Volume 40 [2005–06]
For those who like their psych pop woodsy, local duo the Skygreen Leopards are here for you. Glen Donaldson and Donovan Quinn’s collaboration is the Jewelled Antler Music Collective’s marquee project – so much so that the Jagjaguwar label put out the group’s last LP, Life and Love in the Sparrow’s Meadow. The Jewelled Antler aesthetic – the collective’s many CD-Rs are all field recordings, with bands communing with nature’s music as they shape their own – finds ideal expression in the Leopard’s airy, Marin-inspired jams. (Max Goldberg)
With Or, the Whale and the Finches
2565 Mission, SF
Those with a “who cares” attitude toward garage rock clearly require the antidote to all things bogus, because the Tall Birds, a Seattle group featuring ex-members of the Catheters, have successfully time-warped to the age of freakbeat sultans on their debut seven-inch, Internalize b/w the Sky Is Falling (Sub Pop). In the celebratory haze surrounding these winged wonders, you can hear the Troggs and the Stooges, but there’s a youthful todayness in the band’s melodic sensibility: after all, most of these guys were doing the indie rock thing before this. (Michael Harkin)
With the Bruises
1131 Polk, SF
For over 25 years, the Golden Raspberry Award Foundation has given out prizes for cinematic lowlights. There have been a myriad of “winners,” from Ronald Reagan to Bruce the rubber shark from the Jaws movies. However, there is only one person whose contribution to the world of horrible movies has been so immense that the foundation saw fit to name an award after him: Joe Eszterhas. Eszterhas is the man responsible for Flashdance, Basic Instinct, and Showgirls. This is not to disparage Eszterhas’s work – there is a certain Zen to his writing that, while easy to mock, is nearly impossible to duplicate. He’ll be at the Book Passage promoting The Devil’s Guide to Hollywood: The Screenwriter as God. (Aaron Sankin)
51 Tamal Vista, Corte Madera
“Sarkis: Alive and After”
Andreï Tarkovsky’s Stalker is one of cinema’s wildest alien touchstones. In the major new exhibition “Sarkis: Alive and After,” it becomes even more of a marker. Within one of the show’s four major elements, the Armenian-born, Paris-based Sarkis collaborates with viewers to restructure Tarkovsky’s 1979 movie in reverse and meet it halfway. Other parts of Sarkis’s show include an installation of 40 of his own films, a series of stills and texts, and a neon work in progress. An additional program showcases work by Jean-Luc Godard and others. (Johnny Ray Huston)
Through Dec. 9
Walter and McBean Galleries
San Francisco Art Institute
800 Chestnut, SF
KFJC Penny Pitch
At this penny pitch fundraiser, listeners new and old alike can swing by Aquarius Records and see what radio DJs actually look like, as station personalities (and an established Aquarius employee) broadcast for an hour each, live from the store. You can distinguish yourself as truly neato by chipping in cash or scribbling out a check to support this high-quality airwave alternative. (Michael Harkin)
1055 Valencia, SF
Free (donations accepted)
Phoenix are the quintessence of Parisian cool, evidenced by the swank foursome’s impeccably disheveled appearance, which screams hipster sophisticate with the complicated tongue-in-cheek wit also subtly woven into their deceptively blithe lyrics. It’s no coincidence that the young Frenchmen are friends with the übercool Sofia Coppola. The Coppola connection helped them make an impact with the breezy Hall and Oates-esque track “Too Young” on the soundtrack of Lost in Translation. On their latest release, It’s Never Been Like That (Astralwerks), Phoenix try their hands at a grittier and more spontaneous ’70s rock flavor. (Hayley Elisabeth Kaufman)
With la Rocca
333 11th St., SF
San Francisco Symphony
How ’bout a little Antonín Dvorák with your donut? The SF Symphony, led by every girlie boy’s dreamboat conductor, Michael Tilson Thomas, will be tuning up for lunchtime at Yerba Buena Gardens, with a free recap of some of the selections played at its recent hoity-toity gala opening – but this time it’s us poor schlubs who’ll be hooting and hollering for more. On the menu: Glinka’s rousing overture from Ruslan and Ludmila, Dvorák’s heartrending Symphony no. 8, and Rimsky-Korsakov’s wondrous Scheherazade, with concertmaster Alexander Barantschik generously ladling arpeggios from his magic violin. (Marke B.)
Yerba Buena Gardens
Mission and Third St., SF
“Art at the Dump”: Noah Wilson and Kim Weller
Pop art on the melancholy and funny skids or curiosities that lead to even more questions: thanks to SF Recycling and Disposal’s two-headed manner of showing artist-in-residence work, anyone smart and hardy enough to trek out to the dump has both options today and tomorrow. In Perfectly Good, Noah Wilson has responded to the creative setting by exploring the overwhelming confusion and rare flashes of insight only a mass repository of garbage can conjure. In Friendly Fire, Kim Weller checks in on Disney icons, comic book characters, celebrities, and even pop art masterpieces someplace other than a gala opening. (Johnny Ray Huston)
5-9 p.m. (also Sat/23, 1-5 p.m.)
SF Recycling and Disposal
503 Tunnel, SF
With a lineup boasting former members of Bl’ast!, Spaceboy, Comets on Fire, the Exploding Crustaceans, and the Unknown, Santa Cruz’s Gargantula is a musical beast to be reckoned with. First brought to life on the 2004 album Infinitasm (self-released), the band makes an ultraheavy sound that combines the detuned tones of death metal with the sludgy dirge of stoner rock and adds a deeper and throatier version of the tendon-tearing vocals of old-school hardcore punk – all brought together like a Frankenstein monster determined to once again deliver balls-out rock ’n’ roll to the masses. (Sean McCourt)
With USA Is a Monster and SIXES
1131 Polk, SF
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings
Let’s face it: there are two kinds of shows out there in clubland. In one corner is the concert, which asks nothing more of you than to stand and listen and cheer in the right places, perhaps folding the arms if hipster appropriate. A fine time, to be sure, but who’s that over in the other corner? It’s Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. Jones and her band will command your inner funk demon to shake everything it’s got. Thanks to the sassiest vocals since Lyn Collins and Chaka Khan, as well as a band that would make James Brown himself weep tears of joy, this is the finest workout you’ll get all month. (Todd Lavoie)
With Binky Griptite and the Dee-Kays
Bimbo’s 365 Club
1025 Columbus, SF
FEST REPORT Because I’m psychotic, I jammed 22 movies into six and a half days at the Toronto International Film Festival — and was actually pissed at myself for not seeing more. Out of curiosity, I sprinkled in a few prestige pictures: Ken Loach’s The Wind That Shakes the Barley, about the early days of the Irish Republican Army; and Pedro Almodóvar’s Volver, starring a Penélope Cruz so va-va-voomy that it’s almost a relief when another character asks her if her chest was always that enormous.
I knew it’d be tough to top my two early favorites, both detailed in last week’s Guardian: from Korea, monster movie The Host; and from Hong Kong, Johnnie To’s stellar, Sergio Leone–infused gangster story Exiled. Several came mighty close though, including Andrea Arnold’s Red Road — about a woman whose numb existence spent watching surveillance camera footage is rocked when a man with ties to her tragic past happens to stroll into her line of vision. Not only is Red Road exquisitely directed, it features the best acting (particularly from lead Kate Dickie) of any film I saw at TIFF. That’s not a slight against the always-excellent Christian Bale, star of Werner Herzog’s Rescue Dawn, whose Fear Factor–influenced portrayal of a jungle-bound prisoner of war erases all memories of Batman (but not, perhaps, freaky foodie Patrick Bateman).
Fellow Bollywood fans know a Shah Rukh Khan performance is not to be missed under any circumstances, though committing to the 192-minute Never Say Goodbye meant missing out on a few other screenings in the process. (It was worth it.) The fangirl mentality also drew me to Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain, a polarizing work I heard variously described as “Aronofsky’s 2001” and “Aronofsky does Soderbergh doing Solaris.” Yep, it’s a bit baffling — but in a weirdly spellbinding way. Hugh Jackman, you are almost forgiven for Van Helsing.
TIFF’s documentaries were an overall strong bunch. Prickly American History X director Tony Kaye takes on America’s pro-choice–pro-life debate in the nearly three-hour Lake of Fire. Though the film’s most graphic images are (barely) muted by Kaye’s decision to shoot in black and white, the content — especially the interviews with right-wing extremists — is just as shocking. Other top docs: Macky Alston’s The Killer Within, about a nice, normal family grappling with the knowledge that 50 years prior, its patriarch shot and killed a college classmate for the murkiest of reasons; AJ Schnack’s Kurt Cobain about a Son, which takes the experimental approach of layering audio interviews with the late musician under newly shot footage of Cobain’s Northwest stomping grounds; and the more conventional punk celebration American Hardcore.
The fest’s lightning-rod film was Death of a President, a made-for-British-TV faux doc that imagines what would happen if George W. Bush were assassinated. (Before you start cheering, feel the terror of these words: President Dick Cheney.) JFK remains my favorite dead-prez whodunnit, but Death of a President manages to maneuver its scandalous concept into a perceptive take on post-9/11 civil liberties.
One last thing: do I have to give back my film critic’s wings if I say Borat Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhs was my favorite TIFF movie? Because if loving Borat is wrong, I don’t wanna be right. (Cheryl Eddy)
FEST REPORT Navigating TIFF’s public screenings often leads to a heavy bout of queue fatigue. You line up to purchase tickets, to pick up tickets, to get into the theater, and invariably to get into the exclusive confines of the ladies’ room. And then there’s the peculiar indignity of the absurdly named “rush” line: the film is already sold out, so if you want in, you have to take the chance that there’ll be a no-show ticket holder you can replace. And that requires waiting forever.
But being the first to discover little gems makes it all seem worth it: Agustín Díaz Yanes’s Alatriste (starring an español-speaking Viggo Mortensen) plays like Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean if Uncle Walt had done a tour of duty in Gallipoli; the Canadian National Film Board doc Manufactured Landscapes follows photographer Edward Burtynsky on a fascinatingly meditative trip through the industrial wastelands of China; and Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Syndromes and a Century, the perfect companion piece, offers a brilliant, surreal slow boil on urban alienation in an increasingly modernized Thailand.
Of course, there were disappointments too, like Catch a Fire, Phillip Noyce’s well-acted yet underwhelming biopic of South African freedom fighter Patrick Chamusso. And let’s not forget the schlock, like the silly slasher film from Montreal’s Maurice Devereaux. I squinted when the director credit came onscreen, pretending for a moment that I had made it to the TIFF big time but winced at the sight of the movie’s irony-soaked title: End of the Line. (Michelle Devereaux)
Mission of Burma
Much like their post-punk and art rock contemporaries of the early ’80’s, MoB were around when nobody seemed to give a shit about the American indie rock scene. Sticking it out for one full-length and an EP, the Boston quartet called it quits due to guitarist Roger Miller’s tinnitus, but since their reformation in 2002, they’ve chalked up two captivating releases. Touring in support of this year’s The Obliterati (Matador), Mission of Burma have reemerged into the rock world at a time when we’re all hungry for tomorrow’s anthem. (Chris Sabbath)
With 50 Foot Wave
Great American Music Hall
859 O’Farrell, SF
Five variably neurotic mothers – including Almodóvar regulars Carmen Maura, Verónica Forqué, and Marisa Paredes – descend upon Madrid when their sons are due to take part in the nation’s first legal gay nuptials, which will unite 20 same-sex couples. The men themselves have some last-minute issues to work out, but it’s the moms who bring on the bulk of this cluttered but amusing big-screen sitcom’s crises. These include a first-time heterosexual experience (with a future in-law), attempted suicide, nymphomania, and a particularly stupid gratuitous dance interlude. Queens is sheer contrivance, but no more so than the average mainstream US romantic comedy, and overall its good-natured silliness proves quite enjoyable. (Dennis Harvey)
In Bay Area theaters
(1) Sarah Polley makes her public debut as a director in the glitzy embrace of a Roy Thompson Hall gala for Away from Her, with the seats packed to the rafters, and gives the audience a manifesto on the importance of government funding and support for Canadian cinema. Yeah! Sarah Polley for cultural ambassador. Now that Lions Gate has picked up the film for distribution, there’s even a happy ending.
(2) Waiting in the green room backstage, I meet Anna Paquin, the little girl from The Piano, all grown up and articulate and serving as a member of the jury making the award decisions on Canadian cinema. We discuss the crowds of fans this year and the odd relationship between acting and celebrity. “Most actors are very shy and timid, you know,” she told me. “Those other people aren’t really actors. They’re celebrities who appear in movies.”
(3) In Away from Her, Julie Christie plays a wise, smart, ironic woman who begins to disappear into an Alzheimer’s fog. During one scene, in which her character, Fiona, seems barely aware of her surroundings, she suddenly snaps to attention as the TV news shows footage of the Iraq war. “Have they forgotten Vietnam?” she asks — more cogently than any administration official these days.
(4) At the “Dialogues: Talking with Pictures” event with Albert Maysles, who was accompanied onstage by documentarian Barbara Kopple, there was a screening of his new film composed of outtakes, The Beales of Grey Gardens. Edith “Little Edie” Bouvier Beale explains in one scene why she’s agreed to do this film with the Maysles brothers. It’s because someone had approached her to do a fiction film based on her life and the notion horrified her. “Imagine, they wanted Julie Christie to play me! I couldn’t have that.”
(5) OK, so not all my top moments are upbeat. On the morning of Sept. 11, I woke up in my room at the Delta Chelsea Hotel to the phone ringing. When I answered, a voice said, “Oh, thank god it wasn’t you.” Huh? It was my friend Susan, who had just heard the news of a triple murder-suicide in a room five floors below mine. I was here on this same date five years ago too. (B. Ruby Rich)
For five more of Rich’s top TIFF moments and additional coverage of the festival, visit www.sfbg.com/blogs/pixel_vision.
Dancer-choreographer David Dorfman is a poet of the ordinary. He digs below the commonplace and lets us see what’s underneath. Early in his career, with Out of Season, he paired football players with highly trained dancers. Ten years ago he invited his ensemble’s family members to join in performances of Familiar Movements. Both pieces revealed fresh ideas about dance, community, and beauty. They also showed Dorfman to be an artist of sparkling wit with a generous spirit.
In the two pieces that his David Dorfman Dance company made its Bay Area debut with last year, he worked single conceits into exuberant, athletic choreography that resonated beyond its voluptuously evocative appeal. In See Level, sprawled bodies on a studio floor suggested maps of continents, with individual countries that were self-contained yet had relationships with each other. A naked lightbulb inspired Lightbulb Theory, a meditation on death. Is it better, the piece asked in densely layered images, to die quickly or to flicker for a while?
Dorfman’s newest work, the 50-minute underground, opens the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ new Worlds Apart series, which according to executive director Ken Foster features artists who “create work that inspires us to think deeply and become responsible citizens of the global village.”
For underground, Dorfman started with history, using local filmmaker Sam Green’s Oscar-nominated documentary The Weather Underground as a jumping-off point. The film documents the activities of the Weathermen (later, Weather Underground). In the 1960s and ’70s, this radical offshoot of Students for a Democratic Society advocated violence to incite change. For Dorfman, the film and his associated research raised questions about individual and social responsibilities when faced with injustice. He also began to wonder about the effect of age on one’s perspective and decision-making process.
Speaking from his home in Connecticut, Dorfman explained that he was a Chicago teenager during the Days of Rage — four days in 1969 when stores and public buildings were attacked in protest of the Chicago Seven trial. “Now, I wanted to look at the idea of resistance against an unwarranted war from the perspective of a man with a 50-year-old body.”
Dorfman’s underground will strike a raw nerve with audiences, though he refuses to narrowly assign blame for the causes of societal unrest. He wants to unearth root causes, not apply Band-Aids. “Yes, of course I feel burned by the elections of 2000 and 2004 and the shameful behavior of our government. But this is not just about the current administration. Much damage was done before,” he said, pointing out that our conversation happened to be taking place on the anniversary of 9/11.
“I try hard to be a good global citizen, and I mourn the needless loss of life. So I want my generation and younger people to look at the nature of activism and what, if anything, justifies the use of force and violence.”
After the June premiere at the American Dance Festival, which occurred during the Israel-Lebanon conflict, a young audience member told Dorfman that he wanted to get off his backside and do something. “I don’t know what that something is,” Dorfman responded. “But we have to talk about it.”
The show stitches documentary footage, photo collages, spoken and projected text, and a commissioned score by Bessie winner Jonathan Bepler to Dorfman’s choreography for his nine dancers — plus some 20 local performers whom he auditioned this month. Though he still loves to work with people he calls “folks who don’t think they can dance,” underground’s choreography requires professionally trained artists.
Reminded of his ideal “to get the whole world dancing,” Dorfman is quick to point out that while realistically war may not always be avoided, perhaps we could learn to tolerate each other, and that dance — “nonsexual, noninvasive physical contact” — just might help.
Besides, he said, “If people are dancing, for that one brief moment they cannot kill each other.” SFBG
Thurs/21 and Sat/23, 8 p.m.;
Sun/24, 2 p.m.
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater
700 Howard, SF
Jet Li may be fearless, as the title of his new Ronny Yu martial arts epic goes. The five-time all-around national Wushu champion of China may be a formidable opponent on a movie set — and a devout Buddhist much like his Fearless protagonist, legendary Wushu fighter Huo Yuanjia. But that doesn’t mean the 43-year-old actor rests on his laurels — or his international success in more than 30 Hong Kong, Chinese, and Hollywood movies, including the Shaolin Temple, Once upon a Time in China, and Fong Sai Yuk series, Bodyguard from Beijing, Fist of Legend, and Hero.
“Some people like my movies, some people hate my movies, some people hate Jet Li — it’s normal,” the hyperanimated star says. “Not foreigners, but Chinese. I made some movies like Romeo Must Die that a lot of people like in the States, but Asian people hate. I think there’s a cultural difference — it’s their own hero, so they ask, ‘Why are you doing this for the market?’ Even with this movie, I tried to tell younger Chinese generations, have an open heart.”
Already a hit in his homeland, Fearless is described as Li’s “final martial arts masterpiece.” With nods to classic “kung fu theater,” the film follows the dramatic trajectory of turn-of-the-century hero Huo, who journeys from arrogant tough to the enlightened founder of the now-international Jingwu Sports Federation.
Like many of Li’s Chinese films, Fearless takes a heroic high road, making a political statement by reflecting the current changes in a China confronted once again by overseas powers, now in the form of multinational corporations. “Teenagers see Jet Li or Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan and say, ‘Cool! Kick butt! Beat up somebody!’ That’s the wrong message. That’s a part of martial arts, but first, most important, is the heart, the mental, how to use this to help people,” he explains on the fifth anniversary of 9/11. “Violence is not the only solution.” (Kimberly Chun)
FEARLESS opens Fri/22 in Bay Area theaters
SONIC REDUCER Why do we want DJ Shadow, né Josh Davis, to suffer for his art? Why are we so enamored of the romantic image of Davis, pate and gaze humbly hidden by a hoodie, bowed like a monk before a crate of precious vinyl like a mendicant curled in prayer at the dusty cathedral of flat black plastic? It doesn’t help that Davis seems to resemble in part that now-iconic pop image when he meets me at Universal Records’ SoMa offices. Polite and erudite, rigorous and righteous, he obviously takes a subtle, scientific delight in the details and precision of language and in meeting commitments, making dates, finishing interviews, taking care of business. He’s not some goofed playa tripping on hyphy’s train.
But being a smart dude aware of all the angles, Davis, 34, is well aware of the disjunction between his image and his current sound — his past and present — too. “I feel like it was getting to the point where a lot of people were trying to tell me who I am and what I represent,” he explains in the, yes, shadows of a Bat Cave–ish conference room hung with midcentury horror-cheese movie posters. “This image where it’s just sort of like me in the dungeon of records, with the hood pulled over my head, and I only like old music, and y’know, hip-hop was so much better way back when.
“Yeah, that’s a little piece of who I am, but it seems like some people kind of fetishize that culture or that aspect of my personality, where it has sort of devoured everything else. And, um, I just feel like it was important for me to make this record and articulate who I am, rather than let people compartmentalize me in that little box of, ‘OK, this is DJ Shadow. He’s the sample guy. He’s the guy who made Endtroducing, and he’ll never make a better record, and that’s … DJ Shadow. Next artist.’”
Hence The Outsider (Island). It’s a bold, deep rejoinder to scoffers that somewhat ditches the dreamy grooves in Shadow’s past for ever-infectious hyphy-lickin’ good times (radio hit “3 Freaks” with Turf Talk and Keak da Sneak and “Turf Dancin’” with the Federation and Animaniaks), a little bow to crunk (“Seein’ Things” with David Banner, made in the interim between Davis’s 2002 album, Private Press [MCA], and the rise of Bay sounds), funk and funny jams (“Backstage Girl” with Phonte Coleman), and even a completely outta-left-field dissonant pastoral (“What Have I Done” with Christina Carter of Charlambrides). Even E-40 takes part (“Dats My Part”), in what might seem to some like Davis’s bow to the Bay and its players. However you read the title of his latest album, this outsider has probably made his most geographically specific, here-and-now recording to date. It’s rooted in a genuine — though scattershot and even schizo — sense of place rather than an imaginative pomo zone where old 45s can be recycled and reused ad infinitum and a talented and introverted head like Shadow can study beats, the art of sampling, and music making inside out in bedroom-community privacy. Perhaps that’s why the San Jose–born, Davis-raised Davis has been so often connected, mistakenly, to Hayward — therein lies the romance of burby anonymity, the decentered, very nonurban reality of so many hoodie-bedecked kids who fall for hip-hop and spring for decks.
So Davis leans forward intently and tells me about listening to hyphy for the first time on KMEL while driving over the Golden Gate to his Mission studio and getting an instant hit off its raw kick. How he tried to break down the “strange, almost Eastern chords and keys” underlying Rick Rock’s, Droop-E’s, Trax-a-Million’s, and Mac Dre’s tracks. These are tales he has told many times before, to Billboard and URB (which lapsed by sticking the currently capped, clean-cut Davis in a white suit, like a datedly slick star DJ). But you have to appreciate the sincere passion of his mission. The need for this father of identical twin toddler daughters to fly right, get the record straight, come correct, and make good art, even if it means happily stepping aside, letting the current Bay stars set up on two-thirds of his sonic dreamscape’s turf, and disappearing into the heat of, say, Summer Jam 2005.
“I just feel like my job is to make a good song,” he says mildly. “And if making a good song means that I play the back and not get real freaky with the programming and not load it up with 10 trillion samples or something, whatever the song requires is what I’m willing to do.”SFBG
Thurs/21, 4 p.m.
2455 Telegraph, Berk.
Thurs/21, 8 p.m.
1855 Haight, SF
WITH MASSIVE ATTACK
Fri/22, 8 p.m.
UC Berkeley, Gayley Road, Berk.
CHEAP EATS I wear a jean jacket with Chief Wahoo, the not exactly politically sensitive Cleveland Indians’ logo, embroidered on the back. Not sure what people behind me think of this, but here’s what I’m thinking from inside the jacket: warmth. And meaningfulness, because I embroidered this jacket myself when I was a kid. I was into sports, and I was into embroidery (and needlepoint and macramé). And warmth.
I gave the jacket to my nephew and best bud Tom the Bomb when he grew into it, and then he grew out of it too, and my sister gave it back to me after he died. I put the jacket in my closet, like ashes in an urn, and started losing weight. When I got down to 135, 140, I tried the jacket on and it fit me again, only girlishly! So I wear it and it means some things to me, and probably something else entirely to the people behind me.
Do I care?
Last week I wrote about my voice, and there’s an even bigger challenge looming for me, which doesn’t have anything to do with writing my name in the snow, really, although it kind of does too. It has to do with public restrooms, maybe the bloodiest of all the battlefields where transpeoplepersons conduct business. My therapist wants me to conduct my business in ladies’ rooms, because he’s afraid I’ll get beat up in the men’s room. But I’m afraid I’m just as likely to get beat up in the women’s room, and I’m not so sure which would hurt worse.
So, like a quarterback stepping to the line of scrimmage, I make my read, depending on how I feel, how good I think I’m looking, the likelihood of a blitz, where the hell in the world I am…. Sometimes I go in one, sometimes the other, and sometimes, of course, I hold it in.
So it’s not a question of being uncomfortable. It’s a question of how and where I choose to be uncomfortable. Comfort’s not an option. Unless … and you hate to even hope it out loud, it’s so hopeless, but some places do have unisex bathrooms, the symbol for which — Mr. and Mrs. Public Restroom Figure side-by-side on the same placard on or over the same door — has become as welcome and wonderful to me as the smell of bacon.
So the other day I’m gassing up my pickup truck at a place out on 19th Avenue, and the guy gassing up the pickup truck behind mine, I notice, is wearing a jacket with this exact logo on the back. The man and the woman. The anyone-pees-here logo, one at a time, please. You know the logo, right?
The association, for me — well, immediately it puts me in a happy mood. I’m thinking: I should talk to him if he turns around. Maybe he’s cute. I’m thinking: I wonder what I have in my truck that I could offer to trade this guy for his unisex-bathroom jacket. I would like to wear it when I’m not wearing my Chief Wahoo jean jacket, and this one too will have meaning for me. Beyond warmth.
As I’m getting back in my truck, watching him, the guy does turn around, and the front of his cool jacket says, “Straight Pride.”
My mood changes. What an asshole, I think. With his big fat truck and not exactly politically sensitive jacket. Jerk! And as I put my car in gear and lurch forward there’s a knock on the window. It’s Straight Pride guy, pointing to my roof and smiling and, you know, being kind and all-around human, saying, “Gas cap! Gas cap!” Oops. I get out, thank him profusely, love him again — because why shouldn’t straight people be proud? — and drive away bewildered and confused, like I like to be.
My nephew the Gun, speaking of bewildered and confused, no longer wants to be a stuntman for a living. This is the Bomb’s older brother, and maybe the most sensitive, and therefore smartest, of all my millions of nephews. He’s so sensitive that waitresspeople can’t even see him. Predictably, the Gun now aspires to be an assassin. You see what happens? Ohio + North Carolina = this, and I can’t tell you how happy I am to have him out here again for at least a year this time, working for my phenomenal bro, living with my sweet, sweet cuz, and otherwise eating breakfast, talking philosophy, and just generally being recorrupted by the chicken farmer.
Where? My new favorite breakfast joint, of course! Great chicken-fried steak ($9.50). Great hash browns. The “house omelet” has bacon and sausage. Coffeehouse atmosphere, good coffee. It’s … SFBG
SOMA INN CAFE
Mon., 7 a.m.–6 p.m.; Tues.–Fri., 7 a.m.–9 p.m.; Sat., 7:30 a.m.–5 p.m.; Sun., 8 a.m.–3 p.m.
1982 Folsom, SF
Beer and wine
Like all books, cookbooks must pull their weight. This means, for me, offering at least two and possibly three — or more — recipes I can work into my rotating repertoire. Pretty photographs are nice, as is exoticism or a local angle, but it is one of life’s eternal verities that shelf space is limited, and a cookbook that hopes to find a home in the puritan kitchen must be useful. (I have noticed over the years, in my reconnoiterings and snoopings in other kitchens, that spattering tells the tale. Spattering means: this book actually gets used — it isn’t just sitting there, beautifully posing.)
Although I have thus far made only one recipe from Cindy Pawlcyn’s new cookbook, Big Small Plates (with Pablo and Ernesto Jacinto, Ten Speed, $35), I have already assigned it shelf space in the permanent collection. In part this is because Pawlcyn is a local eminence who has had a hand in such hits as Bix, Fog City Diner, Mustard’s Grill, and most recently, Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen. In part it’s because far more than two or three of the book’s recipes look tempting, though I haven’t gotten to them yet — and the reason I haven’t gotten to them is that the book opens with a splendid recipe for gougères. I have been making these gougères, and when you make gougères, you tend to get caught up in an obliterating bliss.
Gougères are — as anyone who’s queued at Tartine Bakery probably knows — sand-dollar-sized cheese puffs. They are close relations of brioche, the bread that thinks it’s a cake or the cake that thinks it’s bread — I’ve never been sure which. Like brioche, gougères are substantially fortified by butter and eggs. Unlike brioche, gougères rely exclusively on eggs as the leavening agent; there is no yeast. Pawlcyn’s gougères recipe is, in fact, a model of simplicity. It calls for butter, eggs, flour, water, salt, and grated Gruyère cheese, and the equipment list is a saucepan, a mixing bowl, a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and an oven. Best of all, the recipe results in handsome golden puffs that no one can eat just one of.
A word of backstreet wisdom: Pawlcyn’s gougères are best served warm, within an hour or so of emerging from the oven. When they cool, they deflate and look like miniature hamburger buns. Tastewise, though, they still pull their weight.
If San Francisco were Europe, Divisadero Street would be the Rhine: the heavily traveled commercial artery that crosses a jigsaw puzzle of (sometimes) quarrelsome fiefs, duchies, and principalities on its way north or south. In this paradigm I make the stretch of Divis from California to Geary, more or less, to be our Alsace-Lorraine, the six-of-one, half-dozen-of-the-other province long the subject of a tug-of-war between greater powers. The contenders across the pond were (and maybe are) Germany and France; over here they are Pacific Heights, land of the rich blond hets, and a confederation of the Lower Haight, NoPa, and parts of the Western Addition — in other words, hipster lands.
Naturally I am not suggesting that Pacific Heights is our Germany; not at all. For some years, the most conspicuous outpost of Marina culture on the nether side of Pacific Heights has been Frankie’s Bohemian Café, a lively simulacrum of some Prague haunt filled with riotous American frat boys who take their Pilsner Urquell by the pitcher. But in recent months there has been southward creep and the establishment of a new outpost: Tortilla Heights, a Mexican restaurant for gringos that opened earlier this spring in the strange space that used to belong to Minerva.
The space is strange — to me — because I can’t quite decide if it more nearly resembles a sound stage or a gymnasium in a public school. If the latter, then the decor is now in the prom-night vein, with some kind of cantina theme: brightly colored lights hanging from the ceiling, booths along the wall sheltered by thatched faux-roofs, and salsa music. The design touches are enough to let you know you are in some kind of Mexican restaurant, but they also have an improvised, portable quality that doesn’t suggest permanence.
And yet … on a recent Saturday night, we found the place pretty well jammed, and it was early. And while the crowd had its share of blonds and fratty types, it also included an elderly couple with their walkers, along with several sets of young mothers whose small children clung to the legs of mommy’s jeans or were stowed under mommy’s arms; it was like a social version of Noah’s ark. There is a chance that this eclectic group was drawn by the restaurant’s witty name — which reminds us, simultaneously, of Tortilla Flats and Pacific Heights — but it is more likely they came for the food, which is surprisingly good. While the menu is very much in the American comfort zone, it includes a variety of regional Mexican dishes, and the kitchen’s preparations are careful and emphasize freshness.
The Yucatecan-style citrus marinade in the grilled citrus chicken burrito ($6.50), for example, is noticeable as both a hint of sweet-sourness in and a tenderizing influence on the poultry flesh. It’s a small detail, but good cooking is nothing but small details. Another such detail is the roasted garlic cream that adds a grace note of luxurious richness to the otherwise virtuous plate of Cabo-style fish tacos ($11), a troika of warm white-corn tortillas stuffed with grilled white fish and shredded cabbage.
A larger detail is that the bigger plates do not come larded with huge scoops of rice and beans — starch that most of us really don’t need, especially if we have stuffed ourselves with complimentary chips and salsa while waiting for the show to begin. (Tortilla Heights, not surprisingly, is swift and generous in replenishing the chips bowl; the salsa was pleasantly fiery on one visit, undersalted on another.) Big blobs of beans and rice do have a way of furnishing a platter, but when they aren’t there, it’s easier to see the dish you actually ordered: an Oaxacan tostada ($11), say, with a heap of wonderfully tender carnitas (along with cilantro-lime cabbage and shavings of parmesan cheese) atop a pair of crisped corn tortillas. Or the blue-corn enchiladas ($12) filled with grilled chicken and topped with melted white cheese and a tart tomatillo salsa.
My friend the cheddarhead, a reliable lover of all things cheesy, did not like the queso chorizo ($5), a small tub of melted mixed cheeses laced with chunks of chili sausage and strips of green chile. The cheese did have a certain Velveeta quality, but it was just the right consistency for dipping surplus chips into. The guacamole ($5), meanwhile, was mainstream but beautifully made, with fresh avocados still chunky from not being overmashed and a good jolt of lime juice for mood lighting. The cheddarhead lodged no complaints.
The contemplation of desserts in Mexican restaurants is usually a perfunctory business. You have flan, and maybe something else. At Tortilla Heights, the dessert menu is characteristically brief, but it does contain one extraordinary item: the churros ($4), a half dozen or so ridged torpedoes of cinnamon-dusted, deep-fried pastry, about the size of medium zucchini, with a ramekin of caramel sauce for dipping them in. The sauce is good, but if it weren’t there you probably wouldn’t miss it, because the churros are sufficient unto themselves: a divine combination of crunchy and tender, sweet but not too sweet, an exotic whisper of cinnamon, and — yes — the fattiness that makes pastry, pastry, particularly if deep-fried. You might well feel uneasy, maybe even guilty, about enjoying them so much, but don’t worry — you had the fish tacos and didn’t like the queso, so you’ll be OK. SFBG
Continuous service: Tues.–Sun., 11–2 a.m.
1750 Divisadero, SF
TECHSPLOITATION On a shelf above my fireplace, snuggled next to a Totoro stuffed animal and a stack of books about movies, there is a puffy, tan creature about the size of a Nerf football that has a three-and-a-half-inch computer screen for a face. If you squeeze the creature’s body, a menu pops up on the screen — from there, you can log on to my wi-fi network. This quasi-plush animal is in fact a hardware prototype of a cute little wi-fi thing that’s designed to “think.” It’s called a Chumby, and it’s about to change your life.
Using the Chumby.com Web site, you can register your Chumby, name it (mine’s called Tribble), and then load different “widgets” into its brain. The widgets change what’s displayed on the Chumby’s face: you can have a digital clock, headlines from Digg.com, a stock market ticker, or pictures scraped from CuteOverload.com. Because the Chumby is always online via wi-fi, it can spend the day peacefully cycling through pictures of kittens interspersed with stock quotes. The result is a nontechnological-looking object that’s halfway between being a very lazy cat and a very simple computer.
Chumby-makers Chumby Industries, staffed in part by hardware maestros Joe Grand and Andrew “bunnie” Huang, wanted to create something that would bring the Web into people’s lives without being as intrusive as computers are. When the Chumby is running, you can glance at it every once in a while to see what’s happening in the news, but you can’t grab it and start trolling for data the way you might if it were a laptop. You stay connected to the online world but don’t get disconnected from the real one.
What makes the Chumby dramatically different from other consumer electronics is that its hardware and most of its software are open source. That means you’re permitted to modify, hack, reverse engineer, and optimize the device to your heart’s delight. Chumby Industries encourages people to build new widgets and submit them to the Chumby Web site so other people can use them. Same goes for hardware hacks.
When was the last time you bought an electronic gizmo that was truly yours? Most devices come with warnings not to modify them unless you want to void your warranty. Some companies even threaten lawsuits if you reverse-engineer their products. But the Chumby is designed to be ripped apart and sewn shut again by its users. I mean that literally and figuratively — you can hack its hardware, but you can also take the Chumby’s electronic components out of its plush case and install them inside a teddy bear or leather boot.
This is a piece of consumer electronics in the most meaningful sense of that term. Consumers can do what they want with it.
Right now, the Chumby is only available on a limited basis to people who don’t mind playing around with what bunnie calls “alpha hardware.” That means my Chumby is a prototype. It crashes; it falls off the wi-fi network randomly; it keeps resetting its clock to a random date in 1969.
Once Chumby Industries gets the bugs out, though, you’ll start seeing nonalpha Chumbys for sale.
The Chumby may be unique in openness, but it’s not the first “smart” object on the market. There’s a “smart bunny” called a Nabaztag (www.nabaztag.com) that’s not quite as sophisticated as the Chumby but can still go online and read the weather to you. Looking sort of like a cross between an iPod and a Japanese cartoon character, the Nabaztag can stream MP3s from the Web, light up in different colors, do live traffic updates, and be an alarm clock. Like the Chumby, it’s a paracomputer, a thing that communicates Web data to you without actually being a Web browser.
Futurists predict that in the next five years our homes will be packed with “thinking” things that get their intelligence via wi-fi. Chairs will sing; coffee pots will read you the morning paper; desks will get your voicemail. I’m not interested in any of that. I have enough trouble dealing with chairs that are completely silent. But I do like the idea of having many ways of accessing digital information. Computers can provide rich sources of detail, but other devices will offer just a snapshot framed by waggling bunny ears.
As soon as the Chumby hardware is a little more stable, I’m making it into my alarm clock. I like the idea of waking up to streaming MP3s and a few news headlines. And if I want to shut it off, I’ll just squeeze. I’m telling you, the squeeze interface is genius. Genius! SFBG
Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who sometimes wishes her cat could display the latest headlines from BoingBoing.
I have these dreams that my mother is trying to have sex with me. I want to leave, but I freeze in place and can’t move. I feel sick when I think about it. I’m a bisexual woman in a healthy relationship with a man. I don’t know if this has anything to do with it, but I also have another problem: I really want to have an orgasm with normal sex. I can come if my boyfriend goes down on me or rubs me off, but it usually takes a long time. He’s wonderfully patient but I’m still frustrated with myself. I always feel like I’m almost there, but then we’ll have been at it for so long (two hours or so) that I dry up and it starts to hurt and the feeling is gone. Is there something terribly wrong with me?
Bad Dream, Bad Sex
There’s only one thing about you that really worries me, and it’s that you would ever imagine in your wildest dreams (and your dreams, you must admit, are pretty wild) that the perfectly normal way in which your sex life is unsatisfactory could have anything to do with your mother. I don’t think that the Oedipal (not the right word, but “Electral” doesn’t quite work either) dreams have any connection to your bisexuality either. Whatever’s going on with your feelings about your mother is way too fraught and Freudian for me to touch, but I’m willing to bet it has influenced neither your sexual preference nor your sexual performance.
As for coming during “normal” sex, well, you already are. Of course you’d like to reach orgasm during intercourse, but please understand that if you did so, you would be in the minority, hence no longer “normal” yourself. Relatively few women (the number is unknown but often reported at about 25 percent, which is probably too low, but it’s all we’ve got) reach orgasm purely through vaginal intercourse with no additional clitoral stimulation. This may seem unfair, but Mother Nature, admirable as she is in many ways, has never been known to play nice.
The feeling of getting “almost there” during intercourse is, regrettably, extremely common. It is also good news — if you’re almost getting there, there is at least somewhere for you to get to. My advice: quit the grim, goal-oriented grinding (two hours is really pushing it, guys), don’t let yourself dry out (there are many fine wettening products out there), and when the good feeling begins to fade, do something else. And no matter what happens — pay attention, this is very important — do not think about your mother.
I was rereading your column “Sister Act” and had a question. When I was maybe eight or nine, I’d play daddy and my sister would play mom. I don’t know where we got this idea, but sometimes I would get on top of her (clothed) and kinda grind away to orgasm. I think we both knew we weren’t supposed to be doing it, and if my parents came in, we’d quickly separate. So, is this at all normal? Also, is it normal that later as an adult I still desire her (I’m bi)? I’d never act on it, but I feel awful just for thinking it.
Sister Act II
I wrote a column called “Sister Act”? I wonder what it said? Probably something about how even socially unacceptable fantasies are harmless and, like ghosts and other apparitions, unable to affect things in the real world unless somehow incarnated, so don’t incarnate them. Something like that.
Playing house, including the weirdly gender-bound role-play and the not-so-innocent grinding, is indeed common and even normal. Most kids get up to this sort of mischief once or twice and nothing bad happens (of course there’s always that one kid who likes it a little too much). Cousins and next-door neighbors are the classic partners in crime, but siblings will do in a pinch, and to call this “incest,” let alone “abuse,” seems an unnecessary pathologizing of pretty harmless childhood exploration. This is all assuming that it stops at some reasonable age — preferably before puberty. It’s uncommon to even remember the game all that clearly, let alone long to go back and pick up where you left off.
In short, while there are many definitions of normal as applied to sex, none can fairly be said to include sex with your adult sister. There is nothing to be gained by feeling awful about it though. We’re not responsible for what we want, only what we do. Don’t do anything — that includes saying anything — and you really have nothing to feel guilty about. Weird, yes, but not guilty.
Andrea Nemerson has spent the last 14 years as a sex educator and an instructor of sex educators. 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.
EDITORIAL The fall campaign season has only begun, and already the District 6 race is getting really ugly. A downtown-funded operation, hiding behind anonymous mailers and front groups, is spending gobs of money to smear Sup. Chris Daly, and thanks to the city’s campaign-spending laws, Daly’s ability to fight back is limited. The whole mess points to a real problem in the way so-called independent-expenditure committees are regulated, and the supervisors and the Ethics Commission should take up the issue immediately.
Daly, who’s represented the district for almost six years, has offended a lot of people — including some of the city’s richest and most powerful interest groups. They tried to unseat him four years ago with no success, but this time around they have more money and a slimy, secretive strategy that appears to expose a loophole in local law.
The first salvo landed a few weeks ago: a slick, 22-page mailer called “The Case Against Chris Daly” that attacks him on almost every front. The hit piece is unsigned, so the people who received it have no way of knowing exactly who’s behind the message. And there’s no requirement that the sponsors register with the city’s Ethics Commission and reveal their source of financing.
It’s pretty clear, though, who produced and paid for the piece. The money is going through a group called Citizens for Reform Leadership #1, which was set up by downtown elections lawyer Jim Sutton, organized by SFSOS, and funded in large part by Republican kingmaker and the Gap founder Don Fisher. (Sutton has also established Citizens for Reform Leadership committees two through six, indicating that there’s more of this to come.)
The way San Francisco’s campaign-spending limits work, no candidate for supervisor can spend more than $83,000 — unless one of the other candidates breaks that cap. Then all rules are off. But that cap doesn’t apply to whoever put out the 22-page hit piece — in part because we don’t even know legally who it was. That means the SFSOS-Fisher crew can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars hammering away at Daly — and he can’t spend more than $83,000 fighting back.
The candidate who benefits most from this sewer money is Rob Black, a former aide to Sup. Michela Alioto-Pier who has the backing of Mayor Gavin Newsom and is by any account Daly’s most serious challenger. Black told us he has no direct connection to the hit squad — but he stopped short of promising not to engage in negative campaigning himself. And he’s certainly not going around town denouncing the anti-Daly sleaze.
That should change now. If Black wants to be seen as anything other than a pawn of Fisher, he should put out a formal statement calling on SFSOS and its allies to back off, quit the anonymous name-calling, and either come clean or stay out of District 6. So should every other candidate in the race. (The hotly contested District 5 battle two years ago was remarkably clean, in part because all of the candidates agreed not to accept this sort of nonsense.)
The Ethics Commission should launch a full investigation of this anonymous campaigning with the aim of exposing the forces behind it — and if the city’s current law doesn’t allow a ban on secret hit pieces, the supervisors should amend it today. Meanwhile, the commission ought to lift the expenditure limit for District 6; it’s not optimal, but in this case it’s only fair. SFBG
In just 30 days, the Oak to Ninth Referendum Committee collected the signatures of 25,068 Oakland residents who want a chance to vote on a massive development project that would bring 31,000 new homes to the Oakland waterfront. But the matter may never be on the ballot: on Sept. 6, Oakland City Attorney John Russo directed the city clerk to invalidate the petition because it didn’t conform to the requirements of state election law.
It’s likely that from a legal standpoint Russo’s determination is correct. Nevertheless, the decision exposes flaws in California’s election system that the state legislature should fix. In the shorter term, the Oakland City Council ought to recognize that there’s strong public sentiment for a referendum on the project and put Oak to Ninth before the voters.
It’s tough to force a referendum vote on an act of local government: you need to gather a significant number of signatures within 30 days of the passage of the bill — and there are no second chances. If the petition doesn’t meet every possible legal standard — and the standards are high, the rules complex — then the referendum is dead forever.
Erica Harrold, communications director for Russo’s office, told us she sympathized with the plight of Oak to Ninth foes and acknowledged that the current rules applying to referendum petitions are “draconian.” Russo, she said, is seeking reforms to the current system, including establishment of a new rule that would not start the 30-day period until the city provides a certified final version of an ordinance to petition sponsors. That was a key issue in this conflict: the Oak to Ninth Referendum Committee apparently had to rush to gather signatures to meet the deadline and for various reasons did not submit the version of the ordinance that Russo and the City Council consider the final draft (additionally, the committee did not include certain attachments to the ordinance that the City Attorney’s Office says were required).
The legislature should follow Russo’s suggestion and change the deadlines. It should also consider allowing petition sponsors to cure unintentional defects in their petitions.
State legislative reform can’t come quickly enough to remedy the current situation involving the Oak to Ninth petition. But the City Council can still act: it’s well within the authority of local officials to simply acknowledge the public interest in (and demand for) a citywide vote on a project that will change Oakland forever — and place the entire matter on next June’s ballot.
There’s no rush to break ground here — in fact, we’ve long argued that the project shouldn’t have final approval until the incoming mayor, Ron Dellums (who has expressed real concerns with the deal), takes office. Legal technicalities aside, the bottom line is simple: Oakland residents deserve a chance to be heard on Oak to Ninth. SFBG
PS Stop the presses: on Sept. 19, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera ruled that petitions demanding a vote on the redevelopment plan for Bayview–Hunters Point were invalid — on a legal technicality similar to the one that undermined the Oakland petitions. Again, Herrera may well be legally correct (and we’re under no illusions here — the referendum was financed in part by a private housing developer) — but when in doubt, the desire of the voters to weigh in on an issue should be paramount. The supervisors should determine whether it’s possible to put this plan on the ballot anyway.
None of the candidates for public office this year can beat the performance of a 2004 supervisorial hopeful who showed up at the Guardian office for an endorsement interview with a completely spaced-out homeless friend in tow. The candidate was talking rapid-fire for an hour, shifting effortlessly back and forth from his history as a welfare recipient turned bartender turned subject of a drug bust turned successful businessperson to his suggestions for public policy and proposals for improving the neighborhood. His pal was muttering the entire time, off in his own world, his random comments a kind of atonal counterpoint to the candidate’s high-speed pronouncements and reminiscences — until the would-be politician began to talk about the time years ago when the cops caught him with a bunch of LSD that wasn’t really his. Quite a bit of LSD. At the description of the inventory, the sidekick snapped out of his reverie for a moment and proclaimed, “That’s a lot of dose.” Then he was back to his own world.
The 2006 contenders are a much more predictable lot, generally speaking. But there have been some moments.
At the top of the list, I think, were Starchild, the Libertarian candidate for District 8 supervisor, and Philip Berg, the Libertarian for Congress, who came in together and told us that the city would be a much safer place if the entire populace were armed — not just with handguns but with AK-47s — and that the trouble-plagued Halloween Night in the Castro would be much more peaceful if everyone who attended had a weapon.
I’ve always wanted the rest of the world to be able to share these moments with us — Guardian endorsement interviews are great moments in policy formation and political debate, as well as high theater of the finest kind. Soon we’ll have them online, unedited — questions, answers, speeches (ours and theirs), fights, laughs … every moment, for your listening pleasure. Check www.sfbg.com for details.
We generally don’t record interviews with people who just come down to the office to chat and give us advice about the election, which is fair — but I want to share a really sad moment with you. Sarah Lipson stopped by at my request to talk about the SF school board race; she’s one of the best members of that often-dysfunctional panel, the kind of person who gives you hope for the schools and for local politics … and she’s not seeking reelection. She misses teaching, she told us, and that’s understandable — but she also said that it’s basically impossible for someone with kids who isn’t rich to devote perhaps 30 or 40 hours a week to the school board and still have a job on the side.
Thing is, the San Francisco Board of Education, which oversees a half-billion-a-year budget, is essentially a volunteer ($500 a month) gig. That’s a model from a very different era, and it doesn’t work anymore.
San Francisco is a hideously expensive place, a city where almost nobody can support a family on one income. Full-time volunteerism is an impossible burden, and it means people like Lipson — who is exactly the sort of person we want setting policy for the schools — can’t serve on the board. Either you punish your family or you don’t do the job you want to do.
Being on the school board is a full-time job. We need to pay these folks a full-time salary. SFBG
OPINION San Francisco could see an end to rent control — and minimum-wage requirements and a lot of zoning regulation and environmental protection laws and much more — if Proposition 90 passes this November. We could see an end to limits on condo conversions and an end to requirements that developers build affordable housing units and even an end to limits on the height and density of new developments. That’s because Prop. 90 is a clever trap that purports to restrict the use of eminent domain but in reality eliminates all government regulation of land use.
Prop. 90 really says little about eminent domain; it just uses the notion of restricting the ability of government to seize private land as the bait. Most of the initiative is aimed at ending all government regulation of property. Its concept is simple: if any government regulation reduces the actual or potential value of property — even by a dollar — then the government would have to reimburse the property owner the difference.
For example, if a landlord would be able to get $3,000 a month on the open market for an apartment but rent control limits what a long-term tenant has to pay to $1,500, then the landlord would be able under Prop. 90 to sue San Francisco for the difference. Think about that: about 200,000 rental units in the city are under rent control. Say the average difference between the market rent and the rent-controlled amount is $500 per month. That would mean landlords could collectively sue San Francisco for $200 million each month, or $2.4 billion each year. Since San Francisco obviously can’t afford to put half its annual budget into compensating landlords, there would be no choice but to repeal rent control.
Landlords would also be able to sue for the difference between what their buildings are worth as rental properties and what they are worth as condominiums. Any property owner denied the ability to convert to condominiums could then sue for that difference in value. Since a property subdivided into condos is worth about 50 percent more, this bill would be huge.
The list of disasters goes on and on. If a developer is required to make 15 percent of the units in a housing project affordable, then the developer could sue to make San Francisco pay for the lost income. If zoning laws limit heights in a neighborhood to three stories but a developer wants to build a 10-story condo tower, the developer could sue the city for the lost value of those seven stories of condos.
And it’s not just land-use and tenant protection. The city and the state both have minimum-wage laws; potentially, every business owner could sue to demand compensation for the loss of income that came from mandating higher wages than the market might have allowed. That would be the end of minimum-wage laws. Environmental protection and mitigation could face the same fate.
Prop. 90 is by far the worst measure on this year’s ballot; in fact, it’s the worst measure to come along in quite some time. It’s a plot by right-wingers to gut the ability of government at any level to force businesses and property owners to accept even basic standards of behavior in the name of the public good. The measure hasn’t gotten a whole lot of media attention, but defeating it should be a top priority for every decent Californian. SFBG
Ted Gullicksen is director of the San Francisco Tenants Union.
Suzanne Vega is waddling across the screen. Well, not the real Suzanne Vega but the quiet folk singer’s digital avatar on SecondLife.com. On Aug. 3, she — or it — claimed the proud position of being the first digital representation of a major-label pop star to give a concert in cyberspace. After an interview with public radio host John Hockenberry, she sings an a cappella version of her ’80s hit “Tom’s Diner,” then awkwardly straps on a guitar and plays a set for attending Second Lifers, members of the popular online virtual world.
Whoever’s controlling the Vega avatar hasn’t quite got a handle on her yet — unless the ungainly swaying is supposed to indicate that she’s had one too many. And the audience of online gamers, whose avatars you can see bobbing their virtual heads in the bleachers, barely reaches a total of 100. Some of them are also bald and unaccessorized: the avatar-attendees were instructed to remove all extraneous attachments — including hair — to reduce server lag time. But it’s a lovely sounding, intimate event all the same and fitting for Vega. Kids these days might not know her music, but the Grammy winner is renowned as the “mother of the MP3” — “Tom’s Diner” was used by a German engineer to invent the MP3 format.
The Vega concert is just the first in a series that Second Life is launching. Duran Duran, the first artists to use location shooting and Macromedia Flash in a music video, have just announced they’ve purchased an island resort in Second Life and will be the first band to perform live online through their avatars. Just think: the right code could take their hairstyles higher than Aquanet ever did. For more contemporary music fans, rapper Talib Kweli is also slated to make an online appearance. Along with violence, sex, and role playing, live concerts are finally being translated into moving pixels.
Online virtual worlds are nothing new. Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) have been around since the early ’90s and are rooted in games that have been around since the ’70s (yeah, like the one with the 20-sided die). So when San Francisco–based company Linden Lab created Second Life, a virtual 3-D world (or “multiverse,” coined in Neal Stephenson’s 1992 sci-fi smash novel Snow Crash) now inhabited by some 550,000 residents, it had a firm jumping-off point. But while other MMORPGs concentrate on hunting and killing or solving elaborate puzzles, Second Life tries to replicate everyday experiences: shopping, hanging out, scoring a dream job, meeting new people. It’s a Sims-like experience in real time.
And it involves real money. The most staggering aspect of Second Life is its economy. Users are dropping actual ducats in exchange for clothing, real estate, cocktails, and even skateboards for their virtual representations. The currency of Second Life is called a Linden dollar — L$300 equals roughly US$1. During June alone, over US$5.3 million were spent on goods and services within Second Life. The SL digital continent is the size of metropolitan Boston — that’s a lot of virtual strip malls. At the current growth rate, Second Life projects 3.6 million users by the end of next year. Big-name businesses are starting to take note.
American Apparel was among the first “meat space,” or real-life, businesses to set up shop in the virtual world. Its SL flagship store sells clothing for avatars — at around L$300 a pop for T-shirts. And of course, no AA outlet would be complete without virtual billboards of half-naked avatars. The Adidas group just announced that it will begin selling footwear for avatars. W Hotels is opening Aloft, a virtual hotel. “As the population increases, I could see direct revenue, so long as we constructed experiences that mimicked the world that is Second Life, such as a browsable record store, not just banner ads,” says Ethan Kaplan Sr., director of technology at Warner Bros. Records.
And because a captive virtual audience offers a wonderland of name-brand recognition opportunities, celebrities are starting to take note as well. “Every celebrity who presently has a MySpace profile will eventually have an avatar on Second Life. A MySpace profile is an avatar,” says Reuben Steiger of Millions of Us, whose company snagged a contract with Toyota to offer a virtual edition of the Scion xB to SL residents. (A dealership is in the works.) Imagine a world where you can walk up to Paris Hilton in a bar and buy her drinks until she starts dancing on the tables. OK, so maybe that isn’t so hard to imagine, but in Second Life you can get a job as a bouncer and throw her drunk ass out. The future is now.
In an unsurprising development for an interactive game, some users are starting to chafe at the überconsumerist direction Second Life’s taking. Recently, a faction of residents calling themselves the Second Life Liberation Army entered the American Apparel store, pixel guns ablazin’, to prevent other residents from buying goods. The “terrorist attack” wasn’t intended to scare first-world business away though; rather, the SLLA wanted the citizens of Second Life to have a vote in Linden Lab’s business operations. But maybe some good ol’ rock ’n’ roll rebellion has been beamed up along with the live concerts. SFBG
Stretched across the west wall of the New Santa Clara Market in the Lower Haight is a full 15 by 45 feet of political controversy, in both its intended content and the fact that it has become a magnet for graffiti.
Located on the southeast corner of Haight and Scott streets, Positive Visibility, as the mural there is titled, shows women suffering from the symptoms of HIV-AIDS. It was completed in 1995 by an artist named Juana Alicia, who learned her craft in part from two former students of painter Diego Rivera.
Reflecting a somewhat surreal departure from Rivera’s own direct imagery, Alicia’s painting (finished with help from other HIV-AIDS activists) contains a multitude of pastel colors applied in vigorous brushstrokes. In one segment, a tattooed drug addict accepts a clean needle from a needle-exchange worker. Another woman nearby wears a shirt with the queer pink triangle and the phrase “silencio = muerte.” Three pig-faced corporate drug execs guard a prescription bottle, and a woman is kicking one of them directly in the face. Slivers of broken mirrors create a mosaic across the mural’s top center. Affable skeletons celebrate el Dia de los Muertos.
The message: women contract HIV too. It’s not unlike the hundreds of other politically charged murals most San Franciscans are proud to have coloring the city. But currently, Positive Visibility faces a cruelly ironic fate; it’s half covered in a red paint used by the building’s owner to rub out graffiti while awaiting a complex decision about how and when to restore it.
Alicia, who now lives in Mexico and has taught arts education and community organizing for 25 years, has also completed major pieces in the Mission District and at the San Francisco International Airport and the UCSF Medical Center. (She did not respond to an e-mailed list of questions.)
The problem is that Positive Visibility has been plagued by graffiti since it was completed — not spray-can lettering so much as haphazard markings. The entire bottom has been covered at times, sending neighbors into a furor and attracting citations to the owner of the building from the San Francisco Department of Public Works. Some of the graffiti has targeted the content of the mural in the form of angry expressions that the piece is antimale. One resident said she’d prefer that any existing mural at the spot reflect “the neighborhood’s vitality.”
“It’s been very controversial,” said Marc Shapiro, who lives nearby on Waller Street. “Some people want the mural. Some people don’t. I didn’t care what happened as long as somebody would maintain it…. The street has been so terrible for the last 10 years, you know. Nobody was maintaining the mural. So we had to live in a neighborhood with all of this horrible graffiti.”
The Neighborhood Beautification Fund under then-mayor Willie Brown put up $8,000 to restore the mural in 2000, an effort that included several layers of what was supposed to be a special graffiti-proof varnish. It wasn’t enough, and the graffiti continued.
“The final straw was when there were swear words — ‘Fuckin’ bitch,’ ‘asshole,’” said the building owner’s son, Suheil Alaraj. “The neighbors were, like, ‘We have children. We can’t keep walking across the street and bypassing this.’” Shapiro added that sometimes attackers would throw entire buckets of paint on the mural.
Alaraj called Alicia last year to see if she’d be interested in restoring it again. But the talks broke down and Alicia, he says, threatened to sue him if he painted over the mural completely. Exasperated, he called Sup. Ross Mirkarimi, whose district includes the Lower Haight, looking for suggestions on what to do. His office convinced Alicia to allow the Mission-based muralist collective Precita Eyes to restore the piece. Nonetheless, finding money for the project took several months. Some of the funds again came from the mayor’s beautification fund.
“Basically, they took such a long time,” Alaraj said. “They could have had it up six months ago, restored. They were waiting for this, waiting for that, waiting for this. [The graffiti] kept getting worse and worse. Once there’s tagging on it and you don’t do anything about it, people feel it’s a free-for-all. It just got out of control.”
Three months ago he decided to paint over the bottom, which was hardest hit with graffiti. Each morning he’d go back with a paintbrush until finally, about two months ago, the graffiti ceased.
Mirkarimi aide Regina Dick-Eudrizzi told the Guardian that due to a misunderstanding about covering the graffiti, Alaraj used the red paint instead of white, which would have made restoring the mural easier. The red paint doubled the costs, and only recently did Mirkarimi’s office and Precita Eyes manage to come up with the $10,000 necessary to complete the restoration. There’s a possibility that Precita Eyes could re-create the mural at a new spot, rather than restoring it at its current location. SFBG