Volume 42 Number 02

October 10 – October 16, 2007

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Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

The Blue Angels buzzed the Castro Street Fair on Oct. 7, one of the planes missing the top of Twin Peaks by what looked like a few feet. And almost nobody seemed to notice.

The roar of the jets couldn’t possibly compete with the energy onstage, where Cookie Dough and the Monster Show were acting out a Wizard of Oz sketch to the sounds of "Boogie Oogie Oogie." I only saw one guy in the crowd even looking up, and he was just kind of shaking his head. Sailors are, of course, always popular in the Castro, but the United States Navy really isn’t.

A former Naval officer I know understands exactly why. She was drummed out years ago; the Naval Investigative Service followed her to a lesbian bar in New Orleans, and suddenly a talented and successful ensign who had just been promoted to lieutenant (junior grade) was tossed ashore, all benefits lost. She can joke about it now, but she’s still pissed.

The crazy thing of it all, she tells me, is that the Navy is "by far the gayest of all the services, and everyone knows it." If even this one branch just gave up the pretense and allowed queers to serve openly, she says, Fleet Week would take on a whole new meaning in San Francisco. But that’s not the only issue with Fleet Week, obviously. Like a lot of people in this town (and much of the queer community), I’m not terribly into the military, and I don’t like turning San Francisco into a giant, expensive recruitment ad. Besides, as we used to say about nuclear weapons, one Blue Angel can ruin your whole day: a few feet lower, a tiny mistake, and that F-A/18 flying toward Twin Peaks loaded with explosive jet fuel could have taken out hundreds of homes, killed thousands of people. It’s not as if it doesn’t happen; twice in the past year members of the Navy’s expert precision flying team have crashed.

There’s also the fact that this is a city overwhelmingly opposed to the war and to military adventurism in general. San Francisco’s idea of supporting the troops is bringing them home and giving them honorable discharges, medical care, and education benefits.

I’m always astonished that more local political leaders don’t just come out and say that. In fact, I’m astonished (although I probably shouldn’t be) that Mayor Gavin Newsom and Rep. Nancy Pelosi act as if Fleet Week is a wonderful San Francisco event, with no mention of the issues involved.

In fact, on June 11, after Sup. Chris Daly tried to ground the Blue Angels, Newsom wrote directly to David Winter, the secretary of the Navy, rolling out the red carpet. "My office and the community could not be more supportive of the Navy and their representatives, the Blue Angels," he wrote.

Nothing from Mr. Same-Sex Marriage about don’t ask, don’t tell. Nothing about the war. Nothing about San Francisco’s long and noble history as a center of the peace movement. Just praise for military might. He’s sounding a lot like Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

And by the way, on the contradictions beat: San Francisco is poised to give a huge, lucrative contract to Clear Channel Communications, one of the worst corporations in the country. Labor leaders are pissed, and they should be. I wonder: If there’s a lot of money to be made selling ads on bus shelters, why doesn’t the city just run the program itself? Why share the profits with the likes of Clear Channel?

Stop the homeless sweeps


EDITORIAL Sister Bernie Galvin and Religious Witness with Homeless People held a press conference Oct. 4 to release some remarkable data: since Mayor Gavin Newsom took office, San Francisco has issued 46,684 citations to homeless people, mostly for what are known as quality-of-life crimes. That’s cost the taxpayers $7.8 million.

Unfortunately, almost no news media showed up — the mayor, it turns out, somehow scheduled his press conference on homelessness at exactly the same time. As Amanda Witherell reports on page 15, Newsom’s staff say it’s all a coincidence — but it reflects how this administration is increasingly treating homeless issues.

Newsom, with the assistance of District Attorney Kamala Harris, is shifting the city back to a model that treats homelessness and poverty as crimes. But years of evidence prove that approach doesn’t work.

Newsom’s plan, outlined in a memo that Sup. Chris Daly made public last week, involves sending a team of social service and outreach workers through the Tenderloin with police officers. Now the cops and the social workers are saying they won’t patrol together, but the message and the impact are the same: people who commit the sorts of offenses that are almost inevitable when you don’t have a place to live — like sleeping on the streets and panhandling — will increasingly be dragged into the criminal justice system.

Frank Jordan, a former police chief, tried that when he was mayor in the early 1990s; he called the program Matrix, and it was an utter failure. The reason is obvious: most homeless people can’t pay the fines for these violations. So either the citation process is a waste of everyone’s time or, if the city pursues the nonpayment and piles on more and more citations, it winds up creating a criminal record for someone who already is going to have trouble finding work. The promise of services implied by the social workers’ involvement in Newsom’s plan means nothing if services aren’t there — and the city still can’t offer, say, substance-abuse treatment on demand or enough housing for all of the people who need it.

Yet despite all the evidence, Harris has now assigned a full-time staffer to do nothing but prosecute these low-level offenses. She and Newsom both say they want to help people use services — but the only service the DA’s Office offers to homeless people who wind up in court is a handout, a single-page list of referrals.

San Francisco has been down this road so many times before that it’s infuriating. Criminalizing homeless people is not only wrong; it’s expensive, inefficient, foolish, and morally offensive. It also clogs the courts and takes the cops even further away from working on serious crimes.

Daly says he’s going to reintroduce his measure allocating an additional $5 million for housing for homeless people. That’s a good move, of course. But the supervisors ought to think about something else: if Harris, Newsom, and the cops want to persist in counterproductive and cruel homeless sweeps, perhaps the supervisors should move to cut funding to those departments by a total of, say, $7.8 million. 2

No compromise on ENDA


EDITORIAL The move by US Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) to remove protections for transgender people from a landmark antidiscrimination bill has set off a remarkable furor in the queer community nationwide. The condemnation of the Frank move by even fairly mainstream lesbian and gay organizations is a sign of how far trans people have come — and the fact that Frank, the first openly gay man to serve in Congress, isn’t budging is a sign of how far the political establishment still has to go.

But the full bill, without the cuts, is still very much alive, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D–San Francisco) needs to move it to the floor and bring it to a vote.

HR 2015 has been a priority of the Human Rights Campaign and other national LGBT groups for years. The bill, also known as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, in its original version would have outlawed employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The second part of that phrase is critical, not just to transgender people but to queer workers in general: as the American Civil Liberties Union points out in a legal analysis of the changes, the gay and lesbian people most likely to face discrimination in the workplace are those who don’t hew to traditional male and female roles. Effeminate men and butch women are far more at risk than, say, a gay man who can easily pass as straight. "The more masculine a gay man is or the more feminine a lesbian is, the less the likelihood of discrimination," the ACLU notes. As the Lambda Legal Defense Fund writes, "This new bill also leaves out a key element to protect any employee, including lesbians, gay men and bisexuals who may not conform to their employer’s idea of how a man or woman should look and act. This is a huge loophole through which employers sued for sexual orientation discrimination can claim that their conduct was actually based on gender expression, a type of discrimination that the new bill does not prohibit."

But the politics are more difficult. Frank argues that Congress might pass a stripped-down version of the bill, but the votes aren’t there for anything that can be described as protecting transgender people. Some protection for some lesbians and gays, he argues, is better than none at all.

That ignores the reality, which is that George W. Bush is going to veto any bill that protects queer people from discrimination anyway. The fight over HR 2015 is largely symbolic; the bill won’t become law until there’s a Democrat in the White House. And if the gender-identity language isn’t in the bill this time, it will be much harder to add it in later.

All civil rights advances seem hopeless at first. The first marriage-equality bill in the California Legislature faced strong opposition, but Assemblymember Mark Leno (D–San Francisco) kept bringing it back — and every time it came up, it got more votes. ENDA’s got the same prospects.

Of course, there’s a larger issue here: compromising on civil rights is always unacceptable. And as writer Wayne Besen puts it, "A minority as small as the trans community will never have the political clout to go it alone, nor will they have the funds to wage a credible fight in Congress unless Bill Gates wakes up tomorrow and decides to have a sex change. To put it bluntly, their only chance at legal protection is under the gay and lesbian banner."

The HRC has been awfully weak, refusing to pull its support for the watered-down bill, but most other LGBT groups nationwide are urging Congress not to accept the Frank proposal. We agree. The fate of HR 2015 is in the hands of Pelosi, who can simply bring the original bill to the floor. That’s what activists should push her to do.

The Guardian Iraq War casualty report (10/05/07)


The Guardian Iraq War casualty report (10/05/07): 25 Iraqi civilians killed. 66 U.S. soldiers killed last month.

Compiled by Paula Connelly

Bush denies that torture tactics are used when interrogating terrorism suspects, according to CNN.

Click here to view a breakdown of the positions that relevant politicians are taking on the war in Iraq.

Casualties in Iraq

Iraqi civilians:

American troops attacked a Shiite town killing at least 25 Iraqi civilians, according to the New York Times. The Iraqis were armed but claim it is only for protection.

654,965 more Iraqis may have died since hostilities began in Iraq in March 2003 than would have been expected under pre-war conditions, according to a Johns Hopkins University study.

98,000: Killed since 3/03

Source: www.thelancet.com

74,689– 81,394
: Killed since 1/03

Source: http://www.iraqbodycount.net

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

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

U.S. military:

Click on the link below to view a tribute to the 14 U.S. soldiers who died last week in Iraq and Afghanistan. 66 U.S. soldiers were killed in Iraq last month, which is the lowest monthly total in over a year, according to MSNBC.

4,082: Killed since the U.S. invasion of Iraq 3/20/03

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

122 : Died of self-inflicted wounds, according to http://www.icasualties.org/.

For the Department of Defense statistics go to: http://www.defenselink.mil/

For a more detailed list of U.S. Military killed in the War in Iraq go to: www.cnn.com

To view a breakdown of U.S. military casualties by state of residence, click here.

Iraq Military:

30,000?: Killed since 2003

Source: http://www.infoshout.com


203 journalists and media assistants killed since the start of fighting in Iraq in March 2003, two still missing, 14 are kidnapped, according to Reporters Without Borders.


Read a first hand account of how Iraqis are being treated when attempting to enter Jordan for a vacation.

Syria’s decision to enforce new restrictions on Iraqi refugees this week has effectively cut off the last outside haven for people fleeing violence in Iraq, the UN refugee agency said Friday, according to AFP.

2.2 million: Iraqis displaced internally

2 million: Iraqis displaced to neighboring states

U.S. Military Wounded:

122,000: Wounded from 3/19/03 to 8/31/07

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

The Guardian cost of Iraq war report (10/05/07): So far, $457 billion for the U.S., $57 billion for California and $1 billion for San Francisco.

Compiled by Paula Connelly

Here is a running total of the cost of the Iraq War to the U.S. taxpayer, provided by the National Priorities Project located in Northampton, Massachusetts. The number is based on Congressional appropriations. Niko Matsakis of Boston, MA and Elias Vlanton of Takoma Park, MD originally created the count in 2003 on costofwar.com. After maintaining it on their own for the first year, they gave it to the National Priorities Project to contribute to their ongoing educational efforts.

To bring the cost of the war home, please note that California has already lost $46 billion and San Francisco has lost $1 billion to the Bush war and his mistakes. In San Francisco alone, the funds used for the war in Iraq could have hired 21,264 additional public school teachers for one year, we could have built 11,048 additional housing units or we could have provided 59,482 students four-year scholarships at public universities. For a further breakdown of the cost of the war to your community, see the NPP website aptly titled “turning data into action.”

For more information on what the war is costing the United States visit the American Service Friends Committee website here.



The boarding school novel has long been a droopy flower in the garden of American literature, and its wanness can be explained only in part by the fact that we don’t have many boarding schools. A boarding school is an institution of the elite, a temple of privilege, and since American mythology teaches us that we enjoy a classless society in which any child can go to public school and still become president and/or a millionaire, glimpses of class reality are easily dismissed as both offensive and meaningless.

The British, by contrast — longtime and unconcealed minders of an ornate class topiary — are rich in storied boarding schools and in stories about them. Many of Britain’s greatest writers have been educated at places such as Eton, Harrow, and Rugby and have later written about the experience (Evelyn Waugh in his comic novel Decline and Fall, George Orwell in his lacerating essay "Such, Such Were the Joys," to name two pertinent, if quite different, examples), while even such minor writers as Michael Campbell have made unforgettable contributions. Campbell’s 1967 novel Lord Dismiss Us is an unsung school-days masterpiece; it is also frank about matters of boy love and boy sex to a degree its American counterparts cannot match. Some might regard this as unexpected, considering that the long-running play No Sex Please, We’re British is famous enough to have a Wikipedia entry.

Perhaps the erotic charge of the typical British boys-school story is simply the more pleasant of male physicality’s two faces. The other face is, of course, violence, and in the British tales there is plenty of this to go around, whether as hazing or corporal punishment. The two great American prep school novels, by contrast, John Knowles’s A Separate Peace (1959) and Louis Auchincloss’s The Rector of Justin (1964), offer much less by way of flesh colliding in either joy or enmity, though the moral meaning of the former book does turn on a moment of oblique violence.

Taylor Antrim’s first novel, The Headmaster Ritual (Mariner Books, 320 pages, $13.95 paper), is compared by a jacket blurb with A Separate Peace and, like that earlier work, is set at a New England prep school resembling one of the fabled Phillips academies, but the book describes a world far removed from Knowles’s. In so doing, it gives us a vivid measure of the past half century’s cultural shifts. (Antrim, incidentally, was a frequent contributor to these pages from 1998 to 2004 and is an alumnus of Phillips Andover.) Despite the double entendre title, there isn’t much sex in Headmaster beyond an offstage act of public masturbation — part of a cat-and-mouse exhibitionist game with an intricate scoring system. The hazings, on the other hand, are relentless, brutal, and occasionally ingenious. It takes a black brilliance to conceive of a humiliation that involves filling a humidifier with piss and steaming up some wretched boy’s room with it. "Lacquering" is the genteel term for this ammonia-stink degradation.

Antrim’s Britton School is largely peopled by the privileged: senators’ sons, scions of industrial fortunes, and hoary faculty in old tweed coats. But despite the familiar-looking dramatis personae, there is little sense of noblesse oblige among this elite. The novel’s real theme is survival, and in this respect it is a far closer relation to William Golding’s Lord of the Flies (1954), in which a troupe of unsupervised boys descend into savagery, than to any boarding school novel.

Headmaster‘s stakes, accordingly, are both higher and lower than one might expect. Seeing the sun rise again tomorrow over the jungle is about as basic as human hope gets, even if the jungle consists of ivy and smelly humidifiers, but characters who spend most of their time inflicting or enduring gratuitous peer cruelties aren’t going to have much energy left over for the edification of the self or service to others. If the ancient ethos of the American upper classes — "To whom much is given, much is expected" (Luke 12:48) — retains any meaning in this setting of muffled barbarities, it’s only because what is expected is not public mindedness or moral awareness but worldly success: fame, fortune, social position.

Civilization presumes and promotes survival, while "class" used to be — and perhaps still is — a way of referring to behavior that meets a society’s highest standards. The path upward begins with the recognition that tomorrow is another day and you will live to see it; there will be food, water, and shelter, and if human beings have gathered themselves into groups — camps, villages, cities — to provide these essentials, they will also have developed codes of behavior to ensure that things don’t get out of hand in ever closer quarters. Manners are a social lubricant, and it is no coincidence that the most sophisticated sets of manners have evolved on crowded islands: Japan, Britain, even Manhattan, whose closely pressed denizens don’t get enough credit for keeping their elbows in.

Boarding schools are crowded islands too, and (one would think) at least as in need of a social credo as those other places. Classiness matters most in tight situations that tempt our lowest inclinations, and while the classless society might be a fantasy — a phantom visible only in the pages of fiction — the rituals of grace are as real as we care to make them.*




By Chris Abani

Akashic Books

164 pages


In the secret sign language of Song for Night‘s mine diffusers — the child vanguard of an unnamed war somewhere in West Africa — silence is a steady hand, palm flat. Narrated in such a silence — of signed phrases and internal monologue — by a mute boy soldier named My Luck, Chris Abani’s new novella is both deceptively understated and harrowing. My Luck has been stripped by violence of his freedom, his family, and his very voice, and as he travels in search of his missing platoon, he is propelled across a once familiar terrain become an endless battlefield populated with shadows.

Winding throughout My Luck’s journey, a slow-moving river binds together wistful dreaming and uncomfortable reality. Contaminated by death, the river nonetheless remains a comforting constant — too familiar to mistrust entirely, too treacherous to ignore. A conduit to memories of a gentler past, as well as a gruesome reminder of the consequences of war, the river slowly takes on the metaphorical weight of the Styx, which the dead must cross to be admitted into the underworld.

No stranger to entrenched horrors within the West African political landscape, Abani was imprisoned several times in his native Nigeria, earning a death sentence for treason for one of his plays at the age of 21. Released in the face of international pressure, he has lived in exile ever since, first in the UK and now in California, where he wrote his previous novella, 2006’s Becoming Abigail (Akashic). Beyond questions of format, there are numerous echoes here from Abigail, in which another river flows and carries memories with it, and children with no guardians are drawn out of childhood into nightmare. Neither Abani’s nor Abigail’s story, however, is My Luck’s, and their sorrows are not the same. My Luck perhaps best sums up his own when dryly listing the pros and cons of child soldiering at the front of the line. Among the former: prime pillaging opportunities and choice of weapons. And the latter? Death, death, and death. (Nicole Gluckstern)


With Joe Meno and Felicia Luna Lemus

Oct. 4, 7 p.m., free

City Lights Bookstore

261 Columbus, SF

(415) 362-8193, www.citylights.com

Oct. 5, 7 p.m., free

Black Oak Books

1491 Shattuck, Berk.

(510) 486-0698, www.blackoakbooks.com


By Zoran Zivkovic

Translated by Alice Copple-Tosic


136 pages


With its humanist rewriting of superpowers and its emphasis on the malleability of time and fate, Steps Through the Mist may inevitably call to mind a certain heroics-themed blockbuster television program. Unfolding in crisp scenes that emerge from a foggy landscape, the five stories in Serbian fantasy-oriented author Zoran Zivkovic’s "mosaic novel" depict people whose fates are being decided before their eyes, their tales linked by an initially obscuring but ultimately redemptive mist that is brought to an almost visceral life in Alice Copple-Tosic’s attentive translation from the Serbian.

Although dreamlike, the mist seems charged with a purpose: to bring each female protagonist — a controlling teacher, a dreamer in a straitjacket, a neurotic woman on vacation, a struggling fortune-teller, and an elderly woman in love with the ticking sound of her alarm clock — face-to-face with her own strong views of fate and chance. Each woman encounters another individual — in four of the tales, a man — who triggers her insecurity about the future and taps into her obsession with how things ought to be.

Unlike the heroines of Heroes, who continually struggle with reutf8g to the wider world as it is, the often bewildered women in Zivkovic’s harsh imaginings — whether gifted with the ability to visit the dreams of others, beset with ghostly visitations from the past, or cursed with the horrifying task of choosing one of all possible futures (none, alas, very appealing) — are engaged in a struggle with imagined, internal landscapes that have little to do with the reality of others.

"Would you consent to be the one to choose who should be sacrificed on the altar of the happy majority?" asks Katarina in "Hole in the Wall." Faced with the alternatives of her own death and choosing the future every time she closes her eyes, she is really questioning which is better: to withdraw from the world or to act in it, despite the possibility of less than ideal outcomes. This question echoes throughout the book, answered finally in the last and most beautiful story, where the older woman with the cherished alarm clock sees her past reenacted and is thereby cleansed of overwhelming memories. "Who knew what dreams might visit her?" Zivkovic writes, when "[no] urgent work awaited her anymore." (Ari Messer)

The afterworld


› lit@sfbg.com

REVIEW "Stress eternal life." Irène Némirovsky inscribed these words in her diary on July 1, 1942, less than two weeks before she was arrested under Vichy race laws, a month and a half before her death at Auschwitz. She wrote concerning a cycle of novels conceived to reflect the everyday qualities of life during wartime — a portrait emphasizing pettiness and pity, fear and loathing. The manuscripts for the two she finished were published as Suite Française in 2004, a discovery that seemed the improbable product of luck and literary heroism. A Russian-French Jew who converted her family to Catholicism in 1939, Némirovsky held no illusions regarding her bleak fate but maintained a Herculean work ethic during the occupation, drawing on a strong conviction — palpable in both the fiction and the journals — regarding the immemorial qualities of inner life and writing.

It would be dishonest to ignore the extratextual aura of such works, how they arrived in our hands, the time and lives bridged. And yet, Suite Française‘s literary flaws — chief among them a tendency toward simplistic moralizing and characterizations freighted with cliché — are unmistakable. What a welcome relief, then, to hold in one’s hands a slim volume of few wasted words called Fire in the Blood — another, earlier novel rescued from Némirovsky’s notebooks.

Whereas Suite‘s indirect narration delivers Némirovsky’s closely observed social realism with a brittle, didactic tone, the first-person narration of Fire in the Blood‘s Monsieur Sylvestre, a solitary, middle-aged landowner hoping only to be left alone to his gardens and journal, offers this same sensibility in fuller bloom. When Sylvestre’s reticent voice invokes the thick, guilty-by-association social atmosphere in the provinces, where the book is set, it is with the shadow of self-implication.

It being the provinces, everyone in Fire in the Blood is related, if not by blood than by deeply intertwined personal experiences, unspoken proprieties, and the land itself. Sylvestre is a cousin of Hélène, the matriarch of a proud family of landowners, and the book first takes up the narrative of the younger generation, specifically Hélène’s daughter Colette and her drowned husband, Jean.

Far from resting in peace, Jean in death reveals a web of infidelity and foul play, and the specter of an older story emerges via the youthful indiscretions at hand. Unfolding with slow mystery at first (Némirovsky occasionally overplays her hand in this regard, interjecting foreboding drumrolls), it picks up speed and urgency, until the past fully overtakes the present in the final thundering pages of the book: an enfolding, transmuting structure designed to convey the "roaring, all-consuming tidal wave of love."

Reliving his former passions, Sylvestre muses, "I felt as if I’d been asleep for twenty years and had woken to pick up my book at the very page I’d left off." Back, then, to that tonic of literary heroism and luck. We are, in the end, moved by this writing not just because the books did endure but because one senses Némirovsky willing it to be so. With 20 pages left, we finally get "But wait. Let’s start from the beginning …" As Sylvestre the narrator ends his story suspended in timeless reverie, so too does Némirovsky the writer end her book singing out to us: "What I could not foresee was the flame that would be locked inside me, whose cinders would continue to glow for years to come." What he could not foresee, she knew beyond doubt.*


By Irène Némirovsky

Translated by Sandra Smith

Alfred A. Knopf

160 pages


True crime


› lit@sfbg.com

REVIEW In a July 31, 2007, editorial, the New York Times decried the "more than 5,000 murders … reported each year" in Guatemala, noting that "many are committed by the same groups — both left and right — that terrorized the country" during its 36-year civil war. Yet as author Francisco Goldman writes in The Art of Political Murder: Who Killed the Bishop?, the Catholic Church–<\d>initiated report that precipitated the murder of human rights leader Bishop Juan Gerardi "concluded that the Guatemalan Army and associated paramilitary units … were responsible for 80 percent of the killings of civilians, and that the guerillas had committed a little less than 5 percent of those crimes."

The Times‘ "plague on both their houses" take is a splendid illustration of how poorly served we are by our media’s reporting on Guatemala — and Latin America in general. When Goldman states that the Guatemalan war "was a consequence of a coup engineered by the CIA against Jacobo Arbenz, only the second democratically elected president in Guatemala’s history," he may shock an American audience largely oblivious to events widely known outside the United States.

On April 22, 1998, Gerardi briefed the Guatemala City media on an Archdiocesan Office of Human Rights investigation so thorough that it named more than 50,000 of the war’s estimated 200,000 casualties. At the time, "no Guatemalan military officer had ever been convicted or imprisoned for a crime related to human rights," Goldman writes. And the military planned to keep it that way. Four days later, Gerardi was bludgeoned to death in his garage.

It was a killing so bold as to suggest that military assassination specialists could not have been involved. But, as one Guatemalan journalist wrote, "crimes planned in the [Presidential Military Staff] are executed to look like common violence," and a disinformation campaign immediately sprang into action, one in which, Goldman notes, famed novelist and former Peruvian presidential candidate Mario Vargas Llosa played a particularly despicable role.

The Guatemalan-born, US-based Goldman has written three novels, a background that serves him well in his first nonfiction book, a complicated story of high-level government and military obfuscation eventually penetrated — to a degree — through dogged work by low-level government investigators and prosecutors working at great personal risk. At least two special prosecutors, four witnesses, and one judge involved in the case have gone into exile, and one witness was murdered. But three members of the army and the priest who shared Gerardi’s house were convicted for participating in his "extra judicial execution." Their sentences were finally upheld this year, although by that time one of them had been decapitated in a prison riot.

Goldman observes that Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, whose militaries the United States backed in similar conflicts, all became societies with "some of the highest murder rates in the world," where "the powerful and well connected acted with impunity." The story pauses on a positive note, though, with one prosecutor declaring the beginning of "the second stage of prosecution," aimed at higher-ups involved in the crime, possibly including Otto Perez Molina, the right-wing candidate in Guatemala’s current presidential campaign.<\!s>*


By Francisco Goldman

Grove Press

416 pages



Oct. 21, 5 p.m., free

City Lights Bookstore

261 Columbus, SF

(415) 362-8193, www.citylights.com

On the bright side


› amanda@sfbg.com

The most masterful crafters of fiction depend on the deliberate omission of details. Ernest Hemingway, in a 1958 interview with the Paris Review, called it the iceberg of a story, an eighth of which pierces the surface, known and visible, while an untold reality remains submerged beneath the narrative. This art of absentia served Hemingway well, layering his stories with nuance and mystery. The icebergs in Bjørn Lomborg’s Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist’s Guide to Global Warming serve their author’s purposes too, but they’re likely to melt under the glare of critical scrutiny.

Lomborg, a Danish statistician and adjunct professor at the Copenhagen Business School, examines the problem of climate change through the lens of expense, and according to his calculations, the public benefits of cutting carbon dioxide emissions aren’t worth the cost. If we really want to improve future conditions, he contends, we should pay more attention to social problems like hunger and disease, causes that have been relegated to the status of ugly stepchildren by the new hype around saving the climate. Early in the book he concludes that, calculated in purely economic terms, the Kyoto Protocol is a "bad deal." Every dollar spent cutting carbon emissions translates to 34 cents of "good" — a term he neglects to define.

Whatever his definition, it demands investigation. Lomborg is, after all, "the skeptical environmentalist," as he first made plain in 2001’s The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World, which was roundly debunked by scientists and Lomborg’s avowed fellow environmentalists. The Union of Concerned Scientists got concerned with his optimism about the state of the natural world and convened a panel of leading experts, including biologist Edward O. Wilson, water expert Peter Gleick, and climate modeler Jerry Mahlman to delve into the details of his data. They determined that his conclusions were drawn from an artful manipulation of facts disguised by a narrative deftly criticizing other artful manipulators of facts.

In Cool It, Lomborg attempts to defame the doomsday scenarios presented by respected environmentalists and thinkers such as Al Gore, Bill McKibben, and James Hansen by focusing on their offal: the potential positive impacts of global warming. He points out that more people die from cold-related deaths than heat-related deaths and wonders why no one’s talking about the fact that fewer people may freeze to death in 2050.

Lomborg never denies that climate change is occurring, but he proffers interesting statistics to show that things aren’t as bad as has been reported, and he blames the media for distorting facts by employing easy iconography — hurricanes, Mount Kilimanjaro, polar bears, Antarctica. And it’s true: the media often go for the easy image — such as Time‘s cover photo of a polar bear bereft on a chunk of ice, which played a role in bringing the term "global warming" into the common vernacular. Lomborg, by the way, made that same magazine’s "100 most influential people" list in 2004.

This influential person writes with cool-headed assurance that global warming will not adversely affect polar bears any more than hunting them does, that some populations of them are actually increasing, and that evolution will equip the fittest for the future. He writes, "Yes, it is likely that disappearing ice will make it harder for polar bears to continue their traditional foraging patterns and that they will increasingly take up a lifestyle similar to that of brown bears, from which they evolved." His back-of-the-book footnote to that statement reads: "The Arctic Climate Impact Assessment finds it likely that disappearing ice will make polar bears take up a ‘terrestrial summer lifestyle similar to that of brown bears, from which they evolved.’ "

And the hawks begin to circle. In a recent interview with Lomborg, Salon.com’s Kevin Berger said, "But you edited the quote. The whole thing goes like this: ‘It is difficult to envisage the survival of polar bears as a species given a zero summer sea-ice scenario. Their only option would be a terrestrial summer lifestyle similar to that of brown bears, from which they evolved. In such a case, competition, risk of hybridization with brown bears and grizzly bears, and increased interactions with people would then number among the threats to polar bears.’ " Lomborg defends himself by saying he talked to a different expert.

While it would be easy to discredit the remainder of the book based on this exposé, there is some worth in Lomborg’s reminder that we’ve been asleep at the wheel on far too many social problems, such as clean water, hygiene, disease prevention, and hunger. He isn’t wrong when he says that solving them would better equip populations for dealing with climate change. But further tugging at the roots of his footnotes is almost unnecessary because Cool It is virtually devoid of fully explored ideas.

For example, at a 2004 meeting the Copenhagen Consensus Center, a consortium of economists headed by Lomborg that think tanks on global challenges, drew up a global priority list of issues we should be addressing rather than shuttling cash toward cutting CO2 emissions. Ranking third is increased trade liberalization — code language for more NAFTA-type agreements, which have proved detrimental to developing countries. And what exactly is meant by number five, "development of new agricultural technologies"? Genetically modified organisms? Newer, stronger, somehow nontoxic pesticides? It’s hard to believe an environmentalist might promote pesticide use, but in his chapter on eradicating malaria Lomborg writes, "Concerns from Western governments, nongovernmental organizations, and local populations make it hard to utilize DDT, which is still the most cost-effective insecticide against mosquitoes and, properly used, has negligible environmental impact."

Such a statement underscores Lomborg’s priorities when it comes to health — both human and environmental. His definition of cost gives primacy to cold, hard cash at the "negligible" expense of humans and their environments. Likewise, when the discussion turns to ratifying Kyoto, which he claims — without much explanation — would cost the US economy $160 billion a year, the price tag refers solely to the cost of disrupting business as usual.

"If we try to stabilize emissions, it turns out that for the first 170 years the costs are greater than the benefits," Lomborg writes. But for the past 200 years we’ve been doing business on the cheap — and that shouldn’t be our baseline cost of existence. What’s the true cost of a species? Do we really know until it’s gone? What about the other negative environmental impacts of business as usual? Or the positive impacts of, say, more public transit to reduce car trips to reduce emissions? Plus, a decrease in the burning of coal, oil, and natural gas means more than just a decrease in carbon emissions. It means less mining, less drilling, less invasion into remote or protected areas questing for new ores. It means fewer oil spills, less mountaintop removal, less ground, water, and air pollution for the communities that have the misfortune of being sited in the backyards of industry.

In the book’s conclusion, Lomborg pushes for a $25 billion investment in research and design for alternative technologies. Seven times cheaper than adopting the Kyoto Protocol or establishing a rigorous carbon tax to encourage less CO2 emission, R&D investments are, in Lomborg’s economic rubric, a better deal.

Of course, there are already operational solar panels, wind turbines, geothermal units, vehicle-to-grid electric cars, and biodiesel recipes that could be more aggressively produced and adopted. But in Lomborg’s eyes they’re too expensive, bound to be replaced by superior technology, and thus a waste of money, to invest in now — he brushes aside economists who contend that prices will drop as demand increases. And beyond offering no ideas on diminishing the use of fossil fuel, he in fact encourages burning more in the communities that aren’t yet — though the sole upside to fossil fuels is economic cost, and the only cap on price is the perception of abundance.

He also fails to acknowledge that we can’t have both. We can’t have an increase in alternative technologies and an unabated use of fossil fuels. To actually deploy alternative technologies in the market — the hoped-for end result of all that R&D — would require the fossil fuels to step aside. This would, in turn, cut CO2 emissions. One must necessarily replace the other. There isn’t room for both. It’s like trying to put ice in a glass that’s already brimming with cold water.

One could argue that any adoption of alternative technologies would cover increased use, but that ignores what numerous researchers have pointed out: we should be universally deploying simple, effective, already established energy-efficiency measures. For the past 30 years California has done this, and despite projections and escautf8g energy use nationwide, the state’s needs have only increased in lockstep with the population — about 1 percent a year. Lomborg doesn’t aggressively push for energy efficiency, despite its cost-savings popularity with the same economically driven corporations, governments, and individuals likely to elevate Cool It to biblical status.

Lomborg criticizes as too extreme and costly proposals by Tony Blair and Gore to slash CO2 emissions by 50 or 80 percent respectively. Similarly he writes, "Restricting transportation will make the economy less efficient. Cutting back on hot showers, plane trips, and car use will leave you less well-off. It will also reduce the number of people being saved from cold, it will increase the number of water stressed [people], and it will allow fewer to get rich enough to avoid malaria, starvation, and poverty."

Is it too bold to ask people to foreswear some of the excesses they’ve enjoyed, to put to bed some creature comforts, to fundamentally change the way they perceive living in the 21st century if they hope for a 22nd century for their children? Lomborg doesn’t ask these questions, so Cool It becomes more of a distraction than a contribution at a time when environmentalists should be busy promoting solutions, not debunking the carefully crafted fables of Lomborg’s dollar-driven theses. *


By Bjørn Lomborg

Alfred A. Knopf

272 pages


Something worth fighting for


› tredmond@sfbg.com

REVIEW If you want a guide to the players who are trying to refashion the Democratic Party in America, Matt Bai’s The Argument: Billionaires, Bloggers, and the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics is a nice handbook. It’s easy to read, brings the characters to life, and reveals how big chunks of money from a few very rich liberals are going to a handful of organizations and think tanks most people have never heard of. Not everything Bai says is true, but even where he’s wrong, it’s an interesting read.

Bai, a writer for the New York Times Magazine, offers a lot of interesting and useful history about the Howard Dean phenomenon and the rise of bloggers and online politics in the Democratic Party. His portrayals of some key bloggers, like Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos, as people who lack ideology but demand respect is a bit off base, though. I think Moulitsas, for one, could easily outline an ideology, and if you read his stuff regularly, you get a pretty good sense of it.

Bai gives some credit to Dean and his supporters for creating a successful "50 state" strategy — investing party resources throughout the country, not just in targeted swing districts — and then claims (not entirely inaccurately) that the battle within the organization has been more about empowering the grassroots than about any specific policy prescription. But he doesn’t seem to recognize the inherent politics in community organizing: Saul Alinsky argued half a century before Dean that teaching marginalized groups how to exercise power was in itself a radical act, whether or not it was driven by a specific political analysis or ideology. (The Marxists have typically disagreed, and that battle has raged on the left for a long, long time, but Bai, who rarely writes about anything outside the mainstream of political thought, pays that history no heed.)

Still, Bai’s overall point — that the reformers in the party, particularly the ones with the big money, lack a coherent ideological vision for the country’s future — is both accurate and alarming. Nobody, Bai says, is making "the Argument" — the case for electing Democrats. In the 2006 congressional elections, "what voters had not done was endorse any Democratic argument — because, of course, there wasn’t one." All the party under the likes of Rep. Nancy Pelosi has been able to do is point out that Democrats aren’t Republicans (and aren’t quite as bad on the Iraq war) — and that, he notes, will never be a recipe for long-term success.

Anyone interested in the future of the Democratic Party and progressive politics ought to read this book, if only to get the discussion started. Bai makes a powerful statement: that transformational political change has typically come when there is a set of issues and governing philosophies that can be presented to the voting public. But he leaves the reader deeply dissatisfied — because he doesn’t offer any answers. It’s all fine and good to bash the reformers in the party, and I agree with a lot of his criticisms. But if you want to whine about the lack of an argument, you ought to spend some time thinking about what that argument might look like and putting it on paper.

A couple of years ago I was on a right-wing talk show arguing that Pelosi wasn’t exactly a "San Francisco liberal," and one of the hosts asked what that term mean. I gave it a try, on the fly, in the few seconds they allowed me. A San Francisco liberal, I said, believes that we should tax the rich to feed the poor, that we should protect the environment, including the urban environment, from the attack of greedy developers. A San Francisco liberal believes in civil liberties and civil rights, including same-sex marriage, and isn’t afraid to say so.

A San Francisco liberal, I would have added if they hadn’t cut me off, thinks the invasion of Iraq was wrong, the occupation is a disaster, and the only sane approach now is to get the US troops out of there. A San Francisco liberal believes that money has ruined politics and that the answer is not for the Democrats to try to raise more than the Republicans. A San Francisco liberal believes this city can and should be a force for progressive thought and set the standard for the rest of the country.

A San Francisco liberal isn’t afraid to lose.

There’s a lot more I could say, but that’s the start of an Argument. That wasn’t so hard, Matt, was it?


By Matt Bai

Penguin Press

336 pages





Ed Halter

What is war good for? Besides lining the pockets of Dick Cheney’s fun bunch, it’s sure done a lot for the video game industry. Village Voice critic Ed Halter makes two local stops with his new book, From Sun Tzu to Xbox: War and Video Games. His multimedia lecture explores “war gaming in the new world order.” (Cheryl Eddy)

7:30 p.m.
2575 Bancroft, Berk.
(510) 642-5249

Also Sat/21, 8:30 p.m.
Artists’ Television Access
992 Valencia, SF



There’s a painting from the ’30s by Thomas Hart Benton called The Ballad of the Jealous Lover of Lone Green Valley, in which a farm town in the American West reveals its ugly underbelly in the form of a drunken man threatening a woman with a knife. The landscape swoops and swirls with a brooding menace. Local country weepers Tarnation write songs for such occasions. Possessing a voice that smokes and drifts, melancholic balladeer Paula Frazer will introduce you to loves gone wrong and lives gone sour while the band dumps you knee-deep in the most forlorn corner of the lonesome desert. (Todd Lavoie)

With Peggy Honeywell and Matt Bauer
9:30 p.m.
Hemlock Tavern
1131 Polk, SF
(415) 923-0923




Black Panther DVD release

Celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Black Panther Party’s inception at a DVD release party for What We Want, What We Believe: The Black Panther Party Library, produced by Roz Payne of Newsreel, the 1960s independent filmmaking collective. Payne screens selections from the four-disc set, which includes exclusive material from her extensive archives of FBI documents. Former Panters join the filmmaker in conversation. (Deborah Giattina)

7:30 p.m.
AK Press Warehouse
674-A 23rd Street, Oakl.
Donations accepted
(510) 208-1700



Back in 2001, when Liverpool electro wizards Ladytron released their debut album, 604 (Emperor Norton), hipsters everywhere seemingly decided they had found the perfect backdrop for shopping. Little wonder: the band spun stylishly retro synth sounds from the new wave and disco eras and welding them to a more rockish sensibility, crafted catchy, inventive pop songs about love, sex, and yes, shopping. Since then, Ladytron have incorporated denser, gloomier textures and occasional blurs of buzz saw guitars into their sound, culminating in the spellbinding melodrama of 2005’s Witching Hour (Rykodisc). (Todd Lavoie)

With Cansei de Ser Sexy
8 p.m.
1805 Geary, SF
(415) 346-0600




Savage Jazz Dance Company

Do you know what jazz dance is? For Reginald Ray Savage, who took it upon himself to let the Bay Area see what he considers jazz dance when he founded his Savage Jazz Dance Company 14 years ago, the definition is simple: jazz dance is what gets performed to jazz music. His musical taste is immaculate and never better than in the current premiere: Everything’s Everything is all based on Miles Davis. (Rita Felciano)

3 p.m.
ODC Theater
3153 17th St., SF
(415) 863-9834

Also Oct. 19–21, 8 p.m.; Oct. 22, 3 p.m.
Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts
1428 Alice, Oakl.
1-866-558-4253, (415) 256-8499


Vagabond Opera

Somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, there run two rivers, one of vodka and one of absinthe. Not found on any maps, they are known only to five men and one woman. The name of these musicians? Vagabond Opera. Fusing klezmer with sounds of the Balkans and the Rom, along with a peppering of belly dance, opera, and tango, these neo-cabaret fire starters roll out a rabble-rousing vision of globalization, 1920s-style. With the “Bay Area’s Premier Balkan Brass Band,” Brass Menazeri. (Todd Lavoie)

9 p.m.
853 Valencia
(415) 970-0012




Method Man

You’ve gotta be slightly touched, as we Irish say, to blow this off. Star of stage and screen Method Man touches down at Mezzanine, a club transformed into a curvy glass-and-wood venue where you can still get conveniently hammered. The stage looks worthy of Duke Ellington, and you might say Meth is Ellingtonian; if, as he says on “Say” — from his new Def-Jam joint, 4:21: The Day After — radio is squeezing him out in favor of vapid programming, it’s equally true that artistically, he’s above such mundane concerns. (Garrett Caples)

With Masta Killa and Inspectah Deck
9 p.m.
444 Jessie, SF
(415) 348-4656


“Raise Up”

It’s kind of become a fact of Bay life that the only time you’re gonna see an all-female DJ performance is at either an event specifically touted as such or a breast cancer benefit. So check out this breast cancer benefit, featuring wicked housemeisters Sharon Buck, Forest Green, Didje Kelli, DRC, and Ladyhouse. “Raise Up” is a stellar chance to hear a knockout lineup while doing your part during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Proceeds go to the Carol M. Baldwin Breast Cancer Research Fund. (Marke B.)

9 p.m.–2 a.m.
1337 Mission, SF
$5–$10 donation
(415) 255-1337




“Crime and Consequences”

Get inside the criminal mind for an evening with these devilishly deviant and devastatingly raw true-life accounts that are like crime scene photos in memoir form. “Crime and Consequences” is a gritty literary event that examines the dark world of crime and its effects as seen from perspectives varying from perpetrator to prey. This reading includes appearances by ex–SFPD Police Chief Prentice Earl Sanders and Bennett Cohen, coauthors of The Zebra Murders: A Season of Killing, Racial Madness, and Civil Rights; and Rachel Howard, author of The Lost Night, a chronicle of her father’s unsolved murder. (Hayley Elisabeth Kaufman)

6:30 p.m.
Hemlock Tavern
1131 Polk, SF
(415) 923-0923


Hank IV

Got a hankering for the bad ole days of walking, talking, pill-popping hillbilly proto-rockers? Or the wicked nights of their football-fried offspring and hard-bitten, mulleted grandkids? Sure you do. That’s why you’ve got to get down with Hank IV, San Francisco’s self-proclaimed bastard sons to the sticky throne of pop dissolution, motor oil headaches, garage rock heartbreak, and ear-bleed cacophony. This supergrope, comprising ex-members of Icky Boyfriends and Bum-Kon, has finally issued an initial, tasty slice of vinyl, Third Person Shooter (Hook or Crook). (Kimberly Chun)

With TITS, Nate Denver’s Neck, the Mantles, and Shellshag
9 p.m.
Elbo Room
647 Valencia, SF
(415) 522-7788

Also Oct. 22, 2 p.m.
Amoeba Music
1855 Haight, SF
(415) 831-1200




The Host

The Host is the best monster movie since the height of the Alien series, so director Bong Joon-ho is justified in referring to artist Jang Hee-chul as his H.R. Giger. The biggest domestic box office hit ever in South Korea, The Host is spooky, hilarious, poignant, and a not-too-subtle attack on US imperialism. You can see the movie — and creature effects by SF-based animators the Orphanage — months before its theatrical release thanks to this screening, part of the first annual SF International Animation Showcase. (Johnny Ray Huston)

7 p.m.
SF Museum of Modern Art
151 Third St., SF
(415) 561-5000
(415) 947-1292


Mobius Band

Unrestrained guitar melodies matched to tepid moods and pop sensibilities — check. An arpeggiator program fluttering in a milieu of dense-sounding rhythms and monotone vocals — check. Though this instrumentation might have influential bands such as Kraftwerk dancing on the tip of your tongue, it’s gracing Mobius Band’s infectious avant-pop this time. The group mixed new-wavish pop with electronic swells on last year’s The Loving Sound of Static (Ghostly International). MB open for the National, indie rockers enjoying their own tidal wave of success. (Chris Sabbath)

With Baby Dayliner

9 p.m.
Great American Music Hall
859 O’Farrell, SF
(415) 885-0750



Oct. 11


MCCLA Video Fest
Filmmakers from nine countries submitted pieces for judgment in the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts Video Fest. Each film was to be representative of the artist’s view of the Latino community, and from the looks of it, no two views are remotely alike. The winning pieces, which range from fiction and experimental to documentary, will be shown in four programs this Wednesday and Thursday at the Roxie. For anyone who is interested in amateur filmmaking, this should prove to be a visual treat indeed. (Erin Halasey)

6:45 and 9 p.m.
Also Thurs/12, 7 and 9 p.m.
Roxie Film Center3117 16th St., SF
(415) 863-1087


John Scofield plays the Music of Ray Charles

Jamie Foxx has already made a lucrative career out of impersonating Ray Charles, and I’m not sure how many Charles tribute acts we really need. That said, there’s nothing normal about the music of John Scofield. Scofield is one of the best and most unpredictable jazz guitarists working today. He has more than held is own while playing with heavyweights Miles Davis and Medeski Martin and Wood. In 2005, Scofield cut an album of Ray Charles covers, That’s What I Say (Verve), that blew both the Ray movie soundtrack (Atlantic/WEA) and Genius Loves Company (Concord) out of the water. Maybe after seeing this show you’ll think all the other Charles-related tributes are a bit pointless. (Aaron Sankin)

8 p.m.
628 Divisadero
(415) 771-1421

Win, lose, or draw


FESTIVAL Anyone who assumes the San Francisco Film Society hibernates between springtime fests is sorely mistaken. Aside from all the preparations for next year’s landmark 50th SF International Film Festival, much year-round activity has been emanating from the organization’s Presidio headquarters, including a recent outdoor screening of giant-ant classic Them! Next up: the first San Francisco International Animation Showcase, three days of films at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Clear your Oct. 12 calendar, for the only place your butt needs to be is sitting in a theater watching Bong Joon-ho’s The Host, without a doubt the monster movie of this year’s festival circuit. It features F/X by San Francisco’s own the Orphanage — and a giant, hungry, nasty sea creature riddled with political and social subtext. Oct. 14 heralds a pair of shorts programs: “The Kids Are Alright,” with award-winning student films like Sukwon Shin’s Rock the World (George W. Bush, Colin Powell, and … Journey?) and Luis Nieto’s ingeniously seamless live action–animation hybrid Carlitopolis, about a spectacularly resilient lab mouse; and “International Panorama,” with dynamic works from England, Iran, Japan, and beyond. The minifest wraps up with The Incredibles director Brad Bird’s 1999 The Iron Giant, which to everyone but diehard Pacifier fans remains Vin Diesel’s best family-friendly performance to date. (Cheryl Eddy)

Sickness in short order


› a&eletters@sfbg.com
COMEDY DVD/CD When comedian Neil Hamburger appeared in the mid-’90s, he didn’t exactly burst onto the scene. He floundered, groaned, and groveled his way through jokes that have often been deemed intentionally bad. “It’s so bad it’s good!” went the typical assessment of the comedian’s act — an assessment that’s not only insensitive but also a bit simplistic. Hamburger may not have been the smoothest, most polished comedian, but no one tried harder or battled against longer odds, and his willingness to muddle forth in the face of repeated failure and humiliation was at least mildly inspiring.
Based on his early track record, Hamburger’s recent success — appearances on Jimmy Kimmel Live, a role in an upcoming Jack Black movie, sold-out shows at the Hemlock Tavern — has been unexpected. Listen to his earliest albums, 1996’s America’s Funnyman and 1998’s Raw Hamburger (both Drag City), and you’ll find there’s not a lot of laughter. Groaning, hissing, clanking silverware, and ringing slot machines, yes. But not many genuine laughs. Since those days, his persistent cough has gotten worse, and his jokes have grown more offensive, yet his audiences have grown bigger. The younger rock ’n’ roll audiences he plays to have been much more receptive to his hard-R-rated humor as well as his Q&A-style delivery (“Why did God invent Gene Simmons? To boost sales of the morning-after pill”) than to the more observational musings of his earlier sets.
The recent Drag City DVD, The World’s Funnyman, offers a window into Hamburger’s evolution. The feature is more or less a typical Hamburger show circa anytime since 2003, featuring off-color jokes about Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and other top stars. The highlights of the DVD, however, are relegated to the special features section: two minidocumentaries, Neil Hamburger in Australia and the Canadian-made America’s Funnyman, along with a video for his song “Seven-Elevens,” from the 2002 album Laugh Out Lord (Drag City). Best of all, though, is the black-and-white cinematic depiction of scenes from Left for Dead in Malaysia (Drag City, 1999), perhaps the darkest and most trying of Hamburger’s albums. Basically, the audience doesn’t understand a word he’s saying, but that doesn’t stop him from treating it like any show. After all, as he notes, “some things transcend the language barrier — like a disinterested audience.” The credits mention that this is a teaser for a feature-length film entitled Funny Guy–itis. If that’s true, then please, someone get this guy a movie deal and finish it, pronto.
There are those who claim that Neil Hamburger is actually the alter ego of former Amarillo Records head Gregg Turkington, but then again, these are the sort of folks who argue that Clark Kent and Superman are the same person, that Batman is really Bruce Wayne. There’s no hard evidence. Still, some of Hamburger’s most harped-upon themes are echoed on Turkington’s most recent efforts, on the Golding Institute’s Final Relaxation (Ipecac). Coproduced with Australian television producer Brendan Walls, the album is billed as “your ticket to death through hypnotic suggestion.” As the extremely creepy narrator, Turkington stresses that certain people are not qualified to participate, including “pregnant or lactating women” and “those who have booked expensive overseas vacations or plane tickets.”
Obviously, Final Relaxation is not 100 percent effective — otherwise I’d be writing this from beyond the grave. Still, the disc casts a disturbing enough pall over the listening environment, with Turkington offering up plenty of negative reinforcements (“You will not be able to cook like a television chef. Your time on earth will be spent failing”) and bizarre commands (“Please, please break some of the teeth in your head — for me”) amid Walls’s sickly electronic noises. It’s not a laugh-a-minute affair, but like many of Hamburger’s albums, it walks a fine line between cringe-inducing ineptitude and head-scratching ridiculousness. And yes, that’s an endorsement. SFBG

Static shock


› a&eletters@sfbg.com
REVIEW When it premiered in New York two years ago, Sam Shepard’s latest play was timed to influence the outcome of the presidential election — an enticingly bold agenda. Of course, if you want to influence elections, as everybody understands by now, you need to be more than bold. You need to be Diebold. And anyway, what politician worries about what’s on an Off-Broadway stage? As political theater goes, Hugo Chávez calling George W. Bush the devil and sniffing out his sulfuric farts before the United Nations has much more oomph to it, in addition to getting at least as big a laugh. Chávez also backed up his warm-up zingers with a real political program. And he reads Noam Chomsky!
Two years and another flagrantly stolen election later, The God of Hell remains less interesting for any recyclable reference to the electoral contest between Democrats and Republicans (two packs squaring off again for dominance in the same corporate-owned kennel) than for the reflection in its bleak farce of something larger: an attempt to redraw the psychic and social landscape. Shepard’s ostensibly simple political broadside — whose call to alarm rings more with absurdist resignation than Brechtian defiance — has nonetheless a wily power curled up inside.
The play — sharply directed by Amy Glazer and leading off the 40th anniversary season of the Magic Theatre, Shepard’s old stomping ground — opens on the home of a dying breed: a Wisconsin dairy farmer and his wife. Emma (played with just the right suggestion of guileless good humor and native smarts by Anne Darragh) loves her indoor plants, which she compulsively waters to within an inch of their lives. Frank (John Flanagan), meanwhile, “loves his heifers,” as his affectionate wife readily explains to Frank’s old friend and their current houseguest, the jumpy and radioactive Graig Haynes (Jackson Davis), hiding from some unspecified disaster out west at a mysterious place called, in a name redolent of real-life nuclear disasters, Rocky Buttes. On the one hand, the couple looks primed to live happily heifer after. On the other, they appear stuck in a semiparadisial oasis amid unforgiving winter and a sea of agribusiness, isolated, alone, stoic, lonely, a little loony, and lost without knowing it — yet.
Emma is in the act of coaxing Haynes from the basement with some frying bacon when a stranger at the door interrupts her. As the pork sizzles, the man (Michael Santo), a business suit we later learn goes by the name Welch, appears to be selling a host of patriotic paraphernalia out of his attaché case. But his pushy demeanor quickly goes beyond the usual sales routine, his interest in Emma’s loyalty and her basement growing downright creepy, exuding an unctuousness and a sly arrogance that perfectly suggest the totalitarian turn in what Frank calls a “country of salesmen.” (Santo, whose face stretched into a thin grin bears an eerie resemblance to our real-life torturer-in-chief, is altogether perfect in the part.)
Shepard’s farmers, while purposefully cartoony, aren’t country bumpkins. Nor are they merely atavistic 1950s farmers, existing wholly in the past and detached from the present (as Welch, with telling condescension, likes to imagine them). Locally speaking, they are savvy and sure. (It’s no joke holding your own as an independent dairy farmer amid government-subsidized corporate behemoths.) Emma in particular is rooted to the very house itself, born on a patch of floor Hayes finds himself standing on at one point.
It’s the world beyond the farm and Wisconsin that the main couple find hard to grasp. In the play’s central irony, Frank and Emma tentatively mark the outer world by reference to a standard pop-cultural conspiracy narrative. But significantly, it’s just that laughable (at first) recourse to the formula of a TV thriller or sci-fi movie that points in the direction of the truth, helping Emma and Frank chart the terrain opened up by the arrival of Haynes and Welch. Long before his old friend resurfaces, Frank has already imagined for him, however vaguely, just the kind of intrigue and danger he turns out to have been undergoing. After passing the seeds of this narrative to his wife (who, as it were, dutifully overwaters them), Frank turns around and mocks her paranoia of government vehicles: “Dark cars. Suspicious. Tinted windows. Unmarked Chevies. Black antennas bowed over.” But we already know she’s right. The terrain of conspiracy, like the empire it limns, stretches in all directions, making borders meaningless except as a demagogic strategy in Welch’s fascist, state-centered patriotism.
The play invokes borders mainly to undermine, comically deflate, or cynically manipulate them. The overall and overwhelming implication is their irrelevance to an imperial might that recognizes no boundaries in the exercise of its will (things don’t need to escalate far before Welch threatens to send a bunker buster through Emma’s kitchen window). The vastness of the system confronting Emma and Frank comes across most dramatically in the unstoppable reach of plutonium — named after Pluto, the god of hell — which here serves as both a literal threat of the system and the ideal metaphor for its poisonous, apocalyptic reach. It’s this geography (real, metaphorical, potential) that the play wants us to pay attention to, since survival depends on some grasp of the lay of the land. SFBG
Through Oct. 22
Tues.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.
Magic Theatre
Fort Mason Center, bldg. D, Buchanan at Marina, SF
(415) 441-8822

In bed with the Long Winters


It’s become popular to characterize the Long Winters’ John Roderick as an intellectual ronin of sorts: a librarian without master who travels the countryside lending his songs and wisdom to brainy 826 benefits. Others reject this stuffy veneer outright, preferring to embrace him as a lovable vaudevillian rogue of the “song, dance, seltzer down the pants” variety.
Still, Roderick is well aware of his reputation as a mysterious dude, explaining, “It’s never been clear, even to the people close to me, whether or not I might actually be an emotionally abusive, exploitative, drunken rapist posing as a sensitive singer-songwriter, and that’s an ambiguity that I cultivate.”
His band, the Long Winters, are back with their third album, Putting the Days to Bed (Barsuk), a sonic patchwork of lust, architecture, rock ’n’ roll love children, and memories of lovers past that defy destruction. Maybe. Roderick writes to ensure that his lyrics don’t bind the listener with logistical detail, preferring to provide softly focused emotional Polaroid photos. “What I’m shooting for is that the listener be able to recall their own stories — when they felt the same way,” he says. With mentions of everything from teaspoons to retired Air Force pilots, however, come fans usually seeking interpretational guidance. Why not indulge listeners with answers? “No one really wants me out in the parking lot after a show explaining my lyrics” he deadpans. “Even if a few people might think they do.”
The crazy thing is, it actually works. On “Teaspoon,” rituals of courtship, “the way that she smiles me down,” careen past as a horn section trumpets the start of a new relationship. Even if the lady in question “claims to be clowning,” the mood is clear, the butterflies in the stomach already swirling. Putting the Days to Bed’s best moment is the wistfully gorgeous “Seven,” a song that lies on its back in tall grass, staring at the sky and hoping against hope to see a lost lover’s face in the clouds. “Would you say that I/ Was the last thing you want to remember me by?” Roderick wonders aloud.
It’s this kind of masterfully eloquent longing that has built the Long Winters no small amount of indie fame. Yet while appreciative of the kudos, Roderick quickly reduces them to a digestible perspective: “I think the Long Winters fall somewhere between it being OK for us to sample some crackers from the deli tray of the Wrens without getting our hands slapped but not so far as to get drunk and spill guacamole on Sufjan Stevens’s pants.” (Kate Izquierdo)

More of Kate Izquierdo’s interview with Long Winters’ John Roderick.

With What Made Milwaukee Famous and the Vasco Era
Fri/13, 9 p.m.
Cafe du Nord
2170 Market, SF
(415) 861-5016

Sweet dreams


› kimberly@sfbg.com
“It definitely contributes to this kind of cavelike, sort of womblike environment up here.”
Tom Carter is surveying his kingdom, a.k.a. the Oakland apartment he shares with his partner, Natacha Robinson, and we both try to make the connection between Charalambides, his 15-year-old duo with ex Christina Carter, and the hundreds of Playmobil figurines that populate damn near every surface around him. The only Playmobil-free space seems to be Carter’s cranny-cum-closet-cum-studio housing a computer equipped with Pro Tools and sundry plug-ins that simulate analog effects. Otherwise the Lego-like pieces cover his mantles, bookshelves, lintels, and alcoves, reenacting the Crusades, banquets, pirate ship scenes, you name it. In front of Carter on the table is Robinson’s latest tableau in progress: a petite pair of anthropomorphized mice in wedding garb, fashioned from Sculpey, next to a pile of teensy clay food.
It’s a distracting collection, yet the multitudes also seem to mirror Carter’s prodigious creative output: in addition to Charalambides — which most recently released one of the more straight-laced recordings of its lifespan, A Vintage Burden (Kranky), an almost slow-fi folk album that manages to be both haunting and achingly beautiful — Carter is in Badgerlore (the Bay Area supergroup of sorts with Seven Rabbit Cycle’s Rob Fisk, Six Organs of Admittance’s Ben Chasny, Yellow Swans’ Pete Swanson, Grouper’s Liz Harris, and Skygreen Leopards’ Glenn Donaldson); Zaika with Marcia Bassett of Double Leopards; Kyrgyz with Loren Chasse and Christine Boepple of the Jewelled Antler Collective and Robert Horton; and various stirring CD-R projects with solely Horton (the latest, Lunar Eclipse [Important], collects 73 minutes of terrifying drone, conjured with the aid of e-bow, boot, vibrator, and field recordings). All of which led Carter, who also records other musicians regularly and continuously toils on live CD-Rs, to quit his job as a manager at Berkeley’s Half Price Books in order to concentrate on performing live with Charalambides, which plays its first show in the Bay Area this week since Carter moved to town in 2004. The duo has also lined up fall dates at Arthur Nights in LA and All Tomorrow’s Parties in the UK.
There’s obviously a lot on Carter’s plate — we’re not even going to start with the dusting. But Carter is no one’s toy, despite his laid-back style and acid-washed drawl and the fact that Charalambides is now catching a second wind of attention from publications like Wire after putting out vinyl-only recordings throughout the last decade on respected underground imprint Siltbreeze.
Carter began Charalambides in 1991 with fellow Houston record store employee Christina after playing in “pretty goofy” bands like Schlong Weasel. (They named the band after a Greek surname noticed on a shopper’s check; “it was supposed to be evocative but doesn’t mean anything,” he explains.)
“I probably would have met her anyway,” Carter says now of their fateful encounter. “I knew all her boyfriends.” Nonetheless the two were wed, becoming creative partners.
Houston at that time was a hotbed of “superweird experimental stuff,” Carter says. “It was sort of grunge-influenced in a way, but it was sort of psychedelic and bizarre. People just making odd decisions based on drug use and volume.”
Third Charalambides members would come and go, like guitarist Jason Bill and pedal steel player Heather Leigh Murray, but the Carters were constants, even after they broke up in 2003. The 2004 album Joy Shapes (Kranky) documents the split. “It was kind of an intense record to make and kind of intense to listen to,” remembers Carter. “Exhausting to listen to and just exhausting all around.”
Developing their songs through improvisation and then overdubbing parts over the sounds, Charalambides dropped in and out of dormancy until 2000, mostly, Carter says, because “we were never really comfortable as a live band.” The group started to make music with an eye to performance. “We always wanted things to be somewhat formless when we approached a song, but at the same time, we wanted to kind of know what we were doing so it would actually exist as a song. What was the minimum thing you could have in a song and it still be a song?” Vintage Burden turned out to be their first “duo record” in ages, a return to the way the pair had once worked, producing sprawling psychedelic numbers, with one notable difference. Christina, who now lives in Northampton, Mass., wrote all the songs before Carter flew to her home to record on her eight-track Tascam digital recorder. Working on music was easy, he says. “Neither one of us is a particularly grudge-bearing person.”
Keep the grudges for movie-house sequels. Currently listening to ’60s West Coast rock groups like the Byrds and the Grateful Dead in addition to peers and pals like the Yellow Swans and Skaters, Carter might be considered the kick-back link between hippie experimentation of the past and the transcendent aggression of the present. “I do consider myself part of the tradition of Texas–West Coast transplants,” he says mildly. Why do so many Texans turn up on these shores? “I dunno. It’s a place to smoke weed in peace. Ha-ha-ha.” SFBG
With Shawn McMillen, Hans Keller,
and Feast
Mon/16, 9 p.m.
Bottom of the Hill
1233 17th St., SF
(415) 621-4455
Also Tom Carter–Shawn McMillen duo, Sean Smith, and Christina Carter
Tues/17, 8 p.m.
21 Grand
416 25th St., Oakl.
(510) 44-GRAND

Smile when you say “mockney”


› a&eletters@sfbg.com
For those of you living in a cool-free cave out by the FM tower, Lily Allen is hot property. Her first single, the ska-tinged “Smile,” has topped Britain’s charts and has been oozing out of iPods and shopping malls alike as the song of the summer across Europe.
Allen’s album, Alright Still (Regal/Parlophone), is a collection of rocksteady pop that veers between sweet crooning and sassily blunt day-in-the-life raps à la “Cool for Cats.” (In fact, she covered Squeeze, citing “Up the Junction” as a favorite song.) Like Squeeze lyricist Chris Difford, Allen doesn’t shy away from the seedier side of London life, taking on would-be suitors in bars, catty girls in clubs, the occasional crack whore, and an obvious favorite, the loser ex-boyfriend. On “Smile” she laments, “When you first left me I was wanting more/ But you were fucking that girl next door/ What ya do that for.”
Humor is indeed one of the sharpest weapons in Allen’s arsenal, adding a layer of verboten wit to her otherwise radio-friendly dancehall beats. It’s not the first time that ska has infiltrated mainstream airspace, but where Gwen Stefani plays an edgy vixen of the runway, Allen comes across as the sexy, streetwise girl next door, more clubhouse than penthouse — an urban chanteuse with a penchant for strapless sundresses, throwback fly-girl gold ropes, and downtown kicks.
Shortly after signing her deal with Parlophone in September 2005, Allen started a MySpace account and began using the site to test her demos in front of the general public “just to see what people’s reaction was to them. And it was pretty good,” she explains on the phone from London. “I think that gave the record company more confidence in me than they probably would have without it.” “Pretty good” is an understatement, with her plays now exceeding four million, her “friends” nearing the 80,000 mark, and GQ calling her “the first lady of MySpace.” Followers also hit Allen’s account to read the brutally honest, sometimes hilarious blog updates that chronicle her ascent to pop stardom.
One such entry finds her attacking the bottle to calm her nerves before performing in front of 30,000 people at a festival — and getting so drunk that her management sends her home in a car, where she finds that she has no keys and must sit in a gold ball gown in the middle of her street. These tales of transformation — her gilded coach seems in constant danger of reverting to a pumpkin — endear her to a dedicated throng of fans who respond to her words with comments numbering in the hundreds and sent her single to the top of the charts for several weeks running.
But not everyone loves Allen. Speaking and singing in a decidedly unposh London accent on songs like “LDN,” a bouncy, carnival brass band romp, has caused her to be ridiculed as “mockney,” for fronting a ghetto background. (Her father is comic actor Keith Allen, and her mother is a successful film producer.)
Obviously tired of these accusations, she fires back, “My mum came to London with absolutely no money, a daughter at the age of 17 years old, no job, nothing. We lived in a council flat, which is like the projects in America, so I get a little insulted when people say, ‘Oh, she’s a middle-class girl who hasn’t experienced anything.’”
Allen has also been labeled a man hater for her lyrics about men, arrogant for her commentary on icons like Madonna, and overly vain for her choice of clothing. She thinks she knows why. “I’m a 21-year-old girl, and I speak my mind,” she retorts. “I’m not going to film premieres in revealing dresses and having my photo taken and giving [journalists] nice little sweet sound bites about how brilliant everything is.”
As formidable as her detractors would like to seem, however, they’re no match for the album-buying fans who, Allen is happy to report, have snapped up “300,000 already.”
One of the album’s tracks, “Friday Night,” is a rude-girl meeting in the ladies’ room in which horn blasts straight out of the Skatalites’ “Guns of Navarone” echo and obnoxious scenesters make Allen’s night out a living hell. She isn’t having it and informs the snotty girls, “Don’t try and test me cos you’ll get a reaction/ Another drink and I’m ready for action.” “It’s funny how people completely misunderstand that song and think it’s about me being aggressive towards others,” she says softly. “It’s actually about hating that kind of bravado in other people.” There’s little such cockiness when Allen confirms that she “can’t wait” to start her club tour of the States, where she has already surpassed mere Britpop buzz, poised to prove her worth as the lone jewel in the pawnshop of throwaway starlets. SFBG
Thurs/12, 9 p.m.
330 Ritch, SF
$12 (all tickets sold at the door; ticket vouchers will be distributed at 8:30 p.m.)
(415) 541-9574

Deconstructing Destruction


“The shattering of paradise” is how Kali Yuga director Ellen Sebastian Chang refers to the 2002 bombing in Bali in which 202 people from 22 nations died. A series of attacks in 2005 killed 23 more. A world indeed had crashed, not only for the Balinese people but for the music and dance lovers who have made pilgrimages to that magical isle where art is integrated into the texture of daily life.
Gamelan Sekar Jaya was particularly hard-hit. With both Balinese and American members, the El Cerrito–based music and dance group has had an ongoing, close relationship with Balinese culture. In 2000, during its last tour, the group received a Dharma Kusuma award, Indonesia’s highest artistic recognition, never before given to a foreign company. So Gamelan Sekar Jaya wanted to address the tragedy in artistic terms. Its members also realized, says company director Wayne Vitale, that “what happened in Bali is a worldwide problem.”
The result is Kali Yuga, directed by Sebastian Chang and choreographed by I Wayan Dibia, with music composed by Vitale and Made Arnawa. Two years in the making, the work will receive its world premiere Oct. 14 at Zellerbach Hall. “We want this to be a gift to the Balinese people,” Vitale explains.
Working closely with poet-journalist Goenawan Mohamad, a vocal critic of the Indonesian government, the collaborators found the seed for the 70-minute piece in the Mahabharata: during the Kali Yuga — the age of chaos and destruction — a prince, challenged by his brother, gambles away everything he owns, including his wife. From this story of male testosterone and female humiliation arises a contemporary parable about the gambling we do with Mother Earth.
At a recent rehearsal in a warehouse in West Oakland, one could sense a little of Bali’s community-minded spirit. Kids roamed freely around the periphery of the performance space. One of the dancers had a baby slung over her shoulder; another would periodically step out to gently redirect the energy of a particularly rambunctious little boy. For a sectional rehearsal, Sebastian Chang knelt on the floor, coaxing the required laughs and stories from two six-year-old girls. Minutes earlier, they had exuberantly twirled all over the place; now they focused diligently on the task at hand.
The team has conceived Kali Yuga as a conflict between two parallel universes, one visible, the other not. Even in the piece’s unfinished state, it appeared that the dancers were keeping to the parameters of Balinese drama. The villain — who in the original tale humiliates the woman by attempting to strip her naked — is wonderfully raucous; the heroine is soft and pliant.
However, even traditional forms allow for innovation, as Sebastian Chang knows from experience. A writer as well as a director, she has worked within many genres and often with young people, hip-hop artists and the poets of Youth Speaks among them. In conceiving Kali Yuga, she wondered about the people in that Balinese nightclub. They must have been young. But who were they? What kind of music did they listen to on that fateful night? What were the dance moves that those bombs cut off so fatally?
Rhythmic sophistication, she also knows, is not unique to gamelan music. Rashidi Omari-Byrd is an Oakland-based rap artist and hip-hop dancer with whom Sebastian Chang has worked in the past. He had never heard gamelan music. Nor was he was familiar with Kecak, the percussive chanting originally performed by Balinese male ensembles. But the match was perfect. In Kali Yuga, Omari-Byrd — a tall, lanky performer who towers over everyone in the show — raps Mohamad’s poetry and break-dances to the musicians’ snapping heads and chack-chacking chant. (Rita Felciano)
Sat/14, 8 p.m.
Zellerbach Hall
Lower Sproul (near Bancroft and Telegraph), UC Berkeley, Berk.
(510) 642-9988