Volume 42 Number 15

January 9 – January 15, 2008

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How Oakland’s fearful politicos enabled waste: Part III


In 1996, Your Black Muslim Bakery lieutenant Nedir Bey had a wealth of ammunition with which to lobby city leaders for a $1.1 million loan to fund his health care company, E.M. Health Services.

The previous year, the city of Oakland had agreed to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to bring the Oakland Raiders back from Los Angeles, a deal that quickly soured and has cost the city and Alameda County taxpayers more than $20 million a year ever since.

The developers of a new downtown ice rink had defaulted on $11 million in bonds just three months after the facility opened.

The city had also given plenty of money to other businesses, most white-owned. As a result, the City Council was getting a relentless drubbing from bakery members and black business associates who lined up at meetings to speak on behalf of E.M. Health Services and its efforts to obtain the loan.

They argued that white business owners had an easier time obtaining credit, unsecured loans and support from the city while black-owned businesses endured undue scrutiny. Elected officials endured hints and outright accusations of racism if they dared ask questions about the company or collateral for the loan.

Some of those accusations occurred during the June 4, 1996, council meeting where the officials discussed giving E.M. Health an interim start up loan of $275,000 in city funds. The loan was needed because the company’s application for a $1.1 million share of federal Housing and Urban Development funds for job training programs had not yet been distributed to the city of Oakland.

During the meeting, Shannon Reeves, then-president of the NAACP Oakland chapter, accused the city’s black elected officials of forgetting where they came from.

“It’s time to deliver for the people in the community…,” Reeves said. “We need those who look like us to advocate for us.”

Beth Aaron, executive director of the Bay Area Black Contractors Association also testified at the meeting that night. She said the record proved that white-owned businesses had a much easier time getting Oakland to open its purse strings.

“Those who are white or friends of friends get things done very quickly,” she charged. “Those of us who are of color… do not.”

Even Nedir Bey got into the act.

“A few years ago we wouldn’t have been able to come here and ask for anything without getting run out,” he said. “Cut us a check on Friday for $275,000. Compare us to other projects that you have passed.”

A decade later, E.M. Health is just an unpaid debt on the city’s books, its license suspended by the California Franchise Tax Board. Principal payments first due in May 1998 never materialized, and by the time city staff knocked on its doors in October 1999, the offices had been cleared out.

But the story of how the business, a subsidiary of the now-bankrupt Your Black Muslim Bakery, received the money despite a flawed business plan and a disturbing criminal incident in Nedir Bey’s past illustrates the extent politics and pressure played in officials’ decision to approve the loan.

Bakery members have also been linked to several violent incidents, including the shooting death of journalist Chauncey Bailey, as well as alleged real estate and welfare fraud and child rape. ‘Intimidation factor’

“In reality it was political pressure that got them the loans,” said now-City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente, who was a councilmember at the time. “Deep down inside everybody knew it was bull—. No business plan, no records anyone could show. … And they kept saying they were failing because they didn’t get the city’s money soon enough.”

Retired councilmember Dick Spees, who is white, remembers how heated those meetings were, of being accused of racism because he dared question the business plan or ask about collateral or a missing business license. Bakery members would line up along the wall and refuse to sit, he recalled.

“It sounded good (on paper), this training program to help black people who were not getting opportunities,” Spees said recently. “But there was this intimidation factor, it just didn’t feel comfortable.”

Spees said he grew suspicious when Nedir Bey started racking up ineligible expenses even before federal government lenders had determined E.M. Health’s job training program met its criteria for financing.

Spees said he ended up voting for the loan and for several thousand dollars in advances from city coffers after he was assured by city staff on more than one occasion that HUD would approve the loan and that Bey had put up collateral.

De La Fuente, now council president, said he understood that the HUD money was intended for riskier loans, but that was no reason to cave in to pressure and give the money without trying to protect the city’s resources.

“I never got their support,” he said, referring to his black council colleagues, Nate Miley, Dezie Woods-Jones, Elihu Harris and Natalie Bayton.

Kidnap, torture

The city gave Nedir Bey money despite a disturbing incident that occurred on March 4, 1994, when Qiyamah Corporation, E.M. Health’s nonprofit parent company was still in its infancy.

On that date, Nedir Bey and Abaz Bey, another spiritually adopted son of bakery founder Yusuf Bey, were arrested and charged with abducting, assaulting, torturing and robbing a man they believed had cheated them on a real estate transaction.

Abaz Bey and other members of the bakery lived in an apartment building on 24th Street in North Oakland, the same one Nedir Bey wanted to buy with his very first request for city money, that ultimately was reduced in scope. The owner had hired the bakery to provide security after being sued by tenants fed up with rampant drug dealing and other crime.

According to police and court records, three men, led by Nedir Bey, beat the man with a flashlight and burned him with a hot knife. The arrests sparked a tense, full-scale standoff between more than 40 police officers and a similar number of male bakery members.

According to news reports, then-Mayor Elihu Harris agreed to meet the demand of bakery patriarch Yusuf Bey to discuss the standoff and the arrests.

Nedir Bey pleaded no contest to one felony count of false imprisonment. He was sentenced to three years’ probation after a veteran Oakland police officer and members of the community wrote a support letter on his behalf.

The probation report noted that two other prominent Oakland residents acted as character references for Nedir Bey: Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson and Larry Reid, then aide to Mayor Harris. However, Reid, now an Oakland city councilmember, said he never wrote a letter or served as a reference for Nedir Bey.

When Tribune reporters Diana Williams and Paul Grabowicz questioned whether the the arrest should impact his loan application, Nedir Bey said such details were irrelevant.

“Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison, and he was respectable enough to become president of South Africa,” he was quoted as saying in a June 1996 Oakland Tribune article.

Unapologetic support

Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley, who was an Oakland council member and pushed hard for the E.M. Health loan, said recently that he never knew about Nedir Bey’s felony conviction or other clashes between bakery members and the police.

“Then-police chief Richard Word and I chaired the Public Safety committee and I didn’t know about it,” Miley insisted. “Clearly, I had a sense that the police had some concerns (about bakery members), but not how it’s been depicted recently.”

Miley is unapologetic about his unflinching support of E.M. Health during his time on the council. He wasn’t overly concerned when the company defaulted, he told his colleagues at the time, because the federal money was intended to fund higher-risk ventures.

He recalled in a recent interview that African-Americans had good reason to believe black businesses weren’t getting a fair share of city contracts or loans. Oakland’s leaders had poured millions in public money into bringing the Raiders home from Los Angeles and bailing out the Ice Center, Miley said, and African-Americans never let them forget it.

It’s also possible that city staff and some council members were intimidated by the accusations of racism, he added.

“I think we were very sensitive (about accusations) of being racist and Uncle Toms,” said Miley, who is African American.

“When E.M. came in to get a loan … on the face of it that looked like very worthy cause, something that would serve the public. So we decided to give them a chance,” Miley said, adding that there was some concern over the money being used for a car and consultants.

“We gave them some technical assistance and guidance rather than pulling the rug out from under them completely,” Miley recalled. “Still, even if it’s federal money they got, it’s still public taxpayer dollars down the toilet.”

Miley said he admired Yusuf Bey and the way he preached self-reliance, spirituality and discipline. Oakland was suffering record homicides and here was someone who was reaching out to ex-cons or those who might otherwise get caught up in the cycle of violence and helping them turn their lives around and earn money legitimately for their families, Miley said.

In February 1996, a smiling, soft-spoken Nedir Bey stood before the City Council and told them as much.

“This is an excellent program and it will target men and women who are not working presently and have no job skills,” Bey said. “We can train them in the home health care field and start them on a better way of life.”

‘Brilliant’ concept

Redevelopment Agency Director Gregory Hunter said the company’s goals were hard to turn down even if E.M. Health’s promises lacked details.

“The concept was brilliant, absolutely brilliant,” he said, adding that the business proposal drew applause from as far away as Washington, D.C. “Unfortunately, the execution fell somewhat short of the expectations the city had.”

Elihu Harris, now the chancellor of Peralta Community College District, was reluctant to discuss the matter recently because he said he did not recall many details. Harris said his dad received home health care from employees of E.M. Health, but it was his mother who handled the contract.

He added that a community loan advisory committee _ a body the federal lenders required _ had voted to fund E.M. Health, and the council debated that recommendation back and forth for many months. He said the council was not provided with a lot of details about the company.

“The (loan committee)… had really done the research,” Harris said. “The council was between a rock and a hard place.

“(E.M. Health) had made some mistakes and they were going to try and rectify those mistakes,” Harris said. “There was a lot to be concerned about, but they had strong community support.”

One supporter who turned out early and often to lobby for Nedir Bey was Theodora Marzouk, an administrator for Oakland-based Community Care Services, Inc.

She testified more than once about the shortage of training programs for nurses’ aides and said her own company couldn’t supply enough of them. She urged Oakland’s leaders to fund E.M. Health.

But Marzouk ended up on E.M. Health’s payroll for the last two quarters of 1996 earning more than $20,000, city records show.

Marzouk refused to comment for this story, but she sounded surprised to hear that she’d once been listed as an employee.

In any case, by 2000, the company’s business license was suspended, and by 2003, Alameda County records show, state and federal tax officials during the intervening years had imposed tax liens on the company’s assets totalling nearly $200,000.

But today, E.M. Health’s motto “Big enough to serve, small enough to care” is little more than a failed promise.

MediaNews investigative reporters Thomas Peele and Josh Richman, KQED reporter Judy Campbell, and radio reporter Bob Butler contributed to this report. Cecily Burt is a MediaNews staff writer. G.W. Schulz is a staff writer at the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

How Oakland’s fearful politicos enabled waste: Part II


E.M. Health Services, a home health care company founded by a high-ranking member of Your Black Muslim Bakery, opened for business in July 1996, flush with a $1.1 million loan from the city of Oakland.

But shortly over a year later, signs of trouble already plagued the business — and a review of documents shows that the founders of the struggling company paid themselves lavish salaries, and lucrative consulting contracts went to bakery associates and family members.

More than a decade later, the city hasn’t received one penny in repayment for the loan, and questions remain over why city officials granted the loan in the first place.

Under the terms of E.M.’s loan, the company wasn’t scheduled to make principal payments for two years — until 1998 — but just 15 months after getting the money, CEO Nedir Bey asked to defer repayments until 2000.

The city, which had already questioned several invoices submitted by the company, did not approve the extension. Instead, officials responded by requesting an audit of E.M.’s books.

In his request for an extension, Bey did not mention that in May 1997, E.M. Health had applied to the California Department of Insurance for a $2 million loan to purchase a 4,000-square-foot office building on 17th Street in downtown Oakland.

In his application to the state, Bey cited Oakland’s loan approval as proof of his good reputation, even though by then the city was already questioning tens of thousands of dollars in operating expenses claimed by his company.

The $1.1 million loan agreement called for E.M. Health to begin repaying monthly interest and principal payments of $19,692 on May 1, 1998, the date the company was projected to have enough billable clients to break even.

But May came and went with no payments.

And, documents show, E.M. Health would ask for more.

But the story of how the business, a subsidiary of the now-bankrupt Your Black Muslim Bakery, received the money despite a flawed business plan and a disturbing criminal incident in Nedir Bey’s past illustrates the extent politics and pressure played in officials’ decision to approve the loan.

Bakery members also have been linked to several violent incidents, including the Aug. 2 shooting death of journalist Chauncey Bailey, as well as alleged real estate and welfare fraud and child rape.

Details of the company’s financial growth were outlined in correspondence between Nedir Bey and various city staff who reviewed documentation to support the original $1.1 million loan application, as well as documents surrounding Nedir Bey’s later attempts to obtain a $2.5 million loan that was never granted.

In a January 1997 letter to the city, E.M. Health said it had contracts with 13 patients between October and December 1996, which should have generated more than $23,000 in revenues for the three-month period.

The same letter said seven would-be home health aides had graduated from a training program run by a different company. Those aides could not be sent out to care for Medicare/MediCal patients until they passed their certification exams that month, the letter said.

The letter also reveals that E.M. Health had a goal of generating $1.2 million in income in 1997 by providing services to 50 clients. The company instead reported large losses in 1996 and 1997.

It started to pull in more revenue early the following year, according to a letter from former Economic Development Chief Bill Claggett addressed to then-City Manager Robert Bobb.

Clagget’s letter stated that the company had a net profit of $30,068 for the first two months of 1998, but was still experiencing delays in receiving reimbursements for its Medicare/MediCal clients.

By June 17, 1998, Nedir Bey stated in a letter to city loan department manager Teri Robinson-Green that E.M. was “doing about $80,000 a month.” In another letter listing E.M.’s achievements, Bey claimed the company had hired 55 people, trained 30 people and served more than 200 patients.

But still no loan payments.

E.M. Health’s agreement with the city stated that the company and its employees, many of whom were also trusted bakery associates and family members, would not profit from the business. Any extra income after expenses would be funneled back into Qiyamah, a nonprofit organization founded by the bakery to further Yusuf Bey’s community work. Qiyamah was E.M. Health’s parent company.

But the salaries, car lease and billing rates charged by bakery members who moonlighted as consultants to E.M. Health coupled with too few billable clients and delays in reimbursements by Medicare and MediCal all but ensured there wouldn’t be enough money left over to pay back the city’s loans.

“It’s interesting how that millionaire from the skating rink got $12 million and declared bankruptcy and never paid the city back,” Nedir Bey said, referring to the builders of Oakland’s downtown ice rink, who defaulted on an $11 million loan before E.M. Health Services was funded. The city took possession of the rink. “Is the city calling him and trying to ask him those kind of questions?

“The bottom line for me, I’m trying to move forward with my life. Everything that you’re discussing is in my past,” Bey said.

A popular message

E.M. Health’s business model resonated with Oakland’s black politicians who were eager to even the playing field for black businesses that had not gotten an equitable share of city contracts and loans. They lauded the accomplishments of Yusuf Bey — the controversial but charismatic founder of Your Black Muslim Bakery — and viewed the health care proposal as a continuation of his good works.

The plan also resonated with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and appeared to meet its criteria for loan funding. E.M. Health’s $1.1 million loan came from a $44 million pot of money the federal agency offered Oakland to fund start-up organizations that sought to provide jobs in low-income communities.

Still, in a June 4, 1996, letter to Kofi Bonner, Oakland’s then-director of community development, local HUD director Steven Sachs wrote that “E.M. Health Services business plan is still being developed …” with many “issues still to be worked out.”

Sachs urged the city to consider “providing a much smaller amount of financial assistance to this start-up business.”

That same night, despite Bonner’s warning that Nedir Bey had not yet provided several documents the city required for the loan, nor procured a provisional license from state health officials, the council voted to give the company a $275,000 advance on the $1.1 million HUD loan.

In fact, even though E.M. Health was $63,000 in arrears in its business taxes, the company ended up getting $538,000 in interim loans from the city of Oakland over the next six months, before HUD officials reimbursed Oakland for the money in April 1997.

Nedir Bey relied on that type of sentiment when he approached the city in February 1998 and asked for an additional $2.5 million — half loan, half grant — to buy a shopping center in West Oakland to house a new urgent care clinic, in addition to funds he sought unsuccessfully from the state department of insurance.

The shopping center plan lacked numerous financial details and included no downpayment or personal investment by Nedir Bey.

Nonetheless, he lined up his supporters and produced letters of recommendation from well-respected medical experts, including David Kears, director of the Health Care Services Agency for Alameda County; Michael Lenoir, president of the Ethnic Health Institute at Alta Bates/Summit Hospitals; and H. Geoffrey Watson, president of the Golden State Medical Association, which represents 2,000 African-American physicians in California.

Claggett said he would have loved to have someone revitalize that blighted shopping center, but nothing about E.M.’s finances by then suggested it could support a new business venture. City records show that E.M. Health incurred losses of $425,000 during 1996 and $343,000 in 1997.

E.M. Health was already three months behind on the payments for the $1.1 million loan, and a mere six months later, E.M. Health’s parent, the Qiyamah Corporation, would default on a

$100,000 bank loan originally signed by Saleem Ali Bey, also known as Darren Wright.

‘I don’t think they ever gave up’

Nedir Bey nonetheless again pressured the city into rushing the review of his new loan request. By July 1998, he sought direct backing from then-Mayor Elihu Harris, whose father was an E.M. Health patient for a short time, according to company records on file with the city.

“Staff should be more inform (sic) on the procedures and policies of the city of Oakland as opposed to me having to check with the mayor and then letting you know what you can and cannot do,” Bey said in a July 1998 letter to Gregory Hunter, now Oakland’s redevelopment agency director, apparently unhappy that the request had not yet been forwarded to the loan review committee.

Kears recalls Nedir Bey first approached him for a letter of recommendation, but that evolved into a request for money to finance outreach efforts for new patients. The county wound up giving Bey a $25,000 contract, the most it could provide without approval from the Alameda County Board of Supervisors. Kears said he doesn’t know whether E.M. Health ever submitted invoices to use any of the money.

The $2.5 million loan application eventually stalled as Nedir Bey failed to produce documentation requested by the city related to the first infusion of cash, the repayment of which was falling further and further behind.

By the time the city sent its first default letter to E.M. Health in December 1998, the payments were eight months past due and the company had crumbled.

City employees would later discover that the company’s offices had been cleaned out, office furnishings and computer equipment pledged as collateral gone.

Claggett said that not long afterward, he was questioned by the FBI about E.M. Health and Nedir Bey. The FBI’s San Francisco office did not return a call seeking comment about the probe.

No way to collect

The Oakland city attorney sued E.M. Health

in December 2000 in an attempt to recover $1.45million in loan funds and $98,600 in unpaid interest. The city won a default judgment, but no one could collect on it, in part because there was no personal guarantee made when the loan was awarded.

City Attorney John Russo said recently that it is up to the city’s Finance Department to collect on the $1.5 million judgment, which remains unpaid today.

The city wasn’t the only one left holding worthless paper when E.M. Health deteriorated. Orthopedic and Neurological Rehabilitation, Speech Pathology Inc. of Los Gatos sued Nedir Bey and Cecil R. Moody, an E.M. Health agent listed among business registration records, in 2000 to recover $8,700 worth of services it provided to the company’s patients over a two-month period. According to the lawsuit, E.M. Health billed MediCal and Medicare but never reimbursed the company.

In May, Daulet Bey, a Muslim wife of Yusuf Bey and mother of current bakery CEO Yusuf Bey IV, 21, and her daughter Jannah Bey filed papers to revive Qiyamah’s state business license. It’s not clear whether bakery associates plan to use Qiyamah to attempt a new business venture.

The license was promptly suspended again by the state Franchise Tax Board for failing to file an information report in 2005, according to spokeswoman Denise Azimi.

Nedir Bey’s costly experiment was finished and thousands in unaccounted for public funds were left in his wake.

MediaNews investigative reporters Thomas Peele and Josh Richman, KQED reporter Judy Campbell, and radio reporter Bob Butler contributed to this report. Cecily Burt is a MediaNews staff writer. G.W. Schulz is a staff writer at the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

How Oakland’s fearful politicos enabled waste: Part 1


Editor’s note: This is the first of a three-part series examining a $1million city loan to a Your Black Muslim Bakery affiliate that was never repaid.

It was a noble cause: Train welfare recipients as home health aides and put them to work caring for homebound sick and elderly clients.

A decade ago, while Your Black Muslim Bakery founder Yusuf Bey enjoyed unwavering support and adulation from black businesses and politicians, his spiritually adopted son, Nedir Bey, pressured and shamed city leaders into giving him a $1.1 million loan to help finance the promise of black entrepreneurial independence.

But the venture, E.M. Health Services, swiftly collapsed. The failure of CEO Nedir Bey to repay a dime of the loan made headlines at the time and prompted most to assume the company’s demise was caused by a combination of poor business decisions, bureaucratic hurdles and simple bad luck.

But was it?

City officials overlooked flaws in the company’s business plans and relented to black community leaders who insisted they award the loan, according to interviews, documents and other correspondence reviewed by the Chauncey Bailey Project.

The loan was granted to Nedir Bey despite his well-publicized arrest for the torture and kidnapping of a man two years earlier. Bey pleaded no contest to one felony count of false imprisonment and was sentenced to three years’ probation.

In awarding the loan to Nedir Bey, nearly every elected official lauded the accomplishments of Yusuf Bey in turning around the lives of troubled young men. Yet dozens of those men had armed themselves during a standoff with police two years earlier. And a few years later, Yusuf Bey himself would be accused of raping and fathering children with young girls who were placed in his care.

And the Chauncey Bailey Project has learned that in late 1999 and early 2000, the FBI investigated E.M. Health Services’ loan and Nedir Bey, although it’s not clear how the probe was resolved.

In the wake of reported real estate and welfare fraud allegedly committed by the wives and children of Yusuf Bey _ as well as the August arrest of a bakery member accused of the Aug. 2 shooting death of Bailey, the editor of the Oakland Post _ a deeper review of the E.M. Health Services loan reveals several questionable expenses that suggest an internal pattern of cronyism that enriched nearly every facet of the bakery empire’s inner circle including:

-Tens of thousands of dollars in consulting fees paid to companies controlled by Nedir Bey and his wife, Rosemarie Boothe-Bey, as well as other bakery insiders.

-Thousands of dollars in security fees paid to yet another company controlled by Your Black Muslim Bakery and thousands more in advertising fees paid to Universal Distributors, a company operated by associates of the bakery.

-$20,000 paid to the administrator of an Oakland home health company who had urged the city to award the loan to E.M. Health Services.

-Top-end salaries paid to Nedir Bey and his wife, Rosemarie Boothe, as well as to two of the Muslim wives of bakery patriarch Yusuf Bey who are accused of receiving fraudulent welfare payments at the time, and a second woman with whom Nedir Bey fathered children. Other bakery insiders filled the company’s payroll.

-15-day loans made to E.M. Health by Nedir Bey and other bakery associates that were repaid with hefty loan fees.

The beginnings

On April 30, 1996, the Oakland City Council awarded E.M. Health conditional approval for a $1.1million federal loan to establish a training program for home health aides.

According to loan documents and internal memos, the city approved that loan despite flaws in the company’s business plan and no discernible collateral or equity to back up the debt.

The money was part of a $44 million pot — half loan, half grant — awarded to the city by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development to fund start-up ventures or help expand existing businesses in three distressed areas of Oakland with high unemployment rates. The federal money was supposed to create jobs, and it was intended for borrowers who could not qualify for conventional loans.

E.M. Health’s share of that pot — through the leadership of then-bakery lieutenant Nedir Bey — would further Yusuf Bey’s efforts to empower poor black residents and ex-cons by giving them training and job opportunities at various bakery outlets and private security companies affiliated with the patriarch’s expanding empire.

The loan proceeds were supposed to be used for start-up costs to recruit workers and patients, establish the home health training program and provide ongoing operating expenses.

The company never lived up to its promise. Ten years have passed and still not a cent has been repaid. The equipment pledged to secure the proceeds never surfaced. The promised jobs for low-income residents, as well as the promised services for sick and elderly clients, evaporated. The Oakland city attorney sued to recoup the debt, plus interest, but the city’s finance department has not been able to collect.

Nedir Bey, whose last listed occupation is business development consultant, would not answer questions about the business operations or why the company failed to take hold, saying that was “in the past.” In a brief telephone conversation, Bey said there were other Oakland businesses that defaulted on city loans and he asked if they were receiving the same level of scrutiny. Bey remains in Oakland but says he is no longer affiliated with the bakery.

Former bakery associate and businessman Ali Saleem Bey has spent the last several months trying to save the heavily indebted bakery enterprise from liquidation. Saleem Bey said he hasn’t spoken to Nedir Bey in years, but he defended E.M. Health’s efforts to provide job training and services to poor Oakland residents.

Saleem Bey, reached by phone, said the city subjected the business to undue scrutiny compared with others seeking public money. That scrutiny also led to the company being underfunded, Saleem Bey said, and contributed to its demise.

“We really felt we were sabotaged by the city, …” said Saleem Bey, who worked alongside other bakery associates to help launch the business.

“Politically, they never wanted to give us the money … and when it came time to work with us and make it go, they made it as hard as possible,” Saleem Bey said. “They wanted to wag their fingers at us.”

But the only thing that remains today from the ashes of E.M. Health is a considerable outstanding debt to taxpayers — a debt that could have been much larger.

Big plans, big loan requests

The Qiyamah Corp., E.M. Health’s nonprofit parent company, first filed state business registration papers in October 1993. The nonprofit organization was formed to expand the bakery’s community work and job training programs, and it wasn’t long before bakery members sought the city’s help in financing a new home health care venture.

Nedir Bey originally approached the city in approximately 1994 for a $3.4million loan to buy an apartment building on 24th Street in North Oakland. That would be used, he said at the time, as a base for his home health care program.

The building purchase didn’t qualify for HUD funds, and over time it was dropped from the plan. The loan request was whittled down to the $1.1 million, which was conditionally awarded to Qiyamah’s for-profit subsidiary, E.M. Health.

The company promised to create 32 full-time jobs, more than half of which would be filled by residents of West Oakland, East Oakland or San Antonio/Fruitvale — the three economically depressed areas targeted by HUD.

The company also promised to train 120 low-income residents and welfare recipients as home health workers, who would in turn provide services to Medicare and MediCal patients and other clients who were privately insured. According to E.M. Health’s business plan accepted by the city, insurance reimbursements would be more than sufficient to repay the loan. It might have worked if Nedir Bey had started small.

Instead, he purchased expensive office furniture and loaded the payroll with bakery insiders, most of whom had no health care experience, while spending little initially on actual medical supplies, according to loan documents.

Bill Claggett, the former director of Oakland’s Community and Economic Development Agency who inherited the E.M. loan in late 1997, said he couldn’t believe the city gave the company “a dime,” let alone $1.1 million.

“They didn’t know what they were doing,” Claggett said. “The cost per person served was much higher than any other similar business. It was clear (Bey) didn’t have the kind of staffing he needed for that operation.”

E.M. Health opened its doors on July 10, 1996, in an office storefront on Grand Avenue. That first year’s tax return posted income of $6,007 and a loss of $437,802. It spent $85,886 on consultants, $10,600 on security and only $5,708 for medical supplies. It survived almost exclusively on the city loan.

The list of employees included Nedir Bey’s wife, Rosemarie Boothe; and another woman, Kathy Leviege, with whom he has two children; family associate Janet Bey; and Madeeah Bey and Farieda Bey, two wives of bakery patriarch Yusuf Bey who are alleged to have received illegal welfare payments at the time, according to civil depositions taken recently in an unrelated case.

Within three months of receiving start-up funds from the city, Nedir Bey was on track to earn $108,000 a year, a figure that was out of line with what similar agencies in the Bay Area paid their CEOs, according to a spring 1997 memo in the city’s loan files.

Quarterly wage reports filed with the state show that Nedir Bey’s wife earned $47,000 as the assistant administrator, and Yusuf Bey’s wives — whose occupations were listed as marketing director and LVN/outreach coordinator — earned nearly $60,000 each, the same as Janet Bey, a registered public health nurse. Other than Janet Bey, none of the women had nursing degrees or related licenses, according to a review of state documents. Saleem Bey said it should not seem suspicious that members of the bakery’s extended family ended up on E.M. Health’s payroll. He said they worked many different jobs to help support the bakery empire and to further Yusuf Bey’s edict to be self-reliant.

He said they also worked alongside Nedir Bey to try and make the enterprise a success. To infer otherwise would be a mistake.

“It behooved the organization to be successful, so it wasn’t as if everybody was just eyeing this money and they wanted to steal a million,” Saleem Bey said. “If the business plan was successful, by this time it would have created 10 times that amount of money and created many jobs.”

Even so, the city’s loan staff requested that the compensation for E.M.’s three top executives be reduced by 20 percent, a move Nedir Bey protested in a memo to city officials.

Other questionable expenses

There were other missteps and invoices that city officials questioned before the city received the HUD proceeds, including a lease on a Cadillac and reimbursements to a security company controlled by the bakery.

One city staffer flagged the vehicle lease, $64,000 in consulting contracts, and thousands budgeted for security as ineligible uses of the federal funds. “Staff is exploring options for recovering these costs,” reads one memo from April 1, 1997.

That same year, in addition to their salaries, E.M. Health paid approximately $40,000 in consulting fees and service payments to Nedir Bey and relatives either directly or through companies that he and other associates of the bakery controlled, according to records on file with the city of Oakland.

Bakery associates also made 15-day loans to E.M. Health to cover operating expenses and charged substantial interest fees in return. Nedir Bey earned a $750 fee for a $9,000 loan he made to the company, and Ali Saleem Bey charged $1,000 interest for a $13,750 loan. Time after time, city staff questioned the invoices E.M. Health submitted for reimbursement, asking for more details or supporting documentation. But the money was never withheld for long.

MediaNews investigative reporters Thomas Peele and Josh Richman, KQED reporter Judy Campbell and freelance radio reporter Bob Butler contributed to this report. Cecily Burt is a MediaNews staff writer. G.W. Schulz is a staff writer at the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

Rebel women


LA GARRUCHA CHIAPAS (Jan. 8th) – Dozens of Zapatista companeras, many of them Tzeltal Maya from the Chiapas lowlands decked out in rainbow-hued ribbons and ruffles, their dark eyes framed by pasamontanas and paliacates that masked their personas, emerged from the rustic auditorium to the applause of hundreds of international feminists gathered outside at the conclusion of the opening session of an all-women’s Encuentro hosted by the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) here at year’s end.

The Tzeltaleras’ line of march, which resembled a colorful if bizarre fashion parade, seemed an auspicious start to the rebels’ third “encounter” this year between “the peoples of the world” and the Zapatista communities and comandantes – an anti-globalization conclave last December and an Encuentro in defense of indigenous land this summer preceded the womens’ gathering.

Although the call for the event was issued under the pen of the EZLN’s quixotic spokesperson Subcomandante Marcos, the author of a recently published erotic coffee table book in which his penis plays the role of a masked guerrillero, the impetus for the women’s Encuentro sprung from the loins of the Zapatista companeras.

Last July, at the conclusion of a meeting with farmers from a dozen counties in the hamlet with the haunting name of La Realidad (“The Reality”), a young rebel from that community, “Evarilda,” apparently without clearing the invitation with the EZLN’s General Command, called for the all-womens’ encounter, explaining that men were invited to help with the logistics but would be asked to stay home and mind the children and the farm animals while the women plotted against capitalism.

True to Evarilda’s word, at the December 29th-31st gathering, which drew 300-500 non-Mexican mostly women activists to this village, officially the autonomous municipality of Francisco Gomez, and which honored the memory of the late Comandanta Ramona (d. January 2006), men took a decidedly secondary role. Signs posted around the Caracol called “Resistance Until the New Dawn,” a sort of Zapatista cultural/political center, advised the companeros that they could not act as “spokespersons, translators, or representatives in the plenary sessions.” Instead, their activities should be confined “to preparing and serving food, washing dishes, sweeping, cleaning out the latrines, fetching firewood, and minding the children.”

Indeed, some young Zapatista men donned aprons imprinted with legends like “tomato” and “EZLN” to work in the kitchens. Meanwhile, older men sat quietly on wooden benches outside of the auditorium, sometimes signaling amongst themselves when a companera made a strong point or smiling in pride after a daughter or wife or sister or mother spoke their histories to the assembly.

The role of women within the Zapatista structure has been crucial since the rebellion’s gestation. When the founders of the EZLN, radicals from northern Mexican cities, first arrived in the Tzeltal-Tojolabal lowlands or Canadas of southeastern Chiapas, women were still being sold by their families as chattel in marriage. Often, they were kept monolingual by the husbands as a means of control, turned into baby factories, and had little standing in the community. Those from the outside offered independence and invited the young women to the training camps in the mountain where they would learn to wield a weapon and use a smattering of Spanish and become a part of the EZLN’s fighting force. Fourteen years ago, on January 1st 1994, when the Zapatistas seized the cities of San Cristobal and Ocosingo and five other county seats, women comprised a third of the rebel army. Women fighters were martyred in the bloody battle for Ocosingo.

Key to bringing the companeras to the rebel cause was “The Revolutionary Law of Women,” officially promulgated that first January 1st from the balcony of the San Cristobal city hall, which decreed that women should have control over their own lives and their bodies. The law, which had been carried into the Indian communities by Comandantas Susana and Ramona, often meeting with hostility from the companeros, was “our toughest battle” Marcos would later note.

Integrating women into the military structure, which was not tied to local community, proved easier than cultivating participation in the civil structure, which was rooted in the life of the villages. Although women occupied five seats on the 19-member Clandestine Revolutionary Indigenous Committee (CCRI), the EZLN’s General Command, their numbers fell far shorter in 29 autonomous municipal councils and the five Juntas de Buen Gobierno (“Good Government Committees”) which administrate Zapatista regional autonomy.

But as the Zapatista social infrastructure grew, women became health and education promoters and leaders in the commissions that planned these campaigns and their profile has improved in the JBGs and autonomias.

Women’s Lib a la Zapatista has been boosted by the rebels’ prohibitions against the consumption of alcohol in their communities. Whereas many inland Maya towns like San Juan Chamula are saturated in alcohol, with soaring rates of spousal and child abuse, the Zapatista zone has the lowest abuse indicators in the state, according to numbers offered by the womens’ commission of the Chiapas state congress. As a state, Chiapas has one of the highest numbers of feminicides in the Mexican union – 1456 women were murdered here between 1993 and 2004, more than doubling Chihuahua (604) in which the notorious muertas of Ciudad Juarez are recorded. The low incidence of violence against women in the zone of Zapatista influence is more remarkable because much of the lowland rebel territory straddles the Guatemalan border, a country where 500 women are murdered each year.

With the men tending the kids and cleaning latrines, the women told their stories in the plenaries. Many of the younger companeras like Evarilda had grown up in the rebellion – which is now in its 24th year (14 on public display) – and spoke of learning to read and write in rebel schools and of their work as social promoters or as teachers or as farmers and mothers. Zapatista grandmothers told of the first years of the rebellion and veteran comandantas like Susana, who spoke movingly of her longtime companera Ramona, “the smallest of the small,” recalled how in the war, the men and the women learned to share housekeeping tasks like cooking and washing clothes.

“Many of the companeros still do not want to understand our demands,” Comandanta Sandra admonished, “but we cannot struggle against the mal gobierno without them.”

The Zapatista companeras’ struggle for inclusion and parity with their male counterparts grates against separatist politics that some militant first-world feminists who journeyed to the jungle espouse. Lesbian couples and collectives seemed a substantial faction in the first-world feminist delegations. Although no Zapatista women has publicly come out, the EZLN has been zealous in its inclusion of lesbians and gays and incorporate their struggles in the rainbow of marginalized constitutuencies with whose cause they align themselves.

Sadly, the Encuentro of the Women of the World with the Zapatista Women did not provoke much formal interchange between the rebel companeras and first-world feminists – who were limited to five-minute presentations on the final day of the event. Nonetheless, a surprise Zapatista womens’ theater piece did imply a critique: in the skit, a planeload of first-world feminists with funny hair (played by the companeras) lands in the jungle to deliver the poor Indian women from oppression.

Among international delegations in attendance were women representatives from agrarian movements as far removed from Chiapas as Brazil and Senegal, organized by Via Campesina, an alliance that represents millions of poor farmers in the third world, and a group of militant women from Venice, Italy who have been battling expansion of a U.S. military base in that historic city. Political prisoners were represented by Trinidad Ramirez, partner of imprisoned Ignacio del Valle (who is serving a 67-year sentence), leader of the farmers of Atenco. A message from “Colonel Aurora” (Gloria Arenas), a jailed leader of the Popular Army of the Insurgent People (ERPI), who now supports the EZLN, was read. Although he reputedly lives only a few villages away, Subcomandante Marcos (or his penis) did not put in an appearance at the women’s gathering.

Ladling out chicken soup at her makeshift food stand, Dona Laura told La Jornada chronicler Hermann Bellinghausen that once the womens Encuentro had concluded, everything would return to normal – “only normal would be different now.”

Although the Encounter amply demonstrated the increasing empowerment of the Zapatista companeras, how much of what was said actually rubbed off on those who came from the outside is open to question. “I didn’t really get a lot of it,” confided one young non-Spanish-speaking activist on her way home to northern California to report back on the women’s gathering to her Zapatista solidarity group.

Be that as it may, the EZLN is going to need all the women – and men – it can muster in the months to come. 2008 looms as a difficult year for the rebels with the mal gobierno threatening to distribute lands the Zapatistas recovered in 1994 to rival Indian farmer organizations and paramilitary activity on the uptick.

As has always been the case since this unique rebellion germinated, the Zapatistas turn the corner into another year in struggle.

Portrait of the artist as an old cop


› gwschulz@sfbg.com

Imagine Gary Delagnes, president of the San Francisco Police Officers Association, pondering the impact of abstract expressionism on the American zeitgeist with a far-off gaze. Or picture him dressed in fashionably tight jeans, walking his fixed-gear bike to the San Francisco Academy of Art University with a leather portfolio tucked under his skinny arm.

Does that seem incongruous to you? It does to us as well. After all, Delagnes is the very antithesis of an art school student. So why are the POA and Delagnes, a brutish former narcotics officer, lobbying the San Francisco Planning Commission on behalf of the Academy of Art?

The academy, which has been rapidly snapping up properties around town to accommodate its ambitious expansion plans, has become an entity of increasing concern in San Francisco’s dicey world of land-use politics.

The for-profit school, which costs students around $16,500 per year to attend, today owns or controls more than 30 properties across the city, half of which are used to house its students, and expects to take over nearly a dozen more to accommodate approximately 14,500 students by 2017.

In the meantime, the school is facing several enforcement actions initiated by the Planning Department for brazenly making building conversions without bothering to obtain proper permits.

Delagnes was nonetheless first in line at a September 2007 commission meeting held to address the academy’s pending enforcement cases and praised the school as a tremendous asset to the academic community.

"I think that their reputation in San Francisco is unquestioned as some of the finest, true San Franciscans that I know," Delagnes said of the wealthy Stephens family, which owns the Academy of Art. "They are heavily involved and invested in the city of San Francisco and care deeply about its future."

Delagnes’s lobbying on behalf of the academy surprised and appalled at least one commissioner, Hisashi Sugaya, who told the POA president that he was "really offended" someone representing law enforcement was carrying water for a private art school that had flouted the law by racking up alleged planning and building code violations.

Responding in the union’s newsletter, POA vice president Kevin Martin reached a dizzyingly patriotic pitch in denouncing Sugaya as a liberal and demanding he apologize not just to Delagnes but also to the entire union for "demeaning our president" and "censuring his freedom of speech."

Delagnes admitted to the Guardian that his testimony was essentially a "quid pro quo." The academy has supported the POA, even offering special summer apprenticeships to the children of its members. "I’m sure that they were thinking, ‘You know what? The POA is a pretty powerful organization. It wouldn’t hurt to get close to them,’<0x2009>" Delagnes said. "Here came this problem with the Planning Commission. They called me and said, ‘Hey, would you mind going up there and basically saying that we’re a good organization? We’re good people.’<0x2009>"

During the meeting, school president Elisa Stephens, who did not return calls, portrayed the academy as a simple mom-and-pop business ignorant of planning politics and intending to fully cooperate with the city.

"My grandfather was an artist…. We’re an integral part of this community," Stephens told the commissioners. "I live in this community. We’ve been here since the late 1800s. We’re dedicated to this city…. I apologize for not being involved in city politics. I’m involved in education."

But city staffers implied there’s more to the academy’s troubles than a few honest mistakes. In March 2007, the school was hit with a litany of alleged code violations, including 14 properties converted without conditional-use permits and seven made into group housing or modified for other school uses without building permits, Planning Department records show.

Before last year the academy had never submitted an institutional master plan to the city, even though San Francisco’s Planning Code has required them from universities since the 1970s, particularly for a scattered campus that’s in a position to dramatically alter the face of downtown, where the school is primarily located and its private transit buses are ubiquitous.

The academy finally turned one over in 2007 after city planners issued a citation in summer 2006. Afterward the department visited all of the school’s properties and discovered multiple problems with use permits, plus an additional property the academy had recently acquired but didn’t include in its plan.

Code enforcers tried to negotiate with the school, planning staffer Scott Sanchez told the commission. But after department personnel outlined the March 2007 violations for the academy, it simply continued onward, converting 601 Brannan for its own use without any building permits and doing the same at the Star Motel on Lombard, this time without a conditional-use application.

As the department worked to keep up, the academy purchased four new buildings and put its eye on another, all between spring and fall 2007.

"All of our information about their new facilities came from members of the public…. It wasn’t actually through the academy, with whom we thought we had a dialogue about their institutional master plan," Sanchez told the Guardian. "We had something ongoing with them, yet they were not informing us of their new acquisitions, and they weren’t obtaining proper permits for them."

The school, in fact, is accelerating plans to convert 575 Sixth St., known as the San Francisco Flower Mart, into studio space, despite opposition from the Mayor’s Office, the Planning Commission, and the Board of Supervisors. The 30 floral business tenants that currently inhabit the building received eviction notices dated Christmas Eve 2007.

A future academy gymnasium is slated for 620 Sutter, but building it would result in the eviction of the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, a 25-year-old institution specializing in African American stage performances. The academy already converted part of the building to group housing without a permit.

So what else is the POA getting for its support of the arts? For one, the Academy of Art was a $5,000 putf8um sponsor of the POA’s 2007 charity golf tournament at the StoneTree Golf Club in Novato, beating out dozens of other donors for the top of the list. The exclusive title was used for only three other contributors.

The union’s November 2007 newsletter, which appeared just after Delagnes voiced his support for the school, announced that academy president Stephens had also given POA members working at the police department’s Southern Station in SoMa 15 free underground parking spots on Bluxome, just a short walk from the Hall of Justice and the union’s headquarters.

And that’s the art of politics in San Francisco.

Bad to the (funny) bone


HELLA SKETCHY Stop acting like you don’t love bad movies. Me, I’ll go to the mat for Point Break or Reign of Fire any day of the week. This is why I feel a kinship with Michael J. Nelson, formerly of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and currently of RiffTrax.com, which peddles Nelson’s downloadable commentaries for more than 50 snarkworthy movies and TV shows. A past favorite at SF Sketchfest, "RiffTrax Live!" invades the Castro Theatre as part of this year’s fest, with MST3K vets Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett taking on the notorious Plan 9 from Outer Space. I got Nelson on the phone for a pre-grave-robbin’-aliens chat.

SFBG You’re showing the colorized version of Plan 9, whose DVD has your commentary track. Will the live show have different jokes? And how many times have you seen the movie?

MICHAEL J. NELSON Some of the [jokes] will remain the same, but most of [them] will change. I’ve probably only seen [the movie] all the way through about 10 times, but each time through, it takes hours and hours, so it adds up to 100 times or something.

SFBG Don’t you get sick of it?

MJN The craft of the joke writing is what I love and what energizes me. Also, when you become so familiar with a movie — it’s weird — it’s almost like seeing the movie at a different level. There are some movies that I couldn’t take that with — bad movies that are just bad and boring. And Plan 9 is one of those that’s obviously stood the test of time because it’s funny-bad. Most bad movies are not funny-bad. They’re just bad — grinding, horrible bad.

SFBG How would you define a good-bad movie?

MJN It has to be sincere. It has to take itself seriously, and then it just has to fail in some really silly ways, rather than failing in some really boring ways — goofy elements [like] ridiculous costumes or dialogue [that makes] you just wonder, how could they have possibly written that?

SFBG Is it ever hard for you to watch a movie and not make fun of it?

MJN No, it’s pretty easy. I think if you’re in the business you do tend to be more critical — there are people who watch movies, just, [like,] "I don’t really care. I enjoyed it. I don’t look at it critically." I’ve gotten to the point where I respect that view. I just happen not to be one of those people. I watch and I’m hypercritical. But when the movie is good I have no problem enjoying it.

SFBG Do you think MST3K influenced audiences to heckle the screen?

MJN I think it encouraged people in what they already did, which was get together in groups and watch these cultish movies. Or to interact when things like Batman and Robin come along, where your only recourse is to shout back at the screen. In general, though, I think people did it in a party atmosphere — we always said, "Don’t go to the theater and do it!"

SFBG What are the elements of newer good-bad movies, like recent Rifftrax.com selection 300?

MJN I think the excesses of modern movies have become the funny thing — the thing that makes you laugh is the way that they calculate how they think they can get a reaction from you. It’s sort of a cynical act: "Let’s figure out exactly what the average guy would like, and let’s just give it to him in giant doses." They try to entertain the living hell out of you, and when they fail it’s kind of funny.


Jan. 17, 9 p.m., $25

Castro Theatre

429 Castro, SF



Jan. 10–27

See Web site for program info


Where is home?


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

"I’ve never been inside here before. I don’t like to come in here, because I feel alienated in my own neighborhood by this place, and that is kind of what this play is about," Danny Hoch said recently. His new solo stage production, Taking Over, opens Jan. 16 at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre. Speaking the day before he flew out West from New York to begin rehearsals with rep director Tony Taccone and looking around in half disgust, the New York–born actor-playwright was seated inside the Roebling Tea Room, a recently opened, funkily decorated but high-end restaurant directly across the street from his home in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where he has lived for the past 20 years.

The yuppie meeting place was Hoch’s choice, as much for convenience, it seemed, as to further emphasize the point of what his new work is all about. "Williamsburg is ground zero for gentrification not just in New York but in the country, because it has provided a blueprint for how fast and how violent displacement and economic development can happen in a short amount of time," Hoch said. "And Taking Over is about how gentrification is really masking the idea of colonialism and how everybody is kind of searching for a sense of home and disconnected from where their home is. And in the kind of neofeudalism that is the new economy of North America, people looking for home wind up displacing people who are home."

As in his previous solo plays, such as the Obie Award–winning Jails, Hospitals, and Hip-Hop — which 10 years ago also premiered at the Berkeley Rep — Hoch channels a myriad of characters of various ages, races, and genders. Embodied with his ever-sharp dry observant wit, these include a major real estate developer, a Dominican taxi dispatcher, a French real estate agent, a revolutionary gangsta rapper, and a New York University student — a "clueless hipster" from Michigan who protests that she feels "like a homeless person" after her parents cut her monthly allowance from $5,000 to $3,000.

Another engaging character is the guy who was just released from incarceration after serving time under New York’s controversial, draconian Rockefeller drug laws. But he’s been gone so long he doesn’t recognize his old hood. "When he arrives they’re shooting a movie on his old block, and he talks to a PA on the movie set and says, ‘When I was growing up here people never came to shoot a movie. People shot things all right — like [other] people or heroin — but not a movie,’<0x2009>" Hoch explained. "And then he points to [a] woman in the window and says, ‘That’s my mother.’ And the PA asks him, ‘Oh, she doesn’t want to come down and check out the movie set?’ And he says, ‘No, she’s still afraid to go outside from the ’80s.’<0x2009>"

According to Hoch, the Bay Area has consistently been the most receptive to his work. "The Berkeley Rep is one of the only theaters, if not the only theater, that would support this kind of show from its inception. A theater in New York that needs to economically sustain itself [is] not going to commission or fund a show at this level about gentrification in New York, because it’s going to alienate their very audience." In fact, for the past 10 years Hoch has been unable to make a living as a writer or an actor in his hometown. "New York stories are no longer viable in New York City because the market is being informed by Americans. This is why you have Subway and Domino’s and Applebee’s and TCBY all over New York City — so that Americans can feel at home," he said.

"Do you know how many vintage clothing stores there are around here and stores that I can’t even identify with what the fuck it is that they are selling?" Hoch asked rhetorically. "How do you economically sustain that? You sustain that with disposable income, not income income. That is how you sustain this many bars and a tearoom like this. I tell you, this neighborhood didn’t need another tearoom. We needed more teachers. We needed a hospital. We needed better schools."


Through Feb. 10, $27–$69

See Web site for showtimes

Berkeley Repertory Theatre

2025 Addison, Thrust Stage, Berk.



Rain on me


› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER How can two goods get mashed so bad? How can an act of generosity get so twisted? What sort of storm hath Radiohead wrought? And in an age of easy digital reproduction and reappropriation, a mashup era, what kind of rights do listeners have regarding music disseminated, seemingly so freely, online — namely, the United Kingdom band’s In Rainbows album? Why can’t hip-hop and indie rock values segue together as gracefully, as artfully, as Oakland DJ-producer Amplive’s trip-hop–tinged remix of "Nude," a suturing together of his group Zion I’s "Don’t Lose Ya Head" and Radiohead’s ethereal hum, with classic Yay touches of Too $hort?

This fall Radiohead released their In Rainbows as a pay-what-you-will download, allowing listeners to grab the sounds for free if they chose and inspiring Amplive to remix their music as a measure of his admiration. The gesture conjures Dangermouse’s hybrid hijack of Jay-Z’s The Black Album (Roc-A-Fella, 2003) and the Beatles’ The Beatles (Apple, 1968), otherwise known as "The White Album," for his Grey Album (2004), though Amplive went as far as to get contributions from Del Tha Funkee Homosapien and Jurassic 5’s Chali2na.

"I just did it to do it, and I love the In Rainbows album — it was just tight!" Amplive told me on the phone this week from the East Bay. "And especially in this age, with remix culture, a lot of people do them. I just did the same. I just wanted to do a hip-hop version of their stuff, and I guess I underestimated what would happened. It just took off."

Word spread, and listeners urged Amplive to remix the entire In Rainbows, a project he dubbed Rainydayz Remixes. As news arrived of the producer’s plans to give away the remix album free of charge online on Jan. 10 to those who had already downloaded In Rainbows or supported a Radiohead-favored charity, Friends of the Earth, the forces that be — i.e., Radiohead publisher Warner/Chappell — moved to put a stop to the fun and games, tribute or no tribute. Amplive had received 3,000 orders when, a few weeks ago, he was sent a cease and desist letter stating that he needed to get approval "before making arrangements of other writers’ work, especially if you have plans to commercially exploit the arrangements/remixes or make them publically available."

Preferring not to get into a legal battle royal and instead appealing to Radiohead online via a video posted on his MySpace page, Amplive decided to put the project on hold. Meanwhile Gigwise.com spoke to Radiohead’s manager Bryce Edge on Jan. 7; he claimed the issue was the use of an image of Thom Yorke to promote Rainydayz Remixes, which implied the Radiohead frontman was involved in the project, and that management had a problem with fans being asked to forward their In Rainbows purchase e-mail in order to receive a free remix LP, which he described as "a bit naughty!" "To be honest, I’m not sure the band have even heard [the remixes]," Edge continued, adding they will meet Jan. 8 to discuss the matter.

Perhaps Edge and company need to take a cue from "Don’t Lose Ya Head"<0x2009>‘s verses. Amplive told me he hadn’t used Radiohead images to promote Rainydayz and instead pointed to music blogs like Hood Internet, which regularly splices together photos of mashed artists. One wonders if Radiohead’s suits have scoped out the other mashups on that specific site (Eve and Thom together at last!) and whether they’re aware of how hypocritical the group appears in putting the kibosh on free remixes — from which Amplive stands to gain nothing apart from praise for his production skills — for what appeared to be a free recording. There’s little talk these days about the other Black Album remixes spawned by the tracks Jay-Z freely released: maybe those reworks failed to capture critics’ imaginations. Amplive’s remixes have caught listeners’ ears, making him the beneficiary, and victim, of too much positive press.

After being hailed as both visionary and realistic in their release of In Rainbows, Radiohead stand only to get a public relations black eye from this entire affair, and perhaps Amplive — who is working on Zion I’s new CD — simply made the mistake of doing deft work and getting more attention for it, from The New York Times among others, than some kid chopping beats on his PC in Pinole. "I just hope Radiohead listens to [the Rainydayz Remixes] and thinks, ‘This is pretty tight. As long as it’s free, let ’em do it,’<0x2009>" the humble Amplive said. "I definitely didn’t want to disrespect their management and infrastructure. I did it totally out of support and love for the group and the music. And it could give them a different kind of exposure — not that they need any help!" *


Sat/12, 9 p.m., $20–<\d>$22


628 Divisadero, SF



Mary Van Note has it made: in addition to hosting two nights of the San Francisco Sketchfest at the Hemlock Tavern, the local comedian and mistress of the monthly "Comedy, Darling" show at Edinburgh Castle (the next is Feb. 6) was recently tapped to make shorts for the Independent Film Channel, thanks to her online videos. Too bad the Gav had to ruin everything. "The videos were going to be about me getting a date with Gavin Newsom, and just the other day I saw he’s getting married," Van Note says. "Now it’s going to be about me breaking up his marriage."

Tues/15 and Jan. 22, 8:30 p.m., $10. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk St., SF. www.hemlocktavern.com


The San Agustin guitarist, onetime Thurston Moore collaborator, and Douglas McCombs cohort works a vein of electronic and acoustic composition and improvisation. With Tom Carter, Donovan Quinn, and Barn Owl. Wed/9, 9:30 p.m., $12. Cafe du Nord, 2170 Market, SF. www.cafedunord.com


Thrash like those eardrums never quite stopped bleeding. With Skin like Iron and Grace Alley. Sat/12, 9:30 p.m., $6. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. www.hemlocktavern.com


The Kill Rock Stars starlet hopes to make music more than a hobby once she graduates from college. With Ray’s Vast Basement and the Dry Spells. Sat/12, 9:30 p.m., $10. Cafe du Nord, 2170 Market, SF. www.cafedunord.com


The Cat Power–like Bay Area vocalist waxed hauntingly on her recent Dark Undercoat (Double Negative). With the Complications and Mylo Jenkins. Sun/13, 8 p.m., $6. Make-Out Room, 3225 22nd St., SF. www.makeoutroom.com


The many moods of the beat poetess shift with each performance of this intimate, monthlong residency. Tues/15, Jan. 22 and 29, and Feb. 5, 8:30 p.m., $25–<\d>$30. Cafe du Nord, 2170 Market, SF. www.cafedunord.com

Remember the main


Our end-of-’07 road tour, with a Where have you gone Nancy Pelosi? theme (to be sung to the tune of Simon and Garfunkel’s "Mrs. Robinson") took me to two states I’d never been to before, Idaho and Montana. In the former, no Larry Craig sightings, but we did keep out of REIs. In the latter, mammoth main courses in restaurants, about which more presently. As for the states-visited list, it is sizable if not mammoth, with Texas and Florida still in the penalty box. There I expect they shall remain. Daniel Walker Howe’s excellent (if mammoth) What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815–1848 (Oxford, 904 pages, $35) contains a fine account of the exertions required on our part to wrest Texas from Mexico, and as a reader luxuriating in hindsight, I found myself thinking: this was not wise.

The main course has been taking a hosing lately, and it isn’t hard to see why. If you think these dishes are too big here — and they are — you’re likely to split a seam at what’s being served beyond the Bay Area bubble, out there in our beloved red states. The situation is like a culinary version of grade inflation; side dishes are sizable enough to be appetizers, while appetizers are big enough to be main courses, and main courses are basically indescribable. Immense. At the Lodge at Whitefish Lake one evening we naively opened with a Mediterranean flat bread, a kind of pizza with olives, feta, and tomatoes and a ramekin of hummus on the side, before moving on to soup and salad, and then the main event.

Why, I thought too late, did I order pot roast after all that? The pot roast was excellent, but was it necessary to include two six-ounce slabs of beef, along with mashed potatoes?

Across the table a cooler head prevailed, and a more modest main course was ordered: shrimp diablo on a bed of multicolored orzo. And the cooler head wisely didn’t even eat all of it. For various bad reasons ("Live, live all you can!" Henry James wrote. "It’s a mistake not to!" Plus, you’re on vacation!), I ate all of mine, in addition to nibbling at the orzo, and wondered if I would live.

We can’t blame restaurants for serving (and charging for) 4,000-calorie plates when there are people dopey enough to eat them. Memo to dopey self: Think small. Remember your stomach. Choose life.

Paul Reidinger

› paulr@sfbg.com

Resort recollections


Welcome to Mi Ami — where the only hint of tropical exposure is the stifling humidity of an all-night dance party. Here in Mi Ami, there are no arced palms, hungry crocs, or pesky tourists getting in the way of all the sheer nastiness shaking and stirring about. Within its pulsating realm — a world-beat machine of tireless, congalike aerobics — delayed and jangly guitars, dirty bass, and skronky electronics fill the dank atmosphere as sticky, gyrating bodies press up against one another and ripple to and fro. The sweat beads will probably sting your eyeballs, and you might even collapse from near exhaustion, but perhaps that’ll just indicate that your body is kicking into overdrive. At least you’ll know the noisesome dub punkers of San Francisco’s Mi Ami have put a dent in your psyche.

Daniel Martin-McCormick, the group’s lead vocalist and guitarist, confessed to me over the phone that his involvement with Mi Ami began as a result of his frustrations and technical limitations as a musician. Raised in what he described as a "very conservative" Washington DC, Martin-McCormick spent most of his time there playing in punk bands with current Mi Ami bassist Jacob Long, one of them the explosive dance-punk outfit Black Eyes. After that combo fizzled, the discouraged Martin-McCormick — who cited free jazz and modern composition as primary motivations to advance his guitar playing beyond punk rock — relocated to the Bay Area to study classical guitar at San Francisco State University in January 2005.

"At a certain point I felt like I was trying too much to fit into a box of what I thought my music probably should be and I wasn’t spending enough time on it," he explained. "I started to get into free jazz, which had a big impact on me because I was thinking, ‘Wow, this is insane,’ and it got me thinking, ‘Well, what am I doing with my life?’

"Not too many people playing punk are going to get beyond three good records, or whatever. So I felt I needed to take this a step further and start pushing myself in this kind of abstracted, rigorous way," he added.

After he chanced on Damon Palermo at a summer 2006 noise show where they were both playing sets, Martin-McCormick said, the two agreed that "playing in the improv genre wasn’t quite taking us to the places we were hoping to get to." So the pair decided to start their own project together.

"I’d gotten too far away from the original feeling of inspiration and more into wanting to imitate things I admired but couldn’t necessarily play," Martin-McCormick revealed. "I felt I needed to get back to something more personal and was listening to a lot of dance music, so I thought, ‘Well, I don’t know if this is a place to stay, but it’s a place to start. Here’s a beat — I can at least borrow this beat for a second, and maybe that’ll resuscitate me.’<0x2009>"

Since reinserting the beat into their life, Mi Ami played the hell out of the Bay Area DJ circuit before regrouping and handing bass duties to Long this past fall. Martin-McCormick is hopeful the band’s White Denim–issued 12-inch debut, African Rhythms, will see the light of day before Mi Ami embark on an East Coast tour in February, but in the meantime this dance party is just getting started. And it will never be the same again.


With Short Hair, Planets, and Manacle

Sat/12, 9:30 p.m., $5

Edinburgh Castle

950 Geary, SF

(415) 885-4074


The stranger


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Where to begin with Jandek? First, a definition: Jandek is a phenomenon, as plainly uncanny as a lightning storm. Then on to the facts of the case: initially emerging in 1978 with the Ready for the House album (Corwood), Jandek has since released a steady stream of haunting LPs: 51 at last count, each talismanic of a cumulative mystery. The records originate from Corwood Industries, PO Box 15375, in Houston, a company that seems to exist solely to disseminate Jandek music. The discs contain no supplemental information, and the whole enterprise propagates with pseudocorporate anonymity — the performer is usually invoked as the "Representative from Corwood."

These inputs are nothing in and of themselves, but like a Rubik’s Cube, they have become a source of tantalizing fascination for a few. The music, which ranges from the inscrutable to the harrowing, comes on like icebergs in the night. The first full-lengths (especially 1981’s Six and Six) lay out the basic Jandek sound: immersive death-letter blues, unstudied and intense. Misshapen chords crumble in his clanking tunings and obtrusive picking patterns. Songs end with the dull thud of a stopped tape recorder.

There have been additions and subtractions since this first period: a thudding racket of drums on a string of releases in the mid-’80s, cryptic collaborations ("Nancy Sings"), a wonderfully severe "breakup" album (1987’s Blue Corpse), and a short phase of unlistenable a cappella (2000’s Put My Dream on This Planet, 2001’s This Narrow Road, and 2004’s Worthless Recluse). Evaluative criteria have been junked, lyrics and titles scrambled, and explications left unanswered. Even something as basic as Jandek’s chronology is up in the air: many of his closest listeners do not believe the albums are released in the same order in which they were recorded.

The covers further channel these constantly shifting parameters, as well as the intensely desolate nature of the Jandek persona. Like the recordings, they are pointedly unprofessional, evoking the titular hero without pinning him down. When the figure does appear, he is inevitably alone and dour. Like the lyrics, multiple album covers are drawn from a single photo session, if not from one single photograph (2006’s What Else Does the Time Mean and The Ruins of Adventure).

Jandek has carved a tremendous field of negative space and achieved a collusion with his devotees as remarkable, in its way, as the one associated with the Grateful Dead. As far as dedicated fandom goes, Seth Tisue’s annotated Web site (tisue.net/jandek) is simply amazing. While looking over Tisue’s notes, it’s easy to appreciate how much the Representative from Corwood rocked the boat when he announced his first live performances in 2004. Thirty shows later, he is making his first scheduled West Coast appearance at the appropriately chaste Swedish American Hall.

Unprecedented perhaps, though not necessarily as shocking as it might first appear. A proper recluse doesn’t want any kind of attention, whereas Jandek simply seems to want to tightly regulate the flow of information. There’s an unexpectedly illuminating moment in a 1985 phone interview highlighted in the Jandek on Corwood documentary (2003) when Jandek confesses he only decided to go on with his project after Ready for the House received a good notice from now defunct OP magazine. Is it such a stretch, then, to connect Jandek’s decision to begin performing live to the increased attention following the film?

Regardless, any fears that Jandek would be sacrificing his essence have been allayed by the fiery quality of the concerts. He pens a new set of lyrics for each, performing the compositions with an unfamiliar nest of collaborators plucked from the local experimental music community. San Francisco is especially rich in this regard, and two of the area’s best will fall into Jandek’s orbit Jan. 12: Ches Smith (Xiu Xiu, Good for Cows) is marked down for drums and Tom Carter (Charlambides, Badgerlore) for bass.

Carter wrote to me about a previous experience playing with the Representative from Corwood, "It was one of the heaviest playing situations of my life. He didn’t demand much specifically from the other musicians, but there was definitely a sense that there was something he wanted, and that if you didn’t figure it out yourself, it was on your head if the performance fell flat."

The shows may last longer than the records, but this seems less of an issue when you acknowledge the elastic, architectural quality of the music. The recordings, in any event, are an apt preparation for the appearances, as they too seem to unfold in stuttering real time. After we listen, our throats are dried out, our blinking irregular, and it seems the preceding minutes have passed through a dark star. We do not ask for music to move us like this, but once it does it is hard to imagine anything else.

Some fans think the performances and recent spike in releases indicate that the Representative from Corwood has retired from his day job. Regardless of whether he has, he’s certainly earned the right to embrace his artist self. Whether we choose to visit his terrain or keep away is inconsequential next to the fact that Jandek is undeniably there. Insofar as this body of work represents the buzzing strangeness lurking just behind the flecked curtains of everyday Americana, the Representative from Corwood is on a track similar to that of Thomas Pynchon or David Lynch. Ever inscrutable and increasingly undeniable, the Jandek discography has somehow wormed its way onto the map. 2


Sat/12, 7:30 p.m., $25

Swedish American Hall

2170 Market, SF

(415) 861-5016


“Hello-Now, From Everywhere”


On the corner of 20th and Valencia streets, there’s a window that makes people think of the dead. The reason is a series of annotated sketches that, over the past few years, has gradually accumulated on the glass to the right of the doorway at Dog Eared Books. A sort of eulogistic message board for drifting window shoppers, these paper notices gently call attention to the passing of poets, visual artists, writers, teachers, and other cultural heroes, some renowned, some formerly celebrated, and others largely unknown — though not to Oakland artist Veronica De Jesus, the creator of this memorial window.

Now, with the window grown crowded, another local artist and a friend of De Jesus’s, Colter Jacobsen, has published a collection of the memorials (Allone Co., $18). Tributes to Susan Sontag, Jacques Derrida, Robert Creeley, Octavia Butler, Will Eisner, Quentin Crisp, Richard Pryor, and Rick James are interspersed among pages dedicated to death row prisoner Stanley "Tookie" Williams; Al "Grandpa Munster" Lewis, whose roles also included circus performer, Pacifica radio host, and Green Party candidate for governor of New York; the New Zealand experimental novelist and poet Janet Frame; and "Don" Magargol, a folk dance instructor at San Francisco’s Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

The spiral-bound notebooks in which these memorials are collected — and the cover image, a drawing of a largely denuded but vibrant dandelion superimposed on what looks like crumpled paper that’s been imperfectly smoothed out — suggest a continued meditation on impermanence and remembrance, the attempts we make to prolong or enlarge the presence of our heroes and loved ones in the world after they leave us.

Initials B.B.


› johnny@sfbg.com

REVIEW A few months ago, at a bookstore in another city, I came across a few copies of the ’60s arts and literature journal Kulchur. Scanning them, I discovered that the Bay Area poet Bill Berkson had contributed some film essays and that his writings on cinema were followed an issue or two later by reviews from a fledgling critic named Pauline Kael. The presence of Berkson’s and Kael’s movie notes in Kulchur reflects a time when the boundary between making art and writing about it wasn’t so fixed. Here was Kael, a friend of the poet Robert Duncan, making her first published sojourns into criticism (which were eventually reprinted in I Lost It at the Movies [Little, Brown, 1965]), while Berkson was trying out an essayistic voice that is more vivid and vibrant today, as evidenced by the seven (lucky) pieces in Sudden Address: Selected Lectures 1981–2006 (Cuneiform Press).

Cinema lights up the poetry of Berkson’s friend and mentor Frank O’Hara, so it is slightly less of a surprise, though no less of a pleasure, when Berkson — in the midst of a Sudden Address essay about the painter Philip Guston — turns a brief mention of the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan into a brief blast of instantly classic film criticism. "It’s as if [Jean-Luc] Godard’s movies had predicted the space of" the assassination footage, Berkson remarks. This comment, while not a direct observation about a particular Godard film, captures — and more important, opens up — the cramped, antic, and absurdly violent energy of Godard’s new wave heyday as well as any of Kael’s great celebrations of the director.

Movies are a tangential subject at most in Sudden Address: Berkson might love Louise Brooks almost as much as O’Hara adored James Dean, but the cast that parades through these pieces is more likely to range from Gertrude Stein and Dante to a number of Berkson’s New York school or new realist peers and then back to Dante (in relation to Kenneth Koch) and Stein again. These artists and writers, harmonizing motifs within the overall text, occupy a living history quite different from the cold terminology of the academy and much contemporary art criticism. Attuned to the poet’s flair for "observation for observation’s sake" rather than dedicated to the tedious assemblage of "frames of judgment," Berkson claims that "pleasure in writing criticism is often connected with the surprise of vernacular…. Most critics are Philistines in the sense that they ignore the cardinal rule of art practice, which is never to give the game away."

It would be a matter of hinting, and not one of giving the game away, to suggest that Berkson’s passionate engagement with the kinship between poetry and painting — a passion that rules Sudden Address‘s first piece and gradually possesses its last one — might have a role in the rise of the Mission school and other painterly Bay Area inspirations of recent years. Certainly a number of musicians and visual artists have looked to Berkson’s onetime home of Bolinas as a source of sustenance, albeit temporarily. Born from teaching gigs and lectures at the San Francisco Art Institute and elsewhere, the oratorical style of this book remains energetic throughout. Berkson’s roving intelligence stops to enjoy the infant nature of Italian phonetics and puzzles over the sublime. It tellingly notes that Walt Whitman and Charles Baudelaire "were the two most-photographed nineteenth-century writers" and places painter-poet Joe Brainard and critic Clement Greenberg at the intersection of Hans Hoffman’s paintings in order to take on Greenberg’s famous good-or-bad mode of attack. It also takes issue with former fellow "poet who also writes about art" Peter Schjeldahl’s gradual abandonment of poetry.

Sudden Address‘s cool enthusiasm sometimes gives way to a passion even more at odds with what Berkson deems "the glacial moraine" of postmodernism. Composed in memory of Berkson’s feelings for O’Hara’s poem "In Memory of My Feelings," the 2006 piece "Frank O’Hara at 30" overcomes the assumed importance and first-name logrolling of many New York school–style remembrances. It exemplifies Berkson’s ability to make one style of criticism function as a rich libretto surrounding the aria that is a particular poem or painting. Virgil Thomson attested that when faced with a choice between work, friendship, and passionate love, finding two out of three ain’t bad. But Berkson wants to have all three. At its best, Sudden Address embodies that possibility.

Lucky 13


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Since 1996 the Goethe-Institut’s annual Berlin and Beyond Film Festival has been bringing German-language cinema from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland to the Europhiles of San Francisco. As 2008 marks the festival’s 13th year — which signals a transition toward maturity in many cultures — it’s perhaps appropriate that several offerings come from directors who have already brought their first or second films here. One example is Robert Thalheim, winner of the fest’s 2005 Best First Feature Award for Netto, who returns with his fictional account of a young German’s experience of working in Auschwitz today, And Along Come Tourists. But perhaps no triumphal return is more anticipated than that of Fatih Akin, whose The Edge of Heaven comes to San Francisco after garnering multiple awards on the festival circuit, including best screenplay honors last spring in Cannes.

Akin is a director much concerned with connection. After exploring the tenuous alliances of family and homeland in 2002’s Solino and the complex, at times violent bonds of love in 2004’s Head-On, he meditates on death’s unanticipated capacity to unite the living in his newest film. The slow pace and nonlinear construction of his latest offering might initially surprise audiences looking for the visceral force of his previous movies, but it’s a surprise worth following to the film’s introspective conclusion.

Heaven begins by focusing on characters of Turkish descent living in Germany, a diaspora of more than two million people. When aging pensioner Ali (Tuncel Kurtiz) seeks comfort in the arms of middle-aged prostitute Yeter (Nursel Köse), it is their common language, not just the blow job, that excites him. Ali also speaks Turkish to his son Nejat (Baki Davrak), a fastidious intellectual, but divines that otherwise their relationship lacks closeness. Nejat and Yeter quietly ally after she reveals she is prostituting herself in order to put her daughter through school in Istanbul, and when an act of unexpected violence shatters their fledgling harmony, he resolves to find Yeter’s daughter and finance her studies himself.

At this point Heaven breaks away from simple narrative to trace the intricately entwined paths of three strong-willed women. Yeter’s daughter, Ayten (Nurgül Yesilçay), is not a student after all, but a revolutionary and a freedom fighter. Following a police raid on her flat, she comes to Germany to find her mother. Instead, she finds Lotte (Patrycia Ziolkowska), a headstrong German girl who offers her a place to stay. Soon they embark on an almost gratuitous (yet earnestly portrayed) lesbian relationship. Former Rainer Werner Fassbinder muse Hanna Schygulla’s nuanced performance as Susanne, Lotte’s disapproving mother, is one of the film’s strongest. Struggling to relate to her stubborn daughter, she adds a necessary ballast of reason, even as Lotte abruptly leaves home to follow Ayten, who’s been deported to Turkey and jailed.

Another death is all it takes to draw the survivors together, discovering in one another and themselves the attributes they thought were lost with the deceased. Susanne and Nejat in particular find solace in their unifying memories, creating a link that, though forged from tragedy, speaks more to life. Leaving all final reconciliation offscreen, Akin deftly ends his film on a note of pensive ambiguity, a restraint that befits his rising reputation as a director entering his prime.

Another Berlin and Beyond alum, Christian Petzold, delivers a film that — though it couldn’t be more texturally different from Akin’s — is strangely complementary to Heaven. Disassociation, not connection, is the overriding theme of Yella, propelling the titular protagonist from East to West, desperation to determination, the bottom of a river to the head of a boardroom. Nina Hoss plays a woman haunted in every sense of the word. After leaving her small East German village and abusive husband behind in search of a new life as a corporate drone in Hannover, she can’t keep remnants of her past from resurfacing in disorienting ways. Even though you can spot the supposed surprise plot twist an hour away, Hoss’s slow unraveling casts a spell. *


Thurs/10, 8 p.m., Castro (opening-night party 6:30–8 p.m., $35)


Sat/12, 8 p.m., Castro


Runs Jan. 10–16 at the Castro Theatre, 429 Castro, SF, and the Goethe-Institut, 530 Bush, SF, and Jan. 19 at the Arena Theater, 210 Main, Point Arena. For tickets (most films $10) and additional information, call (415) 263-8760 or visit www.berlinandbeyond.com

Angels with dirty faces


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

The Bay Area boasts some of the most forward-thinking film programmers in the country, but even here there’s often no getting around the circuitous, arbitrary workings of foreign film distribution. No matter how big a hit in its festival travels, the foreign film must dutifully wait untold months until it is dressed up by Sony Pictures Classics or released to no fanfare by a small distributor like Film Movement. That particular company is backing the belated American opening of Francisco Vargas’s The Violin, a plainly appealing sleeper that picked up major festival awards from Cannes to San Francisco as well as major props from star director Guillermo del Toro (quoted as saying, "In The Violin lies the future of Mexican cinema").

I mention all of this here only to emphasize that it’s something of a coincidence that The Violin is opening in the shadow of several American movies obsessed with death in the open West, a landscape in which violence congeals as fast as the pop of an air gun or the rush of an oil geyser. A coincidence perhaps, but a bracing one for the way it compounds the eerie calm of Vargas’s debut feature, which, completely contrary to the excellent No Country for Old Men and There Will be Blood (let alone Redacted), works to profess the fullness of the soul locked in dubious battle.

As with many overtly lyrical westerns, The Violin‘s coordinates — mountains and village, the bar and the barracks, guerrillas and soldiers — aren’t specific. Whichever war is being fought, it has already spiraled into abstraction; the opening credits roll over a ravishingly composed torture sequence in which military men maim peasants for no reason other than their being indistinguishable from the guerrillas. The sequence establishes the tone through its look, with soft black-and-white cinematography suffusing the villagers’ tragedy with an ennobling grace reminiscent of Walker Evans’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men portraiture.

This prologue is unnerving for being a composition before it is an action — even as that action is so despairingly brutal. As Vargas slips into the main of The Violin, though, this predilection for romantic chiaroscuro inscribes his fable with the dangerous delicacy of a daydream. The plot, such as it is, gets under way when an old man and his adult son go busking with their violin and guitar, the youngest member of this patrilineal trio, Lucio, collecting the change. Later the adult son, Genaro, slips into the back room of a bar (another space painted in shadow and smoke) to procure weapons for his village’s guerrillas. It’s to no avail, since by the time he returns to the town with his child and his violinist father, the magisterial Don Plutarco (the Cannes-awarded Ángel Tavira), the Army has already done its cruel work, taking over the village and its hidden cache. Flashing modesty and feigned foolishness as another person might their teeth, Plutarco wins the favor of the presiding captain, serenading with his creaky violin ballads while surreptitiously smuggling out supplies with every adios.

Instead of drumming up dramatic impact with the story’s inherently suspenseful elements, Vargas’s film floats by with its head in the clouds, tragedies and trivialities enfolded in caressing close-ups and violin whistles. This dreamlike ambiance paradoxically seems to dovetail with Vargas’s laudable neorealist technique, especially in his work with a nonprofessional cast and his easy command of direct sound. So many films overplay their hand here; drunk on Terrence Malick movies, the nature score is often magnified to absurd sharpness, crickets chirping in your ear, blades of grass aflame in song. Vargas’s sound is comparatively obscure, but besides being pleasurably spacious, it’s true to his vision of a humble poetry of the everyday. The music too is appreciably authentic, as Vargas (who spent five years producing radio shows featuring traditional Mexican melodies) uses Tavira’s wobbly pitch to seam together his loose narrative.

All of this lyricism can have a flattening effect, as scenes of torture and vignettes of tacos hold the same smoky finesse. Innumerable close-ups of Tavira’s cracked hands aside, there is nothing gritty about the film, which is a problem insofar as it can give The Violin‘s realism a bitter aftertaste of simplistic moralism. And yet, in the film’s refined emotional palette (the final shot seals it), Vargos achieves something that the recent tongue-tied American pictures don’t. Wordless in long stretches, The Violin demonstrates a visual command of faces and editing on par with those of D.W. Griffith’s expert melodramas — minor masterpieces that recognize cinema’s strange ability to summon reality without being beholden to it.


Opens Fri/11

Roxie Film Center

3117 16th St., SF

(415) 863-1087



Metal is forever


Andreas Geiger turns his camera on his hometown of Donzdorf, Germany, a tidy little village containing half-timber houses, oompah band–loving old-timers, and the hugely successful metal label Nuclear Blast. Clocking in at just under an hour, Heavy Metal in the Country does peek into the Nuclear Blast HQ — where middle-aged moms carefully tape-gun mail-order packages stuffed with Eddie statues, Cannibal Corpse LPs, and T-shirts glorifying corpsepainted Norwegians Dimmu Borgir — but this isn’t a doc about the label. The film’s main focus is Donzdorf’s populace: in addition to Nuclear Blast’s Markus Staiger, who founded the company as a teen 20 years ago, we meet some dedicated local metalheads (including a 12-year-old Star Search contestant who worships AC/DC) and a few residents (like the town’s vicar) who admire metal’s ability to inspire, even if they think it’s inspiring all the wrong things. Fans of the local scene, take note: a shot in a record store features a quick cameo from Bay Area folk-metal outfit Slough Feg’s self-titled first release.


Sun/13, 10:30 p.m., $8–$10

Castro Theatre

429 Castro, SF

(415) 621-6120


Cafe Andree


› paulr@sfbg.com

Someone says the word global and — quick! — what’s the first association that occurs to you? Warming? Expect a congratulatory phone call from Al Gore. I like Gore and wish he’d managed to become president, but he won’t be calling me, because I would shout out knives! in response to global. Global knives, beloved of sushi chefs, are those ultrasharp Japanese knives made from ceramic material.

There’s no sushi on the menu at Café Andrée, though executive chef Evan Crandall describes his new menu as global. On the other hand, there is tempura — but I am getting ahead of myself. The restaurant might deal in a world’s worth of food, but its aesthetic tone is low-key Euro; it looks like a bistro that’s somehow been engulfed by a London men’s club. (Actually, it’s part of the Hotel Rex, a Joie de Vivre concern.) An entire wall is given over to a set of framed drawings that amount to a kind of study, while atop a tall wooden breakfront at the rear of a dining room perches a globe. There is a reddish bordello glow to the small space that faintly insinuates we’re not seeing the whole picture; does the breakfront peel away to reveal a secret staircase?

An issue haunting the diner in any hotel restaurant is the suspicion that the surrounding tables are filled with travelers, tourists, and other itinerants, people too tired, busy, or anxious to get out there and see the city and mingle with the locals. These people prize convenience and often have the expense account funds to pay for it, and hotel restaurants are generally obliging on both counts. On the other hand, more than a few hotel restaurants are worthy in their own right; some of San Francisco’s best restaurants are to be found in hotels. The question, then, is whether Café Andrée is a nicely tricked-out expense account joint or a bona fide interesting restaurant or, possibly, both.

The prices, certainly, are worthy of the Union Square neighborhood. Many first courses cost well into the teens, while main courses cluster in the mid- to upper 20s. For those kind of bucks, we expect some serious bang, and lo! Café Andrée delivers it. Crandall’s food is simply splendid: innovative but not sloppy or overwrought, carefully plated, and attentively served. By the time you’ve finished, you really don’t care anymore whether the people at the next table are from Tulsa or Aberdeen or Mint Hill, and from the satisfied looks on their faces, they don’t care where you’re from either.

Let’s start with some bread, slices of sweet baguette, still warm and presented with a tray of butter and salt granules in their respective chambers. I liked the flexibility here, though the butter was too chilled to handle gracefully. It would have been clever to use the bread to mop up some soup or sauce instead of trying to spread it with uncooperative butter, but the soup we’d had our eye on, a Cajun crab chowder, had sold out. Apparently the pent-up demand for crab around here is considerable. So, no sopping.

I could not regard a roasted beet salad ($10) as proper restitution, even if enlivened with a Mediterranean mélange of fennel shavings, toasted pine nuts, and a vinaigrette lumpy with goat cheese, but the beet connoisseur loved it. And halfway around the world we went — the other way — for crab, not in chowder but in a panfried cake ($14), with shrimp: a single entity looking like a gilded Easter egg, riding on a magic carpet of Thai cucumber salad (thin pickled slices, perfumed with Kaffir lime essence), with a sweep of red curry aioli arcing across the plate as if from a painter’s brush.

A fillet of black cod ($25) was coated with a caramelized persimmon glaze, and while I’m not wild about persimmons, I liked the glaze. It flattered the fish the way the right clothes can help somebody skinny look more substantial. The bed of lacinato kale and maitake mushrooms was both visually interesting and tasty, but the most arresting characters on the plate were the pair of butternut squash tempura, tabs of orange flesh battered and flash-fried. "They’re sweet!" cried my tablemate, a noted dessert maven, but they weren’t that sweet and also retained a savory richness.

And speaking of savory richness: we come now to the mushroom ravioli ($22), the free-form kind, like a trio of round sandwiches built with disks of spinach pasta and filled with a dice of sautéed wild mushrooms lifted to the sublime by the earthy breath of black truffles and an impressive, buttery wash of what the menu card calls "mushroom consommé." Here at last we had a liquid worthy of being sopped up with the fine bread, but the fine bread was long gone by then.

Bread pudding is an exercise in both frugality and expansiveness, so why not make one tres leches–style ($8), with an angel food–like cake soaked in various forms of milk? For additional interest, sauce it with dulce de leche (sugar caramelized in milk) and toss a few tapioca pearls in there. The result was sweet but not cloying, substantial but not heavy, and wet but not soggy. Our knives went right through it, and they weren’t even Globals. *


Breakfast: Mon.–Fri., 7–10:30 a.m. Brunch: Sat.–Sun., 7:30 a.m.–1:30 p.m. Lunch: Mon.–Fri., 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m. Dinner: Mon.–Thurs. and Sun., 5:30–10 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 5:30–10:30 p.m.

Hotel Rex, 562 Sutter, SF

(415) 433-4434


Beer and wine


Pleasant noise

Wheelchair accessible

Good luck


› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS We’re not related by blood, but he’s as much of a brother to me as my many brother brothers are. He has brothers too, but no sisters, and he always wanted one. So there’s that.

My brother Boomer makes poetry out of radio news like I turn food sections into fiction, sports, gossip, society, philosophy, agriculture, gender studies, travel, apolitical commentary … If, during the past 20 years, you have found yourself in Boston with a radio on, you may recognize his voice.

"Sister!" he boomed, and I heard it in the pay phone receiver and in the room. (Here room = Logan Airport.) I turned and saw him walking toward me, cell phone pressed to his silvering head with the big goofy grin and shining eyes.

"Brother," I said. We hugged, and he took my bags.

It had been some years. A lot had changed. He was skinnier. I’d been long divorced; he was getting there. His wife, always the insanely jealous type, had been cheating on him and was in love with some guy in LA.

Boomer had taken a couple of days off work to chauffeur me to the University of Maine, where I was giving a reading. It’s five hours from Boston to Orono — plenty of time to catch up, but not enough time, apparently, to eat.

Starving, I dropped hints. "Hilltop Steakhouse still there?" I asked, perhaps too casually.

He nodded. Then: "I tell you, Sis," he said. "I don’t know what I’m going to do. The boys …"

Route 1 was a parking lot. Boomer called his station’s traffic desk: "Hi Jim. Boomer."

While he was getting the inside scoop and then getting us out of it, I sat there seat belted and safe, feeling kind of cushy, or soft, like I was in good hands. Informed. I wondered if this was how people expected to feel when they ate in restaurants with me or came over to cook something.

"Why are you laughing?" Boomer asked.

There was the Hilltop. "Nothing," I said, twisting in my seat.

Surprisingly, little had changed on the Saugus Strip in the 20 years since I’d haunted it. I looked at my now silver-templed, golden-voiced newscaster friend and remembered him shirtless behind a drum kit, spit-shouting angry, stupid, and inspiringly poetic punk.

Over barbecued chicken, jerked chicken, and chicken sausages at the party after the reading, Boomer confessed. We were pressed between a table and a refrigerator, holding paper plates and drinking fizzy water while all around us the academics, grad students and their teachers, were drinking hard.

Years ago Boomer had driven back and forth, he told me, between a tree and a telephone pole — tree, telephone pole, tree, telephone pole — in the end settling on the pole, which snapped like a bean.

Power outages, burned houses, abandoned babies, train-wrecked lives, gang bullshit …

"Do you think you knew deep down it would do that?" I asked. "Is that why you picked the pole, do you think?"

"I don’t know," he said.

Call me crazy, but I think that — compared to at least one alternative — half-assed suicide attempts rock.

On the way back down to hard news, as on the way up, Boomer periodically rolled his funny car’s window down and shouted at the trees, at Maine, at the way life should be, "Good luck!"

Environmental disasters. Assassination. God. Government. There’s a cat, a fox, and a hawk stalking my chickens. Not to mention the farmer.

"Good luck!" Boomer booms, and you can hear him clear across the country.


My new favorite restaurant is Taqueria Reina’s. It has the cheesiest chiles rellenos ever, very good carnitas, and excellent salsa. My only complaint was we had to eat with gloves on, it was so cold in there. And speaking of cheesy, there were Mexican soap operas instead of soccer on TV.


Daily, 9 a.m.–11:45 p.m.

5300 Mission, SF

(415) 585-8243

Takeout available


Careers & Ed: Get schooled


With the holidays over, it’s back-to-school time — and not just for kids and college students. Adult education classes also are starting up after their winter hiatus, so take that money you’d promised to spend on a gym membership (like you’d use it anyway) and put it toward learning that skill you’ve always wished you had. Here’s a list of some of our favorite upcoming courses, all perfect for beginners.


The idea of this course is to teach you to make customized dress forms so you can mend and create outfits that exactly fit your body. And even if you aren’t a budding designer … what room’s decor wouldn’t benefit from the addition of a duct tape mannequin?

Jan. 19, 11 a.m.–3:30 p.m. $75

Stitch Lounge, 182 Gough, SF. (415) 431-3739, www.stitchlounge.com


This hands-on workshop teaches the basic methods of both backyard and worm composting.

Jan. 19, 10 a.m.–noon. Free

Garden for the Environment, Seventh Ave., SF. (415) 731-5627, www.gardenfortheenvironment.org

YOGA 101

A good place to start for the would-be yogi who doesn’t want to jump in blind, this Sunday workshop explores basic postures, breathing, and meditation for the beginner.

Jan. 27, 1:30–3:30 p.m. $35 (includes one free week of yoga)

Yoga Tree, 519 Hayes, SF. (415) 626-9707, www.yogatreesf.com


Instructor Suzanne Merritt helps you discover eight universal patterns of beauty and translate your experience into visual form. Includes collage, tearing, layering, image transfers, and mixed media.

Jan. 28–29, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. $190 plus $20 materials fee

San Francisco Center for the Book, 300 De Haro, SF. (415) 565-0545, sfcb.org


Learn to construct a wooden reed skeleton frame before covering it with handmade paper — and leave with a finished paper lantern, complete with bulb and 12-foot wire with on-off switch.

Jan. 31, 6:30–9:30 p.m. $65 (includes $15 materials fee)

Craft Gym, 1452 Bush, SF. (415) 441-6223, www.craftgym.com


A special workshop for women offered by women who teach the fundamental skills needed to forge steel, including tapering, upsetting, flattening, and twisting.

Feb. 2–3, 10 a.m.–6 p.m. $345

Crucible, 1260 Seventh St., Oakl. (510) 444-0919, www.thecrucible.org


A relaxed, comfortable cooking class that shows how to use seasonal, organic, unrefined, and local ingredients to make Moroccan delights beyond the standard couscous.

Feb. 4, 6:30–9:30 p.m. $60

Sage Table, Oakl. Call for address. (510) 914-1142, www.thesagetable.com


Explore contemporary art-making practices in this six-session series covering alternative approaches to painting, drawing, collage, sewing, image transfer, binding, narrative development, and subject investigation.

Feb. 13–March 13, Wednesdays, 7:15–10 p.m. $180 plus $10 materials fee

California College of the Arts, 5212 Broadway, Oakl. (510) 594-3771, www.cca.edu/academics/extended


Why waste money on an expensive film school when you can learn all you need to know over one weekend? This crash course is taught by Dov S-S Simens of the Hollywood Film Institute.

March 15–16, 9 a.m.–6 p.m. $389

Call for location. (310) 659-5668, www.mediabistro.com


Learn to taste the way the pros do, then apply your new knowledge to 20 wines in this continuing education class provided by City College of San Francisco.

April 26, 1–3 p.m. $50

Fort Mason, bldg. B, room 106, Marina at Laguna, SF. (415) 561-1860, www.ccsf.edu

Careers & Ed: The Roots of teaching


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The last day of class before Christmas break presents a challenge for any educator, in any class, at any school. It’s usually considered completely devoid of teachable moments, a phenomenon that’s chalked up (pun intended) to prevacation excitement: PlayStation daydreams, visions of sugarplum romance, and the promise of two and a half weeks of sleeping in don’t exactly encourage industrious behavior.

So the popular course of action among teachers remains the party approach — some snacks, some games, a dose of holiday frivolity. Why swim against the prevailing yuletide, hopelessly and in vain, when you can just float home on a mess of soggy pizza boxes lashed to some two-liter pontoons?

When I visited Claire Keefer’s class Dec. 14, she seemed to be taking this approach. Sure enough, she’d brought a bag of her favorite Christmas candies, a little soda, and some healthier-looking crackers. And she informed her students they’d be playing a game for the better part of the period. But before giving in to the swell of a winter recess so near at hand, during the second-to-last period of the calendar year Kiefer gave her students an honest-to-goodness assignment. She asked them to pull out their journals and respond to a writing prompt she’d posted on the board. And they did, after a collective, semipolite grumble.

And before they knew it — before I knew it — Kiefer’s prompt became a complex sociopolitical discourse on the visual representation of traditional Christmas characters like your boys Jesus, Santa, those creepy little white-guy elves (hee-hee), et al.

Being the literate, postfeminist, righteously liberal San Franciscan that I am, it wasn’t difficult for me to see the purpose of Kiefer’s holiday exercise: to allow her students to problematize the whiteness that so often masquerades as normalcy by paying special attention to holiday symbols.

Looking back on my high school experience, I can say for certain that they, those nefarious they, never stretched my cultural IQ like that. Kiefer’s kids have access to these kinds of ideas. I listened as her students commented on race, power, religion, and misnormalized iconography with intelligence, all quite comfortable in the task. Dare I say, what an important challenge? (I’ll admit I didn’t know Jesus was brown skinned until well into my second year of college.) And what a show of teaching chops it was, to take the least teachable moment of the least teachable day of 2007 and pull some learning out of it.

Quite unlike the stereotype of the emergency-credentialed twentysomething pushover left to rattle all alone in an urban trial by fire, at 26, Kiefer cuts a most confident, no doubt pedagogic figure. Her intelligence, craft, and experience have made her transition from jail to prison to Balboa High School a seamless one.

Jail? Let me explain. Kiefer teaches Roots, a classroom-based initiative that serves children affected by incarceration, which falls under the umbrella of a California nonprofit called Community Works. To clarify: Kiefer works for Community Works at Balboa High School, where she teaches the Roots elective. At a glance, one might conjecture a circumstance of triangulated, bureaucratic-type tension, considering she basically has two bosses, Principal Patricia Gray at Balboa and Ruth Morgan of Community Works. Yet both not only hold Kiefer in the highest regard but also seem equally keen on giving her all the support she needs. And as to the question of distance between Kiefer and the rest of the faculty at Balboa, there is none, plain and simple. Everybody knows her, and everybody knows she puts her students first.

One of the great advantages of teaching Roots is that Kiefer gets to develop and implement the curriculum as she sees fit, in a manageable, supportive classroom environment. Small class size really helps, as does the freedom to design a program that encourages students to respond to their feelings by communicating creatively.

"We always go back to incarceration, sharing personal stories, learning empathy, meeting it head-on." Some of her kids have been incarcerated themselves; most attend her Roots class because their parents have recently been or are currently incarcerated. Control of her curriculum means Kiefer can account for the academic and emotional complexities of her classroom and adjust, midstream if necessary, to the needs of a group of 9th to 12th graders of varied ages, from diverse backgrounds, and with different personalities. Kiefer tailors her lessons to make room for all types of learners.

Curriculum design, creative writing, learning and teaching empathy — these happen to be Kiefer’s experiential strengths. "I’ve never not designed my own curriculum," she says. How many teachers, at 26, can claim such autonomy? How many teachers, at 26, have already worked for years inside correctional facilities? The public school system has placed Kiefer perfectly, in exactly the right circumstances, with kids who respond to her sense of responsibility, her gift of honesty, and her desire to challenge them.

In fact, there is something of a university feel to her classroom dynamic, and she is well aware that her MFA qualifies her to be a college-level instructor. However, neither tweedy aspirations nor hubris figure into Kiefer’s seeming raison d’être. Instead, it has everything to with finding those places where "the need is so transparent," she said. Kiefer’s life path seems so clearly marked as to appear predestined.

At the age of 20, during summer break from Tulane University and entirely of her own volition, Kiefer contacted the Cobb County Jail in Marietta, Ga., asking to be let inside to teach. When someone at the jail returned her call, offering her an administrative position at the facility, she politely insisted, "I already have a job. I just want to teach creative writing." She took the $8 per hour position then offered to her and started showing up about eight hours per week, as much as she could.

She spent her senior year of college editing the school’s literary magazine, the Tulane Review, while volunteering with adult literacy programs in New Orleans. She graduated with a double major in religious studies and English in 2003 and immediately afterward embarked on a yearlong Josephine Louise Newcomb Fellowship.

With the acceptance of her proposal, a plan involving a three-month stint teaching inside three institutions, Kiefer found herself first at San Quentin, then at Noriega, a federal institution in Miami, and finally at the Dale Women’s Facility in Vermont, implementing her curricula, sharing her love of the written word, and saddling her students with rigorously academic assignments. She always stresses the importance of word economy and limitation and is notorious for teaching entire sections around somewhat esoteric poetic forms — e.g., the villanelle and the sestina. "Society doesn’t expect much from [prisoners]. I sure as hell was going to," she said.

The same uncompromising, formal approach has helped Kiefer earn a reputation at Balboa for sticking to her guns, but her firmness comes with the deepest, most genuine regard for those around her. Thinking back on her first semester-long class at San Quentin, which she titled Art in Response to Gang Violence, Kiefer recalled, "A lot of these guys needed this creative outlet, or channel, and I needed to find a community."

Her attachment to the place was so profound that she returned to San Quentin in 2005, a year after her fellowship had ended, to teach one night per week while running down an MFA at San Francisco State University — all while holding a full-time position at Saint Vincent’s in Marin, where, she said, she learned how to handle emotional turbulence in young people after being threatened, groped, and cussed at, seeing desks and chairs fly, and watching a BBQ grill crash to the ground from a second-story window. Trying times at St. Vincent’s taught her how to be available at an authoritative distance.

Kiefer took the Roots job at Balboa High School just last year, the final one of her MFA program at SF State. Some attribute her teaching skill to her lifelong study of the written word, as students do make the best teachers. However, while acknowledging her diligence, she noted that fate, more than any other factor, has landed her right where she needs to be. Ask her if educating kids who’ve been affected by incarceration is something of a calling, and without hesitation she’ll tell you, "Totally."

"Prison education has been proven to prevent recidivism, and it injects humanity into the reality of being incarcerated…. Our society has it so wrong: we’re doing nothing to rehabilitate," Kiefer said with obvious sincerity. Her urgency is born of six years’ hands-on experience, and it still has her visiting prisoners and their families on her own time and acting as an advocate.

Notwithstanding her clarity of vision, though, she says she can be very wrong now and again. For example, I asked if she’d ever failed at anything. "I have a terrible sense of direction," she said. Well, Ms. Kiefer, I beg to differ. Your inner compass seems perfectly calibrated.

Careers & Ed: Paid by Pandora


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Before Tim Westergren founded the Music Genome Project and Pandora, an online radio station–music recommendation site that’s developed a cultlike following, he had no idea what he was going to do for a living. After all, how do you prepare for a job that doesn’t exist yet?

He wasn’t like the scores of people who go through school with specific goals in mind — for instance, major in computer science or business administration, get an entry-level position, start climbing the corporate ladder to become an engineer or manager, and acquire a 401(k).

No, for the venture capitalist, for the entrepreneur, life is more abstract. Westergren’s career path was blazed on a hunch and an intense passion for music, which he’d loved ever since learning to play piano in the suburbs of Paris as a child.

"It’s more, kind of, personal instinct," Westergren said when asked how he found his niche. "Looking around thinking, ‘OK, the problem that I have and that all my friends and everyone I know has is that they love music but they have a hard time finding new stuff.’ That’s the problem that just about every single adult faces. I also knew, as a musician, that there was an awful lot of really great music around that nobody was hearing because it was all buried. And so I figured, ‘Gosh, there’s got to be an opportunity in there of connecting those two.’<0x2009>"


If you don’t happen to be one of the many people who have already pledged their allegiance to Pandora’s wide selection of music and uncanny ability to predict what other artists you might like, let me explain.

At its simplest, Pandora is Internet radio with a brain. Signing up is free and surprisingly quick. Then you choose an artist or song as your "station," and music begins to play. Each successive song is chosen by Pandora, creating a customized streaming playlist based on the attributes of the songs you’ve chosen (and on whether or not you like the songs the site chooses for you). If you like Manu Chao, Pandora might play Los Cafres next. If you start a station around Weezer, Pandora might recommend a song by Jimmy Eat World. If you like Prince, you’ll probably soon be jamming to the Time. And if your Nine Inch Nails station is playing too much hard, dark Marilyn Manson, you can give feedback that’ll lead the station toward a more melodic NIN relative, like Tool.

It’s this system — the combination of radio station and the Music Genome Project, which offers carefully crafted music recommendations based on your tastes — that sets Pandora’s suggestions apart from those of other music sites.

"We’ve created a taxonomy of musical attributes that kind of collectively describe a song," Westergren said, sitting in the main room of Pandora’s headquarters, which looks like a computer lab crossed with a record store thanks to rows of computer stations backdropped by stacks of CDs. He showed me an example, clicking on a tune by Chet Baker at one of the stations. A form popped up on the flat screen, filled with about 40 drop-down menu fields rating musical characteristics. One, for example, says "Fixed to Improvised" and lets the user rate a song from 1 to 10 on that scale. A graphic at the bottom of the screen shows that this is the first of seven pages.

"An analyst goes through and scores each one of these, one by one," Westergren said. Around him the stations were speckled with sleepy-eyed musicians clutching Monday-morning coffee cups, while downtown Oakland glistened through large windows. "So in the end, they have a collection of about 400 individual pieces of musical information about the song. Everything about melody and harmony, rhythm and instrumentation, etc. And it’s this sort of musical DNA that connects songs on Pandora. So when you type a song in, it’s using this information to create playlists."

The criteria for these selections, much like Westergren’s qualifications for steering this funky music boat across the World Wide Web, have been gathered from scratch.


Born in Minneapolis, Westergren moved to France with his family when he was six years old. He went to high school in England, where he sang in a choir and learned a smattering of instruments: clarinet, bassoon, drums, and the recorder. But school in Europe was too tracked for his tastes, and by age 16 he knew he wanted to return to the United States. In college he majored in political science but kept finding himself drawn further into music.

"I tried a bunch of things out. The last couple of years, though, I really got deep into music and recording technology," Westergren said. With his tousled hair and green sweater, the 41-year-old has the clean-cut but cool appearance you’d expect of an Internet executive. "I went to Stanford as an undergrad, and there’s a place there called the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics. It’s a place where science and music come together. There’s a lot of study of sound and sound creation and sound recording, and I [practically] lived there my senior year."

After graduating in ’88 and working as a nanny for several years, he began practicing piano eight hours a day, studying with jazz pianist Mark Levine in Berkeley, and performing at the Palo Alto Holiday Inn. But he always played in rock bands, which he says aren’t that different from start-up companies, and moved to San Francisco to be closer to the nightlife. He began writing jingles for radio ads; it was a short step from there to composing soundtracks for student films.

"The idea for the Music Genome Project, the whole sort of foundation for Pandora, actually was really hatched when I was a film composer. Because when you’re a film composer your job is to figure out someone else’s taste. So you’ll sit down with a film director with a stack of CDs and play stuff for them and try and learn what they like about music," Westergren said. "Then, as a composer, you’ve got to go back to your recording studio and write a piece of music they’ll like. So what you’re doing is, you’re transutf8g that feedback into musicological information."

But this was all just pointing in the right direction. There was still no road map, no clear way of making a musical-taste machine profitable. About this time, Westergren read an article about Aimee Mann, the singer-songwriter you may remember for sacrificing her toe in The Big Lebowski or for covering Harry Nilsson’s "One" for Magnolia. Mann had a decent fan base from her success with the band ‘Til Tuesday, but her record company had shelved her because it didn’t think she could sell enough records.

"It was really that article that prompted me to think, ‘Wow, if there was a way to let people who like her kind of music know that she had a new album coming out, then maybe she’d release her albums, because you could find the fan base.’ That was the original idea: to help connect artists with their audience," Westergren said.

In 1999 he started developing that idea. He sought the business advice of Jon Kraft, a friend from college. Kraft tapped Will Glaser for his computer expertise, and the trio began moving forward with the Music Genome Project, forming Savage Beast Technologies, the name still emblazoned on Pandora’s software today.

"We weren’t originally a radio station. In the beginning we were actually a recommendation tool," Westergren said. "You know how Amazon has ‘If you buy this book, you should also read these books?’ We thought we were going to be that kind of a recommendation tool used on other sites to help people find stuff."

The company got its first push in January 2000, when a few angel investors, or wealthy individuals, loaned it enough money to start developing software. It was on its way, but there was still no clear moneymaking mechanism, and for years the company ran on faith and credit cards. After a while cofounders Glaser and Kraft decided they had to move on. Westergren stuck with the project and kept looking for investors.

"I had been pitching venture funds for a couple of years. I had pitched over 300 times to different venture firms. I didn’t get a yes until 2004," Westergren said.

That was when Pandora.com was created, the Music Genome Project was plugged into personalized radio stations, ad space started selling, and revenue began to flow. It’s also when Westergren’s idea was paired with the shift the Internet has taken toward interactive marketing. Today Pandora has offices in Oakland, Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York and sells ads connected to sounds that consumers like — and therefore products to consumers. The field of interactive marketing is booming, and Westergren says anyone looking to break into Internet radio should first look into a background in advertising.

Then again, you could just follow his example: use your instincts and see what develops.

Tim Westergren is traveling the country promoting Pandora with town hall meetings. See blog.pandora.com/pandora for information.

Careers & Ed: Assembling a career


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Susan Gould is helping me sew up the sides of my Converse sneakers with black surgical suture thread. We’re drinking very strong coffee and sitting in her workroom, which is lined with small plastic bins and boxes filled with hundreds of glass, metal, and paper objects she uses for her assemblage art pieces. The whole experience is surreal — mending the holes in my shoes with a woman I met only an hour before, surrounded by old packaging and papers, buttons, and small objects from warehouses and thrift shops.

But surreal isn’t a new term to the self-sustaining artist. In fact, it’s the word most people use to describe her work: diorama pins, images trapped under magnifying glass, and items like dice, knobs, or bottle caps fused into a statue, all deceptively simple at first glance but strikingly detailed on closer examination.

"I am very particular about the images I use," says Gould, who often alters pictures and then collages them together in Photoshop. "They need to evoke a certain warmth that I can feel."


Gould usually starts with images.

"I am always drawn to the bizarre world of the Victorians," she says. "Vegetable and animal bodies with human heads. Surreal imagery. And definitely nostalgic imagery. I love the vivid colors in Renaissance paintings and costumes and old scientific images. But even these subgroups cover a wide category, and there are many contradictions."

For example, Gould isn’t a fan of retro, cute, or whimsical styles. It’s the fine line between nostalgia and whimsy that differentiates Gould’s art from similar work. Hers are small pieces of reality that have been encapsulated and distorted into foreign and lovely objects that tug at the subconscious.

"I love the idea of taking things out of context and of evoking emotion visually out of pieces of parts," she says. "The dimension invites me to look inward. And it is this idea of being transported into an imaginary moment that intrigues me. Who says this has to be the only world?"

Even as a child, the concept of small, segmented realities fascinated Gould. One of her first encounters with the idea was when her parents took her at age six on a trip to the Museum of Science in Boston.

"I remember being captivated by the variety of shadowboxes and dioramas and thinking, ‘If this is a job, I want it,’<0x2009>" Gould explains.

That fascination set her on the path to self-supporting artistry in 1986. Today she has retail carriers nationwide, as well as in Japan and Canada. Locally her art is sold at the Studio Gallery on Polk Street and at a few festivals and studio sales every year. She’s also recently signed a contract to produce custom work for a company that supplies 43 specialty museum stores.


After working as a freelance graphic artist for 12 years, Gould was forced by outside circumstances to examine new employment options.

"The woman who was paying me $20 an hour as a freelancer told me she had to hire me as a full-time employee for $10.50 or she couldn’t keep contracting me. And the idea of walking around with a portfolio like a first grader, showing it to potential new employers, made me cringe," she says. "So I asked myself, what else can I do?"

With no investor and no other source of income, Gould simply leaped headfirst into her business.

"I just ate rice and beans for a year and worked and worked and saved and saved and kept on going. I think my total investment in getting this business off the ground was $1,000. It became like a challenge to see how little I could spend, how much I could save," she recalls. "I learned so much about myself."

The experience was so important that Gould lists tips on her Web site for people looking to follow her example. According to her site, the top three things one needs to start one’s own business are luck, optimism, and perseverance — in that order.

"I think luck is a factor, but not the only one," Gould explains. "I was lucky in that the things that appealed to me happened to appeal to a large audience. I’ve seen so many talented artists whose stuff doesn’t sell, and I don’t get it. I don’t even really feel like I can take credit for the things I make, most of the time. The objects are themselves. They’re already beautiful, and I just see ways to put them together. It’s not something I’ve created; it’s just a way of seeing things differently."

In order to support herself solely by the sale of her work, Gould sometimes has to make tough decisions about which pieces she offers to buyers.

"In making a living selling my art, I have learned not only to become an efficiency expert and listen to my inner judgment, but that I sometimes have to sacrifice really great products that I cannot make a profit from," she reveals. Gould offers her recent production of dice as an example. Each set took painstaking work to create: she used cubes of wood wrapped in distressed foil from wine bottles and formed the numbers with upholstery tacks. Gould says she could never sell them for their true worth, so she gave them away as gifts. It is that fluid, compromising attitude that has enabled her to succeed.

Gould also does custom work for individuals. If a person provides her with pictures, she can turn them into anything from a bracelet to cufflinks to earrings. She also creates superhero figurines by taking a small plastic toy, removing the head, and putting the image of a loved onemagnified under glass — in its place. The figure is then mounted on a wooden base with wheels. It sounds simple, but Gould’s hand brings a sense of the surreal to the affair, turning what seems like a child’s craft project into a true work of art.

However, not all of her work is for sale or given away. The corners and walls of her apartment are home to the few pieces she likes enough to keep or art that others have made for her, each of which has a story. Through these creations I learn a lot about her father, her brothers, and her friends, their memories preserved and constantly present. She has a miniature tomato mounted on a pedestal that she’s kept for years and a rack of key chains that inspires me to talk about my sister and the emotional attachments people form with inanimate objects.

Which eventually leads to the topic of my shoes and the project, currently at hand, of repairing them. Now we’ve got a small drill, which we’re using to bore through the rubber sole. Gould asks me to prop my foot on a stool before I leave, when she pulls out a camera and snaps a photo of the finished product, which looks like something emo kids would pay $50 to own: shoes, slightly damaged.

"Preserving the moment," I joke as I leave.

"Always," Gould replies with a smile. "I’ll send the picture."

Careers & Ed: Branching out


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Paul Donald, the founder of sustainable online retailer Branch Homes, agrees to meet me at Mission Beach Cafe. He arrives dressed in a black turtleneck sweater and smart bluish purple rimmed glasses and takes a seat at the wooden table where I’m sitting. At one point during our conversation I accidentally make a big black ink smudge on the tabletop.

"It’s heavily varnished, and we’ve got some toxic industrial cleaners that will take care of that," he says dryly.

This is clearly a joke, as everything about Branch — and Donald — is the polar opposite of varnished and toxic. In fact, the San Francisco company only carries ecofriendly, fair trade, and organic objects, clothing, and furniture, with an emphasis on local and national designers (though it has products from all over the world).

But Donald didn’t start out as a retailer, or even a sustainability advocate. His background is in design. In fact, he spent 12 years in New York and San Francisco helping craft the identities of magazines like Spy, Wired, and Sunset before founding Branch Home in 2005. Which is probably why he describes his current job this way:

"I’d like to tell people that I’m the creative director for this cool company that’s at the nexus of design and sustainability — and it just happens to be a retail store," he says, sounding slightly apologetic when he gets to the retail part. After all, when you’re used to being a hip graphic designer, perhaps the title of shopkeeper just doesn’t hold the same mystique.

So how did he get from one to the other?


Donald said there wasn’t a singular "aha!" moment behind Branch. Instead, the idea percolated over time. It could’ve started with his childhood in small-town Iowa, where working in cornfields during the summers inspired his love for the land and a curiosity about where food comes from. This curiosity expanded to include other everyday products when, years later, he read William McDonough and Michael Braungart’s Cradle to Cradle (North Point Press, 2002).

Then, while in his often stressful role as creative director for Sunset magazine, Donald frequently found himself shopping to relax — although he says his motives were more entertainment driven than consumption driven. But he openly celebrates the role of shopping in our lives — as a form of exploration, education, connection, and, of course, therapy.

"It’s an opportunity to discover what’s new and interesting and beautiful in the world," he says.

He also acknowledges shopping’s darker side, including the toxic materials, processes, and packaging that put our objects of desire on the shelf and our purchases’ not-so-pretty by-products: deforestation, global warming, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (or GPGP, a plastic floe of trash floating in the ocean that’s twice the size of Texas), unfair wages, and poor working conditions.

This duality pointed toward the creation of Branch, which represents a greener, happier alternative to our society’s often blind and copious consumption. "No one wakes up and thinks, ‘I want to contribute to deforestation today,’<0x2009>" Donald says. "We’re just not brought up to think about the life cycle of the things we consume." Instead of flat-out asking people to abandon their consumptive ways (an improbability as far as Donald is concerned), Branch encourages design-savvy shoppers to get curious about whence and from what things come. "We can’t consume our way to a better world, but we can be more considerate about what we buy," he says.

That’s why each item Branch sells, from stuffed animals to kitchenware, comes with its own story — what it’s made from, how and where it’s made, and who made it — on the Web site and on printed cards that are included in each package. This helps to create another point of connection between object and buyer and furthers Branch’s goal of educating consumers about sustainability, something that’s close to Donald’s heart.

But even people who don’t read all the stories that come with the products can rest assured that Donald, in his dual role as Branch’s curator and art director, has already made a lot of the hard choices for them. Branch offers a well-edited collection of products that are also manufactured and brought to market in such a way that its customers don’t have to feel guilty about buying — or, eventually, disposing of — them.

In addition to the Web site, Donald’s original plan involved opening a physical store with an adjacent café that would serve locally and sustainably grown foods. After a few bids fell through right around Thanksgiving of 2005, it dawned on Donald that he had a bunch of inventory on the way and no place to display it. He decided to launch the site first and deal with the rest after the holidays. At the time there were no other stores like Branch, and it found popularity online through blogs and word of mouth. When sustainable design hit the mainstream a little over a year later, Branch had an advantage over new competition as an already established brand. Plus, more exposure and increased visibility meant increased sales.

With zero retail or customer service experience (Branch is his first job that involves interacting directly with the public) and no formal business background, Donald says he was lucky to learn the ropes online, without the albatross of a physical retail space — not to mention a café, something with which he has even less experience. With just a single focus, Donald found he was less in the spotlight, and the growing pains weren’t so extreme. He likens his role at Branch to being a single parent and admits he’ll always choose thinking about branding and design above burying himself in a spreadsheet.

He still longs for a storefront in San Francisco, and if all goes according to plan, there may be a Los Angeles and a New York Branch in the not-so-distant future.


A self-described design snob, Donald says he’s only interested in working with objects that are both beautiful and sustainable. "To make any kind of real impact we need to reach a broad audience," he says. "Tie-dye and hemp sandals aren’t going to do this." Branch is successful largely because it caters to anyone who appreciates good design — green or not. It educates unsuspecting browsers when their guards are down — when they’re relaxed and curious. Donald avoids loaded labels like environmentalist and opts instead for the more friendly moniker of thoughtful citizen to describe himself and the people he’s targeting. "In the same way I try not to be preachy about Branch, I try not to use preachy words," he says.

Ultimately, he would like to see more designers take the green road. (He’s currently on the lookout for affordable, everyday, sustainable tableware, which so far has proved difficult to source.) Donald is also working to expand Branch’s offerings to include things that make it easier for people to live a more sustainable lifestyle, such as power strips with easy-to-reach on-off switches and reusable shopping bags.

In fall 2006, Branch partnered with the California College of the Arts and became a client for its wood furniture class, which required students to neither create furniture nor use wood as a material. "Leave it to an art school," Donald says. The assignment was to design a sustainable product for Branch. The final designs were exhibited in a show at the end of the semester — and a few have been earmarked for possible future production for Branch. Each student was forced to grapple with the challenges of sustainability, but even more significant for Donald, many commented that their involvement in the Branch project had already begun to influence their approach to their other work. "Designers have so much power," Donald says. "And the best way to solve a problem is to not create one in the first place."

Donald is keen on helping designers establish more sustainable practices, which sometimes results in an exclusive product line for Branch. For example, designer Derrick Chen of Urbana Design modified his popular resin-coated bent-plywood tray by creating a cork-topped version — an item that has proved hugely popular in its sustainable iteration.

But for all of its cool, Earth-friendly appeal, Branch is still competing in a price-driven world dominated by the cheap and clever designs of Target and IKEA. "There’s a big difference between getting the message and shelling out an additional 10 to 20 percent more for a sustainable product," Donald says. To his mind, it’s going to be a long time before the Target shopper starts asking the tough questions. "We’re like dogs," he says. "We need to have our noses rubbed in it before we’ll change."
Visit Branch at www.branchhome.com.

A week late


› andrea@altsexcolumn.com

No, not that kind of "a week late." This is my New Year’s column, a week late, but let’s not beat ourselves up over it. Barring the exceedingly rare case in which someone both recognizes the need for change and makes and keeps a promise, New Year’s resolutions mostly just hang around like any other weapon (see: Chekhov’s gun), waiting for us to use them against ourselves. Some people won’t have a gun in the house; I won’t have stupid vows lying around waiting for me to stub my toe on them. And with that, some nonresolutions, just mere suggestions, for better sex in 2008:

(1) Get the right birth control. One couple’s perfect method is another’s PMSy nightmare, chemical burn, or poor lifestyle fit, and there’s often no way to tell without experimenting. Hints: if you never remember whether you turned the stove off, I wouldn’t suggest relying on the pill, and if you cannot handle the phrase cervical mucus, you probably don’t want to handle the real thing either, so no fertility awareness method for you!

(2) If you’ve been faking it, cut that right out.

(3) Try something new. You’ll usually see this as "try a new position," but positions are hardly the alpha and omega of sexual variety. It’s still just fucking. I mean try something really new. Obviously the Web is the go-to source for somethings new, but a field trip, all hand in hand and coupley, to a nice sex shop is probably more fun. Also, you could buy something. It’s the patriotic thing to do.

(4) Learn something new, even if you don’t think you want to try it. Most of the "Ew, yuck" reactions to your supposedly kinkier sexualities come from lack of information and fear of the unknown. Of course there are depths below depths of depravity out there for the plumbing, but I’m not talking about the really dank and dangerous stuff. So much of kink and fetish turns out to be harmless and often endearingly nerdy on closer inspection. Look behind the flames-of-hell clip art on any S-M organization’s information site and you’ll find a lot of software professionals and librarians earnestly comparing notes on how not to hurt one another while playing with whips and chains.

(5) Get better at something you already do. This immediately brings to mind the sort of ridiculous gimmicks you used to find in Cosmo — shaving grapes or what have you — but you really can give better head or get in better alignment for intercourse or any number of similar improvements merely by paying attention to what you’re doing. Many people do a more mindful, conscientious job of blow-drying their hair than … well, anyway.

(6) Declutter the bedroom. (Actually, declutter the whole house.) Clutter in the bedroom is a definite buzz kill. If you’re dating, the clutter functions as another self-perceived flaw, an externalized big butt or stretch mark, another reason to want to skulk in the dark instead of letting your light shine. If you’re partnered, it’s a good excuse to harbor resentment (whose goddamn expired bus passes are those, anyway?) or let yourself get into that deeply antierotic spiral where we can’t just be all spontaneous, for God’s sake! There’s important stuff to do! And then you don’t do it (in either sense of it) anyway. What’s on my bedside table: 18 books, read, unread, and never to be read; bookmarks; crumpled sale slips; a flashlight with dead batteries; two bottles of flat seltzer water; one toddler’s sock; a pacifier; an expired bus pass; a finger puppet representing Charles Darwin; and three bottles of assorted lubes sent to me by a nice marketing rep at Babeland. What should be on my bedside table? Oh, guess.

(7) Compliment your partner on what he or she does wonderfully well. Nobody (at least nobody you want to know) feels all that overwhelming confident where it counts, not all the time, and if you could use the boost, so could they.

(8) Do the sex (or just sexy) date thing, but for God’s sake, don’t take it too seriously. I’m not talking meeting your partner at the door wrapped in festive holiday plastic wrap, but setting aside the time for reals instead of just saying you will all the time. And tell your partner it’s sexy night. There’s nothing worse than having your partner miss the point and brush past you on the way back in from your romantic dinner to find out what’s in TiVo. Give them a chance not to feel like it too. Just because it’s your sexy night doesn’t mean it’s theirs.

The big metaimprovers, in digest format:

(9) Know what you want.

(10) Share the information (not necessarily applicable to masturbation).

Have fun.



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.