Volume 43 Number 13

Best in show

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YEAR IN REVIEW The time is right to pay tribute to the Bay Area’s artists and galleries. Without further ado, here’s an alphabetical guide to 2008’s delights.

A is for the amazing SF art opening section at www.artbusiness.com; and for Ryan Alexiev, whose "Land of a Million Cereals," at Mission 17, hit Larry King and Damien Hirst with sugary comedy

B is Todd Bura, whose "Misfits" at Triple Base used minimalism to make one see things anew; Jonathan Burstein, whose "Visage" at Patricia Sweetow Gallery turned museum recycling into the year’s best portraiture; and Luke Butler, whose "Invasion," at [2nd floor projects] tickled with Spock landscapes and Republican presidential beefcake

C is for Victor Cartagena, "The Invisible Nation," at Galeria de la Raza; Julie Chang, "Ox-herding," at Hosfelt Gallery; Ryan Coffey, "Recent Works," at Adobe Books Backroom Gallery

D is for Lauren DiCioccio, threading through the death of the newspaper era in "Lauren DiCioccio, Aliza Lelah," at Jack Fischer Gallery; and Emory Douglas, making his own activist news in "The Long Memory: Works Past and Present," at Babylon Falling

E is for David Enos, Frank Haines, and Wayne Smith, pronouncing "Zen With a Lisp," at [2nd floor projects]; and 871 Fine Arts, the Bay’s best art books, now at a new site.

F is for Matt Furie and his "Heads," at Adobe Books Backroom Gallery; and "Nature Freak," at Jack Fischer Gallery

G is for the Great Tortilla Conspiracy, who — with help from a Paris Hilton Endowment for the Tortilla Arts — served up "Tortilla Art for the 21st Century," at SomArts Gallery

H is for Jay Howell, who teamed up with Matt Furie for Receiver Gallery’s "Return to Innocence," and brought curatorial goodness to 111 Minna

I is for inventiveness

J is for Bill Jenkins, whose self-titled show at Jancar Jones Gallery was the understatement of the year; and Ian Johnson, whose "Other Voices/Other Rooms" turned jazz into color bursts at Park Life

K is for the brother duo George and Mike Kuchar, presenting dinosaur and dog love via "paintingsdrawingspaintingsdrawingspaintings," at [2nd floor projects]

L is for Ruth Laskey, and the amazing intricacy of her "7 Weavings," at Ratio 3; and Frank Lyon and David Wilson, "Enter the Center," at Eleanor Harwood Gallery

M is for Dave Muller, " Medium (Six Times,)" at Anthony Meier Fine Arts

N is for nothing

O is for Open Studios

P is for Nathan Phelps, turning a corner from white to black with "The Neti Project," at 20 GOTO 10 Gallery

Q is for Queen’s Nails Annex, which saw the future with Maximo Gonzalez’s "Recession: The Alternative Economies of Maximo Gonzalez."

R is for onetime Bay Area queer punk Gwenaël Rattke, bringing collage back with "Nouveau Système," at Ping Pong Gallery; and Lordy Rodriguez, blasting us with color in "201 Drawings," at Hosfelt Gallery

S is for Bott Scarry, tweaking op art and his name with "Weezing the Juice," at CCRider

T is for David Tomb, heeding the call of the wild with the beautiful paintings of "Birds of the Sierra Madre," at Electric Works

U is for underground art that you keep at home and show only to friends

V is for Jacques Villegle, whose "Decollage from 1965-2006" brought the art of torn posters to Modernism Gallery

W is for William T. Wiley, turning ecology into pinball at Electric Works’ "Punball — Only One Earth"; and Michael Wolf, whose "The Transparent City" eyed city-of-now Chicago, at Robert Koch Gallery

X marks the spot

Y is for Will Yackulic, "A Prompt and Perfect Cure," at Gregory Lind Gallery

Z is for "Zebulun," by Goldie winner Kamau Patton, at Queen’s Nails Annex; and for all the zzzs needed to rest up before the barrage of Bay Area art in 2009.

Tiger tales

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SRSLY, WTF? "Throughout history, the greatest saviors have come in the darkest hours." No, that’s not Oprah on Obama, but a subsidiary character in Masters of the Impossible appraising the ultimate cartoon superheroes: Siegfried and Roy.

Just reissued by children’s DVD label NCircle, Siegfried and Roy: Masters of the Impossible was produced in 1996 for precise reasons unknown. Perhaps it was a pilot for a Saturday morning series — the mix of tacky drawn and digital animation sure doesn’t look intended for theaters, though this neverending story does clock in at a feature-length 76 minutes. As entertainment for kids, it is just wrong, the sort of thing that might actually send them dazedly outside to play rather than keep watching. But as an inexplicable whatsit — one of those things that can’t exactly be recommended yet must be seen to be believed — it has some perverse appeal.

In the mystic world of Sarmoti … well, I’d attempt to describe the "plot," but that would take up more space than a New Yorker essay. Suffice it to say rakish, wisecracking Siegfried (voice of Andrew Hawkes) and noble, humorless Roy (Jeff Bennett) are itinerant magicians who meet in a Star Wars-esque freak bar. They become scrappin’ best bros on an incredibly convoluted quest involving King Midas and every other folkloric figure or tidbit that can be shoehorned into one senseless mess. There are Greek and Norse gods (see Zeus battle Loki!), unicorns, Beowulf, Medusa, an annoying comedy-relief Rumplestiltskin, gratuitous Shakespeare quotes, and of course a white tiger.

Siegfried, spouting Vegas-style ka-boom-cha! quips, sasses lines like "Great! Stuck at a dragon crossing?! What can your magic cat do for us now, Tiger Boy?" (He also keeps trumpeting "The magic is back!" — the worst movie catchphrase this side of "Welcome to the Xander zone.")

It’s hard to think the writers weren’t smirking when they included references to "the last seer of Gaylen" and "drained enchantments from around the world." Or maybe I’m just filthy-minded. But was it an audio hallucination, or did Sig really warn Roy that a fire-breathing dragon might reduce them to "barbecued bareback"?

This just might be the worst drinking-game DVD ever. Even if you limited yourself to imbibing only when there’s a.) demonic possession, b.) talking breastplates, c.) characters transforming into gold, d.) characters transforming into stone, or e.) Roy shouting to his tiger BFF "Manticore, no!" you’d be hammered within 10 minutes (creepily, the white tiger who near-fatally mauled the real Roy Horn onstage in 2003 was named Montecore) — through a drunken haze might well be the best lens through which to appreciate Masters of the Impossible.

www.ncircleentertainment.com

Lincoln flogs

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› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Barack Obama wasn’t the only lanky senator from Illinois to have a triumph on the stage, political or otherwise, this year. Abraham Lincoln took a couple of bows himself. Of course, many have noted the weighty coincidence of the country’s first African American president following Lincoln’s senatorial trail to the White House. But who could match Thick Description’s revival of Suzan-Lori Parks’ The America Play — focusing on an African American protagonist whose calling involves dressing up in Lincoln drag — for political prescience? Special mention goes to playwright Aaron Loeb, who at SF Playhouse last week unveiled a bawdy frolic he calls Abraham Lincoln’s Big Gay Dance Party. This Lincoln thing just gets weirder.

I guess it would be pretty easy to call 2008 a year of triumphs and defeats, whether you were a politician, a voter, a banker, a shaken-down taxpayer, an Olympian, an artist, or just a serial theatergoer. So it was a year of triumphs and defeats. God, I feel cheap. Still, most of one’s life is lived straddling a slippery seesaw of success and failure. And no doubt 2009 will confirm as much. The following list accentuates the positive, the more victorious moments in the sweep of theatrical offerings this year, and eliminates the negative, minus an equivocating remark or two. Until this year is over, I’m not messing with Mr. In-between.

<\!s><0x0007>The Andersen Project at Zellerbach Playhouse.

<\!s><0x0007>The Ballad of Edgar Cayce (A Bluegrass Operetta) by Construction Crew Theater at Traveling Jewish Theater.

<\!s><0x0007>Beowulf: A Thousand Years of Baggage at Ashby Stage

Shotgun Players shrewdly gave a material foot-up to brilliant but low-budg Banana Bag and Bodice, leading to the New York City company’s most wildly enjoyable show to date. What would they do with some real cash? For a hint, catch the show’s one-night-only remounting at Berkeley Rep’s Roda Stage on Jan. 8, 2009.

<\!s><0x0007>Billy Connelly Live! at Post Street Theater

The secret of success in theater remains elusive, but clearly one cheerfully roguish, foul-mouthed Scot is sometimes all it takes. (Check that — I’d also had a couple of pints.)

<\!s><0x0007>Blade to the Heat at Thick House

Thick Description was doing more than just resting on its laurels when it devoted its anniversary season to remounting past successes, often with the original principals.

<\!s>Survivors: In the arts — and in this economy — staying power itself counts as a triumph. Three milestone anniversaries this year: Thick Description at 20 years; the Exit Theatre, 25 years; and Traveling Jewish Theater, 30 years.

<\!s><0x0007>Bone to Pick at Exit on Taylor

The Cutting Ball Theater and Magic Theater/Z Space New Works Initiative commissioned this fresh surprise, a clever and powerful reworking of the Ariadne myth by local playwright Eugenie Chan — a standout in Cutting Ball’s program of short avant-garde works.

<\!s><0x0007>Bug at SF Playhouse

A great ensemble made the most of this weird and gritty tale by Tracy Letts, who won the Pulitzer this year for his latest, August: Osage County, due for a Bay Area bow in 2009.

<\!s><0x0007>Curse of the Starving Class at American Conservatory Theater

Director Peter DuBois’ anniversary revival of Sam Shepard’s play was fairly terrific throughout, and included two outstanding female turns: Pamela Reed (the play’s original Emma), returning brilliantly three decades later to play the mother, Ella, and Nicole Lowrance, wonderfully filling Reed’s old shoes as the unstoppable firecracker of a daughter.

<\!s><0x0007>Two by August Wilson: Fences at Lorraine Hansberry and Joe Turner’s Come and Gone at Berkeley Rep.

<\!s><0x0007>Two Conor McFirsts: Irish playwright Conor McPherson received a pair of strong local premieres this year, both showcasing exceptional performances. The Seafarer at Marin Theatre Company and Shining City at SF Playhouse. There were no slouches in Amy Glazer’s production for SF Playhouse, but as the grief-haunted husband, Paul Whitworth’s persuasive performance was more startling than any phantom.

<\!s><0x0007>Work Eats Home by Sleepwalkers Theater at Phoenix Theater.

› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Barack Obama wasn’t the only lanky senator from Illinois to have a triumph on the stage, political or otherwise, this year. Abraham Lincoln took a couple of bows himself. Of course, many have noted the weighty coincidence of the country’s first African American president following Lincoln’s senatorial trail to the White House. But who could match Thick Description’s revival of Suzan-Lori Parks’ The America Play — focusing on an African American protagonist whose calling involves dressing up in Lincoln drag — for political prescience? Special mention goes to playwright Aaron Loeb, who at SF Playhouse last week unveiled a bawdy frolic he calls Abraham Lincoln’s Big Gay Dance Party. This Lincoln thing just gets weirder.

I guess it would be pretty easy to call 2008 a year of triumphs and defeats, whether you were a politician, a voter, a banker, a shaken-down taxpayer, an Olympian, an artist, or just a serial theatergoer. So it was a year of triumphs and defeats. God, I feel cheap. Still, most of one’s life is lived straddling a slippery seesaw of success and failure. And no doubt 2009 will confirm as much. The following list accentuates the positive, the more victorious moments in the sweep of theatrical offerings this year, and eliminates the negative, minus an equivocating remark or two. Until this year is over, I’m not messing with Mr. In-between.

<\!s><0x0007>The Andersen Project at Zellerbach Playhouse.

<\!s><0x0007>The Ballad of Edgar Cayce (A Bluegrass Operetta) by Construction Crew Theater at Traveling Jewish Theater.

<\!s><0x0007>Beowulf: A Thousand Years of Baggage at Ashby Stage

Shotgun Players shrewdly gave a material foot-up to brilliant but low-budg Banana Bag and Bodice, leading to the New York City company’s most wildly enjoyable show to date. What would they do with some real cash? For a hint, catch the show’s one-night-only remounting at Berkeley Rep’s Roda Stage on Jan. 8, 2009.

<\!s><0x0007>Billy Connelly Live! at Post Street Theater

The secret of success in theater remains elusive, but clearly one cheerfully roguish, foul-mouthed Scot is sometimes all it takes. (Check that — I’d also had a couple of pints.)

<\!s><0x0007>Blade to the Heat at Thick House

Thick Description was doing more than just resting on its laurels when it devoted its anniversary season to remounting past successes, often with the original principals.

<\!s>Survivors: In the arts — and in this economy — staying power itself counts as a triumph. Three milestone anniversaries this year: Thick Description at 20 years; the Exit Theatre, 25 years; and Traveling Jewish Theater, 30 years.

<\!s><0x0007>Bone to Pick at Exit on Taylor

The Cutting Ball Theater and Magic Theater/Z Space New Works Initiative commissioned this fresh surprise, a clever and powerful reworking of the Ariadne myth by local playwright Eugenie Chan — a standout in Cutting Ball’s program of short avant-garde works.

<\!s><0x0007>Bug at SF Playhouse

A great ensemble made the most of this weird and gritty tale by Tracy Letts, who won the Pulitzer this year for his latest, August: Osage County, due for a Bay Area bow in 2009.

<\!s><0x0007>Curse of the Starving Class at American Conservatory Theater

Director Peter DuBois’ anniversary revival of Sam Shepard’s play was fairly terrific throughout, and included two outstanding female turns: Pamela Reed (the play’s original Emma), returning brilliantly three decades later to play the mother, Ella, and Nicole Lowrance, wonderfully filling Reed’s old shoes as the unstoppable firecracker of a daughter.

<\!s><0x0007>Two by August Wilson: Fences at Lorraine Hansberry and Joe Turner’s Come and Gone at Berkeley Rep.

<\!s><0x0007>Two Conor McFirsts: Irish playwright Conor McPherson received a pair of strong local premieres this year, both showcasing exceptional performances. The Seafarer at Marin Theatre Company and Shining City at SF Playhouse. There were no slouches in Amy Glazer’s production for SF Playhouse, but as the grief-haunted husband, Paul Whitworth’s persuasive performance was more startling than any phantom.

<\!s><0x0007>Work Eats Home by Sleepwalkers Theater at Phoenix Theater.

Steps that impressed

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› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Looking back over the past year always entails a look forward, and perhaps the best part of 2008 is that in 2009 there is at least the possibility of the arts becoming part of the national dialogue. Two reasons warrant such optimism: during the Great Depression, people still wrote books, went to the theater and movies, and created canvasses. Modern dance went through its most crucial development in that time.

Furthermore, President-elect Barack Obama actually has an arts agenda — the first president to have one in a long while. That alone is encouraging. As for 2008, out of dozens of experiences, some inevitably have imprinted themselves more than others.

**If I had to choose the single most important event of the year, it would have to be the Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s two-week residency at Cal Performances, culminating with Craneway Event at a former Ford auto plant in Richmond. It was a quiet, luminous, and utterly unforgettable Sunday afternoon of being in the presence of genius.

**San Francisco Ballet’s commissioning of 10 works by 10 choreographers in honor of its 75th anniversary could have been more adventuresome. Still, it signaled a commitment to the future. Margaret Jenkins’ and Julia Adam’s pieces were not critically acclaimed, but both choreographers dared to go outside the conventionally balletic.

**Ballet San Jose impressed with first-rate programming. Just Balanchine, Swan Lake, The Firebird, and The Toreador highlighted just how fine a group of dancers they are — with an excellent repertoire the South Bay can call its own.

**Shelley Senter set Trisha Brown’s 1979 hauntingly beautiful Glacial Decoy before the professionals and graduate students of Mills College dance department, titling it Glacial Decoy Redux. Adapted for a smaller stage, the 30-year-old piece looked as pristine and daring as ever.

**Joe Goode Performance Group made Wonderboy after a sabbatical spent recharging batteries with travel. With its touching tenderness and poignant exploration of loneliness and community, Wonderboy was vintage Goode, though in its use of the material — dance in particular, but also text, music, and puppetry — it was as fresh and imaginative as anything he has created.

**Former Joe Goode dancer, Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People’s edgy and audience-challenging Retrospective Exhibitionist asked the year’s most intellectually trenchant questions about the nature of performance, perception, and theatrical manipulation.

**Hip-hop artist Marc Bamuthi Joseph’s the break/s: a mixtape for stage proved to be another of his meditations on what it means to be an African American, a man, a father, and a human being. Using a travel diary approach, he integrated language, music, and movement into a self-effacing monologue that was as freewheeling yet formally cogent.

**Certainly the most intriguing, but least promising, collaboration happened between Janice Garrett and Dancers and the Del Sol String Quartet. The idea was to have dancers and musicians physically interact with each other. The result was the sparkling StringWreck, a spirited entertainment with musical as well as choreographic substance.

**Jess Curtis/Gravity’s imagistic Symmetry Study #7 for Curtis and Maria Francesca Scaroni paired the two nude dancers in a structured contact improvisation in which their interlocking bodies became a piece of sculpture trying to find its form. They used the body at its most basic: weight, mass, and skeletal structure.

**The San Francisco International Arts Festival brought the year’s best surprise: Berkeley’s Art Street Theater’s US premiere of Yes, Yes to Moscow, a wistful and beautifully imaginative dance theater work that picked up where Chekhov’s Three Sisters left off. If you have ever wondered what would have happened if Olga, Masha, and Irina had made it Moscow, go and see Yes — if it ever returns.

Crystal magic

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› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER Light a candle, burn a wand of sage, and singe your bangs. Then fondle a frosty pink hunk of rose quartz and ask the goddess, "Are crystals the new wolves — or at least the new bears? Maybe even the new alps/mountains?" ‘Cause I swear, I’m not a miner — ’49-er, tweenie-bopper, or otherwise — but I can almost smell the crystals everywhere. Especially when it comes to artist-band names like Crystal Castles, Crystal Stilts, Crystal Waters, and wow, now juxtaposing crystal with defensive head-growths, Crystal Antlers.

I clash gently this sparkling SOMA morning with said smiling, scruffy, shambolic Long Beach combo — half chimney sweeps by day and all capable of metamorphosing magically into fierce psych-garage warriors by the light of a mountain-wolf-bear moon. The obvious question goes to tousled vocalist-bassist Jonny Bell, his hoodie bunched over his brow in the very un-Cali cold and just roused from his slumber at Closer Recording where the band is completing its first full-length: what is it about crystals that resonates? Is this a conspiracy (of beards)? And more importantly — the goddess craves a response after spotting those vaginal folds on the cover of Crystal Antlers’ recent self-titled Touch and Go EP — do you believe in crystal magic?

"Yeah, well, we came up with the name three years ago, so we didn’t know about those other bands," mumbles Bell, weary of being given the crystal shit. "We’ve done a lot of interviews where they ask about that, and I’ve given a lot of sarcastic answers." The non-sarcastic rejoinder? "It sounded fragile."

No wonder the band leader is a wee bit wary about conjuring a name for the Crystal Antlers’ album, due out in April, which he says sports mellow and ambient musical percolations as well as "more of a soul influence." Crystal Antlers have been gobbling up old soul from ’60s Miami like Della Humphrey and George McRae and spilling out their own revamp — strained through the filter of their punk background and miles away from the well-inked and -oiled Daptone/Mark Ronson new-old-school. Judging from the EP produced by Mars Volta’s Isaiah "Ikey" Owens, Crystal Antlers roam another neck of the woods altogether: a noisier, more distorted dead meadow where hirsute beasties like Comets on Fire and Mammatus roam near Holy Mountains, where Andrew King’s careening guitar skirts squalling psych-cacophony and Victor Rodriguez’s textural, low-screaming organ revels in a garage-goth parking lot, out behind the rock ‘n’ roll wilderness preserve.

"We wanted to try to play beyond our abilities," Bell says of the recording. "I think we’re always trying to push our limits, and a lot of stuff on the EP was really difficult for us. None of us have any formal training." Noisy, dark matter far from the manic weekday traffic tearing down Howard Street as the Crystal Antlers tuck into eggs and bagels at a café near the studio.

It’s the kind of recession-strapped, pre-Christmas week — a ruthless admixture of hope and fear — that brings out the take-that holiday light displays in the Mission and makes it a great moment to get your fill of your friendly neighborhood Bay Area bands, as the clubs stock up on local talents choosing to staycation. Instead Crystal Antlers are here, forsaking primo chimney sweep season ("I can write songs while laying bricks," explains Bell. "It’s a nice contrast to sitting in a van") to record with engineer Joe Goldring (the Enablers, Touched by a Janitor). Today they’ll track keyboards, saxophone, and vocals, though Bell caught a cold from bunking down in their veggie-oil van during last week’s hail.

At least they’re out of the vehicle — now convalescing on a SoMa byway — though Bell is proud that it got the band out and on tour on a single tank of diesel. "Ten thousand miles and we only used one tank of diesel fuel the whole time. We were able to find vegetable oil all around the country," he says. "We filled up when we were leaving for the tour. We didn’t go to a single gas station the whole time on the way back." The group’s recent Fuck Yeah tour with Monotonix, Dan Deacon, the Death Set, and others was similarly veggie-oil-fueled, though somewhat nuttier from the sound of the stories of smashed vans and spilled instruments that drummer and kindred chimney sweep Kevin Stuart regales me with. There was also that time when Crystal Antlers were in Oakland, touring with Canada’s Fucked Up, and Bell offers, munching, "Kevin forgot to lock the trailer."

"Hey, I didn’t forget it!" Stuart protests. "That was Fucked Up’s fault!"

"We started driving," continues Bell, "and all their stuff started falling out onto the freeway." Word from the goddess: unlock that Crystal power — with limits. *

CRYSTAL ANTLERS

With Two Gallants and the Tallest Man on Earth

Fri/26, 9 p.m., $20

Fillmore

1805 Geary, SF

www.livenation.com

LOCAL POTION

QBERT


Hamsters unite! The Invisibl Skratch Pikl re-emerges. With Mochipet and Joyo Velarde. Fri/26, 9 p.m., $20. Independent, 628 Divisadero, SF. www.theindependentsf.com

ZIGABOO MODELISTE


The Meters percussion mainstay whoops it up for his b-day. With Bhi Bhiman. Sat/27, 9 p.m., $20. Café du Nord, 2170 Market, SF. www.cafedunord.com

BLACKALICIOUS


Gift of Gab’s Mighty Underdogs project weighs in at this hefty indie hip-hop hoedown. Sat/27, 9 p.m., $26.50. Fillmore, 1805 Geary, SF. www.livenation.com

CRACKER AND CAMPER VAN BEETHOVEN


Having a cracked Cracker-Camper Christmas comedown — and how good it is. Sat/27, 9 p.m., $23. Independent, 628 Divisadero, SF. www.theindependentsf.com

MICHAEL TALBOTT AND HELENE RENAUT


The Brooklyn-by-way-of-SF wolf king grows starry-eyed with the winsome Brittany-born Beam warbler at an Antenna Farm convo. With the Naked Hearts. Sat/27, 9:30 p.m., $7. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. www.hemlocktavern.com

TOMMY GUERRERO’S GET RAD SIX


Skating, designing, music-making — Tommy Guerrero veers off from Jet Black Crayon with his birthday bash band at this SF Food Bank benefit. With Marc and the Casuals. Tues/30, 8 p.m., $6–$10 sliding scale. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. www.hemlocktavern.com

Valkyrie

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REVIEW In a world gone mad … only one man can save Nazi Germany from itself: Captain Eyepatch! Jaw perpetually clenched and speech sotto voce to underline he’s being, y’know, intense, Tom Cruise plays Col. Claus von Stauffenberg, who returned home after being wounded by Allied fire in Tunisia to a Germany he felt had already lost the war. He and high-ranking others disillusioned by Nazism and Hitler’s losing strategies hatched a plan to assassinate Der Führer in 1944, hoping to end World War II early and spare the country complete devastation. Director Bryan Singer drums up some tension around the actual attempt (via explosive). But that’s 15 minutes at most in the middle of a movie you realize just moments in was probably doomed to be a flat, pompous bore even before shooting started. The main reason is that it is yoked to Cruise’s star baggage, which drains von Stauffenberg of any complexity — he’s presented as righteously anti-Nazi from the start, despite having served the regime for years. Instead, we get a heroic stick figure that elicits the actor’s stiffest "What the hell am I doing here?" performance since 1999’s Eyes Wide Shut. He’s a big blank spot at the center of a film that has enough problems already, his regular all-American voice clashing against the otherwise mostly-Brit support cast (Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Terence Stamp, and Eddie Izzard) — for a while it seems like Hitler (David Bamber) is the only German in Germany with a German accent. But there’s a larger airlessness to this drama, which never quite escapes the D.O.A. tenor of old "Europudding" productions that mashed together multinational stars in expensive but plodding, unconvincing historical recaps. It manages to turn fascinating fact into a dullish, formulaic-feeling star vehicle. (Dennis Harvey)

VALKYRIE opens Thurs/25 in Bay Area theaters.

It’s tops

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For more top 10s, see our Year in Music 2008 issue.

JONAS REINHARDT’S TOP 10


1. Droids, Star Peace (Repressed)

2. Steve Moore, Vaalbara (Noiseville)

3. La Düsseldorf, La Düsseldorf (Nova, Water)

4. Cluster US tour

5. Lovefingers.org

6. White Rainbow, "Snake Snacks Brain Tazer Pt2"

7. Richard Pinhas, Singles Collection 1972–1980 (Captain Trip)

8. 88 Boadrum, Aug. 8, ’08

9. Methusalem, Journey into the Unknown (Ariola)

10. B.O.D.Y.H.E.A.T. light show, Nov. 7

MI AMI’S DANIEL MARTIN-MCCORMICK AND DAMON PALERMO’S COMBINED TOP 10


*Grouper, Dragging a Dead Deer up a Hill (Type)

*US Girls, Introducing (Siltbreeze)

*Sugar Minott, Dancehall Showcase Vol. II (Black Roots/Wackies)

*Fripp and Eno, No Pussyfooting (EG)

*Steel an’ Skin, Reggae Is Here Once Again (Em)

*Dam-Funk, "Burgundy City" (Stones Throw)

*Pyha, The Haunted House (Tumult)

*Orchestre Régional De Kayes, The Best of the First Biennale of Arts
and Culture for the Young
(Mississippi)

*Various artists, Blackdisco (Blackdisco)

BOMB HIP-HOP’S DAVID PAUL’S TOP 10


1. Grip Grand, Brokelore (Look)

2. Sweatshop Union show at Rickshaw Stop, Sept. 25

3. DJ Zeph and Azeem, On the Rocks mix CD

4. Planet B-Boy DVD (Arts Alliance America)

5. Prince vs. Michael show, Madrone Lounge, Nov. 15

6. Large Professor, Main Source (Gold Dust Media)

7. DJ Agent 86, "The Ultimate" 7-inch (Bomb Hip-Hop)

8. EMC, The Show (M3)

9. DJ Design with Party Arty, "Get on the Floor" single (Look)

10. History of Rap poster

TARTUFI’S TOP 10 OF ’08


*Paper Airplanes, Scandal Scandal Scandal Down in the Wheat Field (self-released)

One of the best albums we have heard in years. Wins Most Mind-Twisting Listen award from Tartufi, which just so happens to be a hairless alpaca.

*Department of Eagles, In Ear Park (4AD)

A lush and weighty release. Wins Best Overall Production award, which just so happens to be a medium-sized bologna.

*Low Red Land, Dog’s Hymns (self-released)

Man, this album is just so freaking good. It is like a chocolate river of dreams wrapped in bacon and covered in Tony Alva. They win Album Most Likely to be Sung at Top of Lungs No Matter Who Is Around award, which just so happens to be Tony Alva wrapped in bacon.

*Deerhoof, Offend Maggie (Kill Rock Stars)

Awesomely awesome and both classically deery and innovatively hoofy. Wins the award for Longevity, Perseverance, Persistence, Reliability, and Most Rockin’-est, which just so happens to be a completely un-offended Maggie, fresh and new!

*Fleet Foxes, Fleet Foxes (Sub Pop)

Didn’t want to like this after seeing it more times that we have ever seen anything before, at every Starbucks in the whole universe. Then we took a listen, and it is actually quite good. Wins the Your Albums Will Forever Be in Starbucks (a Blessing and a Curse) award, which just so happens to be a Slip ‘N Slide.

*Musee Mecanique, Hold This Ghost (Frog Stand)

These guys rule live. Wins the Classiest Band in All the Land award, which just so happens to be the option to plate a member of the band in gold.

*Russian Circles, Station (Suicide Squeeze)

A rad album with just the right amount of chunk, noise, pretty, psych, and space. Wins the Most Dreamiest Drummer Ever award, which just so happens to be a date with Lynne!? Weird.

*Beach House, Devotion (Carpark)

Admittedly, this album was purchased based upon the cover art alone, but imagine the surprise and blissed-out happiness upon hearing the actual music! Wins the Smoothest Vocals and Best Use of a Drum Machine award, which just so happens to be a tall ship towing a peanut.

*Radiohead, In Rainbows (ATO)

We listened to this a lot while on tour. Like, a lot. Wins the Smarty Pants award and the Duhhhh award, which just so happens to be invisibility cloaks for the whole band. You guys are welcome. We know what it’s like. We are pretty famous, too.

*Vetiver, Thing of the Past (Gnomonsong)

Andy’s voice makes me so happy and his musical choices make me even happier. Wins Best Use of Hats, Beards, and Boots award, which just so happens to be the lemon tree from the back patio at El Rio! You guys sing a cover, and I will sneaky sneak it out the front.

SORCERER’S DANIEL JUDD’S TOP 10


1. Raphael Saadiq, The Way I See It (Sony BMG/Columbia)

Heard this while I was record shopping in Chicago. Thought it was a Motown record I had never heard before. Great songs, production, and the singing is excellent.

2. Menahan Street Band, Make the Road by Walking (Daptone)

On Election Day we grabbed fish tacos on Ritch Street and there was a DJ wearing a George Bush mask who was spinning this record on the turntables set up on the sidewalk. The sun was shining, and Obama was about to win — a dawning of a new day.

3. Various artists, Pop Ambient 2008 (Kompakt)

This year’s collection might be my overall favorite.

4. Zo! and Tigallo, Love the 80’s! (Chapter 3hree)

Nice modern R&B versions of the most random ’80s jams. Good for throwing in a mix with the catchy Usher, T-Pain, and R. Kelly jams I also dug on this year.

5. Woolfy at the Elbo Room

A great show from Woolfy at B.O.D.Y.H.E.A.T.’s monthly night. A full band rocking great, slow-burning dance jams.

6. Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell (Matt Wolf, US) at the Roxy.

Loved the unreleased music and the glimpses of his creative process.

7. Boom Clap Bachelors, Kort Før Dine Læber (Music for Dreams)

Crazy futuristic electro-soul. One of the dudes is from Owusu and Hannibal, another cool group in this realm.

8. Various artists, Watch How the People Dancing: Unity Sounds from the London Dancehall, 1986–1989 (Honest Jon’s)

Been loving the Casio-fueled insanity, the craziest voices from the singers.

9. Various artists, Funky Nassau: The Compass Point Story 1980–1986 (Strut)

The tropical boogie/reggae vibes flow so nicely from this cast of jammers.

10. Hatchback, Colors of the Sun (Lo)

Arpeggios and creamy chord changes.

THE HARBOURS’ MIGUEL ZELAYA’S TOP 10 2008 RELEASES


1. Two Sheds, untitled EP (iTunes)

2. Kelley Stoltz, Circular Sounds (Sub Pop)

3. Uni and the Dig! String Trio, As Gold (self-released)

4. Pillars of Silence, Pillars of Silence (self-released)

5. Michael Zapruder, Dragon Chinese Cocktail Horoscope (SideCho)

6. Land of Talk, Some Are Lakes (Saddle Creek)

7. Radiohead, In Rainbows (ATO)

8. Hayden, In Field and Town (Fat Possum)

9. +/-, Xs on Your Eyes (Absolutely Kosher)

10. The Beach Boys, U.S. Singles: Capitol Years ’62–65 (EMI)

KELLEY STOLTZ’S TOP 10 AND MORE


*Borts Minorts on earth and in concert

A white body suit, a musical instrument made of a ski and bass string, and beautiful dancing gals. Fun SF weirdness without the Burning Man remorse.

*Thee Oh Sees live and The Master’s Bedroom Is Worth Spending a Night In (Tomlab)

Really, how many awesome tunes can a human being write?

*The Fresh and Onlys

What a fine group — so fine I started a label, Chuffed, to put out their first single. Where the embers of the Red Crayola and the Elevators’ hash pipe merge with Born to Run muscle.

*The Dirtbombs

Since I toured with them this year I got to see them 53 times, and they were awesome every night — except that first night in Bloomington, Ind., but that was a bummer gig all around. "I Can’t Stop Thinking About It" is the best tune I heard this year.

*Margo Guryan, Take a Picture (Sundazed)

Thanks to Chris at Groove Merchant for hipping me to this. Soft chanteuse-y vocals, booming drums, sitars, and fuzz = awesome pop.

*Beck, "Chemtrails" from Modern Guilt (Interscope)

I just really dig this tune. I like the homemade video for it on YouTube and the conspiracy theories the song alludes to.

*Randy Newman at SFJAZZ fest, playing a solo piano gig, for nearly two hours

Again, how many good songs can one person write — it’s ridiculous!

*Sunday night shows at the Rite Spot

Annie Southworth does a good job booking the place: Colossal Yes, Adam Stephens, Prairie Dog, occasional jazz cats, and the Ramshackle Romeos were my year’s highlights.

*Local bands at SFO

It’s mostly soft ‘n’ gentle pop, classical, or jazz — no Caroliner concerts are planned yet. But wouldn’t a Bart Davenport tune help the Xanax really take the edge off the preflight panic?

*Mon Cousin Belge at Café Du Nord

Somehow MCB unites Antony and Jello Biafra song skills, vocal chords, political proclivities, humor, and pathos into a horrifically scarred Belgian-in-exile crooner to make SF laugh and cry. Jobriath of the now!

*Jeffrey Lewis at Hotel Utah

The best concert I saw all year. The supergenius from your eighth-grade math class returns 20 years later with tunes that mix the Femmes, Jonathan Richman, and James Joyce.

CITAY’S EZRA FEINBERG’S MUSIC OF 2008


*M83, "Kim & Jessie" (Mute)

’80s melancholia with good drum fills.

*The Dry Spells’ "Rhiannon" to be released on Antenna Farm in spring 2009

Much better than the Fleetwood Mac original. No, I am not fucking with you.

*Realizing the Grateful Dead’s "Touch of Grey" (Arista, 1987) is the best aging hippie anthem ever, and feeling like I relate to it, especially because I’m rapidly going gray.

*Tune-yards’ "News" (Marriage)

This is the best unknown band I’ve ever heard, no joke, hands down — you’d be insane not to check it out at tuneyards.com.

*3 Leafs, Space Rock Tulip (self-released)

Amazing SF all-star mostly improv band featuring members of Gong, Tussle, Citay, and others. Epic, spacious, physical, colorful, and powerful, with catchy and fun moments throughout. www.myspace.com/3leafs

*The Botticellis, "The Reviewer" (Antenna Farm)

Total power pop, like the best upbeat Big Star meets the best Cheap Trick. One of my favorite songs of recent memory.

*Tune-yards live in SF and Portland, Maine

Citay played on a bill with Tune-yards in Portland, Maine, and then we set up a show for her here in SF. We promoted the heck out of it, the people came out, and Tune-yards killed. Truly inspiring.

*Vetiver’s cover of "The Swimming Song" (Gnomonsong)

*Half Japanese at the WFMU showcase at SXSW

*Discovering Mastodon, way, way late.

VICE COOLER’S TOP 10 MUSIC RECORDING THINGS


1. Toxic Lipstick, "Thunderdome" (Dual Plover)

This is one of the most fucked-up songs from one of the most fucked-up records in the past 20 years.

2. Deerhoof, current tour clips on YouTube

Since I got their first two records at age 15, Deerhoof has remained one of my favorite bands, and the addition of Ed Rodriguez has pushed them into a new terrain of amazingness.

3. E-40 featuring Lil John, "Turf Drop" (BME/Reprise) and Urxed, Car Clutch, and Soft Circle live at Triple Base

Fucking incredible! And the Triple Base show pretty much made everyone’s "show of the year."

4. Lil Wayne, "A Millie" (Cash Money/Young Money/Universal)

This song completely saves the rest of this half-assed, boring, and otherwise overhyped record.

5. Matmos, Supreme Balloon (Matador)

Dude, they always deliver!

6. Bleachy Bleachy Bleach

It’s sort of like Cobra Killer being thrown into a fryer, but made by super young Bay Area suburban girls whose first "big band" that they got into, at age 14, was Wolf Eyes.

7. Disaster’s LP and Barr’s new songs live

I was lucky enough to see the few performances that he made it to, after he cancelled most of his shows for this year. As far as his alter ego, Disaster, goes — I like it because people think the record player is broken when you listen to the album.

8. The Younger Lovers, Newest Romantic (Retard Disco)

Full disclosure: I recorded four songs on it. This is a band started by a friend I grew up with named Brontez. Highly recommended.

9. Fatal Bazooka, "Parle a Ma" (Warner)

While on tour in France we were tortured by mainstream French radio. Fortunately, this song was a big hit at the time. Thank God we don’t speak much French, because I am 100 percent positive that the lyrics fucking suck.

10. Quintron, Too Thirsty 4 Love (Goner)

The best album cover and best opening song. It’s tragic that bands like My Chemical Romance are so huge and have pushed such genius artists as Quintron and Miss Pussycat into such obscurity.

Along the y-axis

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PARABOLA

By Lily Hoang

Chiasmus

336 pages

$14.95

Lily Hoang’s Parabola is the kind of text that solicits a rereading, but you aren’t dutifully bound to return to its beginning. Instead, you can rewind to the middle and branch out both forward and backward, deciphering chapters that match up along the Y-axis of the titular structure.

This novel — or un-novel, since it’s the winner of Chiasmus Press’ Un-Doing the Novel Contest — stops at disparate intersections to tell its stories. Hoang has created an experimental work that communicates with the reader through fragmentary exchange. Whereas some postmodern narratives feel stale due to their headiness, Parabola manages to include heart and humor within an innovative, interactive storytelling style. It chronicles the inner life of a first-generation American daughter of Vietnamese immigrants. The resulting so-called coming-of-age story explores the gap between expectations vs. reality, incorporating numerology, myth, astronomy, and other mystical wonders in the process.

Reminiscent of Nabokov’s Pale Fire, Parabola features similarly beautiful and elaborate word games, such as an entire paragraph alliterated with the letter B that corresponds to quadratic form. Hoang’s novel has a similarly dizzying effect, frequently compelling you to flip from one chapter to a parallel one 100 pages prior. But it stands alone, challenging categorization by presenting holes filled with words (surrounded by black matter) and playful collaborative components like personality tests and even a Word Find. (Michelle Broder Van Dyke)

Speed Reading

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By Steve Dublanica

Ecco

320 pages

$24.97


Lately publishers seem to be following two rough guidelines: first, anyone can write a memoir; second, if it’s a blog, it might as well also be a book.

Waiter Rant, based on (you guessed it) a blog of the same name, does plenty to refute both unspoken rules. Author Steve Dublanica may have some pithy anecdotes, but he fails to compile them in any cohesive or thoughtful way. At best, his book is a series of blog posts stretched out to chapter length. At worst, it’s plain dull. The cover blurb from Kitchen Confidential icon Anthony Bourdain is meant to suggest that Waiter Rant will give readers a behind-the-scenes look at waiting tables. And it does, to a point. It also, most unfortunately, affords Dublanica ample opportunity to wax philosophical on just about everything, including why waiters take drugs (they’re stressed) and why people don’t tip enough (they’re cheap).

Not to mention that the author spends far too much time worrying about whether or not he’ll finally publish his book — spoiler alert: he does — and become more than just a waiter. There’s something inherently bothersome about his attitude. If his success story is meant to inspire those who are still "just" waiters, why is he so down on their chosen profession?

Inevitably, Waiter Rant is more self-serving than insightful. I’m sure it’s comforting to all the under-the-radar bloggers out there that someday they, too, might get a book deal. Let’s hope that if and when that happens, they remember there’s a difference between having a story and telling it well.

Volume 43 Number 13 Flip-through Edition

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Gonna fly now?

0

› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Sometimes a role seems so closely tailored to a public persona and private notoriety it becomes inseparable from that combined mythos — less a demonstration of acting than an extension of what we already suspected about the actor. Errol Flynn both distinguished and humiliated himself with late-career portrayals of sodden louts. Marlon Brando appeared to be playing his own supremely weird-ass id in Last Tango in Paris (1972). Just last month, Jean-Claude Van Damme was oddly poignant portraying Belgium’s biggest movie star in JCVD.

Now there’s Mickey Rourke, grizzled survivor of various overchronicled on- and offscreen self-destructions, as an ex-champ dying — figuratively and then some — for one last glory-shot in The Wrestler. This is meta-celebrity cinema: Rourke’s character’s "comeback" is mirrored, and perhaps outshined, by the actor’s own.

Are you already oversaturated by human-interest features chronicling his rebound from childhood trauma, Carré Otis, spousal abuse charges, divorces, too many tattoos, being called "a human ashtray" (albeit by Kim Basinger), quitting acting for boxing, quitting boxing for acting, turning down exceptional parts (Kurt Russell’s in 2007’s Grindhouse, Bruce Willis’ in 1994’s Pulp Fiction, Scott Glenn’s in 1991’s Silence of the Lambs) but accepting direct-to-video flicks? Not to mention those articles detailing how he generally behaves like a horse’s ass? I sure am.

Even the brief "classic" Rourke era, when he had charisma to burn, saw every good movie (1982’s Diner, 1983’s Rumble Fish, 1984’s The Pope of Greenwich Village, 1987’s Barfly, and yes, even that same year’s Angel Heart) matched by at least one crapfest. (Recollect 1991’s Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man? Or the one where — no joke — he played St. Francis of Assisi?) By 1997 he was way off the A-list and, frankly, lookin’ weird (steroids? plastic surgery?) as the nemesis to JCVD and Dennis Rodman (!) in Double Team.

He was always of limited range, and perhaps of limited intelligence to deal with the initial exhalations of Brando-like greatness. He became another tragicomedic specimen of dignity-stripped celebrity, the kind that now usually ends up embarrassing himself further in "reality" shows alongside Stephen Baldwin and Brigitte Nielsen. To Rourke’s credit he resisted such humiliation bucks, though the gigs he took did little to rebuild his career until his role as beauty-loving-beast Marv in 2005’s noir fantasia Sin City.

The Wrestler is career salvage offered up on a silver platter. Rourke is Randy "The Ram" Robinson, reduced since his ’80s heyday to scraping for chump change in amateur matches at high school gymnasiums. These shows, in WWE fashion, might be somewhat choreographed and more-flash-than-gash, but they’re nonetheless punishing — especially for a player past 50.

When a particularly brutal bout (encompassing Jackass-style grotesquerie like skin staple-gunning) leaves the Ram in need of heart bypass surgery, his wrestling days appear over. But he can’t quit yet, since he needs to prove something to the daughter he’s estranged (Evan Rachel Wood) and the aging stripper (Marisa Tomei) he’s wooing.

This being a Darren Aronofsky film, limited triumph of the human spirit can be expected. Yet it’s surprising how much formulaic Rocky-style sentiment the Requiem for a Dream (2000) director channels from Robert D. Siegel’s unremarkable screenplay, despite all trailer-park grittiness and emotionally calloused performance. The Wrestler is ultimately just a better-made Rocky Balboa (2006), whose embrace of tragedy feels no less formulaic.

And how is Rourke? Still suspiciously overpumped, locks long (like those of the ’80s hair-metal bands whose soundtrack emphasis is the film’s wittiest touch), impressive in seemingly unfaked rough ring action, generally bruised, and apologetic, he’s a one-dimensionally sweet tuff guy. He’s a star again — but has he really been asked to play anybody but himself?

THE WRESTLER

Opens Thurs/25 in San Francisco

You snooze, you lose

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May I be permitted to retitle The Curious Case of Benjamin Button as The Mystifying Multimillion-Dollar A-Listing Exercise of Destroying an Intriguing if Minor F . Scott Fitzgerald Short Story with Oscar-Caliber Sentimentality? Much of the puckish humor and curiosity-shop surrealism of the author’s original yarn has been leached from this head-scratching yawn, which enters bearing all the carefully placed bow ties of an Important Film, overflowing with Big Ideas and Meaningful Messages. Still, the turgid understatement of this wide screen parable fails to provoke even the curiosity cued by its title, let alone the dark side of the 20th century’s first youth quake alluded to in the Fitzgerald story.

Benjamin Button‘s pedigreed crew of cooks — director David Fincher (1999’s Fight Club), screenwriter Eric Roth (1994’s Forrest Gump), and Brad Pitt (Brangelina’s testosteroned half) — have warmed up a gooey, glowy sentimental soup, which updates the dark-witted Civil War-set narrative to the Jazz Age and adds an injection of the Moses myth (and 1979’sThe Jerk) by delivering an abandoned infant Button, destined to age backward from a wizened babe to a baby granddaddy, to the arms of doting Queenie (Taraji P. Henson). The cinematic Button undergoes few of Fitzgerald’s sour-to-cruel familial entanglements — making for a somewhat event-free life, which does little to help the narrative. Instead his story seems to climax with the thwarted love between the man-boy and childhood sweetheart-turned-Balanchine-dancer Daisy (Cate Blanchett). For a performer who relies on her looks and physical prowess, what can be worse than watching a pretty-boy lover grow younger and friskier with age? I’d say watching this movie, but that would be mean. After making it through the mostly somnolent stretches of Benjamin Button, the viewer is treated to a few almost imperceptibly surreal and ironic scenes of Blanchett lulling her, er, boy toy to sleep. But the inherent barbed humor seems lost on Fincher and company, who play it straight — into the grave.

THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON opens Thurs/25 in Bay Area theaters.

Henry’s Hunan Restaurant

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› paulr@sfbg.com

In ages past, I belonged to a small literary society — a sect, if you like. Let us call this society the Out of Print Society. (It actually bore another name, which decency forbids me from proclaiming in print.) The members of our little group met weekly at a Chinese restaurant to trade gossip and pour out the frustrations that have a way of accumuutf8g in literary life; although we did not drink beer from tankards or pound those tankards on the tabletop as a way of demanding refills, we did like kung pao chicken and Hunan fish, and we drank lots of green tea, poured from a pretty pot into dainty little cups.

The restaurant that served as our meetinghouse was Alice’s, corner of Sanchez and 29th streets. The food was cheap and good, and the location was both out of the way and central, perfect for our fugitive natures. At this time, in the second half of the mid-1990s, the Chinese-restaurant picture — indeed the entire restaurant picture — in upper (or is that outer?) Noe Valley was … sleepy. The whole neighborhood was sleepy, and Alice’s was the jewel in the crown atop this nodding head.

Although the Out of Print Society is no more — has gone out of print, we might say — Alice’s is still there. But these days it’s facing competition as the dominant local purveyor of fine, inexpensive, and spicy Chinese food, for just a block away, over on Church Street, an outpost of Henry’s Hunan Restaurant has opened, in the space that belonged most recently to Pescheria and, an iteration or two before that, the estimable but short-lived Café J.

It is one of my beloved maxims that oft-flipped restaurant locations sooner or later become sushi joints, but now there will have to be a new, or another, maxim in light of the spectacle of a Hunan enterprise moving in to cast a calm upon troubled restaurant waters. The look of the space doesn’t seem to have changed much since Café J days; the footprint of the dining room is the same, with the tables laid out in a kind of backward J around a long bar. The chairs, in brushed steel or nickel, are very urban modern, as are the red-shaded halogen lights suspended from the ceiling. In a bow to Noe Valley’s famed sunshine (which real estate people have a way of perceiving more keenly than the rest of us), a few tables and chairs sit outside, nestled against the building’s façade.

So Henry’s Hunan doesn’t look like a typical Chinese restaurant. This appears to be a trend, and is a welcome one. The food, meanwhile, is outstanding and moderately priced. As at Brandy Ho’s over in the Castro District, the menu includes a selection of Hunan-style smoked meats. The usual suspects of Chinese restaurants are also well-represented, from wonton soup to Mongolian chicken. But Henry’s also offers some dishes I’ve never seen before.

One of the most memorable of these is Diana’s special meat pie ($6.95), a stack of scallion cakes buffered by tasty minced meat (pork, I suspect) and plenty of shredded iceberg lettuce. The cakes take on an almost pastry-like flakiness from deep-frying, and the dish as a whole is like a cross between a club sandwich and a tostada: a layered golden disk cut into quarters you can eat with a knife and fork or with your hands, sandwich-style. (Here, incidentally, we have the heretofore unheard-of reality of a Chinese dish even an expert couldn’t eat with chopsticks.)

Henry’s chopsticks are the plastic kind, incidentally, which limits their utility. Dumplings ($5.50), a.k.a. potstickers, aren’t chopstick-friendly in any case, so it was a relief to find them served in a shallow bowl, from which they could be fork-speared without slipping around too much. And chopsticks are blissfully irrelevant in matters of soup, such as mo soi soup ($6), a sizable bowl of steaming chicken stock thickly invested with chunks of chicken, tofu, and egg and shreds of baby-spinach leaves. This is a lovely, satisfying soup, especially in cold weather, but you should make sure you have it before the spicy stuff starts coming, or it could seem lost and pale.

And the spicy stuff is spicy, although the heat is well-controlled, like a 104 mph fastball that shaves the outside corner at the knees. Henry’s special seafood dish ($10.50), a mélange of scallops, shrimp, and chunked chicken breast tossed with carrot coins and tabs of water chestnut, takes its charge from red chili garlic paste, whose distinctive flavor tends to be a little dominant. If you like that flavor, you’ll like it here.

More subtle is spicy curry show main ($7.50), which can be had with chicken, pork, beef, or vegetables. I am wary of curry dishes in Chinese restaurants; too often they taste of canned curry powder, which too often tastes mostly of can — a metallic harshness that overwhelms neighboring flavors, as a huge ugly building can cut off the sun to buildings around it. But Henry’s curry seasoning, though almost certainly a powder (to judge by the yellow tint it imparts to the noodles: a sign of turmeric), has an attractively rounded flavor that accepts the presence of other ingredients (meat, slivered scallions, julienne red bell pepper) and doesn’t stomp on them.

The dish (like Henry’s seafood special) is marked on the menu with a chili pepper — a sign of either welcome or warning, depending on your views about heat — but the kitchen will dial down the chili charge on request. Your server will ask you how hot you like it, along a range from mild to tankard-banging.


HENRY’S HUNAN RESTAURANT

Daily, 11 a.m.–10 p.m.

1708 Church, SF

(415) 826-9189

www.henryshunanrestaurant.com

Beer and wine

AE/DISC/MC/V

Somewhat noisy

Wheelchair accessible

Mother trumpers

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le.chicken.farmer@gmail.com

CHEAP EATS We had a slab of smoked salmon from Grocery Outlet, Ritz crackers, and a bottle of Crystal hot sauce. These things were on the coffee table. The Mrs. was in the bedroom, cracking up over something funny on television. She has a beautiful, booming laugh and a bad right shoulder. There’s a TV in the living room, too, but her Mr. and me were swapping crazy mom stories on the couch, and she likes to give us space when that happens.

"My mom believes in angels and space aliens," the Mountain said.

"My mom thinks people can live for 500 years," I said.

"My mom started a cult," the Mountain said.

"My mom’s been to jail," I said.

It wasn’t a competition. Now that I’m writing it down, though, I see we sound like school kids, instead of 40- and 50-something kooks-in-our-own-right. But it wasn’t a competition.

"My mom has visions, and students, and hears voices," the Mountain said. "An angel told her to move to Scandinavia."

"My mom calls late-night talk shows and the White House, and sends love letters to Garrison Keillor," I said. "She lives in Snow Belt, Ohio, without running water or electricity. Her phone’s tapped."

The Mountain pulled off a big chunk of fish with his fingers and hot sauced it and it wasn’t a competition but here’s where, if it was a competition, he played his trump card: "My mom has a beard," he said.

"My mom shits in a bucket," I said, playing mine.

And we sat there and shook our heads, chewing on smoked salmon with Crystal and Ritz.

"Do you want anything to drink?" the Mountain said.

I was already drinking a big glass of tomato juice with hot sauce in it, and as the glass got emptier and emptier, I kept pouring more and more hot sauce in so that now it was basically hot sauce, with a dash of tomato juice.

The Mountain was sipping red wine out of a beaker. I finished my juice and said I’d try some, and as he poured it he said it was leftover from Thanksgiving.

Oxidation builds character, but I realized, upon first sip, he meant Thanksgiving ’07.

"I ought to sue my mom," he said.

"I used to fantasize about killing mine," I said, swirling my swill.

"Here," he said. "Let me find a picture." And while he was rooting through his closet, I visited the kitchen sink and brought a bag of potato chips back to the coffee table. I noticed that our bottle of Crystal, which we’d just started, was already half empty.

Oh, and it’s great on potato chips too.

Funny, my case of fucking Floyd’s and fucking Fred’s hasn’t even fucking arrived yet, and already I have a new favorite hot sauce! Crystal is just cayenne peppers, vinegar, and salt. Floyd & Fred’s is lime juice, habaneros, salt, and xanthan gum. They both taste great, and are addictive, so now I’m going to have to start carrying two bottles of hot sauce in my purse, and pretty soon I’ll have a bad shoulder too, just like my mountainous seester.

But what’s nice about my new favorite hot sauce, compared to my old one, is that Crystal doesn’t break their bottle on a rock and then jam it shard-side first up your ass. My meaning here is figurative, and financial. See, Crystal is 79 cents for a 6 oz. bottle, compared to $5 for a 5 oz. bottle of F-ing F & F’s. You can get a case of 24 6-oz. bottles of Crystal for $18.93. Fuck and Fuck’s 12-pack of 5-oz. bottles? Fifty bucks. Um, that’s more than twice the price for less than half the goods. And, best of all, you don’t have to go to Whole Paycheck to get a bottle.

Now that that’s settled, I wish I could print a picture here of Mama Mountain, because she’s round, as advertised, and bearded and beautiful, in addition to insane. I’d sue her too, if I was her kid.


My new favorite restaurant is Talavera Taqueria in Berkeley. Two great green salsas, a tomatillo-based and an avocado-based. And the chips are good and fresh. It’s a nice place to sit and eat an al pastor burrito, or probably any other kind as well.


TALAVERA TAQUERIA

Daily: 9 a.m.–9:30 p.m.

1561 Solano Ave., Berkeley

(510) 558-8565

Beer

AE/D/MC/V
L.E. Leone’s new book is Big Bend (Sparkle Street Books), a collection of short fiction.

Ball-busting jamboree

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› andrea@altsexcolumn.com

Dear Andrea:

Some years ago I managed to stop a boy from going too far by grabbing hold of his testicles and squeezing them hard. It was totally justified, and he was disabled by the pain, allowing me to get away from him. The thing is, I squeezed that poor boy’s balls much harder, and for far longer, than was necessary purely for self-defense. I now realize that I actually enjoyed inflicting that pain on him! It gave me a fantastic feeling of empowerment, hearing a big, muscular boy begging me to stop hurting him. It has since become a sort of an obsession with me, and I take every opportunity to humiliate my boyfriends by grabbing or striking their balls. Of course, I never go far enough to cause any real damage, but I’m afraid that my obsession may be causing these boys some psychological harm and that I have to find a way to stop this habit.

Are these feelings really that unusual in girls?

Love,

Grabby

Dear Grab:

I’m glad you do realize it’s going to have to stop, because despite a pronounced bent toward the "whatever" in the judgmentalism department, I have to admit that your enthusiasm alarms me a little. I prefer my sadists a bit less avid, I guess.

These feelings are quite unusual in both girls and non-girls. But since this planet is nothing if not generously populated, that still makes for a fairly large number of people who enjoy acting out their aggressive fantasies on the testicles of any males within reach. Furthermore, ball-kicking/punching imagery and "oww, my balls"-type humor are so prevalent now that even those aggressors for whom it is not a particular turn-on cannot help but at least consider it on occasion.

I have registered my dismay over testicular-injury humor before, and pointed out that a simple gender switcheroo instantly renders any such "joke" not only not-funny but actively appalling, and have pled for an end to "kick him in the balls, har har har" as a mode of discourse. To little avail, obviously.

For you, the question of prevalence may be interesting but is ultimately irrelevant: no matter how many people do it (not that many, and many of those for money), you need to quit it for your own psychological health. I suggest holding off on any roughhousing until you get, ah, a handle on this. Pain and humiliation both have their places, for sure, but even most people who like that sort of thing prefer tops who can control themselves. The ones who can’t are not dominants; they are bullies.
Love,
Andrea

Dear Readers:

In case you don’t believe how common a kink the ball-kick is, at least as fantasy material — and especially for the ball-bearing half of the population — I offer the following examples from my archive, where they have been languishing for lack of (my) interest. Um, happy holidays!

Love,

Andrea

Q: Years back, newly divorced and tipsy, I was at a nightclub and an aggressive woman took me home for some fun. She asked me if I was averse to being tied up. I said no and consented. She led me into her basement, asked me to strip, and then secured my hands above my head. I was excited and it showed. She then asked if she could put a spreader bar on my ankles. I said yes. The ball gag in my mouth made me a bit nervous. After many kicks, knees and hard squeezes, I was delirious. I stayed hard through it all. She then gave me a fabulous BJ. I was swollen and black-and-blue for a month. It has not happened since, but I find myself masturbating to this event years later. Is this type of sex-play common?

A: Of course. What did you pay her?

Q: When I was taking karate, I was paired with a woman to practice no-contact front snap kicks to the groin. She was slow and I made a snide remark. She gave me a funny look, said "OK then," and swiftly soccer-kicked me square in the sac. The pain shot through me and I dropped to the floor in the fetal position. She bent down and said "oops, sorry" but gave me a smug look that said she wasn’t. When I got home, my testicles were quite swollen. Then I got an erection — I’m not sure why, but the entire ball-busting was a turn on after the fact. The next time I saw her, she smirked and made a snide remark, which got me semi-hard and I was tempted to egg her on again but chickened out. She dropped out of class not long after that. I still fantasize about being kicked or kneed by a woman (no sex). Am I crazy?

A: Since you neither egged her on nor went out of your way later to court injury, clearly not. She was kind of a bitch, though.

Love,

Andrea

Andrea is teaching Sex After Parenthood at Day One Center (www.dayonecenter.com), Recess (info@recessurbanrecreation.com), and privately. Contact her at andrea@altsexcolumn.com for more info.

Don’t look back

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› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Twelve months ago, as I sat down to write a year-end appraisal of 2007, I was still in awe of "© Murakami," the Takashi Murakami show at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. It brilliantly captured the crass apex of global capitalism, mostly through celebrity-studded receptions and the appropriated — call it sculptural — form of a Louis Vuitton boutique. What a difference a year makes. At the close of 2008, the whole art world is watching as the highly regarded MOCA teeters precariously on a financial abyss, while Vuitton maven Marc Jacobs recently canceled his extravagantly performance-arty holiday party in the name of "recessionista" austerity.

Suddenly, commentaries on luxury goods seem so ’07, as evidenced by the critical response to a Chanel-sponsored, Zaha Hadid-designed quilted handbag exhibition that landed in Central Park this fall. "If devoting so much intellectual effort to such a dubious undertaking might have seemed indulgent a year ago, today it looks delusional," architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff opined in The New York Times. At this particular moment, it’s as difficult to summon up the flush feeling of the recent past as it is to contemplate a belt-tightening future.

To look forward is to confront anxious uncertainty. Optimists, however, anticipate a period in which art is tempered by a sense of hopefulness and focus rather than being driven by auction reports. Contemporary art will become more thoughtful, they predict. A good percentage of San Francisco art dealers jetted off to Miami for the recent spate of fairs, fingers crossed, expectations lowered. Word on the street said the outcome wasn’t as bad as expected, though sales were slow. Collectors actually had time to look and think about the art they were interested in, in contrast to automatically joining the grab-and-go sellers’ market of years past. Like everything else in our culture, the art world appears poised to embrace a more manageable scale. I wonder if this also means that art activities will become more homegrown.

This fall, the Bay Area saw a whole lot of contemporary art from China, with big shows at the Berkeley Art Museum ("Mahjong: Contemporary Chinese Art From the Sigg Collection") and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art ("Half Life of a Dream: Contemporary Chinese Art") providing a welcome crash course in Far East art production. It seems unlikely, though, that either will have a lasting impact on community consciousness. Interest in Chinese art mirrors an American preoccupation with economic miracles. Numerous Western galleries opened Beijing outposts this year, positioning for anticipated new markets, but fantasies of financial success have been exposed as illusion — much like the sounds and images from Zhang Yimou’s over-the-top opening of Beijing Olympics.

The Bay Area museum scene was robust in the summer. Unsurprisingly, "Frida" gave SFMOMA a summer blockbuster, albeit one outsold by "Chihuly at the de Young." The latter presented a problematic expression of the tensions between art, craft, and design — Kenneth Baker’s slam review in the San Francisco Chronicle incited a welcome, if contentious, flurry of public online dialogue. The Contemporary Jewish Museum opened its new building in June with solid shows and events, making that institution a more prominent cultural resource (albeit one that still needs to prove itself through upcoming programming). There were lower budget alternative visions to be found. A plethora of apartment and hallway galleries popped up around town. "Kiki: The Proof is in the Pudding," Ratio 3’s summer show honoring a now-legendary mid-1990s gallery in the Mission, , generated a surprisingly broad buzz, thanks to its range of notable artists with SF roots.

And then there was "Bay Area Now 5," a show that people, unfortunately, weren’t really talking about. Ambitious in intent, this edition of the regional survey hoped to offer a spin on international biennials. It included artists who recently moved to the area from distant countries, some guest-curated shows-within-the-show, and off-site events. But the result felt unfocused. Its off-kilter array of bizarre inclusions — such as Edmundo de Marchena’s jaw-dropper of a sculpture, a jiggling prosthetic genital homage to SF’s history of sexual compulsion — failed to please artists (both in and out of the show), appease local galleries whose artists were not represented, or register with a public looking for the current pulse of San Francisco art. Challenges to the market-based art world and programs that avoid the usual suspects are welcome strategies. But in this case, the quality of individual projects was subsumed by the muddled institutional vision of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. What is the point of "Bay Area Now" again?

Perhaps the misfired attempt would be forgivable if it hadn’t been bracketed by equally undercooked exhibitions ("The Way That We Rhyme," "The Gatherers: Greening Our Urban Spheres," and the cryptic "transPop: Korea Vietnam Remix" — a show in dire need of contextualizing wall labels). YBCA has a new visual arts director, former San Diego Museum of Art curator Betti-Sue Hertz, who will take the helm in early 2009. She has her work cut out for her.

As resources become more precious, frugal ingenuity is likely to take precedence in local art offerings. To cut costs, museums will be having fewer exhibitions with longer runs (some extending beyond six months). These time frames offer opportunities for deeper scrutiny — or heavier bouts of boredom. Something like SFMOMA’s current "The Art of Participation: 1950 to Now," even if it doesn’t live up to its promised scope, reflects an interest in collaborative involvement and the appeal of low-rent materials — rubber bands, anyone? Audiences are enjoying themselves, maybe even making repeat visits.

Perhaps homespun critical fantasy is the order of the day. The Wattis Institute’s "The Wizard of Oz," for example, fused a ragtag collection of contemporary art and historical artifacts into an amber-hued vision of the crumbling American dream. I wish I’d been able to see the Jeff Koons sculpture installed in the Château de Versailles, a more extravagant example of a visually and conceptually pointed spectacle — Koons’ mash-up of European and American relics forms another kind of dreamy Oz. Click your heels three times and repeat after me: there’s no place like home.

GLEN HELFAND’S 2008 TOP 10

1. "Oranges and Sardines," Hammer Museum

Returning SFMOMA curator Gary Garrels’ current "conversations on abstract painting" exhibition in Los Angeles is one of the most satisfying, artist-friendly shows ever.

2. Philippe Vergne, lecture at San Francisco Art Institute

The recently-appointed director of the Dia Art Foundation offered incisive, inspirational, and witty takes on the melancholic state of the arts.

3. Speed Racer: The IMAX Experience (Andy and Larry Wachowski, USA, 2008)

This color-drenched amusement park ride of a movie lacks coherence and features the world’s most irritating child actor, but two-plus hours of nonstop electric rainbow CGI at IMAX scale turns eye-tickling into an endurance sport.

4. Seven Days in the Art World, by Sarah Thornton (Norton, 256 pages, $24.95)

As economies tank everywhere, there is no better time to get Thornton’s insider view of art fairs, auctions, art schools, and the like — it already seems like glam art history. Plus it’s great fodder for art opening chitchat.

5. Brendan Lott, at SF Art Commission Gallery and San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art

Lott’s paintings — farmed out to painting towns in China and based on appropriated culturally revealing Flickr images of American teens — provided a remarkably concise picture of globalization.

6. Fritz Haeg, lecture at SFMOMA

Though the notion of garden-as-participatory-eco-artwork is beginning to seem rote, Haeg, a key figure in this movement, convinced skeptics with his self-aware and pleasurable take on social sculpture.

7. You Don’t Mess with the Zohan (Dennis Dugan, USA, 2008)

Adam Sandler’s crude, sure, but in this under-appreciated lark he joyfully takes on Arab-Palestinian conflict, the joys of intergenerational sex, the mall-ization of Manhattan, and vintage Paul Mitchell unisex cuts.

8. Park Life and Electric Works

These two relatively new gallery-bookstore entities, Park Life in the Richmond District and Electric Works in SoMa, have made good art seem accessible — in the collector sense — to everyone. If you can’t afford the originals or prints (Electric Works makes ’em), then you can buy into the highly selective inventory of art books at either place.

9. Love Songs (Christophe Honoré, France 2007)

This down-tempo spin on Jean-Luc Godard’s 1961’s A Woman Is a Woman and Jacques Demy’s 1964 The Umbrellas of Cherbourg restored my faith in French cinema, not to mention musical melancholy.

10. "Josephine Taylor: Bomb Landscape," Catherine Clark Gallery

Taylor first made a splash with delicately rendered, almost wispy epics of extreme family dysfunction and abuse. Her latest show is startling in its visual darkness and more dreamlike but still frightening surrealistic imagery.

Picks, pans, and a top 10

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CHUCK MOBLEY, CURATOR AT SF CAMERAWORK


Pan: SF Art Institute’s furlough

A humble proposal to those laid off for a month: exchange your individual voice for a collective one and begin intervening by employing the crafty tools of activism as an artful device of communication in order to effect positive change for your institution. As culture workers you are bound to succeed.
Pick: The Size Queens, Magic Dollar Shoppe (Bitter Stag)

A lineup of Bay Area all-stars have produced a multi-layered disc of anti-globalization, anti-pop culture anthems filled with pathos and wit. By turns literary, cheeky, melancholic, and celebratory, this music is the perfect accompaniment to a protest or a Naomi Klein lecture.

XYLOR JANE, ARTIST


Pick: P&H 2 (Behemoth), 2007, oil on canvas, 84" x 92", from "Amy Sillman: Third Person Singular,"

at Tang Museum, Saratoga, NY

This painting stares you down and sizes you up. I lock a gaze. I’m a little scared. I can hear and smell every single thing near me. IT makes you bristle, puff, straighten and square the challenge, feet planted for a tussle. The hot center smokes and glows blood fire, breathes through clamped jaws, "What the fuck are you?". Turns a thick neck and swings an armored tail. THWACK. Hit, jolted, burnt? Part of me melts away, Oh, just my outers, clothes and skin. Hair.

LAWRENCE RINDER, DIRECTOR OF BERKELEY ART MUSEUM AND PACIFIC FILM ARCHIVE


1. Odetta at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival
2. Donal Mosher and Michael Palmieri’s documentary film October Country
3. Conspiracy of Venus at Adobe Books
4. "Ajit Chahuan: Milky Way of Breeding Stallions That Roll, Ejacuutf8g By Themselves," at Adobe Books Backroom Gallery
5. "Paul Schiek: the thing about you is that you will end up like me," at Stephen Wirtz Gallery
6. Leah Marks’ senior show at California College of the Arts
7. Jennifer Blowdryer
8. Andy Goldsworthy’s The Spire in the Presidio
9. Brontez at Dog Eared Books
10. Frederic Rzewsky, solo piano at Mills College

WILLIAM E. JONES, FILMMAKER


Pick: Odires Mlászho

At São Paulo’s Galeria Vermelho this fall, I saw the sexy and cerebral, disciplined and dissipated work of Mlászho for the first time. He juxtaposes ordinary mortal faces and Roman portrait sculptures with geometric rigor in his collage series "A Fossil Dig Full of Hooks." He cunningly cements pages of reference books together in his sculpture Enciclopédia Britânica. His most powerful works (from a series called "Butchers and Master Apprentices") involve elaborate collage rearrangements of male nudes that manage to look at once disemboweled and bloodless. Diaphanous yet strong, a body becomes a deconstruction of a flesh-colored Herman Miller lamp.

AVA JANCAR, CO-OWNER OF JANCAR JONES GALLERY


Pick: The current Berkeley Art Museum

A few months ago I found a pamphlet-like publication at an antique shop in Alameda, its cover austere, reading simply University Arts Center. Detailed within were the elevation plans of the elegantly modern yet utilitarian Mario Ciampi design for the Berkeley Art Museum’s current site. Opened in 1970 and constructed in a brutalist manner, with fanning interior cantilevers around an airy core, the concrete building is to be replaced soon with a design by international architect Toyo Ito. My past year of visits to the museum has been colored by this knowledge, and I’ve begun to mourn its impending loss. In spite of the current structure’s seismic instability, it remains baffling to me that a community is so quick to dispose of this local icon, not yet 50 years old. "The richness of this building will arise from the sculptural beauty of its rugged major forms," an awards jury wrote in 1966 regarding Ciampi’s plan. "We believe [it] can become one of the outstanding contributions to museum design in our time."

HENRY URBACH, CURATOR OF ARCHITECTURE AND DESIGN AT SAN FRANCISCO MUSEUM OF MODERN ART


Pick: "Lautrec in Leather: Chuck Arnett and the Birth of the San Francisco Scene," at the GLBT Historical Society

If you missed the show, you can still see Arnett’s rendition of Michelangelo’s David in full leather gear (on view in the Historical Society’s exhibition on 18th and Castro), or you can make an appointment to visit the organization’s extensive queer archive.

Pick: The Federal Office Building by Morphosis, Renzo Piano’s Academy of Sciences Building, and Toyo Ito’s design for the Berkeley Art Museum

These buildings point the way to a new civic architecture.

Pick: The Hunky Jesus contest in Dolores Park on Easter Sunday

Street theater at its finest.

Pick: Nice Collective’s "Voix de Ville" Collection

How fortunate we are to have these brilliant designers among us.

Pan: Proposition 8

MATT FURIE, ARTIST


Pick: "One-Thousand Twenty-Six Eyes," at Hamburger Eyes Photo Epicenter

One thousand twenty-six eyes is a lot of eyes and it’s also the name of an awesome group show I saw this year at Hamburger Eyes. I like eyes. The show featured a ton of cool photos from the kids at Space 1026 in Philly. The best thing there was a large glowing geodesic dome with tie-dyed pillows all around it. I sat on a pillow and discovered a little peephole with a tiny photo inside. Turned out this structure was lined with tons of little viewfinders and each hole had a different pic! They also had a great merch booth in the back with a bunch of handmade prints, zines, t-shirts and stuff. I bought an awesome hamburger-with-eyes t-shirt there by artist Chris Kline. He rules.

DARIN KLEIN, PROGRAMS COORDINATOR AT THE HAMMER MUSEUM AND CURATOR


Pick: Fag School #3

Naked men (Jewish Jason, Bob the Handyman, and My Best Friend’s Weiner), hilarious cruising reviews, mortifying blackout reviews, advice columns by Telfar and Allison Wolfe, interviews with New Bloods and Billy Cheer. All of this and more, created with scissors, markers, glue, and a manual typewriter. Nothing fancy, experimental or tricky about this project. Just rants, raves, and snapshots, served up hottt by San Francisco’s very own Brontez in glorious black and white photocopy. The price is right at just $3.50. Warning: Playing the weird Lovewarz DVD that comes with this zine could ruin a preppy gay birthday party!

Sentenced to rape

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rsaquo; news@sfbg.com

It’s been 60 years since the United Nations General Assembly issued the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, affirming the inherent dignity and inalienable rights of all people. Yet prisoners are often denied the most basic protections of the law. Rape is still a brutal reality in prison, a problem that disproportionately affects LGBT inmates.

In 2003, Congress unanimously passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), creating federal mandates to fight sexual assault in prisons. But its implementation has been slow. This year, the Bureau of Justice Statistics conducted the first national survey of violence in the corrections system. It found sexual orientation to be the single greatest determinant for sexual abuse in prisons — 18.5 percent of homosexual inmates reported sexual assault, compared to 2.7 percent of heterosexual prisoners. Though PREA aims to reduce these figures, prisoners and their advocates have been waiting on its official guidelines, which are set for release in 2009.

In an attempt to address California’s challenges in protecting LGBT inmates, California Sen. Gloria Romero held an informational meeting Dec. 11 in San Francisco, bringing together former LGBT prisoners, advocates, experts, and representatives from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).

"Nobody has it easy in prisons, and LGBT persons in particular experience unique kinds of harassment, discrimination, and violence when incarcerated," said Masen Davis, executive director of the Transgender Law Center.

Inherent flaws in our social institutions result in a disproportionate number of LGBT prisoners. Discrimination in employment, housing, and healthcare often force members of the LGBT community, particularly transgender individuals, to turn to the street economy to support themselves. A survey by the Transgender Law Center found that fewer than half of transgender adults held a full-time job, and one in five have experienced homelessness since becoming transgender (see "Transjobless," 3/15/06). These factors greatly increase the instance of criminal activity in the LGBT community. The Center for Health Justice reports that more than two-thirds of male-to-female transgender San Franciscans have been incarcerated; in six other major urban areas, one in four gay men had been incarcerated.

Once LGBT individuals enter the California prison system, says Linda McFarlane, deputy executive director of Just Detention International, they are 15 times more likely to experience sexual assault than the general population. In addition, she said, prison staff more often fail to protect these inmates than others, and are more likely to believe that assaults are consensual.

"There seems to be a belief among some corrections officers that rape is unavoidable in prison," McFarlane said. "It’s been asked more than once in training sessions that if transgender inmates are at such risk, why are they still allowed to be transgender within the prison environment?"

Alex Lee, a co-director of the Transgender, Gender Variant, and Intersex Justice Project, read a statement from Bella Christina Borrell, a 56-year-old transgender inmate: "Female transgender prisoners are the ultimate target for sexual assault and rape. In this hyper-masculine world, inmates who project feminine characteristics attract unwanted attention and exploitation by others seeking to build up their masculinity by dominating and controlling women."

Of course, there are policies in place that should protect inmates from each other. PREA stipulates that sexual assault during incarceration can constitute a violation of the Eighth Amendment to the US Constitution, and mandates that facilities employ a zero-tolerance policy toward abuse. However, like many things in life, the theory and practice have little in common.

"We’ve heard multiple times about officers openly expressing a belief that gay and transgender inmates cannot be raped, that they deserve to be raped due to their mere presence in the environment, or that if they are raped it’s simply not a concern," McFarlane said.

Joe Sullivan of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said policy dictates that gay or transgender status alone does not warrant specific housing arrangements. He said the department prefers to integrate inmates in a setting that most closely resembles what they will be returning to after being paroled. When they arrive in prison, inmates are evaluated using a system called Compass, which is a set of guidelines to determine each person’s specific needs. During this time, inmates are able to state whether they feel they need special arrangements.

"It’s a framework that is followed by the staff at institutions," Sullivan said. "Some of the things I heard today suggest that how the framework is interpreted is one of the issues we’ll have to go look into and do some further training on."

It has been suggested that the previously used designations Category B and SOR (sexual orientation), which include guidelines for "effeminately homosexual" men, might aid CDCR in their classification process. However, as Sullivan stated, the prison system’s evaluation procedure largely ignores these special circumstances.

"The classification process is gender-neutral," Sullivan said. "We try to address the individual’s specific needs, as opposed to having a policy for a group or a class of people. We really don’t distinguish between transgender and non-transgender inmates."

While this policy is certainly egalitarian, it ignores the extreme vulnerability of LGBT inmates, something many prisoners don’t realize until after they’ve been victimized. Then, all too often, they are placed in isolation cells usually reserved as punitive measures.

"If they have been a victim of a sexual assault, they can be and will be single-celled, at least for the period of time that we go through investigating the allegations," Sullivan said. "We try to do it in an expedient manner, so that the victim is not the one sitting in administrative segregation."

The panelists all agreed that eliminating sexual violence against the LGBT community requires some of our most precious resources: time, energy, and money. In the past, the general rule has been to increase spending for prisons while simultaneously reducing funds for social programs like housing, employment, and health care, which all have a lot do to with the amount of crime in the first place.

Advocates recommend that an effective classification system must be implemented. First, corrections officials have to acknowledge that factors like an inmate’s sexual orientation or transgender status put them at an exceptionally high risk for violence. Second, steps must be taken to reduce the instances of harassment, abuse, and sexual assault suffered by inmates. Female transgender inmates must be issued sports bras and should be allowed to shower separately from the general population to curb humiliation and predation. If an assault occurs, victims should not be placed in punitive custody, the complaint must remain confidential, and assailants cannot be allowed the opportunity to retaliate. Finally, corrections officers should have to participate in an extensive training program to help them deal with these factors.

Bambi Salcedo, a transgender ex-convict who now works with transgender youth at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles put it simply: "We have to realize that homosexual and transgender inmates must be treated with dignity in the correctional system."

Furor in the sheriff’s union

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The president of the San Francisco Deputy Sheriffs’ Association, who has made no secret of his larger political ambitions, is fighting a lawsuit by union members who allege that he embezzled money and improperly donated union funds to local campaigns.

The suit seeks to oust David Wong as president and force an audit of the union’s financial records.

Captain Johna Pecot, Chief Deputy Thomas Arata, senior deputy Rick Owyang, Lieutenant Stephen Tilton, and deputy Joseph Leake allege in the lawsuit that Wong collected a double salary, used union money to pay his personal mortgage, made numerous unauthorized political contributions, began an outside foundation using the SFDSA’s name, and ended an important union affiliation, all in violation of the SFDSA bylaws.

On top of that, they say he led a campaign to kick Pecot and Arata out of the union after the two began requesting to look into the SFDSA finances.

The lawsuit has obvious political implications. Wong is an elected member of the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee. He challenged incumbent Sheriff Mike Hennessey for the elected post in 2007, and has said that he would consider running again in 2011. Some observers say that Hennessey, who has been in office 28 years, may be ready to retire at the end of this term.

Pecot and Arata are senior officers and close to Hennessey.

Wong’s attorney, Larry Murray, says the complaint, filed in federal court Nov. 10th, has "no specific information" about the alleged fraud. He’s asked that the case be dismissed. "The Complaint reveals nothing more than a round of an ongoing local dispute between union management and a few disgruntled members whose allegations long ago have been independently investigated and proven without merit," according to Wong’s motion.

Wong wouldn’t comment to us about the case, although he told Vic Lee of KGO-TV that "This is purely politics, political." But if any of the serious charges stand up in court, it could complicate any future run for office.

"We have not asked for any money in our lawsuit, we have asked that there be accountability and the books be opened," Tilton told us.

WHO PAID WHOM — AND HOW MUCH?


In 2002, the union board approved a plan to pay the salary of a full-time union president, the suit states, and between 2003 and 2005, funds totaling $285,367 were appropriated to pay Wong. However, it states, "in 2003 SFDSA members learned that the sheriff’s department was continuing to pay David Wong his regular … salary." Upon the discovery the board cut his union pay to $24,000 a year, but "the excess funds … have never been restored to SFDSA," the suit charges.

The exact financial figures would come out in a trial, but at this point, the picture is murky. Susan Fahey, a spokeswoman from the sheriff’s department, said that Wong is considered a permanent civil servant and that under the collective bargaining agreement between the city and the DSA, 40 percent of his $86,538.92 salary is paid by the sheriff’s department and 60 percent is paid by the SFDSA.

"It’s not double salary," Murray said. "There’s two employers: one hires him for 40 percent of the time, the other 60 percent."

The lawsuit claims that the union used a rather unusual procedure to compensate Wong. Instead of paying his salary directly to him, it alleges, the union paid the money to the banks that held Wong’s mortgage.

A 2004 report on an internal union investigation of the practice, a copy of which was filed with the suit, notes that the plan was a "Creative way to compensate the President of the DSA for the salary difference … in a manner that did not create liabilities to the Association as an employer." The investigation found that Wong "has not committed any violation of law" but stated that the judgment used to devise this compensation method was "extremely poor."

Eileen Hirst, the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department chief of staff, wouldn’t comment on the case, calling it "entirely internal" to the SFDSA.

THE GENDER LAWSUIT


This isn’t the only lawsuit involving the union, Arata, Pecot, and Tilton. The three senior staffers are named defendants in a gender-discrimination lawsuit filed last year against the sheriff’s department.

Murray — Wong’s lawyer — also represents the plaintiffs, 35 male and female deputies, in the 2007 case that alleges that the sheriff’s department practice of allowing only female deputies to enter women’s jail pods exposes those deputies to greater harm and amounts to gender discrimination. Wong isn’t mentioned in the suit by name, but his response to the more recent case refers to it as "round one of this dispute."

In the fall of 2007, shortly after the gender discrimination case was filed, Pecot and Arata began looking into the SFDSA books. Pecot, who is a sheriff’s captain, told the Guardian that after she requested access to the records, Wong began a campaign to have the SFDSA bylaws amended by vote so that captains and chiefs — who are senior managers in the department — could no longer be SFDSA members.

The union membership approved the change in April, Pecot told us. According to the 2008 complaint, Wong had been "disseminating false and misleading information regarding Plaintiffs in attempt to wrongfully expel them from membership in the SFDSA."

The lawsuit also alleges that Wong and SFDSA’s treasurers have "divest[ed] the SFDSA of more than $500,000 of its funds" since 2002. That money, the suit claims, may have gone to the SFDSA Foundation — an organization that, according to the complaint, has no affiliation with the SFDSA.

The complaint states that Wong "deliberately chose the name for his sham organization to deliberately confuse and mislead the public" and "used the income derived from his racketeering activities to establish or operate the SFDSA Foundation."

The suit charges that Wong made $65,000 in political contributions that weren’t approved by the union board. Since 2002, the SFDSA has made contributions to candidates such as Assemblymember Fiona Ma, former state treasurer Phil Angelides, state senator Leland Yee, former secretary of state Kevin Shelley, and other state politicians.

Another point of contention revolves around a building fund that Pecot said was created by the SFDSA to purchase a headquarters building. The union’s been doing business at 444 Sixth Street for the past six years. Pecot says that until recently, she thought the property was owned by the SFDSA. She found out that in fact Wong was leasing it with nearly $200,000 from the building fund, and the complaint specifies that Wong and the treasurer at the time "falsely represented to the SFDSA membership that the SFDSA had purchased a building and was paying a mortgage."

Another money issue that the plaintiffs say they tried to resolve before going to court concerns funds that allegedly have been missing since the termination of the SFDSA’s affiliation with Operating Engineers Local 3. When Wong became SFDSA president in 2002, the SFDSA was affiliated with OE Local 3, another union that handled some legal work for deputies, a service for which each SFDSA member paid $27 per month. But Wong ended the affiliation in May of this year — a move plaintiffs say was not approved by the board.

Wong sent out a memo at the end of May that explained why he ended the affiliation. The document states that the Operating Engineers wanted SFDSA members to pay twice the amount for the same legal defense and since that wasn’t "fair to the membership," he reached a new agreement with a private law firm for legal representation.

After ending the affiliation, however, the SFDSA continued to collect $27 a month from each member, totaling more than $67,500, according to the complaint.

During a Nov. 21 press conference, plaintiff Leake read from a statement that said, "Because of President Wong’s concealment and refusal to provide access to DSA records, we are not able to determine the exact amount of missing funds, nor are we able to identify all the recipients of the misappropriated funds."

"President Wong has thus far avoided accountability for these missing funds by conducting a practice of concealing and refusing to provide access to SFDSA records," said Leake.

Even though SFDSA bylaws say that "all members in good standing shall have the right to examine the books," Owyang said the union members found it necessary to file a lawsuit to get internal financial information. "It’s a sad situation," Tilton said, "when we have to get books opened up in federal court."

Murray said that he’s provided the plaintiffs’ attorneys with all of the information they need. "Some financial information was provided to us," said Louis Garcia, attorney for the plaintiffs. "But we have no confirmation or information regarding its authenticity. Also, the information is only a small portion of the total records that we’re entitled to inspect."

Up against ICE

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› sarah@sfbg.com

The San Francisco Immigrant Rights Defense Committee, a newly formed coalition of more than 30 community groups, is asking Mayor Gavin Newsom and the Board of Supervisors to sign a pledge supporting San Francisco’s immigrant community.

By signing the pledge, city officials would agree to uphold the city’s sanctuary ordinance, ensure that San Francisco police officers don’t act like immigration agents, and denounce racial profiling. They would also agree to denounce Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids and ensure that immigrant youth get due process, that funding for immigrant communities continues, and that the city announce a specific date for implementing San Francisco’s municipal identification program.

The move could put Newsom in an awkward situation — the mayor doesn’t want to appear to be snubbing immigrant-rights leaders, but he also has moved in the past few months to distance himself from the city’s liberal sanctuary law.

So far the coalition has not heard back from Newsom, but some supervisors-elect and returning supervisors have already signed it, and the Mayor’s Office has signaled that the municipal identification program will kick in Jan. 15.

The move to get elected officials to sign a pledge comes at the end of a difficult year for the immigrant community. In May, the federal government challenged San Francisco’s sanctuary ordinance after immigration agents stopped a city juvenile probation officer in Houston.

The officer, who was repatriating a group of Honduran youths who had been busted for selling crack, believed he was acting in accordance with city’s policy. The federal agents, who took the young people into custody, eventually released the officer.

And it wasn’t long before US Attorney Joseph Russoniello, a staunch opponent of the sanctuary ordinance, convened a grand jury to see whether the city used the sanctuary policy to harbor immigrant felons from federal prosecution.

The city countered this attack by hiring high-powered criminal defense lawyer Cris Arguedas. But by then the damage to the city’s sanctuary policy had already been done: in June, someone leaked the details of confidential juvenile court cases to the San Francisco Chronicle. One day after the story hit the newsstands, Newsom — who until then was a staunch sanctuary ordinance supporter — did an about-face, announcing that he would require city officials to refer youth suspected of being undocumented and of having committed a felony to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) even before they have a hearing.

Immigrant rights groups decried Newsom’s new direction, calling it an overly broad policy that had the potential to lead to deporting innocent people who may not have family or relatives in their county of origin.

As Angela Chan of the Asian Law Caucus pointed out, based on Juvenile Probation Department data, in 2006 there were 288 petitions filed against Latin American juveniles, but only 211 were sustained. Had Newsom’s policy been in place, 77 juveniles who weren’t actually found to have committed a felony in San Francisco could have been reported to ICE when they were booked and might have been wrongly deported.

While Newsom’s gubernatorial ambitions were blamed for his sudden change of heart, critics also pointed the finger at his criminal justice director, Kevin Ryan. A Republican loyalist, Ryan was the only US Attorney to be fired for cause during US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ infamous purge of the Justice Department in December 2006.

His December 2007 hiring by Newsom was seen as a calculated move to make the mayor-who-would-be-governor look tough on crime and immigrants — cards that play well among voters in more conservative parts of the state.

It didn’t help that Ryan’s hiring coincided with Russoniello’s second term as US Attorney for the Northern District of California.

Public records obtained by the Guardian show that as the Chronicle series unfolded, Ryan and Newsom’s communications director, Nathan Ballard, began to question whether the city should even fund programs or organizations that serve undocumented youth.

With ICE raids intensifying — May 2 at El Balazo Taqueria, Sept. 11 at a private residence — and the community accusing the police of racial profiling, the San Francisco Immigrant Rights Defense Committee chose Dec. 18, International Migrants Day, to publicize its pledge.

As of press time, Newsom has refused to meet with the committee, and Chan from the Asian Law Caucus, told us that members are "feeling snubbed."

But Chan reports that SFPD Chief Heather Fong, who announced Dec. 20 that she will be retiring in April, 2009, did meet and listen to the coalition’s concerns. "She reiterated her position that the SFPD only collaborates when ICE is seeking a specific list of people," Chan said.

With Fong under attack from within her own department for her refusal to let officers collaborate with ICE, the community is now abuzz with rumors that a hardliner could now be handed the chief’s reins.

Meanwhile, Supervisor-elect John Avalos and Sups. David Campos and Chris Daly have signed the pledge, while Supervisor-elect Eric Mar and Sup. Bevan Dufty have signed modified versions. And at the Dec. 18 Migrants Day protest, Sups. Jake McGoldrick and Ross Mirkarimi and Supervisor-elect David Chiu (who noted that Sup. Carmen Chu, while absent from the rally, is an immigrant rights supporter) joined gay rights and labor and religious leaders in announcing support for the coalition’s platform, which seeks to make dignity, equality, and due process a reality for all San Franciscans, including immigrants.

As Eric Quezada, Dolores Street Community Services executive director, told the crowd, "We’re here to defend the fundamental human rights of all immigrants." *


P.S. The San Francisco Immigrant Rights Defense Committee is a growing alliance encompassing immigrant rights advocates, labor groups, faith leaders, and LGBT activists. The committee includes the ALDI, Arab Resource and Organizing Center, Asian Law Caucus, Asian Youth Advocacy Network, Bay Area Immigrant Rights Coalition, Central American Resource Center, Chinese for Affirmative Action, Communities United Against Violence, EBASE, Global Exchange, H.O.M.E.Y., Filipino Community Center, Instituto Familiar de la Raza, La Raza Centro Legal, La Voz Latina, Legal Services for Children, Mission Neighborhood Resource Centers, Movement for Unconditional Amnesty, Mujeres Unidas y Activas, PODER, POWER, Pride at Work, SF Immigrant Legal & Education Network, SF Labor Council, SF Organizing Project, St. Peter’s Housing, Tenderloin Housing Clinic, and Young Workers United.

Powerless

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> amanda@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY Sup. Sophie Maxwell, who represents a disproportionately polluted district that is host to the city’s only fossil fuel-burning power plant, has introduced legislation to change the way energy flows into and around the city.

The ordinance collates some past resolutions already affirmed by the Board of Supervisors — to close the Mirant Potrero Power Plant as soon as possible and to request that the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission conduct a transmission-only study to update the city’s Electricity Resource Plan (which is currently based on building a new peaker power plant in the city in order to shutter Mirant’s older, more polluting facility).

Maxwell’s legislation further calls on the city to provide 100 percent clean energy by 2040 — a mandate lifted directly from Proposition H, a clean energy and public power act that was voted down in November.

But the three elements of the ordinance, which was co-signed by outgoing Sup. Aaron Peskin, are somewhat lacking.

The clean energy goals outlined by Maxwell only apply to the SFPUC — not to anyone who gets a Pacific Gas and Electric Co. bill — and SFPUC power is already almost 100 percent clean, consisting mostly of Hetch Hetchy hydroelectric, solar, biomass, and a small amount of cogeneration. (Large hydro and cogeneration do not meet the state’s definition of renewable, but they are considered among the greenest kinds of "brown" power.)

Prop. H would have required the city to conduct an energy study, and specifically stated that the option of city-owned and operated power be considered as part of the study. Subject to board and mayoral approval, the city could have public power if it was determined to be the most efficient and economic way to provide 100 percent clean energy to all citizens by 2040.

Neighborhood and environmental activists, including Julian Davis, who ran the Prop. H campaign, Tony Kelly of the Potrero Boosters, and John Rizzo of the Sierra Club, said they weren’t consulted or even clued in that the Maxwell legislation was being introduced. Rizzo called the clean energy goals "window dressing," and said, "It doesn’t accomplish what Prop. H does."

"I was surprised by the Maxwell ordinance," said Sup. Ross Mirkarimi, one of the authors of Prop. H, which Maxwell, Peskin, and six other supervisors endorsed. "We hadn’t learned of it until the day it was introduced. I believe it’s going in the right direction but I’d like to see it more committed to its insistence on public power — not just elements of Prop. H, but public power so that we are able to be clear about what forms of energy independence, clean energy, renewable that the city should administer."

Maxwell’s aide, Jon Lau, said they did reach out to Mirkarimi’s staff, as well as Mayor Gavin Newsom’s office, and the legislation was written broadly so that there was "something here for everybody if you’re interested."

"The ordinance she introduced is sort of agnostic toward public power," he said. "But it could and should be part of the analysis to the extent that we study residential needs in the city. It’s totally relevant to have a public power analysis." He called public power a "flash point," and said, "The whole conversation would be about that."

Rizzo said the legislation doesn’t demand anything of PG&E, in terms of clean energy goals, but Lau said they don’t have the authority to legislate a private company’s energy procurement. "We can’t just dictate goals for PG&E."

The board doesn’t have the authority to close Mirant either — the gas and diesel power plant operates with a Reliability-Must-Run contract and the state’s grid operator, California Independent System Operator (Cal-ISO), has said Mirant must run or be replaced by some other in-city, instantly available power generation.

The plant also operates with a water permit from the Regional Water Quality Control Board, and though City Attorney Dennis Herrera, Maxwell, and Peskin recently sent a letter urging no renewal of the permit, which expires Dec. 31, the water board seems to be waiting for the plant to close by some other means rather than taking up the issue. "I’m currently reworking the permit reissuance schedule without Potrero because Potrero’s status is really more like ‘to be determined’ at this point," wrote water board staff member Bill Johnson in an e-mail to the Guardian. Because the board hasn’t acted on it, the permit will automatically be extended on Jan. 1, 2009, meaning the plant will be operating indefinitely until the water board makes a final decision or some other way to close it is found.

There’s almost unanimous approval throughout the city that beefing up transmission lines would be better than building a power plant or allowing Mirant to keep operating. Transmission is also one way the city could gain more control of energy resources and potentially save, and even make, some money.

On Dec. 15, Barbara Hale, assistant general manager for power, sent a request to Cal-ISO asking that two new SFPUC transmission proposals be considered as part of the state’s regional planning. They include upping the voltage of existing lines between the Hetch Hetchy dam and Newark, and adding a new line between Newark and Treasure Island, which would allow Hetch Hetchy power to travel exclusively on city-owned lines. The city currently pays PG&E $4 million per year to carry Hetch Hetchy power from Newark into the city — a fee San Francisco has been paying since 1925 when the city, during construction of the transmission lines between Yosemite and the Bay, mysteriously ran out of copper wire just a few miles shy of PG&E’s Newark station.

The new line would run under the bay, using an existing SFPUC water pipeline right-of-way. "This pathway will allow transmission lines to traverse the environmentally sensitive Don Edwards Regional Wildlife Preserve [in Newark] that is likely to be a bottleneck between PG&E’s pivotal Newark substation and the substation serving the Peninsula," the letter states. The SFPUC also predicts some possible cost recovery from Cal-ISO for building the Newark line because it would improve regional reliability. The agency also says it’s exploring partnerships with other municipal utilities for joint ownership.

Editor’s Notes

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› tredmond@sfbg.com

Let me say something out of synch with the holiday spirit, something you don’t want to hear in a "season of sharing," something utterly uncharitable. Listen:

Nicholas Kristof, The New York Times columnist, had a piece Dec. 21 complaining that liberals aren’t generous enough. He had a couple of studies showing that conservatives give more money to charity. The progressives, he suggests, ought to be ashamed that they aren’t doing more to help the less fortunate.

Well, a couple of problems. For starters, much of the money conservatives give to "charity" actually goes to churches, some of which spend that largess promoting bigotry, fighting women’s rights, and trying to stop same-sex marriage. Particularly the churches that conservatives support. And when you eliminate religious institutions, liberals give about the same as conservatives.

But Kristof misses the big point. Charity, at least the way the right wing portrays it, is really the privatization of the social safety net.

Look, I’m not against charity. I give money — I hand cash to every panhandler I see. I like Chronicle columnist Jon Carroll’s "Untied Way" approach — give directly to the needy (even if I don’t get a tax deduction for it). I give money to political groups that are trying to make structural change (teach a man to fish and all that). I give money to my public school.

But the problem with charity is that it allows the wealthy to decide where their money goes — which means they decide what society’s priorities ought to be.

Instead of lauding Bill Gates for donating millions to Harvard, a sane political system would tax the hell out of Gates and let democratically elected representatives decide where the money should go. Maybe the public schools in Detroit need cash more than Harvard does. Maybe mental health services for homeless people in the South Bronx ought to be funded instead of a new computer science building at the world’s richest university. Maybe we should all set the priorities, not just the rich people.

That’s what charitable liberals believe. At least, I do.

A flawed energy bill

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EDITORIAL Two months after Pacific Gas and Electric Co. spent $10 million to defeat a clean energy measure on the San Francisco ballot, Sup. Sophie Maxwell has stepped into the battle, introducing a mild ordinance that lifts some of the language from the Clean Energy Act but would accomplish very little. We’re glad to see Maxwell stepping up her efforts to close the dirty Mirant Power Plant in Potrero Hill, but her legislation needs some significant amendments.

Maxwell’s ordinance, cosponsored by Sup. Aaron Peskin (who is one meeting away from being termed out), would make it city policy to "take all feasible steps" to close the Potrero plant. That’s a laudable goal. It also borrows the aggressive environmental goals from the Clean Energy Act, stating that the city needs to meet all its energy needs by 2040 with renewable power. But unlike the Clean Energy Act, Maxwell’s mandate ignores PG&E, which supplies the vast majority of the electricity in San Francisco and which can’t even meet the state’s weak alternative energy standards. Her requirement would apply only to the city’s own power supplies, which come mostly from the Hetch Hetchy hydroelectric project and thus already meet the 2040 standards. So the part of the bill that deals with climate change and greenhouse gas emissions is utterly useless.

The measure calls on the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission to study the ways the city can meet its energy goals without the Potrero plant — again, a fine idea. But it ducks the central question: who’s going to control the local electric grid, and thus the city’s energy future? Will PG&E continue to call the shots (in which case San Francisco will never meet credible green-power goals)? Or will the city take control of the distribution system, which would allow lower electric rates and far higher environmental standards?

As Amanda Witherell reports on page 17, Maxwell’s aide, Jon Lau, said the ordinance is "sort of agnostic toward public power." That’s a mistake — leaving public power out of the equation amounts to a capitulation to PG&E and a guarantee that nothing substantial will change in the city’s energy portfolio.

Maxwell wants to close the Potrero plant as quickly as possible, and so do we. The best way to do that is to block the plant’s water permit when it comes up next year (see "Water board can close Mirant," 11/25/08), and Maxwell and City Attorney Dennis Herrera are moving on that front. But the California Independent System Operator (Cal-ISO), which controls the state’s grid, has in the past argued that the city needs a certain amount of generating capacity within its borders, and could force the Potrero plant to keep running.

Maxwell originally supported a plan to replace the in-city generation capacity by installing city-owned combustion turbines that would run only during periods of peak demand. But that plan failed after both environmentalists and PG&E opposed it. Now she’s pressing an alternative that would use new transmission cables, one owned by PG&E, to eliminate the need for power plants in the city.

That might work — but it would still leave the city in PG&E’s clutches, and while it would eliminate a source of pollution in southeast San Francisco, the city would still be using dirty power from PG&E’s nuclear and fossil-fuel plants elsewhere.

The best long-term solution is to build city-owned renewable generation to replace Mirant. The city’s community choice aggregation plan is moving in that direction. But ultimately, San Francisco will only reach aggressive clean energy goals if it controls its own fate.

Maxwell’s ordinance should be amended to clearly mandate a study that examines the feasibility of a public power system in San Francisco. If that’s not in the final version, the bill should be voted down.