Volume 40 [2005–06]



Oct. 2


Jesus Camp

Fascinated disgust and aghast amusement are two feelings I don’t experience often enough. Jesus Camp elicits both in spades. This doc by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady (The Boys of Baraka) travels into the darkest heart of America’s evangelical Christian movement: a North Dakota summer camp that whips born-again children – most already home-schooled into such beliefs as the nonexistence of evolution and global warming – into religious frenzies. The film also places emphasis on the palpable evangelical presence in American politics – with a chilling look toward the future, when this brainwashed-from-birth generation will eagerly join the right-wing voting bloc. (Cheryl Eddy)

In Bay Area theaters

Visual Art

“Mexico as Muse: Tina Modotti and Edward Weston”

Intended as an archive for the monumental partnership between two major artistic figures, Tina Modotti and Edward Weston, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s “Mexico as Muse” serves more as a teaser to Modotti’s life and work. While Weston’s images of earthen pots and Mexican skies build a foundation for later works, his portraits of his artistic partner are by far his most interesting contributions to “Mexico as Muse.” Modotti chose her subjects carefully, opting for the limitless possibilities of telephone lines stretching over the rural Mexican landscape and flimsy, partially ajar doors instead of the immobile nature of Weston’s content. Her most famous photo featured here is a bundle of white roses, clumped together in limp and fragile decay. (K. Tighe)

Through Jan. 2
Fri.-Tues., 11 a.m.-5:45 p.m.; Thurs., 11 a.m.-8:45 p.m.
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
151 Third St., SF
$12.50, $8 seniors, $7 students, free under 13 and members (free first Tuesday; half price Thurs., 6-8:45pm)
(415) 357-4000



Oct. 1


Sonic Youth

For 25 years, Sonic Youth have dutifully served as a gateway band. Just as the group has made room in its discography to accommodate elegant noise rock and more avant-garde explorations, so too have its members cashed their cred to draw attention to their own favorites, some pop (e.g., Nirvana), most not. Many record hounds of a certain age can attribute much of their most challenging music to Sonic Youth’s generous thumbs-up – for me, this list includes titles like Ornette Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz to Come and Wolf Eyes’ Dread. Though the band’s trademark noise rock is refined with each new release, its taste for adventure remains, here showing its face in the band’s cherry-picking local favorites Erase Errata and 16 Bitch Pile-Up as openers. (Max Goldberg)

8 p.m.
1805 Geary, SF
(415) 346-6000


The Mass and Triclops!

Oaktown’s Golden Bull has been having some pretty bad-ass Sunday evening shows, thanks to Scott Alcoholocaust. Such as? Such as the Mass, one of the heaviest rock bands going, and Triclops!, which features the brutalized vocals of John Geek from the Fleshies as well as members from Bottles and Skulls, Victim’s Family, and Lower Forty-Eight. Their Web site states their musical goal is “to keep rock music uncomfortable for themselves and others.” Listen to “Bug Bomb” and you’ll see what they mean … somewhere in the instrumental break, you’ll swear the ghost of Steel Pole Bath Tub had crawled into your ear and laid eggs. (Duncan Scott Davidson)

With Grayceon and We March
7 p.m.
Golden Bull
412 14th St., Oakl.
(510) 893-0803



Sept. 30


Film in the Fog: Them!

What sounds like a broken air conditioner, looks like a ghetto-rigged muppet, and will kill its own mother for a small taste of sugar? A big fly? A bear? Nope. I’m talking about the horde of giant motherfucking ants from the 1954 horror classic Them! Gordon Douglas’s quintessential nuclear monster movie opens with a young autistic girl wandering through the desert and ends with the bombing of a group of ants who have somehow taken over a military battleship. In between these two moments lie multiple flame-throwing sessions, a small dose of sexual tension, and a 15-minute documentary about the inherent evilness of the species Formicidae. (Justin Juul)

5 p.m.
Main Post Theatre lawn
99 Moraga (at Montgomery), Presidio, SF
(415) 561-5000


King Arthur

Refrigerated love is one of the treats in store for viewers of choregrapher Mark Morris’s somewhat radical restaging of King Arthur, the late-17th century semiopera by Henry Purcell. In addition to cleaving long narrative passages by John Dryden out of his production, Morris has added touches such as the Cold Genius (baritone Andrew Foster-Williams) first appearing in a fridge before being roused by Cupid. If it didn’t divide critics, it wouldn’t be a Morris production, and the eternal “bad boy” creator of this King Arthur was accordingly awarded with bouquets and some light spankings upon its London premiere. (Johnny Ray Huston)

8 p.m. (also Tues. and Thurs-Sat.; through Oct. 7)
Zellerbach Hall
UC Berkeley, Lower Sproul (near Bancroft and Telegraph), Berk.
(510) 642-9988



Sept. 29


Scissor Sisters

The Scissor Sisters are a band that’s hard not to love. They call themselves ridiculous names (Ana Matronic, Paddy Boom, Babydaddy, Jake Shears, Del Marquis, Derek G), turned Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” into a funky disco jam, and named their group after the slang for a lesbian sex act. On their new album, Ta Dah, they seem to be drinking deeply from the cup of disco – Barry Gibb would be proud. (Aaron Sankin)

Also Sat/30
With DJ Sammy Jo
8 p.m.
982 Market, SF
(415) 567-2060


Drunk Horse

What do you get when you combine beards, beer, and equine inebriation? Oakland’s beloved stoner rock behemoth Drunk Horse, who have been bringing riff rock to the Bay Area and beyond for 10 years. With equal parts early ZZ Top, Blue Cheer, Yes, and Lynyrd Skynryd, Drunk Horse have helped make music dangerous, satanic, and belligerent again. (Hayley Elisabeth Kaufman)

With Pride Tiger and Apache
9 p.m.
Rickshaw Stop
155 Fell, SF
(415) 861-2011



Sept. 28


Haute House Burlesque

Admit it – it’s been way too long since you’ve seen a good burlesque show. The best way to rectify this situation is to check out the Haute House Burlesque Review. Picture a mashup of ’50s style, extravagant song and dance productions, and strippers. Haute House stars Bombshell Betty, Lily le Rogue, Miss Banana Peel, Coconut Cream, Mynx d’Meanor, Sweet Cheeks, Ophelia Coeur de Noir, and Isis Stars. The house band for the evening is Lucifer’s Old-Timey Strip Club Band and complimentary champagne is served at intermission. Formal attire and fancy dress are encouraged. (Aaron Sankin)

8:30 p.m.
Jon Sims Center for the Arts
1519 Mission, SF
$10-$15, sliding scale
(415) 554-0402


Mojave 3

When ’90s shoegazers Slowdive decided that three albums’ worth of layered guitars and distorted pop meant mission accomplished, they could have just broken up and gone their separate ways, leaving behind a brief but rewarding career of sonic bliss. Fortunately for the music world, this is not what happened; instead, the members simply rechristened themselves to reflect the clean slate in their hands. The name couldn’t have been more fitting for their new sound: Mojave 3. Over the past 11 years, Mojave 3 have built upon this sound, culminating in their latest release, Puzzles Like You (4AD, 2006), which bubbles and bursts with pop thrills. (Todd Lavoie)

With Brightblack Morning Light
8 p.m.
333 11th St., SF
(415) 255-0333



Sept. 27


“Slam Arnold Poetry Competition”

Arnold Schwarzenegger has been shot at, beat up, and humiliated as Conan, Commando, the Terminator, and a kindergarten cop. Most Bay Area residents would agree the governor can handle a little bit of verbal abuse. The San Francisco League of Young Voters is hosting the “Slam Arnold Poetry Competition” at the Balazo Gallery to help boot the actor out of office, register voters, and educate young people about important issues. The event will open a forum for discussion regarding current political concerns. Work by local artists will be on the walls, and 12 popular regional poets will compete for prizes and laughs. Ill-Literacy will perform, along with female MCs Rhapsodistas. (Kellie Ell)

6-11 p.m.
Balazo 18 Art Gallery
2183 Mission, SF
$10-$25, sliding scale
(415) 255-7227


SF 360 Home Movie Night: American Blackout

It’s a little too late for you to host an American Blackout screening, but it isn’t too late to attend one at someone else’s house – even though some places have already reached sold-out capacity. This first installment of SF360 Home Movie Night showcases Ian Inaba’s documentary about schemes against black voters, which generated waves of praise at the latest SF International Film Festival. Guerilla News Network member Inaba focuses on the campaigns – including covert ones – waged against Democratic Rep. (and outspoken George W. Bush and 2000 presidential election critic) Cynthia McKinney. (Johnny Ray Huston)

10 p.m. (postscreening after-party)
242 Columbus, SF

Firing off at fixed-gears


RANT/FILM I’m all for the current bicycle renaissance in San Francisco. As the Indian summer heats up, you’ll notice the bike lanes will be nose to tail with bikers — like a line of baby elephants. This is a good thing. Maybe the notoriously free-form, Tijuana driving style of SF residents will ease up a notch and they’ll return to mowing down pedestrians exclusively. There’s safety in numbers.
Of course, every revolution has its drawbacks. There’s always going to be that crew that wants to convince the world they’re that much more revolutionary, devoted, and pure than everyone else. And as the rubber hits the roads in San Francisco, a clan of tight-trousered, mullet-headed, vintage-T-shirt-clad Robespierres has coalesced around the fixed-gear bicycle, or as it’s called in its proponents’ cutesy parlance, the “fixie.”
What’s a fixed-gear? Imagine yourself cruising down the street on your bike. You get tired and so you stop pedaling and coast. The freewheel mechanism in your hub disengages the drive train and lets the back wheel continue to spin while the cranks and pedals are still. On a fixed-gear the rear cog is bolted directly to the hub. There is no freewheel or cassette mechanism, so if the hub is moving, the cog is moving. Which means if the chain is moving, the pedals are moving, and if the bike is moving, you’re pedaling. There is no coasting.
Sounds like a pain in the ass. If you’re like me, the first question that comes to mind is “why?” Well, the modern SF two-wheeled steel, aluminum, and rubber hipster fashion accessory has its roots in racing, like other wheeled vehicles that don’t really translate to street usage. They were — and still are — used on banked, velodrome-style tracks during races that employ all manner of strategies, including slowing down to a stop or near stop and doing a “track stand” — balancing at a standstill without putting your feet down — so your opponent can pass you and you can ride in the draft.
Since you’re not likely to be drafting anyone on city streets, a track bike is a highly impractical choice of wheels. What’s more impractical is that fixed-gears often appear to lack brakes. The bike’s speed is controlled by the rider’s pedaling cadence — slow the pedaling, you slow the bike. Stop pedaling, stop the bike. This effect can be augmented by adding a front caliper brake, but that’s frowned upon by fixie fashionistas who do things like cut their handlebars down to a foot and don’t run bar tape or grips. The problem with using pedal cadence as a braking mechanism is that stopping is dependent on rider skill.
Now there’s the rub. Like trucker hats and PBR, what started as a bike messenger thing has become a fashion statement and status symbol. You’ve got kids in the Mission with the left leg of their jeans rolled up, a little biker hat on crooked, slip-on Vans, and a brand-new fixed-gear Bianchi; and they don’t know their ass from a light socket. Cadence? You may as well be talking astrophysics. They just know that it looks cool. It looks less cool, however, when one of these lemmings comes screaming down the Haight Street hill unable to keep up with the speed of the pedals and wrecks in the middle of Divisadero. A friend was riding down Stanyan with a box in his hand when some goon on a fixed-gear, unable to slow down, ran into his back wheel and crashed him in the middle of the street. He didn’t even stop to see if my friend was OK.
So what was the original draw that caused the person I’ll call “Biker Zero” — to crib epidemiological lingo — to ride a track bike on the street? The people I know who ride them talk about being at one with the bike, feeling part of it, in the bike instead of on the bike. I’ll go with that. But this human-bike-cyborg crap has reached the level of “I like the East Coast because I like to see the seasons change” tripe. Respect to the old-school heads who’ve been riding them since way back, but as someone who’s done way gnarlier things on wheels, it’s just not all that impressive. The Bicycle Film Festival had scheduled a screening of M.A.S.H., an unfinished fixed-gear documentary by Mike Martin and Gabe Morford, until it got pulled at the last minute. It was shot here in San Francisco and showcased the “skills and beauty of these riders.” Beauty, no doubt — as in perfect hair. So you can ride down a hill and lift up your back wheel and do little skids to slow down. So what?
Riding a fixed-gear is like handicapping yourself. The bikes are so awkward to ride that not looking like an idiot while riding one is an accomplishment. It’s like riding a three-legged horse in the Kentucky Derby. To do that well, you’d have to be an excellent jockey. At the same time, why not be in it to win it and ride a horse with four legs? To me, it takes the choices — and therefore some creativity — out of riding. I don’t ride a fixed-gear for the same reason I won’t drive an automatic: no car is telling me when to shift, and no bike is going to tell me when I can pedal. If you’ve got bike skills, why not take them to a higher level? Go home and search for “Steven Hamilton” or “World Cup Downhill” on YouTube and see what can really be done on a bike that has the capabilities to be pushed. (There is a whole European tradition of flatland tricks on fixed-gears that takes serious skills, but it doesn’t seem to be a part of the current SF scenester fixie explosion.)
Not everyone is riding a bike to push limits. Still, the fixie cabal sticks in my craw, and it’s not because I’m unimpressed with the virtuosity. It’s not the misuse of a track-racing bike on city streets that bugs me. BMX bikes came about through the misuse of Schwinn Stingrays in dirt lots, and mountain bikes were the result of chopped-up road bikes on dirt. Misuse can mean progress. What kills me is the sinking feeling I get when I ride down Valencia and think, “Does anyone in this town ever do anything original?”
Now there’s even fixed-gear graffiti, Krylon line art of single-speed bikes with bullhorn handlebars, and the dubious slogan of “gears are for queers.” The fact of the matter is, the popularity of these bikes has nothing to do with the bikes themselves or the few people who actually have the chops to ride them with style. The fixed-gear is to 2006 what the Razor scooter was to 1996: a wheeled freak show for wannabes. Test it: send the right guy with the right clothes and the right haircut out around town on one of those old-timey bikes with the enormous front wheel with the cranks mounted directly to it like a tricycle. You know, the ones you need a ladder to get on and off of. Just see how many giant-wheeled ladder bikes are locked up in front of Ritual Coffee Roasters next week.
Do what makes you happy, but also do some soul-searching, champ: does riding a fixed-gear make you happy or does fitting in make you happy? Ask yourself, what bike was I riding last year? Was I riding one at all?

Victoria Theatre
2961 16th St., SF

40-year-old teens


› a&eletters@sfbg.com
American Conservatory Theater, the Magic Theatre, and Marin Theatre Company all turn 40 this year. Accordingly, these three regionally and nationally preeminent Bay Area companies are rolling out ambitious celebratory seasons. But despite all the satisfaction rightfully implied by this triple birthday, theater finds itself in a significant and uncertain period of transition.
Relevance and sustainability were prominent themes when artistic directors Carey Perloff (ACT), Lee Sankowich (MTC), and Chris Smith (Magic) sat down with the Guardian to share their thoughts on the trajectories of their respective organizations as well as theater’s past, present, and future in the culture at large.
CHRIS SMITH There is a lot of looking back and celebration of legacies and all that a significant landmark — turning 40 — suggests. But organic to the Magic’s mission is seeding the future, because we really are about new work. And to be committed to new work is really to have a perspective on the horizon.
We can talk about it from a number of different points of view, including the way most people want to talk about theater and art making these days, which is from the consumer model. We’re all completely obsessed with audiences and consumers. And that’s one of the critical differences [between] now and 40 years ago. In a weird way we’re a 40-year-old teenager. Suddenly we’re saying we have to be more concerned now than in the past about making sure people are having a good experience and getting them in.
But if you stop thinking for one split second about the financial success of the theater or the relevancy of the theater within a country that is arguably celebrating the dumbing down of the political spectrum, the health of the theater as an art form is very, very good. The best thing to cite on that front is the proliferation of high-quality MFA writing programs contributing to the number of committed, intelligent, craft-oriented, theatrically vibrant artists coming into our field.
So I actually have a great deal of optimism about the value that theater will have in the next decade in our society. That’s very distinct from numbers. The audiences that will be attending challenging, literate, smart work I expect are going to shrink. But I think it brings us back to a kind of churchlike sensibility.
The theater as a church for a thinking person is increasingly at value in our digital age, where we’re being separated from liveness, we’re being separated from the communal, separated from contact. We are in a moment between a fundamental impulse to look backwards and an impulse to look forwards. And the artists are the ones that live in that cusp.
CAREY PERLOFF Of course, this is exactly what [Tom Stoppard’s] Travesties is about. There’s a great moment where [Tristan] Tzara says, “As a Dadaist I’m a natural ally of the political left, but the paradox is the further left you go politically, the more bourgeois they like their art.” On the other hand, obviously what Stoppard believes — and what we all have to believe or we wouldn’t be doing this — is that in the long run, when everything else goes, the thing that lasts is art.
The real fight for us in the field right now is to have our own barometers of value. You have to try to take the long view. The only external measures of value [now] are box office sales and critical response. But there are many plays that had miserable box office returns and disastrous critical responses and have come to be the plays we treasure. As I get older, what I most admire in certain artists is their willingness to stay the course and keep their own exploration, their own voice, their own particular artistic journey going, whether or not it seems to be popular or viable.
We wrestle with it here all the time, because I wish people were writing bigger plays. We’re doing [Philip Kan Gotanda’s After the War] at the Geary. Now this may be the most foolhardy choice I’ve ever made, but it’s such a big, meaty play that it deserves to be on the Geary stage. We do Lillian Hellman, we do August Wilson, we do Stoppard. Who’s the next generation of writers writing 10-character plays that can fit in the Geary? No wonder nobody’s doing it, because who’s producing it? Nobody! Of course everyone’s writing four-character plays. They’re not idiots.
You have to say to a writer, “Have the courage to think big. Learn the Chekhovian skill of writing for 10 actors,” which is extremely difficult. To sustain complex character over a canvas that size is a totally different challenge. We don’t ask our writers to do that anymore.
LEE SANKOWICH Well, it comes down to support. To be able to do what both of you are talking about, it comes down to corporate funding and grants.
CP But the grant ethos right now — the word that is used more than anything else — is outcomes, right? We’re all being asked to demonstrate measurable outcomes. To me this is so hilarious. It’s like saying, “I’m going to be raising my children, and the measurable outcomes are what?”
CS We need to — as artists and as leaders of artistic institutions — stand up and say, “No, we need cultural metrics. We need the enlightenment-o-meter for measurable outcomes.” Did I walk out of this performance of Orson’s Shadow knowing more about the peculiar nature of these tremendous stars and their relationships and how that impulse really created art? Did I leave there somehow changed? And can we measure that? Can we say, instead, there was a 20 percent increase in enlightenment — what a remarkable outcome! — although the attendance figures stayed flat?
LS It’s interesting, [when] you walk out of Orson’s Shadow, if nothing else, you realize that the big struggle, especially for Welles and Olivier, [is that] they’re known for what they did 30 years earlier. And their big thing is they’re trying to become modern.
CS The opening of our seasons is really emblematic. MTC is working with these great artists in a very literate, funny, interesting perspective. ACT is working on this very big social canvas in a really smart way with Stoppard. The Magic Theatre is getting to work with Sam Shepard and his most recent play [The God of Hell], likewise his most passionate play, written in a moment specifically with the intention to affect the outcome of an election! SFBG
For the complete interview with Perloff, Sankowich, and Smith, see www.sfbg.com/blogs/pixel_vision.

Lennon’s boom


› kimberly@sfbg.com
SONIC REDUCER Which John Lennon did you know? Initially, I was too young to know him as anything more than the moptop behind the chipped bobble-headed garage-sale find — and as one of the songwriters behind my parental units’ token soft-rock gatefold, the Beatles’ Love Songs (Capitol, 1977) (the “White Album”’s “acid rock,” as Moms described it, went way beyond the pale). That’s all the Lennon I could grasp until the Rolling Stone cover pic that accompanied news of his 1980 murder — that coverlineless image picturing a nude Lennon fetally curled around a clothed Yoko Ono. If you dug the raw romanticism of that Annie Leibovitz image and Lennon’s 10-point program to success, excess, then bread-baking, Sean-rearing semiretired rock-star redemption, then you were with us. If you didn’t and you were disgusted, you weren’t — go hang with the Yoko-booing minions at, say, the recent Elvis Costello–Alan Toussaint Paramount show. It was that simple when you were an already media-saturated brat ready to draw battle lines and take pop music dead seriously.
Nowadays, the very undead but still much-pondered Bob Dylan may inspire a higher page count than Lennon when it comes to critical essays, encyclopedias, and that ilk. But I’d venture that Lennon’s influence continues to echo subtly through the culture, starting with the recommended banishing of “Imagine” from Clear Channel airwaves shortly after 9/11 and continuing through to some recent docs, DVDs, and dispatches from his estate.
Ignore the critically mauled 2005 musical Lennon and don’t wait for a Martin Scorsese PBS-approved documentary treatment — though, oh, to glimpse Abel Ferrera’s charred take on Lennon’s Bad Lieutenant–style “lost weekend” with Harry Nilsson. For somewhat unvarnished, intimate footage of Lennon with Ono in their Ascot, England, estate studio and shooting hoops with Miles Davis, check Gimme Some Truth: The Making of John Lennon’s “Imagine” (2000) — the material of Lennon warbling “Jealous Guy” and trianguutf8g in the studio with a very active Ono and a stoic Phil Spector is eye-cleansing.
After sampling Lennon and Ono’s frank BBC interview there, you’ll want even more truth — so turn to last year’s The Dick Cavett Show: John and Yoko Collection DVD, which collects three 1971–72 episodes featuring the gabby couple. It encompasses some of Lennon’s most in-depth US TV interviews, as the relaxed, wise-cracking musician sparred and jabbed with the clearly nervous and very deeply tanned Cavett in between sizable excerpts of Ono’s great Fly and Lennon’s Erection, a cinematic “construct” if there ever was one. Even more astounding than Cavett’s half-baked monologues are the lengthy stretches of airtime devoted to Lennon and Ono explaining their 1972 deportation case — one suspects even Jon Stewart would yelp, “TMI!” — and the pair’s impassioned, controversial performance of “Woman Is the Nigger of the World” (worth it alone to Bay Area–philes when Lennon pulls out a Ron Dellums quote to back up the lyrics) and Ono’s still-nervy, saxed-up “We’re All Water.” The versions of Lennon visible here are familiar and complementary — John as the willful dreamer and the provocative righter of wrongs, be it the plight of American Indians or the lack of consideration given Ono’s art. And one wonders, will network TV ever be quite this maddening — and challenging — again?
Scenes from both The Dick Cavett Show: John and Yoko Collection and Gimme Some Truth surface in The US vs. John Lennon, a new feature film revealing the latest Lennon iteration: the musician as a political animal hounded by the Nixon administration and threatened with deportation. Lennon considered a peace-promoting concert tour following Nixon’s reelection jaunt around the country — and posed a serious enough threat to Tricky Dicky, in the very year millions of 18-year-old Beatles fans were given the vote for the first time, that the US government moved to stop him. Focusing on Lennon’s significance as an activist who devoted his personal life (transforming the Lennon-Ono honeymoon into the peacenik, media-lovin’ bed-in) and considerable platform to antiwar efforts, filmmakers David Leaf and John Scheinfeld (Beautiful Dreamer: Brian Wilson and the Story of “Smile”) worked with documents released as a result of a Freedom of Information Act suit (aided and abetted by Jon Weiner, who consulted and wrote Gimme Some Truth: The John Lennon FBI Files) to make their film. Supported by commentators ranging from Ono and Noam Chomsky to Angela Davis and G. Gordon Liddy, the two have fashioned a sleek, informative primer on the importance of being Lennon and the historical context he emerged from. The only images they wish they had included but didn’t, Leaf told me, were World War II pictures of a bomb-besieged Liverpool and war-torn Japan.
“What’s important to note is that being for peace meant more than being nonviolent for John and Yoko,” he explained from an office in Century City. “This was in their bones, if you will. John saw firsthand what war caused.”
Leaf and his partner have had the film in mind since the mid-’90s, when Lennon’s FBI file was opened. After the disappointments of 2004, it’s intoxicating to imagine an artist and his listeners changing history, and at the very least The US vs. John Lennon allows one to dream, even briefly. Why was Lennon such a menace? “I think what terrifies power the most is truth,” Leaf says. “When truth is spoken without fear of consequence, it is threatening, and when John and Yoko embarked on their campaign for peace, they weren’t promoting themselves or a record but peace or nonviolence.” SFBG
Opens Fri/29 in Bay Area theaters
See Movie Clock at www.sfbg.com



› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com
CHEAP EATS I was serious when I said my nephew the Gun was invisible. The waiterguyperson came to our table with three menus, gave one to me and one to Cousin Lora, and then looked around confused, like what was he doing with three menus?
He turned and walked away with the third. My nephew looked at my menu with me.
Then a waitressperson came to our table and said, “Drinks?”
“Coffee,” we all said, one at a time, very clearly. That’s: one, two, three cups of coffee.
She came back with two coffees.
“Uh, one more?” said the Gun.
The waitressperson looked bewildered, like she was feeling something funny on the back of her neck.
“Three coffees. One more coffee,” I clarified. “That’s OK, Gun,” I said when she finally, mutteringly, went to get it. “We know you’re here.”
He didn’t say anything.
I was serious when I said that the Gun wanted to be an assassin when he grows up. He’ll be a good one, a natural. There’s the name, and there’s the invisibility. Fortunately, there’s also this: the fact that he will never grow up.
Growing up is not my family’s strong suit. And when I said that my intention was to “recorrupt” my nephew, well, I was serious but wrong. It became clear during our very next meal together that he was going to do something to me instead. “Unlearning,” he calls it.
I’m all for that.
For dinner: burritos! At el Tepa, because Lora likes it and because it’s just one block away from the Rite Spot where we were due afterward for an important Art Closing party. The Gun, I guessed, would fare better at taquerías and places where you order at a counter rather than relying on table service.
So he got a super quesadilla with chicken ($6.35), Lora got a super chicken mole taco ($3.73), and the chicken farmer liked the looks of the carnitas — in burrito form ($5.12).
While we were watching them make this all and answering questions about beans and salsa and such, the Gun said something very interesting to me: he said, “Which is hotter? Mild or medium salsa?”
On the surface a ridiculous question, and so I of course teased and poked him about it, because that’s how we express love in my family: by making fun of each other.
So we’re sitting down eating and talking and teasing, and everything was very delicious, of course, but especially the Gun’s thing, because it was good and grilled and meaty and cheesy. And I loved my burrito too, the pork and refrieds dancing quite wonderfully with each other. And I always ask for mild and hot salsa on mine, being a classic-model Gemini. So I’m touching it up with [TK how is this phrase supposed to be read: this, then that OR this-then-that ??? this then that] from the three tabletop salsas: green, light red, dark red. And I’m also this-then-that-ing my chips, liking the green and the light red, fearing the dark …
And the Gun goes into the light red with a chip and starts doing one of those hot hot hot dances.
So automatically I tease tease tease him, because to me that’s the mildest of the three, and boys are supposed to be tough. Especially assassins-in-training.
Well, we come to a disagreement when the Gun goes into the green and thinks it’s milder than the red. So now I’m going back and forth, rechecking my own buds, because I’m supposed to know, right? And yes, of the three, light red is mild, green is medium, dark red is hot. I’ll swear to it. I’ll stand up and fight for it, even die in defense of my point of view.
But instead, loving life (meals in particular, but also some of the other details) I choose diplomacy. “Lora,” I say, and she lifts her lovely head out of the mole. “Break the tie.” I push the mild and the medium in front of her. “Which one’s hotter?”
She tastes both and sides with the Gun.
So suddenly mild is hotter than medium, majority ruling, and the Gun’s goofy question makes all the sense in the world! Because there is no way to know the answer to this or any other dilemma, even the seemingly easy ones like 1 + 1, the meaning of life, and what kind of beans? I already knew this, of course, but I had to unlearn my way back to it. Again! Thank you, Gun. For now, I get it: ask, answer, and know that you don’t know shit.
Speaking of which … SFBG
Mon.–Fri., 10 a.m.–8 p.m.
2198 Folsom, SF
(415) 255-8372
Takeout available
Wheelchair accessible

Without Reservations


› paulr@sfbg.com
Many of us have now accepted that the real benefit of sustainable agriculture — whether organic or biodynamic — is, er, sustainability. A globe less beleaguered by pesticides, run-off, and soil exhausted by monoculture is a globe more likely to support life in the future. Nonetheless, it is only human to hold out hope that organic or biodynamic products will also look and taste better, if only because they cost more.
Sustainably produced wine is a more complex matter, in part because sustainable viticulture is in its infancy in this country, and also because one bottle of wine looks much like another, with not much in the way of labeling or logos at the moment to guide us. If I poured you a glass of, say, Medlock Ames’s 2002 Bell Mountain Ranch red blend or of Bonterra’s 2004 roussanne, you would have to seize one or the other bottle from my hand and look closely to notice that the former is produced from sustainably farmed grapes and the latter from organically farmed grapes. And if you didn’t seize either bottle, if you just sipped, you probably wouldn’t have a clue you were tasting earth-friendly wine.
A wine-world irony is that this is pretty much what the winemakers are hoping for: wine that cannot be distinguished on the palate from the regular stuff. The roussanne might actually exceed this standard; it is one of the most beautifully balanced California white wines I’ve ever drunk, a bewitching mix of floral perfume, citrusy acid, and fruity muscle, with enough presence to be an aperitif but able to keep its elbows in too when confronted with food. (Roussanne, incidentally, is one of those white Rhône grapes — viognier is another — that seem to produce far more attractive wines here than they do in France, and for that matter better wines than do California-grown chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. Here I opine shamelessly.)
The red, meanwhile, shows a definite cabernet sauvignon pedigree, though the blend consists only of 25 percent cabernet. (The rest is merlot.) It’s like a rich pinot noir, and although you could probably drink it with pizza in a pinch, it has a definite aristo dimension of reserved potency. The only downside I see is price: each retails for more than $20. That is a little high, but not unsustainable.

In the family way


› paulr@sfbg.com
When last I saw John Lombardo, proprietor of Lombardo’s Fine Foods, he was hurrying along the sidewalk outside the windows of his recently expanded Mission Terrace operation — a café now adjoins the catering kitchen — on his way home to … change the baby’s diapers? He had revealed to us his domestic mission, with apologies and having first checked to make sure we were satisfied with our food, and it is some measure of how satisfied we were that I forgot why he said he was rushing forth almost as soon as he’d said why. He vanished with a wave of his hand (the family place is just around the corner), and we waved back before reimmersing ourselves in an evening of home cooking, an orgy of manicotti, macaroni, orzo, and lasagna, all made according to what Lombardo told us were “family recipes.”
Cultural dry rot takes many forms — as we can see just by glancing around us these days — but one of the most insidious of those forms, for me, is the loss of ancient culinary knowledge passed down through generations, until some generation isn’t interested or can’t be bothered, and the chain breaks, the knowledge is lost, people end up ordering boxed pizza or microwaving canned soup in desperation. Some family recipes do get written down, and written recipes are better than nothing, but most of them don’t get written down. There is no better way to learn to cook, moreover, than by watching someone who knows what she or he is doing. Cooking is a sensual experience — it requires the engagement of the senses, all of them — and even the best written recipe can never be much more than a ghostly guide by comparison.
Who taught Lombardo how to cook? He graduated from the California Culinary Academy and has been a professional caterer for more than 20 years, so there we have at least two nonfamilial elements of the answer. But as my companion and I stood at the glass case, pointing at this and that with a question or two, Lombardo’s answers tended to include the phrase “family recipe” with some frequency. An orzo salad ($4), for instance, with julienne red bell pepper, shreds of mint, and crumblings of sheep-milk feta cheese folded into the ricelike pasta, was a family recipe. So was manicotti ($6.50), flaps of pasta like pig’s ears stuffed with herbed ricotta cheese and bathed in a garlicky marinara sauce decorated with basil chiffonade. We mopped up the last of the marinara sauce with chunks of grilled Italian bread.
The lineage of the lasagna ($10) did not come up, but any mother (or father, for that matter) would have been proud to bequeath to later generations the animating combination of beef and fennel-scented sausage at the heart of this classic dish. The addictive roasted red-pepper soup (thickened with potato and laced with sunflower seeds), which appeared as an opening act, wouldn’t be a bad legacy either.
Opinion at our little table (the café is tiny: just a handful of tables, though lots of windows) diverged rather startlingly on the matter of the macaroni and cheese ($8). We have never before disagreed about mac and cheese, have loved every one, fancy or plain, with Gruyère and Emmentaler or jack and American — yet the assessor across the table did not quite care for this version, with its faint, Asiatic breaths of nutmeg, turmeric, and mustard seeds and its vivid yellow color, while I found those effects (apart from the yellow) reminiscent of pastitsio, a traditional and beloved Greek dish. We did agree that the accompanying black-bean chili, with its pipings of crème fraîche, was lovely.
For Lombardo, pasta is very much the motif and casserole the method, but his flavor palettes, while heavily Italian, are not exclusively so. Besides the black-bean chili, there is also a fine turkey enchilada casserole ($9): almost a kind of Mexican lasagna, built on a floor of masa and including roasted poblano peppers, white cheese, a chili-scented tomato sauce, and plenty of turkey meat — stringy but tender, like Thanksgiving leftovers.
And there is life beyond pasta and casseroles: the café also offers a range of grilled panini — slices of grilled Italian country bread enclosing such treats as roast beef ($9). The roast beef sandwich includes caramelized onions, shavings of Gruyère, and smearings of horseradish sauce, with a crouton-rich (and under-anchovied but still quite tasty) Caesar salad on the side.
The front of the tiny house is intermittently overseen by Lombardo’s wife, Gwen, whose presence enhances the family-affair effect. She takes orders, runs the cash register, and serves the food while her husband the chef works behind her in the open kitchen, which occupies the long leg of the L-shaped space. It is possible that she also occasionally dashes home on some child-related errand, but when she is in situ, the Lombardos are not so much a power couple — the Bob and Liddy Dole of food — but joint laborers for love in a field that, while difficult, still makes room for little guys. For the restaurant business remains surprisingly, stubbornly local; yes, there are chains, but the chains tend to remind us of how many places are not chains: are instead unique, are expressions of a single sensibility, or are the product of a determined team that’s found a neighborhood niche. Will Lombardo’s Fine Foods turn out to be life’s pinnacle for John and Gwen Lombardo? The excellence of the orzo salad suggests to me that the answer is no — heights still to be scaled — but in the meantime, home is where the heart is. SFBG
Continuous service: Tues.–Fri., 11 a.m.–9 p.m.; Sat., 9 a.m.–9 p.m.
1818 San Jose, SF
(415) 337-9741
Beer and wine pending
Moderately noisy
Wheelchair accessible

Hip buzz phrases


› annalee@techsploitation.com
TECHSPLOITATION Usually I don’t let the PR e-mails get to me. My standard procedure is to review and delete these missives from alternate marketplace universes where people care about incremental changes to the graphic user interface in a piece of useless software. But last week when the bizarrely clueless announcement from domain-name megaregistrar Dotster arrived in my inbox, I just couldn’t stand aside and let it pass.
Maybe I was feeling particularly grumpy because the ongoing Hewlett-Packard scandal is constantly reminding me that all my nightmares about the corporate surveillance of media types are, in fact, true. Whatever the reason, I just got plain pissed off by Dotster’s craven bid to appeal to youth with its new PimpedEmail product for MySpace users. For $7.95 per month, Dotster will sell you access to a “pimped” domain name via your MySpace account. Apparently, according to the press release, these domains “tend to favor hip buzz phrases … for example, if a visitor types ‘Stephanie’ into the DDS search box and clicks ‘Name Search,’ the results might include stephanieisthebomb.com, stephanyshizzle.com, or worldofstephanie.com.”
OK, it’s true that what leaps out immediately here is the slap-your-head stupidity of these “hip buzz phrases” — my personal favorite is worldofstephanie, which has to be one of the buzzingest, hippest phrases I’ve ever encountered. But what pushed me over the line from merely bemused to actually offended is Dotster’s crass attempt to suck money out of one of the most cash-strapped communities on MySpace: unknown musicians trying to get people interested in their music.
Most of the suggestions for how to use PimpedEmail involve using it to promote unknown bands. “A new group calling itself Nikki Blast could use band search to register nikkiblastrocks.com,” suggests Dotster. Then “they can set up as many e-mail addresses as they like using that domain extension. For example, the drummer could be madbeatz@nikkiblastrocks.com, and the band could award loyal fans with their own addresses such as timmy@nikkiblastrocks.com.” Hmmm, could “madbeatz” be another one of those hip buzz phrases? What about “rocks”?
Of course these suggestions won’t necessarily control youth behavior, partly because they’re just lame. And I’ll admit that MySpace teaming up with Dotster isn’t nearly as problematic as MySpace collaborating with state governments to police what kids are doing on one of the world’s largest social networks. But PimpedEmail is more insidious than you might think. It pushes conformity under the guise of cool; it turns the ideal of freely sharing band information into something that requires payment by the month.
No, it’s not surprising that the News Corp.–owned MySpace is figuring out ways to accessorize its free service with little nuggets at teen prices. I still reserve the right to be grossed out when it happens.
More depressing still is the way PimpedEmail pulls the covers over the true process involved in doing one of the most basic tasks of any Web user: getting a domain name and setting up e-mail. The Dotster press release describes its service as a “unique Domain Discovery System (DDS),” adding helpfully that “visitors to the service’s Web site can generate unique domains.”
Huh? There’s nothing “unique” here — this is the usual way one searches for domains and buys them online. Every time I’ve ever bought a domain, apparently, I’ve had a “unique” experience when I searched to see if annaleenewitz.com (for example) was available and then purchased it. The only thing that’s different here is that instead of getting boring suggestions for domains (like annaleecompany.com), you’ll get allegedly cool ones (like annaleeshizzle.com).
The misrepresentations here go beyond the usual “we’re unique” marketing ploys. Dotster makes it seem that getting a domain and getting e-mail are the same thing — and that the easiest way to do both is through MySpace. Let’s leave aside the privacy issues involved in tying your MySpace page together with your e-mail and domain services. I’m more worried that services like PimpedEmail will actually lower technical literacy in Web users by hiding what’s really going on when you create the address madleetz@worldofannalee.com. Not only does PimpedEmail take money away from its users, it takes away their knowledge of how domain names work — and by extension, it takes away just a bit more of their power. SFBG
Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who’s got all the hip buzz phrases, like “get funky” and “far out” and “make the scene.”

Be a liver


› andrea@altsexcolumn.com
Dear Andrea:
Many years ago, I contracted the Hepatitis C virus (HCV). I had many partners before tests became available. None, to my knowledge, has contracted HCV from sexual contact with me. I know it’s possible to pass it through sexual contact but it’s very rare. It requires blood to blood contact: someone would need to stick their bloody penis in some equally bloody orifice on my body — not gonna happen! I’m always safe when it comes to anal sex. As for oral, well, that does give the opportunity to examine my partner more closely. Am I obligated to tell every partner I have about my HCV status?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) consider HCV to be a sexually transmitted disease, but health departments of other countries — Australia for example — do not. My faith in the truthfulness of an agency of the US government in the current political climate is doubtful, especially when it comes to sexual matters.
I’m not a slut, but I satisfy my needs when they arise. I’ve never had an STD of any kind. I don’t know if it matters, but I’m a transsexual woman.
Liver It Up

Dear Liv:
Nope, doesn’t matter a bit!
It is maddening that we still know so little about sexual transmission of hep C. There are studies, but they contradict each other, are too specific to generalize from, or are otherwise just not capable of answering the big question: can you for sure get this from fucking? Seeing as the virus is pretty common though, there really ought to be more cases of transmission between monogamous non-drug-injecting partners. The cases just aren’t there, so it is tempting to shrug and say, “Guess it isn’t sexually transmitted after all.” If hep C were the common cold, I’d be cool with that, but seeing as it’s the leading cause of liver transplants in the United States and can totally kill you, we can’t be quite that cavalier about it.
It’s worth noting that while the CDC groups HCV with the sexually transmitted diseases on its Web site, it has little to say about actually getting it through sex. Click on the link and you get a list of risk factors (transfusion or organ transplant before routine testing was implemented, injection drug use, etc.) with nary a mention of sex of any sort. And when you dig a little deeper you find this: “HCV can be spread by sex, but this does not occur very often. If you are having sex, but not with one steady partner: You and your partners can get other diseases spread by having sex (e.g., AIDS, hepatitis B, gonorrhea or chlamydia).”
This is really a nice bit of legerdemain: “Sure, it could happen, but we don’t want to be quoted saying it could happen to you, so, uh, don’t get the clap.” I was guilty of the same sort of sleight of hand way back when I was working as a women’s safer-sex educator but really didn’t believe that the population we were reaching was actually at the slightest risk of contracting HIV through sex. No matter how stridently the AIDS establishment insisted that everyone was at equal risk, it wasn’t and still isn’t true, so I’d hand the girls the AIDS-prevention pamphlet I was paid to distribute and then tell them how not to get warts. Win-win, as far as I was concerned.
So do you have to tell everyone? This may be more of a question for that ethics guy than for me, but I kinda want his job anyway, so I’m going to have to say yes. You can play it down, you can say the chances of exchanging enough blood during sex are extremely low and you’ll be using condoms anyway, but since there have been cases of sexual transmission (no, we don’t really know what those people were doing, only what they say they were doing), we can’t pretend that there’s zero risk. “Almost zero” isn’t zero. I’m really sorry.
I had to do this, kind of. I discovered that a forever-ago partner had developed the disease, and as much as I would rather have sporked my own eyes out, I called the people I’d seen since (thankfully, there weren’t many of these) and informed them of the teensy-weensy risk. Nobody cared. I do hope I called them back after I finally got tested … um … all clear, guys, OK?
As for the right-wing antisex conspiracy, well, I’m with you as far as not trusting this administration as far as I could throw them — and really, really wanting to throw them — but the CDC is not so bad (and anyway the World Health Organization agrees with it about HCV). Look up Dr. Julie Gerberding, the Bush-appointed director of the CDC, and you’ll find her support for safer-sex education reviled and her appointment tsk-tsked on the Web sites of Focus on the Family, Concerned Women for America, and Accuracy in Media, among others. The enemy of your enemy is your friend.
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 adviser. Visit www.altsexcolumn.com to view her previous columns.

Tidal (public) power


EDITORIAL Mayor Gavin Newsom, perhaps looking for a big issue to bring to a star-studded environmental meeting in New York City last week, suddenly discovered the value of tidal energy. There’s actually nothing new about the idea: although Newsom didn’t give anyone but himself credit, the plan was first floated by Matt Gonzalez in the 2003 mayor’s race. It was picked up by Supervisors Jake McGoldrick and Ross Mirkarimi and has been on the agenda at Mirkarimi’s Local Area Formation Committee (LAFCo) for more than a year.
But whatever — if the mayor’s on board, fine. There’s a tremendous amount of potential in the concept — huge amounts of renewable energy with little significant environmental impact (and no greenhouse gases). The technology appears to be available, and there’s every reason for the city to move forward rapidly — as long as the power generator is owned, operated, and totally controlled by the city. And that’s not at all guaranteed.
A pilot project would cost about $10 million — peanuts compared to the revenue potential but a chunk of change nonetheless. Newsom, who is looking for state money, is also considering the possibility of seeking private-sector partnerships. And one company that has its greedy eye on the potential energy in the ocean tides is Pacific Gas and Electric.
PG&E is trying desperately to buff up its tarnished image, spending millions on slick ads promoting itself as a green company. It’s crap: among other things, PG&E still operates a nightmare of a nuclear plant on an earthquake fault in San Luis Obispo and is trying to get the plant’s operating license extended. But environmentalism sells in California, and the state’s largest and most rapacious private utility has no shame.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported Sept. 19 that city officials were negotiating with “a number of companies that could help run the turbines and cover the costs” and added that “Pacific Gas and Electric Company is among them, said Jared Blumenfeld, director of the city’s Department of the Environment.” Blumenfeld told us he was misquoted and that officials are only discussing with PG&E the prospects for connecting to the PG&E-owned grid in the city.
But Blumenfeld explained that a private company called Golden Gate Energy already has a federal license to develop tidal energy in the San Francisco Bay — and PG&E has a stake in that venture. The Golden Gate Energy license expires in 2008, and it’s unlikely the company will be able to start work by then, Blumenfeld said. Given that nobody actually has a working model of a tidal generator of this scale, that’s probably true.
Still, it shows that PG&E isn’t going to give up easily on the idea of owning or running what could be a source of energy that could power a sizable percentage of San Francisco. The reason is obvious: if the city operates the tidal power plant, it will be a huge boost for public power. Between tides, $100 million worth of solar energy that’s in the pipeline, and the Hetch Hetchy dam, San Francisco would come pretty close to generating enough renewable energy to power the whole town — and PG&E could be tossed entirely out of the picture.
Of course, that assumes that the city is serious about creating a full-scale public power system, which involves taking over PG&E’s transmission grid. Newsom says he supports public power. So does Susan Leal, general manager of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. But while both are ready to cough up $150,000 for a study into the benefits of tidal power (and a possible $10 million for a pilot project), neither has ever been willing to spend a penny for a study into the costs and benefits of taking over the grid.
Mirkarimi told us that LAFCo will begin hearings on tidal power next month and get to the bottom of what the mayor has in mind. The supervisors should allow no shadow of doubt about the policy for pursing this energy source: it can only be done as part of a larger plan to bring public power to the city — and if PG&E or any other private energy company has even the tip of a finger anywhere near it, the deal is dead in the water. SFBG

Save KQED! Vote No!


EDITORIAL KQED, San Francisco’s venerable public radio and television outlet, is trying to summarily abandon internal democracy. The station’s management is sending out letters this week asking its 190,000 members to vote on a bylaws change that would eliminate direct election of board members and shift complete control of the station’s operations to a self-appointed board. The proposal would also strip members of the right to vote on future changes to the bylaws.
This is a horrible idea and KQED members should reject it.
The bylaws change, KQED spokesperson Yoon Lee told us, comes in the wake of a May merger between KQED and San Jose’s public station, KTEH, and is aimed at simplifying operations at the stations. Besides, she said, elections are expensive: KQED spends roughly $250,000 each time it chooses new board members.
Of course, the United States could save huge sums of money by canceling congressional elections and letting the House and Senate choose their own members, but that idea wouldn’t get too far. Neither should the idea of the people — who pay for the programming, pay for the staff, pay for the salaries of the station executives, and pay for the elections — being cut out of the process.
For half a century, KQED has had a tradition of membership participation. It’s been awkward and stilted at times (the board appoints its own slate of candidates, and it’s tough for outside candidates to get on the ballot and get elected). But critics of station management have won seats on the board now and then, and their input has been tremendously healthy for the organization.
KQED has always needed independent watchdogs. For years, the station has poured money into bad projects and wasted cash on overpaid executives — at the expense of its primary mission, which is (and ought to be) to provide quality local programming. There’s no KQED TV news show (although there used to be). Other than Michael Krasny on the radio, there’s precious little in the way of local public affairs shows.
That’s the kind of thing rebel board members like Henry Kroll and Sasha Futran used to bring up and force onto the agenda. They also made the case for letting the members — and the public — have access to the details of KQED’s finances.
Lee says that none of the other big stations in the Public Broadcasting Service system have elected boards, but this is San Francisco, a city that takes its publicly supported institutions seriously and demands accountability. And locally, the direction of member-sponsored broadcasting is just the opposite: KPFA has gone to great lengths to elect a community-based board.
This is the last chance members will ever have to halt the corporatization of KQED. Most members just throw their ballots out; this time, it’s worth taking a minute to vote no on the new bylaws. SFBG

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com
So much going on this week: the cops and the San Francisco Police Commission are heading for a battle over secrecy, the cops and the supervisors are headed for a battle over foot patrols — and Mayor Gavin Newsom is heading for a battle with homeless advocates over a new round of sweeps at Golden Gate Park. The mayor and the local gendarmes can’t win any of this without community support and would do far better to stop trying to fight these battles.
Then there’s redevelopment and the city attorney … and we might as well get started:
•The state Supreme Court ruled a couple of weeks ago that all police disciplinary records have to be kept secret. It’s an awful decision, and San Francisco needs to find a way around it if at all possible. Some police commissioners, starting with David Campos, want to do that, but City Attorney Dennis Herrera is interpreting the law very conservatively and not offering the commission a lot of options.
Why not make public all the charges against cops with the individual officers’ names redacted? At least the community would know that some cops are improperly shooting people, giving liquor to minors, beating up people of color, beating up their spouses … and at least we’d all have a way to demand some policy changes. Or why not tell bad cops facing disciplinary hearings that they can plea bargain for a lenient sentence — and waive their rights to privacy — or take their chance in a full commission trial, where they will face termination if they lose? Let’s think here, people: this is too important to just give up. San Franciscans aren’t going to accept a secret police state.
•The mayor and the police chief are still fighting against Sup. Ross Mirkarimi’s plan to put cops on foot in high-crime areas. That’s a loser, Mr. Mayor. Nobody thinks that your current plans are working.
•After visiting Central Park in New York City — which is run by and for a private group of rich people — Newsom has decided to clear all the homeless people out of Golden Gate Park. Let me offer a little reality here: people sleep in the park because they have no place else to go. You cut their welfare payments and let the price of housing skyrocket, this is what you get. Sweep them out and they won’t disappear: they’ll sleep on the streets in the Haight and the Sunset and the Richmond. There’s a great campaign issue.
Besides, Golden Gate Park, homeless and all, is generally a safe, pleasant place, with only minor crime problems. But kids are dying on the streets only a few hundred yards away in the Western Addition. We don’t have enough cops to walk the beat where they could save lives — but we have enough to roust the homeless?
•Herrera, who’s got his hands full of ugly messes this week, tossed a referendum on the Bayview Hunters Point Redevelopment Plan off the ballot because each of the petitions didn’t have the entire plan attached. For the record, the plan is 62 pages. If this is the standard — an entire plan has to be copied and printed with every single petition — then as a practical matter, nobody in California can ever do a referendum on a redevelopment project. I suspect that’s not what Hiram Johnson had mind. SFBG

The people’s program


OPINION San Francisco progressives have spent years getting on the political power map. We have achieved amazing victories, such as the 2000 sweep that defeated the Brown machine and ushered in an independent Board of Supervisors. At times we’ve gotten mired in sectarian clashes that have prevented unity around a common vision. However, such obstacles and stumbles have taught us valuable lessons that can be the building blocks for a vibrant people’s movement. To be successful, we progressives need to have a clear vision and to keep asking ourselves questions. What does it mean to be progressive and for progressives to have power? Assuming we all agree that progressive unity is a necessary foundation for social change, what should unity look like today? And if we’re successful at maintaining power, what do we want to look like five and 10 years from now? In the first year following its founding convention and with these questions in mind, the San Francisco Peoples’ Organization (SFPO) has chosen to focus on three issues central to the lives of all San Franciscans — health care, affordable housing, and violence prevention. Over the past year, this fledgling organization has logged a long list of achievements and participated in many exciting causes. The SFPO has: •worked with the Alliance for a Better California to defeat Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s special election measures in November 2005; •assisted in the development and passage of Supervisor Tom Ammiano’s Worker Health Care Security Ordinance, creating universal health care for local residents; •advocated for Supervisor Chris Daly’s recently passed legislation to increase mandatory levels of affordable housing in new housing developments; •took a leadership role in uniting communities of color and progressives to fight for Proposition A’s homicide and violence prevention efforts, including a host of new budget initiatives addressing some of the root causes of violence; •launched an e-mail dispatch that reaches over 5,000 constituents and highlights local progressive issues, campaigns, and events; •played an active role in the UNITE-HERE Local 2 contract campaign, attending pickets, planning meetings, and participating in civil disobedience. Part of our effort involves critically analyzing the policy agendas of our elected lawmakers and making recommendations. Mayor Gavin Newsom, through his highly visible work to legalize same-sex marriage, rightfully gained the respect and admiration of progressive San Franciscans. However, same-sex marriage is only one issue; Mayor Newsom should not be given carte blanche among progressives for this single act. The SFPO’s second annual convention will take place Sept. 30 at St. Mary’s Cathedral. Please join us. We cannot wait to work together. The future of our city — who we want to live here, who we want to work here, who we want educated here — is being determined now. SFBG Jane Kim and John Avalos The writers are president and vice president, respectively, of the San Francisco Peoples’ Organization. For more information about the SFPO and the Sept. 30 convention, go to www.sfpeople.org.

The Lusty Lady loses its innocence


› sarah@sfbg.com
If you’ve taken a women’s studies course in the past decade or if you’re a patron or follower of the sex industry, you’ve heard of San Francisco’s Lusty Lady. Depicted as a bastion of feminist values and workers’ rights, the 24-hour peep show floats amid the sea of macho-style strip clubs that dominate North Beach’s central strip.
Sure, the Lusty features live nude girls wiggling and jiggling while male customers masturbate in small enclosed booths, but dancers are protected from unwanted splashes of semen and sexual advances thanks to the panel of glass that separates them from the customers. Equally important, at least in the eyes of feminist voyeurs and dancers, is the theater’s reputation for having a broader vision of female beauty than prevailing cultural norms and for being a venue where discrimination simply isn’t tolerated. These credentials date back to the ’90s, when the club’s dancers traded boas for picket signs in what became a successful bid to organize the only unionized strip joint in the nation.
Back then, the drive to unionize was triggered by poor working conditions, including one-way mirrors that allowed customers, newly empowered with the affordable digital technology that emerged in the mid-’90s, to clandestinely film performers. Worried their images would end up as Internet porn or in bootleg videos or used against them in custody battles, the dancers and the male support staff joined forces and won representation with SEIU Local 790.
Less publicized is the fact that three years ago the club’s former management sold the business to the Lusty’s workforce. Since then, the theater has been run as an employee-owned cooperative, with an elected board of directors that signs the union’s collective bargaining agreement every year. Given the harsh fiscal climate that followed the dot-com bomb and the workers’ general lack of business experience prior to their involvement in the Looking Glass Collective (as the Lusty’s co-op is called), it’s no big surprise that the theater is currently facing some fiscal and management challenges.
But the next chapter in the Lusty Lady saga is the strangely twisted tale of how a small faction of male workers is trying to decertify the union against a backdrop of inflammatory e-mails, emotional outbursts, suspensions, and firings, along with competing allegations from dancers of sexual harassment and unfair labor practices.
It all started when one of the men began to argue that the place was losing money because the dancers were too fat.
Now some male co-op members (who work the front desk and the door and have the unpleasant job of cleaning the little rooms) say the union contract isn’t valid anymore because the co-op makes no distinction between management and labor. They are also spinning events to make it appear as if the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) agrees.
The tale goes back to July, when a support staffer named Davide Cerri sent the co-op board an e-mail complaining that the peep show’s revenues were falling off. Since everybody’s pay at the Lusty is based on monthly revenues, any decline in cash flow would hit every worker’s wallet.
Cerri claimed that the Lusty’s madams were hiring “unwatchable girls” — women who were too big and not quite sexy enough — and that as a result, the club lost money.
“People comes [sic] asking for refunds, because they do not want to see girls that they would not want to have sex with even if they were completely drunk,” Cerri wrote. “This is reality, not question of options. We sell fantasies, not nightmares.”
Cerri’s missive so outraged dancer Emma Peep that she posted a copy on a message board where all the dancers could read it.
As Peep explained to the Guardian, “Davide’s e-mail was against everything we stand for, and it’s against the law to hire and fire based on size discrimination.”
But by making the missive public, Peep set off a firestorm.
“Everyone flipped out, people were crying in the dressing room, and the male staffer got ostracized,” one Lusty board member, who asked not to be identified by name, told us. “It’s great what we at the Lusty think the standards of beauty are, but the reality is that we’re in the adult entertainment business.”
Peep claims Cerri’s missive “led to others calling for the termination of women based on their size” — and in the end, to her own July 30 termination. In a supreme twist of irony, given that she filed a grievance with the union and wanted Cerri fired for his e-mail, Peep instead found herself fired “for creating a disruptive, hostile work environment” — via an unsigned letter shoved under her door.
Documents filed with the NLRB show that shortly after Peep filed her grievance, Cerri filed one of his own: he charged SEIU Local 790 with failing to represent his grievances and with treating and representing male and female employees differently.
Last week the NLRB’s regional office dismissed Cerri’s charges — on the grounds that the Lusty is a completely member-owned and member-operated cooperative and that as a shareholding member with the ability to affect the formulation and determination of the Lusty’s policy, Cerri is a managerial employee.
“Accordingly, the Union’s duty of fair representation does not extend to you,” ruled NLRB acting regional director Tim Peck in a letter.
In the meantime, the union has continued to press Peep’s grievances. On Aug. 4, SEIU Local 790 staff manager Dale Butler wrote Lusty Lady board members Miles Thompson, Monique Painton, and Chelsea Eis, informing them that Peep’s termination was “without just cause” and “inappropriate.”
Butler told the board members that the Lusty Lady’s union contract provides for mediation and that the theater could be subject to $2,000 in arbitration fees plus attorneys’ fees plus Peep’s back wages (a triple whammy that could bankrupt the already fiscally struggling club). When the union threatened legal action, the board finally agreed to mediation.
Meanwhile, there’s a dispute about whether the union actually has a valid contract. Union representatives say they sent a final version of this year’s agreement to the board, which never returned it. Butler told the Guardian that on Sept. 25, male support staffer Tony Graf called the union to say that the board had no objections to the contract — except for an antiharassment clause that shop steward Sandy Wong had proposed.
Male support staffers Cerri and Brian Falls still maintain that the union has no business at the Lusty.
“The union has been fraudulently in the Lusty Lady’s business, because we’re a co-op and everyone is a manager,” Falls said.
As for e-mail writer Cerri, he told the Guardian that “the union is automatically out and their contract is not valid, which is great news. We were mobilizing to deunionize by collecting signatures but now won’t have to go forward with that.” Falls also acknowledged being involved in a decertification drive.
“Before the formation of the co-op there was a common enemy, the management, who treated the dancers and the support staff badly. But once we became a co-op, there was no reason for the union to be there,” he explained.
Falls also claims that Cerri’s e-mail wasn’t triggered by larger dancers per se, but because there were four to five large women on the stage at the same time.
“We were losing customers and saw decreased revenues,” Falls said. “The business isn’t doing that great. We’re on a revenue-based pay scale, so it hits everybody’s paycheck. We never said, ‘Don’t hire big women, fat women.’ There are people who enjoy large women. But a block of the same kind of women — that was losing revenues.”
Financial records obtained by the Guardian, however, show that the Lusty Lady made an average of $28,000 a week in January, $27,000 in February, $28,000 in April, $26,000 in June, and $27,000 in July. That hardly looks like a dramatic collapse of income.
The last word goes to a female dancer who refused to use her stage name for fear of retaliation.
“The union can be polarizing, but it’s scary to leave because it protects our rights,” she said. “The problem is that people will vote against their best interests. It’s like working people voting for Bush. I think I can understand that phenomenon since working at the Lusty Lady.” SFBG

Battle for Bayview


› steve@sfbg.com
It’s been a week since City Attorney Dennis Herrera invalidated the seemingly successful referendum drive challenging the Bayview Hunters Point Redevelopment Plan, and everyone involved is still wondering what’s next.
Can the biggest redevelopment plan in city history just move forward as if more than 33,000 city residents hadn’t signed petitions asking to vote on it? Legally, that’s where the situation now stands. But even Herrera told the Guardian that the legal question he answered is separate from the policy and political questions.
Should the Board of Supervisors hold a hearing to discuss the controversial issues raised by redevelopment and this referendum? Should it consider repealing the plan and allowing a ballot vote, as some supervisors want?
And if each referendum petition must include a thick stack of all related documents, as Herrera’s opinion indicates, won’t that make it prohibitively expensive for a community group to ever challenge such a complex piece of legislation? Have the citizens in effect lost the constitutional right to force a referendum on a redevelopment plan?
“I can’t speak to what the practical effect will be. I can just tell you what the state of the law is,” Herrera told us, noting that referendum case law clearly indicates that the petitioners should have carried the 62-page redevelopment plan and all supporting documents, not simply the ordinance that approved it.
Four supervisors — Chris Daly, Tom Ammiano, Gerardo Sandoval, and Ross Mirkarimi — voted against the plan in May. All have expressed concern about Herrera’s decision, but none have yet called for a hearing.
“Whether you agree or disagree with this opinion on the validity of the redevelopment referendum, it raises some grave concerns that this process — a democratic, grassroots process — was overturned,” Mirkarimi told us. Daly called the decision “terrible.”
Yet given that they need the support of at least two more supervisors to reconsider the plan, Mirkarimi conceded that the next step will probably have to come from a lawsuit by the petitioners, a move referendum coalition leaders Willie Ratcliff and Brian O’Flynn say they intend to pursue if political pressure fails.
“It’s unclear what the next steps are to dislodge this from the legal shackles that knocked it down,” Mirkarimi said. “Something doesn’t smell right, and it’s difficult to trace the odor completely without the courts getting involved.”
But Ratcliff hasn’t given up on forcing a political solution, which he is pushing through his coalition and the San Francisco Bay View newspaper he publishes. The paper last week ran a story on the decision under the hyperbolic headline “City Hall declares war on Bayview Hunters Point.”
“We’re talking to lawyers, but to us the last resort is going to court. We feel we can pull it off politically,” Ratcliff told us. “What this did really was unite this community. If the city will pull this kind of thing, how are we going to have any faith in this plan? We’re going to flex our power…. People are ready to fight now.”
One gauge of Ratcliff’s support in the community will come on the afternoon of Sept. 27, when he will lead a march and rally on the issue. The event is tied to the 40th anniversary of the so-called Hunters Point Uprising, when a teenager was shot by police and the resulting community backlash was violently quelled using National Guard tanks and police sharpshooters.
“With the 40th anniversary of the Hunters Point Uprising of Sept. 27, 1966, only days away, this sounds like a declaration of war against the same people who protested then and are protesting still against police brutality and for jobs, economic equity and the right to develop our own community and control our own destiny,” Ratcliff wrote in a front page editorial.
Ratcliff told us, “We’re going to have a big march out there to show the city that we oppose this plan.”
Herrera’s opinion on the referendum was requested by Mayor Gavin Newsom, the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, Board of Supervisors president Aaron Peskin, and Sup. Sophie Maxwell.
Redevelopment Agency director Marcia Rosen told the Guardian that fears of redevelopment stem from how badly it was handled in the Western Addition in the 1960s, but that the agency and the political climate of the city have changed. She said the agency is approaching Bayview–Hunters Point in an incremental, community-based fashion. She said the plan should go forward and will eventually prove the fears are unfounded.
“The plan was adopted by the board and signed into law by the mayor, and there is no further action needed, so the plan is in effect,” she told us.
Maxwell and Peskin each said they’re inclined to just let the redevelopment plan go into effect, although Peskin said, “I’m not going to stop any supervisor from having a hearing on any subject.”
“It’s important to understand that this plan is a living document, so there will be changes and people talking to each other,” Maxwell told us. “It’s certainly not the end of anything.”
She told the Guardian that the referendum campaign used paid signature gatherers, money from a developer from outside the area, and distorted claims about eminent domain and other aspects of the plan — misrepresentations that signers could have checked if the plan was readily available as legally required.
“The democratic process has to be taken seriously, and democracy is not easy,” Maxwell told us. “The decision was about preserving the democratic process, and people need to have facts at their disposal. There has to be a process and there has to be a standard.”
That’s certainly true — and O’Flynn is a contractor who lives in the Marina. But it’s hard to imagine how carrying around thick stacks of paper filled with complex land-use plans would have made a difference. Most signers would never have stopped to take several hours to read it all.
John Matsusaka, president of the Initiative and Referendum Institute at the University of Southern California School of Law, said that referendum case law has been built around a few courts validating actions by civic officials to strike down citizen movements.
“The sad fact is it looked like elected officials are trying to keep measures off the ballot and looking for ways to support that,” Matsusaka told the Guardian. “Preventing the people from voting is really not going to bring harmony to the community.” SFBG
The Defend Bayview Hunters Point Coalition’s Sept. 27 march begins at 3:30 p.m. at the Walgreens at 5800 Third St. and Williams and continues up Third Street to Palou Street, where there will be a press conference and rally at 4:30 p.m.

Casting off


› amanda@sfbg.com
Hornblower Yachts assumed control of the ferry service to Alcatraz Island on Sept. 25. As the new crew cast off the dock lines, spurned union workers — some 30-year veterans with the former contractor, Blue and Gold — rallied with supporters at the entrance, asking passengers not to board the boats.
Two union-friendly visitors from Sydney, Australia, ripped up their tickets and demanded refunds. “We don’t agree with what they’re doing to the workers,” one said, while in the background Supervisors Aaron Peskin and Tom Ammiano took turns with the bullhorn, also offering their support to the workers.
“All of our colleagues on the board are not going to stand for it,” Peskin said to the couple hundred laborers gathered on the sidewalk. “We’re going to stand with you and march with you.”
Terry MacRae, CEO of Hornblower, expressed little concern about the boycotting tourists and the rally at his gate. “I suspect there’s plenty more people who want the tickets if they’re not going to use them,” he told the Guardian. Visits to Alcatraz peak this time of year, with a couple thousand people turned away every day when tickets sell out, according to National Park Service spokesperson Rich Wiedeman.
The NPS decision to grant the lucrative, 10-year contract to Hornblower over Blue and Gold has resulted in more than just what some are calling the largest union layoff in San Francisco waterfront history. The story also has an environmental angle as slick as an oil spill and a nasty landlord-tenant tussle.
“The port and I are extremely concerned with how Hornblower has conducted itself,” City Attorney Dennis Herrera told the Guardian, referring to the company’s artful dodge of city and state permitting processes. “They’ve focused more energy on sidestepping public oversight than complying with it.”
Despite infuriating two leading San Francisco institutions — unions and city planners — MacRae has managed thus far to avoid too much of a stir by keeping another critical local constituency off his back with a well-played “green” card.
When NPS put out a request for proposals in 2004, three companies submitted bids for Alcatraz: Red and White, a local charter and bay cruise company that ran the service when it first started in the ’70s; Blue and Gold, which took over Red and White’s boats and unionized crew in 1994; and Hornblower Cruises and Events, which runs charter and dinner boat cruises from five California ports and is a subsidiary of a larger, $30 million company.
When Brian O’Neill, superintendent of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, announced last year that Hornblower won the bid, union activists immediately challenged the choice. Mayor Gavin Newsom, Peskin, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, and both of California’s US senators expressed concerns about the decision. Neighborhood group Citizens to Save the Waterfront filed suit. Environmentalists, however, were elated.
For the first time since being passed by Congress in 1998, the Concessions Management Act applied to the bid for Alcatraz. In addition to forbidding the Department of the Interior from favoring incumbent contractors, the act also outlined new criteria for awarding contracts that included a mandate to improve environmental quality in national parklands.
“Bluewater Network has been advocating for more than five years for a solar- and wind-powered ferry for San Francisco Bay,” said Teri Schore, a spokesperson for the local environmental group. She added that diesel vessels in the Bay Area account for more pollution than cars and buses combined. “We’ve been talking to every ferry operator on the bay, and we also knew that the Alcatraz contract was up. We thought it was the perfect application.”
Hornblower’s MacRae wrote a provision into his bid that within two years of taking over the Alcatraz service, the company would build and launch a ferry to run on a combination of solar, wind, and diesel power. After one year of testing the vessel, a second would be built within five years.
That — in combination with a plan to make two initial vessels 90 percent more fuel efficient, as well as implement a clean energy shuttle service on the Embarcadero, power the landing facilities with solar panels, purchase green products, and vend healthy snacks — put Hornblower’s bid over the top.
Wiedeman said all bidders are informed that financial feasibility of the company and potential revenue for the government, as well as environmental and sustainability initiatives, were considered. But some criteria were more weighted than others, and Hornblower ranked strongly on all points.
“We’re ecstatic,” Wiedeman said. “We’re looking at higher-quality visitor services from the get-go.”
But some doubt whether the proposed vessels are anywhere close to a reality. MacRae said a final design and marine contractor have not been selected yet, although Solar Sailor’s model BayTri has been touted. A giant solar-arrayed fin provides auxiliary wind and sun power to the trimaran’s diesel engines. No such vessel has ever been built, but the model is based on a smaller solar ferry that services Sydney Harbor in Australia — with a top speed of just seven knots.
The proposed boat is emissions free and could go 12 knots with the aid of the wind, although it would need a push from auxiliary diesel engines to keep up with Alcatraz’s schedule. Boats now run between 15 and 19 knots.
The other concern is that MacRae’s commitment of $5 million for constructing the 600-passenger vessel might not be enough. The San Francisco Water Transit Authority has been looking into a similar vessel carrying no more than 150 passengers that would cost between $6 and $8 million.
“Their requirements for design are different than what mine would be,” MacRae said. “I think it’s possible to do it for $5 million.”
Bluewater Network founder Russell Long worries that the low-budget cap could hurt the vessel’s environmental potential. “We believe that Hornblower may intend to maintain this budget ceiling even if it compromises other aspects of the design, such as best management practices in regard to environmental components,” he wrote in a letter to NPS, urging reconsideration of the contract.
NPS awarded the contract anyway and Bluewater is hoping for the best.
“We will be watchdogging the progress and keeping track of what’s going on. If it doesn’t happen, it will be a huge black eye for the National Park Service, Hornblower, and the city of San Francisco,” Schore said. “At this point we have faith that it’s going to get built, because it’s in the contract.”
However, Hornblower’s snub toward union contracts and dodgy relations with the city suggest that playing by the rules may not be a top priority for the company.
Since 1974, boats to Alcatraz have run from the Pier 39 area of Fisherman’s Wharf, where waiting ticket holders can indulge in the myriad distractions the tourist hub offers.
MacRae launched his new ferry service from Pier 31, half a mile farther south on the Embarcadero, where he currently leases space and operates a charter and dining cruise business.
Pier 31 is little more than a parking lot with a ramp and floating dock, which only sees about 100,000 people a year, far fewer than the 1.3 million annual passengers Alcatraz draws.
MacRae has attractive plans for a complete overhaul of the area, which would include landscaping and sheltered seating, a bookstore, and an informational center. Such alterations would require a thorough run through the city’s planning process, which MacRae told the NPS he won’t be doing until 12 to 18 months from now.
Instead, interim improvements to the lot were planned, which sparked concern from the city that the sudden increase in foot traffic wouldn’t be properly mitigated. That area of the Embarcadero also hosts 250,000 passengers a year from cruise ships docking at adjacent Pier 35. The Port spent close to $200,000 last year controlling that traffic with signage and police officers. The addition of thousands more visitors streaming down the sidewalks seeking passage to Alcatraz could cause gridlock every time a cruise ship docks.
Monique Moyer, executive director of the port, sent repeated letters over the last year to MacRae asking for clarifications about his plans and expressing concern that the change in use of Pier 31 required a review of existing permits.
She wasn’t alone. On July 31, Citizens to Save the Waterfront filed suit against Hornblower, claiming that the amount of activity at Pier 31 would increase twentyfold. “That represents a substantial change in the intensity of use,” Jon Golinger, a representative from the group, told us.
A change in the intensity of use of a waterfront property triggers the need for a complete environmental impact review (EIR) from the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC), a state agency with jurisdiction over anything within 100 feet of the shoreline. As many city developers know, EIRs can take many months to consider all potential changes to the existing landscape that the applicant would cause. Delays of that sort could have hindered MacRae’s ability to assume ferry service on the contracted date of Sept. 25.
MacRae said the litigation kept him from divulging to the city his proposed plans for upgrades to the pier.
Just days before the lawsuit was to be argued in San Francisco Superior Court on Sept. 6, BCDC executive director Will Travis sent a letter to Moyer stating that Hornblower’s new service and alterations to Pier 31 did not require any new permits.
He cited a typo from Hornblower’s current BCDC-issued permit as an allowance for the increase in passengers. The permit states that the pier may provide “access to the entire bay via vessel for 200,000 to 5000,000 [sic] people/year.”
He footnoted the quote: “There is clearly a typographical error in the 5000,000 number, which is intended to state the maximum anticipated usage of the dock … the correct number is probably either 500,000 or 5,000,000. While it seems reasonable to believe that the correct number is 500,000, the record contains nothing to substantiate this conclusion.”
Travis also relayed that Hornblower plans to use temporary measures that include trailers with port-a-potties, a portable ticket booth, and hollow traffic barriers for guiding traffic and pedestrians on and off the boat.
Herrera told us that this was the first Moyer had heard of what was planned for the lot and there was concern about how other services in the area and traffic on the Embarcadero would be affected, as well as if any structures, signage, and other enhancements would require additional permits. “It certainly would have been nice if they had shared all these plans so the port could conduct the proper environmental review that we all agree is in order,” he said.
In a strongly worded letter to Travis, Herrera wrote that to allow Hornblower to proceed without any environmental review could violate the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and urged the BCDC to “issue an immediate cease and desist order” to prevent the start of service. Herrera also made the salient point that “the later the environmental review process begins, the more bureaucratic and financial momentum there is behind a proposed project, thus providing a strong incentive to ignore environmental concerns that could be dealt with more easily at an early stage of the project.”
On Sept. 7, BCDC commissioners met in closed session at the end of a four-hour meeting and voted to stand by Travis’s argument.
David Owen, a former Peskin aide who’s also a BCDC commissioner, was one of two abstentions to the otherwise unanimous vote. “It was really frustrating, because it seemed like Hornblower did everything in their power to avoid a permit review,” Owen told us. “Now what? We have a CEQA lawsuit and then the Board of Supervisors shuts down the Alcatraz ferry service? They’ve managed to start up service without acquiring a single permit. Kudos to them for strategy.”
Citizens to Save the Waterfront then dropped its lawsuit, feeling it was weakened by the BCDC decision.
“Essentially, now there’s a turf war between Bush’s park service and the Port of San Francisco,” Golinger said. “BCDC tried to avoid getting involved, but the precedent it sets is horrible. A corporation can come in and skirt any planning process.”
After scoring the Alcatraz bid, Hornblower sought an exemption to the Service Contract Act of 1965 that would have required MacRae to pay equal to or more than what current crew make. But the Department of Labor ruled Sept. 21 against Hornblower. So veteran Blue and Gold crew have added safety to their concerns.
“I’ve made tens of thousands of landings on Alcatraz Island, and now they have captains who have never been there,” Capt. Andy Miller said. For 17 years, Miller has navigated the busy shipping lanes and the constant summer fog against the tugging tide and the sudden slams of inclement weather to bring tourists, park service staff, and supplies to the island.
“No one’s ever gotten hurt. It’s a very tricky place to land a boat. It takes skill and experience that you can’t just hire off the street,” he said.
Miller said he applied for a job with Hornblower but was not interviewed. So far, no captains and only three ticket agents and a deckhand have been hired from Blue and Gold’s former fleet.
“We have a ready workforce,” Master, Mate, and Pilot union spokesperson Veronica Sanchez said. “They’re going to have to be paid the same wages as union workers at Blue and Gold. They don’t want to be a union shop. Why don’t you want to be a union shop on a union waterfront like San Francisco?”
One reason could be concern that it might bump up costs for Hornblower’s other tour operations. “They want us to agree that if we sign up our workers for Alcatraz, that we won’t organize the dining yachts,” Sanchez said. In 1998, the union attempted to organize Hornblower’s dinner cruise operations in San Francisco but didn’t prevail in a supervised election.
MacRae said he’s not opposed to the unions and he’s encouraged the Blue and Gold staff to apply for jobs. “The unionization is the choice of the workers,” he said. “We try to let the employees make the choices. Last time I checked, that’s who the unions represent.”
“We want to make sure we have the best crew,” he said. “Many of the products and guest services we provide aren’t what Blue and Gold do now.” He added that some current employees from the dining cruises have also been shifted to the Alcatraz route.
“I’ve been here 21 years, and we’ve been replaced by busboys and waiters,” said deckhand Robert Estrada, standing with fellow workers outside the gate of the new Alcatraz ferry service.
Estrada said Hornblower’s reliance on part-time, low-wage workers has earned the company the nickname “the Wal-Mart of the Water.” The company’s rapid expansion, from a two-boat Berkeley-based charter to a multinational fleet with government contracts is a similar characteristic.
Blue and Gold spokesperson Alicia Vargas assured us that the remaining ferry services to Alameda, Angel Island, Oakland, Sausalito, Tiburon, and Vallejo will be solvent, but some of the veteran crew who haven’t been laid off yet are worried this is the beginning of the end.
“The public needs to be warned. If funds don’t come from Alcatraz, Blue and Gold could fold,” said David Heran, an International Boatmen’s Union member and deckhand since 1974 who applied to Hornblower but wasn’t hired. “I’m not ready to retire yet, and this wasn’t the way I was expecting it to happen.” SFBG

Oh TV, up yours!


› johnny@sfbg.com
Dick Cheney surveys the teeming white crowds at the 2004 Republican National Convention. With their Cheney Rocks! placards and stars-and-stripes Styrofoam hats, these people worship him, but he still looks like he wants to spray them with buckshot. “You’re all a bunch of fucking assholes!” he sneers. “You know why? You need people like me — so you can point your fucking fingers and say, ‘That’s the bad guy.’”
OK, maybe Cheney didn’t use those exact words in his convention speech, but we all know he was thinking them, so bless Bryan Boyce’s short video America’s Biggest Dick for making the vice president really speak his mind — in this case, via Al Pacino’s dialogue in Scarface. The title fits: Boyce’s two-minute movie exposes the gangster mentality of Cheney and the rest of the Bush administration, perhaps giving his subject more charisma than he deserves. Ultimately, Cheney gets around to admitting he’s the bad guy — after he’s compared the convention’s hostile New York setting to “a great big pussy waiting to be fucked” and speculated about how much money is required to buy the Supreme Court. “Fuck you! Who put this thing together? Me — that’s who!” he bellows when a graphic exhibition of his oral sex talents receives some boos.
One might think the man behind America’s Biggest Dick might be boisterous and loud, but Boyce — who lives in San Francisco — is in fact soft-spoken and modest, crediting the movie’s “stunt mouth,” Jonathan Crosby (whose teeth and lips Bryce pastes onto Cheney and other political figures), with the idea of using Brian de Palma’s 1983 film. “I knew I wanted extensive profanity, and Scarface more than delivered,” Boyce says during an interview at the Mission District’s Atlas Café. “But I was also amazed at how well the dialogue fit.”
The dialogue fits because Boyce masterfully tweaks found material, particularly footage from television. It’s a skill he’s honed and a skill that motivates the most recent waves of TV manipulation thriving on YouTube, on DVD (in the case of the Toronto-based TV Carnage), and at film festivals and other venues that have the nerve to program work that ignores the property rights of an oppressive dominant culture. “It is, admittedly, crude,” Boyce says of America’s Biggest Dick, which inspired raves and rage when it played the Sundance Film Festival last year. “It’s a crude technique for a crude movie matched to a very crude vice president.” As for the contortions of Crosby’s mouth, which exaggerate Cheney’s own expressions, Boyce has an apt reference at hand: “The twisted mouth to match his twisted soul — he’s got a Richard III thing going on.”
America’s Biggest Dick isn’t Boyce’s only film to mine horror and hilarity from the hellish realms of Fox News. In 30 Seconds of Hate, for example, he uses a “monosyllabic splicing technique” to puppeteer war criminal (and neocon TV expert) Henry Kissinger into saying, “If we kill all the people in the world, there’ll be no more terrorists…. It’s very probable that I will kill you.” All the while, mock Fox News updates scroll across the bottom of the screen. “That footage came from a time when Fox thought that Saddam [Hussein] had been killed,” Boyce explains. “That’s why Kissinger kept using the word kill. Of course, no one says kill like Henry Kissinger.”
In Boyce’s State of the Union, the smiling baby face within a Teletubbies sun is replaced by the grumpier, more addled visage of George W. Bush. Shortly after issuing a delighted giggle, this Bush sun god commences to bomb rabbits that graze amid the show’s hilly Astroturf landscapes — which mysteriously happen to be littered with oil towers. With uncanny prescience, Boyce made the movie in August 2001, inspiring fellow TV tweak peers such as Rich Bott of the duo Animal Charm to compare him to Nostradamus. “Even before Sept. 11, [Bush] was looking into nuclear weapons and bunker busters,” Boyce says. “His drilling in the [Arctic National Wildlife Reserve] led me to use the oil towers.”
Having grown up in the Bay Area and returned here after a college stint in Santa Cruz, Boyce — like other Bay Area artists with an interest in culture jamming — calls upon Negativland (“I thought their whole Escape from Noise album was great”) and Craig Baldwin (“He’s kind of the godfather of cinema here”) as two major inspirations. In fact, both he and Baldwin have shared a fascination with televangelist Robert Tilton, whose bizarre preaching makes him a perfect lab rat on whom to try out editing experiments. “He speaks in tongues so nicely,” Boyce says with a smile. “He’s just so over-the-top and sad and terrible that he lends himself to all the extremes of the [editing] system, such as playing something backwards.”
Boyce believes that the absurdity of “an abrupt jump cut between incongruous things” can “really be beautiful.” And the TV Carnage DVDs put together by Derrick Beckles might illustrate that observation even better than Boyce’s more minimalist tweaking. In just one of hundreds of uproarious moments within TV Carnage’s most recent DVD, the wonderfully titled Sore for Sighted Eyes, a sheet-clad John Ritter stares in abject disbelief at a TV on which Rosie O’Donnell pretends to have Down syndrome. At least two different movie writers at this paper (yours truly included) have shed tears from laughing at this sequence.
“I just picture a conveyer belt, and there are just so many points at which someone could press a big red stop button, but it doesn’t happen,” Beckles says, discussing the source (an Angelica Huston–helmed TV movie called Riding the Bus with My Sister) for the O’Donnell footage. “There’s this untouchable hubris. It blows my mind that people are paid for some of these ideas. Crispin Glover told me that the actors with Down syndrome in [his movie] What Is It? were offended by [the O’Donnell performance], or that they felt uneasy. It is uneasy to see Rosie O’Donnell do a Pee-wee Herman impersonation and think she’s embodying someone with Down syndrome.”
Beckles’s interest in manipuutf8g TV — or as he puts it, “exorcising my own demons” by exorcising television’s — dates back to childhood. But it took several years in the belly of MGM to really fire a desire that has resulted in five DVDs to date. “TV Carnage is my way of screaming,” he says at one point during a phone conversation that proves he’s as funny as his work. Like Boyce and audio contemporaries such as Gregg Gillis of Girl Talk (see “Gregg the Ripper,” page 69), he filters “mounds and mounds and shelves and shelves” of tapes and other material through his computer.
“It’s not so much that I’m always in front of the TV,” Beckles explains. “I’d just say that I have this divining rod for shit. I have these psychic premonitions when I turn on my TV. I have years and years of footage. I pull all of it into my computer and say, ‘Now what?’ Then I take a swig of whiskey and go, ‘You’ve got yourself into it again.'” On Sore for Sighted Eyes this approach results in eye-defying montages dedicated to subjects such as white rapping. (Believe me, you have not lived until you’ve died inside seeing Mike Ditka and the Grabowskis or the Sealy Roll.)
Overall, mind control is TV Carnage’s main theme. One segment within the release Casual Fridays looks at children who act like adults and adults who act like children — two plagues that run rampant on TV. “Kids are like al-Qaeda,” he says. “They’ll shift their plans every day to keep you wondering. [Meanwhile], you can just feel the adults who host teen shows thinking about their mortgage payments: ‘What are kids doing now? Slitting each other’s throats? Great! Let’s do a show about it!’” An infamous “swearing sandwich” sequence within TV Carnage’s When Television Attacks encapsulates Beckles’s worldview. “People who are into self-help — they might as well be taking advice from a sandwich.”
Breaking from the more free-form nature of TV Carnage — which isn’t afraid of running from Richard Simmons to Mao Zedong in a few seconds — Beckles is working within some self-imposed restrictions to make his next project. The presence of rules has some irony, since the project is titled Cop Movie. “I’m taking 101 cop movies and making a full-length feature from them,” he says. “The same script has been used for hundreds and hundreds of cop movies — they just change the characters’ names, using a name that sounds dangerous or slightly evocative of freedom.”
“The reason I’m using 101 movies stems from this ridiculous mathematical aspect I’ve figured out,” he continues. “If I take a certain number of seconds from each movie, it adds up to 66 minutes and 6 seconds, and the whole construct of 666 makes me laugh. I’ve already cut together a part where a guy gets hit by a car, and he goes from being a blond guy to a black guy to a guy with red hair to a guy with a mullet. It flows seamlessly. It’s a real acid trip — and kind of a psychological experiment. After I finish it, I’ll probably just pick out a casket and sleep for a hundred years.”
The encyclopedic aspect of Beckles’s TV Carnage sucks in more recognizable footage such as American Idol’s Scary Mary and a musical number from The Apple. In contrast, the duo who go by the name Animal Charm tend to work with footage that few, if any, people have seen, such as corporate training videos. “Our interest from the beginning has not been to turn to a video we love or have a nostalgic connection to,” says Jim Fetterley, who along with Rich Bott makes up Animal Charm. “We were looking for things that were empty that could be used to create new meanings.”
Those meanings are often hilarious — the new Animal Charm DVD, Golden Digest, includes shorts such as Stuffing (in which a real-life monkey watches animated dolphins juggle a woman back and forth) and Ashley (which turns an infomercial for a Texas woman’s Amway-like beauty business into a bizarre science fiction story). But if reappropriation brings out the political commentator in Boyce and the comedian in Beckles, for Fetterley it’s more of a philosophical matter. Pledging allegiance to contemporaries such as Los Angeles’s TV Sheriff and the Pittsburgh, Pa., collective Paper Rad, he talks about Animal Charm’s videos as “tinctures” he’s used to “deprogram” himself and friends. “Our videos can make an empty boardroom seem like the jungle or something very natural,” he says when asked about his use of National Geographic–type clips and dated-looking office scenes. “In the videos, the animals are like puppets. You could say it’s like animation but on a more concept-based level.”
While Boyce, TV Carnage, and Animal Charm most often work with found material, their cinematic practice — jump-cut editing, for example — is more imaginative and creative than that of many “original” multimillion dollar productions. “We’re not predetermining any space we want to get into,” Fetterley explains, “other than most often that level of disassociation and absurdity where you are almost feeling something like the rush of a drug.” For him, generating this type of “temporary autonomy” is liberating. “With massive paranoia and war going on, it’s so easy to control a lot of people with fear and paranoia. We like to think if we can sit down and show our videos to our friends and others and have a laugh and talk about it seriously, it might help take everyone out of that mind frame.”
Because of the popularity of YouTube and its ability to create a new type of TV celebrity (and also the recent notoriety of musical efforts such as Danger Mouse’s The Grey Album and Girl Talk’s Night Ripper), reappropriation is reaching the mainstream. But even as Animal Charm’s and Boyce’s clips proliferate on the Internet, a veteran such as Fetterley looks upon such developments with a pointedly critical perspective. “There’s a general tendency right now to get excited about things that are unknown or anonymous,” he says. “Accountability is almost more important than appropriation nowadays. All of a sudden, if something is anonymous, it makes people feel very uncomfortable.”
For artists with names, censorship is still very much an issue. Boyce recently found America’s Biggest Dick (along with Glover’s What Is It?) cited during a campaign to withdraw funding from a long-running film festival in Ann Arbor, Mich. But Fetterley sees a troubling larger picture. “Danger Mouse’s Grey Album is a very solid conceptual project — it’s gray,” he notes. “In comparison, if somebody is doing a New York Times article about something current politically or globally, there are red zones and flags that will be brought to others’ attention whether you or I know it or not. Those are things making this moment dangerous, in terms of not being able to be anonymous. With ideas about evidence dissolving and accountability hung up in legalities, it makes the culture around music or aesthetics or youth culture pale in comparison.” SFBG
With launch party for Animal Charm’s Golden Digest DVD
Oct. 7, 8 p.m.
Artists’ Television Access
992 Valencia, SF
(415) 824-3890
For complete interviews with Derrick Beckles of TV Carnage, Bryan Boyce, and Jim Fetterley of Animal Charm, go to Pixel Vision at www.sfbg.com/blogs/pixel_vision.

Gregg the Ripper


You’re walking down the street in the dark. You can hear the steps of a beast with many feet behind you. Every second it’s getting closer and bigger. One minute it’s got the juicy spirit of a young Biggie Smalls and a waterfall piano melody that inspires visions of a tiny dancer. The next, its Ciara-stamped “O” pulses over the metric bump and grind of an Elastica connection. Just when you think you have its ID down, it changes again, shifting sounds and songs at a rate of a dozen a minute. It’s tapping you on the shoulder. It’s gotten inside your brain. It’s Night Ripper, the newest album by Girl Talk.
Gregg Gillis has made three albums under the Girl Talk moniker, but this year’s Night Ripper (Illegal Art) is the one that’s making that moniker famous — maybe because it’s a monster of an album that leaves most mashup ideas and practices in the dust. And to think that the title comes from a simple T-shirt. “There’s this shirt I’ve had for years that shows this skateboarder dude with all these fluorescent colors and skulls everywhere, and it just says ‘Night Ripper’ on it,” Gillis, who lives in Pittsburgh, Pa., explains via phone before a Friday night show. “I wanted an aggressive name [for the album] that also had a party feel.”
Night Ripper’s 16 tracks add up to a seamless 42-minute burst of manic energy. It’s no surprise to learn that Gillis composed the album as one big song. “I built it in three different chunks, so in case I got stuck in one area I could move to another,” he says. “Eventually, I had this whole piece.” The result possesses the type of megamix acceleration you’d find on the late-night Detroit radio stations that bred the likes of DJ Assault. But Gillis says that while he’s heard his share of CeCe Peniston–style techno pop and has nursed a childhood passion for New Jack Swing, neither count as a direct form of inspiration. “In high school I was into John Oswald and People Like Us and Evolution Control Committee and Plunderphonics-y experimentation. I fell into this mode of making megamix-style music through that.”
On his first album for Illegal Art, 2002’s Secret Diary, Gillis drenched Lil’ Romeo and others in static white noise. His flair for harshly comic juxtapositions was already there, present in a track (“What Iff”) that — thanks to Big Tymers — changed Joan Osborne’s infamous “What if god was one of us?” query into “What if god were a project bitch?” One track on 2004’s Unstoppable, his follow-up for the label, the jaw-dropping “Bodies Hit the Floor,” forecasted where Gillis was headed. Over frenzied beats, he ricocheted the “you say” verses of two radically different girl pop songs — Kelly Osbourne’s “Shut Up” and Lisa Loeb’s “Stay” — off each other and threaded Ludacris’s “Move Bitch,” Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me a River,” and a ghostly Bone Thugs ’n’ Harmony warrior ode through them.
“I think if you put Secret Diary and Night Ripper together, it’s kind of like Unstoppable,” Gillis says, his analogy suggesting an incessant urge to combine and fuse material. “I’ve made an experimental album, then more of an IDMish album, and now a pop record.” A berserk record that swallows pop music whole. It’s easy to imagine The Simpsons’ sometime market researcher and sexual predator Lindsay “be warm — but edgy-cute” Naegle having an aneurysm upon hearing it. Night Ripper is packed with funny split-second moments, such as a transition in which the hooting synth melody of Paula Abdul’s “Straight Up” is answered in a birdcall manner by the keyboard hook of Mariah Carey’s “It’s Like That.”
Yet for all its Dirty South meets AOR meets soft rock meets alt-rock meets gangsta meets grunge meets ’80s bubblegum appeal, don’t assume Night Ripper is a Frankenstein built only from other people’s parts. One of its purest blasts of adrenaline stems from Gillis’s own instrumentation, when he adds an accelerating guitar track to the “Girl, shake that laffy taffy!” chorus of D4L’s “Laffy Taffy.” The factoid masters at Wikipedia have already compiled an extensive list of Night Ripper’s samples, nabbing 190 sources. But their efforts can’t convey the sheer goofy your-peanut-butter-in-my-chocolate joy of Young Jeezy colliding with Nirvana or a magnified version of Biggie’s trademark beat-fucking “uh” sound (from “Hypnotize”) giving way to an equally exaggerated bump and grind burst from Billy Squier’s onanistic “Stroke.”
With Night Ripper, Gillis has built a popular culture landmark somewhere between a Stars on 45 hit and the copyright-flouting 1987 United Kingdom chart attack of the Justified Ancients of Mumu. He uses a Plunderphonics-like practice to create something that might have mass appeal. “I’m making this music that is challenging yet pop,” he agrees. “I could have gone over the edge and doubled the number of sources and made it insanely crazy to listen to as an experimental piece or I could have slowed it down and made this easy-to-dance-to sort of record. It was a fine line, and I wanted to make something that was fun but at the same time interesting to listen to as a composition.” (Johnny Ray Huston)
For a complete interview with Gregg Gillis, go to Noise at www.sfbg.com/blogs/music.

Free the Media!


WHAT: Free the Media!
WHEN: Thursday September 21st, 8pm-midnight
WHERE: Crash (34 Mason Street between Eddy and Turk)

Blogger and video-journalist Josh Wolf has been ordered back to jail for refusing to let a federal grand jury have unedited footage of a July 2005 protest demonstration.

Free the Media! Is a benefit to raise money for the Rise Up Network legal defense fund for freelance journalists.

Speakers at Thursday’s event will include Josh Wolf (on the eve of his return to prison), Bruce Brugmann, editor and publisher of the San Francisco Bay Guardian; San Francisco Supervisors Ross Mirkarimi and Chris Daly; filmmaker Kevin Epps; Sarah Olson, Truthout.org journalist; Jeff Perlstein, executive director of the Media Alliance; Richard Knee, acting Journalism Division chair of the National Writers Union’s Bay Area chapter; and Njeri Sims, filmmaker.

Live music by Magnetism. Chuck Gonzalez to DJ.