Volume 41 Number 34

May 23 – May 29, 2007

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Too quiet in Oaxaca


By John Ross
OAXACA, OAXACA (May 27th) — On the first anniversary of the beginning of last summer’s feverish uprising here, the city’s jewel-box plaza which had been occupied for seven months by striking teachers and their allies in the Oaxaca Peoples’ Popular Assembly (APPO) from May until October when federal police forced them into retreat, shimmered in the intense spring sunbeams. The only massive police presence on view was the city police department’s orchestra tootling strident martial airs to a shirt-sleeved crowd of gaffers. Here and there, handfuls of burley state cops, sweltering in bulletproof vests and helmets in hand, huddled in the shade quaffing aguas frescas (fruit water) and flirting with the senoritas.

Evidence of last summer’s occupation has been obliterated. Surrounding government buildings have been scrubbed clean of revolutionary slogans and no marches were scheduled to commemorate last May 22nd when the teachers first established their camp in the plaza. Indeed, militant members of Section 22 of the National Education Workers Union (SNTE) were not encamped in the stately old square for the first time since the section’s founding 27 years ago. Ulises Ruiz Ortiz (URO), the object of their fury, was still the despotic governor of Oaxaca.

Despite the relaxation of U.S. State Department travel advisories and the apparent calm, few tourists were strolling the cobblestone streets of Oaxaca’s historic center and the cavernous colonial hotels around the plaza were virtually deserted.

The 2006 uprising has put a serious kibosh on the international tourist trade, the backbone of the local economy. If the experience of San Cristobal de las Casas after the 1994 Zapatista uprising is any lesson, the tourist moguls will take years to recoup.

“Apparent calm” is a euphemism oft utilized to describe the uneasy lulls that mark social upheaval in Mexico. True to the nation’s volcanic political metabolism with its fiery spurts of molten fightback and sullen, brooding silences, the Oaxaca struggle seems to have entered into a period of internal contemplation.

Government repression, which featured death squad killings and the jailing of hundreds of activists, slammed the lid down on the social stew but did not extinguish it. Discontent continues to brew and fester, the bad gas building down below. The structures of the Popular Assembly and the teachers union, which served to catalyze this discontent throughout 2006, remain intact.

To be sure, the social movements that lit up red bulbs as far away as Washington last year are not enjoying their best moments. Section 22, which itself is a loose amalgam of left factions, is wracked with division and dissonance, and its titular leader, Enrique Rueda Pacheco, is held in profound contempt for having forced the strikers back into the classroom last October and abandoning the APPO to savage government repression.

Moreover, in response to the 70,000-strong Section 22’s rebellion against the leadership of the National Education Workers Union (SNTE), union czarina Elba Esther Gordillo, a close confidante of President Felipe Calderon, chartered a new Oaxaca local, Section 59, to diminish the control that the militants exert over the state’s classrooms.

The division has put a dent in the teachers’ usual aggressive stance and instead of walking out this past May 15th, National Teachers Day, when new contracts are negotiated, Section 22 tentatively accepted a 4.8 percent base wage increase (above the 3.7 percent Calderon had conceded to other sectors) and 122 million bonus pesos to “re-zone” Oaxaca for cost of living increases in this tourism-driven state.

Although the “maestros” did participate in a two-day boycott of classes in May to protest the Calderon government’s privatization of government workers pension funds, whether the teachers will take part in an indefinite national walk-out June 1st that has been called by dissident education workers organized in the Coordinating Body of Education Workers or CNTE, remains unresolved at press time.

Nonetheless, the teachers’ disaffection with Ulises remains strong and Section 22 spokesperson Zenen Reyes last week (May 23rd) called upon the teachers and the APPO to push for cancellation of the Guelaguetza, an “indigenous” dance festival in July that has become Oaxaca’s premier tourist attraction. Last year, the strikers and the APPO destroyed scenery and denied access to the spectacle, forcing URO to suspend the gala event. In its place, activists reclaimed this millennial tradition of Indian cultural interchange by staging a “popular” Guelaguetza in the part of the city they were occupying, and plans are afoot to repeat that celebration this year.

The Oaxaca Popular Peoples Assembly, which came together after the governor sent a thousand police to drive the maestros out of the plaza last June 14th and which at one time included representatives of the state’s 17 distinct Indian peoples and many of the 400 majority indigenous municipalities plus hundreds of grassroots organizations, is equally fractured. Having borne the brunt of the repression – 26 killed, 30 disappeared, hundreds imprisoned – the Popular Assembly has been reduced to a defensive posture when only months ago it was an aggressive lightning rod for social discontent.

Even more debilitating than the government crackdown has been the prospect of upcoming local elections August 7th to choose 42 members of the Oaxaca legislature and October 5th balloting for 157 non-Indian municipal presidents (majority indigenous municipalities elect their presidents via traditional assemblies.) While the APPO considers that its goals transcend the electoral process and rejects alliance with the political parties, some Popular Assembly leaders engage in a quirky dance with the left-center Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) which last July almost catapulted Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) into the presidency.

Prominent APPO mouthpiece Flavio Sosa, jailed by Calderon as his first political prisoner, is a former Oaxaca party leader and the PRD has mobilized to achieve his release.

Perhaps the cruelest blow the APPO and the striking teachers struck against Ulises came during July 2nd 2006 presidential elections. Although URO had promised the long-ruling (77 years – at least in Oaxaca) Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) a million votes for his political godfather Roberto Madrazo, the popular movement inflicted the voto del castigo (punishment vote) against the PRI, handing the state to AMLO’s presidential bid in addition to electing both PRD senators and nine out of 11 federal representatives to the new congress for the first time ever.

The left party seemed positioned to bump Ruiz again in 2007 by taking the state legislature and neutralizing the tyrannical governor’s clout. But instead of rewarding the APPO and Section 22 for having dumped the PRI in 2006, the party has responded by excluding activists from its candidate lists.

“If, at one time, there was hope that elections could provide a solution to the conflict, exclusion of the APPO has canceled them,” writes Luis Hernandez Navarro who follows Oaxaca closely for the national daily La Jornada.

One Oaxaca-based PRD insider who preferred not to be named confides that APPO activists were vetoed by the left party’s national leadership least front-page photos of the candidates hurling rocks during last summer’s altercations lend credence to the perpetual allegations of the PRI and Calderon’s right-wing PAN that the PRD is “the part of violence.” Most local candidacies were distributed in accordance with the laws of PRD nepotism and amongst the party’s myriad “tribes.”

The exclusion of the APPO activists so infuriated 50 members of grassroots organizations led by Zapotec Indian spokesperson Aldo Gonzalez that they stormed the PRD’s Oaxaca city headquarters May 18th, leaving its façade a swirl of spray-painted anguish. The failure to select candidates from the popular movement, Gonzalez and others charge, throws the elections to URO, suggesting that the PRD has cut a deal with the APPO’s arch enemy.

Given the hostilities the upcoming elections have sparked so far, the August and October balloting could well signal another “voto del castigo” – this time against the PRD.

The election season was in full swing by mid-Spring in Oaxaca. PRD leader Felix Cruz, who had just coordinated Lopez Obrador’s third tour of the Mixteca mountains (AMLO was conspicuously absent during last summer’s struggle), was gunned down in Ejutla de Crespo on May 21st. Juan Antonio Robles, a direction of the Unified Triqui Liberation Movement (MULT), a participating organization in the APPO, met a similar fate the next day. That same week, a car carrying a local candidate for Elba Esther Gordillo’s New Alliance Party was riddled with gunfire along the coast. Drug gang killings have also jacked up the homicide rate in the state – under Ulises’ governance, drugs and drug gangs have flourished.

Meanwhile, in classic “cacique” (political boss) style, the PRI governor is out and about dishing up the pork to buy votes, passing out cardboard roofing and kilos of beans, building roads to nowhere and bridges where there are no rivers to cross, to pump up his electoral clientele. Gifting opposition leaders with pick-up trucks to enlist their allegiances is a favorite URO gambit, notes Navarro Hernandez.

Despite the ambitions of some of its members, the APPO is not enthusiastic about participating in the electoral process. At a statewide congress in February, APPO members were allowed to run for public office as individuals and only if they resign from any organizational function.

Miguel Cruz, an APPO activist and member of the directive of the CIPO-RFM or Popular Indigenous Council of Oaxaca – Ricardo Flores Magon (Flores Magon was a Oaxaca-born anarchist leader during the Mexican revolution) is not a partisan of the electoral process. Seated in the CIPO’s open-air kitchen out in Santa Lucia del Camino, a rural suburb of Oaxaca city where police gunned down U.S. journalist Brad Will last October, Miguel explains his disdain for how the elections have split the APPO “when they were supposed to bring us together.

“Everyone is working on their own agendas now and the so-called leaders are all looking for a ‘hueso” (literally ‘bone’ – political appointment.) This is a crying shame. The APPO is a mass movement, not a political party. Our consciences are not for sale.”

June 14th, the day last year Ulises sent a thousand heavily armed police to unsuccessfully take the plaza back from the striking teachers, is a crucial date. The APPO and Section 22 are planning one of their famous mega-marches which last summer sometimes turned out hundreds of thousands of citizens. Will June 14th signal a resurgence of massive resistance and if it does, will the popular leadership be able to restrain hotter heads and government provocateurs that last November gave the federal police the pretext to beat and round up hundreds? Miguel Cruz is hopeful the APPO will persevere. “Whatever the ‘leaders’ do and say, the APPO lives down at the bases.”

Up the steep, windy hill in San Pablo Etla, where the cognoscenti live above the hurly-burly on the streets of Oaxaca, political guru Gustavo Esteva views the popular struggle down below geologically. “The popular movement in Oaxaca is like an active volcano” he writes in La Jornada, “last year when it erupted, the movement left its mark in the form of molten lava trails. Now the lava has cooled and formed a cap of porous rock that marks the point through which the internal pressure will find its way to break through to the surface again.”

John Ross is in Mexico City hot on the trail of Brad Will’s killers and re-immersing himself in the real world. Write him at johnross@igc.org if you have further information.

Green City


› amanda@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY I spent my undergraduate years at a microscopic liberal arts college set in the shadow of a national park on an island in Maine — a remote idyll where people abhor locking their doors and you can almost smell the Atlantic whale migration when a southeastern wind blows.

The college is overtly environmental and so small it’s possible to practice what’s preached: food is grown on the school’s farm, students cycle around on communal bikes, ceremonies strive to be zero-waste. My graduation in 2000 was the largest the 31-year-old school had ever hosted, and all 97 of us stood in a haphazard row listening to keynote speaker and hobo musician Utah Phillips. After Phillips counseled us on how to avoid becoming a "blown-up" (his word for a bloviating grown-up), my friend Dan turned to me and said, "When I came to this school, I was, like, ‘Aah, here’s my tribe.’"

I had the same feeling a few weeks ago when I stumbled upon the Urban Alliance for Sustainability. Maybe I’ve finally found my people. In the 18 months that I’ve lived in San Francisco, I’ve watched global warming go from a marginalized theory to a universally acknowledged threat. That’s triggered a lot of hyperactivity about how to be green, which seems more commercial than communal. Companies are setting up booths to hawk magic elixirs, but carbon offsets seem about as realistic as get-out-of-jail-free cards. They don’t really shift what actually needs seismic adjustment: the bottom line in your life.

The UAS is different. This is a group with the serious intention of living what it believes. On top of that, it wants to help you do the same.

The organization’s basic mission is so simple it seems like it must have been done already — be a clearinghouse for all the environmentalist activity in the Bay Area. The Web site www.uas.coop lists events, and the hotline answers questions, but the coolest thing the UAS is doing is using the delicious blossom of technology to connect people who really ought to know each other by now.

For example, the group tracks members’ addresses, and when it has enough in the same area, it facilitates a potluck so everyone can meet and discuss how to green their streets. As someone who’s participated in some funky social networking experiments, I think this is simply brilliant. In a world rife with a cruel suspicion of strangers, city living can be hard duty, and trust hard-won. This is kind of like finding your tribe.

Membership isn’t free, and in the interest of full disclosure, the UAS just gave me one after I expressed interest in it while working on another story for the Guardian. But the group is a cooperative, and kicking in gets you discounts to events and something called a sustainability consultation. Mine was a meeting I approached with suspicion. Remember: I went to a hippie school where the Earth Day piñata was full of natural cotton tampons. I already ditched my car and store my quinoa in old yogurt containers. What could this guy tell me about sustainability?

But this was much more than I expected. Kevin Bayuk sat in my yard for two and a half hours, and we discussed practically every aspect of my life — what I eat, how I get around, what I read, how I take care of my health. His suggestions were realistic, and he reminded me of things I let go of back when I ripped up my rural roots. I hadn’t even considered composting here, but he told me where to get a worm bin and offered me some worms from his to get started. He knew what kinds of edible plants could grow in the shade under the jasmine in my garden and the cost of a permit to rip up the sidewalk to grow food.

People often move to San Francisco because this is a city that can handle them. The uniqueness of the citizenry and the genuine desire to do good are what I love most about this place, but there are things I deeply miss about where I came from — the smell of freshly turned dirt in the sunshine, the shimmer of uninterrupted moonlight on water, the silence in the absence of cars. But I love this place, and I’m not going anywhere. Those things are just going to have to come to me. *

Green City, the Guardian‘s new weekly environmental column, will be a mix of staff-written stories and contributions from experts and provocative thinkers. Submissions may be sent to news@sfbg.com.

Stop saving the whales. Plus: More Ed Jew news



Some kind of monster!


CULT FILM It’s fitting that Troll 2 is playing at Midnites for Maniacs — it’s truly a film only a maniac could love. This 1990 masterpiece (sorry, Julia Louis-Dreyfus fans — it’s a sequel to 1986’s Troll in name only) was made by an Italian crew (director Drake Floyd’s real name: Claudio Fragasso), starring a cast of Salt Lake City locals. The Italians, none of whom spoke much English, were focused on making what was intended to be a B-grade horror flick; the American actors, presented with a screenplay about a family whose country vacation spirals into a life-or-death standoff with a pack of hungry goblins, remained baffled throughout the three-week shoot.

Speaking to me from his office in Alabama, Dr. George Hardy — an SLC dentist when he was cast as the patriarch in Troll 2, a gig that earned him "around $1,500" — recalls the filming with great delight. "We had no direction at all. We tried to decipher the script, and it was so discombobulated. We had no idea what we were doing from scene to scene. All we knew was that it was shot on 35mm and that they took no time in doing retakes. They just got through one scene to the next as quickly as possible."

After the movie wrapped, Hardy moved to Alabama and went about his life, his showbiz days presumably over — until a patient alerted him to the VHS availability of a certain Troll 2. His reaction crystallized the film’s first, perhaps most important, enigma: "I heard the name of the movie, and I thought, ‘This is weird. Why would it be called Troll 2 when there’s no trolls in the movie, only goblins?’" Frequent airings on HBO raised Troll 2‘s profile even higher. By 2003, when the film was released on the flip side of the Troll DVD, Troll 2 had become a genuine cult classic. An IMDb.com poster recently dubbed it "the Holy Grail of bad movies."

At first, Hardy and his fellow castmates weren’t sure how to react to being part of a film that raised badness to such soaring new heights. "We all ran from it. We were totally embarrassed at the time. But I guess it’s almost like an old wine that starts to taste good after a few years. We then began to embrace it because we saw the craze that was going on."

Hardy and costar Michael Stephenson — who played Troll 2‘s skateboard-riding, bologna-eating young hero, Joshua — recently reconnected and set up a Web site, www.bestworstmovie.com, and are working on a documentary titled Best Worst Movie about what Hardy calls "the Troll 2 phenomenon." Special event screenings, like the film’s much-anticipated 35mm debut at the Castro Theatre (featuring Hardy and Stephenson in person), are planned throughout the summer in a variety of hospitable cities.

Los Angeles resident Stephenson — who still acts but will likely never top the scene in which 10-year-old Joshua pees all over his family’s dinner to prevent Mom, Dad, and Sis from becoming a goblin snack pack (don’t ask) — shares Hardy’s enthusiasm for the second coming of Troll 2.

"For years I thought, ‘I’m gonna die and be remembered as the kid who was in this awful horror movie,’" he told me from Hawaii, where he was vacationing. "But about a year ago, I woke up and turned to my wife and said, ‘I’m the star of one of the worst films ever made. This is pretty cool.’ And then I started looking into what the fans were doing around the film. I was getting e-mails from fans around the world that were throwing Troll 2 parties. And that’s when I thought, ‘This isn’t just the worst movie — it’s the best worst movie.’"

And frankly, folks, it very well may be — apologies to Showgirls, but all the G-strings in the world can’t compete with lines like "They’re eating her. Then they’re gonna eat me. Oh my godddd!"

Stephenson elucidates: "People like it because everybody [involved in] Troll 2 went out and tried to make an earnest horror film. It wasn’t meant to be campy. And it was a miserable failure. It was a cinematic car crash. And then all of a sudden, it took on this new life — like a car crash, you have to look at it. You stare at it. You wonder, ‘What the hell is going on with this thing?’ I think with Troll 2, the fans have taken ownership of the film. It’s like drinking spoiled milk. You taste it, and then you’re, like, ‘Aw, you gotta taste this! It’s terrible!’ You immediately want someone else to taste it so you can share that experience."


Fri/25, Gremlins, 7:30 p.m.; Howard the Duck, 9:45 p.m.; Troll 2, midnight; $10

Castro Theatre

429 Castro, SF

(415) 621-6120


Muse of fire


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

REVIEW Perhaps the most intriguing question about David Gordon’s Pick Up Performance Company’s Dancing Henry Five is why it works so well. Gordon took the third of William Shakespeare’s Henry plays, the monumental but stiff Henry V, sent it through the wringer of his imagination, and spit it out as what he calls in the subtitle "a pre-emptive (post modern) strike and spin." That’s about as razor-sharp and witty a label as you could stick on this elegant and prickly entertainment, which lasts for an hour but resonated well beyond the confines of the ODC Theater’s modest stage during its May 16 to 19 run.

Not that Gordon didn’t have plenty of help; for one, there is Shakespeare’s resonant language, taken from Laurence Olivier’s 1944 film version, which buoyed a dispirited Britain. Then there is William Walton’s mostly excellent score. And let’s not forget the Bushites, whose own strike and spin provided the impetus for this sly look at history repeated. As for Gordon’s eight-member ensemble ("plus three dummies," as Valda Setterfield, the key pin in this finely tuned work, makes a point of specifying), it is an admirably gifted and beautiful group of dancers.

Gordon is not the first to use dance and language in a fully integrated way, but few others have become as masterful at holding the two in perfect balance. In a nod to his roots in the Judson Dance Theater, his work looks casual and ordinary. The language can be everyday conversational, the dancing based on walking. But the commonplace surface is deceptive. Gordon has assembled his components with a clockmaker’s attention to using finely calibrated gears that interlock to create momentum and flow. The resulting work charms with easy grace but impresses through impeccable craft.

For Dancing, Gordon took key elements of Shakespeare’s play — Henry’s debauched youth, his politically expedient abandonment of old friends, his going to war for economic reasons and with the moral force of religion behind him — and spun them into a contemporary fable whose parallels at times amuse but more often cut deeply.

The British-born Setterfield, Gordon’s life and artistic partner for the past 30-plus years, was the key to setting the tone for a work that easily could be but never became preachy. Her clipped delivery — sometimes cool, sometimes wry, and always straightforward — set up an ironic contrast with the mellifluous sonority of the Shakespearean language heard on tape. She brilliantly navigated between her roles as master of ceremonies, observing chorus, and when necessary, the various characters. Her function, she explained, was "to fill in, fill up, and fill out." She did so with the simplest of means. With direct addresses to the audience, while scurrying about or from her pedestal on a ladder, she interpreted the swiftly moving narrative. As the dying Falstaff, with a pillow held as a belly, she shrank in front of our eyes; as a woman with an adult-size rag doll in her arms, she became a mother who has lost a child to war; and as an attendant to Catherine of France, she was dainty, subservient, yet authoritative.

For all its simplicity, Gordon’s choreography is structured in overlapping phrases and precisely timed rhythms that are endlessly fascinating. Much of the dancing is robust, but it is always inflected. In the opening passage, the apparently random walks had a slight bounce to them. The Dauphin’s insulting gift of tennis balls became a game of passing and bouncing — at first one, then two balls — while crisply circling walking patterns were maintained. During the multilevel battle of Agincourt, the pounding poles’ rhythmic accelerations suggested the rising violence. However, whether throwing dolls and folding chairs was the best way to choreograph the collapse of civility remains dubious.

Dancing is also elegant and refined. Setterfield’s charming English lesson to the future queen (a sturdy, fleet on her feet Karen Graham) was delivered as a minuet between the two women, their arms lacily acting out the anatomical vocabulary. After Falstaff’s death, Sadira A. Smith danced a lyrical solo that mourned the loss of innocence. In the courting duet, which became a trio with Setterfield as an intermediary, the dour king (a stocky Tadej Brdnik) even managed a low-level jeté or two. The costumes were rugby inspired, and Jennifer Tipton’s lush lighting design was brilliant. *

Show me


› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER I may have gotten straight Cs in critics’ college, but I can’t tell you what works for you. You are the only one who knows what makes you put down the channel changer, sends thrills down your spine, sets your disco ball spinning, and brings that mischievous sparkle to your eye. Or do you?

When it comes to e-mail subject line come-ons, one man’s "Ciali$ CHEEEP" is another woman’s "Ever wanted a bigger penis, Kimberly?" and one stud puppy’s "Are you smarter than a fifth grader? Cum to my cam! Buy OEM software CHEEEP!" is my "I could probably make the SF show too if I drove for about the same price as taking the train to Seattle." Last week a certain server masquerading as "Blanchard Christian" fired off that latter missive, an oblique snippet of pseudocrucial poetry to my ears — who cares that ole Blanche du Blah’s masters were ready to announce their plans to bilk — whoops, I mean, "address the huge influx of immigrant workers into the US that need banking solutions that they otherwise would not qualify for"? Pavlov’s e-mail robot knows what gets me salivating — aside from those wolf beach towels on Amazon.com (wintry wolves and hot sand go together about as well as infants and live grenades): namely, live music. Drive blearily into the Mojave for Coachella, jump through hoops to get to Seattle for Bumbershoot, make the red-eye to Austin for South by Southwest, take the midnight train to Tennessee’s Bonnaroo, hock yourself for England’s All Tomorrow’s Parties, hazard reindeer sashimi for Reykjavik’s Iceland Airwaves — take note of the chart; I have a history of doing anything for a life-altering show.

So I could immediately relate to the scribblers of The Show I’ll Never Forget: 50 Writers Relive Their Most Memorable Concertgoing Experience (Da Capo). Some keep it short like notes or cockeyed haiku, punctuating eccentrically ’cause they didn’t get enough of that in grade school (Thurston Moore on Glenn Branca, Rudolph Grey, and Wharton Tiers). Others find their key note on the "me-me-me-me" and skew confessional (Dani Shapiro revealing that she was beaten by Courtney Cox in the dance-off to be the archetypally lucky audience member pulled from the crowd by Brooooce Springsteen in his "Dancing in the Dark" video). And some make you want to beat them over the head with their next pretentious footnote (yes, Rick Moody, I’m looking at your Lounge Lizards essay — we too were once forced to use the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, but we recovered).

Attribute it to sheer wordsmith chops or an all-permeating passion for music, but most entries tend to tell you more about a writer, time, and place than, say, a set list. I know I felt like revisiting my own memorable shows: Iggy Pop in ’80s Hawaii; Elliott Smith, Sleater-Kinney, Modest Mouse, Unwound, and Karp at Yo Yo a Go Go in Olympia, Wash.; Sufjan Stevens borne by butterfly wings in Berkeley. These essays’ mood music is liable to send you a bit more alertly braced for baby epiphanies into your next show. You may even be inspired to take notes.

Because I bet all those precious details are pretty sketchy at this point. Hence, some of my favorite essays were hung up on the "memorable" part of the anthology’s title. Was it the songs, the scene, my sweetheart, or my failing gray matter? We all feel vulnerable in the face of the power of music and love, art and memory loss, and in a remembrance (sort of) of all things Rush in 1985 Portland, Maine, Heidi Julavits hits a sad, clear-eyed note that embraces the factual pitfalls of a "memorable concert … about which I remember little," except for her low-life boyfriend who worshipped the sticks a certain drummer sat on. "Neil Something was a stratospherically gifted drummer," she continues, "who, if memory isn’t supplying ghoulishness to a situation that otherwise failed to interest me at all, had lost an arm. Or maybe he was blind."

Likewise Jerry Stahl’s once, twice, three times a David Bowie glance-back sails by on bad TV and reminiscences of rehab before "Rehab" was cool. After first glimpsing Bowie, departing fabulously from a Sunset Strip book shop, the "boundary-challenged" Stahl breaks down into the man who fell to earth’s arms midinterview with "I haven’t shot dope in a month." Lastly, the writer drags his teen daughter to a 2004 Los Angeles show: after embarrassing her by "waving twenties around like Spiro Agnew — a reference no one reading should rightfully comprehend," the two head in, but once Bowie appears onstage, Stahl demurs, "Hey I’m old enough to get junk mail from AARP. I can’t remember everything." He does remember, amid "Rebel Rebel," that he is alive: "My own good luck scares me. David Bowie saved my life, inspired me to scrape enough psychic ganglia off the sidewalk to still be here." Makes you want to get the old diary out and start reassembling the old memory banks — or making new memories.

WRITING WRONGS Electrelane guitarist Mia Clarke has done her share of scribbling about music for the Wire, among other pubs, but that ability to step back and assess, analyze, and appreciate didn’t help when the Brighton-born members of the all-femme band seemed to be on the verge of breaking. After the group made its excellent 2005 Axes (Too Pure) and embarked on a year of touring, Clarke said from her current home in Chicago, where Electrelane are launching their current series of US shows, "we were really sick of each other. When you spend that much time with each other, it gets a bit much, and we all have other things going on in our lives" (bassist Ros Murray, for example, is working on a graduate degree from King’s College while on the bus). Fortunately, Electrelane reconvened in vocalist-keyboardist Verity Susman’s then-home in Berlin during the World Cup and, buoyed by the welcoming vibe in the town, found it in themselves to write and record the nautically themed No Shouts, No Calls (Too Pure), a lighter take on their kraut rock of yore, embellished with ukulele, and Chamberlin keyboards, and sailors’ knots in the CD art. Some ties somehow always bind. *


With the Arcade Fire

June 1–2, 8 p.m., $31.50

Greek Theatre

UC Berkeley

Gayley Road, Berk.




Once a Tarantula AD, now a Priestbird — make up your mind, NYC drama trio. Chicago’s Pit er Pat keep working that exploratory vein. Wed/23, 9:30 p.m., $10. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. www.hemlocktavern.com


An arse-wigglin’ time emerges from the garage when the SF headliners get with the Seattle sickos. Fri/25, 9:30 p.m., $7. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. www.hemlocktavern.com


Tender, bare tunes and rockin’ piano electrify the Brighton band’s No Need to Be Downhearted (Better Looking). Sun/27, 9 p.m., $8. Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., SF. (415) 621-4455


New folk forms — taking shape as Almaden, Barn Owl, Adam Snider, Misty Mountain, Mass at Dawn, and Messes — scurry from the woods. Sun/27, 9 p.m., $6. Hotel Utah, 500 Fourth St., SF. (415) 546-6300

It’s the environment, stupid


› paulr@sfbg.com

You must be a pretty good orator if you can bewitch a roomful of people who can’t understand a word you’re saying — except for, perhaps, your incantatory "stupido!"s while discussing America’s many foolish agricultural policies — and by this standard Carlo Petrini, founder of Slow Food, is a pretty good orator. He held a media crowd rapt at a lunch recently at Greens, the point of which gathering was to proclaim the advent of Slow Food Nation a year hence at Fort Mason. Dutifully I cheer and huzzah the news, though I continue to think the word "slow" is all wrong for this country. In America, "slow" means "stupid" — or, as Petrini and his fellow Italians would say, "stupido."

"Stupido" — operatic accent on the first syllable — is great fun to say, much more fun than "biodiesel," which seemed to be Mayor Gavin Newsom’s mantra as he addressed the same crowd in its native English. Why, you ask, would the mayor be discussing biodiesel at a food-related gathering? Was he planning to haul away some of the restaurant’s used cooking oil for use in Muni buses? Or was he reminding us of the deeper political tectonics at work beneath Slow Food? Food is politics, and a rising theme in politics these days is the fate of the earth itself.

Newsom, despite the travails of the past few months, looked like one of the youngest people in the room — the man with the most tomorrows in the bank. The likelihood is that most of his political career is still ahead of him, and what does a politician of his age see when scanning the prospect? Crisis, of course, since that is the nature of politics and indeed of human beings, but crisis of a new sort, one in which the livability of this globe and the survival of its inhabitants can no longer be assumed. The younger you are, the more acutely you sense that the consequences of our poor planetary stewardship will make your stay here less pleasant — and maybe to suppose that biomass fuels and sustainable agriculture are important pieces of the same big puzzle.

I love slow food by any name, and I am older than the mayor by more years than please me, but on the matter of ecopolitics: faster is better.

Gui, your music looks terrific


› johnny@sfbg.com

The first clue that Gui Boratto’s Chromophobia is an extraordinary Kompakt disc — a song collection that places the German label back at the forefront of the best electronic music — can be found on its cover art. Since its inception, Kompakt has had a signature clean design style for its releases. Developed by one of the label’s three co-owners, Wolfgang Voigt, it’s made great use of simple circles and basic color combinations. For Chromophobia, the São Paulo, Brazil, musician called on his friend Felipe Caetano to create a cover. Caetano came up with a beautiful piece of color theory that layers a series of primary-color Kompakt circles over the edges of one another to form a variety of new-hued combinations.

"Our first idea was to do a black-and-white cover, but we decided that was cliché," Boratto says from São Paulo, referring to the title word, a term for the fear of color. "The decision to make the cover colorful was ironic. But for me, chromophobia is like simplicity — the same type of meaning as monochromatism within an architectural point of view."

Got that? The affable Boratto is no club drone whose scope of experience remains as narrow as a programmed and endlessly looped 4/4 beat. He’s a married father of one who has studied architecture in addition to music. "I think architecture and music are almost the same thing," he says, his accent bringing an alternately questioning and singsong quality to English words. "They’re different means of expression, but they treat spaces in the same way."

In Chromophobia, Boratto builds and creates a variety of attractive spaces, without pretension but with a sensibility perhaps informed by a love of modernist architectural pioneers such as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. "Within the modernism movement, you can find the same ramp used in the garage and in the dining room," he observes. Such functionality could be ascribed to many tracks on Chromophobia, which entwine rhythmic and melodic complexity and simplicity in a manner that can add vivid atmosphere to private interior settings, natural panoramas, and — though not in all cases — the dance floor.


A major part of Chromophobia‘s appeal — apparent from the crystalline descending melody of the opening track, "Scene 1" — is that Boratto knows how to construct a strong simple motif or riff. "My first instrument was guitar, and when I was 10 or 11, I was really into Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin," he says, breaking down his musical background into shorthand. "But in the mid- to late ’80s, my older brother lived for a while in the south of France and then in London, and when he came back he brainwashed me."

The glorious results of that brainwashing are apparent in Chromophobia‘s most-discussed track, "Beautiful Life," on which Boratto’s wife, Luciana Villanova, plays the role of a female Bernard Sumner, quietly singing some affirmative words alongside a mammoth guitar line that invokes the unmistakable bass lines of New Order’s Peter Hook. "It was really a joke," Boratto says with bashful enthusiasm when asked about the track, which Web sites such as Resident Advisor have singled out for special praise. "There’s no complex textures [to "Beautiful Life"], as there are on some of the other songs [on Chromophobia]." True, but the song is no mere retro exercise: as much as New Order, the sunny feminine grace of "Beautiful Life" also calls to mind Ricardo Villalobos’s epic 2006 update of his own "La Belle Epoque," probably the only time Boratto and the Chilean Villalobos have crafted a similar definition of techno.

Still, Chromophobia‘s truest pleasures might be subtler ones, such as the alternately shuddering and sinuous propulsive energy of "Terminal" and "Gate 7" (the latter of which takes its title from the number of the TAM Airlines boarding gate for all of Boratto’s flights to Europe). On "Acróstico," Boratto provides a reprieve from this momentum, fashioning the electronic equivalent — via an array of low-key chirps and whirring sounds — of a nature scene at dawn or dusk.

"The title of ‘Acróstico’ stems from the fact that the high bass notes complete the lower notes — if you see a drawing of the notes, it looks like an acrostic," Boratto explains. For a musician who specializes in instrumental tracks, Boratto has a flair for linguistic matters. After bringing up Franz Kafka in response to a question about Chromophobia‘s final track, "The Verdict" — which takes its name from a Kafka tale often published in volumes of The Metamorphosis — he comments on a certain similarity: "One thing I noticed is that with Metamorphosis‘s Mr. [Gregor] Samsa, if the two s‘s in his name turn into k‘s, and the m‘s turn into f‘s, you have Kafka. It’s fiction, but it’s his story."


By no means is Chromophobia Kafkaesque. But a dynamic between colorful optimism and an undercurrent of gloom gradually courses through the album, growing deeper as it progresses. On the penultimate track, "Hera," Boratto crafts a coda so poignant that it easily eclipses the best recent tracks put forth by Booka Shade and other instrumental acts on Get Physical, perhaps the one German label to overshadow Kompakt in recent years. Kompakt is definitely on a roll as of late, thanks to the long-awaited — and underrated — second volume of label cohead Michael Mayer’s Immer (2006) and the ambient — in comparison to Boratto — allure of the Field’s acclaimed From Here We Go Sublime. The Field’s Axel Willner is inventive enough to tap into the so-ghostly-it’s-frightening essence of the Flamingos’ "I Only Have Eyes for You" (also a touchstone on the soundtrack of Kenneth Anger’s 1950 film Rabbit’s Moon), yet Boratto’s palette is broader, connecting techno’s chillier reaches with the warmth of Antonio Carlos "Tom" Jobim.

Jobim may be "the master," in Boratto’s words, but the man behind Chromophobia also loves US brands of soul — especially Al Green and Stevie Wonder. Likewise, while the "little Paris" known as Prague might be Boratto’s favorite city in architectural terms, he’s looking forward to his SF visit. "I really love San Francisco," he says, remembering the "mainstream" charms of a club like Spundae, where he once saw Boy George. "I actually lived near Berkeley, in Pinole, for six months in 2001. I studied in Berkeley, and I had two American friends. This one friend had a big house in a nice neighborhood in Berkeley, where we had barbecues and never-ending parties. We used to party in San Francisco too, at some clubs and friends’ apartments."

This week, as Boratto returns to the Bay Area, he’s going to find a lot more than just two American friends — or at least American fans — at his party. And deservedly so — he’s made one of the best records of this year. *


With Gui Boratto and Michael Mayer

Thurs/24, 9 p.m., $15 advance


444 Jessie, SF

(415) 625-8880


Holdin’ the weight of the Bay


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Still looks like slavery

But it’s the black legacy

Mistah FAB, "100 Bars"

One night last September, I hitch a ride with G-Stack of the Delinquents and Dotrix of Tha Mekanix to Dem Hoodstarz’s album release party in San Francisco. As we park outside the club, Mistah FAB rolls up with a modest posse. In contrast to his usual iced-out Technicolor clubwear, the man also known as Fabby Davis Jr. is low-key, dressed all in black, a pair of designer stunna shades supplying the main clue to his identity. He hops in Stack’s car to hear a newly laid track for the latter’s upcoming Purple Hood, then we set out for the club, a less than half block journey whose distance is lengthened interminably by a series of well-wishers and business consultations. It’s like following two CEOs across the floor of the stock exchange: Stack is on two cell phones, trying to shake hands with someone. FAB, meanwhile, handles minor transactions, poses for a photo, and takes a call, all while briefing me on the deal he had just signed with Atlantic Records for Da Yellow Bus Rydah, the much-anticipated follow-up to his 2005 disc, Son of a Pimp (Thizz Ent.).

Near the door, a man takes FAB aside. "FAB, you gotta do something about the violence," he says, meaning specifically the 141 homicides in Oakland in 2006 under former mayor and present attorney general Jerry Brown. FAB nods at what is clearly an unreasonable request, albeit one that reflects the disproportionate political burden borne by black entertainers in America. No one would turn to, say, Justin Timberlake to stop violence. Then again, I imagine no one asks Keak Da Sneak either. FAB’s position, in other words, is unique.

Though he made his early reputation as a freestyle battle rhymer and owes his success to hyphy hits like "Super Sic Wit It," FAB’s lyrics seldom stray into gangsta or pimp terrain — the title of his last album is simply literal. Yet he can get down on a track with the most thugged-out MCs. Aside from the giants Too $hort and E-40 and on par with the perpetually hot Keak, FAB is the rapper all Bay Area rappers want on their albums, because he has the biggest buzz on the radio and in the streets. His popularity gives him influence, but FAB commands respect in the hood because he’s from the hood: his compass-based hit "N.E.W. Oakland" was the first major rap recognition of his native North Oakland as a hood. This rapport with the alienated and isolated ghetto youth who constitute hyphy’s core audience separates him from the vast majority of MCs to whom the label "conscious" may be applied.

"You go up to someone in the hood and be, like, ‘Dick Cheney had a heart attack,’ they be, like, ‘Who the fuck is Dick Cheney?’" FAB says later. "But you tell him, ‘Jay-Z donated a million dollars to improve water in Africa,’ they be, like, ‘For real?’ That’s something of their world. Being a Bay Area artist, I’m of their world. So you have the opportunity to teach without them knowing."

"People who have influence," FAB continues, "have an obligation to tell people, ‘Preserve life. Save lives. Help lives.’ But it’s hard to reach people if you’re not giving them something they relate to. The hyphy movement is something they relate to. Hyphy gets you in the door, to open their ears to what I’m saying. It’s up to them to digest it."

That night at the club, FAB exerts his influence. When things get salty between security and Dem Hoodstarz’s East Palo Alto associates, the group calls FAB to the stage to perform their collaboration "Ugh." Things chill out. FAB issues an impromptu plea against violence and murders. These are problems no single person can solve, but FAB is doing his part. Yet by the show’s finale — the "Getz Ya Grown Man On" remix, on which he has a verse — Fabby Davis has left the building. Being Mistah FAB, I realize, can be exhausting.


Mistah FAB’s deal with Atlantic is a landmark in a scene long neglected by the majors. Along with Clyde Carson’s signing with Capitol, FAB’s arrangement — including distribution for his Faeva Afta Entertainment — is the first serious acknowledgment of the renaissance Bay Area rap has undergone in the past three years. Unlike E-40, a regional star who’d already achieved putf8um sales on Jive before his push last year by Warner Bros., FAB’s an unknown quantity outside the Bay. And in contrast to Frontline or the Federation — whose deals came through the respective backing of nationally known producers E-A-Ski and Rick Rock — FAB is the first evidence for a new generation of local rappers that enough talent and dedication can get you signed. It’s another weight on the shoulders of the man born Stanley Cox Jr.

"Lots of people are putting their hopes into the album," he acknowledges. "They’re, like, ‘I hope FAB do it, because it’ll kick in the door for all of us.’ I realized when I was creating this album it’s not just something I want to do. It’s something my whole region depends on."

Da Yellow Bus Rydah‘s journey has been anything but smooth, however. Bottom line: Atlantic has postponed the album’s tentatively scheduled spring release, due to controversy surrounding the Ghostbusters-themed advance single, "Ghost Ride It." A tribute to the hood-invented practice of throwing your car in neutral as you walk alongside and steer, "Ghost Ride It" was generating a buzz through its a video on YouTube and the minor-league MTVs when a Dec. 29, 2006, Associated Press story ("Hip-Hop Car Stunt Leaves 2 Dead") linked the song with a pair of unrelated deaths: Davender Gulley, 18, of Stockton, who "died after his head slammed into a parked car while he was hanging out the window of an SUV," and an unnamed "36-year-old man dancing on top of a moving car [who] fell off, hit his head and died in what authorities said was Canada’s first ghost riding fatality." While the scant details obscure whether these incidents stemmed from ghost riding or more traditional automotive horseplay, Fox News’s Hannity and Colmes found the trend alarming enough to call FAB on the carpet in January.

"You understand that a lot of kids look up to you?" Sean Hannity accused rather than asked FAB. "They sing your songs. They dress like you. They talk like you — they wanna be you!" Aside from displaying an oversimplified sense of the relationship between artist and audience, Hannity’s remark reveals a comic lack of familiarity with hip-hop and their guest in particular: what part of "Super Sic Wit It" do you sing? Moreover, while rap fans undoubtedly draw from the same well of slang, the idea that they all talk the same — or even like FAB, for that matter — is a stereotype.

"I don’t think they expected me to be so articulate," FAB recalls with a laugh. Yet among MCs, FAB is singular interview subject. While he has a clear sense of his talent and importance, he’s more apt to discuss his personal relationship with God or how his lonely childhood as a latchkey kid inspired him to create rather than brag about how real he is. His power to articulate the struggle of urban youth — to explain the rage that motivates, say, ghost riding — is the very reason he’s often labeled the spokesperson for a hyphy movement otherwise devoted to "going dumb."

Hannity treated FAB like he’s dumb, but FAB turned the tables. Hannity’s denunciation of his effect on the "kids" prompted the rapper to question whether his influence rightly extends to a Canadian 11 years his senior, which Hannity countered by accusing FAB of wanting as much "money and controversy" as he can get. When FAB speculated on the influence of turning on the TV and seeing 3,000 soldiers die in Iraq, Alan Colmes was sent in as a balm, ending the segment.

"Both those people were adults," FAB says later of the ghost-riding deaths. "I feel bad for the families, but at the end of the day, an adult has to take responsibility for his actions."


The next pothole for Yellow Bus was a late March cease and desist letter from Columbia Pictures for copyright infringement in the "Ghost Ride It" video — just as it was about to debut on MTV’s 106 and Park. "We had permission [to use the Ghostbusters van] from the man who built it and owns it," FAB explains. "But Columbia owns the logo." The video was immediately pulled from all media outlets, impairing Atlantic’s ability to market the single nationally. As a result, the Yellow Bus has been parked. The official explanation, from Atlantic VP Mike Carin, is that the label is focusing on FAB’s "artistic development." Despite the inevitable rumor that the rapper was dropped, Carin confirms that "the deal is still in place."

Still, such delays have silenced many MCs’ buzz: witness how the delay of Raekwon’s album on Aftermath has converted excitement into skepticism, or how the Team’s World Premiere (Moedoe/Koch, 2006) dropped too long after its singles had peaked, leading to lower-than-expected sales. Fortunately, the structure of FAB’s distribution deal allows him an unusual degree of freedom.

"They were willing to sacrifice certain things," he says of his initial decision to sign with Atlantic among competing offers. "They allowed me to do what I want to do — if I want to drop an independent album, I can."


This flexibility has allowed the prolific FAB to immediately walk out another new album, Da Baydestrian, on May 15, through SMC/Fontana. Although, according to SMC cofounder Will Bronson, Atlantic has options to include as many as five of its songs on Yellow Bus, Baydestrian is an otherwise distinct project intended to satisfy the demand for a follow-up to Son of a Pimp. FAB’s also preparing a series of summer releases, including a second installment of the all-freestyle Tonite Show with DJ Fresh. (Fresh, incidentally, edited FAB’s 2005 DVD, The Freestyle King, now packaged with Baydestrian as a bonus.) With Beeda Weeda and J-Stalin, representing the East and West respectively, FAB’s formed the multihood group N.E.W. Oakland, whose mixtape is nearing completion. Prince of Da Bay (In Yo Face/Hooker Boy Filmz), a documentary on FAB by local hip-hop director Dame Hooker, should be out by press time, while FAB’s next DVD, Shoobalaboobie TV, is in the works.

"You do what you have to do to keep the buzz going," FAB says. "Also sales — on the independent level, your numbers are what’s important [to major labels]." Da Baydestrian thus has Atlantic’s blessing, but its commercial success will determine the fate of his deal.

Yet the need to appeal to the marketplace hasn’t inhibited FAB’s creativity, and Da Baydestrian refuses to play it safe. Rather than exploit the hyphy sound he helped establish, FAB only sprinkles it in, most obviously on the remix of the Traxamillion-produced "Sideshow" and the opening title track, one of six bangers produced by FAB protégé Rob-E. The young Martinez-born producer proves his versatility on tracks like the triumphant "Get This Together" and the melancholy "Life on Track," featuring Faeva Afta vocalist J-Nash, whose Hyphy Love drops in August. Another four productions by Son of a Pimp collaborator Genessee contribute to Baydestrian‘s in-house feel even as the family breaks new ground: "Can’t Wait," say, evokes Andre 3000’s explorations of go-go, filtered through FAB’s hyphy sensibility, while "Shorty Tryin’ 2 Get By" is a contemporary "Keep Ya Head Up" spiced with Bay Area R&B. The album is refreshingly free of skits, and guest stars are kept to a minimum, but Too $hort blesses the disc three times, an unambiguous stamp of approval from Bay rap’s founder.

What makes Da Baydestrian one of the most extraordinary albums since hyphy’s inception, however, is its social consciousness. "Deepest Thoughts," for example, hits out at President George W. Bush, but even more pointedly at Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for expanding the prison system instead of aiding the poor. The Sean T–produced "Crack Baby Anthem" addresses teen dope dealers, seeking to uplift without castigating or glorifying their activities — for the nonghetto audience, the song connects the dots between poverty, crime, and the present political climate. FAB describes his approach as "hip-hyphy," presenting an alternative to hip-hop fans who consider hyphy juvenile or incomprehensible. Granted, the disc’s school bus and helmet imagery — referring to the hyphy concept of acting "retarded" — is hardly p.c. Nonetheless, FAB’s lunchbox-wielding Baydestrian is a welcome change from the exaltation of guns and dope adorning your average rap album.

"In no way am I trying to say I’m like Martin Luther King or Malcolm X," FAB explains. "But I realized I could create nonsense and seem to support ignorance, or I can get people to start looking at the reality of it, and the reality of it is that young blacks are dying, not only in the Bay; they’re dying everywhere. We’ve been raised in a warlike civilization. We’ve been brainwashed to accept war as the proper thing to do when things don’t go right."

"Tupac [Shakur] said it himself," FAB concludes. "He said, ‘I’m not going to be the one to change the world. But I guarantee I’ll plant a seed in the mind of someone who does.’ We’re all the Tupac generation. Pac was hyphy."

While I don’t think it’s my place to declare FAB the next Tupac, I can’t fail to be struck by his invocation of the Bay Area icon. On a superficial level, of course, with all his non-thugged-out, cartoonish imagery, FAB is nothing like Pac, just as the hyphy movement differs from the Bay’s mid-’90s sound. Yet locally, if not nationally, the two rappers occupy the same position on the map of hip-hop: like Pac, FAB has cred with nearly everyone, he has a positive message within an utterly street aesthetic, and he makes tunes everyone wants to hear. No rapper has embodied all three attributes since Pac, and that combination makes FAB extraordinary. *

Selling wi-fi


› sarah@sfbg.com

Just before a Board of Supervisors committee finally considered Mayor Gavin Newsom’s controversial free wireless Internet plan May 14, supporters of the mayor staged a rally on the steps of City Hall. The event featured African American ministers, Latino students, and Chinese senior citizens demanding that the city hurry up and bridge the digital divide by approving Newsom’s deal with Google and EarthLink.

"Wi-fi for All" was part of an aggressive push for the plan by Newsom’s reelection campaign team — which organized the rally and a letter-writing campaign aimed at supervisors — yet one that has been denounced as a race-baiting fraud by critics who have long argued that the deal does little to put connected computers in the hands of poor folks and that it’s a better deal for the corporate partners than it is for city residents.

"Chinatown is at the bottom of the line," Self Help for Seniors president Annie Chung announced as busloads of seniors stood up and silently waved their "Wi-fi for All" signs on cue.

"Forty percent of the Latino community do not own or have access to a computer," city resident Ricardo Alva added, while Rev. Arnold Townsend thundered, "Everybody who is opposed to this is going home and online."

Yet Newsom’s contract effectively creates a world of first- and second-class cybercitizens. Those who can afford to pay $22 a month can sign up for EarthLink’s premium service, which gives them a competitive and fast connection speed of 1,000 kilobits per second, plus free relay equipment (such as an antenna if they have reception problems). But those who can’t afford to pay get an account that lets Google do free market research in exchange for slow-speed (300 kbps) service that does not cover the $50 to $200 cost of equipment they might need to receive a connection indoors.

A new study by the Office of the Controller finds that 82 percent of city residents use a computer at home and 80 percent of those use it to access the Internet. So the service is aimed primarily at the 20 percent of folks who have a computer but no Internet access, those who might want to drop their existing service, or those who want to Web-surf in parks and other public spaces. The controller’s City Survey 2007 also notes that while more than 80 percent of the north, central, and west regions are connecting to the Internet at home, only 70 percent of the southeastern neighborhoods do so.

"Between 1998 and 2007, Southeast residents bought home PCs at a slower pace," the survey states, observing that whites are "2.1 times more likely to have Internet access than African Americans." Of non–college graduates, "those over 60 years and particularly Latinos, those without access are even less likely now to get online."

So there’s a certain logic to the mayor’s use of the race card, at least until the public scrutinizes whether universality of access, speed, service, equipment, support, and training are guaranteed under his deal. But Newsom has been unwilling to discuss the proposal with the Board of Supervisors or entertain modifying the deal since he emerged from a Google-chartered Bombardier corporate jet with visions of free wi-fi dancing in his head following an economic summit in Davos, Switzerland.

But supervisors have pushed the city’s Department of Telecommunications and Information Services (DTIS) to investigate the feasibility of city-owned wi-fi and high-speed fiber optics. Those reports, finally made available this spring, confirmed what wi-fi experts had been saying all along: municipal wi-fi is feasible, and fiber is a necessary backbone and complementary service in a city whose famed fog and hills make wireless Internet access a spotty proposition at best and a nonexistent one at worst.

Tim Pozar, CEO of United Layer, which installed free Internet at the Alice Griffith housing project, told us, "The extreme difficulty of reaching users inside of buildings makes the Google-EarthLink wi-fi strategy the worst possible model for bringing Internet to low-income communities which don’t have it yet."

Eric Brooks, a member of PublicNet San Francisco, a newly formed coalition of community groups and Internet professionals, dismisses as "ludicrous" the notion that people will cancel cable and DSL to sign up for EarthLink’s premium service, which the controller’s report said would save city residents $9 million to $18 million annually.

"I have dial-up, and I’m on the third floor of my building, so I’m not gonna cancel my dial-up, because the wi-fi won’t be reliable," Brooks says. And Ralf Muehlen, director of SFLan, a nonprofit that already provides free wi-fi Internet access to hundreds of San Franciscans, wonders who is going to want to pay EarthLink $22 a month "when AT&T sells a 50 percent faster service for $20."

Asked about these concerns, Emy Tseng, project director of the city’s Digital Inclusion program, acknowledges that wi-fi is like cell phones and broadcast TV when it comes to spotty, unreliable reception.

"You might get a stronger signal if your window is facing a light pole or if you have a wireless router, like an antenna or rabbit ears," says Tseng, who is currently talking to manufacturers about getting discounts on computers and relay equipment in an effort to reach an estimated 150,000 underserved residents.

According to the Newsom-negotiated contract, EarthLink will pay the city 5 percent of gross revenues from its subscription services, and these funds will allow the city to try to bridge the gaps in the city’s ever-widening digital divide. Brian Roberts of the DTIS says the city anticipates receiving a minimum of $75,000 in digital inclusion funds per quarter if all goes well and at least $200,000 if the deal breaks down.

"Cost is becoming less of a factor as computer equipment prices fall," says Tseng, who is trying to build community-based support programs within neighborhoods. She believes the two-square-mile pilot project required of EarthLink to prove that its network is feasible will be built in underserved neighborhoods, not downtown, as some critics have feared.

Yet the American Civil Liberties Union warns that Newsom’s deal raises unresolved security and privacy concerns. Blogger Sasha Magee of www.leftinsf.com gives Newsom credit for having opened up a serious discussion about digital inclusion and the government’s role in trying to ensure that everyone has access to the opportunities the Internet represents: "To his credit, the contributions of activists and service providers around digital inclusion programs have been listened to," Magee wrote. "What has not been listened to, however, is the input on what the network should be." *

09 F9


› annalee@techsploitation.com

TECHSPLOITATION I have a number, and therefore I am a free person. That’s the message more than a million protesters across the Internet have been broadcasting throughout the month of May as they publish the 128-bit number familiarly known as 09 F9. Why would so many people create MySpace accounts using this number, devote a Wikipedia entry to it, post it thousands of times on news-finding site Digg, share pictures of it on photo site Flickr, and emblazon it on T-shirts?

They’re doing it to protest kids being threatened with jail by entertainment companies. They’re doing it to protest bad art, bad business, and bad uses of good technology. They’re doing it because they want to watch Spider-Man 3 on their Linux machines.

In case you don’t know, 09 F9 is part of a key that unlocks the encryption codes on HD-DVD and Blu-ray DVDs. Only a handful of DVD players are authorized to play these discs, and if you don’t own one of them, you can’t watch Spidey in high definition — even if you purchase the DVD lawfully and aren’t doing any copying. For many in the tech community, this encryption scheme, known as the Advanced Access Content System (AACS), felt like a final slap in the face from an entertainment industry whose recording branch sues kids for downloading music and whose movie branch makes crappy sequels that you can’t even watch on your good Linux computer (you guessed it — not authorized).

When a person going by the screen name arnezami managed to uncover and publish the AACS key in February, other people immediately began reposting it. They did it because they’re media consumers angry about the AACS and they wanted Hollywood and the world to know that they don’t need no stinkin’ authorized players. That’s when the Motion Picture Association of America and the AACS Licensing Administrator (AACS LA) started sending out the cease and desist letters. Lawyers for the AACS LA argued that the number could be used to circumvent copy protection measures on DVDs and posting it was therefore a violation of the anticircumvention clauses in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. They targeted blogs and social networks with cease and desists, even sending notice to Google that the search engine should stop returning results for people searching for the AACS key (as of this writing, Google returns nearly 1.5 million pages containing it).

While some individuals complied with the AACS LA, in many cases community sentiment was so overwhelming that it was impossible to quell the tide of hexadecimal madness. Popular news site Digg tried to take down articles containing the number, and for a while it appeased the AACS LA. But Digg is a social network whose content is determined by millions of people, and as soon as Digg staffers took down one number, it would pop up in hundreds of other places. At last Digg’s founder, Kevin Rose, gave up and told the community that if Digg got sued, it’d go down fighting. Many other sites, such as Wikipedia and Wired.com, deliberately published the number in articles, daring the AACS LA to sue them. Sites like MySpace and LiveJournal are also rife with the number — like Digg, these sites are made up entirely of user content, and it would be practically impossible for administrators to scrub the number out.

The AACS key protests have become so popular because they reach far beyond the usual debates over copyright infringement. This isn’t about my right to copy movies — it’s about my right to play movies on whatever machine I want to. The AACS scheme is the perfect planned obsolescence generator. It will absolutely force people to upgrade their existing DVD players because soon they won’t be authorized to play new DVDs. Even worse, the AACS scheme allows movie companies to revoke authorized status for players. Already, the AACS LA has revoked the authorized status of the WinDVD media player, so anybody who invested in WinDVD will have to reinvest in a new player — at least, until that player’s authorized status is revoked too.

The AACS, more than any other digital rights management scheme, has revealed that the Hollywood studios have formed a cartel with electronics manufacturers who will do anything to suck more money out of the public. If you want to watch lawfully purchased movies, the only sane thing to do is post the number. Stand up and be counted. *

Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who can’t help but notice that you’re reading this column on a nonauthorized device.

A horse is a horse?


HANDS OFF A professor of mine was fond of posing a certain thought experiment. As Martian anthropologists, free from any earthbound cultural conceptions, his students had to come up with a baseline definition of sex. First he’d field their not wholly impartial attempts. Then he’d coolly roll out his description: it’s an involuntary muscle spasm caused by applied friction.

Writer Charles Mudede and director Robinson Devor attempt a similar thought experiment with their beautifully lensed but frustratingly airy documentary, Zoo. Only, in the case of their subject, the applied friction is generated by an Arabian stallion, which brings about not an involuntary muscle spasm but the accidental death of the man whose colon the stud has perforated in flagrante.

Perhaps no one would have known of Kenneth Pinyan, a divorced Boeing engineer initially identified only by his online moniker Mr. Hands, had he and a circle of fellow “zoos” (short for “zoophiles”) who occasionally got together on a remote farm in rural Enumclaw, Wash., to express their erotic attraction to animals not routinely filmed themselves. But in our culture, nothing stirs up a media shit storm like a leaked sex tape, especially when it’s of the interspecies variety.

Whereas my professor tried to get his students to see how inseparable sex is from culture by forcing us to think outside cultural lines, Mudede and Devor attempt to divorce the “horse sex case,” as it was jokingly dubbed, from the tabloid sensationalism that accrued to it. While Zoo gives the now disbanded and publicly shamed circle of men associated with the incident a space in which to explain their desires, they still emerge as ciphers for a yearning beyond the pale.

Indeed, the oblique strategies Devor favors — talk radio snippets and loose reenactments, off-camera interviews with the zoos and with an animal-rights activist and a cop who made calls to the farm — cast his subject in an almost mythological light. Sean Kirby’s lush cinematography certainly does its part to transform Enumclaw into a rustic Eden; the zoos’ slow-motion ambling toward the barns is swathed in the dusty violet blanket of a blooming tree or silhouetted against the ocher smudge of dawn. We could be in a Ford commercial or in an establishing shot from that other American pastoral of unmentionable vices, Brokeback Mountain.

If the link between bestiality and homosexuality seems specious, or worse yet, part and parcel of the kind of relativism frequently trotted out by the religious right, let’s not forget (thanks, Michel Foucault!) that until roughly the 19th century, be it with horse or man, all nonprocreative sex was considered sodomy. There are echoes of this genealogy in the anxiety voiced among Zoo‘s disembodied Greek chorus over the issue of consent (or its absence). In particular, the animal-rights activist’s likening of the horse to “a violated child” is uncannily reminiscent of conservative rhetoric surrounding homosexuals, supposed predators who, pre-Stonewall, were forced to inhabit a twilight world not unlike that of the clandestine community of zoophiles.

These contradictions and similarities point to some recurrent stumbling blocks in our thinking about sex. The most perverse act in Zoo, it could be argued, is the gelding of the offending stallion “for its own protection,” so that it can no longer be a potential object of desire.

Zoo raises such issues with far more frequency than it discusses them. Unlike Werner Herzog, who tersely evaluated his subject Timothy Treadwell in 2005’s Grizzly Man, Mudede and Devor avoid commentary. Zoo is far more fascinated by this supposed limit case of sexuality than interested in fleshing out Pinyan and his world beyond the details already enumerated in what was surely a very curious obituary. (Matt Sussman)

MY RECTUM FOR A HORSE I suspect there will be a lot of walkouts from Robinson Devor’s documentary about the 2005 Enumclaw horse incident, in which an airplane engineer referred to as Mr. Hands sustained fatal injuries while bottoming for a horse. But it won’t be the easily offended who run from their seats.

The revenue that small theaters are surely losing to senior discounts on Away From Her‘s ticket sales will easily be recouped from ill-informed frat boy field trips to what they think will be Internet Horse-Schtupping: The Movie. Barebacking jokes during the trailers will give way to a disappointed silence during a mesmerizing opening shot of what looks like a pixie flying in a field of blackness, slowly expanding and revealing itself to be the light at the end of a tunnel.

Zoo, intriguingly, never really crawls out of that tunnel. The movie, which is about the horse-loving men in Mr. Hands’ community as much as it’s about his death, presents an impressionistic collage of nature images, reenactments, voice-overs, and media samplings. (Turns out Rush Limbaugh and I see eye to eye on some things.) It’s also a collage of emotional cues: some scenes allow the music to suggest sinister qualities in the men’s activities, but there are also images that look like mood lighting was added to Harry Potter’s photo shoot for Equus, hinting at a level of intimacy that boring old queer and straight folks couldn’t possibly understand.

Devor isn’t just allowing for more than one response to the facts — he appears to be courting them all, creating a sort of controlled chaos that, of course, frees him from the restraints of his own opinion. The result is a coolly aestheticized yin to the snickering yang of the online frenzy in 2005.

This may come off as a cop-out to partisans on either side of the debate, inasmuch as it exists, about zoophilia and bestiality (after all, Edward Albee’s 2002 play The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? lost no artistic integrity in more directly addressing the implications of interspecies hanky-panky). Devor shouldn’t be criticized for undertaking a detached aesthetic exercise, it seems to me, yet to follow this tack with such a flammable subject can’t help but be a comment in some way. But in what way?

Zoo could reasonably be accused of either acquitting the Enumclaw zoophiles by their mere association with the film’s artsy ambivalence or, a more insidious possibility, fostering a hyperawareness of what is downplayed, implying disgust via a kind of negative-space sensationalism. Whatever the stunt, the film isn’t stunted. While some of the reenactments feel a bit too literal for the tenor of the rest of the film and the actors often seem poorly directed, there is an undeniable harmony to the whole. Zoo emits a quiet, narcotic hum that the gross-out contingent in the audience won’t likely stick around to tap into.


Opens Fri/25 in Bay Area theaters

See Movie Clock at www.sfbg.com


Occupational hazards


You think your job sucks? Imagine working as an office drone for multinational corporation Palisade Defence, whose slogan is "We’re hitting a home run for freedom and a time-out for terror!" In Christopher Smith’s black comedy Severance, a team-building weekend (shades of The Office) in Eastern Europe (shades of Hostel) goes gruesomely, satirically awry (shades of Shaun of the Dead). It’s not as scary as last year’s The Descent (nor as funny as Shaun), but Severance is yet another indication that the UK horror invasion ain’t ebbing anytime soon.

Severance is clever, but it’s not really that different from a million other bloodthirsty flicks: a bickering ensemble gets lost in the wilderness, where someone or something starts picking off shrieking victims one by one. It’s refreshing to see grown-ups rather than teens pasted into this scenario, and Smith adds political jabs by making the heavily armed, woods-lurking baddies monsters of Palisade’s own weapons-corp making.

Of course, encountering a rogue militia is hardly the outcome our hapless city slickers expect from their forced journey of togetherness. The group members, who all kind of hate each other to begin with, include an uptight snob (Toby Stephens), a kiss ass (Andy Nyman), a no-nonsense blond (Laura Harris), an idiot boss (Tim McInnerny), and a horny stoner (Danny Dyer). The joke is that there’s never a better time to work as a team than when everyone’s life is in danger — yet unity still proves difficult for these yups in the woods.

But I know what you’re wondering, horror fiend: how repulsively creative are the death scenes? Early on, a comically gross encounter with a bear trap foreshadows unfortunate ends met in booby-trapped trees. Smith, who cowrote with James Moran, also gives us a final girl with enough tenacity to fight back against physical opponents and the indignity of being put on hold when calling for help. With its familiar plot points, Severance may not hit a home run for horror — but there’s an undeniably fun energy propelling all those severed limbs.


Opens Fri/25 in Bay Area theaters

See Movie Clock at www.sfbg.com


Czech, please!


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

A faltering economy is the biggest threat to most national film industries, but Czechoslovakia’s had a more distinct misfortune: it was shut down by occupation forces not once but twice. Most famously, the 1960s Czech new wave, in which talents like Jirí Menzel, Ivan Passer, Vera Chytilová, and Milos Forman first flourished, was abruptly dammed by the 1968 Soviet invasion. The type of widespread film-buff culture that brought attention to those directors scarcely existed when — before the Nazis commandeered local studios and permitted only a handful of strictly escapist films to be made for the home market — the country’s cinema had its first golden age.

Before World War II, Czechoslovakia boasted one of the most adventurous and lively — if not widely exported — movie industries in the world. Of course, this meant there was room for a lot of populist fluff. But the 12 features in the Pacific Film Archive’s new series "Czech Modernism, 1926–1949" show why Nazi invaders sensed a celluloid threat: these films are full of playful social critique as well as imaginative stylistic leaps. They assume that an audience is intelligent and that it will enjoy the subversion of authority. These films don’t provide pacification, let alone propaganda.

As playwright and Velvet Underground fan turned president Václav Havel would suggest some decades later, Czech life — at least the urban variety — has long appreciated the intersection of the avant-garde and leftist politics. The region’s geographic location, between the sophisticated capitalist West and the stylistically impoverished Communist USSR, at times seems directly reflected in these films’ colliding influences, from German expressionism to Soviet formalism to an Erich von Stroheim–esque attitude decadence.

The series’ two movies by director Vladislav Vancura apply a mad stylistic energy to subjects that might easily have been played for simple melodrama or pathos. In 1933’s On the Sunny Side, a pair of city children whose friendship bridges the class divide end up dumped in an orphanage when their parents are deemed unfit: first it’s fatherless, accordion-playing Honza, then pigtailed Babula, whose womanizing dad has just bankrupted the family. Frenetic montages contrast the adult worlds of poor and rich, cutting between breadlines and champagne-guzzling flappers. At the progressive home for foundlings, by contrast, equality is ensured by self-government — as a collective, the kids are better able to look after their own welfare than the grown-ups who’ve failed them.

Vancura’s Faithless Marijka, from the next year, is set in the Carpathian Mountains, with local nonprofessional actors as the leads. But it’s no sylvan idyll. The supposedly central tale of a lumberjack’s cheating spouse is nearly lost amid the struggles of laborers to triumph over their greedy oppressors (whose ranks include a disturbing anti-Semitic caricature).

A similar mix of poetic naturalism and Eisensteinian montage marks Karl Junghans’s 1929 silent Such Is Life. Its titular shrug downplays a vigorous look at some ordinary Prague residents, notably a put-upon laundry worker (Vera Baranovskaya, who played the title character of Vsevolod Pudovkin’s 1926 Mother), her loutish husband, and a manicurist daughter pretty enough to attract major trouble. Similar perils await two office girls lured into a lecherous nightlife in 1931’s From Saturday to Sunday, by Gustav Machatý, who would create an international sensation with Hedy Lamarr’s nude swim in Ecstasy two years later. This time romance rather than lust prevails as the more innocent secretary flees a grabby grandpa and winds up meeting her pure-hearted lower-class match.

Mistrust toward the rich and powerful was also a frequent theme in the era’s Hollywood films, in an attempt to please American audiences suffering though the Great Depression, which in turn triggered Czechoslovakia’s economic hardship. But the criticism in such films was usually glib, the solutions fanciful. Not so here. It’s eye-opening to watch a popular hit like Martin Fric’s 1934 Heave Ho!, widely regarded as the best effort from local comedy team Jirí Voskovec and Jan Werich.

Werich plays a dissolute multimillionaire informed one day that his stocks are worthless and he’s broke. Teaming with an unemployed laborer (Voskovec) who’d ranted against factory-shutting fat cats on the radio (before being dragged off), he discovers — after making a mess of various odd jobs — that he’s inherited a huge building. Unfortunately, it’s just a bunch of steel girders, so the penniless duo hit on the scheme of collectivizing construction with other indigent workers, who’ll have a home when it’s finished. Naturally, corporate types try to thwart this truly free enterprise, but they are treated to the ol’ titular gesture. A socialist semimusical with sight gags and assorted silliness, this sure ain’t Gold Diggers of 1933. *


Through June 24; see Rep Clock for schedule; $4–$8

Pacific Film Archive

2575 Bancroft, Berk.

(510) 642-1124


Quixote’s Mexican Grill


› paulr@sfbg.com

Literary nerds will note a slight irony in the naming of a Mexican restaurant after Don Quixote — a.k.a. Alfonso Quixano — the touchingly quixotic unhero of Miguel de Cervantes’s novel El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha, first published in Spain in 1605. The novel has nothing to do with Mexico, though Mexico has plenty to do with Spain, beginning with a shared language and faith and including a certain goriness in cultural mythology. The restaurant in question, Quixote’s Mexican Grill (which opened toward the end of winter in a little run of shops behind Muni Metro’s Forest Hill station), serves an excellent sangria. I love sangria and soak it up like a sponge, but sangria (the name is derived from sangre, "blood") isn’t Mexican. Sangria, as probably most of us know, is a wine cocktail, and Mexico produces almost no wine. Spain, on the other hand, produces tons; it is one of the world’s great wine-producing lands, and sangria is a distinctively Spanish drink, something to sip, or swill, late on a sun-splashed afternoon under a parasol somewhere on the Costa Brava.

I come not to pick nits, though, because Quixote’s is a charming neighborhood place that turns out some interesting, unexpected dishes, and sangria is lovely whether on the Spanish coast or at the wild intersection of Dewey and Woodside, with a cold city summer sweeping in on wings of Dickensian fog. Sangría de rojo ($7 for a goblet) slyly raises expectations, and the kitchen at Quixote’s, while capably turning out the Mexican standards that have become American favorites (tacos, burritos, enchiladas, and so forth), also offers a dish, Sancho’s borrecherra ($18.95), that features a sauce concocted from beer and wine. New World meets Old, and they dance; more on this anon.

Let’s begin in the middle of the degree-of-sophistication scale, with an old friend that gets restaurant treatments of varying appeal: the chile relleno ($5.95). My companion, a connoisseur of chiles rellenos, wrinkled his brow skeptically when the plate was set before him, but he was relieved to find the pepper — the proper kind, a poblano, deep green and tapered, with a breath of heat — had been roasted and peeled, not dunked in batter and deep-fried. He also approved of the cheese inside (molten queso blanco, oozing) and of the ranchero sauce. I agreed, while noting with satisfaction the sets of ketchup squirt bottles on each table, one filled with red salsa, the other with green. Caveat: the red kind is quite hot.

Caveat, continued: a number of the dishes can be quite hot, as we discovered at dinner one evening. We opened with a sweet-tempered queso fundido ($5.50), a crock of melted cheese presented with a foil envelope containing a huge flour tortilla cut into quarters. The most sensitive palate could have eaten this dish and enjoyed it as we did. That same palate would also have responded warmly to the ocean tacos ($3.50 each), filled with grilled mahimahi, shredded lettuce, and mango dice for a bit of ripe sweetness. But the firestorm was not far off.

Sancho’s borrecherra — a prawn dish — looked tame enough, its sauce the rich color of ale, the prawns peeled and easy to eat. But the seemingly benign amber liquid turned out to be so spicy that the prawns themselves, lightly splashed with it, were little torches, bearers of flame, though shrimp flesh is famed for a delicate marine sweetness. My companion, who has grown less tolerant of spicy food over the years, accepted my offer of a straight-up trade for my mahimahi tacos, and we agreed to joint custody of the borrecherra’s two side dishes, black beans and cayenne corn.

The black beans were fabulous, deeply tasty with no incendiary properties. But the cayenne corn was another matter. Corn, like shrimp, is naturally sweet and takes well to a judicious enlivenment with cayenne pepper. But … not too much! Too much, and you set people’s mouths on fire. My companion, having abandoned the shrimp to me, soon abandoned the flaming corn niblets as well, and while I have retained a higher tolerance for hot food, even I in the end found the corn and shrimp to be a bridge too far. It was as if the sorcerer’s apprentice were working the stoves that night and had by accident knocked over an entire jar of cayenne pepper into a pot, turning a pinch into a fistful. We sought refuge in dessert — in particular, the escudo ($5.95), which our server told us was a Mexican version of the s’more. He was right: What appeared in due course was a plateful of deep-fried pastry triangles dotted with half-melted minimarshmallows and a generous piping of chocolate sauce. If, in some alternate universe, nachos are dessert, then the escudo plate is from that universe. And the only heat we noticed was the physical heat of oven and deep-fryer, pleasantly waning.

Although Quixote’s occupies your typical midblock storefront, a certain amount of thought and effort has been put into making it attractive. The blond wood banquettes have a Scandinavian angularity to them — they could be in a sauna — while the walls have been coated in textured plaster and painted a sunburned almond color to give the sense of old adobe. I associate old adobe with Mexico, not Spain, but I probably do so a little less after a glass or two of sangria. *


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

406 Dewey Blvd., SF

(415) 661-1313

Beer and wine

Moderately loud


Wheelchair accessible

On death and dining


› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS When he talks, his whole face participates, but especially his forehead, which snakes into road maps of thought, and I get lost. When he listens, he listens. This guy went to medical school, completed his residency, and then went, Naw, I reckon I’d rather work in publishing. And for this my new friend Maze is a kind of a hero to me.

A hero and a proofreader.

Phenomenon’s new favorite restaurant is Phnom Penh, a friendly little Cambodian wonderland on the edge of Oakland’s Chinatown. Phenomenon swears by the barbecued chicken, but I ate with the Maze.

And I don’t remember where we were going after, but I guarantee you we were late. I’ve always been a slow eater. Now I’m that plus a chatterbox.

Maze asks about chickens. You almost have to, to be polite. (And then, an hour later, you start to wonder if politeness is perhaps overrated.) I talk about chickens as pets, chickens as dinner, chickens as funny little philosophers, escape artists, workhorses, lessons in vulnerability, art….

I describe in detail how beautiful it looks inside a hen when you butcher her: the bright colors; the next day’s egg, a culinary prize, fully formed; then maybe a soft-shell one; then a full-size yolk; and a winding, twisty twirl of progressively smaller bright yellow globes circling back to the fictional future — which, it turns out, is a clustered galaxy of distinctly astounding yellow dots. I cried the first time I saw it because I didn’t have a camera.

"So in med school when you were dissecting human cadavers and shit," I said, "did it change the way you felt about death?"

The Maze’s brow did what it does when he fixes to speak. He worries about words and sentences them with care. That’s why I really like talking with this guy. "No," he said, finally, thoughtfully. It made him more concretely aware of the fact of mortality and perhaps a little leery of old age — but he was already those things.

He speaks of the smell of formaldehyde, the auxiliary presence of a "prosected" cadaver (in case you can’t find some parts or accidentally mash them or something), and the necessity for keeping things moist, lest "everything starts to look like jerky." And while he is speaking (of these things) … I eat.

Squid salad. Duck curry. Shrimp soup. White rice. Everything was great! Everything was moist! Nothing was missing or mashed or jerkied. Although … never mind.

The squid salad, the squid … There weren’t any tentacles, and that’s my favorite part. The lip ticklers. And the parts that there were seemed almost too nice, too white, and not quite as slimy or chewy or fishy as I like. Which most people would probably see as a plus, I know.

The duck curry had potatoes and string beans and was very mild, maybe coconut milky. And the duck pieces were big and tender and juicy. Delicious!

But the soup had more zing. It was a little bit like canh chua, that Vietnamese hot-and-sour stuff I love, with pineapple and tomatoes. And the shrimp and the zing, but the similarities stop there. This was a different zing, more lemony, more … I don’t know, Cambodian.

Well, I like jerky. I don’t know about cadaver jerky. But beef jerky, turkey jerky, elk jerky. All of these things I have had and enjoyed immensely. Especially on road trips.

But how did I get here? And, more importantly, are we there yet?

No. We are still at Phnom Penh, talking, eating, and being late. There’s a scene of a city or town. I don’t know how to describe this. There must be a word. There is wainscoting, and then above that a kind of continuous strip of low buildings and cool trees and walkways. Not painted or pictured, but protruding, in 3-D or kind of 2 1/2–D. Relief?

All one color. Gold?

And I don’t necessarily recommend this, but if you stood in the middle of the restaurant, spinning around like a ballerina, and were four feet tall with your eyes open, it would be a lot like traveling, looking out the window of a fast car.

Until you fell down and dreamed scrambled eggs with cheese.

"Have nice days," the door of the restaurant says. I’m trying. *


Mon.–Thurs., 11 a.m.–9:15 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 11 a.m.–9:45 p.m.

251 Eighth St., Oakl.

(510) 893-3825

Takeout available




Wheelchair accessible

Ends meet


› andrea@altsexcolumn.com

Dear Andrea:

I’m married to the woman of my dreams and the love of my life. My problem is that with women in the past I’ve always really enjoyed doing it doggy-style. I find it a total visual-animal turn-on, and of course there’s the physical pleasure of the position itself … need I say more? My problem is that my wife and I have never been able to get into the position because of our configuration (I’m tall; she’s short). And though it doesn’t bother her, I definitely miss being able to do it that way. I wonder if other couples have this problem and if you have any suggestions.



Dear Mis:

Yes, they do (of course!), and yes, I do (likewise). Size-discordant couples are common enough — just look around you — that people make products for precisely this problem. Do your part for the economy and go buy something.

I don’t know what happened to the people who made me accept samples of the quite nicely made but incredibly bulky foam wedges and blocks (about the size of my apartment’s closet) meant to enhance one’s sex life by better aligning tab A with slot B, but there are other such products out there. I could never really get into the set I had, anyway, after we used them to prop up a massively wounded leg we happened to have in the family at the time, so I gave them away.

A search on "sex pillows" or "sex position pillows" brings up a number of products, some of them inflatable, which would solve the storage problem. Most sites advertise by draping a pneumatic blond upside down over the product so her hair responds to gravity but her breasts do not, but that can’t be helped. Well, it can, actually: the other place to get wedges, blocks, and bolsters meant to prop up body parts at particular angles is the medical supply warehouse, which is depressing in quite a different way. Your call. Either source should get you something you can work with. Good doggie! I mean, good luck.



Dear Andrea:

My boyfriend isn’t circumcised, and we can’t get a condom to stay on. It’s not for lack of trying: we went through a whole box and even consulted Internet diagrams, with no success. They just wouldn’t go or stay on. So we both got tested, and I went on the pill. While I was there, my doctor lectured me on why I should use condoms, and I explained my situation. He said any condom should fit on any penis at anytime. Are we stupid? Is there a trick?



Dear Mis:

Does "find a new doctor" count as a trick? Anyone who’s ever been a child can remember how it felt to be lectured without being listened to and how one either tuned out ("wah wah wah," went the grown-ups in the Peanuts specials) or made sure to do whatever was exactly opposite the ordered behavior. It’s kind of funny when doctors act this way harmlessly (for example, insisting that my lesbian friend use a condom every time and take a pregnancy test before getting a new prescription), but what about when someone really might be at risk and doesn’t want to tell the doctor because he or she hates getting lectured? How about that, huh?

Anyway. Your question didn’t end up where I thought it was going, considering where it started. Most uncirc’d men who have problems with condoms either can’t get the thing on to begin with or complain of getting bits of themselves caught in a fold of the rubber and going thwap like a window shade in a Warner Bros. cartoon. I’m not even sure how, exactly, a condom is supposed to fall off of something as essentially beflanged as an uncut penis, unless … unless … it’s just too big all round.

You’ve obviously tried long and hard, as it were, and I hate not to give you credit for your efforts, but if all the condoms came from the same box, it doesn’t count. He needs to order a sampler and start trying things on. We women have to do that every time we want to buy a stupid T-shirt, and the guys have it easy with their small, medium, and large. Think of it as his turn having to mess with sizes and styles. Start with something labeled "snugger fit," which on the condom sites is always carefully couched as a matter of preference and not brute biological necessity, so it shouldn’t be too dispiriting.

Then again, counterintuitive but not out of the question: they’re not too big; they’re too tight, like a pair of ill-fitting panty hose that can’t quite make it past your hips to snug in at your waist, so they keep rolling down, and you have to spend the entire day semisurreptitiously yanking them back up. Not that such a thing would ever happen to me or, I hope, you.



Andrea is home with the kids and going stir-crazy. Write her a letter! Ask her a question! Send her your tedious e-mail forwards! On second thought, don’t do that. Just ask her a question.

Public power, underground


› amanda@sfbg.com

Public power advocates are looking for new ways to lay the groundwork for city-owned electricity — by just opening up the ground.

The plan could be a significant step forward for the public power movement and may open a new front in the long campaign to replace Pacific Gas and Electric Co. with a city-run agency.

Sup. Chris Daly has asked the city attorney to draft legislation that would require anyone who digs up a city street, for any reason, to install city-owned power and fiber-optic cables in the hole. That would mean, for example, that when PG&E replaces natural gas lines, as it’s doing all over the city right now, the company would also have to install (or allow the city to install) the infrastructure for a municipal power and communications system.

And since the city will be paying to tear up every single street to replace water and sewer pipes over the next two decades, the plan would eventually create a complete network that could be used to deliver public electricity — and Internet and cable TV — to residents and businesses.

"In 15 to 20 years’ time, we would have an electric grid that’s underground and owned by the city," Daly told the Guardian.

The advantage of the plan is that it may be far cheaper (and more practical) to build an underground city network than to condemn and buy out PG&E’s existing, aging system.

The idea isn’t new: Back in 2004, Sup. Tom Ammiano proposed a similar plan and held hearings on it. Ammiano talked about burying electrical cable as well as fiber-optic lines, which he said would be a far better solution to the digital divide than Mayor Gavin Newsom’s wi-fi plan.

Daly’s idea is to use a special tax program to purchase the equipment at bulk prices and have it on hand for whenever the jackhammers come out.

"The beauty of this proposal is you’re getting the efficiency of the streets being dug up," Daly said, which would reduce costs for the overall plan.

And of course, the final system would be all underground — much more aesthetically pleasing and safer during earthquakes than PG&E’s aboveground grid.

The cable itself isn’t cheap, but Daly suggests the city could take advantage of the Mello-Roos Community Facilities Act of 1982, passed by voters in response to the belt-tightening implications of Proposition 13. With Mello-Roos, local officials designate an area — from as small as a house lot to as large as an entire city — as a community facilities district and levy a tax to pay for improvements to the infrastructure in that area. Similar to a "community benefit district," it must be approved by the property owners, and the funds typically go toward better streets, services, and facilities — including electricity.

It costs the city as much as $380 a foot to dig trenches, then backfill them after installing conduit. But if the street is already torn up, the price of laying electric cable is only about $100 a foot, figures we’ve obtained show. The cost for wiring all 900-odd miles of San Francisco streets would run close to $500 million — less than half of what PG&E insists the city would have to pay to buy out its old lines. And individual neighborhoods could be wired for relatively modest amounts of money.

Daly said CFDs could be established by neighborhood or district and coupled with the installation of renewable energy sources, which the city is planning to do through community choice aggregation. For example, residents in Bernal Heights could decide to add a 2 percent property tax to their bills to buy the power lines, the Public Utilities Commission could put a solar array on the nearby reservoir — and a percentage of that neighborhood’s power would be locally owned and operated and cleaner than putting up a peaker plant on Potrero Hill.

"We’re undergoing a dramatic expansion of our renewables in the city," PUC spokesperson Tony Winnicker said. "If we could move our renewables through our own distribution system, there would be enormous cost savings for our ratepayers."

The Department of Public Works would coordinate the work. "We’ve been running the Street Construction Coordination Center for as long as I’ve been here," said spokesperson Christine Falvey, who’s been with the DPW for more 10 years. The center manages the permits for digging up the rights-of-way and tracks construction projects five years into the future to make sure streets aren’t continually wracked with potholes.

A fiber optics feasibility study prepared for the city by Columbia Telecommunications Corp. and released this past January also recommended that the city take advantage of open holes in the roads. "Opportunities for cost-effective installation of fiber arise each day as City crews work in the right of way. At a minimum, San Francisco should immediately adopt a future-looking policy to add to existing fiber and conduit infrastructure at every opportunity to build up critical mass," the report reads.

About half of PG&E’s lines are already underground, and the company is slowly moving to comply with state mandates that call for more buried cables. But the city’s Utility Undergrounding Task Force reported that at PG&E’s current rate, undergrounding the remaining 470 miles of wires would take 50 years.

San Francisco activists have tried repeatedly to take over PG&E’s system and enforce the federal Raker Act, which requires the city to operate a public power system. But every attempt has required a citywide vote to create a new power agency and to authorize the sale of bonds to buy out the utility’s system — and every time that’s gone on the ballot, PG&E has spent millions to defeat it.

The Daly plan would also require a ballot fight — but perhaps not an expensive citywide campaign. The Mello-Roos taxes could be approved neighborhood by neighborhood. The price would most likely be in the millions, not the hundreds of millions it would cost to buy PG&E’s entire system at once. *

The drug war soldiers on


› gwschulz@sfbg.com

It’s been five months since the Board of Supervisors passed Sup. Tom Ammiano’s ordinance directing the San Francisco Police Department to make cannabis busts its lowest possible priority.

But is it safe to say San Franciscans can openly smoke, grow, or distribute cannabis without being harassed by law enforcement, as the nighttime talk show hosts and news pundits are fond of pronouncing?

Eric Luce, who’s worked as a public defender in Jeff Adachi’s office for the past four years, doesn’t think so. He’s seen a spike in recent cannabis busts and has eight open cases right now involving small-time marijuana sales.

"They’re being charged every day," Luce said. "This is a fairly new phenomenon, and I think it’s linked 100 percent to getting felony conviction rates up."

One of Luce’s clients, a Salvadoran émigré, already faced a stacked deck without trouble from the police. She’s an HIV-positive, transgender woman with a history of clinical depression. During a string of undercover operations conducted by SFPD narcs throughout March and April, an officer approached the woman (Luce requested that the Guardian not publish her name), asking if she had crack.

No, she said, but she did have a little pot, what turned out to be half a gram, hardly enough for a joint. The officer offered $5 for it, but she declined and turned to leave, declaring that she’d rather just smoke it herself. So he raised his offer to $10. She said yes and was arrested.

More than a month later, she remains in jail, and although she was granted amnesty in the late ’80s and has spent the past 25 years in the United States, Luce said, the arrest threatens her immigration status.

In another recent case, three men were arrested at Golden Gate Park in early March for allegedly selling an eighth of an ounce to an undercover narcotics officer. All told, police claim the trio possessed a half ounce between them. One defendant spent a month in jail for it, and Luce’s client, a homeless man named Matthew Duboise, was only released after Luce persuaded a judge that the officers had searched him illegally.

If Luce’s clients otherwise accept guilty pleas simply to get out of jail, District Attorney Kamala Harris gets to characterize these pleas as felony convictions of drug dealers — a significant distinction during an election year — even as she claims publicly to back the concept of low priority. Like so much about the drug war, Ammiano’s ordinance, joined by a handful of other piecemeal legislative attempts in California to soften prohibition, creates as many questions as it does answers.

How would police officers officially make cannabis a low priority? Could they look the other way without sanction? Does the SFPD even care what city hall decides if federal agents continue to insist through their actions and words that possessing or using cannabis in any form is still against the law?

In recent weeks we contacted the defendants in three additional local cannabis busts, ranging from large to small quantities, but none of them would speak to us even off the record about their cases, fearing a backlash at pending court hearings. So we visited the very unsophisticated criminal records division at the Hall of Justice on Bryant Street for a crude statistical analysis of recent marijuana charges filed in the city.

Using the hall’s record index, we conservatively estimated there were well more than three dozen cases filed by the District Attorney’s Office since the beginning of 2007 involving violations of California’s Health and Safety Code, section 11359, felony possession of marijuana for sale. The tally is just for simple drug charges, and that doesn’t even count cases with accompanying charges, like weapons possession or violent assault.

So where are all these cases coming from?

Sharon Woo, head of the DA’s narcotics unit, points out that Ammiano’s legislation specifically exempts "hand-to-hand sales" in public places and was amended — notably at the 11th hour before its passage — to include such sales "within view of any person on public property." She said most of the cases we identified, like the two mentioned above, involved an SFPD response to grumbling from residents about drug sales in certain neighborhoods. The resulting undercover sweeps net 20 to 50 suspects each time.

"The [Police] Department is really answering a community request for assistance, and we’re prosecuting based on the information they give us," Woo told the Guardian. "When it’s in an open place, a public place, we treat hand-to-hand sales of marijuana as seriously as any other type of crime."

Those are only the cases for which there’s a paper trail. Gary Delagnes, president of the San Francisco Police Officers Association (SFPOA) and a former narcotics officer, told us police in the city are more than likely to simply book confiscated marijuana without filing charges against the suspect to avoid paperwork and the perceived inevitability by the SFPD rank and file that Harris won’t prosecute small-time users or growers, at least not with the zeal they’d prefer.

That means the index we scanned wouldn’t reflect instances in which police simply confiscated someone’s pot — possessed legally or illegally — or cases in which a suspect was never arraigned in court but still endured being ground through the criminal-court system. And it’s worth mentioning that at least under city rules, a qualified medical marijuana patient can possess up to eight ounces of dried cannabis, a considerable amount.

Delagnes says marijuana should be fully decriminalized. "But if somebody calls us and says, ‘Hey, look, there’s a place next door to me, and it stinks like marijuana to high heaven, and I just saw a guy in the backyard with 50 marijuana plants,’ what are we supposed to tell the guy on the phone? ‘Tough shit’?"

What’s remarkable is that San Francisco has been through all this before — 30 years ago. Local voters passed Proposition W overwhelmingly in 1978, demanding that law enforcement officials stop arresting people "who cultivate, transfer or possess marijuana."

Dale Gieringer, director of California’s National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said San Francisco all but forgot Prop. W. So how do you prevent the same thing from happening to Ammiano’s ordinance? "You don’t. Law enforcement is unmanageable," Gieringer said. "You have to get state law changed. The only way I know to get state law changed is you … try to build up local support before you finally go statewide, which is exactly what we did with medical marijuana."

Gieringer, who helped Ammiano’s office pen the most recent law, said it was modeled after a similar Oakland version, which explicitly made an exception for street sales. "We were protecting private adult cannabis offenses with the understanding that we didn’t want marijuana sold in the streets, which has been a real problem in Oakland and other places," Gieringer said. "You get all of these neighborhood complaints."

But in another case we reviewed from court records, a suspect named Christopher Fong was pulled over in January near Harold Street and Ocean Avenue and arrested for allegedly possessing five bags of marijuana.

He had a doctor’s recommendation but no state-issued medical cannabis card, according to court records. Under Proposition 215, passed by voters more than 10 years ago, you still don’t need a license to prove to officers you’re a cannabis patient, a fact Woo from the DA’s Office didn’t seem fully aware of during our interview. San Francisco state assemblymember Mark Leno simply created the license system in 2003 to encourage law enforcement to stay off your back with the right paperwork.

So despite each of California’s awkward lurches toward decriminalization, without a complete, aboveground regulatory scheme, users still exist in a form of criminal purgatory, and demand for cannabis still spills onto the street. The most anyone can pray for is being confronted by a cop who happens to be in a good mood that day.

"It still comes down to the discretion of the cop," Ammiano told us.

His law nonetheless quietly represents something that few other decriminalization efforts have in the past: its premise does not hinge on the notion that cannabis possesses medicinal qualities. It simply says taxpayers are weary of spending $150 million statewide each year enforcing marijuana laws and clogging courts, jails, and the probation system with offenders.

The ordinance also includes the formation of a community oversight committee composed of civil liberties and medical cannabis advocates. They’ll be responsible for compiling arrest rates and obtaining complaints from civilians in the city who believe they’ve been unfairly accosted by officers.

"I think [the department] would be more likely to take it seriously if they received a lot of complaints about what they’re doing," said Mira Ingram, a cannabis patient and committee appointee. "So I’m hoping with this committee, we’ll be able to bring all of this stuff out and be a sounding board for people who have problems with [police]."

Ammiano’s office told us the ordinance simply codifies what was already the prevailing attitude in the SFPD’s narcotics unit. But it remains doubtful as to how far the cannabis committee could go in forcing fundamental changes in department culture, especially considering the committee couldn’t punish officers for vioutf8g the lowest-priority law or even for refusing to provide detailed information about individual cases.

"Until we can change that culture, it’s not going to go away," admits Michael Goldstein, another committee appointee. "It would be my hope that … eventually we would have some empowerment to forestall and limit what they do in that regard. But you understand what it takes to completely transform an organization like that. It ain’t gonna happen. I’ve been around [San Francisco] for 30 years."

While Delagnes told us that he’s not altogether opposed to the idea of repealing prohibition, the SFPOA has attacked local officials who publicly support cannabis users, a signal that even after an entrenched, decades-long war against narcotics, the Police Department may be a long way from making marijuana a truly low priority.

Police commissioner David Campos, an aspirant to the District 9 supervisor seat now held by Ammiano, drew fire from the SFPOA when he recently criticized a regular antagonist of the city’s medical marijuana dispensaries, an SFPD sergeant and particularly aggressive drug cop named Marty Halloran.

"Commissioner Campos said Marty Halloran has no business being a police officer," Delagnes angrily told the commission in April. "Oh really? Well, for someone who has obviously dealt with this situation with a complete lack of integrity and has failed to act in a fair, impartial, and objective manner, I believe the opposite is true of Mr. Campos, and perhaps you should not be sitting on this commission."

Does that sound like an end to prohibition looms?

For Luce, the most alarming recent trend is officers finding a homeless street addict as a hook to direct them toward a more prominent dealer. When the arrest occurs, both are charged with felony possession of narcotics for sale.

"That’s not the point of these undercover narcotics operations," he said. "The point of them is to go after hardcore sellers. And what they’re doing is targeting the most vulnerable people out there, these addicts. It’s a way for the police to say, ‘We’re arresting dealers.’" *

Sam Devine contributed to this story.

Why we’re with Mark Leno


OPINION The choice confronting voters in the State Senate District 3 primary in June 2008 is about electing the best candidate who personifies the direction, tone, and future of the progressive movement. Voters want positive changes, unequivocal vision, tangible accomplishments, and a leader who drives the movement forward.

Mark Leno represents the best progressive choice for that type of change. He is an articulate, innovative, and effective assemblymember who always makes a concerted effort to reach out to the people he serves with boundless energy; he will work equally hard as a senator.

As a legislator, Leno ensures that the voices of his constituents are well represented. His issues are driven by the communities he serves. He focuses on advancing controversial issues despite opposition in Sacramento, and he continues to achieve impressive political, cultural, and social milestones.

While serving on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, Leno created the nation’s first medical cannabis identification program, which has become a model for similar programs across California.

On environmental issues, Leno has also won nationwide acclaim for his efforts to promote the use of renewable energy sources such as solar power in San Francisco and across the state.

When it comes to tenant rights, Leno’s legislative record speaks for itself. After many suffered the negative impact of Ellis Act evictions, he authored Assembly Bill 1217 to protect the disabled, elderly, and disadvantaged single-room-occupancy tenants from becoming homeless.

Leno has earned his reputation as a champion and visionary by introducing legislation that prohibits discrimination based on gender identity in housing and employment. Much like the transgender medical benefit legislation that he introduced as a member of the Board of Supervisors in San Francisco, his AB 196 is arguably one of California’s most significant nondiscrimination laws ever enacted to protect transgender people.

In 2005, Leno’s groundbreaking LGBT civil rights legislation to support marriage equality was the first in the nation to win approval by both houses of a state legislature. Although Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill, Leno has reintroduced it and will not quit until it becomes law.

Leno is running for the District 3 State Senate seat because he believes that elective offices belong to the people. He will bring to the office his integrity, experience, and accomplishments in protecting marginalized and underserved communities, promoting environmental protection, and developing alternative sources of energy, and he’ll still remain independent of special interests. He introduces innovative solutions to difficult problems and represents the values of the people of Northern California.

For all these reasons, Mark Leno is our best choice for change. *

Theresa Sparks is president-elect of the San Francisco Police Commission. Cecilia Chung is deputy director of the Transgender Law Center.

Web Site of the Week



While the Democrats in Congress seem to have lost their will to fight President George W. Bush over the Iraq War and other imperial excesses, the Progressive Democrats of America are pushing impeachment and other radical remedies for what ails the country.

Prison insanity


EDITORIAL The dumbest, most expensive, and least effective solution to crime is to build more prisons. We have about 20 years of empirical data to prove that, right in California. Yet the state legislature and the governor have agreed to spend $8 billion, mostly in new bond money, to expand the bloated state prison system.

California currently locks up 173,000 people. Texas, that great liberal bastion of criminal coddling, only has 152,000 inmates. It’s staggering — and the billions this state has spent on cell blocks have had no measurable impact on the crime rate.

In fact, California has the highest prison return rate in the nation: seven in 10 people released from state prisons wind up behind bars again. The state’s ridiculously tough parole laws allow offenders to be locked up again for minor, harmless infractions.

The entire state corrections system is in such bad shape that the federal courts have threatened to throw it into receivership if some of the more glaring problems aren’t addressed. That’s why this package was rushed through without adequate debate and why so many Democrats went along with it.

But the bill that the legislature passed does nothing to address those problems.

The centerpiece of the measure is an ambitious, very expensive plan to build 53,000 new prison beds over the next five years. The sad fact is that the construction boom won’t do much of anything to solve the overcrowding problem: like freeways, prisons fill up as fast as they are built. So in five years, the state will have another 50,000 inmates, and the prisons will still be overcrowded.

And of course, nowhere in the deal is there any proposal for how the state will find the extra money to pay the operating costs of all these new prison facilities. Instead, the prison budget will continue to crowd out social programs (and the bonds will make it harder to pass a high-speed rail bond this fall).

Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez and State Senate President Don Perata made statements highly critical of the plan, and Núñez demanded that the governor resolve a lot of the lingering problems before the construction begins. But they both voted for the bill. (One of the few who didn’t was Sen. Carole Migden, to her great credit.)

The Democrats in the legislature need to go back and start dismantling this bill before it’s too late — and need to take up serious sentencing reform. If they won’t, activists ought to look at a November ballot measure. We don’t want to see a federal takeover either — but anything would be better than this mess. *

A new route to public power


EDITORIAL Public power isn’t a hard sell in principle. For starters, public electric utilities in California offer consistently lower rates than private companies, and in many cases, the rates are far lower. Municipal utilities are more likely to be environmentally responsible and seek better conservation measures and renewable energy sources. San Francisco’s under the thumb of Pacific Gas and Electric Co., which has soaring rates, is plagued by reliability problems, and operates a nuclear power plant.

Besides, this is the only city in the nation that has a federal mandate, the Raker Act, requiring public power.

But the politics are tough: cities that want to go into the power business traditionally buy out the private company’s existing wires, polls, and meters — but that costs a big chunk of money. And any bond act to buy out PG&E’s system requires a citywide vote — which means fighting PG&E’s tens of millions of dollars in campaign cash. Over and over again since the 1930s, the company has defeated citywide bond acts with the pure power of money.

But now Sup. Chris Daly has an approach that might change the calculus.

As Amanda Witherell reports ("Public Power, Underground," page 13), every street in San Francisco is going to be torn up in the next few years, either by PG&E, which is replacing gas lines, or by the city, which is replacing water and sewer lines. Daly wants to require everyone who digs a ditch in a San Francisco street to allow the city to run electric wire and fiber-optic cable at the same time. Since the main cost of burying power lines is the excavation, the city would be able, over the course of 15 years or so, to create a cost-effective, safe, and modern underground utility system. Then there would be no need to buy out PG&E; city officials could simply start selling power on the public lines.

It’s not that simple, of course: the wire itself isn’t cheap — and Daly is looking at a finance system that would require property owners to vote to tax themselves to pay for it. And it’s going to take a long time to complete.

But the system could be built one neighborhood at a time and could be connected to new solar generating systems that the city is planning to construct anyway. So the residents of, say, Bernal Heights or the Haight or the Mission or Bayview could agree to pay for a local city-run electric project. The solar panels would generate power (cheaply), the city-owned lines would carry them, and the savings in energy costs would more than compensate for the modest tax increase.

The city’s Public Utilities Commission has only begun to look into the idea, but staffers there say it’s entirely feasible.

This proposal needs to move forward with all possible dispatch. The supervisors should authorize money for a full-scale feasibility study to look at the costs, the schedule, and the ways neighborhood-based public power projects can be started as soon as possible. The board should approve Daly’s legislation, and the mayor should sign it.

And the public power movement ought to get behind this plan. It’s not an instant answer — but then, neither is buying out PG&E’s system; the litigation alone might take a decade. And if San Francisco can create green public power in even one district, the idea is going to spread. *

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

Ken Garcia, who just loves to bash the left, announced in his Examiner column May 15 that the progressives in San Francisco are in disarray because we don’t have a candidate for mayor. That’s one way to look at it.

The other way — and, like many things in politics, it’s not entirely true but certainly not false — is that the process for choosing a candidate in this wonderful yet still pretty young progressive movement isn’t like anything Garcia would understand.

These days most candidates for public office tend to select themselves. You want to run, you go get the money and the initial support, and you announce. But it’s a little more complicated than that for San Francisco progressives. A lot of people — some elected officials, some community leaders, some hotheaded (and hardheaded) activists — want to be consulted and want a say in the decision. It’s not perfect democracy by any means, and it’s true that the lack of an obvious front-runner speaks to a certain degree of disorganization. But I’m also somewhat pleased that we don’t have a 600-pound gorilla demanding that the field be cleared. And Sup. Chris Daly’s proposed progressive convention may not work perfectly, but at least it’s a nod in the direction of the grass roots helping decide who will carry the torch.

Let’s remember: it’s been only seven years since the progressives finally ended three decades of stifling machine politics and cracked open the local system. Let’s remember: for much of the 1980s and ’90s, we had only self-selected candidates and unaccountable candidates for mayor. And now that the people who broke Willie Brown’s iron grip on San Francisco politics in 2000 are ready to run for higher office, it’s not surprising that they’re a bit cautious about jumping the gun.

We all know what’s going on: Aaron Peskin, Ross Mirkarimi, Chris Daly, and Matt Gonzalez have been approached and courted by all sorts of organizations and people. Peskin and Mirkarimi have said pretty flatly that they aren’t going to run. Daly will if he has to. And in the Chronicle on May 16, Matier and Ross proclaimed that Gonzalez is out of the picture.

I’m not so sure that’s true. I think Gonzalez — who starts off with the highest name recognition, poll numbers, and fundraising potential — is still taking a serious look at the race. I know he’s holding some preliminary house meetings this week and talking to people who aren’t among the traditional progressive voters. He’s also talking to his friends and allies. And I think it’s entirely possible that he could wind up deciding to go for it.

One very good thing that Daly has done is force that issue; if nobody else comes forward, Daly will announce at the convention, and then it will look lame and divisive for anyone else to join the race.

There are, of course, egos and personal agendas playing here; these are, after all, politicians, and (unfortunately) all of our major contenders are guys, which probably makes it worse. But again, let us remember: Daly, Peskin, Mirkarimi, and Gonzalez would all be good candidates. I’d be happy with any of them in room 200. They should all be happy with the idea that one of them could be the next mayor. And if we can all work together to pick a winner, then perhaps we can show the Ken Garcias of the world that this is a movement with legs. *