Volume 41 Number 19

February 7 – February 13, 2007

  • No categories

A few of the best — and the rest — from Indiefest


Green Mind, Metal Bats (Kumakiri Kazuyoshi, Japan, 2006). Never mind Ichiro and his ballsy ilk — Japan has always had an inferiority complex when it comes to America’s favorite pastime. So it fits like a glove when director Kumakiri collides baseball and the impressionable skulls of a few budding players in order to sort out the damage done to his small-town losers. The supposed Japanese son of Babe Ruth overlooks the action like a winged It’s a Wonderful Life angel in the outfield as a bamboozled, naïfish convenience store clerk obsessively practices his batting — that is, until a booze-swilling, baseball-loving vixen smashes her way into his life and puts his metal bat to criminal use. Just call him Ichi the Swinger. With a delicate touch and gentle hilarity that recall Takeshi Kitano’s underrated life–as–a–ball game comedy Boiling Point, Kumakiri studs his Frank Capra–esque meditation with toothsome cameos and telling details from Japan’s burby underbelly, never losing his obvious affection for the sport that has driven his characters so exquisitely bonkers. (Kimberly Chun)

Sat/10, 7 p.m., Roxie; Mon/12, 9:30 p.m., Roxie; Feb. 15, 7 p.m., California

S&Man (J.T. Petty, US, 2006). Petty’s documentary S&Man is a satisfyingly unsettling investigation into why we watch horror films or, rather, why we watch the horrific. In particular, he examines the world of underground horror films, a newer generation of low-budget, DVD nasties that take depictions of sadistic, often sexualized violence to new extremes of punishing verisimilitude. As horror scholar and talking head Carol Clover notes at one point, it’s a postslasher world: the question now is not "When is she gonna get it?" but "How and for how long?" The answers given by the filmmakers whom Petty follows range from Bill Zebub’s silly tits-and-blood fests (see his Jesus Christ: Serial Rapist) to Fred Vogel’s infamous August Underground series of Marquis de Sade–like dispatches from a serial killer’s basement. But Petty skillfully trips us on our own voyeuristic compulsion to know with the stalker-snuff DVDs’ insecure and palpably creepy Erik Rost (the titular S-M man) — and the mounting insinuation that they are not fakes. By the documentary’s chilling final act we are wholly implicated: hog-tied by our desire to look, we are forced to watch, with no disavowal in sight. (Matt Sussman)

Sat/10, 11:45 p.m., Roxie; Feb. 18, 9:30 p.m., Victoria

Unholy Women (Amemiya Keita, Suzuki Takuji, and Toyoshima Keisuke, Japan, 2006). Now that Hollywood has sucked J-horror dry with its remakes of The Ring and The Grudge (blockbusters that had already spawned numerous East Asian spin-offs and remakes upon their initial releases), ghostly children and stringy female wraiths with bulging eyes are no longer creepy; they’re clichés. Too bad no one passed on the news to two of the three filmmakers contributing to this horror omnibus. Suzuki’s "Steel" is the gem here: it presents an awkward teen’s weird and bloody courtship of his boss’s sister, who literally might have a few screws loose. With her upper body covered by a sack (we never see what lies beneath), the sister aptly illustrates horror’s long-running figuration of the monstrous feminine; another cliché that Unholy Women, with its undead and suffocating mothers, disappointingly traffics in. (Sussman)

Mon/12, 9:30 p.m., California; Feb. 14, 9:30 p.m., Roxie; Feb. 17, 11:45 p.m., Roxie

Your life is calling


› cheryl@sfbg.com

Just outside Las Vegas sits a solitary phone booth, as isolated as the restaurant at the end of the universe. Despite its unlikely location, it’s a magnet for lost souls; they appear at odd hours to pounce on the ringing receiver and chat with Greta (Shani Wallis), a mysterious, husky-voiced dispenser of advice and moral support. The stories of four loosely connected characters drawn to the booth form the framework of John Putch’s Mojave Phone Booth, a rather classic low-budget, HD-shot indie that still manages to avoid cliché as it explores lives facing varying degrees of desperation.

"I’m bothered by all this tape," Beth (Annabeth Gish) tells Greta, referencing the boundless magnetic strips she’s noticed littering the landscape. But the line also foreshadows Mojave Phone Booth‘s recurring theme of recorded troubles. When Beth’s car is broken into several times in a single month, she huddles in the backseat with her camcorder, intent on capturing the thief in the act. When Mary (Tinarie van Wyk Loots) agrees to sleep with sleazy Barry (Steve Guttenberg) for cash, she’s horrified to discover he plans to videotape their encounter. Michael (David DeLuise) preys on naive Glory (Joy Gohring) — girlfriend of suspicious Alex (Christine Elise McCarthy) — offering suspicious close-contact "treatments" and an audiotape he insists will help scrub away the aftereffects of her perceived alien encounter. Finally, sad-sack Richard (Robert Romanus) pines for estranged wife Sarah (Missi Pyle), going so far as to make a home-movie compilation of their few blissful moments.

Some of these folks find happy endings. Some don’t. But all make their way through life with Greta’s guidance — though the film does conclude that face-to-face interaction, without the barriers of recording devices or telephone wires, is the key to relationship building. This view holds true in Cutting Edge, Bill McCullough’s entertaining slice-of-life doc about a Harlem barbershop that serves as a symbolic and literal "nexus of all black male life" for its patrons.

Cutting Edge is an HBO-produced doc, so its title doesn’t exactly extend to the filmmaking style, and it clearly riffs off the expected perception of such establishments as hubs of good-natured trash-talking, thanks in no small part to flicks like Barbershop. But the subjects — including the co-owner, who rightfully refers to himself as a "barber-psychologist" — are entertaining and unguarded, and the film successfully makes its point about the shop’s cultural and community importance above and beyond hair care. Sure, coifs come up in the endless stream of conversation, but they’re hardly the shop’s sole raison d’être.

But nowhere is a sense of place more delineated than in Sean Meredith’s paper-puppet take on you-know-which classic, Dante’s Inferno, which features a Dante (voiced by Dermot Mulroney) who finally unseats Clerks‘ Dante as the biggest slacker named Dante in filmdom, and an underworld tour guide in the form of Aeneid scribe Virgil (James Cromwell). At first I was worried this film would consist of too much sleepy voice-over and distractingly crude animation, but I was so wrong; as Dante and Virgil descend through the circles of hell, Meredith throws in biting, up-to-the-minute jokes that are both timely (randy Catholic priests, pushy Fox news reporters, militant airport security guards) and just plain funny, as when mythical ferry captain Charon appears rocking a headset mic and a bullhorn in the name of Hades-bound crowd control. *

The ninth annual IndieFest takes place Feb. 8–20 at the Castro Theatre, 429 Castro, SF; Roxie Film Center, 3117 16th St., SF; Victoria Theatre, 2961 16th St., SF; and the California Theatre, 2113 Kittredge, Berk. Advance tickets (most shows $10) are available at www.sfindie.com.

See you in Assisi


› paulr@sfbg.com

Umbria is the center of Italy, pretty much, and that isn’t an easy thing to be. The country has an unconcentric shape, for one thing: a long, booted shank poised to kick a lumpy ball called Sicily, with aloof Sardinia looking on and a curious glanslike flaring in the north, where the peninsula’s long-ago collision with the rest of Europe raised the Alps. Italy is, like California, hot, snowy, mountainous, and flat; it is a land of butter, rice, pancetta, tomatoes, basil, and olive oil. It is close to Switzerland and Africa. It has islands, including Elba, the knob of rock where Napoleon was sent so he couldn’t make any more trouble. (Would today’s Elbans accept another failed warmonger, do you think? Guess who!) It is a lot to be the center of.

There is, then, something elementally Italian about Umbria, a hilly province quite near a pair of famous neighbors, Tuscany and Rome, and like and unlike them. It differs from them in the sense that, apart from the hill towns of Assisi (home of St. Francis) and Deruta (famous for hand-painted ceramics), it is less well-known, especially to tourists. But it resembles its neighbors not least in cuisine, at least if we are judging by the menu at Ristorante Umbria, opened nearly 11 years ago by the fabulously named Giulio Tempesta. Umbria brought regional Italian cooking to San Francisco well ahead of the current vogue.

If you like Italian food, and everybody seems to, you’ll love Umbrian food, at least as the kitchen at Umbria turns it out. And you will like it in a setting that feels as Italian as many places in Italy, a pastiche of exposed wood, terra-cotta tiles, trompe l’oeil, an old armoire, and good-looking service staff speaking spitfire Italian as they do their skillful dance among the tables. Those tables are crowded, especially at lunchtime, when the hungry include a microcosmic mix of today’s SoMa populations: people who work in the area; others who are staying at one or the other of the neighborhood’s many hotels, conventioneering at Moscone, or visiting the nearby museums; and city folk who have ventured downtown because Umbria is, frankly, worth the venture.

Just as Zuni is renowned for its roast chicken with bread salad — a dish halfway competent home cooks can make a run at — so Umbria is notable for its exquisite pastas, which are another staple of most of the good home cooks I know. My interest is particularly piqued when I find a menu with pasta sauces I’ve been making for years, and Umbria has three of them, right in a row: puttanesca (spicy Neapolitan tomato sauce with anchovies, capers, and black olives), amatriciana (classic Roman sauce of pancetta, onion, and tomato), and arabbiata ("enraged" — tomato sauce with plenty of garlic and chili flakes). Of the three, the amatriciana sauce is the one I make least often, in large part because I don’t keep the requisite pasta — bucatini (fat, hollow strands) — in regular stock, and so I lean toward it in restaurants, when I lean toward pasta at all.

Umbria’s version ($11.75) steps around the bucatini issue by using rigatoni, the stubby, hollow cylinders that look like miniatures of underground pipes. Rigatoni are too short to be easily manipulable by a fork; they have to be speared instead. But the sauce, thickly adhesive and deeply flavored, more than made up for the slight loss of convenience, and I was particularly pleased to find the shreds of pancetta had been precrisped, so that they retained some crunch even when simmered with the tomato and onion.

Lasagne al forno ($16.25) was as satisfying as it gets and served at just the right temperature — somewhere between tepid and warm — which reminds us that, until fairly recently, home ovens were rare in Italy, and dishes destined to be baked had to be taken to the village fornaio, then hurried home while still warm. Mezze maniche ($15.75) — a tubular pasta similar to penne — also got the baking treatment; the tubes were jumbled with rounds of spicy sausage and slices of wild mushroom in a tomato-cream sauce before being sealed under a broad cap of melted mozzarella. And oreccheti ($15.75) dodged a cliché bullet by being given an ensemble of diced chicken, strips of red and yellow bell pepper, and a heavy shower of chopped arugula instead of the usual sausage and broccoli rabe.

You are not required to eat pasta at Umbria, of course. You can have pizza; the margherita ($11) is quite good, though it is more a cheese pizza, with basil and tomato (the former a sprig, the latter a lone cherry tomato, halved) serving in an advisory capacity. For meat people: beef carpaccio is an appealing port of entry, the shavings of flesh heavily festooned with grated Parmesan and basil chiffonade. Polpette ($6.50 for five) — meatballs slightly smaller than golf balls — were marvelously moist and mild (because of veal?) in their bright tomato-cheese sauce, and the lamb burger ($13.75) was sensational, a tasty juice bomb served on a focaccia bun and in the company of the crusty roasted potato rounds that have been one of the restaurant’s specialties from the beginning.

Last, there is the matter of tiramisù ($6.50). As a rule I can do without, but I found myself in the company of an expert, a man who has spent some time looking into the matter. He poked and prodded at Umbria’s offering like a scientist trying to pry a DNA sample from some ancient specimen; finally, he lifted a chunk, watched some goo drip lasciviously to the plate below, and pronounced himself pleased.

"It’s not dripping wet," he said. "A good sign."

Elementary, my good sir! *


Dinner: Mon.–Sat., 5:30–10:30 p.m. Lunch: Mon.–Fri., 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m.

198 Second St., SF

(415) 546-6985


Beer and wine



Wheelchair accessible




› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS Earl Butter said it was the dumbest thing he’d ever heard, and that was when I knew I was back. I wish I could remember what I’d said, to mark the spot, something about … something, I feel certain.

We were sitting around a couple of square tables in the back room at Mollie’s truck stop, former home of the 12-egg omelet and current home of the only chicken-fried steak omelet that I know of. It was me, Butter, Phenomenon, the House, and the Horn Section.

Late morning, Klamath Falls, Ore.

We were fueling up for an afternoon show at a nursing home where, weeks earlier, the director was shot and killed by an angry crazy person who probably had religious beliefs and almost certainly political ones. But we didn’t know this yet, over eggs.

Someone tried to tell me once that I was wise and witchy, and I made the mistake of actually believing them. For a while. This is one of the most idiotic mistakes you can make in life, right up there with holding your hand in the fire.

So I went around for maybe a month or two thinking I knew some things, and then the skin between my fingers started to blister and smoke, and I accidentally showed my true colors. I screamed.

My true color is red. My favorite colors are green and blue, and I wear a lot of brown, but my true color, apparently, is red. It expresses itself in millions of little tiny flags sticking out of my skin on millions of little tiny flagpoles, waving in the wind.

And I wonder why people don’t want to date me!

I’m like head cheese. You know that someone, somewhere, considers cute little fiery white chicken farmers of ambiguous gender and unambiguous stupidity a wonderful delicacy or a rare treat. Meanwhile, everyone else in the world, myself included, would rather be eating chicken-fried steak. Hash browns. Biscuits.

Or Thai food.

I decided to sit out our afternoon show in order to check my e-mail. And I borrowed my brother’s laptop and found a Thai restaurant with free wireless Internet. So while my comrades clippity-clopped a crew of traumatized Oregonian elders into working it out on the dance floor, I was eating plah goong with highly suspicious shrimp and wilted iceberg lettuce, checking my e-mail.

Nothing. I put the laptop away and wished with all my idiotic might that small-town Oregon would turn into San Francisco, at least long enough for me to finish lunch. Say at Little Thai on Polk and Broadway, where the prawn salad with mango is to die for, not to die of. And the yellow curry chicken, leftover, forgotten on the floor of your pickup truck and then eaten cold the next day ($7.95) will taste 10 times better than anything this kitchen can come up with.

My new favorite restaurant! Little Thai, I mean. Not this one. And so long as I’m sitting here dreaming and old people somewhere in the world are dancing, let me have a carpenter my age named Joe to talk to. Or let me be standing on Broadway in the dark in the cold, watching his lit, balding, bowed head in Little Thai’s warm, steamy window, reading a newspaper. I don’t care who that guy is, I think, waiting for the light to change. I’m going to cross this street and give him these eggs.

At a country dance that night one town down, at the community center, Earl Butter discovered brandy. I wasn’t drinking, but I couldn’t lay off of the chicken wings. By the middle of our third set, Earl was too brilliant to play the drums by himself, and I was too fried to play the pan.

So I sat splayed on the floor next to his neglected kick drum, and I took off one of my boots, held it by the toes, and tried to give the dancers a downbeat to land on in between his ups.

"Stop it!" he said. "Stop it! Stop it!" he kept saying, but I liked being on the floor and felt useful.

After, I went outside across the parking lot in front of our van and peed in the weeds. There was a field, and there were railroad tracks. It was a clear, icy country night, the stars almost tickling. A train came, shattering everything, and for the gazillionth time in my little life, I closed my eyes and wondered where in the world I was. *


Lunch: Tues.–Sat., 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m. Dinner: Mon.–Thurs. and Sun., 4–10 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 4–10:30 p.m.

2065 Polk, SF

(415) 771-5544

Takeout and delivery available




Wheelchair accessible


Small Favors


› andrea@altsexcolumn.com

Dear Andrea:

I have a small penis, and I want my wife to have sex with a man more endowed than me, but I don’t know how to approach her regarding this.

Any suggestions?


Small but Fearless

Dear Fear:

I’m trying to re-create in my head the conversation from the other week which culminated in my suggesting that someone could really clean up at Cafe Press with an "Ask Me about My Small Penis" T-shirt. I can’t, but suffice it to say that nobody disagreed.

If you don’t really need her to do this but just want to enjoy thinking about it, you don’t have to approach her. You can just … close your eyes. If it’s the humiliation you’re after (and you wouldn’t be the first or the thousandth), you can clue her in so that she can bring it up at (in)opportune times. There are few women, it is true, whose personal chimes get rung by panting, "Oh, Charlie, your dick is so small … and kind of limp. Oh, do me with your small, limp dick!" but there are certainly some who would gamely follow the script if it made you happy, especially if it isn’t even particularly true. (My dominatrix friend reports that men who announce their tininess ahead of time, hoping to be berated for it, are nearly always perfectly normal-size; it’s the customers who never mention a thing who turn out to be hung like a grape, and not one of those big grapes, either.)

Be very, very sure of what you want before you go asking your wife for a favor of this magnitude. Unless you already have reason to believe she’s amenable, she will likely be terribly shocked and wounded and wonder what she ever did to make you think she’d agree to such a thing and if you love her anymore. Or she may agree way too eagerly and rush out without so much as a "see ya" — and you probably wouldn’t like that much, either. Show her this column, and see what she says.



Dear Andrea:

I love ticklish women. How did I develop this fetish?



Dear Mo:

Oh, who the hell knows? Early sexologists such as Alfred Binet and Richard von Krafft-Ebbing and later theorists and researchers such as Sigmund Freud and the behaviorists have tried to explain how we make associations or get imprinted or conditioned (or whichever theory was in at the time) and end up getting weird about rubber aprons or white gym socks or used Kleenex. None of it’s very convincing. It doesn’t seem as though early (or "premature") masturbation in the presence of the object, nor possession of a congenitally low and criminal character, nor symbolic substitution ("The shoe, it is a vagina! The foot, it is also a vagina! Um …"), nor lovemaps, nor any other attempt to explain why we are attracted to things and parts as well as to people is ever going to emerge as the one true explanation. In fact, I would venture to say that they’re all wrong, as is the question itself. We can’t determine how or why fetishes develop when the category itself is such a catchall.

There are individual, idiosyncratic fetishes but also societally determined ones, which are also subject to the vagaries of time (the well-turned ankle, anyone? teeny-tiny feet?), and there are fashions even more ephemeral. There are drives so powerful they seem bred in the bone, and there are fancies adopted and forgotten like Paris Hilton’s Chihuahuas. There are objects that are not really fetishes at all but props or costumes necessary to someone’s fantasy scenario, and there is Fetish, which is the sort of tight and shiny stuff that many people fetishize but others wear or covet merely because it looks bitchin’.

You don’t really have a fetish for ticklish women, anyway, do you? You have a thing for tickling, but you don’t know which women are ticklish (and most of us aren’t about to tell you), and you probably don’t find their ticklishness arousing as much as you are aroused by tickling them. OK, I’m nitpicking, but still. Tickling is usually a power thing, of course, and many incidents of seemingly harmless tickling are acts of aggression in (flimsy) disguise. Being tickled can be particularly dismaying to the victim, because unlike, say, a sound kick in the ribs, tickling is supposed to be all in good fun, so a ticklee may feel like a party pooper or a crybaby for insisting that is in fact neither fun nor funny — she (it’s usually but by no means always a she) really wants it to stop right now. Are you one of those ticklers? Because if so, well fuck you, sir, very much. Cut it the hell out. If you are the other sort, of course, the tickler who tickles only willing ticklees or stops as soon as the recipient cries uncle, well good for you and carry on.

I really hate the first kind, in case that wasn’t clear. And ticklish? Me? Certainly not.



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.

Kids get Addicted to War


› amanda@sfbg.com

It’s a lucid time line of 230 years of American wars and conflicts. It’s a well-researched text, footnoted from sources as varied as international newspapers, Department of Defense documents, and transcripts of speeches from scores of world leaders. It’s been endorsed by such antiwar stalwarts as Susan Sarandon, Noam Chomsky, Helen Caldicott, Cindy Sheehan, and Howard Zinn, who called it "a witty and devastating portrait of US military history."

And it’s a comic book that’s going to be available for 10th-through-12th-grade students in San Francisco’s public schools. Four thousand copies of Addicted to War: Why the U.S. Can’t Kick Militarism, by Joel Andreas, have been purchased and donated to the San Francisco Unified School District using contributions gathered by local peace activist Pat Gerber.

Gerber came across the book at a rally about a year and a half ago and, inspired by the compelling display of such heavy content, presented it to the Board of Education’s Curriculum and Program Committee, where its use as a supplemental text was unanimously approved last fall. The book will be distributed to all high school social studies teachers for review, and those who opt in will be given copies to use as supplemental texts to their already approved curriculum.

Many peaceniks may be familiar with the 77-page comic book that was originally conceived in 1991 to highlight the real story behind the Gulf War. With spare wit and imagery, Andreas plainly outlines how combat is the very expensive fuel that feeds the economic and political fire of the United States.

In outlining this history, Andreas doesn’t gloss over the lesser-known and oft misunderstood conflicts in Haiti, the Philippines, Lebanon, and Grenada. He draws on multiple sources to portray America’s purported need to overthrow foreign governments and establish convenient dictators, including Saddam Hussein, in order to fill the pockets of the most powerful people and corporations in American history. Andreas also includes the blinded eyes of the mainstream media, whose spin and shortcomings keep this business rolling.

The current publisher, Frank Dorrel, came across the book in 1999. "This is the best thing I’ve ever read," the Air Force veteran told the Guardian. "I’ve got a whole library of US foreign policy, but this puts it all together in such an easy format. Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, Michael Parenti — they’re all [authors of] great books, but they aren’t easy reads." When Dorrel first discovered the book, he contacted the original publisher to order 100 copies to give to all his friends.

"They didn’t even have 10," he said. "It was out of print."

Dorrel was disappointed with the news and thought an updated text was overdue. With the use of a private investigator, he tracked down Andreas, who happened to live in the Los Angeles area just a few miles from Dorrel.

Andreas agreed it was time for a new edition. Addicted to War now includes Kosovo, Sept. 11, Afghanistan, and the current quagmire in Iraq. Over the years, 300,000 copies have been distributed in English, Spanish, and Japanese. Many of those copies have been distributed to teachers and students through the Books for Schools program, but San Francisco Unified is the first entire district to approve use of the book. Dorrel encourages others to follow suit by deeply discounting the $10 price for school districts to as little as $2.50 a book plus shipping. He seems unconcerned with making a profit and said, "It’s all done to get out the information."

For San Francisco, he discounted the price even further, and the costs were met by donations from local peace activists. No taxpayer or school district funds were involved in the purchase, and Gerber and Dorrel are still accepting donations to defray some costs. (Contributions may be sent to Frank Dorrel, PO Box 3261, Culver City, CA 90231-3261.)

The district teachers’ union, United Educators of San Francisco, expressed unanimous approval of the book, and it sailed through the board’s bureaucracy. But it is not without its critics.

Sean Hannity of Fox News slammed the book for, among other things, illustrations of President George W. Bush wearing a gas mask and a baby holding a machine gun. Hannity invited Sup. Gerardo Sandoval to his Jan. 12 show, introducing him as "the man who doesn’t think we need a military" in a distorted reference to something Sandoval said in a previous appearance.

This time Hannity asked Sandoval, "Do you support this as propaganda in our schools?"

To which Sandoval responded, "It’s not propaganda. But I do support having alternative viewpoints, especially for young people about to become of military age…. I think it provides a balanced approach to history. Some of the actions that the US has taken abroad in our 200-year history have been less than honorable."

To which an aghast Hannity countered, "It encourages high schoolers to kick the war habit. It is so unbalanced and one-sided…. You’re entitled to your left-wing ‘we don’t need a military’ views … but leave our children in school alone."

Strangely, images of the book shown during the Fox segment bear little resemblance to those in the actual text. The news channel flashed to a picture of a thick, hardbound book with a dust jacket of the cover illustration, though as far as Dorrel and Gerber know, it has never been published in hardcover and never with a dust jacket. Gerber thinks the cover image and some internal cartoons were printed from the Web site www.addictedtowar.com and faked into a book that the news channel didn’t have a copy of and had not actually read.

The SFUSD was invited by Fox News to speak on behalf of the book but declined. "We decided we didn’t want to debate in that forum," district spokesperson Gentle Blythe told the Guardian.

Blythe said the district has been contacted mostly by people in support of the work and the only criticism has come from its coverage in the conservative media. She stressed that the use of the book is optional, at the discretion of each teacher, and the Office of Teaching and Learning is researching other texts that offer another perspective but has not settled on anything yet.

"If a teacher agrees with the content, they love the book," Dorrel said. "This is really the history. We’ve been going around in the name of liberty, and it’s not that. It’s a business. It’s really bad when war is your business."

Dorrel said that since he’s been distributing the book, which has all his contact information on the first page, he’s only received a couple of nasty phone calls. "The phone rings every day. Every day there are e-mails, and mostly I just get praise because they’ve never seen anything like this. *

The self-appointed censors at GoDaddy


› annalee@techsploitation.com

TECHSPLOITATION On the morning of Jan. 24, Fyodor Vaskovich awoke to discover that his Web site, SecLists.org, had been transformed into a giant error message. The message said his domain couldn’t be resolved. This troubled him greatly: SecLists is an archive of several computer security–related mailing lists that contains more than 50,000 pages of technical information. It has thousands of visitors per day and nets Vaskovich a fair amount of income from Google ads. Where had the site gone? He checked with the registrar that sold him his site, GoDaddy, and discovered the megacorporation had changed the site’s name servers — addresses that tell your browser how to find the place where a Web site is hosted. Instead of his Web host’s name servers, he found this name server: ns1.suspended-for.spam-and-abuse.com

What the hell? Vaskovich checked his answering machine and found a message from somebody in the abuse department at GoDaddy telling him they were going to pull the plug on his domain. Based on his logs, it appeared that his name servers had been changed less than a minute after the call was made. Essentially, he’d been given a few seconds’ notice before a major Internet resource (and source of revenue) was shut down.

For the rest of the day Vaskovich was on the phone with GoDaddy trying to untangle what had happened. Luckily, he kept careful records. These records corroborated his story that he’d been given less than a minute’s notice and that GoDaddy repeatedly refused to give him customer service for several hours. At last he learned that SecLists had been yanked offline because MySpace contacted GoDaddy and requested it. One of the 50,000 pages on SecLists contained an e-mail in which somebody had listed the names and passwords of several MySpace users. Instead of asking Vaskovich to take down the page with passwords — which is standard industry practice — MySpace asked GoDaddy to squash the whole site. GoDaddy should have contacted Vaskovich first, and they could have asked for a legal takedown notice. But they didn’t.

What makes GoDaddy’s actions even more disgusting is that the passwords in question had been leaked about 10 days before GoDaddy took SecLists down. They appeared on dozens of other security-related and hacker Web sites. Security expert Bruce Schneier had even written a column in which he analyzed the quality of about 30,000 of the leaked passwords. (Among the top 10 popular passwords was "fuckyou," which completely mirrors my feelings for MySpace.)

So the point is passwords were already circuutf8g, and MySpace needed to tell its customers to change their passwords. Squelching SecLists wasn’t going to protect anyone. And yet GoDaddy’s general counsel, Christine Jones, defended its actions because she believed pedophiles would get access to children’s names and passwords. "For something that has safety implications like that, we take it really seriously," she told Wired News editor Kevin Poulsen. "I think the fact that we gave him notice at all was pretty generous."

Writing in his blog about the incident, Poulsen added, "Every link in internet service — network operators, hosting companies, and now domain registrars — willing to take on a censorship role increases the likelihood of legitimate content being suppressed." What this GoDaddy disaster makes clear is that instant censorship is possible, with no court oversight, at almost any point in the data chain. And for users who aren’t as savvy or well-connected as Vaskovich, getting shut down by GoDaddy would be essentially a death sentence for speech. Indeed, he told me that he couldn’t get any service from GoDaddy until he told their customer service rep that he spends thousands of dollars on domains with the company every month. Suddenly, he was told his two-day wait for service would be cut down to mere minutes.

In the short term, what this means is do not use GoDaddy as your registrar. Vaskovich has set up a protest site at NoDaddy.com, where you can learn more.

A spokesperson from GoDaddy said the company disagrees with the way Vaskovich characterized his experience. While the legal department at GoDaddy has not yet read the NoDaddy site, the spokesperson said the company will take legal action if any of its statements are untrue. Given that GoDaddy disputes Vaskovich’s story, such a suit seems inevitable. *

Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who still isn’t clear on how, exactly, a pedophile would figure out which passwords on SecLists belonged to children.

The search for Spocko


› news@sfbg.com

For the better part of a year starting in late 2005, San Francisco blogger Mr. Spocko waged a quiet campaign against right-wing talk radio station KSFO, 560 AM. He wrote to its sponsors and played for them explicit portions of the station’s programming, such as shock jock Lee Rodgers’s call for antiwar protesters to be "stomped to death … just stomp their bleeping guts out."

The idea was to educate corporations about exactly what they were sponsoring, in the hope that Spocko’s work might staunch the free flow of hateful rhetoric. He also posted these audio clips on his blog, Spocko’s Brain. Several advertisers pulled their ads as a result of his campaign. But after MasterCard decided to cancel its KSFO spots in July 2006, Spocko said hostile commenters started to arrive on his blog and declare that he was in legal jeopardy.

"They said things like ‘They’re going to find you and sue you for everything you’ve got,’ " Spocko told the Guardian by telephone, the only way he will be interviewed because of fears for his personal safety if people learn his true identity.

Spocko suspected people at the station were behind the threats and forged on with his campaign. Then, on Dec. 22, 2006, lawyers for KSFO’s parent company, ABC — a division of Disney — sent Spocko’s Internet hosting company a cease and desist letter. The letter asserted Spocko’s clips of KSFO content were copyrighted material and demanded they be taken down from his site immediately. 1&1 Internet, the hosting company, not only complied but went one step further. It shut down Spocko’s Brain.

That’s when things got crazy.

Mike Stark — a bare-knuckle liberal blogger who famously asked Sen. George Allen, the Virginia Republican who was ousted in the last election, if he ever spat on his wife — took up Spocko’s cause. Within days scores of like-minded bloggers had posted the KSFO audio clips on their own blogs, essentially daring Disney to come after all of them. By the first week of the new year, the mainstream media — including USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the New York Times — had gotten hold of the story.

Spocko’s battle against KSFO took on the dimensions of a media turf war, with the right’s traditional ally, talk radio, pitted against the new and largely left-wing online media. Spocko was suddenly and reluctantly famous, despite the fact that few actually know who he is. KSFO and Disney "made me a public figure," he told us. "[Now] in their mind I’m fair game."

Spocko cites right-wing hit pieces — such as the book KSFO’s Melanie Morgan wrote about Cindy Sheehan, American Mourning — as examples of what happens to lefties who stick their necks onto the conservative-media chopping block. But he also fears something much worse than character assassination. He passed along an e-mail in which someone said he "sounds like a terrorist." Morgan and her fellow KSFO hosts regularly advocate harsh treatment for terrorists, to put it mildly.

"Morgan has told her one million members in Move America Forward [a pro–war on terror ‘charitable’ organization that Morgan chairs] and all her listeners that I’ve smeared her, I’ve attacked her, I’ve threatened her security," he told us. "That’s scary as hell."

Despite his professed fears, Spocko has held his ground. On Jan. 25 his lawyer, Matt Zimmerman, sent ABC a strongly worded letter demanding that it officially retract its cease and desist letter to Spocko’s old hosting company. Zimmerman works at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which fights for people’s online freedom.

"[ABC-Disney] were clearly in the wrong here," Zimmerman told us. "They shouldn’t be in the habit of sending out baseless threats without following through on them."

At issue is whether Spocko’s posting of KSFO’s content constitutes what is known as fair use, an aspect of US copyright law that allows for certain limited usage of protected materials. Zimmerman’s letter to ABC goes through the standard four-point criteria for testing fair use. But more important, Zimmerman and Spocko say Disney did not even bother to follow the correct procedure for removing copyrighted material from a Web site.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 established a protocol for corporations to follow when they believe their materials have been poached. According to Zimmerman, however, Disney did not cite the DMCA in its letter to 1&1 Internet. Disney simply threatened 1&1 with unspecified legal action if it did not take down Spocko’s clips, and 1&1 caved.

"If they were serious about their beliefs that this was a copyright infringement, they could have sent a takedown notice" as specified in the DMCA, Zimmerman said. "But they didn’t do that."

Spocko’s lawyer also had some choice words for 1&1, the hosting company. Under the DMCA, Internet service providers are protected from liability, so long as they too follow proper protocol under the act. But because Disney did not cite the DMCA, Zimmerman said, 1&1 was not in any legal peril. The company "was under no obligation" to pull Spocko’s blog, he asserted. "People should be aware that in this case [1&1] decided that their own interests were more important than their customer’s."

Neil Simpkins, a 1&1 spokesperson, told the Guardian, "We are not a judicial system here. [This] issue is between Spocko and whoever is the owner of the copyright." When asked if 1&1 had consulted with legal counsel of any kind before pulling the blog, Simpkins answered that it had. But when asked for the names and contact information of his company’s legal advisers, Simpkins didn’t provide them. Officials at KSFO and ABC refused to comment for this story.

With the help of the EFF and his blogger allies, Spocko has found another ISP. Computer Tyme Web Hosting now carries his blog, which is back up and running. Some Spocko’s Brain readers have continued the campaign against KSFO. According to the blog, one Spocko devotee got the California state affiliate of the Automobile Association of America to pull its ads from the station.

But Spocko hasn’t yet posted any new audio clips nor has he contacted any advertisers since his run-in with KSFO’s parent companies. Spocko is conflicted. Part of him wants to jump back into the fray. But after the media maelstrom last month, he’s holding back, at least until ABC and Disney respond to his lawyer’s letter.

"I need to pay attention to what’s right, [but] I also need to pay attention to the real world," he said. "Media conglomerates can be ruthless."

Despite his newfound circumspection, he still believes KSFO and its fans will come after him. He even speaks of the outing of his true identity as a foregone conclusion.

"After my 15 minutes [of fame] are over — and I’m at 14:58 right now — they’ll still be out there, and they’ll still be pissed off," Spocko said. "And after they out me, I don’t know how this is going to impact me." *

The straight story on the armory


The sale of the former National Guard armory on Mission Street has caused a flurry of concern about the plans for the site of the new owner and developer, Kink.com. Most of the columns and editorials in the San Francisco Chronicle, Examiner, and BeyondChron.com have been reactionary and politically opportunistic. It has given the cheerleaders of runaway market-rate development a new reason to knock affordable housing advocates in general and the Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition in particular.

For the past six years, MAC, with the participation of hundreds of Mission District residents, has been developing a vision for the neighborhood, called the People’s Plan, which confronts the gentrification pressures of new development and sets out policies for a healthy, sustainable community. Our approach is not that of knee-jerk NIMBYs mindlessly opposing any proposed change in our community. We are in favor of affordable housing, good-paying jobs for immigrants and working-class families, and sustainable economic development.

However, immediately after the Kink.com story broke, writers such as Ken Garcia blamed MAC for directly causing the sale to what other papers are calling a “porn production company.” It’s true that MAC has opposed the previous three development proposals, but the developers themselves, responding to the ups and downs of the market, ultimately dropped the projects for financial reasons. Here’s a brief review:

In 2000 a multimedia office complex proposal was approved by the Planning Department and later dropped. The armory was then going to be a server farm. The server farm was approved by the Planning Department again (contrary to what Garcia has written), but the company went under. A local financier retained control and proposed an outlandish and financially risky housing proposal.

The luxury housing proposal went into the planning process, and an environmental review had begun, but instead, the owner sold the site to Kink.com

MAC didn’t know the owner was secretly negotiating the sale of the armory. Had the financiers been honest with the community, perhaps the city or some other entity could have come forward and put the armory to better use. But at this point, the sale of the armory is complete, and there’s no further process necessary for the new owners to set up shop. That means it’s difficult for the community or city to stop the proposed use.

Now the community finds itself responding to this purchase and to opportunists who are taking advantage of this situation to use the current plan as a wedge issue to attack MAC and other affordable housing activists who have had concerns about high-end market-rate housing development in the Mission. The Mission is both the heart of the Latino community in San Francisco and home to other communities. For a healthy and sustainable community, a measuring stick for a development project is whether it will lead to displacement of residents and community-serving businesses and contribute to gentrification.

MAC will continue to fight for equitable development through the People’s Plan and the Mission rezoning process and will continue to challenge all projects that have the potential to negatively impact our community. *

Eric Quezada and Nick Pagoulatos

Eric Quezada and Nick Pagoulatos are Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition activists.


What we know now


› gwschulz@sfbg.com

Records unsealed in a federal civil suit last week show that the Hearst Corp. and MediaNews Group have grown intensely fond of each other during the past several years. Hearst even considered selling its San Francisco Chronicle to MediaNews in 2005, but CEO Dean Singleton wasn’t offering nearly enough money.

What the records don’t show is any effort by the two chains to compete in the market by improving their products.

The Guardian first posted a story online Jan. 31 detailing court documents unsealed by Federal Judge Susan Illston in real estate investor Clint Reilly’s antitrust suit against Hearst, MediaNews, and a group of other newspaper companies who joined Singleton in a Northern California partnership that has given him control of almost every big daily in the Bay Area except the Chronicle.

The evidence of anticompetitive behavior is so clear now that the obvious question is whether the US Justice Department or the California Attorney General’s Office, with new boss Jerry Brown, will do anything about it.

Gina Talamona, a Justice Department spokesperson in Washington, DC, confirmed that the feds were still looking into Hearst’s alliance with MediaNews, but she wouldn’t, of course, divulge details.

"I’m just confirming generally we’re looking at it, and we look at the anticompetitive effects of a proposed transaction, and that’s ongoing," Talamona said. "Obviously, our folks are aware of what’s going on in that private suit, but I wouldn’t have anything further for you on that."

Illston, meanwhile, has made it clear in the past that she could force MediaNews to give up some of its newly purchased properties if Reilly convinces her that the deal violates antitrust laws.

Among the documents we obtained is a deposition of Hearst senior vice president James Asher, taken by Justice Department lawyers last September, in which he candidly explains how Hearst for years has wanted to invest in MediaNews — which likes to buy up all the papers in a region and cut costs by sharing facilities and stories.

Hearst executives "formed a favorable impression of Dean Singleton and his company" all the way back in 1995, when a shady deal in Houston gave Hearst’s Houston Chronicle a dominant position in that market after MediaNews shuttered the Houston Post and sold its assets to Hearst. Since then, Asher stated, Hearst has quietly waited for an opportunity to invest in MediaNews or at least cut costs by joining ad, distribution, and printing operations with the ostensible competitors across the bay.

That opportunity arose when Hearst claims it was most needed.

Hearst spent three-quarters of a billion dollars buying the San Francisco Chronicle in 2000, a messy deal that nearly left its old property, the San Francisco Examiner, in shambles. But the purchase quickly became a drag on the company’s portfolio.

Hearst has since lost $330 million trying to figure out how to make the Chronicle profitable. Of all the documents reviewed by Guardian so far, which include memos between Hearst and MediaNews executives outlining potential collaborations, little time appears to have been spent determining how the product itself could actually be made more valuable to readers and, hence, more lucrative for both companies. Instead, Hearst seemed hungry to emulate Singleton or at least buy a bunch of his stock and let him handle the dirty work.

The infamous Singleton strategy includes clustering properties (its Bay Area cluster is now the company’s largest), slashing staff, outsourcing jobs, and consolidating business offices. Layoffs have already occurred at the San Jose Mercury News and the Contra Costa Times, and reporters are covering stories for several papers under a single "MediaNews Staff" byline.

While Hearst lawyers told Illston early in Reilly’s suit that its $300 million investment in MediaNews, consummated last summer, would involve only non–Bay Area properties to avoid conflicting interests, executives were telling another story behind the scenes.

"The proposed transaction is an opportunity to invest at a reasonable price in a company we have admired," Hearst president and CEO Victor Ganzi wrote to Hearst’s board of directors last July. "If we are able to convert the investment to common stock in all of MediaNews, we will be able to participate in the efficiencies MediaNews will achieve through the consolidation of the Bay Area newspapers other than the San Francisco Chronicle. Whether or not we are able to convert our investment, the proposed transaction provides additional impetus for lawful cooperation between the San Francisco Chronicle and the Bay Area newspapers, which will be owned or controlled by MediaNews, in areas such as distribution, national advertising and the Internet."

Several hundred pages of records were originally filed under seal in Reilly’s suit, but the Guardian, along with the East Bay nonprofit Media Alliance, intervened to have the filings opened to public access. Attorneys Jim Wheaton, David Green, and Pondra Perkins of the First Amendment Project did the legal work.

Illston agreed with our request and made most of the records available in an order last month. Reilly’s suit is expected to go to trial in the spring. He’s alleging that Hearst, MediaNews, and its other business partners, including the Stephens Group and Gannett Co., conspired to divide and monopolize the Bay Area newspaper market.

At the very least, Asher admitted in his deposition that Hearst saw media consolidation as one of the few reasons to bother staying in the newspaper biz. Originally, Hearst executives were considering a $500 million investment in MediaNews, but that amount was eventually lowered.

"We’re among the larger owners and operators of newspapers," Asher stated. "We still believe in them, notwithstanding their challenges, and we would like to participate in that consolidation. And, in fact, if we don’t choose to, we should probably think about exiting the business." *

The benefits of fiber


› sarah@sfbg.com

Amsterdam is building a citywide fiber-to-the-premises system. So are Hong Kong, Milan, and Zurich. If San Francisco follows suit, it would be making a far-sighted, multifaceted investment: FTTP would boost our economy, attracting software companies, video production houses, and digital media shops. It would enhance public health, allowing surgeons to review the same materials from different locations. Municipal fiber would improve public safety, facilitating the mirroring and backup of vital data at remote, earthquake-safe locations. It would enable unlimited and open communications — breaking ongoing communication monopolies — and save buckets of cash within a couple of decades.

These futuristic findings are laid out in the fiber feasibility report Sup. Tom Ammiano commissioned two years ago, but the Department of Telecommunications and Information Services didn’t green-light it until last fall. As a result of this delay, the city’s Maryland-based consultant, Columbia Telecommunications Corp. (CTC), couldn’t complete its fiber study until after Mayor Gavin Newsom said he’d struck a wi-fi deal with the Google-EarthLink partnership that still requires the Board of Supervisors’ approval.

Newsom’s plan was threatened even before his recent scandals. City budget analyst Harvey Rose’s report on municipal wi-fi offered a scathing assessment of the Google-EarthLink deal. Board members will now weigh the two new reports — and the opinions of a growing number of critics of the deal — before deciding on the mayor’s wi-fi proposal.

"So far I have more questions than answers," Sup. Aaron Peskin said of trying to digest the budget analyst’s report. "Questions about free service and quality of service. Questions about the environmental and aesthetic impacts of installing antennas citywide. I’ve got questions about Google’s cooperation with a totalitarian government overseas. I’ve got questions reutf8g to the shitty service I’ve personally gotten from EarthLink. Questions about the municipalization of services and questions about other technologies, including fiber."

Peskin admitted he’s yet to read the fiber report, which lauds FTTP as "the holy grail of broadband" while explaining that wi-fi isn’t a competitor but a complement to fiber, since wi-fi’s key advantage is its "mobility and connectivity during movement."

That said, the report recommends building citywide fiber, which it describes as a "fat pipe all the way into the home or business." In the face of the public sector’s lack of interest in building fiber networks that would meet growing demands for bandwidth and speed in an equitable and affordable manner, the CTC report concludes that municipal fiber would rank San Francisco among the world’s most far-sighted cities "by creating an infrastructure asset with a lifetime of decades that is almost endlessly upgradeable and capable of supporting any number of public or private sector communications initiatives."

With fiber allowing numerous competitors to quickly and inexpensively enter the market and offer competing, differentiated broadband services and access, the report recommends a wholesale open-access model to facilitate "democratic and free market values" and enhance the city’s reputation "for visionary and pioneering projects."

The report estimates a citywide open-access wholesale model will cost $563 million but predicts it will spark economic investment and jobs. It recommends building a pilot network in a 12-square-mile economic development area that includes Bayview, Hunters Point, South Bayshore, Chinatown, the Mission District, Mission Bay, Potrero Hill, SoMa, the Tenderloin, and the Western Addition.

The study also observes that aside from supporting safety and communications systems (thereby saving the city huge and unending costs of leasing circuits from telephone companies) and providing higher quality, higher capacity, more reliable, securer service, fiber is the best backbone for wi-fi systems.

Or as communications activist Bruce Wolfe recently told the Guardian, "Wi-fi is a parasite looking for a wire."

Speaking to us, along with United Layer’s Tim Pozar, SFLan’s Ralf Muehlen, and Our City’s Eric Brooks, Wolfe stated that far from being "the naysayers, as we were accused after critiquing the Google-EarthLink deal, we’re actually the truthsayers."

The foursome, who are supporters and providers of current wi-fi services in San Francisco, said although wi-fi rocks when you’re at an outdoor café or checking bus schedules with a cell phone, fiber rules when you’re in a basement, on a fourth floor, or in need of reliable and efficient service or massive capacity.

"That’s why it makes more sense to roll out a joint fiber-cable-wi-fi system, because all the interference and bog downs would be solved by hooking antennas into fiber," Pozar says. "Putting a bunch of antennas up as a cloud over the city supposedly gives free users speeds of 300 kbps, but anyone making a phone call or downloading a video will drain everyone else’s speeds, and blanketing the city with transmitters will make the spectrum unusable by others."

Muehlen expects the wi-fi service his business provides to get "blown out of the ether, technically, or be severely compromised," by the proposed Google-EarthLink deal. "But I wouldn’t mind if I got a network that didn’t suck," he says. "I just want something that works."

Brooks said many people who can’t afford the Internet are "compartmentalized in lower-income areas. Why not begin by addressing those areas instead of giving away the whole 49 square miles to Google-EarthLink?"

He noted that it will cost Google-EarthLink an estimated $300,000 to pay into the city-run Digital Inclusionary Fund. "That’s a drop in the bucket in terms of providing residents with gear, training, and support that truly bridge the digital divide." *

Editor’s Notes


It’s been almost a week. The Guardian has moved on — to our annual sex issue.

And now Gavin Newsom is seeking "treatment" (which sounds like a lot more than it apparently is) for alcohol abuse, and he wants everything to go back to normal. But as we report in "More Than the Affair," this page, normal at Newsom’s City Hall isn’t much to be proud of. And in the meantime, a lot of damage is done — and not just (or even primarily) to the mayor’s career.

When it comes to the sex scandal, Newsom made his own bed. And I wish him well in his battle with alcohol — I know how tough that can be. But there’s another point here. Newsom is more than just a politician. He’s more than the mayor of San Francisco. He’s become a national symbol, particularly for same-sex marriage, and his reputation as an honest, ethical guy, a young rising star in the Democratic Party — and yeah, an Irish Catholic — has helped that cause.

The Ruby Tourk affair may well have been consensual, and if so, we can let it lie. But it undermines the one really good thing Newsom has done. Predictably, the right wing is having a field day: the mayor of San Francisco loves gay marriage, but he doesn’t respect traditional marriage. It’s a stupid line, but it hurts. And Newsom’s weak, simpering apology doesn’t help San Francisco or any of our shared causes either. He just looks like a loser.

I have to say: drinking or no drinking, the guy just isn’t mature enough to be in room 200.

Yeah, Willie Brown went out with younger women and impregnated a campaign fundraiser, and nobody cared. That was in part because he didn’t screw city employees who reported to him and in part because he knew how to handle the press, but it was also in part because, by the time he was mayor, Brown didn’t stand for anything. He was a political wheeler and dealer; there weren’t many people who had invested hopes and dreams in him.

Newsom took on that role a few years ago, and when you do that, the disappointments are that much bitterer. *

Brown must fight the media monopoly


EDITORIAL The evidence is now clear and compelling: the two biggest newspaper chains in the Bay Area have been plotting for years to eliminate local competition. The details that have come out of the Clint Reilly lawsuit point to almost textbook antitrust violations, the exact sort of behavior that state and federal laws prohibit. (See "What We Know Now," page 13.)

The public had no knowledge of how MediaNews Group and the Hearst Corp. were conspiring to join ad sales and distribution deals. But the federal and state regulators knew all about it; the records show that Hearst executives laid out the entire plan back in early 2006.

And yet the deal that allowed MediaNews to buy up every major daily in the region except the San Francisco Chronicle won approval from both the California and the US attorneys general — in part on the grounds that Hearst’s Chronicle would remain as a serious competitor in the market.

Which leads to some pretty obvious questions: What were the investigators and lawyers in Sacramento and Washington, DC, doing? And now that this is all out in public, will California’s new attorney general, Jerry Brown, put a stop to it?

When the McClatchy company sold the Contra Costa Times and the San Jose Mercury News to Dean Singleton, who already owned the Oakland Tribune and the Marin Independent Journal, critics immediately began to cry foul. Singleton’s strategy has always been to buy up adjoining media properties, combine as many of their assets as possible, share reporters and stories, and improve the bottom line through deep cuts. Suddenly, instead of four reporters covering events in the Bay Area, there would be just one, with one perspective and one story running in all four papers.

The same would go for advertising — instead of having several options in the region, businesses could wind up having to deal with one centralized agency that sets prices and sells ads for all four big dailies (and a bunch of smaller ones that Singleton also owns).

Still, the federal and state regulators declined to challenge or block the deal. If Reilly hadn’t sued to stop it, the machinery would already be in motion for what could be a single company, or a partnership that operates like a single company, controlling all of the daily newspapers from San Jose to Marin County, from San Francisco to Contra Costa County.

But now this is all open and visible. We don’t have much faith in the Bush Justice Department, but the new California attorney general has a history (at some moments) of showing the willingness to stand up to powerful interests and take strong political stands. This is his first and perhaps most important test. Brown needs to go into court immediately and file to block the entire deal. *

More than the affair


EDITORIAL OK: let’s put this all in perspective.

Gavin Newsom did something almost unbelievably, incalculably stupid. He’s in a lot of political and possibly legal trouble.

He has just admitted to having a drinking problem and is going to seek "treatment" — although it’s not clear at all what that means, except that he won’t be entering a residential center.

The heart of the scandal was just an affair — yes, an affair with a subordinate, which is a real problem (and something most of corporate America put an end to 20 years ago) — but nobody’s dead, he hasn’t started a war, the city isn’t about to collapse, and the world will keep turning. It seemed silly to us to call on Newsom to resign over that, just as it was silly for the Republicans to impeach Bill Clinton over an Oval Office blow job.

But there’s a much bigger problem here.

For months, long before this tawdry story made the front pages, it’s been clear that the mayor of San Francisco isn’t focused on the job. For whatever reason (and there may be many), Newsom has been checked out for quite some time now. As we reported in "Mayor Chicken" (1/10/07), he never attends public events that haven’t been carefully scripted. His relations with the Board of Supervisors are damaged beyond repair. He’s offering absolutely nothing in the way of leadership on the murder epidemic, the housing crisis, Muni’s meltdown, or much of anything else. He’s had plenty of time for glamour and glitz, movie stars, rides on the Google corporate jet, and the glitterati at Davos, Switzerland — but not much energy for the gritty reality on the streets of his city.

He is, we noted in our Jan. 10 cover story, "the imperious press release mayor, smiling for the cameras, quick with his sound bites, and utterly unwilling to engage in any public discussion whose outcome isn’t established in advance."

And whether we like it or not, this latest "lapse in judgment" — and Newsom’s embarrassing failure to deal with it properly — is only going to make things worse.

To be blunt, for a lot of reasons that have little to do with this tabloid sensation, we don’t see how Newsom can effectively run San Francisco for another four years. The mayor’s latest mess isn’t a scandal as much as a symptom of his shaky grip on the frighteningly tricky world of high-stakes politics. He’s acting like a dizzy kid at a rock star party who doesn’t have the maturity to handle what’s coming at him. Even his close allies have warned us that the wheels are coming off his administration. It’s not even clear that he wants to be mayor.

We wish Newsom well in his battle with alcoholism. But for the good of the city (and the causes he claims to care about), he’d be better off announcing he isn’t going to run for reelection now.

That wouldn’t be the end of his political career — plenty of people (John Burton comes to mind) have taken some time off from politics to deal with their personal lives and come back much stronger. It might be the best thing Newsom could do for himself.

Newsom says right now that he’s staying in the race, but he’s clearly wounded; that air of political invulnerability has taken a hit. When a local politician is looking bloodied, the sharks typically start to circle. That hasn’t happened yet; if anything, over the past few days, the highest-profile potential contenders have been pretty quiet about taking Newsom on.

But somebody has to do it. That’s never been clearer.

Running for mayor is serious business, and if there’s going to be a strong candidate challenging Newsom on the issues, the left needs to think about who it ought to be. Who has the experience and skills to take on the campaign? Who can appeal to a wide enough group of voters to win? Who has the sort of record and platform that progressives can support and unite around?

Those discussions need to start soon. But they need to be deliberate and thoughtful. Newsom’s political (and yes, personal) failures have given progressives an opening. There’s a chance to elect a mayor who really represents San Francisco values in deeds as well as words. Let’s take it seriously. *



Feb. 6


Foghorn Stringband

Playing straight-up bluegrass without concern for modernism or experimentation, these five front-porch hotshots set Appalachian panoramas ablaze with their fiercely traditional take on mountain music. Foghorn Stringband’s last album, 2005’s Weiser Sunrise (Nettwerk), was even recorded live, without edits or overdubs, using a single microphone placed between them as they sat in a circle! (Todd Lavoie)

With Huckleberry Flint and Squirrelly Stringband
9 p.m., $10
12 Galaxies
2565 Mission, SF
(415) 970-9777


Food fighters

Join the Center for Urban Education and Sustainable Agriculture at a talk on the 2007 Farm Bill with Daniel Imhoff, author of the forthcoming Food Fight: The Citizen’s Guide to Food and Farm Bill, and find out how it handles conservation, nutrition, and energy policy, at an event cosponsored by the Ecology Center and Marin Farmers Market. (Deborah Giattina)

6:30–8:30 p.m., free
Ferry Bldg.
Port Commission Hearing Room, second floor
Market and Embarcadero, SF
(415) 291-3276, ext. 106