Volume 42 Number 04

October 23 – October 30, 2007

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From our Bay to Norway


› johnny@sfbg.com

I hear a new world calling me. It’s beeping transmissions from some faraway place in the future and the past where a mysterious craft hovers near calypso rock and choruses of friendly voices — some human, some not — echo or call to each other. It’s a free-floating territory charted by someone obsessed with creating and sharing sounds that would otherwise go unheard. Only those with a similar obsession seem to respond to its clarion call.

I hear a new world, so strange and so real. Something tells me this world has ties to Norway and the Bay Area, that it streams from Oslo to San Francisco and back. Along the way it opens doors — some familiar, some not — to unheard-of zones. In Norway it can’t help isoutf8g and celebrating a conga rhythm from a vintage Michael Jackson track. It also combines the famous chords of Richard Strauss’s Thus Spake Zarathustra and the roller coaster sensuality of Donna Summer’s Giorgio Moroder–produced "I Feel Love" in order to fill and feel space with as much pleasure as possible. In San Francisco it forms warm electronic waves, uses white magic to surf those waves’ white diamond tips at midnight, and then wakes up the next morning with a heartbreaking conversational hymn.

I hear a new world, haunting me from beyond the known realms of space disco, the shorthand term writers have applied to the music of Norway’s Lindstrøm (who has combined Strauss with Summer), Prins Thomas, and Todd Terje (the aforementioned Jackson mix master). It asks me to explore the songs of San Francisco musicians who offer clues to — and share — those Norwegians’ vast and prodigious love of sound and song. It suggests I contact Sorcerer (a.k.a. Daniel Judd) and Hatchback (a.k.a. Sam Grawe), brothers in oceanic melody and rhythm, who have both been remixed by Thomas. It tells me to talk with Dominique Leone, whose gorgeous and deranged pop will soon be released by Lindstrøm on his Feedelity label. It implores that I reach across this small town of super sounds to speak with Arp’s Alexis Georgopoulos, who has forged a cluster of electro-Nordic projects in which beauty emerges — with a sunlike glow — from intensity.

I hear a new world, calling me to chart links between musicians in San Francisco and in Norway, to discover that neighboring, unacquainted San Francisco sound makers can share friendships with the same Norwegian musicians. Perhaps this musical passage from Norway to our Bay is pure folly. Perhaps the seaside Northern European kingdom recently voted the most peaceful country in the world by the Global Peace Index doesn’t share the same spirit as coastal Northern California. Perhaps the country that remained neutral in World War I and rebelled against insurgent World War II Nazism doesn’t have much in common with Bay Area resistance. Perhaps Oslo and San Francisco only share a pocket-size but ferocious love of black metal. I still hear a new world — how can I tell what’s in store for me?


Donna Summer has already come and gone on the jukebox of the Van Ness corner bar with the bright yellow sign as Sorcerer’s Daniel Judd looks at the cover art for Prins Thomas’s Cosmo Galactic Prism (Eskimo). Thomas’s epic, oft-resplendent two-CD mix opens with "I Hear a New World," the title track of producer Joe Meek’s innovative 1960 exploration of the outer spaces of stereo and studio sound. It then segues into the country twang and power-chord dub of "Devil Weed and Me," by the late-’70s Nashville, Tenn., session-player supergroup Area Code 615. "It’s funny that the CD starts that way," Judd says with characteristic almost-sly-or-shy understatement. "My friend Sam [Grawe, of Hatchback,] is a big fan of Area Code 615, and I love "I Hear a New World." The fact [Thomas] put those two songs together is weird, like he was reading our minds."

Encyclopedic musical passions bring serendipity. But Thomas and Judd’s bond dives deeper: Thomas has remixed "Surfing at Midnight," the slow-blooming single from White Magic (Tirk), the first album Judd has recorded as Sorcerer. White Magic is a casual labor of love (all too rare in these studied-yet-throwaway days) that’s easy to fall for on the first listen. Judd — who sometimes writes about music for the Web site Dream Chimney — is still capable of the Johnny Marr–like rush, push, and spangled jangle he brought to the band Call and Response, but freed from group strictures he lands on a relaxed approach to writing and recording that allows for gorgeous chord changes, compositions that morph, and keyboards and guitars that shimmer.

White Magic’s track listing primarily consists of two-word titles — "Airbrush Dragon," "Egyptian Sunset," "Bamboo Brainwave" — that inspire visualization, and on MySpace, Judd invents a variety of apt and funny pseudogenres, such as "’80s montage music," to describe the Sorcerer sound. "So many friends, when I played [Sorcerer’s] music for them, would say, ‘This would be great for an ’80s movie scene or a montage,’" he explains when asked about the various substyle terms he coined on a lark. "I definitely grew up during that period and watched the movies, so it’s ingrained. I thought I might as well just go for it. I like having some humor and playfulness, like Thomas Fehlmann, the Kompakt [label] guy who was in the Orb…. At some point [more recently] electronic music got caught up in always trying to do something new. That’s fun for the musician but not always for the listener. In my stuff the beat isn’t what’s making you go, ‘Oh wow.’ If it’s happening, it’s from the chords."

Judd and his girlfriend recently moved from Oakland — where he’d also spent much of his early childhood with a mom who loves Prince — into the Mission. Sorcerer, however, can usually be found loitering on either side of a magic door where kitsch transforms into loveliness. One side of that door definitely opens onto the beach. White Magic‘s "Blind Yachtsman" is a love child born from Takeshi Kitano’s Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman and yacht rock. Judd often draws on whatever he’s listening to or watching, but other seafaring Sorcerer songs, such as "Surfing at Midnight" and "Hawaiian Island," flow directly from his experiences while surfing and scuba diving.

"Maybe the beach represents this free place, away from computers and technology," Judd posits when I mention that Norwegian counterparts such as Terje (whose MySpace interests are "Coconuts, Hawaiian sunsets, moose/dolphins/unicorn/practically everything in a sunset") share his fondness for littoral motifs. Whether discussing his girlfriend’s most recent Midnites for Maniacs–ready movie rental (Side Out, a beach volleyball drama starring C. Thomas Howell) or a weekend visit to Nippon Goldfish Co. on Geary ("You’re so close to the animals, and they look kind of crazy"), Judd keeps returning to the waterfront. "In the ocean," he notes, "you feel like there’s almost no rules. You’re having fun, and it’s almost dangerous fun — a kind that you don’t find in the city."


A setting sun, bisected by clouds, hovers over darkening ocean waves on the cover of In Light, the first album by San Francisco’s Arp; the title, drawn in slim neon-tube cursive by San Francisco artist Tauba Auerbach, is suspended from the upper left-hand corner of a tangerine and gold sky. The summer sun happens to be setting outside the upper Guerrero living room window of Arp’s Alexis Georgopoulos as he talks about this image (partly inspired by the melancholic found-film cosmograms of visual artist Tacita Dean) and how it relates to the music on the album, which will be released by the Oslo label Smalltown Supersound next month.

"An overwhelming number of people still tend to think of electronic music as being cold," Georgopoulos says while sitar notes from an LP quietly resonate through his and roommate Kathryn Anne Davis’s blue-walled apartment, where a large chunk of coral rests on a clear Plexiglas coffee table. "I wanted to make something that was warm, that had human qualities, that was a little worn, and that — along with the imagery of the record — dealt with memory, the degradation of memory, and revisionist memory. I also wanted to make something that referenced landscape and light and natural things in a way that wasn’t new age." I point to a fat tome about the proto–new age label ECM on a nearby bookcase, which Georgopoulos built. "Proto–new age music, if you select carefully, can be amazing," he responds. "Even the kernels of early sequencing in Ash Ra Tempel sound really radiant."

If a new age of electronic music spanning from San Francisco to Oslo is dawning (or setting), then Georgopoulos — a chief member of Tussle until just after the group recorded last year’s Telescope Mind (Smalltown Supersound) — has taken it to the bridge and maybe even been the bridge. In 2002, after writing about the graphic design of Smalltown Supersound’s Kim Hiorthøy for Tokion, Georgopoulos — who edits the music section of SOMA magazine and sometimes contributes to the Guardian — offered to put together a Bay Area showcase at Club Six for the label. "I don’t think he had done anything like that before; he just wanted to have us over, which was very generous," label owner Joakim Hoaglund recalls via e-mail before turning to a discussion of his and Georgopoulos’s latest collaboration. With Arp, "it’s a relief [for me] to do a small personal project. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel [In Light] has this great and unique mix of US West Coast art and culture with European avant-gardism and kraut rock. It’s a very special album."

Clutter and clusters are on Georgopoulos’s mind as we discuss music and its surroundings. "I was a huge stacker [of books and records]," he says when I mention his well-ordered home studio. "But I take after my mother — she’s very neat and feels like she can’t do the work she needs to do unless things are organized." The first-generation American child of parents from France and Greece, Georgopoulos has chosen the dreamy, maternal lull of a track titled "St. Tropez" to open In Light before "Potentialities" surges out of speakers (or from headphones) with a subtly rising force that’s ultimately awesome to behold. Most of In Light‘s seven meditative tracks were first showcased in a 2006 group exhibition at New Langton Arts, where up to two listeners could climb into a feather bed enclosed in a small podlike space. "It wasn’t cerebral. It wasn’t about dissecting a suspended space," Georgopoulos says. "Though with a lot of [Arp]’s music, suspension is one of the effects I’m trying to create."

For Georgopoulos, Arp’s state of suspension runs counter to different kinds of tension. While discussing his love for the analog organ-drum machine sounds employed by groups such as Cluster (a few of whose albums have just been reissued by Oakland label Water), Suicide, and Spacemen 3, he notes that "too much electronic [today] sounds like coke-related music." In contrast, Arp’s electronic music is humane — a rarity not just in electronic music but also on the streets of San Francisco during the Gavin Newsom era, when homelessness has become more difficult and abject and attitudes toward it more hostile. "I can’t remember the last time I left the house and didn’t have a confrontation with a very disturbing sight, and after a long time that really starts to chip away at you," Georgopoulos says. "I drove a cab for four years, until 2004, and when I think about it I can’t believe that I did. It suited my life at the time, but you’re interacting with [people on] PCP, meth, and all kinds of shit — you just never know. Now that I don’t drive a cab I’m hardly ever in the Tenderloin."


Wearing a pair of shades, Prins Thomas is chatting with the doorman of his hotel in the Tenderloin when I stumble out of a taxi to interview him. It’s a sunny, hot late afternoon, but Thomas — who has just woken up — isn’t exactly on Norway time or California time. Later in the evening he’ll be DJing Gun Club’s night at Temple Nightclub. Right now, though it’s too late for lunch and too early for dinner, the moment calls for a meal, so we settle into a restaurant on Polk Street. "I used to play in Oslo for the same people again and again," he says after we order food. "Now I can travel and meet like minds. It’s inspiring to meet people who can help you out and who you can help out."

In San Francisco two such people are Sorcerer’s Judd and Hatchback’s Grawe. Only after remixing tracks by Judd’s and Grawe’s solo projects did Thomas discover (by following Web links) that they also record together as Windsurf. Next year he plans to release some Windsurf recordings on a new label, Internasjonal, that will step outside the Norwegian and dance music confines of his established label, Full Pupp. This season, though, he and Lindstrøm have released — in addition to a variety of vinyl projects — a full-length collaboration (Reinterpretations, the beat-driven follow-up compilation to their 2006 debut on Eskimo) and individual mix CDs. Lindstrøm has contributed a chapter to the mix series Late Night Tales (released by the label of the same name), while Thomas has unleashed Cosmo Galactic Prism (Eskimo), a two-and-a-half-hour CD cornucopia that moves from strange and delightful multigenre tracks by Glissandro 70 (the bizarrely beautiful "Bolan Muppets") and Metalchicks (the awesome "Tears for Fears/Conspiracy") through Hawkwind into the classic disco of "Get Down Boy" by Paper Dolls.

"I thought it fit the whole collection as an introduction," Thomas says when I ask him about Cosmo Galactic Prism‘s opener, "I Hear a New World," which Arp’s Georgopoulos also says he’s included in mixes. "It kind of sets the tone — it’s so freaky that anything that comes after it is going to sound pretty normal. When I first heard it I couldn’t tell if it was new or old. There’s a similar quality to a track by Art Blakey called "Oscalypso" [from the 1956–57 album Drum Suite, now on Dusty Groove]. The drums are so distorted that it sounds relevant next to new, compressed dance music, even though it’s 50 years old."

It isn’t surprising that Thomas’s expansive love for and knowledge of music stems from his family. "My stepfather has been as obsessed with music [as I am]," he explains while charting Lindstrøm’s background in country and gospel bands and his own early days DJing hip-hop records at youth clubs. Thomas’s stepfather "would play Ry Cooder and the Sex Pistols for me. He had the Robert Christgau Consumer Guide books, which are great. I think it’s funny how [Christgau] can write similarly about an Eric Clapton album and a Chic album. For me, it really isn’t about bad music or good music, but about music that excites you and music that doesn’t."

It also probably isn’t surprising that one genre Thomas’s stepfather didn’t like — prog rock — figures heavily in his and Lindstrøm’s music. As for newer terms or styles, like Lindstrøm (who good-naturedly told me, "I guess the good thing is that some people are telling me I invented a genre"), Thomas has a sense of humor about the phrase space disco. "It could have been a lot worse," he says. "It could have been called crunk or syrup [Houston’s cough syrup–influenced hip-hop sound]. In my hometown, at underage school dances 15-year-old girls used to soak their tampons in moonshine. I guess that’s the Norwegian version of syrup."


When I meet Dominique Leone, he’s sitting in a San Francisco café that might have the highest number of laptops per square foot. Leone has one too, but instead of staring into its screen he’s feverishly using a pencil to draw on a page in a sky blue Strathmore sketchbook. I’m not surprised, because scribbler nonpareil Sol LeWitt caps a list of audio and visual influences on Leone’s MySpace page. That site also offers an opportunity to hear the gorgeous song "Conversational," on which Leone’s spare keyboard arrangement and ascendant choirboy-gone-slightly-cuckoo voice update the plaintive yet celestial highlights ("I’ll Be Home," "Living Without You") of Harry Nilsson’s classic 1970 cover collection Nilsson Sings Newman (Buddha).

Leone’s MySpace page contains audio treats, but what about his sketchbook page? It turns out he’s drawing, in his words, "a giant skyscraper-sized robot that streams music and scents into the air and every 10 minutes or so spews out free kittens." Indeed, Leone’s sketch does look a bit like that, so when he says he’ll try his hand at an idea I have — a constellation that playfully demonstrates links between San Francisco and Norway musicians — I take him up on the offer.

Though Leone doesn’t include himself in the finished rendering ("More an exploding molecule than a constellation," he says), which accompanies this article, he belongs in a nearby orbit, thanks to his collaborations with Lindstrøm. In addition to providing the quiet heart of that artist’s Late Night Tales mix, "Conversational" is also featured on an EP, simply titled Dominique Leone, that Lindstrøm is releasing next month on Feedelity (with art by Hiorthøy) as a precursor to Leone’s album. The gonzo centerpiece of the EP is "Clairevoyage — a Medley Performed by the 16th Rebels of Mung," on which Lindstrøm and Oslo Bee Gees maniacs Mungolian Jet Set, responding to Leone’s song "Claire" (on the EP’s B-side), construct a 12-minutes-plus propulsive fantasia that builds to a helium-voiced climax not far from the munchkin antics of Meek’s "I Hear a New World." Leone is no slouch at reaching countertenor octaves naturally or through tape manipulation. But since the EP also credits Mungolian figures named Katzenjammer and Izzy Tizzy as vocalists, it’s anyone’s guess as to who has inhaled a few balloons before singing.

Leone says he grew up listening to the Beatles and the Beach Boys, and the latter’s influence is especially apparent in the semielated, semiagitated high harmonies that fly through intricately braided compositions like his "Nous Tombons dans Elle." A self-described "band nerd" in high school and music major at Texas Tech University, he feels a kinship with the more overtly postmodern academic songwriting approaches of friends such as Matmos and Kevin Blechdom. To Lindstrøm, though, he’s a 21st-century answer to the progressive pop of Todd Rundgren (who happens to be a favorite of Sorcerer as well). "I remember the first time Lindstrøm wrote to me [about my music]. He was talking about Paul McCartney, but his big thing was Rundgren," Leone says with a laugh. "I wasn’t a big Rundgren fan, but [Lindstrøm] wasn’t the first person to listen to my music and mention Rundgren.

"The first track [‘Forelopic Bit’] on Lindstrøm and Prins Thomas is, to me, the best example of how to make a dance track from prog and fusion influences," Leone notes before adding some observations that probably stem from his experience as a freelance music writer for Pitchfork more than from his far-flung everyday listening tastes, which have ranged from salsa to bluegrass over the past few months. "A lot of people are trying to [bring prog and fusion to dance floors] right now. You can go out [to a club] and hear these Balearic and beardo DJs just playing tracks. Sometimes that works, and sometimes it doesn’t. But Lindstrøm is one of the few guys who are actually trying to make original songs incorporating those influences."


Sam Grawe of Hatchback and Windsurf sings the praises of his Sony tape recorder as I place my old, cheap, and wonderful Panasonic next to some glasses of wine on a table in his home recording studio. Plastic owl wall fixtures and a rug with shaded steps of color that resemble the volume bars of a digital stereo rest above and below the assortment of keyboards (including that prized prog possession, the Rhodes) in the room. "You can listen to instrumentals as background music, but I’ve always been into [moments] when music connects you with what’s happening or what you’re doing," Grawe says. "So much of my [youth] was spent driving around the rural countryside and finding the perfect song. Sound can fulfill an opening or void in your emotional experience. Images can be part of it, smell can be part of it, but sound can take it to another level."

Grawe’s sympathy for trusty old tape recorders, his playfully decorated recording space, and the attentiveness to setting in his reminiscence all make sense — by day he is the editor in chief of the modern architecture and design magazine Dwell. By night and whenever else he can find the time, he listens to and makes music. It’s an enduring passion that goes back to high school years spent using MIDI to put music theory into practice and compose fugues in the manner of Rick Wakeman and Emerson, Lake and Palmer. "The guy who stocked the import section [at a nearby record store] was some crazy prog freak," Grawe remembers. "A friend of mine had The Gibraltar Encyclopedia of Progressive Rock, so I could read about some crazy Italian or German band and then go to the mall and buy the CD."

"White Diamond," the 21st-century prog rock of Gibraltar that Hatchback has just made public (on the UK label This Is Not an Exit), showcases the fuguelike interplay between simplicity and complexity in Grawe’s compositions. While a 17-minute remix by Prins Thomas adds club elements, the original version, with its hallucinatory, starlit varieties of arpeggio, makes for an ideal personal soundtrack. Hatchback’s next 12-inch release on This Is Not an Exit, a track called "Jet Lag," is funkier yet similarly majestic, layered, and emotive. In both cases vocals would be a pointless distraction — synthesizers seem to sing to one another, becoming increasingly, endearingly creaturelike by song’s end. "Friends chide me for not knowing the words to songs I’ve heard a thousand times," Grawe says after testifying to his love for the film scores of Vangelis, Piero Umiliani, and Francis Lai. "But often a little synth part [in a song] is more interesting to me."

Grawe sings on some of the Windsurf songs that he and Judd have recorded for Prins Thomas to release on Internasjonal. Windsurf allows him to tap into a longtime interest in duos and groups ranging from the many projects of Yellow Magic Orchestra’s Haruomi Hosono and Neu!’s Michael Rother (Grawe recently contributed liner notes to an upcoming reissue of Rother’s first solo album, 1977’s Flammende Herzen, by Oakland’s Water) to … Steely Dan. "To a lot of people they embody what’s wrong with music," Grawe says of the last. "But to me they embody everything that’s right. Not only is their music well crafted, but some of their lyrics, to me, are on a par with [Bob] Dylan."

As for Oslo and San Francisco, Grawe — who recently created a Venn diagram for Mike Bee of Amoeba Music that illustrates the fusion of influences within Sorcerer, Hatchback, and Windsurf — welcomes the growing, glowing galactic prism formed by artists from both areas who have an affinity for one another’s music. "I think it’s interesting that all these records happened without [the people involved] ever meeting in person or sometimes even talking on the phone," Grawe says. "It’s all been through the Internet. It was great to finally see [Thomas] when he came to town and hang out, have dinner, and play records. We connected instantly."


To trace musical connections between a pair of geographical areas is reductive. The artists I’ve written about love music from a number of other countries (Germany and Brazil, to name just two) and cumulatively have friendships with contemporary musicians from all over the globe. But in focusing on sonic signals being sent forth between Norway and our Bay, signals that have yielded some of my favorite recordings of the past year, I also discovered unexpected commonalities that open into new words about — and worlds of — sound. Almost all of the San Francisco musicians I spoke with also write about music, and three of them are journalists, for example. It seems the divisions between writers and musicians continue to blur, leading to the formation of a new music of the spheres.

When Joe Meek composed and recorded I Hear a New World: An Outer Space Music Fantasy (RPM) in England in 1960, his intense, obsessive love of music and sound resulted in the audio equivalent of what is called visionary. But he remained isolated. Today it’s great to see — and hear — figures such as Meek and disco innovator Arthur Russell living on, their spirits floating through many people’s songs and being revived in upcoming documentaries. Meek heard a new world of sound, calling him and haunting him. He couldn’t tell what was in store for him, but his new world of sound has arrived. It spans from Norway and our Bay to the farthest reaches of inner and outer space.

Hear it!















Who set up whom?



Jim Rivaldo, 1947-2007


› tim@sfbg.com

There aren’t many political consultants in the world who deserve the term "sweet person." There aren’t many who last in that often vicious and horrible business who care more about their personal political principles than they do about money. There aren’t many who are universally liked, even by the people they routinely oppose.

Jim Rivaldo was weird that way. I knew him for almost 25 years, since I began watching the nasty world of insider San Francisco politics, and I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who had anything bad to say about him.

Rivaldo was one of the first openly gay political consultants in the country, an advisor and campaign manager for Harvey Milk and an innovator in the early days of the business of using graphic art and direct-mail technology to elect people to public office. He was the state’s first openly gay commissioner, serving as Milk’s regional representative on the Coastal Commission.

Rivaldo and his business partner, Dick Pabitch, managed the campaign that defeated the Police Officers Association juggernaut to create the Office of Citizen Complaints in 1983. He helped elect Milk and his successor, Harry Britt, helped found what is now the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, and was one of the key players who put gay politics on the map, making the queer community a force to be reckoned with in San Francisco. He was the treasurer of the first campaign to bring district elections to San Francisco.

Rivaldo was also one of the first political activists to make connections between the gay and the African American communities. He ran the campaigns of nearly every black politician elected to office in the 1970s and ’80s. In other words, his professional résumé was, by any standard, impressive.

But when you ask people today about him, what they remember most is his sense of humor, his passion for what he cared about — and the fact that he was, above all, a wonderful human being.

"He was such a great guy," said City Attorney Dennis Herrera, who hired Rivaldo to run his first campaign. "I think it’s a measure of the integrity of the man that everyone in town had a fond spot in their hearts for him."

"He had principles," San Francisco Information Clearinghouse activist Rene Cazenave recalled. "He was sort of a socialist, with a real understanding of class, and he really believed in it."

State senator Carole Migden said, "He was the sort of person who could cross all political lines. He was like a UN ambassador."

Rivaldo was born in Rochester, NY, in 1947. It wasn’t an easy place to be a young gay man, but he persevered, as he always did later in life, and wound up graduating from Harvard. He arrived in San Francisco in the early 1970s, just as the gay pride movement was getting into full swing, and quickly became a part of community politics.

He set up a political consulting firm when managing campaigns for money was still a new line of work — and quickly demonstrated that he had an innate skill for it. With Pabitch, he set up shop in a second-floor office in the 500 block of Castro Street and started promoting queer candidates as citywide contenders.

"He was the first one to use turquoise and hot pink for political fliers," Migden recalled.

And over the next two decades, as many of his industry colleagues began to make a lot of money — and some became very wealthy — Rivaldo always seemed to barely get by. After he and Pabitch split up he moved to a little office near City Hall and took on a string of candidates who were often barely able to pay their bills.

"He wasn’t the ruthless, get-ahead-at-all-costs type," Migden said. "That’s why he wasn’t rich."

I always liked talking to Rivaldo. He never called to talk trash about someone else. I didn’t always like his candidates, but I knew he always did; when he told me about someone he thought should be in office I always knew he was telling the truth. He actually cared about people and issues, and when things went badly (when, for example, a candidate he helped elect to the school board voted the wrong way on the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps and infuriated the queer community) he felt personally let down, just like the rest of us.

AIDS has ravaged his generation of gay men in San Francisco, and there aren’t many people left in politics who are links to the days of Milk, who can remember and tell stories of a time when the idea of a queer person serving at City Hall was considered an astounding breakthrough. And it’s in part because of him that San Francisco now has two queer supervisors, two queer state legislators, and queer representation at virtually every other level of government.

But I think the most remarkable fact of Rivaldo’s life is that he was such a decent guy that he could be friends with so many people who were so often at odds, often to the point of not speaking. He talked to Jack Davis and Tom Ammiano, to Migden and Mark Leno, to Terence Hallinan and Kamala Harris. They all liked him; they all respected him. They’ll all miss him. And so will I.

The truth about shelters


OPINION The San Francisco Chronicle‘s C.W. Nevius wrote an opinion column Oct. 18, titled “City’s Homeless Shelters Clean, Safe but Shunned When It’s Dry,” implying that the conditions throughout the San Francisco shelter system are uniformly in perfect order and that individuals experiencing homelessness are living on the street by choice. The facts, however, tell of a much different reality and of a shelter system that lacks a basic standard of care.

The Shelter Monitoring Committee (www.sfgov.org/sheltermonitoring), the body in charge of inspecting the city’s shelters and resource centers, recently found that two-thirds of sites did not have immediate access to basic hygiene necessities such as toilet paper in stalls, soap near sinks, and towels — items that many of us take for granted. From a public health perspective, providing these basic items not only helps prevent infectious and communicable diseases; they also represent the foundation for ensuring that our city’s most vulnerable populations are treated with dignity and care.

In January, in response to the lack of basic standards, the Shelter Monitoring Committee formed a work group to create a universal standard of care to address the health and hygiene concerns above as well as concerns regarding facilities and operations. The work group included shelter residents, service providers, advocates, and city departments.

Now being drafted into legislation, the standard of care will provide more than 35 basic, minimum standards in the 18 city-funded shelters and resource centers to ensure equal access for clients, regardless of their disability status or native language. In addition, clients will have expectations that can be met by providing the sites with the resources identified by the committee. These standards will make the sites more accountable to the city and to the people being served by supplying service providers with clear expectations and requirements. After implementation, the standard of care will address environmental health issues before they develop into worse conditions, thus protecting both homeless individuals and shelter site staff. One outcome of increased prevention is the reduction in the number of cases going to SF General and community clinics for treatment, creating fiscal savings that can be reinvested into much-needed services.

San Francisco needs to become the leader in inventive, forward-thinking homeless policy and as such needs to adopt a universal standard of care to meet minimum needs. According to the National Health Care for the Homeless Council, there are standards of care in multiple municipalities across the country, including Seattle, Norfolk, Va., and others, as well in states, such as Ohio.

The evidence is clear — it is time for San Francisco to support the basic needs of our most vulnerable populations. In a society of increasing economic inequity any one of us is one tragic experience away from being homeless. After nearly eight years of the George W. Bush administration and in the midst of a costly unjust war, San Francisco must take a stand to protect the seniors, veterans, and families who stay in our shelter system by ensuring that their basic needs are met and that they are treated with the respect, compassion, and dignity that they deserve as we help them back on their feet and into housing.

Tom Ammiano and Quintin Mecke

Sup. Tom Ammiano represents District 9. Quintin Mecke is secretary of the Shelter Monitoring Committee.


RECAP recap


› andrea@altsexcolumn.com

Dear Readers:

Since the major anticircumcision group is called, rather cleverly, RECAP (RECover A Penis), and since the letter below refers to an exchange in the column going back years, I think a recap might be in order. Way back when, I briefly shared the militantly anticirc bench with the rest of the loons, although I must admit I did not much enjoy their company. By the time I ran the original columns I’d — oh hell, here’s the original, slightly edited:

"I have actually put a great deal of consideration into my stance on circumcision, or rather, lack of one. Growing up Jewish among Jews, plus growing up American in an era in which American boys were just sort of automatically clipped, like Dobermans, I never really gave it much thought. Then I became a sex educator and a huge advocate of consensuality in all things … and developed a fairly militant opposition to cutting healthy parts off innocent children. Then I talked and talked with men and men … plus attended my nephew’s bris, which was lovely, and by the end I was all, ‘Huh. Well, this is problematic, but I think people are making too much of a fuss.’

"There’s no question that the procedure is both unnecessary and nonconsensual, and it’s obvious that the nerve-rich, self-lubricating, and glans-protective foreskin is meant to be there. But most men get along just fine without theirs … get plenty of pleasure out what they do have, and are able to leave behind whatever grievances they might have against their parents and the medical establishment."

While I’m waxing autobiographical, I’ll add that since I wrote that, I found myself rekindling a romance with my roots, having a nearly irony-free traditional Jewish wedding, and eventually not only agreeing to circumcise my son but basically insisting on doing so. I’m still against routine, pointless medical circumcision, but I don’t think I’d be welcome on the radical anti bench anymore. Sorry! Maybe Savage will sit with you. He’s interested in penises.



Dear Andrea:

I think it goes a lot deeper than that the sensitivity-loss issue alone. Having part of one’s sex anatomy removed without your consent can tap into some strong and perfectly valid feelings of violation. It can involve a lot more than a simple "OK, I have lost X amount of sensitivity, but hey, I can still enjoy sex, so no big deal." What does one do about feelings one is not supposed to be having and that nobody takes seriously?

I liked your statement about American boys being "automatically clipped, like Dobermans." I hope you can see how being treated like a dog can be somewhat dehumanizing. Sure, parents and doctors had the best intentions, and I suppose we can look at it as a medical mistake carried out when there was less medical information and less consideration for ethics and individual rights, but that doesn’t mean we have to take it lying down.

Sit idly by and accept that doctors continue to perform the same surgery on infants that should not have happened to me a couple decades ago without speaking up? I wish more people had spoken up then — maybe I might have escaped this needless surgery.


Another Concerned Penis Owner

PS Circumcision is apparently protective against HIV, and we all know Africans can’t possibly be educated and entrusted to use far more effective and far less invasive measures than surgery to avoid contracting the virus. I read a press release that actually listed circumcision first among a list of preventative methods: "All avenues and approaches toward prevention need to be pursued, including circumcision, condom usage and antiretroviral drugs…" I suspect that circumcision does not hold a candle to the efficacy of a condom or a sensible approach to sexual conduct. And what of education? That American doctors might start using this as yet another reason to circumcise babies (despite the fact that the United States happens to have one of the highest HIV rates in the modern world and by far the highest routine circumcision rates) is a whole other topic.

Dear Concerned:

Well, it is, and it isn’t. I think you’re having a perception problem. While you understand intellectually that routine circumcisions are in fact less common every year in the US, your intense investment in the subject is making it hard for you to see that there is no evil scalpel-wielding cabal for you to rally against. The American Association of Pediatricians is officially anticirc. Even I am on your side. You’re winning.

Africa is another question. The sad truth there is that no, education is not enough, and no, condoms are not enough. There has been no shortage of either, and still the epidemic rages. Right now circumcision looks good — very good — as an additional weapon (nobody’s arguing against education and condoms) against a disease that is wiping out villages and leaving generations of children to starve in the streets. Up against that, a foreskin really is just a few inches of expendable flesh.



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.

The story of Q


› sarah@sfbg.com

With just a couple of weeks to go until San Franciscans elect their next mayor, Quintin Mecke, the 34-year-old program director of the Safety Network, has emerged as Gavin Newsom’s top challenger.

Since declaring his candidacy, the fresh-faced Mecke has been endorsed by almost every significant progressive entity in the city, including supervisors Chris Daly and Ross Mirkarimi, BART board member and Livable City director Tom Radulovich, the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, the San Francisco Tenants Union, and the Guardian.

"Of all the mayoral candidates, Quintin has the longest record of working in the community and on important issues facing the city," said Daly, who was the first to publicly endorse the Pennsylvania native, shortly after Mecke declared his candidacy in August.

But despite his solid list of endorsers, Mecke hasn’t managed to raise much money. He didn’t come close to taking advantage of the mayoral public financing program created by Mirkarimi and approved by the most liberal members of the Board of Supervisors. Mecke said his late entry made it impossible to raise the required $25,000 (from at least 250 donors who could prove San Francisco residency) by the Aug. 28 deadline.

"Had I had more time, I don’t think raising the $25,000 is that much of a challenge," Mecke, a former Peace Corps volunteer, told the Guardian at the time. But two months later Mecke has only raised $11,203, with Sup. Tom Ammiano and former mayoral contender Matt Gonzalez respectively contributing $250 and $100, although neither has endorsed him yet.

With Newsom sitting on a $1.8 million war chest, Daly admits that it would take a perfect storm for Mecke to win.

"The incumbent would have to stumble between here and the finish line," said Daly, who toyed with running until Aug. 8, at which point Mecke dove into the race, challenging Newsom’s record on public safety, homelessness, and affordable housing — issues that Mecke has been intimately involved with since moving here a decade ago.

Mecke’s move to California came shortly after he survived a near-fatal climbing accident in Alaska, which shattered all of his teeth when he fell 40 feet off a glacier. The fall also saddled Mecke, who didn’t have health insurance, with $90,000 in medical bills.

"It was a humbling experience, but people have to take responsibility for the situations they find themselves in," said Mecke, who worked for Ammiano on arriving in San Francisco and has since worked on the Ammiano, Mirkarimi, and Gonzalez campaigns.

Mecke also helped found the South of Market Community Anti-Displacement Coalition, served as president of the Mental Health Association of San Francisco, and helped author a report on homelessness that led him to publicly debate then-supervisor Newsom over his Care Not Cash initiative.

"Accountability without support is a form of cruelty," Mecke stated in 2002, a belief he still holds as he tries, as a member of the Homeless Shelter Monitoring committee, to get the city to implement universal shelter standards.

"If you raise the quality of life and safety standards in the city’s shelters, then more homeless people will want to enter them," Mecke said.

Mecke, a Western Addition resident, believes in community-driven responses to crime and violence. While Newsom claims that black-on-black violence has decreased under his administration, Mecke counters that African Americans make up only 7 percent of the city population but constitute 60 percent of the homicide victims. He thinks we need a real community policing program.

"We have 10 fiefdoms, 10 police districts," Mecke said. "That means that the oft-touted and talked about idea of community policing doesn’t really exist."

Newsom campaign manager Eric Jaye claims the only thing he knows about Mecke is that "he opposed Care Not Cash and he is supported by Sup. Chris Daly.

"But his own record? That’s a little bit harder," Jaye continued. "Mecke works for a city-funded nonprofit, but ironically, he’s unhappy with the violence prevention work the city is doing. Presumably he’s running because he thinks he can do a better job, but we’re proud of our progress on universal health care, our work on climate protection, our civic efforts, the fact that the eviction rate has plummeted, and that there’s more housing and affordable housing in the pipeline than [under] any other mayor in recent history."

But Mecke points out that the city’s health care initiative was Ammiano’s brainchild and that Newsom failed to deliver on his "wi-fi for all" promise by stubbornly pushing a flawed proposal and refusing to engage with its critics.

"Newsom’s only successes are initiatives proposed and led by members of the Board of Supervisors," said Mecke, who accuses Newsom of "making every decision within the framework of a national model while promoting some future candidacy."

He faults Newsom for asking for mass resignations this fall and sees the fact that Newsom is raising piles of cash to defeat Proposition E, which would require the mayor to make monthly appearances before the Board of Supervisors, as further evidence of his cowardice.

"San Francisco need to demand of this race that there’s public accountability," Mecke said. "Newsom seems to fear any form of nonscripted public interaction. When you go to his fake Question Time–town hall meetings you don’t actually get to ask the mayor your own question. He selects what he wants to hear."



› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS I’m back in the woods! To get here I had to ask my ex-pickup truck one last favor: get me there. Here. It was the middle of the night. We were loaded down with all of my clothes and musical instruments, and I was singing (a capella, of course) that old World War II song "Coming In on a Wing and a Prayer."

Remember: my car dies every now and again for no good reason and stays dead for an hour or more at a time. First gear had been hit-or-miss for many months, then mostly miss. By the night in question it was a distant memory. But this was new: every time I turned on a turn signal the headlights went out, and I had to jiggle the doodad to get them back, in most cases before I killed any road signs or had a heart attack.

I patted my old ex-truck on the dashboard. "Come on, baby," I said. "We’re not into the woods yet."

It’s been a long time since I stopped all the way at a stop sign. Now I couldn’t signal my turns either. I’d gotten a hot dog in Petaluma, at a 7-Eleven, because nothing else was open and the last thing in the world I needed was to be pulled over by the cops on an empty stomach.

Before you get to the woods there are miles and miles of farmland. Small farms. In the daytime it’s bucolically beautiful. At night you can feel the weight of your own death, as real as the smell of cow shit. Mostly the farms are dairy farms.

The roads there are what I aspire to be: dark and curvaceous. There was a hot dog in my lap. Right when I started to lose my AM radio signal I felt a chill, so I turned on the heater, and the headlights went out.

I jiggled the heater thingy, and when that didn’t work I joggled the turn signal doodad, and when that didn’t work either I slammed on the brakes. The road was there, but I sure as hell couldn’t see it. The car stopped before hitting anything, but it stalled.

Then the lights came on. I was in the breakdown lane on the wrong side of the road. There were some cows on the other side of a fence, looking at me like I was flying saucers. I turned off the headlights, turned the key in the ignition, and it started. I tried to turn on the headlights, and the headlights came on.

OK. I was going to go the rest of the way without touching a thing, except the steering wheel and the shifter. And my hot dog. It was loaded with salsa, hot peppers, and pickles, most of which wound up in my hair and skirt.

If I’d known that my subletter had left behind a can of chili and a can of beans, I’d have saved the hot dog too for later. Of course, if I’d known that he’d also left behind three months plus of dirty dishes, a lot of little red beard hairs in the bathroom sink, and a good, thick carpeting of garbage across the wood floor of my shack, I’d have turned around and gone back to the city and put off my homecoming, or shackcoming, for another week or month. Or whatever, just so it was daytime when I arrived.

I told you I was dismantled. Well, I’m remantling. First things first: I made it back into the woods. For the first time since the end of June, I was home. There was the hammock, the bathtub, the chicken coop. The mess.

Second thing second, late afternoon the next day, while I was scrubbing and painting and vacuuming and scraping, Mountain Sam came over in Mountain Veronica’s car and gave it to me. I use the word gave because it makes them out to be exactly as heroic and generous and beautiful as these two are, but the journalistic fact is that they bartered it to me in exchange for services to be rendered later. I have to caretake their place and yard and hot tub while they are, indefinitely, somewhere else.

Sound nebulous? It is! Especially compared to a car. A less-than-10-years-old one, at that. Which is a first for me. Working horn, headlights, everything. How often does that happen? First gear …

As if I weren’t already blown away, there was more. They threw in sandwiches. Mountain Veronica had made us sandwiches, and Mountain Sam and I sat outside my old shack, in front of my new car, eating sandwiches and drinking sweet tea out of jars. *



› paulr@sfbg.com

Palencia so nicely fills such an obvious niche in the city’s restaurant universe that we are left only to wonder why it wasn’t filled sooner. The niche is white-linen or upmarket Filipino cuisine, and it’s an obvious one in the sense that the connection between the Philippines and the United States — the West Coast in particular — has been strong for more than a century. It’s at least as obvious in the sense that Filipino cooking, like Singaporean, is an interesting mishmash to begin with, an earthy yet worldly blend of Asian, tropical, and European influences that takes well to a bit of California-style styling.

The restaurant (a project of the Palencia family) opened over the summer on a — comparatively — quiet and leafy stretch of 17th Street in the Castro. The nearby buildings are mostly residential rather than commercial, and on an autumnal evening of early darkness you could easily walk right past Palencia. There is, as of yet, no street signage beyond a panel of frosted glass bearing the restaurant’s name, along with a sheaf of menus posted at the door. Restaurant rows do have their advantages, among them the slowing down of foot traffic as prospective patrons move from one threshold to the next, pondering menu cards and making sure not to miss any. But there is an exhilaration in finding a restaurant all on its own, as if it’s a secret.

Palencia’s interior design adds to the sense of elegant hush. A votive candle flickers on each table, and the restaurant’s butter-colored walls dance with suggestive shadows cast by these small brightnesses. Dark wood trim gives a hint of medieval flavor, while whimsical light fixtures that resemble woven baskets remind us that yes, we are still somewhere in the Castro early in the 21st century.

Chef Danelle Valenzuela’s food matches up quite gracefully with the atmospheric setting. If your experience of Filipino cooking has heretofore been limited to eating fancified lumpia at Pres a Vi or the various tasty but plain adobos ladled over white rice at New Filipinas, you’re likely to find that Palencia’s kitchen has caught just the right tone. The dishes appear to be, by and large, authentic, but they are carefully prepared and plated, with dashes of artful juxtaposition.

If you love lumpia (the plump little pot sticker–burrito hybrids) but suffer from fried-food anxiety, you might open with Palencia’s "fresh" version ($7.50 for two), which are almost like soft tacos: steamed crepes, about the size of hot dog buns, enveloping leaves of red leaf lettuce enveloping shrimp and shredded carrots and cabbage. The dipping sauce on the side looks like the spicy peanut kind but isn’t; it’s made of garlic and soy and has a viscosity like that of homemade mayo.

While I cherish soy sauce as a reliable fund of umami, I felt it played too prominent a role in the chicken adobo ($8), boneless thigh meat and potatoes stewed to aching tenderness in what was meant to be a lively bath of garlic, red pepper, vinegar, and bay leaf. The broth was tasty enough; it just tasted a bit too much of soy saltiness. But this small off note was struck on an early visit; when we returned some weeks later we found no such imbalance in any of the dishes.

The least fried seeming of the fried items is probably ukoy ($7.95), an array of shaggy-looking shrimp-and-vegetable fritters served with a mignonettelike dipping sauce whose vinegary sharpness helps cut the fat. Once you reach the main courses you’re largely past the perils of the deep fryer. Simmering is a large motif, even beyond the adobos; the tongue-twistingly named guinataang kalabasa at hipon ($11.25) is a Thai-like coconut-milk curry studded with prawns and chunks of kabocha squash, along with a shower of dark green Chinese long beans, like the remains of a splintered river raft. (Spanish speakers will notice that kalabasa is just a respelling of calabasa — "squash" — and of course the Philippines were a Spanish possession until the Spanish-American War of 1898.)

Also Thai-ish in tone is the BBQ chicken ($10.95) on a triad of skewers. The marinated flesh takes a nice blistering from the grill but remains juicy inside. For textural and flavor contrast the skewers are plated with a small heap of achara: threads of pickled carrot and papaya. We were offered white rice to go with this dish, asked for brown rice instead, and settled for garlic rice ($3.50). The garlic rice nonetheless turned out to be at least as brown as most brown rice, and quite a bit tastier. Scooped from its cantaloupe-size bowl, it made a nice bed for the chicken skewers and prawn curry alike and was quite good on its own.

Although in the matter of dessert I am now a subprime customer who as often as not is pleased to settle for some chamomile tea — or nothing at all — I still feel a slight thrill in proclaiming an excellent sweet. Palencia has one: it’s the sans rival ($8) and looks like a peanut butter sandwich sliced in half and sexily posed. In fact, the sandwich consists of two layers of cashew meringue, separated by a narrow stratum of vanilla buttercream. It’s unusual and irresistible; all it needs is a little color on the plate, a sprig of mint, a splash of berry coulis. A lump of vanilla ice cream, on the other hand — as accompanies the turón ($8), a pair of crisp-fried crepes stuffed with bananas and jackfruit — would be overkill, even rivalrous. *


Brunch: Sat.–Sun., 2–5 p.m. Dinner: Tues.–Sun., 5–10:30 p.m.

3870 17th St., SF

(415) 522-1888


Beer and wine

Moderately noisy


Wheelchair accessible

Door-to-door “education”



In “Door-to-Door Education” [10/24/07], we reported on a group called the San Francisco Homeless Services Coalition. Our story stated that 25 percent of the group’s income goes to overhead and in-kind donations. In fact, Daniel Rotman, the group’s director, says 10 percent of the income goes to overhead, 54 percent to “public education” (which includes door-to-door canvassing and fundraising), 13.5 percent to financial donations to local shelters, and 22.5 percent to in-kind donations. Our article also stated that the San Francisco Police Department was considering revoking the group’s charitable-solicitations permit and that department staff recommended the permit be revoked. In fact, the permit was extended for another six months while a decision on revocation is pending. The literature that the group was handing out early in its operation included the SFHSC name, address, and phone number.

› amanda@sfbg.com

While San Francisco’s problem of homelessness rages in the local streets and broadsheets, a Los Angeles–based organization that raises money for homeless people has set up a new shop in town. Situated in the high-traffic area of Seventh and Market streets, where the down-and-out regularly nap, panhandle, and hawk their wares, the San Francisco Homeless Services Coalition seems perfectly placed to lend a hand.

But a recent afternoon visit to its headquarters found the gate pulled shut, the door locked, and a person inside working at a computer while half a dozen homeless people loitered outside. Nothing, save a small piece of paper reading "SFHSC" posted in the window, indicated this was a place to give money or assist homeless individuals.

During another impromptu visit the gate was open and the room full of people — potential canvassers receiving instructions on going door-to-door to ask for $150 donations, which is how the group’s fellow organization, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Coalition, has raised more than $2 million in two years, according to its Web site.

When we asked for more information about the group, we were told it doesn’t print brochures or any kind of literature, in order to save money. A handmade business card with the phone number and Web site was given with an aside that we were "lucky to be getting that."

Concerns about the SFHSC have reached the San Francisco Police Department, which is investigating whether the door-to-door canvassers are carrying the proper identification and if that form of fundraising violates the group’s city-issued charitable-solicitations permit. The permit forbids soliciting within 10 feet of doors. A certificate of registration issued to the SFHSC on April 11 clearly states, "This does not authorize your organization to go door to door for solicitation. Public property only for charitable solicitation."

But the group has been knocking on doors in San Francisco for the past six months, telling people that "the best way to make a difference is by making a $150 tax-deductible donation," according to the script it gives its canvassers. It’s raised at least $100,000 so far in the name of helping the homeless, but its work has managed to alienate some of the local leaders it intended to support.

"There isn’t a relationship any longer," Erica Kisch, executive director of Compass Community Services, told us when asked about the three-month arrangement between the two groups during which the SFHSC agreed to donate 15 percent of its take to Compass. "We knew nothing about them. We met with the director. They said they were raising money for homeless services," Kisch said. "It was an opportunity, and it seemed aboveboard at the time."

Canvassers solicited with flyers clearly showing Compass’s name, federal tax-exempt identification number, and statistics but lacking the same details about the SFHSC. That caused concerned citizens to call Kisch. "We were getting inquiries from the community about what they were doing, their tactics. They were kind of aggressive, going up to people’s doors asking for a lot of money…. It wasn’t really clear to the people they were soliciting that money was going to direct services," she said.

In fact, most of it wasn’t. The SFHSC says only 15 percent of the money it raises makes it to the shelters and service centers. Most of the money raised goes to raising more money door-to-door — either to canvassers or their support staff — an effort the group calls "education." Kisch did some more research and ultimately decided "it wasn’t worth it to us to be attached to a controversial organization like that." Compass ended up receiving a total of $11,250 from the SFHSC.

Daniel Rotman, founder and executive director of both the SF and the LAHSC, said of the breakup, "Maybe they didn’t realize we’d be reaching so many people. I think we were just too new for them."

Rotman, a 27-year-old LA resident and UC Berkeley graduate with a degree in political science, used to work for the Democratic National Committee but decided politics wasn’t for him. He transferred the grassroots machinery of fundraising for politics to the particular issue of homelessness, he told us, "because I care. I’ve always been taken by the issue."

He confirmed to us that the SFHSC does not interface with needy folks — it just gathers money in their name. Homeless people who stop by the office are referred to other locations in the neighborhood and escorted out. Rotman said 15 percent of the net money raised is given to local groups, 60 percent goes to education, and 25 percent is for overhead, as well as a plan to buy delivery trucks for ferrying donated goods from homes to shelters.

"Our main goal is educating the community," Rotman said. "We don’t just raise money and give it to other groups. It costs money to set up speaking engagements and pay for field managers." But he admitted the SFHSC hadn’t done or set up any speaking gigs yet. The 10 to 11 canvassers employed at the SFHSC are paid minimum wage and earn a 30 percent bonus if they exceed a weekly office average. "They get that for going out into the community and informing people about the issue and about us. At the end we ask them to make a donation," Rotman said.

So the point of the canvassing is to educate, not raise money, but those who have received the pitch are dubious.

"It was not educational at all," one Bernal Heights resident said of her interaction with an SFHSC canvasser. "My husband works in that field, and I was surprised I’d never heard of them." She asked for a business card so she could do more research, but the canvasser had no printed materials. "Just a clipboard with names and addresses and a very vague petition." No envelope, no card, no pamphlet. "Basically, he was just asking for donations. I didn’t know what to think."

Besides the soliciting foot soldiers and an office at 1135 Market that’s so discreet it’s easy to miss, the group’s only public face is its Web site, www.sfhsc.org — a copy of the LAHSC site. "Who is homeless in San Francisco?" the Web site asks, but its answers don’t inspire a lot of confidence — they were clearly imported from our southerly neighbor. "50% of homeless adults are African American, compared to 9% of LA’s total population."

Paul Boden, executive director of the Western Regional Advocacy Project and former head of the Coalition on Homelessness, said he found out about the SFHSC from people who thought its canvassers were from COH. Boden, who’s been working on homeless issues since 1983, said none of his peers in LA had heard of the group, further raising his suspicions. "This group has to have one legitimate provider," Boden said. "One pimp group as the basis for all this funding — it’s a scam that’s as old as poverty."

Boden and Seth Katzman, director of Conard House, filed complaints with the SFPD that the SFHSC was vioutf8g the terms of its charitable-solicitations permit. An SFPD permitting officer confirmed the department had received concerned calls and a revocation hearing was held Aug. 15. Capt. Tom O’Neill said a backlog of work has kept him from releasing the final decision, but his staff has recommended the permit be revoked.

"Find out more before a gift is made," Bennett Weiner, chief operating officer of the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance, told us. He said legitimate nonprofits should make their annual report and other financial details publicly available and posted on a Web site.

And at the very least, they should have some flyers. "Not to have any literature available does raise potential concerns in donors’ minds," Weiner said. "It is something we encourage people to ask for."

Rotman told us the lack of literature was a fluke and the SFHSC always sends its canvassers out with four packets of envelopes to give to citizens. They’re required to knock on 75 doors, so it’s easy to imagine they might run out of envelopes.

The BBB also recommends that any such group be overseen by a board that meets three times a year, composed of at least five members, who should not make more than 10 percent of the organization’s total take. Rotman told us his board has three members — the IRS’s minimum legal requirement — and that he makes $36,000 a year. He could not provide annual reports or financial statements, explaining that the SFHSC is new and has had to rely on partnerships with fiscal sponsors.

Lisa Watson, executive director of the Downtown Women’s Center, said her group’s 17-member board of directors decided to terminate its relationship with the SFHSC after receiving $30,000. "Our board decided they didn’t think the canvassing was the way they wanted to go, because a certain percentage went to canvassing. Only a certain percentage went to us."

The LA Youth Network is the LAHSC’s current beneficiary, and director of administration Katherine McMahon expressed satisfaction with the relationship. "We work with homeless teens, and they’ve been an awesome advocate for us." The group has received more than $600,000 during the past two years.

Both Watson and McMahon said one of the benefits of the relationship with the LAHSC had been access to a new pool of donors, something that can be as important to many groups as money. "It’s more than raising money. Its building brand identity," Rotman said. In this case the "brand" is the problem of homelessness. "We have found more than anything that people in the community, based on our canvassing and talking to people one-on-one, there’s a general aggression from citizens and residents in the Bay Area towards the homeless." He wants to "talk to people on a one-on-one basis and say, ‘Hey look, it’s not necessarily what you think.’<0x2009>"

He said they’re raising empathy and support for public policy measures and "try to build up a little support for homeless services themselves." The SFHSC now partners with a different group every month, which will receive 15 percent of the net of its canvassing fruits.

"That specific setup, going door to door … this isn’t the way nonprofits in San Francisco raise money," Kisch said. "They’re pressing people to give $150 off the street. I would never give anyone that kind of money without more background on them. We were getting 15 percent after expenses. Where’s the rest of it going?"

Crazy quilt


› superego@sfbg.com

SUPER EGO I like weather. It’s everywhere this season. But it’s also all over the map: patches of drizzle here, swaths of squinty sunlight there, chilly threads of breeze, and a soft, wet batting of fog. Should someone call People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals on dog days? Are Indian summers racist? What color Converse matches my knockoff Burberry umbrella? Weather’s so confusing!

Fortunately, the forecast in Clubland is much more predictable: crazy, as usual. Partly rowdy with a high chance of gusty accordion and slight pratfalls on the runways. Now’s the time when dance floors get "wild" and club folks scramble like chipmunks to store up glowing insanity for the long winter ahead. I’m reminded of boob-tube scream queen Elvira’s immortal "Monsta Rap": "Somethin’ put his nuts on tha side of his head / What in the world were they thinkin’?" Below are some upcoming offbeat joys to enjoy.

PS Every day is Halloween, duh. Check out the Noise blog at www.sfbg.com/blogs/music for my depraved fright-night party picks.

Face the fear and drink it anyway! That’s my motto. It’s tattooed on my inner thigh, right next to a butterfly on a Harley, a rainbow of dancing M&Ms, and Tweety Bird pulling dental floss out of his ass with a pair of scalpels. I live for scary cocktail confrontations. But I’ve never quite been able to overcome my fear of clowns. It’s not so much the clowns themselves that terrify but the flesh-eating bacteria that live in their eyes and squirt out when they blink. Honk, honk!

Still, the line between a good night out and a full-on circus grows ever thinner with each new Burning Man, and circus-themed parties are starting to develop subgenres. For instance: Big Top, which successfully mixes double entendre (it’s a queer thing: "big top" — get it?) and three-ring silliness into one whapping flapdoodle of a monthly Sunday shindig. Promoters–club whores Joshua J and Rayza Burn, who fervently insist to me that they’re in no way "hot for clown," lay on the DIY pancake pretty thick. No slick fire-twirler troupes here — just a tipsy bunch of drag queens in rainbow fright wigs, guest DJs devoid of shame, and cross-eyed kids sporting giant shoes. Somehow it works. This month: a homo fashion costume ball with designer Kim Jones in the DJ booth.

I can’t tell you how to make money, but I can tell you that every time I hear the word milonga I pitch a yard’s worth of tango tent. Let’s pitch together — to the lively plucks and wheezes of local sensations Tango No. 9, an all-star Bay Area quartet celebrating the release of their self-released CD Here Live No Fish with a big ole Piazzola party at Café Cocomo (lessons luckily offered for us absoluto beginners). This is one of those nightlife events I occasionally recommend not because it’s going to be a drunken orgy of unfortunate plumbing leaks but because there’ll be an element of seductive danger. As in, how many heels will I break trying to get to the center of one of my several hot Argentine dance partners? Three licks.

"If there’s anything close to the authentic madness that is true Balkan partying in the Bay Area, it is us," Boban, promoter of the raucous quarterly Kafana Balkan party, told me over the phone. "People come to let it loose in true Balkan-region style. They get up the next morning, maybe with a little hangover, ha, and then they are refreshed in their daily maintenance of the machine." I should add here that Boban has the kind of deep, heavily accented, tinged-with-grins voice that could probably lead anyone into mountainous, oud-and-cümbüs-driven bliss. Lately, indie rock has embraced the Balkan spirits, but Kafana’s no mere Gogol Bordello–Beirut–Balkan Beat Box hoedown: DJ Zeljko brings the Rom and rakiya-fueled real, with selections from the likes of Boban Markovic Orkestar and Fanfare Ciorcarlia. It all whirls round in a carnivalesque atmosphere that includes clowns from Bread and Cheese Circus and live Bay Area Balkan band Brass Menazerie. Plus, Kafana’s a benefit for Humanitarian Circus, which performs for Kosovar orphans. Grab your dumbek and get — sorry — Mace-down-ian.

Vegan donuts are on fire. Nondairy sprinkles litter the runways; free-trade glazing greases the underground wheels of Monday nights. WTF? I’m talking about the sweet monthly Club Donuts, a manic multimedia fiesta that’s celebrating its hole–in–one year anniversary next month. Fab fashion shows, live bands, dance troupes, kitsch movies, and a hot mess on the dance floor have been Donuts’ delicious MO for a fat and fluffy year now, and the anniversary party promises to hit new monthly-Monday-night heights, with a live performance by Hey Willpower and DJs Calvin Johnson and Ian Svenonius joining resident Pickpocket on the decks. (It’ll be "ambrosial, ecstatic," the club’s breathtakingly hottt promoters Kat and Alison promise me. "Total visual and aural immersement, with lots of free vegan donuts.") Plus, you know, cute young Mission party artists. I’ll take half a dozen to go. *


Fourth Sun., 7 p.m.–2 a.m., $3


198 Church, SF

(415) 861-7499


Nov. 12, 9 p.m.–2 a.m., $8


3223 Mission, SF



Nov. 10, 8 p.m.–2 a.m., $10–$25, sliding scale

12 Galaxies

2565 Mission, SF




Nov. 4, 7:30 p.m. tango lesson, 8:30 p.m. performance and party

$15, $20 with lesson

Café Cocomo

650 Indiana, SF

Green City: Saving people and the planet


› news@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY The average young person doesn’t pay much attention to things like wind turbines and energy efficiency. Friends and family, yes. School or work, sure. Green technology? Probably not. And for youths in underserved communities, where violence and economic hardship are a backdrop for everyday life, the likelihood of thinking green is even lower.

Enter activist groups like the Oakland’s Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, and watch as things begin to change. Under the leadership of cofounder Van Jones, the Ella Baker Center has received widespread attention for its role in the development of the Oakland Green Jobs Corps program, set to begin in early 2008.

The Green Jobs Corps will provide training opportunities for hard-to-employ populations (read: at-risk youths, low-income people, and those formerly incarcerated) while supporting the development of a greener economy. It’s no small task. For decades the environmental community has looked for ways to make green relevant to marginalized communities. And it hasn’t been that successful. Ian Kim, campaign director for the Green Jobs initiative, says the program is significant in that it bridges the gap between the environmental and social justice movements.

"The connections are obvious once you start to look at them," Kim told the Guardian. "Just as there are no throwaway resources or species, there are no throwaway people or communities."

The Ella Baker Center has worked closely with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers to anchor a larger coalition of activists called the Oakland Apollo Alliance. Together, these groups are propelling the initiative forward. The collaboration is a significant one. Historically, labor activists and environmentalists have been at odds. The assumption: there can be good jobs or a clean environment, not both. Victor Uno, a spokesperson for the IBEW, says that dynamic is changing.

"We think it’s important to partner with community groups, and we need alliances with environmental groups," Uno said. "Economic growth is going to mean green jobs, and we’re working together to create opportunities for people who have been historically locked out."

The Green Jobs Corps program received $250,000 in seed funding from the Oakland City Council in June — part of $2.3 million of unspent settlement funds the city received after the California energy crisis nearly a decade ago. The program will be administered through Oakland’s Community Economic Development Agency, and job training will focus initially on renewable-energy technology and efficiency — a requirement of the settlement funds. Forty young men and women are expected to participate in the nine-month program, which includes six months of training, a three-month paid internship, and services like case management and job placement. Kim says the likelihood of participants obtaining well-paying jobs afterward is good.

"Green-collar employers have jobs that pay a living wage, have benefits and good working conditions," he said. "They offer career ladders and real pathways out of poverty."

While recruitment for the program has not yet begun, Kim is aware that the initial draw will likely be the word job and not the word green. Still, it’s progress.

"There’s no shortage of people looking for job training," Kim said. "It’s within the course of the program that they’ll receive education about environmental awareness and sustainability. We need to educate people where they’re at."

Late last month the Ella Baker Center took the Green Jobs training initiative to the national arena by launching the Green for All campaign.

"We have definitely realized the green job idea is too big for one organization or one group," Kim said. "It’s turning into a really big movement with a lot of players."

The launch comes shortly after Congress approved the Green Jobs Act of 2007 (HR 2847) as part of the proposed energy package. It is legislation that would direct millions of dollars toward green job training and is now awaiting approval or, more likely, a veto from President George W. Bush. Kim said defeat wouldn’t be a surprise.

"We’ll just come back next year," he said. "We’ll come back with more political will and more ideas. There’s a lot to look forward to."

Needed: a campaign against privatization


EDITORIAL It’s time for San Francisco to declare war on privatization.

The local threat is very real: as we reported in last week’s special anniversary issue, Mayor Gavin Newsom’s administration has moved to turn over a long list of city services — from housing for the mentally ill to the operation of the public golf courses — to the private sector. Should this happen, if history is any guide, the city would wind up losing millions, the quality of services would decline, and the economy would suffer as hundreds of well-paid, unionized employees lost their jobs.

Equally important, the public would lose control over the institutions that were and are created and run for its benefit.

Privatization is a recipe for corruption. There always has been and always will be some level of graft, corruption, and incompetence in government operations; there will always be the occasional city employee who sleeps on the job, fudges time cards, doesn’t do the job right, and somehow manages to avoid being fired. But that sort of small-time problem amounts to peanuts in comparison to what happens when large amounts of public money are turned over to the private sector.

Private companies are out to make profits — and for the most part they keep their finances secret. Many of the worst scandals in American history have involved kickbacks, backroom deals, and bribery aimed at sending taxpayer dollars into the coffers of big contractors, and these continue today. And the argument that the private sector is more efficient often turns out to be utterly false; the absolute worst waste of money in the nation’s health care system, for example, is the phenomenal overhead involved in private insurance plans. As much as 30¢ of every dollar spent on private-sector health care goes to administrative overhead and profit. The public Medicare system operates on about 5 percent overhead.

Of course, the public has no way of keeping track of where most of the private health care money goes; the insurance companies keep that information to themselves. So do most other private contractors that take public money. And even if you don’t like the way the system is managed, you don’t have much choice — insurance executives aren’t elected by anyone and aren’t accountable to the community.

San Francisco has a history of allowing private operators to take over public resources, and the results have been almost universally bad. One of the reasons the 1906 earthquake caused such devastation was that the private Spring Valley Water Co. — looking only for quick profits and not at long-term maintenance or service — failed to keep its pipes in good repair. When the city really needed water, to put out the postquake fires, it wasn’t available. That fiasco led city officials to develop a municipal water system, which now delivers some of the best, cleanest, and cheapest water in the country.

Of course, Congress gave San Francisco the right to build that water system, which uses a dam in Yosemite National Park, only on the condition that it also develop public electric power. Instead, in the greatest privatization scandal in the history of urban America, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. wound up initially controlling much of the output of the dam, and it still controls the city’s electric grid. The result: some of the highest electric rates in the nation and terrible, unreliable service.

San Francisco officials led the way to the privatization of the Presidio, turning over a national park to an unaccountable quasi-private board that operates as a real estate developer. The results: A giant commercial office complex, built with a $60 million tax break. Plans for high-end condos. Traffic problems, neighborhood problems — and a stiff bill to the city’s taxpayers, who have to subsidize private businesses that operate in a federal enclave without paying local taxes.

And if Newsom has his way, the pattern will continue: the mayor’s signature project this past year, for example, has been an attempt to let a private company control the city’s broadband communications infrastructure. Tens of millions in city contracts go every year to private nonprofits that fight like hell to avoid sunshine and accountability.

Enough is enough — San Franciscans of every political stripe need to organize to fight back. This city needs a new political coalition, a campaign against privatization.

There are all sorts of specific policies and legislation that ought to be on the agenda. For starters, privatization expert Elliott Sclar, a Columbia University economist, argues that any private business that takes city money to provide public services ought to be required to abide by open-government laws. That means every scrap of information related to that contract — including financial projections, executive salaries, profit and loss statements, and operating overhead figures — would be public record. All meetings of boards, panels, or other policy-making entities involved in managing the contract would be open to the public. If a private business doesn’t want to abide by those rules, fine; it can stick to private-sector work and stop bidding on government contracts.

Beyond that, the city needs to set up a task force to look at every private contract San Francisco hands out and determine why the city isn’t doing the work itself. If selling electricity is so profitable (and it clearly is, or PG&E wouldn’t be fighting so hard to keep its illegal monopoly), why can’t the city take over the job and bring in some revenue? If there’s money to be made building bus shelters and selling ads on them — and clearly there is, since Clear Channel Communications, a giant private company, went out of its way to get a contract with the city to do so — why can’t San Francisco make that money for the General Fund? If a private company can make money running the golf courses, why can’t the city?

Sure, there are times when it makes sense to bring in an outside contractor. We’d argue, for example, that the Board of Supervisors needs an independent budget analyst, not tied to City Hall, to monitor budgets and spending. But there are millions of dollars going out City Hall’s door every year to private outfits that aren’t accountable to the public. And there are millions of dollars that ought to be available for badly needed public services that the city is losing because some private operator is making a profit on public resources.

Organized labor has every reason to oppose privatization and ought to play a lead role in creating a new coalition. So should the public-power coalition and the folks who have been demanding sunshine for the nonprofits. But everyone who uses public services and pays taxes in San Francisco is affected when city money gets stolen, wasted, or diverted. It ought to be a broad-based coalition.

There’s an opportunity to turn things around here and make San Francisco the model city that it ought to be. There’s no time to waste.

Thinking big with Vig



All of my prior attempts to write about The Monastery: Mr. Vig and the Nun came to a screeching halt on describing the physical presence of the man at the documentary’s center, Jørgen Lauersen Vig. The sullenness of Vig’s features (accentuated by long white hair that, together with an outrageously wild-looking beard, forms a halo of sorts around his face) and his tall, slender, and raggedy-clothed figure cause him to resemble a hero from a novel by Nikolay Gogol. But unlike the Russian writer’s characters, Vig is very much real. His harsh, imposing appearance is hard to overlook.

The enigmatic Vig’s attachment to the run-down castle he’s determined to convert into a monastery only adds to his mystique. The Monastery‘s basic scenario suits its crude aesthetics. As if the presentation of a hard-boiled, aged man who spends his days alone in his slowly decaying shelter weren’t enough, the documentary’s rough human and physical landscape is completed by Sister Amvrosija, the leader of a delegation of nuns that the Russian Patriarchate sends to Denmark in order to evaluate the castle and help with its renovation.

Clad in her long black gown and immersed in her ascetic ways, Sister Amvrosija is as stubborn and opinionated as Vig. Filming their difficult coexistence with a sometimes unobtrusive and other times questioning camera, Danish filmmaker Pernille Rose Grønkjær clearly intends to add a bit of lyricism to this true story. She observes as the childlike energy and enthusiasm that the octogenarian initially brings to all of the bureaucratic and material needs of his estate give way to stronger displays of frustration. It’s clear that the numerous confrontations Vig has with Sister Amvrosija are gradually wearing him down.

Although Vig’s initial motives for forming a monastery are hard to comprehend (at one point it’s even suggested that he turned to the church as a source of free labor), it becomes evident that he urgently wants to create something enduring. Grønkjær’s film reveals a sensitive person in great distress. Faced with the revelation that fighting his mortality is hopeless, he reevaluates (and sometimes even shows signs of regretting) his past and is under the painful and somewhat false impression that he’s emotionally crippled. This man — fierce looking, socially awkward, romantically immature, with the temperament of a little boy — is one of the most fascinating and inspiring characters to emerge from a film in some time.


Oct. 26–31

Roxie Film Center

3117 16th St., SF

(415) 431-3611


See Movie Clock at www.sfbg.com

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

Gavin Newsom will never live down his drunken affair with a close friend’s wife. It’s not a factor in this year’s mayoral race (which shows that San Francisco still has some class), but it’ll come back to haunt him someday, when he runs for governor or senator or wherever he goes next. Bill Clinton’s got the same curse — for all the good and bad things he did as president and everything he’s done since and will do, when he dies the world’s most famous blow job will be in the first paragraph of his obituary. Dumb stuff never goes away.

On the other hand, Clear Channel Communications is one of the most evil corporations in the United States, a sleazy outfit that is trying to destroy radio here and has gone a long way toward monopolizing the industry. Clear Channel treats its workers badly and is notoriously antiunion. It’s the worst sort of unaccountable conglomerate — many of its radio stations operate on remote control, with virtually no local staff, and it’s almost impossible to get through to anyone at corporate headquarters in San Antonio. Lowry Mays, its chairperson, is a big contributor to the Republican Party and to right-wing causes.

And yet none of that stopped the Board of Supervisors from giving Clear Channel tentative approval for a lucrative contract to build and sell ads on bus shelters in San Francisco. The whole thing annoyed me. If there’s so much money in bus shelters, why can’t the city build them and sell the ads and make some cash for the General Fund? But that aside, I have to ask: Why are we doing business with these people? Shouldn’t corporations, which want to be treated legally the same as individuals, be held accountable for their actions and their history?

At least Sup. Tom Ammiano brought up some of Clear Channel’s record. Some labor leaders tried to scuttle the deal. But the bus drivers’ union really wanted the contract approved, because Clear Channel will dump a bunch of money into Muni, so it went through, 9–1, with only Sup. Ross Mirkarimi opposed (and Sup. Chris Daly absent).

Then there’s Sutter Health.

On Saturday, Oct. 20, when nobody read the newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Sutter is going to effectively shut down St. Luke’s Hospital in the Mission by turning it into an ambulatory clinic with an emergency room. No hospital beds, no place to put very sick people, nothing resembling the sort of service the district has counted on for decades. Instead, Sutter — which is allegedly a nonprofit but acts like a rapacious and greedy corporation — is going to stick San Francisco General with all of the uninsured sick people in the southeast neighborhoods while it gussies up its properties in the wealthier northern part of town.

The nurses have had to go on strike to demand better care for patients at Sutter. Even Mitch Katz, the city’s public health director, who is not known for blasting the private sector, has complained loudly that Sutter is doing a disservice to San Francisco.

And while all of this is going on, this allegedly nonprofit behemoth wants to build a $1.7 billion, 425-bed hospital at the old Cathedral Hill Hotel site at Van Ness and Geary.

Sutter only likes sick people who have good health insurance or are rich enough to pay cash. Perhaps the supervisors can remember that and hold these assholes accountable when they come to City Hall for a building permit.

Urinal kinds of trouble


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

William E. Jones’s documentary triptych Massillon came out in 1991 — a landmark year for queer film — yet it didn’t receive near the popular attention given to Poison, another narrative three-way that is the arguable flagship of the new queer cinema. It’s no real surprise, since Todd Haynes’s impish and emotional experiment — as well as most other queer films associated with the early ’90s — has a drama, not to mention a generous degree of hanky panky, that Massillon eschews.

In an article by Jenni Olson included on Jones’s Web site, Jones likens his approach to that of new German cinema’s Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet in Too Early, Too Late, pointing to that 1982 film’s materialist renunciation of "seduction or false spectacle." Even when detailing an abrupt advancement in his sexual education, courtesy of a public restroom, Jones speaks in a near-comical, and surely defiant, soporific tone as his camera lingers on the restroom’s exterior. If not for the frank narration and the conspicuous level of attention evident in Jones’s static townscapes, it would be hard to distinguish Massillon (though kitsch is nowhere in sight) from an old high school slide show of some prosaic industry. The film has nothing so attention grabbing as the theatricality of Derek Jarman’s Edward II or Tom Kalin’s Swoon, the literate romanticism of Christopher Munch’s The Hours and Times, or the cuddly nihilism of Gregg Araki’s The Living End. In fact, even though it’s a balls-out investigation of sex in the margins, its distinguishing audaciousness lies in its presentational chastity.

Working its way from the personal to the legal to the historical, the film is divided into a trio of corresponding sections. The "Ohio" section overlays images of quiet roads and the architectural husks of the once-thriving industrial town of Massillon, where Jones grew up, with a narrative mapping his sexual development; "The Law" is a brief and perhaps overly dry summary of American sodomy laws, tied to obvious but compelling shots of various legislative buildings; and "California" attempts a genealogy of queer marginalization — making it a filmic cousin of Mike Davis’s chapters on early Los Angeles boosterism in City of Quartz (Verso, 1990) — that examines the ways that nonnative values, traditions, and other guidelines for self-identification are bred into the framework of planned Southern California communities.

Much of Jones’s work has an air of intended distance — it can range in effect from the warm, generous irony of 1997’s Finished to the sensual parsimony of 2004’s too-tentative Is It Really So Strange? — but his new film, also screening this week, is so detached that he didn’t even make it. (His Web site bills the project as "a document presented by William E. Jones.")

In his research for a planned documentary about the 1962 convictions under state sodomy laws of men engaged in public sex in a Mansfield, Ohio, restroom, Jones came into possession of 16mm surveillance footage captured from behind a two-way mirror. This footage is being presented with minimal editing as Tearoom. What is on offer here is a fascinating and important historical document of societal and particularly sexual repression and the stone-faced, eyes-on-the-door gay subculture it created. The film is at once much less viewer friendly than Massillon (the best-kept secret about cruising is the dullness factor) and much more in step with contemporaneous American media consciousness, thanks to the recently exposed indiscretions of so many throbbing pillars of moral authority.

Ted Haggard, Mark Foley, and Larry Craig, all subjected to the philosophically corresponding charges of both the right and the left, have provided an unbeatably complex backdrop for the viewing of Tearoom. The dichotomy between oppressor and oppressed is now shakier than ever, and to watch the film is to be torn between angered solidarity with the subjects and feverish speculation about the varying levels of hypocrisy on view. There’s a queasiness too in further exposing men — the younger of whom are still alive — who didn’t ask to be surveilled then and may very well not want to be celebrated now. The film’s moral ambiguity puts it on board with the new queer cinema’s ambivalence. *


Tearoom Fri/26–Sat/27, 7:30 p.m.; Massillon Sun/28, 7:30 p.m.; $6–$8

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts screening room

701 Mission, SF

(415) 978-2787


Silencers, please


The James Bond movies had a cultural impact like no other film series in the 1960s, spawning umpteen imitations, from cheap Europudding productions (the ones directed by Mario Bava and Jess Franco are quite delightful) to Hollywood spectaculars. There were rival series too. The most popular — and critically loathed — starred Dean Martin as Matt Helm. In Donald Hamilton’s original books Helm is a tough customer involved in relatively realistic adventures. But the Helm movies — the prime inspiration for Austin Powers — are consummate ’60s expressions of Playboy middle-class-male masturbation fodder, surrounding the leather-skinned, martini-slurred star (Martin’s line readings often suggest he’d been propped up for the take) with chesty starlets half his age, clad in the loudest possible peekaboo showgirl or allegedly mod attire.

As pungently nostalgic as a lapful of spilled Old Spice, 1966’s The Silencers at one point has the relatively mature Cyd Charisse (singing voice dubbed by Vicki Carr) performing a nightclub number. She wears a flesh-colored body stocking adorned with black suction cups that have what look like deflated yellow condoms dangling from them. Our hero delivers wheezy bons mots — more like bones mots — while fending off bombshells, including his secretary Miss Lovey Kravezit (Beverly Adams). Ever the gent, he asks each eager beaver if she has been vaccinated. Elevating matters somewhat is the presence of Stella Stevens as Gail, a haplessly klutzy tourist inadvertently pulled into Helm’s bullet-dodging realm. Her wide-eyed, good-natured screwball turn brings a little heart into this silicone fantasy — even if the movie insists on finding ways to humiliate her.

Dino’s Helm weaved his unsteady way through three more adventures. Murderer’s Row at least has Ann-Margret in a great go-go dance wig out on the hippie discotheque floor. Anyone reckless enough to watch all four garishly remastered features collected in Sony Pictures’ Matt Helm Lounge DVD set (guilty as charged) is going to lose more brain cells in approximately seven hours than Martin did in, er, an average week.


Fri/26, 6:30 p.m., $10 donation (free for members)

Mechanics’ Institute

57 Post, SF

(415) 393-1000


Torn apart


› cheryl@sfbg.com

Let’s start with the Ian Curtis dance. Part march in place, part ecstatic flail, it conveyed the singer’s trancelike connection to Joy Division’s music; it also eerily echoed the epileptic seizures he began suffering at age 21, just as his band was becoming famous. If you don’t have the Curtis dance down — let alone his gaunt frame or haunted eyes — you don’t have Curtis.

Fortunately, Control director Anton Corbijn — making his feature debut after a long career photographing musicians including Joy Division — found Sam Riley, an unknown who more or less resembles Curtis physically. But beyond that, the performance is uncanny — the dance is there, along with the anguish and the hunger of a first-time lead actor anxious to do right by the star he’s portraying, not to mention his own career. Apologies to Joaquin Phoenix, but imitation isn’t always the best route. If you want to make your troubled-artist biopic feel authentic, the spirit of desperate urgency is well in order.

Of course, Johnny Cash lived a long life; post-punk poster child Curtis only lived to be 23, though he packed a lot of drama into his adult years. Control swoops in circa 1973; we first meet Curtis as a David Bowie–obsessed, William Wordsworth–quoting, dreaming-of-a-way-out-of-Manchester high school student. Soon after, he marries Deborah Woodruff (Samantha Morton), and the film hustles ahead to Joy Division’s formation, with early gigs, recordings, and a performance on Tony Wilson’s Granada Reports TV show (sparked when Curtis passes a note to Wilson urging him to book the group in so many words: "Joy Division you cunt"). Though Control is based on Deborah Curtis’s biography of her husband, Touching from a Distance (Faber and Faber, 1996), the film devotes ample attention to dynamics within the band, with Factory Records mogul Wilson (Craig Parkinson), and with manager Rob Gretton (Tony Kebbell). Concerts are re-created with keen realism, enhanced by Corbijn’s decision to shoot in no-frills black and white, a choice that also complements the dreary, working-class surroundings that inspired the band’s music. (For more on Joy Division and late 1970s Manchester, check out Grant Gee’s richly detailed doc, Joy Division, which screened alongside Control at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival and should be hitting theaters in 2008. Or there’s always Michael Winterbottom’s 2002 goofy-insane look at the Manchester scene, 24 Hour Party People.)

The heart of Control, though, is Curtis’s tangled home life. After impulsively marrying at 19, he tries to fit the role of dutiful family man, even keeping his desk job (while wearing his coat with "HATE" written on the back) as Joy Division takes off. Deborah gives birth to Natalie, and despite his intentions of doing the right thing, Curtis can’t help but fall for Annik Honoré (Alexandra Maria Lara), a bewitching journalist who’s portrayed as sympathetically here as any Other Woman could hope to be.

So yeah, you have your wife (whom you feel incredibly devoted to, despite everything), your mistress (whom you love more than anything), your burgeoning fame (which you’re not sure you want), and a mysterious disease that requires you to take so many pills your sense of self is completely compromised. What do you do? Everyone knows what happened to Curtis, and while Control — beautifully filmed and performed — can’t quite crack his entire enigma, it’s almost enough that it hints at answers. Control‘s final shot, a haunting image as gorgeous as it is morbid, is a lingering wonder. *


Opens Fri/26 in Bay Area theaters

See Movie Clock at www.sfbg.com

Airlines demand corporate welfare


› news@sfbg.com

The major airlines that serve the Bay Area, with the help of the Hotel Council of San Francisco, are trying to get out of paying millions of dollars in taxes to the city by claiming the right to use a law that was designed to help San Francisco’s poorest residents. And they’re threatening to prevent their employees from staying in the city if the Board of Supervisors doesn’t acquiesce to the corporate welfare demand.

At issue is the city’s 14 percent Transient Occupancy Tax, which is paid by hotel guests. It is the third-largest source of local tax revenue, after property taxes and payroll taxes, bringing in $177 million in the last fiscal year. The only major exemption from the tax is for permanent hotel residents, generally those on the brink of homelessness who live in the run-down single-room-occupancy hotels for months or even years on end.

Major airlines house hundreds of their employees in San Francisco’s hotels each night. They are arguing that because of past court rulings on corporate personhood — in which judges have deemed that corporations have the same rights as individuals — the airlines should be exempt from paying the tax when they rent blocks of rooms for their employees.

The airlines, in collusion with some hotels in the city, have long used the exemption to avoid paying taxes on many of the rooms they rent (about two-thirds, according to the Hotel Council, which translates into millions in lost city revenue every year). A few years ago city officials told the corporations that the exemption didn’t apply to them and that they should be paying the tax.

Enacted in 1960, the Permanent Resident Exclusion exempts from the tax individuals who occupy or have the right to occupy the same hotel room for at least 30 consecutive days. “We looked at the legislative history, and it was clearly put there to help formerly homeless people,” Treasurer José Cisneros told the Guardian. “The city has always said that 30 consecutive one-night stays are not the same as a 30-night stay by an individual.”

The hotels and airlines challenged that interpretation and had their case thrown out of court. So now they’ve turned to the Board of Supervisors in the hope that they can win this chunk of corporate welfare by using threats of an economic exodus.



In October 2004, American Airlines and the San Francisco Hilton filed a lawsuit against the city arguing that airline crew members staying in San Francisco hotels qualified for an exemption from the hotel tax. The lawsuit was dismissed in May 2006 without going to trial, with Superior Court Judge James Warren ruling that the plaintiffs “did not assert and did not present any evidence that any particular room at the Hilton was continuously registered to American Airlines for more than 30 days.”

To clarify any ambiguity in the law, Cisneros in May issued an interpretation stating, “Although an agreement between a person and a hotel may require that the person pay the hotel for a minimum number of ‘guaranteed’ daily reservations for the person’s employees over a period of time longer than 30 days, such an agreement does not create any permanent resident exemption for any guest rooms unless the above criteria are satisfied,” referring to criteria that include “a person is a registered hotel guest” and “that person or any of that person’s employees continuously occupy or have the right to occupy the same room for 30 days or more.”

Yet now, at the request of Sup. Michela Alioto-Pier, the Board of Supervisors’ Government Oversight and Auditing Committee has scheduled a Nov. 19 hearing for the purpose of “explor[ing] the unintended consequences of this decision, including the loss of revenue to the City when the airlines inevitably move their crews to another location in the Bay Area where room rates are more competitive.”

That implied threat comes from Hotel Council executive director Patricia Breslin, who paints a doomsday scenario if the airlines have to pay the hotel tax on every room they rent. Breslin warns that if the Board of Supervisors does not offer concessions to the airline industry, it could bring about an “economic tsunami” that would hit hotels, restaurants, and city government.

Airline employees occupy an average of 1,050 hotel rooms per night in San Francisco, according to Smith Travel Research, an information and data provider for the lodging industry. Given that the tax is collected by the hotels, Cisneros doesn’t have data on how much the airlines should be paying the city. But assuming the airlines negotiate rates of about $100 per night, that would translate into more than $5 million per year.

“We pushed so hard to get them to pay it that they sued us,” Cisneros told us.

Breslin said the airlines have been paying about $1.7 million per year in hotel taxes and that sales taxes generated by airline employees bring another $1.4 million into the city, all money that would be lost if the airlines go elsewhere. She said the airlines have threatened to begin putting their employees in hotels in Peninsula cities near the airport, like Burlingame, San Mateo, and even San Jose, to cut costs. Already Mexicana Airlines has stopped using San Francisco’s hotels for its employees. Other airlines, such as Virgin Atlantic, United, Cathay Pacific, and Lufthansa, have threatened to follow suit.

Breslin said hotels would be forced to lay off cleaners, servers, and other low-income workers due to the loss of business that would accompany the exodus of airline employees. San Francisco, she argues, would “lose a significant revenue stream” if the airlines lose their appeal.

“It will change the economics of San Francisco,” she told us. “This is not a frivolous issue.”



Granting the exemption would cost the city millions of dollars, but that isn’t the only reason being offered for opposing the gambit. Some city officials simply don’t believe the airlines — or their employees, most of whom are union members, many of whom have contracts specifying their accommodations be in urban centers — will abandon San Francisco.

Sup. Chris Daly, who is on the Oversight and Auditing Committee, is against granting the exemption to the airlines. “They blow smoke all the time,” he told us, referring to major industries such as the hotel and airline industries. “That’s how they get away with not paying taxes.”

Cisneros argues the airlines’ threat to move their employees into suburban hotels isn’t logical, noting that San Francisco hotel rooms are already far more expensive than their suburban counterparts — with or without the hotel tax — and the airlines have always chosen to keep their employees here anyway.

“I just don’t think the threat is realistic at all,” Cisneros said. “If they were basing their decision on which hotels are cheapest, they would have never been staying in San Francisco.”

Recently compiled data and trends in tourism and hotel occupancy rates also suggest that Breslin’s warning of a crippling economic backlash are unfounded. According to an August article in the San Francisco Business Times by Ryan Tate, “Next year promises to be by far the most robust for leisure and business travel in San Francisco since the dot-com boom.”

He continues, “Convention business will reach more than 900,000 hotel rooms in 2008, well above the 740,000 room nights booked by conventions in 2007.” The San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau forecasts that overall tourism will top 16 million visitors next year and that visitor spending will exceed last year’s record $7.8 billion.

The taxes the city collects from hotels go toward funding a wide range of public services. Some of the money is earmarked for the Convention and Visitors Bureau and for maintaining convention facilities. Some funds are allocated for low-income housing and rent supplements. The War Memorial Department, the Asian Art Museum, and the Arts Commission all receive funding through the hotel tax as well, with excess dollars poured into the city’s General Fund.

San Francisco’s tourism industry is the city’s largest industry and its second-largest employer, after the city and county government. “You want to make sure your number one industry is protected,” Breslin told us.

Yet the policy that she’s asking the city to enact runs counter to the policies in other major cities, including those thought to be less politically progressive than San Francisco. In Los Angeles, for example, only individuals can be granted exemptions from paying the hotel tax. In Chicago the exemption is even stricter and only applies to people who use hotel rooms as their domicile.

Bubblegum and barbed wire kisses


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Somehow it seems morbidly appropriate that a band like the Jesus and Mary Chain would reappear in a year that has witnessed the sad demise of country tunesmith and pop maverick Lee Hazlewood and the grisly murder trial of überproducer and pop maverick Phil Spector. Siblings straight from a David Cronenberg film, William and Jim Reid had an obsession with classic pop music matched only bya lugubrious death drive. From their earliest three-song sets in Tottenham Court clubs to their studio squabbles at the aptly titled Drugstore to their final onstage collapse in 1998, the Reids always closely chased the black shroud of Thanatos.

"The Mary Chain used to regularly get their heads kicked in at that time," Creation impresario Alan McGee recalled, half boasting and half lamenting the group in a recent Q magazine interview. The JAMC "just brought out the violence in people." Whether with the premature effects of Vox guitar feedback or the cheap lager and drugs overrunning their native East Kilbride, the Mary Chain seemed almost religiously intent on martyring themselves like their titular messiah.

To paraphrase the Nicene Creed, the brothers Reid suffered, died, and were buried in 1998, but at Coachella 2007 they rose again in fulfillment of the scriptures and ascended onto the desert stage. They were seated at the right hand of nubile starlet Scarlett Johansson, who sang backup vocals on "Just like Honey." Thence they shall come again, with glory, to judge the noisy and the acoustic. And their distortion shall have no end.

But enough of the requisite Catholic allusions. Though the barbed wire–and–bubblegum magnum opus that was 1985’s Psychocandy (Blanco y Negro/Warner Bros.) may well have ossified their legendary status in the underground pantheon, the JAMC released a half-dozen albums’ worth of blistering pop — some absolutely classic (1987’s Darklands, 1992’s Honey’s Dead, 1994’s Stoned and Dethroned [all Blanco y Negro/Warner Bros.]) and others of lesser beauty (1989’s Automatic [Blanco y Negro/Warner Bros.] and 1998’s Munki [Sub Pop]). Their sonic palette grew more nuanced than that of the screeching distortion of their debut. It was as rich and varied as those of forebears Spector and Hazlewood, metamorphosing from the girl-group rhythms on "Just like Honey" into the brittle balladeering of "Almost Gold" and the stoned country bliss of "Sometimes Always." Their evocation of ’60s psychedelia, twisted with an insouciant outlaw pose, launched as many garage-punk imitators as did the Velvet Underground. Along the way the Reids incited onstage riots and nearly killed each other in countless drunken scraps, but the notoriety only increased their popularity in the press, bankrolling the fledgling Creation label and inventing the quintessential ’80s genre of shoegaze.

Most critics cite the end of the band as the effect of a fraternal enmity equaled by the brothers Davies or Gallagher. But all of the excesses born of the ’80s — stormy collaborations with shady promoters, narcotized scenesters, and the maddest label bosses — seem immaterial compared to the ’90s alternative rock takeover that finally relegated the Mary Chain to a side-walking anachronism.

A cynic might wonder if the sudden reconciliation between the brothers might not have money as the bottom line. Neither Jim’s solo work as Freeheat nor William’s as Lazycame has garnered much critical or commercial attention, and in the intervening decade both men have settled down to marry and raise families. The new Mary Chain appears to be a matured set of blokes, complete with receding hairlines and bloat, not given to the temptations of lager binges or pissing matches — possibly a reason that Primal Scream hell-raiser Bobby Gillespie wasn’t redrafted on the snare. According to early word, set lists have included tracks from the band’s 21 Singles collection (Rhino, 2002), which seems equally sensational and innocuous. Is the Mary Chain cashing in on the latest wave of rock nostalgia or is there still a violence simmering in the Reids that snakes like the whine of William’s fuzz box? If they promise to dust off "Kill Surf City," all will be forgiven. Amen. *


Fri/26–Sat/27, 9 p.m., $40


1805 Geary, SF


The red and the white


› paulr@sfbg.com

In the pot-hazed precincts of bohemia, anything seems possible — and is that furtive person in the corner actually pouring the remains of a bottle of red wine into a half-empty bottle of white? Could someone please phone the wine police? (Wine-1-1?)

Bohemian life has ebbed in this city, no question, but living splinters of it remain, mostly in rambling flats in the Mission. The furtive person wasn’t actually in the corner but at the refrigerator — bohemians have refrigerators now — and she wasn’t blending red and white wines like matter and antimatter in some apocalyptic Star Trek episode but reaching for a bottle of Peju Province’s Provence blend. It’s the red wine you chill, and that’s because it’s not red wine, properly understood, but a proprietary blend of merlot, cab, and zin, along with chardonnay and colombard. It also costs about $22 a bottle — or, in a barter economy, nearly a case of Two Buck Chuck — but one of the wisdoms of bohemia is that if you’re going to blow some cash, blow it on an experience rather than a possession. A bottle of wine is a possession, in a sense, but only briefly; it’s really more a bottled experience that, like a genie, we summon when we choose.

While the cork master worked her magic, Stendahl was discussed by we sofa surfers. The Red and the Black. I have long been struck by the stark Franco-Italian distinction between the colors of wine: noirnero versus blancbianco, black and white, one or the other, never the twain shall meet. Rosé, a possible exception, is basically neutered, or interrupted, red wine. The European versions and their domestic imitators can be a little austere and can taste rather strongly of alcohol, whereas the "white" wines made from red grapes — zin, cab, merlot — are friendlier but often too sweet and even, sometimes, fizzy, like soft drinks.

Peju’s blend is better than any of them. The wine has enough richness of color to convince, and while it’s light enough in body to benefit from chilling, it tastes more of fruit than of alcohol. It tastes, in fact, like a still version of cold duck, the sparkling party wine of yesteryear — and, as we discovered, it mixes well with talk about Stendahl. Bohemia lives!

Cheap, loud, and reunited


› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER Hey, dude, while you were busy abiding, you totally snoozed on last year’s Budget Rock Showcase. We came, we were conquered, we rocked, we rolled, we had joy, we had fun, we had seasons at the Stork. Oh yeah, and we wet our lips, shook our hips, and swore we’d never dip back into that pretty, pretty poison of a garage rock fest, yet said soiree kept dragging us back the weekend of Nov. 10, 2006, for more wonderfully ear-piercing, guitar-centered punishment from the Guilty Hearts, the Shrugs, SLA, the Omens, and the Original Sins, spotlighting a barefoot and blissfully uncontrite Brother JT singing an awesomely odd cover of "I Want Candy." All crack for the rawboned rock ‘n’ roll crank.

This year’s Budget Rock busts the bank with two reunions to squander your spare change on and write home to your pasty-faced, pageboyed collector head–fanbo about. Primo: Boston’s real punk lost treasures the Real Kids, now pushing fiftysomething and still playing the gloriously hook-laden songs off their 1977 self-titled debut (Norton). Yeah, they looked like the Ramones, but the Real Kids eschewed comic book music stylings for heartfelt, rockin’ teen angst more in line with early wavers like Eddie and the Hot Rods or Rockpile. They looked forward by stripping down and glancing back to teen dreams and prepube debauchery.

And yeah, most of their songs are about girls, but that doesn’t mean the tunes haven’t stood time’s tests, which is why pockets of fanatics can be found from France ("They like us and Jerry Lewis," vocalist-guitarist John Felice says) to Japan, especially since the Real Kids regrouped in 1999 to play the Purple Onion. The group is only now rebounding after a year and half of casts and three surgeries on Felice’s left hand, injured by years of playing and arthritis, but the Realest Kid is looking forward to meeting old fans like Rancid’s Lars Frederickson, who came out for their Onion show. "He turns out to be a big Real Kids fan. The first records he ever got, from his older brother, were a Ramones album, a Voidoids album, the Sex Pistols album, and the Real Kids album," Felice recalls. "We had an influence on him!"

Influence can go all sorts of ways. Secundo on the Budget Rock reunion tip are the Bay’s all-female garage punk–surf combo the Trashwomen, who haven’t played since ’95. Trashwomen drummer Tina Lucchesi — late of the Bobbyteens and co-owner of Oakland salon Down at Lulu’s — remembers the band as the brainchild of Phantom Surfer Mike Lucas back in 1991. Guitarist Elka Zolot was already in the punk band Eight Ball Scratch, but Lucchesi and bassist Danielle Pimm had never played before. So, Lucchesi confesses, her boyfriend Russell Quan, once of the Mummies and now of the Flakes, taught her to bash three weeks before their first show. "We were shitty, so shitty," Lucchesi remembers, though the band managed to generate a fun Estrus album. In the interim, she says, "I’ve learned a lot. I’m a better drummer now. We’re older now. We’re not little girls. We’re not young and out of tune." *


With the Trashwomen (Fri/26) and the Real Kids (Sat/27–Sun/28)

Call for times and prices

Stork Club

2330 Telegraph, Oakl.

(510) 444-6174



There can be such a thing as too much of a good time, attests Adam Stephens, 26, of Two Gallants, who call San Francisco home when they aren’t gallanting around the globe. The duo’s new self-titled Saddle Creek LP has got to be their best yet — and it’s their first working with a producer, Alex Newport, an experience that came with some tough love. "If he thought there was something inappropriate or inconsistent, he would point it out to us, which is really hard for us because Tyson [Vogel, the Gallants drummer] and I use our first takes as much as possible."

After their forthcoming shows at the Independent and a six-week European sortie, Stephens is finally hoping to chill out in the Bay. "When you’re touring as much as we are your sanity comes into question," the SF native admits. "I have a very deep love affair with the city, and after being gone so much I like to reexplore it. To me that’s a really peaceful, rejuvenating thing to do, just bike around the city all day and try to reclaim it." *


Fri/26–Sat/27, 9 p.m., $16


628 Divisadero, SF




Carve out a niche for There the Open Space (Misra). With Man Man. Thurs/25, 8 p.m., $13–$15. Slim’s, 333 11th St., SF. www.slims-sf.com


Electro über Alles. Fri/26, 10 p.m., $15. Mezzanine, 444 Jessie, SF. www.mezzaninesf.com


After delivering one of the best shows of 2005 at Bottom of the Hill, electronic-rock maestro Don Snaith, a.k.a. Manitoba, comes back with Andorra. Sat/27, 9 p.m., $13–$15. Slim’s, 333 11th St., SF. www.slims-sf.com


Tunes about pizza and the movie Twins. Sat/27, 2 p.m., call for price. Stork Club, 2330 Telegraph, Oakl. (510) 444-6174, www.storkcluboakland.com. Sun/28, 9:30 p.m., $7. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. www.hemlocktavern.com


Boasting a dynamic War Stories (Surrender All), the UK production collective makes its maiden live outing. Sat/27, 9 p.m., $20. Mezzanine, 444 Jessie, SF. www.mezzaninesf.com

When science attacks


› annalee@techsploitation.com

TECHSPLOITATION Two scandals rocked the sci-tech world last week. Not to put too fine a point on it, they reminded us that bad research and implementation can kill.

In South Africa, a widely used antiaircraft cannon called the Oerlikon GDF-005 suffered from what many observers believe was a computer malfunction, which killed 9 soldiers and maimed 15 in a training exercise. Its computer-controlled sighting mechanism went haywire, and the gun automatically turned its barrel to face the trainees next to it, spraying bullets from magazines that it automatically reloaded until it was out of ammunition. Many compared the incident to science fiction fare like Robocop or Terminator, in which military bots turn on their masters.

In the United States, James Watson, who won the Nobel Prize for helping to discover the double-helix shape of DNA, was suspended from his administrative duties at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory over comments he made to the London Times about how blacks are genetically hardwired with lower intelligence than that of other races. Watson has made comments like this about blacks (and women) throughout his career, but apparently this was the last straw. Reporter Charlotte Hunt-Grabbe, who says she has Watson’s comments on tape, quoted him saying he’s "inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa" because "all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours — whereas all the testing says not really." He told Hunt-Grabbe his "hope is that everyone is equal" but that "people who have to deal with black employees find this not true."

Nobody compared Watson’s racism to science fiction, though one could bring up Gattaca, Brave New World, or any other genetic dystopia where DNA warlords like Watson — whose employer controls millions in research money — have created a world where genes are destiny.

These two very different incidents demonstrate the fallibility of science and, more important, how the arrogance of scientists can be horrifically destructive. The tragedy in South Africa could have been avoided if the engineers who designed that cannon had simply refused to computerize its sight. With a big gun, computer error can be far worse than human error. Any decent engineer would have known that failure in computer systems is inevitable and come to the conclusion that weapons should not be programmed to function autonomously.

Watson’s remarks are another form of scientific arrogance that leads to gross and fatal mistakes. After all, Watson is hardly the first person to use genetics as a way to create false hierarchies of human beings based on "evidence" that some races and sexes are "naturally" superior to others. The history of biology as a discipline is riddled with racism and sexism. Eighteenth-century scientist Carolus Linnaeus, who invented the taxonomy of species we still use today, originally divided the species Homo sapiens into four racial subclasses: Americanus, Asiaticus, Africanus, and Europeanus. While Europeanus was "inventive," Africanus was "negligent." Even in the 20th century many geneticists endorsed the eugenics movement as a way to keep the species strong by preventing "dysgenic," racially mixed babies from being born.

Today leaders in the field of evolutionary biology like Steven Pinker and E.O. Wilson routinely say that people are hardwired to behave in certain ways based on their genetic heritage, which is often linked to their racial background or sex. "Scientific" studies on the genetic inferiority of female intelligence are what motivated former Harvard president Lawrence Summers to claim that there are so few women in science because they just aren’t smart enough.

So should a computerized gun run amok and a racist geneticist undermine our faith in science? Yes. People who build autonomous weapons systems know their work might kill people, but they do it anyway. And people like Watson derail brilliant research by bringing sex and race bias into the lab. Science is nothing more than the sum of what scientists do. Without ethics, science is no better than Christianity during the Crusades, a dogma that kills out of arrogance and prejudice. *

Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who knows that Rosalind Franklin discovered the structure of DNA.

Deth to false metal!


HORNS UP Dethklok, "the most brutal band in the world" and stars of Adult Swim’s juggernaut of animated murder, Metalocalypse, are touring in support of their recently released Dethalbum (Williams Street), which peaked at number three on the Billboard hard rock album chart and reached number 21 on the Billboard 200, making it the best-selling death metal album of all time. The fact that a cartoon band bested Slayer’s Reign in Blood (Def Jam, 1986) might bum out old-time metalists, but facts have to be faced here: not even Slayer are more brutal than the almighty ‘Klok. Even when tackling stand-up comedy or band therapy, they’re unquestionably dark and unrelenting (and hilarious).

Metalocalypse creator Brendon Small started playing guitar by learning the riff to Black Sabbath’s "Iron Man" and went on to Boston’s prestigious Berklee School of Music. He later took comedy writing classes at Berklee’s sister school, Emerson College, which led to stand-up and ultimately the Adult Swim show Home Movies. When that show was canceled, Small got together with his friend Tommy Blacha — "the only guy in comedy who would go and see death metal shows with me," Small told me over the phone during a recent San Francisco visit — and they came up with the following pitch: "We’ve got a TV show. It’s going to be about a metal band, and there’s going to be tons of murder. And we’re not interested in having anyone understand anything anyone says."

Metalocalypse openly acknowledges the humor inherent in the more-doom-laden-than-thou world of metal while paying homage to music that Small clearly loves and respects. "I look at it this way," Small said. "You go to a Cannibal Corpse concert, and they look like five serial killers onstage. And their songs are about murder, about how you — how you — are going to die. You’re in a pit of zombies, you’re bent over backwards, and you’re going to be fucked with a knife. And I’m, like, ‘Oh, fuck yeah.’ That’s the same kind of appreciation I have for horror movies. In a serious way and in a very kind of fun, audience way, where you see in a movie a face splatters, and the audience goes, ‘Yeah!’ It’s that kind of dynamic. There’s still a lot of people who don’t really get metal and kind of make fun of it. It’s like when you go and see a Broadway performance of Rent or Wicked or something. It’s like laughing at the fact that they learned their lines and got in character. It’s the same exact thing — these guys nail their parts."

Despite being anchored in an alternate reality where the most popular entertainment act in the world — and the 12th-largest economy — is a death-metal band, Metalocalypse is "not even about a metal band," Small said. Rather, "it’s about celebrityism. We’re making fun of celebrities and our country’s fascination with them." Small and Blacha use this allure to highlight the brutality of the everyday bummer. "It’s not ‘fucked with a knife’ or anything, but there’s shit that really fucks up your life all the time, and that’s fuckin’ brutal. Like, I don’t know…." He paused for a second or two before coming up with things that are truly inhumane: "Humidity. Going to the dentist. Going to the DMV. People not making up their mind in front of you at Starbucks. It’s fucking brutal. That’s all a metal song. Every one of those are lyrics."


With … And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead

Nov. 2, 5–7 p.m., free

Lower Sproul Plaza, UC Berkeley, near Bancroft at Telegraph, Berk.


For the complete interview with Brendon Small, go to www.sfbg.com/blogs/noise.

Famous Rib Shack


REVIEW Some people might tell you that when it comes to barbecue, it’s all about the sauce. But to paraphrase Dr. Dre: sauces ain’t nothin’ but hos and tricks. Which is to say, even the most powerful sauce is destined to be turned out by the true pimp in the grilled-meats game: the smoke. The folks at San Bruno’s Famous Rib Shack are above passing off mere flash-fired meats as smokalicious BB-to-the-m-f’in’-Q. I walked in with my daughter, Dolly, and ordered the Tailgate for Two combo: three pork ribs, three beef ribs, a quarter chicken, one hot link, two pieces of corn bread, and two sides (I chose mac and cheese and collard greens), all for a measly $26.95. These were not teensy little ribs; they looked like they’d been cut off the local 4-H club’s prize sow and cow. The pork fell off the bone, and the beef was flavorful, though a tad chewy in spots. Hot links often come direct from the factory, but this one was spiced to perfection and purportedly hand-made by the owner, Isaac Mejia. The chicken was good too, but poultry is more of a cleansing palliative in between ribs than real barbecue — chicken is a vegetable with wings.

The sauces? Mild, hot, and maple, and all good, though Mejia has his priorities straight and got the meat right first and foremost. His corn bread was bangin’, which is important, as I’m not a fan of joints that slap a slice of flimsy white bread on a paper plate and call it authentic. That’s cheating. Greens should not taste like stewed lawn clippings either, and the shack’s tasted like, well, pork — the Cadillac of meats. Finally, nothing makes a kid happier than a brownie for dessert, especially when it’s covered in nuts and marshmallows.

The word on the Internet is that the Famous Rib Shack used to be called Jimmy’s Famous Rib Shack. No disrespect to Jimmy, but unless he was St. James of the Rib Rack, his food could not have been better. Long live Isaac’s Famous Rib Shack.

FAMOUS RIB SHACK Mon.–Fri., 11 a.m.–9 p.m.; Sat.–Sun., 11 a.m.–10 p.m. 223 El Camino Real, San Bruno. (650) 952-2809