Volume 40 Number 44

August 1- August 8, 2006

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Aug 8


Salif Keita

With a career spanning over 35 years, Salif Keita pioneered the Afro-pop phenom and has won recognition across the world as the Golden Voice of Mali. An albino from an upper-caste family, Keita became a musician without his family’s approval, and his struggle for acceptance is alluded to by his latest album’s title, M’bemba (Decca/Universal Classics), meaning ancestor, which also features his foster sisters on vocals. (Nicole Gluckstern)

Also Wed/9
8 p.m. and 10 p.m.
510 Embarcadero West, Oakl
(510) 238-9200


“El Corazón de la Missión”

“El Corazón de la Missión” is definitely the kind of neighborhood tour that could cause a unimaginative tourist’s head to explode. The reason: it’s led by writer, performance artist, and self-described “reverse anthropologist” Guillermo Gómez-Peña, who is more than ready to freestyle off whatever he encounters while also breaking down the Mission’s labor history and the lives of sites such as Clarion Alley and Dolores Park. You’ll also probably discover more about where you live than you thought you could know. (Johnny Ray Huston)

12:30 and 2:30 p.m.
Galleria de la Raza
2857 24th St, SF
(415) 864-8855



Aug 7



Anyone who writes for a daily or weekly publication knows plenty about mortification. So it should be no surprise that newspapers and magazines are lining up to praise “Mortified,” the monthly stage show and shame game devoted to life’s most embarrassing moments. Misguided mash notes and diary stories about first kisses and worst hand jobs – in this show, all are ripped open like scabs on the psyche. Many cities get “Mortified,” but only San Francisco recently hosted a Bad Teen Poetry Slam. (Johnny Ray Huston)

8 p.m. (doors open at 7)
Make-Out Room
3225 22nd St, SF
(415) 647-2888



Get out your red pens and rock-out boots for this much-touted Brit band. Nice, down-to-earth blokes – look to the Noise, the Guardian’s music blog, soon for an interview conducted the last time the band was in town. (Kimberly Chun)

With Cold War Kids
9 p.m.
1805 Geary, SF
(415) 346-6000



Aug 6


This Is My Fist!

East Bay punkers This is My Fist! have finally come around on the album front. This show celebrates the release of A History of Rats (No Idea!), the debut of this female-led, highly tuneful group. It’s not pop-punk per se, but it’s not exactly music to beat someone up to either: the three-piece has some definite song structure and whistleable choruses transposed onto the speed of classic punk, leaving a tidy result that, while certainly listenable, is not without bite. (Michael Harkin)

With One Reason, Hot New Mexicans, and the Four Eyes
5 p.m.
924 Gilman
924 Gilman, Berk.
(510) 525-9926


“Rock the Bells”

Of all of the summer festivals, this little known two-date revue is probably the best hip-hop fest out there. Thirteen years after their debut classic, Enter the Wu Tang (36 Chambers) (RCA), Wu-Tang is still on top. They were key architects of the underground hip-hop movement and – besides launching the careers of members Method Man, Ghostface Killah, and GZA – influenced almost every hip-hop act on the scene today. Longtime collaborators Mos Def and Talib Kweli are some of the most popular socially and morally conscious rappers, both as successful solo artists and as the respected duo Black Star. And don’t leave out hip-hop stalwarts and skilled rhyme slingers Redman and De la Soul. (Joseph DeFranceschi)

11 a.m.
Concord Pavilion
2000 Kirker Pass Road
(925) 676-8742



Aug 5



Leave it to the Fleshies to carve out something really special in the Bay Area punk scene: since 1999 these Oakland punks boast a sound that, while not wholly serious – among their newest songs is “Half Wolf, Half Vampire … You Are in BIG Trouble!” – is sure to shake the humble listener in rather maniacal fashion. A former asset of the notorious S.P.A.M. (Smarmy Post-Angst Musicians) Records label, they’re coolly anthemic and could easily crunch with the more popular punks if they weren’t so staunchly weird, but therein lies their charm. (Michael Harkin)

With the Bar Feeders and Black Elk
10 p.m.
El Rio
3158 Mission, SF
(415) 282-3325


“Hellraiser 4 Pinewood Derby and Art Auction”

The “Hellraiser 4 Pinewood Derby and Art Auction” has visions of flames in its name and does take place on a Saturday, but burning mishaps are unlikely. Instead expect miniature-size, driverless derby races featuring cars painted and designed by all-star artists, with awards for fastest car and best in show. A silent auction at the event benefits the Mission-based bilingual Buen Día Family School. (Johnny Ray Huston)

8 p.m. (doors open at 6)
Shooting Gallery
839 Larkin, SF
(415) 931-8035



Aug 4


Bloc Party

As the audio-spiritual godchildren of the Clash and Fun Boy Three, Bloc Party are riding the whole post-punk revival thing hard, and, despite having only one heavenly angst-ridden album to their credit (Silent Alarm, Vice Records), their constant touring schedule and rabid online fanbase might ensure that they outlast the ebbing wave of post-post-punk darlings. Performing with the Canadian ABBA of emo, Broken Social Scene (and emotive upstarts Mew) at the Greek Theater, the Blocs should deliver a solid set of jangling pangs. (Marke B.)

Also with Two Gallants
6:30 p.m.
Greek Theater
Gayley and Stadium Rim, Berk.
(415) 421-TIXS


“3 Drops of Blood”

With installment X, Nanos Operetta concludes its eclectic “3 Drops of Blood” series. While the music ensemble’s cabaret format has included many artistic medias – from spoken word to film – it has been particularly welcoming to Bay Area dance. In addition to bringing their work outside the regular dance circuit, Nanos provided dancers with a home away from home and the opportunity to collide with brilliant composers and performers in other genres. So it’s only appropriate that the last show includes two prominent representatives of the Bay Area dance community: Sara Shelton Mann and Kunst-Stoff. (Rita Felciano)

Fri/4-Sat/5, 8 p.m.
Project Artaud Theater
450 Florida, SF
(415) 561-1444



Aug 3

Visual Art

“Altered Barbie”

Barbie has undergone many changes since her first appearance in 1959, when she was a teenage fashion model. But she’s never been to hell or lived in a trailer park. Nor has she been the Virgin Mary, a stripper, or a raver – until now. At the fourth annual “Altered Barbie Show,” more than 70 artists will mutate the American icon. Through the use of painting, photography, collage, sculpture, and video, artists will reinterpret and reassemble the idealized plastic doll. The gallery reception includes a screening of Susan Stern’s Barbie Nation. (Kellie Ell)

5:30 p.m.
Market Street Gallery
1554 Market, SF
(415) 290-1441



Renowned San Francisco playwright Octavio Solis takes audiences down the river of forgetfulness this weekend with the world premiere of Lethe, an uncommon collaboration between Bay Area seniors, caregivers, and theater artists, presented by Cornerstone Theater Company and directed by Cornerstone and South Coast Rep’s Juliette Carrillo. Lethe draws its storyline and theme from more than a year’s immersion in discussion about caregiving, memory, and change. Mixing potent drama, sly humor, and original music by composer-musician Beth Custer, Lethe promises a memorable ride into uncharted waters. (Robert Avila)

7:30pm (also Fri/4, 7:30 p.m.; Sat/5, 2:00 p.m.)
Presentation Theater
2350 Turk Blvd
University of San Francisco, SF
Suggested donation $10

Voto por voto!


Act One: The Middle Class

MEXICO CITY (August 4th) — Jacinto Guzman, an 80 year-old retired oilworker from Veracruz state, plants himself in front of the headquarters of the Halliburton Corporation on the skyscraper-lined Paseo de Reforma here and recalls the great strikes of the 1930s that culminated in the expropriation and nationalization of Mexico’s petroleum reserves.

Dressed in a wrinkled suit and a hard hat, the old worker laments the creeping privatization of PEMEX, the national oil corporation, by non-Mexican subcontractors like Halliburton, which is installing natural gas infrastructure in Chiapas. But he is less agitated about the penetration of the transnationals in the Mexican oil industry, or even Halliburton’s craven role in the obscene Bush-Cheney Iraq war, than he is about the fraud-marred July 2nd presidential election here.

The sign he holds reads “No A Pinche Fraude” (No to Fucking Fraud!), referring to Halliburton’s membership in a business confederation that financed a vicious TV ad campaign against leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), who insists that he won the July 2nd election from right-winger Felipe Calderon, to whom the nation’s tarnished electoral authority, the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) awarded a razor-thin and much questioned “victory.”

Mr. Guzman’s appearance at Halliburton on a Friday at the end of last month was one of myriad acts of civil resistance invoked by Lopez Obrador at a July 16th Mexico City assembly that drew more than a million participants. The campaign is designed to pressure a seven-judge panel (the “TRIFE”), which must determine a winner by the first week in September, into opening up the ballot boxes and counting out the votes contained therein — “voto por voto.”

Zeroing in on U.S. transnationals that purportedly backed Calderon, AMLO’s people have invaded Wal-Mart, picketed Pepsico (its Sabritas snack brand was a big contributor to the right-winger’s campaign), rented rooms in big chain hotels (Fiesta Americana) and dropped banners from the windows decrying the “pinche fraude,” and blocking all eleven doors at the palatial headquarters of Banamex, once Mexico’s oldest bank and now a wholly owned subsidiary of Citygroup.

“Voto por Voto!” demonstrators chanted as the bankers smoked and fumed and threatened to call the police.

Demonstrators also blocked the doors at the Mexican stock exchange and surrounded the studios of Televisa, the major head of the nation’s two-headed television monopoly, both heads of which shamelessly tilted to Calderon before, during, and after the ballots were cast.

“!Voto por Voto! Casilla por Casilla!” (Vote by Vote, Precinct by Precinct.)

Seated on a tiny folding chair outside of Banamex, Elena Poniatowska, one of Mexico’s most luminous writers and the recent winner of Spain’s coveted Cervantes Prize, reflected on the civil resistance: “We have always seen the workers demonstrate here in the Zocalo, but this is all very new for our middle class. The middle class protests too, but in the privacy of their own homes. Now we are out of the closet.”

Ironically, the concept of peaceful civil resistance by the middle class was pioneered by Felipe Calderon’s own party, the PAN, after it had been cheated out of elections in the 1980s by the then-ruling PRI. The PANistas uncharacteristically blocked highways and went on hunger strikes, and even imported Philippine trainers, veterans of Corazon Aquino’s civil resistance campaign against Ferdinand Marcos, to teach their supporters new tricks.

Recently AMLO’s party, the Party of the Democratic Revolution or PRD, stole a page from the PANista bible by holding a rally at a Mexico City statue of the right-wingers’ father figure, Manuel Clouthier. During the stolen 1988 presidential election, Clouthier demanded a ballot-by-ballot recount and coined the now ubiquitous phrase “voto por voto.” The PRD gathering around the statue of “Saint Maquio” left Calderon and the PAN speechless for once.

The PRD crusade could be labeled “civil resistance lite.” Led by Poniatowska, opera singer Regina Orozco, and comic actress Jesusa Rodriguez, public demonstrations have been more showbiz than eruptions of mass outrage. Nonetheless, Televisa and TV Azteca, Calderon and the PAN relentlessly rag Lopez Obrador for “fomenting violence,” purposefully ignoring the real daily violence that grips Mexico’s cities as brutal narco gangs behead rivals and massacre their enemies in plain public view.

Act Two: Bad Gas

Hundreds of steaming AMLO supporters pack the cavernous Club de Periodistas in the old quarter of the capital, where computer gurus will diagnosis the complexities of the cybernetic fraud Lopez Obrador is positive was perpetrated by IFE technicians this past July 2nd and 5th during both the preliminary count (PREP) and the actual tally of 130,000 precincts in the nation’s 300 electoral districts.

The experts are as convinced as the audience that the vote was stolen on the IFE terminals, but have many theories as to how. They speak of arcane algorithms and corrupted software. Juan Gurria, a computer programmer who has dropped in on his lunch hour to audit the experts, recalls the 1988 election which was stolen from leftist Cuauhtemoc Cardenas by the long-ruling (71 years) PRI in the nation’s first cybernetic computer fraud. “In 1988, they had to shut down the computers and say the system had crashed to fix the vote – but in 2006, the IFE kept the system running and we watched them steal it right before our eyes” Gurria contends, “the difference is they have better computers now.”

18 years ago, with computer fraud still in its infancy, the PRI had to resort to hit men to carry out its larceny. Three nights before the election, Cardenas’s closest aide, Francisco Xavier Ovando, and his assistant, Ramon Gil, were executed blocks away from the Congress of the country after reportedly obtaining the password to the PRI computer system, upon which the results were being cooked in favor of its candidates, the now universally reviled Carlos Salinas de Gortari. So far, Computer Fraud 2006 has been less messy.

Although the subject is dry and technical – at one point excerpts of an abstruse Guardian of London analysis by University of Texas economist James Galbreath (son of John Kenneth) was read into the record in English – AMLO’s supporters mutter and grumble and nod their heads vigorously. “Asi es!” – that’s just the way it happened! “Voto por Voto” they rumble, “Casilla por Casilla!” after each expert scores a point. Whether or not the fix is in, they are convinced that they have been had.

The PRD is trying to keep a lid on the bad gas seeping from down below. A few days after July 2nd, Felipe Calderon, who AMLO’s people have derisively dubbed “Fe-Cal,” came to this same Club de Periodistas to receive the adulation of a gaggle of union bosses. When he tried to leave the club, he was assailed by street venders howling “Voto por Voto!”

Calderon was quickly hustled into a bullet-proof SUV by his military escort, but the angry crowd kept pounding on the tinted windows. One young man obscenely thrust his middle finger at the would-be president, The scene is replayed over and over again on Televisa and Azteca, sometimes five times in a single news broadcast, graphic footage of the kind of violence AMLO is supposed to be inciting.

Act Three: In Defense of the Voto

Lopez Obrador fervently believes he has won the presidency of the United States of Mexico. He says it often on television just to needle Calderon. The proof, he is convinced, is inside 130,000 ballot boxes that he wants recounted, voto por voto.

The ballot boxes are now stored in the Federal Electoral Institute’s 300 district offices under the protection of the Mexican army. Nonetheless, in Veracruz, Tabasco, and Jalisco among other states, IFE operators have broken into the ballot boxes under the pretext of recovering lost electoral documentation. AMLO is suspicious that the officials are monkeying with the ballots, adding and subtracting the number of votos to make them conform to the IFE’s incredible computer count. Hundreds of ballot boxes contain more votes than voters on the registration lists, and more ballots have been judged null and void than the 243,000 margin of Calderon’s as-yet unconfirmed victory.

To this end, Lopez Obrador has strengthened encampments of his supporters outside the 300 electoral districts. In Monterrey, a PANista stronghold, thugs attack the encampment, beating on AMLO’s people and tearing down their tent city. Rocks are thrown at his supporters in Sinaloa; drivers speed by hurling curses and spitting on them.

Outside the Mexico City headquarters of the TRIFE, the seven-judge panel that will have the ultimate word as to whether or not the votos are going to be counted out one by one, a hunger strike has been ongoing since the PRD submitted documentation of anomalies in 53,000 out of the nation’s 130,000 polling places. Each night a different show business personality joins the fasters, eschews dinner and camps out in the guest pup tent overnight.

From Carlos Fuentes and Elena Poniatowska to painters like Jose Luis Cuevas and master designer Vicente Rojo, the arts and entertainment world has lined up behind Lopez Obrador. An exhibition by Cuevas and 50 other top line graphic artists and writers has been installed on the Alameda green strip adjacent to the Palace of Fine Arts here. After midnight, Calderon supporters slash and savage the art work, leaving a broken jumble behind.

The next day brigades of AMLO’s people from the surrounding neighborhoods rescue what they can of the exhibit, reassemble the broken shards, sew the torn art back together, and prop up the display panels. This is what democracy looks like in Mexico in the summer of 2006.

Act Four: Se Busca Por Fraude Electoral

The integrity of the Federal Electoral Commission is in the eye of Hurricane AMLO. Lopez Obrador accuses the IFE of fixing the election for Felipe Calderon and then defending his false victory. The PRD has filed criminal charges against the nine members of the IFE’s ruling council, most prominently its chairman, the gray-faced bureaucrat Luis Carlos Ugalde, for grievous acts of bias against Lopez Obrador, including refusing to halt Calderon’s hate spots in the run-up to July 2nd.

The IFE is mortally offended by the allegations that it has committed fraud and is using its enormously extravagant budget (larger than all of the government’s anti-poverty programs combined) to run spots protesting the slurs on its integrity that are every bit as virulent and ubiquitous as Calderon’s toxic hit pieces. Actors have been hired to impersonate irate citizens who allegedly were chosen at random as polling place workers July 2nd. “The votes have already been counted” they scoff. “We did not commit fraud” they insist. The idea is preposterous, an insult to their patriotism and to one of the pillars of Mexican “democracy,” the IFE.

Luis Carlos Ugalde, the president of the IFE council, has not been seen in public for several weeks except in large Wanted posters pasted to the walls of the inner city – SE BUSCA POR FRAUDE ELECTORAL! Ugalde and two other IFE counselors are protégés of powerful teachers union czar Elba Esther Gordillo, who joined forces with the PAN to take revenge on failed PRI presidential candidate Roberto Madrazo, a mortal enemy. The nine-member council is composed entirely of PRI and PAN nominees – the PRD is, of course, excluded.

Despite rumors that he had fled the country, Ugalde shows up July 27th at the first IFE meeting since the district tallies three weeks previous where he is confronted by the PRD delegate to the Institute (each party has one delegate.) During an acrimonious seven-hour meeting, Horacio Duarte keeps waving 30 partially burnt ballots, most of them marked for AMLO, that he has just been handed by an anonymous source. Duarte wants to know where Ugalde lives so he can nail one of the ballots to his front door to expose the “shame” of the fraud-marred election. The gray-faced bureaucrat grows even grayer and threatens to suspend the session. OK, OK, Duarte concedes, I’ll just hang it on your office door.

Just then a score of protestors push their way past the IFE guards at the auditorium’s portals – the meeting is a public one. They are chanting “Voto por Voto” and carrying bouquets of yellow flowers, AMLO’s colors. A PRD deputy tries to hand one to Luis Carlos Ugalde who turns away in horror. A bodyguard snatches up the blossoms as if they were a terrorist bomb, and disposes of them post-haste.

Act Five: We Shall Not Be Moved

The clock is ticking. The TRIFE must declare a new president by September 5th. The seven judges, all in the final year of their ten-year terms (three will move up to the Supreme Court in the next administration) have just begun to dig their way into the slagheap of legal challenges that impugn the results in about half of the 130,000 polling places in the land, the ham-handed bias of the IFE prior to the election, and the strange behavior of the Federal Electoral Institute’s computers on election day and thereafter.

The TRIFE, which has sometimes struck down corrupted state and local elections and ordered recounts in a handful of electoral districts, can either determine that the legal challenges would not affect enough votes to overturn the IFE’s determination that Calderon won the election, annul the entire election if it adjudges that it was illegitimately conducted, or order a recount. If the judges determine that annulment is the only way to fix the inequities, a new election would be scheduled 18 months down the pike.

In the meantime, the Mexican Congress would name an interim president, an unprecedented resolution in modern political history here – just the fact it is being discussed is, in itself, unprecedented.

Among those mentioned for the post are National Autonomous University rector Juan Ramon de la Fuente, former IFE director Jose Woldenberg, and three-time presidential loser Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, son of beloved depression-era president Lazaro Cardenas. For Cuauhtemoc, who was defrauded out of the presidency in 1988 by the same kind of flimflam with which the PAN and the IFE seek to despoil Lopez Obrador of victory in 2006, an interim presidency would be a perfect solution. Fixated on fulfilling the destiny of following in his father’s footsteps, moving back into his boyhood home Los Pinos – the Mexican White House – would be sweet revenge against his former protégé and now bitter rival on the left, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

But AMLO does not want the election annulled and an interim appointed. He is obsessed with proving his triumph at the polls and is not going to sit on his hands waiting for the TRIFE to reach its learned conclusions. A gifted leader of street protest, he has summoned his people to the capitol’s Tiananmens-sized Zocalo square three times since July 2nd, each time doubling the numbers of the masses who march through the city: 500,000 on July 8th, 1.1 million on July 16th, and 2.4 million this past Sunday, July 30th (police estimates) – Sunday’s gathering was the largest political demonstration in the nation’s history.

The “informative assemblies” as AMLO tags them, have been festive occasions but underneath there is palpable anger. Lopez Obrador’s people come in family, arm babies and grandpas, often in wheelchairs are on canes. Some come costumed as clowns and pirates. dangling grotesque marionettes, lopsided home-made heads of Fe-Cal, or pushing a replica of the Trojan Horse (“El Cabellito Trojanito.”) They look like they are having fun but their frustrations can well up to the surface in a flash, say when the hated Televisa and TV Azteca appear on the scene. “QUE SE MUERE TELEVISA!” (THAT TELEVISA SHOULD DIE!), the people the color of the earth snarl and scream, pounding fiercely on the television conglomerate’s vehicles.

At the July 30th “informative assembly,” Lopez Obrador ups the ante considerably in his high stakes poker game to pry open the ballot boxes. Now instead of calling for yet another monster gathering in the Zocalo (4.8 million?), he asks all those who had come from the provinces and the lost cities that line this megalopolis to stay where they sre in permanent assembly until the TRIFE renders a decision. 47 encampments will be convened extending from the great plaza, through the old quarter, all the way to the ring road that circles the capital, snarling Mexico City’s already impenetrable traffic, raising the level of greenhouse gases and urban tempers to the point of combustion.

When Lopez Obrador calls for a vote on his proposal, 2,000,000 or so “SI’s” soared from the throats of the gargantuan throng, followed by the now obligatory roars of “No Estas Solo” (“you are not alone”) and “Voto by Voto, Casilla by Casilla.” As if on cue, AMLO’s people began assembling the encampments state by state and Mexico City neighborhood by neighborhood.

For a correspondent who once wrote a novel fictionalizing the stealing of the 1988 election (“Tonatiuh’s People,” Cinco Puntos Press, El Paso, 1999), in which the people the color of the earth march on Mexico City and vote to stay in permanent assembly in the Zocalo, fantasy has turned into the actualities of daily reporting. I am not surprised by this startling turn of events.

When I first arrived here in the old quarter days after the 8.2 earthquake that devastated this capital, the “damnificados” (refugees) were encamped in the streets, demanding relief and replacement housing and liberation from the ruling PRI and their movement from the bottom reinvigorated a civil society that today infuses AMLO’s struggle for electoral democracy. This morning, the damnificados of the PAN and the IFE, Calderon and the fat cats, are again living on these same streets.

On the first evening of the taking of Mexico City, AMLO spoke to thousands crowded into the Zocalo in a driving downpour and invoked Gandhi: “first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they beat you, and then you win.” And then Gabino Palomares, a troublemaking troubadour who has been up there on the stage at every watershed event in recent Mexican history from the slaughter of striking students at Tlatelolco (1968) to the Zapatistas’ March of the Those the Color of the Earth (2001) took the mic to lead the mob in that old labor anthem, “We Shall Not Be Moved” and AMLO’s people thundered back in a roar that drowned out the weeping sky, “NO NOS MOVERAN!”

To be continued.

John Ross’s “ZAPATISTAS! Making Another World Possible – Chronicles 2000-2006” will be published by Nation Books this October and Ross is hunting possible venues for presentations. All suggestions will be cheerfully accepted at johnross@igc.org

Feds let Singleton off the hook


› tredmond@sfbg.com

The United States Department of Justice has refused to intervene in the largest media merger in Bay Area history.

In a brief press release, the DOJ said that the deal under which Denver billionaire Dean Singleton will buy almost every daily newspaper in the Bay Area “is not likely to reduce competition substantially.” That, of course, is crazy (see the Bruce Blog).

But the deal is by no means done yet.

Although the local news media have played up the fact that real-estate investor Clint Reilly was unable to block the merger deal, Reilly’s lawyer, Joe Alioto, says the case has only begun.

“We are requesting all of the Justice Departments documents, and we want to make them public,” Alioto told me. “We’re going to notice the depositions of the CEOs and ask for a trial date.”

Alioto said that the judge, Susan Illston, refused to issue a restraining order — but said in court that the case rasied serious questions. She also said that if she finds a violation of law in the merger, she will order the parties to undo it, Alioto said.

The judge — along with the Department of Justice — also acknowledged that there’s another potentially problematic element here: Hearst Corp, which owns the San Francisco Chronicle, is slated to enter into a financial deal with SIngleton that would give Hearst a stake in one of Singleton’s operations. That offers serious competitive problems, since the Chron would be the only remaining competitor to Singleton after the merger.

“She said that when the agreement with Hearst is finalized, we can come back and file for another injunction, which is exactly what we will do,” Alioto said.




Californian campaigns

Come to a campaign finance reform panel with Kris Greenlee of California Common Cause; Maria Guillen of SEIU Local 790; and Dan Purnell of the City of Oakland Public Ethics Commission. The panel – moderated by Tony West, a UC Hastings College of the Law board member – will discuss how to take reforms to the state level. (Deborah Giattina)

Noon-1 p.m.
Commonwealth Club of California
595 Market, second floor, SF
Free, advance registration required
(415) 597-6700


International Youth Music Festival

Musical whiz kids from around the United States and Europe converge on San Francisco for a run of orchestral shows at SF landmarks St. Mary’s Cathedral (Wed/2), Mission Dolores (Mon/7), and Grace Cathedral (Tues/8). The chamber orchestra will perform music by Dvořák, Brahms, Shostakovitch, and others. With performers ranging in age from 12 to 21, prepare to be blown away by the level of play and prodigious talent. (Joseph DeFranceschi)

7:30 p.m.
St. Mary’s Cathedral
1111 Gough
(510) 595-9378

Proud Mary


ACTRESS AND AUTHOR If you love to watch cult movies and pay tribute to the stars that make them great (and in San Francisco, who doesn’t?), Peaches Christ’s Midnight Mass screening of Death Race 2000, featuring a live appearance by Mary Woronov, is something special. Woronov isn’t your average actor — she’s a painter, great writer, and performer whose roots in the Playhouse of the Ridiculous are often unjustly obscured by her Warhol-era exploits, both of which predate her Roger Corman–produced bouts with Hollywood. And Death Race 2000? We’re now six years past the date targeted by Paul Bartel’s 1975 movie, yet its nightmare vision of fascist TV remains hideously funny — right on time, if not ahead of it.
“It is,” Woronov agrees by phone from Los Angeles. “As a country, we’re out of our minds! We’re the greatest polluter, we have the most corrupt government, and we have the biggest weapons of mass destruction. We’ve conducted the most wars since World War II. And I’ve been living here under the illusion that we’re democratic.”
“The media has completely lulled us into nothingness,” she continues. “People can be told that their pensions will be taken away but the head of the corporation will increase his own pension two million dollars — and they don’t do anything! They don’t riot! They just go, [assumes a zombie voice] ‘OK.’ What happened to us?”
A big question, but Woronov’s next novel, What Really Happened, might answer some of it — even if she makes a point of saying the book isn’t political. What it is, though, is the latest outgrowth of a creative birth that took place when Woronov, facing the idea of death (“I got an illness that was merely an infection, but they told me it was cancer”), kicked drugs at the age of 50. “My brain started working and I didn’t know what to do with it, so I started writing,” she says.
The results have included one memoir (1995’s Swimming Underground), one short-story collection (2004’s Blind Love), and two novels (2000’s Snake and 2002’s Niagara, which sports this great first sentence: “I started drinking in the day, and by the time I got to the supermarket I was so loaded I need a cart to stand up”). Publisher Amy Scholder discovered Woronov, and Gary Indiana has raved about her work, but even if she’s now able to call herself a “great writer,” she can also be hilariously blunt. “I wrote Swimming Underground because I thought it would make me famous,” she says. “To my disappointment, I got a review in the New York Times that said I was too busy crawling around the bathroom floor to say anything real about Warhol.”
As if the New York Times qualifies as an authority. In fact, Woronov’s take on the Factory uptown era, praised by Lou Reed as the best of what is surely now a library bookcase worth of efforts, is as distinct and dominant as her appearance in films such as 1966’s Chelsea Girls. Were the other Superstars intimidated by her and by the whip wit of her friend, the infamous Ondine? “People were very intimidated by Ondine,” she says. “People were mystified by me. For one thing, I didn’t have sex. For another, I acted like a guy, merely as a counterbalance to the transvestites and the female energy there. I did theater and I was a really good actress, so I didn’t have the desperation of the other girls who thought Warhol was somehow going to make them a star.”
The theater that Woronov “did” wasn’t exactly forgettable Broadway nonsense. Along with Ondine (who once played the role of Scrooge there), she took part in the Café Cino scene memorably described in Jimmy McDonough’s Andy Milligan biography The Ghastly One. She also worked with Playhouse of the Ridiculous’s great Ronald Tavel and John Vaccaro. “Their sensibility was extremely feminine, extremely bizarre,” she says. “They were camp at its highest level, where you accept the most strange things and are entertained by them.”
This sensibility inspired some of Woronov’s most memorable film performances, such as Miss Togar from 1979’s Rock ’n’ Roll High School. “I dressed like an aberration of Joan Crawford,” Woronov says. “Everyone else is in modern dress and I look like I’m from the 1930s. The thing about [Miss Togar] is that, you know, she’s a fucking pervert. What makes it wonderful is that I don’t play a pervert. I play someone commenting on perversion — just like a transvestite plays someone commenting on female-ism.”
Woronov’s own female charms suit Death Race’s Calamity Jane, and another classic collaboration with Bartel, 1982’s Eating Raoul, truly allows her Amazonian sexiness to bloom. “I knew I was sexy, but there was still a dichotomy of gender slippage,” she says, discussing prude-turned-dominatrix Mary Bland. “I was still denying [sexiness] and yet showing it — like an underslip.”
At the forefront of ’90s new queer cinema with roles in movies by Gregg Araki and Richard Glatzer, Woronov continues to add to one of the world’s most colorful filmographies. Recently, she appeared in The Devil’s Rejects, and she praises the film’s director, Rob Zombie, as an honest man and class act in an industry full of phonies.
Today, Mary Woronov remains in LA. “For writing, you can’t beat it, it’s such a peculiar place — it’s like a swamp,” she says with a laugh. “Everybody I know is moving to Europe or talking about moving but not moving. I have decided I’m not going to move. I really want to stay here and wait for the revolution. I do believe there will be one.” (Johnny Ray Huston)
Sat/5, 11:59 p.m.
Bridge Theatre
3010 Geary, SF
(415) 267-4893
For a complete Q&A with Mary Woronov — and to find out why she hates Warhol — go to the Guardian’s Pixel Vision blog, at www.sfbg.com/blogs/pixel_vision.

After the gold rush


› johnny@sfbg.com
Lay up nearer, brother, nearer
For my limbs are growing cold
— “The Dying Californian”
A man’s last testimony to his brother before perishing at sea, “The Dying Californian” is a mid-19th-century tune that documents the dark side of the Gold Rush. The early 21st-century group the Dying Californian takes its name from the song, which brothers and bandmates Nathan and Andrew Dalton first heard when their sister played an arrangement of it for their family.
“My brother and I were raised listening to the same music and singing together,” Nathan Dalton says, as a candle casts a flickering light across his face while we drink beers in a booth at the back of the Attic on 24th Street. “We somehow know who is going to do the harmony and who is going to do the melody.”
It’s twilight. The Impressions mourn an ex who loves somebody else and Maxine Brown cries out “Oh No, Not My Baby” as Dalton breaks down the basics of his kin’s musical background: piano and guitar lessons, a father into George Jones and Merle Haggard, an older sister with three degrees in music, and a shared love of family acts ranging from the Carter Family (“Sara Carter isn’t putting on some diva act”) to the Carpenters. “They get a bad rap,” he says of the latter. “You really have to listen to [Karen’s] voice.”
Listen to Dalton’s voice on the Dying Californian’s 2003 album for Turn Records, We Are the Birds That Stay, and especially on an upcoming 12-song follow-up for the same label, and you’ll conclude that Karen Carpenter–lover Mark Eitzel has a worthy heir apparent. Not since American Music Club released California in 1988 has a band tapped so potently into a type of sound that tastes good with liquor but can also make you drunk with melancholy even if you’re on the straight and narrow.
“On the new record,” says Dalton, “I’d changed the lyrics of ‘Blur Just the Same,’ but Liam [Nelson, the group’s producer and extra guitarist] stopped the recording and told me the old lyrics resonated with him so much.” Dalton switched back to his original words, and the result is a great yet understated lament — one with a bridge that takes the type of blurred-photo imagery that horror movies use for jolts and instead makes the ghostliness tearfully sad. It’s one of more than a few moments on the record with a spiritual underpinning — the Dalton brothers know their share of hymns.
“The first band that blew me away and made me feel like ‘That’s what I want to do’ is early R.E.M.,” Dalton says as the bar grows darker. “There’s something spooky about Murmur and Reckoning and Chronic Town. I’ve always been attracted to haunting music like that.” The brothers have flipped roles somewhat since their years with the punk-inflected Troubleman Unlimited band Nuzzle. Nathan plays guitar and sings melody on the Dying Californian’s recordings, while brother Andrew plays keyboards and harmonizes. They’re joined by Nelson, bassist Simon Fabela, and drummer Ricardo Reano. While they excel at ballads, the new, as-yet-untitled, record’s “Second Shadow” proves the group can also unleash a cage-shaking rave-up.
Framed by the Dalton brothers’ “oh-oh” harmonies, the Dying Californian’s upcoming collection builds upon the rustic handsomeness of We Are the Birds That Stay, which features cover art by filmmakers José Luis Rodríguez and Cathy Begien. Over the past few years, the Dying Californian’s music has been a fixture of the movies Begien shows at the Edinburgh Castle’s Film Night. “God bless Cathy,” says Dalton. “We’ve been friends since our college days. It was strange seeing the video she made for our song ‘Madrugada’ [at the Edinburgh]. My voice was booming and I was sitting in the audience watching their reaction. That movie she made about her family [Relative Distance] must be so tough to watch with a crowd — she’s gutsy.”
Dalton moved from soundtracking Begien’s movies to also starring in one, Separated by Death. He played — surprise, surprise — a ghost. “I know [Cathy’s] work, know her, and know what she likes,” says Dalton. “She can convey this feeling to me that I put into music…. She wants to do a whole [feature-length] musical. We can do it.”
Dalton has lived in California most of his life, long enough — and far and wide enough — to know that “most people in Northern California have definite opinions about LA, and people in LA are just kind of oblivious.” I tell him that a friend of mine once made this observation to me after a stereotypical Mission hipster threw attitude at him upon hearing he was moving back to LA. “That’s why LA wins,” Dalton agrees with a laugh. “It says, ‘What? You hate us!?’”
The Dying Californian’s leader can also break down the individual qualities of the state’s major cities — the isolation of Santa Cruz, where most of his friends have moved from, or the quiet darkness of Berkeley, where he lives now with his wife and 16-month-old son. That domesticity and Dalton’s new surroundings spurred the recording of a meditative acoustic solo album, Byss and Abyss, released on the fledgling label Sap Moon. “Maybe it has something to do with desperation,” he says as we look at Byss and Abyss’s cover and insert artwork, which was inspired by a book about alchemy and mysticism. “People can fool themselves into thinking an ordinary object is gold.”
Of course, music has an alchemical quality as well, and if it results in fool’s gold, at least it’s a foolish pleasure. “The best art can seem better than gold,” Dalton agrees. “Sometimes I feel like one of these guys who made all the symbols or a tinkerer, but with my four-track.” SFBG
With Lady Hawk
and Magnolia Electric Company
Fri/4, 10 p.m.
Bottom of the Hill
1233 17th St., SF
(415) 621-4455

Bitch’s brew


› a&eletters@sfbg.com
San Francisco is full of a bunch of pussies. I’m sorry, it’s not that I want to say these things. I feel strongly that a woman’s vagina should never be used to describe something weak or negative. In fact I tend to correct people who use that word in such a way, being that I am shamelessly p.c. San Francisco is the only city in the world where I would have to spend more time defending the use of a single word in a single sentence than the overall meaning of that sentence.
But seriously, San Francisco is made up of a bunch of pussies and nothing could exemplify that more than its long and flamboyant rock history. If you held up the Bay’s rock résumé next to your average Midwestern state’s — Ohio’s, for example — you’d start to get the picture. No one is going to argue that San Francisco doesn’t deliver the goods when it comes to art-damaged, high-concept, performance-focused freak music, made by freaks for freaks, but let’s ask anyone who’s ever heard the Pagans, the Dead Boys, or Rocket from the Tombs if Californians can deliver the kind of ugly-faced raw violence that litters any Ohio rock comp. No, we can’t. Not counting Blue Cheer or Death Angel.
I’m not trying to start a turf war here or even a debate over whether Midwestern ugly rock is better than West Coast weirdo jams, but I am trying to help you understand why an unknown band from Columbus, Ohio, is the most exciting thing to happen to the local music underbelly in a long while. Would a trio of educated and liberated women from Berkeley call their band 16 Bitch Pile-Up? Or would any band from the Yay Area list a cache of instruments that includes a “PVC pipe,” a homemade “vile in,” “television feedback,” “a bag of beer bottles with a mic thrown in,” and “your face”? There is a reason why bands like Comets on Fire, XBXRX, and other non-noise locals are itching to gig with this band. Frankly, the Pile-Up is a needed shock to the system, bringing the kind of attitude, fierceness, and work ethic that grow in places where the rivers are flammable and national elections are stolen in plain sight.
16BPU achieved a bit of cult status well before descending on the Bay. For the last four years they made Columbus a choice destination on any tour, running the art and music space BLD and offering floor space for all manner of riffraff. What began as studio spaces for fellow art schoolers, dropouts, and friends fast became an epicenter of East-meets-Midwest noise happenings. Yet in spite of their notoriety and a Wolf Eyes–style mile-long discography, there is little recorded evidence of their work readily available — although the long-out-of-print BFF (Gameboy, 2003) and Come Here, Sandy (Gameboy/Cephia’s Treat, 2004), their split 12-inch with brothers in cave-stomp Sword Heaven, are worth seeking out. It was their powerful live performances that engendered such reverence. Early on, one witnessed rituals of unique intuition and deep communal spirit — a group of women truly listening to one another and at the same time losing themselves in the fuck-it-all physicality of harsh electronic mayhem.
The Pile-Up is a satisfyingly lean Moirae-like triad, made up of Parkside sound person Sarah Bernat, Sarah Cathers, and Shannon Walters. The group — which previously existed as a five-piece in Columbus and as a four-piece featuring Angela Edwards of Tarantism for a brief and brutal West Coast tour — has never quite achieved its titular namesake’s size to form what Walters envisioned as a “symphony of terror.” Instead, the women have honed in and formed a unique power trio, capable of pulling off creepy junkyard jams à la the aforementioned Wolf Eyes, subtle vocal exhortations, and beautiful walls of searing white noise.
“It’s alchemy. In our case, the girls and I spend so many living minutes together,” explains Walters over coffee only minutes after having our guts reorganized by Damion Romero at a recent Noise Pancake performance. “We take care of each other. We often want to murder each other. We share virtually all aspects of our lives and with that comes a very developed sense of communication.”
Bernat elaborates, “We share a slightly twisted sense of humor that is fundamental to almost all of what we do and make.” Which is one way to understand a band that has released an album titled Make Like a Fetus and Abort.
When asked over e-mail how she’d respond to an easily offended West Coaster like me, Cathers offers, “I welcome any conversation on the use of language. It is one of my great joys — as I look for sounds that will make the greatest impact, that will send a chill up the collective spine and put your flesh and your psyche in the same presence. I love words that have that impact as well.”
What makes 16BPU fascinating is that beneath the intellectual muscle and blue-collar brawn is a group that is deeply sensitive, passionate, and emotional in their playing. Beyond the obvious (tough) love that they share with each other as friends, there is a seriousness to their music that stares right in the face of pain, anger, and fear with an absolute solidarity of purpose.
“I think what I try to convey through playing can only be expressed as a feeling of mortality,” says Walters. “Being very close to death and vitality simultaneously.”
“I can say we have seen a lot of nasty shit in our lives that can either make you want to leave the planet or create your own utopia out of dysfunction,” Cathers writes.
“All those themes are present,” Bernat concludes, “but they are present alongside equally positive feelings about strength, love, and perceptions of beauty.”
All of which makes me think that perhaps they fit into the Golden State after all. SFBG
With Hogotogisu and Skaters
Aug. 12, 9:30 p.m.
Hemlock Tavern
1131 Polk, SF
(415) 923-0923
With Comets on Fire and Kid 606 and Friends
Aug. 16, 9 p.m.
Great American Music Hall
859 O’Farrell, SF
(415) 885-0750
Gabriel Mindel is in Yellow Swans.

Getting School-ed


› kimberly@sfbg.com
SONIC REDUCER OK, I’ll fess up: one of my favorite 2005 musical moments revolved around an acoustic solo Six Organs of Admittance performance, some frozen fungal artifacts harvested from a local park, and Big Sur’s big, fat, chocolaty-looking redwoods. So gotta thank Six Organs’ Ben Chasny for providing the perfect score to my hallucinatory little escapade at Fernwood lodge, though I don’t think you can simply slot the Comets on Fire guitarist, Badgerlore founder, and Current 93 collaborator’s dirgy matter into the “sounds great when you’re stoned but it’s a lame excuse for rock-out tunes when stone-cold sober” file.
That year’s School of the Flower (Drag City) was one of the loveliest, most underrated recordings to come out of this area’s cross-disciplinary school of meditative guitar drone and freed-up textural percussion — and this year’s The Sun Awakens is its worthy evolutionary follow-up, scurrying out of the clearer jazz-psych waters of School, spouting legs, clambering out into dusty, soulful desert expanses of electric guitar and bass, tone generator, ney, and organ, and finding some sort of apotheosis in the ghostly reverberations of “River of Transfiguration.”
So why does a guy who makes such sublime, high-minded sounds have to give me such a hard time? How many Buddhist cycles of suffering must I enter to get a straight answer about Sun? “It sounds a lot like New Order. I don’t know if you caught that,” deadpans Chasny from the very start, yakking in the car making its way toward Mount Shasta through the forest on the way to Portland. “We were going for New Order without the ’80s or the drum beat.”
Ah yes, and my toilet is full of gold bullion. A Comets on Fire bandmate recently told me that Chasny claimed that a sense of threat made all the difference in the music he makes — and lo, the song titles (“Torn by Wolves,” “Bless Your Blood”) do lend a sense of menace to Sun. And there’s a simple explanation for that, Chasny says. “I don’t listen to folk music. Y’know, I don’t go in my room and turn on fucking Incredible String Band or some bullshit. I listen to other stuff.”
That includes the Melvins, who inspired Chasny’s current lyrical approach, just as the Talking Heads’ layered jams on Remain in Light informed his music. “You know, it’s gibberish,” he clarifies. “I’m actually telling the truth. Lyrically, I really liked the way [Melvins vocalist Buzz Osbourne] constructs the words on a phonetic basis. ‘Bless Your Blood’ — it’s not goth or Christian. Actually it’s a fairly personal song.”
About your vampirism?
“Uh, no. But the rest of the record is,” says Chasny. “That’s the one reversal. But I’m glad you got that. I’m glad that someone finally got that.”
But seriously, folks — or rather, out-folk, a genre that Chasny seems to be distancing himself from with the current Six Organs touring transfiguration. Live, he currently plays Telecaster, with Comets kin Noel Von Harmonson on drums and Six Organs cover artist Steve Quenell on second guitar. “It’s a lot more noisy and, yeah, less tranquil,” says Chasny, eager to fall out of the “wispy” pretty-guitar lockstep. “That’s why I did that Compathia cover of that dumb picture of me on the bed. Just to destroy the myth of this forest folk bullshit — like ‘Mr. Mystical’ and stuff. It’s, like, no! That’s not it at all. I just want stuff to be taken on its own terms.”
The terms this time around included recording in Frisky with Fucking Champs’ Tim Green and lassoing in guests like Om’s Al Cisneros and Yellow Swans’ Pete Swanson. “I’m not exactly breaking new ground with every single record. I kind of have my style, and as other people have noted, probably, uh, have played out all of my cards,” Chasny declares loud enough for that “other” person, driver and bandmate Von Harmonson, to hear. “So it’s good to have friends come in and spice things up a little bit.”
Like Pharrell Williams tapping Kanye and Snoop?
“Yeah, definitely. But more Wu-Tang, really.”
Shasta comes around the bend — a dead ringer of sorts for the cover of Sun. “This was something I didn’t think about till today because we were going by Mount Shasta,” explains Chasny, at last finding a new anecdote that is safe to divulge. “Last time I saw Mount Shasta, I was driving Ghost back from Portland to play a show, and we stopped to get gas right in the shadow of Mount Shasta and the sun was just coming up behind it and all of Ghost were groggy and got out of the van and I was, like, “Look, look,” and they were, like, “Oh yeah, ‘Mountain God Te Deum’ [one of their early songs]. I think part of that day burned into my brain for the record cover.
“That’s a juicy bit of information for you.”
So now that I have something to chew on, I wonder about the insider dope on the new Comets on Fire album, Avatar (Sub Pop). “That title came because more than half the band members have been frequenting chat rooms for the last year and half,” Chasny says, gaining steam. “And I got so mad I called up Sub Pop and told them that’s the name of the album. By the time everyone found out, it was too late. That’s why I’m not allowed to do Comets on Fire interviews.”
Should Chasny be allowed to do any interviews? Sure, he’s far from being an airy-headed cutesy-folk elf — just don’t promise him complete admittance.
“Yeah,” he says, before hanging up. “I look forward to reading your article before you submit it and doing some editing. I think we can really come up with something good here.” SFBG
Sat/5, 10 p.m.
Bottom of the Hill
1233 17th St., SF
(415) 621-4455
Aug. 12, 8:30 p.m.
Hotel Utah Saloon
500 Fourth St., SF
(415) 546-6300



› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com
CHEAP EATS Let’s see, last week I ate at TJ’s Gingerbread House in West Oakland, and it wasn’t cheap eats because it was dinnertime on Georgie Bundle’s birthday. He’d always wanted to go there. As have I, and as has anyone else who rides BART and looks out the window.
Unless you have a very, very special occasion — which, if you don’t know Georgie Bundle I can’t even imagine what such a thing might be — satisfy your curiosity over breakfast. Get this: a salmon croquette, two scrambled eggs, grits, fruit salad, and orange juice for $6.95.
That’s good. Lunch is … reasonable. You can get jambalaya for $10.95, or crawfish pie, red beans and rice, or dirty rice for under 10.
The jambalaya’s great. Dinnertime: $24.95!!!
So: not cheap eats, like I said. Moving right along. Another place I ate last week was I had boat sushi at Sushi Boat downtown. Earl Butter talked me into this. If I hadn’t been sitting in the sun since eight in the morning on Hippy Hill, drinking free coffee and watching my new favorite surf band, the Del Mars, my brain might not have been sufficiently addled. But it was. Maybe it was all the surfy sounds that made me susceptible. Any case, I don’t regret it, because sushi, as always, hit the spot. But … not cheap eats.
Of course, sushi never exactly is cheap eats, give or take No Name Sushi. So what am I supposed to do, never ever write about sushi?
Earl Butter — what a card! First, during the tugging-on-my-sleeve portion of the enterprise, he insists to me that boat sushi is as cheap as No Name. I don’t believe him. He insists. I still don’t believe him.
But he continues to insist until, after we’ve finally found parking downtown and are hoofing the 37 blocks to Geary and whatever, he acknowledges that, oh, by the way, he hasn’t been there since the ’90s, when he worked for Chuck Schwab and was generally flush. Whereas now he’s a retired cabbie toiling tenuously for my little brother and only eating, I sometimes think, when I feed him.
So it’s a little before noon on a Sunday, and while everyone else in the world is lined up out the door at all my favorite Sunday breakfast spots, like Just For You and, um, Just For You, me and Earl rock right into Sushi Boat, roll down the stairs, and buddy up to the counter, where the boats are docked — just setting there, no cargo, no go. We’re the only ones there.
They seem to want us to order from the menu. But that defeats the purpose of boat sushi: to pull good-looking plates of sushi willy-nilly and at random from the cute little wooden boats as they circle around the moat. This is great fun for small children and Earl Butter, but I can see the restaurant’s point too: why would they want to prepare all kinds of random sushi plates for two clowns to pick a few, on whims, and then have to throw everything else away if nobody else shows?
After hours of intense talks, threats, and heated negotiation (or, in the real world, about a half minute of pointing and one-word sentences) Earl Butter and our waitressperson have reached a historic compromise: they will set the boats a-spinning, and we will order from the menu. The boats are just atmosphere.
By the time we’re done eating, however, there are a couple other pairs of people sitting around the counter, and the sushi chefs are starting to load cargo into the boats. So, instead of being done eating, we eat more.
Good, but not cheap eats.
Anyway, what I really wanted to tell you about was the amazing rooftop party I went to in the Tenderloin, where my new hero, a cat named Jerry, cooked this incredible load of paella — on a Weber! Watching that happen, and then getting some, was the highlight of my weekend, if not the whole summer so far.
But I only have space left to induct Jan Swearingsomething into the Cheap Eats Hall of Fame for inviting me. While I’m at it, I’d also like to induct Johnny Del Mar, who has been sending me Frank Zappa tapes for 5 to 10 years, even though I still don’t get it. And, since good things come in threes: Rimma D., who drove all the way to Penngrove one time to see Lord Exister play in a lesbian bar, and gave me bonbons.
In other words: people continue to rock, and the chicken farmer keeps on dancing to it. SFBG
Last Saturday, 4 p.m. to whenever
Somewhere in the Tenderloin, SF
(415) 555-1212
Invitation only
Lots and lots of alcohol, etc.
Credit cards not accepted
Very, very noisy

Pea play


› paulr@sfbg.com

Last week a friend presented me with a plastic bag full of English peas from her garden. A gift given from someone’s garden is a profound gesture, and one should always be grateful; on the other hand, peas were a bugaboo of my childhood, apparently grown in the freezer and heated up from time to time for a mushy soupçon of dinnertime distress. Moreover, these newfangled peas, although fresh — an unfamiliar wrinkle — would need to be shelled before they could be used.
“What should I do with the peas?” I asked their grower, after thanking her for the gift.
“Oh, whatever!” she said. “I’m going to throw some in my pasta tonight.” She spoke in the manner of a pea grower for whom peas were in their season of ubiquity — a commonplace to be scattered everywhere, like ground black pepper or wild oats. The important thing was to scatter them somewhere.
“Hmmm,” I said, my thoughts running not toward pasta but toward corn, which I had bought incontinently at the farmers market a few days earlier. Corn does not ring the alarm bells of memory the way peas do, but still: it often sprang from the freezer, like green peas and sometimes with them.
The word “succotash,” we learn from The New Joy of Cooking, is derived from the Narragansett word “msickquatash,” which means “boiled corn kernels,” and the book’s basic recipe involves boiling corn kernels with lima and cranberry beans in reduced cream, with thyme and butter added near the end.
In my version, peas — of course, and duly shelled! — stood in for the beans. I parboiled a cup of them for no more than two minutes, just to make sure they would be fully cooked, since corn kernels cook quite quickly. (For the corn kernels, I stripped two ears.) Also, I dispensed with the heavy whipping cream in favor of a half cup or so of half-and-half, and I added a pat of sweet butter at the outset for a little extra richness. I added the thyme, too, at the beginning of the cooking instead of the end, to give the dried leaves more time to unwind. Over a medium flame, the cooking liquid thickened up nicely in just two or three minutes, with the occasional stir-around. At the end, a good pinch or two of salt and a twist of pepper. Q: How was it? A: the Narragansett word for “fabulous.”

Aslam’s Rasoi


› paulr@sfbg.com
If Rasoi, a gently fading South Asian restaurant on the tumultuous Valencia corridor, had collapsed altogether in the face of last year’s Dosa challenge, shock would probably not have been the general reaction. Dosa (which opened last fall with a South Indian menu) was and remains the new wave, and its swirling, youthful crowds would not seem out of place at the entrance to a popular nightclub. Rasoi, on the other hand, was a homey ’90s relic: the dining room was a large, largely featureless box filled with dusty sunlight slanting through enormous mullioned windows looking west, with ceiling fans churning lazily overhead to keep the dust motes in motion. Being there was a little like sitting in a Wild West saloon that happened to smell of curry, and the restaurant’s virtues were a certain leisureliness and friendliness, along with modest prices for decent food in substantial portions.
Longevity, of course, is not really a virtue in restaurantland. (Nor, for that matter, in America generally, land of the new and improved.) Some places do endure and are duly honored for this achievement, but most fold with little or no fanfare, even after runs of a decade or more. Saigon Saigon, one of my favorite Vietnamese restaurants from the early 1990s and a Rasoi neighbor, recently went under with barely a gurgle. I would have forecast a similar outcome for Rasoi, except that the location somehow attracted the attention of Mohammed Aslam, a chef who’s cooked at the highly regarded Indian Oven in the Lower Haight. He thought he could breathe new life into Rasoi’s rasoi (“kitchen” in Hindi), and the place is now called Aslam’s Rasoi. And he has indeed breathed new — in fact, spectacular — life into the old horse. If you are looking for the best South Asian food on Valencia between 20th and 22nd streets, there is now a genuine horserace between Dosa and Aslam’s Rasoi, resplendent now not only with a north-tilting menu of considerable force and fire but with freshly sponge-painted walls, dramatic new cabernet-colored draperies, and refinished wood-plank floors.
Despite the competition, the two restaurants are not difficult to distinguish. The most obvious difference has to do with meatiness, and if you are interested in flesh, Aslam’s Rasoi is the place. The offerings here include a wide range of lamb, chicken, and seafood dishes, many of them prepared in the tandoor. In my experience, the tandoor isn’t quite the forum for prawns, though in Aslam’s version ($17) the shrimp do retain their soft, springy quality, growing neither rubbery nor mushy in the high heat. Also, they are assertively spiced: a leitmotif of the food generally.
A better tandoor choice might be boti kebab ($15), marinated lamb cubes roasted up to a rosy medium-rare and nearly as tender as beef sirloin. (Needless to say, the menu is devoid of beef.) And the lamb’s saucier relation, chicken tikka masala ($13) — chunks of boneless chicken breast roasted in the tandoor and then sautéed in a mildly spiced cream sauce with quartered tomatoes — is about as good as it gets and will have you scrambling for naan to mop up the last of the sauce. The bread selection, incidentally, is broad; there are a dozen options, including a savory onion kulcha ($3), a disk of naan sprinkled with onion and cilantro. But the plain naan ($2) serves quite nicely as an adjunct to one’s fingers.
If there is a weakness to the menu, it has to do with the appetizers, most of which are deep-fried. On the other hand, deep-fried food is satisfying, and it tends to appear quickly — important considerations for the hungry. Pakoras (basically vegetable fritters) are common in Indian/Pakistani restaurants; here the assortment ($6) includes florets of broccoli and cauliflower, along with rounds of batter-dipped eggplant that look like little pizza crusts. A more compelling variation, Bombay pakoras ($7), uses calamari instead of vegetables and a chickpea batter for a bit of extra crunch. And speaking of crunch: the flash-fried wafers of lentil flour called papadum ($2), none better!
Vegetables, fortunately, while accepting the batter-and-boiling-oil fate with grace, also respond enthusiastically to other treatments, and in these, subcontinental cuisine happens to be rich. While there is a certain greatest-hits quality to Aslam’s meatless choices, there is also a smattering of the less familiar, and all the dishes are made to the highest standard, with quality ingredients, careful preparation, and an enthusiasm for spicing that is perhaps the main reason so many people love this kind of food.
Among the less spicy of the vegetable preparations is dal saag ($9), an oblong platter of spinach cooked with lentils that tastes mainly, and appealingly, of spinach. The saag paneerist in our party found it acceptable but still yearned for saag paneer ($10) — spinach cooked with cubes of fresh white cheese and often (as here) charged with some real chili heat. Also quite lively was the chana masala ($8), spicy chickpeas stewed with tomato and onion. And while paneer tikka korma ($11) isn’t exactly a vegetable (it consists of chunks of cheese bathed in a mild yogurt-fenugreek sauce), Aslam’s will be acceptable to vegetarians, at least to those of the lacto sect.
As a general proposition, desserts at South Asian restaurants can be safely ignored. Aslam’s, though, has a pair of pretty good ones: a house-made cardamom ice cream called kulfi ($6), presented as a sliced roll, like a frozen banana; and a cardamom-and-saffron rice pudding (kheer, $4), creamy-rich and, by a nose, just sweet enough to qualify as a sweet. SFBG
Dinner: nightly, 5–11 p.m.
1037 Valencia, SF
(415) 695-0599
Beer and wine
Moderately noisy
Wheelchair accessible

The nice rats


› gpr54@techsploitation.com
TECHSPLOITATION OK, here’s my plan: genetically engineered, super-tame, super-skinny, super-long-lived, nonbreeding rats. Or humans. Science says we can do it!
I have this problem where I read two or three articles about so-called recent discoveries and start mixing and matching them, trying to piece together the ultimate überexperiment that will end the world. I’ve been dreaming about super-rodents for the past two days, and it’s all the fault of Nicholas Wade and Alison Motluck, two journalists who’ve published stories about tame rats and nonpubescent mice respectively.
I love it when scientists do experiments on animals and report said experiments in various footnote-heavy journals, and then journalists get their hands on them and ask, “But couldn’t this be done to humans too?” Most decent scientists are willing to admit that of course anything is possible until proved otherwise. So if that question is asked in the right way, your average scientist will get talked into a quote about how drugs that do weird things to mice could do them to humans too.
Which brings me back to my exciting recent plan about rats. Wade, writing in the New York Times science section, describes an interesting long-term experiment that involved breeding tame animals in the Soviet Union. When Dmitri K. Belyaev started the experiment in 1959, he divided a posse of sewer rats into two groups and bred one for “tameness” and the other for ferocity. Over several generations, he was able to generate an extremely friendly group of rats and an extremely pissed-off one. Belyaev died several years ago, but recently some researchers at the Max Planck Institute in Germany got their hands on rats directly descended from the two populations, and they’ll be running genetic tests on them to figure out which genes are associated with “niceness” and “nastiness” in rats.
Inevitably, Wade raises the question of what this has to do with humans. Is it possible that humans could be domesticated, or that we have already domesticated ourselves? He quotes some expert saying — not surprisingly — that it’s possible. And now his readers are left with a bizarre and irrelevant idea as they finish what is otherwise a completely respectable and cool piece of science journalism. Instead of considering Belyaev’s experiment as something that charted how one species breeds another to become its ally, readers will be thinking: can humans be tamed? The answer should be: that’s outside the scope of this experiment. But that doesn’t stop our intrepid Wade from bringing it up gratuitously, as if somehow applying this research to humans makes it more interesting. (My fantasy is that some clueless editor tortured Wade by asking over and over, “But how is this relevant? What’s the human angle?” until the poor guy tacked on that dreadful ending.)
Sometimes, however, Homo sapiens actually is relevant. For instance, Motluck reports in New Scientist that two teams of scientists have worked out which gene is responsible for kicking off puberty in mice. The gene, gpr54, exists in humans too, and it functions in virtually the same way. Drugs that tinker with the onset of puberty in mice should, therefore, do the same for humans. Why is this fascinating? Not just because of the “human angle” of helping late bloomers start filling out their jockstraps more quickly, but also because it means that gpr54 was preserved over the entire course of evolution since mouse and human ancestors split off from each other. In other words: that’s a hell of an old gene. And as a side note, it turns out that gpr54 may also interact with genes that measure levels of fat in the body. This fits with anecdotal observations that extremely undernourished or highly athletic women often start menstruating later.
So now you understand my fantasy about the super-tame, skinny, nonpubescent rats. First we’ll breed ’em tame (or just steal some already-tamed ones from the Max Planck graduate students). Then we’ll give them a drug that blocks gpr54 receptors so they don’t go through puberty, which may have the additional side effect of keeping them thinner. Or we could just starve them, which would also prevent puberty and make them live longer — there are about a zillion studies showing that people who starve themselves wind up living about 5 to 10 years longer than average.
Now I feel like I’m writing the jacket copy for a new nutritional self-help book. Which brings me to my final question, which (of course) is about humans: what does my concocted experiment say about the things humans study? SFBG
Annalee Newitz is building some awesome rats in her brain right now.

Jeepers creepers


› andrea@altsexcolumn.com
Dear Andrea:
My sister introduced me to one of her best friends. She’s a wonderful girl, smart and tough and funny and cute and accomplished. She’s traveled the world and is a field biologist. She’s exactly the kind of woman I dream of.
On our second date, if you can call it that, we spent nearly four days straight together. The more we’re together, the more we want to be together. So here’s the rub. One night my sis and I were talking about herpes, and she told me that this girl once had a genital fever blister. She also said (she’s a biologist too) that she had 95 percent confidence in the information.
Now clearly I can’t betray my sister’s confidence by just blurting out some blunt question, and I don’t much care for games. So I’ve offered to get tested and intimated that I would like her to as well. You know, as a way to let the evidence speak for itself, and nobody gets hurt. She demurred and said something like, “What for? We’ve already pretty much taken our chances.”
What do I do? I know my chances of picking herpes up without her being broken out are somewhat less than 10 percent, so I’m kind of playing the numbers right now, but I think she should have already been honest with me. Don’t you? I mean, that’s what a real relationship is founded on. And I do have to admit that it kind of nags at me, in the back of my head, but I’ve let it go now for three or four wonderful, adventurous weekends spent in and out of bed and in and out of all kinds of different sex positions. What’s to be done? I like her a lot. How do I keep the romance alive and figure out what I might be picking up all at the same time?
What Good Can Come of This?
Dear What:
You have no idea what you could be picking up, and neither, to be fair, does she. As many as 75 percent of people infected with HSV (herpes simplex virus) are asymptomatic or oblivious, so what makes you so special? You could have been infected for years and been merrily spreading it from blossom to blossom like a busy little bee, all unawares. Anybody could.
While I think many AIDS educators go way overboard insisting that everyone is equally at risk and every new contact should be assumed positive until proved otherwise, it’s surely true of herpes: Anyone could have it, and most of us do. I have no idea, for instance, whether I’m immune (I’ve never had the slightest hint of a cold sore or anything suspicious down there) or am simply another asymptomatic shedder, merrily spreading, et cetera.
Herpes is usually tested for with a swab at the site, but there are blood tests available for the asymptomatic and curious (the American Social Health Association, at www.ashastd.org, has all the information). Hardly anyone gets them, though — they’re expensive and inconvenient, and most people never even think about herpes unless they know they’ve been exposed or have developed symptoms. And I don’t blame them. What could be more “out of sight, out of mind” than something you’ve never seen and would rather not think about?
All this aside, a “genital fever blister” like your lady friend reputedly had that one time almost certainly counts as a symptom. While there are herpes-ish things that can pop up in or around the mouth — canker sores, pizza mouth — a blistery lesion on the genitals is overwhelmingly likely to be the real thing. (Of course, she added cheerfully, it could have been syphilis!)
It’s pretty common to have one outbreak and never have another, although as I’m sure you know, the herpes is not gone nor should it be forgotten. It is merely hiding. And an infection tends to get less virulent over time and is harder to spread from female to male (that 10 percent figure you quoted probably referred to transmission from male to female and to monogamous non-safe-sex-having couples over the course of a year, not a three-day one-night stand), though you could, I suppose, have been unlucky. In the absence of suddenly appearing sores, you’ll probably never know. Now what do you want to do about it?
Assuming the lady ever even had that outbreak (hey, my brother’s a biologist too; he’s way smart, but I defer to him on matters of marine ecology, not who’s had which kind of cooties and when), she did owe it to you to fess up. This does not absolve you from failing to think about, ask about, or take responsibility for avoiding infection yourself, though, does it? It takes two to tango, tangle, or transmit, after all.
If you don’t like games, don’t “intimate” things — ask them. If you want to know if you got infected, get a blood test. If you want the girl, call her. I don’t see where any of these are mutually exclusive.

Pup culture


› deborah@sfbg.com
Move over, onesie makers. San Franciscans are more likely in need of a dog collar than a baby outfit.
According to San Francisco Animal Care and Control, based on 2000 census reports, there are just under 118,000 canines in the city. The same census report tallied 112,812 locals 18 or younger.
Not surprisingly, pet product manufacturing is a growing cottage industry among Bay Area crafters. Shea Pet, a Santa Cruz company, helps keep Fifi’s coat shiny with its shampoos made from fair-trade shea butter; Berkeley’s Dorothy Bauer makes sparkling crystal bling in your pet’s first initial, if you like; and Red Rover in Marin bakes homemade biscuits in a variety of animal and Louis Vuitton handbag shapes.
Furthermore, a host of vendors will be present at the SF Dog Owners Group’s Dog Days of August picnic and celebration, an arts and craft fair for canines and their owners to be held in Dolores Park on Aug. 26 from 3 to 6 p.m. Helping to fill the pet accessories niche, at the fair and in general, is Ana Poe, the brains and beauty behind Paco Collars.
“Dogs are the new kids!” exclaims the lithe and garrulous designer during a visit to her subterranean Oakland studio. Upon my arrival, Poe, her handy assistant Jack, and three rather affectionate pit bulls, one of which had an unfortunate case of the runs, greeted me. The lean and handsome brown pit is Paco himself.
As a self-described “tool whore,” Poe became passionate about craft and animals while growing up in Sonoma County. She raised pygmy goats in the 4-H program for years and learned sewing from her mom. Paco Collars was born four years ago while she was working at Every Dog Has Its Day Care in Emeryville. She wanted a tough-looking collar for Paco, but, as she explains, “The only leather collars I could find had three-inch spikes — and people cross the street when they see him as it is.” Which seems unfair, considering Paco was a perfect angel in my presence.
The eye candy alone on the Paco Collars Web site is enough to make any doggy or kitty owner browse and shop online at length. Mushy-faced bull dogs, newborn pups, and the beckoning Siamese known as Pirate all don the 100 percent handmade leather collars that are Poe’s trade. And the animal handlers aren’t too shabby either.
But I digress. As the story goes, Poe decided to make a collar for her pit that looked cool but nonthreatening. She ended up studding a leather strip with Paco’s name, and her boss at the dog care facility liked it so much, she asked Poe to make one for her dog. She also encouraged the budding leather worker to put a few on display for customers. Eventually Poe decided to go full-time with her hobby, put together a Web site, and hired a handful of part-time employees, mostly other local artists. In the last year, her business has increased threefold.
All of the collars are made from Latigo leather, which is what pros use for horse saddling and is very strong. Paco’s been wearing his sheriff’s collar, sporting gold stars on silver conchos, for more than two years straight. Each collar is named after the animal it was originally designed for. Thus, the Celtic-design-inspired Gunther ($82.99) was made for a pit-lab mix while the Chickie ($45) was crafted especially for a Chihuahua, so that even little dogs can look badass. Harnesses and braided leashes are also for sale, as are special leash add-ons for training purposes. Humans can purchase a variety of wristbands and belts. Custom-designed collars go for about the same price as a comparable collar.
Meet Poe and check out her Paco Collars line at the dog fair or see the goods at George (2411 California, SF; 415-441-0564) and Pawtrero (199 Mississippi, SF; 415-863-7297) pet stores in San Francisco. Also, help raise money for Bad Rap (www.badrap.org), the nonprofit that tries to foster a better understanding of pit bull terriers, by attending the Living Room Gallery art show (3230 Adeline, Berk; 510-601-5774, www.thelivingroomgallery.com) — curated by the very busy Poe — and buying some pit bull–related art at the gallery’s black-tie gala Aug. 19. SFBG

Newsom, it’s time to end the Sunshine wars


EDITORIAL For months now, Mayor Gavin Newsom’s press office has been fighting with Sup. Chris Daly over a series of internal memos that Daly claims ought to be public record. The memos involve the mayor’s position on tenant legislation that would make some kinds of evictions more difficult.
Daly had to take the case to the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force, which held a hearing and deliberated for more than an hour before finding the Mayor’s Office in violation of the law. And still, Daly — an elected official — couldn’t get a copy of the memos.
Then on July 29, Guardian reporter Amanda Witherell confronted Newsom outside a town hall meeting in the Richmond District. The mayor said he wasn’t even aware of the details of the battle — then promptly ordered his press office to release the records (see “Sunburned,” page 15).
Good for Newsom — but why did it take this long? Why did Daly, the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force, and no doubt the City Attorney’s Office have to spend so much time on a fight that clearly made no sense?
Unfortunately, this is symptomatic of how the Mayor’s Office — and so many other city agencies — is handling public-records requests: it’s a struggle for anyone to get anything.
A handful of aggressive, single-minded activists like Kimo Crossman, who is trying to get records on the city’s wi-fi negotiations, have been driving the Mayor’s Office and City Attorney Dennis Herrera crazy with reams of document requests. Why? Because they’ve asked for some simple, basic stuff — and have been refused. Thousands of hours of city time have been wasted fighting battles that don’t need to be fought.
Newsom can put an end to a lot of this pretty quickly. He should announce that he’s told the press office to comply immediately with every public-records request unless there is a clear, serious reason to withhold the information — and he should make it clear that he wants to be personally informed any time a request is denied so that he can make the final determination.
Newsom should also direct every city department under his jurisdiction to follow the same policies and support reforms in the Sunshine Ordinance to end all of these delays. SFBG

The judge misses the point


EDITORIAL The federal judge who allowed the largest media merger in Northern California history to go forward unimpeded did what far too many judges do in cases like this: she ruled narrowly on the tightest definition of the law and missed the overall point entirely. Judge Susan Illston rejected a bid by San Francisco real estate investor Clint Reilly to block Denver billionaire Dean Singleton’s effort to buy virtually every daily newspaper in the Bay Area and set up an unprecedented media monopoly. Reilly had sought an injunction against the deal, arguing that once it’s approved there will be no way to halt the obvious damage. Illston noted that Reilly had raised “serious questions” and agreed that there’s “a need to examine the proposed sale to ensure that no long-term harm will come to Bay Area residents.” But she insisted in a 16-page opinion that the deal posed no “pressing and imminent danger.” Wait: no imminent danger? One person could soon control every single significant news media outlet in the entire Bay Area save for the Hearst-owned San Francisco Chronicle — which also has a financial partnership with Singleton. What does Illston expect? That a year or two down the road, when residents of the region find themselves without any credible local newspapers and advertisers find nothing but high monopoly rates, someone can reexamine this and find that it was a bad idea? That’s silly. The time to put the deal on hold and address Illston’s “serious questions” is now, before it’s too late. Nobody will be able to unscramble this egg. But Illston didn’t get that at all. Instead, she ruled that the real threat of great harm was to the defendants — the billionaire publisher and his business associates. Actually, they face no risk of harm at all — except for the threat to their ability to make obscene profits by gutting newsrooms, combining operations, and tearing the heart out of Bay Area journalism. This is how Singleton, known (for good reason) as “Lean Dean,” operates. He likes what he calls “clusters” of papers — groups of newspapers in adjoining geographic areas. He centralizes as many functions as possible, reduces staff to the minimum necessary, then sits back and watches the cash roll in. In the Bay Area, that will probably mean that the big, expensive newsrooms of papers like the San Jose Mercury News and the Contra Costa Times will be pared down, perhaps merged into a single operating center. The various papers will share stories, so there won’t be much difference (or competition) between them. Old-fashioned concepts like investigative and enterprise reporting, which require time and resources, will disappear. None of this requires a law degree and a judicial robe to comprehend. It’s been happening all over the country; Singleton’s record is clear. Of course, it didn’t help that Reilly was all alone on this, a single local businessperson trying to block a massive media merger that the state and federal governments are apparently ready to approve with only cursory examination. The outcome might have been very different if Attorney General Bill Lockyer had appeared before Illston representing the state of California. But Lockyer is sitting on his hands — and the US Justice Department just announced that it won’t pursue the matter and is going to allow the merger to proceed (see www.sfbg.com). This doesn’t have to be the end of the case, by any means. Reilly can and should go forward with his suit as aggressively as possible. And Lockyer, who is running for state controller, and Jerry Brown, who is running for attorney general, need to stop ducking this issue and take a firm stand against the merger. SFBG PS All of the papers involved in the merger covered the ruling, but none of them quoted outside experts critical of Illston’s decision or critical of the merger itself. Bruce B. Brugmann, Guardian editor and publisher, posted some key questions for the publishers on his Bruce Blog at www.sfbg.com; here are some of them: Why, if Hearst and the publisher participants feel they can’t cover themselves, don’t they get quotes from journalism or law professors at nearby UC Berkeley, Cal State Hayward, Stanford, San Jose State, SF State, USF? Why don’t they check with other independent experts such as Ben Bagdikian of The Media Monopoly fame, who is living in Berkeley? Why don’t they quote union representatives at the Chronicle and Merc? Why don’t they quote the congressional delegation that called on the Department of Justice and the attorney general to carefully scrutinize the sale? Why don’t they call on Sup. Ross Mirkarimi, who introduced a local resolution opposing the sale, or any of the other supervisors who approved it unanimously? Why is it left to the handful of remaining independent voices to raise these critical questions? PPS Now that the investigation is closed, we’ve asked the Justice Department to release its full investigative file. We hope all the local daily publishers, who love to talk about open government, will support our request. Read the Alioto Legal Documents: Complaint.pdf Gannett-Stephens_Opp_to_ TRO.pdf Hearst_Opp_to_TRO.pdf McClatchy_opp_to_TRO.pdf MediaNews-Calif_Newspaper_Partnership_Opp_to_TRO.pdf Memo-Supp_of_Mtn_for_TRO.pdf Order_denying_TRO.pdf Plaintiff’s_Reply_to_Mtn_for_TRO.pdf

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› tredmond@sfbg.com
I had lunch with a friend near South Park the other day, and we got to chatting about the condo boom in the area — building after building after ugly high rise after boxy dorm. This stuff doesn’t look like luxury housing; it looks like modern urban junk.
Anyway, my friend is a smart, thoughtful person, and her first instinct was to say that more downtown housing is a good thing. Me, I get a headache whenever I try to be thoughtful about San Francisco housing policy these days, so I wasn’t thoughtful at all. I hate it all, I told her.
She asked why and I answered honestly. “There are already too many goddamn rich people in this city,” I said. “What we need is more poor people.”
Actually, that’s wrong: what we need are more middle-class people.
My friend is one of the few people in the world who make a decent living as a freelance writer. But she can’t buy a house here. If she didn’t have a rent-controlled apartment where she’s lived for about 20 years now, she couldn’t afford to live in San Francisco at all.
This is nothing new. What’s interesting is that it’s getting (some) national attention. The New York Times weighed in July 23 with an article citing San Francisco as an example of how US cities are becoming places for the rich and the poor with nobody in between. Again, no big news — but the Times had a twist on it. The writer, Janny Scott, asked: is that such a bad thing?
After all, cities like San Francisco are thriving. Property values are soaring. Everyone wants to live here. Some economists, Scott wrote, now refer to places like San Francisco, New York, and Boston as “superstar cities.”
From a strictly economic point of view, some of Scott’s sources argued that there’s nothing wrong with rich people driving the middle class out of cities. “There’s a whole lot of America that does a very good job of taking care of the middle class,” Harvard economist Edward L. Glaeser insisted.
Now here’s the quote I love:
“But sociologists and many economists believe there can be non-economic consequences for cities that lose a lot of middle-income residents.”
Uh, yeah.
Here’s the point: if you measure everything the way a lot of economists (and a lot of San Francisco business leaders) do, the city’s cooking along just fine. People who want to live here will pay the price; the free market will eventually make it all work out.
And maybe so — after a while San Francisco will be such a hellhole of a precious bedroom community for Silicon Valley workers and a faux city for tourists that nobody like me or my friends will want to be here anymore. The free market will do its job — by ruining one of the world’s great cities. By destroying a community.
And what I want to leave you with is this: the only way to stop that from happening — the only way — is with active, strong public-sector (yes, that’s government) intervention. Some people (developers, speculators, and landlords) will have to make less money so the rest of us can keep San Francisco alive. The supervisors are doing that on many levels; the mayor still doesn’t seem to get it.
But we’re running out of time. SFBG

Josh Wolf in jail


A federal judge has thrown video journalist Josh Wolf in jail for refusing to turn over material subpoenaed by a grand jury.

Judge William Alsup ordered Wolf incarcerated Tuesday afternoon, and denied bail, meaning Wolf could be stuck behind bars until either the grand jury finishes its investigation or Wolf chooses to turn over a video tape recorded during a demonstration last summer. Investigators believe footage from Wolf’s tape – material that was edited out before Wolf released the tape publicly — contains evidence of protestors torching a police car.

Wolf has maintained that no such evidence exists, but insists upon his right as a reporter to withhold the material from authorities.

An attorney from the National Lawyers Guild who’s been assisting Wolf with his case, Carlos Villarreal, told us just moments ago that while Judge Alsup seemed considerate of First Amendment concerns, “I think he made it clear he’s not very supportive [of] journalists. He gave the federal government a lot of leeway.”

Villarreal said Alsup argued that existing case law may extend to journalists who decline to testify in court in order to protect confidential sources, but it does not do the same for unpublished materials accumulated by journalists while reporting a story. Villarreal told us he believed the point of such protections was to allow journalists to build relationships of trust with their sources, which means material derived under those circumstances should be protected, too.

“[Alsup] basically said that he has to follow the law, and the law according to him is that a person who is not complying must be found in contempt,” Villarreal said. He added that around 40 states have shield laws designed to protect reporters, but at the federal level, only previous cases exist to guide judges on determining journalist’s privileges.

In addition to the National Lawyers Guild, Wolf has received assistance from the Society of Professional Journalists. The ACLU and the French organization Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press both filed amicus briefs on Wolf’s behalf.

The demonstration that led to the video footage took place in the Mission last summer, while the G8 summit was occurring in Scotland. Wolf himself said in a prepared statement released yesterday, “People protesting or on strike for better wages or marching for amnesty should feel free to do so in front of a journalist’s cameras, just as they should feel free to talk to journalists. A free press benefits all of us.”

Another attorney for Wolf, José Luis Fuentes, has pointed out that the San Francisco Police Department to date has not stepped forward with any description of damages or subsequent costs related to the allegedly vandalized cop car.

After oil


OPINION Every day a river of cars flows across the Bay Bridge into San Francisco, bringing workers, tourists, and visitors to the city. Nearly all run on petroleum fuels. Every day a staccato procession of planes lands at SFO, bringing tourists, conventioneers, and returning residents. All fly on petroleum fuels. Every day a phalanx of trucks delivers food to grocery stores, restaurants, and corner markets. All run on petroleum fuels. Every day roads are paved, potholes are filled, roofs are tarred, machinery is lubricated, and tires are replaced. All are done with petroleum-derived products. Every day hundreds of thousands of purchases take place, every one enabled by petroleum.
What will happen when the petroleum behind all these activities costs $100 a barrel? $200 a barrel? Or more? San Francisco’s viability as a major West Coast city is based on cheap petroleum. But the century of cheap petroleum is quickly coming to an end, and an era of expensive, scarce oil is dawning. Just as US production of oil peaked in 1970, production of oil from an increasing number of other countries has peaked as well. Currently, 33 of the top 48 major oil producers in the world are in irreversible decline, among them the United Kingdom, Norway, Mexico, and Indonesia. Within a few years — and indeed some claim it has already happened — global oil production will peak, then begin a protracted decline. The consequences are unthinkable. A world — and a city — built on cheap petroleum faces the largest challenge of modern times.
Nothing exists that can seamlessly replace petroleum. For transport, ethanol and biodiesel have been touted but both require tremendously higher levels of energy inputs for production compared to petroleum, and the competition with food production is already apparent with the rising price of corn in the Midwest. For other uses — lubrication, paving, plastics, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, paints, inks, solvents, detergents, rubber, and thousands more — no drop-in substitute is remotely ready. Alternate sources — such as the tar sands of Canada — produce in net only a half barrel of oil for every barrel of energy consumed. As petroleum production reaches its peak, every aspect of our lives will be profoundly impacted.
What can be done? First, it’s important to understand the phenomenon. Peak oil is not an oil company conspiracy, nor is it the result of OPEC’s actions — this is the result of a century and a half of ever-rising exploitation of a finite energy source. Second, we need to examine how we use energy in San Francisco to determine ways to either reduce consumption or find nonfossil alternatives to supply it. We need to examine our food supply — completely dependent on petroleum for planting, harvesting, processing, and transporting — along with city operations and residential, commercial, and transportation requirements to assess their vulnerability in an era of rising energy prices.
In April, San Francisco became the first major city in the United States to pass a peak-oil resolution, and on July 28 the San Francisco Local Agency Formation Commission held the first in a series of hearings on the issue of peak oil. Over the next year the commission will hold additional public hearings to educate and inform the citizenry of San Francisco on peak oil and will be launching a study to identify the possible responses we can take. SFBG
Ross Mirkarimi
Sup. Ross Mirkarimi represents San Francisco District 5.