Volume 43 Number 17

Fill her up


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

REVIEW In the late 1990s, Mary Alice Fry, artistic director of the now defunct Venue 9, found a hole. She has been filling them ever since.

The January performance calendars at her theater and many other local small venues, she noticed, were empty. At the same time her curatorial experience had shown that women artists still had a harder time getting noticed than their male counterparts. "So many of them," Fry said, "struggle with multiple responsibilities of mortgages, children, two or three jobs, keeping relationships going." So she started the Women on the Way Festival, now in its ninth year, to create "a stepping stone" for local women performers.

After Fry lost her lease on Venue 9, she moved the Festival to the Shotwell Studios and to Joe Landini’s Garage. For reasons of practicality and availability, WOW’s lineup changes every night. The performers seem to enjoy what, to an outsider, looks like a complicated format. "They like sharing the stage and seeing each other’s work," Fry explained. "For them it’s about standards and not competition. These women are pumped up and work and scramble and always want to do more."

While this year’s 17 performers working in theater, the circus, comedy, and dance are mostly up-and-coming, WOW also invited at least two highly experienced artists. Molissa Fenley and Nina Wise have each been working for more than three decades apiece. Each will present a world premiere.

On opening night, Jan. 15, the Garage hosted two soloists and a quartet. While none of the three pieces broke revolutionary ground, each had that spark of effervescence that makes one want to see where these artists are going. They deserve a bigger audience than they got.

Ara Glenn-Johanson’s based her earthstepper on a 10th-century English poem, "The Wanderer." As a choreographer for herself, she proved to be rather heavy-handed as soon as she moved beyond a rather basic gestural vocabulary. But she is a strong, expressive vocalist — both live and in duets with herself on tape — and her solo became an intermittently moving meditation on loneliness and perseverance.

Gretchen Garnett’s Edited for Time needs more editing for time, but impressed the audience with the ambition, if not quite the realization, of a rigorously conceived study in formal structure. With an extended duet for Garnett and the beautifully expressive Leah Samson, the piece started with simple swaying motions and quickly evolved into patterns of elastic tension that would snap, only to be picked up again. Edited looked full of contradictions, pre-ordained accidents, and surprising repetitions. The other committed dancers were Becca Rufer and Chad Dawson.

Despite having what must be one of dance’s more convoluted titles, Pfannenstiel Incision Marks the Spot, Lenora Lee’s solo was a stark, tightly choreographed portrait of one woman’s fear and anguish about her own body — Pfannenstiel was the surgeon who invented the so-called bikini cut. With her feet planted as if nailed to the ground and her hands veering between tendrils and claws, Lee pulled, yanked, spread, and hung her guts inside out. Performed in silence, Pfannenstiel was small in scale, but it resonated in a big way.


Through Feb. 1

Thurs-Sun., 8 p.m., at the Garage, 975 Howard, and Shotwell Studios, 3252-A 19th St., SF


(415) 289-2000, 1-800-838-3006


Night at the museum


REVIEW American Conservatory Theater leads off its new season with a revival of John Guare’s rollickingly self-referential 1974 comedy, a madcap musical so quirky and of the moment in conception and mood that it comes shrouded in a sometimes dazzling, more often distancing veil of nostalgia.

New York playwright Bing Ringling (Brooks Ashmanskas) has received his first commercial production — after only several hundred attempts — in a dreary downtown theater haunted by an insane producer (Mary Birdsong) with a failure wish and a strong resemblance to a tottering Kate Hepburn. Shadowed by the billboard superstardom of movie actor and old neighborhood pal Tybalt Dunleavy (Stephen Derosa), Bing recoils from the scathing reviews of Etruscan Conundrum, leading to a desperate search for meaning that winds through his past, his parents’ couch, the home of his maniacal death-devouring composer (played to the hilt by an irrepressible Derosa), and finally to the dizzy heights of celebrity, from which old pal Tybalt (Derosa again) is preparing to sail down in one big swan dive. The point is not that dreams do come true, you see, but that they exist at all — and get in the way of real life.

Although Guare reworked the material for ACT’s revival, adding even more autobiographical touches as well as some bright if unexceptional new songs, Rich and Famous remains a hit-and-miss affair, with some flat notes and fewer high ones shaking up its middle register. The often overly broad humor has dated — though it can still work well, as in the scene with Bing’s obsessive, half-senile parents, played by Derosa and Birdsong. Moreover, the main character, while sympathetic, never becomes more than mildly interesting, which contributes to the sense of the intermissionless performance dragging on. Overall, the feeling is not unlike walking around inside a museum piece — which is just what happens in one vignette. But the play’s whimsy is so rooted in a specific moment, despite a stab at more timeless themes, that maybe that’s inevitable.

Rich and Famous is, however, expertly performed by a versatile four-person cast — including ACT’s priceless Gregory Wallace in a couple of scene-stealing flights — and directed with appropriately zany energy by John Rando. It’s also lovingly gussied up by scenic designer Scott Bradley in jazzy, period-evoking slashes of color, including set pieces drenched in the garishly comic shades of nightmares. All of which ensures Guare and Ringling’s one-ring circus is nothing if not a frenetically romantic spree. (Robert Avila)

RICH AND FAMOUS Through Feb. 8. Tues.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat.–Sun., Jan. 21, and Feb. 4, 2 p.m. American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary, SF. $17–$82. (415) 749-2228, www.act-sf.org

Fresh jam


› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER The perfectly passive postmodern approach to pop nostalgia? Allow the milky waves of 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s retro navel-gazer rehash to simply wash over you — like so many warm, narcotic jets of synthetic baby formula. The opposite tact is the one that San Francisco trio Mi Ami takes: reject the rockist, retread trappings of the old and stale and make new and likely original sounds from a place of authenticity and openness. Breathe. Good. An excellent example might be Mi Ami’s recent spasm of songwriting after the completion of their debut, Watersports, out Feb. 17 on Quarterstick: the jams weren’t quite "up to snuff," as vocalist-guitarist Daniel Martin-McCormick puts it. But the essential flow was restored after drummer Damon Palermo spoke up in favor of letting the songs flow and allowing the changes to happen naturally rather than getting clogged with details.

"We started opening the songs up and started letting the changes happen naturally," explains the clear-eyed Martin-McCormick on this clear-skied, brilliant, balmy winter day in the Mission District. "I feel like when it works, it’s really great because it doesn’t seem like something locked in by something like repetitions of four. But at the same time, when it doesn’t work it can be kind of frustrating because it’s just like trying to have a conversation when you’re just not feeling it. It has to be like a lived experience. You can’t fake it."

You might not know it from glancing at the tall, lanky, check-shirted bandmates stalking down Alabama Street in search of coffee and nutrients at Atlas Cafe, but Martin-McCormick — a former member of Dischord punk outfit Black Eyes along with Mi Ami bassist Jacob Long — and the soft-spoken Palermo are pop philosophers of sorts: amiable, laid-back, yet ready to hold forth politely and passionately on their favorite disco singles and free jazz LPs, the multiple meanings one might glean from the title Watersports, or the role African funk guitar might play in, say, pulsing workouts like "The Man in Your House."

It’s easy to get lost in Martin-McCormick’s high-pitched, keening vocals, equal parts no wave nervousness and androgynous nerve; his bursts of scratched-out guitar skronk; Palermo’s primal-power beats; and Long’s reassuringly melodic bass lines. But Mi Ami never over-thinks its lengthy forays into that anxious and pleasure-strewn interzone between improv and noise, space-is-the-place dub and neverending party jams. Like groups such as !!! and the Rapture and locals à la Tussle and Jonas Reinhardt, which Palermo also drums for, Mi Ami sounds as if it was bred on hardcore’s aggression and reborn on a seething dance floor.

Martin-McCormick and Palermo met two years ago, after relocating from the East Coast and Vancouver respectively, while performing at an Adobe Book Shop art opening. The one thing they were sure of: they didn’t want to be a rock band. "Boring!" blurts Martin-McCormick.

"We are a rock band," says Palermo mildly in Atlas’ noisy back patio. "But you know what we’re talking about. There’s a lot of cool bands that are rock bands but a lot of it is a default setup, the structure of the songs and instrumentation."

"I think we came to be a guitar, bass, and drums trio very much on our terms," Martin-McCormick offers. "I didn’t want to play guitar when I started, but I realized that was what I’m best at and began to find ways to play it that suited what I was looking for." Their resistance to rock habit was helped by the fact that Palermo didn’t own a drum set: at first the duo had only two drums between them. They acquired bits as they progressed, while relying on a janky drum machine prone to crapping out at crucial moments — like their September 2007 opening date for No Age at Bottom of the Hill.

The turning point arrived when the twosome ditched the drum machine and put out a Craigslist ad for a bass player in ’07. "We got a few responses," says Martin-McCormick. "One was super confrontational. I wrote that we’re into disco, gamelan, and no wave — and no old people. We wanted someone who was kind of our age-ish. I just didn’t want an 48-year-old dude who was like, ‘I just need to jam!’ This guy wrote back and said, ‘How do you think gamelan musicians learn? They respect their elders, blah-blah-blah. You should go fuck off and die!’ Whoa!"

The second response: a hip-hop producer working with an "awful singer-songwriter." The third: Long, who happened to be roaming Craigslist during his day job.

"There was no going back after that," says Martin-McCormick. Listening to the forward-facing future-rock of Watersports, I’d say there’s little fear of that scenario. *


Fri/23, 10 p.m., $10

Bottom of the Hill

1233 17th St., SF




The primal beat band got theirs — where’s yours? Thurs/22, 8 p.m., $10. Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell, SF. www.rickshawstop.com


One-man massive energy generator Anthony Petrovic rouses himself from dormancy. With Wooden Shjips and Hank IV. Thurs/22, 9 p.m., $7. Eagle Tavern, 398 12th St., SF. www.sfeagle.com


Going big with bristly, lo-fi garage rock. Fri/23, 9 p.m., $16–$18. Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell, SF. www.gamh.com


The sprawling fusion combo including Pete Escovedo and Sheila E. rocks for autism awareness. With War, El Chicano, and Los Cenzontles. Sat/24, 7:20 p.m., $45–$75. Warfield, 982 Market, SF. www.goldenvoice.com


The selfless Oakland space-rockers dish out For All Mankind (Springman). Sat/24, 9 p.m., $13. Slim’s, 33 11th St., SF. www.slims-sf.com


He’s watching you watching him. With Nobunny and Bare Wires. Sun/25, 9 p.m., $15. Independent, 628 Divisadero, SF. www.theindependentsf.com

It’s a hit


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

I’m glad I finally got my mitts on the self-issued CD-R from San Francisco titans High Castle: I feel like I’m back in ear-bleeding country with the trio’s Unwound-ishly, damaged style of noisy rock, nursing an insatiable appetite for more tinfoil-scorched guitar scuzz, blown-out low end, and full-tilt drum thwackage. As each song unloads, three howling voices punctuate the maelstrom. Try if you can to pass on this seven-song album after just one spin. If the punked-out oomph of "Soloman" and "No Mind" don’t bite you hard in the ass, then the annihiutf8g whomp of "Small Town Gay Bar" will certainly dish out the finishing touches.

As surprising as it may sound, this shower of pandemonium comes from three individuals who had their hearts set on becoming a pop group when they first convened in the summer of 2007. I yapped it up with the threesome over bowls of fideo and garlicky steak fries in drummer-vocalist Shaggy Denton’s SoMa apartment, while bassist-vocalist Wilson Drozdowski explained that High Castle aimed at becoming an actual band within the trio’s large circle of noise-making friends.

"We were like, ‘let’s start a rock band,’ because I felt I hadn’t seen a drum-bass-guitar band with songs in a long time," he disclosed. "It seemed like it was either improv or noise, so we wanted to do the opposite of that to see what would happen."

"We actually wanted it to be a pop band," said guitarist-vocalist Erin Allen with a laugh.

"None of us knew how to write pop music, so what ended up coming out was the closest we could get to doing that," Drozdowski continued. "Even when we try to write something that we think is poppy, it’s not poppy in the traditional sense. We always try and make the vocals very apparent by singing together."

"I guess that’s the one pop element that surfaces," Allen added. "But it’s not like the Mamas and the Papas."

Before HC, all three resided in Southern California, meeting through tours in bands such as Duchesses, Saviors, and Child Pornography. As Drozdowski, Denton, and Allen became jaded with the SoCal lifestyle, each separately trekked up to the Bay Area because, according to Denton, "the option was LA or here — and it was not going to be LA."

Reuniting in San Francisco with each member’s respective group in limbo, the three formed HC, but not before putting the collaboration on hold because of an unfortunate encounter between Allen and a car.

"We had to take a break because this one got hit by a car," Denton joked, pointing to Allen. "He was supposed to come over to my house and have some fideo and play PlayStation. I was worried because I kept getting the answering machine, and then somebody from General Hospital calls me and is like, ‘Um, do you know an Erin Allen? He told me to give you a message: he got hit by a car.’"

Aside from Allen’s slight dinger, the combo has been very active during the past year and a half, playing in just about every performance space dotting the Bay Area underground music scene with the likes of K.I.T., Stripmall Seizures, and Death Sentence: Panda! HC is currently in the mixing stages of its 12-inch debut for the Zum imprint, and after embarking on its first national tour last summer, the group hopes to hit the road once again this year. Whatever avenue this threesome decides to explore in the future — be it noisesome or poppy — I know I’ll be all ears.


With Stress Ape, Didimao, and the Dawns

Fri/23, 9 p.m., call for price


1351 Polk, SF

(415) 885-4535


Wale watch


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

If you went to the 2008 Rock the Bells festival at Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, then you probably missed Wale Folarin. Barely an hour into the 12-hour-plus event, he was on the main stage, rocking back and forth in a half-crouch, spitting rhymes from his viral hit "W.A.L.E.D.A.N.C.E." to an arena that was one-quarter full.

Wale may be a padwan among hip-hop’s big dogs, but many of the genre’s tastemakers and fans call him a rising star. Though he has yet to release an official album, Wale has already graced the covers of several magazines. His most recent mixtape, The Mixtape About Nothing, landed on major 2008 year-end lists, including Pitchfork’s. Earlier in the year, the Roots, who have a history of recruiting hot prospects, gave him a guest spot on Rising Down (Def Jam, 2008).

Before dropping out to pursue a musical career in 2004, the DMV (District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia) native bounced through three colleges on football scholarships. He has subsequently attacked the rap game like an offensive coordinator, eschewing offers from majors like Epic to sign a production contract with Mark Ronson’s Allido Records. In turn, Ronson negotiated a joint deal with Interscope to distribute Wale’s debut, tentatively scheduled for this year.

Everyone loves raw, unformed talent, and hip-hop fans are no exception. They love MCs who can freestyle for days, never mind that their stanzas flow with rhyme but with neither reason nor hooks. They venerate rappers who compile mixtapes chock full of half-ideas. Great American Songbook traditions like harmonic structure and verse-chorus forms are nonexistent or merely subtext to the rapper’s unyielding voice.

Wale’s Mixtape About Nothing is nominally built around samples from Seinfeld, punctuated by Jerry Seinfeld’s standup bits and Jason Alexander’s antics. But Wale, with his twangy Southeast accent, takes center stage. He mostly wanders around, offering flickers of insight amid heaps of undistinguishable lines. Then he "goes in," to use a hip-hop phrase that describes a moment of clarity.

On "The Kramer," he opens with a snippet from Michael Richards’ infamous 2006 standup routine at the Laugh Factory, when Richards’ shouted to a heckler in the audience, "He’s a nigger!" Wale uses it to launch a sprawling discourse on race. He begins by confessing, "And P said that I should stop saying nigga / But what’s the difference / I’d still be a nigga." But at the end, he declares, "Make sure everything you say / Can’t be held against you in any kind of way / And any connotation is viewed many ways / ‘Cause under ev’ry nigga there’s a little bit of Kramer / Self-hatred / I hate you / And myself."

Two years ago, Lil Wayne rocketed to superstardom on the basis of these kinds of rambling tone poems. Hundreds of his tracks fueled a cottage industry of Weezy mixtapes. As a result, everyone is flooding the Internet with rangy bedroom studio cuts, proclaiming their status as "the truth" to anyone who’ll listen. In 2008, Brooklyn MC Sha Stimuli issued 12 mixtapes in 12 months, basing one around the 2007 Jennifer Aniston comedy The Break Up. Charles Hamilton dropped eight mixtapes in two months. In most cases, all this sound and fury signifies nothing; worse, it makes it difficult for a talented artist such as Wale to stand out.

"Everybody’s doing blogs. Everybody’s doing freestyles. Everybody’s doing, like, way too much stuff on the Internet," Wale complains by phone. "It’s like, c’mon, we get it. It’s way overdone now." It’s the most provocative statement the 24-year-old makes during a brief interview. Otherwise, Wale keeps his answers amiable but bland. When I ask him about the dreaded "hipster rapper" tag, he claims not to know what I’m talking about. Even when I point out that XXL magazine asked him the same question for a cover story, he responds: "I’m not familiar with that term. Nobody’s said that about me."

Yet Wale is keenly aware of his atypical tastes. "I think it goes over a lot of people’s heads," he says. "By no means am I comparing myself with Leonardo da Vinci or nothing, but by no means do I understand the significance of the Mona Lisa. But there are millions of people who do, and appreciate that piece of work. So eventually you have to do stuff for the people who appreciate what you do." For the moment, his esoteric creative decisions seem to work, including his widely mimicked freestyles over rock hits like Lily Allen’s "Smile." As he says on his 100 Miles and Running mixtape, "Y’all believe me when I do it. Don’t sass me for doing it."


Jan. 31, 9 p.m., $15


444 Jessie, SF


Bringin’ on the heartache


Twenty-year-old North London–born heartbreak crooner Adele Laurie Blue Adkins, or simply Adele to her fans, has had some big breaks amid her romantic woes. She appeared in 2007 on the BBC alongside Paul McCartney and Björk, and performed this past October on a Saturday Night Live episode that not only included Sarah Palin, Mark Wahlberg, Oliver Stone, and Tina Fey, but was seen by 17 million viewers.

Since then, her Burt Bacharach–styled symphonic pop hit "Chasing Pavements" has been ubiquitous, receiving constant airplay on local stations like Alice 97.3 FM. Her debut, 19 (XL/Columbia), is nominated for four Grammys, but Adele has had a tough time shaking comparisons to other British female neo-Motown vocalists such as Amy Winehouse, Duffy, and Lily Allen. "We’re a gender, not a genre," she quipped recently to London Guardian reporter Hannah Pool, revealing the same strong, honest qualities heard in her music. Adele’s songs revel in love’s bittersweet see-saw emotions ("Crazy for You," "Melt My Heart to Stone") while her equally elastic voice recalls Dusty Springfield and Jill Scott.

No telling if her luck will hold up, but with a new album for 2009, her formidable voice, and self-assured performances, Adele’s likely to outlast the trends.


With James Morrison

Jan. 29, 8 p.m., $24


982 Market, SF


Just dandy


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Men dress up. Yes, we do. We dress like animals: peacocks, roosters, cats. We dress like weapons: blades, pistols, and straps. Men dress up. Always have. Always will.

Something has been happening in men’s fashion lately, an evolution that’s taken place underneath just about everyone’s noses. For the longest time it was assumed that men’s fashion was about function over style, resulting in an array of boring, drab clothing. Sexy, exotic, or provocative was taboo.

Hywel Davies’ Modern Menswear (Laurence King Publishers, 208 pages, $40) is a beautifully illustrated book that challenges this stereotype, introducing the new dandy or aesthete in the process. It also covers a lot of territory — geographically and intellectually — through interviews with the designers. "Menswear is no longer status-led or solely rooted in tradition," Davies writes in the book’s introduction. "It is driven by the personality of the consumer. Men will take elements from a range of designers and create a distinct personal style." And that is precisely what Modern Menswear inspires a reader to do.

I would like to take Aitor Throup’s military-inspired pants, please, along with his skull accessories and his tagline, "When Football Hooligans Become Hindu Gods." Let’s top the ensemble off with one of those baseball-cap masks.

Sadly, Alexander McQueen’s men’s collection hits at least one disappointing note. Apparently the bad boy can’t dress himself with as much verve as he does his models.

I will take the Blaak double-breasted suit. That label’s mix of western, eastern and African influences, its use of natural fabrics, and its fusion of hedonistic street style and subdued anarchy is new. Blaak believes in "The working class hero, The Poet, The Outsider, and Edwardian Pomp and Ceremony with a whispered subversive punch." The label’s ideal customer "is a person who understands the riot of anarchy, the need for the whimsical, and the hidden fine lines bound in society." Damn, these boys speak my Afro-surreal language.

So does John Galliano, whose eclectic mix of nearly every fashion innovation since the fig leaf makes him a patron of the new aesthete. A derby hat and a kimono can be fly, especially with a sturdy pair of boots. "It’s like giving men a bit of what they’ve seen on women without taking away their masculinity," he says, "allowing them to dream more." Savage refinery — ah, nothing like reconciliation!

The book draws to a close with the rich, opulent colors and decadent accessories of Vivienne Westwood’s MAN label, and Yohji Yamamoto’s sublime understanding of the silhouette. There are some outrageous pieces, but Davies’ book isn’t geared toward gawkers.

Fashion is an opportunity to expand possibilities — to dream, as Galliano puts it. Do I have $5000 to spend on a Yohji coat? No. But I may be inspired to modify a pea coat or mourning jacket from a secondhand store after seeing one. Will Vivienne Westwood ever see a dollar of my money? Probably not, but I can borrow her sense of adventure and create a little magic of my own. "If you dress up," says Westwood, "it helps your personality emerge — if you choose well." Modern Menswear makes that process a bit more exciting.

Get behind him


› johnny@sfbg.com

Oscar season is upon us. Amid sniping text messages from best actor contenders, I’d like to advance the idea that cinema’s most compelling and perhaps revelatory male stars of cinema in recent years aren’t even thespians. They can be athletes, such as Zinedine Zidane, whose day’s work on the soccer field assumes mythic properties in Douglas Gordon’s 2006 Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait. More often, they are musicians. Think of Arthur Russell and Townes Van Zandt, tender ghosts who float through documentaries by Matt Wolf and Margaret Browne. Or the very-much-alive yet enigmatic subject of Stephen Kijak’s Scott Walker: 30 Century Man, a pop star, lyricist, and composer who was made to be a movie star — though one with, in the words of an observer, "Garboesque leanings toward seclusion."

Foreboding yet luminous in a manner that any film composer might envy, the first minutes of the songs "Big Louise" and "It’s Raining Today" are all it takes to prove that the chief glory of 30 Century Man is the lavish setting that it affords Walker’s recordings. Both the grand orchestration and vocal gestures of his late 1960s solo albums and the dark passages and shock tactics of his more recent ones — Tilt (Fontana, 1995) and The Drift (4AD, 2006) — are born again as they bloom and boom through a movie theater sound system. This music is truly majestic. The digital effects that Kijak sometimes uses to illustrate its sound can be cheesy, but another of his gambits hits paydirt. Instead of presenting David Bowie, Brian Eno, and a host of other figures as simple talking heads, he films their responses as they listen to Walker’s music. This listening party effect is intoxicating, and it triggers improvised, as opposed to rehearsed, insights.

Time stood still yesterday in the music Walker made with arranger Wally Stott (now Angela Morley, and one of the film’s most likable commentators), and it stands still today when 30 Century Man languishes in the songs from Walker’s quartet of self-titled Philips solo albums from 1967 through 1970. A welcome sense of ambiguity thrives throughout Kijak’s movie. Executive producer Bowie shares a back story about a competitive bond he felt he had with Walker, even if Walker wasn’t aware of it — namely, that one of Walker’s girlfriends never got over her love of Walker’s music, even as she was dating Bowie. The anecdote is a perfect illustration of the homo-social electricity that charges so much popular music, and Kijak is wise enough to let the inference speak for itself.

30 Century Man is unique simply for its on-camera interview and studio footage of Walker, who has spent more than a decade on a single album and gone 30 years between live performances. As a leading man, he’s conflicted. He may be a notorious film buff who is fond of Victor Erice and collaborated with Leos Carax, but the physical efforts on his part to cultivate an iconic mystique — hats and sunglasses, for example — come across as almost comic signifiers of a genuine unease about being on-camera. At the beginning of one of the film’s interviews, he jokingly refers to McCarthy-era forms of interrogation, and only truly loosens up past the point of obvious self-consciousness when he’s enmeshed in recording a song. Instead of a full-blown eccentric, Kijak’s movie puts forth a vision of a guy who’d simply rather make art than play the fame game. Of course, in Walker’s case, that art now involves using slabs of meat as rhythmic instruments — and instead of writing for the charts, he’s singing about Pasolini and Mussolini.

SCOTT WALKER: 30 CENTURY MAN opens Fri/23 in Bay Area theaters.

The stink of ink


Film noir doesn’t fuck around. It gives you tough-taking characters, gunshots, stiff drinks, and outrage, all within 90 minutes (frequently less). The seventh Noir City, programmed by Anita Monga and Eddie Muller, is stacked with double-features focused on "Newspaper Noir," the inkiest of subgenres. The fest kicks off with Humphrey Bogart in Deadline USA (1952), a crackling newsroom thriller from Richard Brooks (1955’s The Blackboard Jungle, 1967’s In Cold Blood). Rapid-fire pacing is the only way this film crams in so much exciting stuff: a storied newspaper, The Day, that’s on the verge of being sold; a mysterious blonde, found dead and wearing only a fur coat; a gangster-about-town who’s got his fingerprints on City Hall; a courtroom battle; and a murder that literally stops the presses. Bogart ("Newspaperman is the best profession in the world!") is aces as a soon-to-be-unemployed editor who makes a last stand by exposing the gangster’s crimes on his front page. He also has a nice subplot trying to woo back his ex-wife (future Planet of the Apes-er Kim Hunter) and barks plenty of wisdom about the state of the news biz, some of it oddly prophetic: "It’s not enough anymore to give ’em just news — they want comics, contests, puzzles …" Ethel Barrymore adds Old Hollywood class as the widow of Bogie’s boss, while Gilligan’s Island‘s Jim Backus pops up as a Day reporter.

But not all newspapermen are as heroic as Deadline USA‘s scum-busting bunch; opening night concludes with 1952’s Scandal Sheet, based on a Sam Fuller novel. The film’s New York Express lives for a lurid mix of "thrills, escape, and news," with a special talent for manufacturing the latter. But editor Mark Chapman (Broderick Crawford) is as sleazy as his paper. When a secret from his past threatens his position, he commits a murder that becomes the obsession of the Express‘s top reporter (John Derek) — and the end result is dramatic irony at its juiciest.


Jan. 23-Feb. 1, double features $10

Castro Theatre, 429 Castro, SF




› paulr@sfbg.com

A hoary bit of wisdom teaches that we should be careful what we wish for, because we might get it — and if we are a new restaurant wishing for a meteoric rise, what might we expect? Few restaurants in recent memory have soared as sensationally as Nopa, which opened near the Panhandle in the spring of 2006 to widespread acclaim. By the end of that year the place was anointed by the San Francisco Chronicle as a "classic" and admitted to the pantheon of the area’s "Top 100" restaurants.

The only comparable spectacle I could think of was the birth of Firefly, whose first menus in the autumn of 1993 attracted the instant and adulatory attention of the food media, followed by galloping herds of the trend-involved. There are meaningful differences between the two narratives: Firefly was a fairly small neighborhood enterprise in a quiet neighborhood, whereas Nopa is a much larger operation on a busy thoroughfare in a bustling part of town. But the basic question remains: how does a young restaurant handle instant and massive acclaim, and what happens when the circus leaves town? Does the venture survive the decompression and adjust itself to life in the light of common day, or, having been over inflated, does it pop like a bubble? Bubbles do have a way of popping.

Buzz, like infatuation (of which it is a form), is a temporary condition, and people under the influence of buzz are in a state of altered consciousness in which they can fail to notice all sorts of sins, from uneven food to erratic service — problems that are most likely to afflict restaurants in their early, teething stages. But when the buzz wears off and the media turns to the business of telling everyone what to think about some other place, people regain their senses and start to notice what is in front of them at the place nobody’s talking about any more.

Nopa, like Firefly, has survived its passage through this crucible. The restaurant’s proprietors, Laurence Jossel and Jeff Hanak, have kept a steady hand on the tiller, and the result today is a buzzing convivium of mostly younger folk, animatedly gathered at the restaurant’s several foci, including a Chaucerian communal table at the front, a bar along the north wall, and a mezzanine overlooking the exhibition kitchen with its wood-burning oven. There’s even a gathering place for service staff, a round table near the foot of the stairs to the mezzanine, well-stocked with napkins, flatware, and other gear for resetting tables.

And there is Jossel’s excellent food. He made a splash a few years ago at Chez Nous, and he’s brought a similar urban-rustic flair to the kitchen at Nopa. An iconic Jossel dish might be a small crock of cannellini beans ($9), baked in the wood oven with tomatoes, feta cheese, and oregano for a distinctively Greek effect. One is tempted to describe this dish, which is crusted with bread crumbs, as a gratin, but it isn’t, really; there isn’t quite a word for it, and this is a big clue about the kitchen’s intentions and methods. Recombinant cooking carries its share of risks, but if, as here, it’s pursued intelligently, with a sense of place and past — if it’s evolutionary rather than revolutionary — it can produce exquisite results like this one, novel yet grounded.

God is in the details, in the kitchen as elsewhere. Most of Nopa’s dishes are recognizable, with small, gracious twists and innovations to set them apart. Calamari ($9) are braised in a golden-bronze saffron broth along with quartered new potatoes and a scattering of fried chickpeas. A soup ($8) of white beans and kale, along with plenty of bacon and a base of chicken stock, is like an unpuréed version of the Portuguese soup caldo verde. And flatbread ($14) resembles a little square pizza, topped perhaps with slivers of red onion, white cheese, and prosciutto.

We were particularly impressed with the pork chop ($22), which distinguished itself through a tender juiciness that could not entirely be attributed to gentle cooking. (The meat was done to about medium, I would say, with a broad hint of pinkness in the middle). Our server confirmed that the pork had indeed been brined for several hours in brown sugar; it ended up being plated on a bed of soft polenta dotted with roasted root vegetables and ribbons of fried taro root.

Quite as good in its own way was a braised lamb shank ($25) — still on the bone, Neanderthal-style — nested in a salad of toasted farro grains, shreds of chanterelle mushrooms (a pretty yellow-orange, though not as spectacularly colored as the examples I saw at a Helsinki farmers market in August), and a pile of mustard greens. There are only so many ways to describe meat so tender that it falls away from the bone at the touch of a fork or knife, and I have not found a new way. But this was meat of that sort.

The hamburger ($12), made from grass-fed beef, is simply sublime, one of the best I have ever tasted in the city or anywhere. It’s presented on a toasted bun of discreet robustness — not a fancy, fluffy focaccia but not a skinny hack job, either. Even the sometime vegetarian was impressed by the burger’s rosy juiciness, or perhaps he was faintly disappointed by his tagine ($17), a medley of root vegetables (mostly parsnips and turnips) gussied up with lemon yogurt. He described the tagine as "good," which would have been fine if everything else hadn’t been excellent.

Among the desserts, the primus inter pares is the sopapillas ($8), an array of pastry pillows, deep-fried, dusted with sugar, and ready to be doused with burnt-orange caramel sauce. You pour that out yourself from a ceramic flask, no sweat.


Dinner: nightly, 6 p.m.–1 a.m.

560 Divisadero, SF

(415) 864-8643


Full bar


Noisy but bearable

Wheelchair accessible

Eating out


› le.chicken.farmer@gmail.com

CHEAP EATS Earl Butter had just called out for Chinese food when I called him to see if he wanted to go out for Chinese food, or any kind of food, for that matter. I didn’t have anything in particular in mind. Just food and seeing Earl, because it had been a week. And you start to miss a guy like Earl. I do.

"I just ordered Chinese," he said. "It’ll be here any minute."

"Delivery?" I said. "Why would you do that?"

He said he gets bored, he gets lonely, his cat won’t even sleep with him anymore. He’s been sleeping in the kitchen. The cat.

"Wait, you get bored and lonely, so you order in?" I said. "That doesn’t make sense. That doesn’t make any sense. That doesn’t make one lick of sense."

If making sense were my strong suit any more than it’s Earl Butter’s, I might have pointed out instead of repeating myself that people and changes of scenery tend to happen in restaurants at a greater frequency than in one’s own studio apartment.

But I’m not a logician. I’m a restaurant reviewer. So I asked him where he’d ordered from.

"Red Jade," he said. "I got two things. Do you want to eat them with me?"

I thought about it while I was pulling into a parking space near his house, my mind clacking through a Rolodex of names of Chinese restaurants I’d been to. I knew I’d been there. I knew I’d written about it. The tricky part is remembering what you had to say, and whether or not you made it up entirely, or just parts of it.

I turned my car off, closed my eyes, thought, and said, "What did you get?"

Chicken with something, and chicken with something else, he said.

"I’ll be right up. I’m already here." But I had just played soccer, first game back after a more-than-one-month layoff, and after that I’d helped Sockywonk move from her new apartment to her even newer one. I might have fallen asleep for a minute.

For sure I was moving slowly, and by the time I climbed the stairs to his 3rd-floor studio, the delivery had been delivered. It was in a tied-up plastic bag on his kitchen table, and Earl Butter had changed his mind. "Let’s eat out," he said.

So we walked back down and got in my car. "What do you want to eat?" I asked.

"Anything but Chinese."


"I like bun," he said. So we beelined for the ‘Loin, and Pho Tan Hoa, where I’d tried to eat before but failed because, astoundingly, they close at 7 p.m. Why a red-blooded restaurant would close at 7 p.m. I will leave for better minds than mine to figure out. But this one does. So it was a good time to go there, not quite six.

I’d heard about their pho, and that’s what I ordered, a small bowl with rare steak and beef balls ($6.50). Small = gargantuan. I took some home for lunch.

Earl Butter got bun, vermicelli with imperial rolls and grilled pork ($7). I tasted, and I liked.

We also noticed, after we’d ordered, that they had Bo Tai Chanh ($8), the raw steak appetizer that I love, you know, sprinkled with ground peanuts and mint, and marinated in lemon juice and fish sauce. So we after-ordered that, for dessert.

When it came, it took my breath away. It was a mountain of meat, thin sliced and folded over on top of and on top of and on top of until you had, basically, well, yeah, a mountain of meat. Roughly the size of the biggest burrito you ever saw. Except it was all meat.

Except it wasn’t, we found out soon enough. Hiding under the just meat was a somewhat smaller mountain of just onions. Which barely broke my breathlessness because I love onions too. And anyway, even with the oniony underpadding, it was still way more meat than anyone else gives you with this plate. And it was raw and red and just delicious. I can’t stop thinking about it.

Atmosphere: fish tank.

New favorite restaurant.


Daily: 8 a.m.–7 p.m.

431 Jones, SF

(415) 673-3163

No alcohol

Cash only

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

Emily Postfeminist


› andrea@altsexcolumn.com

Andrea is on vacation. Check out this column originally published Jan. 3, 2007.

Dear Andrea:

Recently, my boyfriend and I were at a strip club and bought a lap dance. My experience has been that, as a girl, the hands-off rule generally doesn’t apply to me. However, out of respect for the girl, I don’t touch until she invites me to. This one invited me to touch her. Caught up in the moment, my boyfriend asked, "Can she touch your pussy?" I was a bit shocked because I assumed that was off-limits — but she said, "She can, but you can’t." So I started touching her on the outside of her G-string. I got a little braver and went under her G-string but still stayed outside. She moved a certain way during her dance, and my thumb kind of slipped right in. A few seconds later, she stopped. She was nice and hugged me, and told us to come back any time. Did I go too far? I feel guilty that I may have made her feel like a hooker. Or is it really no big deal? I’m embarrassed to go back, and I’ve asked my boyfriend to not make that request in the future. How often does this sort of thing happen to a dancer?



Dear Thumb:

Just what we needed, a new set of ethical dilemmas and moral failings to keep us awake and tossing on those long dark nights of the soul that tend to hit around this time of year.

I really don’t think this is the sort of thing that used to bother people before half the female grad students in the country started stripping and writing books and doing performance art (oh, so much performance art) about it. For that matter, I don’t think other girls used to feel as permitted or as obligated to go grope those girls for money at their places of work. I’m not entirely sure that what we’re seeing here is really an accurate demonstration of human sexual behavior in the wild — there are too many layers of politics and performance in there to tell what’s really happening — but I’m confident we’re at least seeing some genuinely new situations and their accompanying etiquette issues.

I’ve known any number of post-everything strippers, hookers, and dominatrices, but one in particular comes to mind. She’d been working at a womyn-owned, crunchy-organic peep show, but — surprise! — she could barely make her rent. So like so many before her, she’d given up her ideals and gone where the money is. Once she was hired by the grimy mainstream porn theater and Olde Lappe Dance Emporium, she was coming home with her pockets and God knows what else stuffed with fifties every night but complaining to me that some guy came while she was wiggling around on him and ew, ew, gross, yuck, how dare he? I commiserated at the time because I’m a wimp like that, but honestly, isn’t that an occupational hazard? If you’re going to be a sex worker, you deserve to be treated with respect and decency, of course, and what you say goes as far as who’s allowed to touch where with what and so forth, but come on. Into each stripper’s life a little semen must fall. If that’s absolutely not going to work for you, dance behind glass (for lower tips) or, hey, get your Realtor’s license or something.

Most of the female sex workers I’ve known have been at least passingly bisexual, but even those who really aren’t seem quite genuinely enthusiastic about female customers, both prospective and actual. There are elements of novelty to the appeal, I’m sure, just as there are elements of safety and sisterly enthusiasm. What there ought not to be, and what you ought not to worry about, is an expectation that female customers aren’t really customers — that is to say, that they’re not paying the sex worker for sex. While many women who go to strip clubs or book time with a dominatrix may be doing it to please a (male) partner, or as a learning experience or a lark, or just to make a statement of some sort, it would be pretty silly for a sex worker to be surprised when a customer, male or female, appears to be interested in having some sort of sex with her.

Your dancer granted you access. Maybe she liked you (or likes girls in general) or maybe she was milking you for tips, but whatever, she said yes. She has a sense of how sturdy or flimsy a barrier her G-string presents to curious fingers and was probably not surprised when you got where you got. The most telling thing was that she invited you back whenever, which she was certainly under no obligation to do. I think it would be fine to go back there and fine to whisper, "Sorry I got fresh last time" and fine not to. It would also be fine for her, in turn, to refuse you service, but I bet she doesn’t.



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.

Round and round


› johnny@sfbg.com

David King and I are staring at a baseball, some screws, and some bolts. More specifically, King and I are looking at Satellite #2, a nine-inch pointy yet round sculpture he constructed from those ingredients for an upcoming show. "To me, this is one of the more successful pieces," King says, as we look around the warehouse art studio at SF Recycling and Disposal Inc. To our left, Christine Lee — who, like King, is an artist-in-residence at the Dump — is working with James Sellier on a wood-based project. To our right, there are many spheres, some suspended, others on pedestals.

A few of the spheres are made of green floral tubes, cassette tapes, lanyards, and balls. A couple brightly colored ones incorporate hair curler ends and board game pieces. "This piece made from curtain rod brackets is one of the first," King says, pointing to an 11-inch silver mass. "I thought I’d try to glue them to a ball, but then I began using string and fishing lines. It looks like a death star." He picks up a huge circular mass of Cliffords, teddy bears, and other stuffed animals that is akin to the work of Mike Kelley (or locally, Matt Furie). A Tickle Me Elmo laughs. "A guy drove up and dropped off two huge bags of stuffed animals. It’s so random. You wonder, ‘Did your daughter no longer want these? Or did someone die?’"

The sense of mortality and waste in those questions is present in King’s new work, particularly through titles that refer to allergens, viruses, and bacteria. But his latest pieces also possess a strong current of playfulness. It manifests via comic shapes and bright cartoon or sleekly attractive colors. King’s sculptures are a departure from his 2-D collages in a series such as last year’s "Beneath All We Know," but they’re also linked to such past projects through a recurrent use of circular shapes that have scientific or metaphysical connotations. With the cellular structures of "Beneath All We Know," King began to foreground floating energy masses that had previously taken the form of jeweled grapevines or crochet patterns. Now those patterns seem to have leapt off the paper of his collages into the three-dimensional world.

In fact, though, they’ve been gleaned from the Dump. "I wanted the challenge of doing something new, of finding a new way of being creative," King says, when asked what motivated him to seek out a residency at the site. "On a personal level, I wanted to put myself out there more and step outside my own studio. The first couple of weeks, it was pretty daunting to witness the sheer volume. I thought, ‘Oh, what have I gotten myself into?’ But over time, I realized you shouldn’t look for a particular thing. Whatever ideas you come in with, you have to let go of — the whole thing is about responding to the waste stream. It was very intuitive. I like to find a lot of one thing: plastic lemons or icicles, bits from chandeliers. When I saw a lot of one thing, I grabbed it."

The sheer volume of material at SF Recycling and Disposal is indeed daunting, if you’re looking for one very specific object. Micah Gibson from the site — who might have been referencing the trash compactor aesthetic of TV Carnage when he titled his 2008 Art at the Dump show "Casual Fridays" — leads me on a quick tour through a small portion of its 40 acres. We walk by enormous seagulls, around a hill covered with carousel horses and capped by a giant ice cream cone, through transfer and sorting stations, and past a pit as a big as football field and 15 feet deep, until we reach a sculpture garden designed by Susan Steinman.

We pause by Bench Curl, a recent piece made by Scott Oliver during his residency. The scent of trees is strong, yet Gibson says it isn’t from the surroundings, but rather a large number of trees in the IMRF (Integrated Materials Recovery Facility). Earlier in the day, when I first showed up, a different mega-pungent smell had been dominant. "It happens whenever food from cruise ships is boiled down," Gibson says, noting that kids on school trips enjoy coming up with descriptions for the occasional olfactory assault.

When Gibson and I return to SF Recycling & Disposal’s main building, I spot a sculpture by Henri Marie-Rose, who has exhibited at the de Young Museum, and who has a long-term artistic relationship with the site. Back at King’s show-in-progress, there are tetrahedrons- and icosahedrons-in-progress, made of cardboard, and a wreath comprised of Chinese food containers is mounted on a wall.

King has discovered a certain joy in multiplicity — he’s capable of cutting 1,000 diamonds out from a waist-high stack of Sotheby’s auction catalogs. Through dedication to repetition, he has used collage to transform the 1980s men’s exercise magazine pinup Scott Madsen into a Shiva figure. With its wide-open skies and mammoth hills — whether green or trash-strewn — his latest creative stomping ground makes for an interesting contrast from the gardens he tends when isn’t making art. It resembles a parody of the Arcadian vistas in his earliest collages. "Sometimes I feel like I want to be narrative, and sometimes I want to be looser," he says, discussing elders and contemporaries he admires, such as John O’Reilly and Fred Tomaselli. "I like the effect of a shift in perspective from a microscope to a telescope, between the tiny and the super large."


With "Christine Lee: Linear Elements"

Fri/23, 5-9 p.m.; and Sat/24, 1-5 p.m., free

SF Recycling & Disposal Art Studio

503 Tunnel, SF

(415) 330-1400


Housing is economic stimulus


By Paul Boden

EDITORIAL Change is certainly in the air these days. A president who understands that the phrase "economic recovery" is more then just a buzzword for tax cuts and bailouts for corporations and wealthy people represents perhaps the biggest, and some would argue the most important change — and it offers an opportunity for struggling communities.

President-elect Barack Obama has promised to create the largest public works construction project since the creation of the federal highway system in the 1950s. He has talked about funding work on everything from schools to sewer systems, from green jobs to ensuring that every American has access to a college education. All this is incredibly good news for the country as a whole.

My concern is that homelessness has received very little mention, although more than 3 million people experience homelessness every year. Family homelessness, in particular, is on the rise, with 16 cities (out of 25 surveyed in a recent report) reporting an increase in the number of families forced out of their homes. And yet there seems no clear plan for using economic recovery programs to restore the draconian cuts in federal affordable housing funding. Since 1983, those programs have been reduced by $54 billion a year. And there’s no plan to show how addressing homelessness can and should be part of the economic revitalization of local communities.

Many of us watched in despair as our issues were ignored during the campaign debates and in the party platforms. Homelessness is the No. 1 issue locally, yet it was all but ignored nationally.

But the country has now elected a president who understands what it means to respect the work of true community organizations and allow for local voices to be at the table when decisions are made that have an impact on our lives.

Local Community Development Corporations (CDCs) and Housing Development Corporations (HDCs) already exist in many communities. The credible ones will work in partnership with community members and organizations to combine a federal reinvestment in affordable housing with economic stimulus activities that benefit everyone — street-level space for creating new local businesses, job training connected to positions created in the development and management of the new business and housing units, the use of (and training in) smart green technology in all development.

Tax dollars invested in affordable housing stay in the local economy. Many of the jobs created remain long after the construction phase is completed.

Economic recovery plans are being made now, as federal departments are hiring staff and priorities are being set. Congress, despite the lessons learned from the banking bailout, is in a rush to release funds without much detail. We need direct petitioning from local communities. We need calls demanding that a share of economic recovery funding be given directly to local organizations to develop desperately needed housing and community spaces, using accountable local hiring requirements and safe green building practices.

It’s on all of us locally to come together and make the call.

Paul Boden is director of the Western Regional Advocacy Project, a coalition of West Coast social justice-based homeless organizations.

Change you can live in?


If you ask San Franciscans about the most pressing issues facing the city, homelessness and affordable housing are always near the top of the list. While this city’s housing problems are particularly dramatic, homelessness is on the rise across urban America. And in nearly every big city, public housing projects are crumbling, suffering from years of federal neglect.

But you wouldn’t know that to look at the latest stimulus package coming out of Washington, DC.

The proposed American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, introduced Jan. 15, contains only $16 billion for affordable housing. That’s about half what advocates had sought — and a tiny fraction of what’s really needed.

The bill has the affordable housing community shaking its collective head. "Unfortunately, the news right now is not good. This first pass at the stimulus bill is not encouraging," Matt Schwarz, president of the California Housing Partnership, a San Francisco–based nonprofit working to expand affordable housing stock throughout California, told us.

Will President Obama, who barely mentioned homelessness during the campaign, look at affordable housing as a priority? Most housing activists say they’re cautiously optimistic. But some are starting to sound the alarm.

"I think, when it comes to political clout in DC, poor people and their allies are still in trouble," said Paul Boden, director of the San Francisco–based Western Regional Advocacy Project, a group that focuses primarily on homelessness issues. "It was disheartening to go to the Obama [transition team] Web site and find … a very miniscule mention of homelessness — and it’s under ‘veterans.’<0x2009>"

City officials are looking at the bright side. "Most people would agree that there’s been very little new money available at the federal level for affordable housing [in the past eight years]," Doug Shoemaker, director of the Mayor’s Office on Housing, told us. Shoemaker expects that to change under the Obama administration, especially with the pick of New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Shaun Donovan as US Housing and Urban Development (HUD) secretary, whom he characterized as "an incredible leader who really understands homelessness and affordable housing."

Olson Lee, deputy director of the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, sounded a similar note. "We’re looking forward to an administration that cares about affordable housing," he said. Projects like the Hunters View reconstruction project, which would restore a dilapidated public-housing complex in the Bayview–Hunters Point neighborhood, tops the list of projects that would shift into gear again if new federal dollars are made available, Lee noted.

But while city agencies seem to have high hopes for federal dollars that could be headed to San Francisco under the new administration, many grassroots-level affordable housing advocates are more cautious.

Longtime affordable housing activist Calvin Welch pointed out that there is still a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the allocation of federal funding under the economic recovery package. "The first test is, does the Obama administration view affordable housing — especially affordable rental housing in cities — as a priority?"

From Welch’s perspective, the answer appears to be yes. But he added that no affordable housing practitioners were named to Obama’s transition team. And in San Francisco, a pending blow to health and human services due to local and state budget cuts will bring about more distress linked to housing issues.

"When those health and human services are reduced, the effect is an increase in the homeless population, or at least the temporarily unhoused population — a population with very challenging housing needs, which is at extreme risk," Welch told us. "I haven’t seen any response to that consequence. I have not read that any portion of the Obama stimulus package is focused on health and human services." Until the details are hammered out, he said, "We’re holding our breath."

A recent report issued by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities — a DC-based research and analysis organization focusing on issues affecting low-income families — underscores Welch’s concerns. The recession has prompted a rise in homelessness nationwide, the report notes, and an unusually large number of people are still likely to fall into severe poverty, putting them at risk of being turned out onto the streets.

"It is important that the package include funding for effective homelessness prevention strategies," CBPP notes.

Specifically, the report recommends that funding be made available for 200,000 additional Section 8 housing vouchers, which allow very low-income residents to rent privately-owned units of their choice. That number would only begin to address the need. In San Francisco, the waiting list for Section 8 has been closed since 2001, and some 13,000 people have languished on the list, according to Sara Shortt, director of the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco. Despite the urging of organizations like CBPP, the first draft of the bill included no new additional funding for Section 8 vouchers.

The Obama administration has made it clear that new funding will become available for "shovel-ready" projects — those that are ready to move forward in a matter of months. According to the results of a survey conducted by the California Housing Partnership, San Francisco has 24 such affordable housing development projects waiting in the wings, which could provide an estimated 3,915 affordable homes and could potentially generate 4,500 construction-related jobs.

But Schwarz, president of CHP, says he’s less optimistic that those projects will move forward after seeing the proposed legislation. Schwarz says the $16 billion included for affordable housing measures in the proposed legislation was disheartening. With that figure, "We’re not expecting a significant portion of those stuck developments to get unstuck," he said. "There seems to have been some major backtracking, and we’re not quite sure where this is coming from."

While the bill falls short of what many of San Francisco’s affordable housing advocates had hoped for, it does include funding for public housing repair. "This economic recovery bill includes $5 billion to allow public housing authorities to complete repair and construction projects, including critical safety repairs," Drew Hammill, press secretary to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, wrote in an e-mail to the Guardian. "This is more than double the amount that was included for this account in the fiscal year 2008 appropriations bill and double the amount that is pending in fiscal year 2009."

But Hammill acknowledged that the need for such repairs is great in San Francisco: "The existing backlog in San Francisco is over $250 million" he wrote, "with approximately $26 million of additional physical deterioration occurring each year."

Shortt, who heads the Housing Rights Committee, looks back on the past six years as "a disaster" for public housing. "It is very likely that we’ll see an infusion in public housing and affordable housing in this recovery package," she said. But she regards the expected $5 billion for public housing capital funds as "a drop in the bucket. It’s estimated that the overall need is $33 billion nationally." .

Shortt did have praise for Donovan, Obama’s HUD secretary pick. Even so, she says, "Whether Obama himself feels strongly about housing or not, politically it’s going to take a while before it’s high on the priority of the Beltway. It’s been relegated to the bottom of the heap for so long."

Transportation bonanza


› steve@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY The first year of President Barack Obama’s term could see the biggest federal investment in transportation projects since the creation of the interstate highway system, so there’s now a mad scramble to determine where — both geographically and in terms of transportation modes — that money will go.

Transportation activists were already geared up for this October’s omnibus transportation bill reauthorization, the first serious chance in four years to alter federal policies and spending priorities. But now that Congress is considering economic stimulus bills as large as $825 billion — including $71 billion to $85 billion in transportation projects — it’s looking like a potentially even more bountiful year.

Many Bay Area groups and agencies have forwarded their wish lists to state and federal policymakers and transportation officials, from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s $500 million in capital projects to the $1.6 billion "Bay Area Conference of Mayors Transit Infrastructure Wish List," which claims it would create 14,197 jobs.

San Francisco has the biggest chunk of that latter proposal at $713.9 million, including such big ticket items as $200 million for the so-called train box in the new Transbay Terminal project (see "Breaking ground," 12/10/08), $275 million for projects associated with Muni’s Transit Effectiveness Project, and $100 million for the Doyle Drive rebuild.

Randy Rentschler, public affairs directors for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, told us that for too long, the federal government has simply deferred transportation decisions to the states.

"Just having a block grant program to states does not assert a federal interest in transportation," he said.

Yet Rentschler acknowledges the difficulty of creating federal transportation mandates. Unlike programs such as carbon capture, which affect large factories, or fuel standards, which affect automakers, making big changes to transportation policy potentially impacts every citizen.

"When you talk about transportation, what you’re really asking for is the participation of 300 million Americans," he said.

Tom Radulovich, director of Livable City and an elected BART board member, is worried about the political dynamics of the stimulus package.

"Stimulus is sort of garbage in, garbage out," Radulovich said, noting that the federal imperative for "shovel-ready projects" that can break ground in a matter of days or weeks means that road projects that have been lined up waiting for money will get priority over more complicated, visionary efforts to create a green infrastructure and better alternatives to the automobile.

Radulovich and other activists have been focused on the quadrennial transportation bill, and on persuading Congress to shift priorities that reflect the current 80 percent of federal transportation dollars that go to automobile projects.

"The danger is Congress will shoot its wad now on all these highway projects and then say they’re out of money," Radulovich said.

Rod Diridon, executive director of the Mineta Transportation Institute and a board member on both the American Public Transit Association and California High-Speed Rail Authority, agrees that a shift in federal priorities is overdue.

"You see a lot more money in the highway and bridge projects than you see for transit," he told the Guardian.

Yet Diridon expressed more hope than Radulovich that Democrats in Washington, DC, particularly Obama and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, are taking the right steps to promote the transformation we need. He said the stimulus bill is a good example.

"Speaker Pelosi has been a real crusader for doing this the right way," Diridon said, noting that she is refusing to allow members to attach earmarks for favored projects; instead she is basing the list of recipients on Department of Transportation criteria.

Quentin Kopp, chair of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, is trying to get more money for the $33 billion first phase of the high-speed rail project that voters approved a $10 billion down payment for in November.

"You don’t want to expect anything. You want to be pleasantly surprised," Kopp said. "I’m not counting on the money, but we will seek several billion dollars on the theory that we can get contracts with people who are threatened or have encountered employment setbacks."

Ask not what SF can do for you …


› molly@sfbg.com

It’s been a depressing decade for progressives. In fact, it seems our inability to fight the Bush administration and its misadventures in Iraq and elsewhere left us with the symptoms of a kind of collective Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: disillusioned, disappointed, and tired. That is, until Barack Obama’s election woke us up with a little thing called Hope™.

Now that we have all this energy, though, where should we direct it? How, on an individual level, can we support the Obama administration in making real change? Michelle Obama started to answer this question when she announced the Call to Service, asking Americans to devote time to neighborhood organizations and causes on Jan. 19 and beyond, via www.usaservice.org.

We’d like to add to the discussion by highlighting some local groups, causes, and nonprofits who could use year-round help.


Perhaps the best way to use your renewed political energy is putting it toward a cause you care about. For example, if you’re worried about how this year’s massive budget deficit might devastate healthcare in San Francisco, you might want to get involved with Coalition to Save Public Health (415-848-3611 ext. 3628, home.comcast.net/~mylon01/publichealth). Also check out nonprofits and grassroots groups working towards marriage equality, energy reform, or whatever pet issue you’re passionate about.


An even more direct way to be involved in local government is to volunteer inside City Hall, particularly with the San Francisco Board of Supervisors (1 Carlton B. Goodlett, SF. 415-554-5184, www.sfgov.org). Every supervisor has two aides, who in turn rely on donated labor to maintain the busy officials’ schedules and duties. To get involved, visit the Web site and fill out an application specifying your skills, availability, and preferred supervisors. Keep in mind four current supervisors once worked as staff or interns in these same offices, so this is a great way to get into politics while helping our government run more efficiently. It’s win-win.


Though SF might seem like a bicycle-friendly city, we’ve still got a lot of work to do, from promoting the bike as primary transportation to representing bicycle interests in local government and city planning. If you’re a fellow velo-fanatic, give your time to the Bicycle Coalition (995 Market, SF. 415-431-BIKE, www.sfbike.org). Check the Web site to volunteer in the office, at Volunteer Nights, with bike valet parking, or with outreach.


It’s easy to forget how important beautiful, open spaces are to a community until you don’t have them. But just imagine how different the Mission would be without Dolores Park, or the Lower Haight without Duboce. Support the maintenance, beautification, and continued improvement of these and other green spaces by volunteering with the Neighborhood Parks Council (451 Hayes, F. 415-621-3260, www.sfnpc.org). The Council welcomes everything from one-time feedback or participation in a scheduled work day to longer-term internships for youth 16-23 years old, and everything in between.


One of our favorite recent-ish developments on the Interwebs is the proliferation of Web sites connecting philanthropic types to specific causes — especially two SF-based organizations who work specifically with volunteers. Check out Chinatown-based Volunteermatch.org for a list of specific opportunities and a chance to upload your volunteer résumé — great for medium- to long-term volunteering — or former Best of the Bay winner One Brick (www.onebrick.org), which hosts an event calendar of upcoming volunteer events — great for one-time, short-term, and short-notice involvement.

Most important, we’d like to point out that community service, though incredibly important, is only one way to address our society’s ills. "It can be a Band-Aid approach to systemic problems," said Sup. Chris Daly. What we really need, he said, is "to demand more from elected leaders, for people to put themselves forward and take control of political institutions. There’s no greater service than keeping elected leaders accountable to the people they serve."

True dat.

Editor’s Notes


› Tredmond@sfbg.com

Barack Obama is going to have to be a different kind of president, and I don’t mean just policy or the fact that he’s by far the coolest guy to hold that office in my lifetime. I mean he’s going to have to change the tone of how Americans look at our country. He’s going to have to do something that George Bush (and Bill Clinton before him) never did. He’s going to have to get rid of the selfish baby boomer ethos. He’s going to have to talk about sacrifice.

The economy can’t be fixed with deficit spending alone, and the equally massive environmental issues can’t be fixed with just hybrid cars and wind turbines. All those things are important. Without massive federal spending, probably well beyond what Obama is talking about today, the nation will continue to lose millions of jobs, the recession will become a deep depression, and life around here will really suck. And without new technologies, climate change will continue to get worse and energy will become far more expensive and far less reliable.

But in the end, it’s going to take more.

I was listening to the Democratic response to the governor’s State of the State speech Jan. 15 and the KQED radio host asked Darrell Steinberg, the state Senate president pro tem, the basic question of our time: why do Californians want all these wonderful services — education, parks, roads, trains, etc. — but don’t want to pay for them? Steinberg ducked beautifully, but the question still hangs out there. And it’s not just California.

Let us not forget: the United States is still a very wealthy country, and the Bush years made some of its residents exceptionally rich. I just added up the net worth of the top 20 people on the latest Forbes 400 list, and it came to $433 billion. That’s 20 people. The net profits of the top 10 companies on the Fortune 500 list for 2008 totaled more than $100 billion. That’s 10 companies.

Bush never asked any of those people or corporations to help pay for his war. Instead he told them everything would be easy, and gave them juicy tax cuts.

Obama has to set a different tone. He needs to say, loudly and clearly, that those who have the most (far more than they need) in very tough times should be willing to share.

A one-time, 10 percent wealth tax on the ultra-rich would probably raise half a trillion dollars. A short-term excess profits tax (similar to what the nation enacted during World War II) would provide another huge chunk. And it would send a signal to the rest of the country: this isn’t going to be easy. We all have to help out, starting with those at the top.

It also means that, on every level, we all have to get more engaged, more involved in the community. We have to become a nation of givers, not just takers. Public service has to be more important than private profit.

That’s a tough order for a generation raised on selfishness and greed. But it’s the only way out — and the guy we put in office on a banner of change has to lead the way.

Don’t privatize cab permits


EDITORIAL In tough times, political leaders with no backbone for making hard decisions tend to look for easy, short-term fixes. And Mayor Gavin Newsom’s proposal to auction off taxicab permits to the highest bidder is just that — a quick fix with serious long-term problems. In fact, it amounts to the privatization of a lucrative public asset.

A bit of background: since 1978, when then-Sup. Quentin Kopp authored a measure called Proposition K, San Francisco has issued some 1,500 taxi permits, known as medallions, to working cab drivers. Under Prop. K, the medallions can’t be owned by corporations, and they can’t be bought and sold as speculative commodities. They’re owned by the city, and only people who actually drive cabs for a living can use them.

There’s a logic to that. The permits are valuable — a medallion holder not only has the right to drive a cab, he or she can lease that permit to other drivers for additional shifts. Since a taxi can be on the road 24 hours a day, the lease income is substantial, roughly $30,000 a year. But only active drivers get that benefit; nobody can hold a permit, sit at home (or work another job), and just collect that cash.

The process isn’t perfect. The waiting list for a medallion takes more than 10 years. Some medallion holders cling to their permits long after they should have retired (and thus keep driving when they should no longer be on the road). There’s no process for compensating a permit holder who becomes disabled.

But those are issues that can be addressed. The basic fact is that San Francisco has taken the position that the public benefit — a license to drive a cab for hire — should be given only to those who are using it. Prop. K prevents consolidation of ownership in the industry, prevents speculators from turning medallions into a new form of securities (which worked out so well with mortgages), and gives people who have spent 10 years or more driving a cab a chance to reap the full benefits of their work.

Newsom, however, sees those permits as a gold mine. If the city auctioned them off, they might bring $100,000 apiece. Under Newsom’s plan, much of that money would go to the city, although some would go to current medallion holders.

The plan is full of problems.

For one, it could completely change the cab business in San Francisco, shifting control of the industry away from drivers and giving it to big businesses and investors. Very few working drivers (who are lucky to clear $30,000 a year) could afford to buy permits, particularly at auction. So the first people in the market would be the cab companies, which for years have wanted the right to own and control the medallions. Private investors — wealthy individuals and institutions — would see the permits as an asset likely to appreciate, and would buy up medallions, then seek to raise the lease fees for drivers. The only way drivers could buy permits would be to seek the equivalent of mortgage loans — but the banks that handle that sort of loans typically require 20 percent down, putting many drivers out of the running. Unless, that is, some shadowy characters come along with cash loans — or unless the cab companies handle that payment, thereby getting further control).

Unless medallion ownership is limited to drivers, the entire process will get corrupted. People will drive for a minimal period of time, bid on medallions, then go into another line of work — and keep the medallion. Newsom’s office says he’s going to do that, but there are no details on the plan yet.

Cab drivers in the city talk about the need for security and retirement income. After years of driving with a medallion, they want the right to sell it for a chunk of cash. But under the current system, drivers are — and most of them like being — independent contractors.

Freelance writers, consultants, small business owners, and many others who are self-employed are responsible for their own retirement planning. Why should cab drivers get a special deal from the city?

Privatizing the permits is just a bad idea. Newsom promised last year — in writing — that he wouldn’t seek to change Prop. K. It’s infuriating to see him so quickly break that promise.

The supervisors should reject this proposal.

Ending war


› sarah@sfbg.com

As Commander-in-Chief Barack Obama takes the reins of power, the peace movement is watching to see if he will follow through on foreign policy campaign promises — and preparing to apply pressure if he doesn’t.

CodePink has compiled a list, "President Obama’s Promises to Keep," taken from his campaign statements on which activists intend to hold him accountable. These promises include a pledge to end the war on Iraq, close the Guantánamo Bay detention facility, reject the Military Commissions Act (which critics say violates the civil rights of people deemed enemy combatants), adhere to the Geneva Convention, work to eliminate nuclear weapons, support direct diplomacy with Iran without preconditions, and abide by international treaties.

But as CodePink’s Media Benjamin noted in an article that was published in the Huffing ton Post last summer, the peace movement helped Obama beat Sen. Hillary Clinton, who supported the invasion of Iraq, in the primaries — only to see Obama begin talking tough on Afghanistan and pledging to essentially escalate the war there.

"This has come back to hit us in the face during Barack Obama’s Middle East trip, where he called for sending 10,000 more troops to Afghanistan," Benjamin observed, noting the high death tolls of both US soldiers and innocent Afghans almost eight years after the US invasion.

"The Taliban has gained new strength, opium production has soared, and Osama bin Laden has not been found," Benjamin wrote. "And amid it all, Afghan people continue to be among the poorest in the world, its women continue to be oppressed and the US has not succeeded in rebuilding Afghanistan."

But Benjamin acknowledged that it’s not enough to simply say "troops out now."

"We, the peace movement, need to come together and develop a strategy before our troops are sent from the ‘bad war’ in Iraq to the ‘good war’ in Afghanistan," Benjamin warned.

Given Obama’s naming of Clinton as his Secretary of State and his pledge to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, Benjamin reiterated her belief that increasing troop levels is not going to help subdue a country that has resisted invasions from the likes of Genghis Khan and the Soviet Union.

"Yes, it’s a complex region, but what has history taught us about it?" Benjamin told the Guardian last week. "That foreigners get defeated. Yes, maybe by increasing troops they’ll get to stay for a few more years, but in the end, they leave with their tail between their legs, having suffered more deaths and without imposing their will."

"Theirs is a very tribal culture, so it’s not easy to get a centralized government," added Benjamin, who first visited Afghanistan shortly after 9/11, at the height of the US-led invasion. "And the oppression of women, unfortunately, preceded the Taliban."

Observing that Afghan President Hamid Karzai has admitted to engaging in low-level talks with the Taliban, which the Saudis helped broker, Benjamin claimed that "plenty of US military reps know that a negotiated settlement is the way forward."

"Our concern is that women will be at the table when that happens and that women’s issues and rights are at the front," Benjamin stressed. "So, we want a negotiated settlement with a more moderate faction of the Taliban. And troops going into Pakistan isn’t the solution, either."

Benjamin, who attended Clinton’s Jan. 13 Secretary of State confirmation hearings, says she got the sense that Obama’s administration wants a policy overhaul.

"So, yes, we are sending 30,000 more troops, but we are not pretending it is a surge, à la Iraq. It’s more of a holding pattern," Benjamin said. "We are hoping this is going to be an administration that disengages. Maybe the focus in the US on the economy will help."

A press release sent out on the eve of Obama’s inauguration by Courage to Resist and Direct Action to Stop the War, a San Francisco–based organization that coordinated nonviolent opposition to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, stated that both groups are urging the new President not to escalate the war in Afghanistan, to stop attacks inside Pakistan, and to cut military aid to governments that violate human rights or international law, "such as Israel, in what Amnesty International calls an ‘unlawful attack’ on Gaza."

The release came just days after Clinton said, during her confirmation hearing, that she and Obama "understand and are deeply sympathetic to Israel’s desire to defend itself under the current conditions, and to be free of shelling by Hamas rockets. However, we have also been reminded of the tragic humanitarian costs of conflict in the Middle East, and pained by the suffering of Palestinian and Israeli civilians."

"This must only increase our determination to seek a just and lasting peace agreement that brings real security to Israel; normal and positive relations with its neighbors; and independence, economic progress, and security to the Palestinians in their own state," Clinton elaborated, adding that Obama is committed to "responsibly ending the war in Iraq and employing a broad strategy in Afghanistan that reduces threats to our safety and enhances the prospect of stability and peace."

In the November 2008 issue of Foreign Affairs, Barnett Rubin, director of Studies at the Center on International Cooperation at New York University and Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani journalist and a fellow at the Pacific Council on International Policy, outlined the steps that they believe are critical for those serious about ending the ongoing chaos in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and beyond.

Stating that sending more troops to Afghanistan "would be insufficient to reverse the collapse of security there," the authors opined that "A major diplomatic initiative involving all the regional stakeholders in problem-solving talks and setting out road maps for local stabilization efforts is more important."

Arguing that such an initiative would reaffirm that the West as a whole is committed to the long-term rehabilitation of Afghanistan and the region, they recommended that the West — with support from if not led by the US — back that commitment with measures to address economic development, job creation, the drug trade, and border disputes.

"The goal of the next US president must be to put aside the past, Washington’s keenness for "victory" as the solution to all problems, and the United States’ reluctance to involve competitors, opponents, or enemies in diplomacy," Rubin and Rashid wrote. "

But the A.N.S.W.E.R. (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) Coalition is reemphasizing the importance of building an independent people’s movement and ending imperialist occupations, wherever and whenever they occur. "We are for immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan," San Francisco–based A.N.S.W.E.R. organizer Saul Kanowitz told us. "There are those in the Obama administration who say that Iraq is the wrong war, in the wrong place, but we are against all US imperial conquests abroad."

Noting that he doesn’t believe there is a fundamental difference between Bush’s and Obama’s policies on Afghanistan, Kanowitz says, "It’s just a tactical difference … withdrawing US troops from direct engagement with Iraq, because they don’t believe US can’t win there, and redeploying them to Afghanistan, where they believe they can — it’s the same strategy. It’s about maintaining dominance.

Profiles of change


› amanda@sfbg.com
Photos by Pat Mazzera

"Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America," President Barack Obama told US citizens on his Inauguration Day. "For everywhere we look, there is work to be done."

He’s not just cheering himself on — he’s asking his constituents to embrace what’s to come and to consider what more we can be as the individual moving parts of this incredibly complex country.

Even as far back as the Democratic National Convention, Obama turned his campaign slogan into a call to action. "All across America something is stirring. What the naysayers don’t understand is this isn’t about me — it’s about you."

That rang in the ears of people profiled below, who changed their lives in response to his call. That inspired other changes, suggesting that the effort to elect Obama is having a spillover effect on organizing at other levels — which may become a part of how US citizens respond to his actions in office.

Expectations are high for the changes he will order and already there’s indications of what’s to come, such as the closure of the Guantánamo Bay detention facility, the end of the military’s "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy on homosexuality, and a commitment to action on climate change.

Many are eager to see more fundamental change in areas such as war, jobs, housing, energy, and transportation — areas we explore in this issue — as well as greater engagement between the White House and the grassroots groups that helped elect Obama.

In the profiles and stories that follow, the Guardian asks questions about what and who will change and how to move past a pithy slogan to trigger the transformation this country desperately needs.




Maria Gomes was committed to Obama from the beginning. "I signed up right after he announced," said this Menlo Park resident, who joined Silicon Valley for Obama and volunteered on the campaign.

Her first big assignment was in Iowa, where she spent 10 days campaigning before the caucus along with her husband and two teenage children. For Gomes, Obama’s Iowa win was a particularly powerful and pivotal moment. "I just realized the power of the volunteers and how awesome it was," she said. "It was clear to me after Iowa that he was going to win, so I just dove in."

Gomes, a 60-year-old lawyer, took an eight-month unpaid leave from her work as an immigration and dependency attorney for San Mateo County to devote herself fulltime to Obama’s campaign. It was the first time she devoted her life to get a politician elected.

"In fact, I [had] steered away from politics because I don’t really like politics," she said. "This was different. I really strongly felt the people carried this campaign. I canvassed with CEOs, doctors, young people … nobody took a back seat in this campaign. We did not take it lightly."

She and her husband served as precinct captains in California. After the primary, she coordinated volunteers and voter registration efforts for the general election. Gomes traveled to seven states in the months leading up to Nov. 4, spending Election Day working on voter protection in Las Vegas.

"I felt that the only way he was going to get elected was if people got in there. It wasn’t just going to happen," said Gomes, an immigrant from Cabo Verde, off the western coast of Africa.

And it’s not over for Gomes. Her whole family went to Washington DC for the inauguration, where she answered Michelle Obama’s call to volunteer on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Gomes has also signed up to work on Kamala Harris’ run for attorney general and she’s still active with her fellow workers at Silicon Valley for Obama.

"About a week after the election I went to a meeting for our field office. Five hundred people were there. We brainstormed how to stay involved in his campaign," she said. They ranked issues they’d like to see addressed by Obama and organized themselves into teams to work on messaging them to the new administration. "We received a survey from the national team…. The [Silicon Valley] team took the national survey and made it local, community by community. That’s the kind of movement that’s happening now. I’m sure it’s going on everywhere because the campaign wanted every state and every county involved." Her husband is now on the tech team and she’s doing fundraising work for the inauguration.

"It’s not over. Nothing has stopped," she said, adding that she believed this kind of organizing would be very present in the administration. "It’s going to be governed by the people. I plan to be involved for the next four years at whatever level I can. I still write e-mails to whoever I think can change something. I hope it will be transparent enough that we can still communicate to people higher up in the administration — all the way to Barack and Michelle Obama."




Aaron Knapp graduated from law school in 2002 and spent the subsequent six years working for big corporate law firms. By 2008, he began to feel that all of the major decisions in his life had been made based on money and materialism, an certain emptiness that changed suddenly at summer’s end.

"Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention was a real turning point for me," he recalled. "The change that I needed in my life was to join in this campaign that transcended the individuals."

He said he did what he always wanted to do: "I quit a job I don’t enjoy." Knapp went to work instead on the Obama campaign, spending about four months in Nevada. Putting Obama in office became too important to not give it his all: "I just wanted to make sure on November 4, I could say to myself I did everything I could."

On election night, with the feeling of victory rushing through him, there was also a kind of malaise, a feeling of "now what?"

"Our roles in the campaign were predetermined — there are a finite amount of things you do in a campaign. Make phone calls, gather data, knock on doors…. After the election, after we won…. What do we do now? Those predetermined roles are no longer set up for us," he said.

Knapp said it required some soul searching to find the next important thing to do: "The task is to get real specific."

He’s now writing a book and working to get the Employee Free Choice Act passed by Congress. The act would amend existing labor laws to make it easier for workers to create unions that are recognized by employers. In 2007, it passed in the House and failed in the Senate, but it was part of Obama’s platform during the primary season, and one of the reasons he garnered support from organized labor.

But, said Knapp, "It’s one of those things that’s being put on the back burner as we transition in this administration…. While Obama was championing this cause during the campaign, there’s no sign of it now."

The waning of enthusiasm for it is indicative of how Obama’s administration may start to handle some of those crucial campaign promises that drew so many people into his fold. That piqued Knapp’s interest and reminded him of the goals of his grandfather, an auto worker for Chevrolet during the 1940s, who passed away during Knapp’s first year of law school: "My grandfather always would plead with me to do whatever I could to get the labor laws back in order. So that’s an issue that’s really important to me."

Knapp also said that it’s important to keep the grassroots Obama movement alive by continuing to push crucial legislation that was part of his platform for change.

"It goes right to the controversial pieces of law and policy that he’s addressing," Knapp said. "If he’s able to keep this mobilization together, that will help him significantly in getting policies through."




Pauli Ojea, who’s about to turn 30 years old, says that she’s spent her entire adult life "voting for the loser" and advocating for change that’s been slow to happen.

A New Jersey native, Ojea came to California to work for the San Francisco Conservation Corps on environmental education programs. That lead to a position with Breast Cancer Action as a community organizer, where she found that hopeful efforts were often frustrated by political pitfalls.

Then, Ojea attended a 2004 event where she heard Van Jones speak about how a new green wave was coming and it needed to lift all boats. When a position opened with Jones’ new organization, Green for All, she applied to be a policy analyst for the Oakland-based green-jobs advocacy group.

In between the two jobs, she spent a week campaigning for Obama with her mother, a Spanish immigrant who groused that if he lost, she’d be spending more time back in Spain.

Ojea now works on federal green-jobs policy and climate change equity, and has already been deeply affected by the Obama election. "For most of my career in advocacy, there’s been this sense that we probably don’t want to work on federal policy because we’re not going to get anywhere," she explained. "I started at Green For All with Barack Obama elected as president and we’re actually putting a lot of resources into federal policy, and there’s this whole feeling like we’re going to get somewhere. That’s shifted for me. I imagine that for a lot of other environmental and social justice advocates, there seems to be a door opening."

She’s even more enthused after meeting with members of the Obama transition team who were tasked with a review of the Department of Energy. About 30 to 40 people, representing organizations including the Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Council as well as renewable energy business leaders and public officials doing energy work in different states, convened in Washington DC to discuss energy policy.

"I’ve been to a lot of public agency meetings and what usually happens is you have maybe an hour and a half of presentation from the agency and maybe a half hour for all the organizations and people trying to get in their piece," she said. "This was different. It was about a two-hour meeting and the whole time it was dedicated to hearing from the community, from businesses, from people with experience in energy efficiency. The transition team members were fully engaged, actually listening, asking questions, asking for clarifications if they didn’t understand something. They were really humble and they seemed really excited about what kinds of changes were possible. I’d never been part of a process like that."

Ojea sees more potential than ever for the activist community in the Obama administration. "It could provide more opportunity and open more doors for what your activism is about. There’s such a difference between being used to being on the outside of the fence, behind the barricade, screaming because it’s the only way to be heard. Is that going to change? Are we going to be inside the fence?"

She recalled Obama’s campaign observation that "change doesn’t come from Washington, change comes to Washington." She’s hoping the Obama team’s outreach will continue.

"We’re at a really strange and critical time," Ojea said. "As Van says, in America, in terms of the economy, the floor has dropped out from under us. But with the election of Obama, the ceiling has come off. There’s a lot of opportunity, and things could also go downhill. What are we going to do?"

Soledad Barrio and Noche Flamenco


PREVIEW Two years ago when Soledad Barrio and Noche Flamenco filled Zellerbach Hall to the rafters and awarded its performers with a standing ovation the likes of which Cal Performances probably had not experienced in a while, I felt very much like an outsider. I am crazy about flamenco, yet it was only when Barrio took to the stage that I got an inkling of why that southern Spanish form, which reaches deep in that country’s Arabic heritage and perhaps even further into its even more ancient gypsy roots, still manages to take my breath away in the 21st century.

Every pause, every rhythmic explosion, every serpentine turn spoke of something inside her that needed to come out. It was powerful, intimate, absolutely theatrical, and totally genuine. She was defiant, playful, and mysterious — frequently all at once. It was an unforgettable performance that probably would have been even better in a smaller venue — this tiny woman held 2,000 people in the raised palm of her hand.

The rest of the company is by no means simply backup for Barrio. These are superbly trained performers who manage to hang onto their individuality despite the constraints of this type of highly controlled, technically virtuosic performance. Company director Martin Santangelo, who got his start on the stage with El Teatro Campesino, knows how to put together sizzling shows. But the primary reason to welcome this company’s return is Barrio.

SOLEDAD BARRIO AND NOCHE FLAMENCO Fri/23–Sat/24, 8 p.m., $24–$48. Zellerbach Hall, UC Berkeley, Berk. (510) 642–9988, www.calperfs.berkeley.edu

Calvin Johnson


PREVIEW It’s not hard to see Calvin Johnson as the obverse of Henry Rollins in the protean world of ’80s underground rock. Johnson’s teddy-bear huggability, and the straightforwardness and purity of sentiment of a track like his old band Beat Happening’s "Honey Pot," has nothing to do with Black Flag’s macho angst. Rather than burying his emotional life under muscle, Johnson’s appeal came from an embarrassing vulnerability. While he’s better known for his historic role and his work as K Records’ head honcho than for his current endeavors, Johnson remains au courant: his most recent release, Calvin Johnson and the Sons of the Soil (K, 2007), finds him backed by the likes of Adam Forkner, a.k.a. Portland, Ore., drone chief White Rainbow.

At press time, San Francisco opening act Grass Widow tentatively canceled its performance due to multiple family emergencies, so this Club Sandwich event will likely be rounded out by screenings of Heart of Nowhere, a stream-of-consciousness documentary about life in Alabama, and Crisis in the Credit System, a 2008 film by Melanie Gilligan. If you’re missing the cold, these hits of sunshine might not be for you.

CALVIN JOHNSON With screening of Heart of Nowhere and Crisis in the Credit System. Mon/26, 8 p.m., $6. Artists’ Television Access, 992 Valencia, SF. (415) 824-3890, www.atasite.org, clubsandwichbayarea.com

Department of Eagles


PREVIEW Considering that the Brooklyn band Department of Eagles’ much-praised, tres delectable nugget of fast-forward/throwback rock, In Ear Park (4AD), resides so firmly in those lazy, hazy, haunted memories of youth, there’s something exquisitely fitting about the fact that 26-year-old East Bay native Fred Nicolaus is bringing his collaboration Grizzly Bear member and ex–New York University roommate Daniel Rossen back to the Bay for its first show at a venue frequented as a ska-loving Oakland kid. "I remember seeing a weird swing band there — Lee Press-On and the Nails?" he recalls from snowy Pennsylvania.

The Nails don’t crop up on the album — the follow-up to the group’s 2003 debut, The Cold Nose (The Whitey on the Moon UK LP) initially released by Oakland’s Isota Records and reissued by American Dust — nor do the years between NYU and today that Nicolaus spent toiling in the nine-to-five trenches of publishing ("The first magazine I worked for was Industrial Equipment News — the most doomed experience of all time!"). Instead DOE plunges into a many-pleasured, multitextured wonderland teeming with groaning cello, swooping samples, clattering toy pianos, and blissfully ethereal vocals — and tender backward glances to neglected classical LPs, childhood retreats, and the more ecstatic musical ruminations of Van Dyke Parks. "It was about taking that idea of using weird, amazing arrangements and applying them to music that’s more poppy," Nicolaus says of the band, once dubbed Whitey on the Moon UK after the protestations of the SF combo also named for the Gil-Scott Heron track.

The twosome worked on In Ear Park for years "in the margins of Grizzly Bear’s recording and touring schedule," with Nicolaus dreaming up with the raw ideas for the songs and Rossen molding them into shape. "When you work on something for five years," Nicolaus explains humbly, "you can afford to throw away stuff that isn’t up to par." Now the pair is tackling their studio creations live, assisted by a full band that includes Grizzly Bear’s Chris Bear, on an outing that Nicolaus believes "might be our only tour, really," since Grizzly Bear is committed to completing a 2009 full-length. Still, Nicolaus is delighted to find that DOE’s tunes can work without their aural finery: "It’s reassuring that with these songs, if you took their clothes off they’d still be able to stand up."

DEPARTMENT OF EAGLES With Cave Singers. Sun/25, 7 and 10 p.m., $15. Café Du Nord, 2170 Market, SF. (415) 861-5016, www.cafedunord.com