Volume 40 Number 30

Apr. 26 – May 2, 2006

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World Press Freedom Day – 3 May 2006



Vienna, 28 April 2006

IPI Condemns Harassment and Intimidation of Yemeni Journalists

The International Press Institute (IPI), the global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists, strongly condemns the ongoing campaign of harassment and intimidation against representatives of the independent press in Yemen.

Acts of intimidation targeting two journalists in recent days highlights the hostile climate of fear that the independent press in Yemen are forced to work in.

Abed Al-Mahthari, editor-in-chief of the independent weekly Al Deya, remains in hiding after escaping an attack by armed assailants on 19 April. Since 2004, Al-Mahthari has been investigating and reporting on alleged arms trafficking in northern Yemen near the Saudi Arabia border. In May of 2004, after receiving two death threats, Al-Mahthari was forced to temper his reporting, but has since renewed his investigations.

In recent weeks Al-Mahthari has reported on alleged corruption of security forces and cooperation with arms dealers; the threats against him are thought to be in connection with these reports. On the evening of 19 April, Al-Mahthari received a call from an unidentified source warning that he would be killed that night.

Al-Mahthari averted the attack by having a friend drive his car away from his family home. The car was followed by two men, driving a military style vehicle with a private license plate. The assailants followed the driver of Al-Mahthari’s car, smashing down the door to the driver’s home. They then looked for Al-Mahthari at the Al Thawra publishing house. When the assailants could not find him, they returned to the area where Al-Mahthari’s car had been parked, took several items from within the car and then smashed it with weapons they had been carrying.

Although the assailants were identified by several witnesses who saw them attack the vehicle, the two have not been arrested and Al-Mahthari remains in hiding.

A campaign of intimidation is also being waged against Al Wasat editor-in-chief Jamal Amer. Al Wasat released a statement on 26 April voicing concern that Amer’s movements and activities have been closely observed since his August kidnapping. On 23 August, Amer was kidnapped by armed assailants who threatened to kill him if his newspaper continued to publish articles about corruption and abuse of power in the government.

The 26 April Al Wasat statement was released shortly after a group of individuals, led by a political security officer, visited the street of Amer’s family home, inquiring about his apartment building, the license plate number of his vehicle and the names of his children’s school.

Amer, who is currently in the United States as part of the International Visitors Program, has become the victim of a smear campaign attempting to discredit him and the critical information reported by his newspaper. Articles published this week in state-controlled publications have accused Amer of being connected to Israel’s intelligence organisation, of acting as an “agent of the West” and of working to “meet the needs of the imperialist opposition forces abroad.”

Commenting on the action being taken against Al-Mahthari and Amer, IPI Director Johann P. Fritz said: “The targeting of these two editors paints a disturbing picture of the varied methods being used to silence critical voices in the Yemeni press.”

“The increase in both direct and indirect attacks on independent journalists is cause for serious concern, particularly since many of the attacks carried out in recent months have taken place with complete immunity.”

“If the Yemeni press is to be able to carry out its important watchdog role, journalists must be free to carry out their work without fear of intimidation and harassment.”


International Press Institute (IPI)
Spiegelgasse 2/29
A-1010 Vienna
Tel:  + 431-512 90 11
Fax: + 431-512 90 14
E-mail: ipi@freemedia.at

IPI, the global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists, is dedicated to the furtherance and safeguarding of press freedom, the protection of freedom of opinion and expression, the promotion of the free flow of news and information, and the improvement of the practices of journalism.

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At one time in my life, I thought I had a handle on the meaning of the word "service." Service is "the act of doing things for other people." Then I heard these terms which reference the word

Internal RevenueService
Postal Service
Telephone Service
Civil Service
City and County Public Service
Customer Service 
Service Station

Then I became confused about the word "service." This is not what I thought "service" meant. So today, I overheard two farmers talking, and one of them said he had hired a bull to "service" a few of his cows.


It all came into perspective. Now I understand what all those "service" agencies are doing to us.
I hope you now are as enlightened as I am.

Black and White
(Under age 40? You won’t understand.)

     You could hardly see for all the snow,
     Spread the rabbit ears as far as they go.
     Pull a chair up to the TV set,
     "Good Night, David. Good Night, Chet."

     Depending on the channel you tuned,
     You got Rob and Laura — or Ward and June.
     It felt so good. It felt so right.
     Life looked better in black and white.

     I Love Lucy, The Real McCoys,
     Dennis the Menace, the Cleaver boys,
     Rawhide, Gunsmoke, Wagon Train,
     Superman, Jimmy and Lois Lane.
     Father Knows Best, Patty Duke,
     Rin Tin Tin and Lassie too,
     Donna Reed on Thursday night! —
     Life looked better in black and white.

     I want to go back to black and white.
     Everything always turned out right.
     Simple people, simple lives.
     Good guys always won the fights.
     Now nothing is the way it seems,
     In living color on the TV scr! een.
     Too many murders, too many fights,
     I want to go back to black and white.

     In God they trusted, alone in bed, they slept,
     A promise made was a promise kept.
     They never cussed or broke their vows.
     They’d never make the network now.
     But if I could, I’d rather be
     In a TV town in ’53.

     It felt so good. It felt so right.
     Life looked better in black and white.

     I’d trade all the channels on the satellite,
     If I could just turn back the clock tonight

     To when everybody knew wrong from right.
     Life was better in black and white!


For Oldtimers:

My Mom used to cut chicken, chop eggs and spread mayo on the same cutting board with the same knife and no bleach, but we didn’t seem to get food poisoning.

My Mom used to defrost hamburger on the counter AND I used to eat it raw sometimes, too. Our school sandwiches were wrapped in wax paper in a brown paper bag, not in ice pack coolers, but I can’t remember getting ecoli.

Almost all of us would have rather gone swimming in the river or lake instead of a pristine pool (talk about boring), no beach closures then.

The term cell phone would have conjured up a phone in a jail cell, and a pager was the school PA system.

We all took gym, not PE . . . and risked permanent injury with a pair of high top Ked’s (only worn in gym) instead of having cross-training athletic shoes with air cushion soles and built in light reflectors. I can’t recall any injuries, but they must have happened because they tell us how much safer we are now..

Flunking gym was not an option . . . even for stupid kids! I guess PE must be much harder than gym.

Speaking of school, we all said prayers and sang the national anthem, and staying in detention after school caught all sorts of negative attention.

I thought that I was supposed to accomplish something before I was allowed to be proud of myself.

I just can’t recall how bored we were without computers, Play Station, Nintendo, X-box or 270 digital TV cable stations.

Oh yeah . . . and where was the Benadryl and sterilization kit when I got that bee ! sting? I could have been killed!

We played ‘king of the hill’ on piles of gravel left on vacant construction sites, and when we got hurt, Mom pulled out the 48-cent bottle of Mercurochrome (kids liked it better because it didn’t sting like iodine did) and then we got our butt spanked. Now it’s a trip to the emergency room, followed by a 10-day dose of a $49 bottle of antibiotics, and then Mom calls the attorney to sue the contractor for leaving a horribly vicious pile of gravel where it was such a threat.

We didn’t act up at the neighbor’s house either because if we did, we got our butt spanked there and then we got butt spanked again when we got home.

I recall Donny Reynolds from next door coming over and doing his tricks on the front stoop, just before he fell off. Little did his Mom know that she could have owned our house. Instead, she picked him up and swatted him for being such a goof. It was a neighborhood run amock.

To top it off, not a single person I knew had ever been told that they were from a dysfunctional family. How could we possibly have known that?

We needed to get into group therapy and anger management classes? We were obviously so duped by so many societal ills, that we didn’t even notice that the entire country wasn’t taking Prozac! How did we ever survive?

Tossing the salad


› paulr@sfbg.com

During the long weeks of this un-spring, I have often found myself looking out into the rain-swept garden and thinking: salad. The reasons for this connection have to do, I suspect, with the fact that the garden looks like a huge salad greens of various shades and shapes dripping with water, as if from those computer-<\h>controlled squirt guns in the produce section at the supermarket and with the fact that by the end of winter, one is just sick to death of greens, of any and every kind. The winter dinner so often ends in a simple tossed salad because the diners simply cannot bear another round of beets or turnips or parsnips or broccoli or cauliflower.

But even salad can grow wearisome, and this is true even if the greens or baby greens are enlivened by the colorful presence of edible flowers. What can the beleaguered home chef do to bring a spark of life to the season’s umpteenth tossed salad? You can cheat, of course, by slicing in some hydroponic tomatoes, or cucumber that comes in that Saran Wrap stuff, or some other imported memento of summer; you can add leftovers, like white beans or risotto. You can add bottled artichokes, you can change your vinaigrette, you can drop the vinaigrette entirely in favor of creamy dressing.

Or: You can add parmesan chips. There are many, many upsides here, from welcome crunchiness to a distinctive nutty-<\h>salty tang to the pleasure of actually making the chips. If there is a catch, this is it: Parmesan chips are DIY. You might be able to buy them prepackaged, but I’ve never seen them so offered, and anyway, making them is easy and fun.

Begin by finely grating a cup or so of parmesan cheese. Real Parmigiano-Reggiano is vastly preferred here, of course, but you could also use grana padano or romano or any other gratable cheese. (The pregrated stuff in the green can? I cannot comment.) Preheat your oven to about 300 degrees Fahrenheit and grease a cookie sheet or line it with wax or parchment paper. Spoon the grated cheese onto the cookie sheet in well-spaced little mounds, as if making cookies. Bake for 5 to 10 minutes; when the cheese melts into disks and turns a pale gold at the edges, the pan is ready to come out of the oven. Let the disks cool slightly, remove them from the pan, add them to the salad and … toss!

1906 Earthquake Survivor: Anchor Brewing Company


1705 Mariposa, SF

(415) 863-8350, www.anchorbrewing.com

Situated at the foot of increasingly residential Potrero Hill, San Francisco stalwart Anchor Brewing Company defies typical American business practice. Still independently owned and community oriented after more than 100 years in business, the brewers of Anchor Steam have found international success without turning to outsourcing or investors. With only 54 employees producing a mere 55,000 barrels of beer annually (Sierra Nevada brews 600,000 and Sam Adams 1.5 million) Anchor remains small, traditional — and in business.

Anchor is a survivor, all right, but the brewery might not have lasted if it hadn’t been for a young Stanford graduate, Fritz Maytag, who bought a majority share of the business for a few thousand dollars in 1965. The 19th-century brewery had burnt down twice (once after the 1906 earthquake), relocated, changed owners at least three times, and closed for 13 years during prohibition.

Maytag recalls the flagging state of affairs when he first got on board: "The little brewery was so primitive, and the beer would go sour." He immediately set out to learn the beer biz and tinker with the formula, but he didn’t turn a profit until 1975, when improvements caused the popularity of Anchor Steam to soar.

Maytag then faced the dilemma of how to balance his company’s size and traditions with high demand for his suds. In 1992 he considered going public, but a microbrewery fad exploded in the United States, and Anchor Brewing suddenly had plenty of competitors. Maytag was relieved. "It would have cost such a lot of money to expand. I certainly didn’t have the money and didn’t want to sell."

Instead of growing his business, Maytag concentrates on the quality of his brews, using the freshest ingredients, original equipment, and personally ensuring the integrity of every batch.

"Being small is okay," says the owner, who knows all of his employees personally and sends them home with a case of beer each week.

He’s also a good neighbor. In 1990 Anchor made Potrero Commons Ale and donated all the proceeds to build a nearby park. And with Maytag at the helm, don’t expect to see Anchor in a can anytime soon. (Erica Holt)

Chain Alternative: Brownie’s Hardware


1563 Polk Street, SF

(415) 673-8900

It’s a Brownie’s tradition: Every owner of the hardware store has served as president of the Polk Street Merchants Association at one time or another. And the current owner, Steven Cornell, is no exception. Recently his hardware store hosted a press conference and awards ceremony for small businesses, like Brownie’s, that have been in San Francisco since the 1906 earthquake.

An open hardware store comes in handy during a disaster. Cornell remembers when his neighborhood lost electricity for three days during the 1989 quake. Neighbors came to him in need of batteries, flashlights, and candles, and nearly half of them didn’t have any cash. Cornell didn’t keep track of any names; he just kept a tally of goods that went out the door and asked people to come back when they had the money. "They all did," he says with a broad smile beneath his fatherly brown mustache. "After it all, we had one unaccounted hatch mark, and I’ll chalk that up to poor accounting."

Brownie’s seems like any other neighborhood hardware store. It’s small and crowded; shelves tower with housewares, paint, plumbing, and hardware. According to Cornell, what sets it apart is service. As many as eight employees a day sporting Brownie’s name tags work the registers and offer assistance among the narrow aisles. "Most people come in with a project,” he says. “Our job is to help them find what they need and think of the problems they’ll encounter."

That quality of service extends outside the walls of a store that’s been in Cornell’s family since 1950. Located on the corner of Polk and Sacramento — in the heart of what the old-timers still call Polk Gulch, just five blocks from where Cornell went to elementary school — the shop occupies an avenue of small businesses. "I do most of my business with people who live in apartments," says Cornell, who stocks his store for a renter’s needs. Instead of throwing down a couple hundred dollars for a drill, customers can rent one or even bring in whatever needs a hole or a screw.

From selling Muni passes at no profit to working with city legislature to get health insurance companies to cover domestic partners of small-business employees, Cornell has always been an active community member. (Amanda Witherell)

Small Business Activist: Comet Skateboards


458 Brannan, SF
(510) 625-9045

What if we saved our precious natural resources by not transporting our food and clothes halfway around the world? What if Oakland had its own BART-accessible skate park? And what if everyone there were riding skateboards made from stuff that wasn’t gnarly on the planet?

The proprietors of Comet Skateboards, founders Jason Salfi and Jonathan Reese and co-owner Don Shaffer, want to make all of these grand ideas realities. They’re already doing so with their stylishly designed skateboards, with many decks sporting artwork by Oakland youths. Manufactured by Glissade Snow Board Company, a solar-powered facility in SoMa, the boards are made from sustainably grown bamboo or maple and will be glued together with a soy-based resin.

By "merging sustainability ethos with pop culture," as Salfi explains, "[Comet] can help push things over the edge" in terms of influencing youth to think more about the environment.

But their eco-consciousness doesn’t just end with the manufacturing of their boards. The entrepreneurship would also like to foster other small businesses in the Bay Area while saving the planet at the same time.

For the past two years, Shaffer has been busy working toward his vision of living economies. He started the San Francisco office of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, which connects local agriculture with local business to encourage people to sell Bay Area–made goods locally. The organization, which has chapters in Philadelphia and Victoria, British Columbia, also supports the principle that when businesses stay small and local, they better serve the community, labor, and the environment.

As for that skate park, the company is planning the Hood Games block party for May 13 at 15th and Franklin Streets in downtown Oakland, all to help fund the park on Jefferson Square.

While Shaffer works with BALLE, Salfi involves himself with Earth Alliance Institute, which gets youth involved in solving global environmental problems. Looks like Comet Skateboards will have many successors in the next generation. (Deborah Giattina)

Arthur Jackson Diversity in Business Award: Fabric8


3318 22nd St., SF

(888) 554-4321, www.fabric8.com

Hoping to spread San Francisco style — in all its bounty of shapes, sounds, and colors — across the land, Olivia Ongpin and Antony Quintal founded Fabric8 10 years ago. They started selling locally made, youth-oriented clothing, jewelry, and other handicrafts on the company’s Web site.

When they recently had the chance to open up a brick-and-mortar storefront, they leapt at the opportunity to showcase a diverse selection of today’s young Bay Area artists and designers. Found-object dioramas by Swiss-born, Bay Areabred DJ-artist Romanowski, small paintings priced for the collector on a budget, and mix CDs by homeboys Tom Thump and UFO reflect an eclectic SF-based flavor in the Mission District shop’s kooky-kitsch homage to the quaint. (Think indoor suburban backyard, complete with illuminated sky-blue ceiling, wall-to-wall SYNLawn, and a treasure trove of tiki-themed paraphernalia.)

A background in supporting the underground art scene drove the pair to get into retail. Ongpin, a San Francisco native with roots in nonprofit food distribution and jazz writing, and Quintal, a computer engineer and designer, first made a name for themselves hosting hip, club-inspired trunk shows and DJ-driven events. It was through these activities that the two met well-known Bay Area artists such as Sirron Norris, Brian Barneclo, Ursula Young, and Nomzee, who have all contributed to a mural of familiar San Francisco landmarks stained into the store’s woodwork.

Aside from offering local art at very affordable prices, the store also ventures into more retail-oriented fare. One highlight is the brainchild of local boy Manuel "Gonz One" Gonzalez, maker of the aMonster plush toy. These handmade, furry creatures come with built-in speakers and an interior pouch for an iPod or CD player — a very cute way for music freaks to amplify their tunes. Chiquita Banana walkie-talkies, old Nike belt buckles, a Mr. T Chia Pet, and a set of Lucite napkin rings with built in salt and pepper shakers are also for sale, much of it stuffed like bric-a-brac into the store’s dresser drawerlike display system. "Museum store meets Sanford and Son," is how the owners describe their particular aesthetic combination of creative sprawl and cuddly nostalgia. (Sidra Durst)

Community Activist: Bay Area Fair Trade Coalition



If you happen to be at one of Noe Valley’s many cafés on Saturday, April 29, you may encounter a motley, overcaffeinated crew talking about consciousness in a cup. Don’t fret: It’s no evangelical coffee cult; these people simply want you to know that what you buy can have a profound effect on the lives of people around the world.

That’s why the Bay Area Fair Trade Coalition is going around San Francisco, neighborhood by neighborhood, planting seeds of economic and social justice.

As volunteer coalition member Kelley Buhles claims, "We want to make San Francisco the US’s first fair trade town, where Fair Trade Certified products are much more than just a niche."

The BAFTC, a newly formed group of nonprofits, activists, businesses, and consumers, endeavors to make this a reality by organizing café crawls during which volunteers migrate from café to café, spreading the fair trade gospel to café owners and managers.

During the crawls, members of the coalition explain how free markets do a great job of producing a mass of working people, and that capitalism’s ever accelerating race to drive down prices on basic commodities leaves farmers in the global south without the capital to afford such necessities as clean running water and access to health care and education.

Fair trade groups seek to ameliorate those problems by setting a floor price — the lowest price at which an importer can buy a product — on goods from farming collectives, which allows them to remain independent from multinational agribusinesses.

Though it is working with the city on legislation, at this point the BAFTC’s main objective is to educate and create demand. It has teamed up with Alter Eco, a company that sells only Fair Trade Certified products, to promote fair trade in the city at a bazaar to be held Saturday, May 13, World Fair Trade Day. There will be farmers from producer countries explaining how fair trade benefits their communities and free Fair Trade Certified products for the tasting. (Nick Rahaim)

World Fair Trade Day bazaar

May 13, 8 a.m.–2 p.m.

Justin Herman Plaza

Market at Embarcadero, SF

Creative Manufacturer: Fat Dog’s World Famous Subway Guitars


1800 Cedar, Berk.

(510) 841-4106

For 38 years, a man named Fat Dog has been serving as Berkeley’s own musical Dr. Frankenstein.

As the owner of Fat Dog’s World Famous Subway Guitars, Fat Dog, along with his crew of Igor-like technicians, has been saving dismembered guitar parts from shuttered factories, cobbling them into weird custom instruments, and passing the savings along to you.

The results are "proletarian guitars," as Fat Dog likes to say, favored by first-time players and well-known musicians alike. Over the years the shop has catered to untold numbers of artists, from Les Claypool to Green Day to that fifth grader on the way to her first guitar lesson.

Aside from looking pretty sweet, the critical benefit of playing one of Fat Dog’s custom creations is that even if you’re a broke, struggling, or maybe even terrible musician, you can still get a totally unique instrument at a budget price.

Offering these customized wacky wonders at an average price of about $400, Fat Dog says, "We sort of were more aimed at the working musicians and people that didn’t have that privileged budget to buy those more expensive instruments."

The original intent of Subway Guitars was to operate as a repair shop. In keeping with that tradition, the repair end of the business still operates as a technician’s co-op, in which the people doing the work actually get to keep 100 percent of the cost of labor.

The business’s keen interest in reusability, fair pricing, and fair labor practices resonates in another of the shop’s unexpected retail endeavors: promoting alternative transportation.

Those not in need of gussied-up vintage guitars might nevertheless be interested in a gussied-up vintage bicycle. The shop has recently reinstated its $50 bike sale, garnering inventory from an old barn where Fat Dog has been storing road bikes and cruisers for years.

However long the business stays in its original location in North Berkeley, and however many bicycles are put back on the road, Fat Dog says his focus will always be on guitars.

"We’ll keep going on with the same mission," he says, "which is providing people with good, really high-quality guitars without subscribing to collectors’ absurd prices." (Ivy McNally)

Cav Wine Bar


REVIEW Maybe it’s the flight of robust German reds talking, but Cav seems like the sleekest, yet somehow the most laid-back, entry in the recent rush of wine bar openings. (Is there, like, a wine bar mafia hiding out here lately?) While other new oenophile venues certainly have their particular charms, Cav’s the only one that aims for hipness without turning class into sass.

Owners Pamela S. Busch and Tadd Cortell have fashioned a list with global reach (Portugal, Australia, the surprising Germany) that highlights the adventurously cozy and pairs it with a full menu of worldwise California fare — gnocchi with crayfish and sunchokes ($7.50/$15), lamb osso buco with creamy semolina polenta ($10/$20), both available as tapas or main courses. Along with the quiet, humming atmosphere, outgoing staff, and clean-lined, low-lit interior (like being on "a train ride for taste buds," as a friend described it), this makes Cav a perfect date place — strange wines to talk about and comfy food to share. Another bonus: Because Cav focuses on little-known foreign regionals, there’s no pressure to look like an expert. Menu and flights change weekly. (Marke B.)

CAV WINE BAR Mon.–Sat., 5:30 p.m.–1 a.m.
Kitchen closes 11 p.m. Mon.–Thurs., midnight Fri.–Sat.
1666 Market, SF. (415) 437-1770, www.cavwinebar.com. D/MC/V, $$$


Virtual sausage


› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS Sometimes it’s almost too much. You’re driving home in the middle of the night, country roads, nothing but static on the radio, sky full of stars stretched out before you, big balls of rain tapping into the windshield, small and large animals darting across the road in the beam of your headlights, graceless, confused. And you think, It rains without clouds now! Large blocks of ice are crashing through roofs in Southern California. San Francisco is the new Seattle. My friend Steve the Turkey Hunter in Maine says winter never came there this year.

How are you supposed to tell the difference between awake and asleep? This is an important distinction for operators of motor vehicles. People ask me: "When did you know?" And I just look at them because it’s all I can do, like a deer in their beams, like, Know what?

I can’t help it, personally. My mind returns and returns to the contemplation of antimatter, the uncertainty principle, and quantum chicken farming in general. Life keeps getting funner, and funnier. For example: the popular misconception that the world won’t likely come to an end in any of our lifetimes. Um, that depends, Mr. and Mrs. Physicist, does it not, on your definition of words like life, and time, and doo-da? Where, exactly, does the world happen? Out there somewhere? And how do they get all that juice to stay on the inside of Shanghai dumplings?


I do have a new favorite dim sum restaurant out on Taraval near

19th Avenue

, but that’s little consolation under the stormy stars,

Valley Ford Road

, middle of the night. Think I’ll pull over and have a nervous breakthrough.

Oh, now I get it. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarghhh!

Next thing you know: venison sausage. Next thing you know: homemade hot Italian sausage. The Chicken Farmer is standing outside next to his or her mailbox, waiting for the mail, wondering how human beings, the animals that invented sausage, can still find it necessary to believe in god. Or something. Let’s see, we can turn pigs into pork, pork into sausage, and so on — milk into butter. We can make airplanes and air mail and post offices, and one still craves … what? Answers? Spirit? Church?

But we have the Internet! Just like that, I can receive an e-mail from my friend Rube Roy in Ohio saying, "I mailed you some sausages. Go stand by your mailbox."

Personally, I don’t need any more information than that. The sausage is in the mail. The coals are glowing. The chickens are looking at the Chicken Farmer like, Well, what’s in it for us?

Answer: grass. There’s a lot of grass around my mailbox, and they can’t get at it. You talk about your symbidiotic relationships. I love to graze, but I don’t particularly like grass. I prefer eggs, and sausage. So, while I’m waiting for the mail, I’m basically mowing the lawn with my hands, throwing it over the fence to the chickens, and they’re going to town, converting green into yellow, healthier, tastier eggs for tomorrow’s lunch, for me, with sausage.

What’s in it for Rube Roy? Well, he gets to be, very fittingly, the first official inductee into the Cheap Eats Hall of Fame. Are you kidding me? He made and mailed me about five pounds of meat — a long string of venison sausage, a short, fat string of hot Italian, and three sticks of spicy, smoked, dried whatever-the-fuck. Soppressata?

It’s delicious, whatever it is. I’m chawing on some right now, writing this. And I still want to tell you about my new favorite dim sum place too, but that’s probably a story unto itself, soupy enough to sink me to the bottom of this column and off the page, into your lap. Where, with all due respect, I don’t know if I want to be, so let’s save that for next week and stay for now with the Cheap Eats Hall of Fame.

You want in, send me something. By e-mail. To eat!

In the meantime, so Rube Roy doesn’t get too lonely, I’m going to take this opportunity to also induct a couple other inductees, that philosophy-talking piano student who hand-delivered to me an order of North Carolina barbecue, hush puppies, and sweet tea. And this Red Cross worker in Seattle (Ketchup County, or something like that) who sent me a big bottle of barbecue sauce. I don’t know. She works for the Red Cross. The bottle says Jones on it, and it’s fantastic.

So if your name is Jones, and you live in Seattle, and you gave blood, I love you. On ribs, especially, but you also go good with meatballs. SFBG


Deeper into sushi


› paulr@sfbg.com

Opera Plaza doesn’t look like restaurant heaven, and, for the most part, it isn’t. The development’s long-running success story is Max’s Opera Café, a faux deli that deals in mountainous portions, with dill pickles and fries. Over the years there have been a few places with more style, among them Carlo Middione’s Vivande and Bruce Cost’s Monsoon, but in neither case was traction established, and neither concern lasted long.

The crash of Monsoon isn’t all that difficult to understand in retrospect. Whereas Vivande at least had a big sign overlooking the busy corner of Franklin and Golden Gate Avenues to let potential patrons know it was there, Monsoon (which opened soon after the 1989 earthquake) was buried deep in the complex and wasn’t all that easy to see even from the interior courtyard, complete with its Stalinist concrete and fountain. Here, too late, are my directions: Enter the courtyard from Van Ness, with A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books on your right, pass the fountain, and shear to your right as you approach the movie theater. You will see a neon sign and, beyond some glass doors, will find yourself at the host’s station in a restaurant, and while the restaurant won’t be Monsoon (which closed early in 1993), it will be pretty good. It is Shima Sushi and represents a return to respectability for a centrally located yet obscure site that had fallen into slightly tacky gloom.

A postulate I have been forming recently is that many troubled and oft-flipped restaurant spaces find a stable life serving sushi and other Japanese food, and Shima Sushi bolsters the argument. It helps, certainly, that uncooked fish has long been a form of fast food in Japan, for the large lunchtime crowds at Shima consist, one supposes — to judge by the office garb and accoutrements — largely of people who work in the neighborhood’s complex of municipal, state, and federal offices, and they are visibly under some time pressure. Shima accommodates them gracefully, with bento boxes ($7.95 for a choice of two items, $8.95 for three) featuring such delicacies as tuna sashimi and crisp-skinned, smoky-sweet salmon teriyaki, along with miso soup, mixed green salad, and bean sprouts with scallions. (There is also a vegetarian bento box.) Other choices include a sushi lunch special ($8.95), with a California roll (real crab is $1 extra and worth it) and a mix of sushi pieces likely to include tuna, hamachi, salmon, and shrimp. Those averse to raw flesh have recourse to various forms of teriyaki, tempura, donburi, and udon. Service is quite swift and polite, but the staff is too busy hurrying to do much hovering, and once you’re served, they’re likely to let you be unless you make some want or need known. Then they do come running.

By evening, the mood of the restaurant visibly softens: The light seems a bit yellower, the blond wood of the Japanese-style partitions a bit warmer, the bubbles in the aquarium a bit bigger and lazier. The patronage, too, mellows — but then, people do live in and around Opera Plaza, and for them, Shima is a jewel of a neighborhood restaurant, with a favorable quality-to-price ratio and enough room to accommodate walk-ins while keeping the noise level reasonable. The dinner menu resembles an expanded version of the lunch menu; the chief additions are a list of specialty rolls and a trio of "special combinations" — blow-out sushi festivals served in wooden boats. You order according to the size of your party; we were three and opted for the Shima special ($75, "serves three or more") but quailed when the ship approached the table looking like one of those freighters you sometimes see sailing through the Golden Gate, so laden with booty as to be nearly submerged.

"We’ll never be able to eat all that," said one of my fellow musketeers and one justly renowned for doughtiness in the face of huge amounts of food. As things turned out, we did empty the ship of its cargo, which the other musketeer, to my right, perhaps a bit less doughty, described as "tuna-heavy." As indeed it was, not that there was anything wrong with that. We worked our way through nigiri and sashimi editions of maguro, toro, and albacore (underrated; always fabulously buttery), along with salmon, red snapper (thin sheets of pearly flesh splashed with rose), and bonito, whose ribbing gave each piece the look of a chunk of burst all-terrain tire on the shoulders of a mountain highway. Astern, the ship had been laden with rolls, among them Super California — strips of barbecued eel laid atop rice disks stuffed with avocado and snow crab — and Lion King, a California roll wrapped in salmon, then baked in foil like a potato.

In due course the denuded ship sailed away, guided by a smiling server who nonetheless shook her head in polite awe at what we had accomplished. A few moments later she showed up with small bowls of green tea ice cream: reward or penalty? Neither; the ice cream was included in the deal, to be shipped under separate cover. The doughty musketeer made a face at the prospect of green tea ice cream but polished it off since, in the end, a sweet is a sweet is a sweet, especially if at no extra cost. SFBG

Shima Sushi

Dinner: Mon.–Thurs. and Sat., 5–9:30 p.m.; Fri., 5–10 p.m.

Lunch: Mon.–Sat., 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m.

601 Van Ness, SF

(415) 292-9997

Beer and wine


Moderately noisy

Wheelchair accessible

{Empty title}


Apr. 26-May 2


March 21-April 19

Making decisions is strictly off-limits, Aries, unless you’re the rare ram that has a solid grip on your best-case scenario, or really, really, truly, deeply knows what you’re trying to get out of the deal. As for the rest of you common folk, make no selections, and filter the resulting frustration through love.


April 20-May 20

Taurus, you’ve been dealt a bad hand. No doubt about it, pal — shit is rough for you people right now. The loss or change that has been cruelly foisted upon you is triggering some anxiety as you struggle to get past it. We hope you know that you’ve got a ton of support available to you, so don’t alienate yourself from the world.


May 21-June 21

You better check yourself before you wreck yourself, Gemini. It’s a real messy week, and opportunities abound for you to fuck up. There’s a real need for you to approach your goals in proportion to the goals themselves. Is your ego a bit larger than the situation calls for?


June 22-July 22

In the midst of a bunch of baloney, Cancer, you can have a fruitful, and even pleasant, week if you approach old problems in a new, exciting way. Though you are filled with fabulous inner strength and can-do optimism right now, we still advise taking baby steps toward fixing these lingering annoyances once and for all.


July 23-Aug. 22

Leo, it’s time to settle into the cubicle of your heart and fire up the love computer. Double-click on the folder marked "My Relationships" and get to work on that document titled "Communication." We expect the forthcoming report to detail the personal risks you’re willing to take to benefit the longevity of a connection.


Aug. 23-Sept. 22

You’re out of balance, Virgo. And when a Virgo is out of balance, shit doesn’t get done. And when shit doesn’t get done, it throws a Virgo out of balance, Virgos being extremely productive types. Do you see the cycle of abuse here? Apply yourself in a way that balances your gains with your losses.


Sept. 23-Oct. 22

Libra, what can we say? You’re bummed out. Nothing we do, no advice we dispense, will lessen the stark reality of your major bummed-out-ness. However, we would be remiss if we didn’t offer you something. This disappointment is an opportunity for you to move through your feelings with compassion for yourself.


Oct. 23-Nov. 21

Sometimes, Scorpio, our families hurt our feelings. They let us down. Friggin’ bunch of jerks. And when we’re dealing with the families that brought us into this cruel world (rather than the excellent families we’ve found to go to movies and shit-talk with), sometimes we have to think in terms of harm reduction. That’s your week.


Nov. 22-Dec. 21

When your head and your heart are divided, Sag, there’s no hope of reaching internal consensus. So unless you want to sit in an eternal, futile meeting with yourself, aim instead to make a decision that feels in alignment with your integrity. You won’t be totally happy with it, but you’ve got to make a choice.


Dec. 22-Jan. 19

Capricorn, in the face of the impressive amount of anxiety you’re feeling, we urge you to not make any impulsive moves. You may think a sudden burst of spontaneity will shake your bad feelings away, but alas, it will only intensify them. Find a stable middle ground while this emotional storm passes.


Jan. 20-Feb. 18

It’s true, Aquarius: You’re officially “on fire.” Your work is paying off big time, you’re offering yourself to the world, and the world is flinging its panties at you like a slavering groupie. But at the end of the day, gentle Water Bearer, what really counts is how you feel, and you’re feeling funky.


Feb. 19-March 20

Pisces, it’s time to move on. You want to move slowly, and you want to move steadily, but seriously: You want to move. Keep your heart open and take your time with it. And don’t worry about shit being perfect — perfection is hardly ever important. All that matters is significant movement. SFBG

The great e-mail debate


› bitchenmail@techsploitation.com

TECHSPLOITATION Geeks turn social events into intellectual debates, so it should be no surprise that intellectual debates are often an excuse for geeky socializing. This was certainly the case at a recent benefit for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (my former employer), held at a San Francisco indie movie theater known for its seedy-progressive ambiance. We were there to ponder nothing less than the future of the free world — at least, if you define "free world" as free e-mail, which is something I know all of us have done once in a while.

Most people already pay an ISP for Internet access, so the notion of having to pay for e-mail on top of that is a fairly repugnant one. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t lots of companies who’d like to make a business model out of it. A case in point is Goodmail, a Silicon Valley start-up that provides a middleperson service called e-mail certification. Companies and banks that send bulk e-mail pay Goodmail to verify their authenticity, and Goodmail passes a cut to ISPs like AOL or Yahoo!, who whisk the certified mail past their spam filters and on to your in-box. The idea is that Goodmail’s certification helps e-mail recipients tell the difference between phishing e-mails and real requests for information from their banks.

Public sentiments went sour when AOL announced it would be using Goodmail because it sounded a lot like a pay-to-play system in which only wealthy customers could afford to get their messages past the ISP’s notoriously clueless spam filters. That could mean more spam rather than less. Worse, it would impair free speech on the Net. Nonprofit bulk mailers like activist group MoveOn might get their mail blocked simply because they couldn’t afford certification. Nearly 500 nonprofit groups, fearing this scenario, signed an open letter the EFF wrote to AOL asking it to drop Goodmail’s certification system.

Longtime EFF supporter and former board member Esther Dyson, however, objected to the campaign against Goodmail. As a free-market idealist, she welcomes any new business model for handling e-mail — and particularly for tackling the epidemic phishing problem — and felt that Goodmail shouldn’t be discouraged from testing its mettle in the marketplace. When I argued with her about this at a recent conference, she threw down the gauntlet. "I’d like to debate EFF about this publicly — you tell them that," she said. Dutiful Dyson fan that I am, I made a beeline for Danny O’Brien, the EFF’s activism coordinator and spam policy wonk. As soon as the two of them started bickering about e-mail protocol SMTP, I knew the fight was on.

A couple months later, I sat with about 100 other geeks who’d come to watch O’Brien ask Dyson why she wants e-mail senders to pay for the privilege. Turns out Dyson’s perfect universe doesn’t involve a Goodmail-style model. Instead, she favors a system wherein e-mail recipients are paid to read e-mail — if you thought a piece of mail is spam, you’d have the option to bill the sender. If you wanted the mail, you could accept it without charge. Although Dyson admitted this system might require an unwieldy billing infrastructure and many market mishaps, she’s nevertheless "pro-choice" when it comes to companies — even Goodmail — experimenting with business models for an e-mail system that, she concluded, "simply can’t be free anymore."

O’Brien, for his part, made an impassioned case for the spam and phishing problems to be solved via social economies like the ones that have made Wikipedia and many open source projects so successful. "Solving this by falling back on the monetary economy is an incredibly old-fashioned and conservative move," he said. He urged everybody to look for nonmonetary economic solutions whereby communities collaborate to build tools that help certify legitimate mail and filter out spam and don’t force people to pay cash to engage in free speech.

EFF founder and techno-freedom philanthropist Mitch Kapor, who moderated the debate, ended the evening by saying that nobody had won. "We’ll see who turns out to be right in the future," he said, laughing. For my part, well, I’m a social economy idealist. In my perfect future, a hell of a lot more than e-mail will be free. But keeping one of the greatest engines of free speech from backsliding into the monetary economy is a good start. SFBG

Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who uses open source software to spam filter the 8,000 e-mails she gets every day.


Raw Deal


› andrea@altsexcolumn.com


Dear Andrea:


Should I worry that my husband, who says he is straight because he just isn’t attracted to guys, might be subconsciously or secretly gay? I’m concerned because he really likes anal sex. I think it is disgusting and painful and my first experience with it was rape, and I don’t get why he likes it, let alone how he can enjoy it when it causes me such discomfort. I’ve agreed to do it periodically, in return for him giving up a vehicle that I think is dangerous, but I’m concerned about it.





Dear Off:


Yes, yes, it’s normal. It’s not gay if he does it with you, especially since he isn’t even attracted to guys, and (as a Hispanophone friend puts it) "bla, bla, y bla." Do a search and you’ll find me explaining this approximately monthly for the last eight years. My concern is not that your husband is a buttmonkey, but that you are willing to put up with something you find painful and humiliating just so he won’t … what? Ride a motorcycle? Unless he made it himself from a cheap Albanian kit, put it together with only half the bolts called for while drunk, and rides it blindfolded, I’d say you’re getting the raw end of the deal.




Dear Andrea:


I’m a wanker. I call help lines and try to get the people who answer them to have phone sex with me. It works best with youth lines, but some crisis lines will do it too. I know this is wrong, but I can’t afford phone sex. Do you know of any phone sex lines that are free? I heard San Francisco Sex Information will do it but they hang up on me. What are some good numbers to call?



Wanky Wanker

Dear Wank:

OK, that’s pretty funny. If you’re sincere, asking me this question would seem to imply that you expect me to give you the numbers of nonprofit do-gooding agencies like the ones I work often work with, but with slightly less well-trained volunteers? I’ll get right on that.

Actually, I wouldn’t even be answering this except that it gives me a perfect opportunity to run the sort of public-service announcement that I usually eschew, but this one — "phone volunteers, beware" — is near and dear to me. So thanks for writing, asshole.

Phone-wanking is a fairly common behavior or compulsion (which one is more accurate depends on whether the wanker "could stop anytime" or truly feels like he cannot help himself) and has little in common with the dreary-seeming but harmless practice of paying people to talk dirty with you. Your basic phone-wanker is more like the old-fashioned "What are you wearing?"<\d>type of late-night, random-dialing heavy breather. Your help-line wanker, on the contrary, is looking to score some nonconsensual jollies off of some well-meaning volunteer at suicide prevention or various youth talk lines, as you mentioned your wankerself. Now think about that: It "works best with youth lines"? Because why? Because the youthful staffers don’t have the years of practice and built-up emotional callus it takes to understand just how creepy and devious adults can be? Because it’s easy to snatch kids’ emotional candy? If you really do do this, and you hadn’t quite thought of your behavior in quite those terms, I suggest you start now.

There may have been a time when pay-by-the-minute phone sex was the only option for those looking for a truly alienated sexual encounter with a professional orgasm-faker, but in these days of chat rooms, fora, IM, etc., anyone with a little creativity and determination should be able to scare up some long-distance action. Consensually, I mean. Sure, you wouldn’t want to ask most of these phantom partners why hot teenage girls like themselves would find themselves alone, horny, and available to chat with a loser like yourself on a Saturday night, but really, we can’t afford to be too picky here. Unless your motivation really is the sort of half-evil, half-pathetic phone-rape we were talking about above, anyone with an Internet connection and a good line of patter should suffice. In the meantime — hey, wanker, leave those kids alone.




(Fun fact: According to the 1990 Census, Wanker is the 53,492nd most common surname in the United States.)

A strong small-business agenda


EDITORIAL You read the academic journals these days, or peruse economic-development Web sites, and everyone seems to be talking about sustainable urban economics. It’s as if the mantra that was first put forward by Jane Jacobs, David Morris, and a few others a quarter century ago is very much in the mainstream today: Cities function best with diverse economies dominated by locally owned businesses, with money circuutf8g within the community. Cutting-edge restaurants talk about serving locally grown food. Beverage savants want local beer and wine. Just about everyone — including the mayor and the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce — wants to participate in a program called Shop Local.

It’s a wonderful, encouraging trend — but if it’s going to make any real difference in this city, it has to become a lot more than lip service. Consider: Just as Mayor Newsom was proudly signing on to a Shop San Francisco program, the mayor and the supervisors were busy approving plans to allow Home Depot — an anticompetitive out-of-town corporation that destroys local small business and undermines the entire concept of a strong local economy — to build a giant store on Bayshore Boulevard.

 It’s taken legal action by Sue Hestor and the neighborhood leaders to derail (for now) the mayor’s plans to build high-end condos all over the eastern neighborhoods — threatening hundreds of locally owned businesses.

Downtown business leaders and the groups they fund still push for policies that hurt most of the businesses in the city — and too many small-business people still go along.

Here’s the reality: Supporting small businesses — and moving San Francisco toward a sustainable economy — requires a lot more than a slogan. The people who are behind the Shop Local movement know that. They’re promoting a wide range of national and local policies designed to change not only attitudes but the direction of public policy.

San Francisco, a progressive city known for its wonderful, lively, unique neighborhoods, ought to be a national leader in the battle. But others (Philadelphia, for example) are moving way ahead. This city is still stuck in an ancient (and regressive) economic mind-set.

There are a number of key things the city can do to turn that around and become a truly small-businessfriendly place — and most of them go far beyond public-relations efforts and cutting through red tape. The basic approach to policy needs to change; here are a few ways to start:

 Stop allowing big chains to come into town. That’s not exactly rocket science, and it isn’t so hard either: Hayes Valley and North Beach both have "formula retail" laws that restrict the chains, and there’s talk of doing the same in Potrero Hill. But why does this have to be fought block by block? Why not a citywide ordinance that protects every neighborhood commercial district — and, more important, keeps the life-sucking big-box giants away from the city altogether?

 Make small, locally owned businesses part of the planning process. The city’s own (limited) studies have made clear that the type of development the mayor and the current city planning leadership has in mind would damage local businesses, particularly in the repair, distribution, and small manufacturing areas. That alone ought to be grounds to change directions. Why not a checklist for every new project that includes the question: Will this displace existing locally owned businesses? If the answer is yes, the project should be rejected.

Take progressive business taxes seriously. There’s almost certainly going to be an effort this fall to change the city’s business-tax structure, with one of the goals being an increase in overall revenue. That’s great, and it ought to happen — but the tax rates have to be shifted too, so that a tiny local retail outlet doesn’t pay the same amount as the Gap. (Socking big-box outlets with a special tax or fee — possibly based on the fact that they are by nature car-driven operations — might be a nice way to bring in some cash.)

You can’t be friendly to small local businesses these days without taking sides in the national economic war — and that means coming out against the big chains. Until San Francisco does that, all the talk of supporting local merchants will amount to nothing. SFBG

20 questions for Fiona Ma


Sup. Fiona Ma, who is running for state Assembly, last week decided to skip an endorsement interview that she scheduled with the Guardian – making herself unavailable to answer questions important to Guardian readers – so we’ve decided to put some of our questions out the publicly.

We encourage voters to press her for answers before the June primary, and if you have any luck, please let us know by e-mailing City Editor Steven T. Jones at steve@sfbg.com.

1.   What kind of health care system do you support for California? Ma’s opponent, Janet Reilly, has made single-payer health care her top campaign priority and issued a detailed plan for what that would entail. Health care is one of just five issues that Ma discusses on her website (the others being Housing, Education, Budget/Jobs, and Transportation), vaguely indicating she support universal coverage and stating, “I support state measures to provide incentives for business owners to cover their workers and other such efforts, but we need the political will on the national level to be successful.”  The first part sounds as if she’s advocating tax breaks to businesses that offer private insurance health plans to their employees. The caveat at the end sounds like she doesn’t intend to do much of anything until the feds do. But then, during the only debate that she’d agreed to have with Reilly, Ma said that she support a single-payer health care system, without offering any other details. This is arguably the most important issue the Legislature will face in the next few years and we have a right to know whose side Ma would be on.

2.   What will you do to protect renters and rental units in San Francisco? Again, it was the sole debate and its aftermath that yielded much confusion about where Ma stands regarding renters. She has made no secret of her strong support for increasing homeownership opportunities and her record is one of opposing local efforts to slow the number of Ellis Act evictions. But at the debate, she went further by declaring, “The Ellis Act is sometimes the only way for some people to become homeowners and I support it.” After being criticized for the statement, she defended herself in a piece on BeyondChron.org that only seemed to dig a deeper hole, arguing that she supports “ownership units [that] are affordable to San Franciscans of all income levels.” And how exactly is that going to happen?

3. What’s up with the $20 million?    In that same Beyondchron.org column, to defend her bad record on renters, Ma cited an effort that she made earlier this month to amend the city’s $20 million housing subsidy program to prioritize those who have been evicted under the Ellis Act. City officials said it would have had little practical effect and the gesture seemed to contradict you statements of support for Ellis Act evictions. Why should we see this as anything but a crass political deception?

4.      Why have you been unwilling to provide details about your policy positions even on the five issues you raised on your website – so voters would know how you intend to vote?

5.      How do you intend to increase revenues coming into the state, which you will need for even the broad goals you cited in education, transportation, and business “incentives”? We’re particularly interested in this answer after watching Ma chair the city’s Revenue Advisory Panel two years ago. That body was charged by the mayor’s office with recommending new revenue sources, and ended up recommending none.

6. Are you just a pawn of downtown business?At luncheon speeches that she gave to SFSOS and the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce over the last couple years, Ma you blasted and belittled her colleagues on the board while fawning over the business community. What is she willing to do to show her independence from downtown?

7.      Why do most of your colleagues on the Board of Supervisors support Janet Reilly —  and why shouldn’t voters see that as an indictment of your tenure as a supervisor?

8.      Is there anything new that you would require of the business community, such as improved labor or environmental standards, greater corporate accountability and transparency, regulation of greenhouse gas emissions, health care benefits for employees or their same sex partners?

9.      Your record is one of consistent opposition to requiring developers to pay more or offer more public benefits, such as open space or affordable housing. Why shouldn’t rich developers making obscene profits pay a little more? Has your position been influenced by the financial support of people like Oz Erickson, Joe Cassidy, Warren Hellman, Don Fisher, and Bob McCarthy?

10.     Why did you oppose legislation that would have limited the number of parking spaces that could be built in conjunction with the nearly 10,000 housing units slated for the downtown core, legislation that Planning Director Dean Macris called critical to good planning? Did your support from the downtown developers who opposed it have anything to do with your position?

11.     You supported a deal that extended Comcast’s cable contract without requiring any new public programming requirements, even though other comparable cities have better plans. Do you think that’s why Comcast is supporting your campaign?

12.     You’ve been a big advocate of tax breaks for corporations, including the biotech and film industries in San Francisco. How would you make up for these lost revenues and are you concerned that having cities compete with tax breaks creates a race to the bottom that starve public coffers? And on the biotech tax credit, given that such companies often lose money for years before reaping high windfall profits, how would be insure those companies eventually pay taxes to the city rather than just moving somewhere where they won’t be taxed?

13.     You were a longtime supporter of Julie Lee, continuing to support her even after it was revealed that she illegally laundered public funds into political campaigns. Why, and do you continue to support her?

14.     In a recent letter to supporters, you warned that Janet Reilly was trying to buy the campaign so people needed to give more. At the time, she had raised about $600,000 to your $700,000. How do you justify what appears to be a deceptive statement to your own supporters?

15.     We understand you support the death penalty, but many studies have shown that those on death row have been represented by inexperienced and ineffective lawyers, that they are disproportionately poor and minorities, and that based on detailed studies conducted in other states, it is likely that at least a few are not guilty of their crimes. Given all of that, are there any reforms that you’d like to see in how executions are carried out?
16.     In the debate, you said that the state is not required to balance its budget and that the federal government may simply print money to cover its budget deficits. Would you like to clarify or amend either statement?

 17.     What is your position on drug prohibition? Are there any current illegal drugs that you would decriminalize or are there any other changes you would make to the war on drugs?

The statement you issued on your website dealing with “Transportation” – one of just five issues you addressed – is only 48 words long. Is there anything that you’d like to add? And are there any other issues facing the state that you think are important?

  The Reilly campaign has warned of a possibly illegal effort to attack her by a group called “Leaders for an Effective Government,” using money laundered by Comcast and your old boss, John Burton. Are you aware of this effort and have you taken any steps to stop or repudiate it?

20. Why do you think it’s okay to avoid tough questions from the press?

{Empty title}


› tredmond@sfbg.com


I’ve been having mixed feelings about this Matt Gonzalez for Congress thing. I mean, I was one of the first people to start talking (more than a year ago) about how Gonzalez ought to challenge Nancy Pelosi: Despite all the accolades she gets as the first woman minority leader and potentially the first woman speaker of the house, Pelosi is a terrible politician. She’s venal, driven by campaign money, and has no real agenda except power. She’s the one who privatized the Presidio, potentially paving the way for the privatization of millions of acres of national parkland. And as the representative of one of the most liberal districts in the country, it took her forever to even sort of come out against the war.

My original thought was that Pelosi has never been held accountable for her actions, and a good solid challenge from the left would force her to come back and actually campaign. She’d have to face her constituents, answer some questions and possibly even move a bit in the direction of the district on some key issues.

Besides, it would send a lovely shock wave through the local Democratic Party, where a significant number of local leaders privately despise Pelosi, but would be pressured by the national heavies to endorse her. We could see who really has political courage in this town.

Of course, there’s a serious downside to all of this. Progressive San Francisco is in a somewhat precarious state right now: We have nobody who looks like a mayoral candidate, and the coalition that came together around the Gonzalez mayoral campaign was always fragile anyway. A major congressional campaign by the Greens right now with the battle to oust the Republicans from the House in full swing would create a lot of bitter feelings, and the fact that a guy was taking on a nationally prominent woman wouldn’t make it any better.

Still, there will always be those issues, and you can always argue that it’s not the right time to do something bold and dramatic, and the Green Party has as much right as anyone to run a strong candidate for Congress. A couple of months ago, I was still open to it.

And then it got to be April, and the filing deadline passed, and frankly, I didn’t get the sense Gonzalez was that eager. Now some of his allies are pushing him to mount a write-in campaign for the Green Party nomination and frankly, with all due respect, the whole thing has a sort of last-minute, half-assed look to it.

So I called Gonzalez this week to bat things around, and it turns out he’s in almost exactly the same place I am. You want to run for the US Congress against a nine-term incumbent, you have to start early, take it seriously, raise a bunch of money, deal with the problems head-on … and frankly, that’s not where we are right now. "If it was a year ago, I might be thinking different," Gonzalez told me.

So I think he’ll pass this time, and I think that’s right. But that’s not the end of the story. As he pointed out, if the Democrats do retake Congress, they’ll probably turn out to be a disappointment on about a hundred levels, and even more power will even further corrupt Pelosi. And if we start thinking about it early enough, 2008 could be a fine year. SFBG

Save John Swett!


OPINION In seeking to close the John Swett Alternative Elementary School in San Francisco’s Western Addition, the San Francisco Unified School District is making a gargantuan mistake.

We knew from the start of the evaluation process that John Swett didn’t come close to qualifying for closure or merger. By the board’s own criteria, Swett shouldn’t have been a candidate. Yet it remained, inexplicably, on the closure list.

Only now, through our own research and public records requests we made to the school district, has the rationale for the school’s closure become clear: It’s not an educational decision made in the best interests of students. It’s a property decision made in the best interests of administrators. Situated just two blocks from the SFUSD’s headquarters at 555 Franklin St., John Swett has apparently struck some administrators as an attractive target for expanding administrative offices.

Long before the unhappy coincidence of its proximity to SFUSD headquarters potentially doomed its existence, John Swett was rapidly becoming a poster child for public schools in working-class minority communities. It offers the only arts program of its kind in the district and has provided opportunities for cultural enrichment to a population to whom far too many opportunities are routinely denied. Its enrollment of 240 students was quickly approaching the facility’s full 280-student capacity, with a population reflecting the rich, diverse mosaic of San Francisco: 43 percent African American, 31 percent Pacific Islander, 14 percent Latino, and the remainder an integrated mix of whites, Asians, and others. And more curiously, if the issue at Swett was really about enrollment, the district could have looked across the street to reconcile any shortfall: Tenderloin Community School’s population is at 120 percent.

Sup. Chris Daly and I have worked hard to galvanize as much support as possible within City Hall to make the school board’s decision to save the school for students an easy one. We secured passage of an ordinance to provide $660,000 from city funds to gain John Swett a reprieve.

For neighborhoods like the Western Addition and Tenderloin, plagued by the interrelated problems of joblessness, drugs, truancy, and gun violence, the decision seems utterly counterproductive. What good are violence-prevention strategies when they are subverted by actions like shutting down John Swett School?

This battle is about setting the right priorities. It’s time to put the students first. The plain fact is that kids from minority working-class communities need good schools that are already intact more than school bureaucrats need adjacent facilities for themselves or a half-baked plan for something else. An innocent school has been unjustly condemned. Its execution is set to go. There are moments until midnight. Can we save it? SFBG

Ross Mirkarimi

Sup. Ross Mirkarimi represents District 5.

Students, drugs, and a law of intended consequences


A few weeks before Marisa Garcia started her first semester of college in 2000, a cop found a pipe with marijuana residue in her car. The pipe was hers, so she fessed up, went to court, paid her fine, and thought the case was closed.

Soon after, Garcia, the daughter of a single mother with three other college-age children, lost the financial aid she’d been counting on to cover her tuition costs at Cal State Fullerton. She called her school and found out it was because of the drug charge: The Higher Education Act makes students with a drug conviction ineligible for financial aid. Garcia had never heard of the law before.

She’s not alone in her predicament. A study by the reform group Students for Sensible Drug Policy, released April 17, found that more than 180,000 students have lost or been denied financial aid under this law since it went into effect in 2000. California has had the highest number of students affected: a startling 31,000. The group hopes the overall numbers will spur Congress to repeal the law.

The law is intended to be a deterrent to drug use, but critics question its effectiveness. "Most people don’t find out about it until it’s too late," Tom Angell, campaign director for SSDP, said. "If kids are thinking about using drugs, they’re supposed to say, ‘No, I could lose my aid.’ But not a lot of people know about it until they come across it on their financial aid form."

Since Garcia lost her aid, the act has been amended to apply only to students who get busted while receiving financial assistance. But that doesn’t fully address the concerns of its critics, who see it as counterproductive.

"[The law] affects the very students whom the Higher Education Act was intended to assist in the first place when it was passed in 1965: the students from low- and middle-income families, the ones who cannot afford college tuition on their own," Angell said. "These are the people who, when they get a conviction and lose their financial aid, are forced to drop out."

Critics also contend that those punished for using drugs shouldn’t be penalized a second time for that same crime. "If you break the law, there is a system of justice that is designed to deal with you," said Tom Kaley, spokesperson for Rep. George Miller, the senior Democrat on the House Education Committee, who supports the repeal of the law. "But then to have the Department of Education add another punch on top of that sounds a lot like double jeopardy."

That issue and others prompted the SSDP and the American Civil Liberties Union to file a federal class-action lawsuit March 22 seeking to overturn the law. That suit, in combination with the study, seeks to highlight how damaging the law has been.

"Now all members of Congress know exactly how many of their own constituents are devastated by the policy," Angell said. "They’re not going to be able to keep ignoring it year after year while tens of thousands of students lose financial aid. They’re going to have to do something about it." (Hunter Jackson)

Drugs of choice


› steve@sfbg.com

San Francisco is home to a wide variety of drug users, from the hardcore smack addicts on Sixth Street to the club kids high on ecstasy or crystal meth to the yuppies snorting lines off their downtown desks or getting drunk after work to the cornucopia of people across all classes smoking joints in Golden Gate Park or in their living rooms on weekends.

Drug law reformers come in similarly wide varieties, but most have a strong preference for first legalizing the most popular and least harmful of illegal drugs: marijuana. That’s how medical marijuana got its quasi-legal status in the city, and why San Francisco hosted the huge state conference of California National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws conference that began on 4/20.

But while hundreds of CA-NORML attendees were eating lunch and waiting to be entertained by iconic marijuana advocate Tommy Chong (a session that was cut short by a hotel manager because too many attendees were smoking pot; go to “The Day after 4/20” at www.sfbg.com/entry.php?entry_id=392 for the complete story), across town another unlikely legalization proponent was speaking to a circle of about two dozen people gathered in the Mission Neighborhood Health Center.

Norm Stamper, the former Seattle police chief and a cop for 34 years, is a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a group of current and former police officers advocating for the legalization and regulation of all drugs (go to www.leap.cc for more info). Although Stamper also spoke at some NORML conference events, he differs from that organization in at least one key respect.

“Tomorrow I’m going to say something that will piss off NORML,” Stamper told the group in the Mission District April 21. Namely, Stamper argues that it is more important to legalize hard drugs like cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines than the more benign marijuana.

While NORML focuses on personal freedom and the fact that marijuana is less harmful than legal drugs like alcohol and tobacco, Stamper blames drug prohibition for the more serious public health and economic costs associated with harder drugs. In particular, prohibition hinders addiction treatment and quality control of drugs both of which can have deadly results.

“I do think drugs should be rigorously regulated and controlled,” Stamper argued, noting that there are many different visions for the postprohibition world even within his own organization. Stamper prefers a model in which all drugs are legalized, production and distribution systems are tightly controlled by the government (as they are now with alcohol and tobacco), addiction issues are treated as medical problems, and crimes associated with such addictions such as theft or spousal abuse are treated harshly.

But he also said that he’s open to other ideas and definitely shares the widely held view among drug-law reformers of all stripes that the $1 trillion “war on drugs,” instigated in 1970 by then-president Richard Nixon, has been a colossal failure and an unnecessary waste of human and economic capital.

“We should have created a public health model rather than a war model in dealing with drugs,” he said. “Whatever I choose to put in this body is my business, not the government’s business.”

And that’s one area in which Stamper would agree with Chong, who sang the praises of his favorite drug to a packed auditorium: “There’s no such thing as pot-fueled rage, is there?” SFBG

See “Students, Drugs, and a Law of Intended Consequences” on page 15.

Pombo on the issues


To say that Richard Pombo is an environmental skeptic is putting it mildly. When asked if Pombo accepted the worldwide scientific consensus that global warming is a fact, his spokesperson, Wayne Johnson, shilly-shallied. "What I have heard him say is the jury is still out," Johnson cautiously ventured. "For those absolutely convinced, I would not put him in that category."

Pombo entered Congress determined to "reform" the Endangered Species Act and other tree-hugging depredations on the rights of private property owners. Before arriving in Washington, he cowrote a book titled This Land Is Our Land: How to End the War on Private Property, in which he declared that he’d become politically active after a skirmish with the East Bay Regional Park District about the creation of a public right-of-way through his property. He later switched his story to say that his family’s property values had been hurt when their land was designated a San Joaquin kit fox critical habitat.

Both claims were entirely without merit. But Pombo is not one to let the facts get in the way.

Pombo says the ESA, which is widely regarded as one of the more successful pieces of environmental legislation ever, is a failure. Pombo’s “reforms,” however, recently ran into a brick wall in the Senate. If passed, the reforms would have removed the concept of critical habitat from the ESA, which means that a threatened species would have been protected, but its home territory would not have received such protection.

Pombo has hit numerous other environmental high points. Among them was his idea to allow ham radio operators to erect antennae on the Farallones Islands. He proposed selling 15 sites within the national parks as a way of raising money for energy development. He was one of the original sponsors of the legislation to allow drilling on Alaska’s north slope.

And the 11th Congressional District representative has taken interesting stands on all sorts of other issues, from civil rights to drugs to gun control to gay rights. Because he has such a wide range of conservative interests, a short list of his Congressional voting record will suffice.

Pombo has opposed stem cell research, supports banning “partial birth” abortion, and has a 0 percent rating from NARAL, the pro-choice group. He voted for the constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and against allowing gay adoption in Washington, DC.

He has voted in favor of making the PATRIOT Act permanent and supports a constitutional amendment to oppose flag burning and desecration. He supports more prisons, the death penalty, and more cops. He voted to prohibit medical marijuana and HIV-prevention needle exchange, in Washington, DC.

Pombo has a 97 percent approval rating from the US Chamber of Commerce. He opposes gun control and product-misuse lawsuits against gun manufacturers. He got an A-plus rating from the National Rifle Association.

For a more in-depth appreciation of Richard Pombo’s politics, go to www.ontheissues.org/CA/Richard-Pombo.htm, which gives him a 70 percent hard-right conservative rating. (Tim Kingston)

Research assistance by Erica Holt

Warm fuzzies


› superego@sfbg.com

SUPER EGO Fur suit! Is there anything better? The darling buds of May are peeping through, the beautiful ladies of the Bay are showing out their zirconia belly-bling, and clubby bears are waking up from long, wet winter naps with raging hankerings for fun (as opposed to raging hankerings for little girls in Appalachia). "Lhudely sing goddam!" the poets shout, "it’s spring & all." And for once they’re right, you know? I feel downright exuberant. The city stretches out its arms, scratches its stubbly ass, and yawns. What’s for breakfast, Goldilocks? A party, dude. A freakin’ party.

So what could be more natural than to throw on a big, fuzzy purple costume and break-dance in public on a sunny afternoon?

At least that’s what I’m hoping. Do you know the guy I’m talking about? He’s at almost every street fair, hopping around like Jiffy Pop, cute as a Great Grape Ape. You know spring’s really arrived when you see him making the scene on the sidewalk, a violaceous blur, all velutinous and shit. I’ve had a super boy crush on him for years now. We once connected briefly at Queer Pride when I was Gaydor the Cockodile, but it would never work, I realized. A furry Grapeasaurus and a drunken, gay green reptile the time had not yet come for our illicit kind of love. Sigh.

Still, my heart beats faster when I see his head spins zagging down the pavement, and I’m wishing that he’ll send me all atwitter at the upcoming How Weird Street Faire. Not that it’ll be easy to spot him, mind. The joint’s a jungle of fabulous freaks, and that’s just how we like it. In all its fur-suited, stilt-walking, fire-twirling, rave-a-licious glory, the How Weird’s in its seventh year as the kickoff of San Francisco’s outdoor festival season, but this year seems to be the first it has appeared on so many party folks’ radar screens. There are a couple good reasons for that.

The first is that How Weird was always a kind of stealth fair, dedicated to both the underground psy-trance scene and the techno-hippie notion of global peace through half-naked dancing. The joy of it was that one minute you’d be strolling through SoMa on the way to a beer bust, when blam! there’d be several blocks of booming Goa beats and shirtless gyrators waving glow sticks in the daytime. It was like you stepped through a quasi-magical doorway into the mid-’90s. The fair didn’t promote itself much, which made it seem spontaneous and comfy. This year it’s stepped up its outreach efforts and expanded its offerings, with seven stages of local floor-thumpers manning the tables and a Mermayd Parade up Market Street featuring art cars, wacky "mobile works of a naughtical nature" (i.e., pirate ship floats), and some sort of undelineated May Day celebration of the spring equinox. Don’t quote me, but I’m guessing it’ll somehow involve nude pixies.

The second reason is that many folks affect being allergic to such things. "What is it supposed to be, some sort of daffy collision of Burning Man and the Renaissance Faire?" they wonder, retching into their lattes. Well, kind of. The guy behind it all is indeed Brad Olsen, he of the legendary, way-back-when Consortium of Collective Consciousness parties and a prime Burning Man mover. His organization, Peace Tours, is dedicated to "achieving world peace through technology, community, and connectedness," which, as mentioned above, pretty much plays to woowoo shamanism type. (The fair even has booths selling "peace pizza." I shit you not.) And, of course, all medieval jouster wannabes are welcome as are their jangly jester caps.

But the time for trendy uppitiness about such things has passed. There are no big clubs in the city left where you can get down with thousands of freaks anymore, and the millennial explosion of street protests has keyed more people in to the power, if not exactly the purpose, of vibing with crowds who share their general intentions. As the drag queen said, it’s all about expression. And these days (has it really come to this?) any expression of hope and peace especially if there’s beer available is very greatly appreciated.

So please, purple fuzzy boy, if you’re reading this please come down to the How Weird Street Faire. After all, it’s spring. We need you. SFBG

How Weird Street Fair

May 7, noon–8 p.m.

12th Street and South Van Ness, SF

$10 donation, $5 with costume, free for kids