Ask Aron Ranen about his filmmaking philosophy, and he won’t pause long. “I’m a reality surfer. Things pop up as I’m quote-unquote traveling around the world with my camera.”
When he says “pop up,” he ain’t kidding. While attempting to uncover the truth about the Apollo 11 moon landing in Did We Go? (which screened in 2000 at New York’s Museum of Modern Art), Ranen stumbled upon the fact that the magnetic tapes used to record the 1969 event had gone missing. This peculiar nugget resurfaced in the news lately, generating enough buzz beyond the conspiracy fringes to nudge NASA into a response via its Web site: “Despite the challenges of the search, NASA does not consider the tapes to be lost.”
A month ago Ranen appeared on CNN to discuss the controversy. Host Glenn Beck tried awfully hard to paint the doc maker as a wackjob; the segment ends with a joke likening those who believe the moon landing was faked to those who are “still wondering why Darrin One was mysteriously replaced by Darrin Two.” This kind of reaction doesn’t seem to bother Ranen, who between movies teaches digital filmmaking at DV Workshops, the school he runs out of his Mission District studio.
“My motto is film the obvious,” he explains. (Later in our conversation he expands that motto to include “trust reality … and also don’t fuck it up.”) “I’m just trying to illuminate some of the things that are going on in our culture.” Did We Go? is actually not a wackjob’s manifesto; it features interviews with Apollo 11 flight director Gene Krantz and astronaut Buzz Aldrin — as well as the NASA employee who physically closed the hatch on the rocket before its launch. The film doesn’t try to discredit the moon landing; it tries, with sincerity, to prove that it actually happened. (In other words, there’s a reason it’s not titled We Didn’t Go.)
A filmmaker since he was 13, Ranen has made so many short documentaries that he’s lost count. Over the years the self-funded artist has developed his own approach to shooting. His films are generally unstructured — expecting the unexpected — and are guided by Ranen’s first-person voice-overs, delivered in a tone that hovers between curiosity and amazement.
“Everyone trusts me and talks to me in my films,” he says. It’s a claim backed up by the openness displayed by his diverse array of subjects, many of whom Ranen meets on the fly. His film Power and Control: LSD in the 60s — a tangent-riddled exploration of the drug’s influence on politics and counterculture — features chats with an ex–Stanford University researcher whose simian LSD tests earned him the nickname “Monkey Mike” and a now-elderly professor who was among the Harvard students who participated in Timothy Leary’s 1962 Good Friday experiment. Ranen attributes this kind of access to his lone gunman style.
“I refuse to let anyone go with me. I believe so much of documentary is about the relationship between the filmmaker and the subject. I don’t want a crew or a sound man to mitigate my relationships with these subjects,” he explains. “When I’m talking to someone, you can see their enthusiasm in talking to me.”
Ranen’s go-with-the-flow methodology extends to postproduction. He “edits organically,” subscribing to what he calls “the pinball effect: as you’re watching it, the edit speaks to you and says, no, take that stuff in the middle and put it up front.” He’s also not opposed to altering his films after they are finished. Power and Control screened as a 70-minute feature at the 2005 San Francisco Independent Film Festival; the version at Other Cinema this weekend hovers closer to 40 minutes. Eventually, Ranen hopes to add a chapter exploring the possible LSD-KGB connection.
His most recent film, Black Hair, is also his most widely seen, thanks to a strategy of free distribution via YouTube. The doc, which Ranen says has been viewed some 100,000 times, delves into the racial and economic issues raised by the fact that most of the black hair-care industry’s retail and wholesale markets are controlled by Korean, not African American, businesspeople.
Ranen’s film inspired Bay Area hair-product manufacturer Sam Ennon to found the Black Owned Beauty Supply Association, or BOBSA, now a national organization aimed at what Ennon calls “reorganizing the whole industry in terms of the distribution channel. It’s not that we want to run the Koreans out of business — we just want to share in the business. We want to recirculate the black dollar.”
Ennon says Black Hair gave BOBSA’s cause a major assist. “A picture speaks better than words. The film is really what turned it completely around.”
It’s all in a day’s work for Ranen, who seems to attract unexpected spontaneity and the not-occasional weird coincidence. His DV Workshops was funded with a settlement he received after learning that Nine Inch Nails had sampled one of his films without permission. The dialogue snippet, taken from Ranen’s film Religion in Suburbia, just happened to include this phrase: “do you believe in miracles?” SFBG
POWER AND CONTROL:
LSD IN THE 60S
Sat/30, 8:30 p.m.
Artists’ Television Access
992 Valencia, SF
Volume 40 Number 52
September 27 – October 3, 2006
A smiling Kim Deal holds up a T-shirt with “Pixies Sellout” emblazoned across the back. “Where did you get the inspiration?” she asks guitarist Joey Santiago, who named the band’s comeback tour. “’Cause we sold out in minutes!” he offers sans irony. Santiago might not be in on the joke (somewhat inexplicably), but for the rest of us the subtext is clear. Sure, the Pixies are now well into middle age and showing it, but to claim these indie rock demigods are simply trying to cash in on past success is a little unfair. Since they were never really able to enjoy major-league (outside of the United Kingdom) success (which happened after the breakup) in the first place, they’re just now getting used to this whole rock-glory thing.
LoudQUIETloud, shot during the band’s 2004 world tour, frames their collective “holy shit, they love us!” state of shock perfectly while still managing to focus on the individual members’ personal struggles with art, family, and commerce. Before the tour’s start, lead singer-songwriter Charles Thompson (a.k.a. Black Francis) is plugging away at solo gigs and Nashville records; a newly sober Deal (the only Pixie left with any hair) hasn’t recorded with the Breeders in years and is holed up in Ohio; Santiago is scoring films and raising kids; and drummer David Lovering is pursuing “hobbies of magic and metal detecting” (seriously).
Still, amid all the drug tiffs, card tricks, and mostly energetic renditions of classic tunes like “Caribou” and “Hey,” we get precious little insight into the Pixies’ much-ballyhooed musical influence. Even the film’s title — a reference to the band’s signature seesawing song structure — is never explained. Actually, the title is a good characterization of the movie itself: despite the notorious rancor between members that ultimately led to the band’s demise, for the most part they come off as quiet, funny eccentrics in between the thunderous live footage. They’re so unrelentingly low-key, in fact, it’s hard not to wish one of them would explode, like a Pixies chorus, into something a little less tame. (Michelle Devereaux)
Brooklyn, like Oakland and the Mission District, has swelled in the last decade with postadolescents: beards and black hoodies wandering streets on the verge of gentrification. This intermediary space is the setting and premise for indie filmmaker Andrew Bujalski’s latest, Mutual Appreciation. Bujalski first made a splash with Boston-based Funny Ha Ha (2002), an unassuming feature made in the tradition of talky indie forbearers John Cassavetes, Eric Rohmer, and Richard Linklater. Mutual Appreciation again collects a group of guarded postgraduates for its cast, but the film is no angsty trifle. Bujalski pulls off that impossible trick — always surprising no matter the influences — of affecting a naturalistic, improvisational flow while maintaining a clear authorial voice. It’s a dynamic that picks up steam with each exquisitely staged scene, making Mutual Appreciation as absorbing as anything you’re likely to see at the movies this year.
How then do we account for this guided freewheel? Cinematography is, as always, at least part of the answer. The grainy 16mm black-and-white film stock isn’t mere affectation but rather a functional stylistic element, underscoring the drab reality of the movie’s unsettled spaces: apartments with everything secondhand and mismatched, unmade beds on nicked hardwood floors, and rooms that are either too big (making one fret over the lack of proper furniture) or too small (making one crouch). Bujalski and cinematographer Matthias Grunsky court these challenging spaces, always coming up with a revealing composition that frames characters in depth — splayed against walls or hunched in makeshift chairs.
While Bujalski has clearly done his homework on no-budget cinematography, his narration style seems more instinctual and basic to the film’s shape. Like exemplar François Truffaut’s Jules and Jim, Mutual Appreciation pivots on a youthful, untested ménage à trois: boyfriend-girlfriend Lawrence (Bujalski) and Ellie (Rachel Clift) have lived in Brooklyn for some time, while Lawrence’s old friend Alan (Justin Rice) is new in town, lost in an existential quandary over his life and music (“It’s like pop”). Like so many of his progenitors, Bujalski has an innate sense for particular rhythms of talk. This isn’t just a matter of dialogue (“If you kiss me now, my breath’s going to be all beery and burrito-y”) but also of editing — knowing, for example, how to exit a scene, convey a relationship with an unevenly paced phone conversation, and let the camera run on a given close-up to register a character’s unguarded reactions.
More impressive is the way Bujalski subtly orchestrates little one-acts to achieve genuine drama. The principle instance of such narrative structuring is in the many scenes between Lawrence and Ellie, and Alan and Ellie, but none between the old friends in question (until the closing minutes anyhow). If Mutual Appreciation’s narrative seems accidental, it’s a testament to Bujalski’s understated technique. There is certainly method here, from repetitions of dialogue (“That’s flattering”) and theme (gender confusion) to the patient unveiling of character, the apotheosis of which is a sequence of scenes tracing Alan from one Warholian party to another, no better for the omnipresent tallboys of beer.
What begins as nonchalant talk blooms into compelling drama by movie’s end. It seems no coincidence that one of Mutual Appreciation’s three main characters is an indie rocker. Bujalski, after all, registers the fear and trembling that twentysomethings expect from music (middlebrow Indiewood being as unlikely to produce something relatable as the French “cinema of quality” from which the New Wave broke away). But Mutual Appreciation is more than an outlet; in its illuminating narration, many will see a mirror, an ode to these transitional places in which one blusters toward adulthood, talking all the way. SFBG
Red Vic Movie House
1727 Haight, SF
For an interview with Mutual Appreciation director Andrew Bujalski, go to www.sfbg.com/blogs/pixel_vision.
New York City band Grizzly Bear’s gently ambient Yellow House (Warp) manages to delicately conjure bittersweet associations of musty, memory-cluttered childhood homes and reference Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s feminist-modernist novel The Yellow Wall-Paper — but the real household dirt on this band has to remain in one’s imagination.
Vocalist-keyboardist-guitarist-autoharpist Edward Droste is up-front about his own sexuality — saying he’s been in a relationship with one man for most of the band’s existence — but when it comes to the love lives of his straight mates, the sometime journalist and Pro Tools bedroom recordist is the soul of discretion. Grizzly Bear’s tales of random hookups are just “too dirty” to pass along, he explains on the phone from the East Coast college campus where the group is playing before joining the TV on the Radio tour in October. “I usually bond with the girls,” says Droste, 27, miming his role as the band’s father confessor. “It’s cool — we’re leaving town. But it’s totally cool.”
And a certain ethereal cool marks the foursome’s gorgeous soundscapes, now lifted above the tape-hiss fray of their fake-fur-embellished 2004 debut, Horn of Plenty (Kanine; later reissued in 2005 with a CD of remixes by Dntel, the Soft Pink Truth, Final Fantasy, and Solex). Yellow House sounds warm and welcoming, thanks to the production prowess of the band’s brass and woodwinds player Chris Taylor and the recording site: Droste’s mother’s Boston-area home, the yellow house of the disc’s title. The seductive tug of nostalgia takes over as Beach Boys–style harmonies skate over fingerpicked acoustic guitar and strings, bird chirps, and wah-wah pedal flit together on “Little Brother.” Horns lumber alongside busy insectlike electronics and Droste’s and guitarist Daniel Rossen’s cooing vocals during “Plans.” By the time the album breaks into “Marla” — a slowed-down, strings-swathed dusky dirge based on a 1930s-era tune penned by Droste’s great-aunt of the same name, a failed singer who eventually drank herself to death — resistance becomes futile. This is seriously lovely music, a reflection of the group’s recent communal music-making — and far removed from groupie dish.
“Initially, we wanted to record an album before we had a label and didn’t have any money,” recalls Droste, who shares the name of the Hooters cofounder, a distant relation. “My mom was going to be away, it was my old childhood home, and I was, like, ‘Well, we can all have our own bedrooms, record in the living room, and there’s a backyard, and every night we’d have chips and salsa and beer.’”
The laid-back atmosphere and ensuing musical productivity led to a bidding frenzy among indie labels when the recordings emerged, and now Droste is relaxing into a tour schedule that brings him back to San Francisco for the first time since February 2005, when Grizzly Bear — jokingly named after a Droste boyfriend who was anything but — played the Eagle Tavern. How did Droste’s hetero bandmates handle the attentions of SF’s finest bears — and those of the bandleader himself?
“They’re total cock teases. They love attention from boys, but they never do anything,” Droste offers laconically. “Never say never, but I kind of feel like if you’re hanging with me in New York City and there are a million fags everywhere and dozens of opportunities … I’m just gonna drop it and accept the fact.” (Kimberly Chun)
Fri/29, 9 p.m.
628 Divisadero, SF
Man Man and Pink Mountaintops
With band members identifying themselves as masters of such unusual instruments as the beduggering demonstration and the illustrious quesadilla special, Philadelphia’s Man Man are nothing if not unconventional. Wielding a mightily transfixing power with a carnival-clown playful sound, they bring to mind images of unrelentingly caffeinated children’s choirs playing musical chairs with Tom Waits and Captain Beefheart in Federico Fellini’s junkyard. Providing additional mind-messing are Vancouver’s Pink Mountaintops, whose latest album, Axis of Evol (Jagjaguwar, 2006), is a hypnotically propulsive piece of deliciously twisted modern psychedelia. (Todd Lavoie)
With Dodo Bird
628 Divisadero, SF
“Palimpsest; New Paintings” and “Le Silence des Choses”
The shock, misery, and loss of control that a “Dear John” letter recipient experiences are tough topics to sell. In his show “Palimpsest; New Paintings,” Mark Stock captures the dull resignation in the eyes of his subject and builds layers of weight atop it. Catherine Jansens’s watercolors are an inspired complement to Stock’s works. “Le Silence des Choses” shows off her incredible eye for light and unwavering control of the medium. Each exhibit explores a heaviness both in technique and in content that is palpable and startling in the light, airy, whitewashed gallery space. (K. Tighe)
Through Oct. 28.
Tues.-Sat., 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m.
685 Market, SF
Fascinated disgust and aghast amusement are two feelings I don’t experience often enough. Jesus Camp elicits both in spades. This doc by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady (The Boys of Baraka) travels into the darkest heart of America’s evangelical Christian movement: a North Dakota summer camp that whips born-again children – most already home-schooled into such beliefs as the nonexistence of evolution and global warming – into religious frenzies. The film also places emphasis on the palpable evangelical presence in American politics – with a chilling look toward the future, when this brainwashed-from-birth generation will eagerly join the right-wing voting bloc. (Cheryl Eddy)
In Bay Area theaters
“Mexico as Muse: Tina Modotti and Edward Weston”
Intended as an archive for the monumental partnership between two major artistic figures, Tina Modotti and Edward Weston, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s “Mexico as Muse” serves more as a teaser to Modotti’s life and work. While Weston’s images of earthen pots and Mexican skies build a foundation for later works, his portraits of his artistic partner are by far his most interesting contributions to “Mexico as Muse.” Modotti chose her subjects carefully, opting for the limitless possibilities of telephone lines stretching over the rural Mexican landscape and flimsy, partially ajar doors instead of the immobile nature of Weston’s content. Her most famous photo featured here is a bundle of white roses, clumped together in limp and fragile decay. (K. Tighe)
Through Jan. 2
Fri.-Tues., 11 a.m.-5:45 p.m.; Thurs., 11 a.m.-8:45 p.m.
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
151 Third St., SF
$12.50, $8 seniors, $7 students, free under 13 and members (free first Tuesday; half price Thurs., 6-8:45pm)
For 25 years, Sonic Youth have dutifully served as a gateway band. Just as the group has made room in its discography to accommodate elegant noise rock and more avant-garde explorations, so too have its members cashed their cred to draw attention to their own favorites, some pop (e.g., Nirvana), most not. Many record hounds of a certain age can attribute much of their most challenging music to Sonic Youth’s generous thumbs-up – for me, this list includes titles like Ornette Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz to Come and Wolf Eyes’ Dread. Though the band’s trademark noise rock is refined with each new release, its taste for adventure remains, here showing its face in the band’s cherry-picking local favorites Erase Errata and 16 Bitch Pile-Up as openers. (Max Goldberg)
1805 Geary, SF
The Mass and Triclops!
Oaktown’s Golden Bull has been having some pretty bad-ass Sunday evening shows, thanks to Scott Alcoholocaust. Such as? Such as the Mass, one of the heaviest rock bands going, and Triclops!, which features the brutalized vocals of John Geek from the Fleshies as well as members from Bottles and Skulls, Victim’s Family, and Lower Forty-Eight. Their Web site states their musical goal is “to keep rock music uncomfortable for themselves and others.” Listen to “Bug Bomb” and you’ll see what they mean … somewhere in the instrumental break, you’ll swear the ghost of Steel Pole Bath Tub had crawled into your ear and laid eggs. (Duncan Scott Davidson)
With Grayceon and We March
412 14th St., Oakl.
Film in the Fog: Them!
What sounds like a broken air conditioner, looks like a ghetto-rigged muppet, and will kill its own mother for a small taste of sugar? A big fly? A bear? Nope. I’m talking about the horde of giant motherfucking ants from the 1954 horror classic Them! Gordon Douglas’s quintessential nuclear monster movie opens with a young autistic girl wandering through the desert and ends with the bombing of a group of ants who have somehow taken over a military battleship. In between these two moments lie multiple flame-throwing sessions, a small dose of sexual tension, and a 15-minute documentary about the inherent evilness of the species Formicidae. (Justin Juul)
Main Post Theatre lawn
99 Moraga (at Montgomery), Presidio, SF
Refrigerated love is one of the treats in store for viewers of choregrapher Mark Morris’s somewhat radical restaging of King Arthur, the late-17th century semiopera by Henry Purcell. In addition to cleaving long narrative passages by John Dryden out of his production, Morris has added touches such as the Cold Genius (baritone Andrew Foster-Williams) first appearing in a fridge before being roused by Cupid. If it didn’t divide critics, it wouldn’t be a Morris production, and the eternal “bad boy” creator of this King Arthur was accordingly awarded with bouquets and some light spankings upon its London premiere. (Johnny Ray Huston)
8 p.m. (also Tues. and Thurs-Sat.; through Oct. 7)
UC Berkeley, Lower Sproul (near Bancroft and Telegraph), Berk.
The Scissor Sisters are a band that’s hard not to love. They call themselves ridiculous names (Ana Matronic, Paddy Boom, Babydaddy, Jake Shears, Del Marquis, Derek G), turned Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” into a funky disco jam, and named their group after the slang for a lesbian sex act. On their new album, Ta Dah, they seem to be drinking deeply from the cup of disco – Barry Gibb would be proud. (Aaron Sankin)
With DJ Sammy Jo
982 Market, SF
What do you get when you combine beards, beer, and equine inebriation? Oakland’s beloved stoner rock behemoth Drunk Horse, who have been bringing riff rock to the Bay Area and beyond for 10 years. With equal parts early ZZ Top, Blue Cheer, Yes, and Lynyrd Skynryd, Drunk Horse have helped make music dangerous, satanic, and belligerent again. (Hayley Elisabeth Kaufman)
With Pride Tiger and Apache
155 Fell, SF
Haute House Burlesque
Admit it – it’s been way too long since you’ve seen a good burlesque show. The best way to rectify this situation is to check out the Haute House Burlesque Review. Picture a mashup of ’50s style, extravagant song and dance productions, and strippers. Haute House stars Bombshell Betty, Lily le Rogue, Miss Banana Peel, Coconut Cream, Mynx d’Meanor, Sweet Cheeks, Ophelia Coeur de Noir, and Isis Stars. The house band for the evening is Lucifer’s Old-Timey Strip Club Band and complimentary champagne is served at intermission. Formal attire and fancy dress are encouraged. (Aaron Sankin)
Jon Sims Center for the Arts
1519 Mission, SF
$10-$15, sliding scale
When ’90s shoegazers Slowdive decided that three albums’ worth of layered guitars and distorted pop meant mission accomplished, they could have just broken up and gone their separate ways, leaving behind a brief but rewarding career of sonic bliss. Fortunately for the music world, this is not what happened; instead, the members simply rechristened themselves to reflect the clean slate in their hands. The name couldn’t have been more fitting for their new sound: Mojave 3. Over the past 11 years, Mojave 3 have built upon this sound, culminating in their latest release, Puzzles Like You (4AD, 2006), which bubbles and bursts with pop thrills. (Todd Lavoie)
With Brightblack Morning Light
333 11th St., SF
“Slam Arnold Poetry Competition”
Arnold Schwarzenegger has been shot at, beat up, and humiliated as Conan, Commando, the Terminator, and a kindergarten cop. Most Bay Area residents would agree the governor can handle a little bit of verbal abuse. The San Francisco League of Young Voters is hosting the “Slam Arnold Poetry Competition” at the Balazo Gallery to help boot the actor out of office, register voters, and educate young people about important issues. The event will open a forum for discussion regarding current political concerns. Work by local artists will be on the walls, and 12 popular regional poets will compete for prizes and laughs. Ill-Literacy will perform, along with female MCs Rhapsodistas. (Kellie Ell)
Balazo 18 Art Gallery
2183 Mission, SF
$10-$25, sliding scale
SF 360 Home Movie Night: American Blackout
It’s a little too late for you to host an American Blackout screening, but it isn’t too late to attend one at someone else’s house – even though some places have already reached sold-out capacity. This first installment of SF360 Home Movie Night showcases Ian Inaba’s documentary about schemes against black voters, which generated waves of praise at the latest SF International Film Festival. Guerilla News Network member Inaba focuses on the campaigns – including covert ones – waged against Democratic Rep. (and outspoken George W. Bush and 2000 presidential election critic) Cynthia McKinney. (Johnny Ray Huston)
10 p.m. (postscreening after-party)
242 Columbus, SF
RANT/FILM I’m all for the current bicycle renaissance in San Francisco. As the Indian summer heats up, you’ll notice the bike lanes will be nose to tail with bikers — like a line of baby elephants. This is a good thing. Maybe the notoriously free-form, Tijuana driving style of SF residents will ease up a notch and they’ll return to mowing down pedestrians exclusively. There’s safety in numbers.
Of course, every revolution has its drawbacks. There’s always going to be that crew that wants to convince the world they’re that much more revolutionary, devoted, and pure than everyone else. And as the rubber hits the roads in San Francisco, a clan of tight-trousered, mullet-headed, vintage-T-shirt-clad Robespierres has coalesced around the fixed-gear bicycle, or as it’s called in its proponents’ cutesy parlance, the “fixie.”
What’s a fixed-gear? Imagine yourself cruising down the street on your bike. You get tired and so you stop pedaling and coast. The freewheel mechanism in your hub disengages the drive train and lets the back wheel continue to spin while the cranks and pedals are still. On a fixed-gear the rear cog is bolted directly to the hub. There is no freewheel or cassette mechanism, so if the hub is moving, the cog is moving. Which means if the chain is moving, the pedals are moving, and if the bike is moving, you’re pedaling. There is no coasting.
Sounds like a pain in the ass. If you’re like me, the first question that comes to mind is “why?” Well, the modern SF two-wheeled steel, aluminum, and rubber hipster fashion accessory has its roots in racing, like other wheeled vehicles that don’t really translate to street usage. They were — and still are — used on banked, velodrome-style tracks during races that employ all manner of strategies, including slowing down to a stop or near stop and doing a “track stand” — balancing at a standstill without putting your feet down — so your opponent can pass you and you can ride in the draft.
Since you’re not likely to be drafting anyone on city streets, a track bike is a highly impractical choice of wheels. What’s more impractical is that fixed-gears often appear to lack brakes. The bike’s speed is controlled by the rider’s pedaling cadence — slow the pedaling, you slow the bike. Stop pedaling, stop the bike. This effect can be augmented by adding a front caliper brake, but that’s frowned upon by fixie fashionistas who do things like cut their handlebars down to a foot and don’t run bar tape or grips. The problem with using pedal cadence as a braking mechanism is that stopping is dependent on rider skill.
Now there’s the rub. Like trucker hats and PBR, what started as a bike messenger thing has become a fashion statement and status symbol. You’ve got kids in the Mission with the left leg of their jeans rolled up, a little biker hat on crooked, slip-on Vans, and a brand-new fixed-gear Bianchi; and they don’t know their ass from a light socket. Cadence? You may as well be talking astrophysics. They just know that it looks cool. It looks less cool, however, when one of these lemmings comes screaming down the Haight Street hill unable to keep up with the speed of the pedals and wrecks in the middle of Divisadero. A friend was riding down Stanyan with a box in his hand when some goon on a fixed-gear, unable to slow down, ran into his back wheel and crashed him in the middle of the street. He didn’t even stop to see if my friend was OK.
So what was the original draw that caused the person I’ll call “Biker Zero” — to crib epidemiological lingo — to ride a track bike on the street? The people I know who ride them talk about being at one with the bike, feeling part of it, in the bike instead of on the bike. I’ll go with that. But this human-bike-cyborg crap has reached the level of “I like the East Coast because I like to see the seasons change” tripe. Respect to the old-school heads who’ve been riding them since way back, but as someone who’s done way gnarlier things on wheels, it’s just not all that impressive. The Bicycle Film Festival had scheduled a screening of M.A.S.H., an unfinished fixed-gear documentary by Mike Martin and Gabe Morford, until it got pulled at the last minute. It was shot here in San Francisco and showcased the “skills and beauty of these riders.” Beauty, no doubt — as in perfect hair. So you can ride down a hill and lift up your back wheel and do little skids to slow down. So what?
Riding a fixed-gear is like handicapping yourself. The bikes are so awkward to ride that not looking like an idiot while riding one is an accomplishment. It’s like riding a three-legged horse in the Kentucky Derby. To do that well, you’d have to be an excellent jockey. At the same time, why not be in it to win it and ride a horse with four legs? To me, it takes the choices — and therefore some creativity — out of riding. I don’t ride a fixed-gear for the same reason I won’t drive an automatic: no car is telling me when to shift, and no bike is going to tell me when I can pedal. If you’ve got bike skills, why not take them to a higher level? Go home and search for “Steven Hamilton” or “World Cup Downhill” on YouTube and see what can really be done on a bike that has the capabilities to be pushed. (There is a whole European tradition of flatland tricks on fixed-gears that takes serious skills, but it doesn’t seem to be a part of the current SF scenester fixie explosion.)
Not everyone is riding a bike to push limits. Still, the fixie cabal sticks in my craw, and it’s not because I’m unimpressed with the virtuosity. It’s not the misuse of a track-racing bike on city streets that bugs me. BMX bikes came about through the misuse of Schwinn Stingrays in dirt lots, and mountain bikes were the result of chopped-up road bikes on dirt. Misuse can mean progress. What kills me is the sinking feeling I get when I ride down Valencia and think, “Does anyone in this town ever do anything original?”
Now there’s even fixed-gear graffiti, Krylon line art of single-speed bikes with bullhorn handlebars, and the dubious slogan of “gears are for queers.” The fact of the matter is, the popularity of these bikes has nothing to do with the bikes themselves or the few people who actually have the chops to ride them with style. The fixed-gear is to 2006 what the Razor scooter was to 1996: a wheeled freak show for wannabes. Test it: send the right guy with the right clothes and the right haircut out around town on one of those old-timey bikes with the enormous front wheel with the cranks mounted directly to it like a tricycle. You know, the ones you need a ladder to get on and off of. Just see how many giant-wheeled ladder bikes are locked up in front of Ritual Coffee Roasters next week.
Do what makes you happy, but also do some soul-searching, champ: does riding a fixed-gear make you happy or does fitting in make you happy? Ask yourself, what bike was I riding last year? Was I riding one at all?
BICYCLE FILM FESTIVAL
2961 16th St., SF
American Conservatory Theater, the Magic Theatre, and Marin Theatre Company all turn 40 this year. Accordingly, these three regionally and nationally preeminent Bay Area companies are rolling out ambitious celebratory seasons. But despite all the satisfaction rightfully implied by this triple birthday, theater finds itself in a significant and uncertain period of transition.
Relevance and sustainability were prominent themes when artistic directors Carey Perloff (ACT), Lee Sankowich (MTC), and Chris Smith (Magic) sat down with the Guardian to share their thoughts on the trajectories of their respective organizations as well as theater’s past, present, and future in the culture at large.
CHRIS SMITH There is a lot of looking back and celebration of legacies and all that a significant landmark — turning 40 — suggests. But organic to the Magic’s mission is seeding the future, because we really are about new work. And to be committed to new work is really to have a perspective on the horizon.
We can talk about it from a number of different points of view, including the way most people want to talk about theater and art making these days, which is from the consumer model. We’re all completely obsessed with audiences and consumers. And that’s one of the critical differences [between] now and 40 years ago. In a weird way we’re a 40-year-old teenager. Suddenly we’re saying we have to be more concerned now than in the past about making sure people are having a good experience and getting them in.
But if you stop thinking for one split second about the financial success of the theater or the relevancy of the theater within a country that is arguably celebrating the dumbing down of the political spectrum, the health of the theater as an art form is very, very good. The best thing to cite on that front is the proliferation of high-quality MFA writing programs contributing to the number of committed, intelligent, craft-oriented, theatrically vibrant artists coming into our field.
So I actually have a great deal of optimism about the value that theater will have in the next decade in our society. That’s very distinct from numbers. The audiences that will be attending challenging, literate, smart work I expect are going to shrink. But I think it brings us back to a kind of churchlike sensibility.
The theater as a church for a thinking person is increasingly at value in our digital age, where we’re being separated from liveness, we’re being separated from the communal, separated from contact. We are in a moment between a fundamental impulse to look backwards and an impulse to look forwards. And the artists are the ones that live in that cusp.
CAREY PERLOFF Of course, this is exactly what [Tom Stoppard’s] Travesties is about. There’s a great moment where [Tristan] Tzara says, “As a Dadaist I’m a natural ally of the political left, but the paradox is the further left you go politically, the more bourgeois they like their art.” On the other hand, obviously what Stoppard believes — and what we all have to believe or we wouldn’t be doing this — is that in the long run, when everything else goes, the thing that lasts is art.
The real fight for us in the field right now is to have our own barometers of value. You have to try to take the long view. The only external measures of value [now] are box office sales and critical response. But there are many plays that had miserable box office returns and disastrous critical responses and have come to be the plays we treasure. As I get older, what I most admire in certain artists is their willingness to stay the course and keep their own exploration, their own voice, their own particular artistic journey going, whether or not it seems to be popular or viable.
We wrestle with it here all the time, because I wish people were writing bigger plays. We’re doing [Philip Kan Gotanda’s After the War] at the Geary. Now this may be the most foolhardy choice I’ve ever made, but it’s such a big, meaty play that it deserves to be on the Geary stage. We do Lillian Hellman, we do August Wilson, we do Stoppard. Who’s the next generation of writers writing 10-character plays that can fit in the Geary? No wonder nobody’s doing it, because who’s producing it? Nobody! Of course everyone’s writing four-character plays. They’re not idiots.
You have to say to a writer, “Have the courage to think big. Learn the Chekhovian skill of writing for 10 actors,” which is extremely difficult. To sustain complex character over a canvas that size is a totally different challenge. We don’t ask our writers to do that anymore.
LEE SANKOWICH Well, it comes down to support. To be able to do what both of you are talking about, it comes down to corporate funding and grants.
CP But the grant ethos right now — the word that is used more than anything else — is outcomes, right? We’re all being asked to demonstrate measurable outcomes. To me this is so hilarious. It’s like saying, “I’m going to be raising my children, and the measurable outcomes are what?”
CS We need to — as artists and as leaders of artistic institutions — stand up and say, “No, we need cultural metrics. We need the enlightenment-o-meter for measurable outcomes.” Did I walk out of this performance of Orson’s Shadow knowing more about the peculiar nature of these tremendous stars and their relationships and how that impulse really created art? Did I leave there somehow changed? And can we measure that? Can we say, instead, there was a 20 percent increase in enlightenment — what a remarkable outcome! — although the attendance figures stayed flat?
LS It’s interesting, [when] you walk out of Orson’s Shadow, if nothing else, you realize that the big struggle, especially for Welles and Olivier, [is that] they’re known for what they did 30 years earlier. And their big thing is they’re trying to become modern.
CS The opening of our seasons is really emblematic. MTC is working with these great artists in a very literate, funny, interesting perspective. ACT is working on this very big social canvas in a really smart way with Stoppard. The Magic Theatre is getting to work with Sam Shepard and his most recent play [The God of Hell], likewise his most passionate play, written in a moment specifically with the intention to affect the outcome of an election! SFBG
For the complete interview with Perloff, Sankowich, and Smith, see www.sfbg.com/blogs/pixel_vision.
SONIC REDUCER Which John Lennon did you know? Initially, I was too young to know him as anything more than the moptop behind the chipped bobble-headed garage-sale find — and as one of the songwriters behind my parental units’ token soft-rock gatefold, the Beatles’ Love Songs (Capitol, 1977) (the “White Album”’s “acid rock,” as Moms described it, went way beyond the pale). That’s all the Lennon I could grasp until the Rolling Stone cover pic that accompanied news of his 1980 murder — that coverlineless image picturing a nude Lennon fetally curled around a clothed Yoko Ono. If you dug the raw romanticism of that Annie Leibovitz image and Lennon’s 10-point program to success, excess, then bread-baking, Sean-rearing semiretired rock-star redemption, then you were with us. If you didn’t and you were disgusted, you weren’t — go hang with the Yoko-booing minions at, say, the recent Elvis Costello–Alan Toussaint Paramount show. It was that simple when you were an already media-saturated brat ready to draw battle lines and take pop music dead seriously.
Nowadays, the very undead but still much-pondered Bob Dylan may inspire a higher page count than Lennon when it comes to critical essays, encyclopedias, and that ilk. But I’d venture that Lennon’s influence continues to echo subtly through the culture, starting with the recommended banishing of “Imagine” from Clear Channel airwaves shortly after 9/11 and continuing through to some recent docs, DVDs, and dispatches from his estate.
Ignore the critically mauled 2005 musical Lennon and don’t wait for a Martin Scorsese PBS-approved documentary treatment — though, oh, to glimpse Abel Ferrera’s charred take on Lennon’s Bad Lieutenant–style “lost weekend” with Harry Nilsson. For somewhat unvarnished, intimate footage of Lennon with Ono in their Ascot, England, estate studio and shooting hoops with Miles Davis, check Gimme Some Truth: The Making of John Lennon’s “Imagine” (2000) — the material of Lennon warbling “Jealous Guy” and trianguutf8g in the studio with a very active Ono and a stoic Phil Spector is eye-cleansing.
After sampling Lennon and Ono’s frank BBC interview there, you’ll want even more truth — so turn to last year’s The Dick Cavett Show: John and Yoko Collection DVD, which collects three 1971–72 episodes featuring the gabby couple. It encompasses some of Lennon’s most in-depth US TV interviews, as the relaxed, wise-cracking musician sparred and jabbed with the clearly nervous and very deeply tanned Cavett in between sizable excerpts of Ono’s great Fly and Lennon’s Erection, a cinematic “construct” if there ever was one. Even more astounding than Cavett’s half-baked monologues are the lengthy stretches of airtime devoted to Lennon and Ono explaining their 1972 deportation case — one suspects even Jon Stewart would yelp, “TMI!” — and the pair’s impassioned, controversial performance of “Woman Is the Nigger of the World” (worth it alone to Bay Area–philes when Lennon pulls out a Ron Dellums quote to back up the lyrics) and Ono’s still-nervy, saxed-up “We’re All Water.” The versions of Lennon visible here are familiar and complementary — John as the willful dreamer and the provocative righter of wrongs, be it the plight of American Indians or the lack of consideration given Ono’s art. And one wonders, will network TV ever be quite this maddening — and challenging — again?
Scenes from both The Dick Cavett Show: John and Yoko Collection and Gimme Some Truth surface in The US vs. John Lennon, a new feature film revealing the latest Lennon iteration: the musician as a political animal hounded by the Nixon administration and threatened with deportation. Lennon considered a peace-promoting concert tour following Nixon’s reelection jaunt around the country — and posed a serious enough threat to Tricky Dicky, in the very year millions of 18-year-old Beatles fans were given the vote for the first time, that the US government moved to stop him. Focusing on Lennon’s significance as an activist who devoted his personal life (transforming the Lennon-Ono honeymoon into the peacenik, media-lovin’ bed-in) and considerable platform to antiwar efforts, filmmakers David Leaf and John Scheinfeld (Beautiful Dreamer: Brian Wilson and the Story of “Smile”) worked with documents released as a result of a Freedom of Information Act suit (aided and abetted by Jon Weiner, who consulted and wrote Gimme Some Truth: The John Lennon FBI Files) to make their film. Supported by commentators ranging from Ono and Noam Chomsky to Angela Davis and G. Gordon Liddy, the two have fashioned a sleek, informative primer on the importance of being Lennon and the historical context he emerged from. The only images they wish they had included but didn’t, Leaf told me, were World War II pictures of a bomb-besieged Liverpool and war-torn Japan.
“What’s important to note is that being for peace meant more than being nonviolent for John and Yoko,” he explained from an office in Century City. “This was in their bones, if you will. John saw firsthand what war caused.”
Leaf and his partner have had the film in mind since the mid-’90s, when Lennon’s FBI file was opened. After the disappointments of 2004, it’s intoxicating to imagine an artist and his listeners changing history, and at the very least The US vs. John Lennon allows one to dream, even briefly. Why was Lennon such a menace? “I think what terrifies power the most is truth,” Leaf says. “When truth is spoken without fear of consequence, it is threatening, and when John and Yoko embarked on their campaign for peace, they weren’t promoting themselves or a record but peace or nonviolence.” SFBG
THE US VS. JOHN LENNON
Opens Fri/29 in Bay Area theaters
See Movie Clock at www.sfbg.com
CHEAP EATS I was serious when I said my nephew the Gun was invisible. The waiterguyperson came to our table with three menus, gave one to me and one to Cousin Lora, and then looked around confused, like what was he doing with three menus?
He turned and walked away with the third. My nephew looked at my menu with me.
Then a waitressperson came to our table and said, “Drinks?”
“Coffee,” we all said, one at a time, very clearly. That’s: one, two, three cups of coffee.
She came back with two coffees.
“Uh, one more?” said the Gun.
The waitressperson looked bewildered, like she was feeling something funny on the back of her neck.
“Three coffees. One more coffee,” I clarified. “That’s OK, Gun,” I said when she finally, mutteringly, went to get it. “We know you’re here.”
He didn’t say anything.
I was serious when I said that the Gun wanted to be an assassin when he grows up. He’ll be a good one, a natural. There’s the name, and there’s the invisibility. Fortunately, there’s also this: the fact that he will never grow up.
Growing up is not my family’s strong suit. And when I said that my intention was to “recorrupt” my nephew, well, I was serious but wrong. It became clear during our very next meal together that he was going to do something to me instead. “Unlearning,” he calls it.
I’m all for that.
For dinner: burritos! At el Tepa, because Lora likes it and because it’s just one block away from the Rite Spot where we were due afterward for an important Art Closing party. The Gun, I guessed, would fare better at taquerías and places where you order at a counter rather than relying on table service.
So he got a super quesadilla with chicken ($6.35), Lora got a super chicken mole taco ($3.73), and the chicken farmer liked the looks of the carnitas — in burrito form ($5.12).
While we were watching them make this all and answering questions about beans and salsa and such, the Gun said something very interesting to me: he said, “Which is hotter? Mild or medium salsa?”
On the surface a ridiculous question, and so I of course teased and poked him about it, because that’s how we express love in my family: by making fun of each other.
So we’re sitting down eating and talking and teasing, and everything was very delicious, of course, but especially the Gun’s thing, because it was good and grilled and meaty and cheesy. And I loved my burrito too, the pork and refrieds dancing quite wonderfully with each other. And I always ask for mild and hot salsa on mine, being a classic-model Gemini. So I’m touching it up with [TK how is this phrase supposed to be read: this, then that OR this-then-that ??? this then that] from the three tabletop salsas: green, light red, dark red. And I’m also this-then-that-ing my chips, liking the green and the light red, fearing the dark …
And the Gun goes into the light red with a chip and starts doing one of those hot hot hot dances.
So automatically I tease tease tease him, because to me that’s the mildest of the three, and boys are supposed to be tough. Especially assassins-in-training.
Well, we come to a disagreement when the Gun goes into the green and thinks it’s milder than the red. So now I’m going back and forth, rechecking my own buds, because I’m supposed to know, right? And yes, of the three, light red is mild, green is medium, dark red is hot. I’ll swear to it. I’ll stand up and fight for it, even die in defense of my point of view.
But instead, loving life (meals in particular, but also some of the other details) I choose diplomacy. “Lora,” I say, and she lifts her lovely head out of the mole. “Break the tie.” I push the mild and the medium in front of her. “Which one’s hotter?”
She tastes both and sides with the Gun.
So suddenly mild is hotter than medium, majority ruling, and the Gun’s goofy question makes all the sense in the world! Because there is no way to know the answer to this or any other dilemma, even the seemingly easy ones like 1 + 1, the meaning of life, and what kind of beans? I already knew this, of course, but I had to unlearn my way back to it. Again! Thank you, Gun. For now, I get it: ask, answer, and know that you don’t know shit.
Speaking of which … SFBG
Mon.–Fri., 10 a.m.–8 p.m.
2198 Folsom, SF
Many of us have now accepted that the real benefit of sustainable agriculture — whether organic or biodynamic — is, er, sustainability. A globe less beleaguered by pesticides, run-off, and soil exhausted by monoculture is a globe more likely to support life in the future. Nonetheless, it is only human to hold out hope that organic or biodynamic products will also look and taste better, if only because they cost more.
Sustainably produced wine is a more complex matter, in part because sustainable viticulture is in its infancy in this country, and also because one bottle of wine looks much like another, with not much in the way of labeling or logos at the moment to guide us. If I poured you a glass of, say, Medlock Ames’s 2002 Bell Mountain Ranch red blend or of Bonterra’s 2004 roussanne, you would have to seize one or the other bottle from my hand and look closely to notice that the former is produced from sustainably farmed grapes and the latter from organically farmed grapes. And if you didn’t seize either bottle, if you just sipped, you probably wouldn’t have a clue you were tasting earth-friendly wine.
A wine-world irony is that this is pretty much what the winemakers are hoping for: wine that cannot be distinguished on the palate from the regular stuff. The roussanne might actually exceed this standard; it is one of the most beautifully balanced California white wines I’ve ever drunk, a bewitching mix of floral perfume, citrusy acid, and fruity muscle, with enough presence to be an aperitif but able to keep its elbows in too when confronted with food. (Roussanne, incidentally, is one of those white Rhône grapes — viognier is another — that seem to produce far more attractive wines here than they do in France, and for that matter better wines than do California-grown chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. Here I opine shamelessly.)
The red, meanwhile, shows a definite cabernet sauvignon pedigree, though the blend consists only of 25 percent cabernet. (The rest is merlot.) It’s like a rich pinot noir, and although you could probably drink it with pizza in a pinch, it has a definite aristo dimension of reserved potency. The only downside I see is price: each retails for more than $20. That is a little high, but not unsustainable.
When last I saw John Lombardo, proprietor of Lombardo’s Fine Foods, he was hurrying along the sidewalk outside the windows of his recently expanded Mission Terrace operation — a café now adjoins the catering kitchen — on his way home to … change the baby’s diapers? He had revealed to us his domestic mission, with apologies and having first checked to make sure we were satisfied with our food, and it is some measure of how satisfied we were that I forgot why he said he was rushing forth almost as soon as he’d said why. He vanished with a wave of his hand (the family place is just around the corner), and we waved back before reimmersing ourselves in an evening of home cooking, an orgy of manicotti, macaroni, orzo, and lasagna, all made according to what Lombardo told us were “family recipes.”
Cultural dry rot takes many forms — as we can see just by glancing around us these days — but one of the most insidious of those forms, for me, is the loss of ancient culinary knowledge passed down through generations, until some generation isn’t interested or can’t be bothered, and the chain breaks, the knowledge is lost, people end up ordering boxed pizza or microwaving canned soup in desperation. Some family recipes do get written down, and written recipes are better than nothing, but most of them don’t get written down. There is no better way to learn to cook, moreover, than by watching someone who knows what she or he is doing. Cooking is a sensual experience — it requires the engagement of the senses, all of them — and even the best written recipe can never be much more than a ghostly guide by comparison.
Who taught Lombardo how to cook? He graduated from the California Culinary Academy and has been a professional caterer for more than 20 years, so there we have at least two nonfamilial elements of the answer. But as my companion and I stood at the glass case, pointing at this and that with a question or two, Lombardo’s answers tended to include the phrase “family recipe” with some frequency. An orzo salad ($4), for instance, with julienne red bell pepper, shreds of mint, and crumblings of sheep-milk feta cheese folded into the ricelike pasta, was a family recipe. So was manicotti ($6.50), flaps of pasta like pig’s ears stuffed with herbed ricotta cheese and bathed in a garlicky marinara sauce decorated with basil chiffonade. We mopped up the last of the marinara sauce with chunks of grilled Italian bread.
The lineage of the lasagna ($10) did not come up, but any mother (or father, for that matter) would have been proud to bequeath to later generations the animating combination of beef and fennel-scented sausage at the heart of this classic dish. The addictive roasted red-pepper soup (thickened with potato and laced with sunflower seeds), which appeared as an opening act, wouldn’t be a bad legacy either.
Opinion at our little table (the café is tiny: just a handful of tables, though lots of windows) diverged rather startlingly on the matter of the macaroni and cheese ($8). We have never before disagreed about mac and cheese, have loved every one, fancy or plain, with Gruyère and Emmentaler or jack and American — yet the assessor across the table did not quite care for this version, with its faint, Asiatic breaths of nutmeg, turmeric, and mustard seeds and its vivid yellow color, while I found those effects (apart from the yellow) reminiscent of pastitsio, a traditional and beloved Greek dish. We did agree that the accompanying black-bean chili, with its pipings of crème fraîche, was lovely.
For Lombardo, pasta is very much the motif and casserole the method, but his flavor palettes, while heavily Italian, are not exclusively so. Besides the black-bean chili, there is also a fine turkey enchilada casserole ($9): almost a kind of Mexican lasagna, built on a floor of masa and including roasted poblano peppers, white cheese, a chili-scented tomato sauce, and plenty of turkey meat — stringy but tender, like Thanksgiving leftovers.
And there is life beyond pasta and casseroles: the café also offers a range of grilled panini — slices of grilled Italian country bread enclosing such treats as roast beef ($9). The roast beef sandwich includes caramelized onions, shavings of Gruyère, and smearings of horseradish sauce, with a crouton-rich (and under-anchovied but still quite tasty) Caesar salad on the side.
The front of the tiny house is intermittently overseen by Lombardo’s wife, Gwen, whose presence enhances the family-affair effect. She takes orders, runs the cash register, and serves the food while her husband the chef works behind her in the open kitchen, which occupies the long leg of the L-shaped space. It is possible that she also occasionally dashes home on some child-related errand, but when she is in situ, the Lombardos are not so much a power couple — the Bob and Liddy Dole of food — but joint laborers for love in a field that, while difficult, still makes room for little guys. For the restaurant business remains surprisingly, stubbornly local; yes, there are chains, but the chains tend to remind us of how many places are not chains: are instead unique, are expressions of a single sensibility, or are the product of a determined team that’s found a neighborhood niche. Will Lombardo’s Fine Foods turn out to be life’s pinnacle for John and Gwen Lombardo? The excellence of the orzo salad suggests to me that the answer is no — heights still to be scaled — but in the meantime, home is where the heart is. SFBG
LOMBARDO’S FINE FOODS
Continuous service: Tues.–Fri., 11 a.m.–9 p.m.; Sat., 9 a.m.–9 p.m.
1818 San Jose, SF
Beer and wine pending
TECHSPLOITATION Usually I don’t let the PR e-mails get to me. My standard procedure is to review and delete these missives from alternate marketplace universes where people care about incremental changes to the graphic user interface in a piece of useless software. But last week when the bizarrely clueless announcement from domain-name megaregistrar Dotster arrived in my inbox, I just couldn’t stand aside and let it pass.
Maybe I was feeling particularly grumpy because the ongoing Hewlett-Packard scandal is constantly reminding me that all my nightmares about the corporate surveillance of media types are, in fact, true. Whatever the reason, I just got plain pissed off by Dotster’s craven bid to appeal to youth with its new PimpedEmail product for MySpace users. For $7.95 per month, Dotster will sell you access to a “pimped” domain name via your MySpace account. Apparently, according to the press release, these domains “tend to favor hip buzz phrases … for example, if a visitor types ‘Stephanie’ into the DDS search box and clicks ‘Name Search,’ the results might include stephanieisthebomb.com, stephanyshizzle.com, or worldofstephanie.com.”
OK, it’s true that what leaps out immediately here is the slap-your-head stupidity of these “hip buzz phrases” — my personal favorite is worldofstephanie, which has to be one of the buzzingest, hippest phrases I’ve ever encountered. But what pushed me over the line from merely bemused to actually offended is Dotster’s crass attempt to suck money out of one of the most cash-strapped communities on MySpace: unknown musicians trying to get people interested in their music.
Most of the suggestions for how to use PimpedEmail involve using it to promote unknown bands. “A new group calling itself Nikki Blast could use band search to register nikkiblastrocks.com,” suggests Dotster. Then “they can set up as many e-mail addresses as they like using that domain extension. For example, the drummer could be firstname.lastname@example.org, and the band could award loyal fans with their own addresses such as email@example.com.” Hmmm, could “madbeatz” be another one of those hip buzz phrases? What about “rocks”?
Of course these suggestions won’t necessarily control youth behavior, partly because they’re just lame. And I’ll admit that MySpace teaming up with Dotster isn’t nearly as problematic as MySpace collaborating with state governments to police what kids are doing on one of the world’s largest social networks. But PimpedEmail is more insidious than you might think. It pushes conformity under the guise of cool; it turns the ideal of freely sharing band information into something that requires payment by the month.
No, it’s not surprising that the News Corp.–owned MySpace is figuring out ways to accessorize its free service with little nuggets at teen prices. I still reserve the right to be grossed out when it happens.
More depressing still is the way PimpedEmail pulls the covers over the true process involved in doing one of the most basic tasks of any Web user: getting a domain name and setting up e-mail. The Dotster press release describes its service as a “unique Domain Discovery System (DDS),” adding helpfully that “visitors to the service’s Web site can generate unique domains.”
Huh? There’s nothing “unique” here — this is the usual way one searches for domains and buys them online. Every time I’ve ever bought a domain, apparently, I’ve had a “unique” experience when I searched to see if annaleenewitz.com (for example) was available and then purchased it. The only thing that’s different here is that instead of getting boring suggestions for domains (like annaleecompany.com), you’ll get allegedly cool ones (like annaleeshizzle.com).
The misrepresentations here go beyond the usual “we’re unique” marketing ploys. Dotster makes it seem that getting a domain and getting e-mail are the same thing — and that the easiest way to do both is through MySpace. Let’s leave aside the privacy issues involved in tying your MySpace page together with your e-mail and domain services. I’m more worried that services like PimpedEmail will actually lower technical literacy in Web users by hiding what’s really going on when you create the address firstname.lastname@example.org. Not only does PimpedEmail take money away from its users, it takes away their knowledge of how domain names work — and by extension, it takes away just a bit more of their power. SFBG
Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who’s got all the hip buzz phrases, like “get funky” and “far out” and “make the scene.”
Many years ago, I contracted the Hepatitis C virus (HCV). I had many partners before tests became available. None, to my knowledge, has contracted HCV from sexual contact with me. I know it’s possible to pass it through sexual contact but it’s very rare. It requires blood to blood contact: someone would need to stick their bloody penis in some equally bloody orifice on my body — not gonna happen! I’m always safe when it comes to anal sex. As for oral, well, that does give the opportunity to examine my partner more closely. Am I obligated to tell every partner I have about my HCV status?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) consider HCV to be a sexually transmitted disease, but health departments of other countries — Australia for example — do not. My faith in the truthfulness of an agency of the US government in the current political climate is doubtful, especially when it comes to sexual matters.
I’m not a slut, but I satisfy my needs when they arise. I’ve never had an STD of any kind. I don’t know if it matters, but I’m a transsexual woman.
Liver It Up
Nope, doesn’t matter a bit!
It is maddening that we still know so little about sexual transmission of hep C. There are studies, but they contradict each other, are too specific to generalize from, or are otherwise just not capable of answering the big question: can you for sure get this from fucking? Seeing as the virus is pretty common though, there really ought to be more cases of transmission between monogamous non-drug-injecting partners. The cases just aren’t there, so it is tempting to shrug and say, “Guess it isn’t sexually transmitted after all.” If hep C were the common cold, I’d be cool with that, but seeing as it’s the leading cause of liver transplants in the United States and can totally kill you, we can’t be quite that cavalier about it.
It’s worth noting that while the CDC groups HCV with the sexually transmitted diseases on its Web site, it has little to say about actually getting it through sex. Click on the link and you get a list of risk factors (transfusion or organ transplant before routine testing was implemented, injection drug use, etc.) with nary a mention of sex of any sort. And when you dig a little deeper you find this: “HCV can be spread by sex, but this does not occur very often. If you are having sex, but not with one steady partner: You and your partners can get other diseases spread by having sex (e.g., AIDS, hepatitis B, gonorrhea or chlamydia).”
This is really a nice bit of legerdemain: “Sure, it could happen, but we don’t want to be quoted saying it could happen to you, so, uh, don’t get the clap.” I was guilty of the same sort of sleight of hand way back when I was working as a women’s safer-sex educator but really didn’t believe that the population we were reaching was actually at the slightest risk of contracting HIV through sex. No matter how stridently the AIDS establishment insisted that everyone was at equal risk, it wasn’t and still isn’t true, so I’d hand the girls the AIDS-prevention pamphlet I was paid to distribute and then tell them how not to get warts. Win-win, as far as I was concerned.
So do you have to tell everyone? This may be more of a question for that ethics guy than for me, but I kinda want his job anyway, so I’m going to have to say yes. You can play it down, you can say the chances of exchanging enough blood during sex are extremely low and you’ll be using condoms anyway, but since there have been cases of sexual transmission (no, we don’t really know what those people were doing, only what they say they were doing), we can’t pretend that there’s zero risk. “Almost zero” isn’t zero. I’m really sorry.
I had to do this, kind of. I discovered that a forever-ago partner had developed the disease, and as much as I would rather have sporked my own eyes out, I called the people I’d seen since (thankfully, there weren’t many of these) and informed them of the teensy-weensy risk. Nobody cared. I do hope I called them back after I finally got tested … um … all clear, guys, OK?
As for the right-wing antisex conspiracy, well, I’m with you as far as not trusting this administration as far as I could throw them — and really, really wanting to throw them — but the CDC is not so bad (and anyway the World Health Organization agrees with it about HCV). Look up Dr. Julie Gerberding, the Bush-appointed director of the CDC, and you’ll find her support for safer-sex education reviled and her appointment tsk-tsked on the Web sites of Focus on the Family, Concerned Women for America, and Accuracy in Media, among others. The enemy of your enemy is your friend.
Andrea Nemerson has spent the last 14 years as a sex educator and an instructor of sex educators. In her previous life she was a prop designer. And she just gave birth to twins, so she’s one bad mother of a sex adviser. Visit www.altsexcolumn.com to view her previous columns.
EDITORIAL Mayor Gavin Newsom, perhaps looking for a big issue to bring to a star-studded environmental meeting in New York City last week, suddenly discovered the value of tidal energy. There’s actually nothing new about the idea: although Newsom didn’t give anyone but himself credit, the plan was first floated by Matt Gonzalez in the 2003 mayor’s race. It was picked up by Supervisors Jake McGoldrick and Ross Mirkarimi and has been on the agenda at Mirkarimi’s Local Area Formation Committee (LAFCo) for more than a year.
But whatever — if the mayor’s on board, fine. There’s a tremendous amount of potential in the concept — huge amounts of renewable energy with little significant environmental impact (and no greenhouse gases). The technology appears to be available, and there’s every reason for the city to move forward rapidly — as long as the power generator is owned, operated, and totally controlled by the city. And that’s not at all guaranteed.
A pilot project would cost about $10 million — peanuts compared to the revenue potential but a chunk of change nonetheless. Newsom, who is looking for state money, is also considering the possibility of seeking private-sector partnerships. And one company that has its greedy eye on the potential energy in the ocean tides is Pacific Gas and Electric.
PG&E is trying desperately to buff up its tarnished image, spending millions on slick ads promoting itself as a green company. It’s crap: among other things, PG&E still operates a nightmare of a nuclear plant on an earthquake fault in San Luis Obispo and is trying to get the plant’s operating license extended. But environmentalism sells in California, and the state’s largest and most rapacious private utility has no shame.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported Sept. 19 that city officials were negotiating with “a number of companies that could help run the turbines and cover the costs” and added that “Pacific Gas and Electric Company is among them, said Jared Blumenfeld, director of the city’s Department of the Environment.” Blumenfeld told us he was misquoted and that officials are only discussing with PG&E the prospects for connecting to the PG&E-owned grid in the city.
But Blumenfeld explained that a private company called Golden Gate Energy already has a federal license to develop tidal energy in the San Francisco Bay — and PG&E has a stake in that venture. The Golden Gate Energy license expires in 2008, and it’s unlikely the company will be able to start work by then, Blumenfeld said. Given that nobody actually has a working model of a tidal generator of this scale, that’s probably true.
Still, it shows that PG&E isn’t going to give up easily on the idea of owning or running what could be a source of energy that could power a sizable percentage of San Francisco. The reason is obvious: if the city operates the tidal power plant, it will be a huge boost for public power. Between tides, $100 million worth of solar energy that’s in the pipeline, and the Hetch Hetchy dam, San Francisco would come pretty close to generating enough renewable energy to power the whole town — and PG&E could be tossed entirely out of the picture.
Of course, that assumes that the city is serious about creating a full-scale public power system, which involves taking over PG&E’s transmission grid. Newsom says he supports public power. So does Susan Leal, general manager of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. But while both are ready to cough up $150,000 for a study into the benefits of tidal power (and a possible $10 million for a pilot project), neither has ever been willing to spend a penny for a study into the costs and benefits of taking over the grid.
Mirkarimi told us that LAFCo will begin hearings on tidal power next month and get to the bottom of what the mayor has in mind. The supervisors should allow no shadow of doubt about the policy for pursing this energy source: it can only be done as part of a larger plan to bring public power to the city — and if PG&E or any other private energy company has even the tip of a finger anywhere near it, the deal is dead in the water. SFBG
EDITORIAL KQED, San Francisco’s venerable public radio and television outlet, is trying to summarily abandon internal democracy. The station’s management is sending out letters this week asking its 190,000 members to vote on a bylaws change that would eliminate direct election of board members and shift complete control of the station’s operations to a self-appointed board. The proposal would also strip members of the right to vote on future changes to the bylaws.
This is a horrible idea and KQED members should reject it.
The bylaws change, KQED spokesperson Yoon Lee told us, comes in the wake of a May merger between KQED and San Jose’s public station, KTEH, and is aimed at simplifying operations at the stations. Besides, she said, elections are expensive: KQED spends roughly $250,000 each time it chooses new board members.
Of course, the United States could save huge sums of money by canceling congressional elections and letting the House and Senate choose their own members, but that idea wouldn’t get too far. Neither should the idea of the people — who pay for the programming, pay for the staff, pay for the salaries of the station executives, and pay for the elections — being cut out of the process.
For half a century, KQED has had a tradition of membership participation. It’s been awkward and stilted at times (the board appoints its own slate of candidates, and it’s tough for outside candidates to get on the ballot and get elected). But critics of station management have won seats on the board now and then, and their input has been tremendously healthy for the organization.
KQED has always needed independent watchdogs. For years, the station has poured money into bad projects and wasted cash on overpaid executives — at the expense of its primary mission, which is (and ought to be) to provide quality local programming. There’s no KQED TV news show (although there used to be). Other than Michael Krasny on the radio, there’s precious little in the way of local public affairs shows.
That’s the kind of thing rebel board members like Henry Kroll and Sasha Futran used to bring up and force onto the agenda. They also made the case for letting the members — and the public — have access to the details of KQED’s finances.
Lee says that none of the other big stations in the Public Broadcasting Service system have elected boards, but this is San Francisco, a city that takes its publicly supported institutions seriously and demands accountability. And locally, the direction of member-sponsored broadcasting is just the opposite: KPFA has gone to great lengths to elect a community-based board.
This is the last chance members will ever have to halt the corporatization of KQED. Most members just throw their ballots out; this time, it’s worth taking a minute to vote no on the new bylaws. SFBG
So much going on this week: the cops and the San Francisco Police Commission are heading for a battle over secrecy, the cops and the supervisors are headed for a battle over foot patrols — and Mayor Gavin Newsom is heading for a battle with homeless advocates over a new round of sweeps at Golden Gate Park. The mayor and the local gendarmes can’t win any of this without community support and would do far better to stop trying to fight these battles.
Then there’s redevelopment and the city attorney … and we might as well get started:
•The state Supreme Court ruled a couple of weeks ago that all police disciplinary records have to be kept secret. It’s an awful decision, and San Francisco needs to find a way around it if at all possible. Some police commissioners, starting with David Campos, want to do that, but City Attorney Dennis Herrera is interpreting the law very conservatively and not offering the commission a lot of options.
Why not make public all the charges against cops with the individual officers’ names redacted? At least the community would know that some cops are improperly shooting people, giving liquor to minors, beating up people of color, beating up their spouses … and at least we’d all have a way to demand some policy changes. Or why not tell bad cops facing disciplinary hearings that they can plea bargain for a lenient sentence — and waive their rights to privacy — or take their chance in a full commission trial, where they will face termination if they lose? Let’s think here, people: this is too important to just give up. San Franciscans aren’t going to accept a secret police state.
•The mayor and the police chief are still fighting against Sup. Ross Mirkarimi’s plan to put cops on foot in high-crime areas. That’s a loser, Mr. Mayor. Nobody thinks that your current plans are working.
•After visiting Central Park in New York City — which is run by and for a private group of rich people — Newsom has decided to clear all the homeless people out of Golden Gate Park. Let me offer a little reality here: people sleep in the park because they have no place else to go. You cut their welfare payments and let the price of housing skyrocket, this is what you get. Sweep them out and they won’t disappear: they’ll sleep on the streets in the Haight and the Sunset and the Richmond. There’s a great campaign issue.
Besides, Golden Gate Park, homeless and all, is generally a safe, pleasant place, with only minor crime problems. But kids are dying on the streets only a few hundred yards away in the Western Addition. We don’t have enough cops to walk the beat where they could save lives — but we have enough to roust the homeless?
•Herrera, who’s got his hands full of ugly messes this week, tossed a referendum on the Bayview Hunters Point Redevelopment Plan off the ballot because each of the petitions didn’t have the entire plan attached. For the record, the plan is 62 pages. If this is the standard — an entire plan has to be copied and printed with every single petition — then as a practical matter, nobody in California can ever do a referendum on a redevelopment project. I suspect that’s not what Hiram Johnson had mind. SFBG
OPINION San Francisco progressives have spent years getting on the political power map. We have achieved amazing victories, such as the 2000 sweep that defeated the Brown machine and ushered in an independent Board of Supervisors. At times we’ve gotten mired in sectarian clashes that have prevented unity around a common vision. However, such obstacles and stumbles have taught us valuable lessons that can be the building blocks for a vibrant people’s movement. To be successful, we progressives need to have a clear vision and to keep asking ourselves questions. What does it mean to be progressive and for progressives to have power? Assuming we all agree that progressive unity is a necessary foundation for social change, what should unity look like today? And if we’re successful at maintaining power, what do we want to look like five and 10 years from now? In the first year following its founding convention and with these questions in mind, the San Francisco Peoples’ Organization (SFPO) has chosen to focus on three issues central to the lives of all San Franciscans — health care, affordable housing, and violence prevention. Over the past year, this fledgling organization has logged a long list of achievements and participated in many exciting causes. The SFPO has: •worked with the Alliance for a Better California to defeat Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s special election measures in November 2005; •assisted in the development and passage of Supervisor Tom Ammiano’s Worker Health Care Security Ordinance, creating universal health care for local residents; •advocated for Supervisor Chris Daly’s recently passed legislation to increase mandatory levels of affordable housing in new housing developments; •took a leadership role in uniting communities of color and progressives to fight for Proposition A’s homicide and violence prevention efforts, including a host of new budget initiatives addressing some of the root causes of violence; •launched an e-mail dispatch that reaches over 5,000 constituents and highlights local progressive issues, campaigns, and events; •played an active role in the UNITE-HERE Local 2 contract campaign, attending pickets, planning meetings, and participating in civil disobedience. Part of our effort involves critically analyzing the policy agendas of our elected lawmakers and making recommendations. Mayor Gavin Newsom, through his highly visible work to legalize same-sex marriage, rightfully gained the respect and admiration of progressive San Franciscans. However, same-sex marriage is only one issue; Mayor Newsom should not be given carte blanche among progressives for this single act. The SFPO’s second annual convention will take place Sept. 30 at St. Mary’s Cathedral. Please join us. We cannot wait to work together. The future of our city — who we want to live here, who we want to work here, who we want educated here — is being determined now. SFBG Jane Kim and John Avalos The writers are president and vice president, respectively, of the San Francisco Peoples’ Organization. For more information about the SFPO and the Sept. 30 convention, go to www.sfpeople.org.