I started dating this guy (I am a girl) about six months ago. I knew he had a girlfriend in another country. I knew it was wrong, but he was only going to be in town for a few months. We ended up really falling for each other.
So the time came for him to leave, and I thought that would be it. But then he told me that he broke up with his girlfriend as soon as he got home. He flew back to visit, and we started talking about the long term.
Then it all crashed. He told me he was having doubts, he was feeling very guilty, and he was really in love with me but was confused. At first I was angry — but I really care about him and want him to be happy. I told him to do whatever was right for him, that I still loved him, but he needed to figure out what he wanted, and I couldn’t be strung along forever.
Now he says he’s made up his mind. He’s coming back. I’m worried I won’t feel secure now. Not only did this whole thing start as a lie (he was cheating — he says he’d never cheated before, but still), but now I fear I’ll always worry that he’ll think he made a mistake. Is there any way this can be salvaged? Can honesty and communication eventually smooth things over, or was this relationship doomed from the start?
Just to be perverse, I’m going to take up against the legion of advice columnists (and friends and bartenders and busybody neighbors …) who nod sagely and intone, “If he’ll cheat with you, he’ll cheat on you.” Sure, a bounder is a bounder and a rat is a rat, but can people not change? If you prick a bounder, does he not bleed? (OK, that last bit didn’t make any sense, but it sounded good, didn’t it?). In most cases, sure, a cheater who doesn’t cheat again is merely a cheater who hasn’t been caught, but — surprise! — people aren’t perfect. Sometimes we make mistakes, like hooking up with the wrong person for the wrong reasons, and sometimes only more bad behavior will remedy the situation.
The smug fatalism of “once a cheater always a cheater” depresses me. It’s like when the HIV counselor insists that you can never be sure your partner is monogamous, you only know he says he’s monogamous. Oh, shut up, Cassandra. I do too know, so butt out. Sometimes it’s just necessary to take a leap of faith, although not, of course, without looking where you’re going. It’s entirely possible that, having extricated himself from the wrong relationship and inserted himself into the right one, our boy will never look back nor stray again. Don’t kid yourself, though, that there’s much you can do to ensure this. If he is the cheating kind or easily bored, there is no level of devotion, no intensity of attention, and no righteous excellence of blow job guaranteed to keep him home.
By the same token, don’t count on honesty and communication to smooth things out. As relationship guru John Gottman has persuasively demonstrated, it’s not the communication style that makes or breaks a relationship, it’s what is actually being communicated. The ratio of “positive interactions” (sharing jokes and happy memories, saying “thank you”) to negative ones — according to Gottman — can predict success or failure far more accurately than the use of “I” statements ever could. (“I want to leave you” is an I statement; “No sane person could live with you” is not.) Whether a couple can improve their relationship by upping their ratio of positive to negative interactions is still in question. Maybe happy couples simply have a high positivity ratio to begin with. Either way, though, it isn’t the honesty that predicts success, it’s the positivity.
If his adventure with you does represent his one and only episode of cheating, and if the ex is really ex and was never the right girlfriend for him in the first place, and if he not only knows how to make up his mind but keeps it made up, I’d be inclined to give you decent odds. It should go without saying, although I will say it anyway, that taking a chance on love is a pretty good song but don’t quit your day job or sell your house. And if by chance you have a farm, don’t bet that either.
Andrea Nemerson has spent the last 14 years as a sex educator and an instructor of sex educators. In her previous life, she was a prop designer. And she just gave birth to twins, so she’s one bad mother of a sex advisor. Visit www.altsexcolumn.com to view her previous columns.
Volume 40 Number 49
September 6 – September 12, 2006
“Prophets of Deceit”
OK, what was I just saying about there not being so many Sept. 11 art events? I kinda like CCA Wattis Institute’s approach, which is opening a show that is openly critical of the delusions that have sprung forth in the aftermath of the World Trade Center attacks. Actually, the dozen-artist “Prophets of Deceit” seems more ambitious than that description – together its varied film- and video-gifted crew of contributors should provide some bizarrely insightful views of messianic and apocalyptic cults and their fear-selling leaders. (Johnny Ray Huston)
7:30-9 p.m. reception; through Nov 11
CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Artists
1111 Eighth St, SF
The World According to Sesame Street
Watch the film The World According to Sesame Street and find out how the muppets have helped people in troubled areas such as Bangladesh, Kosovo, and South Africa. Human rights advocate Chivy Sok; executive director of the George Lucas Educational Foundation Milton Chen, PhD; and associate director of International Child Resource Institute Lisa Ruth Shulman, JD, give a presentation before the screening. (Deborah Giattina)
San Francisco Public Library
100 Larkin, Koret Auditorium, SF
Spencer Day is San Francisco’s own portal to the past: Old Blue Eyes has nothing on this kid. Hailing from a highly musical family in Utah, he commands a microphone and steers a piano into places seldom heard these days. Enchanting audiences, Day spins a room into flickering black and white, conjuring trench coats and pearls, finger weaves and cigar smoke. (K. Tighe)
With Same Shape and Joe Bagale
Cafe du Nord
2170 Market, SF
“Terror? An International Interdisciplinary Project”
Five years on, the lack of localized art events directly responding to Sept. 11 is a little surprising. Count on Intersection for the Arts to weigh in with an exhibition that steers clear of the jingoism currently crowding movie theaters and television screens. Composed of hundreds of works on paper from around the world, “Terror?” takes on the title subject from myriad personal and political angles. The exhibition is augmented by other events at the space later this month, such as a “War on Terror” discussion led by activists Tram Nguyen and Sandip Roy. (Johnny Ray Huston)
6-9 p.m. reception; through Nov. 11
Intersection for the Arts
446 Valencia, SF
SF Zine Fest
You start with just a staple gun and a dream, but pretty soon you’ll want an audience. The San Francisco Zine Fest fills CELLspace to the brim with minicomics, literary journals, zines galore, and even arts and crafts booths for those who can’t go an afternoon without a glue stick fix. The peeps behind the fest are offering various workshops and plenty of film and animation screenings during this year’s free event. (K.Tighe)
CELLspace, 2050 Bryant, SF
There-but-for-the-grace-of-whomever is the overriding theme of this Australian drama from director Robert Connolly (The Bank), based on Elliot Pearlman’s novel. Life is pretty – just pretty – good for chemical engineer Eddie (David Wenham); his academic wife, Tanya (Frances O’Connor); and their daughter, Abby (Joanna Hunt-Prokhovnik). But it’s a life wobbling on any number of fragile foundations, primarily in the financial realm: when both parents lose their employment in rapid sequence, things suddenly look desperate. The film has some ambitious, even metaphorical aspects that seem incompletely developed, and most viewers will find that the last reel’s events drop Eddie too far, too fast to be believed. Nonetheless, for the most part Three Dollars handles suspense, humor, warmth, and near-tragedy in an affecting way – all the while facing off against some of life’s big questions. (Dennis Harvey)
Now in Bay Area theaters
Axis of Evil Comedy Tour
Honoring the new comedy practice of touring with those of similar ethnic backgrounds, members of the Axis of Evil tour also pay homage to a much older tradition: addressing issues of racism through comedy, à la Richard Pryor. This group serves one purpose – to bring that humor back by saying outlandish things like this: “How many people here were Middle Eastern on September 10th and Mexican on September 11th?” (K. Tighe)
Palace of Fine Arts
3301 Lyon, SF
“It’s Only Rock ’n’ Roll”
Root Division has compiled an end-all, one-night-only photo exhibit: “It’s Only Rock ’n’ Roll” includes the best rock and punk pictures of the last 40 years. The list of photographers is impressive – rock photo godfather Jim Marshall will show alongside the infamous Jenny Lens, supreme master of the punk rock photo. Where would punk rock be if we hadn’t seen Iggy Pop’s rib cage? Patti Smith’s possessed stage persona? Blondie?!?! (Tighe)
3175 17th St., SF
This is a colossal week for art openings – and the people behind “Coprophagiology” are out to grab your attention with a photo postcard that proves this tiny exhibition’s title refers to the act of eating your own shit. But the more interesting aspect of Anna Maltz and Haden Nicholl’s double-trouble show (at onetime Guardian critic Clark Bruckner’s gallery) might be its exploration of mental instability. (Johnny Ray Huston)
6-9 p.m. reception; through Oct. 7
2111 Mission, suite 401, SF
Artist’s Television Access welcomes four shorts of the extremely local variety for “Friscophilia: An Exploration of San Francisco Locations and History.” Included are deep cuts of bike messengers in action, SF’s tourist scene, gentrification, and, in the wonderfully titled Mischief at 16th and Florida, history as seen from one grimy street corner. Together, the films constitute a decidedly bottom-up look at the city. (Max Goldberg)
Artist’s Television Access
992 Valencia, SF
It’s easy to be confused about the Chromatics. The Portland group used to be a herky-jerky four piece made up of two men and two women, but the ladies left to form Shoplifting. Only Adam Miller remains from the original lineup, but all along Glass Candy’s Johnny Jewel, who has now joined the band, has produced their records. With Natty Miller rounding out the trio, today’s Chromatics have moved on from their kicking and moaning youth to the more grown-up and sophisticated world of disco. (Deborah Giattina)
With Glass Candy and Clipd Beaks
1131 Polk, SF
San Francisco Fringe Festival
Not every show worth seeing happens under the big top. That’s what’s so great about fringe festivals. They allow both the amateur and seasoned performer with a curious idea to put on a sideshow both offbeat and electrifying. At this year’s 15th Annual San Francisco Fringe Festival, theatergoers can enjoy edgy and creative spectacles of all stripes, as the SF Fringe has booked 49 acts to put on more than 200 performances in fewer than two weeks. Take a break from the banality of the everyday with Jack Halton, who will roll a rock up Powell in Sisyphus on Vacation, a Drive-By Theater Production. (Giattina)
Through Sept. 17.
Call or see Web site for showtimes, locations, and prices (festival passes, $35–$65)
Most people, of course, work for a living. They spend at least half their lives working and, in fact, define themselves by their jobs. They obviously would be interested in and obviously need expert information on a regular basis about that most important aspect of their lives.
But the news media in effect censor that vital information. Their primary attention is not focused on those who do society¹s work. With the rare exception of such issues as the attempts to raise the minimum wage, or on special occasions like Labor Day, the media generally are not concerned with workers’ daily efforts to make a living. The media concentrate instead on the corporate interests and other employers like themselves who finance, direct and profit from the work.
Workers’ attempts to get a greater share of the profits and better working conditions by using the only effective tool available to them – collective action – are given only slight and frequently biased media attention. Strikes are an exception, but that coverage is usually concerned mainly with the strikes’ adverse effect on the general public.
Given their complexity and importance, collective bargaining and union activity generally should be among the most thoroughly and fairly covered of all subjects. Once, most newspapers had labor reporters to provide extensive if not always fair coverage. But almost no papers have such specialists today. With a very few exceptions, radio and television stations have never had them.
At most papers, in the Bay Area and elsewhere, labor coverage has been turned over to the business section. Since the material there is meant for readers who have a particular interest in business and a generally negative view of unions, the stories naturally are slanted that way by business reporters, who have little apparent understanding of labor.
The business pages typically downgrade, distort or simply ignore union views. They show little concern for general readers, including those who support unions or might want to if they had the opportunity to read thorough, balanced and expert accounts of their activities.
How about describing the country¹s major labor federation, the AFL-CIO, as a “trade association?” Or referring to democratically elected union leaders as “bosses?” The San Francisco Chronicle business page has made those petty but illustrative gaffes and, like the rest of the Bay Area¹s mainstream media, far more serious gaffes.
The list of important labor issues that have been ignored censored is seemingly endless. To cite just a few examples, the media:
— Frequently note that union membership is declining while failing to report that a principal cause is failure of the federal government to adequately enforce the laws that supposedly guarantee workers the right to unionize without employer interference.
— Fail to report numerous other anti-union actions of the Bush
administration, including its virtual non-enforcement of most other laws designed to protect workers.
— Rarely take notice of the on-the-job hazards that cause 6,000 deaths and more than 2 million serious injuries a year, and the need to strengthen and adequately enforce the job safety laws.
— Ignore labor¹s role as an advocate for the working people, union and non-union alike, who make up the vast bulk of the population, by characterizing labor as a “special interest.”
— Almost never report the views of union members and leaders on the major issues of the day. The views often are voiced at meetings of local labor councils and other union bodies that reporters ignore, while routinely seeking out the views of corporate and business executives.
— Pay little, if any, attention to many major union campaigns. Most recently, that’s notably included a nationwide drive to get McDonald’s to guarantee decent pay and working conditions to the impoverished tomato pickers whose work is essential to the hugely profitable fast-food industry.
So, despite the great importance of labor, despite most people¹s vested interest in it, despite the need to inform them fully about it, the media provide little that’s of real value to them in their working lives, and much that¹s prejudicial to their collective action.
Copyright © 2006 Dick Meister, former labor editor of the Chronicle and of KQED-TV’s Newsroom. Contact him through his website, www.dickmeister.com.
SUPER EGO Does it count as gay if you’re in love with yourself? That was my philomasophical rumination as I obsessively re-YouTubed Kevin Federline’s icky, icky “rap” debut on last month’s Teen Choice Awards. Because if loving yourself counts, then I agree with most of the 200,000 teens who posted comments: K-Fed is gay, honey. Too gay to know she’s a train wreck.
Yet I simply couldn’t tear myself away. My chica Anna Conda had just got fagbashed in the Tenderloin. (She’s OK; the fucks got busted.) There’s a ginormous police state crackdown on New York clubs going down right now. And then, you know, the whole scary fuckin’ world and stuff. Oh lord, it’s a mess.
But here I was lost in the Yubehole, glued to Mr. Britney Spears’s Vanilla Ice-O-Matic Beastie Boys bar mitzvah act, complete with breakin’ goofballs in golf pants and choreography cribbed from Basic Instinct’s bisexual dance floor. Ignorance was bliss. Thank the ethernet someone just then uploaded hundreds of ’90s underground vogue ball clips, so I could toggle my ogle to some real synthetic talent — and erase the taste of rap tapioca from my slack-jawed mouth. Search string “femqueen” for days and days of two-snaps-up.
Talking point: if technology’s taught us anything, it’s how to use our screens to look away.
Talking point: I’d still do him. Ugh.
But wait. Hold up. Replay selection. Why the online mainline? If I really wanna see someone act a fool, I’d rather see it in person. I’d rather have some fun with it — and them have fun with it too. One of the finer club pleasures to arise since the death of the supastar DJ has been the explosion of live performance. People are gingerly stepping out of the virtual fishbowl and doin’ it live. Dirty drag, ragged karaoke, amateur strip contests, impromptu tambourine circles: it’s an interactive wonderland out there, I tells ya. A Xanadu on Xanax. And everyone’s a sparkly Newton-John.
So fuck K-Fed. I bust out to FAME!, the new hip-hop karaoke monthly at the Bar of Contemporary Art, hosted by DJ White Castle and MC Hector Preciados of the Sweatbox crew. It’s a smallish crush of good-looking folks there, but the joint is boisterous. The first thing I see is a guy in a Jesus getup flowing to some Notorious B.I.G. That put the kibosh on my plans to tackle “It Takes Two.” Can’t beat the Notorious JC, y’all. He’s followed up by a dude in a Hebrew Oakland A’s cap. Say what? I’m freakin’ out. The kid has mads, and the crowd’s tipped up on its South Side Zappos, spilling its cran-Absoluts. Polish up your Tupac and have at.
Four shots later, I head to Deco for nine-foot-tall dragsaster Renttecca’s new out-of-control monthly, Starfucker. Absurd Galz-Gone-Wild antics galore, a downstairs sex parlor, busty wonder Hoku Mama’s loungy sauna-swamp, and a “Hottest Ass in the Tenderloin” contest. (I brought a can of Raid for that last one. And maybe will for the second one as well.) I was approaching Deco’s magic portals when a large, muscular hand laid itself on my seductively bared shoulder. It was one of the hot denizens of FAME!
Dip it low, pick it up slow, roll it all around, punk it out like a backhoe: uh-oh. Looks like my trajectory’s changed. Sorry, Renttecca, but in the limpid, slightly crossed pools of his gangsta-dreamy eyes I forgot Deco, forgot Starfucker, even forgot FAME!
Hey, what’s my name? SFBG
Last Fridays, 10 p.m.–2 a.m.
414 Jessie, SF
Fourth Fridays, 10 p.m.–4 a.m.
510 Larkin, SF
Call for price
ACTION HERO Soft-spoken and dare I say, petite, Tony Jaa hardly looks like the kind of guy who could annihilate a room full of underground pit fighters. Of course, anyone who’s seen Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior knows this appearance is deceiving. The 30-year-old Thai superstar’s latest film, The Protector, features elephants and a one-take sequence of, as Jaa describes it, “me fighting the bad guys from the ground floor to the fourth floor” — but, as in Ong-Bak, there are no CG, wires, or Jaa stunt doubles during the fight scenes. On a recent visit to San Francisco, Jaa paused to discuss his skyrocketing career.
SFBG Your films are famous for their fight scenes. Which comes first, the stunts or the story?
TONY JAA (through interpreter Gilbert Lim, also his manager) It has to be the story first. After the script is done, all the stunt people — my [martial arts] master Panna Rittikrai, the director [Prachya Pinkaew], and me — will sit down and decide what sort of action would fit into each particular scene. Then we try them all out before we actually film them.
SFBG Before Ong-Bak, Muay Thai hadn’t been featured in many films. What makes your way of fighting different?
TJ Muay Thai is something I would really like to show to the rest of the world. With my style of shooting a film — not having a stunt man for myself — it creates a more realistic film for the audience.
SFBG CG effects have come a long way in recent years, so it’s kind of ironic that the future of martial arts, which is what you’ve been called, keeps it so old-school.
TJ I feel that CG is not something to be taken lightly. I’m OK with it, but I feel a sense of pride in doing the stunts. I want my audience to feel amazed by something I did myself.
SFBG Do you plan to do the Jackie Chan thing and make an American movie? In Ong Bak there was that graffiti shout-out to Steven Spielberg …
TJ Yes! [Laughs] It was something the director put in. For the time being, I’m extremely busy with my next film, Ong-Bak 2, which I’ll be directing myself. As to whether I would go to the US [to make a film], when Spielberg calls … [Laughs] I’m just joking! But the time might come when I will make the move.
SFBG Will Ong-Bak 2 be a direct sequel to the first film?
TJ No, it’s actually a period piece. You’ll see me using weapons and showing Thai martial arts styles that will be very new for the cinema.
SFBG OK, I have to ask. If you only had one punch to bring a guy down, where’s the best spot to aim to do the most damage?
TJ [Laughs] A lot of the basis of martial arts, it’s not about hitting the other person, it’s about self-discipline. Although in many parts of our bodies there are weak spots which you could actually hit to knock the person out. But I’m not gonna name them! (Cheryl Eddy)
Opens Fri/8 in Bay Area theaters
See Movie Clock at www.sfbg.com for showtimes
Madonna and her scantily-clad kabbalah practice may have been ousted by the Russian Orthodox Church, but rest assured, oh ye faithful, the Silver Jews are finally coming to San Francisco. The band, often mislabeled as a Pavement side project, actually coalesced before Pavement, though the two backstories share a history of caustic revelation.
David Berman, guitarist-vocalist Stephen Malkmus, and drummer Bob Nastanovich formed the Silver Jews in 1989 while students at the University of Virginia. After graduation, they took the budding project with them to New York. Their music thrived in that city’s frenetic air. The band’s roster has changed continuously, but Berman, a heartbreaking writer and constant innovator, has always been at the helm. It’s his project, his voice.
Berman will be turning 40 in January. Four awe-inspiring full-lengths, a host of smaller projects, and a well-received poetry book (1999’s Actual Air) have placed him firmly in the cultural spotlight, often against his will. Berman is a recluse in some ways, a natural wordsmith — and instantly demanding performer — in others. He’s given the Bay Area numerous poetry readings but never a rock show.
Until now. Berman has been through some tough, emotionally trying shit lately, but he’s back, with the eloquent deadpan that has made him the envy of songwriters, indie philosophes, and music junkies everywhere. Longtime fans may call this unprecedented tour a resurrection, but Berman laughs it off. “I’d always planned to be a middle-aged performer,” he jokes via an e-mail interview. “This year has just been the run-up to the start of my contract with the Missouri River Blues Barge’s Menthol Topaz Casino.”
Waiting for a new Silver Jews album is like waiting for John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats to take the stage: everyone is ready to be shattered and jubilant, lyric by lyric, tune by tune. On 2005’s Tanglewood Numbers, the first Silver Jews effort since 2001’s Tennessee (both Drag City), Berman’s voice sounds deeper than ever, as if it might break at any moment and never come back.
The Tanglewood crew is rather big — 13 folks including Malkmus and Will Oldham — but that’s just how they do it in Nashville, where the record was recorded and mixed. Other Nashville-ized albums by the likes of Cat Power and Oldham these past years have taken some getting used to. Tanglewood hits the heart instantly.
Berman’s vocal duos and duals with his wife, Cassie, who plays a variety of old-timey instruments on Tanglewood, are organic and intensely personal. “Humans have been failing Human Relationships 101 for half a million semesters straight now,” writes Berman. The ability to perform back-and-forth vocal lines is “one of the many things you can do more easily under a band name than as a solo artist,” he notes. “Different souls are in the music.”
On “I’m Getting Back into Getting Back into You,” the Jews sound trapped in a psychedelic small-town roller-skating rink, needing to raise their voices to be saved. But maybe we’re all trapped. “I’ve been working in an airport bar/ It’s like Christmas in a submarine,” Berman croons. An ominous “om” sneaks in at the end of the tune.
Since their first recordings, made on answering machines and Walkmans, Berman and the Jews have been proving that our main roads are really back roads and vice versa. He writes of those early days: “Getting the tape back after a good performance was hell — first the breaking and entering …” Americana, broadly defined, is sustained by such neighborhood trickery. When Lucinda Williams revisits childhood gravel roads or Darnielle sings about hearing the screams of football season, particularly American landscapes reveal what we had always thought were private obsessions. Such artists gain a universal appeal by taking local scenes and spraying themselves all over them. It’s sound graffiti and it feels so good.
Berman’s current plan is deceptively simple: “To keep making these different versions of the master Silver Jews album in the sky.” On Tanglewood, “How Can I Love You If You Won’t Lie Down?” rocks hard but also highlights Berman’s tragicomedy: “Time is a game only children play well/ How can I love you if you won’t lie down?”
The Mezzanine performance will feature Peyton Pinkerton and William Tyler on guitars — Pinkerton played on 1996’s The Natural Bridge, Tyler on 2001’s Bright Flight (both Drag City) — Brian Kotzur on drums, Tony Crow on keyboards, and Cassie Berman on bass. Even the lineup gets Berman going. “Peyton is a descendent of William Henry Harrison…. I’m convinced that many of our country’s best electric guitarists are the far-flung descendents of mediocre 19th-century American presidents.” SFBG
With Monotonix and Continuous Peasant
Sun/10, 8 p.m.
444 Jessie, SF
“Let’s bleed orange and brown all over this town.” Is it possible for such words of wisdom to induce skull fractures? Try inhaling this foul stench of a battle cry from doomed Cleveland Browns fans for 22 seasons as an Ohio resident, and you tell me if your gray matter doesn’t feel starved for another kind of enlightenment. Hailing from “the Mistake on the Lake,” a.k.a. northeastern Ohio, does have its share of rewards and quirks. The rent is supercheap and Black Label Beer is a staple in every twentysomething’s diet. We have LeBron James — ’nuff said. If Drew Carey says it’s cool, then our shit don’t stink, right? Maniacal football fiends, burning rivers, insatiable femmes, sweltering summer humidity versus punishing winter blizzards, and Dave Grohl — nothing resonates louder than these two Buckeye Belt principles: we like to put things into perspective and we have our dignity.
Musically speaking, Ohio’s rock ’n’ roll scene is engrossing and tends to personify a hearty DIY blend of blue-collar garage rock and trash punk. Given the nature of its factory-fraught makeup and economic turmoil, it only seems natural that listening to bands such as Deep Purple and David Lee Roth–era Van Halen never really goes out of style. Just 30 minutes south of Cleveland, in the tar-smothered tire kingdom of Akron, the shoddy atmosphere hasn’t changed much either. On any given night, it’s common to walk into a pub and see drunk boys and girls washing down greasy cheeseburgers and salted vinegar potato chips with pint glasses of Pabst Blue Ribbon to the soundtrack of gnarled fuzz and pealing feedback blowing out of a guitar amp. Sure, northeastern Ohio might lack the utopian hipster hangouts of Brooklyn and post-rock wet dreams of neighboring Chicago, but it makes up for it with character and remains home to a neglected crew of groundbreaking art rockers, new wavers, and experimental weirdos: the Dead Boys, the Pagans, Devo, the James Gang, Pere Ubu, and the Rubber City’s favorite twosome of blues breakers, the Black Keys.
The band’s drummer, Patrick Carney, reassured me in a recent phone interview that the “bright lights, big city” aspect of places like New York is nothing to write home about. “I find it all to be very boring,” he says. “I’d much rather hang out with someone who delivers pizzas and watches Roseanne all day than with someone who has a cool electronic record collection.”
Since the duo’s inception five years ago, Carney and vocalist-guitarist Dan Auerbach have gone from packing small clubs to selling out big concert halls with their raw, bluesy hooks and vintage rock harmonies — and they show no signs of letting up any time soon. Already three albums deep, the Keys unleash their most emphatic and primal offering to date on their Nonesuch Records debut, Magic Potion. Sporting a grittier AOR edge than some of the band’s past records and proving their loudest effort since 2003’s Thickfreakness (Fat Possum), Magic Potion is dynamic in rhythm and scope and effectively captures the Midwestern sound the group was aiming for.
“Basically, we wanted to make a loud fucking rock ’n’ roll album,” Carney says with a laugh. “One you can drink a beer to and everything’s turned up to 11.”
The beauty of the Black Keys is their unpretentious approach to songwriting. Rather then tearing a song apart measure by measure, Auerbach and Carney zero in on the medley and let their instruments do the rest of the talking. The pair write songs that are straight from the heart — integrating the southern blues swagger of Junior Kimbrough and Jimmy Reed with the stripped-down, FM-friendly magnificence of Led Zeppelin and Cream, with heavy emphasis on the latter. Auerbach’s vocals stretch from raspy howls to soothing strains while he coats infectious riffage and fiery chops with muddy layers of distortion.
Carney is no slouch either — pummeling his kit like Bill Ward on yellow jackets. The two structure the songs on Magic Potion in a fashion that sounds genuine and antiquarian without contrived overdubs, those that Carney describe as “very hi-fi.”
“Just Got to Be” opens the album with husky, Southern-rooted guitar and crashing cymbals, then hushes up for a second as Auerbach pleads, “I’ve got to go because/ Something’s on my mind/ And it won’t get better/ No matter how hard I try.” Tenderly felt ballads (“You’re the One”), psychedelic Brit-blues (“The Flame”), and monolithic rockers (“Give Your Heart Away”) follow.
It’s obvious that success hasn’t gotten to the heads of Auerbach and Carney, even after notable tours opening for the likes of Beck, Sleater-Kinney, and just earlier this summer, Radiohead. They have definitely grown as musicians since their days of banging up basement walls with muck-covered din yet still manage to firmly hold on to their signature sound and bust out solid pieces of reputable work. Ultimately, the band contradicts the age-old myth of rock ’n’ roll: it never really vanished — it just needed a good kick in the ass to get it out of bed. SFBG
With Beaten Awake
1805 Geary, SF
At the end of our transatlantic phone conversation, I tell Vashti Bunyan to have a good night, and she tells me to have a good day. She’s relaxed at home in Edinburgh, Scotland, where her friend Jenny Wright — whom the first track on the new album Lookaftering (Dicristina Stair) is dedicated to — is staying for a visit. “We really haven’t seen each other at all over the last 30 years,” Bunyan says when I first ask about Wright, not knowing that she’s in fact sitting nearby. “She just happens to be staying with me right now! That’s really, really lovely.”
Reunions that span over 30 years — and ones that are really, really lovely — are something Bunyan’s devoted admirers fully understand. Defined by the forest flute-and-vocal duet of its singular title track, her first and for a long time only full-length recording, the Joe Boyd–produced 1970 Just Another Diamond Day (Dicristina Stair), is the rare kind of cult recording that deserves its cherished status. In essence, it’s an aural document of a horse-drawn journey to the Isle of Skye — a trip that she recently made once again for a film project by Kieran Evans, who first directed her in the real-life role of a native Londoner in Saint Etienne’s 2003 film Finisterre. “We went up to the Hebrides to film the end,” she says in a warm, soft-spoken tone of voice not unrelated to her singing. “It’s been quite a revelation to see all those places and have to think about that time again.”
Even Bunyan’s fans can’t be blamed for mistakenly thinking that she’s still living the magic-tinged pastoral life conjured by Just Another Diamond Day, her famed collaboration with members of Fairport Convention and the Incredible String Band. The cover of Bunyan’s Lookaftering features a profile of a regal-looking hare (“You call it a jackrabbit, don’t you?” she says) painted by her daughter, the artist Whyn Lewis. It begins with the Wright-inspired composition “Lately,” which down to its very title suggests little has changed in Bunyan’s world of sound except some subtle alterations for the better: the new album’s pace is a bit more relaxed, the already unique dedication to exploring thought and feeling even deeper.
Lookaftering’s most gorgeous melody might be the one within “Hidden.” “I wrote it for my boyfriend,” Bunyan says when asked about the song’s roots. “When I showed it to him, he was quite upset by it, and I couldn’t understand why. I thought it was a very loving and tender song, but he thought it meant he didn’t understand me or I didn’t understand him. But now, whenever I sing that song — and I usually start the show with it — I think he’s really pleased.”
Some of that pleasure is partly thanks to Devendra Banhart, who is only the most dedicated and high profile of Bunyan’s current-day admirers, who also include Animal Collective and Piano Magic. “I was so frightened of performing live,” she admits when asked about her return to the public eye (if it is indeed that, considering her reclusive nature the first time around). “I couldn’t even record an answering machine message. I asked Devendra how he could do it, and he said, ‘You just have to do it — there’s no other way. You have to do it until it becomes normal.’ After 10 shows or so I realized that my knees weren’t shaking anymore and I was actually enjoying it. I’m so grateful to Devendra for just saying the truth — you do what frightens you until you aren’t frightened anymore.”
For Bunyan, both the advice and support from Banhart and his associates have been a revelation. As a young artist she felt an unspoken bond with French singer-songwriter Françoise Hardy (“She was the only person with whom I felt any kinship at all”) and oft silently bristled against the patriarchal aspects of Svengali Andrew Loog Oldham, the Rolling Stones, and the overall competitiveness of her then-peers from swinging London. “Fancy ball gowns were the things they wanted to put me in — no way!” she remembers with a laugh. “When I started out at 18 or 19, the recording process was fascinating to me. But because of the way things were then, a shy girl could never get access to the actual production method.”
Today, Bunyan’s using her home computer to perform mirror-perfect duets across the ocean with Banhart and to make her own music without interference. The descendant of John Bunyan (“I was never made to read Pilgrim’s Progress when I was young — thank goodness, because I would have rebelled”) has even discovered a certain rhythmic and lyrical connection within the writing of her famed family member. She’s also made peace with her traveling past: “Back in the time [Loog Oldham and I] were working together, I think we hardly exchanged two words. But now there’s so much to talk about, and he’s so helpful and wise and just brilliant to remember things with.”
The shy country girl of musical myth is a city woman with grown kids now — and all the wiser for it. “I was talking with Jenny Wright about that just today,” Bunyan says. “In a small community you can go a certain kind of mad, really — I think human beings need lots and lots of different kinds of people to relate to and communicate with, and they finally find their own way.”
“I did desperately turn my back on the world and go off with a horse and wagon,” she says. “But I didn’t stay there!” SFBG
Thurs/7, 9 p.m.
Great American Music Hall
859 O’Farrell, SF
$20–$24 ($39.95 with dinner)
For the complete interview with Vashti Bunyan, visit Noise at www.sfbg.com/blogs/music.
CHEAP EATS I mean, they were already practically married, but my friends Little Him and Little Her officially said they did in the Presidio last weekend, and there was a decidedly islandish theme to the event.
Hawaii, I mean — so technically I should have been playing the uke instead of steel pan. But I’m not a very technical person.
And this isn’t the society pages.
It’s the food section. You want to know about my week in Idaho, right, being a semiprofessional cook for the first and probably last time ever? Among other whimsical dishes, I invented angeled eggs. Instead of mayonnaise, you use, predictably, barbecued chicken. And instead of paprika, fresh salsa.
There was a barbecued squash stuffed with refried beans, sausage, and olives, and another sausage poked suggestively through cored zucchini slices. A pork feast marinated in unripe green grape juice (thanks, Chrissy), rubbed with fresh herbs and basted in pear barbecue sauce — everything but the pig courtesy of Mr. and Mrs. “Jack” Poetry’s garden.
I love using what nature and hecklers throw at you. Barbecued green tomatoes (because deer kept knocking them off the vines). Barbecued overripe cucumbers …
What else rolled off the grill was, of course, my signature dish, barbecued eggs. Which, so you know, have come a long way since I last wrote about them, last winter, I think. I think I was cooking them then in meat grease and barbecue sauce in a bread pan in the wood stove. Now I pour the beat-up eggs into cored bell peppers with chunks of sausage and/or whatever … toothpick a strip of bacon around the rim of the pepper, skewer the toothpick with a cherry tomato, olive, onion, and/or also whatever. And stand them up on the grill. It’s not quite perfected yet, because they fall and spill and take forever to set; but it’s getting there, and it not only tastes better but looks 10 times prettier than huevos Dancheros did.
I have a term for what I do, cooking-wise: nouveau trash.
There are other words as well. But the important thing is that, like Little League baseball, I had a lot of fun doing it. And I had, in Johnny “Jack,” Eberle “Jack,” and Georgie “Jack” Bundle, an appreciative and enthusiastic audience. They were working hard recording music all day, every day, and if not for the chicken farmer would have eaten nothing but toast and Cheerios for a week.
At the end of which week, I dropped Mr. Bundle off at the Boise airport so he could make it to his grandpa’s 90th birthday party and delivered his car full of gear to Oakland. The “Hawaiian Wedding Song” was already stuck in my head, and this was a week before the wedding.
In case you don’t know it, you can easily imagine: it’s a wedding song! The lyrics are unadulterated cheese, but the melody is spectacularly all-over-the-place. I was going to have to learn it, and I didn’t have anything better to do with my ears between Boise and Oakland, so I looped the recording and sang and whistled and hummed and yodeled and just generally drove myself crazy.
Next day needing something to eat in the Sunset, I thought of Island Café, that new Hawaiian joint where JT’s all-night diner used to be. Taraval and 19th Ave. Thematically, geographically, it just seemed like the thing to do. And I was all alonesome still, and they have a counter. A great one. An even greater one than it used to be, because there’s a big TV now, and women’s golf was on.
Women’s golf goes good with Hawaiian food. Who knew?
Instead of Spam and eggs or barbecued chicken soup, which I didn’t see until too late, I got Loco Moco ($8.65). That’s three hamburger patties, three scoops of rice because I didn’t want the macaroni (because of mayonnaise), some cabbage, and of course gravy. But not enough gravy. I distinctly remember reading the word “smothered” on the menu in reference to gravy, and neither the burgers nor the rice scoops were what I would call smothered. They were dolloped.
But besides that I have nothing bad to say about my new favorite Hawaiian restaurant. The service was good and friendly. Women’s golf. Uke. Surfboard. Good music. Good vibe. Nothing’s more than 10 bucks. A lot of things are a lot less.
And — and this is a big and — they’re open till 2 a.m., and all night Thursday through Saturday. SFBG
Sun.–Wed., 8–2 a.m.; Thurs.–Sat., 24 hours
901 Taraval, SF
Beer and wine
The evening’s menu was to include shrimp, marinated in paprika and lemon and grilled on skewers, and the issue was wine, as in: which one?
“I will bring a viognier,” said the imminent guest decisively, as if settling on the prescription to be given for some mysterious ailment.
“Great,” I said, “that should be fine.” Viognier! It would have my vote as the world’s most disappointing white varietal. A few years earlier, at Gary Danko, I’d had a glass of Condrieu — a reputable viognier wine produced in the south of France — and found myself thinking of some high-society type with a slightly shrill voice. The wine seemed thin and glassy, and if that was the best the French could do with viognier, I thought, then it was time to move along.
But I had overlooked the fact that Old World white grapes’ tendency to get big and fat in California might actually be an advantage for some of the emaciated cases. The great French wines made from sauvignon blanc and chardonnay grapes are robust enough despite the cooler weather and chalkier soils over there, and they suffer here, really, from too-plush conditions. But California viognier is a distinct improvement on its Gallic antecedent, if the 2005 Cline bottling brought by the imminent (then actual) guest is to be the basis of our judgment. The wine was rich and weighty, with some floral perfume reminiscent of an Alsatian Riesling’s, along with a slight residual sugariness that brought out the crustacean’s natural sweetness against the smoke of the grill and the bite of the paprika.
“This is really good!” pronounced the sweet tooth, one of whose favorite jokes is to suggest that dinner should begin with dessert. I too thought the wine was lovely, and I was also relieved that the bottle of Chablis I had chilled as a precaution (a première cru from Domaine le Renardière, 2000) would not have to be rushed in on a rescue mission but could appear with leisurely dignity as a kind of Chapter Two, telling its own distinctly different story.
The Chablis was steely, crisp, and dignified, in the high French tradition — a different story indeed — and purely as an enological matter I preferred it. But the viognier matched better with the food on the table, of that there was no doubt, though it was gone by the time dessert finally appeared.
Of the top 10 questions I am most often asked about restaurants in the city, the top two by far are “Which is the best?” and “Which is your favorite?” Since “best” is a snake pit of competing considerations and unacknowledged biases, I am happier with the second, which is all about acknowledging one’s biases — about being in touch with the inner bias. For me, it is also far easier to answer, since my favorite restaurant in the city, the one I have recommended to inquiring minds for more than a decade, is Hawthorne Lane. (And a brief digression here for the honorable mentions: Firefly, Delfina, Gary Danko, and Boulevard, each reliably sensational in its way.)
How do I love Hawthorne Lane? Let me count the ways. The food, of course, has always been exquisite, though the many Asian touches favored by the original chef, Annie Gingrass, are much less in evidence under the current regime of Bridget Batson; the only more-or-less intact survivor I recognized from the old days is the Chinese-style roasted duck.
Speaking of survivors: the restaurant itself qualifies as one, having surfed the treacherous dot-com wave and its rough aftermath with grace and without frantic reinvention. The restaurant still looks much as it did when it opened in 1995: there is handsome ironwork on a glorious old brick building, a casual front room whose ovoid bar stands amid a ring of booths, and a regal passageway to the main dining room, with its exhibition kitchen, banquettes upholstered in rich fabrics (some floral, others striped), and plenty of paintings (most of the colorful-squiggly school) on the walls. The look, with its meant-to-last fusion of traditional and modern elements, is timeless and has worn well.
Best of all, you can offer this observation and many others across your table without having to shout to be heard. You might even be able to whisper, or at least murmur. For Hawthorne Lane has artfully managed noise from the beginning, and on that basis alone it long ago won my heart. The place is busy and it is lively, but while the cauldron of sound simmers and bubbles, it never boils over. The result is a restaurant in which it is possible to converse while enjoying the food, and for some of us this basic and ancient mix of satisfactions remains one of the heights of civilization.
The food would be enjoyable in any event. While I mourn the passing of the $28 three-course prix fixe option — offered in the dark autumn of 2001, when air travel was stunted and tourism anemic — I am glad to find that most of the main courses on the ever-changing menu are now available in half sizes (at reduced if not quite halved prices), an innovation that encourages the trying of more dishes and the ingestion of fewer calories while helping with money management. (Hawthorne Lane is expensive, and you could easily drop $100 a head there, but you can also spend quite a bit less and not cheat yourself.)
One of the few big dishes not offered in smaller guise on the main menu is the Chinese duck — but it did turn up as a downsized item (for $15) on the bar menu, inclusive of split scallion buns with which to make little duck sandwiches. We agreed that the finger-food angle was fun, but the dish on the whole seemed to be a little out of tune, with too much vinegar in the sauce, like a light on an overcranked dimmer. Could this imbalance perhaps be because the duck is a signature dish from a regime that’s no longer there?
Otherwise, Batson’s cooking is both passionate and elegant. From the fire-breathing brick oven emerges a small but memorable procession of clever pizzas, among them a pie ($12) topped with prosciutto, Mission figs, and arugula leaves: an artful combination of salty, sweet, and nutty, with plenty of white cheese to serve as emulsifier. Squash blossoms ($14), icons of summer, are stuffed with goat cheese and basil, tempura-battered into flute shapes, deep-fried, and presented on mixed greens with a pool of soffrito and cherry tomatoes.
Even more deeply imbued with the essence of summer, if that’s possible, is an heirloom tomato risotto ($13 for a half portion), intense with tomatoey-ness despite its golden color and enriched with plenty of parmesan cheese. The dish is like a distant, aristocratic relation of mac and cheese, with the differences as apparent as the familial similarities. We caught no plebeian echo, on the other hand, in the crisped striped sea bass ($17 for a half portion). The small chunk of filet was indeed well crisped, the better to stand up to a cap of peperonata and a few coins of fennel root (nature’s little breath mint) braised with leek and pancetta.
The half-sizing joyride ends abruptly at the dessert border. But this poses no hardship, because people seem routinely to share desserts in a way they do not always share savory courses. It helps that Hawthorne Lane’s desserts are big and complex; we saw a trio of the seasonal sorbets — spooned cornucopia-style into crisp fruit cups — arriving at the next table and silently wished that couple luck for the long march. For us, the matter at hand was the fetchingly named peach buckle ($9.50), a kind of stone fruit coffee cake with slices of Frog Hollow peach atop an almond streusel and cinnamon meal baked over everything, like stucco. We buckled down and demolished it. SFBG
Lunch: Mon.–Fri., 11:30 a.m.–1:30 p.m.
Dinner: Sun.–Thurs., 5:30–9 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 5:30–10 p.m.
22 Hawthorne, SF
Pleasant noise level
TECHSPLOITATION I was in front of a computer when the Twin Towers went down. The morning light flooded Charlie’s tiny studio apartment kitchen, where she’d parked her computer desk in a spot that another person would have used for a breakfast nook.
“Holy shit,” she said. “Look at the Washington Post!” I stared blearily at the monitor, coffee mug in my hand, and saw pictures of smoke. Charlie continued clicking and clicking on news. It was everywhere: live streams and up-to-the-second photographs of the towers as they burned.
One had fallen. Then the other one did. That morning we consumed hundreds of images and lines of electronic text, at the edge of a future I couldn’t fathom. Shit was going to happen, that’s all I knew.
My phone rang an hour later: it was Ed, whose plane from Japan to San Francisco had been diverted to Vancouver. No planes were entering or leaving US airspace.
What happened in geographical space was just the thin end of the wedge.
Shifts more dramatic than anything I could have imagined occurred on our electronic communication networks. The phone system and the Internet formed a new ground zero, a place where “fighting terrorism” became a force more socially disruptive than terrorism itself.
In the weeks that followed, flags and half-baked, vengeful ideas
spattered the mediascape online. ISPs allowed the government to install “carnivore” devices on network backbones, thus allowing the government to eavesdrop on everybody’s Internet traffic. Passage of the USA-PATRIOT Act allowed law enforcement to send secret subpoenas to online service providers for information about their customers.
Those of us critical of the US policies that led to the attack literally whispered to each other about it. We were afraid to say what we thought of the government crackdowns.
Something changed the Internet forever during the surreal years after the attack on the World Trade Center, when we went to war with a country whose citizens and leaders had nothing to do with what happened on September 11, 2001. Data mining was weaponized.
The ability to track hidden information patterns in vast piles of
unsifted data, once the purview of obscure academic articles and some start-ups with weird names like Inktomi and Google, became the touchstone of government efforts to track down terrorists. If a lack of intel is what allowed the terrorists to get us, then by gum, the spooks were going to get as much intel as they possibly could.
As a result, we got John Poindexter pushing misguided programs like Terrorism Information Awareness (TIA), which would allegedly be a giant computer operation in which all the data in the universe would be crunched and “patterns” would emerge to lead government agents to dens of bomb-making bad guys. It also led to the NSA’s now infamous (and probably illegal) surveillance of all the telephone and Internet data passing through AT&T’s wires — as well as the wires of several other major network providers.
Both of these programs rely on the idea that you can find a terrorist
needle in a haystack of data. And both were made far more dangerous by the rise of consumer products like Gmail, Flickr, and MySpace — giant databases of personal information, often tagged with keywords for easy searching. As many pundits (including myself) have said, we’re creating our own surveillance treasure trove.
But what that analysis leaves out is something near and dear to the
American spirit: the people have weapons too. It isn’t just the
government that can turn data mining into a weapon. The citizens can do it too, often better. And so the years since the Sept. 11 attacks have witnessed a blooming of what Dan Gillmor calls “citizen journalism.”
When the mainstream media wouldn’t report what was going on, people turned to alternative sources of news, including online sources. Bloggers became the new investigative reporters.
The groundwork laid by these subversive data miners continues today. The community of online journalists and researchers revealed that an AP photo of the fires in Beirut had been doctored. Bloggers sounded the alarm when upstart photographer Josh Wolf was arrested for refusing to hand over to police video he’d taken of a G-8 protest in San Francisco.
It’s no accident that the rise of blogging coincides with the rise of
government surveillance online. The people are watching too. SFBG
Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who is watching the watchers.
I was on antidepressants for a year and just came off them recently. It was situational; I have no other psych history. I’ve always fantasized about being submissive but never seriously acted on it. But since I’ve been off the medication, I’ve experienced an intense surge of sexual interest. I’ve developed an online relationship with someone in which I am his sex slave–toy. I’ve just sent him some pictures of me. I’m a professional and my friends and family have no idea.
I feel I’m about to go out of control with this desire. Out of control is bad, but is being a sex slave bad? I need to either find a safe place to act out my cravings or go to counseling. How do women who want to be submissive slaves become so safely? What the hell is wrong with me?
In my little subcultural corner over here, not a thing, but I wouldn’t be so sanguine about it if I had evidence that you wished yourself harm or were not, as they say, tall enough to ride this ride. You seem a cautious, even somewhat timid sort of girl though, and while that might hold you back a bit, it’s better to be held back than to hurtle blindly over a cliff.
I know a couple who established a relationship like yours, never intending to meet, let alone fall in love, and last time I heard, they were living on a boat and raising kittens. That’s rare though. More typically, what happens online ought to stay online, if you ask me. I don’t mean online dating; that’s fine, but if you’ve established a master-slave deal with this guy based on nothing but, well, mastery and slavishness, what are the chances you are otherwise compatible?
Keep Mr. Web Master–your Web master as a toy (he’s your toy as much as you’re his) and start from scratch. If you’re not out trolling for scary strangers who could actually hurt you and you’re not being driven so crazy by twisted desire (can’t you see the pulp-style illustration?) that you can’t maintain your respectable, professional standing, you don’t need counseling. You need to read some books (not the pulp kind, the kind they sell at nice sex stores), join an S-M educational group or attend some “munches” (coffee klatches for would-be perverts), and start experimenting with being the sort of sex slave who sheds her collar after a couple hours and goes home and feeds the cat. This sort of program, entered into knowledgeably and pursued in moderation, ought to get you where you want to end up: as a “slave” who commands respect and controls her own destiny. There’s no such thing in real life, but this is hardly real life, and that’s the point.
I’m not-so-recently divorced and starting to think about having sex again. My problem is, whenever I start thinking about sex, it’s memories of what my husband and I did (mostly BDSM) that come to mind, and I just shut right back down because I don’t want to think about him. Do I just need to buy a bunch of random porn and hope I’ll light on something else that arouses me?
Long Dry Spell
Not a bad idea, but you don’t have to buy anything. (You really have been gone awhile, haven’t you?) Porn is free for the finding all over the Internet, and you should be able to find representations of not just BDSM scenarios but the exact BDSM scenarios you used to act out with your husband — minus the husband. Looking at or reading some of this stuff may not fully exorcise your husband’s unwelcome ghost — it probably won’t — but it is sure to help. BDSM also, unlike other sexual proclivities, has the advantage of being a spectator sport. If you live in or near or can visit a major metro area — the kind that can support a leather shop or two and has a gay pride parade featuring humans, not golden retrievers, being proudly leash-walked through the center of town — there will be some sort of club or private party circuit where you can see S-M in action. The disadvantage of live display is that the people are unlikely to look as good in leather panties as do the models on the Internet. Plus, you have to be polite to them and ask if you can watch — in short, you have to talk to them. The advantage, of course, is that you do have to talk to them and thus might make a friend or find someone who is neither your husband nor the ghostly afterimage of your husband with whom to do S-M. This is all very hard work, and for the confirmed introvert it (speaking) will never come naturally. But compared to being alone, lonely, haunted, and unable to masturbate, it’s got to be a breeze.
Editor’s note: This editorial has been corrected. An earlier version mischaracterized the effect of the cable bill on municipal finances.
EDITORIAL A terrible bill masquerading as a proconsumer law cleared both houses of the state legislature last week and is now on the governor’s desk. It could cost cities and counties millions of dollars, potentially wipe out local control over cable TV franchises, and give a big boost to AT&T, which is best known these days for cooperating with the Bush administration on illegal wiretaps.
The bill, AB 2987, was introduced by Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez (D–Los Angeles), but its real sponsor is AT&T. The bill would allow big telecommunications companies to apply to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) for a statewide franchise to deliver cable and video services to California residents. The idea is to make it easier for these companies to offer telephone, Internet, and cable TV service all in one bundle. AT&T and the bill’s other backers say it will increase competition and lower rates. Lenny Goldberg, who runs the California Tax Reform Association and is one of the smartest analysts of economic policy in the state, says the bill will actually lead to increased rates.
But beyond that, there’s a huge problem with the measure. It would effectively take away from cities and counties the ability to regulate local cable TV providers. It would give AT&T or Verizon (or whoever might come along in the future) the ability to ignore local government, get a permit from the state, and deliver service to cities and counties — without having to negotiate a local franchise fee or accept local terms and conditions. Comcast, for example, pays San Francisco millions of dollars a year for the right to sell cable service under the city streets — and under the franchise agreement is required to provide public-access and government channels. A cable provider with a state franchise would never have to go beyond what an existing franchise pays.
Sen. Carole Migden (D–San Francisco), one of only four senators to oppose the bill, argued passionately against giving any favors to AT&T, which has a proven record of turning information on its customers over to the federal government. That’s another excellent reason to oppose the bill, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger should veto it.
Meanwhile, Assemblymember Mark Leno’s industrial hemp bill, AB 1147, is on the governor’s desk and should be signed into law. So should AB 2573, which Leno had to fight the Pacific Gas and Electric Co. for and will help San Francisco expand its solar power production. There’s also Leno’s public records reform bill — and perhaps most important, his bill that would allow San Francisco to impose its own motor-vehicle fee, bringing the city $70 million a year. SFBG
EDITORIAL Mayor Gavin Newsom, who has always talked about treating homeless people with compassion, is allowing the cops to do just the opposite — and it’s costing the city millions. As Amanda Witherell reports on page 11, the San Francisco Police Department under the Newsom administration has issued 31,230 citations for so-called quality of life offenses like sleeping on the streets, sleeping in the parks, and panhandling. In a pioneering study, Religious Witness with Homeless People reports that issuing and prosecuting those citations cost taxpayers $5.7 million over the past two years.
This is a reminder of the failure of the Newsom administration’s housing policy — and a terrible waste of law enforcement resources. The mayor needs to put a stop to it now.
Think about it: most homeless people are living on the streets because they don’t have the money for housing in this famously expensive city. In the vast majority of the cases, giving someone who’s broke a ticket for $100 is a colossal waste: the offender isn’t going to be able to pay anyway, so the unpaid ticket turns into an arrest warrant. The next time around, the police can nab this person and put him or her in jail (costing the city $92.18 a day, according to the Sheriff’s Department). In the end, 80 percent of the citations are dismissed anyway — but not before the police, the courts, the district attorney, and the sheriff run up a huge tab.
In some cases, it’s just another hassle for homeless people. In other cases though, these seemingly minor tickets can rob someone of the last vestiges of a semitolerable life. The list of quotes from homeless people included with the study is, to say the least, depressing:
“They wake me up in the morning and threaten to arrest me if I don’t stand up and start walking. The drop-in centers are full, so I either walk or get ticketed. I can’t walk all day long.”
“They took my vehicle away because I slept in it in the mornings while waiting to get another construction job. Losing my truck was the worst thing that ever happened to me. I can’t get a job without my truck, so now I’m on the street.”
“Just one ticket for sleeping can violate my parole, and then I’ll be in [prison] with murderers.”
“I went to Project Homeless Connect, and they really helped me. Two days later, they arrested me for not paying my tickets.”
The city is facing a homicide epidemic. The police brass constantly complain that there aren’t enough uniformed officers to keep the streets safe. Sup. Ross Mirkarimi is having to fight to get approval for a modest pilot program that would put exactly four officers on foot patrols in high-crime neighborhoods; that program could be funded for less than one-tenth what the city is spending harassing the homeless.
It makes absolutely no sense for the police to be wasting time issuing these sorts of citations. Sure, violent people who are a threat to the public need to be kept off the streets — but that’s only a very small number of the homeless in San Francisco. Letting people sleep in the parks or in their cars isn’t a solution to the homeless problem — but it’s hardly a massive threat to the city’s populace (and certainly not when compared to the growing murder rate).
Newsom, of course, could and should make a public commitment to spending that $5 million in a more useful and productive way. And the Police Commission should look into the Religious Witness study and direct the chief to order officers away from giving quality-of-life citations.
If none of that happens, the supervisors ought to look into this too. If the cops have the money to be chasing panhandlers and car sleepers, the budget committee should look at the department’s allocation and see if some of those resources can’t be better spent fighting actual crime. SFBG
There are people at the daily newspapers around here who bristle when I accuse them of ignoring important local stories, particularly ones involving powerful political, business, or social figures (and most particularly, involving the newspapers themselves). No representative of the Hearst Corp. stands in the newsroom door announcing that stories about management will be sent to New York for prior censorship. Nobody tells the Chronicle’s reporters that they can’t cover a pressing story.
And I believe all that. I really do. I know it doesn’t work that way.
Carl Jensen knows that too. When he started Project Censored back in 1976, he knew he’d get a lot of criticism. “Censored” is a pretty strong word; it evokes a mirthless military guy with a pair of scissors and a big black pen, preventing real news from emerging out of a pressroom bunker somewhere.
But what Jensen has been trying to say for years is that the stories cited by Project Censored represent choices made by editors and publishers about what’s important in today’s world. That’s what the front page of a newspaper is — a set of choices. Is the confession of the purported killer of JonBenet Ramsey more important than the Bush administration’s illegal wiretapping of millions of Americans? Is the latest news about Brad and Angelina more important than the latest news from Iraq? Is one man’s quest to take control of every daily newspaper in the Bay Area worth more than a first-day story and a few tiny news briefs?
Editors are paid to make those decisions — and the ones who want to keep their jobs know what the rules are. That’s why some stories get more coverage, more play, and more attention and some get deeply buried or published in one place and never picked up by anyone else.
Anyone who reads political blogs knows about stories like the ones on this year’s Project Censored list (see page 15). Nobody blacked out the news with a big rubber stamp; it just never got reported in the first place.
For a Sunday afternoon on a Labor Day weekend, it was truly impressive: I counted at least 300 people at the Delancey Street events room for the Sue Bierman memorial. Just about everyone on the local left seemed to be there, along with a few luminaries like John Burton, Gavin Newsom, and Willie Brown, who were Bierman’s friends even when they were wrong and she was right.
Newsom, who was often at odds with Bierman, looked out over the crowd and made the point succinctly: “This is what happens,” he said, “when you’re nice to people.”
There were many funny and moving stories. Burton, who showed up in his usual sartorial splendor (striped sweatpants and an untucked shirt, which makes me respect the guy as much as anything he’s ever done in politics) talked about how Bierman always, always enjoyed herself, even in the most boring political drudgery. It was wonderful to see her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren there (and wonderful for them to see how many people were part of Bierman’s San Francisco community).
Calvin Welch, her Haight Asbury neighbor, friend, and longtime comrade in arms, reminded us all that Bierman “created the neighborhood movement in San Francisco” — and that she did it in her own style, always believing that “fun is important.”
A lot of people go to political funerals because they have to; most of us went to this one because we wanted to. Thanks, Sue. SFBG
OPINION In the name of protecting sex workers, a few San Francisco activists have adopted the rhetoric of antiprostitution advocates and taken their case to the San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women (COSW). The commission, following this lead, has adopted a controversial strategy — opposed by the vast majority of dancers, activists, and sex educators — to close down VIP rooms, private booths, and private areas in adult clubs and repeal “encounter studio” permits, claiming that privacy in commercial sexual contexts must be stopped because it causes prostitution, sexual assault, and AIDS.
For starters, the AIDS claim is wrongheaded: starting 30 years ago, activists around the world have explained that the way to address sexual health is not to drive people further underground through this exact sort of repression.
Beyond that, the legislation put forward by the COSW echoes contemporary moral panic. This law uses terms that have historically been used to curtail our freedom under the guise of protecting women. For example, the proposed bill claims that prostitution is “coerced” — but that depends on how you define coercion.
Forced labor and coercion are serious crimes in the legal framework. But economic coercion is the motivation for many types of work, and the fact that women are coerced or forced into this work is being used to justify prohibitions that affect all sex workers. The term “sexual exploitation,” which also comes up in the legislation, has been used to describe (and curtail) the voluntary commercial activity of sex workers.
The commission claims it based the proposal on testimony from dancers but omits the fact that the vast majority of dancers rejected the approach, showing up in droves at hearings. Of course, dancer and sex worker rights activists support some strategy to address complaints about unfair labor practices, exorbitant commissions, safety concerns, and harassment — but no effort was made by the COSW to find a consensus.
The campaign developed by the COSW places dancers in closer alliance with management as both dancer options and management options are being threatened. This phenomenon is part of Sex Worker History 101. The current dancers are further alienated and discouraged by this dynamic from organizing to improve working conditions. Unraveling this dynamic is necessary to further labor advocacy in this industry. The issue of private booths distracts from the problems of illegal stage fees, contractor versus employee labor issues, and Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations.
Other parts of the plan include allowing COSW representatives to inspect the workplace and to “notify the Commission on the Status of Women when they make any change to the compensation schedule.” Now there’s a great idea: put the classy female elders of San Francisco in charge of working-class women in the sex industry.
This legislation sets some very troubling precedents. Solutions to problematic working conditions in clubs should be developed by the workers, with assistance from labor experts. Given the level of polarization this proposal has created, that could take some time. SFBG
Carol Leigh, author of Unrepentant Whore: The Collected Works of Scarlot Harlot (Last Gasp), is dean of academic studies at Whore College.
To read the legislation, go to www.whorecollege.org/badlegislation.
The shelter of a slim door frame, the outstretched palm asking for a dime: this is how hundreds of San Francisco’s homeless get by, once the soup kitchens close and the shelters cry “No Vacancy.”
But panhandling, blocking the sidewalks, and lodging in public are a few of the 15 quality-of-life violations for which the San Francisco Police Department regularly issues citations. In the 30 months that Mayor Gavin Newsom has been in office, the cops have issued more than 31,000 such tickets.
And according to a study by Religious Witness with Homeless People, it’s been a colossal waste of money.
The study — released at a City Hall press conference Aug. 31 — revealed that more than $5.7 million in taxpayer money has been spent on police, paperwork, and court staff issuing and prosecuting these violations.
The group reviewed documents from the Police Department, Sheriff’s Department, district attorney, public defender, city attorney, and the Traffic and Criminal divisions of the SF Superior Court, as well as interviewing nearly 200 homeless people about their experiences being swept off the streets and into the courtrooms and jails. According to Sister Bernie Galvin, who founded the interfaith coalition in 1993, no study of this scope and magnitude has ever been conducted in San Francisco.
“Most of these people haven’t committed a crime,” Galvin said. “They’ve received [tickets] for simply existing: the crime of being poor and on the street.”
Approximately 80 percent of the citations are dismissed in the courts when the violator fails to show or can’t pay the $100 fine, but then a warrant is issued for the person’s arrest. Here’s the rub: with an active arrest warrant, a homeless person can’t access city services, the very essentials that eliminate the need to sleep in the park and pee on a tree.
“We’re spending all this money, and the result is counterproductive,” said Elisa Della-Piana, a legal advocate for the homeless.
Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan, one of several religious leaders, lawyers, and homeless advocates at the press conference, pointed out that a simple background check for employment or housing would reveal the arrest warrant. “Housing, jobs, drug treatment, federal and state benefits are all threatened by these little green pieces of paper,” he said, gesturing to the mountain of paper violations stacked on a nearby tabletop.
“If you’re homeless on the street and receive a citation for over $100, this is a Kafkaesque moment,” he went on to say. Homeless people are currently granted $59 of public money a month under Newsom’s Care not Cash program, down from $419.
Newsom has said he’s reduced the number of quality-of-life citations by 17 percent; however, Galvin contends that number draws from a pool of eight possible violations when there are actually 15 that fall in the category. Within that 15, some have doubled in number, with public camping violations having tripled.
While Galvin made a point of commending the work Newsom’s Project Homeless Connect has done in galvanizing volunteers and reaching about 1,000 people in need, she said, “Until we have the capacity to meet the needs of all these other people, it’s morally unjust to criminalize them.”
“I went to Project Homeless Connect, and they really helped me. Two days later, they arrested me for not paying my tickets,” said one of the homeless people interviewed for the study. Another said, “I never got a ticket in my life for anything, then I lost my job, couldn’t pay my rent, became homeless. I got tickets now and probably warrants all for just being in the park. They just keep beating you down.”
Galvin added that Newsom has not responded to four letters requesting a meeting. “This is the first mayor who’s refused to meet with us,” she said of Religious Witness, which got its start fighting Mayor Frank Jordan’s tough-love Matrix policy of the ’90s. “Mayor Newsom is responsible for this city,” she said. “He must stop enforcement of these unjust laws.” SFBG