Volume 42 Number 02

October 10 – October 16, 2007

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Bilking the links


By now, even most non-golfing residents of San Francisco have heard the dire refrain coming out of City Hall: San Francisco’s public golf courses are sucking millions of dollars from the city treasury! Dozens of media stories have trumpeted these bleak pronouncements, and city leaders are using the shortfall to push for outsourcing control of the century-old open spaces. But a Guardian review of the “Golf Fund” shows that the links are not nearly as down and out as pro-privatization forces have led us to believe.

Recreation and Park Department accounting documents we obtained show revenues at the city’s six publicly-owned golf courses last year were up nearly $1.5 million from 2005-2006 and over $2.2 million dollars from 2004-2005, an increase of nearly 30 percent. But the costs of a lavish contract with a large, out-of-state golf management corporation have risen precipitously over the same time frame and drained off most of these new funds.

For the 2006-2007 fiscal year, the city shelled out more than $3.25 million to Kemper Sports Management to operate the pro shop and clubhouse at the Harding Park Golf Course and its nine-hole neighbor, Fleming. By comparison, in 2004-2005, Kemper’s tab at Harding and Fleming was a still eye-popping $2.07 million, but that number was nearly $1.2 million less than what the city had to pay last year. These increased costs, as well as a hefty loan repayment for Harding Park’s botched remodel in 2002 and 2003, have eaten up the links’ improved revenues and forced the city to throw in an extra $1.4 million from the General Fund to keep golf solvent.

“What’s going on up at Harding is a disaster,” Bob Killian told the Guardian. Killian ran the city’s golf operations profitably for two decades until 2001. “When I was in charge, we had contracts with various managers for the pro shops and the restaurants and they made us money. They paid us. Now, Harding is run at a deficit. Where the fuck is the money going? What’s it for? Nobody knows. It’s all this big secret … It’s a scandal.”

Kemper’s seven year deal is unique, to say the least. At every other publicly managed course, the city leases control of the pro shops and clubhouses to outside companies. In exchange for a flat fee paid into city coffers, those companies bear all the risk, and reap most of the rewards, for operating the facilities. But at Harding, the city pays the Illinois-based Kemper $192,000 a year, regardless of their performance, to act as an on-site manager, plus a 5% “incentive fee” for gross revenues over $6 million. But those guaranteed sums are only the beginning of the bill.

Kemper hires staff, rents golf carts, and orders the supplies to be sold in the pro shop and the clubhouse. Unlike the city’s lease arrangements at other courses, though, they bear none of the risk. They simply invoice the city for their expenses and the city signs the tab. And the tab just keeps growing.

One public golf insider who declined to be identified for fear of retribution grumbled, “They’ve got this enormous staff there, managers and assistant managers and assistants to assistants of managers. It’s a golf course, not a hospital! I hear the payroll for the restaurant alone is like $600,000. And it’s only open for one shift a day … They stock their pro shop with top of the line gear that just sits there. If they order 20 Arnold Palmer shirts and only sell two, who cares? The city still pays for all 20.”

In an email to the Guardian, Kemper’s general manager at Harding, Steve Argo, told us they have between 60 and 80 employees, depending on the season. Citing this seasonal variability and “competitive reasons,” he did not break those numbers down between management and non-management, as we requested.

Both Argo and Katharine Petrucione, Rec and Parks’ Chief Financial Officer, attributed much of the added costs at Harding to the opening of a new “permanent clubhouse” there in late 2005. Argo said the increased revenues from the clubhouse have “more than covered the city’s increase in payments.” But while Rec and Parks’ ledgers do show that concessions revenues at Harding and Fleming have gone up since the clubhouse opened, the increase in Kemper’s bill has gone up nearly as much. All in all, with Kemper’s multimillion dollar deal and loan payments for the over-budget remodel at the course, accounts still put the course at more $500,000 dollars in the red – even though a round of golf there now costs well over $100 and Kemper is still making a handsome profit.

It doesn’t end there. Petrucione said Kemper’s contract actually costs taxpayers even more than meets the eye. Because the company submits monthly and yearly budget projections, as well as reams of invoices and expenses for reimbursement, Rec and Park staffers spend hours examining Kemper’s paperwork and activities – essentially managing the manager. When we asked her for an accounting of how much the Kemper contract costs the city in staff hours for these oversight duties, Petrucione replied, “It definitely requires more time and effort … than a lease agreement [like those at every other course] would.”

During a recent radio interview, Sup. Jake McGoldrick called Rec and Park’s deal with Kemper, “The worst contract I’ve ever seen…We don’t have a golfer problem,” he added. “Golfers are coming out and playing. We have an accountancy problem.”

The golf insider we spoke with echoed McGoldrick’s sentiments, “Business is up like 30% this year, but Kemper’s contract is jeopardizing the whole department … If we redid the greens, tees and fairways [at the other courses besides Harding], just Band-aid stuff like that, we would have the premiere municipal system in the country. But instead they’ve given this cushy deal to a company from Chicago with no connection to San Francisco. It’s so unfair.”

Despite the controversy over Kemper’s all-expenses-paid arrangement, Mayor Gavin Newsom, Rec and Park general manager Yomi Agunbiade, and others at City Hall have been using the deficits largely brought on by Kemper’s contract to push for more private control over the city’s links. In June, the Mayor’s office put forward a plan to outsource not just clubhouse and pro shop management, but all golf operations at the city’s premiere courses, including Harding. The proposal was tabled after several contentious hearings at the Board of Supervisors, but many observers expect that it will make its way back to the Board in the near future.

“In a perfect scenario the city could [manage the courses efficiently] but the city has proven that it doesn’t have the ability to do it,” Supervisor Sean Elsbernd told us back in July. Elsbernd has been one of the most vocal supporters of bringing in private golf management.

But McGoldrick, Killian and other opponents of the idea point out that the city provided quality, inexpensive golf for nearly 100 years. They worry that private managers will find profit in higher greens fees, more part time workers, and lower salaries and less benefits for full time staff. But beyond those concerns, they see the Mayor’s plan as yet another example of publicly owned assets being offered up for private gain.

The courses, McGoldrick told us, are “priceless … we can’t just dump [them] because you’ve got folks from the Mayor’s office and his Rec and Park department who don’t want to be bothered.”

Local media form the Chauncey Bailey Project


When journalist Chauncey Wendell Bailey Jr. was murdered Aug. 2, questions arose as to who could have committed such an act, in broad daylight, and what could have motivated the killing. Shortly after the slaying, police arrested Your Black Muslim Bakery handyman Devaughndre Broussard, 19, and charged him with the crime. But deep questions remain, starting with who really called the shots in the killing — and what they were trying to cover up.

In an effort to pick up where Bailey left off, a rare coalition of media rivals and scholastic colleagues — more than two dozen reporters, photographers, and editors from print, broadcast, and electronic media — have formed the Chauncey Bailey Project, an investigative team that will continue and expand on the reporting Bailey was pursuing at the time of his death.

"We as an industry cannot stand for a member of the press to be gunned down in the course of doing his job. That’s a threat to democracy; that’s a threat to journalism," said Dori J. Maynard, president and chief executive officer of the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education.

Although several local media outlets have reported on the circumstances that may have led to Bailey’s death and his connection to Your Black Muslim Bakery, this project will delve deeper into his investigative work prior to his death.

The project promises to be the largest communal journalistic endeavor since the Arizona Project was formed 31 years ago in the aftermath of the murder of Arizona Republic investigative reporter Don Bolles. The Guardian is committing the efforts of award-winning reporter G.W. Schulz and other resources to the project. Our media partners include the Bay Area Black Journalists Association, Bay Area News Group (including the Oakland Tribune, Contra Costa Times, and San Jose Mercury News), Center for Investigative Reporting, KGO-AM, KQED Public Radio, KTVU-TV, KPIX-TV, Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, National Association of Black Journalists, New America Media, New Voices in Independent Journalism, UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, San Francisco State University Journalism Department, San Jose State University Journalism Department, and Society of Professional Journalists (Northern California Chapter).

"This project is essential to Oakland and essential to us as journalists who wish to emphasize the point that you can kill the messenger but the message is still going to get through," said Pete Wevurski, executive editor of the Oakland Tribune.

The first stories from the Chauncey Bailey Project will be available at www.sfbg.com. For more information about the project and its collaborators, contact the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education at (510) 891-9202.

Rat with wings


SEVENTIES FLASHBACK The ’60s were all about changing society. When that didn’t pan out, the ’70s went all inwardly focused, pursuing pleasure and spirituality. Both goals frequently commingled as fads, cults, and pop religio-psych fixes. The Age of Aquarius dawned no more: Planet Self-Help was rising, and exotic waves washed across the shore of American consciousness.

Perhaps nothing in that era’s landscape of seekerdom spread its populist wings farther — or became a more dated Me Decade punch line — than Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Richard Bach’s precious wee tome (of fewer than 10,000 words, stretched to book length by Russell Munson’s black-and-white aviary photos) was first issued in 1970 by Macmillan after numerous other publishers passed. This little-being-that-could tale is about a "one-in-a-million bird" who yearns to transcend his garbage-eating tribe by flying for the pure joy and challenge of it. Expelled from this group, he’s taken in by gull teachers operating on a "higher plane" and ultimately graduates to "working on love" with his original, dumbly materialist flock, which needs schooling the most. It’s kinda Zen, albeit with Western appeal in that the seeker is granted special FasTrak-to-enlightenment status: "You, Jon, learned so much at one time that you didn’t have to go through a thousand lives to reach this one," one teacher tells our protagonist. So Anakin Skywalker!

With collegians steeped in Herman Hesse and Carlos Castaneda fanning the flame, Seagull became a phenomenon, surpassing Gone with the Wind‘s hardcover-sales record. It topped the New York Times‘ best-seller list for 38 weeks and was translated into umpteen languages (my thrift-shop edition is English-Korean). It inspired a ballet, a spoken word record by "MacArthur Park" crooner Richard Harris, myriad parodies, and a cameo appearance on Brady Bunch daddy Mike’s bedside table. Could a movie version possibly miss?

Oh yes, it could: thanks to Paramount Home Video, the single most ridiculed flop of 1973 is newly out on DVD. Like most such whipping posts (Heaven’s Gate, Inchon, etc.), it’s not nearly as bad as its reputation suggests. Still, some cringing is appropriate. Much is Bach’s fault, even though he sued Paramount over minor textual deviations. The pompous parable and sentiments behind lines like "There’s got to be more to life than fighting for fish heads!" remained all his. Lit crits carped well before film reviews dug a deeper hole. One called the book "a mishmash of Boy Scout–Khalil Gibran–Horatio Alger doing Antoine de Saint-Exupéry spouting the Qur’an as translated by Bob Dylan." But full shit-storm blame rested on the decision by the producers and director Hall Bartlett to visualize a live-action narrative starring actual gulls (controlled on set by radar signals) with dubbed Hollywood actors’ voices.

Painfully whisper-intense James Franciscus "beaked" Jonathan. Richard Crenna, Hal Holbrook, Dorothy McGuire, and Nanny and the Professor‘s Juliet Mills were other seagull ventriloquists. Perhaps evocative, simple animation à la 1971 AMC Movie of the Week classic The Point (which had music by Harry Nilsson) would have been a better path. Bartlett (his career a casualty) went on a promotional tour with "star" birds, creating a truly shitty situation in hotel rooms nationwide. That didn’t help to choke back reviewers’ laughter or massive public indifference. Nobody denied Jack Couffer’s stunning, Oscar-nominated cinematography. And Neil Diamond’s original song score — soaring or insipid, choose yer side — took on a commercial life of its own.

But the film was doomed. A second version, replacing dialogue with Sir Lawrence Olivier’s narration, was released. But when a movie’s already branded a dud, such salvage tactics never work. This screen Seagull lives on as a fabled crapsterpiece, designated "Golden Turkey" by the likes of future conservative art warden Michael Medved. Aviator turned novelist turned sage Bach found his audience shrinking, though a faithful core remains, which now forgives and even appreciates the movie he disowned. These days Love Story, Erich von Däniken (of Chariots of the Gods?), and pet rocks have little noncamp residual value. But Jonathan Livingston Seagull is still in print.

Always away


› annalee@techsploitation.com

TECHSPLOITATION My social world is divided into two camps: people who use instant messaging and people who don’t. When I start my workday by booting up my computer, I consider myself to have arrived at the office when my IM program comes to life and is suddenly populated by dozens of tiny names and faces. In fact, it’s sometimes hard for me to work with people who aren’t on IM. E-mail just isn’t fast enough. And the telephone is too fast.

I find meetings on the phone frustrating because I can’t multitask easily while talking. Sure, I can check e-mail or browse the Web, but usually the person on the other end of the line notices. All of those awkward pauses between sentences make it obvious that I’m only giving this call 85 percent of my attention. That’s considered rude on the phone, but not so with IM. Sometimes I’ll be exchanging a flurry of messages with a colleague on IM when suddenly she’ll take five minutes to answer a question. And that seems normal. She’s dealing with another task and will get back to me when she can, and we’ll resume where we left off.

Although IM technology has been around for years, I feel like it’s reached a kind of singularity that early users of "chat" would hardly recognize. There’s an etiquette culture that’s grown up around IM, a set of appropriate and inappropriate behaviors that varies across groups of IM users. For example, most of the people I talk to via IM are colleagues. I work from home, so most of my human contact during the day comes via quick exchanges and meetings on IM. Nearly everyone on my IM list has their status set to "away," which is technically supposed to mean they’re not at the keyboard. But in reality most of us set our status to away because we’re at work and don’t want to be disturbed by random people or purely social messages.

That’s why every time I IM somebody who claims to be away, I discover they aren’t. Acknowledging this, we add custom messages to our away flags to tell the truth about our status; "work only pls" is a common message, as is "on deadline do not disturb unless urgent." Other people set their messages to explain where they are: "in a meeting" or "in New York" or "eating lunch." What’s great about the away flag, though, is that it gives you plausible deniability if you don’t want to talk to somebody who has messaged you. After all, you might really be away. Who knows?

For a couple of years Sun Microsystems researcher Nicole Yankelovich has been studying the habits of people like myself who work remotely. What she’s discovered is that people who don’t work in a physical office tend to miss the casual chatter and bonding that happen before meetings or at lunch. These social interactions wind up improving work flow because people come up with good ideas while chatting casually, and brainstorming is easier in an informal environment. IM is how many of us are filling the gap. IM is our office space, where work chatter can become casual chatter. Like a closed office door, the away flag means "Please knock." And once you’re in the office with the person, you can have a pretty interesting talk, even though you’re supposed to be concentrating on your work.

It’s funny how software that was first used primarily as a goof-around, social tool has become a way for people to have business meetings and talk shop.

Other groups of people who IM, however, do it mostly for social reasons. These people are generally flagged "available," and they have vast contact lists that look more like MySpace friend lists than office contact sheets. Occasionally, these social IM users and I have passed in the night, as it were: one of them will casually message me because they don’t consider it weird to approach a stranger on IM to chat. For them, IM is like a giant nightclub or a college campus. Usually my away flag wards these people off, but sometimes it doesn’t, and I have to politely tell them I’m busy. And I frankly refuse to respond to a repeated "Heya wassup?" from anybody whose name is something like SFKitty233. Unless, of course, SFKitty233 happens to be my colleague. Which she just might be.

Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who is probably messaging somebody on IM right now.

Beyond borders


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

An uneasy double consciousness attends the able and purposeful world premiere of Benedictus — now up at the Thick House — whose plot concerns a back-channel effort to avert an impending US invasion of Iran. An international collaboration two years in the making, Golden Thread’s 10th anniversary season opener moves in uncanny lockstep with today’s headlines, which reflect the increasingly aggressive push from the outlaw centers of American power for yet another and wider war in the Middle East.

Benedictus (a project cocreated by Iranian director Mahmood Karimi-Hakak, Israeli playwright Lotti Lerner, dramaturge and Theatre Without Borders cofounder Roberta Levitow, designer Daniel Michaelson, and Golden Thread artistic director Torange Yeghiazarian) opens with the secret reunion of two old school friends, one Muslim and one Jewish, both Iranian born, and both former activists in the politically broad-based mass uprising that overthrew Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Iran’s CIA-installed dictator, in 1979. That revolution was, of course, eventually co-opted by the right-wing fundamentalist bloc under Ayatollah Khomeini, and since then Asher Muthada (Ali Pourtash) has emigrated to Israel and become an arms merchant, while his friend Ali Kermani (Al Faris) has become part of the reform movement within the Islamic republic.

A mere 72 hours before the United States plans to launch its secret attack, Kermani (wise to the countdown) has arranged the meeting with his old chum in the relatively neutral and secluded grounds of a Benedictine monastery. But Muthada arrives first. He’s a nervous ball of energy, and after shooing away his overly solicitous hostess (a nun played by Lisa Tateosian) he habitually overturns the decor in an effort to unearth any microphones. This first impression of supreme distrust amid a web of John le Carré–type espionage is belied, or at least made more complex, by the affectionate reunion of the two men. In the smooth and genial performances by Pourtash and Faris, Muthada immediately becomes expansive and dryly witty as Kermani, with a gentle air of cosmopolitan tact, arrives in his mullah’s robes and wire-framed glasses and inquires into his friend’s health.

In the conversation that follows they rehearse (in dialogue inevitably somewhat didactic but overall nuanced and unforced) the historic events that have passed through their lives, the betrayed promise of the revolution, the political machinations in each of their countries that play on external fears for internal gain, and so on. But there’s a more immediate concern and a deal to be brokered. Kermani, with his eye on the Iranian presidency, wants Muthada’s help in getting his peace proposal to the Americans in time to avert the bombing. For his part, Muthada wants his sister and her family ensured a safe exit from Iran, which is loath to let her go.

(The quasi-familial complexity of relationships here is inspired by a real-life incident: the 2005 chance meeting between then–Iranian president Mohammad Khatami — on whom Kermani is clearly based — and then–Israeli president Moshe Katsav, who were seated alphabetically beside each other at the funeral of Pope John Paul II and ended up exchanging pleasantries in Farsi, being compatriots from the same Iranian province.)

The tentative arrangement reached by Muthada and Kermani leads to an increasingly revealing but politically frustrating set of further meetings, some involving a US ambassador, Ben Martin (Earll Kingston). Martin — Muthada and Kermani’s would-be channel to the US government and a fluent Farsi speaker who was among the hostages taken by Iranian militants at the US embassy in Tehran in 1979 — is a hard-drinking and hard-bitten man (played with engaging conviction) who turns out to have a close if fraught relation to Kermani, a moderating influence and protective presence during Martin’s captivity.

While the play’s premise is a look behind the headlines at the real interests and history roiling the Middle East, these behind-the-scenes encounters have depth of their own, as each character pursues and cloaks distinct ends that hopelessly entangle personal and geopolitical perspectives. As the clock ticks down, Kermani’s parallel effort to urge the intercession of the pope (one of several references made by the play’s title) seems as desperate as it is unexpected.

In the end, the plot’s impasse is another jarring reminder of the play’s real-world immediacy. Resisting any solution within the terms of the discourse represented by the three main characters, Lerner’s script suggests something about the incommensurable contradictions not of language (since everyone speaks the same one here) but of the discourse of the political world they share, which has become too degraded, too warped by the interests and logic of power, to grant any way out but catastrophe. This bleak circumstance doesn’t necessitate fatalism, however, but implicitly puts the onus for an alternative elsewhere. Our perspective as audience — implicated in but also outside the power games that define the limits of the possible onstage — allows perhaps for another set of possibilities for transcending the old discourse and inaugurating another, built (like the play itself) on new alliances across an overwhelmingly common interest. *


Through Oct. 21, $12–$25

Fri.–Sat., 8 p.m. (also Sat, 2 p.m.); Sun., 5 p.m.

Thick House

1695 18th St., SF

(415) 401-8081


Gimme lip


› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER Do you believe in magic? Or voodoo? Or the links between ecstasy and long-term memory loss? If you’re a firm believer in the last, then you probably can’t recall the good ole days of garage rock — and no, I’m not talking about ’60s snarlers like the Seeds, the Standells, and the Chocolate Watchband nor ’80s revivalists like the Fleshtones, the Chesterfield Kings, and Holly Golightly. I’m searching the motley gray matter for that fuzzed-out, lo-fi, house-rockin’ turn-of-the-century blast from the early ’00s past, the one that teetered forth in the crusty, musty, mop-topped form of the Hives, the Von Bondies, the Vines, the Dirtbombs, the Strokes, the Detroit Cobras, the White Stripes, the Makers, the Datsuns, et al. In ’02 you were crap on a cracker if you didn’t come with the thes and the esses and the three chords and the loud, plowed, and way-too-gristly grizzly rock ‘n’ roll.

So where did all the good times go, troglodytes? The initial ’60s American garage rock siege was hopped up on the rawboned, blues-indebted British Invaders. But this time around did the bands simply get bored of the same few chords? Or weary of the uniforms? Was it simply another historical hiccup in musical trend cycles, a brief burst of energy fed by pink-slipped creatives and millennial joie de vivre?

Still, longtime listeners know garage rock never quite stops. The ahistorical trendoids who leaped aboard the bandwagon — who didn’t know your Kingsmen from your Chesterfield Kings or "Louie Louie" from "Talk Talk" — may have moved on to the next flavor of the weak. But snotty rock springs eternal — like mucus. Among the main remaining perpetrators today are those bone-deep bad boys with one foot in rock’s past and another in the future the Black Lips, the kid bros of all of those ’00s garage third wavers, who arrived kitted out with a tumescent, prepubescent sense of humor, a hot and sweaty live show, innumerable 7-inches, and now four full-lengths. I remember taking a listen to the Black Lips’ first self-titled Bomp! CD four years ago and finding that it rose above the pile of garage-bound by-the-bookers like so much toxic, nonnutritious, black-flecked, punky foam.

The Atlanta group’s latest CD, Good Bad Not Evil (Vice), finds them name-checking girl-group matresfamilias right up front — looking to a line from the Shangri-Las’ "Give Him a Great Big Kiss" with the album title — while still plying their grimy tricks: they sing the praises of "Magic City titties," strike pseudoreverent poses with "How Do You Tell the Child That Someone Has Died," and invoke the spirit of Professor Longhair and the 13th Floor Elevators while slamming the "ruthless old bag" that swept through N’awlins on "O Katrina!" The epicenter of Good Bad Not Evil might be "Veni Vidi Vici," punctuated by creepy slaps and skin-crawling licks as vocalist-guitarist Cole Alexander mocks, "Mirror, mirror on the wall / Who’s the greatest of them all / My man Muhammad, Boy Jesus too / ‘Cause I came, I saw / I conquered all / All y’all, all y’all, all y’all / People look towards Mecca’s way / Sistine Chapel people pray / It don’t matter what you do / Holy World War will come for you." Call it flower punk, as the Black Lips are wont to do, or conscious garage rock or backpacker bop, but it sounds like the scamps are reaching past the retro toward some real issues these days.

Of course, the Black Lips won’t spill the goods. Not that they can, when talking to Alexander, 25, turns out to be an exercise in total frustration. On a mobile and on the move through Indianapolis with the rest of the combo, the vocalist kept dropping out — or hanging up — betwixt juicy tidbits on dating Osama bin Laden’s niece Wafah Dufour ("We discussed making some instrumental tracks and hung out. She was really nice and pretty and cool, so we’ll just see how it goes") and giving equal Lip to Israel and Palestine, performance-wise ("These things make it seem like we’re more politically involved, but we just like to have fun. None of the Palestinians were able to come to see us, so we played in front of a mosque with just guitars. There are posters everywhere of suicide bombers’ faces — those guys are like rock stars there. But the kids loved it and were really intrigued that a punk band would play for them"). Still, after spending more time yammering to dead air than engaging with the vocalist — and finding "Veni Vidi Vici" inexplicably skipping on my copy of the new LP — I finally understood: these kids were born under a bad sign, and how. Good bad, though, not evil. *


With the Spits

Mon/15, 8 p.m., $15

Great American Music Hall

859 O’Farrell, SF




With the departure of bassist Hisashi Sasaki, drummer Tatsuya Yoshida goes it alone, boosting the virtuosic noise spasms and live and unreleased skronkercise of Refusal Fossil (Skin Graft). With Good for Cows and Birgit Ulher Quintet. Wed/10, 9 p.m., $10. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. www.hemlocktavern.com


The noise-peddling umpteenth iteration includes Winters in Osaka, Pink Canoes, Mykel Boyd, Kukie Matter, Mr. Mercury Goes to Work, Ozmadawn, and Head Boggle Domo. ‘Nuff said. Thurs/11, 8 p.m., pay what you can. 21 Grand, 416 25th St., Oakl. www.21grand.org


Chris Cohen, once of Deerhoof, and Nedelle Torrisi dust off their new Asthmatic Kitty combo, Cryptacize. With Half-Handed Cloud, Lake, and Joel. Sat/13, 7 p.m., $5. Mama Buzz Café, 2318 Telegraph, Oakl. www.mamabuzzcafe.com


News flash: ebullient indie rocker overcomes stolen gear and The O.C. associations. Tues/16, 8 p.m., $14. Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell, SF. www.musichallsf.com

A pizza bust?


If the NFL’s powers that be conclude that New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, recently busted for unauthorized reconnaissance of other teams’ signals, needs a more stinging punishment than a large fine, might I respectfully suggest that he be sentenced to eat a pizza at Figs, the Todd English restaurant on Boston’s posh Beacon Hill?

I mean no calumny against Boston, a jewel of urban sophistication and civility and a city full of all sorts of interesting restaurants and farmers markets, including a big one in the Back Bay’s Copley Square. But I don’t think I’ve ever had a more miserable restaurant meal than the one we endured on a recent weekend night at Figs — a place with a big-name chef! In a neighborhood full of rich people who, whatever else one might think of them, surely know good food from bad, especially when bad means really bad.

Begin with a native heirloom salad, more or less a Caprese, with various colorful orbs sliced into quarters and served with chunks of soft mozzarella under a basting of basil vinaigrette. While I would be willing to cut New Englanders some slack on the matter of growing seasons, I don’t think it’s too much to ask that a reputable restaurant should be able to find late-summer tomatoes that are at least reasonably ripe rather than hard and crisp as autumn apples. I had to cut them up with a steak knife. For the first time in my life, I considered sending back a salad on the ground that it was inedible.

Then the pizza arrived, looking like a small magic carpet. In a moment of inattention, I’d let my companion order a "crispy calamari" pie. How bad could it be? Even bad pizza is usually edible, with some flavor. But not this one. This pie — a square of dough, swabbed with tomato paste and arugula, then topped with a shower of calamari batter-fried separately — defied being eaten. Perhaps we should have taken the hint. The calamari bits rolled around and off the crust like barrels of wine on the deck of a storm-tossed sailing ship, while the Kevlar-like crust itself resisted even the sharp teeth of the steak knife. Our server wisely did not ask what we thought of the pizza. I was thinking of a word, and it was worse than bust.

Paul Reidinger

› paulr@sfbg.com

Meat the Figurines


› duncan@sfbg.com

I have a meat map of the world in my head, so when I hear "Denmark," I think of ham. If I think a little harder, I’ll come to kringle, that delicious pastry that’s ubiquitous in Racine, Wis., which is the closest I’ve come to Denmark.

My baby-momma’s of Danish descent, so I also think of the time her cousins came to visit and were amazed by the size of American freeways and our unnatural attachment to firearms. This quaint yet magical mental landscape of cured swine and fatty pastry treats is peopled by friendly — that is to say, unarmed — round-faced folk in wooden shoes, riding horse-drawn buggies down narrow lanes. (The arboreal footwear, which is Dutch, not Danish, and the stray Amish buggy are figments of my somewhat limited imagination, but it’s my quaint vision, so fuck you.) This place has a subtle, subdued soundtrack: When the Deer Wore Blue (Morningside/Control Group, 2007), by Figurines.

The band’s been around since the mid-’90s, when three plucky and puckish teenage Danes by the names of Christian Hjelm, Andreas Toft, and Claus Salling Johansen grew tired of their apprenticeships at their fathers’ respective pig farms and started jamming out on guitars. Together. Three guitars. Which portended a future in a Danish black metal outfit–cum–Motörhead cover band called Thunderfoot–cum–Glenn Branca guitar chamber ensemble, which never came to pass, as Toft moved to bass and Johansen, his arms sinewy with muscle from pounding pig flesh in Papa’s processing plant, decided on drums. What followed was the self-released 2001 EP The Detour and a 2003 debut long-player, Shake a Mountain (Morningside), which was never officially unleashed on the gun-toting psychopaths stateside. Figurines added drummer Kristian Volden, and Johansen and his ham hands — sorry, can’t help it — moved back to guitar. Their burgeoning pop stardom brought them bushels of free ham and kringle and, inexplicably — except in the context of this ridiculous yarn — truckloads of hot chicks in wooden shoes. The boys bought the fastest horses on the lane and had them augmented with pinstripes, flame jobs, and bigger hooves in the back.

The year 2005 brought a daring daylight raid on the John Wayne–ophile Huns in the dark, dystopian land of America with the global release of Skeleton (Morningside/Control Group), which I discovered on my desk between 100 mph drive-by-shooting runs in my stroked-out Dodge Challenger hemi, done out in General Lee orange with a giant rebel flag painted on the roof, natch. As Hjelm sings on Skeleton‘s "Ambush," "Chase ’em down because you’re angry." The band drew comparisons, by other music writers with imaginations even more taxed than mine, to indie giants Built to Spill and Pavement. The Built to Spill thing makes sense, as Hjelm’s voice does have a nasal quality like Doug Martsch’s, but the Pavement allusion I can’t figure, except to say that when music writers get a really good pop record and want to blow smoke up a combo’s collective arse, they trot out left-field comparisons to Stephen Malkmus and company instead of inventing lands of ham and horses. I don’t know — maybe there was something there rhythmically.

For Deer, Figurines have replaced Toft on bass with Mads Kjaergaard, formerly a wood nymph, after the former left the band to open a drive-through guns and alcohol store on an American Indian reservation on Route 666 in Arizona. What can I say? After touring the States, he grew dangerously enamored of our culture. Perhaps more important than this — really, unless they’re Lemmy or Jaco Pastorius, there’s not a lot of change when you switch bassists — they added Jens Ramon on keyboards, which is perhaps the single biggest mood changer on the new disc. Deer has an eerie yet upbeat, cinematic feel to it. It could serve as an alternate to Air’s The Virgin Suicides soundtrack, if the movie had a different ending in which the sisters didn’t kill themselves but instead moved to Denmark to shack up with an indie band — and then killed themselves. "What if we had a chance?" Hjelm sings on "Childhood Verse." "I promise together we’ll die."

Hjelm goes on to channel Brian Wilson in "The Air We Breathe," which, with its backing harmonies, sounds like an outtake from the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds (Capitol, 1966). On "Good Old Friends," Neil Young comes to mind: "Not sure what to leave behind / But I know we’ll be all right," Hjelm sings, the phrasing and sentiment feeling like Young’s line in "Tell Me Why": "Is it hard to make arrangements with yourself / When you’re old enough to repay but young enough to sell?" From here the band moves on to "Drunkard’s Dream," which opens with a sort of indie-ized send-up of Stevie Wonder’s "Superstitious," though the metronomic snare hits contrast with the funky guitar lines, making the track more akin to art rock à la Television than Wonder funk. "Bee Dee" centers around an "up the stairs and down again" guitar riff and has a looser, Feelies vibe, while the keyboards in "Cheap Place to Spend the Night" move from rollicking Farfisa to tinkling celesta.

Overall, while conceptually satisfying, the cinematic feel of Deer is not quite the pure pop bliss of Skeleton. Maybe it’s a bit homogeneous, rife with ethereal keys and moody vocals. Maybe our Danish Fab Five have been influenced by the resurgence of folk. The back-cover photo is a cross between a Little House on the Prairie still and a Flying Burrito Brothers portrait, sans rhinestone suits: two Figurines are wearing suspenders, and they each have a questioning, somewhat obsequious look on their face, like they’re about to collectively ask, "Howdy, stranger, can we get you a sarsaparilla?" But the record is ambitious, signifying the band’s willingness to change its sound with each release and not just hammer on what’s worked in the past. From their humble beginnings in ham shanks and clog dancing, Figurines dream big — bigger than I do, certainly.


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

Bottom of the Hill

1233 17th St., SF

(415) 621-4455


Eat skull


I knew I was getting into some trouble when I first discovered that Eat Skull — a noisome bunch of skuzz rockers from Portland, Ore. — has two members who used to bring the motherfuckin’ ruckus alongside Adam Stonehouse in the Hospitals. But I knew I was in for a treat as well. I was certain the band would have no problem channeling the Hospitals’ cathartic weirdness and crackling dissonance, and the scorched intro of "Stuff Reverse," off ES’s self-titled 7-inch debut (Meds), assured me the end result would be painfully loud.

Flushed with crunchy guitars, galloping fuzz bass, and psych-fried organ, the record’s three bustling numbers blatantly scream, "Garage rock revival!" even as the music also finds the outfit tapping into its hardcore and no-wave influences. Though bristling with gravelly resonation, organ gives "Seeing Things" an ultrasunny vibe, turning it into the four-piece’s closest brush with pop, while "Things I Did When I Dyed My Hair" sounds like a tribute to "The Cowboy Song" by PiL. Groups like DNA and Teenage Jesus and the Jerks come to mind too.

The recording quality sounds bottomless, as if ES is trapped in a well. Vocalist Rob Enbom’s hollers echo in and out of tune, the drums are barely audible, and the entire thing sounds messy most of the time. Enbom revealed through an e-mail that the band’s recording techniques are "four-track, eight-track, and Radio Shack" and that "the garage thing results from recording the album three weeks after we started playing together on a four-track, drunk." He also disclosed that ES dubbed their songs over some old Chinese opera tapes, which probably factors into the filthy sound — and the authentic basementlike feel. If this recording is a sign of things to come, I would suggest stocking up on plenty of earplugs before trotting down to the Hemlock.


With Scout Niblett and Monster Women

Thurs/11, 9:30 p.m., $8

Hemlock Tavern

1131 Polk, SF

(415) 923-0923


More sad hits


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It’s been nearly two decades since Galaxie 500 broke through with their languid, fuzzed-out dream pop, and rhythm section Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang still live and record in the Ivy Leagued shadow of their Cambridge, Mass., alma mater, Harvard University. Perpetual college rock? It’s true their recordings as a duo have retained Galaxie 500’s moody overtones, but the self-consciously wide-screen canvas is gone: instead of soaring chorus and spiral-jetty guitar wails, Damon and Naomi emphasize smart pop arrangements and subdued vocal harmonies. Their latest, Within These Walls (20/20/20), is one of the coziest albums of the year, not just for its rainy-day production but also for the impression that the pair is totally comfortable in their bittersweet pop. When I ask the two by e-mail why they are continually drawn to downbeat melodies, Yang replies that it’s "the most melancholy records in our collection that get the most play — in some ways I think that you need to really appreciate the melancholy, the fleeting, to appreciate happiness."

For a project summoning such constancy, Damon and Naomi barely got off the ground running as a duo. Surprised by Dean Wareham’s stormy departure from Galaxie 500, the pair released a modest EP of songs under the name Pierre Etoile, but distribution problems waylaid the project. Burned twice in quick succession, Damon and Naomi rededicated their creative energies to Exact Change, a small press with an emphasis on reprinting experimental literature and writing by avant-garde composers and artists. Galaxie 500 producer Kramer hooked the duo for a one-off return to music, 1992’s More Sad Hits (Shimmy Disc), and five studio albums later, they’re still treading water in the afterglow.

Krukowski once remarked in an interview with the Wire that Galaxie 500 was drawn to imitate the Velvet Underground’s eponymous third record and Big Star’s Third (Rykodisc, 1978) for "the sound of a band after it’s been a rock band." Damon and Naomi are, of course, this concept’s incarnation: a band risen up from the rhythm section of a much-heralded breakthrough act, whose first full-length together was designed as a farewell.

All of their successive albums work within the narrow wall of this hushed grace, but the pair can hardly be accused of resting on Galaxie 500’s laurels. Besides running Exact Change and backing up Kate Biggar and Wayne Rogers (currently of Major Stars) on their Magic Hour project, the duo has worked extensively with Japanese psych rockers Ghost, especially with virtuoso guitarist Michio Kurihara, who has added his tasteful accompaniment to their last several albums and tours (that rare combination of genius and tastefulness, Kurihara will play with both Damon and Naomi and headliners Boris for their upcoming San Francisco date).

Damon and Naomi’s preferred status among next-wave elites like the Wire might seem surprising until you realize they were pretty well ahead of the curve in cultivating a pastoral, psych-tinged folkie sound (on prime display on "Cruel Queen," the Yang-fronted ballad that closes Within These Walls). Indeed, for how much they’ve towed the line of subdued folk pop, there’s never been any doubting the group’s interesting tastes: during our e-mail chat, Krukowski name-checks Robert Wyatt, Fairport Convention, Scott Walker, and Fotheringay as influences.

That said, the pair are never showy in their pop know-how. Indeed, the best moments on Within These Walls then aren’t about blowing minds so much as hitting the right stride. "The Well" glides on Kurihara’s guitar lines, "The Turnaround" paces back and forth with staccato strings and familiar harmonies, and "On the Aventine" finds a tender resting place between reverb guitar and soprano saxophone. It’s music for the morning after, for a foreign city, for taking cover: reposed, but still tender from the journey down. *


With Boris and Michio Kurihara

Sun/14, 8 p.m., $17


628 Divisadero, SF


Scavenging’s new spirit


› culture@sfbg.com

>>Click here to check out our Style 2007 Guide

It’s a warm September night, and I’m standing in a crowded art gallery in South San Francisco, staring at a metal octopus that moves its tentacles when you press a button. In many ways, it’s like every other reception I’ve been to: a table with snacks and wine, a healthy feeling of snobbery in the air, and a swath of hipsters blocking my view of everything. But as I walk around I notice some differences. The smell of decomposing flesh, the sound of heavy machinery, the walk-in "free shed," dozens of trash cans, and the mounds of refuse on the horizon all suggest that I’m standing in the middle of a landfill. Which, well, I am. It’s the site of the art exhibition "Waste Deep," by Nemo Gould, the San Francisco Dump’s artist in residence. And what’s most striking? I feel completely at home.

After spending most of September with junk collectors, vintage clothing nerds, and art diggers, I’m now completely accustomed to wallowing in trash and noticing freebies. For example, before driving to the SF Dump this evening I ate free baked goods at the X-rated Cake Gallery in SoMa, scrounged through leftovers at an estate sale in Bernal Heights, and knocked back pints of free Pabst at Broken Record in the Excelsior.

Yes, friends, I have become a bona fide freeloader. But like my newfound partners in grime I shun the connotations of the term. I choose instead to see myself as a sort of hip cultural revolutionary, one of the loose band of entrepreneurs and artists I’ve met over the past month who shamelessly revel in their personal gain because, at the end of the day, they know they’re "working" for a good cause. Not only are we getting a lot of cool free shit, but we’re also helping to transform the traditional hippy-dippy recycle-reuse-redistribute ethos into something more refreshing.

The freestyle movement is growing. Freeganism, a ragtag philosophy of cost-free living in a gift economy, has gained some national attention of late — especially in these economically challenging times — and the freegan ethos incubated in San Francisco, where groups like the Diggers gave away food during the ’60s. This city knows a thing or two about priceless give-and-take. And thanks to the freegan types I’ve been hanging out with, I now look at scavenging as an art form, a party, and a necessary lifestyle, one that has more to do with fashion, art, music, booze, and friendly competition than with fighting world hunger, globalization, or the war machine. Oh, most scavengers are concerned with all of that too, but creating awareness (about irresponsible consumption and the effects of wastefulness on the environment and humanity) is the fortunate by-product of the lifestyle, rather than its focus — which is, of course, copping free stuff.


My journey from a life spent paying to consume to one consumed by the pursuit of freebies began two years ago, when I moved into a new building in the Mission. My neighbor was Aaron Schirmer — a reclusive artist who lives in a world of secondhand designer denim, seminew Macintosh computers, and used sound systems — whom I’d occasionally run into on my way to buy cigarettes and Jim Beam. Usually we’d smile and nod. But one day while he sat smoking on the stoop, he flagged me down. "Check out what I found today," he said.

At his side sat a large bag of American Apparel man panties and a crate of old-school electro cassettes. When I asked where they’d come from, he rambled on about free markets, dumpsters, and swap meets. Then he stopped abruptly, fished for the keys to his house, and said, "Here, I’ll show you."

I followed him into a hallway lined with half-finished paintings and strategically cracked mirrors, through a ’50s-style kitchen, and into his living room. In the corner, beneath a dangling gold and green Eames-style lamp, sat a 50-inch color television. His bedroom walls were lined with random bric-a-brac and outsider art, and his couch was a row of velvet-lined theater seats. Schirmer spread his arms and did his best Vanna White. "Here it is," he said. "I found all of this shit on the streets. People leave piles everywhere, and I just roam around all day and pick through them."

I quickly fell into a routine with Schirmer, a retired world-traveling DJ who now spends his days spinning rare records, tending his garden, and scavenging. I would come over to his house after work, crack a beer, and check out his finds, occasionally claiming certain items for myself. We’d then scroll through the Free section on Craigslist to devise a tentative map for the following day’s scavenge. I rarely had time to join him on his daily hunts, but I quickly learned that the free pot is virtually bottomless. And I was hooked.

These days I roam the neighborhood (corporate dumpsters are always a good bet) or scour the Internet anytime I need something. On my most recent search I found a stuffed bunny, a six-foot-tall stack of records, a pair of cowboy boots, and — I shit you not — Sharon Stone’s old couch. But I’m no expert. Anyone can search a Web site, but it takes a true connoisseur, someone like Kelly Malone, to build a business from scavenging.


Malone, cofounder of the Mission Indie Mart, spent 10 years climbing the retail ladder at places like the Gap and Limited until she worked her way up to a glamorous life as a traveling designer. But then tragedy struck — in the form of ovarian cancer and its debilitating treatment process — and she had to quit. After spending the first few days of her indefinite vacation watching television, drinking too much at the Phone Booth, and watching old movies, she decided to revisit an old hobby: scavenging. "I just started over and kept positive," Malone said. "When I wasn’t sick from the chemo, I was trash-picking for cool stuff to sew and reconstruct." Malone began meticulously scouring estate sales, flea markets, and garage sales for that perfect owl clock or a one-of-a-kind sundress. She also got into interior and exterior design, grabbing spare paint and building materials off the streets, then enlisting her friends to help construct a backyard oasis.

Soon, though, Malone’s home had morphed into a retro junk museum. Her backyard was now dotted with old benches, barbecue grills, sculptures, and a sound system. Clothes were spilling out all over the place, and she had enough paint to cover a mansion. It was time to expand.

Malone began taking her stuff down to the flea market in South San Francisco. She set up a booth with music and goodies, offered free beer and hot dogs to friends, and spent whole weekends selling dolled-up vintage goods and making friends with others who did the same. It was there that she struck up a business relationship with Charles Hurbert, a public relations representative at a marketing firm who has a penchant for outsider art and found fashion. Soon Malone and Hurbert combined forces and decided to look beyond sanctioned venues. Malone’s backyard beckoned. The Mission Indie Mart was born.

The first mart went off without a hitch. Malone and Hurbert invited swap meet–interested friends to set up booths in Malone’s backyard. Cheapo flyers were designed, beer was purchased and resold at cost, and reimagined found apparel was offered for sale. It was a thrifty one-off that felt like an illegal rave, and people loved it. Mission District locals swarmed Malone’s backyard and nearly bought up her entire inventory. When she held it again the next month, the mart was even more successful and attracted more people — so many that her landlord threatened to evict her. So Malone sought sponsors and a new venue. The next Mission Indie Mart will be at 12 Galaxies and will feature a set by DJ Lovedust, extremely cheap Stella Artois, and an even bigger collection of vendors.

The mart’s success suggests that this model benefits its founders, who make some income from the event, and attendees, who get cheap goods, as much as it does San Francisco’s thriving community of independent designers, vintage-clothing dealers, and the recycling-scavenging movement in general. Malone and Hurbert are proving again that with a little effort and creativity, free shit can be turned into gold.


That’s also what Jason Lewis and Monica Hernandez, the founders of SwapSF, are doing at CELLspace — but for them the party and the product are more important than the money.

The couple started SwapSF a few years ago as a way to poach their friends’ unwanted apparel. "I had this friend who owned like a million pairs of limited-edition sneakers that he never wore," Lewis said. "The swap idea started as a way for me to get my hands on some of them." So Hernandez and Lewis, who have been throwing events since they met at a party five years ago, did what came naturally: they drew up a flyer, bought a bunch of cheap beer and pizza, and invited their friends to get down.

The idea has taken off, as I witnessed Sept. 22 when I threw a few shirts, a pair of pants, and some old hats in a bag and pedaled down to Bryant and 18th Street to volunteer at their recent event, the Most Hyperbolically Stupendous Clothing Swap Ever. It was to be a win-win situation: a little time in exchange for first dibs at free clothes. I arrived at CELLspace at 11 a.m. to find a DJ spinning downtempo hip-hop, a handful of kids sorting through bags, and Hernandez, who greeted me with a smile, a name badge, and a beer. I’d envisioned spending a leisurely afternoon sipping beer provided by Trumer Pilsner (the event sponsor) with about a hundred other scavengers, and the day seemed to be turning out that way.

But neither I nor the organizers were quite prepared for the four-hour clusterfuck that awaited us. Soon the volunteers were drowning in a mile-high volcano of pants, shirts, scarves, and underwear. By noon, the event’s official start time, a line wound around 19th Street. At 12:30 p.m. the place was packed. It was as if every hipster in the Mission had gotten wind of an opportunity for free music, beer, and dancing and had gathered up their unwanted clothes to join the party — a party that happened to result in free clothing for charity organizations like A Woman’s Place, the AIDS Emergency Fund, and San Francisco General Hospital.


Since starting in Lewis and Hernandez’s apartment and then relocating, the SwapSF event has become so popular that it’s getting hard to handle. Even the duo have been surprised by its sudden and exponential growth. It seems that by using sarcastic graphic design on their flyers, guerrilla promotion techniques (word of mouth, stickers, blogs, etc.), and a refrigerator full of beer, Hernandez and Lewis have tapped into a new way to market charity events to a community of self-obsessed hipsters. Like Malone, the SwapSF duo see something wrong with the way our culture consumes and wastes, but they’re reluctant to jump on a soapbox — or even stand close to one.

Which may be why their parties have been garnering more attention and support than have the more traditional free markets that have been held across the nation for years. Malone and her contemporaries are creating awareness with no pretenses, no preaching, and no Hacky Sack–playing hippies. They are nurturing a world of gift exchange that speaks to a new generation of recyclers who enjoy the selfish thrills of scoring, a good party, and daytime drinking more than — or at least as much as — the satisfaction people find in collective self-sacrifice and charity.

Even San Francisco Dump artist Nemo Gould isn’t making his garbage art purely, or even mostly, as a political statement. "By virtue of it being made out of garbage, my art does make a statement about waste and overconsumption," Gould said. "But that’s not what it’s really about." Although Gould sees the danger in the complex environmental situations that create places like the SF Dump, his desire to work there had more to do with personal satisfaction than with changing the world. The dump’s Artist in Residence Program offers one of the most coveted positions in the city because it guarantees lifelong access to free garbage.

"There’s a scavenger spirit," Gould said. "Whoever has it is compelled to collect. Whatever comes after that is up to the scavenger."

The scavenger spirit is currently creating a subculture. Like skateboarders who view the city’s byways as a concrete playground, the new breed of scavengers looks at the urban environment from a different perspective. In their eyes the streets of San Francisco are aisles in a seven-mile-by-seven-mile warehouse of free shit. Their primary goal is to decorate their homes with one-of-a-kind furniture, dress their bodies in fly gear, and pad their pocketbooks, all while avoiding overdraft charges and, on the side, helping to generate awareness. In their separate and edgy styles, Gould, Malone, Hernandez, Lewis, and Schirmer have managed to turn this spirit into a lifestyle that doesn’t alienate people with its self-righteousness. I mean, everyone wants free shit, right? Who can’t relate to that?


There’s a fine line between scavenging to make a statement and being a straight-up freeloader. Luckily, it’s up to the individual to decide exactly where that line is drawn. Here are some resources for learning more about the score.


Information about strategies for sustainable living beyond capitalism; includes freegan hot spots in San Francisco.



A monthly alternate-economy festival and a really good place to get rid of your old stuff.



Kelly Malone and Charles Hurbert’s unique party take on the freegan ethos.



Jason Lewis and Monica Hernandez’s fabulous swap bonanza.



A list of every open bar, happy hour, and extremely cheap alcohol event in the city.



A cross between MySpace and Yelp that focuses entirely on events, including a free section featuring happy hours, art openings, and concert ticket giveaways.



Official city site for recycling, disposal, and reuse information.



Learn about our city’s unique take on garbage and strategies for recycling.



An art foundation dedicated to transforming trash into interactive public sculptures.



Mission Indie Mart cofounder Hurbert blogs his best scavenger finds.



The latest artist in residence at the SF Dump has been making cool stuff from garbage for years.


Ideals made reel


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

"Joseph Cornell’s cinema remains the central enigma of his work," Anthology Film Archives founder and Visionary Film author P. Adams Sitney wrote in 1980. That’s a tall order for an artist whose near-crippling sense of doubt about his artistic worth, coupled with his hermetic tendencies, further enhances the enigmatic and curious air that surrounds his vitrinelike assemblages of bric-a-brac, Victorian printed matter, old toys, and star charts — ephemera gently scavenged from the scrap heap of history in New York’s dime stores and junk shops. While Cornell the artist and Cornell the man have become more transparent in the years since Sitney’s essay, the mysteriousness of Cornell’s films — their "roughness" and "insidiousness," to use Sitney’s delicious phrasing — still holds.

As with ballet, books, and music, film offered Cornell sustained aesthetic sustenance and pleasure. Though he approached filmmaking tentatively and always at a remove — his films are composed of preexisting footage, bits from films he had either collected or directed others to photograph — he had long been enraptured by the moving image, particularly in its earliest incarnations. Cornell and his invalid brother Robert had even met D.W. Griffith when they were young men, while America’s burgeoning film industry was still largely based in New York. In a 1942 tribute to Hedy Lamarr published in View magazine, Cornell gushed unguardedly in florid prose about silent film’s "profound and suggestive power … to evoke an ideal world of beauty, to release unsuspected floods of music from the gaze of a human countenance in its prison of silver light."

The synesthetic rapture evoked by the silent star’s face can be seen as the organizing principle behind Cornell’s tribute boxes to 19th-century prima ballerinas such as Fanny Cerrito and silver screen luminaries like Lauren Bacall. Exquisite fan letters and reliquaries, these boxes stave off time’s indifference to their subjects, freezing them like exotic specimens in cerulean amber. Cornell used the same blue glass to filter the projection of his first and best-known film, 1936’s Rose Hobart.

Composed of footage from a decaying copy of East of Borneo, a forgettable Universal jungle drama and early talkie, and named after that film’s star, Rose Hobart radically recuts its source material to become a mesmerizing portrait of the actress. Cornell unstitches the coherence of Hollywood-style editing by colutf8g deliberately mismatched shots of Hobart, the resulting narrative ellipses forming a counterpoint to the rhythm of his montage. Projected at silent speed, its original soundtrack replaced by a repeated junk shop record of Latin music, Rose Hobart is Cornell’s ideal of film made real.

At the film’s now-storied premiere at Julien Levy’s New York gallery, audience member Salvador Dalí knocked over the projector in a rage, ridiculously exclaiming, "My idea for a film is exactly that, and I was going to propose it to someone who would pay to have it made." Despite the assurances of Gala, Dalí’s wife, that her husband was just having one of his episodes, Cornell never fully recovered from the incident. He wouldn’t seriously consider making another film until nearly 20 years later.

Like Cornell’s earlier shadow boxes, with their carefully arranged minutiae seemingly selected as much for textural as for thematic effect, his other found-footage films present formally thoughtful arrangements of disparate images. Bookstalls (dating from the late 1930s) takes us on a fantastic geographic and literary voyage; stock imagery of the Caledonian Canal and Vietnamese rice paddies is cleverly spliced into the footage of men browsing book stalls. Cotillion and the Midnight Party (1938) mixes footage of acrobats, tightrope walkers, trained seals, and what look like outtakes from an Our Gang short into a fantasy party for children (whom Cornell considered the ideal audience for his work).

The films Cornell made from the 1950s on — with the assistance of then-budding experimental filmmakers Stan Brakhage and Rudy Burckhardt — are much sparser and leave greater gaps between their associative ellipses. Shot at some of Cornell’s favorite haunts around New York, the films are far more flighty in their evocativeness than the boxes. They are records of time’s passing rather than defenses against it.

Focus shifts constantly in these allegories of change, in which the George Méliès–inspired collage of Cornell’s found-footage reels gives way to one trick: the disappearing lady. In A Legend of Fountains (1954) a boyish young girl stares out a window, then flits through New York’s Little Italy before disappearing in a jump cut. The camera finally rests on a junk shop’s window, from which gazes a porcelain doll, the inanimate double of our lost protagonist and also a dead-ringer evocation of Cornell’s most unsettling take on encapsulated women, the early 1940s Untitled (Bebe Marie). In 1957’s Nymphlight another young girl dressed in a white gown with a broken parasol skips through a park, the camera tracking her as she watches the peripatetic launch of a flock of pigeons. She too vanishes, her absence marked in the final shot, of her discarded umbrella.

Sitney writes that in Cornell’s work, "to encounter anything in its fullness was to come into nearly tangible contact with its absolute absence, its unrecoverable past-ness, its evanescence." Nowhere across Cornell’s creative output are the emotional contours of this experience of the ineffable — wondrous and melancholy — so fully explored as in his films. 2


Oct. 12–Dec. 14, $7.50–$12

Phyllis Wattis Theater

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

151 Third St., SF

(415) 357-4000



Who wrote the book of love?


At first glance, For the Bible Tells Me So comes across as a fairly conservative film. Technically and aesthetically speaking, there are no surprises: interviews, found footage, a cute short cartoon, and familiar traditional documentary techniques are mixed with a certain amount of predictability and sentimental cheesiness. But is cinematic form all that defines whether a movie is conventional or groundbreaking? In terms of content, Daniel G. Karslake’s first feature is anything but unchallenging.

In fact, no better word than challenge comes to mind when thinking about For the Bible Tells Me So. First, there’s the film’s questioning of the widely held belief that spirituality and same-sex attraction are mutually exclusive. The many different acclaimed and respected theologians featured in the documentary make it clear that popular literalist interpretations of the Bible, according to which homosexuality is an abomination, show complete disregard for the historical and social context in which it was written (a time when the concept of homosexuality wasn’t even existent).

Through interviews with figures such as Rev. Peter Gomes, Rev. Irene Monroe, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the film makes it clear that religion and the church are two different things — and that scripture is used to promote and justify hatred toward homosexuality in the same way that it can be used to defend racism and sexism.

In the process of critiquing church authority, For the Bible Tells Me suggests that one revisit one’s system of belief. This suggestion extends from and connects to the families interviewed in the movie. Focusing on five religious couples who grew up being told that homosexuality is a sin but who later discovered that their children are gay, Karslake portrays people struggling between their love for their offspring and their idea of faith as a guide to truth in life. Some parents get involved in fighting prejudice, while others discover that they can at least try to understand their children. Because Karslake approaches all of his interview subjects with respect and affection, For the Bible Tells Me So‘s plea for tolerance is almost omnipotent. (Maria Komodore)


Opens Fri/12 in Bay Area theaters


Golden Rice Bowl and San Tung


› paulr@sfbg.com

If you think chicken is restaurant food for losers, you haven’t been getting out to enough Chinese restaurants lately. And who could blame you? Going out for Chinese food these days is a little like voting in a presidential primary: there are far too many choices that seem far too much alike, and most of them turn out to be disappointing. But we mustn’t let ourselves become discouraged by mediocrity, which after all is the usual state of human affairs and the human beings who conduct them. There are always jewels to be found, glittering in the muck of the mundane, and the task at hand is the pleasant one of discovery.

The chicken-is-for-losers argument was put forth explicitly by Anthony Bourdain in his book Kitchen Confidential. When you don’t know what you want, you order chicken. Probably you will forget about the chicken as soon as it’s gone, like an episode of bad sex. But maybe you won’t forget, if you were lucky or wise enough to have the dry-fried chicken, and to have had it at either of a pair of places on Irving in the Inner Sunset: San Tung or Golden Rice Bowl. As Chinese restaurants in the city go, these places look like strictly neighborhood joints, with not much in the way of décor or other atmospherics, and service that’s not exactly coddling, though friendly and competent. But the chicken!

And what is dry-fried chicken, exactly? It could begin with either wings or thigh meat — but thigh meat, which is boneless, gives a higher edible yield. The pieces of flesh are dipped in batter or otherwise given some kind of coating, then fried in oil until lightly crisped. The result is a heap of golden chunks and shards, juicy within envelopes of delicate crunch. There might be a discreet flow of spicy sauce. For those who like a certain muscularity in their Chinese cooking, dry-fried chicken could be just the ticket, and the variations between the approaches taken by the respective kitchens at San Tung and Golden Rice Bowl will be a prod to ongoing interest.

We found San Tung’s version ($5.50 at lunch, $8 at dinner) to consist of large, flattish chunks of meat, like rocks you could skip across a pond on a summer afternoon. The chunks had been battered and fried to a sturdy gold, with ginger, garlic, and red chile peppers lending an appealingly blunt heat to the proceedings. Across the street, meanwhile, Golden Rice Bowl’s edition ($5.50 at lunch, $8.25 at dinner) gave its slightly more cylindrical bits of meat a coating that was less batter looking than some kind of dredging (in cornmeal and pepper); after the hot-oil treatment, the textural effect was similar to that of pepper-fried calamari. The dish also included a slightly sweet sauce, as glossy and dark as molasses and dotted with chunks of red chili pepper for a bit of heat. And the winner is … a draw.

I don’t mean to imply that the two restaurants are identical, or even fraternal, twins. San Tung seems to be, overall, more of a spice-heat palace, as suggested by the little complimentary plate of kimchee that’s brought to your table after you’re seated. (At Golden Rice Bowl, the nibble consists of daikon and carrot sticks, on the sweet side of pickled.) Perhaps the fire accounts for San Tung’s throngs of the young and the trendy; Golden Rice Bowl’s demographic appears to be a little older, less noisy, and distinctly Asian — this last detail always reassuring, at least to this occidental person.

More San Tung zing can be found in the three deluxe spicy sauce noodles ($7), a quite large bowl filled with linguinelike homemade noodles, shrimp, calamari, and scallops in a reddish, sweet-heat sauce under a rough green cap of cucumber splinters. Across the street at GRB you can get something similar and just as tasty but milder: seafood Hong Kong–<\d>style crispy noodles ($7.25), a stir-fry of shellfish, calamari, snow peas, carrot sticks, whole baby shiitake mushrooms, and leaves of nappa cabbage laid atop a broad nest of crisped vermicelli-style noodles. The well-modulated tone here seems rather Cantonese.

Soups track a similar divide. San Tung’s hot and sour soup ($4.95), chockablock with strips of tofu, peas, bamboo shoots, and willow-tree mushrooms, arrives on the tongue with a nice sourness but later releases a pepper heat that vents up through one’s nostrils. Golden Rice Bowl’s seaweed egg flower soup ($4.50), on the other hand, is almost like liquid sushi, with its black webbings of kelp giving off their subtle but distinctive odor; ballast (and some color) is provided by diced root vegetables and peas.

We pause briefly to acknowledge San Tung’s fabulous shrimp and leek dumplings ($6.50 for 12 — a deal). The menu describes them as "little," but really they’re about the size and shape of potstickers, though steamed instead of pan-fried. What is most remarkable is their richly juicy filling, a fragrant blend of ground shrimp mixed with ginger, garlic, and Chinese chives. You could make a meal out of a plate of these.

Golden Rice Bowl has an aquarium — a nice touch, especially since it’s purely decorative and not a holding tank full of creatures waiting to be plucked out and turned into somebody’s dinner. The place is also more gently lit than its neighbor across the way, where overhead lights glare and the atmosphere is not for the faint of heart — or who are, as we used to say in grade school, chicken.


Daily, 11 a.m.–9:30 p.m.

1030 Irving, SF

(415) 731-8110

Beer and wine


Not noisy

Wheelchair accessible


Mon.–Tues. and Thurs.–Sun., 11 a.m.–9:30 p.m.

1031 Irving, SF

(415) 242-0828

Beer and wine



Wheelchair accessible

Lovejoy and company


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

"Think about the children!"

That cry, most memorably a mantra for Reverend Lovejoy’s wife, Helen, on The Simpsons, encapsulates the pervasive movement to childproof American life. Parents no longer have the time, will, or ability (so they claim) to properly censor all aspects of culture their kids might be exposed to, so a rising chorus demands the government do it for them.

Yet these efforts only underline the scattershot nature of an institutional overview of today’s wide-open mediascape. The FCC heavily fines cusswords and wardrobe malfunctions on network TV, yet cable can do whatever the fuck! it pleases. Men lured via fantasy underage chat rooms into bogus real-world meetings by FBI agents can be imprisoned for crimes of intent. Meanwhile, the hugely popular Bratz empire sells trendy updates on Jodie Foster’s Taxi Driver li’l ho look to preteen girls as ersatz self-empowerment.

The closely aligned flip side of that salaciousness is the market for angelic innocence — those Keane-eyed Olsen twins tap into commingled public fascinations with child precocity, with jailbait allure and its righteous condemnation, and with women starving themselves back to a pubescent size-zero ideal. How often has such high-end childsploitation led to balanced adult life? Face it: we already think about the children way too much.

A whole worm can of child adorability, complicity, ability, and above all, parental responsibility (or lack thereof) is opened up by My Kid Could Paint That. Amir Bar-Lev’s excellent documentary starts out as a straight-up chronicle of a way-underage artistic phenomenon, until unforeseen developments suggest some sort of mass-media con job based on dreams of squeaky-clean white suburbia.

The Olmsteads of Binghamton, N.Y., are a catalog family, so wholesomely good-looking you might think they were assembled by a casting agent. They are nice too. You might expect any thirtysomething heterosexual couple this L.L. Bean–clad to be yuppies, but in their modest upstate New York burg, they get along like everybody else. Mother Laura is a dental assistant. Father Mark works at the Frito-Lay factory. And their offspring? Marla and little brother Zane are well adjusted and beyond cute. If you don’t like kids, picture a basket of golden Lab puppies or something.

Not long after she turned two, Marla insisted on joining Daddy’s off-clock pastime as an amateur artist, painting her own pictures. The attractive, oddly sophisticated-looking results were hung at home. Eventually, a friend suggested they be exhibited in his café, where they elicited actual purchase offers. Another friend, professional artist Anthony Brunelli, then proposed a mid-2004 show at his gallery. It all still seemed kind of a lark.

Then a local newspaper story leads to another — in the New York Times. Normal life ends: so-called pint-size Picasso Marla is the human-interest novelty du jour for every national magazine and TV show. Collectors bid up to $25,000 per canvas. Art critics weigh in and are, for the most part, as impressed as they are nonplussed. Both senior Olmsteads apparently take pains not to pressure Marla toward more art making or media glare than her four-year-old temperament desires. (They also try not to make her older brother feel any less special, though a couple of moments in this movie make you think he has years of therapy ahead.) Yet Mark Olmstead does seem eager to seize the moment. Is this the art-world entrée he’d always wanted for himself?

That question becomes a matter of discomfiting public conjecture once something very bad happens. The Sunday-evening staple 60 Minutes — having stationed a surveillance camera in the Olmsteads’ home (with their permission) to observe Marla’s artistic process — airs a segment that strongly implies the whole child-genius thing is a fraud. Footage is shown with Mark rather aggressively directing Marla’s painting. The tide turns: collectors froth at the mouth, journalists and critics harrumph, hate mail arrives in bulk, and the Olmsteads feel shunned in their own community. They take steps at vindication, but things only get more complicated.

If you watch many documentaries these days, you’re sick of filmmakers putting their mugs and ruminations on camera, whether germane to the subject or not. But there’s a real intensity to Ben-Levy’s soul-searching in My Kid Could Paint That, as he weighs emotional attachment to the Olmsteads — and their expectation of loyalty — against his own nagging doubts and the golden prospect of a vérité exposé.

My Kid Could Paint That provokes on numerous levels. Regardless of whether she’s all that or not, can so much scrutiny — cynical or flattering — be good for Marla? As the title suggests, Ben-Levy’s film also examines deep populist hostility toward abstract (as opposed to traditional representational) art. Perhaps the only question this fascinating documentary doesn’t address is one that lands between artistic-value and cult-of-personality terrains. If Marla Olmstead turns out not to be sole creator of these paintings, why are they suddenly worth less? The oil canvases are vividly colored, complex, often ravishing. I’d be thrilled to have a print, let alone an original.

The creepiest folks in My Kid Could Paint That are those whose art appreciation gets turned off the moment it occurs they’ve enjoyed something possibly not created by an adorable, towheaded child. They’ve invested so much in the prodigy image they can’t see the still-beautiful product that remains. They are pederasts of an acceptable sort — people who only wuv something as long as it comes from a certifiably "pure" source. Innocence-fetishizing Mrs. Lovejoys are always the first to condemn adults who might well be damaged former prodigies themselves. It’s a microcosm of the hypocrisy that raises hysteria over mythically elevated levels of child sexual abuse, while caring little about those myriad ill-raised kids who end up welfare mothers or otherwise inconvenient adults.


Opens Fri/12 in Bay Area theaters


The Viz


› superego@sfbg.com

I had a third eye once. It rolled off my forehead at a ’93 rave in an abandoned Detroit airplane hangar and across the huge cement dance floor, barely missing getting squashed by hyperkinetic Canadians and nitrous-giddy kiddies swarming after an airborne fleet of inflated latex bananas. People wore bigger shoes back then, so I panicked slightly and gave chase. A kaleidoscopic Marble of Ethos, my third eye led me huffing and puffing past the ecstatic hordes thronging DJ Tommy Tomato, along a vibrating line of indoor porta-potties, and straight to the back of the building, where an ancient water main had burst — right above the chugging generator that powered the big-screen visuals.

Uh-oh. I had seen the future, and it was either blown up or electrocuted. Eek!

Beyond any possible medical emergencies, the situation also posed a personal dilemma: I was the party’s host, and violent death was still, like, totally goth. If something awful happened to the partygoers, would I ever be worthy of my fuchsia JNCO jeans and "Snap, Crackle, and Rave" Freshjive T-shirt again? I launched into damage-control mode. Through the creative use of several rolls of duct tape, a swaying 50-foot ladder, and reams of shocking profanity, I managed to keep the eye candy flowing and my fragile rep intact. Thanks, bodhisattva or whoever! Every time I see a white lady with a rolled-up yoga mat sticking out of her purse, I think of you.

I never really dug rave visuals much. Too many mushrooming acid blobs, clips from 2001: A Space Odyssey, and primitive Max Headroom avatars flinging their awkward limbs across the blurry cosmos. But the whole rave thing was about much more than the music, thank goddess, and if I had to suffer through 15 hours of mighty morphin’ neon fractals for the cause of "community expression," so be it. Besides, the use of goofy visuals in Clubland has been around since its modern beginning, when Andy Warhol’s Plastic Fantastic lava-lamp projections glanced off silver cloud balloons. It’s historical.

But now that wild optical shenanigans seem to have migrated from the dance floor to the screen saver, conceptual-art gallery, Burning Man shade structure, and stadium JumboTron, I mostly notice them by their absence. The current vogue for projecting pornos onto club walls doesn’t count — far too easy — and don’t get me started on horrendous video bars. Bleh. Even the freakin’ LoveFest skipped the visuals this year, though the music went far into twilight.

Still, there’s a devious little visual world opening up in the clubs these days, one that goes far beyond simple VJs, and, curiously, much of it’s coming from young kids who have no background in rave at all. The most ubiquitous of these new projectionists goes by the name of 3 and claims installation art, noisecore, and Pink Floyd as influences despite working his overlapping-image magic at many house and drag venues, such as the Endup, Underground SF, Trannyshack, Pink, and Supperclub.

"I escaped my extremely conservative family — I’m a recovering Pentecostal — and wound up at 5lowershop," a noisecore artists’ collective, the 27-year-old 3 told me over the phone. "I knew I wanted to be an artist, but I had no idea what kind. I started taking pictures of people’s artwork, overlaying the images two at a time and adding a found image of my own that I thought knocked everything to another level. Three images into one, thus the name. I got a handle on the technology and started projecting at friends’ parties a few years ago. People seemed hungry for club visuals. Even though I know almost nothing about electronic music, I love adding another dimension, to jump people’s minds off the musical track."

Although self-taught, 3 can get pretty deep with his visual knowledge. He particularly admires the psychosexual design philosophy of Dr. Jallen Rix and the software wizardry of Spot Draves, who created the Electric Sheep communal screen-saver program. Taken from a laptop-stored image bank of hundreds of thousands of manipulated photos and clips and mixed live with Resolume software, 3’s work can seem electrifying in a typical rave-visuals way at first glance (trippy flashback effects, flaming Maori poi twirlers, etc.), but subtexts peek out: a tart-eyed deconstruction of vintage gay photographs in his huge projections at the Castro’s Pink Saturday party, for example, or a tiny yet virulent stream of social commentary splashed across a performing drag queen’s splayed angel wings. And 3 has a knack for dropping startling film clips of Hitler Youth and Vietnam napalm-bombing campaigns into sets designed around softer themes.

"The visual medium is so incredibly powerful right now," he told me. "The world is basically videos. We can’t look away. I hope some of my stuff shakes people up, forms a bubble and then bursts it. That may be strange on a dance floor, and that’s why I do it.

"But in the end, I really just want to make everything pretty," he continued. "I want to take this thing as far as I can go, get incredibly famous, and make the whole world beautiful. How egotistical is that?"

Bad tryp


› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS What’s this? I have finally bumped up against something that I can’t write about. Well, maybe if I … Nope, can’t write about it. I … goddamn it! Except to say that I can’t write about it, I can’t write about it.

So you know it’s not sex, because I write about sex. At the risk of desecrating the food section, I have written about my own poo. I have written about my dates, at the risk of not being asked out again. (Which works, by the way.) I’ve written about suicide, cancer, divorce, and inside-out chickens — all the things that people don’t like to talk about.

For years have I spilled my heart, and the beans, all over your bus rides and breakfasts. While all the other clumsy people in the world were spilling coffee on their newspapers, I spilled the newspaper on your coffee. I’m like one of those reality TV shows. I’m a reality restaurant review.

Except not no more.

Christ, I’m so fucking dismantled. A chicken farmer without chickens, a witch without brew or broom, a nun without a ruler, I don’t even exactly know where I live right now. I’m in between homes, cars, bodies, and bands. Hey — now would be a good time to work on that drinking problem! I want one bad. Like an alcoholic craves a drink, I crave alcoholism, but lack the strength of character to follow through. One glass, and I lose interest. Traditionally.

On the other hand, they say that every day is the first day of the rest of your life.

With renewed resolve, I knocked on Earl Butter’s door. He had vodka. I had tomato juice. All we needed was hot sauce.

"Do you still have those Buffalo wings I left in your refrigerator?" I asked, thinking we could dip the wings, like celery sticks, into our drinks. A little butter, a little chicken grease wouldn’t hurt a Bloody Mary. In fact, someone told me that Bloody Marys have beef in them. I don’t know, people tell me a lot of things, but I sure hope this one’s true, for vegetarians’ sake.

Anyway, it was a ridiculous idea. The likelihood of Earl Butter keeping Buffalo wings in his fridge overnight is like the likelihood of me keeping a secret. It could happen, but …

He laughed.

I happened to have keys to a couple of other apartments in his building, because that’s the kind of homeless person I am. I have more keys than janitors. This way, none of my friends ever has to clean their refrigerator.

My raid yielded no leftover Buffalo wings, but yes Tapatio. That’s that Mexican hot sauce. For our purposes Earl Butter wanted Tabasco, but none of my peeps keeps Tabasco on hand, not even Earl Butter. I looked in his fridge and he had Tapatio too. Somewhere in the world I have a refrigerator of my own, and I’ll bet you $10 it has Tapatio in it. It’s just the best all-purpose hot sauce there is.

I know because I recently lined them all up at a restaurant — I forget which one — and taste-tested them on different parts of my omelet. Tapatio was the best. Then that Asian one, in the fat squeeze bottle. Then Crystal, then Tabasco.

Tabasco is best in Bloody Marys, but nobody I know has Tabasco. Big deal, so we were going to have Bloody Marias.

They were great! We made them in small glasses so I could drink more drinks. And guess what? Earl Butter didn’t have the Buffalo wings, but he did still have the celery sticks that came with them.

I ate four celery sticks and passed out on the couch.

When I woke up it was morning. For fun, I pretended to have a hangover. Everyone else in the world was going to work. I rode my bike to Sockywonk’s, and she didn’t look good, which is rare.

"No sleep," she groaned, grinding our coffee. "Two nights in a row, no sleep."

I asked what she’d had for dinner, and she said donut holes. For dessert: Ativan.

"You don’t need no Ativan," I said. "Sweetie, you need tryptophan." I went to work. I went shopping, and I came back and I cooked. I stocked her refrigerator with a week’s worth of turkey soup and ground turkey stuffed peppers.

It didn’t work. I found out later: it’s a myth, the turkey thing! The tryptophan. To work, as a soporific, you have to take it on an empty stomach. And still you believe in God?



› andrea@altsexcolumn.com

Dear Andrea:

I have recently discovered that I’m one of those lucky women who can ejaculate. Hooray! Except when it gets really wet and wild, I am plagued by a burning sensation. It isn’t enough to stop the action, but it’s annoying, and makes me think that I’m hurting myself. Could it be that my boyfriend’s super-rough hands are giving me microscopic little cuts? It gets pretty heavy at times. Why is too much of a good thing making me burn?


On Fire

Dear Fire:

Oh lord, I’m seeing those little wavy lines that Mike Myers used to do with his fingers on Wayne’s World right before the flashback scenes. I’d forgotten all about "Freshenup, the gum that goes … squirt!," a singularly unappealing product heavily promoted when I was in high school, but YouTube, of course, has not (www.youtube.com/watch?v=_oWF2bSZjGM). Back then my friend Ted used to wander around pretending to wince in pain and muttering, "The gum that goes … hurt!" under his breath. This was before Ted went manic and wrote 150 songs in one week and ended up on a locked ward, but … oh, sorry, wavy lines. How could you have expected that your perfectly innocent question would cause that sort of reaction in me? I can’t be the only one who’s thought of that squirty gum over the years, though, especially when the topic of female ejaculation comes up, and done some wincing herself. So gross. Squirt! What were they thinking?

Anyway. I think you’ve answered your own question with the mention of super-rough hands. I’m not sure if you meant that he tends to play pretty rough with you or that his hands are literally alligatory, but either way, how can we begin to solve this if he’s roughing you up every time you get down? If it’s really skin roughness, then we (this includes me) are going to have to get comfortable with the idea of our guy getting a little Queer Eye with the self-care products and start using an oily scrub (these can be found in manly scents like eucalyptus or menthol or, I dunno, beer) in the shower and lotion after. A manicure wouldn’t hurt, either. If it’s the former problem and he’s just very grabby or pinchy or punchy, we’re going to have to ask him to cut it out. Of course, if you like it rough (you’d have plenty of company), this is going to be a little bit harder to solve.

If he’s actually tearing you up a little, the main culprit isn’t going to be pressure, it’s going to be friction, so see what happens if you use just a ridiculous amount of lube, preferably the space-age silicone stuff which is so antifriction it’s practically antigravity. This stuff is dangerous: it has magical container-escaping properties and once it’s on your floor it kind of wants to kill you, but it will make his gnarly fingers glide over you like a little swan on a glassy pond. With lily pads. Or it might, anyway. It’s worth a try. So is teaching him how to touch nice.

OK, so that’s why you might be hurt and how to stop it. The next question is why does it sting when you ejaculate and not when you, say, whistle "Dixie"? Well, we know why but nobody wants to talk about it except me, or so it seems sometimes. It’s stinging because the fluid that’s getting in there is a mite acidic, and it’s a mite acidic because it’s pee, sort of. We’ve been over and over this, but I always feel, afresh, like I’m popping the world’s sweetest child’s most favoritest balloon.

The quick version goes something like this: the glands rumored to be responsible for the squirt, the Skene’s glands, which cluster along the outside of the urethra, are too tiny to produce or contain the truly shocking amounts of fluid that some squirters can loose upon the world or their partner’s face. That can be about half a liter of stuff, a water bottle full, so no way. The awkward but so far scientifically supported truth appears to be that the bed-soaking stuff originates in the bladder and is expelled through the urethra, very much like another, more familiar fluid that we make and discard gallons of on a regular basis without giving it anywhere near this much thought. The stuff we’re privileging by calling it ejaculate is not, in fact, identical to the pee we pee when we need to pee. It’s much diluted, basically water, and we still don’t completely understand how a woman who emptied her bladder right before coming to bed can produce so damned much of it so soon after, but it does often contain pee’s signature substances: urea and creatinine. And where there’s pee and abraded skin, there’s a stinging sensation.

Try to avoid broken skin. Get your boyfriend in on the effort. It will work, and this will work out.



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.

Port tack


› news@sfbg.com

The Oakland City Council made an unprecedented move toward environmental justice Oct. 2 by appointing Margaret Gordon to the Oakland Port Commission. It is the first time that a community activist, rather than a businessperson or a political insider, has been named to that powerful body.

The action was roughly equivalent to naming Michael Moore to the board of the National Rifle Association. For years Gordon has led an effort to hold the port accountable for poisoning the air in her neighborhood, where the American Lung Association has found that one in every five children suffers from asthma.

Gordon’s nomination, along with that of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers business manager Victor Uno, signals a clear call for reform from Mayor Ron Dellums, who issued a prepared statement commending the council "for recognizing the importance of appointing individuals who are capable of understanding both the economic and the environmental impact of the various Port facilities."

Gordon’s appointment almost didn’t happen. Dellums withdrew his two nominees from consideration at the council’s July 17 meeting after it became clear that Gordon would have trouble winning the necessary votes. Since that time Dellums has lobbied hard for their confirmation and finally saw Uno approved unanimously and Gordon on a 7–1 vote (Councilmember Desley Brooks voted no).

"The mayor has emphatically stood behind Victor and I," Gordon told the Guardian. "He has a vision for the port. He wants it to be efficient, to grow, but not to cost people’s health. The port is supposed to make money, but it’s not supposed to make people sick."

The appointments come at a critical time. The port is now drafting a long-overdue clean-air plan, while state regulators are developing stringent clean-air requirements for ports. The Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports, a national consortium of labor and environmental activists, is also advancing a proposal at Oakland and other US ports that would radically change the way port trucking is structured.

The two appointees, who begin serving immediately, will play key roles in shaping the port’s proposal. The Port Commission could vote on a final comprehensive clean-air plan as early as December. Doug Bloch, coordinator for the Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports, told us he is "cautiously optimistic" that the seven-member Port Commission will approve his group’s proposal. "We have two votes now," he said.

The coalition seeks to clean the air by improving the sweatshoplike working conditions of port truckers, who often drive the cheapest, most polluting trucks. Its plan calls on the port to require trucking companies to maintain vehicles and hire truckers as employees. The California Trucking Association and the Pacific Maritime Shipping Association have aggressively opposed the plan, which could herald the return of the Teamsters Union. Since they are classified as independent contractors, it is illegal for truckers to join a union. As employees, they would receive benefits and have the option to organize (see "Importing Injustice," 7/18/07).

Uno told us, "Truckers becoming employees is definitely part of the solution. It is clearly one of the ways to address this issue." Asked in July if he thought a proposal could succeed without requiring trucking companies to hire truckers as employees, he said, "I do not see how that is possible, given the lack of regulations in the trucking industry. It’s a dog-eat-dog world among independent truckers."

Gordon told us she is in favor of any plan that improves air quality and truckers’ lives but is not convinced that making them employees is the only way. "All I’m worried about is that small businesses, unions, and community health organizations can work together," she said. "We have to be unified in resolving these issues."

Ray King, general manager of marine operations at the port, told the Guardian that a tentative outline of the port’s plan will be posted to its Web site in the coming weeks, after which it will accept public comments for 30 days.

City Council president Ignacio de la Fuente had been Gordon’s key opposition in July. He told the Oakland Tribune that an appointee was needed "who understands [the port’s] need to be competitive, to be efficient, and to grow. The fact is, we have the responsibility for balance." But at the Oct. 2 meeting, he called Gordon "a great asset" and said her appointment will lead to "the creation of a balanced Port Commission."

For the past year and half Gordon has sat on the cabinet-level working group appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger that developed allocation guidelines and detailed clean-air requirements for more than $3 billion in Proposition 1B bond funds approved by California voters last year for port expansion and environmental mitigation projects. Port spokesperson Libby Schaaf told the Guardian that its success in securing these funds will play a central role in its expansion plans.

Councilmember Brooks, the sole vote against Gordon, worries that the plan could hurt the port’s fiscal viability. "This is the fourth-largest port in the US. This is the economic engine of the region. We need to ensure that we move in a direction where it will continue to grow. The port is getting ready to see some very tight times," she said at the meeting. "I told the mayor I hope he proves me wrong with this appointment."

The cold case of Brad Will


OPINION Oct. 27 marks the first anniversary of the assassination of New York Indymedia photojournalist Brad Will by police in Oaxaca, Mexico, under the thumb of a corrupt and tyrannical governor.

Will was gunned down just outside Oaxaca City while filming a pitched battle between supporters of Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz and members of the Oaxaca Peoples Popular Assembly (APPO). Will, 36 at the time of the killing, was the only American among 26 victims shot by Ruiz’s police and paramilitary operatives during protests in that state in 2006. No one has been held accountable for any of these murders.

A year after Will’s death, those who killed him are walking the streets. No charges have been filed against them, despite graphic evidence of their culpability. Will, true to his profession, never let go of his camera; he inadvertently filmed his murder, and photos of five cops firing their weapons at him appeared in major Mexican newspapers the day after the killing.

Indeed, the Guardian and 25 other member newspapers of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies published a startling photograph of his killers on their front pages Aug. 8 along with a 5,000-word investigative report I wrote probing the circumstances of the independent journalist’s death.

Yet although there have been repeated public denunciations of the killing by such international human rights watchdogs as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, neither the Mexican government nor, more pertinently, the US State Department has demanded justice for Will. The case now molders in the cold-case file, and despite street protests on both sides of the border, a barrage of e-mails to both governments demanding a thorough investigation of the murder, and even a visit to Oaxaca by his bereaved family, no authority has been animated to revisit this travesty.

The failure of the US government to demand accountability from Mexican president Felipe Calderón and Governor Ruiz is appalling. During the past year the US embassy in Mexico City under the direction of George W. Bush crony Tony Garza has been conspicuously silent about Will’s killing. In fact, the embassy’s only response to this murder since last Oct. 27 has been to warn American tourists about visiting Oaxaca.

The night Will was killed, Garza used the opportunity to condemn the popular movement in Oaxaca, thereby green-lighting then–Mexican president Vicente Fox to send in federal troops to crush the rebellion.

Will was one of 20 journalists working in Mexico to have disappeared or been killed since 2000. According to a count kept by Reporters Without Borders, 81 journalists were killed worldwide in 2006. Murdering the messenger continues to be the modus operandi of repressive governments and their security forces.

Will did not work for the New York Times. He was an independent voice on the front line of social protest in Latin America, and he paid a terrible price for his valiant and necessary reportage. In Mexico and elsewhere, when those who work for social change are so martyred, we do not concede their deaths, because their work is always with us. A year after his as-yet unresolved murder, Will is still present.

"Brad Will, presente!"

John Ross

John Ross has been the Guardian‘s correspondent in Mexico for the past 22 years.

The unexpected altar


This year’s SomArts’ Day of the Dead installation includes one very unexpected altar. Jack Davis has died, and the remembrances are flowing in from all over the city and the world.

Most people knew Jack as a pivotal contributor to every important cultural scene in San Francisco, whether established or underground. But this is not the Jack Davis that I knew. My Jack Davis was a neighbor, mentor, friend and my captain at the Mission Creek Harbor Association (MCHA), the community of boaters down by the ballpark. He was perhaps less famous than the bad-boy political consultant who shared his name, but he was my political consultant. He never saw me without giving me a recommendation for what the national Democrats ought to do to win an election or, more profoundly, to change our democracy for the better.

Jack was my mentor at MCHA; he was the president for many of my years of residence. He conducted our monthly governing town-hall meetings with respect, efficiency and effectiveness. He forged the kind of consensus where each contributing member believed the final product to be his or her own. He would always discern the essential, and intuitively lead to the right course. No important project at the creek was ever done without his vision and hand.

He taught me how to deal with bureaucracy, to go with the flow. The only way to fight the immovable objectifier is to make her right and then lead him in your direction. The world of permits and inspectors is best negotiated with a Jack-like attitude of making them understand that the way you want to do something is exactly what they insist you do, never fighting, always agreeing — and then doing what you want.

Three years ago, when the home I share with Sean and Jasper sank into the creek, Jack presided over the raising and the salvage from a chair he set up on the shore. Like the captain on the bridge, he sat for hours and considered angles and depths, changes over time. He offered, rejected, revised and reviewed strategies for bringing her up from the bottom, and devised the successful one. The night she was raised, his daughter Sara and her partner Shawn bought over a vase of flowers, a ray of hope and beauty in the midst of all the destruction. Then on Sunday, Jack organized the cleanup and salvage of what was left of our belongings, an effort that my depression would never have let me put together.

It was that day he taught me how to teach. First you do a thing yourself. Then you figure out how to do it best. Finally, you show the way to someone else.

Once, I asked Jack for a recommendation for a small public address system that I wanted to buy. Two days later a set of web addresses arrived by e-mail with comments about each of three appropriate possibilities and two days after that, I was driven to Hayward for a demonstration and analysis of the unit he thought was best. Jack was a master of advice; somehow I thought I had made the decision.

Architect, designer, builder or consultant on many of the homes floating in Mission Creek, Jack moved into his last project just a few months ago. With his family, he built a boat that would house three generations on three levels. Like so much of his life, his home was a work in progress; the living was the finishing. In a day where the young move away from the old, Jack, Sara, Shawn, Olivia and Arthur formed a very traditional family unit with a very modern cast.

Jack was a classical renaissance man with his feet firmly planted in the future. He was an unsung hero of his many worlds. To paraphrase Malherbe, in his honor will the angels stand.

Philip De Andrade owns Goat Hill Pizza in Potrero Hill and is a longtime small-business and neighborhood activist.

Jack Davis, 1940-2007


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Jack Davis was a relentless and often unheralded advocate for underfunded, outflanked, and ignored artists, community groups, social movements, and others shunted aside by mainstream venues and the art establishment.

Davis died Sept. 23 at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital in Valencia from injuries sustained in a car accident. He was born Nov. 16, 1940, in Phoenix, Ariz., and came to California to attend the University of Santa Clara and San Francisco State University in the late 1950s and ’60s. He studied theater arts in Northern California, then was one of the directors and founding actors of the South Coast Repertory in Orange County. He married Judith Watson and returned to San Francisco in 1968.

Well known in the underground art world that he helped pioneer, Davis was a pivotal figure in the growth and public awareness of hundreds of uniquely San Francisco creative projects. For nearly 20 years he was director of the SomArts Cultural Center, which provides classrooms and work space for community-based programs and theater and gallery access to nascent and established artists.

But his contributions went far beyond SomArts. He and Rene Yáñez helped found CELLspace, a unique community and cultural center in the Mission. Davis was an early supporter of Burning Man and hosted its parties, meetings, and large-scale events at SomArts. He also provided technical support and counsel for the Day of the Dead and other San Francisco street events.

Under his leadership SomArts hosted myriad edgy and unconventional troupes and shows. Davis hosted early events by Survival Research Laboratories, which essentially created the machine-and-fire art scene that is now renowned around the world. Davis would often need to run interference with the Fire Department and other authorities who were concerned about the SRL’s seemingly dangerous experimentation.

Davis assisted in the evolution of that scene at every step, recently providing support services so the Flaming Lotus Girls could bring their massive Serpent Mother project to the "Robodock" festival in Amsterdam last month. Other SomArts projects Davis facilitated include the offbeat Naughty Santa’s Black Market, the Queer Arts Festival, Balinese shadow theater, DadaFest, the SF Electronic Music Festival, and the SF Indie Fest.

Davis also helped win national recognition for the alt-art movement by working with Eric Val Reuther, a panelist for and consultant to the National Endowment for the Arts, to bring many worthwhile (and underfunded) groups to the attention of the NEA. Davis also cofounded the Neighborhood Arts Program National Organizing Committee and helped set up its West Coast office in San Francisco.

Among the community-based groups Davis helped establish were the Bayview Opera House, the Native American Cultural Center, the Mission Cultural Center, and the Western Addition Cultural Center. He helped create a theater at Lone Mountain College, was director of Intersection for the Arts, and organized the San Francisco Blues Festival with Tom Mazzolini. In the summer Davis and his son Hayden and their friend Ernie Rivera built stages and performance areas for street fairs and other events.

As director of Intersection for the Arts, Davis hosted many unknown performers who went on to acclaim in the larger world of theater, including Diane di Prima, Whoopi Goldberg, Bob Carroll, Ntozake Shange, Bill Irwin, Paul Dresher, and Rinde Eckert. Other groups Davis supported include the SF Mime Troupe, the Farm, the Pickle Family Circus, Make a Circus, and Dance Mission. Davis and George Coates were cofounders in the 1980s of the San Francisco International Theater Festival, which brought the early work of Spaulding Grey and others to the public’s attention.

"Jack was unflappable — nothing threw him," Coates once told me.

Davis lived on a houseboat — one of three he built over the years — with his daughter, Sarah, and his son-in-law, Shawn Lytle, in Mission Creek in San Francisco’s China Basin. As the longtime president of the Mission Creek Harbor Association, Davis fought developers and bureaucrats in a never-ending battle for the right of an organic, human-scale community to simply exist in this city. Many a weekend afternoon Davis could be found tinkering away on his or perhaps one of his neighbors’ boats. Due in great part to Davis’s efforts, Mission Creek remains one of San Francisco’s garden spots, even while surrounded by new development.

Davis was seen as a Buddha-like figure in the often-fractious world of community arts and politics. He was a bear of a man who exuded a preternatural calm. Composer, producer, and photographer Doug McKechnie noted once after a particularly rough MCHA meeting, "I was in awe of his ability to get things done with such grace, style, and simplicity. He could come into a crowd of bickering people, and they listened."

Davis was also instrumental in rejuvenating the Bay View Boat Club. "One day in 1984, Jack called me up and said, ‘Meet me at the Bay View Boat Club,’>" McKechnie said. "He showed me around the place and said, ‘I think this place has tremendous potential. Let’s join and see what we can do.’ Jack talked the club into having a special, one-year membership drive that allowed people who didn’t have a boat to join. We called everyone we knew, and before you could say ‘Bottle of beer’ the club had 200 new members, all of whom eventually got boats. Jack was elected commodore two years later and set the model for what is still one of the most astonishing, real, funky places in the world."

Davis is survived by his wife, Noriko Tanaka; ex-wife, Judith Davis; daughter, Sarah Coseby Davis; son-in-law, Shawn Lytle; son Arthur Fumiko Davis; daughter-in-law, Tesa Davis; grandchildren, Jordan Alexander Davis, Jacquelyn Rae Davis, and Olivia Davis Lytle; brother, Bill Davis; sister, Lynn Davis; and cousins, Patty Costello, Martha de la Cruz, and Amy de la Cruz. Jack’s mother, Jean Davis Mueller, age 94, resides in Scottsdale, Ariz. His son Hayden Carlos Davis died in 1999.

A celebration of Jack Davis’s life will be held Nov. 18 at the SomArts Cultural Center, 934 Brannan, SF, from 3 to 8 p.m. The family is establishing a scholarship fund for Arthur Davis. For information visit www.somarts.org.

Jack Davis will be deeply missed by all who were touched by his calm, generosity, and soothing presence over his 40-year involvement in Bay Area arts. 2

Mike Noland and Charlie Gadeken contributed to this report.

The price of the sweeps


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The number of homeless individuals slapped with quality-of-life citations and the cost to the city of processing those citations reached new highs in the past 14 months, according to a study released by Religious Witness with Homeless People. San Francisco taxpayers have paid more than $2 million for more than 15,000 citations issued to people for crimes committed because they have no place to live.

"The quality-of-life citation … begins an extremely expensive process," said Michael Bien, a lawyer on the steering committee of Religious Witness, an interfaith activist group started in 1993 by Sister Bernie Galvin.

The study, released at an Oct. 4 press conference, was based on documents provided by various city departments. The authors collated the costs from the initial ticket issued by a cop through the entire court process, including the new price of prosecution by the District Attorney’s Office (see "The Crime of Being Homeless," 10/3/07).

The results are an update of a similar survey conducted last year (see "Homeless Disconnect," 9/5/06). Collectively, the two studies found that a total of 46,684 citations have been issued to homeless people, at a cost of more than $7.8 million, since Mayor Gavin Newsom took office.

But the mayor might not want you to know that. While Religious Witness was unveiling the study at a press conference in the South Light Court of City Hall, the mayor was hosting a simultaneous event about his heavily promoted Care Not Cash program, which provides homeless people with services and housing instead of the money they once received through the County Adult Assistance Program.

"What really bothers me," Sup. Ross Mirkarimi told the crowd gathered to hear Religious Witness, "is that we learn at the last minute that Mayor Newsom decides to have a press conference at the exact same time. To me, that couldn’t be more base and exhibitive of bad form … to try and upstage a press conference like this." He said the mayor’s administration should be working with organizations like Religious Witness, not competing against them.


Galvin expressed dismay that the mayor chose not to attend, on top of scheduling a competing press conference on the issue of homelessness. "We’ve never had a press conference where we didn’t have full press coverage," Galvin said.

"We’ve been trying to meet with Mayor Newsom since the day he took office," Bien said. "He hasn’t even given us the dignity of a response."

Newsom’s press secretary, Nathan Ballard, said he knew nothing about the event until he returned from his boss’s fete at the Pierre Hotel, a single-room-occupancy hotel on Jones Street that houses some Care Not Cash recipients. He denied any intention to detract attention from Religious Witness’s study. "I chose to do this a couple of weeks ago. There’s no deep, dark conspiracy," Ballard said. The day was chosen to announce that Care Not Cash had "reached a significant milestone of housing over 2,000 formerly homeless individuals," according to a press release.

Actually, the Care Not Cash program exceeded the 2,000 mark in August, according to statistics posted on the mayor’s Web site.

This is not the first time the mayor has scheduled a competing press conference. In June, on the same day the Board of Supervisors passed the city’s Community Choice Aggregation plan for more city-owned renewable energy, the mayor announced a new partnership with Pacific Gas and Electric Co., to study tidal power (see "Turning the Tides," 6/27/07).

Religious Witness chose Oct. 4 to release the study results because it’s the Feast of St. Francis, a day celebrating the city’s patron saint, "a man known to have enormous compassion," Father Louie Vitale explained. "Does the mayor have compassion fatigue?" he wondered aloud.

The decisions about where a city spends money speak volumes about its values. "Every budget is a moral document," said John Fitzgerald, who enumerated many other uses to which the $2 million could have gone, from placing 1,028 people in three-month residential drug treatment to five new drop-in mental health clinics, 157 new caseworkers, or 10,230 preventable evictions.


Sup. Chris Daly, who attended but did not sponsor the Religious Witness press conference, said, "Not only is the use of police to target homeless people uncompassionate and inhumane, but it’s also ineffective." He recalled the first Religious Witness press conference, which denounced then-mayor Frank Jordan’s Matrix program, which teamed police officers with social workers to remove homeless people from Union Square and later Golden Gate Park. That program was deemed a failure because it criminalized homeless people and alienated them from helpful services by teaming outreach workers with law enforcement.

"We’re repeating a policy that we know is a failure," Daly said. "It’s a complete lack of compassion."

Recently Daly made public a memo he obtained from the mayor’s office through a public records request. The document outlined a new "downtown outreach plan," similar in sound and structure to Jordan’s Matrix. In a Sept. 28 Weekly Report to Newsom’s chief of staff, Phil Ginsburg, deputy chief of staff Julian Potter wrote, "The pilot program includes three separate teams of officers and social service staff that work a 15-block area" in two separate shifts patrolling the SoMa district. "In each of the three teams an officer will work in tandem with two social service representatives. Any person committing a crime (littering, encampment, trespassing, urinating, defecating, dumping, blocking sidewalk, intoxication, etc.) will be asked to cease the behavior and enter into services. If the individual resists services the officer will issue a citation."

Though it’s reminiscent of the approach that Jordan advocated, both the Operation Outreach team, made of police officers who typically interface with homeless people, and the Homeless Outreach Team, operated by the Department of Human Services, have denied they would accept the approach as Potter penned it.

"I have to be very emphatic," said Dr. Rajesh Parekh, director of HOT. "We are not going to be teamed up with police officers." Though police officers often refer HOT to specific people, he said recent news reports are inaccurate and "in the interest of our clients we’ve never done shoulder-to-shoulder work."

Lt. David Lazar, who heads the San Francisco Police Department’s Operation Outreach, agreed that his officers won’t walk in lockstep with the doctors and social workers who are offering services. But the line can get a little fuzzy: "We’re there at the same time, but we’re not necessarily together," he said. "We’re separate in our approach."

"Basically what the memo is proposing is illegally arresting people," Jenny Friedenbach, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness, told us.

Under state law, people can’t be taken into custody for infractions like urination and littering. But camping illegally can be considered a misdemeanor, and a citation could eventually lead to an arrest and a jury trial. Prosecuting and imprisoning people is far more expensive than providing shelter.

While some see the coupling of enforcement with services as a way to encourage more people to get help, others contend it’s not a simple equation.

"I think some people are not always able to say yes the first time we do outreach with them," Parekh said. "I’m hoping that as time goes on we’ll be able to persuade them. It’s an ongoing process. It’s not a one-time thing." He said more than half of the help offered is accepted in some form, but it can take as many as 20 attempts to win over what amounts to a small number of people who require persuasion.

Representatives from the Coalition on Homelessness on Oct. 4 witnessed the first of the SoMa sweeps, or "displacements," as they’re more kindly called, and confirmed that the cops and service providers had some distance between them.

"That’s what they did during the first month of Matrix," Daly said to the Guardian. "That will change over time."

In the meantime, the supervisor has reintroduced a $5 million allocation for supportive housing for homeless people that was passed by the board last spring but defunded by Newsom.

Green City: Plugging into what’s next


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GREEN CITY Hybrid cars — those that run on a combination of gasoline and electricity — are all the rage among drivers looking to go green. But imagine a car that could drive 100 miles on one gallon of gas. That’s what a hybrid could get if converted into a plug-in version, something Bay Area residents are starting to do themselves, filling a void left by the auto industry.

The California Car Initiative (a.k.a. CalCars) is on a mission to make plug-in hybrid electric vehicles widely available. In collaboration with organizations like Plug-In Partners and Plug-In Bay Area, CalCars is on a mission to persuade carmakers to mass-produce plug-in hybrid vehicles. The technology already exists, allowing our cars to be much more fuel efficient.

The first prototype PHEV was created by CalCars in 2004. This Palo Alto nonprofit converted a Toyota Prius into a Prius+, a plug-in hybrid able to travel more than 100 miles using only one gallon of fuel.

A PHEV is essentially a hybrid that has additional battery capacity and can be recharged from a household 120-volt electrical outlet. CalCars promotional materials explain the way a plug-in hybrid works: "It’s like having a second fuel tank that you always use first — only you fill up at home, from a regular outlet, at an equivalent cost of under $1 per gallon."

"Conversions are a strategy, not an end in themselves," Felix Kramer, CalCars founder, told the Guardian. "The game is all about getting hundreds of thousands of PHEVs on the road from carmakers."

Toyota recently announced it will be testing PHEV prototypes this fall in Japan, Europe, and the United States. General Motors has also announced it is working on a plug-in hybrid called the Volt, to be publicly released in 2010. A handful of other car companies have expressed their intention to produce PHEVs but haven’t given release dates.

Public support by municipalities — including San Francisco, which passed a resolution to support PHEVs in 2006 — is also putting pressure on car manufacturers. Until plug-in hybrids are put on the market, PHEV advocates are keeping the pressure on. CalCars has posted its Prius conversion method on EAA-PHEV.org, a wiki dedicated to discussing and documenting plug-in hybrid conversions.

The step-by-step instructions are continually being improved, part of the beauty of open-source material. Only 2004 or newer Priuses are capable of being converted with this process. And for now, only do-it-yourselfers who are "comfortable around high-voltage batteries and automotive workshops" should attempt to convert their cars.

One such person is Daniel Sherwood, an electrical engineer living in Berkeley. He is in the process of converting his Prius into a plug-in hybrid using CalCars’ open-source instructions.

"In a regular hybrid car, I couldn’t go two blocks without using gas," he told us. "With this conversion, I’ll be able to drive about 12 miles using only electricity." When he needs to drive longer distances or needs to drive faster than the 35 miles per hour allowed by the battery-only power, the gas engine will kick in.

Darren Overby, who operates a hostel in San Francisco (and has previously worked as an electrical technician), is also in the process of converting his Prius. He is thrilled at the prospect of owning a vehicle that relies mostly on electricity. "Electricity is the only alternative fuel that is both sustainable and scalable. It could actually grow to meet the needs of everyone in the country. "

Plug-In Supply of Petaluma is also creating conversion kits that have all of the necessary components already assembled. Everybody agrees that the conversion process isn’t cheap. But the price of oil — including greenhouse gas emissions and war — makes plug-ins an increasingly attractive option, at least until the car companies get in gear.

"Had it not been for the grassroots effort," Sherwood said, "backyard conversions wouldn’t be possible. Car companies wouldn’t even be thinking about making plug-in hybrids." But they’re thinking about it now.

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