Volume 42 Number 16
January 16 – January 22, 2008
Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles
(Konami; Sony PSP)
GAMER I have a friend who only likes really, really hard games the kind in which fast-moving, shooting things spawn more fast-moving, shooting things at an exponential rate. When he said Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles is hard, I didn’t laugh and call him a sissy.
Dracula X is actually a remake of a game for PC that came out in Japan in 1993, where it was concisely titled Demon Castle Dracula X: Rondo of Blood. It hailed from the end of the era when the purpose of a game was to devour as many quarters as possible. In both games you play Richter, a vampire killer. Dracula has kidnapped some hot, nubile females, and your job is to whip and beat your way through armies of his demonic minions in order to rescue them from secret rooms in his 2-D, side-scrolling castle.
You can only get hit a few times before you die, and almost everything deals damage. If you die three times, you have to start the level again, which is hair-pullingly frustrating if the thing killing you is at the end. You can unlock the ability to play one of the women, the spirited Maria, who has more powerful attacks than Richter but less life and takes more damage.
Your character gets one main weapon and one subweapon. The number of the subweapon’s uses depends on how many hearts you have collected by beating up the scenery. One of Maria’s subweapons is a cat. That’s right you can hurl cats at your enemies! "Look! It’s a giant floating skull! Kitty bonzai!"
The graphics are pretty highly improved over the original: the game has been redone with excellent 3-D cut scenes and 3-D-rendered sprites. It looks better than most of the other things I’ve seen on the PSP. Most of the music consists of disco remixes of songs from various games in the Castlevania series. It took me a while to get used to it, and it kind of hampers one’s immersion in the game. The reason that I decided to check out Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles is that it comes with both the original Rondo of Blood in English and the well-loved Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, which came out in 1997 for the PlayStation and the Sega Saturn.
Konami has made no changes to Symphony of the Night, which is good for fans of the original, and the quirks that were there in 1997 are still present. The new version handles the difference in shape between a TV screen and a PSP screen with vertical letterboxing, which struck me as both a bit cheap and a lot annoying. But the player adapts to it fairly easily. One suspects that Konami included the old games as a gimmick to sell copies of the Rondo remake, but having spent a good 20 hours replaying Symphony of the Night, I’m not going to complain too much.
In short, Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles is a pretty decent remake of Rondo of Blood. Its downfall is that it’s frustratingly hard compared to other platformers today. But the inclusion of Symphony of the Night makes the game well worth the money if you have the cockroachlike persistence to battle through Rondo of Blood to the point where you unlock it!
The year 1988 marked the apex of David Mamet’s celebrity. He’d won a Pulitzer Prize for Glengarry Glen Ross, and American Buffalo was being produced by every little theater on the planet. He’d scripted several mostly admired films and had just directed his first, the coldly ingenious House of Games.
It must have been a heady time. One doesn’t get the impression that Mamet is the type to enjoy simply being celebrated. So it’s logical that at the moment when whatever he premiered next would be a guaranteed BFD, he both seized the opportunity and fuck-you’d it. Speed-the-Plow was a biting-the-hand-that-feeds-me satire of Hollywood-industry soulessness whose subject alone guaranteed wide attention. Then Mamet cast Madonna as the girl. By all accounts, she was a complete zero. But needless to say, the show was a massive event.
Two decades later the hype has long settled. Loretta Greco’s revival at American Conservatory Theater reveals Speed-the-Plow as what it always was: an acidic comedy that isn’t one of Mamet’s best plays but is too entertainingly brash to resist. The notion that Hollywood is essentially soulless all about business, not art, as the characters keep repeating was hardly news back then. And now everybody from key grip to Dairy Queen day manager analyzes what did and didn’t sell in the Monday-morning tally of last weekend’s box office. Why do we care? Is it because Hollywood, more than ever the focus for so many putative proletarian dreams, inspires gloating resentment as much as fascination?
Speed-the-Plow was never really controversial, even within the biz. Mamet clearly loves the winner-take-all crassness of his male characters here, for whom every interaction is a dominance game. Top dog Bobby Gould (Matthew Del Negro) has just been promoted to head of production at a major studio. His expensively minimalist new office (a movable set piece by G.W. Mercier) hasn’t been even been fully assembled when erstwhile coworker Charlie Fox (Andrew Polk) comes calling.
From Polk’s flop-sweating, highly physical performance you immediately glean that Charlie thinks he should be the man behind the desk but since he’s not, he’ll do all the begging required of him. Actually, he’s got a very big bone to offer: out of the blue, a huge star has offered to make a prison buddy picture Charlie has a temporary option on. This is such a stroke of fortune that both men impulsively share their glee the language getting a lot more sexual with pretty, clueless temp secretary Karen (Jessi Campbell).
Once she exits, Charlie wagers this "broad" is too high-minded for Bobby to seduce though B’s power and influence would lure just about any other Los Angeles underling into the sack in five seconds. Bobby arranges for Karen to visit his house that very night, on the pretext of her giving him a "report" on the loftily symbolic, probably unfilmable literary novel he’s been told to give a "courtesy read."
One shudders to think of Madonna stonewalling in the second-act scene, in which a garrulous Karen tries to sell Bobby on how he could "make a difference" by green-lighting a movie based on this apparently life-changing (though insufferable-sounding) tome. He plays along, trying to steer the evening in a horizontal direction. Yet the next morning, with Charlie anxiously awaiting their planned triumphant prison-flick pitch to the studio chief, Bobby is a changed man a born-again wishbone pulled between commerce and conscience.
Satisfyingly cruel as this final tug-of-war is, it makes the play’s credibility vanish: Bobby is too content an admitted "whore" to turn Mother Theresa overnight. And with the epically tall, jock-handsome Del Negro in a part Joe Mantegna originated, the character radiates such golden-boy confidence that one can’t believe he’d have much use for a merely cute flunky like Campbell’s Karen.
Greco lets the lines breathe her cast’s naturalistically varied delivery avoids that Morse-code monotony the playwright prefers for his staccato Mametspeak. But she doesn’t lend much weight to the ultimate question of who’s manipuutf8g whom, as this production’s Karen doesn’t seem capable of calculation. The lack of ambiguity makes this a frequently very funny Speed-the-Plow, but sans much suspense or climactic sting. *
Through Feb. 3
Tues.Sat, 8 p.m. (also Wed. and Sat., 2 p.m.; no matinee Wed/16); Sun., 2 p.m.; $14$82
American Conservatory Theater
415 Geary, SF
Over the past two decades Julie Queen has earned her ballsy-woman stripes. She’s played truck-driver killer Aileen Wuornos in Carla Lucero’s opera Wuornos and the lead in Robert Rodríguez’s Frida, based on the life of painter Kahlo. In the ’90s, as a member of the Qube Chix, the avant-garde singing trio lead by Pamela Z, she belted out heady Karlheinz Stockhausen atonality and defiant riot-grrrl lyrics at the same time. It never struck me that she would be as likely to go out on a limb with Shirley MacLaine as to take a leap with Ann Magnuson, the former queen of New York’s ’80s underground scene who has also set her life to song onstage.
Unfortunately, with her solo show Ten Dollar Destiny, an hourlong multimedia performance, Queen lends her operatic voice to a series of songs that map her midlife soul search through the all-too-familiar territory of self-help experts shrinks, psychics, and astrologists as she tries to figure out where she got lost on the path of life and how to get back on track.
As Queen appears onstage, her opening song prepares us for a gauzy look through the pages of her life. The crew of scene designers and set constructors who formed the pop-up book of said life by creating a series of walls that pivot across the stage, each exposing a new leaf, are fantastic. The endless "I’m stuck on the road of life without a map" metaphors in every song of the five-part cycle are not.
Yet for all of her incisive criticisms of the self-help industry (her "You need yourself today" jingle for a little pill, Assurezen, is perfectly pitched at the false promises of medication), I can’t help but wonder why she’s wasting so much time worrying about where she went wrong. Queen has gone from boldly careless to overly careful, and I badly want to see a woman at the crossroads who just says "Fuck it," buys a bitchin’ car, and gets the hell out of Dodge.
TEN DOLLAR DESTINY
Through Jan. 27
Thurs.Sun., 8 p.m.
1695 18th St., SF
SONIC REDUCER "Omigod, I totally love that." A doll-faced, teenage dead ringer for Zooey Deschanel gawks dreamily at a dabbed dwarf cactus drifting off the edge of a cream-colored sheet of paper jaw a-dangling, china blue eyes a-gobbling. It’s not often you catch a snatch of pure rock ‘n’ roll idol worship amid the pristine white walls of a museum space, yet here it was, flowering quietly in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art room that hosts the shifting collection of Paul Klee prints gathered and loaned by San Francisco’s father of the pill, Carl Djerassi. These days the Klee pieces are sharing space with the whimsy-washed ink, watercolor, and graphite works by San Francisco Art Institute graduate and international psych-folk rock emissary (and Guardian copydesk swear-jar star) Devendra Banhart, who performs at the museum Jan. 17 in celebration of "Abstract Rhythms: Paul Klee and Devendra Banhart."
The small show opened quietly, but judging from the cool kids reverently orbiting the pieces, word is slowly leaking out about this charming clutch of images, which displays both opera lover Klee’s most music-inspired, antic pieces is that the musical fruit of a bean burrito or bassoon emerging from a posterior in Der Fagottist (The bassoonist)? and Banhart’s sweetly humorous paper pieces depicting a fictitious fan called Smokey, who’s also the center of his recent, somewhat decentered LP, Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon (XL). Banhart is clearly a man of many gifts: here, Flowering Corn Maiden Smokey and Banded King Snake and Thunder Maiden show off a playful yet refined eye and an overflowing though focused imagination with a transfigurative bent that conjures Giuseppe "Fruit Face" Arcimboldo.
While the word show is increasingly, happily confused in both its musical and visual art contexts and the term pop becomes more relevant in the art world than in the shiny plastic disc marketplace the exhibit arrives as yet another instance of the healthy, ever-bubbling and brewing cross-pollination going on between the two types of media since the turn of the century. That highly consensual crossover fever dream is evident at art openings throughout the Bay every first Thursday, and it’s heartening to know that just as music becomes a harder proposition to tackle commercially and art has become a bigger business, musicians are finding their way toward new audiences and artists are coursing toward pop. And while spaces like 21 Grand and LoBot Gallery weather their share of hassles, newbs like the month-old Fort Gallery are throwing open their doors undeterred. The last, a Mission District space, is currently showing collage and sculpture by Ryan Coffey by appointment only "Until we quit our day jobs," co-owner Jesi Khadivi says with a laugh but Khadivi and cohort Vanessa Maida promise a mix of art, barbecue, live music, and special soirees like the Jan. 16 movie night that will juxtapose Ranu Mukherjee’s Sustenance short with Alejandro Jodorowsky’s tripindicular The Holy Mountain (1973).
The blend of high art and lowdown sounds isn’t new, ace genre bender Chris Duncan asserts: music-art hybridization "has always been around on different levels, but I think most people who make art also make music, or are very much influenced by music. As far as different mediums and different ways of doing things, the lines are so blurred at this point. For me, I like to keep busy, and I like getting a lot of people involved in stuff. I can get lost in my studio for a long time, and it gets kinda lonesome."
This may explain why Duncan whose visual art career has been far from dormant, considering his fall solo show at Gregory Lind Gallery has been dipping his toes into other creative wellsprings: on Jan. 18 he’ll celebrate the first release of SF twosome Pale Hoarse’s The Gospels on his new label, the Time Between the Beginning and the End. Call it a handmade labor of love: Duncan stitched and silk-screened about 100 multihued covers for the limited-edition record. Each one available at Aquarius Records and via Duncan’s Hot and Cold Web site promises to shimmer with different tones beneath the pink fluorescent-ink silk screen.
It’s the first record the Oakland artist has made, though he once designed a cover for a Jade Tree split with Songs: Ohia and My Morning Jacket, as well as for Battleship’s Presents Princess (Ononswitch, 2005). "There’s a total Sub Pop Singles Club influence, for sure. Music has always been part of my whole trip, and record collecting was such a big part of my growing up," says Duncan, whose also recently edited his first book, My First Time: A Collection of First Punk Show Stories (AK Press), a project that mushroomed from a slim zine, and he’s embarking on the next issue of the wonderful art zine he assembles with Griffin McPartland, Hot and Cold. (The next issue sounds like a doozy and will include contributions from Colter Jacobsen, Chris Corales, and Hisham Bharoocha and a CD by Golden Bears, a new project from the Quails’ Julianna Bright and Seth Lorinczi.) "Making a record fulfilled the need to hand-make stuff," Duncan continues. "A lot of projects I do outside painting are about gathering and collecting things, doing records, zine assembling. Now I’m inspired to put out a record every year." *
With Sustenance and The Holy Mountain
Wed/16, 8:30 p.m., $5 donation
83B Wiese, SF
Thurs/17, 8 p.m., $15<\d>$20
Phyllis Wattis Theater, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
151 Third St., SF
With Raven and Hannah, visuals by Chris Duncan, and shorts
Fri/18, 8 p.m., $6
Artists’ Television Access
992 Valencia, SF
For more, see Sonic Reducer Overage at www.sfbg.com/blogs/music.
While snow chasers not to be confused with chub chasers spent much of last week zooming to the mountains in pursuit of virgin powder, the rest of us coped with such storm-related inconveniences as no electricity for hours at a time, from dusk to dawn and beyond. I went to brew myself some consoling tea, only to be reminded, when the burner under the kettle would not catch, that while the stove is a gas stove, its ignition elements are electronic. These small but indispensable bits of gadgetry had gone into involuntary hibernation, as had the ignition element for the furnace (ergo: no heat), along with the modem, the router, and the cordless telephone. I lit some candles, but I couldn’t brew tea with them.
By nightfall, I felt as if I were on the set of a Brother Cadfael mystery. Naturally, we went out to dinner. Alice Waters once described how she cooked an entire meal in a fireplace in some remote but charming inn; I would like to go her one better, by describing how, lacking even a fireplace, I cooked an entire dinner over a Shabbat candelabra (and used a fully lit menorah for searing), but I can’t, because I couldn’t. Instead it was off to a cheery Italian place in the neighborhood, with iffy bread, butter pats wrapped in foil (does any get recycled?), overlarge servings, and a stiffer-than-expected bill. Had the Google riche discovered this once-homey spot? Had their electricity failed too? Why didn’t they just stay in their luxury buses?
Privately, one was galled to find the power on and lights burning brightly just a few blocks away. One then screamed, somewhat less privately, at the utility’s automated complaint line, with its endlessly shifting stories of what had happened and ever-changing predictions of when it would end, and the automated voice’s chirpy implacability in response to one’s frothings. These days the best customer service appears to be robotic customer service that induces despair and causes the unserved to hang up and go away.
The temperature in an unheated San Francisco house in mid-January soon falls into the middle 50s, which lo! is a good temperature to serve red wine at. I cracked open a bottle of holiday-basket Concannon cab and bathed my tender larynx. Let there be light. And at last, past my bedtime, there was.
REVIEW Sahn Maru may be the most cheerful restaurant in the East Bay. Its bright, sunny lighting falls on interesting pieces of art, arrangements of flowers, and happy patrons. Likewise, the beaming smiles of the staff fall on everyone who walks through the door, even the first-timers. When I visited, there were three people in our party, so we decided to try dinner combo A ($39.95; recommended for two), supplemented with our usual dol sot bi bim bab ($10.95 for beef, veggies, and egg over rice in a sizzling pot; $8.95 without the sizzle). We needn’t have worried about having enough food: the combo’s bul ko ki (barbecued beef), dark gui (barbecued chicken), jap chae (panfried noodles), na mul (Korean seasoned vegetables), and soft tofu chi gae (bean-cake casserole soup with zucchini) would have been enough for three (although we polished off everything anyway). One member of our party, a Korean Australian, declared the soup the best thing he’d ever had at a Korean restaurant. I was particularly pleased to see so many vegetables included in the dinner combos, not just in the chi gae and na mul but also in the jap chae, which was heavier on the greens than are many such dishes. And our waiter was charming identifying all of the barbecued meat supplements with panache, always appearing exactly when we needed him, and making us feel welcome and glad to be there. When we left, he and another staffer invited us to come back soon. It will be our pleasure.
SAHN MARU KOREAN BBQ Daily, 11 a.m.10:30 p.m. 4315 Telegraph, Oakl. (510) 653-3366
Even the short list of elite Bay Area rappers say, Too Short, E-40, Keak Da Sneak, and Mistah FAB must include the Fillmore’s own Marvin Watson Jr., a.k.a. Messy Marv. Since selling 15,000 units of his debut, Messy Situations (Ammo, 1996), at age 16, Mess has consistently earned impressive independent numbers: his solo discs Disobayish (Scalen/Sumday, 2004) and Bandannas, Tattoos, and Tongue Rings (Scalen/SMC, 2005) both sold 20,000, while his collaboration with San Quinn, Explosive Mode (Presidential, 1998), has moved more than 50,000.
Mess began 2007 with Da Bidness (Gateway/SMC), the creation of a supergroup formed with Keak and PSD, which, according to SMC’s Will Bronson, was last year’s best-selling local independent disc, at 19,000 and counting. Mess’s current project, Draped Up and Chipped Out 2 (Scalen/SMC), dropped at the year’s end. By mid-December, Draped was the number one independent and number 13 overall album on the Music Monitor Network, which tracks sales from major United States indie chains.
The soundtrack to an uncompleted film, Draped consists mostly of songs by Mess spitting alongside national talent like Mike Jones, Juvenile, and Sean Paul plus tracks from local heavyweights like G-Stack and B-Legit. Despite its various hands, the disc still has an album feel, containing some of Mess’s best work since Bandannas. Highlights include his singles "My Life Is a Movie," which showcases a hook by the late Mac Dre, and "Sei Luv," a rare foray into romantic R&B. With multiple business ventures in the works including a clothing line and a reality TV show and perpetual major-label interest, Mess is as likely as any Bay rapper to go nationwide.
Coming from the Fillmore’s projects, however, presents challenges most artists don’t face. When I spoke with Mess, he was fresh out of Santa Rita Jail, where he spent the past year on a weapons charge.
"I was charged with felony possession of a firearm, my second firearm case," he said. "The deal was three years’ state pen, but my legal defense got me a year. Now I’m back out, trying to turn my negative situation into a positive.
"Jail didn’t stagnate anything as far as my label Scalen," continued Mess, who even recorded a Draped intro behind bars. "They had a phone so I could do my business and my time. I have a strong team behind me."
Nonetheless, given California’s three-strikes law, another felony gun charge could land Mess serious prison time. When asked if he’s worried, however, he got a little heated.
"Now you sound like the SF police," he said the last thing a rap reporter wants to hear. "Are we trying to make people think I don’t care about going to jail?" he asked, citing his displeasure with a May 15, 2007, San Francisco Chronicle article implying his gun toting had ruined his career opportunities.
"I felt real exploited by that article," Mess said. "I said I’d rather be caught with than without, any day. The way the murder rate is, it’s like that. I don’t regret any of it. I’d rather people read about me in jail than read about me dying or being shot."
He has a point. I absolutely hate guns, as do SF voters, who passed Proposition H banning possession and sale of firearms within city limits in 2005. But Prop. H was struck down Jan. 9 by the First District Court of Appeal, based on a challenge by the National Rifle Association, for conflicting with state law, and I think it’s hypocritical to condemn rappers for carrying guns in a society that refuses to ban them. Street rappers like Mess have to maintain a presence in the hood to preserve their credibility and fan base. But money and fame make them targets for violent crime.
"We need some kind of protection," insisted Bay legend Spice 1, who was shot in the chest during a Dec. 3, 2007, attempt to break into his Escalade while he slept inside. The bullet pierced his lung, leaving him in critical condition, though he’s now out of danger and recovering.
"Entertainers should get a break, but we can’t even wear [bulletproof] vests," added Spice, who has had six gun charges, including four in California that predate the three-strikes law. "Marv ain’t trying to jack nobody. He’s trying to protect himself."
In any case, despite the risks, Mess has no intention of abandoning his hood. Beyond the usual rapper’s neighborhood pride, he has taken on an active role in attempting to turn negatives into positives. Aside from using his label to employ youths whose criminal records and/or poor education make getting jobs nearly impossible, he’s put out two volumes of Fillmore Nation (Scalen/SMC, 2006) to help young rappers launch their careers. He intends to donate a portion of the profits to two Fillmore community centers.
"When I got my position in the music industry, I didn’t turn my back on the kids," Mess said. "I’m out here with these kids, these criminals, and they look at me as hope because I was the same way. When they look at me, they can say, ‘If Messy Marv can do it, I can do it.’<0x2009>"
All told, I think San Francisco or at least the Fillmore is better off with Mess on the street than in a cell.
It couldn’t have happened any other way, really: Ray Raposa, the wise-beyond-his-years voice behind the Castanets moniker, is chatting with me by phone from a motel room. As a chronicler of the wandering spirit and a champion of the blue highways who has spent many of his days on the road ever since completing high school at 15 in order to roam the country by bus Raposa is entirely qualified to discuss his latest disc, In the Vines (Asthmatic Kitty), from such familiar turf. Inevitable, even, if we’re willing to talk about such heady fare as fate a subject about which, judging from In the Vines, Raposa has more than a few ideas. The album was inspired in part by a Hindu fable about being the victim of an unavoidable destiny, and it’s a theme that drifts specterlike among the ripples of pedal steel and squalls of electronic treatments that hover at the edges of Raposa’s troubled rasp. Look no further than the slowly unsettling opener, "Rain Will Come": "So it’s going to be sad, and it’s going to be long / And we already know the end of this song," he portends with the gravest of emphasis over a mesmerizing blues-folk acoustic guitar line before, in confirmation of such claims, the song explodes in shrieking, devastating electronic white-noise chaos.
And the other inspiration for In the Vines? Wandering, of course, and so a motel room it must be, then in Portland, Ore., specifically while Raposa assembles a new backing band for his upcoming West Coast tour. "You know, one day I sat down and counted," the songwriter says, chuckling. "And the number of places I mention on that album runs in the double digits, easily."
It’s a telling comment, but not without its complications: much of the Castanets catalog feels like a tug-of-war between the lure of the road and the desire to put down roots and build a community. Take "Three Months Paid," an intimate confessional on which Raposa reveals, "I was ready to settle down" and even lists a few possible locales over a plodding drum track while synths whirr and bleep in hesitation at the mention of domesticity. Above it all, an aching pedal steel floats onward and upward, much like the song’s narrator, who, intriguingly, manages to sound both relieved and rueful about his decision to keep moving on. Or perhaps neither emotion is involved and the singer merely acknowledges his fate.
"It’s a tough one I get more writing done when I’m at home than on the road, but I get so much inspiration from roaming," Raposa explains. Having recently given up his Brooklyn, NY, apartment to accommodate a rigorous touring schedule, the former San Diego resident "I can’t survive too long without seeing the ocean," he jokes of his bicoastal tendencies sounds energized by his newfound freedom. After all, so much of the Castanets journey has been guided by a spontaneous, largely improvisational attitude, which has ushered in an impressive cast of collaborators over the years ranging from labelmate Sufjan Stevens to kindred spirit Matthew Houck of Phosphorescent and encouraged a willingness to incorporate elements of electronic ambience, free jazz, and noise rock into the spooky-country framework.
Such fearlessness also extends to the Castanets live experience. "I can’t imagine doing the same thing every night," Raposa asserts in explanation of his largely unscripted approach to performance. "For me, to do so would mean there’d be no authenticity, no spontaneity. No, I’d rather just let things go where they may."
With Sholi and El Olio Wolof
Mon/21, 9 p.m., $10
Cafe du Nord
2170 Market, SF
A Cornelius concert at the Fillmore is great because Cornelius, a.k.a. Keigo Oyamada, appreciates the setting’s history far better than your average rocker. It’s also ideal because the venue is kitty-corner from Japantown, where the colors on the metal boxes containing pencils and crayons at the Kinokuniya stationery store aren’t far logistically or in spirit from the drip-paint blue, yellow, red, and black on the cover of his latest album, Sensuous (Everloving).
Vivid color has long been important to Cornelius’s aesthetic. I’ll never forget the day I bought the initial, Japanese edition of his 1997 album Fantasma (Matador) at Kinokuniya’s bookstore. I was blown away to discover that its Orangesicle packaging included a pair of white earphones and even more wowed when I put on those earphones and realized that Oyamada had used three-dimensional digital recording to chart new rock-and-space vistas.
A decade later Oyamada remains clear about his concepts, breaking down the differences between his last three albums in the simplest terms. "Fantasma was an album that included all sorts of information that was gathered and edited," he writes via e-mail when asked about his approach to music and visuals. "Point (Matador ) was an album that included information that was necessary, and it was arranged that way. Sensuous is like a brushed-up version of Point." Indeed, commencing with the breeze-grazed chimes of the title track and closing with the warm cyborg nighty-night of Oyamada’s take on the Dean Martin chestnut "Sleep Warm," Sensuous finds a precise midpoint between Fantasma‘s meta-Disney excess and Point‘s sharp minimalism.
Filtered through e-mail channels, Oyamada is less forthcoming than I remember him being during a stroll through Chinatown one night around the time of Fantasma‘s United States release. He suggests that his wife, Takako Minekawa who hasn’t released a recording under her own name since 2000’s Maxi On, on Polygram will probably share her music with listeners again someday, noting that last year she recorded with Ryuichi Sakamoto. Oyamada says his son, Milo (named after the child of Planet of the Apes‘s Cornelius), is a fan of the ’70s pop band Godiego, who made the theme song for the Japanese TV show Monkey. He states that he’s looking forward to visiting relatives and eating Italian food while in San Francisco. (It’s no accident that Oyamada named his influential though now defunct record label Trattoria.)
Nonetheless, Southern California might be a highlight of Cornelius’s current tour. He has a date at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. "A Cornelius show is a synchronization of sound and visuals and it’s influenced by Disney’s Fantasia," Oyamada says when asked about the venue. "I was trying to make a rock version of Fantasia [in Fantasma]. So I’m very happy [to be playing there]."
Oyamada knows better than anyone that sound charts limitless outer and inner space, suggesting other worlds and also bridging different countries (say, Brazil and Japan) and time periods (say, from the ’60s to 10 years from now). Looking through one of Cornelius’s Web sites, I happened on a photograph of Oyamada posing happily with Caetano Veloso, a find that immediately brought a new perspective to the way I hear particular recordings by both artists. Certainly, the inspiration for Fantasma (a still-ahead-of-its-time collection that was rejected as too fractured and manic by some US rock critics who had no problem kissing Beck’s feet) can be found in Veloso’s recently reissued 1972 album Araçá Azul (Lilith), an album that returned for refunds by a multitude of confounded consumers was similarly radical in its application of collage aesthetics to symphonics.
"About two years ago I went to go see [Veloso’s] show around the time Takako [Minekawa] did a remix of his son Moreno’s band [Moreno+2]," Oyamada explains when asked about the photo. "He performed music that ranged from standard bossa nova to avant-garde compositions, and covered DNA and Nirvana. It’s in my top three of the best shows I’ve ever seen in my life."
Some people rank Cornelius shows high on their lists, thanks to Oyamada’s gift for spectacle. As for Sensuous, its highlights especially the gliding flight of "Omstart," a collaboration with Erland Øye have a prismatic quality that no colored pencil or paintbrush, even the 70-some varieties at Kinokuniya, can approximate.
Fri/18, 8 p.m., $25
1805 Fillmore, SF
INTERVIEW Toni Mirosevich thinks imagination has a prominent place aboard the great ship of nonfiction, and she knows that vessel travels on waters as wide as an ocean. The Rooms We Make our Own, her first book of prose and poetry, was published in 1996 by Firebrand Books; most recently, she’s authored a collection of creative nonfiction, Pink Harvest (Mid-List Press, 203 pages, $16). Mirosevich teaches at San Francisco State University and lives in Pacifica, but I caught up with her by phone in Seattle, on the last leg of her Pacific Northwest book tour. She’ll be back in the Bay Area for a Feb. 14 reading at the Poetry Center at SFSU.
SFBG When I saw you read at Modern Times Bookstore, you said you had a very wide definition of creative nonfiction.
TONI MIROSEVICH Memoir and nonfiction have become very big. A lot of people are doing it, but everyone has a very different definition. Some people have a very strict definition: you have to have evidence, almost like a police report. But nonfiction, for me, includes the imagination.
SFBG How is that different than writing an essay and specuutf8g in it or wondering aloud?
TM That’s a nice way to define it. It really is wondering aloud. I read last night my story "Pinball." I’m driving down the coast with a friend, and he says, "I’m lonely when I pump gas." All of the rest of the story is wondering and specuutf8g on what it’s like to be lonely. That’s as nonfiction as sitting in that car seat with him.
SFBG I was speaking with Candice Stover, another writer and teacher. She was saying what she doesn’t like about creative nonfiction is that she doesn’t know what she’s stepping into.
TM Yes, isn’t that great? [Laughs] I think that’s wonderful. The messier it is, the more excited I am.
SFBG Genres have specific expectations did you find yourself employing any kinds of rules or restraints when you were putting these stories together?
TM Not many. The thing I like to do is make what I call the net of association as wide as I can, so that I try not to limit when memory comes in or goes out, or the projection of the future that comes in or goes out. There’s a cross talk of past and present, a cross talk [between] genres.
SFBG One of the stories in Pink Harvest that I thought manifested that is "The Nutria." So much of the physical act of writing is being in the moment and not being in the moment, because you have to focus on the task of writing, but your mind is not in the room. It’s elsewhere.
TM That’s exactly it. You have to not have many strictures or limitations to allow your mind to pinball off the past and present like that.
SFBG Who are some of the writers whose work you have students read?
TM W.G. Sebold is a real favorite of mine. Jamaica Kincaid. Oh, and one of the most gorgeous, poetic writers in the Bay Area is Brian Hoffman. He does the Fishing Report on Thursdays in the Sports section of the San Francisco Chronicle.
SFBG What do you read?
TM Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead [Farrar, Straud and Giroux, 2004]. I’ve always loved Jamaica Kincaid. I love, love, love Carolyn Chute. I read a lot of poetry. One of my favorite poets is Truong Tran. And Tsering Wangmo Dhompa.
SFBG A lot of my good ideas, or what I think are good ideas, come to me in the middle of the night. Do you have the discipline to get up, turn on the light, break out the pencil, and do it?
TM If it’s a really good idea. And I get up a lot at night. You gotta do that. I used to be a truck driver, and I would write down little things as I was driving along, and I think that still happens. But if you’re talking about the discipline to sit down and work it into something else, that takes time. Then you really have to sit down.
There’s a wonderful moment during the performance of "Bye Bye Blackbird" that opens the 1964 Chet Baker set preserved on a recent Jazz Icons DVD (Chet Baker Live in ’64 and ’79 [Reelin in the Years]). In the midst of the squarish piano player’s solo, the star trumpeter shuffles into the medium close-up frame, shucking a cigarette from his accompanist’s pack. Chiseled even when sporting a stuffy sweater, Baker takes a long drag and glides back to his place on the stage. The pianist plays on, but the camera operator tracks Baker, plainly in the clutch of a lonely lothario.
The cigarette break is more revealing of Baker’s largesse his ineffable cool and the desire it produced than any of his softly sustaining trumpet solos for the television program are. It also sheds some light on the side-winding portraiture that marks Bruce Weber’s adoring documentary Let’s Get Lost, filmed during the last months of Baker’s life in 1987 and now playing in a restored print at the Castro Theatre.
The first interview in Let’s Get Lost is with photographer William Claxton, an early admirer of Baker’s who waxes poetic about the revelation of shooting such a naturally photogenic subject. Weber, known for innumerable sleek Calvin Klein and Abercrombie and Fitch spreads, riffles through these striking stills in contact-sheet form, a neat solution to the persistent documentary problem of how to make archival photographs move. Twenty minutes pass before we begin to explore Baker’s music, and there are another 20 minutes after that before we meet his Oklahoma mother, our first whiff of personal history. Backward, it might seem, except for Baker’s being a cipher of his own iconography.
"He was trouble and he was beautiful," an interviewee muses early in Let’s Get Lost, and it might as well be the film’s byline. He was beautiful, possessing a ravaged, introspective glamour attractive to both men and women: writing about Baker’s underfed croon in his excellent liner notes for The Best of Chet Baker Sings (Blue Note, 1953), Will Friedwald notes, "His moony voice twangs like an Oakie [sic]-cum-valley person at times, but more often he achieves geographic not to mention sexual ambivalence." Though less remembered today than James Dean or Jack Kerouac, Baker had a comparable rogue appeal, his missing front tooth suggestive of wounded sensitivity, his shoulders bent under the unknowable weight of being himself.
Weber’s velvety black-and-white cinematography has never met a silhouette it didn’t like, and indeed, his documentary is first and foremost a tribute to Baker’s arch stylishness. Insofar as Josef von Sternberg, Leni Riefenstahl, and Michelangelo Antonioni’s idolatrous visions are often said to anticipate modern fashion imagery, Weber must rightly be considered their direct descendent: a fashion photographer turned filmmaker unapologetically devoted to surfaces. He is equally attentive to the silvery bleach of Santa Monica, the inky black swallowing various stage spotlights, and the shadows of heroin abuse running across Baker’s unbearably gaunt 57-year-old face all shot in an amorous chiaroscuro evocative of the trumpeter’s West Coast cool musical phrasings, his constant drug nod, and the late-night languidness of his smoking and speech.
But, of course, Baker was trouble too, and this is where Let’s Get Lost can feel strained. Though clearly a labor of love, the film shrugs off conclusiveness as casually as one of Baker’s shopworn melodies might. For one thing, Weber isn’t much of an interviewer, asking the musician’s mother, "Did he disappoint you as a son?" and directing one of Baker’s ex-wives to "tell me something romantic." Still, with the recent documentary explosion prizing kinetic revelations at all costs, Weber’s patient accumulation is a virtue in itself. We hear several versions of a story about Baker getting his teeth knocked out, and although none of them paints a convincingly specific picture, we do get the overarching thrust of a sad decline.
Originally released the same year as Gus Van Sant’s similarly loving debut, Mala Noche, Let’s Get Lost gives the lie to the notion that every gaze is created equal. Weber may wrap the disillusionment of Baker’s life in the romanticism of the latter’s demeanor, but the director also gives the spiraling musician space for self-expression (including a couple of lovely, understated full performances) and, in an empathetic final scene, offers to buy him a methadone fix. The film is as recklessly lyrical as Baker was himself, and it’s in this way that in spite of its shortcomings as biography Let’s Get Lost has the spiritual heft of an ample epigraph. The ragged icon mumbles about the film’s production being "a dream," and the inevitable fade to black and memorial that follows seem exactly the type of void he’d like to walk into. *
LET’S GET LOST
Opens Fri/18, $6$9
429 Castro, SF
The critic Philippa Hawker once offered an amazingly accurate and concise definition of the actor Jean-Pierre Léaud’s unique performing style: "He is himself, he is his character Antoine Doinel, he is New Wave incarnate, he is the past-in-the-present, the past remembered and re-evaluated."
As Antoine Doinel in The 400 Blows (1959), perhaps the best movie François Truffaut ever made, Léaud brought to life a character so engaging and so complex that it’s hard to believe a person so young he was 15 at the time was capable of such an extraordinary performance. It’s harder, maybe even pointless, to decipher how much of Doinel’s disarmingly timid and shy rebellion which borders on cowardliness, or the mere desire to avoid punishment reflects Léaud himself and how much of it is skillful acting.
Léaud’s beautiful rendering of a character who goes through a turbulent and harsh adolescence while managing to remain innocent and possibly a little naive earned him a series of films with Truffaut. In Antoine et Colette (part of L’Amour à Vingt Ans, 1962), Stolen Kisses (1968), Bed and Board (1970), and finally, Love on the Run (1979), Doinel struggles to find his way in society but remains an outsider. While the Doinel movies dip in quality, Léaud remains as captivating as he is in his first cinematic appearance, maintaining the sensitivity or vulnerability that distinguishes him from rougher rogue contemporaries such as Jean-Paul Belmondo.
Unlike Belmondo’s restless yet supercool, smooth Michel in Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless (1960), Léaud’s Doinel is hyperactive and tense, his hands repeating certain movements, his articulation closer to punctuated reciting than to normal speech, his gaze surprised, intense, and inquiring. He is torn in two by conflicting forces, wanting to stay and wanting to go at the same time. Doinel would like to explore the world around him and accumulate experiences, but he’s always ready to make his exit running.
Léaud also made a number of movies with Godard. In films like La Chinoise (1967), Weekend (1967), and most notably Masculine Feminine (1966), the actor retains his insatiable desire to flirt and go crazy over love, and his childlike enthusiasm. But he trades physical intensity for increased political or ideological sophistication and reflection. In Godard’s visions of a Marx-and-Coca-Cola era, the reasons Léaud’s characters fail to fit in are a lot clearer than they ever were with Truffaut. Léaud’s misfits can be ill-fated: in this regard, Masculine Feminine foreshadows Jean Eustache’s The Mother and the Whore (1973). They also can be wise tricksters, as in both versions (1971 and 1972) of Jacques Rivette’s gargantuan Out 1.
After Léaud immersed himself in the character of Antoine Doinel, connecting his name and acting persona so closely to the French new wave, his appearance as Alexandre in Eustache’s The Mother and the Whore seems natural and adds some interesting metatextual effects. As Hawker puts it, "Léaud’s performance in which his character gradually finds himself out of his depth, devastated, in which a carefully constructed masculinity proves insufficient to the messy demands and challenges placed on it by two women is painful to watch, but it’s also fascinating to see him going quietly, as it were." Considering the film’s theme the death of a liberated era, as exemplified by the impossibility of a healthy love triangle one cannot avoid feeling that the end of Léaud’s character signifies the conclusion of one of recent European history’s most volatile and important periods.
Léaud’s iconic status figures as an undercurrent in his more recent appearances in films such as Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers (2003), Aki Kaurismäki’s La Vie de Bohème (1992), and especially Olivier Assayas’s Irma Vep (1996). In casting Léaud as an old French director whose heyday is long past and who is hopelessly trying to create a remake of Louis Feuillade’s Les Vampires (1915), Assayas joins the actor in winking sympathetically at the now-idolized and perhaps idealized past he represents a time of general excitement and experimentation, when everything seemed possible and cinema was daring.
JEAN-PIERRE LÉAUD: THE NEW WAVE AND AFTER
Jan. 18Feb. 19, $5.50$9.50
Pacific Film Archive
2575 Bancroft, Berk.
SUPER EGO So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, good-bye, Ms. 2007. Don’t let the 404 error smack your red-soled Christian Louboutinclomping, MySpace bisexual ass on the way out. And take your tired $500 embroidered jeans, Belgian sunglasses, Hollister panties, Affliction Ts, and fake Bape reeking of your mama’s Target fabric softener with you you know, the one with all the circa-2004 Louis Vuitton rainbow logos on it.
Screw you, Marc Jacobs. Bite me, DJ Tiësto. Can it, rosé-tipsy lady on the dance floor who keeps smacking me in the back of the head with her knock-off Fendi glitter-enameled suede baguette. Arrivederci, neon-streaked hair-don’ts, shuffling texters, drunken Googlers, Killers remixes, Rihanna drag, and Red Bull breath. Au revoir, veneer of social networking. Sayonara, bump watch. Fuck off, gay-lined tweeners.
Heyz, Marke B.! Can’t we get a little more <3???
Totez!!11!one. I know it’s halfway through January, but I had to let my bitter 2k7 hens out and the above are just so country. I’m zipping them into my lead-lined Hannah Montana backpack and tossing them gracefully yet firmly, in one sweeping motion, with my profile turned toward the camera, chin up onto the raging pyre of fashion victimology. ‘K? The new year has me feeling positively jagged with sophistication, deliciously complex, and I need a squeaky-clean slate to cut my witty lines on. (Best overheard club phrases of 2008 so far: "Are those pants or a skirt?" and "This bathroom smells like Fritos and cum!" and "From the top you looked like someone else, but from the front you look like yourself.")
Also: fuzzy resolutions. It’s time to get more worldly, more intel, more funkily interconnected. Time to put the pow in MIA, the wise in dubwize, the balls in global. Everyone on the scene’s been snugging on their knit Sherpa thinking caps, braiding all of their international musical tastes together, and letting them hang down cutely over their ears. The fractured bass lines pumping through the multiculti underground are raising the roof of the world.
What the hell am I talking about? My secret favorite forward-thinking monthly of the past year: Surya Dub. I need to pack my glass bong up and hit there more on the regular.
Rocketing toward its first anniversary at Club Six, Surya Dub’s one of the few joints in San Francisco where the crowd is truly interdenominational, where representatives from all of the latest club contingents Balkan lovers, Bollywood dreamers, rave revivalists, stoned dubsters, ancient househedz, indie cosmopolites, post-hyphy hoppers, grime gawkers, ragga ragers, and eager sublebrities meet in a kind of United Nations of Nightlife, getting off to a tuneful mulligatawny of pan-planetary styles.
Resident and cofounder Maneesh the Twister describes Surya’s sound as "dread bass music." "There’s not really a genre that fully encompasses what we do," he told me over e-mail from Southeast Asia, where he was breaking for the hols. "Obviously there’s a heavy bass component which is the foundation, and a prominent dub influence, but one of our main goals is to bring seemingly disparate music styles and communities together. Hence our vision to bridge the gap between organic styles such as reggae, bhangra, and other global beats and more electronic styles such as dubstep, glitch, breakbeat, and drum ‘n’ bass."
Maneesh, who also resides at the fab Dub Mission weekly (www.dubmisionsf.com), went on to name-check some of his favorite regular parties Surefire Dubstep, Grime City, Nonstop Bhangra and a few Surya-friendly up-and-coming music makers, like Roommate, Juju, Process Rebel, and Matty G. But his bass-loving heart really pumps for his own Surya Dub Crew, which includes DJs Kush Arora, Amar, Ripley, Kid Kameleon, Jimmy Love, Ross Hog, and Neta, along with MC Daddy Frank and VJ Ohashi.
"For our anniversary celebration we’re presenting a huge coalition of local artists called the Bay Area Dubwize Soundclash, featuring J-Boogie, the Antiserum, Sam Supa, and Emcee Child," Maneesh wrote. "We wanted to book some UK and European guests, too," he added sheepishly, "but they’d rather be earning euros. Can’t say I blame them, really. Underground music here is a far ways from being as economically viable as it is in Europe."
Maybe the International Monetary Fund oughta launch an underground-nightlife development program.
SURYA DUB ONE-YEAR ANNIVERSARY
Jan. 26, 9 p.m.4 a.m., $10
60 Sixth St., SF
When preparing coastal cuisine, it helps for a restaurant to have a coast at hand, to get both the kitchen and the patronage in the mood. Navio, which serves this sort of cooking in the baronial Ritz-Carlton in Half Moon Bay, does enjoy the services of a rather scenic bit of coast, with heavy surf beating rhythmically at the edges of a links-style golf course that unfurls itself like a gray-green ribbon beneath the restaurant’s windows.
The Bay Area is often compared with many places around the world Italy, France, Greece, and Australia, to name a few but Scotland is not one you hear mentioned too often. Yet during the glide down 280 on a misty and lowering winter afternoon, with the Crystal Springs reservoirs gleaming silver, like a string of lochs nestled at the feet of brooding green highlands, one did find oneself thinking of kilts and bagpipes. And the Half Moon Bay Ritz, which commands its stretch of craggy coast like the clubhouse at St. Andrews, strengthened this pleasant illusion.
The hotel’s long axis runs parallel to the shore, a straightforward design technique that gives an ocean view to the largest number of windows. Navio, accordingly, is long and narrow, like the dining car on some huge railroad train of yesteryear. If you want a table next to a window, you’re likely to get one, and if you’re interested in a little more privacy, one of the cabinetlike booths (complete with drawable curtains) along the inner wall might well suit. There is a third line of tables running along the dining room’s spine, and maybe being seated here is something like being assigned to the middle rows on a wide-cabin airliner today’s version of steerage, and good-bye to the civility of travel by rail. But Navio’s windows are big enough so that even those consigned to these least-exalted seats have a good view of sea and sky.
We wound up in a far corner next to a window, from which vantage point I could easily observe the golf course. The weather was apparently too blustery for golfers and their speeding carts, and the course was lonely; the only sign of movement was a couple walking their golden retrievers along a path near a fiendishly positioned sand trap.
Coastal cuisine. Thoughts turn to seafood, of course. Fritto misto ($14) is probably not the most imaginative way to prepare marine delights, but it is a crowd-pleaser, and Navio’s kitchen (under the command of chef Aaron Zimmer) manages to get out of the way without tripping over its own feet. We found, in our amply heaped dish, a wealth of nongreasy but nicely battered calamari rings and tentacles, along with carefully peeled shrimp, while on the side sat a stainless-steel ramekin of pungent, fat-cutting garlic aioli, ready for dipping duty. The leftover aioli would have gone beautifully on the warm bread (from Bay Bread), which they will keep bringing to you, so be careful. We stopped the procession after two basketsful.
This restraint was something of a loss, since the soups are also bread friendly. Given the kitchen’s nonradical intentions, it wasn’t surprising to find a clam chowder ($11) on offer, New Englandstyle, milky, with chunks of potato and clam. The chowder was rich and elegant if not quite striking; also pricey, but that is the new Half Moon Bay, a onetime fishermen’s foggy enclave now abloom with luxury housing.
A better soup, I thought, was the carrot-ginger version ($9), a puree the pastel shade of tangerine sherbet and thickened to a velvet smoothness by a bit of potato. Carrot soup sounds like something Gerber might put in little jars for the nursery school set, but in the right hands, like Navio’s, it becomes memorable, a blend of earthiness and (thanks to the ginger) ethereal twinkles.
Beautifully crisped confit of duck leg ($20) might not be coastal, exactly (though why not?), but it certainly is classic, especially when nested in a bed of Puy lentils and featherings of braised frisée. As a recent dabbler in the art of confit, I was impressed not only by the crinkly golden skin but also by the meat, lasciviously moist and well seasoned. (Seasoning is perhaps an underrated aspect of making confit; all the hullabaloo is about the slow cooking in the fat, but how liberally the uncooked flesh is rubbed with salt and spices makes a big difference in how the dish turns out.)
As for wild mushrooms: I see them as being at least as seasonal as spatial, and it rains as much at the coast as anywhere else, perhaps more. Certainly the rainy season is the season for wild mushrooms. They turn up, in a jumble sweaty with butter, as the sauce for a plate of hand-cut linguine ($17), noodles (of flour and egg) whose soft texture and subtle absorbency set them apart from macaroni pasta.
The dessert menu is a trove of comfort foods cobbler, cake, toffee, crème brûlée but it might be idle to point this out, since most desserts are comforting in some primal sense. (Either that, or they are ambitious disasters strewn with spun sugar.) An apple cobbler ($10.50), capped by crumbly crust and with slices of fruit still firm enough to evoke their once-fresh state, was like a treat pilfered from Grandmother’s windowsill while still cooling. And for the ultimate in shareable desserts, there is the cookie jar ($10.50), an impressive array of handmade delights including macaroons, chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin cookies, and brown sugar sticks. Only the oatmeal raisin cookies disappointed, and they disappointed only me, who inexplicably just didn’t like them. Had they been made with Irish oatmeal?
Breakfast: daily, 6:3011 a.m.
Brunch: Sun., seatings at 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.
Lunch: Mon.Fri., 11:30 a.m.3 p.m.; Sat., noon3 p.m.
Dinner: Mon.Fri. and Sun., 69 p.m.
1 Miramontes Point Road, Half Moon Bay
CHEAP EATS I was so afraid he was going to say, "I love you." I was terrified, and I sweated during sex, insisted on leaving the lights on after, and peed with the door open. During dinner I made sure there was always parsley between my teeth and onions hanging out of my mouth.
We did romantic things together, like watching football, and I tried to keep my head in the game, but it was killing me. He loved me, I could tell. At home I only listened to jaded music, like Liz Phair and Kathleen What’s-Her-Name, the Canadian. We’d been seeing each other for months, and the sweet things he said were getting sweeter like, we were talking about a steak house, and I said, oh, it was a special occasion place, like maybe for his birthday.
"Every time I see you is a special occasion," he said.
I almost peed my pants. I almost moved to Alaska. His birthday was a couple months away. I tried real hard to get more dates with different people.
Meanwhile, the things that I said and felt were sweeter too. I meant and felt them, but love is another story, right? So I dreaded the word and feared the sentence with such focused attention that I was almost always saying it myself, by accident. The words I, love, and you pitched three little tents on the tip of my tongue, and I found myself using more hot sauce than ever.
At one in the morning on New Year’s Eve night, in his car, before a beautiful view of the city, he said, "I just can’t get used to the fact that it’s 2008."
I was still smiling New Year’s Day night, at the Thai restaurant. I’d ordered something spicy. He likes it mild. And he doesn’t much go for duck. So after the check was paid and the leftovers were all packed up for me for lunch the next day, we got into one of those talks.
I’m not ashamed of my neuroticness. My brain swirls and imagines more actively than my body might want. So? So I’m going on about what about this, what about that, you know, intangibles, unmentionables, unusualness, and the unpredictable places it inevitably leads us to, like Thai food.
There wasn’t any parsley between my teeth, but you would think … I don’t know, cilantro?
"Alls I know," Mookie said, and I quote, "is I love you."
He said this casually, offhandedly (like I like it), right while we were standing up to go, and I did pee my pants. I did move to Alaska. I blinked and was delighted to find that I was still standing. Right there! I did not die of impossibility, or freak and run, or even kick and scream.
Nor did I say, "I love you too." My tongue was empty. I squeezed him a little harder than usual, and we walked out of the place about as close together as two people can get with big coats on.
It felt quite nice to be loved. It felt casual, easy, and cellular or the opposite of neurotic. Alls I wanted to do was get back to his house, sit on the couch with him in the dark, and watch airplanes, other people’s living room lights, and whatever else the night sky that night might have to offer.
We were almost there before I realized we’d left my leftovers on the table at the restaurant. Aaaaaaaaaah!!!!! This must be what people mean when they say love hurts. I’ll write a jaded love song about it. Every day ever since I have thought about those leftovers and missed them and mourned them and craved Thai food.
What I’ve been eating instead is everything in my freezer, because it all thawed out. In the woods, when the wind blows, my power is the first to go and the last to be restored. Five days now.
My coffee water, soups, and stews, all of it I cook on and in the wood stove, because that’s all I have. And love. You know me. I love to camp. I love to eat. I eat by candlelight, alone, and it’s pretty fucking romantic, sipping wine straight from the bottle.
My new favorite restaurant is Toomie’s. It’s cold, slow, crowded, and not as good or as great a place, placewise, as Amarin, Alameda’s other noted Thai restaurant, but the red curry has decent kick to it, and the peanut sauce works, and … I don’t know, it just kinda conjures nice connotations for me who knows why? 2
TOOMIE’S THAI CUISINE
Mon.Thurs., 11 a.m.2:30 p.m. and 59:30 p.m.; Fri., 11 a.m.2:30 p.m. and 510 p.m.; Sat., noon10 p.m.; Sun., 59:30 p.m.
1433 Park, Alameda
I read your recent article about postpregnancy changes [12/19/07]; you didn’t mention one promising new treatment for stress incontinence, stem cells. Maybe you’re not interested because it’s not a standard treatment yet, but in case you simply didn’t know, here are some links: www.medscape.com/viewarticle/494967 (requires log-in), www.medpagetoday.com/Surgery/Urology/tb/6055.
I’m interested! My interest in urinary stress incontinence goes way back to when I was first looking into the female ejaculation thing and telling people over and over that "this is not urinary stress incontinence! Nothing to do with that! Forget you ever heard the words urinary stress incontinence." Which I promptly did. And now I’m writing and teaching about what happens to sex after you have babies and barely have time to think about female ejaculation, but guess what’s back as an issue, big-time? Of course. People talk about baby weight and boobs and tiredness and getting "touched out" by having a baby stuck to you at all hours, but how often does anyone mention the fact that peeing when you laugh, sneeze, or do anything more interesting in the way of convulsive expulsions is (a) very common postpartum (in which postpartum can mean, say, 40 years postpartum) and (b) just mortifying and deeply antierotic? (Right, yes, except to that subset you know who you are who do find random uncontrollable peeing erotic; you can just sit down, since we’re not talking to you.)
From the Medscape article Helpful linked:
Preliminary research suggests that stem cell therapy is a viable and efficacious treatment for stress urinary incontinence, according to results presented … at the 90th scientific assembly and annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.
"We believe we have developed a long-lasting and effective treatment that is especially promising because it is generated from the patient’s own body," said Ferdinand Frauscher, MD, associate professor of radiology at the Medical University of Innsbruck, Austria. In the study, women who had autologous adult stem cells implanted into the rhabdosphincter were free of incontinence for a year or longer, he said.
You caught the part where these were the women’s own stem cells, right? These are not the stem cells of controversy, drawn from the blasto-Americans whose lives are supposed to be every bit as valuable as that of an adult with a life and a family and a case of Parkinson’s or MS and no good therapies, nope. They were pulled out of the patients’ arms and injected back into the women’s urethras, where they proceeded to thicken the walls and make the sphincter more elastic and contractile. Plus, they’re smart:
"These are very intelligent cells," Dr. Frauscher said. "When they connect with other cells they stop growing." He said it takes about two weeks for the cells to complete the process. However, some women in the study reported a benefit within 24 hours of treatment. Dr. Frauscher said that was probably due to a "bulking" effect of the cells, creating pressure on the urethra.
In another, similar study, the women were still continent a year later. This is really good news, if a little early and a little techy and not likely to be appearing at a doc-in-the-box clinic near you any time soon. We can keep our fingers (and, unfortunately, our legs) crossed, though.
While we’re crossing, here’s more good news for women who, like me, did their dancing to ’80s music while the ’80s were still happening and might be wondering where their smooth skin, bouncing curls, and vaginal lubrication went: gone with the estrogen, of course. You could get whiplash keeping up with the latest on hormone-replacement therapy for menopause it’ll give you cancer; no, it’ll protect you from heart attacks; no, it’ll give you heart attacks but protect you from cancer but (also from Medscape, at www.medscape.com/viewarticle/568354):
The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) has released a statement on hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and cardiovascular risk, emphasizing that HRT does not appear harmful in younger women in early menopause and may indeed be beneficial in this group.
Younger for these purposes means under 60 (phew!) or less than 10 years after menopause. HRT isn’t going to be for everyone, and these are the same numbers (the Nurses’ Health Study) that have been crunched and crunched again while women get the above-mentioned sore necks (and sometimes much, much worse) in attempting to keep up with the latest, but right now this seems good. I’ve tried to look forward to my cronehood as a time of wisdom and serenity, but … bleah. Just whisper the words vaginal atrophy to any woman past 35 and you’ll see how eager most of us are to give up our estrogen. Given the choice, I’d rather pee my pants.
Andrea is home with the kids and going stir-crazy. Write her a letter! Ask her a question! Send her your tedious e-mail forwards! On second thought, don’t do that. Just ask her a question.
City Hall looked like feeding time at a popular new zoo exhibit on the morning of Jan. 11. Hundreds of people spilled from a cramped fourth-floor hearing room. The aisles bristled with television cameras and microphones. But the only animals on display were officials of the privately managed San Francisco Zoo.
A little more than two weeks after a Siberian tiger escaped her undersized enclosure before killing a young man and badly injuring two of his companions, the Recreation and Park Commission and the Joint Zoo Committee summoned Zoo management to discuss the tragedy. But after hours of staff presentations and public testimony, many in attendance doubted whether the same public officials and private managers who failed to prevent the grisly Christmas Day mauling should be trusted to point the correct way forward.
"To have Rec and Park and the Joint Zoo Committee hold the hearing is inappropriate at best," animal welfare activist Deniz Bolbol told the Guardian after the meeting adjourned. "This is the same committee that has basically rubber-stamped every management arrangement at the Zoo for the last 14, 15 years."
In 1993 the city handed over control of the Zoo to the private San Francisco Zoological Society but retained ownership of the property and the animals housed there. The makeup of the Joint Zoo Committee, which is charged with overseeing the society’s management, reflects this hybridized public-private arrangement. Three members of the city’s Recreation and Park Commission sit on the body, as do three members of the Zoological Society’s board of directors. According to Bolbol and other critics, the committee gives the private Zoo managers too long a leash.
"It’s a joke," Bolbol charged, "because basically, you’re asking them to self-regulate. You go to their meetings and there’s never one dissenting voice. Anytime anyone in the public says anything critical, they just sweep it under the rug."
The main argument for Zoo privatization was a lack of city money for needed improvements. And without a doubt, the Zoological Society has raised lots of cash since it took over. In addition to the $4 million dollars per year it receives from city taxpayers, the society waged a successful ballot campaign in 1997 for nearly $50 million in public bond money and has raised almost that much in private donations. But controversy surrounds how these windfalls have been spent and how the Zoo’s private management has decided to operate the facility.
Past Guardian investigations turned up disturbing cases of animal suffering and lax safety standards (see "The Zoo Blues," 5/19/99, and "The Zoo’s Losers," 5/7/2003) on the society’s watch. Many animals have died of diseases associated with unclean living conditions and cramped quarters. The same Siberian tiger that escaped her outdoor grotto enclosure and killed the young man Christmas Day mangled a keeper’s arm in late 2006. And last week’s cover story, "Tiger Tales," uncovered accounts of past tiger escapes from the same grotto.
Nick Podell, chair of the society’s board of directors, makes no apologies for his organization’s focus on the bottom line. "The primary function of the board is the raising of capital," he told us at the Friday hearing, adding, "We rely heavily on professional management for day-to-day operations."
When we asked Podell whether Zoo manager Manuel Mollinedo, who reportedly makes more than $330,000 per year, conducted a review of the outdoor grotto enclosure in the wake of the 2006 attack, Podell fiercely defended Mollinedo but declined to comment directly, citing "active litigation." Shortly after the Christmas Day incident, Mollinedo acknowledged publicly that the grotto’s walls were more than four feet lower than national standards. Nonetheless, Podell told us he believes the director "is being railroaded and lynched."
But critics of the privatization deal have renewed calls for greater scrutiny. "I’ve always been skeptical of this public-private arrangement," Sup. Tom Ammiano told the Guardian by phone. "[Zoological Society leaders] look at what makes a profit first. In itself, that’s not bad, but what are you sacrificing with that?"
City taxpayers will most likely sacrifice plenty in lawsuit awards and legal bills. Within a week of the Christmas Day debacle, the surviving victims hired celebrity lawyer Mark Geragos. City Attorney Dennis Herrera and his staff have already spent numerous billable hours jousting with Geragos in a high-profile spate over potential evidence. During the public hearing, Herrera and Geragos were down the street in Superior Court arguing over whether the city can search the victims’ car and their cell phones. As Ammiano put it, "This whole thing is probably going to be in lawyer land for a good while to come."
In the end, the privatization of the Zoo hailed by advocates as the best way to bring needed funds to the facility could very well cost taxpayers even more than expected. Indemnification clauses in the Zoo contract ostensibly absolve San Francisco of any legal jeopardy, but a separate clause clearly states that the city is liable for any "preexisting conditions." The grotto breached by the tiger on Christmas Day is almost 70 years old.
Officials won’t speak on the record about potential city liability, but they privately say they won’t be surprised if there are legal battles between the society and San Francisco over who has to pay the victims. Further blurring the line between the public and the private sector, the society has retained the services of former city attorney Louise Renne the very person who negotiated the original lease agreement on behalf of the city. At the hearing, she told us she did not expect any problems between her former boss, the city, and her new client, the Zoo. "But to tell you the truth," she added with a smile, "I haven’t even looked at [the agreement] in years."
Sup. Sean Elsbernd, whose district includes the Zoo, voiced support for keeping the facility in private hands. But he did pledge that "if it comes down to a question of whether the city will pay for anything [the Zoological Society] did negligently, we will not…. They will pay for their negligence if negligence is found." Elsbernd has scheduled a hearing on the Zoo’s woes for Jan. 28 before the Government and Oversight Committee, which he chairs, while Sup. Ross Mirkarimi has called for a hearing by the Budget Committee.
Ammiano told us, "The history of the Zoo has been controversial, especially since [privatization], and we just need to be brutally honest about everything."
TECHSPLOITATION Six years ago I wrote a column titled "Blog Anxiety," which was all about how bloggers make me nervous and jealous with their lightning-fast news cycles. I bemoaned my inability to commit words to public record without waiting for editorial oversight and without waiting for publication day (inevitably several days if not weeks after I had written those words). I talked about how bloggers can cite sources they’ve talked to informally and how they seem blissfully unburdened by concerns about injecting a personal perspective into their writing.
That was before It All Changed. And by "It All Changed," I don’t just mean that I became a blogger, which I did. More profoundly, I mean that blogs themselves have changed.
They are not the subterranean upstart media without rules anymore. I’m certainly not the first person to observe that blogs are fast becoming indistinguishable from mainstream media, and indeed places like the New York Times and the Washington Post have blogs that are often more newsy than the papers themselves. This blurring between formerly mainstream media and formerly alternative media means that the upstarts are having to follow old-school rules.
While I can’t speak for all bloggers, I prefer not to publish anything on my blog that hasn’t been edited. I don’t want readers to see my spelling errors and craptastic leaps in logic, thank you very much (of course you’ll still see many, but not as many as you would if there were no edits). I also spend a fair amount of time on the phone or on e-mail interviewing sources for my posts, as well as doing research. And I won’t publish anything that I think will get me sued, is libelous, or is just plain wrong, even if it’s funny. What I’m saying is that my blog is not exactly the unedited, stream-of-consciousness outpourings of a person in pajamas. Well, OK, I am often in pajamas.
Recently I was reading a conversation thread on Metafilter, one of my favorite still-subterranean Web sites for smart talk and slagging. Somebody mentioned my science fiction blog io9.com, then snarked at me for starting a blog when I was on record saying that blogs freak me out. An unedited discussion full of spiky banter and maniacal analysis followed exactly the kind of conversation I once associated with all blogs. People were nastier than they would have been if writing for a mainstream publication, but the cool ideastonoise ratio was nevertheless far higher than you’d ever get in USA Today or CNN.
And this brings me to what scares me about blogs now. I worry that instead of taking the Metafilter ethos mainstream, many blogs are leaving it behind. That’s not because we have editors or talk to sources I’m happy to see bloggers doing that. It’s because our audiences are starting to be as big as those of the mainstream media, and the mainstream media have taught us to be afraid of saying what we really think to those audiences. They’ve taught us that we should tiptoe around hot-button issues like climate change and sex and delay publishing stories that might upset the government until such a time as the government is comfortable with those stories.
This is the source of my blog anxiety in 2008. Will blogs take on all the bad habits of the mainstream media, self-censoring when we should be publishing? Or will bloggers help the media progress just a little bit further toward independence of thought and bravery in publication?
It’s still too early to tell. Even the most mainstream blogs don’t suffer the same pressures that mainstream publications like the New York Times do. Blogs don’t have the 100-year histories of many newspapers and magazines they don’t have the huge staffs and long, elaborate relationships with corporations and governments and famous, influential people. And I am glad we don’t have that history. I hope we can make our own, new history and shake up the way news is made and culture is analyzed. And then, in 30 years, I hope a new medium will come along and kick our asses too. *
Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who spends all day and all night blogging and editing at io9.com. You think she’s kidding about that, but she isn’t.
OPINION If you think the mortgage foreclosure crisis is big, imagine what would happen to San Francisco if rent control were repealed.
With 180,000 rent-controlled apartments currently housing more than 350,000 San Franciscans, the end of rent control would be disastrous. Literally hundreds of thousands would be forced from their homes and forced to leave the city.
The pain and suffering people would face as they lost their homes would be immense, making the foreclosure problem seem insignificant by comparison. Maybe even worse, repealing rent control would destroy forever the soul of San Francisco, eliminating altogether the city’s character and diversity and leaving it nothing more than a wealthy enclave affordable only to the very rich.
Envisioning the loss of rent control and the effect that would have is not fantasy. A statewide ballot measure this June would abolish rent control in San Francisco and all across California. The measure would also abolish requirements that developers include affordable housing in their projects. That means we could wake up on June 4 this year with all affordable housing in San Francisco gone unless we all work as hard as we can to save our rent control and our affordable housing.
In 1979, rent control was adopted in San Francisco, and it was accomplished only because thousands of San Francisco tenants made it happen. People collected signatures, made phone calls, walked precincts, packed City Hall hearings, and demonstrated and marched. Through collective grassroots activism, rent control became a reality. Now many of us think of rent control as something we’ve always had and a law that will always be there.
But we need to face reality: in five months, all limits on rent hikes could be gone. It won’t be easy to save rent control, and we need to begin our work now. The fate of rent control will largely be up to voters in San Francisco and Los Angeles, where most California renters live. Los Angeles tenants are organizing and mounting a strong campaign there. We need to do the same in San Francisco.
The San Francisco campaign to save rent control will kick off Jan. 19 with a citywide mobilization of tenants and allied organizations to plan and begin our work. If we’re going to save rent control, we need the same level of grassroots activism we had when we fought to get rent control in 1979, and we need tenants to come to the Save Rent Control Convention and begin the hard work to keep our homes.
This will be a working convention: following an overview about the measure, we will map out strategies and plans for fundraising, voter registration and education, media strategies, Web site development, rally organization, and all of the other components that make for a successful grassroots campaign. The tasks are many, and there’s not much time.
If we lose rent control, we’ll lose not just our homes but also our city. Saving rent control is not a fight people can sit out and hope someone else will do something about.
Ted Gullicksen runs the San Francisco Tenants Union.
The Save Rent Control Convention will be Jan. 19, 14 p.m., at Centro del Pueblo, 474 Valencia (at 16th St.), SF. For more information on the rent control repeal measure, see www.saverentcontrol.net or www.sftu.org. For more information, call (415) 282-5525.
Time is running out on attempts by Sup. Ross Mirkarimi, State Sen. Carole Migden, and Assemblymember Mark Leno to secure greater affordable-housing levels from the University of California, which wants to build private residential units on its UC Berkeley Extension campus at 55 Laguna in San Francisco.
Since the school site closed more than three years ago, critics have questioned how the UC’s plan for the campus, which served a public use for more than 150 years, will benefit the community, while preservationists succeeded in getting the campus awarded historic landmark status.
But with the UC claiming "unrestricted power to take and hold real and personal property for the benefit of the university" in a public statement, the city’s regulatory power is limited. The San Francisco Planning Commission is scheduled to consider the project Jan. 17, including the demolition of Middle Hall Gymnasium, the oldest building on the campus, and Richardson Hall Annex. But local and state legislative officials are focused on trying to get more affordable housing at the site.
Although negotiations were still ongoing at Guardian press time, the UC’s plan was to demolish the two historically landmarked buildings on the 5.8-acre Hayes Valley campus and build 450 new housing units, 16 percent of them to be offered below market rates, about the minimum number under the city’s inclusionary-housing law.
"But we’re pushing hard at the bottom line," said Mirkarimi, who, along with Migden, Leno, the city’s Planning Department, the Mayor’s Office of Housing, and affordable-housing activists, has been meeting with developer A.F. Evans and Openhouse, a local nonprofit that intends to build an 80-unit, market-rate, LGBT-friendly, senior residential community on the site.
"And we are trying at a separate venue to appeal to the UC Regents to be more sensitive and cooperative in what their bottom line profitability level is," Mirkarimi, whose District 5 includes Hayes Valley, told the Guardian.
Mirkarimi said he’s in favor of preserving all five buildings at the site but that both the Planning Commission’s Landmark Advisory Committee and the Board of Supervisors have voted to preserve only three. "We are trying to be pragmatic yet clear as to what our objectives are in trying to make a complex deal that’s triangulated by UC Berkeley, A.F. Evans, and Openhouse, with UC as the big daddy in the room.
"UC can do almost what UC wants. But the city’s leverage comes from UC asking for housing to be built and requesting a zoning change at a site that has become a magnet for grime and crime," Mirkarimi said. "It would also be negligent for UC to let this site remain in its current condition.
Under state law, the UC is exempt from city and county zoning and building codes if it builds educational facilities or projects that are deemed to be in the public interest. But according to officials with the City Attorney’s Office, the UC is not exempt from such codes if it turns over its land for private development.
And then there’s the city’s claim that it never conveyed the title to Waller Street, which lies between Buchanan and Laguna streets and is essential to the project, giving opponents some leverage. The UC disputes the city’s claim, but Mirkarimi maintains that the Board of Supervisors’ control of the street "provides a contingency plan if we are not making progress. And either way, UC is going to have to pay for the right to Waller."
The UC’s 55 Laguna project manager Kevin Hufferd confirmed that he is having "ongoing discussions with state and city officials" but declined to comment further.
"Frustrating" is how queer affordable-housing activist Tommi Avicolli Mecca described the last-minute discussions about the 55 Laguna development plan. "A.F. Evans claims it won’t be making any money and that they can’t do any more," Mecca told the Guardian. He attended a Jan. 11 meeting with the company at which, he claims, the developers offered to increase affordability levels to 19.5 percent but Mirkarimi pushed for more.
"To his credit, Sup. Ross Mirkarimi keeps saying this is unacceptable," Avicolli Mecca said, also lauding the Mayor’s Office of Housing for trying to make Openhouse’s project "100 percent affordable."
Currently, Openhouse’s development includes no below-market-rate units, a situation Avicolli Mecca claims the MOH hopes to change "through bringing in subsidies."
"Obviously, we are not against queer senior housing," Avicolli Mecca said. "The issue is that this is a lousy deal. What are we getting? Nothing, but UC gains a lot of money. There’s a crazy need for affordable housing and no way to justify this plan."
Filmmaker Eliza Hemingway, whose documentary Uncommon Knowledge records how the UC shuttered 55 Laguna with no input from and little concern for staff, students, and the surrounding community, believes that people have lost sight of the public use issue.
"They are worn down by the struggle, by trying to find a compromise because the space is empty, but the question remains: why is a public campus being privately developed?" Hemingway told us. She mourns the loss of educational programs and spaces that benefited the community and the lack of transparency that has marred the UC’s plans.
"For there to have been such huge barriers to the public process over what is a huge amount of public land is unfortunate," Hemingway said.
Cynthia Servetnick of the Save the UC Berkeley Extension Laguna Street Campus told us her group is prepared to file a lawsuit under the California Environmental Quality Act if the project as currently proposed is approved.
"We’d rather see a project that has 40 percent affordable housing at 50 percent [area median income] than a lawsuit, but $38,000 a year [which would be the annual income requirement for seniors, the disabled, and people with AIDS to be able to afford one of Openhouse’s units] is too high," she said, noting that the proposed units are small but could go for $4,000 a month, rising to $7,000 monthly for those who need more services and staff.
Claiming that recognition of the campus as a historic landmark assists project sponsors in accessing preservation incentives, including federal tax credits, Servetnick said, "A.F. Evans has its [environmental impact report] complete and is clearing the way for 450 units, but they could do that and save all the historic buildings, thus having the same profitability but more affordability. It’s now or never. This is a new term for the mayor, we have a new city planning director, John Rahaim, and officials open to negotiating a win-win."
Migden was even more blunt. "Poor old queers need a place to retire too," she said. "Either Evans and the UC up the affordability level to 40 or 50 percent and guarantee that some of the senior LGBT units are subsidized, or the project dies."
As of press time, A.F. Evans, Openhouse, the SF Planning Department, and UC representatives had not returned the Guardian‘s calls.
Deferring to Mirkarimi to make an official announcement, Leno said, "I know that the meetings have been ongoing and that the issue of affordability is a priority, and I’m hopeful that we will have an agreement among all stakeholders shortly."
GREEN CITY Amid the much-hyped speculation about whom Democratic and Republican party voters will choose as their respective presidential nominees this year, California members of the Green Party will vote for their representative Feb. 5.
Candidates Jared Ball, Kent Hesplay, Jesse Johnson Jr., Cynthia McKinney, and Kat Swift met for their only planned debate Jan. 13 at Herbst Theatre in San Francisco, addressing a near-capacity crowd and laying out platforms that are decidedly more aggressive in tackling environmental and social problems than any proposed by the major-party candidates.
The candidates echoed one another on plans for immediate withdrawal from Iraq and shifting funding from the Pentagon into domestic programs for education, health care, and jobs. All professed grave concern about the environment, with Johnson calling the coal-mining method of mountaintop removal "ground zero for climate change."
By the end of the debate, Ball, a Baltimore hip-hop artist and professor in communications studies, fully endorsed McKinney, a former Democratic congressperson from Georgia. He emphasized that his greatest desire was for a strong national movement of people of all races, places, and income levels to continue what he called "incomplete revolutions" in the civil, labor, and women’s rights movements.
McKinney received the longest, most sustained standing ovation of the evening when she said, "Please unite the party. We can’t do it divided." She said the Greens represent the best hope of bringing together the large percentage of the country that’s spurned membership in both the Democratic and Republican parties. "I’ve never seen anything like I’ve seen in the Green Party," she said. "Please come together."
Also on hand not participating in the debate but taking questions afterward was Ralph Nader, a presidential candidate in 1996, 2000, and 2004, who hasn’t yet ruled out another run this year. Some Greens and other high-profile figures are urging him not to run and expressing concern that he’s become a polarizing figure who could hurt the party. Nader addressed the issue of party unity by saying, "I have very little to offer about how to unite the Green Party internally."
But he told the Guardian that if powerful institutional forces collude to limit his or the Green Party nominee’s access to the ballot, as he charges they did in 2004, he might run to highlight the need for greater political participation, saying, "I’ll be deciding within the next month." Nader has sued the Democratic Party, the John KerryJohn Edwards campaign, the Service Employees International Union, and a number of law firms and political action committees for allegedly conspiring to prevent him from running for president in 2004.
"Ballot access is a major civil liberties issue," Nader said. "Without voters’ rights, candidates’ rights don’t mean anything."
Yet the five announced candidates and Green Party activists on hand all seemed ready to rally around a new nominee for 2008, even as questions remain about whether the party should pool its energy and resources for national races or focus on state and municipal elections. Greens represent less than 3 percent of San Francisco’s registered voters and are outnumbered by Republicans four to one. Statewide, Greens amount to less than 1 percent. However, nearly 20 percent of California voters and 30 percent in San Francisco decline to state any party affiliation.
"I’m not sure yet that running a presidential candidate helps to grow the party, based on the experiences of the last several presidential attempts, especially in contrast to us focusing on races that can be won locally," Sup. Ross Mirkarimi, a Green who helped found the party in California, told the Guardian outside the debate. When asked if a national Green Party candidate trickles down attention and funding to the grassroots races, he said, "The theory is that it does. There isn’t any concrete evidence that it has coattails."
Since the Nader runs, Greens are wary of being tagged as presidential spoilers, but when that question was posed to this year’s prospects, they denied that it accurately portrays the voting landscape. As McKinney said, "When you’ve got a million black people who go to the polls … and nobody counts their votes … then don’t you dare call the Green Party spoilers."
Editors note: An earlier version of this story erroneously reported that Ralph Nader was the Green Party candidate for president in 2004. Nader ran as an independent. The Greens nominated David Cobb.
This is now essentially a two-person race for the Democratic nomination, and no matter how it comes down, it’s a historic moment: neither of the front-runners for the White House (and by any standard, the Democratic nominee starts off as the front-runner) is a white man. And frankly, the nation could do a lot worse than either President Hillary Clinton or President Barack Obama.
But on the issues, and because he’s a force for a new generation of political activism, our choice is Obama.
Obama’s life story is inspirational, and his speeches are the stuff of political legend. He can rouse a crowd and generate excitement like no presidential candidate has in many, many years. He has, almost single-handedly, caused thousands of young people to get involved for the first time in a major political campaign.
The cost of his soaring rhetoric is a disappointing lack of specific plans. It can be hard at times to tell exactly what Obama stands for, exactly how he plans to carry out his ambitious goals. His stump speeches are riddled with words like change and exhortations to a new approach to politics, but he doesn’t talk much, for example, about how to address the gap between the rich and the poor, or how to tackle urban crime and poverty, or whether Israel should stop building settlements in the occupied territories.
In fact, our biggest problem with Obama is that he talks as if all the nation needs to do is come together in some sort of grand coalition of Democrats and Republicans, of "blue states and red states." But some of us have no interest in making common cause with the religious right or Dick Cheney or Halliburton or Don Fisher. There are forces and interests in the United States that need to be opposed, defeated, consigned to the dustbin of history, and for all of Obama’s talk of unity, we worry that he lacks the interest in or ability to take on a tough, bloody fight against an entrenched political foe.
Still, when you look at his positions, he’s on the right track. He wants to raise the cap on earnings subject to Social Security payments (right now high earners don’t pay Social Security taxes on income over $97,000 a year). He wants to cut taxes for working-class families and pay for it by letting the George W. Bush tax cuts on the rich expire (that’s not enough, but it’s a start). He wants to double fuel-economy standards. His health care plan isn’t perfect, but it’s about the same as all the Democrats offer.
And he’s always been against the war.
It’s hard to overstate the importance of that. Obama spoke out against the invasion when even most Democrats were afraid to, so he has some credibility when he says he’s going to withdraw all troops within 16 months and establish no permanent US bases in Iraq.
Hillary Clinton has far more extensive experience than Obama (and people who say her years in the White House don’t count have no concept of the role she played in Bill Clinton’s administration). We are convinced that deep down she has liberal instincts. But that’s what’s so infuriating: since the day she won election to the US Senate, Clinton has been trianguutf8g, shaping her positions, especially on foreign policy, in an effort to put her close to the political center. At a time when she could have shown real courage during the early votes on funding and authorizing the invasion of Iraq she took the easy way out, siding with President Bush and refusing to be counted with the antiwar movement. She has refused to distance herself from such terrible Bill Clintonera policies as welfare reform, the North American Free Trade Agreement, and don’t ask, don’t tell. We just can’t see her as the progressive choice.
We like John Edwards. We like his populist approach, his recognition that there are powerful interests running this country that won’t give up power without a fight, and his talk about poverty. In some ways (certainly in terms of campaign rhetoric) he’s the most progressive of the major candidates. It is, of course, a bit of a political act he was, at best, a moderate Southern Democrat when he served in the Senate. But at least he’s raising issues nobody else is talking about, and we give him immense credit for that. And we’ve always liked Dennis Kucinich, who is the only person taking the right positions on almost all of the key issues.
But Edwards has slid pretty far out of the running at this point, and Kucinich is an afterthought. The choice Californians face is between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. And Obama, for all of his flaws, has fired up a real grassroots movement, has energized the electorate, and is offering the hope of a politics that looks forward, not back. On Feb. 5, vote for Barack Obama.
We have a lot of disagreements with Ron Paul and his libertarian worldview. He opposes the taxes that we need to make civil society function and the government regulations that are essential to protecting the most powerless members of society. From its roots in the Magna Carta and Adam Smith’s economic theories to the Bill of Rights, it’s clear the United States was founded on a social compact that libertarians too often seem to deny. And Paul compounds these ills in the one area in which he departs from the libertarians: he doesn’t support federal abortion rights. He’s been associated with some statements that are racially insensitive (to say the least). He clearly shouldn’t be president.
But he won’t Paul isn’t going to win the nomination. So it’s worthwhile endorsing him as a protest vote for two reasons. His presence on the ballot serves to show up some of the hypocrisies of the rest of the GOP field and he is absolutely correct and insightful on one of the most important issues of the day: the war.
Paul is alone among the Republican candidates for president in sounding the alarm that our country is pursuing a dangerous, shortsighted, hypocritical, expensive, and ultimately doomed strategy of trying to dominate the world militarily. He opposed the invasion of Iraq and thinks the US should pull out immediately. It’s immensely valuable to have someone like that in the GOP debates, speaking to the conservative half of our country about why this policy violates the principles they claim to hold dear.
Paul is absolutely correct that if we stopped trying to police the world, ended the war on drugs, and quit negotiating trade deals that favor multinational corporations over American families and workers, we would be a far more free and prosperous nation.
We endorsed Ralph Nader for president in 2000, in large part as a protest vote against the neoconservative politics of the Bill Clinton administration (the North American Free Trade Agreement, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, welfare "reform," etc.). And Nader’s Green Party campaign had a place (particularly in a state the Democrats were going to win anyway). We’ve never been among those who blame Nader for Al Gore’s loss Gore earned plenty of blame himself. But four years later we, like a lot of Nader’s allies and supporters, urged him not to run and he ignored those pleas. Now he may be seeking the Green Party nomination again. Nader hasn’t formally announced yet, but he’s talking about it which means he still shows no interest in being accountable to anyone. It’s too bad he has to end his political life this way.
Fortunately, there are several other credible Green Party candidates. The best is Cynthia McKinney, the former Georgia congressional representative, who has switched from the Democratic to the Green Party and is seeking a spot on the top of the ticket. McKinney has her drawbacks, but we’ll endorse her.
The real question here is not who would make a better president (that’s not in the cards, of course) but who would do more to build the Green Party and promote the best course for a promising third party that still hasn’t developed much traction as a national force. We’ve been clear for years that the Greens should be working from the grass roots up: the party’s first priority should be electing school board members, community college board members, members of boards of supervisors and city councils. Over time, leaders like Mark Sanchez, Jane Kim, Matt Gonzalez, and Ross Mirkarimi can start competing for mayor’s offices and posts in the State Legislature and Congress. Running a presidential candidate only makes sense as part of a party-building operation. (That’s what Nader did in 2000, and for all the obvious reasons he’s incapable of doing it today.)
But the Greens insist on running candidates for president, so we might as well pick the best one.
McKinney has a lot to offer the Greens. She’s an experienced legislator who has won several tough elections and taken on a lot of tough issues. As an African American woman from the South, she can also broaden the party’s base. She was a solid progressive in Congress, where she was willing to speak out on issues that many of her colleagues ducked (she was, for example, one of the few members to push for an impeachment resolution).
McKinney has her downside in recent years she’s been flirting with the loony side of the left, getting a bit close to some Sept. 11 conspiracy theories that hurt her credibility (although she’s also made some very good points about the attacks and the lack of a serious investigation into what happened). And some of her supporters have made alarmingly anti-Semitic statements (from which, to her credit, she has attempted to distance herself). But she has to come out now, strongly, to denounce those sorts of comments and show that she can build a real coalition.
With those (serious) reservations, we’ll give her the nod.
Proposition 91 (use of gas tax)
Prop. 91 is essentially an effort to ensure that revenue from the state’s gas tax goes only to roads and highways. It’s a moot point anyway: Proposition 1A, which passed last year, did the same thing, and now even proponents of 91 are urging a No vote.
But we’re going to take this opportunity to reiterate our opposition to Prop. 1A, Prop. 91, and any other ridiculous effort to restrict the use of gasoline tax revenues.
It should be clear to everyone at this point that the widespread overuse of automobiles is having far bigger impacts on California than just wear and tear on the roads. Cars are the biggest single cause of global warming, and they kill and injure more Californians than guns do, causing enormous costs that are borne by all of us. Driving a car is expensive for society, and drivers ought to be paying some of those costs. That should mean extra gas taxes and a reinstatement of the vehicle license fee to previous levels (and extra surcharges for those who drive Hummers and other especially wasteful, dangerous vehicles). That money ought to go to the state General Fund so California doesn’t have to close state parks and slash spending on schools and social services, as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is proposing.
Proposition 92 (community college funding)
Prop. 92 is another example of how desperate California educators are and how utterly dysfunctional the state’s budget process has become.
The measure is complicated, but it amounts to a plan to guarantee community colleges more money a total of about $300 million a year and includes provisions to cut the cost of attending the two-year schools. Those are good things: community colleges serve a huge number of students about 10 times as many as the University of California system many of whom come from lower-income families who can’t afford even a small fee increase. And, of course, as the state budget has gotten tighter, community college fees have gone up in the past few years and as a result, attendance has dropped.
Part of the way Prop. 92 cuts fees is by divorcing community college funding from K12 funding and that’s created some controversy among teachers. Current state law requires a set percentage of California spending (about 40 percent) to go to K12 and community college education, but there’s no provision to give more money to the community colleges when enrollment at those institutions grows faster than K12 enrollment.
Some teachers fear that Prop. 92 could lead to decreased funds for K12, and that’s a real concern. In essence, this measure would add $300 million to the state budget, and it includes no specific funding source. This worries us. In theory, the legislature and the governor ought to agree that education funding matters and find the money by raising taxes; in practice, this could set up more competition for money between different (and entirely worthy) branches of the state’s public education system not to mention other critical social services.
But many of the same concerns were voiced when Prop. 98 was on the ballot, and that measure probably saved public education in California. The progressives on the San Francisco Board of Education all support Prop. 92, and so do we. Vote yes.
Proposition 93 (term limits)
This is pathetic, really. The term-limits law that voters passed in 1990 has been bad news, shifting more power to the governor and ensuring that the State Assembly and the State Senate will be filled with people who lack the experience and institutional history to fight the Sacramento lobbyists (who, of course, have no term limits). But the legislature isn’t a terribly popular institution, and the polls all show that it would be almost impossible to simply repeal term limits. So the legislature led by State Assembly speaker Fabian Núñez, who really, really wants to keep his job has proposed a modification instead.
Under the current law, a politician can serve six years three terms in the assembly and eight years two terms in the senate. Since most senators are former assembly members, that’s a total of 14 years any one person can serve in the legislature.
Prop. 93 would cut that to 12 years but allow members to serve them in either house. So Núñez, who will be termed out this year, could serve six more years in the assembly (but would then be barred from running for the senate). Senators who never served in the assembly could stick around for three terms.
That’s fine. It’s a bit better than what we have now it might bring more long-term focus to the legislature and eliminate some of the musical-chairs mess that’s brought us the Mark Leno versus Carole Migden bloodbath.
But it’s sad that the California State Legislature, once a model for the nation, has been so stymied by corruption that the voters don’t trust it and the best we can hope for is a modest improvement in a bad law. Vote yes.
Propositions 94, 95, 96, and 97 (Indian gambling compacts)
We supported the original law that allowed Indian tribes to set up casinos, and we have no regrets: that was an issue of tribal sovereignty, and after all the United States has done to the tribes, it seemed unconscionable to deny one of the most impoverished populations in the state the right to make some money. Besides, we’re not opposed in principle to gambling.
But this is a shady deal, and voters should reject it.
Props. 9497 would allow four tribes all of which have become very, very wealthy through gambling to dramatically expand the size of their casinos. The Pechanga, Morongo, Sycuan, and Agua Caliente tribes operate lucrative casinos in Southern California, spend a small fortune on lobbying, and convinced Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to give them permission to create some of the largest casinos in the nation. Opponents of this agreement have forced the issue onto the ballot.
The tribes say the deals will bring big money into the state coffers, and it’s true that more gambling equals more state revenue. But the effective tax rate on the slot machines (and this is all about slot machines, the cash engines of casinos) would be as little as 15 percent chump change for a gambling operation. And none of the other tribes in the state, some of which are still desperate for money, would share in the bounty.
The big four tribes refuse to allow their workers to unionize. While we respect tribal sovereignty, the state still has the right to limit the size of casinos, and if the tribes want the right to make a lot more money, they ought to be willing to let their workers, not all of them Indians, share in some of the rewards. We’re talking billions of dollars a year in revenue here; paying a decent salary is hardly beyond the financial ability of these massive operations.
The governor cut this deal too fast and gave away too much. If the tribes want to expand their casinos, we’re open to allowing it but the state, the workers, and the other tribes deserve a bigger share of the revenue. Vote no on 94-97.
Proposition A (neighborhood parks bond)
This $185 million bond has the support of a broad coalition of local politicians and activists, Mayor Gavin Newsom, and every member of the Board of Supervisors. It would put a dent in the city’s serious backlog of deferred maintenance in the park system.
The measure would allocate $117.4 million for repairs and renovations of 12 neighborhood parks, selected according to their seismic and safety needs as well as their usage levels. It would also earmark $11.4 million to replace and repair freestanding restrooms, which, the Recreation and Park Department assures us, will be kept open seven days a week.
The bond also contains $33.5 million for projects on Port of San Francisco land, including a continuous walkway from Herons Head Park to Pier 43 and new open spaces at regular intervals along the eastern waterfront. While some argue that the Port should take care of its own property, it’s pretty broke and there’s a growing recognition that the city’s waterfront is a treasure, that open space should be a key component of its future, and that it doesn’t really matter which city agency pays for it. In fact, this bond act would provide money to reclaim closed sections of the waterfront and create a Blue Greenway trail along seven miles of bay front.
One of the more questionable elements in this bond is the $8 million earmarked for construction and reconstruction of city playfields which includes a partnership with a private foundation that wants to install artificial turf. There’s no question that the current fields are in bad repair and that users of artificial turf appreciate its all-weather durability. But some people worry about the environmental impact of the stuff, which is made from recycled tires, while others wonder if this bond will end up giving control of 7 percent of our parkland to the sons of Gap founder Don Fisher (their City Fields Foundation is the entity contributing matching funds for city-led turf conversions). Although the Rec and Park Department has identified 24 sites for such conversions, none can take place without the Board of Supervisors’ approval and the supervisors and the Rec and Park Commission needs to make it clear that if neighbors don’t want the artificial turf, it won’t be forced on them.
Prop. A also earmarks $5 million for trail restoration and $5 million for an Opportunity Fund, from which all neighborhoods can leverage money for benches and toilets through in-kind contributions, sweat equity, and noncity funds.
And it includes $4 million for park forestry and $185,000 for audits.
With a 2007 independent analysis identifying $1.7 billion in maintenance requirements, this is little more than a start, and park advocates need to be looking for other, ongoing revenue sources. But we’ll happily endorse Prop. A.
Proposition B (deferred retirement for police officers)
We’ve always taken the position that relying exclusively on police officers to improve public safety is as useless as simply throwing criminals behind bars it’s only part of the solution and will never work as an answer all on its own.
But we’re also aware that the city is suffering a dramatic shortage of police officers; hundreds are expected to retire within a few short years, and those figures aren’t being met by an equal number of enrollees at the academy.
So we’re supporting Prop. B, even if it’s yet another mere stopgap measure the police union has dragged before voters, and even though the San Francisco Police Officers Association is often hostile to attempted law enforcement reforms and is never around when progressives need support for new revenue measures.
Prop. B would allow police officers who are at least 50 years of age and who have served for at least 25 years to continue working for three additional years with their regular pay and benefits while the pension checks they’d have otherwise received collect in a special account with an assured annual 4 percent interest rate.
The POA promises Prop. B will be cost neutral to taxpayers, and the city controller will review the program in three years to ensure that remains the case. Also at the end of three years, the Board of Supervisors, with a simple majority vote, could choose to end or extend it.
POA president Gary Delagnes added during an endorsement interview that department staffers in San Francisco who reach retirement age simply continue working in other police jurisdictions. If that’s the case, we might as well keep them here.
No other city employees are eligible for such a scheme, which strikes us as unfair. And frankly, one of the main reasons the city can’t hire police officers is the high cost of living in San Francisco so if the POA is worried about recruitment, the group needs to support Sup. Chris Daly’s affordable-housing measure in November.
But we’ll endorse Prop. B.
Proposition C (Alcatraz Conversion Project)
We understand why some people question why a decaying old prison continues to be a centerpiece of Bay Area tourism. A monument to a system that imprisoned people in cold, inhumane conditions doesn’t exactly mesh with San Francisco values.
But the Alcatraz Conversion Project, which proposes placing a halfgolf balllike Global Peace Center atop the Rock, is a wacky idea that looks and sounds like a yuppie tourist retreat and does little to address the island’s tortured past. People don’t have to support everything with peace in the title.
The proposal includes a white domed conference center for nonviolent conflict resolution, a statue of St. Francis, a labyrinth, a medicine wheel, and an array of what proponents call "architecturally advanced domed Artainment multimedia centers."
We agree with the ideal of dedicating the island to the Native Americans who fished and collected birds’ eggs from this once guano-covered rock for thousands of years and whose descendants carried out a bold occupation at the end of the 1960s. But this proposal seems based on wishful thinking, not fiscal or environmental realities.
The plan is backed by the Global Peace Foundation, which is a branch of the San Francisco Medical Research Foundation, a Mill Valley nonprofit founded by Marin resident and Light Party founder Da Vid. It’s just goofy. Vote no.
Next week: Alameda County endorsements.
I had this eerie feeling last week as news reports began to come in of a naval engagement in the Strait of Hormuz. It was starting to feel like 1964.
The way the initial stories had it, a group of Iranian speedboats approached the USS Port Royal and the USS Hopper in the narrow strait, which controls access to the Persian Gulf. Commanders on both ships went on high alert and ordered their gunners to track the speedboats. They were probably responding to a Navy war game simulation of a few years back, in which a swarm of small boats was able to attack and disable a United States warship.
It got worse: as the small craft approached, the ships received a radio message in English, warning that "I am coming to you. You will explode in a few minutes." The ships’ captains were within a few seconds of directing their crews to open fire.
Now it turns out, according to the Guardian of London, that a widely known radio hacker who calls himself Filipino Monkey a guy who often pesters ships in the Gulf may have been the one sending the radio message. There was, apparently, no real threat.
But the George W. Bush administration has protested to the Iranians, the Navy commander in the Gulf says he takes the threat of attack on US ships "deadly seriously," and Bush has personally warned that "provocative actions" could lead to military retaliation.
Let’s see now: On Aug. 2, 1964, the US destroyer Maddox was conducting a spy mission in the Gulf of Tonkin, off the coast of North Vietnam, when the captain reported coming under attack by North Vietnamese torpedo boats. The destroyer opened fire, and aircraft from a nearby carrier pursued the boats, allegedly sinking one. Two days later the Maddox and another destroyer fired on what they said were hostile targets in the gulf.
Turns out both reports were total lies, the hostile actions by North Vietnam fabricated, and the entire event almost certainly set up as a casus belli and the result was a war that killed 50,000 US troops.
And we know Bush wants to attack Iran. Eerie.