Volume 40 Number 42

July 19 – July 25, 2006

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Don’t move the mayoral elections


The Board of Supervisors is slated to vote July 25th on a plan that’s attracted little press attention, but could have a profound impact on San Francisco politics. Sup. Jake McGoldrick has proposed a charter amendment that would move mayoral elections to coincide with presidential elections. The idea, McGoldrick says, is to increase turnout: In 2004, when John Kerry was running against George W. Bush, more than 70 percent of San Franciscans voted. When Matt Gonzalez ran against Gavin Newsom for mayor in 2003, only 55 percent showed up at the polls.

It sounds good, and generally, we’re for anything that increases voter turnout. But there are some real tricky questions about this proposal, and there hasn’t been enough public discussion around it. So the supervisors should vote against placing it on this fall’s ballot.

Our main concern with the plan is that it might diminish local interest in the mayoral contest. When the presidential race is at the top of the ticket, and likely a U.S. Senate race at the same time, the news media tends to focus on those campaigns, and the public’s attention is focused on them, too. The advantage of having a San Francisco mayor’s race in what is otherwise an off-year for elections is that all the energy in local politics centers on a high-stakes local campaign (The district attorney’s race is also on the ballot, and that might totally get lost in the presidential-year madness).

Some critics oppose the plan because, in practice, it would give the next mayor – at this point, probably Gavin Newsom – an additional year in office. That shouldn’t be an issue, really: This is about more than one mayor, and more than one year. It’s about the future of politics in the city.

It shouldn’t be about the Democratic Party, either. Some people worry that party money – always big in a presidential year – will flow to the anointed Democratic mayoral candidate, drowning out the voices of (say) a Green candidate, or a democrat who didn’t get the party’s nod. Maybe – but maybe all the money will go to the top of the ticket, and there will be less local cash spent on the San Francisco mayor’s race. And the power of the Democratic Party in a presidential year didn’t stop Ross Mirkarimi – a green – from getting elected supervisor from District Five in 2004.

Both supporters and opponents of the plan are trying to calculate how it would help or hurt progressive candidates, but there’s another factor here. Mayoral races are about more than just winning. The 1999 campaign, in which Tom Ammiano lost to Willie Brown, was a turning point in progressive politics in San Francisco. The runoff between Gavin Newsom and Matt Gonzalez in 2003 created an immense outpouring of community activism and brought thousands of new people into local politics. In a presidential year, some of that excitement – which is, in the end, crucial to any progressive movement – might have been diffused.

We don’t see any clear mandate or case for making the change right now, and we see some serious downsides. After extensive hearings and public debate, we might be convinced that this is a good idea, but that hasn’t happened yet. So for now, we urge the supervisors not to place it on the November ballot.

Don’t move the mayoral elections


The Board of Supervisors is slated to vote July 25th on a plan that’s attracted little press attention, but could have a profound impact on San Francisco politics. Sup. Jake McGoldrick has proposed a charter amendment that would move mayoral elections to coincide with presidential elections. The idea, McGoldrick says, is to increase turnout: In 2004, when John Kerry was running against George W. Bush, more than 70 percent of San Franciscans voted. When Matt Gonzalez ran against Gavin Newsom for mayor in 2003, only 55 percent showed up at the polls.

It sounds good, and generally, we’re for anything that increases voter turnout. But there are some real tricky questions about this proposal, and there hasn’t been enough public discussion around it. So the supervisors should vote against placing it on this fall’s ballot.

Our main concern with the plan is that it might diminish local interest in the mayoral contest. When the presidential race is at the top of the ticket, and likely a U.S. Senate race at the same time, the news media tends to focus on those campaigns, and the public’s attention is focused on them, too. The advantage of having a San Francisco mayor’s race in what is otherwise an off-year for elections is that all the energy in local politics centers on a high-stakes local campaign (The district attorney’s race is also on the ballot, and that might totally get lost in the presidential-year madness).

Some critics oppose the plan because, in practice, it would give the next mayor – at this point, probably Gavin Newsom – an additional year in office. That shouldn’t be an issue, really: This is about more than one mayor, and more than one year. It’s about the future of politics in the city.

It shouldn’t be about the Democratic Party, either. Some people worry that party money – always big in a presidential year – will flow to the anointed Democratic mayoral candidate, drowning out the voices of (say) a Green candidate, or a democrat who didn’t get the party’s nod. Maybe – but maybe all the money will go to the top of the ticket, and there will be less local cash spent on the San Francisco mayor’s race. And the power of the Democratic Party in a presidential year didn’t stop Ross Mirkarimi – a green – from getting elected supervisor from District Five in 2004.

Both supporters and opponents of the plan are trying to calculate how it would help or hurt progressive candidates, but there’s another factor here. Mayoral races are about more than just winning. The 1999 campaign, in which Tom Ammiano lost to Willie Brown, was a turning point in progressive politics in San Francisco. The runoff between Gavin Newsom and Matt Gonzalez in 2003 created an immense outpouring of community activism and brought thousands of new people into local politics. In a presidential year, some of that excitement – which is, in the end, crucial to any progressive movement – might have been diffused.

We don’t see any clear mandate or case for making the change right now, and we see some serious downsides. After extensive hearings and public debate, we might be convinced that this is a good idea, but that hasn’t happened yet. So for now, we urge the supervisors not to place it on the November ballot.




visual art

As more artists become curators and more curators fancy themselves artists, the thematic scope of group exhibitions is becoming increasingly obscure. Artist Chris Pew – organizer of this small group show featuring work by Deedee Cheriel, Jeff Eisenberg, Amanda Lynch, Keli Reule, and Casey Jex Smith – may have hit on yet another way to conceive and organize a show. Spend a little time around the paintings and illustrations at Receiver Gallery and you get the sense that Pew put them together based on artistic intuition rather than some overwrought conceptual framework. (Katie Kurtz)

Through July 29.
Mon.-Sat., 11 a.m.-6 p.m. and by appt.
Receiver Gallery
1415 Valencia, SF
(415) 550-RCVR


Eugene Mirman

There’s no business like show business, where Ethel Merman is gone, Yakov Smirnoff is freeze-dried in Branson, and Eugene Mirman is alive and joking all over the place. When he isn’t using his Web site to be a better Dear Abby than Dear Abby’s replacement – who seems to think a man choking and strangling a woman ain’t no big thang – Mirman is taking his show on the road. (Johnny Ray Huston)

With Michael Showalter
9 p.m.
628 Divisadero, SF
(415) 771-1421





John Bolton
Listen to the US Ambassador to the United Nations, who has been building support for identifying Iran as a rogue state. (Deborah Giattina)

Check-in, 11 a.m.; program, noon
California Ballroom, Westin St. Francis
335 Powell, SF
$30 ($75 for premium seating), $15 for members ($60 for premium seating)



Imagine if the Monkees or Sonny and Cher were true subversives rather than sedatives and you have a glimmer of Os Mutantes’ initial censor-baiting carnival-esque presence on Brazilian TV shows such as The Small World of Ronnie Von. If fellow tropicalistas Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil were the Bahians with bossa nova roots, then Sérgio Dias Baptista, his brother Arnaldo, and Arnaldo’s girlfriend Rita Lee Jones – a vocalist known for her spontaneous raids of network costume wardrobes – were the Tropicália movement’s outrageous São Paulo-based rock ’n’ roll wing. (Johnny Ray Huston)

With Brightback Morning Light
9 p.m.
1805 Geary, SF
(415) 346-4000





Progressive Dems potluck

Come to the second annual Progressive Democrats-East Bay Picnic and Politics Barbecue and meet current and new members. Bring something to grill and something to share. (Deborah Giattina)

Noon-4 p.m.
Codornices Park
Near intersection of Euclid and Eunice, Berk.
(510) 636-4149


SF Theater Festival

They say that three’s a charm, and we’re betting that the third annual San Francisco Theater Festival in Yerba Buena Gardens will be just as charming, not to mention action packed, as its predecessors were. Prepare to be amazed by the sheer audacity of a festival showcasing 70 performances by 36 theater companies, 14 solo performers, 10 improv groups, and 10 children’s theater productions, on 10 stages in just six hours. (Nicole Gluckstern)

11 a.m.-5 p.m.
Yerba Buena Gardens, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and Zeum Theater
Third and Mission; Fourth and Howard, SF
(415) 291-8655





Raconteurs and Kelley Stoltz

Midwestern rock supergroupies meet the Detroit native-SF vinyl diehard (who was pals with Brendan Benson back in the day). (Kimberly Chun)

Also Sun/23, 8 p.m.
982 Market, SF
(415) 775-7722



Whether you consider it the “doom of the powers” or “twilight of the gods,” Ragnarok is definitely Norse slang for the beginning of the end. It might be realistic to state that the United States and the world – what? the United States isn’t the world? – have already reached that point. Goldie winners the Shotgun Players are taking on a live outdoor interpretation of the epic tale. Previewing on the same weekend that Patrick Dooley and company are holding a fundraiser, Ragnarok allows you to donate to Shotgun and take in some free theater. (Johnny Ray Huston)

Noon (also Sun/23); through Sept. 10
John Hinkel Park
Southampton between San Diego Road and Somerset Place, Berk.
Free (with pass-the-hat donation after show)
(510) 841-6500






Hip-hop comes in many forms, one of the most interesting of which can be found in the music of Dabrye, a glitch-hop project by producer Tadd Mullinix. His dense, Prefuse 73-esque electro-glitch breaks are stunning, lending themselves neatly to surreal rhymes from his friends, who include the illustrious likes of MF Doom. On his new record, Two/Three (Ghostly International), his work has taken on a particularly dark, psychedelic undercurrent. The show will feature one of the best MCs from the record, Kadence. (Michael Harkin)

With Percee P and Mophono
10 p.m.
Bottom of the Hill
1233 17th St., SF
(415) 621-4455


Mr. Lif

A veteran conscious rapper from Boston, Definitive Jux artist Mr. Lif erases the negative hip-hop cloud hanging over that city since it spawned Benzino. Though he’s been laying it down since 2001, Lif’s profile has been considerably upped over the past couple of years as a member of the Perceptionists, an underground supergroup he formed with Akrobatik and DJ Fakts One. Now Lif brings his politically tinged, old-school crowd-rocking abilities back to town in support of his new Mo’ Mega (Def Jux). (Garrett Caples)

9 p.m.
333 11th St., SF
(415) 255-0333




visual art/event

“The Art Don’t Stop”

With the help of local businesses and random pedestrians, Todd Berman will be “democratically creating” a collage Thursday, using the future of Sixth Street as a theme. Backlit and hanging in the windows of host gallery DA Arts will be recent paintings of and by neighborhood restaurant employees such as Mo from Chico’s Pizza who did an amazing portrait of … uh, Joe from Chico’s Pizza. (Justin Juul)

5:30-8:30 p.m.
DA Arts
135 6th St., SF
Free pizza, music, and art
(415) 595-0337


Thievery Corporation

Listen to the lyrics of the last two original Thievery Corporation albums, and you might think they more closely resemble something out of the Free Speech Movement than Eighteenth Street Lounge. The opening track for last year’s The Cosmic Game (Eighteenth Street) begins, “Well let’s start by/ Making it clear/ Who is the enemy.” Don’t think this is some celebrity musician facade either; last September, Thievery Corporation’s Rob Garza and Eric Hilton performed at “Operation: Ceasefire,” a free concert-rally protesting the war in Iraq. (Kevin Lee)

9 p.m.
Concourse at SF Design Center
620 Seventh St., SF
(415) 421-TIXS

AMLO Presidente!


MEXICO CITY (July 19th) – The day before Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), the peppery Mexican left leader who insists he is the winner of the fraud-marred July 2nd election, summoned more than a million Mexicans to the great central Zocalo plaza to lay out plans for mass civil resistance to prevent right-winger Felipe Calderon from stealing the presidency, this reporter marched down from the neighboring Morelos state with a group of weather-beaten campesinos the color of the earth.

Saul Franco and his companeros farmed plots in the village of Anenecuilco, the hometown of revolutionary martyr Emiliano Zapata who gave his life to defend the community’s land from the big hacienda owners. “It is our obligation to fix this fraud and kick the rich out of power,” Saul explained. “If Zapata was still alive he would be with us today,” the 52 year-old farmer insisted, echoing the sentiment on the hand-lettered cardboard sign he carried.

But although Saul and his companions admired and supported Lopez Obrador, they were not so happy with AMLO’s party, the Party of the Democratic Revolution or PRD. “We had a PRD mayor and things went badly and we lost the next time around,” remembered Pedro, Saul’s cousin. Indeed, many PRD candidates are simply made-over members of the once-ruling (71 years) Institutional Revolutionary Party or PRI who have climbed on Lopez Obrador’s coattails to win public office. In 57% of all elections the PRD has won, the party has failed to win reelection.

Yet the farmers drew a clear distinction between AMLO’s “Party of the Aztec Sun” and Lopez Obrador himself. “Andres Manuel will never surrender. He is decided. He will never double-cross us or sell us out.” Saul was adamant.

It is that aura of dedication and combativeness and the belief that, in contrast with other leaders that have risen from the Mexican left, that AMLO cannot be bought or co-opted, that helped draw 1.1 million (police estimates) or 1.5 million (PRD estimates) Mexicans to the Zocalo, the political heart of the nation, July 16th.

The numbers of those in attendance – the line of march extended for 13 kilometers and moved continuously for five hours – are integral to AMLO’s notion that these are historic moments for Mexico. Only if this understanding is impressed upon the seven-judge electoral tribunal (TRIFE) that must decide who won the fiercely-contested July 2nd election will the panel order the opening of all 130,000 ballot boxes and allow a vote-by-vote recount.

Lopez Obrador is convinced that he has won the presidency of Mexico from his right-wing rival, Felipe Calderon of the National Action Party (PAN), who was awarded a severely critiqued 243,000-vote margin by the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) on the basis of what now appear to be manipulated computer tallies.

The July 16th outpouring may or may not have been the largest political demonstration in Mexican history. AMLO himself set the previous record back in April 2005, when he put 1.2 million citizens into the streets of Mexico City to protest efforts by President Vicente Fox, a PANista like Calderon, to exclude him from the ballot. But what is most important in this numbers game is not how many were turned out at each event but the exponential growth of the gatherings. Back in 2005, AMLO called a rally in the Zocalo that drew 325,000 supporters. Two weeks later, he tripled the size of the turnout, forcing Fox to drop his scheme to prevent Lopez Obrador from running for president.

Six days after the July 2nd election, AMLO summoned a half million to an “informative assembly” in the vast Tienanmen-Square-sized plaza, and once again, if the PRD figures are to be accepted, tripled participation last Sunday. He is now calling for a third “informative assembly” July 30th which, given the statistical trend, should settle the question of which is the largest mass demonstration in Mexican political history.

The PAN and its now-ex-candidate Calderon consider these enormous numbers to be “irrelevant.” That’s how PAN secretary Cesar Nava labeled them.

What AMLO’s enemies – Fox, Calderon, the PAN, the now dilapidated PRI, the Catholic Church, the Media, Mexico’s avaricious business class, and the Bushites in Washington – do not get yet is that every time they level a blow at the scrappy “Peje” (for Pejelagarto, a gar-like fish from the swamps of AMLO’s native Tabasco) his popularity grows by leaps and bounds. The perception that, despite the vicious attacks of his opponents, he will never sell out is Lopez Obrador’s strongest suit – and he is always at the peak of his game when leading massive street protests.

Two weeks after the election that Felipe Calderon continues to claim he won, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is the pivotal figure in Mexican politics, dominating public discourse and even the media, which has so brutally excoriated and excluded him for years. Meanwhile, the PANista spends his days accepting congratulations from the world’s most prominent right-wingers including George Bush, an electoral pickpocket who is popularly thought to have stolen the U.S. presidency in 2000 and 2004, and Bush’s Senate majority leader Bill Frist, in addition to Bush poodle Tony Blair and Spain’s former Francisco-Franco-clone prime minister Jose Maria Aznar.

Calderon also enjoys the approbation of such U.S. right-wingers as Fox News commentator Dick Morris (a campaign consultant), the Miami Herald’s decrepit Latin America “expert” Andres Oppenheimer, and Ginger Thompson, the Condoleezza Rice of The New York Times whose estimates of crowd sizes missed the mark by a million marchers July 16th. Virtually every radio and television outlet in Mexico has endorsed Calderon’s purported victory – Televisa, the largest communication conglomerate in Latin America, which dominates the Mexican dial, refused to provide live coverage of the July 16th rally, perhaps the largest political demonstration in the nation’s history.

Although Felipe Calderon has announced his intentions of touring Mexico to thank voters for his disputed “triumph,” insiders report that the PAN brain trust has strongly advised against it, fearing that such a tour could trigger violent confrontations with AMLO supporters.

At this point, 16 days after the election, it is difficult to imagine how Calderon could govern Mexico if the TRIFE denies a recount and accepts the IFE numbers. A Calderon presidency would inherit a country divided in half geographically between north and south. Both the PAN and the PRD won 16 states a piece although AMLO’s turf contains 54% of the population and most of Mexico’s 70 million poor – an angry majority that will refuse to accept the legitimacy of a Calderon presidency for the next six years. Faced with a similar situation after he stole the 1988 election from leftist Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, Carlos Salinas had to call out the army.

Lopez Obrador has encouraged his supporters to reinforce encampments outside the nation’s 300 electoral districts to prevent the IFE from tampering with ballot boxes while the judges sort through the 53,000 allegations of polling place violations filed by AMLO’s legal team. The PRD charges that the IFE has already violated 40% of the boxes in a ploy to match ballot totals to its highly dubious computer count. The leftist’s call for peaceful mass civil resistance is bound to keep this nation’s teeth on edge until a judicial determination is reached in respect to a recount. A new president must be designated by September 6th.

Although tensions are running high, the country has been remarkably violence free since July 2nd — but a decision by the tribunal to uphold the IFE results could well be the point of combustion. Even should a recount be ordered, the question of who will do the counting — given the vehement distrust of the Federal Electoral Institute by AMLO’s supporters — is a potential flashpoint for trouble. Historically, when the electoral option has been canceled as a means of social change by vote fraud, the armed option gains adherents in Mexico.

Despite AMLO’s talents at exciting mass resistance and the number of times he can fill the Zocalo to bursting, the only numbers that really count are those inside the nation’s 130,000 ballot boxes. Will the justices satisfy Lopez Obrador’s demand for a vote-by-vote recount? All seven judges are in their final year on the TRIFE bench and at least three members are candidates to move up to the Supreme Court in the next administration. In the past, the judges, who decide by majority opinion, have been quite independent of political pressures, ordering annulments and recounts in two gubernatorial elections and in whole electoral districts – but have never done so in a presidential election. Forcing that historical precedent is what Lopez Obrador’s call for mass mobilizations is all about.

If AMLO’s foes are counting on a long, drawn-out legal tussle that will discourage the faithful and eventually reduce his support to a handful of diehard losers, they have grievously miscalculated the energy and breadth of the leftist’s crusade to clean up the 2006 election. This past weekend, as this senior citizen trudged the highway down from Zapata country to the big city, two police officers lounging outside the highway tollbooths gently patted me on the back and urged me on. “Animo!” they encouraged, “keep up the spirit!”

When even the cops are in solidarity with Lopez Obrador’s fight for electoral justice, the writing is on the wall for Calderon and his right-wing confederates. Indeed, the wall of the old stone convent around the corner from my rooms here in the old quarter says it quite clearly: “AMLO PRESIDENTE!”

John Ross’s “Zapatistas! Making Another World Possible – Chronicles of Resistance 2000-2006” will be published by Nation Books this October.

High tide, low tide


› a&eletters@sfbg.com
Moving the WestWave Dance Festival (called Summerfest/dance until two years ago and now in its 15th year) to the Project Artaud Theater was a smart idea. Even though the cavernous former warehouse dwarfs some of the smaller companies using the space, Artaud lays out an altogether funky welcome mat, squeaky stairs included.
Due to philosophical and financial considerations, WestWave has always focused on up-and-coming choreographers. That means there’s an abundance of new work — at least half of the pieces in this year’s fest are world premieres — as well as a lot more duos, rather than pieces for six and more. On opening night two works exemplified the vitality of local dance: You and You and You by EmSpace Dance’s Erin Mei-Ling Stuart and RAWdance’s Drained. The two couldn’t have been more different. Both were terrific.
In Stuart’s piece, three dancers (Damara Ganley, Noel Plemmons, and Julie Sheetz) began very far apart but oozed toward each other like streams of lava. Voluptuous without being erotic, the dancers pressed themselves together, piled on top of each other, and rearranged limbs in order to find space for themselves. This was dancing about mass and weight but also softness and yielding. At the end Plemmons encased Sheetz so tightly that you couldn’t be sure whether he was strangling or embracing her.
RAWdance’s Wendy Rein and Ryan T. Smith are high-stakes gamblers. In Drained, performed with Dudley Flores and Laura Sharp, they threw themselves into a game of kamikaze dancing that was as exacting as it was freewheeling. They had at their disposal a defined number of moves and gestures for two men, two women, and two boxes. So how many permutations were possible? To find out, the dancers dove in at top speed. Drained may be a one-idea piece, but watching the choreography test the body’s limits with such skill and exuberance was great fun.
The rest of the program was more of a mixed bag. Poorly projected visuals undercut Fellow Travelers Performance Group’s spare and reticent Warning Signs (by Ken James, with Cynthia Adams). Still, the juxtaposition of the live dancers with their “talking” portraits was intriguing. In the wispy In Closing, Fresh Meat Productions’ Sean Dorsey (with Courtney Moreno) looked at the inevitable winding down of a relationship in which love and tenderness survive only as memories. Delicately weaving its components, the piece was a little thin but evoked the situation’s mix of tenderness and regret.
Cathleen McCarthy’s passionately danced quintet Driven to This started with a protracted but not uninteresting solo, though the piece quickly lost its way. It almost felt like the solo belonged somewhere else. Driven needs a backbone and pruning. The evening’s low point came when Kyoungil Ong (who runs quite a good Korean dance company, Ong Dance Company) performed her Flower Tears II. This was a derivative and shallow excursion into dance theater. Centered on a huge white paper gown from which legs or arms periodically emerged, the work was so overwrought and cliché that it bordered on self-parody.
On WestWave’s second night, four of the six pieces were by beginners. Showcasing truly inexperienced artists in a festival doesn’t do anybody a favor, not least the artists themselves. However, even this decidedly subpar program yielded one discovery. Alena Odrene Cawthorne’s delicious Face It embraced weight and phrasing for a vernal celebration of maidenhood in a way that has not been seen since the very early days of modern dance. The choreographer sent her quartet of elegant, pastel-clad dancers (Kathleen Franklin, Angela Pasalis, Susan Tobiason, and herself) into José Limón’s swooping circles, serpentine trajectories, wide pliés, and stretching arms — all without a trace of irony. It was hard to believe that this companionable bliss was for real. In stepped Pamela Wood, an older woman in African dress. She couldn’t believe it either. The dancers tried to “convert” her by drawing her in. She wasn’t having any of it. In the end, they simply danced around her. Bravo!
The program also featured Apryl Renee’s buffoonish Trope of Seuss, a rather miserable take on Green Eggs and Ham. Renee acted as the narrator and Susan Donham as the reluctant object of Charlotte Mayang’s manic nuturer. The same trio, joined by Kate Joyce, returned in the obscure Traveling Companions. Heavy on atmosphere but light on movement invention, the piece rather crudely explored the push and pull of a calling, based on the Book of Ruth.
The earnestness and focus of young Catalina Jackson in danceNAGANUMA’s Pallid Faeries were enchanting. Claudine Naganuma tried to portray four different versions of the mythic creatures as both youngsters and adults — but why? She had a concept; she needed to translate it into stageworthy choreography. Even less intriguing were Rebecca Wender’s Afterward and Amy Lewis’s Conversion, neither of which belonged in a program of professional dance. SFBG
July 27–30, 8 p.m.
Project Artaud Theater
450 Florida, SF
(415) 863-9834

Runway rundown


TV Based on the preview episode and the season debut, here is our handy racing form for the new season of Project Runway. Whether or not they rhymed fashion with passion in their video auditions, all the contestants better pray that Nina Garcia finds their work “aesthetically pleasing.” Michael Kors? He looks like he fell into a vat at Orange Julius.
Bradley Baumkirchner Whimsically flying below the radar: 8-1
Laura Bennett Megarich Manhattan mother-of-five with architectural experience and a possible unholy diva streak. Wendy Pepper with posh accent? 3-1
Robert Best Barbie specialist, therefore doomed to be this season’s Nick? Seems sharper, would never say, “Heck, yeah!” 3-1
Malan Breton Started out like Stephen from Top Chef but may prove to be so bizarre he’s charming. Could pull an upset or simply stick around for eccentricity’s sake. 5-1
Bonnie Dominguez Dissed Serena Williams. 15-1
Stacey Estrella SF resident and this season’s Marla. Scratched.
Katherine Gerdes Cute but out of her league. Could resuscitate Lindsey Jacobellis’s career, but skiwear ain’t dinnerwear. 25-1
Kayne Gillaspie Twangy pageant guy. Has he made JonBenet dresses? Naive and likable. 10-1
Uli Herzner Hideous nouveau–purple lady clothes you’d find in a Hayes Valley boutique five years ago. But will Ms. Klum take a shine to her? 40-1
Alison Kelly Too much blond hair dye could fry this Hostess Snowball’s brain, but she may stick around, if only to counteract the rather high queen quotient. 15-1
Angela Keslar Pro: likes Elvis. Con: très crunchy. 50-1
Michael Knight Drives talking car — just kidding. From the ATL. Another sweet naïf or a Chloe-style copycat? 30-1
Vincent Libretti A basket as a hat — this CC DeVille type is off to a roaring Rudi Gernreich start. 20-1
Keith Michael Handsome — until he opens his mouth. Jude Law look-alike and serious contender. 3-1
Jeffrey Sebelia Insufferable braggart with distracting neck tattoo; was humbled quick. 25-1 (Cheryl Eddy, Huston)

Blyth spirit


MOVIE STAR “You can tell that it’s cheap by the smell of the fabric!” Veda Pierce says, wrinkling her nose when her mother, Mildred, gives her a dress.
You can tell 1945’s Mildred Pierce is a classic film by the depth of its shadows. And you can tell that Ann Blyth — however Veda-rific and villainous — is the kind of class act Hollywood doesn’t make anymore, the no-nonsense type who doesn’t have an unkind word to say about anyone. Particularly when you ask about Joan Crawford.
“I can only speak from my own experience,” Blyth says. “She was terrific to work with and very kind to me. I was seriously injured shortly after finishing Mildred Pierce — I fractured my back. After eight or nine months, one of the first things I could do was swim, and she invited me to her pool.” Uh-oh — her pool? According to Blyth, it’s best to erase that I-will-always-beat-you Mommie Dearest swim scene from your head: “I think many people realize there were exaggerations [in the movie].”
So on to brighter subjects — such as the fact that Blyth, a grandmother and expert knitter who is still happily married after 53 years, never let the movies mess up her life. That’s an achievement, considering her formidable career, one built from a keep-it-simple approach to acting. “You listen to the person you’re playing opposite,” she says. “Then your own intuitive sense comes into play.”
In addition to Mildred Pierce’s Michael Curtiz, Blyth also worked with directors Raoul Walsh (“pretty freewheeling”) and Douglas Sirk (“a very introspective person”). Her talent as a songbird is on display in movies shared with “very special friend” and “delight” Donald O’Connor, and she held her own opposite leading men as varied as “dear” Farley Granger and Robert Mitchum, who had “shoulders that went on forever” but also “was very playful.”
Blyth’s own bright presence made a definite impression on Howard Hughes, who gave her a swimming pool and a Cadillac after a single conversation. Still, this week at least, all roads lead back to Veda. According to Blyth, her romantic scenes with fellow Mildred Pierce villain Zachary Scott were a pleasure because he exemplified the Norma Desmond line “We had faces!” Eve Arden? “She could say something wicked and not hurt anyone’s feelings.”
So how exactly did Blyth get that special twinkle in her eye? “You mean that devil look?” she asks with a laugh. “Working with Mike Curtiz helped…. Every scene to me was special, from the very beginning when [Veda] seems to be a spoiled brat, until the end, when she’s developed into a truly evil person. Thank goodness I don’t know anyone like that!”
Yes, Mildred Pierce contains noir corners that Todd Haynes and Sonic Youth would die for — and it has Joan. But even Joan would have one less classic in her filmography if it wasn’t for Blyth. As the woman herself says, without her performance “[Mildred Pierce] would just be about opening up a very successful drive-in.” (Johnny Ray Huston)
With Ann Blyth
Fri/21, gala and screening 7 p.m., reception 10:30 p.m.
Castro Theatre
429 Castro, SF
(415) 863-0611




Anarchy in Spain

Join AK Press for a celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Spanish Revolution, including a screening of Durruti, a short 1936 documentary made by the CNT trade union and talks by Lawrence Jarach, of Anarchy magazine, and Barry Pateman, editor of Chomsky on Anarchism, on different aspects of the revolution. (Deborah Giattina)

7 p.m.
AK Press Warehouse
674-A 23rd St., Oakl.
(510) 208-1700, www.akpress.org

“How to Impeach a President”

The first administration in history to admit to an impeachable offense – warrentless surveillance by the National Security Agency – seems to be unconcerned that most Americans do not want the man in the White House to stay there. Constitution Summer, the youth-<\h>oriented group behind Berkeley’s recent ballot initiative calling for impeachment, and Dr. Daniel Ellsberg, who called bullshit once before by releasing the Pentagon Papers in 1971, are giving them a reason to be concerned. Film screenings and teach-ins on the big “I” are happening in cities around the nation. (K. Tighe)

7 p.m.
Grand Lake Theater
3200 Grand, Oakl.
$10 donation requested,
no one turned away
(510) 816-0563

Burritos of the gods


› a&eletters@sfbg.com
SFBG So what inspires you?
MICHAEL SHOWALTER You do, you inspire me.
I think about you in the morning. I doodle little pictures of your face and think about you making me a burrito. Sometimes I doodle little pictures of you making me a burrito.
OK, so maybe that isn’t exactly how it goes. Although Showalter is a doodle enthusiast, he is only mildly turned on by baby-size burritos. Being the narcissistic Bay Area dweller that I am, I immediately ask Showalter, who’s on the phone from his home in New York City, about San Francisco.
“I like San Francisco. I like beat poetry. I like gay people…. I don’t like gay beat poets.”
So he doesn’t read Ginsberg?
“My favorite books are Everybody Poops and the Odyssey. They are actually very similar.”
Showalter is a smart guy. He’s one of those smart guys who scared the hell out of his parents by going into comedy. His dad, a Yale-educated French lit professor, and his mom, a literary critic, worried that their little brainiac (680 math, 620 verbal) was going down the wrong path. “It’s not like this is something you go to grad school for,” he says.
I remind him that his buddy Eugene Mirman did design his own comedy major and that he could have done the same.
“I would have designed a doodling major. My thesis would be on doodles.”
Instead, Showalter took the smart-guy route and studied semiotics at Brown. This is the mind fuck of all possible majors. Most people who spend their formative years steeped in the philosophy of language become literary theorists or filmmakers. People who spend this much time reading Umberto Eco and Roland Barthes take a long time to recover.
Showalter used sketch comedy as a catalyst for his recuperation. This might explain why his entire body of work is (a) fanatically devoured, quoted, and forever adored by viewers or (b) dismissed as ridiculous and forgotten promptly.
Personally, I can’t take anyone who didn’t like The State seriously, but Showalter takes it in stride. “I think people that don’t like it might not get it,” he says. “It’s metahumor — a lot of people aren’t into metahumor. A friend once told me that it is better to have nine people think your work is number one than a hundred think your work is number nine.”
After the Showalter- and David Wain–penned Wet Hot American Summer was released in 2001, some critics gave the boys a very hard time for the scene that involved someone slipping on a banana peel. “The joke was that we made a banana peel joke,” explains Showalter.
Still, one has to wonder, how the hell do these guys come up with this stuff? How does the absurdist sketch comedy show Stella get so far out there? Do Michael Ian Black, Wain, and Showalter just sit around a table bouncing ideas off each other?
“Yeah, exactly like that,” says Showalter. “It is that cliché situation with guys sitting in a room with a Nerf basketball. Only we don’t put it into the net. Ever.” All three members of Stella contribute equally to the creative process — “If we all think it’s funny, then it’s funny,” Showalter observes.
Last year’s film The Baxter marked a departure from sketch comedy. As the writer, director, and star of the romantic comedy, Showalter admits it wasn’t all tweed and roses on the set. “There were problems between the director and the star,” he says. “We just didn’t get along. I found it difficult to deal with myself.”
After his experience writing the film, Showalter joined the faculty of the Peoples Improv Theater. He currently teaches a course on writing comedic screenplays. Yeah, he’s a real teacher. He has a syllabus but doesn’t use textbooks. Instead, he shows movies to illustrate his points. “I show bad comedies like Annie Hall and good comedies like Porky’s.”
Showalter plans to continue teaching, possibly adding a sketch comedy class to his schedule. As far as acting goes, he says, “I’m working on a reality show for a major television network. That’s all I can say.”
The tour is also on his mind. Although stand-up is a pretty new thing for Showalter, he doesn’t worry much about people not laughing: “Pretty much everyone who comes to see me already thinks I’m funny, so I don’t really get heckled.”
Good thing. A heckler at a Showalter show would probably throw canned vegetables on stage. The Blue Collar Comedy tour made a movie. The Comedians of Comedy tour made a TV special. The idea of Showalter, Mirman, and Leo Allen traipsing up and down the West Coast in a van makes me nervous.
Will there be groupies? Drugs? Booze? “It will be like that part with the red snapper in the Led Zeppelin biography Hammer of the Gods,” he deadpans. “Very Zeppelin-esque. I have already said too much. Let’s just say it has a lot to do with sushi.”
Sure, Showalter gives a good interview, but I don’t think I’d let him near me with a fish. SFBG
Tues/25, 9 p.m.
628 Divisadero, SF
(415) 771-1421

Royal Fleischer


› a&eletters@sfbg.com
Ever since somebody figured out that movies were, indeed, an art form, directors have been viewed as lone authors, or at least queen bees imperially orchestrating the efforts of mostly faceless subordinate collaborators. This is a flattering view, and sometimes a fairly accurate one. But they don’t call it the film industry — as opposed to, say, the film canvas — for nothing. Most employable directors are worker drones who just get the job done. Any job. After all, it’s competency that’s needed, not vision, the goal being entertainment rather than art.
When Richard Fleischer died three months ago, a final door closed on one of the most versatile, undiscriminating, and thoroughly Hollywood careers ever. In fact, the 90-year-old director had long been retired — his last feature was 1987’s Million Dollar Mystery, a starless farcical flop that coproducer Glad Bags promoted via a product tie-in: a $1 million treasure hunt. (The movie, alas, earned less than its title.) But his never stopped being ubiquitous as the “directed by” name on many of the most frequently televised films ever made. Some had originally been major hits, some bombed, some just punched the clock. But all were created equal in the eyes of the tube — and most likely, it seems, in the purview of Fleischer himself.
Just try connecting the dots between the features Fleischer directed between 1966 and 1976, when he was at his peak as a critically derided but reliable veteran entrusted with millions in studio money. He bounced from the psychedelic sci-fi adventure of Fantastic Voyage — with body-suited Raquel Welch as its most special effect — to 1967’s elephantine family musical fantasy Doctor Dolittle, then wasted no time and probably less sleep before turning to 1968’s The Boston Strangler.
Next up was 1969’s notoriously stupid Che!, with Dr. Zhivago (a.k.a. Omar Sharif) as the romantic revolutionary and daft Jack Palance as Fidel. Then came straight-up WWII patriotism via 1970’s Tora! Tora! Tora!, followed by a western, a Godfather knockoff, Charles Bronson avenging as usual, blind Mia Farrow walking barefoot on broken glass to escape a murderer, 1973’s immortal Soylent Green, 1975’s bad-taste campsterpiece Mandingo, and — perhaps most incredibly in this context — Glenda Jackson as The Incredible Sarah in 1976. (Pauline Kael griped, “To think we were spared Ken Russell’s Sarah Bernhardt only to get Richard Fleischer’s,” dubbing him a “glorified mechanic [who] pleases movie executives because he has no particular interests and no discernable style.”)
Somehow amid all this middlebrow showmanship, Fleischer snuck in a small, low-key, fact-based British movie during 1971. 10 Rillington Place — part of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ “Too Scary for DVD: Neglected Horror on 35mm” series — is closer in spirit to the sharp, documentary-influenced B-grade noirs (1952’s The Narrow Margin, 1949’s Trapped) with which he started out his career, before Disney’s 1954 live-action smash 20,000 Leagues under the Sea promoted him to the A-list. Fleischer made several true crime films over the years, but arguably none truer than this chillingly poker-faced tale.
The Christie murders were infamous in Britain, not least because the execution of a probably innocent man played a significant role in that country’s abolition of the death penalty. Milquetoast landlord John Christie drugged, assaulted, and strangled numerous women, hiding their bodies in the Notting Hill house and backyard he shared with tenants and his oblivious wife. 10 Rillington Place focuses on those events of 1948, when a rather awful young couple (Judy Geeson, John Hurt) and their baby took the dingy upstairs flat. The Evanses were easy prey — the husband an illiterate compulsive liar with an IQ of 70, the pretty wife no exemplar either but understandably concerned that a second pregnancy would make their already marginal existence impossible. Christie (Richard Attenborough, future director of Gandhi) claimed knowledge of then-illegal abortion procedures, to Beryl Evans’s fatal misfortune.
Trading in British working-class miserabilism as if born to it (even Ken Loach would be impressed), the distressing yet nonhyperbolic Rillington delivers one credible version of the much-disputed case. Everything about it is astutely controlled, but two performances — Attenborough’s and Hurt’s — push that description into the realm of brilliance, indelibly etching the respective banalities of evil and of innocence.
One might call this sober replay of sordid reality an anomaly for Fleischer, but what film of his isn’t? Like several other major-league commercial directors of the ’60s (Robert Wise, Stanley Donen), he hung on through the ’70s but developed a serious case of irrelevance in the ’80s. Indeed, the embarrassments lined up like ducks: Neil Diamond in The Jazz Singer, Brigitte Nielsen in Red Sonja, Amityville 3-D. No doubt he enjoyed the retirement that by then was so richly deserved. It is reported that he liked playing tiddlywinks with his granddaughter, perhaps while seated near his Mickey Mouse head–shaped swimming pool. (This despite his own father being Betty Boop creator Max Fleischer, Walt Disney’s leading early rival.) The director of Boston Strangler and Mandingo must have been a very nice, normal man to accommodate so many contradictions with so little fuss. He may be in the grave now, but it’s we the living who are spinning. SFBG
Thurs/20, 7:30 p.m.
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Screening Room
701 Mission, SF
(415) 978-ARTS



Last year I put the Uruguayan movie Whisky on my top-10 list and voted for it and its lead actress, Mirella Pascual, in many film polls, including Film Comment’s and the Village Voice’s. With impeccable precision, Juan Pablo Rebella and Pablo Stoll’s sophomore feature sets a dedicated romantic next to a depressive’s withered and miserly soul (in understated yet glossy color — so many gorgeous royal blues). Just for its mordant look at a business run with out-of-date machinery, I hoped in print that it would get a Bay Area theatrical run.
Now Whisky has a San Francisco play date, at this year’s SF Jewish Film Festival. Rebella and Stoll’s film is screening at the Castro on July 24 — a little less than three weeks after Rebella committed suicide at his apartment in Montevideo. Looking at Whisky again with this knowledge was painful. The deep loneliness and sadness that run like a river beneath much of the movie’s surface humor were already evident, and now they are fully exposed. But if you love life and cinema, you should see this great film in that great theater. Rebella and Stoll are true talents, and even before this month, the final moments of the former’s last finished work came across as a rare, pure vision of heartbreak. (Johnny Ray Huston)

Past ain’t past


› cheryl@sfbg.com
“What is the international camp language? It’s beating.” In an instant, a guide at the former concentration camp just outside of Mauthausen, Austria, transforms a group of high schoolers from giggly to terrified. From the looks of the parking lot, Mauthausen is like any other historical attraction. Sightseers roll up in enormous motor coaches, clutching digital cameras loaded only with fun-time Euro-vacation shots — until now.
There’s no narration in KZ, Rex Bloomfield’s layered doc about the Mauthausen camp’s post–World War II transformation into an exceedingly unsettling tourist destination. (KZ is short for the German word Konzentrationslager, or concentration camp.) The film is largely composed of interviews with visitors, guides (“I’ve been taking antidepressants for years,” one remarks woefully), and Mauthausen residents — many too young to remember the camp’s horrors and some too old to realize that Hitler Youth nostalgia isn’t something most folks would want caught on tape. The disconnect between town and camp, past and present, can be breathtaking. “McDonald’s” and “Mauthausen” are painted on the same billboard; a young couple shrug off the fact that their comfy home once belonged to an SS officer; and the local tavern features lederhosen, suds, and a folkie strummer whose sunny lyrics praise “the cider tavern up by the KZ.”
Though Bloomfield doesn’t shape his film with archival footage, talking-head academics, or voice-overs, the way KZ is edited makes it pretty clear he’s just as stunned as we are by the juxtapositions his film uncovers. An elderly Mauthausener remarks that during the war she wasn’t sure what was going on in the camp, just that it was “nothing good”; moments later the camera cuts to a group nervously shuffling into the KZ’s gas chamber, where they hear incredibly graphic descriptions of deaths that happened where they now stand.
For its San Francisco Jewish Film Festival engagement, KZ screens with the short The Holocaust Tourist: Whatever Happened to Never Again?, which examines the off-kilter rebirth of Jewish culture (think faux-Hebrew signage and “Jewish-style” restaurants that serve pork) in Krakow, Poland, owing to the popularity of Schindler’s List. What visitors to Mauthausen or Krakow (the closest big city to Auschwitz) actually get out of their experiences is unclear; some seem deeply moved, while others are simply checking off another stop on, say, their “Highlights of Poland” itinerary. As both films point out, being a tourist is perhaps all most people can — or should — be in places where such evil still lingers.
Meanwhile, in Tel Aviv, Israel, folks with zero interest in confronting horror head-on can’t avoid it when a suicide bomber targets their hangout, a laid-back watering hole called Mike’s Place. Amazingly, filming for the documentary Blues by the Beach — intended as a feel-good look at “real life in Israel” beyond headline-grabbing violence — had begun before the April 2003 attack. After the project’s primary catalyst, American producer Jack Baxter, was seriously injured in the blast, Joshua Faudem (an Israeli American with a filmmaking background who happened to be a Mike’s Place bartender) carried on with help from his then-girlfriend, Pavla Fleischer, also a filmmaker.
Despite this stunning chain of coincidences, Blues by the Beach unfortunately suffers from lack of focus, shifting from Baxter’s search for a doc subject to Mike’s Place to Faudem’s failing relationship with Fleischer. Though the filmmakers’ post-traumatic stress is well earned, it can get tedious. Far more inspiring is the resilience of Mike’s Place itself. Visit the bar’s Web site (www. mikesplacebars.com) for a striking illustration of how recent tragedy offers just as much opportunity for off-the-wall juxtaposition as anything left over from World War II: a page memorializing the victims of the bombing and another page proudly displaying pics from the bar’s annual “Pimp-n-Ho” costume bash. SFBG
July 20–Aug. 7
See Film listings for showtimes
and venues
(925) 275-9490

Flame on


› kimberly@sfbg.com
SONIC REDUCER To the naked eye — and deep-fried, extra-crispy spirit — working fast food is a lot like what the Flaming Lips call the “sound of failure” on their latest album, At War with the Mystics (Warner Bros). It’s the worst of times … and the worst of times. And I can feel the pain — I once broke my back and suffered hypothermia of the right hand for Häagen-Dazs.
That’s probably why I found it so poignant when, in the recent Lips doc by SF filmmaker Bradley Beesley, The Fearless Freaks, Wayne Coyne went back to the Long John Silver, the spot where he’d donned a ludicrous pirate getup and tossed salted bits of seafood as a fry cook for more than a decade. And it was inspiring — because Coyne, now 45, is so shameless and proud about his contributions to our fast food nation. “I think that kind of mindless manual labor really does save the world in a way because you’re just busy doing stuff,” he told me over the phone from his Oklahoma City home in April. “Being busy keeps you out of trouble — keeps you away from too much existential doubt.”
Who’d’ve thunk that grease monkey in the plumed hat would become the blood-spattered, bubble-riding, balloon-shoving ringleader to a Flaming Lips nation? Certainly not me when I caught their brave but somewhat ineffective Walkman experiment at the Fillmore in ’99, during their Music Against Brain Degeneration/Soft Bulletin tour. Tuning into the selected radio channel, I could barely hear anything of the show through the flimsy headsets. But I guess word spread because the scene at this year’s Noise Pop opening show with the Lips was beyond standing room.
The opening moments of the show were worth it — the band tore into the stirring, trebly melody of “Race for the Prize,” Coyne whipped a lit-up sling around his head, smoke poured off the stage, and Santa-suited techs threw far too many balloons into the sold-out crowd. The punks had taken acid, to paraphrase the title of the 2002 Lips compilation, and it was a genuine spectacle, replete with darkness (in the form of Coyne’s monologues critiquing the Bush administration) and light (the cute animal costumes) and sing-alongs to Queen’s seemingly uncoverable “Bohemian Rhapsody.” The key to regime change lay with each individual, declared pop philosopher Coyne, suggesting that his audience make it “popular to be gay, smoke pot, and have abortions” throughout the country, not just in San Francisco.
“Maybe I’m a fool, maybe I’m embarrassing, maybe it’s humiliating, but at least it opens it up to say, ‘Well, you speak your mind,’” Coyne said later. “In San Francisco, you guys don’t grapple with the same problems that you would in Oklahoma City. Oklahoma City doesn’t have a tolerance of smoking pot, and gay people are on the verge of having all their rights taken away. You almost wonder, will people at some point try to reverse the civil rights movement.”
Speaking about the Lips’ 1983 inception, Coyne told Staring at Sound biographer Jim DeRogatis that “he’d like to be in a band like the Grateful Dead, throw big parties with people coming to them and having a great time.” DeRogatis said, “[Coyne] also said, ‘We’d like to be different; we’d like to still make records that don’t suck.’ They have elements of a jam band following, they have people from the indie rock ’80s. They have people who’ve discovered them in the alternative era. They have new Gen Y fans that downloaded The Soft Bulletin and think it’s incredible. Their audience is all over the map — they don’t fit into any demographic in terms of the way that corporations are slicing up the audience.”
The trick, said Coyne, is to never get too comfortable. “We always force ourselves to do something new, even if we’re not comfortable with it. I don’t think we really have any agenda other than to freak ourselves out.”
Ushered in with The Fearless Freaks; 20 Years of Weird: the Flaming Lips 1986–2006 (a collection of live recordings and oddities), their current tour, the DeRogatis book, the Fearless Freaks documentary, and next year with luck Christmas on Mars (Coyne’s feature film debut as a director), At War turns out to be, indeed, a war album, questioning uses and abuses of power with the opening track, “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song.”
But that’s not to say Coyne shies away from the band’s evangelical tendencies. “We’re using drama and music and sort of heightening the whole experience to be somewhat of a religious experience,” he explains. “I think all good rock ’n’ roll has that. But hopefully the agenda is that you, as an individual, at the end of the day, decide what’s great about your life instead of looking to some rulebook or some invisible force up in space somewhere. Music is just one part of it, and at the end of the day, to me, it’s dumb entertainment.” Aye, aye, matey? SFBG
With Ween and the Go! Team
Sat/22, 6:30 p.m.
Greek Theatre, UC Berkeley, Berk.
Get down with these pulsating Northern Cali indie darlings. Just do it. No questions. Wed/19, 9:30 p.m., Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. $7. (415) 923-0923.
The lovely Bay Area indie rockers’ album is coming out on Devendra Banhart and Andy Cabic’s label, Gnomensong. Thurs/20, 9 p.m., Café du Nord, 2170 Market, SF. $7. (415) 861-5016.
Midwestern rock supergroupies meet the Detroit native–SF vinyl diehard (who was pals with Brendan Benson back in the day). Sat/22–Sun/23, 8 p.m., Warfield, 982 Market, SF. $29.50–$37.50. (415) 775-7722.
Enter It’s a Bright Guilty World (Future Farmer); then enter the dragon. The Kingdom and Junior Panthers also perform. Sun/23, 9 p.m., Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., SF. $8–$10. (415) 621-4455.
Legendary gospel-soul sister communes with the eucalyptus. Sun/23, 2 p.m., Stern Grove, SF. Free. sterngrove.org.

Pan stanzas


› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com
CHEAP EATS After three or four days of sleeping under stars, swimming in rivers, and staring into the fire, I have nothing in me but poetry — so don’t bother looking for any restaurants in this restaurant review.
Here’s one I caught while my brother and friends were fishing for fish. Let’s call it “Water Bug Poem.”
On the American River, in it, up to my gut, watching water bugs. Who said that corn and cows were beautiful to the extent that they were what they were? Water bugs disprove you, existing more fully in their river bottom shadows, perfect circle feet on slapstick-figure bodies, skitting over rocks, mud, rocks. Every now and then a dead one floats by and what’s the difference, under water? I don’t care where, I’ll say it again, in bubbles: You’re beautiful. I have a big straw hat and sunscreen, stand alone, shriveled and shivering, no longer feeling my big white feet beneath me. You know how it is? When all you can do to be warm is piss yourself.
That’s a poem, even though it might not look like one and has urine in it. Come to think of it, damn me, there was a psychiatrist on this camping trip with us, and I forgot to ask her why a chicken farmer in his or her forties would still be fascinated by scatology. Of course she was pretty much stoned the whole time almost, I think, so I don’t know how professional an opinion it would have been.
One e-mailer wonders if I secretly hate my readers. I don’t think so, but I’m willing to wonder anything in the world or even sometimes just outside of it. So…
No, I really don’t think so. Or if I do secretly hate my readers, I secretly love them too, so the two you would think would cancel each other out, right, rather than make me shit on their heads every week in July, year after year? My own uneducated guess, dear reader, is that if there is any secret hatred behind all this, it’s not about you. It’s between me and me — and I promise to try to work that out in therapy next week. Because your point is well-taken: “Life is hard enough on a bad day without getting besieged with the contents of [my] intestines.”
Another possibility is that “shit happens,” and maybe I personally have managed to make my peace with that fact. But that doesn’t mean I have to rub it in everyone else’s face. I could very easily flush, light a match, open a window, exit stage left in a cloud of shame and sheepishness, and find something more universally entertaining to be proud about in print.
Like pee! Just kidding. Farts? Farts are funny to everyone, right? And they always were and always will be? Right? Can we compromise and have a Toot-Toot Pride Month?
I’m still kidding. Sorry. And I do have another poem to tell you. Call it, um, “Someone in the Kitchen,” because someone’s been in mine. Can you tell?
I succeeded in not thinking about you sometimes, actually, in the mountains. Then, winding home on the nearly no-lane road, I started seeing blackberries. Already itchy and pinched, I pulled over and started picking, easily overflowing a tin bowl and cup before it hit me: Dude, you have my pie pan. I want it back.
That there is a true-story poem, and I ate all those blackberries before I got out to the main road, for the record. It’s that black teeth time of year again for me, hooray! Almost drove off the road several times, smiling at myself in the rearview mirror, for kicks. It would have been a very scenic death at least.
Well, once you get to 80 West, you have to drive past Ikeda’s twice, once just outside of Auburn and then again just inside of Davis. I made it past the first but could not resist the second, partly because I needed gas and to pee real bad anyway.
Take the Mace Boulevard exit. And never mind all the produce and other stuff. I think the Auburn one even has burgers. But the important thing about Ikeda’s, if you don’t already know, is the pie. They make the best homemade pies that weren’t made by anyone you know (because someone has his or her pie pan, ahem).
I found a day-old mini peach one for half price ($3.00). It’s like 6 inches across by 2 1/2 inches deep, which is a lot of wonderfulness for, say, two people, or one person twice, if you’re me.
But it’s not a restaurant. SFBG
Daily, 9 a.m.–7 p.m.
26295 Mace Blvd., Davis
(530) 750-3379
Takeout only

Taps for tap


› paulr@sfbg.com
The importance of water can’t really be overstated, despite its low sexiness quotient. While we can get by without such voluptuous libations as beer, wine, soda, and single-malt whiskey — however miserably — we can’t survive for long without boring old water. But… lucky us, water literally flows from our taps, so we need not worry. Not, at least, if we are named Pollyanna. The rest of us might feel a slight chill at the news brought in the updated edition of Colin Ingram’s The Drinking Water Book: How to Eliminate Harmful Toxins from Your Water (Celestial Arts, $14.95).
The chilling news isn’t really that municipal tap water from coast to coast is something less than pure. What is disturbing is Ingram’s contention that such routine additives as chlorine (a disinfectant used in virtually every municipal water system in the country) and fluoride (a widely deployed weapon against caries) might well cause more problems than they solve. Chlorine combines with organic chemicals already present in water from industrial pollution to form trihalomethanes, which are known carcinogens and, in Ingram’s words — and a testament to both the ubiquitous use of chlorine and the pervasiveness of industrial pollution — are “present to some degree in all public water supplies.”
Fluoride, meantime, once thought to be a kind of miracle preventive for dental cavities in children, turns out to be a substance whose benefits and detriments to human health are hotly contested. While rates of tooth decay have declined in populations drinking fluoridated tap water, Ingram notes, they have also declined in populations drinking nonfluoridated tap water; and it is suggested in some quarters that fluoride is of a toxicity to humans comparable to that of lead and arsenic.
Ingram lays out these pro and con arguments evenhandedly, but in the end he advises prudence: Don’t drink fluoridated water on a regular basis. And don’t drink chlorinated water on a regular basis. In other words, don’t make a habit of tap water.
What then to do when thirst strikes? The book discusses filtration systems in some detail; even such simple apparatuses as filter pitchers are judged to be worthy. If you must make do with tap water, don’t drink the first few seconds of flow, and let the water stand in a pitcher for a few minutes (with a stir or two) so that volatile chemicals can dissipate. Cheers!

To be continued . . .


› paulr@sfbg.com
Time’s arrow flies in only one direction, pace Martin Amis and Captain Kirk, and with this verity in mind we should probably be more careful than we are about distinguishing between a progression and actual progress. The former is inevitable and constant, the ticks and tocks of the clock; the latter is neither. “The world does not only get worse,” says the mordant narrator of John Updike’s 1997 novel Toward the End of Time — but it often does, and it often does so under the thrilling guise of progress.
If you go out to eat with any frequency in the city, you will understand what I am talking about here. There isn’t much new about the mindless celebration of newness, but there does appear to be a definite tonal shift in newer restaurants now, away from graciousness and enveloping warmth and toward harder surfaces, louder music, more noise, and an overall severeness of look that owes, perhaps, too large a debt to loft design.
If places like Hayes Street Grill and Restaurant LuLu opened today, we might well wonder whether either of them would get off the ground. In the Age of the iPod, both are dramatically short on glitz. Hayes Street Grill (opened by Pat Unterman in 1979 and still run by her) is a faithful reinterpretation of such old-line seafood houses as Tadich Grill and Sam’s; there is a lot of wood and brass, and a wealth of booths and half walls that suggest a friendly maze. LuLu meanwhile (opened by Reed Hearon in 1993), despite being located in an old building in what was once a warehouse district, has something of the feel of an amphitheater; the main dining room is a huge open space with a sunken floor. There is also the bewitching scent of smoke from the wood-burning oven, which glows and flickers in plain sight at the rear of the room, as if in the great hall of some medieval king. Both restaurants offer highly professional, practiced service and food of unfussy elegance that is one of the central and best characteristics of the local style. Both are easy places to have conversations in.
Progress beyond these discreetly exalted points, in other words — those points being among the main reasons we have restaurants in the first place — might not be progress at all, although it is a little late in the day to be sounding this cautionary note. At the same time, the state of exaltedness must not be taken for granted, lest staleness set in. Age can bring refinement and confidence or a plague of debilitations on the downward road to closure. It is no small tribute to say of this pair of contemporary San Francisco institutions that they have never been better.
Of the two, Hayes Street Grill would seem to have enjoyed the less bumpy passage, for it has remained in the hands of its founder for more than a quarter century, and its basic scheme — of grilled fish with a choice of sauce, along with french fries — remains at the heart of the menu. The bill of fare dwells more now on the provenance of the seafood (Pacific swordfish, for instance, is taken “long-line, circle hook” — this is reassuring), but the Sichuan peanut sauce is still peppery-rich and a nice match to the mild white flesh of the California sea bass ($22.75). A voluptuous shrimp-avocado louie ($16.50), with Mariquita beets, features prawns from Morro Bay, while a plate of pan-fried Hama Hama oysters ($16.75), with coleslaw, tartar sauce, and fries, reminds us that (1) oysters are pretty good cooked as well as raw and (2) HSG’s fries remain competitive with the best. They are somewhat thicker than matchsticks, but this means they retain heat better, and they achieve the ideal balance between crisp and tender. Of course they also go well with the cheeseburger ($13.50), a straightforward presentation of Niman Ranch ground beef and Grafton cheddar on a bun, without distracting frou-frou beyond the fries.
At LuLu, the agent of ubiquity is not the french fry but the wood-burning oven, whose smoky perfume casts a spell of enchantment even in the middle of the day. You find yourself thinking of the mountains, winter, a horse-drawn sleigh, mulled wine. Or: pizza, which has been a LuLu specialty from the beginning and through the large changes in the kitchen — the handoff from Hearon to Jody Denton in 1995, and from Denton to Jared Doob in 2003. If most of us probably don’t associate pizza with brunch, it might be because we’ve never had LuLu’s egg pizza ($16.50), a kind of deconstructed omelet, of caramelized onion, parmesan cheese, pancetta — and of course a whole egg, over-easy-ish — on a thin crust. It doesn’t sound like it would work, but it does. Also sounding unworkable, but working, is the venerable, if less brunchy, calamari pizza ($17.25), the slices of squid glisteningly tender and accompanied by a scattering of arugula leaves, chili flakes, and aioli. Simple, potent, proven.
One of the pleasures of brunch is archaeological: examining certain sorts of jumbled dishes, such as oven-baked eggs ($13.50), for leftovers from the day or two before. We found shreds of duck confit in one batch (with spinach and braised spring onion), but the next week it was roast pork — could this have been left over from sandwich production? Doesn’t seem likely, for the roast-pork sandwich ($11.95) is a colossus, with mozzarella, romesco, and baby spinach on a raft of pillow-soft red-onion focaccia. Our progress through it was slow but determined and, in the end, satisfactory. SFBG
Lunch: Mon.–Fri., 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m. Dinner: Mon.–Thurs., 5–9:30 p.m.; Fri., 5–10:30 p.m.; Sat., 5:30–10:30 p.m.; Sun., 5–8:30 p.m.
320 Hayes, SF. (415) 863-5545
Full bar
Not quiet, but reasonable
Wheelchair accessible
Sun.–Thurs., 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m.
816 Folsom, SF. (415) 495-5775
Full bar
Can get noisy, but bearable
Wheelchair accessible

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JULY 19-25
Alert: Mercury is retrograde
March 21-April 19
Aries, there are certain activities we permit and encourage. Getting a grip on reality is definitely one of them. Formuutf8g some new ideas is another good choice, but they must remain in the mental realm for now. It’s not a good time to take action.
April 20-May 20
Good job, Taurus! You’re flying high. On the agenda for you: Continue to invest in your emotional relationships in a way that reflects the truth of who you are.
May 21-June 21
Gemini, do you think a team of fairies will descend from the sky and pluck you out of this awful funk you’ve allowed yourself to sink into? Only you can undo the damage, friend. Begin by cultivating the dazzling confidence needed to put yourself out there.
June 22-July 22
You’re having a really spiritual week, Cancer. The problems that plague you, no matter what they look like at first glance, are spiritual problems, and the correct answers will likewise be spiritual ones. Not that you need answers. Nope, a simple decision to turn it all over to the universe works way better than a brainy conclusion.
July 23-Aug. 22
Leo, your horoscope this week is so not complicated. And we know what a shitty time you people have been having, so please enjoy this admonition: Pursue happiness. Invest in what gives you pleasure. Hang out with people who really like you. Do stuff that makes you feel good. And that’s all.
Aug. 23-Sept. 22
We’re not putting you to work this week, Virgo. Nope, we don’t want you toiling, we just want you reflecting. The imperfections in your relationships aren’t nearly as shitty as you, the perfectionist, think they are. We’d like to see you gently making peace with imperfection. If you break a sweat, you’re doing it wrong.
Sept. 23-Oct. 22
Libra, be on the lookout for opportunities and experiences that will allow you to access ever-higher levels of your own potential. This is some pretty deep stuff and we hope you are ready to have your mind pleasantly blown and your horizons violently expanded. Don’t try to understand it — just go for it.
Oct. 23-Nov. 21
Creating and maintaining structures that make a person feel all cozy and cared for might be a cinch for those goddamned earth signs, but for you, Scorpio? A real pain in the ass. Alas, everyone needs a world that makes them feel cozy and cared for, so we hope you devote all your energy to that this week, even if it’s hard. You deserve it.
Nov. 22-Dec. 21
We know you’re a thrill seeker, Sag, and want every horoscope to be a bombastic promise of adventure and fornication, but you’re shit out of luck. Truth is, you’re feeling crappy, and only by tending to the perhaps boring needs of the body will you get any relief.
Dec. 22-Jan. 19
Capricorn, we want you to strike a balance between pushing and yielding. When you’ve managed to twist yourself into this seemingly paradoxical yoga of the mind, we want you to hold the pose ’til it feels like you’re going to emotionally keel over. Speak your truth directly and allow others to meet you in their own way.
Jan. 20-Feb. 18
Patience, Aquarius, patience! We see you twitching around, driven mad by how quickly things are barreling forward while going bonkers with the slooow pace of your life right now. It’s all out of your control, and only patience and a calming practice will help you get back to normal.
Feb. 19-March 20
This is one of those “the more you give, the more you receive” moments, Pisces. A tad cheesy perhaps, but the truth should resonate and, we hope, inspire you to step up the giving. Pay extra attention to your family of either birth or choice — that’s where your emotional generosity will be most appreciated and have the biggest payback. SFBG



› H/Hrpwned@techsploitation.com
TECHSPLOITATION In the Internet age, conspiracies are niche phenomena. All the classic conspiracies of yesteryear — the Kennedy assassination, ZOG, and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon — had mass appeal. And frankly they’re not nearly as juicy as obscure, narrow-band obsessions plucked from the glowing pages of LiveJournal, such as the Ms. Scribe Harry Potter fanfic sock puppet conspiracy of 2003. The whole thing has been chronicled assiduously in an anonymously written e-book about Ms. Scribe’s rise and fall, deliciously titled The Ms. Scribe Story: An Unauthorized Fandom Biography (www.journalfen.net/users/charlottelennox).
There are fake identities! Homophobia and racism! Brushes with death! Flame wars! Sex! Stalking! Long explanations of how IP addresses work! Plus, many obscure acronyms and internecine battles between said acronyms! It’s like reading a history of the CIA, only with less cross-dressing.
The Ms. Scribe conspiracy unfolded in the vast and lively world of online Harry Potter fandom, where many people write stories (called fanfic) based on the J.K. Rowling books they love. Some of these writers are known as “shippers,” people who write about certain characters falling in love and having sex. (The word “shipper” is from “relationship.”) Three years ago, Ms. Scribe masterminded a covert campaign to dominate and destroy the shipper community by playing two rival camps of shippers off each other: the Harry-Hermione shippers of FictionAlley.org and the Harry-Ginny shippers of the Gryffindor Tower community. These groups weren’t just separated by their ships — they also had moral differences. Denizens of FictionAlley were comfortable with overtly erotic stories that involved homosexuality, while the Gryffindor Tower fans tended to be strictly het and PG-rated.
According to The Ms. Scribe Story, its eponymous antiheroine began her campaign by inventing a set of fake identities online who were Ms. Scribe fans. These so-called sock puppets spent all their time praising Ms. Scribe’s fanfic and linking to it in shipper forums. When that didn’t get Ms. Scribe the attention she seemed to crave, she started posting anonymous comments in her LiveJournal attacking herself for being a depraved homo-lover and for being mixed race. The more she was attacked, the more she could bravely defend herself — and the more attention she got from the FictionAlley community, whose members rushed to her aid against the bigoted “attackers.” Eventually she created several “Christian” sock puppets who made antigay, racist comments on Ms. Scribe’s LiveJournal. They also claimed to be from the rival Gryffindor Tower group. The longer this went on, the more allies Ms. Scribe had; she eventually gained about 200 LiveJournal friends, including elite members of the FictionAlley inner circle.
Although relations between FictionAlley and Gryffindor Tower had always been strained, the Ms. Scribe controversies turned the two groups into outright enemies. Friends of the Gryffindor Tower crowd made a series of posts revealing that the IP addresses on Ms. Scribe’s posts matched those of her alleged Christian attackers and fans, but the FictionAlley fans were so incensed by the “persecution” of Ms. Scribe that they ignored the evidence. Whenever things started to unravel, Ms. Scribe would whip her supporters into a frenzy by pretending to be in the hospital or claiming she was being stalked by one of the Christians.
The author of “The Ms. Scribe Story” believes that Ms. Scribe made her last appearance in 2005, when she stirred up trouble yet again by accusing the fans of being racist for jokingly comparing the fight between shippers to the Civil War. Not surprisingly, the comment thread was filled with mysterious posts from racists who had never shown up before (and never came back) and whose entire histories on LiveJournal consisted of that particular thread.
Nobody knows what Ms. Scribe is doing now.
What’s intriguing about Ms. Scribe and her sock puppets’ microconspiracy is its everyday scale. It’s not hard to understand why secret societies might scheme to kill a president. But why would one woman spend so much time trying to bring down a group of Harry Potter fans? There are many theories: that she wanted attention; that she adored a fight; that she was nuts and unemployed. All we know for sure is that wherever Ms. Scribe is now, we are always one step away from being her, one lonely morning, when all we want are a few online friends. SFBG
Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who is still trying to listen to the backward masking on Dark Side of the Moon.