Volume 40 Number 48
August 30 – September 5, 2006
Tetsuya Noda: “Recent Works from the ‘Diary’ Series”
Most of us wish we could “cook” and “season” our personal photographs, not to mention our overall memories. That’s precisely what Tetsuya Noda has been doing for 40 years in his “Diary” series of prints, though that doesn’t mean he’s out to flatter himself. Retouching, embellishing, and erasing aspects of photographs, Noda often discovers the spirit of an image. The first contemporary artist to exhibit at San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum, he’s now the subject of a show at Don Soker Contemporary Art – itself an event. (Johnny Ray Huston)
Through Oct. 14
Don Soker Contemporary Art
49 Geary, SF
Help the 11th District get a better US representative by coming to a fundraiser for Democratic Party candidate Jerry McNerney, who will be running against the notoriously antienvironmental, developer-friendly Rep. Richard Pombo. (Deborah Giattina)
Varnish Fine Art
77 Natoma, SF
Brian Jonestown Massacre
Local legends the Brian Jonestown Massacre will be playing two dates at the Independent before taking off on a world tour. The group, born out of the Haight Ashbury, were the original revivalists of psych rock. Though far more influenced by occultism than patchouli, the BJM set the stage for the present-day influx of irreverent, freak-fantastic SF bands. The B-list acclaim they enjoyed for their part in the 2004 documentary DiG! resulted in Joel Gion’s reign as the most infamous tambourine player of all time. (K. Tighe)
With the Tyde
628 Divisadero, SF
“Clinks and My If’s”
Jeff K. Butler’s art is precise, delivering witty conceptual jokes that rely equally on language and materials to deliver the punch line. World’s Lightest Painting is hand lettered on white Styrofoam, enclosed in a white Styrofoam frame, and probably weighs all of a few ounces. For Sale replicates a classic black, orange, and white “For Sale” sign. The joke is revealed on the wall tag after careful observation: it’s the only piece in the show that’s priced. The show’s other pieces contain similar wry observations – Canvas refers to the canvas of a punching bag – and speak to the poet’s capacity to cross over easily into art without pausing in between. (Katie Kurtz)
Through Sept. 23
Mon.-Fri., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
New College of California, 766 Valencia, SF
Sometimes finding a unique spin on a familiar concept only leads to bankruptcy (e.g., the thankfully short-lived Pets.com), and sometimes it can lead to a 10-year residency at the Elbo Room, which is what San Francisco’s only weekly dub, dancehall, and progressive roots club, Dub Mission, celebrates tonight. Founded in 1996 by former KUSF DJ Sep (who recently returned to the decks after a brief spot of maternity leave), Dub Mission has consistently attracted a thoroughly mixed, laid-back fan base whose primary focus is dancing, not dissing. This week’s festivities will feature a live performance from J-Boogie’s Dubtronic Science. Happy anniversary, Dub Mission, shall we dance? (Nicole Gluckstern)
647 Valencia, SF
A Trip Down Market Street 1905/2005
Ah, Market Street. How many lonely nights I’ve stood on you, freezing my pachangas off while waiting for the stupid 9 to show up. How many times (two) I’ve gotten my tire stuck in the F car rails and flipped over my handlebars. Whether you’re a financier, panhandler, chess player, or German tourist, the street has undoubtedly worked its way diagonally into your heart. Even if your connection to Market is – like mine – cold and painful, you owe it to the relationship to check out the screening and DVD release party for A Trip Down Market Street 1905/2005, two movies made a hundred years apart about its illustrious past and present. (Jason Shamai)
3601 Lyon, SF
Free with museum admission ($8-$13)
Old Time Relijun
It’s anybody’s guess whether Public Image Ltd. spun jazz records in their respective living rooms, but if they did and really dug it, their music might have resembled the incredible sound coming from Old Time Relijun’s direction. It’s bass-heavy post-punk with white-boy soul inclinations, oft venturing into free-jazz territory with saxophone squonks and squeals. Singer Arrington de Dionyso, in addition to winning the Best Name Ever Award, has a degree in ethnomusicology and a gruff voice suited to growlin’ and howlin’ over dance-beat drums and Jah Wobble-like bass grooves. (Michael Harkin)
With Truman’s Water
2330 Telegraph, Oakl.
Call for time and price
If you haven’t experienced Digital Underground live, you’ve been missing one of the all-time greatest road shows in hip-hop. Running things from behind his keyboards, DU captain Shock-G leads the group through its greatest hits, P-Funk covers, and grooves from his solo banger, Fear of a Mixed Planet (33rd Street, 2004). Along with partner Money B and young recruit DJ NuStyles, Shock is liable to hit the stage with anyone from the Luniz, the Caliban, Esinchill and King Beef, Eddi Projex, Thizz Nation president Mac Mall, 2pac-associate Ray Luv, or 8-piece funk band Slapback in tow. (Garrett Caples)
With the Feed and Ostrich Head/TMF
Red Devil Lounge
1695 Polk, SF
“Are the dead people looking at you when you jerk off? We all think about it.” Comedian Rob Cantrell is a little dirty – let’s all just be thankful that Last Comic Standing propelled his career in stand-up so this sicko isn’t teaching kindergarten anymore. Since his days of wrestling tubs of paste from the hands of children, Cantrell has worked with everyone from Eugene Mirman to the late Mitch Hedberg, performed in countless comedy clubs around the country, and has just jumped on the rock venue wagon. (K. Tighe)
With John Hoogasian and Mike Spiegelman
9 and 11:30 p.m.
William Wiley: “Caught in the Rap Sure”
Wizard of the pun William T. Wiley uses acrylic and charcoal on canvas to create single yet multidimensional images that morph from grafitti to European master just as your eye might shift from left to right. And a mass rightward movement – the many-fanged fundamentalist madness of our era – might be one of Wiley’s main themes. If anyone has tapped into the Zen of Paul Virilio, it’s Wiley, who somehow finds the peace required for a perspective about the present moment’s crazed speeds; witness the layered mapmaking of his new piece Meridian Moons over What We Are. (Johnny Ray Huston)
Through Oct. 14
5:30-7:30 p.m. reception
John Berggruen Gallery
228 Grant, SF
Sampling Oakland Performances
Oakland’s immensely vital arts scene gets some much-deserved reverence in one of the Yerba Buena Center’s current visual art installations, Sampling Oakland. The work of artists like Erik Groff attempts, through various media, to navigate the space presented by the city of Oakland and the gallery space at YBCA in thoughtful, unconventional ways. In addition to regular viewing, this evening the exhibit plays host to a number of adventurous local guest musicians selected by curators from the 21 Grand, an interdisciplinary arts space in Oakland. (Michael Harkin)
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
701 Mission, SF
Free with gallery admission ($4-$6)
We’re still a sweet 16 years away from 2022, when strawberry jam costs an arm and a leg and everyone eats mysterious foodstuff made by the Soylent Corporation. What, you don’t believe a reanimated Chuck Heston will be around to try to get to the cannibalistic bottom of a dystopia-in-the-making? Recent news about body-part harvesting companies like Donor Referral Services and Biomedical Tissue Services might change your mind. Chew on them – and salute programmers who realize that there is no better site than a humanist hall to screen Soylent Green. (Johnny Ray Huston)
390 27th St., Oakl.
Oakland artist Greg Ashley is best known for his work with the Gris Gris, a stomping rock band whose damaged melodies vie with kaleidoscopic boogie. Expect more of the former tonight as Ashley takes the stage sans bandmates, freeing his knotty songwriting from the group’s opaque soundstorms. Ashley has released solo material before – the daintily titled Medicine Fuck Dream (Birdman, 2003) – but his most mature work has come with the Gris Gris, especially on last year’s crowning For the Season (Birdman). (Max Goldberg)
With Chris Stroffolino, Yea Ming, Michael Musika, and Powell St. John
858 San Pablo, Albany
Celebrate the opening of the Progressive Organizing Center at an office-warming party with featured speaker Codepink organizer Medea Benjamin, who has just returned from Jordan and Lebanon. The center aims to assist progressive candidates and propositions by providing office space and meeting rooms. Entertainment includes the Raging Grannies, the Kat Downs Conspiracy, and more. (Deborah Giattina)
Progressive Organizing Center
4760 Mission, SF
This too may pass, but let it be said that “outrageous” is currently one of Mission District artist Keegan McHargue’s favorite descriptors — applied with equal enthusiasm to the thugs who smoke blunts down the street, his waxy-eyed portrait by Japanese artist Enlightment, Heavy Metal Parking Lot sequel Neil Diamond Parking Lot, and a new art book with a cover font composed of turds — and one that could easily apply to the refreshingly direct, boyish painter himself. Not many young artists are in the position to tell national television to take a cold shower in a couple hot minutes, but that’s just where McHargue is: he isn’t your archetypal stylist-damaged celebutante or attention-ravenous art star. The 2004 Goldies winner — last sighted at that award’s soiree shaking his sharp, narrow suit on the dance floor alongside beat legend Bruce Conner and hip-hop crew Sistaz of the Underground — warily considered this interview and then consented.
“Seriously, it’s crazy. Recently, all sorts of different people have been interested in me for different reasons. It’s pretty strange,” he marvels, leaning back in front of a recent large acrylic ready to be packed off to New York, where it will be exhibited in “Control Group,” McHargue’s solo show at Metro Pictures opening Sept. 21. CBS Sunday Morning was one such caller. “But I just said, ‘Fuck you.’ Kinda. I told ’em straight up, ‘I was, like, y’know, really flattered, but I don’t know if your demographic is exactly who I even want to know who I am.’
“If I’m doing that, I’m probably doing something wrong!”
It may sound like the arrogance of youth on line one — who wants to cater to the crowd who’s even up on Sunday morning? Yet it’s gotten to the point where Devendra Banhart (who described McHargue as his “favorite living artist”), Interview, and even Spin have lined up to lavish praise on the 24-year-old artist, with the last naming him one of the top 25 hottest people under 25, beating out Nicole Richie. “Outrageous!” exclaims McHargue. “Seriously, I swear to god. I don’t know what the general consensus is. It’s weird. It’s strange. I’m just a normal person who makes artwork and just happens to be an artist for a living.”
Perhaps this miniature media frenzy is linked to the fact that the self-taught McHargue is so young and makes such intriguing, increasingly exploratory work: paintings and drawings that swing between clean, Byzantine sophistication and fresh, obsessive energy, bright pop abstraction and darkly foreshadowed storytelling. His latest extravagantly hued, sprawling acrylics — a new series that differs from those in McHargue’s “Air above Mountains” show (named after a Cecil Taylor free-jazz disc) at Galerie Emmanuel Perriton in Paris earlier this year — revolve around true crime and headline news narratives populated by murderous mothers, power plants, dozing or dead kittens, and sinuous streams of toxic runoff. Picture the Yellow Submarine adrift beneath a mushroom-clouded sky.
As ripe and exciting as this week’s tabloids and likely less perishable, the canvases reflect McHargue’s latest ideas and techniques. “I’m just basically trying to constantly be expanding the scope of my practice or something,” he says, puttering around the tidy studios in the top-floor flat he shares with another artist — this despite the fact that his works have landed in such collections as the Museum of Modern Art in NYC. “I guess the long and short of it is now I’ve got tons of time on my hands and all I have to do is make art, so the bottom line is to just continue making better and better pieces.”
Psychedelic is almost too easy an adjective for his enigmatic imagery, the natural product of a childhood steeped in art, courtesy of his watercolorist mother. “That would make me instinctively want to change what I was doing,” says McHargue, who moved to San Francisco from his native Portland, Ore., five years ago. “I understand that people want to belong to cliques. But that’s not where my head’s at right now. I would just like to make some paintings that are insane to look at. Just hurt some people’s brains a little bit.”
Small pieces by Barry McGee, Will Yackulic, and others are clustered on the mantel above a Roland SP808, a drum machine, and an iPod emanating keening noise collaborations between McHargue and fellow artist Ry Fyan — the work of what McHargue describes as a Whitehouse tribute band. Some of the music will probably be released later this year by Tarentel’s Jef Cantu, along with a Japanese book surveying his work. “I’m just a hardcore music fanatic all across the board,” the artist explains. “Luckily, I live close to Aquarius, and I collect records too. That’s where I get inspiration for the work, from listening to music. It’s really, really important to me.”
And it’s an increasingly necessary hobby — preferable, he cracks wise, to “photography or yachting.” After working almost continuously for more than a year on consecutive gallery shows and finding himself on a rotating exhibition schedule stretching to 2012 (2007 will see shows at Jack Hanley Gallery in San Francisco and Hiromi Yoshi Gallery in Tokyo), McHargue is hoping to take it easy at last — following the “Control Group” opening and his partner Tauba Auerbach’s October show at Deitch Projects — and spend his autumn months in New York City. “It’s like all of a sudden I’m totally grown up and doing this all the time,” he says. “I need to cool out. Between now and the fall, I’m just going to kick it.” SFBG
› firstname.lastname@example.org REVIEW If fiction is truth masquerading as lies and the ever-popular memoir is tall tales packaged as transcendent fact, history is the place where dominant culture markets itself and covers the tracks. In recent times, historians like Howard Zinn and Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz have shifted the focus to tell the stories of marginalized, oppressed, dissident, and defiant peoples often erased from the record, but there’s still a lot of catching up to do. Perhaps it’s time to employ additional tactics, as coeditors T Cooper and Adam Mansbach have in A Fictional History of the United States (with Huge Chunks Missing). The anthology of stories progresses like a typical history textbook (in chronological order, that is), yet its goal is not to give us the facts but rather to widen the cracks in the official story until it breaks open. Some of the strongest pieces in A Fictional History are the most preposterous. In Ron Kovic’s “The Recruiters,” it’s 1968 and two Marines arrive at a high school auditorium, climb onstage, and start singing a song: “Oh, if you lose your penis in a war/ And you can’t make love with sexy girls no more/ Then don’t blame it on the old Marine Corps.” It turns out these Marines did indeed lose their penises in Vietnam, not on the battlefield but in a pool game, playing against a man who wielded a machete in place of a cue. Confused? “We made a bet,” the Marines declare. “It was a COMMITMENT.” A more over-the-top indictment of US military arrogance, masculinity, and the myopia of team loyalty could hardly be squeezed into the six pages this story occupies. Alexander Chee’s “Wampeshau” describes Chinese settlements of explorers and concubines in the area occupied by the Narragansett Indians nearly 300 years before the founding of the United States: “To be an explorer is to practice the art of getting lost.” But these settlers also practice the art of flying. That’s right, “the secret to it … is that even the wind will help you if you agree not to linger.” This is certainly a refined band of travelers, and in their observations about the newly arrived British settlers destined to replace them lies a prescient warning: “They are like the opposite of ghosts, so alive it has made them numb.” Sarah Schulman’s “The Courage to Love” brings us inside the psychoanalytic method, seen through the eyes of Anna Fuchs, a German Jewish refugee psychiatrist in post–World War II New York who once “waltzed with Jung and made Freud jealous.” As Anna conducts a final supervision session for one of her students, their spinning conversation (and Anna’s interior wanderings) manages to take on the Nazi Holocaust, Jewish assimilation, and parental violence while foreshadowing current Israeli military aggression. A contentious session explodes into a debate about the nascent medicalization of psychiatry — a conversation that’s even more relevant in our own era, when the right prescription is seen as the answer to even the most complicated emotional traumas. Not all of the pieces in the book are quite so rigorous. The opening story, “The Discovery of America,” by Paul La Farge, wallows in a self-satisfied joy over all things random, which could be an interesting challenge to the notion of “discovery” if it weren’t for phrases like “America remains to be discovered.” “The New Century,” Neal Pollack’s take on media whores and the Monica Lewinsky scandal, lacks any insight beyond the obvious (the media are only interested in sensation these days, etc.). More successfully, in a humorous take on racism and white guilt, the Civil War and drag, Kate Bornstein recounts the tale of Sassy Sarah, formerly known as Huckleberry Finn, a slender girl working the brothels of New Orleans under Union occupation. Coeditor Mansbach describes a 1905 zookeeper’s friendship with an imprisoned African man exhibited with the apes in a story whose final line is perhaps the most scathing indictment of colonialism in the whole book. Before you start browsing your favorite search engine for Marine recruitment chants, flying Chinese explorers, Anna Fuchs, drag prostitution, and zookeepers, though, it may be helpful to read the final story in A Fictional History, Daniel Alarcón’s “The Anodyne Dreams of Various Imbeciles.” This one takes place in the future, 2011 to be exact, during a war inside the United States, where the President has been injured in a hunting accident (!) and his leg amputated to prevent infection. Part fable and part cautionary tale, “Anodyne Dreams” evokes revolution but refuses to deliver the specifics — Denver is a stronghold of resistance, but why Denver? Instead of blueprints for sabotage, Alarcón treats us to an endless array of antiquated statistics about amputations throughout history, details contained in letters to the President from the doctor he’s already executed. Nowhere is the tension between randomness and revelation more evident, and perhaps this is just the challenge to history that is needed. SFBG A FICTIONAL HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES (WITH HUGE CHUNKS MISSING) Edited by T Cooper and Adam Mansbach Akashic Books 300 pages $15.95 Readings by T Cooper, Adam Mansbach, and contributor Valerie Miner Sept. 17, 6 p.m. Cody’s Books, 2 Stockton, SF (415) 773-0444, www.codysbooks.com Readings by T Cooper, Adam Mansbach, and contributor Daniel Alarcón Sept. 18, 7 p.m. Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera (415) 927-0960, www.bookpassage.com Sept. 20, 7 p.m. Diesel, a Bookstore, 5433 College, Oakl. (510) 653-9965, diesel.booksense.com Mattilda, a.k.a. Matt Bernstein Sycamore (www.mattbernsteinsycamore.com), is the editor most recently of That’s Revolting: Queer Strategies for Resisting Assimilation.
“You’re not getting older, you’re getting better” is one of those things you say to someone who’s getting older and not better and is sensitive to the decline because of yet another birthday. (Birthdays beyond the 30th are at best memento mori, at worst a cumulative curse. After 30, one should count them by 10s.) Yet y-n-g-o-y-g-b is not just a mollifying phrase to be found on a Hallmark card; sometimes it is actually true. Many of the grander wines improve with age, up to a point, and so does the occasional well-conceived restaurant, particularly if the restaurant is a bistro.
“Bistro” is a much-abused term in our gastronomic idiom. Its meaning has been pulled and stretched to cover all manner of restaurants, bound together perhaps by just the faint suggestion of casual hipness. But even in America, where language is treated as cavalierly as food additives and war, words do retain core meanings, and the core meaning of bistro remains French. A proper bistro is quintessentially a neighborhood restaurant, well established and appealingly scuffed, with a brief menu of mostly traditional (French) dishes at moderate prices.
Le Charm is a proper bistro, though it is in San Francisco, not Paris, and when it was opened in 1994 by Alain Delangle and Lina Yew, its neighborhood was a little iffy. The SoMa of that time was already beginning to don its new Loftland identity, but the donning was uneven, and large swaths of the area were still grubby and gritty enough to make opening a nice restaurant a bold proposition. These days … well, SoMa is far more residential than a decade ago, and in that sense le Charm, the neighborhood restaurant, now has a neighborhood to belong to and neighbors to serve.
The wait has been kind to the restaurant. Although the space was recently remodeled, it has a look of woody permanence, with golden oak trim, cinnamon-colored walls, and a trellised garden set with tables. My basic impression, from years ago, was clatter, but while the restaurant now is hardly quiet, steps seem to have been taken to curb the noise. The floor is carpeted, and this alone makes a big difference.
Le Charm has been, from the beginning, a prix fixe haven, and while today’s bill of fare is fitted out with a full complement of à la carte choices, the prix fixe — $28 at dinner for three courses — continues to fascinate. Usually I succumb to this fascination, since the latter menu is full of the sort of earthy standards that make French food approachable and even lovable, from onion soup to blanquette de veau, and the fixed price means you need not worry about the bill, unless you go nuts with the wine. (Le Charm’s wine list is brisk, moderately priced, and surprisingly tilted toward California bottlings.)
But I do not always succumb, particularly when in dessert-forswearing mode, as we all must be from time to time. I was, moreover, interested in the mosaique ($8), an à la carte offering that turned out to be a kind of chilled vegetable terrine, wrapped in a skin of leek and cut into large, roughly triangular flaps. The terrine consisted of snow peas, sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, and shiitake mushrooms, while the leek skin was tender enough to be cut with an ordinary knife.
I also wanted lentils, and that meant the boudin blanc au foie gras ($19), stubby lengths of mild white sausage cut on the bias and given a Stonehenge arrangement around a moody hillock of Puy lentils, with interpolations of peeled, seeded tomato quarters.
Across the table, another story was unfolding, a $28 tale in three chapters that opened with a salad of cubed red beets set in tatsoi greens (decent, but more about looks than taste) and ended with an orange crème brûlée topped with slices of mandarin orange. In between there was a plot twist: the restaurant’s justly famous chicken-liver salad substituted for a selection from the standard, and weightier, main courses, with a corresponding discount of a few bucks. (I was surprised to see the possibility of duck confit passed over by someone I had long understood to be an insatiable duck-confitista.)
The chicken-liver salad — buttery chunks of meat with the mildest breath of liver flavor, scattered like boulders across a meadow of mixed greens — might work a bit better at lunch, when less heft is desirable, at least for those who need to remain conscious for the remainder of the workday. (A friendly warning here: the garden, in good weather, provides an al fresco experience you might have some trouble pulling yourself away from.) I was disappointed to find no croque monsieur on the midday menu, but quiche lorraine ($9.50), an egg tart stuffed with ham and cheese, wasn’t a bad substitute and was also served whole: a disk the size of one of those personal pizzas you can get at Roundtable.
Tart lovers of the sweet tooth variety will appreciate the tarte tatin, which at $4 is something of a steal and is also excellent — not the usual state of affairs for restaurant tartes tatins, too many of which have runny caramel and mushy apples. Le Charm’s version features shapely hemispheres of firm fruit, bronzed and slightly translucent, as if formed from amber, along with viscous caramel and flaky pastry. The formula is simple, really (tarte tatin is much easier to make than ordinary, American-style apple pie), yet a well-made one never fails to charm. SFBG
Dinner: Tues.–Thurs., 5:30–9:30 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 5:30–10 p.m.; Sun., 5–9 p.m.
Lunch: Mon.–Fri., 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m.
315 Fifth St., SF
Beer and wine
PREVIEW In its 21 years of existence, the theater company Darvag has brought classic Iranian dramas dating back to the 1950s as well as contemporary works by some of the country’s major playwrights to Bay Area stages. With The Suitcase, Darvag simultaneously draws from within and digs close to its origin: the play (translated from Farsi into English by Bella Warda) was written by a founding member of the company. An older play by Windows playwright Farhad Ayeesh, who has written and directed four pieces for Darvag, Suitcase is billed with the subtitle: “An Iranian Tragicomedy with Global Reverberations.” In interviews, Ayeesh has spoken about the absurdist elements within his work in general and this play in particular. Darvag first premiered Suitcase in 1985, but needless to say, the play’s exploration of a nameless transitory space in which each traveler carries a piece of luggage seems especially pertinent to the present moment. (Johnny Ray Huston)
THE SUITCASE Sept. 2–24. Thurs.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. Intersection for the Arts, 446 Valencia, SF. $18. (415) 626-2787, www.darvag.org, www.theintersection.org
CHEAP EATS This Cheap Eats restaurant review is a thank-you note to a guy named John. He bought all the tokens for a Thai temple brunch for me, Bernie, and Laura last Sunday. And technically it should have been the other way around, me tokening him, because he’d just breema’d me.
If you don’t know what breema is, I don’t know what to tell you. They bend, push, and dance on you, kind of like a massage, only you’re lying on the floor and it’s all very musical. Then you’re hungry and all relaxed and shit. I love it and am lucky to have two friends, Bernie and Laura, who are practitioners. And now John. Three friends.
If you don’t know who John is, he lives in Oakland, used to have chickens, still has a Ping-Pong table, two cool kids, couple watermelons on the counter, a big empty room with pillows along the walls, and lots of rugs. I think he might be the Big Cheese of Breema, because 1) he’s crazy good at it, and 2) he taught Laura, who I think taught Bernie, who used to practice on lucky me.
I have no interest in learning anything per se (like Latin), but I do like to receive. Massage, breema, packages, sensory information, tokens … At a Buddhist temple in Berkeley on Sunday mornings, you turn these tokens into Thai food. It’s a madhouse. Lines out the yinyang, no more meatballs, no more fish balls, nowhere to sit, general confusion … and still you gotta love it.
Know why? Because it’s different. It’s something else. It’s outside. The food’s pretty good, and at a dollar a token, five tokens for a big bowl of noodle soup, the price is pretty reasonable.
The soup line was way shorter than the meat line and the vegetarian line, and anyway soup seemed really really good to me. So that was where I stood. They had three different choices of noodles: wide, skinny, and skinnier. But they were out of everything else.
“No meat,” the serverguyperson said when I came to the counter.
“Fish balls,” I said.
“No fish balls,” he said.
I was just about to think I was in a Monty Python sketch when he gestured toward the adjacent vegetarian buffet and said, “Vegetable only. Fifteen minutes for meat.”
“I’ll wait,” I said and stepped to the side. But I’d already been waiting in lines and wandering between them like a lost little chicken farmer, and the next couple people behind me conceded to vegetable soup, and I had to admit that the noodles, the dark broth with the little load of color on top, looked dang delicious.
After this I was going to play at a block party barbecue in Albany for food and tips, and then after that I was invited to another barbecue back in the city. I did the math. Meat plus meat equaling meat meat meat, I broke down and went with veggies for brunch.
So now I had this nice bowl of steaming vegetable soup and no idea where all my friends were. In the process of looking for them, wandering around like a lost little chicken farmer, I discovered on a remote fringe of the mayhem a no-line-at-all fried chicken station, and the chickens looked great, but I was all out of tokens.
Also found: a stage with colorfully dressed musicians playing traditional Thai stuff to tables and tables of happy eaters. No friends and no room for me and my soup, not there, not in the main part of the pavilion, not in the alley …
My soup was starting to get cold. I was dying of hunger. Buzzards were circling. I looked at the sky, looked at my feet, kicked the bleached bones and tumbleweeds out of my path, and pushed on.
Here they were! Sitting cross-legged on the grass and sidewalk out front, eating stuff. Although I tasted some of everything, and everything was good, I think my favorite thing (because I’d never had it before) was this little fluffy doughy doodad cooked with coconut milk and stuffed with green onions.
But Bernie, bless him, had scored one of the last fish ball soups, and I managed to mostly eat that. Thank you, Bernie. The fish balls were wonderful. SFBG
Sun., 9 a.m.–2 p.m.
1911 Russell, Berk.
Credit cards not accepted
We tend to trust what we see, and when what we see is a computer printout, specifying in meticulous detail what we just had for dinner, we tend to trust it all the more. How can such a miracle machine as the computer ever be wrong? Being wrong is a human thing; it is an errant scribble on one of those pale green tablets on which servers write down orders at less technologically advanced establishments (unless they are show-offs working from memory). Or it is bad arithmetic. Most people, I am sure, have had the experience of being delivered a hand-written check they could not decode — and when you can’t decode it, you just shrug your shoulders and pay it, hoping the errors, if any, aren’t too egregious.
Tidy computer accountings of restaurant activity would seem to be altogether an improvement over ballpoint primitivism: a brave new world. And yet, and yet … it behooves us not to fall asleep. Computers might be infallible, and to the extent that computers replace human beings as trackers and toters-up of bills, the likelihood of error is diminished. But it is not eliminated, as I discovered recently when sifting through the bill at one of the city’s more tech-savvy restaurants: a dollar too much for this item, a dollar too much for that one — and, to be fair, a dollar too little for a third.
A dollar here and there would not seem to make all that much difference — just a couple percentage points of the total bill. But any effective strategy of overcharging must be subtle, in amounts small enough not to be noticed or worth disputing, and it should be balanced by the occasional undercharge, to give the impression of randomness or lack of guile. Customers must be granted the occasional victory, so that they do not become disillusioned or even angrily suspicious.
I asked for menus to recheck the numbers, then summoned our server to point out the discrepancies. The matter was quickly straightened out, with apologies. Possibly these were innocent mistakes, bad numbers entered into the machine by some harried human in a hurry. But as we left, I glanced around at a big dining room full of people accumuutf8g charges on an unseen computer somewhere, and I wondered.
TECHSPLOITATION Last night, for about the 30,000th time, I pondered whether I should be shredding the stubs of my phone and cable bills before throwing them away. I always keep my credit card statements for a year or two. That shit just seems too scary personal to toss. But what about the other stuff? If someone were to root through my building’s trash bin and find my (unshredded) cell phone bill, they’d know the numbers of everyone I’d called during the past month. Other bill stubs are less revelatory, but someone could still use them to cancel my gas and electricity or order me the most expensive cable package.
But I just can’t muster up the amount of paranoia that would be required to properly eliminate all those pieces of paper with my personally identifiable information on them. And good shredders (not the lame one-sheet-at-a-time ones) are expensive. So every month I leave massive amounts of personal data in the bins outside my back door.
And that’s not all. I also save chat sessions on my computer and SMS messages on my phone. Sure, I fear clutter in the real world, but I also have a highly developed sense of sentimental value. So I keep the little electronic blips my friends write, thinking that one day I’ll be glad to read them again. Some of those blips are e-mails that I keep stored in the vast server fields of a major Web mail provider, which means that system administrators can look at them — and worse, this Web mail provider can hand them over to the government without telling me.
Don’t even get me started on the kinds of personal information I leak about myself in my writing. A dedicated asswipe could, just by combing over my old columns, figure out the general location of my house in San Francisco, my sexual orientation, the kind of relationship I’m in, what kind of computer I have, which ISP I use, where I’ve worked, where I shop, and who my friends are.
All my digital data is, of course, far more vulnerable than those hard copy phone records I dump every month. At least my trash bin is localized: to steal or tamper with my information, somebody would have to break into my building and jump inside the trash bin. But to steal my e-mail? Or read my columns obsessively for personal details? A naughty person could do that from anywhere. Prying members of an HR department could run a background check on me from the comfort of their Aeron chairs.
So what the hell is wrong with me? Why would I compromise my own privacy, knowing full well what the consequences could be? I’ve already confessed to a few reasons: laziness, inability to hoard tiny pieces of paper, sentimentality, chronic column writing. The less frivolous answer is that I’ve weighed the alternatives — shredders, constant data wiping — and chosen to take the risk. I don’t want to be forced to hide everything about myself. If some potential employer doesn’t like my blog, that’s an employer I don’t need. If the government wants to persecute me for what’s contained in my stored messages, then I will fight back as best I can or leave the country.
It’s not as if I don’t protect myself. I never store any data in my Web mail account that I’m not prepared to share with sysadmins and the government. I overwrite data that I want to delete on my computer, which means it can’t be retrieved using typical law enforcement forensics. I rarely enter anything but fake information into online forms. I download and send my e-mail via SSL, which prevents people from reading it while it’s moving over the network. Am I safe from the National Security Agency or a very determined hacker? No. But neither am I leaving myself wide open to identity theft and surveillance.
When somebody breaks into your computer and looks at your private data, geeks say that your computer has been “owned.” And if your computer is utterly taken over, all its information plundered egregiously, you’ve been “pwned” — a bit of geek slang that comes from some dork who made a typo on IRC back in the day. I know that I’m pwned by the government, pwned by Google, pwned by my reliance on Windows OS. But they haven’t pwned my brain, OK? I’m still going to write the truth about myself and the world; I’m still going to throw away bill stubs like a normal person.
Say it loud and clear: we will not be pwned! If that isn’t a 21st-century protest cry, I don’t know what is. SFBG
Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who was thrilled to discover that the Wikipedia entry for “pwn” includes a section on pronunciation.
I’ve prided myself on having a good relationship with my daughter, and we have always been able to talk about anything, but I was shocked when she asked me about anal sex. I was at a complete loss. She’s only 14 and it never crossed my mind that she would even know what that is, but I guess it’s not like it used to be. She said it’s the “cool” thing to do at her school and that most of her girlfriends have had it. I don’t want her to think that she can’t come to me about things. I could give her the “if your friends jumped off a bridge” speech, but then again, well … at least I wouldn’t have to worry about her getting pregnant. LOL. How should I handle this? Should I be supportive or honest or just refer it to another female like my sister or one of my coworkers?
Sorry. Unless you’re raising her alone in a supermodern ranch house on a lonely and distant planet, she could have asked someone else, but she didn’t. You’re up, and I’m afraid you’ll have to be both honest and supportive. It should help to hear that “supportive” does not mean “Butt sex? It’s no biggie. Get with the program, kid.” Plus, if she came to you for advice, chances are good that she’s not already doing it and liking it or else what would she need your advice for?
We do hear (where have you been?) that these kids today spend more time having anal sex and attending blow job parties than they do on soccer, MySpace, and homework combined. There was a moment there when it seemed every possible media outlet featured a scarifying exposé of rampant oral gonorrhea among kids at elite suburban middle schools or rings of barely pubescent girls selling their anal favors for Bubble Yum. Much of this stuff is clearly exaggerated for effect, extrapolated from precious little data to garner ratings, sell magazines, or whip up a panic among parishioners or PTA members.
There is, however, some measure of truth along with the disinformation, if fairly nonpartisan bodies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Johns Hopkins are to be believed. Every study conducted in the last decade or so has shown at least some increase in the number of young (in some cases, very young) people having oral and anal sex. In some cases, these are the very kids who sign abstinence pledges, promising not to “have sex” until marriage, another downside to using “sex” to mean penis-vagina intercourse. It allows for all sorts of weaselly usage, from the presidential “I did not have sex with that woman” to the willful misinterpretation of decent scientific data by groups like the Heritage Foundation and Focus on the Family.
I did have a point here: do not assume that she’s wrong or exaggerating when she tells you that anal is the “in” intercourse at her school. It may not be as prevalent as she thinks or reports (at least some of her girlfriends are lying), but it is happening.
It would be useful to know what your daughter actually asked you — I’m having a hard time believing she requested your blessing to start taking it up the butt, so what did she need from you? I’m going to go with the most likely possibility, that she mostly just wanted you to listen while she processed her own thoughts and feelings, and surely you, Mr. Sensitive Dad, could handle that much without having to palm the poor child off on your secretary or the mailroom girl?
Chances are your daughter also needed some information about what people actually do with their butts and stuff, since adolescents, even adolescents who affect a world-weary air and claim intimate knowledge of whatever arcane subject is under discussion, are notoriously vague about the nitty-gritty details. I think it’s perfectly legit to outsource this part, but only this part, probably by recommending one of the sex education Web sites specifically targeted to teenagers. I like Scarleteen.com, but it really doesn’t matter as long as you don’t just point her at the Web and tell her to go look up “anal + teen,” OK?
Let the professionals handle the “does it hurt?” and “will I like it?”-type questions, but as her dad you don’t get to shirk the harder parts, where you ask her what she’s heard, how she feels about it, whether her friends are pressuring her, and what she will do if they do pressure her. I would hope you’ve already talked to her about respecting herself and her body and not doing anything until or unless she really wants to, and then only once she’s educated herself about risks and how to avoid them. If you haven’t, well, for God’s sake, man, she’s 14. She has all kinds of excuses for stupid and irresponsible behavior. What’s yours?
EDITORIAL Finally the Democratic Party in California is starting to talk seriously about tax policy. It’s an important change in the political winds, and if state treasurer Phil Angelides can get beyond the tepid-to-hostile press and use his promise of a middle-class tax cut to gain ground on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, it may signal the end of decades of regressive and deeply harmful economic policy.
Schwarzenegger, who knows he’s in a tough race, has been trying to smear Angelides by saying that the Democratic candidate is pushing for tax hikes. Yes, he is — tax hikes on the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger (and Phil Angelides), people with incomes of more than $500,000 a year. For the record, these are people who have seen their taxes drop dramatically under the Bush administration and are the direct beneficiaries of an alarming national trend of wealth concentration among the richest Americans.
Angelides isn’t talking about radical tax hikes; all he wants to do is restore the top state income tax rate to the level it was under Republican governors like Ronald Reagan and Pete Wilson. Still, raising taxes never plays well in the polls, so Angelides is now doing what he needed to do from the start of his campaign: he’s proposing to cut taxes on middle-class working families.
It’s a risky strategy: pundits on the right will accuse him of “class warfare,” and the details of his plans will get obscured by negative political ads and lousy media coverage. But it’s the right approach: he’s actually talking about shifting the tax burden upward, about changing the national trend in tax policy, about giving the majority of the voters tax breaks and paying for it by making a few wealthy people pay more.
But if it’s going to work, he needs to be a lot clearer on exactly how the dollars pencil out — and he needs to offer more than what seems like a relatively modest tax cut. Right now, his plan calls for $788 million in tax reductions for families earning less than $100,000 a year and $5 billion in tax hikes for the wealthy. He’s also offering to find $1 billion in state waste.
For a family living on $46,000 a year, the program would amount to $660 a year in tax relief.
We understand that the tax cuts have to be lower than the tax hikes — the state is deeply in debt, and there are all sorts of badly needed social programs that ought to be funded. But in the end, his plan sounds pretty mild: there’s a lot more than $1 billion in waste, corporate tax loopholes, and uncollected revenue out there, and a California family earning $46,000 a year, facing the insane housing market and rapidly rising energy costs, could use a lot more than $50 a month in extra cash.
Let’s remember: the transfer of wealth from the middle class to the rich (and especially the very rich) that’s taken place in the past two decades is unprecedented in the postwar era and quite possibly unprecedented in American history. A few bucks here and there aren’t really going to make that much difference. If Angelides is serious, he should revise his plan to at least double the tax cuts for the middle class, hike the tax credits for low-income families — and pay for it by creating another tax bracket altogether, for Californians who earn more than $1 million a year.
But this is an excellent start — and Angelides deserves tremendous credit for opening a discussion that should have taken place years ago. SFBG
EDITORIAL The politics of crime can be tricky for the left: progressives are against far-reaching and punitive crackdowns, against police abuse, against the pervasive financial waste in law enforcement … and sometimes can’t come up with answers when neighborhoods like Hunters Point and the Western Addition ask what local government is going to do to stop waves of violence like the homicide epidemic plaguing San Francisco today.
So it’s encouraging to see Sup. Ross Mirkarimi, a Green Party member representing District 5, taking the lead on demanding more beat cops for the highest-crime areas in town. Mirkarimi’s not pushing a traditional reactionary approach of suggesting that the city hire more police officers and lock more people in jail; he’s advocating a simple — and decidedly progressive — approach to the issue. He wants the cops out of their cars and on the streets. On foot.
The idea of beat cops and community policing isn’t new at all; in fact, it’s the modern approach of highly mobile officers in cars, dispatched by a central computer and radio system in response to emergency calls, that’s a relatively recent trend. Police brass love it — they can cover more ground with fewer troops — and a lot of patrol officers like it too. They have that big metal car to protect them from potentially hostile criminals, and they don’t have to interact every minute of every day with the people on the streets.
But cops walking the beat are a proven deterrent to crime — and that’s not merely because of their visible presence. Properly trained and motivated community police officers can forge ties with merchants, residents, and neighborhood leaders. They can figure out where problems are likely to happen. They can become an asset to the community — not an outside occupying force that residents neither trust nor respect.
It’s a crucial change: right now, one of the biggest problems the San Francisco Police Department faces in solving homicides is the unwillingness of witnesses to come forward, in part because of a general mistrust of police. When there’s a killing, homicide detectives appear as if out of nowhere, demanding answers; it’s little wonder nobody wants to talk to them.
We recognize that beat patrols won’t solve the homicide crisis by themselves. That’s a complex socioeconomic issue with roots in poverty and desperation, and a couple of folks in blue on the street corner can’t alleviate decades of political and economic neglect.
And we also realize that it can be expensive to put officers on foot — they can’t respond as fast, and it takes time to develop community ties. But Mirkarimi isn’t asking for a total overhaul of the SFPD’s operations. He’s asking for a modest pilot program, a one-year experiment that would put two foot patrols a day in the Western Addition, focusing on areas with the most violent crime. The ultimate goal, Mirkarimi says, is to create a citywide beat-patrol program.
It won’t be easy: the department seems to be pulling out all the stops to defeat Mirkarimi’s proposal, which will come before the Board of Supervisors on Sept. 19. The Police Commission needs to come out in support of Mirkarimi’s proposal and direct Chief Heather Fong and her senior staff to work to make it effective.
The supervisors, some of whom worry that beat patrols in high-crime districts will mean less police presence in other areas, should give this very limited program a chance. Nothing else is working. SFBG
I was out of town when Sue Bierman died Aug. 6, her car crashing into a Dumpster near her Haight Ashbury home, in the neighborhood she loved. I was out of cell phone range and had no real Internet access, and the papers in Upstate New York didn’t carry the story. So I didn’t learn until I got home that San Francisco had lost one of its most vibrant, funny, warm, and passionate political voices.
Bierman, a native of Fremont, Neb., arrived in San Francisco in 1950. She was part of the first generation of urban environmentalists and was there at the birth of a movement that would change American cities forever.
The city that Sue Bierman adopted as her home was still largely a human-scale metropolis, a town coming out of World War II with a mix of blue-collar industry, a thriving waterfront, and a diverse population.
Her tenure as an activist tracked almost perfectly with the postwar assault on San Francisco by greedy real estate developers, speculators, and politicians who carried their water. She was part of the infamous freeway revolt, the successful effort by Haight residents to block a new elevated freeway that would have soared over part of Golden Gate Park. She was an early member of the anti–high rise crew that realized how intensive downtown development was going to turn San Francisco into another Manhattan. And when the late mayor George Moscone appointed her to the Planning Commission, she was a lonely voice for sanity through 16 years of development madness.
I first met her in 1983 when I was a young reporter covering planning and she was the only member of the commission who would ever come out against any major high-rise project. Over and over, she lost 6–1 votes.
When she was elected supervisor in 1990, she was not only a staunch environmentalist and neighborhood advocate but one of the few on the board at the time who really understood public power: as she would constantly remind her colleagues, she came from a state where electricity could never be sold by private entities for private profit.
And through year after year of brutal defeats, she kept not only her spirit but her sense of humor — and her personal warmth. She had none of the bitter anger that a lot of us took from that era. In fact, even when I criticized her both in private and in print for her loyalty to Willie Brown, she remained a friend. She never once had a harsh word to say to me.
A part of San Francisco passed when she died.
In other news: Supervisor Bevan Dufty insists he hates negative politics and won’t attack other candidates. And yet, the following appeared in Matier and Ross on Aug. 20:
“The campaign is barely under way, and already the mud balls are being lobbed. In this case, it’s a 1995 news clip from the Chicago Tribune describing how [Dufty opponent Alix] Rosenthal, then a 22-year-old senior at Northwestern University, abruptly resigned as student body president rather than face an impeachment hearing over a campaign finance scandal.
“Her sin: Exceeding the campaign spending limit by $26.06.”
Well, somebody dredged that up and leaked it to the press. Anyone you know, Bevan? SFBG
A memorial service for Bierman is set for Sept. 3 from 2 to 4 p.m. at Delancey Street Foundation, 600 Embarcadero, San Francisco.
Last week the California State Assembly and Senate unanimously asked Congress to pass a federal shield law to protect journalists from being forced to disclose unpublished material and the identity of a source.
Part of the motivation for the new push for federal legislation is the recent spate of federal attempts to imprison journalists who won’t give up their confidential sources. The latest victim of that crackdown, Josh Wolf, is in federal confinement after refusing to give prosecutors outtakes from a video he shot of a demonstration at which a San Francisco police officer was injured and a taillight was broken on a cop car (see “The SFPD’s Punt,” 8/23/06).
And while Congress is reviewing the case for protecting journalists, the Guardian has taken a hard look at the case against Josh Wolf — and it’s looking more dubious every day.
For starters, the local cops and the federal prosecutors are trying to claim that Wolf isn’t really a reporter.
That’s what sources in the San Francisco Police Department and the US Attorney’s Office tell us, and it’s borne out by the way the feds are pressing their case in court. In legal briefs, the government never refers to Wolf as a journalist, only as a witness. One federal official, who spoke on the condition he not be identified, likened Wolf to a convenience store owner who has a security camera that catches criminal activity on tape.
There are all sorts of problems with this argument — the first being that the courts have never formally contested Wolf’s journalistic credentials. In fact, the local prosecutors admit in legal briefs that they contacted Washington to seek permission to subpoena Wolf — a process that’s required whenever journalists face this sort of legal action.
As Peter Scheer of the California First Amendment Coalition points out, “The Justice Department claims it complied with regulations that say you can’t subpoena a journalist for outtakes without getting a special order from the attorney general.”
Scheer also notes that under California law, even bloggers enjoy the reporter’s privilege, as recently established when Apple Computer unsuccessfully tried to obtain the identities of sources who allegedly leaked business secrets to bloggers.
Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Virginia-based Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, says that a case for Wolf qualifying as a journalist could be made under both the House and Senate versions of the Free Flow of Information Act, simply because Wolf was paid for broadcasting his video of the protest.
“In the Senate version, you have to be involved in journalism for money, make some part of your livelihood from it, while the House version is even broader,” said Dalglish.
Watching the part of Wolf’s video that he’s made public, which is posted online at www.joshwolf.net and was aired without his consent by at least three major TV networks before he was eventually compensated, it’s easy to speculate that the SFPD would not have delighted in the picture it paints of local law enforcement.
The footage of the July 8, 2005, protest begins peacefully with protesters, many of them wearing black ski masks, carrying banners saying “Anarchist Action,” “War is the Symptom, Capitalism is the Disease,” and “Destroy the War Machine.” As night comes on, the mood sparkles, then darkens. Someone lights a firecracker, smoke rises, helmeted police arrive, newspaper boxes are turned over, a Pacific Gas and Electric Co. office is sprayed with paint, and suddenly a police officer is captured holding a protester in what appears to be a choking position, while someone shouts, “Police brutality! Your career is over, fajita boy!” and an officer warns, “Leave or you’re going to get blasted. I’m a fed, motherfucker.”
At the same demonstration, Officer Peter Shields was hit in the head while charging into a crowd of protesters — and nobody knows exactly who hit him. That’s not on the public part of Wolf’s video, and Wolf and his lawyers insist there is no footage of the attack. Wolf fears that the government may be looking for something else — perhaps some video of other protesters — and will ask him to identify them. He refused to turn over the outtakes.
Carlos Villarreal, executive director of the National Lawyers Guild, says District Court Judge William Alsup, who ordered Wolf to jail, “made a big deal that Josh did not have agreement with a confidential source, but his argument turns Josh’s video equipment into a de facto government surveillance camera.”
Noting that there is a lot of trust between Wolf and protesters at demonstrations — “People aren’t afraid to go up to the camera and say, ‘Did you check out the pig that’s kicking a guy down the street?’” — Villarreal claims that “independent journalists are harder to see and spot than their corporate counterparts.”
The second, perhaps equally troubling problem is that the Wolf case should never have gone to the federal level in the first place.
Alan Schlosser, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, told us there are a lot of red flags in the Wolf case, “beginning with the question, ‘Is there a legitimate federal law enforcement issue here?’”
The federal agents from the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) and the FBI didn’t choose to investigate the case — the San Francisco cops requested assistance. That in itself was odd: why is an assault on an officer a federal affair?
Schlosser asks, “Were the feds called in because they aren’t bound by the state’s reporter’s shield law?”
In theory, the local cops say it’s a federal issue because a cop car was damaged — and the city gets money from the federal government for law enforcement. Schlosser said it’s disturbing that “the SFPD doesn’t have to show the federal funds went towards paying for the allegedly damaged car…. So that statute could be applied to any number of situations. It’s very troubling. It federalizes law enforcement around demonstrations.”
A highly placed source in the SFPD offered a somewhat alarming explanation: the feds were brought in, the source said, not because of shield law issues but because the cops figured the JTTF and the US Attorney’s Office would move faster and more aggressively than San Francisco district attorney Kamala Harris, who has not been on the best terms with the local police.
In other words, if this source is correct, the SFPD is choosing who will prosecute crimes — based on politics, not the law.
As of press time, all Harris’s office was saying was that “the DA strongly believes in the First Amendment and the rights of the press. She also believes in justice for members of the SFPD. An officer was gravely injured that evening, and those responsible need to be held accountable.”
Asked why the federal government was involved in the investigation, Luke Macaulay, a spokesperson for the US Attorney’s Office, said, “This is not an attempt to profile anarchists and dissidents. It’s an attempt to get to the bottom of a crime.”
Macaulay also referred us to federal filings with the US District Court, which conclude that “the issue could not be more straightforward…. The incident is under investigation so that the grand jury can determine what, if any, crimes were committed.”
As far as we can tell, there’s nothing in writing that lays out when a San Francisco cop is allowed to ask for federal intervention in a case. All the SFPD General Orders say is that department members requesting assistance from an outside agency have to obtain the permission of a deputy chief.
According to records from the Investigations Bureau General Work Detail, Inspector Lea Militello filed a request for assistance from the FBI and JTTF to investigate a “serious assault against an SF police officer.” It was approved by Captain Kevin Cashman and Timothy Hettrich, deputy chief of investigations.
As of press time, the SFPD had not returned our calls inquiring why the FBI and JTTF were involved in an assault case, which is usually the domain of the DA’s Office.
David Campos, a member of the San Francisco Police Commission, said he thinks the commission needs to look at the issue “to make sure investigations are federalized when it’s appropriate and not as a way of getting around California’s shield laws.”
Reached Aug. 23 by phone in the Dublin Federal Correctional Institute, where he’s been held since Aug. 1, Wolf suggested that the feds are after more than pictures. “The Un-American Affairs Committee [in the 1950s] called in one person and forced them to make a list of all the people they knew. It was like Communist MySpace. So, I anticipate that they want all my contacts within the civil dissent movement.”
Wolf said he offered to let the judge view his video, which he insists does not capture the arson or assault. “There should not be a federal investigation. I published my video. They can use that to do their investigation.” SFBG
With all briefs filed, a decision on the Josh Wolf case is expected by Sept. 4.
A pebbled, unmarked trail crunches underneath Peter Loeb’s soft leather shoes as he walks through the Rockaway Quarry in Pacifica, his dog following behind.
Until recently, the 87-acre plot was owned by a man named William F. Bottoms. But he never showed much interest in developing it, and locals have long used the network of trails for hiking. It’s one of the few remaining vacant lots of its size in Pacifica.
Bordering the west side of the property is a ridgeline — a small stone peak literally cut in half by what was once a noisy limestone mining operation — that separates the Pacific Ocean from flat seasonal marshlands that turn to rolling hills just past the highway, where the property stops.
Like the rest of the small coastal town, the former quarry is submerged much of the year in a thick, fast-moving fog. From the ground, it hardly seems like an ideal place in which to introduce luxury living.
“It’s the windiest spot in Pacifica,” Loeb says. “It’s the coldest, windiest spot in the whole city.”
But its close proximity to San Francisco has a headstrong Miami developer drooling.
R. Donahue Peebles bought the quarry last summer for what he says was $7.5 million, and although he hasn’t actually submitted a formal proposal to the town, he’s talking about building 350 exclusive hotel suites, 130 single-family homes, more than 200 town houses, live-work lofts and apartments, and an untold number of stores, such as the Gap and Trader Joe’s.
It’s an unusual battle for the normally quiet town. Tucked 10 miles south of San Francisco just off Highway 1, Pacifica is a largely middle-class bedroom community of about 37,000 people that’s so overwhelmingly residential, it’s hardly seen any commercial development larger than a shopping center with a Safeway.
Loeb served on Pacifica’s City Council for eight years in the 1980s and has lived in the same home near the quarry for three decades. He helped formulate the land use plan for the property, which was designated a redevelopment area in 1986. The plan calls for mixed-use residential and commercial spaces, preservation of the walk and bikeway system, and “high-quality design in both public and private developments including buildings, landscaping, signing and street lighting.”
Joined by a stay-at-home dad named Ken Restivo, Loeb is now organizing the opposition to Peebles — and it hasn’t been an easy task. Peebles has already poured several hundred thousand dollars into a campaign to overturn a 1983 city law that requires voter approval of a housing element in the redevelopment zone. This in a town where the typical council candidate spends less than $10,000 running for office.
Of course, as the opponents point out, it’s not clear exactly what Peebles wants to do. His plans are still tentative; he’s trying to get blanket approval for a massive development before he actually applies for a building permit.
The point of the 1983 law was to ensure that new development on the property would be mixed-use, mostly to offset the city’s high residential concentration and to increase the amount of money the city received in tax revenue.
“What he’s trying to do is privatize the certainty and socialize the risk,” Restivo said. “He wants to know whether he can build the houses before he even starts with a plan, and he wants to leave us trusting him to do whatever.”
Measure L on the November ballot would give Peebles the right to include as many as 355 housing units in any final plan. But even if the bill passes, Pacifica’s City Council would get to negotiate and vote on any final deal with Peebles.
Peebles isn’t the first developer to spend a small fortune attempting to overcome the required ballot vote to develop housing on the quarry, which could attract buyers from all over the millionaire-heavy Bay Area. A similarly well-funded effort failed just four years ago.
The difference is, Peebles likes to win — and has proven before that he knows how to do it.
When it comes to commercial and residential development, Peebles is a prodigy of sorts.
At just 23 years old, after one year at New Jersey’s Rutgers University, the ambitious young man forged a relationship with Washington, DC’s infamous former mayor Marion Barry.
The returns were handsome. Barry appointed Peebles to a city property assessment appeals board membership, a sleep-inducing government function that is nonetheless among the most powerful at the municipal level. Peebles also counts the legendary former congressman and now Oakland mayor–elect Ron Dellums as a mentor; a teenage Peebles worked for him as a legislative page.
“Ron was an interesting person,” Peebles said in a recent phone interview. “One of the things I learned was that you can have your own ideas. He was a very liberal member of Congress. He got to chair two committees even though he was an antiwar person [during Vietnam], because he respected the process.”
After a short tenure on the assessment board, Peebles was developing thousands of square feet of commercial space across the nation’s capital under the Peebles Atlantic Development Corporation, today known simply as the Peebles Corporation. Eventually, an attempt to lease a multimillion-dollar office building to the city inspired accusations of cronyism, according to a 2001 Miami New Times profile. Peebles left Washington and moved to Florida.
There he indulged in the truest spirit of American affluence, putting together enormous hotels and condominium complexes, working in partnership with public agencies. He earned a reputation for resorting to multimillion-dollar litigation when those relationships went bad.
Peebles is well aware that major developments naturally attract conflict. He says it took him a while to become thick-skinned as a controversial developer. In south Florida, however, he proved skilled at getting cranes into the air, completing a $230 million residential tower and a $140 million art deco hotel in Miami Beach during the first half of this decade.
And now he’s set his sights on the low-density, small-scale town of Pacifica.
“Pacifica is unique in many ways, but politically it’s not,” he told the Guardian. “If you look at any city, small or large, it always has people on both sides of the issue. There are people who like to say ‘no’ a lot. [In] most environments — if you look by and large across the country, DC for example — developers are generally not the most popular all the time. Pacifica is not different politically in that regard from other places.”
Press accounts depict Peebles as highly self-assured, even cocky. He once cited his favorite saying to the San Francisco Business Journal as “Sometimes you have to be prepared to stand on the mountain alone.” But he’s also charming and enthusiastic, something that Loeb admits has won Peebles the hearts of many Pacificans.
“The comments we get from people who have seen him speak is, ‘I was soooo charmed by him. I trust him,’” Loeb said. “On the basis of what?”
Restivo chimed in, “He’s a very charismatic speaker. He makes promises and gives voice to people’s fantasies and wishes.”
Pacifica isn’t technically the first place in California where Peebles has attempted to introduce his version of the East Coast’s taste for high-rise condos and hotels. In 1996 a bid to redevelop the old Williams Buildings at Third and Mission in San Francisco crumbled when the partnership he’d created with Oakland businessman Otho Green turned into a civil battle in San Francisco Superior Court. The two couldn’t agree on who would control the majority stake, and another bidder was eventually chosen by the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency. Peebles and Green later settled a $400,000 dispute over the project’s deposit, according to court records. Green, in fact, alleged in a complaint against the city that Willie Brown had him kicked out of the deal.
The 1996 fallout notwithstanding, Pacifica marks the first time Peebles has actually bought land on the West Coast for development.
And he’s using a proven political tactic to win over hearts and minds: fear.
The quarry is still zoned as commercial land, and if Measure L fails, Peebles reminds Pacificans, he could go to the city council with a proposal that strictly includes retail and office space.
In a letter he circulated to the city’s residents, he warned that the alternative to a plan that includes housing could just as easily be a Wal-Mart.
“Your ‘yes’ vote means we will have an opportunity to study and evaluate a better option for our community,” Peebles wrote in the letter. “A ‘no’ vote means we would be forced to file an application for a large scale commercial development such as a big box or a business/industrial complex.”
But a plan that exclusively contains commercial space doesn’t appear to be what Peebles really wants. Despite the fact that Pacifica is hardly the type of crony-driven city that he’s used to, he’s shown that he’s willing to pay what it takes to get his housing element.
In a six-month period, the political action committee that he formed to push through Measure L spent more than $163,000, according to campaign disclosure forms kept in Pacific’s tiny, half-century-old City Hall, which sits close to the ocean amid a neighborhood of clapboard beach houses.
Nearly $90,000 went to a Santa Barbara public relations firm called Davies Communications, whose clients range from schools and major oil producers to Harrah’s Entertainment and the Nashville-based privatization pioneer Hospital Corporation of America.
Two user profiles under the names “Jimmy” and “Susan” surfaced on a Google message board where the development has been discussed, and they link back to a Davies mail server in Santa Barbara. Jimmy and Susan claimed to be Pacifica residents in favor of Peebles’s plan. (A call to Sara Costin, a Davies project manager who’s been present at some of the community meetings, was not returned.)
Peebles spent $10,000 more on the influential Sacramento lobbying firm Nielsen, Merksamer, Parrinello, Mueller and Naylor, which specializes in passing ballot measures. Another $70,000 went to professional petition circulators who were needed to get the measure on a ballot.
Peebles isn’t the first one to bring big money to the city. Four years ago the publicly traded Texas developer Trammell Crow Company spent $290,000 just on election costs in an attempt to get a mixed-use development with housing past Pacifica voters, according to public records. The company’s plan for the quarry included 165,000 square feet of retail space, over 300 apartments and town houses, and a town center. The late 2002 ballot measure still lost by over 65 percent of the vote, despite the fact that the opposing political action committee, Pacificans for Sustainable Development, spent just $6,500.
An Environmental Impact Review released at the time suggested the wrong type of development could threaten the habitat of an endangered garter snake and a red-legged frog, both known to be living in the area. The lush Calara Creek, which runs the length of the property to the ocean, was also perceived to be in danger of pollution runoff without the proper setbacks. And traffic mitigation on Highway 1 has remained a top concern of the city’s residents.
Peebles insists he’s identified state money that can help with widening the highway and says he’d also donate land for a library and new city center. Beyond election costs, Peebles says he’s spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on experts who’ve helped him craft a better plan that promotes sustainability compared to what Trammel Crow had to offer.
“I’ve had an environmental consulting team and contractual consulting team for the last year analyzing this property, analyzing these issues that are necessary,” he said.
Affordability is another matter, however. Peebles has suggested to the business press that single-family home prices on the land could range from $3 million to $8 million.
A mixed-use development on the land could still bring millions of new tax dollars to a city that has struggled in the past to find money for emergency services and even basic public works projects.
Loeb and Restivo haven’t been without their own rhetoric in the debate. They started a Web site, www.pacificaquarry.org, which prophesies a nightmare traffic scenario on Highway 1 where it bottlenecks into two lanes through town. They add that estimates on potential tax revenue are unreliable without a definite plan.
But their group, Pacifica Today and Tomorrow, has hardly spent enough to even trigger disclosure requirements. And Pacifica remains a modest world, far removed from Miami’s glass-and-steel monoliths. Only a man with an ego equal to the size of his development dreams would try to so dramatically alter Pacifica’s topography. Peebles says he’s confident he’ll prevail in November.
Loeb and Restivo recognize that the area won’t stay empty forever, and they aren’t opposed to all development. Restivo told us he’d be more than happy to consider a commercial and residential project on the site — “but ideally it’d be much smaller.” SFBG
Amnesty International last month launched a campaign demanding that online search companies stop complying with Internet censorship in China. The campaign targets Bay Area search engines Google and Yahoo!, along with Microsoft. With 105 million Chinese citizens plugging into cyberspace, can global search companies resist China’s technological marketplace? Should citizens lack global, albeit incomplete, access to the Internet because of the government’s repression of some information?
Amnesty’s Irrepressible campaign targets corporate accountability, a departure from its usual focus on human rights violations by governments. Irrepressible.info features an online pledge calling on governments and companies to respect the Internet as a source for information dissemination. The pledge will be presented this fall at a United Nations conference on the future of the Internet. The campaign also advocates to make censored material available for publication on personal blogs and Web sites.
The goal of Irrepressible, Amnesty’s corporate action network coordinator Tony Cruz told the Guardian, “is to put pressure on these companies to end the use of Internet censorship, which infringes on the basic human rights of the Chinese people.”
Google launched a censored Chinese search engine called Google.cn. Microsoft shut down a blog at the government’s request. Yahoo! provided Chinese authorities the private e-mail information of its users, resulting in prison sentences for two journalists. Irrepressible.info calls for the release of one, Shi Tao, who received a 10-year sentence for sending information on the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre in an e-mail. Amnesty has not let these matters go quietly and has taken its concerns to the heart of the companies: their annual shareholder meetings.
On May 25, Cruz addressed Yahoo! CEO Terry Semel and founder Jerry Yang, asking if the company would “call on the Chinese government to release Shi Tao, Li Zhi, and other innocent victims of China’s online repression.” Yahoo! execs never directly answered Cruz’s request. When asked about the issue recently by the Guardian, a Yahoo! spokesperson issued a statement saying the company is “pursuing a number of initiatives” to address the concerns.
But Yahoo! no longer operates in China, at least not directly. Last year Yahoo! sold its China subsidiary to Chinese e-commerce specialist Alibaba, although Yahoo! holds a seat on its board. It is no longer necessary for Yahoo! to censor prohibited words, as searches on international search engines are filtered on China’s end. That is Alibaba’s responsibility.
But for Google.cn, censoring is up to Google. At Google’s shareholder meeting in early May, Cruz addressed cofounders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, asking if Google planned on assuring its customers that the company will not favor profit over human rights. The cofounders, in response, pointed their fingers at Yahoo! Brin explained that Google.com is still available uncensored in China and is used less than Google.cn. But Google spokespeople have publicized their position on China since the start of Google.cn, including the issues Amnesty targets in its campaign.
Before Google launched its Chinese search engine, Google.com was available worldwide, including in China. But the program had to travel through eight Chinese Internet Service Providers, or ISPs, which control how much information a user can access. Google’s search engine slowed until service was all but stalled. Access to searches for “Tibet,” “Falun Gong,” and “Tiananmen Square” were denied.
This created two problems for Google: users were turning to faster China-based search engines, and results were filtered without disclosure to its users. Google faced an issue that touched on its most fundamental commitment — satisfying the interests of users by expanding access to information. After lengthy consideration, Google launched Google.cn, a China-based search engine that discloses to its users when information is censored.
How responsible is it for IT companies to curtail information dissemination for the sake of profit? In testimony before the Committee on International Relations, Google’s vice president of global communications and public affairs, Elliot Schrage, explained that Google was one of the last Internet search giants to enter the Chinese market. Also, he noted that many countries censor material on the Internet, including the United States, which once banned child pornography sites in Pennsylvania. France filters neo-Nazi content from its search engines. Germany blocks access to foreign-based hate sites. Iran filters political sites that are critical of the government. Why focus on China?
“Because,” Cruz says, “China is profitable. The Internet in the Asia Pacific Rim will be worth hundreds of billions of dollars in the next five to ten years. IT companies know it, and they have been quick to acquiesce to the needs of the Chinese government in order to grab a piece of the pie.”
Amnesty International has not overlooked the fact that Google has struggled with its principles over this decision. And it recognizes that of Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft, only Google has met Amnesty’s call for transparency in filtered searches. Wouldn’t Google be doing more of a disservice to the Chinese by not providing a Chinese-based search engine? According to Cruz, no.
“This type of censorship has never led to anything productive,” Cruz says. “It has always been used to oppress the views of those who challenged the status quo. When these companies say ‘a censored search engine is better than none at all,’ I believe this is a slap in the face to the Chinese men and women who fight this repressive government.”
While Amnesty International continues to draw attention to China’s government, China is very much a part of the global economy. With China in the World Trade Organization, can companies like Google resist joining the rest of the global community? Google has called on the US government to treat censorship as a barrier to trade, but censorship has not stopped them from entering China.
The US government opposes the United Nations business norms declaration, which decrees that companies are obligated under international law to protect human rights. The US delegation states that human rights abuses are the result of national governments, not private enterprises. With their own country openly questioning the role of companies in overseas human rights abuses, is it fair to call these companies complicit for following the rules of trade? SFBG
La-di-dah di-dah-di-dum, ’tis autumn, and after reaching a decision with birdielike precision, the birds have made a beeline for the south. Yet nonfeathered friends of the Bay Area might also have to fly in order to cover all the art openings, concerts, stage shows, movies, and more in store over the next few months. Lyrical nostalgia aside, we’re doing our best to help you fall forward, rather than backward — these pages showcase the highlights (and also target some weak and wack spots) of the coming season.
As autumn leaves start to fall (somewhere with trees), we thought the time was ideal to check back in on 2004 Goldie winner Keegan McHargue. It’s fitting that the Mission-based McHargue will be part of a show in Paris this fall — his work charts colors beyond the reds and golds of Johnny Mercer’s and Jacques Prevert’s wildest transatlantic-and-romantic imaginings. (Johnny Ray Huston)