Volume 42 Number 49

The shock of the old


TV EYED A young lawyer friend recently told me about her most recent, insidious opponent in a courtroom: the otherwise friendly opposition would first ingratiate himself by complimenting her on some part of her presentation and then proceed to take apart every other element of her case, disassembling it and tossing it aside like so many useless Popsicle sticks.

AMC’s Mad Men reminds me of this charming shark — fraught with instant surface attraction, with chaser after chaser of insinuating dis-ease. The shell is handsome: its creamy, dreamy, often cool blue cinematography appears to be seamlessly lifted from the pages of an old Life magazine. The stylized art direction, perched between the mid-century moderne ’50s and the freewheeling ’60s, matches three-martini-lunch-ready, lustily deep-red banquettes with Eames-ish lines and steely spanking-new-skyscraper sleekness. The costuming is equally on point, outfitting every exec at the somewhat hermetically sealed Sterling Cooper ad agency in grey or darker suits — the phallic uniform of seeming masters of the universe. Meanwhile the female characters break down according to character: innocence calls for June Allyson Peter Pan collars; sexual experience, bombshell sheaths; surburbanite, Grace Kelly/CZ Guest flips; with the occasional beatnik looking forward to proto-hippie peasant blouses.

And then there’s the stylized and consistently excellent acting, varying from the eerie, almost polished-plastic, Lynchian figures like privileged account exec Pete Campbell, played as cluelessly out of his body and creepily semi-conscious by Vincent Kartheiser. It’s as if Pete were lost in an air-conditioned nightmare, waiting for the roiling ’60s to rouse him from his slumber. Mixing the artifice of the moment and the romance of a man who clearly has based his persona on cinematic iconography as well as the media imagery he helps to create, the remarkably nuanced Jon Hamm delivers protagonist Don Draper as the sexy dad with a killer smile that often betrays the gaping cracks beneath the stylish facade. Without saying much apart from his face and eyes, Hamm reveals his fear and angst about his hidden white trash background (or is he the stealth Jew in this WASPy, anti-Semitic realm?) and hidden girlfriends — Don has poured himself into this role as smoothly as he might a stiff drink, but will he be able to maintain control as the ’60s knock on Sterling Cooper’s door? Even seemingly minor characters like comedian wife-manager Bobbie Barrett (Melinda McGraw), who takes up with Don with proto-feminist vigor, make an indelible impression, as does the surprisingly good January Jones, portraying Betty, Don’s strangled-by-the-‘burbs wife. She’s too physically and psychologically fragile to truly mimic the era’s sensuously robust femme ideal Grace Kelly, plus she’s positively seething with rage — as season two progresses — at her husband’s infidelities, absences, and secrets. The urgency with which this at-first-cool blonde entreated her hubby to spank their son was genuinely shocking: how could this frail flower of American womanhood be so cruel?

Yet this sense of disjunction yields Mad Men‘s secret weapon: the way it matter-of-factly presents the casual sexism and racism of the pre- and early-’60s office (and otherwise) culture — as when the Sterling Cooper ad agency wolves blatantly ogle and rag on the all-female administrative staff, and when a Jewish department store heiress enters this anti-Semitic boy’s-club picture (the only known Jew and low-level employee in the firm must be hustled up to the meeting to make her comfortable). Here, the sole people of color are found operating the elevator or cleaning the office.

Your eyes widen when the otherwise supremely identifiable Draper calls up his wife’s therapist to get updates on her condition, and at the manner in which he puts the kibosh on her return to work as a model. The ugly extension of its dedication to retro cool, Mad Men‘s edge authentically emerges from the shock of the old, yesteryear’s culture colliding headlong with current values. Rather than sugar-coating the past à la Happy Days — or denuding and repurposing a throwback look simply for effect — creator-writer Matthew Weiner highlights the offhand, everyday brutality of pre-civil rights, pre-women’s lib American life, creating a subtle horror show that lightly dances with both seduction and repulsion. You’re constantly recoiling with fascination at the complacency and assumptions cast by these maddeningly entitled men creating advertising dreams in steel towers. There’s little of the overt action present in the last series Weiner wrote for, The Sopranos. Instead, the violence comes when our values brush up against those of the recent past. Regardless of what some conservatives would like, things have changed. And as the ad chauvinists of Mad Men huddle to discuss their plans for the Nixon campaign of 1960 — they picked a real winner there — they likely would never have imagined that they would be effectively sidelined as a woman and a black man would be duking it out for the Democratic presidential nomination less than 50 years later. (Kimberly Chun)


The grateful undead


› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER Looking back at Outside Lands and ahead to Hardly Strictly Bluegrass and the last lingering Indian summer sighs and huzzahs of the festival express season, I’d say we all have plenty to be grateful for. At Outside Lands, I was thankful for Sharon Jones’ sass, Radiohead’s nu-romantic lyricism (amid two moments when the sound cut out and Thom Yorke’s jesting "OK, who put beer in the plug?"), Beck’s persistent pop groove as fence jumpers leapt the barriers, Regina Spektor’s and Andrew Bird’s old-time songcraft, Los Amigos Invisibles’ and Little Brother’s bounce, and Primus’ pluck. No doubt the bison are grateful for the quiet betwixt gatherings — and we all envy them after those night strolls through the cool, darkened park, passing kids listening to the music echo through the arboreal cathedral.

I could go on about how gratified I am for a somewhat chiller city now that burner getups on Haight Street are discounted and their would-be buyers are happily grilling on the playa. But the most grateful of all has gotta be Sam Adato, who I chatted up last week on the eve of practice with his hard rock band Sticks and Stones. The group has a Sept. 5 show at Slim’s, for which he’s likely grateful, but most of all he’s happy to be alive and not buried beneath some beater. He was on his way to his store, Sam Adato’s Drum Shop, July 31 when, he says, a woman driver running a red light at Ninth Street was hit by another car heading down Folsom. "The impact made her swerve and go directly into my shop," he says. "It had to be quite fast to crash through the storefront." Adato usually gets to the store by 11 a.m. — he missed colliding with the driver by about 15 minutes. "Thank god," he marvels. "I probably would have been dead." His wife rushed over thinking he was in the store when the crash occurred, and their tearful embrace outside was captured by at least one photo-blogger. "Thank god no one was hurt," Adato adds. "Walking on the sidewalk or in the shop — it could have been a bloodbath. Things can be replaced — people can’t."

Adato’s alive, but half the storefront was wiped out, and he estimates that about $10,000 in inventory was destroyed. Now everything is in storage, the store is boarded up, and repairs have begun. Meanwhile he’s been producing a CD for his other band, The Bridge, which opened for Deep Purple at the Warfield last summer. "That’s been keeping me busy, but the ironic thing is Oct. 12 will be my 15-year anniversary — it just might be the grand reopening, 15 years after I first opened," he says wryly. At that time he was at a crossroads. "Rather than audition for touring bands, which is great but it’s hard to make a living and more often than not you’re just a hired gun, I decided to open a drum shop. I had no doubt in my mind it would succeed," he says firmly. "There are no drum shops like it anywhere. A drummer can come in and say they need their drum fixed, and I’ll fix it right there and then."

Until a certain car crash, he was living the drummer’s dream. Though Adato now throws down his sticks in South San Francisco, he actually resided in his SF shop for its first two years. "It was great," he recalls. "Stay up late, get up, take a shower, turn on the lights, open the door, and you’re ready for business, surrounded by drums day and night. Thank god for giving me this life." *


Fri/5, 9 p.m., $15


333 11th St., SF





Will Johnson unites his two groups on the release of a two-CD set on Misra. With Sleepercar. Wed/3, 8 p.m., $10–$12. Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell, SF. www.rickshawstop.com


The Olympia, Wash., combo on K Records jangles brightly at the end of a dreamily desolate echo chamber. With Family Trea and Ben Kamen and the Hot New Ringtones. Wed/3, 9 p.m., $6. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. www.hemlocktavern.com


Reunited and it feels like Mommy is home. After the 2007 passing of drummer Jann Kotik, the ‘heads decided to track old and new songs for the revitalized You’re Not a Dream (Bladen County). With Brad Brooks and The Mumlers. Wed/3, 9:30 p.m., $12. Café Du Nord, 2170 Market, SF. www.cafedunord.com


Taz Arnold of Sa-Ra and rapper Paperboy make it onto the LA beat-R&D specialist’s new Love to Make Music To (Ninja Tune). Thurs/3, 7 p.m., free. Apple Store, 1 Stockton, SF. Fri/5, 10 p.m., $5–$10. Elbo Room, 647 Valencia, SF. www.elbo.com


You know you like it — the pathos and chuckles of reading oh-so-private love letters and diary entries in public. Fri/5-Sat/6, 8 p.m., $12–$15. Make-Out Room, SF. www.makeoutroom.com


Certainly one of the more unexpected pairings of late: the determinedly independent Trent Reznor meets the persistently raucous Bradford Cox. Fri/5, 7:30 p.m., $39.50–$55. Oracle Arena, Oakl. www.apeconcerts.com


DV’s heartfelt folk meets its ideal match in SF’s DS, whose Andrew Simmons is planning to drop a haunting solo EP, Tabernacle Word, Pioneer (Ghost Mansion). With Micah Blue Smaldone. Sat/6, 10 p.m., $10. Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., SF. www.bottomofthehill.com
The über-versatile Oakland MC recently cometh with Prince Cometh (7even89ine). With Bambu and DJ Phatrick, Do D.A.T., Power Struggle, EyeASage, and Emassin. Tues/9, 9:30 p.m., $10–$13. Café Du Nord, 2170 Market, SF. www.cafedunord.com

“Peering Through the Portal”


PREVIEW This weekend CounterPULSE features two groups that thrive on collaboration. They have in common an Asian American background that informs but doesn’t determine the work they do. Melody Takata is a San Francisco artist with a broad perspective and 20 years of experience. Trained in taiko (she is the founder of GenTaiko), the three-stringed shamisen, and Japanese classical and folk dance, she grounds her pieces in the past but creates a contemporary language for them. In 2007’s Quest (with saxophonist Francis Wong and poet Genny Lim), Takata uses taiko drumming and both styles of Japanese dance to demystify some of the exoticism that surrounds Japanese American culture. This year’s Shimenawa (Rope) grew out of a concern that plans for the extensive remodeling of Japantown will cut one of the ties that bind the Japanese American community. Los Angeles–based Elaine Wang and San Francisco resident Lenora Lee, who began their modern dance partnership in the early 1990s, recently revived Lee & Wang Dance. Their 2007 Gale Winds and Turya explores conflicting internal voices and the role of dreamscapes and memory in the search for identity. Wang’s new duet, Swoon, pairs her with flautist/dancer Kaoru Watanabe in an exploration of connection, separation, and the quiet space between the two. Mina Nishimura and musicians Tatsu Aoki and Hideko Nakajima also perform in this interdisciplinary program.

PEERING THROUGH THE PORTAL Sat/6, 8 p.m.; Sun/7, 1 p.m. CounterPULSE, 1310 Mission, San Francisco. $10–$15. 1-800-838-3006, www.counterpulse.org, www.brownpapertickets.com

SF Electronic Music Festival


PREVIEW Five days, 18 performers, one ensemble, countless cords and magic boxes, and weird sounds times infinity. I mean, hell, if you’ve got an electric current and an instrument (in its broadest interpretation), you may as well use ’em together.

In this spirit, eight Bay Area sound-art wizards have organized the San Francisco Electronic Music Festival for eager electro-lovin’ ears for the ninth year in a row. Could there be a musical gathering more eclectic than this? Not likely. After nearly a decade of tapping into the electro-acoustic grab bag, the lineup is still stretching diversity to new levels, ranging the melodic-discordant gamut from drone to pop and contemporary chamber to industrial and then some. There’ll be internationally renowned pioneers such as sonic meditator Pauline Oliveros, and emerging artists like Oakland’s folklore-inspired pop duo Myrmyr. Many performances feature sfSoundGroup lending its modern improvisational twist. And don’t forget the science-derived computer music and harsh noise, synth-y innovations and rearranged Persian classics, electro-trombone and minimalism by way of New York City. You know you wouldn’t dare argue with an "intense noise artist" named Sharkiface.

SFEMF pummels the boundaries of your deconstructed notions of avant-garde postmodernism, then does it a few more times, till you’re left with the sharpened edge of experimental glinting through the soundwaves. Why not totally saturate your sonic-scape and save a few bucks with the five-day ticket? ‘Cause you love the Moog and the Mac, and for one week, you have it all.

SF ELECTRONIC MUSIC FESTIVALWith Jen Boyd, Monique Buzzarté, Edmund Campion, Clay Chaplin, Ata Ebtekar, Hans Fjellestad, Christopher Fleeger, Phill Niblock, Tujiko Noriko, Carl Stone, Alex Potts, Akira Rabelais, Rutro and the Logs, Ray Sweeten, and Richard Teitelbaum. Wed/3–Sun/7, 8 p.m. (Sat/6 at 7 p.m.), $12–$17 per day; $55 all five days. Project Artaud Theatre, 450 Florida, SF. (415) 626-4370, www.sfemf.org

Mirah and Spectratone International


PREVIEW "O dear Venus, I meant no impiety!" Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn — better known simply as Mirah — is a woman of many talents, having put out oodles of solo releases as a stalwart in the Portland, Ore.-Olympia, Wash., DIY-rock nexus and collaborated with friends such as the Microphones’ Phil Elvrum. Her latest project, Spectratone International, makes its final run through California this week, staging multimedia performances of Share This Place: Stories and Observations (K), accompanied by a dozen stop-animation videos by Britta Johnson and buoyed by strings and percussion.

The project came to pass when the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art commissioned Black Cat Orchestra’s Kyle Hanson and Lori Goldston (who famously played cello with an Unplugged Nirvana) to make a bugged-out song cycle with Mirah. Inspired by 19th-century French naturalist J. Henri Fabre’s writings and Karel Capek’s Insect Play, among other sources, the final series is convulsively beautiful, compulsively listenable — and a genuinely unusual and dramatic way to think about those winged strangers we tend to swat away. Intimately recorded by Steve Fisk and Elvrum, Mirah croons ever-so-sweetly about the bright-bellied fireflies of "Luminescence" — "Now I have a belly full of bright light … observe how my lantern did kindle the prize," she breathes — or from the viewpoint of a brand new baby bug in "Emergence of the Primary Larva." This night light is a bright light.

MIRAH AND SPECTRATONE INTERNATIONAL With Matt Sheehy. Mon/8, 7:30 p.m., $15. Swedish American Music Hall, 2174 Market, SF. (415) 861-5016, www.cafedunord.com

“Trouble the Water”


REVIEW Anyone impressed by Cloverfield‘s camcorder frenzy needs to see the remarkable video diary Kimberly Roberts made in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward while Katrina wailed and the government balked. Trouble the Water directors Tia Lessin and Carl Deal initially came to the city in hopes of investigating the way in which National Guard support was waylaid by an America being stretched thin in Iraq. The film opens with the directors talking to a bureaucrat, but within moments Roberts and her husband Scott bum rush the side of the frame and never let go. The New York–based Fahrenheit 9/11 producers thankfully let Roberts’ eyewitness footage run for long segments, underscoring its The Hague–worthy indictment with periodic cutaways to the naysayers (George W. Bush, FEMA’s Michael Brown, and so on). When we return to her shot of a neighborhood drunk who died in the storm, it feels as significant a victory for the documentary process as the stabbing in Gimme Shelter (1970). The storm interrupts Roberts’ camerawork the first time; months later, back in the Ninth Ward, it’s the police telling her to stop rolling. Even when Trouble the Water moves into more conventional over-the-shoulder filmmaking, Kimberly and Scott Roberts remain enthralling subjects. It’s doubtful festival-goers saw anything as breathtaking as Kimberly Roberts’ autobiographical rap "Amazing" at this past snooze of a Sundance, where Trouble the Water claimed the Grand Jury Prize. Rappers, it turns out, make the best reporters.

TROUBLE THE WATER opens Fri/5 at the Sundance Kabuki.

“Miju: Effigies and Demigods”


REVIEW Dear Miju, I know you aren’t a folk singer. You are an artistic collaboration between Bay Area artists (and couple) Michele Muennig and Juan Carlos Quintana. Using childhood imagery and a fittingly subdued palette, you deconstruct fantasy worlds on paper and canvas. Your solo show at Jack Fischer Gallery, "Effigies and Demagogues," is both outlandish and darkly comical: dolls catch fire and real people head to the edge of the abyss. Still, your art — how did you fit so many big paintings in such a small gallery? — reminds me irrevocably of folkie John Wesley Harding, né Wesley Stace, one of our most ironic songwriters.

You are an improved Harding — one who knows when to stop. Harding’s "The Night He Took Her to the Fairground" was murdered by studio musicians but sounds fantastic when he does it solo with a guitar: "He poisoned her with words / She tried to spit them out," he croons, and, as your paintings Shallow Cause for Optimism and Destiny for the 21st Century Manifested show at Jack Fischer, it’s hard to tell if people are trying to hurt each other or if they’re just caught up in the same bad dream. In Shallow Cause, your separate artistic touches combine seamlessly to evoke a marionette that has slackened forever. In Destiny, people exhaust themselves trying to haul the icons of a Manifest Destiny that never existed, while another character parts curtains only to reveal cliffs.

You must have read what I read: Mattimeo (Philomel, 1989), Through the Looking Glass, and Peter Pan. And you must have looked at the illustrations similarly: J.D. Bedford’s Tinker Bell was more frightening than his Captain Hook, for she seemed not to know how foolish she looked, twinkling about, headed for the open sea but dressed for the beach.

MIJU: EFFIGIES AND DEMAGOGUES Through Sept. 27. Mon.–Sat., 11 a.m.–5:30 p.m., Jack Fischer Gallery, 49 Geary, suite 440, SF. (415) 956-1178, www.jackfischergallery.com

Hello ta-tas


CLUB REVIEW I love a pair of tits, but nothing’s better than four of a kind. That’s what I wanted when I hit electro/hip-hop party TITS, the bimonthly breast bash at the Transfer thrown by Parker Day. The woman puts on so many events we’d have to change our name to the Day Guardian to cover them all. Day divulged that the night’s all about "drag shows and break-dancing, birthdays and binge drinking, broken bottles and blood."

Well, I demanded even more — sometimes more is less for your typically hoodied hipoisie. And before Transfer owner Greg Bronstein even considers instating a dress code at the soon-to-be chi-chi-fied bar, it’s still in-yer-face TNT (ta-tas ‘n’ ta-tas) action or bust for me. Call me a perv, but I follow a long line of true journalists, extending from Hugh Hefner to Helen Gurley Brown. And if Parker and her posse can man-nipple-ate 20-somethings into taking their tops off, then so can I. Trust.

So, camera in hand, I made my way past the dance floor to the sexy photo room in back, where there’d surely be some desperate publicity seekers — Tara Reid, much? — willing to do anything to be in a picture. Well, not so much. But channeling my best Hoe Francis, I managed to convince two straight boys (who worked there and had to do it), a gay boy (who was drunk), a woman (who had posed nude before), and finally another woman (a friend of the promoter, who also had to do it) and a Janice Dickinson male model (who’s from LA and has no shame) to drop top and pose tit à tit. Ain’t no stoppin’ me now. So who’s unleashin’ CLITS?


First and third Fridays, 10 p.m.–2 a.m., $5


198 Church, SF


Horn dogs unite


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Lately I’ve been thinking about buying a trumpet. I had one once, though my mom sold it back to an instrument shop years ago — long after I’d ditched it and jumped the fence to a cappella choir about midway through high school. By that point I couldn’t have cared less, but more recently I’ve found myself daydreaming about it, its gleaming shine, its sleek curves. Mostly, though, I reminisce about its power — roaring and robust and showy as hell, that trumpet gave my mild-mannered little self a shot at being loud and free. And yet somehow, incredibly, I gave it up: too uncool, I’d told myself. Damn fool, what was I thinking? I take a mental inventory of my favorite songs — trumpets everywhere. I scan my record collection — yep, brass galore. I recall the new artists who are getting me the most hot ‘n’ bothered — can you guess the common thread? So, anyone want to sell me a trumpet?

As much as the current brass boom appears to be in full flourish from coast to coast, we here in the Bay Area are particularly spoiled for choice when it comes to horn-driven delights: rapturous Balkan brass bands, wickedly deep Afro-funk, and sweet soul music are all solid fixtures on the local menu for lovers of trumpets, trombones, and beyond. Still, the range of flavors extends even further than this quick list. As the longstanding booking agent for San Francisco’s Amnesia Bar, Sol Crawford, can attest: "I was thinking about all of these amazing bands we have in our area, when it occurred to me — so many of them feature brass! So, I decided, why not put together a festival to spotlight brass in all its diversity?"

And what a spotlight it will be. Boasting 11 days’ worth of brass-tastic revelry involving 30-plus artists and 21 shows, Crawford’s showcase offers thrilling testimony to the endless taste combinations proffered by local horn players — and the bands who love ’em. The festival’s name was inevitable. "As I began organizing this festival, I thought of it as a feast," he elaborates over iced tea at a Mission District café. "Then I pictured a cornucopia — this great big horn-shape with food spilling out. Perfect. A hornucopia, then!"

With a roster as impressive as this, the Hornucopia Festival is a veritable bounty deserving of the food analogy. Consider the sweet-and-savory possibilities of any given evening, and you’ll have rung Pavlov’s bell and set your mouth a-salivating: there’s the hot-pepper punch of Afrobeat powerhouse Aphrodesia, the hard bop/hip-hop grease of the Realistic Orchestra, the crisp crunch of punk-rock march-brigade Extra Action Marching Band, and the corn whiskey–marinated Dixieland delirium of the Gomorran Social Aid and Pleasure Club, for a start. Floor-burning Balkan brass band bacchanalians Brass Menazeri will elevate heart rates with a release party to herald the arrival of their latest self-released CD, Vranjski San. Lord Loves a Working Man’s heavy-soul workouts should keep crowds feeling limber … and so on. Add them all up, and that’s some serious Bay-representing horn love. One last coup: Crawford also enlisted the help of eminent New York klezmer daredevil Frank London, who will debut a sure-to-electrify ensemble: the SF Klezmer Brass Allstars.

Asked about the drive behind orchestrating such an enormous event that not only includes shows but workshops and panel discussions, Crawford’s answer is simple. "It’s about connecting," he explains. "There’s a great return to acoustic-based music happening right now, and a lot of these artists are mixing and melding genres in fascinating ways. And I want to bring them to a larger audience." My eyes continue to widen in awe upon hearing the full extent of what it has taken to put together this colossal labor of love, but he returns my sense of wow with an easy smile. "My friends have been great in helping out," the organizer adds. "So have the bands. It’s the scrappy brassy little festival that could."


Sept. 4–14. Includes Frank London’s SF Klezmer Brass Allstars Sept. 5 at Café Du Nord; Brass Menazeri, Aphrodesia, and bellydance Sept. 12 at Great American Music Hall; and Polkacide Sept. 13 at Café Du Nord. For more information, go to www.hornucopiafestival.org

“Not tough”


It wasn’t long ago that I stood in a small gallery, getting the same feelings I have on the F train in August: I’m going to get stampeded or dehydrate, and no one will notice. But since the Tea Elles had come highly recommended and was the only band playing, I stuck it out — along with a pack of sweaty citizens who, despite the B.O.-heavy sauna atmosphere, didn’t budge from the front of the room.

Months later in SoMa, I’m sitting in an airy kitchen with three of the four Tea Elles. It’s a bit like you imagine the "cool kid" dorm room to be: people with rolled cigarettes and guitars filing in and out and obscure music crackling out of a boom box.

"We picked the name, thinking Tea and Elles are like British and French. The most pansy, flamboyant name, which is kind of fitting for what we are doing," drummer Jigmae Behr tells me. "I mean, we’re not tough."

It’s true, the Tea Elles — which includes vocalist-guitarist Jeremy Cox, guitarist-vocalist Amelia Radtke, and bassist-vocalist Tanner Griepentrog — are not "tough." But funny enough, I’d have to say they’re kind of punk. Kind of punk and kind of surf — and kind of psychedelic too. Oh, yeah, and they’re also amazing.

The randomness of the band’s music is its most enticing aspect. It’s like a cocktail made by a mad scientist that hangs out at your favorite record store — a little Billy Childish with some Ventures and a dash of Syd Barrett thrown in. It makes a lot of sense when you hear it, but I’m amazed someone made this monster walk.

And the Tea Elles aren’t alone. The more independent shows I go to, the more I see this style emerging. Behr has his theory. "There was a mass consciousness," the 26-year-old explains, rolling another cigarette. "There were a lot of kids all over the country, going to the same shows, buying the same records, and loving the same bands. We all made these projects that came from the same cesspool. We are just all coming through the same filter of a punk aesthetic.

"So we evolved and whatever direction we take is going to be through that lens. If we decide we’re gonna be surf-oriented, or have more girl group harmonies, it’s all coming through that lens."

Oh. Where was I when everyone was getting so awesome? While some of us feel like having instant access to every type of media in the world has become daunting, other young musicians are pulling muses from every vine they can reach. And in a city like San Francisco, where — unlike Los Angeles or New York City — you won’t have a talent scout from MTV at every show, these performers seem to be making music for all the right reasons.

"When I’m writing a song or playing music I’m not thinking about any of that shit," says Cox, 19. "I’m thinking about a handful of people whose music I like."

The so-called egocentric notion of a frontperson is out, too, along with the idea that a band would ever release an album — unless it was done independently. It’s as if groups like the Tea Elles never imagined anyone would ever help them, although David Fox of local art collective Wizard Mountain recently recorded the band free of charge. That session, along with a recent Portland, Ore., jaunt means the Tea Elles probably have enough material for a full-length, which means I can finally stop listening to the melodic howling of "Chance of a Trance" on the outfit’s MySpace page. Before the band left for Portland, they felt that their songs weren’t "album material" — but apparently now they are. And regardless of whether San Francisco listeners are finally handed a DIY-burned CD or some indie label gets wise to the Tea Elles’ innovation, I just want to hear them. (Jen Snyder)


With Maus Haus and Ty Segall

Fri/5, 8 p.m., call for price (Sew-Op benefit)


2050 Bryant, SF
(415) 648-7562


More power to the righteous


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Do I admire Michael Franti? You bet your ass I do. In the scary days after 9/11 he had the balls to stand up to a fascist tide led by flag-waving goon squads and cheered on by most of America. Franti and a handful of Bay Area artists, including Paris and the Coup’s Boots Riley, took a stand when it mattered, when free speech wasn’t free anymore.

Making albums is one thing — making history is another. In the case of Franti and artists like him — those who are loosely described as "political" — there’s a connection between one activity and the other. So which yardstick do you use when sizing up a career? Franti’s major label releases with Spearhead didn’t sell much, the Coup’s Kill My Landlord (Wild Pitch, 1993) went out of print, and Tommy Boy dropped Paris because of his politics.

But from today’s vantage point — with hundreds of thousands dead in Iraq and the Bill of Rights sacrificed in the process — how do you factor in the foresight and courage these artists displayed in battles that involved all of us, even if we tried to hide out on the sidelines?

In Franti’s case, his social and political vision has been consistent, voiced over constantly evolving sounds and styles. He emerged in the mid-1980s with the Beatnigs, a fabulous, noisy, funky, radical mess of a band built around his seething manifestos and Rono Tse’s ear-splitting percussive experiments. When the sometimes-exhilarating Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy were born from the Beatnigs in 1990, Franti softened the noise, sharpened his voice, and gained musical elevation courtesy of avant-jazz guitarist Charlie Hunter.

Spearhead and the hip-hop mainstream came next, and two albums later, when he parted ways with Capitol, Franti was free to explore — like it or not. Without a hip-hop straightjacket, his more recent work has been as interesting as any since the days of Disposable Heroes.

Franti’s latest album, All Rebel Rockers (Anti), drops Sept. 9, a few days after his now-annual "Power to the Peaceful" festival will likely draw some 50,000 people to Golden Gate Park. That said, All Rebel Rockers interests me like yoga and veganism, which isn’t much. Franti recorded the full-length in Jamaica with durable rhythm section Sly (Dunbar) and Robbie (Shakespeare) co-producing. There was a time when reggae was lifted by menace and invention — a dissonance that’s been lost along with the anticolonial hope that inspired musicians like the Wailers to take a stand in the first place. While it’s no surprise that Franti turned to Jamaica for an album, he seems to be chasing a kind of holistic harmony that’s long on shelter but short on threat. That’s fine unless — like me — you need an outlet for outrage.

The post-corporate music world is a vast, constantly shifting collage of musical and social niches in which Franti has created a big, warm home for himself. On Rockers his words are more clever than they are challenging, and the rhymes are tight and infectious in a way that serves the dance floor, but they go down like fast food. Franti’s got hardcore fans, which arguably makes him famous enough to be glibly autobiographical, even when he sounds like a ’70s singer-songwriter. The chorus of the opening cut, "Rude Boys Back in Town," is a call-and-response between Franti and fans: "Michael, Michael, where you been …" But in the past, when critics have asked that he mix the personal with the political, I don’t think this is what they had in mind.

I still consider Franti one of the Bay Area’s genuinely important artists. Without his work, as well as that of the Coup and Paris — whose latest album, Acid Reflex (Guerrilla Funk) also comes out in September — the world would be the worse for it. And not just on Saturday night. At the end of the day, I can’t deliver higher praise. *


With Michael Franti and Spearhead, Ziggy Marley, and more

Sat/6, 11 a.m.–5 p.m., free

Speedway Meadow, Golden Gate Park, SF

Also "Power to the Peaceful" after-party with Spearhead and all-star jam session

Sat/6, 9 p.m., $15


444 Jessie, SF

Also "Sunday Yoga Jam" with Franti and others

Sun/7, see Web site for time, $35–<\d>$110

Yoga Tree Castro

97 Collingwood, SF


Green and red


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Now that the Iraq War and occupation is accepted as a permanent feature of American life, it seems worthwhile to reflect on how controversial it once was — not just among the millions who filled streets around the world to protest the impending invasion, but also within the governments of some of America’s traditional allies. No one better expressed the rift it created in Europe than German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer when he publicly rejected Donald Rumsfeld’s appeal for support at the February 2003 Munich security conference. Lest the then Secretary of State miss the point, Fischer switched to English for his summation: "Sorry, you haven’t convinced me."

It’s unlikely Rumsfeld was particularly surprised, except possibly by Fischer’s command of English, since the German government so clearly owed its come-from-behind reelection the prior September to the vehemence of its opposition to the upcoming war. At the time, George W. Bush opted against making the traditional congratulatory call to Socialist Party Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, and Condoleezza Rice declared that Fischer’s "background and career do not suit the profile of a statesman." Given Rice’s history as a Stanford professor and Chevron corporate board member, such a remark makes perfect sense. Fischer, leader of the Green Party — the coalition government’s junior partner — was not only a high school dropout but a veteran militant street protestor of the German new left that demanded that its parents’ generation confront the Nazi legacy while vehemently opposing the US war on Vietnam.

In Joschka Fischer and the Making of the Berlin Republic (Oxford University Press, 400 pages, $35), journalist Paul Hockenos explores the life, beliefs, decisions, and actions of Germany’s recent Foreign Minister. For example, although the Greens are widely considered a pacifist party, Fischer was not a pacifist — after a few small leftist groups had taken to kidnapping and assassination in the 1970s, he once gave a speech urging the movement to "put down the bombs and pick up stones again."

As Hockenos explains, Fischer was the most prominent of the German "68ers" who considered themselves to the left of the Socialists and who fashioned something of an "anti-party party" with the Greens in order to embark upon a "long march through the institutions." During his 1998–2005 tenure as Germany’s Foreign Minister, Fischer became the country’s most widely admired politician, although the Greens never surpassed single-digit percentages of the national vote. Still, his legacy — and the party’s — is mixed. The "Red-Green" government engineered Germany’s first military intervention since the end of World War II, when German pilots participated in the bombing of Kosovo. Just as it took Germany’s Socialists time to realize they could form a government of the left if — and only if — they did so in coalition with the Greens, the Greens are in opposition today because they have been unwilling and unable to coalesce with other factions.

Nonetheless the post-’60s German left did at least set itself on an identifiable course of action. In this respect, Joschka Fischer and the Making of the Berlin Republic makes an excellent case that Americans can learn from Europe.

Paper weight


› johnny@sfbg.com

Call me wasteful, call me Luddite, call me nostalgic, call me obsolete. I’m not ashamed to admit it: I like paper. I like it a little too much. These days, when I look at paper, I have a pair of scissors in my mind if not my right hand — I want to take the complete form of detritus that a single sheet or a full book represents, and cut it into a new shape. Maybe it’s a visual extension of editing words for a living. Maybe it’s a basic reaction to the stacks of visual and text-based matter that I shuttle from one space to another in the city when I’m not staring into the Valhalla of the computer screen or — heaven forbid — reminding myself that I have a body.

This week, I’ve been carrying a couple of heavyweights from work to home and back again: Glamour of the Gods (Steidl, 272 pages, $65) and The Stamp of Fantasy: The Visual Inventiveness of Photographic Postcards (Steidl, 216 pages, $60). Both books are testaments to the specific charms of paper, with tactile qualities — a gloss and an undivided directness, for starters — that no expensive flat-screen monitor can match. They’re made to be ravished, not ravaged. They also tell — via numerous knockout illustrations — a story. That story is of paper’s important role in relation to art and photography (or photo-documentary) in the 19th and 20th centuries.

A few weekends ago I went to a paper expo in San Francisco, where I admit to being nonplussed by the dozens of vendors with box upon box of postcards that cost $25 or more apiece. The sheer surplus of matter, coupled with the collectors’ prices, was off-putting. The Stamp of Fantasy, however, instantly reminded me of the artistic value of the postcard, a form I first fell for in high school, when I’d thumb through decks of cards for a well-executed trick image of a person with a cat’s or baby’s head. Curated by Clément Chéroux from the collections of Peter Weiss and Gérard Levy, the book presents those types of pictures, along with other puns and surrealist touches: melting Eiffel Towers; Victorian women with roots for torsos; human faces blooming from trees, emerging from mountain- and moonscapes or blooming from the tail-ends of trails of pipe smoke. Less predictable visions — a mass of Chinese baby faces akin to one of Weegee’s Coney Island photos; children riding butterflies in a realm not far from Henry Darger’s imagination — have a wow or jolt factor. They also effectively preview Hannah Höch’s innovative postcard-based collage.

Hollywood movie-star stills — the oft-luminous portraits that icons like Joan Crawford would autograph and send to thousands of fans — are the subject of Glamour of the Gods. It draws from the peerless collection of the late biographer and gadfly John Kobal, who helped bring renown to artists such as Crawford’s favorite cameraman, George Hurrell, via the 1980 book The Art of the Great Hollywood Portrait Photographers. When I look at Greta Garbo’s reliably stunning close-up collaborations with the undersung and influential Ruth Harriet Louise, I think of Garbo’s remarkable skill at blocking paparazzi shots from any angle with her hands (demonstrated in Gary Lee Boas’ sweet 1999 book Starstruck) and ponder the old camp quip about the lie that tells the truth. Something has been lost in the journey from glossy paper to the infinite sea of candid digital imagery. Ramon Novarro and Clara Bow weren’t all about going to Starbucks for Frappuccinos. As someone once said, they had faces.

The filth and the fury


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Apologies to all Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville fans out there, but the American novel didn’t get good until it shook off the last vestiges of Puritanism and risked a certain shock factor. It wasn’t just the authors pushing potentially offensive social-realist (Stephen Crane, Theodore Dreiser, Upton Sinclair) or unflattering social-elite-portraiture boundaries (Edith Wharton, Henry James, etc.) who made the upstart nation’s lit suddenly comparable to the Old World’s new output. By the dawn of the 20th century, non-rabble-rousing Yank fiction (not to be confused with today’s street-corner favorite tabloid, Yank) had also matured stylistically. Still, it’s those "dirty books" that somehow still stick out in well-read readers’ back pages. American censorship battles in the 20th century were, until well into the sexual revolution, largely fought on literary terrain.

Barney Rosset, the subject of new documentary Obscene, should be canonized by First Amendment fans as the patron saint of key mid-20th-century obscenity cases. As founder of Evergreen Review and Grove Press, this "smut peddler" published everyone from Harold Pinter to Octavio Paz to Kathy Acker, as well as a whole lot of unapologetic porn (mostly the Victorian kind). No wonder Rosset was behind some of the central court struggles against censorious US standards for both literature and movies. He consorted with yippies and Black Panthers, produced close friend Samuel Beckett’s only film (1965’s Film), and was called a "tragic hero" by his own analyst (one of many). He is an interesting enough guy that one wishes codirectors Neil Ortenberg and Daniel O’Connor’s admiring portrait was longer — it gets the career highlights down but barely touches on what sounds like an equally colorful personal life.

Weaned on the radicalism of Depression-era East Coast experimental schools, Rosset was an Army combat cinematographer during World War II. He returned home to produce 1948’s virtually unknown Strange Victory — a movie about American racism so incendiary that only one New York City theater would consent to show it. Having been checked out by the FBI as a possible "Communist filth racketeer" while in grammar school, he was on familiar ground when he commenced the first of many legally challenged literary ventures in the late 1950s. Evergreen Press republished Allen Ginsberg’s suppressed epic poem Howl; Grove launched US printings of D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, both already decades-old yet still banned on our shores. Other causes célèbres included William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch, The Autobiography of Malcolm X (published just after his assassination), and Che Guevara’s diaries (which angered somebody enough to get Grove’s offices bombed).

As if this wasn’t drama enough, Rosset’s business and personal fortunes experienced considerably more disorder as the turbulent ’60s turned into the oversatiated ’70s. Importing a Marxist quasidocumentary art film from Sweden, 1967’s I Am Curious (Yellow), made cinema safe for sex after protracted court battles. It also made millions, which perversely hurt Grove in the end — forcing an expansion that proved disastrous, particularly when 1968 sequel I Am Curious (Blue) bombed. The CIA put Rosset under surveillance and women’s liberationists assailed his catalog as sexist, yet threatening calls and sniper fire at his home did not exactly discourage his alcohol and amphetamine abuse. He was even fired from Grove itself after a supposedly friendly takeover.

Too bad Obscene just skims over the less-public chapters in its subject’s life, like his four marriages. Now a dapper and delightful old man, Rosset has long since burned through the last of many fortunes made and lost. He’s broke but blithe about it, as if cocooned by admiration — the eccentric lineup of praise-singing interviewees here include Jim Carroll, John Waters, Amiri Baraka, Erica Jong, and Gore Vidal. Perhaps the best testaments to Rosset’s character, however, are priceless excerpts from a cable-TV interrogation in which he responds to actual smut peddler Al Goldstein’s exasperatingly crude questions ("How do you get sucked into marriage?" being the least of them) with charming, earnest self-examination.


Opens Fri/5

Nightly at 7, 8:45 p.m. (also Sat–Sun, 3, 5 p.m.), $5–$10

Roxie Theater

3117 16th St., SF

(415) 431-3611, www.roxie.com



Best known for her career as a documentarian (she won an Oscar for 1997’s Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O’Brien), Jessica Yu makes her narrative feature debut with Ping Pong Playa, an often gut-busting sports fable about a wannabe NBA star who becomes the unlikely hero of his ping-pong-crazed family.

Lead actor Jimmy Tsai’s performance as Christopher "C-Dub" Wang is so dead-on hilarious, I assumed he was a stand-up comedian. Nope: "I met Jimmy because he was the production accountant at [Ping Pong Playa production company] Cherry Sky Films," Yu explains. "I went to a screening of short films where he showed these humorous spots he had made for an online clothing company. I remember thinking this was a great character to use for something. So when [Cherry Sky’s] Joan Huang and Jimmy approached me about working on [a comedy] together, my first thought was we have to put this character C-Dub in it."

The first-time thespian was already a naturally funny guy (he cowrote the film with Yu), but he trained for six months to get his skills in line with the film’s ping-pong storyline. "There’s something inherently funny about the sport," Yu says. "Not to take anything away from it, but no matter how hard you hit a ping-pong ball, it still makes that smack! So the idea of putting somebody who was kind of bombastic into that world was ripe for opportunity."

Yu says her background as a champion fencer influenced her desire to make a sports movie. "I think there were certainly discussions about the kind of sports that Asians are known for being good at — whether it’s diving, or ping-pong, or to some extent fencing. I just think it’s interesting that a character like C-Dub has no interest in excelling at what he sees as marginalized sports — but that tends to be where you see a lot of Asians on the podium."

As for Yu, "My game’s pretty terrible! We had a ping-pong table on set at all times — and if it’s sitting there long enough you’re gonna play. I’m still not good at it, but I enjoy it a little more now."


Opens Fri/5 in Bay Area theaters

Identity crisis


› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS My answering machine almost always has a message on it for Brent Casserole. It’s another machine, talking to my machine, and it says, in its robotically female voice, "This is a message for … Brent Casserole. If this is not … Brent Casserole … please press two now."

Clearly, I am not … Brent Casserole. Even I know this. And so the first time I heard it I picked up my phone and started pressing 2 2 2 2 2. Five times because nothing was happening. Nothing was happening because, of course, as anyone but me could have told me, the message had been recorded hours ago, when I was not there. It was way too late to press two. I had missed my chance to not be … Brent Casserole … so the machine on my machine just kept treating me as if I were … Brent Casserole.

There are problems associated with being an open-minded, free-thinking, and completely unhinged chicken farmer. The one I’m thinking of is that you can only be called … Brent Casserole … so many times before you start to wonder if, by some odd turn of events, you are … Brent Casserole.

I spent a lot of time in front of the mirror looking for clues, some little crack in the glass of my perception, something I’d missed. It’s not like me to owe anyone money. Brent Casserole does, according to the rest of the message on my answering machine, and he had better call the following number or else (and this part is only implied) he’s going to have his head bashed in by robots.

Kind of like mine.

My therapist can’t see me until October. I already tried the chickens, but they were no help. My friends all have kids, and, therefore, anxiety disorders of their own. Weirdo the Cat just looks at me as if I were … Brent Casserole? She’s so hard to read sometimes.

That leaves you. I’m going to have to work it out with you, dear reader, because you’re all I have left. Sorry. And we’re going to have to move pretty fast because, on my way to work this afternoon, I need to stop at the feed store and pick up a live chicken for my employer. Then I need to stop at the junkyard that has my stupid Saturn and wrestle either the car or a check for $1,650 away from them. Then I have to stop at the grocery store and buy ingredients for jambalaya because that’s my job du jour, changing diapers and making jambalaya — which I’ve never made before but people seem to think I can because I used to be married to someone named Crawdad.

I have no idea how to make jambalaya, so add that to my list: learn to make jambalaya. And then, while it’s gurgling on the back burner and the baby (oh please oh please oh please) is napping, I need to figure out a 75-word way to say that the worst-ever nightmare taqueria where I had the lousiest burrito ever made in the state of California is actually my new favorite restaurant.

Which …

Hey, wait a minute! Do you see what I did? By accident, by reducing myself to, essentially, the minutia of my day, a grocery list, a chicken farmerly litany of Leoneness, or impending failures, I have established beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am not, no matter how many machines might think otherwise … whatshisname. There can only be one person with that exact list of Things To Do: Me!

So the moral is that we are what we eat, and buy, and cook, and do, and in my case write, and we are not what we owe. Or even what someone else owes. It doesn’t matter how a machine on your answering machine addresses you: we are the sticks, the stones, and the bones. Not the names.

And you say, "Duh."

And I say, That’s easy for you to say. You’re … Brent Casserole. Hit the delete key if you’re not.


My new favorite restaurant is La Villa Taqueria in Berkeley, on the strength of how bad they are. Unlike hippies, I enjoy a little hatred and anger in my mix, and La Villa deserves credit for making easily the worst burrito I’ve ever eaten. Crusty, dry carnitas, bland beans, and the lamest pico de gallo ever to tap my tongue. At least it only took a half hour to slap this crap together! My friend was next door deciding on and buying a piano, and she got done first.


2434 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley


Daily: 7 a.m.–8 p.m.

No alcohol


Here Today


› andrea@altsexcolumn.com

Dear Andrea:

What the heck is going on with the Today contraceptive sponge? My wife and I have always used condoms, but when we saw the sponges a few months back, we figured, "Let’s try ’em."

Oh … my … god. Going bareback after years of condom use was absotively amazing for both of us. We also discovered that what my wife calls her "special trick" — which involves sliding the condomless head of my cock over her clit — worked OK for her with a condom on, but she describes it as "exquisite" without one.

So now, Synova, the company that was making the sponge, has declared bankruptcy, and sponges are going for $8 a pop on eBay. Do you know if Synova is going to come out of its reorganization and start making the sponge again?



Dear Lover:

I hate to be the one to break your heart, or rather to rebreak it after Synova — cads that they are — already treated you and yours so callously, but you will survive. Your heart will go on.

There’s something about the sponge (beyond the spermicide itself) that just makes people go all gooey. This is the second time sponge fans have loved and lost, and I’m afraid I do not know when, if ever, your beloved will return. Back in the ’90s, Seinfeld‘s Elaine coined the term "sponge-worthy" when she discovered the first shortage and had to start gauging whether or not a boyfriend rated a precious, hoarded sponge. That model was pulled from the market for safety and manufacturing problems, and didn’t come back until last year, along with a media blitz that attracted hordes of new fans. And yes, Synova, the new owner, has declared bankruptcy. The manufacturing rights have passed to yet another company, but I don’t think it’s saying when — or if — it will begin exercising them.

So what’s the big deal? The sponge is nothing but a … sponge, filled to the brim with Nonoxynol-9, the soapy, controversial spermicide that has been around forever. The big advantages are ease of application (pop it in) and forgetability (you don’t have to pop in another one for a day or so). Nonoxynol-9, though, can be some nasty stuff. A number of studies have demonstrated that it causes enough irritation to let in pathogens, including HIV, and it tastes horrible. Plus, I will forever bear a grudge against it since it caused a boyfriend to develop a huge bright red clown-mouth — a scarlet letter "O" — around his lips, just in time for Passover at my mother’s house, and people kept asking him about it all night until he was ready to die. So, um, none for me. But I do understand your dismay at the loss of a dear contraceptive.

There are other forms of spermicide — film or pellets or whatever — but they don’t work well without a diaphragm-y thing to hold them in place. In fact, even with such a device, they work just as poorly as the beloved sponge, which is very poorly indeed in women who have had children and only sort of OK in women who haven’t. The sponge was never a great form of birth control; it just allowed for great sex. Is your wife absolutely sure she wouldn’t like a nice NuvaRing or an IUD? I know, it’s not fair — I’d like to be able to recommend some sort of device to insert — but they’ve got to be better than condoms and eternal sorrow.



Dear Andrea:

I’m on the pill and monogamous, so I’m not limited to water-based lubricants. Recently my partner and I got the idea to try vitamin E oil — it smells and tastes pretty good, it lasts longer than Astroglide, and if it’s edible, we figured, it must be safe. Well … a short while after we happily started lubing with E, I got a urinary tract infection and have since read numerous lists of suggestions for avoiding UTIs that all seemed to mention specifically using a water-based lubricant. I feel somewhat weird about asking my doctor this question, so I’m turning to you: are "natural" but non-water-based lubes such as vitamin E oil bad for one’s inner girly parts, or have I wrongly linked a few coincidental events?


Gimme an E?

Dear E:

You’re right that it could be a coincidence, but I’m betting it’s not. I don’t know what kind of carrier oil was used for the vitamin E, but whatever it is, your vagina probably doesn’t know how to get rid of it. I completely agree that water-based lubes are essentially unsatisfactory, but luckily one does not have to reach for weird, random substances off the supplement shelf. What you want is a nice silicone lube, of which there are many. You can get them flavored if that’s your scene, but most are taste- and scent-free, non-irritating, non-drying, and so slippery they are actually kind of dangerous — and you really want to watch where you prop the bottle between applications. You will love them and you will thank me.



Got a salacious subject you want Andrea to discuss? Ask her a question!

Also, Andrea is teaching! Contact her if you’re interested in (sex)life after baby classes. Her new blog is at www.gogetyourjacket.com, but don’t look there for the butt sex. There isn’t any.

Locking up the press


› sarah@sfbg.com

On Aug. 20 the San Francisco Chronicle reported that video blogger Josh Wolf, who spent 226 days in federal prison in 2006 for refusing to testify before a grand jury and hand over his video of a protest turned violent, had begun working as a reporter with the Palo Alto Daily Post.

"Video blogger gets job as ‘real journalist,’<0x2009>" crowed the headline.

The article noted that some critics believe Wolf was a protest participant and not an impartial news gatherer, and accurately observed that his case fueled the debates over what defines a reporter and who deserves to be protected by the reporter’s privilege to protect confidential sources.

But it failed to mention that one of Wolf’s harshest critics was Chronicle columnist Debra Saunders, nor did it clarify that in recent years several federal courts have found that reporters — all reporters, even from major newspapers — can be forced to testify before grand juries.

California doesn’t allow its courts to compel journalists to reveal unpublished information, but the federal government has no such shield law. That’s why prosecutors could jail New York Times reporter Judith Miller, charge Chronicle reporters Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada with contempt, and slap USA Today‘s Toni Locy with hefty fines — all for refusing to disclose confidential sources and materials.

And as reporters continue to face contempt charges in federal court cases nationwide, Congress has been considering two very different versions of a federal shield bill.

These two versions take widely varying approaches toward who and what is protected. And thanks to Senate Republicans, who blocked all business not related to energy legislation before Congress’ August recess, a vote on the Senate bill did not occur at the end of July.

As a result, if the Senate doesn’t act by the end of September, both versions of the federal shield will likely die. And, depending on whom you talk to, that may or may not be a good thing.

The Free Flow of Information Act of 2007 (HR 2102), which the House of Representatives passed in October of that year, only protects journalists if their work is done for a substantial portion of the person’s livelihood or for substantial financial gain. In other words, no protection for Wolf, for most bloggers, or for many freelancers.

The good news is that the House bill extends protections to any documents or information obtained during the newsgathering process.

By comparison, the Senate bill (S 2035) only protects the identity of confidential sources, and any records, data, documents, or information obtained under a promise of confidentiality.

The Senate shield would cover any journalist who "engages in the regular gathering, preparing, collecting, photographing, recording, writing, editing, reporting, or publishing of news or information that concerns local, national, or international events or other matters of public interest for dissemination to the public."

But it no longer requires the government to prove by preponderance of evidence that the information it seeks is essential, or that it has exhausted all other methods. And it makes more difficult any challenge by the reporter, based on whether the information involved is "properly classified" or whether its disclosure would harm national security.

It also expands the list of exceptions for which protection would be precluded: if disclosure could prevent criminal activities, terrorism, kidnapping, or imminent death or bodily harm; identify a person who has released some categories of private business and medical information; and where reporters witness criminal or tortuous conduct.

"I can’t overstate how much better the House bill is," Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, told the Guardian.

Although Dalglish is hopeful Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will schedule the bill for a vote, she fears there won’t be enough time for a conference committee to iron out the differences between the two bills before the end of September, which means that only one version will have a chance of passing into law.

"My guess is that it will be the Senate bill, because the House will pass the Senate bill in a heartbeat, but the Senate will never pass the House bill," Dalglish observed.

Reached on break from his reporter gig, Wolf voiced his opposition to the Senate bill. "A shield law riddled with holes is no shield at all," Wolf said.

"It boggles my mind that any journalist could support the bill the way it is written," said Wolf, who would like to see a common law reporter privilege similar to the one for psychiatrists and therapists. "This is a shield law, in which, as best as I can tell, every single federal contempt case is carved out as an exception," Wolf opined.

While Dalglish acknowledges that the Senate shield only addresses subpoenas that seek to identify confidential sources (about 20 percent of subpoenas), she believes the Chronicle‘s Williams and Fainaru-Wada would have been protected, as would Locy.

"But Josh [Wolf] would not have been covered because he was not protecting confidential sources, and Judith Miller would have had a shot, though her case would have a more difficult time because of national security implications," Dalglish said. "And while by far the most subpoenas don’t have to do with confidential sources, they are the holy grail of journalism ethics, and you certainly have to, at a minimum, protect them — and the Senate bill is minimal."

Dalglish believes that both the Senate and House bills would allow the truthful, accurate, and independent gathering of information to go public, so the public could use this information at ballot boxes and in city halls, and ensure that people who have information to share could share it with reporters and the public.

"It’s not about protecting reporters," Dalglish added. "Reporters are not that special, in any shape or form. It’s about protecting the right of reporters to freely work on the public’s behalf, without being viewed as agents of the US Attorney."

Noting that the law in the Senate is not going to change what happened to Wolf in that instance because he was not protecting a confidential source, Dalglish’s message for reporters facing subpoenas, first and foremost, is: "Resist, tell them you don’t have it.

"Your obligation is to be independent, not an agent of the government," he continued. "So take your video, put it on a Web site, and make sure the public gets to see it at same time as the US Attorney."



OPINION It appears the San Francisco Chronicle‘s editors have chopped "progressive" from the paper’s approved lexicon for local political reporting, replacing the term with "ultra-liberal" and "far left" to characterize politicians whose views they don’t share. Should we care? After all, the terms of political discourse have been so twisted, warped, and debased in recent years, one might be forgiven for not telling right from left or conservative from liberal. For most Americans, it’s all one big Babel of ideological tongues — confusing to be sure, but increasingly irrelevant.

But I think words do matter. Years ago, in Left Coast City, I took a stab at defining the city’s progressivism as "a system of values, beliefs, and ideas that encourages an expanded role for local government in achieving distributive justice, limits on growth, neighborhood preservation, and ethnic-cultural diversity under conditions of public accountability and direct citizen participation." The major problem with this working definition is that it’s local in scope and closely tied to San Francisco’s unique political culture, history, and setting.

We all know the ideological spectrum is left-shifted in San Francisco, and local politicians labeled as "liberals" or even "radicals" in faraway Washington, DC are often pilloried as moderates or even conservatives back here. Indeed, a major reason driving the use of "progressive" in the city’s local political discourse was precisely to differentiate anti-establishment political leaders from pro-establishment ones who were happy to serve and support a corrupt capitalist system while promising to reform it from within.

San Francisco is the nation’s vanguard city of political reform and social change. It is a working model of progressive community that leads all others in fusing the agendas of economic growth, social justice, and environmental protection.

All great movements must begin and radiate from some place. As Robert Wuthnow put it in his Communities of Discourse, a study of the origins and spread of the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and European Socialism: "None of these ideologies sprang into bloom on a thousand hilltops as if scattered there by the wind. They grew under the careful cultivation of particular movements that arose in specific places and that bore specific relations to their surroundings."

San Francisco activists must find a way to free their homegrown progressive ideology from its local context and scale it up to reach and persuade other Americans. Ironically, most of that scaling up is taking place now under the rubric of "San Francisco values," a derisive epithet originally coined by right-wing pundits but now proudly brandished by some city leaders and opportunistically embraced by others to fuel their political ambitions. By whatever name ("Sanfrancisoism"?), the city’s values have noisily infiltrated national political discourse and have pulled the ideological spectrum back toward the left. Gay civil unions, for example, suddenly seemed acceptable to national politicians, even George W. Bush, after Mayor Newsom began issuing same-sex marriage licenses.

So the term "progressive," although contested, works well in San Francisco. Don’t suppress it or throw it away. Outside the city, scale up with another term that average Americans can relate to and understand.

Rich DeLeon

Rich DeLeon is professor emeritus of political science at San Francisco State University.

Del Martin, 1921-2008


› marke@sfbg.com

Young LGBT activists have so few actual royals to look up to — people who’ve spent their entire adult lives fighting for increased visibility and equal rights — let alone those who’ve been doing it since the freakin’ 1950s. Del Martin was one of that precious handful, which is why her passing on Aug. 27 feels like someone yanked the carpet hard. Yes, along with her wife Phyllis Lyon, she embodied the struggle for marriage equality and brought much of America to tears with her "I do." (Even in death she’s still working it — her family has requested donations be made in her honor to fight that heinous Proposition 8 in November at www.nclrights.org/NoOn8.)

But gurl, do you know about the rest of her?

At almost every stage of her long life, Del was doing something that slaps me across the face, screaming, "Stop watching YouTube! Get out there and change the world!" She went to bat not only for other LGBTs, but for the aging, the sick, the homeless, and women as a whole. She risked harassment, imprisonment, and even rape to bring her oppressed lesbian sisters together in her Daughters of Bilitis organization more than half a century ago. Especially fierce to me — and perhaps to all other editors, writers, and zinesters — was her and Phyllis’ publication of The Ladder in 1956. One of the first official lesbian magazines, The Ladder proved the power mere words can have to start a movement, even if they’re mimeographed in secret and passed around in lunch bags. Sapphic samizdat!

Ours is still a relatively young movement, one that lost a whole swath of heroic voices to AIDS and violence. Fighters who have achieved such selfless radical achievement for as many decades as Del did are miraculously strange and wonderful birds, indeed. Fly on, Del, and thank you.

Unaffordable nation


› amanda@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY Bay Area author Michael Pollan opened the first event of Slow Food Nation by pointing out that food prices have risen more than 80 percent in the past three years. "Food has emerged as one of the most important issues," Pollan said from the stage of the Herbst Theatre, where he was discussing "The World Food Crisis" with Indian author and activist Vandana Shiva, Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini, and authors Raj Patel and Corby Kummer in front of a sold-out crowd.

"Prices are going up, but wages aren’t," Patel said to Pollan, and the real crisis is in that gap between what people make and what people spend on food — and that includes the people who grow our food.

"The World Food Crisis" was one of several panels held during the three-day Slow Food Nation, the first major event staged in the United States for what has become an international movement focused on the pleasures and politics of eating. San Francisco, a city with a food consciousness that chimes with many tenets of the slow-food movement — and one with a proximity to fertile regions that provide a wide range of local food — seems the perfect host. An oft-repeated phrase at Slow Food events throughout the weekend was that eating healthy is a right, not a privilege.

But how can that sentiment be translated into sustenance? Can the people who grow our food even make a decent living? And how does an event where tickets went for as much as $159 focus on the needs of people who struggle just to get adequate nutrition?

This much is sure: prices may be up, but small farmers aren’t getting rich. "It’s very difficult for many of our farmers," Aliza Wasserman of Community Alliance with Family Farmers told the Guardian.

Jeff Larkey runs Route One Farm in Santa Cruz. He’s been farming for 27 years and rents 65 acres for about $45,000 per year because it’s too expensive to buy the land. In the past he’s worked up to 150 acres, but now, he said, "Going forward is a big question in my mind because the costs of doing business have skyrocketed so much."

Larkey has many long-term workers making wages that vary based on experience, with the bottom rung starting at or slightly above minimum wage. "I’d love to pay them all $20 an hour because that’s what the work is really worth," he said.

A way to solve the problem might be for growers to raise their prices — but many already consider organic, sustainably-grown food as fuel fit only for the well-heeled.

"To eat organic, healthy, local food generally costs more," Pollan admitted in a later talk. "The whole system is canted to support fast food. That’s what we subsidize."

He pointed out that Americans spend only 9.5 percent of their income on food — an all-time and international low — and people need to become more comfortable with paying more so growers and processors can earn fair wages. "We all need to spend some amount more on food."

That’s tough for people who can barely afford food now.

Anya Fernald, director of Slow Food Nation, said the group constantly struggles with the financial issue. Fernald also said proceeds from ticket sales will be used to seed future events and the next course of action, which will be determined by the farmers, food artisans, and nonprofits that participated.

When asked how they intended to get their message out to people who might have been priced out of attending the event, she said the group chose the Civic Center as a way to reach a broad audience. She pointed out that 60 percent of the events were free.

Pollan also said that policy needs to change to make food more accessible, and that’s what the Declaration for Healthy Food and Agriculture seems to speak to. The document was unveiled in the rotunda of City Hall on the eve of Slow Food Nation and outlines 12 principles that "should frame food and agriculture policy." Included are statements that affordable, nutritious food should be accessible to everyone and it shouldn’t mean exploiting farmers, workers, or natural resources to get it. Roots of Change, which coordinated drafting the declaration, is hoping for 1 million signatures by fall 2009, when they take it to policymakers in Washington, DC.

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

I made my nine-year-old son sit down and watch Barack Obama’s acceptance speech. I told him this was history happening, that he would never forget this moment, that when I was his age the idea of a black man standing up and accepting the nomination of the Democratic Party to be president of the United States was even beyond the stuff of dreams.

His response: "Why was that?"

Yes, we are making progress. Michael’s public school class learns about Martin Luther King Jr., but the kids are struggling to comprehend how this country could once have forced black and white people to drink out of different water fountains. We are not a post-racist society by any means, but even in my most depressed and cynical moments, I know we are making progress.

And so we sat through a good speech, possibly a great speech, although I can’t go along with the bloggers and commentators who announced just a few minutes after it ended that it was the best convention speech anyone ever made. I kind of think Obama was better in 2004.

But it’s tough to do all the things his handlers said he needed to do. They think he hasn’t been aggressive enough in responding to John McCain’s attacks, so he spent far too much of his prime time talking about why the other guy is a chump. They worry about how popular McCain’s oil drilling proposal is, so he had to make a really dumb comment about safe nuclear energy, which is an oxymoron if ever there were one.

He had to lay out a specific plan so he wouldn’t sound vague.

It got better toward the end, when he started sounding like the inspirational leader he has the potential to be. And what struck me — and what will be a huge part of this campaign, under the surface — was this comment:

"Our government should work for us, not against us. It should help us, not hurt us."

And this on negative campaigning:

"And you know what — it’s worked before. Because it feeds into the cynicism we all have about government. When Washington doesn’t work, all its promises seem empty. If your hopes have been dashed again and again, then it’s best to stop hoping, and settle for what you already know."

I think one of the central questions of American policy today is going to be rectifying the profound difference between John F. Kennedy and the Avengers. Kennedy, of course, urged his generation to "ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country." The Avengers, Penelope Houston’s 1980 San Francisco punk band, put it another way: "Ask not what you do for your country / What’s your country been doin’ to you?"

I grew up with the second one. The government sent you to Vietnam and spied on you and locked you up for smoking pot, and we joked about the greatest lie in the world being, "I’m from the government, and I’m here to help you."

Denver last week was full of people too young for either slogan, and their energy is what fuels the Obama movement. Government working for us, not against us, lacks Kennedy’s rhetorical flourish, but the idea is right — and if Obama can make that a theme for the next eight years, he’ll be doing something truly revolutionary.

Take Lowe’s off the table


EDITORIAL The battle over a proposed Home Depot store on Bayshore Boulevard several years ago dominated politics for a while in two supervisorial districts and became a nasty battle over race, jobs, small business, and community development priorities that spread citywide. In the end, with Sup. Aaron Peskin providing the swing vote, the Board of Supervisors approved the giant chain store.

And then — as giant out-of-town chains will do — Home Depot abruptly pulled the plug last spring. After all the tumult and the shouting, the bitterness and bad feelings, the big-box retailer decided it really didn’t want a store in southeast San Francisco.

Since then Sups. Tom Ammiano (who opposed Home Depot) and Sophie Maxwell (who supported it) have met and worked together to create a development plan that makes sense for the big empty lot on Bayshore. The two supervisors involved community leaders and tried to create a public process that would prevent the kind of fight the neighborhoods faced over Home Depot.

It was a hopeful sign — until now. Because the owners of the lot — the Goodman family, which once ran Goodman Lumber there — have come forward with a new proposal that’s almost exactly the same as the old one. This time, it’s Lowe’s Home Improvement.

If the supervisors, the mayor, and the community learned anything from the past few years, it’s that big-box chains can’t be trusted and aren’t an appropriate base for community and economic development in San Francisco. The mayor and the supervisors should make it clear now, before we go through another long, ugly battle, that big-box isn’t part of the future of Bayshore Boulevard.

Big chain stores defy all the basic premises of progressive urban planning. They exist and operate on a car-driven suburban model, with large parking lots that attract drivers. They add traffic and pollution to local streets and are inconsistent with the city’s attempts to be a greener, more sustainable community. They pay low wages (in fact, Lowe’s is the subject of a class-action suit in 11 states charging that the chain makes its employees work overtime without pay). The money they make leaves the community immediately, offering little in local economic benefits. And they destroy neighborhood-serving small businesses.

They are, by their nature, monocrop economic entities — when the entire future of an area depends on one so-called anchor store, then the community is vulnerable to decisions made elsewhere. Home Depot could have opened, then been closed after a year. Lowe’s could do the same.

The Eastern Neighborhoods plan envisions a huge new influx of housing into the area, and city planners admit the result will be a loss of blue-collar jobs. So the city can’t let the Bayshore site sit empty for years while some North Carolina–based megaretailer decides the neighborhood’s fate. And the last thing the Bayview, the Mission, and Bernal Heights need is another drawn-out conflict over a home improvement store.

The Mayor’s Office ought to be working with Ammiano and Maxwell to come up with an alternative plan for the area (solar energy? local home improvement stores?) that creates decent jobs, generates tax revenue — and remains true to a sustainable economic and environmental vision for the city. Step one is to take Lowe’s off the table.

Death and the maiden


› kimberly@sfbg.com

REVIEW Somewhat eclipsed by the mob scene upstairs at "Frida Kahlo," the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s "The Art of Lee Miller" abounds with riveting images — not least those of the late photographer herself, who was, at different times, a nude model for her father, a high fashion mannequin for Vogue, and a muse and collaborator for her onetime lover Man Ray. Many will fix in your mind long after this sizable show ends — the tattered window into an otherworldly Egypt of Portrait of Space (1937), the chorus line of dangling rat posteriors in Untitled (Rat Tails) (1930), and the persistently chic English ladies in wartime protective headgear of Women with Fire Masks, London (1941).

But two Miller images — sensational were they not so sober — bid you return to examine them further: The Suicided Burgermeister’s Daughter, Leipzig, Germany (1945) and Untitled [Severed Breast from Radical Mastectomy] (circa 1930). Both play morbidly within the haunted dreamscapes of surrealism, teasing out a certain tongue-in-cheek formalism, or, in the case of the portrait of the deceased fräulein, upend classical aesthetic values with a detachment that’s chilled to the bone and coolly black-humored.

Experimenting with architecturally focused abstraction, dadaism, and surrealism in the early ’30s, during her Parisian tryst with Man Ray, Lee said she was working as a medical photographer in the city when she managed to spirit away a breast amputated in a mastectomy operation from a local hospital. Back at the studio she photographed it two ways: once with its sagging skin-side exterior facing her camera, and again with its gory innards threatening to spill out like kidney pie. In both images the breast lies in an elegant ivory plate on a creased, innocuously striped, lightly grid-printed place mat, with a fork and knife laid out for an imagined meal. The two perspectives on print are displayed side by side, as if to ironically mimic the natural placement of these mammaries. If not for the card, one would mistake the slab on the plate for a somewhat unappetizing kidney pie or pig’s ear. Whitney Chadwick, the author of Women Artists and the Surrealist Movement (Thames & Hudson, 1991), described Miller re-envisioning this breast "not as an object of male desire, but as dead meat," and it does seem as if Miller sought to load these life-giving symbols of nurturance and desire with connotations of vulnerability and sacrifice. She takes the dismembered body part’s symbolism to its bitter end — while referencing the common surrealist obsession with those primal glands as well as the Catholic iconography of St. Agatha, who is often pictured proffering her plated breasts to devout viewers. The frequently and easily commodifiable body parts are served up for your visual consumption.

Exhibition catalog author Mark Haworth-Booth points to the surrealist notion of "convulsive beauty" and the movement’s general fascination with effigies in reference to Miller’s stunningly lit and composed The Suicided Burgermeister’s Daughter, shot during her tenure as the only female photojournalist allowed into combat during World War II. The body’s hair, skin, brow, pretty lids, and steepled nose evoke the eternal appeal of an angel aloft above a headstone. Her arms caress the front of her heavy wool Nazi nurse’s coat. Her lips, unnaturally pale and marble-like, are slightly parted, revealing perfect teeth with a whiff of inadvertent eroticism, and she lies on a leather couch — on which the one distended button and a small rip in the leather arm are the only hints of decay.

Most intriguing, Miller seems to have blurred the area above the body, making it appear as if a fine mist or fog is descending on the prone form. In the accompanying original dispatch for Vogue, the magazine she once posed for and later reported for, Miller writes of "the love of death which is the under-pattern of the German living caught up with the high officials of the regime," text that went unpublished in the magazine. The careful formality of Burgermeister’s Daughter‘s composition brings to mind and counterpoints those of more recently deceased Germans: Gerhard Richter’s paintings of the also-suicided members of the Baader-Meinhof gang. Yet, with Burgermeister’s Daughter and Untitled, it’s hard to imagine another artist so associated with the temporal flash of fashion making images as powerful and as fueled by the death urge.


Through Sept. 14.

Mon.–Tues., Fri.–Sun., 11 a.m.–5:45 p.m.; Thurs., 10 a.m.–8:45 p.m.

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

151 Third St., SF

$7–<\d>$12.50, free for members and 12 and under (free first Tues.; half price Thurs., 6–8:45 p.m.)

(415) 357-4000, www.sfmoma.org