Volume 42 Number 51

Invasion of the bedbugs

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news@sfbg.com

Editor’s Note: The writer has penned this story under a pseudonym because of concerns about social stigma and backlash from his landlord, as he discusses below.

More than three weeks had passed since our hike through Yosemite, so my girlfriend and I were starting to worry that the festering egg-shaped welts appearing daily on her arms, legs, and stomach weren’t just a late reaction to mountain mosquitoes. We’d rationalized the problem away until now, but when a bump appeared on her face, we decided to get professional help.

"It doesn’t make sense," my girlfriend told her dermatologist. "It can’t be spiders or fleas because I sleep with my boyfriend and he’s not getting bit. Maybe I’m allergic to my new detergent?"

"Nope," the doctor said. "You’ve got bedbugs."

Then he took some pictures of her wounds "to document the epidemic," wrote out a prescription for an anti-itch medicine, and sent her home to deal with the diagnosis, adding that she shouldn’t freak out because bedbugs don’t transmit diseases. They just make your life miserable, causing rashes, sleeplessness, paranoia, and embarrassment — which is why they’re considered a health risk on par with roaches, scabies, and lice.

But how exactly were we supposed to deal with this? Neither of us had ever even seen a bedbug, and we’d never heard of anyone getting bit. We really didn’t even believe in them. I mean, we’d both heard the old "good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite" rhyme, but we thought it was about ticks or maybe some fantastical little boogiemen, not actual bugs that live in or near your bed. That’s because, like most San Franciscans the age of 70, my girlfriend and I had grown up in a mostly bedbug-free world. But that’s over now.

Bedbugs are back and they’re eating San Francisco alive, sticking their blood-hungry proboscises in transient gutter punks, international travelers, homeless people, doctors, lawyers, and yes … maybe even you. They’re crawling around in our walls as we speak, scuttling from basket to basket in Laundromats, and camping out on buses and trains, waiting for new victims.

But where did they come from? And why are they here now, creeping out residents of civilized American cities that include Cincinnati, New York, and, most recently, San Francisco, where the Department of Public Health has received 307 complaints this year alone — a figure that’s soon to surpass last year’s total count of 327, according to DPH special operations manager Dr. Johnson Ojo.

Well, there are plenty of theories, but the truth is that nobody knows for sure. What we do know is that bedbugs are here and they are hungry. And, by the look of things, they’re not going anywhere soon. As travelers, tenants, homeowners, and landlords, our first mode of action against the epidemic is to learn how to deal. We’ve got to know how to prevent infestations, understand our rights when they occur, and finally come to grips with what it means to live in an infested city.

Of course, to do all of this, it helps to know a thing or two about the nasty fuckers.

WHAT ARE BEDBUGS?


Bedbugs are parasitic insects that feed on the blood of sleeping humans. One of the reasons you’re probably not familiar with them, the reason you might think they’re a myth or some dead epidemic from the Dark Ages when nobody washed, is that bedbugs were virtually annihilated from the western world by about 1960.

"Exterminators back then were quite fond of an insecticide called DDT," explained Luis Agurto Jr., president of a local integrated pest management company called Pestec. The chemical was great because it killed every bug in sight. Unfortunately, the virulent toxin wreaked havoc on the environment, killing most bald eagles and a wide variety of plant and animal life, as well as causing cancer and birth defects in humans. Rachel Carson’s landmark book exposing DDT, Silent Spring (Houghton Mifflin, 1962), helped launch the modern environmental movement. Most uses of the chemical were later banned in the U.S. and other countries, even though it meant finding new ways to keep our bugs under control.

Less toxic sprays were developed after DDT was banned in the U.S. in 1972. They worked on roaches and other pests, but what exterminators didn’t know at that time was that the new chemicals weren’t doing much to the bedbug diaspora that was still thriving in remote parts of America and the world. And these little bastards were nothing to mess with.

"These critters had been hammered so hard that, by the 1980s, they were growing impervious to any insecticide on the market," said Michael Potter, an entomology professor at The University of Kentucky and former national technical director for Orkin. "But nobody really noticed because most of these bugs were far away."

In addition to rural parts of the United States, bedbugs could still be found in Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, and Africa. But Potter rejects the theory that increased travel and immigration are entirely to blame for the global resurgence, as some scientists speculate. "It’s not like we just started flying 10 years ago," he said.

Potter concedes that population movement has a lot to do with the issue, but said that blaming travelers and immigrants ignores certain facts and doesn’t quite explain why bedbugs are coming back in such large numbers. The truth is that bedbugs never really went away. Pockets of extremely resistant survivor cells simply laid low until their offspring could flourish once again. It didn’t take long for that to happen.

"The thing about chemicals is that they only work for a given amount of time," Agurto said. "Everything develops a tolerance after a while." No matter. The commercial use of carbamates and other organophosphates, the classes of insecticides that replaced DDT, were soon restricted in the U.S. after they, too, exhibited nasty environmental side-effects.

After that, pest control managers were forced to switch to pyrethroid-based insecticides — which a bedbug could go swimming in, Potter said — and preventive measures like steam-cleaning, vacuuming, and bait. These methods targeted cockroaches and other pests, but they essentially allowed bedbugs to thrive in a chemical-free paradise. This was in the early 1990s and, according to Potter and Agurto, it’s probably no coincidence that the first major infestations in American cities came to light soon after. By the end of the century, a few years after DDT was restricted to malaria zones worldwide, bedbugs were becoming a problem in the eastern United States. By 2001, they had become a hot news topic in cities in America and around the world.

The bedbug resurgence in New York City has been covered extensively by The New York Times, starting in 2001 with an article about hotels and hostels titled "Bedbugs; Sleeping with the Enemy." Subsequent reports tracked the spread of infestations through homeless shelters, SROs, and eventually into condos, apartments, and houses. But the tiny vampires aren’t stopping there.

Bedbugs, once thought of as a byproduct of poverty, are moving up in the world. "We’re seeing them now in upscale condos and private residencies in the best neighborhoods in town," Agurto said. "Places where people never imagined they’d have to deal with this kind of thing." But that’s not where the infestations stop either, not in New York and probably not here.

They’ve even infiltrated the headquarters of large corporations. One of the latest infestations of this sort, at the Penguin Group in Manhattan, made headlines recently when employees of the publishing company were sent home while the building underwent treatment. The same thing happened at Fox News’ Manhattan office in March of last year, and again this month at Bill Clinton’s offices in Harlem.

Spokespersons for these three entities claim to have things under control. But the question is, does treating the building really solve anything? What about the employees? And, in the case of Penguin, what about all those books? Aren’t they infected too? It would certainly seem so. But perhaps you’re also wondering why, if the epidemic is getting so out of hand, you still haven’t encountered a problem. Well, the truth is, the bedbugs might be closer to you than you think.

INVISIBLE INVADERS


There are dozens of reasons why you might not have noticed the resurgence, but probably the biggest is that it’s embarrassing: people don’t want to discuss the issue because it’s gross. But this line of thinking works against us, and if we ever want to learn how to handle the situation, we’ve got to come to terms with the fact that bedbugs have nothing to do with social class or cleanliness.

That’s something my girlfriend hasn’t quite been able to come to grips with, which is why I’m writing under a pseudonym. She hasn’t told anyone but her mother and she can’t stand the idea of bosses, friends, and potential employers Googling her name or mine and somehow finding this story. Yet I’ve come to realize, while researching this issue, that there’s really no reason to be ashamed.

"This is really the first time in human history where people — all people — aren’t constantly on the lookout for bedbugs," Potter said. "And our first course of action is to get reacquainted." That’s not as easy as it sounds. But here are some tips.

First, you should get rid of the idea that bedbugs are microscopic. They’re not. When bedbugs are born, they look like milky-white flax seeds, but after the first feeding they grow to the size of chili flakes and develop a similar hue. Full-grown bedbugs are about the length of a Tic-Tac. They’re brown and flat and they have six legs — something like a two-dimensional, oval-shaped tick with stripes.

Second, don’t underestimate the cunning nature of bloodsucking insects. Bedbugs may not be able to communicate with one another or build intricate nests, but evolution has blessed the species with one sinister adaptive trait: near-invisibility. Bedbugs are masters of disguise. They live in tiny crevices in hard-to-find places — box springs, mattresses, baseboards, etc. — and usually only come out when people are sleeping. But nocturnal dining habits and the ability to hide aren’t the only tools in a bedbug’s arsenal.

The real reason we can sleep soundly while hordes of insects wriggle through our undergarments and suck our blood is that these particular insects are equipped with anesthetic. Simply put, bedbug bites do not hurt. What’s even worse is that, unless you happen to be allergic to the numbing agent found in bedbug saliva, there’s not going to be any evidence in the morning either.

That’s why I thought my girlfriend was either completely insane or perhaps the victim of some unknown skin disorder, even after she got back from the doctor. I just couldn’t understand how a colony of insects could repeatedly bite one person and not even touch the other as he slept inches away. My girlfriend still had her doubts as well, but for lack of any other plausible answer, we decided to look deeper into the issue. This is when things got nasty and when I learned that many people (about half the population, according to various sources) do not react to bedbug bites at all.

After reading everything we could about bedbugs, watching horrendous videos of elderly people swatting insects off their bodies, and perusing vomit-inducing pictures of telltale bedbug signs — smeared blood, fecal stains, and carcass buildups — we did a thorough search of our bedroom and found a cluster between the carpet and the baseboard behind our bed. Now the question was: what to do next? It’s what everyone asks when they encounter an infestation. And sometimes, it’s hard to answer.

DEALING WITH THEM


"Many of the people who come into our office with bedbug issues are afraid of retaliation," said Ted Gullicksen, head of the San Francisco Tenants Union. "They don’t want to tell their landlords because they don’t want to lose their apartments or get fined."

But in most cases, they’re wrong. City health codes specify that rental properties be free of "any public nuisance," a category that includes bedbugs. Because my girlfriend and I didn’t know that at the time, we worried that we’d somehow be blamed for the infestation.

When we found our nest, we did what most tenants fearing eviction and/or more bills would do. We tried to handle the problem on our own, turning to family and the Internet for advice. Folk remedies soon poured in and we tried them all. We threw out excess clothing, sprayed our bedroom with cedar oil, steam-cleaned our carpet, and then sprinkled diatomaceous earth, an organic powder that kills insects, into every nook and cranny we could find. Then we started sleeping on the couch to wait for the bugs in our bedroom to die. But after four days, the unthinkable happened: more bites.

Potter said it’s a common problem because bedbugs respond to store-bought pesticides by scattering into walls, often showing up a few days later in other rooms or units. "What’s worse," Potter added, "is that there’s nothing saying they can’t be reintroduced even after you’ve invested in professional treatment. And, depending on the size of the problem, that can cost more than $10,000." Indeed, the only method of eradication that most pest control companies, including Pestec, guarantee these days is heat treatment, which necessitates the use of expensive technology and requires multiple follow-ups to ensure success. Plus, it’s not cheap.

When my girlfriend and I realized that our problem wasn’t going to magically disappear, we looked into the cost of treatment and freaked out. We were prepared to pay a couple hundred bucks, but the quotes we got were crazy — thousands of dollars for two rooms. We’re not broke, but forking out that kind of money would hobble us. And besides, by then we were getting scared. What if our landlord found out we’d had bugs for weeks? Could our decision to go it alone be used against us? Could it be grounds for eviction?

We didn’t want to find out and, at that point, we didn’t understand how difficult bedbug eradication could be. So we decided to repeat home treatment and simply hoped for the best. The result? It seems to have worked. My girlfriend has been bite-free for over a month and we haven’t seen a bedbug since July.

But now I’m wondering if we just dug ourselves a deeper hole. I mean, up until about two weeks ago when I started doing heavy research for this article, we thought we were in the clear. That’s why we never reported the problem (which is another reason I decided to write this under a pseudonym). But now that I’m painfully aware of how resilient these fuckers are, I’m wondering if we made the right choice. Still, the thought of coming out with this now fills me with dread. Despite what the Tenant’s Union says, I just can’t imagine getting out of this without some sort of fine. And even if money isn’t an issue, I don’t want to get on my landlord’s bad side. But what now? Should we just move? And what about the tenants who follow us?

It’s probably not the most responsible choice, but this line of thinking is common among first time bedbug sufferers — something my girlfriend and I learned on Yelp.com’s local message boards. Despite all the coverage the bedbug resurgence has gotten in recent years, people on Yelp (a.k.a. everybody you know) seem to be in the dark when it comes to tenants’ rights and responsibilities, with many posters opting for temporary solutions to avoid the possibility of financial penalties.

The most revealing post to date comes from a Yelper named JU who got bedbugs in early August and decided to handle matters on his own. "I know I’m moving out in four months … I’m just trying to make it more livable until then," he wrote. Which raises the question: what about landlords? If a tenant neglects to blow the whistle on a blossoming infestation, can the property manager or building owner charge that tenant for treatment? Can JU be held responsible if his bugs move into neighboring units? Were my girlfriend and I right to think we might get evicted or fined for negligence? Maybe.

"The bedbug issue is complicated and it really boils down to cooperation," said Janna New, director of San Francisco Apartment Association. "If the problem is eradicated and then reoccurs due to a tenant’s negligence or refusal to abandon risky behavior, then the cost of remediation could be negotiable. And evictions could occur."

New says she hasn’t heard of anyone getting evicted for harboring bedbugs, but adds that it’s important for tenants to report infestations immediately because if they ignore the problem, their entire building could quickly become infested. "It’s like the flu," she said. "If you get sick, you talk to your doctor. You should do the same thing with your landlord. Teamwork is the only way to get rid of bedbugs."

That’s something I wish I knew a couple months ago and something Tiffinnie McEntire, a 43 year-old acupuncturist, intuited when she noticed bugs in her Cathedral Hill apartment in 2006. Rather than waste time with store-bought insecticides, she immediately called her landlord, who responded by sending an exterminator. When that didn’t work, he sent anotherm and another, until McEntire and the rest of his tenants felt safe. "It was a pain in the butt," McEntire said. "But in the end, we were all happy."

That’s how an infestation should be solved, and that’s probably how it’ll go down if you report one as soon as you notice it. Both the Tenant’s Union and the Apartment Association agree that the burden of eradication usually falls on the landlords. So if you find bugs, your best mode of action is to report the problem as soon as possible. And if you happen to be an apartment or hotel owner, you should do frequent checks and respond to reports immediately. It might cost thousands of dollars, but it could save you from a lawsuit or prolonged infestation.

THE FINAL STAGE: ACCEPTANCE


So what does it mean to live in an infested city, in an infested nation and world? Well, for one, it means that we all have some lifestyle changes to make. For Njon Weinroth, an out-of-work software salesman whose 14th floor condo has been infested for six months, that has meant staying away from friends and developing an amicable relationship with the little monsters. People without bedbugs can obviously skip this step, but Weinroth can’t afford professional treatment at the moment and feels like he has no other choice.

"I do what I can to control them, but I still kill at least two a night," he said. "When I squish ’em, my blood comes out. It’s gross and that’s really been the hardest part — overcoming the stigma." And that’s something everyone — my girlfriend and I included — need to do if we ever hope to get this problem under control. We have to accept that the only thing bedbugs care about is blood and that they will suck it from a bum as quickly as a movie star (just ask actress Mary Louise Parker from "Weeds," who recently had a bedbug scare in her home). Other than that, specialists recommend being wary of buying used clothing and furniture and avoiding clutter.

With that out of the way, we need to start talking about the problem so that first time bedbug sufferers like my girlfriend and I won’t feel so helpless and ashamed when their bodies and beds become infested and, more important, so they will report bedbug activity before it gets out of hand.

Last, we have to come to grips with how rampant this epidemic is. "I don’t want to be the one tooting the horn saying it’s doomsday and that bed bugs are falling from the sky," Agurto said. "But I can’t think of a person alive who doesn’t know someone — or at least know of someone — who has had a problem." But don’t take it from him alone. If you really want nightmares, take a look the Bedbug Registry (www.bedbugregistry.com).

Started in 2006 by a computer programmer living in San Francisco, the Bedbug Registry is an anonymous record of bedbug activity across North America. It has maps tracking the spread of infestations and a search engine that allows you to see how close the creatures are crawling toward your house, hotel, or workplace (36 reports within two miles of Guardian headquarters — yikes!).

Maciej Ceglowski got the idea for the service when he found bumps on his body and dying bugs in the coffeepot at a San Francisco motel. "I reported the problem and got a resigned shrug from the front desk," Ceglowski said. Then he researched the issue and realized that because it’s so hard to get rid of bedbugs, it would not be in a hotel owner or landlord’s interest to publicize an infestation. "I started the site because I thought it would be a good way to fight back against bedbugs."

But is that even possible? With bedbug activity steadily rising in all corners of the world, a simple solution seems doubtful. Which raises another question: how soon before we all have bedbugs?

"Well, that’s hard to answer," Potter said. "But there’s absolutely no reason to think that our problem is going to get better or go away. We’re in for a real struggle with this critter."
Great. What the hell am I supposed to do now? Under normal circumstances, I would have stopped worrying about these bloodsuckers after a week of not seeing them in my apartment. But now that I’ve done all this research, my girlfriend and I are faced with another tough decision: do we tell our landlord or do we just hope our last home treatment actually worked?
We’re still thinking about it.

A planning primer for the supes

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EDITORIAL The Eastern Neighborhoods Plan, which comes before the Board of Supervisors this month, is more than a set of rezoning and fee proposals. It’s a blueprint for how San Francisco sees its future as a city. When the supervisors are done with it, the plan will either preserve and expand the city’s affordable housing stock and protect blue-collar jobs, or it will usher in a vastly expanded land rush for developers who will wipe out small businesses that employ local residents and build tens of thousands of high-end condos for rich single people who work in Silicon Valley.

The stakes couldn’t be higher — and not just for the Mission, Potrero Hill, South of Market, and Dogpatch districts, but for the entire city. Because if the supervisors can’t get this right, the pattern will be set for development that will profoundly change the demographics (and politics) of this city.

The language the board will wrestle with is complicated, but the fundamental concepts are simple. And that’s where the discussion needs to start. For example:

Affordable housing can’t be a token concession; it has to be the heart of the plan. The city’s own general plan states that 64 percent of all new housing built in San Francisco should be made available at below market rates. That’s because the vast majority of the people who need housing in this city earn far less money that it takes to buy a market-rate unit. Even with the nationwide housing slump, new condos in the city start at $500,000 for a tiny studio or one-bedroom unit; places big enough for families cost a lot more. Even families with two wage earners who have decent, unionized jobs (like teachers, firefighters, and bus drivers) can’t afford the lowest-end market-rate homes.

Most discussions of affordable housing seem to start with the premise that forcing developers to set aside maybe 25 percent of their units for below-market sale is some sort of a victory. That’s nonsense. If 25 percent of the units in the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan are affordable, that means 75 percent will go to very rich people — and a city in which 75 percent of the population is rich while most of the people who work in the city’s major industries can’t afford to live in town is not a sustainable city.

The supervisors should set affordable housing at 64 percent — that is, compliance with the general plan as a bottom-line goal. Any aspect of the plan that doesn’t advance that goal needs to be examined and changed. If the evidence shows that to be an impossible standard, let’s negotiate down from there instead of taking the city’s anemic affordability levels and trying to bump them a few points up.

For example, the Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition has suggested that any height or density bonuses should be used for 100 percent affordable housing. Sup. Tom Ammiano is carrying that amendment to the plan, and it needs to be approved.

Developers have to pay to build new neighborhoods. You can’t just toss 40,000 new housing units into the eastern neighborhoods and expect to have a decent community. Neighborhoods needs parks and schools and bus lines — and the area targeted for this level of development has nowhere near the level of infrastructure it needs to handle the proposed housing influx.

So the developers who want to make money building housing also have to pony up for the public works and amenities that will make the plan viable. City officials estimate that the area needs $400 million worth of new infrastructure. The development fees currently proposed would cover less than half that. The ratio just doesn’t work: either the money is set aside — up front — to pay for neighborhood services and improvements, or the supervisors should reject the entire plan.

Blue-collar jobs can’t be sacrificed for more millionaires. The Planning Department admits that the current proposal will destroy hundreds of jobs in what’s known as production, distribution, and repair — jobs that offer decent wages for people who don’t have an advanced education. The city desperately needs those jobs. If the plan envisions new industries to replace the PDR facilities, those industries have to offer similar employment opportunities.

Residents of the eastern neighborhoods aren’t opposed to new development. But everyone in town ought to be fighting a developer giveaway that brings the city nothing.

Channel surfers

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› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Tunde Adebimpe sounds like he’s in good spirits. Four years ago, when the lead vocalist of TV on the Radio was in his first brush with fame, he would snap at false critical judgments — from comparisons of his voice to "Games Without Frontiers"-era Peter Gabriel to race-oriented articles focused on the group’s unusual makeup of Adebimpe, guitarist Kyp Malone, and keyboardist/producer David Sitek — two black men and a white man.

Today, though, as he walks out of his apartment into the streets of Brooklyn, Adebimpe speckles his conversation with chuckles. He jokes about the Gabriel comparisons, noting, "He has a better tailor than I do." And he shrugs off TV on the Radio’s galvanizing success. "It’s encouraging, because we don’t make the most conventional stuff," he says. "We’re not rich off making records."

Though it’s not necessarily an Obama-size achievement, Greg Tate from the Black Rock Coalition probably didn’t imagine a mostly black rock band would become the darlings of the gentrified indie-rock establishment a mere 20 years after he protested racism in rock in the 1980s. But after two albums — 2004’s breakthrough Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes (Touch and Go) and 2006’s follow-up, Return to Cookie Mountain (Interscope/4AD) — of brilliant, brashly intellectual and brazenly avant-garde music (three if you count its 2002 self-released debut, OK Calculator), TV on the Radio’s artistic achievement has eclipsed "black rocker" stereotypes.

By now, TV on the Radio’s amalgamations are well-cataloged: a little bit of doo-wop, a lot of Fugazi, and sprinkled with gospel-like choral rhapsodies. Despite or because of its alchemical properties — Adebimpe claims, "We’ve never written an original note in our lives" — a TV on the Radio album sounds wholly different from anything else. Sitek’s heavy-mental production techniques isolate Jaleel Bunton’s drums and Gerard Smith’s bass into echoing timbres. Adebimpe and Malone’s wavering voices tremble as if they were trying to find rays of hope amid the mud and asphalt of everyday troubles. A TV on the Radio recording is full of hardy optimism; it sounds like a triumphant battle for the human soul.

"I think that there has to be something outside of our reality. I genuinely hope and find that it is, because if it’s not … " says Adebimpe, his voice trailing off. Then he adds, "Our reality is pretty good. It’s got its perks. But hopefully there’s more to it. Whether that’s inside of a person or outside of a person, I have no idea. But there’s got to be something that’s less flawed, and sometimes boring and sometimes repetitive, than just us."

Set for release Sept. 23, TV on the Radio’s third full-length, Dear Science (Interscope/4AD), radiates with newfound confidence. Songs like "Red Dress" and "Golden Age," the latter on which Malone sings "Clap your hands / If you think your soul is free," positively bop with funk. Then, on the slightly kooky "Dancing Science," Adebimpe raps in a stutter-step pace about the information age overload. The effect isn’t as laughable as you’d think.

Dear Science‘s playful observations sound like a miracle after the earthwork obduracy of Cookie Mountain (which sold 188,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan). Universally hailed as a watermark on its release, Cookie Mountain refines Desperate Youth‘s ambient guitar lines and protean libido into granite walls of distortion, drums, and lust. On Desperate Youth‘s "Staring at the Sun," Adebimpe sings, "You’re staring at the sun / You’re standing in the sea / Your body’s over me," squeezing his lover in a viselike grip as if to protect the paramour from a world teetering on collapse. Compare that song with Cookie Mountain‘s "Wolf Like Me," where he doesn’t want to smother you, but devour you. The band attacks with ferocity as Adebimpe seduces his Little Red Riding Hood: "You’ll never know / Unless we go / So let me show you."

For all its enigmatic power, Cookie Mountain quavers with tension. Shocked at its success — "I feel like, after Desperate Youth, we were definitely astonished we were allowed to make another record," Adebimpe says— TV on the Radio initially struggled to devise a follow-up. "We were suddenly questioning ourselves about others’ opinion, which is always death," he observes. "But you always get to a point where you shrug it off and you say, I have no idea what anyone else is going to think. I can only do what I’m going to do…. The last record was intense periods of absolutely no fun followed by two months of the best time recording."

If Cookie Mountain closed a chapter for TV on the Radio’s alabaster soul, then Dear Science signifies a new direction. Adebimpe calls it "brighter and cleaner," shorn of the dense layers of distortion of the past. The music is wide open. The future is wide open.

TV on the Radio play at 7:25 p.m., Sat/20, on the Bridge Stage at Treasure Island Music Festival.


>>More Treasure Island Music Fest

No castaways here

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We drool over these Treasure Island jewels

CSS


Woman, oh, woman. We’re so not tired of these fiery São Paulo popettes’ brand of sexy. CSS rarely disappoint live — Spandex bodysuits, pop hooks courtesy of their latest album, Donkey (Sub Pop), and all. (Kimberly Chun)

8:25 p.m. Sat/20, Tunnel Stage

DR. DOG


Dusting the crust off Southern rock grooves and biting into the apple of the tenderest harmonies, these unsung sons of the Liberty Bell, the Band, and ELO might be considered the Yankee brethren to My Morning Jacket. (Chun)

6:40 p.m. Sun/21, Tunnel Stage

DODOS


Is anyone doing anything quite like what spunky San Francisco indie duo Dodos do? (Chun)

5:15 p.m. Sun/21, Tunnel Stage

FLEET FOXES


Back in the ’90s, we used to be able to tell the indie rock from the rock proper by the singing: untrained, off-key, and adenoidal. This Seattle quintet are leading the charge to make the voice the center of indie rock-dom. On their self-titled debut and its forerunner, the Sun Giant EP (both Sub Pop), the band brings serious pipes and gorgeous multi-part harmonies like they were trying out for spots in CSNY or "Black Water"–era Doobie Brothers. (Brandon Bussolini)

3:50 p.m. Sun/21, Tunnel Stage

FOALS


The brainy Oxford quintet has been tagged with both the "math rock" and "Afrobeat appropriationist" labels — both true, and gloriously so. Add in a heap o’ (not tired) post-punk reference and some boppy Cure-like atmospherics, and Foals bring dancefloor introspection to new heights. They’ve also gained a rep for missing festivals, so dedicated fans have their horseteeth on edge. (Marke B.)

3:45 p.m. Sat/20 Tunnel Stage

LOQUAT


Comforting and disquieting in equal measure, the Bay Area group’s knowing, ambivalent electro-pop will sound even better if the weather is gloomy and if you are in a ’90s mood. Playing music together for more than a decade and only on the cusp of releasing their second album, Loquat selects subject matter that rarely strays from post-collegiate romantic malaise. The combo’s tasteful, restrained playing and vocalist Kylee Swenson’s honeyed tone signals a perfectionism that sometimes gets the best of them: a song’s meticulousness can turn suffocating without warning, then just as suddenly return to a melody that almost justifies the occasional preciousness. (Bussolini)

12:45 p.m. Sat/20, Tunnel Stage

NORTEC COLLECTIVE: BOSTICH & FUSSIBLE


As anyone who has spent a little time in his or her local Guitar Center knows, "fusion" is a deeply tainted word. The bastard genre — typically evoked when a performer sounds like other fusion artists — has untapped potential to refer to music outside the wanky Weather Report–aping scene. If you are not the type to go in for seven-string fretless bass guitars and deeply contrived chords, this Tijuana quartet’s music might help you imagine a future for the term. Synthesizing traditional norteño music with techno might sound like a dicey proposition, but the group’s crisp, tuneful productions make for an easily graspable mellow. (Bussolini)

3:50 p.m. Sat/20 Tunnel Stage

PORT O’BRIEN


In taking a wisp of personal narrative — songwriter Van Pierzalowski spends his summers helping his dad, a commercial fisherman, on Alaska’s Kodiak Island — as their starting point and main inspiration, this Oakland fivepiece compares with this year’s other rustic isolationist, Bon Iver. Sonically, the outfit’s blood runs a little hotter: they are at their best when confident enough to let their rickety songs — like their gold standard, the loose-limbed "I Woke Up Today" — get away from them. (Bussolini)

1:25 p.m. Sun/21 Tunnel Stage

RACONTEURS


Steady, as they go. The rock ‘n’ roll tricksters tried to dodge critical bullets — and blossoms — when they released Consolers of the Lonely (Warner Bros.). Whatever for, one wonders? The combo’s increasingly massive sound successfully invokes the Who and Britannia’s other ’60s and ’70s rock powerhouses, with an intentional whiff of the good times long gone. (Chun)

9:05 p.m. Sun/21, Bridge Stage

MIKE RELM


This guy makes A/V geeks look good. With Reservoir Dogs–like skinny-tie suavitude and fleet fingers on his editing gear, the SF mix-maestro mashes up songs and sights with the smarts of a pop-cultie compulsive. Can we expect more of the same Clown Alley–style burger-‘n’-vino fun with Spectacle, his studio debut on his own Radio Fryer label? (Chun)

6:45 p.m. Sat/20, Tunnel Stage

SPIRITUALIZED


Beware: Jason Spaceman is more than capable of moving an audience to tears with his live, full-tilt psych-gospel orchestrations. (Chun)

4:30 p.m. Sun/21, Bridge Stage

TEGAN AND SARA


Twins do it better, if by better you mean attract insatiable hordes of fabulous haircuts with wistful tunes that lodge firmly in your earworm. Plus, they’re Canadian — something we all may wish we were soon. Yet the fabulous Quin sisters aren’t just standard keyboard-and-guitar hum-along-tos. They’ve got some curious curveball chops, as last year’s The Con (Sire) showed. (Marke B.)

7:25 p.m. Sun/21, Bridge Stage

Hot Chip, ahoy

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Think of a silkily sexy, deliriously polyrhythmic Hot Chip track as the rippling, bell-shaking musical incarnation of a Persian rug: beautifully detailed; seamlessly groovy; a sensuous, hip-twisting pleasure to dance to or on; and intentionally flawed.

"We hope that maybe the music ends up sounding more refined than polished — there are things we manufacture into the sound that deliberately sound like mistakes," says multi-instrumentalist Al Doyle. "We don’t want to end up sounding like Hall and Oates or something like that. That’s not the kind of sound we kind of go for, totally smoothed out."

Doyle is in a high-flying mood, strolling the streets of Camden in London with what he describes as "a bag full of fancy dress clothes. Quite strange." Hot Chip is set to play a festival on an island off the south coast of England, though, he adds merrily, "we never dress up for anything. We thought we’d do it this time. Make us feel better."

Eight years along after its origins in the hands of ex-schoolmates Alexis Taylor and Joe Goddard, the band should be feeling just fine — even if they choose not to don pirate gear for the Treasure Island Music Festival. Hot Chip’s latest, excellent album, Made in the Dark (Astralwerks), sounds like the dance-pop disc that New Order never made. Of that recording, Doyle allows, "We’ve got generally favorable reviews on Metacritics. A lot of people really liked it, and some people were confused about it initially. It’s quite an odd record, I’d say, a little bit all over the place in terms of very quite slow songs and big, loud, fast songs. Quite an experimental moment, with a few big pop hits. But we never thought it was odd. It was just the music we made."

The tracks emerged from everyday highs, like, ahem, Salvia divinorum — the inspiration for the swaying, elastic "Shake a Fist" — and were recorded by the full five-piece. "It was a transition record to a more band-oriented project," says Doyle, who happened to attend Cambridge the same time as Taylor and occasionally moonlights live with LCD Soundsystem. "It’s much more about the groove, and it’s very loud as well," Doyle says of the latter band. "It’s like a fucking bomb going off with LCD. Lasting damage!"

Hot Chip prefers to do benevolent damage to their own tunes live. "It’s much more easygoing and there’s a lot more improvisation. It’s a dance party — the audience goes nuts," he explains. The addition of a new drummer, Leo Taylor, should really make all and sundry go off, so much so that the hard-working Doyle is looking forward to the end. After tours of the United States, United Kingdom, and Mexico, "we finish at the end of the year. The holy grail that we’re all looking forward to."

Hot Chip appears at 4:25 p.m., Sat/20, on the Bridge Stage at Treasure Island Music Festival.

Does Vampire Weekend suck?

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In terms of the Internet music hype cycle, seven months is an eternity. So while last winter the controversy surrounding Vampire Weekend — four mild Columbia alums who make a crowd-pleasing brand of Afro-pop punk — threatened to hold the Web hostage, more recently the discussions of privilege and charges of cultural appropriation that marked the backlash have all but disappeared. The quartet of Ezra Koenig, Chris Baio, Rostam Batmanglij, and Christopher Tomson had managed, albeit briefly and in coded terms, to get indie rockers talking about two subjects they, and Americans in general, tend to talk around: race and class. In anticipation of the group’s performance at Treasure Island, we wanted to recap some critics’ takes on the band’s approach, to get people thinking about the cultural roots of the recent Docksider resurgence.

"BLOOD SUCKING GEEKS" BY ROBERT CHRISTGAU IN ARTICLES BLOG

www.najp.org/articles/2008/02/blood-sucking-geeks

AFRO-POP CO-OPTERS? The dean of American rock critics — Xgau to you — is unusually crotchety here, drawing on his extensive knowledge of African music to take down every style writers link the band to.

IVY LEAGUERS? Xgau acknowledges it, sure, but he’s got a lot of misconceptions about Afro-pop to correct. He does, however, anticipate the "psychological mechanism" that underpins the whole backlash. Despite everything, Afro-pop sounds happy, and the young are predisposed against upbeat music for its perceived shallowness, whether it comes from the global south or is an effect of Ivy League privilege.

GRACELAND COMPARISON? He drops the G-bomb only to note its ubiquity, then goes on to point out that the South African mbaqanga the Paul Simon album draws on is "much heavier than anything in Vampire Weekend unless you count their punky stuff, which isn’t African at all."

THE JAMS? The piece is really more of a rockcrit corrective than a consideration of VW’s music itself — here and in his later Consumer Guide review of the combo’s debut, he lets Pitchfork‘s Scott Plagenhof fill us in: "off-kilter, upbeat guitar pop," with "not just the touches of African pop but the willingness to use space and let the songs breathe a bit" and "detail-heavy, expressive" lyrics.

"PLEASE IGNORE THIS BAND" BY JULIANNE SHEPHERD IN VILLAGE VOICE, JAN. 22

www.villagevoice.com/2008-01-22/music/please-ignore-this-band

AFRO-POP CO-OPTERS? J-Shep recognizes that the conventional critic’s wisdom on the band "focuses on blind Afro-pop jacking and sartorial missteps," but sees the band’s real fault as a kind of essential anal attention to detail, making their songs feel "claustrophobically ordered."

GRACELAND COMPARISON? Namedrops in passing "Graceland rhythms" when describing VW’s blog-breakthrough single, "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa" — for Shepherd this affiliation is only slightly more consequential than their strong preference for Oxford shirts.

THE JAMS? The band so repeatedly work over their influences and presentation that eventually there’s "nothing left but space and simplicity and precious little conflict."

VAMPIRE WEEKEND REVIEW BY NITSUH ABEBE FOR PITCHFORK

www.pitchforkmedia.com/article/record_review/48053-vampire-weekend-vampire-weekend

AFRO-POP CO-OPTERS? Abebe sets us up with a series of African reference points: "Mansard Roof" ‘s keyboard tone recalls "old West-African pop," Koenig’s guitar has a "clean, natural tone you’d get on a record from Senegal or South Africa." He goes on to implicitly dismiss the idea of appropriation — the outfit plays those suggestive sounds "like indie kids on a college lawn, because they’re not hung up on Africa in the least."

IVY LEAGUERS? "Ivy League" makes a single appearance in the text, evoked as an easy target for haters, but considerations of VW’s education leave a stamp on Abebe’s thinking here: Abebe claims Koenig’s background allows him the insight to "summon up the atmosphere of kids whose parents use "summer" as a verb.

GRACELAND COMPARISON? According to Abebe, Simon "never sounded this exuberant."

THE JAMS? Despite listeners bringing their baggage to the band, it returns "nothing but warm, airy, low-gimmick pop, peppy, clever, and yes, unpretentious."

"VAMPIRE WEEKEND ‘CAPE COD KWASSA KWASSA’ " BY ERIC HARVEY IN HIS BLOG, MARATHONPACKS

www.marathonpacks.com/2007/11/vampire-weekend-cape-cod-kwassa-kwassa

AFRO-POP CO-OPTERS? This is Harvey’s focus, and he kills it with a supersophisticated reading that manages to reference the classic ethnographic text "The Masai on the Lawn." Ultimately, Harvey’s less worried about VW’s so-called "indie-style colonialism" — from his perspective, the band knows exactly what they’re doing by playing with such charged ideas — than he is about how intentional the provocation is.

IVY LEAGUERS? The blog post — dated a month after the release of the band’s debut single, "Mansard Roof" — makes one mention of this, a good indication of the extent to which the unit’s bio had saturated the blogosphere. Harvey, a graduate student, has the most nuanced understanding of how VW’s privilege inflects their coy performance of "clueless bougie cosmopolitanism."

GRACELAND COMPARISON? Harvey suggests that VW is canny enough not to make "sappy pap that’s impossible to fuck to in your parents’ beach house."

THE JAMS? Harvey’s approach implicitly rejects the blogospheric pressure to confuse what the music means socially with its sonic qualities.

Vampire Weekend plays 5:55 p.m., Sun/21, on the Bridge Stage at the Treasure Island Festival.

Class revolting

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› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Americans are allowed to talk about class on the condition that we say we are all middle class — never mind if your ‘rents pay for an out-of-state, private college without financial aid, or if you’re a single mom struggling to pay Bay Area rents on service industry wages. Regardless of our assets, we’re all the same if we pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, right? So despite capitalism’s emphasis on abstract equivalence, class is at least one area where the bourgies insist on qualities over quantities: "You can have my Horatio Alger narrative when you pry it from my cold, dead hands!"

Thus, comparing Harvard-educated pop duo Chester French to Vampire Weekend because their members seem to have leapt from the same L.L. Bean catalog misses what is genuinely questionable about their act. While neither band ever talks about what their parents do for a living, they both make playing with old-money signifiers a big part of their repertoire. But while Vampire Weekend’s self-described "Upper West Side Soweto" juxtaposes citations of third world pop with symbols of upper-class belonging, that superficial move is at least designed to give the listener pause. The unsubtle doofuses of Chester French mangle their subject matter, driving every obvious detail into the ground. The Zombies-biting power pop of "She Loves Everybody," for example, opens with a shuddering, prim string trio before ditching the classical instruments for well-tempered synths, clean-cut tremolo guitars, and a by-the-books jaded-romance narrative so obvious it’s vaguely insulting to the listener’s intelligence.

Even worse, these bros’ steez stumbles over itself to incorporate high-end, contemporary pop culture, from which VW’s music tends to hold itself aloof. Not that being slightly out of date is inherently superior to being current, but the latter group is at least smart enough to drop its Lil Jon reference four years after "Yeah!" Chester French’s best song — which is still terrible — is the pinched, flimsy "The Jimmy Choo’s" [sic], whose fratboy-with-a-Bret-Easton-Ellis-fetish lyrics clumsily and successfully attempt to pander to the Sex and the City (or is it Gossip Girl?) demographic. Don’t be fooled, though: it’s not class evocation — though they’re pretty bad at making that angle interesting — that makes them especially tiresome. It’s that the Chester French marketing bundle is so clearly designed to float bankrupt songwriting on a pseudo-provocative presentation.

Their ruthlessly calculated niche-marketing conjures up secret pact scenarios with the Wesleyan-affiliated, improbably popular MGMT — "OK, so you guys go for the humanities majors, and we’ll get the sociology/business dudes." The bad news is that it worked: these guys came out of a bidding war with a Star Trak deal and MGMT scored a Columbia contract. Maybe we should make a pact of our own: let’s not talk about class using the terms they’re feeding to us. Who cares about the Ralph Lauren sweater? We want to know what your parents do for a living.

Chester French performs at 1:25 p.m., Sat/20, on the Tunnel Stage at Treasure Island Music Festival. Vampire Weekend plays 5:55 p.m., Sun/21, on the Bridge Stage at the Treasure Island Festival.

“Seventh” heaven

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› kimberly@sfbg.com

If you loose your tethers to terra firma and let yourself drift with the hallucinatory swirl of fireside Anglo folk, violin-swept electronic beats, and the dulcet sighs on Goldfrapp’s fourth album, Seventh Tree (Mute), you won’t be surprised to learn that vocalist Alison Goldfrapp plucked the disc’s name from a dream. "I can’t argue with that, I thought when I woke up," Goldfrapp says from London during a brief break from the group’s current tour. And the dream itself? "It was a beautiful tree," she recalls. "It all felt amazing and wonderful, and it had a ‘seven’ on it, and then I was in a women’s spa, a Roman bath, and it was very steamy. I was asking people about the title and giving them all the titles I had, and they were going, ‘No, no, that’s wrong. You’ve got to call it Seventh Tree.’<0x2009>"

Sounds like the kind of certainty that you should never buck, and you can practically hear Goldfrapp nodding over the line "You know, when they come and advise … " before she breaks the oracular mood with a dose of levity. "I had too much curry that evening — that’s what I put that down to."

Picturing the ethereal blond in the throes of Indian grub-powered inspiration puts an entirely new wrinkle in Goldfrapp’s intense, synthetic dreamscapes. "Folktronica" isn’t quite the term for what the startlingly grounded singer and collaborator Will Gregory conjure with Seventh Tree: a recording that elegantly marries the groovy Serge Gainsbourg–ian Euro-funk ("Little Bird") with sometimes stonily spare ("Eat Yourself") and occasionally majestic John Barry–imbued orchestrations ("Road to Somewhere") — the latter a combination that might occur within a single song ("Clowns"). The album marked a dramatic shift from the duo’s last full-length, Supernature (Mute, 2005), but then, Goldfrapp never promised you the certainty of a glittering disco ball spinning round. For this record, the pair began to write songs for the first time solely on guitar, and Goldfrapp found inspiration in the quality of light and lyrical fatalism of 1970s road-trip films like Badlands, in addition to popular reference point Wickerman. "I thought about American films — the hazy sunshine, kind of Californian," she muses. "The road trip is significant as a kind of rite of passage, and it feels opportunistic, but there’s always a sense of doom as well."

Writing music for film is one opportunity Goldfrapp would love to grasp, but she also wants to compose for a choir. "Making music is an endless world of possibility," she says. "The future is unknown." But for now, all too soon, it’ll be back to that eternal road, which Goldfrapp will undertake without Gregory. "Will doesn’t tour — he can’t fit in the bunk beds, and I’m not crazy about it either!" she exclaims while simultaneously bemoaning the current drizzly gray of London. "I love playing, but touring is exhausting. I wish I could transport myself from place to place." At least she’ll be trailing that California sunlight soon.

Goldfrapp performs at 5:50 p.m., Sat/20, on the Bridge Stage at Treasure Island Music Festival.

Seasonal cool

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› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Brian Blade will say he’s just the drummer in the band. But Blade isn’t just any player, having credits ranging from Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell along with Joshua Redman and Wayne Shorter. His understatement neatly fits the carefully nuanced improvisation on his new record with the Fellowship Band, Season of Changes (Verve). Group founders-leaders Blade and pianist Jon Cowherd wrote all the material on the new record, which they’ll feature in performance at the Monterey Jazz Festival Sept. 21 and at Yoshi’s SF Sept. 22.

Season stresses the cool, cerebral resonance the ensemble has forged throughout their decade of playing together. "The core of the sound comes from Jon’s writing and his expression at the piano," Blade says by phone from Portland, Ore. Blade and Cowherd have been friends since meeting at Loyola University in New Orleans. "Somehow our songs fit together," Blade explains. "I think that has to do with our relationship and a bond we have that gives the music a cohesiveness as a listening experience."

Humility becomes Blade — and once again, he stresses that he’s simply the drummer with the Wayne Shorter Quartet. But that notion would minimize the amazing collective musicianship of the band led by the saxophonist-composer: It’s been together for eight years now with Danilo Pérez on piano and John Patitucci on bass. Shorter and the outfit make a series of rare club dates at Yoshi’s in Oakland beginning Sept. 30.

Blade seems to have struck the perfect balance between working with Shorter and finding his own voice within the composer’s music. "We want to be true to Wayne’s vision obviously," he observes, "and we try to submit to that. But he wants us to take our own way."

"’Take a chance’ is what he would say," Blade concludes. "It’s challenging to suddenly be thrown out there to walk the wire, so to speak, but we’ve grown into being each other’s safety net." 2

BRIAN BLADE AND THE FELLOWSHIP BAND

Mon/22, 8 and 10 p.m., $10–$16

Yoshi’s

1330 Fillmore, SF

(415) 655-5600

www.yoshis.com

WAYNE SHORTER QUARTET

Sept. 30–Oct. 4, 8 and 10 p.m.; Oct. 5, 7 and 9 p.m., $40–$70

Yoshi’s

510 Embarcadero West, Oakl

(510) 238-9200

www.yoshis.com

A Bay pas de deux

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› a&eletters@sfbg.com

REVIEW Coming right off the top of the new season, two local choreographers, Liss Fain and Erika Chong Shuch, have thrown a spotlight on the marvelous richness of Bay Area dance. These women couldn’t be more different from each other. One creates cool, intricately flowing balletic dances; the other, spunky and quixotic dance theater.

Fain is something of an outsider if for no other reason than that she choreographs to a different tune. No easy beats or slapped-together sound collages for her. Her most recent Liss Fain Dance performance included Bach, Reich, Messiaen, and Bartók. Fain’s is a refined though restricted sensibility, which manifests itself in carefully structured work that floats through time and stage space without establishing linear trajectories. Often the music gives the pieces something akin to a backbone. Her longtime collaborator, Matthew Antaky, envelopes her filigreed choreography with masterful light and scenic designs. Rarely has Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ Novellum stage looked as good.

A world and a local premiere shared the evening with reprises of the courtly couple-dancing Crossing (2004) and the haunting The Line Between Night and Day (2005). Ejmaj Design’s punk leather and lace costumes for the new At the Time suggested theatrically pungent subject matter. But Fain’s slow romp of entangled limbs for Dexandro Montalvo and Bethany Mitchell remained pretty tame.

For the US debut of 2007’s elegant Looking, Looking, inspired by trips to Eastern Europe and Cambodia, Fain responded to Bartók’s folkloric echoes with couple dances and a sense of searching — in the air and on the ground. Full of lively arm gestures, some possibly inspired from Asian mudras, Looking‘s high point came with Montalvo’s partnering two of Fain’s most expressive dancers, fiery Kai Davis and lyrical Daphne Zneimer. Line, performed to parts of Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, is a more angular work that, thankfully, avoided literal references to the music’s place of origin: a concentration camp. Somehow it managed to be both elegiac and hopeful.

Also at YBCA, in its Forum space, Erika Shuch Performance Project’s existential musing, After All, Part I, engaged with its excellent performers. The stage oozed with talent and energy, thanks to the eminent, wistful dancer Joe Goode, singer-composer Dwayne Calizo, charming teenage vocalist Gracie Solis, percussionist-actor Matthias Bossi, and actor Beth Wilmurt, not to mention a quartet of dancers and a motley movement chorus of 23.

Drawing from a number of writers, Chong Shuch fashioned dances, monologues, and songs into a circular structure about, well, the meaning of life — as seen mainly from the perspective of a goldfish. Shuch has gathered — and created — marvelous material but it needs to be more organically shaped.

Individual segments work well. Wilmurt inhabited Michelle Carter’s sparkling text as naturally as her pisca-sartorial accoutrements of sunglasses and form-hugging sequins. Though plagued with what appeared to be vocal difficulties, Calizo’s character of a hobo Santa Claus who carries everything with him was a fanciful creation. Bossi roared through Octavio Solis’ "Last Psalm" (an inversion of "The Lord Is My Shepherd") with a mixture of bravado and cynicism. Given the current political climate, he was as hilarious as he was chilling.

Still, what After needs is somebody — just as in the initial fable — to hold it up. As it was, it didn’t leave enough footprints in the sand.

Live through this

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REVIEW Hey, kids! Wake up and smell the freedom! Outside the RNC, for instance, where a phalanx of Taser-wielding storm troopers recently did their dirty work on citizens practicing what civics classes used to call free speech. One 19-year-old there was beaten unconscious, hooded, hauled away, and beaten some more — subjected to what any dropout in years past would have rightly called torture. "Freedom" is Francophobe for fries, or else it’s merely the liberty of the ruling class to plunder with impunity, slurping up every last drop of blood from the rest of us like it was Heinz 57.

Am I exaggerating? My diction may have a salty 19th-century flavor, but it’s only appropriate, given this nation’s inglorious march backward to the future. It’s also appropriate, in its own way, that Frank Wedekind’s Spring Awakening (written in the 1890s) should be making a raucous but compromised comeback courtesy of Broadway. Deemed pornographic when it premiered in New York City in 1917, the German proto-expressionist work’s categorical attack on the deathly sexual repression and moral hypocrisy of the age becomes — after a lag time of roughly a century — a financially sound formula of faux teen empowerment and positive messaging. In its big show biz incarnation, the teeth of Wedekind’s restlessly outraged, poetical, funny, and morbid little play are filed down to dust, even as Steven Sater (book and lyrics) and Duncan Sheik (music) channel VH1 rebellion into some kinetic, tuneful, and exciting moments (heightened significantly by Bill T. Jones’ choreography). The talented young cast rocks unabashedly to the end. But that’s also where the schmaltz lies heaviest — all things wicked and corrupt being made tolerable again as characters dead and alive reunite for a throaty anthem to hope and purple summer and god knows what. Roll over, Wedekind. And tell Bertolt Brecht the news.


Through Oct. 12. Tues.–Sat., 8 p.m. (also Sat., 2 p.m.); Sun., 1 and 6 p.m., $30–$99. Curran Theatre, 445 Geary, SF. www.shnsf.com

No peace, so Justice

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>>Justice for all? Read club snob Marke B.’s response to this essay here.

› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER Is it wrong to like Justice as much as you like your iPhone? Can a rocker adore Justice as much as they love AC/DC? What’s wrong with the fist-pumping, head-banging reaction the French duo inevitably pull when their pop bombast hits your brainwaves?

There’s no denying that the duo of Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay go for the drama, even while piling on the classical melodicism, teasing with sonic textural interest and gently provoking with image and concept. In play are the detached yet still loaded signs and symbols of a de-centered, post-nationalist, millennial Europe — where the virtual village square, an imagined common ground, is littered with logos and branding detritus like corporate trademarks (à la their sparkling ’80s font-anime fete of a vid for “DNVO”) and crosses (a.k.a., the title of Justice’s 2007 Ed Banger/Vice/Downtown debut), the latter of which might be read at various points as a crucifix, a space-galleon, or a coffin with wings.

But perhaps that common ground is also the beat — a constant that shifts intriguingly. The beat doesn’t possess the primacy one would imagine from an outfit so associated with disco, the so-called nouveau French touch scene, or anything resembling dance music culture, if there was ever such an animal. Instead, Augé and de Rosnay are ciphers: the friendly, unobtrusive absence at the center of Justice, as identifier-free and countenanceless as they are in their Grammy-nominated “D.A.N.C.E” video. These children of Jean Baudrillard dare you to deny their ball-busting bounce, ear-bleed volume, and bloodless hooks, sans even the cartoon/anime-cool, featureless, anti-human “faces” of Daft Punk, or the too-cool-for-school ‘tude of, say, Death From Above 1979. As with their recently banned video for “Stress,” Justice are tinkering with pop violence, devoid of true gore, a.k.a. passion.

So is it wrong to think of Justice as a user-friendly lil’ post-modern contemporary performing unit (CPU), right there along with my favorite multi-tool and time-wasting-toy iPhone — generating content that doesn’t burden me with biography, calculated ways of winning my dollar, or even, despite the iconography, religion, politics, or deep thoughts designed to program or convert me. “Justice is music without a message and without politics,” de Rosnay told Pitchfork this year. “We don’t want to tell people what to think.” Regardless of whether I buy ‘s Christian allusions — “Genesis,” “Let There Be Light,” “Waters of Nazareth,” and even divinity or “DVNO,” I believe de Rosnay’s, ahem, sincere. Like any tool, the Net, or any number of platforms available online, Justice provides a blank for me to fill in like the animation-bedecked T-shirts of the “D.A.N.C.E.” video. “T,” here, stands for tabula rasa, ready to be doodled on, graffitied or defaced — even while cheekily offering, for one millisecond, “Internet Killed the Video Stars,” this gen’s knowing rejoinder to the first video aired on MTV.

And despite the adoring masses, Augé and de Rosnay came off as far from superstar DJs in their shadowy absence-presence at Coachella in April 2007, where I first, er, saw Justice deliver what they’ve described as their first live music performance, non-reliant on turntables or CD mixers. Chalk it up to the cool relief of the evening after the blistering heat of the day, the locale of the relatively chill dance tent at the far end of the festival grounds, the gorgeously retina-searing, candy-colored hot neon and cross-flashing light show, or the duo’s own excitement, but their set — epic, melodious, and full of those big, fat, dumb beats that detractors love to slam — turned out to be the sweet spot of the entire event. By comparison, the duo’s MySpace-sponsored turn at the SF Design Center this spring tapped a slightly menacing Nuremberg rally–style vibe with its impenetrable black wall of Marshall stacks centered on a crucifix, above which the duo worked like two hipster Ozs cloaked in darkness. Even without the pastel flash, the kids punched the air with joyful anguish up front as latecomers skipped toward the stage. Justicemania.

But as Chinua Achebe promised and Justice referenced in their party’s-over “We Are Your Friends” video, things fall apart. All five-alarm strings and raver-y emergency broadcast system wail, “Stress” was the least likely track Justice could have chosen. The vérité smash-up of La Haine (1995), Costa-Gavras dynamism (The clip’s director, Romain-Gavras, is his son), and the media-savvy Medium Cool revolves around a multiracial gang of Justice cross-jacketed toughs committing senseless acts of violence in a collision between the two Parises: an alienating, multicultural and cosmopolitan urban milieu, and the quintessentially old-world City of Light. Was this rough Justice? Mais non, considering the injection of irreverent wit when one gangbanger kicks out a car radio bleating “D.A.N.C.E.” Concluding with a fourth-wall-busting scene as the boom operator’s arm catches fire and the gang descends on the camera-wielder, the video appears to be literally turning the easy thrills of the soundtrack-sourcing music on its head.

“Stress” segues with this year’s DJ Mix Leur Selection (Tron) from Justice, which shows off the pair’s puckish humor by aligning Dario Argento collaborators Goblin along with their heroes Sparks, supposed rivals Daft Punk, SF metal abstractionists Fucking Champs, and — who said the French lack wit? — Frank Stallone. The DJ Mix‘s finale — Todd Rundgren’s “International Feel” — gives you a taste of what the twosome might have in mind to follow ‘s tonally varied orchestration of older tracks, dance pop, and more stately instrumentals — as Rundgren wails to his time-traveling synths, “And there is more / International feel … interplanetary deals … interstellar appeal … universal ideal.” After the tantalizing whirl of signs and symbols — hinting at everything and nothing — is there more to Justice than what dazzles the ear and eye?

Justice performs at 9:15 p.m., Sat/20, at the Bridge Stage.

Dot Dash

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ISBN REAL Exciting news for the tangibility fetishists among us (digital space-children, just hum some binary code for a minute while we grasp at one more straw): Dash Shaw’s serial Web comic BodyWorld (dashshaw.com) will be gracing the third dimension in (earth-) bound form some time next year, as a graphic novel published by Pantheon.

BodyWorld, now up to chapter eight of 12, concerns Paulie Panther, a botanist in the not-too-distant future whose job is to update an encyclopedia of hallucinogenic plant life. This assignment has brought him to the insular forest community of Boney Borough, where an unknown specimen has been discovered on the grounds of the local high school. Panther, the romantically hopeless type (in other words, charmless, unkempt, occasionally suicidal, and still somehow attractive to women), makes a scummy motel room the base of his operation, which consists primarily of nursing and widening the scope of his addictions. Stuck in town waiting for the demurring plant to reveal its effects, he passively falls in with the goings-on of the school.

BodyWorld is most affecting and formally adventurous in its drug sequences, which sneak up on the reader as the plant’s effect — the opening of a conduit to any neighboring consciousness — sneaks up on Panther. Mind-melding and substance abuse (especially the romantically hopeless kind) aren’t the freshest of raw materials, but plot twists that could have been boring are elevated by the effectiveness of their representation. The laconic panel layout (three equally-dimensioned squares across and as many squares as necessary down) is subtly subverted here and there to convey the altered state. Most notably, the confusion of amateur telepathy is rendered with overlapping panels.

A digital space-child out of financial necessity, I read what’s available of BodyWorld before checking out any of Shaw’s earlier, off-line work. I wish I’d read it all in order. BodyWorld is a little disorienting without some wider frame of reference. Its noirish coyness seemed possibly rushed and incommunicative, and the sudden spikes of concentrated empathy came off as conciliatory attempts at cohesion. But it’s easier to trust that the comic’s erratic emotional register isn’t just a broken valve when considered alongside such tonally assured creations as 2006’s The Mother’s Mouth (Alternative Comics, 128 pages, $12.95) and Bottomless Belly Button (Fantagraphics Books, 720 pages, $29.99).

Shaw’s engagement with human frailty hasn’t fully shaken that tannic flavor of a detached exercise. I’m not sure what was preoccupying Dan Kois when he read Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth, but Shaw has a way to go yet before his output’s "emotional jolt" — as Kois puts it in a recent New York magazine profile of Shaw — out-zaps that of Corrigan creator Chris Ware. Still, we’re talking about a 25-year-old who renders intimate character dramas that aren’t obviously autobiographical. That endeavor in itself deserves applause. Viewed as part of an impressive and varied body of work (Shaw created thousands of pages before he could even rent a car), BodyWorld feels genuinely experimental instead of rhythmically wayward. It’s an experiment moored by stimuutf8g visual syntax: shards of solid candy hues, evocative lapses in the coloring, those dreamy wandering panels. Plus, shopworn or not, drugs and ESP are just neat.

Speed Reading

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KEEP THE FAITH

By Faith Evans with Aliyah S. King

Grand Central Publishing

353 pages

$24.99

She was Biggie’s wife. She’s still the mother of his son. She was in the middle — stuck on the very fault line — of the Biggie and Tupac saga. She’s put up with Sean Combs through all his nicknames. She wrote and sang gorgeous backup for Mary J. Blige on choice tracks from Mary’s classic 1994 album My Life (MCA)that is, before she and Mary got quite contrary. She’s had more than a lil’ issue with Lil’ Kim. She was friends with Missy Elliott before Missy became famous. In Etta James’ wild and unfiltered 1995 autobiography Rage to Survive (Da Capo Press, 304 pages, $18), she’s the one James singles out as a daughter figure. You best believe Faith Evans has a story to tell.

A page-turner with nary a false note, Keep the Faith is a tale beyond any groupie’s intelligence or contemporary pulp fiction hood novelist’s imagination. While Faith never made a flat-out classic album like My Life, her recordings (especially 2001’s Faithfully, on Bad Boy) are underrated, and she didn’t Oprah-size herself like Mary. She’s kept it understated, so her memoir isn’t a tell-all. It presents some well-known stories from her perspective, adding the occasional new twist — for example, it turns out she beat up Kim not once, but on two different occasions. We learn Missy can be a bit two-faced. We wonder how sensible, Clark Sisters–loving Faith could be so foolish as to get caught up with Death Row Records and a buck wild Tupac, and so strong as to not go insane with paranoia once people started talking and shit started going down. Faith’s Biggie stories — including vivid memories of days on the stoop before his first album dropped — are funny and endearing. They’re also far from sugar-coated, building up to a cathartic account of his funeral that’s not flattering to Mary or Kim — but isn’t vindictive or judgmental either. She speaks her truth.

Mead notebook

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› johnny@sfbg.com

"Yeah, whatever, I’m just watching Oprah," Taylor Mead lolls over the phone line when I ask if he has time to talk. "Anyway, what do you want to know, because I’m so bored with being interviewed."

Actually, around a half-minute separates Mead’s initial "whatever" from his profession of boredom — 30 seconds that he laconically fills with more wit than other interview subjects might manage in 30 hours. "One day Oprah will be at a petting zoo, loving little animals, and the next she’ll have a banquet, serving 100 people veal," he says. "As a vegetarian, I object. I object to this new vice president, too. She hunts wolves from an airplane. Give me a break."

Such objections are a taste of what’s in store for anyone wise enough to see the 83-year-old Mead crack wise during a brief visit to San Francisco. "Do I dare call it Frisco?" asks the star of Ron Rice’s 1960 North Beach–set cinematic Beat classic The Flower Thief. Though Mead hasn’t been to SF in years, he knows the city today well enough now to liken it to "the richest suburb in the world," so he’s querying himself as much as me. "They called it Frisco when there were tough dockworkers there, when it was a tougher town. Now it’s just Frisky."

The Flower Thief kicks off "Taylor Mead: A Clown Underground," a three- evening Joel Shepard–curated affair at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts that moves on to the 1967-68 Andy Warhol mock western Lonesome Cowboys and concludes with William A. Kirkley’s 2005 documentary portrait Excavating Taylor Mead. The first and last films are bookend — sort of — visions of a self-described "National Treasure / If there were such a thing." Mead is a great American movie star and poet whose stardom is a byproduct of his poetry and vice versa. Just as 2000’s Pie in the Sky: The Brigid Berlin Story reveals that Mead’s rich-rebel-gone-Warhol-superstar peer Brigid Berlin is a master of monologue, Kirkley’s documentary — and more directly, Mead’s books — present a wilder-than-Wilde master of the aphorism.

Mead can also make a lengthy poem sing, as illustrated by a YouTube clip of a serenade to Jake Gyllenhaal, gleaned from one of his regular Monday night appearances at Bowery Poetry Club. If Gyllenhaal’s 2005 Brokeback Mountain character is the gay son of Montgomery Clift in 1948’s Red River and 1961’s The Misfits, then both Mead’s song to Gyllenhaal and Mead’s older poem "Autobiography" prove lonesome cowboys can be lassoed by a rodeo clown.

"For everything that is original, spontaneous, alive, and creative and beautiful, there is some old lady who will complain about it," writes Mead in 1986’s Son of Andy Warhol (Hanuman Books). In the 2005 collection A Simple Country Girl (YBK Publishers, $14.95) his wit and wisdom is even shorter and sharper. "Everything / Has a right to life / except mosquitoes / and religious people."

Airplane willing and anti-anxiety medication in hand, Taylor Mead is returning to the town where Jack Spicer once seethed as he sat on Jack Kerouac’s lap. Shower him with Dewar’s. He’ll be bringing a couple hundred pages of quips in his carry-on bag, but they might not be necessary.

As the man himself says, "I don’t need a script."

TAYLOR MEAD: A CLOWN UNDERGROUND

Thurs/18–Fri/19 and Sun/21, 7:30 p.m., $8

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

701 Mission, SF

(415) 978-2787

www.ybca.org

—————————–

Autobiography

(after a poem by Ferlinghetti)

By Taylor Mead

I have blown

And been blown

I have never had a woman

I have been in great jails and terrible jails

The great jails were the tanks and the terrible jails were the model prisons.

I have seen my mother a few hours before she died.

I have seen my father pinching pennies and felt it.

I have heard and felt my father in his worship of

money worshipping money and the U.S.A. of money

madness, fuck it!

I have been beaten nearly to death before an

"enlightened" Greenwich Village crowd.

I have been beaten in my hospital bed by sadistic

doctors.

I have been arrested by a jealous policewoman and

I should have hit her and killed her.

I have played all the pianos that all the famous

pianists have played in Carnegie Hall in the basement

of Steinway Hall and I still play them

after making it with the elevator boys on a quiet

religious Sunday afternoon.

I have made goo goo eyes at Marlon Brando with no

luck

but not too much discouragement either.

I have made it with Montgomery Clift in Central Park

against a little pagoda

or at least he said it was Montgomery Clift and

it was Montgomery Clift too.

Elizabeth Taylor has really looked at me from under

a veil on Fifth Avenue and Susan Strasberg and

Judith Anderson all on Fifth Avenue and can’t

remember her name on Sixth Avenue now the

Avenue of the Americas and then too

And that year’s winner of the Antoinette Perry

award followed me from the St. Regis where he lived

and I’ve never been in for four blocks until

I regretfully lost him because I’m shy.

And my first day alone in New York almost this famous

cowboy star made goo goo eyes at me on the steps

of the New York Public Library, main branch

And I went into the Times Square Duffy Square

subterranean toilet with one of the movies’ Tarzans

and he showed me his big peter

and I showed him my small one

because it was cold and

I didn’t want to get it excited unless I was sure

something great was about to take place

And it didn’t.

Originally printed in Excerpts from the Anonymous Diary of a New York Youth (self-published, 1961) and Angels of the Lyre: A Gay Poetry Anthology (Gay Sunshine Press, 1975)

New blood

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What possesses Towelhead director and Six Feet Under creator Alan Ball to explore those gray areas where sexuality converges with morality? "It’s fascinating," Ball says, sequestered in San Francisco’s Ritz-Carlton for a series of interviews. "I feel like I’m at a point where really well-adjusted people are the kind of people I like to have in my life. But as characters in fiction — shoot me! I would be so bored."

Ball unleashes a magnificently chortle, more Henry VIII than writerly introvert: "I’m interested in the mistakes people make [and] in the dilemmas where people’s true characters are called into question. I’m interested in those mythic moments in everybody’s life."

Towelhead, which Ball adapted from Alicia Erian’s 2005 novel, is unflinching in its depiction of the culture shock and flowering sexuality of 13-year-old Jasira (Summer Bishil), an Arab American girl relocated to Houston to live with her strict Lebanese father (Peter Macdissi). The film is also courageously unjudgmental concerning the choices the young girl makes — which include her relationship with Army reservist Mr. Vuoso (Aaron Eckhart), who lives next door. Ball sets the disarmingly realistic mood of Towelhead perfectly with his opening scene of Jasira about be given a "mercy" shave by her mother’s boyfriend, though few would suspect that he would so adeptly grapple with the narrative’s complex perspective on race — not to mention the parallels one might draw between the film’s mis-en-scene, set during the Gulf War, and today’s conflict in Iraq.

In contrast, Ball’s latest TV foray, True Blood, which recently premiered on HBO, casts its nets far from reality into a pulpy, supernatural future where vampires can openly live among humans following the invention of synthetic blood. Can a telepathic young woman find true blood — or rather, love — with a guy who sucks? It sounds like Ball is happy to stem the angst flowing through so many of his projects. "I thought, enough with the existential naval-gazing," he says, laughing. "Been there done that."

TOWELHEAD opens Fri/19 in Bay Area theaters.

Jabbing at Justice?

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>>Justice among us? Read rocker Kimberly Chun’s response to this essay here.

› superego@sfbg.com

SUPER EGO Pack up your travel-size Palin Porker-Pink™ CoverGirl Lipslick, kids, ‘cuz we’re about to time-travel through the recent dance floor past, with a brief stop at Negative Nellyland. All aboard the Wayback: toot, toot.

In the past couple of years, five new genres have taken over US underground clubs — all with wriggly roots in Europe and Canada. (If you’re looking to read any entrails about America’s loss of influence in the world, check out our lube-slip grip on global dance floors.) These genres are the following: minimal techno, a brainy but often stunning strip-down of the much-maligned techno beast; dubstep, with its post-postcolonial fusion of reggae, two-step, bhangra, and more; retro disco, summoning the shimmering ghosts of gay bathhouse, italo disco, and other pre-digital ’70s and ’80s micro-movements; lazer bass — or “bastard bass,” or “psychedelic robo-crunk remix action” — the blippy, bowel-shaking deconstruction of chart-prevalent hip-hop.

And then, of course, there’s hardcore electro.

Honestly, hardcore electro — and the glam-slam banger scene that grew up around it — can sometimes bug the bejesus out of me. The genre has mind-blowing aspects: thumping energy, quick-witted mixing, exhilarating stuttered vocals, old-school breakdowns, and key-skipping basslines. I was raised rave, so its primo combo of mannered anarchy and DJ worship — along with its genre-bending conflagration of metal, crunk, acid, and techno — is right up my tender alley. Bring the noise.

Yet there’s something a little too “party like a rockstar” about it. With its accompanying over-the-top neon-hipster look (attack of the sunglass tees!), sex-obsessed provocations, and fist-pumping non-dance moves, hardcore electro is the new hair metal. The banger kids I’ve met are all lovely and motivated, and in the right DJ hands — Richie Panic, Vin Sol — the mix can achieve perfection, cheekily blasting stadium-size sounds to an up-to-the-minute crowd. But there’s sometimes a shallow, for-the-cameras sheen to the scene — mirroring the often robotic, often black-faced “let’s get fucked up and fuck” lyrics spat from the speakers. Sad face.

Plus, no one ever STFUs about goddamned Justice.

OK, look, I’m no hater — do you see any frown lines on this immaculate face? Thought not. If 10,000 people wanna throw on electric-blue shutter shades and American Apparel tube socks and lose their shit to two smirking French dudes, I’m all for it. I may even join ’em. But if I get one more MySpace friend request from a DJ tag team in Spiderman masks who fall on their knees before Justice, I’m gonna hurl coconuts. Can we get a little originality on the runway, s’il vous plaît?

Justice — superstars of the Ed Banger label, for which the banger scene’s named — are OK. Any politically savvy decks duo that flawlessly drops “Master of Puppets” and “Standing in the Way of Control” into ear-splitting, ADD sets gets my vote. They’re wicked smart, too: the hilariously grandiose symbol-title of their first album, is the ascii symbol for dagger — an Internet-based irony perfect for our religiously warring times, and one surely expected from the two sharp former graphic designers. They don’t wear masks, whew, and I can’t totally blame them for the look and feel of their scene.

So why do Justice make my snobby shit list? First, they overreach, in that tired rock-star DJ way: their stadium tour of this country was partly downscaled in the face of poor ticket sales. Plus, their poker-faced religious bombast act is too one-note to enjoy, and their first major US TV appearance, on Jimmy Kimmel Live, was a lip-synch of their welcome-worn-out-quickly hit “D.A.N.C.E.” performed by Michael Jackson and Prince look-alikes — a cynical joke that turned the song’s utopian lyrics (“Under the spotlight / Neither black nor white”) into a racial minefield and completely underestimated the audience. I realize Justice gets a wry giggle from such overblown deflation — that’s so French — but I can’t afford enough flip-flops to go with all their tacky punch lines. Mean ol’ rock stars.

Then, where is the love? Surely you’ve heard of “the love”? It’s enshrined in the House Nation constitution, the underlying sentiment of dance music from the dawns of disco and house through the second Summer of Love exactly 20 years ago — and still running under the floors of many clubs today. I’m not a metaphysical person. One body’s enough for me, thank you. Well, maybe three on the weekend. But even I can feel the spiritual dimension of dance, the slightly corn-tinted, otherworldly glow of souls united in motion. Love is the message.

Sure, Justice promised that “We are your friends / You’ll never be alone again” with their friends Simian in the undisputed juggernaut mix of ’06. But it came off as more snide than divine. Their shows get too hyper for full transcendence: more cool than heat, more status than soul. And Justice’s horrifying misstep of a video for “Stress,” which follows a group of youths as they rob and beat random Parisians (yes, I get that it boldly activated European fears of “the other,” but, bleh), sets the banger aesthetic up as the nihilistic opposite of love, while desperately lunging for punk-rock street cred. Boring!

But maybe unblinking devotion to “the love” is an outdated, pre-Internet means of global dance floor connection and validation — and something those of us glowsticking it with Big Bird in the pre-Dubya years had the fortunate leisure to indulge in and mystify. Maybe now thrashing out with like minds to an aggro blizzard of metal samples and jittery synths — and looking good doing it — is the perfect escape pod: dance-floor justice, for these apocalyptic times. Maybe.

Daddy’s girl

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› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS My dad was here, and, like a lot of daughters, I tried to impress him. Like a lot of fathers, he worries about me, his far out (and up and away) California girl. I just wanted to show him that, look, I’m fine. I’m doing well. No need to worry. All quiet on the western front.

I moved all my garbage from the front seat to the back of my crumbling, windshield-cracked, transmissionally-challenged vehicle, and went to get him at the airport, calling several times on my cell phone to let him know that, essentially, I had a cell phone. Finally.

I also have an iPod Touch, so before I left I tickled up directions to the airport, even though I knew how to get there, and I wedged this into my ashtray to resemble, as closely as possible, a GPS device.

On our way away from the airport, windows rolled down against the 100-plus degree heat, I made sure to mention quite casually that, although my 22-year-old, three-cylinder pickup truck gets better mileage than his Prius, I am saving money to buy a new car.

I took him to work with me, just for three hours, and while he wasn’t paying attention I quite quietly lost that job. Or found out that I will have, come November. To my credit, I didn’t start crying until much later, after midnight, in the woods, trying to fall asleep in the hammock.

On the way home we’d stolen a chicken from a backyard in East Oakland. My dad had held the flashlight, and I’m pretty sure he was impressed with the speed, dexterity, and fearlessness with which I snatched the beast from its sleep and stuffed it beak-first into a cardboard box.

I know he was impressed with my shack because he said as much. He said he’d pictured it much smaller. And he liked my stuff. He hadn’t taken me up on my offer to stop at a drug store on the way home, boxed chicken squawking between suitcases, and buy a shower curtain for my shower-turned-litter-box-slash-storage-space. He’d take his baths outside on the porch, just like me!

What a dad. Jetlagged and overfed, he fell asleep as soon as his gray hairs touched the pillow on my fold-out futon. I made love to Weirdo the Cat on the carpet for a while, and then grabbed my sleeping bag and went outside. It was too hot for sleeping bags. Luckily, and weirdly, it was too hot for mosquitoes, too.

I lay in the redwood-strung hammock, where I usually sleep very soundly, thank you, and I tossed and turned and sniffed and sobbed and howled, albeit very quietly, at the moon. The chicken, which I’d moved from the cardboard box to a cat carrier on an old rusty oil drum next to me, peeked out of its air holes and tossed and turned and pecked at the moon.

Between the two of us, we woke up squirrels, but not my dad.

Who, when he saw my woods and ways in the refreshing (to him) daylight, was even more impressed! He kinda liked bathing outside, and marveled at my outdoor desk, and complimented my apples, which I love but most people find too tart.

Most impressively, though, and he, being his daughter’s father, elaborated at some (if not chicken farmerly) length … the old man couldn’t stop crapping the whole time he was here.

"I seem to have that effect on people," I said. It’s true. I have friends who call me when they’re constipated. They claim the sound of my voice has a laxative effect. Which I take as a compliment.

My dad, who leans toward constipation himself, attributed it more to my healthy diet. His word: "healthy." What we ate: jambalaya with three kinds of meat and two kinds of seafood in it. Omelets. Barbecued eggs. Smoked chickens. Fried clams. Clam chowder. And a Zachary’s stuffed pizza with anchovies.

And if that’s all health food, you gotta wonder, kind of broken-heartedly, what people are eating in Ohio.

—————————-

My new favorite restaurant is Guerilla Café in Berkeley. They have a waffle-of-the-day, and on this day it was cardamom, buckwheat, and dates. Couple of fresh organic strawberries, three or four thin slices of pear, a bloop of crème, one pat of butter, thimble of syrup … bam! $7.25. And a $2 cup of Blue Bottle coffee with no free refill. Justice, Berkeley-style. Hip, righteous, artsy, and expensive, it’s immersion therapy for a chicken farmer come to town.

GUERILLA CAFÉ

1620 Shattuck, Berk.

(510) 845-2233

Tue.–Fri., 7 a.m.–6 p.m.

Sat.–Sun., 8 a.m.–6 p.m.

No alcohol

MC/V

Mao and Coca-Cola

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› johnny@sfbg.com

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is in the grip of full-on Fridamania when I first pay a visit to "Half-Life of a Dream: Contemporary Chinese Art from the Logan Collection." Nonetheless, Yue Minjun’s terracotta warriors attract photo-ops: a little girl poses next to a solitary Yue sculpture with his hands behind his neck, while five other Yue statues (each a life-size body — barefoot in white T-shirt and blue jeans — with an enormous head: eyes closed, mouth frozen in anxious "smile") stand in formation near the exhibition’s threshold.

A single Yue also welcomes visitors to the quieter, more expansive "Mahjong: Contemporary Chinese Art from the Sigg Collection" at the Berkeley Art Museum, where 25 more Yue statues (from the 2000 installation 2000 A.D.) and numerous oil-on-canvas renderings of Yue — including a chain of 13-or-so Yues looking down on everyone — await inside. A decision to use this icon of cynical realism as a host of sorts unites the SFMOMA and BAM shows, which also feature a number of the same artists: Bird’s Nest Stadium designer and provocateur Ai Weiwei; satirical painter Yu Youhan; gay gazer Zeng Fanzhi; repetitious self-portrait specialist (like Yue) Fang Lijun; disturbing dreamer Yang Shaobin; chilly portraitist Zhang Xiaogang; candid snapper Liu Xiaodong; mordant physical observer and landscape artist Liu Wei; Tiananmen Square lookout Yin Zhaoyang; and Li Songsong, who coats memory in cake icing.

A collection of work dating from 1988 to 2008 by 25 artists, "Half-Life of a Dream" is less expansive than "Mahjong," which draws from Uli Sigg’s world’s-largest collection of contemporary Chinese art and dates back to the late stages of the Cultural Revolution. Its conceit is also more specific and restrictive: digging beneath the Beijing Olympics slogan "One World, One Dream," the SFMOMA exhibition taps into the myriad dream facets or "masks, shadows, ghosts, reveries" (to quote from Jeff Kelley’s titular essay) that drift through pre- and especially post-Mao China.

This dream theme is clear and to the forefront in paintings such as Liu Xiaodong’s 2007 Xiaomei and Zhang Xiaogang’s 2005-6 Untitled, but it grows strained when applied to, say, Liu Dafang’s urban photorealism. At times, it obfuscates the layers of a work, as when the complex mother-daughter vision of Yu Hong’s 2006 She — White Collar Worker is summarized with the quasifeminist remark that "women remain trapped in dreams of themselves." Regardless, "Half-Life" presents more than a few standout works: Gu Wenda’s hair-raising united nations — babel of the millennium (1999) and Sheng Qi’s autobiographical political memorial My Left Hand (2001) are especially formidable. Its dream analysis fits most snugly and dramatically around one of the most recent pieces — and the exhibition’s climax of sorts — Sui Jianguo’s The Sleep of Reason. There, an eternally resting Mao is surrounded by multicolored masses of toy dinosaurs.

Here’s a Mao, there’s a Mao, everywhere’s a papa-oom-Mao-Mao in the relatively playful "Mahjong," where Sun Guoqi’s 1973 Chairman Mao with the New National Emblems greets viewers with false cheer at the first of five floors (leaving aside the lower levels and snaky hallways, where some of the most provocative work resides). This traditional view of Mao is quickly punctured by Yu Youhan’s hilarious 2005 Warhol pun Untitled (Mao/Marilyn), the young androgyne Mao of Li Shan’s 1995 Rouge–Flower, the Nintendo Mao of Feng Mengbo’s 1994 Taxi Taxi, the decaying Mao of the Gao brothers’ acerbically watchful 2000 An Installation on Tiananmen, the art connoisseur Mao of Shi Xinning’s 2000-01 Duchamp Retrospective Exhibition in China, and the flirtatious Mao of the same artist’s 2001 Dialogue, to name but a handful.

Strong currents of irreverence surge throughout "Mahjong," thanks to children of Mao and Coca-Cola such as the Luo brothers, whose vulgar, comedic keepsakes of fast-food capitalism enliven "Dialogue China Part II," a group show at Elins/Eagles-Smith Gallery. (Also at Elins/Eagles-Smith, Xing Danwen’s urban fiction dioramas bring the post-human romance of Tsai Ming-liang’s 1994 Vive L’<0x2009>Amour to mind.) The exhibition’s sub-strands of subject matter include militarization and the "little emperors" and troubled girls of China’s one-child policy.

While mahjong might not be the deepest or most revelatory thematic motif for an exhibition devoted to a nation, it more than suits both BAM’s multitiered or tiled space and the rich varieties of the Sigg collection. "Mahjong" doesn’t have to beg for repeat viewings — the magnitude of the show and quirks of its arrangement demand it. In general, contemporary Chinese painters tend toward large-scale representation, perhaps most successfully when — as with Zhou Tiehai’s looks at Joe Camel — one gets the sense that the grand gesture itself is being mocked. But one of the exhibition’s best works is also its tiniest: Lu Hao’s A Grain of Sand (2003) is a 1/4-by-1/4-inch memorial to the individual, a figure perpetually under assault — whether by communism or hypercapitalism.

DIALOGUE CHINA PART II

Through Sept. 30

Elins/Eagles-Smith Gallery

49 Geary, Suite 520, SF

(415) 981-1080

www.eesgallery.com

HALF-LIFE OF A DREAM: CONTEMPORARY CHINESE ART FROM THE LOGAN COLLECTION

Through Oct. 5

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

151 Third St., SF

(415) 357-4000

www.sfmoma.org

MAHJONG: CONTEMPORARY CHINESE ART FROM THE SIGG COLLECTION

Through Jan. 4, 2009

Berkeley Art Museum

2626 Bancroft, Berk.

(510) 642-0808

www.bampfa.berkeley.edu

Volume 42 Number 51 Flip-through Edition

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What are safe streets?

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› amanda@sfbg.com

The San Francisco Streets and Neighborhoods workgroup, convened by Mayor Gavin Newsom, sat down to its seventh meeting Sept. 9 "to analyze and understand the key issues impacting safety on our streets and formulate recommendations for needed improvement with the goal of creating a safe environment on our streets for everyone."

Some of the top dogs on public safety were at the table, including Police Chief Heather Fong, fire department Capt. Pete Howes, representatives from the district attorney and public defender’s offices, and Kevin Ryan of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, who co-chairs the group.

Were they here to discuss the recent spike in shootings in the Mission District? The murder of a Western Addition teenager three days earlier? The effectiveness of gang injunctions in those neighborhoods? The upcoming march on City Hall of students from June Jordan High School demanding leadership from the mayor on the rise in violence?

Not really. A quick survey of the agenda indicated most of the talk would be focused on another great threat to public safety: homeless people.

"One of the things we never talked about is what are the specific undesirable behaviors we’re focusing on," facilitator Gary Koenig said to the group. Wielding a dry-erase marker at the whiteboard, he probed further, "In other words, the objective we set for ourselves had to do with safety on the streets. So what are the objectionable behaviors that make the street unsafe or make the street be perceived as unsafe by others?"

"Shooting people," blurted Seth Katzman, a representative from the Human Services Network, a coalition of nonprofits.

The room erupted in laughter.

"I’m going to keep bringing it up," he said, not laughing.

Koenig asked what other activities they were targeting, and a more telling picture emerged: drug dealing, aggressive panhandling, blocking the sidewalk, public urination and defecation, littering, intimidation.

"On intimidation," said Chief Fong, "if you have someone walking down the street and they’re yelling out or blasting out, sometimes they’re talking to themselves and all of a sudden, ahh! People don’t know how to respond and think that maybe there’s going to be a next step in terms of some kind of aggressive behavior."

"Would you call that scary behavior?" asked Koenig, marker poised to note.

"Just kind of unpredictable behavior in terms of how someone’s carrying themselves. They haven’t committed a crime, but …" Fong trailed off.

Koenig added "unpredictable behavior" to the list. "Remember, we’re really not talking about crimes here," he said. "We’re talking about what are we focusing on to help improve safety and the sense of safety on our streets."

That’s the real mission of the group: to make downtown more comfortable for tourists, shoppers, business owners, and condo residents; and more uncomfortable for homeless and poor people panhandling, loitering, urinating in public, acting strangely, getting loaded, or sleeping on the streets.

The group was clearly weighted toward enforcement, but coordinated with buy-in from those who demonize the homeless and those who defend them: Ryan, a law-and-order Republican, shares chair duties with the Rev. John Hardin, executive director of the homeless services nonprofit St. Anthony Foundation. Others at the meeting included Steve Falk of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce; Heather Hoell of Yerba Buena Alliance; Joe D’Alessandro, CEO of the Convention and Visitors Bureau; Bobbie Rosenthal from Local Homeless Coordinating Board; Anne Kronenberg of the Department of Public Health; Reginald Smith from the 10-Year Council on Homelessness; Jennifer Friedenbach from the Coalition on Homelessness; Human Services Agency director Trent Rhorer; and Dariush Kayhan, the mayor’s homeless policy director.

Their ultimate goal is to come up with a handful of recommendations for a street safety pilot project that Newsom will implement in two neighborhoods within six months. The group’s task, on this day, was to weed through the list and decide what the group would endorse.

So far all the proposals have targeted poor and homeless people with enhanced services, punishment threats, and new restrictions on street life. Suggestions ranged from establishing drug-free and "VIP" zones in the downtown business and tourist areas (which came from the Chamber) to COH’s suggestion to fully fund treatment on demand. But all agreed that money is tight.

"If we did a lot of the service things, we probably wouldn’t be doing a lot of the others," Hardin noted early in the meeting, indicating the enforcement and justice items.

The mayor has not set aside any funding to implement the pilot projects, according to Kayhan. And that reality steered the group away from social services and toward crackdowns.

For example, Friedenbach suggested the chronic inebriate program run by DPH does a good job, but said that it’s underfunded and should be evaluated and expanded. Koenig asked DPH’s Anne Kronenberg if this is possible.

"You know it all comes down to money," she replied. "There’s a little disconnect going on for me. What we’re saying is good but I also know what the budget situation is in the city. That’s one [sticking point] where if we could get the mayor on board … or some other creative way of funding."

"Money is a real issue," Rhorer piped up. "So I’m thinking maybe if it’s a high cost item, we take it off the list." Yet, he added, "I totally agree the chronic inebriate program needs to be expanded to more placement facilities."

Instead, it was removed from the list.

"The problem is, if we take out some of these matters, what we’re going to be left with is enforcement ordinances and the justice system. And I think we all agreed a long time ago the idea isn’t to incarcerate people, but to get housing and services for them," Katzman complained. "It’s going to leave us with the stick and not the carrot."

Recommendations in the "stick" category included establishing "drug free zones" with enhanced penalties for dealing, using, and possession. Similar zones already exist within 1,000 feet of schools and parks in San Francisco, but have been implemented more broadly in other cities.

After discussing the constitutionality of making one street corner drug-free but not others, some suggested folding it in with another idea on the list: VIP zones.

"What does VIP stand for?" someone asked.

"Very Important Person," someone else answered.

"How about B and T? Business and tourism zones?" Rhorer suggested. "Marketing of VIP sounds a little more difficult."

According to the description on the meeting agenda, VIP zones would be established around downtown, the Yerba Buena center, Fisherman’s Wharf, Chinatown, and Union Square as areas subject to "special enforcement of drug laws, aggressive panhandling, sitting/lying on sidewalks" and other "quality of life crimes."

Defending the idea, D’Alessandro said, "Just from our perspective, tourism generates $500 million a year in local taxes that fund a lot of the programs we’re talking about at this table. And we’re very threatened. We’ve lost a lot of business." He said one convention bailed because a visitor was spit on.

"There’s obviously huge problems with this. It’s specifically targeting people because of their status, their housing status," Friedenbach said, sarcastically suggesting they have a registration for homeless people entering certain areas of the city.

"I think we have to separate aggressive panhandling and blocking thoroughfares from poverty," D’Alessandro said. "This is not targeting poor people."

"When you say sitting and lying on the sidewalk, that is targeting people who don’t have a place to sit," Friedenbach countered.

"Maybe we don’t do this unless we provide places to sit," D’Alessandro replied."

"Like more drop-in centers," Rhorer offered.

But temporary places to sit and sleep don’t seem like part of Newsom’s vision. Since he took office, more than 400 shelter beds have been lost. In March, Newsom defunded the only city-funded 24-hour drop-in center serving both men and women.

By the end of the meeting, many of the ideas for enhancing services remained in play, like ramping up Project Homeless Connect and the Homeless Outreach Teams, as well as more drop-in centers, housing, and job programs. All of the law enforcement–oriented changes were still on the list, including implementing the drug-free and VIP zones.

Speaking afterward, Katzman returned to the issue of what defines safety, and for whom. "We have tenants and clients in the Tenderloin who are afraid to go out of their buildings at night because of drug-related violence. They’re not complaining to us about people peeing on the streets," he said. "No one likes it, but that’s not the big issue right now."

PG&E Lie of the Week

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When you read Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s propaganda against the Clean Energy Act, it’s pretty clear that political consultant Eric Jaye is writing all the statements for the politicians who oppose the measure. Take this gem from Mayor Gavin Newsom:

"This measure gives the Board of Supervisors and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission the right to issue bonds in any amount without a vote of the people…. That is simply too much power to give to any group of elected and appointed officials."

Excuse us, Mr. Mayor, but other city agencies, including the port and the airport, already have this authority — and neither is wasting billions of public dollars. And you, Mr. Mayor, appoint the PUC members. Are you saying you don’t trust your own appointees?

This is the theme PG&E keeps putting out: city employees can’t be trusted to run a power system. That’s not only a lie, but when Newsom plays into it, he’s essentially trashing not only his city, but himself.

Raiding Long Haul

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› deborah@sfbg.com

Previously sealed documents related to the Aug. 27 police raid at the Long Haul Infoshop in Berkeley now reveal what the UC Berkeley Police Department was after, even if questions remain about its tactics.

The Statement of Probable Cause refers to e-mail threats against UC Berkeley researchers made by animal rights activists, sent from Long Haul’s IP address. Long Haul — along with its tenants Slingshot, a quarterly newspaper supporting radical causes, East Bay Prisoner Support, and Berkeley Liberation Radio — had several of its computers seized by an assortment of gun-wielding campus cops, Alameda County sheriff deputies, and federal agents who broke into the nonprofit locale, which has been providing office and meeting space for political and social justice groups since 1994.

During the raid, according to Kathryn Miller, one of the first Long Haul collective members to arrive on the scene, authorities wouldn’t show anyone the warrant until they finished breaking open cabinets and nabbing CDs and hard drives in pursuit of evidence. Miller says she even offered to unlock cabinets for them provided they show her the warrant, but the cops still refused.

That warrant explained little about the reasons for the intrusion, other than to refer to the Statement of Probable Cause affidavit filed with the Superior Court and to grant permission to confiscate property that could show a felony had been committed. Immediately after the raid, Robert Bennett, a staff member of Slingshot, expressed his suspicion that the raid was a form of "collective punishment" against left-wing groups, especially considering his publication’s support of the tree-sitters who have delayed a UC Berkeley construction project.

Carlos Villareal, who is part of a team from the National Lawyers Guild that will be representing the besieged nonprofit pro bono, told the Guardian that Long Haul and its tenants have grounds to contest the search as unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment.

"I’m pretty confident that we have a good argument that the search was overbroad and the tactics were heavy-handed. Searches need to be limited in both their scope and how they’re done," he said.

Villareal didn’t even see the affidavit until Heather Ishimaru, an ABC Channel 7 news reporter, brought it to Long Haul seeking comment. Ishimaru obtained the document by accident from the Wiley Manuel Courthouse in Oakland on Aug. 8 when a clerk in training provided it to her even though it was under protective seal. If not for that lapse in procedure, Long Haul’s lawyers would have to petition a court to see the incriminating document.

The affidavit, written by Detective Bill Kasiske, details some alarming e-mails sent via free Internet e-mail accounts to a researcher at the university, like one demanding, "STOP TORTURING ANIMALS OR THINGS GET UGLY" or another that correctly stated the researcher’s home address and said, "im a crazy fuck and im watching YOU."

Kasiske concludes, "A search of the Long Haul’s premises could reveal logs or sign-in sheets indicating which patrons used the computers on particular dates." But he doesn’t draw a distinction between computers open to the public and those strictly for the use of tenant organizations.

Even if the search is limited to the public-access computers, not much information can be gleaned from them. Much like at the local public library, anyone — from the Unabomber and Osama bin Laden to an FBI agent — can walk in and use the computers without logging on or leaving any trace of their identity.

It’s unclear why Kasiske didn’t research Long Haul’s practices regarding patron use prior to filing the affidavit, and no one from UCBPD would respond to our calls for comment. Villareal, the legal spokesperson on the case, noted that, "there are less disruptive methods of law enforcement…. We don’t think they would do something similar to a business, Internet café, or library."

Vicious circle

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› sarah@sfbg.com

The Mission District has been swarming with police officers lately. They were present and visible in large numbers in recent weeks in an effort to stem a recent tide of mostly drug- and gang-related killings in the heavily immigrant neighborhood.

"When 14, 15, and 13-year olds are running around with guns, we have a serious problem," San Francisco Police Chief Heather Fong said at a recent press conference as she urged the community to call 911, or the police department’s anonymous hotline, to report suspected shooters.

"All these people come from families, and these family members may hear or know something, or see a change in behavior," Fong said.

But community advocates warn that Fong’s boss has made it less likely that immigrants will talk to the police. Since Mayor Gavin Newsom’s recent decision to notify immigration authorities the moment the city books undocumented juveniles accused of committing felonies, fear that the Sanctuary City laws are eroding may be driving the very sources Fong needs deeper into the shadows.

Shannan Wilber, executive director of Legal Services for Children, told us that the new policy is already having an impact.

"It’s a warning sign that no one is safe, that people can’t go to Juvenile Hall and pick up their kids, because they’ll be swept up by ICE, too," Wilber told us. "People are saying, We don’t feel safe reporting a crime we witnessed or were a victim of.’<0x2009>"

Mission Captain Stephen Tacchini told the Guardian last week that he’s not hearing that the community is clamping up because of the mayor’s newfound willingness to send juveniles to the feds for possible deportation. But he acknowledged that he doesn’t know the immigration status of folks who talk to the police at meetings and on the street.

"How many undocumented aliens come forward and assist us?" he asked. "Well, it’s possible they use the anonymous tip line."

PROTECTING PUBLIC SAFETY?


In an Aug. 8 San Francisco Chronicle op-ed, Newsom wrote, "the underlying purpose of the sanctuary-city policy is to protect public safety."

First signed into law in 1985, the city’s sanctuary ordinance designated San Francisco a safe haven for immigrants seeking asylum from war-torn El Salvador and Guatemala. The city extended the policy to all immigrants in 1989, saying it would not use resources or funds to assist federal immigration law enforcement, except when required by federal law.

Over the years, the city’s sanctuary legislation was amended to allow law enforcement to report felony arrests of suspected undocumented immigrants. City officials, however, came to believe that state juvenile law prevented them from referring undocumented juveniles to the federal authorities.

The city’s decision not to notify Immigration and Customs Enforcement about undocumented juvenile felons came under the media spotlight this summer when someone leaked to the Chronicle that the city had used tax dollars to fly undocumented Honduran crack dealers home. Some convicts were sent to group homes in San Bernardino County, and the city was left empty-handed and red-faced when a dozen ran away.

When the Chronicle articles hit, Newsom, who had just filed to explore a run for governor, claimed that the city could do nothing — the courts had jurisdiction over undocumented juvenile felons.

But the next day, Newsom did an abrupt about-turn.

"San Francisco will shift course and start turning over juvenile illegal immigrants," Newsom said. "We are moving in a different direction."

But the public was left in the dark about how far this new direction would veer until Sept. 10, when Siffermann unveiled details at a Juvenile Probation Commission meeting.

Community-based organizations and immigration rights attorneys complained that the policy ignored all but one of the recommendations they made in July and August to Siffermann, city administrator Ed Lee, and Kevin Ryan, a fired former US Attorney whom Newsom tapped to head the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice in January.

Angela Chan of the Asian Law Caucus warned the commission that the policy, which has already resulted in 50 juveniles being referred to ICE, may result in the deportation of young people who had not committed any crime, or whose felony charges were dropped.

Community organizer Bobbi Lopez asked commissioners, "Why do we have a political will to demonize these kids who have been trafficked into this country?"

And Francisco Ugarte, a lawyer with the San Francisco Immigrant Legal and Education Network, said the policy is akin to "rounding up all of Wall Street because there are bankers involved in insider trading."

The commission decided to form an ad hoc committee to review the policy, but the immigrant advocates and attorneys we contacted expressed little hope of change, given the impending presidential election and Newsom’s gubernatorial ambitions.

Some went so far as to suggest that the Joseph Russoniello, who opposed churches and synagogues offering sanctuary to Salvadorans and Guatemalans in the 1980s, and became the US Attorney based in San Francisco in January 2008, had drafted the mayor’s new policy.

Patti Lee of the Public Defender’s Office noted that the Mayor’s Office did not discuss the policy changes with her office, the courts, the prosecutors, or the people involved in immigration litigation.

Claiming that 99 percent of kids arrested in the city are not violent felons, Lee said, "They are mostly engaged in drug sales to survive and to send money back to their families."

Probation chief Siffermann defended the new policy direction. "Just because ICE is notified about suspected undocumented juvenile felons doesn’t mean they will be deported," Siffermann told us. "I know there’s a fear that this will open an automatic trap door to horrendous facilities and poor conditions, but this is not about dropping kids off in the middle of nowhere. What we are talking about includes outreach for families with adolescent members on the road to a delinquent involvement, whose actions call attention to the entire family situation."

Reached by phone, Russoniello told us, "If the city had scrupulously followed the ordinance as it’s written, there would not have been this controversy."

POLITICAL AGENDA?


Russoniello claimed that ICE’s first concern is people engaged in criminal activity, and agreed that in some cases, petitions may not be sustained against juveniles referred to ICE.

"But ICE may determine that the person is a member of a gang or engaged in regular criminal behavior," Russiniello added.

Russoniello also told us that the city is probably looking at its past files on undocumented juvenile felons to determine its own liability.

"Certainly, if people who are now adults were committing heinous crimes as juveniles, people are going to be wondering why they weren’t deported," Russoniello said, alluding to a June 22 triple homicide in which three members of the Bologna family were shot while returning home from a picnic.

Allegations emerged in July that the prime suspect in that killing, Edwin Ramos, 21, was an undocumented MS-13 gang member who committed felonies and went through the city’s juvenile system, but was never referred to ICE. That further embarrassed Newsom.

Kris Kobach, a one-time counsel to former US Attorney General John Ashcroft and the current Kansas Republican Party chair, is representing several surviving members of the Bologna family, who filed suit against the city claiming its sanctuary policies were a "substantial factor" in the slaying and blaming the Juvenile Probation Department for adopting "official and unofficial policies."

Russoniello claims that a review of monthly records that JPD has kept since 2004 show an uptick in alleged juvenile Honduran felons, and that this should have been a tip-off. "Are people gaming the system, or are organized groups taking advantage of the city’s leniency?" Russoniello asked.

Noting that 30 percent of these so-called teens were in fact adults and that significant numbers of gang members are "illegal aliens," Russoniello claims that the spur to shift policy was the city’s attempt to transport people back to Honduras in December 2007, which was brought to his attention in January, when he took office.

"We attempted to remedy it quietly, without much success," Russoniello recalls. "The city decided to send people to group homes. If you want to find a political agenda, look to the Mayor’s Office."

Calls to Ryan remained unanswered as of press time, but mayoral spokesperson Nathan Ballard e-mailed us that Newsom ordered a new policy direction May 22 "because he felt the old policy violated the intent of a sanctuary city, which is to promote cooperation by undocumented residents with law enforcement, not to harbor criminals."

The city attorney issued an opinion authorizing notification on July 1, Ballard wrote. Notification began July 3, and written protocols were publicly presented Sept. 10.

As for Russoniello’s comment about political agendas, Ballard retorted, "This isn’t about politics, it’s about public safety. In order to preserve the sanctuary city policy, we need to ensure that it complies with state and federal law so that it is not vulnerable to attack."