Volume 40 Number 42

July 19 – July 25, 2006

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Little creatures


› andrea@altsexcolumn.com
Dear Andrea:
I would like to know if leeches can be used on female nipples and clits?
Dear Suck:
Would you, now? And why would you like to know that? I suppose it’s too much to hope for that you are selflessly devoted to the cause of curing helpless women of scrofula, ague, and the bloody flux, and are seeking new treatment modes? Tell me you’re not really wondering if perhaps leeches, applied to well-innervated body bits, could provide a stimuutf8g sort of suction. If so, I’m impressed — it takes quite a lot to gross me out but, man, that’s disgusting.
Do you actually know how leeches leech? It isn’t very nice. Here’s a succinct description of the feeding habits of Hirudo medicinalis, courtesy of the University of Michigan’s Animal Diversity Web: “It attaches to the host by means of its two suckers and bites through the skin of its victim. Simultaneously, the leech injects an anesthetic so that its presence is not detected, and an anticoagulant in order for the incision to remain open during the meal. It has three jaws, which work back and forth during the feeding process, which usually lasts about 20 to 40 minutes and leaves a tripartite star-shaped scar on the host.” How hot is that? And you caught the part about the anesthetic, right? The little suckers don’t suck you as much as they sort of . . . dissolve you, but you can’t even feel it while they’re at it. A poor choice of sex toy all around, I’d say.
I realize, of course, that simply hoping that nobody finds leeches sexy is not enough to keep someone, somewhere, from doing exactly that. There is, as my aphorism-coining husband is wont to put it, someone for everything, and all we can ask of the inevitable leech fanciers is that they keep it to themselves.
Speaking of things that suck, I’ve been a little distracted lately from my readers’ blow job issues and quixotic quests for the perfect dildo due to having gone and had two babies a mere three weeks ago: real babies, with the diapers and the 3 a.m. feedings and all that good stuff. They’re lovely, thanks.
I couldn’t say for sure if one’s essential self (assuming there is such a creature) really changes with the onset of parenthood, but one’s perceptions sure do. Things change. Nipples, for instance, are changed forever. Once mildly sexy in theory and distinctly sexual in practice, nipples at my house are now the most quotidian of objects, either made of silicone and soaking in the sink or the real fleshy deal shoved unceremoniously into the frantically gaping but adorable maw of an insatiable small being at any and often every hour of the day. They have been repurposed, and if you take the time to think about it, that is just kind of bizarre, as though you had a penis but it had suddenly been declared indispensable as a household tool — a garden hose, say, or a plumber’s snake — and put to that use for most of the day, every day, until you were expected to bring it back to the conjugal bed and put it back to work at its original job.
What has all this to do with your question about leeches? Oh, not much, admittedly, except perhaps as an example of things which one might think could be vaguely sexy but just don’t cut it. This brings us to the least sexy vaguely sexy-sounding device on this or most other planets, an object without which I had lived quite happily until they wheeled one into my hospital room and ordered me to use it lest my defenseless and undersized newborns suffer and die before our horrified eyes. It’s the breast pump. Yes, the words breast and pump are both inherently sexy and yes, the thing does bear a superficial resemblance to similar devices sold for use on whichever erectile bits and bobs you could stuff into them. Not only that, but there are milky-MILF fanciers all over the Internet, not to mention all those “human cow” stories that clutter up the BDSM fantasy sites. I don’t care. Any object that brings to mind the phrase “moo cow milker” is unfit to be considered a sex toy. The nasty thing may distinguish itself from your leeches by lacking the ability to inject an anticoagulant or inflict a tripartite, star-shaped scar, but that’s about the best that can be said for it.
That’s enough of that. Go read Christopher Hitchens’s entertaining intellectual history of the all-American blow job in this month’s Vanity Fair, or turn up an obituary of John Money, the seminal gender researcher who died this week after a long career as first the hero and then the bogey man of trans- and intersexuals everywhere, and you’ll know as much as I do this week. I gotta go change diapers, and that isn’t sexy either.

The case against the media grab


EDITORIAL The last time real estate investor Clint Reilly took the local newspapers to court in 2000, the trial was a sensation. Among other things, Tim White, who was at the time the publisher of the San Francisco Examiner, admitted that he had offered to give then-mayor Willie Brown more favorable editorial coverage if Brown would help squelch a Justice Department investigation into an Examiner-Chronicle financial deal.
The so-called “horse-trading” testimony brought to light one of the giant lies of the daily newspaper business in San Francisco and proved that the out-of-town owners of these papers care more about profits than honest journalism.
Back then, the deal involved Hearst Corp., which owned the Examiner, wanting to buy the Chronicle. The idea was to shut down the Ex, eliminate a 35-year-long joint operating agreement, and create a daily paper monopoly. The Justice Department hemmed and hawed a bit, then (thanks to Brown and Sen. Dianne Feinstein) agreed to a backroom deal: Hearst would give the Ex to the Fang family (along with a juicy three-year, $66 million subsidy), and the federal regulators would get out of the way.
Reilly’s suit was a tremendous public service, shining light on parts of the newspaper business that the big publishers always try to keep secret. In the end the suit went down, dismissed by a conservative federal judge, Vaughn Walker, who nevertheless called the whole Hearst-Fang-Chronicle deal “malodorous.”
Now there’s another, much bigger newspaper deal in the Bay Area, one that would create a far bigger and more powerful news monopoly — and once again, while the government regulators dither and duck, Reilly is taking the matter to court.
The unholy arrangement in question would give Denver media baron Dean Singleton and his Media News Group (in partnership with Gannett and Stephens Media) control over virtually every daily newspaper in the Bay Area [see “Singleton’s Monopoly,” 5/6/06]. Singleton, who already owns the Marin Independent Journal and the Oakland Tribune (among others), is buying the San Jose Mercury News, Contra Costa Times, Monterey Herald, and some 30 other small dailies.
That would leave the Chronicle as the only real competitor, but Hearst, which now owns the Chron, is in the deal too, helping finance some of Singleton’s out-of-state purchases in exchange for a stake in the business.
Reilly, represented by antitrust lawyer Joseph Alioto, argues that the whole thing violates the Sherman and Clayton antitrust acts and would lead to an illegal consolidation of market power for one newspaper owner. It would also, of course, lead to an unprecedented consolidation of local political power for a conservative Denver billionaire. Reilly wants an immediate injunction to put the merger on hold while the courts can determine how bad its impacts will be.
Three cheers for Reilly: Somebody had to question this massive media scandal — and so far, there’s no sign that the government is going to. The US Justice Department is doing nothing to aggressively fight (or even delay) the deal, and we’ve heard nothing out of the office of Attorney General Bill Lockyer.
The damage that this newspaper consolidation could do is long lasting and irreparable: Once the papers are all fully integrated under the Singleton umbrella, there will be no way to unscramble the egg. That’s why the court should quickly approve Reilly’s request for a temporary restraining order so the whole thing can be examined in detail, in public, before a judge.
Meanwhile, the political questions keep flowing: Where is Lockyer? Where is Oakland mayor Jerry Brown, who wants to be the next state attorney general? And where is the supposedly competitive Chronicle, which has said nary a word against the deal?
PS: The news coverage of Reilly’s suit reflects how poorly the daily papers cover themselves: Just tiny press-release-style reports, with no outside sources, no indication of how crucial the issues are, and no aggressive reporting. It reminds us of how the papers covered Sup. Ross Mirkarimi’s resolution opposing the deal: Guardian editor and publisher Bruce B. Brugmann hand-carried a copy of the resolution to the Chronicle reporters in the press room. The paper never ran a story. SFBG
To see a copy of the Reilly lawsuit, go to www.sfbg.com. For all the inside details on the deal, check out knightridderwatch.org.

Fair fees for rich developers


EDITORIAL The information that emerged from the Board of Supervisors’ Land Use Committee on July 12 was mind-bending: According to a new city report, private developers will not even consider going forward with a big housing construction project unless the profit margin is at least 28 percent.
Think about it: Without a guaranteed profit about three or four times larger than what most normal businesses strive for, the developers won’t pour an ounce of concrete. And they still complain that the city wants them to build more affordable housing.
As housing activist Calvin Welch pointed out at the hearing, it used to be illegal in most states to charge that much interest on loaned money. The word for it was usury.
And in much of the construction industry, profit margins are far, far slimmer than that. On big public-works projects, like the Bay Bridge retrofit and the construction of the new terminal at San Francisco International Airport, the margin was designed to be about 5 percent.
As Steven T. Jones reports on page 15, this information, which has received very little press attention, ought to be the strongest boost yet for advocates of what’s known as “inclusionary housing” legislation — rules that would require developers building market-rate housing units to set aside a percentage of those units for sale or rent at levels that are affordable to nonwealthy San Franciscans. The current law requires that 12 percent of the units in any project have to be priced below market rate. (That goes up to 17 percent if the affordable units are built somewhere off-site or if the developers simply pay a per-unit fee into a city low-cost housing fund.)
Sup. Chris Daly, who has long been an advocate of inclusionary housing, forced the developer of One Rincon Hill, a high-rise condo project, to hike the affordable-housing share to 25 percent last year — and that convinced him that the city’s legal requirement was too low.
So now the supervisors are looking at increasing the levy, and as part of the discussion, a task force operating under the Mayor’s Office of Housing hired a consultant to look at industry finances and standards. If the report is correct, and 28 percent margins are considered a minimum in San Francisco’s private-sector housing market, then the rather modest increases the supervisors are looking at (a hike from 12 to 15 percent of below-market-rate units and some tighter rules for enforcement) are eminently reasonable. In fact, the legislation isn’t nearly ambitious enough.
Suppose the city mandated 25 percent below-market-price units in all new housing projects of more than, say, 20 units. Would the developers really walk away, saying that profits of, say, 20 percent just weren’t enough? Somehow, we doubt it — in fact, we suspect there are plenty of builders out there who would be more than happy with that level of return. And suppose the market for high-end, million-dollar condos — which clearly aren’t serving the unmet housing needs of the city anyway — started to dry up. So what? San Francisco doesn’t need more housing for the very rich. In fact, the overall impact of these luxury housing projects on the city is almost certainly negative — that sort of housing tends to drive out blue-collar industry and is already turning parts of the city into a bedroom community for Silicon Valley.
Daly argues that without these new market-rate projects, very little affordable housing will be built. And he has a point. Government subsidies and nonprofit programs are immensely valuable, but there’s never enough public cash to meet the stratospheric need for affordable housing in San Francisco.
But there’s no reason for the city to be held hostage by developer profits that exceed all reason. At the very least, the board should approve Daly’s proposals — and should look seriously at jacking up the requirements even more. SFBG

Pelosi sold us out


OPINION The recent Guardian editorial was absolutely correct in its analysis of development in the Presidio: San Francisco “wound up with the worst of all worlds” [“Playing Hardball in the Presidio,” 7/12/06]. Essentially it was Rep. Nancy Pelosi who created the all-powerful, arrogant, and unaccountable Presidio Trust to simply have its way with the conversion of the park, one of most breathtaking, inspiring pieces of real estate in the world, situated right here in our own front yard.
The voices of San Franciscans hoping to inject any conscience into the transition process of the military base into a national park have been basically ignored from the beginning; any opinions expressed at the mandated community hearings that did not fit in with the trust’s plans counted for nothing.
Many will remember that in January 1996 Religious Witness with Homeless People launched a campaign to preserve the Presidio’s roughly 1,900 housing units and make them available to San Franciscans of all economic levels. We specifically targeted the 466 units of former military family housing and tried to have those set aside for homeless individuals and families and other low-income members of our community. This powerful campaign extended over a period of almost three years and was actively supported in a variety of ways by a diverse collection of at least 237 organizations and more than 1,700 individuals in San Francisco, including then-mayor Willie Brown and other elected city officials. But even the powerful, united voice of this campaign was haughtily disregarded by the seven members of the Presidio Trust, all with the smiling blessing of Pelosi.
The ultimate step taken by our campaign to secure the availability of the housing for our city, which even then suffered a crisis in the lack of affordable housing, was to place a measure on the 1997 ballot. Proposition L stated that unless the Presidio Trust made housing available to San Franciscans of all economic levels, the city would withhold the nonemergency services so desperately needed by the Presidio in order to function.
The passage of Prop. L provided the powerful leverage needed to achieve our goal. We had no reason to suspect that Mayor Brown, who had strongly, consistently, and publicly supported our campaign and the passage of Prop. L, would betray us.
However, shortly after the passage of Prop. L, Brown simply gave the trust the public services it needed. This was a betrayal of hundreds of men and women living on our streets, and the 93,002 voters who favored the proposition.
Throughout our three-year campaign, Pelosi, the National Park Service, and the Presidio Trust repeated the mantra: “The National Park Service is not in the business of providing housing.” How hypocritical, then, are the trust’s current plans to build hundreds of housing units in the Presidio, even as its seven nonelected members continue to arrogantly ignore the expressed concerns of the neighboring communities? That’s what happens when the guiding force is money instead of social and environmental concerns.
What was once a dream for San Franciscans has become a nightmare. It happened as Pelosi stood firmly with the Presidio Trust as it created an elite city within our city. But the plans are not yet fully implemented, and San Franciscans still have a chance to put a stop to the Presidio Trust’s most recent assault on our community. SFBG
Sister Bernie Galvin
Sister Bernie Galvin is the director of Religious Witness with Homeless People.

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› tredmond@sfbg.com
It’s your Guardian. That’s the message we posted on the cover today, and I mean it: The new sfbg.com website is designed to be fully interactive. You can post your comments on every article, every review, every editorial. You can join in on five new blogs. In a few weeks, we’ll have a reader’s blog, just for you.
Newspaper publishing should never be a one-way communication. For more than 20 years, I’ve been hearing from readers (yeah, I answer my own phone), and your ideas and suggestions (and complaints) are what make this paper great.
And now you can share your thoughts with all the other readers, too. Argue, fight, tell me I’m full of shit, point out great San Francisco ideas that ought to be in the mix … It’s easy. Registration takes about 30 seconds. And keep coming back – there’s going to be more, much more, rolling out in the next few weeks.


The first thing I did when I learned that private housing developers in San Francisco were demanding 28 percent profit levels (see page 5) was to call my brother Mike, who runs a small business building houses in New York. He almost dropped the phone.
“Let me get this straight,” he said. “These guys say they need 28 percent profit?” That’s the minimum, I told him.
“Shit, sign me up,” he laughed. “I’ll take the whole crew and we’ll be on the next plane.”
Mike is thrilled when he walks away with 10 percent profit on a job. So is everyone he knows. So are most small businesses (and quite a few large ones). The only ones who can get away with demanding that sort of return are oil companies, daily newspaper publishers, and, it appears, San Francisco real estate developers.
This isn’t really shocking news: We’ve known for a long time that developers make a killing in an inflated housing market. Compared to the boom years of the 1980s, when the office market was running rampant and out of control, the 28 percent margins aren’t that outrageous – high-rise office developers made even more.
But there’s a bottom line for the city: These folks aren’t just getting rich; they’re getting really rich – purely off a market that exists simply because of the appeal of San Francisco. They owe it to the city to give more than a pittance of that back.
Now this: Just about every small-business owner in San Francisco is sitting down with a spreadsheet and trying to figure out how much Sup. Tom Ammiano’s health care legislation is going to cost. A lot of them seem to be nervous – in part because of the fearmongering campaign put out by the Chamber of Commerce and the Committee on Jobs.
But when you actually look at what the law says, it’s not that scary. I’ve gone over the final language, and here are some key points:
1. The requirement that employers pay for health care doesn’t affect anyone with fewer than 20 employees, which is most of the small businesses in town.
2. Nobody’s going to have to pay anything until July 2007, and companies with between 20 and 50 employees aren’t going to have to pay anything until April 2008.
3. There’s a 90-day waiting period before anyone has to pay for a new employee.
4. Nobody will have to pay for employees who either have health insurance already (from a spouse, say) or who voluntarily decline health insurance.
5. Employers will pay based on how many hours an employee works, so the price for a part-timer will be comparatively small.
6. If you have more than 20 employees and don’t currently provide health insurance for all of them (or the amount you pay for that insurance is low), you’ll have to ante up, either by buying insurance in the private market or paying into the city plan. For companies with 20 to 99 employees, the city plan will run about $1.12 an hour next year for anyone who works more than 12 hours a week. Pencil it out; it may not kill you.
It’s absolutely an imperfect system. Employer-based health insurance is the wrong model. But for now it’s all we have – and this is a way to offer at least basic primary health care to everyone in the city. It’s worth the price. SFBG

A tale of two museums


› amanda@sfbg.com
The Presidio, converted from military to civilian use 12 years ago, has six million square feet of former officers’ quarters, barracks, and buildings that make it unlike any other national park in the country.
This public space has become home to a mixed bag of occupants — primarily private citizens, a smattering of nonprofit organizations, and an increasing number of commercial enterprises — as the Presidio Trust pursues a controversial congressional mandate to be financially self-sustaining.
Two different museums have also vied for residence at the site of the park’s Main Post: the California Indian Museum and Cultural Center (CIMCC) and the Disney Museum. Both submitted viable proposals for exhibition space, representing starkly different futures for the Presidio.
This is the story of how one may get to stay and the other just had to go. This is also the story of how the Presidio Trust is transforming a prized national park into just another piece of real estate to be claimed by the highest bidder.
In Presidio Trust literature, the Main Post is called the “heart of the Presidio.” The centrally located seven-acre parcel includes an enormous parking lot surrounded by dozens of buildings that provide a steady stream of traffic pumping through the arteries of Presidio Boulevard and Doyle Drive. If you were hoping to attract a regular flow of visitors to your museum, the Main Post would be an ideal place to put it.
Photographs of classic Presidio architecture usually show the northwestern edge of the Main Post where Buildings 103 and 104 are a stately couple among a quintuplet of identical four-story brick structures. They are now empty, except for some temporary office space. Approximately 44,000 square feet each, the historic barracks were built between 1895 and 1897 to accommodate troops returning from frontier battles during the conquest of Native American tribes.
When the National Park Service was handed the Presidio in 1995, the CIMCC became one of the first “park partners” to set up office. For almost two years, the museum negotiated with the park service to lease additional space for the first living museum of Native American culture in California.
The museum planners took a shine to Building 103, paid for a $44,000 renovation study, and kicked off the necessary fundraising with a $2 million allocation from then–Senate president pro tem Bill Lockyer. Joseph Myers, a Pomo Indian, lawyer, and chairman of the CIMCC Board of Directors, said there was a lot of enthusiasm for the project.
“Even when we just had office space here we had international visitors wandering through, wondering when there would be a museum here,” he said.
Things were looking hopeful, and on Sept. 21, 1996, the Presidio, originally home of the Ohlone tribe, hosted a formal dedication of the return of a Native American presence to the park. Then-mayor Willie Brown attended the ceremony and pledged his support to the project.
Not long after, the Presidio’s power structure radically shifted. The park was split into two areas, with Area A along the waterfront managed by the park service and the inland Area B and the bulk of its buildings, including the Main Post, managed by the Presidio Trust — the result of a newfangled proposal by Rep. Nancy Pelosi that won acceptance in a Republican-controlled Congress.
The Presidio is the first national park with a mandate to pay its own way; the trust’s finances are governed by a board of seven presidential designees — initially chaired by downtown-friendly Toby Rosenblatt and including Gap founder Donald Fisher. The new landlords informed the CIMCC that all real estate negotiations were on hold.
“We tried very hard to convince them we would be good tenants,” Myers told the Guardian. “The Presidio is originally one of the places where Indians suffered at the hands of Spanish conquistadors. They were tortured and killed for not being good slaves. That’s old history, but it’s certainly morally and culturally acceptable to consider the Presidio a good place for a museum.”
But over the course of three years, serious discussions with the trust were delayed, and alternate plans and proposals for different buildings were ignored. In September 2000, at Myers’s insistence, the CIMCC finally met with Presidio staff and was encouraged to submit a proposal to renovate three dilapidated buildings near Lombard Gate.
The deadline to submit was short, but the CIMCC met it and museum planners say they were promised a decision within 14 days. Nine months later they received a formal response with, according to Myers, no solid answer. They continued waiting until an article in the San Francisco Chronicle informed them that the buildings had been leased to a private foundation from Silicon Valley.
The results of that deal now stand within sight of the Main Post: the Letterman Digital Arts Center, 850,000 square feet of space renovated and leased for $5.6 million a year by the private company Lucasfilm.
According to Presidio spokesperson Dana Polk, negotiations didn’t work out because the CIMCC couldn’t pay rent or put money into the work on the building. “They weren’t able to do either,” she said.
Somehow the museum was able to do it elsewhere. After withdrawing all proposals and vacating its office space, the CIMCC purchased a 24,000-square-foot building in Santa Rosa. The museum pays $10,000 a month in mortgage for the building, now worth $3 million, and it’s a better deal than the Presidio offered: a leased space at $50,000 a month after $10 million in renovations paid out from the CIMCC’s pocket. But it doesn’t lessen the irony or pain of the situation.
“The philosophy behind keeping the Presidio alive for public access was not for the purpose of George Lucas and Disneyland, but for California culture,” said Myers. “I think they have their own idea of what cultural projects are, and it’s not us.”
The new museum is still under construction in Santa Rosa and will include displays of indigenous art and archives. The National Indian Justice Center already calls it a home, and there are regular workshops on subjects like storytelling and art, current issues, and traditional uses of California native plants.
“That would have been a perfect fit for a national park,” said Joel Ventresca, chair of Preserve the Presidio, a watchdog group that’s fought past Presidio developments. He likened the CIMCC to exhibits in Yosemite where visitors can learn about the lives and legacies of local tribes. “Where is that in the Presidio? It’s nowhere.”
Actually, he’s not quite right. Directly in front of Building 103, there’s an old, paint-chipped sign with faded letters that reads, “Old Burial Ground. The area immediately to the west of this marker was used by the Indians, Spaniards, and Mexicans to bury their dead — 1776–1846. The remains are now in the National Cemetery, Presidio of San Francisco.”
If the CIMCC had found a home in Building 103, Myers would be preparing to welcome a new next-door neighbor. The Disney Museum is the next bastion of culture vying for residence in the Presidio and it has designs on Building 104.
The proposal comes from the nonprofit Disney Family Foundation — a compendium of Walt’s family, headed by daughter Diane Disney Miller, that split from the Disney Company. Due to a curiosity about Walt Disney apparently unsatisfied by several theme parks around the world (one of which, at 47 square miles, is nearly the size of all of San Francisco), the family is looking for a place to display what remains of Disney’s personal artifacts.
Museum planners hope that by 2009 they can invite the public to view items like the Academy Awards he once won and the cars he once drove. Part of the Disney proposal includes renovating Buildings 108 and 122 as well, and the overarching plan is for office space and a reading room, gift shop, and café.
Walt Disney never lived in San Francisco, and when asked why the Disney Family Foundation selected the Presidio, trust spokesperson Polk said of the family, “They live relatively locally, in Napa. They’ve always enjoyed the Presidio and the history here.”
No agreements have been signed yet between Disney and the trust, and according to Polk the project is still subject to approval by the Presidio board. But the foundation has announced the plan on its Web site and held a celebration in November 2004, where Miller and trust staff answered questions about the project.
When the Presidio was first conceived as a national park in 1994, it was sold to the public as a “global center dedicated to the world’s most critical environmental, social, and cultural challenges.” Part of the National Park Service’s General Management Plan was to house people and organizations inspired by their unique setting to do good work for the public benefit. Then when Congress put a financial noose around the park and designed the Presidio Trust with a mandate for fiscal sustainability, that vision was blurred.
“This underlying issue of letting market forces come into play in a national park, it’s a terrible precedent,” said Presidio activist Ventresca. “People who have an important cultural story to tell are given the cold shoulder, and people with deep pockets are being given a place to build a monument to their father.” SFBG

Panic mode


› gwschulz@sfbg.com
If a gay man ever attempted to argue that he was forced to kill a straight woman because he feared she would make a pass at him, the judge, the jury, and the press would probably laugh him out of court.
But in at least a handful of cases across the country, criminal defendants recently have attempted to convince juries that they temporarily endured insanity after discovering their murder victims were lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. It’s known as the “gay panic” courtroom strategy, and one man secured an acquittal in 2003 based on that tactic after he killed a gay Fulton County prosecutor in Atlanta.
Closer to home, four Bay Area murder suspects argued that they killed a transgender woman named Gwen Araujo in 2002 during bouts of insanity after discovering Araujo was a man who identified herself as a woman. One man charged with the murder accepted an early plea arrangement, while a second received a lesser sentence for revealing the location of Araujo’s body. In January, the remaining defendants were given sentences of 15 years to life. Nonetheless, attempts by her killers to secure reduced sentences by employing the strategy put Araujo’s own gender identity on trial.
“The arguments were coming out so vociferously when this seemed to be an open-and-shut case,” Chris Daley, director of the SF-based Transgender Law Center, told the Guardian. “I guess I was a little shocked this was happening in the Bay Area.”
While the “trans panic” defense ultimately failed to persuade a jury during the sentencing phase in the case of Araujo, the strategy’s startling success elsewhere reveals the truly daunting challenges queer activists continue to face despite what plenty of Americans believe is a widespread contemporary acceptance of LGBT rights.
Inspired by the discussion that followed the Atlanta case, San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris has organized a conference for July 20–21 to discuss the so-called panic defense. She’s invited a cross section of experts to speak, including Chris Lamiero, lead prosecutor in the Araujo case; civil rights attorney Gloria Allred; Dave O’Malley, a lead investigator in the Matthew Shepard case; and San Francisco police commissioner Theresa Sparks.
The private conference will be held at Hastings College of the Law beginning each day at 9 a.m. But a town hall meeting July 20 at 6:30 p.m. will be free and open to the public at the LGBT Center, 1800 Market.
Harris also invited to the conference two of the defense lawyers from the Araujo case, William Du Bois and Michael Thorman, a fact that might create a bit of tension in the room. But Harris isn’t worried.
“That’s why we’re doing this conference — to attack and discredit prejudice,” Harris told us. “It’s a matter of appealing to the biases of juries. What’s offensive about that is it justifies the existence of these prejudices.”
The conference comes on the heels of proposed state legislation authored by Assemblymember Sally Lieber (D–San Jose) that would revise jury instructions in an attempt to limit the effectiveness of gay panic defenses. The bill, AB 1160, has passed the Assembly and is now waiting in the Senate Appropriations Committee.
It’s going to be tough to fully bar defense lawyers from raising issues at a trial, and jury instructions alone may not erase the damage done by a lawyer throwing gay panic around the courtroom. But just raising national consciousness about the problem could have a significant impact.
Harris said her other motivation for forming the conference is the still-high rate of hate crimes in San Francisco.
“We have the second largest number of hate crimes in the state,” she said. “It felt like the time to do this.” SFBG

Homes for whom?


› steve@sfbg.com
“Inclusionary housing program” is a bureaucratic term that seems to invite mental drift. And when the Board of Supervisors’ Land Use Committee considered updating the program’s standards July 12, there was enough mind-numbing economic and regulatory minutiae to sedate the standing-room-only crowd.
But there were also diamonds in that jargony rough. For one thing, San Francisco is now poised to finally force housing developers to spend more of their astronomical profits on housing that sells or rents for far less than the city’s equally obscene housing market dictates. And that’s been made politically possible by an unlikely deal that has downtown developers such as Oz Erickson, affordable housing activists including Calvin Welch, the market-friendly Mayor’s Office of Housing, and progressive Sup. Chris Daly all on the same side.
In the process, a city-commissioned report has lifted the financial veil from big-money housing development in San Francisco, revealing that those who build the biggest high rises require a profit margin of at least 28 percent — or a take-home profit of about $250 million — before they’ll take on a project.
“It used to be illegal [usury to seek such high interest on loaned money], so 28 percent is a sobering number,” Welch said at the hearing.
The public good likely to come from this ordinance — if the current compromise can hold for a few more weeks — is a fairer system for getting people into below-market-rate (BMR) units, policies designed to encourage more housing construction for a wider income mix, and ways to involve more developers and phase in the program so as not to disrupt ongoing projects.
But before we get too deep into the program’s details, let’s take a step back, because the backstory of how we got to this compromise is an intriguing tale with important political implications, particularly for downtown’s current public enemy number one: Chris Daly.
The story really began last summer when the developers of those big new luxury high-rise condos known as One Rincon Hill were trying to get their final approvals. Daly and many of his constituents were concerned that this lucrative project didn’t include enough community benefits or BMR housing.
So the supervisor stepped in and negotiated with the developer a $120 million deal with a huge low-cost-housing element. In the end, the developer agreed to provide affordable units equivalent to about 25 percent of the project.
That’s more than double the city’s current inclusionary housing requirement, which mandates that 12 percent of the units be available below market rate. The requirement rises to 17 percent if the units are built off-site, and developers can pay the city a fee in lieu of doing the actual construction.
The deal got Daly thinking: If the Rincon developers could afford 25 percent, then others probably could too. So he used some of the developer’s money he’d extracted to fund a study looking at how increasing the mandates to 20 and 25 percent would impact housing construction in the city.
Last fall, the Planning Department and Mayor’s Office of Housing assembled a technical advisory committee — made up of cochairs Erickson and Welch and a mix of for-profit and nonprofit developers plus community representatives — to work with the study’s consultants.
Daly put his efforts in the form of an ordinance last October. Sup. Sophie Maxwell also had introduced legislation to strengthen the inclusionary housing program, which has been combined with the Daly legislation. And Sup. Jake McGoldrick last fall introduced legislation to apply the program to buildings of five or more units (it now applies to buildings of 10 units and more), and his ordinance is now being considered along with the Daly-Maxwell legislation.
“This is about housing for everyday people in San Francisco,” Daly said at the July 12 hearing, which was attended by the three supervisors, city staff and consultants, top developers, and a large crowd of housing activists wearing “Housing Justice Now” stickers.
That volatile mix produced a surprising amount of unanimity and compromise (although the Land Use Committee ultimately decided to push the matter back a week to work out some details). Just a few days earlier, when the consultants’ numbers first came in, the measures had seemed headed for an ugly showdown between the progressives and downtown.
The report by Keyser Marston Associates analyzed how much the city can ask for before developers just say no. It was a wake-up call in many respects, showing that San Francisco developers and their financers expect at least 18 percent profit margins for small projects and more than 28 percent for big ones.
For starters, that means that no private developer will build new rental housing in San Francisco, because the profits aren’t high enough. The report also says that developers will avoid putting affordable units in their luxury condo towers; it makes more economic sense to build them off-site or to pay into the city fund instead.
Doug Shoemaker of the Mayor’s Office of Housing (MOH) said his office has learned a lot from the study, particularly about how the in-lieu fee could be adjusted to make BMR housing construction a more attractive option for developers.
“It’s created a bias for developers to just pay the fee,” Shoemaker said, noting that his office increased the in-lieu fee by 15 percent on July 1 and indicating that further increases could be on the way. In fact, one requirement of the ordinance is for the MOH to regularly update fees to reflect evolving market realities.
Yet there was also a potential kiss of death in the report, which ran the numbers and found that developers wouldn’t pursue projects that met the 20 to 25 percent inclusionary housing standard that Daly was seeking.
Daly and his housing activist constituents understood that the report — which was issued just five days before the hearing — would likely translate into a mayoral veto of the legislation, allowing Mayor Gavin Newsom to claim it would hurt the city’s economy and housing needs.
“What we were confronted with last Friday was political death,” Welch said.
So Daly lowered his requirement to 15 and 20 percent respectively and agreed to compromises that grandfather in projects now in the pipeline and ease up the standards on projects that work within their current zoning.
“We do support the compromise,” Matt Franklin of the MOH told the Guardian.
But for Daly the legislation is about more than percentages. For example, it also creates standards for marketing the BMR units to prevent fraud, allows lower-income residents to qualify for them, and requires off-site BMR units to be within one mile of the project.
Daly, a tough former housing activist known for sometimes taking strong and unbending progressive stands, told the Guardian that this deal is consistent with his approach: “Yes, I’ll push the envelope, but that doesn’t mean I won’t take a good deal.”
The July 12 hearing demonstrated that this was a deal being grudgingly accepted by all of the usually polarized sides.
“We, by and large, support this legislation,” Erickson — the Emerald Fund developer and San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association board member who cochaired the committee — said at the hearing. He also added, “I think it’s doable. I think it’s not going to kill development.”
Yet he also emphasized that the development community is giving all it can: “Fifteen percent was a compromise and we were very reluctant to see it go from 12 to 15 percent.”
Welch also said the compromise was painful for housing activists, who were hoping to get more BMR units out of market-rate housing developers and were astonished at the huge profit margins that are expected by developers and those who finance their projects.
“I think we have been successful at coming up with public policy that meets the needs of developers and low-income residents,” Welch said at the hearing.
Later he told the Guardian that the inclusionary housing update is designed to promote the kind of housing — BMR units for those making just less than the median income — that is also being created by the controversial practice of evicting tenants from apartments and converting those units into condos.
“What this does is help prevent the rental stock from being converted by [tenancies-in-common],” said Welch.
Developer Mike Burke took issue with the criticism of developers at the hearing. “It’s not a guarantee of a 28 percent return. It’s a fair return based on a substantial risk.”
Yet housing activists note that developers already anticipate delays and other financial risks when constructing their financial models, so many developers actually make more than 28 percent on their projects, a fact that the consultant’s report acknowledged.
Eric Quesada of the Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition called on city officials to adopt as tough a standard as possible, using that as a starting point to a broader discussion.
“We need to dig deeper to look at what the goals of San Francisco are for housing,” he said. “This is the ceiling of what we need.” SFBG

Poll position


› gwschulz@sfbg.com
A San Francisco–based political pollster is showing there’s little it won’t do to keep an AFL-CIO affiliate from organizing its phone-bank operators.
The respected Field Research Corporation provides survey data for major newspapers across California, including the San Francisco Chronicle. The company is perhaps best known for its Field Poll, which gauges public opinion on everything from electoral candidates and earthquakes to steroids and immigration. The company also performs taxpayer-subsidized surveys for some local government agencies.
In June the Guardian reported that 80 percent of the company’s 50 or so phone surveyors had signed a petition to join the Communication Workers of America Local 9415, hoping they could negotiate wage increases (they get San Francisco’s minimum right now, $8.62 an hour, with 50 cents extra if they’re bilingual), greater health care opportunities, and general workplace improvements. Some workers told us in June that current conditions promote a high turnover rate.
The company refused to recognize their petition, however, so now the National Labor Relations Board will oversee an election scheduled for July 20. Since our last story [“Questioning Their Bosses,” 6/7/2006], Field Research has instituted an aggressive campaign to discourage workers from joining the CWA by distributing inflammatory memos that suggest the union would work against their interests and not do much more than collect dues.
“Unfortunately, [the tactics are] par for the course for corporations these days,” said Yonah Camacho Diamond, an organizer for Local 9415. “However, the one surprising thing with Field Research is they have public projects. They’re seen as having a lot of integrity, but these are Wal-Mart tactics. We’ve got solid supporters, but this stuff is taking its toll on the workers. It’s coming at them daily.”
A memo to employees sent out by chief financial officer Nancy Rogers invites them to attend a paid “session” in which they’ll be given “factual answers to your questions” about union representation. The sessions for the most part appear to demonize the CWA and warn in grave terms what could happen to the workers’ pay if they go on strike. One handout suggests their hourly wage could drop more than three dollars to the federal minimum of $5.15, based on a strange interpretation of the city’s minimum-wage ordinance. Another handout features a table that purports to show how little any wage increase resulting from a strike would benefit them.
“This chart shows the length of time needed for you to make up losses (assuming you were not permanently replaced) during a strike if the union calls for one and then later gets you a 50 cent per hour increase,” the page reads. “We hope this would not happen here, and we would bargain in good faith, but you never know.”
Using Local 9415’s own annual financial reports, the handout goes on to imply that the CWA spends union dues enriching its own staff administrators. The union told us that, in fact, some 80 percent of 9415’s income goes to representing its members. The local’s president earned $57,000 last year.
Another memo sent to employees by Rogers in May threatens, “Many of you think that by getting a union, your wages, hours, and working conditions will automatically change. This is simply not the case.” She writes that the company would not enter into agreements that could “eliminate the jobs of many of our part-time employees,” despite concerns expressed by at least one employee about the quality of survey data produced by temp workers. The employee, Daniel Butler, claimed to us in June that he was suspended for three days as a result of his complaints.
On July 11, Sup. Chris Daly proposed a resolution condemning Field Research’s “unethical actions to intimidate employees” and the company’s “antiunion ‘captive audience’ meetings.”
“Field Research Corporation has revenues in the millions of dollars, only pays pennies above the minimum wage required by San Francisco law, and doesn’t offer health care to the overwhelming majority of their employees,” the resolution reads. The full board was scheduled to consider the resolution July 18, after our deadline.
CFO Rogers and Field Research site manager George Nolan did not return calls seeking comment.
One phone-bank operator, Oriana Saportas, who commutes from the East Bay for 22 hours of work each week, admitted she believed some of the workers who originally signed the petition had been persuaded to vote against Local 9415 by Field Research’s antiunion campaign. She said that during the information sessions the employees were divided into four groups, including one group containing those who seemed to be most in support of the union. She says now she’s not entirely sure which way the election will go.
“I asked [Field Research] how we could have a voice without a union…. They didn’t really give me a straight answer,” Saportas said. “Not every institution is perfect. Not even the union. I know that. But we need a voice.” SFBG

The planet of the mutants


› johnny@sfbg.com
It’s been nearly 40 years since Sérgio Dias Baptista of Os Mutantes saw Ten Years After at the Fillmore, but he still has, well, vivid memories of his first visit to San Francisco as a naive 17-year-old. He remembers sitting on a bench at a park in Haight-Ashbury and seeing a man on a faraway hilltop slowly walking toward him, until the man finally arrived — to offer Dias what he claims was his first joint. “I think it was also the first time someone showed me a peace sign, and I didn’t understand what was that,” the ebullient guitarist says. “I thought it stood for ‘Victory.’”
Dias hopes to bring some “nice ‘inner weather’” to a much different United States this week, when the antic victorious peacefulness of Os Mutantes takes over the same venue where he once saw Nottingham’s finest. “It’s going to be, like, ‘Whoa!’” he predicts. “Flashbacks all over the place!”
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 Dias, 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. With a pianist-composer for a mother and a tenor singer–poet for a father, the Dias brothers lived and breathed music. “Working 10 or 12 hours a day on songs became a normal thing for us,” says Dias, who wears a cape on the front of the group’s first album and an alien skullcap on the back of their second. “The level of expectation was high, but without any demands. That was very good for our technical development.”
This amazing development, overseen by Karlheinz Stockhausen–influenced producer Rogério Duprat — the George Martin or Phil Spector or Jack Nitzsche or Pierre Henry of Tropicalismo — can be heard on the group’s triple crown of classics, 1968’s Os Mutantes, 1969’s Mutantes, and 1970’s A Divina Comédia, ou Ando Meio Desligado. “There was no psychedelia — Brazil received information in kaleidoscope,” Dias asserts, using a favorite interview metaphor. Whether generated by drugs or by cultural conduits, the kaleidoscopic sound of Os Mutantes’ first three records ranges from Ventures-like guitar riffing (“I have to thank [Ventures guitarist] Nokie Edwards for hours of pleasure,” says Dias) to hallucinatory and surreal choral passages (such as Os Mutantes’ time stopper “O Relógio”) and Janis Joplin–like freak-outs about domestic appliances (the third album’s “Meu Refrigerador Não Funciona,” or “My Refrigerator Doesn’t Work”).
A reaction to international pop culture inspired by modernist poet Oswald de Andrade’s “Cannibalist Manifesto,” the sound of Os Mutantes and their fellow Tropicalistas wasn’t music to the ears of Brazil’s military dictatorship or to those of younger music fans who adhered to post–bossa nova nationalist tradition or derivative Jovem Guarda rock. In October 1967, at TV Records’ Second Festival of Brazilian Popular Music, both Veloso (performing “Alegria, Alegria,” which name-drops Coca-Cola) and Gil (performing “Domingo No Parque” with Os Mutantes) received the type of reaction Bob Dylan had recently gotten for going electric. “It felt good. You pull out your fists and think, ‘OK, they’re against us, so let’s show them the way,’” Dias says when asked about the era’s battles against forces of repression. “When you’re young, you think you’re indestructible or immortal.”
Tropicalismo’s figureheads soon learned otherwise. The following year brought the landmark compilation Tropicália ou Panis et Circensis, recorded the same month as the massive protests in Paris, its title fusing Veloso’s anthem “Tropicália” (which mentions the Brigitte Bardot film Viva Maria) and Os Mutantes’ “Panis et Circensis.” Turning a catchphrase from the May revolts into a song (“É Proibido Proibir”), Veloso soon faced an onslaught of eggs and tomatoes as well as boos during performances. In December 1968, Brazilian president Artur da Costa e Silva imprisoned Veloso and Gil, who were later exiled to England. One could say Os Mutantes got off lucky in comparison, as they were still able to flout the Federal Censorship Department through the gothic-vault morbidity of A Divina Comédia’s cover art and through mocking sound effects on TV. “It was a dark period, but we fought with a smile,” says Dias, who doesn’t miss a chance to compare Brazil’s Fifth Institutional Act with the United States’ Patriot Act. “We were jokers, but we were serious jokers.”
Today, eight years after Beck’s best album, Mutations (featuring the single “Tropicalia”), Os Mutantes and their contemporaries are surfing another deserved cosmic wave of younger-generation wonderment, and it’s more apparent than ever that the movement’s major musical artists covered each other’s tracks in a way that emphasized — rather than hid — their unity and intent. The recent Soul Jazz comp Tropicália: A Brazilian Revolution in Sound begins with Gil’s “Bat Macumba” and closes with the Os Mutantes version. Through moments like Gal Costa’s gorgeous “Baby” (another Veloso composition also covered by Os Mutantes), the lesser-known but perhaps superior collection Tropicália Gold, on Universal, highlights the music’s oft-overlooked links to bossa nova and the ties between Tropicalismo îe-îe-îe and Françoise Hardy’s languid yé-yé. Veloso’s autobiography, Tropical Truth, gives shout-outs to Jean-Luc Godard, but Serge Gainsbourg had to have been just as much an influence on Veloso’s lyrics and the whiz-bang! noises on Os Mutantes recordings such as A Divina Comédia’s “Chão de Estrelas.”
Since he laments that Al Jazeera isn’t readily available in Brazil, Sérgio Dias might be the first to note that Brazilian TV and popular music ain’t always what they used to be, regardless of the fact that Gil is now the country’s Minister of Culture. For example, the ’90s brought the bizarre blond ambition of Playboy playmate–turned–pop star and kids TV host Xuxa — not exactly the girl Os Mutantes had in mind when they “shoo shoo”-ed through Jorge Ben’s “A Minha Menina.” But the Dias brothers still have many reasons to celebrate. Earlier this year, a Tropicália exhibition at the Barbican in London brought the movement’s visual artists, including the late Hélio Oiticica (who coined the term Tropicália), together with their current technicolor children such as Assume Vivid Astro Focus. It also led to a live performance by Os Mutantes with new vocalist Zélia Duncan — the first time the Dias brothers appeared onstage together in over three decades. Devendra Banhart, who had written to the group asking to be their roadie, was the opening act.
“I felt like the guys going into the arena,” says Dias. “It was such a burst of energy — it was outrageous. After the show, the audience stood yelling ‘Mutantes!’ for 10 minutes. It’s such a humbling situation, to think about people wanting this 30 years later. It makes me want to bow to the universe.” SFBG
With Brightback Morning Light
Mon/24, 9 p.m.
1805 Geary, SF
(415) 346-4000

A band of sisters


› kimberly@sfbg.com
Cast your eyes on the Billboard chart and it seems like summer 2006 will go down in history as the season of the Latin diva, with Nelly Furtado doffing a soft-focus folkie-cutie image by declaring herself “Promiscuous” and Shakira holding on to the promise of, well, that crazy, sexy, but not quite cool chest move she’s close to trademarked via “Hips Don’t Lie.” Rihanna and Christina Aguilera brought up the rear of the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart last week — solo singers all. But with the on-again, off-again slow fade of Destiny’s Child, the imminent demise of the explicitly feminist Sleater-Kinney, and the earlier evaporation of the even more didactic le Tigre, one has to wonder, what has happened to all-girl groups?
Was it a gimmick? Did Newsweek and Seventeen leach riot grrrl’s genuine grassroots movement of its “authenticity” and power? Was Sarah McLachlan lame? Was Courtney Love insane? Perhaps the answer is on today’s pop charts, where the sole “girl group” — if you don’t count the manly guest MC appearances — is the frankly faux Pussycat Dolls, a sorry excuse for women’s empowerment if there ever was one. Their ’90s counterparts the Spice Girls baldly appropriated “girl power” as their own marketing slogan, but at least they gave 30-second-commercial-break lip service to the notion.
The scarcity of all-female bands — particularly the variety whose women do more than simply lip-synch on video — has perhaps spread to supposedly more progressive spheres. Erase Errata bassist-vocalist Ellie Erickson notes that when the band recently played Chicago’s Intonation Music Festival, she was shocked to discover that their all-female trio made up almost half the total number of women performing among about 50 artists. Even at a more down-low, underground gathering like last month’s End Times Festival in Minneapolis, where Bay Area bands dominated, only one all-girl band, T.I.T.S., made the cut, observes the band’s guitarist, Kim West. “When we were in Minneapolis there were so many girls who came up to us and were, like, ‘This is so awesome! There are no all-girl bands here and it’s so rare to see this,’” she recalls.
Girl groups do persist: the news-making, stand-taking, chops-wielding Dixie Chicks among them. But for every Chicks there’s a Donnas, now off Atlantic after the Bay Area–bred band’s second major-label release stumbled at takeoff. Is Dixie Chicks credibility forthcoming for commercial girl bands like Lillix, the Like, and Kittie? Some might argue that feminism’s gains in the ’70s and ’80s — which led to the blossoming of all-female groups from TLC to Babes in Toyland, Vanity 6 to L7, and Fannypack to Bikini Kill — have led to a postfeminist moment in which strongly female-identified artists are ghettoized or otherwise relegated to the zone of erotic fantasy (e.g., Pussycat Dolls). Gone are the days when Rolling Stone touted the “Women of Rock” in their 1997 30th anniversary issue and Lilith Fair brought female singer-songwriters to every cranny of the nation.
“I think that with the demise of Sleater-Kinney and Le Tigre, it’s a very sad time for girl groups,” e-mails Evelyn McDonnell, Miami Herald pop culture writer and coauthor of Rock She Wrote. “It seems like the end of the ’90s women in rock era, an era that unfortunately left fewer marks than we hoped it would 15 years ago.”
Radio’s known resistance to women-dominated bands hasn’t helped. Le Tigre’s Kathleen Hanna told me last year that despite the best efforts of her label, Universal, to get her feminist trio’s first major-label release, This Island, out to the masses, “MTV didn’t play our video and radio didn’t play our single either. Some of that is that we’re women and they’ve already got Gwen Stefani. So we just have to wait till she stops making music or something like that.” She was told that a group of three women was less likely to get play than a band of men fronted by a female vocalist.
Perhaps feminism is simply not in vogue, speculates Erase Errata vocalist-guitarist Jenny Hoyston. “I think any woman who’s a musician is going to have people say she’s only getting attention because she’s a woman,” she says. “It’s gonna be assumed that they don’t know how to work their gear, that they don’t necessarily play as well. That kind of typical stuff…. A lot of people aren’t taken seriously, especially if they get too queer or too gay in their songwriting, and I think that people get judged a lot for being too feminist, for sure, and I think there’s a major backlash against feminism in scenes that I’ve been a part of in this country. I think people are cooler about it in the UK definitely and in some other countries in Europe.”
But how does one explain the strong presence of all-female (or female-dominated) bands in the Bay Area such as Erase Errata, T.I.T.S., 16 Bitch Pileup, Blectum from Blechdom, Boyskout, Vervein, and Von Iva? “I think San Francisco is a big hub for women bands,” offers West, a veteran of Crack: We Are Rock and Death Sentence! Panda. With a provocative name and costumes (“It’s sexy from afar — and scary once you get closer,” West says), the band — including guitarist-vocalist Mary Elizabeth Yarborough, guitarist-vocalist Abbey Kerins, and Condor drummer Wendy Farina — reflects a kind of decentralized, cooperative approach to music making. “There’s no lead,” West explains. “I think that’s a really big element. We all sing together and we all come up with lyrics together. We each write a sentence or a word or a verse and put it in a hat and pull it out and that becomes a song. No one has more writing power than anyone else — it’s all even. I think girls are more likely to like some idea like that than guys.”
And there’s power in their female numbers, West believes, discussing T.I.T.S.’s June UK tour: “It’s funny because it was the first time I’d ever been on tour with all four girls. When I’d go on tour with Crack, guys would be hitting on us, and with T.I.T.S., guys were a little more intimidated because I think we were like a gang. We had that tightness in our group, so it’s harder to approach four girls than one girl or two girls, especially when we’re laughing and having a good time.”
In the end, McDonnell is optimistic that feminism could make a comeback. “I see a revival of progressive ideas in general in culture, largely in reaction to war and Bush…. The Dixie Chicks are arguably the most important group in popular music, and they’re fantastically outspoken as women’s liberationists,” she writes, also praising the Gossip, Peaches, and Chicks on Speed. “And the decentralization of the music industry should open avenues to women, making success less dependent on cruelly, ridiculously chauvinist radio.”
Ever the less-optimistic outsider, I’m less given to believing file sharing and self-released music can dispel the sexism embedded in the music industry — or stem the tide of social conservatism in this country. But that kind of spirit — as well as going with the urge to make music and art with other women, from our own jokes, horrors, and everyday existences — is a start. SFBG

Sunny side of the scream


› kimberly@sfbg.com
The Greek deities might throw lightning bolts and issue stormy protests, but when I first saw Erase Errata in November 2001, they seemed less a fledgling local all-girl band than scruffy goddesses sprung full grown from the temple of … Mark E. Smith. The year-and-a-half-old foursome opened for the newly reenergized, near-surfabilly Fall and they were staggering — seeming grrrlish prodigies who picked up the sharp, jagged tools discarded by Smith with a confidence that seemed Olympian (as in Washington State and Zeus’s heavenly homestead). On their way to All Tomorrow’s Parties in LA, vocalist–trumpet player Jenny Hoyston, guitarist Sara Jaffe, bassist Ellie Erickson, and drummer Bianca Sparta were poised to speak in primal feminist riddles while constructing their own dissonant wing to the Fall’s aural complex, one comprising driving, weirdo time signatures; raw, textural guitar; and atonal washes.
It was not the type of performance you might expect from Hoyston, 32, who grew up stranded in a singular God’s country in the “dry,” extremely Christian, and very un–rock ’n’ roll town of Freeport, Texas, where she was once more likely to be Bible thumping instead of guitar thrumming. “I was a born-again Christian, Republican. I was engaged,” says Hoyston today, gazing out on the concrete beer garden of el Rio where she regularly does sound and books shows. “I thought my life had to be this one way.”
So what turned her toward the path of big-daddy demon rock?
“Uh, LSD,” she says drily.
Actually it was the empty feeling that engulfed her despite all the church-related activities she threw herself into — that and the life-changing spectacle of SF dyke punk unit Tribe 8 playing her college town of Lansing, Mich. “I was just really impressed by how free those crazy people seemed. It just seemed really beautiful,” she explains. “And I didn’t necessarily come out here to meet them and hang out with them. Straight-up punk is not really my kind of music. But I think they are just so powerful. They came to town and made all the queers feel like they were going to go to this place, maybe even with their boyfriend and hold their hands and not get beat up. I wanted to get that empowered.”
There are still more than a few remnants of that sweet, shy Texas back-roads girl that Hoyston once was: She speaks gently and looks completely nondescript in her black T-shirt and specs, padding around el Rio as the petal-soft air of an SF summer afternoon burns into the deep velvet pelt of night. Some might mistake her watchful awkwardness for holier- or hipper-than-thou aloofness. But here at her dive, waiting for Tank Attack and Fox Pause to materialize for the first Wednesday show she books, she’s in her element, playing Bee Gees tracks and disco hits between the bands, running the PA, and busying herself by distributing flyers for an upcoming Pam Grier movie night.
“I’m excited about tonight’s show because it’s not a big heavy-drinking crowd,” Hoyston offers sincerely.
Erase Errata’s vocalist and now guitarist is far from an archetypal star, even as her band has become more than a little well-known in indie, underground, and experimental music circles. The seniors in a small smart class of all-female groups in the Bay Area — including conceptual metal-noise supergroup T.I.T.S. and experimental noise Midwestern transplants 16 Bitch Pileup — they share with those bands an embrace of threatening, cacophonous sonics and edge-rockin’, artful yet intuitive tendencies that inevitably meet the approval of those persnickety noise boys, an approach Hoyston is now fully conscious of.
“I think had our music been slightly less confrontational, we would have been dismissed a lot quicker,” she says. “I think people thought we had cred because we were being hard, y’know.”
Weasel Walter — who first lived in Hoyston’s former Club Hott warehouse in Oakland upon moving from Chicago — can validate that perspective. His band, Flying Luttenbachers, played nightly with Erase Errata, Lightning Bolt, Locust, and Arab on Radar as part of the Oops! Tour in 2002. “Every night I got to watch them play intense, energetic versions of songs from their entire catalog and also began to understand what a complex organism the band was, musically and personally,” he e-mails. “Bianca and Ellie are a fantastic rhythm section, and Jenny is an LSD poetess and standup comedienne without peer!”
Erase Errata’s new, third album, Nightlife (Kill Rock Stars), is the latest sign of untrammeled spirit and uncontainable life in the band — and in the all-woman band form. Hoyston may personally favor a more low-key version of nightlife — not so with her art and lyrics.
Now a threesome after the departure of Jaffe in 2004 for grad school and a temporary stint by A Tension’s Archie McKay on token-male vocals, the band has become both more directly melodic and more pointedly politicized. The echoing, droning, rotating police copter blades of the title track demonstrate that they are far from detached from their boundary-testing inclinations, but otherwise — while other bands of their turn-of-the-century generation have quieted down, folked up, or simply folded — Erase Errata wind up for an energizing, wake-up kick in the ball sac with Nightlife, aimed at those who claim that the underground has been far too escapist, evasive, or simply mute when it comes to polemics and art punk.
Borrowing American Indian powwow rhythms (“Take You”) and sandblasted rockabilly beats (“Rider”), along with their more archetypal ragged textures (“Dust”), the band skates between the urgency of midperiod Sleater-Kinney and the honking dissonance of DNA, as Hoyston coos, “While you’re too broke to not commit a crime/ Your federal government knows that this is true/ More prisons/ More people have to die” on “Another Genius Idea from Our Government.” The group lets its anger and outrage drive the songs — allowing a Gang of Four–style frenetic punk funk to propel “Tax Dollar” (“American bastard, murderous bitch/ Traitor to humans/ So rebel! Get on the run”) — but not consume them. They stop to study the world around them — be it the well-armed paranoid desert rats of “Rider” (which finds Hoyston turning the phrase “Where everybody has a gun/ Everybody has a knife” into a wildly western horror show of a hook) or the street-level violence that bleeds into the gender wars on “He Wants What’s Mine” (“Hey Beautiful!/ Take it into the night, I’ll walk beside you and steal/ Your life like a carving knife”).
Hoyston attributes the tone of the album to her move from Oakland to San Francisco. “In general, I started to notice things around my city that kind of woke me up to national situations, when I think I’d been a little bit dormant on that front as well. So I got really inspired,” she says. “I think At Crystal Palace [Troubleman, 2003] isn’t as political a record as Other Animals [2001] was. I think it was more us being artistic and more me lyrically just existing in a purely artistic realm and not really thinking about, well, yeah, I am political. I have feelings and I can express them in art and they can actually reach a wide audience. I think I just rerealized the power of the tool of having a voice.”
The band never had any intention of making their music a career: In fact, Erase Errata began as an outright joke played on Hoyston’s Club Hott housemate Luis Illades of Pansy Division. Hoyston moved to the Bay Area in the late ’90s, where she began working in the Guardian’s accounting department; formed California Lightning with her best friend, Bianca Sparta; and met Ellie Erickson (who was in Nebraska all-girl teen band XY and also later worked at the Guardian) and through her, Sara Jaffe.
“When Sara and I met each other, it was, like, ‘OK, are we going to go out or are we going to start a band together? Why don’t we do something more long-term and start a band together?’” recalls Hoyston. “You know when you meet somebody and you have so much in common with them and they’re actually queer? It’s a really powerful thing.”
Even now, the once painfully timid Hoyston marvels, “I seriously can’t believe I’m a front person for a band. It was seriously a joke that I was going to sing for this band because I considered myself an accomplished guitar player — not a front person, by any means. I think front people are really pretty or cute or sexy and all the kind of things that I don’t see myself as. We were just making up songs and people would hear and say, ‘Omigod, what was that? Will you guys play with us?’”
That dirty word for this noncareerist group — momentum — came into play, and Erase Errata discovered themselves on tour with Sonic Youth and Numbers, as, Hoyston says, she challenged herself “with, like, can I get in front of all these people and act like a fool and try to sing weird and sing good and get confident and maybe even feel aggressive, the way my bandmates were challenging each other with instruments? It’s something that eventually kind of came easier and easier over time. And now I can sit down and talk to you.”
The key to Nightlife’s success lies, perhaps, in the fact that the band is still pushing itself, musically and artistically. “I think it’s women’s music,” ponders Hoyston. “There’s still something odd about some of the music we’re making. It’s still atonal at times, some parts might be a little awkward, some parts might go on too long. Here and there, things are like that intentionally. We still try to keep things a little bit difficult for ourselves to pull off live. So I think it’s made for people who might appreciate an interesting take on pop punk, maybe.”
Pop punk! Nightlife is still not exactly Vans Warped Tour material, though one punk godfather might approve. Sort of, according to Hoyston, who conjures her most memorable encounter with Fall guy Mark E. Smith: “I was a smoker back then, and Mark E. Smith walked right up to me and took my cigarette right out of my hand as I was putting it up to my lips and smoked it all the way down to the filter and then flicked it at me and said, ‘See ya, kid.’ In a really mean, mean, mean way! Then he went out onstage and did the encore. And I was just, like, ‘He stole my cigarette! That’s great!’ Because he’s like an … icon to me.
“I don’t like him necessarily. I don’t think he’s a nice person…. He’s a real jerk in general. But I love the Fall.”
The gods can be merciless — and forgiving — though Hoyston would be the first to debunk any of that vaporous junk. Amid Erase Errata’s achievements and her own multiple solo incarnations such as Paradise Island, it’s clear she’s no goddess. She’s simply very human and just trying to stay active. “I’m just really into demystifying things for myself,” she says. “I mean, if I wanted to be mystified, I’d still be in church.” SFBG
Guardian Best of the Bay party
Aug. 2, 9 p.m.
Club Six
60 Sixth St., SF
(415) 863-1221
CD release party with T.I.T.S.
Aug. 4, 7 p.m.
El Rio
3158 Mission, SF
(415) 282-3325