Volume 41 Number 35

May 30 – June 5, 2007

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The Guardian Iraq War casualty report (6/04/07)


The Guardian Iraq War casualty report (6/04/07): 14 U.S. Soldiers killed this weekend.

Compiled by Paula Connelly

Casualties in Iraq

U.S. military:

14 U.S. soldiers were killed in Iraq this weekend in an effort to flush out militants from war-torn neighborhoods of Baghdad and outlying areas, according to the Los Angeles Times.

3,740: Killed since the U.S. invasion of Iraq 3/20/03

Source: http://www.icasualties.org/

111 : Died of self-inflicted wounds, according to http://www.icasualties.org/.

For the Department of Defense statistics go to: http://www.defenselink.mil/

For a more detailed list of U.S. Military killed in the War in Iraq go to: www.cnn.com

Iraqi civilians:

98,000: Killed since 3/03

Source: www.thelancet.com

64,776 – 70,934
: Killed since 1/03

Source: http://www.iraqbodycount.net

For a week by week assessment of significant incidents and trends in Iraqi civilian casualties, go to A Week in Iraq by Lily Hamourtziadou. She is a member of the Iraq Body Count project, which maintains and updates the world’s only independent and comprehensive public database of media-reported civilian deaths in Iraq.

A Week in Iraq: Week ending 3 June 2007:

For first hand accounts of the grave situation in Iraq, visit some of these blogs:

Iraq Military:

30,000: Killed since 2003

Source: http://www.infoshout.com


Journalists abducted in Baghdad found dead, according to Reporters without borders.
177 journalists have been killed in Iraq since the start of the war four years ago, making Iraq the world’s most dangerous country for the press, according to Reporters without borders.

164: Killed since 3/03

Source: http://www.infoshout.com/


The Bush administration plans to increase quota of Iraqi refugees allowed into the U.S. from 500 to 7,000 next year in response to the growing refugee crisis, according to the Guardian Unlimited.

Border policies are tightening because one million Iraqi refugees have already fled to Jordan and another one million to Syria. Iraqi refugees who manage to make it out of Iraq still can’t work, have difficulty attending school and are not eligible for health care. Many still need to return to Iraq to escape poverty, according to BBC news.

1.6 million: Iraqis displaced internally

1.8 million: Iraqis displaced to neighboring states

Many refugees were displaced prior to 2003, but an increasing number are fleeing now, according to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ estimates.

U.S. Military Wounded:

50,502: Wounded since 3/19/03 to 1/6/07

Source: http://www.icasualties.org/

The Guardian cost of Iraq war report (6/04/07): So far, $431 billion for the U.S., $54 billion for California and $1 billion for San Francisco.

Compiled by Paula Connelly

Here is a running total of the cost of the Iraq War to the U.S. taxpayer, provided by the National Priorities Project located in Northampton, Massachusetts. The number is based on Congressional appropriations. Niko Matsakis of Boston, MA and Elias Vlanton of Takoma Park, MD originally created the count in 2003 on costofwar.com. After maintaining it on their own for the first year, they gave it to the National Priorities Project to contribute to their ongoing educational efforts.

To bring the cost of the war home, please note that California has already lost $46 billion and San Francisco has lost $1 billion to the Bush war and his mistakes. In San Francisco alone, the funds used for the war in Iraq could have hired 21,264 additional public school teachers for one year, we could have built 11,048 additional housing units or we could have provided 59,482 students four-year scholarships at public universities. For a further breakdown of the cost of the war to your community, see the NPP website aptly titled “turning data into action.”

Music Blog



They shoot, he scores


FILM Even if you’ve never heard of the composer Bernard Herrmann (1911–1975), it’s a safe bet that you’ve quoted him at some point in your life. He’s the coauthor of the widely recognized shorthand for murder and mayhem, the mimed downward thrust of a knife accompanied by the high-pitched squeal, "Wee! Wee! Wee!" His collaborator on this contribution to the pop lexicon was Alfred Hitchcock, and its place of origin is, of course, 1960’s Psycho.

Herrmann, one of the most influential composers ever to work in the film industry, actually ignored Hitchcock’s instruction to leave the shower scene untouched. Hitchcock thought Janet Leigh’s death would be scarier without music but immediately relented on listening to Herrmann’s strings tear into human flesh. (He wasn’t so dazzled six years later when Herrmann pulled the same shit with Torn Curtain‘s score; Hitch dismissed the orchestra in a rage when he discovered the composer recording music for a fight scene intended to be left alone.) Though he’s most popularly associated with Hitchcock — he also worked on The Trouble with Harry, Vertigo, and North by Northwest — Herrmann wrote dozens of scores for other directors and for television. I am partial to his theme for the first season of The Twilight Zone (though he didn’t write the "doo doo doo doo" that is the widely recognized shorthand for weird and creepy — that was introduced in the second season).

The Castro Theatre is giving Herrmann the same treatment it gave Ennio Morricone in April, programming a generous sampling of films featuring the composer’s work. Among the selections is his first Hollywood gig, a little picture called Citizen Kane. Herrmann, who followed Orson Welles to Hollywood, had already been working as composer for Welles’s radio anthology, The Mercury Theatre on the Air, for which Herrmann provided musical accompaniment to the mass hysteria of the famous War of the Worlds broadcast. Other inclusions in the Castro’s program are three Ray Harryhausen projects, Brian de Palma’s Vertigo-inspired Obsession, and the last film Herrmann ever scored, Taxi Driver.

His uncharacteristically sax-heavy score for Martin Scorsese’s film has never really been my cup of tea, to be honest. My favorites are the overture to 1962’s Cape Fear (which film composer Elmer Bernstein adapted and conducted for Scorsese’s remake), Psycho‘s Prelude (an obvious but unavoidable choice, all the more so thanks to Busta Rhymes’s "Gimme Some More"), the spiraling freefall of Vertigo‘s Prelude, and Fahrenheit 451‘s "Suite for Strings."


June 1–7, $6–$9

Castro Theatre

429 Castro, SF

(415) 621-6120




› a&eletters@sfbg.com

There’s a section in Josh Kornbluth’s new show wherein the veteran (but weirdly ageless) monologist, waxing on admiringly about Sheldon S. Wolin, notes his old Princeton political science prof’s capacity for turning a student’s half-baked ideas into $10 notions. It reminded me of a professor I knew who was adept at the same thing. I’ve forgotten the exact metaphor Kornbluth employs to describe this pedagogical magic act, but I used to liken it to pushing a battered old Dodge across the seminar table and having the professor transform it into a Rolls Royce before sending it gliding back with your name on the license plate.

Of course, as anyone who knows his style will attest, the same might be said of writer-performer Kornbluth — or Citizen Josh, as his solo play premiering at the Magic Theatre has him. Kornbluth, though, works his similar magic with his own thoughts, the detritus of a quick but wandering mind: the memories, spontaneous associations, and clumsy social encounters of daily life. He manages to swirl these together, with plenty of humor, into a big, inquisitive stew, until they coalesce into a solution to the problem he has set for himself and his audience, whether it’s growing up in (and out of) a red diaper, negotiating the nightmare that is the federal tax system, or, in the present case, coming to terms with the meaning of democracy in the United States.

It’s in keeping with Kornbluth’s at once self-deprecating and knowing humor that this exploration of the American institution takes place on a stage efficiently made up to suggest a classroom. He and director-collaborator David Dower (along with production designer Alexander V. Nichols) proffer a short bookcase, an American flag on a freestanding pole, and a slide projector and screen. But Kornbluth stands there as teacher and student, we soon realize, and we’re merely along for the ride.

The spark sending him back to civics class comes from his frustrated disillusionment following the 2004 election, a response challenged by his Berkeley neighbor — an old-school chum and political scientist — as not in keeping with a democratic ethos. (You too may be wondering exactly how democracy fits into national elections these days. But as our guide suggests, for the purposes of this exercise, "Let’s just say it’s not passé.") Before giving up on democracy altogether, Kornbluth agrees to do some digging into the subject. (There’s a more fundamental incentive than saving face with his neighbor: Kornbluth’s son, while not a very detailed or developed character in the show, nonetheless provides his father with a certain critical perspective throughout. Fatherly instincts demand he do something to save the world his child will inherit.) The research sends him bouncing across a lot of time and territory, including his first year at Princeton, his graduation day four years later (when the desultory student did not officially graduate but rather began a 27-year incomplete that he finally decided to remedy by contacting senior thesis adviser Wolin), and even 1957 Little Rock, Ark.

In this last instance (a particularly well-written and engaging passage), he unpacks the image of the famous photograph depicting African American high school student Elizabeth Eckford — one of the Little Rock Nine, who tried to enter a previously all-white school — and the white woman spewing racial epithets behind her, one Hazel Bryan, whose democratic skills were none too desirable. Since Kornbluth catches himself "going Hazel" in a playground dispute (literally) with another Berkeley neighbor, this is also a self-effacing and humanizing reference that eschews simple dichotomies of good and evil in the name of the hard, imperfect work of talking to, rather than past, one another. (Much of Kornbluth’s monologue takes place, figuratively speaking, in Berkeley’s Ohlone Park, known as People’s Park Annex during the student protests of the late 1960s and still host to the lumpy lattice dome welded together there by protesters, which the unsuspecting Kornbluth uses as a cell phone reception platform and refers to in aesthetic horror as "the structure.")

It’s a bumpy ride, all said, for this self-fashioned Don Quixote of democracy. The first 15 minutes or so feel almost too neat, too presentational or precious. Then, as Kornbluth relates the story of his brother’s troubled beginning as an extremely premature newborn — and his (by now famous) nonconformist father’s startling intervention to save the baby — the performance moves suddenly to a new and altogether gripping register. Although it’s not entirely sustained afterward, the next hour proves an engaging one. At the same time, the show ends on an upbeat note of liberal defiance and optimism that is hard to credit in an era when even Wolin can write, in 2003, that "a kind of fascism is replacing our democracy." The show’s overt politics is less satisfying than the nuance and complexity that emerge from the more personal and idiosyncratic passages. Citizen Josh is at its most charming and compelling when the accent falls on the second half of that moniker. *


Through June 17

Tues.–Sat., 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 and 7 p.m.; $20–$45

Magic Theatre, Sam Shepard Stage

Fort Mason Center, bldg. D

Marina at Laguna, SF

(415) 441-8822


Grape loss


› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER As the Summer of Love turns 40 with a whiff of the haven’t-we-been-here-before birthday blues and a soupçon of marketing bluster — if you can’t trust anyone over 30, as one boomer so succinctly put it, well, doesn’t 40 seem beyond the pale? Look out, big five-oh! — one wonders less about where all the good times went than how we can look ourselves in the eye while we try to resurrect a past, now conveniently viewable through the rosy-hued granny glasses of nostalgia, after writing off the real thing. ‘Cause the reality isn’t always as pleasant, sexy, or sensationally deadly as, say, the post-’67 summer bummer of Altamont.

Witness the real final years and quiet death of Skip Spence, now considered the Bay Area’s Syd Barrett and one of the most notorious songwriters in Moby Grape, still regarded as the best combo from the SF rock scene to meet the least success — the overly hypey simultaneous release of five singles from their self-titled ’67 debut (San Francisco Sound/CBS) is said to have damaged their cred. What kind of fanfare did Spence, the original Jefferson Airplane drummer and onetime member of the Quicksilver Messenger Service who inspired Beck, Robert Plant, and Tom Waits to cover his music on More Oar: A Tribute to Alexander "Skip" Spence (Birdman), receive around the time of his South Bay death in 1999? On the occasion of the release of Listen My Friends! The Best of Moby Grape (Legacy) — the title cribbed from the rousing, flower-strewn Spence-penned boogie anthem "Omaha" — and a tentative Grape date at the Monterey Pop 40th-anniversary event in July, I spoke to Spence’s youngest son, Omar, from Santa Cruz to get an idea.

"My dad drank, but he wasn’t doing heavy drugs," says the longtime private investigator who now works construction when he isn’t playing guitar, singing, or leading worship at Calvary Chapel. When, in 1994, Omar got reacquainted with his father at the urging of his two older brothers, Skip was living as a ward of the state in a Santa Clara halfway house with a 10 p.m. curfew and was suffering from schizophrenia. According to Omar, Skip’s everyday routine at the time consisted of panhandling on street corners in order to get beer and cigarettes. "He would buy a quart of beer and nurse it all day," his son adds with a chuckle. "He just wanted a trophy."

Whisked out of a chaotic life with Skip by his mother when he was about three, Omar, now 39 and with a family of his own, readily confesses that he harbored a lot of anger toward his father. Still, he confesses, "When I saw my dad, it broke my heart. I loved him instantly. My brothers brought him to Santa Cruz and took him to lunch — he had a bad leg, and we bought him a cane. But he was very sick. There were moments of clarity when he was genius smart, and then he’d wander off having a conversation with himself. Here’s a homeless guy that most people would walk past and pity, and he’d say, ‘I’ve been working on a song,’ and he’d scratch out some bar chords and musical notes on a napkin."

Omar tried to get involved in Skip’s life and rekindle their relationship, though his father couldn’t live with him because of Omar’s children and the care Skip required — this was, after all, the man who legendarily interrupted the recording of the Grape’s second LP, Wow (Columbia, 1968), by taking an ax to the hotel room door of guitarist Jerry Miller and drummer Don Stevenson, a supposedly acid-triggered episode. "I tried to get him to move here so I could be closer to him, and then I found out he was seeing a gal. I was, like, ‘I hope he doesn’t start a family. He’s not the daddy type,’" Omar says, sounding like the little boy whose father used to lead the kids in alarming wake-up serenades aimed at Mom. (Fortunately, the girlfriend turned out to be a "sweetheart lady" who wanted Skip to live with her in a Soquel mobile-home park.)

Reviving Skip’s musical career, however, didn’t seem to be an option, although Omar says his father found a way to play at Grace Baptist Church in San Jose. "People would give him a guitar, and he’d give it away," his son explains. "You’d give him a jacket, and he’d give it away. He was just a very giving guy. It was really humbling in a way. You could see the side of him that people loved."

The old Skip, who bounced around onstage and was "most vulnerable to being out of control," would probably have gleaned the irony that his conscientious youngest son was the one to step into his shoes now that, after decades of legal battles, the Moby Grape have won the right to use their name from their old manager Matthew Katz. With much encouragement from Skip’s ex-bandmates, Omar has been practicing with the Grape, playing and singing his father’s parts. "I wish my dad was here right now to experience the fruit of this," Omar says. Nonetheless, he adds, "My dad knew they really had something, even when he was sick at the end of his life. He had a cockiness about him. He knew he was good and they were good. And they can still play." *


"We saw baby owls on the fence outside a gig in Ashville, North Carolina. Cutest thing you’ve ever seen — little tufts coming out of their ears," says singer-songwriter Laura Viers, who was tempted to snap a photo for her favorite site, Cute Overload. Tues/5, 9 p.m., $12. Cafe du Nord, 2170 Market, SF. (415) 861-5016



Fierce psych jams meet crooked folkies. With Spindrift and Greg Ashley. Wed/30, 8 p.m., $14. Independent, 628 Divisadero, SF. (415) 771-1421


After dropping much Philip K. Dick and Scooby-Doo, the Portland, Ore., dystopian deconstructofolkies came up with the forthcoming shaggy dog of a good-bad-time album, Wild Mountain Nation (Looker Cow). With the Hold Steady and Illinois. Wed/30, 8 p.m., $15–$17. Slim’s, 333 11th St., SF. (415) 255-0333


The white witch of the east reveals The Shapes We Make (Kill Rock Stars). With the New Trust and Pela. Thurs/31, 9 p.m., $10. Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., SF. (415) 621-4455


Battle raps don’t get any funnier than when the LA comedian attempts to beat down the Burmese vet. Sat/2, 9 and 11:30 p.m., $10. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. (415) 923-0923


Not chicks but a polished, androgynous all-female pop-rock band from Toronto. Sun/3, 8:30 p.m., $10. Cafe du Nord, 2170 Market, SF. (415) 861-5016


When they’re not putting the mental in experimental Muzak, the local noise lotharios of Sergio Iglesias and the Latin Love Machine mess with out-of-towners like Monterrey, Mexico’s Antiguo Autómata Mexicano. With Evil Hippie. Sun/3, 9:30 p.m., $6. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. (415) 923-0923

Grapes of steel


› paulr@sfbg.com

If the wine gods should decree that I must no longer be permitted any whites, I would weep — but survive too. While it may be true, as Deuteronomy instructs, that "man does not live by bread alone," he — or we or I — surely could make do with red wine only. The charms of red wine are considerable and inescapable, from the gracious lean strength of a good pinot noir to the cherry-and-pepper bouquet of a côtes du Rhône or zinfandel in its prime. Red wine is, somehow, gravid with life itself.

And yet … I am one of those people for whom white wine is not a second choice or second-rate. A well-chilled white for me can have some of the same limpid elegance as a martini — at least if it is a well-balanced white, crisp with acid and properly founded on minerality. The French make this sort of wine better than anyone else in the world, with excellent examples from Sancerre, Vouvray, and Chablis, to name just a few appellations, and if California-made wines in this style are much harder to find, that just makes looking for them more fun.

At a recent tasting of forthcoming Burgundian and Alsatian bottlings, I was reminded of the gold standard, which in this setting (at Masa’s) took the form of a Chablis: Domaine Faiveley’s Grand Cru Les Clos, a beautiful straw-colored wine made as if from grapes of steel. The fruit used is in fact chardonnay, and some of its appley character could be detected amid the sweeping sense of earth and sky — terroir is the French word — that make Chablis and Sancerre whites more alike than not. Although white Sancerres are made from sauvignon blanc grapes, the two districts are quite near each other and produce remarkably similar wines. (Chablis is one of France’s greatest appellations, incidentally, and how the name came to be slapped on supermarket jug wine in this country is a mystery.)

A few days later, I found myself at a sun-spattered winery open house, breathing in the tropical fumes of various California chardonnays — each quite good in its way, if you like that way, the Barry Bonds, unnaturally big, toast-with-butter-and-vanilla way. I found myself wondering: is there a red in the house, even a simple house red?

Ask Dr. Rock


ASK DR. ROCK Even local recluses know that everybody wants to be a DJ. From your cutty hesher bro who insists that his Uriah Heep tribute night is going to change the world to the fluorescent-T-shirt-laden electro-rave recumbents shredding away at their Sorato setups, the city is no stranger to DJ glamour. That said, it’s pretty fucking weird that very few DJs — and their nights — actually garner the glitz of people coming out to dance to their lauded record collections.

During the past few months I’ve shape-shifted from scene to scene, noting what it takes to keep people moving, howling, and grinding up against total strangers. Whether playing an obscure night of prog, psych, and metal at the Casanova (which has been oddly embraced by a swarm of Marina-fashioned, post-25-year-old women — more on this later) or the predictable Klaxons remixes at the late Frisco Disco, the DJs — and their enthusiasts — are there for a reason. So what does it take to be an employed DJ in SF?

1. No haters club If you want to play records, do it for people who want to hear some ripe jams. Bite the bullet, and befriend your promoter nemeses. No one wants to dance for someone who can’t stand the sights on the dance floor. When was the last time a resident at New Wave City was over playing New Order? That’s right.

2. I am somebody It’s a sad fact, but you must have some credentials to rock a party, man. Either know your fellow DJs, be in a band that people care about, or find the people who will give you a chance to make some night moves. Do you really think that Michael Mayer or DJ Kaos just played sick tracks and all of a sudden people started flying them everywhere?

3. Get some Get some new bangers. Fuck it. With the goddamn Internet in full effect, you know that you can find something better than Prince. And for Christ’s sake, do not play Queen, Michael Jackson, or Justin Timberlake remixes. Have enough balls to stand out. The dance floor will respond. I’ve never seen so many Seven Jean–adorned women in their mid-30s psyched on the Melvins — you just have to own it.

4. Know your place While it’s great that the digital revolution has eased its way into the club, allowing for thousands of possibilities outside the crate, it helps to know the birds and bees of DJing. That doesn’t mean it’s all about the mix. It means that if you’re trying to break into a residency at Shutter, you can’t just have a bunch of Sisters of Mercy ready for deployment. You have to have the right Sisters of Mercy and then some 45 Grave — and still be able to bring it into the Cure B-side that you know will make limbs fly all over the place.

5. The facts of life It’s really all about whom you know. Fortunately, this city is übersmall, so get out of the crib and make your way into the sea of party crushers.

Issues finding the beat? Problems in clubland? In a bad funk? Welcome to our new music advice column, Ask Dr. Rock. Write us at askdrrock@sfbg.com.

The personal history, adventures, experience, and observation of David Copperfuck


What’s up with all these "fuck"-ing bands of late? I’m referencing the band name phenomenon: it used to be about being "pink" this or "black" that or "wolf" or "bear" something, but it looks like our favorite four-letter word is now reaping the benefits of name-gaming fun. "Fuck" names might be nothing new — we all recall the Matador Records’ Bay Area outfit that sported the word in its singular form during the ’90s — but it looks like being a "mountain" nowadays just isn’t as cool as it used to be.

To David Copperfuck — vocalist Molly Samuel, drummer Dean Bein, guitarist Chris Baker, and bassist Avi Klein — the so-called trend is a joke. The mere mention that their moniker snagged top billing in the Onion for an end-of-the-year poll titled "Worst Band Names of 2006" generates a round of laughter from the San Francisco punkers. Baker jokingly reveals while hanging out in Samuel’s bike-littered Mission District apartment that "it was really challenging to shoot ourselves in the foot" and that the quartet were "just fucking themselves over ahead of time" by selecting the alias.

"We weren’t trying to be clever or anything," Bein adds while lounging on a recliner. "We were just trying to capture the essence or magic of a couple of words."

But then nothing serious seems to resonate with this bunch. During our two-hour powwow, the group resembles four giddy college kids stretched out lazily on Samuel’s couches, sipping cans of beer and bullshitting about their day jobs, their obsession with the apocalypse, and various extracurricular activities.

"I’m in a play," Bein says when asked whether any of David Copperfuck’s members currently play in any other bands. "It’s called Jurassic Park 4."

"But you have a show, right?" Samuel inquires.

"Yeah, we’re opening for Japanther," Bein replies before cracking a wry smile.

David Copperfuck formed in San Francisco in the fall of 2005, but their friendship harks back to 2002, when they first met at Oberlin College. The four were actively involved in the school’s indie scene and played in two groups, Red Tape Apocalypse and Zohar.

"This band is sort of an amalgamation of those prior bands," Baker says. "RTA was like straight-up, Blatz-style punk with two singers going full throttle, while Zohar was more about going big-time, playing the long songs, and trying to do something that was beyond our technical skills."

The band members acknowledge that they found it hard to continue after graduation with the two projects, which broke up as everyone began to relocate. By August 2005, the members of David Copperfuck had all migrated to San Francisco and, according to Samuel, knew they were going to start a new group once they got here. And it looks like the Oberlin gang’s West Coast venture was a smart choice after all: in its year-and-a-half existence, David Copperfuck has immersed itself in the Bay Area’s thriving punk community and currently plays out as much as possible.

"I don’t think we’ve ever asked for a show," Klein says. "We never really campaign. That can sound really immodest, but we just have friends, and we are supportive of those people and their bands, and they return the favor, I guess."

And regardless of whether they’re sharing the spotlight with floor crouchers, basement dwellers, or bus rats, the quartet is definitely hip to the unconventional venue. So the title of David Copperfuck’s debut 7-inch, "Chalet Chalet" (Party Turtle), seems fitting. It’s a crunchy mix of three-chord guitars, bass distortion, and frantic drum noise that recalls bands such as the Germs, the Bags, and Crass. Samuel’s distraught bark adds to the fray.

"I feel like our shows are always really fun, because there’s not really any posturing," Samuel offers. "We’re pretty unassuming with the people. We set up, and then it just kind of explodes, and it’s like ‘Here we are.’"

The four hope to soon release dual split singles with Oakland’s KIT and Orinda’s ParasitesGo! and will also embark on their first West Coast tour with Connie Fucking Francis in June. They also run True Panther Sounds, a record label they started in college, which has released albums by Lemonade, Broken Strings, and Standing Nudes. So what took David Copperfuck so long when it came to documenting themselves? Bein confesses that their debut single took a while to make because of their "inexperience with the whole record recording and releasing prospect of being in a band."

"I think we are about as unprofessional as it goes," Klein says with a laugh. "Live is like the only thing we can do."


With Didi Mau and Manhater

Thurs/31, 9:30 p.m., $5

Eagle Tavern

398 12th St., SF

(415) 626-0880


Negative creep


› duncan@sfbg.com

"Do you always have to offend everyone?" So ran a comment — anonymous, of course — on a piece I’d written for an undergrad creative writing class, a piss take on the Our Father titled "Our Father II." This was in the early ’90s, when I was still planning my escape from junior college and the burbs. Another classmate suggested that I "try going on a fishing trip or getting laid or something" so I could "write something positive for a change."

During this time in my life, Unsane (Matador, 1991), the eponymous debut by the East Village meat grinders, was in heavy rotation on my turntable, the cover displayed upright on the stereo cabinet: a man on the subway tracks, his head neatly severed by the downtown train. In an era rife with rawboned noise rock, the record was the ne plus ultra of anger and aggression: as violent and uncompromising as golden-age Slayer, but more immediate and less mythical. Whereas Slayer sang about historical creeps Ed Gein and Josef Mengele, Unsane’s Chris Spencer screamed his throat raw about that guy, right there, sitting across the aisle from you with an ice pick in his pocket, staring. Musically, he somehow managed to take the country staple Fender Telecaster and wring the twang out of it, giving it a metal-on-metal screech like that subway train with its brakes locked.

Years later, after logging a decent amount of coitus and fishing trips, I had lost neither my predilection for the aggro or for Unsane. I’d wander around the SF State campus stressed, thinking deep collegiate thoughts, scowling, and muttering to myself, borderline Trenchcoat Mafia and pre–selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. I got into a philosophical argument with a poet visiting one of my classes. She was heavily into Zen and read a few poems about sweaty horses and wild roses. They were well crafted and praiseworthy but raised hackles when their author, all blissed out on Mill Valley and whole grain, contended that the purpose of poetry is to convey beauty. That’s an option, sure, but what about ugly? If the only purpose of art is to strive for beauty, what separates it from a Cover Girl commercial, from the consistent mainstream message that things, such as they are, are not as they should be? "Beauty is truth, truth beauty," John Keats wrote in "Ode on a Grecian Urn." I prefer the adage "Beauty is only skin-deep, but ugly goes to the bone." Sure, the Lorax speaks for the trees, but who will speak for the twisted, ugly, and bitter?

It’s a rhetorical question, of course. Three albums — not counting singles and greatest-hits comps — and four labels later, Unsane are back with Visqueen on Ipecac, with its cover of a body wrapped in plastic sheeting and dumped in a meadow. Over the course of its career, the band has toured relentlessly, including an opening stint with Slayer; lost a drummer to a heroin overdose; and inspired dozens of noise bands, some the real deal, others merely aping it. In February 1998, Spencer was attacked by four people in Amsterdam and needed emergency surgery for internal bleeding. So while you can look at the photos on Unsane’s site and see the band members smiling and horsing around, their recordings are decidedly missing that "good day, sunshine" vibe. They’ve been there, and they’ve seen it. "This city is packed full of lowlifes," Spencer sings over a forlorn harmonica on the ominously titled "This Stops at the River," "and all I can see in your eyes is fear."

It can be argued that there’s a certain homogeneity in Unsane’s fixation on the shady side of the street. "I know it’s only pain / I know it’s all the same," Spencer reveals in a moment of self-awareness. Both Keats and my classroom visitor had it right — and they both had it wrong. Zen isn’t a hippie chill pill; it’s about seeing clearly what’s there. This is the picture, Pollyanna. This is the whole thing. You live in the city; there are no more truffula trees. There are no more barbaloots in their barbaloot suits. There’s a boot on your car, rent’s due, the phone’s been disconnected, and there’s a junkie sitting on the curb, shooting up in his foot.

There are things you can count on in this world, and that same, punishing Unsane sound, with minor variations, will be there when you need release. Keats died of tuberculosis at 25, coughing up blood. If "beauty is truth, truth beauty," then either his death was a lie or all the death and blood and bodies wrapped in Visqueen have some kind of underlying beauty. There is an aesthetic in violence and fear that forms a more satisfying whole than roses and Grecian urns alone. What does an urn hold, after all, but ashes? *


With 400 Blows and Mouth of the Architect

Tues/5, 9 p.m., $10

Bottom of the Hill

1233 17th St., SF

(415) 621-4455


Return to the sixth dimension


› cheryl@sfbg.com

It’s nearly impossible to describe Forbidden Zone to the uninitiated. It’s a musical, a surreal fairy tale, an avant-garde live-action cartoon, and a strangely alluring jab at the boundaries of good taste. It’s black-and-white and nutty all over — and has become a cult sensation since its 1980 release. A film as singularly odd as Forbidden Zone obviously has one hell of a backstory. Fortunately, I didn’t have to sneak through any basement portals to track down director and coscripter Richard Elfman. Now the editor of Buzzine — an entertainment and pop culture mag with a bustling Web site, www.buzzine.com — Elfman e-mailed and chatted with me over the phone about what’s possibly the strangest movie ever made, featuring the first film score by his brother, Danny Elfman.

Surprisingly, Richard revealed quite a few San Francisco ties; he lived in the Haight and in Berkeley in the 1960s and ’70s, playing in an Afro-Latin percussion ensemble that later gigged in Las Vegas. He also spent some time working with the Cockettes, who introduced him to Max Fleischer’s Betty Boop cartoons, a Forbidden Zone influence. A fateful trip to a Toronto theater festival introduced him to the Grand Magic Circus, a French troupe that encouraged his eclectic theatrical tastes.

SFBG How did you move from the Grand Magic Circus to form the Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo?

RICHARD ELFMAN Shortly [after the Toronto festival], the Magic Circus opened a major show in Paris. I was invited to join the company, which I did, and soon brought my younger brother Danny in. I married the leading lady, Marie-Pascale — Frenchy in Forbidden Zone. The show was billed as an avant-garde musical, but in fact much of it had roots in both turn of the century absurdism and French classical comedy.

After a year of touring Europe and beyond, I, along with Frenchy and my childhood friend Gene Cunningham [Pa in Forbidden Zone], formed the Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo back in Los Angeles. My brother Danny, who went from the Magic Circus to a year in the African bush — I’m not joking — joined us shortly thereafter. The Mystic Knights incorporated absurdist comedy with an eclectic mix of great older music, pieces [by Cab Calloway and others] that could no longer be heard live elsewhere, along with original avant-garde pieces by Danny. As the ’70s moved along, I went off to other projects; under my brother’s direction, the Mystic Knights were ultimately bent into a rock band, Oingo Boingo.

SFBG Obviously, several of the performers in Forbidden Zone were from the theater troupe — but how did Susan Tyrrell and Hervé Villechaize get involved?

RE Well, the film had Frenchy [who starred and was the production designer], Gene, my brother, and all of the Mystic Knights, along with Danny’s childhood friend and original Knight, Matthew Bright, who played Squeezit and René Henderson. He also cowrote Forbidden Zone and went on to write and direct films like Freeway [1996]. Matthew’s roommate at the time was Hervé Villechaize, the king. Hervé’s girlfriend was Susan Tyrrell, the queen. Et voilà!

SFBG What were some of the challenges you faced during filming?

RE I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing when I started, but I eventually figured things out and got — over three arduous years — something that gives the sense what our Mystic Knights shows were like. The music was easy, as I had experience staging and choreographing musicals, and my little brother is Mozart. The animation bankrupted me, however. We inked things cell by cell, the old-fashioned way. Susan and Hervé had their occasional spats, although they were both supreme troopers who kicked their Screen Actors Guild checks back into the production. Hervé even helped Frenchy paint sets on weekends.

SFBG How much of the film was scripted?

RE It was all scripted; nothing was spontaneous. In the number "Bim Bam Boom," I had a really shy guy whose lips semifroze when it came time to lip-synch the song. So I had Matthew Bright’s lips superimposed over his. I use that example even today as an admonition for actors to do as I say.

SFBG The film is now known as a stoner classic, so I feel like I have to ask if there were any chemicals involved — and if not, where’d you come up with the story? Were you inspired by other filmmakers or artists?

RE Personally, I don’t take drugs. Wine and women, or woman — I am presently remarried — are as many intoxicants as I can handle. In terms of other inspiration? Along with Max Fleischer, the Cockettes, and Jerome Savary and his Magic Circus, I was influenced by Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Josephine Baker, Latin great Miguelito Valdez, and Aaron Lebedeff of the Yiddish theater. Design style? Definitely German expressionism, which serves one well if your whole art budget is only 40 rolls of paper and 12 buckets of black and white paint.

SFBG When the film came out in 1980, what was the reaction? Did it have a regular theatrical run?

RE Well, it had a brief summer run of scattered midnight shows. It was banned from the University of Wisconsin and other institutions of higher learning. I remember there was an arson threat in Los Angeles one night. Censorship rears its head in many guises; in our case the politically correct tried to kill Forbidden Zone, although they were not entirely successful.

SFBG Did you have any idea Forbidden Zone would be a cult hit?

RE I had thought the film had totally disappeared. About five years ago, when I put my first Web site up, I received e-mails from fans from around the world. Apparently bootleg videos had been going around for years, picking up new fans. I was knocked on my ass, truly.

SFBG Forbidden Zone 2 — true or false?

RE We’re planning Forbidden Zone 2: The Forbidden Galaxy. Ma and Pa Kettle are driven from the dust bowl along with their kids — gray-haired Stinky and the slutty, lumbering Petunia — and they move to Crenshaw, down in South Central LA, only to purchase that fateful little house whose basement is connected to the sixth dimension. "Just wait until those dead babies start marching!" *


With Richard Elfman in person

Another Hole in the Head Film Festival

Sat/2, 11:45 p.m., $10

Roxie Film Center

3117 16th St., SF


This is your brain on drugs


"When you’re smilin’," Satchmo sang, "the whole world smiles with you." Likewise, when you’re on acid, the whole world is frying with you, like that egg in the Just Say No commercials of the ’80s. After watching Richard Elfman’s black-and-white, semianimated, vaudevillian, blackface, sadomasochistic, surrealist musical masterpiece Forbidden Zone, my dosed-up high school friends and I were convinced that Elfman and the entire cast must have been on copious amounts of mind-altering substances. Because, seriously, how else could you come up with this shit?

The plot involves a hidden door in the basement of the Hercules family home, which — after a jaunt through Monty Python–esque animated bowels — leads into the sixth dimension, home of an ear-eating, tuxedo-clad anthropomorphic frog named Bust Rod; a cadre of hollow-eyed, dry-humping psychopaths; a topless princess; a "little midget king"; a sapphic, ball-busting badass evil queen; and a very musical, Cab Calloway–loving Satan. Oh, and a gorilla who gets his head pounded into a mealy mush by Grandpa Hercules, a former Jewish wrestling star. What’s Grandpa Hercules doing in the sixth dimension? His grandson Flash — a tubby, gray-haired elementary school student in boxers, a Beanie Boy propeller hat, and a Boy Scout shirt — unties his "kosher fart of a grandpa" to help him rescue his sister, Frenchy, and classmate Squeezit Henderson’s twin, René, from the dungeon. Squeezit contends throughout the movie that his sibling is female, to which Flash counters, "He just dresses like a broad. He’s a faggot." Faced with friends like this and an abusive, sailor-humping mom, Squeezit’s only true allies are chickens.

I long ago stopped eating the magic fruit of Sandoz Laboratories and realize you don’t have to be on brain-melting hallucinogens to come up with something wildly creative like Forbidden Zone. As it turns out, Richard Elfman’s only vices are "wine and women" (see "Return to the Sixth Dimension"). However, you can’t blame me for thinking he was on something. I recently watched the movie with my friend Maria after years of blurting out things like "Holy cow, it’s 10 to nine! The queen said she was going to ream us with 20-inch cattle prods, and I’m still waiting!" When the 73 minutes of lunacy had ceased, she looked at me blankly and said, "I think it’s one of those movies that you need to be on acid to really get into."

Windex music


› superego@sfbg.com

SUPER EGO Swooning in the aural vortex of the last How Weird Street Faire, I lean against the central shade tower — heavens, it’s hot! — as four separate whiz-bang DJ arenas writhe at my compass points like electronic eels. Psytrance, tech house, tribal, and jeep beats overlap in a fun fuzz of dissonance: a Euterpean kaleidoscope, if you will.

A shirtless Pan in crooked BluBlockers emerges from the sonic haze and politely offers a welcome quench from his Camelback. Ah, agua … that’s better. Pan hightails it back into the neon-freaky crowds, his shadow a tongue of purple flame darting through the throng. Uh oh, the colors — they’re starting to come alive. I can see the music. I am the Lizard Queen. Goddammit, I’ve been dosed unbeknownst!

Does that mean I’m still cute enough to date-rape? Whew.

There’s no real need for chemical alteration at Burner-powered musical affairs like How Weird. The beats are gleefully conservative, locking hearts and minds into a virtual retro techno shroom step of the middle–late ’90s. You can just stop dropping and roll, Siddhartha. Close your eyes, and Smurf the vibe.

The ultimate expression of this baroque kind of bubble-icious bounce back is the continued global triumph of DJ Tiësto’s 2005 Eurotrance classical gasser Adagio for Strings (Universal France) — from Barber to Burner, via Coachella, with a $50,000 light show, a Lycra Tony Montana jersey, and a passé Jesus pose. Gord lord, lady. Tone it down a little. Tiësto’s not the lowest of the low — some trancers still work bastard Carl Orff tracks — and the high’s all the dedicated protofairies making laptop tribal in their parents’ incense-clouded basements. Whether they’ll trade in the oms for Armani once they graduate to clubland is anyone’s guess. It’s become such a thin, thin line. Still, you know if you threw on some neu-rave Klaxons at the pre-Compressions, the kids would have an air-horn breakdown and an alien breakthrough.

Yep, in these fractious times, the speakers overflow with comfort food. And there’s another retro techno movement snaking its way into the clubs, a splash of cool blue against the electroshocked Day-Glo patchwork of today’s dance music: neominimal. Incubating for the past few years in art galleries like Gray Area and Rx, underground parties like Gentlemen’s Techno and Moxie, unlikely bars like Detox, 222 Club, and the Transfer, and occasional Blasthaus and Daly City Records events, neominimal techno has lately come to the official fore, with major regular parties at the Endup and Fat City taking root and sold-out one-offs at Mezzanine fierce ruling.

The neominimal kids take their cues less from ’90s London big beat and depunked Prodigy than from ’80s acid house polychromatics and the Warp Records–Sheffield bleep scene, while paying heavy dues to laser-eared Detroit techno pioneers like Kenny Larkin and Richie Hawtin, whose classic 1999 full-length Decks Efx and 909 (Mute) kick-started the original minimal movement (he’ll be at the Mighty on June 1). Hawtin told me at the time of DE9‘s release that he wanted to "cut through the clouds of contemporary techno" to produce something more loop focused, software malleable, and dynamic in terms of live manipulation. Eight years later, neominimal’s tweeter-oriented arpeggios, atonal motifs, staticky sprezzatura, and clean, focused bass lines — plus a reliance on laptop programming and a healthy nullity of bombast and breaks — bear out his intentions to the nth. It’s unimposing, almost shy music that hooks you with its lack of superstar pretense and leads you gently by your ears to the dance floor. Not that it doesn’t have soul or humor, as anyone entranced by groundbreaking neominimal releases like "The Sad Piano," by Justin Martin (Buzzin’ Fly, 2003), and "Deep Throat," by Claude VonStroke (Dirtybird, 2005), can attest. It just doesn’t wear them on its digital sleeve.

Internationally renowned local boys Martin and VonStoke spend a lot of time touring the world these days, and both are stabled at well-respected San Francisco label Dirtybird (www.dirtybirdrecords.com), but promoters here have only recently been able to convince club owners that neominimal’s a good regular bar draw. Now some much-loved AWOL promoters from the past are rising with the neominimal boat.

"I call it Windex music," promoter Greg Bird — no relation to Dirtybird, but there sure are a lot of birds in SF techno — told me over the phone. "It’s crisp and clear and a lot more funky in a kind of grown-up way." His bangin’ Saturday monthly, Kontrol — recently relocated from Rx Gallery to bigger, all-night quarters at the Endup — celebrates two years of being head above the rest June 2 by bringing in legendary tech heads Baby Ford and DJ Zip to supplement hot-topic Kontrol residents Alland Byalo, Nikola Baytala, Sammy D., and Craig Kuna.

Bird cut through the cork-popping, lounge-heavy blahs of the Internet boom club scene in 2000 with his fascinatingly minimal Clean Plate Club monthly ("clean plate" = minimal groove). "After 9/11 and the bust, I could tell the whole club scene was headed south, so I concentrated on my personal situation. But a couple years ago me, Sammy D., and the others felt the need to bring our sound back to the clubs," he says. Bird emphasizes that Kontrol is all about mixing and making music live, in both a digital and a performance context: "We like to sound immediate." He name-checks Perlon Records, Hawtin’s Minus label, and Los Angeles’s wacky Experimental Liquor Museum collective as current influences. "There’s a ton happening right now," he says. "This summer is going to blow up big for techno in SF."

Another blast from the boom — and a delight for old-school minimal and nonorchestral house fans — is the return of the Staple crew, in this iteration composed of Fil Latorre, a.k.a. Fil Noir from the early ’00s out-of-control Staple and Refuge monthlies, and Dave Javate, a.k.a. DJ Javaight, formerly of the giant Optimal techno parties. Over e-mail, both cite scene burnout and a lack of feeling from the dance floor as reasons they closed up shop, coyly proffer "ichibana, Muay Thai, and pharmacology studies" as the reasons for their absence, and say a recent sense of receptivity to techno, the trend toward live acts, and greater technological capabilities in the form of Ableton Live and Traktor software pulled them out of early retirement. Staple just launched two monthlies at Rx and Anu and brought in Kenny Larkin in May to wow sold-out crowds. "It’s like reloading on experience and refocusing creativity once again on new output," Latorre writes.

I detest it when writers hype new movements. Indeed, almost all the DJs and promoters involved in the latest scene balk at the neominimal — and even minimal — moniker, differentiating themselves from the juggernaut with alternate adjectives like "modular," "organic," and "digital live." But all agree that they’re trying to wipe the tired commercial techno slate clean — and with it, the bad taste of overworked electronica most clubbers still have in their mouths. Many admit that the minimal tag is what’s helping them most to get their music recognized on a grand scale. And there’s definitely a local groundswell of interest in techno. (We gays have forward-looking neominimal heroes too, in DJs Kendig, Nikita, Pee Play, and Robot.Hustle, who keep one ear trained on the alternaqueer retro disco scene.) So for now neominimal’s the name of the Bay techno game. And that may be one to grow on. *


First Sat., 9 a.m.–6 a.m., $15


401 Sixth St., SF

(415) 646-0999




With DJs Richie Hawtin and Magda

Fri/1, 9 p.m.–2 a.m., $22


119 Utah, SF

(415) 762-0151



Second Fri., 9 p.m.–2 a.m., $10

Featuring DJ Mike Huckaby, June 8th

Rx Gallery

132 Eddy, SF

(415) 474-7973




Fourth Thu., 10 p.m.–2 a.m., Free


43 Sixth St., SF

(415) 543-3505


Caffe Bella Venezia


› paulr@sfbg.com

The world traveler might arrive in some strange foreign city eager to find enlightenment at the table — to suss out the city’s most interesting and revealing restaurants and ponder the cultural clues they offer — but first there is the matter of jet lag. The world traveler has an urgent need for a good night’s sleep and perhaps a meal that’s somehow authentically local but not too difficult: not too expensive or far away or served at a place that’s difficult to get into. Tourist cities — of which ours is one — must have plenty of restaurants to provide this service, just as they must have plenty of other places to provide dazzle and memories while charging prices that keep the local tourist economy well watered and in bloom.

We don’t lack for the second, lofty sort of restaurant, of course, but you might be surprised that we have examples of the former too. While stepping into Caffé Bella Venezia one recent mild evening, I noticed a huge youth hostel on the other side of Post Street, and I was glad. For a city that so self-consciously links itself to youth culture, ours is a fearfully — I might even say prohibitively — expensive place for youth to visit. Youth tends to be impecunious, and that won’t get you very far at the Ritz-Carlton or even the Phoenix, no matter how charming and chic your pennilessness. If the concierge is nice, you might be sent down to the hostel on Post Street, not far from Union Square and the theater district, and welcomed there. And if you’re hungry, you might next be sent across the street to Bella Venezia, which isn’t exactly Venetian — except for all the wall art, with its many depictions of gondoliers and canals — but is appealingly pan-Italian, with a rich selection of pastas. If money is one language everybody speaks, pasta is another.

Venice has long been the most eastward-looking of Italian cities. For centuries it was the western terminus of the Silk Road to China, and after the horrendous Fourth Crusade in 1204 — in which Venetian forces sacked the Byzantine capital, Constantinople, instead of carrying on to the Holy Land — it was handsomely decorated with Byzantine gewgaws looted from that ancient city. One associates certain oriental perfumes, of cinnamon and nutmeg, among others, with the cooking of Venice, and while you’re not likely to catch a whiff of these at Bella Venezia, you might catch a latter-day Silk Road echo: the chef is Italian, and his Filipina wife runs the front of the house with the help of their son.

Meanwhile, much of the clientele speaks little or no English. While we did note several solitary, possibly Anglophone, diners roosting forlornly at tables on various evenings, we were more struck by the parade of high-spirited young people moving in packs and speaking, say, French. Of course the French like and serve pasta, even if they’re French Canadian. And just about everyone would like Bella Venezia’s fettuccine arlecchino ($9.95), a lively and colorful mélange of zucchini coins, black olives, and sun-dried tomatoes in a sauce of garlic and goat cheese and a heaping tangle of pasta. Even better is gnocchi ($5 for a small plate that’s not that small), which isn’t really a pasta but is often grouped with the pasta family. Bella Venezia’s house-made lobes are achingly tender, stuffed with gorgonzola, and bathed with a mushroom cream in which we detected, we thought, a hint of brandy breath.

I was surprised to find that I did not quite care for the lasagna ($9.95). So seldom am I disaffected in this way that I can’t recall the last time it happened, if it ever did. But BV’s lasagna, though served in an immense portion, had an unbecoming sweetness; too much minced onion mixed in with the ground beef? We noted a similar problem with the minestrone ($4.50), a run-of-the-mill vegetable soup heavy with carrots, onions, celery, zucchini, potatoes, and shreds of spinach — but no tomatoes, white beans, or pasta. Both lasagna and minestrone responded to salting, the latter more smartly than the former.

A nice feature of the menu is that you can get little versions of pizzas, pastas, and salads for $3 to $6 each. A pair of these makes a nice two-course dinner for someone who isn’t starving or is watching carb intake or feels a little jet-lagged. Pizza regina ($4.75) is a daughter of the full-figured pizza margherita, topped with the same combination of tomatoes, oregano, basil, and mozzarella — plenty of mozzarella. Pizza salsiccia ($8.95) is (to extend our familial imagery) an uncle, a brawny pie of meaty mushrooms and lots of fennel-charged Italian sauces. If the current vogue of thin-crust pizza has left you fatigued, you will appreciate BV’s slightly thicker, breadier crusts.

Two of the restaurant’s best dishes turn up as appetizers. Caprese salad ($6.95) is often routine, a tried-and-true medley of sliced tomatoes and mozzarella cheese, but here it is lightly doused with a pesto vinaigrette that enlivens each constituent while bringing them together. (All salad dressings are supposed to do this, but few do it this well.) And sautéed mussels ($9.95) arrive in a pool of garlicky tomato–white wine sauce that will have you motioning for more of the house-made focaccia to sop it up with, since it is impolite to do so with your fingers, even if you’ve just flown in from Venice and have jet lag. *


Dinner: nightly, 5 p.m.–midnight

720 Post, SF

(415) 775-1156


Beer and wine


Not loud

Wheelchair accessible

The asterisk


› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS Sockywonk fell down backward on the street. It was the story of her life, she told me, while I shouldered her to my pickup truck, trucked her home, and tucked her in. She was smiling, laughing. Dropped on her head as a baby, she said, and 40 years later … still falling down all over the place.

The next few days were hard. With surgery and chemo behind her, she now faced a bigger, blurrier challenge: the rest of her sinking-in, falling-down life. And the uncertainty was killing her.

She cried on my shoulder. This felt nice. I felt so honored and connected and scared too that I don’t know if I properly there-thered her. We’re all in basically the same boat. I cried and clung and felt finally human.

In case you haven’t felt that feeling, it feels kind of like being alive, only with an asterisk. Soul, spirit, and self-consciousness be damned, in my boat the asterisk has nothing to do with metaphysics and everything to do with sharks. Not our awareness of them drawing incessant underwater circles around us. All animals have that. But we’re the only ones who make whole fucking movies about it.

The asterisk is Jaws. Yep, like it or not, we have Richard Dreyfuss. And popcorn and popcorn and popcorn.

I’ve been watching and watching this documentary about sharks. I got it out of the library and renewed it once. So I thought I knew what Socky was talking about. What I didn’t get was why oh why, in the meantime, she kept forgetting to eat. Three days, she said.

I unburied myself from her shoulder and her from mine and looked her in the eye. Nice as arms and necks and eyelashes are, there comes a time when empathy and hugs no longer quite cut it. I call that Pancake Time.

Three days is too many days.

"Socky, sweetie, you don’t need to worry about the rest of your life," I said, thumbing from her face another couple tears and blinking back my own. "What you need is breakfast."

She smiled a little and nodded even less and said weakly, "I am hungry."

"Let’s go," I said, getting up and tugging on her hand.

Where? Toast.

What?! No, not Toast, you say. It’s overpriced! It’s so so so so yuppie, even for Noe Valley. It pisses on the grave of the late great and relatively down-to-earth Hungry Joe. Two bucks for a cup of coffee! No! Not you, not Cheap Eats, not poor Sockywonk.

You say all of the above, and I shake your shoulder and say, Wake up. You’re having a nightmare. Things change, and I have no choice now but to accept that and say it and say it and show it. I don’t know about you, but I blink alive every morning with nothing but question marks in my thought balloon. Time ticks. For now. That’s all I know, and all I ever will, probably, know, from breakfast to shark food. Time does tick, and the implications seem to include both tooth decay and gentrification.

Besides which, their hash browns are amazing. Do you know how hard that is, for hash browns to amaze? Well, they’re perfectly crusty on the outside and perfectly creamy underneath. Toast! My new favorite restaurant. Not that I’ll ever eat there again, but we did thoroughly enjoy our blueberry pancakes and Mediterranean scramble and hardly cried at all during the whole meal.

And speaking of crusty and creamy, I can’t remember if I told Sockywonk this over breakfast, but in case not, I’ll tell her now that my favorite predatee in the shark documentary reminded me of her. And it wasn’t an octopus but an old slow-ass sea turtle, which, after a not-very-fair chase, didn’t quite exactly give up so much as it turned around and started chasing its chaser, surprising the hell out of it and me and the film crew.

It had slowly enticed the shark into shallow and shallower waters, positioning itself for a last little meal, at least, of its own. What guts does it take to swim toward your predator! Albeit at an angle. The turtle broadsided the shark and took a taste out of its gill.

The shark wigged, of course, and retreated to deeper waters, to find a cheaper restaurant. And the turtle, suddenly faced with the rest of its life, bopped around a bit, in no particular hurry, on the beach. *


Mon.–Sat., 7 a.m.–9 p.m.

1748 Church, SF

(415) 282-4328

Takeout available

Beer and wine


Wheelchair accessible



› andrea@altsexcolumn.com

Dear Andrea:

I have always enjoyed having women walk all over me with lots of stomach stomping. Shoes, boots, or barefoot, this is something that I crave daily. Now my problem is that after doing this for most of my life, I just can’t seem to find women who are cruel enough. I try to select women who are 200-plus pounds, but even they leave me needing more (though it hurts like hell). I know my body can’t take much more, but I enjoy it. I just can’t get stomped hard enough. Am I out of control?


Stomp Me

Dear Stompy:


I’d say you were a bit out of control if I believed any of this had ever escaped the realm of fantasy and stomped its way into the harsh light of day. You "try to select" women over 200 pounds, do you? From what pool of eager applicants would you be selecting them? And why would the cruelty quotient of the available pool be diminishing?

The only way you could regularly fulfill this fantasy is by engaging professionals, not that there’s anything wrong with that. There’s no shortage of large women (or reasonable facsimiles of women) who would be willing to do this for you as cruelly as desired. If that is how you’ve been scratching your itch and it really is getting harder to scratch, then you may indeed have some sort of satiety problem. If so, you’ll have to do what anyone else who’s built up too much of a tolerance to alcohol or heroin or any other abusable substance does: cut way down or quit it until you can indulge at a reasonable dosage again.

This isn’t harmless. So if you’re really doing it and not just flapping your face, I suggest that you keep an eye on how much weight you’re taking and where. I can’t believe that a gentleman with your proclivities has never heard Kirsty MacColl’s "In These Shoes?," a song that pulls off the not-inconsiderable trick of being both seductive and hilarious:

"Oh," he said.

"Won’t you walk up and down my spine,

It makes me feel strangely alive."

I said, "In these shoes?

I doubt you’d survive."



Dear Andrea:

I’m 21 and female and have always felt kind of indifferent about sex. I can enjoy it OK. I get horny as much as other people my age, as far as I can tell. It just isn’t that interesting to me.

I thought maybe I was gay, but I’ve experimented with women and nothing changed. Then recently I watched the movie Secretary, and it was like a revelation! I want the kind of relationship portrayed in that film — loving but desperately kinky. Do you think it is possible for BDSM to be an inbuilt kind of sexual preference, as unchangeable as homosexuality? And what happens if you suggest it to a boyfriend who hasn’t expressed any previous interest in it? I don’t want to scare anyone off.


Take a Letter

Dear Letter:

Indeed, but neither do you want to commit the sin of false advertising — passing yourself off as normal so as not to frighten the boat or rock the horses or whatever, only to send a man off screaming when you finally get around to telling him what you’re really after. It’s far less comfortable and a hell of a lot more work just to try to find a compatible fellow kink in the first place, but trust me here — it’s worth it.

As for kink as an inborn tendency like (most) homosexuality: Oh, hell yes, I think it’s possible. We all know people who’ve gone freaky for a while because it seemed for whatever reason to be the thing to do and then reverted, but for every trendoid there’s an earnest freak who can remember being the kid who always wanted to be the captive princess or the cowboy tied to the fence by wild Indians and was never all that enthusiastic about being rescued when the time came. I believe a lot of people can enjoy a little role play or think it’s fun to get tied up prettily and tickled or teased, but people can enjoy a little of all kinds of things. If you see something like Secretary and feel the deep and unmistakable thwang of a chord being struck way deep in your soul, I think you can trust that that cord was there all along awaiting striking.

I can’t help wondering just how many such strikings that movie is singularly responsible for. I thought it was sizzling hot myself, but I think the writer and producers have a lot to answer for. I get the feeling there were a lot of people, young women in particular but not exclusively, who were just going about their lives, la la la, and then James Spader bent Maggie Gyllenhaal over that desk, and thwang! They’ll never be the same.



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.

Mighty morphin’ power ranger


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

REVIEW Those of us who got to see the eastbound I-580 freeway connector overpass right after it was charbroiled by that teetering gas tanker truck understand the weirdness of witnessing a thing so hefty and solid transformed into something much like melted cheese sliding off a pizza slice. It was a grave reminder that structures, no matter how fixed their engineering appears to be, can stop holding a given form and make like something entirely else if given the opportunity.

Bay Area sculptor Christian Maychack is a master of creating objects in which materials misbehave in ways that leave their viewers with a sense that the laws of physics are just aching to be broken. For "Christian Maychack: A General Record of Things Breaking Down," the artist’s second solo show at the Gregory Lind Gallery, Maychack has created a site-specific work as well as several wall pieces and other freestanding pieces, all of which are variations on the themes of evolution and transformation.

His site-specific work is installed on both sides of a partial wall. On one side, what looks to be scrap lumber and decorative molding stacked and standing in the corner turns out on closer investigation to be morphing at the bottom — the molding is molding. And the tops of the tallest pieces of lumber appear snakelike and wiggle over the wall. When the top of the wall is viewed from the other side of the divider, the lumber seems to have burst forth from within, as if worms or roots have exploded from soil. Below, the corner of the wall has curled up slightly, separating from the floor, and has started to reconfigure itself as a crystalline, multifaceted form. Farther down, near one’s feet, the gallery wall has started to suck into itself, becoming some sort of mineral that doesn’t allow itself to be defined as animal or vegetable — or drywall.

On the back wall of the gallery, a wonderfully globby Rorschach form oozes like an overly muscled but flayed GI Joe doll. It appears to have time-warped from the baroque era but not quite to have survived the trip. Titled A Thinnest of Betweens, this monochrome gray wall piece hangs with the presence of a regal portrait, but with an air of cartoon malevolence too.

There’s exuberance in much of what Maychack creates, a quality of frozen animation that makes the pieces seem to be holding their breath in order not to be found out. One pedestaled piece in particular has stopped midbounce, like a froth of marshmallow fluff that is either symbiotically sharing space with or being virally infected by volcanic, rocky bits. The chunks subtly taint the plump creaminess with their rusty dust.

Close to the gallery’s reception desk, a sponge-colony form buds from the wall, white and gray with a shiny dark gray cap, as if it were readying itself for even further mushroomy blooming. It grows with an elegant lean, which hints at the essence of Maychack’s objects: they are so well crafted and organically clever that viewers depart feeling like they have been given a convincing presentation of what mysterious life forces are capable of. In these works, stuff has a way of willing itself into existence — even in places where we have assumed there is no life. Maychack gives us another plot twist in the evolutionary story, which in some way, during this uncertain time of teetering environmental stability, seems fantastically hopeful. Lo, the very stuff from which we have built our shelters could bubble forth and mutate its way into our ecosystem. *


Through June 30

Tues.–Sat., 10:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m.

Gregory Lind Gallery

49 Geary, fourth floor, SF

(415) 296-9662


Green libertarians


› annalee@techsploitation.com

TECHSPLOITATION It sounds crazy, but it just might work: green libertarianism could become the new reformist movement in politics and cultural life.

In the 1980s, suggesting that green culture could be combined with libertarianism would have been worse than foolish. Those were the days when libertarians protested having to get their cars smog-checked because it represented government control of their personal property. But now that even staunch Republicans like Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger are promoting ecofriendly policies and business leaders like Silicon Valley venture capitalist Vinod Khosla are hanging out at the Sierra Club, it seems that the times, they are a-changin’.

Over the past decade, experts have slowly and quietly been publishing studies on how to bring green sensibilities into line with the free-market agenda of libertarians. Natural Capitalism, published in 2000, was one of the first books to advance this idea. Last year two Yale environmental researchers, Daniel Esty and Andrew Winston, published Green to Gold, which explores ways that companies like Wal-Mart are attempting to bring sustainability into their business models. Though Esty and Winston conclude that there are no companies currently doing enough to be truly green, they acknowledge that some are on the right track.

They also explain quite succinctly why free-market leaders have joined what they call the Green Wave. No, it’s not out of the goodness of their hearts. "Behind the Green Wave are two interlocking sources of pressure," they write. "First the limits of the natural world could constrain business operations, realign markets, and perhaps even threaten the planet’s well-being. Second, companies face a growing spectrum of stakeholders who are concerned about the environment."

A lot of Green Wave entrepreneurs are probably disingenuous. One imagines they’re like the antihero of underrated movie I Heart Huckabees, a slimy corporate type who feigns interest in green development to sucker a community into signing over its land to condo and mall developers. But I believe some real-life Green Wavers are genuinely fascinated by strange new ideas that could encourage economic growth and sustainable development. These are people who are talking about carbon credits, emissions trading, and various financial incentives for entrepreneurs who limit their environmental impact, recycle, use alternative energy sources, or encourage their employees to carpool.

The question is why would anybody want to marry green and libertarian values? It sounds like a way of letting business do an end run around international bodies and governments, groups that have traditionally set limits on industry. There’s no doubt that states should have a role in setting policies for local corporations, but those corporations need rewards for their good behavior too. That’s where capitalism comes in. Combining libertarianism with green values might be a pragmatic way to convince some of the worst polluters to cut back by essentially bribing them with cash. The state can step in to punish bad actors who refuse to try for the carrot.

On a less cynical note, one might say that libertarians and greens go together because both are focused on maintaining economic development in the long term. They aren’t looking at next quarter: they’re looking at next century. A green libertarian has realized that the freedom of future markets depends on maintaining a healthy environment.

If green libertarianism prevails, I’m guessing the future will look nothing like ecotopia and nothing like capitalist Utopia either. Business will behave more like government, limiting its growth for the sake of sustainability. And ecology as we know it will probably be a lot more engineered and synthetic than ever before because communities will carefully plan their ecosystems to remain healthy and whole alongside cities and corporations. We will reach a stage in our technological development when we have to manage our natural environments as well as our economic ones. Perhaps one day the capitalism that results from green libertarianism will know itself to be only one piece of a healthy social ecology. That’s the kind of capitalism that even a grumpy old Marxist like myself can get behind. *

Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who thinks the next best thing to smashing capitalism is changing it entirely.

Criminals of poverty


OPINION The morning I got out of jail, I walked through the icelike streets of Oakland touching ivy and running my fingers along the sides of buildings and cars and the trunks of trees. It wasn’t that I had forgotten how they felt. It was just that knowing that these things were still there, even when I wasn’t, helped to ease the shudder, the ache, and the tension that were now permanently lodged in my head.

Due to some extremely innovative legal work by a local civil rights attorney, I was given a chance to write as a way of working off my several thousand dollars of fines and months of jail time for crimes of poverty. In my and my poor mixed-race mama’s case, this was for the sole act of being homeless in the United States — a citable offense.

The most recent invention in the march toward increasing the criminalization of poverty in San Francisco is Mayor Gavin Newsom’s proposed Community Courts — or what the Coalition on Homelessness so aptly renamed poverty courts.

These courts would focus on status crimes — crimes like the ones I was charged with not so many years ago, crimes that are unavoidable for people who are poor and living on the streets.

These courts represent a further step toward the permanent criminalization of poor and homeless people, disguised as a more compassionate approach to so-called quality-of-life issues.

But the reason this is inane and a serious waste of resources is that no amount of punishment will ever succeed in lifting people out of poverty.

As a youth raised in a houseless family who was cited and arrested countless times for the act of sleeping in our broken-down vehicle, I was given referrals to community service agencies for several thousand hours of community service (free work), none of which I could ever complete, which then led to jail sentences and a criminal record — yet I was never offered housing. Instead I was continually criminalized for the fact that we didn’t have housing or the money to acquire it.

The proposed price tag for the poverty courts is $1.3 million. That’s money that could be funding permanent housing, mental health services, and drug treatment that would actually improve the quality of life for poor people.

The information gathered by the Coalition on Homelessness and Poor magazine indicates that the city plans to redline a portion of the poorest neighborhood in San Francisco (the Tenderloin), and any sleeping, sitting, vending, camping, graffiti, and prostitution tickets received in this area will be sent to a special court.

This is consistent with the massive increase in sweeps, arrests, and citations of homeless folks since Newsom came to office.

My writing–media production assignment was eventually completed, albeit slowly, while I lived through the devastating experience of being a youth in a homeless family. Had I not received this innovative work-around, I would not have made it out of the criminal injustice system and in the end would not have made it out alive. *


Tiny, a.k.a. Lisa Gray-Garcia, is the cofounder of Poor magazine and PoorNewsNetwork and the author of Criminal of Poverty: Growing up Homeless in America.

Web Site of the Week



Cross Stephen Colbert’s pseudoconservative comedy shtick with Wikipedia’s fact-based hub and you get Wikiality: The Truthiness Encyclopedia — one of the funniest tubes on the Internets.

Hole in the street


› news@sfbg.com

It was warmer than usual that Saturday morning in Golden Gate Park. Peter Cummings woke up behind a bush, took his shirt and shoes off, put on his headphones, and staggered down the hill with a bottle of whiskey and a big smile on his bearded, dirt-stained face. He sat down on the bench at Stanyan and Hayes and greeted passersby in his usual charmingly rambunctious way. For the past seven years, this had more or less been his daily routine.

The only thing that made this day different was the food and the heroin. That morning Cummings skipped breakfast. He usually went to the corner deli to buy some bread and soup, but not this particular Saturday. Then, around 2 p.m., a couple guys walking down the hill found Cummings convulsing in a quiet nook behind a fallen log. One of them gave him CPR and a Narcan shot, and a couple others ran across the street to St. Mary’s Medical Center to get the paramedics. But it was too late.

Hundreds of homeless people die every year in San Francisco, and many of them leave our world silently and with little impact on the city. But the loss of this particular alcoholic, bipolar, homeless man changed the landscape of one San Francisco neighborhood. As Gavin Newsom’s administration aggressively pursues its 10-year plan to abolish chronic homelessness, this man’s legacy shows how someone living in the park may actually be a good thing — if not for himself, then at least for the community.

"He watched out for me," Cirrus Blaafjell, who lives in the neighborhood, told the Guardian. "Some of the guys would harass me when I came out here at night to walk the dogs, and Pete would yell at them, ‘Leave her alone. She’s a nice person!’" When University of San Francisco student Amanda Anderson was followed through the park one day by a seedy character, Cummings launched his own inquiry. "Who tried to hurt Amanda? I’m gonna beat his ass when I find him!" Cummings yelled into the trees.

Even certain city officials agree. "He did seem to keep all the other drunks in line," Officer John Andrews of the San Francisco Police Department told us. "A lot of times when we had a problem, he’d come around and say, ‘Hey, Andrews, we’re taking care of things. Don’t worry.’ If someone was really intoxicated, he’d take them into the bushes. And he never argued with anyone."

The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development considers people to be chronically homeless if they’re alone, disabled, and have been sleeping on the streets or in shelters for a year straight or intermittently for three years. Newsom’s initiatives aim to put all 3,000 chronically homeless residents of San Francisco into permanent homes by 2014. "It’s a concept based on Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point," Angela Alioto, the chairperson of the 10-year plan, explained. "If you take care of those who are the most chronic and use the most resources first, you will tip the scale of the whole problem."

But the Coalition on Homelessness, a nonprofit advocacy group, disagrees. "The phrase chronically homeless is misleading," director Juan Prada told us. "Chronic makes you think of general health issues, so you create an impression that homelessness is a condition. We see homelessness as a systemic failure to address poverty and the lack of housing."

Cummings, who lived in the park for the past seven years, was definitely chronically homeless. But had he survived another seven years to see the mayor’s initiative come to fruition, he may not have ever accepted the helping hand. "I live here by choice," Cummings once told me. "I have money, I have a place to go. I just like it here."

The corner of Stanyan and Hayes is almost never quiet. Belligerent drunks, ambulances speeding to the emergency room half a block north, and road-raged drivers blaring their horns at a badly designed left turn are part of the daily ruckus. Cops show up regularly. "People would call us about trash and shopping carts or about drunks yelling and screaming and fighting each other," Andrews told us. "And you have all types of guys up there in the horseshoe pit."

Hidden amid the trees in the northeast corner of Golden Gate Park, the horseshoe pit is known as a gathering place for hardcore drug users. Nothing remains of its original incarnation except some rusty equipment and a faded life-size mural of a horse. Today it’s a haphazard jumble of used needles, sleeping bags, and seedy characters often too messed up to talk. Despite having this hub as his home, Cummings stayed relatively drug-free for the past four years. And between his Veterans Affairs and Social Security checks, he was bringing home about $3,000 a month. Instead of paying rent, Cummings used his income to buy liquor for himself and food for everyone in the park. "Where does all my money go?" he used to ask people walking their dogs as his friends munched on hot dogs and piroshkis on the grass behind him.

"He used to buy cartons of milk and leave them quietly next to people who he thought would need it," remembers Jerry, a 52-year-old chronically homeless man and one of Cummings’s best friends.

Cummings kept his past well hidden from his park friends, but when he died, dozens of people in the Upper Haight–North Panhandle area came out with stories about him from the past two decades, back to a time when he was sober, happily married, and a model member of the community.

"People used to call him the mayor of Cole Valley," said Jacob Black, a cab driver. "He knew everybody in town."

Cummings was born in Melrose, Mass., on March 11, 1954. He lived there with his parents and two siblings until his father, an engineer at a forklift company, was transferred to Oregon in 1971. "[Peter] picked on me a lot, but I always outsmarted him," younger brother Rick Cummings, who is a sales rep in the health care industry, told us. "It was a typical brotherly thing." Cummings joined the Coast Guard at age 20 and developed a lifelong love for the ocean while stationed in Hawaii and Guam. He was honorably discharged in 1978 when he injured his knee on an open hatch cover.

For the next couple years, Cummings wandered around Northern California, growing pot and mushrooms in the mountains and sleeping on the beach. "He always attacked me for my middle-class, suburban lifestyle," Rick says. "He never wanted that." For most of the ’80s, Cummings lived under a seedy bridge in downtown Portland, with a heroin addiction and early symptoms of bipolar disorder. He ended up in San Francisco, where he decided to give sobriety a shot. As Rick said, "He had it together enough mentally to know that he had to either get cleaned up or die."

Once in San Francisco, Cummings took lithium for his bipolar disorder, joined Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, and by all accounts stayed sober for almost 14 years. For the first time in his adult life, everything was going really well. He got married to a beautiful Peruvian woman, rented an apartment in Cole Valley, bought a used Jaguar and a Boston whaler, which he took out for salmon fishing in the bay, and was constantly surrounded by a solid group of friends. He even worked as a drug rehab counselor at the Haight Ashbury Free Clinics.

Cummings was known among AA and NA circles as a handsome, spiritual role model with a killer sense of humor who always brought fresh fish to barbecues. "When I got sober, I was living on the streets and hated life," friend Dana Scheer says. "Pete reached out to me as he did to countless people. He was like a sober guru to me — I knew him as a very stable, rock-solid person."

Then, around 1998, things started to go downhill. His AA sponsor died of cancer; his wife left him; and the VA screwed up his bipolar meds. Cummings became increasingly isolated. He stopped attending meetings and moved out of the Haight, first to work as a building manager in SoMa and then to pursue a love interest in Mill Valley. "I went over to visit him one day, and he was drinking Coors," Scheer says. "This was my mentor from AA, so it was a little bit shocking." When Scheer left that evening, Cummings gave her a few of his belongings, including a stack of blankets. "I thought that was significant, because he always took care of me," Scheer says. "Blankets symbolize warmth and comfort, and he had always given me that. That was the last time I saw him before he ended up on the street again."

Cummings returned to the Haight around 2000, but this time he was drunk and high and incoherent. "When you’re that kind of addict, you don’t just start drinking a little wine," Scheer says. Cummings eventually ended up at the horseshoe pit, where he was reunited with some old AA friends who had also relapsed. And that’s where he lived for the last seven years of his life.

Despite recent city efforts to abolish camping in Golden Gate Park, Cummings continued to live in the bushes, often changing location to avoid getting caught. "It’s completely illegal for people to live in the park," Rose Dennis, director of communications at San Francisco’s Recreation and Park Department, told us. "But if you’ve been on the streets for seven years, you become resilient."

Alioto told us she has no problem with homeless people not wanting a roof over their heads. "If a person truly wanted to live on the street, there is nothing we can or should do," she told us. "They have a constitutional right to live and travel."

On the outside, Cummings the homeless guy was nothing like Cummings the sober guru, but he continued to help people with drug and alcohol problems. "Peter helped a lot of kids get out of bad situations," Jerry told us. "He was in the Coast Guard, so he knew all the vital signs. He saved a lot of lives, including mine — twice. I owe him a pair of Levi’s from the time I bled all over his after falling down a 30-foot cliff."

Cummings apparently overdosed just a few feet south of the horseshoe pit that had seduced him back into this lifestyle. The week after Cummings died, the Hayes entrance of Golden Gate Park was eerily quiet. "The park is like a cemetery," Jerry said with tears in his eyes. "Everyone’s walking around like corpses." His homeless friends scattered to mourn the loss of a friend and source of nourishment in their own way. "When you’re living on the streets, people are dying left and right," Scheer says. "And when that happens, you just want to get loaded and forget about everything."

Residents of the North Panhandle didn’t have a reason to stop here anymore either." I used to sit on the bench and just talk to him," Christian Blaafjell says. "He was crazy, but he was great. I miss him." Even Andrews is well aware of the impact Cummings’s passing will have on the community. "He was the leader of this pack," he says. "I don’t know what’s going to happen to these guys over here." He pauses. "Hopefully, they’ll leave."

The sight of Cummings limping down Hayes Street might have looked bad for the city, but the services he offered to its most fallen people were indispensable. "Maybe he was just doing his job," says James Warren, a friend from Cummings’s AA days. "Maybe what he learned from the program, he took to the streets. Pete took his legacy, generosity, love, and compassion back to the streets so that they might know that there was a better place and that he’d been there. I know I wouldn’t have made it through if it wasn’t for him." *

Peter S. Cummings died May 5 in San Francisco. He is survived by his parents, Richard and Nancy; his sister, Pam; his brother, Rick; and dozens of friends.

Nuclear greenwashing


› amanda@sfbg.com

Patrick Moore’s presentation isn’t as slick as Al Gore’s. The slides he shows lack a certain visual panache and don’t compare to the ones in An Inconvenient Truth. Moore himself seems a little frumpy, particularly as he peers out across the audience recently gathered in the Warnors Theatre in Fresno.

But attendees paid $20 to hear the former Greenpeace leader extol the benefits of nuclear energy as a clean, safe, reliable, economic, and — perhaps most important to the current political and media focus on global warming — emissions-free source of power.

It’s hard to imagine Moore at the helm of an inflatable boat steering into the line of a whaling ship’s fire, but that iconic Greenpeace image is exactly what he wants you to associate with him. The Vancouver, British Columbia, native is quick to tell you he’s a former leader of one of the most effective international activist organizations ever. But he said he’s older now and wants to be for things instead of against them.

What’s Moore for? Warding off the warming of the world. What does he think will do it? More nuclear power plants.

If there’s any great and unifying issue thrumming through the national psyche, defying political party lines and flooding the media filters these days, it’s global warming. While leaders argue left and right about nearly every issue that comes before them, there is at least consensus that something must be done about climate change.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger jumped on that bandwagon last September when he signed into law Assembly Bill 32, mandating a 25 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2020.

Thirty-one states recently agreed to join a voluntary greenhouse gas emissions registry similar to California’s, 10 northeastern states are creating a cap-and-trade market, and already half the country has laws requiring that a certain percentage of local power portfolios come from renewable energy.

The alternative-energy troops who’ve long been waiting in the trenches have stepped up to fight, armed with the tools they’ve been honing for years: solar panels, wind turbines, tidal power, and biofuels. They say new options and innovations abound for weaning the country off its fossil fuel habit.

But there are already critics who say those approaches aren’t going to be enough — and that we need to go nuclear against this planetary threat. And now they have some unlikely new allies.

Maybe you’ve seen the headlines touting the new nuclear push, running in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and all the daily syndicates. They all claim the same questionable facts: Nuclear power is clean and emissions free. It’s safe, reliable, and cost-effective. It isn’t contributing to global warming — and these days even the environmentalists like it.

James Lovelock, the renowned Gaia theorist, thinks nuclear energy will be essential to power the developing world. On a Sept. 13, 2006, airing of KQED’s Forum, he told host Michael Krasny, "I would welcome high-level nuclear waste in my backyard."

During the hour-long program he said the dangers of radiation were exaggerated; there wasn’t that much waste generated; and in order to mitigate the increasing effects of climate change, we should "look at nuclear as a kind of medicine we have to take."

Stewart Brand, creator of the Whole Earth Catalog, thinks nothing is more doomsday than global warming and told the Guardian he advised Pacific Gas and Electric Co. to start touting nuclear power as a solution.

"The nuclear industry needs a new green generation," he told us. "My fellow environmentalists ought to be grateful to the nuclear industry for supplying 20 percent of our electricity."

And then there’s Moore, the 15-year Greenpeace veteran who once put his body in the way of a seal hunter’s club and wrote in an April 16, 2006, Washington Post op-ed, "My views have changed and the rest of the environmental movement needs to update its views, too, because nuclear energy may just be the energy source that can save our planet from another possible disaster: catastrophic climate change.

"Nuclear energy is the only large-scale, cost-effective energy source that can reduce these emissions while continuing to satisfy a growing demand for power. And these days it can do so safely."

The bio for the Post piece identifies Moore as cochair of "a new industry-funded initiative, the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition, which supports the use of nuclear energy."

It’s one of the few articles that make such a disclosure, although more probably should. A survey by Diane Farsetta, a senior researcher at the Center for Media and Democracy, came across 302 recent articles mentioning Moore and nuclear power as a possible option for mitigating the effects of global warming.

Only 37 — a mere 12 percent — said he’s being paid to support nuclear power by the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), a national organization of pro-nuke industries that’s hired Moore to front its nuclear renaissance.

Only the Columbia Journalism Review has drawn the further connection that Hill and Knowlton has been paid $8 million to help the NEI spread the word that the nukies have the silver bullet for solving global warming.

Hill and Knowlton knows a little something about pushing dangerous products. The company created the tobacco industry’s decades-long disinformation campaign about the effects of smoking. Veterans of that campaign then helped ExxonMobil try to bury the truth about global warming.

Before laughing these folks out of the reactor room, consider this: Nancy Pelosi and Dianne Feinstein, who’ve been against nukes in the past, are now suggesting nuclear energy needs to be considered in light of global warming.

Al Gore and Hillary Clinton have also made similar recent murmurings. Of all the major 2008 presidential candidates, only Dennis Kucinich and John Edwards have offered up energy plans that don’t include more nukes.

Eight states are working on pro-nuclear legislation, and although a bill to lift the moratorium on new plants in California was shot down in the Assembly’s Committee on Natural Resources, its sponsor, Chuck DeVore (R-Irvine), told us he intends to introduce it again and again until it passes.

In the meantime a private group of Fresno investors has signed a letter of intent with a nuclear power company to put a 1,600-megawatt nuclear plant in the San Joaquin Valley. So far the only thing stopping the group is the state’s 30-year-old moratorium, which says no new nuclear power plants may be built in California until a permanent solution to the waste is established. The investors are already working on a November 2008 ballot measure to end the ban and allow new nuclear plants.

A new nuclear plant hasn’t been built in the United States since 1978, when concerns about safety, cost, and the long-term waste management challenge (nuclear rods will still be deadly hundreds of thousands of years from now) overwhelmed the industry.

But if there were ever an opportunity for a nuclear renaissance, the threat of climate change has created one. And the poster child is Moore, a relatively innocuous Greenpeace exile who’s traveling around the country with a B-movie version of Gore’s Oscar-winning documentary, speaking to communities and drumming up what he calls a grassroots coalition of mayors, business leaders, and community activists. He’s steadily convincing them we need more nuclear power by trading the classic doomsday scenario of a massive radioactive explosion for the creeping killer global warming.

"I’m aghast," Dr. Helen Caldicott, an Australian who helped found Physicians for Social Responsibility and is one of the most prominent international critics of the dangers of nuclear energy, told us.

Caldicott, who’s authored several books on the subject, most recently Nuclear Power Is Not the Answer (2006), said, "I’ve never seen a propaganda exercise which is so fallacious. Both the politicians and the media are buying it."

She and other nuclear watchdogs who’ve been patrolling the industry for more than 30 years say it’s anything but a safe, reliable, economic, and emissions-free silver bullet.

Let’s look at the facts.


When it comes to safety, Moore told us, "US nuclear power plant employees enjoy the so-called healthy worker effect: people employed at the plants have lower mortality rates from cancer, heart disease, or other causes and are likely to live longer than the general population."

To support this claim, he cited a 2004 Radiation Research Society study of 53,000 workers. After reviewing it, Caldicott said, "I’m very suspect. There’s nothing here about people who are living with cancer."

Caldicott admits there’s a void of data about the health of nuclear workers and people who live near plants. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission doesn’t mandate baseline studies of cancer rates in areas surrounding the sites of nuclear facilities.

But people living near Three Mile Island, the Pennsylvania plant that came within minutes of a catastrophic meltdown in 1979, demanded studies, which found evidence of increases in thyroid cancer in the region. And Caldicott, in her recent book, pointed out that there are a number of things the government doesn’t want to admit. "To this day there is no available information about which specific isotopes escaped nor the actual quantity of radiation that was released," she wrote, going on to detail how, for lack of sufficient data about the distance the radiation may have spread, scientists studied the rates in the livestock of nearby fields and found supporting evidence that the plume of poison spread as far as 150 miles away.

And of course, there’s Chernobyl, where a 1986 nuclear-plant disaster caused lasting health problems and contaminated a huge swath of what was then the Soviet Union.

The unavoidable fact is that the industry thus far has had two terrible, nightmarish accidents, one of which was catastrophic and the other very nearly so.

And every part of the nuclear-power cycle involves serious health risks.

"You want to get really sad?" asked Molly Johnson, a lifelong environmental justice activist and San Luis Obispo County resident. "Go to New Mexico, go to Arizona, see the families that are dying because of the uranium mining. Their water is irradiated from the uranium tailings that are still there…. Why would we continue that?"

These days intentional attacks are even more of a concern. But Moore isn’t sweating. He said he thinks a plane colliding with a power plant is unlikely, even though the 9/11 Commission Report found that al-Qaeda operatives at one point considered aiming for the Indian Point reactor in New York.

Even if a jet hit a plant, Moore insists, the plant would be strong enough to withstand a collision. "If you drove an airplane into that, it would just be one messed-up airplane you’d have to deal with," he said.

Not exactly, say the critics.

"He is just dead wrong about reactor security. Breathtakingly misinformed," said Dan Hirsch of Committee to Bridge the Gap, a public interest group that’s been studying nuclear power and proliferation issues for nearly four decades. "Virtually no reactor containment in the US was designed to withstand a hit by a jumbo jet. Significant parts of the plant essential to preventing a meltdown are outside containment anyway."

Hirsch is speaking of power lines, which transmit electricity from the plant and also carry electricity to it — power that’s used to keep dangerous components cool and safe. If that power were cut off for any length of time, a meltdown could occur in the pools where explosive spent fuel is kept.

These spent-fuel storage areas — essentially big swimming pools where radioactive waste is kept underwater until a long-term storage facility is built — rely on a steady pumping of water to cool the superheated waste. All you’d have to do is stop that water pump, and there’d be a meltdown. And the storage areas don’t necessarily have the same fortified structures as the reactors.

Hirsch said, "A successful attack on a nuclear plant or, even worse, a spent-fuel pool would be the worst terrorist event to ever occur on earth by far, capable of killing over 100,000 people immediately and hundreds of thousands of latent cancers thereafter, contaminating an area the size of Pennsylvania for generations."

There’s no immediate solution in sight for long-term storage, so these pools of deadly waste will likely remain on reactor sites for many years.

San Luis Obispo County’s Mothers for Peace recently sued the NRC over the newly established laws regarding protection against terrorist attacks, which only require plants to be able to ward off five potential external terrorists on the ground. It took 19 people to pull off the Sept. 11 attacks. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled that power plant operators must also consider the possibility of an air attack when designing spent-fuel storage tanks.

Mothers for Peace is fond of noting that existing security measures aren’t what you’d call foolproof. During a recent earthquake, 56 of 131 sirens in the San Luis Obispo area — designed to alert residents of a possible accident at the plant — didn’t go off because the power was out and they aren’t backed up by generators or batteries.

When Mothers for Peace and the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility brought the failure to the attention of the NRC, the agency said that nothing is perfect and that the sirens over the course of 1,000 hours worked 99 percent of the time.

"Except the five hours you’d actually want them to work," David Weisman of the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility said.

Nuclear power is either a creeping killer or a sitting bomb. Wind farms and solar-panel arrays are not leaching poisons into the environment. They’re not direct targets for terrorist attacks, and if they were, the result wouldn’t be all that horrible. Imagine cleaning up a bombed wind farm versus a nuclear power plant.

"Wind farms are on nobody’s list of targets," Weisman added. "If a windmill falls and there’s no one there to hear it, do you need an emergency evacuation plan?"


A centerpiece of the pro-nuke argument is that nuclear power is a baseload source, meaning it can generate energy all day, every day. Solar and wind, of course, rely on the cruel (and unpredictable) forces of nature to generate power.

But one could argue the same about nuclear power plants. They’re run by people — and the record of those operators isn’t encouraging.

Moore expressed great confidence in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission: "They have very, very stringent requirements and regulations. It’s all there for anybody to see. All of these reactors are inspected regularly. There is no reason in my estimation to suspect the NRC of anything other than being a responsible watchdog agency. If you want to take the time to dig into it, you can find out what’s going on."

David Lochbaum does take that time — and he’s found out a lot. After working for 17 years as a consultant to the NRC, he joined the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) as a nuclear-safety engineer. He spends his days combing NRC reports and documents and compiling studies on the safety of the industry. His experience and research have caused him to conclude that the commission can’t stay on top of the 103 plants in the country.

"We get a lot of calls from workers in the plants, and NRC employees that have safety issues they’re afraid to raise," he said. "We had three calls last week. That’s a little more than usual, but we usually get 50 to 60 whistleblower calls a year." He said sometimes the workers have already raised the issue internally but need an ally to force a remedy at the plant. Other times they’re afraid to speak about what they’ve seen without fear of retaliation.

Lochbaum authored a September 2006 study for the UCS titled "Walking the Nuclear Tightrope" on the issues of safety and reliability. It’s a chilling read; it carefully outlines how regulators have been complicit in allowing plants to operate far longer than they should and how these overstressed plants eventually have to be shut down for years to restore safety standards. He found that in the last 40 years plants have ground to a halt for a year or more on 51 occasions. In most cases it wasn’t a spontaneous incident but an overall decaying of conditions that compromised safety.

"Some observers have argued that the fact no US nuclear power reactor has experienced a meltdown since 1979 (during which time 45 year-plus outages have occurred) demonstrates the status quo is working successfully," Lochbaum wrote. "That’s as fallacious as arguing that the levees protecting New Orleans were fully adequate prior to Hurricane Katrina by pointing to the absence of similar disasters between 1980 and 2004."

One of the most recent and chilling examples is the 2002 outage of the Davis-Besse plant near Toledo, Ohio, where a hole the size of a football was discovered in the vessel reactor head. Only a half inch of steel remained to prevent a massive nuclear meltdown. The plant was overdue for a shutdown and an inspection and had been granted the extension by the NRC.

When asked what he thought about that close call, Moore said, "I didn’t think it was a close call. I thought it was a mechanical failure that should have been caught sooner. It was caught long before it became an accident or anything like that."

"When you say close call, that means that nothing actually happened," he concluded.

But when there’s a facility where an accident could lead to mass deaths, even close calls are grounds for concern. That’s why we have to hold nuclear plants to such high standards. And the fact that plants have to close so often to avoid disastrous accidents doesn’t say much for the reliability argument.


This may be the issue on which the pro-nukers make the most headway. Moore cites a number of international studies, posted on the NEI’s Web site, that show nuclear plants competing only with hydropower when it comes to emitting the lowest level of carbon dioxide. Even solar panels and wind turbines, when one factors in the entire energy process, emit more greenhouse gases, according to these studies, though all these power sources release significantly less than burning coal or natural gas.

The anti-nuke crowd says a true study has never been completed that quantifies the CO2 emissions from mining uranium and turning it into usable nuclear fuel. Both are heavily energy intensive. Additionally, they argue that transporting waste will incur even more CO2 emissions, whether it’s shipped across the sea for reprocessing in Europe or trucked across the country for burial in Yucca Mountain.

But the waste itself is also a huge issue. Although nuclear power plants don’t have bad breath, they do emit toxins — and it’s an unresolved issue as to where to put them. The current forecast for opening the Yucca Mountain repository is 2021. Senate majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada opposes building the facility, and he’s pushing a bill that would require plants to keep the crud in their backyards.

"They’ve had 50 years to work on the waste issue," Weisman said. "And the best solution they’ve come up with is, who do we not like enough to send it to?"

Either way, Moore thinks waste is not a problem. If anything, it should be reprocessed — he likes to call it "recycling." Under that process, spent fuel is bathed in acid to separate out the usable plutonium. That can be followed by vitrification — a complex, energy-intensive process of suspending the highly radioactive and corrosive acid in glass, which is then sealed in expensive trash cans of steel and concrete and buried underground for at least 300 years, after which point he predicts it should no longer be a problem.

"It makes more fuel," he said.

Actually, Hirsch said, "it makes more weapons-grade plutonium." He argues that the last thing the nation should do is allow nuclear-plant operators to separate the plutonium and put it on the market, where it can be leaked for bomb making.

Additionally, there are a number of waste sites around the country that are slowly emitting what they’ve been designed — or not designed in some cases — to contain.

The worst is probably in Hanford, Wash., where decades’ worth of reprocessed spent radioactive fuel pushed the area beyond Superfund status into a "national nuclear waste sacrifice zone.

"Hanford is the most contaminated site in North America and one of the most significant long-term threats facing the Columbia River," Greg deBruler, of Columbia Riverkeeper, wrote in the Fall 2006 issue of Waterkeeper, the group’s quarterly journal. "It’s difficult to comprehend the reality of Hanford’s 150 square miles of highly contaminated groundwater or its 53 million gallons of highly radioactive waste sitting in 45-year-old rotting steel tanks."

Much of that waste includes leftover reprocessed spent uranium fuel, which ate through its casks and poisoned the community’s drinking water.

Moore said, "It’s not as if everyone is dead. The nuclear waste has been contained."

Not exactly a ringing endorsement.


"The economics of nuclear power are well proven around the world. It is one of the most cost-effective forms of energy," Moore said.

Just check the record. Of the 103 reactors that were built in the United States, 75 ran a total of $100 billion over budget. India more recently went 300 percent over budget on its 10 reactors. Finland is already 18 months behind and $1 billion over on a reactor.

Given this track record, the Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration "Annual Energy Outlook 2005" reported that "new plants are not expected to be economical." They’re so risky, in fact, that not a single plant could have been built without the 1957 Price-Anderson act, which moves the liability for a nuke plant off its owners and onto US taxpayers. "If they were really economical, they’d be able to get insurance," Weisman said. The bill was recently renewed.

The nuclear industry forges on unperturbed, claiming that new plants have been streamlined for easier construction. Additionally, the siting and licensing laws for plants have been changed to speed up the process by precluding public input. (Given the industry’s safety record so far, that’s not comforting.) Experts predict it will now take 10 years to build a new nuclear plant. Thirty-four licenses are currently pending at the NRC as utility companies race to secure the $8 billion the federal government set aside for subsidies.

"Imagine how many wind turbines that could buy," said Harvey Wasserman, a longtime anti-nuke activist who recently authored the book Solartopia, which outlines a plan for completely renewable energy by 2030. In fact, renewables are far cheaper. Building the facilities to create one gigawatt of wind power costs about $1.5 billion; about two gigawatts could replace the Diablo Canyon Power Plant.


In the end, it comes down to money, and that’s where nuclear power may be the most vulnerable.

Sam Blakeslee, a Republican Assembly member from San Luis Obispo, introduced a bill last year that calls on the California Energy Commission (CEC) to conduct an in-depth study of the true costs of nuclear power to assess its viability as part of California’s future energy plans. The bill passed unanimously, and Schwarzenegger signed it.

"This will be cradle to grave," said Weisman, of the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility, which has focused its scrutiny on the industry’s costs.

The group has long been suspicious of PG&E’s financial woes, which came to a head this past March when the California Public Utilities Commission allowed the company to use $16.8 million from ratepayers to fund its in-house study of relicensing its two nuclear plants. "The licenses won’t be up until 2023 and 2025, so why are they looking at relicensing now — and why does it cost $16.8 million when the state’s study is projected to cost $800,000?" Weisman asked.

Assemblymember Mark Leno (D–San Francisco) is introducing a bill this year that will undercut PG&E’s study before the CEC’s analysis is completed, which is expected to occur around November 2008.

"Our very simple idea here is that before any relicensing of our aging nuclear power plants can proceed, the CEC study be completed," Leno said. "Clearly, PG&E is very eager to move forward its relicensing process. They have many years to accomplish that task."

Leno said the stakes are too high and the inherent risks of the toxins already accumulated in seismic zones along the coast need to be carefully weighed against the prospects of generating even more waste. "We should proceed with absolute caution, forethought, and consideration."


Those risks, that caution, are something that never leaves the minds of the people who live in the plants’ fallout zones, areas as vast as a steady breeze or trickling flow of water can make them. That’s really the problem with nuclear power plants. After 50 years there are still too many unknowns. In Moore’s lectures and during interviews and debates, the former Greenpeace activist likes to say more people are killed by car accidents and machetes than by nuclear power plants, but that mocks the magnitude of a meltdown.

A car accident kills at most a few people. A machete attack might kill one person. A nuclear accident has the potential to inflict casualties in the tens of thousands, maybe even millions, and to render entire cities uninhabitable. And while most of the time, most of the plants may be perfectly problem free, it only takes one accident to wreak environmental havoc.

These days opposition to nuclear energy isn’t about mass protests in the streets. "When KQED calls and asks for the sounds of a protest, I say that’s not how it happens," Weisman said while showing a DVD of a Jan. 31 San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission meeting that droned on for more than 12 hours. The meeting ultimately resulted in what he’d hoped for: a continuing delay of PG&E’s permit to site new dry-cask storage tanks for thousands of tons of nuclear waste accumuutf8g at the Diablo Canyon Power Plant. He and Rochelle Becker, the group’s director, sat through the whole thing. "That’s what protesting is now," he said.

Becker, a pert, soft-spoken woman with the aging visage of the youngest grandmother in the room, said correctness is crucial. "Never, ever exaggerate. When they want to talk about safety issues and isotopes, we refer them to someone else because we don’t have that expertise. All we have is our credibility, and if we lose our credibility, we don’t have anything."


Which makes what Moore is doing look like such a travesty.

"Maybe we should hire Hill and Knowlton," joked James Riccio, Greenpeace’s nuclear-policy analyst in Washington, DC, on thinking about gearing up for a new wave of anti-nuke activism.

To Riccio, Wasserman, Weisman, Hirsch, Caldicott, and many others who spoke with the Guardian, Moore is nothing but a dangerous distraction who’s getting the wrong kind of attention. Wasserman disputed Moore’s credentials as a Greenpeace founder in the Burlington Free Press article "The Sham of Patrick Moore."

When questioned by the Guardian, Moore called Wasserman a jerk. Moore said he’s still an activist — and in addition to parroting for the nuclear industry, he runs a sustainability consulting company, Greenspirit Strategies, which advises industries on controversial subjects like genetically modifying organisms, clear-cutting, and fish farming. His clients include hazardous waste, timber, biotech, aquaculture, and chemical companies, in addition to conventional utilities that process nuclear power and natural gas.

Moore insists he’s not hiding anything. "In every interview I do the reporter already knows that I’m cochair of the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition and that I work for the nuclear industry," he told us.

But Moore did not identify himself as such during a lengthy interview with us until we asked. The disclosure was also missing during the long biographical presentation given to the folks in Fresno on Feb. 22, which did include pictures of his Rainbow Warrior days. Again, on May 24, Moore didn’t mention his plutonium paycheck during a radio debate on KZYX. Neither did the moderator, and it was only when Hirsch, his debating partner, got a moment to speak that it was revealed. "Let’s be clear here, Patrick," Hirsch said. "You’re being paid by the industry." *

Joseph Plaster, Andrew Oliver, and Sam Draisin helped research this story.

Little green burners


› steve@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY Today’s environmental problems — global warming, peak oil, drastically dwindling biodiversity, an unsustainable economic system that pollutes and consumes too much — are big. And there are many big solutions proposed by big governmental bodies, big individuals, and big corporations.

A major commitment is truly needed, but perhaps it’s the million small innovators and gestures that are most likely to add up to the most fundamental shift. Could these people, linked together, with enough freedom and support to pursue their visions, save the planet?

Burning Man founder Larry Harvey threw a stone into this pond last September when he chose Green Man as the theme for this year’s event, a decision that has rippled through the thousands of creative, capable people who spend much of the year tinkering in workshops around the Bay Area and across the country. People like Jim Mason.

Mason heeded Harvey’s call in his typically exuberant fashion, developing an innovative gasification system that turns biomass waste products into a usable fuel similar to natural gas. Collaborating with fellow artists and engineers in the Shipyard space that he created in Berkeley, Mason has been doing groundbreaking work.

The group converted a 1975 pickup truck owned by impresario Chicken John to run on substances like wood chips and coffee grounds, and Mason and John have been working principally with artists Michael Christian and Dann Davis to develop a fire-spewing, waste-eating, carbon-neutral slug called Mechabolic for Burning Man this year.

"Chicken’s shitty truck is going to be sitting in front of the Silicon Valley’s big alternative-energy conference for venture capitalists," Mason told the Guardian on May 22 as he headed to the Clean Technology 2007 confab, an illustration of the place little innovators are starting to find amid the big.

The New York Times featured Mechabolic in a technology article it ran earlier in May about the Green Man theme, and the project has been a centerpiece of the green evangelizing being done by Burning Man’s new environmental director, Tom Price.

Price has been working with hundreds of innovators like Mason to turn this year’s Burning Man, at least in part, into a green-technology exposition where creative types from around the world can exchange ideas. "It’s the Internet versus the big three networks" was how Price compared the big and small approaches to environmental solutions. "The goal is to show how easy and do-it-yourself profound solutions can be."

But ragtag approaches like Mason’s don’t fit well into institutional assumptions about art and technology, as he discovered May 11 when Berkeley city officials ordered him to shut down the Shipyard or bring it into immediate compliance with various municipal codes.

"They need to temporarily leave while they seek the permits that ensure it’s safe to be there," Berkeley planning director Dan Marks told us May 18. He criticized the Shipyard for using massive steel shipping containers as building material, doing electrical work without permits, and not being responsive to city requests.

The move stopped work on gasification and other projects as the Shipyard crew scrambled to satisfy bureaucratic demands — but it also prompted a letter-writing campaign and offers of outside help and collaboration that convinced Mayor Tom Bates and city council member Darryl Moore to meet with Mason on May 21 and agree to help the Shipyard stay in business.

Berkeley fire chief David Orth and other officials fighting the Shipyard say that Bates has asked for their cooperation. "A request has been made to see what can be done to keep the facility there but bring it into compliance," Orth told us.

All involved say the Shipyard has a long way to go before it’s legal and accepted by the city. Among other things, Mason must prove that the old, recycled oceangoing shipping containers (which enclose the Shipyard and other Bay Area artists’ collectives) are safe. But he and others are hopeful, driven, and convinced that they’re onto something big.

"Places like the Shipyard, which is a cauldron of ideas, don’t fit into the traditional model of how a city should work," Price told us. "The fringes, where the rules are a little fuzzy, is where surprisingly creative things happen." *

Comments, ideas, and submissions for Green City, the Guardian‘s weekly environmental column, can be sent to news@sfbg.com.

The war vote


EDITORIAL Democrat Dianne Feinstein, the senior senator from California, was "deeply disappointed" that the Iraq funding bill passed May 24 "fails to hold the president accountable for his flawed Iraq War policy." Or at least that’s what her official statement says. Yet like a majority of her colleagues, she voted in favor of spending another $100 billion on the war — because "it provides funding for our troops."

That’s the same line Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia used: the bill was "necessary to fund our troops who are now in harm’s way."

That, of course, is nonsense and a demonstration of how the Democratic leadership in Congress has failed to effectively confront a tottering, unpopular, lame-duck president on the most important issue facing the nation.

Let’s be real here: nobody was suggesting that the United States stop issuing paychecks to soldiers or that the money for their meals, uniforms, and ammunition be cut off. This was about politics, about who would blink first. And the Democrats gave up far too quickly.

George W. Bush had already vetoed one bill that would have tied war funding to a timetable for withdrawal. Some Democrats, including newly elected East Bay representative Jerry McNerny, argued that Congress ought to keep sending the same bill back, again and again — and tell the American people that it was Bush who was refusing to support the troops by not signing the measure. That would have set up a confrontation that sharpened the distinctions between Democrats and Republicans — and at a time when the president’s approval rating is below 30 percent and the war is immensely unpopular, it would have ultimately backfired on Bush. It would also have demonstrated to voters that the Democrats meant what they said when they made the war the central issue in the 2006 campaigns.

Instead, the party led by San Francisco’s Nancy Pelosi has apparently adopted a new strategy: wait for ’08. Instead of fighting aggressively to block any further war spending, the Democrats seem willing to let the conflict drag on for another year — hoping that the situation will get so much worse that it will guarantee a Democratic victory in the presidential race.

As pure politics, that may be smart: the more body bags arrive home each week, the fewer votes any Republican gets next fall. But as a matter of policy (and basic humanity), it’s unconscionable: Thousands more will die in the next 18 months. Billions of dollars will be wasted. The time to end the war is now, and we can all worry about the political consequences later.

Pelosi, to her credit, voted against the funding bill. So did Sen. Barbara Boxer. And all the Democrats promised that they wouldn’t let the issue die. The funding only lasts through September, and in the meantime, Congress will take up any number of other efforts to set timetables for withdrawal.

But this was the big one, the bill that could have forced an early end to the war. And it’s not surprising that so many of the millions of voters and grassroots activists who helped put the Democrats in power last fall are angry. Pelosi needs to show she can really lead this party and use the constitutional power the House and Senate have to withhold funding for the war. Forget the White House: another vote like this in September, and the party will have a hard time keeping the loyalists it needs to hold on to the power it has now. *

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

I love the whales, really I do. I even worked for Greenpeace once. I am in awe of these majestic creatures of the deep and see them as indicators of the health of the entire marine environment. Human beings should take care of their cetaceous fellow citizens of the watery planet. Folks, I am so down with the whales.

Yet as the two errant humpbacks led the news again for about the fifth night in a row and the Coast Guard cutters and the helicopters and the array of state wildlife officials and veterinarians swarmed around the Sacramento River basin, I had to stop and wonder, for about the 50th time:

Why don’t they treat wayward people like this?

Every day the streets of San Francisco are full of injured human beings, members of the species Homo sapiens who have been hit by the psychic or physical equivalent of boat propellers. There are women with children who stagger homeless from one place to another, unable to find their way to a functional family.

These living, breathing mammals do not get a special multiagency task force set up, with a designated full-time Coast Guard petty officer as a media liaison and a staff of dozens of officials from the military, the state Department of Fish and Game, the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. They don’t receive what amounts to an unlimited budget to get their wounds treated and their lives turned around.

And the media doesn’t pay any attention to them. Even when they die, as a couple hundred do every year. Nobody who owns a helicopter gives a shit about homeless people in San Francisco.

I’m not going to argue against the whale-rescue effort. I don’t think the Coast Guard ignored any looming terrorist threats in the nearby Pacific or let any sailors die in capsized crafts while it was helping the whales. It was probably a good training exercise for all involved, and hell, if it cost a million bucks, that’s less than the Pentagon wastes every five minutes or so in Iraq. Go team.

I’m just saying, that’s all. I’m just saying.


Way back in 1974, a guy named Sam Lovejoy went on trial for destroying a weather tower in Montague, Mass., that a local utility had built in preparation for the construction of a nuclear power plant. One of Lovejoy’s expert witnesses was John Gofman, a nuclear chemist and the author of the book Poison Power, who made the definitive argument against nuclear energy. The material created by a reactor, he said, must be guarded "99.9999 percent perfectly, in peace and war, with human error and human malice, guerrilla activities, psychotics, malfunction of equipment…. Do you believe there’s anything you’d like to guarantee will be done 99.9999 percent perfectly for 100,000 years?"

You can’t, was the point. Lovejoy walked.

And now, as Amanda Witherell reports in "Nuclear Greenwashing," page 15, the nuclear industry wants a new life. We all ought to know better. *