Volume 42 Number 40

Gore gone global

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(SHOULD BE A) CULT FILM Pakistan: land of the Markhor goat (a twisty-horned national animal), major software industry, ancient civilizations, field hockey, purported terrorist training cells, and extremely good-looking people of both sexes. The latter, at least, was suggested by those who went to my midwestern university a couple decades back: they were terribly urbane, funny, and cool. Admittedly, they were the next-generation cream of the country’s privileged-liberal economic elite. But they endeared me to a country that, at least as they reflected it, couldn’t harbor anything too religio-fanatical. Could it?

Such first impressions linger — never mind that I have since become slightly less of an overgeneralizing idiot. Proof that Pakistan retains a freethinking, Western-influenced minority — no insult intended against its more conservative Muslim majority — arrives in the unexpected form of Hell’s Ground (a.k.a. Zibahkhana), which plays the Hypnodrome as a Dead Channels presentation. Omar Ali Khan’s debut feature is a frantic pileup of horror genre tropes whose energy never flags. Purportedly Pakistan’s first gore film, it’s funny as well as grotesquely over-the-top.

Much as the movie might strike some as proof of the Great Satan’s poisonous cultural influence — and indeed it offers shameless tribute to the accumulated clichés of Western horror trash — it nonetheless hews to the genre’s most essential moral conservatism. (And unlike traditional slashers, no T&A is bared to justify lethal punishment.) Among the film’s quintet of teens sneaking out of town to a rock concert they’ll never reach, who do you think is gonna survive? I wouldn’t place bets on the amiable pothead, jaded party girl, or overgroomed stud. Poor virtuous scholarship student Simon? Good girl Ayesha (nicknamed Ash, à la Evil Dead‘s Bruce Campbell), who wears a "God Is Great" pendant? Maybe.

After someone has the bright idea of taking a dirt road shortcut, the fivesome run across zombies (including midget undead), then the freaky inbred family of a mystery-meat-selling matriarch whose offspring are Texas Chainsaw Massacre brethren reincarnated way off the Bible Belt. The crazy hitcher guy is now a long-haired religious fanatic; as in Tobe Hooper’s 1974 original, he’s got an unpleasant surprise to spring once he gets in the van. Khan’s Leatherface equivalent substitutes a blood-spattered burqa and a lethally wielded mace for a dried-human-skin-mask and a buzz saw.

Funded by entrepreneur Khan’s Lahore ice cream parlors, Hell’s Ground is a fun and accomplished tree-shaking of Pakistan’s once-lively, now largely moribund "Lollywood" film industry. It did well when the country’s censorship board finally approved its theatrical release early this year. It emerges stateside this month via TLA Releasing, a normally gay-centric DVD distributor whose Danger After Dark label has recently given exposure to a gamut of international horror, fantasy, and suspense films. So far they’ve ranged from cheesily enjoyable (Greece’s first zombie flick, 2005’s Evil) to brilliant (Simon Rumley’s 2006 Brit madness portrait The Living and the Dead).

Despite all of the English comic book–panel intertitles ("Little did they know … ") and nods to Western horror classics, Hell’s Ground is shot through with Pakistani cultural totems (like a glimpse of hijiras, transvestite eunuchs), vintage pop, and in-jokes. Not least is the cameo by long-retired actor Rahan of 1967 Pakistani cult smash The Living Corpse. As a chai shop proprietor, he warns our hapless youngsters that they’ve already "strayed off the right road" and that "good Muslims should be getting ready for evening prayers." Later he’s heard pronouncing "You’re on the road to hell my children. Ha ha ha. HA HA HA!"

"The characters in Zibahkhana are part of the urban elite," Khan said in an interview with British newspaper the Guardian. "It’s true that class lives in a privileged bubble. The real, frightening, ‘unknown’ Pakistan is out there in the countryside, and that is why in the film it is when the kids leave the city that they starting encountering trouble."

HELL’S GROUND

Wed/2, 7:30 p.m., $5

Hypnodrome Theatre

575 10th St., SF

(415) 377-4202, www.deadchannels.com

Domestic unrest

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Survival often depends on one’s ability to scurry around. Dancers and smaller-scale presenters must use their wits if they want to show their audiences more than homegrown fare. For the most part, the process at SCUBA — a presenters’ network that shares companies out of Seattle, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, and San Francisco — works. Sometimes, however, there is a glitch. Such was the case June 26–28 with one of the two dance installations presented as part of "ODC Theater Festival 2: Local Heroes/Big Picture," Kate Watson-Wallace’s House and Karen Sherman’s Tiny Town.

Watson-Wallace has made something of a reputation for herself in her home city of Philadelphia, where she takes over physical locations and transforms them through performance. Since these are acutely site-specific works, traveling with them is difficult. At Theater Artaud, she was confronted with a huge space that has a strong personality of its own. It proved particularly problematic during the first of two performances on opening night when the soft light of dusk streamed through the huge, history-crusted windows of Artaud’s loading dock. She also had to deal with memories (at least this audience member’s) of Lizz Roman, Joanna Haigood, and other artists who have presented their own — and stronger — interpretations of Artaud. Watson-Wallace works best with intimacy, and her production simply needed more confinement than the space or the budget allowed.

House consisted of what probably were three excerpts from the original piece, performed in the theater’s loading dock and lobby. To create the dining room, she placed a long table and six chairs in a corner, which afforded some sense of enclosure. This first part was choreographically the richest, and well performed by Watson-Wallace, Megan Mazarick, and John Luna with local dancers Sebastian Grubb, Jocelyn Lee, and Marisa Mariscotti. Shifting relationships — on, over, and under the table, as well as up the wall — flowed with the inevitability of clock time, yet they were filled with nuanced little fits and starts. An emotional climate redolent with suggestions of love, rebellion, and fatigue recalled tense moments around anyone’s family dinner table. People came and went, hands tentatively touched, looks were exchanged, support was given and withdrawn.

In the living room — suggested by a sofa, rug, and coffee table nailed halfway up a wall — Mazarick’s slow-paced solo had to deal with gravity as she slithered, climbed, and hung over the furniture. This was bland. Two pillows attached to Artaud’s lobby served as Watson-Wallace and Luna’s bedroom. A live video projected their movement onto a lumpy mattress. The duo’s well-danced intimacy — tender, playful, troubled — suggested two people used to each other in bed and out. I kept wondering whether an element of voyeurism was supposed to be at play between the real and the virtual performance. If there was, I didn’t see it.

Sherman resides in Minneapolis but was born in St. Louis. The person sitting next to me at the show was familiar with the choreographer’s birthplace and caught local references that escaped me. Tiny Town was a sardonic but curiously affectionate portrait that peeled away the layers of what the program described as a "Midwestern landscape," yet this could be any small town. It’s a place where everyone minds everyone else’s business, where residents frantically try to keep up and fit in — and woe to those who can’t.

Tiny was meticulously crafted with rich production values. It ran a little flat toward the end, but showcased fine performances from dancers Sherman, Joanna Furnans, Megan Mayer, Morgan Thorson, and Kristin Van Loon. You knew that not everything was right behind the set’s picket fences when a rising cloud revealed two atomic reactors and a woman with her legs tied literally turned herself upside down to "walk." She ended headfirst in a stack of pancakes, and that was just for starters. In this world of superficial prettiness — flowers stuffed in mailboxes, glittery party dresses — tomboys get beaten up and toothy housewives are indeed desperate.

The dancing was appropriately stiff-legged and fractured, full of moments infused with a dogged persistence. It spoke volumes about discomfort within one’s skin, if not outright self-hatred. And all of it was presented with pasted-on smiles.

Centiclubs

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› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER "It’s like an old ship. Things break, things fall apart, and you just keep bailing water and hope you hit land someday!"

That’s Guy Carson, Café Du Nord owner and ex-Hotel Utah booker, on owning a 100-year-old club. Yes, there are the inevitable aches and pains attendant with a structure erected just two years after the great ‘quake, as well as eerie little trap doors and escape hatches from the Prohibition era. But, oh, the stories the Du Nord, House of Shields, and Hotel Utah — a troika of oases overflowing with libation and live music that have all hit the century mark in the past year — could tell. ‘Member the time PJ Harvey played a not-so-secret show at the Utah, triggering round-the-block queues? Or the first San Francisco show by rock legends the Zombies at the Du Nord? Or the rumored gunfight played out by Comstock Lode robber baron William Sharon in front of his then-men’s social club, now known as the House of Shields?

‘Course you don’t. So much has been lost in the mists of Bay Area mythology and Barbary Coast conjecture. But there’s always word of mouth — in full effect at the shambling, loving June 19 celebration of the Utah’s centennial, as Birdman Records’ David Katznelson presented witnesses like owner Damian Samuel, a ukulele sing-along by music writer Sylvie Simmons and Bart Davenport, and tributes by artists who have stomped Utah’s boards, including Paula Frazer and Greg Ashley.

Since its days as Al’s Transbay Tavern (name-checked in 1971’s Dirty Harry) through the years owned by screenwriter Paul Gaer (who brought in Robin Williams and puppet shows), the venue has not only been instrumental in establishing a beachhead for local bands — Cake was considered a resident outfit in the 1990s and Counting Crows, Jewel, and Tarnation were onetime regulars ("For a while I used to say that the Hotel Utah was Geffen’s A&R department," recalls Carson). Its communities include "open mic–ers, the regulars, and the people who live in the building," Samuel offers. "It’s a live amoeba of sorts that has its own direction." He says the UK’s Noisettes now call the Utah its home base, and past staffers include ex-booker Mike Taylor (Court and Spark), Cory McAbee (Billy Nayer Show), and Shannon Walter (16 Bitch Pile-Up). One of Samuel’s fave tell-alls: in 1997 he had to walk future Guns N’ Roses guitarist Buckethead around the block so he could make a dramatic entrance onstage. "Here I am walking him around in SoMa, a chicken bucket on his head," Samuel recalls. "He kept saying, ‘I didn’t realize this block was so long.’<0x2009>"

Uptown, a century ago, the House of Shields also threw open its doors — in a much more hush-hush way: the venue began life as a men’s social club, and the only women permitted in until the ’70s were, says owner Alexis Filipello, "working girls." These days, the venue that got its name from its ’30s owner Eddie Shields is more likely to see indie artists like Sean Smith and Beam than highly establishment swells sneaking a stiff drink, but the crowd remains raucous, gathered around the elegant bar originally meant for the Pied Piper watering hole in the Palace Hotel across New Montgomery. When artist Maxfield Parrish made his Pied Piper of Hamelin mural (1909) far too long for the piece, the bar was sent over to Palace cobuilder William Sharon’s other nightspot. After Filipello bought the watering hole in 2003, she restored the natural wood, refurbished the moldings, reupholstered the booths, and jettisoned the "funky" taxidermy. "It was just such a beautiful old location, a piece of San Francisco’s history," she recalls. "We did a lot of work to get it back up to its beauty." No plans, however, for the firmly closed underground passage that links House of Shields to the Palace. Persistent rumors have it that in 1923, President Warren Harding died, not in the Palace as officially reported, but in the Shields’ speakeasy, and was transported through the tunnel back to his suite to avoid Prohibition-period scandal.

The ground is still shaking, happily, around Café Du Nord, which hit its 100th in October. In the next year Carson hopes to create a coffeehouse/art space upstairs next to the club, where performers can show their work, then play a show upstairs at the Swedish American Hall — which has hosted performers ranging from Cat Power to Michael Hurley — or downstairs at the Du Nord. He also plans to install an elevator where the Du Nord women’s room now sits, renovating the space so he can do the unique, one-off shows he prefers.

Carson is striving to continue nurturing the creative spirit of the Utah. "The difference between then and now is that everything costs so much. Our overhead here is so high, you can’t fail," he says. Back in ’90 when Gaer hired him at the Utah, he adds, "it wasn’t a big financial nut to crack, and we ran it like a living art experiment. I really miss those days. It was fun!"

QUESTION AUTHORITY?

MEGAFAUN


Backwoods Table of the Elements crustastic jams? The Durham, N.C., trio also joins Akron/Family at the High Sierra fest for a Mega-Akron set. Wed/2, 8:30 p.m., pay what you can. 21 Grand, 416 25th St., Oakl. www.21grand.org. Also Thurs/3, 9 p.m., $8. 12 Galaxies, 2565 Mission, SF. www.12galaxies.com. Fri/4–Sat/5, check Web site for times, $30–<\d>$168. High Sierra, Quincy; www.highsierramusic.com

BATTLEHOOCH


Kooky, crunchy spazz-tastic moves for kids? The SF band dons Baagersox guise for the first anniversary Lazerdance dance-off Thursday, then goes into seven-piece mode Saturday. Thurs/3, 10 p.m., $5. Knockout, 3223 Mission, SF. www.theknockoutsf.com. Also Sat/5, 9:30 p.m., $7. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. www.hemlocktavern.com

RETRIBUTION GOSPEL CHOIR


All-boy rock testimonials from Low’s Alan Sparhawk? Tues/8, 9 p.m., $10. Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., SF. www.bottomofthehill.com

Scott Wells and Dancers

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PREVIEW Watching dancers launch themselves into space is every bit as exciting as the sparks and explosions that fill traditional July 4 celebrations. Take, for example, the frequently airborne Scott Wells and Dancers. The company’s Last Call show will be every bit as full of surprises as a fireworks display, only more environmentally friendly and weather independent. If you’re not familiar with this masterful artist, Wells is a super free spirit who has been setting up frameworks for contact improvisation pieces for the past 16 years. Many choreographers create works that use contact improvisation as a starting point for generating ideas that then get formalized. But Wells offers the real thing: the experience that there is only one moment, and it’s now. He also chooses music wisely and uses it beautifully. Two things strike you when you watch these dancers/athletes tumble, fly, and roll: the trust is absolute, and so is the fun. For Last Call, the company is bringing back — for the last time, Wells says — Home Again, the riotous 1991 encounter of man-meets-furniture. I am no great sports fan, but when Wells mounts Gym Mystics, his 2007 take on gymnastics, I’ll join the club. Also on the schedule is the world premiere of West Side Story, staged for 11 performers to Leonard Bernstein’s legendary score. Independence Day festivities include a 5 p.m. party prior to the performance with food, drinks, movies, and a guest artist.

SCOTT WELLS AND DANCERS Fri/4, 7 p.m. (party, 5 p.m.); Sat/ 5 and July 10–12, 8 p.m. Project Artaud Theater, 450 Florida, SF. $18–$22. (415) 863-9834, www.artaud.org

“Hancock”

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REVIEW This summer’s obligatory Will Smith blockbuster has the ever-bankable star playing the titular role in Hancock — a foul-mouthed antihero apt to fly into action while clenching a bottle of whiskey. Though this reluctant superman of unclear origins consistently puts bad guys behind bars, the citizens of Los Angeles are none too thrilled when he arrives on the scene; Hancock’s chaotic brand of crime fighting has been taking a devastating toll on the city’s roads, buildings, ice cream trucks, and beached whales. That is, of course, until he saves the life of Ray (Jason Bateman), an idealistic public relations executive who decides to help Hancock revamp his image. Smith has the kind of charisma that can make even the most poorly-written shlock at least somewhat bearable. This time around, he doesn’t have to work as hard; Hancock is teeming with the fast-paced action and destruction that we seem to crave during the summer months. Plus, it’s surprisingly funny. As you might expect, Smith brings the bulk of the laughter but Bateman exceeds his straight-man role with his playfully wry delivery. Yes, the story is predictable and there is an annoyingly telegraphed "twist" involving Ray’s wife Mary (Charlize Theron), but Smith’s foray into superhero movies manages to entertain. For those keeping track, Hancock is no Men in Black (1997). Thankfully, though, it’s no Wild Wild West (1999) either.

HANCOCK opens Wed/2 in Bay Area theaters.

Volume 42 Number 40 Flip-through Edition

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“Jim Campbell: Home Movies”

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REVIEW The West Coast electronic artist Jim Campbell returns to the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum to reprise his popular 2006 installation "Home Movies," a screening of amateur, low-resolution family films projected through a tapestry of LED lights. Strung from ceiling to floor, the highly pixilated reflections of quotidian family life become nothing less than digital simulacra when magnified to such extremes. Building on the conceptual linkages of his Illuminated Averages (2001-03) and Ambiguous Icons (2000-03) series, the technophile artist has arrived at a startling depiction of memory and magic. Campbell’s explorations of communications apparatuses since the mid-1980s largely mirrors the hypermodernist theories of Jean Baudrillard — problematizing rather than simply fetishizing the digital domain — and rejects the scientific utopianism of Bergsonian temporality for the more radical slippages of personalized memories and nostalgia. For Campbell, the question surely remains whether digital perception has elevated or mutated our inscriptions of the past.

The answer, of course, is far from conclusive and further still from novel. In fact, "Home Movies" is reminiscent of cinema’s magical roots in the 18th century Fantasmagorie shows, which posed similar concerns in their embrace of new technologies. Spectral and hypnotic in their visual imperfections, these magical lantern exhibitions introduced the sublime moment when the still painting became animate, reaching out from its crypt of secrets to grab hold of the spectator in a living darkness. The Fantasmagorie often thrived on intimate family images, using projected portraits of recently deceased ancestors to unsettle or mesmerize the audience. In his brilliance, Campbell has recognized a similar power in manipuutf8g the iconography of America’s recent past, using the omnipresent home movie as a prop of sorts for his own digital legerdemain.

Historical and aesthetic precedents aside, "Home Movies" is a supreme cinematic delight, re-presenting the primal pleasures of film-going but refracting this nostalgic glow through a matrix of increasing digital deconfiguration.

JIM CAMPBELL: HOME MOVIES Through Aug. 1. Wed.–Sun., 11 a.m.–5 p.m. Berkeley Art Museum, 2626 Bancroft, Berk. $4–$8 (free first Thurs.). (510) 642-0808, www.bampfa.berkeley.edu

At his Beck and call

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The year 1994 was when Beck Hansen finally went electric. Prior to Mellow Gold (Geffen), he lodged in a shed, made homespun cassettes of lo-fi recordings, and busked on the streets of Los Angeles. Panned by critics as a novelty for slacker-minded Gen Xers, Beck epitomized the slack, flannel-draped, messy-haired ethos of most teenagers at the time — myself included — and his post-grunge anthem, "Loser," catapulted him to buzz clip status on MTV faster then you could spell Porno for Pyros. Shortly afterward, K Records quietly released One Foot in the Grave — an album’s worth of folk songs recorded before Mellow Gold that pretty much fell upon deaf ears while Beck rode his commercial wave of fame.

Mattey Hunter of the Portland, Ore., psych-folk-noise duo Meth Teeth, however, took notice. The vocalist-guitarist revealed through an e-mail that he purchased the album when he was 12 because "Loser" was "all over the radio," and he still considers it to be at the one of his favorite records.

"It’s just Beck and some friends, a trash-can acoustic, and him playing the songs he wants to play, totally stripped down," he pointed out. "He covers blues songs and sings sad love songs. I’ve never gotten into the other stuff he did, but that one blows my mind."

Meth Teeth’s folky inclinations are foreshadowed on the CD-R Hunter sent me in the mail. The disc comprises songs from the group’s February self-titled seven-inch on the Sweet Rot imprint as well as a handful of tracks from their forthcoming debut, Taking Dude Mountain by Strategy. It’s raw, yet Hunter and drummer Kyle Raquipiso jack up the din so that the needles kiss the red. The tunes are ultra-catchy with a psych-pop garagey tang. The amplifiers sound fried and blown out with fuzz and hiss while Raquipiso bangs away at his kit, and Hunter’s drawls are syrupy and monotone in delivery. You can hear Syd Barrett and the Kinks at once, but Hunter claims he started Meth Teeth in reaction to his past musical experiences, "coming from a long line of punk bands and dealing with shitty band politics."

"There is a great to deal to be said about someone who writes about what they think or feel rather than doing that post-punk lyrical thing that sounds like you’re trying to rip off David Byrne’s ideas," Hunter writes. "I love David Byrne, but you gotta change it up every once in a while. All styles wear out their welcome, as they should."

METH TEETH

Sun/6, 9:30 p.m., $6

Hemlock Tavern

1131 Polk, SF

www.hemlocktavern.com

No wallflowers

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… And you shall know Tilly and the Wall by their tap-dancing rather than their drumming, their girl-gang vocals, their dazzling finery, the virtual — and at times, I swear, literal — confetti in the air. So is it any shock that the Omaha, Neb., five-piece, once better known as a Bright Eyes spin-off, has become one of the most beloved live indie acts to still hop in a van and hit the road? Nonetheless, the ensemble, which more often resembles a hyperpositive winsome art project than your average stony-faced indie rock unit, has weathered its share of audience adversity.

"We once played a coffeehouse, opening for Pedro the Lion, and there was one guy sitting in front, sawing logs," muses vocalist Neely Jenkins from Omaha, thinking back on the band’s oddest performances. "We were like, ‘Really? We’re that boring? We gotta do something.’<0x2009>"

Hence the Tilly and the Wall approach: no snores, no folded-arms bores, and this time out, a crew member devoted to lights. "Having gone to shows since I was in junior high, I know what shows excite me," says Jenkins, 34, who once performed with tap-dancing bandmate Jamie Pressnall in Conor Oberst’s poppy Park Ave. "It is nice to have something to look at, to make it more fun and more visually stimuutf8g. Especially now because tickets are so expensive — you better put on a good show."

The wild children of the Midwest are attempting to hold their fans’ attention offstage as well with their latest, third full-length, a multitextured affair enigmatically titled O (Team Love), after the oval frame that will surround the various, limited-edition, handmade prints created by friends. The covers’ collages, watercolors, and cartoonish imagery visually parallels the collaborative approach of Tilly and the Wall, touching on O‘s new moods and musical turns, which capture both feisty girl-group pop ("Blood Flowers") and sample-propelled Of Montreal–like psych-bounce ("Chandelier Lake").

"Our sounds have been sort of lighter, but our subject matter has always been a little bit darker," Jenkins explains. "I feel like there were some more truthful feelings in this one. It wasn’t just the happier side of life. It wasn’t a cover. There was some real stuff going on."

TILLY AND THE WALL

Tues/8, 9 p.m., $17

Great American Music Hall

859 O’Farrell, SF

www.gamh.com

Hirocks

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"We’re like a cockroach," explains Hirax vocalist Katon W. De Pena early on in our lively recent phone interview. "You can’t kill us." De Pena founded Hirax in Los Angeles in 1984, and if his enthusiasm is any indication, the enemies of metal better start stockpiling Raid. Although they never achieved the towering reputation of the bands they rubbed shoulders with in the 1980s, De Pena’s newly reinvigorated outfit is working harder than ever, deep in the once-underground thrash trenches including gradually disinterred, now-ascendant old-schoolers like Death Angel, Exodus, and Testament, and eager newcomers such as Municipal Waste, Hatchet, and Merciless Death.

Hirax has second billing behind Exodus at the 11th Tidal Wave Festival, a free outdoor metal concert taking place July 5 and 6 in John McLaren Park. Way back in 1984, the band got its first big break with a feature in Tim Yohannon’s influential Bay Area zine, Maximum Rocknroll, and De Pena overflows with appreciation for the support San Francisco has shown his group over the years: "Playing free is like giving something back to the movement that helped spawn thrash metal. We have a lot of great memories from playing San Francisco."

The outfit has always had a fiercely independent streak, which served them in good stead when a bunch of guys in flannel hacked down the tent pole at the metal big top in the early ’90s. Since parting with Metal Blade in 1986, Hirax’s members have been the masters of their headbanging domain, releasing albums through their own label and distributing them around the world through licensing deals with major players like Relapse and Century Media Records.

This uncompromising approach has won them widespread respect, and relentless touring has uncovered dormant thrashers desperate for something to rock out to. De Pena has become a connoisseur of the American metal heartland. "In the US, there are cities that are just amazing, like Allentown, Penn.," he says. "We meet these fans, and it puts it in perspective why you do it. They believe in you. That they care so much keeps you caring."

It looks like a new dawn for thrash in America, and De Pena thinks his band is ready to capitalize. Crediting his natural stubbornness and the support of his "total metalhead" wife who saw him through the dark days of the ’90s, the ebullient frontman sees a bright future ahead. "I think people are looking for something exciting, and thrash metal has that," says De Pena. "It always was very exciting. Over the last 10 years, music has gotten pop-y or emo or nü metal, and people have wanted something with more edge to it. It’s just gotten better and better [for Hirax] every year."

TIDAL WAVE FESTIVAL

With Exodus, Psychosomatic, Havok, Ludicra, Saros, and others

Sat/5–Sun/6, noon–6 p.m., free

Jerry Garcia Amphitheater

John McLaren Park

45 Shelley, SF

www.thetidalwave.org

Fillmore Jazz Festival

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PREVIEW Known during the ’40s and ’50s as the "Harlem of the West," the Fillmore District once housed a spirited enclave of West Coast jazz culture. Over time the district has endured periods of struggle. The recently installed Fillmore branch of Yoshi’s symbolizes the district’s fight to respect its past while staying in step with the present.

The Fillmore Jazz Festival began after much of the current "urban renewal" (i.e., the construction of large apartment buildings) took hold. Now in its 24th year, the popular two-day festival draws nearly 100,000 people as a strong reminder of jazz’s prominence in the Fillmore. The musical slate holds many established local performers, including Fillmore veteran Kim Nalley, local favorites Jazz on Mondays, and world-influenced Sila and the Afrofunk experience.

Bruce Forman is one of the prime-time headliners. The longtime guitarist began the JazzMasters Workshop in 2001, a nonprofit focused on giving free jazz lessons to kids. In 2006 he became an artist in residence at University of Southern California’s studio/jazz guitar department. With Western-influenced band Cow Bop, Forman recently completed his own Route 66 Challenge, which consisted of Forman and company touring along the length of the famous highway, with the proceeds going toward the JazzMasters Workshop.

FILLMORE JAZZ FESTIVAL With Bruce Forman, Barton Tyler Group, Contemporary Jazz Orchestra, Jazz on Mondays, Randy Vincent Quartet, Sila and the Afrofunk Experience, Kim Nalley, Vinyl, and more. Sat/5–Sun/6, 10 a.m.– 6 p.m. Fillmore between Eddy and Jackson, SF. Free. 1-800-310-6563, www.fillmorejazzfestival.com

Mr. V

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PREVIEW Anybody out there miss hip-house? I do, although I often blush at its bare innocence — coming at a time before the separatism of gangsta rap and corporate rave, when 1980s MCs like Fast Eddie, Kool Rock Steady, Merlin, or the Wee Papa Girls could preen over a jazzy or acid-inflected groove and it felt like underground worlds colliding brilliantly.

Nuyorican house DJ, producer, and rapper Mr. V isn’t exactly the reincarnation of that much-maligned genre, although 2005’s "V Gets Jazzy" (Vega) with Louie Vega is a fierce update of KC Flightt’s 1987 hip-house classic "Let’s Get Jazzy" (TMT). Mr. V’s not even a rapper, per se — he’s more into gently exhorting the crowd to "Put Your Drink Down," do "Da Bump," and "Jus’ Dance," because he’s giving you "Somethin’ With Jazz." Those four spoken-vocal jams have been lodged in club speakers worldwide for the past three years, and the 34-year-old Mr. V’s instantly recognizable voice, combined with spooky-stunning mixes from Masters at Work and Quentin Harris, has injected some of the old hip-house glow and energy into house’s ever-looming loungeteria doldrums. When Mr. V sexily growls, "Bring some baby powder to the dance floor," boards from Brooklyn to Jo’burg get liberally sprinkled.

V’ll be spinning an old-school eclectic set — and hopefully taking the mic — at Mighty on Saturday, July 5 as part of the "For the Love of House" party, a title that somewhat confusingly refers to yet another nuevo hip-house hit, 2005’s "4 the Love" by DJ Karizma, who’ll be appearing July 13 at the Super Soul Sundayz weekly in the Temple catacombs (www.myspace.com/supersoulsundayz). A mini hip-house revival? Break out the talcum. (Marke B.)

"FOR THE LOVE OF HOUSE" With Mr. V, John Cutler, Michael Tello, and others. Sat/5, 10 p.m., $10 advance. Mighty, 119 Utah, SF. (415) 626-7001, www.mighty119.com

Back Fasheezy

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After three and a half years chasing rappers for the Guardian, I’ve met, photographed, and finally interviewed Keak da Sneak, but never all at once. Getting ahold of E-40 is a breeze compared to tracking down Keak. One of the only Bay artists whose singles routinely play on KMEL, even hitting number one locally with 2005’s "Super Hyphy," Keak is perpetually hot and therefore elusive. When I recently interviewed Keak by phone, he was a continent away in NYC, under the watchful eye of Koch Records executives eager to promote his new album, Deified.

The release of Deified on Koch, one of the country’s biggest independent imprints, is significant not just for Keak but for the entire Bay Area. While major-label discs by Mistah FAB and Clyde Carson continue to languish, Deified could be the breakthrough everyone’s hoping for. With his diehard local following, plus an instantly recognizable, burbling, volcanic growl spewing out new slang like "hyphy" and "fasheezy," Keak has a real shot at shattering the glass ceiling frustrating the Bay’s national ambitions.

"My fans and the Bay are behind me, but I want to see the world’s reaction," Keak said. "I wanted to make this album much more than a Bay Area album."

Naturally, the question arises: where was this album in ’05 when "Super Hyphy" was peaking? Originally released on the Rah Records compilation Dopegame 2, "Super Hyphy" was such an unexpected hit that Keak had no album ready to follow. Moreover, in 2006, after making national noise on E-40’s "Tell Me When to Go," Keak was in a contractual dispute he claims scuttled major-label interest.

"Right after ‘Tell Me When to Go’ and the hyphy movement, when that wave was going, people expected me to drop," he recalled. "I had [Universal Records executive] Sylvia Rome come to my house and try to give me $1 million. Someone claimed I had a contract with them, but they never sent a copy. They bluffed us for a year, so I missed that deal."

Besides holding up his own career, the delay, Keak feels, also squandered hyphy’s momentum. "The introduction wasn’t right because my album didn’t drop," said the rapper. "40 opened the door with that single, but he still didn’t introduce hyphy. He introduced the hyphy movement."

"But hyphy is a ritual. It’s a Bay way of life," Keak continued, referring to the dread-shaking, ghostriding ghetto culture that shows no sign of waning. "This is what we do every day. So hyphy has never died. The movement might have died because we ain’t sticking together."

Of course, in order to have impact, Deified needs to be tight, and Keak’s releases haven’t always been top-shelf. While there’s been no shortage of Keak titles during the last few years, Keak claims only three previous solo discs — Sneakacydal (Moedoe, 1999), Hi-Tek (Moedoe, 2001), and Copium (Sumday, 2003) — disowning much of his extensive catalog.

"People said they had me under contract and were just gathering up songs," he complained. "The deals weren’t the right deal, so when I fell back on that shit, these guys put albums out."

Fortunately, Deified is exactly what Keak wants, down to the cover art. Produced almost entirely by Modesto’s Young Mozart, responsible for Keak’s popular "That Go," which is present in remix form and features Prodigy and Alchemist, the album contains the burgeoning radio single, "Nothing Without You," with Messy Marv — a rare love song for both rappers and a good indication of how well-rounded an artist Keak has become. Most important, while local rappers often distance themselves from the region’s sound when attempting to go national, Deified is unmistakably a contemporary Bay Area album, even as it looks back to classic mob music.

Since his deal with Koch involves just one album, the disc could be the springboard back into major label consideration. "I didn’t want to get tied up for three or four years," Keak concluded. "I want to drop this album, see how it do, then talk to the majors again." Here’s hoping Deified leads to that conversation.

Speed Reading

0

FASHION: A PHILOSOPHY

By Lars Svendsen

Reaktion Books

188 pages

$24.95

As a once and future dandy, I’ve noted the growing field of fashion philosophy. In the realm of the academy, the idea of a unified theory of style has become something of a holy grail. The latest knight-errant, Lars Svendsen, associate professor of philosophy at the University of Bergen in Norway, starts his quest by seeking the meaning of fashion.

Relying heavily on Immanuel Kant and Walter Benjamin, Svendsen (as translated by John Irons) creates a concise and comprehensive primer on fashion and clothing as it relates to identity. He then stitches on a virtual CliffsNotes of philosophy on fashion, citing Roland Barthes, Charles Baudelaire, and Michel Foucault, and then appliqués some hep quotes from Bret Easton Ellis, AbFab, and the Pet Shop Boys.

In the end, Svendsen finds that we cultivate surfaces, that we live in an increasingly fictionalized reality, and that our identities are in steady decline. He concludes that fashion is a highly diverse phenomenon that pretends to have meaning, but in reality "has meaning to only a limited extent." That’s it? Fashion has no meaning, but some meaning? How weak is that?

If philosophy wishes to find meaning in fashion, it must make room for the power of talisman, totem, and fetish — elements that pure reason cannot abide. Svendsen errs in a manner many fashion philosophers have, by refusing to look away from the runways of Europe toward the magical elements of dress in Africa, Asia, and South America. The eggheads just don’t get it.

Flight or write

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› a&eletters@sfbg.com

"The moment one learns English, complications set in," wrote Spanish ex-pat Felipe Alfau, in English, beginning his 1948 novel Chromos (first published in 1990). Learning English, he wrote, "far from increasing [one’s] understanding of life, if this were possible, only renders it hopelessly muddled and obscure." While this might be true of learning any new language — one starts to see how words simply refer to other words — we might say the same about literature. Are those of us who look to books for salvation making the simple needlessly complex? Orhan Pamuk claims that writing novels is just an "excuse to wrap myself up in new personas." Gregory Corso wrote of our relationship to books: "I, as though tipping a pitcher of milk / pour secrecy upon the dying page." Though not especially positive, both descriptions are sensual and alluring.

Katherine Silver’s thrilling translation of Horacio Castellanos Moya’s Senselessness (New Directions, 142 pages, $15.95), the first English appearance of any of the Salvadoran exile’s eight novels, brings out the physical effects of a different type of reading: the translation of human tragedy into words, and then back into life. It begins with the incantatory phrase, "I am not complete in the mind." The sentence comes from a report of transcribed Indian testimonies of survivors of a massacre in an unnamed country that resembles Guatemala. The alcoholic, sardonic, surprisingly compassionate narrator is editing this report as a freelance gig for the Catholic Church.

On the phone from her home in Berkeley, Silver admitted that when an editor first showed her 2004’s Insentatez (Tusquets Editores) at the Guadalajara International Book Fair, she was put off by the subject matter: "I looked at it very quickly and said, I don’t like violence. Then I read it on the airplane and said, ‘I want to do this.’ It’s not really about violence. It’s all ultimately about the intimacy of language and writing."

Despite being plagued by increasingly violent fantasies ("For I am not a total stranger to magical realism," the narrator says to explain a particularly brutal one in which a brain is split in half), he is finally brought back to earth not by the truths of the report but by a paranoid (and in the end, realistic) attention to the relationship of the report to the outside world. One sexual fantasy’s effect is simply to "stabilize" his mood. Later, overwhelmed with isolation, he goes outside to "howl like a sick animal under the star-studded sky." After this release, he is able to see the real danger approaching in the shadows.

Senselessness builds so seamlessly to an arresting finale that you will immediately read it again, attentive to how the language of the report infests the narrator’s language. Silver was lucky, she said, to be working with such a "careful" writer. "A translator is a very close reader," she said. "It’s kind of like looking at a book through a magnifying glass. But I never had to second-guess him. He wears well." As a result, the moment one starts reading Senselessness, complications set in — complications we cannot live without.

Hunter, haunted

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› cheryl@sfbg.com

"When the legend becomes fact, print the legend," says the reporter in John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), a film about the importance of living up to one’s image, even when that image is predicated more on fiction than fact. It’s a burden either way, and the dilemma is echoed in Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, a lively new documentary by Alex Gibney, who directed 2005’s Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room and picked up an Oscar this year for Taxi to the Dark Side.

Gonzo focuses on Thompson’s most fruitful professional period — 1965 to 1975, a decade that saw the New Journalism proponent (who committed suicide in 2005) write Hell’s Angels, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72. During that time, he also launched an ill-fated campaign for sheriff of Pitkin County, Colo., and shaped his public persona into that of a gun-toting, drug-crazed, booze-soaked, authority-bashing champion of outsiders, capable of churning out pages of brilliant and utterly unique prose, always written in first person and most often written while under the influence.

Speaking over the phone from New York City, Gibney reflected that he was drawn to his latest subject largely because of that persona. "He was a guy who didn’t play by the rules, and it seems like we need a guy like that around now, when the rules are being used against us by people in power," the director said. "Also, he seemed like a fun character to do, this larger-than-life character that — for at least for a brief period of time — became this outlaw that we all wanted to live by."

Gonzo taps quite a bit of home-movie footage, photos, and audiotapes to flesh out Thompson beyond his words (read by Johnny Depp, who bonded with the author while prepping for the 1998 Fear and Loathing movie). A diverse array of contemporary interviews (Rolling Stone‘s Jann Wenner, Hell’s Angel Sonny Barger, both of Thompson’s wives, Pat Buchanan, illustrator Ralph Steadman, George McGovern, and Jimmys Buffet and Carter) bears out the wide range of Thompson’s influence. According to Gibney, the only interview he would have liked to have gotten but didn’t was with Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau, who would only speak off the record.

"My first day on the job was to go out to [Thompson’s funeral] — the one Johnny Depp paid for — and hang out, try to get a bunch of people to talk, and then shoot the funeral itself. I shot the funeral, but nobody much wanted to talk to me," Gibney recalled. "But once I let everyone know I was doing this film and that it was really gonna focus on his work, that opened people up, and inevitably they started talking about Hunter the character as well."

The funeral, briefly shown in Gonzo, is a surprisingly tasteful spectacle involving taiko drums, a giant cannon, and glimpses of famous friends (John Kerry, Bill Murray). The film doesn’t spend much time on Thompson’s suicide, though in its first scene it speculates how the writer might have lost his trademark edge. In Gibney’s eyes, Thompson’s Dr. Gonzo alter ego was the reason for both his success and his ultimate downfall.

"Initially [his persona] just grew out of a natural journalistic instinct to supply your own perceptions, to put yourself in the story, to be the lens through which viewers would see whatever you were covering," Gibney said. "But over time it became [less of a] lens [and more of a] bubble in which he got trapped. So I think that was the trick. Sometimes this mythical character he created just kind of took over. As he remarks in the film, ‘Sometimes I don’t know who to be, whether to be Duke or Hunter.’<0x2009>"

Duality also manifested itself in Thompson’s private personality, which Gibney was surprised to discover as being "almost bipolar."

"Hunter’s mood swings kind of represented his ability to see the kind of schisms or splits in the American character," he said. "I knew he was always a very perceptive writer about the American character, but I think maybe he was so perceptive because he — more than a lot of people — is like America. Sort of the best and the worst. I didn’t really understand till I started the film just how many-sided he was."

Visually dynamic and entertaining for Thompson devotees as well as those who only know him from Depp’s portrayal in Fear and Loathing, Gonzo is nonetheless tinged with the melancholy that eventually tempered Thompson’s considerable lust for life. Blame health problems, professional frustrations, the re-election of George W. Bush, or more existential concerns — Thompson’s quest for the American Dream, documented in Fear and Loathing and elsewhere, was never really satisfied. Instead, Gibney speculated, "I think he ended up finding how elusive it is, and how much-desired it is — but how rare it is to ever find it. And that’s what he found in Vegas, I think: what a perfect vehicle for the death of the American dream, this place where you go hoping to fulfill that rags to riches dream, yet in some fundamental way knowing that the house always wins."

GONZO: THE LIFE AND WORK OF DR. HUNTER S. THOMPSON

Opens Fri/4 in Bay Area theaters

www.magpictures.com

Catlady

0

› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS Every year the feral cat no one can catch has a litter of kittens and one of them winds up knocking on my door, so to speak, saying, "Well? Am I cute, or what?" And before I can answer — answering rhetorical questions being one of my favorite pastimes — the little outcast (who is of course the very definition of cuteness), falls into a feigned faint on account of starvation, obliging me to go get milk.

Now, I’ve listened to plenty of bluegrass music in my day. Between mandolin and fiddle solos I have absorbed the important lessons of the frozen girl, the paperboy, and others like them. Orphaned outcasts require bowls of milk, a crust of bread, and/or blankets, or else they will be dead on your doorstep come morning.

And nobody wants that, except maybe music publishers. I myself am not a moral, nor even an ethical, person. If I live by a code, it’s my own, and it’s odd, idiosyncratic, and inconsistent. Nevertheless, mercy for those less fortunate than myself, provided they show up on my doorstep no later than the second verse, starving or freezing, and preferably with a slight wobble, the back of their hand to the forehead … this is programmed into my cells as surely as one, four, five.

Plus: kittens are cute. They just are. Case closed. And I say this at the risk of offending a large portion of my readership, Rube Roy Perrotta, a.k.a. Shortribs Mosel, my old-time barbecue and buffet podner back in Ohio. He hates when I write about children and bunnies and shit. Speaking of which, there will also be fallout from the four or five people who have written, over the years, in support of Poo Poo Pride Month.

Which this is.

I’m sorry. I still listen to punk rock. I still like to look at, talk about, and journalistically record my scatological masterpieces. It’s just that I have also come to be an unabashed appreciator of cuteness. Sensing that, kittens come to my door.

I can tell that this will be the defining challenge of the second half of my life: how to die without first becoming a cat lady. All the elements are in place: aloneness, eccentricity, poverty, slanty one-room shack in the woods, disorderliness of mind, unrefined tastes, shortness of grace, pretty big bluegrass collection, and a weird, open heart.

Against that mountain of impending insurmountability, there stands one ally in my corner, and it is, ironically, a cat. My cat. Weirdo the Cat, whose legendary disdain for all carbon-based life forms, even orphans, is most vehemently expressed when the life form looks a little like her. As long as I have Weirdo the Cat, I reckon, I am absolutely protected from catladyhood.

Weirdo is 14 or 15. That means she likely will only live, I realize, for another 15, 20 years tops. Yes, I know that’s twice as long as cats generally live, but I’m factoring in her supernatural capacity for cantankerousness and tenacity. Some people are just too frickin’ pissed off all the time to die, and Weirdo the Cat, believe me, is one of those people.

How lucky is that? Without any question of me taking in one or 10 of these adorable outcasts my big-hearted self, I can get on the phone and start making calls. I know a lot of people with kids. I know a lot of musicians who know a lot of bluegrass songs. I know a lot of bighearted people without Weirdo the Cat in their corner.

Ate a lot of salad last night, as always, with my chicken soup, which had even more vegetables in it. Peas, celery, carrots. I ate a mango. Popcorn goes good with books, too, then a midnight bowl of Flakes & Flax cereal. For breakfast: oatmeal with sunflower seeds, strawberries, and blueberries.

Coffee.

Do you, like me, like balance? Don’t you wish this cute column came with a picture? Do you? Close your eyes.

———————————————————————–

My new favorite restaurant is Pho Hoa Lao #2. You know how I know? Because I ate there! Big, bright, empty place. The service is terrible, especially considering that there was no one else to serve. But the imperial rolls were pretty good, and both bowls of soup — the rare beef and beefball pho and the chicken soup — were very good. And it’s cheap, so …

PHO HOA LAO #2

333 10th St., Oakl.

(510) 763-8296

Daily, 8 a.m.–8 p.m.

No alcohol

Credit cards not accepted

Dirty girl!

0

› andrea@altsexcolumn.com

Dear Andrea:

My girlfriend is into degradation during sex. It turns me on too, so I’m not worried about damaging our great relationship. I would like to explore more but am not sure where/how to start. Is there somewhere I can learn to be more degrading to my girl?

Love,

Earnest Student

Dear Earnest:

Heh. It’s not easy being mean, is it? People who enjoy abusing the comparatively powerless require no instruction on how better to be beastly. There are no books, for instance, on being rude to your waiter, or dog-kicking for fun and profit. Sadly, though, while recreational malevolence may not come easily to the naturally nice, no one has yet noted and attempted to fill the obvious market niche. There are classes and books on dominance and submission (you should attend or buy some) and quite a few on how to talk dirty, but none dedicated to lists of synonyms for bitch and whore or handy degradation scripts you can print out and tape to the wall behind the bed.

If what you’re looking for is vocab homework, you could try some of the abundant movies and stories out there in which one person degrades the other viciously but all in good fun. Why not rent some DVDs or surf the Web for ideas? It does occur to me, though, that if your girlfriend has watched or read the same stuff, she may recognize your cribbed dialogue and end up laughing at you. Nothing breaks the mood like your sub helplessly giggling at your attempts to be brutal. All you really need, anyway, is to work on your attitude. It doesn’t much matter if you call her "squealing little slut-pig" or "daddy’s little cum bucket" or whatever; it’s all in the delivery. You will gain confidence with practice, and if it’s working for her, she won’t be rating you on the originality of your epithets.

Love,

Andrea

Dear Andrea:

I’ve yet to come across something in your column similar to what I recently experienced (and was grossed out by), and I’m wondering what makes certain people desire what they do.

Several months ago I went out with a good-looking guy I’d met before. I was in the mood, so we ended up at his place for sex. The foreplay was great, and I was getting into it. While I was straddling his face as he performed cunnilingus, he suddenly asked me if I would defecate (not his word) on his face. He seemed to get excited after he said it but did not take note of my reaction and tried to put his mouth over my anal area. I had to get out of there right away.

I don’t remember what I said exactly, but I was dressed and gone in less than five minutes, I think. Have you heard of this desire, and how prevalent do you think it is? What could possibly cause someone to want that? Maybe I don’t want to know.

Love,

Don’t Tell Me!

Dear Don’t:

I don’t know where you’ve been looking (I most certainly have written about it before), but if you’d entered "scat" into Google (on second thought, do not enter "scat" into Google), you would’ve been deluged with information, far more information than you could possibly have wanted.

Oddly, the answer to the question why people "want that" won’t be found in the above-mentioned deluge, because nobody actually knows. Most attempted explanations will say something about flouting taboos or being dirty (there’s nothing dirtier, really, is there?) or perhaps rebellion against the tyranny of toilet-training. These sound good, but you don’t have to be very clever to imagine that the desire to play with shit has something to do with bad toilet-training, do you? Doesn’t mean it’s true.

All we know for sure is that there are (some, few) people who fantasize about playing with shit and (some, fewer) people who actually do it. Most of those who only fantasize have no wish to follow through, but I’ll also wager that inability to find a willing partner keeps some in the fantasy-only camp. If one of them wrote me (oh, they have, they have) wondering how to broach the subject with a would-be partner, I’d probably say, "Whatever you do, don’t do what Don’t Tell Me’s date did." It’s hard to imagine a clumsier approach than blurting out "Shit on me!" in the midst of passion, without so much as a "by your leave." Well, actually shitting on a person, all spontaneous-like, would be worse, but let’s not even speak of that.

I don’t think that someone having a disgusting desire is in and of itself so terrible. One can always say, "No, thank you" and no harm done, after all. Not realizing that most young ladies won’t take kindly to such a demand, however, demonstrates such a profound emotional tone deafness that I really must wonder about your new boyfriend. Or rather, your ex–new boyfriend. Spontaneity is nice, but some subjects require a more formal introduction.

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.

Editor’s note: This column originally ran on Dec. 28, 2004.

Nine years of everything

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› annalee@techsploitation.com

TECHSPLOITATION I’ve been writing this column for nine years. I was here with you through the dot-com boom and the crash. I made fun of the rise of Web 2.0 when that was called for, and screamed about digital surveillance under the USA-PATRIOT Act when that was required (actually, that’s still required). I’ve ranted about everything from obscenity law to genetic engineering, and I’ve managed to stretch this column’s techie mandate to include meditations on electronic music and sexology. Every week I gave you my latest brain dump, even when I was visiting family in Saskatchewan or taking a year off from regular journalism work to study at MIT.

But now it’s time for me to move on. This is my last Techsploitation column, and I’m not going to pretend it’s not a sad time for me. Writing this column was the first awesome job I got after fleeing a life of adjunct professor hell at UC Berkeley. I was still trying to figure out what I would do with my brain when Dan Pulcrano of the Silicon Valley Metro invited me out for really strong martinis at Blondie’s Bar in the Mission District and offered me a job writing about tech workers in Silicon Valley. My reaction? I wrote a column about geeks doing drugs and building insanely cool shit at Burning Man. I felt like the hipster survivalist festival was the only event that truly captured the madness of the dot-com culture I saw blooming and dying all around me. I can’t believe Dan kept me on, but he did.

Since then, my column also found a home in the Guardian and online at Alternet.org, two of the best leftist publications I’ve ever had the honor to work with. I’ve always believed the left needed a strong technical wing, and I’ve tried to use Techsploitation to articulate what exactly it would mean to be a political radical who also wants to play with tons of techie consumerist crap.

There are plenty of libertarians among techie geeks and science nerds, but it remains my steadfast belief that a rational, sustainable future society must include a strong collectivist vision. We should strive to use technologies to form communities, to make it easier for people to help the most helpless members of society. A pure free-market ideology only leads to a kind of oblivious cruelty when it comes to social welfare. I don’t believe in big government, but I do believe in good government. And I still look forward to the day when capitalism is crushed by a smarter, better system where everyone can be useful and nobody dies on the street of a disease that could have been prevented by a decent socialized health care system.

So I’m not leaving Techsploitation behind because I’ve faltered in my faith that one day my socialist robot children will form baking cooperatives off the shoulder of Saturn. I’m just moving on to other mind-ensnaring projects. Some of you may know that I’ve become the editor of io9.com, a blog devoted to science fiction, science, and futurism. For the past six months I’ve been working like a maniac on io9, and I’ve also hired a kickass team of writers to work with me. So if you want a little Techsploitation feeling, be sure to stop by io9.com. We’re there changing the future, saving the world, and hanging out in spaceships right now.

I also have another book project cooking in the back of my brain, so when I’m not blogging about robots and post-human futures, I’m also writing a book-length narrative about, um, robots and post-human futures. Also pirates.

The past nine years of Techsploitation would have been nothing without my readers, and I hope you can picture me with tears in my eyes when I write that. I’ve gotten so many cool e-mails from you guys over the years that they’ve filled my heart forever with glorious, precise rants about free software, digital liberties, sex toys, genetic engineering, copyright, capitalism, art, video games, science fiction, the environment, and the future — and why I’m completely, totally wrong about all of them. I love you dorks! Don’t ever stop ruthlessly criticizing everything that exists. It is the only way we’ll survive.

Annalee Newitz (annalee@techsploitation.com) is a surly media nerd who is slowly working on fixing her broken WordPress install at www.techsploitation.com, so eventually you’ll be able to keep up with her there again.

The dirty fight over clean power

0

› amanda@sfbg.com

A charter amendment for renewable energy and public power appears headed for the November ballot, and already Pacific Gas and Electric Co. is rounding up front groups and touting inaccurate figures in an attempt to scuttle the plan.

The San Francisco Clean Energy Act, introduced by Sup. Ross Mirkarimi, would mandate that the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission "produce a comprehensive plan for providing clean, secure, cost-effective electricity for city departments and residents and businesses."

If passed, San Francisco would exceed state standards by requiring 51 percent clean, renewable energy by 2017; 75 percent by 2030; and 100 percent by 2040. Workforce development is also part of the plan, and if it’s determined that public ownership of the grid is the way to go, any employees fired by PG&E will be hired by the SFPUC.

"The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is talking about taking over PG&E," Brandon Hernandez, the corporation’s manager of government relations, said at a June 27 Rules Committee hearing on the legislation. "PG&E’s system is not for sale," he asserted. He then went on to say a takeover would cost the city "at least $4 billion."

PG&E spokesperson Darlene Chiu told the Guardian: "That’s our estimate for what our system costs in San Francisco."

But the California State Board of Equalization says all of PG&E’s state-assessed San Francisco property was worth $1.2 billion in 2007. The board’s appraisers assess PG&E’s property for tax purposes and their final figure includes millions of dollars of property that San Francisco would not want to own.

PG&E threw other punches at the city. Hernandez threatened the loss of as much as $29 million per year in taxes and charitable giving. "We no longer will be contributing to San Francisco’s nonprofits and service organizations," he said of groups that received $5 million from PG&E last year.

That money buys some political loyalty. The only organizations that spoke against the measure — the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, the Bay Area Council, and the A. Phillip Randolph Institute — all received bucks deluxe from PG&E. Between 2004 and 2006, the Chamber of Commerce Foundation received $166,000 from the utility; the Bay Area Council and Economic Forum grossed $132,500; and APRI banked slightly more than $100,000.

The Chamber’s vice president of public policy, Rob Black, criticized the move toward municipalization because it would make San Francisco, like other municipal utilities, exempt from the state-mandated 20 percent renewable energy by 2010. "The Los Angeles utility is at 48 percent coal. That’s not green, that’s not renewable. That’s something we need to be very careful about," he told the committee.

According to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, their power mix is actually 44 percent coal. But Black didn’t bother to check; he just took his figures from PG&E moments before, while conferring with Hernandez and Chiu. When questioned by the Guardian, Black said, "They didn’t come to me. I went to them."

He reiterated the concern that municipally-owned power isn’t required by the state to be clean and green, and becoming so could increase rates. "If we’re creating cheaper energy, where’s the incentive to do conservation?" he asked.

According to statistics from the meeting, the average PG&E household spends $74.55 per month on electricity, with 12 percent of the energy used hailing from renewable resources. An equivalent customer in the Sacramento Municipal Utility District has a bill of $46.60 for 18 percent renewable.

APRI’s James Bryant said his Bayview community group has issues with the costs and the idea that former PG&E employees would be hired by the city and subsequently receive worse retirement plans.

When asked if he was there because his organization gets money from PG&E, Bryant said, "Not really." He added, "I don’t have anything to do with their decisions. They don’t have anything to do with my decisions.

"Of all the amoral things PG&E does, they fund very worthy grassroots organizations and then lean on them to speak against things," Sup. Tom Ammiano said when expressing his support for the legislation. "Not only is San Francisco going to have public power, the state of California is going to have public power."

Other public comments overwhelmingly supported the measure. Some energy activists have been concerned that the legislation would derail or delay efforts to move toward renewables through the community choice aggregation (CCA) program.

Bad medicine

0

› news@sfbg.com

Let’s say you were recently diagnosed with a serious medical condition — depression, for instance. Your doctor thinks medication is the way to go, but says it may take some experimentation to find the right drug. The first try: Paxil.

For two weeks, you don’t notice a difference. But then suddenly you can’t sleep and you’re suffering from headaches. So you call your doctor, who tells you to stop taking the meds and come in to discuss your condition further. In the meantime, you get an unusual mailer from Walgreens, your local pharmacy, saying "please remember to take your medication." Perplexed, you wonder if your pharmacist knows something your doctor doesn’t, and you consider resuming the Paxil. Then you take another look at the mailer.

In fine print, you see that the message wasn’t sent by Walgreens, but by a company called Adheris. Since you’ve never heard of Adheris, you call your pharmacist for an explanation. The pharmacist tells you that Walgreens has been selling your prescription information to outside companies, which are contracted to send you these "reminders."

Sound creepy? Well, that’s the scenario that came within a hair’s breadth from becoming a potential reality recently via a state bill that would have eroded California’s strong medical privacy laws. The legislation passed the state Senate May 29 before dying in the Assembly June 17.

The bill, SB 1096, was sponsored by Sen. Ron Calderon (D-Montebello) and would have allowed pharmacies to sell patients’ prescription and medical information to third-party entities — including Adheris, Inc., the bill’s main business backer. The ostensible goal behind the bill was to allow Adheris and other similar marketing companies to mail "reminder" notices to patients so they wouldn’t forget to take their medication.

The Mental Health Association of California, the National Association of Cancer Patients, and other important health advocacy organizations supported the measure, saying they believed it would improve compliance and save lives. But the bill’s opponents, which included the California Medical Association and many consumer groups, asserted that the legislation was not really about helping patients.

Jerry Flanagan of Consumer Watchdog led the fight against the bill. Flanagan called the legislation "insidious" and "dishonest" because it was really about marketing pharmaceuticals and "boosting drug company profits." Adheris does receive funding from the pharmaceutical and retail pharmacy industries, and Flanagan pointed to a Wall Street Journal article from 2002 revealing that Adheris was essentially created to help drug companies ensure consumer loyalty to expensive, brand-name pharmaceuticals. Furthermore, Flanagan’s records show that Calderon received more than $89,000 from the drug and retail pharmacy industries over the past few years.

Sen. Calderon did not reply to specific questions, but pointed to a statement on his Web site saying he was "deeply disappointed" with the demise of his bill, and with critics who "completely mischaracterized [its] intentions." The statement asserted, "SB 1096 was about protecting patient health and reducing health care costs."

Pam Dixon, executive director of the California-based nonprofit World Privacy Forum, also opposed the bill. She said that in addition to its shortcomings, the measure was poorly timed. "What’s really tragic is that just as California is pushing new electronic initiatives — e-prescribing, assembling a diabetes registry, digitizing more and more information — we have a politician trying to give a marketing company a bite of the apple. Now is when we need to be protecting the exceptionally strong privacy laws we have, not weakening them."

So why would such a bill surface in perhaps the most pro-privacy state in the nation? Perhaps because in other states, pharmacies can already do this. No other state has the equivalent of California’s Confidentiality of Medical Information Act, so there is nothing to prevent pharmacies from selling patient information. And they’re selling that information, although not without controversy. Indeed, Adheris is still fighting a class-action lawsuit in Massachusetts for allegedly vioutf8g consumers’ privacy through just this type of campaign.

But what about federal law? Doesn’t the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) prevent this?

No. HIPAA was enacted by the Clinton administration to safeguard medical information. But according to Peter Swire, who was Clinton’s chief privacy counselor and helped draft the legislation, the law permits pharmacies to contract with outside firms to engage in reminder campaigns. As originally drafted, the law included an opt-out. But the George W. Bush administration ditched it in 2002, weakening the law. Swire said Calderon’s bill appeared to be an attempt to "shift California law to the federal standards."

Dan Rubin, CEO of Adheris, said California’s strict law hurts patients. He cited a 2003 World Health Organization study suggesting that "increasing adherence [to prescription drug regimens] … may have a far greater impact on patient health than any improvement in specific medical treatments." But to many in the health care community, the debate wasn’t about whether adherence was a problem — they all agreed it was — but about how to best address it.

Dr. Jack Lewin, former CEO of the CMA and current chief of the American College of Cardiology, said that although patient compliance is a "critical" issue, Calderon’s bill was a "Band-Aid solution." Lewin pointed out that non-adherence usually stems more from personal choice or denial than forgetfulness.

Dr. Sharon Levine, associate executive director of the Permanente Medical Group, said the problem with SB 1096 was that it was not "evidence-based."

"The science of non-adherence is in its infancy," she added. "We just don’t know what kind of effect, if any, a mailed piece of information is going to have."

But thanks to Flanagan of Consumer Watchdog, among others, Californians won’t need to worry about such mailings — for now, anyway. When asked if the bill was dead for good, Flanagan warned of the need for continued vigilance. "It can always come back," he said, adding that a similar bill, AB 1587, is being presented to the Assembly Judiciary Committee this month.

Fighting for the right to party

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› steve@sfbg.com

It’s become increasingly difficult and expensive to stage street fairs, concerts, or other parties in San Francisco, a trend chronicled by the Guardian over the past two years (see "Death of fun," 05/23/06 and "Death of fun, the sequel," 04/25/07). But event and nightlife promoters have responded with a proposed ballot measure that would write the right to party into the city’s charter.

The "Promoting and Sustaining Music and Culture in San Francisco" charter amendment would acknowledge the importance of special events to the city’s character, streamline the process for obtaining city permits, and require the nine-plus city departments that promoters must deal with to submit reports outlining how their policies and fee structures will need to be altered to comply with the new mandate for fun.

The measure was developed by the Save SF Culture Coalition, whose members include the Entertainment Commission, Black Rock City LLC (which stages Burning Man as well as events here in town), the Late Night Coalition, and the Outdoor Events Coalition (a group formed last year to counter city policies and neighbor complaints that threatened to scuttle the North Beach Jazz Festival, How Weird Street Faire, concerts in Golden Gate Park, and other events). The measure is sponsored by Sup. Ross Mirkarimi and has picked up four other supervisors as cosponsors, so it needs just one more vote for the Board of Supervisors to place it on the November ballot.

"It was long overdue that the city produce a master plan and vision that promotes a sustainable environment for music, culture, and entertainment throughout the city," Mirkarimi said.

In fact, event promoters say they’ve been hit by a quadruple whammy that threatens their livelihoods and the vibrant nature of the city: rising fees charged by city departments looking to close budget gaps, increased concern over alcohol consumption and other liability issues, more conflicts over noise in increasingly dense neighborhoods such as SoMa, and the ability of a handful of complaining neighbors to create event-killing permit conditions. And those last two problems are only likely to get worse as the city grows.

"We want the city to create a sustainability policy that will save our outdoor events in the face of all the development that is going on," said John Wood, a member of the Late Night Coalition and a promoter who also serves on the San Francisco Love Fest board of directors. "We need to be able to say, ‘This is city policy and you’re not following it.’"

Promoter and club owner Terrance Alan was an original member of the Entertainment Commission, which was formed in 2003 in part to resolve complaints over noise and manage relations between nightclubs and their neighbors. But he said the agency has little staff and no leverage over other city departments involved in permitting, which includes the Planning, Building, Port, Police, Fire, Health, and Recreation and Park commissions and departments, as well as the Municipal Transportation Authority and Interdepartmental Staff Committee on Traffic and Transportation (ISCOTT), the body that approves street-closure permits.

"We have been completely unsuccessful at getting their attention," Alan said. But this new measure, he said, would "set the stage for ongoing discussions that need to be happening."

Or as Wood put it, "It would give us ammunition in the future battles we’re going to have. It’s not going to make those battles go away."

Recreation and Park Department spokesperson Rose Dennis said her agency must deal with many competing concerns, ranging from budgetary issues to being responsive to complaints raised by citizens. "We understand that it might feel heavy-handed, but we have a duty to do so because we have to balance a number of concerns," Dennis said. "[Event promoters] have a bottom line, and we have a bottom line. We have a lot of people to serve."

Yet she said the department will comply with the measure and adjust its policies, fees, and procedures as needed if the measure is approved by voters.

At a June 27 Board of Supervisors Rules Committee hearing, there was lots of support for the measure and no real opposition. "We’re concerned about the future of arts and culture in San Francisco," Steven Raspa, who does special events for Black Rock City, said at the hearing.

All three committee members voiced support for the measure, but because it needed some minor changes, a final vote was pushed back to July 9. Proponents characterize the measure as trying to bring some balance to a situation in which the loudest wheels — those of NIMBYs complaining about noise or party detritus — keep getting greased.

"The bureaucracy is hearing from these neighborhood groups all the time," Wood said. "We feel that we are the majority and we need to demonstrate that politically."

Amanda Witherell contributed to this report.

To read the measure or learn more, visit www.savesfculture.com

Save SF’s campaign finance program

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OPINION In 2000, San Francisco voters approved a system of public financing of campaigns for the Board of Supervisors, which in 2006 was expanded to the mayoral race. By eliminating the need for candidates to raise large amounts of private money, the program has been extremely successful at helping sever the link between big money and political decisions. But now this flagship program is threatened: Mayor Gavin Newsom is proposing to raid several million dollars from the public campaign fund.

Last September the mayor put forth a plan to take $6 million from the fund and give it to one of his pet programs: SF Promise. The cost of this program was only $525,000 the first year, begging the question of why the mayor was grabbing $6 million from the fund. Of course, Newsom had actively opposed public financing for the mayoral race, so it’s possible he wanted to defund the program. Supervisor Aaron Peskin wisely introduced legislation to fund SF Promise from the city’s reserve funds, thereby warding off the raid.

Now another proposal has surfaced to remove $5 million from the fund. According to Ethics Commission spending projections, removing $5 million will create a $1.7 million to $4.3 million shortfall for the next mayoral race in 2011 — and that’s just to meet minimum baseline funding.

The justification for this plan is that the city is facing a budget crunch and needs these funds. The mayor promises, promises, promises to return the funds later — but the only way to legally secure those funds is through a charter amendment, which the Mayor’s Office has declined to support.

This latest rationale rings hollow, and we only have to look across the bay to see why. Earlier in the decade, Oakland adopted public campaign funding, and after it was used in one election cycle, Oakland was hit with a budget deficit. The City Council decided to dip into the public financing funds in the gap. They promised, promised, promised that they would restore the funding once the deficit problems were resolved. Yet to this day Oakland still does not have public financing of campaigns — because, while it’s still the law, there’s simply no money in the fund.

Meanwhile, in San Francisco, members of the Budget Committee seem to be prepared to vote in favor of this dangerous proposal as early as July 3. While Supervisors Ross Mirkarimi and Chris Daly have wisely expressed opposition, Supervisor Jake McGoldrick, who has been a public financing supporter in the past, has so far expressed support for the cut. McGoldrick could end up being the swing vote, joining with public financing opponent Sup. Sean Elsbernd and mayoral ally Sup. Carmen Chu to support this legislation.

Dipping into the public financing fund for any reason sets a terrible precedent and undermines the integrity of this valuable program. Just as politicians should not draw their own district lines because of a conflict of interest, they should not undermine previously established campaign finance laws.

Rob Arnow and Steven Hill

Rob Arnow and Steven Hill have been the architects of public financing for mayoral and Board of Supervisors elections. Steven Hill also is director of the Political Reform Program at the New America Foundation. Contact them at info@voterownedelections.org.

 

The carfree challenge

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>>For our complete Towards Carfree Cities conference coverage, including video, interviews, and pics, click here.

› steve@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY A large group of San Francisco’s top alternative transportation advocates traveled to Portland, Ore., for the Towards Carfree Cities international conference June 16-20, marveling at a transportation system widely considered to be the most progressive in the United States.

"Portland is light-years ahead of everyone else in this country," said Leah Shahum, executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, who attended the conference along with representatives from the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, San Francisco State University, prominent urban design firms including Arup (which is designing the new Transbay Terminal project), architect David Baker, and other institutions.

Public transit in Portland is extensive, cheap, frequent, and easy to use, with the Max line — unlike Muni — allowing bicycles on the trains. Walking is encouraged by new design standards and public information campaigns. A riverside freeway was replaced by open space years ago. And the large network of bicycle paths and other improvements to promote cycling have made Portland the only large city to earn the putf8um designation from the League of American Bicyclists (San Francisco is one tier down at gold).

"But the reality is Portland is far from being great," was the sobering assessment from keynote speaker Gil Peñalosa, the former parks director of Bogotá, Colombia, who pioneered carfree policies there before pushing the issues internationally through the nonprofit Walk and Bike for Life.

Cities are facing multiple crises connected to over-reliance on the automobile — declining public health, environmental degradation, resource depletion, loss of community, and not enough space in US cities to handle the 100 million people they’ll need to accommodate in the next 35 years. And Peñalosa said most are responding with baby steps that deny the scope of the challenge.

"We’re not doing enough," he said, noting that even the best US cities are way too dependent on automobiles compared to cities that have made the biggest advances in reducing automobile use, such as Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Berlin, Paris, Barcelona, and Vancouver.

"That’s where Portland belongs, and that’s the challenge," Peñalosa said. "Under existing conditions, we have to make major leaps instead of baby steps."

It was the first time that this eighth annual conference has been held in the United States, and organizers said they hoped its message will resonate in a country that needs to change profoundly if it is to efficiently manage its growth while playing a positive role in dealing with global climate change.

Many of the ideas raised at the conference and pursued in Portland are beginning to spread. The conference opened with Depaving Day, a pavement-removal effort that has many adherents in the Bay Area, and closed with Sunday Parkways, during which a six-mile loop in North Portland was closed to cars. Such "Ciclovias," which Peñalosa started in Colombia, are planned this August in New York City and San Francisco.

"There are people from all over the world doing amazing work," said local conference coordinator Elly Blue of the Portland group Shift, which organized the conference to coincide with Portland’s annual Pedalpalooza, two weeks of fun bike events and other festivities.

Many attendees noted that global warming, high gasoline prices (and the specter of Peak Oil), worsening public health, and persistent traffic congestion have made many big city leaders more open to carfree concepts than they’re ever been.

"The climate is changing," League of American Bicyclists director Andy Clarke said. "This is our time. It’s our moment to seize the opportunity and change our communities."

Mia Birk, Portland’s former bicycle-policy coordinator, added, "We’re not anti-car, but we’re trying to create a system where walking and biking are viable transportation options." Birk now runs Alta Planning and Design, which is working on carfree and car-light projects with hundreds of cities around the world, including some in the Bay Area.

"What we’re talking about is a true cultural revolution to encourage that kind of shift," Birk said, inviting the crowd to "be a part of that revolution."