Volume 41 [2006–07]

Quixotically yours


› johnny@sfbg.com

In a multiplex in San Francisco (whose name I do not care to recall) there is at least one movie intent on bludgeoning viewers with a bombastic soundtrack, a mechanical approach to emotion, and a conclusion that is obvious before the story has begun.

In contrast, in a smaller theater, Albert Serra’s Honor of the Knights offers one of the best windows onto a current phenomenon that might be tagged somnambulant cinema.

Amid contemporary sensory overload, it’s unsurprising that somnambulant cinema – meditative and ambient, often set outdoors and yet never fully outside society – has begun to flower. Does the darkness of a movie theater have to be a site of sonic and visual assault? A recent spate of films, perhaps led by Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Blissfully Yours (2002) and Tropical Malady (2004), has answered that question with a low-key rebuff, choosing quietude and nature instead, evoking contemplative wonder in the process. By revivifying a literary classic – Don Quixote de la Mancha – that through sheer proliferation has become a myth of modernity, Serra’s first feature announces itself as a worthy Spanish answer to Apichatpong’s Thai fables.

To be sure, what I’m calling somnambulant cinema might easily be tagged “boring art films” by detractors. Any style or subgenre contains failures and successes. But Serra’s movie succeeds – partly because of its lightness, a quality not found in the hordes of festival films that confuse slowness or idyll with turgidity. In following the progress – or lack thereof – of Don Quixote (Lluís Carbó) and Sancho Panza (Lluís Serrat), Honor of the Knights immerses viewers in hypnotic rhythms. Using only natural light and shooting primarily during the magic hours of dusk and dawn, Serra gives the moon one of its most gorgeous scenes since the time of Georges Méliès and constructs a symphony from the way an orchestra of insects varies in pitch depending on the time of day or night.

As embodied by Carbó, the Don Quixote of Honor of the Knights is disheveled, with the matted hair of a bear and rusty armor, and he careens convincingly from senility to spryness. One minute he’s muttering to his lumpen sidekick as if Sancho (who still has traces of disobedient boyhood on his face) were nothing more than an extension of himself; the next he’s taking a dip in a stream with renewed vigor – even swimming while wearing heavy boots. Transutf8g an almost 1,000-page work into a 90-minute film with only a few hundred words of dialogue, Serra has inspired more than one critic to claim he’s bringing Samuel Beckett to bear on Miguel de Cervantes y Saavedra. But while this Don Quixote doesn’t seem to know where’s he’s going or even what time it is, after parrying phantoms with a sword and retreating from the wind, he leads Honor of the Knights to moments of offhand beauty and old joy.

Those last two words are no accident: juxtaposing various degrees of a fraternal bond against a varying but uncaring landscape, Honor of the Knights is closer to Kelly Reichardt’s Old Joy (2006) than it is to Gus Van Sant’s more overtly Beckett-like and aloof Gerry (2002). Comedy moves to the fore when the archaic Don Quixote urges Sancho to look up at the sky and cry, “God, you are the best,” but the character’s final musings on mortality hint that – within himself at least – he isn’t as lost as he might appear. “Chivalry is civilization,” he asserts, and with fealty the movie records his avoidance of all humanity besides Sancho. Serra’s movie ends on literal notes of melancholy, plucked and strummed on Ferrant Font’s solitary acoustic guitar.

When Don Quixote addresses the sky, Honor of the Knights takes on a simple grandeur not far from that found in Marcos Prado’s extraordinary, underseen 2004 documentary Estamira, a portrait of a sage madwoman who lives in an apocalyptic Rio de Janeiro landfill. In appearance, Carbó also somewhat resembles fellow journeyman traveler Vargas, the threatening protagonist of another recent somnambulant cinema work, Lisandro Alonso’s Los Muertos (2004). Much like Serra’s Apichatpong-influenced debut, the Argentine Alonso’s recent films reflect a conversation between filmmakers from different countries that is beginning to emerge from the somnambulant style. Just as Los Muertos shares traits with Apichatpong’s Blissfully Yours, Alonso’s more recent Fantasma (2006) resembles Tsai Ming-liang’s 2003 Goodbye, Dragon Inn more than it does any recent work of new Argentine cinema.

By moving Tsai’s and Hou Hsiao-hsien’s updates of Michelangelo Antonioni’s slackness from urban settings to mountains and jungles, Apichatpong helped establish the tone, atmosphere, and characteristics of somnambulant cinema, which treats the screen of a movie theater as a wide-open rather than narratively enclosed site for conscious and unconscious dreaming. The most literal example of the form has to be Paz Encina’s 2006 Hamaca Paraguaya, which confronts the audience with an extended shot of a rural hammock, using this sight and the voice-over banter to represent Paraguay’s place in the world.

Certainly, the very idea of somnambulant cinema brings the prospect of loud snoring two seats away or two rows down, but amid the cavalcade of cell phone rudeness in movie theaters today, that possibility is more humorous than annoying. There is a difference between a slow film and a boring film, and Honor of the Knights is lively – it doesn’t require a prescreening blast of black coffee and sugar-free Red Bull (one veteran online critic’s diet before watching Pedro Costa’s literally awesome 2005 Colossal Youth).

What is the dark good for, if not dreaming?<\!s>2

Thurs/13 and Sat/15, 7:30 p.m.; Sun/16, 2 p.m.; $6-<\d>$8
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
701 Mission, SF
(415) 978-ARTS

Reading is fundamental


Made Man

(Aspyr; PlayStation2, Windows)

A couple of weeks ago I was facing a stretch without the possibility of any money besides what I had in my pocket. I have experienced this before, and the way I have learned to deal with it is to stay in my apartment, sleep a lot, and eat very little, counting the days. At my age and with my diet of cigarettes and coffee, Internet porn will only go so far. So I have found that the best way to kill the hours when I am conscious has been to play video games. With my meager budget, I set aside what I needed to buy some games and hit the mall. I came home with two, neither of which was a new release, but they were cheap. One, Made Man, has a gun on the cover, so I bought it. The other shares its theme with one of my favorite movies of all time, Jaws. I settled into my apartment with a stock of food, water, and my new video games.

Made Man tells the story of a Vietnam vet who gets mixed up with the Mafia after his tour of duty. This could easily be an amazing game. The story could have been pretty good if its makers had put it together with some semblance of caring; without warning, you jump from the city to the jungle and back, and apparently you are trying to find some gold. Finding gold? This is stupid, right? But the game has slimy feds and two-faced friends stabbing you in the back — can’t miss there.

Early on, however, you realize that whoever made this game had either never played video games or heard there was a lot of money to be made and, like the guy in Field of Dreams, figured, "If we make it, they will buy." I can enjoy almost any game if I play it long enough. Throw in parts that take place in Vietnam, with an actual "The End" rip serving as the soundtrack, and you would be hard-pressed not to make me happy. I love Vietnam War games, shooting guns, and Mafia cutaway scenes. But holy lord, Made Man sucks. Every weapon you fire is so clunky and inaccurate, in terms of killing people, that it’s actually unfun. This was a first for me. Your enemies, however, shoot like gods. They never, never, never fucking miss. Their bullets also often defy physics. I hate this game. Even though I still had weeks to kill, I tossed it and took a nice 16-hour nap.

Jaws Unleashed (Majesco; PlayStation2, Xbox, Windows) would save me. How bad could it be? Even if it was awful, it’d be good for some laughs. You get to play as the shark. This had to be fun. And maybe there’s a Quint minigame. I love Quint.

Perhaps the copy I bought was pirated — hence cheap — because it didn’t work. No magic could make this game work. No matter how many times I blew on the disc, blew inside the PlayStation2 unit, inserted and reinserted the game, tap-tap-tapped — I still got that "No Disc" screen. I even tried winging the disc across the room, screaming, crying, and stomping on the console. No dice.

I was looking at an endless line of empty days spent staring at my walls. As a last resort I played God of War 2 (Sony; PlayStation2) on Titan mode, which is the hardest setting and possibly not actually meant to be played by humans. For anyone bothering to try this, when you get to the fight with Zeus at the end, you might as well just go ahead and kill yourself, because the shit can’t be done.

With 10 days of no money left, I gave up on PlayStation killing time for me. I gave up on porn, YouTube, everything. I even gave up on cigarettes. I read a book.

Cell mates


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Dance theater remains a thriving genre in Bay Area performance. To call it a subgenre of one or the other just doesn’t allow due respect for offerings by the likes of Jess Curtis, Joe Goode, inkBoat, Rebecca Salzer, and Deborah Slater. Erika Chong Shuch’s ESP Project, the resident company at Intersection for the Arts, is among the leaders in this field. Playful and romantic, with an irresistible urge to investigate the darker regions of inner and outer space, Shuch’s work partakes freely and idiosyncratically of all that the bare stage might offer in the way of strategy, including dramatic action, unconventional movement (often incorporating nonprofessional dancers), voice-over narration, taped interviews, singing, video installations, and puppetry — all of which went into the alternately eerie and euphoric poetry of 2006’s Orbit (Notes from the Edge of Forever).

Shuch’s latest work moves still further away from dance-centered performance, using movement as only one element in (an almost subordinate) relation to others, especially text and song. But perhaps because of the especially personal nature of 51802, which bares a real-life love story in veiled disguise to interrogate the mixed feelings and existential crises arising from a lover’s incarceration, this latest piece sometimes feels weighed down by a too concrete need to voice some definitive explanation or conclusion.

Nonetheless, Shuch and her ensemble (Dwayne Calizo, Jennifer Chien, Tommy Shepherd, and Danny Wolohan) create some memorable moments, and the mise-en-scène conveys flashes of real inspiration. Moreover, there’s a poetic and pertinent irony in the bitter symmetry offered by the central story, which can be said to begin and end on opposite sides of a wall. The first one divides the apartments of two urban strangers but not the music they create in their seemingly separate worlds, setting up a flirtation in sound that starts as a competitive call-and-response and ends in literal harmony, all before any physical meeting. Composer Allen Willner’s score and original, acoustic guitar–based songs — soulful, bluesy, and romantic — serve as a kind of reincarnated version of this elemental discourse as music becomes the primary medium for connection on a stage inhabited by otherwise lonely bodies, often captured (courtesy of the elegant lighting design, also by Willner) in isolated spots of soft, almost burnished light.

The second wall is, of course, that of the prison. Also literal and figurative at once, it intrudes into an intense love affair whose history is by now fraught with emotional dissonance and even psychological abuse. But love — albeit a more complex and ambivalent version — breaches this wall too, mediated by letters, memories, and imagination. This imagery remains suggestive though underdeveloped (Shuch relates the beginning of the love affair in a few lines about midway through the 60-minute performance). For the most part, the story comes to us more obliquely, through the songs and fanciful scenes and characters deployed to plumb the depths of the isolation gripping both parties to the separation. In one memorable sequence, a man (Wolohan) stranded at the bottom of a well befriends a blind mouse to whom he confesses a childhood act of violence. In other sequences Shuch or Shepherd play stir-crazy shut-ins desperately coaxing a lover’s ghost to haunt the room.

These scenes and others we understand to be inventions of the lover left behind on the outside, walled in by her involved and evolving connection to the incarcerated other. But if 51802 is about absence, its emphatic drive to fill theatrical space with a superfluity of words and dramatic gestures to that effect can end by pushing that absence just out of reach. Words, to a significant degree, have taken the place of movement here, as if furnishing their own jail cell that allows little space for the body.

When raised in song (as when Shuch softly sings the refrain, "I ain’t wavin’ babe — I’m drowning"), they can still seem liberating in their (physical) evocations. But even the more suggestive lines in Shuch’s interspersed text can feel incomplete. A refrain is heard in both dialogue and song states: "There is no perfect good-bye"; this key piece of wisdom sounds true enough. But as Shuch notes with a flowing sweep of the arms, good ones require one person to remain still while the other moves off in a rush of motion. This — a dancer’s insight — sounds like the germ of a larger idea, the opening of some larger movement. But when it comes along, near the end of the 60-minute performance, there is little room or time for much more.


Extended through Oct. 12

Thurs.–Sun., 8 p.m., $10–$25

Intersection for the Arts

446 Valencia, SF

(415) 626-3311


Mad chatter


› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER What flying snacks do not kill me only make me harder, better, faster, stronger — come all ye children of Kanye West and Friedrich Nietzsche. I love San Francisco. Where else can you catch hell and come this close to getting brained by a pupusa hurled by a nattering, nutty nutbag in orangey pink stretch pants? I’m all the rage, ready for the crème de la Salvadoran vittle missiles.

I’m just cranked on shady luck like that, and was oozing my everyday allotment of pure, untrammeled harassability on a recent Sunday, just minding my own bad bidness strolling through the Mission District. Plenty of lukewarm trade in cell chargers and black velvet paintings of howling wolves and solemn American Indians with ghostly hands emerging from over their maws. Fresh-faced, black-eyed kids in Sunday finery toddled by as I finally landed in Las Palmeras to sample yuca frita con chicharrón. The familias around me were busy cracking crab when an elderly lady with an extremely fashion-damaged Phyllis Diller fright wig cruised alongside me and started in with "You better understand …" before launching into a diatribe en espagnol. Oh, to be the object of so much obsession — as she hobbled outside in royal snit, returning only to yell at me further through the restaurant window. Later, when the good folks at Las Palmeras handed her a conciliatory pupusa — balm to all that ails ya — she flung it, as hard as she could, at my offending, chomping image. Oh, but I don’t understand — I really, really don’t.

Ah Ess-Eff, as if you could ever stop providing safe harbor — or serving up mucho psychotic triggers — for so many mad men and women. You needn’t throw a pupusa far to find classic only-in-SF, Emperor Norton–<\d>style eccentrics or lunatics everywhere you wander. Yet my favorite inspired obsessive this week has to be Chicago’s Galactic Zoo Dossier zine impresario and psych king in his own write-right Steve "Plastic Crimewave" Krakow (least beloved: food-fighter lady marma-lardbutt).

Now out in all its hard-to-read yet lovely-to-behold DIY hand-drawn glory, Galactic‘s issue no. seven, published by Drag City, discharges a wealth of info — and interviews with the Incredible String Band’s Clive Palmer, Gary Panter, Ed Askew, the Strawbs, and Kevin Coyne — for all of us acid- and otherwise damaged lysergic eminencies. Ravin’ spot-on spotlights on dark psych creators like Sam Gopal and Crushed Butler make you wanna bolt out the door — or start up the eBay eye strain — to acquire these jewels. Krakow does give you a taste of the mind expansion under way with the included hot-rockin’ double CD of aged rarities like the Ukuleles of Halifax (a more than 30-strong, all-teen-girl ’70s Canadian uke orchestra) and contempo freak-beaters headed up by Bay Area locals like Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound, Charalambides, and the Stooges’ Steve MacKay and his Radon Ensemble. Shoving in a track by his wondrous Plastic Crimewave Sound and sprinkling his writing with more wells and OKs than a high school speech class, Krakow coughs up 100-plus pages for this issue — making it more booklike than zine-ish.

Still, Galactic foregrounds the fan in fanzine and hews more closely to the spirit of an obsessively handwritten letter than to that of a more sterile blog. And Krakow’s sincerity, knowledge, and breadth of taste — dude delves into Giorgio Moroder and the Banana Splits, revisits overplayed hit makers like the Bee Gees, and resuscitates faded pharaohs like Edwin Starr — inspire you to penetrate his dense scrawl. Also beyond cool: sheets of Astral Folk Goddesses and Damaged Guitar Gods trading cards — collect ’em all, from Jacqui McShee and Erica Pomerance to Jukka Tolonen and Keith Cross, shop hobbits! So this is new reading material for those wondering where to take their Windowpaned stares post–<\d>Ptolemaic Terrascope (now under the editorial leadership of Oakland drummer Pat Thomas of Mushroom and Runt/Water) and Arthur.

Being a lamezoid at crucial moments, I missed the previous six installments of Galactic, but you can catch the first four 300-run issues in the Galactic Zoo Dossier Compendium book-CD (Drag City). Don’t pooh-pooh, sir — you’re as likely to learn about Santa Cruz supergroup Druids as vanguard blues distortion peddler Pat Hare. And you just might like the way your mind feels, blown.



The dreamy former Film Schooler taps a new CD, Pressure (Badman). With Pancho Sanza and the Matinees. Wed/26, 9:30 p.m., $6. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. www.hemlocktavern.com


Office boys and girls come out for the baile funk cuties’ armed and dangerous With Lasers (Domino). With JuiceBoxxx and Magic Bullets. Fri/28, 9 p.m., $13. Independent, 628 Divisadero, SF. www.theindependentsf.com


When you’re 21 you’re no fun, but then you can get in to see a rare live performance by the English combo. With Great Northern. Sat/29, 10 p.m., $25 advance. Mezzanine, 444 Jessie, SF. www.mezzaninesf.com


Nick’s sis, Gabrielle Drake; producer Joe Boyd; and songwriter Jolie Holland talk about the late artist. Tues/2, 8 p.m., $19. Herbst Theatre, War Memorial Veterans Bldg., 401 Van Ness, SF. www.cityboxoffice.com

The long day closes


While, over the years, I privately deplored the food-obsessive practice of giving dogs such names as Mocha, Latte, and Basil — even Matzoh — I was hardly in a position to deplore, for we had named one of our dogs after a pizzeria. The pizzeria, Due, was in Chicago, where we once lived, but the dog Due knew nothing of Chicago, having been born near Petaluma in the summer of 1991, nor of pizza, beyond enjoying leftover crust. She preferred the white corn kernels that sometimes fell to the floor when I cut them from cobs. But due means two in Italian, and as Due was our second chow, and then our only chow, after her longtime mate died five years ago, the name seemed to suit.

A dog is an education, and for an omnivore, not all the lessons are easy ones. For a dog, in commanding your love and returning it to you as eager licks and whimpers, in searching your eyes for clues just as you are searching hers, reminds you countless times every day that other animals’ lives may not be all that different from our own. And why would we think otherwise, since we are animals too, peerers into the eyes around us?

Sharing our lives with dogs did not make us give up meat, quite, but as the years passed, we increasingly found occasion to wonder, and to make or order something meatless for dinner. There is probably no way to live on this earth without getting at least a little blood on your hands, but the less blood, the better. To keep the suffering of sentient creatures to a minimum: is this not the basis of a moral life? Do we not begin with these small creatures for whom we are everything — gods, in fact, shapers of the world?

How bitterly ironic that such loving and conscientious gods should find themselves in the position of having to decide when a beloved’s life must end. Due, who had come to her gods as an eight-week-old puppy on the day of the great Oakland hills fire, lived to see her 16th birthday in August, but by then she was stiff and skeletal, and the long light in her eyes had dimmed. A van came to the house on a September afternoon, and the gods wept when she died.

Paul Reidinger

› paulr@sfbg.com

Moving out …


Imagine this: You’re enrolled in an educational program that requires you to move around from city to city, taking short-term jobs related to your field. Within a span of two years, you bump around between New York, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and San Francisco, subletting rooms and taking on bizarro living arrangements, never staying in one place long enough ever to feel settled in. Due to these circumstances, you rarely have a moment’s peace. Amid all the bustling, your number-one goal remains the same: record an entire album by yourself at home — wherever that may be. And while you’re at it, how about making sure it sounds like a fully realized studio creation?

Impossible, you say? Not so, says Joe Williams, the twentysomething visionary behind the White Williams moniker. The ’70s- and ’80s-flavored one-man band recorded the entirety of the forthcoming debut Smoke — out Nov. 6 on Tigerbeat6 — in exactly those conditions, digitally laying down tracks whenever he had an empty apartment. "Because of the situation, I’d say probably 80 percent of the material was done quite quickly and decisively," Williams explains over the phone from a New York City coffeehouse. "It had to be. The remaining 20 percent was where I had a chance to be more objective, to look at what I’d done."

A heap of credit should be given to that 20 percent. Williams’s aim was to deliver a studio-as-instrument aesthetic — similar to the spirit of David Bowie’s Berlin trilogy and the early Iggy Pop solo albums — and Smoke is a rousing success, especially given the absence of a traditional recording studio. Many of the vocals and guitars have been repitched or drastically edited, and the odd whirs and blips of synths bring to mind a modern take on his heroes’ fertile mid- to late-’70s period. If this sounds like damaged art pop to you, you’re right. "Danger" wobbles with a mind-altering tang of 3 a.m. funk, while "Fleetwood Crack" is the less-troubled cousin to Pop’s "Nightclubbing," opting for similar sparse atmospherics but sparkled with warmer keyboards and the faintest hint of rockabilly guitar. Then there’s my favorite, "In the Club," which answers the question "What would have happened if T.Rex had teamed up with Brian Eno?" Laptop swagger rock, that’s what.

In the end, the limitations of such an itinerant lifestyle proved to be a blessing in disguise. "I discovered that I really enjoy having to solve things entirely by myself … just my mind and the computer," Williams confesses. "And despite the bit-by-bit nature of recording, I’d say it was pretty smooth sailing from start to finish."


With Girl Talk and Dan Deacon

Sat/29, 9 p.m., $19.50


1805 Geary Blvd., SF

(415) 346-6000


Right place, blues time


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

There are two performers, among others, you really need to see at the San Francisco Blues Festival this time around. The first, headliner Robert Randolph, along with his Family Band, has been blowing minds since his debut, Live at the Wetlands (Dare/Warner Bros.), came out in 2002. Critics proceeded to freak out, big shots like Eric Clapton started taking him on tour, and Randolph began freeing the minds of white pothead kids with jam-blues purveyors the North Mississippi All-Stars. Randolph plays the sacred steel, a form of pedal steel guitar normally found in African American church services — where he got his start, namely at the Church of God in Maplewood, N.J. On record, the group behind him lays down a punchy soul-funk foundation while Randolph positively shreds over the top. Clearly influenced by Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix, and Funkadelic’s Eddie Hazel, Randolph’s strafing leads range from ornately beautiful asides to far-out psychedelic explosions of color.

Randolph and his ensemble are universally renowned for the live show they put on, and one listen to Live at the Wetlands is all one needs to hear to understand why. This band does not miss notes. And it sets things on fire. The ecstatic vibe starts at level 10 and goes from there. Randolph and the Family Band are the embodiment of the biblical term "joyful noise." Effortlessly crossing from gospel to jam rock to soul-blues, Randolph is simply one of the most exciting semiknown artists to come down the pipe in a long, long time.

The second guy you’ve gotta see is Allen Toussaint. For anyone who doesn’t know — and everybody should — Toussaint basically invented New Orleans soul, producing sessions, writing songs, and playing piano on just about everything that came out of New Orleans throughout the 1960s and ’70s. He wrote "Waitin’ For My Ya-Ya" for Lee Dorsey, "Right Place, Wrong Time" for Dr. John, and "Southern Nights," which was a major hit for Glen Campbell in 1977. Toussaint also had a hand in "Lady Marmalade," "Working in a Coalmine," and "Pain in My Heart" — monumental songs. Besides accruing a laundry list of cowriter and producer–session ninja credits, Toussaint regularly records his own material, and anyone unfamiliar with his ’70s soul classics "Last Train" and "Whisper to a Scream" needs to go buy The Allen Toussaint Collection (Rhino, 1991), which I personally have stolen from at least two people over the years.

Toussaint’s latest offering, The River in Reverse (Verve Forecast), is a collaboration with bad-hat lover Elvis Costello and is way better than the time Costello got together with Hall and Oates. Anyway, who knows — maybe Costello will turn up onstage with Toussaint. You know he’ll be there. Anyone with even the slightest interest in true soul music will not miss the opportunity to hear Toussaint’s incredibly distinctive piano playing in person.

There are other artists at the fest, but these are two, blues fan or no, you don’t want to miss.


Sat/29–Sun/30, 11 a.m.–5:30 p.m., $35–$80

Great Meadow, Fort Mason, Bay and Laguna, SF

(415) 421-TIXS


Hotpants wildfires



Honey Soundsystem rocks out, hosting an appearance by Los Angeles’s current DJ queens of the no wave revival. Fri/28, 9 p.m.–2 a.m., $5. Transfer, 198 Church, SF. (415) 861-7499, www.honeysoundsystem.com


A special trash-punk, leather-and-lace "Fuck you" from this weekly drag club as the world’s biggest fetish weekend launches. Fridays, 10 p.m.–2 a.m., free. Cinch, 1723 Polk, SF. (415) 776-4162, www.myspace.com/charliehorsecinch


DJ Bus Station John delivers hankie-flying bathhouse cruising tracks for the indiscriminate homosexual. Sat/29, 10 p.m.–2 a.m., $5. Gangway, 841 Larkin, SF. (415) 776-6828


Limitless drag goddess Juanita More! offers Italo disco, glitch techno, and free mustache rides all night long. Sat/29, 10 p.m.–4 a.m., $8. Stud, 399 Ninth St., SF. (415) 863-6623, www.juanitamore.com


This leather and fetish mega-event break ranks with its all-circuit past to highlight indie dance sets by Imperial Teen, Cazwell, and the Ladytron DJ Tour. Sun/30, 11 a.m.–6 p.m., donation requested. Folsom between Seventh and 12th streets, SF. www.folsomstreetfair.org


DJ Dirty Knees and Bill Picture spill the queer metal tea monthly at their club Trans Am. Freaking the scene live: naughty glam duo the Passionistas. Oct. 6, 10 p.m.–late, $5. Club Eight, 1151 Folsom, SF. (415) 461-1151, www.myspace.com/transamtheclub


A sizzling hot, 30th-anniversary tribute to the legendary Trocadero Transfer, with disco, Hi-NRG, and old-school scene queens galore. Oct. 7, 6 p.m.–3 a.m., $25. Glas Kat, 520 Fourth St., SF. (415) 495-6620, www.remembertheparty.com (Marke B.)

Scary Larry


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Nature enjoyed rebelling against arrogant, polluting humankind in the paranoid ecosploitation cinema of the 1970s: Prophecy, Phase IV, Frogs, Sssssss, The Food of the Gods, and even the Oscar-winning fake documentary The Hellstrom Chronicle all suggested Mother Nature was mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. Back then, though, nature was just bitching within safe fantasy confines. Who could have guessed something as nonfictionally apocalyptic as global warming would be a coming attraction by millennium’s end? Where prior generations only suffered nightmares of an unplugged Earth, ours might actually witness the beginning of the self-inflicted end. Kind of makes you feel special, doesn’t it?

Larry Fessenden’s The Last Winter isn’t the first global-warming horror film, and it surely won’t be the last, but it’s unlikely there will be a better one anytime soon — or a better horror movie this fall. After Rob Zombie’s lamentable Halloween and at least three major Toronto disappointments (the lesser-sung The Devil’s Chair, George A. Romero’s Diary of the Dead, and Dario Argento’s howlingly bad Mother of Tears), it’s a relief to be reminded the genre isn’t innately allergic to intelligence and nuance.

Actually, those qualities are probably why nobody’s handed Fessenden a remake of some ’70s drive-in classic or Japanese hairy-ghost flick — he can’t be trusted to make a film obvious enough that it will lure the usual suspects to umpteen mall screens on opening weekend. (All the justified bitching about Halloween didn’t stop ’em from lining up like sheep, if only to sound the first Monday-morning complaints behind the Starbucks counter.)

Fessenden’s movies are creepy rather than stab crazed, with genuinely interesting characters and recognizable human emotions. Habit (1997) is about a loser guy (played by the director) who’s seeing a mysterious woman who just might be a vampire — or maybe that’s just his cover for some serious denial issues. Wendigo (2001) involves a man-deer beast, but more disturbing is its dead-on portrait of a crumbling marriage and poor parenting skills. The Last Winter is a comparatively epic endeavor. It boasts a cast of several! It features wide-screen sunset vistas! It includes helicopter shots! But once again, it’s a story in which the peril might be supernatural or might simply be the result of people losing their grip.

In arctic Alaska (played by Iceland — go figure), an advance team preps a multinational oil company’s projected new drill in a hitherto protected national wildlife refuge. Because lip service must be paid to the environment, North Industry is hosting an impact study before drilling begins. As far as North Industry team leader Pollack (Ron Perlman) is concerned, the study is just a useless formality, but eco watchdog James Hoffman (James LeGros) begs to differ. Pollack meets this unwelcome new coworker after a five-week absence dealing with the suits back in civilization, and his homecoming is further soured by the discovery that another change has occurred: where he used to be the designated bed warmer for second in command Abby (Connie Britton), the sensitive Hoffman now enjoys that role.

Dumped, horny, and ornery, the macho Pollack is not receptive to Hoffman’s foreboding statements about the great white flatness outside. Unseasonably warm temperatures are creating logistical problems, and there are signs the permafrost might be melting, yet Pollack greets such news like a Marine boot-camp instructor handed a sachet of patchouli. As in: fuck you, hippie. Then things start going haywire at the station, from unexplained power outages to personnel wig-outs. An intern vanishes, then returns nearly catatonic. What’s going on out there? Whatever it is, it’s as intent on whittling down the North crew’s number as your standard masked dude with machete at a girls’ school. Except The Last Winter isn’t that kind of horror movie.

It’s the kind, rather, that builds an atmosphere of dread from disorientation and psychological fragility instead of things jumping out from behind doors. In fact, as with Wendigo, the least effective elements in The Last Winter are its most literally minded fantastical. Fessenden does ambiguity with such skill that when monster thingies finally arrive, it’s a bit of a tacky letdown. The most harrowing moments in this beautifully crafted film are contrastingly realistic, such as a sudden plunge through thin ice into freezing waters.

Movies like The Last Winter don’t win awards, and sometimes they don’t get distributed. (It’s taken this movie more than a year to reach US theaters; elsewhere, it’s been shunted directly to DVD.) But I can’t think of a genre film I’ve enjoyed more in 2007, let alone another one that has rewarded repeat viewings. Even if The Last Winter weren’t scary, funny, surprising, and gorgeously shot, Fessenden would still warrant all kinds of gratitude for letting the terminally underappreciated and invariably excellent James LeGros carry a movie. He’s so good here that if there were any justice in the world … ah, forget it. There isn’t.


Opens Fri/28 in Bay Area theaters

The sound of success


What does every rock doc tell us? Success in the music biz comes at a price, paid in any manner of ways — from the brawling egos of Dig! to the therapy sessions in Metallica: Some Kind of Monster. Inevitably, every film in the genre’s gonna have certain similarities (drama, heartbreak, testimonials as to the subject’s tune-tastic genius); the best of the bunch also feature a compelling story, aided by access that opens up a little corner on a world that makes millionaires of a few while viciously stomping on the dreams of many.

Jeroen Berkvens’s A Skin Too Few: The Days of Nick Drake is barely feature length at 48 minutes, which makes sense when you learn that the singer-songwriter was only 26 when he died, leaving behind precious few photos and zero films of his all-too-rare gigs. The talent of the enigmatic Drake — now known as "that guy who sang that song on that Volkswagon ad" — is discussed in worshipful tones by Paul Weller and others; his hushed, folky songs are played over footage of city- and landscapes, with the suggestion that Drake’s music must be the chief means of unlocking his mystique. Other valuable insights are provided by Drake’s sister, Gabrielle, who reads his letters and points out that despite coming from a privileged, supportive family, he was depressed for almost all of his life. "I think he had rejected the world," Drake’s mother recalls on an audio recording made after the musician’s fatal overdose. "Nothing made him happy."

Bummed out yet? Why not? Fortunately, Chris Suchorsky’s Golden Days injects some hope into its tale of Brooklyn band the Damnwell’s long, hard road to discovering that signing with a major label can be more trouble than it’s worth. Technically slick, Golden Days is an engaging tale, even if you don’t care for the Damnwell’s brand of upbeat pop rock — which exactly matches their nice-guy personalities. As two band members are listed among the film’s producers, I can’t help wondering if there were any ugly scenes left on the cutting-room floor. Fistfights? Drug binges? Brawling egos? Not behind this music, apparently.


Sat/29, 7 p.m.; Oct. 3, 9:15 p.m.

Roxie Film Center


Oct. 3, 7 p.m.; Oct. 9, 5 p.m.

Roxie Film Center

Gayest. Music. Ever.


› marke@sfbg.com

Something horrible happened.

The promo package, marked Special, arrived on my desk in May from Ultra Records in New York City. Hastily, I tore the envelope open and yanked out the CD within, letting squiggles of packing confetti fall where they may. A bronze and glistening, near-naked, possibly underage Brazilian boy stared fiercely from the cover. His bulging genitalia were not quite stuffed into a Gummi-red Speedo. His hair dripped with viscous product. Posed stiffly against a seaside shack the color of processed cheddar, he looked like he was about to either blow me or feast on my liver. The text across his sculpted, slightly veiny torso read DJ Ricardo! Presents Out Anthems 2.

Oh, good lord. If there’s anything that turns me off more than DJs with exclamation points appended to their monikers — OMG! The ’90s! Low carb! Wow! — it’s some gay fool from Ultra Records in New York City trying to tell me what my "out anthems" are. Sorry, but tin-eared "Don’t Want No Short Dick Man" remixes, spacey-diva "Deeper Love" covers, mindless melodramatic thumpers, and obnoxious washes of sizzle and screech don’t quite sum up my raggedy, faggoty lifestyle or speak to my proud, if occasionally morally compromised, experience.

I adore dance music — it’s my life. Any packed dance floor is a good thing in my book. But I also have some taste, and this was the apogee of cheesiness. The presumption that these bland corporate farts are the tunes of my loony-queer times crosses a clear homo-to-homo line in the shimmering sands. (For the record, Ultra Records, my current personal out anthems are the Cinematics’ "Keep Forgetting," Shazzy’s "Giggahoe," and Gladys Knight and the Pips’ "Love Is Always on Your Mind." Go mix that.)

Listen, I can ride with the tsunami of cheap and sleazy DJ dance compilations that has flooded various music stores, in-boxes, and jittery Wal-Marts for the past decade or so, featuring tightly clenched glutes, toxic tans, and spandex-stretching silicone explosions. (And that’s just the music. Someone should really publish a picture book of all of the blindingly awful, grinding-Barbie-in-headphones cover designs. Title suggestion: Writhe the Ibiza Abysmal. Or how about just Champagne and Crap?) There’s definitely a market out there for pulsating pabulum, and I dug my own grave with two coke spoons and a mirror ball when I became a nightlife critic. I was even OK with the knowledge that because I had Out Anthems 2 grasped shakily in my hot little palm, it meant that somewhere out there an Out Anthems 1 must exist. You go, DJ Ricardo!! Work it however you can. No, that wasn’t the horrible part.


The horrible part was this: I actually kind of liked it.

Bursting with a weird glee that’s unique to our media-saturated moment — "Holy shit, you’ve got to hear-see-watch this, it’s the most horrifying thing ever!" — I had rushed the CD over to my boyfriend Hunky Beau’s house before listening to it, eager for us to put it on and tear it a new one together. That’s our modern gay love.

Yet once I’d slipped the disc into Hunky’s Mac and readied myself a hot shot of schadenfreude, I realized I don’t hear this sort of heinous stuff when I’m out and about as much as I used to. The once-omnipresent, thousand-nostriled behemoth of overbearing, poorly produced circuit and "progressive house" music has been somewhat tamed. Sure, much of the CD was atrocious, but now that this cookie-cutter hokum is no longer forced on me at every gay turn I take, pouring forth from restaurant patios and flashy video bars, after-hours megaclubs and fisting pornos, open gym windows and passing Miata convertibles, I could listen to it not as some soulless dominant paradigm that was threatening to rob gay culture of every last ounce of scruff and sparkle, but as mere tacky noodling: harmless fun in an ironic way, if you’re into irony anymore. (Not poor Hunky Beau, though. A die-hard devotee of skinhead mosh and East Bay punk, he dived beneath the covers as soon as the first few high-hat sprays had rung in the air, moaning like he had aural hepatitis.)

What happened that night — a night that found me wriggling around in my Underoos and torturing my man with shouts of "Look at me! I’m a tweaked-out fan dancer!" — sparked the more masochistic aspects of my curiosity.

Ever since the supastar DJ scene of the late ’90s and early ’00s became economically impossible to sustain — the Sisyphean task of convincing thousands of people to spend $40 to hear a scrawny dude from Manchester, UK, or Miami spin yet again burned many promoters out — the dance floor playing field has blown wide open. Megaclubs, with their monolithic sounds, gave way to smaller venues where independent promoters could experiment with fresh ideas and vent their wacky stylistic impulses, minus hefty cover charges and pat-down security. Clubs became more like house parties: the kid with the most friends or the biggest iTunes collection could plug into the DJ booth and let ‘er rip.

Gay clubs, especially, had followed the newfound freedom from big-time pressure and flight-booking budgets in myriad zany directions. Today’s gay club scene is more diverse than it’s ever been. Almost every night of the week there are options.

So maybe it was time for me to reappraise a style that I’d grown to hate, now that it was fading from mainstream gay scene ubiquity in favor of sleek hip-pop and ’80s hair bands. Maybe I could stare into the numb, drooling jaws of circuit and progressive terror and dance, dance, dance. Could it really be as bad as I remembered? Was I ready to let go of my bitterness toward a music so insidious that even my grandmother thought my life was one big party scene from — gag — Queer as Folk?

Was it possible for me to tune into KNGY, 92.7 FM (Energy), the aggressively gay-friendly "pure dance" local radio station that had become synonymous with such music — and had recent hosted a party spotlighting, yes, DJ Ricardo! — without retching uncontrollably at the first few modulated wails?

Perhaps. I dug out the hand-crank radio from my earthquake emergency kit because, like, transmission radio — who still listens to that? I reacquainted myself with how to adjust a dial. Then I turned the volume up.


Mention Energy 92.7 to most gay men, and curious things happen to their bodies. The shoulders pop, the eyes roll, the hands begin to gesticulate wildly. Those are the gay men who love the station. The others absolutely loathe it. Their bodies convulse in a spasm of disgust. Their faces twist into ghoulish grimaces. Spittle flies from their lips. The hatred is palpable. There’s no middle ground when it comes to Energy. I’ve been in cars where people have fought over it until blood spurted.

Such reactions may be the legacy of the circuit party scene. Fifteen years ago, if you asked the average straight person to close their eyes and think about "gay music," the image that would first leap to his or her mind would be a turtlenecked show-tune queen clipping pink rosebuds in her garden while whistling something from Les Miz. Or, if the hetero were more contemporary, the archetype called up would be a sweat-dripping, mustachioed disco nymph collapsing into a pile of Studio 54 fairy dust or a bleached and tragic Madonna fan in an oversize cable-knit sweater with a regrettable yen for cheap eyeliner. Many gay club kids today would gladly take those images over what replaced them in the mid-’90s: buffed-out ‘roid heads in sailor caps and tighty whiteys frantically tooting whistles while some faceless diva yelped them into an aerobic frenzy.

The colossal circuit scene had its strengths: with its world-conquering voraciousness, it served as an accessible entry point for the vast numbers of gay men who came out at the time. Clattering circuit beats and ecstatic progressive swells and breaks — the natural evolution of corporate rave music in a mainstream gay environment — pushed many HIV-positive men through despair in the time before effective AIDS meds became available, and served as an all-purpose celebration template afterward. But circuit parties also marginalized queers with no taste for militaristic conformity, gratingly regurgitated tunes, or the alphabet soup of designer drugs then in vogue. The fact that the circuit had once been a credible, if snobbish and expensive, underground movement held no sway when it hatched into a gargantuan space tarantula from Planet GHB that swallowed all semblance of queer individuality. It was the Will and Grace of clubland, and most of us got jacked.

But that was then, this is neu. Dissing the circuit scene for gay club music’s discouraging popular image is like nail-gunning a dead, glitter-freckled horse. "The scene has really downsized, along with the whole megaclub thing in general," a popular San Francisco circuit DJ confided to me recently. "The energy we’re riding on is nostalgia."

Michael Williams, co-owner of Medium Rare Records in the Castro, the go-to store for dance mix compilations, told me, "We still sell a lot of that music, but people aren’t asking for it as they once did. I think the market got oversaturated and quality became a real factor. People began asking, ‘Where’s the talent?’ Our biggest sellers now are more complex artists like Shirley Bassey, Thelma Houston, and Pink Martini, or DJs who really work to have an interesting sound, like Dimitri from Paris." Even the odiously corporate Out magazine declared the circuit party over in its current issue, so you know it must be true.

Still, the sour taste of the circuit era in many alternaqueers’ mouths has proved hard to wash out. And the stereotype of awful gay club music still reigns supreme in the straight world. Even though Energy 92.7’s been around for less than three years and is in truth, as I found out after tuning in, more prone to playing Billboard Hot 100 pop remixes than actual circuit music, it’s had to bear the backlash brunt. As the most visible mainstream gay dance music giant of the moment, it’s become guilty by association.


Greg: "Oh my god, he is such a freakin’ moron."

Fernando: "Thirty-six percent approval ratings is far too high for this president."

Greg: "The only way my gay ass would be impressed by [George W.] Bush is if he put a VJ in the Oval Office. Bitch, please — how many more troops have to die?!"

Fernando: "You’re listening to Energy, 92.7 FM. Here’s Rihanna with ‘Don’t Stop the Music.’"

Fernando and Greg in the Morning

This is how gay Energy 92.7 is: when I first visited the station recently, the station’s party promoter, Juan Garcia, recognized my hair product from 50 paces. "Little orange can, girl?" he called out to greet me.

This is how gay Energy 92.7 is: when I sat in on the morning show with hosts Fernando Ventura and Greg Sherrell, they agonized during songs over the fact that something called the "smart-fat diet" forbade them to eat nuts for a week. "You can write anything you want," Sherrell, a high-voiced, blond spitfire who frequently informs listeners that he’s wearing his most expensive jeans, told me. "But if you don’t say I’m thin, I finna kill you."

Fernando and Greg in the Morning, on air weekdays from 6 to 10 a.m., is one of the most popular shows on Energy, which has a potential reach of 3.2 million listeners. The show could be accused of a lot of things — gay minstrelsy, pandering to stereotypes, making me get up at 4 a.m. to sit in — but it could never be accused of being unexciting. It’s the only openly gay morning show on commercial radio, and some of the live quips traded by DJ Fernando, Greg "the Gay Sportscaster," and their "straight man" producer Jason are dizzy scandal. Vaginal pubic hair "creeps up like bougainvillea," poppers are bad on first dates "because they’ll make your throat sore," and Kylie Minogue gets the verbal knockdown but "Oh, we love her: she had breast cancer!" Interspersed with segments like "Homo vs. Hetero," during which one caller of each orientation is quizzed about the other’s lifestyle, are Kelly Clarkson and the Killers remixes, "Vintage Beats" by Blondie and Michael Jackson, and current dance-chart toppers by Bananarama, David Guetta, and the Sunlovers.

It’s a thing of wonder in a society still riddled with homophobia — I dare you to find a YouTube video with more than 5,000 views that doesn’t have the word fag in the comments — to have such an unequivocally queeny experience, with a strong straight following, sail through the airwaves each morning. The tunes take a backseat to the dish. "At 9:30 in the morning you can only get so adventurous with your music selections," Ventura, an easygoing, bearish guy, told me. "I mostly stick with the hits."

The station, located in a murky green downtown office building, is a buzzing hive of fluid sexuality and good-natured candidness. The hyperdrive strains of DJ Tiesto and Deepface fill the air. As the only independently owned and operated commercial radio station in San Francisco, Energy’s done well. As a suitor of the gay audience, it’s done spectacularly. Even though its press materials emphasize its appeal to a broad variety of dance music fans, Energy’s known as "the gay dance station" to most San Franciscans. (That’s not so much the case across the bay, where Energy has gained a lot of traction in the Latino and Asian communities.)

Balancing a constant need for revenue with gay political intricacies can get tricky. A chill shot through me when I saw "Energy 92.7 owns the gay community" printed in bold and underlined in the station’s media kit — apparently we’re all slaves to remixed Cher. And even though the station is a major sponsor of most large gay charity events, there have been a few controversies. The gay media has fussed that Energy is co-owned and run by a straight man, Joe Bayliss, and the station has been blamed for dumbing down gay culture to grasp the pink dollar (although that’s like saying Britney Spears’s performance sucked because her heel broke). And last year Energy released a branded compilation mix CD — with an Army recruitment ad slipped into the packaging.

"We made a mistake. It was just stupid and insensitive on our part," Bayliss, a frank, handsome man with a ready smile, said when I asked him about the Army debacle. "This institution offered us a lot of money, and hey, we’re a struggling, independent business. We answered every complaint personally to apologize. We learned our lesson." (A new, military-free compilation comes out next month, to be carried by Best Buy, with proceeds going to local AIDS charities.)


That’s the politics, but what about the music? "I’m starting to build up a dance music collection," said Bayliss, who’s been working in radio since he was a kid. "This particular format tested through the roof in this market when we were looking to buy the station. I had no idea who Paul Oakenfold or Kaskade was when we started. I used to run a country station, and I didn’t know Merle Haggard from a hole in the ground either. But we’re 100 percent committed to this music and its audience. We have to be — our listeners are very dedicated."

Rabid may be a better word. The phone lines were jammed while I was there, and according to programming manager John Peake, the in-boxes are full every morning with e-mails from gaga enthusiasts. Good portions of Energy listeners stream the station online, and employees interact continuously with members of Energy’s E-Club virtual community. Even the afternoon DJs were leaping up and down in the booth while I was there, pumping their fists heavenward.

"Often we’ll get these enormously long e-mails from people listing every song we played that night, going into intense detail about each one and exactly why it was so important to them," Peake told me. "We get a lot of e-mails at six in the morning."

Looking compact in a lavender oxford, faded jeans, and a kicky Italian snakeskin belt, Peake took me through the music selection process. Each week he and music programmer Trevor Simpson go through new releases, recently submitted remixes, and requests from the station’s fans. They form a playlist based on what they think will most appeal to listeners and then program their picks into a hilariously retro MS-DOS program called Selector with, I shit you not, a rainbow-colored interface. "It’s tacky, but it’s bulletproof," Peake said, laughing. DJs either punch up the tracks automatically or refer to the playlist to make their own mixes using Serato software. Zero vinyl’s involved.

Peake and I talked about the criteria for choosing songs. "It’s a moving target. There’s definitely a ton of music out there that falls within our brand, and our nighttime and weekend DJs get to play a huge variety of mix music from around the world, so there’s a lot of latitude. I think our biggest challenge right now is figuring out the role of hip-hop. Our younger listeners demand it, but a lot of our demographic is still afraid of it. If we play something with rapping in it, we get flooded with angry callers screaming, ‘How dare you play this! Don’t you know it’s homophobic?’"

Later I spoke with Energy’s promotions director, Tim Kwong, about the backlash against the station. "We get it from both sides," Kwong, a young Bay Area native with impressively gelled hair, said. "Trance and progressive fans say, ‘Why don’t you play more harder, locally produced records?’ Rock and hip-hop fans want us to play fewer remixes of their favorite songs. We try to strike a balance, but the truth is what we do works for our audience."

"I can totally understand the frustration people feel when a certain image is projected that doesn’t fit them," he continued, addressing the gay question. "As an Asian American with a punk and indie background, I have a lot of experience with stereotypes, believe me. But we try to be as broad as possible in our appeal and acknowledge differences. And we’re not bribing people to listen to us."


To their credit, the folks at Energy also acknowledge that their programming may not be in sync with what’s going on in the gay club scene now. "It’s apparent when you listen to the morning show that I don’t go out to clubs very much," DJ Fernando told me. "But when I do, I notice there is so much more choice these days. In the past there were a bunch of huge nights or clubs, and everybody went. Now there’s a night or a bar for everybody."

"Ick! I think it’s total crap. It’s like the dance music equivalent of Weird Al," said Bill Picture, who, along with his partner, DJ Dirty Knees, is the city’s biggest gay rock club promoter, when I asked him his opinion of Energy. "We’re much more into visceral rock energy and seeing live, local queer punk. But a lot of gay people do like that kind of music. And I’m glad that there’s a radio station that they can tune in to. How boring would it be if all gay people liked the same things? We’re happy to be an alternative."

The alternatives have arrived aplenty. In addition to Picture’s metal events, there’s DJ Bus Station John’s bathhouse disco revival scene, which fetishizes pre-AIDS vinyl like the smell of polished leather. There’s DJ David Harness’s Super Soul Sundayz, which focuses on atmospheric Chicago house sounds. There’s Charlie Horse, drag queen Anna Conda’s carnivalesque trash-rock drag club that often — gasp! — includes live singing. Queer-oriented parties with old-school show tunes, square dancing, tango, hula, Asian Hi-NRG, hyphy, mashups, Mexican banda, country line dancing, and a bonanza of other styles have found popularity in the past few years. The night’s a sissy smorgasbord of sound.

There’s even a bit of a backlash to all of this wacky fracturation and, especially, the iTunes DJ mentality. A segment of gay club music makers is starting to look back to the early techno and house days for inspiration, yearning for a time when seamless mixing and meticulously produced four-on-the-floor tunes — not sheer musical novelty — propelled masses onto dance floors.

Honey Soundsystem, a gay DJ collective formed by DJs Ken Vulsion and Pee Play and including a rotating membership of local vinyl enthusiasts, attempts to distill Italo disco, Euro dance, acid house, neominimal techno, and other cosmic sounds of the past three decades into smooth, ahistorical sets spanning the musical spectrum from DAF’s 1983 robo-homo hit "Brothers" to Kevin Aviance’s 1998 vogue-nostalgic "Din Da Da" to the Mahala Rai Banda’s 2006 technoklezmer conflagration "Mahalageasca (Felix B Jaxxhouz Dub)."

"Girl, that shit must be pumped out by a computer with a beard somewhere," the 21-year-old Pee Play opined of Energy 92.7’s music. I didn’t tell him how close to the truth he was as he continued, "But I’m over most of the goofy alternashit too. I never lived though circuit, but the music is fucked-up. I’m just really into quality. I want to play records that every time you hear them, they just get better."


I’m not sure if there’s such a thing as gay music. If there were, its representative incarnation would probably be closer to experimental duo Matmos’s homophilic soundscapes, like those on their 2006 album The Rose Has Teeth in the Mouth of the Beast (Matador) — each track named for a gay community hero and composed of poetically related sampled objects ("Sequins and Steam for Larry Levan," "Rag for William S. Burroughs") — than anything that ever soared from Donna Summers’s throat. As far as gay dance goes, the epochal choreography of the uncompromisingly out Mark Morris, currently the hottest dance maker in the country, may prove more historically resilient than the image of semiclothed bears raving on a cruise ship.

Yet despite the Internet drain, clubs are still where homos meet to get sweaty, and the music they get sweaty to has a big impact on the culture at large. Dance music is ephemeral in the best sense: how good it sounds has everything to do with how and where you experience it and what and who you experience it with. Energy’s playlist was perfectly amusing in a broadcast booth full of campy, happy people or while twirling half naked in my BF’s bedroom. But in a club setting, maybe not so much — it all depends on who my been-there, done-that ass is dancing next to, no?

I recently spoke with Steve Fabus, one of the original DJs at San Francisco’s legendary Trocadero Transfer gay disco, launched in 1977. He’s been spinning continuously for 30 years and has pretty much seen it all. "Dance music is magic — it’s what gay people are," he explained. "It brought us together and kept us going through some incredibly hard times. Disco gathered everyone under one roof, and then house came along and did the same. Circuit was fun in the beginning, but it got too aggressive, and people of color or people into other things didn’t feel welcome. It took over everything, and, of course, it burned out."

"I love that kids are expressing themselves in smaller clubs, with different kinds of playing. It’s encouraging," he continued. "But it’s a shame that circuit took the big clubs down with it, where everyone could share in this experience together. Of course, there are other factors involved — crystal meth, the Internet, economics. You have to be very clever to be gay and live here now. It’s just so damned expensive."

"But oh well," he said with a laugh. "Everything comes in cycles."

Extra! Click here for the Gayest. Videos. Ever.

Click here for a list of upcoming alternaqueer dance events

The works


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Some films glean artful pleasure from the pains of labor. One flourishing subgenre or strain of documentary tackles working conditions in countries across the world, highlighting the plight of the marginalized to make ends meet and maintain dignity in the face of unjust or extreme conditions. In a sense, Ghosts and Numbers and Luchando, two features at this year’s San Francisco Documentary Film Festival, belong to this group, but they are most interesting for the ways that they differ from it, in content and style. Both movies highlight the precariousness of labor and favor a less direct and centralized consideration of employment’s role in shaping an individual’s existence.

Ghosts and Numbers and Luchando are like distant cousins; they are blood-bound by an integral interest in the working class, but they reside in different lands and possess divergent personalities. In fact, the title of each film suggests something about its filmmaker’s approach to theme.

Alan Klima’s Ghosts and Numbers is a bit cryptic, with a penchant for interweaving ostensibly unrelated elements. One may wonder what the relationship is between ghosts and numbers, but the more relevant inquiry relates to that between labor and modernity. Convictions and a critique can be discerned amid Klima’s clever array of images and concerns, but no easy conclusions are reached.

Noelle Stout’s Luchando, on the other hand, is more up-front and focused in its presentation of the titular subject matter. Of course, the title’s meaning is obscure for non-Spanish speakers, and, even in Spanish, the term is slang instead of a standard word for people who get paid for having sex. But once the slang is understood (it is explained onscreen by one of the subjects), there is no uncertainty that Luchando is a clear and determined depiction of the lives of Cuban hustlers, without any overt class analysis.

These films share a relatively subtle sense of subversion. Klima’s Thailand-set documentary presents the quagmires of modernization and shows compassion for its victims at a time when the more popular sentiment is to rally patriotically around the Asian country’s entrance into the global community (and thus celebrate a preference for glistening urbania over a bucolic tradition). Klima observes lottery-ticket sellers as they discuss the vulnerable state of their occupation in the face of human-replacing technology and governmental limitations. Their earnest and desperate presence contrasts powerfully with other more reflective components and is part of an almost unsettling mixture of elements. Shots of unfinished Bangkok skyscrapers are matched with a voice-over concerning the Thai economy. Abstracted imagery is paired with stories of encounters with ghosts. Vérité-style footage is used for political protest and for a visit to a fortune-teller. At worst, these methods are a bit desultory, with some scenes in need of truncation. But aside from those moments, Ghosts and Numbers glimmers with a rare blend of mystery and humanity.

The humanity of Luchando is more intimate. Whereas Klima’s film uses cinepoetic musings to break up its direct human engagement, Stout’s presents pure portraiture — though it is difficult not to succumb to awe before Havana’s photogenic splendor. Stout surreptitiously captures the daily lives of four prostitutes, hesitantly heeding the warning of subjects when cops appear on the scene. These moments and bits of testimony give the sense that her subjects exist on the outskirts of safety, perpetually in a danger zone because of their gay identity or association. This is most poignant in the case of the transgender woman who is verbally assaulted as the film opens and later talks about being forced to dress as a man. Perhaps Luchando would be enhanced by a look outside the immediate scope of its subjects, in order to get a larger sense of the social conditions in which they are struggling. But there is also satisfaction to be found in its tightly focused account of lives that are both ordinary and foreign.

The sixth SF DocFest runs Sept. 28–Oct. 10 at the Roxie Film Center, 3117 16th St., SF. Information about tickets ($10) and a complete schedule can be obtained by calling (415) 820-3907 or visiting www.sfindie.com.


Tues/2, 7 p.m.; Oct. 7, 2:45 p.m.; $10


Sat/29 and Oct. 5, 9:15 p.m.; Oct. 6, 7 p.m.; $10

For an interview with Luchando director Noelle Stout, go to Pixel Vision at www.sfbg.com/blogs/pixel_vision.

Hayes and Kebab and Stacks’


› paulr@sfbg.com

On a warm late summer afternoon a few weeks ago, a friend and I stood in front of a shuttered market on Hayes Street, marveling at the shutters themselves. These really weren’t shutters but a kind of corrugated-steel fortification, the sort of thing people in hurricane country buy at Sears so high winds don’t blow out all the windows. Here the danger would not have been hurricanes but vandalism and perhaps an occasional touch of civil unrest — but during our momentary vigil we saw nothing of the kind, not a possibility nor even a hint. Just a dowdy old market that had come to seem out of place, slightly scruffy and paranoid, on what has become, in the past 15 years or so, one of the city’s most transformed stretches of culture and commerce.

Although Hayes Street’s darkest days probably fell in the mid-1990s — when a long symphony strike turned the western precincts of the Civic Center into a ghost town — the neighborhood’s prospects were already brightening even then. True, the idling of the symphony meant that the area’s restaurants had fewer people to serve preperformance dinners or postperformance desserts to, and things were already bad enough with the earthquake-related closures of government buildings near City Hall and the dislocation of the people who worked in them and made up a reliable lunch crowd. But the elevated Central Freeway, the malignant tendril of concrete that cut the neighborhood in two, was succumbing, bit by bit, to ballot initiatives, and removal of that blight meant that there was nowhere to go but up.

When the sun shines in Hayes Valley these days, it’s difficult to remember that dank structure and its scary shadows, or how unsettling it could be to walk along Hayes west of Gough in the evening. Today the scene is one of quirky, pricey boutiques, the wonderful village green, which is full of lunchtime people and romping dogs and whizzing bicycles — and of course restaurants.

There are some excellent restaurants in the vicinity: Jardinière, Hayes Street Grill, Indigo, Absinthe. Although Essencia is too new to put firmly in this category, its bona fides are impressive. But all these places are east of or on Gough. West of Gough, there’s still surprisingly little beyond various sorts of cantinas that cater to the lunch folk.

Suppenküche, with its au courant German cooking, is interesting and worthy in an oddball sort of way, but it’s held down its far corner for more than a decade. Modern Tea, across the street, is also interesting and worthy, but its food service, while estimable, is circumscribed. Frjtz has fabulous frites and sandwiches, Patxi some excellent pizzas, but you’re in and out of those places.

For a time there seemed the possibility of something notable opening in the glassy new building at the corner of Octavia. The restaurant space was large and commanded views of the green, but the first occupant was Café Grillades, which was essentially a creperie. Some months ago the place reopened as Stacks’ — as in stacks of pancakes, as in we deal in breakfast and lunch and, like West Coast stockbrokers, are done by midafternoon.

The restricted hours appear to have heightened the restaurant’s allure. Grillades served dinner but was often emptyish in the after-dark hours. Stacks’, by contrast, actually seems to have people waiting at the host’s station for tables. I would like to say the public’s renewed enthusiasm has to do with the food, but Stacks’ menu doesn’t seem too different from Grillades’ and even includes a wide selection of crepes, along with Belgian waffles, omelets, soups, and sandwiches.

The food is good rather than memorable, except for the prices, which reflect the chichification of Hayes Street. Soup and sandwich (the combination changes daily) will run you $8.69. For that you get a pretty-good-size bowl of, say, chicken noodle soup (with plenty of wide, fettucelike noodles) and a turkey and cheese sandwich on soft whole wheat bread. This is just the sort of lunch your nutrition-involved mother would make you eat, if she could still make you do anything.

A plaudit too for the turkey burger ($8.89), which was cooked through — as is essential with poultry — but not dry. Turkey burgers need a secret ingredient; I use an egg yolk, which helps keep the meat moist and also provides a binding effect. Could this be the Stacks’ technique? I couldn’t tell, but the kitchen knows what it’s doing here.

For years a noontime stalwart was Sage, one of those Chinese restaurants that seemed as if it had always been there and always would be. Then, one day last fall, it wasn’t. Now it is a Middle Eastern place called Hayes and Kebab. Not much has changed except the cuisine, and the fact that there is no longer full table service: you order at the counter, take a numbered placard, and wait for the food to be brought to you.

The falafel ($5.95) is served burrito-style, wrapped in lavash instead of the usual pita bread, and this is an improvement. There is also, squirting gently from the cylinder, a tasty sauce of yogurt spiked with paprika — a nice touch, since falafel can be dry. We liked the charcoal-grilled chicken shish kebab ($9.95), in part because the marinated meat remained juicy and because it was presented with tasty little salads of bulgur wheat and rice pilaf dotted with green peas, raisins, and slivered almonds.

Hayes and Kebab serves dinner, if you can’t get into Essencia next door or you overlooked Stacks’ daylight-only policy. Said King Théoden as he led the Rohirrim into battle before the walls of Minas Tirith, "Fear no darkness!"


Mon.–Thurs. and Sun., 11 a.m.–10 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 11 a.m.–11 p.m.

406 Hayes, SF

(415) 552-3440

Beer and wine



Wheelchair accessible


Daily, 7 a.m.–2:30 p.m.

501 Hayes, SF

(415) 241-9011


Beer and wine



Wheelchair accessible

Raw meat


› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS It was a cooking party. The theme was mint. Sockywonk made peppermint ice cream sandwiches. I made bò tái chanh, that Vietnamese raw beef salad that I love. There was minty lamb, minty pork, salads with mint, shrimp cold rolls (with mint), and, of course, mint juleps and mojitos.

Earl Butter brought toothpaste.

The eating happened on a roof in the Tenderloin, and we did not catch the roof or the building or the neighborhood on fire. Although coals did spill. It’s the strangest thing. No matter how pretty I get, no matter how nicely I dress, no matter how long my nails are, I still wind up on grill duty.

If I stay in the city (and away from chickens) long enough, I will one day soon arrive at a dinner party in a long, low-cut, lime green dress and strappy heels, with a fresh professional manicure, or better yet white opera gloves, and the hosts will hug me at the door, hand me a crumple of newspapers and a lighter, and send me out to the deck to get the coals going.

I can’t even begin to tell you how proud I am of this fact, or how uncertain I am that opera gloves are even a thing. My point being that, what the fuck, am I the only one in the world who knows about charcoal?

Answer: yes.

Here’s how I know: I’m in the kitchen, right, having gotten the coals started — in a chimney starter on a Weber on the roof. Which is where the party is, too, so everyone is standing or sitting around sipping minty drinks and talking and laughing and probably smoking some things, if I know people. The pork is marinating, if I know pork. There is salmon. There are sausages. And all these things, and people, are waiting patiently for the coals to be ready.

My meat, don’t forget, is being served raw. That’s why I’m downstairs in the kitchen, with an apron on, alone, whistling, drinking mint juleps, squeezing lemons into a bowl, adding fish sauce, sugar, black pepper, hot peppers, and minced garlic. I’m slicing a neighborhood-appropriate tenderloin against the grain into thin slices, more or less dipping them into this pungent marinade, then arranging them on a plate with raw red peppers, raw white onions, crushed roasted peanuts, sesame seeds, and fresh-ripped cilantro and mint.

That’s how you make bò tái chanh, BTW.

How to burn down a house: when the coals are ready, pick up the chimney starter in one hand, and while you are cleaning off the grill with the other hand, accidentally pour the burning coals onto the roof, avoiding, if possible, your feet. (As that will alert you, and by extension your fellow revelers, and perhaps the whole neighborhood, to the situation. And hurt.)

I’m only guessing. I don’t know what happened up there. My mind was in the meat. My hands smelled like heaven, happiness seemed not only attainable but very near, and suddenly there was a commotion and Earl Butter and others were coming down the stairs and into the kitchen.

"The coals spilled on the roof," Earl said. "What should we do?"

I happened to be holding tongs. I handed them to him and said, "Pick them up." He looked at me like … like … like … I took the tongs out of his hands and went up to the roof myself.

The situation was well under control by then. A guy was pouring something from a glass onto the spilled coals and spreading them around a bit or grinding them out with his shoe. Everyone else was standing around talking and laughing and drinking minty drinks. The roof was smoking, just a little.

Not even all the coals had spilled, so there was still a chance of cooking stuff. I didn’t mean to go on and on about it, least of all at anyone else’s expense. Everyone knows I’m the clumsiest person alive. I also happen to be, apparently, a respected thinker and fire-prevention theorist.

My advice, in regard to accidental cooking fires of any kind, is to put them out. You do know not to pour water on burning oil, right? Or straight whiskey onto a fledgling flame. If it’s a mixed drink, use your judgment…. Who mixed it? With what? How much ice?

Tongs, spatulas, and small shovels are good things to keep near a barbecue, maybe a box of baking soda in the kitchen. Other ideas include always inviting at least one experienced fire fighter to all of your barbecues, or, hell, serving the meat raw. Now you know how.

A big how-to


› andrea@altsexcolumn.com

Dear readers:

The subject of size-discordant couples, discussed here recently, is a perennial favorite and will only get more so until such a time as we USA-ians fulfill our currently apparent destiny and become a nation of like-size giants in both height and girth. Till then, though, making a couple’s ends meet will continue to be an issue and a puzzlement. I suggested pillows, as usual, specifically the sort of ramps and wedges sold expensively as sex pillows and less appealingly but more affordably at medical device emporia, and heard from half of such a couple who eschew such artifice and stick with the basics (this is for a tall guy–short girl couple, remember; thin person–fat person follows):

His wife can kneel on the bed, crouching forward a bit and stabilizing herself with her arms, with ass towards the edge. Unless the guy is the Jolly Green Giant, he should be able to steer into her with just a little doing. She will be more comfortably positioned on the bed than bending over while standing up too. My partner is six feet one, and I’m five-three — we make it work just fine!

Then I took the discussion to one of the invisible rooms full of invisible friends I frequent out on the Interwebs. (What? You don’t have invisible friends? I couldn’t live without them, and they come in very handy at this job too. Where do you think I found you a cabaret singer who can give advice on felutf8g with abandon without causing damage to the vocal cords, for instance, or a realtor willing to comment on the thankfully now-fading fad called "house humping"?) This invisi-friend is generally rather reserved and bookish in style (I was going to say "gently reared" but thought better of it in context), unlike another longtime Web friend I might have asked to comment, the possibly altogether-too-fabulous Miss Plumcake, now busy garnering famitude over at Manolo for the Big Girl (manolobig.com). Still, still waters and all that. Here is my bookish invisi-friend, in all her surprising, not to say shocking, candor. Say thank you!

"I am very fat. My husband and I are both about the same height, and he’s slender. We both have joint problems. We also have awesome sex. So, here are some things that work for us — keeping in mind that it never hurts to stretch a little beforehand.

"The best all-around position is what we call scissors. (Possible a misnomer — it’s not the classic scissors position, almost more of a hybrid between that and spooning. Spissors.) I lie on my left side, knees slightly bent, and raise my right leg. He kneels and enters me, and we roll over, me pushing off with my left leg, so that he winds up lying on his side and I have my right leg over him. My left leg is between his two legs. I am almost, but not quite, lying on my back, and we’re at an angle to each other. This is great because it’s completely comfortable, he can reach to touch me, and we both have good access to me for hands or vibrator. A variation on this is to leave me on my side but throw my right leg over his shoulder while he remains kneeling — great penetration and good access — but it’s not as comfortable for long.

"If you have the right furniture, cowgirl can be very easy. This position blows his mind. We line up a rectangular ottoman perpendicular to the sofa, and he lies back — propped up on big pillows — with his butt on the ottoman. He’s lying near one end of the sofa so that I can use the arm to help take my weight. All I do is straddle the ottoman and him (they’re almost the same width) and lower myself. Once down, I can rest my arms on the sofa, lean forward, or sit upright. It does give my thighs a workout, but despite my weight it’s comfortable for him and much, much more comfortable for me than kneeling on a bed — my weight is either sitting down on him or on my feet. He has a fantastic view and it’s perfect for kissing. Only drawback for me is that I can’t really get to my clit.

"Three or four bed pillows also help for doggy-style, so I don’t have to rest my entire weight on my arms. The sofa and ottoman are also handy for this position; I put one knee on the sofa, one on the ottoman, and he stands behind me while I rest against the sofa arm, piled with cushions.

"Positions that don’t work so well: reverse cowgirl (who cares anyway?) and classic missionary. We can do the latter, but it’s not very comfortable, and I don’t recommend it for the big-bellied."

If more people wrote me letters like that, I wouldn’t have to get child care on writing days. I could just cut and paste and go play patty-cake. So get on that, readers, won’t you?



Andrea is home with the kids and going stir-crazy. Write her a letter! Ask her a question! Send her your tedious e-mail forwards! On second thought, don’t do that. Just ask her a question.

To see or not to see


› annalee@techsploitation.com

TECHSPLOITATION I did not know the screaming man, nor did I know what country he was in. My view of him was shaking — the video was probably taken with a cell phone or cheapo digital camera with limited vid capability. Suddenly another man came into the frame and cut out the first man’s throat, which didn’t stop the screaming but instead turned it into a horrible, high-pitched wheezing. Eventually he sawed off the rest of his victim’s head and threw it around a little bit just for good measure. I had to stop watching, so I killed the tab in my browser.

My first thought was: what the fuck? And then, as the nausea subsided: what the fuck are these people trying to prove by killing a man like this? I was hungry for context.

The next day, I found myself asking more questions, but not about the motives of the murderers. Instead, I wondered about the communications technologies that allowed me to see that video in the first place. A group of bloodthirsty guys had to have handheld video-capture devices, video editing software, and a high-speed Internet connection to upload the finished product. Then they had to host the video somewhere that anybody could see it. In this case, that somewhere was the Internet Archive, a nonprofit organization in San Francisco devoted to the preservation of history in digital form.

Most of the Internet Archive (www.archive.org) is organized as a physical-world archive would be: curators like film historian Rick Prelinger donate rare and antique collections of media that they’ve digitized, and the archive makes them available to the world. But archive founder Brewster Kahle has a populist streak. He believes the public should have a say in what gets preserved in the historical record, so he invites the public to contribute. That’s why the Internet Archive has a small area on its Web site called the Open Source Movie Collection, where anyone can archive his or her media.

Kahle wasn’t expecting to host raw war footage when he created the open source collection. But curator Alexis Rossi says the archive receives about 30 to 50 Arab-language videos per day that are related to the Iraq war. "About two or three per week are really violent," she adds. "They are taxing to watch." Kahle, for his part, wasn’t sure what to do about them. They are undeniably a legitimate part of the historical record of the war and other conflicts in the Middle East. Watching them provides people in the West with a rare opportunity to see what Iraqi groups, including terrorists, are saying about themselves.

These videos don’t threaten national security, and they aren’t illegal because obscenity laws apply only to sexual content. So Kahle’s worries are purely about social good. Though these videos form a crucial part of the historical record of the war, something about them seems just, well, wrong. Then again, who is to say what is wrong in this case? War is brutal and deadly — hiding that fact isn’t going to help us achieve peace.

After agonizing over how to deal with the archive’s growing collection of war videos and consulting with experts, Kahle has come up with a solution that satisfies both his archivist and populist sides. He’s planning to set up a system on the archive that will allow users to post warnings about violent footage. These warnings will show up before other people see the videos; this way, the community can warn its members not to watch unless they are prepared for extremely graphic content. Rossi also hopes that the Internet Archive community will get involved in other ways too. "I’d love somebody to translate some of these videos for us," she says. (You can find many of the Arab-language videos at www.archive.org/details/iraq_middleeast.)

That warning policy is similar to community-policing systems on the movie-sharing site YouTube. The difference is that the Internet Archive — unlike YouTube — will rarely remove a video. Kahle is committed to preserving history in all its forms, even the ugly ones. It’s a lesson he thinks the mainstream media, with its whitewashed coverage of the war, would do well to learn. If we don’t remember the past, we’re doomed to repeat it.

Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who always pays attention to what she’s told to forget.

The underground campaign


Click here for the Guardian 2007 Election Center: interviews, profiles, commentary, and more

› news@sfbg.com

Elections usually create an important public discussion on the direction of the city. Unfortunately, that debate isn’t really happening this year, largely because of the essentially uncontested races for sheriff and district attorney and the perception that Mayor Gavin Newsom is certain to be reelected, which has led him to ignore his opponents and the mainstream media to give scant coverage to the mayoral race and the issues being raised.

To the casual observer, it might seem as if everyone is content with the status quo.

But the situation looks quite different from the conference room here at the Guardian, where this season’s endorsement interviews with candidates, elected officials, and other political leaders have revealed a deeply divided city and real frustration with its leadership and direction.

In fact, we were struck by the fact that nobody we talked to had much of anything positive to say about Newsom. Granted, most of the interviews were with his challengers — but we’ve also talked to Sheriff Mike Hennessey and District Attorney Kamala Harris, both of whom have endorsed the mayor, and to supporters and opponents of various ballot measures. And from across the board, we got the sense that Newsom’s popularity in the polls isn’t reflected in the people who work with him on a regular basis.

Newsom will be in to talk to us Oct. 1, and we’ll be running his interview on the Web and allowing him ample opportunity to present his views and his responses.

Readers can listen to the interviews online at www.sfbg.com and check out our endorsements and explanations in next week’s issue. In the meantime, we offer this look at some of the interesting themes, revelations, and ideas that are emerging from the hours and hours of discussions, because some are quite noteworthy.

Like the fact that mayoral candidates Quintin Mecke and Harold Hoogasian — respectively the most progressive and the most conservative candidate in the race — largely agree on what’s wrong with the Newsom administration, as well as many solutions to the city’s most vexing problems. Does that signal the possibility of new political alliances forming in San Francisco, or at least new opportunities for a wider and more inclusive debate?

Might Lonnie Holmes and Ahimsa Porter Sumchai — two African American candidates with impressive credentials and deep ties to the community — have something to offer a city struggling with high crime rates, lingering racism, environmental and social injustice, and a culture of economic hopelessness? And if we’re a city open to new ideas, how about considering Josh Wolf’s intriguing plan for improving civic engagement, Grasshopper Alec Kaplan’s "green for peace" initiative, or Chicken John Rinaldi’s call to recognize and encourage San Francisco as a city of art and innovation?

There’s a lot going on in the political world that isn’t making the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle. The interviews we’ve been conducting point to a street-level democracy San Francisco–style in all its messy and wonderful glory. And they paint a picture of possibilities that lie beyond the news releases.


As the owner of Hoogasian Flowers on Seventh Street and a vocal representative of the small-business community, mayoral candidate Hoogasian describes himself as a "sensitive Republican," "a law-and-order guy" who would embrace "zero-based budgeting" if elected. "The best kind of government is the least kind of government," Hoogasian told us.

Those are hardly your typical progressive sentiments.

Yet Hoogasian has also embraced the Guardian‘s call for limiting new construction of market-rate housing until the city develops a plan to encourage the building of more housing affordable to poor and working-class San Franciscans. He supports public power, greater transparency in government, a moratorium on the privatization of government services, and a more muscular environmentalism. And he thinks the mayor is out of touch.

"I’m a native of San Francisco, and I’m pissed off," said Hoogasian, whose father ran for mayor 40 years ago with a similar platform against Joe Alioto. "Newsom is an empty suit. When was the last time the mayor stood before a pool of reporters and held a press conference?"

Mecke, program director of the Safety Network, a citywide public safety program promoting community-driven responses to crime and violence, is equally acerbic when it comes to Newsom’s news-release style of governance.

"It’s great that he wants to focus on the rock star elements, but we have to demand public accountability," said Mecke, who as a member of the Shelter Monitoring Committee helps inspect the city’s homeless shelters to ensure that people are treated with dignity and respect. "Even Willie Brown had some modicum of engagement."

Mecke advocates for progressive solutions to the crime problem. "We need to get the police to change," he said. "At the moment we have 10 fiefdoms, and the often-touted idea of community policing doesn’t exist."

Hoogasian said he jumped into the mayor’s race after "this bozo took away 400 garbage cans and called it an antilitter program." Mecke leaped into the race the day after progressive heavyweight Sup. Chris Daly announced he wasn’t running, and he won the supervisor’s endorsement. Both Hoogasian and Mecke express disgust at Newsom’s ignoring the wishes of San Franciscans, who voted last fall in favor of the mayor attending Board of Supervisors meetings to have monthly policy discussions.

"Why is wi-fi on the ballot [Proposition J] if the mayor didn’t respect that process last year?" Mecke asked.

Hoogasian characterized Newsom’s ill-fated Google-EarthLink deal as "a pie-in-the-sky idea suited to getting young people thinking he’s the guns" while only giving access to "people sitting on the corner of Chestnut with laptops, drinking lattes."

In light of San Francisco’s housing crisis, Hoogasian said he favors a moratorium on market-rate housing until 25,000 affordable units are built, and Mecke supports placing a large affordable-housing bond on next year’s ballot, noting, "We haven’t had one in 10 years."

Hoogasian sees Newsom’s recent demand that all department heads give him their resignations as further proof that the mayor is "chickenshit." Mecke found it "embarrassing" that Sup. Ross Mirkarimi had to legislate police foot patrols twice in 2006, overcoming Newsom vetoes.

"San Francisco should give me a chance to make this city what it deserves to be, " Hoogasian said.

Mecke said, "I’m here to take a risk, take a chance, regardless of what I think the odds are."


Holmes and Sumchai have made the murder rate and the city’s treatment of African Americans the centerpieces of their campaigns. Both support increased foot patrols and more community policing, and they agree that the root of the problem is the need for more attention and resources.

"The plan is early intervention," Holmes said, likening violence prevention to health care. "We need to start looking at preventative measures."

In addition to mentoring, after-school programs, and education, Holmes specifically advocates comprehensive community resource centers — a kind of one-stop shopping for citizens in need of social services — "so individuals do not have to travel that far outside their neighborhoods. If we start putting city services out into the communities, then not only are we looking at a cost savings to city government, but we’re also looking at a reduction in crime."

Sumchai, a physician, has studied the cycles of violence that occur as victims become perpetrators and thinks more medical approaches should be applied to social problems. "I would like to see the medical community address violence as a public health problem," she said.

Holmes said he thinks the people who work on violence prevention need to be homegrown. "We also need to talk about bringing individuals to the table who understand what’s really going on in the streets," he said. "The answer is not bringing in some professional or some doctor from Boston or New York because they had some elements of success there.

"When you take a plant that’s not native to the soil and try to plant it, it dies…. If there’s no way for those program elements or various modalities within those programs to take root somewhere, it’s going to fail, and that’s what we’ve seen in the Newsom administration."

Holmes spoke highly of former mayor Art Agnos’s deployment of community workers to walk the streets and mitigate violence by talking to kids and brokering gang truces.

The fate of the southeast sector of the city concerns both locals. Sumchai grew up in Sunnydale, and Holmes lived in the Western Addition and now lives in Bernal Heights. Neither is pleased with the city’s redevelopment plan for the Hunters Point Shipyard. "I have never felt that residential development at the shipyard would be safe," said Sumchai, who favors leaving the most toxic sites as much-needed open space.

Despite some relatively progressive ideas — Holmes suggested a luxury tax to finance housing and services for homeless individuals, and Sumchai would like to see San Francisco tax fatty foods to pay for public health programs — both were somewhat averse to aligning too closely with progressives.

Sumchai doesn’t like the current makeup of the Board of Supervisors, and Holmes favors cutting management in government and turning services over to community-based organizations.

But both made it clear that Newsom isn’t doing much for the African American community.


The mayor’s race does have several colorful characters, from the oft-arrested Kaplan to nudist activist George Davis to ever-acerbic columnist and gadfly H. Brown. Yet two of the more unconventional candidates are also offering some of the more original and thought-provoking platforms in the race.

Activist-blogger Wolf made a name for himself by refusing to turn over to a federal grand jury his video footage from an anarchist rally at which a police officer was injured, defying a judge’s order and serving 226 days in federal prison, the longest term ever for someone asserting well-established First Amendment rights.

The Guardian and others have criticized the San Francisco Police Department’s conduct in the case and Newsom’s lack of support. But Wolf isn’t running on a police-reform platform so much as a call for "a new democracy plan" based loosely on the Community Congress models of the 1970s, updated using the modern technologies in which Wolf is fluent.

"The basic principle can be applied more effectively today with the advent of the Internet and Web 2.0 than was at all possible to do in the 1970s," Wolf said, calling for more direct democracy and an end to the facade of public comment in today’s system, which he said is "like talking to a wall."

"It’s not a dialogue, it’s not a conversation, and it’s certainly not a conversation with other people in the city," Wolf said. "No matter who’s mayor or who’s on the Board of Supervisors, the solutions that they are able to come up with are never going to be able to match the collective wisdom of the city of San Francisco. So building an online organism that allows people to engage in discussions about every single issue that comes across City Hall, as well as to vote in a sort of straw-poll manner around every single issue and to have conversations where the solutions can rise to the surface, seems to be a good step toward building a true democracy instead of a representative government."

Also calling for greater populism in government is Chicken John Rinaldi (see "Chicken and the Pot," 9/12/07), who shared his unique political strategy with us in a truly entertaining interview.

"I’m here to ask for the Guardian‘s second-place endorsement," Rinaldi said, aware that we intend to make three recommendations in this election, the first mayor’s race to use the ranked-choice voting system.

Asked if his running to illustrate a mechanism is akin to a hamster running on a wheel, Rinaldi elaborated on the twin issues that he holds dear to his heart — art and innovation — by talking about innovative ways to streamline the current complexities that artists, performers, and others must face when trying to get a permit to put on an event in San Francisco.

"I’m running for the idea of San Francisco," Rinaldi said. He claimed to be painting a campaign logo in the style of a mural on the side of his warehouse in the Mission District: "It’s going to say, ‘Chicken, it’s what’s for mayor,’ or ‘Chicken, the other white mayor.’"

He repeatedly said that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about; when we asked him what he’d do if he won, he told us that he’ll hire Mecke, Holmes, Sumchai, and Wolf to run the city.

Yet his comedy has a serious underlying message: "I want to create an arts spark." And that’s something he’s undeniably good at.


Sheriff Hennessey and District Attorney Harris aren’t being seriously challenged for reelection, and both decided early (despite pleas from their supporters) not to take on Newsom for the top job. In fact, they’re both endorsing him.

But in interviews with us, they were far from universally laudatory toward the incumbent mayor, saying he needs to do much more to get a handle on crime and the social- and economic-justice issues that drive it.

Hennessey said San Francisco’s county jail system is beyond its capacity for inmates and half of them are behind bars on drug charges, even in a city supposedly opposed to the war on drugs.

"I had this conversation with the mayor probably a year ago," Hennessey said. "I took him down to the jail to show him there were people sleeping on the floor at that time. I needed additional staff to open up a new unit. He came down and looked at the jails and said, ‘Yeah, this is not right.’"

Asked how he would cut the jail population in half, Hennessey — in all seriousness — suggested firing the city’s narcotics officers. He readily acknowledged that the culture within the SFPD is a barrier to creating a real dialogue and partnership with the rest of the city. How would he fix it? Make the police chief an elected office.

"From about 1850 to 1895, the San Francisco police chief was elected," he said. "I think it’d be a very good idea for this city. It’s a small enough city that I think the elected politicians really try to be responsive to the public will."

Hennessey said that with $10 million or $15 million more, he could have an immediate impact on violence in the city by expanding a program he began last year called the No Violence Alliance, which combines into one community-based case-management system all of the types of services that perpetrators of violence are believed to be lacking: stable housing, education, decent jobs, and treatment for drug addiction.

Harris told us so-called quality-of-life crimes, including hand-to-hand drug sales no matter how small, deserve to be taken seriously. But it’s not a crime to be poor or homeless, she insisted and eagerly pointed to her own reentry program for offenders, Back on Track.

More than half of the felons paroled in San Francisco in 2003 returned to prison not long thereafter, reaffirming the continuing plague of recidivism in California. Harris said more than 90 percent of the people who participated in the pilot phase of Back on Track were holding down a job or attending school by the time they graduated from the program. "DAs around the country are listening to what we’re saying about how to achieve smart public safety," she said of the reentry philosophy.

But at the end of the day, Harris is a criminal prosecutor before she’s a nonprofit administrator. And her relationship with the SFPD at times has amounted to little more than a four-year stalemate. Harris and former district attorney Terrence Hallinan both endured accusations by cops that they were too easy on defendants and reluctant to prosecute.

To help us understand who’s right when it comes to the murder rate, Harris shared some telling statistics. She said the rate of police solving homicides in San Francisco is about 30 percent, compared with 60 percent nationwide. And she said she’s gotten convictions in 90 percent of the murder cases she’s filed. Nonetheless, cops consistently blame prosecutors for crimes going unpunished.

"I go to so many community meetings and hear the story," she said. "I cannot tell you how often I hear the story…. It’s a self-defeating thing to say, ‘I’m not going to work because the DA won’t prosecute.’ … If no report is taken, then you’re right: I’m not going to prosecute."


In addition to the candidates, the Guardian also invites proponents and opponents of the most important ballot measures (which this year include the transportation reform Measure A and its procar rival, Measure H), as well as a range of elected officials and activists, including Sups. Aaron Peskin, Tom Ammiano, Jake McGoldrick, Mirkarimi, and Daly.

Although none of these people are running for office, the interviews have produced heated moments: Guardian editor and publisher Bruce B. Brugmann took Peskin and other supervisors to task for not supporting Proposition I, which would create a small-business support center. That, Brugmann said, would be an important gesture in a progressive city that has asked small businesses to provide health care, sick pay, and other benefits.

Taxi drivers have also raised concerns to us about a provision of Measure A — which Peskin wrote with input from labor and others and which enjoys widespread support, particularly among progressives — that could allow the Board of Supervisors to undermine the 29-year-old system that allows only active drivers to hold valuable city medallions. In response, Peskin told us that was not the intent and that he is already working with Newsom to address those concerns with a joint letter and possible legislation.

"If San Francisco is going to be a world-class city, it’s got to have a great transportation infrastructure," Peskin told us about the motivation behind Measure A. "This would make sure that San Francisco has a transit-first policy forever."

Measure A would place control of almost all aspects of the transportation system under the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and give that panel more money and administrative powers in the process, while letting the Board of Supervisors retain its power to reject the MTA’s budget, fare hikes, or route changes. He also inserted a provision in the measure that would negate approval of Measure H, the downtown-backed measure that would invalidate existing city parking policies.

Ironically, Peskin said his approach would help prevent the gridlock that would result if the city’s power brokers got their wish of being able to build 10,000 housing units downtown without restrictions on automobile use and a revitalization of public transit options. As he said, "I think we are in many ways aiding developers downtown because [current development plans are] predicated on having a New York–style transit system."

Asked about Newsom’s controversial decision to ask for the resignations of senior staff, Peskin was critical but said he had no intention of having the board intervene. McGoldrick was more animated, calling it a "gutless Gavin move," and said, "If you want to fire them, friggin’ fire them." But he said it was consistent with Newsom’s "conflict-averse and criticism-averse" style of governance.

McGoldrick also had lots to say about Newsom’s penchant for trying to privatize essential city services — "We need to say, ‘Folks, look at what’s happening to your public asset’" — and his own sponsorship of Proposition K, which seeks to restrict advertising in public spaces.

"Do we have to submit to the advertisers to get things done?" McGoldrick asked us in discussing Prop. K, which he authored to counter "the crass advertising blight that has spread across this city."*

Will the US bomb Iran?


OPINION Half the warships in the US Navy are sitting within striking distance of Iran. President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have stepped up their rhetoric, accusing Iran of killing Americans in Iraq and of threatening to start a nuclear holocaust. The British media is predicting that the Bush administration will bomb Iran in the near future.

The White House is using the same propaganda techniques to whip up popular opinion against Iran that it used four years ago against Iraq. Here’s the real story:

Iran has no nuclear weapons and couldn’t have them for years. The International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations body that was right about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, says it has no proof of Iranian plans to build nuclear bombs. The IAEA recently reached a binding agreement for Iran to reveal its past nuclear activities and allow full inspection of nuclear-power sites.

The sophisticated explosively formed penetrators supposedly supplied by Iran to militias in Iraq are easily made in Iraqi machine shops and can be purchased commercially for mining operations.

For years Iran has given political, economic, and military support to Shia and Kurdish militias, but the Bush administration has never proved that Iran is intentionally targeting US soldiers.

For two years the United States has helped splinter groups among Iran’s ethnic minorities to blow up buildings, assassinate revolutionary guards, and kill civilians in an effort to destabilize the Tehran regime. In short, the United States does to Iran what it accuses Iran of doing in Iraq.

The hardliners in the administration, led by Cheney, see a dwindling opportunity to bomb Iran before Bush leaves office. They hope to launch a massive bombing campaign to so weaken Tehran that the regime will fall and Iranians will see the United States as their savior. Does this sound the faintest bit familiar?

In reality, a US attack would be disastrous. Iran could close the Strait of Hormuz, through which 25 percent of the world’s oil supplies passes. Oil prices would skyrocket. Iran could encourage Hezbollah to launch missiles into Israel. Muslims would hold demonstrations in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. Iran could mobilize that anger and encourage Shiite parties in Iraq to attack US troops.

In a truly nightmare scenario, Iran could encourage terrorist attacks inside the United States and in allied countries. When I interviewed Syria’s President Bashar al-Asad in 2006, he said, "If you do a military strike, you will have chaos. It’s very dangerous."

The decision to bomb Iran depends, in part, on actions by the American people. Now is the time to let your national and local politicians know that we don’t need another human disaster in the Middle East. Code Pink is organizing a national campaign to get city councils to pass resolutions against attacks on Iran (www.codepinkalert.org/article.php?list=type&type=135). US Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has introduced a Senate bill to prohibit an attack on Iran without congressional authorization.

I can’t predict with certainty that the United States will bomb Iran, but the danger is greater today than anytime in the past 25 years. The question is, what will you be doing to stop it?

Reese Erlich

Reese Erlich (www.reeseerlich.com) is author of the new book The Iran Agenda: the Real Story of U.S. Policy and the Middle East Crisis (Polipoint). Oct. 2 will be Reese Erlich Day in Oakland to honor his work and that of all investigative journalists.

Green City: Reaching critical mass


› news@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY Fifteen years ago this month, San Franciscans mobilized for the first Critical Mass, an unpermitted monthly bicycle parade and social protest that has subsequently been exported to cities around the world.

The movement formed in the streets as the Commuter Clot, just a handful of bicyclists seizing their stretch of pavement together. Among them rode former bike messenger Jim Swanson, whom many credit with coining the name Critical Mass, a reference to the traffic-controlling power achieved when enough bicycles join a ride.

Two months into the project, Swanson watched Ted White’s short film The Return of the Scorcher. The surreal footage of bicyclists in China fording intersections inspired Swanson: "When there was enough of them, they crossed and took over the road."

Thus, in September 1992, the autonomous and leaderless collective known as Critical Mass was born, picking up momentum — while enduring an often rocky relationship with the city and its motorists — ever since.

On Sept. 28, around 6 p.m., thousands of bicyclists are expected to convene around Justin Hermann Plaza for the 15th anniversary ride, just as they do on the last Friday of every month. Each rider brings a unique cause and perspective to the ride. Swanson wheels out his 1965 blue Schwinn Tandem each month and makes it a regular date with his sweetheart and friends.

Longtime rider Joel Pomerantz focuses on the political undertones of the event. "For me, the ride is about community. It’s an opportunity for people to take over public space that is usually destructive to the community," he told the Guardian.

During Critical Mass, riders change the use of street space and establish bicycles as the dominant form of transportation, taking control of every intersection they encounter, at least for the 10 or 15 minutes it takes the mass to pass.

Bicyclists in San Francisco have also attained critical mass in other ways, with more and more residents realizing the environmental, health, safety, and monetary benefits of trading the gas pedal for a pair of pedals. The 35-year-old San Francisco Bicycle Coalition now boasts a peak membership of 7,500, and the city has the highest per capita membership in the Thunderhead Alliance, a national conglomeration of cycling and walking advocates.

According to the Urban Transportation Caucus’s 2007 report card, automobiles and trucks account for 50 percent of San Francisco’s carbon emissions, a major cause of climate change and respiratory ailments. "Simply reducing the number of driving vehicles will be the biggest thing in reducing carbon emissions and improving people’s health. Bicycling comes up as the most cost-effective way to reduce private vehicle trips," SFBC director Leah Shahum said.

Some groups want to take big steps toward furthering that trend. For example, San Francisco Tomorrow is pushing a plan to ban private automobiles on Market Street. But for now the city is prevented by a court injunction from undertaking bike-friendly projects after a judge found procedural flaws in how the current Bicycle Plan was approved (see "Stationary Biking," 5/16/07).

Carla Laser, founder of the San Francisco Bicycle Ballet, said getting the plan back on track is also essential to minimizing bike-car conflicts: "The striping of bike lanes is an example of how the Bike Plan educates the public on how to share the streets. Drivers can clearly see that the city actually supports bikes on streets and is willing to give them a nod of space with the stripes. Every street is a bike street."

That’s especially true for Critical Mass, a situation that can cause tensions between motorists and cyclists and fuel a backlash toward bike riders seen as overreaching into the realm of automobiles. Yet Critical Mass remains more popular than ever, and it only seemed to grow larger a few months ago, when the San Francisco Chronicle publicized some motorist-cyclist clashes (see "Did Critical Mass Really Go Crazy?," SFBG Politics blog, www.sfbg.com, 4/4/07).

Yet as the event becomes a popular rolling party, some longtime massers have started openly wondering what’s next for those looking to send a serious message about minimizing dependence on cars.

As transportation activist and former SFBC executive director Dave Snyder told us, "I’m looking forward to the next public phenomenon in San Francisco that inspires a humane use of public space, as Critical Mass was to so many people."

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

The billion-dollar rate hike


EDITORIAL Nobody wants to pay higher electric rates, but the real issue about Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s new rate hike is its impact not just on residents and small businesses, which will bear the brunt of it, but on the Northern California economy as a whole. And figures we have received from the California Public Utilities Commission show that the hit will be close to $1 billion.

The San Francisco supervisors need to demand a comprehensive study of how the city’s economy will directly suffer.

A little background: In 2002, Irwin Kellner, an economist at Hofstra University in New York, did an analysis of how public power on Long Island affected the region’s economy. His research showed that the Long Island Power Authority, which had replaced a private power company four years earlier, had reduced rates by 20 percent — and that had injected $2 billion into the Long Island economy. The lower rates "helped Long Island stave off the effects of a national recession and the terrible events of Sept. 11 [2001]," Kellner concluded (see "The $620 Million Shakedown," 9/4/02).

The reason is simple: when residents and small businesses have lower electric bills, they tend to spend that money locally — and since local spending tends to generate more local spending, every dollar that’s spent in a local economy has an impact of as much as $5.

On the flip side, if private utilities raise rates, they tend to suck money out of the local economy and ship it to out-of-town investors, subsidiaries, and projects.

We used Kellner’s model — with his consent and guidance — and concluded at the time that PG&E’s rate hikes had cost the San Francisco economy $620 million. The Board of Supervisors, at the request of Sup. Chris Daly, asked the city controller to pursue this issue, review our work, and release an official report on the impact of high PG&E rates on San Francisco.

No report was ever issued.

Fast-forward to 2007, when PG&E has announced that it’s raising rates on residents and small businesses. (Many big customers will get a rate reduction.) Figures we obtained from the CPUC’s Division of Ratepayer Advocates show that the rate hike will cost residents $121 million per year and small businesses $74 million per year. Together, that’s a $195 million annual hit. According to Kellner’s formula, which multiplies that annual cost by five, the total impact on the Northern California economy will be $975 million — almost $1 billion per year.

The State Legislature ought to commission a study on how this will affect employment, tax revenues, and other key economic indicators. San Francisco, a city that still hasn’t fulfilled its historic public power mandate, should do the same thing. The supervisors should ask the controller to explain why Daly’s request was never honored — and demand a full, detailed report on the economic impact of this damaging rate hike, with a deadline. And if the controller can’t do it, they should assign it to Budget Analyst Harvey Rose.

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

Sup. Ross Mirkarimi likes to say that murder and Muni are Mayor Gavin Newsom’s most obvious weaknesses, and there are all kinds of ideas about fixing Muni. Murder, that’s a little tougher.

The mayoral candidates we’ve been talking to all decry the city’s rise in violent crime, and they all say something has to be done. The district attorney says so, and so does the Police Officers Association. But there’s a lot of finger-pointing going on, and a lot of rhetoric and circling around and dodging. I realize it’s a tough, complicated issue; I realize that one city can’t utterly transform the socioeconomic impacts of more than a quarter century of federal neglect of inner cities. I know that poverty and desperation drive crime and violence, and what we’re experiencing in San Francisco won’t be solved by any one simple program.

But I have to say, I’ve heard an idea from one of the candidates that just makes a lot of common sense.

Lonnie Holmes, who almost certainly won’t be elected, told us in an endorsement interview that the mentor he relied on when he was a kid growing up in a tough neighborhood in San Francisco was the guy who ran the local recreation center. It was open all the time; Holmes would just drop in after school, hang out, play some basketball…. There was a place to go, with a caring adult who was a supervisor, coach, teacher, and role model. No pressure, no special classes to sign up for, no fee, no cost at the door. Just a local rec center. There are dozens of them, all over the city.

But these days a lot of them aren’t open as much. Budget cuts to the Recreation and Park Department have forced the rec centers to limit their hours. The center in Bernal Heights, where I live, used to be open on weekends; now the doors are mostly locked.

There’s not a lot in the way of quality public after-school programs either.

So kids who don’t have a stable home life, or whose parents or guardians are working two jobs and are rarely around, or who have any of a long list of factors that put them at risk for violence don’t have anywhere to go. Bad idea.

So why not a budget plan to fully fund all the rec centers and fund comprehensive after-school care as a means of violence prevention? It’s a lot cheaper than hiring a few hundred more cops.

Onward: there’s a fascinating comment at the very end of the seven-page city attorney’s opinion on Newsom’s call for mass resignations by department heads and other top city officials. It’s just two sentences, and the relevant part goes like this: "The resignations … may present other legal issues…. For example, there could be questions about whether to make public disclosures under certain city bonds or municipal debt issuances."

Here’s what that means: the city could be required to tell bond holders and underwriters that all of the department heads, the entire senior staff of the Mayor’s Office, and all commissioners — the combined pool of talent and experience at City Hall — have been asked to resign. If anything on this scale happened in a private business, the company’s stock would fall precipitously; one might assume that bond-rating agencies could consider San Francisco to be facing real leadership troubles and reduce our bond rating.

That, in turn, would cost the city a sizable amount of money.

I wonder, Mr. Mayor — did that ever occur to you?

Stop the developers now


EDITORIAL Sup. Tom Ammiano is taking a key step toward ending the gold rush by local housing developers who want to get their projects approved under the wire before the city can put in place new zoning controls for the eastern neighborhoods. The supervisors ought to approve his resolution as quickly as possible.

The eastern neighborhoods planning process has been under way for years; at this point the Planning Department is projecting final language for a proposal sometime around the end of the year. Then it will go to the supervisors, who will be able to debate, hold hearings on, and amend the plan. All of this will take months — and in the meantime, the Planning Commission keeps approving projects.

According to a startling document that the Planning Department posted on its Web site last week, some 30,000 housing units are in the pipeline — projects that have permits pending, have been approved, or are under construction. Nearly 5,000 units are already under construction, and applications for 142 projects, with a total of 9,305 units, are now before the department. That’s a whole lot of new construction, a whole lot of market-rate condos that don’t fit in with the city’s General Plan. Every one of the developers would like to get permission to go forward before any further limits are placed on housing construction.

And the Planning Commission seems happy to oblige: market-rate projects on César Chávez and Valencia streets both won the nod in the past few weeks, infuriating neighborhood activists who wanted to see more affordable housing. And to make matters worse, as Ammiano noted in introducing temporary controls for new housing, the commission rejected a proposal to collect fees of $12 per square foot to fund community amenities and mitigation. "Why the commission chose not to impose conditions on projects in the pipeline is beyond reason," Ammiano said.

His measure would deny permits for any new development in the eastern neighborhoods for the next 18 months or until a full eastern neighborhoods plan is approved by the Board of Supervisors. That makes perfect sense — everyone who wants to build housing in San Francisco knows that there are new zoning rules coming; there’s no surprise here. And if the commission is allowed to keep green-lighting market-rate housing without adequate planning for building the necessary parks, transportation infrastructure, police and fire stations, etc., the city will be absorbing as many as 30,000 new housing units without adequate mitigation.

There’s a larger question here too: as we pointed out last week (see "Our Three-Point Plan to Save San Francisco," 9/19/07), the current proposals in the eastern neighborhoods draft plans don’t do anywhere near enough to provide housing for working-class and low-income San Franciscans. The housing that’s in the pipeline will do nothing to bring down costs and will instead attract world travelers, speculators, and young Silicon Valley workers, who can afford small, expensive condos. That sort of housing policy doesn’t help fight sprawl or global warming, since it forces people who now work in San Francisco to move farther and farther out of town to find affordable places to live.

So the supervisors may decide to do the sane thing when they get the eastern neighborhoods plan and strictly limit new market-rate housing until the deficit in affordable units is under control. And there may be a ballot initiative to completely transform the way housing policy is set in this city (see "A Prop. M for Housing," 9/19/07). Allowing tens of thousands more luxury condo units to be built before the city has the chance to decide how it wants to handle future housing policy is a terrible idea.

Putting on hold projects that are almost certainly not consistent with the direction this city should go until there’s a chance to finalize the eastern neighborhoods plan is a no-brainer. The board should approve Ammiano’s proposal — with no special exceptions for any developer or any project.

Cold case


› gwschulz@sfbg.com

The gruesome death of a French national living in San Francisco is becoming a political hornet’s nest for local top law enforcement officials and the Mayor’s Office.

It’s still not clear how local homicide cops will define 36-year-old Hugues de la Plaza’s death after months of allowing for and even favoring the possibility that he took his own life. Suicide would have made things much less difficult for everyone in San Francisco responsible for catching those who kill, but few people close to de la Plaza believe that he killed himself.

But the French ambassador to the United States, Pierre Vimont, a confidant of newly elected president Nicolas Sarkozy, is following the case closely, and a police officer at the French consulate in Los Angeles is transutf8g hundreds of e-mails from de la Plaza’s Google and Yahoo accounts as well as mining material from the hard drive of his computer after breaking into it last week, a task homicide inspectors here apparently hadn’t yet bothered with.

"I have notified others regarding the implications contained in your letter and the wishes that you expressed to ensure an in-depth and serious inquest into the death of your son," Vimont wrote to de la Plaza’s parents, Mireille and François, earlier this year, according to our rough translation.

The status of the case right now is hardly reassuring for the de la Plazas, who forked out their own cash for a private investigator.

Recent photos of de la Plaza show him with unshorn black hair spilling out from an army cap and wide dark eyes under a pair of bushy brows.

His ex-girlfriend, Mellisa Nix, with whom he remained close, will testify soon in front of the Board of Supervisors’ Public Safety Committee on how well the SFPD is investigating violent crimes in the city as the homicide rate marches swiftly toward a 15-year high.

More than half of the annual homicide cases in San Francisco since 2001 have resulted in no arrests, according to the Police Department’s statistics, and that includes those in which the feds became involved.

Nix has doggedly pursued de la Plaza’s case, starting a blog with photos and updates, frequently calling area newsrooms to urge follow-up stories — she’s a reporter for the Sacramento Bee — and pestering the SFPD’s homicide unit to the point that it now refuses to answer her questions. Messages we left with the SFPD’s Bureau of Investigations seeking comment were not returned.

"From the get-go I had a sense that this investigation was being conducted in a fashion that doesn’t shed a very good light on the SFPD," Nix told the Guardian. "I was the one who had to call the parents and tell them their son was dead."

Two police officers kicked open the back door of 462 Linden on the morning of June 2 after a neighbor discovered blood dripping off de la Plaza’s front doorknob, with spattered pools of it leading from the threshold. They found de la Plaza lying on the floor, stabbed multiple times amid a grizzly scene of more blood that spread from the bathroom up the hallway to the kitchen and into the living room, where it soaked the coach and a television was knocked over.

De la Plaza had recently purchased land in Argentina, earned a promotion at work, acquired a new laptop, and made plans for the upcoming week — all things friends say a man considering suicide wouldn’t have done. But Nix said he had been frequently dating online, and it’s possible that an estranged lover or someone’s boyfriend attacked him.

The night of June 1 he’d met with a friend from work at SF Underground in the Lower Haight after going on a date to an art gallery with another transplant from France.

Nothing significant appeared to be stolen from his apartment after he made it home after last call, and both the front and back doors were locked when the two officers arrived. Immediately, police and officials from the Medical Examiner’s Office suspected a suicide. But Nix and others close to de la Plaza believe that persistent assumption has allowed the case’s trail to grow cold despite evidence suggesting he was murdered.

"It’s fucked-up in retrospect," said Orion Denley, a friend and neighbor who was briefly questioned by police the day de la Plaza was found. "I kept thinking, ‘How come they aren’t asking me if I heard anything?’ All they did was ask over and over again if he was suicidal, like they had already made up their minds that he had committed suicide."

No one from the Police Department contacted him again, but Denley said he heard de la Plaza’s front door slam three times, followed by two crashes and the sound of a distinct set of footsteps on the stairs leading from the apartment.

"It was definitely someone exiting the building," he said, "because you could hear the footsteps getting quieter as they ran away."

There was no suicide note or apparent weapon, nor was there an immediate suspect. Police found a knife in the sink with trace substances that could have been de la Plaza’s blood. They’ve since missed at least two promised deadlines for the completion of a DNA analysis, and now there’s no telling when the results will be available. It’s the only real piece of evidence left allowing investigators to regard de la Plaza’s death merely as suspicious rather than a murder.

"It’s something that I don’t think Hugues would have ever considered doing," Nix said of the suicide theory. "He had his ups and downs. He was a very private person. But if he were going to kill himself, he would probably write a letter. He was very precise and particular about how he conducted his life."

But there’s no doubt the pressure’s on. Sup. Ross Mirkarimi has vocalized his disapproval of the way skyrocketing homicides in his district — which includes the Hayes Valley neighborhood, where de la Plaza lived — are being handled by the Police Department, and District Attorney Kamala Harris has paid special attention to the case. Her chief assistant met twice with de la Plaza’s family, who visited for several weeks earlier in the summer.

The family also met with Inspector Tony Casillas and bureau captain Kevin Cashman but returned to France largely empty-handed. They’ve since discussed using insurance money they received after de la Plaza’s death to establish a support group in San Francisco for the families of victims whose murders go unsolved.

"Is that what it takes in San Francisco? Hire a private investigator and involve a foreign police force?" Nix wrote to Mayor Gavin Newsom in July. "If so, shame on the leaders of San Francisco. If so, God help those in your city who do not have such resources."



› sarah@sfbg.com

Dressed to kill in a firehouse-red pantsuit and matching stilettos, drag queen Donna Sachet stood in the Eureka Valley Recreation Center on Sept. 22 and fondly recalled how four years ago she lauded Sup. Bevan Dufty when he announced that he wanted to make Halloween in the Castro a safer, more enjoyable event.

"Bevan said, ‘Come and celebrate, but no bad behavior,’" Sachet purred.

But things have changed — dramatically — and this year Sachet was helping moderate a heated meeting of a group called Citizens for Halloween, at which residents raised myriad concerns about Dufty and Mayor Gavin Newsom’s secretive plans for Halloween.

Dufty and Newsom’s plans have morphed from a failed and furtive attempt to move this fall’s event to the waterfront to an ongoing PR campaign that asks businesses to close early on what traditionally has been their busiest night of the year and implores the public to stay away from the famously flamboyant Castro on Halloween night.

There will be no city-sponsored porta-potties and no street closures.

But locals are haunted by a belief that it’s about as easy to kill Halloween in the Castro as it is to kill a bloodthirsty vampire on a rampage and a fear that the city’s current plan could leave the Castro less safe than ever.

Sachet, who has lived in the Castro for 13 years, recalled that since the city’s gay population migrated from Polk Street to the Castro, the numbers attending the annual Halloween in the Castro party have steadily swollen, to 100,000 in 2006.

"There have been many concerns over the size of it," Sachet said, recalling how, after four people were stabbed in 2002, increased community involvement and police presence and the creation of emergency lanes made Halloween 2005 one of the most peaceful in years.

"Then in 2006 we got word from the city to hem in the event and end it sooner," Sachet said, reminding the crowd that Newsom promised to convene a task force two days after nine people were shot and one woman was trampled on Halloween 2006 — an incident that was triggered by someone throwing a bottle into a crowd of young people, one of whom pulled out a gun and fired nine shots in retaliation.

The bottle incident occurred shortly after the city pulled the plug on the music and began chasing away the costumed crowds with water trucks in an effort to break up the party early.

But despite Newsom’s promise of a task force, no public presentation was ever made, and longtime Castro resident Gary Virginia, who applied to be on the panel, said he "never got any communication back."

Public records show that Newsom and Dufty held closed-door meetings with city department heads and members of the Entertainment Commission last winter in an effort to shift Halloween from the Castro into the backyard of Mission Bay residents. Those plans fell through, thanks to the objections of neighborhood associations that were left out of the planning loop and the financial concerns of event promoters who allegedly got spooked by all of the negative publicity that has been given to Halloween in the Castro.

Rich Dyer of the Sheriff’s Department confirmed to the audience at the meeting that city department heads have been holding secret sessions for months.

With Newsom recently admitting that the city can’t prevent people from showing up, Sachet said the members of Citizens for Halloween "aren’t placing blame but want accountability."

SF Party Party founder Ted Strawser said he’s worried that the only party happening on Halloween will take place at San Francisco General Hospital and the County Jails unless the city provides answers to the community’s questions about public safety and health, medical emergencies, and transportation.

CFH cofounder Alix Rosenthal, who challenged Dufty in last year’s District 8 supervisorial race, joined Virginia, Strawser, and LGBT community activist Hank Wilson in sending the city an extensive list of questions, which also includes concerns about the impact of the current plan on businesses, the lack of community partnership and involvement, and hopes for a post-Halloween evaluation.

"We think we deserve to know as stakeholders," Virginia said.

The Sheriff’s Department, at least, was willing to talk a bit about what’s going on. "The plans have changed radically over the last three or four months, as have the roles of the departments, but the police have finally settled on a response kind of plan," Dyer said. "And as far as I know, there are no plans for checkpoints this year."

Asked by mayoral candidate Chicken John Rinaldi whether he thought that frisking members of the crowd, as was done last year, helped contain the situation, Dyer nodded.

"A tremendous amount of alcohol was intercepted, along with knives and other weapons," Dyer said.

But this time around there won’t be the normal safety precautions; for example, cars will be able to drive along Castro between 18th Street and Market. If the mayor’s polite requests fail and large crowds show up anyway, the place could be a mess — and without toilets available, people may simply use the street.

Two Castro businesses, Ritual Coffee Roasters and one that asked to remain anonymous, will provide porta-potties to any residence or business that requests help. But with the witching hour just five weeks away, the prospects for peace and harmony aren’t looking good.

For more information, visit www.halloweeninthecastro.com or www.citizensforhalloween.com.