Volume 42 Number 45

Best of the Bay 2008



Oh snap!


CELEBRITY PHOTOGRAPHY Before "stalkerazzi" was a word, before the first images of the Brangelina twins fetched a reported $14 million, and before the Internet spawned sites like tmz.com (stuffed with candid pictures of famous-ish trainwrecks like Kim Kardashian and Shauna Sand), there was a way of life that involved not knowing intimate details of every celebrity who dared to leave his or her house. Movie stars had a certain air of mystery and inaccessibility. But in 2008, there’s no privacy anymore. We now know that stars are "just like us." As in, Reese Witherspoon eats fro-yo with a spoon — just like me! Amy Winehouse falls down when she’s drunk — just like me! Uh, anyway. Hollywood studios used to stage advantageous photo ops of, like, Rock Hudson out on a date with his wife. These days celebrities have no choice but to put their entire lives on film, particularly if they’re given to the kind of Britney Spears-ish behavior that can make the operator of a well-placed camera exceedingly well-paid.

All this makes Gary Lee Boas’ Starstruck: Photographs from a Fan (Dilettante Press) all the more charming and understated. Boas has been touted as an outsider artist — and, at least when the book was released in 1999, he was working as a professional paparazzo — but first and foremost, the man is a fan. Starstruck collects Boas’ treasured snapshots (the oldest taken by a teenage Boas in 1966, the collection runs to 1980) of luminaries he encountered on the street, outside movie and stage premieres, at restaurants, waving from the backseats of cars, entering talk-show studios, on film locations, and in other spots he staked out in search of famous quarry. The photos are of variable quality — some are blurred, some have their subjects partially obscured by passersby. Some are clearly taken on the fly — outside the Mike Douglas Show in 1978, Ida Lupino (flanked by a pair of nuns) squints into the sunshine and seems to be just noticing the eager, camera-wielding man to her right. A Godfather-young Diane Keaton beams at Boas (who must’ve been a pretty engaging snapper, considering most of his photos feature smiles) as she stands, hands clasped, on a New York City sidewalk.

Some of the pictures demand extended captions, as when Boas shares the story behind a much sought-after 1978 photo of the elusive Greta Garbo. But most are accompanied by brief notations of who, where, and when. Boas himself appears in a handful of photos, posing stiffly beside the likes of Elizabeth Taylor and Ingrid Bergman. His expression in each is, appropriately, Starstruck — reflecting a time when mystery and glitter and not just-like-us-ness suited stars just fine.

Shoot from the hip


› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER Def Leppard and Nickelback: you know I want my fantasy, and everyone is aware of how those cool, desirable, shocking, or subversive photographs are integral to fanning the flames of so many rock ‘n’ roll clowns’ dreamscapes. But it’s those moments when a picture delivers more than words that have inspired some to pick up a camera and keep shooting. Local noise-punk photog Lars Knudson can verify this, concerning one Arab on Radar show at Bottom of the Hill back at the turn of the millennium. "I saw this band Pink and Brown, and this audience of people who were absolute freaks, ultra-nerd ‘tards, hipsters, scenesters, or whatever you want to call it, and I felt so alive and so at home," Knudson recalls today from his work as a chef in San Carlos. "I tried to describe it to everyone I worked with, and they looked at me like, ‘Huh?’ Then I stumbled on these images that were taken by Virgil Porter [Burn My Eye] and showed them to people, and they said, ‘ooh!’"

As SF photographer Peter Ellenby [Every Day Is Saturday (Chronicle)] testifies, Jim Marshall put the Bay on the map for music photography and shooters like Jay Blakesberg have kept it there. But what about the newbs — armed with the latest digi point-and-shoot and inspired, à la Knudson, to begin capturing a fragment of the sound and the fury? Around the same instant everyone began to believe they could be a DJ, so too did all and sundry start to assume that they could also be an ace lens swinger.

John Vanderslice: Photo by Peter Ellenby

So how does one carve out a name as a music photog when the glut of images on Flickr and assorted photoblogs threatens to overwhelm? I gathered snippets of sage advice from a few area rock photogs: Knudson, Ellenby, and Debra Zeller, who honed her craft focusing on local indie combos via her Playing in Fog online project and concert series, has since expanded into professional wedding photography (originally shooting the nuptials of the Red Thread’s Jason Lakis), and currently books live music at the Make-Out Room.

Be a music lover, foremost. "That’s why I did photography part-time for so long — it’s really hard to make a living in music photography," says Zeller (www.playinginfog.com, www.dazrocks.com), who has shot Cat Power, among others, at the behest of their labels. "What magazines pay is absolutely ridiculous and getting the work is another challenge." Additionally, Knudson says, "Part of the reason I have good photos is I know when they’re going to rock out. If you’re not prepared to get lost in the moment, you should go home and be an artist, because it isn’t about you and what you got that night, it’s really about what the band did onstage that night." In the spirit of shareware and the scene he has documented, Knudson makes thousands of his images freely available to bands — and really anyone — on a not-for-profit basis at www.pbase.com/pistolswing.

Show everyone your work. "I showed my photos to as many people as possible," says Ellenby (www.ellenby.com), who photo-edited zines like Snackcake and Devil in the Woods. "All the bands and my friends knew I was for hire, and you have to not be afraid to be take criticism and set goals. When I was starting out my favorite band was Overwhelming Colorfast, and my goal was to shoot them, and Bob Reed would rip on them all the time."

Elliott Smith: Photo by Debra Zeller

Know the craft, natch. "I think it’s important to shoot in manual and really know how to work your camera," Zeller insists. "That’s how you get the images. If you just rely on program mode, chances are you’ll be lucky to get a couple of good shots."

"Don’t be afraid to work for a six-pack," advises Ellenby, who cofounded tech company GeoVector and is currently working on a Joe Strummer photo project. "Don’t think it’s your road to riches, either — especially if you like indie music. I would make more money if I wanted to, but I don’t like working for a giant music corporation. I like it better when I’m working one-on-one for a band — when you’re hired by a band you can let the creativity flow."

"My only other piece of advice is, shut up and push the button," Knudson says. "When you’re shooting live bands, you’re going to miss the shot if you’re busy telling your friend how cool you are."



Dulcet Midwestern pop-smiths take on Someone Else’s Déjà Vu (Saddle Creek). Wed/6, 9 p.m., $8. Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., SF. www.bottomofthehill.com


Malevolent Houston beats call up the ground-control SF bass-meister. With Skozey Fetisch. Thurs/7, 9 p.m., $6. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. www.hemlocktavern.com


Punk supergroupers grope classic hits anew with Have Another Ball! (Fat Wreck Chords). Sat/9–Sun/10, 8 p.m. $15. Parkside, 1600 17th St., SF. www.theeparkside.com


A revolution in rock-hip-hop pairings begins with Linkin Park, Chris Cornell, Bravery, Ashes Divide, Busta Rhymes, Hawthorne Heights, and Street Drum Corps. Sat/9, 2 p.m., $34–$77. Shoreline Amphitheatre, 1 Amphitheatre Parkway, Mountain View. www.ticketmaster.com


Private eyes, they’re watching you, watching you, watching you-o-o-o-o-o. Tues/12, 7:30 p.m., $49.50–$78. Mountain Winery, 14831 Pierce, Saratoga. www.ticketmaster.com



"There was this fateful moment where we were like, ‘Fuck this shit! Hippie commune? Black metal band? Let’s do this!’<0x2009>" Wolves in the Throne Room drummer Aaron Weaver says, describing the synergistic beginnings of his group’s music and their 10-acre working farm, Calliope.

WITTR is living every nature-loving hessian’s dream. Not content with the icy, masturbatory satanism of Scandinavian death-metal forebears like Mayhem, or with the politics of the dogmatic punk scene from which they spawned, or about to hold hands and coo "Kumbaya," the three-piece from Olympia, Wash., has united a scathing brand of metal with inspired ecological spirituality. Say what?

To enviro-heads concerned with planetary destruction and nuclear apocalypse, and metalists banging their heads to songs about violent destruction and nuclear apocalypse, the connection is obvious.

"If we had to boil our band down to one thing: we’re just so fucking miserable and pissed all the time about the stuff that is going on in the world, just this wholesale war against anything beautiful or good or whole or pure," explains Weaver by phone from his little house across the courtyard from WITTR’s practice space.

Running counter to the activist tendencies of its punk cousins, the traditional metal scene has generally recoiled from politically correct statements. WITTR blends the two, embracing eco-feminism and radical ecology on a spiritually intuitive level rather than an overbearingly didactic one. Their second, latest album, 2007’s Two Hunters (Southern Lord), creates a dynamic continuum — not unlike nature itself — by pointedly channeling the sorrow and deep rage of a planet in crisis. Bookended by buggy chirps of the witching hour and twittering birds, the four tracks slowly creep with a plodding, atmospheric tension, climaxing in speed-of-light picking, drums to move mountains, and the throat-raking terror screams of Weaver’s younger brother and guitarist, Nathan.

Is this how Mother Earth would sound if she could respond in minor chords and time signatures? WITTR’s lyrics too are one with nature. As Two Hunters‘ 18-minute closing saga, "I Will Lay Down My Bones Among the Rocks and Roots," goes, "The wood is filled with the sounds of wildness / The songs of birds fill the forest on this new morning / This will be my new home / Deep within the most sacred grove."

Production-wise, WITTR carries through a similar awareness and intricacy, intent on crafting meticulously layered recordings. "The black metal aesthetic is just what we happen to use, but the main goal is to create soundscapes," Weaver says, noting that a typical song has about 20 guitar tracks. Earth producer Randall Dunn gave Two Hunters a palpable warmth, working primarily in analog at Aleph Studios in Seattle, and the band is planning to collaborate with Dunn again on its third full-length, due in February 2009. On it, touring bassist Will Lindsay will take over as the vocalist and second guitarist from new dad Rick Dahlin.

In a sense, WITTR’s devotion to re-awakening an ancient spirit rooted in their home turf is nothing new. Black metal is steeped in bioregional qualities, whether exuding a chilly clime and calling on Nordic deities or reading tarot cards and summoning the melancholy, intense quiet of the Pacific Northwest’s mossy old-growth forests. "That’s always been the explicit goal, to really express the spirit of this place, which has a very specific feel to it," Weaver says. "It’s a really dreamy kind of energy."

So next time you put on WITTR, remember it’ll sound best if you’re snug within a sacred grove — and make sure you have a lunar calendar and a Jepson Manual on hand. As the outfit argues in its band bio — required reading for fans of Derrick Jensen and Burzum alike — "If you listen to black metal, but you don’t know what phase the moon is in, or what wildflowers are blooming, then you have failed."


With Ludicra and the Better to See You With

Tues/12, 8 p.m., $15


333 11th St., SF

(415) 255-0333


We be clubbin’? Just barely


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

One night around 11 this spring, I stepped out of a cab at Sixth and Mission streets, only to enter a chaotic scene. Enhancing the block’s usual charms — destitute dudes in wheelchairs, crack enthusiasts, an old man in a denim skirt clutching a baguette — was a row of police cruisers parked in the street. Officers roamed the block, herding people around.

Had I stumbled onto a grim tragedy? Nope. I was just trying to catch a hip-hop show. Like the other 150 people waiting outside Club Six, I was hoping to get into KUSH, a party hosted by the Demolition Men. My chances seemed slim. I was on the guest list, but the list was "closed." So I stood in the long but well-behaved line. Security yelled at us to keep on the sidewalk, though the sidewalk ended well before the line did. Finally a guard bellowed at us to leave.

Half the line drifted away. The rest remained, texting friends inside the club and trying to devise a way in. Soon, with a combination of threats and cajolery, police and security began clearing the sidewalk around the club. A short, powerfully built man pleaded with stragglers, the way tough guys plead with you not to force them to kick your ass. Someone addressed him. He was Angel Cruz, Club Six’s owner, whom I’d interviewed for this story by phone. I introduced myself. He signaled a guard, and suddenly I was inside.

If this was New York City or Los Angeles, I might have felt the smugness engendered by such special treatment. But this was San Francisco, and all I felt was weariness. The club had devoted two rooms to the party, yet only one was full. Still, the vibe was friendly, and Jacka tore it up with his radio smash, "All Over Me." Although I heard some dudes got salty over the guest list, there were no arrests.

Sadly, such scenes are typical. Actually, we were lucky: I’ve seen cops shut down shows entirely over trifling incidents, usually ones occurring outside the club. This state of affairs affects more than the club-goers. Owners make less at the bar, promoters make less at the gate, and performers have fewer places to perform. Hip-hop, in its myriad forms, is one of the most popular genres on earth, and San Francisco is a world-class city. Yet this town seems hostile toward this musical nightlife with such revenue-generating potential. Why?

Naturally there’s no simple answer, and even investigating is difficult. Owners don’t want to alienate the police, promoters don’t want to alienate owners, and the San Francisco Entertainment Commission wants cooperation among all concerned. Few people I interviewed would name names or particular events, and some would only speak off the record, due to the delicate web of professional relationships involved. Even so, common issues emerge.

"Hip-hop is synonymous with fights and shootings, to authority figures," said Desi Danganan, whose Poleng Lounge is one of the few venues committed to the music. "The police are very hesitant about any club that plays hip-hop. That was one of the first things that came up, ‘Are you playing hip-hop?’<0x2009>"

The association between hip-hop and violence is nothing new: violence is the theme of many raps. Yet this is hardly the case with all hip-hop. The Bay Area in particular has produced an abundance of progressive, nonviolent lyricists, from veterans Hieroglyphics to up-and-comer Trackademicks. Yet the distinction is lost on the city and the police, according to Fat City general manager Hiroshi Naruta. "They don’t know the difference between hyphy and backpacker," he said.

Unlike the Panhandle-based Polang, Fat City is in the SoMa District, a longtime site of contention between police and clubs. As a result, the venue is shying away from booking hip-hop. "I want to," Naruta said. "But I don’t want pressure from the city or SFPD."

"Pressure," of course, is a nebulous concept and hard to substantiate, but according to John Wood, political director of the SF Late Night Coalition, there are typical tactics. "If the police feel your venue is creating a nuisance, they show up every night, check your permits, walking into your venue, upsetting your customers," he said. "They do frequent inspections with the fire department and the building department, and get you for every little violation. Short of suspending permits and filing lawsuits, there’s lots of ways city bureaucracy can make it difficult to do business."

But just how much of a "nuisance" do hip-hop shows create? Are they really that violent? No more than other genres, according to Robert Kowal, whose Sunset Promotions has brought everyone from Grandmaster Flash to Jurassic 5 to SF. "The city has safety as its primary concern," he acknowledged. "Occasionally some shows have problems the police have to deal with. Almost without exception that label gets thrown at hip-hop, when most events, including hip-hop, are very cool."

"Right now there’s a gun problem in SF," Kowal continued. "Instead of addressing that, the city wants to blame entertainment and specifically hip-hop. But violence is rare inside the venue itself."

Wood concurred with this assessment. "There have been incidents where there were shootings," he said, "not in the clubs, but a block away, that may have possibly involved people who were at the club. Frequently police will blame the club for incidents in the neighborhood."

An SFPD spokesman, Sgt. Steven Mannina, wouldn’t respond to this contention. It’s worth noting that much of SoMa can get rough, even during the day. To the contrary, Kowal believes venues like Club Six have improved the tone of the neighborhood: "Angel Cruz deserves a lot of credit. That Club Six is open four nights a week has enabled other bars and restaurants to open around it. That area has been somewhat revitalized."

Wood suggests an influx of new neighbors may, in fact, be the main issue. "The city’s changing," he explained. "It’s older demographically, wealthier, more harried, and professional. Aside from hip-hop and violence, people are less tolerant about noise young people create." Yet that lack of tolerance among the condo crowd may also be rooted in fear. "Neighbors sometimes freak out when a club is bringing large groups of minorities into the neighborhood," Wood added, "whether they’re behaving or not."

That assessment was echoed, mostly off the record, by many I interviewed. But veteran hip-hop commentator Davey D didn’t pull punches. "They just don’t want black people there," he said. "For a city that prides itself on being progressive, when it comes to nightlife, it has the most reactionary policies that seem based around race, using words like ‘urban’ as cover."

Regardless of hip-hop’s alleged role in violence, this spring the city attempted to deal with the issue via two pieces of legislation: one required a hefty $400 permit per show, and the other was an anti-loitering law, empowering police to clear the area around a club. Both proposals were bad ideas: the former threatened to stifle local entertainment, and in an era of eroding civil liberties, the latter promised to give police discretion to arrest people just for being in the club’s vicinity. Even more disturbing is Sgt. Mannina’s assertion in April that "this is an enforcement strategy around clubs that field operations have already launched." How can this be, if it was not yet a law? "I thought it was already in place," he said.

Clearly the police act as though it is, given what I witnessed outside Club Six. In the meantime, it’s tough to understand why SF hip-hop fans must, for instance, travel to Petaluma to see local acts like Andre Nickatina. "You want to know the solution?" a club owner asked, off the record and out of frustration. "There is no solution."

The Gysin file


› johnny@sfbg.com

I associate the dreamachine with Christmas. The first and only time I’ve directly encountered a version of the device was a holiday five or six years ago. My friend Julien used a turntable to set up a homemade dreamachine in a corner room of his family’s cabin. I took a turn sitting with my eyes closed in front of its stroboscopic play of light and darkness. I didn’t have an epileptic fit; nor did I go into a hypnagogic state. It wasn’t a drugless high, but it was a mind’s eye stimulus. I’d try the dreamachine again.

"I don’t think [the dreamachine] really works unless you’ve smoked a pipe of hash," Kenneth Anger declares during FlicKeR, Nik Sheehan’s documentary about the device and its chief creator, the writer, painter, and mystic Brion Gysin. "I think it’s too dangerous if you’ve taken acid," he adds. You get the feeling Anger is speaking from experience, even if he doesn’t face a dreamachine in front of Sheehan’s camera. Such a meeting isn’t necessary, because FlicKeR‘s first 15 minutes serves up a Who’s Who of dreamachine enthusiasts in action: Marianne Faithfull, Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo, and Genesis P. Orridge of Psychic TV are among those Sheehan captures sitting and staring — with eyes closed — before the contraption’s oscilutf8g light.

The dreamachine makes for potent visual imagery, but distilling or truly conveying its effect is a tougher task for a filmmaker, even if Sheehan’s camera briefly stares directly into one (and later, incorporates Tony Conrad’s 1965 film The Flicker, a potent projector-based dreamachine corollary). For Sheehan, the mechanism provides a kinetic introduction to or threshold into, a portrait of the late Gysin. Though Gysin — who invented the Cut-Up literary methods popularized by best friend William S. Burroughs — is a shadowy figure to hang a feature-length film portrait on, FlicKeR‘s hopping, skipping, and jumping approach to his life at least energizes his enigma.

In Victor Bockris’ 1981 interview collection With William S. Burroughs: A Report From the Bunker (Seaver), Burroughs — who also says, typically, "[Gysin] taught me everything I know about painting" — relates Gysin’s description of a milk bar just after a terrorist blast: "People were lying around with their legs cut off, spattered with maraschino cherries, passion fruit, ice cream, brains, pieces of mirror and blood." Without a living subject, Sheehan must turn to various vivid Gysin acquaintances — mirror man Ira Cohen and a spry John Giorno, for example — to bring across similar illustrations of anarchic spirit. In the process, offhand observations come to mind: Genesis P. Orridge has transformed herself into a sisterly peer of rad auntie Faithfull (who praises Gysin’s warmth in her autobiography, where she’s largely disdainful of all men), for one. It’s easy to lose sight of Gysin amid such colorful characters, but FlicKeR is steadfast in its belief that Gysin is influential; a variety of academics use Gysin as a gateway to discussions of everything from the changing nature of terrorism to iPods.

He may not be the center of 20th-century history, but Gysin’s influence on the present is undeniable. This is partly due to another wave of ’60s resurgence. FlicKeR kicks off "Stoned Apocalypse," a Joel Shepard–curated Yerba Buena Center for the Arts series that includes a program devoted to the legendary light shows that overtook late-’60s music concerts. While most people associate such light shows with rock music, the new collection, The San Francisco Tape Music Center: 1960s Counterculture and the Avant-Garde (University of California Press, 322 pages, $27.50), explores its links to avant-garde cinema and music in the Bay Area.

The dreamachine-like notion and practice of live cinema is building momentum in recent years, thanks to practitioners such as Bruce Fletcher, a new surge of interest in Conrad, and a 2007 San Francisco Cinematheque series that inspired an anthology of writing on the subject. Last year at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Anthony McCall’s installation You and I, Horizontal filtered Conrad’s and Gysin’s ideas about pure light into a communal rather than individual experience so potent it was akin to near-death or first-moments-of-life. That which flickers still illuminates, and it may soon turn into a piercing beam of light.


Thurs/7, 7:30 p.m., $8

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Screening Room

701 Mission, SF

(415) 978-2700


Under the skin


› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS To be honest (which is one of my two favorite ways to be) … I never very much liked ratatouille, or rat-a-tat-tat-ouille, as I have sometimes called it, to be difficult. Nothing against eggplant. It’s just that there are, at any given time, 9,999 other things I’d rather be putting in my mouth, at least one of which, at any given time, is a whole roasted chicken rubbed with black pepper and garlic, strips of bacon stuffed under the skin.

The only reason I mention ratatouille is because there’s a movie that, like most movies, I never saw. Called Ratatouille. But I don’t much go for ratatouille, so why would I want it in italics, with a capital R?

Plus I am the least movied person alive. That’s why I so seldom know what anyone’s talking about. I do see movies, occasionally, but only as a vehicle for popcorn. Home or away, I pop my own. Not that I can’t afford movie theater popcorn; I just like mine better. As it turns out I — famed appreciator of Two-Buck Chuck and Dollar-a-Thing Chinese fast food — am a popcorn snob.

I get my kernels at Rainbow Grocery, so we’re talking organic, free-range, home-schooled, non-HMO, white corn popcorn. And, in one of those cool turnabouts that makes life soupy and worth living, it’s cheaper than Orville fucking Redenbacher and Jolly goddamn Time. Oh, and every kernel pops — for real, Orville. I can prove this in a court of law. I know how much oil to use, so the salt sticks too. No butter. Just salt.

People are always almost beating me up in bars. And not for the normal reasons, either. Most recently it was a matter of my not having seen Ratatouille, the movie. I forget who it was, but it wasn’t the one person in the world who’d have "probable cause" for beating me up in bars for not seeing Ratatouille — the badass biker babe I know who actually worked on that film.

Whoever it was, they were berating, abusing, and downright poking me over never having seen Ratatouille. I didn’t dream this. I know it wasn’t a dream or else it would have been the badass biker babe.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking: no butter? Did you just say no butter on your popcorn? You, Chicken Farmer? Butterer of everything, singer of songs about butter, and placer of bacon under chicken skin? No butter on your popcorn?

Well, first let me say that it was Crawdad’s idea to put bacon under the chicken skin. I was 100 percent behind the idea, yes. But ultimately I was, like so many ruiners of life and meals before me, "only following orders." It was her kitchen.

We both knew that the bacon stuffed under the skin and into the cavity would never get crisp, nor exactly palatable to most palates, save mine and maybe the dog’s. But I figured, well, we could always put more strips of bacon on the outside of the bird. To eat! The bacon-inside idea, I imagined, would lasso all sorts of holy cows at the dinner table. It would melt into the meat, and leave an extra layer of pretty pure fat under the skin, essentially turning chicken into duck, and consequently turning us, me and Crawdad, into Nobel lariats.

There’s a word for this. It’s either hubris, dumbass, or joie de vivre … depending where you come from and what kind of mood you’re in.

Speaking of Frenchness, I borrowed Ratatouille from Crawdad that night — something to watch with my bedtime popcorn when I got home.

Got home, popped my corn, salt, no butter, opened the box …

No disc. No Ratatouille. Still going to get beat up in bars, etc. Except: the following night, last night, at Yo-Yo’s, cat-sitting, out of pure boredom, I swear, I touched the "open" button on her DVD player. I’d already scanned her shelves, nothing I wanted to see. And you’re not going to believe this, because Yo-Yo and Crawdad haven’t seen each other in years…. In fact, I’m not even going to tell you.


My new favorite restaurant is Cactus Taqueria. There’s one in Oakland and one in north Berkeley. That’s the one I like, because that’s where I lunched with a one-year-old after a grueling five-minute birthday shop for another one-year-old. Best thing about nannying: you always have someone with you to help finish a burrito. And if it’s Clara de la Cooter, she’ll finish all your hot sauce too. We were googy over the carnitas.


1881 Solano, Berk.

(510) 528-1881

Daily: 11 a.m.–9 p.m.

Beer & wine


Don’t be a hatah


› andrea@altsexcolumn.com

Dear Andrea:

I hate my contraceptive! Hate hate hate hatedy hate! I’m on the mini-pill because the other ones made me sick, and this one is giving me headaches, zits, bloating, crying jags … you name it. Planned Parenthood says the Mirena IUD has fewer side effects, but isn’t that just the same hormone? So I’ll be just as sick, but out more money? I think I’d just as soon get my tubes tied. Do you have any better suggestions or is it all the same bullshit?


I Hate Everything

Dear Thing:

I get it! You’re miserable. It’s bound to happen sometimes when the system you’re messing with is inextricably bound up with metabolism, mood, libido, and even whether you’re going to have zits or not. Perhaps hormonal birth control is not for you?

Usual caveats (I’m not a doctor, etc.), but I have two suggestions for you — beyond the Mirena, which is greatly beloved by most of its many users and really does have fewer side effects, mostly just break-through bleeding. The subject of permanent birth control, especially for women, always raises these interesting issues of self-determination and even self-knowledge. At the risk of sounding either paternalistic in the old-time doctory mode or, I guess, maternalistic (as a smugly parental parent addressing the childless), people change their minds. People change their lives, or their lives are changed for them, and there you go. If you are absolutely sure this could not possibly ever apply to you, I think this new thing, Essure, is a great option. It’s a pair of tiny coils inserted in a quickie outpatient procedure. The company claims that it’s covered by most insurance plans, and I believe it’s covered by Medicaid in 46 states. If you can find a way to get it, I’d say it has you written all over it (albeit in very small writing).

My second suggestion is hormonal, but bear with me. Although the arsenal of useful hormones is limited, making it appear at first glance as though there’s no real difference between this method and that, delivery style matters. Pills must survive a trip through your inhospitable digestive system before getting filtered and altered, often in unfortunate ways, by your liver, while topical methods follow a less torturous path and can be administered in much lower doses. Many women who can’t tolerate pills love the NuvaRing so much they’d marry it if they weren’t already seeing somebody. It’s very low dose, easy to use, and easy to quit if you don’t like it (remove offending ring, throw away). You should be able to get it for cheap at a clinic. If you hate it, feel free to write back and bitch me out, but seriously, you may be feeling so much better you won’t want to.



Dear Andrea:

At a recent routine checkup, my doctor asked what methods of contraception I’m currently using, and she strongly advised me to use something to fortify my old mainstay of a condom. Her suggestion, spermicide, sounded plenty reasonable. She’s been my doctor for most of my life and always trustworthy, so I felt good about going the extra mile to protect myself when I used spermicidal film the next time I had sex.

Next thing I know, I’m in the throes of a particularly grim yeast infection, which I’m not prone to, so I suspected the spermicide. Sure enough, a bit of Web-poking turned up a long-established link between nonoxynol-9 and yeast and bladder infections. Maybe it wouldn’t happen every time I used the stuff, but the connection is there, and this infection has been miserable enough that I assure you I’ll be avoiding nonoxynol-9 like the plague.

So what’s a girl to do? I know you’ve rolled your eyes in the past at overzealous combinations of birth control, but it does seem like with the potential for error in condom usage and the possibility of mishaps or undetected flaws, a not-so-invasive backup is a great idea — as long as it doesn’t come with the side effect of excruciating discomfort.


Back Me Up Here

Dear Here:

Oh dear. I hope she’s your primary care doc. I’d expect a gyno to know better. Nonoxynol-9 can indeed upset your delicate lady-balance but, even worse, can make you more vulnerable to STDs. I’d avoid it like — well, if not the plague, at least a bad yeast infection. And yes, I’ve rolled my eyes at some overcautious method-doublers, but usually for imagining that their brand-new sex lives with their equally recently devirginated childhood sweethearts require multiple methods of STD protection. For you, I’ll forswear the eye-rolling and suggest sticking with the condoms, following the directions, changing them mid-act if you’re going to be more vigorous or persistent than usual, and pre-locating a source for emergency contraception so you’ll have it in the somewhat unlikely but not impossible event of condom breakage. I feel about spermicide the way the first writer felt about the pill: hate hate hate hatedy hate.



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.

SFPUC shuffle


› sarah@sfbg.com

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission is arguably the city’s most important commission. It provides water to 1.6 million customers in three Bay Area counties and handles sewage treatment and municipal power for San Francisco. But right now, it lacks a governing body.

Until recently there were no minimum job requirements for its five commissioners, who are all appointees. The only way the Board of Supervisors could block the mayor’s picks for these all-important posts was through a two-thirds vote (that requires eight supervisors) made within 30 days of the selection.

That changed June 3 when voters approved Proposition E. The board placed this legislation on the ballot in response to Mayor Gavin Newsom’s "without cause" firing of SFPUC former General Manager Susan Leal last year, and his reappointment this spring of Commissioner Dick Sklar, a former SFPUC general manager whose anti–public power tirades and rudeness to SFPUC staff was at odds with the goals and values of the board’s majority.

Prop. E’s passage required that the current SFPUC be disbanded by Aug. 1, set minimum qualifications for future nominees, and stipulated that new commissioners cannot take office until at least six supervisors confirm the mayor’s picks.

Newsom responded by renominating Sklar, along with two other incumbents—former PUC President Ann Moller Caen, and F.X. Crowley, who works for the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees.

Newsom also nominated two newcomers — Nora Vargas, executive director of the Latino Affairs Forum, a statewide nonprofit advocacy group, and Jell-O heiress Francesca Vietor, director of the city’s Department of the Environment from 1999 to 2001.

Kicked to the curb in this preliminary shuffle was David Hochschild, a solar advocate who steered the SFPUC away from building peaker plants and toward retrofitting the aging Mirant power plant. Also ousted was E. Dennis Normandy, whom Mayor Frank Jordan appointed in 1994.

On July 29, the board unanimously approved Caen and Crowley, and seemed inclined to favor Vietor, though she has yet to appear before them to answer questions.

But they rejected Vargas after Sups. Tom Ammiano, Chris Daly, and Bevan Dufty expressed misgivings about her lack of experience with local politics and the SFPUC, not to mention concerns about the $150,000 worth of community grants PG&E gave to Vargas’ Latino Issues Forum between 2004 and 2006.

And Sklar withdrew his nomination before the board could vote on it, apparently aware that the seven votes against his nomination last time meant he was destined to fall short of the new requirement.

These initial changes have led Leal to believe that Prop. E is already having the desired effect. "The rules before meant that the supervisors had 30 days to come up with eight votes, and that’s a very tough thing to do," Leal told the Guardian. "The fact that Dick Sklar had to get six votes, when he barely got four votes in February, is why he withdrew his name. And if you look at the way the supervisors handled the process last time around, this time they seem more vested in it."

Newsom has not yet forwarded any more picks to the Board, so the makeup of the body that will govern the SFPUC until August 2012 is still undecided. But it’s likely that the first matter of business for the new SFPUC will be responding to board recommendations that are sure to flow from an August hearing into CH2M Hill’s study on the feasibility of retrofitting Mirant’s Potrero units 4, 5, and 6.

Leal believes the retrofit plan is "sketchy at best."

"I think that trying to retrofit a 1973 plant is like one former PUC commissioner thinking you can repair the 50-year-old digesters out at the southeast wastewater treatment plant," Leal told the Guardian, referring to Sklar’s equally unpopular attempt to block a costly but necessary rebuild of the SFPUC’s sewage digesters.

"To me, this is Mirant and PG&E still deciding whether there will be something polluting in the air," Leal added.

On July 22, at its last meeting before being disbanded, the Sklar-led SFPUC voted to rescind its former plan to build a new peaker power plant in the city’s southeast sector, and to instead pursue the Mirant retrofit.

Sup. Bevan Dufty notes that a retrofit of this kind "hasn’t been done anywhere else in the world." Board President Aaron Peskin observes that, "unlike the peaker plan, which was subjected to thousands of pages of analysis, the retrofit plan was cooked up behind closed doors with no public hearings."

Noting that Mirant only needs a building permit to keep operating at the site, Peskin says that is why he joined Sups. Sophie Maxwell, Jake McGoldrick, and Dufty in introducing legislation to require conditional use permits of future power plants.

"ATM machines, bakeries, and restaurants need conditional uses, so why not power plants?" Peskin said.

Sup. Ross Mirkarimi believes the peakers and retrofit are competing as the lesser of two evils, which is one reason why he and Ammiano wrote the fall ballot measure called the Clean Energy Act, which would create ambitious goals for renewable power. Mirkarimi told us, "There needs to be a robust campaign for a third plan that combines a transmission-only mandate and a strong renewable energy mechanism that compensates for the Mirant shutdown."

Cleaner power, cleaner money


OPINION Nine months ago neighborhood leaders from the Potrero Hill and the Bayview districts were invited to stand and applaud at a press conference at Mirant’s Potrero Power Plant. As reported in the San Francisco Chronicle: "One of the state’s oldest and dirtiest power plants … could shut down as soon as 2009, city leaders announced…. The mayor said the signing represented ‘an important day in the history of the city.’<0x2009>"

But now that signed agreement to close Mirant — through a decade-long effort to have the city run its own power-generating "peaker plants" as a replacement — is itself on the verge of extinction. Mayor Gavin Newsom, a probable candidate for governor and choosing political expediency over cleaner air, reversed field and claimed that the cleanest way to close Mirant … is to keep part of it running. And a number of environmental activists backed him up, claiming that the city-owned peaker plants would bring more pollution to southeast San Francisco than retrofitted combustion turbines at the Mirant plant.

How can that be, when even conservative estimates admit that the newer city-owned turbines run 30 to 35 percent cleaner than the 40-year-old Mirant turbines?

The answer is money.

The argument goes like this: the city-owned peaker plants are funded by $273 million in revenue bonds and a contract with the state’s Department of Water Resources that runs until 2015. After that, the debt remaining on the bonds would require the city to run the peakers for more hours and many more years of operation than retrofitted combustion turbines at the Mirant plant. The Mirant proposal would be financed by reliability contracts from the state’s Independent System Operator (Cal-ISO) that essentially pay for the turbine capacity, not actual operation. That means fewer running hours, and no potential cost to the city’s budget. Therefore, the Mirant retrofit is less polluting, and the generators can be shut down sooner.

That’s been a persuasive argument so far, and it has stopped further consideration of the city-owned peakers. But the argument misses one important fact and one critical question. The fact is that the city-owned peakers don’t cost $273 million anymore; Cal-ISO agreed in June that the fourth peaker plant (to be located at the airport) wasn’t necessary, leading to savings of more than $110 million.

There’s an even more important question: why don’t we finance the city-owned peaker plants using Cal-ISO’s reliability contracts instead of the bonds and the DWR contract? Apparently no one at the Mayor’s Office, the Public Utilities Commission, or the environmental groups supporting the Mirant retrofit has asked this question. Yet it provides the cleanest answer to the dilemma of the peaker plants — it would give us the cleanest machines, under city control and policy, so they can only run when absolutely necessary and we can shut them down as soon as possible.

At the end of the day the proposal for a Mirant retrofit isn’t really about a retrofit at all — it’s a proposal to keep the city’s energy future in the hands of others. The choice facing us — at City Hall, in the environmental community, and in the neighborhoods — is between being smart about our energy policy or handing over that policy to a corporate boardroom in Atlanta.

Tony Kelly

Tony Kelly is president of the Potrero Boosters Neighborhood Association.

PG&E’s first big lies


EDITORIAL The San Francisco Chronicle reported Aug. 2 that Pacific Gas and Electric Co. is almost certain to miss the state’s deadline for increased renewable energy generation. It’s a pretty modest goal: 20 percent of the company’s electricity is supposed to come from renewable sources by 2010. But PG&E is nowhere near on track.

But the company is well on its way to spending a record amount of money to block San Francisco voters from passing the Clean Energy Act, which would allow the city to develop renewable energy on a schedule that would meet much more aggressive goals. A political front group funded by the utility has already mailed out or paid operatives to place on doorknobs tens of thousands of flyers packed full of lies about the proposal. It’s the earliest we’ve ever seen a full-scale ballot campaign get underway — the election isn’t until Nov. 4. By then the barrage of PG&E misinformation will reach a fever pitch.

So it’s not too early to start evaluating the campaign rhetoric and exposing the most ridiculous of the lies.

PG&E is starting out with four basic themes that will probably form the center of the fall campaign. The main attack will be economic — the measure, PG&E will say, is too costly for these tough economic times.

The information the company’s flacks are putting out is so blatantly inaccurate that it’s hard to take any of it seriously. Here’s what the utility is saying:

<\!s> The Clean Energy Act will cost $4 billion and raise electric rates by $400 per household. That’s based on two complete fallacies, and even by PG&E’s standards, this has to go down as one of the worst lies in local political history. For starters, PG&E is assuming that the city will decide to buy out its old local distribution system (that’s not mandated in the Clean Energy Act; there may be smarter ways to get into the renewable energy and public power business). But even if the city did buy the system, there’s no way it would cost close to $4 billion. The state Board of Equalization appraises utility property every year, and PG&E’s own appraisers participate in the discussions. Last year the BOE concluded that all of PG&E’s local property — including a big downtown office building — was worth about $1.2 billion. PG&E, to our knowledge, has never attempted to have that figure (and thus its own tax bill) increased to $4 billion. Without the office building, which the city would have no need to buy, the actual distribution system is probably worth closer to $800 million — putting PG&E’s number off by a factor of five.

The $400 per household figure is based on the cost of paying off $4 billion in bonds — but all the Clean Energy Act does is give the supervisors the ability to issue revenue bonds. Unlike typical general obligation bonds, the revenue bonds would not be backed by taxpayers, and would be repaid by the money the city would make selling retail electricity. And the only way the supervisors would move to take such a dramatic step as an eminent domain action to seize PG&E’s distribution system is if the figures show that the city can pay off the bonds without raising electric rates.

<\!s>The act would give the supervisors a blank check to issue bonds without voter approval. Actually, it would just give the board the same authority the Port Commission and the Airport Commission already have — the ability to issue revenue bonds — just revenue bonds — to fund renewable energy and utility projects. If the projects make no sense economically, investors won’t buy the bonds anyway. So only well thought-out projects with a clear revenue stream are even possible. Lots of public agencies have this authority, and it’s rarely misused.

<\!s>Electric rates would go up. Nonsense — every public power city in Northern California has lower electric rates than San Francisco. PG&E has some of the highest rates in the nation. Public power is always cheaper.

<\!s>The city will lose $20 million in tax revenue. Yes, if the city were to take over PG&E’s distribution system, the city would no longer collect the tiny pittance it currently gets as a franchise fee. The fee is the lowest in the state and among the lowest in the nation (and is set in perpetuity). The revenue from a public power system would more than make up for that loss.

PG&E is terrified by this proposal, so nervous that it started a massive campaign months before the election. There will be more lies coming, most of them attempts to scare the voters into thinking that the Clean Energy Act is expensive and risky. We’ll debunk them as they come along. In the meantime, the supervisors ought to hold hearings on these issues, particularly the cost issue, and ask the Board of Equalization’s experts to come and testify — so that PG&E’s lies can be exposed to the broadest possible audience.

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

They’re tearing up Bernal Heights. I came back from vacation and all the streets around my house were blocked off with "no parking" signs and the heavy equipment was ripping the pavement open. We’re getting new sewer pipes, which is a fine thing. Your neighborhood will be in the queue pretty soon; it’s a citywide project, and in the end it will cost $4 billion.

A lot of that money will go for digging trenches in the streets. Trenching and backfilling is pricey, tens of thousands of dollars a block. And it’s making me crazy that we’re spending all that money on excavation contractors and we’re not taking advantage of the opportunity.

Every ditch I see, every detour sign, every annoyed resident who can’t find a place to park, makes me want to scream. We’re doing all this work for the sewer lines, which are a crucial part of the civic infrastructure. Why aren’t we using the same money, the same equipment, the same holes in the streets to lay electrical and fiber optic cable?

Fiber’s cheap — compared to the cost of bringing all the gear out, hiring the people to operate it, putting the dirt back in the holes, and pouring new blacktop. The thin wires that could carry the world’s information system directly and cheaply to every house in the city is on the order of what Sup. Ross Mirkarimi likes to call "decimal dust." Electrical conduit, which will one day be the backbone of a city-owned power system, costs a little more, but not that much.

Face it: we’re going to do all this at some point anyway. I’m an optimist (about San Francisco, anyway), and before long Gavin Newsom will be gone, and we’ll have a mayor who believes in the public sector, and public power and public broadband will be the order of the day. And running those utilities underground makes perfect sense in a city where earthquakes make elevated electrical wires a visible hazard.

But since nobody at City Hall is putting up a modest amount of cash to do this now, in a few years we’re going to have to spend a whole lot of cash to dig up all the streets all over again.

Am I the only person who thinks this is insane?

I was way off on the St. Lawrence River, in a place that had no Internet access and only spotty cell phone reception, so I missed the news that Sen. Dianne Feinstein was sorta, maybe, kinda thinking about running for governor of California. It was a chilling little welcome-home message for me. Anyone who lived through the days when Feinstein was mayor of San Francisco ought to share my revulsion at the idea of her running the entire state. She’s a Democrat only in name; on economic issues, she’d be as bad as Gov. Schwarzenegger. She’s also an autocrat — and with term limits, there’s nobody in the Legislature who could stand up to her.

The deals are already in the air; Willie Brown just floated out a key one in the Chron. Maybe Gavin Newsom would drop out of the governor’s race, and Feinstein would give him her US Senate seat if she wins.

What a rotten concept. If Feinstein runs, she needs real competition. Feinstein vs. Jerry Brown would be fascinating, and Newsom ought to stay in too. I’m not terribly impressed with the way he’s run the city either, but in the end, I think she was a lot better at being bad than he is.

It’s good to be home.

Charitable cash cow


› gwschulz@sfbg.com

Nonprofit charities in the Golden State should have been raking in the cash in 2004. Gracious Californians gave $60 million more toward fundraising campaigns that year than they did in 2003, totaling almost $293 million. The following year, donors gave even more: $332 million.

Yet despite the increasing generosity of Californians, the percentage that nonprofits actually took away from those campaigns steadily decreased from 2003 to 2005.

Most of the gains went to private, for-profit fundraising companies hired to conduct telemarketing services and coordinate special benefit events like gala dinners, rodeos, and variety shows.

Such companies charge steep fees and commissions that frequently leave charities, especially smaller or less experienced ones, with little or even nothing at all, according to state disclosure records.

Commercial fundraisers collect millions each year relying on the public image of selflessness projected by nonprofits devoted to promoting cultural literacy, saving lost or exploited children, finding cures for deadly diseases, or improving the welfare of defenseless animals.

Some desperate nonprofits elect to allow commercial fundraisers to take a percentage of the money they raise, at times as much as 80 to 90 percent. Alternately, larger charities may agree to set costs and fees associated with the campaign, but that strategy can also prove costly.

For example, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art hired the Los Angeles company SD&A Teleservices in 2004 for a phone solicitation campaign that raised $12,000. But because the company’s fees were greater than the contributions received, the museum had to pay $19,854 more to cover the venture. Similarly, the San Francisco Ballet lost $3,400 in 2005 to the same company after SD&A raised $12,745 from donors, thousands less than what it charged.

Several people we interviewed said the benefits of a fundraising campaign might not materialize until later if contributors eventually become long-term supporters. But unless the typical donor has time to find out how much ultimately makes it to the cause they care so much about, they’re unlikely to be aware of the extraordinary costs involved in nonprofit fundraising.

"The charity agrees to it because they want the easy money that they don’t have to do any work for," Daniel Borochoff, president of the American Institute of Philanthropy in Chicago, told the Guardian. "Then the person goes out and spends $1 million to get that $200,000, and the charity tries to rationalize it by saying ‘Well, it’s money we wouldn’t normally have. We don’t have staffing for fundraising.’ But they’re ripping off the public and disrespecting the intentions of the people who gave that money."

The Los Angeles Times published a months-long investigation July 6 that examined required forms submitted to the California Attorney General’s Office showing the total revenue generated from 5,800 nonprofit fundraising campaigns and how much of that money went to the charities.

Between 1997 and 2006, the paper discovered, 430 campaigns raised a total of $44 million — but in each case, every dime went to the fundraising company. Charities lost money in 337 more cases. In hundreds of instances, charities entered into contracts that assured them only 20 percent or less of the funds raised, regardless of how successful the campaign turned out to be. The AIP recommends spending no more than 35 cents on each dollar raised. The Times also pointed out that donors enjoy tax deductions from their contributions, even if huge portions go to for-profit companies.

"Nonprofits spend a lot of money attracting donors and then they fall away the next year, so they have to reach out and attract even more donors," Elizabeth Boris, director of the Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy in Washington, DC, told us. "So there’s a lot of churning that goes on, because a lot of the same people don’t give to the same organization year after year. It is an expensive process of getting the names and contacting people."

Because California is behind in processing the required disclosure forms, the Times had to specially request records from 2006, meaning more recent figures aren’t available. The Guardian took a far less extensive look at the records, but we still found plenty of examples of charities earning astonishingly low rates of return.

In 2004, Campbell-based TBS Productions raised $418,377 for the San Francisco Police Officers Association and its annual "Parade of Stars" event held at the Palace of Fine Arts. But just $87,094 made it into the union’s nonprofit Community Services Fund, which redistributes it in small increments to a variety of causes.

"I’ve wrestled with this since I’ve come on," said POA President Gary Delagnes. "There are two ways of looking at it. Do we really want to lend our name to an outfit that’s taking 80 percent off the top? … The decision we made was: you know what, we’re to do so much good with the charitable money that it’s worth it to us."

That same year the Oakland Police Officers Association also hired TBS for its "Cavalcade of Stars" event. The company raised $402,515 on behalf of the East Bay union for charitable purposes, but only $88,603 remained after covering the event’s costs, a return to the union of 22 cents on the dollar.

That year, TBS coordinated events for at least 16 groups across the state representing law enforcement and emergency personnel, from the San Jose Firefighters Burn Foundation to the Fresno Deputy Sheriffs Association. But almost no one received a better return rate than 20 percent, and two raised just 15 cents on the dollar after accounting for the for-profit company’s take. No one at TBS was available for comment when we called.

More than 250 fundraising campaigns in California netted 20 cents or less from each dollar raised for charities in 2004, according to figures maintained by the state.

Rich Steinberg, a longtime scholar of nonprofits at Indiana University, said several factors mitigate all this. He explained that the United States Supreme Court has been reluctant to permit heavy regulations on charity fundraising because a seemingly poor cost ratio isn’t necessarily bad for a nonprofit.

"Big charities could do everything wrong but still have a good cost ratio" because their support is widespread, Steinberg said. The San Francisco Ballet and SFMOMA, for example, have done much better in some telemarketing campaigns, earning from 54 percent to 81 percent in return rates despite other times losing money.

Could it be that there are too many small, inefficient nonprofits with similar missions, each created in the belief that government wasn’t filling some need? Perhaps. But attempting to curtail them could undermine the democratic spirit that leads to their creation.

"We should make it legitimate for any group of idiots to get together and try to do something good," Steinberg said.

If they want to succeed, he said, charities should not accept terms that give fundraisers a percentage of the donations. Instead they should establish fixed fees so that every dollar beyond that amount goes toward services. Second, to ensure more favorable rates, they can require competitive bidding among fundraisers.

Ken Larson, director of public policy for the California Association of Nonprofits, said that few of the tens of thousands of charitable organizations registered in California use commercial fundraisers to attract donors, a fact confirmed in reports compiled by the attorney general. Many hire full-time professional fundraisers to seek foundation and government grants or relationships with repeat donors, intangible benefits that can go beyond immediate fundraising goals.

As for telemarketing, Mike Smith, chief operating officer of New Jersey-based Charity Navigator, suggests that when donors receive a call, they can just hang up and cut a check directly to the nonprofit.

The debate over nonprofit fundraising costs is nothing new, but with information increasingly available on the Web, consumers are in a much stronger position to give wisely.

The San Francisco AIDS Foundation publicly and angrily parted ways with its commercial fundraiser, Pallatto Teamworks, in 2001 due in part to a dispute over how much the company charged to operate the California AIDS Ride. The charity has since created its own fundraising arm, steadily improving its rate of return from an average of 54 percent over the past seven years to 66.5 percent last year.

The foundation uses another company, MZA Events, to manage its annual AIDS Walkathon, which has averaged a healthy 63 percent return since 1999 with improved results over each of the last three years.

But officials with the SF AIDS Foundation believe telemarketing has enabled it to achieve greater public awareness. It also began moving the task in-house during the past six months and anticipates greater savings.

"Every dime we save in production is a dime that can go to our clients and our programs and our services," said Dave Ellison, spokesperson for the foundation. "We’re always extremely aware of how important it is to keep the costs down because we see the benefits every day in the lives of our clients."

Cash from cabbies


› news@sfbg.com

The largest taxicab company in San Francisco is trying to squeeze more money from its drivers, who say they’re already being hit hard by increased gate fees and rising fuel costs.

Yellow Cab has ordered its drivers to prepay for the privilege of driving each month, amounting to thousands of dollars for full-time drivers. Compounding that financial hardship is the apparent intention of the company to use prepaid gate fees to change the employment status of its drivers from employees to independent contractors who are no longer entitled to unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation coverage.

While local officials say Yellow Cab’s new policy is illegal, they have little power to compel the company to abandon the plan, which was supposed to go into effect Aug. 15 but has now been moved to December under pressure from city officials and the United Taxicab Workers union. Drivers are also threatening to bring legal action to stop Yellow Cab, relying on a past ruling barring the company from requiring deposits from its drivers and misclassifying drivers as independent contractors.

Repeated attempts by the Guardian to contact Yellow Cab representatives were unanswered, but they had to talk to Jordanna Thigpen, executive director of the San Francisco Taxicab Commission. She found Yellow Cab’s prepayment plan to be in violation of the Superior Court’s decision. "I was not persuaded that the prepayment was not a deposit," Thigpen told the Guardian. "What they are actually doing is asking for a security deposit again under the guise of an Employment Development Department requirement. But the EDD guidelines are just that — guidelines."

The EDD sets work rules and standards in California. According to its Taxicab Industry information sheet, taxi drivers classified as independent contractors "prepay to lease a taxicab for a period of at least 28 days." Yellow Cab used the line, which is posted prominently for employees to see, to justify requiring that all its drivers prepay up to $1,930.

Bud Hazelkorn, cab driver and chairperson of United Taxicab Workers, said UTW has "been talking to an attorney and hopes to bring an injunction against Yellow Cab." He takes little hope from Yellow Cab’s recent decision to push its prepayment deadline from Aug. 15 to December, though he does think it was a response to the UTW’s outcry.

For Hazelkorn, it matters little whether the deadline is a week or six months from now. "Any kind of prepayment policy is against the Tracy decision," he said. "They are trying to make themselves look better by pushing back the deadline. But the fact is that Yellow Cab wants to establish a precedent of prepayment and that is illegal."

The 1996 ruling in Joseph Tracy vs. Yellow Cab barred cab companies from demanding security deposits from drivers. The order, issued by Judge William Cahill of the San Francisco Superior Court, "permanently enjoins the defendant [Yellow Cab], from classifying plaintiffs and similarly situated drivers as independent contractors for purpose of denying such drivers any benefit under California law with respect to workers’ compensation, unemployment insurance, and paying a cash bond to defendants as a condition of driving a taxicab."

The 1996 case also found that Yellow Cab drivers were being unlawfully misclassified as independent contractors, and ruled that the necessary control Yellow Cab exercises over its drivers requires that they be considered employees. For example, drivers have no control over the amount charged to passengers in fares, and often rely on dispatchers to notify them of potential customers. In addition, Yellow Cab keeps personnel files on each of its drivers, conducts orientation programs for new hires, and does not allow its drivers to advertise their services. The Superior Court also found drivers to be "an integral part of [Yellow Cab’s] business," further solidifying cab drivers’ status as employees.

Yellow Cab driver John Han explained that the prepayment fee is based on the number of shifts a driver works. He offered himself as an example: Han works eight shifts per month. Multiplied by the average daily gate fee of $96.50, Han’s prepayment equals $772. Since Han said that cab drivers make between $100–<\d>$150 per day, most of his earnings are eaten up by the end of his shift — or before the shift even begins.

To coax its drivers into compliance, Yellow Cab posted a sign in its San Francisco office that reads, "Do not delay in completing your prepayment or you will be subject to being held out of service." Han says that being held out is equivalent to being a benched baseball player who is technically still on the team.

"We won’t be fired, but we will be prevented from being able to work," Han said, noting that such threats constitute the exercise of control over the drivers by Yellow Cab. "Forcing drivers to do anything is having control over its workers, which is a employer-employee relationship."

EDD spokesperson John Stroot told the Guardian that the information sheet Yellow Cab uses to justify this policy does not compel companies to do anything new. What it does contain are guidelines for different taxicab business models: one for companies that have employees and another for companies that use independent contractors.

"These are not laws," Stroot said. "Cab companies can operate any way they choose. They are just guidelines for companies to follow to figure wage, hour, and tax issues." If Yellow Cab wanted to make drivers independent contractors, it would have to fulfill all requirements on the sheet, not just the one specifying prepayment. For example, drivers would be required to perform their business without any form of control from Yellow Cab, including foregoing the use of Yellow Cab’s dispatch services. But Stroot said most drivers are employees under common law in California "because the company directs and controls the way drivers provide their services."

Misclassifying employees as independent contractors has become a national issue, particularly after Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Marin County) and Rep. Rob Andrews (D-N.J.) introduced a bill intended to crack down on the practice. If passed, the bill would impose penalties on employers who misclassify employees and inform workers of their right to challenge that classification. The bill also would require state unemployment insurance agencies to conduct audits to identify employers guilty of employee misclassification. In addition, the Department of Labor would be required to perform targeted audits of employers in some industries.

The UTW is currently working with Thigpen and Sup. Chris Daly’s office to achieve some form of justice for drivers. "My office is very concerned by this policy," Thigpen said. "It couldn’t have happened at a worse time for drivers. These guys are good people, and they work hard every day." Thigpen said Taxi Commission member Tom Oneto asked her to draft new rules that would apply to such policies. Other than imposing fines and revoking permits, however, there is little her office can do.

"We need serious overhaul of our penalties," Thigpen said. "Right now I can only charge them $25 in fines, which is pathetic. They know they are breaking the law and ripping people off. But how do you begin?" she asked. "We need to get legislation passed that would overhaul the rules." The strongest weapon city officials have against Yellow Cab is to seek an injunction. "Only the courts can decide if this is legal," Thigpen said.

Thigpen and Oneto met July 25 with Lena Gomes, one of Daly’s legislative assistants, to discuss how the Board of Supervisors might take action. "We are creating a resolution urging Yellow Cab not to charge the drivers the fee," Gomes told us. "Yellow Cab appears to be trying to change their drivers classification to avoid certain financial responsibilities. This is one of their strategies."

If Yellow Cab succeeds in its plan, other cab companies may follow suit. "Right now they’re just hanging back to see what Yellow Cab will do," said Han, who estimates that Yellow Cab stands to gain at least $2 million per year from this policy. For Han, not knowing what the company will do with the money is unnerving. "They should be investing it in a health care plan for drivers. But I can only assume the money will be used to buy a sailboat for the top management."

While Hazelkorn said that drivers are "100 percent opposed to this kind of extortion," some disagree. Tariq Mehmood, a Yellow Cab driver for eight years, believes most drivers would rather be independent contractors "because of the freedom it provides us to set our own hours." Mehmood said the UTW’s fight against Yellow Cab is just another ploy to bankrupt the company, which "would be devastating to drivers. I would love to not pay anything — not even gate fees — and still be an independent contractor, but that’s not the reality."

Regardless of how they feel about the policy, some have already begun making payments, while others are quietly saving money just in case. Han refuses to do either, hoping that Yellow Cab can be defeated if enough drivers join him. But 80 to 90 percent of Yellow Cab drivers are immigrants, Han points out, and many are still unacquainted with their rights. "They are afraid to defy the company," he said. "Yellow Cab is setting a trap for those who will fall for it."

Optic nerve


› johnny@sfbg.com

This is the second year that the Guardian has devoted an issue to local photographers. I’ll wait until it happens a third time before deeming the project an annual endeavor. It’s easy to believe in that possibility, because the range of photography in the Bay Area right now is exceptional. This great state of affairs is partly due to spaces and organizations such as SF Camerawork, RayKo Photo Center, and PhotoAlliance. It’s also due to more do-it-yourself street-level groups such as Hamburger Eyes and one of this issue’s 10 contributors, Cutter Photozine.

Last year’s photography issue focused on portraiture, but this year I’ve opted for a survey approach that allows for spontaneous connections. Jessica Rosen and Sean McFarland both utilize collage, but with vastly different results. Keba Konte’s collage aesthetic adds objects to imagery and links history to autobiography. Investigative work leads to political or societal exposure within Trevor Paglen’s and David Maisel’s photography. Adrianne Fernandez and Bayeté Ross-Smith focus on youth as they bring new twists to traditions such as the family album and the prom portrait. Dustin Aksland’s portraiture also includes teenagers, sometimes plopped onto or stopped within American landscapes, while Mimi Plumb likens rural landscapes to the backs of horses.

August may be when summer winds down and a portion of SF prepares to camp elsewhere, but it’s an important time for local photography. This issue coincides with PhotoAlliance’s and the San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery’s annual exhibition of local photographers. Two of the 10 artists on the following pages are part of that show. American photography also will be playing a major role at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art next year, when that space presents an exhibition devoted to Robert Frank and his classic monograph The Americans (Steidl).

In honor of an old adage or clichéd truth, there aren’t a lot of words next to the pictures that follow. But the text does include Web site information. In most cases, these photographers’ sites function as another gallery of sorts, one that lacks the tactile nature and dimensions of an actual photograph but at least suggests the variety of a body of work to date. Scope them out, and scope out Pixel Vision, the Guardian‘s arts and culture blog, for interviews and other photography-related pieces this week. Last, before you look, some thanks are due to Glen Helfand, Chuck Mobley, and Mirissa Neff for their help in the selection process, and to Kat Renz for a last-minute idea.

Also in this issue:

>>Killer shots from the bowels of rock

>>Before stalkerazzi, there was Gary Lee Boas

>>Q&A with Heather Renee Russ of Cutter Photozine

>>Q&A with Jessica Rosen

>>Molly Decoudreaux looks beneath local nightlife

NAME Adrianne Fernandez

TITLE Daddy Sends His Love

BACKGROUND In my "Alternative Album" project, the interplay of social and personal history is essential. It yields a complex tension between irony and nostalgia for the so-called family album.

SHOUT OUTS My influences include artists such as Larry Sultan and Elinor Carruci, who have worked with their prospective families to create intimate images that provide a compelling look into family dynamics.

SHOWS "Gender Agenda," through Sept. 14. The Gallery Project, Ann Arbor, Mich. www.thegalleryproject.com. Also "Not Your Mama’s World," Fri/8 through Sept. 9. Washington Gallery of Photography, Bethesda, Md. www.wsp-photo.com

WEB AlternativeAlbum@aol.com


NAME Jessica Rosen

TITLE I Could See the Amazon from the 5th Floor of the Robert Fulton Projects
BACKGROUND This work is a large-scale photo collage installation made from cut-up, layered C-prints of my original photographs. It measures about 10 feet by 12 feet. Because this scale relates to human scale, it allows the viewer to experience the image as an environment rather than as an isolated image.

SHOUT OUTS My work stems from a fascination with people. Over the years my art practice has continually focused on portraiture. Although my newer collage works may seem quite fantastic, most are truly portraits in the traditional sense.

SHOW "Jessica Rosen," through Oct. 1. Open 24/7 (storefront window). Keys That Fit, 2312 Telegraph Ave, Oakl., http://www.xaul.com/KEYS/home.html

WEB www.jessicarosen.com


NAME Cutter Photozine

TITLE Top to bottom, untitled photos by (1) Ethan Indorf; (2) Keith Aguiar; (3) Ace Morgan; (4) Darcy Sharpe

BACKGROUND Cutter is a San Francisco documentary photo magazine. Founded by Heather Renee Russ and Alison O’Connell, it has a DIY ethic and is eco-positive (it uses recycled paper and soy-based inks). Cole Blevins, Jesse Rose Roberts, Sara Seinberg, and Rachel Styer also worked to put out the first issue, which includes 20 photographers and spotlights Ace Morgan’s uncanny blend of rage, longing, joy, and punk rock.

SHOUT OUTS Cutter is dedicated to people telling their stories and documenting their existence. We seek to undo traditional voyeurism toward the "other" and place the power of sight in the focused home of the author.

SHOW The first issue can be purchased at local shops such as Needles & Pens. They’re currently accepting submissions for the second issue, due this fall. There will be a release party and photo show in late November.

WEB www.cutterphotozine.com


NAME David Maisel

TITLE 1165 (from Library of Dust)

BACKGROUND The large-scale photographs of the "Library of Dust" series depict individual copper canisters, dating from 1913 to 1971, which contain unclaimed cremated remains of patients from Oregon’s state-run psychiatric hospital.

SHOUT OUTS Robert Smithson, NASA photographs, 19th-century exploratory landscape photographers (especially Timothy O’Sullivan), and the New Topographics photographers from the mid-1970s.

SHOW "David Maisel: Library of Dust," Sept. 4–Oct. 4. Tues.–Fri., 10:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m.; Sat., 10:30 a.m.–5 p.m. Haines Gallery, 49 Geary (suite 540), SF. (415) 397-8114, www.hainesgallery.com. Library of Dust (Chronicle Books, 108 pages, $80) will be released in October.

WEB www.davidmaisel.com


NAME Keba Konte

TITLE Detail from "888 Pieces of We"

BACKGROUND The eighth day of the eighth month of the eighth year is approaching, and in alignment with this auspicious moment I have created this exhibition of 888 photographs printed on wood, copper, and vintage books. I’ve had to select from thousands of images spanning 42 years in order to choose 888 that reflect my journey: there are protests and portraits, street moments and political movements; freaks, friends, and family members. As a documentary and portrait photographer, one observes the beautiful strangers. However, looking at this large body of work, another story comes into focus: my own.

SHOUT OUTS Roy DeCarava, Gordon Parks, Sebastião Salgado, Ruth Bernhard, Kimara Dixon.

SHOW "888 Pieces of We: A Photo Memoir," Fri/8 through Sept. 8. Oakland Art Gallery, 199 Kahn’s Alley, Oakl. (510) 637-0395, www.oaklandartgallery.org

WEB www.kebakonte.com


NAME Sean McFarland

TITLES Untitled (park)

BACKGROUND I work from an archive of photographs I’ve made, along with images gathered from print and other media. Through collage, new pictures are formed. Recently my work has focused on weather, nighttime, and the ocean.

SHOUT OUTS For now, two books: National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Weather, (Knopf, 1991), and Gerhard Richter’s Atlas (D.A.P., 2007). Also, students, friends, and just about any archive.

SHOWS "18 Months: Taking the Pulse of Bay Area Photography," through Sept. 17. Mon.–Fri., 8 a.m.–8 p.m. San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery at City Hall, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlet Place, SF. (415) 554-6080, www.sfacgallery.org. Upcoming: "Johanna St. Clare, Paul Wackers, Sean McFarland, Dan Carlson," October. Thurs.–Sat., 1–5 p.m. Eleanor Harwood Gallery, 1295 Alabama, SF.

WEB www.sean-mcfarland.com


NAME Dustin Aksland

TITLE Paso Robles, CA (2005)

BACKGROUND This was shot during a trip to Paso Robles. My friend and I pulled off the highway to take the back roads into town. As soon as we pulled off, we passed this man sleeping in his car. We went about a half-mile and I made my friend turn around. We pulled up in front of the car and I shot two frames out of the passenger window.

INSPIRATION "Useful pictures don’t start from ideas, they start from seeing." — Robert Adams.

SHOWS "States of Mind," September. TH Inside, Brussels, Belgium. "States of Mind," November. TH Inside, Copenhagen, Denmark.

WEB www.dustinaksland.com


NAME Bayeté Ross-Smith

TITLE Here Come the Girls

BACKGROUND This is part of a series that documents high school students in Berkeley, east Oakland, San Francisco, and Richmond as they mark their ascension from childhood to adulthood through the celebratory rite of passage known as prom. Taking a cue from traditional prom photos, the portraits allow for seriousness and playful flamboyance, depicting a vast array of budding identities.

SHOUT OUTS Walter Iooss, the Magnum photographers, and James Van Der Zee.

SHOW "Pomp and Circumstance: First Time to Be Adults," Sept. 4–Oct. 11. Tues.–Fri., 10:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m.; Sat., 10:30 a.m.–5 p.m. Patricia Sweetow Gallery, 77 Geary (mezzanine), SF. (415) 788-5126, www.patriciasweetwogallery.com. Upcoming: "Off Color," Sept. 19–Nov. 1. RUSH Arts Gallery, New York.

WEB www.patriciasweetowgallery.com


NAME Mimi Plumb

TITLE Harley

BACKGROUND These photos are part of an ongoing series that began about 10 years ago when I photographed a herd in the John Muir Wilderness of the Sierra Nevada. The horses in this new series live in Petaluma.

SHOUT OUTS Horses’ backs embody the landscape. They become the horizon and horizon line, at times transforming into the rolling hills of the California landscape where I grew up, before tract houses and strip malls became the norm.

SHOW "18 Months: Taking the Pulse of Bay Area Photography," through Sept. 17. Mon.–Fri., 8 a.m.–8 p.m. San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery at City Hall, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlet Place, SF. (415) 554-6080, www.sfacgallery.org

WEB www.mimiplumb.com


NAME Trevor Paglen

TITLE KEYHOLE 12-3 (IMPROVED CRYSTAL) Near Scorpio (USA 129), 2007

BACKGROUND This is a photo of reconnaissance satellite, taken from the roof of my house in Berkeley. It’s part of a series of photos of American spy satellites.

SHOUT OUTS I got interested in photography because I was working on projects that were nonfiction allegories, projects that played with notions of truth and what we can and can’t see. To me, photography is the medium that does that best. It captures reality and at the same time doesn’t. I like that tension. I also became interested in photography post-9/11 because photography became an aggressive gesture in a way that it wasn’t before — people could be arrested for photographing the Brooklyn Bridge. The act of taking photographs outside became an exercise in civil rights.

SHOWS "The Other Night Sky," through Sept. 14. Wed.–Sun., 11 a.m.–5 p.m. Berkeley Art Museum, 2626 Bancroft, Berk. (510) 642-0808, www.bampfa.berkeley.edu. Upcoming: Taipei Biennial, Sept. 13–Jan. 11, 2009; Istanbul Biennial, 2009; "2008 SECA Art Award Winners," Feb.–May, 2009, SFMOMA.

WEB www.paglen.com

B Star


› paulr@sfbg.com

If you run a successful restaurant on Clement Street, apparently you face a terrible temptation to open another restaurant on Clement Street — across the road, perhaps, or on the next block. And the new place should appeal to a different socioeconomic stratum. For grand Clémentine, this formula resulted in the opening, about four years ago, of Bistro Clement, an earthier and less formal sibling that trafficked in traditional French bistro dishes.

Now the Burma Superstar people, just a block or so to the west of Clémentine, have borrowed a page from the Clémentine script and, in early May, opened their own companion venture, B Star. In a small, or not-so-small, irony, B Star occupies the space held by Bistro Clement before it went under. If that is a bad omen, let’s consider some favorable ones: unlike Bistro Clement, B Star represents an upmarket, not downmarket, move. (Burma Superstar’s lofty reputation has to do with its food, not its ambience) Also, the menu is, of course, Burmese (-ish), and the new place is on the same side of the street as the parent restaurant.

If you’re on foot, in fact, you’re not likely to miss B Star. It’s the mid-block spot with would-be patrons idling and swirling on the sidewalk and in the doorway. Yes, the crowds have already descended, apparently drawn by alluring whiffs of upmarketry and innovative Asian cooking. That formula has been working at nearby Namu, and now it works at B Star, though the two are hardly interchangeable. While Namu is of the night, B Star has the look of day: knotted pine floors, creamy yellow walls, globes of soft light dangling from the ceiling, and a fair amount of lush greenery. If Namu is an ersatz nightclub, then B Star has a certain gazebo quality, even in the evening.

The menu card adverts to "simple and wholesome Asian-style comfort foods." Never have so few syllables signaled so much to so many; they make me think of meatloaf tataki. B Star doesn’t offer that (does anyone?), but the kitchen does turn out dishes all along the innovation spectrum, from a fabulous, if traditional, platha ($4.50) — a disc of pastry-like flatbread, cut into quarters and presented with an irresistible curry sauce for dipping — to a heart-shaped potpie ($14) filled with Thai-style salmon, carrots, red peppers, zucchini, and snap peas awash in a green curry coconut milk sauce that doesn’t lack for chile punch.

Most of the dishes strike a reasonable balance between familiarity and wildness. Care is taken with putf8gs and other small touches, and the ensemble of crockery, rich in eccentric shapes, has a museum-of-modern-art feel that subtly elevates the food it carries. Also, the kitchen is keenly attentive to the matter of texture and to the value of crunchiness, in particular. We detected a definite crispness in a vegetarian samusa soup (a $7 bowl was plenty for two), whose delights included cabbage, lentils, potatoes — worthies all, though soft — and falafel. I love falafel but had never before enjoyed it in any other form than wrapped in a pita or lavash. Here it resulted in a soup that went crunch, and we only wished that the murky, curry-scented, slightly metallic broth had been a little less harsh.

"It’s missing something," my companion said. Salt? Salting helped but did not cure. Something freshening or fruity, maybe?

Additional crunch turned up in kau soi ($11), a large, shallow bowl filled with noodles, bean sprouts, pickled mustard greens, and ground chicken, each in its place, which made the bowl look like a 3-D map of some ethnically fractured island. It fell to the diner to mix and mingle (as with the Korean beef salad known as bi bim bop), and one of the first things this diner noticed was that the chicken — more shredded than ground, I thought — was wonderfully crispy, in contrast to the soft-focus players. If any dish at B Star manages a rustic sophistication, it’s this one.

Since the menu offered no meatloaf tataki, we settled for a spicy-tuna version ($8.50). The fish had been crusted with crushed peppercorns au poivre-style, seared, cut into slices, and served with a gingery mush dotted with bits of jalapeño pepper and flecks of cilantro. It was also quite chilly, which suggested pre-preparation but also brought a cold-flash counterpoint to a parade of dishes that ranged from warm to scorching.

A nicely balanced dish, in this respect, was the duck lettuce cups ($8). The lettuce consisted of long spears, crisp and cool as an early spring in morning; they were on hand here so we could scoop up the duck, a pile of cooling but still warm shredded meat (like the pork in mu shu pork) perfumed with five-spice powder and laced with a mince of red bell pepper, carrots, celery, and scallions. Our only complaint was that the lettuce spears were not particularly useful as scoops; the regular lettuce cups (of broader and more pliant butter-leaf lettuce) would have been better.

Just as it must be hard to be the child of a famous or accomplished parent, so it must be difficult to be the offspring of a restaurant that uses "superstar" for part of its name. Expectations are bound to be stoked. "Star" is at least more modest than "superstar," particularly when it’s denoted by a symbol rather than spelled out as a word. And B Star does have glints of something special: the best dishes are memorable, the look is appealing, and the staff is as young and energetic as the crowd. A B is good, but give us an A !


Dinner: Tues.–Thurs., 5–9:30 p.m.; Fri.–Sun., 5–10 p.m.

Lunch: Tues.–Sun., 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m.

127 Clement, SF

(415) 933-9900


Beer, wine, soju



Wheelchair accessible



PREVIEW There ought to be a name for the ecstatic genre of drag where the drag queen whirls and twirls more than she lipsynchs, points, or occasionally stalks across the stage. I’m thinking of when the svelte Varla Jean Merman swings from the rafters or any number of Southern man-belles ringading-ding a song home in a whirlwind of wig-tossing backflips. Acrotranny? Choreodrag? Whatever it is, the fabulously kinetic Edie has made it her own. She’s not only the aerobiqueen It Girl — she’s That Girl with a puffed-out Marlo Thomas ‘do, ass-high spangled shifts that showcase extraordinary legs in blurry strut-kick action, and a forest-fire smile that says "No!" but means "Yes?" Edie’s style can best be described as showgirl cocktail hour, a wry martini with a fruity umbrella that blends Audrey Hepburn cigarette-holder chic, frantic backup dancer shimmy, and occasional bursts of Cyd Charisse and Doris Day. (Yes, she sings.) After her act’s several breathless climaxes, you’re never sure whether to offer her an Eames chair or a Twister mat. It all comes on with a slightly demented edge: Mama misses her barbiturates. Edie’s Internet Boom–era run of performances at Mecca are now legendary — she was the perfect drag avatar of those status-drunk, screwy ultralounge times. After a successful stint with Cirque Du Soleil’s sensuous Zumanity in Las Vegas, she’s popping back into town to blow our Web 2.0 fedoras off. Grab your gimlets.

EDIE Rrazz Room, Hotel Nikko, 222 Mason, San Francisco. Fri/8, 10:30pm. $25. (415) 394-1189, www.therrazzroom.com

New wave reunion


PREVIEW I’m too young to know for sure whether or not it’s normal that so many older bands are re-forming to record novelty albums and go on reunion tours, but it certainly does seem strange. I mean, sure, there’s the money (just check the inflated ticket prices) and the thrill of seeing thousands of aging fans sing along to all your songs — but at some point it must get kind of depressing to realize they would probably rather be teleported back to 1981 when they could see you for $10 in a small club when everyone was 40 pounds lighter.

But nostalgia is a powerful thing, and the reunion-industrial complex keeps chugging on. This summer’s Regeneration Tour unites all the best new wavers — the Human League and ABC included. Unfortunately, it’s bypassing San Francisco, so we’ll have to settle for back-to-back shows at smaller venues. On Saturday night, Sheffield, England synth pioneers the Human League performs at the Mezzanine. The band, which never officially broke up, put out its last album of fresh material in 2001, the much-overlooked Secrets (Ark 21). On Sunday, ABC plays the Independent, drawing material from its first batch of new songs in 11 years, 2008’s Traffic (Vibrant).

But, hey, who am I to judge? I’m sure one day I’ll shell out $150 to see the Strokes at the Greek Theatre so I can experience two hours of joy before rushing home to pay the babysitter. I only hope they play "12:51."

HUMAN LEAGUE With DJs Skip and Shindog. Sat/9, 8 p.m., $40. Mezzanine, 444 Jessie, SF. (415) 625-8880, www.mezzaninesf.com. ABC With DJ Funklor. Sun/10, 8 p.m., $27. Independent, 628 Divisadero, SF. (415) 771-1421, www.independentsf.com

2008 Cuervo Black US Air Guitar Championships


PREVIEW For those about to air (guitar), we salute you. All it takes is viewing the big-hearted 2006 doc Air Guitar Nation or a few minutes in a sweaty club with the contestants to sample the craft, sass, and brash fearlessness needed to risk making a royal air-guitar-noodling ass of yourself in front of hundreds of sodden, mouthy armchair air-ax-slingers who believe — nay, know — they can kick as much as air-ass as you.

So kudos to San Francisco winner Awesome, a.k.a. Shred Begley Jr., a.k.a. comedian Alex Koll, for making the transition from the bedroom to the national 2008 Cuervo Black US Air Guitar Championships Aug. 8 at the Grand Ballroom. So what’s with the multiple monikers? Mob rules: it was chosen for him at the sold-out June 25 regional finals at the Independent by the all-too-ready-with-the-boos crowd.

"I was in a sleeveless tank top that said, ‘AWESOME!’, which is my name and my way of life," Koll says by phone. "The audience responded the only way they could. It chanted, ‘Awesome, awesome,’ until it became my official stage name." Attempts to "melt faces" culminated in a second-round performance that, well, continued the hype. "I rode my friend’s face into the crowd, which was very popular," Koll says. In return, the crowd "paid the ultimate price to get me back onstage — I had to use a couple as human shields. Then I had to do more ceremonial headbanging, and the stage started to crack in half, but I was able to pull it together — with my feet."

Sure, and we all know Koll can’t be held responsible for the recent Los Angeles quake, though he admits he was practicing at the time. Meanwhile he’s refining the awesomeness for the national bout — the winner goes to the world air-off in Finland — since the event includes Brooklyn winner Bettie B. Goode, who severed her toe in competition. "She still won," Koll moans. "These are the kind of people I’m up against. In light of that, I’m stepping up my game: I bought six new tassels."

2008 CUERVO BLACK US AIR GUITAR CHAMPIONSHIPS Fri/8, 8:30 p.m., $20. Grand Ballroom, 1290 Sutter, SF. www.apeconcerts.com

Predictably good


REVIEW The year is 1976, the American Bicentennial, and snooty British wine seller Steven Spurrier (Alan Rickman) decides to organize a blind taste test, pitting French wine against the then-fledgling California wine. While in Napa he meets Jim Barrett (Bill Pullman), a perfectionist, and his long-haired surf bum son Bo (Chris Pine). Impressed by Barrett’s Château Montelena chardonnay, Spurrier hopes to include it in the competition. It isn’t too difficult to see where all of this is headed, not only because the outcome of the 1976 blind taste test is obvious every time we drink wine produced in the Napa Valley, but also because Bottle Shock isn’t exactly blazing any new territory. The characters are all familiar: an earnest father, his slacker son, and a budding Mexican vintnerready to get out from under the thumb of his white boss. The subplots are equally familiar: a strained father-son relationship and a love triangle. Nevertheless, there is something warm and charming about Bottle Shock. It’s one of those based-on-a-true-story, America-as-underdog movies that are as predictable as they are hard to resist.

BOTTLE SHOCK opens Wed/6 in Bay Area theaters.

“Summer Reading”


REVIEW I wish I were Jorge Luis Borges. The Argentine man of letters was top among those writers, such as Orhan Pamuk, Margaret Atwood, and Ali Smith, whose nonfiction is even more potent, surreal, and addictive than their fiction. Borges once remarked on a translation of William Beckford’s Vathek: "The original is unfaithful to the translation." I’d say the same about "Summer Reading" at Hosfelt Gallery. Taking as their inspiration a range of literary classics, from Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park (1814) to Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968), the 18 works on display at the group show manage to be more than just windows into each artist’s reading of a particular book. They provide a bird’s-eye view of internal floor plans, acting as translations from the literary into the visual, increasing ambiguity while lowering page count.

Su Blackwell’s four wall-mounted sculptures use actual books, their pages cut and molded into little trees of text and gallivanting characters, creating miniature worlds so fragile that they seem to have been frozen in time so they will not break. In Blackwell’s The Secret Garden — inspired by the book of the same name — a little girl is supported by tree branches from one angle, but from another appears to be reaching for them unsuccessfully, frightened and alone.

John O’Reilly’s collage, Dead Centaur — Of Cormac McCarthy, captures the dark textures of reality in McCarthy’s writing, and José Antonio Suarez Loñdono’s intimate notebook drawings, inspired by Kafka and Evan S. Connell, are like footnotes in the form of silhouettes. Amy Hicks’ videos, ReAdaptation: the book series (2007–08), use flip-books meticulously constructed by taping pictures onto book pages. One of the volumes is on display and looks like something a stalker would construct, but the videos are more melancholic than creepy.

SUMMER READING Through Sat/9. Tues.–Sat., 11 a.m.–5:30 p.m. Glenn Kurtz reading, Fri/8, 6 p.m. Hosfelt Gallery, 430 Clementina, SF. (415) 495-5454, www.hosfeltgallery.com