Volume 40 Number 34

May 24 – May 30, 2006

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Here’s Bill!



The gluttonous Willie Brown era lead to a city workforce of mangers who earned princely salaries in exchange for their political loyalty, but appeared to have little in the way of clear job responsibilities.

The cries for reform from auditors and other watchdogs eventually fueled the creation of a Management Classification and Compensation Plan designed to both streamline the city’s hiring process and trim a top-heavy class of department managers.
The process has been slow and complex, to put it lightly. But one way to measure its effectiveness so far may be to consider the complaints coming from political hacks bitter about losing status on the city’s totem pole.
In April, the Guardian reported that former board supervisor Bill Maher, now a “regulatory affairs manager” at the San Francisco International Airport, seemed to have difficulty showing up for work even half the time, according to documents we’d obtained that tracked his usage of a complimentary airport parking card included in his compensation package.

Maher was a Willie Brown political ally who earned his $95,000-a-year post at the airport in 1998 under the former mayor. Since then, he’s managed to hang on to the job and sail through more $30,000 in raises, to $128,000, despite a dubious job description.

But when the human resources department set its sights on Maher’s job through an MCCP review, he was knocked back from a Manager V position to Manager III in early 2004.
Maher shouldn’t have had much to complain about; the change did not affect his current salary. But the change did affect his eligibility for certain types of pay raises in the future, so Maher lashed out, warning MCCP Team Coordinator Robert Pritchard in an April 2004 letter that he planned to appeal the decision to the Civil Service Commission. In the letter, Maher valiantly made a renewed attempt to describe exactly what it is that he does for the airport:
“Reporting directly to the airport director, this position serves as a political consultant/advisor to the Airport Director regarding the political climate and assists the Director in the overall management, planning and coordination of highly political, sensitive and politically visible projects as assigned.”
Huh? Wha?
Apparently, the position wasn’t “political” enough, because after further review, Pritchard recommended to the commission earlier this month that Maher’s appeal be denied. According to Pritchard’s findings, “ …the position has no supervisory or budgetary responsibilities typical of the higher level classes.”
As it happens, the city’s budget analyst, Harvey Rose, agreed Maher’s duties seemed vague at best, because he recently made the preliminary recommendation that Maher’s job be eliminated entirely. According to a May 22 report from Rose’s office, the decision was based on “the lack of workload and deliverables information, the duplicative nature of the position’s functions, and the position’s high cost …” (Rose’s final budget recommendations won’t be finished until June 5.)
The Guardian also reported in April that management excess appeared to exist elsewhere at the airport. We noted that sources of ours had complained about the airport’s International Economic and Tourism Development Director, a post created for the politically well-connected Bill Lee under Gavin Newsom after the mayor removed Lee from his job as city manager. (The San Francisco Chronicle’s Matier & Ross have published versions of this story as well.)
Lee’s salary and mandatory fringe benefits, including a city car, cost taxpayers nearly $186,000 a year. His job, according to Rose’s report, is to “support international business growth.” But the airport never provided to Rose data that proved Lee had inspired any growth in international cargo or passengers. Rose, subsequently, made the preliminary recommendation that Lee’s position also be eliminated by late September “based on the lack of quantifiable economic benefits and cost savings associated with this position …”
No one at the airport’s Bureau of Community Affairs was available to comment on either Lee or Maher’s positions. But in April, Lee disputed any suggestion that his job was merely a “soft landing,” and insisted that he’s continuing to establish new business relationships between the city and key Asian countries.
Airport Spokesman Michael McCarron also told us in April that Maher spends much of his time off site “reviewing and attending appropriate board, commission and regulatory meetings.”

As part of his explanation, McCarron added at the time, “It is important for the airport to be aware of community sentiment that may impact the airport and the regulatory climate within in [sic] which it must exist.”

Clear as a bell.

Cannes journal #2:


FEST REPORT Cannes shocker! Grown men and women are opening up their gawddamn BlackBerrys and cell phones to check, send, and even leave messages during the actual screenings! Who would have guessed that audiences at the Cannes Film Festival, the "greatest film festival in the world," would act just like the audiences at the Century 20 in Daly City, California?

But not to fear, film lovers, I’ve taken it upon myself to have the audacity, when someone sitting next to me starts to check their messages, to tell them to stop.

I’ve offended three Frenchmen, three Americans, and a German woman so far.

How can anyone be thinking about their next film when you have Ashley Judd screaming her guts out (literally) in William Friedkin’s unrelenting new schizo-shocker, Bug? Or how can you actually start talking to your production partner about your last meeting when you have Ethan Hawke single-handedly breaking down the problems of America in Richard Linklater’s inspirational Fast Food Nation?

But more important, why are you checking soccer scores during the quietest, most moving film of the festival so far, Paz Encina’s Hamaca Paraguaya? If you want to do something with a phone or text message, please … please, get some manners: Stop acting like you didn’t realize how distracting it is, take the damn phone, followed by yourself, and get the fuck out of the theater. Please. (I’m not even going to talk about how this French woman ironically decided to layer on a whole new coat of lipstick, eye shadow, and blush during the most grotesque sequence in György P?

Cannes journal #1:


FEST REPORT The trip to Cannes always starts when I get on the plane in San Francisco looking to see if anyone I know is aboard. The 747 was huge, but full exploration didn’t reveal any obvious candidates for the festival.

Once in Paris things change. On the transfer to Nice I always run into several friends making the final leg of the journey to the south of France and 10 days of movies, morning till dawn. We compare stories about how much sleep we did or didn’t get, before leaving and on the plane. And make the inevitable jokes about being jet-lagged and surely taking naps in films.

Each year I also spot someone famous getting on my plane. One year I chatted with French superstar Jeanne Moreau. I had been involved in distributing a movie she directed, L’Adolescente. Another time, Michael Richards (Kramer on Seinfeld) was nervous about the trip. It was his first time in France, and he was appearing at the premiere of the movie Unstrung Heroes. He was a nervous wreck. He couldn’t figure out how to use the pay phones and was scared by security and certain he would never find his way to the right gate at De Gaulle (a reasonable worry). I befriended him and showed the way.

This year, as the long line waited to board the flight, Snakes on a Plane star Samuel L. Jackson was escorted to the front of the line. A member of the Cannes jury, he had a hat pulled down so he’d only be half-recognized. Someone in the line called out, "I’ll see you in Cannes," to make sure we all knew where they were both headed.

Arriving a day early has its benefits. The crowds haven’t assembled. One can take care of accreditation and press orientation and study the various program books. A press screening of The Da Vinci Code was the only scheduled event. I had already seen it and instead chose to have dinner with friends.

On the first day of the festival I saw three films, all of them official selections caught at press screenings. A good way to start off the morning was with something not too demanding: Paris Je T’Aime is a collection of 20 five-minute films by an eclectic group of international directors — including Gus Van Sant, the Coen Brothers, Walter Salles, Alfonso Cuar??n, Alexander Payne, Gurinder Chadha, Tom Tykwer, and Wes Craven — guiding a superstar cast that ranges from Natalie Portman to Gena Rowlands, Sergio Castellitto to Fanny Ardant. (Ben Gazzara, Juliette Binoche, Steve Buscemi, and Bob Hoskins are also featured.) Each piece is about love in Paris. They are like simple short stories; the best ones aren’t overly ambitious.

Next up was a film from Paraguay, Hamaca Paraguaya. At only 78 minutes, it was still not the kind of movie to see when jet-lagged. When the lights went up, I asked my neighbor, author Phillip Lopate, if I’d snored. He said I was a very considerate napper and wanted to know how he had done. Just fine, I guess, as he didn’t wake me up. I have no doubt it will be hailed as a work of art by someone.

Much better was Summer Palace, the first competition film. Director Lou Ye (Suzhou River, Purple Butterfly) has constructed a complex story of relationships, starting in 1989 China. A student leaves her small town and boyfriend to attend university in Beijing. She discovers both friendship and sex, with the pleasures and confusion they can bring. We journey through the political changes in China and Germany (where some of the characters go) over the next 15 years as the group of friends separate and rejoin. The result is often powerful, vibrant, and involving. The film overstays its welcome at 140 minutes; some careful editing will help make it even better.

Summer Palace is the only Asian film in the competition, and it arrives amid controversy. The Chinese government has complained that the producers didn’t get censorship approval and have broken the law by submitting it to Cannes. But the filmmakers claimed they didn’t submit it to Cannes — it must have been the sales agent in France. This won’t be the first time Chinese censorship has garnered attention here. The highest-profile case was with Zhang Yimou’s 1994 To Live.
My favorite overheard comment to date: Sitting in front of a sandwich stand, a young British woman told her companion that film sales have been tough and that the DVD market has slowed to practically nothing — "We are looking for video on demand, computer downloading," she said. "Anything where people don’t have to leave their homes." (Gary Meyer)

Multi-angle magic


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

If you have any doubts about the imagination’s ability to transform time and space, you can find proof positive by going to the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts this weekend. Thanks to Margaret Jenkins’s new A Slipping Glimpse, the YBCA’s Forum that ugly box of a multipurpose theater has been changed into a place of magic reality. Jenkins’s 75-minute piece (plus a 10-minute prologue performed outdoors) is a rapturous celebration of fragility and resilience, a canticle of what it means to be alive. And yet how ironic: This is a work whose fierce physicality is as ephemeral as a gust of wind or the felt presence of something that may not be there.

Jenkins has been choreographing and collaborating for more than 30 years. She has always chosen carefully, but rarely has a piece of hers emerged so completely from its mold. It helps that she has worked with three of her collaborators poet Michael Palmer, designer Alexander V. Nichols, and composer Paul Dresher for a very long time. Still, Slipping shows a remarkable congruence of spirits and style.

Major credit has to go to Nichols’s brilliant design of red-hued, multilevel platforms and elevated walkways positioned between four wedges of seating areas. The effect is of a theater in the round with a nondirectional performance space, where perspectives are shaped by where you sit. The musicians are placed on opposing balconies above everyone else. Dresher’s score is full of rich textures, sometimes percussive, sometimes ballad-like, with a quasi rock beat now and then, plus Joan Jeanrenaud’s cello soaring like a lark. While not offering much of a rhythmic base, the music provides its own commentary and often envelops the dancers in a multi-colored sonic mist.

Poet Michael Palmer’s suggestive texts, read on tape, give just enough of a grounding to set signposts for Slipping‘s four sections. First, he suggests oppositions to be considered; later he evokes a group of dancers’ dreams about sailing on a frozen lake.

Slipping is the result of a partnering between the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company and the Tanusree Shankar Dance Company from Kolkata, India, where the Jenkins company had a residency in 2005. Choreographer Shankar also worked with Jenkins’s company in San Francisco. The resulting work is performed by 15 dancers, including four from India. At times the two groups intermingle, but the Indian dancers also perform by themselves. It is gorgeous to observe how the Americans and the Indians so differently trained despite the fact that both perform in contemporary styles move from a common base. The details of the gestural vocabulary and use of levels, for instance, are varied, but similarities are striking and unforced.

Slipping opens with a tableau on one of Nichols’s red platforms. One by one the dancers find individual ways to lower themselves onto the equally red floor. In a traditional greeting gesture, they fold their hands in front of their faces, then open them as if peering into a mirror or a book. Then off they go, on communal, loping runs that move forward and also recoil back. Picking up gestures from each other, they pull and they yield. Twice, multi-level chains form and simply dissolve when lifted dancers cannot breach the space between the two groups; overhead horizontal lifts often freeze in time.

Jenkins also showcases her dancers individually. Heidi Schweiker, whom I have never seen dance better, roams the stage on her own while everyone else is busy on platforms. Melanie Elms burrows into a knot of bodies only to emerge on the other side. When the stage is packed with multiple activities, Ryan T. Smith runs around its periphery tying them all together. Levi Toney is all over the place, holding Schweiker and “dropping” her to the floor; he later partners a splendid new dancer, Matthew Holland, who has his own jaw-dropping solo.

Slipping recalls Jenkins mentor Merce Cunningham’s Ocean, particularly in the way the choreography is multi-focused. Even though the lighting cues provide some direction, audience members make their own choices about what to watch. At one point, my eye caught four dancers on one of the platforms as they deeply inhaled and exhaled toward their colleagues. Were they sending them energy or were these movements a coincidence? At another moment, the four Indian dancers appeared high above, posing as temple statues, as a vigorous male duet unfolded on the floor. Why then, why there? Right in front of me, a woman pulled away from another dancer who had reached out to her. Who else saw that gesture?

Slipping doesn’t have a linear trajectory, but its ebb and flow, the way hyperactivity balances stillness, suggest purpose and something like an underlying unity and maybe even order. SFBG

A Slipping Glimpse

Wed/24–Sat/27, 7 p.m.

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Forum

701 Mission, SF


(415) 978-ARTS


Schlock tease


› duncan@sfbg.com

"I must have been bit by a spider when I was very young," Country Teasers vocalist Ben Wallers drones on "Spiderman in the Flesh," the opening track to the band’s new album, The Empire Strikes Back (In the Red). "Because now I’m grown-up I spend five days a week going up the fucking wall." This wall makes a reprise midway through the tune, as the music ratchets up from a sleepy, two-step waltz to the fascist grandeur of Pink Floyd’s The Wall, with a lyrical nod toward "In the Flesh" from that psychodepressonervous breakdown rock opera: "Are there any queers in the theater tonight? Get ’em up against the wall!"

And thus, halfway through the first track, with a borrowed lyric "jacked from the sonic matrix," as Sonic Youth would say from a prog rock magnum opus, the Teasers arrive at the type of lowbrow social satire they’ve turned into high art. Well, high lowbrow art. They take a frail, empty stereotype and strap a rocket pack to its back. Of course it’s not going to survive, but it’s hilarious to see it zoom about the cosmos, flailing.

Take my personal favorite Teasers tune, "Black Change," from 1996’s epic Satan Is Real Again, or Feeling Good about Bad Thoughts (Crypt). In it, the narrator undergoes a transformation akin to John Howard Griffin’s in Black Like Me, "a black change operation." The results? "My dick went long, my hair went fuzzy … I traded in my white friends for pretty white ladies. My new black body drove them crazy." Ten years later, he’s got to go back to the surgeon to have the procedure reversed: "Too much trouble, from those envious white men…. My wife won’t touch me…. ‘Once you go black,’ she says, ‘you never go back.’"

In its hyperbole, "Black Change" is the quintessential Country Teasers song. It’s satire that’s offensive if you do get the joke. It’s up there with Jonathan Swift’s essay "A Modest Proposal," which suggested that the Irish eat their children to prevent the latter "from being a burden to their parents or country." Up there with Lou Reed’s "I Wanna Be Black,” a song that exposes racism, white guilt, and the white co-opting of black cultural idioms, but does so with lines like "I wanna be like Malcolm X, and cast a hex over President Kennedy’s tomb. And have a big prick, too." A song that makes Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher look like the teatime for pussies that it is. Either you get the satire and are loose enough to laugh at the stereotypes that are still imbedded in our culture, or you start getting that itchy feeling up under your collar, afraid that your good liberal friends the "clean white citizens" in "Black Change" might hear what you’re listening to, and shamefacedly pull the disc from the deck.

Like moralistic ’80s punks Crass, the Country Teasers make their statement, but they use humor to do it, as opposed to histrionic art-house punk screech. They too go for the jugular: They find your comfort zone and blissfully stomp all over it. Besides "Black Change," they’ve got songs called "Young Mums up for Sex," "Man v Cock," and "Country Fag." More recently, The Empire Strikes Back is likewise true to its title, dipping into geopolitical analysis vis-à-vis whether the world is currently more like the Death Star or Mos Eisley spaceport. Mix these lyrical fixations with the lo-fi schmaltz of Smog and all the early Drag City bands, the "we’ve got a fuzzbox and we’re not quite sure how to use it" of early Pussy Galore, and the straight-ahead rhythmic sensibilities of vintage Johnny Cash, and, well, to this humble music writer, what you get is fuckin’ genius.

Now don’t misunderstand me: I’m not saying they’re genius. Einstein was genius. Mozart, Walt Whitman, Jonas Salk, what have you. Fuckin’ genius is the guy who decided to package beef jerky and that dyed-orange cheese right next to each other in the same package. Just how do they get the cheese to be crumbly and greasy at the same time?

The Teasers gestalt reads like the opening line of a joke: OK, so a noise band, a drunk Scottish football team, and a boy named Sue walk into a bar … And when they walk into the Hemlock on Friday, May 26, all the way from Scotland, the land that invented whiskey, it’ll be much the same.

If you come expecting a noise band, you’re screwed. If you come expecting a country band, you’re screwed. If you come expecting stand-up comedy or social satire, you’re screwed. And if you come expecting a punk band, you’re screwed. Then again, the Country Teasers are noisy like vintage Honeymoon Killers; twangy in that same crooked-teeth, British Isles way that Billy Childish can be said to be twangy; bitingly satirical like mclusky; and definitely the punkest thing to come out of Scotland since the Rezillos. SFBG

Country Teasers with E-Zee Tiger and 16 Bitch Pileup

Fri/26, 9:30 p.m.

Hemlock Tavern

1131 Polk, SF


(415) 923-0923

Prep’s cool


› kimberly@sfbg.com

The unassuming men of Ral Partha Vogelbacher are a lot like those nondescript, quietly simmering step sitters of high school their noses buried in books of arcane geography, color theory, and Hapsburg history, mentally dancing along a thin pink and green line between fact and fantasy while their butts are parked in concrete, institutional reality. Imagine Ral Partha as a country and what its five-year plan might be. They might come up with harebrained projects like sending a million monkeys to Mars, or scoring a gig as the house band for The Colbert Report.

But what else would you expect when it comes to a band named after a Dungeons and Dragons figurine manufacturer and chief instigator Chad Bidwell’s eighth-grade friend-nemesis, a Pierre Vogelbacher who later got his, when his nose was sliced off by falling dishes?

Folded into a chair across from fellow songwriter, guitarist, and suitcase manipulator David Kesler and drummer Jason Gonzales, Bidwell looks like the kind of guy you might pass on the street and never think twice about, despite his soft, lingering aura of amiableness. Similarly, his Dolores Park apartment sports few distinguishing stylistic flourishes it’s more like a serviceable space to sleep in. And judging from his bandmates’ admiring comments "This band is basically about steering around an idiot savant, waiting for his next good idea, and in between trying to weather the lows," says Kesler and the songs on 2003’s Kite vs. Obelisk (Megalon) and his latest, third album, Shrill Falcons (Monotreme), Bidwell obviously spends a lot of quality time in his imagination, rather than on Dolores Street. Shrill Falcons glides away from the folkier lo-fi of Kites vs. Obelisk and ventures into a more expansive musical habitat of distortion, feedback, minimalist pop, and drone that cribs from Wire, Pere Ubu, Neu, and Slint without aping by the numbers. Toiling at Kesler’s "Frozen Skeletor Ice Castle Studio" in Oakland, the trio worked in the rich, gurgling, and bleating textures for which Kesler and Gonzales’s Thee More Shallows and contributing friend Odd Nosdam of Anticon are known. "We all collectively have a desire to make music that’s more aggressive," Kesler explains.

Composing most of the album’s tunes while traveling in China and casting aside his onetime writing preoccupation with old girlfriends, Bidwell lyrically burrowed into family, loss, and travel.

The album was first titled Scandinavian Preppy, to go with the initially bright sound and the pink and green flag that adorns Falcon‘s cover, but, Orlando, Fla., native Bidwell says, "I think it actually sounds more swampy and murky, like Florida. ‘Garden Assault’ is about growing up in Orlando, next to this park and this lake. Me and my friends would swim in the lake and sneak into the park and go into the fountain and steal quarters and go play video games."

The death of Bidwell’s father six years ago surfaces on songs like "Party after the Wake." In it, the patriarch roams his own funeral, until the family has him lie down, placing coins on his eyes. "It talks about seeing him at the viewing, his face all distorted, and I’m kind of probing his skin," says Bidwell with a bemused expression on his rubbery features, offering what might seem to be a painful life story with the puzzled distance of a perpetual observer.

Kesler first met Bidwell when the latter auditioned to be the drummer for Kesler’s pre-TMS band Shackleton. As Bidwell begins to tell the tale, Kesler pipes up, in the same way that they say they wrote songs for Falcons: "Can I edit this story? This is our relationship he gives me material, and then I edit it.

"Chad tried out," Kesler continues, "and he literally could not play a single beat. I looked over, and I thought this guy must be joking, and he was over there, totally placid, smiling." Bidwell gave a tape of his songs to the band, and Kesler was immediately impressed: "I still think Chad’s lyrics are the best I ever heard."

After Bidwell recorded one album, 2001’s The More Nice Fey Elven Gnomes (Megalon), Kesler and Gonzales began to back him up, making Kite with him. So when Falcons’ songs appeared to be going slowly, Kesler offered to give Bidwell a few of the "tons of musical ideas" he had lying around.

Sounds like the solitary confines of one’s own imagination have loosened up for Bidwell, a software programmer and exGeek Corps volunteer who began his Megalon label because, he owns, "I thought that it would make my, at that point, lonely, desperate life a little less lonely. More meaningful."

"You didn’t tell me that when you told me you wanted to put out the Thee More Shallows record!" jokes Kesler.

"I just realized it at this moment," Bidwell says, smiling. "We should have just hung out more or something." SFBG

Ral Partha Vogelbacher
with Thee More Shallows
and the Mall

Thurs/25, 9 p.m.

Bottom of the Hill

1233 17th St., SF


(415) 621-4455

His architect


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

“This is so stupid looking, it’s great!” the diminutive architect exclaims early on in Sketches of Frank Gehry, thrusting his hands in the air like a five-year-old, the exuberance of inspiration plastered all over a face so cheek-pinchingly cute and Tom Bosleyish you want to call him “Mr. G.” Gehry’s designs may indeed often be stupid (“Some of his buildings are extremely ugly,” notes one persnickety critic), but despite all the grotesque, garish fun houses of titanium and glass, his work also radiates a peculiar warmth and friendliness. Unlike, say, Freedom Tower overlord Daniel Libeskind, whose attempts at sentiment come off about as soft and subtle as the rigid rectangles of his horn-rim glasses, Gehry can be intimidating in scope yet warm and fuzzy in feeling. His shiny, unduutf8g surfaces at times seem downright … feminine.

That mix of abrupt showman’s flash and pacifying softness is probably what has made the Toronto-born, LA-based Gehry the world’s most famous and popular living architect. The 77-year-old celebrity magnet (Brad Pitt is obsessed) is so in demand, he’s even started designing jewelry. Yes, Frank Gehry is the People’s Architect, so it’s no surprise an admitted architecture novice has created the first filmic retrospective of his work.

Actually, Sydney Pollack probably knows more than he lets on he and Gehry have been close friends for decades, after all. Both men admitted to each other early in the friendship that they felt they were “faking it” in their respective careers. Gehry, however, is much more forthright about a professional rivalry between the two. “We’re in a different business, but I probably still compete with you,” he tells Pollack with a matter-of-fact chuckle. Pollack’s egomania, like his art, is much more demure: He asserts that the key to his success is finding a suitable niche within the confines of crass Hollywood commercialism. In other words, playing by the rules.

Clearly Gehry is the maverick (compare The Interpreter to the Vitra Furniture Museum, for instance). The relationship between the two men their professional jealousies, the push-pull of commerce in their respective muddied art forms, and how that tension has been realized in their work is probably the most interesting aspect of Sketches of Frank Gehry. Unfortunately, it’s barely explored, perhaps because the incessantly safe Pollack refuses to insert himself into the narrative in any meaningful way.

Instead, we’re subjected to various experts and other talking heads arguing the merits of Gehry’s work the impossible claptrap of “What is art?” and “What is good art?” If it weren’t for the obnoxious, self-congratulatory, bathrobe-and-snifter-sporting Julian Schnabel, there’d be no end to the self-serious babble. When asked about the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, Schnabel crudely snorts that it makes him want to “stick [his] stuff in there.”

Gehry’s sketches fluid, Matisse-like squiggles that stand in stark contrast to the imposing final products make for effective intertitles, but the montages of pretty buildings set to classical music become downright coma inducing after a while. Better are the passages featuring Gehry’s close friend and analyst of 35 years, Milton Wexler, and Gehry himself discussing his relationship with cuckolding first wife Berta. It was Berta who talked him into changing his name, and for many years he was so bereft he still introduced himself by saying, “I’m Frank Gehry. It used to be Goldberg.” (Gehry does, however, admit that anti-Semitism probably caused much of his initial struggle in the business.)

If Pollack really wanted to focus on Gehry’s artistic process, why not follow one project through from inception to completion rather than offer circumspect glimpses the titular sketches of Gehry’s work? Surely the filmmaker, although a documentary neophyte, understands that drama is the essence of nonfiction storytelling too? It’s hard to believe it took him a reported five years to cobble together this underwhelming footage. (Easier to believe: The stuffy Sketches was coproduced by New York PBS affiliate WNET.) Sketches of Frank Gehry isn’t necessarily a bad film it more or less meets the requisite documentary building codes. But no one is going to stop and marvel at its sheer audacity or be moved by its form. Perhaps next time the architect himself should design his own doc. He could call it Fully Realized Frank Gehry, and it would be unafraid to look stupid. And wouldn’t that be great. SFBG


Opens Fri/26

Embarcadero Center Cinema

1 Embarcadero Center, promenade level, SF

(415) 267-4893

Albany Twin

1115 Solano, Albany

(510) 843-3456

For showtimes, go to www.sfbg.com


Live through this


It would be a mistake to describe Clean as another entry in the already crowded field of movies about drug addicts. Yes, the film’s plot follows a familiar arc with serious bottoming out en route to recovery, and yes, the leading role — played by Maggie Cheung — is, typically, the kind of juicy part that allows an actress to stretch her chops to emotional and physical extremes. Clean does seem a rather conventional film for adventurous French director Olivier Assayas (Demonlover, Irma Vep), but its careful handling of a very specific phenomenon — the rock-star widow — distinguishes it from the usual portrait of the needle and the damage done.

Cheung’s frizzy-haired character, Emily Wang, is obviously meant as a Yoko Ono/Courtney Love refraction; one imagines she’d get along well with Blake in Last Days‘s alternate universe. Much maligned by the manager and fans of her fading-star boyfriend, Lee, for ruining his career, Emily begins Clean on the defensive. After the couple have a fight, Emily shoots heroin and falls asleep in her car; on returning, she finds Lee dead of an overdose. She spends six months in prison and then begins rediscovering life in fits and starts, mostly in Paris. Assayas tracks the difficulty such a character faces in accepting an everyday life with icy cinematography and listless camera work. Emily goes through it for the sake of her estranged son, who’s been raised by Lee’s hardened mother (Martha Henry) and forgiving father (sweet grizzly bear Nick Nolte). Redemption does come — mostly in the form of a Golden Gate landscape shot, actually — but it’s slow going.

Of course, there’s another fold to all this, namely that Assayas and Cheung collaborated on Irma Vep, married, separated, and only then worked together on Clean. Many commented on the way Irma Vep, which starred Cheung as herself in a fictionalized account of an aborted film, worked to demystify the actress. Clean seems to move in the opposite direction, with Assayas casting Cheung in a part tailored to consume her. Regardless of motive, it’s clear that Cheung’s acting and Assayas’s direction are formidable, matched forces, making for an on-screen tension not unlike the best of what von Sternberg and Dietrich could produce. (Max Goldberg)


Opens Fri/26

Lumiere Theatre

1572 California, SF

(415) 267-4893

Shattuck Cinemas

2230 Shattuck, Berk.

(510) 464-5980

See Rep Clock for showtimes


My crones sleep alone


› johnny@sfbg.com

Drop Marina (Marina Vochenko), one of the three main characters in Ilya Khrzhanovsky’s 4, into Eli Roth’s Hostel, and she’d be a Nameless Evil Whore, instead of a leather trench-coated weary Moscow hooker with a wryly crude sense of humor. It’s all a matter of perspective, and Roth’s even if lampooning American xenophobia is his excuse is boring.

Marina is the kind of woman whose night begins with an escape from a bed tangled with nude bodies, and ends with a trip to a desultory Edward Hopper’snightmare bar, where she trades bullshit stories with the only other customers, telling pretend cloning agent and real-life piano tuner Vladimir (Yuri Laguta) and phony KGB drone and real-life meat man Oleg (Konstantin Murzenko) that she works as an ad rep for a device that uses ions to make office workers think they’re happy.

If Marina’s next night began the same way, Khrzhanovsky’s movie would occupy a Russia not far from theatrical tradition, though a hell of a lot ruder and slapstick-happy than Chekhov’s. Screenwriter Vladimir Sorokin is notorious for pinpricking patriotic Soviets and gaseous political tyrants, and the Putins don’t escape his barroom monologues unscathed. But 4 sets its roving, raving sights on a societal vision far beyond if connected to some bleary-eyed urban rumination from the bottom of a vodka bottle. All it takes is one cell phone call informing Marina that her twin sister Zoya has died, and the previously stock-still or slowly creeping camera is soon accompanying her shoulder-side on a nightmarish train ride (another inversion of Roth’s Hostel, which 4 predates) and marathon walk through bombed-out, muddy industrial wastelands to Shutilovo. What awaits her there is home sour hell: a mondo bizarro village of raving boozy crones whose sole income stems from the creation of Hans Bellmerstyle dolls made up of "chewies" masticated chunks of moldy bread shaped like noses, dicks, and other body parts.

Turns out Marina’s sister died by choking on a chewy — a little fact we learn when Khrzhanovsky isn’t watching grannies sprint across the landscape to swig absinthe-green moonshine and wake up the few remaining youngsters for another round of graveside wailing. Marina happens to have two other sisters, also twins, which adds up to a foursome that backs up Vladimir’s supposed tall tales about whole towns populated by clones.

Motifs and metaphors run rampant through Sorokin’s screenplay, from its many animalist strains — dogs and pigs, bloody or ceramic — and its talk of a post-humanist Russia where cloning is an open secret, to its numerical obsession, which alternately affirms and subverts the titular figure, described as "the number the world rests on" by Vladimir. At times, this symbolism verges on overbearing, but Khrzhanovsky’s direction takes Sorokin’s playful written ideas into wholly bizarre visual realms. You could say these two are overjoyed to leap off the end of Russia together, and that the event takes place around the time that their heroine starts talking about using grenade launchers as a recreational drug or a psychiatric cure. SFBG


Open Fri/26

7 and 9:30 p.m. (also 2 and 4:30 p.m., Wed., Sat., and Sun.; no 7 p.m. show on Wed/31)

Roxie Film Center

3117 16th St., SF

(415) 863-1087



Cave in


› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER Pop styles of the oh-so-rich and silly!

Britney Spears nearly drops her infant son, baby in one hand, drink in the other, while angling through an NYC crowd! And so soon after being bitch-slapped by the paparazzi for misusing her infant car seat! Oops, she can’t do anything right!

Blaming "media intrusion" for his marital breakup, prenup-less Beatle Paul McCartney promises to hit the charts with the most costly divorce in Brit(pop) history at an estimated $188 to $376 million. Most referenced Beatles lyric: "Can’t buy me love"!

Gossip so slight it’s surreal comes and goes. What remains are the exclamation pointfree, consistently sinister talents of Nick Cave now back in form as the screenwriter of John Hillcoat’s bloody, lyrical Australian western, The Proposition. His red right hand extends to yet another film opening this week in the Bay Area, Olivier Assayas’s Clean, which features sometime Bad Seed James Johnston playing a simian-mugged ’80s rock star you rang? whose death by overdose leaves the addict mother of his child, Emily (Maggie Cheung), high and struggling to dry out.

Bathing in bloodshed and unflinchingly embracing the visceral, The Proposition immediately brought to mind the other recent movie by another rocker with punk, metal, and underground roots who hit a commercial peak in the early ’90s and found a temporary home in the arms of an Alternative Nation: The Devil’s Rejects, by Rob Zombie. The two movies might be seen as spiritual kin if not responses to each other and might even be read as thinly disguised metaphors for life on the road in a rock band: Cave’s bespattered, greasy, tangled-haired outback outlaws would blend in fine at Lollapalooza, while the do-you-want-to-stop-for-ice-cream-or-to-disbowel-passing-strangers repartee between Zombie’s killer hillbillies on the lam smells like a kind of sociopathic teen spirit, circa ’92. The fact that the Rejects the very title of the film sounds like a band name torture a C&W band reads as uncensored rock ’n’ roll ribaldry to me.

Cave, on the other hand, takes hellfire, carnage, and, once again, torture scenes seriously: His is a morality play, with a fatalistic acknowledgment of the way race and class operate in an Australian frontier injustice system. Likewise, rather than relying on crowd-pleasing rock akin to that in Rejects, Cave and Dirty Three violinist Warren Ellis unveil a shockingly restrained, elegiac, occasionally screeching score for The Proposition, now available on Mute.

Clean wasn’t written by Cave, but his dark yet redemptive residue is all over it. The main flaw in this otherwise graceful tale of a jet-set junk-bird’s descent, flight, then ascent is the fact that the finale falls flat: This movie is all about the hangers-on, the incidental characters orbiting an absent, dark hole of a star, so when Cheung finally takes the mic and dares to fill the void left by her dead lover, her performance should have hit some Marianne Faithfullesque lowlife high. Still, amid Assayas’s detailed, obvious pleasure depicting ex-wife Cheung floundering after her man’s passing, Cave look-alike Johnston gets in a few of the most memorable, candid lines in Clean when he tells Cheung that his latest album is simply mediocre, and while he may make better once again, he’ll settle for whatever he can get to put it out now.

Why Cave now? Perhaps the culture is finally ready for his plain, unpleasant truths; his horror stories; and his scary, survivor’s revisioning of reality. Dubbing him goth is too easy; calling him Johnny Cash’s black-suited successor, facile. He’s proof that one can go to hell and back.

Stealin’ and Gilman Is anyone beginning to feel like Jack White’s voice is a little like squeaky tires doing donuts on chalkboard? No? Excellent, because the Raconteurs, his current band with other mad Midwestern too-cool-for-schoolies, have put out a pretty swell rock record, digging into late-’70s to late-’80s sounds, be they Romantics-style new wave or AOR hair-band histrionics. And by gum, don’t they look like the Replacements in the above promo pic miming a much reproduced Let It Beera ’Mats photo? A tribute to off-the-cuff randomness? … The rock never quite stops Bay Area party starters Rock ’n’ Roll Adventure Kids are back, recording a new album and playing shows once again. This week’s is a doozy: 924 Gilman’s annual Punk Prom for students who can’t afford the high price of dull high schoolapproved entertainment. Costumes, dancing, and like-minded souls sounds like a rock ’n’ roll adventure worth crashing. SFBG


July 23, 8 p.m.

Warfield, 982 Market, SF.


(415) 775-7722

Punk Prom

Fri/26, 8 p.m.

924 Gilman, Berk.



Quit moping

Kultur Shock

Gypsy-inspired punk mixes it up with bilingual thrashers La Plebe. Wed/24, 9 p.m., Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., SF. $10. (415) 621-4455.

Tough and Lovely

Garage rock, ’60s soul, and girl group are all within groping distance. Thurs/25, 9:30 p.m., Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. $6. (415) 923-0923. Sat/27, Stork Club, 2330 Telegraph, Oakl. Call for time and price. (415) 444-6174.

Grind and Glory hip-hop conference

15- to 25-year-olds are invited to get down and throw their hands in the air at this DJ Project music conference with Dead Prez, Amp Live, and Jurassic 5’s Chali 2Na. Sat/27, 10 a.m.–5 p.m., 425 Market, SF. Free. www.grindandglory.com.


That’s Mr. Beast to you. Turge-rockers Earth open. Sat/27, 9 p.m., Fillmore, 1805 Geary, SF. $22.50. (415) 346-6000.


The band takes punk to the jagged cliffs where politics and art meet and dance a jig. Tues/30, 9 p.m., Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., SF. $8. (415) 621-4455. SFBG

Play it again


› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS I was sitting outside in the bathtub with a barbecued pork rib in one hand and a jar of wine in the other, watching the sun go down through apple blossoms and redwood branches when the thought occurred to me: If Albert Einstein, our smartest example of a human being, a cat so smart his name has come to mean smart, is capable of saying something as profoundly stupid as "God does not play dice," then might not the chicken farmer, the clown, the fool, the imbecile, one day, by accident, say something completely fucking wise?

Is that a Shakespearean thought?

I don’t know, but it’s a long sentence. To make up for it, here are a bunch of short ones:

Shirts are so anal.

It’s a beautiful day in hell.

There were other dreams.

Oh, great, now my house is haunted.

This is the part of the poem where punctuation does all the work.

Touch me, or I will cry.

Building blocks, broken pieces, shards of tinkling colors . . .

Thank you, thank you. The above poem is not a poem, or wasn’t intended to be. I randomly picked one of my several thousand little pocket memo books and randomly chose a handful of out-of-context scribblings of mine from seven random pages, in search of hidden wisdom. Not there. Not yet. I think it makes a decent accidental poem, but none of the thoughts, in and of themselves, I don’t think, are smart enough (or dumb enough) to do Einstein’s justice. I’ll keep looking, and I’ll keep filling up little notebooks, I promise but not on your time.

Al, you übereyebrowed genius you, you were all over your e‘s and mc‘s, but (a) god? And (b) even assuming god, god most certainly would play dice, dude. And did, according to Darwin. And cards, according to me, and basketball, I believe, until that thing with His ankle.

That’s it. I’m done studying physics, and even doner with metaphysics. I’m moving on to karaoke. Encore Karaoke Bar, to be exact, on California near Polk. It’s my new favorite restaurant, and it’s not even a restaurant! They just happened to have a table full of free, help-yourself chicken wings, Einstein, and meatballs and duck bones. Lasagna. Other stuff. I think it was someone’s birthday. Not mine.

I was all dolled up for dancing, because that’s what I thought I was doing last Saturday night. Now this. Earl Butter and me had already eaten even, at Memphis Minnie’s again. I can’t seem to stay away from that place all of a sudden. Reason being they make fried barbecued chicken wings now, just like me and Wayway only Minnie smokes hers first, then fries them, then serves them drenched in this special zingy sweet hot barbecue sauce that’s better than any of their tabletop sauces.

And they have sweet tea.

And afterwards we were supposed to meet up with Yo-Yo and Georgie Bundle and some of their friends and shake our booties or groove thangs or some such. Except they all decided to go to this karaoke bar first, and we agreed to meet them there.

I might have sang, or sung, an Elton John song, or two, except my mouth was too full of free chicken wings, free meatballs, and free duck bones, etc., the whole time we were there. Had we known, we wouldn’t have gone to Memphis Minnie’s first, and then the wings, at any rate, would have tasted a lot better than they did. But the ducks were great, and the lasagna had meat in it, and it sure was cheap eats, and the bar was great and there were lots of colorful people there, including drag queens, and some really good bad singers, and even some good good ones.

I meant to ask someone where all the food had come from. If I had, my reviewing it might actually make some sense. But that didn’t happen, and neither did dancing. Yo-Yo and Bundle and their friends sang their songs, got bored, and left.

Me and Earl ate too much, and left.

What do you think? I can give you the scoop on Memphis Minnie’s, but technically I already reviewed it, nine years ago when it was in the Mission. Now it’s on Haight Street, everybody knows, and the three-way taster is almost exactly twice what it cost then ($16.95). Is that bullshit?

I don’t know, but just in case … SFBG

Encore Karaoke Lounge

Daily, 6 p.m.–2 a.m.

1550 California, SF

(415) 775-0442

Full bar

Not quiet

Not wheelchair accessible

Counting tines



Marion Nestle’s hefty new book, What to Eat: An Aisle-by-Aisle Guide to Savvy Food Choices and Good Eating (North Point, $30), is on one level the successor to The Supermarket Epicure, Joanna Pruess’s 1988 book about managing to eat well with foods bought at places like Safeway. This was tricky enough 20 years ago, and as Nestle demonstrates, it has become more so.

In the past two decades, food companies have become even bigger and their marketing tactics even more sophisticated, which means, more or less, that when you step into a supermarket today, you are like a lab rat entering a maze in some elaborate experiment. You must have your wits about you if you hope to negotiate the maze to your advantage, and while Nestle’s book isn’t exactly a pocket-size guide, it can profitably be examined beforehand, so when you finally do set off to do the food shopping, you will have a pretty good idea of what you can expect to find in particular, how the marketing machine will attempt to manipulate you, and why.

In the largest sense, of course, the why isn’t difficult, for it is the job of food companies and supermarkets to sell you as much or as many of their most lucrative products as they can, and their most lucrative products are likely to be full of inexpensive, highly processed ingredients (i.e., corn syrup), bundled up in gaudy packaging, and not especially good for you surprise!

There isn’t much revelation in How to Eat, but Nestle is an attractively peppery writer, and she brings a good deal of lore about nutrition, marketing, agriculture, politics to her scrutiny of a routine chore too many of us think too little about. She repeatedly makes a point, too, that’s worth repeating: The true value of organic agriculture isn’t that it might result, here and there, in slightly higher levels of certain nutrients or even that it definitely reduces the presence of pesticides and other chemical dangers in the food we eat. What really matters, she writes, is that organics represent "a political choice. When you choose organics, you are voting with your fork for a planet with fewer pesticides, richer soil, and cleaner water supplies … for conservation of fuel resources and the economic viability of local communities, along with freshness and better taste." By Jove, I think the forks have it!

Paul Reidinger

Tea rex


› paulr@sfbg.com

Tea might be yang to coffee’s yin in the morning land of Caffeination Nation, but despite the presence, in yin as in yang, of humankind’s favorite stimulant, tea is surely one of the most soothing ingestables known to us. It is what you have a cup of when it’s raining, or you’re feeling blue or a little achy; as with chicken soup, its healing powers are legendary. The very picture of a cup of tea, wreathed by wisps of delicate steam, tends to set the mind at ease. And, of course, this isn’t just some gauzy, sentimental picture, since scientific investigation has found tea to be ample in the antioxidant compounds that help human beings resist disease.

It is beautifully appropriate, then, that we should find both chicken soup and a wealth of teas on the menu at Modern Tea, a gorgeous tea emporium and restaurant rather in the mold of the Castro’s Samovar Tea Lounge that opened recently in a gorgeous Hayes Valley space, of exposed brickwork, plate glass, and warm wood, that once housed Terra Brazilis. After that Brazili-Cal bistro closed, there was a brief and misplaced intermezzo of South Asian cooking under the name Tandoori Grill, but with the advent of Modern Tea, all is again as it should be: a distinctive and worthy endeavor in a strikingly stylish setting.

Not many changes have been made to that setting, except that the steam tables for the Indian buffet have been removed from the area in front of the elevated exhibition kitchen and the walls have been painted the color of green tea ice cream. The layout is the same, the taverna-style wood tables and chairs the same or, if not the same, so similar to their predecessors as to seem the same in memory. What has changed is the mood, the tempo; what was, not too many years ago, a bustling station of the night now has the slightly calmer, sunlit affect of a café, though a café that serves tea instead of coffee and is much better looking than its fellow cafés.

The animating spirit of Modern Tea belongs to Alice Cravens, whose pedigree as a teamonger is lofty. She has run the tea service for places like Chez Panisse, Delfina, and Zuni, and it is not surprising that, in opening her own place, she would adopt the ethos of those distinguished spots as her own, with an emphasis on sustainability, seasonality, and a certain earthy simplicity that manages to be consistent both with elegance and with tea. "We buy our ingredients direct from local farmers and businesses whenever possible," the bill of fare announces, "with preference towards organic and earth friendly farming methods."

I am a little surprised that there are no sandwiches on offer, even at lunch but perhaps this reflects a fierce determination to avoid any echo of English-high-tea, hotel-lobby cliché, such as cucumber sandwiches on white bread trimmed of its crusts. On the other hand, the soups are uniformly excellent, from the Tuscan-style chicken soup ($5.95 for a bowl at lunch, $6.50 at dinner) really almost a kind of minestrone, rich in carrots, onions, and chard, with shreds of chicken meat added to a gratifyingly thick "old style" French lentil soup ($5.95/$6.50), made with Puy lentils. (These are the terriers of the lentil family: They are small, gray green, and tough, though they turn a rich camel color when cooked and, if cooked long enough, become appealingly toothsome while producing an almost gravylike broth.) For sheer dietary virtue it would be hard to beat the quinoa chowder ($5.95/$6.50), which floats the pebbly Inca grain in vegetable broth with chunks of potato and, if you like, a sprinkling of feta cheese on top for a bit of salty sharpness.

Although the menu offers no sandwiches, bread is not completely absent. It turns up in an excellent strata ($8.25 at dinner), a savory pudding with goat cheese and roasted tomatoes, and in the lemon bread pudding ($4.50), a tiramisu-like layering (in an open-topped jar) of bread crumbs, whipped cream, and intense lemon custard. Other starches also appear, including rice noodles as the bed for a carrot and kale "coleslaw" ($8.25), leavened with hijiki seaweed and a sesame vinaigrette; this is one of the few Asian-influenced items on the mainly Euro-Cali menu. Potatoes turn up, in gratin form, as an accompaniment to chicken and sausage meatloaf ($11.75), three hefty slices of ground, herbed flesh, mixed with Italian chicken sausage and topped with streaks of a barbecuey sauce, that will do justice to the heartiest appetite.

A cautionary note on this last point: Modern Tea is probably not the place to go if you’re in the market for a heavy-duty, high-calorie dinner. Lightness and delicacy are central themes, and even the most substantial courses are meant to keep harmony with such fine teas as osmanthus silver needle ($5.25), a gently floral white leaf from China, or the barely richer sevan blend ($3.50), an Armenian herbal mix of chamomile, lemon balm, oregano, basil, bean core, hawthorne berry, linden fruit, and St.-John’s-wort. If you find you do need some last-minute ballast, an opportune choice is the chocolate sheet cake, a moist sponge cake sold in brownielike one-inch squares, dusted with powdered sugar, for $1 per. Goes well with yin or yang. SFBG

Modern Tea

Tues.–Fri., 11:30 a.m.–9 p.m.; Sat., 10:30 a.m.–9:30 p.m.; Sun., 10:30 a.m.–7 p.m.

602 Hayes, SF

(415) 626-5406


Beer and wine pending


Not noisy

Wheelchair accessible

{Empty title}


May 24-30


March 21-April 19

Every life has dominant themes, Aries. It’s sort of like how you can always identify a Guns N’ Roses song — they’ve got that sound. Your own dominant sound, or theme, or whatevs, will be playing itself out majorly, and we urge you to get grounded in the present so you can handle it creatively and hold on to your power.


April 20-May 20

Taurus, check your ego. Seriously. You need to be sure that your ego is your amigo. Make a little bumper sticker about it and slap it on your ass. The reason your ego is so crucial is that it’s a great week to be putting yourself out there, and we want it to be a success. Take care and you may even get laid.


May 21-June 21

Don’t let the vibrant, wonderful energy you have turn you into a scatterbrain, Gemini. It would be such a waste of beautiful potential. Harness your mind and brush away any details that do not serve the larger picture of what you want for yourself. Think big; the tiny stuff will fall into place once you understand your limits.


June 22-July 22

Cancer, you have Olympian potential, a tremendous capacity for achievement and growth. You’ll find that your greatest strengths emerge when you are emotionally checked-in, engaged with all your energy, and fabulously open to all that has cropped up in your sphere.


July 23-Aug. 22

It’s time to bump your game up to the next level, Leo. Are you ready? Like, really ready? If you’re going to take it to the next level, you’re going to have to leave behind things that are still unresolved. Sometimes we have to cut our losses and move on; this is one of those times.


Aug. 23-Sept. 22

Virgo, when your head turns into your worst enemy, we’ve got some suggestions. Stay focused on openness. Imagine doors swinging open, a big fat pretty flower blooming wide, whatever imagery floats your boat. Stay positive, and don’t isolate.


Sept. 23-Oct. 22

Damn, Libra, are the people around you freaking out or what? Well, at least it’s not you this time. It would be nice for you to show up for your friends, but make sure you’re balancing their needs with your own. You can be sort of codependent, and you need to lovingly challenge that.


Oct. 23-Nov. 21

Scorpio, the universe has given you a whopping gift. You are being presented with the opportunity to love yourself in the presence of someone you love! Whoa, that’s extra-double love! We at Double Team Psychic Dream love all things double. Be clear about what you need to keep the love flowing both ways.


Nov. 22-Dec. 21

It’s time for us to have that talk with you, Sag. You know, the love and sex talk. We think you’re old enough, and you should hear it from us and not on the street, or from a sex advice columnist. You need to figure out what you want from love and sex. Let yourself get mushy. This is the best way for you to spend your week.


Dec. 22-Jan. 19

Capricorn, you’re allowing yourself to get distracted. And by what? Details and anxiety! These little bastards are tripping you up, making it hard to stay present with the larger things manifesting in your life right now. There’s a few ways you could handle this, and we’ll suggest a classic: Go slowly and breathe.


Jan. 20-Feb. 18

It’s like a bunch of magical little fairies are buzzing around you, Aquarius, offering you baskets of fruit. And you love fruit. But this shit ain’t ripe yet. It’s sort of bumming you out. Feel your crummy feelings, but know that things will turn around by the end of the week.


Feb. 19-March 20

Pisces, we’ll tell you what you want to hear: It’s a great week to fall in love, your favorite activity. But it’s an even better week to invest in what you already love. Either way, your week is chock-full o’ luv, and we urge you to enjoy it. Put yourself in situations that support your emotions. SFBG


Award-winning writer Michelle Tea and intuitive counselor JessicaL lanyadoo have been fraternizing with fate for the past lucky seven years. Call Lanyadoo for an astrology or tarot reading at (415) 336-8354. Write to Double Team at lovedoubleteam@hotmail.com.

The NSA’s political fiction


› unsealtheevidence@techsploitation.com

TECHSPLOITATION Here’s what disturbs me: In light of recent revelations that the National Security Agency has been illegally collecting vast databases of information about every single phone call made in the United States since late 2001, only 53 percent of US citizens polled by Newsweek think the government has gone too far in its efforts to stop terrorism. That’s a majority, but not a very large one. And in the same poll, 41 percent said they thought spying on phone calls made to and from everyone in the country was necessary.

This arouses the same sinking feeling I got many years ago when I was a young graduate student at UC Berkeley, grading my very first set of papers. From that sample, and many others in subsequent courses, I learned that 70 percent of college students in an upper-division English course at a top university cannot construct a coherent argument using evidence taken from books they’ve read. That’s what convinced me that most people, even highly educated ones, go through their lives without ever examining the way rhetoric works, and the way evidence is used (or abused) in its service. These people weren’t stupid by any stretch of the imagination. They simply didn’t understand how narrative persuasion works, in the same way that many people who are smart nevertheless don’t understand how their car works.

And just as technical naïveté makes you vulnerable when your car breaks down on a deserted road, so too does narrative ignorance when your nation is breaking down right before your eyes. That such a paltry majority is convinced the government has gone too far with surveillance is a perfect example of this. The Bush administration has cited no evidence to justify snooping on innocent people’s telephone calls. In fact, government analysts have admitted that the reason they didn’t know about the impending Sept. 11 attacks had to do with poor foreign intelligence. You can’t remedy poor foreign intel with domestic spying on the telephone network. Nor do you strengthen your nation’s cohesiveness by allowing the government to break the law, gathering private information from corporations like AT&T, Verizon, and BellSouth without any court oversight, without any warrants.

Certainly the government can and will argue that certain interpretations of the USA-PATRIOT Act allow the NSA to snoop on my telephone calls in the name of national security. But where is the proof that it’s necessary to log my telephone calls? When my fundamental right to speak privately is violated in such an extreme manner, along with the rights of all my fellow US citizens, we deserve some hard facts to back up the claim that this unambiguously totalitarian strategy is for our own good.

Instead of evidence, however, we’re given incoherent emotional appeals. We’re told that the danger from terrorism is so great that the government should be allowed to do anything it likes including emuutf8g the blanket surveillance strategies of the now-defunct USSR. We’re told that civil liberties groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation can’t sue AT&T for handing over personal information to the government without a warrant because examining the evidence in a court of law would violate national security and endanger us all. But appeals to fear are not counterevidence. They do not bolster a logical argument. They simply add punch to what is nothing more than a fictional narrative about how monitoring electronic communications will somehow magically stop terrorism.

Cyberpunk author William Gibson has said that this disastrous episode in our nation’s history is about our struggle to deal with the scope of new technologies. Our vast telecommunications network, including cable, phones, and the Internet, has made it easier than ever for telecom companies to expose our private lives to authority figures with the power to punish us severely even kill us. What the NSA has done, Gibson argues, is the result of evolved but unregulated computer storage and search capacities that make it possible to record, search, and maintain archives of the whole nation’s telephone calls.

Certainly technical evolution has made it easier for the government to place us under surveillance without revealing it and without any oversight by the judicial system. But it’s not technology that’s stoppering the country’s outrage. That’s a problem as old as recorded communication itself. Most people cannot take apart a piece of rhetoric and tell you whether its component parts are facts and evidence or merely seductive fiction. SFBG

Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who can take apart and reassemble an argument in one minute flat.

Bimbo on the box


› andrea@altsexcolumn.com

Dear Andrea:

I recently bought my first “rabbit” vibrator from a nice feminist sex toy vendor’s clearance sale (honeysuckleshop.com), and I love it. (“My First Rabbit” sounds like a Judy Blume title, doesn’t it?) I had no idea how much I preferred the woman-friendly approach until I went to the nonfeminist Pleasure Place in DC to buy a dildo and couldn’t make myself buy a thing. Why does all the packaging on toys meant for my pleasure have to have a fake woman on it? Like that would turn me on?

Anyway, I protested with my wallet and didn’t buy anything. But I still need a dildo, so I thought I would ask you for recommendations. What qualities should I be looking for in my new friend?



Dear Disgo:

What, they didn’t have any of those boxes where a well-groomed MILF type holds the toy up to her neck or cheek with her eyes closed and her mouth dropped open in inexplicable ecstasy? I guess not those pics are generally found on “therapeutic massagers” and the like, not static space fillers like dildos or butt-plugs but I’ve always gotten a kick out of them.

OK, so what’s bugging you is the big-haired, big-boobed, bleached, shaved, and shiny-mouthed porn starlets on the dildo boxes, who are clearly there to attract a certain sort of male interest and purchasing power? I can sorta see your point, but then again, it’s OK with you if men buy dildos too, right? So it’s more a sort of “hostile atmosphere” problem, where you feel a little threatened by the aggressive sleaziness of the packaging? Despite my nearly irresistible urge to snap, “Butch it up, babe,” and leave it at that, it’s clear that a lot of women do mind sleazy marketing, hence the many, many jobs for many, many of my friends at many, many women-owned clean, well-lighted, nonporny places for sex toys over the years. If that’s the sort of atmosphere you prefer (and I get it, I really do I’m just yanking your chain) and you can’t find one in your area, just hop online and read up at one of the places (Toys in Babeland, Blowfish, or Good Vibrations) that have extensive descriptions, recommendations, and even in-house reviews of every product on the premises. Be prepared to spend some money (silicone outperforms latex and jelly rubber by nearly every measure, for instance, but if you want it you’re gonna pay). You don’t need to drop the bucks right out of the gate, though. Unless you’re positively set on a certain shape (Corn Goddess! Buck Rogers Ray Gun!) or know for a fact that the “Mr. Big Stuff” model is the one for you, consider buying some cheaper disposables and experimenting.

So far so good, but you’re still wondering why those bimbos are gasping fake-orgasmically all over the box for a toy you plan to use for your own special secret female purposes. Heck if I know. I do know people in the business, though, so I passed your question on to my friend the writer and anthologist Thomas Roche of skidroche.com, who currently edits Eros-Zine (www.eroszine.com) but has more than paid his dues flacking sex toys for the manufacturers of exactly the sort of goods you’re wondering about. Here’s his (typically crass and cranky, god love him) answer:

I have no idea what the people who design sex toy packaging are thinking, but I can take a wild guess. There are ten bazillion of these friggin’ products released every ten minutes. I suspect the packaging designers are given vast folders of digital clip art bought en masse from porno houses and have, like, fifteen minutes to design each package based on a small selection of templates that don’t change much.

I also suspect that the majority of people, when they go to buy a sex toy, are less concerned with the packaging than with the fact that they are buying a sex toy. People in the “alternative” sexuality market are fond of expressing outrage and bewilderment that the adult industry doesn’t cater more to the needs of whomever they think the companies aren’t catering to, but successful businesses tend to do things based on the bottom line, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Therefore, I can only assume that this packaging moves product. I don’t like it any better than anyone else does, and I have no idea who’s “supposed” to buy it, but they sure buy a lot of it.

Smaller manufacturers and boutique shops are much better about coming up with tasteful packaging (and also tend to offer higher quality product) but having been to so-called “boutiques” all over the country, I can say that most of those smaller shops stock the same tastelessly packaged dildos as the porn shops, though that is starting to change.



Thanks, Thomas, and good luck, Disgusted. Buy American!



Endorsements: The Greens


EDITORIAL We’ve long encouraged the California Green Party to focus its energy on local races, and in San Francisco, the Greens have had considerable success: Matt Gonzalez and then Ross Mirkarimi were elected supervisor as Greens (and Gonzalez made a hell of a run for mayor). Sarah Lipson and Mark Sanchez won school board seats. The idea of someone from the Green Party running citywide is no longer all that unusual, and if the party can continue to generate energy and enthusiasm over the next few years, it will become even more of a source of progressive leaders and provide competition to the Democrats who have controlled city politics for decades.

We focused in last week’s endorsements issue on a few contested Democratic primaries for state assembly and senate, but there are several Greens worthy of note who are challenging entrenched incumbents. Our Green primary endorsements:

For US Senate: Todd Chretien

Chretien is one of the most exciting Green Party candidates in the country. He’s trying to turn a nonrace into a referendum on war and abuse of power. This East Bay resident has spent years fighting for social justice, first as a socialist and then as a Green. He’s smart, passionate, eloquent, and right on the issues. He’s clearly not going to beat Dianne Feinstein, but if he gets any media attention, he’ll be able to raise some important issues.

For US Congress, District 8: Krissy Keefer

Keefer, a dancer and Guardian Goldie winner, has long been an active part of the city’s arts community. She’s always been political, and became an antigentrification activist during the dot-com boom. She has virtually no hope of beating incumbent Nancy Pelosi, and her platform is a little, well, abstract. But we’ve always liked Keefer and we appreciate her spirit in trying to hold Pelosi accountable.

For State Assembly, District 12: Barry Hermanson

Hermanson spent 25 years putting his ideals into action as the owner of a small employment agency, where he sought to raise pay rates for temporary workers. His strategy: reduce his own commission, and pay the temps more. He put a bunch of his own money into a successful citywide campaign to raise the minimum wage. If Janet Reilly wins the Democratic primary for this seat, most progressives in town will probably stick with her but if Sup. Fiona Ma comes out on top June 6, Hermanson could emerge as the only alternative. SFBG

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› tredmond@sfbg.com

Look: The Transbay Terminal project is all fucked up, about as bad as anything in city government could be, and a lot of people are at fault.

Supervisor Chris Daly isn’t one of them.

I say this because the No on Proposition C campaign has become little more than a personal attack on Daly, who authored the measure that would change the makeup of the Transbay Terminal authority. I’m not voting for Prop. C I don’t think it’s going to solve the problem but I do think Daly makes a very good case that change is needed, and I think he’s making a good faith effort to fix it. I mean, at least he’s doing something.

So why are there flyers and posters all around town attacking Daly and saying he is trying to “hold up” the Transbay Terminal project? Mark Mosher, who is running the No on D campaign, argues that Daly “should be held accountable” for his proposal, but that’s horseshit. The real reason, Mosher agrees, is that attacking Chris Daly wins votes in many parts of town.

It’s a sleazy way to run a campaign, and the mayor who is really behind all of this nonsense needs to put an end to it, now.

Onward: much, much ado at the Coalition of San Francisco Neighborhoods meeting May 16. The agenda for a group that has too often been under the sway of Joe O’Donoughue included a proposal to rescind the coalition’s endorsement of Prop. D, the badly flawed Laguna Honda measure.

Joe and his ally, former CSFN president Barbara Meskunas, had pushed for (and won) an early endorsement of the measure, which would use zoning rules to ban certain types of patients from the hospital. Somehow, though, the Yes on D presentation wasn’t entirely complete: Most CSFN members who initially voted to back the plan didn’t realize that it had potentially much more sweeping impacts, and could legalize private development on a lot of other city property.

As news about what Prop. D really meant began to get out, some coalition members demanded a new vote and after a month’s parliamentary delay, they got one.

The debate, I’m told, was lively: At one point, Tony Hall, whom the mayor appointed to head the Treasure Island Development Authority, accused Debra Walker, a longtime progressive, of being a "stooge for the mayor." Ultimately, though, the vote to rescind the endorsement won, 238, with Hall, Meskunas, and Newsom-appointed planning commissioner Michael Antonini in the minority.

Shortly afterward, the members voted on new officers, and a slate of candidates led by Meskunas was roundly defeated. At which point Meskunas stormed out of the room, later resigning from the organization.

"This was a battle for the soul of the coalition," Tony Kelly of the Potrero Boosters told me. "It’s been brewing for a while."

Yeah, it’s just one more San Francisco political group and one more internal battle, but it might mean a lot more. First of all, it shows that Hall and Antonini both, remember, Newsom appointees are coming on strong against the mayor, fueling the theory I keep hearing that Hall will challenge Newsom from the right in 2007 (and try to get his friend Matt Gonzalez, who also supports Prop. D, to mount a challenge from the left).

Gonzalez told me he hadn’t heard anything about that plan yet (and he found it quite odd), but (of course) he’s not ruling out another mayoral campaign. SFBG

From ANWR to SF


OPINION For more than a decade, the oil industry and environmentalists have fought over the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska.

At the same time, polarizing debate has raged in San Francisco over automobiles in Golden Gate Park, with the proposed car-free Saturday on JFK Drive as the latest iteration.

While ANWR is a long way from San Francisco, that fight has a lot in common with the debate over car-free Saturdays. Both the ANWR and car-free Saturday debates include an enormous expenditure of political capital to confront or defend a lifestyle based on unlimited use of personal cars. And while Gavin Newsom’s veto of car-free Saturday legislation tells us a lot about our ambitious mayor, it also gives us a lens into what he might be like as a future US Senator voting on ANWR drilling.

In ANWR, the debate is whether wilderness should be opened to drilling in order to wean the nation from foreign oil and to save American motorists from inconvenient gas price increases. In short, it is about accommodating a way of life centered on unlimited personal car use — instead of reducing our need for oil by switching to compact urbanism, mass transit, walking, and bicycling.

In Golden Gate Park, the debate centers on a way of life based on unfettered free parking and high-speed "cut-thru" streets like JFK Drive, versus a way of life that reduces car dependency and celebrates urbanism and nature at the same time. While the city and its mayor promote a green image, a small group of wealthy interests maintain that cars simply have to be a central part of our lives and a primary means of transportation, particularly in cities. Moreover, they envision the car-free Saturdays as a dangerous step toward other citywide proposals, such as reducing the space for cars on the streets to prioritize mass transit and bicycles, or perhaps restricting cars on Market Street. Those are the real stakes in this debate.

Like forbidding drilling in ANWR, restricting cars in parts of Golden Gate Park would symbolize a victory for a specific vision centered on reducing the role of automobiles in everyday life.

It is difficult to know how Gavin Newsom would vote on ANWR if he were elected to the US Senate — a position for which he is no doubt being groomed — upon the retirement of Sen. Dianne Feinstein. But in light of his veto of car-free Saturdays, it is worth pondering that with this veto Newsom reveals he could be persuaded to come down on the wrong side in one of America’s most controversial environmental debates, and support drilling in Alaska.

Imagine that 10 years from now, oil prices and global conflict over oil have intensified. A delusional motoring public in California demands relief from its senator (who as mayor did very little to truthfully address problems of automobile dependency in San Francisco). Republicans will be pointing at the offshore oil in California, and Newsom, a Democrat having just been elected to replace the retired Feinstein, will be challenged to provide relief. Would Newsom, out of desperation, support drilling in ANWR to avoid drilling in California?

Actions speak louder than words, and what Newsom has done this week is to set San Francisco up for another decade of automobile dependency without offering any viable alternative. SFBG

Jason Henderson

Jason Henderson is an assistant professor of geography at San Francisco State University.

Attack of the NIMBYs!


› marke@sfbg.com

A fairy tale: Once upon a time there was a stone-hearted ogre named Capt. Dennis Martel of the San Francisco Police Department’s Southern Station. The Ogre Martel either through manic moodiness, misguided morality, or perpetual constipation owing to the enchanted stick up his ass was determined not to let people party like it was 1999. Thus he began terrorizing the nearby Clubbers of SoMa, a benign race of ravers, burners, and freaks who desired nothing more than peace, unity, respect, and free bottled water near the dance floor.

The ogre was relentless. Soon, after-hours party permits were being pulled, club owners fined for "attracting loiterers," and gentle electronica fans in bunny suits hauled downtown for daring to reek of reefer. SF’s premillennial party scene was in grave danger of becoming extinct, until a brave group of party people banded together and formed the San Francisco Late Night Coalition. These fair Knights of the Twirl-Around Table dedicated themselves to political action, local petitioning, and raising community awareness about the harmlessness of all-night dancing. Slowly but surely, they won over the hearts and votes of the townspeople, making clubbing safe again for all and banishing the evil Ogre Martel to parking lot duty at the airport. The end.

Well, not quite. Once again, good-natured fun in the Bay seems to be under attack. Only this time the threat comes not from one rogue cop and his wonky "cleanup" attempts, but from several nervous Nellies among the citizenry. As Amanda Witherell details in this issue, many of the city’s most revered street fairs, festivals, and outdoor events are now threatened by, among other things, higher fees, lack of alcohol sales permits, and sudden, oddball "concerns." And the story doesn’t stop there. The Pac Heights ski jump, amplified music in public spaces, and car-free Saturdays in Golden Gate Park have all recently been nixed by our supposedly green-minded go-go-boy mayor and his minions, under pressure from crotchety party poopers. Well-established clubs like the DNA Lounge, the Eagle Tavern, and irony of ironies the Hush Hush Lounge have had to dance madly and expensively around sound complaints. A popular wet-jockstrap contest in the Tenderloin was raided last month by cops, not because of the (whoops) accidental nudity and simulated sex, but because it was … too loud. Huzzacuzzawha?

While money and politics are certainly involved, the one common denominator in all this anti-fun is the squeaky wheel, the neighborhood killjoy who screams "not in my backyard!" These irksome drudges, the NIMBYs, are strangling San Francisco’s native spirit of communal cheer and outrageousness. Big business and corrupt political interests hinge their arguments for more money and less mirth on the whining of one or two finger waggers, despite overwhelming community support for the events being targeted. As often occurs in life, a single complaint carries far more weight than a hundred commendations. A few whack cranks bust the bash.

At this point one wants to shriek, "Move back to Mountain View, spoilsports!" And that’s exactly the message of the San Francisco Party Party, the latest grassroots effort to combat what Party Party leader Ted Strawser calls "the rampant suburbanization of the most gloriously hedonistic city on earth." NIMBYs are hard to spot; they come in every class and color and don’t always sport the telltale Hummers and French manicures of the previous generation of wet blankets (although they do often smell like diapers). The changing demographics of the city suggest that many new residents, mostly condo owners, commute to out-of-town jobs in San Jose, say and may be trying to transform San Francisco into a bedroom community.

"I don’t know who these quasi prohibitionists think they are, but they don’t belong here, that’s for sure," Strawser says. "Street culture and community gatherings are the reason San Francisco exists. We live our happy lives on the sidewalks and in the bars. And it’s bad enough we have to quit drinking at 2 a.m. Now we have to be quiet, too?"

The San Francisco Bike Coalition, the newly formed Outdoor Events Coalition, and the still-active Late Night Coalition are out in fabulous force to combat the NIMBYs. But, realizing the diffuseness of the problem, the Party Party is taking a less directly political, more Web-savvy approach to fighting San Francisco’s gradual laming, using its site as a viral locus for disgruntled partyers, a portal linking directly to organizations combating NIMBYs, and a guide to local fun stuff happening each week. "We’re a bunch of partyers, what can I say?" Strawser says. "We’re doing our best to shed light on all this insane NIMBY stuff, but we also love to go out drinking. And that’s a commitment many folks can relate to."

Let’s hope we can win the fight again this time (tipsy or no). San Francisco is a progressive city, dedicated to the power of microgovernment and the ability to have your voice heard in your community. If you don’t like what’s happening next door, you should be able to do something about it. But it’s also a city of constant reinvention and liveliness, exploration and celebration. That’s the reason we all struggle so much to stay here. That’s what shapes our soul.

If some people can’t handle it well, the less the merrier, maybe. SFBG




Whole paycheck


› amanda@sfbg.com

On a Sunday afternoon, the Cala Foods at Stanyan and Haight is a dismal sight. Thrifty shoppers, beckoned by the 6070 percent off price tags walk out into the drizzle, empty-handed. The doors close permanently May 24, and there isn’t much left.

The owner of the building, Mark Brennan, plans to demolish the place, and is negotiating with Whole Foods the fast-growing organic food chain to build a new store on the site. Some Haight neighbors are looking forward to the organic option, but many are scowling about the potential for increased traffic in the foot-friendly hood and the fact that Whole Foods is known for high-end products with high-end prices. They refer to the store as "Whole Paycheck."

According to plans, the 28,000-square-foot store will be capped with 62 residential units, seven below market rate, and will sit on three levels of underground parking, tripling the current number of spaces. It will also be the westernmost Whole Foods location in the city, potentially drawing traffic eastward through the park.

"We talked briefly with Trader Joe’s and Rainbow Grocery, and sent a letter to Berkeley Bowl," Brennan told the Guardian. "Whole Foods is the only one willing to wait for development."

The construction is expected to take up to five years, so those in need of a local supermarket will be hard up for a while. "I’m very worried about the old ladies," said Spencer Cumbs, who’s worked at the Cala location for 11 years and often delivers groceries for the more infirm. "Where are they going to shop?" He tells them to visit him at the Cala on California and Hyde, where he’s been transferred, but that’s a long bus ride. There’s no other full-service supermarket in the area.

Like any chain store moving into a neighborhood, Whole Foods could hurt small local businesses, like Haight Street Market, an organic grocery started 25 years ago by Gus and Dmitri Vardakastanis and currently managed by the third generation of the family, Bobby Vardakastanis. "I don’t know if the neighborhood could support it," Bobby told us. "But we have a lot of loyal customers who don’t want to see us get hurt."

Fresh Organics, on the corner of Stanyan and Carl, is also optimally situated to take a hit. "This place rocks," said Erik Christoffersen, with his daughter strapped to his back and arms full of local produce. But he confesses he’d shop at Whole Foods too. "They don’t get meats and fish," he says of the local corner store. A recent Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council meeting on the future of the site drew some 80 residents. According to Calvin Welch, HANC’s housing and land use chair, the major concerns were that Whole Foods is too high-end and, he included, that "people would prefer a unionized grocery store like Cala."

The union issue is huge all over California, where unionized grocery stores are trying to compete against giant nonunion competitors like Wal-Mart. And the San Francisco supervisors are trying to give locals a degree of protection.

A new Grocery Worker’s Retention Ordinance, signed into law by Mayor Newsom on May 12, mandates a 90-day period of continued employment for grocery workers when retail stores larger than 15,000 square feet change hands. It would benefit workers at union stores, like Cala, that are replaced by nonunion retailers, like Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s.

Sup. Fiona Ma, who introduced the measure, was inspired by a meeting with employees facing potential job losses due to new ownership at three Albertson’s stores in the city, Bill Barnes, an aide to Ma, told us. An endorsement of her run for State Assembly from United Food and Commercial Workers Local 648, which advocated for the ordinance, was probably pretty inspiring as well.

Still, the bill comes too late to help the Cala workers. Employees at the Haight Ashbury store have been transferred to other locations, while ten workers trumped by their seniority have been laid off. SFBG

Shooting at the OCC


› gwschulz@sfbg.com

When the head of the city’s police union, Gary Delagnes, appeared before the San Francisco Police Commission May 10, he told a story based on his recent lunch with Boston’s former top cop, Kathleen O’Toole.

"We talked about the similarities between San Francisco and Boston and the similar problems that we have," Delagnes recounted. "Commissioner O’Toole said to me, ‘Gary, you have one problem, hopefully, I won’t ever have to worry about, and that’s the OCC.’”

She was referring to San Francisco’s Office of Citizen Complaints, the watchdog agency that accepts and investigates allegations of police misconduct. Delagnes and others in the 2,200-member San Francisco Police Officers Association rarely conceal their disdain for the OCC and have regularly attacked it in the past.

But OCC officials say the cop union will always have it in for them, simply because they’re good at what they do: holding officers accountable for their actions.

No news outlet in town started the year without at least one major story noting the slow pace of homicide investigations and the city’s persistently high murder rate. A series of stories published by the San Francisco Chronicle in February that were critical of the police department’s use of force against civilians led to citywide calls for reform. And a satirical video made by an officer late last year that appeared, at the very least, latently racist and homophobic drew the wrath of the mayor.

Despite the department’s troubles, however, Delagnes seems interested in attacking the OCC for reminding residents that they have the right to report bad police behavior.

In a letter to the commission written May 10, Delagnes claimed the agency had "apparently been soliciting certain members of the community to file complaints against San Francisco police officers." Setting his sights on the OCC’s lead prosecutor, Susan Leff, he fumed that her "outreach" had called into question her ability to conduct an objective analysis of any personnel matter involving San Francisco police officers."

"We find such behavior on the part of the attorney responsible for prosecuting police officers in this city reprehensible if not downright scandalous," Delagnes wrote.

Attached to the letter was an e-mail from Leff that Delagnes claimed proves his charges. The message, sent out late last September, was a response from Leff to a community member inquiring about what could be done to address an unidentified incident involving alleged infractions by a group of officers.

"I am very concerned about taking a complaint as soon as possible, so that the witness’ memories of what they saw do not begin to fade," Leff wrote in the e-mail. "You or anyone else could file an anonymous complaint so we could start investigating."

There doesn’t appear to be anything illegal about this, and OCC Director Kevin Allen argued as much in a letter to the commission the very next day. But the POA has never liked anonymous complaints, and in his letter, Delagnes demanded that Leff be placed on leave until the city attorney and police commission conduct a full investigation.

"I don’t think there’s going to be an investigation," Allen later told the Guardian. "I don’t think the city attorney works for Mr. Delagnes." Asked whether Leff would be placed on leave, Allen responded, "Please. This agency supports Susan Leff, and she will continue as our litigator."

Allen stated in his response letter to the commission that Leff’s effectiveness at doing what the OCC was formed to do had made her a target "for those POA members who believe that no officer no matter how egregious his or her misconduct should be disciplined."

"The POA has long engaged in these thug-like tactics to undermine and intimidate the OCC," Allen’s letter reads. "I have personally been subject to their attacks, as have members of the Police Commission. I will not tolerate these attacks on OCC employees."

The commission essentially agreed, because a week later it appeared to reject the complaint and chided the POA for leveling a personal charge at Leff and the OCC in the first place. The City Attorney’s Office told us that so far, no city officials have requested an investigation.

With police officers experiencing so much uncomfortable scrutiny right now, the timing of Delagnes’s letter looks terribly convenient.

Partly as a response to the Chronicle stories and a resulting vow to "run roughshod" over the department made by Mayor Newsom, the police department recently began drafting a new Early Intervention System designed to identify disturbing patterns of police misconduct among problem officers. Early last month, the OCC noted "several glaring weaknesses" in the department’s current EIS draft.

Publicly, the POA insists the group is not opposed to the idea of civilian oversight. But comparing San Francisco’s cop-watch agency to other such offices around the country, POA spokesman Steve Johnson told us in a phone interview, "I know no other agency that has as much power as they do."

"There’s a real problem with the process itself," he complained.

Further, just as Delagnes submitted his letter to the commission, the POA was buoyed by a San Francisco judge’s ruling, handed down in early May, in a lawsuit filed by four police officers against the OCC. The OCC had charged the four officers with wrongdoing after a suspect was shot and killed during a May 2004 car chase. The court tossed the charges against the officers, citing an administrative mistake on the part of the OCC. But the judge made clear that the OCC could still file new charges against the four cops.

In the wake of the decision, Johnson told us that the POA was looking to discuss changes to OCC procedure during an upcoming law enforcement summit organized by former police chief Tony Ribera and former mayor Frank Jordan scheduled to be held at the University of San Francisco.

Formed as the result of a ballot measure passed by voters in 1983, the OCC is one of the few citizen-review entities in the United States with the power to subpoena officers. But otherwise, it simply investigates complaints and determines whether to sustain them. Only the chief of police and the police commission can file actual charges or exact disciplinary measures against officers.

Anonymous complaints, which the POA has long decried, cannot be sustained without additional evidence. And under the state’s Peace Officers Bill of Rights, details of complaints and investigations are not publicly accessible unless they make it all the way to the police commission. Between January and September of last year, 55 cases were sustained, but the OCC has hundreds of pending cases.

Up to three years before the Chron stories, the Northern California Chapter of the ACLU, the City Controller’s Office, the Guardian, and the OCC had called on the police department to implement new best practices policies instituted in other cities. But the department reacted slowly, at least until victims of police brutality began appearing in broad snapshots across the pages of the city’s largest daily newspaper for several days in a row.

OCC director Allen maintains that Delagnes and the POA were too eager to protest the agency.

"It concerns me that the POA didn’t act in a diligent manner to find all the facts," he told us. "They acted a little impulsively." SFBG