Volume 43 Number 11

Talking heads, part one

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TV DRIVE-BY Are TV commentators covert celebrities? Showbiz Tonight fosters this impression. Instead of junket interviews with fame’s roadkill or TMZ-style rampage-cam footage of them at Starbucks, it devotes the majority of its daily, endlessly-rerun hour to carefully curated prefab arguments about the stars. The show’s reliable go-to panelist crew gets more regular airtime than any celeb-bot. It’s startling — shocking! Thus, in the first of what may be a series of infotainment drive-by portraits, Trash dares to take on the chattering skulls of CNN’s self-billed "most provocative entertainment news show." Please, AJ Hammer, don’t hurt ’em.

Lisa Bloom Based on her facial expressions, celebrity doings leave a slightly lemon-y aftertaste for this lawyer — the literal offspring of Gloria Allred — and host of the truTV series Open Court. According to Bloom’s official Web site, TV Guide deems her "Plucky!" In addition to legal expertise, she’s prone to the occasional psychiatric diagnosis, labeling Britney Spears (a fave topic) "bipolar."

Steve Santagati Need a misogynist bro-down dude with tousled yet dirty hair, tanned and muscular (yet not too muscular) physique, and permanent "Yeah, I’m an asshole" smirk? Santagati, the man who authored 2007’s The Manual, is your go-to guy.

Dr. Judy Kuriansky Let’s keep it simple: she’s the Dr. Joyce Brothers of the 21st century. Along with Bloom, she’s a reliable nemesis of Santagati’s.

Carlos Diaz Cherubic but sometimes party-worn, this ExtraTV correspondent is throwing a Vegas New Year’s bash where people can "party like its $19.99!"

Howard Bragman You have to love CNN for erasing journalistic ethics completely by bringing a PR agent into its editorial fold. Head of the firm 15 Minutes — the Web site of which greets visitors with quotes from Will Rogers, Chuang-tzu, and, of course, Andy Warhol — this out and proud master of the soft sell has never met a comeback kid who didn’t deserve some sympathy, or a train wreck that didn’t deserve rescue efforts. (Except maybe Paula Abdul.)

Ken Baker No stranger to controversy himself, this friend of Ryan Seacrest has blazed a trail from an especially litigious era of US Weekly to his current day gig as Entertainment News Editor of E!.

Janelle Snowden To quote a Bratmobile song," "Janelle! Janelle! She’s so swell! Oh, Janelle!"

Jane Velez-Mitchell Lady justice demands this roundup end with a bang, or in this case, the bewigged bangs of Velez-Mitchell, the campiest and wittiest of Showbiz Tonight‘s growing legion of talking heads. The most surprising thing about Velez-Mitchell’s 100-percent pulp book Secrets Can Be Murder (2007) is that her analysis of tabloid fodder is thoroughly feminist in a manner that contradicts the old canard about feminists having no sense of humor. She may be fond of adding -cide to every other word in the dictionary (e.g., "gendercide," "teenacide"), but she even quotes Shakespeare in the intro. Give this lady a CNN show already. Oh, wait, she just got one: Issues with Jane Velez-Mitchell.

Dig it

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REVIEW Long before Suzan-Lori Parks’ Pulitzer Prize–winning Topdog/Underdog (2002) was bedazzling them on Broadway, an earlier and related work called The America Play (1990-93) was wowing Bay Area audiences in a small but vital production staged by Thick Description. Like the later play, the company’s 1994 West Coast premiere churned themes of memory, identity, kinship, and race in the maw of American history, all of it focused provocatively on a wonderfully fertile conceit: the image of a black man dressed as Abraham Lincoln, sitting watching a play — a human target and one big, very specific arcade duck for the pleasure of patrons reenacting the role of presidential assassin.

The similarities begin to diverge after that. Where Topdog centered with seeming realism on two African American brothers named Lincoln and Booth, The America Play concerns a father and son, the son searching out the father by excavating a theme-park site specified as "an exact replica of the Great Hole of History." It also incorporates the wife and mother, and concentrates on the uncanny Lincoln-likeness of the father — known as the Foundling Father — as well as the life-altering inspiration he receives from the story of "the Great Man." Not least among its differences, the play operates on a more openly abstract, even abstruse plain, albeit one brimming with cultural significance and palpable irony.

The American Play may lack the edginess and also some of the tautness of the more concentrated 2002 two-hander, but revisiting the work in Thick Description’s exquisite revival, as part of its 20th anniversary season, shows it is still worthy and affecting in a sly, haunted fashion that gets its full due from artistic director Tony Kelly’s intelligent and lyrical staging, as well as a fine cast headed by 1994 veterans Rhonnie Washington and Brian Freeman, both brilliantly reprising their roles as, respectively, the gravedigger-turned–Abraham Lincoln impersonator and his son Brazil. Rounding out the enjoyable ensemble are Deirdre Renee Draginoff, Cathleen Riddley, and David Westley Skillman.

Setting us on the abstract expanse of history, "a great hole in the middle of nowhere," Rick Martin’s sublime set is a gorgeous cascade of plank-wood flooring falling in a graceful curve from the top rear of the stage out to the lip, where it meets a proscenium shaped as a large wooden picture frame. The Foundling Father addresses us from a wooden rocker center stage, a pasteboard cutout of Lincoln over his right shoulder, a small bust of "the Great Man" on a table downstage to his left. Sections of the wall/floor come out later to produce an excavation site and a mini stage for a play-within-the-play.

The action and the dialogue — rich, redolent, and blunt as freshly dug earth — resonate powerfully and strangely, taking gradual but firm hold. It’s all funny ha-ha and funny eerie, cuttingly ironic, and wonderfully suggestive — this play built up around the notion of an African American man as latter-day double and relation to the lanky senator from Illinois who became world-historic leader of the country. As for how it reads a decade-and-a-half after the first production, let’s just say the play’s excavations of history are as timely as ever.

THE AMERICA PLAY

Through Sun/14; Thurs.-Sun., 8 p.m.; $15–$30

Thick House

1695 18th St., SF
(415) 401-8081

www.thickhouse.org

Party hardy

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REVIEW Going to Smuin Ballet’s The Christmas Ballet feels like going to a big party. You’re glad to see some guests while others make you want to head for the door. Currently touring the Bay Area, the 15-year-old holiday extravaganza finishes its annual run at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Dec. 17 to 28.

It’s easy to see why this two-part concoction of 30 numbers, divided into The Classical Christmas and The Cool Christmas, has become a holiday staple. If the late Michael Smuin was anything, he was an entertainer. It’s what he loved and it’s what he was good at, even if some of us believe he could have been more.

During its Dec. 4 performance at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, the company, now under the direction of Celia Fushille, showed itself in good shape. The 14 disciplined but free-spirited dancers injected the requisite sentiment and sass into choreography by Smuin and new additions by Amy Seiwert, Viktor Kabaniev, and Val Caniparoli. The Christmas Ballet lives by its musical choices. Smuin’s taste was far-reaching and inclusive: he loved pop as much as Bach, and his unabashed largesse enlivened the sometimes problematic choreography.

At its most objectionable, the choreography dips deep into the sentimental and skims the surface of great classical music as if it were whipped cream. But Smuin also knew when to step back. You can’t compete with "Veni Emanuel," or vocalists like Louis Armstrong and Bing Crosby. So he opted for simple strolling patterns, which became a theme weaving throughout the two hours. At its best The Christmas Ballet is unpretentious, musical, and witty.

Contrary to expectations, The Cool Christmas looked more dated than The Classical Christmas, which intersperses carols from around the world with selections from the symphonic repertoire. Cool‘s pop choices stopped at around 1980 — it could have used an injection of more contemporary fare. But don’t even think of touching Santa Baby.

The dancers were a joy to watch. Susan Roemer was lyrical, melodramatic, and super-vampy; Brooke Reynolds, dignified in some seriously convoluted partnering; Shannon Hurlbut, on the dot in his tapping; and Aaron Thayer, joyous and committed in everything he danced. As for Ted Keener’s Elvis, not quite, but he’ll get there.

SMUIN BALLET Dec. 17–20, 23, and 26–27, 8 p.m.; Dec. 20–21, 23–24, 26–28, 2 p.m.; Dec. 21, 7 p.m.; $18–$55. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission, SF. (415) 495-2234, www.smuinballet.org

Broken but not broke

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Replife, a.k.a, Daniel Gray Kontar, leads a well-balanced life. How else can one describe a man who in one breath casually mentions that he’s a Ph.D. candidate at UC Berkeley’s School of Education and in the next brags that the parties at his pad in the North Berkeley Hills "are off the meat rack"? The Cleveland transplant has a lot going on, including a new album for London label Futuristica, The Unclosed Mind, which includes tracks produced by the cream of the broken beat crop, from New York’s Arch-Typ to New Zealand’s Mark De Clive-Lowe.

Like many rappers, Kontar got his start in a breakdancing crew where he evolved into an MC for local DJs and beatmakers. From there he stretched his lyrical talents beyond music, stepping into the realm of the written word, where he wrote for Cleveland newspapers and edited and published the underground monthly magazine Urban Dialect, and wrote poetry, climbing through the spoken word ranks until he was National Poetry Slam co-champion in 1994.

Almost 15 years later, Kontar is excited, yet a little bemused, by the release of his first album, which boasts production by the likes of Dego and Kaidi Taitham, of 4 Hero and Bugz in the Attic fame. "It was a case of being in the right place at the right time," Kontar recalled when asked how he lined up such in-demand producers. After he recorded some raps at a minute’s notice for Mark De Clive-Lowe on his Politik project, De Clive-Lowe suggested he ring up Dego, who lived around the way. "When you record with Mark de Clive-Lowe and Dego in the span of two days," he said, "things just kind of happen after that, y’know?" The favors have been returned, with the piano-and-cymbal bursts of the De Clive-Lowe-produced "Emerald City" and the robotic synth stutter of Dego and Taitham’s "Spirit," slotting in nicely next to tracks crafted by lesser-known artists.

From the bossa sway of "Pangea" to the sultry slap of "Put It Down," The Unclosed Mind shows an MC exploring the limits of broken beat, and Kontar said that, unlike some pundits, he doesn’t see the scene dying off, due in part to a recent wave of emigration. "Daz-i-Kue is in Atlanta; Mark de Clive-Lowe is in Los Angeles; and Dego is in Brooklyn. So I think that having these kinds of folks who are the foundation of the movement now in the states is going to increase people’s knowledge of the broken philosophy," he explained. "I call it the broken philosophy because it’s not necessarily a style of music as much as a state of mind or a feeling." (Peter Nicholson)
AFROTEK FESTIVAL
With Replife, Blaktroniks-, Jaswho?, and Douglas Pagan
Dec. 20, 9 p.m., $5
The Dark Room at Club Six
60 Sixth St., SF
(415) 863-1221
www.clubsix1.com

Demon Days without end

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Like science fiction, techno can elicit automatic cringes when dropped as a descriptor in mixed company. Haters give explanations that aren’t really explanations — much like vocabulary that doesn’t add up to an argument: it’s repetitive, boring, either icy and alienating or overblown and dramatic, frequently both at once. It’s a weird scene. They seem to use drugs in a way that’s both corny-sensual and ego-destroying. Ironically — though, in our irony-saturated discourse, the word may be redundant — with the arrival of digital ubiquity, techno is remarkable not for its insistence on a placeless, distanceless future, but on space, duration, history, and a certain quality of experience and memory that seems purged from the hyper-compressed torrent of pre-nostalgized bloghouse jams.

You can’t say Carl Craig’s name without the word "techno" slipping out of your mouth. As part of Detroit’s second wave of techno producers, he refined and extended the future-shock innovation of Juan Atkins’ and Richard Davis’ work as Cybotron under a number of monikers. Now an expat living in Berlin, Craig most recently released — under his own name and excluding this year’s remix compilation, Sessions (Studio !K7) — 1997’s More Songs About Food and Revolutionary Art on his own Planet E label. Demon Days, a roving club night that Craig has been hosting since 2005 with New York’s DJ Gamall — better known as the guy who runs PR agency Backspin and a former member of Genesis P-Orridge’s postindustrial pranksters Psychic TV — offers a partial explanation of what else he’s been up to in the interim.

Even if Craig had remained silent after the release of More Songs instead of cranking out remixes and collaborations, his reputation would be secure: neither dance music nor trad techno, its tracks build and decay with patience and attention to nuance that’s still unlike anything this side of Berlin’s Basic Channel. And like that group’s work, More Songs‘ futurism hasn’t curdled into camp, and its moods are still penetrable, if odd at first. Despite the abundance of paramilitary imagery in 1990s techno — a tradition that traces back to Throbbing Gristle’s marriage of brutality and abject satire, an early influence on both Craig and Gamall — the album’s cover art literally explicates Craig’s vision of revolution as a basically a mental one. It’s unmistakably a home-listening record, much like this year’s Deutsche Grammophon-approved Recomposed, which appropriately finds Craig collaborating with Basic Channel’s Moritz Von Oswald, reworking orchestral pieces by Ravel and Mussorgsky into tentative, if fleetingly brilliant, new configurations that exist somewhere between minimal techno and the classical minimalism of Steve Reich, Terry Riley, et al.

Little if any of this material is likely to make it into Craig’s or Gamall’s set, which will probably highlight electro-historical bangers, their own remixes, and forthcoming releases from Planet E. But considering the general availability of the means of electronic music production — your cracked Ableton Live setup or the Roland TR-303 bass synth you downloaded to your iPhone — the fact that these guys know how pacing, thoughtfulness, and lineage inform, rather than detract, from body-rocking, their sets should act as a reminder. That is to say, you can come to engage with the tradition within techno that remains autonomous from the auto-nostalgic, meta-authentic economy of bloghouse/indie — or you can come to just dance.

This is electro music without hipster runoff’s signature, meaning-void stamp, "///miss u//." The omissions in their sets, not to mention an utter lack of MP3s, should be enough to make you think twice before unloading another mash-up on the world or listening to Justice’s wack Fabric mix. There is another world, people, and while it doesn’t escape being flawed, stupid, and fatally self-conscious like the indie-bred one that seems to control the Internet, you can at least pour your enthusiasms into this one without worrying about backlash. (Brandon Bussolini)

DEMON DAYS

With Carl Craig, Space Time Continuum, and Gamall

Thurs/11, 10 p.m., $14 advance

Mezzanine

444 Jessie, SF

(415) 625-8880

www.mezzaninesf.com

Hustle in hard times

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U Don’t Hustle U Don’t Eat, the appropriate title of the March 2009 album by up-and-coming Menlo Park-East Palo Alto rapper A.G. Cubano, pretty much sums up the state of the once vibrantly lucrative local rap music economy. Profit-wise, it has steadily slid and deteriorated during the past decade amid an extremely tough and competitive environment, forcing artists into creative ways of generating cash.

"It’s ugly out there," said Walter Zelnick of City Hall Records in San Rafael, which has distributed independent local hip-hop since its beginnings in the 1980s. "Numbers are down all around. The numbers of stores out there are down. I don’t think kids even buy CDs anymore." San Francisco’s Open Mind Music, which closed on Halloween, and Streetlight Records in Noe Valley, which closes Jan. 31, are just two of latest retail victims.

"Just getting in the stores is hard as fuck nowadays. I didn’t realize it had gotten so bad," said Dave Paul, whose prolific long-time local indie label just released the Bay Area artists-filled Bomb Hip-Hop Compilation, Vol. 2, a sequel to the 1994 premier volume, which sold way more than the "maybe 600 or 700 CDs" he expects to move of the new disc.

Zelnick also fondly recalls the golden 1990s when local rap compilations like D-Shot’s Boss Ballin’ (Shot, 1995) and Master P’s West Coast Bad Boyz: Anotha Level of the Game (No Limit, 1995) would sell in numbers that now often qualify as No. 1 on Billboard‘s national pop albums chart. "When [E-40’s group] the Click first came out, they were selling over a 100,000. But then sales for artists went down to 50,000 or 40,000," Zelnick said. Now "average CD sales are more like 2,000. And many people are lucky to sell that."

"It’s not as nearly as easy as it once was out here when we could fuck around and sell 50-, 60-, 70,000 copies independently," said longtime Fillmore rapper San Quinn who just released From a Boy to a Man (SMC) and will soon follow up with the collaborative Welcome to Scokland (Ehust1.com) with Keak da Sneak. "I literally grew up in this Bay Area independent rap scene."

Known for his affiliation with JT the Bigga Figga’s Get Low Playaz and more recently for his ongoing feud with his cousin rapper Messy Marv, the 30-year-old rapper is a well-established artist. But even a high-profile performer like Quinn accepts that he will be lucky if he sells the 22,000 that his last solo CD, The Rock: Pressure Makes Diamonds (SMC) tracked on SoundScan. That was in 2006, two long digital years ago. As with many veteran rappers, downloaded music has hurt San Quinn. "The majority of my fans are white boys and Latinos and Asians that have that shit mastered," he said. "And it’s even harder for someone like me who is based out of the capitol of technology here in the Bay Area, home of Silicon Valley."

"Since the selling of CDs in stores has gone down, way down, everyone has had to step up their game," Cubano said. Two months before the release of U Don’t Hustle U Don’t Eat, the shrewd rapper will pave the way with the Feet to the Street mixtape in collaboration with Oakland’s Demolition Men, the accurately self-described "Bay Area mixtape kings," whose trusted brand has helped further fuel the careers of such local rap faves as J-Stalin, the Jacka, and Shady Nate. San Quinn and the Jacka, as well as C-BO and Matt Blaque, are among the names the ever-resourceful Cubano has enlisted for his upcoming releases.

"But then there are so many different ways to make money nowadays," Cubano added. "You can get money out of ringtones. You can sell your songs one at a time for $1 a piece on iTunes or from your MySpace even now. I love MySpace. It is great in so many ways, like connecting with artists straight away and not beat around the bush, waiting for a phone call, or waiting for a nightclub to see someone."

MySpace is also San Quinn’s lifeline where, the rapper said, his music’s daily plays are in the thousands. San Quinn generates money beyond CD and digital music sales. "I do ringtones. I do shows. I have a San Quinn skateboard that I put out through FTC," the rapper said. "On our first pressing we just had, I sold a thousand skateboards at $50 a piece and I get $25 off every skateboard."

He also makes a tidy income doing guest appearances or "features" on other artists releases ("They pay me for a verse"). "I’ve done over 3,000 features," he said of the feat that earned him an inclusion in Guinness World Records for the most collaborations with other artists. Landing on television or video game soundtracks can be highly profitable but also highly competitive.

But for an up-and-coming Bay Area hip-hop artist, it is even more challenging to make a buck. On one recent evening on the Pittsburg/Bay Point-to-San Francisco BART train, Macsen Apollo of Oakland’s V.E.R.A. Clique was putting a new spin on the "dirt hustlin’" sales approach pioneered in the 1990s by Hobo Junction and Mystik Journeymen by walking from car to car hawking copies of his hip-hop group’s CD, keeping a watchful eye out for BART police, in an effort to make some money from his music.

Meanwhile back at the City Hall Records offices and warehouse, where Zelnick works on orders for new releases from local rap cats Balance and Thizz artist Duna, things have changed a lot in a decade. "We’re really at a turning point here," he said. "We’re still here and someone is buying music, but I don’t know how much longer." Last week in the UK, with just a few weeks till Christmas, Britain’s key indie label distribution company Pinnacle Entertainment declared bankruptcy, leaving 400 imprints with no way to get their music into the diminishing number of music retail stores.

"Next year I ‘m going to put out Return of the DJ, Vol. 6 and that will be the final physical release I will ever do," said Bomb’s Paul, who believes the only way for rap artists to make money is to be increasingly innovative and to constantly tour and sell merchandise, including music, along the way. "In the very near future I think the only place left to buy a CD is to go a show. Artists have to come up with new ways to generate cash. I heard of some artists who will sell backstage passes for $300 — or whatever they can get."

Cubano concurs. "If you’re sitting around waiting for that call, it ain’t gonna come," he quipped. "You have to get out there. You gotta be in traffic. People have to expand their hustle. Otherwise you don’t eat."

Better the devil you know

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Kylie Minogue (born 1968) isn’t the world’s greatest star, but she is for me and for Simon Sheridan, the Bristol-based pop culture journalist best known for his biographical work on Britain’s sauciest birds of the 1970s — including its porn actresses. Oh my, that’s a far cry from Kylie’s innocent sexiness! But what Sheridan’s The Complete Kylie (Reynolds & Hearn, 272 pages, $29.95) suggests is that Kylie would not have attained her present fame had she maintained the innocent, Dakota Fanning-like presence of a child star. She was still a teen when her role as the tomboy mechanic Charlene in the long-running Aussie soap Neighbours made her immensely popular in Oz and in England, and powerful record producers Stock Aitken Waterman made her the queen of their hit factory.

It was bubblegum pure and simple, but every fourth or fifth track was great, and she coasted along like this until she met Michael Hutchence, of INXS, who told the press his hobby was "corrupting Kylie." Everything Madonna did first, Kylie did second, or fifth or ninth, but what she had that Madonna didn’t was an enormous comeback. In the late ’90s, after the Tori Amos pretensions of her Hutchence-inspired "indie rock" phase wore off, Kylie found herself on the junkheap, without a record label, and nearly a laughingstock. Was it just a bad patch? Her gay and lesbian fans stayed true, helping their idol to survive the tough times, yet she’d be singing on cruise ships today had she not run back to her pop roots with a vengeance on Light Years (EMI, 2000) and Fever (Capitol, 2001), recordings that even saw her — briefly — break through in America thanks to a brace of crazy catchy singles like "Can’t Get You Out of My Head."

Since then, Kylie’s been riding high, oh, except for when she had cancer, but she’s even back from that now, touring Latin America in support of her 2008 Capitol release and tenth studio album, X — get it? Sheridan writes appreciatively and even wittily of every aspect of her career, even her godawful movies (1995’s Streetfighter with Jean-Claude van Damme; 1996’s Biodome with Pauly Shore). The Complete Kylie is a sumptuous book, not too huge, but then again Kylie herself stands only five feet one and a feather tall, small for a goddess.

Wow wow wow wow

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Kevin Killian is an inveterate and unapologetic collaborator: even when writing solo, there’s always another presence. Whether he ventriloquizes through this other, or assimilates or deconstructs it is the reader’s call, and it’s a difficult one to make. The poems in Killian’s most recent book of poetry, Action Kylie (In Girum Imus Nocte et Consumimur Igni, 128 pages, $15) are places where T.S. Eliot’s cats LOL, Antonio Banderas anagrams to "no brains on a date," and Kylie Minogue’s derivativeness is more compelling than genius. In the process, Killian sinks probes into public-celebrity exchanges that increasingly substitute for news. On the eve of the book’s upcoming release party, I spoke with him about Kylie, Amazon reviews, and Ted Berrigan’s Pepsi addiction.

SFBG When I first saw you in person, I noticed that you were drinking Diet Pepsi. Pepsi is also mentioned in the book, Kylie having been a Pepsi spokesperson. And there’s a video from a band called Ssion, a cover of the Young Marble Giants song "Credit in the Straight World," that starts with the singer drinking from a Pepsi can. So I’ve kind of had Pepsi on the brain. Didn’t Kylie do a Pepsi ad and get shit for it?

Kevin Killian Yeah, at a low point in her career she did a terrifying ad for Pepsi in Australia. In it, she’s on TV in a sexy video and a young boy, like 11 or 12, is watching. He opens a Pepsi, and she’s there in his bedroom, sitting on his lap, and is really tastelessly grinding into him. That video was too raw to be shown very widely. It wasn’t classy — what can I say?

SFBG Since the cola wars are over, I was wondering if there was some sort of cachet to Pepsi.

KK It was Ted Berrigan’s favorite drink. I didn’t know him, but I saw him a few times, and he guzzled it down. He would get a little antsy if he didn’t see a quart of it somewhere nearby.

SFBG There seems to be a kind of split between Action Kylie‘s first three sections, which are explicitly focused on Kylie as a subject, and the last four, where her relationship to the writing is less obvious.

KK The book was written roughly chronologically, and I guess my sense of her was so deep — it’s part of my identity now — that she’s in it equally all the way through. I’m thinking of incidents, circumstances, apparitions of her that maybe aren’t visible to you in those later poems.

SFBG The Action Kylie essay "Kylie Evidence" and the huge number of Amazon reviews you’ve authored collapse a lot of different registers. They’re not exactly straight criticism, or uncomplicatedly ironic. There’s a strange cacophony in the way they’re constructed, going from Wikipedia-style omniscience to something intensely personal. When you identify with Kylie as a "second- or third-rate talent," it’s hard not to feel like you’re giving yourself short shrift, because that kind of writing does something that’s pretty rare to both "creative" writing and journalism or criticism.

KK It wasn’t really a way of fishing for reinforcement, but I realize that’s what it does. I had spent years and years writing about Jack Spicer [resulting in the 1998 biography Poet, Be Like God] and seeing his status change from a kind of cult figure into [an element of] the canon. When I started writing [2001’s] Argento Series, few knew [Dario] Argento; now everybody does. There’s something about the situation of the cult figure that’s always exasperated me. I don’t like it, for some reason. I couldn’t figure out why.

When I started working on Kylie Minogue, I was drawn to her because she was a figure who seemed to me, at this one moment in 1998 or 1999, to have absolutely no talent. You know, she had something, but she had no talent, at all, period. And it’s the same old story: she is fabulous, it just took me a while to understand how. But it was a great period to be a fan. I think my essay was written in that tone.

SFBG Your Amazon reviews could be a conceptual project. Some of the lines are really killer, such as your description of Joe Jonas’ eyebrows being "like crow feathers — feathers from a 600-pound crow."

KK Well, when you do something every day … I had written about a thousand [reviews] before I realized that was an enormous number. I’d write three or four a day, and sometimes they’d be in themes: I’d pick up a dictionary and see a word — "midnight" is one I remember. I’d realize I knew a lot about books with "midnight" in the title — or movies, or records — so I would just do 40 of them, all about midnight. Maybe here or there there’d be something I actually didn’t read.

SFBG I wanted to ask about the Kylie lyrics that preface your book, "These are the dreams of an impossible princess."

KK It comes from an actual LP called Impossible Princess (Deconstruction, 1998). She took the name from Billy Childish, who had a book of poetry called Dreams of an Impossible Princess.

I’m having a book out next summer from City Lights, and it’s called Impossible Princess. It’s impossible for me to be a princess because I’m a man, beyond everything else, and there’s that kind of futility, that ambition to be something other than what you are, that drove her, and that drove me, I guess. Every year you’re alive, you’ll see some possibilities diminishing behind you, things you’ll never be. The good thing is, new windows open up, things you never thought you’d want. I never thought I’d write about Kylie Minogue, and what’s worse is that I can’t stop writing about her, either.

THE NEW READING SERIES AT 21 GRAND: KEVIN KILLIAN AND STEPHANIE YOUNG

Sun/14, 6:30 p.m., $5

21 Grand

415 25th St., Oakl.

(510) 444-7263

www.newyipes.blogspot.com

Dick in a box

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If the assassination of JFK was a defining, traumatic blow to American hopefulness, the Watergate scandal a decade later arguably created something worse: a deep collective cynicism that our politics could never escape corruption, or that the guilty would be truly punished even when caught red-handed. How much worse have we shrugged off since?

As the most secretive White House in modern memory pulls up stakes, there’s a fear that particular history may repeat itself. What if Bush blanket-pardons his cabinet, as Gerald Ford did for Richard Nixon, of any and all crimes not yet formally accused? In 1974, that move informed our great nation that at certain high levels, the concept of justice need not apply. In fact, it meant Dick. Nixon left the country in far better (shaky, but better) shape than W., but arguably suffered a greater popular backlash than Bush will. He never admitted any criminal wrongdoing, copping to vague "mistakes made" instead. He resigned to avoid impeachment, and the full airing of dirty laundry that would have required. Thus, the sweatiest president ever avoided total humiliation. But didn’t he owe us repentance?

The pardon and Nixon’s subsequent shrinking from public life left a majority feeling cheated. He owed us that pound of flesh — withholding it was intolerable arrogance. Adapted by Peter Morgan from his widely produced play, with the originating lead actors reprising their roles, Frost/Nixon dramatizes the moment when Tricky Dick did get called onto the public carpet to confess his sins. Which he did — well, sorta kinda. The disgraced prez (Frank Langella) is offered tempting scads of money to be interviewed on TV by an odd candidate for interrogator, the rather garish Brit chat show host David Frost (Michael Sheen) — a showbiz personality more akin to contemporaries the Galloping Gourmet and early Geraldo Rivera than, say, Walter Cronkite (or even Dick Cavett).

Nixon’s people (including Kevin Bacon as security chief) figure this presumably softball platform will provide opportunity to burnish his tarnished legacy as statesman. The team that womanizing, cheerfully shallow Frost assembles to prep for this American broadcast "comeback" worry that he lacks the depth of knowledge, experience, or backbone to pin subject to mat. All suspense here hinges on whether Frost can give his armchair opponent "the trial he never had." He’s seemingly outmatched: fallen yet not feebled, the ex-president proves a master of spin, evasion, and subterfuge.

George Clooney was reportedly eager to direct Frost/Nixon; he might’ve made something slyer and subtler than Ron Howard, who sometimes underlines performance nuances as if wielding a bullhorn and flashing neon sign. But it’s still the best movie he’s done, a nimble opening-up of a talky stage entity that only slightly exaggerates the import of real-life events. Langella makes one realize how seldom the most widely caricatured president in history has been portrayed as more than a collection of grotesque tics; Sheen is as expert here as he was playing Tony Blair in 2006’s The Queen. While its contemporary echoes aren’t overt, Frost/Nixon prods an important question: why do we demand even less accountability of our Commander-in-Chief now? What should have been lessons learned from Nixon instead begat heightened apathy, gullibility, and stupidity. As an electorate, we got the Commanders-in-Chief we deserved.

FROST/NIXON opens Fri/12 in San Francisco.

Souther-fried nocturne

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A drunkard’s lament. A bluesman’s wail. The mischievous grin of children. A carnival geek’s chicken act. Seething with images of the mundane and transmundane, photographer William Eggleston’s lost film Stranded in Canton is an extraordinary exegesis on the ordinary. After 35 years on the museum and midnight movie circuits, Stranded has finally been given a proper DVD release by art publisher Twin Palms. This version, distilled to a reasonable 76 minutes, originates from more than 30 hours of film shot by Eggleston between 1973 and 1974 on a hand-held Sony Porta-pak as he traveled within the Southern golden triangle of Memphis, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Delta.

In his quest to turn the home movie into an art form, Eggleston inventoried the people and places (both beautiful and ugly) that surrounded him. While the placid daylight moments are glorious, it is the sinister images that have guaranteed Stranded its nefarious legend. Armed with a newly developed infrared tube, the videographer was able to submerge into the half-lit netherworlds of juke joints, road houses, and pool halls — which grew like polyps on the plains of Dixie — and record impromptu epic flagellations of the poets and paupers therein.

Watching Stranded in Canton, it becomes apparent there is a common thread binding it to its predecessors: Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey’s 1966 Chelsea Girls, and Joseph Cornell’s 1936 Rose Hobart. Whether in the speed-addled monologues of a New York "superstar" or the re-splicing of B-movie exotica, each shares with Stranded an emphasis on a vernacular of the ordinary. Under the focus of the "democratic camera," the colloquial — prattle, refuse, apocrypha — is recontextualized and transformed as fantasy. Critic Richard Woodward characterizes Eggleston’s vision as "a belief that by looking patiently at what others ignore or look away from, interesting things can be seen." Far from boring, everydayness in this sense gains the arch importance of situationism. Or as Henri Lefebvre defined it, "It is everyday life which measures and embodies the change which takes place ‘somewhere else,’ in the ‘higher realism.’"

Might we venture to say, then, that Stranded in Canton is the home-movie equivalent of Gone with the Wind? Probably not. But it is remarkable nonetheless.

www.twinpalms.com

Hot and bothered

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› le.chicken.farmer@gmail.com

CHEAP EATS After breakfast we went to Whole Paycheck. I needed to pick up a chicken, an onion, and carrots and celery for work. Earl Butter needed a lot more than that, but of course couldn’t afford anything at all, since Whole Paycheck’s pricing is designed to keep out riffraff, such as teachers and newspaper columnists.

Earl was sad, so I bought him a bottle of hot sauce. Floyd & Fred’s, extra hot. My new favorite hot sauce. It’s made out of key lime juice and habanero, and comes in a cute little bottle with a cute little picture of a distressed lime on it, mouth open, eyes rolling, and flames licking out of its head.

I first discovered Floyd and Fred in Crawdad de la Cooter’s refrigerator. Except back then it was just one of them, I forget which. Probably Floyd.

You can’t fit two people in a refrigerator.

"What’s this?" I asked Crawdad, way back whenever, because I’m always interested in new kinds of hot sauce.

"You can have it," she said.

Crawdad is 10 times the heat demon I am. In fact, she taught me how. So as soon as I tasted Floyd & Fred’s, back when it was Floyd’s or Fred’s, I could see why she didn’t go for them. Him.

It was so mild, I used half the 5 oz. bottle on one little bowl of soup. Well, the good news is they make an extra-hot version, which is pretty much perfect. And the bad news is I only ever seem to see it at Whole Paycheck. For $5 a bottle! Those of you who are paying attention, and good at math, will realize immediately that we’re talking, let’s see … 5 oz. bottle, $5 a bottle, carry the one … what? Roughly a dollar an ounce.

At which rate my standard size (10 oz.) bottle of my old favorite hot sauce, Tapatío, for example, would have set me back (hold on, I’m going to use a calculator this time) … $10, exactly.

Actual cost: oh, $3.65.

So you see? This is why I never shop at Whole Paycheck, except when I’m shopping for someone else. My Canadian says they’re union busters. I think, at $5 for a cute little tiny 5 oz. bottle, they’re busting a lot more than unions.

But it is good stuff, Floyd & Fred’s. I’m an addict. I keep a bottle of extra-hot in my purse at all times, and rarely if ever mistake it for perfume.

The other day, though, I was in a public restroom, rummaging frantically through my purse, not quite exactly saying but almost audibly thinking, "tampon tampon tampon" (I do this sometimes, by way of establishing ladies room cred) … when I came upon my little hot sauce bottle and noticed, for the first time ever, that there’s a phone number just below the nutrition facts, 415-987-LIME.

"Cell phone cell phone cell phone," I thought, rummaging. I had one! Took it outside, dialed, and a man’s voice answered. Just: "Hello?"

"Hi … Floyd?" I said. "Fred?"

Silence. Then: "Yes?"

I briefly summarized my situation, that I was a starving artist slash chicken farmer and a hot sauce junky and where I lived, in the woods, and so forth, and he interrupted me after 15 minutes and said, "There’s a Whole Foods right near you."

"Whole what?" I said. "I can’t afford to shop there! Do you sell directly to people?"

By the case, he said. How many bottles in a case? Twelve. How much? (You’re going to love this …) Sixty dollars! He must have heard my mathematical wheels squeaking through the phone because he made a quick adjustment: $50, free delivery.

Well, $4.16 a bottle is still steep. But addiction is addiction, and delivery is delivery, so I made the deal, and now won’t have to worry about hot sauce for a long, long time, fuck Floyd. Fuck Fred.

———————

My new favorite restaurant is Moki’s in Bernal Heights, because Sockywonk picked up the check. Great sushi, but the chicken coconut curry soup (which we expected to be something like Thai tom ka gai), didn’t have no chickens in it. Nor even the flavor of chickens. Fuck Moki.

MOKI’S SUSHI & PACIFIC GRILL

Sun.–Thurs., 5:30–9:30 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 5:30–10:30 p.m.

615 Cortland, SF

(415) 970-9336

Beer & wine

AE/D/MC/V

Extra! Extra! Heterosexuality in peril!

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Dear Readers:

I’m kind of pretty

and pretty damned smart

I like romantic things like music and art

and as you know I have a gigantic heart

so why … don’t I have a boyfriend?

— Kate Monster, "Sucks to be me" from Avenue Q

Sucks to be Kate Monster, and it sucks just as much to be my many friends of similar description — not monsters but smart, pretty, funny, adventurous, and moderately level-headed young women of great heart, who are caught in an endless cycle of dating to no (desirable) purpose and no end in sight, at least out here on the coasts. One friend actually moved to the Midwest to get away from the evil scene and was promptly rewarded with an actual boyfriend, the type who proudly introduces you as his girlfriend and can discuss a future together without smirking. I’ve developed a kind of semi-vicarious hate-on for the coastal guys — what gives them the right to treat my friends like instantly replaceable consumer objects of dubious value? — so I’ve been reading with interest some of the recent glut of articles and books on the state of young manhood, First World Problem version.

Most of these come down to "men are just big boys/no they aren’t," the argument currently raging, or at least smoldering, pretty much anywhere you find people discussing the current social climate and where we seem to be heading, love-and-marriagewise.

On the "no wonder you can’t find a boyfriend" side, you find innumerable lifestyle articles, most notably and recently Gary Cross’s Men To Boys: The Making of Modern Immaturity, in which the historian blames the immaturity he sees in modern Western males on three decade’s worth of cultural shift, starting with a rejection of the old, unquestionably masculine and often admirable but also frequently rigid and authoritarian paternalism of the "Greatest Generation," which left men wandering, lost and fatherless, for lack of a better role-model to replace the castoff, too-dadly Dad. This is nothing startling — we’ve heard it before — but he does present a decent argument and does so without too much blame, some hope for the future of heterosexuality, and none of the (admittedly rather entertaining) snottiness of our next example, the recent articles by Kay S. Hymowitz in City Journal.

City Journal is the organ of conservative think tank the Manhattan Institute, but so what? It has lively cultural commentary and even if you don’t want to be a conservative yourself, it isn’t (I think) contagious, so why shouldn’t readers of leftish news weeklies read out of their comfort zones occasionally? And its authors, apparently, aren’t afraid to say they were wrong, which is always cheering. The first of the two articles, "Child-man in the Promised Land" was another of the "men suck" pieces. The man-child (whom the writer contrasts with the man, who has or wants a wife and kids and actually seeks out responsibilities and then discharges them rather than avoiding ever acquiring any) has tastes both formed and reflected by Maxim and [adult swim]. He likes video games and junk food and sex but not women, really, and he doesn’t call when he says he will because he never intended to — why should he when there’s always another girl who, not having met him yet, expects even less from him than you do?

That was the first article. The current piece has Hymowitz exploring the (really rather startling) not-so-underground Man Web and finding that a lot of these guys are treating women like trash because the women (they feel) are trashing them right back. Nobody’s acting very mature here, so she could just as well have titled her piece (actually called "Love in the Time of Darwinism") "She Started It!"

Women, say the young men, want it all and switch the rules on you without warning. They want equality except when they don’t, and then you’re in trouble for not bringing roses. Plus, they’re attracted to jerks, they sneer at nice guys, and then they blame you for acting like a prick.

This state of affairs, the shifting rules and roles, may have brought us to this point, writes Hymowitz (and others), where the gulf between male and female mores and modes of expression is wider than it has been since before World War I, and a certain amount of aggression, contempt, and rude gamesmanship (see both The Rules and Rules of the Game ) is both expected and to some extent accepted. I leave it to Hymowitz to troll the gamier recesses of the Web for sites like AlphaSeduction and Eternal Bachelor ("Give modern women the husband they deserve. None."), but you shouldn’t be too surprised to hear that this stuff is out there.

Are these dispatches from the new war correspondents accurate? Somewhat. As much as can be expected from lifestyle journalism, anyway, which by definition requires a phenomenon, the more disturbing the better (would you read weekly articles in The New York Times titled "All Well in Pleasantville?"). Is this state of affairs universal? Certainly not. Is it inevitable? I think not. What’s that everyone’s been saying about hope and change?

Love,

Andrea

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

Breaking ground

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› steve@sfbg.com

The long-awaited process of rebuilding the Transbay Terminal formally begins Dec. 10 with a groundbreaking ceremony led by Mayor Gavin Newsom. But the agency pushing the project is still a long way from finding the money to build the project’s voter-mandated centerpiece: a high-speed rail and Caltrain station.

Even as the Transbay Joint Powers Authority embarks on the fully funded, $1.2 billion first phase of the project — which includes building a temporary bus station, demolishing the current building, and rebuilding the 1 million-square-foot transit hub by 2014 — the agency still hasn’t included the crucial $300 million "train box" in its plans.

Transportation planners say the train box, which is essentially the shell structure in which the train station would be built during the project’s second phase, is very important both logistically and financially (doing it later could be very expensive and disruptive to the station’s operation), particularly since the TJPA has secured little of the $3 billion needed for phase two.

"It would be a misuse of taxpayer money not to build the train box now," Dave Snyder, transportation policy director for the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, told the Guardian. "The most urgent thing now is to make sure the train box is built as part of phase one."

"We are working hard to identify the funding for the train box in phase one," TJPA executive director Maria Ayerdi-Kaplan told the Guardian. "It’s more expensive to build it later."

But that source must be found by spring to be included in construction contracts.

Critics have questioned whether the trains will ever arrive at Transbay Terminal’s downtown location, and those doubts grew in recent weeks after Judge Quentin Kopp, the California High Speed Rail Authority chair, publicly suggested that the existing Caltrain station at Fourth and Townsend streets would be a fine high-speed rail terminus and that tunneling the final 1.4 miles to Transbay might not be worth the money (see "High speed derailment?", SFBG Politics blog, 11/18/08).

Kopp’s comments were prompted by premature TJPA efforts to secure funding guarantees from the $10 billion in high-speed rail bond money approved by voters Nov. 4 and by his concerns about how the project is being managed by Ayerdi-Kaplan and the high-priced public relations firm she relies on, Singer & Associates.

That rift, its lingering aftermath, and the failure of the TJPA to identify funding for Transbay Terminal’s rail components have rattled those who see the project as the linchpin for the region’s transportation system.

"I don’t think it works with the rail terminal at the current Caltrain station at Fourth and Townsend," Snyder said. "The access to downtown just isn’t good enough. The trains have to come downtown."

The Transbay Terminal was built in 1939 as the truly multimodal facility that supporters want it to become again. It received both buses and the commuter trains that traveled along the lower deck of the Bay Bridge until the bridge was converted to handle cars alone in 1959. At its peak at the end of World War II, 26 million passengers used the station annually, but those numbers dropped off precipitously as private automobile use increased.

The neighborhood around the terminal at First and Mission streets deteriorated and became a redevelopment district full of dormant public land, which the state turned over to facilitate development activity that includes the terminal rebuild (with a rooftop park), a neighborhood of 2,600 new homes (35 percent of which are required to be affordable), and a series of towering office buildings (including the tallest one on the West Coast).

Land sales expected to total $429 million are the single biggest funding source for phase one of the Transbay Terminal project, with the rest coming from state and federal funds, participating transit agencies such as AC Transit, a loan that will be repaid by increased property taxes, and increases in the sales tax and bridge tolls that were dedicated to the project by past ballot measures.

The prospects of bringing trains into the terminal seemed to rely on the high-speed rail project, which Kopp instigated as a legislator in the mid-’90s. Since then, the project has been studied and certified, with its documents explicitly spelling out how trains will travel from Transbay Terminal to Los Angeles Union Station in about two hours and 38 minutes.

After years of delays in bringing the $9.9 billion high-speed rail bond measure to the ballot, Proposition 1A was narrowly approved by voters Nov. 4. The TJPA immediately asked CHSRA for priority funding and was rebuffed by Kopp, who on Nov. 13 wrote, "Please do not attempt to secure California High Speed Rail Project funds to defray the enormous cost of the 1.4 mile ‘downtown rail extension.’ Such effort will not be welcomed by me."

In comments to both the Guardian and the San Francisco Chronicle, Kopp raised questions about wasteful spending at TJPA, the leadership of Ayerdi-Kaplan (who has met with Kopp and CHSRA director Mehdi Morshed just once), and the TJPA’s use of Singer and Associates, whose multiyear contract of up to $900,000 calls for paying the TJPA’s main contact, Adam Alberti, $350 per hour. "We don’t have a PR person deflecting media inquiries," Kopp said of his agency.

Ayerdi-Kaplan, who had little transit or executive experience before being appointed to the post at the urging of then–mayor Willie Brown, met with the Guardian editorial board last week and glossed over her past inaccessibility and conflicts with Kopp, saying the project is on track, she’s engaged with it, and she’s confident of its success.

"We have raised over $2 billion for the project and have a fully funded phase one. We’re still working on identifying the funding for the rail," Ayerdi-Kaplan said. TJPA has developed a list of possible funding sources, the biggest item being $600 million from the CHSRA.

She admitted that she hasn’t personally tried to contact Kopp about the funding request or worked to develop a good relationship with him or his agency, both of which Kopp has criticized. "At some point, we are going to sit down and talk," Ayerdi-Kaplan said.

She said there’s strong public support for the project. "We take a very positive approach," she told us. "You have to believe in what you’re working on, you have to believe it’s going to happen — as anything in life: you have believe your relationships are going to work, that your business is going to work, that your project is going to happen — or you have no business doing it," she said. Ayerdi-Kaplan said the project is fully certified and just waiting for funding, which should make it attractive to increased infrastructure spending proposed by President-elect Barack Obama. "There’s a lot of things that are in the works immediately with his economic stimulus package," she said.

Alberti said he has reached out to Morshed and received assurances that the CHSRA is still planning to use Transbay Terminal, something Morshed also confirmed for the Guardian — but with some hedging.

"Transbay Terminal is our terminal station in San Francisco as of now, based on our environmental documents," Morshed told the Guardian. Yet he said the authority is beginning more project-specific environmental studies, "and part of the requirements of environmental analysis is we need to look at all options."

Kopp said it’s unlikely that the Transbay Terminal — or any other project — will get a commitment for bond money soon: "We’re not going to be spending money or making funding commitments for years."

7.5 better ways to balance the budget

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OPINION In Mayor Gavin Newsom’s seven-and-a-half-hour YouTube series on the state of our city, he spends barely 30 seconds addressing the budget deficit.

Newsom’s mid-year budget cut plan is completely out of touch with the fundamental priorities of our city. At a time when residents are feeling the impact of the recession in their daily lives, the mayor’s plan guts our public health safety net by slashing programs that serve seniors on fixed incomes and by reducing frontline healthcare workers.

What’s more, the mayor’s mid year cuts leave untouched his bloated senior staff and protects management-heavy departments around City Hall.

So, in response to the effort to balance the budget by slashing tens of millions in health services for the city’s neediest, a coalition of health workers, health providers, and patients are putting forward alternative ways to address the city’s budget problem that are worth our time and thought.

Among the ideas offered by the Coalition to Save Public Health are the following:

1. Start at the top, not at the bottom. Since the mayor first took office, the number of highly paid managers has skyrocketed while the number of employees providing basic city services has stagnated. It’s time to tighten our belt at the management level and eliminate all but the most essential positions that pay more than $100,000 per year.

2. Practice what you preach. In November 2007, the mayor announced a non-essential hiring freeze to deal with the budget crunch. Newsom then promptly spent hundreds of thousands of dollars hiring new senior staff including highly paid and duplicative special assistants for climate control initiatives, "neighborhood empowerment," and a new greening czar. All new staff hired since November 2007 who are paid more than $100,000 should be cut.

3. Cut duplicative programs. The city spends more than $10 million per year on small business outreach and economic development. The Mayor’s Small Business Assistance Center duplicates those services and costs nearly $800,000 every year.

4. Listen to the voters — cut the Community Justice Court. Proposition L was rejected by more than 57 percent of the San Francisco electorate. It’s time to listen to the voters and preserve revenue by cutting current-year funding for the CJC.

5. Save on spin, spend on substance. A recent controller’s report found that the city spent more than $10 million in salaries for public relations and public information staff, including funding for seven people in the Mayor’s Office of Communications last year. The mayor should cut all unnecessary PR staff and reduce his spin operation to two people.

6. Cut the fat, not the bone. Both police and fire unions are due for 7 percent pay increases. As the city cuts salaries or lays off staff across the board, the mayor should work with the board to reopen fire and police contracts.

7. Eliminate unnecessary drivers. For years, the Fire Department’s battalion chiefs have relied on "chief’s aides" to chauffer them around the city. The estimated cost for these positions is more than $2 million.

7.5 Cut in half the city’s contribution to the opera and symphony. In the current year, the city is contributing close to $4 million in General Fund revenue to the operation of the opera, symphony, and ballet. We can’t afford to subsidize organizations with enormous endowments while we slash services for people in need.

Aaron Peskin is president of the Board of Supervisors.

Kim Gale, the world’s nicest guy, 1941-2008

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A celebration of the life of Jeremy Kimball (Kim) Gale, a colorful Guardian graphic artist who died Nov. 28, in Marin General Hospital of diabetes and renal disease, will be held at 5 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 11 at the Paper Mill Creek Saloon in Forest Knolls in Marin County. He was 67.

It is most fitting that Kim’s memorial service will be held in a saloon. He loved the Paper Mill, he loved saloons, and he loved to attend and put on parties.

Kim was born in Portsmouth, N.H., and graduated from the New England School of Arts in Boston, then headed west and ended up in San Francisco in the mid-1960s. He soon made his way to the Guardian newspaper and our cramped little office at 1070 Bryant. There he found a home, fast friends, a cast of characters, his kind of leftist politics, a rollicking good time, and a perfect place for his free-spirited lifestyle.

He was also a talented graphic artist who could do everything from whipping out illustrations on deadline to designing front pages, to laying out and pasting up pages quickly, to keeping things flowing with professional casualness. Best of all, he could make sense out of and fit nicely into our often chaotic production department.

Through all the pressures of production and bartending, Kim was always the essence of affability and good humor. I never saw him get angry or raise his voice. He was, as we often remarked at the Guardian, "the world’s nicest guy."

Read a full obituary here.

Club hubbub

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› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER You don’t have to look back very far to find those purple waves of nostalgia lapping at your heels — just take a glance at Beyoncé’s drippy gloss on Etta James in Cadillac Records. Knowles’ star power may have got the Chess Records story made, sorta, but isn’t Oakland homegirl Keyshia Cole better suited to play Fillmore-tough girl-gangster James? Still, sometimes the new is an improvement over the old, such as my fave iPhone toy-app, Brian Eno’s and Peter Chilvers’ music-making "Bloom." So preferable to Eno’s recent studio collabo with David Byrne, the app allows me to generate my own piano-note ambient beauties, which blossom and fade like ephemeral flowers.

And nostalgia was what washed over me when I dropped in on the first of San Francisco’s brave new clubs on a hectic holiday-soiree-strewn weekend — and I mean brave because these nightlife believers have to be to launch a nightspot during this economically rocky era. Oh, the shows and the tales surrounding the old Paradise Lounge! A particularly poignant yarn about Kiss’ Ace Frehley drowning his sorrows solo at the bar in the early ’90s came to mind while I checked out the venue’s latest iteration at 1501 Folsom (www.paradisesf.com). Lo, few were waxing wistful on Friday night as the club’s holiday party went into overdrive in the ex-Above Paradise space. Raucous club-scene working stiffs scooped up Oola nibbles and $1 well drinks to what sounded like favela funk, and a solid lineup of DJs including Omar, Robot Hustle, and Safety Scissors was set to fill the decks serving the two dance floors. If these walls could talk, they’d ramble like the countercultured bastard offspring of Bucky Sinister and Penelope Houston.

The downstairs central bar, one of four throughout the club, has been done up with moodily futuristic LED lights. Outfitted with velvety booths, the mezzanine includes a crow’s-nest-style DJ booth that can move anywhere — all this after about eight months of permitting and remodeling, director of marketing Erik Lillquist told me. Since then the venue — subtly changed yet comfortingly the same with a certain scuffed, been-there-done-that quality — seems to be starting to establish its DJ-dominated identity: Honey Soundsystem holds down Sundays with special soirees planned a là the Dec. 20 date with Legowelt. "We’re taking the economy into consideration," said Lillquist, citing the club’s drink specials and discounted entries. "We’re just trying to create a good vibe and fit into the neighborhood, not be a velvet rope club."

That velvet rope, however, was in full effect — with nary a nostalgic wrinkle in the house — at ultra-lounge Infusion (www.infusionlounge.com), attached to Hotel Fusion at 140 Ellis and set for a grand opening New Year’s Eve. I got a sneak peek at the 6,000-square-foot, quasi-Chinese-themed crimson, ebony, amber, and ivory decor, dreamed up by Hong Kong designer Kinney Chan, with its tasteful but dramatic sectional lounge area beside a downlow DJ booth and elevated meditation pool. Columns dappled in scarlet light were swathed by electrical-volt-like geometric screens. A 2,000-square-foot lounge deeper within the club was lined with low couches and frosted glass columns — ready for a private party or fashion show. A fusion, true, of Pacific Rim exoticism and sleek contemporary design — and ultra with a capital "u": NYE VIP bottle service with a reserved couch, a bottle of Veuve bubbly and Ciroc vodka, and four tickets goes for, whoa, $950. Here’s hoping the life-sized animated interactive hologram is cooler than CNN’s election-day Will.i.am. Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.

On to Atmosphere (www.a3atmosphere.com) at 447 Broadway, where I’m feeling no throwback pangs for the Amusement Center that once filled the now weathered-wood-brick-faux-grass lofty space. The Salon, a lady-pulling party with makeup demos and complimentary champagne, is on, and though Atmosphere appears to be ironing out a few kinks — the masseuse who was supposed to give gratis rubdowns was absent — the relatively new nightspot was popping with a diverse Asian, white, black, and brown crowd while DJ Solomon mashed up techno and New Order. As I inhaled a bubble or two, a clutch of women attempted to shake it on the dance floor as a growing cadre of guys looked on, seemingly terrified to leave their spot beside the glowing bar decorated with waterfall sculpture-paintings. Nostalgia? I felt like I was at a high school dance — c’mon, people, dance together. Still, the crowd outside — looking for fun amid the onetime Barbary rollercoaster of North Beach — and the flood of new faces pouring into Atmosphere made me give the space a double-take. Just when you relinquished the neighborhood to the tourists …

STEEELLL-A!

How to describe the comedy magic these men called Stella — Michael Showalter, Michael Ian Black, and David Wain — make together? "It’s the nature of three friends who’ve been working together for 20 years now and our own slightly weird chemistry," Wain, 39, told me from Chicago, where the comedians, who met at NYU and found renown thanks to their online shorts, were readying to perform to a sold-out crowd. The sweet-tempered Wain recently gathered raves as the director-writer of Role Models, but now he was "kind of beyond belief," having driven late into the night in the freezing cold from Minneapolis. The payoff has been the shows, which include "silliness, laughing, some singing and dancing, a slide show, and audience participation," in addition to a new short about Showalter’s birthday. It seems like Stella is successfully persevering years after Comedy Central brought its series to a quick end. "On one hand I can’t blame them [for canceling the show] because it was really low-rated," said Wain. "But on the other hand I do blame them because it clearly had a vocal and obsessed following. Only after 10 episodes did we get a chance to figure out how it worked."

STELLA Fri/12, 8 p.m., $29.50. Wheeler Auditorium, Zellerbach Hall, UC Berkeley, Berk.

www.apeconcerts.com

Superblastered

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› superego@sfbg.com

SUPER EGO Blue! Red! Yellow! Green! Indigo Girls! (Ew.) This column is on a serious ’90s flashback trip lately — as is the city’s nightlife: witness delightfully grungeful monthly Debaser’s climb to the top of the club charts (www.myspace.com/debaser90s) — dipping its toes into the perilous VH-1 waves of Clintonia. But hardly that icky! My last installment caught up with primal ravers Tribal Funk, and this time around I’m jumping with joy in my silk-tasseled plaid bolero jacket for the 13th anniversary celebration of protean party promoters Blasthaus at Mighty, with techno heartthrob headliners Matthew Dear and Ryan Elliot, a supporting cast of stellar local talent including my DJ crush of the mo’ Nikola Baytala (call me!) a bouncy castle, a sushi bar, and a foot-washer.

Yep, foot-washer.

"His name’s Shrine, and he likes to wash feet. So why not?" breathy Blasthaus Supreme Commander — actual title — Monika Bernstein told me over the phone. That’s a little burner for Blasthaus, whose parties tend to focus more on a dedicated dance vibes than sideshow shenanigans, but no one said they ain’t got dirty sole.

When I think of Blasthaus, I feel the swirly suck of 1998 and its raucous PoP all-nighter at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, inaugurating the neon-sprawling Keith Haring retrospective there. I popped three shitty e’s too many and somehow got locked upstairs in the darkened galleries while thousands raged in the atrium below. I don’t remember much beyond that, but Keith says "hi." Also the Watchmen are real.

Blasthaus is anything but stuck in the era of dial-up modems, though, staying true to founder William Linn’s forward-thinking production intent when he named the nascent collective after Weimar-era German fine-art factory Bauhaus, with a hands-in-the-air wink. The company now employs 30 staffers — "We’re like a buzzing virtual hive of little party elves," Bernstein said, laughing — and not a week’s gone by this past year without a Blasthaus shindig bringing in big underground and not-so-underground names. Glitch Mob, Modeselektor, Ellen Allien, Sascha Funke, and Richie Hawtin have all brought sparkly star-fire to its gigs, as well as longtime party partners — break out the Internet boom bubbly — Thievery Corporation, who’ll be headlining the Haus’ New Year’s Eve blast at the Concourse.

"We bring in who we listen to," Bernstein said, "so we’re just as excited about our parties as the people attending them. And a big part of our aesthetic is the art aspect" — Blasthaus has run several galleries, from Joypad to Rx to BoCA, and there’s something arty on the horizon for 2k9 — "so we think of our parties as forms of expression, not just bottom lines. Otherwise, why bother?" They could just bring in DJ Tiësto and retire.

BLASTHAUS 13TH ANNIVERSARY BLOWOUT

Fri/12, 9 p.m., $15 advance

Mighty

119 Utah, SF

(415) 762-0151

www.partyeffects.biz

************

CLASH AND CARRY ON

Holy crap, dubstep’s still happening. In fact, it’s getting bigger, like a blimp on laughing gas, but with polka-dotted clown feet. Which is surely how anyone who’s heard Coki’s 2007 low-frequency smash "Spongebob" has felt, me included. Coki and Mala, a.k.a. Digital Mystikz, will be melting the woofers at Dubclash Volume II, the excellent all-star dubstep clusterfuck (in a very good way) with "US Ambassador of Dubstep" Joe Nice, Sgt. Pokes, and other up-to-the-nanosecond bass purveyors. This is a heart-pounding chance to get a West Coast taste of Brixton, UK’s much-buzzed positivity-centric DMZ party by way of our very own Surefire dubstep crew. Volume II at Mezzanine is an upgrade on this year’s capacity Dubclash parties at Jelly’s, with much more bounce to the ounce.

Sat/13, 9 p.m., $15–$25. Mezzanine, 444 Jessie, SF. (415) 625-8880, www.mezzaninesf.com, www.sfdubstep.com

***********

POKE ‘EM IF YOU GOT ‘EM

I write so much about gay stuff that you’d think my keyboard’s made of fuschia Spandex, and yet the big queer story of 2008 was all the vibrant lesbian nightlife. In particular, the Diamond Daggers, an all-queer-women troupe of vaudevillians, has been putting on spectacularly entertaining offbeat affairs. Grab your golden lasso and get ho-ho happy at their Holiday Roundup, which invites all "Calamity Janes, ranch hands, bronco busters, and rodeo queens" to a Wild West-themed hoedown, with DJ Fairy Butch, live ruckus from the Whoreshoes, and more kooky cowpoke drag and cabaret performers than you can spur on without messing your spangles.

Sat/20, 9 p.m., $12–$20 sliding scale. Fat City, 314 11th St., SF. (415) 525-4676, www.diamonddaggers.com

Andalu

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› paulr@sfbg.com

Before small plates go the way of the brontosaurus and the leisure suit, I thought I should look in on Andalu, which has held down the corner of 16th and Guerrero streets now for the better part of a decade and was one of the progenitors of our much-discussed "global tapas" trend. The restaurant replaced a slightly dodgy taqueria called Maya back in the halcyon dot-com days — this would be two busts ago — and, with its neighbor, Tokyo Go Go, helped bring a luster of money and youth to a neighborhood that was a little lacking in luster of any kind. (Tokyo Go Go’s older sibling, Ace Wasabi’s Rock’n’ Roll Sushi, né Flying Kamikazes, is in the Marina District, to give you some idea of the social flavoring. I wouldn’t say the immediate area is Marina South, but I wouldn’t say it isn’t, either.)

From the beginning, Andalu has enjoyed at least one large basic asset — a surprisingly brick-and-mortar one, considering the restaurant’s birth in the age of Internet pixie dust: it isn’t just located at the corner of 16th and Guerrero, it’s right at the corner. It commands the corner, and it’s a busy corner. You can’t miss the place, with its distinctive green sign — a big green A with a swoosh, like something from The Jetsons — aglow in the twilight. The restaurant is, in effect, its own billboard.

The name, meanwhile, reminds us of Andalucia, that sunny province in the south of Spain, and the reminder subtly helps set us up for small plates. These will turn out to be wildly variegated, borrowing influences from around the world, but the menu does open in distinctively Iberian style, with several sherries and ports, along with a plate of seriously spicy Andalucian-style green and black olives ($3.25). The olives are marinated with fennel, lemon, chili peppers, and garlic — and it’s the last two you notice, since they appear whole, as pod and (peeled) clove.

But after this brief bow to the old country, the world is suddenly our oyster. Unlike nearby Ramblas, which does hew to a certain Spanish authenticity, Andalu’s kitchen turns out versions of items as diverse as miso-glazed sea bass and spare ribs braised in Coke. (The menu doesn’t offer oysters, incidentally; those inclined to shellfish will have to make do with mussels.)

Since I am perpetually curious about macaroni and cheese ($7.50), I was interested to see what freshening could be given to this most American of dishes. Typical restaurant fancifications involve the use of chic cheese — Gruyère is a frequent choice — but Andalu’s menu card described the mac and cheese as "crispy." What could this mean? A particularly heavy fall of buttered bread crumbs over the top — a kind of super-gratin? Whatever I was expecting, I wasn’t expecting what came: wedges of what must have been a kind of mac-and-cheese pie, breaded and flash-fried. The wedges themselves reminded me of slices of Brie or a runny triple-cream cheese within an edible rind. The wedges’ rigidity made them suitable for dipping in a stainless-steel ramekin — like a giant’s thimble — of herbed tomato vinaigrette.

Fish tacos ($10 for four small ones) — a SoCal favorite — were dolled up here with grilled ahi, but mostly they tasted of the mango salsa ladled over their tops. In other words, sweet. Better balanced was a hailbut paillard ($9.50), a thin disk of tissue dressed with a tasty mix of cilantro, ginger, soy, and hot grapeseed oil. The fish was like cooked carpaccio, with the flaw being that it had been cooked right onto the plate, so that eating it was like tearing up a sub-floor.

Who can resist Moroccan lamb cigars ($7.25)? Not me. Flutes of pastry filled with seasoned minced lamb and deep-fried to golden crispiness should have been spectacular — worthy members of the egg roll-flauta family — instead of just very good. The lamb seemed under-seasoned (rather odd, since Morocco is one of the lands of spice), and the accompanying yogurt-mint sauce offered only partial restitution. I had a similar reaction to the sliders ($9.50), a trio of miniature hamburgers on buns slathered with basil aioli and presented with a bird’s nest of battered, deep-fried shallot rings.

The rings were a lovely, more delicate version of onion rings, but the little burgers were overcooked and served on disappointingly thick, not-warm buns. They might have been better, ironically, if they’d been made with the lamb that went into the cigars.

One of the best dishes on the menu is bread salad ($9.25) — what the Italians call panzanella, cubes of stale (or, in this case, grilled) bread tossed with cut tomatoes and basil. Here the herb was arugula — a sly innovation — with the traditional basil being supplied through a vinaigrette. Toasted pine nuts probably aren’t unheard of in Italian bread salads, but I’ve never seen a recipe that called for blobs of burrata, a mozzarella-like cow’s-milk cheese produced in southern Italy. The cheese brought visual interest — it looked like patches of snow receding from a late-winter landscape dotted with hints of spring — and a suggestion of softening creaminess to the plate’s various sharpnesses.

Dessert at the end of a repast consisting of macaroni and cheese and hamburgers with onion rings would have to be something like brownies. Andalu’s version ($5) is pretty satisfying: a plateful of moist, cake-like squares, ankle-deep in warm chocolate sauce, dusted with confectioner’s sugar and each topped with a raspberry, like a ruby in a voluptuous display at a jeweler’s. Or, perhaps, a rose clutched in the hand of an unfortunate fellow clad in a chocolate-brown leisure suit with a red carnation, circa 1975: a Paleolithic era in the annals of style, and Andalu still ages off.

ANDALU

Dinner: Sun.–Tues., 5:30–9:30 p.m.; Wed.–Thurs., 5:30–10:30 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 5:30–11:30 p.m.

Brunch: Sat.–Sun., 10:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m.

3198 16th St., SF

(415) 621-2211

www.andalusf.com

Full bar

AE/DS/MC/V

Can be noisy

Wheelchair accessible

Making the Transbay Terminal work

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EDITORIAL The Transbay Terminal project is way too important to get bogged down in a pointless political fight. But that’s what’s going on — and it’s the responsibility of the terminal project director, Maria Ayerdi-Kaplan, to put an end to it.

Ten years from now, the terminal is supposed to be a centerpiece in the city’s transportation infrastructure. Buses from around the Bay Area will pick up and unload passengers upstairs, while Caltrain and the new high-speed trains from Los Angeles stop below ground. Shops, restaurants, and other services should make it a grand San Francisco landmark, like the great urban train stations of years past.

As Steven T. Jones reports in this issue, the project is breaking ground this week. But there’s currently not nearly enough funding secured for the rail component.

It’s going to be expensive to bring trains into the new terminal. The Caltrain line now ends at Fourth and King streets; extending it a mile or so (and boring the necessary tunnels) will cost more than $2 billion. The full build-out, including the platforms, will run close to $3 billion. As of today, the terminal authority has only shaky commitments for about $600 million of that.

The project plans mandate a multiuse terminal for trains and buses. And Ayerdi-Kaplan promised us, repeatedly, that there’s no way the project will end up getting built without the facilities for rail in the basement.

But Quentin Kopp, a retired judge who heads the state’s high-speed rail agency, has nothing but harsh words for Ayerdi-Kaplan and her operation. He insists that she hasn’t been working with him and that none of the $10 billion in bond money approved in November for the project will go to extend the tracks beyond the existing Caltrain terminal at Fourth and King. In fact, Kopp is making noises about keeping the end of the line exactly where it is today.

That would be a mistake — building an adequate terminal for high-speed rail at its present location would cost at least $750 million, money that would be better spent funding the downtown extension. But Kopp has some legitimate gripes. Ayerdi-Kaplan, who is supposed to be building the station that will serve as the northern anchor for high-speed rail, has met with Kopp only once. She’s going ahead with the project before she has any guarantees that even the framework for the underground station will be funded. And frankly, it’s not going to work for the head of the Transbay Terminal project to remain at odds with the head of the high-speed rail authority.

Ayerdi-Kaplan has managed to secure money for the first part of this project, which is an accomplishment (even if the city is going to have to accept a giant, hideous skyscraper as part of the deal). But building the Transbay Terminal with no rail connection would be a disastrous waste of money — and waiting and hoping for more money later isn’t a very good financing plan.

At this point, the project is also as much a political challenge as a fiscal and management problem. Ayerdi-Kaplan needs to demonstrate, and quickly, that she can mend fences with Kopp and get the two agencies working together — or the Transbay Joint Powers Authority, which oversees Ayerdi-Kaplan’s work, needs to step in.

Editor’s Notes

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› Tredmond@sfbg.com

Muni is heading for a hiring freeze and delaying system improvements at the same time that Mayor Gavin Newsom says this is "not a time to raise fees and taxes on business." The head of the California High-Speed Rail Authority is fighting with the head of the Transbay Terminal project over money to extend train tracks downtown. The United States of America is bailing out car companies that have been fighting for years against tougher emissions standards and still can’t seem to make fuel-efficient vehicles. And we’re all worried about global warming and a deepening recession.

I’m not getting this.

Historians and economists can argue forever about the causes of the Great Depression, but most people agree about what brought it to an end: massive, over-the-top levels of public spending. Huge investments in infrastructure. Huge investments in employment programs.

Tax cuts didn’t end the Depression. Government layoffs and belt-tightening didn’t end the Depression. Under President Roosevelt, the government taxed and spent, borrowed and spent — and spent and spent and spent — starting with the New Deal and continuing through the gigantic reindustrialization of America known as World War II. And money went into things that actually created jobs — in many cases, public-sector jobs.

So now we’re in a period where San Francisco, California, and the nation desperately need new infrastructure . We need to shift, fairly radically, away from a car-based transportation system to one based on energy-efficient transit, particularly trains. We need to profoundly shift the electricity grid, away from nuclear and fossil fuels (and away from private control). All these things create jobs. It’s kind of a no-brainer.

California just approved $9.9 billion in bonds for a high-speed rail system between San Francisco and Los Angeles. But even that money isn’t going to be enough, and progress is going to be slow. Take 1/10th of the $800 billion the federal government is putting into propping up big banks and spend it on an emergency plan to build high-speed rail all the way from Seattle to San Diego, and imagine how many jobs that would produce. Jobs for planners, engineers, accountants, office-support people, steel fabrication, construction work, heavy equipment operators … jobs for college grads, jobs for high school grads, union jobs, steady jobs, jobs that train people for other jobs –tens of thousands of them.

Take another 10 percent of that and spend it building solar panels on every public building on the West Coast. Again: jobs of every sort, at every level. Mandate that all the work gets done in America, and you’ll develop an entire new industry or two (we don’t build trains in this country much, but we could, and we already have auto workers and factories that are about to be idled).

I hear some talk about this from the Obama administration, but I also hear some caution and some discussion about budget deficits and keeping the financial sector happy. Fact: the financial sector will be happy when a few million more people are working and spending money. That’s where the economy starts.

I just watched all 34 minutes of the economic segment of Newsom’s state-of-the-city YouTube extravaganza. In and around the rhetoric, he devoted a few moments to the city’s budget deficit and how he was going to institute a hiring freeze, lay off workers and consolidate departments. All wrong.

In fact, this is an excellent time to raise taxes and fees — on the rich, the well-off commuters, the big businesses, the billionaires … Shifting wealth from the top to the bottom, creating public sector jobs in the process, is an fine recipe for economic stimulus. At every level of government.

Tap dreams

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› amanda@sfbg.com

On Dec. 2 two water conferences were held in San Francisco, attended by very different groups of people.

Downtown, in a room deep within the Hyatt Regency hotel, executives from PepsiCo, Dean Foods, GE, ConAgra, and other major companies gathered for the Corporate Water Footprinting Conference. The agenda that the conference made public included a presentation by Nestlé on assessing water-related risks in communities, Coca-Cola’s aggressive environmental water-neutrality goal, and MillerCoors plan to use less water to make more beer.

But what these giant corporations, which are seeking to control more and more of the world’s water, really discussed the public will never know. Only four media representatives were permitted to attend — all from obscure trade journals not trafficked by the typical reader — and both the Guardian and the San Francisco Chronicle were denied media passes.

The event was sponsored by IBM, and tickets were $1,500 — out of reach for many citizens and environmentalists who might have liked to attend.

And why might people take such a keen interest in the kind of corporate conference that probably occurs routinely in cities throughout the world?

Because there’s almost universal agreement that the world is in a water crisis — and that big businesses see a huge opportunity in the privatization of water.

Only one half of 1 percent of all the water in the world is freshwater. Of that, about half is already polluted. Although water is a $425 billion industry worldwide — ranking just behind electricity and oil — one in six people still don’t have access to a clean, safe glass of it. If the pace of use and abuse remains, the 1.2 billion people living in water-stressed areas will balloon to more than 3 billion by 2030.

That includes California. On June 4, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a statewide drought after two lackluster seasons of Sierra snowfall. Scientists are predicting the same this winter. You can see how the state is mishandling the issue by looking at some recent legislation. Schwarzenegger and Sen. Dianne Feinstein have proposed a $9.3 billion bond to build more dams, canals, and infrastructure. At the same time, the governor vetoed a bill that would have required bottled water companies to report how much water they’re actually drawing out of the ground.

In that context, while the big privatizers were hobnobbing at the Hyatt, activists were attending a very different event, the "Anti-Corporate Water Conference," held at the Mission Cultural Center. It was free and open to the public and the media. More than 100 people gathered to hear a cadre of international organizations share information on how to keep this basic human right — water — in the hands of people.

Speakers included Wenonah Hauter, director of Washington, DC-based Food and Water Watch; Amit Srivastava of Global Resistance, a group that works to expose international injustices by Coca-Cola; Mark Franco, head of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, which lives among water bottling plants near Mount Shasta; and Mateo Nube, a native of La Paz, Bolivia, and the director of Movement Generation Justice and Ecology Project.

Nube spoke about water as a commons, requiring stewardship, justice, and democracy. "We’re literally running out of water. Unless we change the way we manage, distribute, and consume water, we’re going to have a real crisis on our hands," he said. Nube’s remarks tied together the tensions of control and revolt, democracy and privatization, ecological balance and human need — all enormous issues, all related to water and water scarcity, which the Worldwatch Institute has called "the most under-appreciated global environmental challenge of our time."

BASIC NEED, INFINITE MARKET


Water is a basic human need, perhaps even more important than clean air, food, and shelter. People will never strike against water and stop drinking.

And that means, from a capitalistic point of view, it’s a perfect, nearly infinite market. "As water analysts note, water is hot not only because of the growing need for clean water but because demand is never affected by inflation, recession, interest rates or changing tastes," wrote Maude Barlow in her 2007 book Blue Covenant.

If scarcity drives price, anyone with a stake in the water industry stands to gain from an increasingly water-stressed world. As Barlow also reported, "In 1990, about 51 million people got their water from private companies, according to water analysts. That figure is now more than 300 million." By controlling the resource and choosing when and if they engage with the public it allows some of the biggest water abusers to set the terms of a critical ongoing debate.

The fact that humans need water raises important questions: should water be classified as a basic human right available to everyone? Is water part of the commons? If so, should corporations be allowed to control the taps or bottle it, mark up the price, and sell it for profit?

Not much polling has been done on people’s opinions of water, but during 35 informal on-the-street interviews conducted by the Guardian, 31 people said it is a basic human right. The other four said it was subject to the laws of supply and demand.

This week marks the 60th anniversary of the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and Barlow, who has been appointed special advisor on water to the UN, will be addressing the General Assembly on the fact that water is still missing from the original 30 Articles.

"The reason that water was not included in the original 30 Articles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is that no one at that time could conceive there would be a problem with water," Barlow told the Guardian. "It’s only in the last 10 years that the concept of water as a human right has come to the fore."

The problem has its roots in the inherent conflict between conservation and profit. Saving water is relatively cheap, but there’s no money to be made by eliminating waste. Developing expensive new water sources, though, is a potential private gold mine.

As Barlow points out in her book, technology is becoming an integrated part of the solution to the water crisis. Desalination plants, water recycling facilities, and nanotechnology are all being thrown at the problem — in some cases before a full assessment of use and abuse has occurred.

While technological solutions may be warranted in some places, Barlow worries that relying on them bypasses any true attempts at efficiency and conservation. "I’m not going to say there’s no place for water cleanup," she told the Guardian. "What I’m concerned about is we’re going to put all the eggs in the cleanup basket and not nearly enough in the conservation and source protection basket. What I’m concerned about is the idea that technology will fix it. Meanwhile, don’t stop polluting, don’t stop the over-extraction, allow the commercial abuse of water, allow the agricultural abuse of water because what the heck, there’s tons of money to be made cleaning it up. I think that’s the wrong way of coming at it."

The technological fix is one way the state’s water crisis may slowly seep into private sector control, and a couple of examples show what can happen when private companies don’t play nice with the public, how citizens constantly battle with state agencies to enforce regulations, and how the public process could and should be honored.

GET THE SALT OUT


In theory, California has plenty of water — its 700 miles of coastline border the giant reservoir known as the Pacific Ocean. But humans can’t drink salt water — and some companies see a nice industrial niche in that dilemma. Build a plant that takes out the salt, and suddenly there’s plenty for all.

Several small desalination facilities already exist throughout the state, mostly cleaning water reservoirs brined by agriculture. But another 30 desalination plants have been proposed for the coast as a way to deal with future water shortages.

One is in Carlsbad, near San Diego, where Poseidon Resources is constructing the only large-scale desalination plant that the state has permitted to date. It’s a 10-year-old project that, so far, doesn’t even have a pipe in the ground.

Despite Poseidon’s ability to grease the wheels with local officials, the facility is controversial. It sits next to a fossil-fuel burning peaker power plant, and will be desalinating the power plant’s discharge water, thus shielding its negative environmental impacts by claiming its the power plant that’s sucking up seawater and damaging marine life — the desalination plant is just making use of the wasted water.

That argument doesn’t sit well with Joe Geever of the Surfrider Foundation, who pointed out that part of the power plant is scheduled for a retrofit to air-cooling, and talk is of a potential state ban on using water for this type of cooling system. There are other more environmentally benign seawater extractions, he said, like drilling and capturing subsurface sources, that the desalination plant could have used.

Mostly, he contends, the plant subverts conservation. "Per capita consumption of water in San Diego is much higher than other places," he said. "In southern California we waste an enormous amount of water on growing grass. There’s a lot to be saved."

Poseidon, a private company, is footing the bill for the plant’s construction, but the financing scheme is predicated on a future increase in the cost of water. As Poseidon’s Scott Maloni explained to the Guardian, the contract with the San Diego Water Authority states that the cost of desalinated water can never be more than the cost of imported water. It can, however, walk in lock-step with it — and by all accounts the price to pipe water to sunny southern California is going to increase. Maloni said his company was taking an initial loss but would start paying itself back as imported water costs increase. Eventually rates will be set halfway between the real cost of desalinated water and the higher cost of imported water.

What kinds of guarantees are there that this will happen? Nobody knows. "They’ll say anything, but when it comes to showing you a contract, we’ve never seen anything," said Adam Scow of Food and Water Watch. "There’s a lack of regulation with a private company controlling the water."

The plant now has no less than three lawsuits hanging over it, all filed with state agencies in charge of permitting and oversight — the Coastal Commission, the State Lands Commission, and the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board. All basically contend that the state didn’t do enough to require Poseidon to implement the most environmentally sound technology that’s least harmful to marine organisms, as required by state law.

Geever stresses that desalination is an energy-intensive way to get water. "Every gallon of water you conserve is energy conserved," he said. "Not only could San Diego do more conservation, but they don’t recycle any wastewater to potable water standards. That’s much less energy intensive."

Poseidon counters by saying that it invested $60 million in energy efficiency measures for the plant and will be installing solar panels on the roof. Perhaps most telling is that the company sees itself as vending reliability. "It’s not the current cost of water the San Diego Water Authority is concerned about, but the future cost for an acre-foot," Maloni said. "There’s a dollar figure you can put on reliability. Public agencies are willing to pay us a little more for that."

Which gets back to a comment Barlow made about capitalizing on crisis. "We are frightened half to death and everyone who looks at it, right-wing or left-wing, sees that. … They use the crisis to say we have no alternative except to go into massive desalination plants."

And, as Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute pointed out, San Diego wasn’t calling for proposals to bring it more water. "Poseidon wanted to build a desalination plant and it came to San Diego. That’s one way to do it. The other way is for a municipality to say we want a desalination plant, we’re opening it up to bids, let’s have a competition. That didn’t happen, and instead we have one contractor."

Geever added, "Poseidon has been really successful at lobbying politicians and convincing regulators to give them permits."

Which points to one of the chronic ills of managing water systems, particularly in California where water has always been political. "In the 20th century decisions about water were made by white males in back rooms," said Gleick. "It solved a lot of problems, but it led to a lot of environmental problems. The days when water decisions made in back rooms should be over. And they aren’t over, and that’s part of the problem."

DELTA BLUES


Nowhere is that more obvious than the delta, where the state’s two most prominent rivers — the Sacramento and the San Joaquin — meet the Pacific Ocean just north of San Francisco. It’s ground zero for one of the most charged political fights in the state.

Two-thirds of California’s water comes from the delta. About 80 percent of it goes to cropland, watering about half of the state’s $35 billion agricultural industry, much of it through historic water rights that have been granted to a small lobby of powerful growers who sell their surplus rights for profit. Another 18 percent goes to urban water needs, and — in spite of the fact that this is the largest estuary on the west coast of North and South America — only 2 percent of the water remains for natural environmental flows.

Delta issues are legion and begin at the headwaters of the Sacramento River, near Mount Shasta, a land Mark Franco describes as an Eden. "The deer, salmon, and acorns that we eat — everything that we need is there," Franco told the Guardian. "It’s such a beautiful place. Now they’re drying it, that Eden."

Franco is head of the Winnemem Wintu, or "little water people" tribe, and is fighting the first phase of water diversions from the Sacramento River, 200 miles north of the capitol where companies like Coca-Cola, Crystal Geyser, and now, potentially, Nestlé, pump millions of gallons a year into small plastic bottles and ship it around the country to sell in groceries and convenience stores.

"Here in the US, people have become soft. They’ve become so used to just having things directly handed to them that they no longer understand where their water comes from," he said at the anti-corporate water conference. "Realize this: those springs on Mount Shasta are not an infinite supply of water."

After the Sacramento feeds the bottled-water companies, what remains wends its way south, with more diverted directly to farmers and into the State Water Project, which pipes it to drier southern regions. What’s left empties into the delta.

A lack of fresh water, flagging environmental preservation, increasing agricultural needs, and leveed island communities that are seismically unsafe and sinking, all mean the delta is failing as an ecosystem, and has been for some time. Chinook salmon and delta smelt populations are collapsing to such an extent that court orders have halted a percentage of water diversions and salmon fisherman were forced to dock their boats this year. Levees are crumbling, causing islands to flood and raising ire among landowners. Farmers with historic water rights are fiercely protective of them, while environmentalists are lobbying them to use more conservation and efficiency.

Nearly all stakeholders agree that the status quo won’t hold.

The challenge is finding a solution. Ending exports seems impossible, limiting them means massive investments in other resources. No one agrees on what will really save the endangered salmon and smelt or improve conditions for the 700 other native plants and animals.

In 2006, the governor convened a seven-member Delta Vision Blue Ribbon Task Force, which released a strategic plan in October calling for balancing co-equal goals of ecological restoration and water reliability.

The plan also specifically recommended a dual conveyance system similar to what was proposed in a study by the Public Policy Institute of California. It combines some through-delta pumping with a peripheral canal around the delta. PPIC crunched the numbers and determined that the canal was economically better than any of the four options they had weighed.

The peripheral canal idea isn’t new, but it’s been controversial since it was first proposed almost three decades ago. The plan was ushered by then-Gov. Jerry Brown, but defeated by voters in 1982 after a major organizing effort by environmentalists. (Whether voters will cast ballots on it this time remains to be seen, though the Attorney General’s Office, now headed by Brown, has counseled the Department of Water Resources, which is charged with implementing whatever plan is decided upon, that a vote of the people isn’t required.)

Shortly after its release in July, the PPIC report was criticized by five elected Congressional Democrats — Reps. George Miller, Ellen Tauscher, Doris Matsui, Mike Thompson, and Jerry McNerney. "The PPIC report should not be used to ignore the many things that can be done today to restore Delta health, including providing necessary fish flows, undertaking critical ecosystem restoration projects, and making major investments in water recycling and improved conservation measures," Miller said.

Numbers used by the PPIC report have also been criticized by Jeffrey Michael, a business professor at the University of the Pacific in Stockton. In an analysis of PPIC’s work, Michael said the group had used inflated population figures, as well as high costs for desalinated and recycled water, therefore resulting in a report that made it look like it was too expensive to end delta exports altogether and replace them with other water sources.

The PPIC said the state’s population would be 65 million by 2050, that desalinated water costs $2,072 per acre-foot, and recycled water goes for $1,480 per acre-foot — numbers that were scaled to 2008 dollars from 1995 figures. Michael contends that if the numbers were adjusted to reflect actual costs, the peripheral canal wouldn’t look like such a sweet deal.

Maloni, of Poseidon Resources, said the desalinated water cost would be $950 per acre-foot for San Diego, including a $250 subsidy. A similar plant the company is hoping to construct in Huntington Beach will be about $50 more per acre foot.

When asked if $2,100 per acre-foot was a reasonable figure for desalinated water in California, Maloni said, "That’s nuts."

What does all this illustrate? That even among a small cast of purported experts there’s little consensus on several fundamental issues.

Adding more fuel to the fires of public skepticism is that a third of the funding for the PPIC report came from Stephen D. Bechtel Jr. — heir to the Bechtel Corp., which has come under tremendous criticism for its moves to privatize water around the world.

"That is very upsetting to us. They would stand to gain a lot with a contract to build a peripheral canal," said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla of Restore the Delta.

PPIC’s Ellen Hanak said the funding didn’t affect their findings. "It’s really much more linked to the fact that the foundation is really interested in the environment and water is a part of that."

Linda Strean, the PPIC’s public affairs officer, told the Guardian that it was Bechtel himself who wrote the check, not the foundation. It’s the first time Bechtel has given to PPIC.

But considering Bechtel’s past performance managing water, it doesn’t inspire much confidence.

BECHTEL’S BIG ADVENTURES


In April, Cesar Cardenas Ramirez and César Augusto Parada, traveled from Guayaquil, Ecuador, to San Francisco. The two men were on a fact-finding mission: they wanted to know more about the company that owns Interagua, the company that is supposed to deliver the drinking water that only occasionally comes out of the taps in their homes.

One of the first things they discovered is that 50 Beale St. doesn’t necessarily advertise itself as the home of Bechtel — one of the world’s largest private corporations, with global construction and infrastructure contracts amounting to billions of dollars annually.

In Guayaquil, water service has been problematic for decades. During the 1990s the country received a loan from the Inter-American Development Bank to improve basic infrastructure. The money was given directly to the government, but like many World Bank and International Monetary Fund loans granted throughout Latin America at the time, it was predicated on an eventual privatization of the water service contract.

The money helped — water conditions improved, and the city seemed to be on track to bring service to outlying areas. But in 2000, the city, abiding by the loan conditions, requested bids to run the water and sewage systems. No bids were received. Leaders scaled back provisions that kept some control in the hands of the government, and they got one response. In 2001, Interagua, a company owned by Bechtel, took over water service.

"Since the contract, nobody has been able to drink the tap water," Cardenas, who represents the Citizen’s Observatory for Public Services, a watchdog group formed in Guayaquil to monitor the water contract between the government and Interagua, told the Guardian. "Prior to the contract you could drink the tap water, although there were some sections of the city where the plumbing was old and inadequate."

Even though Interagua is managing a public service, because it’s a private company, information about its exact responsibilities have been elusive. The Observatory does know that Interagua pays nothing for the water it draws from the local river, is guaranteed a 17 percent rate of return, and that it has a minimum mandate to expand service. What’s also known is its citizens’ experience — during the first six months of the contract, some rates were increased 180 percent.

Bechtel’s SF office refused to meet with the two men or answer their phone calls, e-mails, and letters, which highlights the inherent problem with corporate control of water — a lack of accountability. Bechtel didn’t answer any of the Guardian‘s detailed questions regarding the Interagua contract, and only provided a three-page letter originally drafted to the World Bank in December 2007, that paints a rosy scene of productivity and accomplishment in Guayaquil.

"At present, over 2.1 million residents of Guayaquil (84 percent of the population) are connected to the municipal potable water system, and more than 90 percent of the customers have 24-hour per day, uninterrupted service." The letter goes on to state that coverage is expanding with new connections, water quality meets public health standards, prices have decreased, and procedures are in place to help customers who have higher than average bills.

"There are things that have improved, yes," said Emily Joiner, who spent last summer in Ecuador and is author of the book Murky Waters, a history of water issues in Guayaquil published by the Observatory in 2007. But the bottom line is that citizens pay for the service, but they can’t drink the water.

"You still don’t drink the water anywhere in the city at any time," said Joiner. People buy bottled water or boil it. "Bottled water is expensive, as a percentage of income," she said.

Whereas water service was previously priced more like a progressive income tax, with the lowest consumers paying the lowest rates, Interagua has flattened out the rate structure and now big water consuming businesses are paying the same as residents. "It’s pricing some families out of the market," Joiner said. "It’s great for business. It’s not great for people who don’t have enough water to bathe or wash their clothes."

The Observatory would like the water system turned back over to the government. The local authority, which once ran the water service and is now charged with overseeing Interagua, fined the company $1.5 million for not meeting goals for expanding service. According to Joiner, there’s been no follow-up on whether the company is meeting those goals now.

The Observatory also filed complaints with the World Bank, which attempted a settlement, but, according to Joiner, representatives from Interagua refused to sit down at the same table as Cardenas. "The process stalled," Joiner said. "Interagua said the issue had become too politicized. César [Cardenas] has a reputation for rabble-rousing, and at the time he was lobbying for constitutional amendments outlawing privatization. Interagua considered it negotiating with a hostile party."

A new constitution was passed in September that does, in fact, outlaw privatization, but still allows existing contracts to be honored if they pass a government audit.

In the meantime, the local rumor is that Bechtel is arranging to sell Interagua to another company. Bechtel wouldn’t confirm this, and no one could say more beyond what was reported in speculative articles in Guayaquil’s local newspapers.

It wouldn’t be the first time Bechtel bailed on an international water contract. In what was part of a massive privatization of a variety of Bolivia’s national services, in 1996 the World Bank granted the city of Cochabamba a $14 million loan to improve water service for its 600,000 citizens. Like Ecuador, there were strings attached: a future privatization of the city’s water service. It was sold to Aguas del Tunari, the sole bidder — also a subsidiary of Bechtel. Almost immediately rates increased by nearly 200 percent for some families. In January 2000, people stopped paying, started rallying, and the water war began.

Led by La Coordinadora for the Defense of Water and Life, organizers shut down the city, physically blockading roads and demanding the regional governor review the contract. The battle went on into February, resulting in injuries to 175 people and the death of one. Originally the government announced a rate rollback for six months, but the Bechtel contract remained. "The [Bechtel] contract was very hard to get a hold of," Omar Fernandez of the Coordinadora told Jim Schulz of the Democracy Center. "It was like a state secret." Once they did examine a copy of it, Bechtel’s sweetheart deal for a guaranteed 16 percent profit was exposed and people demanded a full repeal.

Eventually, the residents got it, and though decent water service in Cochabamba is still elusive, the water war has become the poster child for successful grassroots activism.

"One of the most inspiring struggles around community control of water happened in Cochabamba, Bolivia, in the year 2000, when international corporation Bechtel — based here in San Francisco — privatized the municipal water system and hiked the water rates for citizens by 30 to 40 percent. Thankfully, there was a popular upsurge. It was a very bitter struggle and people succeeded in turning control back to public hands.

"This success changed the public debate in Bolivia," said Mateo Nube, a native of La Paz, Bolivia, who spoke at the anti-corporate water conference. "People said ‘enough’ to privatization, enough to corporate control. We need to seize control of our government."

You don’t have to go to Bolivia to find water-privatization battles. In 2002, catching wind that the city of Stockton was on the brink of privatizing its water services, the Concerned Citizens Coalition rallied signatures for a ballot measure against the idea. Weeks before the vote, the Stockton City Council narrowly approved one of the west’s largest water privatization deals — a 20-year, $600 million contract with OMI-Thames. The ballot measure still received 60 percent approval, and activists took the issue to court arguing there hadn’t been a proper CEQA process. In January 2004, according to the Concerned Citizens Coalition Web site, "San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge Bob McNatt ruled in our favor — we won on all points. The judge ruled that privatizing, in and of itself, needed environmental review." The city appealed, but eventually dropped the suit and OMI walked away in March 2008.

PUBLIC AGENCY, PUBLIC PROCESS


Bechtel also failed to hold on to a more local contract, a $45 million deal with the SFPUC to manage the first phase of its multibillion dollar Water System Improvement Project. After a 2001 story by the Guardian exposed Bechtel’s exorbitant billing for services that resulted in few gains (see "Bechtel’s $45 million screw job," 9/12/01), the contract was revoked by the Board of Supervisors and granted to Parsons, which runs it now.

Years later, in 2007, when the SFPUC released a draft of the Environmental Impact Report for the $4.4 billion project, massive public outcry arose against it. The plan outlined major seismic upgrades for miles of aging water infrastructure between San Francisco and Yosemite National Park, where the headwaters of the Tuolumne River are captured by a giant dam in Hetch Hetchy Valley and gravity-fed to the city. While the EIR projected little additional water use for San Franciscans, it called for diverting an additional 25 million gallons of water per day from the Tuolumne to meet the needs of 23 wholesale customers in San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Alameda counties.

The Pacific Institute and Tuolumne River Trust collaborated on a study showing that 100 percent of the anticipated water increases were for those wholesale customers — most of it for outdoor water use. The SFPUC hadn’t factored in any increased conservation, efficiency, or recycling measures, nor had it independently questioned the growth numbers.

The EIR received upwards of 1,000 public comments, more than any other document ever generated by the SFPUC. Environmental groups rallied, writing editorials, flooding public meetings, and asserting a different vision of the Bay Area’s water future and stewardship of its primary, pristine water resource.

And it worked. "We got about 95 percent of everything we wanted out of the WSIP process," said Jessie Raeder of the Tuolumne River Trust. "We do consider the WSIP a huge win for the environmental community … because we were able to organize and get a seat at the table and discuss this with the PUC." She said the Bay Area Water Stewards, a coalition of environmental groups, met with the PUC nearly every month and slowly the initial additional river diversions were pared down to a possible 2 million gallons. Also, a cap has been placed on any diversions until 2018, which gives agencies time to implement conservation and efficiency measures.

The SFPUC feels positive about it, too. "We are really thrilled that the program EIR was approved by the Planning Commission, approved by the PUC, and not appealed," said spokesperson Tony Winnicker. He said there were really controversial elements and the trick was balancing the competing interests of wholesale customers and environmental groups. "It took a really hard-nosed look at our demand projections and what we could really do for conservation." He concedes there are still controversies, in particular over the Calaveras Dam, which the Alameda Creek Alliance opposes. "It would be hubris for us to say it’s been a complete success."

"This is a process that would only occur through a public agency," Winnicker added.

"What we saw with the WSIP was a solution where everything was fully transparent," Raider added. "It was all a public process, and there was plenty of opportunity for public input."

Which is really what a public water utility should be doing. "When you’re talking about public water, it isn’t them, it’s us," said Wenonah Hauter, director of Food and Water Watch. "A public water system is only as good as the people involved with it."

DRINK LOCALLY


"This conference isn’t a public event," organizer Andrew Slavin told the Guardian when we tried to gain admittance to the Corporate Water Footprinting Conference. While water activists rallied outside deriding the corporations inside for greenwashing their images, Slavin said that the fact that the conference wasn’t open to the public proved that the corporations weren’t trying to do environmental PR. "If they’re trying to do greenwashing this isn’t the place to do it. The aim is to try to share information."

Slavin pointed to representatives speaking from the Environmental Protection Agency, the SFPUC, and NGOs like the World Wildlife Fund. From an environmental perspective, if these companies are going to be using water, isn’t it worth working with them to reduce their impacts?

"There are companies I call water hunters," explained Maude Barlow. "They destroy water to make their products and profit. Unfortunately, some of the companies that are leading this conference are bottled water companies. I don’t know how you can become ‘water neutral’ if your life’s work is draining aquifers."

Many water activists consider bottled water the low-hanging fruit as far as getting people to change behaviors. San Francisco banned the use of tax dollars to buy it, and the SFPUC has been promoting its pristine Hetch Hetchy tap water, gravity-fed from Yosemite National Park. "Bottled water companies are basically engaged in a multiyear campaign. Their marketing approach is you can’t trust the tap, your public water isn’t safe," Winnicker said.

Slavin said he thought it was weird to protest the conference, because the corporations are genuinely trying to avoid conflicts. He pointed to a company called Future 500 that has created a business out of mediating between corporations and communities. "It’s hard for companies to speak to people so they use other companies to do it," Slavin said.

In fact, representatives from Future 500 appeared to be the only conference attendees who stepped outside to watch the protest.

"I think it’s great," Erik Wohlgemuth of Future 500, said of the protest. "I think press should have been there. I think more of these voices should have been there. My personal view is they need to come up with some sort of reduced rate to allow these nonprofits to attend these kinds of conferences."

Jeremy Shute, a representative from global infrastructure company AECOM who was standing with Wohlgemuth, said, "There’s a tremendous amount of research and thought going into these questions and it would be great if that knowledge could be shared."

But is that going to happen when private companies cite "proprietary interest" as a reason for not sharing more information about their businesses? Or when they don’t have to abide by public records laws, leaving their contracts shielded from public scrutiny? Or when they refuse to answer calls from their constituencies and the media? In which case, should those advocates be in the same room as some of the biggest water users in the world? When pressed with the question, Slavin seemed stumped. "Why didn’t we invite them?" he asked. Then, after a long, thoughtful pause, he said, "I don’t know."

————————

WATER, BY THE NUMBERS

One-half of 1 percent of the world’s water is fresh. [1]

Of that .5 percent, about 50 percent is polluted. [2]

One in 6 people don’t have access to clean, safe water. [3]

Five food and beverage giants — Nestlé, Unilever, Coca-Cola, Anheuser Busch, and Groupe Danone — consume almost 575 billion liters of water per year, enough to satisfy the daily water needs of every person on the planet. [4]

The average human needs about 13 gallons of water each day for drinking, cooking, and sanitation. [5]

An average North American uses about 150 gallons of water each day. [6]

An average African: 1.5 gallons. [7]

An average San Franciscan: 72 gallons. [8]

The average Los Angeles resident: 122 gallons. [9]

About half the water used by a typical home goes for lawns, gardens, and pools. [10]

50 percent of US water comes from non-renewable groundwater. [11]

86 percent of Americans get their water from public water systems. [12]

80 percent of California’s homes get water from public systems. [13]

The 20 percent of CA households receiving water from privately-owned systems pay an average of 20 percent more for it. [14]

Of the 4.5 billion people with access to clean drinking water worldwide, 15 percent are buying it from private water companies. [15]

It takes 3 liters of water to produce 1 liter of bottled water. [16]

Tests of 1,000 bottles of water spanning 103 brands revealed that about one-third contained some level of contamination. [17]

The bottled water industry is worth $60 billion a year. [18]

Water is the third biggest industry in the world, worth $425 billion, ranking just behind electricity and oil. [19]

About 70 percent of CA’s water lies north of Sacramento, but 80 percent of the demand is from the southern two-thirds of the state. [20]

[1] www.gwb.com.au/gwb/news/mai/water12.htm

[2] Maude Barlow, interview with SFBG

[3] foodandwaterwatch.org/world/utf8-america/water-privatization/ecuador/bechtel-in-guayaquil-ecuador

[4] The Economist magazine

[5] www.ens-newswire.com/ens/mar2002/2002-03-22-01.asp

[6] www.canadians.org/water/publications/water%20commons/section4.html; environment.about.com/od/greenlivinginyourhome/a/laundry_soaps.htm

[7] montessori-amman-imman-project.blogspot.com/2008/01/in-news-interview-with-ariane-kirtley.html; answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20080304195801AAnrv4Y

[8] sfwater.org/mto_main.cfm/MC_ID/13/MSC_ID/168/MTO_ID/355

[9] www.nwf.org/nationalwildlife/article.cfm?articleId=928&issueId=68

[10] American Water Works Association

[11] www.canadians.org/integratethis/water/2008/May-28.html

[12] www.foodandwaterwatch.org/water/private-vs-public

[13] California Public Utilities Commission

[14] Black and Veatch’s 2006 California Water Rate Survey

[15] www.canadians.org/water/publications/water%20commons/section2.html

[16] www.pacinst.org/topics/water_and_sustainability/bottled_water/bottled_water_and_energy.html

[17] Natural Resources Defense Council study, "Pure water or pure hype?" (1999)

[18] www.bottlemania.net/excerpt.html

[19] www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/money/article4086457.ece; thegreenblog.leedphilly.com

[20] www.energy.ca.gov/2005publications/CEC-700-2005-011/CEC-700-2005-011-SF.PDF

Ricky Angel and Katie Baker assisted with research.

Volume 43 Number 11 Flip-through Edition

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Couch-surf theater

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PREVIEW No sooner do they settle into their snug and versatile new alley roost on Natoma Street than the people at Boxcar Theatre go itinerant again. The company, founded just a few years back on valiantly environmental productions set aboard moving buses (2006’s 21/One) or on the sands of Baker Beach (2006’s Zen), is spending the holiday season couch-surfing its production of Edward Albee’s The American Dream in a series of private living rooms around the Bay.

Fair enough. This early one act — a scathingly trenchant satire of quote-unquote American family values — is as personal and autobiographical an assault on the hollow mores and manners of a vicious culture as anything Albee ever penned: it’s almost like it never left home in the first place. The cozy parable of Mommy, Daddy, and Grandma — plus special guest: a mysterious young man the spitting image of a son they once adopted and destroyed — unfolds proudly and loudly in a strikingly absurdist key while laying the groundwork for more intricate creations/dissections in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1962) and A Delicate Balance (1966). Like the teen who calls the fam out on all its bullshit, it’s a play the author himself described as "a stand against the fiction that everything in this slipping land of ours is peachy-keen." Who says you can’t go home again?

THE AMERICAN DREAM Fri/12, 7 and 8:30 p.m.; Sat/13 and Dec. 19 and 20, 7 p.m. $25. Various Bay Area living rooms; call for location. (415) 776-1747, www.boxcartheatre.org.

Mochipet

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PREVIEW In his recent profile of Steven Ellison, better known as Flying Lotus, The New Yorker music critic Sasha Frere-Jones goes out of his way to avoid dropping the "lazer bass" bomb. Which makes sense: it’s a term he jokingly and publicly coined on his blog to describe a geographically dispersed "affinity group" whose music seems to have both everything and nothing to do with hip-hop circa 2008, and he’s gotten some shit for it. Here’s where we rely on Daly City’s Mochipet — David Y. Wang, if you’re feeling friendly — to clarify things. Whether looking back over his six-year discography or just dealing with the songs on his MySpace profile, it’s easy to imagine traces of any major electronic production style of the last decade — from ADD-afflicted IDM to Baltimore’s stuttering club thump or early-aughts mash-ups — but there isn’t much settled or comfortably historical about the MIDI controller-ized way the genres and references are seamlessly slurred together and stretched taut over heavy syncopation.

As that joke genre passes from lark to an articulated set of formal rules, it may turn out that Mochipet is not part of the clique that includes folks like Ellison, Hudson Mohawke, and SF’s future blappers Lazer Sword. In songs like "Sharp Drest" from this year’s Microphonepet (Daly City), however, Mochipet is indisputably one in intention with these artists, producing tracks that bang so hard they cause involuntary dancing, and bass blurps that seem to filter through your sternum before reaching your eardrums. Pretty tuff stuff for a guy named after squishy stuff, especially since he so often performs in an infantilizing purple dinosaur suit.
MOCHIPET With Return to Mono, the Flying Skulls, and Anon Day. Wed/10, 8 p..m., $5–$8. Red Devil Lounge, 1695 Polk, SF. (415) 921-1695, www.reddevillounge.com