Volume 43 Number 07
Sometimes bands come together in the same way chords are formed: distinct sounds marry and create something bigger and brighter than themselves. I sat down at a bar with a few members of the Fresh and Onlys and left feeling like they were band wizards. Headed by Tim Cohen of the late Black Fiction, the Bay Area outfit is fleshed out by Shayde Sartain, Wymond Miles, James Kim, Grace Cooper, and Heidi Alexander. Although all have played in other groups, they made it click in the unlikely company of close friends. "When we first decided to do this, the reaction from our mutual friends was like, ‘At last!’" said guitarist Miles. It’s like when Batman and Superman and all their friends finally decided to join up and start the Justice League. Only this incredible six-piece is for real.
Perhaps that’s why the Fresh and Onlys have received such positive attention in the five short months they’ve been a formal group. "Basically it’s a recipe for instant soup," Cohen said. "You just pour the powder into the bowl and add water … We’re really comfortable making music together." As Black Fiction’s songwriter, Cohen was used to guiding his songs almost single-handedly. Now with a new ensemble of players who trust each other’s abilities, he has been able to let the tunes take their course. "It’s really freeing for me, and probably really freeing for everyone else."
The Fresh and Onlys’ live performances are completely rocking and true to their recordings, suggesting that you aren’t seeing a one-time special, but something manicured before delivery. As Miles explained, "Playing live can be strange because we are all shedding inhibitions. It’s like we’re some strange creatures behind the looking glass looking at one another and trying to figure out what the fuck this person is made of."
The damaged-pop psychedelic band proudly wears its eclectic influences a wax museum of skewed adaptations of bands from the past, with a modern coating. Think Brian Eno, Christian Death, and the Dead Boys having tea, but in a grungy, lo-fi haze. Yet there is an undercurrent in the Fresh and Onlys’ sound that doesn’t deny the sadness of life. Cohen’s lyrics complicate the otherwise sweet and dewy songs, bringing a downbeat mood to songs like "Nuclear Disaster" or "The Mind Is Happy," though Cohen claims it’s unintentional: "You can’t control what goes in your brain and what comes out of it." The overall effect is that of a group of musicians playing the role of the leader and the orchestra at the same time, building and suggesting, following and provoking each other.
Plans for an album titled The No Foot Boogie are in the works, as the Fresh and Onlys weed through the 60 songs they’ve written, and the combo plans to go light on shows until the disc is released a novel idea for a San Francisco band. Next show, prepare to boogie with both feet.
THE FRESH AND ONLYS
With Bronze, Skeletons, and Mayyors
Thurs/13, 9 p.m., call for price
398 12th St., SF
"Keepin’ it real" narrowly edges out "real talk" and "it is what it is" for the most abhorrent platitude in hip-hop, and Bay Area supergroup, the Mighty Underdogs, refuses to be constrained by it. The outfit which couples local lyrical legends Lateef the Truthspeaker (Latyrx) and Gift of Gab (Blackalicious) with producer extraordinaire Headnodic (Crown City Rockers) recently released its debut on Definitive Jux: the varied, headnod-inducing Droppin’ Science Fiction. While most supergroups fall flat because of a lack of chemistry, the two MCs’ uber-smooth, rapid-fire deliveries flow seamlessly. Their distinct styles are complemented by Headnodic’s soulful, intricate beats.
I caught up with the articulate, engaging group at their unassuming rehearsal space, nestled in a sea of factories and warehouses in East Oakland. The buoyant MCs exuded pure excitement and pride as they discussed the origins of the Underdogs.
"It was instant chemistry," remarked the laid-back, personable Gab. "We had so much fun doing it. The chemistry was just great, and the songs were just comin’ out dope. We just kinda got lost in it. Thus, the Mighty Underdogs were born."
Actually the group formed almost by mistake. Lateef was working on his upcoming solo album, Crowd Rockers, when Headnodic asked him to consider some of his beats for the project. ‘Teef got more than he bargained for, and left the producer’s North Oakland abode with about 10 beats that he had ideas for. He decided to call an old friend. "I just thought, "Lemme call Gab,’ because Gab and I had been talking about working on a project together," the benign, thoughtful lyricist explained. "I sent them [the tracks] over to Gab and, within a month, it was just on!"
From there the trio congregated in Nodic’s studio to work on the tracks that would become their first full-length. During those sessions, they created a recording that knocks all the way through while focusing on fictional storytelling, which became Gab’s favorite part of the project. "Lateef had hit me up with ‘Monster’ and ‘Ill Vacation,’" said Gab, "and they were both on some storytelling, out-there, imaginative-type stuff, and that really excited me about making the record."
While much of the disc highlights light-hearted, bouncy storytelling, it also encompasses the introspective, honest lyricism that the MCs’ fans adore. On tracks like "Folks," "Want You Back," and "So Sad," which features the incomparable Julian and Damian Marley, the ‘Dogs do what they do best: weaving true life tales of struggle and love. "While a lot of this record is fictional storytelling, the songs that aren’t are very real," Lateef said with a laugh. "We’re talking about shit that everybody does, and everybody sees." *
THE MIGHTY UNDERDOGS
With Zion I and the Cataracs
Nov. 22, 8 p.m., $20$22
Regency Center, Van Ness and Sutter, SF
REVIEW After the Company’s opening night performance on Nov. 7, 89-year-old Merce Cunningham took to the Zellerbach Hall stage in a wheelchair. With his impish smile still intact but otherwise looking frail, he spread his hands. That’s when I started to cry for the second time that week. It’s what happens when history unfolds before your eyes.
Cunningham is the single most important 20th century choreographer still alive and still working. The opening concert of his company’s two-week residence showed why: imagination, buoyancy, and impeccable craft. Nowhere was this more evident than in the breathtakingly beautiful Suite for Five (1953-58), the company’s first group piece its male roles originally realized by Cunningham himself and our own blithe spirit, Remy Charlip. As performed by Julie Cunningham, Holley Farmer, Daniel Madoff, Rashaun Mitchell, and Marcie Munnerlyn, the work was crystalline in its transparent clarity. Every unadorned gesture, every gazelle leap, and every pivoting turn filled the stage with radical purity. One can only fantasize about what the original audiences must have thought at a time when Martha Graham and Jose Limon still dominated concepts of modern dance. Only Balanchine could rival Cunningham.
In this context the other two pieces, eyeSpace (2006) and BIPED (1999), with many more resources and 40 years of dance-thinking behind them, seemed almost tame. EyeSpace was made with the iPod generation in mind. You could either bring your own, or borrow one in Zellerbach’s lobby. Mikel Rouse’s score was made of environmental sounds mostly urban but also from nature and you superimposed the sounds you could find at the moment. Cunningham’s urgent choreography had the quality of bouncing water drops on a hot griddle. A dozen performers popped off the floor, in and out of the wings, into unisons, trios, and off-kilter solos in this good if not spectacular late Cunningham.
The astounding BIPED juxtaposed the 13 company members with three "virtual" dancers, created with Shelley Eshkar and Paul Kaiser’s motion-capture technology. Projected onto a scrim of ever-changing light beams, the work suggested a voluminous universe whose spatial dimensions expanded and contracted, dwarfing or putting into relief the glorious performers. In this third viewing, BIPED still felt too long, and Gavin Bryars’ textured score didn’t help. For the metaphorically inclined, however, the piece’s pulsating sense of presence suggests nothing less than a physical universe made up of light and energy.
Merce Cunningham Dance Company Fri/14Sat/15, 8 p.m., $26$48. Zellerbach Hall, UC Berkeley, Berk. (510) 642-9988, www.calperfs.berkeley.edu
With a title as whimsical as This Is It and I Am It and You Are It and So Is That and He Is It and She Is It and It Is It and That Is That, it’s only appropriate that Marnie Stern begins her second Kill Rock Stars album with the sounds of a simple clapping game. "I am vanishing into the trees," she chants while rapping her knuckles on a hard surface. "Defenders get onto your knees. This Is It is a decidedly girly affair. Its CD-booklet artwork, illustrated by Brooklyn painter Bella Foster, depicts Stern as a hiker in the mountains, surrounded by watercolor flowers and pen-line squirrels and foxes. The lyrics seem full of self-empowerment phrases such as "you rearrange your mind" ("The Package Is Wrapped") and "so I rearrange and I don’t mind the change" ("Clone Cycle"). But the electric feminist explosion that is This Is It masks deep personal anxieties, something she describes as a "combination of zen and extreme loneliness." It’s why she lyrically reaches for zen bliss. It’s the musical equivalent of making lemonade from lemons.
"It was therapeutic," Stern says by phone from her New York City home. "That first song ["Prime"] is just about feeling alone, and battling that, and just trying to get as authentic as I possibly can. With ‘Shea Stadium,’ I had been watching some baseball movies such as The Natural. There’s a real epic feeling to those kinds of movies, and how the team overcomes. So it’s in part about that, and in part about a relationship with someone.
"It’s much more difficult to try and be positive," she continues. "At least for myself, I automatically go to the negative place because it’s much easier. But nothing good would come of it. As I progress, only really good things that happen when I embrace being positive."
Much of the laudatory press for This Is It from outlets such as Pitchforkmedia.com and The New York Times tends to ignore or criticize Stern’s violently happy lyrics in favor of her shredding. With only her second album, she has established herself as an ace guitarist. In an age where everyone’s afraid to play a monster lead solo, Stern lets it rip early and often, instead of sticking to boring rhythm guitar. On "Transformer," she taps out a volley of chords on the guitar’s neck, replicating Angus Young’s hook from AC/DC’s "Thunderstruck." For "The Crippled Jazzer," she picks out a lightning-fast and furious line.
"A lot of times people say I’m a virtuosic player, and I’m not," Stern says. When asked if she’s comfortable with mantle of indie-rock guitar hero, she exclaims, "No, of course not! No, no, and no! I’m not!" Instead, she modestly calls herself a singer-songwriter.
Stern first picked up the guitar when she was 15. "I didn’t really start playing until I was 21, 22," says the 32–year-old musician. "It was really late. I didn’t take lessons." For her second album, This Is It, Stern wrote 30 numbers before settling on 12. Her goal, she says, was to make the songs coherent, with a clearer verse-chorus structure than her earlier work. Each number is made up of several unique 15-second guitar parts: she would write those first, then write a lyric for each part. "The tendency is for it to sound fragmented, because it’s just part-part-part," she says. "The joy for me in making the song is to get those parts to interlock together."
Stern self-deprecatingly refers to herself and This Is It as a poppy, accessible incarnation of noise bands she likes, such as Arab on Radar, Sheer Accident, the Flying Luttenbachers, and "that whole family of music. To me, my stuff is really straightforward." On one level, it’s a love of classic rock that sent her from the experimental noise community into the welcoming arms of pop music critics and fans. Still, it’s not her guitar playing, but her lyrics and her conflicting emotions of karmic joy and nervy pessimism that makes her a potential sonic revolutionary.
"Before I found music I was always pretty cynical about things," Stern says. "Then, as I found my connection with playing and writing songs, I began to feel that connectedness. It made me feel hopeful … It was the only thing that really satisfied me."
With Gang Gang Dance
Fri/14, 9 p.m., $15
Bimbo’s 365 Club
1025 Columbus, SF
I don’t know about you, but I could go for a party or 200 right about now. If anyone can cram the spirit of 200 parties into one night, it’s Pablo Díaz Reixa, the playfully energetic one-man force behind El Guincho. Díaz Reixa’s music thrives on contradictions, and a core one is that his bedroom project isn’t insular. Instead it’s ready to overtake the streets with carnivalesque fervor. To paraphrase a sample that rubs up against Esquivel’s zinging piano at the beginning of "Fata Morgana," all of the joy of young people in love is conveyed in the simple melodies of Alegranza! (Young Turks/XL).
Díaz Reixa has described Alegranza!‘s congotronic chant-oholic delirium as an update of space-age exotica a restless journey that never stops at one spot on the globe. For some, such terms might set off cultural-exploitation alarms, particularly at a time when Anglo indie rock is rife with mannered, stiffly incorporated Afrobeat routines. But Díaz Reixa’s interplay of influences has an autobiographical basis. Though he was based in the Barcelona barrio Gracia when he began recording as El Guincho, he grew up in the Canary Islands, where his grandmother, a music teacher, schooled him in music. His reverence for her is similar to the admiration that minimal-techno trailblazer Ricardo Villalobos has for his distant Chilean relation, the folksinger Violeta Parra. Partly inspired by an old Catalonian folk song by Los Gofiones, El Guincho’s party is radical rather than apolitical: before adopting the El Guincho moniker, Díaz Reixa wrote a Catalan Socialist Party anthem. Alegranza! takes its title from an uninhabited land mass at the northeast tip of the Canary Islands whose name also connotes joy in Spanish. But one could just as surely locate Díaz Reixa’s sound in the air, flying like a rare bird an eight-eyed parrot, perhaps around the eight miles of ocean that separate the islands from Africa. As Jace Clayton points out in a recent Fader profile, the El Guincho persona allows its creator to tap into both the soulful and impish aspects of the term duende. He’s the manic musical corollary of the somnambulant Spanish filmmaker Albert Serra, whose movies such as this year’s Canary Islands-set Christ tale Birdsong reenvision the traditional conquistador as a (to borrow wordplay from Michael Arcega) conquistadork. He’s serious enough to not take himself too seriously: an admirer of Henri Michaux’s and Guillaume Apollinaire’s writing, he knows that only the committed will tap into the undercurrents of frustration and morbidity within his basket of cheers.
"Palmitos Park," the rollicking track that kicks off Alegranza!, was inspired by seeing a crocodile trapped in miserable conditions at a zoo. But the tension between freedom and entrapment in El Guincho’s music is sublingual. Many of his songs shift from gleeful excess into exhaustion and then miraculously back into excitement again. This dynamic seems present in Díaz Reixa’s overall approach to music (in 2007, he recorded an album’s or CD-R’s worth of songs, titled Folías, during one high night) and to life (he had to cancel El Guincho’s first US tour due to fatigue). It’s apt that his favorite record shop is a place in Gran Canaria called Moebius, because his music is a hallucinatory Möbius strip. Mandy Parnell’s Young Turks/XL remastering of the original Discoteca Océano release of Alegranza! effectively accentuates this quality.
Now that this country is officially an Obamanation, El Guincho is ready to lead us in rambunctious chants over melding, melting 5/4 benga rhythms. Díaz Reixa’s demeanor in concert has been likened to Animal from the Muppets, but the beloved block of wood that he uses to generate organic snare sounds and electronic beats has a connection to his musical beginnings as a percussionist in a classical orchestra. El Guincho’s pet sounds are as inspiredly fantasmic as 1996-era Cornelius, and a hyper answer to the Portuguese idyll of Panda Bear’s Person Pitch (Paw Tracks, 2007). They’re as creative as the Present meaning the band of that name that just released the superb World I See (Loaf). They’re the sound of victorious Spain today what Rafael Nadal would listen to if he had any taste in music. (Díaz Reixa is a tennis maniac.) Díaz Reixa touts current Barcelona bands like Thelemáticos and Extraperia as often as older influences like Souley Katna because his love of music is unquestionable. It’s delirious. It’s higher than high. It’s right on time. *
With Tussle, Disco Shawn, and Oro11
Nov. 21, 9 p.m., $13$15
628 Divisadero, SF
REVIEW If you’re one of the 200,000 San Franciscans who voted for Barack Obama, maybe you’re staring at that map of red and blue states wondering, "How could 56 million people vote for John McCain? Why is there still this incredible swath of crimson belting our country?"
Similar questions have been burning in the minds of liberals since the 2000 election. In 2005, San Francisco resident Rose Aguilar turned them into a quest: "One night, after spending several hours online, sending articles to friends who were probably sick of me barraging them with e-mails and practically falling over political books and magazines I had yet to open, I realized it was time to leave my comfort zone. I needed to turn off my computer and get out into the streets to find out why people vote the way they do and find out if we’re as divided as we’re led to believe."
Red Highways: A Liberal’s Journey into the Heartland (PoliPoint Press, 221 pages, $15.95) is the result of Aguilar’s six-month road trip through reliably red states to ask people why they identify with one party over another, or vote for certain candidates, or don’t vote at all.
Aguilar, the host of Your Call, a public interest radio show on KALW, kept her mic keyed up and conducted hundreds of interviews as she and her boyfriend, Ryan, traveled by van through Texas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Montana. Some of these talks are with the hotel employees and restaurant owners one might typically encounter on a cross-country road trip. But Aguilar and her partner also venture to places they wouldn’t normally go places that are mainstays in the lives of many Americans. Malls and churches provide the setting for much of the narrative, but the duo also attend their first gun show, chill out at a water park, and take in a bull-riding event. Nearly every experience is charged with politics even at Oklahoma’s Bullnanza, Aguilar discovers riders who are heavily sponsored by the US Army.
Aguilar’s easy prose style, no doubt fine-tuned by her daily radio conversations, makes this part-travelogue, part-political inquiry a quick read, with a fine balance of visual observation, first-person anecdote (she outlines the challenges of roadside dining when you’re a vegan), and political fine-tuning. Aguilar discovers that most people like to talk about politics, but feel they shouldn’t. In Kerrville, Texas, she meets two closet Democrats, one who is a registered Republican because there are never any Democrats on the local ballot.
The phenomenon of closeted politics recurs as Aguilar travels deep into red state territory. She also criticizes the media for failing to adequately portray America’s nuances. "We breathe the same air, we live under the same political system, we’ve probably seen the same television and news shows, and most of us grew up going to public schools," she writes. "Yet because we might vote differently once every four years, we find ourselves stereotyped in the national media and separated by red and blue borders."
While exposing the impact of political peer pressure, Aguilar also encounters jarring social inconsistencies billboard advertisements for strip clubs compete with signs for mega-churches throughout Dallas. With an awareness of such juxtapositions, she seeks a deeper truth in her talks with gay conservative environmentalists in Montana, Republican funders of local Planned Parenthood chapters, and a pro-war Texas vegan. Their tales make her book an important piece of evidence on America’s political complexity. Red Highways uncovers a country full of fierce individuals prone to herd mentality.
Aguilar finds islands of unquestionable compassion. Speaking with churchgoer Bob Bartlett after a service at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian church in Austin, she asks him: ‘I noticed that this is a progressive church. What does that mean exactly?‘
‘It means we’re open to everybody’s thoughts and we’re open to everyone, no matter what your nationality is or what your religion is or what your sex is. We like all of it.’
"CNN or MSNBC should send a reporter here to challenge stereotypes by doing a segment about religious Republicans who attend progressive churches in conservative-leaning states. This one wasn’t hard to find. There must be others," she concludes.
In a Sept. 29, New Yorker article revisiting Lionel Trilling’s The Liberal Imagination, a collection of essays written more than 50 years ago, Louis Menand wrote, "A key perception in The Liberal Imagination is that most human beings are not ideologues. Intellectual coherence is not a notable feature of their politics. People’s political opinions may be rigid; they are not necessarily rigorous. They tend to float up out of some mixture of sentiment, custom, moral aspiration, and aesthetic pleasingness."
Menand goes on to point out that such assumptions need critical attention. Perhaps now, as the country decompresses from two years of campaigning that resulted in the election of the first black president to lead this diverse, complex, and deeply wounded populace, as people who voted Republican are already speaking about their pride in this historic moment, and as political commentators are already talking about the "purpleness" of the country and blurring of hard lines between states and political stances, writers and reporters like Aguilar will start to look more closely at who we really are. Red Highways deserves a place in the library of modern political Americana.
The title Slumdog Millionaire may sound strange, but it speaks to the style and tone of Danny Boyle’s latest production. The film gracefully slides between fairy tale romance and gritty drama, portraying a dichotomy that Boyle (1996’s Trainspotting and 2002’s 28 Days Later) considers essential to a representation of India, where the movie is set.
"It’s just India," he explained on a recent visit to San Francisco. "Their movies are fantastical, kind of like ridiculous things, and the life on the street is brutal in one sense, and yet the two sit together."
"Fantastical" and "brutal" characterize the plot of Slumdog Millionaire, which follows former Mumbai street kid Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) as he struggles to beat the odds and win it all on the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Also at stake: the beautiful Latika (Freida Pinto), love of Jamal’s life. It sounds far-fetched and indeed it is but the story’s universal appeal keeps it grounded.
"It’s a classic international story," Boyle said. "It’s an underdog who has a dream, and he’ll get to that dream. And it’s fortunately got this device, the Millionaire device, the show device, which is universal now."
By featuring the game show so prominently, Slumdog Millionaire runs the risk of feeling gimmicky. To its credit, the central device remains just that an outlet for Jamal to revisit his past rather than a flashy distraction. As Boyle put it, "It’s just a tool to help you get to the people, and that’s all."
At the same time, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? works on a symbolic level. According to Boyle, the show stands for a certain ideal. As Jamal’s winnings expand, India itself develops as seen by new high-rise buildings that spring up in Mumbai over the course of the film.
"[Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? has] an idea in it about the way the West is exported that now India is chasing," Boyle said. "That show is an expansive show you make more and more money, and it grows and grows and grows."
Yet nothing about Slumdog Millionaire is heavy-handed or out of place. It’s a credit to the filmmakers that every moment, from the harsh street scenes to a Bollywood-style song-and-dance number, is integral to the story. In the end, that juxtaposition is what helps the film capture a sense of the "real" India, however tenuous the concept.
"You either stand back and look at it sort pictorially, [or you] dive right in there," Boyle noted. "You get a bit of the flavor of what Mumbai is like as this electric city. So that was the idea, that was the approach."
SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE opens Wed/12 in Bay Area theaters.
CHEAP EATS My friend Hoohoohaha has a son, a daughter, an ex, a small dog, and a hippie. She also has a wood pile, and has recently developed an allergy to fireplaces, poor girl, so I picked up a pizza after work and went over to console, catch up, and steal her wood pile.
So you know, in my first week of owning my first-ever brand new car pickup truck, the subcompact Honda Fit, I hauled: a wood pile, a Dumpster full of kindling, a new bed, a beautiful table and two chairs, a goth sympathizer, and a dump run’s worth of garbage.
Hoohoohaha’s son makes magazines out of magazines, and they are roughly the size of a postage stamp and entirely devoted to the topic of butter. At this rate of brilliance, I project, he will win a Pulitzer before he goes to high school.
The daughter scares me. She’s three.
The dog, a yapper, doesn’t scare me one bit, but wouldn’t leave me alone, either.
"It’s just plain pizza, pup," I tried to explain. "There isn’t even any meat on it. Now get outta here." I’m not a dog person, but I recognize that people like them every bit as much, if not more, than I like my cat. So I resisted the temptation to kick or even tease Hoohoohaha’s stupid new one.
Her hippie pretty much stays in the garage. She’d been talking about him for months and months. At first I suggested that she set traps, but it soon became apparent that Hoohoo actually wanted him there. In fact, she mentioned over pizza that he was moving on, or out, or re-garaging, or whatever it is that hippies do. The implication was that she would be looking for a new one, and the significant look, I gather, was because I live in hippieland and might know somebody. But I didn’t.
I have cats and rats and chickens and bugs. The hippies leave me alone. Except on Fridays, when I go to my tiny town’s tiny little farmers market, and then they try and sell me cucumbers. Maybe it’s the way I dress, or smell … something makes me exude meat-eaterliness. I was checking out these heirloom tomatoes at one booth and the woman hippieing it said, and I quote: "They taste like bacon."
I looked at her. I was holding a tomato and, still looking at her, I brought it slowly to my nose. It smelled like a tomato. "They taste like bacon?" I said.
"Bacon," she said. She was beautiful. "Yep."
"You realize you’re talking to a serious bacon eater," I said. "This is no small claim." I was thinking, I’m going to have to rethink my unreasonable prejudice against hippies. Just because I kind of am one, that’s no reason to hate a whole class of people. Maybe some hippies appreciate life’s more sacred institutions, such as bacon, every bit as much as the rest of us do. Maybe they not only love bacon, but they know how to grow tomatoes to taste like bacon. If so, I want a hippie in my garage too!
"Do you eat bacon?" I said. I don’t have a garage, but I was thinking maybe she could move into my storage shed, or chicken coop.
She said she didn’t, but used to, and now, with her amazing new bacony tomato variety, she could still enjoy a BLT with only the L and the T on it.
This is going to get my head blown off some day in an old Clint Eastwood movie, I know, but I can’t help it. I am one of those people who just has to know. So I bought a lot of tomatoes from this beautiful vegetarian hippie chick, and I left them on my counter for a couple days, like she said, and then ate them and they didn’t taste anything at all like bacon.
Fucking hippies. I’m setting traps in my chicken coop and storage shed, and it’s obtuse, so I’ll tell you: the moral of this seemingly silly story is that if you voted Yes on Proposition 8 here in California, you are, whether you know it yet or not, a homo.
My new favorite restaurant is Gioia Pizzeria for giving me an alternative to what I usually tell transplanted New Yorkers who ask my advice. Now I can choose between "give up" and "Gioia." Super thin, super saucy, and very very similar to actual New York style pizza. Check it out.
1586 Hopkins, Berk.
Mon.Sat., 11 a.m.8 p.m.
Few passions are more reckless than those of the ’60s garage-rock completist, so that just about any band that had one good song on a Nuggets compilation automatically becomes somebody’s idea of way better than those boring, overrated Beatles. Still, the era did have its tragically overlooked acts, few more so than the so-called "anti-Beatles" whose brief career is chronicled in Dietmar Post and Lucia Palacios’ documentary Monks: The Transatlantic Feedback.
The group originally came together as five US Army enlistees posted to Germany at the height of the Cold War. After their service stints ended, they decided to stick around as yet another "beat music" group covering Top 40 hits at clubs at which point they were approached by Karl-H. Remy and Walther Nieman, two locals steeped in advertising design and conceptual art. They were looking to basically cast a band in a project whose packaging from sound to attire was already worked out.
Thus just when the world was starting to grow out its hair, string love beads, and sing folk harmonies about loving your fellow humans, the Monks were something else entirely: five guys clad in stark black suits with noose-like bolos, making nervous minimalist music that was "too little too fast" for comfort (though still danceable). Lead vocals caterwauled, backing ones were in unison. Percussion (played "with a certain amount of military discipline," the Fleshtones’ Peter Zaremba observes) consisted of pounded tom-toms plus harshly strummed banjo and Farfisa organ bleats; bass was cranked, guitar distorted. Staccato, nonsensical lyrics like "Hey I hate you with a passion /But call me!" trashed any pretense of romanticism.
These hard little pellets of avant-pop would be later considered by some "an early form of heavy metal," though Monks more closely anticipated the likes of the Contortions and Devo. Incredibly, they were doing this stuff in 1965.
Needless to say, popular acclaim did not ensue. Forty years later, reuniting for their first US gigs, the erstwhile Monks recall being actively "hated" by most audiences whenever they left their Hamburg home base. "Monk music" and its visual presentation was alienating even to the musicians themselves. They quit in 1967, returning to a United States drastically changed from the one they’d left six years before. All were amazed when the band’s tiny recorded output started accruing cult adulation in the post-punk era.
The Transatlantic Feedback is a great ’60s flashback, as well as a comeback saga of sorts. Original Monk bassist Eddie Shaw will be in attendance at the Red Vic’s opening night shows.
MONKS: THE TRANSATLANTIC FEEDBACK
Fri/14-Mon/17, 7:15, 9:25 (also Sat/15-Sun/16, 2, 4:15), $6$9
Red Vic, 1727 Haight, SF
SUPER EGO Phew! I just adore being a second-class citizen again, now that Proposition 8 has passed. It makes me feel so edgy, so alt, so very underground. Thank you, Pope Pius the 5000th and the Angel Macaroni! I finally get to break back out my favorite little victim pumps you know, the star-spangled ones with exquisite ruby handcuff heels and shove my overwhelming gayness down those tender asshole bigot throats once again. Confrontational! It seems the 1990s really are back at last, and I’m ready for some massive kiss-in action, minus the scuffed oxblood Docs and sleeveless Mervyn’s flannels this time, please.
11/4: never FGGT.
At least I still have the love of my dance floor brothers, sisters, and others gay or straight to help me keep my head up under the tacky 99-cent-store weave of despair. If they love me so much, why don’t they marry me? Oh, right. So here, in honor of losing my civil rights at the precise moment of gaining a black president, is a thuper-gay Thuper Ego thpectacular for you.
HONEY SUNDAYS Those sticky-sweet DJ darlings of the altQ scene’s squirmy underside Pee Play, Ken Vulsion, Kendig, Robot Hustle, and Josh Cheon, otherwise known as Honey Soundsystem have launched a weekly for party peeps into killer tracks that raise the tired genre house roof into a glistening rainbow of wondrous WTF. Lemme tell ya, it’s been a long time coming. Expect everything from Kendig’s trademark minimal techno and classic house glides to Hustle’s rarest disco, Vulsion’s echoey rave-ups to Cheon’s proto-new wave hoof-twisters, topped off by Pee Play’s bottomless crate-digging mindfucks. All with an ahistorical, four-on-the-floor hard homo energy and some ostentatious faggotty flair, and all going down every Sunday at the gorgeously remodeled Paradise Lounge in SOMA. Sundays, 8 p.m.2 a.m., free. Paradise Lounge, 1501 Folsom, SF. (415) 621-1911, www.honeysoundsystem.com
TIARA SENSATION There’s good drag, there’s bad drag, and then there’s drag so surreal it bends the arc of history into "holy shit!" The latter is surely the agenda at this paste-gem prom every Monday at the Stud, hosted by my all-time favorite gender clown DJ Down-E and House of Horseface’s Mica. Part DIY craft fair, part "oh no, she din’t" dance party, it’s all odd in a lovely way. With frequent appearances by the inimitable Glamamore, hands down the most creative queen in the city, and tunes from somewhere left of Pluto still a planet in my heart it’s a crackin’ good post-weekend jolt of incredulity. Too bad I missed the Obama, the Musical performance. Mondays, 10 p.m., free. The Stud, 399 Ninth St., SF. (415) 863-6623, www.myspace.com/tiarasensation
MARICON This one’s not for a leetle while yet, but it’s hot enough to stuff in your pink Blackberry before the deluge of other Thanksgiving Eve throwdowns hits. If you miss DJ Bus Station John’s sadly departed Double Dutch Disco monthly or, for those with any semblance of long-term memory left, DJ Derek B. and Lady Bass’s early-aughts Off the Hook bashes, get ready to relive the freakin’ freestyle and electric boogaloo days you never really lived through to begin with, maybe. Derek B. my long-lost sister and the usually punk rock Trans Am crew are bangin’ the boombox with this one-off, fronting effervescent electro tunes and lavender-bandannaed performances by drag cholitas Kiddie, Glamamore, Hoku Mama, and Holly Peno, plus free churros. Get your womp on and Robocop. Nov. 26, 10 p.m., $5. The Gangway, 849 Larkin, SF. (415) 776-6828, www.myspace.com/transamtheclub
REVIEW Even if the rest of the "change" he’s been promising remains elusive, Barack Obama’s resounding electoral win is already change and of a profound kind given its undeniable impact on racial consciousness among African Americans, Americans at large, and no doubt people around the globe. Of course, nobody thinks racism disappeared overnight Nov. 4. If anything, the day marks an opportunity for a reinvigorated dialogue on the complexities of race and racism in the 21st-century United States. Dan Wolf’s vigorous and inviting stage adaptation of Bay Area author Adam Mansbach’s 2005 novel, Angry Black White Boy, might seem like an ideal instance, but in fact, although very entertaining, it rehearses a fairly familiar angle without moving much beyond it.
Mansbach’s satirical but searching story concerns a white Jewish suburban hip-hop enthusiast, Macon Detornay (played appealingly by Wolf), whose guilt-tinged identification with African American culture and corresponding aversion to the white mainstream has him uneasily straddling two worlds, eventually bringing them into comically dramatic collision. Macon’s guilt stems partly from a great-grandfather who, as a professional baseball coach, tormented the only black athlete who dared to hold his own on an all-white team.
Macon’s familial history is also, along with hip-hop, his bridge to dorm-mate and fellow Columbia University freshman Andre (played with laidback poise by Myers Clark), whom Macon arranges to live with after learning that Andre is the great-grandson of the same ballplayer his own ancestor victimized. Andre is bemused but generous in the face of Macon’s attempt to make amends. More skeptical is Andre’s friend Nique (a potent Tommy Shepherd, also supplying the fine original music and soundscape). But Macon, a part-time cab driver, earns street cred when he begins robbing his fares (white dudes played by fourth ensemble member Keith Pinto) at the first sign of idle middle-class racism, becoming a notorious outlaw his victims improbably recall as black. The three new friends form the Race Traitor Project to capitalize on Macon’s ironic celebrity, organizing a "day of apology" wherein white America confronts its racist demons. Naturally, things don’t go as planned, and the pressure brings latent tensions surrounding Macon’s fraught identity to a boil.
While wisely concentrating on the ample humor in a story that’s a bit contrived even for satire, director Sean San Jose and cast (all but Clark are members of hip-hop group Felonious) propel the action through a fluid, combustible mixture of music and movement, with sharp choreography from Pinto. But as staged, the themes are less than provocative, in part because the other characters remain subordinated to Macon’s limited perspective, itself almost too "black and white." Nevertheless, the cohesive, versatile ensemble and Wolf’s sympathetic approach translates, under San Jose’s attentive direction, into an engaging theatrical hybrid, whose punctuations and rhythms carry their own share of emotional content and cultural meaning.
ANGRY BLACK WHITE BOY
Through Nov. 23
Thurs.-Sun., 8 p.m., $15$25
Intersection for the Arts
446 Valencia, SF
I recently discovered that my husband of 15 years has secretly been participating in S-M activities. He has paid for the services of a dominatrix and has been meeting some dominant females on the Internet for whipping sessions. I am coping with the feelings of betrayal and have been getting counseling. I also have been reading up on the subject. The author Gloria Brame, who is into BDSM herself, gives insight into the varied range of S-M activities. I have been open to being a Mistress to my husband. Do you think there is hope for the relationship if one party is not really into it? I realize this BDSM stuff develops in the psyche early in life.
Oh, it can be acquired. The real question here is, can it be faked?
On the face of it, the answer is a resounding yes, since although "real lifestyle" dominants boast their credentials and certainly garner a lot more respect within the community, any kitten with a whip can hang out a shingle and get customers. Not all customers care what their service provider is really feeling or what she does on her night off, as long as the job gets done. Of course, you are not a gun for hire, you are the wife. I’m going to guess that will feel a little different to him. Nobody wants a pity fuck (OK, that’s not true, but in general nobody over about age 18 wants a pity fuck), and I’d imagine a pity caning is, if anything, worse. Topping is a lot of work! There’s the research, the attitude, the physical exertion, the coming up with good routines, the skills-building, the outfits? Have you talked to him about all this? Is it even what he wants? If so, is it even what you want?
Wanting to save your marriage is admirable, but I’d be careful about going to heroic measures without first determining that it can be saved and that enthusiastic applications of corporal punishment are likely to work. You need to determine if you can forgive him, whether he wants to be forgiven, and whether or not he even responds to you in the dominant role (often it’s easier to grovel at the feet of a stranger than at those of the person with whom one shares a bathroom, a dentist, and a checking account). More important to me than whether he thinks you’re hot with a flogger in hand, though, is whether you even want to do this. Yes, a taste for S-M can be acquired, and failing that, can be faked. But I’m just not sure the latter is going to be good for either of you in the long run.
You are being an excellent sport about this, and I’m glad you’re getting counseling. I’m a little concerned, though. We must not gloss over the fact that he not only suddenly (to you) unveiled a whole huge new and likely dismaying (at first) side to his character, about which you had no inkling, but he has also cheated on you. I am capable of compartmentalizing visits to a pro, but "some dominant females on the Internet"? Has he owned up to the cheating and apologized? Have you forgiven him? Will he be doing it again? These seem rather more important questions, or at least questions that must be asked and answered before you consider moving on to whether you will be his Mistress, his Domme, or his Goddess, and whether you will do pain, humiliation, sensory play, or domination. I ask again, do you even want to do this? And since you’re being so game and open-minded about all of it, have you considered off-shoreing the tedious parts at all? Yours would not be the first marriage that made space for the husband (so very rarely the wife!) consulting with a specialist within certain pre-set parameters. It’s an idea, that’s all I’m saying. If you think it’s a really horrible idea, that’s OK with me too.
If you really want to do it yourself, and he really wants you to, and you are able to find some enjoyment in it for yourself, and he makes and keeps agreements about any extramural activities you can live with and agree to, then I think yeah, there’s a chance here. That’s a lot of ifs, though, and I am uncomfortable with the idea of his being paid back for betraying you with your going way way way out of your way to make sure his every urge is gratified. You’re the top now do you feel like gratifying him? It would be nice if you could make physically punishing him feel like payback to you but I’m afraid that is the stuff of S-M fantasy. In real life, the worst case scenario might go more like: you punish him, he likes it, and you’re stuck serving him by beating him. People talk a lot about topping from the bottom; don’t get stuck bottoming from the top.
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.
On the day after the election, retired judge Quentin Kopp was finally able to exhale and enjoy his martini, even though there’s still much work to be done in the coming years creating a high-speed rail system for California.
"I feel relaxed for the first time since June," Kopp, the proud father of high-speed rail in the state, told the Guardian at the Thirsty Bear brewpub in San Francisco shortly after arriving to an enthusiastic ovation from the large crowd of project engineers and contractors who had gathered to celebrate on the night after the election.
Proposition 1A the $10 billion bond measure that finally launches high-speed rail in California, the most expensive and ambitious public works project in state history got the nod from about 5.4 million voters, or a too-close-for-comfort 52.3 percent of the total. Combined with federal, state, local, and private funding, the measure will finance the San Francisco-to-Anaheim segment of a system that is eventually planned to stretch from Sacramento to San Diego.
The previous few months had been an emotional roller coaster for Kopp and other high-speed rail supporters. "It was like The Perils of Pauline," said Kopp, who sponsored the project as a state legislator representing San Francisco in the mid-90s and now chairs the California High-Speed Rail Authority, the agency charged with building the project.
Last year, Kopp had to overcome the resistance from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who sought to delay the bond measure for a third straight year (see "The silver bullet train," 4/17/07). This year, Kopp had to fight through many setbacks, starting with Schwarzenegger-allied CHSRA board member David Crane’s insistence on the creation of a detailed business plan before the project could go before voters.
To incorporate that plan into the bond measure required new legislation, Assembly Bill 3034, which replaced the former Prop. 1 with the new Prop. 1A and included new fiscal standards. Meanwhile, the CHSRA in July voted to choose Pacheco Pass over Altamont Pass as the preferred Bay Area alignment, triggering controversy and a lawsuit (see "High-speed rail on track," 7/16/08).
Although high-speed rail still appeared to enjoy strong support in the California Legislature, AB 3034 was stalled by partisan bickering and appeared doomed to miss a key legislative deadline. Kopp and supportive legislators, mostly notably Assembly member Fiona Ma, managed to get the legislation through, only to again be stymied when Schwarzenegger announced he would sign no legislation until a budget was approved.
Kopp persuaded the governor to make an exception for AB 3034 and things started to look good, with the measure ready for voters and polling data showing a healthy margin of support. "Then the financial markets collapsed and we lost 10 points," Kopp recalled. That apparent voter anxiety over big-ticket expenditures was compounded by campaign fundraising drying up and newspapers in regions outside the initial project area urging readers to vote against the measure.
"From there, it was tight all the way," said Kopp, noting that by election night, "I didn’t think it would pass."
But on the positive side, the campaign against the measure was weak, particularly after the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association blew its wad in June on an ill-fated ballot measure which attacked eminent domain laws and rent control. The closeness of the poll numbers caused the thousands of contract employees who will work on the high-speed rail project to take active roles campaigning for Prop. 1A.
Peter Gertler, national transit director for HNTB Corp., the engineering firm working on the peninsula section of the project, helped organize his colleagues to hit the streets and phones. "We were very nervous. I didn’t go to bed until 4 a.m.," he told the Guardian. After doing street-level campaigning, Gertler said he learned, "Overwhelmingly, everyone thinks this is a good idea."
Gertler said voters in California approved almost all the public transit measures on the ballot, signaling a new recognition of its importance: "Something fundamentally has changed."
He said the combination of high land values and the narrow corridor on the peninsula will present challenges in getting the section up and running challenges that abound through the project area but they’re confident in the project’s ultimate success.
"There are always going to be problems. This is the largest project in the history of the state," Kopp said. "The hard work is just beginning. But this was a foundational step."
The bond sales will likely be delayed by the current turmoil in the financial markets, but Kopp expects to get $50 million in the next state budget to complete the engineering work on the project. Construction could begin as soon as late 2010 and be completed in 2018, with some segments ready even earlier. The segment between San Francisco and San Jose could be operational by 2015, allowing trains to travel at speeds of up to 150 mph and complete the trip in just 30 minutes.
"It’ll come in pieces, but at some point it’ll really come together," said Brent Ogden, vice president of AECOM Transportation, one of the project’s contractors, who is working on the regional rail connection over Altamont Pass. While not part of the main project, for which Prop. 1A set aside $9 billion, the Altamont connection is eligible for part of the $1 billion in the measure earmarked for regional connections.
"The first job for the Altamont is figuring out what it’s going to be," Ogden said, adding that it could upgrade existing Altamont Commuter Express Rail lines and come on line even before the larger project.
Even if California and the rest of the country are in for a prolonged economic recession or even a depression, Kopp said the project would still likely move forward, noting that all the great public works projects from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Hoover Dam were built during the Great Depression and helped to revive the economy by creating jobs and stimuutf8g economic activity.
"We need projects," Kopp said. "We need to rebuild and expand the infrastructure of America."
HIGH-SPEED RAIL FACTS AND FIGURES
•<\!s>About 230 trains per week will travel between Transbay Terminal in San Francisco (where there will be about 9 million annual boardings) and Los Angeles’ Union Station (about 10.8 million boardings). Trains will reach 220 mph and the trip will take two hours and 38 minutes.
•<\!s>Fares will be about half that of air travel and generate about $2.4 billion in revenue to cover $1.3 billion in costs by 2030, thus generating about $1.1 billion in annual profits for the state once the project is paid for.
•<\!s>The project will generate about 160,000 construction jobs and is projected to create 450,000 permanent jobs by 2035, including those indirectly created by the project.
•<\!s>Even if there are unforeseen problems obtaining the full $33 billion in funding for the project, Prop. 1A could be a major boon for the Bay Area, funding improvements in Caltrain’s peninsula corridor and possibly a new rail line over the Altamont Pass.
•<\!s>"The high-speed train system will reduce California’s dependence on fossil fuels and foreign oil a reduction of 12 billion pounds of CO2 and 12.7 million barrels of oil per year by 2030."
•<\!s>"High-speed trains will alleviate the need to build at a cost of nearly $100 billion about 3,000 miles of new freeway plus five airport runways and 90 departure gates over the next two decades."
Source: California High-Speed Train Business Plan
OPINION The California Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in May finally allowed same-sex couples their constitutional rights to marry. This was justice for the 4,000 same-sex couples issued marriage licenses in San Francisco from Feb. 12 to March 11, 2004. We were lucky to be one of those couples but within five months the courts had voided all 4,000 licenses. I marched with hundreds to City Hall that day and angrily waved my nullified marriage license in the air. Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon provided a balm, saying with a laugh, "Oh well, guess we have to go back to living in sin."
Over the past four years, we’ve continued to wear our rings and celebrate our wedding anniversary. When the County Clerk’s office offered us a refund for our marriage license, we requested the refund go toward the city’s legal battle over same-sex marriage. It appeared that San Francisco had won that battle on May 20, 2008.
But we decided not to remarry until after the November election, when we would know if California agreed with the state Supreme Court. Attorney General Jerry Brown assured us that these wedding licenses could not be voided, but the memory of seeing couples in tears on March 12, 2004, when we had just been married the day before, was reason enough to wait.
In our hearts, we knew that Proposition 8 was likely to pass; since 1980 we have witnessed California consistently shoot itself in the foot by voting for petition-driven propositions.
In the past three months, one of us has devoted nearly 60 hours in an effort to defeat Prop. 8. The irony is that back in January, Troy was precinct captain for Obama in the California primary. He most likely talked to a good portion of voters out in the Sunset District who voted in favor of Prop. 8. And while the Mormon Church funded most of the Yes on 8 campaign, it is now clear that their message got through to many of California’s minorities, who turned out in record numbers to vote for Barack Obama. The No on 8 campaign should have targeted those communities; instead it only showed white people in its television ads. Now we are the ones with a dream deferred.
Marriage was not something we always believed in. When you’re used to outsider status, sometimes you learn to roll with the injustices perpetrated upon you. When Mayor Gavin Newsom and the city offered us a taste of it back in 2004, it didn’t take much to realize how much we were missing. The marriage itself was one of the best days of our lives, and having it voided was a very, very bitter feeling I won’t soon forget.
To those of you so motivated to vote for Prop. 8, we can simply tell you this: in a world of massive problems, of great economic and environmental woes we are only now beginning to feel acutely, can we bring it upon ourselves to actually join together with all of our brothers and sisters and confront all hatred with an idea of a greater social good? Can we imagine a world where our children aren’t judged by the gender of the ones they love, but by the content of their character?
Yes we can.
Victor Krummenacher is a musician and contributing designer for Wired magazine. Troy Gaspard is a surly activist and frugal trader.
GREEN CITY While the latest public power proposal was soundly defeated at the polls, the apparent failure of a pair of electricity generation initiatives backed by Mayor Gavin Newsom and Pacific Gas & Electric Co. is fueling an existing plan to create more city-owned energy projects.
Proposition H, which would have moved the city toward 100 percent renewable energy by 2040 and allowed public power to help meet that goal, lost Nov. 4 by more than 20 percentage points. PG&E spent a record-breaking $10.3 million against the measure, or more than $53 per vote as of the Nov. 10 tally.
For that kind of money, said campaign finance expert Bob Stern of the Center for Government Studies, "they could have taken every voter out and bought them an expensive meal." But, he said, that’s a pittance for a company like PG&E. "They knew spending $10 million was going to save them a bunch of money."
Two days after the election, PG&E announced a 9 percent increase in year-to-date profits over last year, boosted partly by a 6 percent rate increase PG&E implemented Oct. 1, which it argued was needed to cover the increased cost of natural gas.
Prop. H would have moved San Francisco away from volatile fossil fuel prices, although the city is still hoping to procure 51 percent of its energy needs from renewables by 2017 through the community choice aggregation (CCA) program.
Meanwhile a plan to retrofit the Mirant Potrero Power Plant is looking shakier since Nov. 4, when the Board of Supervisors tabled legislation that would have authorized the Mayor’s Office and San Francisco Public Utilities Commission to negotiate the deal.
Prior Land Use and Economic Development committee hearings showed that retrofitting the plant to run on natural gas instead of diesel may not be as technologically or economically feasible as suggested in a report commissioned by Mirant (see "Power possibilities," Nov. 5).
But a recent report on CCA outlines ways the city may be able to procure the baseload energy demand required by the California Independent System Operator (Cal-ISO) without retrofitting Mirant or building new peak-demand fossil fuel plants (known as "peakers"), as city officials originally proposed.
The report by Local Power, the lead CCA consultant hired by the city, suggests that the SFPUC’s current plan to upgrade natural gas steam boilers in large downtown buildings can be modified to capture waste heat and turn it into energy, a process known as cogeneration.
The city Department of the Environment has already identified 106 MW of potential energy about the same amount Cal-ISO is requiring the city to have on hand for energy reliability. Although this isn’t renewable energy because it’s capturing wasted gas heat, "it’s really clean, good quality brown power," said Paul Fenn of Local Power, noting that it makes use of something that is currently being wasted.
Local Power’s draft report, which lays the groundwork for what the city needs to do before 2010 to make CCA work, also disputes the conclusions of a tidal power feasibility study conducted for the SFPUC. In July, URS Corp. reported that tidal power in the Golden Gate would cost between 80 cents and $1.40 per kW-hour and only generate a little over 1 MW of power. "We do not consider a tidal power project located in the vicinity of the Golden Gate to be commercially feasible at this time," the report states.
Local Power contends that URS undervalued the potential energy by using computer modeling rather than actual tidal data and overlooked the strongest area for building an underwater turbine. It also failed to account for public financing at a lower interest rate, which would make city-owned tidal power much cheaper.
"We are confident you can get 10 MW," Fenn said. "The whole thing was modeled on PG&E ownership."
Local Power recommended the city get actual tidal data from the best spot and run the numbers again. "The ocean is the ultimate energy resource for San Francisco," said Fenn, who compared the challenge of constructing this kind of infrastructure to the Hoover Dam.
Newsom, who opposed Prop. H but still claims to support CCA, remains committed to tidal power. "Mayor Newsom supports advancing a tidal project at the mouth of the bay," his spokesperson, Joe Arellano, wrote in an e-mail.
The rollout of CCA is expected in 2010, when the city issues a request for proposals from companies interested in building or supplying energy. Several companies have already responded to a request for information. CCA is slated to include a 150 MW wind farm, 31 MW of solar, 103 MW of local distributed generation, and 107 MW of efficiency technologies. Funding would come from $1.2 billion in renewable energy bonds that have already been approved.
Local Power’s report includes concrete actions the city can take, including a plan to finally make Hetch Hetchy power available to citizens, a recommendation that the wind farm be built in the Delta for easy access to the Transbay Cable a new 400 MW, 59-mile transmission line between Pittsburg and San Francisco that’s scheduled to be completed in 2010 and urging the city to petition the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) for so-called public good charges collected from ratepayers that currently go to PG&E’s energy efficiency programs.
"We’re trying to put ideas on the table for the RFPs," said Fenn, who stressed that the city should make it as easy as possible for CCA to get underway, a goal that will require a lot more cooperation between departments. For example, the report outlines several hindrances to getting renewable energy up and running, from permit hassles to delayed interconnections to PG&E’s grid.
"Where we see problems in the city for permitting and zoning, we can seek to change them now," Fenn said.
That chance may come soon. The Land Use and Economic Development Committee is hearing legislation Nov. 12 to require conditional use permitting for all power plants greater than 10 MW. Though the legislation originally targeted the Mirant plant, the Planning Department, in its review of the draft legislation, suggested that all power plants be subject to the additional review. Sup. Aaron Peskin, who sponsored the legislation with Sup. Sophie Maxwell, suggested the change wasn’t appropriate. "It just means more public process."
But, Fenn said, "To set standards based on pre-CCA era is at this point confusing. Like [Sup.] Ross [Mirkarimi] said, the CCA program should be the unifying principle of energy policy in San Francisco. Integrating all the pieces is indeed the entire secret of making all the parts perform better so that we can achieve the required meet-or-beat-PG&E-rates outcome."
Mirkarimi told us the program could obviate retrofitting Mirant or pursuing the peakers. "CCA still has not been taken seriously enough by the SFPUC or the Newsom administration."
The specter of linoleum haunts the neighborhood Chinese restaurant. Many of us have paid visits to these purgatories, where the food is tasty and cheap but the lighting is harsh and fluorescent and the flooring looks as if it had been laid down, without much love, during the Eisenhower administration. One ponders this trade-off, wondering, in particular, whether it’s inevitable. Then one goes to Kathy’s California Chinese Cuisine and finds an answer.
Rumors of Kathy’s’ culinary excellence had been reaching me for some time. I had seen the place often enough, certainly, in its snug little commercial strip at the dizzying confluence of Dewey and Laguna Honda boulevards and Woodside Avenue, just steps from Muni’s Forest Hill metro station. But I only recently stepped inside for the first time and felt myself transported to … Vienna! Of course, I had only just been to the real Vienna for the first time over the summer, so that wedding-cake city in the heart of Mitteleuropa was on my mind.
Kathy’s isn’t about wedding cakes or Mitteleuropa, but it does offer surprisingly gracious old world atmospherics, if one discounts the burbling aquarium just inside the front door, the scattering of gourds on the floor (in honor of Halloween and the autumn harvest), and the general storefront-spaciness of things. (There is no host’s podium, just the fish tank, while the server’s station is all the way at the rear of the dining room, like the check-in counter for an obscure airline in an obscure country.)
The floor is laid with handsome tiles that look as though they were quarried from a stormy sea, the walls are a discreetly sensuous peach color, and soft light flows from a pair of rather resplendent glass chandeliers, as well as from sconce lamps on the wall. From an unseen sound system I heard playing one evening for our final Viennese touch the final movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 22 in E flat major. Also some Bach. The music was present but not obtrusive, which these days seems to be very much the exception to the rule. Considering that Kathy’s does a lively takeout business, the restaurant’s dining room is a startlingly attractive place to sit and have dinner, at least if your idea of having dinner includes conversation.
When "California" is used as a modifier with respect to some traditional cuisine, I immediately think of zucchini. Zucchini grow like weeds in our part of the world, and they turn up in highly unlikely spots, such as hor mak talay, the Thai dish of coconut milk and red curry. And they turn up at Kathy’s, along with eggplant, tomatoes, and peppers. Somewhere in the kitchen is a ratatouille crying out to be made.
Kathy’s isn’t that Californianized, or Californicated, but there is a nice plate of stir-fried vegetables, the vegetable deluxe ($7.95), that features plenty of shredded napa cabbage, carrot coins, broccoli florets, and chunks of Japanese eggplant, with plenty of garlic and ginger and the special touch a ring of tissue-thin tomato slices arranged around the edge of a platter, like a link fence. The fence is both visually attractive and the source of a subtle acid zip.
Most of the food has a familiar north-China look, although there is the occasional wrinkle, such as red dumplings ($6.95), an octet of Chiclet-shaped, half-dollar-sized dough packets filled tight with minced, gingery pork and bathed in a thick, glossy reddish-orange sauce that’s both sweet and hot.
Similar dumplings recur in the wonton soup ($6.95 for two), although the real stars here are the chicken stock (intensified through reduction and not too salty) and the wealth of vegetables bobbing alongside the wontons. The roll call here includes more shredded cabbage and broccoli florets, along with quarters of button mushroom and (a non-vegetable) peeled shrimp.
Our intel source, a local, suggested that we would find the walnut prawns ($10.95) exceptional. Since I have never found walnut prawns exceptional, I was prepared to be disappointed. But … Kathy’s walnut prawns are exceptional! The large, plump shrimp are shelled, then stir-fried in a creamy sauce spiked with some sort of liquor (brandy or rum?), and scattered with candied walnuts and raisins. It is very tricky business to introduce this much sweetness into a savory dish; a balance must be struck, lest you end up with some kind of shrimp dessert. Kathy’s version strikes that balance.
Tangerine beef ($10.95), meanwhile, left me secretly chagrined, since the flaps of beef, while tasty, were not coated and deep-fried to heart-stopping crispness before being tossed in a thick and glossy orange sauce. The drill here was more of a conventional stir-fry (with a medley of vegetables) in a soy-based sauce, with the tangerine figuring as an occasional burst of zest. More interesting, or at least unexpected, or unadvertised, were the lithe slices of green apple ringing the platter; their sweet-tartness helped balance both the saltiness of the soy sauce and the richness of the meat.
Other pluses: service is practiced and friendly. You can get brown rice instead of white. Transport logistics are, apart from the terrifying intersection, rather painless, with Muni just steps away and street parking quite easy. The relaxed, well-mannered crowd is easy to take. And, on that happy note, I’m done with Chinese food for a bit. Probably.
Kathy’s California Chinese Cuisine
Dinner: nightly, 510 p.m.
Lunch: Mon.-Fri., 11 a.m.3 p.m.
408 Dewey, SF
Beer and wine
By midnight Nov. 4, the drama was long over: John McCain had conceded, Barack Obama had delivered his moving victory speech — declaring that “change has come to America” — and the long national nightmare of the Bush years was officially headed for the history books.
But in San Francisco, the party was just getting started.
Outside of Kilowatt, on 16th Street near Guerrero, the crowd of celebrants was dancing to the sounds of a street drummer. In the Castro District, a huge crowd was cheering and chanting Obama’s name. And on Valencia and 19th streets, a spontaneous outpouring of energy filled the intersection. Two police officers stood by watching, and when a reporter asked one if he was planning to try to shut down the celebration and clear the streets, he smiled. “Not now,” he said. “Not now.”
Then, out of nowhere, the crowd began to sing: O say can you see /By the dawn’s early light …
It was a stunning moment, as dramatic as anything we’ve seen in this city in years. In perhaps the most liberal, counterculture section of the nation’s most liberal, counterculture city, young people by the hundreds were proudly singing The Star Spangled Banner. “For the first time in my life,” one crooner announced, “I feel proud to be an American.”
Take that, Fox News. Take that Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin and the rest of the right-wing bigots who have tried to claim this country for themselves. On Nov. 4, 2008, progressives showed the world that we’re real Americans, too, proud of a country that has learned from its mistakes and corrected its course.
President Obama will let us down soon enough; he almost has to. The task at hand is so daunting, and our collective hopes are so high, that it’s hard to see how anyone could succeed without a few mistakes. In fact, Obama already admitted he won’t be “a perfect president.” And when you get past the rhetoric and the rock star excitement, he’s taken some pretty conservative positions on many of the big issues, from promoting “clean coal” and nuclear power to escautf8g the war in Afghanistan.
But make no mistake about it: electing Barack Obama was a progressive victory. Although he never followed the entire progressive line in his policy positions, he was, and is, the creature of a strong progressive movement that can rightly claim him as its standard-bearer. He was the candidate backed from the beginning by progressives like Supervisors Chris Daly and Ross Mirkarimi (a Green). And only after his improbable nomination did moderates like Mayor Gavin Newsom and Sen. Dianne Feinstein jump on the bandwagon.
From the start, the young, activist, left wing of the Democratic Party was the driving force behind the Obama revolution. And while he has always talked to the Washington bigwigs — and will populate his administration with many of them — he would never have won without the rest of us. And that’s a fact of political life it will be hard for him to ignore, particularly if we don’t let him forget it.
For a few generations of Americans — everyone who turned 18 after 1964 — this was the first presidential election we’ve been able to get truly excited about. It was also the first presidential election that was won, to a significant extent, on the Internet, where progressive sites like dailykos.com raised millions of dollars, generated a small army of ground troops, and drove turnout in both the primaries and the general election. The movement that was built behind Obama can become a profound and powerful force in American politics.
So this was, by any reasonable measure, the People’s Election. And now it’s the job of the people to keep that hope — and that movement — alive, even when its standard-bearer doesn’t always live up to our dreams.
The evidence that this was the People’s Election wasn’t just at the national level. It showed up in the results of the San Francisco elections as well.
This was the election that would demonstrate, for the first time since the return of district elections, whether a concerted, well-funded downtown campaign could trump a progressive grassroots organizing effort. Sure, in 2000, downtown and then-Mayor Willie Brown had their candidates, and the progressives beat them in nearly every race. But that was a time when the mayor’s popularity was in the tank, and San Franciscans of all political stripes were furious at the corruption in City Hall.
“In 2000, I think a third of the votes that the left got came from Republicans,” GOP consultant Chris Bowman, who was only partially joking, told us on election night.
This time around, with the class of 2000 termed out, a popular mayor in office and poll numbers and conventional wisdom both arguing that San Franciscans weren’t happy with the current Board of Supervisors (particularly with some of its members, most notably Chris Daly), many observers believed that a powerful big-money campaign backing some likable supervisorial candidates (with little political baggage) could dislodge the progressive majority.
As late as the week before the election, polls showed that the three swings districts — 1, 3, and 11 — were too close to call, and that in District 1, Chamber of Commerce executive Sue Lee could be heading for a victory over progressive school board member Eric Mar.
And boy, did downtown try. The big business leaders, through groups including the Committee on Jobs, the Chamber, the Association of Realtors, Plan C, the newly-formed Coalition for Responsible Growth, and the Building Owners and Managers Association, poured more than $630,000 into independent expenditures smearing progressive candidates and promoting the downtown choices. Newsom campaigned with Joe Alioto, Jr. in District 3 and Ahsha Safai in District 11. Television ads sought to link Mar, John Avalos, and David Chiu with Daly.
Although the supervisors have no role in running the schools, the Republicans and downtown pushed hard to use a measure aimed at restoring JROTC to the city’s high schools as a wedge against the progressives in the three swing districts. They also went to great lengths — even misstating the candidates’ positions — to tar Mar, Chiu, and Avalos with supporting the legalization of prostitution.
And it didn’t work.
When the votes were counted election night, it became clear that two of the three progressives — Avalos and Chiu — were headed for decisive victories. And Mar was far enough ahead that it appeared he would emerge on top.
How did that happen? Old-fashioned shoe leather. The three campaigns worked the streets hard, knocking on doors, distributing literature, and phone banking.
“I’ve been feeling pretty confident for a week,” Avalos told us election night, noting his campaign’s strong field operation. As he knocked on doors, Avalos came to understand that downtown’s attacks were ineffective: “No one bought their horseshit.”
A few weeks earlier, he hadn’t been so confident. Avalos said that Safai ran a strong, well-funded campaign and personally knocked on lots of doors in the district. But ultimately, Avalos was the candidate with the deepest roots in the district and the longest history of progressive political activism.
“This is really about our neighborhood,” Avalos told us at his election night party at Club Bottom’s Up in the Excelsior District. “It was the people in this room that really turned it around.”
The San Francisco Labor Council and the tenants’ movement also put dozens of organizers on the ground, stepping up particularly strongly as the seemingly coordinated downtown attacks persisted. “It was, quite literally, money against people, and the people won,” Labor Council director Tim Paulson told us.
Robert Haaland, a staffer with the Service Employees International Union and one of the architects of the campaign, put it more colorfully: “We ran the fucking table,” he told us election night. “It’s amazing — we were up against the biggest downtown blitz since district elections.”
The evidence suggests that this election was no anomaly: the progressive movement has taken firm hold in San Francisco, despite the tendency of the old power-brokers — from Newsom to downtown to both of the city’s corporate-owned daily newspapers — to try to marginalize it.
Political analyst David Latterman of Fall Line Analytics began the Nov. 5 presentation at the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association election wrap-up by displaying an ideologically-coded map of San Francisco, drawing off of data from the Progressive Voter Index that he developed with San Francisco State University political science professor Rich de Leon. The PVI is based on how San Francisco residents in different parts of the city vote on bellwether candidates and ballot measures.
“Several of the districts in San Francisco discernibly moved to the left over the last four to eight years,” Latterman told the large crowd, which was made up of many of San Francisco’s top political professionals.
The two supervisorial districts that have moved most strongly toward the progressive column in recent years were Districts 1 (the Richmond) and 11 (the Excelsior), which just happened to be two of the three swing districts (the other being District 3–North Beach and Chinatown) that were to decide the balance of power on the Board of Supervisors this election.
Latterman said Districts “1, 3, and 11 went straight progressive, and that’s just the way it is.”
In fact, in many ways, he said this was a status-quo election, with San Francisco validating the progressive-leaning board. “A lot of people in the city didn’t see it as a chance for a drastic change citywide.”
In other words, keeping progressives in City Hall has become a mainstream choice. Whatever downtown’s propaganda tried to say, most San Franciscans are happy with a district-elected board that has brought the city a living-wage law and moved it a step toward universal health insurance.
The fate of the local ballot measures was another indication that Newsom, popular as he might be, has little ability to convince the voters to accept his policy agenda.
Voters rejected efforts by Newsom to consolidate his power, rejecting his supervisorial candidates, his Community Justice Center (as presented in Measure L), and his proposed takeover of the Transportation Authority (soundly defeating Proposition P) while approving measures he opposed, including Propositions M (protecting tenants from harassment) and T (Daly’s guarantee of substance abuse treatment on demand).
Asked about it at a post-election press conference, Newsom tried to put a positive spin on the night. “Prop. A won, and I spent three years of my life on it,” he said. “Prop B. was defeated. Prop. O, I put on the ballot. I think it’s pretty small when you look at the totality of the ballot.” He pointed out that his two appointees — Carmen Chu in District 4 and Sean Elsbernd in District 7 — won handily but made no mention of his support for losing candidates Lee, Alicia Wang, Alioto, Claudine Cheng, and Safai.
“You’ve chosen two as opposed to the totality,” Newsom said of Props. L and P. “Prop. K needed to be defeated. Prop. B needed to be defeated.”
Yet Newsom personally did as little to defeat those measures as he did to support the measures he tried to claim credit for: Measures A (the General Hospital rebuild bond, which everyone supported) and revenue-producing Measures N, O, and Q. In fact, many labor and progressives leaders privately grumbled about Newsom’s absence during the campaign.
Prop. K, which would have decriminalized prostitution, was placed on the ballot by a libertarian-led signature gathering effort, not by the progressive movement. And Prop. B, the affordable housing set-aside measure sponsored by Daly, was only narrowly defeated — after a last-minute attack funded by the landlords.
All three revenue-producing measures won by wide margins. Prop. Q, the payroll tax measure, passed by one of the widest margins — 67-33.
Latterman and Alex Clemens, owner of Barbary Coast Consulting and the SF Usual Suspects Web site, were asked whether downtown might seek to repeal district elections, and both said it didn’t really matter because people seem to support the system. “I can’t imagine, short of a tragedy, district elections going anywhere,” Latterman said.
Clemens said that while downtown’s polling showed that people largely disapprove of the Board of Supervisors — just as they do most legislative bodies — people generally like their district supervisor (a reality supported by the fact that all the incumbents were reelected by sizable margins).
“It ain’t a Board of Supervisors, it is 11 supervisors,” Clemens said, noting how informed and sophisticated the San Francisco electorate is compared to many other cities. “When you try to do a broad-based attack, you frequently end up on the wrong end (of the election outcome).”
We had a bittersweet feeling watching the scene in the Castro on election night. While thousands swarmed into the streets to celebrate Obama’s election, there was no avoiding the fact that the civil-rights movement that has such deep roots in that neighborhood was facing a serious setback.
The Castro was where the late Sup. Harvey Milk started his ground-breaking campaign to stop the anti-gay Briggs Initiative in 1978. Defying the advice of the leaders of the Democratic Party, Milk took on Briggs directly, debating him all over the state and arguing against the measure that would have barred gay and lesbian people from teaching in California’s public schools.
The defeat of the Briggs Initiative was a turning point for the queer movement — and the defeat of Prop. 8, which seeks to outlaw same-sex marriage, should have been another. Just as California was the most epic battle in a nationwide campaign by right-wing bigots 30 years ago, anti-gay marriage measures have been on the ballot all over America. And if California could have rejected that tide, it might have taken the wind out of the effort.
But that wasn’t to be. Although pre-election polls showed Prop. 8 narrowly losing, it was clear by the end of election night that it was headed for victory.
Part of the reason: two religious groups, the Catholics and the Mormons, raised and spent some $25 million to pass the measure. Church-based groups mobilized a reported 100,000 grassroots volunteers to knock on doors throughout California. Yes on 8 volunteers were as visible in cities throughout California as the No on 8 volunteers were on the streets of San Francisco, presenting a popular front that the No on 8 campaign’s $35 million in spending just couldn’t counter — particularly with so many progressive activists, who otherwise would have been walking precincts to defeat Prop. 8, fanned out across the country campaigning for Obama.
“While we knew the odds for success were not with us, we believed Californians could be the first in the nation to defeat the injustice of discriminatory measures like Proposition 8,” a statement on the No on Prop. 8 Web site said. “And while victory is not ours this day, we know that because of the work done here, freedom, fairness, and equality will be ours someday. Just look at how far we have come in a few decades.”
San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, joined by Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo and Santa Clara County Counsel Ann C. Raven, filed a legal challenge to Prop. 8, arguing that a ballot initiative can’t be used to take away fundamental constitutional rights.
“Such a sweeping redefinition of equal protection would require a constitutional revision rather than a mere amendment,” the petition argued.
“The issue before the court today is of far greater consequence than marriage equality alone,” Herrera said. “Equal protection of the laws is not merely the cornerstone of the California Constitution, it is what separates constitutional democracy from mob rule tyranny. If allowed to stand, Prop. 8 so devastates the principle of equal protection that it endangers the fundamental rights of any potential electoral minority — even for protected classes based on race, religion, national origin, and gender.”
That may succeed. In fact, the state Supreme Court made quite clear in its analysis legalizing same-sex marriage that this was a matter of fundamental rights: “Although defendants maintain that this court has an obligation to defer to the statutory definition of marriage contained in [state law] because that statute — having been adopted through the initiative process — represents the expression of the ‘people’s will,’ this argument fails to take into account the very basic point that the provisions of the California Constitution itself constitute the ultimate expression of the people’s will, and that the fundamental rights embodied within that Constitution for the protection of all persons represent restraints that the people themselves have imposed upon the statutory enactments that may be adopted either by their elected representatives or by the voters through the initiative process.
As the United States Supreme Court explained in West Virginia State Board of Education vs. Barnette (1943) 319 U.S. 624, 638: ‘The very purpose of a Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts. One’s right to life, liberty, and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.'”
As Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin told the Guardian later that week: “Luckily, we have an independent judiciary, because the voters of California have mistakenly taken away a class of civil rights.”
But if that legal case fails, this will probably wind up on the state ballot again. And the next campaign will have to be different.
There already have been many discussions about what the No on 8 campaign did wrong and right, but it’s clear that the queer movement needs to reach out to African Americans, particularly black churches. African Americans voted heavily in favor of Prop. 8, and ministers in many congregations preached in favor of the measure.
But there are plenty of black religious leaders who took the other side. In San Francisco the Rev. Amos Brown, who leads the Third Baptist Church, one of the city’s largest African American congregations, spoke powerfully from the pulpit about the connections between the civil rights struggles of the 1960s and the fight for same-sex marriage.
The next time this is on the ballot, progressive and queer leaders will need to build a more broad-based movement. That is not only possible, but almost inevitable.
The good news — and it’s very good news — is that (as Newsom famously proclaimed) same-sex marriage is coming, whether opponents like it or not. That’s because the demographics can’t be denied: the vast majority of voters under 30 support same-sex marriage. This train is going in only one direction, and the last remaining issue is how, and when, to make the next political move.
The progressives didn’t win everything in San Francisco. Proposition H, the Clean Energy Act, was taken down by one of the most high-priced and misleading campaigns in the city’s history. Pacific Gas and Electric Co. spent more than $10 million telling lies about Prop. H, and with the daily newspapers virtually ignoring the measure and never challenging the utility’s claims, the measure went down.
“This was a big, big, big money race,” Latterman said. “In San Francisco, you spend $10 million and you’re going to beat just about anything.”
But activists aren’t giving up on pushing the city in the direction of more renewable energy (see Editorial).
Latterman said the narrow passage of Prop. V, which asked the school board to consider reinstating JROTC, wasn’t really a victory. “I would not call this a mandate. I worked with the campaign, and they weren’t looking for 53 percent. They were looking for 60-plus percent,” Latterman said. “I think you’ll see this issue just go away.”
Neither Latterman nor Clemens would speculate on who the next president of the Board of Supervisors will be, noting that there are just too many variables and options, including the possibility that a newly elected supervisor could seek that position.
At this point the obvious front-runner is Ross Mirkarimi, who not only won re-election but received more votes than any other candidate in any district. Based on results at press time, more than 23,000 people voted for Mirkarimi; Sean Elsbernd, who also had two opponents, received only about 19,000.
Mirkarimi worked hard to get Avalos, Chiu, and Mar elected, sending his own volunteers off to those districts. And with four new progressives elected to the board, joining Mirkarimi and veteran progressive Chris Daly, the progressives ought to retain the top job.
Daly tells us he won’t be a candidate — but he and Mirkarimi are not exactly close, and Daly will probably back someone else — possibly one of the newly elected supervisors.
“It’s going to be the most fascinating election that none of us will participate in,” Clemens said.
The danger, of course, is that the progressives will be unable to agree on a candidate — and a more moderate supervisor will wind up controlling committee appointments and the board agenda.
One of the most important elements of this election — and one that isn’t being discussed much — is the passage of three revenue-generating measures. Voters easily approved a higher real-estate transfer tax and a measure that closed a loophole allowing law firms and other partnerships to avoid the payroll tax. Progressives have tried to raise the transfer tax several times in the past, and have lost hard-fought campaigns.
That may mean that the anti-tax sentiment in the city has been eclipsed by the reality of the city’s devastating budget problems. And while Newsom didn’t do much to push the new tax measures, they will make his life much easier: the cuts the city will face won’t be as deep thanks to the additional $50 million or so in revenue.
It will still be a tough year for the new board. The mayor will push for cuts that the unions who supported the newly elected progressives will resist. A pivotal battle over the city’s future — the eastern neighborhoods rezoning plan — will come before the new board in the spring, when the recent arrivals will barely have had time to move into their offices.
Obama, of course, will face an even tougher spring. But progressives can at least face the future knowing that not only could it have been a lot worse; for once things might be about to get much better.
Amanda Witherell and Sarah Phelan contributed to this report.
The Castro District on election night was filled with joy and excitement as people poured out into the streets to celebrate the Obama victory. Three nights later, the streets were filled with people protesting, not reveling. That was the weird thing about being a San Franciscan this past week: we won a world-changing victory in the presidential race, and won most of the key races locally but on same-sex marriage, we lost.
There are plenty of reasons for that, and we talk about some of them in this issue. There have been protests at Mormon churches and at some Catholic churches, as there should be, since those two religious groups raised most of the Yes on Proposition 8 money. (And can you imagine how many low-income Catholic-school kids could have been educated and how many hungry people could have been fed for the more than $25 million these folks spent trying to keep people from getting married?)
But if San Francisco really wants a poster boy for the attack on same-sex marriage, a local symbol of bigotry, he’s right in front of us: Archbishop George Niederauer.
Now, if you’re a Catholic archbishop, you kind of have to accept the church’s dogma, which says that marriage is a sacrament that can only be bestowed on a man and a woman. Whatever he can believe and preach what he wants.
But if you’re the archbishop of San Francisco, you don’t have to mount a major political campaign against same-sex marriage. You could decide to use the church’s influence and money helping the poor, for example, which is pretty much what Jesus did. I might have missed that lesson in Catholic school, but I don’t remember the Big J ever saying a word about gay marriage.
Instead, Niederauer and his colleagues made Prop. 8 a huge issue. A flyer produced by the archbishop and handed out widely contained some glaring, inaccurate homophobic crap, including this: "If the Supreme Court ruling stands, public schools may have to teach children that there is no difference between traditional marriage and ‘gay marriage.’"
That infuriated Matt Dorsey, a gay Catholic who is active in Most Holy Redeemer Church. "Far worse than mere falsehood," he said, "is that the claim deliberately plays to the most hateful, vicious stereotypes and fears about gays and lesbians that they are out to recruit (and perhaps even seduce) children."
Dorsey told me that this was part of a clear political campaign. "I would argue that the Catholic bishops in California made a cold, calculated, Karl Rovian decision that they were going to put a lot of skin in the game, so to speak, to beat gays and lesbians," he said, "even to the exclusion of prevailing on, say, Prop. 4 about parental notification for abortion. One would assume abortion is still opposed by Catholic bishops, right? Well, one would hardly have known it by this election. Gays and lesbians were the archbishop’s enemy this year, and abortion got a pass."
Again: I don’t expect the Catholic church to change its position and start marrying same-sex couples, not any time soon, anyway. And Niederauer can’t be expected to openly break with the Vatican. But for the archbishop of a city like San Francisco a church leader who has a surprising number of queers and same-sex couples in his flock to put so many resources into going after people with such an un-Christian hatred was over-the-top unnecessary. And by the way, this guy never talks to the press and won’t return my phone calls.
The good news, of course, is that the archbishop and his colleagues are on the losing side of history. Catholics voted for Prop. 8 by a 64 percent margin but people under 30 (of all faiths and ethnic groups) voted against it by about the same percentage. Same-sex marriage is going to be part of the nation’s future, whether Niederauer likes it or not.