Volume 42 Number 46

Colorful, brutish, and short

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Sid Meier’s Civilization: Revolution

(2K Games; Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Nintendo DS)

GAMER Reviewing games means reviewing a lot of sequels. Mainstays like Final Fantasy (Square Enix) remind us that game publishers are the only people besides porn makers willing to append "XIII" to anything, and this fall’s Madden ’09 (Electronic Arts) proves that gamers are willing to buy the same product once a year, 20 times. Still, repeat installments allow game designers to refine their original creation, often on a much bigger budget. A game’s best elements can be emphasized and streamlined, its worst overhauled or jettisoned, its complexity more fully realized.

There is no series in which retooling is more apparent than Sid Meier’s Civilization (Microprose), which first appeared for the PC in 16 colors in 1991. Bearing the tagline "Build an empire to stand the test of time," the game did just that, allowing Meier an opportunity to refine his creation in four official sequels and numerous spin-offs. Each game has expanded on Civilization‘s timeless turn-based gameplay, which kicks off in 4000 BC with a band of nomadic settlers and spans the breadth of human history. Sid Meier’s Civilization: Revolution is the franchise’s first foray into the lucrative console market, foreign territory to most strategy titles due to the difficulty of micromanaging a global empire with a cumbersome gamepad. As an adaptation, the game performs impeccably, tackling a complicated interface with aplomb and introducing subtle changes that make the gameplay more action-packed and less time-consuming without altering its totemic core mechanics.

A cartoony, isometrically viewed 3-D makeover and brief in-game battle animations nod to the graphical prowess of modern consoles, and the game introduces a robust online multiplayer component that seeks to solve Civs perennial quandary: how to make a game that lasts three hours on the short end a viable player vs. player enterprise. Though finding a game using the built-in system was quick and painless, waiting for my opponents to finish their turns was not, and it seemed that the inclusion of a chess-style timer in the early stages would become a curse when managing a far-flung empire in the end.

Credit is due to Meier for pushing himself as a designer — transutf8g a beloved, epic computer franchise into a digestible, fast-paced console title is no easy task. One hopes his efforts will win Civ new fans, but in striving to make an accessible game, Meier has elided one of Civilization‘s cornerstone enjoyments: the correlation between the scale of the experience and the time it takes to play a game. There is simply no other franchise that allows you to launch a SCUD missile at Tenochtitlan because Montezuma made the mistake of destroying your iron mine, 5,000 years ago. 

Pennies from heaven

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Growing up gay in a military family of evangelical Christians in the Reagan-era South sounds like a tight squeeze for anyone. But as Kirk Read affirms, however claustrophobic one’s environment, there’s always room for a good fantasy. Besides, Read likes tight squeezes. His active dream life (which includes having a very large man lie on top of him and expel all the air from his lungs) percolated early with the image of his young gay Christian self leaving home for school each morning past an angry throng of fellow evangelicals in protest formation, waving signs expressing God’s vehement opposition to little backpack-wearing Kirk Read, holding up the obligatory jars of fetuses, shaking fists, and lobbing Bibles. Well, Read is here to testify that dreams can come true.

The story of that, um, miraculous moment (which took place recently as Read toured his home state of Virginia with the Sex Workers’ Art Show) makes up just one part of the Bay Area writer-performer’s lively, gleefully offbeat, and largely autobiographical concatenation of multimedia performance pieces, This Is the Thing, now being reprised at Shotwell Studios after its sold-out Queer Arts Festival debut at the Garage in June. But it comes, along with a raucous striptease, as the apt climax of an evening driven by a kind of fervor and sensibility clearly (if inadvertently) inspired by Read’s "hardcore" Southern Christian upbringing (recounted in detail in his 2001 memoir, How I Learned to Snap [Hill Street Press]).

Thus the evening begins with a prayer. Stepping onto the stage looking like a young Osmond-esque televangelist in a white polyester suit and gold sequin tee, Read (ably accompanied through many a mood by composer and multi-instrumentalist Jeffrey Alphonsus Mooney, and backed by the smooth, evocative video collage work of Liz Singer) leads those assembled in a celebration of all those things disappearing — the cassette mixtape, the bottle rocket, the sonnet — before segueing into a paean to the penny and a loose, carefree set of associations that promptly lead to Abe Lincoln as well-hung gay icon. Pennies, those "shiny whores," are a sort of leitmotif here, though I can’t exactly say I understood why. Still, in terms of theme and execution, Read’s deceptively laid-back intensity, wit, and bold and personable self-exposure tend to make up for the evening’s slighter or more muddled aspects.

At its best moments This Is the Thing melds carefully honed physical and thematic juxtapositions with Read’s loose and natural but wholly committed performance style. The effects are often simultaneously hilarious, haunting, and gently moving. In a segment titled "The Conductor," Read recounts his first encounter with his very favorite sex client, a 450-pound man with a penchant for the classics, acting out the surprisingly romantic business affair with the aid of a large Winnie the Pooh–headed bear of a mannequin — a luxurious pileup of stuffed animal pelts constructed by Doug Hansen. In another pas de deux, a quietly strange and graceful piece called "Computer Face," Read is paired with a man-size figure set on wheels, wrapped in white bandages with clumps of wires for hands, and a glowing, hollowed-out Apple computer monitor for a head. As a looped recording plays a speech by Harvey Milk, Read pulls a series of objects from the figure’s head and dances with it in tight circles across the stage. In "The Nu Handbell Choir," the show reaches a kind of peak of starkness and delicacy as Read, calmly micturating into a set of crystal goblets, describes his furtive childhood adoration for his father — a veteran of three wars — and his Army brass buddies as they assembled in his parents’ living room to drink, talk, and console one another.

Other vignettes are less complex but still compelling in their energy and frank humor. "Hotel Hooker Haiku" is a sassy phenomenology of an Atlanta prostitute’s working world, set to banjo accompaniment and jovial footage of some dingy, dreary motel grounds. And the more traditionally outrageous if still amusing "Missing Mike Brady" posits Florence Henderson as a clothesline post airing her sex life on a well-worn marriage sheet. The Bradys may seem a little far afield here, but then, like the best of preachers, Read is nothing if not ecumenical.

THIS IS THE THING

Thurs/14–Sat/16, 8 p.m. (also Sat, 10 p.m.), $12–$20

Shotwell Studios

3252 Shotwell, SF

1-800-838-3006, www.brownpapertickets.com/event/38121

Fated to annihilate

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› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER To get the grimy lowdown on East Bay hard rock combo Annihilation Time, you don’t have to look very far: try the party-starting band’s Oakland townhouse.

"Yeah, it’s barely standing," says guitarist Graham Clise with a chortle. Apparently the best party had to be New Year’s Eve two years ago, he recalls from San Diego, where the group is taking a break at the beach while on tour with its new third album, Tales of the Ancient Age (Tee Pee). "I wake up in the morning, and the entire place is smashed — like all the drawers are smashed out. I look out the window, and in the backyard the couch is on fire.

"It’s still like that, unfortunately."

How much more rawk fun can you have? Hailing from a speedier, hellbent-for-lather breed of ’70s-era metal à la Priest mixed with the set-to-pulverize tendencies of SoCal hardcore, Tales of the Ancient Age is all about the sloppy good times, rug burns, and all-business dual lead guitars as it stumbles through passes at skinhead chicks on public trans ("Bald Headed Woman") and bouts of lousy hygiene ("Germ Freak [I Ain’t No]"). Could Annihilation Time be the seriously anti-sobriety, hard-rockin’ fun-metalists we’ve been waiting for? Contemplate their comic-book vision of apocalyptic Oaktown rendered by former guitarist Shaun Filley on the cover of Tales, and the band seems to slip right in between the politically tinged rigor of High on Fire and the pagan brooding of Saviours, who once lived in Annihilation Time’s raging HQ. Exhibit one: Annihilation Time’s "Jonestown," far from a righteous wail of despair against groupthink. Instead the band embraces a punkily perverse, Ramones-ish, kicks-first perspective — would Clise partake in the Kool-Aid? "That’s my philosophy," he yelps. "I’d give it a try, sure."

The seven-year-old band moved to O-town from the Ventura, Oxnard, and Ojai area about two and a half years ago because "we all decided we were sick of it down there," Clise says. "It seemed like a pretty cool, happening spot. We wanted to try it out. You can get away with anything, too. That’s the other cool thing. You’re kind of free to do whatever you want, and nobody is going to fuck with you too much. It’s kinda like one of the last free places — where you can be a shithead and get away with it!"

Unfortunately a group also runs the risk of finding their music flying under the radar — into obscurity: Tales comes after two other self-released albums and two 7-inches. So this time the band looked to licenser Tee Pee for help. ("We always have big plans of having our own label and getting our shit out there and working hard at it. But the reality is, it’s a lot of work and we’re kind of sick of having to deal with it. We just want to play music.") The next career move? Annihilation Time may just up and move their party to Pittsburgh, following their relocated vocalist Jimmy Rose. They’ll obviously do anything for a ripping yarn — hence the less-than-nostalgic album title. "We chose the name because it sounds all serious and epic," Clise explains. "But we also chose the name because there’s a whiskey called Ancient Age — really cheap, really awful stuff. But it always makes for a good night, and there’s always a story afterwards." Pittsburgh should watch itself. *

Annihilation Time’s Aug. 16 show at Thee Parkside has been canceled. For future dates go to ww.myspace.com/annihilationtime.

OUT OF THIS WORLD: 12 GALAXIES DEPARTS

Last week brought more than one hit of sad news, along with the sorrowful tidings of Isaac Hayes’ passing. 12 Galaxies owner Robert Levy phoned to tell me that his Mission District venue is closing Aug. 28: "Financially we’re no longer able to sustain the business. It’s a very competitive city as far as booking live music is concerned." The 500-capacity venue — which spent about $60,000 on soundproofing when it was hit with neighbor complaints a few years ago — will be sorely missed for its offbeat events, boffo parties (such as the Guardian‘s Goldies), and memory-searing shows by Lightning Bolt, Black Dice, Comets on Fire, Kelley Stoltz, and many others.

Why now? "Our lease is up at the end of the year," Levy says. "Our landlord wanted more than we could conceive doing." Levy now hopes a new face will buy the business. In the meantime he’s looking forward to the club’s remaining awesome-sounding shows, including SF Indie message board’s 10-year anniversary party (Aug. 21) and Parkerpalooza (Aug. 23). "I think," Levy continues, "in a lot of ways we succeeded in what we were trying to do," namely, supporting the local music scene. "We just didn’t succeed financially."

NO REST FOR THE TICKETED

JUANA MOLINA


The ex-TV comedian plies an arrestingly loopy acoustronica with folk elements plucked from her native Argentina. Wed/13, 8 p.m., $18. Yoshi’s, 1330 Fillmore, SF. sf.yoshis.com

PASSENGER


The quivering Britpopsters just might break down Rihanna’s "Umbrella." Wed/13, 7:30 p.m., $15. Swedish American Hall, 2174 Market, SF. www.cafedunord.com

OCTOPUS PROJECT


Samplers are pitted against guitars, and they’re all winners. With the Hot Toddies, Sassy!!!, and Diagonals. Sat/16, 9 p.m., $10. Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., SF. www.bottomofthehill.com

JEPPE


Junior Senior’s tall, gay hunk jumps out solo. With Gravy Train!!!! and Hottub. Sun/17, 9 p.m., $10. Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., SF. www.bottomofthehill.com

EXPO 70


Primo experimento-psycho drone from the Kill Shaman Records founders. With Wooden Shjips and Arp. Tues/19, 9:30 p.m., $7. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. www.hemlocktavern.com

International Youth Music Festival

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PREVIEW How brilliant my high school music career was: I got to travel around the world to impress international audiences with my mad piano skills, take master classes with professional musicians, and play and network with European wünderkinder whose gifts were equivalent to mine.

Oh wait, my high school music career actually consisted of taking weekly piano lessons from a 65-year-old German woman in a church basement, figuring out ways to make her believe I had actually practiced that week. But I guess more focused and, er, gifted students actually do get to join the jet set and showcase their talent in front of classical music lovers on different continents.

Youth Music International was formed in 2003 to facilitate a US-UK exchange program for talented youngsters specializing in chamber music, hoping to provide the adolescent musicians with superior technical instruction and a unique opportunity for cultural exchange amongst peers.

The group returns to San Francisco this year for a four-day stint after holding last summer’s concerts in Oxford, England. Wednesday’s performance is the festival’s finale, with orchestral masterworks as the concert’s theme. So if you can put your jealousy aside, come check these kids out at Grace Cathedral, an intimate and historic setting, before they’re touring with Yo-Yo Ma and you can’t afford the tickets.

INTERNATIONAL YOUTH MUSIC FESTIVAL Wed/13, 7:30 p.m., $10–$16. Grace Cathedral, 1100 California, SF. (415) 749-6300, www.gracecathedral.org, www.youthmusicinternational.com

Tokio Hotel

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PREVIEW When I think of German music, Kraut-rock innovators and industrial metal gods usually come to mind. I always assumed Americans generated enough angsty, guyliner-donning teenage emo superstars to go around, but a quaint four-piece from Madgeburg, Germany, has proved me wrong.

Tokio Hotel released their debut, Schrei (Universal), in their native Deutschland in 2005 three weeks after the lead vocalist’s 16th birthday. Their first single, "Durch den Monsun," instantly reached No. 1 on the German charts, and the pubescent pretty boys were quickly propelled into pan-European superstardom. The band’s first tour sold out 43 venues in Germany alone, followed by packed engagements across the continent. Last year’s performance in front of the Eiffel Tower drew 500,000 fans. If you watch clips from that show on YouTube, be prepared for low audio quality: it’s hard to hear the music over all the fangirl screaming.

After the success of their sophomore effort, 2007’s Zimmer 483 (Universal), and various behind-the-scenes DVDs, Tokio Hotel had all of Europe on lock. So the powers-that-be decided the band was ready for a stab at the only success that matters: the American kind. Scream, released stateside in March by Universal, is Tokio Hotel’s first album in English and consists solely of translated versions of their earlier hits. ("Spring Nicht" is now "Don’t Jump," "Schrei" is now "Scream"). I’d be lying if I said that their songs sounded uniquely German, or even vaguely European. Nope, Tokio Hotel pretty much sounds like the Svengali-produced version of every emo/alt-rock outfit that this country has dreamed up. And they look the part too: boy-band-esque dreamboats who gleaned makeup tips from Robert Smith.

Maybe that’s what’s so creepily German about Tokio Hotel: they’ve taken an often-cheesy but largely authentic American genre and repackaged it anew as a heartthrob fantasy for tweens with frizzy hair. Charisma meets efficiency, I guess.

TOKIO HOTEL Tues/19, 9 p.m., $25. Fillmore, 1805 Geary, SF. (415) 346-6000, www.ticketmaster.com

“Trumbo”

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REVIEW "I have the feeling that if you give most people in the world the choice between enough food for their children and shelter and clothing in return for their freedom of speech, that they will go for the food, the shelter, and the necessities," said Dalton Trumbo, screenwriter of Spartacus (1960), Exodus (1960), Papillon (1973), and a number of other films, including Roman Holiday (1953) and The Brave One (1956), that either were written under an assumed name or (at the time) simply went uncredited. Trumbo and the rest of the "Hollywood 10" — screenwriters and directors who, when suspected of being communists, refused to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee by invoking the First Amendment, not the Fifth, as justification. They were subsequently blacklisted by Hollywood studios. Trumbo director Peter Askin weaves insightful commentary from family, friends, film historians, and actors (Donald Sutherland, Dustin Hoffman, and Kirk Douglas make appearances) with vintage footage of the Academy Award–winning writer, giving us an eloquent portrait of a stubborn but nevertheless admirable man. Although the documentary is ostensibly about the impact the blacklisting had on the screenwriter’s life, excerpts from speeches, novels, and letters (read by the likes of Joan Allen, Paul Giamatti, Liam Neeson, David Strathairn, and Michael Douglas) are interspersed throughout the film, showing that Trumbo (who died in 1976 at age 70) had a way of making words dance — and that he was deeply invested in everything he wrote.

TRUMBO opens Fri/15 in Bay Area theaters.

No mere ornament

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REVIEW In Mary and Russel Wright’s Guide to Easier Living, first published in 1950, the designers instruct the midcentury housewife to avoid the "deeply carved wooden chair" in favor of a "contour design" to "simplify cleaning." This form-follows-function approach to design reached its height in the mass market in 1950s and ’60s, most notably with the introduction of the stacking, molded fiberglass chairs of Charles and Ray Eames — which can still found, en masse, in libraries throughout the University of California system.

Initially fueled at the beginning of the 20th century by the creative force of the Bauhaus movement, the reaction against ornamentation was iterated not only in the home but also in painting and music. A traveling survey, "Birth of the Cool: California Art, Design, and Culture at Midcentury," now on view at the Oakland Museum, presents a cross-section of modernism as explored by West Coast — and specifically Los Angeles — artists and designers. The exhibition takes a social and domestic stance, interspersing living room–like sets with didactic timelines, framing Vernor Panton’s iconic "S" chair with the introduction of Barbie and Wile E. Coyote cartoons. While this presentation nicely emphasizes the consumer context of much of the midcentury design, the pristine examples of hard-edge paintings do not benefit as much from this framework.

Characterized by well-defined abstract and geometric forms, the paintings by Lorser Feitelson, Helen Lundeberg, Karl Benjamin, Frederick Hammersley, and John McLaughlin, among others, instead situate themselves through their own clear, clean lines. Much the same way the subtle variations in Mondrian’s surfaces define his work, the intricacies of these paintings reinforce the mentality of their era — a philosophical idealization of the California landscape and climate. They vibrate an optimism in direct opposition to the frustration found in abstract expressionism on the opposite coast.

BIRTH OF COOL: CALIFORNIA ART, DESIGN, AND CULTURE AT MIDCENTURY Through Aug. 17. Wed.–Sat., 10 a.m–5 p.m. (first Fri., 10 a.m.–9 p.m.); Sun., noon–5 p.m. Oakland Museum of California, 1000 Oak, Oakl. $8, $5 seniors and students (free second Sun.). (510) 238-2200, www.museumca.org

On the pulse

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How does one particular sound manage to work its way into one’s earhole and lodge itself in the consciousness, cooling its warm jets in the frontal lobes before arranging for a cozier stay elsewhere in the gray matter? For San Francisco musician Jesse Reiner, late of Citay and lately of Jonas Reinhardt, the new age sounds of the latter project likely stemmed from dreamtime as an eight-year-old. "It’s funny — I was just thinking about this the other day," he says by phone. "It may have been nap time in third grade when the teacher would play a sound-of-the-seagulls record. Maybe it’s early childhood conditioning." Add in a fascination with analog synthesizers and Moogs around the end of high school; a love of Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, and tracks like Pink Floyd’s "On the Run"; and the collegiate discovery of composers such as Terry Riley and Morton Subotnik: now you have makings of the man behind the proudly faux persona of the Jonas Reinhardt project, portrayed on the band’s MySpace site as a suave, sandaled Euro artist, based in Monaco and dialed in for intense relaxation.

Yet there’s nothing fake or contrived about Reiner’s band: witness the instrumental combo’s recent, jaw-droppingly powerful prog assault at the Hemlock Tavern. I’d dare any school kid to doze through that blistering performance, with Reiner on synths, Reiner’s Crime in Choir cohort Kenny Hopper on bass, and Mi Ami’s Damon Palermo on drums. Initially unveiled this spring at a Cluster afterparty in Big Sur, Jonas Reinhart rummages through the more propulsive, hard-rockin’ aspects of both Can and Goblin with a transcendence-bent energy only hinted at — by way of the bass-borne, primal glimmers of "An Upright Fortune" and fiery, urgent synth squiggles of "Crept Idea for a Mom" — on the band’s nonetheless gorgeous, multitextured self-titled disc, which will be released in November on Kranky (an iTunes-only digital EP comes out at the end of this month). Dare one call this the dawning of a New Rage? This is beat music — pulsing like mirrored hearts on tracks like "Fast Blot Declining" and "Tentshow" — meant for contemplative spirits as well as jittery soles.

And Reiner — long an aficionado of analog synth music that falls under the dread rubric of easy listening or new age — has found plenty of kindred souls of late for this bedroom project turned band: "I used to be able to go to Amoeba a couple years ago and go through this really abandoned section, at the bottom where the overstock bins were, full of new age records, and you could get everything for $1. Now they’re all $10 and $15 records." He was approached by Kranky after giving his music to friend and fellow new age buff, Adam Forkner of White Rainbow, who’s also on the label.

Where did the audience come from for these ecstatic emanations? Reiner isn’t certain, though he theorizes, chuckling: "I think it’s because a lot of people have been getting older! For people who come from a punk or indie rock background, maybe this blissed-out new agey stuff is resonating with them." Yet the musician doesn’t aim to hit all the snooze buttons in his listeners. "One of the things I want to do with my music is to make it a little edgier than most," he explains. "I don’t want it to be too sleepy-naptime music. I want to make sure it gets pushed a little bit."

Jonas Reinhardt’s tough backbone comes along with the old-school technology its songs are built on: a Maestro Rhythm King drum machine from the early ’70s. "I like the way it’s kind of rough-sounding and pretty heavy in a way, whereas most drum machines aren’t," Reiner says. The trio runs live drums and keyboards through the machine, which Reiner describes as "this funny caveman way to sequence," creating a "really cool pulse."

From there, it isn’t too hard to imagine Reiner and other newer-age indie-rockers pushing from the margins to craft their own cerebrally challenging soundtracks for yoga classes or massage sessions. "I went to Calistoga a month ago, and they had the music playing in the spa," Reiner recalls. "I thought, ah, I’d love to make my own record for this."

JONAS REINHARDT

With Jeremy Jay and DJs Conor and Pickpocket

Mon/18, 10 p.m., $7

Knockout

3223 Mission, SF

www.theknockoutsf.com

Also Aug. 28, check Web site for time, free

Apple Store

1 Stockton, SF

www.apple.com/retail/sanfrancisco

But is it metal?

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› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Judgement Day has all the makings of a classic superhero: gritty back-story, freakish features, and extraordinary powers. And for a mutant that’s half-string quartet, half-power trio, this triple threat of violin, cello, and drums turns out to be mighty tough.

Dude, seriously, though. Violins are soft. Drums are loud. Is this going to work? Bowed string instruments have put down anchor in a spectacular variety of musical cultures, but aside from Rasputina and Apocalyptica, metal is still relatively undiscovered country — until you’ve watched the Oakland trio’s collection of eccentrically creepy YouTube entries. In the mini-horror flick Out of the Abyss (2007), the violin screams and dives over an utterly ruinous wall of thumping, sawing cello while zombies threaten to overturn the Marshall stacks. With a forthcoming second album in the can and plenty of tour miles supporting folks like Mates of State already behind them, it’s hard to imagine a rock venue Judgement Day can’t annihilate.

Just because these lads can rock 100 watts, though, doesn’t mean they can’t play a Stradivarius, straight up. This year’s self-released EP, Opus 4 Acoustic — the followup to their first full-length, Dark Opus (self-released, 2007) — shows JD doesn’t rely on sheer volume or slick production to achieve Yngwie-worthy intensity.

What to call this deviant half-breed? "We call it string metal," says violinist Anton Patzner. "But it’s a little bit debatable whether it’s metal." Lewis Patzner, Anton’s younger brother and the band’s furious low end, remembers when "a big metalhead came up to me after the show and was like, ‘Yeah, man, that’s metal! You play metal chords, metal rhythms — that’s metal.’<0x2009>" Yet Anton remembers another fan who saw things differently: "’Your music is sooo beautiful,’ she said. ‘It’s definitely not metal.’<0x2009>"

For the Patzners and drummer Jon Bush, pushing the limits of their instruments and their own virtuosity, hopefully taking a totally psyched audience along for the ride, is more important than impressing the poseur police. "When we play rock music," Anton says, "I’m not trying to copy metal riffs note for note from the guitar." Lewis agrees: "I’m really trying to capture the intention and then translate that to my instrument. It comes out better that way…. Honesty is a really important quality."

And if there’s any tradition Judgement Day is truly born of, it seems, it’s that of the passionate but savvy professional musician. The Patzners’ parents, not surprisingly, are pro performers and educators — and, full disclosure, my former teachers — who "emphasized the importance of being able to play other musical styles, because they understand the reality of trying to make a living."

For Anton, back in the day, that meant hitting the streets of Berkeley with his fiddle, making tips while working on his chops. When Lewis tagged along one day with his cello, Anton recalls, "I didn’t really know what to do, so we started playing metal, and it was a hit." With shout-outs to other "off-center" bands like Thrips, Judgement Day hasn’t outgrown those roots, thriving among industry-shunning, genre-defying DIYers that populate the Bay and the nation. Yeah, man, that’s metal.

JUDGEMENT DAY

With Geographer and Cotillion

Sun/17, 9 p.m., $10

Café Du Nord

2170 Market, SF

www.cafedunord.com

Punk’s latest clubhouse

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A fire-breathing dinosaur graces the sign above the entrance to Thrillhouse Records, a Bernal Heights hole-in-the-wall wonder of a record shop. Duck in the door and you’ll find several shelves of punk, garage-rock, and metal LPs; cassettes and seven-inch singles; a zine library and a sizeable rack of DIY publications for sale; a mixtape trading bin (make one, leave it, and take one); and an awe-inducing black and white Iron Maiden tapestry that hangs above a colorful array of flyers for local shows past and upcoming. Add to this the impassioned music wafting from the turntable in the corner, and you’re fully enveloped in a warm, curious niche of the Bay Area music scene.

The San Francisco underground punk-rock community has found much to celebrate in Thrillhouse, which evolved from a few friends’ drunken pipe dreams to a wood, wax, and plastic reality under the benevolent oversight of Fred Schrunk. He’s a lanky, meek 26-year-old who wore a black hoodie and a big grin when we met at a coffee shop in SoMa last week. Schrunk was excited about the package slated to show up at the shop that afternoon: a box containing vinyls of the new Black Rainbow single, the label’s 11th and newest release, which would hopefully be ready to be folded into seven-inch sleeves upon arrival. Just as exciting was talk of the upcoming Thrillfest, a store-sanctioned live music extravaganza in the dying days of August.

As Schrunk told it, Thrillhouse opened in January 2007 as a not-for-profit record store at 3422 Mission Street: all its proceeds go toward improving the shop and its contents, and it’s operated daily by local volunteers in the spirit of the late punk HQ Epicenter on Valencia Street. The label was conjured up mid-2007 by Schrunk and Shawn Mehrens, the vocalist for Thrillfest act Yankee Kamikaze, and store sales have funded the label’s new releases and reissues, which include a single by Onion Flavored Rings and a re-ish of Fleshies’ Baby LP. The Simpsons buffs will know the origins of the store’s name — it’s Milhouse’s desired user name for the Bart-coveted video game Bonestorm — and the handle speaks considerably to the enthusiasm of the volunteers who pop in and out of the storefront.

Radek Lecyk, a quiet, friendly young man from Poland who moved to San Francisco four years ago, was staffing a four-hour shift at the store one recent Tuesday afternoon. After selecting Fugazi’s terrific Margin Walker EP (Dischord, 1989) for play on the shop turntable, he explained how he "waited and waited" with anticipation for Thrillhouse’s opening after reading about its plans in a 2006 issue of Maximumrocknroll. For Lecyk and many others, the store has been a great meeting place for bands and show-goers of all ilks and ages. The shelves reflect the community’s generation-spanning nature: new label releases from Shotwell and the Reaction sit comfortably alongside releases from old-schoolers like Hickey, Sharp Knife, and Bobby Joe Ebola and the Children MacNuggits.

Idyllic as all this is, the ultimate get-together is still on the way. "Shitloads of people were in need of shows for summer," explained Schrunk, who earlier this year pleaded with his friends in San Pedro’s Toys That Kill and San Diego’s Tiltwheel to play SF, where the groups hadn’t been in some time. He came up with an incentive: if they made the trip, these outfits could play a super-rad, end-of-summer festival rather than the typical bar gig. Both bands thankfully agreed, although this meant actually having to deliver on the event. It was an intimidating prospect, but one that proved possible with the assistance of local venue bookers and the store’s newsletter, which reeled in enough performers to fill five nights.

Anybody wanting in on the bill needn’t worry about booking: there’ll be a free-for-all show at a secret city location Aug. 21. "Anybody that shows up with guitars and cymbals can play three songs," exclaimed Schrunk, who also highlighted the Aug. 24, Nor Cal vs. So Cal baseball game at Jackson Park across the street from Thee Parkside, which hosts the festival’s final show that night.

Thankfully, the fun won’t stop there: attendees can look forward to more label action this year with the release of the new LP by locals Surrender. Schrunk asked if I’ve ever seen them live before. I hadn’t, but it was nothing to be embarrassed about: he smiled and, in the sharing spirit of his label and store, sang their praises: "You should see them sometime — they’re really great."

THRILLFEST

With Fucking Buckaroos, Tiltwheel, Nothington, and more

Aug. 20–24

Knockout, Parkside, Kimo’s, and other SF locations

www.myspace.com/thrillfest

www.thrillhouserecords.com

Speed Reading

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THE THREE TRILLION DOLLAR WAR: THE TRUE COST OF THE IRAQ CONFLICT

By Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes

W.W. Norton & Company

192 pages, $22.95 (hardcover)

336 pages, $14.95 (trade paperback available next month)

Since the recent television writers’ strike seemed to have a greater impact on the nation than our two ongoing wars or the frequently floated possibility of a third, maybe it’s money that matters. After all, a trillion here, a trillion there, and pretty soon you are talking real money. In The Three Trillion Dollar War, Nobel Prize–winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and co-author Linda Bilmes try to illustrate what it means to spend $3 trillion on the Iraq war.

Arguing that “money spent on armaments is money poured down the drain,” Stiglitz and Bilmes dismiss the notion that wars are always “good for the economy.” Their arguments are bolstered by the grim reality that during the Iraq conflict oil prices have risen from $25 a barrel to more than $120 a barrel, while household savings rates have gone “negative for the first time since the Great Depression.” Meanwhile, as they point out, the National Guard has been under-equipped in the face of domestic disasters such as Hurricane Katrina due to Iraq deployment.

Unfortunately supporters of Sen. John McCain, who foresees a century of Iraq occupation, aren’t likely to read this book. But it would not be wasted on Barack Obama’s supporters since — much as they might want to overlook it — his presidential plan also envisions tens of thousands of American troops remaining in Iraq after the combat troops have gone. (Tom Gallagher)

THE COMIC BOOK HOLOCAUST

THE KLASSIC KOMIX KLUB

By Johnny Ryan

Buenaventura Press

128 pages each

$9.95 (Comic Book Holocaust)

$14.95 (Klassic Komix Klub)

If there were such a thing as achieving the zen of filth — the zero-sum nirvana of willful wallowing in sweat, spunk, excrement, and blood till one has achieved the nihilistic bliss of transgressive freedom — then cartoonist Johnny Ryan might be dubbed our comic book bodhisattva. The evidence is all over two handsome volumes on Oakland’s Buenaventura Press: The Comic Book Holocaust, the cartoonist’s 2006 send-up (and put-down) of mainstream and underground/alternative comics from Thor to Persepolis, and The Klassic Komix Klub, his short, sharp wholesale demolition of literary warhorses à la Ulysses and, hey, Siddhartha (the search for enlightenment ends with a diaper loaded with poo, home to “Osamarexic Slim Laden”).

Sure, the unrelenting butt-violation, mutilation, rape, boner, crap-eating, racial stereotype, and flying vulvas jokes tend to hit or miss — and get monotonous. Reading Ryan panels in, say, Vice offers hipsters the fast, nasty frisson of a chuckle, while reading more than 50 in one sitting can be quease-inducing, which is more than Mad can claim. Ryan’s quick ‘n’ dirty, reductionist aesthetic, absurdist and disgust-centered shit-vision, and all-inclusive takedowns come off as a bit dated for these post-9/11 times — redolent of a ’90s alt-nation, slacker pessimism fed by punk rock, J.K. Huysmans, Howard Stern, and Peter Bagge. Still, at its most effective, Ryan’s work is the funny-book equivalent of watching nonstop war footage. He gives us a dirty-bird cartoon version of the Marquis de Sade, leavened by the occasional chortle at Garfield’s expense. (Kimberly Chun)

 

Micheline, man

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› a&eletters@sfbg.com

So much of Jack Micheline’s work is great that it almost feels like a lie to speak of it. He remains a problematic, adorable, and — to the very end — indefinable artist. This is not loose praise.

In an introduction to the new Micheline collection One of a Kind (Ugly Duckling Press, 155 pages, $15), editor Julien Poirier asks, "Why does literature consider Jack Micheline a joke if it considers him at all? When he puts everyone in the dark!" It isn’t conspiracy speech to claim there are no valid or easy answers to this question. As Micheline said: "Fuck fame sweetheart. It is so fleeting. This stupid thing called Fame. (power, money)." He was well aware that "it is a sad affair what Modern America does to its poets. Or what happens to poets in 20th-century America." He lived his art and life against such destructive forces.

Micheline died in 1998, riding a BART train to the end of the line. He loved trains, racetracks, cities, poets, musicians, artists, and women. He was at ease with the roiling mass of humanity. His friends ranged from Charles Bukowski and Charles Mingus to street hustlers and bookstore proprietors. Late in life he became a prolific painter, and One of a Kind includes several reproductions of black-and-white paintings and drawings alongside a healthy selection of previously uncollected (for the most part) prose and poetry. Micheline’s work is phallus-centered and action-oriented, but it can also allow gender to be an open question. Ultimately, one of his primary concerns is the inherent and often unnoticed beauty found in subtle gestures.

Micheline dug speech. The nonstop rapport of an active city street lifted him from within:

I walked in the streets of night

so no one could see my face

and heard beautiful sounds

If you don’t know Micheline’s work, read One of a Kind. (If you do, read it too.) Micheline is an essential tick at the center of humanity. His poems don’t solve problems, but they celebrate and provide attentive insight into what it means to truly live. Hearing them will do you good. Poirier’s introduction, taking the form of a personal letter addressed to Micheline, is a treasure in itself. The intuitive care he’s given to Micheline’s poetry is clear. As an editor and fellow poet, he possesses the wonder necessary to assemble this book, yet true to his hope, the reward belongs to Micheline. This is the book Jack Micheline was working on for all those years.

Space is the race

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› a&eletters@sfbg.com

When conservatives wax nostalgic for a family-values America that liberals are hell bent on destroying forever, they’re basically talking about the 1950s — that last oasis of prosperity for guiltless acquisitiveness, formulaic gender roles, and general agreement not to discuss any round peg not fitting into a square hole. It was a simpler era: a time when poor people were kept safely out of majority sight, racial minorities were politely ignored, the existence of gay people was nothing more than a distasteful rumor, and divorce and so-called illegitimate childbirth were properly discouraged by shame.

As far as some Americans are concerned (particularly in retrospect), the ’50s were happy days. One reason, no doubt, was that the enemy — communism — was easy to identify. Two decades ago, when communism in most territories ended with a whimper, the Cold War era officially died with it. But David Hoffman’s documentary Sputnik Mania turns the Way Back Machine to that long moment when it was overwhelmingly, virulently alive.

Sputnik Mania charts those halycon times when the threat of a communist takeover — or a communist-triggered doomsday — seemed so great that our great democracy might not survive. Our country’s women were sure to be raped, and all of our children certain to be zombified by propaganda. As mass delusions go, the Cold War fears of the ’50s were so efficient that you might swear they’re still being recycled.

Hoffman chronicles the history-changing hysteria that ensued when the USSR seemingly came out from nowhere to place a surprising first in the early stages of the space race. The 1957 launch of the Sputnik marked the first time a rocket circled the Earth. Like the Apollo moon landing a decade later, this achievement was celebrated as a great advance for all mankind. Then came panic. Comparing the event to Pearl Harbor, Sen. Lyndon Johnson later wrote, "Another nation had achieved superiority over this great nation of ours. The thought shocked me." The ever-levelheaded Vatican pronounced that such technology was "a frightening toy in the hands of childlike men without morals." Speculations ranged from the sci-fi paranoiac to the biblically apocalyptic and raged like wildfire. If the Russkies could orbit around us, why wouldn’t they soon bomb us to smithereens? (Admittedly, the USSR didn’t allay fears when it test-exploded a hydrogen bomb.)

Sputnik Mania shows how politicos, religious leaders, concerned mothers, and perhaps even your Uncle Fred clambered for the United States to wake up and smell the need to (as one Congress member puts it) "save Western civilization from annihilation." Backyard bomb shelters were dug and prayer groups assembled. Initial Yankee efforts at catching up in the space race went down in flames. Even more embarrassingly, racist protests against school integration in Little Rock, Ark., handed the USSR an easy "Who are you to talk?" riposte to any US accusations regarding communism’s oppressive reality. (As opposed to its originating ideology: Karl Marx and Leon Trotsky would surely have ralphed at the very idea of Stalin as a flag-bearer. Also, for all its internal crimes, post-czarist Russia was and still is a weak superpower — its perceived threat undercut by an economic condition that scarcely sustains elites, never mind the proletariat.)

One fact underplayed in history but underlined by Sputnik Mania is that both Dwight Eisenhower and Nikita Khrushchev sought to moderate the fearful rush toward space militarization. Ike created NASA as a civilian body committed to peacefully advancing all mankind, rather than as a vehicle for escautf8g defense buildup. Nonetheless, over the long haul, paranoia has proven a potent propagandistic drug, either because America needs enemies or because the corporate military-industrial complex must be fed.

History’s details change. Its patterns? Never.

SPUTNIK MANIA

Thurs/14–Sun/17

Red Vic Movie House

1727 Haight, SF

(415) 668-3994

A passage to everywhere

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On the current season of Weeds, the brother-in-law and erstwhile accountant of pot-dealing MILF Mary-Louise Parker hatch a moneymaking scheme they’re convinced can’t miss: becoming "coyotes," guiding illegal immigrants across the US-Mexico border. Weeds is, of course, a comedy, but its characters’ recent relocation to the San Diego area has made border-crossing (Parker drives across to pick up a shipment … ) and immigration ( … and, unknowingly, brings back a man in the trunk of her Prius) among the show’s focal themes. The same topic, but from a (mostly) more serious angle, informs "Crossing the Border," a film series running Aug. 15–21 at the Roxie Film Center. Joseph Mathew and Dan DeVivo’s 2006 doc Arizona Crossing takes a sobering look at immigration via the harsh, remote, and often deadly Southwestern desert, offering revealing interviews with both advocates and opponents. Of course, US-Mexico ain’t the only high-tension border on the globe. "Crossing the Border" is cosponsored by Goethe-Institut of San Francisco, and many of its selections concern European frontiers — proof that the desire to find a better life (even if it involves a total uprooting of all that is familiar, and introduces almost certain danger) is truly a universal one.

"CROSSING THE BORDER"

Aug. 15–21

Roxie Film Center, 3117 16th St., SF

(415) 431-3611, www.roxie.com

Double draggin’

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More:

>>Drag king Fudgie Frottage spills his tea

>>Heklina waves goodbye to all that

>>Hazy, crazy Trannyshack memories

› superego@sfbg.com

SUPER EGO "Last year one of my balls failed to inflate during my opening number ‘Big Balls’ — but the concept got across, so it wasn’t a total disaster," the spunky Fudgie Frottage, organizer and host of this year’s 13th San Francisco Drag King Contest, told me when I asked him about any unlucky past fake-mustachioed experiences at the event. The show must go on — even through a sheer testicle of will.

Beijing may be in full abs-a-poppin’ swing — boo on those new body-covering men’s swimming outfits! — but San Francisco’s hosting a cross-dressed Olympics of its own, as drag aficionados from around the glistening globe flood in for the always-balls-out Drag King Contest at the DNA Lounge Aug. 16, and then the sublebrity-studded Trannyshack Kiss-Off extravaganza at the Regency Center Aug. 23. No fried Tibetan monks on the menu, but dog will indeed be served. Take that, Lang Lang!

The year in drag is turning out to be very auspicious: the Kiss-Off marks the end of Trannyshack’s bloody 12-year weekly run at the Stud. Hostess Heklina ("Press is like crack to me, Marke B. Run my picture and feel my orgasm!") told me back in February that she’s hanging up her lamé panties to explore her inner self — and her club’s swan song showcases appearances by Lady Bunny, Lady Miss Kier, Ana Matronic, and Justin Bond, as well as a pageant to determine this year’s (final?) Miss Trannyshack. Heklina will be beheaded live onstage.

On the slightly hairier hand, the Drag King Contest will display a mucho macho gaggle of faux Ys competing to see who sends up stereotypical chauvinism the mostest, replete with jizz-juicing antics, ass-scratching hotties, and performances by Electro the Pop ‘n’ Lock King, Siemen Marcus, Fakin’ Aiken, the Pacmen from Sacramento, and a ton more, plus bonerific cohost the Indra. Think America’s Got Talent crossed with a monster truck show, add more pubic hair and aerialist burlesque, and you’re halfway there.

Fudgie’s and Heklina’s provenance sprang from SF’s early 1990s drag renaissance club Klubstitute. Fudgie, a.k.a. Lu Read, started his legendary DragStrip party, which ran from 1995 to 1996, when Klubstitute shuttered. (Fun fact: DragStrip’s VIP room was called "Dungeons and Drag Queens.") Heklina’s Trannyshack took the wigged-out craziness from there. Although drag queens get all the freakin’ press, and there’s still no sustained drag king visibility in the city — "We’re looking for our Bizarro RuPaul," says Fudgie of his scene’s need for mainstream promotion — I’m sure the drag queen spawn now shooting from Heklina’s sticky womb will keep Trannyshack’s trashy aesthetic alive and well. As for the kings? Those smokin’ papis can perform in my Dumpster bedroom anytime.

Now, who’ll kick start the drag bisexual scene? Oh, wait: Tila Tequila.

13TH ANNUAL DRAG KING CONTEST

Sat/16, 8 p.m., $20–$25

DNA Lounge

375 11th St., SF

(415) 626-1409

www.sfdragkingcontest.com

TRANNYSHACK KISS-OFF

Aug. 23, 9 p.m., $35–$45

Regency Center

1300 Sutter, SF

(415) 673-5716

www.trannyshack.com

Wine and deer

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› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS A man with a penis the size of a wine bottle told me you can shoot a deer out of season if it’s decimating your vineyard. We live in wine country. We’re neighbors. He had set a bar of post-coital dark chocolate and a bowl of cherries on the coffee table for me, and was making us tea. I like the taste of wine, but would rather live in beer country, or, I don’t know, hot sauce country. Wine bottles hurt.

This morning at the kitchen sink, grinding my Sweet Maria’s, I looked out the window and saw a small nuclear family of deer looking in the window at me, like, "What the — ?"

I opened the window.

"It’s a kind of coffee," I said.

I didn’t have to holler. The deer were right there — and, perhaps not surprisingly, completely weirded out. I admit I don’t always look exactly sexy in the morning, let alone easily categorized. If they didn’t bolt — and they didn’t — I attribute it more to their being surrounded by chicken wire than any headlight-like radiance on my part. Like most animals, including human ones, deer have an easier time getting into situations than getting back out of them.

The chocolate and cherries were a nice touch though, I thought. The tea was a nice touch. The talk of deer, and vineyards? Nice touch. Very neighborly. Our neighbor, my neighbor told me, shoots deer in his vineyard and can’t be bothered with the rest of it, the gutting and dripping and butchery, so he digs a hole with his backhoe and buries his deerly departed.

I don’t like dark chocolate.

My neighbor said his neighbor calls him first, sometimes, to see if he wants the deer.

"Do you?" I said.

He said he can’t be bothered.

I was eating the chocolate anyway, so as not to seem unladylike, sipping my tea in a manner most dainty. Then, being essentially a cartoon character, the chocolate bar turned into a strip of venison jerky, and the hot tea into a cold beer. Not sure if this would qualify as ladylike or not, but I gave Wine Bottle Wiener my number and said, yo, if anyone ever calls him again with any large game or anything, have them call me.

I just love venison. Steaks. Sausages. Liver. I love venison. So does Mountain Sam, and he has sharp knives and can help me, I figure. What I need, my dear alternative-weekly PETA-supporting readership, is a rifle.

Hey, I have grapevines to protect. Check that: I have grapevine. One. I don’t make wine, but me and my chickens eat a few handfuls of grapes every fall and enjoy them very much, thank you. Now the deer have been sneaking into the chicken yard in the middle of the night and helping themselves. And then mangling, tearing, eating through and sometimes just bowling over my elaborate fencing system by way of saying goodbye.

A farmer wearies of mending fence.

I slowly closed the kitchen window, tiptoed across my shack to the door, which I opened and closed soundlessly, and, in my bare feet still, and pajamas, I snatched my hatchet from the wood pile, jumped the fence myself, and damn near got me my first deer ever, chicken style.

After fixing the fence, I went back inside and drank my coffee.

The phone rang. It was him. And he didn’t have a deer for me; he had a bottle of wine. His deep voice was all want, with maybe chocolate and cherries in it, for me.

"I like cherries," I said, and then I didn’t say anything else. He waited very patiently, but I can never find my way out as gracefully as I found my way in. The man was going to need a smaller dick, was the thing … or a bigger woman. "I like grapes. I like deer," I said. My big toe was bleeding and Weirdo the cat was sniffing me like I was piss, but I could not hang up. "Coffee," I said. "I love coffee."

—————————-

My new favorite restaurant is Pho Vietnam, in Santa Rosa. These folks do the biggest bowls of noodles I’ve ever seen. I’m talking about the bun, or vermicelli, but I’ve also had the pho, and it’s great too. The place used to be all soulful and divey and crowded and dirty, like I like, but then it moved next door into what might have been a pancake house, with big, soft booths, a posh counter, and carpeting. Funny. Fun. Great food.

PHO VIETNAM

711 Stony Point #8, Santa Rosa

(707) 571-7678

Mon.–Sat. 10 a.m.–8:45 p.m.; Sun. 10 a.m.–7:45 p.m.

Beer & wine

MC/V

Volume 42 Number 46 Flip-through Edition

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‘I’m just doing my job, ma’am’

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› culture@sfbg.com

Almost every San Francisco car owner has had this experience at least once: you parked at a metered or timed spot, and now you’re running late. You rush back to your vehicle only to find a uniformed official already filling out your parking ticket. Now you’re pissed — at yourself, your car, the city’s rules, and the person holding the notepad. On some level you know the parking official is simply doing her job — it’s nothing personal. But on a more visceral level, you’re seething with resentment, and it’s directed squarely at her. Glancing at the ticket that’ll cost you more than this week’s groceries, you want to ask, "How can you sleep at night?"

I recently went through this experience twice in one week. And once I got past the automatic hatred of all uniforms, three-wheeled vehicles, and notepads with carbon copies, I began to wonder what it would be like to have a job most people don’t want you to do.

I got to thinking: not everyone can be an urban hero — those professionals who, because of the nature of their jobs, are considered benevolent and necessary. They put out our fires, save our lives, and teach our children how to read. No, some people are urban antagonists. They call during dinner time. They interrupt your picnic at the park. They write parking tickets.

I wanted to talk to some of these people, to find out not only just how badly they’re treated, but also why they continue to show up for work, day after day. It turned out it can be so hard to have these kinds of jobs that most parking control officers wouldn’t even talk to me. And none I interviewed would give me a real name.

But they did give me some insight.

‘SORRY, I ALREADY STARTED WRITING.’


With their uniforms, handheld ticket-gadgets, and ubiquitous three-wheeled vehicles, there are few professionals more recognizable on San Francisco streets than the Parking Control officers. And with 44 recorded incidents involving angry motorists threatening or assaulting officers in the course of performing their duties over the past two years, few professionals are subject to such acute on-the-job stress.

"It’s tough sometimes," acknowledged B., a PCO writing tickets near the intersection of Valencia and César Chávez streets, "because you’re doing your job and a lot of the time people see you as the opposition — like an enemy, not as someone who is doing a service to the city." People forget that by writing tickets, PCOs crack down on double-parkers who block traffic, space-hoggers who stay in one spot all day, and sidewalk-parkers who obstruct walkways for pedestrians such as mothers with strollers, B. said.

But not all PCOs take comfort in that rationalization. K., another anonymous PCO, said, "You just need to find your niche. I respond to complaints — blocked driveways, construction zones, fire hydrant obstructions — I’m happy. It’s cool."

"It’s not for everybody, but I would say it’s a fine job," he continued. "It pays well. It’s secure. I’ve been doing this for 10 years and I’ve never had a problem. If you’re cool about it, if you’ve got the right demeanor, then the saying is true: you get what you give."

Judson True, a spokesman for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, added that PCOs conduct traffic during special events and congested hours, help motorists around accident sites, and even conduct undercover stings to prevent the abuse of disabled parking placards. Most of all, though, PCOs — like others with less-than-lovable jobs — are still people.

"No one likes to get parking tickets. That’s an obvious reality," True said. "But people need to remember that the parking control officers are their neighbors, their friends, their family — people who are doing an important job for the whole city."

‘CAN YOU SPARE A MOMENT FOR THE ENVIRONMENT?’


Yes, those clipboard jockeys scanning for eye-contact outside Whole Foods or approaching you at Dolores Park have a name. They’re called canvassers, and their job is to solicit votes, subscriptions, opinions, or something similar — and often they’re paid by the signature. These days canvassers are talking about everything from orphans to Obama, gun control to global warming. But most people aren’t interested in what they’re called or what issue they’re representing.

"I’ve been called pariah, douchebag, whore, woman of the night," said Valerie, who recently canvassed at Market and Powell streets for an international charity. "I’ve had coffee poured on me. I’ve had people scream ‘Get the fuck out of my face!’ and yell ‘It’s a scam! It’s a scam!’ while I talk with other people."

Dave, a canvasser for Progressive Political Solutions who worked further down Market, agreed the job can be challenging — but worth it.

"There are going to be days that people are totally against everything you do," Dave said. "But then there’s someone — one person — who makes the day worthwhile, someone who I would have never been able to talk to in an office."

Dave was enthusiastic about the skills he has developed working the streets. He not only credited canvassing for PPS with enhancing his verbal and interpersonal skills, but also with learning industry-specific skills like how to do press calls and conferences, and understanding the political process. Within months of taking the job, he said, he had risen to staff supervisor, helping to advise and manage new hires.

"I like this job in the sense of the big picture," Dave said, before heading into a crowded UN Plaza, clipboard in hand.

Valerie confirmed that for canvassers, the big picture is what it’s all about. Valerie, no less positive for being verbally assaulted and doused with coffee, added, "At the end of the day — no matter how many times someone calls me a douchebag or a bitch — I am making someone’s life better. That’s what really matters to me."

‘SORRY TO CALL YOU AT DINNERTIME, BUT … ‘


Kurt Stenzel, vice president of sales at Tactical TeleSolutions, was one of the few people I interviewed who gave me a full name. Then again, he swears his salespeople aren’t the same ones interrupting your primetime TV hour — and he credits telemarketing for his meteoric rise to success.

"I took the Greyhound bus from New York City with $200, got a telemarketing job, and one thing led to another and now I’m selling to big tech guys [Apple, IBM, Sprint] every day," said Stenzel, who runs the call station downtown.

Though TTS mainly does business-to-business work, Stenzel explained, most telemarketers do make cold calls to homes at some point. His was in New York, where he worked in a windowless room calling people who didn’t want to hear from him.

Their attitude, he says, was, "You’re trying to rip me off — now prove otherwise."

"It’s a tough go," he admitted. "People will curse you out or be crazy."

So what’s good about this job? According to Stenzel, it’s how egalitarian the hiring process is. Call stations aren’t interested in padded resumes and flashy degrees. They want people who know how to talk, plain and simple.

"If they’re articulate, it doesn’t matter so much if they’ve got the right degree," he said. "In that sense, call center work is one of those genuine equal opportunity situations. If people have dropped out of school or come on a tough time, people can come here, build up some skills, and really build their way up."

Though these interviews were enlightening, I can’t say I want to do any of these jobs any more than I did before. And I can’t promise to be less annoyed the next time a canvasser butts into my private conversation or a PCO ruins my morning. But I do hope I’m at least a little more compassionate.

Of course, compassion would be so much easier, officer, if you just let me go. Just this once.

Diving for dollars

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› culture@sfbg.com

Perhaps it’s because I have my basic scuba license, but the idea of diving for profit has always held a certain mystique for me. It’s one thing to look at fish on vacation, but quite another to do something so dangerous and physically demanding every day.

I’ve always wondered: what kind of person chooses such a job?

The earliest commercial divers were salvage workers, roving the alien ocean floor in search of sunken treasure. At that time, when little was known about the physical effects of the frigid, high-pressure environment of the deep ocean, only men of a certain build could do it successfully.

Divers in old-fashioned canvas suits and huge round brass helmets (remember Red Rackham’s Treasure?) laid the foundations for the towers of the Golden Gate Bridge in 90 feet of chilly, turbulent water. Now pretty much anyone can take a simple course, strap on a scuba tank, and get acquainted with a coral reef. Still, it takes a particular mixture of recklessness, humor, and grim determination to do it every working day, at depths where no recreational diver is certified to go, in temperatures that would have most us running for a blanket and a cup of sugary tea.

Dean Moore, operations manager at Underwater Resources, a San Francisco firm specializing in marine construction, has one of those old-fashioned suits hanging in his office. Although the suits were massive and heavy, the brass and copper helmets were so buoyant that divers had to wear lead-weighted boots to keep from shooting to the surface. Moore has a pair of the boots as well, thought they’ve long been replaced by equipment made of Kevlar and Neoprene. Moore admits that being immersed in this world has soured him on recreational diving. When not working, he says, "I wanna stay high and dry. I think you lose a bit of the love of the sport."

Moore and his lead diver, Chris Moyer, showed me around their office and gave me a rundown of the day-to-day operation. The two are frequently called on to do some pretty nasty and unsafe work: crawling into narrow pipes, diving straight into raw sewage, or containing a pollution bloom near an oil refinery. If some politicians get their way, divers like Moyer could be getting a lot more work in the next few years building and maintaining massive offshore drilling platforms, vessels, and pipelines.

I was intrigued by all the equipment, of course — the hazmat suits and tiny robot submarines — but what really interested me is what makes these guys tick.

When asked to describe the diver’s typical personality, Moyer laughs. "Take your average motorcycle gang biker, mix in a little bit of astronaut, and a little bit of, say, a chimpanzee or a lowland gorilla, and that compilation gives you a commercial diver," he said. "I’m partial of course, but I think we’re the sexy fighter pilots of the construction world."

For Moyer, it was an ad in a scuba magazine. Like many divers, he was in the military first. When his enlistment ended, he saw the ad. "There’s this guy climbing up this ladder out of the water, and he’s wearing this neat helmet I’ve never seen before — it’s got like a light and a laser gun on it, and it says ‘Come up a winner,’<0x2009>" he explained, sitting in a small conference room with a whiteboard covered in equations and drawings. "And I’m, like, hmm, yeah."

Inspired, Moyer enrolled in the College of Oceaneering in Wilmington, where he was trained to work in cold water, low visibility, and extreme depths. He specialized as an advanced dive medic, qualifying him to recognize and treat that most notorious of divers’ ailments: the bends. Surfacing too quickly results in a sudden change of pressure, causing dissolved nitrogen in the blood to form bubbles that can lead to stroke. Moyer explains that each dive to a certain depth requires about an hour of decompression in the water, done in a series of "stops," where a diver hangs out a certain depth, allowing the nitrogen to dissolve slowly and naturally. "That buys you a few minutes when your head breaks the surface of the water before you start turning into a shaken up pop bottle," he said. Divers immediately hop in a pressurized chamber to breathe pure oxygen for a couple of hours. The sealed, all-oxygen environment carries its own hazards, and horror stories of fires and explosions abound.

After dive school, Moyer headed to the Gulf of Mexico, where 80 percent of the world’s commercial divers work, maintaining the massive oil platforms that float miles out to sea. He dove for a company whose main business was laying and repairing pipelines between platforms. Unlike Bay Area divers, workers in the Gulf aren’t unionized, so private firms regulate the industry and pay divers whatever they feel like — which, according to Moore, is sometimes a third of what a union diver can make in the Bay Area. Moore explains that though Underwater Resources can’t outbid nonunion firms for big contracts, most ambitious divers will eventually switch to unionized companies because that’s where all the interesting public-works jobs are. "Certainly in the Bay Area and up and down the West Coast, it’s expected that any decent diving company will be in the union," he said.

Maybe it was the promise of better pay that led Moyer to leave the Gulf for the Bay Area after a year. He recalls calling around looking for employment. "I’m, like, hey, I’m here and I’m ready to dive, and they’re, like, oh, that’s nice, so are all the other guys who call me every day," he remembered.

Moyer was surprised to learn that he was expected to join Pile Drivers Local 34, a division of the Northern California Carpenters Union, and start a pile-driving apprenticeship right away. With dive school and a year’s work under his belt, he didn’t like the idea of driving pile for a living. At the same time, he discovered that diving work wasn’t as consistent in the Bay Area as it had been in Louisiana, and realized it would help to have something to fall back on. As long as a member is working, Local 34 will sponsor apprenticeships, provide excellent medical benefits and, after 20 years, a handsome pension. Part of Underwater Resources’ agreement with the union is that the divers get paid for at least an eight-hour day, no matter how much time they actually spend in the water — good news in a profession where weather, complications, and injuries can cut a dive short.

Because divers are freelancers who often work offshore on drilling vessels for months at a time, the trade tends to attract outsiders, people who have difficulty conforming, and people without families. This, in addition to the close quarters that commercial divers on an offshore job have to live in —sometimes spending weeks in a small, pressurized chamber called a "dry bell" that enables them to dive to depths of 400 feet without time-consuming decompression — may partly explain why few women are in this trade. When they do work in marine construction, it’s often topside, supervising or operating the small, remotely operated ROV robots that go where it’s too deep or dangerous to send divers. Moore laments the lack of women in the industry. "We’ve never employed any. I don’t know why. It’s unfortunate — I’d be into it."

As for me? I think I’ll stick to coral reefs for now.

Upsie

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› andrea@altsexcolumn.com

Dear Andrea:

Now that I’m postmenopausal, I’m worried about how I can get some orthopedic support in our bedroom to make "amore" easier. My arms and back are injured from overuse and wear and tear. I really think about the garage door-opener rig in the movie 9 to 5. Is there something like that hoist that is available for home use? I think this would work great. A friend suggests a sky-chair. What can we do? Grab bars are out since there isn’t a door nearby. Thanks for any help you can offer. I’m not dead yet.

Love,

Ouchy

Dear Ouchy:

Oh, dear. I hear you about the overuse and wear and tear — at some level I simply don’t believe we were meant to last this long, any more than my pampered, heavily medicated house cat was "meant" to still be alive and scratching at 21. Still, merely making it past menopause ought not to doom you to a life of pain and infirmity. Promise me you have seen some doctors and physical therapists and a teacher of some school of gentle and not-too-ridiculous yoga, and I will tell you what I know about assistive devices, which is plenty. Do we have a deal?

Starting on the lower-cost, lower-tech, and lower-to-the-ground options, I have often mentioned "sex pillows" and I will mention them again. You can buy fancy ramps and humpty-things from a company such as Liberator Adventure Gear, whose unintentionally hilarious Web site features apparent Chippendales rejects and their female counterparts posing awkwardly on big foam hummocks that would not look out of place in an ’80s loft-space complete with black leather coffee tables and Nagel prints on the wall. If you can’t deal with that level of retro, you can get foam ramps and donuts and the like from a medical supply company. They won’t come in colors (especially not "premium" colors), but you’re just going to throw a towel over them anyway.

Next we have stand-alone swings and slings. These do not operate on garage-door frequencies, but I’m not sure how good an idea mechanization is anyway. I keep imagining bits and parts getting snagged and hoisted against their will. Plus, while your neighbor may not hit the garage door opener and cause your … something … to go up, I did find a story about an English guy with a Turkish-made erectile implant that responded enthusiastically to a neighbor’s remote, and I’m not Snopesing it. Call me Fox Mulder: I Want to Believe.

There are dozens of swinglike devices made specifically for your purpose (well, not for the creaky and painful of joint, but for suspending a receptive partner in the air, hopefully above the insertive one). You could check out the jauntily-titled justaswinging.com; it carries a full range of swings. These devices are ugly (and the site itself, in sharp contrast to Liberator Adventure Whatsit, looks like the photographer set up shop in the bathroom of a San Fernando Valley furnished apartment and covered whatever he didn’t want in the shot with used bedsheets), but what do you want for $425? That will get you the Effortless model, which not only has a packable, hideable frame for vacations and visits from relatives, it even has a remote for raising, lowering, and possibly swiveling. That oughta solve your garage-door itch right there.

For considerably more money and even less aesthetic appeal, but with a degree of sturdiness and whoops!-lessness I cannot guarantee for a purpose-made sex swing, there are those devices made for lifting a disabled or infirm person in and out of bed. You don’t need any sort of special license to order one of these — or most medical equipment, really (didn’t Tom Cruise buy Katie her own ultrasound machine?). All you need is a charge card. A good charge card, though, because they’re not cheap. You’d need to order something like a "Sani-sling," too, if you think the problem through, and that will set you back another $400 or $500.

Forget that. You’re going to do better in the sex world than in the medical world. The sites may be sleazy and the devices may not be something you’d want either your parents or your kids to see, but the medical versions would require just as much explanation (since you’re not actually disabled, just a little rickety), be twice as ugly, and cost twice as much. I am all for getting the best-designed, toughest gear you can afford (our kids are outfitted as much or more by REI than they are by Babies "R" Us), but there’s such a thing as overkill. And anyway, buying medical supplies is kind of depressing unless you’re, you know, into that. Stick with the swings and slings. They’re the right tools for the job, although anything’s better than hooking yourself up to the garage door. Aren’t you glad you asked?

Love,

Andrea

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.

Eye of the needle

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› johnny@sfbg.com

REVIEW During the fall of 2004, I interviewed Bruce Conner, who had no shortage of viewpoints regarding contemporary art. "Many people," he said, "will develop a style of painting or subject matter or content that appears to be very innovative, and their next solo exhibition will be made up of 20 paintings that are all the same, aside from tiny variations."

Lauren DiCioccio offers a remedy for just such a malaise. Though her current show at Jack Fischer Gallery isn’t fully solo — she’s exhibiting with Aliza Lelah — she’s crammed five or six exhibits’ worth of ideas into her half. The extreme density and the versatile expansiveness of DiCioccio’s approach acquires special potency when one considers its relationship to the space: working from the smallest gallery in 49 Geary, Fischer presents intuitive outsider work with casual aplomb. His best shows present an experience akin to stumbling out of a sterile mini-museum into the residential hotel room of a smart enthusiast.

At the moment, that room includes 47 pieces by DiCioccio that stem from at least a handful of specific individual practices. Like some other young Bay Area artists such as Ruth Laskey, DiCioccio’s brand of personal creativity involves obsessive repetition. In other words, she’s transutf8g craft into art, with imagination and without much pretense. She sews unusual.

In the realm of nostalgia, DiCioccio threads lightly. Her series of works at Jack Fischer include 14 semi-amazing facsimiles of 35mm slides made by hand-embroidering bridal organza; five sculptures constructed from individual paper pads and thread; three mini-Mead spiral notebooks with felt covers and cloth pages sporting machine-sewn lines; eight "color codification dot drawings," in which she assigns colors to letters of the alphabet then paints on frosted Mylar after placing it over a magazine page; 11 variations on the classic plastic "Thank You" shopping or food-delivery bag, again made with organza; and, perhaps most strikingly, six pieces in which she sews through the top page of an entire issue of the New York Times encased in muslin.

Got that? DiCioccio’s show demands more viewing time than it takes to process the above sentence-long paragraph, and rewards that commitment with contemplative pleasure. At a moment when the average artwork gets around five seconds of zombie dead-eye before going gazeless once again, that’s saying something. Some of what DiCioccio is doing is derivative, or at least bears an obvious kinship to other projects. Her "Thank You" bags, for example, are a proletarian cousin to Libby Black’s experiments in paper designer wear. The paper-rad effect of her paper pad configurations isn’t far from origami, even if the waterfall effect she creates with aqua thread in one piece is lovely. But her best ideas are matched by a skill and dedication that honors humor and open-ended playfulness.

The open-ended quality of DiCioccio’s work is evident in the color paintings, which use a cryptic-yet-ripe foundation of meaning: the recent "green" issue of Vanity Fair with Madonna on the cover. ("And incredibly, looking not a day older," reads the parenthetical title of one of these untitled works.) Here, DiCioccio’s color-by-letters method highlights the structural beauty of mastheads and two- or three-column text configurations complete with pull-quotes. As she covers the magazine and its text, she simultaneously teases out ironies about Madonna and the notion of eco-friendly paper periodicals.

Green turns into gray lady — and Madonna’s unforgivingly ageless brand of masculine femininity gives way dour old boys and even Old Glory — in DiCioccio’s Times series. There, her threads meet up with disposable, obsolete newspaper, a material not far from dust in more ways than one. As with DiCioccio’s 35mm slide facsimiles, which bear micro-images of landmarks like Mount Rushmore, there’s a sense of an American way of life nearing death, and the artist is smart and honest enough to play it every which way but heavy-handed. Instead of trying for perfection, she lets threads hang loosely, suggesting a spirit left behind.

LAUREN DICIOCCIO AND ALIZA LELAH

Through Sat/16

Jack Fischer Gallery

49 Geary, Suite 440, SF

(415) 956-1178

www.jackfischergallery.com

PG&E’s Lie of the Week

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The mailer that arrived last week shows a bullet hole blown through a pile of money and urges voters to beware the Board of Supervisors’ $4 billion takeover of Pacific Gas and Electric Co. It was paid for by the "Committee to Stop the Blank Check, a coalition of concerned consumers, small businesses, labor, community organizations and Pacific Gas and Electric Company." PG&E, needless to say, is picking up the check for the campaign.

Nowhere does the mailer specify the legislation it’s attacking. Why not? Because the charter amendment is called the Clean Energy Act, a proposition mandating that the city pursue a comprehensive plan for 100 percent renewable energy. That plan may include buying or constructing an electricity distribution system — which is what PG&E is really fretting about.

"The only thing green about it is cost," the flyer says. "The fact is, this proposal is backed by many of the same supervisors who are trying to build fossil fuel power plants in San Francisco."

Actually, the Clean Energy Act was authored by Sup. Ross Mirkarimi, who consistently opposes burning more fossil fuel for energy and is against the city power plants.

PG&E, on the other hand, gets 41 percent of its electricity from burning fossil fuels and the company is not on track to meet the state’s meager mandate of 20 percent renewables by 2010. In fact, the company’s record is only getting worse: four new PG&E-owned fossil fuel plants are under construction — the Tesla plant in Alameda County, Gateway in Antioch, and two other facilities in Colusa and Humboldt.

The new Muni plan

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OPINION Every once in a while, it’s a good idea to take a look at our public utilities and see if they are still managed and operated in a way that serves the goals we have for them. So it’s a good thing that the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is assessing the effectiveness of Muni, 30 years since the last serious review.

The SFMTA’s Transit Effectiveness Project (TEP) has identified the root causes of Muni’s chronic reliability problems; gathered more data about ridership, system speed, and contemporary travel patterns than we have ever had; and, finally, proposed sweeping changes to make Muni faster and more reliable.

Muni’s routes have evolved from the extensive street- and cable-car system of the turn of the century. Back then, car use was minimal and transit service was profitable, so competing operators vied for the franchise to operate on city streets. Winning companies got their preferred streets, and runners-up laid tracks on adjacent streets.

We don’t need buses on adjacent streets anymore. We need core "trunk" lines that run service every few minutes. People need to know where to walk so that they can count on a bus always being there.

That’s one of the main ideas behind the TEP’s route proposals. It would also help deal with the problem of Muni buses being stuck in car traffic. Muni averages just 8 mph system-wide, a very slow speed that equates to higher-than-ever expenses. Speeding up buses by 25 percent is the same as providing 25 percent more service at almost no additional cost. Put another way, if a run that takes 60 minutes can be cut to 45 minutes, over three hours a single bus can cover that run four times instead of just three. The beauty of concentrating service on core lines is that Muni will be able to build "transit-priority" street designs to protect buses from traffic delays — something that is realistic to do on the core rapid transit network, but not on every street that currently has a bus line.

Not coincidentally, these main routes also serve the city’s most transit-dependent populations. The TEP proposes to almost double the service on Mission Street, including expanding the 14-Limited service to all hours of the day. The 9-X from the city’s southeast side will come every four minutes instead of every 10 minutes.

These improvements are only possible because resources are being reallocated from other routes — ones used by fewer riders but, of course, equally cherished. SFMTA’s planners are doing the right thing: putting service where it’s most needed today, not decades ago. And they preserved the philosophy of providing service to within a quarter-mile of every residence.

Some of us will lose a bus line. But we need to stay focused on the bigger picture: for the vast majority of people in the city, this new route plan will provide better, faster service. The kinds of changes recommended in the TEP are truly the only way Muni is actually going to be able to grow ridership significantly.

All of us who believe in public transit should support the proposals.

Dave Snyder

Dave Snyder is the transportation policy director for the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR).

Sun protection failures

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› amanda@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY Have you ever spent a day at the beach, dutifully slathering yourself with sunscreen — only to return home with the unmistakable prickle of a sunburn?

It’s probably because your sunscreen isn’t doing what it claims, according to a recent analysis conducted by the Washington, DC–based Environmental Working Group. The nonpartisan, nonprofit group known for watchdogging consumer products studied 952 sunscreens with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher and discovered that 80 percent contain harmful chemicals and didn’t really protect skin from the most damaging rays of the sun.

And, the report charged, the three top selling sunscreen companies — Coppertone, Banana Boat, and Neutrogena — produce some of the most toxic and useless products. Even ones you might find on the shelves of your health food store, like Alba organic lavender sunscreen, contain oxybenzone, which allegedly disrupts hormones.

Although there is no definitive science on the effects of oxybenzone, studies have shown that "mothers with high levels of oxybenzone in their systems were more likely to have low birth weight baby girls," said Rebecca Sutton, a staff scientist with a PhD in environmental chemistry who works for the Oakland office of EWG.

Julie Lux, a spokesperson for Coppertone, said the company’s products are reviewed by independent scientists and dermatologists and said she’s "concerned that reports like the one released by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) will inappropriately discourage consumers from protecting themselves from the sun."

Ariel Kern, a spokesperson for Sun Pharmaceuticals, said the company "stands behind the safety and efficacy of Banana Boat products" and Iris Grossman, a spokesperson for Neutrogena, said that company’s products have been patented and tested.

A sunscreen’s SPF indicates protection from the short-wave UVB rays that cause sunburn, but it’s the long-wave ultraviolet radiation (UVA) that is more directly linked to cancer. Even so, protecting against UVA radiation isn’t currently required. Furthermore, nearly 50 percent of the products tested by EWG deteriorated in the sun, "raising questions about whether these products last as long as the label says," read the report.

The Food and Drug Administration has the authority to regulate sunscreens, but the agency’s standards have been a 30-year work in progress and are relatively limited. Despite a congressional mandate to update the regs by May 2006, the FDA is just now entering the latter stages of its rulemaking, spokesperson Rita Chappelle told us.

Currently the agency is proposing more thorough labeling protocols, including a new four-star system for UVA protection. Additionally, sunscreens manufacturers will not be allowed to say that their products are waterproof, and the upper threshold of SPF will rise from 30 to 50+.

In an attempt to light a fire under the FDA, Sens. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.) have introduced the Sunscreen Labeling Protection Act of 2008, which would require finalized sunscreen safety standards within 180 days.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal released a statement supporting the legislation. "The FDA has failed to implement proposed sunscreen labeling rules that would bar false claims about all-day protection, waterproof, broad spectrum UVA/UVB protection, and SPF over 50," he wrote.

Claims on the label are also a factor in the potential danger of sunscreens. "With claims like ‘all day protection’ people don’t reapply," Sutton said.

Though EWG’s analysis (which can be found at www.cosmeticdatabase.com was criticized as "junk science" by one doctor cited in a New York Times report, the group stands by its work. "We use industry standard methods, so it’s hard for criticism to stand," Sutton said.

EWG’s ratings were based on three factors: UVB protection, which SPF indicates; UVA protection, which blocks the more harmful rays; and overall stability of the ingredients. The group recommends that sunbathers search for products with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which are less readily absorbed by the skin and provide more of a physical barrier between users and the sun. While these minerals may be safe on your skin, they’re not so great in your lungs. So give the spray and powder versions a pass, and beware products that have been reduced to nanoparticle size.

And, of course, spend more time in the shade.