Volume 42 Number 12

December 19 – December 25, 2007

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What a bash!


GEEK CHIC Seems like hipster bashing has replaced trailer-trash cracks as the new way to get laughs. By now we’ve all watched the Hipster Olympics, "brought to you by Pabst Blue Ribbon," on YouTube and chuckled vindictively as a clique of Williamsburg, NY, brats in tight pants posed for MySpace photos as part of the competition.

It was bound to happen sooner or later. Now everyone cool is into metal, and those skinny kids with the sideways haircuts — the ones we lauded in 2001 as the antidote to the morosely boring ’90s — are sneeringly referred to as, pardon my French, annoying hipster douche bags. Gosh, they didn’t even get a whole decade to themselves.

To alleviate all of the bilious contempt in which we hold these abominations of humanity, we have the cute and cuddly Patton Oswalt. He makes the best hipster-bashing jokes ever. When he suggests that anyone with the nerve to have the words "I’m powered by puppy kisses" emblazoned on their chest must be thinking, "My coolness obviously defeats this douchiness," he gives voice to our universal annoyance at hipsters and their lame ironic T-shirts — ones that the nerdy J.R.R. Tolkien–reading, true-crime fan would never be able to pull off.

At the same time, he has a new album, Werewolves and Lollipops, out on what one might still consider a hip, let’s say alternative (but not as indie as it once was), label: Sub Pop. The record reached number 18 on Billboard‘s indie chart and number 1 on its comedy chart — it even made it onto the big top-200 chart. Like it or not, this pudgy little smart-ass is cooler than the cool.

I found out what really bothers Oswalt about hipsters when I talked to him Nov. 30 between sets at "The Comedians of Comedy," a marathon show at the Independent that included the comics he holds in highest esteem — Brian Posehn, Maria Bamford — and a posse of local faves, like Brent Weinbach.

It isn’t so much hipsters’ self-made ironic aesthetic that bugs the crap out of Oswalt. "I just don’t like the fact that it’s so clearly a marketing demographic now," he said in his backstage dressing room, where he’d just polished off a glazed donut and Posehn was hiding out under his jacket. In other words, what was once authentic and original was gone as soon as a major retail chain started mass-producing knockoff Smurf T-shirts. Hate the game, not the playa, people.

The thing is, the participants in the "Comedians of Comedy" tour, which makes stops at all of the same clubs as many young, cool bands, have a bigger tour bus than those bands do. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not hating game or player. I’d rather someone on top have the postironic wherewithal to talk politics. And Oswalt, who lived in the Haight for a few years in the ’90s, has performed numerous times for the radical’s radicals at Oakland’s AK Press in the past two years and at a feminist bookstore in New York City. "Uh, so where are the cookbooks kept?" was his ice breaker. It got the ladies giggling.

Could someone who looks like Alex Kapranos get away with that? Going to these smaller scenes and getting people to laugh at themselves makes him edgier than does the George W. Bush bashing he has been doing on larger stages. According to Oswalt, it isn’t a big roll of the dice for a comedian to make fun of the unpopular commander in chief anyway. "There’s no point left in bashing him. Because who’s left to go, ‘Excuse me, he rocks’? People who supported Bush in 2000 are like Creed fans. They’re, like, ‘Look, I know, all right. I was drunk. I thought he was kinda good-looking. Fucking get off me, man. We all make mistakes.’<0x2009>"

Oswalt spent half his set at the Independent poking fun at his former citymates. Without an ounce of smugness, he asked one guy with a two-pronged beard if he used product to keep the facial protrusions separated. And did he do it to piss off his parents? If someone in Fall Out Boy tried to say that to this guy, he’d probably get his lights knocked out. But when it comes from the little guy with the razor-sharp wit, vivid imagination, and goofy grin, we just adore him all the more.

In Pixar’s Ratatouille, Oswalt provides the voice for Remy, an endearing animated rat who achieves the impossible by becoming a chef at one of Paris’s cordon bleu establishments. There’s no irony in the way the epicurean who recommends dining at the Mission’s Andalu, not Puerto Alegre, has begun peppering his material with jokes about the eccentricities of top chefs at five-star restaurants. His movie rocked the box office, and he’s probably making bigger bucks than the staffs at arbiter-of-cool magazines Vice and Paper combined.

So I kind of didn’t get it when he told me he would trade cute and cuddly for badass in a second. "Yeah, I don’t think badass loses its breath when it’s trying to tie its shoes," he said. Aw, well, excuse me while I try to hold back the tears … of laughter.


With Arj Barker, Tony Camin, and Doug Benson on various nights

Dec. 28–30, 8 and 10:15 p.m.; Dec. 31, 7 and 9:30 p.m.; $23.50–$50.50

Cobb’s Comedy Club

915 Columbus, SF

(415) 928-4320


Magic garden


A most welcome gift arrived Dec. 12: pure dance, pure music, and pure poetry. It was "Jardín de Mis Sueños," Caminos Flamencos’ new show (repeating in Mountain View on Dec. 21) and the last one at ODC Theater, which starts extensive renovations in January. Caminos Flamencos artistic director Yaelisa put together a most appealing evening of good dancing in which each artist’s contribution threw a different light on flamenco.

Working with excellent company members Fanny Ara, Christina Hall, Melissa Cruz, and Marina Elana were always-impressive music director Jason McGuire on guitar and first-rate singers Felix de Lola and, in his company debut, Miguel Rosendo. However, while the café seating, developed for Caminos Flamencos’ monthly Sunday series, created an invitingly informal atmosphere, it also meant the sight lines were not that conducive to enjoying an art form with so much emphasis on footwork. A better arrangement might be worth looking into.

In De lo Jondo spectacular guest artist Andrés Peña wrapped fiendishly fierce footwork into triple pirouettes that ended in slithery asides. While it was fun to watch such technical mastery, it was the fusion of Peña’s dancing with singers Rosendo and, especially, de Lola’s lamentations that kept me at the edge of my seat. Cruz wove a quasi-symphonic ebb and flow into her multimovement Lamento. One moment she was all swooping roundedness, with serpentine curves and flowing arms; in the next she broke into crystalline, complex heelwork that sent shivers up her torso. Here control and abandon collaborated in a performance of exceptional musicality.

The ominously dangerous-looking Pasos a Dos paired tall and elegant Ara with wispy Hall. At first the two women circled each wearily with punkish aggression, but then the confrontation blossomed into a friendly competition. While the three ensemble numbers showed the company members as at ease with one another and allowed for small solo excursions, flamenco, at heart, remains a solo form. None proved that more than Yaelisa herself, as regal and nuanced as ever. In her first solo, unlisted in the program, she performed in silence. And yet she sang — with maternally scooping arms, shimmering feet, and an embracing of the floor that recalled early Martha Graham. In the eponymous Jardín, she emerged out of darkness and opened herself to de Lola’s melismas, only to withdraw again and again into a world that we could only guess at. What a woman, and what a dancer.


Fri/21, 8 p.m., $15–$35

Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts

500 Castro, Mountain View

(650) 903-6000


Durang harangue


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

The annual relentless prosecution of Christmas is a happy time for some. For others, not so much. For her part, Gladys Cratchit (Joan Mankin), the long-suffering wife of Bob (Keith Burkland) — that misty-eyed mistletoe of a man harried six days a week by his grasping gargoyle of an employer, Ebenezer Scrooge (Victor Talmadge) — is ready to throw herself off London Bridge. One sees her point. The titular hero of Christopher Durang’s freewheeling send-up of the Charles Dickens yuletide favorite suffers unabashedly in the face of her destitute family’s unremitting Christmas cheer, sending a refreshing blast of cold air against the warm, Fezziwiggian fuzziness that tends to smother reason in its crib this time of year. And no one, of course, is more smitten by her "bad attitude" than Scrooge.

That a wintry romance should blossom between the suicidal Mrs. Cratchit and the unrepentant Scrooge remains one of the more endearing and pointed aspects of Durang’s boisterous but uneven 2002 comedy, which is receiving a nevertheless solid Bay Area premiere at SF Playhouse with director Joy Carlin’s well-cast, sharply designed production. If it’s hardly a match made in heaven, let alone in Dickens, in Durang’s hands it has the feel of genuine inspiration. Played with captivating finesse and expert comic timing, Scrooge and Gladys become the only substantial characters in a fast and furious spoof driven by the playwright’s trademark high-octane zaniness and careening pop culture parody — a formula that, in dramatic terms, doesn’t promise to take us very far.

But Scrooge and, especially, Gladys, as a slightly more shaded if shady pair of Noel naysayers, do nicely focus the playwright’s real-world indignation at an age of greed surpassing what even Dickens could have imagined (and one in which, ironically, A Christmas Carol gets all too easily folded into the general hucksterism and shallow cheerleading of the holiday season).

A single spirit of African American descent (played ingratiatingly by the bubbly Cathleen Riddley) suffices to represent past, present, and future for Scrooge, as well as a certain cross-cultural and anachronistic quality in the play as a whole — a quality underscored by the ghost’s penchant for Billie Holiday numbers and her reliance on a little electric ray gun whenever fear and moral suasion fail to stir Scrooge into cooperating with their ethereal outing.

Tasering Scrooge proves increasingly necessary, it turns out, after the Ghost accidentally strands them at various unscheduled stops. In Durang’s version of Dickens’s moral-laden ghost story, even the Ghost starts to lose the sense of the story’s purported meaning, as the attempt to teach Scrooge a valuable lesson in brotherly love devolves into a parodic free-for-all jumbling A Christmas Carol with Frank Capra’s It a Wonderful Life, O. Henry’s "The Gift of the Magi," and one or two other hoary classics.

Durang’s humor comes rapid-fire and is decidedly hit-and-miss. And while the Cratchit family rendition of "Silent Night" — drawn out to an excruciatingly slow tempo that has even Scrooge contemputf8g suicide — is a hilarious highlight, the original tunes scattered throughout are only so-so. The more consistent pleasure comes from fine and committed performances by such pros as Mankin, Talmadge, and Burkland, as well as some excellent supporting work from the rest of the cast, including the spot-on Lizzie Calogero as a proudly pathetic Tiny Tim.

As Durang’s comedy suggests through sometimes gritted teeth, there’s something to recommend a contemporary perspective on the world of Dickens’s old holiday story. It’s also high time, to Durang’s way of thinking, that we acknowledge the obvious: Scrooge won. As the perversely pervasive assault of Christmas jingles and other trappings of trumped-up cheer reaches its annual crescendo, a little cynicism at the hideous rise of the culture of greed over the past several decades is probably in order. *


Through Jan. 12, 2008

Wed.–Sat., 8 p.m. (also Sat., 3 p.m.), $20–$65

SF Playhouse

533 Sutter, SF

(415) 677-9596


Band together for 21 Grand


› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER "Fuck New York. I can stick it out longer. I’ve got a masochistic streak!"

Cue divine, mad laughter. No, this isn’t a disgruntled renter pushed out by another owner move-in or a painter or sculptor resisting the draw of the trad national marketplace — the speaker is Sarah Lockhart, who runs 21 Grand, the jeopardized arts nonprofit and music space around the corner from the Mama Buzz Café, Johansson Projects, and other galleries participating in the insanely popular monthly Art Murmur walk set in what has become the grassroots-art epicenter of Oakland and the East Bay at large.

Going on seven and a half years downtown, Lockhart has been toiling in the trenches of ambitious music and arts programming longer than most. But in the past few weeks she and partner Darren Jenkins have had to close the doors and move shows after a troubling visit by the Alcohol Beverage Action Team, a unit of the Oakland Police Department that also ushered in the closure of underground music venues like the French Fry Factory and Oaklandish. "My thing is to work on this and fight it," the ever-feisty Lockhart continues. "We’re actually going to stay open and maybe provide inspiration for others. I want to have at least 10 years, because Tonic in New York City closed — they lasted nine years — but we’re still here." She chuckles, contemputf8g her tenacity and the vaunted East Coast experimental music club, which closed in April. "I get competitive about weird things! No money, lots of work — let’s see how long it takes before I totally burn out. This is our form of an endurance test."

Consider their current gauntlet the latest in the uncanny, imaginative struggle to provide a place for visual artists, film and video makers, poets, and, notably, musicians — working in every esoteric, noisy, experimental, rockish, improvy, and otherwise unclassifiable stripe — to show, speak, or sound out. Some of the best live music shows I caught in 2007 were at their space: Marnie Stern, the Gowns, the High Places, Lucky Dragons, and Breezy Days Band, which made the programming there the best in Oakland, if not in the running for tops in the Bay. Lockhart and Jenkins have survived nightmare landlords and condo push-outs — first at 21 Grand Avenue, then on 23rd Street — but this new challenge has to be their most frustratingly Kafkaesque.

On Dec. 1, ABAT officials were looking into Shashamane Bar and Grill, whose kitchen door shares the alley entrance with 21 Grand. The latter was closing for the night after a performance. Recycling buckets with empty beer bottles, a tip jar, and a cooler led one of the visitors to give Lockhart a card, saying, she recalls, "We don’t want you to have any problems in the future." Lockhart was alarmed enough to put a halt to most of December’s shows, explaining, "I’m 33 years old. I feel like I’m too old to risk horrible fines from the department and have to call my mother and say, ‘I have a fine for $10,000 — can you lend me money?’ That’s how things began, and then the ball started rolling and things started escautf8g."

It wasn’t enough for Lockhart to simply apply for a cabaret license; she had to navigate a bureaucratic maze of Byzantine proportions while she attempted to get special-event permits from the police in order to continue to put on a few larger shows by artists like Zeena Parkins and Eugene Chadbourne, which led to efforts to get approval from the fire and building departments. "For all they know, we’re a large firetrap that has raves for 4,000 people, so they weren’t signing off on anything," says the exasperated Lockhart, who recently put in 40 to 70 hours of footwork on paperwork and approvals. The nonprofit has been organizing shows for years using grants from the city, but 21 Grand’s hard-to-define, multidisciplinary programming has puzzled bureaucrats.

Still, the onetime Artists’ Television Access programmer is hoping that the few helpful city officials she’s encountered, who are familiar with the closure of spaces like Oakland Metro, can help the nonprofit. Lockhart wants to resume shows next month beginning with a Tom Carter and David Daniell performance Jan. 10, and in the meantime she’s trying to maintain a sense of humor: "the irony is not lost" on her that their recent fundraiser had to be moved to someone’s home and that new legislation allowing the Fox Theatre to be redeveloped as a live-entertainment venue within 300 feet of a school, library, or church might help 21 Grand, which has had its share of developer travails, to get a cabaret permit for their present spot near a Presbyterian church.

Going the private-club route like the 924 Gilman Street Project or heading underground isn’t an option. "Our goal is to have 21 Grand actually have a public presence," Lockhart says. "I want to do something that’s advertised and open to the public so a kid in bumfuck nowhere can see something about it and say, ‘This is cool. I’ll go to this.’ " *



The onetime Bay Area soul-funk-blues cult legend rolls into town — though not in his mythical ivory Rolls. With Nino Moschella and Wallpaper. Wed/19, 8 p.m., $10. Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell, SF. www.rickshawstop.com


Welcome back the ex-Bay guitar-picking virtuoso as he plays with keyboarist Erik Deutsch and drummer Scott Amendola, and sit back and marvel alongside an audience of hotshots like Kirk Hammett. Wed/19–Sat/22, 8 and 10 p.m.; Sun/23, 7 and 9 p.m.; $16–$24. Yoshi’s, 510 Embarcadero West, Oakl. www.yoshis.com


The proudly hippie group reassembles — surf or no surf — for butt-shaking holiday sets. Fri/21–Sat/22, 9 p.m., $20. Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell, SF. www.gamh.com


Take a hit off the bongos of this local experimento-psych combo. With Top Critters and NVH. Sat/22, 9:30 p.m., $6. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. www.hemlocktavern.com

Feeding the food brainiac


› paulr@sfbg.com

Amid the agonies and anxieties of last-minute holiday shopping can be found at least one sure stocking stuffer, provided your list includes a food brainiac (with a Christmas stocking). You’ll know one when you meet one; a large clue will be a passionate interest in not merely recipes and restaurants but also the cultural story they help tell.

And what is that sure thing, in a world where many a gift goes astray like a bad JDAM? A book, of course, since the reports of print’s death have been greatly exaggerated and the food brainiac loves books. One of the better food brainiac–friendly books available is Lilia Zaouali’s Medieval Cuisine of the Islamic World (University of California Press, $24.95), whose subtitle, A Concise History with 174 Recipes, suggests that we aren’t talking about a volume with a companion Saturday-morning, how-to-cook-it series on public television.

No, Zaouali’s book dwells more on the history than the recipes, which are interesting though possibly too vague to be of much use in the contemporary, anal-retentive kitchen. Even a reasonably competent home cook is likely to be uneasy about such instructions as "put some red meat cut into small pieces in a pot with some water. When it is cooked, strain it and brown it in fat" (from a recipe for rutabiyya, or meat with dates).

But even if your brainiac never boils a dollop of honey in a splash of vinegar (medieval Islamic cooking being rich in sweet-sour effects), pleasurable sustenance can be had from the book’s many fascinating historical nuggets: the migratory route of couscous from North Africa through Sicily into Tuscany, for instance, or the Moorish roots (culinary and linguistic) of the dish the Spanish call escabeche, or the religious importance to Muslims of eating meat (other than pork) with most meals. As Zaouali puts it, "One may wonder whether a vegetarian could be admitted to the community of believers."

Of transcendent interest is not the bequest of medieval Islamic cooks to their modern heirs in both the Middle East and Europe but their own debt to the Romans, many of whose ingredients and flavor patterns they adopted and continued. The Roman gastronome Apicius, who lived at the time of Christ, is especially relevant here. For details, consult your stocking.

Under their black sun


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

I have a fantasy that 100 years from now all formalized history as we know it will be lost. Museums will lose funding and fall by the wayside. Libraries will find their contents spontaneously dumped onto city streets. And those curious enough to wonder what came before will be left with the chunks of culture that have outlasted apartment moves and world wars: personal detritus and castaway junk. Eventually, this future generation will stumble upon faded photos of a queen in a tiara and a potato-sack dress. Her king had a pompadour, and their soldiers were regal. Her name was Exene Cervenka, and she was the queen of Los Angeles. Would it really be so bad for a band to be remembered as royalty?

X is usually remembered as the collaboration between vocalist Cervenka and bassist John Doe, but the band was actually founded by guitarist Billy Zoom. Already an accomplished musician who had toured with the likes of Gene Vincent and mastered his own special blend of elaborately structured punkabilly, Zoom placed an ad looking for musicians in the Los Angeles Recycler in 1977. The guitarist, in his typically wry fashion, is reluctant to sprinkle the golden dust of nostalgia over his initial meeting with Doe and merely cracks via e-mail that the latter "had really cool shoes, clever lyrics, and looked OK."

Doe brought more than his songs and his shoes to the table, though. He had met budding poet Exene Cervenka at a writing workshop and, impressed by her work, had encouraged her to join a band. Although the distance between poetry recitals and fronting a punk group might seem like a quantum leap, Cervenka soon realized that the two are quite similar. "It was more like punk poetry," she explains over the phone on her way to Milwaukee with the Knitters. "You would allow yourself to get really angry while you were reading. It wasn’t rigid sitting down. It was a free-for-all!" Cervenka exceeded the boundaries of her diminutive stature, evolving into a lyrical punk princess — a heady mix of tiaras, anger, and lipstick decades before the so-called kinderwhore girl bands of the ’90s aspired to do the same.

Cervenka and Doe forged the initial, inescapable hallmark of an X song: their vocal interplay. Untethered by formal training, Cervenka developed her plaintive counterpoint to Doe’s growling tenor: his smooth, cool bark had just enough glissando to sail up, through, and over their songs of love, barflies, and the politics in the sprawling metropolis they called home. Cervenka acknowledges that as collaborators, the couple — who married and divorced during the band’s lifetime — had a connection that surpassed the ordinary. "I was in the kitchen writing, and he was in living room playing the bass," she remembers. "I came into the living room and said, ‘I’ve got some lyrics here for a song,’ and he goes, ‘Well, that’s good, because I just wrote a song.’ And I swear to god that those words just fit that music." She laughs and reveals the rigors of a long, storied career. "I don’t even remember what song it was. That’s the kind of thing that can happen when you collaborate with someone for a long time."

Doe and Zoom had been on the lookout to complete their rhythm section and found X’s fourth member in the form of DJ Bonebrake (his real name, not a punk-inspired moniker), a drummer with local band the Eyes. His decision to join X proved fateful not just for him but also for Eyes bandmate Charlotte Caffey, who took his departure as the opportunity to join her next band, the Go-Go’s. The all-girl band was equally active in the early LA punk scene and would share a rehearsal space and several bills with X, while Go-Go’s guitarist Jane Wiedlin even credits Zoom as a teacher of sorts. "He taught me my first bar chords and how to use an amplifier," she writes in an e-mail. "He was by far the best guitarist on the scene." Zoom’s finesse stood out during those early years, when disintegration and chaos were at times the status quo in the scene. Bonebrake recalls over the phone from the road that other legendary bands that weren’t so eager for polish: "Some bands would make a career or a show out of acting like they weren’t together. The Germs were a perfect example. Pat Smear would show up and go, ‘Hey, does anyone have some strings? I only have two strings.’<0x2009>"

What Zoom brought to X was a firebrand guitar — equal parts carefree rockabilly and complex melodic riffage — that came to represent X on each successive album until he left the band in 1985 and was replaced by Tony Gilkyson. "John wrote all of his songs with his bass, so there were no chords," Zoom explains. "That gave me a lot of freedom to experiment with more complex chords and unusual voicings." Although he has gone on record as being displeased with the production on almost all of the X albums he appeared on, he cites their first, Los Angeles (Slash, 1980), as his favorite because it was recorded almost entirely live and thus sounds the most like the group. Asked the same question, Cervenka chooses their third full-length, Under the Big Black Sun (Elektra, 1982), calling it "the purest X album. To me, it’s like the cover. It’s a very black-and-white album. That was a really weird time. My sister had died. The second album had come out, but I hadn’t really written about it. Wild Gift [Slash, 1981] came out, and then Under the Big Black Sun was more about death."

In the end, after eight studio albums and innumerous hiatuses, X still see fit to reunite and tour sporadically. Three decades on, Cervenka is still content to perform X’s catalog of love-stained, liquor-soaked rebellion — future libraries and galleries notwithstanding: "Life is doing something to be remembered for, whether it’s building your grandkids a tree house that they pass on to their kids or making a record that changes people’s lives." In my version of the future, those are the records that rise up to claim history, in a giant blazing X obscuring all else, symbols of a feisty queen with a wink and a cigarette and her court of angry, vagabond cavaliers. *


With the Hooks

Dec. 28–29, 9 p.m., $30


333 11th St., SF

(415) 255-0333


Check it twice




<\!s><0x0007>Panda Bear, Person Pitch (Paw Tracks). One of the few albums that deserved the hype, Person Pitch delivered what Animal Collective could not.

<\!s><0x0007>Various artists, Zanzibara, Volume 3: Ujamaa (Buda Musique). Ujamaa focuses on 1960s Tanzania and recalls the ecstatic languidity of Tabu Ley Rocehrau and the imprint’s Angola ’60s compilations.

<\!s><0x0007>Various artists, Dirty Space Disco (Tigersushi). Parisians Pilooski and Dirty Sound System are some of the most exciting discoveries of the year.

<\!s><0x0007>Thomas Fehlmann, Honigpumpe (Kompakt). This was the year I got back into minimal techno after a few years away. Lodged somewhere between Kompakt’s "Pop Ambient" series and Superpitcher, Fehlmann made his strongest album since 2004’s Visions of Blah.

<\!s><0x0007>Lilith Records. In 2007 the enigmatic new label that appears to come from the Russian Federation reissued lavish vinyl versions of Caetano Veloso’s Araca Azul, Harmonia’s De Luxe, Tim Hardin 2, No New York, Claudine Longet’s Colours, Black Merda’s Black Merda, and Cluster’s Zuckerzeit. The only reissue imprint that rivals them in scope and quality is the Bay Area’s Water Records.

<\!s><0x0007>Iasos, Inter-Dimensional Music (Iasos Unity/Em, 1975). With so many new artists taking the easy electronic-prog route, it’s good to realize there’s much more where that came from — in the place between space rock and new age. This makes me think of Alice Coltrane and Robert Fripp and Brian Eno’s Evening Star (Editions Eg) but doesn’t really sound like any of them. The sleeve is incredible.

<\!s><0x0007>Niger: Magic and Ecstasy in the Sahel DVD (Sublime Frequencies). The last 15 minutes, focusing on Tuareg musicians, contain some of the most ecstatic and tranced-out jams I’ve heard or seen.

<\!s><0x0007>Various artists, Brazil 70 (Soul Jazz). No longer borrowing from John Cage or the Beatles, Jards Mascale, and Novos Baianos ushered in what may be the most exciting time in Brazil’s musical history.

<\!s><0x0007>Frank Bretschneider, Rhythm (Raster-Noton). He may be working in the domain of clicks and cuts, but instead of pursuing pure sine wave research, Bretschneider — picking up where SND left off but surpassing them — mimics the rhythms of dubstep, minimal techno, and hip-hop. Listen loud and your mind will be rearranged.

<\!s><0x0007>Shit Robot, "Chasm"/"Wrong Galaxy" (DFA). Yes, the name is awful. Nevertheless, DFA’s recent signing of this Markus Lambkin project is too good to pass over. Lambkin has been learning from the best of Carl Craig and Berlin and Cologne techno, and his full-length is eagerly awaited.



(1) <0x0007>Miles Davis: The Complete On the Corner Sessions (Sony Legacy)

(2) <0x0007>Ace Records: Bob Lind, Elusive Butterfly: The Complete Jack Nitzsche Sessions; various artists, Phil’s Spectre III: A Third Wall of Soundalikes; and various artists, Hard Workin’ Man: The Jack Nitzsche Story, Vol. 2

(3) <0x0007>Bloodcount, Seconds CD/DVD (Screwgun)

(4) <0x0007>Clockcleaner, Babylon Rules (Load)

(5) <0x0007>Terminal Sound System, Compressor (Extreme)

(6) <0x0007>ugEXPLODE label: Nondor Nevai, The Wooden Machine Music, and Flying Luttenbachers, Incarceration by Abstraction

(7) <0x0007>Down, Over the Under (Down)

(8) <0x0007>The Pipettes, We Are the Pipettes (Cherry Tree/Interscope)

(9) <0x0007>Slough Feg, "Tiger! Tiger!," Hardworlder (Cruz del Sur)

(10) <0x0007>Tesla, "Ball of Confusion," Real to Reel (Tesla Electric Co.)



<\!s><0x0007>Aretha Franklin, Aretha Live at Fillmore West (deluxe edition) (Rhino). So electric you’ll get goose bumps.

<\!s><0x0007>Jason Lindner Big Band, Live at the Jazz Gallery (Anzic)

<\!s><0x0007>Charles Mingus Sextet with Eric Dolphy, Cornell 1964 (Blue Note)

<\!s><0x0007>Sam Yahel Trio, Truth and Beauty (Origin). Talented friends get into the groove of a young man and his keyboard.

<\!s><0x0007>Joshua Redman Trio, Back East (Nonesuch)

<\!s><0x0007>Joe Henry, Civilians (Anti-). Fiercely literate adult rock without acronyms.

<\!s><0x0007>Wayne Shorter Quartet at the Mondavi Center, UC Davis, Feb. 2.

<\!s><0x0007>Jason Moran with T.S. Monk and ensemble, the Monk Town Hall Concert, Herbst Theatre, May 19. A large band swings very, very hard.

<\!s><0x0007>SFJAZZ Collective, Live 2007: Fourth Annual Concert Tour (SFJAZZ). Smart arrangements with the necessary new blood of underrated pianist Renee Rosnes.

<\!s><0x0007>Kiki and Herb, American Conservatory Theater, July 13. We need their holiday show.

<\!s><0x0007>The Sea and Cake, "Up on Crutches," Everybody (Thrill Jockey). The song I couldn’t stop playing.



<\!s><0x0007>MIA, Kala (Interscope)

<\!s><0x0007>Feist, The Reminder (Cherry Tree/Interscope)

<\!s><0x0007>Calle 13, Residente o Visitante (Sony)

<\!s><0x0007>Chamillionaire, Ultimate Victory (Motown)

<\!s><0x0007>Kanye West, Graduation (Roc-A-Fella)

<\!s><0x0007>Apostle of Hustle, National Anthem of Nowhere (Arts and Crafts)

<\!s><0x0007>Jose Gonzalez, "In Our Nature" (Mute)

<\!s><0x0007>El-P, I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead (Definitive Jux)

<\!s><0x0007>The Federation, "It’s Whateva" (Southwest Federation/Reprise)

<\!s><0x0007>Chingo Bling, They Can’t Deport Us All (Asylum)



(1) <0x0007>Aaron Ross, Shapeshifter (Grass Roots Record Co.). The Hella member’s solo LP is ragged singer-songwriter stuff that seems to do everything wrong. It’s strident, too long, and too loud; it’s chirpy and pained; it must have broken a guitar’s worth of strings. And then, somewhere around the point it stops being ugly, it becomes transcendent — an album with more heart than any I’ve heard in a while.

(2) <0x0007>The Arcade Fire, Neon Bible (Merge). How quickly you realize the stunning last song, "My Body Is a Cage," will be a testament to the trust the Montreal group has built, understood, and not yet defaulted on. Few groups have a better sense of what they are and mean, and the Arcade Fire know what they do right: write hymns.

(3) <0x0007>MIA, Kala (Interscope). On her second album, Maya Arulpragasam turned a government-forced world tour into an excuse to make her music even better traveled.

(4) <0x0007>Ferraby Lionheart, Ferraby Lionheart EP (Nettwerk). Lush, antique, richly sung pop that plays like an argument for Jon Brion. Wes Anderson will one day base an entire script on a Lionheart disc.

(5) <0x0007>Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, Raising Sand (Rounder). The best moments on this gorgeous, out-of-nowhere release are when you’ve been listening to sweetheart old-time country pop, then realize you are listening to Robert Plant. There’s a whisper of "Gallows Pole" in "Fortune Teller" and "Going to California" in "Please Read the Letter," and that’s the great pleasure here: an almost mystical Led Zeppelin overlay in music that’s nowhere near classic rock.

(6) <0x0007>Black Moth Super Rainbow, Dandelion Gum (Graveface). Psychedelia wouldn’t have a bad name if more of it were like this. The rural Pennsylvania group counters séance vocals and guitar and keyboard spazz-outs with focus and snappy drums.

(7) <0x0007>St. Vincent, Marry Me (Beggars Banquet). Anne Clark is a Sufjan Stevens crony, but Marry Me is eventually hers alone. Sinister electrofuzz, deft polyrhythms, and scarily chameleonic vocals give her indie pop a postmodern turn.

(8) <0x0007>Blitzen Trapper, Wild Mountain Nation (Lidkercow). At turns pure classic rock — all jammy blues riffs and sun-dappled vocals — countrified songwriter stuff, and something loudly proggy and textural, Wild Mountain Nation sends salvos in several directions.

(9) <0x0007>UGK, UGK: Underground Kingz (Jive). Bun B and Pimp C sound ecstatic to be back at it, and they turn in a two-disc Southern hip-hop epic with cameos that are actually exciting. André 3000 is drawly and perfect on "Int’l Players Anthem," and hearing Dizzee Rascal over this beat is a treat.

(10) <0x0007>Miracle Fortress, Five Roses (Secret City). Montreal’s Graham Van Pelt shoots straight for the Beach Boys here, which means his songs sound a little derivative and a lot lovely. Pop’s melodic purism, dressed up for audiophiles.



<\!s><0x0007>Percee P, Perseverance (Stones Throw)

The long-awaited solo album from Bronx legend Percee P does not disappoint, with its intricate rhyme schemes and exceptional production from Stones Throw’s resident maestro Madlib. Alarmingly dope from start to finish, with collabos with Diamond D and Vinnie Paz. Look for the remix album in January.

<\!s><0x0007>Prodigy, Return of the Mac (Koch)

A lot of older fans gave up on Mobb Deep years ago, and their horrible last record seemed to be the final nail in the coffin. But on this independent release, Prodigy comes alive, spitting flagrant murder raps over Alchemist’s outstanding blaxploitation-style beats. Unfortunately, P is heading into a three-and-a-half-year bid — I hope he finishes his new solo joint first.

<\!s><0x0007>Kamackeris, Artz and Craftz (Mindbenda)

Also known as Kwite Def or KD, Kamackeris is a New York rapper best known for his work with Monsta Island Czars and a show-stealing appearance on the first MF Doom album. He’s blessed with one of the grimiest voices in hip-hop, and his rugged yet introspective wordplay shines over X-Ray’s cinematic tracks. Completely slept on but crazy good.

<\!s><0x0007>Camp Lo, "Ticket For 2" (self-released)

These cats have been MIA for a minute, and it’s been a full decade since their classic debut, but Cheeba and Suede come back something serious on this ultrasmooth single produced by longtime homey Ski Beatz. Unfortunately, it’s not on their recent album, but it’s all over the Internet.

<\!s><0x0007>Snoop Dogg, "Sexual Eruption, a.k.a. Sensual Seduction" (unreleased)

Man! While T-Pain, Akon, and countless others assault the airwaves with their hypercomputerized, later-era Cher-style "R&B," Big Snoop takes it back to the Roger Troutman essence, freaking the (virtual) talk box on this ode to female orgasm. The song is awesome enough, but the throwback video, complete with flying saucers and a keytar, is something to behold.

<\!s><0x0007>50 Cent, "I Get Money," Curtis (Aftermath/Shady/Interscope)

He lost the sales battle with Kanye West, G Unit is fading fast, and Curtis is his worst LP to date. However, even his millions of haters have to admit: this song is a banger.

<\!s><0x0007>Devin the Dude, live at South by Southwest, March 14

Mild-mannered but funny as hell, Devin has been putting it down for a long time now, winning fans with his mellow storytelling rhymes, low-key singing, and affinity for all weed and women. I saw him live three times this year, but this show in his home state was the best: he rolled with the Coughee Brothaz and injected some much-needed funk into the indie-centric convention.

<\!s><0x0007>Third annual Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival

Unlike the more hyped-up "Rock the Bells," this festival got everything right. Free show, great location on the water in BK, and all-day performances from Ghostface, Sean P, Large Professor, El Michaels Affair, Dres from Black Sheep, and others. Throw in surprise appearances from Chubb Rock and Jeru, and you’ve got middle-aged rap fan heaven.

<\!s><0x0007>Sonic Youth at the Berkeley Community Theatre, July 19

As part of the "Don’t Look Back" concert series, in which artists perform a classic album in its entirety, Thurston Moore and the gang revisited their 1988 epic Daydream Nation (DGC) to the delight of a sold-out crowd. Next time I hope they do Bad Moon Rising.

<\!s><0x0007>ZZ Top at Konocti Harbor, April 21

All I can say is "wow." Despite my driving several hours to and from Clear Lake and getting rained on the entire time, this was amazing. These dudes are mad old, but they put on a better show than most kids a fraction of their age.



(1) <0x0007>Rufus Wainwright, Release the Stars (Geffen)

(2) <0x0007>Tinariwen, Aman Iman (World Village)

(3) <0x0007>Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, Raising Sand (Rounder)

(4) <0x0007>Betty Davis, Betty Davis (Light in the Attic)

(5) <0x0007>Miles Davis, The Complete On the Corner Sessions (Sony Legacy)

(6) <0x0007>Donnie, The Daily News (SoulThought Entertainment)

(7) <0x0007>Gogol Bordello, Super Taranta! (Side One Dummy)

(8) <0x0007>Hanson, The Walk (Three Car Garage)

(9) <0x0007>Babyshambles, Shotter’s Nation (Astralwerks)

(10) <0x0007>Beirut, The Flying Club Cup (Ba Da Bing)



<\!s><0x0007>Playing to a confused crowd in Beijing, China, then riding on the back of a motorcycle cab. The next day I was eating at a vegan buffet in a mall where you paid not by what you ate but by how quickly you finished.

<\!s><0x0007>In the Netherlands, I performed to 550,000 people on drugs who think that camping out in sewage is "awesome." Lots of moms and dads with huge glazed eyes, hula-hooping and juggling glow sticks at 4 a.m.

<\!s><0x0007>XBXRX having to sleep at a (dirty and unkempt) brothel. There were bloodstains and tire treads (?) on my pillow. *

For more lists, go to www.sfbg.com/blogs/music.

Barber of gore


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street works so well you might not notice that it’s based on a Broadway musical, and one that’s close to opera. Which is the idea, of course. Pop musicals have been making a slow, tentative comeback of late by packaging numbers as mind’s-eye fantasies (Chicago), as actual stage performance (Dreamgirls), or with an ironic camp gloss (Hairspray, Enchanted).

But Sweeney Todd is something other than a pop musical — it’s by Stephen Sondheim, for god’s sake, who translates strangely to the movies because his sensibility is complicatedly, wholly theatrical. No one else has so consistently used their reluctance about or contempt toward musical-theater conventions to transcend them; no other stage composer’s so-called flops are so treasured for their good points and risk taking. Sondheim’s characteristic mix of sentimentality, misanthropy, and high art is as Broadway as an $18 souvenir program. And Burton’s best movie since Ed Wood 13 years ago succeeds precisely because it finds ways to be faithful to the source material in particular details while turning the whole into a Tim Burton film — a black comedy–cum–horror movie, albeit one blacker and more horrific than any he’s made before.

Sweeney (Johnny Depp, with Susan Sontag–as–Bride of Frankenstein hair) returns to 19th-century London after escaping a prison island and being rescued by young sailor Anthony (Jamie Campbell Bower, who bears an alarming resemblance to Clare Danes). Arriving incognito in his sooty, verminous old neighborhood, he’s recognized by his torch-bearing former landlady Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter). She tells him his wife poisoned herself long ago and that their daughter, Johanna (Jayne Wisener), is now the close-watched ward of the corrupt Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman), who’d framed Sweeney in order to facilitate the rape of his beautiful spouse. Sweeney has just one goal now: wreaking vengeance on Turpin and his wormlike flunky the Beadle (Timothy Spall). Woe to anyone who gets in his way.

Setting himself back up in business as a barber, Sweeney first dispatches an inconvenient rival, Pirelli (Sacha Baron Cohen), then commences seriously decimating the male-customer populace out of frustration after a first shot at the judge is thwarted. Tenderhearted — she takes in Pirelli’s boy assistant, Toby (Ed Saunders) — but also eminently practical, Mrs. Lovett uses this corpse crop to transform her self-deemed "worst pies in London" into a cannibalistic culinary smash.

The acclaimed John Doyle production of Sweeney Todd recently seen at the American Conservatory Theater was ingenious. But by stripping down the production elements (for example, slain characters donned smocks tastefully daubed with red), it drained this musical thriller of, well, blood. Burton doesn’t stint: the sticky stuff flows in geysers here, accompanied by plenty of gore, brutality, and perhaps the single nastiest demise doled out to a leading screen character all year.

The show’s mordant humor remains. Yet from the unusually (for Burton) stark, somber production design to the restrained principal performances, this is a story-driven, serious Sweeney Todd. The original Broadway production’s Len Cariou was a grimacing ghoul and Angela Lansbury a comedy gorgon — together they were a Grand Guignol Punch ‘n’ Judy. Despite their Edward Gorey look, however, Depp and Bonham Carter aren’t playing caricatures but recognizably tormented souls.

But can they sing? Er … kind of. Burton lets the near-incessant, brilliantly orchestrated music provide the ballast, allowing his leads to act their songs, making their small, reedy voices work for them. Even the best singers here (Bower, Saunders, Wisener) have high lyric instruments, not big Broadway guns. The result won’t necessarily please Sondheim purists, but it does lend the material more pathos than usual, especially in the quintessentially macabre-sweet take on "By the Sea" and the empty comfort of "Not While I’m Around." The best movie adaptations of other forms usually succeed because they take the spirit of the original and make it cinema, absolute fidelity be damned. This Sweeney Todd is a practically perfect expression of Burton’s art. But Sondheim comes off all right too. *


Opens Fri/21 in Bay Area theaters

See Movie Clock at www.sfbg.com


Enjoy your corn bread


› superego@sfbg.com

SUPER EGO "You know, I like to sit around in my hotel room after the show in my bra and panties and say to somebody, ‘Get me a Rémy Martin with a water back, goddamn it! Thank you.’ I know they like it, and I do too."

OK, I wish my life were like that — I’m allergic to cheap cognac — but holy crap. Has it really been two decades since intricately striking comedienneuse Sandra Bernhard, who snarkily uttered the words above, tickled homos pink and sent confounded heteros down the Stoney End with her "Without You I’m Nothing" tour? Lorf, my mints are dusty. Somebody hand me a tambourine! Come back, come back to the Five and Dime, Barbra Streisand, Barbra Streisand!

Wow. That was really gay, even for moi. Somebody hang me in Saudi Arabia.

Slutting it up with a crooked-toothed Madonna, slapping down Roseanne’s sloppy joes, grouching through Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird — this is all but winceworthy water under the bridge of the fierce-at-52 Ms. Sandra’s exquisite, seemingly unrestructured nose. And who could ever forget her immortal early ’90s safe-sex rap "Wanna touch my pussy, wanna taste my jam? / Gotta be usin’ a dental dam." Not me, that’s who.

Lucky for us all, Sandra’s planning a 20th anniversary tour of "Without You I’m Nothing" next year, but until then she’s wetting our whistles with a New Year’s Eve extravaganza at the Castro Theatre. She rang me up for a quick chat about the glory of her upcoming appearance.

SANDRA BERNHARD Darling! How are you?

SFBG Gurl, I’m hungover as usual — and George W. Bush is totally fucking up the global climate summit in Bali right now. I’m frantically fast-forwarding myself into 2009.

SB Don’t I know it, child. I watched the Democratic debate the other day, and I was weeping. I cannot wait for any one of them to win. Meanwhile I’m just keeping myself busy, spending time with my family [partner Sara and nine-year-old daughter Cicely], and basking in quiet limelight.

SFBG At the end of this month you’re doing two nights in Atlanta and then immediately flying to San Francisco on New Year’s Eve. I noticed on your holiday gift wish list you’ve asked for a lot of protein bars, cinnamon gum, and organic cosmetics. Is that how you stay so fresh?

SB I’ve also got a world music album and new film, See You in September, coming out next year. You know, it looks like I’m doing a lot, but really I do a show or two, take a day off to center myself, and get back out there, ready for more. I can’t wait to be in San Francisco — such a fun city, full of amazing people.

SFBG You were here in November to judge the Miss Trannyshack Pageant. I bet you got a lot of wig in your teeth that night.

SB It was a wild ride that seemed like it would never end.

SFBG So what can we expect at your New Year’s show? "Everything Bad Is Beautiful" with a balloon drop?

SB Are you kidding? People these days can barely sit still for 20 minutes, let alone watch a whole show on New Year’s Eve. I’m planning a kind of variety spectacular. Video clips, some stand-up, a bunch of songs.

SFBG Your art has always been about tearing down the whole idea of celebrity. It’s like you were foretelling our current moment when you said, "To be superfamous you need to act like a total freak."

SB It’s so true! I think in this country we’ve just given up. We’re burying our heads in whatever fucked-up, methed-up, Britney–Paris–Paula Abdul disasters are spoon-fed to us. I mean, I tear those girls apart in my shows, but even doing that is giving them more dimensions than they actually deserve.

SFBG Most of my readers are total fashion whores. You always look so together. Who are you wearing lately?

SB Zac Posen, Marc Jacobs, Juicy Couture, Stella McCartney, Alexander McQueen, and I love this Israeli designer named Nili Lotan. It’s a mix. But you’ve gotta watch out — there’s too much cheap knockoff shit out there.

SFBG You’ve been such an inspiration to most of the dykes I know.

SB I love young gay women — they’ve caused a revolution. They’re more free with their money. They’re jaunty. I have this story I tell where I went to lunch with this older friend. The waiter asked if she wanted more corn bread, and she was, like, "Sure!" Then she turned to me and whispered triumphantly, "It’s free." And I was, like, why don’t you just pay for the damn corn bread if you like it so much? Just pay for it and enjoy it. That’s my message to the world: enjoy your corn bread. *


Dec. 31, 11 p.m., $35–<\d>$100

Castro Theatre

429 Castro, SF

(415) 621-6120


Clay Oven


› paulr@sfbg.com

Two cheers, then, for Google, which recently rerouted its Noe Valley shuttle-bus lines so as to cause less air pollution and other distress in the heart of a neighborhood that has become, in effect, Googleberry RFD, the nesting habitat for those countless Google employees who spend their working days in the suburban wilds of the Peninsula. The child is father to the man, and the city is now the suburb, a dangling appendage to industry but no longer itself industrial. Just recreational.

During the last dot-com boom, in the late 1990s, a rise in both quality and quantity was noted in Bay Area restaurants serving Indian food. Software engineers and other tech types of Indian heritage were drawn here for work, and they expected — and got — an improvement in Indian restaurants, which previously were scarce and abysmal. The renaissance, or naissance, first took hold in the South Bay, whose environs were and are dotted with gigantic tech installations (including Google’s, in Mountain View), but now that everyone has moved to the city, enabled by shuttle buses with wi-fi and probably whirlpools, the city is getting better Indian restaurants too. Two more cheers.

Before the recent opening of Clay Oven, Noe Valley had no Indian restaurants at all, not a one, despite the neighborhood’s profound connection to Silicon Valley. An Indian restaurant in Noe Valley was arguably overdue — and not just because of software engineers and other Googloids either, but also because many of the rest of us marginal-Luddite types happen to like Indian food and its hit parade of spices. Of course, Dosa and Aslam’s Rasoi, each within a few steps of Valencia and 22nd streets, aren’t exactly light-years from Noe Valley, but there is something cozier about Clay Oven’s setting on outer Church, amid a quieter but flourishing restaurant row and Muni’s J trains rumbling past at odd intervals: a real convenience for those lucky enough to catch one.

If you believe addresses are portents, then you might think Clay Oven’s prospects are no better than mixed. The space was occupied most recently by a California-style bistro that never quite caught on, and before that by a Chinese restaurant that never quite caught on, and before that by a Burmese-inflected spot whose owners kept an old sofa and a dead television at the back of the dingy dining room. The Burmese food was pretty good, but eating there was like having dinner in a U-Store warehouse.

All of that dimness and debris has been cleared away. The old TV and sofa are long gone, and the kitchen has been separated from the stylishly low-key dining room by a new wall. Even the building’s faded facade has been remade; it’s now clad in red granite. If you didn’t know what used to be here, you would never guess.

The food is what many of us would probably consider standard-issue in Indian restaurants these days, but it’s carefully prepared and intensely flavorful. (Clay Oven, not coincidentally, has a number of older siblings around the city, including India Clay Oven in the Richmond, as well as a namesake Clay Oven in San Mateo.) The only real disappointments for me were the pappadum ($1), the crinkly lentil wafers, which were cold and therefore a little flat, and the palak pakora ($3.50), fritters of spinach in a batter of chickpea flour — also cold, and apparently fried (well ahead of time) in rancid oil.

Other than that: satisfaction. How about tandoori chicken, which is so cliché that it transcends cliché? You would expect a place called Clay Oven to have a pretty good version, since a tandoor is a clay oven, and Clay Oven’s version ($9.95 for a half bird) is exemplary, very tender and juicy, with the requisite reddish pink color (from the seasoned yogurt marinade), presented on a sizzling iron platter with slivers of onion and quartered lemons.

But we were pleased too to find tandoori chicken meat turning up in a dish called chicken makhai ($10.95): chunks of boneless flesh swimming in a voluptuous, spicy sauce very similar to that of chicken tikka masala. The restaurant offers this latter preparation too ($11.95), the only difference being … well, we couldn’t really detect any difference. If you’re concerned about the heat factor, incidentally, you needn’t worry, since the kitchen will tune the food’s fieriness to your specification.

Vegetarian dishes, as is typical at South Asian restaurants, are more than sufficient if you are a shunner of flesh. Saag paneer ($8.95) struck us as unusually and agreeably creamy, with a heavy allotment of white cheese, while chana masala ($7.95) — chickpeas cooked in a spicy gravy — was rich in said gravy, which helped allay any sense of dryness. (Chickpeas can be chalky.) Rice, of course, is offered to help capture the sauces of all of these dishes, but the breads work just as nicely, from a simple, well-blistered naan ($1.95) to a whole-wheat chapati ($1.50) glistening with oil.

Some of the humblest of dishes were among the most memorable. A cucumber salad ($2.75) turned out not to be a yogurty raita (though raita is available) but instead a heap of peeled coins sprinkled with salt and curry powder. And mulligatawny soup ($3.50), a hearty combination of shredded chicken and rice, was Soup Nazi–worthy, though served in a dainty little bowl. Ordinarily I might have hoped for a slightly bigger serving, but the world is not ordinary in the wake of Thanksgiving. So: two cheers yet again for little bowls of soup, and a dessert menu (of such usual suspects as rice pudding and saffron ice cream) from which one can abstain with a clear conscience. *


Lunch: daily, 11 a.m.–3 p.m. Dinner: daily, 4–10 p.m.

1689 Church, SF

(415) 826-2400


Beer and wine


Not noisy

Wheelchair accessible

Chopped liver


› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS What I like about technology is iTunes, because you can do a search for songs about rivers. It’s coming up on Christmas. People are cutting down trees, putting up reindeer, singing songs of joy and peace. I wish I had a river I could skate away on.

This week’s column will attempt to answer the oft-asked and seldom fully explored question, "What am I? Chopped liver?"

There’s an easy answer. That’s why the question’s seldom fully explored. But you know and I know that easy answers don’t tend to be any righter than convoluted ones. Plus, they’re not nearly as fun. So let’s put on a pot of coffee and our thinking caps and work this one out. Shall we?

Speaking of breaking it down, thank you for riding in the nervous breakdown lane with me last week. Like a lot of other people and Joni Mitchell, I don’t do too well during the holidays. Not anymore. I think it’s because I have friends and parties and now even dates and shit, so I get desperately nostalgic for the happy days when I would spend Christmas camping out by myself in the desert, or holing up in Idaho with Mr. and Mrs. Johnny "Jack" Poetry and some llamas.

Now, alas, I am popular and neurotic. I was at an art opening at this sex club, on my hands and knees on the floor … cleaning up the wine I’d just spilled all over my pretty dress and everything, when I overheard the following from somewhere up and over me, where heads were:

"Are you ready for your Hanukkah party?"

"I can’t find anyone to make the chopped liver. Nobody knows how to make chopped liver. Do you know how to make chopped liver?"


I jumped to my feet and located the owners of the voices. "I don’t know how to make chopped liver either!" I said. "But I love liver and would like to learn!"

Luckily I knew the conversationalists. They were friends of a friend and had no choice now but to invite me to their Hanukkah party. Didn’t I tell you I was popular?

The art show was on a Saturday, and the Hanukkah party was on Wednesday, so I had four days to learn how to make a dish that I had not only never made but also never eaten. I’d never even seen it. I’m not Jewish. I started calling all of my Jewish friends and exes and asking them who makes the best chopped liver. And, being good Jews, they all said the same exact thing: their mother.

The Liver Lady, the only one I know who loves liver more than I do, gave me the general idea: chopped-up chicken livers, some chicken fat, chopped-up onions, and hard-boiled eggs, also chopped. She would have been more exact, she said, but her mom was out of town.

I e-mailed Crawdad de la Cooter’s mom, my favorite ever ex-mother-in-law and kitchen comrade and, according to Crawdad, the best chopped-liver maker in the world. She sent a recipe, but I didn’t exactly follow it, even though it called for enormous amounts of butter. I figured if I was going to impress the Jews — which is, after all, my ultimate goal in life — I was eventually going to have to learn to make schmaltz.

Now, schmaltz … schmaltz is a beautiful thing. Especially considering what a goofy word it is. What you do is, you cut all the fat and skin off a chicken, throw it in a frying pan with some onions, and render the bejesus out of it. What you wind up with is not bacon grease, but it’s up there. Bacon fat, butter, schmaltz. I fried the chopped onions in it, broiled the chicken livers, boiled the eggs, and then brought everything together and chopped it some more.

So that’s chopped liver. As for the rest of the question, the "What am I?" … Um, the punctuation? The mark at the end of the question, the dot dot dot. Period. Pause. Your huckleberry friend?

Oh, and the chopped liver, yes. The host said it was the best he’d ever had. Out of respect for his mother, I won’t print his name.

My new favorite restaurant is Pho 84. Its hot and sour soup not only is the hottest hot and sour soup going but also has — get this — okra in it. Swimming with the shrimps and celery and pineapple and tomato. Only thing: try getting out of there for $10 or under. Definitely a date place. *

PHO 84

Mon.–Fri., 11 a.m.–3 p.m. and 5–9 p.m.; Sat., noon–9 p.m.; Sun., 5–9 p.m.

354 17th St., Oakl.

(510) 832-1338

Takeout available



Loose women


› andrea@altsexcolumn.com

Dear Andrea:

I have a good one for you! What does being pregnant and having a baby do to your body? Is it true that birth will enlarge your vagina, or make it "loose?" Does it get worse if you have more children? Is it noticeable to men? What about if you have a C-section? Are there other postpartum changes to a woman’s body that affect how much she enjoys sex?



Dear Trep:

The harsh truth is that pregnancy and childbirth usually do cause physical changes (thanks for asking!), although these are by no means always dire or even particularly notable. The change you sound most concerned about is vaginal looseness and yes, it does happen. As I am constantly repeating, the vagina is not a fixed size like a train tunnel. It is a potential space, like a sock. Even so, it’s supported by a whole complex of structures in the pelvis: not only muscles but also connective tissues of various types, all of which can get stretched out of shape, weakened, or even torn. Tone at the front of the vagina, where we feel most of the sexual sensation, can be lost due to perineal stretching, tearing, or the increasingly unfashionable but still sometimes necessary episiotomy. Nerve damage is fairly common too, and we need those nerves for more than just sensation; they also tell our muscles what to do. So while the sort of looseness that a million extremely crass jokes are built on may be rare, it’s probably not as rare as the completely pristine and unchanged postpartum vajayjay. Change happens, and yes, pregnancy itself — a.k.a. carrying a smallish medicine ball firmly lodged above your cervix for half a year — is enough to do some of the changing.

There’s an excellent if not particularly cheerful article called "Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Your Pelvic Floor: Understanding the Connections" at www.augs.org/custom/kb/answer.cfm?id=61. It’s adapted from a book called Ever Since I Had My Baby (Random House, 2003), which sounds informative if a bit dispiriting. Do we really want to know that we might lose a fair amount of the sensation we enjoy during intercourse? Do we want to know how extremely common a little bit of urinary stress incontinence — something we thought only happened to great-grandma — really is? Actually, yes, we do. Much of the potential damage can be avoided or at least mitigated by good care and careful choices, so of course we want to know about these things ahead of time.

I looked up "changes after childbirth" or some such thing on About.com yesterday and found the usual sprightly lecture on doing your Kegel exercises. Under the "Did you find this article helpful?" heading was a large, crabby "No!," which cracked me up. I’m sorry the Kegels didn’t work for Crabby Reader, but in truth they’re about all we’ve got in our looseness-mitigation and restoration of continence arsenal. There are surgeries, but surgery is expensive and risky and requires the kind of recovery time that mothers rarely have available for lolling about on the chaise longue sipping sweet tea. In truth, a lengthy course of Kegels, energetically performed, can vastly improve muscle tone and help prevent its loss in the first place. Exercising your hoo-ha can feel undignified, but being afraid to sneeze (or laugh!) for fear of leaking is damned depressing. After all the Kegels there may still be a little extra space up there, but frankly, that can be put to good — or at least entertaining — use. It’s the tonelessness toward the front that both partners can find dismaying and that inspires the jokes that end with (please forgive me, mothers everywhere): "Flashlight? Hell! Help me find my keys, and we can drive out!"

Other changes you wonder about (arousal, lubrication) are generally more of a more hormonal nature and will right themselves in time. "But what other long-term disfigurements and indignities await?" the anxious nullipara asks. Have you seen those trend pieces in the papers on the so-called mommy makeover? That’s a tummy tuck (for weakened abs and loose skin), lipo (to remove new fat deposits on hips, thighs, or belly), and breast augmentation (for deflated boobs). Not always mentioned but also available: trimming or plumping stretched or saggy labia and a little internal spiffication. Think what you like about the doctors who push such services and the women who feel they need them. Many of my own such thoughts fall on the uncharitable side, and a browse through those cosmetic surgery Web sites, which are as unappealingly (to me) slick and pink as a freshly Brazilianed mons veneris, does little to change my reaction. Still, if you need help, you need it, and we should be glad the procedures are available to those in need, even if it’s hard not to think about all of the yachts and country-club memberships some of those unwarranted labiaplasties are buying.



PS Don’t forget my favorite girl-power Web site, Shape of a Mother (theshapeofamother.com/home.php). Consciousness raising, not boob lifting!

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.

Humans are dogs


› annalee@techsploitation.com

TECHSPLOITATION Two new studies of animal intelligence caught my attention last week because they prove that humans are no better than dogs and monkeys. This is something I’ve always felt to be true on an anecdotal level, and now cognitive science backs me up.

A researcher in Vienna, Austria, trained dogs to sort photographs into two categories: pictures of other dogs and pictures of landscapes. This is big news because it means that dogs not only recognize what’s happening in symbolic visual representations (photos) but can also figure out how to translate an abstract concept ("dog") into a category of pictures. Previously, nobody thought dogs could categorize photographs or even abstract concepts other than "food" and "enemy."

The other study is even better, partly because it’s called "Basic Math in Monkeys and College Students" (oh, those zany editors at PloS Biology). In this study, cognitive scientists gave monkeys and college students a series of very simple tests to determine how quickly and accurately they could add up the number of dots on a screen. On average, the monkeys and students answered in the same amount of time. The students were 94 percent accurate in their answers, while the monkeys were 76 percent accurate. So monkeys are nearly as good as humans at adding dots, even without the benefit of a college education.

What struck me first on contemputf8g these studies is that cognitive science has taken us in an unforeseen direction. This is a field that promises to study consciousness as if it were a machine, to look at thoughts as electrical impulses and biological structures rather than sublime metaphysics. It would seem, therefore, to run the risk of dehumanizing us, of converting all of our crazy, ambivalent feelings into mere blips on a chart. Instead, what cognitive science has done, at least in these studies, is show us how deeply connected we are to the living creatures around us.

By breaking down our thought processes into their component parts — pattern recognition, counting — we are able to see that the building blocks of thought are not unique to Homo sapiens. Dogs and monkeys are doing this shit too. In fact, there is a monkey out there who can add better than a college student (some of the humans did in fact score lower than some of the monkeys in the study).

So what do we do now that we know dogs and monkeys are capable of humanlike intelligence? Shall we test more animals and discover what we already knew about elephants and dolphins having language? I hope so.

If nothing else, this should teach humans to be a lot more damn humble about our supposed niftiness.

Of course, there are dangers in taking this scenario too far. Instead of seeing ourselves as having something in common with animals, we might use this information to make animals into better slaves. Science fiction author David Brin’s Uplift series is partly about this. He describes humans using biotech and genetic engineering to "uplift" chimps and dolphins, giving them human-equivalent intelligence. The creatures become fully intelligent, but socially they remain second-class citizens.

The two transformed species are in a constant struggle to prove themselves to the humans, and often fail; Brin portrays the dolphins as liable to slip back into incoherent animalness when threatened.

Still, we have not yet appointed ourselves uplifters. Humans are at a moment in our history when we are still in awe of animals who can think the way we do. Now we have to figure out the appropriate next steps.

Obviously, we need to test more animals for intelligence, using a variety of methods.

Probably the most oddly hopeful news to come out of all of this is the fact that both of these tests were done without any killing or brain invading. The researchers who did the dog test even invented a special paw-operated touch-screen computer for the dogs to use. I like that. Not only have we discovered that dogs are like us, but we’ve also invented the first dog-friendly user interface. What next? Wii for dogs? That would pave the way for true interspecies bonding. *

Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd whose cat is unfortunately not among the mentally gifted creatures who can add, sort, or even recognize food.

The case for Kucinich


OPINION At a recent Potrero Hill Democratic Club presidential forum, when the representatives of Hilary Clinton, John Edwards, and Barack Obama spoke more about how the candidates made them feel than about their positions on the issues, it first struck me as strange. Eventually, though, their approach made sense — I realized these people weren’t necessarily all that hot about their candidates’ actual policies.

In defending their health care programs, for instance, the Clinton and Obama reps tacitly acknowledged that a single-payer plan was superior to their candidates’ offerings, while the Edwards spokesperson cautioned the audience against seeking a candidate who believed everything they believed.

Maybe it’s the lack of distinct seasons in San Francisco or something, but these people seemed confused about the difference between voting in a primary and in a final election. November is the month when you vote for what you have to vote for; in February you can vote for what you believe in. In November the halfhearted health plan of one of these candidates, which would continue siphoning scarce public funds away from health services and into the coffers of the private health insurance industry, will likely be superior to whatever scheme the Republican nominee offers up. But in the February primary you can actually vote for Dennis Kucinich’s single-payer plan.

Logically, we might ask why any of these front-running candidates who won’t pledge to have all American troops out of Iraq by the end of their first term should expect much support in San Francisco, arguably the nation’s most antiwar city. Why would anyone who opposes this war not back a candidate like Kucinich, who calls for complete troop withdrawal within three months? Or why, for that matter, would voters who support gay marriage not also back Kucinich, a gay-marriage supporter himself?

Well, when I appear as a Kucinich representative at election forums, people answer those questions for me all the time in postmeeting conversations. They and their friends believe in what Kucinich says, they often tell me, but "he can’t win," so they’ll vote for someone who they think can.

Now let’s be honest here and admit that those of us who get worked up about peace and justice issues are prone to complain a lot. We are ever bemoaning the influence of money in politics and the poor job the news media do in covering the real issues. But when we get to the point where a candidate is raising the important issues and we know we agree with him and we still won’t vote for him, then the next time we start complaining, it may just be time to look in the mirror.

Casting a vote against the war in Iraq is a lot easier than marching against it or even writing a letter. But if antiwar voters won’t vote for antiwar candidates, you have to ask why those candidates should go to the trouble of running and why the big-money candidates should pay any attention to the supposed antiwar vote.

Whatever else happens in this election, one thing is certain: if you don’t vote in February for what you believe in, you won’t get to vote for it in November. And then there will be no one else to blame. *

Tom Gallagher, a former Massachusetts state representative, is a San Francisco activist.

Is New College dying?


› gwschulz@sfbg.com

After a turbulent year in which its accreditation was suspended and school president Martin Hamilton reluctantly resigned, New College of California is in dire financial straits. Some even fear that the innovative liberal arts institution — whose central campus at 777 Valencia Street once housed a mortuary before the school was founded there 40 years ago — could be in its death throes.

New College has experienced a 41 percent decrease in enrollment this year, seeing its population drop to fewer than 500 students. And the institution is losing about $80,000 each month, according to minutes from a faculty meeting that took place in late November. The school needs more than $2 million to cover operating expenses into January, and school trustees have considered filing for bankruptcy protection.

A Chapter 11 reorganization would allow New College time to improve its finances without shuttering completely. But acting school president Luis Molina says bankruptcy would also mean the school wouldn’t receive any federal financial aid for its students, a source of tuition revenue it desperately needs to survive. So he insists bankruptcy is off the table.

"I’m not going to deny that the school is in a financial crisis," Molina said. "But from my perspective, I don’t see bankruptcy as the solution."

New College is nonetheless struggling to make payments to vendors, and payroll checks have bounced or been withheld by the school. Molina also acknowledged that in the summer Pacific Gas and Electric Co. threatened to turn off the school’s power due to unpaid utility bills.

Dozens of financial aid applications for the just-ended fall semester still need to be processed, which means New College can’t yet receive the federal loans and grants it pays out to students, many of whom rely on the funds to cover basic expenses while attending classes.

"We can’t believe it’s happening," said Cheryl Fabio, a second-year law student at New College. "No one knows anything. We’re operating completely on a rumor mill, and the worst of the rumors keep on becoming [true]."

Fabio returned to school after working for several years as an Oakland city employee. Despite the uncertainty about New College’s future, she was studying for finals and continuing to attend classes. But she hasn’t received $10,000 worth of financial aid from New College this semester, and she’s four months behind in rent at the home in Pittsburg where she lives with her daughter.

The US Department of Education sent a letter to the school in August informing administrators that applications for federal funds submitted by New College’s Financial Aid Office would face heightened scrutiny due to the discovery by investigators earlier this year that the school may have illegally mishandled scholarships and other aid money.

New College must repair dozens of student files and submit a mountain of documentation for preapproval on each financial aid package before being reimbursed. Eighty such packets were submitted Dec. 12, Molina said, but as of now money from earlier applications is only trickling into the hands of students.

That’s a considerable setback for the school, since it relies heavily on student tuition to continue operating, so it’s considering a big fundraising drive and a halt in enrollment in some programs for the spring semester until its finances are stabilized.

The November minutes show proposals including an across-the-board 25 percent pay cut as an alternative to layoffs, but up to 20 full-time faculty members between January and spring of next year might need to be cut to keep the school from going under. Another option, Molina said, is for some faculty to work part-time and apply for limited unemployment benefits from the state to make up the difference.

Maria Bourn is a second-year law student who moved to San Francisco from Washington to attend New College. She’s received her financial aid for the fall semester, but her last $1,200 check for her work-study job as a legal clerk bounced. Bourn says that while she’s fortunate enough to receive help from a partner who works, one of her classmates was forced to return to Pennsylvania because he couldn’t continue paying rent without federal assistance.

"It has just been one disaster after another," Bourn said. "Last year I didn’t receive my financial aid for several months because of difficulty after difficulty with [New College’s] financial aid department."

Recently departed president Hamilton had vowed to stay on for up to a year during a transition period, but Ralph Woolf, the executive director for the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, insisted during a July meeting with the school that it would be "unacceptable" for Hamilton to stay, according to minutes.

WASC’s accreditation commission for senior colleges suspended New College in June after a rare special investigation revealed flawed financial controls, sloppy record keeping of student files, and ill-conceived academic curricula. A blistering report from the commission concluded, for instance, that the school couldn’t explain the course requirements and specific content of its Pilot Hybrid Leadership in Urban Transformed Environments program, which New College hoped would benefit adult African Americans who otherwise have trouble accessing higher education.

"The commission has repeatedly found that, in addition to longstanding and ongoing financial challenges, New College did not have systems and structures in place in very basic areas of operation, including governance, faculty oversight of academic matters, assessment of student learning, and financial management and accounting," the report stated.

WASC will decide in February whether to remove New College from probation or strip the school of its accreditation. Woolf refused to comment when we called his office.

Molina said the school may also have to liquidate some of the buildings it owns in San Francisco to maintain solvency. In the meantime, he said, a committee charged with finding a new president for the school has identified three candidates for the job.

"The students, the faculty, the staff — there’s a huge commitment to keep the college open," Molina said. "It’s part of the social fabric of San Francisco…. Nancy Pelosi is a strong supporter of the college. I know her office is concerned…. We’re doing everything we can to make sure this college can survive."

Money woes and accreditation problems were a common occurrence during Hamilton’s rocky tenure, which often divided the campus into factions of supporters and opponents of his administration.

New College bought one of San Francisco’s oldest and most beloved movie theaters in January 2006 in an effort to save it from closure. But employees at the Roxie Film Center on 16th Street are now unsure about its future. Sunny Angulo has worked there for two and a half years. A payroll check from early November bounced, and she hasn’t received checks for the two following pay periods.

"We have seen single-screen, small independent theaters all over the city — all over the country, really — close down," Angulo said. "They’re sitting around rotting. Without another source of revenue tying in a nonprofit, educational component, I think that it would be very difficult for the Roxie to survive. Almost impossible."

Peter Gabel, a board trustee of New College, admitted during a small Dec. 14 all-campus meeting that he’d recently loaned the school money to help cover payroll expenses. Shortly afterward, however, the attendees voted 10–9 to eject the Guardian from the room after discovering that a reporter was present.

New College’s federal tax forms show that in late 2005, Gabel loaned the school $95,000 to cover operating expenses, and other records show that he loaned the school more than $400,000 in August 2007. As of May 2006, the school owed creditors nearly $6 million, New College’s most recent federal tax forms show.

Despite WASC’s sweeping indictment of the school’s operation, New College’s leaders indignantly responded in a June letter that the school was "shocked and even traumatized by the sudden abruptness of the investigation," which it claimed "lacked due process."

The school also denied that its administrators were reluctant to cooperate with the investigation and implied that complainants who first contacted WASC conspired to damage the school.

New College did admit, however, that Hamilton was duped by an exchange student who promised the school a sizable donation in return for help in attending classes after entering the country from Nepal. The student claimed he was a wealthy bureaucrat there but turned out to be more or less a con artist without money even to cover tuition.

New College has long served as an academic training ground for social justice advocates and liberal activists. In 2002 it made national news when it launched a green business master’s degree that balances traditional marketing and management courses with sustainability concepts in an attempt to marry profit with ecological sensitivity.

Despite the challenges, Molina remains optimistic about the school’s future: "Once we get our record-keeping offices in order so that we don’t have delays processing the financial aid, things will start running smoothly." *

Shop like a Scrooge


› deborah@sfbg.com

As soon as Black Friday came, you reflexively started rocking back and forth, chanting, "No, no, no," in order to drown out the concert of ho, ho, hos blaring from malls and gift shops across town. The shopping frenzy that occurs between Thanksgiving and Christmas brings you down faster than a kid-wet Santa. Until, in a moment of weakness, at the 11th hour, you decide it’s a wonderful life after all and you want to partake in the joy of giving. So how are you going to round up a sack of gifts before it’s too late to avoid the bitter loneliness of being a Scrooge? Don’t worry — lots of places are open on Christmas Eve, and a few on Christmas Day. Follow one of these strategies and you won’t even feel like you’re Christmas shopping, or trying to cram it all in last minute.

Hit the corner store

I’m not suggesting you get your loved ones cancer sticks and a bottle of Night Train for the yuletide, though for some, booze and smokes might be at the top of the list. Still, if you’re in a bind, you can always buy a bottle of top-shelf liquor. Personally, I’m a Jameson’s girl. Less embittered individuals might prefer Yellowtail’s celebrated Shiraz, while sober friends might appreciate a handful of Lotto tickets. Any of these are available at your convenience store just around the corner. But when seeking out the finer things in life, try these gourmet mini-marts:


Organic fruits, fresh flowers, imported sparkling wines like Prasecco, and fancy chocolates will help you throw together an assortment of decadent gift baskets for all of your peeps.

1400 Guerrero, SF. (415) 282-6247, 26thandguerreromarket.com. Open Christmas Eve, 8 a.m.–9 p.m. Closed Christmas Day.


Your gift recipient will think you special-ordered the rare Belgian beer from Europe, but all you had to do was grab it on the go at this top-shelf Castro District liquor dispensary.

2299 15th St., SF. (415) 255-0610. Open Christmas Eve until 6 p.m. and Christmas Day, 9 a.m.–6 p.m.


The first step is admitting it: all of your friends are winos. The next step is popping over to this classy Hayes Valley cellar for vintages in all varieties and prices.

384 Hayes, SF. (415) 863-1104, www.arlequinwine.com. Open Christmas Eve, 11 a.m.–7 p.m.

Resort to the Internet

The road to Scroogeland is often paved with the best of intentions: last year you vowed not to fill your shopping cart at the megachain stores. Of course, they’re the only ones that will ship your product overnight if you buy online, but you can PayPal these purchases on Christmas Day and still make it look like you thought of them months ago.


It doesn’t matter if you give tickets to a ballet fan or someone who has never been. The 2008 season has many exciting things in store, such as a new-works series that will debut pieces by Mark Morris and Paul Taylor.



Buy a 2008 Peace Calendar from this international human rights organization. No one needs one for another week anyway. Or make a donation in the name of your loved one for any amount. They get the tax deduction, you get the easy way out, and the world gets a little better.


Worsening the pressure of the holiday shopping season is the nonstop guilt trip of public television subscription drives. One way to make up for the nature shows you watched without subscribing is to join our local PBS affiliate’s wine club.


Be a tourist in your hometown

You can kill two birds with one stone by doing your Christmas shopping while showing your relatives around town. Tourist areas always have lots of places open on holidays.

Chinatown is your one-stop shop for everything, especially for those most quintessential of Christmas gifts: robes and slippers. And many shops there will be open until as late as 10 p.m. on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, just as they always are. On Pier 39, where Moms and Dads can’t resist going, no matter how much of a trap it is, there are a few shops that sell something more than shot glasses with the Golden Gate Bridge painted on them.


You’ll find three full floors of those good-luck cats with raised paws, Buddhas for your spiritually Eastern friends, kimonos and house slippers, and sake sets for your ample heavy-drinking associates at this classic Chinatown store.

616 Grant, SF. (415) 362-5750. Call for hours.


Give the classic Scrooge gift of socks. The huge selection means you can cover the feet of everyone in your life with something they’ll actually like.

Pier 39, bldg. G, level 1. (415) 392-7625. Open Christmas Eve, 10–6 p.m. Closed Christmas Day.

Lighten up, for Christ’s (oops, I mean Pete’s) sake:

Maybe you just need a few laughs to get into the spirit of things. Head to one of these comic shops, get lost in the escapist pleasures they offer, then grab some gifts for your friends.


Now that Al’s has moved from his cramped Mission spot to roomier digs in the Castro, he’s turned his store into a one-stop gift shop. In addition to comics in all genres, the store sells greeting cards and a few toys.

1803 Market, SF. (415) 861-1220, www.alscomicssf.com. Open Christmas Eve until 5 p.m. Closed Christmas Day.


From the huge selection of back issues and superhero figurines at this Sunset District shop, you should be able to find something that will bring a smile to the faces of many in a matter of minutes.

2381–2387 Ocean, SF. (415) 239-2669, www.comicoutpost.net. Open Christmas Eve, noon–5 p.m. Closed Christmas Day.

Learning from Enrique


› news@sfbg.com

While chatting with her Guatemalan house cleaner one day, journalist Sonia Nazario casually asked the immigrant mother of four if she planned to have more children. The house cleaner broke down and began crying. She explained to Nazario, a Los Angeles Times reporter, that she hadn’t seen her kids in 12 years, having migrated to the United States so she could make money to send home to them.

Nazario realized her house cleaner’s plight was a common one among Central American women, whose families are so often abandoned by the fathers that the women must do whatever is necessary to ensure that their kids have enough to eat. "Most Americans don’t understand that kind of desperation," Nazario explained to a crowd at San Francisco Public Library’s Koret Auditorium on Nov. 28.

She felt bewildered that someone could come to work in the US while leaving her children behind to live in squalid conditions in Central America. At first, Nazario said, she even felt a bit judgmental. But her house cleaner’s story inspired Nazario to learn more about the level of desperation so many immigrants and their families live with.

Touched by the women’s sacrifices and curious to learn more about the struggles of immigrants — undocumented immigrants in particular — Nazario embarked on an epic journey that led to her writing a newspaper series about a Honduran boy named Enrique who braved numerous obstacles so he could reunite with his mother in the US.

The series won Nazario a prestigious Pulitzer Prize in 2003 and became the blueprint for her book Enrique’s Journey (Random House, 2006), which is currently being developed as an HBO special. Nazario’s work offers a complex and insightful perspective on an immigration issue that has often been oversimplified by pandering presidential campaigns.


Tens of thousands of Latin American youths travel from their home countries toward the US each year on top of trains. The perilous, Odyssey-like trip takes weeks to complete, and migrants rarely reach their goal on their first try. Enrique, for instance, attempted the journey eight times. Other immigrants try dozens of times.

Nazario, wanting to understand the struggles of undocumented immigrants as intimately as possible, replicated Enrique’s journey by boarding the top of a train in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and riding through the heart of Mexico in a three-month excursion. Having received permission from Mexican officials and with the resources to spend the occasional night in a hotel, she didn’t rough it to the extent that migrants — adults and children alike — have to.

But that’s doesn’t mean it was easy. On returning to the US, Nazario began having nightmares about being raped by bandits during the journey and ended up in therapy to deal with the trauma.

The US-Mexico border, she noted, is far from the most daunting leg of the journey for these immigrants: the hardest part is the lush southern Mexican state of Chiapas, which migrants call "the Beast." The region is home to Mexican immigration authorities, corrupt cops who are out to shake down and deport travelers, and ruthless gangsters who control the tops of many of the trains. Mexico deports roughly 200,000 illegal immigrants each year, mostly from Central America.

Enrique still wears the scars of a beating he sustained at the hands of bandits. Torrid heat, all the more unbearable to those riding atop trains made of metal, exhausts and wears down the travelers in an unforgivable fashion.

They call the trains los trens de la muerte, or the trains of death, due to the regularity of death and maiming that occurs when immigrants fall off. Nazario, during her trip, was once hit in the face with a branch and nearly tumbled off the train top, an experience she describes as "harrowing."


The ubiquity of bandits and harmful forces along the railroads is not without a yang to its yin. The enormous compassion of the people of Veracruz, an impoverished region in the south of Mexico, made an indelible impact on Nazario. When trains pass by villages, crowds of supportive villagers throw food and water to the migrants. When townsfolk have no material possessions to share with the immigrants, they offer them their prayers.

Nazario has not only studied the physical dangers experienced by undocumented immigrants during their northbound trips but also analyzed the psychological toll taken by splitting up families. Enrique and many children like him have often wondered of their absent mothers, "Does she really love me?" Enrique, whose mother left him when he was five and was apart from him for 11 years, would stare out his window every Christmas during his mother’s absence, hoping for her return.

Hundreds of thousands of Latin American children have trouble adjusting socially without parental guidance. Given that many fathers in Latin America’s third world enclaves "stray in more ways than one," as Nazario said, many mothers come to the US to find work. Sometimes children like Enrique grow up resenting, even hating, their mothers. Most mothers, Nazario learned, only intend to be away for a year or two, but when they discover that the quality of life and opportunities in America aren’t quite as golden as advertised, their stays become extended indefinitely.

Nazario learned through countless interviews that many children left behind can’t fully comprehend why their mothers left, and they say they’d rather remain penniless than apart.


The immigration debate is hotly contested in the US, particularly in the wake of the May Day protests and the George W. Bush administration’s failure to pass a comprehensive immigration reform package. Rather than bombard listeners and readers with ideological pleas to mend America’s broken immigration system, Nazario mixed her humanizing account of the immigrants’ hardships with relevant facts. Dedicated journalist that she is, she parroted neither the La Raza talking points nor Pat Buchanan’s.

Around 100,000 children like Enrique cross the US border annually in search of their parents. And while the US permits about one million immigrants to enter the country legally each year, they are joined by an additional 850,000 people who enter illegally. Business interests seeking "cheap and compliant" labor lobby on behalf of the influx of undocumented workers, Nazario explained.

Undocumented immigrants undoubtedly do many jobs that Americans won’t, Nazario noted, most prominently agricultural and domestic work.

That said, the large number of undocumented immigrants does undercut wages for some Americans and denies citizens and legal immigrants jobs in fields like construction.


"The women I talked to said it wouldn’t take radical changes to keep them in Honduras," Nazario told her audience. The US, she argued, must play a more proactive role in helping Latin American nations develop their economies. For instance, many products the US imports from China could just as easily be manufactured in countries like Honduras, which would dramatically reduce the number of illegal immigrants from Central America and keep more families together.

In an e-mail to the Guardian, Nazario said that if the US is serious about reducing the flow of undocumented immigrants through its borders, it should not only supply foreign aid to nations in need but also provide "micro-loans through NGO’s to women to create jobs in these countries. They then pay back the loan, which can go to another woman to start a business, and create jobs."

A quarter of El Salvador’s citizens, she added, live outside the country, mostly in the US. Were it not for El Salvador’s dismal economy, most of those people would choose to remain in their native land.

Renee Saucedo, the community empowerment coordinator for La Raza Centro Legal in San Francisco, an immigrant rights organization, told us that "using enforcement and punitive policies are never going to be effective…. Many of the reasons people are forced to uproot their families are because of global free trade agreements." Saucedo said the only effective way to deal with the issue of illegal immigration is to develop policies that serve the poor majority, not the economic elite.

Nazario believes, based on her conversations with countless immigrants, that the US government’s decision to build a fence along the border with Mexico is wasteful and will not accomplish its goals. "People this determined will find their way over a wall, under a wall, around a wall." *

Homes for whom?


› sarah@sfbg.com

After years of letting the free market dictate San Francisco’s housing mix — as a result steadily losing ground on the city’s affordable housing goals — the Board of Supervisors appears primed to place an ambitious bond measure on the fall 2008 ballot to address the housing imbalance.

Winning the necessary support from two-thirds of voters won’t be easy, coming on a ballot with the majority of supervisorial seats up for grabs, the presidential election, and a likely bond measure for rebuilding General Hospital. But Sup. Chris Daly, author of the affordable-housing bond measure, believes it’s a good time to have progressives focus on this most important of problems facing the city.

Last summer affordable-housing funds became a political football in a budget showdown between Daly and Mayor Gavin Newsom, a fight Newsom won, leading to a budget that prioritizes clean streets and a beefed-up Police Department over affordable housing. Newsom’s reelection campaign, which was just gearing up at the time, successfully cast Daly as the villain after the occasionally hotheaded supervisor threatened to bolster housing funds by cutting Newsom’s "pet projects," as Daly called them, which included a community justice center, a Police Academy class, street trees, and the Small Business Assistance Center.

Daly clearly lost that duel when he was savaged by the media and removed from his chair on the Budget Committee by board president Aaron Peskin. But now Daly has bounced back on the issue and secured solid support for his measure, which progressives and affordable-housing activists are already gearing up to fight for next year.

"Just because Newsom had a significant political operation this year does not mean that the affordable-housing issue went away," Daly told the Guardian after securing support for the amendment from six of his colleagues and a broad coalition of housing activists.

The measure would set aside $2.7 billion in city funds for affordable housing over 15 years. It is cosponsored by Sups. Tom Ammiano, Jake McGoldrick, Ross Mirkarimi, Gerardo Sandoval, Sophie Maxwell, Bevan Dufty, and Peskin and backed by Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth (which has made affordable family housing its top priority), the San Francisco Organizing Project, and the Housing Justice Coalition.

The measure would give affordable housing the same baseline of funding that the city already allocates to the Recreation and Park Department fund and the Library Preservation Fund — and less than what it sets aside for the Children, Youth and Families fund, the police fund, and the fire station maintenance fund.

"If we don’t have affordable housing, who is going to use the parks and the libraries?" housing activist Calvin Welch asked.

The amendment would also require the Mayor’s Office of Housing to prepare an affordable-housing plan every three years, present an annual affordable-housing budget, and complete these steps before the rest of the mayor’s budget proposals are finalized.

"I hope these provisions will bring some much-needed transparency and clarity to the affordable-housing process so we can avoid the train wreck of last year," Welch said.

In a June 8 editorial still posted at Newsom’s www.actlocally.org reelection Web site, the San Francisco Chronicle appears to have bought the mayor’s spin that Daly’s request to prioritize housing was all just political theater.

"There was nothing wise or efficient about Supervisor Chris Daly’s bald political ploy to strip $37 million from Mayor Gavin Newsom’s budget priorities and shift most of it into affordable housing," the Chronicle claimed. "Now let’s be clear. We know that San Francisco does need housing. Newsom’s budget also acknowledges the shortage, pumping $217 million into housing programs."

But, according to Welch, "the lie was that Newsom allocated $217 million when he really only allocated $78 million and the board added a further $10 million to the pot…. Newsom was taking credit for more than he was actually allocating and using those other funds to imply that he’d already used a massive amount of the General Fund when he was, in fact, allocating less than the year before. So he was actually talking about a cut."

Newsom press secretary Nathan Ballard told the Guardian that the total affordable-housing budget for fiscal year 2007–08 was $226 million — and of that total budget, "just approximately $90 million is General Fund dollars.

"The balance of funding (the difference between $226 million and $90 million) is a whole variety of other funding sources," he added, listing inclusionary housing in-lieu fees, redevelopment funds, jobs housing linkage fees levied on private development, federal and state sources, and other funds, many of which accumulate over many years, further distorting the budget picture.

But Welch said the housing situation is grim. As he told us, "The truth is that 92 percent of the city’s population can’t afford housing."

Daly’s affordable-housing amendment awaits a Jan. 8 board vote, following a request by Maxwell to allow for affordable housing to be built on sites used under the San Francisco Housing Authority — the so-called Hope SF program — a request Daly supports.

"My issue with Hope SF is [with] any proposal to build a large number of market-rate units on public housing sites," Daly explained, referring to a central tenet of the Newsom-created program.

Meanwhile, a June 2008 ballot measure being pushed by Newsom, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, and a host of other prominent local power brokers threatens to drain what little money the city does have for affordable housing in order to subsidize a massive push by Lennar Corp. to build 8,000 to 10,000 new houses in Candlestick Point, Hunters Point, and the Bayview.

Other than committing to replace low-income Alice Griffith public housing units at a one-to-one ratio, the Bayview Jobs, Parks and Housing Measure does not specify what percentage of the Lennar-built homes will be considered affordable or sold below market rates. Publicly, backers of the measure are presenting the efforts as focused on building a new stadium for the San Francisco 49ers, even though the team has said it would rather move to Santa Clara. Yet the campaign is also keenly aware of the public support for more affordable housing, at least if its ground-level pitches are any indication.

A paid signature gatherer who was recently working the 24th Street BART station (and who also told a Guardian source he was getting the unusually high sum of $2.50 per signature) presented the proposal to passersby as "an affordable housing measure."

Green City: The baby question


› amanda@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY I remember exactly where I was — sitting on a BART train, reading yet another magazine article about global warming — when it hit me harder than ever before: the year 2050 is going to suck.

Predictions suggest it’s going to be hotter, colder, drier, wetter, and stormier in all the wrong places. Sea levels will be up. Resources will be down. The view from 2007 is not good. So how can I, an educated, middle-class American woman, reasonably consider having a child with such a future to offer?

To have or not to have is the baby question everybody asks. I’ll admit I’ve been on the fence for a long time. A survey of my female role models reveals that exactly half took the motherhood plunge (including my own mother), yet the other half refrained. I’m clearly drawn to the childless life for a number of reasons, and reading the International Panel on Climate Change reports released this year has given me one more.

By virtue of our existence, we’re all contributing to global warming, and my impact will be at least doubled by every child I have. According to Al Gore’s carbon calculator (at www.climatecrisis.net), I’m emitting 2.35 tons of carbon dioxide per year, well below the national average of 7.5. But that would certainly increase if I were to have a baby. I’d need a bigger place to live, and that would require more heat and electricity. More flights back East to see Grandma and Grandpa would be in order, and I’d probably buy a car, not to mention all that crap that babies need.

I would become more like the average American, who has a life span of 77.8 years and, according to estimates by the Mineral Information Institute in Golden, Colo., needs 3.7 million pounds of minerals and energy fuels to construct and support a lifetime of stuff — from cars and roads to batteries and soap.

It seems like an effective way to cut our impact on the earth would be to cut population, yet such a strategy almost never comes up.

"In the entire discussion of climate change, there’s been no mention of population," Paul Ehrlich, Bing Professor of Population Studies at Stanford University, told me.

The IPCC’s fourth assessment, released in November, discusses mitigation measures but never suggests decreasing population — except as the unintended result of a natural disaster. Historic attempts to limit population growth have never been popular. China has been chastised for its one-child policy, as were environmental groups like the Sierra Club, which called for limiting immigration in the 1970s to curb population growth in the United States.

"It’s an incredibly personal decision," environmentalist and author Bill McKibben told me. "In our culture it’s not one that’s easy for people to talk about." He addressed it in Maybe One (Simon and Schuster, 1998), in which he explains his decision to have a child after years of saying he and his wife wouldn’t.

McKibben says he wrote the book to uncover the weak mythology that only children are spoiled, myopic brats, to show how religious beliefs have been manipulated, and to point out that an increasing population is really an economic advantage.

Ehrlich, who thinks the US should at least have a population policy, also had one child with his wife, Anne. The realization that having more would contribute to an unsustainable future for their daughter led them to author numerous books on the subject, including The Population Bomb (Ballantine Books, 1968), one of the bellwethers on the impact of unchecked population growth. Since then the issue has essentially disappeared from public consciousness, and Ehrlich thinks that’s because the world’s total fertility rate has, in fact, dropped — from five children per woman to three. In the US it’s decreased even further, to less than the replacement level. This has created the impression that population is no longer a problem.

But that’s not entirely true. While birthrates may be down, the overall population has still grown, because life expectancy has increased. Most of us don’t die when we give birth. We go on living, breathing, eating, drinking, shitting, idling in traffic, jetting between cities, and consuming more and more of the dwindling resources we have — with a child or two at our side.

And the equation is simple, right? The more people, the bigger the problem.

"Well, it’s not a direct multiplier," McKibben said. He offers as an example an Amish family of eight "living simply" and having less of an impact than the average American Brady Bunch. "In global terms it’s so much more about consumption."

Ehrlich and McKibben agree that’s really the problem. "An important point, which is usually missed, is the next 2.5 billion people are going to have a much bigger impact than the last 2.5 billion," Ehrlich said.

According to his research, we’ve surpassed the earth’s carrying capacity, and Americans are only able to overconsume because Africans, Indians, Asians and other developing countries are underconsuming.

If the entire world population ate and drank and drove around like Americans — which is the aspiration of many — we’d need two more Earths.

"The current population is being maintained only through the exhaustion and dispersion of a one-time inheritance of natural capital," the Ehrlichs and Gretchen Daily wrote in the 1997 book The Stork and the Plow (Yale University Press), in which they grapple with the question of a sustainable population for Earth.

Their answer: about two billion. How many are we now? Worldwide, 6.5 billion, which will rise to about 9 billion by 2050 — with most of the growth slated for developing countries. Family planning and education are largely considered the primary factors in keeping the US population under control, and that’s where international efforts have focused, according to Kristina Johnson, population expert for the Sierra Club.

This has required an artful dance around the Mexico City Policy, in place in one form or another since 1984, when Ronald Reagan refused aid to any international agencies that use any monies for abortions. So while we’ve managed to handle our head count at home, we’ve done the opposite abroad.

As for how to deal with our enormous abuse of natural resources, technology has long been hailed as the solution. The guiding principle has been that our children will be smarter than we are, so we’ll leave it up to them to figure it out. However, as the Ehrlichs conclude in their most recent book, One with Ninevah (Island Press, 2004), "The claim that ‘technology will fix the problems’ has been around for decades — decades in which the putative advantages of claimed technological ‘fixes’ have often failed to appear or proved to be offset by unforeseen nasty side effects."

For example, we essentially avoided large-scale famine by figuring out how to reap more crops from our soil. But we haven’t mastered how to do this without the use of pesticides and, increasingly, genetically modified organisms that have transformed diverse farms into precarious monocultures.

Today we’re counting on technology even more, but some of the proposed solutions still raise questions. Do we have enough acreage to grow biofuels? What would be the long-term impacts of capturing carbon emissions and burying them underground? Ditto for spent nuclear fuel.

And all of these variables factor in those 2.5 billion people to come, without suggesting people consider not having children.

If there’s a mantra for any concerned citizen to adopt, it should be less. Use less. Buy less. Be less of a draw on the system. But as Richard Heinberg writes in Peak Everything (New Society, 2007), "People will not willingly accept the new message of ‘less, slower, and smaller,’ unless they have new goals toward which to aspire."

Cutting carbon emissions is a serious goal, and it looks like leadership is going to have to come from within. The Bali talks have produced no binding agreement except … more talks.

Our elected representatives have finally raised US fuel-economy standards for the first time since 1975, to the slightly less shameful level of 35 miles per gallon by 2020. Environmentalism is peaking as a popular movement, but the credo to consume less has been divorced from its consciousness.

"Green" products are now the fastest-growing consumer market. In fact, this holiday season you can buy a pair of chic Little Levi’s for your kid. They’re just $148 at Barney’s, and "a portion of proceeds" will go to the Trust for Public Land. How much? Who knows? The company isn’t saying. Just shut up and shop and don’t worry about it — they’re organic. *

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

Gifts for good causes


› molly@sfbg.com

Everyone loves the two-birds-with-one-stone approach to gift giving: a piece of furniture that covers both Mom and Dad, a pair of event tickets for your SO that means you get to go too, or the ever-popular this-item-is-so-big-it-covers-Christmas-and-your-birthday gift.

But in most cases, this gift-that-keeps-giving approach only benefits you and the giftee. How about letting one of the worthy organizations below in on some of the action? These gifts for good causes will benefit your loved ones and the planet, giving you the gift of a good conscience.


For everything from sleek kitchenware to funky, rainbow-themed holiday ornaments, this HIV/AIDS service provider has it covered with its "A Home for the Holidays" holiday store and event center, through Dec. 31.

2278 Market, SF. www.underoneroof.org


Pirate gear from this Mission District store helps support mentorship programs in writing skills.

826 Valencia, SF. (415) 642-5905, www.826valencia.org


Books, art, toys, and games from the Crissy Field Warming Hut Bookstore and Café (Presidio Bldg. 983, SF; 415-561-3040), the Crissy Field Bookstore (603 Mason, SF; 415-561-7761), Alcatraz Island Bookstores (415-561-4922), and the Muir Woods Visitor Center (415-388-7368) all benefit the conservancy.



When you choose the ceramic masks, tiles, handmade pillows, note cards, or other wares at the Creativity Explored Holiday Art Sale going on through Dec. 28, 50 percent of the proceeds go directly to the artist, while the rest helps maintain this nonprofit visual arts center for artists with developmental disabilities.

3245 16th St., SF. (415) 863-2108



Buying ArcAngel holiday cards will benefit Arc of San Francisco, which serves, supports, and advocates for individuals with developmental disabilities. Or get individual cards or 10-packs from San Rafael’s Drawbridge, a program for homeless children. In both cases, the cards are designed by clients.





Shopping online doesn’t disqualify you from do-gooding — even if you want to shop at major retailers. Before buying that radio from Best Buy or that towel set from Target, check online malls that donate a portion of proceeds to organizations like the March of Dimes and the Nature Conservancy (at no extra cost to you).




You can also try the more direct approach at World of Good, a Berkeley organization that works with artisan cooperatives around the world to import high-quality goods, like fuzzy scarves from India and olive trays from Tanzania, while providing living wages, safe working conditions, and career stability to the artisans.



If you’re a sending-flowers kind of gifter, try Organic Bouquets, the Marin florist that not only sells and delivers organic flowers, plants, and chocolates online, by phone, and at Whole Foods Markets nationwide but also dedicates a percentage of its profits to charities like the Red Cross and the National Wildlife Federation.

1-877-899-2468, www.organicbouquet.com


The purpose of this organization is to effect positive social change through documentary photography. Support it by gifting one of its prints.

49 Geary, Suite 225, SF. (415) 391-6300, www.fiftycrows.org


This Mission fair-trade shop’s paper cutouts, party streamers, clothing, and Day of the Dead items are gorgeous — and proceeds support indigenous artisans from Chiapas and central Mexico.

3331 24th St., SF. 1-888-722-4264, www.casabonampak.com

Reining in the UC


EDITORIAL The deal that’s slated to turn a former University of California campus into a private housing development in San Francisco is another demonstration of a long pattern of problems between the UC and local governments. Put simply, the university is a bad neighbor and a bad actor — and it’s time the State Legislature did something about it.

The history of local communities fighting the UC is legend in this state, dating back at least to the People’s Park battles in Berkeley in the 1960s, and today that city is fighting the school’s plan to build a new sports stadium. In San Francisco the UC has tried to run over local planning laws to build a garage at Hastings College of the Law, is angering neighbors with its expansion plans at Mission Bay — and is now in the spotlight at 55 Laguna Street, the site of an old UC Extension campus.

The university wants to let A.F. Evans Co. build 440 units of housing — much of it high-end, with an average rent of $4,000 per month — on the 5.8-acre site. Only 15 percent of the units would be available below market rate.

Sup. Ross Mirkarimi has been trying to increase the number of affordable units but has run into a giant obstacle: the UC is demanding $18 million for the land, and it won’t budge an inch. In fact, the university has told him it’s prepared to drop the whole deal and walk away (leaving the campus empty and crime-infested and angering its neighbors) if the city tries to get a penny of that lease money.

We recognize that, like every other state agency, the UC desperately needs cash — but we’re sick of university officials acting arrogant, refusing to deal in good faith, and threatening to use the power of a state agency to bypass local land-use laws. While San Francisco struggles to make the 55 Laguna project work, the State Legislature ought to find a way to force the UC to work with local governments — and remove its ability to circumvent local laws.

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

I think 2008 is going to be the year when we decide as a city if we’re serious about San Francisco.

We’re going to decide if we want this to be a place where working people can live, a place that isn’t just a playground for the rich, a place where the people who drive the buses and clean the hotel rooms and teach in the schools can get to work without commuting 50 miles.

And it’s not going to be an easy choice.

See, there’s a city charter amendment headed for the November ballot that would set aside a fairly good-size chunk of money, around $30 million per year, for affordable housing. It won’t solve the city’s housing crisis — that would take at least three times as much money, maybe more — but it will, for the first time, create a large, predictable fund of money that can be used and leveraged over the next decade to try to create the type of housing this city desperately needs.

And not entirely coincidentally (see: the subprime mortgage crisis), the voters will be considering this in a year when the city is looking pretty broke.

So the mayor, who hates this charter measure (and who won’t talk seriously about raising new revenue), is going to go all over town and tell everyone that we can’t afford it, that it will mean even more service cuts, that it’s fiscally irresponsible … that whole line. He’ll try to blame the supervisors for the cuts in Muni and the Health Department and the library — and then he’ll run his own candidates in the November board elections, all of whom will oppose the housing measure, and he’ll try to sell them as responsible managers of the city’s treasury.

And all of us will have to make some choices:

Do we recognize that if we can’t build enough low-cost housing, San Francisco will cease to exist as we know it? Are we willing to look at the long run and realize that there will always be good and bad budget years, and that saving the city’s middle-class base is actually good management? Are we willing to accept that the budget should be balanced by new taxes on the rich and not by abandoning everyone else?

God, I hope so. Happy holidays. *

Don’t accept Bike Plan delays


EDITORIAL The way city officials are describing the situation, it’s going to be another 18 months at least before San Francisco can add even a single bicycle lane or road stripe or put in a single new bike rack. That’s because a lone nut who thinks bicycles shouldn’t be on the city streets sued San Francisco and forced it to do an environmental impact report on its Bike Plan. And that report has been delayed and delayed again as city planners have been unable to complete it.

That’s infuriated some advocates, including Sups. Ross Mirkarimi and Tom Ammiano — and for good reason. The San Francisco Planning Department seemed to have no problem whatsoever forcing an EIR on the 55 Laguna Street development project onto the fast track, but the Bike Plan … that’s just creeping along.

And in the meantime, bicyclists and pedestrians continue to be run down at some of the most hazardous intersections in town, particularly Fell and Masonic streets and Octavia Boulevard and Market Street. City figures show that Fell and Masonic is one of the most dangerous places in town for pedestrians and bikers; the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition reports that at least eight collisions between cars and bike — all of them causing injury to the rider — have occurred at the intersection since April. It’s not an acceptable situation, and with a little creativity, the city ought to be able to do something about it.

The lawsuit, brought by blogger Rob Anderson, claims the city failed to do a complete EIR before approving its Bike Plan. That’s put everything — even the restriping of pavements for safer bike lanes — completely on hold.

In a sense, it’s absurd to have an environmentally positive change — a city policy promoting bicycling — held up by environmental law. But the California Environmental Quality Act and the way the city is interpreting it still have roots in the era when automobile traffic was considered the most important form of urban transportation.

For example, CEQA requires cities to evaluate how projects would impact traffic — and San Francisco has always used a yardstick called "level of service," or LOS, which refers to the number of cars using a particular intersection and the speed at which those cars can proceed. If a project slows down car traffic beyond an acceptable level, there’s an environmental impact that has to be addressed.

But that’s a backward analysis; the city’s job shouldn’t be to find ways to facilitate more cars on busy streets. And it allows bizarre interpretations: if, for example, the addition of a bike lane on a street reduces the available space for cars, that ought to be looked at as a positive environmental step; the city interprets it as a negative impact.

State senator Carole Migden has discussed legislation that could exempt bike plans from CEQA, and while we’re nervous about any exemptions to the state’s premier environmental law, that might make some sense. But it might not even be necessary.

San Francisco’s city planners are still looking for ways to accommodate cars — all of the city’s development policies are based on the assumption that the number of private vehicles in San Francisco will increase over the next 10 years. An assumption like that leads to mandates for more parking, wider roads, and (maybe) fewer bike lanes.

But there’s nothing in the law requiring the pro-car approach. The Planning Commission could simply adopt new rules that define the level of service on streets differently. Instead of tracking how many cars go through an intersection, the city could track the number of people — including people on foot, people on bikes, and people in buses — and made a determination that pedestrian and bike safety and the quality of the travel experience for non–car users is as important as the degree of auto traffic.

That simple change would render much of the Anderson suit moot: new bike lanes, for example, would no longer be a potentially adverse impact. The city could move forward with much of its bike plan, now.

CEQA doesn’t require cities to accept public safety hazards — and the law clearly creates exemptions for situations in which lives are at risk. Mirkarimi has proposed legislation to change the LOS system, but it has languished; the supervisors need to move on it if the city planners won’t. You don’t need an EIR to tear down a freeway that’s about to collapse — and you shouldn’t need an environmental review to fix the most dangerous intersections in the city, including Fell and Masonic. City planners should simply define those hazardous sites as imminent dangers to public safety and immediately start changing the traffic lights, rerouting cars, and redefining bike lanes to put an end to the carnage, now.

Buy local


› lit@sfbg.com

WISH LIST There are two kinds of gift books: the coffee-table book and the bathroom book. One has the cool cover and arty pics for people to gasp over at parties. The other has teeny bits of content that you zip through while transacting your effluvia. Of course, rents in San Francisco being what they are, for many the toilet now doubles as the coffee table. We don’t judge. In any case, here are five new books from Bay Area authors and publishers that will make your friends feel sophisticated and brilliant.

Thea Hillman’s supercharged For Lack of a Better Word (Suspect Thoughts Press, 192 pages, $16.95 paper) is definitely more bathroom (or purse) than coffee-table reading, with lots of short, provocative essays. But it’s also a book your friends would be proud to have on display. Partly a memoir of Hillman’s child- and adulthood with a hormonal imbalance and the painful process of coming to identify as intersex, For Lack is also about Hillman’s evolving relationships: with the queer community, her lovers, and her mom. In Hillman’s world, the surer you become about who you are, the more vulnerable you get.

Instant City 5 (102 pages, $8 paper) straddles the privy–coffee table divide pretty handily, thanks to its gorgeous cover and interior art and some razor-sharp short fiction and essays. The literary journal’s focus is San Francisco, and the latest installment takes crime as its theme. So Stephen Elliott muses (in a fetish club) on the burglars he knew as a kid, and Sona Avakian explores how a husband’s illicit cigarette can turn into an affair with a snake woman. Morbid Curiosity czar Loren Rhoads leads readers on a tour of San Francisco crime scenes, and Richard J. Martin teaches the Fisherman’s Wharf hustle.

Another brilliant hybrid is Taking Things Seriously: 75 Objects with Unexpected Significance (Princeton Architectural Press, 176 pages, $17.50 paper). Edited by Joshua Glenn and Carol Hayes and featuring several Bay Area contributors, Things is chock-full of gorgeous color illustrations, but the text is equally illuminating. Each miniessay details the writer’s love affair (often tortured) with a particular object, and the fact that it’s frequently a piece of mass-produced crap doesn’t lessen the revelatory power of this compulsive read.

Edited by Michelle Tea, the anthology It’s So You: 35 Women Write about Personal Expression Through Fashion and Style (Seal Press, 300 pages, $15.95 paper) is in a similar vein, its contributors sharing anxieties about having the "right" clothes, being taken seriously, sending "a message." The collection would be worth picking up just for the brilliant neuroses of Beth Lisick and Jennifer Blowdryer. But you also get Samara Halperin’s tragically failed attempt to fit in by wearing an Izod shirt and Ali Liebegott’s doomed romance with a pair of slippers. Plus, there are comics and cutout dolls. And wherever your giftee puts this book, people will linger over it, laughing as they identify with the sartorial traumas detailed.

Finally, your friends will probably want to put local science fiction hero Rudy Rucker’s Postsingular (Tor Books, 320 pages, $25.95) on public display — it’ll make them look smart — but they’ll end up reading it while curled into a little ball on the bathroom floor at 3 a.m. anyway. It’s fast-paced and subversive: nanomachines dismantle all life on Earth and send everyone to a virtual world, and you’re still only on page 20. Postsingular turns the singularity, the mythical moment when we all transcend our humanity and become cyberer, into something much weirder and more ambivalent. Just as other cyberfiction is becoming more cautious in its predictions, Rucker takes wilder and wilder leaps into outer possibility.