Volume 41 Number 27
April 4 – 11, 2007
The Guardian Iraq War casualty report (4/6/07): 20 Iraqis killed today.
To hear how the war in Iraq has effected some Midwest families of soldiers, click here.
Compiled by Paula Connelly
Casualties in Iraq
At least 20 people were killed when a chlorine bomb was detonated in Ramadi today, according to the New York Times.
98,000: Killed since 3/03
60,835 – 66,757: Killed since 1/03
For a week by week assessment of significant incidents and trends in Iraqi civilian casualties, go to A Week in Iraq by Lily Hamourtziadou. She is a member of the Iraq Body Count project, which maintains and updates the world’s only independent and comprehensive public database of media-reported civilian deaths in Iraq.
A Week in Iraq: Week ending 1 April 2007:
For first hand accounts of the grave situation in Iraq, visit some of these blogs:
3,499: Killed since the U.S. invasion of Iraq 3/20/03
For the Department of Defense statistics go to: http://www.defenselink.mil/
For a more detailed list of U.S. Military killed in the War in Iraq go to:
30,000: Killed since 2003
153 journalists have been killed in Iraq since the start of the war four years ago, making Iraq the world’s most dangerous country for the press, according to Reporters without borders.
155: Killed since 3/03
The Bush administration plans to increase quota of Iraqi refugees allowed into the U.S. from 500 to 7,000 next year in response to the growing refugee crisis, according to the Guardian Unlimited.
Border policies are tightening because one million Iraqi refugees have already fled to Jordan and another one million to Syria. Iraqi refugees who manage to make it out of Iraq still can’t work, have difficulty attending school and are not eligible for health care. Many still need to return to Iraq to escape poverty, according to BBC news.
1.6 million: Iraqis displaced internally
1.8 million: Iraqis displaced to neighboring states
Many refugees were displaced prior to 2003, but an increasing number are fleeing now, according to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ estimates.
U.S. Military Wounded:
47,657: Wounded since 3/19/03 to 1/6/07
The Guardian cost of Iraq war report (4/6/07): So far, $414 billion for the U.S., $52 billion for California and $1 billion for San Francisco.
Compiled by Paula Connelly
On the fourth anniversary of the start of the Iraq war, Bush asks congress to pass an emergency war-spending bill, according to the New York Times.
Bush asked congress to approve $622 billion for defense spending, most for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in a $2.9 trillion budget request for 2008, according to Reuters.
Here is a running total of the cost of the Iraq War to the U.S. taxpayer, provided by the National Priorities Project located in Northampton, Massachusetts. The number is based on Congressional appropriations. Niko Matsakis of Boston, MA and Elias Vlanton of Takoma Park, MD originally created the count in 2003 on costofwar.com. After maintaining it on their own for the first year, they gave it to the National Priorities Project to contribute to their ongoing educational efforts.
To bring the cost of the war home, please note that California has already lost $46 billion and San Francisco has lost $1 billion to the Bush war and his mistakes. In San Francisco alone, the funds used for the war in Iraq could have hired 21,264 additional public school teachers for one year, we could have built 11,048 additional housing units or we could have provided 59,482 students four-year scholarships at public universities. For a further breakdown of the cost of the war to your community, see the NPP website aptly titled “turning data into action.”
It’s become a TV ritual: Every year on April 4, as Americans commemorate Martin Luther King’s death, we get perfunctory network news reports about “the slain civil rights leader.” The remarkable thing about these reviews of King’s life is that several years – his last years – are totally missing, as if flushed down a memory hole. What TV viewers see is a closed loop of familiar file footage: King battling desegregation in Birmingham (1963); reciting his dream of racial harmony at the rally in Washington (1963); marching for voting rights in Selma, Alabama (1965); and finally, lying dead on the motel balcony in Memphis (1968). An alert viewer might notice that the chronology jumps from 1965 to 1968. Yet King didn’t take a sabbatical near the end of his life. In fact, he was speaking and organizing as diligently as ever. Almost all of those speeches were filmed or taped. But they’re not shown today on TV. Why? It’s because national news media have never come to terms with what Martin Luther King Jr. stood for during his final years. In the early 1960s, when King focused his challenge on legalized racial discrimination in the South, most major media were his allies. Network TV and national publications graphically showed the police dogs and bullwhips and cattle prods used against Southern blacks who sought the right to vote or to eat at a public lunch counter. But after passage of civil rights acts in 1964 and 1965, King began challenging the nation’s fundamental priorities. He maintained that civil rights laws were empty without “human rights” – including economic rights. For people too poor to eat at a restaurant or afford a decent home, King said, anti-discrimination laws were hollow. Noting that a majority of Americans below the poverty line were white, King developed a class perspective. He decried the huge income gaps between rich and poor, and called for “radical changes in the structure of our society” to redistribute wealth and power. “True compassion,” King declared, “is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.” By 1967, King had also become the country’s most prominent opponent of the Vietnam War, and a staunch critic of overall U.S. foreign policy, which he deemed militaristic. In his “Beyond Vietnam” speech delivered at New York’s Riverside Church on April 4, 1967 –– a year to the day before he was murdered –– King called the United States “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” (Full text/audio here: http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article2564.htm) From Vietnam to South Africa to Latin America, King said, the U.S. was “on the wrong side of a world revolution.” King questioned “our alliance with the landed gentry of Latin America,” and asked why the U.S. was suppressing revolutions “of the shirtless and barefoot people” in the Third World, instead of supporting them. In foreign policy, King also offered an economic critique, complaining about “capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries.” You haven’t heard the “Beyond Vietnam” speech on network news retrospectives, but national media heard it loud and clear back in 1967 – and loudly denounced it. Time magazine called it “demagogic slander that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi.” The Washington Post patronized that “King has diminished his usefulness to his cause, his country, his people.” In his last months, King was organizing the most militant project of his life: the Poor People’s Campaign. He crisscrossed the country to assemble “a multiracial army of the poor” that would descend on Washington – engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience at the Capitol, if need be – until Congress enacted a poor people’s bill of rights. Reader’s Digest warned of an “insurrection.” King’s economic bill of rights called for massive government jobs programs to rebuild America’s cities. He saw a crying need to confront a Congress that had demonstrated its “hostility to the poor” – appropriating “military funds with alacrity and generosity,” but providing “poverty funds with miserliness.” How familiar that sounds today, nearly 40 years after King’s efforts on behalf of the poor people’s mobilization were cut short by an assassin’s bullet. In 2007, in this nation of immense wealth, the White House and most in Congress continue to accept the perpetuation of poverty. They fund foreign wars with “alacrity and generosity,” while being miserly in dispensing funds for education and healthcare and environmental cleanup. And those priorities are largely unquestioned by mainstream media. No surprise that they tell us so little about the last years of Martin Luther King’s life. ___________________________________________ Jeff Cohen is the author of “Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media.” Norman Solomon’s book “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death” is out in paperback.
From the air, Chicago in late winter looks like a giant crepe sprinkled with crushed peppercorns and minced scallions: a brown flatness textured with bits of black and white and wan hints of green. It’s a cold crepe, of course; you land and you can see your breath, though within a day or so the temperature will have risen into the malarial mid-70s, and the sky will be filled with purplish green, swelling clouds right out of The Wizard of Oz. Summerish heat in March suggests (apart from global warming) the imminence of tornadoes, to be followed by a blizzard, though not mosquitoes.
One evening we wandered west through River North to Scoozi, the Rich MelmanLettuce Entertain You Enterprises restaurant that turned 20 last year. The place was something of a pioneer when it opened; the neighborhood was still slightly sketchy, and the setting a remade temple of heavy industry, with an enormous barrel ceiling supported by wooden cantilevers so as to leave the dining room clear of pillars gave some sense of what imagination could do with grand old spaces that hadn’t been built with food and restaurants in mind. I thought Scoozi was spectacular when I first visited it, soon after it opened, and it seems to me none the worse for more than two decades of wear; in San Francisco, only LuLu begins to compare in the category of warm spaciousness. Even Scoozi’s big, red, and curiously flattened tomato still hovers, cigar volantestyle, above the front door.
The metro-rustic food too was or is as good as I remembered it. We particularly liked the grilled artichoke hearts, which seemed not merely to have been marinated in lemon juice and garlic but to have been braised or parboiled in that combination before hitting the barbie. Clue: the potent pair was present throughout the vegetables, making the flesh tender, moist, and fragrant, rather than being just a surface phenomenon. And I am not particularly an apostle of artichokes.
Chicago is underrated as a food city, as in so many other ways. Its reputation is one of rust, Al Capone, Vienna beef sausages, and the clattering El but that is the old city. The new one is, like our own, a forest of cranes and high-rise apartment buildings whose residents want something interesting for dinner. Excuse me, did someone say crepe?
Seven minutes into the Frames’ latest album, The Cost (Anti-), during a song titled "Falling Slowly," the Dublin, Ireland, veterans capture everything off-putting about their music in two stanzas splayed over a glassy-eyed piano: "Take this sinking boat / And point it home / We’ve still got time // Raise your hopeful voice / You have a choice / You’ve made it now."
If vocalist Glen Hansard’s tired poesy weren’t winceworthy enough, the fact that he’s pulled it out on wistful anthem number two of 10 would seem to cast The Cost as the kind of repetitive, inspiro-pop rubbish that should’ve gone out with the last couple Coldplay records.
But that’s exactly wrong. The Cost is a repetitive, inspiropop rock document too rich to write off, due largely to the lads’ penchant for grand arrangements and medium tempos. Recorded virtually all live in a studio over 10 days, the Frames’ seventh studio full-length embodies a thrilling live dynamic that has kept a devoted fan base snatching up tickets and T-shirts into the band’s second decade. So don’t get hung up on the excess of well-meaning sincerity. After so many years of playing together, they know their way around a plaintive power ballad.
"When we play live, we go from barely being able to hear us to melting your face off kind of thing," longtime bassist Joe Doyle explains from his Dublin home in a charming lilt. "It’s always been something people have said to us as well: ‘Yeah, I’ve listened to your records, but it just doesn’t do the same thing as you do live.’ And we’re kind of going ‘Shit, we don’t know how to do that.’ "
This time, Doyle says, the Frames figured it out. They rented a studio in France, hired a few extra musicians, worked out more of their songs in advance, and started playing in the same room again. "Everything on almost all the songs is live, including the vocals on some of the songs, and then we just added little bits over the top," Doyle says. "We’ve just come to the conclusion that when you record a song live and you just do everything in one take … there’s something in that that’s lost when you start editing a song and chopping it up and putting things in time."
It could be the magic in the cage-to-cathedral-sounding production. Or in the violin lightning of Colm Mac Con Iomaire. But something transforms the group’s balding rock structures into vast, bewildering voyages of disappointment and reassurance. Drunk on ribbons of reverby guitar, Hansard frees his words from contextual cliché, allowing them to settle comfortably inside the towering arrangements and become, well, meaningful. "Too many sad words make a sad, sad song," he realizes before a driving lap steel solo at The Cost‘s only country-tinged and finest moment. It’s a struggle the Frames evoke often: a vague but constant yearning and the price one pays for it.
After so many years, perhaps the Frames have yearned enough. But Doyle looks at the group’s anthemic tendencies the opposite way: they got ’em this far. "I guess the fact that we’ve never strived to be hip or fashionable probably means … probably means we never will be," he says, chuckling. "But maybe we won’t ever go out of fashion." (Ian S. Port)
Sat/7, 9 p.m., $20
1805 Geary, SF
We’re all having a tough time these days in the Bay Area. It might be the worriment of the imminent tax day, our skyrocketing rent, or the recent dissolution of a rocky relationship. Or it could be as mundane as the feeling brought on by chasing down your morning commute through the pouring rain, only to realize that you forgot your bus fare once you finally catch up to it. Whatever the case is, we’re all in need of a curative soundtrack, and Cleveland’s Six Parts Seven are here to help out.
Entwining reflective, subdued instrumentation with tame, wistful melodies on its fifth full-length, Casually Smashed to Pieces (Suicide Squeeze), the group concocts eight tunes that make you want to curl up on a floating cloud and leave your headaches at the runway strip. The core members guitarist Allen Karpinski; his brother, drummer Jay; guitarist Tim Gerak; and bassist Mike Tolan mingle meditative, winding guitars, low-end bass, and restrained drums with soothing elements such as brass, piano, and woodwinds. Focusing primarily on mood and space, the 6P7’s instrumentals seesaw between joy and dejection, remorse and hope.
Though the sextet has considered adding a vocalist in the past, Allen Karpinski disclosed they were more interested in "making a very gorgeous sound together instead of worrying about lyrics or a singer."
He attempted to define the band’s sound over the phone while on a tour stop in Tallahassee, Fla. "There’s nothing very deliberate about the way we make our music we just play what we play," he revealed. "One of the things that makes us unique is that we are able to project our personalities into the music that we choose to play: the melodies, the actual aesthetic of the sound. We let the instruments sing instead of having a voice, and it always has sort of a melancholy undercurrent to it."
The group first emerged in 1995 as a bass and drum duo, which Karpinski describes as "basement project" for his brother and himself. After breaking up for a short time to pursue other projects, such as the brothers’ Old Hearts Club, the two reassembled 6P7 in 1997, this time with Gerak in tow, to record their debut, In Lines and Patterns (Donut Friends). The years following saw numerous lineup changes, and the ensemble began introducing violin, lap steel, and piano and vibraphone harmonies into songs on the Suicide Squeezereleased Things Shaped in Passing (2002) and Everywhere, and Right Here (2004). But 6P7’s basic, signature sound remained unchanged.
"We would be writing exactly the same album if we stuck with the same instrumentation," Karpinski said. "We change it up not only to have different textures but also to challenge ourselves."
Casually Smashed to Pieces is no different. Cornet and trumpet blend to give songs such as "Stolen Moments" and "Confusing Possibilities" the jazzy meltdowns they seemingly beg for, while strummed guitar and twangy banjo administer a dose of backwoods Americana on "Conversation Heart." In contrast to 6P7’s past efforts, the new, shorter album sounds much more polished.
"We tried to give the new songs a little bit more of a pop feel and more of a verse-chorus structure," Karpinski explained. "Most of our older songs are sort of based on a repetitive motif of notes or something cyclical. The kind of experimentation I like to do with the band is not to change too much, but someone who knows our records well would be able to tell the difference."
In the past couple years, the band hasn’t gone unnoticed either. In 2003, Suicide Squeeze released Lost Notes from Forgotten Songs, reinterpretations of 6P7 songs by such artists as Modest Mouse, Black Heart Procession, and Iron and Wine. National Public Radio uses their songs as segue music for All Things Considered, and their current tour finds them acting as Richard Buckner’s backing band. Karpinski claimed that although they will be playing two shows a night for most of the tour, they plan on keeping 6P7’s sets short and sweet.
"Our live sets are rarely over 30 minutes long, and I don’t think people have the attention span to stand in a room with all the distractions and listen to instrumental music for more than that," he noted and laughed. "You know, they start to get bored even if they love it." *
SIX PARTS SEVEN
With Richard Buckner
Thurs/5, 9 p.m., $15
Cafe du Nord
2170 Market, SF
On a recent sunny afternoon in Berkeley, the head-nodding rhythms of Barrington Levy’s ’80s dancehall hit "Here I Come" could be heard wafting down Telegraph Avenue. As the outdoor reggae mix continued, the music’s mysterious source soon became evident. Right off the ave on the corner of Haste were two chunky 10-inch JBL speakers, booming. They were attached to the back of what resembled a Mexican ice cream bike painted in bright Rasta colors, which was in fact a unique mobile record store, complete with turntables and a mixer and boasting a selection of CDs, 7-inch records, DVDs, and even T-shirts dangling from hangers hooked on a nearby metal fence.
Propped against the three-wheeler’s saddle and mixing reggae 45s behind the wheels the turntables, that is was the pedal store’s owner: longtime Bay Area DJ and former independent music store owner Riddm. Since his retail shop, once a few short blocks away on Bowditch, went out of business after five years, he has taken his vinyl to the streets, where he has successfully eliminated overhead and increased profits. "I definitely make more money on the street than I used to in the store," Riddm said with a smile between cuing up a single of Freddie McGregor’s "Roots Man Skankin" and taking $8 for a local DJ’s mix CD from one of this afternoon’s many customers. "And it makes me feel much better … to be out here … not having the confinement of walls," he said before quickly adding, "Of course, I couldn’t but feel a sense of defeat when I had to close the store."
A well-established Bay Area record collector, Riddm, whose gigs include Tuesdays at Farmer Brown and whose current popular mix CDs are Living in Love and Can’t Get Me Down, is known for such things as compiling the Bay Area Funk collection of local rare grooves for Luv N’ Haight and, of course, for his defunct shop.
On Sept. 1, 2000, Riddm did what most music fanatics only dream of: he opened his own record store, Funky Riddm Records, which was stocked with reggae, funk, and hip-hop and located a few blocks from the UC campus. And there he stayed until December 2005, followed by an immediate additional six months in a cheaper, more out-of-the-way space on Ashby. Running a retail business is always hard, but starting a music store in the first half of this decade had to be one of the hardest challenges anyone could take on. "A year into my business, 9/11 happened, and that really affected the whole mood of retail," Riddm said.
Then came the flood of reissues and bootlegs, which directly cut into Riddm’s collectors’ niche. "I wanted to be the East Bay Groove Merchant to some extent, as far as rare hip-hop was concerned. And I really did have the hookup on original hip-hop," he said. Digital file sharing and free MP3s didn’t help. "It would get a bit frustrating when kids would come in and say, ‘Hey! What’s the name of what you’re playing?’ and then write it down and leave," he explained.
By last summer Riddm had fully accepted that the traditional retail music store model was economically defunct and decided to take it to the streets, or rather first to the Berkeley Flea Market at the Ashby BART station. But he figured he needed something unique. "I wanted to have some kind of sound station where I could play records and CDs. So I hit the drawing board … and went from a wheelbarrow to all kinds of things," he said. One lucky day he "heard the guys from Critical Mass roll by with this big sound system towed on a bike." Riddm was impressed. "So I went to their headquarters or where they used to have meetings at PedEx, or Pedal Express, a green-powered delivery service out of Berkeley, and they were really supportive."
After he saw his inspiration’s old-fashioned three-wheel bike with two wheels in the front, he decided that would be the basis for his new shop’s design: "My main idea was to have the turntables right in front of the steering so that the second you stop steering you can start spinning. You are right in position. You don’t have to go around the back." Over a couple months he designed it and with help from his friend Steve from clothing company Rasta Boom Box successfully built the 250-pound mobile system, 300 with inventory. The mix CDs are the most popular, and Riddm sells CDs and DVDs for $10 or less, 45s for $3, and the T-shirts he designs himself for $15. You can find him at the Ashby flea market on weekends and on Telegraph during the week sunshine prevailing, he noted.
And what about the future? "I want to get a better van to take it out on the road to more reggae festivals," Riddm said. He was very successful last year when he hit Reggae on the River, among other fests. "What I really love about this now is that I can set my own hours. People always ask me, ‘When will I be out again?’ " he said with a smile. "And I say, ‘When the sun shines!’ … You don’t feel the Jamaican vibe when it’s gray or raining!" *
Tuesdays, 611 p.m., call for price
25 Mason, SF
The Crime Watch column was far and away the most entertaining part of my hometown’s local paper. Police Beat, a week-in-the-life account of a Seattle-by-way-of-Senegal bike cop named Z (played by nonprofessional actor Pape S. Niang), is structured around these strangely revealing public records, culled from the real Seattle blotter by writer Charles Mudede. Reenacted and filtered through Z’s layered immigrant experience, the episodic busts and false alarms are woven with off-key comedy and vague apprehension: a formulation that makes the film the rare work to merit the overused "Kafkaesque" tag.
The various crime scenes Z happens on are only connected in their general weirdness. Director Robinson Devor (previously celebrated for his 2000 debut, The Woman Chaser) drops us into these digressions midstream, denying us context or even clarity of tone. A man ravages raw meat in a supermarket; a woman with a gash on her head has been hit by an errant tree branch; a pimp has two chubby prostitutes doing sit-ups at gunpoint: these scenes hover uneasily between humor and menace. Their oddness reverberates against Z’s unwieldy English; he mediates with the strange lyricism that comes from being lost in translation (shades of Jim Jarmusch), instructing the tree-battered woman, for example, that "your tree is dead, and if it’s not chopped down, it will continue to harm and disturb the living."
If the audience is peculiarly disassociated from the nominal action in Police Beat, it’s only to match Z’s dreamy remove. We get his strange little koans in English, but the voice-over, in which he ponders his immigrant status (Police Beat articulates the notion of being a stranger in a strange land to an extreme degree) and worries over his spectral girlfriend’s faithfulness, is rendered in his native Wolof. Z’s musings aren’t readily locatable in either time or space, and while thoughts and action frequently seem to overlap, the echoes between the two only thicken the obscure narration.
And yet, if Police Beat ‘s montage is something of a hazy daydream, it’s hardly a formless one. The glue holding the picture together is Devor’s responsive mise-en-scène. Seattle with its forested city streets, overgrown industrial sites, and ubiquitous water passageways (and bridges) is a landscape of in-betweens, everywhere suggestive of Z’s placeless condition. In framing too, Devor frequently denies us a fully contextualized picture, casting Z against abstracted dark blues and greens. When Z rides his bicycle, the director allows the background to blur out of focus, creating an effect reminiscent of those deliriously dreamlike rear-projection shots once preferred in Hollywood productions.
Police Beat is marked by indirection on all levels, a risky modus operandi rarely found in mainstream or independent cinema. The prioritization of situation over characterization recalls Robert Bresson’s classics (as do the detached voice-over and the use of a quotidian occupation to frame the "action" of a film), and while Police Beat isn’t Pickpocket, sometimes a film’s ambition seems validating in its own right, regardless of whether it ties together as a neat package (Police Beat doesn’t).
Or maybe I’m just more willing than usual to forgive loose ends because of my sense that Devor and Mudede had fun making this movie in compiling the crime reports and scouting Seattle, yes, but also in playing with the police procedural. They pay heed to the genre’s standard emphasis on temporality (a title occasionally breaks in, specifying the day of the week; every night ends with Z composing his police report), but instead of orienting these narrative ploys toward some guiding goal or payoff, Devor and Mudede allow them to overripen and underscore Z’s elusive existence: their film is more Eternal Sunshine of the Punch-Drunk Mind than Zodiac. This shift in emphasis makes Z the rare cop character I can actually relate to. His profile may seem unusual I did, after all, have to look up the spelling of "Wolof" but his experience is intensely familiar to those of us who regularly lose ourselves in the city. "I was in my own world," we say, though Z would surely have a more interesting way of putting it. *
3117 16th St., SF
In a vulnerable country occupied by a foreign power, civilian frustration leads to anger, which soon explodes into a violent, uncontainable insurgent movement. It could be ripped from today’s headlines but The Wind That Shakes the Barley is set in 1920s Ireland, where the oppressors are the British and the rebels are members of the nascent Irish Republican Army.
Directed by Ken Loach (Bread and Roses) in his trademark naturalistic style (few close-ups, overlapping dialogue) and with immaculate attention to period detail, Wind makes the guerrillas sympathetic to a point. But it’s also a film that avoids drawing strict boundaries; it exactly captures the uncertainty that arises when conflict and emotion become hopelessly tangled. At the beginning, brothers Teddy (Pádraic Delaney) and Damien (Cillian Murphy, the only cast member with a Hollywood hand stamp) know precisely where they stand. Tensions between British soldiers and Irish villagers are already sky-high when the young men are accosted by the Black and Tans for daring to hold a forbidden public meeting (really a harmless sporting match). Amid the shouting and gun pointing, an Irish teen refuses to speak his name in English, with fatal consequences.
With that first act of brutality, Wind ‘s tone is set. It’s war, and a dirty one at that. Damien abandons his med-school plans to join the fiery Teddy in his quest to drive out the Brits. As hostility escalates humiliation, torture, and cold-blooded execution are the daily norm Damien becomes more warrior than intellectual, a changeover that crystallizes once he’s asked to perform a terrible deed in the name of the cause. "I hope this Ireland we’re fighting for is worth it," he mutters.
But is it, at least for Damien? The affairs of state play out as you’d expect; for our benefit, events are explained via a newsreel the townsfolk watch in the local movie theater. The headline "Peace Treaty Signed by British and Irish Leaders!" is greeted first with cheers, then chagrin when it’s revealed the country will still be a dominion of the British empire and Northern Ireland will still be part of the United Kingdom. Clearly, there’s no way the bloody mess in the countryside will be tidily ended by a piece of paper signed by far-off dignitaries.
For Teddy and Damien, the ruling forces an impenetrable wedge between them. Teddy accepts the compromise, figuring he’ll work within the system to change it for him, "this Ireland" is worth it. Damien’s actions during the war have pushed him to the point of no return; he has no choice but to keep fighting. When the brothers have their climactic clash, even their deep love for each other can’t overcome their political beliefs.
Wind was the Palme d’Or winner at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival, a surprise victory for a movie that seems, at least on paper, to be about a pretty specific moment in Irish history. The tale of two brothers is admittedly an obvious storytelling device check your Civil War cinema for other me-versus-him tales, or foreign epics such as the 2004 Korean drama Taegukgi: The Brotherhood of War. Wind ‘s leg up is its echoing of current events; you can’t help but watch the film through the framing of the nightly news. It could be in rural Ireland, it could be in rural Iraq, but fighting for freedom can take many forms, with all involved believing victory for their side will produce the only acceptable result. But what happens when the clear-cut realms of a battlefield mutate into the murky waters of courts, laws, and governments? To paraphrase Damien, it’s easy to know what you’re against but another thing entirely to figure out what you’re for. *
THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY
Opens Fri/6 in Bay Area theaters
See Movie Clock at www.sfbg.com
There could hardly be a more welcoming name for a restaurant than aperto "open" in Italian, and Aperto is an Italian restaurant except, possibly, Welcome. The north face of Potrero Hill is home to lots of restaurants, but Welcome isn’t one of them, at least not yet. While we wait, we can wait at Aperto, which offers a handsome wooden bench outside the front door for the convenience of those whose tables aren’t yet available and are too weary to stand. Aperto is small, and it is busy, and everyone seems to know about it. This is fitting, because it’s been there since 1992 and over its 15 years of life has become the jewellike Italian restaurant every urban neighborhood should have at least one of.
For some or no reason, Aperto is a place I’d never been to until recently. Regular reports, most of them favorable, did reach me from friends who seemed to go all the time, and these debriefings perhaps soothed my curiosity. I had noticed that the restaurant, after reaching a crest of sorts in the mid-1990s as one of the San Francisco Chronicle‘s top 100 restaurants, seemed to have receded in later years from public awareness. This could be due to fatigue, but it is certainly not due to the focaccia, which flows from the open kitchen to the dining room in a steady stream and is just exemplary: soft (though with a hint of crust), warm, and gently scented with olive oil. It’s the bread equivalent of the perfect hotel pillow and is at least as good as the focaccia at Blue Plate. And that means it’s awesome.
When you are dishing out complementary focaccia of this quality and keeping water glasses full and prices modest for well-executed, lovable Italian dishes, you are likely to be a successful restaurant. Aperto isn’t up to anything radical; its look and food are classical and timeless, and the restaurant, as an experience, presents itself unobtrusively. It’s like a favorite coat, well made and warming, you might wrap around yourself on a chilly night.
Few cuisines can match the Italian for inventive frugality. Despite a public image of flamboyance, Italians tend not to waste food. Stale bread finds a home in panzanella or ribollita, while grape pomace (the mush left over from the wine crush) is fermented and distilled into grappa. (Then exported and resold to us at a tidy profit.) Because Aperto’s menu is pasta-rich and pasta is among the most flexible of starches, the restaurant’s recycling program uses it to impressive effect. One (chilly!) evening I found myself staring into a broad white bowl of papardelle ($13.50) sauced with a sugo of osso buco. Osso buco, also known as braised veal shank, is a tine-intensive production, not ordinarily to be undertaken just to come up with a pasta sauce. But, should there be surplus from the night before, the leftover meat makes a lovely pairing with pasta, rich and just hinting of the beefiness that makes veal so attractive. Throw in some spinach for color, add some grana shavings on top, and you have a dish of elegant simplicity.
Glancing slightly upmarket, we find striped sea bass ($17.75), coated with arugula pesto, roasted, then plopped into a beanbag chair of lemon mashed potatoes, with an encirclement of ratatouille and a hairpiece of microgreens. This was a handsomely composed, colorful plate of food whose lemon mashed potatoes actually carried a distinct whiff of the advertised ingredient and whose seafood star (as I learned ex post facto from Seafood Watch) is in the "best" category. I give Aperto a big gold star for this alone. If a smallish neighborhood restaurant can keep itself within the boundaries of sustainability without making a huge fuss or overcharging, then everybody can.
The restaurant doesn’t give short shrift to seasonality either. On one late-winter menu we found crab cakes ($9.75 for a crottin-shaped pair), presented on a bed of shaved fennel and radicchio, with pomegranate seeds scattered around the plate like rubies and squirts of spicy aioli atop the cakes themselves. The same menu yielded strands of fat spaghetti ($11.50) tossed with shelled fava beans, leeks, sun-dried tomatoes, and goat cheese a distinctively NorCal when-seasons-collide moment.
Given the limitless focaccia, which produces a filling effect similar to that of chips and salsa in Mexican restaurants, the first courses are in some danger of superfluousness. Among the best of the lot is the platter of oven-roasted mussels ($9.50), swimming in a buttery shellfish broth perfumed with fennel and garlic. The broth is nicely soppable with the accompanying spears of well-grilled levain (topped with the customary rouille), and when that was gone, we picked up the slack with focaccia.
Only the soups seemed flat: good, but a little slow out of bed in the morning. Lentil ($4.50) did feature shreds of crispy pancetta, but the floating chunks of celery seemed slightly clumsy, like flotsam after some sort of accident. And cream of roasted tomato ($5) was creamy and cheesy! but might have been made more interesting, visually, at least, by an addition as simple as minced parsley.
If the overhead chalkboard listing the day’s specials includes the mascarpone brownie ($6), you won’t be sorry if you ignore your diet and have it. Brownies sound juvenile, but this one isn’t; it’s marbled, moist, and just sweet enough, like homemade cake. Whipped cream? Yes, but not too much; same with the hot fudge sauce piped around the edges of the plate. The brownie might not be authentically Italian, but I suspect even a lot of authentic Italians would be open to its charms. *
Lunch: Mon.Fri., 11:30 a.m.2:30 p.m. Dinner: Mon.Sat., 5:3010 p.m.; Sun., 59 p.m.
1434 18th St., SF
Beer and wine
CHEAP EATS My new favorite person is this guy Doc who I play baseball with. He’s not a medical doctor. He knows about chicken wings. We weren’t even on the same team, and he said between innings, "Have you ever been to San Tung?"
"Never heard of it," I said.
"Best chicken wings," he said.
"Irving," he said. "Between 11th and 12th."
We were in the Golden Gate Park, Big Rec. That put chicken wings pretty much almost exactly on my way home to Sonoma County, give or take a block.
It was a good game, my favorite kind, a pitcher’s duel, nothin’-nothin’ (nothin’-nothin’-nothin’-nothin’) … but I’m not a nihilist or a sports writer. Wait a minute, am I a nihilist? I can’t keep things straight anymore, damn it. Hold on. [Sounds of papers rustling, drawers opening and closing, coffee spilling.] Where’s my identity?
Chicken farmer!!! People have been writing to me and saying, Chicken Farmer, what about Houdini? Houdini being my famously wayward escape-artist chicken, and "what about" being that I was going to eat her, I said, if I couldn’t figure out how she was doing it "it" being finding her way into the neighbors’ flower bed and being generally disrespectful to the colors, smells, and natural beauty of it.
"It" being said flower bed.
Damn, I really do need to learn to write. No I don’t. I need to learn to chicken farm because, no, I never did discover her escape route. This, in spite of 24-hour surveillance cameras, stakeouts, and the clandestine cooperation of two "plants" on the inside.
Houdini’s a genius. Nevertheless, I didn’t eat her, not yet. Thanks for asking. She was saved by my chicken farmerly surrealism. I’m not a genius, but I do know how to deflect criticism by not making any sense whatsoever. I bought the neighbors an amelioratory bag of wild bird seed, some oranges, and a package of pretty stickers, and informed them in a letter that I was transsexual and should thenceforth be referred to as Ms. Chicken Farmer, if they please.
Essentially, this was a stalling tactic, designed to buy me and Houdini another week, at least, while my neighbors wobbled and just generally lost sleep.
Not long into that week, when Houdini was next found by me to be luxuriating among the forbidden flowers, I held her down and clipped her wing. It was a desperate measure but not necessarily cruel. Chickens are flightless birds to begin with. What do they need wings for?
Well, balance. It’s more like a haircut than surgery, see? You’re only clipping the feathers, and only on one wing, so that afterward they feel all asymmetrical and artsy and don’t crave flowers anymore. Theoretically.
It’s working, but it’s also only a matter of time, I know. Feathers molt and grow. And smart animals, with the possible exception of me, only get smarter.
So I’m packing up the pickup truck, all dolled up for a gig, when my neighbor comes strolling over with his hands in his pockets … thanks for the seeds, you shouldn’t have, and congratulations.
"I don’t know," he said, checking himself. "What do you say to a trans person? Is that what you say?"
"Congratulations is nice," I said, loading up my steel drum and stand. I like my neighbor Dave. We get along, chickens in flower beds notwithstanding.
"So what do your groupies think about this?" he said. He knows I’m in a band but not what kind, apparently.
I smiled. "Dave," I said, "my groupies are 80-year-old shut-ins with bad eyes and Alzheimer’s. Not that they could ever quite tell if I was a boy or girl, but …"
"Well, congratulations," he said. "You’ve got the hair for it, anyway."
And he went back to his flower bed, and I went to my gig, and Houdini gazed into the chicken coop mirror and felt progressive.
Every time I have to clip a chicken’s wing, I can’t help fantasizing that some day, if there is a god, we will have genetically modified chickens that regenerate missing parts. So that chicken farmers can clip off more than just the feathers. We will harvest chicken wings like asparagus and eat like kings or college students.
But there’s not a god, of course, and that’s where San Tung comes in handy. Doc was right. *
Mon.Tues. and Thurs.Sun., 11 a.m.9:30 p.m.
1031 Irving, SF
(1) Shakin’ Jesse, Rudy’s Can’t Fail Cafe, Emeryville
(2) Homemade Greek spinach pie
(3) Braised lamb shank and Sharffenberger chocolate pudding, Adagia Restaurant, Berk.
(4) Chicken hearts, Espetus
(5) Apple tarts, Farley’s
I have a bit of a problem. It’s not a huge one, but I’d like to get past it. A long time ago (maybe 15 years ago or more), I had a dream that my dad was molesting me. Now, I love my dad, and I have nothing but respect for him. I know he would never do anything like that to me. But right after the dream I started to feel uncomfortable around him. If I sat next to him on the couch, I’d sit at the other end and keep a pillow between us. If he went to hug me, I’d want to pull away. I would especially hate it when he’d kiss my cheek. On my wedding day (I’m divorced now that’s another story), he kissed me on my mouth so as not to mess my makeup, he said. I pulled away and tried to make the kiss land on my cheek. I know he didn’t mean anything by it, but it bothered me. The situation has gotten a little better over the years, but I’m still bothered if he sits too close to me or tries to hug me.
It’s a problem because my dad is a very affectionate person by nature. All my life I’ve always been a daddy’s girl (my mom died when I was young). Now that I’m an adult, he and I are like good friends. I want it to stay that way, but I need to get over this dislike of being touched. What can I do?
Wow. I don’t get to say this often, but I don’t believe I’ve heard this one before. There’s a similar phenomenon the friend or coworker sex dream, usually starring someone completely inappropriate or out-of-the-question that does come up pretty often. Unlike your supercreepy version, of course, the coworker sex dream is at least kind of funny, although it can have oddly lingering effects: you find yourself glancing speculatively at the dream object, against all common sense, or blushing furiously when said coworker brushes your shoulder in the corridor on the way to the break room.
Yours, though, is more like a dream I had when I was five or so, in which my grandmother (in real life, batty and irritating but harmless) was trying to poison me. I gave her a wide berth for weeks, and I distinctly remember refusing food she offered (not a bad idea in general, come to think of it, with that particular grandma). But lady, 15 years of feeling weird about your poor old dad? That’s plenty, already. Good god, let it go.
I know, I know, you want to. If giving yourself a stern talking-to before a visit with dad reminding yourself that nothing bad ever happened between you and therefore nothing bad will happen if you let him hug you doesn’t work and neither does deep breathing or stiff drinking, it’s time to call in the pros. I’m pretty sure a short course of cognitive-behavioral therapy would be of use to you. CBT (this abbreviation always startles me, since I doubt very much you’d be interested in cock and ball torture) is based on the belief that the way we think determines the way we feel: change the thoughts and you change the feelings. You seem like a good candidate, given that what’s going on with you is 100 percent internal and that nothing your father has done or could do could affect things in the slightest. You really do need to change the way you think, don’t you think?
If CBT sounds too, I dunno, therapy-y to you, you might consider hypnotherapy, guided relaxation-meditation, or even EMDR, which I spent half a column making fun of just a few weeks back (3/7/07). It doesn’t matter, really. They all work OK. Just do something. This is a really stupid way to be broken, so get it fixed.
There is one word of caution I don’t feel like including here but suppose I must: be very sure of whom you’re talking to before you tell a therapist that you feel creeped out at the slightest physical contact with your father. Recovered memory may no longer be the "it" diagnosis (serious memory research having put the kibosh on that hogwash), but a therapist would not have to be an ’80s-style witch-hunting hysteric to wonder if there might be anything going on here besides a 15-year-old dream with no more basis in reality than the one I had about my grammy in the basement with a sandwich. I believe you that nothing bad happened, but when you add in the early widowerhood and all, you’ve got to admit that there are people who would hear this story and look at you funny. Just don’t be shocked if they do.
Andrea Nemerson has spent the last 14 years as a sex educator and an instructor of sex educators. In her previous life she was a prop designer. And she just gave birth to twins, so she’s one bad mother of a sex adviser. Visit www.altsexcolumn.com to view her previous columns.
REVIEW Each SECA Art Award exhibition, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s biennial and only official nod to Bay Area artists, is cause to revisit the curious, contested idea of place in contemporary art. In his introduction to the 2006 SECA (Society for the Encouragement of Contemporary Art) Award catalog, SFMOMA director Neal Benezra describes the exhibition as a "lens focusing on the best that the San Francisco Bay Area has to offer." That’s a tough order that the curators, Janet Bishop and Tara McDowell, with input from the SECA group, bestowed on five artists, Sarah Cain, Kota Ezawa, Amy Franceschini, Mitzi Pederson, and Leslie Shows. Do they should they illuminate a sense of regionality, what critic Lucy Lippard dubs "a state of mind rather than a place on the map"?
Any way you enter the third floor of SFMOMA, you’re faced with SECA artists. From the stairs you’ll see large collage paintings by Shows, landscapes that appear chemically ravaged. Via the elevator, you immediately encounter Pederson’s 2005 sculpture of gray cinder-block fragments stacked like a low-slung house of cards. On the floor at the entry to the gallery proper, there’s Cain’s small pile of leaves painted black and subdued rainbow shades. These three artists share a similar practice of transforming humble materials into something almost magical and begin to articulate an aesthetic or state of mind that, to various degrees, is emphatically handmade and poetic. The inclusion of the more widely exhibited Ezawa, who makes computer-rendered, cartoonlike still and video images, and Franceschini, known for digital graphics and ecoconscious public projects, however, subverts the idea of a thematic thread.
The 2004 SECA exhibition focused on artists who worked primarily in drawing in very different ways, a strategy that gave the show a sense of structure and created a dialogue between works. The current group feels more fractured; the whole seems less than the sum of its parts.
Shows and Pederson complement each other most effectively. With extensive use of meticulously collaged printed matter and paint, Shows creates sweeping, epic images of landscapes that seem to have gone through geologic shifts and been layered with kaleidoscopic chemicals. The show also includes a new series of smaller, text-based works in which she’s carefully shredded texts, unlikely selections such as Edwin Abbott’s mathematical fantasy Flatland, and ripped pieces of canvas bookbinding, fusing them into ambiguous wholes.
Her muted, earthy color schemes merge well with Pederson’s cinder blocks, which are dusted with slate-colored glitter and resemble glam-rock geodes. Her other pieces, positioned near Cain’s, employ featherweight materials, such as wood veneer and fluttering strips of tinted cellophane, to explore physical tension and tentative presence the work is emphatically fragile and deceptively offhand.
There’s an improvisatory feel to Cain’s work that doesn’t quite flower in this setting. She scores with a wonderful site-specific installation: a tree branch dynamically merges with the wall and architecture, using the floor, shadow, and abstract spray-paint squiggles. Titled We Push Ourselves into the Mountain Until We Explode into the Sky, the piece embraces its earthy-spiritual vibes but seems anything but hokey. Her framed paintings on paper, which also contain natural elements and metallic sequins and threads, are less consistently assured and sometimes overwrought. Next to the tree, these seem trapped under glass.
You could ascribe a similar feeling to the presentation of Franceschini’s off-site project to resurrect San Francisco’s official Victory Garden program of the 1940s. The piece makes real sense in food activist Northern California during wartime. The project also exemplifies a strain of socially based art that’s thriving in SF galleries and art schools. This sort of practice, however, unfolds in streets, gardens, and ephemeral interactions and consistently engenders the challenge to create effective gallery presentations. At SFMOMA, Franceschini presents historical civic documents, spiffy new charts, prototype gardening and seed bank gear, and a video of a planting party. While these communicate the gist of this vital idea, the display feels stranded here: it may have been better served with a component that unfolded more directly in the gallery or in an exhibition with contextualizing, like-minded projects.
Bringing an animated Colorforms effect to the notorious Pamela AndersonTommy Lee bootleg sex tape, Ezawa wisely expands his artistic purview. In earlier pieces, including the History of Photography Remix series, examples of which are seen here, iconic images and media events become broad, deadpan cartoons. Instant recognition of the material has been key. In his new double-screen piece, Two Stolen Honeymoons Are Better Than One, a well-known but less widely seen piece of media the aforementioned home video pushes Ezawa’s work into more ambiguous territory, that strange zone in which celebrities, albeit naked ones with supersize body parts, seem as banal as the rest of us. Doubled to two screens and tinted in divergent hues, the scenario enters the subconscious with the kind of off-color lens that just might be in the Bay Area atmosphere or perhaps just in this artist’s eye. *
SECA ART AWARD EXHIBITION
Through April 22
Mon.Tues. and Fri.Sun., 11 a.m.5:45 p.m.; Thurs., 11 a.m.8:45 p.m.; $7$12.50 (free first Tues.)
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
151 Third St., SF
TECHSPLOITATION I’ve been playing around with Yahoo!’s latest technological experiment on the Web. It’s called Pipes, and it’s a system designed to help Web-savvy people write simple programs without ever having to read a book about Java. If you visit pipes.yahoo.com, you can take a peek. Visitors to the site are presented with a sheet of virtual graph paper and a list of modules that you can drag onto the paper and connect with pipes. In this early stage, the modules mostly allow users to build a really customized news feed or online research tool.
You can tell a source module to pull information from, say, a Google search for "Windows Vista" or the RSS feed of your favorite newspaper. Then you pipe that information to an operator module, which allows you to filter it, list it by date, translate it into another language, and more. Other modules let you do more complicated things, such as annotating each piece of data with geographical information or merging the RSS feeds from several sites so that you get one big daily news feed instead of 20 from various progressive blogs. Just think: you could mix the latest wankery from porno news site Fleshbot with the latest wonkery from Talking Points Memo! That’s the beauty of a customized news feed.
Pipes isn’t for everyone it’s too complicated for casual Web surfers, who may not be familiar with the inner workings of RSS feeds and search queries. But a quick Google search reveals some excellent tutorials that will aid even the most RSS-clueless person in creating a pipe. Plus, you can clone other people’s pipes so if you want a customized news feed, you can just use one that already exists, fill in your own news sources of choice, and save it to your own account. There are hundreds of cool pipes available on the site, and they’re all cloneable.
Now I sound like a cheerleader for Pipes, which I’m not. In fact, I recently spent an evening making fun of Pipes with one of the creators of the RSS standard (no, it wasn’t Dave Winer). Our mockery was inspired by two things: one, Pipes could be an overhyped proof of concept that nobody will ever use; and two, it could actually limit people’s control over data.
How could a tool designed to help you manipulate all kinds of information actually limit your control? To answer this, we need to delve briefly into the origin of the pipes idea. The name comes from a powerful command in UNIX, one of the first operating systems, which converts the output of one function into the input for another. It’s hard to convey how utterly awesome and time-saving this command was when it was invented. It meant that data could be crunched, sorted, alphabetized, merged, and recombined more easily than ever before.
Yahoo! Pipes aims to do the same thing, only the data you use is what’s publicly available on the Web. So if you want to use Pipes to organize or sort your personal data, you’ll have to publish it online. This is obviously quite different from the UNIX pipe, which is so powerful in part because you can use it on private stuff such as passwords and financial documents. Yahoo! Pipes treats the Web as if it were the hard drive of your UNIX box you can pipe data from Google into a sorting program or pipe the New York Times RSS feed into a filter that will remove all stories that refer to Yahoo! Pipes. It’s marvelously cool, but I worry that it will inspire people to put sensitive data online just because it’s more convenient to crunch via Pipes.
At this point, my fears are probably unjustified. Pipes is in beta, and it may not catch on with the general public. More likely, a user-friendly version of Pipes will come along and get widely adopted in a couple years. It will become just one more way we’re being seduced into dumping all our personal stuff online. I like the idea of turning all the data on the Web into my raw material, to do with what I please. That’s the beautiful part of Pipes. Still, the more data we deposit in the hive-mind of the Web, the less power we have over it. *
Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who still hears the voice of her UNIX teacher in her head saying, "Now pipe it to MORE."
OPINION President George W. Bush’s war on immigration is wreaking havoc on San Francisco’s immigrant community. Across the Bay Area and in San Francisco, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials have been carrying out raids at homes and workplaces, near schools, and, in broad daylight, on the streets. Hundreds of immigrants have been deported, devastating families, separating parents from United Statesborn children, and leaving entire neighborhoods in a state of fear.
There are few other neighborhoods that feel the ICE war more than the Mission District, the Latino heart and soul of San Francisco. So it was especially painful to sit through a two-hour town hall meeting orchestrated by Mayor Gavin Newsom on March 26 at César Chávez Elementary School in the Mission. Never once did he acknowledge vocal community members’ concerns over ICE sweeps and civil rights abuses. Instead, as predicted, he kept to the script, selecting two dozen questions out of 70 that were submitted by more than 250 attendees. Despite the loud chants, luchadores dressed in capes and masks, and bold visuals that called for a stop to the ICE raids, the mayor continued to talk and talk and talk some more about the health care access initiative.
Health care access is an important issue residents and workers throughout the city appreciate the mayor’s efforts and welcome any relief for the thousands of uninsured, low-income, and undocumented residents of San Francisco. But right now the streets of the city are hot, and immigrant families are scared to leave their homes, send their kids to school, go to work, or even seek medical care at General Hospital for fear of being swept up, displaced, and deported.
Fortunately, there are some protections in the city. In 1989 the immigrant-rights movement, with the support of elected officials, established the sanctuary ordinance, which bars city officials, the Police Department, and other city agencies from cooperating with federal immigration officials. But in light of the most recent aggression, the time has come for our mayor and our elected officials to do more.
In 2004, in a rightful act of civil disobedience, a defiant Newsom stood up for justice by marrying same-sex couples, a landmark event in US civil rights history. It’s time for the mayor to once again stand up for justice by supporting the immigrants who make great contributions to this city and the nation.
Mayor Newsom, show us that your stance on civil rights has no limits and is inclusive of immigrant workers and families. Show us that you were not just currying favor or seeking votes but are truly committed to all civil rights issues.
Join with us:
• March with the immigrant community to protest the ICE raids.
• Convene a meeting with ICE officials, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, and community members.
• Increase city resources for legal and educational services that help immigrants get on the pathway to legalization.
• Support the current day-laborer center and use day laborers’ input in the future expansion and creation of worker centers.
• Support the immigrant-led planning process in the Mission District, which calls for more affordable housing and jobs. *
Oscar M. Grande
Oscar M. Grande is a community organizer with PODER, People Organized to Demand Employment Rights.
San Franciscans love Camp Mather just the way it is, if its popularity is any indicator. They love the stuffy dining hall, the rustic wooden cabins, murky Birch Lake, and the basic layout of a camp established in the 1920s for the workers who built the nearby Hetch Hetchy dam.
Families are eagerly awaiting the reservation notices being mailed out this week by the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department telling them if and when they’ll be spending seven days there this summer. But the Friends of Camp Mather have been less than pleased with other news about their favorite vacation spot.
Persistent fears that Rec and Park intends to privatize the camp — which started in 2003 when the department asked for a study on the subject — led to a Board of Supervisors resolution in January declaring that the city “opposes working with private sector property developers on any plans for Camp Mather in the future.”
Rec and Park head Yomi Agunbiade told the supervisors the department “has no plans to sell or contract the camp at this point” and “there is no proposal to fully privatize Camp Mather now.” Such qualifiers were hardly comforting to the Friends of Camp Mather, who have been having a hard time getting straight answers from the department about its current financial situation and its plans for the future.
We now understand their frustration. Last month the Guardian made a Sunshine Ordinance request of the department to get documents that break down the $20 million figure Rec and Park has been using publicly to quantify the current capital needs at Camp Mather.
In our back-and-forth with department spokesperson Rose Dennis, we learned the department is now estimating that Camp Mather needs closer to $36 million. And she told us that “if we don’t get this money, we will have to shut it down, and then the kids won’t have a place to go.”
Yet the department is unable to provide a basic account for its claimed capital needs, except for a database filled with numbers for which there appears to be little support. Many of these numbers seem wildly inflated and are contradicted by other Rec and Park documents.
It’s unclear exactly what’s going on here. Maybe the big numbers are scare tactics or inflations designed to push the $150 million general-obligation bond that the department hopes to send to voters next year. (In the bond, Rec and Park claims to need a staggering $1.7 billion.) Or maybe, as Dennis said, they are “preliminary numbers” that are likely to be pared back and shouldn’t have been made public in the first place.
But whatever the case, it’s understandable that some Camp Mather regulars are freaking out and fearing their favorite vacation spot is in jeopardy. And this whole episode raises questions about what’s going on at Rec and Park.
It should have been a simple request to have a public agency break down the millions of dollars it says it needs. But that didn’t prove to be the case either for us or for the Friends of Camp Mather, despite city laws that require full disclosure of all public documents, whether the agency wants to oblige or not.
“At this time we have not wanted to provide detailed information on each property, but we have provided the ‘overview’ information (tab 1) to the Friends of Mather as per their request (which may have led to the questions). The Comet data is being reviewed right now and is not finalized,” Rec and Park planner Karen Mauney-Brodek wrote in a March 8 e-mail to Dennis, which we obtained with our Sunshine request.
That attachment includes five capital-need figures: $9.4 million for all cabin buildings, $7.8 million for all other buildings, $16.2 million for the park site, $2.6 million for bathing facilities, and $479,971 for storage structures — a total of $36.6 million. It also includes a second column with “facility value” figures, which differ little from the first column, but it does not include an explanation of the numbers or what they’re derived from, other than “COMET data,” which stands for Condition Management Estimation Technology.
We pushed for and ultimately received a fuller account of that data and a spreadsheet assigning repair and replacement costs to facilities all over Camp Mather. But that only raised more questions for which we still haven’t received good answers.
The COMET data indicated that some of the simple wooden cabins, which are essentially shacks with no foundation or plumbing, would cost up to $199,068 to replace, more than the price of building a large single-family home. This is in stark contrast to a 2003 study the department commissioned from Bay Area Economics, which estimated the cost of each cabin at about $16,000. There was no explanation in the document for such astronomical figures.
“Most campers would be distressed to come to camp and find all the historic cabins completely revamped,” Robin Sherrer, president of the Friends of Camp Mather, told the Guardian.
When asked to justify and explain the numbers, Dennis talked about “escautf8g contingency factors” and used other bureaucratic jargon but was unable to simply say why a $16,000 cabin would suddenly cost $200,000. But we did learn the COMET data had come from a study by the local firm 3D/I.
We asked for that study, but Dennis said the department didn’t have it. Any day now, Dennis said, 3D/I will be giving the department “10 huge binders” of data it developed for various Rec and Park properties from November 2006 to January 2007. Officials will then process that data to present to the Rec and Park Commission in May or June. It is interesting to note that 3D/I also computed the data for a long list of Rec and Park projects, not just Camp Mather.
Among the other capital needs the department is claiming: almost $100 million for the yacht harbor, $102 million for a recreation center, $150 million for playgrounds, and a whopping $572 million for Golden Gate Park.
That list was scheduled to go to the Recreation and Park Commission on March 15 to support a discussion of the $150 million general-obligation bond that the department is seeking, but the list was pulled at the last minute because it needs more documentation.
As Dennis told us, “The president of the commission had it pulled because it was a little sparse.” *
SONIC REDUCER Once upon a time in the Mission, there was a gallery named Balazo. Not quite old enough to know better and a ways from 18, or 18th Street, the little walk-up art space that could blasted into many a local indie fan’s existence in the early ’00s with wall-rattling, hot ‘n’ clammy punk jammies overlooking the 24th Street and Mission BART station. From the beginning, this space was anything but Snow White pristine: noise kids littered the pavement outside with butts, and upstairs the humidity was high and the audience shank-to-elbow deep, packed into a onetime living room for bands like the Mae-Shi and the Lowdown who made it way loud for the crowd. Trailing into adjacent rooms were beer drinkers and art lovers, gazing at massive blowups depicting disappearing SF industrial buildings or paintings praising pubic pouches. Peddling metal too raw for larger stages, punk en español, and local ear bleed avant-gardians, Balazo proved the prince of the underground, Latino-run and Mission-bred, sweeping in on its black charger after Epicenter and Mission Records packed it in and keeping it all relatively under the radar, even as it hauled its bad self down the street to a space at Mission and 18th streets still greasily redolent of the past Chinese chop suey tenant. Rechristened Balazo 18 Art Gallery, the joint has hosted bands ranging from Beijing punkers Brain Failure to SF indie rockers Caesura, and artists including Michael Arcega and Liz Cohen opening its doors to parties of all flavors.
But every fairy tale has an ending whether Balazo 18’s is happy or not remains up in the air.
Guardian ears pricked up when we heard the gallery was forced to cancel an event planned for the relaunch of GavinWatch.com. Further, Guardian reporter G.W. Schultz obtained a letter sent to acting director Amy Lee of San Francisco’s Department of Building Inspection from a resident living on Dolores Street who complained of "drug sellers and prostitutes hanging around all day and night" in the area. Though the author seemed to be attributing the activity to the general vibe of the hood, she did bemoan a "torn canopy" and "boarded up windows" at Balazo’s current 2183 Mission location.
Records show the city opened a file in mid-March, but an inspector noted the building’s "sign appears safe," and no apparent building violations were found. But we continued to scratch our collective heads, since Balazo’s online events calendar only lists dates through February. Was San Francisco about to lose one of the remaining all-ages venues for emerging hardcore, metal, and rock acts?
We finally got a hold of Juan Villanueva, who runs Balazo along with founder Txutxu Pxupxo, for a lowdown on the laid-low gallery. On his way to the first in a series of benefits for Balazo at Dolores Park on April 1, Villanueva explained that a neighbor had been complaining about the murals and denizens on the street, claiming the space was "bringing property valuation down," but it’s unclear whether that brought building inspectors to the gallery to check on the renovations that had been going on to make Balazo’s entrance and restrooms wheelchair accessible.
Unfortunately, at the same time the police began visiting Balazo, asking for an entertainment license, which Pxupxo and Villanueva don’t possess but have subsequently applied for. The $1,500 permit cost, the more than $2,000 needed for the construction, and the required month needed to post the permit application sign have caused the venue to cease shows for fear of incurring thousands in fines.
It sounds like a case of when it rains, all hell breaks loose. "Yeah, it’s a hassle," Villanueva agreed. "We pay rent from shows that come in. But right now we’re desperately in need of funds." Contrary to popular belief, Balazo is not a nonprofit, regardless of its work establishing a DIY community space in the area. Villanueva hopes that favorable letters will be sent to the Entertainment Commission by April 25 supporting Balazo’s application and that the community turns out for the May 1 entertainment-license hearing. But the gallery also has to find a way to pay its monthly $8,200 rent.
Perhaps the villagers will step up to rescue the hero this time around: Villanueva says bands such as La Plebe and Peligro Social have already volunteered to play benefits and the 924 Gilman Street Project has offered to host a throwdown. But we in the peanut gallery are all hoping other, more stealthy forces don’t snatch this independent space away. "Time influences our capability of whether we can make it," Villaneuva warns. "If it takes three months and we can’t get three months’ worth of rent, that would really affect us." *
Additional reporting by G.W. Schulz.
DON’T BOTHER KNOCKIN’
THREE LEAFS, ASCENDED MASTER, AND MODULAR SET
Something ecstatic this way comes from the synth eccentrics of Modular Set, the electric bongo beaters of Ascended Master, and the free-psych natureniks of Three Leafs. Thurs/5, 9:30 p.m., $6. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. www.hemlocktavern.com
CASS MCCOMBS, ARBOURETUM, AND DAVID KARSTEN DANIELS
Making music that can be startling sublime, Scorpio McCombs plays tag with the golden, Will Oldhamesque Arbouretum and Fat Cat experimental roots wrecker Karsten Daniels. Fri/6, 9:30 p.m., $10. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. www.hemlocktavern.com
Mind-frying volume, a frenzied punk psych attack, much spilled sweat, and a whirlpool of quasi moshing made up the scene at the last Lightning Bolt show at Verdi Club a few years back. The Brians have been busy since then, generating a split import CD, Ultra Cross V. 1 (Sony), with Guitar Wolf. Brian Chippendale pulls out percussion on the next Björk disc, kept up his Black Pus side project, and whipped up a book of eye-blisteringly bright Ninja comics for Picturebox. And Brian Gibson recently birthed Barkley’s Barnyard Critters: Mystery Tail, an animation DVD. But résumé builders aside, you really must sink your teeth into LB’s ass live. Mon/9, 9 p.m., $7. LoBot Gallery, 1800 Campbell, Oakl. www.lobotgallery.com. Also Tues/10, 9 p.m., $8. 12 Galaxies, 2565 Mission, SF. (415) 970-9777 *
HOME RUN: AFTER THE WAR LUCIDLY STRIKES HOME
Philip Kan Gotanda’s After the War, enjoying an exceptional world premiere at the American Conservatory Theater, is set during 1948 in a Fillmore boardinghouse run by a laid-back jazz musician and second-generation Japanese American named Chester "Chet" Monkawa (Vancouver’s Hiro Kanagawa in an impressive US debut). The bustling Fillmore District of ’48 was a highly diverse neighborhood that in particular mixed an African American business-owning and working class (whose members had recently arrived in the Bay Area from points south to fill jobs in the burgeoning defense industry) with "Japanese Town" residents returned from the horror and shame of forced evacuation and mass incarceration by the US government during the war.
Chet’s laissez-faire boardinghouse (and Donald Eastman’s brilliant two-story revolving set) puts a cross section of the neighborhood under one roof. This tangle of lives grows affectingly more snarled as the story unfolds. The fragility of the characters’ bonds, fraught with divisions between and within various communities, is soon apparent. At the center is Chet, whose background as a no-no boy (one of the interned men who refused to sign a pledge to the US government or volunteer to fight for it) puts him at odds with the tightly coiled local moneylender, Mr. Goto (longtime Gotanda associate Sab Shimono, in a deft performance of supple humor and menace). The latter’s disapproval reflects the bitter divisions among Japanese Americans struggling to regain dignity and a social foothold in the aftermath of traumatic isolation and victimization by their own, racially combustible country.
Given Gotanda’s recent and successful foray into more experimental work with Campo Santo and Intersection for the Arts, After the War marks a return of sorts to the finely crafted realistic dramas centered on Asian American scenes, yet of delicate existential and social import that have made him an internationally celebrated playwright. This beautifully conceived and executed period piece, commissioned by the ACT and helmed by artistic director Carey Perloff, places that work on an unprecedented scale. It reminds one that few American playwrights are as capable as Gotanda of carrying on the kind of dialogue on race, identity, and history that the late August Wilson turned into a broad theatrical canvas embracing the evolving American experience. (Robert Avila)
AFTER THE WAR
Through April 22
See stage listings for showtimes
American Conservatory Theater
415 Geary, SF
It’s been easy getting used to having the Paul Taylor Company around. For each of the past five years, the group has presented three different programs of new and repertory works, courtesy of San Francisco Performances. Even taking into account the occasional repeat, this amounts to close to 50 pieces of choreography, an extraordinary overview of the artistic output of one of modern dance’s giants.
But San Francisco Performances can no longer afford to host the company on such a regular basis. Word has it a hoped-for increase in subscriptions the lifeblood of every nonprofit arts organization has not materialized. One reason may be that Taylor, who is unique in having performed with Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham, and had a solo choreographed for him by George Balanchine, is such a well-known entity. Audiences may feel the 76-year-old choreographer has nothing new to offer them. Yet there is such pleasure in discovering the new in the familiar and the familiar in the new.
The first of this season’s programs beautifully illustrated what Taylor choreographs so brilliantly: humorous pieces, some with bite; wistful celebrations of idealized communities; and fierce, almost apocalyptic rages. These dark pieces provide no relief Taylor doesn’t seem to believe in catharsis.
The new Lines of Loss is among his darkest. Its distillation of grief weighs heavily. In the past few years Taylor has homed in on the communal impact of violence. Here he focused on the individual. The walking patterns for the ensemble were austere and stripped-down: ceremonial like a procession, casual like a friendly stroll, and enfolding in a hand-holding chain. Turbulent solos and duets fatally imploded this sense of order: Lisa Viola descended into ground-brushing back bends as if something horrendous were descending on her; later, Annmaria Mazzini appeared crushed by the same force. Looking up, a frantic Robert Kleinendorf acted as if he’d been hit in the chest, after which his writhing body was dragged away. An innocent shove made claw-bearing enemies of Richard Chen See and James Samson. A weighted-down Michael Trusnovec crumbled from full manhood into a doddering old man. The closest thing to comfort was a feeble kiss blown across the stage after Viola and Trusnovec vainly tried to bridge the distance between their intertwining bodies.
Taylor’s 1962 Piece Period, only recently revived, represented a young choreographer’s effort at spoofing the establishment. Fun to watch, it was very much of its time. Taylor took on not only theatrical dance’s formal conventions both Graham’s and Balanchine’s but also the period’s fascination with the bobbing beats of baroque music. Even though Taylor never joined the Judson Group’s embrace of the ordinary, lurking in the background of this work is a similar desire to sweep away the constraints of artifice. Viola, the company’s supreme comedian, bounced about in a minitutu, sternly watched from behind fans by mantilla-clad matrons. A bewigged Kleinendorf pranced as Papa Haydn. Julie Tice’s movements with empty pots were little digs at Taylor’s Judson colleagues. Chen See, as the court jester of this motley troupe, performed his leaps as if pressed from a stencil.
Later, of course, Taylor embraced baroque music with a passion, creating works to strains of William Boyce (Arden Court), Johann Sebastian Bach (Esplanade), and George Frideric Handel (Aureole, Airs). The 1972 Airs looked as infectiously joyous as ever. Newcomer Laura Halzack’s poignant vulnerability and the lushly luminous Parisa Khobdeh contributed their shine to this shimmering jewel. As for the Paul Taylor Company, it will return to San Francisco Performances in 2009, in a format yet to be determined. *