Volume 41 Number 45
August 8 – 14, 2007
LOCAL LIVE "I think we might have chosen the wrong drinks for tonight," my friend Damian remarked at the start of an inspiring set by local Appalachian-Gypsy-klezmer folk fusionists Karpov. As they transported us to the unmapped intersection where Kentucky and Romania meet, I could see my buddy’s point. There they were mountain men spinning tar-black tales of loneliness and love run afoul over clarinet twists and robust churns of the accordion. And here we were sipping away on cocktails! We had it all wrong: this was music for straight, pure, unadulterated liquor. Preferably whiskey or vodka, right out of the bottle, diluted by nothing other than maybe a few tears.
Performing songs from last year’s stirring self-released Soliloquy and previewing material intended for its follow-up, the quintet did a convincing job whisking us away from the Tenderloin and dropping us into the distant past in some remote backwoods. Boasting a wise-beyond-its-years voice similar to Will Oldham’s or David Eugene Edwards’s, Andre Karpov recalled the wandering troubadours of a preindustrial age, though here he was backed by a group akin to an Eastern European wedding band prone to brooding from time to time.
Karpov gazed out ruefully "into the distance, where not even my persistence could bring her back to me" on highlight "Further from Me," and the lament was cloaked in shifting shadows, thanks to painterly touches by Joe Lewis (stand-up bass), Jarod Hermann (drums), Sam Tsitrin (accordion), and Aaron Novik (clarinet). The ghosts of regret made other appearances, on "I Won" and "Under the Sun" articulated to spine-tingling effect with snaking clarinet runs and sighing accordion over understated but commanding rhythms. Still, if this was any kind of wedding band, there had to be dancing, and Karpov set the audience’s feet a-stomping on rowdy numbers "Sorry World," "Soliloquy," and crowd favorite "To the Grave," which beckoned my two feet forward with its calls of "the fog has lifted, lifted away, so come on out children, come out and play." No problem there, Karpov. Next time, though, I’ll bring the whiskey. (Todd Lavoie)
One investigation by the District Attorney’s Office is enough of a headache for City College of San Francisco. But two?
The Guardian learned that just days before the November 2005 election, in which City College asked voters for $246.3 million in bond money to continue a series of capital works projects, the office of Vice Chancellor Peter Goldstein received a letter from investigators requesting detailed information about a land transaction that took place in Chinatown earlier that year.
At least three of the school’s elected trustees don’t recall being informed by Chancellor Phil Day about the probe, setting off new concerns after we alerted officials about the letter, which the Guardian obtained. The DA’s Office is also investigating potential laundering of public funds into campaign donations by college officials in connection with that bond campaign.
"It puts a further cloud on the college," trustee Julio Ramos told us. "Presumably the statute of limitations has not run on the transaction, so what’s going on here? I’m concerned because no one ever informed us."
Two other trustees, Milton Marks and board president Anita Grier, told us they don’t remember being told of the inquest.
"We do have to give them some leeway to operate the college without informing us of everything," Marks said. "But when the district attorney is asking questions about something that’s coming from a board action, why wouldn’t we have to know about it as early as possible? It’s kind of indefensible."
But Day fervently insisted that the board was informed of the letter during a closed-session meeting the same month the letter was received and that Ramos and Marks simply weren’t there. Day had no explanation for why Grier couldn’t recall it, but trustees Rodel Rodis, Natalie Berg, and Lawrence Wong and former trustee Johnnie Carter all confirmed they’d been told about it. Day also said the school had never heard back from the DA’s office after it produced all of the requested documents.
"I had even forgot about the fact that we had this initial inquiry back then," Day told us. "I had totally removed it from my brain and forgotten about it completely."
Either way, this is the first the public has heard of the DA’s interest in City College’s land deals. Debbie Mesloh, a spokesperson for District Attorney Kamala Harris, told us she could neither confirm nor deny that any such investigation was taking place, although the letter confirms that an investigation was opened.
The DA this year began an inquiry into City College after the San Francisco Chronicle revealed that the school had used a $10,000 lease payment from a business tenant to help bankroll a campaign committee formed for the purpose of promoting the 2005 bond election, City College’s third since 1997.
But we now know that the DA began snooping around the college’s land purchases in October 2005, when Goldstein was asked for escrow documents, property appraisals, memos, and board minutes concerning the school’s purchase of two lots in Chinatown at the corner of Kearny and Washington streets for a long-planned (and now vastly over budget) campus.
The Guardian has also obtained a pile of documents detailing months of real estate negotiations between the college and politically connected Chinatown businessman Pius Lee, who owned one of the lots and had an option to buy a neighboring and much larger tract.
The construction of the new Chinatown<\d>North Beach campus hasn’t gone smoothly for the college or voters. The school originally used $5.8 million to buy property in the neighborhood using bond money that voters authorized in 1997. Voters were then asked for $45 million in 2001 to build the campus, with construction expected to begin in 2003.
But Day’s ambitions led to clashes with Chinatown residents after the original plan slated for an area facing Columbus Avenue on the other side of the block from where City College now hopes to build called for demolishing a historic building and low-income apartments housing elderly tenants.
The school entered a legal settlement promising to preserve the Columbo Building and relocate the nearby Fong Building’s tenants. In 2005, however, it hastily decided incorporating that work would be "infeasible" and turned to Lee for help in finding a new location.
Lee (who did not return our calls) told the college he’d give up a sliver of land he owned on the other side of the block and also help it secure the much larger lot nearby owned by a Taiwanese company, Fantec Development Corp., with which Lee had a long business relationship.
The school paid Lee $1.9 million for a strip of parking lot 18 feet wide, even though an appraisal that City College received placed its market value at $1.1 million, records show. (San Francisco County assessed it at $267,000 in 2004 for tax purposes. The neighboring, much larger piece of land, also a parking lot, was assessed at $1.5 million.) During early negotiations, records show, the college offered $785,000 for Lee’s property and $4.5 million for Fantec’s, but in the end it wound up paying much more a total of $8.7 million in bond money for both.
Yet it’s not clear precisely what investigators were looking into, what they found, or whether the investigation is still open.
"The properties were not available for anything less than the price we paid for them," Goldstein told us. "That’s what the sellers demanded in order to sell their properties…. Pius drove a very hard deal and demanded what I would consider to be the maximum possible price for his property that we could defend."
Ground still hasn’t been broken on the school’s Chinatown dream, and in the interim, as we’ve reported recently, the estimated costs have ballooned from $75 million to $122 million, an increase of 62 percent. As a result, the school has chosen to gut some projects authorized by voters to keep this and other favored proposals alive (see "The City College Shell Game," 7/4/07).
The Board of Trustees is slated to vote next month on whether to certify the campus’s environmental documents and whether the project should be exempt from building height limits in the neighborhood.<\!s>*
EDITORIAL Over the next few weeks, the Board of Supervisors will be looking at two major electric-power programs that could add a lot of new generation capacity (and possibly new pollution) to southeast San Francisco and a new source of backup power from out of town. Both projects seem to have broad support at City Hall.
The main questions that city officials ought to be asking about plans for a new power plant in Potrero Hill and a new power cable to bring electricity across the bay are:
•Do we really need either?
•What is motivating the powerful but little-known state agency to demand that San Francisco the only US city with a federal public power mandate prepare for a future in which energy use continues to grow, conservation lags, the private sector controls the city’s power supply, and the city’s plans for cutting power use are a failure?
The California Independent System Operator, known as Cal-ISO, was created in the wake of the wretched energy deregulation plan that the State Legislature concocted in 1996. The outfit, run by a five-member board appointed by the governor, is supposed to ensure that every part of California has enough electricity now and in the future.
But the board members are almost all former utility executives, including a retired Pacific Gas and Electric Co. official, and like most utility executives, they seem to believe that the only track for electricity use is upward.
So Cal-ISO has informed San Francisco that it doesn’t have enough power on hand to make it through 2010. That means the city needs to either find a new way to import more power (the only significant current pathway is a cable that runs up the Peninsula and is owned by PG&E) or build more power plants inside its limits.
The problem with building more plants, particularly the kind of plants Cal-ISO likes fossil fuel burners that can run day and night without interruption is that San Francisco residents are trying to get rid of the last big polluting plant, Mirant Corp.’s facility at the foot of Potrero Hill, not build more.
So the latest solution involves the installation of three natural gas<\d>fired generators known as peakers, which would run only when demand is high and other sources (including the solar facility the city plans to build) aren’t operating. The mayor and the supervisors are referring to these plants as "city-owned generation," making this sound like a big step on the way to public power.
And on one level, it is: San Francisco won the turbines (which are essentially big jet engines) as part of a settlement with Williams Energy after the energy crisis, and they could be part of a municipal utility. But the current plans call for the Chicago subsidiary of a Tokyo company, J Power, to build the structures that would house the turbines and hook them up to the power lines, then operate the plants for 10 years. Only then would they revert to city ownership.
So already San Francisco is waffling on the public power issue. (Why, for example, can’t the city build the facilities itself and hire its own engineers to hook up the turbines and run them? Why do we even need a private, outside partner?)
Then there’s the environmental impact. In theory, if the peakers only ran a few hours a day, they would spew less junk into the air than the Mirant plant currently does. And Cal-ISO is only willing to allow the Mirant plant to shut down if San Francisco develops some other form of firm local generation. But there’s nothing in writing anywhere to guarantee that the foul exhaust from Mirant would cease when the peakers fired up; in fact, it’s possible that the southeast part of the city could wind up living with both.
The other project, called the Trans Bay Cable, would be a privately owned venture carrying power from Pittsburg across the bay and into San Francisco. The power plants that would feed the cable are largely nonrenewables, and although they’re outside town, this is hardly an environmental advance.
The big question, though, is why San Francisco has to go through this exercise.
Cal-ISO predicts that the city will run short of power in a few years but that forecast is awfully suspect. For starters, the entire projected shortfall is five megawatts in 2010, growing by 10 MW per year after that. And the city’s projections for Community Choice Aggregation suggest that conservation measures can cheaply reduce demand, by 107 MW, over the same period. Conservation, also known as demand-side management, is by far the least expensive and most environmentally sound alternative.
In fact, with an aggressive conservation plan and an aggressive solar program, it’s possible that the city could handle the local load just fine without the Mirant plant or the peakers.
That, of course, would leave much of the power in the hands of PG&E and make the city too heavily reliant on the one Peninsula cable. That’s what makes the giant extension cord from Pittsburg seem so appealing. But the city has also been talking about extending its power line from Hetch Hetchy, which now ends in Newark, across the bay and that city-owned, city-run alternative would make far more sense. (The company that would own the Trans Bay Cable, Babcock and Brown, has offered San Francisco a handful of cash, a total of $75 million over 25 years, to make the deal sound sweeter. But that’s birdseed compared with the revenue the city would get by building its own line and moving to create a full public power system.)
Infrastructure decisions like these tie the city down for many years to come, and the supervisors need to be careful. They should, at a minimum:
•Conduct an independent study, outside the purview of Cal-ISO, to see what the city’s energy needs really will be in the future and how they can be met with renewables and conservation.
•Direct the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission to prepare a plan to build the peaker facilities as a city project, with no private-sector partner getting control of the power for 10 years.
•Guarantee the people of Bayview and the other southeast neighborhoods that if the peakers are installed, they won’t be fired up until the Mirant plant is shut down.
But there’s a larger point here. San Francisco has never had a detailed energy-options study that looks at how the city overall should address its energy needs for the next 25 years. A study like that would consider everything from tidal and wind power to public power, infrastructure needs, and extending the Hetch Hetchy line across the bay to CCA.
Instead, at the bidding of an unaccountable state agency filled with people who think like private-utility executives, the city is making a bunch of piecemeal moves that will create a patchwork of programs that may not be the right ones, may not be properly connected, and may not even be needed.
The only outfit that’s demanding we move quickly here is Cal-ISO and before city officials decide to let the governor’s people determine our energy future, City Attorney Dennis Herrera should prepare a memo on what legal authority, if any, Cal-ISO has over the city and how San Francisco can defy that agency and determine its own future.*
John Ross has always known, as he says in this week’s cover story, that there’s a bullet out there with his name on it. Reporters who aren’t afraid to go where the news takes them, people who want to let the world know about deep injustice in parts of the world where most of us would never dare tread, risk their lives every day.
Brad Will was one of those people. He was an activist reporter in the grand old tradition, carrying a used video camera all over Latin America, drawn to the most explosive flash points, seeking images and stories. Often he paid his own way and posted his work for no wage on places like Indymedia.
He arrived in Oaxaca, Mexico, in the fall of 2006 to cover a violent strike by radical teachers. Will didn’t have the third-world street smarts that John has developed over a quarter of a century, but he was fearless and when the bullet finally came for him, he filmed his own murder. John this week tells the story of how Will’s killers escaped prosecution and he reminds us how popular it’s becoming to kill the messenger.
Apparently, you don’t have to be in a Mexican gunfight to fall victim to that sentiment either. Last week, the editor of the Oakland Post was assassinated; police now say the murderer was a worker at Your Black Muslim Bakery, an organization known for past violence that Chauncey Bailey was investigating.
Reporters in this country tend to think we’re pretty safe from the sorts of retributive violence common in other parts of the world. It’s rare that an American journalist is killed at home because somebody didn’t want a story told. But times are changing; more reporters are facing prison at the hands of the authorities, and now at least one local writer is dead, quite possibly on account of what he had to say.
Scary shit. *
GREEN CITY A few years ago my friend Andrew and I sailed a small boat to the northern Abaco region of the Bahamas, a shallow archipelago frequented by Palm Beach, Fla., sports fishers and vacationing couples on sailboats.
We made our first landfall on Walker’s Cay, and while Andrew paid the customs official for the cruising permit, I hosed salt off our decks and refilled our water tanks. I didn’t notice the fellow standing at the spigot, watching a meter, and it wasn’t until we’d fired up the engine and were untying the spring line that he handed us a bill for $30 worth of water.
We couldn’t pay it after clearing customs, we had about $12 in cash between us and the meter tender was livid. This was my first experience in a place where every house has a cistern, only the wealthy can afford the luxury of desalination, and dry spells mean costly shipments of water from the United States.
To Bahamians, water is almost more precious than wine. And yet they’re surrounded by it.
A scorched San Francisco faced a similar dilemma back in postquake 1906, and a series of savvy politicians laid the political piping that would eventually funnel a steady, cheap supply of drinking water to the city by damming the Tuolumne River at the Hetch Hetchy Valley near Yosemite.
It was ultimately way more than we needed, and most of the 225 million gallons of river water diverted daily is piped to 28 wholesale customers. The overdue upgrade to the Water System Improvement Plan is being orchestrated by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. But a joint study by the Tuolumne River Trust and the Pacific Institute has found several flaws in the plan.
While the SFPUC included conservation and efficiency when calcuutf8g a marginal decrease in San Francisco’s water use over the next 23 years, similar standards weren’t applied to the wholesale customers, who claim they will use 14 percent more almost entirely for irrigation and landscaping. This could draw another 51 million gallons a day from the Tuolumne, the lower branch of which is already considered an impaired water body under the Clean Water Act.
Yet encouraging its suburban customers to conserve may not be in the financial interests of the SFPUC, which is pursuing $4.3 billion worth of repairs and upgrades, about two-thirds of which could be financed by tripling the price of water. The TRT-PI study argues that cost will be an incentive to conserve and concludes that a number of the SFPUC’s predictions are based on a continuation of people’s wasteful ways. It instead recommends that San Francisco set an example for its suburban neighbors and collaborate on efficiency and conservation measures.
Global warming will disrupt worldwide water cycles in unpredictable ways. Accordingly, the PI says one-third of urban water use can be cut employing existing technologies to recycle gray water and capture rainwater. We’re still flushing our toilets with the sweat of the Sierras while the California Department of Water Resources predicts that 33 percent less snowpack will melt into the Tuolumne over the next 50 years.
But people can adapt to such circumstances. Working with the premise of one gallon per person per day, Andrew and I got by: we washed our dishes in salt water and donned bathing suits when it rained, plugged up the drain in the cockpit so that it filled like a bathtub, and let the furls in the mainsail pour rinse water onto our heads.
During one memorable thunderstorm, several other boats sailed into a safe harbor where we’d anchored. Andrew was busy taking a rainwater shower while I washed a load of laundry in the cockpit, and it wasn’t until I was pinning our clothing up to dry on the lifelines that I noticed couples on the boats around us doing the same thing. It was comic to see, and heartening too, because we were doing it out of poverty, and they were doing it just because it looked like fun.
Or maybe because it was the right thing to do.
The SFPUC is still in the review stage of the plan and will hold hearings in September, at which the public may comment on our aquatic future. Stay updated by visiting www.sfwater.org, and read the critical study at
Our recent obsession with carbon neutrality has spawned some funny spin-off sites, from Cheat Neutral, which offers adulterers a way to subsidize the fidelity of others and assuage their guilt, to Fart Neutral, a humorous site with a serious underlying message.
Our recent obsession with carbon neutrality has spawned some funny spin-off sites, from Cheat Neutral, which offers adulterers a way to subsidize the fidelity of others and assuage their guilt, to Fart Neutral, a humorous site with a serious underlying message.
The dust is still settling after a contentious Board of Supervisors hearing July 31 about public health problems allegedly related to the 1,500-unit condo complex that Lennar Corp. is building on Parcel A of the Hunters Point Shipyard. Department of Public Health officials succeeded in convincing a narrow board majority not to urge a temporary halt to the project but failed to reassure hundreds of mostly African American residents of BayviewHunters Point that their health has not been negatively impacted by Lennar’s inability to properly monitor naturally occurring asbestos and control dust at the hilltop site.
At the hearing, minister Christopher Muhammad of the Muhammad University of Islam, which lies adjacent to Parcel A, urged a shutdown and accused the city of "environmental racism," while Dr. Arelious Walker of the True Hope Church of God in Christ and Rev. J. Edgar Boyd of Bethel AME argued that the project is safe and beneficial to the community and that, in Walker’s words, there is "no evidence to warrant a shutdown." Many project supporters were brought in by Lennar on buses. Some observers called the clash "a holy war in the Bayview."
After the board voted 56 against a shutdown, there were angry allegations that some pastors had not publicly disclosed their financial interest in seeing the construction project continue. During the hearings, neither Walker nor Boyd disclosed that they had a contract with Lennar to build 200 homes on Parcel A. Reached by phone, Walker denied any self-interest in recommending that Lennar’s construction project continue. "My history disproves that," Walker told the Guardian. "If anyone unearths any evidence of harm, I’d back off my support."
The federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry is doing an assessment based on a July 17 request by the Department of Public Health. In a public health assessment of Oak Ridge High School in El Dorado County, where naturally occurring asbestos was exposed during construction of a playing field, the federal agency found that athletes, coaches, and maintenance workers were "at higher risk [of exposure to asbestos] than previously thought," according to spokesperson Susan Muza. But while the agency recommended soil removal and landscaping, Muza told us it did not recommend the school be relocated or closed.
Meanwhile, Walker also rejects the notion that BayviewHunters Point is being torn apart by competing religious factions. "Minister Muhammad’s group has helped prove that there is a serious problem," Walker said. "I applaud him for that. We just disagree about the dust, but that’s not going to bring about a breach. I refuse to let there be a holy war."
Walker said his motive is more African American homeownership. But he learned how tough that is when he developed 20 town houses near Candlestick Point. "We wanted a 50 percent African American homeownership rate, but only two families ended up qualifying," Walker said, blaming "bad credit."
That raises questions about the likelihood that BayviewHunters Point’s predominantly African American and low-income community will be able to afford Lennar’s condos, with prices ranging from $300,000 for units required to be "affordable" (about 30 percent of the units) to $700,000 for market-rate units. (Sarah Phelan)
OPINION Mayor Gavin Newsom’s moves to sweep homeless people out of Golden Gate Park have generated a lot of controversy and a lot of people are missing the point.
I’m not so concerned about people sleeping in the park, just as I’m not so concerned about people sleeping on the sidewalks or the streets if there is no other place available, so long as they are just sleeping.
If folks just slept in the park, cleaned up after themselves, and moved on during the day, most of us would probably not notice. If my friends and I decided to take our tents and sleeping bags to the park and spend the night, there probably wouldn’t be any trace of our stay the next day.
My main concern is when ancillary conduct related to a poverty existence, such as defecation, urination, and the dispersal of syringes, becomes problematic. Is it worse when these things happen in Golden Gate Park or Corona Heights than it is when the same behavior occurs around Marshall Elementary in the middle of the Mission? The costs to police the park and the concrete public realm to the extent that one would see a difference in less feces and fewer syringes are probably as significant as the cost of constructing facilities to house and treat the homeless.
A feasible midrange political solution would be to adopt a broad front of harm-reduction policies designed to lighten the annoying footprints of the homeless on our public spaces without attacking them as human beings. Many are seriously messed up for an often overlapping variety of reasons. Outreach workers, instead of forcing homeless people through the criminal justice system, should offer appropriate technology disposal solutions for the most dangerous waste and trash as well as services to help with sanitation. I’d like for the city to initiate a "shit in a bag" program under which city workers would communicate to the homeless the importance of not befouling public space and provide plastic bags, toilet paper, and sanitizers for them to use.
Similarly, syringe-disposal systems are inherently safe, are designed to be unopenable without tools, and should be deployed in sites frequented by injection drug users.
It should be noted that nobody is noticing any more of these annoyances now than they were five years ago. The San Francisco Chronicle is simply tossing Newsom a softball for his reelection campaign so that he can appear tough on crime for his base voters (as if that is going to be an issue this year). It’s not cost-effective to deploy the San Francisco police to deal with homelessness. It’s also not cost-effective for the city to make up for the abdication by the state and federal governments of their responsibility to deal with the mentally ill and drug abusers.
So we can either complain or attempt another approach.<\!s>*
Marc Salomon is a member of the San Francisco Green Party County Council.
The CIA maintains a number of "black sites" around the world where suspected terrorists are "disappeared." You can get a recipe for Irish Eyes Chicken Pot Pie or instructions on how to commit suicide on the Internet. Thousands of starlings spontaneously converge in a suburb in Rome where Benito Mussolini once planned on holding an exhibition celebrating Fascism. I love having dreams. There are more than 130 revolving restaurants around the world.
These are all interesting tidbits. But what do they mean? While they may sound like the search results of indiscriminate Web surfing, all are factual elements found in Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ "Dark Matters: Artists See the Impossible," curated by René de Guzman. Although organized around secrecy and the unexpected, this group exhibition deals more with what can be found than what is hidden.
Perhaps surrealist André Breton was predicting the future of curation with his juxtaposition of an umbrella and a sewing machine on an operating table; today randomness rules, and connections are coaxed by the curator and forged by the viewer. This show exemplifies such a process. For example: Sergio Prego’s video Black Monday (2006) is a mesmerizing parallax view of a small explosive going off in the artist’s studio. You get every awesome angle, and the cloud is suspended midboom. (I always wondered if the tests at Bikini Atoll were done so more military personnel would have a chance to glimpse the aesthetic wonder that is the atomic bomb.) Kitty-corner from Black Monday is Heaven Can Wait (2001ongoing), a video installation by artist team Bull.Miletic showing more parallax views, this time from revolving restaurants around the globe, including the Equinox at the Hyatt Regency in San Francisco. Was it Steve McQueen who starred in The Parallax View, shot from the revolving restaurant atop the Space Needle? Or was Breton predicting the Internet and how randomness is curated into blogs? What was I blogging? I mean, saying?
It’s well known that the CIA performs secret operations under fancy code names. Trevor Paglen has compiled a list everything he could find, from Able Ally to Zodiac Beauchamp. "Dark Matters" includes a very tall wall full of them. The piece is called Codename (200107). Paglen told me he knows what a handful of the named operations are about, but if he talked to the wrong person, they might mistake him for a crackpot conspiracy theorist. Secret planes where? Extraordinary rendition what? Unmarked airplanes why? But Paglen is not a crackpot. He is an artist, writer, and experimental geographer. Information thus arranged and presented what do we do with it? At this very moment, the CIA is torturing people at secret facilities in the name of our freedom. But what I want to know is, whatever happened to Bronski Beat? We do not want to think, much less believe, that the US government runs secret prisons. So we don’t.
Robert Oppenheimer once said or wrote, I forget "It is a profound and necessary truth that the deep things in science are not found because they are useful; they are found because it was possible to find them." I thought I used that quote in some other art review because I liked it so much. So I Googled "kurtz oppenheimer." What I got instead was a live-sex webcam chat. How many degrees to Internet sex? Not many. Listening Post (200206), by Ben Rubin and Mark Hansen, demonstrates as much. Spinal columns of digital screens climb from floor to ceiling. A suite of seven programmed actions culls live chats from the Internet, which scroll across the screens. One is set to grab anything beginning with "I love" or "I like." It’s harder to determine the organizing principle of the other movements, but the very public exposition of very private conversations is discomfiting. And absorbing all those desires scrolling by. And you thought you were the only one!
Did you know that there is no alpha leader in a flight of birds? What really occurs is democracy: when just over half of the birds begin to tilt in one direction, the rest follow. I saw that on the Internet somewhere. Richard Barnes, Charles Mason, and Alex Schweder were all in Rome, hanging out and making art. Unbeknownst to the others, each of them became fascinated with the mass starling convergence at Esposizione Universale di Roma. Murmurs (2006) consists of Barnes’s photography, Mason’s sound, and Schweder’s video. Starlings have binocular vision. Who knew?
Left on its own, information will eventually organize itself. What remains is the question of credibility. One of the things I named in the first paragraph is not found in the exhibition. Or maybe two. *
DARK MATTERS: ARTISTS SEE THE IMPOSSIBLE
Through Nov. 11
Tues.Wed. and Fri.Sun., noon5 p.m.; Thurs., noon8 p.m.
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
701 Mission, SF
$3$6 (free first Tues.)
Is there any hope for my husband, who is not able to launch since he’s on tons of meds (diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc.)? He’s too embarrassed to ask the doctor, and asking would mean yet another pill. Could he be depressed? Are you the one to speak to?
Nothing Happening Here
I can be spoken to, but your husband is going to have to speak up for himself. The doctors should ask, but they often don’t want to or just don’t. Specialists especially tend to be interested in the parts they’re assigned to and may not remember that your husband has a penis or a wife or anything unimportant like that. If you’re concerned about something that just isn’t that doctor’s pet thing, you may have to nag a bit or call them and ask if they’ve looked into that thing they said they’d look into. (Doctors enjoy looking into things.) You may have to get a new doctor.
There may be hope for your husband (and you! don’t forget you!), but it may take a while to unsnarl things. Diabetes can cause erectile dysfunction all by itself, as can blood pressure meds. There’s another intriguing possibility that may be worth at least a mention: both forms of diabetes, although they are otherwise dissimilar, can cause low testosterone in men. It can be hard to determine because they have to look for "free" unbound by the protein that carries sex hormones around in the blood testosterone, which requires a special test, and the whole issue is still a little controversial, but it’s worth a look, since it’s a pretty simple fix. I found about a zillion articles on this by looking up "diabetes testosterone," and so can he, if he ‘s so inclined.
And finally, you ask, could he be depressed? Oh, very likely, I say, but if it’s situational it’s at least worth a try to fix the situation, isn’t it? It’s possible that there is no combination of meds that will help, or it may be that there is help but it is irksome and invasive, like a penile implant or shots. One thing I know for sure, though, is that sitting around feeling broken and hopeless never gave anyone a hard-on. (Yeah, yeah, I know. Somebody, somewhere. Sigh.)
It was love at first sight for my husband, but not for me. I tried to dump him but realized that I couldn’t live without him he was the most wonderful human I had ever met, period. I still wasn’t in love, and he was OK with that. Sex was great in the beginning but quickly became a chore. I meet other men to whom I am attracted but never have been tempted.
The sex is bad because (don’t scream!) he’s overweight, really has no clue about basic things like kissing, and comes after three minutes. We talk about feelings and dissatisfaction constantly. I give clear instructions, but he forgets them immediately (funnily, we have exactly the same problem with cleaning!). But in every other way, he is beautiful, kind, and the person I was looking for all my life.
I make no effort because he lacks skills and endurance and can’t or won’t fulfill my needs. He swears he will get fitter and will try harder to fulfill me psychologically and physically. I know I have become a bit castrating, but he expects me to pick up where his mom left off in other parts of our lives, which is not helping our sex life.
I’m not sure that I can rebuild a hot sex life that barely existed to begin with. Maybe he just isn’t right for me and I can’t accept it. We need a sex therapist but have no idea of how to find one who’s legitimate. How do we repair something like this when we both have already talked ourselves blue in the face for several years?
Bored by the Bay
Oh, ugh, you’re not bored, you’re seething with resentment. Both of you. If this were just about skills or duration of erection, I wouldn’t be hearing about how he expects you to be his mommy or how fat he is. Nor would you ever have had great sex to hold up against the current lackluster offerings. Apparently he doesn’t clean the bathroom? And then he doesn’t keep a hard-on? And you yell at him about both of them? Stop that! Sit down together and comb over your budget until you find enough free cash to hire a housecleaner and a licensed marriage and family therapist. (You find the name of someone convenient and affordable in a referral database and ask them some questions and hire them if you get good answers or call somebody else. It isn’t rocket surgery.) Neither cleaner nor therapist needs to be a sex specialist. Husband can learn technique from books, or from you, but you don’t seriously believe he forgets every time, do you? This isn’t one of those forgetting-stuff movies. He’s mad at you.
Andrea is home with the kids and going stir-crazy. Write her a letter! Ask her a question! Send her your tedious e-mail forwards! On second thought, don’t do that. Just ask her a question.
CHEAP EATS First windmills we saw were in Wyoming, and I was in the back of the van writing about Don Quixote. So that was cool. I like stuff like that. Then in Nebraska it was my turn to drive and we went through a tornado. It was just getting dark out, and at first this was amazing. Lightning was everywhere all at once not just bolts but balls and flowers and roadmaps. Explosions of pure pyromania, like fireworks or a war zone. One of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.
I was in the van by myself. For a while we had two cars, and Phenomenon was in the other one with Fiddlesticks and our fearless leader, Chief. So they had all the bravery with them, but I had the snacks.
The van goes like a boat in the wind. I was giggling and hooting, scanning my music for something to live up to the light show. I had snacks and iTunes. When a speed limit sign twisted out of the ground and flew away, things changed for me and I very immediately had back problems. Neck. Shoulders. If I lived, I was going to need a massage.
Besides bravery, the other car had all of our toll money and leadership skills, but for some reason me and snacks were calling the shots. So long as I didn’t see any actual twisters, and I didn’t, my strategy, now that we were in it, was to just keep driving. The lightning was indistinguishable from the thunder, or anything else. Everything was just light and noise, rain and us, all rolled up and rolling. My knuckles hurt.
Drive, drive, drive, drive, drive, and then right when we’d finally outrun the mayhem, my fuel light came on. I got off at the next exit and gassed up, sirens whooping from all the nearby Nebraska towns and the wind whipping plastic cup can lids around my ankles. The food mart woman was standing in the doorway of the store saying, "Tornado."
"Which way’s it coming?" I asked.
"From the west," she said. Like us, meaning: my massage would have to wait. Not wanting to tempt the tempest, we skedaddled. We dragged that weather system all the way across Nebraska and never got wet.
I ate some wonderful food in Youngstown, Ohio, of all the crazy places. My hometown. We played outside in an alley at this café called Selah, and they fed me ricotta gnocchi with fresh spinach and cream sauce that was as good as any gnocchi I’ve eaten in any San Francisco restaurant. So I take back everything I ever said about my old hometown.
Even though technically Selah is in Struthers.
And then this morning I woke up in my other old hometown, Portsmouth, N.H., where I ate brick oven pizza that rivaled Tomasso’s and top-notch carne asada burritos across the river in Kittery, Maine (of all the other crazy places). Loco Coco or Coco Loco. Southern California transplants, I believe, but they do put rice in their burritos, and I’d just as soon have another one of those than anything I can think of in the Mission.
I’m not saying all this to dis my city. It’s more like: Hey, look at this! Or: Wish you were here. It’s a postcard. And I do wish you were here, and also wish I were there, instead of in the back of a van spinning down the East Coast now, Earl Butter at the wheel, Phenomenon all neck-cricked next to him, drooling into his western shirt.
We lost our fiddler and our chief, Chief, and picked up Mr. Butter, who is rapidly becoming every old person’s favorite young person. On the other hand, he’s not entirely certain he’s a licensed driver anymore. And he’s driving. I backed into a deck a couple days ago and sharded our back window into all our gear and sleeping stuff. Now we’re counting on plastic and duct tape to keep our stuff in and the weather out.
After seven shows in three days in Bangor, Maine, I’d had it up to here with outrageous friendliness, mosquitoes, and "King of the Road."
If all goes as planned, tomorrow we will wake up near an unpronounceable, unspellable tidal river in Rhode Island, and we’re going to rake for clams and hopefully have some homemade chowder for breakfast.
Then: Providence. Then: Albany, N.Y. Then: Bikkets’s wedding, and then, old folks be damned, we start sallying slowly back to home-sweet-home and my new favorite restaurant. *
By Paul Reidinger
Pending the results of the next big earthquake, the Mission remains beachless, unless we count rooftops and the southwest corner of Dolores Park. No summertime water there, other than from the lawn sprinklers, but plenty of ephebes in Speedos for your voyeuristic pleasure. Maybe we shouldn’t fixate on water, anyway. The Mission, while landlocked, does offer lots of sun, a pleasantly hazy slacker ethos that would do credit to those surfer-dude haunts on the San Mateo County coast, and, since early in the year, Mission Beach Cafe, at the corner of 14th and Guerrero streets.
Decriers of Mission gentrification need only take a short roll down 14th, from Market to Folsom, more or less, to have their sense of the world restored. Grit has not yet been totally expunged from this city, and a less likely setting for an urban beach you would have trouble picturing. A few years ago, I wrote about another café, just a block or so away from Mission Beach on the 14th Street corridor, in which all the food was made in little ovens convection, toaster, microwave while nefarious types knocked about outside, on curbs and in alleys.
The little portable-oven place folded after a few years, but the advent of Mission Beach Cafe tells us that while 14th Street is still a realm of used-car lots, body shops, gas stations, kinky porn, and maybe even some lingering nefarious types, it is also sufficiently on its way up now to sustain a genuinely gorgeous little restaurant latest in a long series of labor-of-love, neighborhood jewels that give this city of neighborhoods its distinctive restaurant character.
The gentlemen behind Mission Beach Cafe are Bill Clarke and Alan Carter. Carter is a baker, and this aptitude finds expression in the café’s morning persona pastries to go with your Blue Bottle coffee as well as on the evening shift, whose menu can include a rabbit pot pie ($17.50) with a homemade crust. We saw quite a few examples of this dish making appearances around the dining room. Part of its appeal doubtless has to do with the continuing exotic appeal of rabbit, and part of that probably has to do with the fact that cooking with rabbit is tricky. Like turkey, rabbit is lean and dries out quickly, and so sealing it in a pie, with peas, carrots, and thick gravy, is a good strategy. The pie isn’t a true pie, incidentally, an enclosure of pastry. The crust is just a disk fitted over the top of the bowl in which the dish is baked, and there is no edible bottom.
The general drift of the kitchen’s intentions is captured by a single entry on the dinner menu: ahi tuna tartare with ginger and soy sauce. I’ve never had a bad version of this dish, but I’ve had it so many times, and seen it so very many others, that sampling it no longer seems necessary. But it does tell us we’re in the heart of the heart of California cuisine, a reality of mixed and eclectic influences and local, sustainable, and often organic ingredients. And even if this is familiar territory, it can be made exciting by sharp execution and the occasional twist.
Let’s put some grated fresh ginger in the gazpacho ($4.50), for instance, and some sake too. I didn’t pick up the sake, but the brassy fruitiness of the ginger was unmistakable, while the soup’s appearance was unforgettable: a silken smooth purée of Pepto-Bismol pinky peach. A turkey sandwich ($6 for half) wasn’t quite so striking in either dimension, despite avocado, bacon, and aioli, but a vegetarian sandwich ($9.50) made clever use of sun-dried tomatoes’ meatiness as a supplement to grilled eggplant, avocado, and smoked mozzarella.
Succotash ($4.50), a classic dish of the American Indians, is so simple and tasty that its slender popularity nowadays is something of a mystery. It’s a good way to use some of high summer’s fresh corn, and if you run out of fava beans, use edamame instead! The result will be just as good. And if there’s any grumbling, the seasoned fries ($4.50) should snuff it out. They’re not curly like Jack in the Box’s, but they’re just as tasty.
The one dish I found a little wanting was tilapia ($13.50) crusted with flax seeds. These looked like blue-gray lentils and gave the filet the impression of having recovered its scaly skin, but the flavor charge tended toward the imperceptible. Tilapia has its attractions it’s inexpensive, predictable, low profile but as a rule it needs more help from the kitchen than a witty crusting and a heap of steamed spinach on the side.
Fortunately we had already semi-gorged on the day’s flatbread ($10), a squarish mat with the puffiness of fresh pita bread and topped with garlic, pine nuts, shredded chicken, fennel, and plenty of grated parmesan cheese. The look was slightly anemic some green or red would have been nice but the flavors were clear and powerful. And despite the flatbread’s satisfyingness, we still had enough space available, as we approached the finish line, to accommodate a last small masterpiece of baking: brownie points ($4.50), a pair of moist brownie triangles trimmed with caramel sauce and whipped cream.
To me these sorts of foods are homey in a San Francisco, early 21st-century way, but evidently they’re also hip too, to judge by the profusion of hipsters, in shiny pants and Technicolor Adidas, among the clientele. If we are to have such ironies in the Mission, what better place than at the Mission’s only beachfront café?<\!s>*
MISSION BEACH CAFE
Pastry and coffee bar: Mon.<\d>Fri., from 7 a.m.; Sat.<\d>Sun., from 8 a.m. Lunch: daily, 11 a.m.<\d>3 p.m. Dinner: Tues.<\d>Thurs. and Sun., 5:30<\d>10 p.m.; Fri.<\d>Sat., 5:30<\d>11 p.m.
198 Guerrero, SF
Beer and wine
Pleasant noise level
A couple of years ago, filmmaker Thom Anderson remarked to me that all films about war, even those that aim to show its injustice, are prowar.
War Made Easy might be the first film I’ve seen since hearing Anderson’s assertion that effectively counters such a claim. Admittedly, Anderson was likely referring only to dramatic movies, especially those produced by Hollywood. Yet even a contemporary doc such as Fahrenheit 9/11 not only takes the honor of military force for granted but spins it into a cause for voice-over dramatics. In contrast, War Made Easy codirectors Loretta Alper and Jeremy Earp’s documentary uses Norman Solomon’s recent book to perform an autopsy on the now-zombified propaganda surrounding post-1940s US war.
Alper and Earp’s doc skips smart-ass sarcasm and the usual air of incredulity in order to make complex points clear, and it does so skillfully and quickly. It still has moments when horror and humor commingle, such as when various embedded TV reporters cream their business slacks or loaned camouflage gear during assertions of love for aircraft such as the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and the A-10 Wart Hog.
George Santayana’s famous statement that those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it is proven without a doubt throughout War Made Easy. A parade of presidents mouths variations of the same theme, which goes something along the lines of “We love democracy and peace so much that we have to murder others to maintain it.”
With the passing of time, the words and phrases used to justify US military action have become increasingly debased and the puppets mouthing them more craven, until today, when we have George W. Bush repeating the word evil more often than an old metal album skipping on a turntable. Yet if evil exists, he and his cronies are exact embodiments of what they decry. Witness a moment in this movie when Bush describes Saddam Hussein as “a homicidal dictator addicted to weapons of mass destruction.” (Johnny Ray Huston)
Americans no longer like the war in Iraq. They know it is not going well. Still, most don’t really want to know how things got so bad. Ergo, there’s probably not much hope No End in Sight will join the ranks of those rare recent must-see documentaries involving penguins, Global Warming 101, or Michael Moore. That’s too bad, because Charles Ferguson’s film has no preaching-to-the-converted tone or snarky on-camera filmmaker.
Ferguson, a sometime lecturer at UC Berkeley, draws on heavyweight connections to show how the administration continually matched arrogant, ignorant policy with new staff, people who — not unlike Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld — lacked experience in combat and postwar infrastructure rebuilding, let alone knowledge of Middle Eastern history, culture, and relations.
“I don’t do quagmires!” Rumsfeld quips in one of several gag-inducing moments of news conference levity. It’s repeatedly noted that Bush didn’t read even the one-page summaries crafted for his wee attention span.
No End in Sight includes input from US and Iraqi scholars as well as former Pentagon, CIA, and White House staff, sorely disillusioned American military leaders, and grunts badly wounded by inept policy. This movie should be required viewing for all US citizens currently obsessed with gas prices, the wacky misadventures of Lindsay Lohan, and their navels. The DVD version is going to make a great Christmas present. (Dennis Harvey)
NO END IN SIGHT
Opens Fri/10 in Bay Area theaters
See Movie Clock at www.sfbg.com
WAR MADE EASY
Thurs/9, 7 p.m., $12
Grand Lake Theater
3200 Grand Lake, Oakl.
(510) 251-1332, ext. 102
Rampaging genitalia, families of half-wits, towns shielding deadly secrets, and the end of the world yep, there are good times to be had with the selection of new films in Dead Channels: The San Francisco Festival of Fantastic Film. The most buzzed-about title, Uwe Boll’s Postal (it’s a war-on-terror comedy that pokes fun at Sept. 11, among other topics; Seinfeld‘s Soup Nazi plays fun guy Osama bin Laden), wasn’t available for prescreening. But no matter it’ll be far more rewarding to see the thing on the Castro Theatre’s giant screen, with the notorious Boll in person, at Dead Channels’ opening night Aug. 9.
Noteworthy picks include Canadian filmmaker Maurice Devereaux’s End of the Line, which offers more jolts per capita than much of Dead Channels’ other fare. A sinister dude on the subway is something just about every woman has encountered but it only gets worse for a psych-ward nurse (Ilona Elkin) whose commute home coincides with an evangelical cult’s realization that the apocalypse is nigh. Piety has seldom been so gruesomely rendered. A more lighthearted look at the end of civilization is crystallized in Minoru Kawasaki’s The World Sinks except Japan, in which freaky natural events cause all the continents to sink into the ocean, save you-know-which island nation. World leaders and American movie stars swarm Japan, which is none too thrilled about playing host to so many refugees. The film is a tad overlong, but there are some juicy moments of satire, including a glimpse at a beleaguered Japan’s most popular television show which basically involves a giant monster stomping on as many foreigners as possible.
More somber is Simon Rumley’s The Living and the Dead, which features a mentally challenged lead character (played with precious little showboating by Leo Bill) whose descent into madness is witnessed with horror by his bedridden mother (Kate Fahy). The location is a massive English manor house, as frightening and confusing a spot as End of the Line‘s subway tunnels. Some creative camera work, including the use of fast-motion footage to demonstrate what goin’ cuckoo feels like, makes for a more dynamic thriller than the film’s small cast and single setting would suggest.
The most conventional (not always a euphemism for "sucky") Dead Channels flick I watched was Harry Basil’s Fingerprints, dubiously notable for the presence of Laguna Beach hottie and US Weekly fixture Kristin Cavallari in a supporting part. (Hey, rolling your eyes expressively is totally what acting is all about!) Somber teenager Melanie (Leah Pipes) gets out of rehab and moves back in with her varyingly supportive family, who’ve relocated to a bucolic village still haunted by a long-ago train wreck that killed several schoolchildren. Possibly owing to her heroin-tastic past, Melanie proves supernaturally sensitive; after receiving some ghostly nudges, she sets about uncovering the town’s long-buried secrets. Fingerprints plays a little like a Lifetime movie with slasher elements, and it also employs the spooky-kid motif that was all the rage in scary movies a few years back. But besides the curiosity casting of Cavallari unnecessary bubble-bath scene alert! and Lou Diamond Phillips (as a sympathetic teacher), the film is actually pretty entertaining and solid, if inevitably derivative.
Fairly unlike any film you have ever seen before, or will after, is Hot Baby!, the seriously bizarre brainchild of Bay Area filmmaker Jeff Roenning. There’s a scene or two that recalls The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and other don’t-get-off-the-highway chillers, but mostly it’s an over-the-top array of shifting tones and character arcs, with a high schooler (Adam Scarimbolo) curious about his long-absent mother at its center. Plus: sexual-predator hypnotists, vengeful hookers, and doughnut jokes! Maybe even weirder is The Secret Life of Sarah Sheldon, writer-director-star Annette Ashlie Slomka’s take on a female mad scientist who conducts her sexually charged experiments with Herbert West<\d>like focus. The film’s interesting premise is hampered by its amateurish execution, but it still features a rather horrifying penis monster and what more can you really ask for?<\!s>*
Click here for reviews of Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark and Welcome Home Brother Charles
Aug. 9 – 16
See Film List for venues and showtimes
The Guardian Iraq War casualty report (8/7/07): 4 U.S. soldiers killed today. 19 U.S. soldiers killed since the beginning of August.
Compiled by Paula Connelly
Casualties in Iraq
4 U.S. soldiers killed today in Baghdad, raising the number of U.S. soldiers killed in the first week of August to 19, according to the Associated Press.
3,942: Killed since the U.S. invasion of Iraq 3/20/03
116 : Died of self-inflicted wounds, according to http://www.icasualties.org/.
For the Department of Defense statistics go to: http://www.defenselink.mil/
For a more detailed list of U.S. Military killed in the War in Iraq go to: www.cnn.com
28 people, including 19 children, were killed by a suicide bomber in Northern Iraq yesterday, according to the Associated Press.
654,965 more Iraqis may have died since hostilities began in Iraq in March 2003 than would have been expected under pre-war conditions, according to a Johns Hopkins University study.
98,000: Killed since 3/03
68,747 – 75,194: Killed since 1/03
30,000: Killed since 2003
177 journalists have been killed in Iraq since the start of the war four years ago, making Iraq the world’s most dangerous country for the press, according to Reporters without borders.
164: Killed since 3/03
The Bush administration plans to increase quota of Iraqi refugees allowed into the U.S. from 500 to 7,000 next year in response to the growing refugee crisis, according to the Guardian Unlimited.
Border policies are tightening because one million Iraqi refugees have already fled to Jordan and another one million to Syria. Iraqi refugees who manage to make it out of Iraq still can’t work, have difficulty attending school and are not eligible for health care. Many still need to return to Iraq to escape poverty, according to BBC news.
1.6 million: Iraqis displaced internally
1.8 million: Iraqis displaced to neighboring states
Many refugees were displaced prior to 2003, but an increasing number are fleeing now, according to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ estimates.
U.S. Military Wounded:
117,574: Wounded since 3/19/03 to 1/6/07
The Guardian cost of Iraq war report (8/7/07): So far, $450 billion for the U.S., $57 billion for California and $1 billion for San Francisco.
Compiled by Paula Connelly
Here is a running total of the cost of the Iraq War to the U.S. taxpayer, provided by the National Priorities Project located in Northampton, Massachusetts. The number is based on Congressional appropriations. Niko Matsakis of Boston, MA and Elias Vlanton of Takoma Park, MD originally created the count in 2003 on costofwar.com. After maintaining it on their own for the first year, they gave it to the National Priorities Project to contribute to their ongoing educational efforts.
To bring the cost of the war home, please note that California has already lost $46 billion and San Francisco has lost $1 billion to the Bush war and his mistakes. In San Francisco alone, the funds used for the war in Iraq could have hired 21,264 additional public school teachers for one year, we could have built 11,048 additional housing units or we could have provided 59,482 students four-year scholarships at public universities. For a further breakdown of the cost of the war to your community, see the NPP website aptly titled “turning data into action.”
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (John Newland, US, 1973). As Grindhouse viewers or true grindhouse aficionados know, starting a title with Don’t was once a popular way to strike fear in sleazoids. The fact that Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark was made for TV would suggest it’s tame that is, if the Don’t era didn’t coincide with the glory, rather than gory, days of frightening TV movies. In fact, this little number is at least as great as Dan Curtis’s 1975 Trilogy of Terror, with which it shares some knee-high shocks while being much less campy. Don’t Open the Fireplace might be a more accurate if less catchy title, especially since the dark not to mention a soundtrack that layers sinister, gnomish voices into a chorus is definitely something to be afraid of here. As lead character Sally, Kim Darby realizes this only after her incessant urge to remodel a mansion has taken on Pandora’s box connotations. In every dream home lies a heartache, and in every possessed old mansion lurks the doom of a nuclear family (as in Curtis’s 1976 Burnt Offerings) or in this case, a frigid, childless couple. This movie is at least as creepy as any manifestation of Takeshi Shimizu’s Ju-on (Grudge) series, which updates its conceit. For an extra kick, imagine a remake with Martha Stewart in the lead role! (Johnny Ray Huston)
Fri/10, 11:30 p.m., Roxie Film Center. See Rep Clock
Welcome Home Brother Charles (Jamaa Fanaka, US, 1975). I once thought Jamaa Fanaka’s most outrageous movie was 1987’s Penitentiary 3. What could be wilder than Leon Isaac Kennedy’s character Too Sweet and übercutie Steve Antin as a sax-playing John Coltrane disciple in a prison overseen by Tony Geary, his receding mullet frazzled by peroxide, with drag queens and a crack-smoking, back-breaking sex dwarf named the Midnight Thud at his beck and call? Well, Penitentiary 3‘s psycho-racial-sexual parade marked only the baroque era of a one-of-a-kind directorial career that began with efforts such as this flick, a.k.a. Soul Vengeance, which has attained notoriety because it features a certain part of the male anatomy gone extra large and homicidal. There’s something crazily brilliant about the way Fanaka literally takes racist stereotypes to their illogical and logical ends. Though his material has been pure pulp, his career deserves to be viewed close to, if not alongside, those of UCLA peers such as Charles Burnett, Billy Woodberry, and Haile Gerima, none of whom has courted or been understood by white Hollywood. Look past the trouser snake, and you’ll see a moodily lit credit sequence with a score not dissimilar to Mick Jagger’s for Kenneth Anger’s Invocation of My Demon Brother and a politicized, funny, angry, and loving use of the color red. Admittedly, most people won’t be seeking out this movie for a performance by an actress in a supporting role, but it must be said that Reatha Grey is a natural. (Huston)
Fri/10, 7 p.m., Roxie; Sat/11, 2:30 p.m., Roxie
Throughout its history, the Soviet Union felt like the final frontier to many Americans. What was happening on the other side of that iron curtain? The Russians wondered too. Since travel between the countries was so limited, their inhabitants often had to turn for information to the cultural products that made it both ways past Russia’s gatekeepers. How better to hide meaning than in fairy tales and outer space? The Pacific Film Archive celebrates an age of anxiety and this age of information with its marvelous series "From the Stars to the Tsars: A Journey Through Russian Fantastik Cinema."
The films of "From the Stars to the Tsars" span the period from the 1912 short The Cameraman’s Revenge and Aelita, Queen of Mars the 1924 silent classic that inspired Guy Maddin’s The Heart of the World to 2005’s First on the Moon. The series’s other notable traversal is between high and low culture. Some entries were partly seen at drive-ins in the 1960s thanks to Roger Corman, who bought the rights to The Heavens Call (1959) and Planet of Storms (1961) and scavenged their footage; To the Stars by Hard Ways (1982; reedited 2001) made an appearance as Humanoid Woman on Mystery Science Theater 3000. Then there are the films more familiar to art house patrons; the two by Andrei Tarkovsky, 1972’s Solaris and 1979’s Stalker, cemented his reputation, and the former was hailed as the Soviet response to 2001: A Space Odyssey. The rest of the series falls between these poles. Although their politics and plots vary, all the films share a joy in the medium’s magic and an affinity for dazzling and provocative visual effects, whether they be ridiculous, sublime (the signal that Stalker‘s mysterious Zone is ready for its visitors is a marvel of quiet beauty), or both.
Another obvious draw is these films’ Russian-ness. Ruslan and Ludmila (1972) is based on an Aleksandr Pushkin epic, and Evenings on a Farm near Dikanka (1961) is an adaptation of a story by Nikolay Gogol. There is no Soviet Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but some movies manage to work in anti-Western views. The Amphibian Man, shot in Cuba in 1962, offers a damning critique of capitalism in the person of its villain (Mikhail Kozakov), a dishonest, slave-driving, anything-for-a-pearl bastard who wants to marry the girl our hero loves against her will, of course. Zero City, filmed at the height of perestroika, includes a speech by the town prosecutor (Vladimir Menshov) against European ideas, which he says are all the more fatal for their rationality and practicality.
This is not to say that the Soviet Union escapes its directors’ indignation. The clearest examples come at its end points, the start and finish of the great people’s experiment. Aelita shows class conflict and housing shortages; made more than 60 years later, 1988’s Zero City depicts the denunciation and rehabilitation of rock ‘n’ roll and its partisans as caprices all the worse for their life-destroying results. But the most transparent criticism comes in 2005’s First on the Moon. Made well past the fall of the USSR, the film is a look back, documentary style, at its country’s space program, which in this version beat the Americans’ to the earth’s natural satellite. There are winks to the fictionality of this exercise via sometimes too-cinematic shots, but the most obvious touches are images such as that of a group of children saluting with straight faces "the cause of Stalin and Lenin," then breaking into laughter. The government appears at its worst when it covers up the successful trip and spends years trying to contain the cosmonaut who made it, but the fact that the Soviets never did get to the moon let alone first is the movie’s strongest critique.<\!s>*
FROM THE STARS TO THE TSARS
Through Aug. 31, $4<\d>$8
See Rep Clock or www.sfbg.com for showtimes
Pacific Film Archive
2625 Durant, Berk.
By 9 a.m. on July 28, 13-year-old Bay Area music-star hopeful Nyles Roberson, accompanied by a support group that included his mom and two other family members, had secured a coveted position at the very front of the line outside the doors of the Oakland Convention Center. A full 25 hours later, the doors would finally be opened by the producers of Showtime at the Apollo, who, visiting from New York for the day, would hold this year’s only West Coast auditions for the long-running American talent show that has, over a historic 73 years, launched the careers of such legends as Billie Holiday, James Brown, Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Usher, and Lauryn Hill.
In the next 28 hours, another 374 Bay Area Apollo hopefuls, 75 of whom would be turned away, would patiently fall in line behind Roberson, who goes by the stage name Yung Nittlz. And the music that Yung Nittlz would be performing? You guessed it: rap with a distinctly Yay Area feel. In fact, the majority of those assembled, many of whom had traveled to the large venue adjacent to the Oakland Marriott from all over the Bay after hearing about the tryouts on KMEL, would perform some form of hip-hop, mostly of the popular, homegrown hyphy school.
"There was a lot of rappers to choose from … even more than I expected," chief Showtime at the Apollo judge Vanessa Rogers said following the intense day of some 300 auditions, which wound up at 7:30 p.m. after each act had gotten about 90 seconds to show their stuff. For close to a decade, Rogers has been tirelessly judging thousands of performers for the famed weekly Apollo amateur night, both on the road in select US cities such as Houston and Detroit and back home in Uptown Manhattan. In May, at the most recent tryouts at the Apollo Theater, on 125th Street in Harlem, she judged another 300 hopefuls.
On the morning of the Oakland audition, GGH (Girls Gone Hyphy) from Fairfield jockeyed for position in line and were soon assigned audition number 262. The three confident, upbeat teens Felicia, Tajarae, and Tajaniique would dance, rap, and sing over a track produced by one of their moms. "We’re already getting famous. Most of our families are already there," Tajarae said, noting that among the trio’s extended family in the local rap industry are San Quinn, Black C, and Shag Nasty. Farther up the line which was about 95 percent African American that snaked down Oakland’s 10th Street was another 707 area code rap artist, Semaj (James spelled backward), who later accompanied himself on keyboards as he spit his original rhymes. In the meantime, East Bay MC Antonio (real name: Mario), who was number five and close to the top of the long queue, took the bold step of performing an a cappella rhyme that he "just wrote late last night" while waiting outside the tryouts.
Farther along the row were Trauma, a colorfully dressed 11-member hip-hop dance troupe who had driven from Stockton the day before. Also camped out from the night before were well-prepared Richmond rap crew Da Trendsettaz, accompanied by their manager-producer, Bay Area rap vet Rob J Official, ready with flyers and promo CD-Rs in hand. With a median age of 18, the quartet’s Mister Trend, Digg, Sticky, and Blank-Blank would pack a lot into their allotted 90 seconds: dwarfed by the cavernous venue and decked out in oversize white Ts, they delivered their entertaining Yay Area<\d>flavored rap "Strike a Pose" while busting carefully choreographed moves that clearly delighted Rogers and the other two judges from New York, show producer Suzanne Coston and video tech person Joe Gray.
First, however, was Roberson, or rather, Yung Nittlz, waiting at the top of the line and ready to perform for the three judges. Citing fellow Berkeley High School students the Pack as an inspiration, the extremely ambitious and multitalented ninth grader looked older than his years he writes all of his material and makes his own beats, boasting two albums’ worth on his MySpace page. Before the panel of judges, looking not at all nervous, the teen confidently performed his song "Money in the Air," adding a little carefully planned flavor midway through by throwing in the air a fistful of cool-looking promotional play money oversize, full-color $5 bills with his image and contact info strategically positioned on both sides, designed at home on his computer.
The next day Roberson was feeling satisfied with the whole experience. "I thought the auditions were great…. I gave 110 percent and I felt like the judges liked my song," he said by e-mail naturally adding that "my dream and my goal is to get a record deal." Whether he’ll make it to the Apollo stage this fall remains to be determined. Rogers, who described the Oakland Apollo tryouts as "challenging" (seemingly because of the disproportionate amount of nonrappers the Apollo likes to showcase), said there were about seven acts she was pretty sure were ready for the big time but that her team would need a few weeks to carefully study the tapes back in New York before deciding who would make the trip from the Bay to Showtime at the Apollo.<\!s>*
Last week’s joke was that while Dick Cheney was in the hospital, having the tires on his pacemaker rotated, he temporarily transferred the powers of the presidency to George W. Bush. This is clever, but Mr. Bigdee’s imperial vice presidency is otherwise no laughing matter. Bush himself, meanwhile, having failed as a warlord, seems to be donning the mantle of laughingstock. Recently his intestinal polyps were much in the news. Not since Ronald Reagan was eating TV dinners in the White House has the public been favored with such detailed reports about the president’s bowels.
Bush’s bumper crop of precancerous growths can’t really come as a surprise to anyone who’s read former White House chef Walter Scheib’s recent book, White House Chef: Eleven Years, Two Presidents, One Kitchen. The Bush family, Scheib tells us, is big on things like grilled beef, bologna sandwiches on white bread with Miracle Whip, and other such hearty, tasty, macho stuff that’s perfectly safe to eat once a year. But when you fill your gut every day with red meat and fat and other industrially processed crud, you can expect trouble down the line at some point, no matter how conscientiously you pedal around on your mountain bike.
Memo to the Bushes: eat a fucking pluot! Or a black plum, if pluots make you squirm or you can’t pronounce the word. Have some cantaloupe they’re in season, they’re fabulous and cheap, they have orange flesh, and orange flesh is good for you. Blueberries: who doesn’t like these? And they’re all over markets these days. Blueberries are dark, and dark-fleshed fruits and vegetables are good for you. Blackberries are coming into season, and they can be foraged even in the middle of cities. Good for you. Get it?
While I can’t say I’m passionately sympathetic to the physical troubles of our dear leaders a pair of oafs whose foul-ups will take generations to remedy, and if they both resigned tomorrow for health reasons, who would weep? but their health woes do help remind us that such woes are largely a matter of personal dietary choice. Heart disease and intestinal polyps tending toward cancer don’t just happen; they aren’t just a matter of bad luck. Eating is destiny, so … choose wisely, eat well, live long, and prosper.
What can one say about a producer who schedules four programs with a total of 20 world premieres and gives four evenings to choreographers, two of whom the audience most certainly has never heard of? At the very least, this shows guts and a willingness to trust the artists who’ve been engaged.
Joan Lazarus, the longtime force behind the WestWave Dance Festival, has always embraced risk. She has also shown a singular commitment to local dance, which has not always paid off. For the past few years, the event has struggled to find a new identity. But for this year’s 16th annual fest, Lazarus hit pay dirt. It had been a long time since WestWave attracted such diverse, enthusiastic audiences. Some organizers complained about the paucity of local dancers in the audience. But isn’t this exactly what you want in a festival: to reach beyond the usual crowd?
Not all of the new works, of course, will stand up to repeated scrutiny. If Martt Lawrence’s Rogue Conviviality was embarrassingly amateurish, Kerry Parker’s Aine hit the jackpot in banality. And for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why Marina Fukushima thought that giving her dancers crutches and milquetoast movements would make Dancing to Dis/ability viable. Also disappointing was Paco Gomes and Chimene Pollard’s On Our Way to Somewhere Else. In the past few years, the Brazilian-born Gomes has shown himself to be a technically competent and fluid dance-theater maker with a distinct voice. Here he was treading water. Leslie Stuck, a well-respected composer and first-time choreographer (using movement material suggested by the peripatetic Alex Ketley), should probably stick to music. His Digression was disjointed and badly in need of a trajectory. But then, that’s often what risky behavior is all about.
WestWave featured four full-evening programs, each by one choreographer. The success rate was about par with the rest of the festival. The one real miss was by Christopher K. Morgan, apparently a substitute for a local choreographer who dropped out at the last minute. Morgan is a genially handsome performer with something of a knack for inhabiting characters, as evidenced in the otherwise maudlin The Measure of a Man. As a choreographer, however, his approach to transutf8g material with themes including race and gender into dance theater proved stupefyingly naive. Monica Bill Barnes’s short program hardly qualified for a full evening. However, her astute talent for creating deadpan gestures for two sad-sack women who stumble into Dean Martin’s lugubrious world marks her as a savvy comedian. Her Suddenly Summer Somewhere brimmed with pathos and laughter, a rare gift in dance.
No local comes close to approaching Amy Seiwert’s gutsy approach to new ballet choreography. During her first full-evening program, it was easy to appreciate how her reach has expanded and her artistry deepened in less than a decade. Seiwert showed two world premieres. Beautifully refined, Carefully Assembled Normality was indeed just that. Spooling off into separate trajectories, melting into unison, riding partners on, from, and above the floor, three couples wove through Kevin Volans’s score with the grace and ease of friends at play. Double Consciousness excellently set Charlie Neshyba-Hodges’s stocky virtuosity against the rhythm and the content of Marc Bamuthi Joseph’s poetry.
Formally, the original Kate Weare is a minimalist; she choreographs short solos, duets, and the odd trio. Yet emotionally, she paints on a large scale, exploring love, power, and womanhood. Intricately structured, her pieces started innocently but quickly turned gothic. A tango’s entanglements imprisoned both partners. A loner who thought he had the stage to himself was felled by three female ghosts. The discordant tones in the tender new Duet for the tall Weare and the tiny Leslie Kraus were hardly noticeable, but they were there. The second premiere, Trio, started in a silly, teenybopper mode (hops in unison, wiggled butts, flipped skirts, belly pats). But almost imperceptibly, the game turned nasty as one of the girls became the victim of a vicious play for dominance so vicious it got to the point at which it was almost hard to watch. Weare should try tackling larger forms.
WestWave’s second set of programs offered a mixed repertoire of four approaches to dance: ballet, international, dance theater, and modern. The genres were loosely interpreted; nevertheless, they offered a pleasing, shape-giving frame to each evening’s quintet of works.
Setting his lovely In Fugue on five men and two women allowed Mark Foehringer to reverse common gender relationships. For once, the men starred, and the women supported. Though it started on a strutting, macho note, the piece quickly shifted to a mode of congenial partnering between equals, reminding us that men elegantly dancing with one another is common in many parts of the world. Also intriguing were Christian Burns whipping through seductive yet artificial beauty in Beneath Your Sheltering Hand; Kerry Mehling’s fiercely combative duet, Are You Emotionally Involved; and Stacey Printz’s spatially and emotionally nuanced Birds, Bees and Other Metaphors. The collaboration between video artist Austin Forbord and Brittany Brown Ceres, Corps de Co., resulted in a virtuosic and cheeky game about speed, scale, and timing.
Now for the bad news. WestWave’s budget was so tight this year that the festival could not pay any of the dancers. (Previously, participants shared the house.) Once again, it’s the artists who are the biggest supporters of the arts. Also, fest producer Lazarus has had it; she quit. Is she tired of dance? Of course not. Is she sick of fighting the money battle? You bet. One doesn’t like to think it, but if WestWave should fold for financial reasons, summers in San Francisco will be ever drearier than they so often already are. *
› email@example.com TECHSPLOITATION There’s a horrifying new menace to children that’s never existed before. Experts estimate that 75 to 90 percent of pornography winds up in the hands of children due to novel technologies and high-speed distribution networks. That means today’s youths are seeing more images of perversion than ever before in the history of the world. What are the "new technologies" and "distribution networks" that display so much porno for up to 90 percent of kids? I’ll give you one guess. Nope, you’re wrong; it’s not the Internets. It’s print. The year is 1964, and I’m getting my data from financier Charles Keating. He had just formed Citizens for Decent Literature, an antiporn group whose sole contribution to the world appears to have been an educational movie called Perversion for Profit. Narrated by TV anchor George Putnam, the flick is an exposé of the way "high-speed presses, rapid transit, and mass distribution" created a hitherto unknown situation in which kids could "accidentally" be exposed to porno at the local drugstore or bus station magazine rack. Among the dangers society had to confront as a result of this situation were "stimulated" youths running wild, thinking it was OK to rape women, and turning into homosexuals after just a few peeks at the goods in MANifique magazine. A lot of the movie which you can watch for yourself on YouTube is devoted to exploring every form of depravity available in print at the time. We’re treated to images of lurid paperbacks, naughty magazines, and perverted pamphlets. At one point, Putnam even does a dramatic reading from one of the books to emphasize their violence. Then we get to see pictures of women in bondage from early BDSM zines. But the basic point of this documentary isn’t to demonstrate that Keating and his buddies seem to have had an encyclopedic knowledge of smut. Nor is the point that smut has gotten worse. Putnam admits in the film that "there has always been perversion." Instead, the movie’s emphasis is on how new technologies enable the distribution of smut more widely, especially into the hands of children. In this way, Keating’s hysterical little film is nearly a perfect replica of the kinds of rhetoric we hear today about the dangers of the Web. Consider, for example, a University of New Hampshire study that got a lot of play earlier this year by claiming that 42 percent of kids between the ages of 10 and 17 had been accidentally exposed to pornography on the Web during the previous year. The study also claimed that 4 percent of people in the same age group were asked to post erotic pictures of themselves online. News coverage of the study emphasized how these numbers were higher than before, and most implied that the Web itself was to blame. But as Perversion for Profit attests, people have been freaking out about how new distribution networks bring pornography to children for nearly half a century. Today’s cyberteens aren’t the first to go hunting for naughty bits using the latest high-speed thingamajig either; back in the day, we had fast-printing presses instead of zoomy network connections. It’s easy to forget history when you’re thinking about the brave new technologies of today. Yet if Keating’s statistics are to be believed, the number of children exposed to porn was far greater in 1964 than it is today. Perhaps the Web has actually made it harder for children to find pornography. After all, when their grandparents were growing up, anybody could just walk to the corner store and browse the paperbacks for smut. Now you have to know how to turn off Google’s safe search and probably steal your parents’ credit card to boot. And yet Fox News is never going to run a story under the headline "Internet Means Kids See Less Pornography Than Ever Before." It may be the truth, but you can only sell ads if there’s more sex not less. * Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who learned about sex before she learned about the Internet.
TECHSPLOITATION There’s a horrifying new menace to children that’s never existed before. Experts estimate that 75 to 90 percent of pornography winds up in the hands of children due to novel technologies and high-speed distribution networks. That means today’s youths are seeing more images of perversion than ever before in the history of the world.
What are the "new technologies" and "distribution networks" that display so much porno for up to 90 percent of kids? I’ll give you one guess. Nope, you’re wrong; it’s not the Internets. It’s print.
The year is 1964, and I’m getting my data from financier Charles Keating. He had just formed Citizens for Decent Literature, an antiporn group whose sole contribution to the world appears to have been an educational movie called Perversion for Profit. Narrated by TV anchor George Putnam, the flick is an exposé of the way "high-speed presses, rapid transit, and mass distribution" created a hitherto unknown situation in which kids could "accidentally" be exposed to porno at the local drugstore or bus station magazine rack. Among the dangers society had to confront as a result of this situation were "stimulated" youths running wild, thinking it was OK to rape women, and turning into homosexuals after just a few peeks at the goods in MANifique magazine.
A lot of the movie which you can watch for yourself on YouTube is devoted to exploring every form of depravity available in print at the time. We’re treated to images of lurid paperbacks, naughty magazines, and perverted pamphlets. At one point, Putnam even does a dramatic reading from one of the books to emphasize their violence. Then we get to see pictures of women in bondage from early BDSM zines.
But the basic point of this documentary isn’t to demonstrate that Keating and his buddies seem to have had an encyclopedic knowledge of smut. Nor is the point that smut has gotten worse. Putnam admits in the film that "there has always been perversion." Instead, the movie’s emphasis is on how new technologies enable the distribution of smut more widely, especially into the hands of children. In this way, Keating’s hysterical little film is nearly a perfect replica of the kinds of rhetoric we hear today about the dangers of the Web.
Consider, for example, a University of New Hampshire study that got a lot of play earlier this year by claiming that 42 percent of kids between the ages of 10 and 17 had been accidentally exposed to pornography on the Web during the previous year. The study also claimed that 4 percent of people in the same age group were asked to post erotic pictures of themselves online. News coverage of the study emphasized how these numbers were higher than before, and most implied that the Web itself was to blame.
But as Perversion for Profit attests, people have been freaking out about how new distribution networks bring pornography to children for nearly half a century. Today’s cyberteens aren’t the first to go hunting for naughty bits using the latest high-speed thingamajig either; back in the day, we had fast-printing presses instead of zoomy network connections.
It’s easy to forget history when you’re thinking about the brave new technologies of today. Yet if Keating’s statistics are to be believed, the number of children exposed to porn was far greater in 1964 than it is today. Perhaps the Web has actually made it harder for children to find pornography. After all, when their grandparents were growing up, anybody could just walk to the corner store and browse the paperbacks for smut. Now you have to know how to turn off Google’s safe search and probably steal your parents’ credit card to boot.
And yet Fox News is never going to run a story under the headline "Internet Means Kids See Less Pornography Than Ever Before." It may be the truth, but you can only sell ads if there’s more sex not less. *
Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who learned about sex before she learned about the Internet.
ZEITGEIST This year just may go down as the one when nerds finally ruled the school, scattering HP calculators, parentally purchased button-downs, and World of Warcraft guild master credentials as they tripped on their own shoelaces on their way into WonderCon or the Lick Observatory. The infestation of all screens big and small hasn’t been quite so intense since the Ronald Reaganera ’80s, when nerds were regularly toasted on TV’s Happy Days, then found fame in the cineplex’s Revenge of the Nerds (1984). Freaks, geeks, grinds, dorks, and losers have come a long way from Andy Kaufman cohort Fred Blassie’s 1976 novelty tune, "Pencil Neck Geek," and even further along from George Jones’s 1993 track "High-Tech Redneck" and the emergence of Pharrell Williams’s NERD production squad. Freaks and Geeks, Ugly Betty, and Steve Urkel of Family Matters have laid the foundation for fall’s TV invasion, including Aliens in America, in which an Asian exchange student meets geek with his nerd host; The IT Crowd, otherwise known as "Dances with Dudes Who Keep Late Hours Serving Your Server"; and Chuck, whose title character oversees a so-called Nerd Herd at the local Best Buyesque big-box retailer and dabbles in international espionage. Shoring up the projected sales for Benjamin Nugent’s book, American Nerd: The Story of My People, due out in 2008, are silver-screen nerd workouts like Rocket Science, which painfully, wittily details the trials of a stuttering, would-be school debater trying to beat the odds with lots of baggage. The hot nerd sport of table tennis will be sent up in the forthcoming Balls of Fury, and the awkward raunch of nerd-focused teen sex comedy returns with next week’s gut-busting Superbad, buttressed by costar Michael "Baby Beck" Cera, who pushes the nerdiness of his übergeek character George Michael in Arrested Development to new heights in this and on his online TV series, Clark and Michael. Despite the fact that Underdog may be truly speaking for downtrodden puppies everywhere, Superbad probably represents the apogee of nerdocity, being coproduced by current comedy master of the universe Judd Apatow, who has played not a small part in the hip-to-be-uncool movement with the aforementioned Freaks and The 40 Year-Old Virgin.
So nerds rock, but why? Chalk it up to a once firmly bitch-slapped and now somewhat resuscitated tech sector or an infusion of energy and capital in Silicon Valley? Is nerd valorization part of a backlash against the hippie hotties of the early ’00s and a back-to-the-future glance at Reagan social conservatism? Or is this simply where all our heads are these days, as a logical extension of a perpetually wired culture? Nerdiness has seeped so deeply into everyday life that everyone, even the brawny bullies who spindled pocket protectors in the past, must to pay due respect when faced with a blank monitor. (Kimberly Chun)