and acquiantances. In the next book, perhaps. I hope she has a few more in her - she's lived quite a life.

Monday, April 4, 2011


Recently, The Hedonist Jive took in some edifying documentary filmmaking in hopes of getting edified ourselves. As it turned out, the three most recent films we saw of the documentary persuasion were all quite good, and all came out in 2010 & have recently come to DVD/download. If you don't mind, I'd like to tell you about them here.

"THE TILLMAN STORY" - Remember when Pat Tillman, ex-NFL star, died in Afghanistan bravely protecting his Army Ranger unit from Taliban fire? Yeah, didn't happen. This well-paced documentary pieces together how his grieving family themselves pieced together how Tillman's death by bungled "friendly fire" was badly mismanaged by the US government in hopes of scoring a public relations coup off of the handsome, charismatic Tillman. While not the most outrageous government cover-up of all time by any stretch, it's hard not to sympathize with his immediate family, a rough-hewn, curse-a-lot bunch who lived only a few miles from my boyhood home in San Jose. Tillman's wife was even visited by military officials during her grieving in hopes of overriding Tillman's explicit wish to not have a big-deal, press-heavy military funeral in case he died. Another head-shaking chapter from a very strange recent era of warmaking. B+

"JOAN RIVERS - A PIECE OF WORK" - Joan Rivers, likable. Who knew? This "revealing documentary" follows the plastic surgery disaster herself as she hustles and sells her talents like the true Type-A personality she is. Nothing much happens, except you get to experience what it's like to have been a "something" years after mainstream audiences have stopped caring. Rivers doesn't like that. She's got the gays in her pocket, sure, as well as anyone who loves bitchy comedy with a raw, raunch-filled mean streak. She's also got a lot more self-awareness and character than I ever imagined, and she's pretty unflinchingly vulnerable in what I found to be a very enjoyable look at her seventysomething world. A-

"WAITING FOR SUPERMAN" - As an avowed opponent of the status quo in government-run schools, I'd been wanting to see this for months. It's the documentary that more than any single factor - "Race To The Top", Michelle Rhee, teachers' union self-sabotage - has helped to finally bring America around to the roots of our decades-long slide in public education. As it turns out, I think "THE LOTTERY", which mines similar territory, is actually the better, more dramatic film, and it pissed me off even more than this one did - but "Waiting For Superman" is the big-budget, let's-break-it-all-down for you primer course for what's wrong, what's working and what still needs to be done. I challenge all union supporters and head-in-the-sanders to see this and not be moved and angered at how poorly the United States is serving itself by holding its kids hostage to the job-security needs of adults. There are alternatives - good ones - and I'm not talking about pulling dollar bills out of a mattress for exorbitant private schools. I'd better cut this off here and grade this thing, because I feel a high-and-mighty rant coming on. B

Sunday, April 3, 2011


Also known as "BEER GEEK BACON", if you believe what you read on the internet. I continue to seek out different beers from Denmark's MIKKELLER simply because, high price notwithstanding, their ales are among the most experimental and consistent of just about any brewer going. At any moment you might be surpised with a new OMG this is my new favorite beer, as I recently was with their "RIS A LA M'ALE".

So it goes with "RAUCH GEEK BREAKFAST", which I mistakenly took to be one of those "meat beers" like the duly & deservedly celebrated AECHT SHLENKERLA RAUCHBIER, but which is instead more akin to a creamy, coffee-dosed oatmeal stout. Seriously folks, I'm not tasting any rauch action here. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, rauchbier is a German smoked ale that tastes of bacon, molasses and the marshmellows you drunkenly dropped into the campfire while the children cried (oh wait, that was me, not you). Especially the bacon. The head on this vanished almost before I could get my lips on the goods, and once ingested, I was both celebrating its delicious creamy imperial oatmeal stout goodness and scratching my head in search of some serious rauch. No matter, it's a fantastic beer from the Danish alchemists at Mikkeller. They're so hot hot hot distribution-wise right now their beers are even at every Whole Foods in town. Pick this one up if you've got some gumption. 8/10.