Volume 42 Number 37

A vote for public power in November

0

EDITORIAL Working with environmentalist cover, Mayor Gavin Newsom and Pacific Gas and Electric Co. have moved aggressively to derail a move that would have given the city control over some local power generation. Instead, the mayor is now pushing to keep Mirant Corp. running the one electricity plant that still operates within city limits.

The politics of the deal are complicated, but the driving force is clear: PG&E didn’t want the city moving even a small step toward public power, and as usual, the big utility is getting its way.

The power plant deal proves exactly why Supervisors Ross Mirkarimi and Aaron Peskin should move forward with a November charter amendment for public power.

As Amanda Witherell reports, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission has been trying for years now to win approval for three city-owned combustion turbines that would generate electric power at a plant at the foot of Potrero Hill. The idea: the turbines, also known as "peakers," would generate enough power during peak-use periods to convince the state to shut down the dirtier Mirant Plant.

Many environmentalists opposed the proposal, saying that the city shouldn’t be building any new fossil-fuel plants. That’s a legitimate argument. But California’s Independent System Operator (Cal-ISO), the agency that controls the electric grid, insisted that renewable energy alone wouldn’t provide enough reliable power for San Francisco, and said the only way to shut down Mirant was to put in the peakers.

PG&E has been trying for months to derail the peakers — not, of course, out of any concern for the environment, but because the city would own the power plants. At first Newsom stuck by his PUC — but after seven PG&E lobbyists came into his office and gave him the facts of life (see "PG&E offers Newsom a blank check" at sfbg.com), he backed down. And now, after meeting with the CEOs of PG&E and Mirant, Newsom is pushing the worst possible alternative: he wants to retrofit the Mirant plant and let the private company operate its own peakers.

Same fossil fuel plants in the Bayview. Same type of air pollution. And the facility would be owned by a private company.

The supervisors need to reject this proposal with extreme prejudice — and the environmentalists who fought the city peakers ought to be just as loud in their opposition to Mirant’s retrofit.

The good news is that this ridiculous Newsom–PG&E deal ought to put the focus at City Hall back on public power, because that’s the only way to create a really green power profile in San Francisco.

Matthew Wald, who has coved energy policy for decades, wrote an interesting piece in the New York Times June 8 discussing why no private company wants to invest money in technology that would reduce carbon emissions from power plants. "Cutting carbon dioxide emissions is a fine idea, and a lot of companies would be proud to do it," Wald wrote. "But they would prefer to be second, if not third or fourth."

That’s because no private utility wants to take the risks and try something new that another company could then copy. In economic terms, carbon reduction is a public good — it’s something that benefits everyone, and nobody has the exclusive right to make money off of it. Private companies have been notoriously bad at investing in public goods.

But that’s not how public power agencies work. A San Francisco power agency would have every motivation to develop and use technology that saves consumers money or protects the environment. There’s no issue of profits to protect; in fact, one of the mandates of a city agency should be reducing carbon emissions and promoting renewable energy.

We have always been sympathetic to the concerns that the city-owned peakers would emit greenhouse gases. But if the city owned the plants, the city could shut them down anytime, whenever enough renewables were available. Mirant won’t shut down anything that is bringing in cash.

Mirkarimi and Peskin are working on the details of a public power measure, but the outlines ought to be clear: it should mandate that the SFPUC create and implement a plan to put the city in the retail power business, in compliance with the letter and spirit of the Raker Act — and get rid of PG&E and Mirant. The supervisors should put that on the November ballot.

13 and life

0

HORROR CLASSIC The scene: Camp Crystal Lake, 1958. The song: "Michael, Row the Boat Ashore." As a full moon looms overhead, someone sinister enough to get their own POV shot creeps into a cabin where two fresh-faced counselors are groping each other with wanton glee. "We weren’t doin’ anything!" the boy protests. Too late, sucka! With a scream, a freeze-frame, and a title card that zooms forward so fast it apparently shatters the camera lens, Sean S. Cunningham’s Friday the 13th begins. Already, two key facts have been established: summer camps are inherently hotspots of evil, and the series’ signature sound effect (all together, now: "Ki-ki-ki, ma-ma-ma!") is a sure sign that whoever’s onscreen is about to meet a gruesome end, courtesy of effects make-up god Tom Savini.

Back in Crystal Lake, circa "present day" — a time of feathered hair and Dorothy Hamill hair and side-ponytailed hair — a young woman soon to be employed at the reopened camp bums a ride from a friendly townsperson. But not before the appearance of my favorite Friday character, Ralph the bicycle-riding town drunk. "You goin’ to Camp Blood, ain’t ya?" he slurs. "You’ll never come back again! It’s got a death curse!" As we’ll soon see, this is the third truth taught by the Friday the 13th series: the town drunk is always right! Before long, the assembled counselors (including a very young Kevin Bacon, awww) start expiring with all the glorious gore a killer named Voorhees can supply. Other highlights: dope-sniffing cops, errant snakes, more Ralph ("I’m a messenger of God — you’re doomed if you stay here!"), a heated game of strip Monopoly, archery-range fun, a clothes-soaking rainstorm, and a conveniently-timed power outage.

Friday the 13th, made for far less than a mil, came out in 1980; it was modeled after 1978’s Halloween and met with such success that numerous slasher flicks followed — including several that picked up on Halloween and Friday‘s special-occasion theme: Happy Birthday to Me, My Bloody Valentine, Graduation Day, and the original Prom Night all dropped before 1981 was over, with many more to come (including 1993’s Leprechaun). And that’s without even mentioning all 11 Friday sequels. With the best ending (and dénouement) of any slasher film before or since, Friday the 13th features a strong performance from final girl Adrienne King and a menacing turn from Betsy Palmer. That fisherman’s sweater? Far more iconically terrifying a garment than any hockey mask could hope to be.

Oh, and about that Friday the 13th remake, due out in 2009 and helmed by Marcus Nispel, who’s already on notice for sullying The Texas Chainsaw Massacre? Let’s hope it’s doomed. (Cheryl Eddy)

FRIDAY THE 13TH

Fri/13–Sat/14, midnight, $8.50–$10.50

Clay Theater

2261 Fillmore, SF

(415) 346-1124, www.landmarkafterdark.com>.

Facing the music

0

› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Mini video-enhanced chamber operas seem to be the flavor of the month, at least in a certain stretch of the Mission District. Only three weeks ago, Bay Area composer Erling Wold’s solo opera Mordake began its world premiere run at Shotwell Studios (as part of the San Francisco International Arts Festival) with inimitable tenor John Duykers in the part of the titular medical mystery and suicide — a pampered Victorian gentleman with the seemingly sentient face of his sisterly "evil twin" pasted to the back of his head. Beautifully constructed throughout (beginning with Wold’s prerecorded but generally enthralling minimalist score and Dukyers’ expansively human turn as "the man who ate his family"), Mordake availed itself of an exquisite and all-encompassing video design that cunningly developed the opera’s themes while allowing traditional lighting, costumes, and sets to be kept to a select minimum.

Meanwhile, a few blocks away at the Lab on 16th Street, composer-librettist Lisa Scola Prosek’s Trap Door followed suit with a one-hour chamber work on the plight of a US soldier in Iraq accused of killing an unarmed civilian. Billed as a "video opera," Trap Door is in fact performed live by a cast of seven and another six musicians (including composer Prosek at the piano) but unfolds against a wall-projection (designed by filmmaker-videographer Jacob Kalousek) whose purpose is to open up and to some degree comment on action otherwise constrained by a physically tight, nontraditional stage with minimal scenic components.

Like Wold, Prosek is a gifted local composer happy to work at or near the Bay Area’s new-theater fringes, and is well versed in its multimedia possibilities. Her last chamber opera, Belfagor, based on Machiavelli’s satirical comedy and set to an Italian libretto, also incorporated an elaborate video-based design scheme as part of its impressive debut at the Thick House. But the results in Trap Door prove far less successful this time around.

Only part of the problem has to do with the multimedia dimension: missing Kalousek’s synched video contains some arresting images and evocatively incongruous backdrops (such as the negative image of a revolving Ferris wheel overlapping one particularly dramatic scene), but others feel either less inspired or arbitrary, simultaneously being difficult to read or fully take in against the multiple surfaces at the back of the stage.

Beyond these individual elements, it’s the underlying theme that proves problematic. Based on a dream of the composer’s, Trap Door uses music as both vehicle and metaphor for exploring the moral agency of a hapless soldier, Private Able (Clifton Romig), who is presented with an impossible situation in which his simple human wants and patriotic dreams run up hard against the chaos, hypocrisy, corporate double-dealing, and native outrage that dwell at the bloody forefront of American empire. As promising as that may sound, it seems to have been too complex an idea to adequately develop here, at least not without falling back on overly compressed musical motifs and a kind of stiff dramatic shorthand that skirts mere caricature.

Director Jim Cave’s solid staging ensures that the many swift scene changes come over gracefully. But the condensed action means that even the main character and his Iraqi counterpart — the taxi driver Omar (tenor Mark Hernandez) — have little dramatic depth, while characters like Jane the Journalist (soprano Bianca Showalter) can only come across as cartoons. The more choice aspects remain, unsurprisingly, the musical ones. Romig’s smooth, rich bass meshes nicely with a set of agreeable voices, including several fairly strong duets with sopranos Maria Mikheyenko and Eliza O’Malley. But in general, even the music feels too cramped and underdeveloped, like a series of tantalizing abstracts for some larger vision.

TRAP DOOR

Thurs/12–Sat/14, 8 p.m., $15–$20 sliding scale

Lab

2948 16th St., SF

(415) 864-8855, www.thelab.org

Mo’ Jello

0

› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER What do you give a 50-year-old punk icon who has everything? A silver-studded dog collar? A reason to believe — or rebel? Peace of mind?

"Boy, I can’t think of much," Jello Biafra, né Eric Boucher, says with a chuckle at the question of what to gift him for his 50th birthday June 17. "I’m already such a pack rat, the last thing I need is more stuff. The main vice is vinyl, but I archive a lot of stuff. I’m a librarian’s kid."

Instead, the ex–Dead Kennedys vocalist, in characteristically against-the-grain fashion, will gift celebrants at his birthday-bash-to-end-all-bashes, the two-day "Biafra Five-O" at Great American Music Hall, with turns alongside the Melvins and a newly assembled band, the Axis of Merry Evildoers, which includes Victims Family’s Ralph Spight on guitar, Faith No More’s Billy Gould on bass, and Sharkbait’s Jon Weiss on drums. Oh yeah, and each punk-rock fire-/party-starter will receive a poster, or if it arrives in time, a 7-inch of Biafra and members of Zen Guerilla covering Rev. Horton Heat’s "Speed Demon" and Frankie Laine’s "Jezebel."

So what gives with the very public celebration of three decades of punky monkey-wrenching? "I saw the Stooges on Iggy’s 60th last year, and that was a great show," Biafra tells me while snacking in his San Francisco digs. "I got carried away with the moment and promised myself, if he’s that good at 60, I better be a tenth as good at 50 and get something together."

Expect Biafra’s new group to be part of a continuum: one that began with Dead Kennedys and has manifested in collaborations with the Melvins, DOA, No Means No, Al Jourgensen, Mojo Nixon, and others. "The hope is you’re still going to get a pretty sharp set of teeth," he promises. And speaking of DK, the man who would be SF’s mayor ("It was done as a prank") — and who was nominated as the Green Party’s 2000 presidential bid, right on the coattails of Ralph Nader ("It kind of got dumped in my lap") — is also recognizing the 30th anniversary of the Dead Kennedys, which played its first show in July 1978 opening for the Offs, DV-8, and Negative Trend, despite an extremely acrimonious lawsuit between the vocalist and his bandmates that led a jury to award control of the catalog to the rest of the group.

Despite intimations of a reunion on the part of the remaining Dead Kennedys, the bitterness of the conflict still rankles, with Biafra confessing with a wry chuckle, "I’ve had battles with suicidal depression — especially after that ugly Dead Kennedys lawsuit." Further, he says, "I really resent all the times they played these so-called reunion shows advertised as reunions, and there’s my picture in the ad. I think we have a new genre of punk, and it’s called fraudcore!"

Nonetheless, he hasn’t completely ruled out a reconciliation: "Sure, if those guys were ever willing to undo every last bit of damage they’ve done, I’d consider going back on stage with them. But so far they’ve been way too greedy and way too cowardly to even consider it."

So leave it to the Melvins to convince Biafra to tackle a few DK songs in honor of his birthday. The once SF-based band — in a near-original lineup including Mike Dillard — also will attack early hardcore tunes culled from a 1984 demo sent to Biafra. It turns out those pack-rat tendencies, coupled with Biafra’s abiding love of music, led him to hold onto that ancient tape, which the Melvins lost long ago. "It’s a good thing I saved these things," Biafra says. "They’d forgotten those songs existed." *

BIAFRA FIVE-O

With Jello Biafra and the Melvins, Biafra and the Axis of Merry Evildoers, the Melvins, and (Mon/16) Drunk Injuns and Los Olvidados, and (Tues/17) Triclops! and Akimbo

Mon/16–Tues/17, 8 p.m., $22-$40

Great American Music Hall

859 O’Farrell, SF

www.gamh.com

COUNTRY TEASIN’ WITH NEIL HAMBURGER

Moanin’ and groanin’ has never been so hammily hilarious. Comedian Neil Hamburger has a brand new hat — namely, a sorry-ass Stetson — to go along with his new bag: the recently released Neil Hamburger Sings Country Winners (Drag City). Teaming with longtime Bay Area–ite Dave Gleason on guitar, Amoeba Music co-honcho Joe Goldmark on pedal steel, and Todd Rundgren cohort Prairie Prince on drums, Hamburger, a.k.a. onetime Bay stalwart Gregg Turkington, plans to stir misery-loving odes to classic backwoods grimness ("Please Ask That Clown to Stop Crying") into his archetypal miasma of whining/joke-telling during his present tour. So why turn to C&W, which currently seems to consist of "songs about shopping," rather than tears, beer, and chicken dinners? "A lot of rock ‘n’ roll is just people screaming," groans Hamburger from Los Angeles, far from the SF storage locker he claims to have once dwelt in. "You hear enough of that in San Francisco on the streets. With those big, bushy beards and screaming — what’s the difference between a contingent of homeless guys carrying signs and the Doobie Brothers?"

June 11, 9 p.m., $13–<\d>$15. Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell, SF. (415) 885-0750, www.gamh.com

IT’S TIME FOR TIMES NEW VIKING

They may be pegged as part of the so-called shitgaze underground — thanks to their pals in Psychedelic Horseshit who coined the term — but Columbus, Ohio, trio Times New Viking are as grounded as a trio of Midwestern ex-art-schoolers can be. Keyboardist Beth Murphy met guitarist Jared Phillips and drummer Adam Elliott while attending Columbus College of Art and Design, and the three found that their education came in handy when it came to playing together nicely — and noisily, particularly on their new Matador album, Rip It Off. "When you’re in art school you’re always forced to critique your work and think about everything you’re doing," Murphy, 26, explains from her hometown. "That got, like, really annoying to have to validate every mark you made. But now I think it’s kind of like ingrained in us, so we can’t help but think about every aspect of what we do." Their creative approach to music-making? "One of the first rules we set up was 300 percent creative control," she says. "We all have 100 percent say in everything, and we don’t ever tell each other what to do."

With Hank IV, Psychedelic Horseshit, and Fabulous Diamonds. Fri/13, 9 p.m., $12. Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., SF. www.bottomofthehill.com

New foragers

0

Jack Carneal is trying to locate a Malian musician to secure the release of a much-cycled bootleg on his microlabel, Yaala Yaala Records. Fueled by exuberance and somewhat chastened by controversy, Carneal is worrying over Yaala Yaala No. 4 more than he did the first three releases: a dubbed set of howling electric kamelen music by Pekos and Yoro Diallo; a popular bootleg recording of griot Daouda Dembele; and an audio collage of Carneal’s minidisc field recordings from his yearlong stay in Bougouni, Mali. Yaala Yaala No. 5 recently materialized in the form of a magisterial compilation of traditional hunter’s music by vocalist Yoro Sidibe, but the old bootleg is taking more time. "I heard it decades ago, and it just really stuck with me," Carneal reflects over the phone from his Baltimore, Md., home. "I didn’t even know it was from Mali until I lived there and I saw the musician’s name…. It was mastered and everything, and I’m still trying to find the musician to get him some money. In the past this wouldn’t have stopped me. I just would have done it."

No one contends that the music on the initial Yaala Yaala CDs isn’t dazzling. The rough sonic textures of cassette dubbing and crowd noise only thicken their cinematic quality, especially with the skip-and-start rhythms of Pekos and Yoro Diallo’s rumbling blues. But a number of critics — most notably Clive Bell of The Wire were incredulous about the packages’ lack of annotative liner notes and Carneal’s rush-delivery approach. (Unable to recompense for bootlegs, Carneal established a fund called the Yaala Yaala Rural Musicians’ Collective for whatever scant profits the discs might produce.)

It’s evident talking to Carneal — an English professor at Towson University and former drummer of Anomoanon and Palace Music — that profit motive isn’t part of the Yaala Yaala equation. But past exploitations cast a long shadow. Labels like Yaala Yaala, which is distributed by Drag City, and Sublime Frequencies don’t play by the outmoded rules of so-called world music production, eschewing both academic empiricism and the major labels’ reductive tendency to isolate bankable masters. Meanwhile, kids in Mali listen to dubbed tapes of Led Zeppelin and Jay-Z.

For the new Yoro Sidibe release, Carneal went through the proper contracting but was ultimately foiled by a corrupt producer. "We did everything above-board and legally, and the musician still got ripped off," he laments. Cullen Strawn’s liner notes explain that the donso music Sidibe powers through — long, call-and-response narrations designed to praise and bully hunters into action — is an especially ancient form, but it’s easy to appreciate why the vocalist is popular in the Bougouni marketplaces, beyond the music’s traditional context. Sidibe sounds intensely poised throughout the CD’s three cascading chants, periodically popping into a rapid-fire oratory that crowds out even his accompanist’s confirming hum. The dense ngoni (six-stringed spike harp) flurries capping each verse are perfect examples of the visceral highs Carneal relishes in Malian music.

"I recognize the danger in bringing this music back from Mali and having it reflect my very limited interpretation of an experience," he tells me. "I really want the listener to be able to listen to the music and derive something of their own that was not affected by my subjective take on things." Good taste certainly doesn’t mitigate responsibility, but listeners can only hope that music distribution might continue to be the province of committed amateurs, the sort of imprints like Yaala Yaala, Sublime Frequencies, and Dust-to-Digital that value the unclassifiable and throw the spigot open in accordance with the Mississippi Records motto, "Always — Love before Gold." (Max Goldberg)

www.myspace.com/yaalayaalarecords

Scramble for Africa 3.0

0

› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Africa is not a monolith. Africa is not even Africa: the outsider bastardization kicked off in earnest when the Roman misnomer of a finite North African region was allowed to stand for the entire continent. However, for the West’s millennial hipsters currently emuutf8g such early adopters of 30 years ago — the oft-cited David Byrne and Brian Eno/Talking Heads, Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel, and the Police — the space formerly known as the Dark Continent has come to resemble the Golden Corral.

Vampire Weekend and other indie participants in the sonic Scramble for Africa 3.0 obviously see midcentury and postcolonial African pop culture as a cheap date, a provider of organic rock mystery where one can queue for heaping sides of hi-life, soukous, mbaqanga, mbalax, juju, rai, township jive, and Ténéré desert blues. La Présence Africaine is renewing rock ‘n’ roll — again. Striving ahead of the pale pack of black Yankee rockers is retired Nuer boy soldier Emmanuel Jal, justly a current press darling for his fine new second release, Warchild (Sonic 360).

Yet the acclaim for Jal has not outstripped the simultaneous giddiness and hand-wringing of a music press delighted by indie’s abrupt romance with African styles — hot on the heels of a new generation’s overlapping yen for English folk and Balkan gypsy sounds — but vaguely concerned about white exploitation of same, wagging fingers concerning musical "miscegenation." Race mixing yielded my family, cultural exchange has been the way of the world since antiquity, and as a critic whose mission involves exposing audiences to new sounds, I would never deny peoples’ enjoyment of genres seemingly beyond their ken. However, as Jal bitingly reminds us on Warchild‘s unabashed "Vagina," the rape of Africa — that blood-soaked project most essential to modernity — has gone down long enough.

Vampire Weekend, “A-Punk”

The problem with indie’s Karen Blixen close-up is that the transference of African mystery is going one-way — as usual. Vampire Weekend (XL) has sold 27,000 and counting and debuted on Billboard at no. 17, whereas, according to writer Robert Christgau in the New York Times, Sterns’ recent anthology encompassing the career of Congolese soukous master Tabu Ley Rochereau, The Voice of Lightness, has sold barely 9,000 copies.

Meanwhile, indie’s gone natives — including Mahjongg, the Dirty Projectors, Rafter, Yeasayer, and, from across the pond, Foals (Oxford), Courteeners (Manchester), and Suburban Kids with Biblical Names (Sweden) — seem to consider themselves smugly above postcolonial guilt (per DP’s Dave Longstreth) and the 1980s-vintage political correctness that plagued Simon and his apartheid-chic Graceland (Warner Bros., 1986). Vampire Weekend is good enough indie entertainment when you find Björk’s favorite Congolese likembé ensemble Konono No. 1 too repetitive and prefer songs about summertime splendor in the grass. But when Vampire Weekend’s unapologetically preppy white/white-ethnic musicians dub their music "Upper West Side Soweto" and seemingly aspire to come on like Brazzaville Beach Boyz — without any consciousness of such late 20th-century African titans or tyrants as Patrice Lumumba and Mobutu Sese Seko, respectively — it rankles this daughter of third world coalition builders raised in the ’70s and ’80s postcolonial era. Further, when Mahjongg’s Hunter Husar can tell Rhapsody’s Play blog that "to steal musically from another culture is to do a service to humanity," and "we don’t care about Africa any more than any other place," my everything-but-the-burden radar rings sharply.

Certainly there is energy around Africa on the independent music scene: black string band revivalists like Ebony Hillbillies have made the crossing back to West Africa in deep study of old-timey and country’s African ancestry. Funky Africa reissues are all the rage among crate-diggers: think Lagos Chop Up (Honest Jon’s, 2005), etc. And that Western-Kenyan summit Extra Golden was purposely omitted from the above indie roll call, for this multiracial quartet and their latest recording Hera Ma Nono (Thrill Jockey) suggest a way out of the cultural cul-de-sac their trendier fellows are already trapped in.

Further, the tug-of-war between disenfranchised folk of African descent who desired preservation of their mysteries and the white folks who possessed inchoate love for same has raged throughout modern times. As my friend Wendy Fonarow, author of Empire of Dirt: The Aesthetics and Rituals of British Indie Music (Wesleyan, 2006), recently told the UK Guardian: "There are interesting theories as to why rock ‘n’ roll happened when it did. There’s evidence to suggest Christianity, which exists as a missionising religion, had run out of ‘exotic others’ to missionise after the fall of colonialism. Therefore it was in their interests to get adolescents to act like heathens, so they had a supply of unconverted people to convert. So what we did was produce a heathen in our own midst to act out all the same things we’d accused other societies of doing."

Extra Golden promo for “Hera Ma Nono”

By Fonarow’s reckoning it would seem what Longstreth and company are up to is a necessary will to neotribalism, their recorded work a reversal of the detrimental European separation of mind and body. I would counter that these groups’ appropriation of African sounds is a means to the end of escaping the internally imposed authenticity rules of indie rock, a refutation of the linear trip between Greg Ginn and Kurt Cobain when their monoculture reduced them to the last of their race. Then again, options are at the heart of white privilege, as is the agency to cherry-pick from the non-Western bounty. It remains utterly disappointing that millennial musicians can quote Africana without making reference to kwassa kwassa‘s source in the Congo, where millions people have died, young boys mercilessly conscripted and countless women raped as tool of war, while their own blessings of Ivy League degrees and the lack of a draft amid a resurgence of American imperialism permit them a guilt-free stance toward postcolonial upheaval and their gentrification of longtime black neighborhoods. Vampire Weekend’s Brooklynites apparently see no irony in their song "Walcott": "Hyannisport is a ghetto / … Lobster’s claw is sharp as knives / Evil feasts on human lives."

Evil definitely feasts on human lives in the Congo, but evildoers are also harvesting bones in New York City, where the 50 bullets martyring Sean Bell’s body are currently being reduced to mere accident. These white African prodigals don’t and will never suffer the psychic angst of being black and oppressed. Vampire Weekend can always go home again, but we’ve got no home.

EXTRA GOLDEN

June 22, 7 p.m., $15

Rickshaw Stop

155 Fell, SF

www.rickshawstopcom

Speed Reading

0

GO FUG YOURSELF PRESENTS THE FUG AWARDS

By Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

Simon Spotlight Entertainment

268 pages

$29.95

Dear Diary: I wanted to like Go Fug Yourself Presents the Fug Awards. Really, I did. Partly because this tome by GoFugYourself.com creators Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan feels like a miss-guided tour through the mind of the cattiest, most clothes-obsessed cheerleader — one who spells Kanye, K-a-y-n-e and admits she’s too lazy to check the exact origins of the It Girl phenom. (Er, try Clara Bow of the 1927 silent film It.)

From its opening salvos at Inexplicable Style Icons (well, Vogue and all of Vogue‘s tatty offspring differ when it comes to Chloë Sevigny and Sienna Miller), to its truly startling images of a death-rattled Marc Anthony and a radical-plastic-surgery-disaster Kenny Rogers, Fug Awards is the book equivalent of the meanest girl in high school. You kind of, sort of, want to pal around with her, if only to protect yourself from the harsh glare of judgment. Alas, instead of nasty kicks, what it offers is unfunny and even tedious — like an awards ceremony, it fluffs its pseudo-pomp with overly lengthy intros and kaboodles of glossy red carpet snaps. Fug Awards only inspires you to dress in the most conservative yet "classic" garb, accessorized with a sorry case of the fashion blahs.

True, the orange-hued aesthetics that inspire the Tanorexics Awards are startling in these melanoma-riddled times — occasionally there’s a logic to Cocks’ and Morgan’s middle-of-the-road rage. But does Cate Blanchett deserve to be in here simply for trying out an unconventional ensemble by a chance-taking designer? Must one wear a gown to a car promotional event?

Oh, Diary, such a long, lukewarm sip of haterade makes one wonder: why try anything sartorially daring or new and be subjected to a similar clawing, courtesy of your neighborhood Fug-in-training? XOXO (Kimberly Chun)

BEAUTIFUL CHILDREN

By Charles Bock

Random House

417 pages

$25

The notion that Las Vegas is a playground for complete id-indulgence certainly holds resonance for tourists. But what is the city like for folks who work and live there? Charles Bock’s debut novel Beautiful Children strips away the city’s glittering veneer to reveal a degraded core. At the epicenter of Bock’s troubled Las Vegas landscape sits 12-year-old Newell Ewing, a coddled, almost joyless boy — comic books are his chief source of comfort — who disappears from his affluent suburban home. Newell’s alienated parents, Lincoln and Lorraine, each embark on a distressing solitary journey to find out what has happened.

Beautiful Children is also populated with runaways and street kids. Aside from one notable exception, these characters appear trapped underneath the weight of unfulfilled expectations. Their friends, family, and acquaintances — pawn shop dealers, gambling addicts, exploited sex workers — expand the tangle of disillusionment. The result is a modern counterpart to the alienated Los Angeles cityscape of Nathanael West’s classic 1939 snuffed-dream chronicle The Day Of The Locust.

Beautiful Children has been on the receiving end of more than a few "cinematic" compliments. Bock crafts an ambitious pull-back-the-curtains epic reminiscent of the early work of filmmaker P.T. Anderson. Occasionally the author appears overly aware of his novel’s filmic qualities, resulting in heavy-handed dialogue. Still, he portrays the underbelly of Las Vegas with precise detail. What happens in Vegas does not stay in Vegas. Instead, Bock argues, what happens in Vegas is actually happening everywhere. (Todd Lavoie)

Blondells have more fun?

0

› a&eletters@sfbg.com

At the start of his 2007 biography Joan Blondell: A Life Between Takes (University Press of Mississippi, 300 pages, $30), film historian Matthew Kennedy introduces the story of one of Hollywood’s forgotten actresses by posing a phenomenological question: what does it mean to always be gazed upon?

In describing Jack Warner’s golden girl of the 1930s, Kennedy looks to the lineaments of her face and body as the first sign of her success. "The architecture of [Blondell’s] mouth, simultaneously sharp and soft, suggested Cupid," he writes. "She had a radiant smile, straight white teeth, pillowy lips, and easy curls in her gamboge blonde hair…. Her figure was voluptuous, at one time measuring 37–21 1/2– 36." As for Blondell’s eyes, "they were spellbinding on screen, and apparently more so in person."

Kennedy’s paean to Blondell is reminiscent of Roland Barthes’ poetic 1957 short essay, "The Face of Garbo." But whereas Garbo’s face represents for Barthes an eternal, unforgettable synecdoche of Hollywood, Blondell’s mystique lies mostly in her erasure. What became of this celluloid icon whose image once defined an era but has since been lost in the canister?

"Joan Blondell: The Fizz on the Soda," playing at the Pacific Film Archive, collects some of the actress’ most memorable performances from a 50-year career. A vaudeville performer turned Warner Brothers ingenue lauded by the Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers (WAMPAS) as the most promising performer of her time, Blondell was part of the first generation of talkie actors who blossomed against the moribund backdrop of the Great Depression. After a childhood spent at the mercy of a peripatetic acting family, her endurance and versatility were soon exploited by the Hollywood meat-grinder. Unencumbered by unions, censors, or truculent auteurs, moguls like Jack Warner and Louis B. Mayer managed Hollywood like an industrial assembly line, churning out most films in four weeks. By the end of the 1930s, Blondell had completed more than 50 films.

Alongside contemporaries such as Clark Gable, Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck, and Judy Garland, Blondell was the face of the Hollywood studio system as it began its ascent to the so-called Golden Age. From the art nouveau musicals of Busby Berkeley (Gold Diggers of 1933) and pre-Code cheap thrills (1931’s Night Nurse and 1932’s Three on a Match) of the Depression to the classic melodramas (1945’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn) and noirs (1947’s Nightmare Alley) of the postwar era, Blondell’s putf8um performances regularly stole the spotlight. Her greatest onscreen collaboration came after a serendipitous meeting with promising stage performer Jimmy Cagney at a Broadway audition for playwright George Kelly. They would go on to star together in nearly a dozen Warner films, including The Public Enemy (1931), Blonde Crazy (1931), and Footlight Parade (1933).

Despite her constant, almost Puritan dedication to craft, Blondell’s equal devotion to a home life away from the screen might have contributed to her disappearance from the Hollywood A-list. She reportedly hated the spotlight and refused the preening lifestyle of industry players. Three disastrous marriages — to cinematographer George Barnes, actor Dick Powell, and producer Mike Todd — as well as work exhaustion and a predilection for domestic seclusion largely devalued her star status by the 1950s. It would not lessen the impact of her performances, however — 1951’s The Blue Veil, 1957’s Lizzie, and John Cassavetes’ 1978 dramedy Opening Night confirmed that maturity had not diminished her gift.

Blondell represented "the three-dimensional face on a two-dimensional screen," according to Kennedy, who describes her as "full of surprises, one moment as tough as Joan Crawford, the next as fragile as Margaret Sullivan, the next as saucy as Mae West." Her screen image represents a peak moment of Hollywood radiance. But that same radiant image contained a delicate talent yearning for the darkness of obscurity.

JOAN BLONDELL: THE FIZZ ON THE SODA

Fri/13 through June 29, $9.50 ($13.50 for double bills)

Pacific Film Archive Theater

2575 Bancroft, Berk.

(510) 642-5249

bampfa.berkeley.edu

Mr. Miserabilism

0

Some of Michael Haneke’s early made-for-TV movies are showcased in the aptly titled mini-retrospective "Bitter Pills" at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. In them, Haneke’s now-characteristic austerity — long static takes, cryptic narrative omissions — is yet undeveloped. But his nihilistic take on society is already present.

The four-hour 1979 Austrian miniseries Lemmings maps out disillusions among the embittered, hypocritical generation of Austrians who "lost" World War II and their suffocated teen offspring. Parent-child relations are toxic. Bonds between peers are no less fucked. Encompassing suicide, infidelity, auto-abortion, vandalism, and joyless full-frontal nudity, Lemmings‘ tragic first part, set in the 1950s, is self-contained. The second part, which takes place years later, finds new ways to rain consequence on its cheerless protagonists and their children.

Black-and-white and Fassbinderesque, 1984’s Fraulein coughs up another fine mess. A German soldier returned from a lengthy Russian POW camp internment finds his family members have long since embarked on brave new paths which range from sell-out capitalism to Elvis-imitative juvenile delinquency. The overall picture is surprisingly quasi-lurid. Today’s Haneke would never allow his miserablism to be diluted by such relative zest.

Adapted from a novel by Joseph Roth, 1993’s The Rebellion is quite different. Mixing archival footage with new material in color and faux-distressed sepia, it chronicles the downward spiral of a one-legged WWI veteran (Branko Samarovski). The whole thing is a classic Teutonic tale of a naive hero efficiently destroyed by the system. Then, as now, Haneke had a gift for making even the bitterest life-lesson pills curiously, even compulsively edible.

BITTER PILLS: MICHAEL HANEKE MADE-FOR-TELEVISION

Thurs/12 through June 19, $6–$8

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

701 Mission, SF

(415) 978-2787

www.ybca.org

E-Z Sleaze

0

› superego@sfbg.com

SUPER EGO "You’ve gotta have the graphics," 26-year-old party promoter extraordinaire, Floridian transplant, smart-talkin’ electro DJ, and graphically explicit designer Sleazemore (www.myspace.com/sleazemore) recently whispered into my tender, somewhat incredulous ear. "The scene’s gotten to a point where it’s not only about who you bring in, what you wear, and who’s there to document your clubs — it’s also about the look you project in your promotions. Everything ties into style."

I just knew graphic designers would someday rule the world. Too bad I’d never risk smudging my minty-fresh nail art on an Axiotron Modbook.

Still, I can’t deny Mr. S’s drag-and-drop skills when it comes to flyers: he’s got the Stanley Mouse-meets-bored-goth-girl’s-notebook thing down, though he often jumps visual genres, and his musical taste is top-notch: Lazaro Casanova’s bowel-shaking banger "Venganza," Nacho Lovers’ mix of Style of Eye’s minimal-bleepy, Dirty Birdish "The Big Kazoo," and classic Brit lush-raver duo Underworld’s "Ring Road (Fake Blood remix)" are Sleazemore platters du jour.

Plus, he seems to be everywhere at the moment: when not inflaming the woofers of gritty ground zero Club 222’s bimonthly Lights Down Low (www.myspace.com/lightsdownlow) or lending a hand to occasionals like the Are Friends Electric? parties, he’s popping the spots for his mostly free and carefree weekly Infatuation shindig with his partner in grime Rchrd Oh?! — of whom you’ll hear a lot more from me later — at the incongruously fancy-shmancy Vessel. "I’m slowly convincing our electro crowd that it’s OK to be there, to mix with the fruity cocktail people," Big Sleazy said with a laugh.

Sleazemore acknowledges, too, that right now electro’s undergoing the same micro-niching that techno, house, and hip-hop did more than a decade ago. "Everybody’s making music right now. It’s great and almost too much, and not all of it’s good." That’s an opinion oodles of other electro DJs I’ve spoken with hold. "Everyone wants to hype their sound as unique, which is cool — if they can back it up," he added. "In fact, lately I’ve been getting into the Crookers, Boy 8-BIT, Drop the Lime, and Fake Blood sound — fidget house, kind of like the speed garage thing revisited."

Envision a chipmunk on steroids riding a ravey beat so skittish it can often cross over into traditional Latin American dance styles — ay, like the Crookers’ kick-ass crunk-samba remix of Bonde do Role’s "Marina Gasolina" — and that’s fidget house. Yes, I’m a trend whore. Italian duo Crookers themselves will steal fidgety thunder June 24 at Infatuation after DJ Assault assaults the crowd’s ass cracks June 18 and latest scene sweethearts Shit Disco fuzz up Vessel’s needles June 11. But is it art? Who cares, it’s infatuating.

Crooker, “Wassup” (Video by Pommes)

INFATUATION

Wednesdays, 10 p.m.–2 a.m., free (Crookers, $10 — advance tix $5 at www.blasthaus.com)

Vessel

85 Campton, SF

(415) 433-8585, www.vesselsf.com

A lady’s choice

0

› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS There is a kind of chocolate bar with bacon in it, so you know. There. You can go back to sleep now. You can believe in God again, or call and cancel your next 40 years of therapy, or board that airplane, or fall in love. I can’t do any of those things, yet, but you have my permission to go ahead without me. I’ll catch up.

First I’m going to sit here and work on my sweet tooth, which I’ve been trying to work on my whole female life. Before when I passed on dessert, opting instead for another helping of greens, it seemed kind of, I don’t know, cute almost — or quirky. Judging from the looks on people’s faces now, for a woman to not like chocolate … that’s unseemly, grotesque, and just wrong.

Now, y’all know how I love to reinforce stereotypes …

Actually, I do. It’s fun! I mean, ideally I’d be in on the ground floor of the stereotype, like the one where transgender chicken farmers make better lovers. (Neil Young has a song coming out about that.)

All kidding aside, did I ever tell you what I tell people who tell me that "women don’t spit" or "ladies don’t use that word" or "girls don’t go around with a chicken in one hand and a hatchet in the other"? I tilt my head a little, bat my lashes, and go, "They do now, dear." Then I spit and say, "If you’ll kindly excuse me, I have to go chop this fucker’s head off."

But belligerence, like my pickup truck, only gets you so far. It doesn’t get you back to sleep at 3:30 a.m., or into heaven or off the couch or onto airplanes and into hearts. So I am willing to learn to like chocolate, same as I had to teach myself to like applesauce: by putting bacon in it.

Only this time I can’t take credit for the idea. That goes to Vosges Haut-Chocolat, purveyor of Mo’s Bacon Bar. Sockywonk and/or our friend Funiamorari bought me one while they were in New York and gave it to me for my birthday. There’s a picture on the box of a strip of bacon next to a square of chocolate, and a two-paragraph essay on the back by someone named Katrina, chronicling how she’s been working on the bacon + chocolate equation since she was six.

No mention of how old she is now, but since her grammar is pretty good and her spelling impeccable, and since she seems to own a chocolate company with retail stores in Chicago and New York, if I had to guess I’d say she’s at least seven.

My point being: come on! It took me one day to add up bacon + applesauce. Admittedly, it’s easier math. But 365 times easier? Well, six-year-old girls do sometimes have a hard time staying focused, unlike 45-year-old chicken farmers.

Where was I?

Thank you, Sockywonk! Thank you, Funiamorari! This isn’t the first time my wonderful, sisterly girlfriends have helped me become more stereotypical, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. Which is a subtle and complicated joke, but would be less so if we could include a group picture here of my wonderful, sisterly girlfriends.

I can’t express how much more confident I will feel now, on dates, when the waitperson asks if we would like dessert, and my date looks at me like, well? and instead of saying, "No, just another pork chop please," I can now say, "Oooh, do you have bacon chocolate bars?" Tilt of the head, bat of the lashes, and the deep-down knowledge that restaurants generally don’t serve candy bars. But at least it will seem like I have a sweet tooth. "I really shouldn’t," I will add, for effect, "but … "

They’re so good! Of course, of course they’d be even better if they were basically bacon with little flecks of milk chocolate in it, instead of the other way around. But my date doesn’t need to know every single silly thought flitting through my sweet mind.

Does he?

—————————————

My new favorite restaurant is Panda Country Kitchen. It’s also one of the windiest restaurants I’ve ever eaten at. Richmond District. I went there with the Maze on a foggy night, and we had tea-smoked duck and I forget what else. Oh, hot and sour soup, which was great, but it became cold and sour soup real fast. Turn the heat on!

PANDA COUNTRY KITCHEN

4737 Geary, SF

(415) 221-4278

Lunch: 11 a.m.–2:30 p.m., Mon.–Fri.

Dinner: 4:30 p.m.–10 p.m., Mon.–Fri.

Continuous service: Sat.–Sun., 11 a.m.–10 p.m.

Beer & wine

MC/V

Knock three times

0

› andrea@altsexcolumn.com

Dear Andrea:

I am a happily married man (16 years). My wife and I’s lives are pretty good. But I have a recurring fantasy about swapping with a couple who are our friends. We flirt and play around (no touching) but we have skinny-dipped, flashed our parts, etc. What I can’t figure out is why I want to do more. Thinking about it turns me on a lot. I have spoken to my wife about it in a general way — but never mentioned it to our friends — and she typically just laughs. What do you think?

Love,

Hopeful

Dear Full:

I think you have to go back and change, "My wife and I’s sex lives are pretty good" to "My wife and I have a pretty good sex life." Unless you:

A) want people to think you and your wife have two completely separate sex lives and

B) want people to think you’re a moron.

If no one else is going to take a stand against pronoun abuse, then by golly, it’s going to have to be me. I. Me.

Grammar aside, I don’t see what’s so terribly confusing about this situation. I assume all of you are semi-youngish, still cuteish and hornyish, and often quite drunkish, or at least that’s the picture I’m getting. There’s nothing wrong with being any of those things, of course. I do not judge! It turns you on because other naked cuteish drunkish bodies are meant to turn you on, and because while many men in particular (although this is not in any way limited to either the young or the male) may find themselves satisfied day-to-day with who and what they’ve got at home, they would jump at the chance for some free (that is, wife-approved) alternative nookie. Nobody will be shocked to hear this, I assume? Some fidelity, granted, is fueled by honest-to-God "I only have eyes for you"-ness. But another substantial chunk is inspired by the "I’d like to, but she’d kill me" sentiment. Swapping, presumably, removes imminent murder from the equation, hence its appeal — at least in theory.

Since you used the word "swap," I’m assuming that the lure here is the other wife. Of course it is possible that you, Mr. "My wife and I’s," do not so much value precision in language and really meant "all get together in a great heaving heap of miscellaneous body parts," in which case it’s even less surprising. Nothing like a nice old-fashioned orgy to get those unnamed, unconfessed itches scratched before pretending they never itched in the first place. But whatev. It doesn’t matter why you want to do this: you want to, that’s all. Too bad you’re not going to get to.

What? How do I know? Because, silly rabbit, you have asked your wife (and more than thrice, I suspect), and she just laughed. If she was interested and had been waiting for you to bring it up, she would have laughed, yes! and then gone on to say: "We should ask them (giggle)! I mean, just for a joke! And see what they say, you know, just for laughs (giggle)." She would have said that, and she didn’t. And now you have to drop it. You get three tries with most things like this. After that, it turns into pestering or, depending on the dynamic in a given household (no aspersions cast), bullying. There are always exceptions. It is acceptable, for instance, to mention more than three times that you think your partner ought to be getting more of the oral sex. Even that would wear thin pretty quickly, though, if not actually accompanied by more of the aforementioned oral sex.

When it comes to more controversial acts, though, like wife-swapping or bondage or anal play, I think most people say no when they seriously mean no. By the second offer, most people who might be a little — or even a lot — interested but don’t feel comfortable copping to that yet will whisper, "Let me think about it, OK?" And you have to back off and let them. By the third time, they should be ready to say yes or no. What’s to be gained by a fourth try, or a fifth?

There are, of course, subjects that can only be brought up once and then they must be banished forever. If you want to raise one of those, you have to bring it up the right way, which goes like this:

"Honey, come watch this video with me."

"What’s it about?"

"Um, pooping on people."

If you receive a resounding "EEEEEEEEEW! NO!", you will know to drop it. If you don’t drop it, there is no help for you. Compared with pooping on people, your fantasy is pretty tame. But you still only get three tries and then it’s back to the "flirting and flashing" for you. Be glad you’ve got that.

Love,

Andrea

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.

Andrea is also teaching two classes: "You’ve Really Got Your Hands Full" — a realistic look at having twins — at Birthways in Berkeley, and "Is There Sex After Motherhood?" at Day One Center in San Francisco and other venues.

Genetically modified mouthpieces

0

OPINION In 2003, when I was working as an anchor for a San Francisco television station, newscasters and reporters across the country were asked by the White House to refer to the Iraqi invasion as Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). We were asked to call the war in Afghanistan Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF).

With press releases in hand, journalists repeated genetically modified words as if their DNA depended upon it.

Genetically modified language is when propaganda wins, journalism sells out, and the public loses. It’s when words are twisted and massaged and spun until an entire suit of lies is woven to cover the guilty and cloak the truth.

The genetically modified language, in the case of Iraq, was full of false bravado and moral superiority, wielded in attempts to turn lies into honorable causes our dear children were willing to go to war for.

Nothing caught on like the phrase "the war on terror." It was a White House propaganda bonanza. Whole networks built their news around swirling "war on terror" graphics and anchors began stories with "Today in the war on terror," while most of the world considered Americans the terrorists.

That’s when I pulled up lame and refused to dance the destructive dance. Most of us who complained are now gone.

The fourth estate, as the media is called, was created to watch the government and anyone else using lies to gain power and profit at the expense of the safety and security of the American people

Thinking journalists can now see that using the White House’s genetically modified language with unquestioning devotion is one of the many reasons why we lost the public trust five years ago.

I propose that journalists stop repeating genetically modified White House language, and go a step further.

On the very day it was leaked that Scott McClellan’s book reveals the country went to war based on known lies, the sweetest, shiniest, dimple-faced, airbrushed Bay Area Murdoch girl began a broadcast by announcing: "Another American has given his life for his country today."

I was once that girl. Today I know that soldier was one of thousands who bravely believed in what the president said — and died believing a lie the press helped promote.

What if this anchorwoman — and hundreds of others like her, all of whom I imagine to be nice people — read instead: "Another American has died in Iraq today. He was a beloved brother and child, and he was number 4,084."

Then perhaps follow that with the number of wounded Iraqi veterans: 30,329.

In an attempt at truly unbiased journalism, they could end with the number of Iraqis who have lost their lives: 1,217,892.

If this war, as McClellan says and dozens of other experts have pointed out, was based on a great lie, let’s honor those soldiers who were willing to believe the lie by bringing them home alive. Let’s stop repeating genetically modified words that glorify a conflict American journalists could have helped prevent by putting their pom-poms down.

Leslie Griffith

Leslie Griffith is a writer, award-winning television reporter and former KTVU news anchor. You can find more of her work at lesliegriffith.org.

SF Weekly seeks to delay payment

0

The chain that owns SF Weekly, which last year had revenue of at least $159 million and more than $11 million in profit, argued in court June 5 that it’s having trouble raising money for an appeal bond to cover the $15.6 million judgment the Guardian won in its predatory pricing lawsuit.

SF Weekly attorney Rod Kerr asked Judge Marla Miller June 5 to stay the judgment until 10 days after she rules on post-trial motions. That could have delayed the judgment until July 28.

Village Voice Media, which owns the Weekly, needs to post a bond for the full amount of the verdict plus interest — now accruing at more than $4,000 a day — if the chain wants to avoid paying the Guardian during the appeals process.

Kerr argued that turmoil in the financial markets and the need for VVM to get approval from its lenders is making it difficult to secure the bond. "Without the post-trial decisions, they’re not willing to release the collateral," he said in court.

Kerr said he believes there is a likelihood the judgment amount will be substantially lowered during post-trial rulings, something the company has represented to its lenders.

Guardian attorney Ralph Alldredge, speaking to the court by telephone while his co-counsels Richard Hill and Craig Moody were present, reiterated a previous offer to stay enforcement until June 18, which is 30 days after the judgment was entered following the March jury verdict.

But Alldredge said the statements and briefs by the defendants raise serious concerns about whether they’re prepared to cover the full judgment, so the Guardian needs to be able to take steps to ensure that assets are being identified and secured to satisfy the judgment.

"They anticipate post-trial motions will result in a reduction of the verdict, so apparently their lenders have been told that," Alldredge said, adding, "The lenders need to be told the judgment is likely to be the final amount."

Judge Miller agreed with the Guardian position, granting the stay only until June 18, but allowing the defendants to return to court to ask for more time if they can provide evidence showing how it will result in a bond being issued.

"I am concerned there is a risk that the bond may never be issued," Miller said.

A San Francisco jury found that SF Weekly has been engaged in illegal predatory pricing going back to the mid-1990s, selling advertising below the costs needed to support the paper in an effort to drive the Guardian out of business.

Kerr also sought to delay enforcement of an injunction Miller issued that bars further below-cost pricing by SF Weekly, but that portion of the motion was denied.

Both sides are due in court July 8 at 9 a.m. to argue post-trial motions, including one by the defendants to throw out the verdict and order a new trial. (Steven T. Jones)

For more details and key documents, go to sfbg.com/lawsuit

Editor’s Notes

0

› tredmond@sfbg.com

Mark Leno took a huge political gamble this spring, and if he had lost, he would have lost big.

It was hard enough challenging an incumbent state Senator in a Democratic primary (and pissing off a long list of people, some of them powerful and all of them with long memories). But when it became clear that Joe Nation — a centrist (at best) Democrat from Marin — was joining the race, Leno was facing a dramatic challenge.

Imagine if Nation had won. Imagine if a progressive (if sometimes ethically challenged) lesbian from San Francisco had been tossed out of office and replaced with a straight white guy who was pals with the landlords and the insurance industry. The rap on Leno would have been vicious: he would have been the one blamed for losing a San Francisco seat, a queer seat, a progressive seat … it’s not fair, of course, since Carole Migden was the one who made herself vulnerable, but politics often isn’t fair.

And this would have been ugly. I was wincing to think about the comments the next day. Leno’s political career would have been toast. And this is a guy who loves politics, loves holding office. Talk about going all-in.

But Leno pulled it off, putting together a coalition of progressives and moderates and winning convincingly. And his job is only beginning.

Leno has to mend a lot of fences. A lot of people still don’t think he should have taken on Migden, and some of her supporters are going to be bitter for quite a while. Many think his victory empowered the wrong side of the Democratic party: the Gavin Newsom wing, the squishy center. A lot of people (including me) wonder how Leno will come down on the key contested supervisorial races this fall, when Newsom’s forces and the progressives will be fighting — literally — for the future of San Francisco.

If Migden had won, there would be no doubt about the future alignments: people who were with her would be in the game, and people who opposed her would be punished. That’s how she operated, for better and for worse. Leno is different; he’s willing to work with people who opposed him and try to build bridges. He tells us he’s not always going to be with Newsom on local issues and endorsements — and if that’s true, and if he keeps in mind that he needed the progressives to win (and that Newsom’s buddies at Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and the big landlords groups did their best to bump him off) — we may see some fascinating new political coalitions emerging. (We may also see more issues like Propositions G and F, in which Newsom, Leno, and the entire power structure supported the Lennar Corporation’s land grab.)

But first, there’s the Democratic County Central Committee.

The DCCC controls the local party, and the party’s money, and the party’s endorsements, all of which will be critical this fall. The progressive slate organized by Sups. Aaron Peskin and Chris Daly did very well, and now could control the committee.

But Scott Wiener, part of the more moderate wing, is still the party chair. Wiener’s a decent and fair guy, but he likes Plan C (a group that has horrible pro-downtown politics). Someone’s going to run against him. Then we’ll see what side everyone’s on.

Read the Potrero Boosters letter to Newsom opposing the Mirant retrofit (PDF)

Newsom’s power play

0

› amanda@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY Mayor Gavin Newsom finally outlined what he calls a "more promising way forward than the current proposal" of building two publicly owned power plants in San Francisco.

The way forward: retrofit three existing diesel turbines at the Mirant-Potrero Power Plant, while simultaneously shutting down Mirant’s most polluting smokestack, Unit 3.

Newsom wrote a letter to the Board of Supervisors just before a June 3 hearing on the power plants, describing a May 23 meeting that he convened with SFPUC General Manager Ed Harrington, City Attorney Dennis Herrera, California Independent System Operator President Yakout Mansour, California Public Utilities Commission Chair Mike Peevey, Mirant CEO Ed Muller, and Pacific Gas & Electric Co. CEO Bill Morrow.

"In the meeting, we vetted the possibility of retrofitting the diesel turbines [currently owned and operated by Mirant] and asked each stakeholder to give us the necessary commitments to advance this alternative," Newsom wrote. The board then voted to shelve the power plant plan until July 15 so the retrofit option can be vetted.

Most significant, Newsom’s meeting with top dogs at energy companies, who stand to lose a lot from San Francisco owning its own power source — and the resulting correspondence elicited a new response from Cal-ISO, the state’s power grid operator, about exactly how much electricity generation San Francisco needs.

For the first time, Cal-ISO said it will allow Mirant’s Unit 3 to close as early as 2010, when the 400-MW Transbay Cable comes online, saying that the city no longer needs to install a combustion turbine peaker plant at the airport.

Sup. Sophie Maxwell expressed frustration that the questions she, her staff, and other stakeholders have been asking for the past several years are suddenly getting different answers. "I think we’re seeing a big movement by Cal-ISO. This is huge. Before, we asked all these questions, [but] they weren’t saying what they’re saying now," she told the Guardian after the hearing.

When asked why she thought this was happening now, she simply pointed to PG&E. "Who stands to benefit from us not generating our own power? Who sent out all that stuff?" she asked, referring to the flyers depicting filthy power plants that PG&E has been mailing to residents in an effort to drum up public sentiment against the city’s plan to build peakers. "Have they been concerned about what’s clean, about our people?"

Some environmental activists are hailing the change as a triumph. "David has just moved Goliath, but we need to keep pushing," said Josh Arce of Brightline Defense, which sued to stop the city’s plan to build the two power plants. He said his organization’s goal is ultimately to have no fossil fuel plants in the city. But when asked about the retrofit alternative, he said, "We don’t support it; we don’t not support it."

Cal-ISO has insisted that San Francisco needs 150 MW of electricity to stave off blackouts. This grid reliability is currently provided by Mirant-Potrero, but the plant’s Unit 3 is the greatest stationary source of pollution in the city. Bayview residents, who have borne a disproportionate share of the city’s industrial pollution, have been agitating for more than seven years to close the plant. Much of the leadership has come from Maxwell, who represents the district and has championed the plan to replace the older Mirant units with four new ones owned and operated by the city.

That vision was integrated into San Francisco’s 2004 Energy Action Plan, which Cal-ISO has used as a guiding document for the city’s energy future. The plan outlines a way to close Mirant by installing four CTs and 200 MW of replacement power. "Cal-ISO has consistently said in writing, in verbal instructions, and at meetings, that the CTs are the only specific project that was sufficient to remove the RMR [reliability must-run contract] from Mirant," said SFPUC spokesperson Tony Winnicker.

As San Francisco’s energy plans have evolved over recent years, SFPUC staff have been instructed at numerous public hearings in front of the Board of Supervisors to ask Cal-ISO if all four CTs are still necessary. Letters obtained by the Guardian show Cal-ISO has never said the airport CT isn’t necessary until now. When asked why, Cal-ISO spokesperson Stephanie McCorkle said, "The questions are not the same. That’s why the answers are different."

When pushed for more details on what’s different, she said, "We feel the introduction of the Mirant retrofit fundamentally changes our approach to the fourth peaker. I think it’s the megawatts. It’s basically the retrofit that changes the picture."

Mirant’s peakers currently put out 156 MW, an amount that may be reduced by retrofitting. The city’s three peakers would produce 150 MW. Winnicker couldn’t explain why the story is changing, telling us, "We’re really deferring to the leadership of the mayor and the board because they’ve been able to get a really different view from Cal-ISO than we’ve been able to get."

"We’ve always said we’re open to alternatives," McCorkle said. "We can only evaluate what’s presented to us and the Mirant retrofit was only presented in mid-May." Opponents of the peaker plan say the new position indicates SFPUC officials haven’t been pushing Cal-ISO hard enough or asking the right questions.

"The city hasn’t done its due diligence insisting on different configurations of the peakers," Sup. Ross Mirkarimi told us. "What we’re learning now we could have learned two years ago." He went on to add, "With the abundant paper trail, one can only surmise or conclude there may have been a presupposed bias on the part of the PUC to the answers expected from Cal-ISO."

The SFPUC has been instructed by the mayor’s office to determine if Mirant retrofit diesels would be as clean as the city’s CTs. Until that can be proved, some are withholding support.

"I haven’t seen any information that a Mirant retrofit is as clean as the peakers," City Attorney Dennis Herrera told the Guardian. "From my perspective, I want the most environmentally clean solution."

To that end, some would like to see a formal presentation to Cal-ISO of a "transmission-only" alternative, which would outline a number of line upgrades and efficiencies that would obviate the need for any in-city power plants. Sup. Maxwell introduced a resolution urging the SFPUC to put such a proposal before Cal-ISO and to enact strict criteria for any alternative to the city’s CTs.

"We need to remember that Mirant was a bad actor. Mirant is not to be trusted," Maxwell said. "We sued them and we won our suit," she added, citing litigation brought by the city against the private company for operating the power plants in excess of its permitted hours and for market manipulation during the 2001-02 energy crisis.

Maxwell’s legislation, cosigned by six other supervisors, lays those concerns out and cautions, "In view of this history, the city should be cautious and vigilant in taking any steps that expand the operation of Mirant’s facilities in San Francisco."

The legislation also reminds policymakers that San Francisco’s Electricity Resource Plan identifies eight specific goals — one of which is to "increase local control over energy resources." It goes on to say, "City ownership of electric generating supplies can reduce the risk of market power abuses and enable the city to mandate the use of cleaner fuels when feasible or to close down any such generation when it is no longer needed."

Maxwell’s resolution also outlines a series of conditions that any alternative to the city’s peakers would have to meet. The alternative would have to be as clean or cleaner than the city peakers, have the same comprehensive community benefits package that was attached to the city’s peaker plan, have no impact on the bay’s water, and only be run for reliability needs.

The City Attorney’s Office said these criteria are not set in stone — it’s a resolution and therefore requires some level of enforcement or action. Mirkarimi, who signed on to the resolution, is still uncomfortable with it as it stands, saying it should include discussion of the city’s new community choice aggregation (CCA) plan for creating renewable public power projects.

Some environmentalists cautioned that the transmission-only approach still leaves too much control in the hands of others. "We shouldn’t let PG&E be the ones to solve this problem," said Eric Brooks, a Green Party rep and founder of Community Choice Energy Alliance. He’s urging city officials to put all the city’s energy intentions — from the CCA plan for 51 percent renewables by 2017 to an exploration of city-funded transmission upgrades — into a presentation for Cal-ISO.

Brooks noted a conspicuous absence from the May 23 meeting with the mayor: "CCA and environmentalists weren’t at the table, as usual."

Tech art 2.0

0

› a&eletters@sfbg.com

REVIEW Does anyone still truly abide by the hope that technology is the benevolent force that can deliver a luminous future? Sure, we’ve got biotech, greentech, and Web 2.0 to tackle disease, our environmental sins, social alienation, and economic downturn. But at the same time, who isn’t aware of the corporate capitalist machinery and toxic waste that will accompany the next Apple marvel or Monsanto-engineered miracle crop? Can a Silicon Valley researcher really find a way to reverse global warming?

We all hope for, and perhaps believe in, that miracle cure. It’s a way to generate optimism, however slight. This is the cultural condition that serves as the thematic starting point of "Superlight," the San Jose Museum of Art exhibition component of the second biennial 01SJ Global Festival of Art on the Edge, a technology-focused series of live events, most held June 4-8. The show, curated by Steve Dietz, and the festival are rooted historically in what may be called electronic and digital art, but "Superlight" finds thematic inspiration in the more generally pervasive, free-floating anxieties of our greenhouse gas–warmed psychic atmosphere: environmental and economic meltdowns, food shortages, personal disappointments, and the like. Recognizing that most of these conditions are brought about by the same technological advancements that are looked to for ways of stabilizing if not rectifying those conditions, Dietz presents a couple dozen solo and collaborative artists not as saviors, but as people who can "aerate and illuminate" our contemporary concerns.

It’s no accident that the show presents a range of media, not all of it plugged in, and much of it formed with hybridized materials and approaches. If the digital art genre was not so long ago equated with computer screens and chirping electronic soundtracks — don’t worry, you’ll find some of that here, and in Second Life corollaries to some pieces — the atmosphere of the galleries suggests analog objects and psychological positions that aerate some of that virtual space.

It happens in a delightfully literal manner in Taiwanese artist Shih Chieh Huang’s perversely adorable robotic creatures made from plastic bags, water bottles, and electric fans. The sculptures gracefully appear to breathe as the bags fill and evacuate, and they have light components that glow in the heightened colors of late model car dashboards. The vibe is more troubling in psychologically tinted — and somewhat glitchy — interactive works such as Lynn Hershman Leeson’s Global Mind Radar/Reader (an Emotional Barometer), which takes a cultural pulse as a female figure, projected inside a glass dome "blogosphere," goes through a series of emotional gestures responding to live blog input concerning current events. That position is echoed in Bruce Charlesworth’s installation Love Disorder, which is tartly described in exhibition text: "A huge projected video character has ambivalent feelings about you." And he’s not shy about expressing them. These works use anthropomorphism to generate identification with the machinery, though the latter two tout complex, glitch-friendly technology that dare us to believe, or at least question, if they actually work.

Mixed emotions also infuse Daniel Faust’s elegantly composed and slightly wistful color photographs of now-historic Silicon Valley corporate architecture and outmoded data archives, depicting them as stately yet oddly humble. The images are visually skewed toward a modernist history via research facility. That kind of past idealism is perhaps behind the utopian-themed collaborative projects by Free Soil and Red 76, which tap into a pervasive yearning for utopian endeavors, both on earth and Second Life sediment. These works, however, find their most vital components outside the museum — in tours and social gatherings — and their diagrams and historical artifacts are more confusing than illuminating.

More insistent is the video documentation of projects by HeHe (Helen Evans and Hieko Hansen), a pair of Paris designers who harness carbon-filled industrial pollution, second-hand smoke, and various light sources to urge us to look at the world, and the amazing possibilities in available hardware and software, with an uneasy sense of wonder. From a literal standpoint, their pieces fit this exhibition’s premise best: their use of illumination resembles a technologically fortified nature that manages to inspire as it metaphorically sticks our noses in holes in the ozone. If that’s not superlight, what is?

SUPERLIGHT

Through Aug. 30

Tues.–Sun., 11 a.m.–5 p.m.

San Jose Museum of Art

110 S. Market, San Jose

$5–$8, free to members and children under 6

(408) 271-6840, www.sjmusart.org

Club Waziema

0

› paulr@sfbg.com

As the fireworks display known as Indian cuisine finds a measure of American celebrity, some of us are left to wonder about an equally spice-rich tradition that remains slightly obscure even in a sophisticated international city like San Francisco. The foods I’m referring to are from East Africa — from Ethiopia and its northern neighbor (and once unwilling province), Eritrea — and maybe the African connection gives us our first clue about their relative obscurity. In my lifetime, most of the food news from Africa has been bad news, beginning with a terrible famine in the West African land of Biafra in the late 1960s to, more recently, a similar crisis in the Sudanese region of Darfur.

Starvation is a chronic threat in modern Africa, and it seems tasteless, somehow, to go out and eat Ethiopian food at a well-provisioned restaurant in a rich city while actual Ethiopians are starving. What would they think of us? What should we think of ourselves? Yet the food is marvelous, and it doesn’t seem quite right to ignore it — and the people who are trying to make a living by offering it in their restaurants — as an awkward gesture of sympathy or solidarity. Our uneasy compromise seems to be to have a certain number of Ethiopian restaurants and to enjoy them, as long as they don’t become too high-profile or glossy. When the first bistro opens with a menu of "modern Ethiopian cuisine," we will know the wind is shifting.

Meantime, there are such lovably unaffected places as Club Waziema, which has been dishing up platters of Ethiopian food on Divisadero Street in the Western Addition for nearly 10 years. When they say "club," they’re not kidding; the deep space has a sort of sports-bar aura in its streetside quarter but acquires a pool-hall feel (complete with pool table) in its raised rear room. In between, opening off the narrows that connects front and rear, is a cozy nook for two that might be a made-over closet but feels like a spot you’d be delighted to find on a 19th-century railcar.

You’d probably be delighted, too — not to mention flabbergasted — to find food like Waziema’s on any 19th-century railcar. Restaurants cooking spice-charged food are like huge aromatherapy candles, bathing their environs with bewitching scents, and Waziema is no exception. Even out on the street, you can smell it before you see it, and once you’re through the door, you’re in the zone.

The menu describes dish after dish as "spicy," without saying what those spices are. (Even the Ethiopian lager Harar is spicy.) The best-known of Ethiopian flavoring agents is a paste known as berbere, which often is made from many of the same spices — cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, coriander, turmeric, fenugreek — that turn up in the Indian garam masala (known to us as curry powder), along with the softening, sweetening presences of allspice and nutmeg. Then there is mitmita, a cayenne pepper-like powder ground from dried red African chili peppers.

If I was taking a quiz, I would guess that Waziema’s lamb stew ($11.50) — boneless chunks of meat simmered with garlic, ginger, and spices — had some mitmita in it, mostly because of the sauce’s red clay color and a distinctive chili, almost Tex-Mex flavor. The menu described the lamb as "mild," but we thought we detected some heat. The beef stew ($10) was similar, with cubes of meat in a rich sauce, except the sauce lacked its sibling’s sunrise glow. It looked more like beef burgundy, and in fact berbere paste can include red wine. If cubed meat isn’t your thing, you might go for the spicy chicken ($10.50), which features a pair of legs braised on the bone in a golden sauce. (Our server asked us if we wanted the chicken "mild, medium, or hot," with the assurance that "hot isn’t that hot." And it wasn’t. It was just right, really.)

Can’t decide? Get the combo ($12.50), which provides half-portions of two of the meat dishes. On the vegetable side of the menu, the combo will bring you sizable samplings of all the meatless dishes. These include spicy lentils (quite dal-like), garlicky collard greens, a vegetable stew (of carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, and cabbage in garlic sauce), and mushroom chunks in a thick brown sauce like the beef’s. Everything is presented family-style on a large platter lined with a disk of injera, the spongy Ethiopian flatbread made from teff flour. (Teff is an Ethiopian grain with a pleasantly sour taste.) More injera is provided on the side for tearing into pieces and scooping up bites of the various stews.

One lesson to be drawn here is that Ethiopian cooking, like Indian cooking, tends to be vegetarian-friendly. Even carnivores could graze happily for a long while on a platter of the vegetable dishes. (One possible issue for hard-edged vegans: much of Ethiopian cooking is typically done in clarified butter.) Another lesson is that Waziema gives unusually good, I might even say exceptional, value. Prices are moderate, servings are not small, and the sense of bounty is enhanced by the festive heaping of everything onto a colorful platter that lands in the middle of the table like an edible flying saucer.

Divisadero between Castro and Geary remains one of the city’s most vital and interesting restaurant rows. Although there has been some cautious infiltration by upscalers, the neighborhood still has a few days’ growth of beard, and it still has a good supply of places like Club Waziema, where those with a few days’ growth of beard are among friends and the matter of hunger is both an occasion for reflection and celebration.

CLUB WAZIEMA

Dinner: Mon.–Sat., 6–10 p.m.

543 Divisadero, SF

(415) 346-6641

www.clubwaziema.com

Full bar

MC/V

Bearable noise

Partly wheelchair accessible

Greater Goode

0

Actors are advised to avoid sharing the stage with kids and dogs because they steal the show. Maybe puppets should be included. Joe Goode’s hero in Wonderboy is a not-quite-three-foot concoction of wood, plaster, and cloth. He is adorable and you can’t take your eyes off him. Master puppeteer Basil Twist gave him his body; Goode and his dancers gave him a soul.

With this world premiere Goode has created one of his most poetic works in years. It is not to be missed. He has done so with five new dancers who seem to have inspired choreography as richly physical as any he has done. The piece’s floating lifts, wrestling holds, and tumbling rolls looked spontaneous but were finely shaped. A male-female duet spoke of tortuous relationships with fury and compassion; a quartet for four bare-chested males came across as erotic and tender.

Melecio Estrella, Mark Stuver, and Jessica Swanson gave the puppet its brittle and slightly raspy voice for a narrative by Goode and what he called "some of the wonderboy artists and thinkers" he has known. He explored a question that has preoccupied him for his entire career: how does an outsider find a place for himself in life? Bringing his customary tenderness, wit, and melancholy to the inquiry, he rarely hit a wrong note. Wonderboy‘s outsider character begins life as a sensitive little boy who watches the world from the safety of his home (designed by Dan Sweeney). Gradually he steps out and encounters rejection, rage, and love — especially with dancer Andrew Ward — before finally finding a community of his own. Twist coached Goode’s six dancers in the nuances of puppetry to exquisitely animate the nuances of the boy’s trajectory.

The program opens with excerpts from the 1996 installation piece, Maverick Strain. The Western barroom scene includes two hard-drinking hookers (Patricia West plays the confused one, Swanson the tough one). As a lounge singer (music by the brilliant Beth Custer), Goode is never less than a star — as is Alexander Zendzian as a transvestite rape victim, in a performance that chills the soul.

JOE GOODE PERFORMANCE GROUP

Fri/13–Sat/14, 8 p.m.; Sun/15, 7 p.m.

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater

700 Howard, SF

(415) 978-ARTS, www.ybca.org

The house that Hiero built

0

› a&eletters@sfbg.com

**Update: The Paid Dues Independent Hip Hop Festival has been cancelled. See below for more details.

I’m not accustomed to receiving rappers at my home at 8 a.m. — an hour most rappers have only heard of — but I made an exception for Tajai Massey, member of Souls of Mischief and Hieroglyphics. A self-confessed early riser and the first MC to ever accept my offer of a cup of coffee, Massey is a busy man.

While gearing up for the Hieroglyphics’ Freshly Dipped tour, which kicks off June 14 with the Paid Dues Festival at the Berkeley Community Theatre, the lanky 33-year-old head of the group’s Hiero Imperium label was about to head to Seattle for a spot date with his new rock outfit, Crudo, with Dan the Automator and ex-Faith No More frontman Mike Patton. Meanwhile Massey’s been juggling two upcoming projects, one of which he hopes to release in the fall: a new, self-produced Hieroglyphics disc and the fourth studio release by Souls of Mischief, produced by legend Prince Paul. In the interim, he’s prepping fellow Souls-member Opio’s second solo album, Vulture’s Wisdom, Vol. 1 (Hiero Imperium), for July.

Yet none of this accounts for our meeting. Our conversation instead focused on Massey’s other job: overseeing his own imprint within Hiero, Clear Label. Though begun in 1999 to release his SupremeEx trip-hop collaboration with Hiero Web designer StinkE, Projecto: 2501, Clear Label really established itself circa 2005 with two artists of a very different sort: Shake Da Mayor of "Stunna Shades" fame and Beeda Weeda, whose 2006 full-length, Turfology 101, yielded the hit "Turf’s Up."

While Shake has since departed, Beeda has cemented his Clear Label connection, moving his whole camp, Pushin’ the Beat (PTB), into Hiero’s two-story East Oakland compound, which was purchased by the veteran collective in 2004. Known within Hiero as "the Building," though designated "Hiero" by everyone else, the space houses nine rooms, five studios, and a small warehouse of T-shirts, CDs, and other goods. Soon Beeda’s friend and collaborator, J-Stalin — himself signed to one of the Bay’s biggest rap independent labels, SMC — began bringing his own Livewire crew by, including Shady Nate, Clear Label’s next signee.

Bulging with the usual conglomeration of computers, mixing boards, rough-hewn vocal booths, and a fine layer of empty 1800 bottles and Swisher Sweet ashes, PTB’s two ground floor studios contrast with the Building’s general tidiness, like a kids’ playspace in an otherwise adult house. Yet they also exhibit an atmosphere of dedication. Dropping by on any given day, among the crowd of just-past-high-school aspiring MCs, you might see Beeda and Stalin studiously hunched over spiral notebooks with Mistah FAB, working on their NEW (North-East-West) Oakland project.

And FAB isn’t the only high profile visitor: everyone from San Quinn to the Federation comes through. Too $hort stops by regularly, and even national acts like Dem Franchize Boyz and Cease of Junior Mafia have found their way here. Given that Beeda and Stalin are two of the hottest young Oakland rappers and attract such elite company, Hiero suddenly finds itself at the center of what might be called the Bay’s post-hyphy moment, one embodied in a tougher, less dance-oriented sound, combined with classic Bay slap and tempered by R&B overtones.

"I wasn’t after a bunch of streeter-than-street dudes," Massey said, laughing. "But I sure ended up with some."

THE OTHER BAY BRIDGE


Intentional or not, the current emphasis on street rappers is consistent with Clear Label’s overall mission.

"Our fans aren’t that forgiving. Even bringing up other acts like Knobody or Musab, who are on the same tip as Hiero — our fans want Hiero music," Massey said, in reference to Hiero Imperium artists and the group’s demanding backpacker following. "So we’ll give it to them, and let Clear Label be the outlet for other acts, especially my relationship with PTB/Livewire."

HieroSlideShow.gif
Oakland hip-hop converges on the Hiero HQ. Photos by Alexander Warnow

It helps, Massey continued, that J-Moe, the CEO of PTB, has a vision. "That dude is a genius," the Clear Label honcho said. "He’s called the Machine, because he’s always working." With an uncanny ability to spot new talent — like 17-year-old phenom Yung Moses, who J-Moe dubs "the future face of the franchise" — the Machine is a crucial part of the evolution of Clear Label.

But Clear isn’t just a "street label," Massey continued. He’s working with a "rock ‘n’ roll" dude, Chris Maarsol, as well as League 510, which he describes as working in "really a new genre." Hailing from East Oakland, 510 blends lyrical, positive rap and house-influenced grooves in a mix the group calls "Town Techno." "It’s like bridging the hyphy movement and the alternative crowd," Massey said. "I know they’ll do well in cities like Miami, Chicago — where they have a house scene — and in Europe."

Interestingly, according to Massey, European fans have been more receptive to Hiero’s new connections than the domestic audience. "It’s crazy," he said with a laugh. Among other acts, Massey also scooped up Baby Jaymes, digitally re-releasing his 2005 debut, The Baby Jaymes Record (Ghetto Retro), and dropping a new single, "The Bizness," including Turf Talk. "Baby Jaymes is huge in Germany and Belgium, even Australia," Massey added. "I’m in Amsterdam and people are like, ‘Where’s Beeda Weeda?’ Out there people understand the association, whereas in Oakland, they have no idea. It’s odd how Europeans look deeper into it, and it’s a whole different language."

‘WE ALL FROM OAKLAND’


Perhaps it isn’t so odd. The language barrier may even facilitate European acceptance, because despite the differences between Hiero’s conscious lyricism and PTB/Livewire’s grimy topics, the musical bond is already there.

"There are more similarities than differences," Opio told me. "We all from Oakland. Hiero looked to Too $hort and E-40 when we began our independent hustle."

Though he admittedly can’t keep track of the crews’ ever-expanding rosters, former Hiero Imperium head Domino — who, after helming the organization from its mid-’90s inception, stepped down in 2006 to concentrate on production — also welcomes the influx of young talent. "As you get older," he said, "there’s not the same excitement as an artist. You can’t totally get it back, but you can feed off their new energy."

Beyond their shared approval, members of Hiero have already begun to collaborate with PTB/Livewire. Souls member A-Plus, for example, produced the dancehall-inspired opener, "Da Town," on Beeda’s new all-original mixtape, Talk Shit Swallow Spit possibly the hottest Bay Area disc this year — while Casual appears on Beeda’s forthcoming album, tentatively titled Turf Radio. PTB, moreover, has added a more conscious lyricist, Tre Styles, upsetting what Opio describes as "the boxes the corporate market puts people in."

Massey agrees. "Look at Beeda or Shady. Their mentality isn’t ‘go dumb, go stupid,’<0x2009>" he noted. "Their lyrics are militant, and these guys are growing." Massey was also quick to point out the multidimensional side of J-Stalin, whose crime-ridden raps are infused with melancholy ambivalence about street life. "Stalin could be big like 2Pac," he opined. "He’s not trying to look hard. He’s a little dude, but he’s got all this heart and emotion."

Stalin himself is more modest, albeit slightly, at least concerning his upcoming SMC disc, The Pre-Nuptial Agreement. "Pre-Nup is going to be one of the greatest Bay Area albums ever," he said. "I ain’t saying I’m the best rapper. I’m saying I put together a great album." Judging by the songs he played for me that day — including the radio-ready "Get Me Off" with E-40 — he’s right. SMC’s Will Bronson is sufficiently confident in Stalin — and Beeda — to partner with Thizz Entertainment this summer to bring out the former’s Gas Nation as well as the latter’s The Thizzness, both pre-albums designed to tide fans over before their full-lengths in the fall.

"Stalin and Beeda are the only two new artists really buzzin’," Bronson said. "I couldn’t go a week without hearing about them."

As a result, Stalin and SMC plan to collaborate on future Livewire projects, including a group disc showcasing up-and-comers Shady and J Jonah, longtime members such as ROB, Lil Blood, and Ronald Mack, and newer recruits like Philthy Rich and 17-year-old Lil Ruger, whose wild, almost Keak-esque flow foretells fame.

The connection to SMC and Vallejo’s Thizz, moreover, suggests a serious new coalition which, given the waning of hyphy, threatens to become the next major force in Bay Area rap. "We’re just trying to keep the unity," Stalin concluded. "Because we’re all from different places, we wouldn’t be able to do this in the street."

UNITED FRONT


Such unity, always in short supply in the Bay, is one of the most intriguing aspects of the Hiero/PTB/Livewire situation. "We’ve got a movement, but it’s not a movement," said Jamon Dru, who, along with DJ Fresh, Tower, and others, formed the Whole Shabang, an autonomous production squad linked to both PTB and Livewire. "We’re trying to make music everyone will feel, not just the Bay. That’s put a hurt on us because we do have a ‘fuck everyone else’ attitude, like, ‘I don’t care if anyone else likes this shit.’ But we got families, friends, people in jail we gotta feed. We can’t be half-steppin’ like that."

Like Traxamillion, and unlike many local producers, Dru is candid about the influence of the radio on his sound. "It’s a little Southern-influenced," he said, "a little East Coast with Fresh chopping up samples, but with the 808s and a West Coast bassline. Every beat we make with samples, we gotta put an 808 knock in it." While it’s difficult to generalize, given the work of so many producers, Dru’s statement is a good sketch of the PTB/Livewire sound: it looks to the Bay’s older mob music through the modern lens of hyphy, even as it sheds the more gimmicky excesses of the latter.

Beginning his career under Beeda Weeda’s wing, Dru is already a mogul of his own, currently developing 19-year-old Gully, whose work can sampled on his mixtape Hustla Movement. Like Yung Moses, the saltier-voiced, vowel-stretching Gully is considered one of the most promising rappers in the camp, and the two are already slated for a collaboration. A song like Gully’s "Bush," imagining the life of a ghetto youth who suddenly finds himself a soldier in Iraq, even suggests that Hiero’s more politically progressive themes are creeping into the youngster’s work.

At present, however, Beeda remains the "face of the franchise" for PTB and Clear Label.

"Beeda’s got the biggest buzz," Massey said, "so it makes sense to lead off with him. I just want to set him up properly." Proper set-up in the Bay generally involves a "pre-album," and Beeda’s got three. Besides the all-original Talk Shit mixtape and The Thizzness, Beeda’s collaboration with DJ Fresh, Base Rock Baby an ’80s-themed disc referring to Beeda’s generation as the first to be born after the crack epidemic began — appears in July.

"We’re going to push that online," Massey said, though there will be hard copies for sale. "Right now, if Beeda’s record sales matched his popularity, I’d be ready to retire." Still, he confessed, "everyone has Turfology, but only a few people bought it," citing the difficulties of selling albums in the era of burnt CDs and file-sharing, not to mention ongoing recession under the George W. Bush administration.

Another problem was the lag between Beeda’s video for "Turf’s Up" becoming popular on YouTube and the actual release of Turfology, confusing consumers who assumed the CD was already out. "This time we got the timing down," Beeda said. "We’ll build that buzz first, and everything will be ready to go." Nonetheless, as falling numbers of mainstream releases attest, selling albums has grown increasingly difficult regardless of timing.

"That’s not how we eat anymore," Dru said. "You put out an album to get shows and verse features [guest appearances on other artists’ songs]. So we gotta look at these songs as bait." Massey, meanwhile, is seeking other income streams to support his label and artists, like soundtracks and licensing.

As Massey confirms, street rap comes with headaches not usually associated with Hiero. A few weeks ago, as Clear Label began preparing Shady Nate’s debut, Son of the Hood, for release, Shady was arrested on an alleged weapons violation and remains incarcerated pending trial.

"They’re trying to throw the book at him," Massey said. "I’m hoping we can work it out because Shady’s a good dude, and his album is great." Even if Shady has to do a stretch in prison, Son of the Hood will probably see the light of day sometime later this year.

Ultimately the big question for PTB/Livewire is whether the coalition can achieve the mainstream success that eluded the hyphy movement. Beeda and Stalin think so, and with the support and mentorship of the Hiero camp, they have as good a chance as any in the Bay — and maybe even the best.

With the long view of a rapper 15 years into his career, Massey is philosophical about the prospects of his Clear Label empire. "If we break even it’s cool," he said. "If we make money, even better. But if I break even, I’m happy, because it wasn’t a loss for me to put out great music."

PAID DUES FESTIVAL***

With Hieroglyphics and others

Sat/14, 5 p.m., $40

Berkeley Community Theatre

1900 Allston, Berk.

www.ticketmaster.com

***This show has been cancelled. From the promoters: Guerilla Union and MURS 3:16 regret to announce that the PAID DUES INDEPENDENT HIP HOP FESTIVAL scheduled for Saturday, June 14 at the Berkeley Community Theatre in Berkeley, CA, has been cancelled due to matters beyond our control.

For fans that have purchased tickets to the show, we apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused. Refunds are available for ticketholders at the point-of-purchase.

Election as prologue

0

› steve@sfbg.com

San Francisco politics shifted June 3 as successful new coalitions altered the electoral landscape heading into the high-stakes fall contests, when seven of the 11 seats on the Board of Supervisors are up for grabs.
Progressives had a good election night even as lefty shot-caller Sup. Chris Daly suffered a pair of bitter defeats. And Mayor Gavin Newsom scored a rare ballot box victory when the southeast development measure Proposition G passed by a wide margin, although voters repudiated Newsom’s meddling with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission by approving Prop. E.

But the big story wasn’t these two lame duck politicians, who have served as the two poles of local politics for the past few years. It was Mark Leno, who handed Sen. Carole Migden her first electoral defeat in 25 years by bringing together progressives and moderates and waging an engaged, effective ground campaign. In the process, he may have offered a portent of things to come.

The election night speech Leno gave just before midnight — much like his entire campaign — didn’t break along neat ideological lines. There were solidly progressive stands, like battling the religious right’s homophobia, pledging to pursue single-payer health care, and blasting Pacific Gas & Electric Co. for funding sleazy attack pieces against him, reaffirming his commitment to public power.

But he also thanked Newsom and other moderate supporters and heaped praise on his political consulting firm, BMWL, which has run some of downtown’s nastiest campaigns. "It was clean, it was smart, and it was effective," Leno said of his campaign.

The Migden campaign, which had the support of Daly and many prominent local progressives, often looked dirty by comparison, marred by past campaign finance violations that resulted in Migden getting slapped with the biggest fine in state history and by Daly’s unethical misuse of the Guardian logo on a mailer that made it appear as if we had endorsed Migden.

Old alliances seemed to crumble around this election, leaving open questions about how coalitions will form going into an important November election that’s expected to have a crowded ballot and huge turnout.

UNITY AND DIVISION


There are things that unite almost all San Franciscans, like support for public schools. In this election that support came in the form of Prop. A — a measure that will increase teacher salaries through a parcel tax of about $200 per property owner — which garnered almost 70 percent of the vote.

"These numbers show that people believe in public education. They believe in what we’re doing," school superintendent Carlos Garcia told a jubilant election night crowd inside the Great American Music Hall.

Also uniting the city’s Democrats was the news that Barack Obama sewed up the party’s presidential nomination June 3, ending a primary battle with Hillary Clinton that had created a political fissure here and in cities across the country.

"The winds of change are blowing tonight. Let me congratulate Barack Obama on his victory," Leno said on election night, triggering a chant of "Yes we can" from the crowd at the Upper Market bar/restaurant Lime.

Local Clinton supporters were already switching candidates on election night, even before Clinton dropped her campaign and announced her support for Obama four days later.

"As a strong Hillary person, I’m so excited to be working for Obama these next five months," DCCC District 13 member Laura Spanjian, who won reelection by placing fourth out of 12 slots, said on election night. "It’s my number one goal this fall."

Leno also sounded conciliatory themes. In his election night speech, Leno acknowledged the rift he created in the progressive and LGBT communities by challenging Migden: "I know that you upset the applecart when you challenge a sitting senator."

But he vowed to repair that damage, starting by leading the fight against the fall ballot measure that would ban same-sex marriage and overturn the recent California Supreme Court decision that legalized it. He told the crowd, "I invite you to join together to defeat the religious right."

A day later we asked Leno about whether his victory represented a new political center in San Francisco and he professed a desire to avoid the old political divisions: "Let’s focus on our commonalities rather than differences," he said, "because there is real strength in a big-tent coalition."

But this election was more about divisions than unity, splits whose repercussions will ripple into November in unknown ways. Shortly before the election, Daly publicly blasted "Big Labor" after the San Francisco Labor Council cut a deal with Lennar Corporation, agreeing to support Prop. G in exchange for the promise of more affordable housing and community benefits.

On election night, Newsom couldn’t resist gloating over besting Daly, whose affordable housing measure Prop. F lost big. "I couldn’t be more proud that the voters of San Francisco supported a principled proposal over the political proposal of a politician," Newsom told us on election night, adding, "Today was a validation of community investment and involvement over political games."

While Daly and some of his progressive allies have long warned that Leno is too close to Newsom to be trusted, one of the first points in Leno’s speech was the celebrate the passage of Prop. E, which gives the Board of Supervisors more power to reject the mayor’s appointees to the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. "As an early supporter I was happy to see that," Leno said.

Susan Leal, the former SFPUC director who was ousted by Newsom earlier this year, said she felt some vindication from the vote on Prop. E, but mostly she was happy that people saw through the false campaign portrayals (which demonized the Board of Supervisors and erroneously said the measure gave it control over the SFPUC.)

"This is one of the few PUCs where people are appointed and doing the mayor’s bidding is the only qualification," Leal told us on election night.
Sup. Tom Ammiano, who will be headed to the Assembly next year, agreed: "It shows the beauty contest with the mayor is over and people are willing to hold him accountable."

ANALYZING THE RESULTS


On the day after the election, during a postmortem at the downtown office of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, political consultants Jim Stearns and David Latterman sized up the results.

Latterman called the Prop. E victory "the one surprise in the race." The No on E campaign sought to demonize the Board of Supervisors, a strategy that clearly didn’t work. Firing Leal, a lesbian, helped spur the city’s two major LGBT groups — the Harvey Milk and Alice B. Toklas Democratic clubs — to endorse the measure, which could have been a factor when combined with the high LGBT turnout.

"This may have ridden the coattails of the Leno-Migden race," Stearns said.

In that race, Stearns and Latterman agreed that Leno ran a good campaign and Migden didn’t, something that was as big a factor in the outcome as anything.
"Migden did too little too late. The numbers speak for themselves. Leno ran a really good race," Latterman said, noting how Leno beat Migden by a large margin in San Francisco and came within a few thousand votes of beating Joe Nation on his home turf of Marin County.

"It was a big deal for Leno to get so close to Nation in Marin," Stearns said.

Leno told us the polling his campaign did late last year and early this year showed he had a strong advantage in San Francisco, "so with that, I invested a lot of time and energy in Marin County."

Stearns attributed the big Prop. G win to its large base of influential supporters: "The coalition-building was what put this over the top." Daly chalked it up to the $4 million that Lennar spent, saying it had bought the election. But Stearns, who was a consultant for the campaign, didn’t agree: "I don’t think money alone ever wins or loses campaigns."

Yet he said the lack of money and an organized No on G/Yes on F campaign did make it difficult to stop the Lennar juggernaut. "You need to have enough money to get your message out," Stearns said, noting that "Nobody knew that the Sierra Club opposed [Prop. G]."

In the one contested judge’s race on the ballot, Gerardo Sandoval finished in a virtual dead heat with incumbent Judge Thomas Mellon. The two will face off again in a November runoff election because a third candidate, Mary Mallen, captured about 13 percent of the vote.

"How angry is Sandoval with Mallen now?" Latterman asked at the SPUR event. "If that 13 percent wasn’t there, Sandoval wins."

Both Latterman and Stearns agreed that this election was Sandoval’s best shot at unseating a sitting judge. "He’s going to face a tougher test in November," Stearns said.

The other big news was the lopsided defeat of Prop. 98, which would have abolished rent control and limits on condo conversions in addition to its main stated aim of restricting the use of eminent domain by local governments.

"It just lost bad," Latterman said of Prop. 98, the second extreme property rights measure to go down in recent years. "It just needs to go away now…. This was a resounding, ‘Just go away now, please.’<0x2009>"

LOOKING FORWARD


Aside from the Leno victory, this election was most significant in setting up future political battles. And progressives won a big advantage for the battles to come by picking up seats on the city’s two Democratic County Central Committees, a successful offensive engineered largely by Daly and Peskin, who were both elected to the eastside DCCC District 13.

"On the DCCC level, we took back the Democratic Party," said Robert Haaland, a progressive who was reelected to the DCCC District 13.

"The fight now is over the chair. The chair decides where the resources go and sets the priorities, so you can really do a lot," Haaland told us.

Many of the fall supervisorial contests feature races between two or three bona fide progressives, so those candidates are going to need to find issues or alliances that will broaden their bases.

In District 9, for example, the candidates include housing activist Eric Quezada (who lost his DCCC race), school board president Mark Sanchez, and Police Commission member David Campos — all solid progressives, all Latino, and all with good bases of support.

Campos finished first in his DCCC District 13 race just ahead of Peskin. Speaking on election night at the GAMH, Campos attributed his strong showing to walking lots of precincts and meeting voters, particularly in the Mission, an effort that will help him in the fall.

"A lot of Latino voters are really eager to be more involved [in politics]," Campos said. "Speaking the language and being an immigrant really connects with them."

Campos thinks public safety will be a big issue on voters’ minds this fall, an issue where he has strength and one that progressives have finally seized. "Until Ross Mirkarimi came along, progressives really weren’t talking about it," Campos said.

So, does Campos’ strong DCCC showing make him the front runner? When I asked that question during the SPUR event, Latterman said he didn’t think so. He noted that Sanchez has always had strong finishes on his school board races, citywide contests that includes the Portola area in District 9 but not in DCCC District 13. In fact, Latterman predicted lots of acrimony and close contests this November.

"If you like the anger of Leno vs. Migden, we’ll have more in the fall," Latterman said of the competitive supervisorial races.

Leno hasn’t been terribly active in local contests since heading to Sacramento, and he told us that his focus this fall will be on state ballot fights and the presidential race. He hasn’t made endorsements in many supervisorial races yet, but his two so far are both of progressives: Ross Mirkarimi in District 5, and David Chiu in District 3. And as he makes more supervisorial endorsements in the coming months, Leno told us, "I will be fighting for progressive voices."

Sarah Phelan contributed to this story.

And so it begins

0

› sarah@sfbg.com

Mayor Gavin Newsom chose a telling site for the June 2 release of his budget: the San Francisco Police Department’s Special Tactical Operations Center at Hunters Point Shipyard. And if its relationship to Proposition G, the mayor’s plan to let Lennar Corporation develop the southeast part of the city, wasn’t clear enough, Newsom made it explicit.

"You’ll have the opportunity to support Proposition G and reject Proposition F, the one that is getting in the way," Newsom told department heads and the press as police, who warned budget protesters that it is illegal to campaign on city property, looked on in silence. It is also illegal for the mayor to campaign for ballot measures on city property.

In his speech, Newsom labeled as the "heroes" of this year’s budget the unions that have agreed to unpaid days off, including the Laborer’s Union, the Deputy Sheriff’s Association, Firefighters Local 798, and the Municipal Executives Association. Conversely, he vowed to remember that the police, nurses, and lawyers unions wouldn’t amend the contracts Newsom negotiated last summer.

Sounding more like a gubernatorial candidate intent on winning over Orange County voters than the leader of the most progressive city in the nation, Newsom said, "We are living within our means and being fiscally prudent, without out-of-control borrowing and without tax increases. But we still have a $338 million shortfall."

But there has been widespread criticism of the mayor’s plan as details emerge of its massive cuts to health and human services, while increasing the city’s budget for street repaving, pothole repair, and police academies.

"It’s the least democratic, least transparent budget process in many years, in terms of lack of information from the Mayor’s Office to the city departments and the community-based organizations that are affected," said Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth organizer Chelsea Boilard. "In the past, programs were given a heads-up. This year it continues to be a frantic scramble."

According to Boilard, city departments were still finding out the extent of the cuts even after Newsom made his presentation, including the news that the budget addbacks approved by the Board of Supervisors last year are not being continued in the 2008-09 budget.

"A nightmare," was how Debbi Lerman of the San Francisco Human Services Network described the budget.

"If we listen to mayor’s presentation, everything is rosy, revenue-wise. It’s just a spending problem. But from the community’s perspective, it’s shocking," Lerman said, citing $15.5 million in cuts to the Department of Public Health, $3.5 million in cuts to the Human Services Agency, and a 20 percent cut to domestic violence programs.

"And [the cuts] have been a constantly moving target," Lerman added. "We’re mere weeks away from the implementation of this budget, but no one knows which clients, programs, or services will be lost, though we are sure that there will be a lot of layoffs in our sector. The mayor should not balance his budget on the backs of the poor."

She believes the city needs to look at some non-essential services during a bad budget year and see what can be deferred to the future — and find ways to increase its revenue.

"The mayor is not a stone. He does get it to some degree. But it’s unfortunate that he’s not chosen to put forth revenue measures at this point," Lerman said.

Robert Haaland of Service Employees International Union Local 1021 agrees that the city has a revenue problem. He also believes that it’s not OK to ask the city’s lowest-paid workers to make concessions, again and again: "[SEIU 1021] has repeatedly stepped up to the table, we’d like to see some others do it."

Jonathan Vernick, executive director of Baker’s Place, which is facing the prospect of having to close one floor of its medical detox program, argues that many of the mayor’s proposed cuts are in conflict with Newsom’s stated goal of getting the homeless and inebriated off the street. "Ironically, this budget seems to fail to meet a simple criteria — that the proposed cut actually saves money," Vernick said. "All I can see is cuts that by end of fiscal year will have dismantled a system that’s been working for 35 years."

John Eckstrom of the Haight Ashbury Clinics believes the budget cuts will decimate the model of integrated services. "These are very deep cuts," said Eckstrom, who expects to lay off 40 to 50 of his 170 employees.

"It’s a testament to the willpower of the nonprofits that we are able to stay alive," Eckstrom said. "But what are the mayor’s priorities? There’s his rhetoric that says it’s not a revenue problem, and then there’s the reality."

With the Board of Supervisors set to conduct public budget hearings throughout June, Board President Aaron Peskin sees Newsom’s proposal as a "law and order budget."

"Domestic violence programs have lost $750,000 in funds, substance abuse programs have been taken to the woodshed, and mental health programs are being cut by 25 percent," said Peskin, criticizing the mayor for "introducing and extolling new programs while failing to protect the safety net of human and health services that San Francisco has put together over many years."

"Last time we had a budget like this, Mayor Willie Brown was much more forthright and honest about its disastrous impact on the poor," Peskin added. "This administration has cloaked this disaster in a press blitz. But any way you dress it, it’s a pig."

As chair of the Board’s Budget and Finance Committee, Sup. Jake McGoldrick was equally blunt in his criticisms as he set about deciphering the details of Newsom’s proposal

McGoldrick refuted as "a deception" Newsom’s claim of having cut 1,085 jobs. "The real number is 99.08 positions," McGoldrick said, factoring in preexisting vacancies, Newsom’s three proposed police academy classes, and the 26 staff positions for Newsom’s 311 program, not to mention other new proposed programs and initiatives.

Upset that Newsom has budgeted $500,000 for a Community Justice Court that will divert people to the kinds of programs that Newsom’s budget is undermining, McGoldrick told the Guardian that he "aims to identify at least $30 million to $40 million in deceptions and redirect these funds to top priority human needs and services that are already woefully underfunded."

"The mayor is trying to pump all the problems over to the Board of Supervisors," McGoldrick said. "It’s going to be a labor of love to figure out how to direct money to folks who are hurting now."

Peskin said he expects the supervisors to discuss three new revenue proposals in the next month in order to avoid another slash-and-burn budget next year. These proposals include a property transfer tax, closing a payroll tax loophole on partnerships, and preserving the city’s 911 fee, which is under legal attack.

As of press time, the Mayor’s Office had not returned calls about revenue creation. Maybe Newsom’s handlers were busy figuring out how to deal with a budget protest slated for 6 p.m. June 11 outside the his residence in the Bellaire Tower building, 1101 Green St.

Organized by Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness, the protest aims to draw attention to what Friedenbach calls "Mayor Newsomator’s plans to terminate the poor."

These plans include closing the Ella Hill Hutch Homeless Shelter as well as the Tenderloin Health Homeless Drop-in, and the almost total elimination of the SRO Families United Program. The Board has until July 31 to adopt a revised budget.

Volume 42 Number 37 Flip-through Edition

0