Volume 41 Number 42

July 18 – July 24, 2007

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Give a hoot (or else)


WILD WILDLIFE Had director Davis Guggenheim attempted to explore all the creative possibilities that lie behind such a name as Al Gore (get it?), An Inconvenient Truth would have been a much more interesting and way scarier film. Not that turning a pressingly threatening environmental issue into unforgettably blatant propaganda isn’t frightening. It’s just that if the former vice president had played some kind of freakish, global-warming-afflicted mutant — roaming the world, secretly planning to take his revenge by literally boring people to death with his clip show — the movie would have been closer to the truth and a lot more alarming.

Fortunately, the curators at Berkeley’s Pacific Film Archive have created a film series that gives environmental concerns the exact twist that Truth lacks and the depth that it persistently avoided. The major theme shared by all the earth-friendly flicks in "Eco-Amok! An Inconvenient Film Fest": the antagonistic relationship between science and nature, with the latter always the triumphant victor. Science is responsible for the destruction of the environment and the birth of many mutations, but it’s also the means by which people try to save the ecosystem.

"Eco-Amok!" ‘s selections also display admirably artistic inventiveness. Frogs (1972), Prophecy (1979), and Meet the Applegates (1991) all present the unstoppable power of nature, but they also reveal the reasons why we stay so apathetic to the danger we are facing. In Frogs the members of a wealthy family whose greed overcomes their environmental sensitivities are picked off, one by one, by the croaking (and hissing, and creepy-crawling) inhabitants of the abused swamp on their estate. In Prophecy the cheapskate owner of a lumber company uses mercury to process wood; as a result, the tainted water supply spawns a nasty-looking mutant bear that devours kids while they dream in their sleeping bags. And in Meet the Applegates, Brazilian cockroaches disguise themselves as a middle-class American family to carry out a nuclear explosion but are corrupted by capitalism’s lure.

Phase IV (1974), a film with extraordinary insect photography and many avant-garde qualities, presents nature’s revenge on a whole different level. Instead of getting rid of humans, hardworking and devoted-to-their-cause ants create a new Adam and Eve — a comment on the mutations that might take place in us if the ecosystem keeps changing at a rapid pace.

But even more troublesome is the obsession with creation that’s present in The Mutations (1974), Silent Running (1972), and Habitat (1997). In these three films, mad scientists are credited with the ability to create life. In The Mutations crazed Dr. Nolter (Donald Pleasence) forges humans from plants. In Silent Running delusional botanist Lowell (Bruce Dern) produces forests while floating in space. The wackiest of them all, Habitat‘s microbiologist Hank (Tchéky Karyo), turns into a higher form of energy after he transforms his house into a living "accelerated evolution" rain forest with the ability to kill.

What those three movies make crystal clear is the same thing that all the other films in the series more or less imply: science, even when used with the best of intentions, can only bring into existence abominable forms of life. Luckily, some of the time, no matter how horrid and gruesome these creations are, nature has better plans, including them in its survival scheme. But in a less fortunate and more frequent variation, these grim new species’ sole objective is to spread mayhem and introduce humans to their messy and abhorrent deaths — which some may argue isn’t so bad either.


Through Aug. 29

Wed., 7:30 p.m., $4–$8

Pacific Film Archive

2575 Bancroft Way, Berk.

(510) 642-1124


Flocking together


They are an odd couple, the giant canary and the lounge-suited would-be lover. Yet you can’t help rooting for the unlikely protagonists of Our Breath Is as Thin as a Hummingbird’s Spine, Nanos Operetta and inkBoat’s collaborative journey into the absurd and hilarious world of love offered and rejected. In two acts and at 75 minutes, this witty charmer drags a bit midway; it probably could be condensed into one act without losing any of its considerable flair. Yet overall the show sings.

Lanky and bald Sten Rudstrom plays a hybrid of Tweety and Big Bird and the object of passionate affection from a wide-eyed dreamer, portrayed by Shinchi Iova-Koga, who will do anything to gain the bird’s attention. That includes donning a Rasputin beard, roosting in a tree, and turning himself into Dr. Strangelove. Ali Tabatabai’s smart script sharply defines its characters. Rudstrom’s placidity contrasts with Iova-Koga’s mercurial intensity; their chemistry carries the show through some of its weaker moments.

Much of Hummingbird‘s gentle humor derives from the physical discrepancies between its two heroes, with Iova-Koga’s love-struck poet trying to make himself more "manly" in the eyes of the laconic avian. Certain moments make you smile with pleasure: Iova-Koga’s quicksilver transformation of a forked stick into a tool and his lip-synching "You Are My Destiny" perfectly to Paul Anka. To watch Rudstrom’s bird finally spread his wings and Iova-Koga’s pursuer shyly rest his head against the bird’s breast is high comedy and also genuinely plaintive.

For the production’s third character, the narrator, imagine Tom Waits as a wandering troubadour in top hat and velvet overcoat, and you get a sense of Nils Frykdahl. Also a member of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, Frykdahl has an astonishing vocal range — he easily slides from bass to soprano, with attacks that are as silken as they are raucous — which is put to first-rate use in the score composed collaboratively by Nanos members Max Baloian, Craig Demel, Robin Reynolds, Tabatabai, and Phil Williams. The music — which includes echoes of those most romantic dance forms, the tango and the waltz — is beautifully orchestrated. No surprise here: that’s something at which Nanos excels.


Through July 28

Thurs.–Sat., 8 p.m., $18–$25

ODC Theater

3153 17th St., SF

(415) 863-9834, www.odctheatre.org

The love below


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Flexing muscles new and old, the 34-season-strong Asian American Theater Company bounds into its new home at Thick House with young Los Angeles playwright Michael Golamco’s wry 2005 comedy, Cowboy vs. Samurai, a clever nod to Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac set in Breakneck, Wyo., among its modest Asian American community.

The town’s Asian American population is so small that it actually doubles (and a community technically forms) with the arrival of high school English teacher and Korean American Travis Park (Chuck Lacson), an easygoing if increasingly exasperated LA transplant. Even this tight-knit society begins fracturing beyond repair with the arrival of a beautiful, self-confident Manhattanite named Veronica Lee (Melissa Navarro), a Korean American who dates only white men. Her sights soon fall on Travis’s friend, PE teacher Del (Wylie Herman), a winsome bit of lanky, twangy beefcake in a rumpled cowboy hat whose eloquent love letters, filled with wonderfully offbeat anecdotes and homespun ruminations on the meaning of love, have her swooning.

But in Golamco’s shrewd and droll calculation, nobody is quite what he or she seems, or is supposed to seem, in this backwater galumphing into multiculturalism. The most unexpected disguise relates to the sure, mature drama that emerges from behind the mask of puerile comedy. If, as Golamco suggests, identity politics in 2007 lie far beyond simple formulas, the AATC’s well-cast and nicely paced production (deftly helmed by San Francisco Mime Troupe veteran Keiko Shimosato) does plain, straightforward justice to this smartly contemporary take on love’s muddled p.c., post-p.c., and pre-p.c. negotiations.


Second Wind Production’s West Coast premiere of Bay Area playwright-director Ian Walker’s latest, The Gravedigger’s Tango, is currently up at A Traveling Jewish Theater, which last year housed Walker’s tightly written, engagingly original play A Beautiful Home for the Incurable. Unfortunately, Gravedigger falls short of that mark, though it continues to reflect a restlessly inventive pen wielded by the creator of works like Vigilance, Ghost in the Light, and The Stone Trilogy.

The new play folds two stories in one: a young woman (Kathryn Tkel) disguised as her couch-bound trailer-park honey, Trick (Joseph Rende), turns up for a job exhuming graves for a cranky caretaker (Doug Thornburg), soon becoming entranced by the rejuvenating story behind a young woman’s dateless tombstone inscribed with her lover’s timeless pledge.

The romantic ghost story feeds an interesting if fuzzy theme of natural and unnatural life, though the tango twist feels more tacked on than fully integrated. The complexity of the interwoven plotlines is a lot to pack in, moreover, and each suffers from underdevelopment and a lack of sustained attention amid dialogue that occasionally sparkles but elsewhere proves flat or stilted. There’s good work among an uneven cast, but some thinly drawn parts can leave even solid actors like Forsman at a loss. Given these limitations, Gravedigger is definitely mixed fare. Even so, its fresher aspects and sizable ambition bode well from a playwright who, like the romantics he juxtaposes on either side of the grave, has much more to give.*


Thurs/19–Sat/21, 8 p.m.; Sun/22, 2 p.m.; $20

Thick House

1695 18th St., SF




Through July 28

Thurs.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; $15–$25

Traveling Jewish Theatre

470 Florida, SF

(415) 508-5614


Sweet Youth


› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER "It was a period where you thought anything could happen," Thurston Moore once told me, talkin’ ’bout the early ’90s alternative rock scene spawned by Sonic Youth’s widely regarded masterpiece, Daydream Nation (DGC, 1988).

One might say the MTV-coined catchphrase "Alternative Nation" went as far as to take its cues from SY’s double disc, which was self-aware enough to dub a track "The Sprawl" and heady enough to venture into the big-statement two-LP turf also being hoed by once–SST kindred Minutemen and Hüsker Dü. Honestly, back in those hazy days, I recall giving it a handful of spins, sensing the distinct odor of a masterpiece, and immediately stopping playing it. Daydream was much too much, too rich for my blood, too jammed with the brainy, jokey pop culture ephemera that had riddled Sonic Youth’s LPs up to that point — positioned as the polar opposite of a hardcore punk 7-inch, which was short, sharp, and built for maximum speed. Yo, you’d never catch Minor Threat doing a double album. Instead Daydream thumbed its nose at the closeted cops in the mosh pit and unfurled like a dark banner announcing: We can’t be contained by your louder, faster, lamer rules. We’re gonna speak to a imaginary country — off Jorge Luis Borges’s and Italo Calvino’s grids — of naval-gazing, candle-clutching misfit visionaries looking for clues in trash cults, Madonna singles, and the burned-out butt end of the Raygun-era ’80s.

Now nearly 20 years old, Daydream — recently given the deluxe reissue treatment with an additional disc of live tracks — brings back memories of prophesy and triggers reminders of mortality. Around the time it first came out, I recall ranting to kindred record store clerks — and anyone who stumbled into my predated High Fidelity daydream — how everything will change when Sonic Youth meets Public Enemy. And it sort of did on Daydream, coproduced by Nicholas Sansano, who engineered PE’s ’88 masterwork It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (Def Jam).

Apparently we were also talkin’ ’bout nation building back then, finding a face and a place for a generation still living at home and struggling for an identity. Imagining a meeting of the most powerful forces in American rock and hip-hop seemed like the next best thing to moving out — and it foreshadowed Goo and touring collaborations to come. Little did I — or Moore — realize that a dozen years after Daydream Nation, the meeting of rock and rap would degrade into what Moore described as "negativecore" and rap-metal units like Limp Bizkit and debacles like Rapestock 2000. Daydream Nation offered a whole other, embracing view of a youth revolution with its opening track and college radio hit "Teen Age Riot." Sonic Youth had dared to write an anthem for a new age of kids, tagged with Kim Gordon’s "you’re it!" — and everyone was on the same page, stoned on Dinosaur Jr.–style Jurassic distortion and thinking-Neanderthal riffs and racing as fast as they could through dreamlike pop pastiche, as embodied by the accompanying video, a kind of decades-late Amerindie response to "White Riot" or "Anarchy in the UK."

On Daydream pop hooks emerged for the first time alongside the ever-coalescing SY aesthetic, with euphoric, charging chord progressions seemingly unrooted to the blues, and the way the group would open into intentionally pretty passages, flaunting the delicate uses of distortion and a feminized rock sensibility. We were all dreaming of Nirvana, a fringe seeping into the pop marketplace. Honestly though, listening to that Daydream again, I couldn’t help but be disappointed. Its brute approach has become a part of ’90s rock’s wallpaper — as Moore confesses in the reissue notes, black metallists have even owned up to copping licks from " ‘Cross the Breeze" — and therefore perhaps sounds more pedestrian. The triptych of "Hey Joni," "Providence," and "Candle" now sounds more charged than "Teen Age Riot" and "Silver Rocket," and I can’t help but think that Sister may be a stronger, more concise album. Perhaps we’re still too close to the stalled staling of the Alternative Nation, though maybe the faded nature of Daydream Nation is tagged to its very status as a classic — how does one pump life into, say, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band?

It does help, however, to play it loud. *


Thurs/19, 8 p.m., $35

Berkeley Community Theatre

1900 Allston Way, Berk.



There was a time when the Bay’s Lovemakers looked like they were going to get all the love nationally — an Interscope deal tucked neatly into their back pocket and a heavy-breathing following around town. So what happened?

"Interscope asked us if we wanted to do another record," vocalist-guitarist Scott Blonde says from Oakland, "and we said no, because our A&R guy was obviously really into us and he and his assistant worked really hard for us, but it didn’t seem possible to get Brenda Romano, who runs the radio department, to get into it enough to put it ahead of 50 Cent and Gwen Stefani." He chuckles.

These days, the band members are focusing on making love on their own terms: their Misery Loves Company EP comes out July 24, the first release on San Francisco’s Fuzz label.

"Obviously we got more cash dollars’ support on Interscope," vocalist-bassist-violinist Lisa Light adds from the Mission District. "But the thing is the way it gets spent. Interscope would spend $5,000 doing stupid things — in bad taste a lot of times too. Not only were you embarrassed by the dumb posters they did, they weren’t in the right places. We’ve been able to hire a radio promoter and a cool PR company. It’s all about finding the people who actually care. You cannot pay for that at all."

"We’re looking at the future of music a lot, and selling CDs isn’t really part of the future seemingly," Blonde continues. "So it’s kinda about coming up with really innovative ways of getting our music out there in the biggest way possible." He says the Lovemakers have already gotten more radio ads on stations like Los Angeles’s KROQ for the first single off Misery than anything off their major label release: "We thought Interscope was going to be our ticket."


Sat/21, 9 p.m., $18

Bimbo’s 365 Club

1025 Columbus, SF




Are more listeners seeking out music’s edgier tones? Edgetone New Music Summit mastermind Rent Romus believes that’s the case. "I’ve been running the Luggage Store series for five years now — last night we had 70 people," he told me. "It’s not about the hit song but about performance and performers." His fest has that critical mixture of daring performers: SF trumpeter Liz Allbee and bowed-gong player Tatsuya Nakatani, Wobbly, Darwinsbitch (sound artist–violinist Marielle Jakobsons), instrument inventor Tom Nunn, High Vulture (with MX-80 guitarist Bruce Anderson), Hammers of Misfortune vocalist Jesse Quattro, Eddie the Rat, and the Gowns. July 22–28. See www.edgetonemusicsummit.org for schedule


The noisy Boise, Idaho, bass-drum duo waxes darkly on Sea of Sand (Olde English Spelling Bee). Wed/18, 9:30 p.m., $5. Edinburgh Castle Pub, 950 Geary, SF. (415) 885-4074, www.castlenews.com


Sept. 11’s Our Ill Wills (Merge) is unveiled by Sweden’s shouters. Wed/18, 9 p.m., $15. Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell, SF. www.rickshawstop.com


Rilo Kiley keyboardist Shana Levy charts a sweet indie pop course with her debut, The Chaos in Order (Yardley Pop/GR2). With Oh No! Oh My! and the Deadly Syndrome. Wed/18, 8 p.m., $12–$14. Independent, 628 Divisadero, SF. www.theindependentsf.com


Three number one albums strong, the tuneful Aussie rockers muscle onto the US scene with Convicts (Yep Roc). Wed/18, 8 p.m., $13. Slim’s, 333 11th St., SF. www.slims-sf.com


The blues vocalist and harp player bubbles up with Magic Touch (Blind Pig). Fri/20, 8 and 10 p.m., $15. Biscuits and Blues, 401 Mason, SF. (415) 292-2583, www.biscuitsandblues.com


The Mission’s Jazz Mafia collectivists bring out the big guns for their CD release get-down. With Crown City Rockers. Fri/20, 9 p.m., $15–$18. Independent, 628 Divisadero, SF. www.theindependentsf.com


Love Jill Olson’s "I’m Not the Girl for You" off the SF C&W combo’s new We Never Close (Ranchero). With Big Smith and William Elliott Whitmore. Sat/21, 9 p.m., $15–$17. Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell, SF. $15-$17. www.gamh.com

Are you game?


› paulr@sfbg.com

Nutritional revelation reaches the public consciousness these days as a kind of fireworks, erratic alternations of bomb blasts and star bursts, terror and jubilation (eggs are bad; no, they’re good!) — but amid the flash and smoke, an understanding does grow stronger. The understanding is that a healthy diet for our kind is some version of the hunter-gatherer diet, which we’ve evolved to thrive on. So: lots of fruits and vegetables, nuts and berries, some fish and lean meat, along with a wariness about cereal crops, sugar in its many forms, industrial fat, and processing generally.

The archetypal hunter-gatherer diets in North America were those of the Indians, of course, and while theirs is largely a lost world, it’s not completely so. A glowing shard of the continent’s aboriginal culinary past can be found in Where People Feast: An Indigenous People’s Cookbook, by Dollie and Annie Watts (Arsenal Pulp, $21.95 paper), which not only is that rare bird, an Indian cookbook, but also provides considerable guidance on how to deal with such game meats as venison, elk, and buffalo (though bison are cultivated now). The book may be especially appealing to Californians and other West Coasters since many of its recipes are drawn from the lore of British Columbia’s Gitk’san First Nation and make liberal use of ingredients (besides game) familiar to us, such as Dungeness crab, king salmon, oysters, and clams.

Many of us already know how to handle that stuff. Game meat is — sorry, can’t resist — another kettle of fish. Its leanness is a boon to human health but at the same time makes it harder to handle; it dries out and turns tough more readily than fattier meats like beef. Many of Where People Feast‘s recipes, interestingly, use elk meat and venison in ground form — for meatballs, shepherd’s pie, and pâté. When whole pieces of meat are called for, in grilled elk medallions, say, marination is standard procedure.

Apart from the perils of dryness and toughness, game meat is also … gamy. Its scent and flavor are intensely meaty. Recently I was given some ground moose meat (moose are the largest members of the deer family) and made a Bolognese sauce out of it. The sauce was wonderfully rich, but the smell of it filled the house and flowed into the garden, a kind of fireworks for the nose.

Two synthesizers and a microphone


› molly@sfbg.com

When Chromeo released their Vice debut, She’s in Control, in 2004, the electrofunk duo from Montreal mainly stayed a cult favorite, semifamous for their single "Needy Girl" and mostly unknown otherwise. But with their just-released sophomore album, Fancy Footwork (Vice), and their tour with Jock Jams favorites Flosstradamus, it seems their ’80s pop–influenced, synth-heavy dance beats may have finally found their temporal groove. After all, if T-shirts masquerading as dresses and leggings masquerading as pants can come back, why can’t foot-tapping, bleep-blooping, stay-in-your-head-all-day music? (Especially since, unlike those other retro trends, Chromeo’s music actually works.)

But don’t think that Chromeo is just a throwback joke band, satirizing male-male ’80s pop — they call themselves "the thugged-out Hall and Oates" — the way the Darkness satirizes glam rock. Sure, the Montreal-born longtime friends, P-Thugg (Patrick Gemayel, who daylights as an accountant) and Dave-1 (Dave Macklovitch, who’s also earning his doctorate in French lit at Columbia University), have a sense of humor about their music; one look at the Fancy Footwork cover, on which synthesizers have sexy mannequin legs, tells you that — to say nothing of their claim that they’re the first successful Arab-Jewish collaboration in history.

But the music is no joke. Taking a step away from their past as hip-hop producers, the team decided to pay homage to the musicians who helped shape them, from Phil Collins to Robert Palmer.

"I grew up on MTV," Macklovitch writes in an e-mail interview. "I used to watch Billy Ocean and Huey Lewis videos and I wanted to be those guys. I got my first erection watching David Lee Roth’s ‘California Girls’ video."

It’s what made their first full-length so much fun: just like the records of those bands in the ’80s, it’s totally earnest about its danceability, its focus on relationships, and its love of computerized sounds. But rather than regurgitate the same formula, Gemayel and Macklovitch took enough time with their second disc to do something a bit different. Fancy Footwork is a more sophisticated collection of songs, both musically and thematically. "Momma’s Boy" is a funny, self-aware ode to the Oedipus complex; "Opening Up," a fresh, unusual take on the rebound relationship — which, by the way, references "Needy Girl." And if there’s any question that these are dance anthems written from a mature perspective, there’s "Bonafied Lovin’," a song about what an older man can offer a woman that her younger boyfriend can’t, from the perspective of someone who actually knows ("Never mind an SMS/ What you need is a sweet caress").

Complaints about Chromeo come mostly from the electronic music community, which argues that their simple beats and Prince-inspired melodies don’t add much to the techno canon. But Chromeo shouldn’t be compared to the Chemical Brothers. This is dance-party, road-trip, living-room-Jazzercise, and MySpace theme song music: fun taken seriously.*


With Flosstradamus, Codebreaker, and DJs Jefrodisiac and Richie Panic

Mon/23, 9 p.m.; free with RSVP at going.com/chromeo


444 Jessie, SF

(415) 625-8880


For the rest of the interview with Chromeo’s Dave-1, go to www.sfbg.com/blogs/music.

L.A.’s dark side


Just as many Angelenos surely paint San Francisco as a fog-ridden vortex crawling with hippies, a lot of folks here in the Bay Area remain convinced that Los Angeles means little more than sunshine, surfers, and superficiality. So who’s right? Neither, to be fair. Take LA: insist that it’s all shiny and sparkly, and you’re skipping over the seedy and sordid bits of the city’s history (also known as "the good stuff"). What about James Ellroy, Raymond Chandler, film noir? And what of the darkness and disillusionment of the Doors and Love? There’s a whole other side to LA where the sun never shines, bless its murky little heart …

Midnight Movies emerge from the creeping shadows of the City of Angels like a pack of Philip Marlowe acolytes, but here’s the kicker: picture them setting up camp on the Sunset Strip, roosting among the rebels and the riots of its ’60s to ’70s heyday. Their sophomore release, Lion the Girl (New Line), is a quintessentially LA disc in the same sense that one of the band’s main reference points, the Velvet Underground, will be forever identified with New York: both celebrate their hometowns’ geography of grit with a language that’s equal parts unsettling and alluring.

Many of the inevitable VU comparisons stem from vocalist Gena Olivier’s brooding alto, which bears a striking resemblance to that of the Velvets’ Teutonic ice maiden, Nico. Broadcast’s Trish Keenan also comes to mind, but Olivier brings considerably larger doses of warmth and a broader vocal range to Midnight Movies’ electropsychedelic garage racket, along with the slightest hint of a Gallic lilt that reimagines Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier as a postcomedown California Girl. And if we’re going to throw one more touchstone into the mix, Midnight Movies share a spirit with Liverpool’s Clinic — thanks to the organ squalls, primal rhythms, and bristling guitars of Ryan Wood, Sandra Vu, and Larry Schemel.

Truth be told, only two albums into their career, Midnight Movies sound like little else. Whether wafting ghostly sunrise lullabies on classic 4AD–worthy "Dawn," love-nesting away in a morning-after haze to murmurs of "You’re all I want to know" on the glockenspiel-twinkled ballad "Ribbons," or launching into fuzz overload with convincing foreboding on "24 Hour Dream," Olivier and her fellow proponents of psychedelic garage noir arrive with a singularly bewitching vision of their LA. "We warp and swell and bend," she sings on "Souvenirs"; in listening to the spectral storytelling on Lion the Girl, I see what she means.


With Nico Vega and the Gray Kid

Sat/21, 9 p.m., $10


444 Jessie, SF

(415) 625-8880


Keeping up with Melina Jones


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

MC Melina Jones represents everything that’s right with hip-hop. She’s female, she’s socially conscious, her lyrics are tight, and she’s fully clothed onstage. You won’t see the MC from "Sucka Free" (i.e., San Francisco) in any metal bustiers or stripper attire, à la raunch rappers Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown, who, along with their thug-rap male counterparts, helped hypersexualize hip-hop to the point where it’s become nearly inhospitable for self-respecting females.

She is a perfect fit for Girl Fest Bay Area, now in its second year. The event aims to promote female empowerment and prevent violence against women and girls through art and education. Fortunately, the festival organizers have chosen appropriately fierce artists to represent this noble endeavor, including some of the illest up-and-coming voices in hip-hop, neosoul, and spoken word: homegrown talents Jennifer Johns, Femi, Mystic, and Aya de Leon, as well as legendary Los Angeles rapper Medusa. These ladies of the underground are worlds away from the willowy, lily white womyn artists who feathered girl-power gynopaloozas such as Lilith Fair in the ’90s. I mean, how much of a cultural impact did Jewel really have?

Jones, in contrast, is quick to clown anyone for making too much of the fact that she’s a woman who raps — or for dismissing hip-hop wholesale. She often checks people for describing her as a "female MC," because "I wouldn’t classify Mos Def as a male MC. I would just classify him as an MC and a really dope artist," Jones tells me at Cafe Abir. "So as soon as you say, ‘female MC,’ that already kind of diminishes some of the respect and some of the value of a woman that happens to be an MC."

To Jones, it shouldn’t be much of an issue that "one of Sucka Free’s flowest got mammary glands," as she proclaims on "Picket Fences," the opening track of her first full-length, Swearing Off Busters (Female Fun). She painstakingly crafted the album over the past several years so that it would be "beautiful without being pretty, meaning that I wanted … each song to be really lovely but edgy at the same time. I don’t like things that are too shiny or … too cute or too easy on the ears."

Jones achieves this balance, showcasing her poetic skill in diverse musical settings, from smoky ballads such as "Love in Progress" and "Wrap You Up" to cipherworthy battle-rap tracks like "Rock with Fire" and "Knock Ya Block Off." Jones’s musical partner, DJ-producer Deedot, furnishes lush, loungy instrumentation that complements her lyrics, whether he’s drawing inspiration from cool jazz, trip-hop, or stanky West Coast funk.

In classical hip-hop style, Jones brings a sense of bravado to her songwriting and performing. She doesn’t shy away from criticizing wack MCs or, for that matter, anyone else who brings disrespect to the temple of hip-hop, while her hard work recording and gigging has begun to pay off with brisk sales on iTunes and bubbling word of mouth. Yet she’s motivated more by love of the form than an egotistical need to get over on competitors. In another line, she professes to have "heart and hella soul. I rock from my colon. Like Olivia Newton-John, I’m hopelessly devoted. Making average MCs feel mighty crunchy and corroded."

Tapping masculine and feminine energies, Jones is a fighter and a nurturer in her approach to rap, calling out music industry busters in order to protect hip-hop, to keep it healthy and vital. In the song "Tunnel Vision," she reflects how hip-hop "got took" by corporate interests, "but now we taking back the spot. Won’t get got another millisecond on the clock. The next time around, no chance of shutting us down. No option but to follow, submit to the underground."

If there’s a hint of the maternal in Jones’s attitude toward hip-hop — she is, after all, the mother of an 11-year-old ("I’m constantly putting that boy in check," she jokes) — she’s anything but matronly. Nor is the stylish MC afraid to reveal her glam-y, girly side, a move that hip-hop’s hardcore and most highly respected female rappers were hesitant to make in the beginning of their careers (think MC Lyte, Yo-Yo, Eve). Jones, who professes to "love to play dress-up" and "invest in hella makeup," acknowledges how difficult it is to be taken seriously as a woman in the rap game and how a lot of her peers "kind of grime themselves out."

"When I spit," she explains, "I’m really not interested in trying to make my voice sound like a dude or even taking the place or the role [of a man]. I’m not trying to bust anyone’s balls, unless you take me there …"

Given her cover-girl good looks, the MC likely has to go there fairly often. She recounts one time when she had to deflect a cheesy come-on by a club-owner type — behavior that in any other professional field would clearly be defined as sexual harassment. "I definitely get challenged by men all the time who are in the game," she confesses. "[It’s] nuance[ed]; it’s not like somebody just coming right out…. It’s those little tiny inflections of body language that tell me [they’re] sexualiz[ing] me."

Jones doesn’t waste too much time playing the victim, however, or complaining about misogyny in hip-hop to the point where there’s no joy in it or room to maneuver. "These clowns can say what they want," she defiantly proclaims. "I’m gonna do my thing. There’s a power in that."*


Appearing at "Women Re-Birthing Justice"

Sun/22, 1–5 p.m., free

Dolores Park

Dolores and 18th St., SF

For other events at Girl Fest Bay Area, July 19–22, go to www.girlfestbayarea.org.

Let there be light


› cheryl@sfbg.com

Remember that old Twilight Zone episode in which the earth and the sun got way too close for comfort? The twist was that the feverish protagonist had actually dreamed the hellish heat wave — and our shivering planet was drifting away from the sun instead. Another deep freeze awaits the human race in Sunshine, which imagines that the sun has begun to die billions of years before its expiration date. It’s 2057, a close-enough future to keep things familiar yet far enough to allow for certain technological advancements, like the invention of a Manhattan-size bomb powerful enough to jump-start the sun, and a spaceship, Icarus II, that can deliver such a cargo to the star’s searing surface.

Guiding what they call "the payload" to its destination is a crew that’s somewhere between the scrappy Alien gang and the perfunctory 2001: A Space Odyssey explorers. Icarus II comes equipped with a supercomputer that runs everything — imagine, uh, Alien‘s Mother crossed with 2001‘s HAL 9000. Sunshine shares other similarities with sci-fi films past (thankfully, beyond some superficial elements, The Core is not among them): the psychological effects of deep-space claustrophobia and the knowledge that there is "literally nothing more important than completing our mission," as engineer Mace (Chris Evans) points out. What individual would jeopardize a quest to ensure survival of the species?

Well, that’s why they call it a conflict. We learn in the first five minutes that the ship, which sets sail less than a decade after the failed Icarus I, is Earth’s last hope. The eight personalities aboard include aloof physicist Capa (Cillian Murphy), practical biologist Corazon (Michelle Yeoh), and medical officer Searle (Whale Rider‘s Cliff Curtis), who lingers in Icarus II‘s observation room, drinking in the approaching sun. The sun’s complicated allure is a key Sunshine theme: It’s mesmerizing. It creates life. To a scientist, it’s God. But it’ll fry you alive, especially in space, where the Icarus II‘s SPF needs are met by a glinting shield covered in gold.

It’s certain that director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Alex Garland are nodding to you-know-which Greek myth about what happens when people fly too close to the sun — though mental meltdowns keep pace with literal ones on Sunshine‘s journey. The pair are probably best known for 28 Days Later, which injected a host of post–<\d>Sept. 11 worries into the zombie genre. It’s tempting to look for a similar metaphor here, but as befits the film’s setting, Sunshine‘s concerns are far more metaphysical. The doomsday scenario it suggests — call it anti–<\d>global warming — stirs up fears embedded in humanity’s DNA. "We might get picked off one by one by aliens!" an Icarus II crew member jokes, but Sunshine‘s lingering effects dig deeper than any Ridley Scott rip-off. As realistic and science based as any film about rocketing to the sun can hope to be, Sunshine elegantly, eerily taps into the same anxiety as that Twilight Zone episode — that we’re all part of a particular cosmic scheme that will eventually, inevitably end.*


Opens Fri/20 in San Francisco theaters

See Movie Clock at www.sfbg.com

Festival Guide


The opening-night selection at the Jewish Film Festival is Israeli writer-director Dror Shaul’s worldwide prizewinner, Sweet Mud. It views 1974 kibbutz life from a 12-year-old’s perspective, but don’t expect rosy childhood nostalgia. Though it doesn’t lack humor or adventure, it takes on backstabbing and conservatism in kibbutzim.

On a lighter note, the closing-night film Making Trouble: Three Generations of Jewish Funny Women is a TV-style documentary enjoyable simply for its episodic homage to six famous funny ladies, including Ziegfeld Follies star Fanny Brice, brassy belter Sophie Tucker, and Saturday Night Live‘s Gilda Radner. Though the career of still-breathing subject Joan Rivers has skewed toward tacky celebrity-culture exploitation, she’s sharp and candid discussing an uphill climb from being the most-hated female sassmouth on the Catskills circuit.

There are several culture-clash comedies at this year’s JFF, and one sure bet is French actor Roschdy Zem’s charming directorial debut, Bad Faith. He and Cécile de France play Parisians of wholly secular Muslim and Jewish backgrounds, respectively. Their romance goes swimmingly until she becomes pregnant, sparking all kinds of familial strife. The fest’s sidebars include a miniretrospective for Berlin-based Jewish director Dani Levi, who made a splash with 2005’s farcical Go for Zucker. Levi is the winner of the fest’s Freedom of Expression award; alas, his latest, My Fuehrer: The Truly Truth about Hitler, strains mightily and uselessly to burlesque the Third Reich’s waning days.

Among the JFF’s Israeli documentaries, one delight is Shlomo Hazan’s hour-long Film Fanatic. It follows entrepreneur Yehuda Grovais’ attempts to create a commercial ultra-Orthodox cinema — even though his constituency is explicitly banned from watching theatrical films. Among US documentaries, one winner is Ilana Trachtman’s world-premiere feature Praying with Lior, a family portrait that illuminates issues of faith, disability, and self-sacrifice.

Silent voice


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

When US moviemaking started out, it was an enterprise disreputable enough to attract the wrong sort of people: get-rich-quick speculators, third-tier theater folk, organized crime, and even — god forbid — Jews. The last rose to pilot most major studios as Hollywood became a gigantic industry. Yet this alleged Jewish mafia (a term still not fully retired in some circles) seldom used wealth and imagistic power to integrate fellow Jews into the cultural mainstream. Instead, they largely buried their ethnicity by living outrageously grandiose versions of the WASP American dream. The movies they made suggested a melting-pot fondue composed solely of Anglo-Saxon American cheese.

A long line of stars stretching from cowboy hero Bronco Billy onward adopted Anglicized names and hid (or at least didn’t publicize) their ethnicity, among them Lauren Bacall, Charles Bronson, Tony Curtis, Lorne Greene (birth name: Chaim Leibowiz), and Judy Holliday. (If you think this practice doesn’t continue today, dig beneath the surface.) The moguls themselves practiced private-sphere assimilation by ditching Jewish first wives for apple-pie glamazons.

Nonetheless, the number of films produced during Hollywood’s first decades meant a few Jewish movies slipped onto the screen, if only for novelty’s sake. One is a 1925 feature called His People. This rediscovered gem is the centerpiece attraction of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival’s 27th annual program. Its July 21 screening at the Castro Theatre will be accompanied by a commissioned score played live by New York City jazz star Paul Shapiro and his sextet.

Shapiro will be the big lure for many. I hope his klezmer bop sounds don’t overwhelm the film. It has a relatively simple, borderline-cliché plot, including a variation on the classic "I hef no son!" moment, which reached a camp zenith when rabbi Sir Laurence Olivier disowned Neil Diamond in 1980’s remake of The Jazz Singer. But prolific, forgotten director Edward Sloman handles even that purple melodrama with tact and affection.

In "the Ghetto" (as titles inform us) of NYC’s Lower East Side, the Comiskey family struggles along. Devout immigrant father David (Rudolph Schildkraut) pegs all of his hopes on studious offspring Morris (Arthur Lubin). Dad is harsher in his judgment of Sammy (George Lewis), a street scrapper (usually in the service of defending his jag-off sib) and supposed ne’er-do-well. Only Mama Rose (Rosa Rosanova) perceives Sammy’s true-blue nature, while suspecting Morris is a weasel. It’s Sammy’s scandalous moonlighting as a boxer that puts his bro through law school. After graduating, little ingrate Morris gets a prize position and courts his rich uptown boss’s WASP daughter, claiming that he’s "an orphan" when queried about his background. Fear not: his comeuppance will be mighty, though not unforgiving.

His People is a real discovery. Wonderfully openhearted and funny, the film respects both cultural tradition and progress, rejoicing in Sammy’s love for Irish girl next door Mamie Shannon (Blanche Mehaffey). Brit transplant Sloman also directed another obscure but admirable Jewish-themed silent, 1927’s Surrender, among nearly 100 Hollywood titles. (He also racked up dozens of screen credits as an actor.) This movie suggests a major talent, yet his career sputtered once the talkies arrived. By 1938 he’d abandoned movies for radio work. In 1972 he died in Woodland Hills at the age of 86.

His People is a major exception to the silent era’s ironic general avoidance of Jewish imagery beyond the occasional comic stereotype, scheming shopkeeper, or biblical flashback. Even after Al Jolson kicked off the sound era as a cantor’s son in the 1927 part-talkie version of The Jazz Singer, Jews largely remained in the closet onscreen. They were permitted to be funny, to sing, to do serious thespian heavy lifting, so long as they appeared merely ethnic, preferably passing for Italian, amorous "Latin," or best of all, solid-gold WASP. You can’t condemn yesteryear’s performers for doing what they needed to do to succeed. But this box office hit from 1925 suggests how much richer history — the history of movies, just for starters — might have been if everyone had been encouraged to be themselves from the start.*


July 19–<\d>Aug. 6, most shows $9

See film listings for schedule

(925) 275-9490


The Dining Room


› paulr@sfbg.com

Ritz sounds a lot like rich, and you might well catch a glimpse of some rich people as you make your way toward the Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton, where you have taken care to make a reservation. You might see them, financiers and captains of industry with entourages of family, debouching from black Lincoln Town Cars in front of the hotel, a colonnaded fortress of marble that sits like the Parthenon on an outlier of Nob Hill. The rich are different from you and me, Scott Fitzgerald said, but they get hungry too, and they know a good spot when they find one.

When I last visited the Dining Room, about a decade ago, Sylvain Portay had just become chef, and the mâitre d’ was Nick Peyton, pioneer of the cheese cart. Both are gone now, off to other ventures, but the cheese cart remains — reinforced by a champagne cart and a digestif cart — while the chef’s toque came to rest three years ago on the head of Ron Siegel. His penultimate gig was at Masa’s, and Masa’s is probably the restaurant in the city that most neatly compares with the Dining Room. At both places, Siegel seems to have eased a certain Gallic haute rigueur and added notes of Asian whimsy without descending into chaos. The Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton has long been, and remains, among the most formal and correct restaurants you will find in this city — also among the priciest. But it isn’t stuffy, and the money spent, on the food and the enveloping experience, is money well spent.

Who among us could dislike a restaurant that sends bottles of fine champagne trundling from table to table on a wheeled apparatus laden with shaved ice? You know the wine is well chilled because you can see the bottles sweating as, one by one, they are lifted from the cart and presented to you, and if a glass of Henriot rosé ends up costing $22, then you will be glad you enjoyed your glass and didn’t order a second.

You wouldn’t really have had time to enjoy the refill, anyway, since the three-course à la carte menu ($74) is punctuated not only by a bread service but also by a sequence of dazzling amuses bouches, beginning perhaps with a creamed-spinach risole (a half-moon-shaped pastry pouch), continuing with a strip of crisp-fried Japanese butterfish presented on pickled daikon, and culminating in a divine sea urchin panna cotta, served like a bit of leftover sour cream in a martini glass and finished with a splash of extra-virgin olive oil infused with Tahitian vanilla.

Compared to these bright little dabs of flavor, flaring and vanishing like the glow of fireflies in the summer night, the first courses are large enough to last for several bites. A wild-mushroom soup required some assembly, with the puree poured from a glass teapot over a pair of lobster ravioli waiting at the bottom of the bowl. An heirloom tomato salad, meanwhile, consisted of several fat disks of blood-red tomato of that 11th-hour, beginning-to-split ripeness you sometimes find in the final minutes of farmers markets. Goat cheese, a familiar accoutrement to such salads, was well marbled here and jumbled among the mixed baby greens like strips of pork fat.

Since it is king salmon season for the first time in several years, one took delivery of the fish with some sense of greeting a long-lost acquaintance. (The three-course option gives you choice of starter, main dish, and dessert, but there are also several set multicourse menus, one of them vegetarian.) The salmon turned out to be a wonderfully crisped, medium-rare square of filet, presented on a green and yellow blanket of béarnaise sauce and English-pea puree, with some wild-mushroom dice and baby leeks enhancing the sense of rich earthiness.

Sea bream en papillote, by contrast, struck an ethereal note. The fish, along with a bouquet of lemon verbena, was cooked to exquisite moistness in a glove of aluminum foil, which was presented whole before being cut open tableside. The dish also filled out our daily ration of pasta pillows; once the filet had been extracted from its crinkly lair, it was laid to rest on a handful of porcini ravioli, with lemon verbena sauce poured around.

The cheese course, at $18, isn’t a bad deal. You get four choices from the day’s array of cheeses, and the chunks (along with bread, grapes, mulberry jam, honeycomb, and roasted almonds) are big enough to share. We noted several varieties from Cowgirl Creamery on the cart; 10 years ago, almost all the selections were from France. I let the cheddarhead have at it while contenting myself with a glass of Darozze Armagnac ($16), poured from the lazing digestif cart. Armagnac has a pleasant fieriness, almost like a cross between cognac and calvados.

Dessert brought our only disappointment: a chocolate savarin that seemed dry despite a good soaking with some orange liqueur. The chocolate manjari caramel cake, on the other hand — escorted by a tuile and a pat of walnut ice cream — was alive with moistness and suppleness, and no wonder it’s a mainstay of the pastry menu. Then there were the petits fours, followed by a parfait, of blueberry-fennel crumble atop lemon verbena cream atop strawberry jam — a school’s-out-for-the-summer treat subtly adjusted for an adult sensibility.

According to Open Table, the restaurant’s dress code is "jacket preferred," and that is probably enough to ward off hip-huggerists. At least we saw none. The tone, as in the rest of the hotel, is one of old money comfortable in its skin while gliding across a red and gold carpet of quiet beauty and richness.*


Dinner: Tues.–Thurs., 5–9 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 5:30–9:30 p.m.

600 Stockton, SF

(415) 773-6168


Not noisy


Full bar

Wheelchair accessible

Lonely enough


› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS I don’t even know the name of this river. Three, four, maybe more years in a row we’ve been coming here, and the women bring magazines. My brother and Wayway and Jolly Boy go fishing and don’t catch fish. I sit on the rocks with a pen and don’t catch poetry.

At the bottom of the river, on a slimy rock, sits a barrel-shaped bug with four black legs sticking out of its head, an off-center orange dot, and — I swear — barnacles …

Nature is so punk! Here’s a duck with a Mohawk, and eight cute little ducklings, then the next day seven. Then six … The river speaks for itself, no fish, no poetry, all rocks and swirl, and yesterday a young woman from the campground wandered downriver to us, on something and full of questions. Where are you from? Are you white? Do you have kids with you? Who here don’t you like?

Dogs lick toads to hallucinate. Cats like catnip. Nature uses. Our "innocents" high on s’mores and we in our various states of adult intoxication decide, sitting around the fire, that the young upriver woman is a serial killer. This distracts us temporarily from the very real fear of bears, who have been knocking over our bear boxes, breaking into cars, and sniffing our tents in the middle of the night.

If the campfire is town square, or San Francisco, then I pitched my tent in Sonoma County, in a dense, dark cluster of pine trees. Why? I’m lonely enough. Do I still need distance? Seclusion? I’m not brave. I have nothing to hide, even less to prove.

But when I get up to pee the stars comfort the fuck out of me. And when I curl back into my warm, soft wrappings, I am surer than ever that I am dead. The adamant meat eater’s comeuppance: to play the juicy part of a bear’s burrito. I lie awake and breathless, listening to pine cones decompose, and seriously consider just sitting outside until morning. On a rock. With a pen.

The river speaks for itself, but Taqueria San Jose needs me. One tiny shrimp taco has 10 times as many shrimps on it as Papalote’s. But the salsa’s not great.

But no line. In fact, no one at all. A newspaper clipping on a post says San Jose’s are the best tacos in the world. I wouldn’t know, but I can tell you it’s my new favorite taquería.

My companions barely touched their food.

The Maze, just back from New York and St. Louis, couldn’t believe that his chicken was chicken. Anyway, it wasn’t the way he’d wanted it. And his friend from work didn’t seem too thrilled with her quesadilla. I tried to interest them in tasting my tiny taco, or side-order ceviche, but they weren’t biting. I think they were put off by the place’s unpopularity.

I don’t know why I love empty restaurants. Maybe it’s the same impulse that makes me pitch my tent where no one else is. And maybe it will be the death of me, by mauling, exposure, broken heart, food poisoning, serial-killing camper chick … One thing: I won’t die of starvation.

The Maze, who might, asks as many questions as our campfire killer. Although, admittedly, his make more sense. I’d wanted to hear about his adventures in New York and St. Lulu, but mostly we talked about the usual: ethics, spirituality, chickens. I’d missed the tangling tree roots of his forehead and tried to keep him perplexed with my goofball philosophies.

At the bar I mostly talked to her. We had the same favorite restaurant in New Hampshire! I didn’t know if they were on a date or what, but she left first, and he walked her out, then came back and walked me home. Not that he meant to; we just couldn’t stop talking. He had a million questions and it was a beautiful night. I don’t think he knew if he was on a date either.

Something had happened between them, and he seemed wracked with amazement and uncertainty. "How do you know …," he asked, rhetorically, and before he could finish the question I said, "You don’t."

My stomach growled. We were standing outside of Sockywonk’s, whispering, so as not to wake her neighborhood’s dogs and babies.

I already knew the answer (no), but anyway I invited the Maze inside. I wanted his burrito, and never have I meant a thing more literally. He had most of his rejected dinner with him, in a bag. If he didn’t want it, I did.

Does my longing speak for itself? Does it have a name, or fish in it, or poetry? It kills me how few people have ever even heard of Richard Brautigan. *


Daily, 8 a.m.–11 p.m.

2830 Mission, SF

(415) 282-0203



Wheelchair accessible

Cooties roundup


› andrea@altsexcolumn.com

Dear Andrea:

I get cold sores on my lips. Since I don’t want to infect my wife with the herpes virus when I have an outbreak, I don’t kiss or go down on her. Am I being too cautious? Is it safe to go down on her while I have cold sores?


Careful Hubby

PS I like the way you always end your responses with "Love."

Dear Hub:

Me too, thanks. And of course you’re not being too cautious. The mouth kind of herpes (herpes simplex one) prefers mouths and the other sort (simplex two, natch) prefers the other places. But like so many of us, it can be persuaded to switch sides under the right circumstances. Keep doing what you’re doing, since it seems to be working. The bad news may be that one can spread herpes even in the absence of obvious sores, but the good news is that you probably haven’t, and it looks like you probably won’t.



Dear Andrea:

What’s the deal with the transmission of HPV? Is it spread by contact with the blisters themselves or the area in which the blisters appear, or is it blood-borne and spread by contact between uninfected orifices? Could a man with warts on the ween transmit warts through his mouth to an uninfected vadge? What about the inverse of that scenario?

What is the safe sex protocol for genital warts?


Just a Weency Question

Dear Ween:

Um … which goes in the what now? I got lost somewhere between ween and vadge. When my kids are ready to start learning body parts, remind me to teach them the proper terms plus one cute but recognizable and also not too cute euphemism each (each kid or each part, whichever) for use in public places. And remind me not to put ween or — seriously, I mean this — vadge on the list of options while I’m at it.

OK, this part is important: HPV stands for human papilloma virus, a.k.a. genital warts. The blisters-causing thing is herpes, a.k.a. HSV, which is similar in a lot of ways (caused by a virus, treatable but incurable, and spread by contact) but not at all the same thing.

The quickie answers to your questions would go something like this: it’s spread by contact with the infected area or something that’s been in contact with same; it is not blood-borne; and the safe-sex protocol is "Don’t touch uninfected partners with your affected bits or with other body parts or random objects which have recently rubbed up against your affected bits." Since HPV is very complicated, confusing, common, and potentially deadly, I strongly urge those who know as little about these things as you do to go from here to someplace like www.ashastd.org or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site and read more before rubbing anything much of yours against anybody else’s anything, really.



Dear Andrea:

My girlfriend just got diagnosed with HPV after an irregular Pap. We’ve been having tons of unprotected sex for about two years. This may sound stupid, but should I start wearing a condom every time? Can’t I just assume that I’m already carrying HPV, like 75 percent of the country? Neither of us wants to go back to protected sex.



Dear Sign:

You know, that’s actually a really good question. The truth is, you and your girlfriend going about your business condom free, knowing all you know (assuming that you know that HPV can cause cervical cancer, for instance, and that you will carry it and be able to spread it forever) is pretty much the definition of "informed consent." There’s nothing stopping you from proceeding as is. Another thing at least 75 percent of the population has in common at some point, though, is that they have girlfriends or boyfriends and then they break up and get new ones. Call your attitude fatalistic, nihilistic, or just plain realistic, but your next girlfriend may not share it and may choose not to share your virions either, assuming you have any.



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.

Vanishing points


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

REVIEW Like drive-in movie theaters, the white-mantled colobus, and Henry VIII’s wives, the increasingly rarefied qualities of elegance and generosity are most certainly doomed to extinction, rendered worthless in our schlock-culture era of crass and sass. This is not so, thankfully, in the work of Hiroshi Sugimoto, who, in his eponymous, conceptually rigorous, utterly gorgeous midcareer retrospective at the de Young Museum, single-handedly rescues refinement and magnanimity — along with windblown silver screens, leaf-eating African monkeys, and those half dozen Catherines, Janes, and Annes — from the dustbin of history.

Including some 120 black-and-white photographs taken with a large-format camera during the past three decades and glowing with a numinous luminosity, the exhibition is so richly (in all its connotations) conceived and presented, so brimming with the artist’s and curators’ intelligence and desire to simultaneously challenge and enrapture viewers, that it stands not only as the year’s best big local museum show but also as a timely reminder that we must look beyond the horizon ostensibly separating sea from sky, for that is where the truth lies.

Sugimoto’s work is all about true lies. He is fascinated with artifice that yearns for authenticity and with impervious factual data that melts into dream logic. Unlike many Japanese photographers of his generation — he was born in 1948 — who are attracted to either the grisly chic of atomic apocalypse or the fleshy flash of alarmingly nubile Harajuku teens, Sugimoto generally eschews the stereotypical tropes that now largely define, at least from afar, his homeland’s manga-mad visual vocabulary. This is quite likely due to his singular vision as much as to his transcontinental toggling between New York and Tokyo since the early ’70s. Inspired during his childhood by chirping crickets, electronic gadgets, and bedtime stories and later by André Breton’s surrealist manifestos, Giorgio de Chirico’s otherworldly paintings, and the teachings of a Buddhist priest who told him that the only human reality is shit, Sugimoto has coalesced his influences into a clearly unified yet constantly surprising oeuvre at once classical in its formal precision and postmodern in its beguiling content.

Moving fluidly from representation to abstraction to the uncanny, the exhibition beckons viewers into a carefully designed sequence of dimly lit galleries showcasing thematically linked series of large-scale images. Sugimoto also designed the site-specific installation, playfully using the room’s curved sides, dramatic spotlights, and a particularly effective wall of mirrors to supersede spatial certainty.

Nature and culture tussle for authority throughout the show, notably in photos of dioramas taken at the American Museum of Natural History, where Sugimoto spent many afternoons during his first months in Manhattan, staring at taxidermied polar bears and handcrafted manatees posed in ersatz habitats. Equally fake yet lifelike are Henry VIII and his unfortunate beloveds, whom Sugimoto photographed in all their waxen glory at Madame Tussauds, looking as if they were sitting for 16th-century portrait painter Hans Holbein the Younger. (Be sure to take a careful count of Anne Boleyn’s fingers.)

Nature triumphs in Sugimoto’s masterful seascapes — or does it? The longer you gaze at these nearly monochromatic studies, the vanishing point where ocean meets sky recedes ever farther, and soon enough they cease to resemble the sea — see? — and transform but not transfigure into Ad Reinhart or Mark Rothko paintings. The process reverses in the "Mathematical Forms" series, in which abstract, spiraling shapes — physical contours representing specific algorithmic equations like 3.14 and others that never made sense in high school — become pi-in-the-sky architectural structures eerily akin to the de Young’s high-rising tower.

Sugimoto further pushes the potential of architecture both real and imagined in his deliberately blurry images of iconic structures such as Antoni Gaudí’s Casa Batillo, the Schindler House, the Guggenheim museums in New York and Bilbao, Spain, and the Chrysler Building, all viewed as if underwater or under the influence. "Superlative architecture survives the onslaught of blurred photography," Sugimoto concludes of his characteristically rewarding experiment in deconstruction.

Having successfully stared down stuffed mountain lions and head-rolling royals, traversed the Caribbean and Marmara seas, aced his math quiz, and demythologized the Monumento ai Caduti with the quick shift of his camera, Sugimoto finally goes to the movies, where he focuses his lens on the screen and keeps his aperture wide open for the duration of a feature-length film. The resulting images reveal blinding white centers of cinematic possibility far more spellbinding than any summer blockbuster. These shining screens celebrate light as both wave and particle, as the essence of seeing, the illuminator of reality, and the obliterator of dream. Light pierces or occludes the horizon running through all of Sugimoto’s work; it is the dividing line between nature and culture, fact and fiction, wax and skin. Light, like this truly superlative show that reconfirms Sugimoto as one of our great artists, keeps on giving and giving. *


Through Sept. 23

Tues.–Thurs. and Sat.–Sun., 9:30 a.m.–5:15 p.m.; Fri., 9:30 a.m.–8:45 p.m.; $6–$10 (free first Tues.)

De Young Museum

Golden Gate Park

50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, SF

(415) 750-3614


Contemputf8g Wolf


› sarah@sfbg.com

Months after local videographer and blogger Josh Wolf was released from federal prison — where his seven-month stay was the longest in history for an American journalist for refusing to turn over unpublished materials to criminal prosecutors — the San Francisco Police Commission finally has decided to analyze the incident. That inquiry comes just as Wolf embarks on a campaign for mayor, which he hopes will create a dialogue about the lack of police accountability and the overzealous federal intrusions that marked his story.

Wolf, 24, told the Guardian that he’s still baffled by what transpired after he filmed the July 8, 2005, anti-G8 protest, which involved a heavy anarchist turnout, "got rowdier than local officials would have liked," and left a San Francisco police officer with a fractured skull — an incident that Wolf calls "unfortunate" but of which he claims to have absolutely no knowledge

"I’ve read the evidence that was presented in my case, but to this day no one has pointed out anything that constitutes terrorism," Wolf said.

The day after the protest, Wolf was contacted at his home by members of the FBI and the Joint Terrorism Task Force, along with two San Francisco Police Department officers. The four agents who showed up Wolf’s door, one of them dressed in a Hawaiian shirt and shorts, demanded that he hand over all his video outtakes after local and national TV stations aired edited footage that Wolf posted on his blog. The aired film included scenes of anarchists setting off firecrackers, turning over newspaper racks, and spray-painting a Pacific Gas and Electric Co. office. It also showed an SFPD officer holding local resident Gabe Meyers in a choke hold while another agent waved his weapon at the crowd and shouted, "Leave or you’re going to get blasted. I’m a fed, motherfucker."

"If any time the SFPD decides it doesn’t want to deal with some local issue, does it have the autonomy to contact the feds, and if so, doesn’t that jeopardize all the laws that the voters of San Francisco have passed?" Wolf asked July 11 as the Police Commission discussed a resolution supporting the First Amendment rights of the "new media," which is how Web-based disseminators of news, such as Wolf, are being described.

Earlier this year, police commissioner David Campos tried to pass a resolution in support of the then-jailed Wolf, but the proposal got no traction until Theresa Sparks was elected as president in May. By then Wolf had been free from jail for a month, leading Campos and Sparks to shift their focus toward investigating exactly why Wolf’s case got federalized in the first place as well as the implications for other groups that are protected locally but at risk federally.

As Campos told the commission, "A lot of people in San Francisco have been talking about how we as a department interact with the feds, to the extent that it has an impact on medical cannabis providers and immigrants and on First Amendment rights, as in the case of Josh Wolf."

Under state law, reporters’ sources and their work products are protected. A recent case involving Apple suggests that the law also extends to bloggers and independent reporters. But under federal law, reporters have no such protections, which is why former New York Times journalist Judith Miller was jailed in the Valerie Plame–CIA investigation and San Francisco Chronicle reporters Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada faced potential jail time in the BALCO affair, as did freelancer Sara Olsen in the court-martial of Army Lt. Ehren Watada.

But while these journalists refused to comply with subpoenas that were clearly related to federal matters, there was no such obvious connection in Wolf’s case. An investigation into the assault on SFPD officer Peter Shields normally would have been undertaken by local police and District Attorney Kamala Harris. Police records show that SFPD inspector Lea Militello requested "assistance from the FBI/JTTF regarding investigation of a serious assault against a San Francisco police officer." Federal investigators justified their involvement by maintaining that there had been an attempted arson on an SFPD squad car purchased in part with federal funds, even though SFPD records indicate only that the car’s rear tail light was broken.

"There was nothing incriminating on my tape," Wolf told the Police Commission, recalling how he offered to prove his statement by letting the federal judge view it in his private chambers, an offer the judge refused. "But because I had no federal protections, I had to decide whether to engage in a McCarthyesque witch hunt," Wolf added; he long had suspected that the feds wanted to profile anarchists about whom he has intimate knowledge.

Campos and Sparks hope that last week’s Police Commission discussion will be the first in a series about the protocols and procedures that the SFPD follows in deciding whether to refer matters to federal authorities. Both stress that asking for such a study does not mean they do not care that an SFPD officer was hurt. As Sparks told us, "At this point we don’t know what the deliberations behind everything that night were or how many people were deployed. For us to comment on a police officer being injured is inappropriate unless we have all the information. And all we’re hearing is anecdotal stuff. Our job is not to take sides but to figure out what the policies were, are, and what they should be."

Police Chief Heather Fong has agreed to report to the Police Commission in August on policies and procedures related to the SFPD’s General Orders, the city’s ordinances on immigration and medical marijuana, and protection of journalists’ rights. Sparks predicts that the report will tell the commission "what the SFPD’s policies do, how that compares to the Board of Supervisors’ resolutions, and whether we need to rewrite them or write new rules for the police."

Commissioner Campos told us he hopes the report will clarify whether the police have an obligation to report to the feds if an investigation involves damage to property bought with federal funding. "If it’s the case that we are obligated, then we need a discussion. Do we want to accept funds if doing so ties our hands and forces us to do something that San Francisco doesn’t want to do? For instance, if we accept funding, then does that mean we have to cooperate with [Immigration and Customs Enforcement]? If so, then a lot of us, myself included, would be up in arms and would say, ‘Let’s not.’ To the extent that it comes down to money, I’d hope that we’d make the choice that we’d rather not take the money than get in bed with the federal government."

Wolf, who was not convicted of any crime but served 226 days for being in contempt of a grand jury subpoena, was released April 3 after he agreed to post all his unedited footage online — an action the feds claimed as evidence that he had submitted to their demands. But Wolf pointed out that he agreed to do so only after the feds promised that he would not have to testify about anyone whose actions or words he had captured on tape. He also pointed out that he released the tapes to everyone, not just the federal government.

Since being released Wolf has announced his intention to run for mayor of San Francisco this fall, saying he was inspired by the recent Progressive Convention called by Sup. Chris Daly "in which they had a great platform but no declared candidate."

Wolf’s candidacy pits him against Mayor Gavin Newsom, who expressed neither support for Wolf nor criticism of his detention. That stance is in contrast with that of Harris, who is also running for reelection this fall and publicly criticized the US Attorney’s Office in March, a month before Wolf was released. In August 2006, Newsom returned unsigned the resolution of support for Wolf’s plight that was sponsored by Supervisors Ross Mirkarimi, Tom Ammiano, and Daly. The resolution, which passed on a 9–1 vote, with Sup. Sean Elsbernd voting no and Sup. Michela Alioto-Pier absent, declared that the city "resisted the federal government’s intervention in the City and County of San Francisco’s investigation of the July 8th, 2005 G-8 protest; expressed support for the California Shield Law; and urged Congress to pass Senate Bill 2831, the Free Flow of Information Act."

Asked about Newsom’s position on Wolf and related matters, spokesperson Nathan Ballard reminded the Guardian that the mayor authorized a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the assault on Shields. "We take these attacks seriously and will take the appropriate actions necessary to ensure that the person or persons responsible are prosecuted," the mayor said shortly after the assault. As for Wolf, Ballard said by e-mail, "I am not aware of any public statement [by] the Mayor on the case of Josh Wolf. The Mayor is generally supportive of the concept of a better shield law, but he has not taken a position on this particular bill at the present time."

As it happens, Wolf, who has made numerous media appearances since his release, including on The Colbert Report, could find himself in the unusual position of having more name recognition than any of Newsom’s other challengers. And with Congress currently considering a federal shield law, the cause for which Wolf went to jail remains in the news. As media activist Rick Knee put it, pointing to the "Free Josh Wolf" button that he continues to wear on the lapel of his tweed jacket, "Josh may be out, but the issue is still with us." *

iPhone politics


› techsploitation.com

TECHSPLOITATION The marketing maestros at Apple have turned the iPhone into the summer’s biggest consumer electronics blockbuster, and they didn’t even have to pay Michael Bay millions of bucks to write robot piss jokes to do it. Everybody’s talking about the damn things — of course the usual gizmo-obsessed pubs like Wired and PC Magazine are drooling all over it, but some unexpectedly political critics and fans have gotten into the mix.

The tech community made its annoyance at iPhone boosterism felt when hacker David Maynor announced that he’d found a bug in Safari (the iPhone’s Web browser) that would allow him to seize control of iPhones remotely. The Daily Show, which usually exhibits a modicum of geek savvy, blithely ignored tech criticisms and led off one episode last week with a breathy noncommentary on how the iPhone is the greatest thing ever. Then politicians started sounding off. Demos snarked at Republicans last week about the iPhone during a House subcommittee hearing on wireless innovation. Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) told the committee that the iPhone was the "Hotel California" of mobiles because of an exclusive deal Apple cut with AT&T to provide network service for the multimedia devices. (Apparently Markey’s one big pop culture moment was to listen to the Eagles’ famous ’70s song about a hotel where "you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.")

CNET commentator Declan McCullagh spoke the latent convictions of many libertarian nerds when he responded to Markey’s analogy: "Apple makes the iPhone. It has every right to sell it via only AT&T if it wishes…. More broadly, Apple has the right to [make] iPhones only available for purchase on the third Monday of the month in even-numbered zip codes if it chooses." Activist group Free Press responded to ideas like McCullagh’s by starting a "Free the iPhone" campaign (freetheiphone.org) designed to spur the Federal Communications Commission and Congress to consider passing regulations that would force vendors like Apple to make mobile phones interoperable with all phone network operators so that consumers could choose which carrier they want.

Meanwhile, digital freedom lovers have been up in arms over Apple’s many closed-door policies for the phone. Not only are the damn things locked into using AT&T as a carrier, but iPhones are also designed to prevent users from writing additional software for them. Nothing but Apple-approved software may run on the iPhone. That means people who want to play music on the iPhone will have the same problems they have with iTunes on the iPod — you can put as much music on the phone as you want, but you can’t transfer it to another device. Nor can you choose a secure browser over Safari, or an e-mail program of your choice. Even free-software activist Richard Stallman is pissed about the iPhone, and he’s a guy who rarely gives little toys from Apple a second thought.

So what’s the big deal? Why do people even want a $600 phone, and why has this luxury device for the pampered techie become such a hot political issue? I think the answer to the first question is easy: the iPhone is the first truly cool convergence phone that combines multimedia with multispectrum goodies like Bluetooth, wi-fi, and of course, a phone network. Who doesn’t wish to combine phones, iPods, and laptops into one nifty thing?

That’s where politics come in. In the United States we have a long history of government regulations on the phone network, as well as on what can plug into the phone network, so naturally the public wonders what the government is going to do with the iPhone. Especially when other components of the iPhone, such as its ability to play music, touch on another government-regulated area: copyright law. And then there’s another issue that few people have commented on, which is that Apple’s chosen carrier for the iPhone, AT&T, has a history of letting the government spy on its phone networks. So every way you slice it, the iPhone is subject to government.

The iPhone is political because it somehow manages to capture the essence of authoritarianism in its shiny little box. Totally locked down, it runs only preapproved software on a prechosen phone network that is subject to government surveillance. Long live the iPhone! Long live democracy! *

Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who thinks the iPhone’s telephone network makes surveillance as fun as iTunes made DRM.

Gavin Newsom’s wireless Edsel


OPINION What would you think if somebody tried really hard to sell you an Edsel when you could clearly see a Lexus on the lot for the same price?

That’s what Mayor Gavin Newsom is doing with his "wi-fi everywhere" franchise deal.

The mayor put out a bid to get everyone in the city connected wirelessly at high speeds with a decent free service. What he has gotten instead is a deal that doesn’t guarantee anyone will be connected, with free service so slow even your dog wouldn’t use it.

Newsom wants reelection points for an approved deal now, knowing he won’t have to take reelection hits for the network when people see what they’re really getting:

If you want better than pedestrian speeds, you’ll pay fees comparable to those for DSL. But DSL is faster.

If you live above the second floor or away from the front of your building, or in various locations around the city, you won’t be able to get service at all. Too bad for you.

Service will drop out randomly without warning and may take days to fix.

Even only a few people at a time downloading things makes the service hideously slow for all of them.

The service uses the same frequencies as all the wireless gear people buy for common use. Use your wireless phone, ruin your Internet connection (and maybe your neighbor’s too).

Google and EarthLink get to snoop on you, your traffic, and your preferences. Good-bye, privacy.

The free service will operate at 300 kilobits per second — not even matching the 1,000 Kbps service that Google provides for free in Mountain View.

The underserved will remain underserved despite all claims to the contrary.

While Newsom has been pushing wi-fi, optical fiber has become really cheap. But Newsom is ignoring fiber in favor of his pet wi-fi project. Newsom’s friends have been attacking various supervisors for failing to pursue the wi-fi deal, but the supes are looking at fiber as an excellent reason to drop wi-fi entirely. Why? Here’s what you get with community optical fiber:

A connection of 1,000 megabits per second. Not 300 kilobits, not six megabits, but one gigabit.

Potential savings of $1,000 per year per consumer.

Near-absolute reliability.

No slowdowns due to congestion.

No snooping.

Anyone on the network can become a video producer for the entire world.

The elimination of monopoly control over our communication networks and a permanent commitment to network neutrality that can’t be overcome.

People have asked Newsom why he won’t offer free fiber connections to underserved community centers if he cares about them as much as he claims. He gives no answer: "Let them eat 300 kilobits."

It is the height of folly for a politician to pursue a bad promise to deliver poor services when the same politician could claim to be keeping up with the times and has something much, much better to offer. But that appears to be Newsom’s reelection strategy. He wants to give us an Edsel while pretending it really is better than the Lexus we can clearly see despite his best efforts to hide it. I’ll vote for the person who wants to sell me the Lexus. *

Eric Dynamic runs an ISP business in Oakland.

Web Site of the Week



How walkable is your neighborhood or the neighborhood you’re thinking of moving to? This Web site gives each address a walk score based on density, neighborhood amenities, and other factors and also preaches the virtues of traveling by foot.

Green City: Slow climate change U-turn


› news@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY It seems like most of the recent talk about global warming has been in terms of its apocalyptic potential in the distant future. Yet Bay Area heat waves and soaring temperatures in the Central Valley of late could certainly cause me to wonder whether it’s already begun. What has happened to our legendary cold summers and heavy rainy seasons? Sure, we’ve gotten patches of fog and wind, but for the most part this summer has felt, well, summery.

And apparently I’m not the only one thinking about climate change and what we need to be doing today to minimize it. Let me tell you, it’s going to take a lot more than driving a Prius and using energy-efficient lightbulbs to get the job done. That’s why the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and the Department of the Environment published the city’s Climate Action Plan in 2004. The plan evolved from the Board of Supervisors’ 2002 resolution to reduce the city’s annual greenhouse gas emissions by 2012 to 20 percent below their 1990 levels and included a series of recommendations on how to achieve this goal.

In 1990, San Francisco emitted 9.1 million tons of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, but by 2004 it was pumping out an extra 600,000 tons per year and counting. In order to get down to the ideal of 7.3 million tons by 2012, things need to make a major U-turn. Last month the San Francisco Civil Grand Jury released a report on how successful the Climate Action Plan has been so far, and while the city has made some progress in reducing its annual greenhouse gas emissions, the report noted that if the board’s goals are to be met, the entire city needs to step it up.

According to the grand jury report, the reduction of emissions in 2005 (the most recently available local emissions inventory) was "500,000 metric tons, only half the amount hoped," and "to achieve the reductions to 7.3 million tons by 2012 will require a tripling of the reduction rate."

The Department of the Environment remains optimistic. "We haven’t fallen behind," Mark Westlund, the department’s public outreach program manager, told the Guardian. "But we need to do more. We are currently at 1990 levels. At this point we’ve made the U-turn and are lined up to reach 7 percent [below] our 1990 levels, which would put us up to pace with the Kyoto Protocol’s goals, but we just need to ramp it up to reach our 20 percent."

City government can do a lot to control emissions. There are already regulations in place regarding the city’s vehicle fleets and setting green standards for municipal buildings. Mayor Gavin Newsom’s Green Building Task Force on July 11 announced a proposal to create incentives for private-sector buildings to adopt green building standards over the next five years.

Other city efforts include 2001’s Proposition B, which expanded solar power possibilities, and Community Choice Aggregation, which recently received preliminary approval from the Board of Supervisors; the latter program will allow the city to develop renewable energy projects on behalf of its citizens. But when it comes to making San Francisco a truly green city, much of the dirty work will fall to private citizens.

Nonmunicipal sources are responsible for 90 percent of San Francisco’s emissions, with a whopping 50 percent coming from private transportation, mostly cars. While the Climate Action Plan and the Civil Grand Jury report both give suggestions on how government agencies can motivate the public to reduce emissions, these suggestions can also be read as a map for how we can help ourselves. Simple changes in transportation habits — more walking, bicycling, and public transit — could cut 963,000 tons of greenhouse gases per year. And those who must use cars could carpool more often and switch to more-efficient vehicles.

The Climate Action Plan also indicates we can reduce emissions by an estimated 328,000 tons by changing how we live at home, including better energy efficiency and waste management.

Westlund told us, "Twenty percent is not just a municipal target, it’s citywide. Residences can help. Businesses can help. We’re all in this together. Getting the message out is half of it."*

The grand jury report is available at www.sfgov.org/site/courts_page.asp?id=3680#reports.

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

At the crossroads


Part three in a Guardian series

› gwschulz@sfbg.com

San Francisco Ethics Commission executive director John St. Croix has admitted that his office knew in 2005 about the alleged laundering of public money into a San Francisco City College bond election campaign — well before the story broke in newspapers in April — but did nothing to investigate.

That startling revelation knits together two concurrent series that the Guardian has been running for the past two weeks: one on City College’s deceptive and unaccountable use of bond money and another on the uneasiness local watchdogs feel about the Ethics Commission’s ability and willingness to mete out balanced punishment to elections-law violators.

When news reports surfaced in April that City College allegedly had diverted up to $30,000 in public money to a bond election campaign committee, Chancellor Phil Day moved quickly to limit the fallout. So did independently elected trustee Rodel Rodis, who along with six other board members is responsible for controlling and managing the San Francisco Community College District.

During meetings organized that month to address the matter, Day came clean and blamed everything on a "relatively new" assistant vice chancellor. At least two trustees, one of whom had been recently elected, still wanted to know more about why it was allowed to happen. Rodis, on the other hand, complained that hiring an independent investigator at a cost of $75,000 to look into the matter was too expensive and framed the stories — written by San Francisco Chronicle investigate reporter Lance Williams — as an unfair attack on the college.

"Let’s be mindful that we’re still in a budget crisis and we still need to watch taxpayer money," Rodis said at one of the meetings.

Unlike Rodis, District Attorney Kamala Harris didn’t treat the allegations as insignificant and is now reportedly probing possible criminal violations in connection with the scandal. The investigation, Williams wrote recently, includes contributions made to the committee by contractors that did recent business with the school.

But where was the Ethics Commission during all of this? The controversy raises serious questions about why the agency never took any action against City College when, as its mission statement declares, its responsibility is to "actively enforce all ethics laws and rules, including campaign finance and open government laws."

Late in the commission’s July 9 meeting, St. Croix made the stunning admission that although his office knew about the allegations surrounding City College’s dubious handling of public funds all the way back in 2005, for some inexplicable reason it did nothing.

Staff shortages and poor financing have plagued the Ethics Commission since voters created it in 1993. Although the number of staffers has doubled during his three-year tenure, St. Croix nonetheless told the Guardian recently that his agency remains dependent on the public to help expose political candidates and campaign committees that break the law.

"We still rely on people and the city being watchdogs," St. Croix told us. "We’re supposed to be the eyes and ears for a lot of things, but we’re still extremely limited."

In this case, however, St. Croix’s office was well aware of allegations that City College bureaucrats had misappropriated public funds. The school’s Board of Trustees, along with Day’s office, created the Committee to Support Our City College in 2005 to convince voters to give the school $246.3 million in bond money to continue with a slate of capital works projects that began in 1997 and now are costing hundreds of millions of dollars more than anticipated.

The owner of a motorcycle training school claimed in a December 2005 letter to the Ethics Commission that he was told by the college to make a rent check for the regular use of school property payable to the committee instead of the school itself. Amazingly, the Ethics Commission pondered contacting the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission to disclose the allegations, which is the least it should have done, but never actually did so, as St. Croix has acknowledged only now.

"I take responsibility for that," St. Croix told us. "I don’t know who actually dropped the ball. But at the time we had less staff and there were a lot of things we were supposed to do and we weren’t doing."

Nor did the Ethics Commission contact the college to demand that it amend its campaign filings from that year to reflect the true source of that $10,000 payment and acknowledge itself rather than the motorcycle training school as a major contributor to the bond committee. St. Croix figured that could happen at the conclusion of the FPPC’s inquiry. Of course, the FPPC didn’t know about the allegations, at least not until the Ethics Commission finally contacted it in May, following the Chronicle‘s front-page stories.

The Ethics Commission’s lax approach to City College oversight also extends to trustees like Rodis, who has his own apparent campaign finance violations from his 2004 reelection campaign. That year, records show, his campaign failed to turn in three key election filings required to ensure that before heading to the ballot box, voters have a chance to see where candidates are getting their campaign money from. The commission sent his campaign several warning letters; just one of the filings finally arrived nine months later.

The trustee pointed to a campaign staffer when we contacted him regarding the tardy campaign statements. "We had someone working on the campaign who was supposed to do that," Rodis told us. "He indicated to us that everything was in order. We relied on him. We paid him. And then we found out later that he didn’t do what he was supposed to do…. It was one of those things that happen when you trust people."

The filing Rodis did manage to turn in shows that of the more than $44,000 he raised for his reelection effort that year, at least $1,700 had no identified donors, and other donations were marred by confusing data entry errors. An internal Ethics memo obtained by the Guardian that discusses the Rodis reelection campaign committee concludes that its poor reporting "appears to be a matter of willfulness and disregard for the law" and what belated filings do exist "present significant data problems." According to the memo, "Based on the record, significant questions remain regarding the true facts of the committee’s financing."

Rodis in 2004 won reelection to the board for the fourth time since he first became a trustee in 1991. According to our conservative estimates based only on the late filings, he could be liable for thousands of dollars in fines. *

Editor’s Notes


EDITORS NOTES There was a fascinating moment July 11 at the San Francisco Board of Appeals meeting, a rare and revealing look into how city planning really works — and who calls the shots.

At issue was a proposal for two condo towers at Tenth Street and Market, one of which would soar 352 feet into the air — well above current height limits for the site. The developer also wants to put in 578 parking spaces, 399 more than the city Planning Code currently allows. It’s a monster of a project that would require seven planning code exceptions, two conditional use permits, and four zoning variances.

In other words, it’s not exactly what’s envisioned in the Planning Code for that particular lot.

But that didn’t bother Craig Nikitas, the city Planning Department staffer working on the project. In fact, in a long statement to the appeals board, Nikitas announced that city planners encourage developers to defy the current planning code since the planners think it’s outdated.

"The Planning Department encourages many project sponsors for tall buildings to use [a] height exemption," he said. That leads to "a taller building but a slimmer building…. That’s the kind of urban design we’re looking for nowadays."

Well, maybe — but the Downtown Plan, passed in 1984, calls for a very different type of design. It seeks buildings with setbacks (the so-called wedding cake look). That approach, which we all fought over in hearing after hearing before the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors, was designed in part to maximize sunlight at street level. That look may be old-fashioned architecture; it may not be what the current generation of planners wants. But it’s official city policy, city law.

If Nikitas and his boss, Dean Macris, want to change the guidelines for new buildings, there’s a procedure for that. You recommend changes to the Planning Commission, which can hold hearings and send new Planning Code changes to the Board of Supervisors. Then we all can discuss them in our usual, moderately civil, San Francisco fashion.

But that’s not how it works. Behind closed doors, the planners decide what they want the city to look like. Then they encourage developers to fit that model and bend the codes to make it all fit.

This is nothing new, but it’s rare to get such a clear admission, on tape, of why city planning in this town is so utterly screwed up.

In other news: there’s a bill before the State Legislature that’s supported by the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and the Guardian. Labor likes it. The mayor likes it. The supervisors like it. And it could bring the city another $71 million a year in badly needed revenue (more than enough, for example, to solve Muni’s structural budget woes).

And yet it’s hung up in a Senate committee because Don Perata, the East Bay senator who is the president pro tem, doesn’t want any tax bills to go to the floor this year.

The bill by Assemblymember Mark Leno would allow — not require, but allow — the supervisors to put before the voters a proposal to increase the license fees on cars in this city to the level they were before Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger cut them statewide. If San Francisco voters choose to tax their own cars, they will have the option; that’s all it is. Yet Perata’s press aide, Alicia Trost, told me it won’t even get a vote.

If you think that’s nuts, you can reach the good senator at (916) 651-4009.*

Gutting campaign reform


EDITORIAL A bill that could gut many local campaign finance laws is zipping through the legislature with the support of both the Republican and Democratic parties — and only a few activists seem to be paying attention. We’ve written about the bill, AB 1430 by Assemblymember Martin Garrick (R–San Diego), on the politics blog at www.sfbg.com. It has already cleared the State Assembly, 77–0, and is headed to the State Senate floor, where only one member — Carole Migden of San Francisco — has come out in opposition.

The Republicans and the Democrats love this bill because it would allow their parties to use unlimited amounts of money to support local candidates. That’s become increasingly common in this state; when cities set strict limits on contributions to political candidates, the candidates simply ask their big-money backers to give the money to the state Republican or Democratic Party — which then funnels the laundered, uncontrolled, and often unreported cash into local campaigns.

In fact, the bill comes from the San Diego GOP, which is angry that the San Diego Ethics Commission tried to crack down on nearly a million dollars in unregulated money that went to local races last year.

The bill talks about "membership communications" — as if the parties were simple nonprofits that wanted to send newsletters to their members. That’s not what’s going on at all, and everyone with any sense knows it. Here’s the real story: while the federal and state governments have refused to do any real campaign finance reform, cities and counties all over California have tried to fill the gap. The San Francisco Ethics Commission — for all of its obviously failings (see "Whose Ethics?," 7/11/07) — has the authority and the mandate to regulate local campaigns far more tightly than the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission. So the big donors, working through the state parties, are trying to figure out ways to circumvent local rules.

The conservatives in the State Legislature love to talk about local control when it comes to workplace regulations, environmental protection, and schools — but when a bill like this comes along and threatens to eviscerate local control, they utter not a peep. Nor, for the most part, do the liberals, who are aligned with the Democratic Party and don’t want to defy its mandates.

The San Francisco Ethics Commission has asked Mayor Gavin Newsom and the supervisors to oppose this bill, but the board has taken no action, and the mayor says he actually supports the bill. That’s a disgrace: at the very least, the supervisors should pass a resolution opposing AB 1430 and force the mayor to veto it.

Migden, after talking to the folks at California Common Cause, the public interest campaign organization, took a bold stand against the measure, and she deserves tremendous credit for that. Now the rest of the senate — starting with Leland Yee of San Francisco and President Pro Tem Don Perata of Oakland — needs to go along and kill this monster. *

Billboard sleaze


EDITORIAL Clear Channel is one of the biggest media companies in the world, with more than 1,100 radio stations, more than 40 TV stations, and a massive outdoor advertising network with billboards in more than 20 countries. This conglomerate, much despised for undermining independent broadcasting in this country, does business with a lot of government agencies, including the city and county of San Francisco. Clear Channel maintains the city’s bus shelters and runs the city’s pedestal-mounted newsrack program, and sells ads on the shelters and the backs of news racks.

So when Clear Channel does a favor for a local politician, it ought to raise eyebrows immediately.

That’s what’s happened with Sen. Carole Migden. Just as she’s fighting to defend local campaign reform laws (see "Gutting Campaign Reform," this page) Migden has been the recipient of tends of thousands of dollars’ worth of free billboard ads from Clear Channel. The ads were facilitated by local company executive Michael Colbruno, a former Migden aide who remains close to the senator.

We’ve been concerned about the billboards since they went up. At first, as we reported on www.sfbg.com, Colbruno refused to say who had paid for the boards, insisting they were independent issue-advocacy ads supporting Migden’s stances on the war in Iraq and rebuilding the state’s infrastructure. Migden came clean a few days later and told us that Clear Channel had, in fact, provided the ad space free; she added that her campaign had paid for the printing, although her campaign manager, Richie Ross, now denies that.

At the very least it’s awfully close to a legal issue: donors who sponsor issue-advocacy ads that promote individual candidates can’t coordinate those efforts with the candidate’s campaign. Otherwise the expenditure isn’t independent at all and ought to be reported as a campaign contribution.

Of course Clear Channel can’t contribute tens of thousands of dollars to Migden; the maximum contribution under state law is $3,600, and the company has already given her $2,500. "Therefore, presuming that the value of several billboards throughout San Francisco exceeds $1,000 dollars, Clear Channel has made a contribution to Carole Migden in excess of legal limits," states a July 16 memo from Reed and Davidson, a Los Angeles law firm hired by Migden’s primary opponent, Assemblymember Mark Leno. (Read the entire memo at .

Migden may not be the only one involved in this Clear Channel scam; the company regularly sells or donates ads to local political candidates, and it’s entirely possible that others have gotten either discounts or partial gifts from the conglomerate.

For starters we’d prefer that Migden, and everyone else who’s running as a progressive in this town, eschew contributions from Clear Channel. But if such a powerful local operator is handing out favors, the details need to be made public, fully and immediately.

What was the actual value of what the company gave Migden? How closely was the deal coordinated with her campaign? What other local candidates have gotten free or cut-rate ads from this outfit?

The San Francisco Ethics Commission and the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission ought to investigate — and if it turns out that what Migden has done is legal, then the State Legislature needs to figure out a way to ban it. Meanwhile, the San Francisco supervisors, who are about to approve a new bus shelter contract, should demand that Clear Channel first release a full list of its billboard beneficiaries. *