Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Tea Time with Sky Jack: The Love Episode

The Love Episode explores entropy, inertia, shutting down suitors, standing up dates, and repeat victimization.
Also available on iTunes, Google Music, Stitcher, and Spotify.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

What is the Peaky Blinders' Theme Song?

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds RED RIGHT HAND

I'm probably one of very few people who had heard of the Peaky Blinders before the show came out. I'd heard the name before whilst studying gangs of London. And I thought they were an East End gang. Turns out I was wrong, but the name got me interested enough to check out a new gangster show. I don't like gangster shows very much. They make me hate cops and feel like the world is a meaner place than it actually is.

But when I turned on this show ready to dislike it, a song came on that sent me back to 1996. Back then the coolest show on TV was called the X-Files. My brother and I loved it so much we bought the CD: Songs in the Key of X. I was already very into music, and I knew every name on the track list but one: RED RIGHT HAND by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

We were both immediately converted into life-long Nick Cave fans.

I even bought magazines that included free CD's compiled by Nick Cave. Nick Cave introduced me to PJ Harvey and Kylie Minogue and countless other artists. He's director, a musician, and artist; he's a renaissance man. And it was the X-Files that brought me to him. He even did the secret tracks on that album. It was a magical disc.

Anyway, I love the show; it's awful. It looks like someone watched Miller's Crossing and went nuts with blurry filters, so it looks beautiful. The writing is a kind of selective/convenient realism; people break bones and sweat and drool, but they also get shot with old-fashioned bullets and survive over and over again as if their shoulders are made of steel and the bullets are made of rubber. They can't decide what tone to take when it comes to victims of PTSD or the plight of the working class, London Jews, the IRA, and don't even get me started with women.

When it comes to women, the show's writers can't decide if women are rational agents, emotional tinder boxes, preposterous ex-machina plot devices, expository vessels, or sex toys.

There are two sisters in the Shelby family that can't seem to develop into real characters.

Polly was the secret brains of the operation in the beginning of the series, who kept the business profitable when the men were at war. That doesn't last long. By the second season she's hysterical, over-emotional and given to fits of rage. The other sister is a convenient communist and a black sheep but is easily corralled and used by her brother.

There's a secret agent love interest named Grace, but she wears out her welcome by the end of the second season. But there's also a horse trainer who is all business and seems like a better match for the tone of the story. That might not last long either, though.

The show has some major issues. It's derivative to the extreme. One can't watch it without being reminded of its predecessors--shows like the Black Donnelly's, movies like the Godfather trilogy, the Road to Perdition, Gangs of New York, etc. But the performances of Sam Neil and Cillian Murphy and the ensemble cast of rogues keep it interesting. . . and like I said, it's a very pretty show to look at. It's kind of like Deadwood that way. So if you're looking for an English version of Deadwood with slightly more inventive stories, Peaky Blinders is for you.

They sew razor blades into their peaked caps and swing them like scythes at their enemies!

And you can't beat the theme song. It's so good they sneak in various artists' covers of the song wherever they can.

Beautiful people in violent situations make for great TV. Also, if you like the Pynchonian approach of putting a little-talked-about historical period or event under a magnifying glass in order to investigate a microcosm standing in to take your questions about human nature, what better time than 1919-1925?

The flappers are dancing, the music is loud, the cars are the fastest thing anyone had ever seen. And it's all made modern with contemporary tropes and a great all-around soundtrack.

It's fun seeing 1921 Bugatti's and Ford's and Aston's driving around old cities carrying their own cans of gasoline for long journeys. It's fun to hear "we've just arrived at Heathrow [by boat]; it's just one more day 'til we're in London." It's fun to see people drink every time they meet anyone and smoke and cough their way through a day. And it's always fun to see the villains more virtuous than the cops and the Corleone-esque desire to make a legitimate go of it in a society invested in the established hierarchy.

Anyway, check out the show if you want, but definitely check out Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Pt. 1


I remember in 1995 the Flaming Lips were playing at the Peach Pit in Beverly Hills. At least, I remember when Beverly Hills 90210 featured the band in one of their episodes, and all the kids at Beverly High were stoked. I thought they were pretty good, and I didn't think about them much after that.

I moved to Germany when I was 19 years old in 1999.

When I was 26, a student at UC Berkeley, I hung out a lot in Oakland bars. At some point, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Pt 1 came on, and everyone was surprised I hadn't heard it. Their most successful album Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots had been released in 2002. I'd missed it abroad.

I instantly fell in love with the experimental psychedelic sound and the lyrics that seem to be saying one thing but meaning something entirely different.

My friends at the time were mostly artists and poets, people who maybe often feel like they are alone without anyone looking out for them. Maybe it was just me. Either way, my circle of friends took to singing the song at the tops of our lungs any chance we could. If there was a jukebox, we chose it. If we were closing down the bar, our friends behind it put this song on and sang along.

Here's what Billboard said about the album:

"beneath the sunny, computer-generated atmospherics and the campy veneer of talk about gladiator-style clashes between man and machines with emotions, Yoshimi is actually a somber rumination on love and survival in an unfathomable world."

During the chorus we'd choose someone to point at and sing that they wouldn't let the robots eat us. Every time we shouted "Oh Yoshimi!" we pointed at a new person until everyone was included. The robots are everywhere. They're programmed to destroy artists and writers or people who just care about anything in the indifferent universe. Sometimes, for fleeting moments, maybe you have a few Yoshimis around you who might take their vitamins, learn karate, and keep you safe. When those people are around, sing them a song. If you can't sing, just play them this.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

What's the Best Cheap Wine


The first time I heard the term Sommelier, was at a place called Club 33, a hidden club at Disneyland. His name was Pierre and he suffered me as a buser who asked too many questions. I learned more about drinks there than I would anywhere else.

I'd find out how to make drinks at the bar from a magical bartender named Lee, and I'd make them for my friends at home. But Pierre was more about wine and Cognac of course. He'd let us try a little bit each day to train us on what we were serving. And at the end of the night, if guests had left bottles not quite empty, we'd help ourselves to their leftovers. It was a great way to learn about wine.

Pierre was from some famous steakhouse in Texas, but he didn't have a Texas accent. He had a very posh American accent; he never said "y'all," but sometimes "you all." And I liked him a lot because he seemed to know everything I didn't but wasn't a manager and didn't lord it over me. My managers there were nice enough, but it was only the second time I'd worked in a real restaurant, and since we were all pretty young, they had a lot to do with training us; they had to be really hands-on.

So one day, I went to the supermarket and saw a bottle of Mondavi,and I bought it because I thought wow, this is the house wine at Club 33. This is really good stuff and it's on sale. I brought it home and shared it with my roommates and went on and on about how good this wine was and regaled them with all the things I knew.

They were sufficiently impressed.

I went into work the next day proud of my accomplishment and told Pierre. He looked at me sideways and asked which Mondavi I'd bought, and when I told him, he burst out laughing in my face.

Apparently CK Mondavi was the cheapest, bottom-of-the-line wine I could have bought. I didn't know anything about how much a bottle should cost or anything.

It took a while for the burn of that embarrassment to cool down--YEARS! I had to leave America a year later, travel the world, and come back to America, before I thought it was safe to drink ANYTHING from Mondavi again. But when there were hard times and I was broke as hell, I drank CK and let it remind me of a simpler, less weltschmerzy time.

CK Mondavi is available in a 1.5 L bottle for around $10.00, and it tastes as good as it did before I knew any better.

At the time this story took place, CK (Charles Krug) was owned by Peter Mondavi, who studied oenology at Berkeley. The vineyard was known mostly for mid-range affordable wine, and still is. Up the street about six miles, Robert Mondavi, Peter's brash brother who'd been forced out of the family business due to sibling rivalry, was busy making premium wine and using his family name and penchant for marketing (he and his brother both studied econ and business at Stanford)  to build an empire. In 1997, the brothers weren't talking except in court.

If you didn't know who Robert Mondavi was, he's the guy who really put Napa Valley on the map. He's also the reason why Americans (and now consequently most of the world) refer to wines by their varietal rather than their region names. For example a Beaujolais is a type of wine that refers to a very specific region. You'd have to know what grapes grow in that region to really know what grapes are in your Beaujolais-Villages (mostly Gamay).

Mondavi hated that because he wanted to grow whatever he wanted in Napa. He wanted the consumer to know what a Napa Cab tasted like versus a Cab from anywhere else, but he also wanted to grow Chard and even Sauvignon (Fume) Blanc blah blah blah. This isn't as controversial today as it once was. And many places were too far in to back up and do it like the Americans. Most people don't know what's in a glass of Champagne, for example. And most mortals don't have the faculties to remember every Italian grape varietal.

Anyway, he changed the global landscape and language of wine. And you can buy entry to that rich history for little more than the change in your pocket, and if you want to fly first class, Mondavi's got you covered there too with much pricier options.

Lee's blog »
In 2008, I ran into Lee at the Claremont in Oakland, and he remembered me 10 years later.

Last bit of Mondavi history I think is kind of important to mention:

A lot of people think of Robert Mondavi as a symbol of everything that's wrong with globalization, and they might be right. But I think it's much more interesting than just this current generation. Cesare Mondavi, the family patriarch, was an Italian immigrant who ran a fruit packing business that shipped grapes to the east coast during prohibition for illegal wine-making.

I don't think it's a stretch to say he was a mafioso bootlegger. Cesare was just really, really smart. He didn't run booze; he ran grapes. He put warnings on the grapes that essentially told people how not to make wine so that people could reverse the instructions and make wine at home. He dealt a lot with a company called Beringer in St Helena, CA, shipping "raisin cakes" and sacrament wine. Later he'd buy a vineyard named Charles Krug basically next door to Beringer, and plant the seed of global wine domination.

If they had been Irish instead of Italian, they'd probably have followed fellow-bootlegger Joe Kennedy into politics.

These powerful dynasties are not exclusively American, but the prohibition of alcohol certainly helped. I wonder what families we'll be talking about in 50 years who made their fortunes in the illegal drug trade.

Monday, February 12, 2018

I Have a Podcast Now: Tea Time with Sky Jack

This is my first attempt at a podcast. My plan is to drink tea and talk about things that interest me every week. Maybe it will be funny. Maybe it will be sad. Either way. It's my first one, and I hope you kind of like or at least enough to see if the next one is better.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Kendrick Lamar's Black Panther Masterpiece



If you weren't excited about Black Panther, this album, dropping a week early will get you in the mood. If you were already excited, this thing will get you PUMPED!

The first time I listened to it, my first thought was, how did they get Disney to agree to this? I imagine most conversations between directors and their studios go something like this:

Director: Can I please just do what I want and maintain creative control over the whole product?
Studio: NO!!!!

Studios haven't trusted directors since the '70's. Every once in a while, you get an auteur who sticks to his guns, but attached to a tent pole franchise? I don't think I've seen that since Lucas was still in charge of Star Wars. And it it all reminds me of Robert Altman's McCabe and Mrs. Miller, where the director tapped Leonard Cohen for all the songs of the film and reinvented westerns. Tim Burton did it with Batman too, when he somehow got Prince to do all the songs and invented the modern comic book movie. It's seldom that directors squeak that much control out of a project, and when they do, it's awesome.

Ryan Coogler is an Oakland guy who made Fruitvale Station and Creed, both of which were fantastic. That's how he landed the gig, but how the hell did he get Disney to sign off on this soundtrack? I want to meet him just see what a smooth-talker he is. Shit. I want to be his best friend. I love this guy.

The stand out track for me is the second track: All the Stars.

  • SZA is on the track with her sad but optimistic voice perfectly suited for the lyrics.
  • The intro beat sounds like an old African animal skin number. It sounds like a live drum, and it anchors the song in warm tradition while voice filters kick in and distortion knobs get turned. And there's something that sounds like a steel drum/keyboard in there sparingly so as not to become a Jamaican tune. That sound comes back on other songs on the album, and it really is a concept album; you don't see that much these days.
  • Kendrick's verse is reminiscent of other tracks he's done about the aspiration and letdown of love and trust, and it's great.

I love a song that can be soulful and sad and happy and inspirational at the same time. They're rarer than diamonds.

I'm over the MCU, but I think this album might have won me back for now. I was a passing fan of the character, and I bought a bunch of the comics in the 90's. I hope it lives up to my memories of this cool icon.

Catch up with Black Panther:

What to Say to Conservatives: Lucus a non Lucendo

Ladies think it's sexy when you speak Latin

I have a friend that says the same thing every time Donald Trump comes up: "I read an article about the net-worths of presidents and it said that Obama made all his money because of his presidency and that Clinton was almost broke before he became president, and now he's rich, and Trump hasn't made a dime being president.

Of course it isn't true, but what does it have to do with anything? Both Dem presidents were in office for eight years and had very lucrative book deals. Both were also civil servants before taking the highest office. Also, why are we talking about this when we were just talking about Russia?!?!!?


Lucus a non lucendo literally means it's not a dark grove in that it is not lighted. It's an absurd little joke because grove is called lucus only because there's no light there, but lucus looks like it's related to the word lucere (to shine). It's related to parum luceat, meaning it doesn't shine being darkened by shade.


Well, you can use it in place of non sequitur if you want and don't mind spell check putting red lines under lucus a non lucendo. Or you can use it for any absurdity. You can use it place of bullshit and make yourself sound super smart. I think you can also use in place of oxymoron, but I can't find anything online that will tell me that's actually acceptable, but who cares? It's Latin. You can do whatever you want to do with it when speaking English.

But I'm going to scream it every time we're talking about Donald Trump and someone says "what about Hillary Clinton?"

I'm going to scream it every time someone says "All lives matter" when we're talking about Black Lives Matter

I'm going to scream it at "Fake News."

And any time someone says something about how it's snowing so there's no such thing as humans affecting the climate, I'm gonna whip it out:

Lucus a non lucendo.

Right now it's on Merriam-Webster's bottom 20% in popularity. I'm going to bring that number up!

Saturday, February 10, 2018

What Did Your Second Grade Teacher Do to You?


I swear this is what my 7th grade math teacher looked like.

For years now, I've heard people espouse the teachings of their 2nd grade pedants as if they were indisputable facts. They use these poor women like Republicans use Ayn Rand and Jesus Christ, picking out things they heard years ago to make a point that puts all arguments to rest.

For example: "When I was in 2nd grade, my teacher taught us about life cycles and global warming and cooling cycles; therefore, humans don't cause global warming/climate change."

Yes, the planet has gone through periods of climactic change and even polar change(!), but the rate at which the planet is heating  coincides with the rise of the industrial age, the population of human beings, and the decline of other species and forests.

Another example: "My 2nd grade teacher pointed at her incisors and told us that our canine teeth are for ripping and tearing flesh."

Yes, we can rip a lot with those teeth of ours, but most predators have a whole face of conical teeth, and we only have these little guys. They're mostly for defense like gorilla's teeth. A gorilla can do a lot of damage with their teeth, and so can we, but try biting into a live cow and see how far you get.
Here's one I like: "My 2nd grade teacher taught us we were all unique, special, and that our opinions matter."

Yes, we're unique. But you can look around and tell we're not special, there are billions of us. And we're getting to the point where we aren't that unique. There's probably someone out there with your identical DNA, and in an infinite universe, there's definitely someone who has experienced your identical life and is reading this right now. It's a mathematical certainty. Your opinion matters on election day, and that's about it. If your opinion isn't based on fact, experience, and logic, it's invalid.

2nd-grade teachers are not the ones to blame here; they're doing the best they can. My teacher taught me that the brontosaurus was a real dinosaur, that Pluto was a real planet, and Jesus was a real guy watching my every move. She taught me Christopher Columbus was a real hero, that cow's milk was really good for me, and that my artistic talent was really a burden. She didn't know what to do with me; she probably just hoped she wouldn't screw me up too much and I'd figure it out as I got older—that I might evolve.

When you quote something from your 2nd grade teacher, you're saying "I'm tired of evolving. I stopped evolving a long time ago."

I've known people who said they hate other races because it was the way they were raised. You might as well be saying "I will neither learn new things nor grow as a human being."

I say EVOLVE! Take the time to learn about someone and end up loving them

And if you want to say something about your 2nd grade teacher, say "she was a nice lady who tried her best with a young mind."

Friday, February 9, 2018

What's a Mangina?

Guest blog by Kevin Kunundrum

I'm tired of dreadlocked Millennial Manginas making videos to meet Social Justice Warrior women under the guise of declaring how terrible men are. And I love when they speak for all men and apologize on our behalf. Do they think by condemning men en masse, they’ll appear all sensitive and sanctified to Feminists?

I see through you, Manginas! Babbling whiningly at length about men's oppression, blah-blah-blah, and chanting the new catch-phrase: 'Toxic Masculinity' 

O, to be an evil Man, the wellspring of all that is bad, the oppressor of all that is good.

I try to ignore them, but now they're Bond bashing!

Behold the usual Bond-bashing boilerplate. "James Bond is a misogynist Neanderthal alcoholic murderer who flees from his own feelings and uses women as disposable playthings for his own amusement, etcetera..." Sure, James Bond's an easy target, from a superficial point of view. So let us for a moment, examine James Bond in depth, the real Double-O-Seven... 

James Bond was conceived in a World War, with bombs raining down on Britain. According to Ian Fleming, he had a traumatic childhood. Orphaned at eleven, he went to live with his aunt in the small English village of Pett Bottom. If you don't find that hilarious, you'll be among the first to go in the coming Apocalypse. Learn to laugh, dear friends...  

So Bond is an only-child-orphan-introvert, which means he can become one of three things: a serial killer, a poet, or a secret agent. And he chooses secret agent. And what does this mean? He decides to live his life for the greater good, the greater good being England. And this used to be part and parcel of coming of age, the notion that you go into the service to give something back. That's why they call it the service!

This is how Britain withstood the Nazis when the firebombs set London ablaze. When the blackest of evils was right across the Channel, the people gave their all, out of sacrifice and selfless obligation. But James Bond takes it a step further. He doesn't just sign up for a stint, two years and out. He's in it for the long haul. And it's not as some desk-bound bureaucrat, home by 5 for G&Ts... No, Mr. Bond does the heavy lifting. He ventures where no one wants to go, where the shit is always headed for the fan.

And he doesn't just save a few people or even England, but more times than not, the world!

How 'bout you, dreadlocked Mangina? How many times have you saved anything?

When 400,000 men are stranded at Dunkirk, you don't whine. You get in your boat, whatever it is, and you sail out. And you fight the freaking Nazis for six long years and you see things and do things that scar you forever. But it's for England, the world, and the children unborn. Talk about sacrifice! And you silently endure because those that don't know will never know, and those that do, know it all too well. We can't tailor-make our life to be rid of rough edges. The rough edges are there precisely so that we can become our best or our worst. It's not easy to heed the call. It's when we find what we're made of. And some of us, sadly, come up short.

And what does James Bond do? His courage and mettle are constantly tested. His loyalty, his steadfastness, his ingenuity, his humanity. He's given the worst tasks where he must do things most never imagine. And because of this, his life is measured not in decades or years but in days. Sometimes, hours and minutes. Imagine if you knew that you could be dead tomorrow. You might enjoy that drink tonight. You might savor that woman. But you know there's no future in it because you have no future. That's a given. You've accepted it. 

And what do these women see when James Bond appears? A man with the confidence that stems from confronting humanity's darkness. Someone who faces death and defeat and who somehow surmounts it. And as things crash around them with death racing forward, James Bond calmly, collectedly figures it out and saves the day. Who wouldn't find this attractive?

He's someone who will always have your back. Who will never give up. But unlike Mr. Mangina who uses exalted rhetoric as a ploy to get laid, James Bond says very little.  And when he has a brief respite he enjoys it fully because he knows more than most the measure of life. As Bond says to 'M' in Casino Royale, 'So you want me to be half-monk, half-hitman'... But he's more than just a blunt instrument. He's a 'sin-eater' who takes in the darkness for the benefit of all.

Courage, fortitude, loyalty, authenticity. These are Bond's currency. And he is nothing if not authentic. He's always himself, never anyone else, and you can depend on this. It's one of the rarest things in a world in which you can depend on practically nothing.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Altered Carbon on Netflix


Yes I know this came from a book series. And I know it's a little derivative, paying homage to Blade Runner and other Noir detective fiction. And I know it exists in a well-established genre of cyberpunk. But can't we just rejoice in the fact that Netflix pulled off something no one's done in a long time: an original sci-fi concept  pushing all the right buttons while simultaneously pushing some boundaries.

I've maintained that a good TV show is essentially beautiful people in dangerous situations wrapped up in an episodic arch that connects to a larger whole (season). Altered Carbon does this in spades. Beautiful people? Check! We've even fit some nudity in there. Violent situations? Check! We spent so much money on gore effects some of our CGI cars look a bit wonky. Story arch? CHECK! We get well-encapsulated stories that build on one another until they come to a tightly satisfying ending even your English professor would be stoked about.

There's even a scene in which a beautiful woman kills fifty naked clones of another sexy woman as they come alive attack her. It's creepy, sexy, violent, and creative.

Altered Carbon sells us a universe with as little exposition as possible and trusts its audience to go along for the ride and figure it out as we go. There are a couple clunky lines in there, but who cares? We're having fun piecing it all together. And even when the show introduces a good soldier vs. bad soldier scenario, we at least have some motives in play. And that's hugely refreshing. The terrorists might be the good guys, or they might not be; you decide! 

I still don't know why the Star Wars Empire is going around blowing up planets? Tax collection?

NO CHOSEN ONE!!! NO PROPHECY!!! They could have gone down that road for expediency, but instead they put characters and events in motion creating a protagonist worth following around. I'm so sick of Harry Potters and Luke Skywalkers and Alices and Neos ad nauseam. It's cheap story-telling, and we'll have none of it here. Instead we get women of agency and men who aren't idiots and men playing women and even a black man playing an Asian woman playing a black man. That's Shakespearean!

Music. The music is fantastic in this thing. Two stand-outs were the More Human Than Human cover by Sune Rose Wagner and A Nyughatatlan's God's Gonna Cut You Down cover. There's a Nine Inch Nails song in there for measure, too. Check out this track list!

The plot moves dexterously through some big blink-and-you'll-miss-them points but still addresses some major themes. Obligation is a big one: Familial, friend, class, state loyalties are questioned and investigated. We get to ask what mortality is, what power is, and even what God is.

In the end we get to ask my favorite sci-fi question: What is it to be human?

OK! But is there anything you hated?
Yes. I hated this stupid tattoo Takeshi and Reileen had. This tired old symbol, Ouroboros, is the most boring, lamest symbol they drag out on TV. It's a dragon biting its own tail in the shape of an infinity loop, and it's featured heavily in the opening credits sequence. I rolled my eyes every time I saw it. It reminded me of Hemlock Grove, and this is leaps and bounds better than that early Netflix attempt. It's unneeded and loud.

The ending was a little rushed, but it was satisfying and didn't leave a ton of question marks like most science fiction does. Altered Carbon also plays by the rules of its own universe. There are some Chekhov's guns in there that seem a little elastic, but that's OK; they all pan out.

Over all, it's a wonderful new show. Aren't you tired of Disney trotting out more Marvel shit to see what sticks? Aren't you just a little bit bored by Star Wars by now? Doesn't the Pacific Rim sequel look ridiculous and stupid? This breath of fresh air is worth every moment spent watching it.