Volume 43 Number 05

The trouble with hairy

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HALLOWEEN SCREENING What’s most shocking about Oliver Stone’s W. — beyond anything in the too-mild movie itself — is that it’s simply dramatizing a still-seated US president. That still feels like a breach in our near-extinct public decorum, however much Shrub has degraded the office’s dignity.

Yet there’s precedent: one prior era brought a slew of movies about its Disaster-in-Chief. Once Watergate broke, filmmakers from late radical-left documentarian Emile de Antonio to future Roller Boogie (1979) director Mark L. Lester weighed in with parodies.

Little-noticed then, these films have only grown more obscure since. But one gets revived as the Pacific Film Archive’s Halloween choice this year. Despite all its flaws, it remains one of the more hilarious metaphors ever for political corruption. We’re talking The Werewolf of Washington.

Werewolf was the second and last feature by writer-director Milton Moses Ginsberg, whose Coming Apart (Rip Torn as a psychiatrist having sex with his female patients) created a minor splash in 1969. That film was an early exercise in faux-found footage narrative à la The Blair Witch Project (1999). By contrast, his hairy 1973 follow-up looks as stylistically square as the Nixon White House, last bastion of political Lawrence Welk-dom.

This is one of those movies hinged entirely on a crazed lead performance. Dean Stockwell, old-Hollywood child actor turned counterculture collage artist turned weirdo cult actor (1986’s Blue Velvet, 1984’s Dune) plays Jack Whittier, youngest member of the White House press corps. Sweetheart to the president’s daughter, Whittier jilts her by taking an assignment in Hungary — where something not-quite-human bites his ass. Returning stateside, he’s recruited as press secretary to a president (Biff McGuire) unlike Tricky Dick in look or manner.

But Werewolf‘s satire is indirect, if not exactly subtle. Despite pleas to be fired — even arrested — Whittier keeps getting kicked upstairs. He’s too much an asset to a paranoid administration under scandalized fire. That value is not unrelated to mysterious man-beast slayings of various loudmouths exposing the administration’s ethical canyon-gaps. Victims include critical journalists, inconvenient political wives, and ill-fated DC residents who stumble across supernatural murder scenes.

The Werewolf of Washington is crude, sloppy, aesthetically ugly, and deliberately ridiculous. But Stockwell is hilarious, particularly during those twitchy lycanthropic transformations where he turns shock-white haired and fanged. This genius turn floats an otherwise flimsy film.

THE WEREWOLF OF WASHINGTON

Fri/31, 8 p.m., $5.50-$9.50

Pacific Film Archive, 2575 Bancroft, Berk.

(510) 642-5249, www.bampfa.berkeley.edu

No-brainer

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REVIEW The title of David Szlasa’s peculiar, compact, and appealing new work suggests one ready avenue of flight from a world gone mad, but in fact fantasies of escape take more than one form in My Hot Lobotomy, now up at CounterPULSE. And while escapism is exactly what the piece concerns itself with, the import is anything but apathetic or disengaged. A cheerfully quirky, Beckett-like duet wrapped in luxurious silences, snatches of recorded dialogue, short blasts of song and free-style dance, and a dreamy videoscape of environmental disintegration, My Hot Lobotomy is full of restive thought.

Like Szlasa’s installation-performance work on the atomic bomb, 2004’s GADGET, My Hot Lobotomy pokes at that psychic terrain joining the human capacity for denial with man-made catastrophe. In this case, the catastrophe is the rapid warming of the planet, which remains stubbornly just beyond the necessary concerted and rational response. But Lobotomy‘s approach is both more traditional and more oblique than the environmental strategy employed in GADGET, which had audiences wandering around a noisy club-like atmosphere enveloped by video projections and spotted with localized audio segments.

Quietly trained on the internal and external minutiae of its main character — a mute and semi-vegetative post-op named Joey (Erin Mei-Ling Stuart) — the play never feels crudely weighty or political, let alone like a piece of agitprop. Instead, it unfolds like a loopy, semi-looping trance, a restless and sardonic ditty, or a closet poem stashed away in Pee-wee’s Playhouse. Lobotomy‘s low-key faux naiveté bristling with caged energies and subversive instincts — much as Joey’s shiny turquoise sneaks, popping out from under a bland ensemble of sports coat and chinos, hints at dormant life beneath a numbed surface.

The play acts to slow us down almost immediately — almost as much as Joey, who does nothing for the first several minutes but stare back at us blankly from a chair in the center of the stage. This mirror effect, uncomfortably amusing, grows in significance when we learn that Joey — in shades of the Ramones — has given himself a homemade lobotomy. Well, you might ask, who hasn’t? Szlasa gives us plenty of space to ponder the question, gradually unfolding the method and motive behind Joey’s condition as we share in the meditative, vaguely bemused mood he projects.

It’s a knock at the door that disturbs this waking slumber. A guy (Spencer Evans) enters delivering a pizza, a slice of which Joey chews with silent satisfaction. The man then returns with a boombox and a cassette tape, careful to demonstrate to Joey how they go together. On the tape, Joey speaks to himself with prerecorded words of instruction, clarification, and encouragement. The delivery guy, we learn, has been paid in advance to bring all Joey will need in his new, streamlined life. Returning to the stage with a guitar, he also delivers something to the audience, at odd moments and even odd angles: a series of witty songs — variously contributed by Carrie Baum, Cody James Bentley, Sean Hayes, and Joshua Lowe — telling the story of Joey in terms that slyly critique what they describe.

The limited world Joey has structured for his new self — with its prerecorded, too certain insistence that everything is "gonna be really, really great" — eventually unravels among a clutter of pizza boxes and, more alarmingly, a series of fraught dreams, as the unstructured world outside, which appears as a video montage of global warming over a gentle cloudscape at the back of the stage, slips in with growing insistence. The increasing dissonance provokes another transformation in Joey, and another attempt to scurry for cover. It’s a rush of new life whose meaning may be ambiguous, but hardly empty-headed.

MY HOT LOBOTOMY

Through Nov. 2

Thurs.–Sat. and Nov. 2, 8 p.m., $25

CounterPULSE

1310 Mission, SF

1-800-838-3006

Bonjour joie

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› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER Zut alors, where is the joie, mademoiselles? Judging from the current pop charts, rage is all the rage: girls just want to "start a fight" is the message from Pink, Brit, and Katy Perry, even as pop’s queen Beyoncé, a.k.a., Sasha Fierce, chooses the somber rather than ferocious path with "If I Were a Boy."

Maybe it’s too much to ask for a recession-wracked America to find a battered vein of real happiness. And perhaps that’s why I’m looking for bliss overseas. You have to be a crusty old croissant to not succumb to the wholesomely sexy, gallic-girls-just-want-to-have-fun charm of Yelle, née Julie Budet. In a year when every pop thang coming out of Francophone music-makers seems to exude a freshness that escapes rage-aholic American pop, along comes Yelle with the cutest bob this side of Rihanna and those prep-cool dancing boys in "A Cause Des Garçons." Not for nothing does Budet’s acronym nom de plume stand for "You Enjoy Life." Could this be the new yé-yé?

Resembling a sprightly Feist onstage, the jeune fille also coughed up the catchiest bit of whistle(-along) bait since Peter Bjorn and John’s "Young Folks": "Ce Jeu." Yelle’s palpable ’80s-throwback aesthetic crossed with the twirly-girly, smiley-faced nouveau-rave dancefloor vibe in the "Je Veux Te Voir" video — squeaky-cute aerobics, girl-gang dance moves, and a crayon-bright pop aesthetic, oo-la-la — evokes the seemingly last microsecond of dance-pop innocence when Her Madgesty, Salt-N-Pepa, and J.J. Fad ruled the school canteen. Who needs to speak the language when confronted with the inexorable, happy-sad-but-mostly-happy sizzle of "Tristesse/Joie," given a Reebok commercial makeover this past summer?

So why France and why now? According to Budet, "maybe because France is well-located between English pop, German electro, and American production! It’s geography!"

Mais oui, Budet enjoys life — and exclamation points! Though our trans-Atlantic phone tête-à-tête didn’t materialize, I managed to connect via e-mail with the Bretagne-born vocalist, who’s more comfortable answering questions in writing when she isn’t slinking around onstage like a T-shirted electro-pop whippet. Of course, she isn’t quite as wholesome as she might appear: her first MySpace hit — "Short Dick Cuizi," a poke at Cuizinier of French hip-hop group TTC and an early incarnation of "Je Veux Te Voir," famously samples the bassline of "Short Dick Man." "The songs are about our lives and our productions," she writes. "I think about everything in Pop Up [her new debut on Source Etc/Caroline/EMI]: dildos, but death, too."

Some fans might be taken aback by Budet’s live appearances, which are low on the diva-esque antics and high on the every-girl bounce. "We naturally worked hard on our show," she writes, predicting ghosts onstage for her Halloween appearance. "It’s normal for us to give a real show, not only the songs like on the album. Drums bring a lot of energy, and we build our live set like a DJ set, mixing the songs together, adding production. We have a compromise that seems to work: we rock the dancers and we dance the rockers!" So get your fill of Yelle because 2009 will be "the year of the break," Budet suspects. "We have to take time at home or people are gonna hate us, ahah!"

YELLE

With Passion Pit and Funeral Party

Fri/31, 9 p.m. doors, $20–$25

Mezzanine

444 Jessie, SF

www.mezzaninesf.com

PRECIOUS, PRECIOUS

Forget Uncle Sam: the post-punk superstar among us, Blixa Bargeld, needs you. The Einsturzende Neubauten frontperson, onetime Bad Seed, and current San Francisco resident has a new project — this after his wonderfully wry, dry-humored Rede/Speech performance here in 2006: The Execution of Precious Memories. Bargeld composes a new libretto for each performance, using memories gathered from questionnaires filled out by anonymous denizens of the performance site. To create this piece in its tenth iteration — and for the first time since 2001 — Bargeld plans to collaborate with the musicians of Nanos Operetta and the dancers of Kunst-Stoff. "It’s a poetical process," says Bargeld by phone. "There’s something fictitious about memories. The moment you give away a memory and fix it in a form and have it seen by someone else it becomes a piece of fiction. It’s not connected to yourself any longer." So let go and risk seeing intimate memories transformed: Bay Area residents are invited to go to www.blixa-bargeld.com/VKESF to fill out the 50-question survey — give it at least 30 minutes, cautions Bargeld — before the Nov. 1 deadline.

NO REST

THE SPINTO BAND


The revered indie rockers definitely weren’t sprinting when it came to getting out Moonwink (Park the Van/Fierce Panda). Sat/1, 10 p.m., and Sun/2, 9 p.m., $12–$14. Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., SF. www.bottomofthehill.com

DIPLO, ABE VIGODA, TELEPATHE, AND BOY 8 BIT


Eclecticism? OK! The "Mad Decent" tour mixes the DJ-producer with NorCal’s art-punks, Brooklyn art-dreamers, and a London minimalist beatmaker. Mon/3, 8 p.m., $16. Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell, SF. www.gamh.com

SECRET MACHINES AND THE DEARS


How do you turn a backlash around? Give a listen to the ambitious new space-psych Secret Machines (TSM). And the Dears continue to endear with Missiles (Dangerbird). Mon/3, 8 p.m., $22. Independent, 628 Divisadero, SF. www.independentsf.com

HUBERT SUMLIN


The blues guitar legend made a lasting impact on rock thanks to his work with Howlin’ Wolf. With Mitch Mitchell and Billy Cox, Buddy Guy, and others. Mon/3, 8 p.m., $45–$79.50. Masonic Center, 1111 California, SF. www.ticketmaster.com

Shades of green

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California’s major environmental groups have long called for the state to do more to promote a switch to renewable energy sources, yet they widely oppose two state ballot measures that claim to do so, urging votes to reject Propositions 7 and 10 as false promises. On the local level, however, the environmental community strongly supports Proposition H, the Clean Energy Act, against well-funded attacks by Pacific Gas & Electric Co.

Prop. 7 would require utilities to acquire half their power through renewable energy resources, and Prop. 10 would provide $5 billion in alternative fuel research and development. Dan Kalb, policy coordinator for the Union of Concerned Scientists, believes the basic goal of Prop. 7 is great, but that its execution would not work. "It’s something that sounds very good," Kalb told us. "Everyone is concerned about renewable energy, but we can’t afford to pass a law that isn’t going to work."

Opponents of Prop. 7 have argued that it is poorly written, would decrease current fine levels for noncompliance, and has many loopholes that only the largest producers can take advantage of. Natural Resources Defense Council media director Craig Noble told us, "It just doesn’t make sense. It’s deeply flawed … it’s so poorly written."

Proponents claim that it’s not poorly written, but that opponents have simply misread it. For example, opponents say Prop. 7 could exclude small businesses that generate less than 30 MW of renewable power. But proponents say they have misread Section 14 of the proposition, causing this confusion. Yet on Aug. 7 a Superior Court judge ruled that Prop. 7 could exclude those small businesses.

In all, the Yes on 7 campaign has 25 endorsements from politicians, organizations, and groups while the No on 7 campaign has more than 400 from politicians, organizations, groups, and cities opposing the measure.

"We’re extremely concerned that [Prop. 7 will] set us back, not move us forward," Kalb said.

If passed, Prop. 10 will authorize $5 billion in general obligation funds for alternative fuel research and development, but require $10 billion to be paid back over 30 years once interest has been figured in. Richard Holober, executive director of Consumer Federation, called the measure, "a $10 billion raid on California’s treasury."

He went on to tell the Guardian that public support for research of this kind is important, but that, "Prop. 10 has no accountability. It is filled with incredibly huge loopholes."

Under Prop. 10, a rebate will be given to consumers who purchase clean energy cars. At the same time, they can keep their old vehicles and potentially sell them. Yes on 10 media contact Amy Thoma confirmed this. Holober stated that California already has programs in place that require owners to scrap or donate their polluting vehicles after they receive a rebate; they also require residency in California.

Opponents of Prop. 10 also point out that the proposition requires no net decrease in pollution, meaning that new vehicles can be as polluting as those they replace, as long as they do not pollute more. Yet Thoma claims the measure will reduce emissions by a total of 4.1 million tons per year.

Noble told the Guardian: "We need to be reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, but Props. 7 and 10 are not the way to do it."

As for Prop. H, the measure would require that by 2017, half the energy sold in San Francisco would be from renewable energy sources, rising to 100 percent by 2040. It also calls for the city to study how best to achieve that goal, including if public power projects could play a role.

Corey Cook, an associate professor of political science at the University of San Francisco, told the Guardian that "Prop H is a small but not insignificant first step toward public power in San Francisco. [It] authorizes, but doesn’t actually do anything aside from creating a study to determine the feasibility and cost of buying out PG&E’s electricity grid and having the city generate power."

Environmentalists have rejected Props. 7 and 10 because they are written poorly and counterproductive, but they embrace Prop. H because it simply increases renewable energy standards, includes numerous procedural safeguards, and, as Cook said, "takes a first step toward public power."

Future present

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"I remember in the beginning I used to fuck around and not care about anything at all," says Steven Ellison, who records under the guise Flying Lotus. "But now it’s, like, Thom Yorke likes my music, dog. Now I think, oh shit, will Thom like this beat?"

It must be a happy conundrum to wonder if one of the world’s biggest rock stars will like your new song. Tinkering around his studio in Winnetka, a sleepy suburb in the San Fernando Valley, Flying Lotus works on a long-distance project with Burial. When he’s done, he’ll send the track over to the United Kingdom for the junglist producer to tweak. News of Flying Lotus collaborating with Burial, two of electronic music’s freshest new stars, will probably make some fans smile with pleasure. From Radiohead’s Yorke and Portishead’s Geoff Barrow — who recently noted in an interview with Remix that Flying Lotus makes "pure, mad music" — to the beat heads who ravenously scoop up any new Lotus material, everyone seems to love FlyLo.

So how did Flying Lotus become the so-called Chosen One? Los Angeles teems with a renaissance of kindred spirits. Carlos Niño (whose range includes Gaby Hernandez’s progressive folk valentine When Love [Armed Orphan] and Lil Sci’s rap treatise What’s the Science? [Shaman Work]), Daedelus (who blends early 1990s zoo rave with film soundtrack compositions) and Nobody (whose Nobody Presents Blank Blue: Western Water Music Vol. II [Ubiquity] eyes ’60s-ish psychedelic pop) all use electronic music as a starting point for forays into various genres.

Andrew Meza, who hosts BTS Radio on CSU-Fullerton and was an early champion of Flying Lotus, compares the scene to the vaunted "New Hollywood" wave of American directors in the early ’70s. "It’s a really small group of people doing really cool things," he says. In his opinion, Flying Lotus stands out in part because of his studio techniques. Although the artist records in a bedroom, his music sounds as polished as a major label product.

"People used to say this about Dilla — and I’m in no way comparing him to Dilla — that [when he finished beats] it sounded like everything was already EQ’ed and mastered," Meza says. "With [Lotus], his shit seems so much louder and bass-y."

Now, as a leader of the flourishing beat movement, Flying Lotus has launched a digital label, Brainfeeder, to issue projects from like-minded friends such as Samiyam and Ras G. To promote the label, he’s throwing a Brainfeeder Festival Nov. 8 at 103 Harriet St.

The best music often sounds like everything and nothing before it. Flying Lotus’ work evokes comparisons to J Dilla and Madlib and fits neatly into flavor-of-the-moment trends like 8-bit and dubstep, yet it is also excitingly unique. He utilizes standard bedroom production equipment, including a MacBook Pro and a Novation 25 MIDI controller, to make hauntingly fluid and improvisatory sounds. "My whole setup is probably less than a couple of Gs, man," he says by phone from Winnetka.

He samples other people’s work, then renders the sounds so unrecognizable he often can’t remember what they originally were. On Los Angeles (Warp), Flying Lotus pays homage to his late aunt, the great jazz pianist and harpist Alice Coltrane, by appropriating material from her 1968 debut, A Monastic Trio (Impulse!), for "Auntie’s Harp." "I tried my best to transform all the harp stuff so it didn’t sound like the original, but still had the essence," Flying Lotus says. "SexSlaveShip" builds on a more obscure source: ambient/acoustic folk artist Matthew David’s Spills (Plug Research). Another track, "GNG BNG," draws inspiration from DJ Shadow’s breakbeat experiments of the late ’90s.

As a result, Los Angeles, released in June, is part modern-day homage to California’s holistic vibes and progressive utopianism, and part science-fiction film, making for an arresting future present. "It’s the classic hero’s journey kind of thing, basically a story like a film," Flying Lotus says, adding that the movie that initially inspired him was Ridley Scott’s classic 1982 dystopia Blade Runner. "It’s the soundtrack to a movie that doesn’t exist."

The recording’s mood ranges from the deeply reflective vibes of "Golden Diva" to the steel drum-speckled techno funk of "Parisian Goldfish." There are a few vocal pieces on Los Angeles, particularly the lushly sensuous "RobertaFlack" with Turkish artist Ahu "Dolly" Keleslogu, whom Flying Lotus met online. For the most part, however, its liquid hip-hop instrumentals sing louder than words. As FlyLo puts it, "I wanted to make music that didn’t need a voice."

BRAINFEEDER FESTIVAL
With Flying Lotus, Gaslamp Killer, Kode 9, Hudson Mohawke, Ras G, Samiyam, Kutmah, and Martyn
Nov. 8, 9 p.m., $15 advance
103 Harriet, SF
www.blasthaus.com

Welcome to my dreamscape

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Here’s the curse of deep sleepers: they never remembers their dreams. As someone who snaps out of bed in the morning without one recollection of what happened behind shut eyes, I’ve always been envious of folks who can recount the vivid details of their dreams. Instead, I’ve taken to filling my awake time with art that sends my neurons firing in similarly seemingly random configurations. If I can’t do it myself, I might as well find people who can help do it for me.

This is where local singer-songwriter Michael Zapruder comes in. As a champion of blurring the lines between the banal and bizarre, of sticking the unexpected into the most familiar settings, the smooth-baritoned storyteller has more than a few dreams to spare for the rest of us. His most recent disc, the appropriately wobbly-monikered Dragon Chinese Cocktail Horoscope (SideCho), thrives on spinning long-lingering images — spiders on ice cream cones, lovers transformed into pieces of hay — into songs that remain rather confessional in tone. At their core, these could be considered folk numbers, but Zapruder adorns them with not only with psychedelic wordplay, but with glowing electronics and an indie-rock-spirited willingness for experimentation. It’s a balancing act of tremendous agility, reutf8g tales at once earthy and strangely disorienting.

"My goal is to write songs that work as extended hypnotic vignettes. That’s my realm," Zapruder explains over the phone from Mojave, en route to the next stop of his cross-country tour. After completing the much-publicized "52 Songs" project at the end of 1999 — he wrote, recorded, and posted online one tune per week for an entire year — the vocalist realized that these dream-state compositions were among his most successful. Several projects have followed, but Horoscope could be his finest expression of erasing the lines between sleep and wakefulness.

Opener "New Year," with its twinkling atmospherics and rolling brushed-drum rhythm, joined by Zapruder’s intimate hushes at the mic, feels like some of the more recent output from art-popper David Sylvian. The song has all the hallmarks of a late-night confessional, but a closer listen reveals a fever-rush of paper dragons, broken beds, and cowboys. "Ads for Feelings" carefully, steadily mesmerizes with a light pulsating tempo, soft-spoken keyboard sighs, and a recited vocal melody — only to shake the listener from the trance with delirious twirls of flute. Zapruder hardly sounds like he’s among the ranks of the awake, yet he insists, "I couldn’t sleep, I was watching the night / It was throwing little pebbles at the back of my head."

The album’s focal point is the nine-minute "Black Wine," a spellbinding torrent of interwoven images of family gatherings and ugly mayhem, coolly and methodically delivered over a slow blues. Here, otherwise-benign references to bread and wine commingle with blood and bones while a pair of wraithlike female voices warn of impending doom. The dreamlike whimsies of elsewhere have instead been replaced with something considerably more nightmarish in spirit. Asked about the origins of the song, Zapruder lets out a hearty laugh: "I just wanted to juxtapose the idea of a normal holiday meal with a monster story. So I stepped into that world and looked around for a while."

MICHAEL ZAPRUDER
With 1090 Club and the R&B Freejazz Gospel Supreme 80
Nov. 5, 9 p.m., $8
Bottom of the Hill
1233 17th St., SF
(415) 621-4455
www.bottomofthehill.
com

Exuberance with bite

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They once were distant from the excitement, 40 blocks beyond 82nd Street — a dividing line that Erik Gage dramatically refers to as the "Berlin Wall of culture" in Portland, Ore. He and his bandmates in White Fang grew up in the PDX ‘burbs round 122nd Street, starting a CD-R — or, rather, "CD-Gnar" — label in high school. As popular as they were round the cafeteria — they’d hop up on the tables and sing — the attention they’ve lately received is even more impressive: MTVnews.com, XLR8R, and Billboard have all knocked at Gage’s phone line, over which he gladly engaged with the Guardian shortly before the launch of the band’s national fall tour.

Of all the coverage, the write-up that Gage, now 19, seems most proud of is the review they got in The Oregonian, which gave their new Marriage Records debut, Pure Evil, an A-. "My girlfriend’s mom read it," he exclaims. His enthusiasm speaks to White Fang’s whole deal: if they can excite those right around them, whether the numerous friends’ bands Gage mentions or his lady friend’s mum, they’re happy. This earnest eagerness was particularly striking at their summer gig at the Lobot Gallery in Oakland, where a crowd of less than 10 got utterly whomped with a two-drummer, extra-intimidating lineup including second kit-man Chuck Hoffand. White Fang’s core membership — guitarist Kyle Wolfgang, drummer Jim Leslie, and Gage, who sings — have had several members pass through their ranks, lately counting six members for their touring group. Only one drummer this time out, but Gage promises it’ll be great.

"It still gets pretty damn crazy every show," Gage says, citing a gutter-punk fistfight at a recent house show as a particularly frenzied example of this. Fang used to be more mild-mannered, he explains, playing "twee-ish, K Records-type stuff," before they picked up electric guitars to channel their "African tribal drum music" influence for "Pterodactyl," a contribution to the guilty pleasures-themed Grown Zone comp on States Rights last year. "Twee-ish" has since given way to Pure Evil, with a freewheeling energy that takes mere moments to adore: "Breakfast" hobbles from Black Flag riffing into an exuberant, infectious three-chord collapse.

After the tour, they’ll record an LP titled Cheerful Poetry of the Cosmos for States Rights, and alongside Gage’s Gnar Tapes and Shit label, Fang will initiate a new imprint under Marriage’s wing: Chips, which will be dedicated to releasing split singles. Evil? More like pure genius.

WHITE FANG

With Mount Eerie, Thanksgiving, and Common Eider King Eider

Sat/1, 8 p.m., $8

Million Fishes Art Gallery

2501 Bryant, SF

www.clubsandwichbayarea.com

Sisters from another planet

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A few weekends back, I rose at the crack of dawn to see Allen Toussaint perform at Joe’s Pub in Manhattan for the venue’s 10th anniversary celebrations. Although it was Sunday morning and the show was free, nary any Negroes on site for the New Orleans master. However shameful this lack, the show was well worth it, especially for Toussaint’s mesmerizing extended version of "Southern Nights," replete with rich anecdotes about midcentury black life in Louisiana’s parishes. Right before this transcendent trip, a middle-aged lady fan down front cried out for him to perform the Labelle hit he produced, "Lady Marmalade." Toussaint obliged with a few lines before jokingly gesturing into the air before him, "Take it, Patti!"

Upon listening to the just-released Back to Now (Verve), I’m reminded of the trickster-ish spirit Toussaint reanimated around that song, as well as the reaffirmation of the quality of talent that’s always been summoned to work with the three titanesses of Labelle: Sarah Dash, Nona Hendryx, and Patti LaBelle. In the 30-plus years since the era’s premier woman rock trio disbanded, there has been a short list of female, or female-fronted, acts that could bring something sonically strong to the arena Labelle dominated in the early 1970s, but none could top them. Right now the only promising heiresses really worth discussing are Me’Shell NdegeOcello, Leela James, Nikka Costa, the Noisettes’ Shingai Shoniwa, Janelle Monáe, and Fantasia, but most of these have suffered the indifference of the public to a degree and, worse, been thwarted repeatedly by the industry. The merciful window of sonic vitality and relative aesthetic freedom Labelle once enjoyed during my childhood now seems like a chimera. Almost as if their hallowed career operates on a silver ship far out in parallel space — we can thus glean stardust of Labelle’s body of work, though their vessel is too many light years away to tilt this planet back on its rightful axis.

Talkin’ ’bout bold as love: the all-girl band’s new Back to Now — don’t call it a comeback, but a reconstruction — will hopefully serve as a beacon to light the way along the hard path young female artists are forced to tread. Kicking off with Hendryx in fine songwriting form on "Candlelight" — a twang ballad spurred to the brink of disco-country and ably handled from Lenny Kravitz’s production chair — this new disc contains no filler save the debut single. To these ears, Wyclef Jean’s "Roll Out" is the weak link — don’t want any Akon-sounding mess in my grown-woman funk, but I understand the biniss need to kowtow to Ringtone Nation. I am positively certain that when Gentleman Toussaint cut my favorite single, "What Can I Do for You," with Labelle in 1974, he never envisioned such a pass.

Fortunately, "Superlover" comes next to cleanse the palate, contemplative in its easing of the group’s patented sound in the direction of hallowed love testaments like "Isn’t It a Shame." Kravitz has finally met his match and found his métier while manning the knobs for this project. When I first learned of his presence the year before last, it seemed fitting that he should be summoned alongside Gamble and Huff, not merely because his best work owes a debt to classic Philly and Chi-Town soul, but because one figures correctly that his respect for icons of Labelle’s caliber would bring the best out of him. The sublime, delicately bouncy funk of Hendryx’s next superb shot, "System," could be the key to his ultimate discovery of his voice.

One knows Kravitz must have salivated over the unearthed 1970 track "Miss Otis Regrets," which includes the late Stones associate Nicky Hopkins on piano and Who drummer Keith Moon. It’s a magnificent album closer, but its back-to-the-future feedback loop in conversation with Hendryx’s own compositions only underscores the fact that she remains the great enigma of late 20th century vanguard pop and Afrofuturist rock, one of an elite few of the most undersung song-catchers way past overdue to be seriously studied by music and culture scholars. Should Labelle’s ever-loving vodun fail in the marketplace, Back to Now has more than justified their redrawing of their circle.

Magazinester

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My heart’s made of paper and held in place with two staples: I’ll always love zines. Recent issues of David Brazil’s and Sara Larsen’s biweekly roundup Try include Dana Ward’s languorous thoughts on feeling and some playful lyricism courtesy of Julian Brolaski (e-mail trymagazine@gmail.com.). Runx Tales #1 is a collection of comics by Matt Runkle (runkle.matt@gmail.com). Lots to enjoy: an exploration of why straight marriages are so gay; a well-spun tale about a town named Coeur d’Alene; nicely-rendered portraits of recent romantic obsessions; an account of dancing to ABBA on a gay pride float; and a memory of a wet, hot American summer. Runkle has Lynda Barry’s ability to capture a personality in one panel, and he draws himself to look a little like Jiminy Cricket.

Speaking of thumb-size icons, Mr. Peanut is back on the scene and looking debonair in an ad (for a show by Haim Steinbach) within the new Artforum. The same issue brings the disquieting news, also via advertisement, that Mr. Pharrell Williams has a show in a Parisian gallery. Bleh, I’d rather dream of buying a brand-new New York Post needlepoint pillow by under-sung and influential OCD artist Brigid Berlin.

Madonna and Guy’s divorce rules the glossy tabloids. "Tears, Lies, and Money," declares the front of OK!, while Us Weekly opts for a similar-but-different yellow-hued trilogy of ingredients: "Lies, Cheating, and Abuse." Esquire declares Halle Berry "the Sexiest Woman Alive," while L’ Uomo Vogue presents Tilda Swinton, looking more handsome than she’s managed on any recent red carpets. James Franco is kissable as ever on Man About Town, while Q touts its new design alongside a photo of world’s-oldest-schoolboy Angus Young.

Last, fate decreed that the 700th issue of Fate: True Reports of the Strange and Unknowncomplete with a contents-inspired cover illustration of an alien, a wolf, a droid, Sasquatch, and Jesus in front of a pyramid — arrives in the mail today. Eerie!

Speed Reading

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WOLFGANG VOIGT — GAS

By Wolfgang Voigt

Raster-Noton

128 pages with CD

$46.49

One of many noms de guerre of Kompakt Records founder Wolfgang Voigt, Gas represented the vanguard of a techno-ambient hybrid that flourished throughout the 1990s. The cryptic methodologies of Stockhausen, the operatic pretensions of Wagner, and the libidinal energies of Deleuze were bandied about in this subculture of citation and pastiche. The result was an interdisciplinary flourishing of art beyond the strict borders of musical formatting into mixed media.

Voigt’s newest release — a book of photographs taken throughout the forests surrounding his native Cologne — is finally gaining international renown for the record boss, composer, and aesthete. The book is a cousin to the landmark Nah und Fern box set released earlier this year by Kompakt. As with Nah und Fern, Voigt’s photography centers on the forest and the sky — potent artistic and political signifiers of nature in the German psyche.

"Gas is Hansel and Gretel on acid … a seemingly endless march through the under woods — and into the discotheque — of an imaginary, nebulous forest," Voigt has said. In reality, Voigt’s images are much less jejune or ambulatory than such a quote might imply. The dense forest tableaux combine the beauty of Lee Friedlander’s desert brambles with the sinister fluorescent emulsions of Warhol’s "Death and Disaster" series. The ingress of techné that — through serial repetition and fractals — dominates these images in turn triggers a surreal aura: the natural and mechanical blend effortlessly in Voigt’s lens. To say these representations of the magic forests of Germany are disturbing is an understatement. But they are also meditative and inspiring. (Erik Morse)

THE BOOK OF LISTS: HORROR

By Amy Wallace, Del Howison, and Scott Bradley

Harper Paperbacks

432 pages

$14.95

Calling The Book of Lists: Horror a reference book seems a bit unfair, if only because that designation makes it sound like something you don’t read front-to-back — something that probably doesn’t have a section titled "Eli Roth’s Ten Nastiest Horror Movie Genital Mutilations." Roth’s ouchfest is only one of the many such lists the book offers in its five sections. Film and literature receive special attention, but other horrific areas don’t go ignored. The result is a playful, comprehensive, and immensely readable work. Seasoned horror gurus will appreciate veteran list guru David Wallechinsky’s annotated look at a half-dozen overlooked horror films, while anyone who’s not too sensitive can enjoy "James Gunn’s Nineteen Favorite Reason God Made Humans So Squishy."

Authors and editors Amy Wallace, Del Howison, and Scott Bradley have attracted an impressive array of talent to make contributions: Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, and a posthumous Johnny Ramone all make appearances, and most have something interesting to say. With so many lists, not all can be as entertaining as "Davey Johnson’s Account of the Involuntary Reactions of Ten Dates to Ten Horror Movie Moments." But since the format allows for plenty of skipping around, misguided entries can be easily avoided. If there’s one real complaint to be levied against The Book of Lists: Horror, it’s that the visual content is underwhelming. Images should certainly accompany lists like "Steve Niles’s Top Twenty Horror Comic Covers." Sure, you’d have to lose some text, but it’s like they always say — one picture of disembowelment is worth a thousand words. (Louis Peitzman)

Bump(s) in the night

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› a&eletters@sfbg.com

In the new animated horror film Fear(s) of the Dark, artistic director Etienne Robial convened some of the most influential graphic artists of the modern era and dared them to respond to a simple question: "What scares you?" Working under minimum guidelines of time limit and color (monochrome was required), the selected comic and graphic novel artisans — including cartoonist Charles Burns, The New Yorker illustrator Blutch, British designer Richard McGuire, and others — produced highly personal vignettes that were woven into a Sigmund Freud-meets-William Gaines omnibus. But as with 2006’s celebrity smorgasbord Paris, je t’aime, the ambitious conceit of Robial’s film exceeds the individual contributions, which often drift into misguided forms of pop-psychology and self-conscious pleonasm. Never more terrifying than The Interpretation of Dreams, and never more enlightening than Tales from the Crypt, Fear(s) of the Dark is nonetheless an interesting exercise in atmosphere.

Structured as a frame story of sorts, the film begins with a pack of four voracious hounds, tethered to a sadist, who set out across the countryside in search of blood. Positioned along the backdrop of this chase are four vignettes of horror that center on popular phobias. The opener, created by Charles Burns, follows a social outcast whose childhood fascination with entomology comes to haunt him as a young man. When maladjusted student Eric finally meets the girl of his dreams, Laura, the creepy twitch of insects from his bed threatens to wreck his chances. Burns’ beautiful comic-book drawing style, a black and white relative to Lichtenstein’s panochrome creations, perfectly captures the frenzy of young lovers destined for doom.

The second tale, by far the most underdeveloped and least satisfying, centers on a young Japanese girl possessed by an Edo samurai. Drawn in the fast-paced anime style, Marie Caillou and Romain Slocombe’s use of proleptic slippages — although common in the anime genre — are often more confusing than frightening and gives the sequence the overall sense of an abridged sketch. In contrast, Lorenzo Mattotti’s contribution is much more mysterious and subtle in tonality, using a less op-art form of shading and pencil strokes. His story focuses on a young boy whose town is terrorized by a nocturnal beast, a literal bête noire. When a school chum claims to know the monster’s location, he suddenly disappears and the boy joins a search party to slay whoever or whatever is responsible.

The fourth vignette, contributed by Richard McGuire, deserves special attention for its innovative use of silence and darkness to instill a particularly effective kind of horror. A man stranded in the middle of a blizzard forces himself into a darkened house for shelter and finds a mysterious presence waiting for him. Forgoing the loquacious first person device used in other chapters of the film, McGuire explores the muted setting of the house itself, which may or may not have its own sinister character. The genius of McGuire’s piece rests in its celebration of the virtual and inanimate through mere suggestion — the creaking of the stairwell, the slamming of a door, the momentary pall of a silhouette. Inspired by the likes of James Whale’s The Old Dark House (1932) and Roman Polanksi’s The Tenant (1976), McGuire seems keenly aware that the trope of the haunted house is as indebted to the semiotics of the domestic as it is to the novelty of the transmundane.

As the highlight of Fear(s) of the Dark, this final vignette actually challenges many of the oedipal motifs that imbue the bulk of the film. The recurring use of first person confessional lends the vignettes in question a trademark French patina of Godardian psychoanalysis à la King Lear without any real artistic consequence. In other words, Fear(s)‘s theoretical misstep lies in its linking phobia with strategies of therapy — declaration, repentance, and ultimately, resolution — the hallmarks of the "healthy" adult, not the fantasizing child. Its redeeming beauty only arises when the collection of haunted scenarios aims for the viewer’s callow spine rather than his existential brain.

Fear(s) of the Dark opens Fri/31 in Bay Area theaters.

XXX-tant love

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Platonic buds Zack (Seth Rogen) and Miri (Elizabeth Banks) live together, are completely devoted to each other, and yet loudly maintain that they are just friends — until they decide to sleep together on camera to pay off their debts. Oh, and sleep with other actors too, because that’s what you do in a porno. Ah, nothing like white-hot jealousy to make a long-dormant heart start beating, eh?

Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Kevin Smith’s latest, reminded me of his previous feature, 2006’s Clerks II. It elicited the exact same equally powerful, and seemingly contradictory, reactions. During the film’s first half, I guffawed at such moments as Zack and Miri’s discussion about sex toys for men versus those for women, during which Zack refers to his ability to pleasure himself with the help of two Popsicle sticks and a rubber band, like "a filthy MacGyver." But the off-color hilarity is all but buried by the film’s final third, which is full of typical romcom misunderstandings and mush. Writer-director Smith stands alone in his ability to create films that contain equal parts raunch and sap — and while Zack and Miri has a few shining moments, overall it never quite (ahem) comes together.

Zack and Miri Make a Porno opens Fri/31 in Bay Area theaters.

The booness

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› superego@sfbg.com

SUPER EGO Happy Slutoween, librul terrorists. Now that the Castro Street celebration has been officially buried, there’ll be more terrific parties than tired Sarah Palin costumes haunting Halloween night. Below are 13 batshit surefires, all taking place Oct. 31, night of the living-undead pro-life governor of Alaska. Trick or trick!

ALL HALLOW’S EVE


Goth equals deathly perfect — insert exhausted "every day is Halloween" joke here — as 18-plus clubs Death Guild and Meat team up to paint it black with DJs Decay and Melting Girl and "techno opera singer" Diva Marisa.

9 p.m., $13. DNA Lounge, 375 11th St., SF. (415) 626-1409, www.dnalounge.com

BITTEN


A French bordello Halloween masquerade ball seems right up any horny black cat’s alley — especially with an acrobatic performance by the ever-sexy Vau de Vire Society and lofty tunes by DJ Ean Golden.

10 p.m., free with costume. Harlot, 46 Minna, SF. (415) 777-1077, www.harlotsf.com

BLOOD PACT


An 18-and-up, gayish underground "dark places" extravaganza with vampiric DJ vamps Honey Soundsystem, Rchrd Oh?!, and Lord Kook, and promoters Homochic and Tantra, plus a slashing guest spot by Los Angeles’ A Club Called Rhonda.

10 p.m., $15. SomArts, 934 Brannan, SF. (415) 552-2131, www.homochic.com

BLOW UP HALLOWEEN


Those gorgeous 18-plus electro hipsters will never settle for anything less than horrifyingly bangin’ style — with terrific, terrifying rap trio HOTTUB, and evil genius DJs Richie Panic and Jeffrey Paradise.

10 p.m., $15. Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell, SF. (415) 861-2011, www.myspace.com/blow_up_415

CHARLIE HORSE HALLOWEEN THING


Two whole hours of the trashiest drag performances the nether regions of Polk Street have to offer? Sounds heart-stopping, but hostess Anna Conda will pump you back up with the cheapest drinks — and "outfits" — in town.

10 p.m., free. The Cinch, 1723 Polk, SF. (415) 776-4162, www.myspace.com/charliehorsecinch

COOKIE’S HAUNTED HALLOWEEN


Ecstatically kooky drag princess Cookie Dough hosts a night of haunted whores, with ghoulish electro-goth duo Ejector live, DJ MC2, alarming numbers by Landa Lakes, Glitterella, and more.

8 p.m., $8. Octavia Lounge, 1772 Market, SF. (415) 863-3516, www.cookievision.com

HALLOWEEN: A PARTY


This one’ll be pure crazyboots, as Heklina of Trannyshack literally rises from the dead to join Midnight Mass’ Peaches Christ in hosting a dark diva drag extravaganza, with bloody insanity from Kiddie, Fauxnique, Renttecca, Raya Light …

9 p.m., $20. Cat Club, 1190 Folsom, SF. (415) 703-8965, www.peacheschrist.com

HAUNTED TEMPLE


Unholy deeds will abound in cavernous club Temple’s sacred spaces, with insane décor on two levels, howlin’ DJs Paul Hemming, IQ!, and Jaswho?, plus a $500 costume contest.

10 p.m., $20. 540 Howard, SF. www.templesf.com

MONSTER HALLOWEEN


Ghoul’s night lip-sync battle-a-thon! DJ Scottish Andy and glamazon hostess Juanita More exhaust the hipsteratti queens and friends on the mic at the manly Truck bar for exotic "prizes" (i.e., drunk sex).

9 p.m., $5. Truck, 1900 Folsom, SF. (415) 252-0306, www.juanitamore.com

NIGHT OF THE LIVING BASS


Burner faves Opel get with Evil Breaks for an endless night of sheer funky drum ‘n’ bass madness, with a little techno freak-out on the side. With DJs Meat Katie, the Rogue Element, and Kid Blue.

10 p.m., $20. Mighty, 119 Utah, SF. (415) 626-7001, www.mighty119.com

RE:CREATION


A hip-hop, old-school electro, and freak beats spectacular, as ArtNowSF and Euphoric Conceptions present a platter’s worth of head trip performers like Mochipet, the New Deal, Pleasure Maker, and Sleepyhead. 9 p.m., $20. Club Six, 60 Sixth St., SF. (415) 531-6953, www.clubsix1.com

STILETTO: ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE


No San Francisco club is sharper fashionista-wise than theme-driven Stiletto. Gasp as too-cool zombies arise from the depths of loveliness with DJs Mario Muse, Eric Sharp, and runway madness from Flock, plus photo booth!

10pm, $8, AsiaSF, 201 Ninth St., (415) 255-4752, www.myspace.com/stilettosf

Z-TRIP


The inexhaustible mix-master must have some sort of magic potion in his vinyl cauldron, because the mash-up and intel hip-hop kids still flock to his politically oriented, mind-blowing shows after several centuries. Scary!

9 p.m., $22.50. Supperclub, 657 Harrison, SF. (415) 348-0900, www.blasthaus.com

Flaming in the Castro

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› paulr@sfbg.com

At Brandy Ho’s newish outpost in the Castro District, the fuchsia-colored paper place settings are embossed with the image of a chili pepper. For spice freaks, this is the equivalent of the famous blinking boob in North Beach — the neighborhood that is the home of the original Brandy Ho’s, which turns 30 next year. Let us meditate on the complex irony of all this.

People in the vicinity of their 30th birthdays often find themselves with procreation on the brain, so perhaps it isn’t so surprising that restaurants sometimes develop a similar fever. It probably isn’t too shocking, either, that Brandy Ho’s should have chosen to spawn in the heart of the Castro, a heavily foot-trafficked neighborhood with something less than a cornucopia of Chinese restaurants. For years I was a quiet fan of China Court, a block away at the corner of Castro and 19th streets, but that place folded and became something else a few years ago, leaving the field pretty lightly uncontested. It might be more shocking that Brandy Ho’s offspring bears so little physical resemblance to its parent.

Brandy Ho’s in the Castro isn’t just a Chinese restaurant: it’s a good Chinese restaurant, and it’s a Hunan Chinese restaurant. It’s also rather sensationally good-looking: a rosewood-lined cave — or mining tunnel, or (since this is the Castro) sauna — fronted with enormous, ground-to-ceiling panes of plate glass, which makes it easy to observe those who are observing you as they drift by. You are either inside or outside the human aquarium, and it doesn’t matter which. The Castro is a kingdom of darting eyes. If you struggle with chopsticks, you might draw a crowd of gawkers here. Brandy Ho’s chopsticks are plastic, and that’s not the best news for beginners and the inept. Wood has more grip and is much more forgiving.

Why does Hunan matter? Because Hunan food is spicy food, and while I have high regard for steamed Cantonese or Hakka delicacies for their fineness and subtleties, I prefer some fire on the plate. I love Szechuan food, but there isn’t a lot of it to be found in San Francisco. Hunan is just about as appealing and, perhaps, just a wee bit more refined, at least as it’s turned out by the kitchen at Brandy Ho’s.

And — to invert an old saw — where there is fire, there must be smoke. At Brandy Ho’s, the smoke comes not from tea leaves but from hardwood, and it results in a set of dishes that are exceptionally flavorful and quite unlike any other Chinese food I’ve eaten. Our server cautioned us that there were those who found the smokiness of smoked duck Hunanese ($12.95) "too strong," but the meat, when it finally floated in as a set of osso buco-like pieces on a carpet of carrot coins and bamboo shoot tabs, was reminiscent of Canadian bacon or some other kind of pork that had been roasted over a campfire. The smoke was smooth, hearty, and gently dominant in the manner of a good dark beer. Modest inconveniences: remnants of bone and dried skin. There was some chili heat too, but it deferred to the smoke.

Many of the dishes aren’t spicy at all. Steamed dumplings ($5.50) turned out to be potstickers, a half-dozen of them chubby as well-fed goldfish and filled with a tasty but well-behaved mince of pork, ginger, garlic, and scallion. Hot and sour soup ($3.50) was hot mostly in the hot-weather sense, but mostly it was bitter. The roster of ingredients seemed unremarkable — eggs, bean curd, bamboo shoots, and carrots — but had some unannounced greens been stirred into the mix, sharpening the soup’s edge?

And mo si vegetables ($8.95) — mu shu is the more familiar English spelling — rely mainly on garlic and ginger, not hot peppers, for their effect. Nonetheless, their effect is quietly potent, abetted by the hoisin sauce you swab on your pancakes before filling them with the actual stir-fry, whose main players are shredded napa cabbage and tree-ear mushrooms, bound together with egg. As much as I’ve loved mu shu pork over the years, I found this porkless version of the dish to be quite as convincing as its fleshier siblings and did not miss the meat.

Seinfeld‘s George liked his chicken spicy — and in the third person — and he would have liked Brandy Ho’s gon-pou chicken Hunan ($8.95), a fabulous mélange of boneless chicken cubes, onion slivers, chunks of red bell pepper, garlic, water chestnuts, and — most fabulous of all — wok-fried peanuts. There was plenty of chili-pepper heat in here somewhere. We mentioned to our server that we wanted the food to be spicy but didn’t want to burst into flames, and he’d nodded sagely, as if he heard this sort of thing every day and took it as a precise instruction. We ended up tingling yet unflaming, so the message must have gotten through somehow.

What was more remarkable was the dish’s uncanny resemblance to that old Szechuan favorite, kung pao chicken. What could distinguish the two, besides the spelling? The wok-frying of the peanuts? Is that some expression of Hunanese character, or just a flourish from this particular kitchen? Hunan and Szechuan provinces do adjoin each other, so maybe neighborliness accounts for some of the apparent cross-pollination.

Considering the quality and noteworthiness of the food and the restrained high style of the setting, Brandy Ho’s is notably inexpensive. Although portions are generous, many of the dishes cost less than $10, and even the pricier ones struggle to reach into the low teens. If you’re tired of fretting about the stock-market burn-off but aren’t yet ready for the depths of Carl’s Jr. or microwaveable burritos, Brandy Ho’s could very well be the place.

BRANDY HO’S

Continuous service: Sun.-Thurs., 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 11:30 a.m.–midnight

4068 18th St., SF

(415) 252-8000

www.brandyhos.com

Full bar

AE/DC/DS/MC/V

Moderate noise

Wheelchair accessible

Brilliant ideas

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› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS Here’s what I did: I roasted a chicken in a cast iron skillet, then I cooked a batch of drop biscuits in the drippins in the pan. They already of course had butter in them, but when they were done I halved them, buttered them again, and dipped them in the chicken juice. I washed this down, and the chicken down, with an elegant French wine, straight from the bottle, and worried about one day dying in a plane crash.

The thing about my cooking partner, Boink, is that he has a vision. Being all washed up, myself, and entirely out of original ideas (butter butter butter, chicken chicken chicken, plane crash), I rely on Boink for inspiration in the kitchen. Meaning the whole alternative weekly world will now have to rely on him too. If ever a three-year-old could handle this kind of pressure, Boink is the man. Boy.

"What kind of soup should we make today, Boink?" I ask.

"Pesto," he says. "Pesto soup."

Another time I wonder what else we might add to our banana bread.

"Pesto?" he says, chewing thoughtfully on his apron string.

Brilliant ideas, all, but don’t forget that I am a paid professional in this house. At the end of the day, when Mom and Dad come home and I put dinner on the table and then leave real fast while they’re all washing their hands and putting their bibs on, my actual income is on the line. Without which I could face eviction, repossession, disenfranchisement, bankruptcy, and, eventually, bunions. Whereas Boink’s biggest fear is time out.

So I’ve learned to funnel his fun, adventurous, if pestocentric decision-making by asking better questions, such as, "Hmm, what kind of sauce do you envision on this fettuccini, Chef Boink?" (Pesto!)

"What kind of spread, in your opinion, might be good on these sandwiches?" (Pesto!)

So the other day we’re making ravioli, which is a complicated, drawn out process and therefore one of the more effective ways to keep three-year-olds off the streets and out of gangs. In my opinion.

We rolled out our noodles, and I mushed up a barbecued squash for some of the ravioli, figuring ricotta cheese for the others. But I thought both fillings could use a little color and zing, so I opened the cupboard where they keep their pesto, pretended to rummage around a bit, and asked Boink what else he was thinking for our ravioli.

He didn’t hesitate. "Raisins," he said, with conviction.

I decided to throw a tantrum. It’s the best way to circumvent his, I’ve found. "Raisins??!!??!!" I stomped and scowled and threw up my hands, and he laughed and laughed. I’m good at this. I tugged my hair, squeezed my eyes closed, and shook my head real hard. "I can’t work like this," I said, taking off my apron and throwing it on the floor. "Raisins! In ravioli!!!"

"Not in the ravioli, Silly," he said, still laughing. "In the sauce."

There was a beautiful bolognese gurgling on the stove, and I was pretty sure it was the most wonderful creation I had ever created. Perfect, I thought. I brought the box of raisins to the stove, left the lid on, and shielding him from the action with my body, shook the box a wee bit, just to get a realistic rattle out of it.

The lid fell off and every raisin in the world plonked into my masterpiece. It could have been a Reese’s peanut butter cup moment, come to think of it — but not at the risk of homelessness. So, between all our spooning and folding and cutting and crimping, I kept revisiting the stove, and eventually tasted every single raisin out of the sauce.

Next week, to compensate for the cuteness of this week’s tiny tale, I will describe my diarrhea.

———————————

My new favorite restaurant is Dempsey’s Brewery in Petaluma. Especially if you park on the street. Because then you get to walk over a river on a wooden pedestrian bridge where I stopped once last summer to look at the water and kiss a guy. And there’s a real nice outdoor patio and pretty nice innards, too, with booths, good burgers, wood-oven pizza, and great beers. Red Rooster Ale. But if you park in the parking lot, you’re going to know that this quaint, cool brew pub is actually in a strip mall.

DEMPSEY’S RESTAURANT & BREWERY

Sun.–Thurs., 11:30 a.m.–9 p.m.;

Fri.–Sat., 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m.

50 E. Washington, Petaluma

(707) 765-9694

Full bar

AE/D/MC/V

A friend in need

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› andrea@altsexcolumn.com

Dear Andrea:

I don’t know if this is really considered a problem or just a modified version of a commitment issue. I recently have become very interested in having a G-spot orgasm. I feel the sensation and know the orgasm is literally and figuratively just outside my reach. I have found the toy that does the job (the Nubby G from Babeland) and I know I am on the verge. The only problem is that I need to be thrusting the toy in and out at a fast rate to really get me to the peak, and right before I am about the come, the sensation is so intense that I lose some strength and control in my arms. I know this could be rectified with a partner doing the heavy lifting, but is there a toy or a technique you could suggest for someone who is confined to solo play?

Sincerely,

G-spot Blue balls

Dear Blue:

Commitment issue how? Do you feel like your sex toy is somehow failing to fulfill a promise it made to you? (I can sort of see this, actually.) Have you told it that you Need To Talk?

It seems that your real problem is not that the vibrator cannot deliver, but that you literally can’t hold on long enough to give it a chance. It’s not it, it’s you. Maybe it’s just not the right toy for you at this time in your life. You need to let it down easy.

I think you need something that you can use hands-free, some kind of G-spot Bluetooth device. At first I looked on the few sex-toy guides specifically geared toward people with disabilities, figuring that even though your hands officially do work, they don’t work when it counts, so why not? There isn’t a lot out there, though. I pondered the many long-necked and flexible G-spotter devices, all of which look uncomfortably medical but most of which work pretty well — or so say the reviews — but eh, I couldn’t see how even adjusting the ergonomics was really going to do it for you. There’s still a smallish handle or base, and you’re still going to end up with the same old problem, or close enough. Same goes for the complicated in-and-out-and-round-and-round numbers (the Rabbit Pearl and its successors in faux-discretion, the oscilutf8g wombats and so on). They do some of the work for you, but you still have to hang on. No, the answer for you, I think, was available all along on the very same site where you found your well-meaning, if finally disappointing, current squeeze, Mr. G. They are dual stimulation devices with names like the Rock Chick (you insert it and you … rock) and the Snugglepuss. They stay in and leave your hands free to do whatever they need to do, whether it’s make shadow-puppets or do a Liza Minnelli impersonation or clutch your heart and go "Oh God oh God oh God." Whatever. The important part is, they do the G thing without your having to do any pumping. Of course it’s always possible that even as loyal and steadfast a companion as the Snugglofugus is, it might let you down — but there’s a good chance it won’t. Open your heart and let yourself love again.

Of course, should you have tons of money and no compunctions about tossing demi-tons of it at a matter of personal consequence but no world-shaking import, there are always ride-on sex machines like the original, the Sybian (look it up at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sybian). There is something about these devices that always struck me as kind of ’70s, like something that would have had its own VIP room at Studio 54. Actually, the Sybian was invented by a very earnest guy named Dave, about whom little biographical information seems to exist, although it appears he really was just trying to help. It took considerably less earnest pioneers like Howard Stern, who seems to have regularly popped female guests onto the studio Sybian (which was hopefully sanitized between uses), to give it the unsavory aspect it has today. Well, that and the Sybian dealers currently accessible via the Web, like the one whose site makes this claim: "The female will learn how to have better and bigger orgasms. She will literally explode on it."

But I’m assuming you weren’t in that market anyway. No, what you need is either the hands-free insertable doohickeys described above, or something like what you’ve got already and a way to immobilize it so you can crouch on it, as with the Sybian, but less explodey. You could try one of those harnesses that attach a dildo to the partner’s knee or, in your case, to random household furnishings. Either way, be sure to tell any new sex toys how you really feel, and practice active listening. Communication is the key, you know. *
Love,
Andrea

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

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

Xbox activism

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> a&eletters@sfbg.com

REVIEW The day after the last 2008 presidential debate, the stock market rollercoastered, however tenuously, to a high point, and oil prices plummeted. One would think those would be hopeful omens — on NPR, a woman interviewed on the street claimed lower gas prices were akin to a miracle. Yet the current ability to get the news the moment it happens — where would we be without e-alerts regarding daily Wall Street dramas? — has conditioned us to believe tomorrow might offer a radically different story. When OPEC calls an emergency meeting, and the US feds hold a global economic summit, who knows which side of the economic seesaw we’ll occupy at sunset?

Right now, you could say the economy is a form of conceptual art writ large, with real world implications. The numbers are based on shifts in mood and degrees of confidence, rather than anything you could really put your finger on (like cold hard cash). Apparently the idea that the earth’s thermostat is dialed up to a higher temperature is similarly conceptual. A surprising number of Americans — about 50 percent in a Pew Research Center poll taken last summer — believe there’s no such thing as global warming, and if there were, its causes cannot be scientifically determined. (Say bye-bye to the king penguin.)

Volatile situations have a way of generating free-floating cultural anxiety, and perhaps one of art’s jobs is to assuage it, or at least render it in unexpected terms and media. Kenneth Tin-Kin Hung’s Internet-based game project Gas Zappers does both. Using a colorful cast of characters wrested from online news outlets, it maintains a brash, interactive appeal as it tackles the implications of global warning and shifty petroleum economies. An animated digital collage, it takes two forms — a single-channel digital video, and a series of interactive computer games that can be viewed and played on a large flat screen monitor. It’s also accessible online.

The most attractive aspect of Gas Zappers‘ video version is its amped-up lucidity. Hung may be trafficking in environmental activism, but his vision of green takes on the gloriously corrosive hue of antifreeze. The piece is rendered in a color scheme you could describe as a toxic chemical rainbow. Art with social intent is often deemed didactic, but Hung steers clear of such charges with unabashed satire that plays like John Heartfield — the master of Hitler-hating WWII photomontage — meets South Park on YouTube.

Gas Zappers‘ appeal stems partly from the zeal with which Hung tosses cultural and political references. A polar bear, cast from its frozen habitat, navigates through a global landscape of energy issues — and celebrity spokespeople. Leonardo DiCaprio’s there, as is George W. Bush (as a barbecue grillmaster) and Al Gore (in a polar bear costume accessorized with Nobel bling). Al gags the prez on a compact fluorescent bulb and then sits on his face, issuing a forceful invitation: "Try my greenhouse gas, sucker."

Hung, who studied at San Francisco State University and showed an equally brash Internet-critique piece in Bay Area Now 3, is an artist of our moment. With this project, he has devised perhaps the perfect, time-filling, politically astute work for Berkeley tree-sitters — and those of us who wish we had the time and gumption to get up off our asses and make a difference.

GAS ZAPPERS

Through Feb. 8, 2009

Berkeley Art Museum

2626 Bancroft, Berk.

(510) 642-0808

www,bampfa.berkeley.edu

www.gaszappers.com

Volume 43 Number 5 Flip-through Edition

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Backroom brokers

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› tredmond@sfbg.com

It’s not the invisible hand of Adam Smith tossing hate mail on your doorstep this fall like ugly confetti. It isn’t a distinct and independent group of candidates and civic organizations that just happen to be saying the same things, either. There is a carefully orchestrated campaign going on to undermine the progressive agenda, block affordable housing and clean energy, and give Mayor Gavin Newsom a majority on the Board of Supervisors.

It’s well funded; it’s serious; it’s based on lies — and it’s a threat to rent control, sustainable environmental policies, universal health care, the city’s living wage law, and the rest of the accomplishments and goals of the progressive majority on the board.

If that sounds overblown, listen to what the organizers of this campaign are saying themselves.

On Aug. 15, after progressives took control of the Democratic County Central Committee and installed Sup. Aaron Peskin as chair, John Keogan, the head of a year-old organization called the San Francisco Coalition for Responsible Growth, a pro-downtown group founded to counter the progressive movement, announced his intentions in a letter to allies.

"CRG are [sic] preparing for an all-out attack with other like-minded groups and now is our time to stand-up [sic] and be counted," Keogan wrote. He asked members to support "taking SF on a sharp turn to the right."

Those "other like-minded groups," according to campaign finance reports, are a Who’s Who list of downtown-based organizations that have consistently fought to roll back tenant protections and slash government spending on social services: the Building Owners and Managers Association, the Committee on Jobs, Pacific Gas and Electric Co., the Association of Realtors, the Chamber of Commerce, Plan C, and the Police Officers Association.

By law, political candidates can only raise and spend limited amounts of money. But organizations like BOMA, the Realtors, and Plan C can put as much cash as they want into supporting and opposing candidates — as long as the efforts are "independent."

But the orchestration of the attacks on supervisorial candidates Eric Mar, John Avalos, and David Chiu, and the support for their conservative rivals, Sue Lee, Ahsha Safai, and Joe Alioto, is so sophisticated it’s impossible to believe that these groups and candidates aren’t working together.

Between Sept. 9 and Oct. 20, public records show, the groups spent a combined $363,754 ($178,177 in District 1, $104,308 in D3, and $81,269 in D11) on independent expenditures attacking Avalos, Mar, and Chiu and supporting their opponents. They also spent $20,000 supporting Eva Royale in her long shot race for the solidly progressive District 9 seat.

The landlords and downtown aren’t the only ones organizing. All that spending, and the threat of even more to come considering the hundreds of thousands of dollars these downtown groups still have in the bank, has served to unite tenant and labor groups in ways unseen in previous San Francisco elections.

"There’s an unprecedented coalition between tenants and labor," labor activist Robert Haaland told us. "We’re working together to defeat the landlord candidates, who are also anti-labor."

"We have a tremendous fear that the spending and progress on health care and social services will be rolled back," Tim Paulson, president of the San Francisco Labor Council, told us. "Anything less than our candidates [being elected in each of the three swing districts] will pose a real danger to the movement."

NEWSOM’S SLATE


One of the central players in this attempt to take the city away from the progressives and hand it over to downtown is Mayor Gavin Newsom, who is actively supporting Alioto, Lee, and Safai.

Eric Jaye, the mayor’s chief political advisor, has no formal role in the three district campaigns, but Newsom rarely makes a move in local politics without consulting Jaye. In fact, when reporters call the mayor’s press office to ask for comments on local candidates and initiatives, they are typically referred to the private consultant.

Jaye told us he’s talked to all of Newsom’s candidates. "I told them to run on district issues," he said.

The mayor and the latest member of the Alioto clan to seek office (Joe’s sister, Michela, is already on the board) have walked precincts together. And Newsom is so involved with the downtown effort he’s skipping a major Democratic Party gala (where he was slated to get an award) to spend time instead with the Republican-led Coalition for Responsible Growth (CRG).

Jaye’s main job this fall is running the PG&E campaign against the Clean Energy Act, Proposition H. So far PG&E has spent more than $10 million on the effort, and that number will grow in the final week before the election. Part of that same campaign has been propping up Newsom ally Carmen Chu, who has benefited from thousands of dollars of PG&E spending on her race. Chu’s face is all over PG&E’s No on H fliers.

Another central operator is Alex Tourk, the former Newsom aide who resigned after learning that the mayor had been sexually involved with Tourk’s wife. Tourk is now running the CRG operation.

"They brought me on board to do a volunteer campaign that, yes, they funded, but which seeks to inform voters in a non-partisan fashion where the candidates in D1, 3, and 11 stand on key issues," he said.

That campaign’s goal was to get 10,000 people to mobilize — he called them, using a term popularized by Richard Nixon, the "silent majority."

Tourk maintains that door-hangers the group has been distributing don’t endorse any candidates or push any initiatives. But the messages fit exactly with the overall downtown strategy — they seek to discredit the progressives by linking them with controversial ballot measures such as Proposition V, which would urge the School Board to save the military recruitment program, JROTC.

The supervisors have nothing to do with JROTC, but downtown and the Republican Party are using it as a wedge issue.

CRG is facing some political heat of its own: SF Weekly reported in its Oct. 22 issue that CRG’s recently elected president, engineer Rodrigo Santos, accepted money for professional work from someone who had business before the Building Inspection Commission while he served as commission president. Santos is a Republican, like several key Newsom appointees.

Making matters worse are revelations that Mel Murphy, vice president of the inspection commission and a CRG member, distributed invites in City Hall to an Oct. 17 CRG fundraiser for Safai and Alioto. City officials aren’t supposed to do political work at City Hall.

Alioto’s filings show that on Oct. 17, he received $500 from the firm of Santos and Urrutia’s structural engineer Kelton Finney and $250 from S&U engineer Calvin Hom.

PG&E’S FAKE DEMOCRATIC CLUBS


Political consultants Tom Hsieh Jr. and Jim Ross are involved in the District 1 race (Hsieh also responded to the Guardian on Safai’s behalf) — and are using PG&E and downtown money to support Sue Lee.

Beyond Chron reported Oct. 27 that Hsieh has been sending robocalls in Cantonese to voters saying that Lee is endorsed by the "San Francisco Democratic Party Club." Actually, the Democratic Party endorsed Mar.

What is this new "party club" anyway? Well, the Web site reported, the club started raising money just two weeks ago, and already has collected $30,000 from PG&E, $2,000 from the Chamber of Commerce, $5,000 from GGRA (Golden Gate Restaurant Association), and $70,000 from the Committee on Jobs. Another new club, called the Richmond Reform Democratic Club, is opposing Mar — and has $18,000 from the Committee on Jobs, $5,000 from PG&E, and $2,000 from BOMA.

In television ads paid for by the Realtors, a voiceover tries to link Mar, Avalos, and Chiu to Sup. Chris Daly, whose popularity outside his district is low — although neither Mar nor Chiu has much of a discernable connection to Daly. Avalos was a Daly City Hall aide.

One of the Realtors ads was so utterly inaccurate and deceptive — it claimed Chiu and Avalos support decriminalizing prostitution, when both have publicly opposed the decriminalization ballot measure — that Comcast pulled the ad off the air when Chiu filed a complaint.

Fog City Journal uncovered what appears to be illegal collusion between the police union and Safai. Although candidates are barred from coordinating with groups making independent expenditures on their behalf, POA president Gary Delagnes told FCJ editor Luke Thomas that Safai had given the group a photo of him to use on a mailer, a copyrighted image that Thomas took. Safai denied wrongdoing, but refused to answer further inquiries about the matter.

It’s a pitched battle — labor, the tenants, and the Democratic Party against the landlords, PG&E, downtown interests, and the Republicans. It’s pretty clear which side you want to be on.

Steven T. Jones, Sarah Phelan, and Amanda Witherell contributed to this report.

Downtown’s planner

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> amanda@sfbg.com

The battle for the district 1 supervisor’s seat is being framed largely by politically conservative groups, funded by real estate and development, that are spending thousands of dollars supporting former planning commissioner Sue Lee over school board member Eric Mar.

An incestuous web of independent expenditure and political action committees have collectively spent enough against Mar to blow the $140,000 cap off the voluntary expenditure ceiling that all the candidates in that district agreed to.

The money’s coming from the Building Owners and Managers Association, Plan C, the Coalition for Responsible Growth, and the San Francisco Association of Realtors. Although these groups can’t legally work directly with candidates, they typically swap funds among each other and receive outside support from the deep pockets at the Chamber of Commerce, Committee on Jobs, and Pacific Gas and Electric Co.

According to Ethics Commission executive director John St. Croix, the $140,000 cap was lifted on Friday, Oct. 24, which means the candidates are now free to spend up to their individual campaign limits, which are different for Lee, Mar, and Alicia Wang, the other major contender for the seat.

All three are receiving public financing — but so much outside money is being spent in support of Lee that, to keep pace, the individual spending caps for Mar and Wang have been raised and are now higher than Lee’s.

AGAINST THE NEIGHBORHOODS


Lee, who worked for Willie Brown’s mayoral administration and was public relations director for the Chamber of Commerce, now runs the Chinese Historical Society of America. Her voting record on the Planning Commission has been consistently pro-development and anti-neighborhood. Some examples from her final months on the commission:

<\!s> On April 10, 2008, she approved a mixed-use development at 736 Valencia St. and removed community benefits and below-market-rate unit requirements — against the wishes of community members and housing rights activists.

<\!s> On March 27, 2008, she was the only commissioner to vote against modifications to a rooftop remodeling project at 1420 Montgomery St. that would have pacified neighbors concerned about the scale and character of the plan.

<\!s> On March 13, 2008 she supported a conditional-use permit for a formula-retail paint store at Cesar Chavez and South Van Ness despite concerns about its effect on nearby small businesses.

<\!s> On Feb. 28, 2008, she approved a remodeling of a two-story flat on Potrero Ave. that opponents, including the next-door neighbors, characterized as a demolition in disguise.

"Her voting record for the past three years is crystal clear," one lawyer who represents neighborhood interests at the commission told us. "Given a choice between supporting neighborhood interests, long-term residents and the interests of the little guy or supporting development interests and the big- money people who are busy in our residential neighborhoods, she chooses the latter every time."

The lawyer, who regularly appears before the planning panel and asked not to be named, added: "She has supported big-box retail in our neighborhoods over the objections of neighbors. She has supported the destruction of rent-controlled housing and low-scale, more affordable housing that is being remodeled out of existence."

"She’s a total pay to play," said Robert Haaland, a labor activist with Service Employees International Union Local 1021, which is deeply vested in independent expenditures supporting Mar. "Her donations can be tracked back to decisions she made as planning commissioner."

For example, Lee voted in favor of a plan by Martin Building Company to convert a city-owned building on Jessie Street into 25 luxury condos that now rent for about $3,000 a month. Martin’s owner, Patrick McNerney is a Lee campaign donor. Also contributing to Lee is Eric Tao of AGI Capital, which helped finance the Soma Grand development, a project opposed by sustainable growth organizations like Livable City, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, Walk SF, and the Sierra Club. Lee voted in favor of it.

In 2006, Lee approved lifting the downtown height restrictions from 150 feet to 250 feet for a 189-unit building with ground level retail on Howard Street. The project sponsor, Ezra Mercy, gave Lee’s campaign the maximum legal donation of $500.

In fact, her campaign has received thousands of dollars in individual contributions — and according to our analysis, more than half has come from real estate developers, attorneys, and builders, including some who appear frequently before the Planning Commission, such as executives from Wilson Meany Sullivan, CB Richard Ellis, and Millennium Partners.

Lee did not return a call seeking comment.

MISLEADING THE VOTERS


The same day the spending cap was lifted, Mar alleged the local Democratic Party’s name was being improperly used by a new group calling itself the "San Francisco Democratic Club." First reported by Paul Hogarth on the online news site BeyondChron, the club is apparently composed of Democratic County Central Committee defectors who disagreed with the party’s endorsements for the Nov. 4 election.

The group’s treasurer, Mike Riordan, is also a deputy political director of PG&E’s Stop the Blank Check Committee, which is mounting the $10 million campaign against the Clean Energy Act. PG&E gave $30,000 to this new democratic club, the members of which have not been revealed.

Riordan hired DCCC member Tom Hseih’s firm to send robocalls in Cantonese to Asian voters urging support for Lee over DCCC-endorsed Mar. The endorsement script referred to the group as the "San Francisco Democratic Party Club." Mar said it was a misleading way to align this new club with the DCCC.

When asked if the club’s use of the Democratic Party name and membership to support candidates and issues that haven’t received the party’s vote was their intention, Hsieh told the Guardian, "Yeah, and you know what? That’s covered under the First Amendment."

Sup. Aaron Peskin, who chairs the DCCC and spoke on its behalf in support of Mar at two recent rallies, said, "at minimum, it’s misleading. At maximum it’s a violation of the party rules and punishable by removal." He said there was a credible argument and evidence supporting Mar’s allegation, but that it’s something the DCCC would have to deal with in its own house, likely after Nov. 4.

Yes on K is the Christian thing to do

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› news@sfbg.com

OPINION Why would a Christian minister support Proposition K, the November ballot initiative that would decriminalize prostitution in San Francisco?

There are many reasons. Prop. K would allow sex workers to organize for their rights and safety. It would enable them to report abuse in the industry without fear of prosecution. It would improve their chances of maintaining their health by lessening the stigma that prevents many from seeking the health care services they need. And it would do all this while still allowing law enforcement officials to investigate and prosecute human traffickers.

I also feel a kindred spirit with prostitutes. Like me, they are a stigmatized sexual minority in our culture. They, too, suffer due to stereotypes and prejudice because of who they are. As a lesbian, I know only too well what it is like to live in a world that is dangerous for me because of hatred and discrimination.

But there is another reason I support this measure. Prop. K has my vote because I believe that we who are created in the image of the Divine are both spiritual and sexual beings, and we need ample opportunities to nurture both parts of ourselves to be whole.

In the Bay Area we are fortunate to have access to a full range of spiritual practices and traditions. Whether we worship in a synagogue, mosque, church, temple, or at the altar of the Goddess, we have a plethora of opportunities for spiritual exploration and growth. Why shouldn’t the same range of offerings be available for the sexual aspects of our lives as well?

Human sexuality is an incredibly complex and wondrous thing. Some of us are able to find sexual satisfaction in long-term relationships. But limiting everyone to such a narrow path for sexual expression is like saying we all must be Christians to find God. Because we don’t limit our spirituality to such narrow expression (well, perhaps people like Sarah Palin do), why do we insist on forcing our sexuality into such a box?

Some of us like spanking. Some of us just want to be held. Some of us want to be told what to do. Sometimes we need sex without a long-term relationship. Many of us, because of our age, physical illness, or circumstances beyond our control, have a difficult time finding sex partners. Many find our most powerful spiritual places within ourselves through fantasies we cannot bring ourselves to share with our partners. I want to live in a world where we all have opportunities to experience those transcendent places without shame, and where the sex workers who can help us access those places may do so without fear of arrest or stigmatization.

I believe we must all work together to create a world in which no one is penalized, persecuted, or harassed for their gender presentation, sexual orientation, or sexual activity with consenting adults. Prop. K is one step closer to ensuring that the human rights of all sexual minorities are protected and promoted everywhere, which is why I will be voting yes. As far as I’m concerned, it’s just the Christian thing to do.

Rev. Lea Brown is the senior minister of the Metropolitan Community Church of San Francisco

Housing for whom?

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› news@sfbg.com

San Francisco is currently experiencing an unprecedented shortage of affordable housing, a reality that threatens to change the city’s socioeconomic character. If city officials stay the course, building mostly market rate housing, even more lower and middle-class families will be forced to move elsewhere.

Proposition B would stabilize — and probably increase — affordable housing funds by setting aside 2.5 cents out of every $100 in property taxes, or about $30 million a year, in a specific affordable housing account. Prop. B would not create any new taxes, and would allow for public participation in deciding how funds are spent. A long-term revenue source seems the only way to combat the affordable housing problem, yet Mayor Gavin Newsom has called the measure "unnecessary" and "ballot-box budgeting at its worst."

Newsom’s Oct. 15 press conference announcing that San Francisco is on pace to build a "historic number" of affordable homes by 2010 is likely an attempt to dissuade voters from voting for Prop. B. Newsom cited a dizzying array of statistics to support his claim that Prop. B is unwarranted: with 13,000 new affordable homes currently in the works, he insinuates, there is no need for such a measure.

Yet he doesn’t address the question of how the city will facilitate such an affordable housing boom without Prop. B. According to Doug Shoemaker, deputy director of the Mayor’s Office of Housing (MOH), the city spends around $220 million a year on affordable housing from multiple sources in multiple programs. He admits that this money is essentially impossible to track; which means it’s equally impossible to judge how productive the programs actually are or how much money is left.

Based on the San Francisco Planning Department’s preparation to update its Housing Element next year, as well as information provided by the MOH, Newsom’s statistics are grossly exaggerated. The discordance between Newsom’s embellished statistics and the department’s numbers illustrates that we need a more coherent solution — whether that means more funds, more organization, or both — to solve the affordable housing crisis.

In his press conference, Newsom asserted that "newly adopted and pending neighborhood plans will create over 13,000 new affordable homes." Although he failed to specify exactly when these homes would be completed, one would assume he meant by 2010, since the press conference was an update on the Home 15/5 initiative (which vows to produce approximately 15,000 new housing units between 2005-10).

According to affordable housing activist Calvin Welch, this plan is "an outrageous lie, a cynical lie, based on [Newsom’s] absolute and complete certainty that no one will understand what that means." The SF Planning Department’s Housing Need Assessment backs Welch’s sentiment: from 1999-2006, the city only produced about 800 low- and very-low affordable housing units a year. It would take more than 16 years to produce 13,000 new and affordable homes at that rate, leaving aside the question of how to pay for them.

Think it’s unfair to judge Newsom’s statements based on the past? Newsom also said in his press conference that "1,547 affordable homes have been completed since 2006." But statistics provided by the Mayor’s Office of Housing show that only 646 of these 1,547 housing units are below or at 50 percent of the area median income, or AMI. In other words, most of these units aren’t as affordable as one might think.

These dismal statistics prove that the Home 15/5 initiative so far has failed to significantly increase the city’s production of affordable housing. Since Newsom opposes Prop. B and has refused to spend affordable housing money allocated by supervisors in the past, it’s unclear how he plans to create 13,000 affordable housing units anytime soon.

Newsom also said that the Home 15/5 plan "increases the city’s production of housing affordable to low- and very-low income households to the highest levels ever, comprising 33 percent of all new homes built." This percentage is similar to the SF Planning Department’s production goals for 2007-14: the city strives to create 31,000 housing units, 39 percent affordable. Both aims fall far below the SF Housing Element’s objective, which states that 64 percent of the city’s housing units should be affordable. But they’re a start, or would be — if they actually come true.

A look at the SF Planning Department’s housing production statistics show that only 4,705 low- or very-low affordable housing units had been built as of June 2008. That’s a mere 19 percent, a far cry from Newsom’s 33 percent assertion. It wasn’t just a slow year — the number of moderate and market-priced housing built over the same period surpassed target production goals by more than 500 units. If San Francisco continues to produce at this speed, the city will not only fail to produce enough affordable housing units, but will increase the ratio of the very rich among city residents.

With help from Prop. B, the city could start working its way toward meeting the mandate of the city’s Housing Element, which states that two- thirds of city housing should be affordable. Unfortunately the Housing Element may also be under attack this November: the Planning Department is holding a public scoping meeting Nov. 6 — two days after the election — to discuss preparations for an environmental impact report.

Although 64 percent affordability may seem like a lofty goal now, a decrease in Housing Element aims and the lean budgetary years ahead could mean a continuation of policies that build mostly market-rate housing that remains unaffordable to most San Franciscans.

Chickens and the egg

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› news@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY The scene along a quiet, dead-end road in Lathrop — just 90 minutes east of San Francisco — is classically pastoral: a cloudless sky, a few small ranch houses scattered among small plots of farmland, a tractor humming in the distance.

But thanks to Olivera Egg Farm and its 700,000 chickens, country life is not all sunshine and butterflies. With a quick turn of the wind, the pleasant breeze suddenly sours to the sickening, fetid stench of ammonia from the nearby "lagoon" — a 16.5-acre cesspool of chicken manure that lies 370 feet from the nearest house.

"It takes your breath away," said Janice Magaoay, who has lived in a house neighboring the egg farm since the early 1970s. Magaoay is one of 10 residents who filed a civil lawsuit against Olivera in US District Court last week. Led by a legal team from the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the lawsuit alleges that Olivera has been emitting up to 18 times the lawful amount of toxic ammonia gas without reporting it — a violation that could cost the farm a maximum of $32,500 per day in penalties.

The lawsuit against Olivera — whose owner, Edward Olivera, did not return our calls for comment — is one of a constellation of HSUS-led claims against the egg industry that tie into California’s Proposition 2. If passed, Prop. 2 would ban the use of farm animal confinement methods that do not allow animals to stand up, lie down, turn around, and fully extend their limbs.

Facilities like Olivera, which currently keeps only one of its 12 active hen houses cage-free, would have to thin their flocks significantly, said San Joaquin County Environmental Health Department program coordinator Robert McClellon.

Swarming with seagulls and flies, Olivera’s primary manure lagoon and adjacent overflow pond has a total volume equivalent to nearly 120 Olympic-sized swimming pools, according to company records filed with local environmental regulators. Despite its close proximity to a residential street with kids, the lagoon has no solid fence around it — perhaps because the unbearable stench acts as its own repellent.

Thirty-year resident Larry Yepez, 60, a retired firefighter and plaintiff in the case against Olivera, has passed by the lagoon on his jogging route for many years.

"I used to carry a towel around my face to keep the smell out of my nostrils," Yepez told the Guardian. "There were times when there must have been massive kill-offs because there were carcasses of dead chickens everywhere. It got to a point where I said, ‘I don’t think this is very healthy,’ so I started running away from that area."

Ten-year resident and plaintiff Gloria Avila, 60, often works outside growing produce for farmers markets in San Francisco. On some days, the ammonia is so strong she can barely open her eyes and has trouble breathing.

"It’s very, very bad," she repeats, grimacing, an open palm pressed against her chest.

She is not alone; the plaintiffs allege that their numerous health conditions — upper-respiratory problems, nausea, chest pains, as well as sinus, throat, and eye irritations — could be the result of ammonia exposure.

Nearby, a box of a dark purple fruit sitting on Avila’s porch crawls with a thick blanket of flies — another major issue for Olivera’s neighbors, who say the flies bite.

"We are told that because we live in an agricultural farm community, we have to accept it," Larry Yepez said.

Some local residents feel the odor comes with the territory.

"The egg farm has been there a long time," said Jerry West, a 15-year resident. "If you move out here, you should expect it."

Olivera has contributed $12,000 to support the No on 2 campaign, Californians for Safe Food, which is primarily funded by The United Egg Producers, a trade association of 250-plus of the country’s big egg producers — Olivera among them. The campaign argues that Prop. 2 poses a threat to public health by making eggs less safe, but it declined comment on the lawsuit against Olivera.

"Prop. 2 opponents have as little concern for the neighbors whose lives they are destroying with their pollution as they do for human health and animal welfare," Yes on Prop. 2 campaign manager Jennifer Fearing responds. She describes their claims about food safety as "scare tactics" and "the height of hypocrisy."

Comments, ideas, and submissions for Green City, the Guardian’s weekly environmental column, can be sent to news@sfbg.com.

Yaelisa and Caminos Flamencos

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PREVIEW How many outside the flamenco family — a sizable one in the Bay Area — realize just how special an artist Yaelisa is? In a less ghettoized genre, this Emmy-winning and always expanding and deepening performer and choreographer would be considered a superstar. Yaelisa foregoes some of the showbiz antics of her colleagues for performances that are no less captivating and, frequently, more intelligently planned and presented. Her monthly Café Flamenco sessions — every third Sunday of the month and currently at Theater Artaud — have become a Bay Area staple.

The Yaelisa and Caminos Flamenco ensemble includes Melissa Cruz, Christina Hall, Mariana Elana, and Fanny Ara. Each of these women is a soloist in her own right. For the company’s new program, Canciones, Yaelisa and her dancers are stepping beyond their comfort level into non-flamenco music — not exactly a new idea, but one that apparently Yaelisa has wanted to explore for a long time. The impetus came from a 2006 collaboration with tap virtuoso Savion Glover that involved Brazilian funk, Miles Davis, and Dave Brubeck. Canciones — with guest dancer Timo Nuñez — includes music by Iron and Wine and the Spanish pop group Ketama and live sounds by Sonikéte, as well as more traditional compositions by Isaac Albéniz. Latin percussionist Michael Spiro and vocalists Felix de Lola and Miguel Rosendo join music director and master flamenco artist Jason McGuire.

YAELISA AND CAMINOS FLAMENCOS Sat/1, 8 p.m., and Sun/2, 7 p.m., $15–$60. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission, SF. (415) 978-ARTS, www.ybca.org>.