Volume 41 Number 46

August 15 – August 21, 2007

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The Guardian Iraq War casualty report (8/14/07)


The Guardian Iraq War casualty report (8/14/07): 175 Iraqi civilians killed today. Cheney asks “How many additional dead Americans is Saddam worth?”

Compiled by Paula Connelly

Casualties in Iraq

Iraqi civilians:

175 Iraqi civilians were killed today in 4 suicide bombings in northwest Iraq, 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

Source: www.thelancet.com

69,334 – 75,775: Killed since 1/03

Source: http://www.iraqbodycount.net

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

U.S. military:

“The other thing was casualties. Everyone was impressed with the fact we were able to do our job with as few casualties as we had. But for the 146 Americans killed in action, and for their families — it wasn’t a cheap war. And the question for the president, in terms of whether or not we went on to Baghdad, took additional casualties in an effort to get Saddam Hussein, was how many additional dead Americans is Saddam worth? Our judgment was, not very many, and I think we got it right” Dick Cheney, excerpt from an April 15, 1994 interview first aired on CSPAN. Watch the interview here.
Read Editor and Publisher coverage here.

3,964: Killed since the U.S. invasion of Iraq 3/20/03

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

118 : 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

Iraq Military:

30,000: Killed since 2003

Source: http://www.infoshout.com


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

164: Killed since 3/03

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


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

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

1.6 million: Iraqis displaced internally

1.8 million: Iraqis displaced to neighboring states

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

U.S. Military Wounded:

158,509: Wounded since 3/19/03 to 1/6/07

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

The Guardian cost of Iraq war report (8/14/07): So far, $452 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.”

PG&E’s latest lies


EDITORIAL Pacific Gas and Electric Co., which has made a lucrative practice over the years of co-opting environmentalists, is launching one of its boldest and most disgraceful initiatives yet — a campaign seeking to convince the Potrero Hill and Bayview–Hunters Point communities to oppose the city’s new peaker power plants by arguing that they’ll add pollution to the air.

Remember: This is the company that for many years ran the single worst source of air pollution in the region, a foul power plant that was finally shut down a few years back after a long and bitter battle. This is the same company that operates a nuclear power plant on an earthquake fault. The same company that polluted the wells in Hinkley, as depicted in the movie Erin Brockovich. This is a company that’s been lying to communities like Bayview–Hunters Point and Potrero for decades. Nobody should trust PG&E today.

We explained the background last week (see "Peaker Plants and SF’s Energy Future," 8/8/07), but the summary is this: San Francisco wants to install three small-scale power plants at the foot of Potrero Hill. The city’s argument: unless the peakers, which would provide backup power at peak demand times, are in place, the state’s regulators won’t allow the shutdown of the dirty Mirant power plant in the same neighborhood.

Some environmentalists, including San Francisco Public Utilities Commission member Adam Werbach, say San Francisco doesn’t need the peakers or the Mirant plant, but the powerful Independent System Operator, which controls the state’s power grid, disagrees.

That means Mirant will continue to spew poison unless the peakers operate — and PG&E is trying to stir up opposition with the threat that the neighborhood will wind up with both the peakers and Mirant. PG&E, of course, won’t own the peakers; they’ll be run by a company called J-Power USA for 10 years, at which point (if they’re still even needed) they’ll revert to the city. So the private utility is trying to stop the new plants to avoid future competition.

It’s a cynical ploy, but it might be effective — and there’s an easy way the city can stop it. The supervisors, the mayor, and the city attorney should simply announce that the contract with J-Power will state that the peakers can’t operate, even for a second, until the Mirant plant is shut down for good. It’s a simple, clean solution; what is everyone waiting for? *

PS As Amanda Witherell reports in this issue, the public San Joaquin Valley Power Authority has taken legal action against PG&E, charging that the company is vioutf8g state law by interfering with the creation of a Community Choice Aggregation program. There’s some solid evidence that PG&E is doing the same thing in San Francisco, and City Attorney Dennis Herrera should immediately open an investigation into whether this city should file its own complaint against PG&E.

Oppose Don Fisher’s museum


EDITORIAL Not long after the US Army announced it no longer needed the Presidio for a military base, a group of powerful San Francisco business leaders began eyeing what would become the first privatized national park in America. Among the businesses aiming to grab a piece of the immensely valuable real estate were Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and Transamerica Corp.; among the individuals was the founder of the Gap, a Republican named Don Fisher.

Fisher helped then–US representative Nancy Pelosi pull off an astonishing feat: she took more than 1,200 acres of land earmarked by federal law as a national park and handed it over to real estate developers (see "Stolen Base," 5/8/96). Fisher, who became one of the first members of the private board that manages the Presidio, was around to help George Lucas build a massive business park on the site — and pick up a $60 million tax break in the process.

Now Fisher, who along with his billions has amassed a pretty impressive collection of contemporary art, wants to build a gigantic private museum right in the heart of the park, at the site of the old post. His plan would drop a 100,000-square-foot Battlestar Galactica on the old parade grounds, wiping out a sizable amount of open space. The museum would be on public land, but he’d run it himself, in his own way, with no public oversight.

This is a terrible idea, and San Franciscans ought to be up in arms about it.

According to reports in the San Francisco Chronicle, Fisher has been looking for some time for a way to display his art collection, and he has talked to people at the existing big museums, the Museum of Modern Art and the de Young. But those talks broke down — in part, we’re told by sources, because Fisher didn’t want the professional curators and museum directors calling any shots. He wanted complete control over the art — control over where it was hung, when it was displayed, who got to see it, etc. The folks who run those cultural institutions are too polite to say so in public, but they don’t generally go for that sort of demand. So Fisher did what billionaires around the country are starting to do: he decided to build his own museum.

That’s his right, of course, and if he’d sought a spot, say, South of Market near SFMOMA, it might not be a bad thing. But the Presidio is entirely the wrong place for this sort of institution.

For starters, there’s no easy way to get there. Transit to the main post at the Presidio is very limited — one Muni line, which runs infrequently. No BART, no light rail — nothing of the sort of access you would want for a major public attraction. Car access is through the crowded Marina neighborhood, and the museum would no doubt build a huge parking garage, meaning the park and the surrounding areas would be inundated with cars. That alone would be a violation of the spirit of all the nation’s parks, which are trying desperately to reduce the number of car visits. There are no other cultural attractions around, so visitor traffic to Fisher’s museum would have no spillover benefits for any other museums.

And he’s talking about a whopper of a structure. There’s no way to gently insert a building that big into the park; it can’t blend in with the existing structures or the natural scenery. It’s just going to stick out like a bloated, gangrenous sore thumb, ruining the view and the historical nature of the area.

The private Presidio Trust has sole discretion over the proposal, but city officials can speak up, loudly. The Board of Supervisors should pass a resolution opposing the museum, the arts community should demand that it be relocated, and the public at large ought to tell the trust and Fisher that his personal memorial edifice isn’t welcome in the park.*

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

I’ve looked at all the grand designs for the tower that will pay for the new Transbay Terminal, and I’ve read the architectural critiques, and frankly, I’m sick of it all. The plans are all ugly, and they’re way out of scale for this city — but what really gets me is that this is how we’ve chosen to finance our civic infrastructure.

Why do we have to live with a giant high-rise office tower near the Transbay Terminal? Because if we don’t, there won’t be any money to build what should be the central transit link for the Bay Area, a landmark bus and train station on the scale (we’re told) of Grand Central in New York.

I’m not entirely in agreement with every decision that’s been made about the new terminal, but I do agree that it ought to be an essential part of the city’s future. As we shift away from the car and the freeway as the basic units of transportation in California — and we have no choice, we simply have to — a downtown center where trains and buses stop and people come and go will become what the Ferry Building was long, long ago. It will be the way people arrive in San Francisco. We need to make it work.

But the project will cost a lot of money, almost $1 billion — and nobody wants to pay higher taxes to fund this sort of thing. In fact, nobody in California wants to pay higher taxes for anything. So the folks at City Hall have decided that the only way we can have a new transit terminal is if we hock a piece of our city and our skyline to fund it. So we take some of the land on the terminal site and let a developer build a monstrosity of a high-rise on it — and that will bring in the money that we can’t get any other way.

It’s the same reason we have that god-awful Rincon Tower sticking its ugly head into the sky: the developer offered to pay for a fair amount of affordable housing and other community amenities that the taxpayers won’t fund because local government can’t raise taxes in California without reaching extraordinary lengths that are almost politically impossible. So here’s the deal: You want affordable housing? Give a big developer the rights to do something awful, and in exchange, we’ll get a few dollops of cash for civic needs.

Imagine for a moment what the state might look like if we’d had to cut this kind of deal to build the University of California system. You want nice colleges, with higher education available to every state resident who qualifies? OK — sell off the coast and let it become a giant Miami Beach. Or sell the Klamath, the Tuolumne, and a few other rivers to Disney for water parks. Or sell Muir Woods for condos. You don’t want to do that? Too bad — no world-class university system for your kids.

This is the devil’s bargain we have agreed to settle for in 2007. This is how we create public space, public facilities, public amenities. We save the Presidio by giving it to George Lucas. We create a wi-fi system by giving the broadband infrastructure to Google and EarthLink. We can’t do anything ourselves, as a community; all we can do is grab for the scraps the private sector will toss us.

My friends, this sucks. *

Green City: The last hour


› news@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY For sisters Leila Conners Petersen and Nadia Conners, the last possible moment to lessen humanity’s impact on the environment — the 11th hour, from which the new documentary they cowrote and codirected aptly takes its name — has come upon us. But unlike other doom-and-gloom envirodocs that engulf viewers with guilt about how we are tearing apart our only planet, this movie is supposed to demonstrate that it’s not too late to shift old habits.

The 11th Hour "really helps you understand what’s happening," Conners Petersen told the Guardian about the Warner Brothers Independent release, which opens in theaters Aug. 17. The movie places the often oxymoronic combination of pragmatism and idealism hand in hand: "You feel a better sense of control in that way," she says.

Conners Petersen and Conners spent three years conducting lengthy interviews with 71 top thinkers and activists, ranging from physicist Stephen Hawking to Paul Hawken, the Marin author of The Ecology of Commerce (Collins, 1994). In their film, they juxtapose 91 minutes of the ecoexperts’ wisest words with quick-paced, music video–<\d>style montages of both environmental destruction and at least partially counteracting ideas and innovations like biomimicry.

And unlike 2006’s An Inconvenient Truth, this film — narrated and produced by seasoned ecoactivist Leonardo DiCaprio — spends only about seven minutes covering global warming. "Our film contextualizes global warming as being part of a larger problem," Conners says.

The codirectors emphasize this holistic, all-part-of-a-larger-puzzle approach, which they say the mass media seldom takes when examining any environmental problem.

The environment "isn’t a single-article issue," Conners says. "When Leo’s on camera, he says it’s a convergence of crises. It’s all of it together that’s making it a tipping point. And all of it includes our behavior."

It’s our habits of "disconnect, denial, and laziness," she adds, that keep people from bothering to examine — or change — their impact on the Earth. "It’s like you’re sick with a disease with a known cure, and the medicine’s right there, and you look at it and say, ‘I’m not taking that.’<\!s>"

Environmental action, they say, does not necessarily have to extend to planting trees in Kenya, as Nobel Peace Prize winner and 11th Hour interview subject Wangari Maathai did through the Green Belt movement, or running a scientific radio series, as did interviewee David Suzuki. It’s about being aware of organic peaches that are shipped to the supermarket from Chile and drinking water that may not be from the finest geyser.

"Once you start connecting the detergent under your sink to a dead zone, you start seeing the world as a whole, and your relationship with this planet and life on it will deepen," Conners Petersen says.

The sisters created the Web site 11thhouraction.com to allow individuals and communities to discuss ways to bring the film’s broad-scale ideas and innovations to the local level, whether those efforts involve sharing the most energy-efficient household appliances (compact fluorescent light bulbs, anyone?) or putting solar panels on a high school.

Conners Petersen stresses her "Why wait for the federal government to take action?" mentality by pointing out that nearly 600 mayors in the United States have signed on to the Kyoto Protocol without permission from President George W. Bush.

"If you fight against these things that are so big and immovable, you’ll give up," Conners says. "So if you start locally, [ask] what’s the position of your city council person and the mayor?"

The sisters are no amateurs on the environmental-media scene. Conners Petersen is the founder and codirector of the Tree Media Group and executive editor of Global Viewpoint. They’ve produced two documentaries — Global Warming (2001) and Water Planet (2004) — for DiCaprio’s Web site, and Conners will soon be directing her first narrative feature, Earthquake Weather.

The 11th Hour used 150 hours of stock footage, more than any other documentary in history. The lofty quotes that didn’t make it into the film have found a home on YouTube and the movie’s official Web site, wip.warnerbros.com/11thhour.

"Even though there’s a lot of information, it’s an emotional film," Conners says. "Rather than just telling you information that you intellectually take into the world, I feel like the film is done in such a way that you feel the world in a different way."<\!s>*

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

Web Sites of the week




Mayoral candidates Chicken John Rinaldi and Josh Wolf are a pair of tech-savvy impresarios who are ushering in a new generation of creative campaigning. We were particularly entertained by the video of Rinaldi’s day at City Hall, which includes a funny exchange with Mayor Gavin Newsom.

The poison in your sofa


OPINION If your sofa was purchased in California after 1975, chances are its interior foam and cushions contain either brominated or chlorinated fire retardants. These toxic chemicals have been shown to cause cancer, reproductive problems, learning disabilities, and thyroid disease in laboratory animals and house cats. At the same time, these chemicals are climbing the food chain in increasing concentrations and are found in fish, harbor seals in San Francisco Bay, polar bears, bird eggs, and the animal at the very top of the food chain — breast-fed human babies.

A little-known California regulation known as Technical Bulletin 117 requires that the polyurethane foam in furniture withstand an open flame for 12 seconds without catching fire. This 30-year-old regulation is well intended, and upholstered furniture fires are a serious concern. However, since 1975 no other jurisdiction in the world has followed California’s lead, and other states have achieved similar or greater reductions in fire-related deaths without this standard.

Because brominated and chlorinated fire retardants don’t react chemically with foam, their molecules have a tendency to attach to dust particles in furniture. Each time someone sits on a sofa cushion, the dust particles escape into the air and can be inhaled or settle on the floor, where toddlers and house cats live and play.

These fire-retardant molecules mimic thyroid hormone, which in pregnant women regulates the sex and brain development of the unborn child. This mimicking is called endocrine disruption, and brominated and chlorinated fire retardants in even infinitesimal amounts can cause harm to human and animal health through this process.

Many national furniture manufacturers distribute only California-compliant furniture, which means that up to 10 percent by weight of foam cushions are composed of toxic chemicals. California’s standard is poisoning the whole nation, one sofa at a time.

The good news is that there are safer chemical and construction-based alternatives already in the marketplace that can provide an equivalent level of fire safety without the use of brominated and chlorinated fire retardants. The institutional-furniture industry and the mattress industry already comply with tough fire standards and do so without the use of these toxic chemicals.

Residential-furniture manufacturers could do so as well, except that state law and TB 117 prevent it. That’s why I have authored Assembly Bill 706, which would modify our outdated foam test. A modern residential-furniture standard, such as the one developed in California for mattresses, should address how the various components of furniture can together achieve equal or better fire safety without using the most toxic fire retardants.

AB 706 would establish a comprehensive process for weighing the issues of fire safety and chemical exposures. It would rightly rest the responsibility for assessing toxicity with state toxicologists, require the fire-retardant industry to prove that its products are safe, and leave the final decision on whether to prohibit a particular chemical to the state’s fire-safety scientists.

Soon the decision of whether California will continue to poison our kids and the rest of the nation will be made by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Thus far, state agencies have been directed from the top to oppose AB 706. The question for Gov. Schwarzenegger is, how loudly must our babies cry before toxic, cancer-causing, endocrine-disrupting chemicals are removed from our furniture?<\!s>*

Mark Leno

Mark Leno represents San Francisco in the State Assembly.

Their neighborhood


› amanda@sfbg.com

Some interesting mail landed in the boxes of Potrero Hill residents last week: flyers with a photograph of industrial stacks spewing plumes of pollution. They read, "Potrero Hill doesn’t need three more power plants in our neighborhood."

There’s a handy clip-out membership card to join the Close It! Coalition, from which you can "find out more about the city’s rush to judgment and their plan to put more power plants in our neighborhood." The return address on the card is 77 Beale, which isn’t in "our" neighborhood at all.

It’s the address of the downtown headquarters of Pacific Gas and Electric Co.

The utility, in the guise of a grassroots community organization, is opposing the contract that the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission is currently hammering out with a private company, J-Power USA, to build a new 145-megawatt, natural gas–<\d>fired power plant on a four-acre plot at 25th and Maryland streets. The plant would be owned and operated by J-Power for a period of 10 to 12 years, after which the title would turn over to the city.

This so-called peaker plant, one of three that would run when San Francisco’s power needs exceed the normal load, would be cleaner burning than Mirant’s dirty old Potrero Hill power plant, which city officials and environmentalists want closed. Mirant’s "Reliability Must Run" contract with the California Independent System Operator (Cal-ISO) could be terminated once the three peakers (whose generators the city received years ago through a lawsuit settlement) are built, according to the SFPUC.

Though PG&E, which has a questionable environmental record, claims to be against the peaker plants for pollution reasons, public power advocates say this is really opposition to the city owning its power sources. "PG&E has finally gone over the line. This is a good thing because this is so egregious and so transparent," said Joe Boss, a Dogpatch resident who received the mailer. "They’ll do all they can do to kill public power in San Francisco."

Boss and a group of neighborhood activists who support the construction of the peakers have put together their own mailer countering the claims of the Close It! Coalition, which has been dormant lately but was active prior to 2006, when community activists were fighting for the shuttering of PG&E’s Hunters Point power plant.

Other anti–<\d>public power literature also circulated recently in supervisorial district 11, where the California Urban Issues Project sent a flyer urging residents to oppose Community Choice Aggregation, the city’s gradual public power plan that is focused mostly on renewable energy sources. The mailer was apparently sent before the Board of Supervisors voted to approve the plan, which it did in June.

Sup. Ross Mirkarimi, who coauthored the CCA legislation with Sup. Tom Ammiano, called the CUIP flyer "shameful" and told the Guardian, "This is signature PG&E, but it’s not just PG&E. It now very well implicates the [Gavin] Newsom administration either with complicity or silence." The CUIP board includes Committee on Jobs director Nathan Nayman, small-business advocate and Newsom appointee Jordanna Thigpen, Democratic Party political consultant Rich Schlackman, Golden Gate Restaurant Association executive director Kevin Westlye, and other Newsom supporters.

Newsom signed the CCA legislation but tacked on a letter vaguely expressing concerns about the plan. He recently authored a letter to Cal-ISO expressing his support for the peaker project. While PG&E is opposing peakers here, it has plans under way to build at least two farther south, near communities it is also battling.

The San Joaquin Valley Power Authority has filed a formal complaint against PG&E with the California Public Utilities Commission regarding how the utility is conducting itself as the community moves forward with a plan for public power.

The SJVPA is a group of 11 cities and two counties, representing about 300,000 citizens, that has filed a plan with the CPUC to purchase its power through a CCA plan. Assembly Bill 117, written by Sen. Carole Migden when she was in the State Assembly and made law in 2004, allows communities to act as their own wholesale power customers and purchase electricity for residents.

San Francisco, Marin, Berkeley, Oakland, and Emeryville are working on CCA plans, but the SJVPA is the furthest along. With CCA, power is still transmitted by utility companies, but residents pay their electricity bills to the city. The SJVPA plans to build its own 500 MW power plant — which PG&E also opposes, claiming studies show it isn’t necessary — and has issued a request for proposals from interested companies for 400 MW of renewable energy. It estimates citizens would save about 5 percent with CCA.

But representatives of PG&E have been attending city council meetings in the area and even holding their own informational workshops at which they refute elements of the CCA plan.

In a lengthy memo sent to a Hanford City Council member and very similar in tone and content to one distributed to San Francisco nonprofit organizations a couple of months ago, PG&E offers misleading claims such as "Over 30 percent of PG&E’s supply comes from a diverse portfolio of renewable energy … about 20 percent comes from PG&E’s large hydro system, and approximately 12 percent comes from smaller renewable generation sources."

But according to state law, a large hydro system does not qualify as a renewable energy source — a rule the utility doesn’t apply to itself but is quick to point out a paragraph later when it attacks the CCA plan for renewable energy.

The SJVPA complaint details several examples of PG&E spokespeople cautioning against the plan in local media and at public meetings. CEO Peter Darbee even penned an editorial for the Fresno Bee in which he wrote, "The fundamental problem with the program is that the numbers don’t add up," a statement he attempted to clarify with unsourced data showing that rates will go up even if the CCA plan says they won’t. Darbee went on to say that PG&E is just looking out for the best interests of the people.

The Fresno City Council recently voted 4–<\d>3 not to join the SJVPA, a close vote that "was based in large part on PG&E raising questions," said David Orth, the general manager of the Kings River Conservation District, which is overseeing the implementation of the CCA plan. "That is their intent, frankly — to clutter the discussion and decision-making field with a lot of uncertainties and threats of complexity."

Fresno would have been the largest consumer of power in the coalition, using 45 percent of its electricity.

Orth said obfuscation has been the utility’s tool, coupled with reassurances that power "is too difficult for you to understand, so accept the status quo."

He said PG&E hasn’t been entirely factual with its advice and cited a specific example in which PG&E claimed that if a community opted out of CCA after joining, it could be liable for as much as $11 million. "It was a fabricated number, and it was a fabricated scenario, but it lead certain council members to believe there was a risk we weren’t explaining," Orth said.

Lawyers representing the SJVPA say the utility is using ratepayer funds for its anti-CCA marketing, and that’s a violation of the CPUC’s rules. AB 117 states clearly that utilities should cooperate fully with municipalities enacting CCA plans. In a December 2005 decision seeking to clarify how CCAs will be implemented, the CPUC wrote, "There is little if any benefit from permitting a battle for market share between CCAs and utilities. Of course, we expect utilities to answer questions about their own rates and services and the process by which utilities will cut-over customers to the CCA. However, if they provide [sic] affirmatively contact customers in efforts to retain them or otherwise engage in actively marketing services, they should conduct those activities at shareholder expense. We do not believe utility ratepayers should be forced to support such marketing."

"SJVPA is informed and believes and thereon alleges that these marketing and related activities were undertaken at PG&E’s ratepayer expense to compete against SJVPA," the authority’s lawyers wrote in the complaint to the CPUC.

Even if PG&E is drawing from the proper budget for the marketing, the appearance that it isn’t needs to be addressed, and the SJVPA complaint further calls on the CPUC to clarify its rules on what utilities can and can’t do. Local customer representatives, usually salaried by ratepayer funds, are telling folks to stick with PG&E, and that’s a betrayal of trust. "You have someone who’s worked with a customer for years and years and years saying, ‘Don’t support CCA,’<\!q>" Orth said.

PG&E, which has disputed the allegations in the SJVPA complaint, did not return our calls seeking comment. The two parties are currently in mediation, and SJVPA attorney Scott Blaising said the utility has yet to provide solid evidence that ratepayer money isn’t footing the bill for the anti-CCA marketing. Southern California Edison Co., which provides about a quarter of the SJVPA’s current power, has not been as contentious as PG&E, Orth said.

"Theoretically, [anti-CCA marketing] should be covered by shareholders," said Bill Marcus, an energy consultant who works with the Utility Reform Network. "Realistically, a bunch of it leaks into ratepayer accounts."

He pointed out that PG&E’s budget allocation for local public affairs has stood at 22 percent over the course of several general rate cases, despite clear peaks in marketing for certain campaigns.

Some San Franciscans will be closely watching what happens next as a sign of things to come as this city moves forward with its CCA plan. As Mirkarimi told us, "What San Joaquin is experiencing is likely a prelude to what San Francisco will be confronting as it pertains to PG&E’s desire to deny CCA and San Francisco’s pursuit of energy independence."

Migden, who wrote the CCA law, said, "PG&E’s alleged actions controvert the letter and the spirit of the bill. The utility and the SFPUC should take heed, because green public power is the people’s passion."<\!s>*

PS PG&E can’t even get its own Web site right.

Payphones: the deregulation factor


The disappearance of pay phones is linked in part to a decision by the George W. Bush administration to redefine what the word competition means.

In 2001, when the Republicans took control of the White House, Michael Powell, son of then–secretary of state Colin Powell, ascended to the top job at the Federal Communications Commission. Almost immediately, the FCC reinterpreted the 1996 Telecommunications Act. The act had sought to encourage competition among different pre-existing technological platforms — landline, wireless, cable, and Internet-based phones. It also encouraged the "emergence of competition within a platform or technology by providing competing providers with wholesale access to essential facilities" — mandating, for example, the sharing of wires — "and encouraging resale of services," Harold Feld, senior vice president of the Media Access Project in Washington, D.C., told the Guardian.

Under Powell, the FCC abandoned the strategy of encouraging such intramodal competition, which required continuing, close oversight, and — with the support of some Democrats — pushed for complete deregulation. The key: redefining competition.

Instead of trying to ensure that, for example, the market for landline phones was competitive, the regulators decided that as long as there was more than one player in the entire communications market, everything was just fine. So if Comcast and AT&T compete for broadband customers, it doesn’t matter if one has a monopoly (or an effective monopoly) on landlines.

"Intermodal versus intramodal was a radical reinterpretation of the ’96 act by Republicans," Feld said. The GOP paved the way for accelerated industry aggregation, into what is now widely recognized as a duopoly (AT&T versus Comcast).

And now those big carriers are more interested in more-lucrative technologies and large business accounts than in providing less-profitable neighborhood pay phone service. According to its public telecommunications repair office, AT&T plans to end its pay phone operations nationwide by the end of this year. As of November 2006, it was removing a total of 1,000 pay phones per week across 13 states, with 70,000 gone and 830,000 targeted.

And many of the remaining phones are broken. A New York Times survey of phones in the New York City subway system a decade ago showed that one-third were inoperable.

Basic phone rates can now rise, while the big exchange-operating phone companies are pulling out pay phones, shrinking the "platform" of which they still retain market control.

Increases in line charges and long-distance connection fees levied by the big phone companies make it harder for independent service providers to remain competitive, since they don’t control these fees and can’t charge more for service than less-affluent pay phone users can afford. And while proprietors of single sites that host pay phones once shared profits, many now have to pay high fees to retain the service. (Scott)

Where are all the payphones?


› news@sfbg.com

Click here to read more about payphone deregulation

When the big earthquake, terrorist attack, or other civic disaster finally hits San Francisco, a lot of people are going to be in for a major shock: their high-tech cell phones and computer-based office telephone systems might not work.

But after the 1989 Loma Prieta quake and after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City, residents found there was still a way to reach their loved ones and let the world know they were OK; they used an old-fashioned communications tool that’s low tech, securely grounded, publicly accessible, and reliable.

It’s called a pay phone.

Next time there’s a disaster, we may not be so lucky: pay phones, fixtures of the public landscape for more than a century, have been quietly disappearing. And many of those that remain don’t work. These essential communication tools — good for emergencies, privacy, and the poor — are falling victim to deregulation laws, the greed of telecommunications companies, and the public’s obsession with high technology.

In San Francisco they’ve departed in droves from sidewalk carrels; corner stores; bus shelters; subway platforms; office, museum, and movie theater lobbies; supermarkets; shopping malls; city swimming pools and YMCAs; diners; parks; and gas stations. They’ve been disappearing at a rate of about 10 percent annually for the past four years, down from roughly 400,000 at the height of the dot-com boom to 150,000 today, trade group attorney Martin Mattes told state regulators last year. The decline in San Francisco mirrors those in California and the nation.

And while pay phones may seem like quaint relics of another era, they remain an important part of the nation’s communications system, serving millions of people who for one reason or another don’t have or can’t use cell phones. And consumer advocates say the loss of the pay phone system is a serious problem.

Although cell phones are pretty ubiquitous, not everyone can afford one — and not everyone can use one. For socially marginalized people, pay phones are still a lifeline. For people who can’t use wireless technology — and can’t afford a home phone line — they’re essential.

Why are pay phones vanishing? The ready answer — cell phones — identifies the technology that’s replacing them and cutting into their profits. But it doesn’t completely explain why a society that once valued pay phones — and may ultimately remember that it still does — has let them disappear. That story has more to do with the politics of deregulation and the profits of telecom companies.


In the 2004 climate-change disaster film The Day after Tomorrow, Dennis Quaid plays a climatologist who anticipates dire consequences from a sudden oceanic temperature drop, which is triggered by global warming and leaves New York City frozen solid. From the beaux arts NYC Public Library where he’s taken shelter, the Quaid character’s son (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) needs to call Dad in Washington, D.C., but the cells don’t work. So he finds a half-submerged mezzanine pay phone with a dial tone ("It’s connected to the telephone lines," he notes brightly), drops in a couple of coins, and bingo — he gets Dad’s insider travel advisory.

Such a scenario — at least the pay phone part — isn’t science fiction. In fact, it has played out like that in NYC a few times and also did so in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. When the Twin Towers went down Sept. 11, cell phone masts went down with them. Lines were endless as outgoing calls from lower Manhattan funneled through two nearby landline pay phones, as reported on NBC’s Today. Ditto in the summer heat wave of 1999, when New York air conditioners on overdrive toppled wireless transmitters like dominoes, silencing cell phones from NYC to the Great Lakes. Landline telephones — including pay phones — continued to ring. And when the waters rose in New Orleans, residents flocked to pay phones made available for free use to contact loved ones and let the world know they were stranded.

Landline pay phones — like wired home and office phones — are simply more durable and reliable. "I love my cell phone," said Natalie Billingsley, who heads the California Public Utilities Commission’s Division of Ratepayer Advocates. "But I wouldn’t give up my landline. There’s not enough [wireless] network redundancy."

When the Loma Prieta earthquake hit the Bay Area in 1989, electricity and cell phone service were out for hours, but, Billingsley said, "landline phones were back up in 10 minutes."

Regina Costa of San Francisco’s the Utility Reform Network recalled that when the quake trashed Pacific Street in Santa Cruz, the public switch connecting local phones to the larger network worked despite a local power outage.

The reason, Costa says, is that the traditional wired phone network has a robust, independent electrical backup. Not so wireless transmitters and cable fiber-optic systems, both powered by the public grid.

"Wire lines are a really big public safety feature," Billingsley told us. Backup generators at switching points, where regional and long-distance lines converge, create "all kinds of redundancies" for rerouting calls if parts of the network go down.

That’s not just a technological issue. The new tech networks lack robustness and redundancy, Billingsley said, in part because such standards are no longer mandated. Before telecommunications were deregulated, companies were required to pay for reliability. Now reliability is no longer a public service. Under deregulation, reliability is more spotty. Last year state legislators addressed the need for adequate backup power-pack standards for Internet phones — but in the end, consumers will need to buy the backup systems.

In Japan, where the old but vital wired pay phone network has been reduced by more than half (from 910,000 to 390,000) since the public phone company was privatized in 1985, a public safety official recently warned against such shortsightedness. "To remove public telephones amounts to decreasing the means of communication during emergencies," disaster prevention program director Hitoshi Omachi of Yokohama’s Chiiki Bosai Laboratory observed in a May 8 Asahi Weekly article about cell phones overtaking pay phones. "People should think about measures to maintain public phones, including financial assistance from the central or local governments."

Then there are the social issues. Beth Abrams, director of Grupo de la Comida, which feeds 2,000 immigrants and refugees in the Mission each week, said many are dependent on pay phones. "The thing to remember," Abrams told us, "is that a pay phone could mean somebody’s life in an emergency, when time is of the essence." A child suffering an asthma attack or an adult with heart disease or diabetes (the occurrence of which is high in the immigrant community) "often needs immediate response and has difficulty walking far," Abrams said. Many people whom her group serves don’t have cell phones and rely on pay phones when caring for children outside the home or answering job ads.

Howard Levy, attorney and executive director of Legal Assistance to the Elderly, which serves about 1,000 clients a month, told us many seniors in the Tenderloin and in SoMa hotels don’t have home phones or cell phones. Besides the disincentive of cell phone cost, "folks beyond a certain age don’t feel comfortable with the technology," which is not designed for people "whose vision isn’t so great," Levy said.

Jennifer Friedenbach of the Coalition on Homelessness told us that "a lot of folks do have cell phones nowadays, on a prepaid card," but have only intermittent access, and none when the card runs out. "Poor people in general — people who have extremely low incomes — even if they have a phone at home, [it] can be shut off at times," she said. "Pay phones are really important for emergency situations for folks living outside," or when homeless people are first on the scene, to report an emergency.

In an impromptu survey of eight clients at the Independent Living Resource Center, a San Francisco disability-rights advocacy and support group, services coordinator Diane Rovai found three who had been seriously inconvenienced by lack of pay phone access. One needed a ride home from the airport and was stranded after an entire bank of pay phones was removed; another "missed a really important meeting" after getting wrong directions (the phone she finally found "was dirty and not in good repair"); and the third, who has no cell phone, has problems when she goes out to meet people.

"There are still people who depend on pay phones," particularly in rural communities, Anna Montes said. She belongs to San Francisco’s Latino Issues Forum and is a member of the PUC advisory committee on Universal Lifeline Telephone Service, which subsidizes phone service for low-income households.

Four percent of state households don’t have basic phone service, she said, and many of those are poor and Latino and rely on pay phones.

"Pay phones should be supported because there are individuals who can’t afford [cell phones] and places where wireless doesn’t work," said Bill Nussbaum, a telecommunications lawyer at TURN. "Public policy is a reason to wrap [pay phones] into the goal of universal service, the concept of maximum penetration with reliable and affordable phone service for all."


One reason the government has allowed pay phones to disappear is that most people don’t think about them. Cell phones often seem like all one needs to stay in touch, at least to those who own them.

"There’s an unfortunate assumption that everyone has a cell phone. It’s not true," said Harold Feld, senior vice president of the Media Access Project, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit public interest media and telecommunications law firm.

Regulators used to feel it was important for people to have access to public phones, but "they don’t think it’s important anymore," he told us.

Feld pointed out that pay phones used to be owned by AT&T, which created and maintained the pay phone network as part of a widely accessible phone system. Government-guaranteed profit on the company’s investment essentially subsidized even those pay phones that weren’t profitable, an arrangement institutionalized by the 1934 Telecommunications Act. Moreover, as a regulated public utility, the phone company needed permission to get out of the pay phone business.

With the monopoly’s breakup in 1984, competitors could enter the pay phone market, and by 1996 AT&T could get out of it.

"The old Bell monopoly came with a historical sense of public service that did not survive the [company’s] breakup and the new cost-benefit accountants and the MBA bottom-line artists," technology historian Iain Boal, coauthor of Afflicted Powers: Capital and Spectacle in a New Age of War (Verso, 2005) told us. "Under neoliberal economic doctrine, all public goods are suspect."

Boal noted, "The new telecom companies had little or zero interest in the public phones they inherited. In fact, quite the reverse. It was in their interest to close or leave trashed any boxes that weren’t profitable and in general to force laggards to mobile phones."

It didn’t happen immediately, attorney Mattes, who has represented the California Payphone Association, a trade group, told us.

"Because the pay phone business was still pretty good in the late 1990s, the telephone utilities stayed in the business during those years, competing with the independents," Mattes said. Pay phone rates also rose.

But the economics of the pay phone business started to change around 2000, Mattes said, mostly due to wireless competition, and companies had difficulty collecting for toll-free calls and calls made through other long-distance providers. So telephone utilities started giving up their less-profitable pay phone locations.

"Bell South abandoned the pay phone market entirely about five or six years ago," Mattes said. "AT&T and Verizon have been gradually leaving the market, giving up their less-profitable pay phones at a steady pace."

From January 2005 to June 2007, AT&T reduced its pay phone lines in California by more than half — from 77,467 to 36,870 — according to PUC counts. And in the same period, Verizon went from 28,743 to 16,421 pay phones.

While the pay phone business was "modestly profitable," according to Mattes, it was mainly important to the utilities "as a platform for customers to make highly profitable long-distance calls." But, he said, with competition in long-distance and wireless services, the profits have been squeezed out of long-distance calls. Pay phone use also dropped dramatically, he said, due to wireless competition.

TURN’s Costa suggested that the old AT&T overpaid in its postdivestiture bid to acquire cable and bypass local exchange carriers for direct connections with its former customer base. Later, it abandoned the poor voice-quality network and may have needed to recoup losses.

"The Bells have a separate incentive to pull out copper," the older coaxial wire that connects almost all landline phones, Feld said. "The FCC says they don’t have to share [fiber-optic cable wire with competitors] as they do copper, and copper needs to be maintained. It was laid because regulators made them. It’s more costly to maintain than they can charge."

"Without regulation," Feld noted, "big companies can leave the [pay phone] market, but they can also increase line charges" — monthly fees for phone connection to the local exchange — "and interconnection fees" for long-distance connection, paid by callers and local exchanges to the nonlocal carrier for allowing calls to go through.

The loss of pay phone service is one more result of faith-based deregulation, the belief that the market will provide for everyone’s needs. "The demise of pay phones was utterly predictable," Boal told us. "It’s a disgrace."

And the impact of the disappearance of pay phones ripples beyond service needs.


A sprawling ’70s low-rise cement building at West Portal and Sloat, once hidden by shrubs from view of the adjacent Muni tracks, is now vacant and slated to become the new Waldorf High School. It used to be the Pac Bell operators’ building, housing 35 workers, mostly women with more than 30 years of service, "the forefront of the [union] movement," said Kingsley Chew, president of Communications Workers of America Local 9410 in San Francisco.

Those operators answered 411 information queries and routed 911 emergency calls. Two years after winning a strike by shutting down the phone company, the operators saw their jobs outsourced in 2006 to Dublin and Pleasanton.

The majority of the local’s members are women, Chew said. Their male counterparts, mostly collectors in the coin department, are now gone, accounting for the loss of 25 to 30 union jobs in the past five years. Besides gathering coins from pay phones, the collectors maintained the phones and removed graffiti (which is more prevalent these days).

Pay phones once meant union jobs, and as their numbers have declined, so has the union. Local 9410 membership is down from 3,000 when Chew took office in 2003 to 750 today, with those still around mainly technicians who install and repair phones.

Chew calculated that one job here is financially equivalent to six jobs in India or the Philippines, where 1-800 calls are processed and workers are paid $400 a month. The city and the state lose local business tax revenues when jobs go overseas, he said, and the costs of vanishing pensions as workers are laid off are eventually externalized and borne by local residents when demand for public services rises.

There may be greater demand for pay phones soon: the major phone companies are expected to raise home-phone rates. Basic service rates have generally been averaged geographically, within a major company’s service "footprint," Lehman said, but deaveraging can soon occur, which will drive up the price of basic rural and high-cost urban services.

Meanwhile, two state programs supporting pay phones are being axed.


Two pay phone regulatory programs remain on the books, one frozen and one barely operating. The PUC created both programs in 1990 as part of a legal ruling, when new pay phone providers were struggling to gain a foothold in former Pac Bell (now AT&T) and GTE (now Verizon) monopoly territory and consumers were encountering new system abuses.

One program, the Public Policy Payphone Program (PPPP, or Quad-P), was designed to subsidize phones located "in unprofitable locations to serve the health and safety needs of the public," while the other, the Payphone Enforcement Program (now known as Payphone Service Providers Enforcement), was established "to ensure that pay phone consumer safeguards are being followed." Both programs, which were expanded statewide, were funded by a monthly per-line surcharge on the industry, unlike other telecom public policy programs, which are supported by a percentage surcharge on consumers’ monthly phone bills.

But the list of potential state locations for subsidized pay phones was reduced from 67,000 in 1988 to 22,000 in 1989, just before the state programs were initiated, and to 1,975 in 1993. By 1998, when deregulation was complete and pricing went to market rates, Pac Bell had only 300 subsidized business phones out of 140,000, attributing the change to the increased number of independent providers and to multiphone contracts, which enabled revenues and costs to be averaged out.

Applications to designate or install Quad-P phones have to pass through the PSPE advisory committee, which hasn’t aggressively solicited them or approved more than two or three (with just one installed) of the 33 received since 2001, according to the Division of Ratepayer Advocates.

Almost nobody knows that Quad-P exists — or that anyone can file an application if a proposed site meets certain criteria. Currently, there are only 14 Quad-P phones statewide, mainly in parks, down from 40 in March, with 13 supported by AT&T and one by Verizon.

The PSPE was set up "to enforce, through random inspections, consumer safeguards for all public payphones … such as signage requirements, and rate caps for local, long distance and directory assistance calls within California."

Until recently, inspectors made the rounds of for-profit as well as subsidized pay phones, numbering more than 400,000 in the ’90s, on a rotation schedule that took a decade to complete. Between December 2001, when the project came under PSPE administration (it was formerly run by the industry), and June 2007, civil-service inspectors logged 133,893 violations on 39,444 phones, a rate that has slowed with staff downsizing. The DRA estimates its activities reduced the average rate of violations significantly. The inspection staff was cut in half last fall, to three, and other program staffers were transferred to other divisions to cut expenses.

The number of pay phones to monitor has declined, but with reduced inspections, violations have begun to rise. Numbering too few to be proactive, inspectors now respond only to consumer complaints registered on the PUC’s consumer fraud hotline. This number, not posted on pay phones, is 1-800-649-7570; it accepts calls between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. There’s no after-hours message machine, but if you’ve got a computer and are still primed when you get home, you can log on to the PUC Web site, at www.cpuc.ca.gov, to report a complaint. Patterns of systemic abuse — and dead phones — are less likely to be detected from reactive, hotline-triggered complaints.

Last summer the industry’s PSPE advisory committee formally requested that both programs and the committee itself be eliminated and program surcharges ended, citing reduced activity and need. "All that Quad-P has done is subsidize its own costs," said Mattes, the attorney for the California Payphone Association. "It deserves a quiet burial."

The DRA argues that the reduction of these state programs is premature: even if dramatic market changes have made pay phones a distant second choice over wireless for many, the old technology is still important.

For one thing, predictions of the death of pay phones may be exaggerated. "It is likely that some core base of payphones will continue to be used regularly and earn a profit," the division observed in a July 2006 report, responding to gloomy industry forecasts.

For another, the actual basis for the pay phone network’s decline is far from clear. The division noted "a distinct lack of quantitative analysis regarding both the reduction … and demographic information about the location and need for payphones" in its program review comments, part of the PUC’s formal rule-making process (to be concluded in coming months, following administrative law judge Maribeth Bushey’s findings).

Acknowledging that "concerns about migration to wireless phone plans and cost recovery issues (including interconnection costs, phone card fraud, and 911 services)" need to be addressed, the division restated the universal service goals of both the ’96 act and the original 1934 Telecom Act, quoting a commission ruling from a decade ago, now more urgent: "Parties have not substantiated that telephone service will continue to be available at unprofitable locations to satisfy public health, safety, and welfare needs. Nor have they convinced us that the marketplace will replace the existing public policy payphones or fulfill the public policy objective in public health, safety, and welfare."

The DRA recommends a two-pronged strategy for stabilizing the for-profit market and assessing the need for subsidized pay phones — one that could potentially restore proactive inspections.

Instead of eliminating Quad-P oversight, it said, "the task, rather, is to address these problems by reforming and strengthening the program, as well as by assessing [systematically] the continuing public need for payphones" and finding ways to meet it. The division proposed a formal workshop or survey to compile data about profits and costs, locations, and demographics — hard data on where pay phones exist and where they don’t but are needed.

The DRA also suggests that regulatory oversight be overhauled; that the PUC exert closer control over pay phone service providers by imposing fines or through disconnection; that pay phones be registered or certified, as they are in numerous other states; and that new procedures be adopted for installing and removing pay phones.

Oversight is needed, the division says, even if the industry can’t pay for it; it recommends a surcharge on monthly phone bills, as there are for other public policy telecom programs. It also says an overdue audit of both programs is needed and that the hotline-triggered inspection regimen needs to be reassessed within 12 to 18 months of its inauguration last fall.


On the ground floor of San Francisco’s City Hall, a single pay phone remains among six phone bays. Under existing subsidy rules, the city — which contracts for multiple phones — is ineligible for a subsidy.

It seems like high time to figure out how to restore some conventional lines of communication. Instead of shifting the whole cost of backup phones to the public, why not consider allocating it between the industry and ratepayers, placing the industry’s contribution on a sliding scale to be reviewed every year or two along with revenues, and even incorporating a percentage of more competitive telecom video and cable profits?

Admittedly, this goes against the current tide. Avid deregulators — like former PUC commissioner Susan Kennedy, now Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s chief of staff, and current commissioner Rochelle Chong — have aggressively promoted advanced technology and less oversight.

But is what’s good for AT&T and Verizon really good for ratepayers or small businesses? Letting the pay phone network — a real, decentralized public space — be dismantled just because many of us now have private cell phones violates fairness and common sense. Corporate-minded advanced-tech boosters may dismiss the older technology, but it serves everyone.

"Just because it’s old," TURN’s Nussbaum said, "so what?"<\!s>*

Foxing in the archive


› annalee@techsploitation.com

TECHSPLOITATION Paper archives are dangerous. For the past several weeks, I’ve been standing knee-deep in paper untouched by human hands for decades, sorting through decaying files and strange pamphlets, breathing so much dust that I cough all night afterwards. It’s even worse for archivists and librarians who work with materials that are older than a century; they report that spores and mold on materials give them headaches, short-term memory loss, diminished lung capacity, and severe allergies.

Back in 1994, an archivist working with century-old materials in an antique schoolhouse wrote an e-mail to a conservation listserv that sounded so ominous it could practically have been the introduction to a Stephen King novel. "For several months I sorted through water-damaged ledgers and artifacts. Many were covered with a black soot-like dust," she wrote. "After a few months, I noticed I was losing my balance, my short-term memory was failing, and I began dropping things." Years later, after her lung capacity had dropped 36 percent and her memory was damaged permanently, a doctor finally diagnosed her condition. She’d been poisoned by mold on the archival materials she’d devoted her life to preserving.

A letter published in Nature in 1978 points out that old books and papers actually develop infections, colloquially called "foxing," that look like a "yellowish-brown patch" on the page. That patch, explain the letter writers, is actually a lesion caused by fungus growing on the book "under unfavorable conditions." Today most libraries recommend that conservationists working in archives with old materials and books wear high-efficiency particulate air filtering masks.

My archival adventures this month don’t involve foxing, or brain-damaging mold. I’m preserving an historical paper trail that’s too recent to have gone toxic. In fact, I’m in the odd position of trying to organize the papers of an organization, Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, whose entire mission since 1980 has been to promote the ethical uses of technology, and to build a prosocial, paperless future.

With all the dangers of paper archives, and all the love for computers at the CPSR, why bother to preserve the organization’s papers at all? Why not, as one member of the CPSR asked me, just scan everything and create a digital version of CPSR history? There are million reasons why not, but all of them boil down to two things: scale and redundancy.

Over the past quarter century, the CPSR has accumulated 65 crates of papers and nine tall metal filing cabinets full of records. Some of the papers are cracking with age; some are old faxes or personal letters on onionskin paper; some are pamphlets or zines; some are poster-size programs; others are little, folded stacks of handwritten notes. There are photographs, floppy disks, VHS tapes, and even a reel of film. Even if we had all the resources of the Internet Archive, a nonprofit that is scanning books onto the Web at a rapid clip, the CPSR scanning project would take weeks. More important, we aren’t scanning regular papers and books. We have so many kinds of archival material that we’d need specialists who knew how to scan them properly without damaging the originals.

Plus, how would we label each item we’d scanned? Every single one would need to be put into a portable, open file format and labeled with data by hand to identify it. That’s a project that could take months if done by a team of pros and years if it’s being done by volunteers. So part of creating a paper archive is simply a matter of pragmatism. It’s easier to preserve history on paper.

More important, though, we need a paper backup copy of our history. I love online archives as much as the next geek, but what happens when the servers blow out? When we stop having enough power to run data storage centers for progressive nonprofits? And even if digital disasters don’t strike, history is preserved through redundancy. The more copies we have of the CPSR’s history, in multiple formats, the more likely it is that generations to come will remember how a brave group of computer scientists in the 1980s spoke out against the Star Wars missile defense system so loudly that the world listened.

When it comes to preserving history, every digital archive should have a paper audit trail.<\!s>*

Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who is not just the president of the CPSR but also its archivist and janitor.

Close up


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

REVIEW "One single picture could be the mother of cinema," one of our leading auteurs has observed. Apichatpong Weerasethakul would have said saint, Jean-Luc Godard death, and Quentin Tarantino motherfucker, but only renowned Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami could glimpse in a lone image the maternal nurturing of reel life. With remarkable films such as Where Is the Friend’s Home? (1987), And Life Goes On (1991), and Through the Olive Trees (1994), Kiarostami has put his country on the world-cinema map in the uneasy decades following the plucking of the feathers from the shah’s Peacock Throne. Faux-vérité documentation, unscripted drama, and deceptively casual construction characterize Kiarostami’s complex narratives, most of which eschew the overt nationalist critique of his more politically trenchant peers (Samira Makhmalbaf, Jafar Panahi) in favor of to-be-or-not-to-be philosophizing and a quasi-spiritual appreciation of fleeting pleasures — the lengthening of late-afternoon shadows across a park bench, confessional conversations with jovial strangers, ditching homework to watch soccer on TV.

Now approaching 70, the creatively restless and keenly observant Kiarostami has recently refocused on photography, with which he has been intermittently engaged since the 1970s. In conjunction with a retrospective of both his widely celebrated and his lesser-known works at the Pacific Film Archive, which runs through Aug. 30, the Berkeley Art Museum has mounted a bracingly stark exhibition of Kiarostami’s photographs, culled from four distinct series. Sporting the disappointingly generic title "Abbas Kiarostami: Image Maker" — one of his film titles, such as The Wind Will Carry Us (1999), would have sufficed — the show fortunately far transcends its unpromising nomenclature and, like a Kiarostami film, slowly and indelibly reveals its aesthetic mastery, meditative rewards, and picturesque wanderlust.

In his introduction to the exhibition — which benefits from handsome, unadorned installation in BAM’s airy upper galleries — Kiarostami notes that still images, unlike films, are not weighed down with viewers’ expectations of narrative progression or conventional entertainment. Stripped of sustained storytelling and freed from the need to posture or pander — not that his films ever stoop to such commercial demands — Kiarostami’s photographs are nonetheless imbued with dramatic arcs, panoramic vistas, hints of intrigue, and a rigorously intellectual yet unrepentantly earthy moviemaker’s sure, sensual approach to framing, sequencing, and characterization, even if the scene-stealers are all blackbirds.

Camera in hand, Kiarostami regularly embarks on long walks across his homeland, frequently crossing hundreds of miles on epic treks on which the journey truly is the destination. Iran’s war-torn topography, haunted by the ghosts of dissidents and withering under the ceaseless gaze of enemies real and imagined, is for the ever-inquisitive Kiarostami a locus of geographic wonder and emotional extremes. Guided only by a moral compass, he traverses desolate roads and loses himself in his country’s seasonal secrets. Kiarostami keeps to himself on these outward- and inward-looking road trips, but as Scottish troubadour Roddy Frame — who for years memorably viewed the world through his Aztec Camera — once noted, loneliness and being alone aren’t always the same. "Not being able to feel the pleasure of seeing a magnificent landscape with someone else is a form of torture," Kiarostami confesses in the exhibition intro. "That is why I started taking photographs. I wanted somehow to eternalize those moments of passion and pain."

Kiarostami fully explores the dichotomy of these heightened instances in a quartet of works unified by the artist’s steady perspective (nothing seems to disturb his calm) and ability to appreciate the hushed prescience of transformation — in mind, body, and physical surroundings — where preoccupied passersby might only see oil slicks and burkas. In the Roads and Trees series, Kiarostami depicts in grainy, high-contrast black-and-white photos the byways and trunks that stretch onward and upward forever, bisecting his country vertically and horizontally into socially segmented fields of ground and sky. Whether smoothly paved or roughly pebbled, the roads are nearly empty, bereft of the comings and going that typically signal industrial progress and limitless options. Stasis defines the stunning Snow White series as well. Absence is palpably present in these bleak yet beautiful images in which anthropomorphized trees are starkly silhouetted against unending fields of pure white snow.

Winter’s monochromatic chill thaws into vibrant color in the Trees and Crows photographs, all taken on the verdant grounds of palaces in Tehran where flocks of birds have taken up residence as the winged heirs apparent to ousted royals. Crows are highly valued in Iran as a special species that lives longer than most and bears witness to national history. Kiarostami reverently views them as birds of pray, pecking and genuflecting on deep green lawns that appear freshly painted.

Kiarostami is back on the road in the Rain series, now behind the wheel of a car and looking through the windshield at patterns of water on glass and raindrops falling on yet more tall trees. ("If I were not a filmmaker, I would have become a truck driver," he told Deborah Solomon in a New York Times interview earlier this year.) Careening across flooded two-lane blacktops, these gorgeous, pictorialist photos drive straight into abstraction.

Many of Kiarostami’s poems begin with the lines "The more I think<\!s>/ The less I understand," an admission of epistemological uncertainty — and unfettered emotional sincerity — that informs every image in this show. Like the archetypal wanderer who quests for a life worth living in his award-winning 1997 film Taste of Cherry, Kiarostami concludes in these photographs that the search for meaning is an affirmation of time well spent on the road to nowhere.<\!s>*


Through Sept. 23, $4–<\d>$8 (free first Thurs.)

Wed. and Fri.–<\d>Sun., 11 a.m.–<\d>5 p.m.; Thurs., 11 a.m.–<\d>7 p.m.

UC Berkeley Art Museum

2626 Bancroft Way, Berk.

(510) 642-0808


Craig, list


› andrea@altsexcolumn.com

Dear Andrea:

I am in love with a girl a few years younger than me. She’s in her early 20s, and before me she had never had a sexual partner. The fact that I’ve been around the block over and over again made me reluctant to become "that guy." That said, our relationship has become very serious as well as emotionally rewarding.

The fact that I’ve been recruited as the lab segment for a human sexuality course has not been lost on me. I’ve done my best to exemplify a quality educational experience. We still have a couple of problems, though. First, I am an audiophile: besides having a good record collection, I’m physically aroused by sound. Even now I’m contemputf8g how I can turn my nonsqueaky bed into a squeaky bed. She’s pretty quiet (not letting go?), which leads to the second problem: the elusive orgasm. I know many women never have orgasms or don’t start having them until later, but I’m doing my best to make sure that she beats the odds. She has them when she masturbates but refuses or ducks the issue if I ask to watch. Currently she and I are separated by the vastness of the Midwest, and I’ve been devising different strategies to break through her mental block on her return. Any additions to the list would be welcome.

Stratagem one: convince her that I am not real. This would involve blindfolding, earplugs, tying her to my soon-to-be squeaky bed, and a very slow and imaginative seduction. This will end up happening in any case because it is just hot.

Stratagem two: make a symbolic charm, imbued with sexual voodoo.

Stratagem three: learn hypnosis, then subconsciously encourage her to let the fuck go. (Has any research been done in this area?)

Stratagem four: relax and just let it happen.

Stratagem five: get advice from a sex columnist.


Audio Science

Dear Science:

Oh my. You sure do use a lot of words, don’t you? Just like to hear yourself talk, is it?

It’s funny — I had your letter mentally filed under "physical problem solving: bed squeaks" and had you filed under "freaks: audio," but now that I read back over it, it’s really just the same old same old with a lot of extra words and a very small element of interesting freakiness. So let’s look at that first, in the interest of keeping me awake (sorry, late night). So: bed not noisy enough? Immediately I think, "Yay, engineering question — who do I know who might make a good consultant for that, and how do you reverse-engineer a squeak, and what sort of hardware would produce the desired degree of squeakiness … ?" and then I thought, "Good grief, let’s not get silly." (Or squeaky either: at a former job my husband used to have to attend meetings that tended toward the discursive, and at some point someone would interrupt the proceedings with a loud "Squeeeeak!" which meant "You’re going down a rat hole.") Most people, lacking your rarified sensibilities, find bed squeakiness annoying and distracting or even mood killing, as fear of being overheard by roommates or neighbors or, God forbid, parents can do that to a person, and these less-rarified people are dying to get rid of their squeaky beds, aren’t they? Wouldn’t someone be happy to trade? Not to go down a rat hole here myself, but I was walking down the street a few days ago and my friend said, "That guy looks familiar," and I said, "That was Craig Newmark. He’s Craig!" And why is Craig famous? He’s famous because people have beds they don’t want, and other people want those beds, and Craig makes it happen for them. Don’t fix or, rather, unfix your bed, and don’t buy a new one. Use Craig!

Now, your list. Your list, with the exception of stratagem five, is just not going to work. If indeed the young lady is not having orgasms (perhaps she isn’t, but all you really seem sure of is that she is not vocalizing them to your satisfaction, which is not at all the same thing), I would not advocate either doing anything weird or doing nothing. If she maybe knows what she likes but is reluctant to spell it out for you, I do advocate talking, books (Lonnie Barbach’s are the classics, although there are newer and more sciency ones out now) to clarify things and establish a vocabulary, and something like the "Do what I tell you" game, in which you, well, do what she tells you. This allows for giggling and admissions of shyness, plus, it is hot. So is your scenario with the blindfolds and whatnot, although that one does not make a whole lot of sense under the circumstances. You are hot for sound? You like to listen? You wear the blindfold, silly.



PS As for hypnosis and orgasm, there is … stuff on this. A great deal of stuff. I wouldn’t call most of it research.

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.

Butterfly bride


› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS There was a man on a tractor talking to a man who wasn’t on a tractor. There were a boy and a girl by the road, in the grass, playing with something in a bucket. There were two men going into a broken down building. There was a woman sitting on her porch steps looking at her hands.

I didn’t cry at the wedding, but the next night I came home from a next-night barbecue, closed the door to my room, and Patsy Clined into a saucy puddle on the bed. The pork chops were beautiful, dressed in halved apricots and peaches, also off the grill. There were grilled squashes, eggplants, and even a cucumber, which I had stuffed with bread and tomatoes and wrapped in bacon.

It was a beautiful evening in upstate New York, and I was surrounded by my friends. San Francisco friends. East Coast friends. Mostly they wanted to know if the hot dogs were ready, but still … I was surrounded. It was beautiful. I don’t mind always minding the grill, but what happens is that by the time I eat there isn’t any salad.

I cried myself to sleep.

In the morning Earl Butter brought me a piece of toast. I was in the shower, and when I came out there was a piece of toast on my journal. Dry. It was the thought that counted.

It is customary, I believe, here in the society section, to say something about the bride. What she wore, for example. Who she was …

Bikkets!!! My old best friend, bandmate, kindred spirit, and ex-podner. She wore a white gown that wasn’t a wedding dress but did have big different-colored sequin butterflies all over it. It was spectacular, outlandish, elegant, beautiful, insane, and perfect. One of her other old best friends is a costume shopper for the movies, and this is what you get when you bring a professional costumer and a tranny with you into the fitting room. You get big colorful butterflies all over your wedding dress.

I was standing by a pond and they were saying their vows next to a brook. Some sunlight dribbled through the maple trees and found her sequins, and I was never more proud — not to be there at the wedding, but to have been there in the fitting room.

Honest to Godzilla, while Bikkets was saying her piece, a real live butterfly flitted out of nowhere, circled her head, landed on a stick right next to her, and seemed to pay attention, like it was marking her words or something.

You couldn’t get away with that in the movies, let alone real life! Are you kidding me? I was like: Unh-unh. Nope. No way. The only thing that could have conceivably made the moment more wonderful would have been a big, loud fart.


I am in the back of the van, again, writing to you from the road for the third week in a row. Ohio. Hard rain, lightning, more tornado warnings, Earl Butter at the wheel, and I’m more afraid than I was in Nebraska, driving by myself through something way worse.

In the past 30 miles we’ve seen two overturned accidents. We’re trying to make it to the last gig of our tour, and then, if all goes well, I will be camping in this shit tonight, in wet woods in Mosquitoville, Mich. That’s if things go well. If they go otherwise, I don’t know what. I don’t have tickets, directions, a ride, or exactly a home of my own to come home to.

I have a new favorite restaurant! It’s in the Mission, on 22nd Street between my two favorite bars, the Make-Out Room and the Latin, so when I do finally sally my silly self back to San Francisco, you will find me there, eating tortas and reading the paper, almost all the time.

If only I could remember the name of the place, or what the hell I had. Just kidding. It’s Tortas el Primo, and I had a carnitas sandwich. Which was a goofy thing to order because, as I recall, I’d been eating week-old pork all week that week, the week before I left.

Which is why we have friends in the world. Right? Wayway, who turned me on to Tortas el Primo and went there with me, ordered carne asada and swapped me half of his. Everything was great!

Instead of cake, they had wedding pies, blueberry, apple, peach … Twenty-seven of them, made in two days by Deevee and Phenomenon. I helped. *


Daily, 7 a.m.–9 p.m.

3242 22nd St., SF

(415) 642-0771

No alcohol


Wheelchair accessible

Jang Soo BBQ


› paulr@sfbg.com

You won’t find kimchee mousse on the menu at Jang Soo BBQ, but that’s not a criticism, since you probably won’t find it on any menu in town. Korean cooking, despite its many charms — could it be the most winning of the spicy cuisines? — has so far resisted the dressing-up that has given a Cali-French gloss to food traditions from around the globe. If you’re eating Korean food here, you’re almost certainly in a traditional Korean barbecue joint, with a grill (charcoal or gas, lighted or not) in the middle of your table. And if you’re lucky, you’re at Jang Soo, which is one of the most attractive such places, if not the most attractive, in the city.

Let’s start with the simple matter of aesthetics. At more than a few Korean spots, even some of the best-known ones along Geary in the inner Richmond, the décor situation can range from the indifferent downward to the downright harsh, with overhead fluorescent lighting worthy of a black-site interrogation room being a particularly noisome likelihood. Jang Soo, by contrast, gleams gracefully with spot and sconce lighting. And I like the panel of checkerboard-style tiles along the wall at each table; the black and white ceramic squares serve as a kind of backsplash in case your adventures in grilling start to get out of hand. (Since the grills are gas fired and heat up very quickly, this is not a far-fetched scenario.) Most and best of all, the place seems clean. If you could know only one fact about a restaurant’s physical plant, this is the fact you would value the most.

The food suggests that the kitchen, while invisible to the clientele, is in equally good order. There are no big surprises on the menu — except, perhaps, for a greater number of seafood dishes than experience has conditioned one to expect in Korean restaurants — and plenty of familiar faces, among them bul go gi (slices of broiled beef) and bibimbab (beef salad). But the freshness of the ingredients and the care with which they’ve been handled is palpable. A small dish of pickled cucumber coins, for example, had the satisfying crunch of the homemade kind and would have been good even without the accompanying red chili-garlic paste.

The cucumbers, of course, were presented as part of that cavalcade of small dishes (banchan is the Korean word) that give the flavor of a banquet to meals in Korean barbecue restaurants, even at lunchtime. Jang Soo’s portfolio of treats includes (in addition to the cukes) bean sprouts, marinated tofu strips, seaweed dressed with spicy sauce, pickled threads of carrot and daikon radish, geutf8ous bricks of rice paste, hot scallion fritters, and of course kimchee — excellent, with nonsoggy cabbage and plenty of garlic and chiles in harmony. Dinnertime adds a fix of dried sardines in spicy sauce, and of course, noon or night, there is soup, perhaps seaweed or tofu.

These preliminary spreads can have much the same effect in Korean restaurants that plates of chips and salsa do in Mexican restaurants: be so addictively tasty and so filling that the main courses, when they finally arrive, can seem anticlimactic or superfluous — unless you are starving, and we were. Over the noon hour, the tabletop grills seemed to be in hibernation, and plates of food emerged fully cooked from the kitchen: pork bul go gi ($9.95), a pile of marinated, broiled meat shaved into strangely shaped ribbons, like scorched rubble from a house fire, and o jing au bokum ($8.95), chunks of sautéed calamari in spicy sauce. I found the calamari’s "spicy" sauce to have a notable, not quite ideal sweetness, while the seafood itself was a little tough — always a risk with calamari, which overcooks quickly and unforgivingly. The pork, on the other hand, was exemplary.

At dinner, our server lighted the grill with her little sparking wand, switched on the vent hood, and a few minutes later appeared with a platter of uncooked flesh: dak gui ($18.95), or marinated boneless chicken thigh meat, on one side, and hae san mul gui ($20.95) — squid, octopus, shrimp, and clams — on the other. She spooned half the seafood onto a sheet of aluminum laid atop the grate, while half the chicken went straight onto the grate. And now a word to the wise: you have to turn stuff yourself, when you think it’s cooked long enough on one side or your seafood medley needs tossing. That’s why you’re given a set of tongs. We waited rather innocently for our server to come flip the chicken flaps for us, even as they began to smoke ominously, and we ended up with some fragrant cinders. Luckily the larger pieces of meat resisted scorching, and we cooked the remainder of both chicken and seafood ourselves, turning often.

The restaurant’s clientele appears to be heavily Korean or at least Asian, certainly not Anglo. If they or you are lucky, walking to the restaurant, or maybe taking one of the innumerable Geary buses, is feasible. Certainly it is preferable, since parking in the neighborhood is hellishly difficult. The exceptions to this hard rule are work-week middays, when the streets are empty and all you have to do is feed the increasingly voracious parking meters. Does everyone who lives on the West Side drive downtown to work? Dang.<\!s>*


Daily, 11 a.m.–<\d>10 p.m.

6314 Geary, SF

(415) 831-8282

Beer, wine, soju


Pleasant noise level

Wheelchair accessible

Oh, honestly


› superego@sfbg.com

SUPER EGO Sweetheart, the only reason I’d ever lie to you is to score free drinks or get down your $300 freaky-deaky, pizza-stained pipe pants. I’m not the Internet — I’m your friend. You’ll never have to add two years to my age or subtract two inches from my width. And as for my length — well, I do go on a bit. Everybody knows that. (Wait. Do people still lie on the Internet anymore? Lemme check…. OK, back. Yes. Yes, they do.)

This is how incredibly, embarrassingly forthcoming I am: I can’t stop singing the new Girls Aloud single, "Sexy! No No No …," in my head (thanks, Perez fucking Hilton). I conveniently can’t recall if I’ve ever partied in the private rooftop hot tub at the Porn Palace. I used a SpongeBob beach towel from Target this morning to dry my nether parts before I put them back on. And, to Hunky Beau’s eternal chagrin, I can name any designer collection from spring ’86 to fall ’94 in two accessories or less. I wasn’t even born then! Plus, I totally forgot about National Underwear Day last Thursday. Bad gay. Bad.

Also, you’re gorgeous. Here’s a million dollars. Taste the veracity, baby.

But I still have a few little secrets left, and here are two. First, yes, I’m hot-hot-hot for drag kings. Hot in a "nuzzle me nude until your Crayola-stache rubs off on my nipples" way. I know! Ew! But this girl can’t help it, and my cup’s about to overfloweth Aug. 18 at the 12th annual San Francisco Drag King Contest at SomArts, during which a bevy of horny-drippin’ butches will b-boy it up in a bout for the king crown. It’s just like the International Fight League, but with more Mötley Crüe mashups and medical adhesives.

I asked Lu Read, the organizer, how it felt to have reached a fake-dick dozen of these suckers, and he told me "definitely balls to the wall" and that the SFDKC is "like Tease-o-Rama on testosterone and the Miss Trannyshack Pageant on steroids." Lock up your wife and child. This year’s contest boasts two preparty pump-ups and a wild after-party, all featuring a veritable queue of tuneful supporters — from rockers the Momma’s Boyz to sexpot table jock Mauricio Aviles to legendary DJ Derek B (whom I’ll miss mightily when he hightails it to far-too-fashionable Berlin next month). It’s a cavalcade, it’s a carnival, it’s a drag kingdom. Crayola nipples.

Secret two: boat parties terrify me. For one, you can’t escape — if some E’d-out fairy unicorn rainbow twirlbot latches on to you, there’s nowhere to run but in circles. But I’ve spent whole weeks doing that in my room before, so it shouldn’t be too much of a problem, right? (You try finding the doorknob when you’re cross-eyed and your fingernails are moon lobsters.) For two, I prefer the bartender to mix my cocktails, not the motion of the ocean. I’ve got A legs, not sea legs. Groan.

But I do love me some PacificSound, the old-school kids who bring you the bright, techno, outdoor Sunset Parties all summer long — and Aug. 18 they’re taking it to the docks and all around the bay with their infamous Fully Loaded Boat Party. I’ve heard on good authority that magical things happen at these Pacific proceedings: helicopters fly under bridges, gays find true love, club columnists forego the ginger capsules and antinausea Bio Bands and get crazy to the boom-boom styles of Galen, J-Bird, Solar, Charlotte the Baroness, and so many more. Could it possibly be true? Oh, let’s find out for ourselves.

So. Saturday — techno boat party, drag king contest. What will I dress as? No lie: Moby Dick. *


Aboard the San Francisco Spirit

Sat/18, 5 p.m.–11 p.m., $35 presale

Tickets available at Tweekin’ Records

593 Haight, SF

(415) 820-1664



Sat/18, 8 p.m., $15–$35


934 Brannan, SF

(415) 282-2363


Faithfully unfaithful


The world of Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Doulos (a.k.a. The Stoolie, 1963) is an incredibly complicated one. Perhaps this has to do with the fact that its inhabitants are ex-cons, petty thieves, snitches, and ambiguous lovers, all of whom are as loyal as they’re unfaithful. Or maybe the complexity emerges from the strong sense of honor and morality that these underground characters share.

Maurice (Serge Reggiani), a robber, is sent to prison because somebody snitches on him. He’s willing to believe that it was his best friend, Silien (Jean-Paul Belmondo), who betrayed him. But Silien, a small-time crook who we know almost immediately is also a police informant, proves to be the only person Maurice should have trusted.

The film’s aesthetic adds to its layers. Borrowing elements from the gangster movie and film noir and combining them in a way that resembles a low-budget B flick, Melville creates a personal response to the French new wave. His characters and story are mere starting points from which to present a highly stylized, detached contemplation of the circumstances under which we can each become the most devoted or the most disloyal of people. All this might be inspired by Melville’s experience with the World War II French Resistance, which the director most overtly examined in his acclaimed 1969 film Army of Shadows. (Maria Komodore)


Aug. 17–23, $6–$9

Castro Theatre

429 Castro, SF

(415) 621-6120


Drop hearts


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Is there a more beloved film among critics than Max Ophüls’s The Earrings of Madame de … (1953), the penultimate presentation in the Pacific Film Archive’s retrospective "Max Ophüls: Motion and Emotion"? Yes, there are other films (Citizen Kane, L’Avventura, The Seventh Seal) that routinely top critics’ all-time lists. But rarely has a movie so routinely enchanted cineastes as Ophüls’s glittering belle époque love story that swathes its brutal emotional core in sumptuous period finery, mirrors, diamonds, and the dizzying virtuosity of the director’s constantly moving camera. Only Ophüls, in a bit of borrowed Kabuki stagecraft, would have the shreds of unsent letters tossed from the window of a speeding train become a flurry of snowflakes.

As Village Voice film critic J. Hoberman observed in a recent appraisal, fellow critics "Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris didn’t agree on much, but they did find common ground when it came to [Earrings]." Kael characterized the film as "perfection," while Sarris named it his candidate for "the greatest film of all time."

Hyperbole is the form of praise most befitting Ophüls, given the director’s penchant for cinematic grand gestures — namely, the impossibly complex tracking shots for which he is most famous, which follow characters up and down staircases, through walls, and across stretches of time — and his consistent return to the dazzling surfaces of 19th-century high society, as in La Ronde (1950) and Lola Montès (1955).

The faceted surfaces that dazzle in Earrings belong to the eponymous heroine, Comtesse Louise de … (the incomparable Danielle Darrieux), a wholly narcissistic and equally charming beauty, who sells a pair of drop diamond hearts given to her by her husband, General André de … (Charles Boyer), in order to pay off her debts. The earrings wind up back in the hands of the general, who — going along with Louise’s white lie that she lost them at the opera — then gives them to a mistress en route to Constantinople, where they wind up being purchased in a pawn shop by Baron Fabrizio Donati (Vittorio de Sica). The diamonds’ peregrinations trace a circuit of desire that comes full circle, completing its inevitably tragic course when the baron and Louise strike up a passionate affair.

To borrow the general’s characterization of his and Louise’s marriage, the diamonds — if not the whole of Ophüls’s seemingly bottomless bag of spectacular effects — are only "superficially superficial." With every change of hands, the jewels become more transparent as an index of each suitor’s investment in Louise, until they are symbols of tarnished honor and, finally, a memento mori of Louise herself.

In one of the film’s most celebrated sequences, Ophüls’s waltzing camera follows his paramours in a seemingly endless embrace across several ballrooms and months. It is a beautiful trick, one that predates Alfred Hitchcock’s "uninterrupted" takes in Rope and to which many directors have since paid homage. But Ophüls’s suspended dance also gives Louise and the baron the space they so hopelessly pine for, which they can never find in the hothouse confines of their world. The scene is cinematic in that such a space can only exist in the movies. But it could also be argued that such scenes are why film — in its most romantic capacity — exists. Ophüls’s much-celebrated masterpiece, as brilliant and sharp as the diamonds at its center, provides no better example.<\!s>*


Fri/17, 7 p.m., $4–<\d>$8

Pacific Film Archive

2575 Bancroft Way, Berk.

(510) 642-5249


Arcade fire


› cheryl@sfbg.com

"That ape is very cunning, and he will do what he needs to, to stop you." This nugget of wisdom, tossed off by a spectator who’s hoping to witness a record-setting Donkey Kong score, is at once simple and poignant — much like The King of Kong, which chronicles the rivalry between two of the game’s elite players, both men in their 30s who take the pursuit of arcade excellence very, very seriously. As in any great sports story, there’s an underdog (determined newcomer Steve Wiebe, a family man who teaches middle school science) and a seemingly infallible champ (hot-sauce tycoon Billy Mitchell, a legend since the early 1980s). There’s fierce competition, triumph over daunting odds, bold statements like "Anything can happen in Donkey Kong," and the judicious use of motivational pop songs. But the drama in The King of Kong (subtitle: A Fistful of Quarters) is so gripping, "Eye of the Tiger" is almost an afterthought.

Gripping drama? Wrought from grown-ups hunched over video games? Yeah, you heard me. Some outlets — including MTV.com, which ran an extensive piece on Mitchell — have suggested that Kong director Seth Gordon applied some editing-room finesse to heighten the tale’s tension, and there are moments that achieve near-Shakespearean levels. Wiebe, so outwardly unremarkable that nobody he encounters in the gaming world remembers how to pronounce his name, has been second best all his life. His Kong skill springs not from talent but from determination, with hours logged at the machine he keeps in his garage. After he records himself earning a previously unheard-of million points (even as his young son screams, "Daddy, don’t play!" in the background), he comes to the attention of Twin Galaxies, the organization that tracks and regulates video game records. (Twin Galaxies guru Walter Day — a key player in the yet-to-be-released film Chasing Ghosts, another 2007 doc about arcade games — really deserves a full portrait of his own colorful life, which encompasses not just gaming but also folk music and Transcendental Meditation.)

Mitchell, Twin Galaxies’ star ambassador, also takes note. Kong may be slanted against Mitchell — he’s blow-dried, attired in tacky ties, and apparently cocky — but his actions in the context of the film do seem questionable. Why wouldn’t he show up to defend his title at a competition transpiring mere miles from his Florida home? Why would he demand Wiebe demonstrate his prowess in person — then overshadow the man’s success by submitting a videotape with a superior score? Who knew you could set a video game high-score record with a videotape, anyway?

Trust me, even if this all seems silly in the abstract to you, it becomes entirely dire once Kong sucks you in. Gordon doesn’t make fun of his subjects, and he never once belittles them for their laserlike devotion to a certain barrel-hurling ape — although some of the secondary players invite ridicule due to their incredible nerdiness. At any rate, there’s precious little time devoted to the game itself (notable exceptions include a look at a Donkey Kong "kill screen," which comes when the game runs out of memory and little Mario spontaneously keels); it’s suggested that the best of the best advance thanks to technique and luck — and, possibly, the good graces of whoever’s in charge.

For the eventual winner, the benefits reach beyond a line in Guinness World Records. "It’s not even about Donkey Kong anymore," a tournament bystander opines, and he’s right. That the game is from an earlier, more innocent era — compared to Grand Theft Auto, Donkey Kong looks like child’s play — is key. One competitor’s holding on to teenage glory, while the other’s trying to make up for teenage failures by tasting true glory for the first time.<\!s>*


Opens Aug. 24 in Bay Area theaters

See Movie Clock at www.sfbg.com


Mates of down-home states


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

I might as well just fess up and own it: as much as I love the concrete and anonymity of the city, I’ll always remain a country boy at heart. I grew up in a town of 2,000 people, where everyone knew one another’s business. Intimately. Moose in the backyard were a regular occurrence. Country music was everywhere. Potato-sack racing and the 4-H club played an integral part of my childhood, as odd as it is to contemplate such things over the din of traffic outside. And just as my hometown has grown and citified over the years since I ran from it screaming, so has my perception of it. Back in the day, I couldn’t wait to leave. Now that I’m older, I overromanticize the hell out of that place. Show me a dirt road and just watch the sentimentality pour out of me.

Perhaps it’s these feelings that first drew me to the down-home comforts and easygoing twang of local rural Americana raconteurs Or, the Whale. Or perhaps it was their lush, Opry-fied harmonies or the fact that their recent self-released debut, Light Poles and Pines, surges with a sense of camaraderie and community that reminded me of small-town life. Whatever the reason, I was hooked, and soon enough I found myself sharing a picnic table at Zeitgeist with four members of the band, eager to learn more.

Named after the secondary title of Herman Melville’s classic tale of struggle and strife Moby-Dick, Or, the Whale is — sticking with the zoological theme — still a mere calf. Because the bandmates sound like they’ve played together forever, it’s a surprise to learn that the septet formed less than two years ago, partially through Craigslist ads. "Some of us were already friends," singer-percussionist Lindsay Garfield explains, "but a lot of us had never met before that ad. But here we are, like a family. We’re very lucky."

Lucky us, while we’re at it: Light Poles and Pines, recorded one year after those fortuitous e-mails, makes for a mighty impressive introduction. Recorded in two days, mostly using entire takes with few overdubs, the disc feels like an informal front-porch session between seasoned musicians who have shared endless miles on the road. How else to explain the confident looseness of stomping barn burner "Bound to Go Home," the hoedown ebullience of "Threads," the intuitive heartstring-tugging musicianship of "Rope Don’t Break"?

Add to this the fact that the group has four lead vocalists — and the remaining members all sing backup — and it isn’t much of a leap to imagine Or, the Whale as a modern-day incarnation of another gang of rural mythmakers, the Band. Before I can indulge in Robbie Robertson–<\d>Levon Helm comparisons, though, Garfield chuckles and sets me straight: "We’re nowhere close to that yet! And we’re definitely not session musicians." She adds, "We’re certainly huge fans of the Band, though," as bassist-vocalist Justin Fantl jumps in: "We’ll gladly take the suggestion, thanks."

No problem, and I’ll stick by it. Here’s why: over the course of 13 songs, Light Poles and Pines swings effortlessly between knee-clapping bluegrass, campfire country-gospel sing-alongs, straight-up classic Nashville tearjerkers, and probably a few other forms I’m forgetting. Yet taken together, they are a clear and cohesive expression of the back-to-our-roots ethos at work here, much like that of Robertson et al. Vocalist–<\d>guitarist–<\d>banjo player Alex Robins jokingly describes Or, the Whale’s sound as "a big, delicious stew," and he’s right. Hearty, rustic, nostalgia inducing — sounds like a stew to me.

How did they muster such fine home cooking? "With this album we wanted to create the feel of a live show, happy flubs and all," vocalist-guitarist Matt Sartain suggests. "It’s those little imperfections, which give it a real, honest feel, I think." Robins is quick to agree: "No one had veto power. If everybody else liked that I missed a note in a particular part of the song, it didn’t matter that I wanted to do it over. We’d keep the flub anyway, and eventually I’d see that they were right."

It’s this level of openness and mutual respect that may prove to be Or, the Whale’s greatest asset. By the time this goes to print, the close-knit, fiercely DIY band will be wrapping up a 25-city coast-to-coast tour that it orchestrated itself — proof positive of the commitment the members share with one another and their cause. Garfield, Fantl, Robins, and Sartain — along with fellow members accordionist-organist-vocalist Julie Ann Thomasson and drummer-vocalist Jesse Hunt — will end their journey here in San Francisco, at the Great American Music Hall, deserving of a hero’s welcome. "This tour — booking everything, promoting it all ourselves — it means everything to us," Garfield explains. "We’re really proud of what we’ve done. This truly shows how much we mean to each other, and it’s just going to bring us even closer together."<\!s>*


With Birds and Batteries and Social Studies

Aug. 25, 9 p.m., $12

Great American Music Hall

859 O’Farrell, SF

(415) 885-0750


School blues


› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER Roll over and let MF Doom give you the news: even during the soporific, sunlit waning days of summer, you needn’t wander far before tumbling headlong into a deep ditch of gloom. And is it any surprise, when even the top 10 is capped with hand-wringing, ditsy throwback-pop ditties like Sean Kingston’s suicide-dappled "Beautiful Girls" — just a few skittish dance steps away from Amy Winehouse’s anxious revamps of sweet soul music?

So when Danville-raised Film School headmaster Greg Bertens made the move away from the Bay to Los Angeles last September to be with his girlfriend and get some distance from 2006, his splintered group’s annus horribilis, it doubtless seemed like dour poetry that he ended up living just a few doors down from punk’s crown prince of dread, Glenn Danzig.

"Oh yeah, Glenn and I go way back!" Bertens said drolly from LA, describing Danzig’s lair as ivy covered and encircled by a gate topped with an iron fleur-de-lis. "Once in a while I see him walk by in a big, black trench coat. LA in general is a big amusement park, and Glenn Danzig happens to be an attraction close to my house."

That new home was where Bertens rediscovered his will to make music — and lost the old, jokey misspelling of his first name, Krayg. There he wrote and recorded Film School’s forthcoming album, Hideout (Beggars Banquet), alone at home with only a guitar, a keyboard, and a computer equipped with Pro Tools, Logic, and assorted plug-ins, while listening to old Seefeel, Bardo Pond, and Sonic Youth LPs. Guest contributions by My Bloody Valentine vet Colm O’Ciosoig, who also lived in the Bay Area before recently moving to LA, and Snow Patrol bassist Paul Wilson filled out the lush, proudly shoegaze songs that Bertens eventually took to Seattle for a mix with Phil Ek (Built to Spill, the Shins).

The recording is "the closest so far to what I’ve been trying to get to since Film School began," Bertens told me later, but it came at a price, following the release of the San Francisco group’s much-anticipated, self-titled debut on Beggars Banquet. Poised to become one of the first indie rock acts of their late ’90s generation to break internationally, after opening tours with the National and the Rogers Sisters, Film School instead found misfortune when Bertens was jumped outside a Columbus, Ohio, club.

Then the group’s instruments and gear were lost in Philadelphia when thieves stole their van, audaciously driving over the security gate of a motel parking lot. Despite benefits and aid from groups like Music Cares, the loss magnified band member differences, leading to the departure of guitarist Nyles Lannon (who also has a solo CD, Pressure, out in September), bassist Justin Labo, and drummer Donny Newenhouse, though longtime keyboardist Jason Ruck remains.

"Understandably, it kind of compounded any difficulties we might have had," Bertens recalled, still sounding a little tongue tied. After such events, he continued, "you definitely tend to reevaluate what is important in your life setup."

The loss of certain key pedals was particularly felt, although, he added, "ironically, after a year or so, one of the instruments showed up on eBay, and it was traced back to a pawnshop in Philly." The entire lot of gear had apparently come in three weeks after it was stolen, but though the store claimed it had checked with the local police department, and the band and Beggars had furnished the police with serial numbers and descriptions, no one made the connection. "We found a general unorganized response to the whole event," Bertens said with palpable resignation.

Yet despite the negativity Bertens associates with 2006 — "I think it was a heavy year globally as well, and Hideout comes a little from that, the impulse to hide out when external and internal factors are unmanageable" — he did find an upside to Film School’s downturn: the response to the theft "kind of restored my ideas about the music community within indie music. We’re a small band, and all these people — people we knew and people we didn’t know and other bands — all kind of came to our aid. I kind of knew that community existed, but I never experienced it." As a result, he said, the new CD’s notes will list the names of more than 150 people "we feel completely indebted to." Something for even Danzig to brood about.

ARTSF STRESSED What would we do without Godwaffle Noise Pancakes brunches and raucous noise shows stories above Capp and 16th Street? Let’s not find out, though word recently went out that the venue for those events, the four-year-old ArtSF, is being threatened. Allysun Ladybug Sparrowhawk has been handling art and music shows at the space for more than a year, and she e-mailed me to say she hadn’t been informed of an approximately $4,000 yearly building maintenance fee until the space received an eviction notice. "When there is a repair on the building, most of the cost is put on us," she wrote. "It should be split equally between all the tenants but most of the other floors are empty."

Since a slew of the organization’s art studio spaces is empty, she continued, "we are struggling to make the rent as it is. A fee like this has really threatened our existence." Does this mean even more artists and musicians are going to be priced out of this already-too-pricey city? Keep the pancakes coming: contact artmagicsf@yahoo.com and visit FILM SCHOOL

With Pela and the Union Trade

Wed/15, 9 p.m., $10

Bottom of the Hill

1233 17th St., SF

(415) 621-4455




Girls really do love breakcore — and Journey reworks — by this son of a Taiwanese rocket scientist. With the Bad Hand and Bookmobile. Wed/15, 9 p.m., $10. Cafe du Nord, 2170 Market, SF. www.cafedunord.com


Look out — no wavy cacophony and apelike yelps. With the Go, Bellavista, and Thee Makeout Party! Fri/17, 9 p.m., $10. Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., SF. www.bottomofthehill.com. Also with the Frustrations and the Terrible Twos. Sat/18, 6 p.m., $6. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. www.hemlocktavern.com


Tarentel’s Danny Grody sails in, following the release of a limited-edition 12-inch of remixes by Four Tet and Sybarite. Sun/19, see Web site for time and price. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. www.hemlocktavern.com


The SF-by-way-of-Brooklyn synth poppers toast their new Paper Trail (Clairaudience Collective) with contemporary dance by peck peck. Aug. 23, 9 p.m., $8. Space Gallery, 1141 Polk, SF. www.spacegallerysf.com

Against them!


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

So the members of Rage Against the Machine are having themselves a little reunion outing, eh? What a great reason for a massive flock of shirtless, chest-bumping frat boys to jump in place with middle fingers extended while screaming, "Fuck you — I won’t do what you tell me!"

It should come as no surprise that the politically charged rap-rock foursome caved in for a supposed one-off performance — their first in almost seven years — at the recent Coachella Festival. Since 2001 the festival’s organizers have been shelling out the bling for such iconic alt-rockers as Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Stooges, and the Pixies to kiss and make up for one stifling day in the desert. Now Rage-oholics have a machine to rail along with again — at least until October.

So far the group has only committed to a string of scattered festival appearances around the country, including four dates headlining the "Rock the Bells" tour, the annual hip-hop festival including performances from the Wu-Tang Clan, Public Enemy, Nas, Mos Def, and EPMD. According to RATM, there are no plans for a new album; guitarist Tom Morello stated in a May Blabbermouth.net interview that recording a follow-up to their last studio disc, Renegades (Epic, 2000), would be "a whole other ball of wax right there" and "writing and recording albums is a whole different thing than getting back on the bike and playing these songs."

But why play these songs now? Is it only a coincidence that the RATM realliance followed the dissolution of Audioslave in February? Morello confirmed this with Billboard.com in March, revealing that "the Rage rebirth occurred last fall when it was clear that there was not going to be any Audioslave touring in the immediate future." In addition, sources for the Los Angeles Times disclosed that Coachella’s quick sellout and the ticket scalping that followed factored into the band’s decision to add more dates after that appearance.

RATM, however, have spun their reunion to NME.com as a response to the "right-wing purgatory" that this country has "slid into" under the George W. Bush administration since the group’s demise in 2000. As Morello additionally told Billboard.com, "These times, I think, demand a voice like Rage Against the Machine to return" and "the seven years that Rage was away the country went to hell. So I think it’s overdue that we’re back."

So what took RATM so long, and why listen to a leftist band that’s earned its salary from a subsidiary of a corporate media conglomerate, namely Sony Records? And who’s willing to listen — the decider in chief? Efforts ranging from the worldwide protests against US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to legislation to cut off war funding crafted by the Democratic-led Congress have failed to move the Bush camp. It’s doubtful that a band known for its aversion to both the Democratic and Republican parties is going to have any impact.

Since RATM’s so-called "Dixie Chicks moment" at Coachella, corporate media has definitely scrutinized the group’s defiance of the Bush regime. During a performance of "Wake Up," Zach de la Rocha made a speech stressing that the current administration "should be hung and tried and shot." The band members quickly came under fire, and on a segment of Hannity and Colmes, Alan Colmes pegged them as "anarchists," while Sean Hannity suggested that they should be investigated by the Secret Service. Guest Ann Coulter scoffed, "They’re losers, their fans are losers, and there’s a lot of violence coming from the left wing." In rebuttal, de la Rocha deemed the three "fascist motherfuckers" and reiterated that the band believes Bush "should be brought to trial as a war criminal," then "hung and shot." Thanks for clearing that up, Zach.

RATM’s songs have more significance today then they did 10 years ago, but if RATM choose to have a voice now, will their cause be served come November should they dissolve again? It’s likely de la Rocha would retreat to the rock he’s been hiding under for the past seven years if the band decides to part ways a second time. Even if the rap-rock pioneers’ material is tagged as anarchist propaganda for the masses, they definitely have something more to offer listeners than does, say, a Smashing Pumpkins reunion. A reassembled RATM couldn’t come at a better time — and these songs are meant to be played and heard now. Perhaps this time we’re ready to listen and stand up with them. *


Rock the Bells Tour

Sat/18, 1 p.m., $76–$151

McCovey Cove Parking Lot

24 Willie Mays Plaza, SF

(909) 971-0474


Cousin, cuisine


Given the state of English food, it should not surprise us that English food writers are either embittered and caustic or looking for a way out of their mildewed isles. In the latter group we find Ian Jackman, who hopped the pond hither 15 years ago and has now published a book, Eat This! 1001 Things to Eat before You Diet (Harper, $14.95 paper). If On the Road had been about eating in America and had been written by an earlier, less woozy edition of Christopher Hitchens, it might have been something like this.

But perhaps the Hitchens comparison doesn’t quite do justice to Jackman. Both writers are Oxbridge-educated, adoptive Americans with posh accents, but the Hitch is a bloated warmonger who mongered the wrong war and whose reputation — apart from an ability to recite poetry from memory when in trouble, like a squid squirting ink — seems undeserved. Jackman, by contrast, is soft-spoken and gracious. Of course, he isn’t a pugilist and raconteur who must snap and snarl for his supper on cable television but belongs, instead, to a long European tradition of discovering the New World and taking delight in it.

Eat This! reminds us that no matter how much America fatigue some of us might be feeling these days — and some of us are feeling quite a lot, thanks to Nancy Pelosi and the impeachment that wasn’t — the cultural possibilities of this country remain staggering. American food, in Jackman’s telling, retains its regional quality; New England is still notable for its lobster rolls, the Bay Area is a land of exquisite breads, Chicago is where you want to go for red-hot hot dogs, and in Memphis they use dry rubs on their barbecued ribs. Jackman has even tracked down what I regard, from profound personal experience, as the best cheeseburger ever; it’s sold at Solly’s Grille, in Milwaukee’s northern suburbs, and is so slathered with butter that it’s known locally (and Wisconsin is America’s Dairyland, after all) as the butter burger. No one can eat just one.

Since pretty much the whole world seems to be put out with us these days, we’re lucky our erudite British cousins are on hand to assure us we haven’t yet totally gone to hell. The food is still good here, and they should know.

Paul Reidinger

› paulr@sfbg.com

Your neighborhood streets on wry (hold the Sesame)


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

"Who are the people in your neighborhood?" Wasn’t that the consciousness-raising question we were coaxed into asking as tots by the irresistibly catchy song stylings of public television? Well, if they’re the mix of humans and Muppet-esque monsters of Avenue Q, they’re strikingly but only superficially reminiscent of the denizens of that sidewalk utopia propagated by PBS children’s programming. After all, Sesame Street began way before anyone could stay shut up all day surfing the Internet for porn, like Trekkie Monster (Christian Anderson), let alone sing about it.

The inhabitants of Avenue Q are also the friends, allies, love interests, and fellow losers whom a recent college grad with few prospects and an elusive purpose — puppet protagonist Princeton (voiced and operated by Robert McClure) — can sort of maybe count on to get him through a disillusioning world that already seems downhill the moment one’s rolled off the university assembly line.

Such is the premise and highly qualified promise of Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx’s much-hailed musical comedy, which makes a vibrant San Francisco debut at the Orpheum Theatre in a Broadway touring production happily packed with energy and a talented, impressively versatile cast. Many jaded years after Big Bird was first through with watching you, Lopez and Marx’s reappropriation of such small-screen indoctrination serves up a deflated age writ Broadway large, an arch nostalgia tailor-made for an overeducated, underemployed population of thirtysomething slacker-searchers.

Avenue Q mines TV and Broadway in equal measure, with knowing references to each in a kind of pop cultural marriage overtly joined in one show tune–<\d>loving puppet named Rod, a closeted stockbroker who plays a kind of veiled Bert to sloppy but good-natured roommate Nicky’s Ernie. And if disappointment, humiliation, and an understated resilience are things everyone shares to varying degrees on Avenue Q (a run-down row of New York City brownstones with off-the-beaten-track rents — a decidedly grubby version of Sesame Street nicely realized by set designer Anna Louizos), they also come together in one neat, compact package that isn’t even Styrofoam based: Gary Coleman (voiced and operated by Carla Renata), the has-been TV child actor and ignominious tabloid fixture here turned, in one of many inspired touches, into the building super.

Smart, lively, and consistently funny, Avenue Q pretty well lives up to the heap of praise that brought the 2004 musical a small mound of Tony Awards. The show lags a bit in the second act (where, in medium-funny numbers like "Schadenfreude," the formula can begin to wear thin), but it’s never a bore. And if there’s inevitably a sentimental aspect to the "it sucks to be you and me" universality of its theme, it winds up on what is probably the best possible note — contained in the double-edged line "Everything in life is only for now" — which at the last moment smuggles in a defiant optimism clothed as ambivalence and compromise, much as throughout the play a certain felt reality (admittedly of a decidedly middle-class variety) comes agreeably filtered by felt puppets.


Insignificant Others is a new musical comedy featuring its own assortment of lovable college grads unleashed in another big (or anyway biggish) city, by San Francisco playwright-composer-lyricist L.<\!s>Jay Kuo. It may not have anything like the budget of Avenue Q — and in truth doesn’t manage the tightrope walk between its sentimental theme and a cutting comic irony as smoothly either — but while uneven in both conception and execution, Insignificant Others nevertheless has some significant talent and inspiration behind it.

The story concerns a circle of five twentysomethings from Cleveland who relocate to San Francisco with hopes of embarking on lives of romance and adventure beyond the workaday world’s cubicle walls. At the center of these tales of the city is a buxom young firecracker named Margaret (the strong and winning Sarah Kathleen Farrell) on the lookout for Mr. Right — a designation given considerable latitude in a city with a scarce supply of heterosexual men, which becomes the excuse for three of the show’s most crowd-pleasing and clever numbers.

Friendships drift, but a crisis draws the characters together again, though this central thread comes over as both weak and overblown, and its resolution too pat and syrupy. Insignificant Others‘ best parts remain the more comedic ones, wherein Kuo’s generally polished lyrics and able if less consistently original music tend to reach their highest points.<\!s>*


Through Sept. 2, $30–<\d>$90

Tues.–<\d>Sat., 8 p.m. (also Wed. and Sat., 2 p.m.); Sun., 2 p.m.

Orpheum Theatre

1192 Market, SF



Through Sept. 23, $35–<\d>$39

Thurs.–<\d>Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.

Zeum Theatre

221 Fourth St., SF