Volume 43 Number 03

Live bait

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a&eletters@sfbg.com

Thirty-something British band Wire secured its place in rock history with three soberly brilliant LPs released in the late 1970s. Born Ruffians, a much younger Canadian combo, gets steady attention despite having only two uneven releases under their belt. Both groups will be playing likely well-attended shows this week, to audiences who either cut their post-punk teeth on Wire’s Chairs Missing (Harvest, 1979) or got really into Born Ruffians’ Red Yellow and Blue (Warp) since its release eight months ago. As different as these outfits appear, something about the expectations hovering around their shows seems to call for a slight recalibration of the rock-crit machine — what people are going to these shows for might not be what they actually hear. Even if you don’t read the reviews and haven’t scoped the scenes, someone lodged inside the Web marketing machine has done it for you. The more dimly aware you are of it, the better it works.

And this is what bothered me about Born Ruffians. I like Red Yellow and Blue fine, but before I’d even managed to really hear the band, I’d been blitzed with ancillary information. These three Torontonians, led by a thin, raw nerve of a man named Luke LaLonde, play a jangly form of indie with lots of off-mic huddle-chants — something like a summer camp take on Animal Collective’s harmonizing. In a way, the critical air support that followed the LP release seemed premeditated, hard-pressed to point out anything really compelling beyond a checklist of standard genre tropes. Still, listening to the album later, I was surprised that, while longing gets mentioned, nobody else noticed that it’s the engine of the music. Which can make even their best songs, like the scribbly "Hummingbird," a bit of a painful listen — not because they’re not afraid to look like fools, but because it cuts too close to the raw experience. Born Ruffians don’t dwell on pain as much as they let it seep in, an approach that makes me want to run at first but resolves into something modestly beautiful.

Wire, on the other hand, is in the unique position that even their most dedicated fans haven’t listened to the bulk of their discography. Their latest full-length is called Object 47 (Pink Flag) because it’s the 47th thing they’ve released. Wire’s initial trilogy — Pink Flag (Harvest, 1977), Chairs Missing, and 154 (Harvest, 1979) — remain the high-water mark against which they’re judged, and rightfully so: they invented a formal vocabulary for punk and rock in a hugely inspired fit of art school imagination. Yet one doesn’t get the feeling that anyone who has bothered to listen to their releases since then has actually heard anything other than a lack of those three albums, or subtle tweaks on the fecund language they opened up. The most interesting qualities of Wire’s recent recordings have little to do with their early shirt-and-tie experimentalism. Object 47‘s linchpin is "One of Us," a sweet pink heartbreak confection whose compassion is miles off from "The 15th"’s relationship semiotics.

All of which is to say that both concerts are worth going to for reasons that have little to do with the narratives swirling around each group. It shouldn’t be too difficult to let go of the stories anchoring these bands and experience them as something both more and less than the sum of their facts. *

BORN RUFFIANS

Wed/15, 9 p.m., $8

Bottom of the Hill

1233 17th St., SF

(415) 621-4455

www.bottomofthehill.com

WIRE

Wed/15, 8 p.m., $25

Fillmore

1805 Geary, SF

(415) 346-6000

www.livenation.com

Independence day

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Labels come and go. Not long ago, Moedoe and Frisco Street Show were among the most important outlets for Bay Area rap. Now both manufacture energy drinks instead: Hyphy Juice and Hunid Racks, respectively. Rap frequently favors money over artistry, but eliminating the art entirely is a bit much. To pose the Jacka’s musical question, "What happened to comin’ the dopest?"

The answer may be found at 21st and Mission streets, home of SMC Recordings.

"Rap’s a hustle because of where it’s from," 26-year-old co-owner and A&R head Will Bronson says. "I understand that, but in the end it’s still about making good music."

A shocking philosophy in today’s industry, but SMC makes it work. Not only has the company released some of the biggest recent Bay rap discs — including 2007’s Da Baydestrian by Mistah FAB and Da Bidnes by PSD, Keak, and Messy Marv — but it’s also building a national roster. Atlanta acquisitions like Pastor Troy and Killer Mike, whose current I Pledge Allegiance to the Grind 2 received critical acclaim, hitting No. 16 on Billboard’s rap chart, have raised the label’s nationwide profile.

"It’s going well," Killer Mike reports. "Major labels spend money on you, but never listen. SMC entertains every idea." This includes everything from letting Mike executive-produce his disc to approving his risky lead single, "Bang," attacking what he sees as the present lameness of Atlanta hip-hop.

"In rap it’s OK to be yourself," Bronson says. "No matter what level they’re on, the artists we sign are loved by their fans. Our records sell longer due to their quality."

SMC’s success wasn’t overnight: it evolved from late ’90s imprint UTR, whose founders included SMC co-owner Ralph Tashjian. The industry veteran long dreamed of starting a label here in his hometown. When his partners bailed, Tashjian brought in former UTR intern Bronson to continue as the Navarre-distributed Sumday Entertainment, whose successes included Keak’s Copium (2003), co-released with Moedoe, and Messy Marv’s Disobayish (2004). Switching distributors in 2005, when Bronson became a full partner, prompted another name change.

"Independent distribution is the future," Tashjian says. "Independent distributors are all successful while the majors are dying. As that began, Universal launched its own independent distribution, Fontana. We were one of their first labels. We had no obligation to Navarre, but for appearances we changed the name to SMC: Sumday Music Corp."

Such powerful distribution and an artist-friendly environment — artists own their masters, for example, which the label licenses — have helped SMC score bigger acts. It’s even invaded New York City, signing Capone-N-Noreaga for their third album. In a late-breaking development, SMC has now entered into a joint venture with the legendary Rakim, though details have yet to be announced.

Such moves, unprecedented for an independent Frisco hip-hop label, come at an interesting juncture in the Bay’s post-hyphy moment. There are cross-regional promotional opportunities; Mess, for example, is on Killer Mike’s disc, which includes an ad directing listeners to Mess’ upcoming project. Most important, as it goes national, SMC has reaffirmed its local role, partnering with Thizz Entertainment to launch two series, Town Thizzness for Oakland acts and Thizz City for SF, at the consumer-friendly price of $9.99. Town Thizzness has already released the two hands-down best local discs this year, Beeda Weeda’s Da Thizzness and J-Stalin’s Gas Nation. And the Bay isn’t confined to these series, as the upcoming San Quinn album, From a Boy to a Man, due Nov. 25, attests.

These series, Bronson says, "testify to our commitment to the Bay. We’re in SF so we need a marquee Bay Area artist. We need to develop the new Quinns, new Messy Marvs, in some way." It’s about time someone made that commitment.

You can’t kill them

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› a&eletters@sfbg.com

They’re on the fringe, and they don’t plan to leave it. Though mostly overlooked in their home country of New Zealand during the last two decades, the free-rockers in the Dead C will be the first to tell you that they’re not terribly bothered.

"We are not seen as plausible cultural ambassadors," stated guitarist Bruce Russell by e-mail from his home Down Under, citing the failure of the "laughable New Zealand media" to cover what’s artistically adventurous as one of the reasons his three-piece rarely can make it abroad to play shows. One would hope that Russell, Michael Morley, and Robbie Yeats would be more seriously considered for Kiwi government arts grants: indie rockers of yesteryear and the narcoleptic noisemongers of today repeatedly cite the Dead C as an influence on what they do. Just look who’s opening for them on their upcoming US gigs: Thurston Moore (who hosted them at All Tomorrow’s Parties’ "Nightmare Before Christmas" in England two years ago), Blues Control, Wolf Eyes, Six Organs of Admittance — all serious contenders on the experimental circuit, and all projects that garnered something, aesthetic or emotional, from the Dead C’s history of desperate clatter.

The Dead C got its start in Dunedin — members are located in Port Chalmers and Lyttelton today, about 225 miles apart — when the self-designated "AMM of Punk Rock" released its 1988 full-length debut, DR503, on Flying Nun, the infamous home to pop bands like the Clean, the Chills, Tall Dwarfs, and the Verlaines, for whom Yeats once drummed. A pop group the Dead C are not, but for an ensemble so ardently free-form and unmarketable, they’ve done nicely.

"The irony is, we’ve done very well in commercial terms by being ‘uncommercial,’" Russell explained. "I don’t know many of our contemporaries in New Zealand who are in better career positions than us. We make money. We can make any kind of record we like."

Much of their international clout was forged in their ’90s relationship with the Siltbreeze label, run and recently revived by Tom Lax of Philadelphia, with whom they released some of their most acclaimed discs, including 1992’s Harsh ’70s Reality, 1995’s White House, and 1997’s Tusk. This period saw them create what many consider to be their most vital material, flirting with darkly catchy riffs while always doggedly blazing space for noisy, alien buzz and scrape. Secret Earth is their brand new release, shortly following last year’s Future Artists (both Ba Da Bing) and recorded over two days, six months apart. Morley’s eerie exhale oversees a stupor-inducing slow grind that renders track titles a useless roadmap for proceedings: after a few minutes with the Dead C, one won’t notice such trifling details as the stops, starts, and riffs anymore. They are, after all, masters of mood. Morley and Russell’s guitars-at-odds and Yeats’ distantly mic’d drums consistently scare up an unsettling, deconstructed blues-groove that makes clear the precedent for Sebadoh’s stoned angst cassettes.

Regardless of influence, the upcoming US dates mark only their third outing to the States since getting together — damn! What do they do on the rare occasion they’re on a stage? "We approach live shows quietly, without undue fuss, so we can take ’em by surprise and wring their necks before they can fight back," Russell wrote, pointing out that there’s nothing static about a Dead C track — other than that staticky sound.

Any fan with the whoops and feedback screeches of "Driver U.F.O." committed to memory will hear something that sounds rather otherwise if that song shows up in the set. "We are ‘fully improvised,’ though every now and then we’ll attempt an item from our back catalog," Russell continued. "But we never, ever practice them."

This back catalog is becoming more available thanks to Ba Da Bing, their US label for the past few years, which will be reissuing DR503 and 1989’s Eusa Kills (Flying Nun) on vinyl. The band is, according to Russell, also hoping to reissue its pre-1990 work next year (working title: Complete ’80s Reality). Immediately available, however, is the tour-only 12-inch, which includes recent live recordings, and gives an added incentive to check ’em out this week.

Why not? It’s hard not to be charmed by their passive-aggressive, cavalier mode of operation. "We just do what we do and dare people to ignore it," Russell offered. "Which they duly do, and we could not care less."

THE DEAD C

With Six Organs of Admittance

Thurs/16, 8 p.m., $20

Great American Music Hall

859 O’Farrell, SF

(415) 885-0750

www.gamh.com

Speed Reading

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DOWNTOWN OWL

By Chuck Klosterman

Scribner

288 pages

$24

Nothing ever changes. Until it does. Then everything is different.

Such is the case in pop culture laureate Chuck Klosterman’s first novel, Downtown Owl. It tells the story of a sleepy town that isn’t really there. According to Walter Valentine, the principal of Owl High, "You’re going to like it here. It’s not Monaco. It’s not like you’ll be phoning your gal pals every night saying ‘I’m living in Owl, North Dakota, and it’s a dream come true’. But you will like it here."

And he’s right.

Downtown Owl is not spectacular or life-affirming, but it is an engrossing, enjoyable read by a likable author who knows what he does well. For the most part, Klosterman stays within his comfort zone, focusing on quirky, amusing takes on culture and human interactions.

The story centers around three residents of Owl who have never met but know each other perfectly. In a town like Owl, where nothing ever changes, you don’t need to have any contact with someone to know exactly who they are. Although these characters lead outwardly banal existences, the reader sees the staggering complexity and depth that they hide from the world around them. Downtown Owl‘s well-rendered characters hide their pain, confusion, and isolation under the guise of hard work and perceived normalcy.

Though the narrative drama successfully builds to a crescendo, Downtown Owl‘s marrow results from Klosterman’s rare ability to find beauty and wonder in the face of overwhelming malaise. He makes conversations about ZZ Top, high school football, and grain prices engulfing. He does not pass judgment, and he realizes that discourse, no matter how trivial the subject, is what keeps us together and keeps us alive.

Garrison killer

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ISBN REAL On Aug. 15, 1914, seven people were murdered at Taliesin, the famed Prairie-Style Wisconsin house that Frank Lloyd Wright designed for himself and his out-of-wedlock companion, Mamah Cheney. The victims of the gruesome occurrence were Cheney, her two children from a previous relationship, and four men in Wright’s employ.

The Taliesin murders have been recounted many times by Wright scholars, but William R. Drennan’s Death in a Prairie House (University of Wisconsin Press, 232 pages, $35.95 hardcover, $16.95 paperback) centralizes the event, placing it compellingly within the context of Wright and Cheney’s complex relationship with the conservative locals. Drennan also adjusts many of the accepted details of what happened that day.

One detail that hasn’t changed in his telling is that the butler — perhaps to the embarrassment of the zealously unconventional Wright — did it. His name was Julian Carlton, a recent hire at Taliesin and one of the legions of people who probably would never have made history had they been born after the psychopharmacological revolution.

Drennan’s realignments are convincing enough. But still, when he argues that "the traditional reconstruction of the crime … insists on a quite different chronology than the one argued here" (namely that Carlton set the employees on fire only after having hatcheted the family in a separate wing), I can’t help but note that the constants — "fire" and "hatcheted" — seem disproportionately more germane.

Academic histories of minor events are funny that way. The anxiety over detail can often seem outsized to the event’s wider significance. Without hope of sending a ripple through the historical record, what purpose does a reordering of facts serve, in this particular case, beyond satisfying a morbid strain of OCD?

Yeah, I suppose history should be sorted out as faithfully as possible. Truth and all that. It’s just that the horror of the Taliesin murders — "her head belching blood," "hatchet crusted with gore," "he carried the box containing his children onto the train," etc. — renders the fussiness of the housecleaning almost comical.

The absurdity is slightly mitigated by the rubbernecking ingenuousness confided here and there through Drennan’s tone. That must sound awfully backhanded, but I wouldn’t begrudge anyone an interest in the gory details. After all, I didn’t pick up the book because the iffy chronology of the bloody holocaust was an itch I needed scratched. It just seems like Drennan could be more forthright about the real appeal of his subject matter, which I daresay is not its hastily argued effect on Wright’s creative output.

I guess I want the new assertions of Drennan’s Death in a Prairie House to have been presented differently, maybe as historical fiction or more overtly narrative nonfiction. Certainly there are plenty of sentences scattered about that suggest a man wanting to break free of his academic cocoon and become a fancy-writing butterfly. It’s incongruous in this forensics report of a book to write, "She urged the horse past patches of oxeye daisies and finally she neared the house, her young mind filled with horror and her childhood innocence falling away from her on all sides." But that sentence would make a crackerjack opening for a novel.

Bottom biscuits

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› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS My pickup truck died and this time the death was fatal. The clutch, the transmission … costs more to repair than I paid for the mighty ‘mobile four years and 60,000 miles ago.

I rolled into a legal parking spot, got out and walked to a restaurant I like, sat on a bench outside with my head in my hands, and cried. I had $8 and change in my purse, on my lap, and one bar of battery left on my cell. None of my city friends have cars. I called my sister in Ohio.

"When your car dies," she said, "that’s rock bottom. Now you have nowhere to go but up."

I didn’t think this was true, but my sister, this one — Carparts, I call her — is younger than me and therefore wiser, so I decided to take her word for it. Rock bottom. Depressed. Beaten. Hopelessly hopeful. Puked upon. And now wheel-less, an hour and a half from home. And cat. And chickens.

Sockywonk has a car. I called Sockywonk. But she’s had an even unluckier life lately than I have. She has to move from her great place, and was moving, so her car was already in service for at least a week.

Me, I didn’t want to sit on a bench for a week, so I called my brother in Ohio, and then my other brother in Ohio, and then my other brother in Ohio. If there’s a way to eke 75 more miles out of a clutch-fucked junkyard pickup truck, they would know.

So you know, before I say this next part: I do not embrace terms like "trailer trash," or "white trash," or even "college-educated fuck-up farmer trash" in reference to me and my family. We are "people of trash," thank you. We have dignity. We just also have rusted cars on blocks all over the property, it happens. And I know for a fact that any one of my brothers, and many of my sisters, could have and would have pulled the exact parts that my exact situation called for, and shipped them to me.

All I had to do was ask, but I didn’t. Because right now I don’t have any brothers or sisters or even nephews out here on the receiving end, and, while I can do some things myself, I have never replaced a clutch and transmission and had no interest whatsoever in learning how now. Call me unautomotivated.

What I really needed, I’m embarrassed to admit, was for one of my brothers, probably Jean Gene, the Frenchman, to say, "Wait right there, sis. I’m going to book a flight and pull the parts and … what day is street cleaning where you’re parked?"

I would have said, "Thursday," and Jean Gene would have showed up on Wednesday, taken care of it, and I’d buy him a burrito with my $8.

Let me have my fantasies!

How about this one … I open my cell phone contact list, first name: Alice. Hit send and she answers. "Hi, Alice. My car died." And she says, "I have an extra one. I’ll come get you."

Now, the cool thing about this particular fantasy is that it happened. I swear to my sweet sisters, one minute I was a wreck on a bench, publicly losing it, and the next minute I was sitting at Alice’s kitchen table eating biscuits and gravy, a lone car key on the Formica between us. It belonged to a Honda that is registered, insured, and mine until the end of the month, or, you know, longer if I want.

Those were some very important biscuits. For one thing, they tasted great, better than any biscuits and gravy I’ve ever tasted, and not just because my New Favorite Person had made them, from scratch!

They were bottom biscuits, highly symbolic and loaded with sausage chunks. It was easy to believe, eating such biscuits and gravy so soon after feeling so hopelessly fucked so far from home, that in fact I had bottomed out, and was well on my reboundingly upswung and cheerful way to, if nothing else, a second helping of biscuits and gravy.

Which I was. Alice Shaw, everybody!

——————————-

My new favorite restaurant is Yummie Fast Food on MacArthur Boulevard. It’s Chinese, Thai, and Vietnamese and cheap cheap cheap. Steam table fare. I had chicken fried rice with teriyaki chicken and kung pao chicken, dollar-fitty a thing, that’s $4.50, and it was piled on. Everything was great! New favorite restaurant.

YUMMIE

Daily, 10:30 a.m.–8:30 p.m.

4104 MacArthur, Oakl.

(510) 482-1648

No alcohol

Credit cards not accepted

Hand it to him

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› andrea@altsexcolumn.com

Dear Andrea:

A male friend recently told me that he finds it very frustrating when women try to please him in ways other than intercourse. According to him, during hand jobs and blow jobs, men are just thinking, "Get on with it!" He claims to have spoken to lots of other guys about this who agreed with him.

Is this really true? Are there men who feel like this, or is he winding me up? (I suspect that the sample of people he asked wasn’t representative — but it’s been on my mind anyway.) Maybe the skills of his sexual partners haven’t been up to scratch? Or maybe it’s just his problem?

Love,

Whose Prob?

Dear Prob:

His problem. My onetime boyfriend (we got married, and now I don’t get to have a boyfriend anymore) used to use the phrase "That’s not an MP, that’s a YP," though he never used it on me, and that’s a good thing, because it’s really obnoxious. Nevertheless, if this guy were your boyfriend, this would be a YP, too, so let’s be glad he’s just a friend and it’s an HP all the way.

No, I don’t think it’s particularly true, although the category "men" is rather large, and there are individuals and subgroups who do feel that way. Very young men, for instance, will usually have been waiting for years to "get on with it," and they tend to think of intercourse as "the real thing" or "sex" and feel like everything else is, I guess, the fake thing. The sad part is that this conviction often leads to fairly disappointing sex, especially, but not exclusively, for the girls involved, when teenagers trade in the usually gratifying heavy petting and manual and oral for the strictly genital.

Men who know a bit more about what they really like do tend to have a slightly wider repertoire, depending on and responsive to who(m), what, when, where, and why. Sometimes a man just needs a blow job. Sometimes everything is just too wet and soft to get the job done (although men are, admittedly, generally partial to the wet and soft), and only a hand will do the job. Sometimes the visual element (from above while partner kneels, from behind in doggy style) is the important part, with friction and tempo taking the backseat, as it were. In other words, as in all things sexual, it depends. Your friend, by assuming that all men are just like him, is lacking in imagination, and again I say good for you for not having to be his girlfriend.

Love,

Andrea

Dear Andrea:

I’ve been going out with a great man for a year now, and the sex is finally beginning to flourish in kinky and sensual ways. I can orgasm relatively quickly from a variety of methods. The problem is, recently he can’t come from oral or vaginal intercourse. We try different positions, but the only way he can reach orgasm is from his own hand. What is going on here? How can I get him to come with me?

Love,

Woman waiting

Dear WW:

I suggest that you don’t wait as much as file your preference under "fond hopes" and not make too big a deal out of this, since sexual response is not the sort of system that responds well to stress. I’d also caution you not to take it personally, if that’s possible, since assuming you are not doing anything differently, this appears to be an HP and nothing you can affect much one way or the other. I do wonder if perhaps he has started taking an antidepressant or a beta blocker, both common medications with nearly universal sexual side effects, at least at first. If so, give it a while, and if things don’t improve, he can go back to the doctor for a meds adjustment and a general checkup, since there are a lot of conditions, including diabetes, that could be causing this.

If not that or that or that other thing, the usual culprits are aging (possible; you didn’t say), anxiety, and, of course, boredom. Lots of people would rather hear that their partner has a dangerous, progressive disease than that he’s bored, but don’t freak out. If you’re just getting into the fun, kinky part together, it’s unlikely that he’s bored already. He may be worried about something, or fixating on something even kinkier that he’s afraid to ask for but that you might feel like offering if only you knew what it was. And he might simply be aging out of the sorts of stimulation that did it for him before and need rougher handling, which you can certainly provide. Watch what he’s doing with the successful handiwork — where is he stroking, how hard and how fast? Once you know what’s working, you can try re-creating the sensations in a way that gets and keeps you involved. Nobody said you can’t use your hand (or his) during a blow job, right? Or during what the guy in the first letter would insist all men like better anyway?

Love,

Andrea

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

Volume 43 Number 3 Flip-through Edition

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The mirage

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>johnny@sfbg.com

America is a very poor lens through which to view Las Vegas, while Las Vegas is a wonderful lens through which to view America.

— Dave Hickey, "A Home in the Neon"

If, as Oscar Wilde once claimed, a lie can tell the truth, then what Dave Hickey writes is truer than ever: looking at Las Vegas is a terrific way to see the United States. Paul Verhoeven knew as much when he made Showgirls (1995). The fact that his old-school Euro-Hollywood auteur vision of Sin City offended so many bourgie film critics only proved its lasting, um, value. Like Verhoeven, the Italian artist Olivo Barbieri also appreciates Las Vegas from a distance. But while Verhoeven maintains his distance even in the middle of a lap dance, with site specific_Las Vegas 05 (2005), Barbieri prefers literal remoteness. He appraises the bright colors and the neon glow of Las Vegas from up above, via a helicopter.

The resulting view of the Entertainment Capital of the World, another chapter in Barbieri’s ongoing project of urban portraiture, is one half of Henry Urbach’s well-timed exhibition "Double Down: Two Visions of Vegas." Within Urbach’s black-box presentation, Barbieri’s long-distance perspective trades off with the Tetris walls, distorted mirrors, and repetitious gambling-addict flurries of Stephen Dean’s warmer yet less resonant No More Bets (2004). At first glance, the amazing thing about Barbieri’s videos is how unreal and utterly toy-like the cityscapes appear, and Las Vegas is no exception — thanks to his tilt-shift lens 35mm photography, a rooftop antique-car rally looks like a kids’ collection of model cars, and the Luxor’s Sphinx and white-nippled Pyramid are mere parts of an elaborate toytown.

Today, as the US dollar seems more abstract and illusive than ever, Las Vegas’ playland presentation of all that money can buy has attained a new level of honesty. (It also seems endearingly quaint in comparison to 21st century "evil paradises" — to quote Mike Davis — such as Dubai.) "The whole city floats on a sleek frisson of anxiety and promise that those of us addicted to such distraction must otherwise induce by motion or medication," Hickey writes in "At Home in the Neon," from Air Guitar (Art Issues Press, 216 pages, 1997). When Vegas resident Hickey notes that "there is nothing quite as bracing as the prospect of flying home, of swooping down into that ardent explosion of lights in the heart of the pitch-black desert," he may as well be writing a description of Barbieri’s video, though site specific_Las Vegas 05‘s helicopter hovers like a dizzy bird above an old McDonald’s and the Stardust’s ’50s-luxe marquee (where Wayne Newton is missing an e). Barbieri’s debt to a site-specific avant-garde film tradition (such as pat O’Neill’s 2002 The Decay of Fiction) becomes clear when he reaches the fountains of the Bellagio. There, he wryly connects waterworks out of Kenneth Anger’s Eaux d’Artifice (1953) with soundtrack detonations that evoke Bruce Conner’s Crossroads (1976). Bathing in the sensory overload of "Double Down: Las Vegas," one suspects that — like the arcade in Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s apocalyptic Pulse (2001) — Las Vegas would go on glowing and chiming long after all the people are gone.

Dave Hickey begins Liberace: A Rhinestone as Big as the Ritz (BükAmerica, 16 pages, $1.49), a tribute to the ivory-tinkling owner of the world’s largest rhinestone, by describing his own balcony view of the Strip, where the neon logos of the Desert Inn, the Stardust, Circus Circus and other sites make the surrounding nature look "bogus as hell." As Hickey puts it, more wittily than Jean Baudrillard, "the honest fakery of the neon" trumps "the fake honesty of the sunset." Perhaps we should replace the face on the one-dollar bill. George Washington has done his time. Bring on Liberace.

DOUBLE DOWN: TWO VISIONS OF VEGAS

Through Jan. 4, 2009; $7–$12.50

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

151 Third St, SF

(415) 357-4000

www.sfmoma.org

FEAST Fall 2008

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@@http://www.sfbg.com/feast/fall2008@@

EXCLUSIVE: Downtown’s slate

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>>CLICK HERE FOR OUR EXCLUSIVE CHART TRACING THE DOWNTOWN AND PG&E CAMPAIGN MONEY (PDF)

Reports filed with the city’s campaign finance database show that six big downtown outfits — the San Francisco Apartment Association, the Building Owners and Managers Association, Plan C, the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, the Committee on Jobs, and Pacific Gas and Electric Co. — are spending millions to stop progressive candidates and measures and elect a pro-downtown, pro-landlord slate for the Board of Supervisors.

These political action committees (PACs) use their huge war chests in several strategically significant ways.

They make direct monetary contributions to each other, with most paying directly into Plan C, which seems to stand for "Condo Conversion Complex" PAC. Almost $20,000 has moved between these committees in recent months.

They directly fund local candidate and ballot committees, pay for independent billboards, mailers and postage, write ballot arguments, and host fundraisers for their preferred slate. The Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) has spent $130,000 to date promoting its candidates.

They use Carmen Chu’s image on $11,500 worth of the No on H mailers. They have funneled $63,000 into the into the Yes on V campaign, which is being used against progressive candidate Eric Mar.

You can follow the money yourself at www.sfgov.org/site/ethics_page.asp?id=74890

But with the next filing deadline set for Oct. 23, and some committees willing to pay late fines, much of what transpires won’t be disclosed until after Nov. 4.

The city maintains an updated list of independent expenditures and electioneering or member communications at www.sfgov.org/site/ethics_page.asp?id=88183.

These show massive amounts of late money being spent to support Sue Lee, Alicia Wang, Joe Alioto, Mike Denunzio, Chu, Eva Royale, and Ahsha Safai and oppose Mar. Stay tuned. And vote early and often.

Endorsements 2008

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@@http://www.sfbg.com/entry.php?entry_id=7257@@

Reviving radicalism

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› news@sfbg.com

As the country’s economic, environmental, and political systems teeter on the brink of collapse, several Bay Area groups are reviving calls for radical solutions. And some are drawing parallels to the spirited political activity of 40 years ago.

“In my opinion, 1968 was the beginning of a process, an awakening of the questioning of social movements,” Andrej Grubacic, a globalization lecturer at ZMedia Institute and the University of San Francisco, told the Guardian.

The Great Rehearsal was a week of events from Sept. 17-25 that centered on the many protests, actions, and events of the 1960s and ’70s that are paralleled today. The event alluded to an ongoing struggle for alternatives to the failing institutions that are hurting the average American.

“Neoliberalism is this sort of clinching of the system. It is the last gasp of a dying system,” Katherine Wallerstein, executive director of the nonprofit Global Commons, told us. Wallerstein believes that deregulation is to blame for many of our economic woes, such as the housing crisis, job loss, and a volatile market.

Other recent events such as the Radical Women conference in San Francisco have highlighted the systemic causes of our economic turmoil, saying we should bail out people not banks, cancel student debt, and end home foreclosures. They went on to suggest that the bailout was just a form of jubilee for the rich.

Radical Women member Linda Averill announced at the conference that “if unions don’t take the offense now, we’re going to lose it all.” She went on to advocate mobilizing the labor movement, stating that we must band together against those sustaining the system. Other revolutionaries went even further, calling to abolish the capitalist system. RW member Toni Mendicino said the system of profit is inherently greedy and that reguutf8g it isn’t enough — we must get rid of it.

The Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC) is a radical student-run organization focused on solving global climate change. Many of the initiatives taken by SEAC deal with less mainstream environmental concerns, including combating coal power and promoting clean water. These previously ignored problems are pumping new life into the environmental movement. Brian Kelly, former Students for a Democratic Society organizer who now does organizing work for SEAC, told us, “The problem is the fucked-up system. (We need to) carve out a decent life through an alternative to capitalism.”

John Cronan, an organizer for the radical union Industrial Workers of the World, advocates Participatory Economics (Parecon) as an alternative to capitalism. He highlighted Parecon’s values as a solidarity-based system that abolishes the market and replaces it with participatory planning. Parecon, he says, will take into account the social costs that goods and services create; something commonly ignored in today’s capitalist system, a system many claim perpetuates the environmental crisis.

“Climate change is highlighting the system flaws,” Kelly said. He went on to place the environment and climate change as the highest priority in the upcoming presidential election, proposing green technology as the answer to the economic turmoil and global climate change taking place. The Power Vote program, he told us, supports the investment in green technologies by politicians and citizens.

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) has pushed local governments in many rural farming communities to create ordinances claiming nature as an entity that should have more political and legal prominence than property. These ordinances aim to curb pollution and provide communities with a safeguard against corporate influence.

Through similar efforts, grassroots organizations have managed to stop 59 coal-fired power plants in 2007 by persuading courts not to grant permits for the plants. This is one of many steps to contest the environmental degradation taking place.

“I believe we have reached the stage where it is time for civil disobedience,” said Al Gore, calling for people to rise up against the construction of new coal plants, speaking at the Clinton Global Initiative in March.

Gore’s call to action has prompted many activists to battle corporations and self-interested government. “The current economic and political systems are out of whack with human and democratic values,” Kelly said. “The system is exposing itself.” According to many, the system is shifting dangerously close to totalitarianism.

There’s even been a resurgence of the old Cointelpro (Counter Intelligence Program), an FBI-run spying and political sabotage program that was responsible for the arrests of 13 Black Panthers in 1973 in connection with the 1971 murder of a San Francisco police officer. The men were subjected to torture techniques similar to those used at Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib.

The 13 Panthers were acquitted for lack of evidence and the case was closed. However, in 2005, with the help of the USA Patriot Act, the case was reopened and eight of the Panthers were re-arrested. John Bowman, one of the detained, announced to the press, “The same people who tried to kill me in 1973 are the same people who are here today trying to destroy me.” Former Panther Richard Brown warned audiences at the Great Rehearsal that the Patriot Act has given the government the ability to profile any ethnic group or organization, past and present, as terrorists.

“The Patriot Act was passed in the name of protecting us and our democracy. But it limits us,” Cronan said. Groups like New SDS have incorporated working against the Patriot Act through their antiwar work, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has consistently battled against the act.

Even the Communists are back. Earlier this month, the Revolutionary Communist Party held a demonstration in San Francisco, telling the small crowd, “The world today cries out for radical, fundamental change.”

Many radical groups see opportunity in the current moment. Grubacic told us that, “The future belongs to the ones creating it in the present.” *

 

Horror at home

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According to the Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, 26 million people around the globe are currently seeking safety from conflicts within their own countries. Almost half of these internally displaced persons (IDPs) do not receive significant assistance from their governments.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says that 16 million people have fled to other countries in search of safety — many settling down in refugee camps that lack adequate shelter, supplies, and medical treatment.

Find it hard to grasp the enormity of these statistics? According to Dr. Matthew Spitzer, so do most people — which is why the Nobel Peace Prize- winning humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is setting up a refugee camp in the heart of San Francisco.

"So often there are news articles that say 100,000 refugees just did this, there’s famine in Ethiopia … it just doesn’t register anymore," Spitzer, who has worked with MSF around the world and currently serves as president of the MSF board of directors, told the Guardian. MSF’s interactive exhibit, "A Refugee Camp in the Heart of the City," attempts to combat what Spitzer calls "compassion fatigue" — and it does so with great success.

The camp is free and open daily to the public from Oct 15 to 19 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. in Little Marina Green Park. During the exhibit, which has appeared on almost every continent and in more than a dozen US states, MSF aid workers act as tour guides, taking groups around the 8,000-square-foot simulation and explaining what refugees need to survive. Statistics come to life as visitors of all ages crowd into makeshift tents, taste high protein biscuits used by MSF aid workers to ward off malnutrition, and attempt to carry 44-pound jugs of water.

Maybe the reality of the global refugee problem will hit you when you try on the "bracelet of life," a piece of paper refugee children wear wrapped around their upper arms to identify their risk of starvation. Some 20 million children qualify for the most severe form of malnutrition — the bracelet’s "red zone," which notes a less than 110 mm (4.3 inch) upper arm circumference. "Can you put your arm through this hole?" a Doctors Without Borders postcard asks in stark white lettering above a thumb-sized cutout circle. "A child dying of starvation can."

The simple postcard has more impact than the sobering statistics on the back More than half the deaths of children under five are due to malnutrition — 6 million per year, or 12 children every minute. Or maybe after struggling to carry your daily ration of water — one five-gallon jug — back to your shelter, the fact that most Americans use 100 gallons of water per day will become more meaningful.

For Spitzer, the shelter area, where guides lead their tour groups into tiny canvas tents and ask them to try and lie down inside, is one of the most effective parts of the exhibit. "Twenty people in a tent and someone coughs — what’s the impact of that?" Spitzer asks. "Where are you going to cook? Where are you going to clean?" He relates the simulation to his experience working as a field coordinator in Liberia, where he was shocked at the refugees’ living conditions.

"There were 50, 60 people living in makeshift tents that were supposed to be transit structures," he told us. Unfortunately, due to lack of UN funding and organization, more and more refugees were forced to crowd into the small tents, resulting in numerous medical issues. "It was ridiculous … we take shelter for granted, but [refugees] are denied these basic rights."

In 2000, the Sacramento Public Health Department, whose staff often works with IDPs seeking shelter in the United States, sent its health care workers to MSF’s Los Angeles exhibit for training. MSF’s Refugee Camp exhibit is meant to shock.

Nevertheless, the tours are age-appropriate and strive to educate rather than scare. Elementary school students touring the water supply area focus on carrying the heavy jugs, while older visitors might learn about the sexual abuse risks facing young refugee women who walk long distances to collect water. Regardless of age, every visitor absorbs the information his or her own way. "Students giggle at the latrines at first," Spitzer told the Guardian, but grow silent when they are told there are only two latrines for 8,000 refugees. "They’ll ask, ‘Where is the school? Where is the playground?’"

Establishing a connection between the refugees and exhibit visitors is an important step toward social awareness. While you might not be that surprised to hear that Sudan is home to 5.8 million IDPs, did you know that 4 million IDPs currently live in Colombia? Probably not, because the US media rarely covers international IDP and refugee issues.

Iraq accounts for 2.5 million refugees; Afghanistan for 3.1 million more. Most of these people were forced to flee as a result of US intervention and warfare — although there is barely any US media coverage. Spitzer told the Guardian he hopes that if the public can "feel solidarity with the refugees" as a result of visiting the exhibit, people will start to question the lack of information provided to Americans. The purpose of the exhibit isn’t to receive donations or recruit members, but simply, Spitzer said, "to educate" — regardless of whether the attendee "goes on to volunteer or become politically active or simply raises consciousness among their friends and family."

The MSF Web site is full of comments from people who were in some way altered or illuminated by the tour. Apoorva Balakrishnan, a University of Manitoba student, wrote, "I felt in a slump about my medical studies — so much biochemistry and details that seemed so pointless. This exhibit reminded me of the real reason I am becoming a doctor: people."

Another note, signed "Alec," says: "Some people have yet to realize what happens in the world around them. I came to this camp. Now I am no longer one of those people. "

One anonymous author summed up his reaction in two words: "I’m speechless."

A real plan for safety in the Mission

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OPINION When I heard the news that Jorge Hurtado was shot and killed in the Mission District, I was doubly stunned. Not only was the 18-year-old my neighbor, he was shot on the same corner where Erick Balderas was killed a year ago.

Eleven years ago, Erick was a student in the fourth grade class I taught at Paul Revere Elementary in Bernal Heights. In fact, three of my former students have been murdered in the city in the last two years. None were gang members — and none of their attackers have been caught.

Violent crime in the Mission is on a huge upswing; the homicide rate is on track to double what it was a year ago. In just a few weeks there have been six killings in the Mission. It’s a tragedy that affects everyone: kids, parents, teachers, business leaders — the entire community.

That community has begun to take matters into its own hands after receiving no commitments from the Mayor’s Office. It’s going to take two things to overcome violence in the community: community policing to better prevent and solve crimes, and engagement around social problems that promote violence.

I am glad that Capt. Stephen Tacchini of the Mission Police Station will receive more reinforcements in response to these recent shootings. But it’s not enough. Beat cops get to know the people in the neighborhood, and vice versa. But it has to be done the right way: the officers have to be trained appropriately so that police and people in the community can feel comfortable interacting with one another. Especially in a neighborhood like the Mission, cultural competency training is critical.

In Chicago, the city creates incentives for police to live in the communities they patrol. We’re exploring new housing options for teachers in the school district, and we should expand the discussion to include police officers as critical members of the community.

We don’t need to go as far as Chicago, though, to find ideas that work: in District 5, Sup. Ross Mirkarimi has pushed for foot patrols (the supervisors overrode a mayoral veto last year to make it happen). He has also gathered everyone around the same table — nonprofits, police brass, community leaders, city agency heads, small business owners — and these stakeholders have collectively worked on the problems. Because of these strategies, District 5 has seen a huge reduction in violence.

We also have to make sure that the organizations working with youth are engaged with one another, not competing for resources at the expense of getting the job done. There is $12 million available citywide for violence prevention, much of it spent in the Mission. But we’re not seeing results. Duplication of services, as well as filtering out the really troubled youth who are most at-risk, have diminished the impact of our CBO’s hard work.

I’ve already proposed that a Beacon Program be opened at O’Connell High School, which is near the heart of the violence. It would give kids a safe place to drop in as late as 2 a.m., where they could be referred to counseling services, if necessary.

Candlelight vigils are one way to help a community mourn their loss and begin to heal. But we won’t stop this endless cycle with vigils alone. Prevention needs to be our unified goal. *

Mark Sanchez is the president of the San Francisco Board of Education and a resident of the Mission District.

The land of the screen

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>johnny@sfbg.com

My flight to Canada was delayed, so I missed James Benning’s RR, the first film I planned to see at this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival. Plane snafus kept me from seeing Benning’s film about trains, which had graced the cover of a recent Guardian issue devoted to life on the rails (and by extension, American capitalism off the rails). The first face to greet me in Canada was that of Sarah Palin, on TV screens by the arrival gate and above the luggage carousel. There she was, again, this time at the Vice Presidential debate. Since the airport TVs were muted, her lines of dialogue took the form of subtitles.

Even though I missed RR, Benning’s influence was present in a pair of sharp-eyed features by women who map personal visions of the United States. Train-hopping figures in the beginning and end of Wendy and Lucy, Kelly Reichardt’s follow-up to 2006’s Old Joy. At the start of the film, Wendy (Michelle Williams, in a role that’s taken on an added subtext of grief) and Lucy (played by Reichardt’s dog of the same name) walk into a beatific but beat-up nighttime campfire scene that’s like a Polaroid Kidd photo come to life. By the end, at least one of them has forsaken fuel car for train car.

A different story involving one woman, a camera, and the land, Lee Anne Schmitt’s California Company Town takes a more direct look at the American landscape. Schmitt’s documentary adds another volume to a growing collection of rural and urban US portraits by Cal Arts alumni, from Benning to Thom Andersen (whose 2003 Los Angeles Plays Itself shares Schmitt’s focus on California history) and William E. Jones (whose increasingly significant 1991 Massillon might be the precedent for Schmitt’s mix of voiceover and radio chatter, as well as her use of 16mm film). No doubt about it: Schmitt’s dry, scathing report on the fatal nature of California capitalism and the greater American dream was the festival’s timeliest film.

The unsentimental relevance of California Company Town hasn’t kept some viewers from blaming the messenger, who aims to provoke by capping her survey of the state’s ghost towns with a voiceless look at Silicon Valley, where even nature takes on a sterile, cult-like ambiance. At Vancouver and elsewhere, Terence Davies has been praised for Of Time and the City, his voiceover-heavy screed against capitalism’s facelifts for Liverpool, yet Schmitt’s relatively low-key approach to similar subject matter pisses off more people. For some, maybe the truth — especially when accompanied by Irma Thomas’ "Time is on My Side"— stings most when spoken by a woman. Andersen and Fred Halsted have demonstrated that Los Angeles plays itself. Schmitt shows how California plays us.

Both capitalism and socialism are skewered with no mercy and maximum mirth by Jim Finn’s The Juche Idea, which takes the published film theories of none other than Kim Jong-Il as its point of entry. If the extreme solitude of Schmitt’s film demonstrates one type of (autobiographical) radical filmmaking ideal, then Finn’s madcap feature demonstrates another. It’s a playfully braided collaborative effort. The main actresses (Jung Yoon Lee, and Daniela Kostova — a painter, video artist, and "the lesbian" on Big Brother Bulgaria 4) wryly insert their authorial voices and visual creativity into the film’s world. And what a mad, mad, mad world it is: one where Korean language courses teach kids how to pronounce "Karl Marx was a friend to children" and instruct adults on how to relieve their "loose bowels."

This world — where shoveling duck dung together makes for a romantic first date — looks like North Korea, one has to guess, or at least "Dear Leader’s" ideal version. Still, reviewers who assume capitalism emerges unscathed from the uproarious Juche Idea are watching the movie with one eye closed. Finn spotlights hilarious propagandistic turns of phrase such as "the tiny dentures of imperialism." But with one capitalist land outside the movie screen saddled with a 700 billion dollar debt, a viewer is left to wonder who’s zooming who when passing through the film’s multi-faceted looking glass. Jaw-dropping stadium-size spectacle, punch line-worthy blue screen backdrops, a mural by SF painter Carolyn Ryder Cooley, and the type of absurd corporate training footage beloved by Animal Charm all figure within Finn’s one-of-a-kind picture. The closing titles credit more than one person with "Kim Jong Il Flyface Assistance." Make no mistake: The Juche Idea is a communal effort.

Communal cooperation and journeys through the looking glass are also at play in Albert Serra’s Birdsong and Vancouver International Film Fest programmer Mark Peranson’s documentary about Serra’s movie, Waiting for Sancho. If Schmitt’s California Company Town is near-academically reductive and definitive in its approach to land, Serra’s Birdsong couldn’t be less prescriptive: with help from Google Image, the director chose the Canary Islands as a last-minute setting for his idiosyncratic retelling of the birth of the Christ child.

Process is to the fore of Serra’s filmmaking, which combines Andy Warhol’s and Apichatpong’s interest in boredom (and Warhol’s carefree neglect of camerawork) with a comic view of the heroic quest. Serra’s more immediately pleasurable Honour of the Knights (2006) updated Don Quixote; this time, the Three Wise Men verge on Three Stooges trapped in a Beckett scenario. Birdsong improves after one observes its filming through the video camera of Peranson (who plays Joseph in Serra’s movie). The ancient Three Wise Men of Serra’s film multiply to become a contemporary crew in Peranson’s documentary, which charts an aimless yet instinctive search for just the right cinematic moment at just the right site.

Communal cinematic spirit also enlivens Brillante Mendoza’s Serbis, a day-in-the-life melodrama about a family that operates — and lives within — a soft-core porn theater where hustlers ply their trade. At Cannes this year, Mendoza’s movie inspired panty-twist outrage from critics rich enough to be proudly unaware that people have bodies and sex costs money. While Serbis definitely owes a debt to Tsai Ming-liang’s masterful Goodbye, Dragon Inn (2004) and Jacques Nolot’s Porn Theatre (2003), Mendoza charts out and navigates a unique meta-cinematic space that is somehow even sun-dappled. He’s helped considerably by the superb actress Gina Paredes — and by a last-minute cameo from a goat.

Cooperative efforts aside, Vancouver didn’t lack commercial films powered by old-school singular auteur visions. One such standout was Hunger, the directorial debut of the English artist (not the deceased American actor) Steve McQueen. The formal daring of McQueen’s rendering of Bobby Sands and the IRA — which veers from wordless passages into a one-take presentation of an extended conversation — doesn’t become apparent until the very end, when his film suddenly embraces the award-grubbing political docudrama clichés that it’s avoided. Regardless, McQueen’s talent for framing shots and constructing scenes is prodigious. Tomas Alfredson makes no such missteps with Let the Right One In. If you see only one Swedish preteen vampire romance in your life, make it this one. The planned US version by Cloverfield director Matt Reeves will almost certainly lack Alfredson’s pop translations of Carl Theodor Dreyer’s desire and fire. Likewise, the subversive preteen sexuality of Alfredson’s original is unlikely to make the trip from Sweden to California. Vampires bite, but Hollywood remakes really suck.

Greener than thou

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GREEN CITY Mayor Gavin Newsom has made a high profile push for several new green initiatives in recent weeks, a concerted political move that comes just as he and his political team are aggressively working to subvert a city ballot measure that would make far bigger gains in combating climate change and greening the city’s energy portfolio than anything he’s proposing.

"San Franciscans should be ashamed that they have a mayor who is greenwashing and gay-washing his way to the governor’s mansion," Julian Davis, campaign manager for Proposition H, the Clean Energy Act, told the Guardian.

Newsom opposes Proposition H, which would direct the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission to figure out how to provide clean and renewable energy to the city, and Pacific Gas & Electric Co. has hired Newsom’s chief political strategist, Eric Jaye, to lead the multimillion dollar campaign to defeat the measure.

Davis said the steady stream of green initiatives from the Mayor’s Office are simply a means to make up for the mayor’s severe deficiency in environmental credibility. "You can’t call yourself a green mayor when here is a genuine green measure and you’re against it," Davis said.

The array of press releases issued from the mayor’s office include a partnership with the Clinton Global Initiative to transform the Civic Center into a green model of sustainability by reducing water and energy use, and installing solar panels as well as living roofs.

Further green city visions include installing solar paneling on 1,500 commercial buildings within one year, and giving building owners rebates of as much as $10,000 as part of the solar rebate program launched in July.

But some supervisors take issue with the direction of the program, which they say would only make solar installation companies become rich people overnight. "There are a lot of flaws in that thing," said Sup. Jake McGoldrick. "It should’ve been steered toward low-income folks, nonprofits, schools — stuff like that."

Sup. Gerardo Sandoval said the mayor’s program would lead to an unequal distribution of wealth with an already small pool of resources — something he is trying to combat with a loan program that would offset the cost of solar installation for residences. "If we don’t help residences, families will be left to their own devices," he said.

Moreover, the mayor has set aside $1 million for the Environmental Service Learning Initiative (ESLI), which would integrate environmental community service into K-12 schools, and hired a Director of Sustainability, with $150,000 salary, to develop curriculum and help the district become more energy efficient and environmentally conscious. And last week the Mayor’s Office promoted rainwater harvesting for the purposes of outdoor irrigation and indoor toilet use, and sent out press releases touting the SFPUC’s Big Blue Bucket eco-fair held Oct. 11 to educate people about this concept.

Brad Johnson, legislative coordinator at the Sierra Club, called on Newsom to do more than use green events for media opportunities, stating that the mayor’s initiatives are "not a truly visionary policy, like Prop. H is a visionary and sweeping policy."

When the Mayor’s Office was contacted about the statements made by the supervisors and the Sierra Club as well as the contradiction in policies, Nathan Ballard, Newsom’s director of communication, replied tersely: "They’re not experts." Attempts to elicit further clarification yielded no reply from Ballard.

But Jared Blumenfeld, director of the San Francisco Environment Department, and interim director of the Recreation and Park Department, provided broader insight to the mayor’s environmental politics, insisting that the green calendar of events is nothing out of the ordinary.

"Every week we do a great number of events around the environment. The pace has been pretty unrelenting for the past year," Blumenfeld told us.

But experienced environmental leaders remain suspicious of the timing and correlation of the mayor’s green photo and media opportunities while he wages an aggressive war against Prop. H.

"I think they’re related, and he’s trying to cover his bases should Prop. H win and he finds himself on the losing side of a major initiative," said John Rizzo, a board member of the Sierra Club.

Editor’s Notes

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› tredmond@sfbg.com

Follow the money: downtown and the landlords are trying to take over the Board of Supervisors.

It’s not surprising. For the past eight years, the progressives have had enough of a solid majority on the board to prevent Mayor Gavin Newsom from putting some of his worst plans in place and to propose — and often implement — a much better agenda.

This board brought us the living wage ordinance and the universal health care program. This board is moving to solve the budget crisis with taxes on wealthy property owners and big law firms. This board isn’t about to approve an Eastern Neighborhoods Plan that turns the city entirely over to the developers. This board supports public power and renewable energy, and is willing to go up against Pacific Gas and Electric Co.

In fact, these past few years have marked the first time in a generation or more that downtown hasn’t controlled both the Mayor’s Office and the board. And the big boys don’t like it a bit.

They know they can’t defeat Sup. Ross Mirkarimi in District 5, and that they can’t stop a progressive candidate from winning in District 9. But they are going full bore, with huge bags of money, to try to get their toadies elected in Districts 1, 3, and 11. This is a real threat, folks. We could lose the board in November. We could lose rent control; that’s what the landlords want.

Sarah Phelan and Ben Hopfer have put together a beautiful chart in this issue that shows how all this is happening. Essentially, a few big players and their political action committees have amassed hundreds of thousands of dollars and are using that money to try to smear supervisorial candidates John Avalos, Eric Mar, and David Chiu. There are independent committees doing hit pieces. There is money pouring directly into the campaigns of downtown candidates. There’s PG&E money. It’s a sewer of nasty campaign cash, all aimed at making sure that three solid progressives don’t win.

The San Francisco Tenants Union has a study showing that big landlords, developers, and real estate lobbyists have poured more than $100,000 into a real estate slate made up of Sue Lee in D1, Joe Alioto in D2, and Ahsha Safai in D11. Almost $60,000 went to Alioto alone; that’s a third of his total money.

You can see where that money’s going if you live in the Excelsior, North Beach, or Richmond districts. It’s going for misleading, nasty hit pieces. One piece attacks Mar for supposedly preventing neighborhood kids from attending neighborhood schools (on the School Board, Mar, like every other sensible board member, has refused to allow the schools to be resegregated, which is what the "neighborhood schools" movement is talking about). Another attacks Avalos for being too close to Sup. Chris Daly (sure, he worked for Daly and they share some political views. But if you meet Avalos, you realize he and Daly have radically different temperaments).

All this is part of a larger downtown strategy. If this crew can’t win those three races in November, I guarantee they’ll try to amend or repeal district elections in the next two years. They’re well-funded, they’re serious, the stakes are high — and they have no problem fighting dirty.

If you live in Districts 1, 3, or 11, vote for Mar, Chiu, or Avalos. If you don’t, you can still help. Go to Avalos08.com, Ericmar.com, or votedavidchiu.org. Show up at 350 Rhode Island St. (enter on Kansas) any Mon.–Thurs. between 5:30 and 8:30 p.m. to phone bank or 10 a.m. Sat. and 11 a.m. Sun. to walk precincts. Give money or volunteer. As the old Depression-era slogan said. This is your city. Don’t let the big men take it away from you. *

Looking in at outsider art

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Midway through I’m Like This Every Day, friends of underground musician Peter Stubb debate whether or not Stubb is actually a werewolf. Such is the unverifiable quality of Stubb’s legend. Since the early 1990s, between trips to the state mental hospital in Georgia, Stubb has made nearly 100 rare but highly sought after home-recorded cassette tapes of his often catchy, but lyrically death-obsessed, violent, and sad acoustic music. Stubb’s lo-fi tapes, some available only in editions of one or two, have the eerie, timeless, and deeply lonesome feel of old Alan Lomax field recordings. When director Mitchell Powers goes to the haunted, piney, Civil War blood-soaked hills of northwest Georgia, he finds that Stubb’s story shares some of the epic and tragic quality of the old bluesmen at the crossroads.

As the film opens, we see home video footage of a young and fresh-faced Stubb looking into the camera and saying, "Music is basically my life." The first shot of contemporary Stubb is of just his arm, lined from wrist to elbow with scars from self-inflicted knife slashes, as he strums the guitar. The story of the rough years in between is told chronologically by interviews with Stubb and childhood friends from defeated, dead-end factory town Dalton, Ga. — known as "the carpet capital of the world." Along the way we learn tales of Stubb painting his own child in blood and fucking a can of cranberry sauce during the making of his classic "Blueberry Masturbator" tape, while we meet characters like a shirtless, neck-tattooed friend of Stubb’s named Number Two, who cheerfully makes his screen debut trying to piss into his own mouth with one hand while carrying a tall can of Steel Reserve in the other.

Yet when Stubb’s ex-wife remembers fondly, "No one had ever sang to me like that before," it is achingly sweet. The film is so compelling because debut director Powers never sensationalizes these characters, but instead presents their stories with generosity and warmth. By refusing to diagnose Stubb or dismiss him as mentally ill, Powers suggests that the struggle to stare down our demons is one we all share. In only 19 minutes, Powers’ sympathetic short probes the uncomfortable border between being an artist and being insane. Stubb’s friends speak of him with reverence, awe, and a loving acceptance: "Peter gets obsessed with these shadow demons that inhabit his body," explains Number Two, with suddenly sober conviction. "And the only way he can get them out is to cut them out."

I’M LIKE THIS EVERY DAY PLAYS WITH BIGFOOT: A BEAST ON THE RUN

Sat/18, 5 p.m.; Oct 22, 9:30 p.m., $10.50

Roxie, 3117 16th St, SF

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THE SEVENTH SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL DOCUMENTARY FESTIVAL runs Oct. 17–Nov. 6 at the Roxie, 3117 16th St, SF and the Shattuck, 2230 Shattuck, Berk. For tickets (most shows $10.50) and more information, visit www.sfindie.com>.

Economic stimulus, at home

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EDITORIAL Mayor Gavin Newsom is planning to announce a local economic stimulus package some time this week. The Board of Supervisors is holding hearings on how the city can help the San Francisco economy. As the presidential candidates thrash around with proposals to address the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, local politicians are hoping to do their part at home.

And that’s a fine idea. Even in this globalized economy, San Francisco can do a lot to protect its residents and businesses from the ongoing disaster. But the best way to do that will require political courage — and a recognition that economic stimulus works best from the bottom up, not the top down.

The most effective way to get a depressed economy going, in other words, is to put money as directly as possible in the hands of the people most likely to spend it. That means the sorts of policies that big business and landlords will want — say, cutting "red tape" and reducing business fees and taxes — isn’t gong to help.

Progressive economists say that on the national level, one of the most effective policies would be a short-term reduction in the payroll tax. Most working people pay 7.5 percent of their wages into the Social Security trust fund, and most businesses match that contribution. Suspend the employee contribution for three months and everyone in the nation instantly gets a significant raise. (The Social Security fund would take a hit, but this is an emergency and that can be fixed later; despite all the gloom and doom, Social Security will be fine for the next half century with just a few minor fixes.)

The idea is that people who get a raise during a recession are likely to spend it, quickly, which pours money into the economy. The same principal can work in San Francisco. Any economic stimulus package will cost money and add to the city’s deficit (unless Newsom and the supervisors are willing to raise taxes to fund it). But some short-term policies could more than pay for themselves by jump-starting local spending.

A few ideas:

Place a moratorium on all residential evictions. Barack Obama is talking about a short-term freeze on mortgage foreclosures, which makes sense for the nation. But in San Francisco, where most residents are renters, evictions are far more of an economic threat. The mayor and the supervisors could ask the sheriff to refrain from carrying out any eviction actions for a limited period (and potentially cut off funding for eviction actions).

Create an emergency rent-subsidy fund. Make city cash available to anyone facing eviction because of economic circumstance.

Reduce Muni fares for a few months. Muni is in many ways a tax on the poor and working class, who have no other travel options. Almost every penny that people spend on transportation would go right back into the economy.

Suspend the payroll tax on small businesses. Small businesses create most of the jobs in the city; suspending the tax on the smallest businesses (those, say, with payrolls of less than $500,000) would help the most vulnerable and keep the engines of the local economy from failing. Raising the tax on big businesses would, of course, more than pay for this.

Raise the general assistance payment. Sure, some of that money would be spent on alcohol and drugs, but most would be spent on things like food and clothing.

Spend more, not less, on the public sector. Government spending creates jobs; government programs saved the United States from the Great Depression. Taxing the wealthy to fund public jobs programs makes excellent economic sense at the city level, too.

Those are just a few ideas. The supervisors should devote their hearings to developing more. But a plan that only helps big business and doesn’t put money in the pockets of the rest of San Franciscans won’t do anything to help the local economy. *

Land of the free, home of the brave

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By Cheryl Eddy


> cheryl@sfbg.com

Things I learned while screening a double-wide stack of DocFest discs: there’s a perilously thin line between superfan and super-stalker. Bacon and Miracle Whip wrapped in a tortilla makes a pretty tasty snack. It’s possible to be pro-bird, but not anti-cat. When uttered in the context of The Price is Right, the words "a new car" and "come on down" battle for the title of three greatest in the English language. And there are two passionate schools of thought that divide the Bigfoot-is-real community: flesh-and-blood vs. supernatural.

America may be super-fucked in many ways, but we’ll never be short on weirdos, nor will documentary filmmakers ever tire of recording their antics. DocFest’s 2008 slate is roughly three-fourths devoted to the United States of Oddballs. And why not? Seriously, it’s fascinating stuff. One of the best films is by Swiss filmmaker David Thayer, who travels across the Northwest in search of men who’ve devoted their lives, or at least a good chunk of hobby time, to studying the region’s most elusive life form. Bigfoot: A Beast on the Run is as deadpan as anything in the Werner Herzog canon; it never once mocks its subjects, even when talk strays from giant footprints and muffled audio recordings to men in black and photographs of the creature in "interdimensional orb form."

A different type of hunt is the focus of Andy Beversdorf’s Here, Kitty Kitty (2007), filmed in the trenches of Wisconsin, circa 2005, amid the great should-feral-cats-be-declared-"non-protected" debate. In other words, should you be able to shoot that stray cat that’s been yowling around your garbage cans? In this corner: the slightly befuddled academic who published a study blaming free-ranging felines for the state’s declining songbird population. In the other: kitty-rights activists. Cute, furry peril is also a theme of Bunnyland (2007), in which filmmaker Brett Hanover trails Pigeon Forge, Tenn. resident Johnny Tesar, a.k.a. "Johnny Rock," a singular character who implausibly finds Native American artifacts every time he looks at the ground — and was suspected of slaughtering a golf course’s 73 cotton-tailed mascots, among other misdeeds.

Another strange pocket o’ Americana surfaces in Elvis in East Peoria (2007), which is kind of about Jerry, an unambitious Elvis impersonator, but is also about the platonic yet curiously close relationship he has with his manager, Donna, who truly believes Jerry "oozes Elvis." (In case you’re wondering, this is where I learned about the magic of bacon plus Miracle Whip plus tortillas.) Crave more creepy fandom? Sean Donnelly’s I Think We’re Alone Now, about a pair of obsessed Tiffany fans, is among the more unsettling films I’ve ever seen. Despite a slight whiff of exploitation — one of the subjects has Asperger syndrome, the other is an alcoholic, and both are on disability — the film is a jaw-dropper, filled with trainwreck moments and revelations. Like, did you know Tiffany can time travel and communicate with aliens? More important, does she know?

Lest you think this entire festival focuses only on backwoods crazies, let me assure you that Abel Ferrara’s Chelsea on the Rocks, an insider’s look at New York’s storied Chelsea Hotel, presents urban eccentrics galore — plus footage of the burning Twin Towers as shot from the hotel, and much lamenting about how the building’s recent change in ownership has affected its longtime residents. But not every DocFest pick has a dark flipside: Jeruschka White’s Come on Down! The Road to the Price is Right is a joyful tribute to the game show, with most former contestants admitting that their time onstage with Bob Barker ranks among the best in their lives — no matter how embarrassing the Showcase Showdown outcome, or how tacky the consolation prize.


THE SEVENTH SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL DOCUMENTARY FESTIVAL runs Oct. 17–Nov. 6 at the Roxie, 3117 16th St, SF and the Shattuck, 2230 Shattuck, Berk. For tickets (most shows $10.50) and more information, visit www.sfindie.com>.

Chan Chan can cook

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› paulr@sfbg.com

One is tempted to say that Chan Chan Café Cubano is authentically Cuban, but one has no idea, really. These days it is easier for Americans to visit Albania than Cuba, which, after nearly 50 years, remains sequestered behind the rusty remains of the iron curtain. Maybe Barack, if he manages to fend off the dazzling Republicans — he a grizzled ex-maverick with recurrent skin cancer, she a sporty gunner-down of wolves from helicopters (Tail Gunner Sarah?) — will rethink the wisdom of our Cuba policy. First, of course, he’ll have to put Wall Street’s Humpty Dumpty back together again while finding some path out of two ruinous wars. The book of Genesis informs us that God created the earth in six days, "and he rested on the seventh day from all the work which he had done," but the president who succeeds the present crew won’t have it so easy.

The endless and preposterous isolation of Cuba reveals itself in many ways, among them a paucity of Cuban restaurants. We have a few, and we’ve had a few fail, among the latter the homey Los Flamingos (in Duboce Triangle) and the grander Habana (at the edge of Russian Hill). At the moment we have Laurel’s (in Hayes Valley) and Café Lo Cubano (in — oh, irony — Laurel Heights). And of course Chan Chan, which is nearly as isolated as Cuba itself.

The restaurant (opened in August by Ana Herrera and Michel Alvarez) occupies a snug space, very nearly at the head of 18th Street, that previously housed another restaurant but whose most historic occupant was Fran Gage’s Patisserie Française, a boutique bakery that helped set the table for today’s wealth of boutique bakeries. The patisserie was destroyed by fire in 1995, and the building seemed to sit there as a charred hulk for many months, perhaps years.

Signs of the fire are long gone. When I first stepped into Chan Chan, I discreetly looked for them and sniffed for them, but all I noticed were handsomely distressed wood frames around the doors and windows and the smell of flowers. Maybe my companion was wearing too much (flowery) cologne. The restaurant is small, with seating at about a half dozen tables for maybe 20 people. One wall looks like a gigantic finger painting, and there is a semi-exhibition kitchen where Alvarez, the young, rakish chef, works his magic.

And magic he does work. Chan Chan might look like a café, with a menu whose dishes are all demurely described — and modestly priced — as tapas, but the food is sophisticated and often sublime. Even the dipping sauces that accompany the warm bread are carefully conceived and executed; among these are a garlic-and-honey vinaigrette flecked with herbs and a smoothly savory tapenade of sun-dried tomato. (The restaurant’s menu describes the cooking style as "fusion," hence some of these cross-cultural borrowings.)

The salads and other vegetable-intensive dishes are of a lushness that might appeal to Cézanne. The tibia salad ($10.50), for instance, a variation on spinach salad, is a springtime meadow of deep green, tender leaves tossed with pine nuts, raisins, and chunks of seared apple, all of it bound together by a voluptuous, sweet-tart dressing. Similarly verdant is the aguacate relleno ($12.50), a beautifully ripe avocado split, peeled, filled with sautéed shrimp and scallops, and nestled in garden greens. Eating this dish is a little bit like stumbling on an avocado-shaped treasure chest in the woods and opening it to find a fortune of edible gold.

Given the historical importance of pork in both Spain and her New World colonies, it is slightly surprising that Chan Chan turns out such a wondrous lamb shank ($15). (The eating of pork has long served to distinguish Christians from Jews and Muslims, two groups well represented in medieval Spain, while pigs — carriers of brucellosis, among other diseases — were brought to the New World as a reliable and prolific food source by the conquistadores, as Charles C. Mann discusses in his incomparable book 1491. Lamb, meanwhile, has long been associated with the hot, dry climate of the Mediterranean and not so much with the muggy tropics.) The shank is braised in beer until the meat is tender, though not mushy, and it’s plenty big enough for two, especially if you have a plate of Spanish rice and black beans ($6.50) on the side. You should, if only for authenticity’s sake, although we did find both rice and legumes to be underseasoned — the only dish of which this could be said.

Flan for dessert teeters on the brink of cliché. In this sense it’s the Latin American answer to tiramisu. But Chan Chan actually has a good one ($6); it has something of the texture of bread pudding and the flavor of dulce de leche, and because it’s served as a square cut from a pan, like lasagna, its housemade provenance is apparent.

Chan Chan feels more isolated than it is. It sits in a tiny commercial strip (next to a busy hair salon) in a quiet residential quarter well uphill from the heart-of-the-Castro hubbub. But Muni’s 33-line trolleys glide by periodically, and Market Street is just steps away. And — I almost never get to write this — parking is easy! There are often spaces on 18th Street, and even more on Market. Free! In the Age of the Bailout, you can’t beat that.

CHAN CHAN CAFÉ CUBANO

Dinner: Tues.–Sat., 6–11 p.m.

Breakfast/lunch: Tues.–Sat., 9 a.m.–2 p.m.; Sun., 9 a.m.–4 p.m.

4690 18th St., SF

(866) 691-9975

www.chanchancafecubano.com

Beer and wine

AE/DS/MC/V

Pleasant noise level

Wheelchair accessible

Doc workers

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More DocFest:

>>A cockeyed view of a kooky country

>>Musical outsider may be genius, werewolf

>>DocFest Web site

> cheryl@sfbg.com

The first thing I noticed about the 2008 San Francisco International Documentary Film Festival was its enormous size. Well, OK, I actually squealed in delight over the inclusion of a Bigfoot doc. Then I took stock of how many films were contained in this year’s program. DocFest’s seventh incarnation is actually larger than its parent fest, the San Francisco Independent Film Festival. Along with the Another Hole in the Head horror festival, both are headed up by founder Jeff Ross.

"It’s the biggest festival I’ve ever done — it’s three weeks long, 48 programs, 107 screenings altogether," Ross explains. This year, DocFest also unfurls a week of films at Berkeley’s Shattuck Cinemas. "I think there’s going to be a strong audience in Berkeley. I just moved to the East Bay, so it’s kind of part of my personal agenda to bring more of my stuff over there." For the first time Ross is also giving an award, naming filmmaker Melody Gilbert "Someone To Watch" based on the strength of her small but growing body of work.

DocFest’s 2008 line-up represents the work of programmers Bill Banning (owner of the Roxie Cinema, the chief venue for Ross’ festivals) and Fay Dearborn, a former programmer at Cape Cod’s Woods Hole Film Festival. She met Ross while working at IndieFest; after what she calls "one of those festival romances," the two married earlier this year.

Dearborn and Ross are obviously in synch, but Dearborn and Banning are also complementary, at least in terms of their programming styles. Banning culls most of his picks from films he scouts at fests like Washington, DC’s Silverdocs, while Dearborn sifts through DocFest’s hundreds of unsolicited submissions.

"I think Fay found most of the fun docs, though [I chose] Hi My Name is Ryan, which is really fun. I saw it at Silverdocs, and the audience was literally in stitches," Banning says. "The idea is to mix it up. There were two really good boxing films I saw at Silverdocs, and we took the better of the two, Kassim the Dream, which is an incredible film. But we’re also looking for good docs from the Bay Area, and there are a number of them in [this year’s program.]"

Banning and Ross agree that the increasing popularity of documentaries is due to multiple factors. "Digital filmmaking has totally changed the documentary landscape," Banning says. "It used to cost so much money to shoot 10 minutes of film on 16mm film. Now you can buy a really great camera for $6,000 and shoot forever on it."

Ross points to films like Fahrenheit 9/11 and Super Size Me (both 2004) — as well as past DocFest hit Spellbound (2002) — as exposing non-narrative films to a wider audience. But as Dearborn explains, the DocFest audience isn’t necessarily looking for films that have mainstream appeal. "I think there’s a certain core DocFest watcher who comes to see slice-of-life documentaries about people who are just inherently interesting, but not in a National Geographic kind of way — sort of a human interest story that’s maybe a little more offbeat," she says, citing the weirdly compelling Elvis in East Peoria and Bunnyland (both 2007) as films she’s particularly excited to screen.

For the first time, DocFest has a presenting sponsor in San Francisco-based Current TV, a doc-focused channel co-founded by Al Gore. Ross sees the partnership as a good match, but he’s hesitant to predict what’s ahead for DocFest. Despite the sponsorship, Ross says that DocFest and IndieFest are still funded 85 percent from their ticket sales, "which is unheard-of in the film festival world."

"I do not have a plan for 2009," he says. "I’d like to see how the festival works [at a larger size]. Everything I do is kind of an experiment. We try different things — this year’s it’s the expansion to Berkeley, so we’ll see how it goes."


THE SEVENTH SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL DOCUMENTARY FESTIVAL runs Oct. 17–Nov. 6 at the Roxie, 3117 16th St, SF and the Shattuck, 2230 Shattuck, Berk. For tickets (most shows $10.50) and more information, visit www.sfindie.com>.