Volume 43 Number 20

Attention: New Mexican revolution scheduled

0

MEXICO CITY — Never before has the contrast between the World Economic Forum (WEF), the annual clambake of the capitalist class in Davos Switzerland, and the World Social Forum (WSF), created a decade ago to beat back the corporate globalization of the Planet Earth, been quite so stark.

While the moribund masters of the universe met on their ice mountain in the midst of the most chilling world-wide depression in a century, largely triggered by the overweening greed of those in attendance, tens of thousands samba’ed in the tropical heat of the Amazon city of Belem to celebrate the demise of capitalism. Among those on hand at the WSF dance party were presidents Chavez of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Bolivia’s Evo Morales, Ecuador’s Rafael Correa, Paraguay’s Fernando Lugo, and Brazil’s Lula da Silva. Lula, who is usually a devoted Davos-goer, eschewed this year’s funerary event to avoid the stench that inevitably results from rubbing shoulders with mummies.

“The God of the Market has been broken,” the one-time Sao Paolo metalworker proclaimed to tens of thousands in Belem. Writing in the Mexican daily La Jornada, Luis Hernandez Navarro pointed out that it was precisely the social forces represented by the WSF that propelled Latin America’s social democratic presidents into power.

Indeed, the only two Latin heads of state to attend the caviar and champagne-laced charade in Davos were Colombia’s widely-disparaged Alvaro Uribe and Mexico’s questionably-elected president Felipe Calderon, both of them Washington’s darlings. Not even freshman U.S. president Obama, who recently lambasted the machinations of the same breed of bankers who gather each year on the ice mountain as “shameful,” showed up in Switzerland, an event that his predecessor in power George Bush never missed.

Felipe Calderon’s trip to Davos got off on an inauspicious foot. On the very day he flew out to the WEF, Bank of Mexico president Guillermo Ortiz confirmed that his country was in full-blown recession. For months, Calderon and his obscenely obese Secretary of Finance Augustin Carstens have characterized Mexico’s economic health as only suffering from “a little cough” (“catarrito.”) According to Bank of Mexico prognostications, the Aztec Nation will suffer negative growth in 2009 (-0.8% to -1.8%.)

The news hit Felipe like an ice ball from hell.

Seeking to put a happy face on his country’s dismal future, Calderon championed Mexico’s 1.5% 2008 growth rate but fooled few – Mexico’s anemic performance last year put it in 24th place out of 24 Latin American economies in the International Monetary Fund’s rankings, even behind Haiti, the basket case of the Americas. The IMF is predicting 1.1% growth for Latin America in 2009 and, like Ortiz, calculates that Mexico will fall into negative numbers.

The Mexican president’s delusional optimism in the face of so bleak an outlook played to incredulous audiences at Davos. Calderon also sought to blunt the recent blockbuster report of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff that Mexico is a potentially “failed” state by handing out trinkets like baseball caps bearing the ambiguous legend “It’s All In The Trust.” The giveaway (“magic spikes” to keep the mummies from slipping on Davos’s icy streets were also distributed) came during a session at which Calderon flogged Mexico’s chances of weathering the current economic turmoil – the Mexican president’s talk was slugged “Riders On The Storm,” a title plagiarized from the Doors’ 1971 apocalyptical anthem about a cowboy spree killer. Lead singer Jim Morrison was reportedly heard thrashing about wildly in his Paris grave.

As a bonus attraction, Calderon teamed with former Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo, now head of Yale University’s Institute for Globalization Studies, in an act conducted entirely in broken English that verged on tragicomedy. Zedillo, who coined the term “globalphobics” in reference to WSF types at the 1996 Davos get-down, revealed that the bank bail-out he sponsored during Mexico’s mid-1990s meltdown and dubbed FOBAPROA, has drained 20% of his country’s gross domestic product (PIB), bragging that the 400 trillion peso outlay was triple that of what the Bush-Obama bail-out has cost U.S. taxpayers.

As might be anticipated, the Calderon-Zedillo act did not play well on the homefront. While the Mexican presidents cavorted with the living dead in Davos, a half million of their compatriots were marching through the streets of Mexico City to protest the economic wreckage the neo-liberal ethos has wrought here. On January 25th, former left presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, from whom Calderon stole the 2006 election, and his Movement to Defend Mexico’s Oil & The Popular Economy assembled upwards of 200,000 in the great central Zocalo plaza. Five days later, farmers and trade unionists matched that outpouring to denounce the damage done by the current crisis.

Among the crisis indicators: 6% inflation, the highest in ten years, and 340,000 jobs lost on Calderon’s watch. (Calderon campaigned as “the president of employment.”)

Just what Mexico’s unemployment numbers are is deeply obfuscated. Government bean-counters at the National Statistical and Geographic Institute (INEGI) claim it is no more than 4% – but under INEGI parameters, anyone who worked for more than an hour in the informal economy during the previous week is considered employed.

Utilizing such criteria, the emblematic apple sellers of the 1930’s Great Depression would not be determined to be jobless.

On the other side of the ledger, Enrique Galvan, who authors La Jornada’s “Money” column, calculates that 70% of the nation’s 45 million-strong workforce does not have a steady job. A maquiladora industry that assembles consumer goods for the ravished U.S. market and which generated a million jobs in the best of times has gone kaplooy and the Big Seven automakers (including Toyota, Nissan, Honda, and Volkswagen) have shut down their plants for the duration of the downturn.

Meanwhile, workers’ pensions, privatized under Zedillo, have gone up in smoke, with those paying in losing up to 30% of their retirement funds in the past six months. To compound the devastation, the peso has sunk to record lows, having been devalued by 32% since last August 4th when it weighed in at 9.87 against the dollar. At this writing, 14.78 pesos will buy you one dollar Americano and the exchange rate is climbing toward 15.

Nonetheless. Mexico’s banks, rescued by Zedillo’s 15-cypher bailout and subsequently sold to transnational financial conglomerates, registered a 38% profit increase in 2008.

The current blasted economic landscape here bears striking similarities to another period of devastating downturn a hundred years ago. The 1907-08 depression was trip-wired when commodity prices collapsed and money dried up, casting tens of thousands of Mexican workers into the streets and accentuating the monstrous divide between rich and poor. To counter working class rage, dictator Porfirio Diaz cranked up repression, massacring hundreds of striking textile workers in Rio Blanco Veracruz and miners in Cananea Sonora. Synchronistically, workers at Cananea, the eighth largest copper pit in the world, have been on strike for the past 18 months in spite of Calderon’s efforts to break the walkout.

Despite the shattered economy and his deep-rooted unpopularity after 34 years in power, Diaz decided to run for re-election in 1910, stealing the vote that June and jailing opposition leader Francisco Madero, a role model for Lopez Obrador. To celebrate his “victory,” Porfirio Diaz threw a huge party to mark Mexico’s first 100 years of independence from Spain, expending the nation’s entire social budget on useless monuments, many of them lined up along Mexico City’s Champs D’Elysie, the Paseo de la Reforma.

The pageantry culminated on Independence Day, September 16th with the installation of a gilded Angel of Independence on that glittering boulevard. Two months later, the Mexican revolution, led by Madero, exploded, and Diaz was forced to flee the country.

Just before Felipe Calderon took off to tete-a-tete with the dead in Davos, amidst patriotic bombast and flowery fireworks, the Mexican president announced the construction of the Arc of the Bicentennial to be inaugurated September 16th 2010, commemorating both the 200th year of Mexican independence and the 100-year anniversary of the beginning of the Mexican revolution. Following the Porfirian model, the Arc of the Bi-Centennial, whose cost was unannounced, will be built at the foot of the Paseo de la Reforma.

Mexico’s political metabolism seems to break out in insurgencies every 100 years on the 10th year of the century. In 1810, the country priest Miguel Hidalgo launched the struggle for independence from the Crown. In 1910, Francisco Madero ignited the fuse of the epoch Mexican revolution.

At this writing, there are less than 330 days until 2010.

Splitting heirs

0

SILENT FILMS Horror movies have never been more plentiful or popular than they are now — which says more about the times we live in than there’s room to discuss here — yet in film’s first decades they barely made an appearance. The early 20th-century rush to modernity, particularly in the U.S., made anything that smacked of superstition seem childish, silly, even distasteful; the simple life of yore, with all its greater hardships, was still too fresh to invite nostalgia. Not until the one-two punch of Universal’s Dracula and Frankenstein (both 1931) did the genre flourish, and for years afterward many quasi-horror films ended with protracted, often ludicrous explanations as to how their supernatural events were faked by ingenious criminals or undercover detectives.

The template for all subsequent "old dark house" chillers — including James Whale’s 1932 The Old Dark House — was provided by Paul Leni’s 1927 hit, The Cat and the Canary, which the Silent Film Festival screens this Saturday at the Castro. Based on a popular stage play by San Francisco–born John Willard, this was the first of at least six versions to date. All were horror comedies, both exploiting and sending up the hoary conceit of greedy heirs gathered in a creepy mansion for the reading of a vengeful late relative’s will.

In Leni’s take, they’re estranged relatives drawn to the "grotesque mansion of an eccentric millionaire" 20 years after his demise. In life, he’d imagined them as giant black cats clawing at him; in death, he designates the youngest and most distant niece (Laura La Plante) as sole recipient of his fortune. There’s a catch, of course: the dough goes elsewhere if she’s proven — or driven — mad during a long night bedeviled by escaped lunatics, fanged fiends, secret passageways, and so forth.

A German art director who’d directed the Expressionist horror classic Waxworks (1924), Leni arrived in Hollywood with a Universal contract and a wealth of visual imagination. Cat remains goofy gothic fun, from ill-named housekeeper Mammy Pleasant to animated intertitles that "shudder" with fright. Beyond Murnau’s own rapturous Sunrise (1927), the day’s other features are slapstick gems: vintage Buster Keaton outing Our Hospitality (1923) and A Kiss from Mary Pickford (1927), a vehicle for equally beloved Russian comic Igor Ilyinsky utilizing footage of the Soviet Union visit that "America’s Sweetheart" and Douglas Fairbanks made in 1926. (Dennis Harvey)

SAN FRANCISCO SILENT FILM FESTIVAL’S WINTER EVENT

Sat/14, noon, $14–$17 (four-movie pass, $52)

Castro Theatre

429 Castro, SF

www.silentfilm.org

A cold one

0

› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Tennessee Williams was notoriously afraid of going insane — the fate of his sister Rose, a presence haunting several of his greatest plays — and in the latter half of his career, the great American dramatist wrestled mightily with a slump in his fortunes, depression, and addictions to pills and alcohol. It was the pills that finally got him, or rather the packaging: he choked to death on a bottle cap in his New York City hotel room in 1983.

This darkness in Williams’ life is well-covered ground but no doubt still fertile enough for a biographically based flight of poetic imagination, ruminating on the relationship between madness and creativity, which is what Bay Area playwright Joe Besecker proposes in New Conservatory Theatre’s revival of 1984’s popular and long-running Tennessee in the Summer. And yet Besecker, who has 25 plays to his credit including the 2008 SF Fringe Festival offering Loving Fathers, freights his poetical device with so much expository baggage that here at least, in director Christopher Jenkins’ able but somewhat miscast production, it never leaves the runway. It’s strange. Considering how flushed and feverish Williams’ plays could be, you’d expect a little perspiration to break out somewhere in Tennessee in the Summer.

The play opens, reliably enough, on a sweltering summer morning in N.Y.C. in 1972. Immediately recognizable at a desk in a dim, heavily wallpapered hotel room — handily rendered with a hint of disrepair by Michael Fink — is the aging playwright (Dale Albright), bespectacled and freshly groomed. He’s rewriting a would-be comeback and critical misfire, Out Cry. As he taps away at his typewriter, an overheated, restless woman (Alex Alexander) pecks at him from across the room, chiding him for his efforts, accusing him of wasting his time, of already being thoroughly washed up. He is testy in his responses — "Christ, I just refuse to become a total has-been in my own lifetime" — and downright ferocious the moment she lays a hand on his shoulder. "Don’t touch me!" he roars at her, with a glint of fear.

When, a moment later, the mysterious woman leans out the window and invites a sidewalk stud up for a visit, she proceeds to introduce herself to him as Tennessee Williams, a fact the young man (Jeremy Forbing) immediately accepts and admits to already knowing. Thus, we realize — if we hadn’t guessed already — that we’re in the presence of the writer and his better half: his own female side, that is, or anima, if you will, splayed on the nearby bed in something like standard attire for a Williams heroine — a white slip and a mint julep accent.

Time tripping ensues, as Tennessee-times-two relives scenes from his life, including encounters with sister Rose (Annamarie Macleod, doing decent work here but plodding along in caricature in the part of Edwina, Williams’ mother) and longtime and long-suffering companion Frank Merlo (Forbing, seemingly elsewhere and unconvincing in this crucial role), whose death in 1961 tosses the drug- and booze-addled Williams into a monumental depression.

At the center of the play, Albright and Alexander share a certain gruff but vaguely mechanical connection. Albright’s playwright is dyspeptic, morose, and callously lascivious, without much redeeming allure let alone a sense of talent. Alexander’s anima is fairly solid but limited in vacilutf8g between shrill complaint, self-pampering, and wilting empathy. Then again, they’re saddled with a fatiguing amount of exposition dressed roughly as dialogue, with only a thin sugaring of wit and charm. The work bluntly states as much as it dramatizes: "I need a companion at night," says Tennessee, "I fear death." And later: "I’m suffering from the affliction of loneliness." Or Frank to TW: "I’m sorry, Tom — I’m in the terminal stages of lung cancer …" Etc., etc. If the playwright had traveled a little lighter, there might have been room for more beyond the obvious and pedestrian. Rose’s last appearance reaches in this direction, as late in the game as it is. As is, the graceful arc the play would trace back to some reconciliation, some consolidation of halves and acceptance of self, is a surprisingly frigid ride.

TENNESSEE IN THE SUMMER

Through March 1

Wed.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; $22–$40

New Conservatory Theatre Center

25 Van Ness, SF

(415) 861-8972

www.nctcsf.org

Spirited

0

For its opening weekend, the fifth Black Choreographers Festival: Here and Now relocated to Laney College in Oakland, once a focal point for local dance in the 1990s. The suggestion that Laney’s lovely theater — the best in the East Bay — might once again become available to outside dance presenters is wonderful to contemplate.

With six works, three of them world premieres, producers Laura Elaine Ellis and Kendra Kimbrough Barnes hit the spot on opening night. The pieces spanned a wide spectrum of styles and experiences, indicative of the spirit of generosity and support that permeates this festival. Black Choreographers continues this weekend and Feb. 20–21 with new programs at Dance Mission Theater in San Francisco.

Jaime Wright’s Envelope in Blue — for budding ballerinas Alyson Abriel, Alissa Baird, and Sarah Wellman — opened the program. Unpretentious but lovingly tended, the gentle new ballet blossomed and curled in on itself. Premiering with a dynamite performance by choreographer Rashad Pridgen — alongside Byb B. Bibene, Juanita Brown, and Sheena Johnson — Motif Performance Group’s first-rate Interludes to Intimacy synthesized a volatile cocktail of dance languages that veered between the discipline of stepping and the freedom of jazz. On the other end of the continuum from Envelope in Blue, Mind over Matter’s first performance of the hot and heavy Where you at?! boiled over with sass, sex, and attitude.

The mix of hip-hop and physical comedy in Sometimes was irresistible: dahrio wonder and robert d. lupo, a.k.a. Neopolitan, proved once again how theatrically pungent their work has become. Antoine Hunter is a gorgeously expressive long-limbed dancer whose passionate Now People traveled between utmost despair and the shining heights of hope. His ensemble piece Bullet in the Head, however, needs a lot more structure and discipline to hold its disparate elements together. (Rita Felciano)

Fri/13–Sat/14 and Feb. 20–21, 8 p.m.; Sun/15, 7 p.m.; $10–$15. Dance Mission Theater, 3316 24th St., SF. www.bcfhereandnow.com

Firestarters

0

"I’ve always been a serious musician," says drummer and multi-instrumentalist M.E. Miller, "so I hate to be thought of as some fool who just created havoc."

Miller’s old band the Toy Killers created plenty of havoc with their music, as showcased on the recent CD retrospective The Unlistenable Years (ugEXPLODE), which draws on live and studio recordings from their early 1980s peak.

Co-founded by Miller and fellow percussionist Charles K. Noyes in 1979, the Toy Killers created a squirming, clattering din that encompassed no-wave noise, free improv, and even the mutant dance music of downtown New York City peers like Material and the Golden Palominos. Their shifting lineup included such future avant-garde all-stars as John Zorn, Bill Laswell, and Elliott Sharp, as well as a post-DNA Arto Lindsay on guitar and vocals. But fairly or not, the Toy Killers were as notorious for their confrontational live performances as they were for their music. Miller was responsible for many of their live antics, which included a penchant for setting things on fire and igniting M-80s, dynamite, and other explosives.

There’s a Zen-like calm to the way Miller describes people’s reactions to his group’s brand of "anti-performance art." Asked how the outfit’s (literally) fiery performances went over with their Lower East Side audiences, Miller, speaking over the phone from his home in Alameda, flatly responds, "Not well." He recounts one gig at Soundscape in which audience members set up a barricade of chairs to separate themselves from the band.

Then there was an incident that took place at the Kitchen during an Elliot Sharp concert. "He just said, ‘At one point, Miller, I’m gonna turn to you, and you just make somethin’ happen,’<0x2009>" the drummer recalls. "So I just made an incendiary go from the drums straight up about six to eight feet. It just went ‘fa-foom,’ and I got all burned." The house lights came on, and the show was over.

"I think I probably pissed a lot of people off, but it was … purely for amusement. It was funny," he summarizes. Miraculously, no one, apart from Miller, was ever injured at the Toy Killers’ shows, and they never burned any venues down — an achievement that prospective show bookers might keep in mind.

The Unlistenable Years won’t cause your CD player to burst into flames, and there’s undoubtedly a visual element that’s lacking on some of the live recordings. But for the most part, the music holds up on its own, conveying a sense of near chaos that’s in keeping with their reputation as a live entity. In fact, ugEXPLODE label head and Oakland resident Weasel Walter didn’t know a thing about the band when he first encountered them in the late ’80s via Speed Trials (Homestead), a 1983 compilation that highlighted the band alongside Sonic Youth, Swans, Lydia Lunch, and the early Beastie Boys, who once opened for the Toy Killers.

The Toy Killers’ contribution, "Victimless Crime," caught Walter’s attention due to Noyes’ peculiar style of drumming. "I was really into free jazz drums and stuff like that," Walter said by phone. "But he seemed to approach drumming from a point of total disruption…. It’s like the Shaggs or something." (On his bandmate’s unique drumming style, Miller marvels, "It sounds like there is a rationale, but I’ve never been able to figure it out…. You either have to be incredibly bright or severely retarded to play like that.")

Walter filed away the band name in the back of his mind for nearly two decades. Miller, meanwhile, had been off the radar for years: it turns out he’d been playing in a wedding band since moving back to the Bay Area in the early ’90s — he grew up in Sunnyvale and later attended UC Santa Cruz — before finally connecting with fellow Bay Area improvisers like Henry Kaiser and ROVA’s Larry Ochs a few years ago. When Walter found out, he sought out Miller and persuaded him to hand over all the old tapes he could get his hands on so he could put together their long-overdue "debut" — some three decades after their first live shows.

Not content to stop there, the group — or at least a new incarnation of it — is working on a new album that showcases founders Miller and Noyes along with newcomers Kaiser, Walter, and others. They plan on unveiling a new live Toy Killers later this year, although the elusive Noyes, who still lives on the East Coast, probably won’t be involved. Still, Walter is excited at the chance to work with these battle-scarred veterans. "I feel like part of my job is to encourage these older guys to not be in the middle and not hold back," he says. "People who have counted these guys out for one reason or another are not gonna be able to count them out at all."

nowave.pair.com/ugexplode

The color purp

0

› a&eletters@sfbg.com

G-Stack and Dotrix4000 of the Mekanix arrive for our interview clad in Oakland’s signature purple. The color looms large among the town’s dread-locked youth, owing to the purple weed so popular here: in local slang, assorted leafy greens become "grapes," and references to "Urkel" proliferate for rhyming purposes. Forget Dipset’s Harlem and OutKast’s Atlanta — Oakland is Purple City. And although a nonsmoker, G-Stack is its mayor.

As half of the Delinquents — with partner V-White — Stack went purple early, putting out the 2003 mixtape The Purple Project (Dank or Die). For his solo career, Stack has plunged deeper into the hue with his new persona, Purple Mane. A pot-dealing, wisecracking superhero, Purple Mane has documented his adventures on five discs for Stack’s 4TheStreets label: Welcome to Purple City (2007), Tha Color Purple (2007), George W. Kush (2007), My Purple Chronicles (2008), and Abraham Reekin (2008). These have been among the hottest recent albums in the Bay — no small feat for a rapper whose career began with the Delinquents in 1992.

"I’m trying to stay in this game," Stack says. "I’m a mistake or two away from cats being like, ‘I don’t want to fuck with this dude.’ You can’t think, ‘I’ve been doing this so long — I’m great.’ "

Such realism is rare in the hyperbolic rap world, but Stack prides himself on being real. To invent Purple Mane, moreover, Stack acknowledges inspiration from Mac Dre, who released his own presidential-themed Ronald Dregan (Thizz) shortly before his 2004 murder.

"Dre was dropping numerous records and started coming with characters," recalls Stack. "I’m not trying to finish where he left off, but he was onto something. Without seeming like I’m biting, I’m doing me." This strategy allows the MC to incorporate humor into his music without sacrificing gangsta rap cred.

"Everyone knows I crack lots of jokes," he says, "but I don’t want cats to think I’m a joker. I’m everything I say I am. What we did with Purple Mane was come with my funny side."

If Stack speaks as "we," it’s to credit the role of his team in building his buzz. Besides Chronicles, a solo EP, his compilation-style purple projects have featured key collaborators like Deev da Greed, R&B songstress Naté, and producers Mike D, Quinteis, and the Mekanix. Among these, Dotrix4000 deserves special mention. Largely unheralded, he’s played a vital role in recent Bay rap, having a huge hand in the careers of popular post-hyphy acts J-Stalin and Eddi Projex. Stack’s success makes Dot three for three.

"Dot convinced me to go solo," Stack says. "V-White wasn’t ready for another Delinquents album, and Dot was in my ear, ‘You got fans out there. Why don’t you do something?’ "

In the process of helping to develop the Purple Mane persona, Dot’s been all over Stack’s releases, adding a beat here, a hook there, even demonstrating hitherto hidden rap talents. In the ultimate Bay accomplishment, he ghostwrote Too $hort’s hook on "Purple City," among a handful of prior tracks resurfacing on Stack’s latest, Dr. Purp Thumb, which is due Feb. 17 from SMC.

A full-blown national release, Purp ups the ante: it’s true to the Bay yet expands into more commercial fare and even includes love songs such as "Me N My Chick," an unusually emotional display of passion. "Talk of the Town," with Deev and Stalin, is probably the funkiest groove from this region in years, while Stack’s humor is evident in tracks like "I Fell in Love Wit a Hoe," a sort of AA meeting for gangstas tasting the infidelity they usually dole out. There’s plenty of Purple Mane, but Purp showcases unmediated G-Stack as well.

"I gave them more of me than before," he says. "It’s more Stack meets Purple Mane than Purple Mane meets Stack. You can see how they come together."

www.myspace.com/4thestreets

Speed Reading

0

SAN FRANCISCO NOIR 2: THE CLASSICS

Edited by Peter Maravelis

Akashic Books

300 pages

$15.95

San Francisco has many legacies, including the social movements of the 1960s and ’70s. But before more recent utopian impulses, SF was the Barbary Coast — and Chinatown, North Beach, and the Financial District were havens for gambling, prostitution, and crime. This gritty, nefarious reputation was enhanced in the ’30s by Dashiell Hammett’s novel The Maltese Falcon, and in the ’40s by John Huston’s film version, among other SF-set stories. SF was a noir city, defined by hard drinking and hard living. This is a legacy that the current city perhaps would prefer to forget, much like a blackout during a drunken binge.

In his excellent introduction to the first San Francisco Noir anthology in 2005, editor Peter Maravelis writes, "Crime fiction is the scalpel used to reveal San Francisco’s pathological character." With San Francisco Noir 2: The Classics, Maravelis does more than pick up the scalpel once again. Using a timeline, he reprints some of the grainiest SF snapshots by Barbary Coast writers. He starts with Mark Twain’s hard-boiled description of the infernal Hall of Justice in the late 19th century — a rogues gallery of vermin, where judges drop like flies from stress-induced heart-attacks. He then traces these noir elements to a doppelganger tale by Jack London, on to Hammett, and to contemporary authors such as William T. Vollmann, who writes what Maravelis calls "splatter-noir, where plutocracy has won and the dispossessed give graphic descriptions of the tears in the social fabric." Through recent stories by Janet Dawson, Oscar Penaranda, and others, Maravelis ups the ante, as if to say: this is the real San Francisco. Always has been, always will be. (D. Scot Miller)

ST. VALENTINE’S DAY NOIR

Sat/14, 8 p.m.

Ha Ra Club

875 Geary, SF

(415) 362-8193

www.citylights.org

———-

WARHOL LIVE

Edited by Stéphane Aquin

Prestel

272 pages

$75

Roger Copeland has his claws out at the very beginning of "Seeing Without Participating," an essay in Warhol Live, the LP-size silver-covered brick of a monograph accompanying an exhibition of the same name devoted to music and dance within Warhol’s gargantuan oeuvre. The target of his attack isn’t as noteworthy as the argument that follows, which is in sync with Peter Gidal’s recent writing on Warhol’s distinct repositioning of traditional forms of participation and spectatorship. From there, Copeland reveals filmmaker and choreographer Yvonne Rainer’s influence on Warhol. Some other musings within Warhol Live spotlight obvious or over-familiar aspects of Pop or rock history. But John Hunisak convincingly argues that Warhol shared Ondine’s love of Maria Callas and recognized her as a punk pioneer; Branden W. Joseph digs up uncommon information about Warhol’s brief stint as a member of a band called the Druds; and Melissa Ragona perceptively taps into Warhol’s (by way of Brigid Berlin’s) recordings.

The book’s vibrant and powerful visual presentation hints that the exhibition — which opens this week at the De Young Museum— might be more rewarding in terms of organization than content. Fluorescent 1980s portraits and Interview covers don’t flatter Warhol, who had fallen into embracing the past-prime Cars and talent-less groups such as Curiosity Killed the Cat by the time of his death. Still, it’s refreshing to see a gathering of sleeve art for his albums, and here and there there’s a surprise pleasure, such as the potent pages devoted to the color slides used at Exploding Plastic Inevitable events. (Johnny Ray Huston)

WARHOL LIVE

Sat/14 through May 17

De Young Museum

50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive

Golden Gate Park, SF

(415) 750-3600

———-

ANDY WARHOL: BLOW JOB

By Peter Gidal

Afterall Books

86 pages

$16

It’s too easy, really, to say that an 86-page appreciation of Andy Warhol’s Blow Job is the critical equivalent of the film’s title. One potentially funny — though also provocative — aspect of Blow Job is its 36-minute length, a span of time that would make any jawbone, even a purely imaginary one, ache. As filmmaker and writer Peter Gidal points out, that time span is partially achieved through projection — like Warhol’s screen tests, Blow Job is presented at the silent-film speed of 18 frames per second, though it was shot at 24 or 25 frames per second.

The temporal is one main focus of Gidal’s heady interpretation of Blow Job, which comes and goes much like the many-reeled subject, and which is art historical and philosophical more often than theoretical, and never vogue-ish when it tends toward the latter. One of the unexpected rewards of this book is Gidal’s discussion of paintings in relation to Warhol’s films, in particular Diego Velázquez’s sinister Luncheon or Three Men at a Table and Marcel Duchamp’s The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass). His passage about Warhol’s Shadow series of silkscreens is revelatory. Gidal persuasively removes Warhol from mere camp interpretation, even if his recognition of or devotion to the sensual aspects of Blow Job and Sleep (1963) is fleeting at best. At times, one wishes he could mirror rather than admire and explicate Warhol’s knack for expressing complex ideas in simple, monosyllabic terms. Like Roger Copeland in the new monograph Warhol Live, Gidal is most insightful when addressing the mortal themes and pull of Warhol’s art, and the challenging — and not merely transgressive — manner in which he reframes notions of acting and watching. (Huston)

To a pulp

0

› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Last year marked the 40th anniversary of the death of author Cornell Woolrich, darkest of the noir genre’s lost souls. Like so many of the milquetoast protagonists who populated his novels, Woolrich died an anonymous and ignoble death in a New York City hotel room. Years of alcohol abuse and a gangrenous leg amputation had left him an amorphous wad of a man. Though often credited with establishing the American roman noir ("black book") and indirectly developing its cinematic correlate, film noir, his literary legacy has largely been siphoned by hard-boiled mavericks like Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett.

Inspired by Dostoyevsky and Victorian poets like F.W. Bourdillon, whose 1878 ode "Light" provided the title to one of Woolrich’s most popular novels (The night has a thousand eyes, / And the day but one). Woolrich’s occasionally hackneyed poetics of the dark became his literary obsession. Besides 1945’s The Night Has a Thousand Eyes, there was 1959’s Death Is My Dancing Partner, 1948’s I Married a Dead Man, and a 1939 short story, "Through a Dead Man’s Eye." Few American writers so accurately portrayed the crushing boredom and fantasies of violence that existed in the postwar American metropole during the very years when suburbanization and media-driven consumption lavished the middle-class with giddy excesses. Biographer Francis Nevins perspicaciously sums up Woolrich’s life and career with one of the late author’s most nihilistic offerings: "First you dream, then you die."

The Pacific Film Archive’s "One-Two Punch: Pulp Writers on Film" retrospective celebrates the onscreen contributions made by Woolrich and his brethren in pulp — Fredric Brown, Jim Thompson, and Charles Willeford — from the halcyon mysteries of the ’40s to the bloody climaxes of the ’80s and ’90s. While many noir authors established reputations primarily on the page and others failed to make the transition to Hollywood, these four writers have had a particularly enduring relationship with cinema, as their stylized and iconic prose lent itself to arch visual expression.

Along with the über-popular James M. Cain, Woolrich and Thompson were responsible for much of the genre’s early vogue and were able to cash in on the development of the mass paperback (the primary medium for roman noir) precisely because their onscreen popularity had made the format financially viable. Woolrich’s publications-turned-films like The Phantom Lady (1944) and The Black Angel (1946), along with Thompson’s The Kill-Off (1989), signified the breadth of noir’s settings and styles by effectively trading the former’s claustrophobic Gothams for the latter’s dusty, open roads and seaside towns.

Discovered in Europe in the ’60s and ’70s, Woolrich and Thompson were critically acclaimed by French nouvelle vague writers and directors like Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut. Alain Corneau’s Série noire (1979), written by Oulipo poet Georges Perec and based on the 1954 Thompson novel A Hell of a Woman, is a conscientiously Francophone retelling of a most American narrative.

Fredric Brown, an eccentric innovator of the noir/sci-fi short story, had as much influence on the works of Philip K. Dick as those of Elmore Leonard. His 1949 novel, Screaming Mimi (Gerd Oswald’s film version, 1958), remains his most infamous contribution to the screen. Starring newcomer Anita Ekberg — later of La Dolce Vita (1960) fame — Mimi‘s lewd, serial killer-meets-stripper plot is a thinly veiled exercise in dime novel titillation.

Willeford, the most contemporary of the quartet, comes closest to representing the silver age of the genre, often referred to as neo-noir. Similar in style to Thompson, Willeford forgoes the moribund poetics of Woolrich and the whimsical perversities of Brown for more straightforward prose replete with crisp plotlines, raunchy interludes, and sociopathic villains. Willeford’s most popular novel turned film, 1984’s Miami Blues (George Armitage’s film version, 1990), demonstrated the crossover potential of crime fiction onto the screen at the beginning of the ’90s, anticipating the mega-popularity of Leonard and Quentin Tarantino.

"ONE-TWO PUNCH: PULP WRITERS ON FILM"

Feb. 13–28, $5.50–$9.50

Pacific Film Archive

2757 Bancroft, Berk.

www.bampfa.berkeley.edu

Dirty old town

0

It’s been eight years since Terence Davies gifted us with his sublime if slightly inferior film version of Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth. After various false promises from moneyed folks and battles with bureaucratic fools, he’s returned with a largely found-footage documentary — an extremely mouthy one.

Those who’ve seen Davies in-person know he’s far from the shy misery maven one might assume from autobiographical films such as Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988) and his peak work, The Long Day Closes (1992). He likes to spout a witticism or three. But even that awareness doesn’t quite prepare one for the full-boar melodramatic recital-ready voiceover of the made-for-TV Of Time and the City. At one point, discussing his first encounters with MGM musicals, Davies declares that he "swallowed them whole." In fact, here, his rich, raspy, megadramatic readings threaten to swallow the imagery he’s gathered just as wholly. He answers a great line about poverty from Willem De Kooning with an equally great insult about rich royalty. At other times he’s simply overwrought.

Of Time and the City is best when Davies lets the montage — or an excellent singer — do the talking. It’s uncanny how he choreographs archival material to perform the same slow retreats that characterize the ever-revealing dolly shots in his movies. As a soundtrack for wartime, the Hollies’ "He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother," is born again, so it’s a drag when Davies stuffily argues that the Beatles are provincial. Davies is a collagist with a strong nostalgia streak. Sometimes it spoils the best of him.

OF TIME AND THE CITY opens Fri/13 in Bay Area theaters.

Low camp

0

› superego@sfbg.com

SUPER EGO Is there any phrase lamer than "the future of dance music"? Every time I hear it, I flash unflatteringly back to the tagline for some horrid 2k5 Dutch hardcore trance Internet station: "The future of dance music … pzew! pzew! … is now — on Osterpoopen Trance-Radiogeschmacken Internet Stream-Schmeirtz!" Apologies, poi-twirling Netherlanders, but I do.

Future bass, a.k.a. lazer bass, a.k.a. turbocrunk, has willingly been saddled with the "future" burden — but if you haven’t hitched your hover-wagon to its woofer-cracking, hip-hop-deconstructing bleeps from the Death Star, you may really need to. Laptop dubsteb, future bass’s quaalude cousin, turned its back on hip-hop when Burial drowned Todd Edwards’ clunky house beats and got moody with the two-step diva samples in 2k7. Future bass ups the tempo and reinjects blingy rhymes, but runs them through the Ableton Moebius strip — so much so that San Francisco’s own Lazer Sword can flip Lil’ Flip’s "I’m a Balla" chorus into an Obama chant.

Until last month, alas, there’d been no regular party here to rep the baby genre. And with the general disarray of hip-hop nightlife, you’d think any sound that twists together T-Pain and Flying Lotus would be bong hits to those exhausted by the hip-pop vs. indie rap divide. Tired. Welcome, then, Bass Camp, a third-Thursday monthly at 111 Minna, brought to us by ArtNowSF’s Joseph Gross, Mochipet from Daly City Records, Josh Pollack of Euphonic Conceptions, and indie promoter Aaron Ketry. Although future bass is the highlight, this cluster of ravenous-eared rumblers, along with residents like Quitter, Shane King, MC Buddy LeRoy, and the totally crushable Epcot and Salva, just want to slap up SF’s low-end. Because, as the old saw goes, "Where’s the fookin’ bass?!?" The next Bass Camp on Feb. 19 takes a metal-crunk-mashup turn with Ludachrist, Kill the Noise, and Hookerz and Blow.

Bass Camp every third Thursdays, 9 p.m., $10. 111 Minna, SF. www.111minnagallery.com

———–

THE ID LIST

"NIGHTLIFE"

Proof of intelligent nightlife in the universe? The brand-spankin’ new Cal Academy of Sciences gets batty every Thursday evening with primo local DJs in a laid back atmosphere, paired with informal talks with the biggest scientifical brains out there. First up on Thurs/12: Darwin gets OMmed, with OM Records’ DJ Fluid and J-Boogie, plus renowned natural historian Keith Thompson. Smart! Thurs/12, 6–10 p.m., $10. California Academy of Sciences, 55 Music Concourse Dr., SF. www.calacademy.org/nightlife

ALY AND FILA

If trance should come from anywhere, it should be Egypt — where they used to fatten you up with honey before they ate you. Cairo’s Aly and Fila, current princes of that most globalized, if not diversified, dance genre, will satisfy any cravings for the blam-blam, plink-plink-plink, blam-blam — and should be worth braving the usual weekend 1015 crowd for. SF’s Taj leads up. Fri/13, 10 p.m.–4 a.m., $20. 1015 Folsom, SF. www.1015.com, www.alyandfila.com

MY BOOTY VALENTINE

OK, new nightlife rule: after this party, anything with the word "booty" in it gets gacked. But — and this is a big but — I’ll make this one exception, if only because Miami’s DJ Craze, despite his Kanye associations, kicks serious cheek with his three-time World DJ Championship skills. Vinyl’s got back. Sat/14, 10 p.m., $10–$15. 330 Ritch, SF. www.330ritch.com, www.hacksawent.com

SOLO

"This Valentine’s Day, use those tears for lube" reads the tagline to this Homochic and Herrera Brothers succor for lonely alternaqueer boys. How could I improve upon that, except to tell you that DJ Jason Kendig will unleash some erotic disco at new hotspot Triple Crown. Bring your own towel. Sat/14, 10 p.m., $5. Triple Crown, 1760 Market, SF. www.triplecrownsf.com, www.homochic.com

UNICRONS

Is electro dead? Maybe, but let’s raid its grave. New local electro label Unicrons, of the energetic Work parties, still generates neon hearts from a spark. Its launch party includes superstar signatories Futuristic Prince, Media, and my current fave raves the Tenderlions, whose "In Addition" track makes me believe in life everlasting. Feb. 21, 9 p.m., $8. Mezzanine, 444 Jessie, SF. www.mezzaninesf.com

BALKAN MARDI GRAS

Wow, I’m totally not going to even touch on the similarities between the Balkans and New Orlean’s Ninth Ward — except to say they both sure know how to party, and there are usually a lot of tubas involved. The outrageous Kafana Balkan crew team up with puff-cheeked Brass Menazeri to celebrate Fat Tuesday with woozy Romani stomps and hyperkinetic reeling. Feb. 24, 8 p.m., $10. Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell, SF. www.rickshawstop.com, www.myspace.com/kafanabalkansf

>>View more Super Ego columns here.

True colors

0

› le.chicken.farmer@gmail.com

CHEAP EATS Red. Green. Yellow. Dark green. Orange. Light green to the point of being almost yellow. Earl Butter was showing me his peppers, which is not a euphemism. If it were, I wouldn’t know what it meant. So lucky for all of us, this was literal Truth. There they were, true peppers, in all their shapely and colorful glory, on Earl’s kitchen table. Some of them were in bags.

"Weren’t you born in Texas?" I said.

"No no," he assured me. "I lived there when I was little."

I said I hoped he didn’t intend to ever go back, because they might not let him in if they knew the way he made chili. As many kinds of peppers as possible, no meat.

For my part, forgiveness was automatic, not only because I love my buddy Earl, but because I wasn’t staying for dinner anyway. What a guy! When he cooks, he cooks for the whole floor, and some of the people on his floor are vegetarian.

Sure, I would do things differently. Either cook for myself, or move to a different floor. But I’m not Earl Butter, and this is an important point: I don’t know who I am.

Not the chicken farmer, that’s for sure. I gave my girls away and moved to a fancy-pants neighborhood in Oakland, arguably Oakland’s fancy-pantsiest: Rockridge. I’m mobile (new car), I’m upward (new car); if only I were young, I would be a yuppie.

And, to the extent that yuppies are kind of antithetical to, say, hippie new-age energy healer/poet types, I would embrace my new identity so hard its ribs would crack. I love where I live, and I love the people around me. On the other hand, I’m still as poor as pickle juice. I can afford to live in Rockridge because my apartment is free, in exchange for taking care of the kids sometimes, like picking them up at school, playing music with them, kicking a ping-pong ball in the park, and other things I love to do anyway, like helping with dinner.

Which reminds me: Earl Butter was making chili. But you can’t make chili on an empty stomach. I needed me a bath. But you can’t exactly bathe on an empty stomach either, if you’re me. So I tugged on his shirt sleeve until I’d tugged him out of the kitchen, clear out of his apartment, down the stairs to the Mission District, and into my car.

And we drove off in aimless search of cheap eats.

Found ’em! On Ocean Avenue, of all the crazy places, riding off into the Sunset. Eat First. What are you gonna do, name like that? We ordered hot and sour seafood soup, spicy chicken wings, kung pao chicken, and sliced pork with preserved mustard green.

But they wouldn’t let us have that last one. "It’s Chinese food," our waitressperson kept saying, shaking her head.

I countered with the unassailable argument, "And …?" But it wasn’t until I’d persuaded her that I’d had the dish before, many times, and loved it, that she agreed to include it in our order.

Reluctantly. Mutteringly.

Earl Butter pointed out that we were the only whities in the place, that everything else we’d ordered was classic whitey fare, and that no matter how badass I felt on the inside, I looked "irretrievably dainty" — even all sweaty and disheveled from back-to-back soccer games.

Waitressperson came back and said they were out of the pork with preserved mustard greens. Earl thinks she was lying. I believe her.

New favorite restaurant.

As for my new-age trucker mother … maybe you guessed already: he turned out to be more energy healer than truck driver, damn him. On our first date we walked and danced on the sidewalk, looked over a railing into a stream, then sat on a bench and kissed like crazy.

What a wonderful woman I was, he whispered in between things. Deep, oniony, complex, cute …

I had to say what else, and that was, more or less, it. He showed his true colors. I don’t know what shade of pale would describe them. Maybe new-age gray. He was not the color of peppers.

EAT FIRST

Daily: 5–9:30 p.m.

1540 Ocean, SF

(415) 587-1698

Beer

MC/V

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

Heterosexuality on parade

0

› andrea@altsexcolumn.com

Dear Andrea:

During sexual intercourse, what techniques can the woman do with her vagina to make sex feel really good for the man?

Love,

Trixie

Dear Trix:

Why is this question making me laugh? I’m afraid it might be — I’m almost positive it is — the indelibly etched sequence from an early South Park episode, the one where Winona Ryder shoots ping-pong balls … well, maybe you had to have been there. But it’s making me laugh, anyway.

So, what can you do with your vagina that doesn’t involve ping-pong balls? You do know you don’t have to do all that much, right, since the vagina is pretty much already designed evolved to feel good to penises? Unless there is a terrible size mismatch (in either direction, but I was thinking small M/big F), the man is not likely to have too many complaints. Aside from that, oddly, the answer actually is the ping-pong ball trick, or pretty near. Those Patpong ping-pong girls and their sisters, who made that sort of thing famous, were developing their pubococcygeus and associated muscles, doing the famous Kegel exercises. I think Kegels may be overrated — they are good for a lot, but the way they get written up you’d think they could reverse global warming, revive Britney Spears’ career (well, they might could do that), and figure out what to do about Gaza, all on their own. They can’t really do any of those things, but if you develop a whole lotta muscle tone down there, you can perform a modest version of the ping-pong trick and pleasantly surprise a boyfriend. You can add extra lube, you can try that warming stuff, you can play with ice, but mostly what you’re going to be doing is squeezing and releasing to various tempos and with varying degrees of pressure. Other than that, I’m afraid there just aren’t that many tricks the old girl can get up to. I mean, it can juggle, sort of, and do a good approximation of the squirting-flower joke, but it can’t spin plates or do a triple lutz or make an elephant disappear. And if it can make an elephant disappear, I’d really rather not hear about it.

Love,

Andrea

Dear Andrea:

Are there things I can do with my penis that will make sex feel better for my girlfriend? It’s good now, but I was wondering what could make it even better.

Love,

Eager Student

Dear Stu:

Well, look at that: a matched set! It’s like Noah’s ark, where the animals march in by twosies-twosies. What, you never sang that song at camp?

Sure, there are penis tricks, but you have to keep in mind that penises have many more unsatisfied customers than vaginas, so of course they would have to work harder. Unfortunately, most of those unsatisfied customers are not going to be satisfied by any sitting up and begging or rolling over you can teach your penis to do, because they need more and different kinds of stimulation than that sort of tricksiness is ever going to produce. There are a bunch of alignment techniques you can try, all which are aimed at giving her something to rub on — your pelvic bone is the best bet. Try a pillow under her butt, for starters. And try doggie-style with as much strong, forward pressure as you can muster. Until such time as your penis sprouts strategically placed knobs and spines, though (I saw that movie!), there is only so much it can do. This is why men (and dildo-wearing partners of whatever sex, come to think of it, although their penises often do sport strategic knobbies and such) frequently use fingers both inside and out, or apply other forms of technology you can get from catalogs. There have always been ringy-things with knobs and loony-looking Seussian things sold as "French ticklers," but the variety and ingenuity of some of the current designs is nothing short of breathtaking — and that’s just from looking at the pictures.

There’s also this fact, which always feels like a faint betrayal of the sisterhood to mention, but since it’s the truth and there are options, it’s kind of silly not to: lots of women will never come during intercourse, and lots of those don’t really mind as long as they get to at some point during the proceedings. So you can work on making it enjoyable/more enjoyable/extremely enjoyable, and your efforts will be appreciated but not necessarily pay off in the way you’d expect. Some women prefer the application of fingers, mouths, or devices (in combo or sequence) before the penis/vagina part, and some after. For some women, intercourse is foreplay. For others it’s afterplay all the way. You can’t guess, so you’d do well to ask or risk just annoying someone.

Love,

Andrea

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

Biodiesel’s leaps

0

› news@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY Biofuels, which decrease reliance on polluting and planet-cooking fossil fuels, made a couple of big advances in San Francisco in recent weeks.

Michele Swingers and Robin Gold seized the key market by opening Dogpatch Biofuels Station on Pennsylvania and 22nd streets. The youthful partners say it’s the only station in San Francisco selling B100, or fuel made from 100 percent organic matter. San Francisco Petroleum finishes a distant second by selling B20, which is 20 percent biodiesel blended with 80 percent petroleum diesel.

The independent owners of Dogpatch Biofuels take the extra green step by trying to tap production sources that are as local as possible. "We should always be striving for a comprehensive picture of the resources that go into the production and transport of fuel," Swingers said. "We believe that locally sourced biodiesel from recycled oil is a far cry from corn-based ethanol. Further, we believe it’s a sustainable diesel alternative utilizing a waste product."

Dogpatch gets its biodiesel from as far away as Bently Fuels in Reno, Nevada, which blends fuel from recycled components, such as used vegetable oil from restaurants. Many biofuel manufacturers here on the West Coast buy virgin oil from the Midwest because it’s pretty cheap. But buying virgin oil for biofuel can increase the demand for its edible sources, like soybean and rapeseed crops, and drive up the cost of food. Now think about transporting millions of barrels of biofuel by fossil fuel–powered truck across the country. It seems wasteful, defeating the benefits of sustainable fuel.

San Francisco’s municipal fleet is a prime culprit of unsustainable sustainability practices: it buys soybean oil from the Midwest to power its trucks and Muni buses. Karri Ving, Biofuel Program Coordinator for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, said that the city’s current system is better than using petroleum diesel from Iraq, but that it could be even more efficient.

Fortunately, Mayor Gavin Newsom just announced the launch of a new project that will take "brown grease" from sewers and turn it into a renewable biofuel for the city fleet. "Turning waste generated by local restaurants and other businesses into a sustainable fuel source is yet another major step in reaching our goals of carbon neutrality for city government by 2020," Newsom said.

He also touted the city’s progress toward other environmental goals, including zero-emission public transit by 2020, a 75 percent recycling rate by 2010, and zero waste by 2020.

"We are not going to be growing soybeans in San Francisco, so why not take this grease and make it into something usable and renewable, for that matter," Ving said.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the California Energy Commission awarded the city $1.2 million in grants for the project. The SFPUC will provide a solid model for other cities looking to adopt similar programs and even show them how to save a buck in the process. For example, by putting the biodiesel processor at the site of the Oceanside Wastewater Treatment Plant, the city repurposes property it already owns. Grease already gets stuck inside the plant’s "grease trap," racking up $3.5 million every year in cleanup costs. The new project will potentially save hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.

"The overall goal is for the wastewater division of the PUC to help the city gain fuel independence to import less diesel and export less grease to surrounding cities," Ving said. "Millions of pounds of rancid material is exported out of the city, making a case for environmental injustice." San Francisco’s brown grease is exported to East Bay landfills, which are often sited in areas with high minority populations. The Oceanside brown-grease project is supposed to be up and running by November.

"So if we can turn that tarlike bunker fuel into a clean-burning biofuel made from restaurant waste, it’s a win on a number of levels," Ving said. "The only downside is that we should have been doing this 50 years ago, but now we’re in a situation where we recognize the global and health issues, and we have a solution that we really want to get moving on."

The fight against local and global climate change is on. With small- and large-scale infrastructure falling into place, the biofuels movement in San Francisco is gathering momentum.

Iran here

0

› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER One can tumble into the disconnect between the reactionary brouhaha last year regarding then-candidate Barack Obama’s proposed engagement with Iran, and the reality, as Iranian-born, Indian-raised vocalist Azam Ali knows it.

"I always tell my American friends, ‘People love America so much in Iran, you wouldn’t be able to pay for a meal — they love Americans that much,’" says the Niyaz frontperson by phone from Los Angeles, where she lives with her husband and bandmate Loga Ramin Torkian and their year-old son Iman Ali. We talk days before Vice President Joe Biden proffers an olive branch to Tehran during the Munich Security Conference. "The one thing that the majority of Americans should realize is that the only country where people are pro-U.S.A. in the Middle East is Iran. The government, of course, is something very different."

"I hope this administration will start some kind of dialogue with the government of Iran," she adds. "It’s really unfortunate that my country is where it is. I’d like to see it flourish and become a part of the world."

Springing from the ashes of Ali’s old band Vas and Torkian’s former ensemble Axiom of Choice, Niyaz is doing its part in bringing together a few seemingly divergent communities: fans of electronica awash with Eastern beats, trance heads, and listeners of traditional Persian, Indian, and Turkish sounds. Their most recent double album, Nine Heavens (Six Degrees, 2008) is the ideal musical unifier for all those parties. One disc unfurls nine electronic originals ornamented with Sufi poetry in Farsi, Urdu, and Turkish, including several by 13th-century mystic and poet Amir Khosrau Dehlavi — who’s credited with inventing the Qawwali and, like Ali, was born in Persia and raised in India — and renditions of Persian and Turkish folk songs. The second, my favorite, delivers acoustic versions of the first disc’s tracks — eons away from the ecstatic pop of Googoosh, but as lush and appealing as the recordings by influential ’80s world-music crossover stars like Najma.

For her part, Ali clearly opens the emotional floodgates on numbers like "Tamana" — something to anticipate when she performs with her multi-instrumentalist husband, oud virtuoso Naser Musa and tabla player Salar Nader at Palace of Fine Arts Feb. 13.

It’s a talent she may not have been able to offer to her native country — "women are not allowed to perform there," she demurs — though Niyaz has played in Dubai and Turkey, where Ali and Torkian plan to relocate soon, and it’s made her popular with soundtrack composers looking for a sonic dose of the so-called Orient. Ali has sung on scores for films like The Matrix: Revolutions (2003) and TV shows such as Alias — all of which was accomplished without an agent.

"You really can’t support yourself doing the music we do," she confesses. "You don’t do world music for money. I’ve been fortunate. I’m not proud of all the projects I’ve worked on, but it has worked for me, though I don’t get to express myself doing that work. For the most part [clients] want the flavor — they don’t want something that is culturally specific. What a lot of Eastern music brings is just that kind of emotional intensity, that depth, they’re looking for."

Instead she looks to Niyaz for that artistic fulfillment. "We work totally backwards from people who do most electronic records," she explains. They record all their acoustic elements, then deliver the tracks to producer-collaborator Carmen Rizzo (Coldplay). "Sometimes we’re not able to incorporate all the acoustic elements because there’s not enough sonic space for them." The group realized halfway through the making of Nine Heavens that they had a rich acoustic album as well an electronic one. "A lot of times when you add electronics it seems like you’re trying to mask something that’s not there," says Ali. "But this reveals us."

NIYAZ

Fri/13, 8 p.m., $27–$53

Palace of Fine Arts Theatre

3301 Lyon, SF.

——-

MASTER MUSICIANS OF JAJOUKA


Brian Jones imbued the maestros with rock ‘n’ roll glamour, but it was the mesmerizing music that made an impact on figures like Ornette Coleman and William S. Burroughs. Live Volume 1 (Jajouka) ushers in the forthcoming films The Hand of Fatima and Boujeloud on the music, the musicians, and their influence. Wed/11–Thurs/12, 8 and 10 p.m., $30–$35. Yoshi’s, 1330 Fillmore, SF. www.yoshis.com. Also Sat/14, 2 p.m., free. Amoeba Music, 1855 Haight, SF. www.amoeba.com

NOFX


Party with them, punkers, in honor of the SF band’s 25th anniversary. The problem: getting into these sold-out blowouts. Wed/11, 8 p.m., $23. Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell, SF. www.gamh.com; Fri/13, 8 p.m., $22.50. Fillmore, 1805 Geary, SF. www.livenation.com; Sat/14, 8 p.m., $22. Parkside, 1600 17th St., SF. www.theeparkside.com; Sun/15, 8 p.m., $23. Slim’s, 333 11th St., SF. www.slims-sf.com

THE WHORESHOES


The Bay’s honky-tonk and old-time honeys bring out the uke and spoons for the SF Bluegrass and Old-Time Festival. Thurs/12, 9 p.m., $12–$14. Café Du Nord, 170 Market, SF. www.cafedunord.com

YO MAJESTY


"Kryptonite Pussy," anyone? Giving that electro a good hard God-fearing, out, and feminist twist, Shunda K and Jwl B will accept your tributes now. Fri/13, 10 p.m., see Web site for price. 103 Harriet, SF. www.hacksawent.com

THE MUSIC TAPES


A haunted symphony comprising singing saw, old-time banjo, magic tape organ, euphonium, and an NBA-size metronome materializes on Music Tapes for Clouds and Tornadoes (Merge). Tues/17, 9 p.m., $12. Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., SF. www.bottomofthehill.com

Public safety adrift

0

› sarah@sfbg.com

Shortly into his first term as mayor, Gavin Newsom told a caller on talk radio — who was threatening to start a recall campaign if the mayor didn’t solve the city’s homicide problem — that Newsom might sign his own recall petition if he didn’t succeed in reducing violent crime.

But Newsom didn’t reduce violence — indeed, it spiked during his tenure — nor did he hold himself or anyone else accountable. Guardian interviews and research show that the city doesn’t have a clear and consistent public safety strategy. Instead, politics and personal loyalty to Newsom are driving what little official debate there is about issues ranging from the high murder rate to protecting immigrants.

The dynamic has played out repeatedly in recent years, on issues that include police foot patrols, crime cameras, the Community Justice Court, policies toward cannabis clubs, gang injunctions, immigration policy, municipal identification cards, police-community relations, reform of San Francisco Police Department policies on the use of force, and the question of whether SFPD long ago needed new leadership.

Newsom’s supporters insist he is committed to criminal justice. But detractors say that Newsom’s political ambition, management style, and personal hang-ups are the key to understanding why, over and over again, he fires strong but politically threatening leaders and stands by mediocre but loyal managers. And it explains how and why a vacuum opened at the top of the city’s criminal justice system, a black hole that was promptly exploited by San Francisco-based U.S. Attorney Joseph Russoniello, who successfully pressured Newsom to weaken city policies that protected undocumented immigrants accused of crimes.

Since appointing Heather Fong as chief of the San Francisco Police Department in 2004, Newsom has heard plenty of praise for this hardworking, morally upright administrator. But her lack of leadership skills contributed to declining morale in the ranks. So when he hired the conservative and controversial Kevin Ryan as director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice — the only U.S. Attorney fired for incompetence during the Bush administration’s politicized 2006 purge of the Department of Justice, despite Ryan’s statements of political loyalty to Bush — most folks assumed it was because Newsom had gubernatorial ambitions and wanted to look tough on crime.

Now, with Fong set to retire and a new presidential administration signaling that Russoniello’s days may be numbered, some change may be in the offing. But with immigrant communities angrily urging reform, and Newsom and Ryan resisting it, there are key battles ahead before San Francisco can move toward a coherent and compassionate public safety strategy.

SHIFTING POLICIES


The combination of Ryan, Fong, and Newsom created a schizophrenic approach to public policy, particularly when it came to immigrants. Fong supported the sanctuary city policies that barred SFPD from notifying federal authorities about interactions with undocumented immigrants, but Ryan and many cops opposed them. That led to media leaks of juvenile crime records that embarrassed Newsom and allowed Russoniello and other conservatives to force key changes to this cherished ordinance.

Russoniello had opposed the city’s sanctuary legislation from the moment it was introduced by then Mayor Dianne Feinstein in the 1980s, when he serving his first term as the U.S. Attorney for Northern California. But it wasn’t until two decades later that Russoniello succeeded in forcing Newsom to adopt a new policy direction, a move that means local police and probation officials must notify federal authorities at the time of booking adults and juveniles whom they suspect of committing felonies

Newsom’s turnabout left the immigrant community wondering if political ambition had blinded the mayor to their constitutional right to due process since his decision came on the heels of his announcement that he was running for governor. Juvenile and immigrant advocates argue that all youth have the right to defend themselves, yet they say innocent kids can now be deported without due process to countries where they don’t speak the native language and no longer have family members, making them likely to undertake potentially fatal border crossings in an effort to return to San Francisco.

Abigail Trillin of Legal Services for Children, cites the case of a 14-year-old who is in deportation proceedings after being arrested for bringing a BB gun to school. "He says he was going to play with it in the park afterwards, cops and robbers," Trillin says. "His deportation proceedings were triggered not because he was found guilty of a felony, but because he was charged with one when he was booked. He spent Christmas in a federal detention facility in Washington state. Now he’s back in San Francisco, but only temporarily. This boy’s family has other kids, they are part of our community. His father is a big, strong man, but every time he comes into our office to talk, he is in tears."

Another client almost got referred to U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) even though he was a victim of child abuse. And a recent referral involved a kid who has been here since he was nine months old. "If the mayor genuinely wants to reach out to the immigrant community, he needs to understand how this community has perceived what has happened," Trillin said. "Namely, having a policy that allows innocent youth to be turned over to ICE."

Social workers point out that deporting juveniles for selling crack, rather than diverting them into rehabilitation programs, does nothing to guarantee that they won’t return to sell drugs on the streets. And making the immigrant community afraid to speak to law enforcement and social workers allows gangs and bullies to act with impunity.

"This is bad policy," Trillin stated. "Forget about the rights issues. You are creating a sub class. These youths are getting deported, but they are coming back. And when they do, they don’t live with their families or ask for services. They are going far underground. They can’t show up at their family’s home, their schools or services, or in hospitals. So the gang becomes their family, and they probably owe the gang money."

Noting that someone who is deported may have children or siblings or parents who depend on them for support, Sup. John Avalos said, "There need to be standards. The city has the capability and knows how to work this out. I think the new policy direction was a choice that was made to try and minimize impacts to the mayor’s career."

But Matt Dorsey, spokesperson for the City Attorney’s Office, told the Guardian that the Sanctuary City ordinance never did assure anyone due process. "The language actually said that protection did not apply if an individual was arrested for felony crimes," Dorsey said. "People have lost sight of the fact that the policy was adopted because of a law enforcement rationale, namely so victims of crime and those who knew what was going on at the street level wouldn’t be afraid to talk to police."

Angela Chan of the Asian Law Caucus, along with the San Francisco Immigrant Rights Defense Committee, a coalition of more than 30 community groups, has sought — so far in vain — to get the city to revisit the amended policy. "The city could have reformulated its ordinance to say that we’ll notify ICE if kids are found guilty, do not qualify for immigration relief, and are repeat or violent offenders," Chan said. "That’s what we are pushing. We are not saying never refer youth. We are saying respect due process."

Asked if Newsom will attend a Feb. 25 town hall meeting that immigrant rights advocates have invited him to, so as to reopen the dialogue about this policy shift, mayoral spokesperson Nathan Ballard told the Guardian, "I can’t confirm that at this time."

Sitting in Newsom’s craw is the grand jury investigation that Russoniello convened last fall to investigate whether the Juvenile Probation Department violated federal law. "Ever since the City found out that the grand jury is looking into it, they brought in outside counsel and everything is in deep freeze," an insider said. "The attitude around here is, let the whole thing play out. The city is taking it seriously. But I hope it’s a lot of saber rattling [by Russoniello’s office]."

Dorsey told the Guardian that "the only reason the city knew that a grand jury had been convened was when they sent us a subpoena for our 1994 opinion on the Sanctuary City policy, a document that was actually posted online at our website. Talk about firing a shot over the bow!"

Others joke that one reason why the city hired well-connected attorney Cristina Arguedas to defend the city in the grand jury investigation was the city’s way of saying, ‘Fuck You, Russoniello!" "She is Carole Migden’s partner and was on O.J. Simpson’s dream team," an insider said. "She and Russoniello tangled over the Barry Bonds stuff. They hate each other."

Shannon Wilber, executive director of Legal Services for Children, says Russoniello’s theory seems to be that by providing any services to these people, public or private, you are somehow vioutf8g federal statutes related to harboring fugitives. "But if you were successful in making that argument, that would make child protection a crime," Wilber says, adding that her organization is happy to work with young people, but it has decided that it is not going to accept any more referrals from the Juvenile Probation Department.

"We no longer have the same agenda," Wilber said. "Our purpose in screening these kids is to see if they qualify for any relief, not to deport people or cut them off from services."

Wilber’s group now communicates with the Public Defender’s Office instead. "Between 80 and 100 kids, maybe more, have been funneled to ICE since this new policy was adopted," Wilber said. "This is creating an under class of teens, who are marginalized, in hiding and not accessing educational and health services for fear of being stopped and arrested for no good reason, other than that their skin is brown and they look Latino".

Wilber understands that the new policy direction came from the Mayor’s Office, in consultation with JPD, plus representatives from the US Attorney’s office and ICE. "They bargained with them," Wilber said. "They basically said, what are you guys going to be satisfied with, and the answer was that the city should contact them about anyone who has been charged and booked with a felony, and who is suspected of being undocumented."

She hopes "something shifts" with the new administration of President Barack Obama, and that there will be "enough pressure in the community to persuade the Mayor’s Office to at least amend, if not eliminate, the new policy," Wilber said "The cost of what the city is doing, compared to what it did, is the flashing light that everyone should be looking at."

"It costs so much more to incarcerate kids and deport them, compared to flying them home," she explained. "And we have cast a pall over the entire immigrant community. It will be difficult to undo that. Once people have been subjected to these tactics, it’s not easy to return to a situation of trust. We are sowing the seeds of revolution."

WEAKEST LINK


When Newsom tapped Republican attorney Kevin Ryan to head the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice a year ago, the idea was that this high-profile guy might bring a coherent approach to setting public safety policy, rather than lurch from issue to issue as Newsom had.

Even City Attorney Dennis Herrera, who isn’t considered close to Newsom, praised the decision in a press release: "In Kevin Ryan, Mayor Newsom has landed a stellar pick to lead the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice. Kevin has been a distinguished jurist, an accomplished prosecutor, and a valued partner to my office in helping us develop protocols for civil gang injunctions. San Franciscans will be extremely well served by the talent and dedication he will bring to addressing some of the most important and difficult problems facing our city."

But the choice left most folks speechless, particularly given Ryan’s history of prosecuting local journalists and supporting federal drug raids. Why on earth had the Democratic mayor of one of the most liberal cities in the nation hired the one and only Bush loyalist who had managed to get himself fired for being incompetent instead of being disloyal like the other fired U.S. Attorneys?

The answer, from those in the know, was that Newsom was seriously flirting with the idea of running for governor and hired Ryan to beef up his criminal justice chops. "If you are going to run for governor, you’ve got to get to a bunch of law and order people," one insider told us.

Ryan proceeded to upset civil libertarians with calls to actively monitor police surveillance cameras (which can only be reviewed now if a crime is reported), medical marijuana activists with recommendations to collect detailed patient information, and immigrant communities by delaying the rollout of the municipal identity card program.

"In the long run, hopefully, dissatisfaction with Ryan will grow," Assembly Member Tom Ammiano told us last year when he was a supervisor. "He could become a liability for [Newsom], and only then will Newsom fire him, because that’s how he operates."

Others felt that Ryan’s impact was overstated and that the city continued to have a leadership vacuum on public safety issues. "What has happened to MOCJ since Ryan took over?" one insider said. "He doesn’t have much of a staff anymore. No one knows what he is doing. He does not return calls. He has no connections. He’s not performing. Everyone basically describes him with the same words – paranoid, retaliatory, and explosive – as they did during the investigation of the U.S. attorneys firing scandal."

"I’ve only met him three times since he took the job," Delagnes said. "I guess he takes his direction from the mayor. He’s supposed to be liaison between Mayor’s Office and the SFPD. When he accepted the job, I was, OK, what does that mean? He has never done anything to help or hinder us."

But it was when the sanctuary city controversy hit last fall that Ryan began to take a more active role. Sheriff’s Department spokesperson Eileen Hirst recalls that "MOCJ was essentially leaderless for five years, and Ryan was brought in to create order and revitalize the office. And the first thing that really happened was the controversy over handling undocumented immigrant detainees."

One prime example of Ryan’s incompetence was how it enabled Russoniello to wage his successful assault on the city’s cherished sanctuary ordinance last year. Internal communications obtained by the Guardian through the Sunshine Ordinance show efforts by the Newsom administration to contain the political damage from reports of undocumented immigrants who escaped from city custody.

Newsom solidly supported the Sanctuary City Ordinance during his first term, as evidenced by an April 2007 e-mail that aide Wade Crowfoot sent to probation leaders asking for written Sanctuary City protocols. But these demands may have drawn unwelcome attention.

"This is what caused the firestorm regarding undocumented persons," JPD Assistant Chief Allen Nance wrote in August 2008 as he forwarded an e-mail thread that begins with Crowfoot’s request.

"Agreed," replied probation chief William Siffermann. "The deniability on the part of one is not plausible."

Shortly after Ryan started his MOCJ gig, the Juvenile Probation Department reached out to him about a conflict with ICE. They asked if they could set up something with the U.S. Attorney’s Office but the meeting got canceled and Ryan never rescheduled it.

Six weeks passed before the city was hit with the bombshell that another San Francisco probation officer had been intercepted at Houston Airport by ICE special agents as he escorted two minors to connecting flights to Honduras. They threatened him with arrest.

"Special Agent Mark Fluitt indicated that federal law requires that we report all undocumenteds, and San Francisco Juvenile Court is vioutf8g federal law," JPD’s Carlos Gonzalez reported. "Although I was not arrested, the threat was looming throughout the interrogation."

Asked to name the biggest factors that influenced Newsom’s decision to shift policy, mayoral spokesperson Nathan Ballard cites a May 19 meeting in which Siffermann briefed the mayor about JPD’s handling of undocumented felons on matters related to transportation to other countries and notification of ICE.

"That morning Mayor Newsom directed Siffermann to stop the flights immediately," Ballard told the Guardian. "That same morning the mayor directed Judge Kevin Ryan to gather the facts about whether JPD’s notification practices were appropriate and legal. By noon, Judge Ryan had requested a meeting with ICE, the U.S. Attorney, and Chief Siffermann to discuss the issue. On May 21, that meeting occurred at 10:30 a.m. in Room 305 of City Hall."

Ballard claims Ryan advised the mayor that some of JPD’s court-sanctioned practices might be inconsistent with federal law and initiated the process of reviewing and changing the city’s policies in collaboration with JPD, ICE, the U.S. Attorney, and the City Attorney.

Asked how much Ryan has influenced the city’s public safety policy, Ballard replied, "He is the mayor’s key public safety adviser."

Records show Ryan advising Ballard and Ginsburg to "gird your loins in the face of an August 2008 San Francisco Chronicle article that further attacked the city’s policy. "Russoniello is quoted as saying, "This is the closest thing I have ever seen to harboring,’" Ryan warned. And that set the scene for Newsom to change his position on Sanctuary City.

PUSHED OR JUMPED?


When Fong, the city’s first female chief and one of the first Asian American women to lead a major metropolitan police force nationwide, announced her retirement in December, Police Commission President Theresa Sparks noted that she had brought "a sense of integrity to the department." Fellow commissioner David Onek described her as "a model public servant" and residents praised her outreach to the local Asian community.

Fong was appointed in 2004 in the aftermath of Fajitagate, a legal and political scandal that began in 2002 with a street fight involving three off-duty SFPD cops and two local residents, and ended several years later with one chief taking a leave of absense, another resigning, and Fong struggling to lead the department. "It’s bad news to have poor managerial skills leading any department. But when everyone in that department is waiting for you to fail, then you are in real trouble," an SFPD source said.

Gary Delagnes, executive director of the San Francisco Police Officers Association, hasn’t been afraid to criticize Fong publicly, or Newsom for standing by her as morale suffered. "Chief Fong has her own style, a very introverted, quiet, docile method of leadership. And it simply hasn’t worked for the members of the department. A high percentage [of officers] believe change should have been made a long time ago."

But Newsom refused to consider replacing Fong, even as the stand began to sour his relationship with the SFPOA, which has enthusiastically supported Newsom and the mayor’s candidates for other city offices.

"The day the music died," as Delagnes explains it, was in the wake of the SFPD’s December 2005 Videogate scandal. Fong drew heavy fire when she supported the mayor in his conflict with officer Andrew Cohen and 21 other officers who made a videotape for a police Christmas party. Newsom angrily deemed the tape racist, sexist, and homophobic at a press conference where Fong called the incident SFPD’s "darkest day."

"Heather let the mayor make her look like a fool. Who is running this department? And aren’t the department’s darkest days when cops die?" Delagnes said, sitting in SFPOA’s Sixth Street office, where photographs and plaques commemorate officers who have died in service.

Delagnes supports the proposal to give the new chief a five-year contract, which was part of a package of police reforms recommended by a recent report that Newsom commissioned but hasn’t acted on. "You don’t want to feel you are working at the whim of every politician and police commission," Delagnes said. But he doubts a charter amendment is doable this time around, given that the Newsom doesn’t support the idea and Fong has said she wants to retire at the end of April.

"I’d like to see a transition to a new chief on May 1," Delagnes said. "And so far, there’s been no shortage of applications. Whoever that person is, whether from inside or outside [of SFPD], must be able to lead us out of the abysmally low state of morale the department is in."

Delagnes claims that police chiefs have little to do with homicide rates, and that San Francisco is way below the average compared to other cities. "But when that rate goes from 80 to 100, everyone goes crazy and blames it on the cops. None of us want to see people killed, but homicides are a reality of any big city. So what can you do to reduce them? Stop them from happening."

But critics of SFPD note that few homicide cases result in arrests, and there is a perception that officers are lazy. That view was bolstered by the case of Hugues de la Plaza, a French national who was living in San Francisco when he was stabbed to death in 2007. SFPD investigators suggested it was a suicide because the door was locked from the inside and did little to thoroughly investigate, although an investigation by the French government recently concluded that it was clearly a homicide.

Delagnes defended his colleagues, saying two of SFPD’s most experienced homicide detectives handled the case and that "our guys are standing behind it."

A NEW DIRECTION?


Sparks said she didn’t know Fong was planning to retire in April until 45 minutes before Chief Fong made the announcement on Newsom’s December 20 Saturday morning radio show. "I think she decided it was time," Sparks told the Guardian. "But she’s not leaving tomorrow. She’s waiting so there can be an orderly transition."

By announcing she will be leaving in four months, Fong made it less likely that voters would have a chance to weigh in on the D.C.-based Police Executives Reform Forum’s recommendation that the next SFPD chief be given a five-year contract.

"The mayor believes that the chief executive of a city needs to have the power to hire and fire his department heads in order to ensure accountability," Newsom’s communications director Nathan Ballard told the Guardian.

According to the city charter, the Police Commission reviews all applications for police chief before sending three recommendations to the mayor. Newsom then either makes the final pick, or the process repeats. This is same process used to select Fong in 2004, with one crucial difference: the commission then was made up of five mayoral appointees. Today it consists of seven members, four appointed by the mayor, three by the Board of Supervisors.

Last month the commission hired Roseville-based headhunter Bob Murray and Associates to conduct the search in a joint venture with the Washington-based Police Executive Research Forum, which recently completed an organizational assessment of the SFPD. Intended to guide the SFPD over the next decade, the study recommends expanding community policies, enhancing information services, and employing Tasers to minimize the number of deadly shootings by officers.

"The mayor tends to favor the idea [of Tasers] but is concerned about what he is hearing about the BART case and wants closer scrutiny of the issue," Ballard told us last week.

Potential candidates with San Francisco experience include former SFPD deputy chief Greg Suhr, Taraval Station Captain Paul Chignell, and San Mateo’s first female police chief, Susan Manheimer, who began her career with the SFPD, where her last assignment was as captain of the Tenderloin Task Force.

"It would be wildly premature to comment on the mayor’s preference for police chief at this time," Ballard told the Guardian.

Among the rank and file, SFPD insider Greg Suhr is said to be the leading contender. "He’s very politically connected, and he is Sup. Bevan Dufty’s favorite," said a knowledgeable source. "The mayor would be afraid to not get someone from the SFPD rank and file."

Even if Newsom is able to find compromise with the immigrant communities and soften his tough new stance on the Sanctuary City policy, sources say he and the new chief would need to be able to stand up to SFPD hardliners who push back with arguments that deporting those arrested for felonies is how we need to get rid of criminals, reduce homicides, and stem the narcotics trade.

"The police will say, you have very dangerous and violent potential felons preying on other immigrants in the Mission and beyond," one source told us. "They would say [that] these are the people who are dying. So if you are going to try and take away our tools — including referring youth to ICE on booking — then we will fight and keep on doing it."

While that attitude is understandable from the strictly law and order perspective, is this the public safety policy San Francisco residents really want? And is it a decision based on sound policy and principles, or merely political expediency?

Sup. David Campos, who arrived in this country at age 14 as an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala, says he is trying to get his arms around the city’s public safety strategy. "For me, the most immediate issue is the traffic stops in some of the neighborhoods, especially in the Mission and the Tenderloin," said Campos, a member of the Public Safety Committee whose next priority is revisiting the Sanctuary City Ordinance. "I’m hopeful the Mayor’s Office will reconsider its position. But if not, I’m looking at what avenues the board can pursue.

"I understand there was a horrible and tragic incident," Campos added, referring to the June 22, 2008 slaying of three members of the Bologna family, for which Edwin Ramos, who had cycled in and out of the city’s juvenile justice system and is an alleged member of the notoriously violent MS-13 gang, charged with murder for shooting with an AK-47 assault weapon. "But I think it is bad to make public policy based on one incident like that. To me, the focus should be, how do we get violent crime down and how do we deal with homicides?"

Campos believes Ryan has sidetracked the administration with conservative hot-button issues like giving municipal ID cards to undocumented residents, installing more crime cameras, and cracking down on the cannabis clubs. "I’m trying to understand the role of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice," Campos said, raising the possibility that it might be eliminated as part of current efforts to close a large budget deficit. "In tough times, can we afford to have them?"

The change in Washington could also counter San Francisco’s move to the right. Federal authorities, swamped by claims of economic fraud and Ponzi schemes, might lose interest in punishing San Francisco for its Sanctuary City-related activities now that President Barack Obama has vowed to address immigration reform, saying he wants to help "12 million people step out of the shadows."

"It’s hard to believe that there isn’t going to be some kind of change," another criminal justice community source told us. "A lot of this is Joe Russoniello’s thing. Sanctuary City ordinances and policies have been a target of his for years."

Rumors swirled last week that Russoniello might have already received his marching orders when Sen. Barbara Boxer announced her judicial nomination committees, which make recommendations to Obama for U.S. District Court judges, attorneys, and marshals.
Boxer will likely be responsible for any vacancies in the northern and southern districts, while Feinstein, who is socially friendly with the Russoniello family, will take charge of the central and eastern districts. Criminal justice noted that Arguedas, who San Francisco hired to defend itself against Russoniello’s grand jury investigation, is on Boxer’s Northern District nomination committee.
Boxer spokesperson Natalie Ravitz told the Guardian she was not going to comment on the protocol or process for handling a possible vacancy. "What I can tell you is that Sen. Boxer is accepting applications for the position of U.S. Attorney for the Southern District (San Diego), a position that is considered vacant," Ravitz told us. "Sen. Feinstein is handling the vacancy for the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District. Beyond that I am not going to comment. If you have further questions, I suggest you call the Department of Justice press office."
DOJ referred us to the White House, where a spokesperson did not reply before press time. Meanwhile Russoniello has been publicly making the case for why he should stay, telling The Recorder legal newspaper in SF that morale in the U.S. Attorney’s San Francisco office is much improved, with fewer lawyers choosing to leave since he took over from Ryan.
That’s small consolation, given widespread press reports that Ryan had destroyed morale in the office with leadership that was incompetent, paranoid, and fueled by conservative ideological crusades. Now the question is whether a city whose criminal justice approach has been dictated by Ryan, Fong, and Newsom — none of whom would speak directly to the Guardian for this story — can also be reformed.

SEX SF Feb 13

0

Bar Jules

0

› paulr@sfbg.com

From hither and yon comes word that the restaurant world is troubled. Nice spots are half-empty in San Diego, greasy spoons are going out of business in small Great Lakes burgs, and even in our own golden city, a slick new restaurant in the Mission District was pretty torpid on a recent Saturday in prime time, according to my friend the reconnaissance man.

Then there’s Bar Jules, which is snuggled into a slender spot next to Suppenküche in Hayes Valley, and still seems to be packing them in, even as the wreckage of the Bush demolition derby continues to accumulate, like rubble in the streets of a bombed city. If your idea of fun is to sit at a Parisian-snug bistro table, a mere elbow’s throw from tablesful of 30-ish wine hipsters — I lost count of the number of times I overheard the word "awesome" with respect to this or that cult vineyard or vintage — then you will love Bar Jules.

As for me: I find that while eavesdropping can be fun, compulsory eavesdropping is seldom fun. Also, I dislike the heavy-framed spectacles currently in hipster vogue, and I fear they come from France, a land I otherwise have the greatest admiration for. No elbows (or shoes!) were thrown at the hipsters, but I could not stop longing for some modified version of that big red Staples button, which, with an "awesome" floating toward me, I would push, and there would be a gentle, obliterating bzzzzt. That would be awesome, in the Dame Edna sense.

Bar Jules isn’t exactly a French restaurant, but it does have the bustling feel of a boîte in one of Paris’ edgier arrondissements. The restaurant, which opened last spring, features the cooking of chef and owner Jessica Boncutter, whose Zuni pedigree is very much in evidence on the menu. The cooking speaks largely in a Mediterranean vernacular; it’s peasant food that’s donned its Sunday best for church. But because this is California, other influences make themselves felt as well, and the restaurant quietly but firmly pursues a commitment to local and organic foodstuffs.

Among the least Zuni-ish of the dishes we came across was a shallow bowl of cochinitas ($10): shreds of pulled pork laid across a bed of short-grain rice, with twirls of pickled white onion scattered across the top. We were advised that the cochinitas were spicy, but apparently the sense of spiciness is relative, since we found the pork tasty but not even slightly incendiary. A little color would have been welcome, although in general the kitchen seems attentive to the visual dimension of food.

Among the most Zuni-ish dishes was an arugula salad ($9) tossed with walnuts and red beets, lifted by a creamy coriander vinaigrette. And I mean coriander not in the cilantro sense but in the spice sense; the plant’s seeds, when dried, resemble large white peppercorns and, when crushed, release a (to me) spicy-nut essence. That essence brought balance to the vinaigrette and helped boost the beets, which for me never taste quite as good as they look.

The bigger plates were nicely sized, not huge. A chunk of bluenose sea bass ($26) washed ashore on a rubbly winter beach of cannellini beans, shreds of braised fennel root, and black and green olives. I would describe this dish as quintessentially in the Zuni style: elegant rather than fancy, with enough high-quality ingredients to form an ensemble but not so many as to start drowning one another out.

The vegetable platter ($17), on the other hand, did suffer from a bit of crisping-bin clutter. The star of the plate was a single round of sweet potato, softened and lightly charred on the grill, and it was good. But around it clamored a madding crowd of grilled leeks, beets, cannellini beans, and quartered baby artichokes, each a worthy player but somehow not connected to the others.

Although I am not a vegetarian, I appreciate the fact that Bar Jules takes vegetarians into account. But a kind of "chef’s surprise" vegetarian platter did surprise me as being slightly retrograde; the better and more modern way is a seamless inclusion of dishes that are naturally meatless. Form lends coherence.

Chocolate nemesis ($7.50) sounded like such a forbidding dessert that we couldn’t resist it. What arrived was a wedge of flourless chocolate cake half-shrouded in whipped cream. To say that the cake was dense and moist is inadequate; it was a voyage into the very heart of well-moisturized chocoutf8ess. But I would have liked a raspberry or two — or even a blueberry — just for a touch of color. Like a bit of rouge on Dame Edna’s cheeks.

BAR JULES

Lunch: Wed.–Sat., 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m.

Dinner: Tues.–Sat., 6–10 p.m.

Brunch: Sun., 11 a.m.–2:30 p.m.

609 Hayes, SF

(415) 621-5482

www.barjules.com

Beer and wine

AE/MC/V

Noisy

Wheelchair accessible

Volume 43 Number 20 Flip-through Edition

0

The future of a giant landlord

0

OPINION The business model of CitiApartments is in crisis. The local landlord giant faces an avalanche of foreclosures, with almost 20 percent of its units being returned to lenders and dozens more properties in danger. A recent article in The Wall Street Journal blamed the credit market for the losses — but tenants standing up for their rights were a factor, too.

San Francisco renters have complained for years about the company’s practice of buying rent-controlled buildings then driving out tenants in order to re-rent their units at higher rates. In the past few years, tenant organizing has brought attention to CitiApartments’ aggressive tactics and put a kink in the company’s plans.

For years, CitiApartments has been accused of harassing tenants, with tactics ranging from illegal buyout offers to physical intimidation to intrusive surveillance. Tenants report living for months without walls and elevators, struggling with leaks and health hazards, with CitiApartments refusing to make repairs. Such problems are no accident: CitiApartments success depends on getting long-term tenants to move out.

Yet tenants are not sitting idly by. A campaign of tenants and advocates, CitiStop, has been educating new CitiApartments tenants about their rights. Over time, tenants have become less afraid and increasingly in touch with tenant advocates and lawyers. Tenants have pursued hefty private lawsuits and are also working with City Attorney Dennis Herrera, who is suing the company for numerous violations.

This campaign has had real results. Tenants are refusing to let CitiApartments force them out. And the organizing effort has helped defend rent control for all San Francisco tenants — CitiApartments owns such a large share of the apartment rental market that it is able to artificially raise rents citywide.

Normally foreclosures are bad news for tenants who have to deal with large banks unfamiliar with San Francisco tenant law. But in the case of CitiApartments, even bank ownership is an improvement. However, UBS, CitiApartments’ lender, has already made its first serious blunder by allowing CitiApartments to continue managing the buildings the bank now owns. UBS should seriously reconsider this decision, given CitiApartments’ track record.

The long-term fate of the buildings is an open question. An ideal solution would be for the city or a nonprofit to take over ownership of the buildings with the goal of providing permanent, affordable housing.

Though CitiApartments’ distressed mortgages are ideal candidates for federal aid, this option must be pursued carefully. It would not be helpful for the government to invest in these buildings based on CitiApartments’ claims that the company can recoup the money using the same flawed model that caused the problems in the first place. But as long as we avoid that trap, we have a great opportunity to meet the city’s pressing need for affordable rental housing.

CitiApartments’ business model has not been working for tenants for a long time, and now it is not working for CitiApartments. It is time to abandon speculative rental schemes and start prioritizing fair, equitable housing. *

Jane Martin is vice chair of SF Pride At Work and an organizer with the CitiStop Campaign.

Editor’s Notes

0

› tredmond@sfbg.com

It was kind of weird to be standing in front of the White House last week and not protesting anything. I’d been there so many times before, but always with a sign or a shout or at the very least a sneer: the White House wasn’t a symbol of hope as much as it was a monument to everything that infuriated me about the United States of America. The Reagan years, the Bush years, the Clinton years, the Bush years … I used to say, and it wasn’t that long ago, that I didn’t think the United States could ever elect a president I could actually believe in.

And late Saturday night, I was sitting in a hotel bar with a bunch of cynical editors and publishers from a bunch of cynical alternative newspapers — and everyone was talking about walking over to the White House. We knew the Obamas weren’t even there (they’d gone to Camp David for the weekend). And there wasn’t much to see, particularly late at night. But it felt like the street in front of the White House was just a cool place to be.

Pretty amazing.

Barack Obama has a remarkable amount of good will built up. He has a honeymoon period like no president has had in my lifetime. The left is generally patient, the center seems enthralled, and the right is a lot more muted in its criticism than we were when, say, Ronald Reagan took office on a wave of popularity. And his political capital is already getting tested.

It was astonishing listening to some of the debate over the stimulus plan. I’m not thrilled with the way the thing is coming down — it’s too small, it’s too focused on the private sector, there’s too much in tax cuts and not enough in spending. But the way the Republicans have been talking about the bill, particularly in the Senate, is mind-boggling.

John McCain (didn’t he just lose an election or something?) was blubbering away about "pork." Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona insisted that the bill "wastes a ton of money." Sen. Susan Collins of Maine introduced (and remarkably enough, got passed) an amendment reading: "None of the amounts appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used for any casino or other gambling establishment, aquarium, zoo, golf course, swimming pool, stadium, community park, museum, theater, art center, and highway beautification project." As if parks, theaters, and art centers are the same as casinos. (Remember, the Works Progress Administration, one of the most successful parts of the New Deal, built theaters and parks — and put artists to work, something missing from this bill).

Look: the only way the federal government can pull us out of this tailspin is with huge amounts of spending. You can’t spend $800 billion without wasting something, somewhere; some dollars will wind up getting stolen or diverted or used for the wrong thing, and some of what’s in the bill will be foolish.

But the notion that the people who created this mess, who used tax cuts and lax regulations to wreck the economy, should be criticizing government spending is more than a little nuts. You have to wonder: Why does anybody listen to these people any more? And why is Obama even trying to work with them?

Obama’s first prime-time press conference was a little shaky (although it’s hard to blame a guy who’s got the future of the world’s largest economy in his hands for not having a clear position on the A-Rod steroid scandal right now). The stress on Obama is already showing.

But he still has the political capital, and he ought to be playing a little more public hardball.

Ma’s JROTC bill needs to die

0

EDITORIAL With California in a cataclysmic budget crisis and a long list of problems on the agenda of the state Legislature, Assemblymember Fiona Ma has announced a bill that would force the San Francisco school district to bring back a military recruitment program. It’s an unusual tactic, and one with questionable legal grounds. It’s also inappropriate and bad public policy.

The school board has been debating the Junior Reserve Officers Training Program for years. Supporters promote the program, which costs the district $1 million a year, as a leadership training opportunity; for a lot of district kids, it was an alternative way to meet a physical education requirement. In reality, though, JROTC is, and always has been, part of the Pentagon’s effort to convince young people to join the military.

High school students, the target of the program, have always been vulnerable to recruiters. That’s why the military brass love anything that gets them into high schools. JROTC cadets are besieged with recruitment calls, and those efforts continue even after the kids have left the program.

The local queer community has been pushing hard to end JROTC in San Francisco, in part because of the Pentagon’s ridiculous don’t-ask, don’t-tell policy on gay service members. But even after that policy ends (and under President Barack Obama, it’s likely gay people will be serving openly in the military soon), JROTC is a terrible program for the San Francisco schools. If the best leadership training this progressive city can offer is through a model based on the values of the Army, something is very wrong.

And that’s what the school board ultimately decided. The board has voted to discontinue JROTC, as of this summer, and is moving to adopt an alternative leadership program.

But a few JROTC supporters, with the assistance of the local Republican Party, placed an advisory measure on the November 2008 ballot calling for the program’s continuation. With most activist energy going to support the Obama campaign and the efforts to elect progressive supervisors, the measure passed. But it contained no legal mandate, and the school board members, even those who support JROTC, have generally agreed that it would be a bad idea to revisit the issue. A clear majority of the board is prepared to let JROTC die and replace it with something better.

We can’t figure out why Ma has suddenly decided to make this a state issue. She told us that "the voters of San Francisco have spoken, and all I am doing is upholding the will of the voters." But the voters also elected school board members who think it’s best to eliminate JROTC.

More important, this simply isn’t Sacramento’s business. The Ma bill needs a two-thirds vote to pass, which means it depends on Republican support — and as Assemblymember Tom Ammiano says, "Do we really want the Republicans in the state Legislature to tell San Francisco what to do?" Even School Board member Hydra Mendoza, who supports JROTC, is opposing the bill: "It’s not appropriate," she told us, "for the state Legislature to overturn a decision of the San Francisco school board."

This would set a horrible precedent: every time the city schools took a progressive stand on some program, someone in Sacramento could come along and try to undo it.

Mayor Gavin Newsom should speak out against this bill, and Ma should withdraw it. If she doesn’t, the Legislature should reject it. *

“Fabliaux: Tom Marioni Fairy Tales”

0

REVIEW I like Tom Marioni for the same reasons that I dig New Order. Though the band came after Marioni’s early sound sculptures, both arose with driven clarity, holding up 20th-century culture to the eye of the storm. They’re like woodsy fairy tales gone splendidly, mockingly urban: you’ll remember the imagery, hear the melody, find them in your dreams, and hallucinate them on old concrete walls long after you’ve left the show. So it’s fitting that "Fabliaux: Tom Marioni Fairy Tales" includes both a selection of Marioni’s printmaking work, published with various master printers at Crown Point Press, and a book of sardonic, remixed fables, with the prints as illustrations of the tales’ philosophies. From the ghostly aquatint Process Landscape (1998) to the bold, blood-like lines of A Door Must Be Either Open or Closed (2002), the exhibition summons noisy spirits and stands up to multiple listening sessions.

I suffer from an inability to experience art, especially "silent" or conceptual art, without hearing things, and Marioni, a keystone in the California Conceptual Art movement and a San Francisco resident since 1959, makes it outright impossible for me not to hear a soundtrack alongside his prints, whether New Order’s song "Your Silent Face" or the faint sound of a poet repeating herself in the Northern California fog. At the recent Martin Puryear exhibition, across the street from Crown Point at SFMOMA, Puryear’s painterly forms had a hypnotic effect, and the most striking of Marioni’s prints here — A Rose … (2008) and Flying with Friends (Drypoint) (2000) — ring out like a reversal, a dis-assemblage, of that exhibition’s solid circles of wood, which were described by the curators as "wall-mounted ring forms" and by Puryear as "occupying the same space as paintings yet lacking a center." A Rose … references Gertrude Stein’s unforgettable phrasing, and looking at Marioni’s grassy drypoints I hear Stein’s wry lilt, her words running round and round.

Or maybe I just hear things because of all the free beer. Marioni recently staged a comeback of his seminal project, The Act of Drinking Beer with Friends is the Highest Form of Art (1970-ongoing) at a time when, as friends remind me every time Kanye West starts whining on the radio, nobody’s popping champagne.

FABLIAUX: TOM MARIONI FAIRY TALES Through Feb. 21. Tues.–Sat., 10 a.m.–6 p.m. Crown Point Press, 20 Hawthorne, SF. (415) 974-6273. www.crownpoint.com

Import Export

0

REVIEW E.M. Forster’s plea to "only connect" is given a scathing work-over in Ulrich Siedel’s Import Export, which makes its U.S. theatrical premiere at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Siedel provides more displays of our species capacity for spite, indifference, and brutality than all the Saw films combined, though nary a drop of blood soils the screen. Siedel has no need for Rube Goldbergian gore machines — the chips dealt by the fall of the USSR to the residents of the Ukraine, now parasitically exploited by its wealthier Western neighbors, are enough. That the film’s title coldly describes the movement of goods and services as well as the cross-border trajectories of its two main characters is no accident: no attempt at empathy or conscientiousness on their part goes un-snuffed under the grind of capitalism. Olga, a pretty Ukrainian nurse who makes money on the side working as a webcam girl, heads to Austria hoping to improve her lot in life. After being fired as an au pair, she winds up working as a cleaning lady in an eldercare facility, where she tentatively attempts to befriend the bedridden patients who are treated no better than used furniture. Olga’s narrative is intercut with that of Pauli, a muscled Austrian hood who aspires to become a security guard but winds up helping his lecherous father-in-law deliver outmoded gaming machines to Ukrainian housing blocks after being humiliated on-duty by a gang of toughs. None of this is easy viewing, and there are several moments — particularly with the elderly cast members who appear to be truly mentally ill — when one wonders if Siedel is in some way contributing to the grotesqueness he’s setting out to document. It is a question perhaps only answered by repeated viewings. That is, if you have the stomach for it.

IMPORT EXPORT plays Thurs/12–Sat/14 at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. See Rep Clock.

Valentine’s Day Music

0

PREVIEW There couldn’t be a more disaster-prone pairing than Friday the 13th and Valentine’s Day, but if the Black Valentine’s Masquerade on Feb. 13 at Mighty has anything to do with it, everything’s going to go horribly, horribly right. UK electro weirdo James Lavelle of UNKLE and DJ duo Evil 9 are slated to kick off a party that includes shambling zombies, friendly demonic folk, blasts of electro-metal, and horror-movie synths. To be sure, it’s a costume party, so try to remember that the ghouls and ghosties aren’t actually anything more than people in disguise.

John Cameron Mitchell, director of Shortbus (2006) and Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001), which he also wrote and starred in, proposes to tip off V-day with nothing less than a showcase on the origin of Love — or so the name of his gig and film screening would have you believe. Mitchell’s set to belt out a few numbers live onstage at the landmark Victoria Theatre, then screen his cult hits Feb. 13–15. The show also promises an exclusive director’s commentary on the goings-on behind the scenes, plus a slew of titilutf8g readings on sex, love, and romance.

If a more traditional concert is more to your taste, minus drippy musings on the perfume of roses and a huddle of cooing lovebirds, consider the Valentine’s Day punk rock soiree at Hemlock Tavern. The defiant lo-fi anarchists of Hunx and his Punx — a side project of Gravy Train!!!! keyboardist/vocalist Hunx — will bring their take on distorted garage rock to the fore, just as V-day winds down. Pitiless amounts of noise, anyone?

BLACK VALENTINE’S MASQUERADE Fri/13, 10 p.m., $15. Mighty, 119 Utah, SF. (415) 626-7001, www.mighty119.com. John Cameron Mitchell and Hedwig and the Angry Inch Sat/14, 7:30 p.m., and Sun/15, 8 p.m., and Shortbus Fri/13, 8 p.m., and Sat/14, 11 p.m., $25. Victoria Theatre, 2961 16th St., SF. (415) 863-7576, www.victoriatheatre.org. Hunx and his Punx with Dreamdate and Shannon and the Clams Sat/14, 9:30 p.m., $7. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. (415) 923-0923, www.hemlocktavern.com