Volume 41 Number 26

March 30 – April 3, 2007

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Wolf freed!


After spending more than seven months in prison for refusing to give a federal grand jury video outtakes of a 2005 anarchist protest, freelance journalist and blogger Josh Wolf’s is today being released. According to one of Wolf’s lawyers, David Greene of the Oakland-based First Amendment Project, Wolf won’t have to testify to the grand jury or identify protesters shown in his video, which has now been posted at his Web site, www.joshwolf.net/blog.

The deal was announced the day after a second three-hour mediation session before a federal magistrate in San Francisco. The 24-year-old Wolf has been held in contempt of court by a federal judge since August 2006 and has been imprisoned longer than any other journalist in U.S. history for withholding information. He is reportedly being picked up from the federal correctional facility in Dublin this afternoon and will appear on the steps of San Francisco City Hall at 5 p.m.

Greene said that the April 3 breakthrough occurred when federal prosecutors dropped their insistence that Wolf testify to the grand jury about people he interviewed for his video. Greene said Wolf was prepared to turn over the outtakes last November if he’d been excused from testifying but prosecutors refused.

In an April 3 press release, Greene wrote, “For the last several months, this (dispute) has been principally about the testimony and not about the video. The only reason he decided to publish (the video) now was their assurances that they would not require his testimony.”

Greene said prosecutors required only that Wolf answer two questions under oath, in writing: whether he ever saw anyone throw or shoot any object at a police car or learned about anyone who did so, and whether he knew who Officer Peter Shields was trying to arrest when he was hit from behind and suffered a fractured skull. Wolf answered no to both questions in a court filing today.

In a separate filing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffery Finigan said Wolf has complied with the grand jury subpoena and should be released from prison. Finigan also noted the government has reserved the right to issue a new subpoena to Wolf in the future.

“I think his sacrifice of his personal liberty for 226 days for the sake of a principle that was for something much larger than him personally was really commendable,” Greene said.

Rick Knee of the National Writers Union say his group believes that, “Josh’s persecution at the hands of the San Francisco Police Department, the Joint Terrorism Task Force, the U.S. Attorney’s office in San Francisco, federal prosecutor Jeffrey Finigan, the federal grand jury and U.S. District Judge William Alsup was morally and ethically reprehensible, and an egregious misuse of taxpayer dollars.”

While McCain Walks in McNamara’s Footsteps


The media spectacle that John McCain made of himself in Baghdad on April 1 was yet another reprise of a ghastly ritual. Senator McCain expressed “very cautious optimism” and told reporters that the latest version of the U.S. war effort in Iraq is “making progress.”

Three years ago, in early April 2004, when an insurrection exploded in numerous Iraqi cities, U.S. occupation spokesman Dan Senor informed journalists: “We have isolated pockets where we are encountering problems.” Nine days later, President Bush declared: “It’s not a popular uprising. Most of Iraq is relatively stable.”

For government officials committed to a war based on lies, such claims are in the wiring.

When Defense Secretary Robert McNamara visited Vietnam for the first time, in May 1962, he came back saying that he’d seen “nothing but progress and hopeful indications of further progress in the future.”

In October 1966, when McNamara held a press conference at Andrews Air Force Base after returning from a trip to Vietnam, he spoke of the progress he’d seen there. Daniel Ellsberg recalls that McNamara made that presentation “minutes after telling me that everything was much worse than the year before.”

Despite the recent “surge” in the kind of media hype that McCain was trying to boost in Baghdad, this spring has begun with most news coverage still indicating that the war is going badly for American forces in Iraq. Some pundits say that U.S. military fortunes there during the next few months will determine the war’s political future in Washington. And opponents of the war often focus their arguments on evidence that an American victory is not possible.

But shifts in the U.S. military role on the ground in Iraq, coupled with the Pentagon’s air war escautf8g largely out of media sight, could enable the war’s promoters to claim a notable reduction of “violence.” And the American death toll could fall due to reconfiguration or reduction of U.S. troop levels inside Iraq.

Such a combination of developments would appeal to the fervent nationalism of U.S. news media. But the antiwar movement shouldn’t pander to jingo-narcissism. If we argue that the war is bad mainly because of what it is doing to Americans, then what happens when the Pentagon finds ways to cut American losses — while continuing to
inflict massive destruction on Iraqi people?

American news outlets will be inclined to depict the Iraq war as winding down when fewer Americans are dying in it. That happened during the last several years of the Vietnam War, while massive U.S. bombing — and Vietnamese deaths — continued unabated.

The vast bulk of the U.S. media is in the habit of defining events around the world largely in terms of what’s good for the U.S. government — through the eyes of top officials in Washington. Routinely, the real lives of people are noted only as shorthand for American agendas. The political spin of the moment keeps obscuring the human moment.

Awakening from a 40-year nap, an observer might wonder how much has changed since the last war that the United States stumbled over because it could not win. The Congressional Record is filled with insistence that the lessons of Vietnam must not be forgotten. But they cannot be truly remembered if they were never learned in the
first place.


Norman Solomon’s book War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep
Spinning Us to Death
is out in paperback. For information, go to:

Music blog



Deborah Hay Dance Company


PREVIEW Deborah Hay may not be a household name among today’s dance fans. But take even a cursory look at the Judson Dance Theater movement of the ’60s, an influence that still courses through dance like some subterranean stream of inspiration, and her name will pop up. Again and again. One of the pioneers of pedestrian movement and a firm believer that anyone can dance, the My Body, the Buddhist author moved quickly from performance to dance as a communal activity to dance as a spiritual exploration. In Austin, Texas — where she settled in 1976 — she developed workshops for dancers and devotees who flocked there as if to nirvana. For a while she had been creating huge circle dances and dances to be performed without audiences. In the mid-’90s she started to focus on solo choreography by designing pieces that individual dancers could adapt. Moving in yet another direction, last year she created Mountain with Seattle-based dancers Gaelen Hanson, Peggy Piacenza, and Amelia Reeber. She said of the work, "A mountain has a shape, yet we know it is not fixed. It is easy to imagine it teeming with life. How is it that we look for shape in the dancing body and forget to imagine it teeming with life?" (Rita Felciano)

DEBORAH HAY DANCE COMPANY Thurs/29–Sat/31, 8 p.m., $18–$25. ODC Theater, 3157 17th St., SF. (415) 863-9834, www.odctheater.org


To Helltrack and back


FILM I had a lot of hope for Rad. Every month in BMX Action there’d be a new scrap of news about some top pro who was going to ride in the movie, including my personal favorite racer, “Hollywood” Mike Miranda. When photos of the Helltrack — site of the film’s climactic race — came out, you could lean your ear to the ground and hear the hearts of BMX groms beat just a little faster.

I watched the movie at Cinedome 7 East in Fremont with my buddy Dave. The opening footage of pro freestylers Eddie Fiola, Ron Wilkerson, and Brian Blyther killing it at Pipeline Skatepark seemed poised to fulfill the print hype, until we became aware of the backing tune, “Break the Ice,” by John Farnham: “Getting ready to break the ice / Feels like time is standing still / Aiming right for your heart / Getting ready to take another spill.” The Rad soundtrack was cheesy even in 1986, especially to a 15-year-old punk rock kid.

And the movie? Pure Hollywood schmaltz: local hero Cru Jones (Bill Allen) beats a corporate greed-meister at his own game. But more than two decades later, Rad wears a little better. For a movie directed by a stunt performer, it did hit the crucial themes of being a BMX kid: riding your bike all day, getting chased by the cops, jumping anything that crossed your path, and having big dreams about being one of the handful who could make a living at it. It’s no wonder old-timers on the chat boards at vintagebmx.com and os-bmx.com are constantly making Rad references. Rad is the BMXers’ Rocky Horror Picture Show. It got no love in the theaters, and it hasn’t officially been released on DVD, but it’s achieved timelessness as a cult classic. (Duncan Scott Davidson)

Over the phone from SoCal, Rad star Bill Allen talks BMX, berms, and bicycle boogies.

SFBG You had stunt riders doubling for you in the film, but had you been into BMX at all before you made Rad?

BILL ALLEN I came at it from an actor’s standpoint and not a BMX background at all. The ugly truth of it is my mother wouldn’t let me have a bicycle growing up, but of course I always rode my friends’ bikes and got into trouble anyway.

SFBG How was it working with the professional riders on Rad?

BA There were a lot of actual BMX guys from the freestyle and the racing worlds and a lot of stunt guys, and they pretty much all had the same crazy blood pumping through their veins. And I tend to hang out with stunt guys anyway, so it was a great time.

SFBG Did any crazy, unscripted stuff happen while you were filming?

BA I remember fooling around on the bike and nearly cracking my skull open just before I had to go do a take. Use those helmets. They really can save you. Also, I don’t know if many people know this, but in [Rad director] Hal Needham’s style of filmmaking, he’d start off a situation like Helltrack with half a dozen cameras or more and just let the guys go at it. So a lot of the stunts that you see are not stunts — these guys really are going down hard.

SFBG What was Helltrack like in person?

BA It was unbelievable. That first drop-off would give you heart attacks just standing there looking at it. And these were teenagers having to do these things, like going into that Kix cereal bowl and off the spoon. There were a bunch of little berms where I know at least one guy broke his ankle — really incredibly dangerous stuff that had never been tried before.

SFBG I’m sure a lot of people ask you about the bicycle boogie scene.

BA Oh god. [Pause] It’s [like] being beaten over the head with an ’80s stick. It’s just very indicative of that time period, and that’s not always a great thing, if it’s the ’80s we’re talking about.

SFBG What about the ass-sliding? Another classic Rad moment …

BA It was really cold, and they gave us these wetsuits which did zero good if you’re just gonna be in and out of the water. It was one of the less glamorous parts about the job.

SFBG When was the last time you watched Rad?

BA Probably 10 years. It’s hard for me to watch anything as an actor. You just wish you could change everything. But the racing sequences are stellar, and I guess that’s why people watch the movie time and time again.

SFBG Is it true that they’re thinking of doing a Rad sequel?

BA I think that’s one of those rumors that refuses to die. They haven’t even put the movie out on DVD yet, but people ask about [a sequel] all the time.

SFBG The time is ripe for a Rad revival — did you know that, for the first time, BMX is going to be a sport in the 2008 Beijing Olympics?

BA I did not know that. That’s incredible. That’s so cool! (Cheryl Eddy)

For more on Bill Allen, visit www.billallenrad.com; to sign the online petition for a Rad DVD release, visit www.petitiononline.com/RAD/petition.html.


Home court advantage


A dance community is only as healthy as its humblest members, much the way a ballet company can never attain greatness without a fabulous corps. The team that runs Yerba Buena Center for the Arts knows this. According to associate performing arts curator Angela Mattox, "We want to nurture and support local artists and offer them an opportunity to perform at Yerba Buena." But when Ken Foster, the YBCA’s executive director, presented his first season in 2004, shock waves resulted. There was a new curatorial emphasis on bringing major performers to the Bay Area, and a legitimate fear arose among local dancers, particularly younger ones, that they were going to be shut out for good. (Larger local companies rent the theater; a few — including Joe Goode this year — have performed commissioned works.)

With last year’s "Under the Radar" program, the YBCA calmed the waters by presenting younger artists and their category-defying work. This year the shared performance event "Worlds Apart: Local Response" draws together work that aligns with the YBCA’s three-pronged seasonal theme: "deeply personal, worlds apart, and medium as message."

The participating artists are not beginners, but for both financial and artistic reasons they would not be able to present their own full-evening programs at the YBCA. So for them, a shot at performing in the YBCA’s Forum means a professional venue, exposure to a larger audience, and a paycheck. For the YBCA it’s a community-building, relatively low-risk gesture; also, highlighting up-and-coming local artists now may offer the venue an opportunity to say "we told you so" a few years down the line.

Performers at "Worlds Apart: Local Response" include Edmund Welles: The Bass Clarinet Quartet, surely one of the most unusual chamber music groups. It premieres 2012: A Requiem for Baktun 12 [the 13th and Final Cycle], inspired by a Mayan prophecy about the end of an evolutionary cycle in the title year. Erica Shuch Performance Project has been working on 51802, a piece in which an imaginative thinker examines the effects of incarceration on those inside and outside prison. For Clothes x Sun, performance artist Isak Immanuel of the "Floor of Sky Projects" weaves a personal narrative into installation pieces inspired by their environments. Also on the bill are Hagen and Simone, the brash, smart-aleck, and theatrically inspired Kevin Clarke and Monique Jenkinson. Their new duet, The Excused, promises to tussle with icons of common expectations. Finally, the reprise of Remote by Kraft and Purver takes a humorous, ironic, and compassionate look at how technology affects the way we relate to one another. (Rita Felciano)


Thurs/29–Sat/31, 8 p.m., $15–$20

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

701 Mission, SF

(415) 978-ARTS



Digging the roots


› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER Whinny, moan, or emote weakly, if you will, at the prospect of so many bland acoustic guitars — singer-songwriters have it rough, warbling softly alone on a big stage, so often the first to get slapped with the "you suck" stick. The worst scenario is too easy to picture: cliché love ballads about the lady or lad up front with the wine spritzer, uncompelling bellyaching about dead pets, lame chord progressions, an unexamined affection for James Taylor and Simon and Garfunkel. You’ve got a friend — who wears khakis. So consider it a good fight when singer-songwriters and those who love them wanna bust the stereotypically sensitive mold à la Jay Farrar, Britt Govea, and Marc Snegg. The last started Nevada City’s Grass Roots Records and is sincerely trying to shine a light on songsmiths succored by the rocky, roaring shores of the sweet South Yuba River with, this week, a traveling songwriters revue including Mariee Sioux, Lee Bob Watson, Alela Diane, and Casual Fog.

Can one expect thin song stylings from clotted brains? "That’s not what’s going to be going on at our show!" Snegg protests on the horn from up north. "Each of these songwriters has strong songs, though I guess singer-songwriters sort of get a bad rap.

"The original thing came up because I’m looking around and seeing what’s happening here, what people are doing anyways. I’m trying to congeal and coalesce it into a thing that’s a tour or a record, something that’s a lasting picture of a moment."

You can’t blame the dude, with all the talent pouring out around his hometown, from Joanna Newsom and Noah Georgeson to Hella and the Advantage, many of whom are not only solo artists but bandleaders as well, as Snegg puts it. The ex–UC Berkeley art major heads his own Sneggband, has already had Watson and Hella vocalist Aaron Ross into Dana Gumbiner’s Brighton Sound studio for new albums, and plans to pull in Sioux by April. His latest project: partnering with Nevada City promoters to bring touring and Bay Area bands to the town.

FOLK YOU Snegg isn’t the only wild-eyed seer bringing together two different NorCal scenes with, in his words, "musical momentum" and a few acoustic guitars. Folk Yeah Presents’ Govea has been putting on quiet and increasingly louder shows at Big Sur’s leafy Fernwood Resort and the woody Henry Miller Library for the past two years. The Crime in Choir performance on March 24 laid the heavy down at the first show of the ’07 season, continuing the move toward the harder psych-rock that closed the series last year. "I didn’t want to barge into Big Sur making a big ruckus, but as it turns out, the locals really like to head-bang," the Monterey promoter says as he hurtles down the coast, promising a pair of Chris Robinson shows and a big outdoors bash with as yet unnamed German electronic artists. He’s also folked up about a Mt. Tam performance around the time of Monterey Pop’s 40th anniversary, a very rad, free Earth Day concert at the Henry Miller Library on April 22, and more shows in "exotic" locales closer to San Francisco, including his first in the city with Howlin Rain and a Mission Creek Music Festival night that should have Red Hash heads humming.

"What keeps it unique is the marriage of LA and San Francisco that comes — an interesting mix. The metaphysical fight goes back to Laurel Canyon and Haight Ashbury, but once everyone gets to Big Sur, it’s nothing but hugs. And other things," Govea adds merrily before breaking up amid the pine needles.

FARRAR OUT Also unfurling a louder, prouder sound is Farrar, who’s been working the other side of the folk acoustic spectrum and mining a kind of Midwestern country-soul for years, in Uncle Tupelo and solo and now once again with Son Volt. The band he cultivated while former UT cosongwriter Jeff Tweedy nurtured his Wilco has birthed an admirably multitextured new CD, The Search (Sony/BMG), full of songs seeking insight amid post-9/11 wartime ("The Picture"), soullessness ("Automatic Society"), drugs ("Methamphetamine"), and other trad forms of escape ("Highways and Cigarettes").

"I probably read too much current events in the paper," Farrar, 40, says from St. Louis. "And some of those topical issues do find a way into the writing. ‘The Picture’ is a song like that. There’s a line — ‘War is profit / Profit is war,’ and that’s kind of being borne out by companies like Haliburton moving to the Middle East where the money is being made."

The title song seemed to best tie together his thoughts about this moment. "I mean, I didn’t want to call it Methamphetamine!" he says, gracefully allowing that, yup, Uncle Tupelo once lived together, subsisting on ramen, and contrary to rumor, their house did not have dirt floors.

Farrar isn’t working "Handy Man" territory yet, but it’s safe to say his partying days are behind him. He’s currently reading S.T.P.: A Journey Through America with the Rolling Stones, about the band’s somewhat infamous 1972 tour, though not for inspiration for his own travels. "Heh-heh, it can definitely be used as a reference point. I think most people who have done as much touring as I have tend to get that out of the way the first couple years. Eventually, you find rhythm that works."

What’s working for him now is playing with a band, a new lineup that includes keyboardist Derry deBorja, who can replicate everything from a banjo to a flute. "I guess having a band," Farrar says with no little irony, "is the one true way to make sure that no one mistakes you for someone that came from American Idol." *


Fri/30, 7 p.m., $5 suggested donation

Mama Buzz

2318 Telegraph, Oakl.

(510) 465-4073


With Spindrift and Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound

Sat/31, 9 p.m., $12 advance

Fernwood Resort

Hwy. 1, Big Sur



Fri/30, 9 p.m., $25


1805 Geary, SF



Still Waters


If you come away from Thomas McNamee’s riveting new book, Alice Waters and Chez Panisse: The Romantic, Impractical, Often Eccentric, Ultimately Brilliant Making of a Food Revolution (Penguin Press, $27.95), not sure whether you’ve just read the story of a woman or a restaurant, do not panic. You have read both, the twist being that the two tales are so embraided as to become one. The book makes quite clear that Chez Panisse as we know it would not exist without Waters, and it makes equally clear that Waters as we know her would not exist without the restaurant she helped launch in 1971.

"Helped" helps remind us that Chez Panisse is not and never has been a one-woman show. Waters has long been the restaurant’s public face and spiritual guide, but from the beginning Chez Panisse has been a family affair with a distinctly nomadic flavor. People — chefs, servers, investors, bakers, winemakers, managers, others — have pitched in as needed, sometimes wandering off for a time, only to wander back, usually to the mutual benefit of both wanderer and restaurant. Yes, Virginia, there are bedouins in Berkeley, and they look out for one another as well as for the worthy institution to whose vitality and fame so many of them have contributed.

McNamee’s factoid that Chez Panisse did not become profitable until it was nearly 30 years old would be more surprising if it were not widely known that the restaurant wasn’t started to make money. Its deepest impulse was and is to reconcile the aesthetic and moral — to square the joy of eating with the responsibility we all bear for minding the health of our small blue planet. This is as unradical a proposition today as it was radical 35 years ago. The indifference to money, on the other hand, while hardly remarkable in Berkeley at the end of the 1960s, seems almost otherworldly now, after more than a quarter century of supply-side evangelism and CNBC.

Waters, of course, is also an evangelist, a bringer of good news. She tells us it is possible to eat well in the company of loved ones and to know, at the end of the meal, that the circle of life on earth has been strengthened, not frayed. We might not have eaten that particular meal at Chez Panisse — but if we did, lucky us.

Paul Reidinger

› paulr@sfbg.com

New pluck


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

As the daughter of an international musical legend and sister to an entertainment phenomenon, Anoushka Shankar could be weighted down with baggage. But the young sitar virtuoso shows no sign of being bent or bowed. She makes music with her father and teacher, sitar master Ravi Shankar, but shares a tattoo, on the curve of the lower back, with her famous older sister, Norah Jones, with whom she is quite close, despite Norah and Ravi’s oft-reported distance. Anoushka might even be considered a bridge, maintaining strong familial bonds with both. Still, when she performs April 1, she’ll explore territory primarily her own, outside Ravi’s classical Indian sphere and beyond Norah’s pop realm.

Though the 26-year-old Shankar often performs classical Indian music based on ragas that have been played for more than a thousand years, at this show she’ll play contemporary compositions she wrote and recorded just a couple years ago. Centered on her sitar, the music can be both ethereal and beat driven. The textures and subtle grooves have as much in common with the music of such modern Indian electronic genre mashers as MIDIval Punditz as with the traditional sounds she has traveled the world playing.

"I really wanted to see what I would make if there were no boundaries, if I were just being free," Shankar says from San Diego, where she lives when not in New Delhi or touring. "I knew there was a chance it would end up like this, but I didn’t do it on purpose."

The music on Shankar’s latest record, 2005’s Rise (Angel), includes sitar, tabla, and South Indian flute and vocals and adds Western elements such as piano, bass, drums, and electronics. It’s a larger ensemble and a much different palette than the one Shankar uses for classical concerts, so she hopes people know what they’re about to see and hear at Herbst Theatre.

"Me being a classical musician, there’s always that little risk that someone’s bought a ticket thinking they’re coming to a sitar concert," she explains. "That’s the part I feel apprehensive about." Internationally known as a sitar prodigy who has already fulfilled the early promise she demonstrated as a teenager supporting her father, Shankar is now considered the present and future of Indian classical music. According to Shankar’s Web site, her father’s good friend George Harrison said in 1997, "Ravi — to me he is the music; it just happens to be that he plays the sitar. And it’s like that with Anoushka. She has that quality … she is the music."

Shankar wrote and recorded Rise while on what she describes as a sabbatical from music. She has been playing since she was a child, when she used a sitar her father had built for her smaller hands. But after performing and recording with Ravi since her early teens, the then-24-year-old Shankar was ready for a break.

"I thought it would be more about holidaying and having fun, being a kid in a certain way that I hadn’t gotten to do before," Shankar says. "But what ended up happening as soon as I had the space was I started making music. It does make sense when I look back."

This music was her own, based on the classical modes she has absorbed but influenced by everything else in her multinational, multicultural world. Rise signaled her musical independence. "It was the first project I took on where I was producing and creating," she says. "That it ended up shifting from classical music to something a little broader was secondary to me transferring from being an instrumentalist to a composer and overall musician."

Shankar references elements that have taken on a popular life of their own in the new musical democracy. Indian beats and sounds have become a staple of electronica the world over and, in the process, have liberated traditional South Asian culture. "Talvin Singh changed things for everybody," Shankar says.

Singh’s 1997 compilation, Anokha: Soundz of the Asian Underground (Fontana Island), put sitar, tabla, and South Asian vocals in a mix with drum ‘n’ bass, becoming a blueprint for releases such as Frequent Flyer: Bombay (Kinkysweet, 2004). But Shankar’s music has more of the depth and dynamics of jazz, relying on the Indian rhythms as its root while improvising with the traditional instruments rather than just using them for exotic color and texture the way much electronica does. She flips the recipe her contemporaries have developed, as the electronics become the aural ornamentation.

Shankar has obviously grown up with music all around her, but she’s had to consider several times whether she wanted it to be her life: first when she was 13 years old and began giving performances, and again five years later when she decided to commit to touring with her father. "Then it happened again around the time I started making Rise, where I reached the point where I was burned out a little on touring."

At that point Shankar decided she needed to reclaim the music for herself. Indian classical music has a structure that can seem foreign to Western ears. "Almost all Western music is based on harmony and counterpoint," she explains. "Ours is modal in structure, and at the heart of our music are the ragas, the melody form. We have thousands of those, and we can achieve all possible manner of variations in the music."

The variations are often improvised, inspiring comparisons to jazz in how masters such as her father have interpreted the music. "The goal is once one has studied a vast amount and become familiar with the ragas and their characters, their rules and notes, to know them well enough that you can just let go in your mind and play creatively," Shankar says.

Making and performing the music on Rise has far exceeded the modest expectations Shankar had for the project. On the recording she gracefully represents how naturally musicians now absorb then integrate influences. Closing Rise with the meditative "Ancient Love," Shankar picks her sitar through a dark, insistent beat that grows into an ominous groove propelled by wordless chants and pulsing tables. Then it all fades away. The music sounds current but feels timeless.

Shankar plans to do more records like Rise but remains committed to traditional forms. "After I finish this, I want to go back and rebuild that classical space again, because I wouldn’t want this to be at the cost of that, but if I can manage to balance both, it would be really amazing." *


Sun/1, 7 p.m., $25–$58

Herbst Theatre

401 Van Ness, SF




Beyond the valley of vinyl


› johnny@sfbg.com

No one turns the tables on the turntable quite like Otomo Yoshihide. San Francisco is a renowned turntablist holy land, thanks to the Return of the DJ comps David Paul has put out on Bomb Records, and the stylus-stylish feats of Q-Bert and the Invisibl Skratch Picklz. Yet the most audio-inventive and visionary SF-set turntable achievements to date probably reside within the new CD-DVD Multiple Otomo (Asphodel), largely recorded during the artist’s recent Bay Area visit. There, Otomo attacks the turntable’s potential for sound from dozens of wholly inventive angles, playing it as a musical instrument rather than using it as a piece of stereo equipment. Vinyl isn’t a necessary ingredient. Otomo shows a system that broadcasts music can also be used to make music. He turns an outmoded machine inside out and invents it anew.

Such praise for Multiple Otomo, while based in truth, likely means little to its chief creator. Whether he’s recording, engaged in sampling, or warping the parameters of live performance, he’s expressed little interest in consumer products and little regard for music that subjugates itself to words.

Nonetheless, the audio-only component of Multiple Otomo, Monochrome Otomo, is a CD of 18 tracks, each of which has a title and all of which trigger a writer’s descriptive imagination through their sonic properties. "Generator and Records" tracks rhythms of crackle — albeit with even less interest in pop repetition than snap-crackle-pop contemporaries such as Ryoji Ikeda and Thomas "Klick" Brinkmann. "Turntable Feedback" sculpts rusty, serrated chunks of cacophony with an authority that noise guitarists such as Nels Cline might covet. "Records" sounds like an infernal engine attempting to come back to life. Discarded technology doesn’t possess soul, but Otomo excavates soul from it. "Cardboard Chip Needle" features howls and horn squawks that are equivalent to nails on a chalkboard in terms of primal abrasiveness, yet Otomo — a free jazz heir of Masayuki Takayanagi, whose guitar assaults once famously caused student radicals to riot against him — also can use a six-stringed electric as a steel drum of sorts and create a gorgeously spooky, Harry Partch–like journey into a night forest.

But rather than chart new shades of purple with simile and metaphor, it might be better — or at least less silly — to use analogy when discussing Multiple Otomo. One track on the CD portion, "Cut Records," possesses a quality that isn’t far from what Peter Tscherkassky does on film: what might be the soundtrack to an old movie sounds like it’s fighting to escape the broken stereo that traps it. As Tscherkassky does in his mind-blowing celluloid reworks of Sidney J. Furie’s The Entity, Otomo taps into the convulsive properties of his media (equipment) and his medium.

One of Otomo’s behind-the-camera collaborators on the frequently awesome DVD portion of Multiple Otomo is filmmaker Michelle Silva of San Francisco’s Canyon Cinema, who has a definite appreciation of Tscherkassky. Like Tscherkassky, Otomo is the type of experimental artist whose work is directly pure and powerful rather than arcane or deliberately hard to understand. The visual component of Multiple Otomo is intimate with Otomo’s methods. Semiabstract close-ups rule, and Otomo’s hands get into all kinds of trouble. Indeed, Otomo is frequently multiplied, as the title promises, but he’s also got a trickster’s proficiency for disappearing from the scene.

In addition to textural visual splendor — overlays, scratched surfaces, kaleidoscopic reflections, screens within screens, the hypnotic spinning dances of fluorescent records, the hot, tarlike gleam of burning black vinyl — there are numerous humorous treats within some of Multiple Otomo‘s DVD chapters. While many of Otomo’s activities are a retro audiophile dude’s worst nightmare come to life, "Vinyls" is also playfully disrespectful in its approach to the collector mentality, putting an Al Green Hi Records classic through tortures while ultimately saving the worst violence for Evita and Supertramp. (Ah, sweet justice.) Though Otomo frequently proves you don’t need records to play a record player, on "Tinfoil," two bits of the titular object begin to resemble the legs of a dancer with an extreme case of the jitters.

Frankly, any object that finds itself near the hands of Otomo Yoshihide should have a case of the jitters. It’s bound to discover that its end justifies his means. *



If she could turn back time


› johnny@sfbg.com

"The only way out is forward!" a character exclaims roughly 65 minutes into 1972’s 111-minute-long The Poseidon Adventure. The same guy says the same thing around 46 minutes into Anne McGuire’s 2006 remake-reversal of exactly the same length, Adventure Poseidon The. Yet no matter how or when it’s sliced, the soon-to-be-doomed character’s sentiment isn’t quite right. In Ronald Neame’s original, the way out is actually up — albeit through the bottom of a capsized ship. In McGuire’s version, the way out isn’t exactly backward (she doesn’t merely rewind The Poseidon Adventure) but rather forward in reverse. By faithfully following the bread-crumb trail laid down by the 1972’s film’s editor, Harold F. Kress, McGuire rescues the film’s huge cast of survivors and casualties and its gargantuan ship.

In the process, McGuire gives viewers a chance to see a beloved cult movie anew. She may not have time for on-deck shuffleboard, but her rigorous reshuffling and storyboarding of The Poseidon Adventure is a rare example of formal art practice that never loses touch with the pop appeal of its source material. Ambivalent passion for the too-abundant things and people of pop culture is at the root of McGuire’s admirably varied movies to date and even her current official biography, which begins by stating that she was born in the valley of the Jolly Green Giant (meaning Minnesota).

In 1991’s classic Joe DiMaggio, 1, 2, 3, McGuire stalks-serenades the actual slugger as he takes a senior stroll through the Marina, and in 1997’s equally great I’m Crazy and You’re Not Wrong, she sings and rambles like a wigged-out ghost who’s emerged from cracks in Liza Minnelli’s and Judy Garland’s skulls during one of their black-and-white TV duets. Adventure Poseidon The isn’t the first time McGuire has hopscotched from an original film’s end to its beginning — she did so with 1992’s Strain Andromeda The. But in this case, as with her more performative work, she’s overtly drawing from life experience — she has survived a shipwreck. In that sense, this latest project is directly connected to a movie like 1996’s When I Was a Monster, in which McGuire takes a long mirrored look at her injured body shortly after she’d literally fallen off a cliff.

Circling against itself, Adventure Poseidon The‘s choppy dramatic momentum — each shot moves toward an end, then connects to the start of a scene that originally came before it — heightens the visual properties of Neame’s original. Characters retreat from dynamic deaths. Fatal falls through rings of fire become burning baptisms. Lit from below, dazed onlookers could have wandered in from a Euro art film of the ’60s. The ebbs and flows make one of John Williams’s less sappy scores more interesting. A viewer can dwell on the strange ’70s trend (see also: Dario Argento’s 1976 Suspiria) of people plummeting through stained-glass windows and wonder whether it’s Neame’s movie or John Waters’s 1974 Female Trouble that contains the most surreally violent abuse of a Christmas tree. And of course there’s Oscar-winning Shelley Winters, the movie’s underwater swimming champ and "600-pound swordfish," giving a truly heroic performance, triumphant even when her rump’s tinsel-strewn in close-up.

Lacking a Charlton Heston who has since gone gun crazy or a tainted O.J. Simpson, the cast of The Poseidon Adventure is both Ernest Borgnine–ed and benign in comparison to those of the disaster films that followed. When Jennifer Jones fell from a great glass elevator in 1974’s The Towering Inferno, she was following in the footsteps of Poseidon‘s Stella Stevens, and Ava Gardner’s fatal drowning in Earthquake‘s Los Angeles sewer tunnels the same year is another variation on that doomed-lady theme. One suspects that just as McGuire was born in the valley of the Jolly Green Giant, she also grew up in the era of the disaster movie. With Adventure Poseidon The — a perfect movie for what one can only pray is the end of the George W. Bush era — she returns to the scene of a catastrophe and proves that if there’s got to be a morning after, there’s also got to be a night before. *


Thurs/29, 6:30 p.m. (screening and artist talk), $5–$7

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Phyllis Wattis Theater

151 Third St., SF

(415) 357-4000



Look for an interview with Anne McGuire this week at www.sfbg.com/blogs/pixel_vision.



› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Rome wasn’t built in a day, but cinema’s eternal enfant terrible Jean-Luc Godard did direct Contempt, Band of Outsiders, Alphaville, Pierrot le Fou, Masculine-Feminine, Two or Three Things I Know about Her, and Weekend (and a few others too) in the four years leading up to the political explosions of 1968. These trenchant, tenacious films are as good a record as any we have of an era when light-speed changes in culture and politics only seemed to make history grind to a halt. Each represents a blast of here-and-now consciousness.

Given the feverish tenor of this output, the relative quietude of 1967’s Two or Three Things I Know about Her (playing at the Castro Theatre in a striking new 35mm print from Rialto Pictures) comes as something of a surprise 40 years on. Sandwiched between the hyperventiutf8g back-and-forth of Masculine-Feminine and Weekend ‘s apocalyptic moan, the film is the eye of the storm of Godard’s ’60s, that crucial moment between impact and explosion. The director supposedly got the idea for Two or Three Things from reading a news piece on the phenomenon of middle-class Parisian women working as prostitutes to pay for their bourgeois accoutrement. This loaded role comes to life in Juliette, introduced to us twice, via a typically Brechtian flourish, as both character and actress (Marina Vlady).

Her life’s arrangement is not a story so much as a situation for Godard, and correspondingly, the film isn’t a narrative but rather a study. The Summer of Love notwithstanding, Two or Three Things isn’t concerned with Juliette’s sexuality (any sensuousness is incidental to Raoul Coutard’s color-mad cinematography) or psychology (something that Godard never has much use for, especially when it comes to his female characters); a poster for Kenji Mizoguchi’s Ugetsu is the only evidence of female suffering here. For Godard, prostitution is simply an apt metaphor for the dreary life of the new, amorphous Paris to which the "her" of the title refers: the Paris of the outer rings, then being settled by a disassociated middle class and recently set ablaze by more indignant communities.

So then, will the real belle du jour please stand up? It’s Juliette who tends to occupy the frame, sleepwalking through boutiques and barren apartment spaces (like Woody Allen’s, Godard’s film style often seems a matter of real estate), but Two or Three Things‘ most intimate presence isn’t visualized at all. Throughout the film Godard himself interrupts with a whispered, reflective voice-over: an existential director’s commentary track 30 years before DVD technology made this kind of authorial expressivity standard-issue.

No one Godard film is any more "Godard" than another, though Two or Three Things does feel unusually direct in its peripatetic meditations. Conversations, when they occur, are still tête-à-tête volleys (talk never flows with Godard), but more often than not it seems the characters are simply verbalizing their own reveries on life in the pseudocity. The maestro reserves the most powerfully searching musings for his own voice: in particular, the famous "clouds in my coffee" sequence, in which he parses the irresolvable tension between "crushing" objectivity and "isoutf8g" subjectivity amid extreme, lyrical close-ups of a coffee’s swirl, bubbles bursting and shades swallowed by the closeness of his voice.

As with most things Godard, there are multiple meanings to this series of shots, which simultaneously emphasize existential dread and a remarkable capacity for abstraction. It’s direct contact with an imagination on fire, reveling in the difference between thought and expression. Of course, a film built entirely on asides — in addition to Godard’s and Juliette’s reflections, we get many landscapes surveying Paris under construction and the usual café dialogues — is as likely to be a soporific as a revelation; reverie and sleepiness are frequent bedfellows in the movie theater and never more so than here. Certainly, Two or Three Things lacks the pop frisson of Masculine-Feminine or Weekend, but it’s also, in many ways, a more palatable work — not least of all for a toning down of the toxic sexism that mars Godard’s best, angriest work.

Two or Three Things will always be thought of as a stepping stone, though the film’s beauty lies in its singularity. In another, less famous but no less profound voice-over sequence, Godard contemplates the nature of his representations of reality ("Should I have talked about Juliette or the leaves?") while Juliette has her car washed. As the car (lollipop red, of course) shuttles from station to station, so too does Godard’s mind lurch from idea to idea before settling on an underlying truth: the necessity for an indefatigable "passion for expression." The world can be anything he wishes to make it. It’s a beautiful, surprisingly hopeful idea, and for a moment all that followed Two or Three Things slips away, leaving us only this unwieldy, pregnant now. *


March 30–April 5

Mon.–Wed. and Fri.–Sun., 7 and 9 p.m. (also Wed. and Sat.–Sun., 1, 3, and 5 p.m.), $6–$9

Castro Theatre

429 Castro, SF

(415) 621-6120



Sleazy like Sunday morning


The collective teeth of umpteen fanboys and fangirls commenced grinding when it was announced that the release of the Quentin Tarantino–Robert Rodriguez nuevo-schlock faux double bill Grindhouse would be preceded by rare 35mm revival screenings of actual ’60s through ’80s sleazebag hits such as Fight for Your Life and They Call Me One-Eye. A wonderful and laudable thing, of course — at least if you live within driving reach of Los Angeles’s New Beverly Cinema.

Well, if you can’t join ’em, beat ’em. By fortunate coincidence, San Francisco is getting something similar, which will play nowhere else — so nyaah-nyaah. That thing would be "A Month of Sleazy Sundays," four unholy nights of vintage exploitation gems beginning this April Fools’ Day at the Mission District’s lovable Victoria Theatre, brought to you by Another Hole in the Head and SF Indiefest’s Bruce Fletcher, among others.

The April quartet of triple bills offers a panoply of delights, like those shown at drive-ins, urban flea pits, and semirespectable joints such as San Francisco’s late Strand Theatre before it went porn and then closed entirely. These films were made for audiences, not for the private snickering of home viewers. Dark Channel’s rare 35mm prints are unlikely to be mint — but then, pink-out and scratchiness now seem integral to this kind of vintage theatrical experience.

The kickoff program spotlights English-language outer spaciness as only the Italians can deliver. Two entries are shameless Star Wars knockoffs from 1978: Alfonso Brescia’s War of the Robots and Luigi Cozzi’s Star Crash. The former stars Antonio Sabato Sr. (mmm). The latter stars Marjoe Gortner (Jesus with more eyeliner), Caroline Munro (in leather bikini and thigh-high boots), and a pre-Baywatch David Hasselhoff. It also sports the stupidest action scenes ever. Sandwiched between these cheese baths is Mario Bava’s genuinely eerie Planet of the Vampires, the 1965 sci-fi-horror hybrid that purportedly inspired Alien.

Highlights abound within the three remaining Sundays. April 8 brings 1970’s psychedelic séance- and H.P. Lovecraft–drawn tab o’ satanism The Dunwich Horror, in which an exquisitely perverse Dean Stockwell drafts grad student Sandra Dee (!) for sacrifice. It’s followed by the next year’s really hairy biker saga Werewolves on Wheels. A creature feature melee April 15 features Larry Hagman’s first and last directorial effort, 1972’s Beware! The Blob, a.k.a. Son of Blob, the sequel no one was waiting for — until, perhaps, it was rereleased a decade later as "The movie that J.R. shot!" Finally, a grindhouse odyssey April 21 travels from the 1934 adults-only Phyllis Diller campsterpiece Maniac to the 1971 Southern moonshine-circuit classic Preacherman to, finally, the politically incorrect yet dy-no-mite 1975 blaxploitation whopper The Black Gestapo. (Dennis Harvey)


Through April 22; single feature $8, double $15, and triple $20

Victoria Theatre

2961 16th St., SF

(415) 863-7576



Spam reconsidered


› paulr@sfbg.com

We can’t quite say that spam has become a blight, since it was widely unloved (except for the Monty Python bit) even before the word’s great shift in meaning. Everyone hates the new spam — except, I suppose, the spammers themselves, forever importuning the e-mail world on behalf of the mysterious Fifth Third Bank — but the old spam had a good deal to say, much of it unpretty, about America. For those of us who grew up in the 1960s, Spam was the rectangle of salty chopped pork that came in a blue tin (with the little pin you turned to roll open the top, like a can of sardines) and was the basis of many an improvised or emergency meal. Spam (supposedly a truncation of "spiced ham") served early on as military food, sustenance for World War II soldiers at the front; later it made a curious marriage with the pineapple and became a mainstay of prememorable, and perhaps preedible, Hawaiian cuisine. Hawaii was and remains basically a huge military base, and Spam’s high visibility there can’t be coincidental.

I found some tabs of Spam recently, floating in a large bowl of saimin served to me at Eva’s Hawaiian Cafe, and under their saline spell I took a brief waltz through the portals of memory. Spam is ridiculous — ridiculous word, ridiculous product, a kind of pork surimi, processed beyond recognition — but I had not objected to it as a child. It came out of a can, like Campbell’s soups, and I liked Campbell’s soups. It was salty the way candy bars were sweet — excessively, deliriously so. But I gave up candy bars years ago, and I can’t remember the last time I even saw a can of Spam, let alone let a bit of the stuff actually pass my lips, until the fateful moment at Eva’s.

The saimin ($4.95), interestingly, was not only not ruined by the Spam but gently enhanced by it. Deployed sparingly, the Spam chunks turned out to be useful as a salt condiment, like soy sauce with a meaty texture. They played well against the smokiness of the barbecued chicken flaps and the mildness of the submerged mop head of noodles at large elsewhere in the big bowl, and their presence meant that the quite intense chicken broth could be undersalted without losing punch. Also: even today, nothing says "Hawaii" quite like Spam, unless it’s Spam with pineapple, maybe on a pizza, though not in a bowl of saimin.

Eva’s Hawaiian Café belongs to a chain (as I learned ex post facto from reading the fine print on a takeout menu) — in fact a rather large chain — but other than that, I couldn’t find anything wrong with it, except that the chili mayo ($3.25), served with French fries, was too sweet and not hot enough. We requested an emergency supply of ketchup, and this prayer was quickly answered, just as most others were anticipated: more water and napkins, plates quickly cleared, dishes brought promptly and in a pleasing sequence. And all this in a semicafeteria service! I can think of quite a few full-service places charging twice as much or more that don’t manage anything near this level of cheerful attentiveness or serve better food. Meanwhile, there always seems to be at least one staffer moving around the bright red, yellow, and blue dining room on a mission to clean; the perfect scorecard posted in the front window from a recent inspection by the health department did not come as a surprise to us.

Considering the coffee shop modesty of the place (people sit at tables reading newspapers, perhaps this very newspaper), the food is fresh, tasty, nuanced, and inexpensive. The basic model is the Hawaiian lunch plate: a big platter of something (often a sandwich), accompanied by some combination of fries, rice, and macaroni salad. Since this is California, the salad state, you can get a green salad instead of the macaroni if you prefer.

The mahi mahi sandwich ($5.25) didn’t rise much above the level of ordinary and echoed of McFish. For a batter-fried item, the shrimp ($8.95) are better; they’re butterflied, which means they cook more quickly and retain more of their basic character. Better yet: the kalbi short ribs ($7.95), marinated and grilled, juicy and tender, from which we discreetly gnawed the last of the meat from the bones.

It’s the small plates, the pupu starters, that give the most delight. Redondo Portuguese sausage musubi ($2.25) is like a piece of nori-wrapped sushi, except the treasure wrapped inside is a brick of garlic-chile sausage instead of fish. Fresh ahi poke ($5.25) — cubes of ruby red tuna tossed with soy, sesame seeds, and cayenne — offers immaculately fresh fish and enough chile heat to awaken the somnolent, while lumpia ($3.25), the Philippine treats that are something like a cross between pot stickers and flautas, have an almost phyllolike delicacy. Best of all might be the Portuguese bean soup ($4.25 for a gargantuan bowl, so not really a pupu), a jumble of kidney and white beans and macaroni tubes in a thick, spicy tomato broth scented with okra. It’s like a vegetarian gumbo.

Eva’s isn’t luxurious or even especially pretty — the primary colors have a kindergarten brightness — but the whole experience of being there is so agreeable that we are reminded how much the simplest human touches count. The service staff are cheerful and knowledgeable, and they work to keep their restaurant tidy; all this counts for a lot and proves that true hospitality need not involve charging patrons exorbitant amounts of money. If you can’t get to Hawaii, bundle up and come here instead. *


Continuous service: Mon.–Thurs. and Sun., 11 a.m.–9 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 11 a.m.–10 p.m.

731 Clement, SF

(415) 221-2087

No alcohol


Slightly noisy

Wheelchair accessible


Taking the heat


› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS Sockywonk lost her mouth on account of the chemo. We were sitting around wondering about lunch, which is one of my three favorite things to wonder about, and she said (and I quote): "I wonder if I have my mouth back."

I looked up from my prayer book, or food journal, and asked, "Excuse me?"

"I wonder if I can handle the salsa at Papalote," she said. She’s been off the sauce for a couple months and off chemo now for maybe one month. Her head’s starting to get fuzzy, but she hadn’t yet tested her capacity for spicy hot — which used to be considerable. For a while even black pepper was fucking with her, mouthwise.

Weird, huh?

Well, a lot of things are weird. Golf … and I’ll never understand why San Francisco lets churchgoers park in the middle of the street on Sundays. Excuse me? Separation of church and state?

My bright orange skirt was perfectly color-coordinated with my flower-print shirt, which screamed every color of the rainbow and then some. It was sunny and warm and lunchtime in Noe Valley. Sockywonk looked about as badass and beautiful as ever, with her old-man-style Florida-style straw hat, bald head, blue jeans, watch chain …

"That’s a man," some guy said to some other guys sitting at a sidewalk table on 24th Street. Not only did he not try to conceal his voice, he seemed to say it louder than normal. Sockywonk pretended not to hear, poor thing, but she had to, unless chemo took her ears too.

Now, I was never one for chivalry, not even as a dude, but it occurs to me retrospectively that this was perfect weather for new leaves. Spring!

I’m so lucky to have this wavy-world restaurant column in which to do everything over again. Instead of just keeping walking, I grabbed on to my dear girlfriend’s elbow, turned her to face the speaker, and corrected him: "She’s not a man," I said. "Look. Tits!"

And there isn’t a shade of a dot of a doubt in my mangled mind that the Wonk would have lifted her shirt — had this actually happened — and showed them. And his friends would have hooted and high-fived us, and the guy would have felt like an idiot, and Socky’s dog, Barkywonk, would have sniffed his pant leg and pissed on it, assuring him that he was, in fact, an idiot.

You don’t make fun of sick people, everybody knows. And, for the record, Sockywonk has long, pretty, and very girly hair when she doesn’t have cancer.

The question was, did she have her mouth back?

She did!

The test was that zip-zooey orange salsa they have at Papalote, made with roasted tomatoes and pumpkin seeds. It’s ridiculously good, and nice and spicy, and Papalote is my new favorite taquería on the strength of this salsa alone. But everything else was great too.

The chips were fresh, warm, free …

We got a fish taco and a shrimp taco that time, and then a couple days later, when we had to go back on account of bad days, we got a Soyrizo burrito and a carne asada burrito. I’ll let you guess who ordered which.

Chorizo is probably my least favorite kind of sausage in this wide world of wonderful sausages. Soyrizo … well, Sockywonk swears by it, that’s all I’ll say.

And they don’t have carnitas, which is strange and tragic, but the carne asada was great, and the tortilla was griddled, not steamed. And the salsa is addictive. You can buy a jar of it for six bucks, I think, and five bucks the next time if you bring back the jar. Sockywonk used to do this before chemo took her mouth. Even though she lives a short walk from 24th and Valencia. Because you never know when you’re going to wake up in the middle of the night needing a little heat.

Speaking of which, we both had unreasonable plans of getting lucky later, since it was St. Patrick’s Day and all the boys in the world and a lot of lesbians would be drunk. She went to a show; I went to Oakland. I was supposed to meet some friends at opening night of the new lesbian bar Velvet. Oakland’s first? That’s what my friends said. I didn’t believe it, until I saw the two block–long line waiting to get in.

And just kept driving. *


Mon.–Sat., 11 a.m.–10 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m.–9 p.m.

3409 24th St., SF

(415) 970-8815

Takeout available


Credit cards not accepted


Wheelchair accessible


Work, work, work


› andrea@altsexcolumn.com

Dear Readers:

When last we visited Polyland, I was congratuutf8g myself for doing a necessary public service: warning would-be polyamorists they would fail unless they happened to belong to that select group born with not only the desire but the ability to share. If I gave short shrift to the fact that polyamory takes hard work on top of natural inclination, plus the luck to find similarly inclined partners, I apologize. I’m continually amused, however, by the way the poly partisans who’ve been writing me (very eloquently, I must say) insist hard work is the one secret to successful multiple relationships, or, for that matter, any relationship. " How would I say it?" Happypoly asked in "PSA" (12/21/05). "Poly works for those committed to the hard personal work needed to make it work…. Of course, the same could be said of all other forms of relationships."

Seeing this attitude espoused everywhere has not managed to convince me that it’s true, merely that it is, apparently, what people want to hear. Of course a good relationship requires attention and occasional maintenance — what living creature does not? — but the constant harping on work, work, work makes me tired and suspicious. I may be lazy (OK, I am lazy), but I maintain that you can tell you have a good relationship when it pretty much runs itself. "Oh, we work on our relationship constantly!" does not make me think, "Oh, good for you guys!" It makes me think, "Oh, bro-ther."



Dear Andrea:

It seems everything you say about those trying to be polyamorous can also be said about those trying to be monogamous. How many people do you know who got that right the first time? How many people do you know who really know how to do relationships at all? The poly people I know seem to be good at it because, well, they had to get good at doing relationships. I’ve personally seen more problems with expectations based on the monogamous template we’ve picked up from social cues around us than with jealousy. Part of getting good at this is learning to undo all we’ve learned and finding out what’s really in our hearts. Whether polyamorous or monogamous, we could all benefit from finding an unselfish love.


Poly up North

Dear North:

All nicely put. I guess we part company where we successfully undo all our lifelong social programming. Even if I believed that those templates were acquired, as opposed to inborn (I actually believe it’s some and some, of course), I don’t know what it would take to convince me that such programming could be successfully unlearned by more than a talented and lucky few. I’m glad you brought up selfish and unselfish monogamy, though. That’s a distinction that needed to be made.



Dear Andrea:

I come down somewhere between your position and that of Happypoly on the question of who is well-suited to a poly life. I agree that the majority of poly people experience significant challenges in their relationships, especially at first. Of course, this doesn’t mean that their relationships ultimately fail. In my experience and observation, the following factors most positively influence the odds for success:

1. General attitude of goodwill and a generosity of spirit

2. Willingness to be honest, especially when the news is likely to hurt

3. Independent spirit

4. Strong personal desire for a poly life

5. Reasonably good emotional intelligence and self-esteem

6. Reading poly literature and discussing it with partners

Likely the poly relationships that you’ve seen crash and burn were insufficiently supplied with one or more of these components.


Poly out East

Dear East:

It all sounds so nice. I have no doubt, actually, that these factors do indeed play a role in the success or failure of people’s poly endeavors. I can’t help but be reminded, though, of a friend’s research into what actually motivates people to have high-risk, unprotected sex. It was assumed for the first 20 years or so of safer-sex education that people weren’t using condoms because A) they didn’t know how HIV spreads or B) they didn’t have access to condoms. It turned out, of course, that some 99 to 100 percent of the people having high-risk unprotected sex know how to avoid contracting HIV and have access to supplies. They have their own reasons (denial, peer pressure, desire, and so on) for choosing not to use condoms, and there is no chance of affecting their behavior without taking these very real concerns into account. This may seem a far-fetched and unfair comparison, I know, but I like to keep in mind that we shouldn’t assume what makes people tick is what ought to make them tick. People is weird.



This column originally ran Jan. 11, 2006. Alt.sex will return with new installments March 28.

Vote Mac


› annalee@techsploitation.com

TECHSPLOITATION A Barack Obama fan, supposedly operating on his own time and not as part of the campaign, recently released a rather clumsy attack ad smearing Hilary Clinton on YouTube. No, it’s not particularly amazing that spin-doc wannabes are splattering DIY attack ads on video-sharing networks. What’s surprising is the content of this particular ad, which rips off an old Macintosh commercial from the 1980s. The message? Vote Obama because he’s just like an Apple computer.

The ad is a mashup of Apple’s infamous Big Brother commercial that aired just once, during the 1984 Super Bowl. Directed by Ridley Scott (Blade Runner), it depicts a black-and-white world of industrial hell where only Macs can save us from fascism. Slack-jawed office slaves file into an auditorium where Big Brother delivers a garbled speech from an immense television screen. Just when the grimness gets overwhelming, a woman appears in bright red shorts and a Macintosh T-shirt. She runs through the auditorium in slow motion, wielding a sledgehammer, fleeing police. As Big Brother’s speech reaches a crescendo, she hurls her hammer into the screen and shatters it. A few words scroll into view over the storm of glass dust: "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like ‘1984.’ "

The only difference between the Obama ad and the old Mac commercial is that Hilary Clinton has been pasted into Big Brother’s place on screen. She’s droning out some speech about everybody working together, and the final words on screen read, "On January 14, the Democratic Primary will begin. And you’ll see why 2008 won’t be like ‘1984.’ "

I’m weirded out by the idea that it’s meaningful to compare the Democratic primary to the release of a new technological gizmo. Are we really supposed to feel stirred by the notion that our political leaders are computers designed by marketers? Or that the only symbol the grassroots politicos can come up with to represent their candidate of choice is a computer that’s been obsolete for 20 years? How, exactly, did we wind up with such impoverished political imaginations?

The fact is we didn’t. Macintoshes are just the latest pop culture symbol that politicians have seized on to fake their connection to everyday American life. Hell, even Ben Franklin pulled the old pop culture trick when he plopped a coonskin hat on his head so that he’d look folksy when he arrived in France to round up some cash to fund the Revolutionary War. Two centuries later, Bill Clinton used the Fleetwood Mac song "Don’t Stop Thinking about Tomorrow" to symbolize his hipness when he was inaugurated. Obama’s supporters are using hippie computers instead of hippie rock to make the same point. Think about it: Apple computers of the ’80s represent a hopefulness about the power of technology to bring us together that the country has all but forgotten. Sort of the way we forgot about prog rock.

But do Apple computers represent what they used to back in the day? Not if you are keeping up with the times. Over the past few months, in fact, Apple has launched its own series of attack ads on the Windows PC. You know the ads I mean — the ones where the Macintosh is personified as a snotty, black-clad hipster type who goes around feeling sorry for the PC, a bumbling, nerdy guy in a suit who can never quite get his peripherals to work.

Unfortunately for Apple, the attack ads have backfired. The PC character is played by John Hodgman, a popular satirist who appears regularly on The Daily Show and This American Life. His PC comes across as a populist everyman being unfairly taunted by a younger, cuter model with lots of nice hair but no brains. Everybody wants Hodgman in the living room, even if he crashes occasionally. He’s us. He’s America. The only person who wants that annoying Mac guy around is, well, the sort of person who thinks it’s brilliant to change one tiny aspect of an old TV commercial and rebroadcast it online as if it’s the new citizen media taking on the political system. If Obama is the Mac, then I’m voting PC. No, wait, I’m buying a PC! Oh crap — am I at the store or in a voting booth? It’s so hard to tell the difference. *

Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who figures all the voting machines are rigged to vote for the Zune anyway.

Will Newsom have a legacy?


Over the past four years Mayor Gavin Newsom has enjoyed high poll ratings, but he has been unable to deliver any signature piece of legislation. His most celebrated actions were symbolic: marrying same-sex couples and walking the picket line with the striking hotel workers.

With only months to go before he is up for reelection, Newsom is hoping free wi-fi will be that signature bill. But unless he quickly changes his tactics, his legislation will go up in flames.

From the moment Newsom announced his wi-fi vision, the supervisors have been asking for input into the deal. At every meeting, the mayor’s representatives have dodged or stalled. The Board of Supervisors asked Newsom’s negotiators not to present it with a take-it-or-leave-it deal; the mayor’s staffers did just that. So it’s no surprise that the board seems hesitant to give the contract the benefit of the doubt. Newsom has responded by lambasting the board as "obstructionist" rather than by working with the supervisors to address their concerns.

Although there are good points to the proposal, there are also problems.

Service will be slow.

There’s no enforceable guarantee the network will cover the parts of the city that need it the most.

The contract is effectively a monopoly, and it’s long. We’re likely to be stuck with this contract for 16 years.

Penetration into apartment buildings and above second floors will be virtually nonexistent without the purchase of expensive extra equipment.

These are all legitimate public policy reasons to question the mayor’s proposal. But instead of working with the supervisors, he trashes them to every group and editorial board that will listen.

The board is exploring another possibility that the mayor should look at instead of his current effort: municipal wi-fi. Although the mayor has rejected that avenue, there are strong public-policy reasons for pursuing such a strategy.

Unfortunately, the people who will suffer the most from the mayor’s refusal to deal with the board are those who need a city network the most: schoolkids who can’t get online to do their homework; unemployed folks looking for a job; non-English speakers seeking city information; and anyone who needs free training or support.

Wi-fi, of course, is only one of the issues on which Newsom has given the board the finger. His repeated veto of foot patrols showed more loyalty to the Police Officers Association than to the needs of residents of high-crime areas. His continued refusal to consider a Saturday road closure trial in Golden Gate Park doesn’t serve anyone other than a few wealthy donors. The voters even went so far as to pass Proposition I, which demanded that Newsom meet with the board. The mayor has responded with highly managed events at which the supervisors cannot appear as a group.

Instead of trying to ram through a flawed wi-fi deal, the real legacy Newsom could create — one that would truly benefit us all — is that of a strong working relationship with the Board of Supervisors. *

Sasha Magee

Sasha Magee is a San Francisco activist who writes at LeftinSF.com.

Web site of the week



There’s a growing anxiety that the Republican and Democratic parties are once again going to offer up nominees for president who don’t truly address the issues that concern most Americans. So expect more talk of rich guys running as independents and Web sites like this one, which attempts to explore new options for ’08.

Dust still settling


› sarah@sfbg.com

A racially charged lawsuit by a trio of Lennar Corp. employees accuses the developer of exploiting and endangering Bayview–Hunters Point residents. It also offers an inside look at how the company responded to an asbestos dust scandal first reported by the Guardian ("The Corporation That Ate San Francisco," 3/14/07) and raises questions about Mayor Gavin Newsom’s plan to give Lennar more control over the toxic Hunters Point Shipyard.

The suit was filed by three prominent African American community members — Clementine Clarke, Gary McIntyre, and Ceola Richardson — whom Lennar, a Florida-based megadeveloper, hired as liaisons to the community and its subcontractors. They are represented by attorney Angela Alioto, a former supervisor and mayoral candidate. The lawsuit alleges racial discrimination and harassment (mostly by local Lennar vice president Paul Menaker), retaliation for whistle-blowing, failure to prevent discrimination and harassment, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The plaintiffs allege that Menaker, who is white, made disparaging comments about African American workers and community members. "Menaker frequently yells at Plaintiff and other African-American employees, but does not yell at non African-Americans," alleges the lawsuit, which also accuses Menaker of delaying payments to African American clients but not to those of other races.

The plaintiffs also claim that after Minister Christopher Muhammed of the Muhammed University of Islam, which sits adjacent to the Parcel A site where Lennar is working and was exposed to dust from the project, brought his students to Redevelopment Agency meetings and asked that construction cease until the school was permanently relocated, Menaker referred to him as a "shakedown artist."

Perhaps of greater concern to the public are the lawsuit’s allegations that Lennar executives ignored McIntyre’s warnings that Lennar subcontractor Gordon Ball was neglecting to control dust at the site and that Lennar employees were ordered to maintain a "code of silence" about subcontractor CH2M Hill’s failure to monitor asbestos, for which Lennar was cited by local and state officials. McIntyre claims that after blowing the whistle on Gordon Ball, he was demoted and denied further information on how the company was handling dust, even as he was expected to tell the community that Lennar was taking all the necessary steps to protect public health.

Lennar spokesperson Sam Singer told the Guardian the lawsuit contains "numerous false allegations" — then pointed the finger at McIntyre.

"Gary McIntyre was in charge of overseeing contracts," Singer told us. "It was on his watch when incidents of dust occurred, and members of the black community called up and complained and demanded that he be replaced. Were there some violations? Yes. Were they disastrous? No. People in the community didn’t want Gary in that position. Numerous dust mitigation workshops were held by Lennar and Arc Ecology, and in September we held a special meeting to discuss the violations."

Clarke, a Newsom-appointed fire commissioner and Lennar’s community benefits manager, told us she felt "stuck between a rock and a hard place" when Menaker told her and McIntyre not to mention the asbestos dust monitoring had been botched. By then, Clarke recalled, McIntyre had already been demoted for criticizing subcontractor Gordon Ball.

"Gary had been complaining to Paul Menaker that the leadership at Gordon Ball was not following the dust control policy," Clarke said. "Gary was constantly trying to get Gordon Ball to do what was right. After Gary was demoted, he was placed on Porta-Potty and Baker Tank duty."

"It was done to make me quit," McIntyre told us of his demotion. "Before that, I was told that I need to back off subcontractor Gordon Ball, then I was deliberately taken out of the loop."

The allegations cast a new light on Lennar’s claims to us that it volunteered the information about the faulty asbestos monitoring, suggesting the company might have been concerned about McIntyre blowing the whistle to city officials who were already asking questions about dust and asbestos levels.

The day after McIntyre’s Aug. 1, 2006, demotion, Menaker told Clarke and McIntyre the asbestos monitoring data could not be verified.

"I would have liked to see a report from CH2M Hill on what exactly happened," McIntyre told us. "First I heard it was record falsification, then human error, then a problem employee, then battery malfunction. I complained to my manager, Paul Menaker, but I never saw a report."

Clarke and McIntyre said Lennar’s code of silence left them in an awkward position within their community.

"When the community was asking, ‘What’s up with asbestos and dust?’ Gary was to go out and explain," Clarke told us. "So when Gary was taken off the project but his name was kept in the community as project manager, I said, ‘Y’all have cut this man’s testicles off by taking him off this site.’ "

"How can you go out and talk to the community about dust if you’re not in the loop?" McIntyre asked us. "But it wasn’t just a code of silence. It was also that we were blind and deaf, since we couldn’t see reports or attend meetings."

All three say they began to feel like Lennar was hurting their community.

"To me," McIntyre told us, "Minister Muhammed represents the African American community. When I looked his schoolkids in the eye, I thought these kids are thinking that I’m the one who is doing this to them."

Things came to a head for McIntyre at Newsom’s Feb. 10 town hall meeting in Bayview.

Observing that Lennar had been issued with notices of violation and that public health concerns had been raised, Newsom asked, "Is someone from Lennar here to secure my confidence?"

"I waited for Kofi [Bonner, president of Lennar Urban] and Paul to say something, but they didn’t even show up," McIntyre recalled. "So I took the mic, looked the minister in the eyes, and said, ‘We have carried out an investigation, placed additional monitors in the community. We’re trying to keep you and the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency up to date.’ "

When someone in the town hall audience accused Lennar of "harming a community that’s already been harmed," McIntyre said. "We’re taking the most aggressive steps we could."

But inside he felt that he had been made into Lennar’s scapegoat. "I wouldn’t have taken this job if I’d known," McIntyre said.

Clarke agreed. "All you’ve got is your name. The corporation tried to take all that away. At least now I can sleep at night."

Six days after the meeting, Newsom proposed accelerating the transfer of the shipyard from the Navy to the city and Lennar in order to facilitate construction of a new stadium for the 49ers. Newsom’s spokespeople did not return calls for comment. *

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

David Lazarus, who is a pretty good consumer reporter over at the San Francisco Chronicle, got himself badly singed in a blogosphere flame war a couple weeks ago when he wrote a column arguing that newspapers should start charging for their content online. No more free newspaper Web sites; if you gotta pay half a buck to the buy the print product, you shouldn’t get it electronically for free.

It’s kind of an insider industry debate, and frankly, this stuff is starting to bore me, and nobody else should care much — except that in his fights with bloggers and in a follow-up column March 23, Lazarus got into an issue that is crucial for all of us to think about and understand in the new media world.

Lazarus argues that if the Web content is free, there won’t be any money to pay professional reporters (like him). Some of the folks who went after him said, in effect, so what? With tens of thousands of bloggers out there working for free, who needs David Lazarus? Who needs to pay for any news on the Web? Who even needs newspapers; why can’t the blogosphere just make its own news?

What that argument amounts to is a failure to understand that there will always be — and must, for the sake of democracy, always be — people who work in the news business. By that I mean people who are paid full-time to follow politicians, monitor city hall, and investigate wrongdoing.

They may not work in what are now traditional newsrooms or at traditional news outlets. But the typical blogger, who comments on other news reports and does some citizen journalism while holding down a day job or going to school, isn’t going to fill the role of full-time reporters. It’s not that the bloggers aren’t smart or good writers or, frankly, better reporters than a lot of the pros out there. It’s just that this job can’t be a part-time gig.

Lazarus misses the fact that giving away newspaper stories isn’t anything new. The alternative press figured out years ago that newspapers can operate like radio stations — put the content out free and sell ads around it — and make enough money to hire staff.

But the bloggers don’t seem to understand that hiring staff is key. Look at Daily Kos. It’s a huge success in part because Markos Moulitsas Zúniga, who runs the site, is a great writer and very talented, but it’s also because he does it as a full-time gig. He doesn’t charge for anything; he takes ads. But that pays for at least one full-time staffer and soon, I think, will pay for more.

The time will come (and I bet it’s sooner than later) when Daily Kos or another similar site will have enough money to decide to hire a full-time political blogger to, say, cover the presidential race. That person may not be someone who went to journalism school, and he or she may not write with the style or sensibility of the San Francisco Chronicle or the New York Times or the Washington Post. But that reporter-blogger will be able to do what most citizen journalists can’t — that is, devote full time to the job — and thus will get original stories, real news. That’s never going to change. *

The big housing lie


EDITORIAL San Francisco’s official housing policy is pretty clear: the city is supposed to encourage the construction of new homes for local families who are getting priced out of the local market, for the local workforce, and for people who live here but are homeless or in marginal housing situations. And a full 64 percent of the new housing built in the city is supposed to be below market rate.

Nowhere in any policy document or political pronouncement by any city official is there a claim that San Francisco needs to build more housing that will attract very wealthy people who live somewhere else.

Yet that is exactly what our current policy is doing, new evidence collected by activist Marc Salomon suggests.

Salomon did something that city planners should have done a long time ago: he performed a detailed analysis, based on public records, of every new residential construction project during the past 10 years in District 6 (where most of the new high-end housing has gone). He cross-checked all the addresses with the Department of Elections’ voter files to see how many of the residents of those pricey condos had lived in San Francisco previously. His data is posted on www.sfbg.com; it shows that of 2,390 registered voters who were in 3,675 new units in 2006, 790 had been registered in San Francisco as of March 2002 and 1,590 had not.

That means that a full two-thirds — 66.81 percent — of those residents came here from somewhere else. Put another way, only one-third of the new housing that was built in District 6 went to San Franciscans.

"These numbers," Salomon writes, "indicate that the city is pursuing the exact opposite priorities and policies of what the Housing Element of the General Plan calls for in planning for new residential construction."

Or as housing activist Rene Cazenave told us, "Not only are we failing to meet the requirement that 64 percent of new housing be affordable, we’re not even helping existing San Franciscans."

Yes, there have always been and will always be new arrivals to San Francisco; this is a town of immigrants, and those people need places to live. But only a tiny fraction of the people who have moved here during the past half century could ever afford this sort of luxury housing. It’s a different population the developers are attracting — and this deserves a serious policy debate.

San Francisco is losing some of its most valuable population by the day. Families are fleeing in droves; first-time home buyers who want to settle here for the long term are driven away. San Francisco’s workforce — service-industry employees, public-sector workers, small-business people, and the vast majority of wage earners whose incomes are inadequate to buy a million-dollar condo — is finding it impossible to live here.

That’s a major civic problem. And the housing that’s getting built is doing little to solve it.

Salomon freely admits his figures aren’t perfect and may be off by a few points. But even if he’s off by 25 percent or more, the results are still alarming. And the city needs to follow this up right away.

The city Planning Department needs to immediately undertake a comprehensive study of who is buying the new housing built in San Francisco — a study that looks at demographics, migration patterns, and employment. That can be compared to the well-documented housing needs in the city. And not another market-rate condo project should be approved until that study is complete.

In fact, if the city drags its feet here, housing activists should start talking about a ballot initiative that would bar the construction of any new housing that doesn’t meet the criteria and needs established by current city planning policy. San Francisco doesn’t need to give up valuable land to create high-rise havens for rich retirees, speculators, and the owners of corporate pieds-à-terre. *

Reilly’s right to sue


EDITORIAL One of the more effective ways the courts have kept activists out in the legal cold over the years is to deny them what’s known as "standing" — the right to sue. You want to fight the government in court over the destruction of a wilderness area? First you have to prove that you’ll be damaged by the logging or mining or development — and until relatively recently, unless you personally owned land or a business in the immediate vicinity, you were out of luck. You want to sue to force San Francisco to abide by federal law and create a public power system? No can do: individual citizens have no standing to sue over violations of the Raker Act. Only the secretary of the interior or the city attorney can do that — and neither one has been willing to do so in half a century.

Some of the most important advances in public-interest law have been expansions of the right of standing — the right of individuals to sue over major political issues when the government agencies that are supposed to be watchdogs have failed to do their jobs. But now the two big newspaper chains that dominate the Bay Area want to deny that right to real estate investor Clint Reilly.

In filings March 16, the Hearst Corp. and MediaNews Group sought to get Reilly’s suit against the monopolization of the local newspaper market thrown out of court. The grounds? Reilly is, well, just a citizen. Just a reader of the papers and someone who buys ads in them. Just someone who will suffer the untold damage of losing diversity in media voices in the community. Someone who, the monopolist lawyers say, has no standing to sue.

The problem, of course, is that the government agencies that clearly have standing to try to block two publishing barons from conspiring to end newspaper competition in the Bay Area — the attorneys general of the United States and California — have refused to do anything except smile and look the other way while Hearst and MediaNews go about their diabolical business. So if an individual like Reilly has no right to go to court, then there will be no legal obstacle to the barons’ plans.

The obvious legal answer, of course, is that the judge in the case, Susan Illston, must toss out this specious argument, allow the suit to continue, and get to the serious legal issues at stake.

The case is obvious: the people who will be injured most by the elimination of newspaper competition are the readers, the citizens, the political activists … the public. And if a member of the public can’t sue to stop it, there’s not a lot of hope for justice.

In fact, as Joe Alioto, the attorney for Reilly, points out, the Sherman and Clayton antitrust laws were specifically written to allow individuals to sue over monopolistic practices, "because the authors of those laws didn’t trust the government to control monopolies."

But the real message here is that the new California AG, Jerry Brown, can’t simply follow in his predecessor’s lead and ignore the clear antitrust implications of the MediaNews and Hearst deals. Is Reilly the only one who will stand up against the publishing barons? Where are you, Jerry? *

PS Where is the US attorney’s office, which was so quick to put Josh Wolf in jail, when the real lawbreakers in the publishing business are making millions by eliminating competition?

PPS The San Francisco Chronicle‘s story on the filing, by Bob Egelko, didn’t quote Reilly or Alioto in response. And Reilly’s legal response is under court seal — thanks to Hearst and MediaNews, which have demanded that all documents remain secret. If the media barons don’t justify that secrecy to the court by March 28, the records will be opened. If not, we will continue our so-far-successful court battle to open the records.