Volume 41 Number 49

September 5 – 11, 2007

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Project Censored: The Byrne ultimatum



Sometimes the story behind a story is just as juicy as the story itself. One of Project Censored’s picks for the 2008 list – “Senator Feinstein’s Iraq Conflict” started out as a project funded by the Nation Institute, and was supposed to splash the cover of the Nation magazine prior to the November 2006 election. Instead, it took some interesting peregrinations – involving some charges of partisan political influence — before it was finally printed in the North Bay Bohemian on January 24, 2007.

Petaluma-based freelance journalist Peter Byrne was originally paid $4,500 by the Nation Institute to research connections between lucrative defense contracts granted to Perini and URS companies, in which Richard C. Blum held stock, and the Senate Appropriations Military Construction subcommittee (MILCON) that funds the contracts– and which includes Blum’s wife, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, as a ranking member.

Blum’s companies were involved with more than $1.5 billion in defense contracts between 2001 and 2005. Michael R. Klein, Blum’s business partner and Feinstein’s legal advisor, had been informing the senator about specific federal projects in which Perini had an interest, specifically to avoid conflict of interest issues, but Byrne reported Feinstein was not told about potential URS contracts. So, in the case of Perini, Feinstein would be informed and recuse herself from pertinent decisions, but with URS, she’d remain in the dark, and because the detailed project proposals don’t include the names of the companies bidding, the senator wouldn’t know it was URS.

“In theory, Feinstein would not know the identity of any of the companies that stood to contractually benefit from her approval of specific items in the military budget – until Klein told her,” Byrne wrote.

According to Klein, a Senate Select Committee on Ethics ruled, in a confidential decision, that this was all above board.

But Byrne contends, “That these confidential rulings are contradictory is obvious and calls for explanation.”

Furthermore, Byrne’s research concluded that the senator could potentially look at the lists from Klein, compare them to the nameless funding requests and contracts coming before MILCON, and draw substantial conclusions on her own about where the money would end up.

“Klein declined to produce copies of the Perini project lists that he transmitted to Feinstein. And neither he nor Feinstein would furnish copies of the ethics committee rulings, nor examples of the senator recusing herself from acting on legislation that affected Perini or URS. But the Congressional Record shows that as chairperson and ranking member of MILCON, Feinstein was often involved in supervising the legislative details of military construction projects that directly affected Blum’s defense-contracting firms,” Byrne wrote.

A month after Byrne turned the story in to Bob Moser, who was the Nation‘s editor on the story, the piece was killed. In an email to Byrne, Moser wrote, “The main reason is that with Blum’s sale of

Perini and URS stock last year, this became an issue of what Feinstein did rather than an ongoing conflict. Because of that, and also because Feinstein is not facing a strong challenge for re-election, the feeling here, finally, was that the story would not likely have the kind of impact we want from investigative stories.”

Later in the email, Moser writes the story lacks a “smoking gun,” apparently because Byrne lays the case for a perceived conflict of interest and relies on the testimony of non-partisan ethics and government experts for support.

Still, Byrne told us, “I was shocked. The story was really solid, completely fact-checkable, and even though it was complex I think I boiled it down pretty well.”

The Nation‘s publicity director, Ben Wyskida, told us it’s rare for the magazine not to publish a story in which the Institute has invested significant time and money, but in this case the editors decided to pass. “Ultimately they just didn’t feel like he delivered the story that we’d hoped.”

“At the same time, we do think it’s an important story,” he added.

Undaunted, Byrne took it to Salon.com, which initially agreed to buy it, but then killed it as well. When asked why, news editor Mark Schone told us, “We don’t discuss those kinds of editorial decisions. We have a long history of publishing investigative pieces.”

Byrne thinks it was political. “In my opinion it’s because both the Nation and Salon have an editorial allegiance to the Democratic Party.” It was, he said, too sensitive a time to publish a story critical of a Democrat when the party was positioning to take control of the legislative branch.

The Nation vehemently denied the decision to kill had anything to do with that. “It’s absolutely false that we had any political biases that caused us not to run the piece. It was the reporting and the timeliness,” said Wyskida.

Salon would not comment on Byrne’s political theory.

When pushed for specifics on what the story lacked, Wyskida said, “Generally, we felt like it was possible there were pieces of the story we could not verify or stand behind.”

Byrne went on to pitch the story to Slate, the New Republic, Harper’s, the Los Angeles Times, and – thinking that conservative publications might bite – American Spectator and Weekly Standard. “Most of the editors praised the reporting, but turned down the story,” Byrne writes in an update for Project Censored’s publication. “So I sold the tale to the North Bay Bohemian, which, along with its sister papers in San Jose and Santa Cruz, ran it on the cover – complete with follow-ups. After it appeared, the editors and I received a series of invective-filled emails from war-contractor Klein (who is also an attorney) but, since he could show no errors of fact in the story, he did not get the retraction he apparently wanted.”

Klein, a key figure in the series of stories, is chairman and founding donor of the Washington, DC-based Sunlight Foundation, an organization that promotes more government transparency and grants investigative work undertaken with those goals. The Blum Family Foundation has also given seed money to Sunlight.

The foundation’s Web Site has posted a rebuttal to Byrne’s story, written by senior fellow and veteran investigative journalist, Bill Allison. It includes a spirited exchange between Byrne and Allison on some of the finer points of Byrne’s reporting, and links to the original Congressional hearings that Byrne cites for some of his evidence of Feinstein’s questionable ethics.

Shortly before Byrne’s story was printed in the North Bay Bohemian, Feinstein quit MILCON. Byrne reported this resignation in a March 21, 2007 story, in which he speculates thinks it was because of his questioning her ethics.

Feinstein’s office denies any connection. Press officer Scott Gerber said that at the start of a new Congressional session, “She took the opportunity to become chair of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee. It’s a better subcommittee for California.” Her office also attempts to blow holes in Byrne’s story with a detailed rebuttal similar to Allison’s – not issued as a press release but provided upon request (and available here in pdf form.)

Despite the rebuttals, which contend that facts have been distorted, Byrne says no evidence exists that merit any retractions.

“Stories get killed all the time for various reasons but what I found interesting is that they paid me almost $5,000,” said Byrne, who expressed admiration for both the Nation and Salon. “The editor worked really hard with me but it was leading up to the elections. I’m not actually accusing them of anything nefarious. They basically told me they weren’t going to print it for political reasons.”

Peter Phillips, director of Project Censored, which rated the Byrne story as #23 out of the top 25 stories the mainstream media missed last year, said it played a part in prompting him to conduct a survey of 10 popular “left”-leaning publications. The survey looked at whether or not liberal news outlets touched stories that weren’t reported by the mainstream media and the results were included as a chapter in Project Censored 2008.

EDITORS NOTE: The above story reports that the piece on Dianne Feinstein’s conflicts of interest was slated to
run on the cover of The Nation. Ben Wyskida of the Nation contacted us after publication say that “we just don’t make promises like that; our covers never get decided until all the edits are in.”

Paging Dr. Sumchai


› sarah@sfbg.com

If mayoral candidate Ahimsa Porter Sumchai were a superhero, she’d be Rescue Girl, her petite athletic form encased in a silver jumpsuit and cape as she swooped in, using her understanding of complicated medical and scientific issues as her secret weapon, to save high-risk communities from environmental racism, economic disenfranchisement, and social displacement.

Instead, she’s the candidate who claims to be thankful her name was excluded from the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Aug. 11 coverage of the mayor’s race, in which Gavin Newsom’s challengers were dissed as a peanut gallery of lunatics.

"I’m glad the Chronicle did not disrespect me in the context of ‘a chicken, a wolf, and a grasshopper’-style jokes, like the race is a big laugh," says Sumchai, 55, as I pick her up at the corner of Third Street and Palau Avenue, which lies a stone’s throw from Sumchai’s campaign headquarters in the heart of Bayview–<\d>Hunters Point and a five-minute drive from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund site at the Hunters Point Shipyard.

This intersection was the main drag for Navy operations when the shipyard was active, Sumchai explains as we pass rows of tightly packed houses and a sprinkling of churches — including Grace Tabernacle Church, which has recently become a rallying point for hundreds of residents concerned about exposure to toxic asbestos dust at Lennar Corp.’s Parcel A redevelopment work site at the shipyard.

Sumchai has made that exposure a central focus of her campaign.

"When I become mayor, Lennar will shut down at Parcel A, and I will establish a plan that includes a human safety component and testing of potentially exposed residents," says Sumchai, who also opposes what she calls "the dirty transfer of the shipyard," through which Newsom has proposed folding Candlestick Point into the shipyard so he can build a stadium for the 49ers — and Lennar can build 6,500 more condos at Candlestick.

Sumchai, whose grandparents came from St. Louis in 1939 and whose father was exposed to asbestos when he worked as a shipping clerk at the shipyard, is an academic success story, emerging from the Sunnydale housing project to graduate from UC San Francisco medical school in 1982.

But while Sumchai is incredibly bright, her eggheadedness sometimes seems to get in the way of letting her make concise, down-to-earth statements. Instead, she often comes across as if she spent too much time in the library, a trait that can leave audiences who don’t have science degrees utterly baffled and uncertain as to what point she just tried to make.

And while the odds are clearly stacked against her in the mayor’s race, Sumchai is using her candidacy to ask tough questions on behalf of a community that is beginning to rally for environmental justice after decades of exposure to pollution from two power plants, two freeways, the shipyard, and a sewage plant that impacts five percent of the city’s population with the smell of treating 80 percent of the city’s solid waste.

"To continue with activities that are harmful challenges the fundamental ethics of being a physician, says Sumchai, who practiced emergency medicine for 20 years.

It’s an experience that informs her current crusade to halt Lennar’s construction on Parcel A at the shipyard. The community’s exposure to dust adds up to "an epidemic," she says.

"It gets on their clothing. It’s airborne. And then there’s the geographic proximity to the site of exposure," Sumchai explains, gesturing to the schools, residences, and neighborhoods that lie downwind of Lennar’s site.

From Monster Park, we take the freeway, exiting at Sunnydale, where Sumchai’s family moved when she was seven.

"When we talk about ‘affordable housing,’ what we really mean is affordable to people making $80,000, while people making $12,000 to $20,000, which is the real average median income in the Bayview, have nowhere to go," Sumchai says. She argues that developers on city-owned land should be required to offer 30 percent to 45 percent of their units at prices affordable to very low-income residents.

Crime is another issue that’s important to the candidate. Sumchai, who used to take the bus from Sunnydale to the Lutheran church on Palau and still uses public transit three times a day, says the gangs she saw then had low-velocity weapons and knives, while today they potentially have access to access military assault weapons.

"The lethality of the gang activity has become enormously problematic," she says, noting that the likelihood of getting enmeshed in the criminal justice system lessens for kids involved in after-school activities more than two times a week.

Sumchai has never lived the posh, comfortable life that is often associated in the public mind with successful physicians. In fact, she’s had to be rescued herself from "critical stressors, major traumas [that] could have led me down a path that was not so productive."

In 1999, she had to surrender her medical license. As California Medical Board records tell it, a series of personal catastrophes hit, and Sumchai was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after she experienced insomnia, anxiety, emotional upwellings, and re-experienced traumatic moments "when threatened-stressed or exposed to reminders of her graphic experiences as a emergency trauma physician." These upwellings became "explosive outbursts of anger and paranoia" and contributed to Sumchai’s problems, according to her records, which indicate that she received a 116-day stint in county jail, three years’ probation, and a $200 fine for resisting arrest.

Claiming that she did not receive the medical care she needed when she was imprisoned, Sumchai says, "I have as a physician been to the mountaintop and also to the bottom of the pit in terms of my experiences of how the sick, disabled, homeless, and mentally ill are looked upon and treated."

Crediting the influences of key mentors "who had the courage to intervene and bring in resources and moral compasses," Sumchai says her medical license was reinstated in December 2005, but she has no interest or intention of returning to work in emergency or trauma operations. Today she works as a personal trainer, a sports nutrition consultant, and a fitness industry administrator in between writing for the San Francisco Bay View, meditating, doing Pilates exercises, and running for mayor.

And she’s still constantly in fights — even with her friends. Joe O’Donoghue, the fiery former head of the Residential Builders Association, hired her as a personal trainer and told her earlier this year — in confidence, he insisted to us — that former superintendent Matt Gonzalez was getting ready to enter the mayor’s race. The moment she left the gym, Sumchai called Gonzalez — and O’Donoghue promptly fired her.

For now, Sumchai is setting her sights on bringing about change by debating issues that otherwise aren’t being voiced on behalf of folks whose needs and concerns are being neglected.

Editor’s note: The original version of this story failed to note that Sumchai is a practicing physician as well as a personal trainer and nutrition consultant. She has an active medical practice in West Portal.

Project Censored: The runners up



Sources: "Afghanistan, Inc.: A CorpWatch Investigative Report," CorpWatch, www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=13518, Oct. 6, 2006; "Why It’s Not Working in Afghanistan" Ann Jones, Tomdispatch.com, www.tomdispatch.com/index.mhtml?pid=116512, Aug. 27, 2006


Source: "UN in Haiti Accused of Second Massacre," HaitiAction.net, www.haitiaction.net/News/HIP/1_21_7/1_21_7.html, Jan. 21, 2007


Sources: "Migrants: Globalization’s Junk Mail?" Laura Carlsen, Foreign Policy in Focus, www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/4022, Feb. 23, 2007; "Workers, Not Guests," David Bacon, Nation, www.thenation.com/docprem.mhtml?i=20070219&s=bacon, Feb. 6, 2007


Source: "A Senate Mystery Keeps Torture Alive — and Its Practitioners Free," Jeff Stein, Congressional Quarterly, public.cq.com/public/20061122_homeland.html, Nov. 22, 2006


Source: "Some Chemicals are More Harmful Than Anyone Ever Suspected," Peter Montague, Rachel’s Democracy and Health News, no. 876, www.precaution.org/lib/06/ht061012.htm#Some_Chemicals_Are_More_Harmful_Than_Anyone_Ever_Suspected, Oct. 12, 2006


Source: "FBI Says, ‘No Hard Evidence Connecting Bin Laden to 9/11," Paul V. Sheridan and Ed Haas, Ithaca Journal, June 29, 2006


Sources: "Green Fuel’s Dirty Secret," Sasha Lilley, CorpWatch, www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=13646, June 1, 2006; "Factories, Cities across USA Exceed Water Pollution Limits," Sunny Lewis, Environment News Service, www.ens-newswire.com/ens/mar2006/2006-03-24-05.asp, March 24, 2006


Sources: "Mexico’s Partial Vote Recount Confirms Massive and Systematic Election Fraud," Al Giordano, Narco News Bulletin, www.narconews.com/Issue42/article2010.html, Aug. 14, 2006; "Welcome to the Nightmare: Al Qaeda de Mexico?" John Ross, CounterPunch, www.counterpunch.org/ross09132006.html, Aug. 13, 2006; "Evidence of Election Fraud Grows in México," Chuck Collins and Joshua Holland, AlterNet, http://www.alternet.org/story/39763, Aug. 2, 2006


Source: "Is the US Free Trade Model Losing Steam?" American Friends Service Committee, Trade Matters, www.afsc.org/trade-matters/trade-agreements/LosingSteam.htm, May 3, 2006


Source: "Response to Andrew Kohn: The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act is Invidiously Detrimental to the Animal Rights Movement (and Unconstitutional as Well)," David Hoch and Odette Wilkens, Vermont Journal of Environmental Law, www.vjel.org/editorials/2007S/Hoch.Wilkens.Editorial.htm, March 9, 2007


Source: "US Seeks "Get-Out Clause" for Illegal Farm Payments," Oxfam, www.oxfam.org/en/news/pressreleases2006/pr060629_wto_geneva, June 29, 2006


Source: "Border Invaders: The Perfect Swarm Heads South," Mike Davis, TomDispatch.com, www.tomdispatch.com/index.mhtml?pid=122537, Sept. 19, 2006


Source: "Senator Feinstein’s Iraq Conflict," Peter Byrne, North Bay Bohemian, www.bohemian.com/metro/01.24.07/dianne-feinstein-0704.html, Jan. 24, 2007


Source: " ‘Wiped Off the Map’ — the Rumor of the Century," Arash Norouzi, Global Research, www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=viewArticle&code=NOR20070120&articleId=4527, Jan. 20, 2007


Source: "Native Energy Futures," Brian Awehali, LiP, www.lipmagazine.org/articles/featawehali_nativefutures.htm, June 5, 2006

Censored in San Francisco


Project Censored can’t cover everything — most of the stories the group looks at are national and international in scope. But there are huge local stories in every community that the mainstream media black out, ignore, or underplay. We’ve talked to political activists and media experts around the Bay and come up with a (short) list of Bay Area censored stories. We list them in no particular order.


The deal that gave Dean Singleton’s MediaNews Group control of almost every daily newspaper in the Bay Area made the business pages — but the impact on news coverage and the damage caused by the homogenization of local news to communities and the political debate were almost entirely ignored.


The importance of Community Choice Aggregation as an alternative to Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s private-power monopoly was badly under-covered — as was PG&E’s looming attack on CCA and public power.


The daily papers love to talk about polls that show the mayor’s popularity (and they love to talk about his personal life), but nobody’s looking at his failure to fulfill many of his original promises.


Until Mayor Newsom suddenly noticed the problems in local public housing last week, the major news media had overlooked the fact that hundreds of public housing units are shuttered while thousands of people wait for affordable housing.


The mainstream media reported with glee on the proposals for giant new towers at the Transbay Terminal, but failed to mention that at least 10 more giant towers are already in the works.


Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger likes to talk green, but the news media haven’t compared his cuts to public transit with his plans to build more highways.

Slow down the land rush


EDITORIAL At around 11:30 p.m. on the evening of Aug. 30, the San Francisco Planning Commission, its members bleary-eyed and half asleep, approved an eight-unit housing development at 736 Valencia St., despite the anguished pleas of the neighbors. The project includes no affordable housing and is legally designated as condominiums, which means it doesn’t fit the stated goals of the eastern neighborhoods’ planning process, which is supposed to promote affordable housing.

But that planning process is still under way, the proposals so far are weak, and, in the meantime, every developer in town is trying to sneak under the wire and get a project approved before the new rules take effect. And the Planning Commission is allowing that to happen. The supervisors need to intervene now, before it’s too late.

The blueprint for zoning in the city’s eastern neighborhoods — some 2,200 acres that include the central waterfront, Potrero Hill, the Mission, Showplace Square and East SoMa — is critical to the city’s future. Those areas include many of the last industrial sites and blue-collar jobs in the city — and developers are eyeing the land for a massive influx of high-end housing.

If there are going to be decent-paying jobs that don’t require advanced academic degrees in San Francisco, and affordable housing for low-income and working-class people, it will require careful use of this land.

And so far, the signs aren’t good.

The project at 736 Valencia is a perfect example. The commissioners failed to account for the fact that this relatively small project is part of a much larger land grab in the neighborhood; at least six other projects are in the pipeline for a small stretch of that street, and together they’ll have a significant impact on the area. The last thing the Mission — desperate for family and affordable housing — needs is a long strip of new million-dollar condos, built with little in the way of community amenities and little regard for the needs of residents. And yet the commissioners have made it very clear that they aren’t going to slow anything down.

In effect, that means the entire eastern neighborhoods plan — and the hope for a significant increase in affordable housing in town — could be almost pointless. By the time the plan is in place — early next year at the earliest, and that may be an optimistic timeline — a lot of the land may already be spoken for, and a lot of nonconforming projects may already be under construction.

Remember: every market-rate housing project takes away land that could be used for affordable housing. And at this rate, there is no way the city can come close to meeting the goals set in the General Plan, which call for more than 60 percent of new housing in town to be available at below-market rate.

The supervisors need to step in, fast, and pass legislation barring any new development in the eastern neighborhoods until a final plan is in place. The land rush is on, and time is running out.<\!s>*

Newsom’s tin cup


EDITORIAL We’re glad that Mayor Gavin Newsom is angry at the conditions in the city’s public housing projects. Denouncing the head of the Housing Authority as well as the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development made for good press, and it’s possible that Newsom will actually follow up and try to improve some of the third world conditions at places like Sunnyvale and Hunters View.

But his notion that the way to solve the problem is to bring rich people on a tour and hope they will donate money is embarrassingly wrong. It’s the sort of idea that sounds like it came out of the darkest recesses of the Bush White House — the notion that the wealthy will just come to the aid of the poor, volunteering to do what’s right, as soon as they recognize the need.

Let’s us be clear here: public housing has been a horrible mess for years now. If Newsom is suddenly upset about the conditions, it’s only because he hasn’t been paying much attention. As we reported back in October 2005 (see "A Place Called Despair," 10/19/05), the city’s housing projects have been an unimaginable mess: raw sewage flowing through the yards, toilets backing up into kitchen sinks, toxic mold, people living in apartments that are legally and morally uninhabitable, terrifying violence … the list goes on and on. And we haven’t heard a whole lot out of the Mayor’s Office until this sudden burst of righteous anger.

Let us also be clear: a few donations from a few of the many, many multimillionaires in San Francisco aren’t going to solve the problem. It’s pathetic to see the mayor of one of the world’s great cities begging for alms from the same people who have helped create the economic conditions that make it so difficult for the city to provide for its residents’ basic human needs.

There are exceptions, but for the most part, the wealthy and powerful of San Francisco — with the acquiescence of Newsom — have put their considerable resources to bear over the years pushing for low taxes, cuts in city services, and reductions in the money that goes to the poorest residents of this town. Care Not Cash, Newsom’s signature policy measure, was a cruel attack on welfare recipients. His budgets have put hefty raises for police officers above the needs of public housing residents. And now he acts like a little charity, a few crumbs from the swells, will turn things around.

If Newsom really wants to take his rich pals on tours of the city’s public housing wasteland, we can suggest a different educational monologue. Rather than trying to summon up some patrician pity, Newsom ought to say:

This is what the antitax policies that have fattened all your wallets have created. This is what happens when the city lets market-rate developers determine housing policy. This, frankly, is what you get when you rely on the private sector to set public policy.

And if he really wants to address the public housing problem, he should tell the powerful interests who support him that he wants their backing for some serious new revenue measures — say, a hefty increase in the real estate transfer tax — to fund affordable housing in San Francisco.

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

Isn’t it just great that San Francisco was about to enter into a long-term contract to turn part of our municipal infrastructure over to a company that is laying off 40 percent of its employees, floundering around trying to find a business plan, and getting entirely out of the line of work Mayor Gavin Newsom had in mind?

I feel good that the young mayor (who is acting more and more like a little kid every day) was so careful in preparing plans for a citywide wi-fi service that he never acknowledged, up to the very end, that his public-private partnership was poorly conceived and headed for the rocks.

And now it’s just so special that he wants to blame the Board of Supervisors for scrutinizing the contract — which is exactly what any decent legislative body is supposed to do at a time like this.

The EarthLink nosedive happened at the perfect time for San Francisco. If the company had hung on a little longer to its business plan for citywide wi-fi, the mayor might have managed to push enough supervisors to sign on to the deal. Or his November ballot measure might have passed, and the board might have been afraid to defy the voters. This might have been a grand little fiscal, legal, and political nightmare that could have stalled any progress on municipal broadband for years.

Newsom still insists that he was on the right track. "EarthLink would have been legally obligated to fulfill its promises to San Francisco, and we would have had a functioning wi-fi system by now," Newsom told the San Francisco Chronicle.

But the reality is, a company that doesn’t want to do a job that no longer fits into its business strategy — and a company having enough financial problems that it’s had to cut its staff almost in half — isn’t what you would call an excellent partner. And we can all thank the fact that this Board of Supervisors is relatively independent of the Mayor’s Office for our not being stuck in a rotten deal.

San Francisco doesn’t have a terribly good record of negotiating public-private partnerships or development deals. Back in the early 1980s, then-mayor Dianne Feinstein personally took control of the negotiations with Pacific Gas and Electric Co. for a long-term contract to transmit the city’s power. The deal was about as bad as it could get — everything for PG&E, nothing for the city — but the mayor insisted it was an excellent contract, and she and PG&E’s lobbyists rammed it through a compliant Board of Supervisors. It’s wound up costing San Francisco tens of millions of dollars, and the city’s been trying to get out of it for years. PG&E’s franchise fee is the lowest that any city charges a private utility in California — and it was assigned in perpetuity by a compliant Board of Supervisors in the 1930s.

We’re supposed to be a little more sophisticated today. District elections have ended the mayoral rubber stamp at City Hall, and the mayor should understand that any time he works out a deal like this, the supes are going to give it a hard look. If it’s so great for everyone, then making the details public as early as possible, working with the board (instead of refusing even to show up), and sharpening the deal will make things even better.

That’s not how this mayor does business. And you can tell. *

Green City: Burning contradictions


>>Gonzo burner Paul Addis’s exclusive statement to the Guardian about burning the Man early — and our readers’ reactions


GREEN CITY Well, the Man was back up the morning of Aug. 30, albeit without a head. And because the Man didn’t have a head, the green pavilion under its feet was still cordoned off and closed to visitors when I visited, so my impressions of this year’s Green Man theme are lacking a key input.

The environmental pavilion was only open for a few hours before the Man’s premature Aug. 27 burn, and most of those who went in were underwhelmed. It was like a wordy trade show exhibit, too earnest and static to stir much inspiration in the average burner.

One exhibit just outside the perimeter displayed an electric car, complete with promotional signage with phrases like "Electric cars equal freedom." Ugh.

But even if the official, environmentally themed installations fell a little flat, the green theme has permeated many of the large-scale artworks all over the playa.

There are pedal-, wind-, biomass-, alt-fuel-, and solar-powered pieces of all kinds, from spinning solar artwork and theme camps (including my own, which runs almost completely on solar power) to vehicles that run on gasified fuel to pedal-powered blenders to Peter Hudson’s Homouroboros, which uses pedals to power its spinning monkeys and drums to power the strobe lights that make the monkeys appear to swing from branch to branch.

I caught up with mayoral candidate and longtime burner Chicken John Rinaldi as he was tinkering with his Café Racer truck, which runs on gasified walnut shells. He was basically happy with the green theme and liked how the pavilion under the Man served as a green salon where people could share their ideas and technologies.

But he was less happy with how that sort of community building and discussion didn’t happen about the event that has overshadowed everything this week: the torching of the Man, allegedly committed by 35-year-old San Franciscan Paul Addis. "I think this was an excellent opportunity to have some democracy," Rinaldi said, noting that the burner community should be able to weigh in on whether Black Rock City presses charges or pushes for leniency, or even whether and how the Man should be rebuilt. "The reaction has been very top-down," he said.

BRC communications director Andie Grace said the community, through the organization and the volunteers who build the Man, was coming together in reaction to the incident. "To me, this turned into an opportunity for Black Rock City to shine," she said. "It’s heartbreaking, for sure, but it’s not going to break us."

Rinaldi has a different take. He’s known Addis since 1995, when they attended Burning Man together, and he said that he 86ed Addis from his old Odeon Bar maybe a dozen times. They ran in the same social circles, both tied closely to estranged Burning Man cofounder John Law (who is currently suing BRC over his partial ownership of the event’s icons) and the Cacophony Society, which originally brought the Man to the Black Rock Desert.

Rinaldi, Law, and many of their cohorts who helped run the event in the early days have long talked about burning the Man early. In fact, Rinaldi said, cofounder Larry Harvey clashed with Law in 1995 — the beginning of their falling out — when the latter wanted to burn the Man early and had to be talked out of the idea by his friends.

"[Addis is] a hero. He did the thing that we’ve been talking about doing for a decade," Rinaldi said. "No matter how misguided he was, his intention was to facilitate art."

Indeed, it was a piece of performance art that has overshadowed the Green Man theme, with all of its earnest good intentions, returning Burning Man to its anarchic roots and injecting chaos back into a routine that had become well established and, to some, a bit tired.

Because at the end of the day, Burning Man isn’t green. It’s a city that runs mostly on fossil fuel–powered generators and lights flammable fuels and gases just to see them burn.

The Burning Man experiment is one that many of us want to influence the world. But to expect it to play a leadership role in the environmental movement was probably too much. We can do many things, but we can’t simultaneously commit ourselves to fire and to global cooling, at least without wrestling constantly with Burning Man’s many contradictions.<\!s>*

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

Talkin’ bout their generation


>> Justin Juul’s Summer of Love 40th Anniversary photos

When I got wind of the 40th anniversary Summer of Love Free Concert, I thought about the many ways I could torment all the burnouts, grandmas, and reggae fans who I knew would be smoking pot and flashing their titties in Golden Gate Park. My best idea involved dressing like an FBI agent and waiting for old rich dudes to stealthily bust out their hash pipes; I’d let them get a couple of good hits, then jump out of the bushes, flash a fake badge, and demand to know who sold them the stuff. Pretty clever, right?

I had fun daydreaming about that scenario as I waded through the drug-addled, spotty-faced teenagers who had gathered on the trail leading into the heart of the park, where 50,000 other people were grooving to the eclectic and authentic sounds of the ’60s.

The random bits of conversation I overheard as I neared Speedway Meadow made me laugh even more. "Don’t eat the brown acid!" someone kept joking in his best Tommy Chong voice. "Hey, honey, I gotta go," I heard a man say into his cell phone. "I think Dan Hicks is starting." "Fucking perfect," I thought, and I congratulated myself and my entire generation for being more self-aware, fashionably astute, and cynical than the people gathered here.

But something was wrong: unlike the people at the festivals I normally attend, these folks were actually enjoying themselves, and they seemed to be enjoying one another’s company as well.

The music was great. I was having a good time. It was a really good show.

Maybe it was the combination of sun and beer. Maybe it was the smile I saw on everyone’s face. Who knows? The truth is, I suddenly realized that the only reason I ever attend music festivals is so I can more accurately think smug thoughts about others.

And as I looked around at all the happy souls, I realized that I, the cynical twentysomething, was seething with jealousy. "What are these people so happy about?" I thought. "Can’t they see that the world sucks?"

I began to wonder about the differences between my generation and the one that left its undeniable mark not only on Haight-Ashbury but also on the entire world. For all the problems of the ’60s, when these people congregated so long ago, they did it under their own steam and with purpose.

As the afternoon’s announcer put it, "Love is still better than hate, right? And isn’t peace still better than war?" Isn’t that all the hippies were trying to say? And what about my generation? What do we have to say about things? What have we ever done besides bitch and moan and ridicule and purchase? And what are we going to celebrate in 40 years? Bonnaroo, Coachella, Ozzfest, Rock the Bells, JuJu Beats? Are we really going to want to revisit this shit when we’re 60?

With the crowd growing rapidly, the sun shining brightly, and no way to escape without risking a DUI, I decided to put my misgivings aside and try to actually enjoy myself. I stuck a flower in my hair and made a beeline for the stage just as the announcer was introducing the New Riders of the Purple Sage. It took me half an hour, but I finally made it in time to catch Ray Manzarek and Rob Wasserman. As I sat and listened to what sounded like the Doors, I thought some more about the differences between the young people of now and then.

The truth is that I have never understood how the hippies did it. How did a bunch of college dropouts, artists, and poets suddenly commit to coming together in one place without having been seduced into doing so by a clever marketing campaign funded by huge corporations? Every gathering I’ve ever been to has cost me a fortune and lacked both unity and purpose. The Summer of Love was something different.

I sat for the next few hours listening to musicians like Country Joe McDonald, Taj Mahal, and members of the Steve Miller Band. They were all pretty good, but the highlight for me was hearing Lenore Kandel recite a love poem that would make Lil’ Kim blush.

As I made my way through the crowd to leave, I thought about the old joke I was going to start this piece with: How many hippies does it take to change a lightbulb? None, because hippies can’t change shit.

Well, the joke is on the joke. The people who celebrated the Summer of Love on Sept. 2 did change something — and even if they didn’t completely transform society, they were probably the last generation of young Americans to attempt to truly realize their vision of how the world should be. (Justin Juul)

The Guardian Iraq War casualty report (9/4/07)


The Guardian Iraq War casualty report (9/4/07): New report: Iraq has failed to meet 11 of the 18 military and political objectives set by Congress and agreed on by Bush.

Compiled by Paula Connelly

Hearings on the Iraq war, in both the Senate and the House, will be held every day for the next week as Democrats seek to shape the debate over the war ahead. Democrats will bring a new report by the Government Accountability Office to the discussion, showing virtually no political progress by the Iraqi government as the latest evidence that President Bush’s military strategy is failing. The G.A.O. report concluded that “violence remains high” in Iraq amid mixed progress on security and that political reconciliation efforts remain far from sufficient, eight months after President Bush began his troop-increase plan. The report places greater emphasis on shortcomings than successes, saying that Iraq has failed to meet 11 of the 18 military and political objectives, or benchmarks, set by Congress and agreed on by Mr. Bush, while partially meeting four. Read more in today’s New York Times article.

Casualties in Iraq

U.S. military:

4,007: 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

Iraqi civilians:

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.

Killed since 3/03

Source: www.thelancet.com

71,277 – 77,827: Killed since 1/03

Source: http://www.iraqbodycount.net

For a list of recent events that have resulted in Iraqi casualties, visit :

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

Iraq Military:

30,000?: Killed since 2003

Source: http://www.infoshout.com


200 journalists have been killed since the start of the war in March 2003, according to Reporters Without Borders.


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.

2.2 million: Iraqis displaced internally

2 million: Iraqis displaced to neighboring states

Incessant violence across much of Iraq’s central and southern regions has forced tens of thousands of people to leave their homes every month, presenting the international community with a humanitarian crisis even larger than the upheaval aid agencies had planned for during the 2003 war, 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 (9/4/07): So far, $448 billion for the U.S., $56 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.”

Where is the love?


OPINION Distant dreams of flowing colored scarves, glowing tie-dyed shirts, and rainbow dashikis commingling with mounds of facial hair and peace signs filled my mind as I walked through a deep recess of quiet green on a hidden trail in Golden Gate Park. It was 7 a.m. I was there to meet Mary X, an OG Summer of Love attendee, as she hastily closed her camp before, as she put it, "the po arrested me and stole all my stuff."

Despite the romantic images of the 1967 events, Mary’s campmates — black, brown, and white houseless elders, several of whom are veterans of the Vietnam War — were barely clothed in soiled flak jackets and torn tie-dyed shirts.

Further shattering the mythos of peace, human love, and community caring, many of these elders sported overlong beards that, unlike those in so many white-ified Jesus pictures, were filled with crumbs and spittle. Their hands were crippled with arthritis and barely able to hold their coffee cups, much less make a peace sign. "I was there," Mary stated plainly, her black eyes searching nervously for the next Department of Public Works truck or park police officer. "I was at the original Summer of Love in 1967." She stopped talking, picked up her backpack, and left without looking back at me.

Mary is a diagnosed schizophrenic, she told me during our original phone call, and like many poor folks in the United States — like my poor mama, Dee, who passed away last year — she has no money for mental health services. Her indigent program allows her a biannual visit with a disaffected psychiatrist who hands her a medication prescription she can’t afford to fill. Her only income is earned from long hours spent collecting cans and redeeming them for small change, very hard work that we at Poor call microbusiness — and a line of work that our magazine, in a recent exposé ("The Corporate Trash Scandal," 8/15/07), discovered is more likely to erase our collective carbon footprint that any corporate recycling company.

While Mayor Gavin Newsom continues with his daily sweeps of homeless people in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco Chronicle columnist C.W. Nevius writes weekly hit pieces that demonize and lie about the poor folks surviving in public spaces, equating them with the wild coyotes that roam the park. Nevius’s hit campaign begs the question for all of us: where is the love?

As thousands celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Summer of Love, how can we criminalize people for the sole act of living without a home and occupying public space? And who should really determine who belongs in open spaces like parks, beaches, streets, and sidewalks?

How have we in the United States come to equate cleanliness with a lack of poor human beings, and how are the people who have come to celebrate the Summer of Love — with their trash, picnic baskets, cars, belongings, and recreational drugs — any cleaner than the homeless folks who live and work in the park year-round and have nowhere else to go?


Tiny, a.k.a. Lisa Gray-Garcia, is the cofounder of Poor magazine and the Poor News Network (www.poornewsnetwork.org) and the author of Criminal of Poverty: Growing Up Homeless in America.

Antiauthoritarian cities


› annalee@techsploitation.com

TECHSPLOITATION Archaeologists have discovered that one of the oldest urban areas in the world was built in a way that completely defies conventional wisdom about how cities grow. Last week, a group of researchers working in Syria published a paper in Science about a 6,000-year-old city called Brak, a once-thriving urban center in northern Mesopotamia (now northern Syria, near its border with Iraq). It has long been believed that cities begin as dense centers that grow outward into suburbs. Brak, however, began as a dispersed group of settlements that formed a rough ring shape and gradually grew inward to form an urban center that boasted a massive temple and a thriving import-export trade in tools and pottery.

Built sometime between 4200 and 3900 BCE, Brak eventually grew to 130 hectares, making it one of the largest known cities of its era, surpassed in size only by Uruk in southern Mesopotamia. Long buried under a tell — a hill of accumulated debris and layers of urban development — Brak’s early history has only recently been revealed. Archaeologists are racking their brains to figure out why the place doesn’t follow known patterns of city growth.

Harvard anthropologist Jason Ur, one of the researchers investigating Brak, writes that Brak’s history might mean that urban development can be an emergent property of many immigrant groups coming together in the same region. Early cities might have spontaneously arisen via the development of a handful of neighboring villages. This flies in the face of older theories, which hold that cities develop when a ruling elite or a set of dominant institutions creates a dense, hierarchical city center whose culture and populations spread outward from it.

Brak reflects a "bottom-up" model of city evolution, in which a central political power is built slowly out of diverse cultural interests. According to Ur and his colleagues, Brak’s layout "suggests both dependence on but some autonomy from the political power on the central mound…. This pattern suggests a greater role for noncentralized processes in the initial growth of Brak and lesser importance for centralized authority."

Short of hopping into a time machine, we’ll never know for certain if Brak’s layout reflects its citizens’ attitudes toward centralized authority or not. What we do know, however, is that not all cities develop in the same way. More important, we now have social scientific theories to explain why that might be — theories that can help us understand urban development in the contemporary world as well. Cities today could be evolving from decentralized areas, out of geographically dispersed groups that do not view themselves as subject to one dominant set of institutions.

Brak might be an example of how cities would grow if neighborhoods had more social and political autonomy. What if, for example, we considered a city to be a federation of neighborhoods rather than a downtown with satellite suburbs? Would that be the foundation for an antiauthoritarian citiscape?

To answer, let’s contemplate a possible modern-day version of Brak: Silicon Valley, a region of dispersed urban centers that have formed a loose economic federation via the computer industry and proximity to freeways. Residents of Silicon Valley may not consider the area to be one city, but it’s very possible that people excavating the toxic remains of Silicon Valley 6,000 years from now will interpret the area as a single urban unit.

Like Silicon Valley dwellers, residents of Brak may have thought of themselves as living in a series of linked villages, united by nothing more than a system of commerce and a set of roads. Does this mean that authority in Brak was truly decentralized? Maybe the urban development of Brak belies a deeper truth, which is that centralized authority does not always reveal itself via tall buildings at a city’s core. An entire region may bow to the authority of an economic system that stratifies it into rich and poor, and yet never have a common culture. Decentralized urban spaces are not necessarily antiauthoritarian ones.

Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who wonders if Google has a time-displaced satellite office in Brak.

Slow art movement


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

PREVIEW If you didn’t experience The Weather Project, Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson’s 2003 installation in London’s Tate Modern, chances are you’ve seen images of it in any number of nonart publications or photo blogs. The piece — a dramatic emulation of an amber sun’s atmosphere, created with such simple elements as a bank of lights and a mirrored ceiling — reportedly attracted two million visitors, many of them repeat customers, who sprawled on the public floor, pondered their reflections on the ceiling, and basked in the glow. It was, to say the least, a popular work of art. But high visibility and big crowds, in art world circles, are usually viewed with skepticism or met with critical intimations of diluted intentions, easy punch lines, or sellouts.

Eliasson’s work — the subject of two concurrent exhibitions, including a midcareer survey and a presentation of a frozen BMW hydrogen-powered race car made as part of the car company’s high-profile art program, that open at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art this week — is that rare animal that manages to appease a broad public as well as art cognoscenti. His experiential and frequently sublime projects are usually created with exceedingly common, immaterial, and noncommodifiable elements, including air, water, light, and water, though in their sophisticated deployment, Eliasson — who operates a studio employing 30 architects, scientists, researchers, and fabricators — makes art that is the antithesis of funky. The artist harnesses natural and perceptual phenomenon, alludes to environmental concerns, acknowledges an artistic connection to the California Light and Space artists of the 1960s and ’70s, and taps into the allure and resources of high-end luxury brands. He rigorously engages in thorny intellectual dialogues on the nature of art in the 21st century. In short, Eliasson is an unlikely candidate as a popular artist.

In his case, approachability is only one component of very layered intentions. "I’ve always been very proud of being a mainstream artist and not trying to be on the outskirts of society," Eliasson confessed to me during a recent visit to the city to supervise the labor-intensive installation of his SFMOMA-originated show. "I have no interest in being avant-garde in the sense that it means I’m not part of society. There’s a great value to be found in feeling a part of society."

In fact, Eliasson’s works are notable for the way the viewer’s participation makes them complete. His installations rely on perception and immersion. It’s not for nothing that his survey exhibition is titled "Take Your Time."

The exhibition entailed a major transformation of the fifth-floor gallery at SFMOMA from an expansive, open room to an elliptical warren of spaces to let visitors experience such self-descriptive pieces as Room for One Color, 360 Degree Room for All Colours, Moss Wall, and One-Way Colour Tunnel, the latter an elaborate new piece in which the museum’s skylight bridge becomes a kaleidoscopic passageway from one direction, a monochromatic one from the other. Eliasson had much to do with the layout of the show, which is designed to slow down the experience, and the word temporality and the idea of its manipulation are invoked frequently in conversation.

"The reason I think the sequence of my installation here is so crucial — and my involvement with it is about implementing temporal ideas into the show — [is] a lot of the pieces are actually slow," he said. "The tunnel [over the bridge] has no central way of looking at it. You have to walk through it one way and then another to experience it. The whole idea of all these long tunnels — the show is really a show of corridors — is another way of mediating temporality."

Eliasson’s work is concerned with the act of engaging in the present moment. His car, Your Mobile Expectations: BMW H2R Project, for instance, is an iced vehicle, presented as the separate exhibition "Your Tempo" in a room-sized freezer that chills to 14 degrees Fahrenheit.

The vehicle is presented by the museum’s Department of Architecture and Design, attesting to the latitude of Eliasson’s work, which has been seen through the lenses of art, fashion, architecture, design, and environmentalism. He emphatically stresses the means. "I don’t think art is that fragile," he said. "Art can easily go out and work like a virus."


Sept. 8, 2007 Feb. 24, 2008


Sept. 8, 2007–Jan. 13, 2008

Mon.–Tues. and Fri.–Sun., 11a.m.–5:45 p.m.; Thurs., 10 a.m.–8:45 p.m.

$7–$12.50 (free first Tues.)

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

151 Third St., SF

(415) 357-4000


Eye spy


› andrea@altsexcolumn.com

Dear Andrea: I’ve found myself a femmy boy who’s willing — nay, enthusiastically prepared — to wear green eye shadow in public. This is delicious. However, we live in Colorado Springs, Colo., which is for its size a wealthy and well-educated town, but also headquarters for Focus on the Family, New Life Church, Will Perkins, Fort Carson, NORAD, and the Air Force Academy. One of my femmy-boy friends was recently chased down an alley downtown by some of the local military simians for the apparently gender-treacherous crime of wearing a top hat. It was lucky for him he knew the area well and wasn’t nearly as plastered as they were.

My two questions about the eye shadow thing are these: First, and I understand if you’re not able to answer because you don’t live here, if we do go on a date while he’s wearing it, what do you think our chances are of finishing the evening without getting the shit beaten out of us? And second, what’s your opinion on where one should put one’s feet while treading the fine line between keeping yourself safe and taking a stand for the right to do what you want with your body if it’s not hurting anyone else?

I guess the question is along the same lines as, how do you feel about him wearing a ball gag and leash to the local Starbucks? Eye shadow is just a less overtly sexual signal. Well. To some people. Not to me. Love, Don’t Kick Me

Dear Kick: Gotcha. And no, I surely do not live there, nor would I, but we did blow out a tire there on a cross-country trip once and got stranded for a couple days. Pretty town. Really nice park. I knew all that stuff (Air Force, antigay groups, etc.) was there, but you can’t tell by visiting — it’s not like there are giant "Fags go home" banners flying gaily over Main Street or anything. But would I, were I a guy, dress up in my gayest glad rags and sashay down the same main drag in a pair of darling red wedge espadrilles and a panty-girdle? I would not. I suspect you would not, either, were you a guy (you’re not, right?). It would be no safer for you to accompany your new girly-boy while he did it either. There is sticking up for your inalienable right to be a weirdo, and there is stupidity. I draw the line at stupidity in any other context, so why would I make an exception for this one?

There was a time in the late ’80s and early ’90s when all the cool kids were making a spectacle of themselves in the name of political action: visibility, I think we called it. All you had to do was print up some T-shirts or stickers and show up en masse where you weren’t expected and you got to feel all brave and thrillingly transgressive and challenging to heterosexual hegemony and stuff. It was great. It was also kind of fake — when you’re surrounded by a few dozen or hundred or thousand of your closest friends and you’re in San Francisco or New York or Washington, not Jakarta or Beijing or rural Rwanda, you’re pretty safe. Even if the cops get you, you’re going to be cited and set free; protesters in the United States are rarely brought to trial, let alone found bound and beheaded in a ditch. That doesn’t mean that nothing we do here is dangerous, though, and unfortunately walking certain streets in a state of visible gender ambiguity can still get you kicked in the face.

There is no set point on the continuum from safe but stifled to "Kick me" that I can recommend you find and cleave to, never again to stray. I do not think it would be very smart to dress your boy up and parade him around near the base at bar-closing time on a Saturday night; nor do I think those of us who fail to conform in every particular to local community standards for gender performance need cower at home forever for fear of attracting a disapproving glance. Somewhere between "Don’t frighten the horses" and "Fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke" lies the perfect level of public self-expression for you two as individuals of your particular place and time. Find it. Also consider finding some fellow gender traitors with whom to make your scene, even if that scene is no more trangressive than going out for fish and chips (I’m pretty sure that’s what I ate at your local brew pub while waiting for our truck to be fixed so we could get the hell out of there) and the late showing of Snakes on a Plane. I think you’ll be OK. I wouldn’t recommend the Starbucks–ball gag excursion, but that’s because it’s in bad taste, not because it could get you killed. You’ll have to use your common sense. If you haven’t got any, I really do think you’d better stay home. Love, Andrea

Andrea’s on vacation this week: this column ran previously (8/22/06). But she’s still checking e-mail and eagerly awaiting your questions about love and lust! Contact her at andrea@mail.altsexcolumn.com.

Stone’s throw


› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS While y’all were at Burning Man, I was in the bathtub. I was taking a bath. I was floating in a swimming pool with a mojito in one hand and a grilled hot sausage on a long fork in the other. I was walking in a fog.

I was eating a popsicle, running naked through sprinklers, stepping on worms.

I was listening to Elton John. In my room. Window open. I was eating salad and salad and salad. The greens were green and crisp, the tomatoes not quite ripe.

I was slicing white onions. I was eating white onions, raw, and hot peppers. I slept real hard and figured out how to open my window and walked around in the sun and the shade, looking people in the eye.

I took a bath and a shower at the same time, and drank ice water out of a glass, the outside of which frosted over, so I licked it. I dressed conservatively.

I hung out in coffeehouses. I am writing this in coffeehouses. Coffee. Iced coffee. Green tea. Italian sodas. This morning I went to a different coffeehouse, and I tried to see if I could eat Korean barbecue with rice for breakfast, in a coffeehouse.

I could! While y’all were at Burning Man, I was at the Pebbles Café in Glen Park, at 8:30 in the morning, eating bulgoki over rice, with a salad. Bulgoki, or bulgogi, means "fire meat" in Korean. In this case it’s beef, very thinly sliced and marinated in something salty and sweet, with onions and peppers and carrots and ohmigod! For having this on the menu, and for serving it to me at 8:30 a.m., Pebbles Café is my new favorite coffeehouse.

I think that people are vegetarians. I say this because I was sitting at a table full of dudes in a different coffeehouse, and they started talking about Burning Man this, Burning Man that. So I cleared my throat. I told them my idea for bringing Camp Chicken Farmer to Burning Man. They looked at me like I was crazy, and I looked at them like they were vegetarians.

The idea for Camp Chicken Farmer ’08 was hatched at Camp Trans, while I was interviewing someone about why didn’t they have eggs. And they said it was too hard to keep eggs without refrigeration, or even ice. Thing is: the freshest egg in the world is as warm as a mug of coffee, and the freshest meat is still moving.

To illustrate this natural fact, I am going to take Camp Chicken Farmer to Burning Man next year, if I can raise the funds and recruit farmers. So far I have one. Well, by myself then, if necessary, I’m going to haul a pick-up truck of live chickens to Black Rock Desert, and a sack of feed, and a hatchet. I’m going to dress conservatively, stay sober, and just fry fresh eggs and butcher and barbecue all week long, go to sleep early.

Now, my attentive readers are going to go: "Wait a minute, Chicken Farmer, you had a hard enough time killing Houdini."

Exactly. And what’s the cure for not hardly being able to kill a chicken? Killing hundreds of them. Anyone could tell you that. On the other hand, it takes a paid professional specialist like me to tell you about the intricacies of coffeehouse Korean barbecue in Glen Park. For breakfast.

Two drunk guys on a sidewalk in Chicago got in my face. They asked impolitely if I was a transvestite.

"I’m everything," I said. "I’m trans."

"You mean you used to be a man and now you’re a woman?" one guy asked while the other started going on about how God made you one way. "You don’t mess with that," he said.

"I did," I said.

The light changed while they were still in my face. "I’d love to stay and chat," I said, flashing them the peace sign and stepping in the street, as if I had somewhere to be.

In fact my bus didn’t leave until two a.m. I had time to kill. The sun was just setting. The tops of the tall buildings were lit, and we were in it, in one sense, like ants under a magnifying glass. I had time to kill, and time was killing me. So while you were at Burning Man, I was still in Chicago on the sidewalk between bums, drunk, hungry, discussing theology, not giving anyone any hand jobs, laughing, and on fire.<\!s>*


Monday–<\d>Friday: 6:30 a.m.–<\d>3:30 p.m.; Saturday: 8:30 a.m.–<\d>3:30 p.m.; closed Sunday

2852 Diamond St. S.F.

(415) 333-2270

No alcohol

Credit cards not accepted

Wheelchair accessible

Palmetto Restaurant and Lounge


› paulr@sfbg.com

Let us now parse famous streets — in particular, Chestnut and Union streets, those parallel avenues and venues of Marina culture, so near to yet far from each other. As someone who cannot be said to be a habitué of either promenade, I speak with the authority of the outworlder, the sporadic visitor whose perceptions are freshened by infrequency. Therefore: Chestnut Street seems to me to be peopled by post-collegiate sorts in their 20s, while Union Street, a few blocks up the hill, strikes me as more thirtysomething country. There the upland air, while still smelling strongly of youth, acquires a crisp note of adultness. One notices better shoes, and certainly fewer chain and fast-food restaurants, than in the nearby bottomlands. Union Street, in fact, is a pretty good place to eat; Betelnut is still there and well into its second decade of life, while just a block or so away we now find Palmetto Restaurant and Lounge, which opened over the summer in a unique space long occupied by Café de Paris L’Entrecote. (And, for Tales of the City nostalgists, the lights of Perry’s are still a-twinkle.)

Palmetto’s street persona is that of a glassy cottage that’s begun to sink decorously into the pavement. You make your entrance by taking a few counterintuitive steps downward, and you find yourself at the edge of an airy, open, well-lit solarium with, behind the host’s station, a bar that could easily be a sports bar. The clientele is fearsomely athletic-looking, as if everyone is a model awaiting an imminent photo shoot for Power Bars. But the restaurant’s ruling muse turns out to be elegance, not brawn. The interior was redesigned by the noted architect Cass Calder Smith, and the idea, as in a certain sort of cooking, is to let the space speak in its own voice. The overall effect is one of warm minimalism — an apparent paradox, yet one is bewitched by the scale of the rear dining room (which is far larger than the glassy little house on the street implies) and the easy fluidity of human movement. There is even, in a throwback, an exhibition kitchen at the restaurant’s very rear — a discreet nod to the culinary voyeurs who still lurk among us.

Chef Andy Kitko (a Gary Danko alumnus) has picked up the script left behind by the departure, some years ago, of 42 Degrees — as in 42 degrees of latitude, as in, more or less, a line running near the coasts of southern Europe and northern Africa, through Italy and the Balkans and on to the Black Sea, whose south shore consists mostly of Turkey. The word the restaurant uses to describe Kitko’s panoramic menu is "contemporary Mediterranean," and although "Mediterranean" has lately become a squishy term, here its big-tent roominess seems right. "Contemporary," of course, is code for "California," meaning, more or less, we’ll try anything once.

The food tilts toward small plates, along with soups, salads, and pastas available by the half-size. These last are not inconsiderable. Maccaronis amatriciana ($8) featured the classic Roman sauce of pancetta, onion, chili, and tomato — pleasantly spicy, with a hint of smoke — spooned over a healthy portion of house-made pasta, like stubby straws that had been slit open.

The bigger plates, interestingly, are on the not-huge side. The burger ($12) was just right, about a third of a pound of Meyers Ranch beef — and it was also fabulously juicy and full of flavor, a best-in-show contender. It would have been satisfying even if it hadn’t come with a cone of crisp, well-salted frites and their sidekick trio of sauces: ketchup, tomato, and cumin aioli, with its breath of the Maghreb. King salmon ($24), meanwhile, was given a yogurt marinade and served atop a tabbouleh paste with peas and cumin carrots; it felt vaguely Turkish to us.

But, as is so often the case, the kitchen saves its best work for the smaller jewels. A trio of arancini ($8), basically risotto fritters that look like batter-fried golf balls, were scented with Meyer lemon and carried a secret cargo of tarragon crème fraîche. House-made lamb sausage ($10) arrived, still sizzling from the grill, on a ragout of navy and fava beans, while flaps of grilled Monterey Bay sardines ($8) were mounted on rounds of toast, with rich, dark caponata on hand to help balance the fish’s oiliness.

Some of the stuff drifted toward the ordinary: an heirloom tomato salad ($12), with burrata di bufala and balsamic drizzle was good, but practically every restaurant in town is offering something similar; and a wild mushroom soup ($8) with garlic chives and a crouton, was also good and only slightly less familiar. Some of the so-called accompaniments, on the other hand, were unexpected and tasty. A Castilian-style pisto ($6) resembled its summer-bounty relatives, ratatouille and caponata, but put more emphasis on diced eggplant and added haricots verts for color, while grilled corn with lime butter ($5) fitted the butter, in melting pats, atop disks of cob that looked like yellow nigiri.

There is at least one extraordinary dessert awaiting your attention. It bears the nearly unmanageable name of galaktoboureko ($8). If you can make it understood that this is what you want, you will soon be feasting on a pair of crisped phyllo tubes filled with lemon-infused semolina custard and plated with lavender honey and grilled fig halves that look like pieces of candy. I like figs about as much as I like chestnuts, which is not very, but here we have a dessert that’s greater than the sum of its parts — or, an artful union.<\!s>*


Brunch: Sat.–Sun., 9:30 a.m.–3:30 p.m. Dinner: Sun.–Thurs., 5:30–10 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 5:30–11 p.m.

2032 Union, SF

(415) 931-5006


Full bar


Well-managed noise

Wheelchair accessible

It goes to 11 (and beyond)


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

The MadCat Women’s International Film Festival is back for its 11th consecutive year, with 11 fascinating film programs (two features and nine shorts series). It’s hard to describe the broad variety of themes and filmmaking styles explored in this year’s lineup. Identity issues, life at the fringes of society, the desire to break free from safe but unchallenging environments, and struggles for independence through unconventional means are only some of MadCat’s topics. One unifying factor: these ideas are addressed with equal amounts of sincerity, subtlety, and creativity.

Benidorm, one of the shorts contained in the "ID Docs" program, stands out not only for the respectful and attentive approach it takes to its subjects but also because it focuses on a social group that is wildly neglected in cinema and many other art forms: the elderly. German Carolyn Schmitz visits Benidorm, Spain, which during the off-season becomes a great attraction for retired people who seek to enjoy the sea and the sun. The bittersweet feeling that permeates the whole film is partly created by the confessions some of the people make in front of the camera: that they dislike being old and that they’re afraid of death. This uncomfortable feeling is most effectively complemented by the sadness of a landscape that reminds us how marginalized old people are today and how deprived they often are of taking pleasure in their age.

Elderly people are also featured, though in a lesser extent, in Boreas, a Turkish film that’s part of the "Close to Home" presentation. This time the focus is placed on how they are perceived by a young child. With her mainly stationary camera and her beautiful framing, filmmaker Belam Bas is very successful in reutf8g to the audience all that happens inside a youngster who is growing up in a rural area with no people around who are his age. The child silently but playfully observes the world, imaginatively satisfying his innate curiosity about life.

In 4 Elements, one of the festival’s features, attention is switched from people to the natural environment and how we interact with it. A Dutch-German-Russian-Siberian coproduction, the film references Greek philosopher Empedokles’ cosmogony theory, in which everything in the universe is created by the interplay of fire, water, earth, and air. Filming firemen, fishermen, mineworkers, and astronauts on and off the job, director Jiska Rickels documents the daily efforts of people whose occupations relate immediately to those elements. The outcome is an imposing, mesmerizing, almost mystical movie that reveals not only how dependent we are on nature but also what a struggle it is to exploit our planet’s natural wealth.

On a completely different note, the word fun most adequately describes the retrospective MadCat has prepared for innovative filmmaker Helen Hill, who sadly was murdered six months ago. In her films, Hill mixed home movies, animation, paper figures, drawings, animals, and people demonstrating an unbound resourcefulness and an incredible kindness. In Hill’s world, making films is presented as an enjoyable and potentially inexpensive endeavor that one can undertake in his or her kitchen — an instantly relatable means to self-expression.<\!s>*


Sept 11–<\d>26

See film listings for info


Spaghetti eastern


› cheryl@sfbg.com

How many times am I gonna have to rave about Exiled before you go see it? It’s been a year since I first caught it at the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival; the 2007 TIFF starts Sept. 6 and features Mad Detective, Johnnie To’s latest collaboration with Wai Ka Fai (Fulltime Killer). Needless to say, I’ll be first in line at that flick — and perhaps, like Exiled, it’ll play the San Francisco Asian American Film Festival before finally opening in theaters. So you missed Exiled at the Asian fest, and you missed To’s Triad Election when it rat-a-tatted through town a few months back. I hope you’re paying attention now, because you’re getting another big-screen crack at Hong Kong’s most exciting director since John Woo skedaddled for Hollywood. Don’t sleep on it.

If you’ve seen Exiled, of course, you know what I’m jawboning about. A sort-of sequel to what was previously held to be To’s best film (excluding 2001’s wondrously wrong Love on a Diet), 1999’s The Mission, Exiled happens upon a group of gangsters at a crossroad. Control of Macau is about to be handed to China, and triad kingpin Boss Fay (Simon Yam) is determined to maintain his position in the underworld. Meanwhile, outcast foot soldier Wo (Nick Cheung) has ill-advisedly returned to town with wife (Josie Ho) and baby in tow. Dispatched by Fay to take him out are Wo’s former compadres Blaze (Anthony Wong), Tai (Francis Ng), Cat (Roy Cheung), and Fat (Lam Suet). He’s their bro, so they don’t wanna kill him. These are assassins with hearts as generous as they are deadly. A compromise is reached: before Wo dies, the band will reunite for one last crime — the spoils of which will set his family up for life.

Of course, even the simplest plan is destined to go awry in a milieu geared toward staging as many balletic sequences of slo-mo gun-fu as humanly possible. As our antiheroes ride a hail of bullets through coincidences tragic and unbelievably convenient, To charges the action with an inspired array of spaghetti western motifs. World-weary Blaze needs only a cowboy hat (he rocks sunglasses instead) to be Lee Van Cleef’s fashion heir. The soundtrack twangs with plaintive guitars. Tables are upended in a restaurant shoot-out that mirrors the kind of Wild West brawl a hunchbacked Klaus Kinski might set off. A gold heist (because it’s good to be bad, or even ugly sometimes) is discussed. A harmonica emerges from a pocket while a campfire blazes.

To say much more about the plot would spoil its breakneck twists and turns, but know this: Exiled makes its lasting impact with its tone, which is palpably shaped by the tension of uncertainty and moral ambiguity. Plus, it doesn’t get much better than a movie that balances hair-trigger violence with moments of gentle humor, as when a battle royale segues into an impromptu dinner party — and the realization that spent bullets are floating in the tea.

Though Yam makes an over-the-top villain — and the actor playing the region’s police sergeant, who is predictably days from retirement, trowels on the whiny smarm — the film’s core ensemble of gangsters speaks little and expresses less, at least overtly. Wong’s face barely changes expression throughout. Still, it’s evident that the bond between the men transcends triad politics; when they gather for a snapshot at the film’s beginning, it’s contrasted with a photo of the group as cocky youths. Clearly, a lot’s happened since then. We don’t know precisely what, but friendships that go beyond who’s been ordered to kill whom have been well established — even as the code of the gangster is understood as law. "I have to kill you," Blaze tells Wo without affect. And Wo knows.

Wong — a Hong Kong superstar who’s slated to appear in the next Mummy film, forebodingly subtitled Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, alongside Brendan Fraser and Jet Li — gives a subtle performance that’s Exiled‘s heart. Though much screen time is given to Ho’s anxious wife, Wong’s quietly resigned hit man carries more power. His greatest moment of emotion comes when he realizes that the gang, seemingly on the brink of freedom, is obligated to follow through on a promise made to a fallen partner in crime. It’s a dilemma fit for any good pistol opera — and Exiled just happens to be a great one.<\!s>*


Opens Fri/7 in San Francisco theaters

DJ Youngsta


London’s DJ Youngsta would much rather be heard than seen. Even at his recent spotlight guest DJ appearance on Mary Anne Hobbs’s top-rated BBC Radio 1 electronic program, Youngsta uttered nary a word. Known as dubstep’s most peerless and perfectionist technical mixer, Yunx — as his friends casually call him — lets the tunes do the talking. Same goes for his own weekly radio blasts on London pirate Rinse FM, where MC Task handles the instant message shout-outs and track title announcements.

But although Yunx (né Dan Lockhart) speaks little — as Hobbs revealed in her brief on-air bio — the 22-year-old phenom carries major weight in the exploding international dubstep scene. His background includes work as an A&R consultant for the genre’s top label, Tempa Recordings, run by his sister, Sarah Lockhart; as an employee at top record store BM Soho; and as booker for the scene’s most important club night, Forward, at Plastic People in Shortditch, East London.

Yunx will certainly prove his infectious dance floor popularity on our shores again when he returns for his second visit to San Francisco in a year. His previous set, with DJ Hatcha at the Dark Room, had dancers bawling for "reloads" — translation: when the DJ lifts the needle and replays the song — almost every other track.

He’s unique: Yunx spins vinyl acetate dubplates almost exclusively. "It ‘ain’t even a case of whether you prefer CD or dubplate; it actually sounds better on a dub, and that’s the bottom line," he remarked to the Drumz of the South blog. Yunx also freely admits that he leans towards playing dubstep’s darker, bassier tunes — don’t expect any fluffy, life-affirming anthems during his sets. His inclement sound is wobbly, tense, and low-end-shaking, like a storm brewing in the distance. Paired with some of San Francisco’s finest regular dubstep DJ talent, Yunx’s latest SF appearance should reveal where dubstep is headed seven years into its lifespan. (Tomas Palermo)


With DJ Ripple, Sam Supa, and Selector Dub-U

Wed/5, 10 p.m., $5


1337 Mission, SF

(415) 255-1337


Board youth


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Wanna take your backyard pool party to the next level? You’ll need the Traditional Fools on speed dial: their infectious, scuzzy surf punk is the best accompaniment this century has to offer to the twist, the shimmy, and the ladling of tropical punch. The three young men who make up the Fools — guitarist-drummer-vocalist Ty Segall, bassist-vocalist Andrew Luttrell, and guitarist-drummer-vocalist David Fox — all grew up in sunny South Orange County but later moved to San Francisco, where they became acquainted shortly after arriving two years ago.

"We all just wanted to get out of Orange County," Luttrell, 21, explains. According to Luttrell, who gladly skateboarded along with Segall, 20, into the Mission to be interviewed, the Mexican food may be excellent back home, but when it comes to playing music in Orange County, "nobody cares except people in other bands." Reservations aside, the Fools consider themselves de facto products of Southern California, which makes sense when you hear them: they excitedly cite X, the Screamers, and the early ’80s Los Angeles punk generally found on the Dangerhouse label as a shared influence, and their eyes and smiles widen further at the mention of Redd Kross, from whose catalog the Fools can play a remarkable dozen covers at will, including a killer rendition of "Annette’s Got the Hits." All things considered, it’d be pretty inaccurate to pin down what they’re doing as straight-ahead surf rock: those kinds of riffs are most definitely present, but these guys sound way more subterranean than, say, Dick Dale or the Ventures.

When the three first musically convened early last year, they jammed on the Cramps’ "Human Fly," and it clicked quickly enough for them to crank out their first three songs: "Layback," "Street Surfin’," and "Rock ‘n’ Roll Baby," all prominently featured on their first demo CD-R, which was a surf-washed slice of garage punk glory. Their style has only become more refined since then, as evidenced by their fantastic live cassette, Live at Wizard Mountain (Wizard Mountain Tapes, 2007), and their new, self-titled 7-inch on the Bay Area’s Chocolate Covered Records. They block-printed all the covers for the single, which sports the benevolent gaze of a "chillin’ cheeseburger" and their sharpest tunes yet: "Surfin’ with the Phantom" gets the Vincent Price award for its spooktastic cackle and sense of impending wipe-out doom, and "River" is dialed in to the kind of raw, giddy party punk that Rocket from the Crypt were once able to muster.

The Fools have already opened for such heavyweights as the Phantom Surfers and strangely have never had to book themselves a Bay Area show, despite their frequent gig schedule: they’ve always been brought in by invitation, which also goes for their upcoming appearance at the now-renowned Budget Rock festival in Oakland. As well established as they may be locally, the Fools look poised to make waves overseas: their next release will be a split single put out by a label in Italy. In any case — look out, collectors! — they’re only getting 30 copies to sell themselves. "We’ll sell them for 15 bucks," Segall and Luttrell agree before laughing aloud. "Nah, we wouldn’t do that."<\!s>*


Sat/8, 8 p.m., $6

924 Gilman Street Project

924 Gilman, Berk.

(510) 525-9926


Word on la calle


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Times are tough in the music biz. Not only are CD sales slumping, but radio stations are losing ad revenue to online ventures. One of the only genres or formats holding it down commercially is Latin music — a fact that falls well below the radar of your average gringo.

This shouldn’t be so surprising, considering that Latinos are the largest minority group in the United States and represent the fastest-growing segment of the population. Another factor fueling Latin music’s stateside success is the rise of reggaetón, the energetic blend of hip-hop, Jamaican dancehall, and Puerto Rican sounds that tops the Latin charts and even garners airplay on mainstream hip-hop and R&B stations. The so-called Latin boom that reggaetón triggered — far surpassing that of the late ’90s — inspired media behemoth Clear Channel to convert dozens of stations from English to Spanish in 2005 and roll out a new reggaetón-heavy format known as Hurban.

Although Hurban doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue — it’s an awkward combination of Hispanic and urban — radio execs are hoping it will be easy on the ears of US Latinos ages 35 and younger, who represent somewhere around $350 billion in purchasing power.

In the Bay Area, the Hurban phenomenon is represented by San Rafael radio station KWZ, 100.7 FM ("La Kalle"), owned by Hispanic media titan Univisión. Although the name suggests urban edginess, the station’s director of programming, Bismark Espinoza, explains, "It’s basically a top 40 station…. It’s a Spanish CHR [contemporary hit radio station], if you will." Earlier this summer, the station dumped its tagline "Reggaetón y más" as the gasolina-fueled genre hit a sales plateau. Pop artists such as Shakira, Maná, and teen sensation RBD get more airtime now. Reggaetón still dominates the playlist, however, and DJs lace their bilingual banter with Puerto Rican street slang like perreo, which can mean dirty dancing or doggy-style sex — either way, the Federal Communications Commission wouldn’t have a clue.

Bilingualism is the most innovative aspect of Hurban radio. In attempting to reach the ostensibly bicultural second- and third-generation young adults of Generation Ñ, Hurban stations hire on-air personalities who can code switch between Spanish and English with the fluidity of a United Nations translator — or a Spanglish-spitting street hustler. "If our audience talks like that, we just try to relate to them as much as we can," Espinoza says. "It’s just natural — the way they talk on the street, the way they talk to their families, the way they talk to their friends."

La Kalle has the language down. The music is another question. In June the station ranked number 24 in the region, with four other Latin stations ahead of it. In order to compete, the station’s programmers continually experiment with the format, trying to stay on top of the remarkably varied musical tastes of young Latinos. Espinoza contends that the latest craze is a hybrid of reggaetón and Dominican bachata balladry. Sometimes referred to as "crunkchata," the tropical style is favored by artists such as Aventura, Rakim y Ken-Y, and Toby Love, who top La Kalle’s request lists.

Tropical music? This is California, carnales. Given that the vast majority of Latinos in the Bay Area are of Mexican descent, where’s the Chicano rap? Where’s the Mexican banda? No doubt, Chicanos in San Francisco like their island music. They’ve been dancing to salsa con sabor since the days of Cesar’s Latin Palace in the Mission District. But the hottest thing right now among Mexican Americans is regional music from their homeland: ranchera, grupero, Tejano, norteño, and banda. All four of the top-ranked Bay Area Spanish-radio stations play some variation on a Mexican theme. For listeners between 18 and 34, the second most popular spot on the dial is KRZZ, 93.3 FM ("La Raza"), a regional Mexican station in San Francisco.

At its core, regional music is steeped in the cultural traditions of rural Mexico, in folkloric forms that have been around for more than a century. But Chicanos are coming up with their own cutting-edge hybrids of rap and Latin music. Los Angeles duo Akwid melds banda with breakbeats, and Jae-P pairs G-funk with norteño. These artists earn some airplay on Hurban stations but get very little love on Bay Area urban radio, despite the fact that they each sell hundreds of thousands of records.

La Kalle’s Espinoza insists that urban music with Afro-Caribbean roots is much hotter right now than "urban regional" sounds like Akwid’s. One notable exception to Mexican American obscurity is Chicano rapper Down, whose chart scorcher "Lean Like a Cholo" is currently in heavy rotation on La Kalle. Similar to urban-regional artists, Down wears his brown pride on his throwback jersey sleeve, but he does it by invoking Southern California barrios, not rural Mexican pueblos. His homeland is Nuevo LA, a city with the second-largest concentration of Mexicans in the world.

Given the size of the Mexican American population, you have to wonder how many Chicano artists are out there searching for a record deal or some airplay. "Some people blame the radio stations, some people blame the record companies," Espinoza wearily attests. "I don’t know. I listen to my kids — I play whatever is hot." But Mexican and Chicano music is hot right now. It just can’t seem to find a home on youth-oriented "urban rhythmic" radio formats like La Kalle, much less English-only Bay Area stations such as KMEL, 106.1 FM, and KYLD, 94.9 FM, whose audiences also lean heavily Hispanic.

Although Mexicans and Chicanos are currently relegated to the broadcast barrios of Spanish radio, it will be interesting to see how those borders open up once media companies realize the American mainstream is more brown and proud than ever.

The magic number


The magic number

"Forty-three" — as in Bush 43, as distinguished from Bush 41, a.k.a. Poppy — is a number that will live in infamy, for reasons I need hardly mention. And 41, father of disastrous 43, isn’t likely to do much better. On the other hand, 41 can’t claim to be part of the name of a fabulous liqueur, while 43 can. Licor 43 (www.licor43.com) is the name of this Spanish elixir, a small glass of which was poured to me recently as a postprandial treat and immediately won me over.

Of course, I am susceptible to being won over by such treats. A little after-dinner hit of port or cognac or calvados — something slightly sweet or hinting at sweetness, with some substance, and strong enough to require sipping rather than permit swilling — is a graceful way of scratching the dessert itch, and there can never be too many options here if obesity is to be staved off. Licor 43, which has been bottled by Diego Zamora in Cartagena for more than 80 years, bears a certain resemblance to cream sherry, another product from the south of Spain. Both are rich, sweet, and of a yellowish color — all attractive qualities for a libation that must fill dessert’s big shoes.

The differences between the two (apart from the fact that sherry is fortified wine and Licor 43 isn’t) largely have to do with degree. Licor 43 is yellower, thicker, sweeter, and stronger — considerably stronger — than any sherry. At 31 percent alcohol, it isn’t quite as potent as cognac or other brandies (which are typically 40 percent alcohol), but it packs half again as much punch as the fortified wines. These seldom exceed 20 percent alcohol.

Mixologists’ wisdom suggests that Licor 43 is suitable for blending into a wide variety of drinks, most with whimsical names, but it was presented to me straight up, slightly chilled, in a sherry glass, and was distinctive enough to stand on its own. According to lore, the liqueur has been made for centuries from a secret blend of citrus fruits and spices, and the bouquet is indeed citrusy. On the mouth, the first impression is of vanilla, with a not-quite-honeylike weight and sweetness. If somebody distilled a liqueur from orange-blossom honey, it might taste something like this.

Oh 43, are you listening?

Paul Reidinger

› paulr@sfbg.com

Calling all island girls


› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER Oh, island music — the soft swish of silky trade winds, the gentle rustle of swaying palms, and the way-organic click-hop drone of crickets. From where I’m lounging at press time, in a humid picture-postcard tourist paradise outside the ’20s-era pink pachyderm of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, it’s also the sound of a few bruddahs playing a 12-string and electric bass version of "Brown-Eyed Girl." That was my island soundtrack growing up in Honolulu, along with the music of the Rascals and Earth, Wind and Fire, though surprisingly little Beach Boys, who had the vocal interplay Hawaiians adored but sounded like they probably didn’t really surf.

The Beach Boys just liked the idea of it, but then, don’t we all, buying into the seductive constructs of island fantasias, though we native born have always had a complicated hate-love relationship with the visiting cultural imperialists who drive the tourism-focused economy. Little surprise locals use the term transient like it’s a dirty word.

Speaking of island music, locally we have the Treasure Island Music Festival, the first two-day music event of its size on the human-constructed isle built to boost San Francisco pride by proximity and buoy the 1939 World’s Fair. The lineup, by the way, banishes memories of pop-period Van Morrison (though not fond thoughts of Hawaiian music materfamilias Aunty Genoa Keawe, who still plies audiences with her dulcet falsetto every Thursday at the Waikiki Marriott’s Moana Terrace) and includes Modest Mouse, Thievery Corporation, Spoon, Built to Spill, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, M. Ward, Gotan Project, MIA, Ghostland Observatory, Dengue Fever, and Mocean Worker, in addition to a bevy of talented locals like DJ Shadow (with Cut Chemist), Two Gallants, Zion-I, Honeycut, and Trainwreck Riders.

Noise Pop founder and IODA CEO Kevin Arnold, 38, told me the event has been a long-cherished dream for himself and Noise Pop co-organizer Jordan Kurland. The organizers had expanded NP in the past, to Chicago, before pulling back; they’re now venturing out again, working with Another Planet Entertainment. And why this fantasy island? "Because it was there," Arnold says. "We spent a lot of time looking around San Francisco and where people have been able to stage concerts in the past and make the event stand out. The island has all of that going for it: the location is pretty idyllic and beautiful, and it seemed like a fun thing to do."

Arnold and Kurland had come to a turning point with Noise Pop 14, and lately, he says, "we felt like it was time to really go for it and see if we can expand and actually make some money on what had been a large hobby for a long time. [Noise Pop] had broke even but had not done much more." So they took a loan out, hired staffers like general manager Chris Appelgren, Lookout! Records’ last head, and are now — in addition to coproducing a series of music-oriented City Arts and Lectures talks — putting on an event that, at an estimated 10,000 attendees per day, threatens to consolidate SF’s rep as a ground zero for must-catch music fests. And who can resist the chance to see these acts with an open-air backdrop of the city, glistening across the water? "I think for a lot of people, it’s this big question mark in the middle of the bay — what is it?" Arnold says, recalling that he witnessed a Robot Wars event there a decade ago but has never tangled with the military police once positioned there (ask a certain Oakland hip-hop star about that). "I think it’s a neglected space, and it’ll be good to educate people about what the island is."

SHAPE-SHIFTING CLUBLAND Venues come and go and morph radically — hey, maybe Treasure Island will become our next no-parking Speedway Meadow. Thus, while the Make-Out Room has been getting a makeover, to be unveiled Sept. 7, and scales live music back to Fridays to Sundays, word comes from D’Jelly Brains’ John Binkov that legendary SF punk joint Mabuhay Gardens will reopen at 443 Broadway, under the aegis of punk and metal bookers Tambre Bryant and Tonus Atkins. D’Jelly Brains join Victim’s Family member Ralph Spight’s Freak Accident for the revived Fab Mab’s first show Sept. 7. "Hard to believe," he e-mails. "Went by there to check it out last night. Locked and shuttered…. But at least no sports bar, yuppie tunnel crowd, meat market."<\!s>*


Sept. 15–<\d>16, 12:30–<\d>10 p.m.; $58.50 per day, $110 for a two-day pass



With D’Jelly Brains and the Radishes

Fri/7, 9 p.m., $8

Mabuhay Gardens

443 Broadway, SF



Are Tinsel Town train wrecks responsible for Austin, Texas, band Okkervil River’s latest CD, The Stage Names (Jagjaguwar)? Inspired by documentaries about Clara Bow, various show folk, and the poet John Berryman, vocalist-guitarist-songwriter Will Sheff wrote the album in a cheap rental in Brooklyn, a vast change from the rustic origins of 2005’s Black Sheep Boy. There, he found several lyrical themes running through the songs, concerning "having to be a fan and having to do with entertainment and what happens to you when you’re on the furthest extreme of life after entertainment. But it wasn’t necessarily as if I was trying to make some sort of finely tuned point, because if I wanted to do that I would write an essay and post it on the Internet."

To read the full interview, see the Noise Blog at www.sfbg.com/blogs/music.


Wed/5, 8 p.m.,$13 (sold out)


628 Divisadero, SF


Also Thurs/6, 6 p.m., free

Amoeba Music

1855 Haight, SF


Once more unto the Fringe


The San Francisco Fringe Festival, second oldest in the United States, is a full-blown teenager this year and intends, by the look of its sneak preview, to act its age. Sixteen candles equal roughly 500 performances from 100 acts reliably ranging all over the place — from an ex-Christian throwing down (Jesus Rant) to a two-woman portrait of transgressing poet Anne Sexton (Her Kind) to a new musical ("RM3") set inside a Southern Congressional campaign that incorporates songs by Ben Folds. Whatever else there is to be found along the way, the following should be well worth checking out:

Perennial Fringe favorite Banana Bag and Bodice flows into town with The Sewers, an earlier version of which proved a highlight of FoolsFURY’s Fury Factory showcase of new work a couple of seasons back. From the people who, in 2004, brought you the delicious Sandwich comes this fine, funny, and poetically deranged underground morsel of mordancy, love, and more mordancy. It’s since had a successful off-off- run in New York and for its SF bow will park just off the usual Fringe track at the Garage. Totally worth the trip.

The latest from San Francisco worthies RIPE Theater (Best of Fringe winners 2002, and Best Ensemble 2006) is And Billions More, which finally posits the ever-popular apocalypse with some down-to-earth realism: after all, it will most likely come to you via execrable 24-hour news coverage (to wit: "Earth in Crisis: Black Hole of Death"), it will probably not much move your stoner roommate, and it will be simply impossible to dress for — which is just to say, it will probably be really lame. The hysterical sages at RIPE know, even if Tim LaHay doesn’t, everybody’s working for the weak end.

Terry Tate’s Shopping as a Spiritual Path sounds like it works a rather tired joke in Christian consumerdom and, judging by the excerpt at the Fringe preview show, it amounts to little more than a stand-up routine. But what grace it has on sale! Whatever she may have been before life threw her for a serious loop, Tate’s near-fatal brush with cancer has left her very witty as well as wise to life’s better bargains.

Surviving Harvard is the life-and-debt theme of low-key wag Kurt Bodden’s class act, Class Notes, in which the sweaty, thumbed pages of his alumni magazine provide all the material this underachieving graduate needs to meet with ivy-league success in comedy futures (as an alumni mag might put it). And on the subject of surviving schools, few testimonials outmatch Steven Karwoski’s Adventures of a Substitute Teacher, amusingly self-effacing notes from the edge of special ed. One wonders what kind of sub Stevie Lee Saxon’s Korean Badass would make. He certainly lives up to his billing on stage, in a spunky stereotype-chopping solo show presented by Asian American Theater Company. (Robert Avila)


Sept. 5–16

Various venues