Volume 41 Number 43

July 25 – July 31, 2007

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The generals should end the war


OPINION All American military officers and commanders take an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution. Their oath is a solemn obligation to the American people, and especially to their own troops, to abide by the law. Our men and women in uniform place great trust in their superiors. They risk their lives in the belief that they will not be used falsely or illegally or for ill gain.

There is no group of Americans with greater interest in the enforcement of international law than American troops themselves. Our youths pay a heavy price when their rulers plunge them into operations beyond international law. Immediately after the Abu Ghraib scandal, the infamous retaliatory beheadings began.

The legal status of the occupation of Iraq is not a mystery. The generals who command the US troops know very well that the occupation is based on lies, carried out in defiance of US treaties. The Nuremberg Conventions explicitly repudiate the doctrine of preemptive war. The United Nations Charter, for which many of our parents and grandparents gave their lives on the battlefields of Europe, outlaws war as "an instrument of policy."

Every general knows that the occupation is a war of choice. The commanders also know that, except for special UN-sanctioned interventions, defensive necessity is the sole legal basis for war. US Army Field Manual no. 27-10 states without equivocation, "Treaties reutf8g to the law of war have a force equal to that of laws enacted by Congress."

Many soldiers of conscience who dared to speak openly about the immorality and illegality of the war have been court-martialed and imprisoned. Their cases, dating back to 2004, raise serious doubts about the capacity of our soldiers to receive justice in our military courts. Five months prior to the Abu Ghraib scandal, a soft-spoken Army soldier named Camilo Mejía was visibly upset by the atrocities he observed during his tour of duty in Iraq. Repulsed by the slaughter of civilians and the needless deaths of American GIs — all reported in his riveting combat memoir, Road from Ar Ramadi (New Press, 2007) — Mejía gathered his courage and made formal complaints to his superiors. Commanders refused to listen and questioned his patriotism. Eventually Mejía was sentenced to a year in prison for speaking out, for telling the truth.

His trial, like subsequent trials of war resisters, was a travesty of justice. The judge, Col. Gary Smith, ruled that evidence of the illegality of the war was inadmissible in court, that international law is irrelevant, and that a soldier’s only duty is to follow orders, regardless of their legality. In essence, Mejía spent months in prison for upholding the rule of law in wartime. Had commanders listened to Mejía, had judges respected due process and the rule of law, the Abu Ghraib scandal that humiliated our troops might never have occurred.

Our military system is passing through a profound moral and legal crisis. A commander who knowingly orders troops to participate in crimes against peace betrays himself or herself and those who serve under him or her.

The time has come, long overdue, for American generals of conscience to break their silence. *

Veterans for Peace (Chapter 69, San Francisco) and Asian Pacific Islanders Resist

The above statement was issued by these two antiwar groups and is endorsed by the national Veterans for Peace group, which will launch a campaign next week calling on American generals to refuse to continue the war.

Best of the Bay 2007



Futures not taken


› annalee@techsploitation.com

TECHSPLOITATION The future is a crowded graveyard, full of dead possibilities. Each headstone marks a timeline that never happened, and there’s something genuinely mournful about them. I get misty-eyed looking at century-old drawings of the zeppelin-crammed skyline over "tomorrow’s cities." It reminds me that the realities we think are just around the corner may die before they’re born.

A few weeks ago I was trolling YouTube and stumbled across a now-hilarious documentary from 1972, Future Shock, based on the 1970 futurist book of the same name by Alvin Toffler. The documentary focused on a few themes from the book and tarted them up by throwing in a lot of trippy effects and sticking in Orson Welles as a narrator.

As Welles intones ponderously about how fast the future is arriving, we learn that "someday soon" everybody will be linked via computers. Essentially, it was an extremely accurate prediction about Internet culture. Score one for old Toffler.

Things go tragically incorrect when the documentary turns to biology. Very soon, Welles assures his audience, people will have complete control over the genome and drugs will cure everything from anxiety to aging. Through the wonders of pharmaceuticals, we’ll become a race of immortal super-humans. It sounds almost exactly like the kinds of crap that futurists say now, 37 years later. Singularity peddlers like futurist Ray Kurzweil and genomics robber baron Craig Venter are always crowing about how we’re just about to seize control over our genomes and live forever. So far we haven’t. But every generation dreams about it, hoping they’ll be the first humans to cheat death.

Some dreams of the future, however, shouldn’t outlast the generation that first conceived them. Suburbia is one of those dreams. In the fat post-war years of the 1940s and ’50s, it seemed like a great idea to build low-density housing to blanket the harsh desert landscapes of the Southwest. But now the green lawns of Southern California have become an environmental nightmare of water-sucking parasitism. Just think of the atrocious carbon footprint left behind when you lay pavement, wires, and pipes over a vast area so that nuclear families can each have huge yards and swimming pools instead of living intelligently in high-density green skyscrapers surrounded by organic farms.

Oh wait — I just gave away my own crazy futurist dreams, inspired by urban environmentalism. Today, many of us imagine that the future will be like the green city of Dongtan, an ecofriendly community being built outside Shanghai using recycled water, green building materials, and urban gardens that will allow no cars within its limits. The hope is that Dongtan will have a teeny tiny carbon footprint and be a model of urban life for the future. Of course, that’s what suburbia was supposed to be too — a model of a good future life. No future is ever perfect.

Perhaps the saddest dead futures, though, are the ones whose end may mean the end of humanity. I suppose one could argue that the death of an environmentally conscious future is in that category. But what I’m talking about are past predictions that humans would colonize the moon and outer space. As the dream of a Mars colony withers and the idea of colonizing the moons of Saturn and Jupiter becomes more of a fantasy than ever before, I feel real despair.

Maybe my desperate hopes for space colonization are my version of Kurzweil’s prediction that one day we’ll take drugs that will make us immortal. Somehow, I think, if we could just have diverted the global war machine into a space-colony machine sometime back in the 1930s, then everything would be all right. Today the planet wouldn’t be suffering from overpopulation, plague, and starvation. We’d all be spread out across the solar system, tending our terraforming machines and growing weird crops in the sands of Mars.

Of course, we might just be polluting every planet we touch and bringing our stupid dreams of conquering the genome to a bunch of poor nonhuman creatures with no defenses. But I still miss that future of outer-space colonies. I can’t help but think it would be better than the future we’ve got. *

Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd whose Martian colony has a better space elevator than yours.

Web site of the week



This hub for the movement to impeach President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney features antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan’s blog postings during her march to Washington, D.C., an online petition with almost a million signatures, information on a big Sept. 15 rally, and impeachment resources and shwag.

Of people and plastics


› sarah@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY Alan Weisman’s book The World Without Us begins with a funny but humbling exploration of what would happen to New York City if humans were gone, wiped out by a virus or a wizard who perfected a way to sterilize our sperm. "Or say that Jesus, or space aliens rapture us away, either to our heavenly glory, or to a zoo somewhere across the galaxy," Wiseman writes, launching into a delicious deconstruction of a great world city.

Without people to unblock the sewers or run the power stations, it wouldn’t take long, Weisman predicts, before the city flooded, streets cratered, weeds sprang up, pipes burst, and fires broke out.

"Collectively, New York’s architecture isn’t as combustible as, say, San Francisco’s incendiary row of clapboard Victorians," Weisman notes as he describes how, with no firefighters to answer the calls, fires triggered by lightning would engulf the city.

Over the following centuries, corrosion would periodically set off "time bombs left in petroleum tanks, chemical and power plants, and hundreds of dry cleaners," while outdoors a great return to wildness would occur, repopuutf8g the city with maturing forests, coyotes, wolves, "and a wily population of feral house cats."

Tracing the Big Apple’s demise through to the next ice age, Weisman concludes that "after the ice recedes, buried in geologic layers below will be an unnatural concentration of reddish metal, which briefly had assumed the form of wiring and plumbing."

Reached by phone, Weisman says he came up with his World Without Us fantasy after reading and writing about the environment for two decades, including stints covering Chernobyl and the melting of the Artic permafrost.

"I saw all this stuff and began to say, ‘Oh man, this hopeless,’ but then I stepped back and saw that there are places that are still untouched and beautiful and that even in Chernobyl, voles were throwing off bigger litters," he says.

Weisman’s book resulted from his struggle to find a way "to get people to read about environmental issues without saying, ‘Oh, forget it,’ and throwing away their newspapers." The author says his fantasy is intended to help people take a long view of our current challenges and begin to understand, for example, the profoundly serious impact of, say, plastic on our world.

He focuses on "the Great Pacific Garbage Patch," or the North Pacific subtropical gyre, as it’s officially known. It’s in this swirling sink, Weisman writes, that "nearly everything that blows into the water from half the Pacific Rim eventually ends up, spiraling slowly towards a widening horror of industrial excretion."

"They say it’s an enormous sump, and there are others on the planet where all the plastic ends up," Weisman says, noting that discarded plastic accounts for only 20 percent of the material in landfills, with the rest consisting mostly of construction debris and paper products. But unlike the Rocky Mountains, which are slowly, almost imperceptibly eroding and will end up in the ocean, plastic gets blown into the sea much faster.

"It’s only been around since World War II, but already it’s everywhere," Wiseman says of plastic, which has the featherweight ability, once broken into tiny particles, to ride global sea currents.

Weisman’s account should leave San Francisco proud to be the first US city to ban plastic bags, since these limp suckers apparently feature heavily in the oceanic sumps. But with the Great Pacific Garbage Patch measuring 10 million square miles in area (nearly the size of Africa) as of 2005 and six other tropical oceanic gyres swirling with ugly plastic debris — not to mention all the other environmental problems humans have caused — is it too late to heal our world?

Specuutf8g that microbes will eventually evolve to eat all our plastics — something that could take 100,000 years to occur — Weisman suggests a healing path that doesn’t require a world without us. "Green technology won’t be enough on its own," he notes. "The answer lies in lowering the number of humans on the planet. I don’t mean shoot ourselves, but that we don’t replace ourselves at same rate."

There are 6.6 billion people on the planet, and 9 billion are predicted by 2050. Weisman says that by restricting reproduction to one child per couple, "our population could shrink to 1.6 billion by 2100, and the world will be a better place." And in the meantime, don’t forget the reusable bags on your next trip to the grocery store.*

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

Ethics equity


› news@sfbg.com

In the 2003 mayor’s race, Gavin Newsom’s campaign outspent Matt Gonzalez’s nearly six to one, shattering all previous city spending records and leaving the campaign committee with a $600,000 debt that wasn’t cleared for three years.

An apparent plan to pay down that debt illegally with money raised by a separate unregulated inaugural committee was the subject of several Guardian stories at the time (see “Newsom’s Funny Money,” 2/11/04) and corrective actions by Newsom treasurer Jim Sutton, although top San Francisco Ethics Commission officials tried to cover it up rather than investigate it.

It was one of several Newsom-campaign irregularities that raised red flags, including the return of dozens of checks by contributors who had exceeded the $500 limit, the failure to notify regulators in a timely fashion that the campaign had broken a voluntary spending cap, and issues related to whether the heavy campaign debt should have been considered a loan and regulated as such.

So guess whose campaign has recently been investigated and fined? And guess whose has never been scrutinized by Ethics Commission officials, who claim they don’t have enough resources to do a “global canvas” of all the campaigns from 2003, as they’ve traditionally done each year?

Gonzalez campaign treasurers Randy Knox and Enrique Pearce this month agreed to pay $3,300 in penalties to the Ethics Commission over 234 names of contributors that were filed with missing or incomplete donor information, 8 percent of the total. The agency began its review three years after it received an anonymous complaint in the days leading up to the runoff election, exactly when the Newsom camp dished the same allegations to reporters.

“It’s my fault, but it was inadvertent and not deliberate misfeasance,” Knox told the Guardian recently. The Ethics Commission concluded that no evidence proved a willful attempt to defraud the public and that most of the donors had failed to cite their street addresses or to provide complete employer information.

But to Knox and Ethics reformers we’ve interviewed for a recent series on the commission, there’s an important issue of fairness involved in this matter. Gonzalez, who did not return our calls seeking comment, was contemputf8g another run for mayor last year when he was contacted by Ethics officials and threatened with a $30,000 fine for violations that were more than three years old. “It was clearly politically motivated, to clear the field for the mayor’s race,” Knox said.

Yet even if that wasn’t the case, why didn’t Ethics Commission staffers review the Newsom campaign after they decided to pursue Gonzalez? And why did Executive Director John St. Croix order staffers not to do the normal global canvas of campaign documents for 2003 — and only 2003 — claiming the agency didn’t have enough resources and needed to “triage” its work?

“It seems odd that we would allow an anonymous complaint, which is informal, to create an exception to our triage order for 2003, especially since the [percentage] of Gonzalez contributions with info errors was apparently less than the state standard for filing officers to require mandatory amendments,” Ethics officer Oliver Luby noted to agency bosses earlier this month, according to internal memos the Guardian obtained through a Sunshine Ordinance request.

St. Croix, for his part, didn’t take over the agency until a year after the 2003 election. He told the Guardian that dozens of other complaints needed to be investigated too, but his office, with only one investigator, couldn’t do so until years after the fact.

“There was a point in 2006 where I said we’re not going to go back and begin anything new for election years prior to 2004,” St. Croix acknowledged. “We had so many backlogs. We were just hopelessly mired, and we kind of needed a fresh start.”

Sutton did not return our calls for comment, but Newsom’s campaign manager then and now, Eric Jaye, told us, “I’m empathetic to [the Gonzalez campaign]. I’m sure they weren’t intentional errors.”

He added that just because the Ethics Commission didn’t investigate the Newsom campaign after the election doesn’t mean the mayor got a free ride. “I feel like everything we do is audited and scrutinized,” Jaye said, noting that the campaign was fined $2,500 by the California Fair Political Practices Commission during the race for an illegal mailer.

Still, even if the commission won’t disclose ongoing investigations, as far as the public knows right now, the Ethics Commission has repeatedly ignored problems with the 2003 Newsom campaign and others managed by Sutton. Consider:

Several entities affiliated with a real estate outfit called Olympic View Realty made a total of $14,000 in contributions to the Newsom campaign, but filings didn’t reflect the otherwise clear association. “Newsom’s failure to report correct cumulative-to-date amounts is an ongoing violation of state law,” Luby wrote in the aforementioned memo.

The Newsom campaign’s $600,000 in postelection debt wasn’t paid off completely until late last year, much of it being carried by Jaye’s consulting firm and Sutton. Former Ethics staffer and commissioner Joe Lynn believes that could amount to an unreported loan to the campaign. “If Ethics was doing its job, it would investigate Newsom’s use of accrued debt,” Lynn told us.

The Building Owners and Managers Association of San Francisco — a key Newsom supporter — urged members in December 2003 to make unlimited donations to Newsom’s inaugural committee that would also be used, it said, to help cover “transition activities,” which should legally be subject to contribution limits. But Ethics, as far as we can tell, never probed whether inaugural committee funds were used inappropriately for the new mayor’s transition to room 200.

Newsom may have collected contributions exceeding the legal limit. During runoff elections, candidates are allowed to accept additional contributions from individual donors who have otherwise reached the maximum of $500. The total then permitted would be $750, which can be used to cover debt from the general election. As soon as general-election debt is retired, however, the candidate can no longer take advantage of the increased limit. But as far as the public can tell, there was no analysis conducted by Ethics to determine if Newsom’s campaign continued to collect $750 checks after having paid down its general-election debt.

St. Croix said most pending enforcement cases, more than ever before, were initiated by staff rather than complainants and the ideal scenario would be to emphasize aggressive earlier sweeps of all the campaigns. But unfortunately, he said, “we’re far away from that.”*


No waterfront highrises


EDITORIAL We’ve been concerned for decades about development along San Francisco’s waterfront, and with good reason: the Port of San Francisco has done a generally miserable job of managing one of the city’s most significant resources. In the 1960s and 1970s, the port effectively gave up on the shipping industry, losing container freight (and plenty of good blue-collar jobs) to Oakland. Development proposals for port property, particularly under then-mayor Willie Brown’s administration, were largely horrible.

And now the port wants the state to turn over development rights for some key seawall-protected properties, which could be turned into very-high-end housing with ground-floor retail. The port needs the money for historic preservation and is promising to build some waterfront parks, which is all well and good. But when it comes to building expensive housing along the waterfront, we’re dubious right off the bat — and even more dubious now that Port Director Monique Moyer is howling about the prospect of a 40-foot height limit.

Sen. Carole Migden has introduced legislation, Senate Bill 815, that would authorize the port to lease out for development lots that are now part of a state trust. But at the request of neighborhood groups, she wants height limits included in the deal as part of state law.

The port argues that 40 feet is too low for, say, three stories of housing above a storefront. Besides, port staffers say, zoning issues should be a local decision, and the state should hand over the lots and let the city decide on height, bulk, density, and appropriate use. In principle, we’d tend to agree with that — but the City Planning Department today is a disaster, with every key decision driven by developers, and the last thing this city needs is a string of high-rise condos on the waterfront.

If the port’s land is going to be developed, it has to be done with tremendous sensitivity, clear public benefits — and inflexible, mandated height limits. And if the money is going to go to parks, we’d like to see specifics, in advance: which projects will pay for which parks, and where — and what guarantees do we have that they’ll ever be completed?

This is the kind of decision that will affect the city for a century or more. Migden’s right: we should take it slowly and carefully. *

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

Yeah, man, I was there: I saw the Grateful Dead play "Dark Star" on New Year’s Eve. Heavy.

Only it wasn’t 1967. It was 1981, becoming ’82, and we were at the Oakland Coliseum, not the Panhandle. The Summer of Love was long gone; Haight Street was at war, not over drugs but over gentrification, and the cops were cruising up and down, looking not for hippies selling pot and acid but for the self-proclaimed Mindless Thugs, who were throwing bricks through the windows of upscale stores and fancy bars.

Everybody falls in love with San Francisco the way it was the day they arrived, and mine was a distinctly anarchopunk scene. The soundtrack wasn’t Scott McKenzie and flowers in your hair; it was Jello Biafra, "California über Alles," and the kids were getting all bloody and bruised from slam dancing in clubs with black walls instead of mellowing out and digging the colors of the trippy light show.

But the spirit of the 1960s was still very much alive. The Summer of Love gets a bit glorified in the retelling, but in the end the part that survived was a spirit of community and rebellion. We were here because we didn’t feel like we belonged anywhere else, and as quickly as we could set down roots, we decided it was our city and we wouldn’t let the greedheads take it away from us.

And it’s been an endless battle for the past quarter century, but the bad guys still haven’t won; though much is taken, much abides … and every year we celebrate the best of the world’s best city with the original, first-in-the-nation Best of the Bay.

This year’s issue is in part a tribute to that summer 40 years ago when a new kind of politics, music, and culture was emerging in a city where Bruce B. Brugmann and Jean Dibble were helping create a new kind of journalism. Our local heroes this year are all people who were part of the Summer of Love — and are still doing cool stuff today.

It’s also a tribute to everything sensational in San Francisco. And now and then and forever, there’s plenty. *

Ending the SFUSD’s gag order


EDITORIAL San Francisco’s new school superintendent officially started work last week, taking over a district with a long list of serious problems. Carlos Garcia knows exactly what he’s getting into: he was a high school principal in this city before moving on to the top jobs in Fresno and later Las Vegas. He announced that his top priority will be addressing the achievement gap — the glaring fact that black and Latino students don’t do nearly as well as white and Asian students at any level of the San Francisco Unified School District. And he insisted that he wants to listen to the concerns of the community.

There are plenty of tough assignments on his immediate agenda, including the fact that enrollment is declining and the district so far has addressed that by closing schools. There should be a coherent, effective central plan to try to raise enrollment instead. Closing schools is always an ugly process, and Garcia should try to avoid wading into it this year, until he’s been able to put together, with input from the community, a long-term enrollment and facilities-use plan.

It’s going to take months, even years, to begin to come to terms with and work on the district’s most serious problems, but there’s one simple step Garcia could take — today — that would demonstrate his willingness to work with the community, show his faith in the teachers and administrators, and set a new and very different direction from that of his predecessor.

Garcia should publicly revoke the district’s gag order.

Under former superintendent Arlene Ackerman, no SFUSD employee was allowed to talk to the media or make statements about the district in a public forum without clearing it, in advance, with the district’s public relations staff. That put a serious chill on open discussion within the district, left teachers, principals, and other staff fearful of pointing out problems to reporters, and left the distinct impression that Ackerman would not allow any negative information to leak out of district headquarters.

It also set a terrible standard for district communications and ensured that the public relations office, with a yearly budget of $250,000, was doing little more than buffing the superintendent’s image and hiding data from the media.

Garcia can turn things around in two minutes with a quick memo to all staff. It ought to say:

"While we would appreciate it if district staff didn’t make statements or comments on behalf of the administration unless they’re authorized to do so, any employee of the San Francisco Unified School District is free to express personal opinions, provide information that is in their purview, discuss issues they face in their workplace, and otherwise freely communicate with the press and public without prior notification or approval from district headquarters."

That’s not so hard, is it? *



› andrea@altsexcolumn.com

Dear Andrea:

I have been reading you forever and you are awesome! I have been too intimidated to write but decided to break the silence. I’m a 36-year-old single bisexual woman who is beautiful (or so I’m told). I’ve been attracting more than my fair share of inappropriate dudes and women. This past year, my cousin’s boyfriend came on to me, a married guy begged me to be with him, and a possessive Scorpio threatened suicide over me. I dated a 55-year-old who had eczema, a Buddha belly, and a flaccid penis after three pumps; a lesbian rage-aholic (my first); and a 32-year-old who nearly bit off my nipple (clumsy) and came after two seconds but who wants to marry me and have kids.

Part of me just wants to have some fun, get taken out to dinner, and be left to be free. Part of me wants a committed relationship, but every one so far has led to people wanting to control me. I believe that I can have it all — fun, freedom and commitment.

I notice I attract men who are in shit marriages, and I empathize and listen (which for some reason turns them on). Sometimes I think the most compassionate thing to do is to lay them. Other times I remember the pain my father’s cheating caused and feel they should make a real choice and leave, not default to me. Should I lay them or leave them alone? Is there a hormonal rage that happens after 35? Do you think that I’m attracting these sorts of people because, on some level, I don’t want a relationship?


Bad Girl

Dear Bad:

Wow, girl, you are one big messy mess. I’m seriously tempted just to sum up all your behaviors and all your questions with one big "Quit that" and go back to bed, but you were so nice to tell me I intimidate you (I never get to intimidate anyone anymore!), I feel I owe you a little more than that.

I don’t think your problems have a thing to do with being "beautiful" one way or the other, so put that part right out of your mind, if you can. (Covering the mirrors might help but might also attract lovelorn vampires, which is probably the last thing you need right now.) Also, when you said "inappropriate partners," I was, frankly, kind of expecting something sexier than the bunch of sad-sack suicidal needle-dicks catalogued above. Where are the drunken, occasionally abusive Irish poets? The girls who look like Gina Gershon did in "Bound" but throw violent fits if you so much as mention a long-ago ex? The guys who are cute and funny and fantastic in bed but refuse to meet your friends? You know: the hot, sexy, bad-for-you people? Surely if you’re such hot stuff yourself you can find a better class of losers to waste your time on.

I have a few new rules for you, since you seem, toddler-like, to be acting out rather brattily in hopes that someone will step in to set some limits and make the world make sense again. First, no sleeping with people you have no respect for. ("Buddha belly and flaccid penis"? OK then, don’t fuck him. Certainly don’t fuck him and then make fun of him.) Second, no married men (or women), period. Just because they "default" to you does not mean you must make yourself available. Third, even with better prospects than these, sorry, you cannot have it all, and not just because of where would you put it. You can’t have both complete freedom and complete commitment because, hey, they’re mutually exclusive. Once bound (note the word) to another person, even polyamorously (if you must), you will have to accommodate his-her-its needs and wants sometimes, even at the expense of your own. Anyone who does not understand this really is still operating as a sort of giant (albeit in your case very physically attractive, I’m sure) toddler. You need to grow up a bit, after which you may begin to attract more suitable partners — or at least learn, as toddlers must, that you don’t have to pick up every random thing, no matter how unsuitable, and put it in your mouth.

As for attracting whoever because you want or don’t want whatever, I think there’s a fallacy we all tend to fall for that is, like so many things, simply not as true as it sounds. I suppose that the most popular version — the one about how desperation is not attractive, so stop wanting a boyfriend or girlfriend, and one will magically appear — has a certain truthiness going for it, but it also both blames the victim and promises more than it can deliver. Personally, I believe neither that you’re attracting yucky people because you don’t want nice ones nor that the universe will deliver someone really neato as soon as you deserve him or her. It would be nice if things worked out that equitably for everyone, but in my experience, the universe is kind of shiftless and lazy and just doesn’t bother.



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.

Church of Santino


› johnny@sfbg.com

It’s no surprise that Santino Rice knows how to serve up a good quote. Five minutes into a phone conversation, the biggest antihero to emerge from TV’s Project Runway has already likened Nina Garcia, Heidi Klum, and Michael Kors to a "three-headed monster." Before the interview’s over, he’ll have quipped, "My everyday life and how it plays out is all the fictional stimulation I need." Since his everyday life includes an appearance at "Bad Boys of Runway" — a Castro Theatre event also featuring recent Runway winner Jeffrey Sebelia, a fashion show, and a screening of The Women (1939) he isn’t exaggerating.

But what might surprise people who think they know Rice (though really, let’s just call him Santino) is how uninterested he is in playing up to his semivillainous, semiheroic, and oft-bitchy or cantankerous image from Project Runway‘s second and almost inarguably most dynamic season. Two years on from the experience, he’s easygoing — his baritone voice often giving way to a warm laugh — and quicker to praise than criticize. Make no mistake, this is still the same Mississippian who knew he loved Los Angeles when the Rodney King riots began the day of his first visit. "Everything clicked," he remembers. "I realized [L.A.] figured in so many things I loved, from old Hollywood films to gangsta rap, from [fashion designer] Adrian’s films and MGM to Ice-T and Ice Cube and NWA." But Santino’s days of doing free design gigs for "great exposure" are over.

"Now I don’t need any more exposure," he says, chuckling at the understatement.

Yes, the Santino of today is a sunnier Santino — though it helps that our major topic of discussion is movies. Santino knows and loves his cinema. He has a passion for some of the films that follow The Women in Marc Huestis’s Fabulous Fashion in Film Festival, such as 1946’s Gilda, in which (as he says) the undergarments worn and silhouette created by Rita Hayworth add to her "amazingly sexy" image. Even when discussing a selection he doesn’t care for, such as that of last year’s Dreamgirls, he’s diplomatic, observing that it "gets a free pass" yet doesn’t match the fabulous quality of 1975’s Mahogany, a different festival film he prefers.

A glance at Santino’s MiEspacia page reveals the importance of movies within his aesthetic. When I mention that I share his love for 1964’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, he enthuses that "in her heyday, Catherine Denueve is the most beautiful woman ever" and proceeds to throw down for the lesser-known 1970 Demy-Denueve collaboration Donkey Skin. One mention of the flimsy yet highly imaginative fashions sported by Bobby Kendall in James Bidgood’s 1971 Pink Narcissus, and he’s ready with comments that could school critics. "[Pink Narcissus is] colorful, it’s erotic, it has surreal visuals," he observes. "The way it treats the subject matter of a male prostitute conjures up a lot of feelings. It kind of reminded me of some [Rainer Werner] Fassbinder films in the way that he can linger on certain details too long for comfort. The most recent film that’s given me that same sort of overwhelmed feeling is [Alejandro Jodorowsky’s 1973] Holy Mountain."

It’s a long road from Holy Mountain to Project Runway, and it ain’t yellow brick, but Santino has trekked it. And Project Runway may have scooped up three Emmy nominations, but Santino has already won a few Tonys — Tony Ward and Tony Duquette. In fact, the latter, who often collaborated with Adrian, is a major mentor, which makes Santino’s appearance at an event featuring a screening of The Women even more apt. After all, the centerpiece of the George Cukor classic isn’t Roz Russell’s motormouth routine, Norma Shearer’s sweet plain Jane act, or even Joan Crawford’s fierce shopgirl sexuality. It’s Adrian’s design work, on display in a fashion show sequence. "And it’s [the only scene] in color," Santino notes.

Some Project Runway devotees might be curious about the past nature and current state of Santino’s bond with Andre Gonzalo, but his tie with Ward, revealed within season two’s penultimate episode, is more compelling. Few people seemed to realize that Santino’s best friend Tony — the handsome quiet guy with the beach house — was Madonna’s lover during her wildest pop peak, the star of (and best thing about) Bruce La Bruce’s 1996’s Hustler White, and the muse of John Galliano, and is the cult figure who got into a spat with Marlon Brando when the latter was giving a zonked-out acting class late in his life.

"We met in odd circumstances," Santino says when asked about Ward. "We were flying back to Los Angeles, and the engine on the right side of the plane exploded. We had to emergency-land and had a long layover, and during that time we just talked about everything. A week after we got back to LA, he called and asked me if I’d want to create some pieces for his first fashion editorial [as a photographer], which was based on [Stanley Kubrick’s 1971] A Clockwork Orange. I made all these leather codpieces and other accessories. From that point on, we’ve hung out. He’s a great guy and a loyal friend."

My last question for Santino is a simple and direct one: what are you wearing? After an "Oh no!" punctuated by another easygoing laugh, he concedes an answer. "I have on a pair of shoes I got in Singapore that are Hiromu Takahara," he begins, slowly warming up to the query. "They look like Converse, but they fit like a cowboy boot — they zip up on the side. I’m wearing black Diesel jeans, skinny jeans, and just a T-shirt. And, of course, a hat — a black Bardolino hat."*


Featuring Santino Rice and Jeffrey Sebelia, with a screening of The Women

Fri/27, 7:30 p.m., $15–>$27.50 ($55 for preferred seats and reception at Mezzanine)


July 27–<\d>Aug. 3

Castro Theatre

429 Castro, SF

(415) 863-0611


For a complete Q&A with Santino Rice, go to www.sfbg.com/blogs/pixel_vision.

To the ramparts, robots


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Aside from having one of the most awesome health care systems in the world, the Louvre, and an overall sense of sophistication, France is responsible for Daft Punk’s entrance into the world and the subsequent rebirth of a limitless club culture. Sure, we’ve got R. Kelly and Slayer, both of whom are as culturally relevant as the Paris duo, but unlike the aforementioned American icons, Daft Punk have scaled an aesthetic fence, resuscitating what many considered a moribund French music scene in a dynamic way that exceeds tabloids and all things shredding.

With or without their now-infamous mystique as masked robots, Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo have dominated dance floors with dynamic robohouse releases like 1997’s Homework, 2001’s Discovery, and 2005’s Human after All (all Virgin), which murdered charts in the United Kingdom and France while assaulting those in the States. But it’s not the grinding electropower of "Da Funk" that’s entirely responsible for the group’s forefront standing — it’s all about the Daft Punk vision.

In a genre brimming with predictable dance floor restrictions (i.e., the same four synth sounds and 120 bpm repetitions) and an overwhelming need to crowd-please, Daft Punk have never followed 4/4 guidelines or era-aligned clichés. After an intense bidding war, signing with Virgin, and hitting megastatus with Discovery, the duo immediately began realizing their ambitions, working with Japanese animation kingpin Leiji Matsumoto for the $4 million–<\d>budgeted operatic film Interstella 5555. Released in 2003, Interstella revolves around a "discovered" robot band taken hostage in space, with a separate episode for each Discovery track. Both MTV and Cartoon Network hosted the first few episodes, and many critics heralded the band for its satirical take on the entertainment industry.

Without supporting Human after All with a series of elaborate tour dates, the duo spent time prepping another cinematic addition to their creative canon and directed Electroma, a 70-minute silent-film opus. Based on the story of two robots driving through a desert in a 1987 Ferrari on a quest to become human, the film has already been compared to endeavors like Matthew Barney’s Cremaster Cycle. Electroma is far from a low-budget, art-school project, though: the futuristic costumes, for example, were dreamed up by Hedi Slimane.

In typical Daft Punk fashion, Bangalter and Homem-Christo maintained their sacred anonymity by choosing to direct the film and hire actors to live the robot dream. For the soundtrack, the duo also enlisted France’s psych tastemaker Sebastien Tellier and selected some moody hymns by Brian Eno and Curtis Mayfield, to name a couple. There have been several midnight screenings at clubs across the globe — one at Mezzanine is forthcoming — and the DVD will be released in August by Aztec International/Vice.

Speaking of which, Daft Punk have also earned a place in electrohouse history with their ties to the new French revolution — namely, Ed Banger Records and affiliates like the aforementioned Vice. Founded by production monolith and Daft Punk manager Pedro Winter, a.k.a. Busy P, the label has become synonymous with the gritty analog sound that Daft Punk carved into dance culture. Including many young French producers like Sebastian, Justice, Mr. Oizo, and Feadz — most of whom are barely old enough to legally get hammered at a stateside club — Ed Banger has earned its place at the top of the in-demand live-act pyramid, and its crew isn’t tied to serving out bangers exclusively either. Oizo recently directed the forthcoming film Steak, which was scored by Sebastian, Tellier, and himself.

Then there’s Kitsuné Music, another Paris label, which is nestled between Ed Banger and the Rapture on the list of Daft Punk’s top MySpace friends, a lofty position for those engaged in the cybernetworking circuit. Acts like Digitalism, Crystal Castles, and Riot in Belgium have earned near-cult status through Kitsuné and its heavily rotated compilation series.

With the exception of a few Coachella dates and one-offs, Daft Punk haven’t officially toured since supporting Homework in 1997, and now the duo are tearing through the States prior to Electroma‘s launch. Playing select arena dates, the duo are performing alongside their well-groomed legion of the new French crooners, including Kavinsky, Sebastian, and the Rapture. Most of the dates are already sold out, but in homage to Daft Punk’s legacy, the James Friedman–<\d> and the Rapture–<\d>owned Throne of Blood imprint is throwing a series of after-parties including said supporting acts — no Daft Punk, sorry — in clubs rather than in enormous amphitheaters.

Whether or not Daft Punk will eventually start building sculptures, go to medical school, or return to the realm of everyday club crushing remains unknown, but their place in dance culture is as solid as Bangalter and Homem-Christo’s impenetrable robot helmets.*


Fri/27, 8 p.m., $48.50

Greek Theatre

UC Berkeley, Gayley Road, Berk.

(510) 643-6707


Dirty truth bombs


› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER Been around da block as Jenny and I have? Then you’re all way too familiar with that cad Hoochie Coochie Man, that bogus Boogie (Chillen) Man, and — natch, Nick — that Loverman. But hey, who’s this new game, Grinderman? This grind has little to do with a full-bodied Arabica, the daily whatever, or the choppers that go "Clink!" in the night. It’s all about that which is toppermost of the poppermost on young men’s minds, always skirting young men’s fancies. Namely, sex, sex, and more sex. Oh yeah, and sex.

No pretense, prenups, or prenatal care here. "An overriding theme of mine is, I guess, a man and a woman against the world," Grinderman’s primo romantic, Nick Cave, murmurs. "But for this record, the woman seems to be down in the street, engaged in life, and the man is kind of left on his own, with, um, y’know, a tube of complimentary shampoo and a sock."

It’s the rough, sordid, inelegant, dirty-old-man truth, youth — and judging from Grinderman’s self-titled debut (Mute/Anti-), it sounds awfully good to me. Consider the configuration of Cave on vocals and guitar along with three Bad Seeds (violinist and electric bouzoukist Warren Ellis, bassist Martyn Casey, and drummer Jim Sclavunos), his solo band set free to create music collaboratively, loosely tethered to Cave’s mad songwriting skills. There’s sex, yes, but Grinderman is also about finding fresh, new positions and approaches to the old rump roast of rock ‘n’ roll, copping new moves to old blues, and finding new grooves for honest old dogs. After all, Cave will have been on this blighted speck for half a century this year. "Look, I’ve been turning 50 for years, so it’s kind of academic at this stage," says the polymath who won over critics with his screenplay for the 2005 Aussie western The Proposition. "I think there’s an old man’s anger behind this record and a sense of humor about it as well, I guess, that you only get with age, really. Where all you can do is kinda laugh. But I do think there’s a sort of rage that’s 50 years old."

It’s there in "Go Tell the Women": "All we want is a little consensual rape in the afternoon<\!s>/ And maybe a bit more in the evening," Cave coos. Scenes abound of balding devils treating themselves to lonely hand jobs in the shower or restlessly flipping channels, fondling the changer, on universal remote; on "Love Bomb," Cave grumbles, "I be watching the MTV<\!s>/ I be watching the BBC<\!s>/ I be searching the Internet." He’s aware of the "mad mullahs and dirty bombs" out there ("Honey Bee [Let’s Fly to Mars]"), but instead of succumbing to death and devastation, Grinderman gets lost in the life force, a many-monikered lady, the old in-and-out, monkey magik — real Caveman stuff.

The band wisely avoided choosing the latter label. But amid testosterone, no one lit on the charm. Congenialman doesn’t have quite the same ring, though the Cave I speak to from his home in Brighton, England, is definitely a lighter, brighter, wittier, and much more charming creature than I ever imagined. Searching for a lighter midinterview, Cave is in fine spirits — Grinderman had only done three shows and an in-store, but he and Sclavunos were pleased with the reception to their collective nocturnal emission.

At the larger Bad Seeds shows, Cave explains, "the audience is a long way away. It’s just been really good to kind of … see what an audience looks like again."

The four first came upon the idea of starting a new group when, while performing as the Bad Seeds, Sclavunos says, "we’d catch glimmers of it in rehearsals or sound checks. Someone would make some awful noise, and we’d all get excited and start playing along with it."

The sole American member of Grinderman and the Bad Seeds — and a onetime member of the Cramps and Sonic Youth — laughs abruptly when I ask him to describe his dynamic with Cave: "Hah! Complicated!" They talk a lot, about matters beyond music. "There’s such a tendency, such an anti-intellectual streak in rock ‘n’ roll music," Sclavunos continues. "Such a fear of seeming to know things and such a tendency to dumb things down for the sake of trying to make it seem more real or give it more integrity. Don’t let it get too complicated or it starts smacking of prog rock or something! But Nick’s not afraid of ideas, and he’s not afraid to try out ideas, and in that sense we’re all of the same mind."

Grinderman is likewise as collective minded as possible. "We do it in very much the traditional democratic manner of bands," Sclavunos offers. "Whoever can be bossier in expressing an opinion about something has the opportunity to speak up, and if there’s anything really objectionable going on, you can certainly count on people raising a fuss!"

The idea was to try something different, Cave confirms. "I asked Warren Ellis what I should sing about lyrically because we had a pretty clear understanding what the music was going to be like, and he said he didn’t know but just don’t sing about God and don’t sing about love," Cave details. "A piece of information like that initially throws me for a six, but it’s actually enormously helpful for me as a writer because it kind of cuts down your options and pushes you into another place." Contrary to belief, the idea was not to re-create Cave’s cacophonous early combo, the Birthday Party. "The Birthday Party were actually way too complicated," Cave says mirthfully. "We don’t have enough brain cells left to be able to cope with that kind of thing."

Sooo … what with all the "No Pussy Blues" and the odes to "Depth Charge Ethel" shoved down Grinderman’s trou, one wonders what Cave’s wife, Susie Bick, must think of the lyrics? She likes the band and the shows, he says, then sighs, "Um, yeah. You know, I think there may have been a certain confusion to begin with, but I cleared that up." As in, who exactly you were writing about? "Yeah. Exactly. Yeah."<\!s>*


Thurs/26, 9 p.m., $26 (sold out)

Great American Music Hall

859 O’Farrell, SF


Also Fri/27, 9 p.m., $26 (sold out)


333 11th St., SF




UK punk pop with enough energy — and provocation, thanks to the Femlin-perpetuated sex and violence in the video for "Men’s Needs," off their new Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever (Warner Bros.) — to shiver your baby bunker’s timbers. With Sean Na-Na and the Hugs. Wed/25, 8 p.m., $11–<\d>$13. Slim’s, 333 11th St., SF. www.slims-sf.com


Another kick inside for Kate Bush lovers? Vocalist Natasha Khan is an ethereal ringer for the lady. I dug the all-girl folk-and-art-song combo when they played South by Southwest — and the affection is catching: Bat for Lashes’ Fur and Gold (Caroline) was recently short-listed for UK’s Mercury Prize. Mon/30, 8:30 p.m., $10–<\d>$12. Café du Nord, 2170 Market, SF. www.cafedunord.com

Our Springfield soft spots


1. Tress MacNeille Julie Kavner and Hank Azaria always get props, but how about throwing down for my hero, the voice behind characters such as scathing Agnes Skinner, the brilliant-when-coherent Cat Lady, single working woman Cookie Kwan ("Stay outta the West Side!"; "Sign here, initial here, kiss me here!"), and Cookie’s sex-predator pal Lindsey Naegle, who appears as everything from a network executive ("We’re losing male tweens! Can you get jiggy with something?") to a consumer-testing ad sloganeer ("We’ll call it Desert Breeze!" she says after one spray of a product blinds Homer) to door-to-door baby-proofing salesperson (donning bonnet and pacifier in the process) to proud espouser of the child-free lifestyle. The sharpest sarcasm on The Simpsons comes straight from the mouth of MacNeille. (Johnny Ray Huston)

2. Homer as Mr. Sparkle (in "In Marge We Trust") After Homer spots his eerie likeness on a box of Mr. Sparkle, a Japanese detergent, he investigates. Though it’s later revealed that the Mr. Sparkle logo is actually an amalgamation of a fish and a lightbulb, the product’s television commercial is no less hilarious.

Disembodied Homeresque head: "I’m disrespectful to dirt! Can you see that I am serious? Out of my way, all of you! This is no place for loafers! Join me or die! Can you do any less?"

Giggling consumers: "What a brave corporate logo!" "I accept the challenge of Mr. Sparkle!" (Cheryl Eddy)

3. Springfield is for lovers We knew Matt Groening was ‘mo-friendly even pre-Simpsons, given the oft-nakedly frolicsome duo Akbar and Jeff of Life in Hell. But the show pushed boundaries right away — remember all that earnest "Is Smithers gay?" debate around school yards and watercoolers? Ah, how innocent (or just dumb) we were then. Aside from her time with a golf gender-bender, Patty’s love life has yet to be given much shrift, but at least two episodes wrapped themselves in the rainbow flag. In 1997’s "Homer’s Phobia," Homer (scared by flaming voice guest John Waters) decides Bart needs a father-son field trip to a steel mill — where, unfortunately, the uniformly hunky male workers spend their break shakin’ can to "Everybody Dance Now" by C+C Music Factory. Seven seasons later, "Three Gays of the Condo" found Marge and Homer temporarily separated, the latter moving in with a quarreling male couple in Springfield’s "gay ghetto." He fits in suspiciously well before heterosexual instincts triumph once again. (Dennis Harvey)

4. Quotability Every episode contains at least one line that can be used in any situation, be it from Comic Book Guy ("Ah yes — the Incredible Hulk Melon Baller!"), Ralph Wiggum ("When I grow up, I want to be a principal … or a caterpillar"), Groundskeeper Willie ("When you’re alone and life is making you lonely, you can always go … ach! doon-toon"), or, of course, Homer ("I’ve been a fan of the Who since the very beginning, when they were the Hillbilly Bugger Boys"). (Eddy)

5. Apt or prophetic celebrity cameos I’ll name just two: Serena Williams moaning, "I just ate a personal pizza," to beg out of a tennis match (in "Tennis the Menace") and Kathy Griffin as a bully named Francine who terrorizes Lisa (in "Bye Bye Nerdie"). For extra laughs, listen close to the crowd noises of the scientists in the latter episode and then brace yourself for the end, in which Griffin’s character howls with rage as she swallows the camera in an attempt to beat the stuffing out of the biggest nerd of all: you. (Huston)

6. Treehouses of Horror My favorite-ever "Treehouse of Horror" segment deserves its own mention. After a well-meaning Lisa frees Snorky — star dolphin performer at a Sea World–esque marine park — Springfield soon learns he’s King Snorky, finally able to lead his subjects from their forced habitation of the sea. Though Homer’s instinct to take a stand ("I’m not going to let a bunch of hoop-jumping tuna munchers push me around!") is classic, the most priceless moment is an aside between two supporting characters. Moe: "What did he say?" Carl: "He said years ago dolphins lived on the land." Moe: "Whaaaaaaa?" (Eddy)

7. Anthropomorphic slapstick See Snorky, above. I also give you rampaging rhinos, the sideways glances of annoyed-looking amphibians, the many worries of Mr. Teeny, and of course, Itchy and Scratchy, gleefully upping the ante of every cruel Warner Bros. cartoon ever made. (Huston)

8. All singing, all dancing Yes, Danny Elfman wrote the famous Simpsons theme, but the series’ real audio hero is composer-arranger Alf Clausen, who over 18 years has had occasion to brilliantly spoof just about every musical genre. Among serious songfests, it doesn’t get any better than Marge’s community theater turn as Blanche DuBois ("A Streetcar Named Marge") or Troy McClure’s big comeback as Charlton Heston in the Broadway-bound Stop the Planet of the Apes, I Want to Get Off ("A Fish Called Selma"). Then there was The Simpson Family Smile-Time Variety Hour, a 1997 tribute to horrendous ’70s variety shows that featured Smithers in chaps, singing Devo’s "Whip It." (Harvey)

9. Lenny Leonard What is it about Lenny Leonard (voiced by Harry Shearer)? Maybe it’s the sideburns, maybe the nonchalance — or the complete obliviousness — with which he floats through life. I don’t know, but I would do him. Carl is clearly the more functional half of their conjoined yet asexual partnership. But Lenny — he’s like Steve Buscemi with more sex appeal! (Harvey)

10. Yvan eht nioj ‘Nuff said. (Huston)


Opens Fri/27 in Bay Area theaters

See Movie Clock at www.sfbg.com