Volume 40 Number 47

August 23 – August 29, 2006

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No Pasaran!


MEXICO CITY, Aug. 24th — The Congress of the country is ringed by two-meter tall grilled metal barriers soldered together, apparently to thwart a suicide car-bomb attack. Behind this metal wall, 3000 vizored, kevlar-wearing robocops — the Federal Preventative Police (PFP, a police force drawn from the army) — and members of the elite Estado Mayor or presidential military command, form a second line of defense. Armed with tear gas launchers, water cannons, and reportedly light tanks, this Praetorian Guard has been assigned to protect law and order and the institutions of the republic against left-wing mobs that threaten to storm the Legislative Palace – or so the president informs his fellow citizens in repeated messages transmitted on national television.
No, the president’s name is not Pinochet and this military tableau is not being mounted in the usual banana republic or some African satrap. This is Mexico, a paragon of democracy (dixit George Bush), Washington’s third trading partner, and the eighth leading petroleum producer on the planet, seven weeks after the fraud-marred July 2nd presidential election of which, at this writing, no winner has been officially declared. One of the elite military units assigned to seal off congress is indeed titled the July 2nd brigade.

“MEXICO ON A KNIFEBLADE” headlines the British Guardian. The typically short-term-memory-loss U.S. print media seems to have forgotten about the imbroglio just south of its borders. Nonetheless, the phone rings and it’s New York telling me they just got a call from their man on the border and Homeland Security is beefing up its forces around Laredo in anticipation of upheaval further south. The phone rings again and it’s California telling me they just heard on Air America that U.S. Navy patrols were being dispatched to safeguard Mexican oil platforms in the Gulf. The left-wing daily La Jornada runs a citizen-snapped photo of army convoys arriving carrying soldiers disguised as farmers and young toughs. Rumors race through the seven mile-long encampment installed by supporters of leftist presidential challenger Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) three weeks ago, who have tied up big city traffic and enraged the motorist class here, that PFP robocops will attack before dawn. The campers stay up all night huddled around bum fires prepared to defend their tent cities.

The moment reminds many Mexicans of the tense weeks in September and October 1968 when, 12 days before the Olympic Games were to be inaugurated here, President Gustavo Diaz Ordaz ordered the military to massacre striking students in a downtown plaza not far from where AMLO’s people are now camped out. Some 300 were killed in the Plaza of Three Cultures, their bodies incinerated at Military Camp #1 in western Mexico City. The Tlatelolco massacre was a watershed in social conflict here and the similarities are sinister– in fact, Lopez Obrador has taken to comparing outgoing President Vicente Fox with Diaz Ordaz.

Fox will go to congress September 1st to deliver his final State of the Union address; the new legislature will be convened the same day. The country may or may not have a new president by that day. In anticipation of this show-down, on August 14th, newly-elected senators and deputies from the three parties that comprise AMLO’s Coalition for the Good of All attempted to encamp on the sidewalk in front of the legislative palace only to be rousted and clobbered bloody by the President’s robocops.

With 160 representatives, the Coalition forms just a quarter of the 628 members of the new congress, but its members will be a loud minority during Fox’s “Informe.” Since the 1988 presidenciales were stolen from Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, founder of AMLO’s Party of the Democratic Revolution, PRD legislators have routinely interrupted the president during this authoritarian ritual in orchestrated outbursts that have sometimes degenerated into partisan fisticuffs.

The first to challenge the Imperial Presidency was Porfirio Munoz Ledo, a hoary political warhorse, who in 1988 thrust a finger at President Miguel De la Madrid, accusing him of overseeing the theft of the election from Cardenas. Munoz Ledo’s J’Acuse stunned the political class; he was slugged and pummeled by members of De la Madrid’s long-ruling PRI when he tried to escape the chamber. Munoz Ledo now stands at AMLO’s side.

But perhaps the most comical moment in the annals of acting out during the Informe came in 1996 when a brash PRI deputy donned a Babe the Valiant Pig mask and positioned himself directly under the podium from which President Ernesto Zedillo was addressing the state of the nation and wiggled insouciant signs with slogans that said things like ‘EAT THE RICH!” Like Munoz Ledo, Marco Rascon was physically attacked, his mask ripped off like he was a losing wrestler by a corrupt railroad union official — who in turn was hammer locked by a pseudo-leftist senator, Irma “La Tigresa” Serrano, a one-time ranchero singers and, in fact, the former mistress of Gustavo Diaz Ordaz.

This September 1st, if martial law is not declared and the new Congress dissolved before it is even installed, the PRD delegation — which will no doubt be strip-searched by the Estado Mayor for incriminating banners — is sworn to create a monumental ruckus, shredding the tarnished decorum of this once-solemn event forever to protest Fox’s endorsement of electoral larceny. Some solons say they may go naked.

But no matter what kind of uproar develops, one can be secure that it will not be shown on national television, as the cameras of Mexico’s two-headed television monstrosity Televisa and TV Azteca will stay trained on the President as he tries to mouth the stereotypical cliches that is always the stuff and fluff of this otherwise stultifying seance. The images of the chaos on the floor of congress will not be passed along to the Great Unwashed.


There is a reptilian feel to Mexico seven weeks after a discredited Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) cemented Lopez Obrador into a second place coffin by awarding the presidency to right-winger Felipe Calderon by a mere 243,000 votes out of a total 42,000,000 cast. Both Calderon and IFE czar Luis Carlos Ugalde (Calderon was best man at Ugalde’s wedding) make these little beady reptile eyes as they slither across national screens.

Those screens have been the scenes of some of the slimiest and most sordid political intrigue of late. One of the lizard kings who is fleetingly featured on Televisa primetime is an imprisoned Argentinean construction tycoon, Carlos Ahumada, who in 2004 conspired with Fox, Calderon’s PAN, and Televisa to frame AMLO on corruption charges and take him out of the presidential election. El Peje” (for a gar-like fish from the swamps of Lopez Obrador’s native Tabasco) was then leading the pack by 18 points.

Charged by Lopez Obrador, then the mayor of this megalopolis, with defrauding Mexico City out of millions, Ahumada had taken his revenge by filming PRD honchos when they came to his office to pick up boodles of political cash for his lover, Rosario Robles, who aspired to be queen of the PRD. Although the filthy lucre was perfectly legal under Mexico’s milquetoast campaign financing laws, the pick-ups looked awful on national television — AMLO’s former personal secretary was caught stuffing wads of low denomination bills into his suit coat pockets as if he were on Saturday Night Live.

Ahumada subsequently turned the tapes over to the leprous, cigar-chomping leader of Fox’s PAN party in the Senate, Diego Fernandez de Cevallos (“El Jefe Diego”) who in turn had them delivered to a green-haired clown, Brozo, who was then reading the morning news on Televisa. Then the Argentine fled to Cuba in a private plane. Televisa would air the incriminating videos day and night for months.

Apprehended in Veradero after his lover Robles was shadowed to the socialist beachfront, Ahumada spilled the beans to Cuban authorities: Interior Secretary Santiago Creel, who was then AMLO’s lead rival for the presidency, had cooked up the plot with the connivance of reviled former president Carlos Salinas, Lopez Obrador’s most venomous foe, the then attorney general, and Fox himself, to remove AMLO from the race.

The Mexican government did not ask for extradition and Ahumada’s deportation from Cuba was not seen as a friendly gesture. Within a month, diplomatic relations between Mexico and that red paradise were broken off and ambassadors summoned home. The construction tycoon has been imprisoned in Mexico City ever since he was booted out of Cuba, and was last heard from when he had his rogue cop chauffer shoot up the family SUV, a charade both Fox and Televisa tried to pin on AMLO — Ahumada had suggested he was about to release two more incriminating videos. These dubious events took place on June 6th, the day of a crucial presidential debate between AMLO and Calderon.

Then last week, Ahumada abruptly resurfaced — or at least his videotaped confession to Cuban authorities did. Filmed through prison bars, he lays out the plot step by step. Yes, he affirms, the deal was fixed up to cut AMLO’s legs out from under him and advance the fortunes of the right-wing candidate who turned out to be Felipe Calderon and not the bumbling Creel. The conspiracy backfired badly as his supporters rallied around him and Lopez Obrador’s ratings soared.

The origins of the confession tape, leaked to top-rung reporter Carmen Aristegui, was obscure. Had Fidel dispatched it from his sick bed to bolster Lopez Obrador’s claims of victory as the PAN and the snake-eyed Televisa evening anchor Joaquin Lopez Dorriga hissed? The air grew serpentine with theories. There was even one school that speculated Calderon himself had been the source in a scheme to distance himself from Fox (there had always been “mala leche” between them) and Creel, now the leader of the PAN faction in congress.

AMLO advanced a variant of this explanation — the specter of Ahumada had been resuscitated to divert attention from the evidence of generalized fraud the Coalition had submitted to the TRIFE and the panel’s impending verdict that Calderon had won the election.

Perhaps the most nagging question in this snakepit of uncertainty is what happened during the partial recount of less than 10% of the 130,000 ballot boxes ordered by the TRIFE to test the legitimacy of the IFE’s results. Although the recount concluded on August 13th, the judges have released no numbers and are not obligated to do so — their only responsibility is to certify the validity of the election.

Although AMLO’s reps in the counting rooms came up with gobs of evidence — violated ballot boxes, stolen or stuffed ballots, altered tally sheets and other bizarre anomalies — only the left-wing daily La Jornada saw fit to mention them. The silence of the Mexican media and their accomplices in the international press in respect to the Great Fraud is deafening — although they manage to fill their rags with ample attacks on Lopez Obrador for tying up Mexico City traffic.

According to AMLO’s people, 119,000 ballots in the sample recount cannot be substantiated — in about 3500 casillas, 58,000 more votes were cast than the number of voters on the voting list. In nearly 4,000 other casillas, 61,000 ballots allocated to election officials cannot be accounted for. The annulment of the casillas in which these alterations occurred would put Lopez Obrador in striking distance of Calderon and in a better world, would obligate the TRIFE to order a total recount.

But given the cheesy state of the Mexican judiciary this is not apt to happen; one of the judges who will decide the fate of democracy in Mexico is a former client of El Jefe Diego for whom the PANista senator won millions from the Mexico City government in a crooked land deal.

Meanwhile, thousands continue to camp out in a hard rain for a third week on the streets of Mexico City awaiting the court’s decision. They have taken to erecting shrines and altars and are praying for divine intervention. Hundreds pilgrimage out to the shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe, some crawling on their knees, to ask the Brown Madonna to work her mojo. “God doesn’t belong to the PAN!” they chant as they trudge up the great avenue that leads to the Basilica. “AMLO deserves a miracle” Esther Ortiz, a 70 year-old great grandmother comments to a reporter as she kneels to pray before the gilded altar.

At the Metropolitan Cathedral on one flank of the Zocalo, a young worshipper interrupts Cardinal Norberto Rivera with loas to AMLO and is quickly hustled off the premises by the Prelate’s bouncers. The following Sunday, the Cathedral’s great doors are under heavy surveillance, and churchgoers screened for telltale signs of devotion to Lopez Obrador. Hundreds of AMLO’s supporters mill about in front of the ancient temple shouting “voto por voto” and alleging that Cardinal Rivera is a pederast.

AMLO as demi-god is one motif of this religious pageant being played out at what was once the heart of the Aztec theocracy, the island of Tenochtitlan. The ruins of the twin temples of the fierce Aztec war god Huitzilopochtli and Tlahuac, the god of the rain, is adjacent to the National Palace against which AMLO’s stage is set. Lopez Obrador sleeps each night in a tent close by.

Many hearts were ripped out smoking on these old stones and fed to such hungry gods before the Crusaders showed up bearing the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

AMLO is accused by right-wing “intellectuals” (Enrique Krauze and the gringo apologist George Grayson) of entertaining a Messiah complex. Indeed, he is up there every day on the big screen, his craggy features, salt and pepper hair, raspy voice and defiantly jutted jaw bearing more of a passable resemblance to a younger George C. Scott rather The Crucified One. AMLO’s devotees come every evening at seven, shoehorned between the big tents that fill the Zocalo, rain or shine. Last Monday, I stood with a few thousand diehards in a biblical downpour, thunder and lightening shattering the heavens above. “Llueve y llueve y el pueblo no se mueve” they chanted joyously, “it rains and rains and the people do not move.”

The evolution of these incantations is fascinating. At first, the standard slogan of “Voto Por Voto, Casilla por Casilla!” was automatically invoked whenever Lopez Obrador stepped to the microphone. “You are not alone!” and “Presidente!” had their moment. “Fraude!” is still popular but in these last days, “No Pasaran!” — they shall not pass, the cry of the defenders of Madrid as Franco’s fascist hordes banged on the doors of Madrid, 1936 — has flourished.

In this context, “No Pasaran!” means “we will not let Felipe Calderon pass to the presidency.” AMLO, who holds out little hope that the TRIFE will decide in his favor, devotes more time now to organizing the resistance to the imposition of Calderon upon the Aztec nation. Article 39 of the Mexican constitution, he reminds partisans, grants the people the right to change their government if that government does not represent them. To this end, he is summoning a million delegates up to the Zocalo for a National Democratic Convention on Mexican Independence Day September 16th, a date usually reserved for a major military parade.

Aside from the logistical impossibility of putting a million citizens in this Tiananmen-sized plaza, how this gargantuan political extravaganza is going to be financed is cloudy. Right now, it seems like small children donating their piggy banks is the main mode of fund-raising. Because AMLO’s people distrust the banks, all of which financed Calderon’s vicious TV ad campaign, a giant piggy bank has been raised in the Zocalo to receive the contributions of the faithful.

Dreaming is also a fundraiser. Some 10,000 raised their voices in song this past Sunday as part of a huge chorus assembled under the dome of the Monument to the Revolution to perform a cantata based on the words of Martin Luther King and Mohandas Gandhi. This too is a form of civil resistance, Lopez Obrador commended his followers.

The first National Democratic Convention took place behind rebel lines in the state of Aguascalientes in 1914 at the apogee of the Mexican Revolution when the forces of Francisco Villa and his Army of the North first joined forces with Zapata’s Liberating Army of the Southern Revolution. The second National Democratic Revolution took place 80 years later in 1994, in a clearing in the Lacandon Jungle of Chiapas when the Zapatista Army of National Liberation wedded itself to the civil society in an uprising that rocked Mexico all throughout the ’90s; eclipsed by events, the EZLN and its quixotic spokesperson Subcomandante Marcos have disappeared from the political map in the wake of the fraudulent election.

What this third National Democratic Convention is all about is now being debated in PRD ruling circles and down at the grassroots. Minimally, a plan of organized resistance that will dog Felipe Calderon for the next six years, severely hampering his ability to rule will evolve from this mammoth conclave. The declaration of a government in resistance headed by Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is one consideration. The National Democratic Convention could also result in the creation of a new party to replace a worn-out PRD now thoroughly infiltrated by cast-offs from the PRI.

The Party of the Democratic Revolution has always functioned best as an opposition party. With notable exceptions (AMLO was one), when the PRD becomes government, it collapses into corruption, internecine bickering, and behaves just as arrogantly as the PAN and the PRI. No Pasaran?

Seven weeks after the July 2nd electoral debacle, Mexico finds itself at a dangerously combustible conjunction (“coyuntura”) in which the tiny white elite here is about to impose its will upon a largely brown and impoverished populous to whom the political parties and process grow more irrelevant each day. “No Pasaran!” the people cry out but to whom and what they are alluding to remains to be defined.

John Ross’s ZAPATISTAS! Making Another World Possible – Chronicles of Resistance 2000-2006 will be published by Nation Books this October. Ross will travel the Left Coast this fall with both ZAPATISTAS! and a new chapbook of poetry BOMBA! and is still looking for possible venues; send suggestions to johnross@igc.org

Fiber vs. wi-fi


› steve@sfbg.com
San Francisco’s top officials want to get the city more directly involved in creating a better telecommunications infrastructure. Their goal is to overcome the digital divide and pump up the city’s overall bandwidth without waiting for the private sector to maybe get around to it.
But Mayor Gavin Newsom and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors have focused on distinctly different pathways to the whiz-bang future they both envision. And the agency in charge of getting the city there — the Department of Telecommunications and Information Services (DTIS) — has moved the mayor’s big idea at high speed while inching the board’s plan along at a snail’s pace.
Newsom first proposed a citywide wireless Internet system that would be free for the city and its residents during his State of the City speech Oct. 21, 2004. At the time it was just an ambitious promise that seemed to languish, until late last summer when the DTIS issued a request for information to a variety of high-tech firms.
By the end of 2005 the city had settled on trying to negotiate a deal with a partnership between Google and Earthlink to build the system, which they will finance largely with revenue from targeted advertising and users who pay a fee for faster connections. City officials are still in negotiations with Earthlink and expect to have a proposal ready for the board to consider by the end of the year.
Yet three weeks before Newsom announced his intention to pursue wireless, Sup. Tom Ammiano and a coalition of public interest nonprofits announced a plan to have the city build and run a municipal broadband system by laying fiber-optic lines as city officials open up the streets for the planned sewer system replacement and other projects.
It was an ambitious idea never realized by a big city in the United States, one that would put tremendous bandwidth directly under city control and be a potential source of millions of dollars in annual revenue and cost savings.
Now, almost two years after the Board of Supervisors ordered a study on the plan, the DTIS has finally hired consultants — the Maryland-based Columbia Telecommunications Corp. (CTC), which works exclusively on fiber-optic projects for public agencies. The first draft of the plan is expected to be available for public comment by the end of the year.
“We consider both the wireless and fiber projects to be important,” Brian Roberts, the DTIS senior policy analyst for both projects, told the Guardian. “But we thought wireless would be something that could be accomplished in a relatively short timeline.”
Roberts and others involved in the projects say the two ventures aren’t mutually exclusive — that any wireless system would actually get a big technological boost from city-owned fiber, San Franciscans will likely use up whatever bandwidth they can get, and wireless reaches mobile users in a way that fiber can’t.
But activists of various stripes have catalogued a number of concerns with Newsom’s wireless plan: the secretive nature of the early negotiations, private sector control over the system, the mayor’s relationship with the Google founders (who proposed the idea in the first place), the exposure of residents to increasingly sophisticated advertising campaigns, shortcomings in serving the poor and truly breaching the digital divide, and problems associated with wireless technology (mainly involving reliability, health, and capacity concerns).
The fact that these two plans are coming before the Board of Supervisors at the same time — which Roberts said is purely coincidental — is likely to renew the age-old debate about privatization and public interest.
Should the city be pursuing the public-private partnerships favored by Newsom, which can be delivered to voters quickly and at seemingly little cost to government? Or should it be focusing on long-term strategies that will give the city more control over the resources its citizens need — from electricity to information technology — without having to depend on the profit-driven private sector?
The DTIS announced the commencement of the municipal broadband study during a little-noticed public meeting Aug. 15, during which a dozen or so of the most committed activists, representatives for Comcast (which aggressively opposes most municipal broadband initiatives), and downtown building owners heard from the consultants.
CTC founder and principal analyst Joanne Howis outlined the scope of her firm’s study and sang the praises of what’s known in her industry as Fiber to the Premises (FTTP), noting that it’s the most reliable, high-capacity broadband technology and that the price of delivering it to people’s homes has fallen tremendously in recent years, to the point where it’s the best all-around broadband delivery system.
“Fiber is better, and wholly controlled fiber is better still,” she said. “That’s an article of faith with us.”
Later, activists pushed the point on wireless versus fiber. “Fiber can do many of the things wireless can’t do, but it can’t go mobile,” Howis said, also noting that fiber is essential to a reliable public safety system. “Fiber and wireless speak to different needs and are used in different ways.”
But when asked what’s better for residential users, she said, “Anyone who can have fiber or wireless to their homes will choose fiber.”
“Unless it’s free,” Roberts interjected.
But public interest media advocates like Media Alliance say the city is going about this backward. The group has been critical of the city’s wireless plans and has studied the potential for municipal fiber, arguing in the just-released report “Is Publicly Owned Information Infrastructure a Wise Public Investment for San Francisco?” that the city could pay for its investment within five years and make $2 million per year thereafter by leasing space on the network. So all sides are happy to see the fiber study finally moving forward.
“We met with a lot of resistance to the study, but the good thing was we got the money for the study from the Mayor’s Office,” Ammiano told the Guardian. “While I’m disappointed that it’s taken so long, I’m heartened that it’s now moving.”
Meanwhile, Google last week got a free citywide wireless system up and running in its native Mountain View. The system is faster than the free service it intends to offer to San Franciscans, who will have to pay a bit more if they want anything faster than the targeted average speed of 300 kilobytes per second.
“Google is putting up a lot of money to make the service free in San Francisco,” Chris Sacca, who is heading up the project for Google, told the Guardian. He estimated that the company has spent over $1 million to develop the San Francisco plan.
While the fiber study will analyze the benefits to the city itself, Sacca said the wireless proposal began with consumer demand. “At Google we start with the end-user problem, then work backward from there.” SFBG

Excerpts from freelance journalist Josh Wolf


What follows are excerpts from an Aug. 14 letter that freelance journalist Josh Wolf wrote to reporter Sarah Phelan from inside Dublin Federal Correctional Institute. Wolf has been held at Dublin FCI since Aug. 1 refusing to give a federal grand jury unpublished footage from a July 8, 2005 anti-G8 protest that turned violent.

Aug. 14, 2006

Dear Sarah,

Thanks for writing to me about my case;

On Judith Miller:

“The issue of Judith Miller is a complicated one. My reservations about the Judith Miller situation are as follows: She should be protected, but should she have published it in the first place? I’m very thankful that she has helped publicize my case and I have talked to her on the phone and wouldn’t want it to seem like I’m ungrateful for the support.”

On the injuries that a SFPD officer sustained during the July 8, 2005 anti G8 protest:

“The officer’s injury is a sad and unfortunate incident, and I do not in any way condone violence against any living creature. However, as tragic and unjust as it may have been, it is a potential crime which falls under state and not Federal jurisdiction and although the Assistant US Attorney has brought up the injured officer repeatedly, he has never asserted that this potential crime is part of the grand jury investigation and is therefore nothing more than an effort to sensationalize the case.

Furthermore, my mother’s statement is accurate, I neither witnessed nor filmed the alleged assault on the officer – I learned of the incident after hearing “officer down” by several bystanders. At that point in time, I was filming the aforementioned officer’s partner choking Gabe Myers whom has been charged with the conspiracy charge of attempting to lynch himself, along with resisting arrest and rioting. The published video illustrates this fairly well and can be accessed through http://joshwolf.net/grandjury/ along with the all the legal documents up until I became incarcerated and could no longer maintain the site.”

On the alleged arson to a SFPD patrol car:

“Another important factor in the police’s story of what happened that night is their claim that the Styrofoam sign (for the 500th time, there was no mattress) became lodged in front of their car, therein disabling it. While the Styrofoam sign may have been lodged – I have trouble believing that a piece of Styrofoam could actually force a modified Crown Victoria to a stop. As a rear-wheel drive car with more-than-ample horsepower, I believe it would’ve been able to push the sign along indefinitely, if not able to completely rise over the top of it. Beyond that, the officers immediately jumped out of their vehicle and chased after the 2 people they believed were originally holding the sign.

By the way, these officers – Shields + Wolf (no known relation to myself) were not assigned to the protest and were responding to some sort of complaint. These police officers attempted to disperse the crowd by accelerating their vehicle towards us – it was at that point that the sign carriers in the back of the crowd dropped their sign and dived out of the car’s path. The most accurate description I heard of the event came from Attorney Ben Rosenfeld who spoke at one of my press conferences, the video can be accessed at the URL I mentioned previously.”

On the grand jury investigation:

“As I’m sure you are aware, the subject of the grand jury investigation, or the reason that I’m in jail, is the alleged attempt to destroy property that the federal government may have had a fiscal interest in, the SFPD patrol vehicle. If this pretense for a federal interest is allowed to stand, then would not all public property – be it city, state, or federal serve to trump state protections such as the California Shield law. This would not only include streets, schools, and sidewalks, but also city hall itself.

Perhaps you recall Matt Gonzales last art exhibit as Supervisor – the Supervisor arrange to have graffiti art sprayed onto his office wall. Now, obviously he did this with the approval of the city, but could the federal government have intervened under the claim that this art damaged Federal Property? Obviously they wouldn’t, but according to the logic of the US Attorney, I imagine they might feel they could legitimately do so. The analogy is a stretch and borders on being cartoonist, but is it really any more outrageous than throwing me in prison for refusing to comply with this order to turn over a videotape regarding a police vehicle that apparently wasn’t even damaged – we’ve yet to see any repair orders for the squad car.
Both myself and my attorney have filed declarations to the fact that I did not film any attempts at arson on a police car. It seems highly unlikely that the US Attorney doesn’t believe us as I imagine lying in a declaration would result in perjury for me but could also, to my best understanding; result in my attorney facing even more serious repercussions than that. Neither myself nor my attorney would be stupid enough to behave that irresponsibly. I remember Alger Hiss.”

On Alger Hiss, McCarthyism and Black as the new Pink:

Speaking of Hiss, I feel that given the circumstances, this witch hunt could very likely be a witch hunt akin to those of McCarthey’s blood thirsty quest to expose communists. If that in fact is the case, then instead of a red-scare, this is a black scare.

Keep in mind, that each subpoena I have received not only demands the unpublished materials, but also my testimony. I do not feel that is paranoia which leads me to think that I would be compelled to identify anyone on the footage whom I might know in an effort to create a list of political dissidents and anarchists in the bay area.

Yes, the idea is alarmist, but; it happened in this country 50 years ago – and anyone with a decent education is painfully aware that history has a way of repeating itself. There is no way this much money and energy has been expended simply to investigate some kid throwing a firework four days after the 4th of July, and as the government has not been forthcoming, I have no reason not to assume the worst.

On life inside Dublin Federal Correctional Institute:

“In your letter you also asked me about Dublin; I don’t have a whole lot to say about my experience here, but I can say that the experience is nowhere near the nightmare I had expected. I’ve never felt like my personal safety is in jeopardy, and I have made friends with many of the inmates. There’s food which is edible during every single meal, and 90% of the staff have behaved with the utmost professionalism. At the same time, visits are limited to immediate family, and I only get to feel air on my face for an hour each day; 5 days a week.

Living in captivity is emotionally very difficult, and you find yourself missing the simplest of things. Not having my music, for one, has been very hard for me. The experience is akin to being a young child in man ways, and almost all decisions have been robbed from you. Regulations which serve no purpose abound – we are prohibited from doing laundry after 2pm; I have no idea why.
I have the opportunity by being here to catch up on a lot of reading; however, and I’ve written more letters by hand over the last two weeks than I’ve composed throughout my 24 years up till now. I miss email. I’ve also been inspired to create a new organization, but I can’t share the details just yet about that one.”

Thanks again, for covering the story and in the words of Edward R. Murrow,
Goodnight and Good Luck,



Aug. 27

Visual Art

Free at the de Young

Although not free (save for the first Tuesday of every month), the de Young has numerous works on view inside and outside the museum that you can see without paying admission. Follow Andy Goldsworthy’s Drawn Stone, a line cracked in the paver from the Music Concourse to the museum’s entrance. One of the first pieces that you’re magnetically pulled to when you enter the museum is Gerhard Richter’s commissioned Strontium, a gigantic wall installation that dominates the ground floor open area between galleries. The doors are always open to the Piazzoni mural room where two five-panel murals of serene California landscapes by Gottardo F.P. Piazzoni are permanently installed. Take the side door right before the café to the sculpture garden where Juan Muñoz’s Conversation Piece V, Joan Miró’s la Maternité, and Gustav Kraitz’s Apples serve as a kind of jungle gym for children and adults. (Katie Kurtz)

Tues.-Sun., 9:30 a.m.-5:15 p.m; Fri., 9:30 a.m.-8:45 p.m.
De Young Museum, Golden Gate Park, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive (near Fulton and 10th Avenue).
$10, $7 seniors, $6 youths 13-17 and college students with ID (free first Tues.)
(415) 750-3614, www.thinker.org



Mark Jackson is back in Berkeley for a while at least, directing Oscar Wilde’s Salome for Aurora Theatre Company. Banned in Britain for almost 40 years, Salome the play caused as much scandal in Europe as the lady herself did in Galilee. Featuring Ron Campbell, winner of the Bay Area Critics Circle award for Best Solo Performance in 2005, as King Herod and Miranda Calderon as the titular temptress. (Nicole Gluckstern)

Previews Sun/27, 2 p.m., and Aug. 30, 8 p.m. Opens Aug. 31, 8 p.m. Runs Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 and 7 p.m. Through Oct. 1
Aurora Theatre
2081 Addison, Berk.
(510) 843-4822, www.auroratheatre.org



Aug. 22


Robert Bresson double feature

Who do you think makes for a better Jesus Christ – Jim Caviezel or a donkey? Mel Gibson might choose Caviezel, but almost any true movie lover in existence would select the latter. One reason: Robert Bresson’s 1966 Au Hasard Balthazar, in which a mule takes on saintly properties. The director’s knockout 1967 follow-up, Mouchette, also screens. (Johnny Ray Huston)

Call or see Web site for times
Castro Theatre
429 Castro, SF
(415) 621-6120


Syd Barrett farewell

Some of our local musicians got together and decided to pay tribute to Barrett’s influence, forming an impressive lineup for the Piper’s farewell. The Dilettantes (featuring Joel Gion from Brian Jonestown Massacre), Ettiene de Rocher, the Moore Brothers, and Jean Marie anchor this free show, which also includes a rare appearance by Conspiracy of Beards, the men’s choir devoted entirely to Leonard Cohen, the folk king of goodbyes. (K. Tighe)

8 p.m.
Cafe Du Nord
2170 Market, SF
(415) 861-5016



Aug. 26


“I Love Bugs!”

Because I am an East Coast transplant, my childhood memories are riddled with insects – from catching fireflies, swatting cicada, and burning ants with a magnifying glass. I think I might karmically owe something to the wonderful world of bugs. The folks at Habitot must have been insect-infatuated children too, because they are hosting a whole day of bug activities for kids. Get in touch with your inner exoskeleton as the Oakland Zoo presents the Zoomobile’s bug display, which includes a tarantula and walking stick. (K. Tighe)

10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Habitot Children’s Museum
2065 Kittredge, Berk


“Rebellion from the Inside”

Turns out the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, was pretty punk rock: “The one who indulges in sense desires and commits wrong deeds goes with the stream,” he said over 2,500 years ago. “He who lives the pure, decent life goes against the stream.” Dharma Punx author Noah Levine espouses the “Buddhism is punk” philosophy and is the subject of a documentary film in progress, Meditate and Destroy, by local filmmaker Sarah Fisher. “Rebellion from the Inside” is a benefit for the film featuring dharma funnyman and author of Essential Crazy Wisdom, Wes Nisker, as master of ceremonies, plus music by DFTRAM, free massages, a juice bar, and veggie appetizers. (Duncan Scott Davidson)

6:30-9 p.m.
Yoga Sangha
3030A 16th St, SF
$15-$45 sliding scale
(415) 934-0000



Aug. 25


Johnette Napolitano

In Johnette Napolitano’s world, bullets are always aimed at the innocent, ghosts make perfectly acceptable bedfellows, and Russian angels are good inspirations for tattoos. If she were a rose, she’d be tucked behind the ear of legendary river banshee la Llorona. Napolitano is the driving force behind urban gothic rockers Concrete Blonde and coconspirator on projects such as Vowel Movement with Holly Vincent and Pretty and Twisted with Marc Moreland. Join this enduring lady of darkness for an intimate solo performance before she heads off to the inaugural Summer Strummer festival in Santa Monica. (Nicole Gluckstern)

9 p.m.
Cafe du Nord
2170 Market, SF
(415) 861-5016
www.cafedunord.com http://www.cafedunord.com


Patton Oswalt

Patton Oswalt is funnier than you are. He’s been booed off a Pittsburgh stage for his critiques of President Bush, but in San Francisco that just gives him street cred. His content is so raunchy, smart, and devastatingly on point that he makes me want to punch things. With an impressive television history – from writing for MadTV to costarring in sitcom King of Queens – Oswalt’s stand-up is of a particular brand of lewd that would have most TV execs turning red. (K. Tighe)

With Brent Weinbach
Through Sat/26
8 and 10 p.m.
Cobb’s Comedy Club
915 Columbus, SF
(415) 928-4320



Aug. 24


Feinstein on global warming

Hear US Senator Dianne Feinstein’s take on global warming and plans for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from businesses through legislation. (Deborah Giattina)

6 p.m.
JW Marriott Hotel
500 Post, SF
$30, $15 for members
(415) 597-6700


“Living in the Jungle”

Cultural Odyssey received a Goldie Lifetime Achievement Award from the Guardian in 2003 because coartistic directors Idris Ackamoor and Rhodessa Jones bring their lives to work – and Ackamoor and Jones’s musical dramatic work has blazed both activist and artistic trails many local theater groups have since followed. Presented in conjunction with the AfroSolo Arts Fest, “Living in the Jungle” offers a free teaser of what Cultural Odyssey has in store for the future. The African American Shakespeare Company will also present scenes from a quartet of plays, including a drag-tinged Cinderella, a Taming of the Shrew. (Johnny Ray Huston)

Through Sat/26
8 p.m.
Buriel Clay Theater
762 Folsom, SF
Free, but reservations are required
(415) 292-1850



AUG. 23


Clean Keefer

Join Terry Baum, former Green Party candidate for Representative in the 8th district, at a fundraiser for her successor in grassroots representation – Krissy Keefer, the local activist, Dance Brigade founder, and now Green Party candidate for US Congress. Unlike Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Keefer is not accepting any corporate donations for her campaign. Musician Scrumbly Koldewyn and singer-songwriter Austin Willacy perform. (Deborah Giattina)

7-9 p.m.
Bazaar Cafe
5927 California, SF
Campaign donations accepted
(415) 835-4748, krissyforcongress@yahoo.com



If Brooklyn’s Japanther weren’t people, they’d be gas-powered robots straight off the mean streets. Employing the plowing force of gutter punk and the tinny hooks of bedroom-recorded pop, their music is a potent mixture: it’s punk and they play it fast, but there’s a certain whimsy and strong sense of melody hiding behind the muscular grind. This particular show benefits the Prisoners Literature Project and Berkeley Liberation Radio. This Bike is a Pipe Bomb, who play a folky variety of jittery, socially conscious punk, share the bill. (Michael Harkin)

With This Bike is a Pipe Bomb, Two Gallants, KIT, and Stripmall Seizures
8 p.m.
LoBot Gallery
1800 Campbell, W. Oakl
(510) 798-6566

Also Thurs/24
With This Bike is a Pipe Bomb and the Punks
9:30 p.m.
Hemlock Tavern
1131 Polk, SF
(415) 923-0923

The transformer


› superego@sfbg.com
SUPER EGO Every time I think of change, I think of robots cutting my hair. Possibly this is because I ate a lot of toothpaste as a kid. But even more possibly, it’s because each time I used to come to on the sidewalk outside the old Transformer hair salon at Page and Laguna, I’d think, “Listen, Wanda. You seriously gotta do something different with your eternal teenage life.” Then I’d cheerily swoosh the asphalt off my mismatched Keds and go again.
But all the signs were lately lining up for a cosmic automatonic buzz cut, at least in clubland. Yes, yes, I know we’re trapped in a the-more-things-change-the-more-they-stay-the-same apocalyptic retro loop, but things were getting seriously weird on the spinning wheels tip. I dashed to the Hush Hush Lounge for a supposedly glam party a couple Saturdays ago, but when I got there it was closed, dark, shuttered, boarded up. Sold overnight (again) — everyone expelled. So I jetted to the Expansion to meet cute Israelis for Jager shots — same thing, dammit. What the hell was going on? Was I a bar curse?
Then three new hot spots were revealed in quick succession, all with highly confusable names: Shine (shinesf.com), Stray (straybarsf.com), and Slide (slidesf.com). I’d like to think the sibilant lisp of their similarity is yet another Snakes on a Plane viral marketing strategy, but really, are we there yet? And to power-top it off, some new bling-bling break-dance bar called Double Dutch opened in the old Cama spot, biting both name and concept from Double Dutch Disco, the superstar alternaqueer party of the past eight months. Way to be tone deaf to the scene, brahs.
But the real hot hearsay on the transformation front was Bruno’s, reopened after months and months of remo, shedding its smoky mobster steak house past for a Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Mission via Marina makeover. Hell, I’ll bite — it sounded horrifying. Besides, I’d been needing to hit up more straight hangs, really. When even your boyfriend says you’re getting too gay, it’s time to toss out the fuchsia wrist limpers and purchase a nice George Foreman or something. Worse, in the blizzard of mind-blowing gay-las I’d been attending lately, I’m afraid I’d come to think of het bars in general like I think of Toronto, which, to quote my club chum Cyril, is a place where all the trannies are named Chris. I hate that.
So me and Hunky Beau hop on the sexy motorbike and head out, eager to sip Corzo Cadillac margaritas by a (hopefully fake) fireplace and pretend to pick up nubile blond sales executives with our extensive ironic vocabulary, Norelco-groomed stubble, and wacky printed shirts. At last, a change was a-gonna come!
But just look what I get for being prejudicial. We’re cruising up Mission Street, trying to remember exactly where Bruno’s is, admiring the dazzlingly slumped-over fauna of the local panorama, when — bam! We crash headlong into the trunk of a parked cop car. Whoops. I pull a total John Woo and flip over the wreck, landing fabulously spread-eagled on the uneven pavement. Dazed, I look up into a halo of stunned hunky cops and the curious gang members they’d been interrogating, flashing lights eerily glinting off jet-black visors and tarnished gold teeth. So this is heaven, I thought. Well, pass me a box of Trojans. Looks like I’ve got work to do.
We’re OK, the bike and the cop car are totaled, and the next night we hauled our bruised egos to Bruno’s for a chill-out dose of Peach Bellinis, leopard-skin carpeting, Lauryn Hill on the turntables, copious Kewpie doll paintings, and busty servers kneeling to take our order. Sure enough, BtVotD was looped on the giant plasma screens, but the fireplace was real, the gimlets were strong, the booths had been replaced by a long communal dining table, and the ahi burgers were under $20. And hey, guess what? Some guy even tried to pick me up in the men’s room. Miraculous! SFBG
2389 Mission, SF
Nightly, 5:30 p.m.–2 a.m.
(415) 550-7455

The soul stirrers


› a&eletters@sfbg.com
The set is modestly spare, a disheveled if not quite ramshackle affair, being the basement studio of an imaginary low-watt radio station run by a solitary disc jockey (Peter Newton) with a thing for Japanese culture, an anguished relation to the American scene, and an insomniac disposition. But just as the deepest truths can rise immaculately from the muffled vibrations of a scratchy old blues record, so does Bay Area playwright Gary Aylesworth’s new play See That My Grave Is Kept Clean slyly and unassumingly sound nothing less than the soul-stirring chords and discords of an embattled American imagination.
The play’s DJ-everyman, sitting at his desk and console in a kimono, his samurai sword on one side, his classic blues discs on the other, coos into the microphone to whomever might be listening to the evening’s program. Caught between suicidal despair and a desire for revitalization, he’s fending off the highly bankable depression of a Prozac nation with the ameliorative properties of Japanese rice balls. He’s also bent on finding a little truth amid the “tsunami of propaganda” that characterizes the society outside. To this latter end, he’s got the classic recordings from the Anthology of American Folk Music on heavy rotation, markers of another era of American depression — marvelous songs Newton and Aylesworth actually perform live (including the song borrowed for the play’s title) in lilting harmonies to their own musical accompaniment.
But our DJ sets some archival interviews spinning too, in counter-rotation to one another, as it were. The other characters (played by Aylesworth, acting out the interviews the DJ intersperses throughout the program) are two formidable contemporaries and spiritual adversaries of the mid-20th century: Edward Bernays and Harry Smith. The juxtaposing of these two figures, polar extremes yet both highly influential in the economic and cultural spheres, becomes the motive propelling Aylesworth’s deceptively casual, humorous, melodious, and intriguing new play.
Bernays, considered a father of the public relations industry (“public relations” being a phrase he coined to substitute for the tarnished term “propaganda”), was by the 1920s and for decades afterward the much sought-after guru of ballyhoo. He sold everything from cigarettes to presidents to a bloody US-backed coup in Central America on behalf of the United Fruit Company. Bernays was also (not incidentally) the nephew of Sigmund Freud, whose ideas he put to pioneering use in the realm of what he called “the engineering of consent.”
On the other side of the stage (and every other important extreme) is Harry Smith, the play’s prickly patron saint. A character too protean and idiosyncratic for a neat label, Smith was among other things an experimental filmmaker and the musicologist who compiled the legendary multivolume Anthology of American Folk Music, recordings largely made in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Originally issued on the Folkways label in 1952, it was so influential in the folk music revival and beyond that Bob Dylan (our DJ reminds us) once boasted that he would not have existed but for Harry Smith. Along the way, the play broaches Smith’s other passions as a jazz enthusiast, painter, and even a record producer (he recorded the Fugs’ debut album in 1965, which leads to the story recounted in the play of how he came to be consulted on the best way to levitate the Pentagon as part of a famous 1967 antiwar action).
Aylesworth plays the nonagenarian Bernays with a high, rasping voice and a set of repetitive, almost cartoonlike gestures that (along with a tendency for the “taped” interview to slow down and speed up at odd, sometimes telling moments) poke fun at the self-congratulatory figure. Bernays is a man so far from shy about bragging of his connections and achievements that he unconsciously paints an entirely grim view of modern society with the cheeriest of dispositions. By contrast, Smith (played with equal facility and a slightly hyperbolic, wry affect) has a cantankerous air about him. While forthcoming enough, he casts back a knowingly cautious, skeptical, even sarcastic tone to his various interviewers.
Here are two spiritual fathers, you might say, of the 20th-century United States, whose diametrically opposed outlooks constitute and reflect something like a metaphysical rift in the culture at large. Blended with Aylesworth’s simple yet choice staging, the acute and droll performances, and the laid-back but excellent renditions of selections from the Anthology, See That My Grave Is Kept Clean approaches its themes with a charm all the more forceful for being quirky and understated.
And if our DJ channels the despair of the age, it’s clear that despair cuts two ways too. It leads either to the acquiescence and metaphysical poverty of Bernays-style fables of freedom and plenty or to the awakened, agitated thought, action, and social conscience of a Harry Smith, which seeks nothing in the end more than the obliteration of myth and the reanimation of the senses. With its rousing good humor and a shrewd theatrical assurance whose crystalline simplicity resonates with far-reaching themes, See That My Grave Is Kept Clean gives eloquent voice to the restless rebel wide awake beneath the glossy, manufactured surface of the American dream. SFBG
Through Sun/27
Thurs.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.
Traveling Jewish Theatre
470 Florida, SF
$15–$20 (Thurs., pay what you can)
(415) 831-1943

Regaining consciousness


› a&eletters@sfbg.com
“I want to be a mainstream artist,” says East Oakland rapper and spoken word poet Ise Lyfe, discussing his rejection of the label “conscious rap.” “I’m not trying to be some backpack cat performing in Davis. I want to be …”
The 23-year-old trails off thoughtfully. “I think the only way to do it harder than Jay-Z is to have a real movement, something tangible that will effect change in the world through music. I’d like to be that big but at the same time put a dent in the Earth.”
At first glance, it’s hard to imagine a rapper less like Jay-Z than Ise Lyfe, whose 2004 self-released debut, SpreadtheWord, is devoid of the big pimpin’, cheese-spending exploits that have endeared Jiggaman to millions. But like James Baldwin — who once said he didn’t want to be the best black novelist in America, he wanted to be Henry James — Ise isn’t talking about betraying his identity for success. He’s simply saying he wants to be the best, period. If there’s anything common to all four of these artists, it’s the awareness that in order to be the best you must change the game. With the rerelease of SpreadtheWord, complete with new artwork, a bonus DVD, and a mildly retooled track list, on fledgling independent Hard Knock Records, in addition to his recently concluded nationwide tour with the Coup, Ise Lyfe is hoping to do just that.
Born in 1982, Ise was raised in Brookfield, deep in East Oakland next to the notorious Sobrante Park. “I grew up as a young kid right when the crack epidemic was flourishing and having a real effect on our families,” he says. “My father had been affected by drugs. For me, growing up in a single-parent home was the manifestation of that existing in our community. But I also came up amongst a large level of social justice activity and youth organizing. That influences my music. I think Oakland has a history that unconsciously bleeds into everyone from here.”
The legacy of this history — which includes a spoken word scene at least as old as Gil Scott Heron’s mid-’70s albums for underground label Strata East — endures in Oakland, where Ise first made a name for himself as a teen slam poet. “I would be three years deep into performing spoken word before there was any place I could go and perform hip-hop,” he says. “Hip-hop was all 21-and-up venues, where I was the number one slam poet in the country when I was 19.” Repping the Bay in 2001 at the Youth Speaks National Poetry Slam, Ise would achieve a modicum of fame through appearances on HBO’s Def Poetry Jam.
“When I started recording,” he confesses, “folks didn’t even know I was making a hip-hop record. They thought it was a spoken word record, but I fused both in there.” The success of this fusion of art forms is all the more apparent on the rereleased SpreadtheWord, the continuity of which has been improved by a few judicious edits. Ise’s flow is so dexterous that the moments of purely a cappella poetry enhance rather than disrupt the musical experience. In fact, musicality underscores an important difference between SpreadtheWord and most conscious hip-hop recordings, for most of the beats on even otherwise impressive efforts sound like they were made sometime in 1993. The lack of curiosity about the sound of contemporary hip-hop gives such music a perfunctory air, while the tracks on SpreadtheWord are infinitely fresher even after two years. While it’s not exactly hyphy, a tune like “Reasons” still sounds like a Bay Area slap that would work on a mixtape with other new tunes.
“My fan base is predominantly young people of color,” Ise says, articuutf8g his other major difference from most rappers who fall under the conscious rubric. “I think it’s all good. The music is for everybody. But I’m proud of seeing the music connect with who it’s really written to, directly from, and for. I don’t want to be distant from the community.” In the face of the failure of so many conscious rappers to continue to appeal to their original listeners, it’s hard not to attribute Ise’s own success to his closeness to both his audience and hip-hop.
“It’s important for me to have real community work behind what I say,” he explains, commenting on a busy schedule that includes everything from teaching classes to street sweeping to performing at the Youth UpRising community center on the bill with Keak Da Sneak on Aug. 25.
Moreover, his refusal to place himself in opposition to the hyphy movement despite his very different approach to hip-hop lends him a credibility unavailable to others.
“I consider myself just the other side of hyphy,” he concludes. “I don’t think there’s anything different in what I’m saying than what they’re saying. Those cats is positive — they’re talking about uniting the Bay. I just think it’s important that we set a standard for what’s acceptable. When we calling a 13-year-old girl a ripper, it’s just abusive music. But even in its industrial prepackaged form hip-hop comes from the hood, and I think that going dumb or getting hyphy is revolutionary in principle. I’m-a jump on this car, I’m-a shake these dreads, I’m-a be me. I think that it’s a positive energy.” SFBG
Youth UpRising’s “Lyrical Warfare”
with Keak Da Sneak
Fri/25, 4–7 p.m.
8711 MacArthur, Oakl.
(510) 777-9909

Rock’s black back pages


› a&eletters@sfbg.com
Tim Cohen sits at a table cutting up playing cards.
The Black Fiction vocalist-guitarist-songwriter has convinced himself that the meaty torsos of every jack, queen, and king are spelling out something big. He flings the disembodied heads into a pile and arranges the stately bodies to spell out Black Fiction Ghost Ride. Across the table keyboardist Joe Roberts is gathering the heads. Arranging the sovereign noggins into a gruesome and fantastical pile, Roberts sketches out the story: it is Raphael the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle who has cut off these heads, and he stands over his trophies, his sais dripping red. Ghost Ride (Howells Transmitter), the debut from San Francisco’s Black Fiction, wins points for whimsically macabre album art.
They’ve been called everything from “the Arcade Fire on a peyote-laced vision quest” (FlavorPill SF) to “pop music for little kids on acid” (an audience member). It seems that Black Fiction are simply too wriggly to rest under any thumb or umbrella. Online reviewers are drowning in genre jargon — psych-soul, freak folk — and struggling to wrap reason around the light that Ghost Ride emits.
I caught up with Cohen on his lunch break from Amoeba Music in San Francisco to get his take on the response. “I’d hate for someone to have an idea of what they are going to hear and not be open to us sounding like something else,” he said. In one sweeping sentence Cohen nailed it. Black Fiction is “something else.” Or to make it snarky, if you please, “else-fi.” The plain truth is that it is difficult to speak for this album because it speaks so loudly for itself — though it may be speaking in tongues.
The apocalyptic “Great Mystery” plucks, bounces, and drags at once, ripening with lyrical delicacies like “Farmers in the fields will grow the world’s weight in corn/ We will cream it for the babies that have yet to be born/ We will leave it in the sewers for the rats and the worms/ We will store it in the cupboards for the coming storm.”
“Carry Him Away” feels as urgent and hopeless as rushing into a tidal wave before it slams down on top of you. The harmonica- and glockenspiel-laced tune taunts with the invasively ironic refrain of “music is a terrible thing.” The phrase might not be so tongue-in-cheek, considering that Cohen, Black Fiction’s primary songwriter, has some reservations about music industry conventions.
For starters, the notorious multi-instrumentalist has a flimsy history of formal musical training. “Basically, if I can figure out how to make a sound on an instrument, I can figure out how to play it,” Cohen explained before deadpanning, “I can play the recorder as well as any eight-year-old.” Conservatory learning isn’t the only grain Cohen is going against. October will bring a minitour stretching over parts of California, but the year-old band — which includes percussionists Jon Bernson and Jason Chavez, multi-instrumentalist Anthony Marin, and bassist Evan Martin — is being patient about planning a longer route. “If we are going to tour, we want to do it right,” said the bandleader. “You need to know about the evils of the industry and guard yourself from them. I have a lot of apprehensions about asking people to help us out — I don’t do a lot of schmoozing. I’m a musician at heart, and that’s all I want to do.”
The tracks of Ghost Ride were painstakingly recorded on a Tascam 388, a reel-to-reel eight-track. The idea was borrowed from local songwriter Kelley Stoltz, who recorded Antique Glow on the same machine. The 388 is unique because it is essentially an entire sound console complete with EQ built into an easily transportable recorder. “I appreciate the qualities of analog recording over digital,” Cohen explained. “Digital recording isn’t as challenging — you can just cut and paste your stuff together.” As I upload the tracks of Ghost Ride into the inner sanctum of my iPod mini, my cheeks begin to sweat a bitter taste of shame — I can only ascribe it to the way an amateur wine connoisseur must feel after plopping a few ice cubes into a well-crafted sauvignon blanc.
Live, Black Fiction take the form of a whirling dervish minstrel show. Intensely cerebral and bubbling over with epileptic grace, the album projects a whimsical playfulness in full force onstage. They will melt off your musical preconceptions. You will run to the merchandise stand to buy this album.
They toppled Noise Poppers last year like a house of vandalized playing cards, leaving the audience with the same “what the hell just happened?” epiphany that early Velvet Underground and Talking Heads audiences must have felt. Black Fiction are laying down some new bricks. I can’t wait to see where they lead. SFBG
With Tussle and the Dry Spells
Sat/26, 9 p.m.
Cafe du Nord
2170 Market, SF
(415) 861-5016

Basehead of the class


Low-key yet brutal, Half Nelson is exactly the kind of movie Hollywood will never make. Notably, it’s entirely cliché free. There’s no deliverance for Dan Dunne (Ryan Gosling), an eighth-grade teacher whose raging crack habit is steadily taking over his life. There’s no real turnaround for 13-year-old Drey (Shareeka Epps), one of Dan’s students who’s being eyeballed for drug-delivery service by the neighborhood dealer, Frank (Anthony Mackie). And though Dan and Drey forge an alliance amid their unstable worlds — they kinda have to after Drey discovers Dan, who’s also her basketball coach, hitting the pipe after a game — the friendship is a shaky one. “I want to know consequences,” Dan tells his class, trying to get them excited about his latest history lesson (later, he’ll engage in an arm-wrestling contest to illustrate “turning points”). But in his own life, Dan can barely face another day without getting high first.
The first feature from producer-writer Anna Boden and director-writer Ryan Fleck, the unflashy Half Nelson uses subtlety to speak volumes. Its beats are succinct but intense: when Dan’s ex-junkie ex-girlfriend briefly appears, she’s rosy cheeked and sporting an engagement ring — pretty much the embodiment of the kind of hope for the future that Dan can’t imagine ever having. The film doesn’t spend much time on exposition. We never learn how or why Dan started using. Like last year’s Down to the Bone, Half Nelson burrows into the mind of a full-blown addict whose ability to fake normalcy becomes more precarious by the day. The first time the stern principal hooks Dan into an emergency meeting, it’s to reprimand him for straying from the lesson plan. The second time, he’s just taught a class on hyperdrive, with an oozing nosebleed to boot, and his double life is in full crumble.
Even as she comes to terms with her favorite teacher’s shortcomings, Drey has plenty of her own problems. Her weary mother barely has time for her between double shifts; her father is merely a voice on the telephone; and her older brother is incarcerated, a circumstance that’s the direct result of his association with Frank. To Dan’s dismay, the candy-chomping Frank insinuates himself into Drey’s largely unsupervised life, and an odd tug-of-war results. Clearly, neither man is a good father figure, not by any stretch. There’s a tense confrontation between Frank and Dan that perfectly illustrates Half Nelson’s ability to inject unpredictability into familiar movie moments. The scene also picks up a key thematic thread — can one man make a difference? — that’s echoed by Dan throughout the film, particularly in a late scene involving a visit to his grossly liberal (and liberally inebriated) parents.
Half Nelson is a film with no wasted space, and that goes double for its acting. Epps (stoic) and Mackie (charmingly manipulative) are excellent, but this is Gosling’s game from the start. His layered, sympathetic performance conveys not just Dan’s jittery freak-outs and frustrations but also his deep inner anguish. It’s what makes watching Half Nelson a wholly satisfying experience. (Cheryl Eddy)
Opens Fri/25
See Movie Clock at www.sfbg.com for theaters and showtimes

Pedro’s progress


› a&eletters@sfbg.com
Poor Generalissimo Franco, not yet dead a decade before the Spanish film industry he’d so carefully censored gained its new leading tastemaker: a plump, girly homo fond of gender blur, anticlericalism, and nuclear-family meltdowns. Twenty-two years have passed since What Have I Done to Deserve This? made Pedro Almodóvar “enfant terrible of Spanish cinema” — a title that still sticks in his late 50s — as well as a dominating cultural force.
New movies “by Almodóvar” (like Picasso or Cher, he became an institution early on) are international events as those by Fellini or Bergman used to be in the ’60s. There remain good Spanish movies by directors working in entirely different styles. Yet in terms of what gets seen abroad, you might reasonably judge the whole industry to have gone Almodovaresque — a term applicable to select hit films by established talents like Bigas Luna (Jamón Jamón) and Álex de la Iglesia (Ferpect Crime), not to mention rising talents like Ramón Salazar (20 Centimeters) and Manuel Gómez Pereira (Queens). There may well be too many shrill, candy-colored Spanish comedies in which women act like hysterical drag queens and men like horndogs — but the master himself is no longer making them.
His ongoing evolution is partially charted in “Viva Pedro,” an upcoming four-week retrospective at the Castro and Shattuck theaters. The eight films in this series are what Sony Classics could get its hands on. “Viva” has to skip over his first five features (including What Have I Done?), leaving little of the John Waters–style anarchy that dominated his early work. (Like Waters, Almodóvar started out making campily offensive 8mm silents with nonsynch soundtracks, up through Fuck Fuck Fuck Me Tim!, his 1978 feature debut.) Particularly missed is Labyrinth of Passion, the quintessential all-purpose Almodóvar title and one of his funniest films. Also left out are early-’90s titles Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down; High Heels; and Kika.
Still, there’s plenty of good stuff in a package encompassing his two most outré forays into homoeroticism (1986’s Matador and the following year’s Law of Desire, both with Banderas), his most successful farce (1988’s Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown), and the strange, still-in-progress trip toward profundity commenced in 1995 with The Flower of My Secret.
Almodóvar reportedly often shoots scenes in alternate funny and serious modes. The eccentric Flower is said to have found its largely serious tenor in the editing room. This high-wire balance between baroque ideas and earnest emotions was less wobbly in 1997’s wonderfully lurid Live Flesh. Two years later, Almodóvar surprised critics by delivering All About My Mother, a waterfall of Douglas Sirk–ian suffering female tears universally hailed for its newfound maturity. I (resistant) imagined Susan Hayward hammering her coffin lid, yelling, “Manny, you son of a bitch agent, that shoulda been my script!”
Almodóvar came out (in all senses) of the Madrid-centered Movida arts movement, whose late ’70s–early ’80s explosion of punk, camp, and transgression personified the most radical forces behind Spain’s rapid transformation from Franco-era repression to today’s extremely liberal culture. Traditional Spanish obsessions with death, sex, and religion plus post-Franco giddiness toward finger-diddling every hitherto taboo subject needn’t be “read into” Almodóvar movies — they’re spelled out on every flamboyant, melodramatic surface.
But not until his most recent two films did all these themes blend together in sardonic yet sympathetic wide-screen perfection. These are 2002’s Talk to Her — in which the main female characters are comatose, leaving the men to do the emotional weight lifting — and 2004’s Bad Education, a Catholic black comedy cum sexual-horror film oddly, elegantly redolent of Vertigo. In November we’ll get Volver, with Penélope Cruz and Carmen Maura returning to the fold. Whether or not it matches his recent achievements, Almodóvar has already earned the right to seem larger than life. SFBG
Begins Sept. 1
Castro Theatre
429 Castro, SF
(415) 621-6120
Shattuck Cinemas
2230 Shattuck, Berk.
(510) 464-5980



With the simultaneous advent of personal computers and video games on a massive scale in the early ’80s, it was unsurprising that Hollywood tried to fit all things virtual into the exploitable framework of cheesy teen comedies. The latest Midnites for Maniacs triple bill reprises three of the era’s daffier such efforts.
The eccentric Heartbeeps, a major flop released in 1981, puts Andy Kaufman and Bernadette Peters in constrictingly ingenious makeup as two servant robots who run away from their factory warehouse in the brave new world of 1995. Despite meeting such over-the-top types as Randy Quaid, Christopher Guest, Mary Woronov, and Paul Bartel en route, their comic odyssey is weirdly sentimental, even inspirational — it’s like Jonathan Livingston Seagull for androids.
More successful but equally derided was 1985’s Weird Science, which struck many as several juvenile steps backward for writer-director John Hughes after that year’s The Breakfast Club. Alas, he was never so silly or immature or funny again. Anthony Michael Hall and Ilan Mitchell-Smith are dweebs who create an “ideal woman” (Kelly LeBrock) on their computer; she of course comes to life and teaches them all sorts of valuable life lessons while embodying a world of adolescent male masturbation fantasies.
Last and ever-so-least — save in camp value — is Joysticks, the Roller Boogie of video arcade movies, from the director (Greydon Clark) of Satan’s Cheerleaders, Skinheads: The Second Coming of Hate, and Lambada, the Forbidden Dance. A mean politician (Joe Don Baker, not walking so tall career-wise in 1983) tries to shut down the local arcade, believing it to be a hotbed of underage sin. Our heroes (cute guy, nerd guy, fat and desperately-trying-to-be-a-young-John-Candy guy named “McDorfus”) thwart him and save democratic freedom amid many Porky’s-style jokes. What you need to know: sequences are separated by the graphic of a Pac-Man biting its way across the screen; “punk” subsidiary villain King Vidiot is played by Napoleon Dynamite’s future Uncle Rico (Jon Gries); and the theme song really is just about playing video games (“Jerk it left/ jerk it right/ shoot it hard/ shoot it straight/ video to the maaaaaax!!!”). (Dennis Harvey)
Fri/25, 7:30 p.m.
Castro Theatre
429 Castro, SF

Rabbit run


› kimberly@sfbg.com
SONIC REDUCER Short-timers rave about the natural beauty surrounding this fair city, but few testify to the pleasures of urban wildlife right smack in the center. Sightings occur regularly and in the darnedest places: don’t blink or you’ll miss that fat, sassy raccoon rumbling across Divisadero. Look fast to catch those plump, posh rats wrassling in the grass in front of the Old Mint. Buck up and face the naked guy dancing outside your office window. But you never expect to see wild creatures at hipster-infested dive bars like the Uptown, because frankly, furry freaks would have a tough time here — there’s not enough to gnaw and there was far too much to drink last night.
Yet behold, here they were: 7 Year Rabbit Cycle, that fine SF band of critters making evocative “thrash, ambient, indie” (according to their MySpace page) music. They have a beautiful, sometimes stately, sometimes cacophonous third album out, Ache Hornes, on guitarist (and Deerhoof and Badgerlore cofounder) Rob Fisk and vocalist (and ex-Deerhoofer) Kelly Goode’s label, Free Porcupine Society. And boy, do they have tales to tell — so much has happened in the past two years since the married Fisk and Goode moved back to the Bay from Alaska and the band, which includes ex-Chinkees bassist Miya Osaki, was joined by Xiu Xiu guitarist-vocalist Jamie Stewart, Good for Cows and Ceramic Dog drummer Ches Smith, and guitarist (and Guardian contributor) George Chen. The highlight has to be the time last year, while on tour with Warbler and KIT, when 7YRC almost cycled abruptly to an end as the wheel rim snapped off their van’s axle at full speed, sending the vehicle sliding down an overpass outside Gallup, N.M.
“We were looking out the front window, and we see our tire rolling, and we were just like, ‘Holy shit, there goes the tire! What the fuck happened?’” recalls Goode, tucked in a booth by the bar door last week.
“We should be dead right now,” Fisk declares.
“If hell is anything like three days in Gallup, New Mexico, then we are dead,” adds Chen, who was driving. They missed a few shows, but, he adds, “There was a lot of heroism involved. Handlebar moustaches. Shirtlessness.”
The otherwise sedate-looking musicmakers shed their mild-mannered coats and turned into, well, rock stars. “The hotel security had to call and tell us to be quiet a few times,” says Chen, counting eight people jammed into a two-bed room. Stewart and Smith got naked in the pool (an initiation, perhaps, into the world of Xiu Xiu, which Smith has joined). And who could forget the Wiccan stripper in the hot tub?
Such are the unpredictable habits and hygienic activities of 7YRC, which Fisk and Goode started four years ago, after they left Deerhoof in 1999. Do they ever regret leaving the band that recently toured Europe with Radiohead? “I dunno, was it my fault?” Fisk asks Goode. He has maintained his relationship with the group, creating the artwork for 2003’s Apple O’ (5RC) and enlisting Deerhoof guitarist John Dieterich as an engineer when 7YRC recorded Ache Hornes at Eli Crews’s New and Improved Recordings in Oakland. “I have a love-hate relationship with San Francisco and I get burned out and freaked out really quickly. It’s just so much stimulation all of the time, and it’s really empty stimulation for the stuff that matters to me,” continues Fisk, who now works at Revolver. “I had been going to Alaska for a couple years and I had this brilliant scheme that we should move there.”
The pair relocated to Alaska, built a cabin, began the label and 7YRC, and weathered their share of adventures. “I was watering my garden with fish emulsion and water,” says Goode, “and I accidentally left my watering can out overnight and we woke up in the morning to the sound of a bear, and then when we actually got out of bed and went downstairs, my watering can was torn up with teeth marks and spit from the bear on it.”
But even as Fisk and Goode reembraced urban life, 7YRC threatened to scamper out of their control: the couple are now amicably divorcing, Ozaki and Smith are currently living in Los Angeles, and Fisk is considering studying wildlife biology in Alaska and in fact is about to return to the 49th freak state to build another cabin, during which he’ll film a how-to DVD (he hopes to have it edited at top speed and shown behind Badgerlore when that band plays the Wire festival in Chicago next month). And after a seemingly endless hibernation period, partly because Dieterich was off touring with Deerhoof, Ache Hornes is finally out, in all its alternately ungainly and tumultuous, contemplative and spacious beauty.
“This is sort of a conscious move to do a rock record,” says Chen.
“Not a rock record but a clean record,” Fisk counters. “Clean ideas. I think the other two records have a lot of gut thrusting on it — they’re like superphysical, Kelly screams a lot; Steve [Gigante of Tiny Bird Mouths], the drummer back then, was superbombastic. It was very cathartic, and it was recorded lo-fi — everybody gets away with everything. This time we were, like, OK, we’re gonna go in and do a real recording and the catharsis is gonna be really controlled.”
“I’d say with adding Ches to the band,” interjects Chen, “you kind of want to hear everything he does, because he’s an insane drummer.”
Life looks good — the food source is clear and Free Porcupine is doing fab with the reception accorded releases by, say, Grouper and Christine Carter (as Bastard Wing), Tom Carter (who is also in Badgerlore along with Ben Chasny, Pete Swanson, and Glenn Donaldson), Current 93, and other friends. It looks like Fisk and company — all present are onetime rabbit owners — are set for a genuine seven-year rabbit-cycle-style boom, wherein the cottontails flourish before they’re decimated by predators.
“It’s funny, because you quit Deerhoof in ’99 and now it’s seven years later,” says Chen as we all utter a group oooh! “I did the math.”
“So this could be my year,” marvels Fisk with a little smile. “It’s been busting for so many years, so maybe it’ll boom now.” SFBG
With XBXRX, Murder Murder,
and David Copperfuck
Fri/25, 9:30 p.m.
Bottom of the Hill
1233 17th St., SF
$8, all ages
(415) 621-4455

Lap lessons


› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com
CHEAP EATS This week’s madcap adventure begins with a cute little kitten toddling into the chicken farmer’s life and saying, in effect, “Help!” Must of been abandoned by its mama. People sometimes abandon cute little kittens too, in the wild, but usually not out back behind the water tank. They leave them in a box by the road.
So OK, what to do with a cute little kitten, so small it can barely stand and doesn’t quite know how to eat yet? I took it inside my shack and showed it to a platter of milk and Weirdo the Cat. Maybe in the back of Weirdo’s indoor-atrophied peanut brain she would have enough residual mothering instinct to teach a hungry helpless furball how to lap up milk.
Weirdo sniffed the cute little kitten, hissed, and went and hid behind the wood stove. The c.l.k. toddled across to the milk, did a little Jesus dance, and continued to cry and whine. I called my brother and sister-in-love, who both have better brains than mine. “What to do with a cute little kitten?” I asked their voice mail.
Deevee called me back almost immediately and said, “No way. I just ran into Jen Hallflower today and she asked me if I knew where she could get a kitten!”
I was on my way to the city anyway, so I packed up the c.l.k. and took her with me. At the gas station in Petaluma, I got some medicine that came with a dropper, rinsed the dropper out with water, filled it with milk, and squirted it into the kitten’s eye. She cried little white tears onto her leg and licked them. So she knew how to clean herself. Good.
I dirtied her up with milk, and after practice that night we crashed at Earl Butter’s, me in the closet, where I like to sleep for nostalgic reasons, and the c.l.k. in bed with Earl, who, it turns out, has more residual mothering instinct left in the back of his indoor-atrophied peanut brain than Weirdo the Cat. By morning he had taught our kitten how to lap up milk from a saucer.
I wish you could of seen the chicken farmer at the height of his or her popularity, sitting outside at Martha’s on Cortland Street, waiting for Jen Hallflower. Almost everyone in the world wanted to talk to me and touch the c.l.k.
So, this is what it’s like to be a woman, I thought.
Psych. Well, Jen showed up and of course fell in love, because it really was the cutest thing you ever saw, so there went my five minutes of popularity. Oh well. And even though I did have a very delicious wild blueberry crumb cake with my coffee, that’s all I’m going to say about Martha’s on Cortland Street.
The Hallflowers are a band, with Jen and her sister and mom, and they sing so pretty you don’t know what to do with yourself. Kittenless, Earl Butter and me walked to the Castro and ate a proper Thai meal with the Cookie Diva, who’s in town for the summer from North Carolina. Remember? She’s the one who flew me a to-go order of pulled pork, hush puppies, and sweet tea, thereby becoming my Friend for Life and one of the first Cheap Eats Hall of Famers.
This was back when you could bring barbecue on an airplane. Remember?
Well, wait’ll you hear what I ate at Thai Chef on 18th Street, just past Castro. Fried chicken fried rice! You read me rightly. Fried. Chicken. Fried. Rice ($6.95).
I had never heard of such a thing before, but maybe because I rarely if ever even look at the Fried Rice section of a menu. Does this happen? Does fried chicken fried rice occur in nature or just at my new favorite Thai restaurant, Thai Chef?
In any case I ordered it of course and it was a strip of juicy breaded boneless chicken pieces, like a Mohawk haircut over a huge head of fried rice, with just the egg and not much else. Simple and soulful.
Earl Butter and the Diva ordered their things, and everything was great, but my favorite memory is of the prawn salad ($7.95), which was minty and lemony and oniony and just delicious. We discussed the difference between prawns and shrimp and I think decided that it all depends on what you’re wearing while you eat them.
I forget. Overalls? SFBG
Sun.–Thurs., 11 a.m.–10:30 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 11 a.m.–midnight
4133 18th St., SF
(415) 551-2433
Takeout available
Beer and wine
Wheelchair accessible



› paulr@sfbg.com
Dear Las Vegas,
It’s over. I’m sorry. Well, not sorry, actually — more like glad, ecstatic even: a shot of ecstasy with a chaser of relief, let’s say. Not that it was much to begin with, just 48 infernal hours, like a dreadful bout of food poisoning, though your food is surprisingly not bad, considering that you’re, well … you, a great monument of and to fakery, phony Roman forums and bogus Venetian canals, a counterfeit Eiffel Tower and a falsified Greenwich Village, all of it raised in a hostile desert and peopled by an orotund race of buffet hounds who spend their evenings having their skulls pulverized by the howl of dreadful shows.
You still have them lining up for your buffets, these bottomless-pit families fresh from the casinos — for the family that gambles together stays together. (Did I see that on a license plate? I saw so very many license plates, moving so very slowly along the choked Strip under the glaring sun.) I give grudging credit there. And the family that stays together shops together, as we all know, or can infer from the shopping bags hanging in bunches from fleshy limbs, like giant paper fruit. And you’ve installed Daniel Boulud in a basement. But the Todd English place, Olives (in the Bellagio), is quite good and only moderately overpriced, as Vegas overpricing goes. Even the private-label cafés, with their white-bean soups and chicken-tikka wraps, are respectable, except for the coffee.
The coffee! Sacré bleu! O black water! One torrid morning, in desperation, I traversed the phony mountain with the phony waterfall — thumpity-thump music playing all the way, even along the sidewalk — to reach the Starbucks across the street. And was glad to do so.
The killer, for me, was the $2.50 surcharge slapped on a snifter of Rémy Martin VSOP cognac that was already costing $12.50 at some foofy little parasol bar in the Wynn. The fine print explained that the surcharge was for brandy either “neat or on the rocks,” as if there is any other way to have it! I asked the friendly barkeep about it and was told, “This isn’t a cheap place to drink.” No indeed, and not the point. When you offer something on a menu at a price you slyly will not honor, you are a shyster. Your bristling minion basically agreed, not that it matters, over and out.

Shack chic


› paulr@sfbg.com
The crab shack is a species of restaurant indigenous to the Gulf and Atlantic coasts of the United States, and so in these Pacific parts is something of a rarity. Back East, crab shacks tend to be found near beaches — my first experience of one was at Rehoboth Beach, Del., in the summer of 1987 — and to emphasize freshness and immediacy over elaborate preparation. Hence the omnipresence of crab and lobster rolls, french fries, fried clams, steamed crustaceans presented whole and chilled, and other simple, honest fare from the sea.
(A word to the wise: according to the Urban Dictionary, www.urbandictionary.com, “crabshack” also means “crusty slut.” Use of condoms is advised when approaching same, but why? Do rubbers stop critters?)
If you were to launch a search for crab shacks in San Francisco, you would probably not begin at the bustling vortex of Market, Church, and 14th streets — our version of Piccadilly Circus, with not a beach in sight but zillions of streetcars and buses and a subway line underfoot and a zillion transit connections with a zillion pedestrians to make use of them, or not. Also: cars beyond number; you are well advised not to drive into this maelstrom. But do go, by foot or bike, Muni or horse, because at this insane intersection you will find, in the longtime Café Cuvée space (subsequently and briefly occupied by World Sausage), the Woodhouse Fish Company, a cheerfully clattery simulacrum of a crab shack with a to-the-point menu of crab-shack greatest hits, convincingly rendered.
The space has always been a little awkward, despite its high profile at a busy crossroads. There isn’t a proper entryway — you step in and are among tables — and the street presence can seem a little too immediate when a bus roars by or an ambulance shrieks or (less frequently, but surprisingly frequently this summer) a hot wind blows. The lack of a buffer zone was a burr under Cuvée’s elegant saddle, but it matters less for an urban crab shack.
Although tumult from the outside world does seep in with regularity, the place doesn’t look like a shack. It’s been redone in handsome white and green tiles, with a bit of kitschy crab iconography worked into the floor. The look is clean and low maintenance, if reverberant. But tidying up does have its price; a glance at the menu card reveals plenty of numbers in the upper teens, with a few over $20 — not exactly shacky. On the other hand, $29 for a one-and-a-half-pound Maine lobster, served chilled, with drawn butter and coleslaw, isn’t a bad deal. Lobster is best when tinkered with little; the meat has a subtle sweetness that builds if left alone but is easily drowned by sauces. However, some sauce work might have helped the disappointing coleslaw. The cabbage shreds were pretty enough, a mélange of purple and green, but the dish was a little thin in the creaminess department.
A near relation to the slaw, but better equipped, cream-wise, is the iceberg wedge ($5.50), a quarter head of iceberg lettuce showered with bread crumbs, in the manner of a gratin, and lounging amid a supplicant pool of blue cheese dressing dotted with garlic croutons, tomato wedges, and slices of ripe avocado. The truth is that there is too much boring lettuce here — iceberg’s dim reputation is hardly undeserved — but the peripheral players are zesty enough to conceal much of the boringness. A more sophisticated sort of chilled salad is the stuffed avocado ($16); the fruit is peeled and halved and the halves stuffed with, respectively, crab meat (whose sweetness, like that of lobster, benefits from light handling) and peeled prawns. Sauces stand ready at the sides of the platter: a decent cocktail sauce and a distinctively clean-flavored lemon mayonnaise instead of the usual suspect, tartar sauce. I dunked both garlic bread and fries in the mayo and was pleased.
The clam chowder is excellent and is available by cup ($4.50) or bowl ($6) or as part of the Gloucester lunchá ($8.75). This midday option (available until 3 p.m.) also includes half a crab roll — with a seam of melted cheddar cheese that seems out of place — a stack of good fries, and a watermelon point. The roll’s roll was soft and toasty warm, but I wondered: if this is a half roll, how big is a full roll? The answer must be that if you have to ask, you don’t want to know.
You can also get fried Ipswich clams (flown in from New England) on a roll, but at dinnertime one does not favor sandwiches, so we go instead to the platter version ($20), a formidable mass of clam meat liberated from shells and given a knobbly breading before the quick swim in hot oil. Impressions: excellent rough-tender texture, clam meat has a chicken-livery flavor I’d never noticed before, and a plateful of fried clams with french fries is a lot of fried. A squeeze or two from a lemon wedge cuts the greasiness a little though not a lot, but even a little is better than nothing.
An excess of fried food during a dinner’s savory sequence can induce panic about dessert — i.e., should I have fries and a slice of chocolate mousse cake with a scoop of gelato? should I phone ahead for an ambulance? — but Woodhouse solves this problem by not offering dessert. You might luck out at dinner and score, gratis, a thumbnail-size brownie for everyone in your party: petits fours, crab-shack-style. I admire this cheerfully stern no-sweets policy. And … a hint for you sugar sluts: Just Desserts is just around the corner. SFBG
Daily, 11:45 a.m.–9:30 p.m.
2073 Market, SF
(415) 437-CRAB
Beer and wine
Wheelchair accessible

Snakes in vain


› annalee@techsploitation.com
TECHSPLOITATION I’m the only geek in San Francisco who didn’t go to the drunken flash mob event at 1000 Van Ness where Snakes on a Plane played in dangerous proximity to cartloads of extremely stiff, free drinks. My sources tell me that outrageous costumes were worn; somebody brought a real live snake; and there were many inebriated screams that included the epithet “motherfuckin’ snakes on a motherfuckin’ plane!” Was it glorious dork anarchy? Or was it something more sinister — the kind of media-engineered, snake-eating-its-own-long-tail event that Bill Wasik claims he invented the “flash mob” to parody?
Believe me, I would have been there toasting the motherfucking snakes if I could have been. But Birthing of Millions was playing at Edinburgh Castle, and no amount of serpents and spirits could drag me away from Brian Naas on guitar. So now that we’ve established my complicity in the Snakes meme thing, despite my absence on opening night, we can proceed.
Snakes on a Plane became an Internet geek phenomenon, rather than a pleasure reserved solely for dorks who like bad movies, for the same reasons that the Star Wars kid or the Hamster Dance became Internet phenomena. In short, it was weird and stupid and fun. One day neuropsychologists may discover an area in the brain that lights up when we watch home movies of teenagers fighting with light sabers — or campy action heroes battling snakes. But for now, Snakes’ online popularity can only be explained via cultural analysis.
Bloggers began leaking information about this movie with a deliciously literal-minded title more than a year ago, hailing it as a masterpiece of cheese. It had all the ingredients required for hip ironic consumption: Samuel L. Jackson, an airplane disaster, and a bunch of retro, analog-era monsters (snakes — without CGI!). Soon news about the flick was all over the Net. Some of its popularity was probably inspired by everybody’s frustration with Transportation Security Administration regulations and long lines in airports. Who hasn’t wanted to yell something about motherfucking snakes on motherfucking planes after being made to take off jackets, shoes, belts, earrings, and hats during the holiday rush in an airport, when the floor is covered in muddy, melted snow? (As if to underscore this association, a parody TSA announcement about banning snakes from planes was circuutf8g in blogland last week.)
Internet fascination with the film reached critical mass last year when New Line Cinema threatened to rename it Pacific Air Flight 121 and Jackson convinced them to keep the original. At that point, references to the movie were so commonplace on the Internet that the studio decided to promote it more, beef it up with extra footage, and add a line to the script that had actually been invented by Web fans imagining what Jackson’s legendary Pulp Fiction character Jules would say: “That’s it! I have had it with these motherfucking snakes on this motherfucking plane!” In response, the fans went utterly nuts. The people in movieland were listening to the people in blogland! When this movie comes out, let’s get totally motherfucking drunk and buy a million tickets!
As Quinn Norton pointed out on her blog, it’s important to remember that nobody actually expected to like this movie. To the extent that we do like Snakes, we’re getting pleasure out of it as a joke — a joke on itself for being so flagrantly silly, but also the butt of jokes we’ve made for the past year online. Of course, there’s the less-acknowledged joke Snakes plays on us when we buy tickets to see a movie that can never be as cool or creative as the videos, songs, posters, and satires people have already published about it for free on the Internet.
Trying to imitate the strategy that led to Snakes’ prerelease buzz, the SciFi Channel recently invited its fans to name an upcoming made-for-TV movie “about a giant squid.” Haven’t heard of Kraken: Tentacles of the Deep? Maybe it’s because the name the SciFi folks picked was exactly the sort of dopey thing they’d normally slap on a story about sea monsters. Apparently they passed over some ideas that might actually have gotten them the hipster cachet that Snakes garnered for New Line. Among the discarded titles were Killamari and Tentacles 8, Humans 2.
I vaguely thought that I should go see Snakes, or at least set the DVR to catch Kraken. But the fact is, I’d rather watch all the YouTube parodies tonight.SFBG
Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who would be happy to buy tickets to see Sharks on a Roller Coaster.

Eye spy


› andrea@altsexcolumn.com
Dear Andrea:
I’ve found myself a femmy boy who’s willing — nay, enthusiastically prepared — to wear green eye shadow in public. This is delicious. However, we live in Colorado Springs, which is for its size a wealthy and well-educated town but also is headquarters for Focus on the Family, New Life Church, Will Perkins, Ft. Carson, NORAD, and the Air Force Academy. One of my femmy-boy friends was recently chased down an alley downtown by some of the local military simians for the apparently gender-treacherous crime of wearing a top hat. It was lucky for him he knew the area well and wasn’t nearly as plastered as they were.
My two questions about the eye shadow thing are these: first, and I understand if you’re not able to answer because you don’t live here, if we do go on a date while he’s wearing it, what do you think our chances are of finishing the evening without getting the shit beaten out of us? And second, what’s your opinion on where he should put his feet while treading the fine line between staying safe and taking a stand for the right to do what he wants with his body if it’s not hurting anyone else?
I guess the question is along the same lines as, how do you feel about him wearing a ball-gag and leash to the local Starbucks? Eye shadow is just a less overtly sexual signal. Well. To some people. Not to me.
Don’t Kick Me
Dear Kick:
Gotcha. And no, I surely do not live there, nor would I, but we did blow out a tire there on a cross-country trip once and got stranded for a couple days. Pretty town. Really nice park. I knew all that stuff (Air Force, antigay groups, etc.) was there, but you can’t tell by visiting — it’s not like there are giant “FAGS GO HOME” banners flying gaily over Main Street or anything. But would I, were I a guy, dress up in my gayest glad rags and sashay down the same main drag in a pair of darling red wedge espadrilles and a panty girdle? I would not. I suspect you would not either, were you a guy (you’re not, right?). It would be no safer for you to accompany your new girly-boy while he did it, either. There is sticking up for your inalienable right to be a weirdo, and there is stupidity. I draw the line at stupidity in any other context, so why would I make an exception for this one?
There was a time in the late ’80s and early ’90s when the all the cool kids were making a spectacle of themselves in the name of political action: “visibility,” I think we called it. All you had to do was print up some T-shirts or stickers and show up en masse where you weren’t expected, and you got to feel all brave and thrillingly transgressive and challenging to heterosexual hegemony and stuff. It was great. It was also kind of a fake — when you’re surrounded by a few dozen or hundred or thousand of your closest friends and you’re in San Francisco or New York or Washington, not Jakarta or Beijing or rural Rwanda, you’re pretty safe. Even if the cops get you, you’re going to be cited and set free; protesters in the United States are rarely brought to trial, let alone found bound and beheaded in a ditch. That doesn’t mean that nothing we do here is dangerous, though, and unfortunately walking certain streets in a state of visible gender ambiguity can still get you kicked in the face.
There is no set point on the continuum from safe but stifled to “kick me” that I can recommend you find and cleave to, never again to stray. I do not think it would be very smart to dress your boy up and parade him around near the base at bar closing on a Saturday night; nor do I think those of us who fail to conform in every particular to local community standards for gender performance need cower at home forever for fear of attracting a disapproving glance. Somewhere between “don’t frighten the horses” and “fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke” lies the perfect level of public self-expression for you two as individuals of your particular place and time. Find it. Also consider finding some fellow gender traitors with whom to make your scene, even if that scene is no more transgressive than going out for fish and chips (I’m pretty sure that’s what I ate at your local brew pub while waiting for our truck to be fixed so we could get the hell out of there) and the late showing of Snakes on a Plane. I think you’ll be OK. I wouldn’t recommend the Starbucks-and-ball-gag excursion, but that’s because it’s in bad taste, not because it could get you killed. You’ll have to use your common sense. If you haven’t got any, I really do think you’d better stay home.

An Unhappy Anniversary for Labor


It was 25 years ago this month that Ronald Reagan struck the blow that sent the American labor movement tumbling into a decline it’s still struggling mightily to reverse.
Reagan, one of the most antilabor presidents in history, set the decline in motion by firing 11,500 of the overworked and underpaid air traffic controllers whose work was essential to the operation of the world’s most complex aviation system.
Reagan fired them because they dared respond to his administration’s refusal to bargain fairly on a new contract by striking in violation of the law prohibiting strikes by federal employees. What’s more, he also destroyed their union, the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO).
Public and private employers everywhere treated Reagan’s action as a signal to take an uncompromising stand against the unions that they had accepted and bargained with, however reluctantly, as the legitimate representatives of their workers.
At that time, one-fourth of the US workforce was represented by unions. Today, largely because of employer actions since then — often openly illegal actions — the percentage of workers with union bargaining rights is less than half that.
Ironically, PATCO had broken with other AFL-CIO affiliates to endorse Reagan’s successful run for president in 1980. The union did so because Reagan had promised to “take whatever steps are necessary” to improve working conditions and otherwise “bring about a spirit of cooperation between the president and the air traffic controllers.”
Yet PATCO negotiators were rebuffed a year later when they asked for a reduction in working hours, lowering of the retirement age, and other steps to ease the controllers’ extraordinary stress, plus a substantial pay raise and updated equipment.
PATCO had no choice but to abandon its demands or strike to try to enforce them. And when the union struck, Reagan, certain of broad public support because of his great popularity, issued an ultimatum to the strikers: return to work within 48 hours or be fired and replaced permanently by nonunion workers.
Faced with millions of dollars in fines for vioutf8g Reagan’s order and the antistrike injunctions that his administration and airlines had sought and stripped by the administration of its right to represent the controllers, PATCO declared bankruptcy and went out of business.
Although Reagan’s ban on rehiring strikers was later lifted by Bill Clinton and a stronger, new union now represents controllers, safety experts say the air traffic control system remains understaffed and the controllers still under far too much stress.
That’s unlikely to change during the administration of George Bush, who’s as antilabor as was Ronald Reagan. The Bush administration, in fact, has imposed a new contract on the controllers that cuts their pay and pension benefits.
Neither is it likely that other employers will abandon the crippling antilabor practices that were inspired and furthered by Reagan.
Firing and permanently replacing strikers, previously a rare occurrence, has become a common employer tactic. It’s now the strike — an indispensable weapon for workers in collective bargaining — that only rarely occurs.
It isn’t just strikers who face penalties for exercising their legal rights. Employers also have taken to firing or otherwise penalizing workers who seek union recognition, despite the law that promises them the right to freely choose unionization. Many employers have also hired “ management consultants” who specialize in Reagan-style union busting.
“For all practical purposes, Americans have lost the freedom to form unions,” notes AFL-CIO president John Sweeney. “Our labor laws are so weak and so feebly enforced that workers join the union in spite of the law.”
It’s no coincidence that as union ranks have shrunk under the relentless antilabor pressures first applied to air traffic controllers a quarter century ago by Ronald Reagan, the ranks of the American middle class also have shrunk — as has the ordinary American’s share of the country’s wealth. SFBG
Copyright © 2006 Dick Meister, a San Francisco–based writer who has covered labor issues for four decades. Contact him through his Web site, www.dickmeister.com.

Public power returns


EDITORIAL Just when it looked like the public power movement had stalled, along comes the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission with a surprise announcement that it will create a public power demonstration project in the most appropriate part of town and reinvigorate efforts to kick Pacific Gas and Electric out of the city.
The agency has tentatively cut a deal to provide power directly to the 1,600 housing units and businesses that Lennar Homes is about to start building on Parcel A of the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard — bringing clean, green (it comes from city hydroelectric and solar projects), affordable public power to a part of town that has long been besieged with environmental injustices.
We commend director Susan Leal and the rest of the SFPUC for this project and their promise to do the same thing on Treasure Island, once that property is officially in San Francisco’s jurisdiction. SFPUC officials say they’ll be able to beat PG&E’s rates while delivering power that is more environmentally sustainable than what we’re getting from the company’s aging fossil fuel plants.
The agency is now finalizing details with Lennar and waiting for PG&E to sign an interconnection agreement to transfer city power to the site, something that federal law requires the company do for a “reasonable” fee. If all goes well, the contract will go to the Board of Supervisors for approval in a couple months, creating the first living example of how the city would be better off without PG&E.
As such, we fully expect the company to try to sabotage the deal, so we urge all city officials to help shepherd this one to completion. Mayor Gavin Newsom should help make sure Lennar doesn’t get cold feet, City Attorney Dennis Herrera should be ready to fight if need be, and the SFPUC should be on the lookout for more such projects. Good work! SFBG