Volume 43 Number 22-

February 25 – March 3, 2009

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Appetite: Txistorra burgers, ultimate bar food and a new Date Night


Welcome to Appetite, a new column on food and drink. Long-time San Francisco resident and writer, Virginia Miller, is passionate about this incomparable city, obsessed with finding and exploring its best spots, deals, events and news. She started with her own service and monthly food/drink/travel newsletter, The Perfect Spot, and plans to pass along up-to-the minute news to us. View her last installment here.

New restaurant openings

Flavors of Spain delight Noe Valley at Contigo

Noe Valley’s tastebuds awaken to the flavors of Spain as chef Brett Emerson shares his passion for and knowledge of Spanish cuisine in this week’s debut of his long-awaited Contigo. This isn’t your usual tapas joint. The gorgeous, sleek room, wood-fired oven, and charming back patio with emerging vegetable garden, set the stage for warm service reminiscent of a welcoming neighborhood hangout in Spain.

Conversing with friends over a glass of Cava, Sherry or Rioja, order fresh Anchovies straight from Spain, intriguing Oxtail Fritters, a salted Rock Cod and Orange Salad or the Txistorra Burger with manchego cheese and fried onions. If the sneak preview I attended is any indication, this will be many a local’s regular go-to for finely-crafted food that comforts as well as challenges the palate.

1320 Castro Street

Pickles opens in FiDi serving gourmet burgers under a retractable roof

The closing last year of Myth, one of our better upscale restaurants, was a sad one. But Myth alum chef Matthew Kerley has resurfaced in an unexpected place: the former Pickles (the new owners kept the name) which, prior to that, was Clown Alley. I personally am happy to see creepy clown motifs and circus colors gone. The place has gone upscale, or as upscale as a burger joint can, with brown tones and wood, a fireplace and a retractable roof in the shadow of the Transamerica Building. The menu entices with bacon burgers, mini corn dogs, beer-battered onion rings, sundaes and favorites from the also-shuttered Cafe Myth menu, like deviled eggs and Brussels sprouts. I’ve heard about long lines and service issues still to be worked out, but give ’em time… gourmet burgers are the right idea for the Financial District set by day or North Beach crowd at night (Pickles will soon be open till 3am; it’s lunch only until April 1st).

42 Columbus Avenue

Bar news

North Beach’s 15 Romolo re-invents itself with premium cocktails and crispy hot dogs

15 Romolo is back. The North Beach fave re-opened a few days ago, reinvented by bartenders from Coco500 and Rye. It’s in an alley, and there’s a still that speakeasy air about it, but the aqua-colored interior is gone, with a more understated look and neutral tones. $8 cocktails, like the Yellow Bicycle (St. Germain, Yellow Chartreuse) or a classic Corpse Reviver #2, are made with premium liqueurs, while there’s also a wealth of top shelf pours and gourmet beers, like local Speakeasy’s Hunters Point Porter. A kitchen is the biggest addition, with two deep fryers frying up tortilla-wrapped Crispy (hot) Dogs, Pork Sliders and Savory Funnel Cakes. Now that’s what I call the ultimate bar food.

Happy hour daily, 5-7:30pm
15 Romolo Place


Tre Bicchieri, Slow Food’s Italian Wine Awards, comes only to N.Y., L.A. and S.F.

Only coming to three cities – New York, L.A. and yes, S.F. — Tre Bicchieri (i.e. “three glasses”) is the Italian wine event of the year with some big names hosting. Gambero Rosso and Slow Food Nation are showcasing wine producers honored with the Tre Bicchieri award. Tickets are available through K&L Wine Merchants at $50, which includes a complimentary copy of Gambero Rosso’s “Italian Wines 2009” (a $40 value and guide to all things Italian wine). Sounds reasonable for the added bonus of being able to taste more than 100 wines at the event.

Fort Mason Center, Herbst Pavilion


Cafe Maritime impresses your date with free champagne and cream pie

Cafe Maritime
is one of those underrated gems that’s been around for years but many locals still don’t know about. One reason: it’s tucked in the midst of cheap motels and chain restaurants on Lombard Street, where a few unexpected spots reside (hello, the ultimate, Zushi Puzzle ?) Maritime is one of those cozy New England seafood houses serving buttery lobster rolls, crispy fish and chips and creamy chowders. Wednesday nights are now “Date Night Special” with a free glass of champagne with dinner and a free coconut cream pie to share afterwards. On top of that, there’s a new prix-fixe every night with three courses for $33, starting with New England Seafood Chowder or a salad, moving on to your choice of four entrees, ending with dessert.

2417 Lombard Street


Go whole hog with Meatpaper mag’s butchery class at UC Berkeley

The Society for Agriculture and Food Ecology starts the series, “Meet your Meat,” with “The Art of the Butcher,” a class at UC Berkeley hosted by Meatpaper magazine. The meat panel is all-star: Ryan Farr, formerly of Orson, now Ivy Elegance, A16/SPQR/Urbino’s Nate Appleman, Avedano’s Melanie Eisemann and David Budworth, Mark Pasternak of Devil’s Gulch Ranch and moderator, Marissa Guggiana of Sonoma Direct and Meatpaper. Ryan Farr demonstrates how to break down an entire carcass into cuts of meat, while the panel discusses getting whole animals from local slaughterhouses to more humanely, economically use all meat instead of buying plastic-wrapped grocery store meats.

UC Berkeley Campus, 105 North Gate Hall


RSVP: agrofoodecology@gmail.com

Lunch-drunk love


AVANT TO BE PUNK If any artist ever self-classified as trash, it was (is?) Lydia Lunch, original ’70s New York City No Wave princess (Teenage Jesus and the Jerks), ’80s underground film star (for Richard Kern, Scott and Beth B., Nick Zedd, etc.), and subsequent spoken-word performer and print autobiographer. In each medium her voice bottled the societally incriminating sarcasm of self-defined detritus, costume-partied as yesteryear’s bullet-bra’d sex object. By 1990, who beyond first-generation punk nostalgists gave a fuck? Europeans, that’s who.

That same year Lunch wrote and codirected (with Babeth Mondini) Kiss Napoleon Goodbye. The featurette — photographed by Mike Kuchar, no less — screened only in Dutch avant-garde and Berlin Film Festival–related events shortly after completion, then perhaps nowhere else until its recent release on the aptly named U.S. DVD label, Cult Epics.

It stars Lunch as Hedda, slinky spouse to Neal (Don Bajema). They’ve retreated to a lovely country château to reboot their relationship. This goes OK before Hedda hears from pal Jackson (Henry Rollins), who’s passing through on an author’s tour and wants to visit for the weekend. His arrival triggers an explosion of both Neal’s paranoiac imaginings and the filmmakers’ poetic ones.

Poet-novelist-playwright Bajema, at the time based in San Francisco and so sinewy he makes pumped costar Rollins look like an empty fitness showboat, was no trained actor. But his conviction as a man tortured by jealousy (and possibly madness) largely puts Napoleon across.

The film is a very odd duck, with aristocratic European locations juxtaposed against a primitive triangle drama, stilted lesbian scenes, bewildering historic flashbacks, Neal’s rather abstract meltdown, and the spectacle of macho lit-punk heroes muscle-tussling on a château lawn. There’s also experimental artist Z’ev as a guy aiming a trepanning drill into his own skull. Posting this under the Guardian‘s Trash umbrella is honest only in vague, associative terms: Napoleon‘s makers were clearly aiming for art beneath the coatings of irony, pop, and punk sarcasm.

An oppressive bounty of DVD extras reveal Lunch’s latter-day sub–Karen Finley spoken-word rants as heckle-worthy, and much-heckled. (Still, her core messages about institutionalized misogyny are hard to argue against.) It all makes one nostalgic for the ironic hatefuck retro sex-kittenry of 1980’s Queen of Siam, the best album Lunch ever made, with or without a band. "Pleasure is always made sweeter at the expense of others," her character says in a Napoleon voiceover. That’s not necessarily the voice of wisdom. Just the voice of Lunch.


Loving the enemy


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

REVIEW Nation, ethnicity, family, friends, gender, lover — where do our true loyalties lie? More to the point, when our multiple loyalties slip out of concentric orbit and collide, how much say do we really have in the matter? These questions arise provocatively from two very different plays making their Bay Area premieres.

In the first, Golden Thread’s generally sturdy West Coast premiere of Joyce Van Dyke’s A Girl’s War: An Armenian-Azeri Love Story, an aging Armenian American fashion model, Anna (Ana Bayat), returns to the war-torn village of her youth determined not to be affected by the ongoing ethnic strife that has just taken the life of her brother (Adrian Cervantes Mejia) and racked the Azerbaijani region of Karabakh since the late 1980s — converting her stolid yet hot-tempered mother (Bella Warda) into a machine gun–toting foot soldier for the Armenian cause. Almost flaunting her own aloofness and disapproval, Anna even resists calling herself Armenian and soon falls in love with a returning member of her family’s onetime Azeri neighbors, now antagonists: a passionate young deserter (Zarif Kabeir Sadiqi) who arrives stealthily one day at her mother’s house, which he and his family briefly occupied years before.

Van Dyke’s 2001 play opens on a world seemingly apart, however, as Brit fashion photographer Stephen (Simon Vance) snaps photos of the still-striking Anna, his old flame and muse, glowering at him in some haute-couture idea of battle garb. The contrast is key and works its way into the second setting in Karabakh, when Stephen and his cheerful but recently shaken assistant Tito (Mejia) arrive after escaping anti-U.S. feelings during a harrowing trip to Turkey. Here in her mother’s house, Anna’s two worlds collide even as she insists she needs no land, passport, or language to define her. Her stoic but long-suffering mother, however, shows little patience for her daughter’s flighty Western cosmopolitanism, and we are left with our own sympathies unsettled, fraternizing with all sides.

Along the way, the play neatly works a certain doubling conceit. The same actor playing the Italian American Tito, for instance, also plays Anna’s recently deceased brother, a spectral presence in the form of the far more severe but equally sensitive Seryozha. The implications are subtle rather than crude, suggesting the dramatic shaping done by circumstance across a universal segment of young manhood. And the climax, in yet another doubling, underscores the point resonantly, as another two seemingly very different characters lie side by side, brought together in death — the most democratic of states — and made mirror images of each other. It’s an effect that might have been overplayed, but under artistic director Torange Yeghiazarian’s confident direction it happily comes off with matter-of-fact simplicity. The play as a whole succeeds in similar fashion, overshadowing, if not altogether escaping, its more maudlin and moralizing tendencies with fitting dramatic tension, unexpected twists, and thematic delicacy.

TO HELL AND BACK Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, meanwhile, offers an admirably complex take on love and loyalty in the context of the proverbial war of the sexes, in director Buddy Butler’s graceful Northern California premiere of William A. Parker’s Waitin’ 2 End Hell. An African American couple (a towering Alex Morris and a slyly understated Pjay Phillips) find their relationship hitting the skids after 20 years of marriage, dividing along lines of gender solidarity the four friends who’ve shown up to celebrate their anniversary. If the title — playing on the Terry McMillan novel — isn’t that funny, Parker’s naturalistic dialogue offers consistent laughs and truths, pivoting expertly on the comic and tragic dimensions of male-female rivalry in the context of African American experience. There is one seeming misstep late in the plot — a slightly hard-to-believe change of heart evoked at gunpoint — but this is a surprisingly powerful and well-rounded comedy about love; the entwined politics of race, class, and gender; and the long haul every family faces.


Through March 8

Thurs.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; $15–$25

Thick House

1695 18th St., SF



Through March 1

Thurs.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; $24–$36

Lorraine Hansberry Theatre

77 Beale, SF


Maus trapped


› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER San Francisco street rats, go play some other day. House heads, scamper beneath some disco ball far away. And, kraut rock kidz, don’t you dare mistake Maus Haus for just another tinned Can tribute band — German spelling or nein — though the Bay Area ensemble has been known to rock the occasional Faust track behind closed doors.

Instead Joseph Genden, Tom Hurlbut, Jason Kick, Sean Mabry, Josh Rampage, and Aaron Weiss — all real birth names, folks — make some of the most original music to scuttle along the edges of aural indefinability, right here in the Bay. Just don those giant Mickey ears and take in the boom-bleat orchestral art-rock bounce, chugging motor-iffic rhythms, and squealing theremin-like shrieks of "Rigid Breakfast," the opening track of Maus Haus’ latest, Lark Marvels (Pretty Blue Presents, 2008). Fractured psych patients, bent-but-not-broken folk-funksters, soft-acid bluesmen, Silver Apples acolytes, and Captain Beefheart praise-sayers — all these descriptors touch on, yet don’t quite capture, the inviting, inventive sonic nest Maus Haus has built.

"It’s a project that started out as a guideline of concepts that we wanted to fulfill but we had no actual idea of what the music would sound like," explains drummer-keyboardist-multi-instrumentalist Mabry by speaker phone alongside Kick.

"We definitely like a lot of late ’60s psychedelia — that’s something we all agree on," vocalist-keyboardist Kick adds. "But we didn’t intend to do anything with a retro sheen necessarily." Rather, Maus Haus chose to simply identify with the pioneering spirit of early psych. "Our heart is kind of in the same place," he says.

Hard to believe this gang of friends — some assembled via Craigslist, a clutch relocated from the Midwest (Wisconsin, Michigan, and Indiana), two hailing from Sacramento and Half Moon Bay, and all involved in bands as varied as Social Studies, Battlehooch, and Pope of Yes — started working on music together just two years ago, and at the encouragement of friends, they played live together for the first time a year ago. "It felt like there needed to be a band to represent the songs," Kick says, "instead of it just being an esoteric recording project.

Enter the crazy quilt of onstage instrumentation, in full pack-rat effect when Maus Haus played Bottom of the Hill not long ago. "We have so much stuff onstage it’s kind of ridiculous," says Kick. He counts off a Rhodes keyboard, Omnichord, drum set, assorted floor toms, an electronic drum pad, two MicroKorgs, the theremin-emuutf8g Chaos Pad, trombone, sax, trumpets, bass guitar, MIDI controller, and laptop, though he says, "We might stop using the laptop because computers shut down at the worst times." Sounds like the song "We Used Technology (But Technology Let Us Down)" was written from experience.

So what are these brain baths that Maus Haus recommends as one of several "special things to do" on their MySpace site? That suggestion, along with the rest of the list, emerged from a series of surrealist word games undertaken to generate lyrics. "Nerdy but true," says Kick. Still, one imagines a good saline solution dousing — accompanied by Maus Haus’ bubbling score — might set the imagination reeling. "You can do it clothed," Kick offers, "or naked."


Fri/27, 5 p.m., free


806 So. Van Ness, SF


Also March 4, 8 p.m., $8

Rickshaw Stop

155 Fell, SF




Who’s brave enough to tackle a 1971 rock opus its very creator could never conjure live? Bay Area rock brainiacs Mushroom — that’s who. And here they go again — reprising their Feb. 21 Make-Out Room reprise of Pete Townshend’s Lifehouse, which was scuttled by the Who and ended up in pieces on Who’s Next (MCA, 1971). "The main thing," e-mails Mushroom maven Pat Thomas, "is that there have been a lot of ‘tribute’ shows and even ‘tributes’ to specific albums, but in this case, Mushroom is performing a ‘rock opera’ that the band themselves (the Who) never got around to performing." This time around, Naked Barbies’ Patty Spiglanin will fill in as Roger Daltry, Citay’s Josh Pollock will shoulder Pete Townshend duties, Brightblack Morning Light’s Matt Cunitz will be Nicky Hopkins, and Thomas will ape Keith Moon. Townshend was never able to talk the rest of the Who into realizing his Matrix-ish, Web-prophesying sci-fi followup to Tommy, but, according to Thomas, "It’s PT’s intensity and conviction that led me to explore the possibility of performing Lifehouse, music that I’ve been obsessed with for 34 years." Mike Therieau will open with a tribute to Ronnie Lane and the Faces.

March 6, 10 p.m., $10. Starry Plough, 3101 Shattuck, Berk. www.starryploughpub.com




Soulful indie emanates from the former SF/Sacto twosome; skirt-swirling pop from the latter Brisbane, Australia pair. With Matt Costa and Robert Francis. Wed/25, 8 p.m., $25. Slim’s, 333 11th St., SF. www.slims-sf.com


Stately black metal growl from the SF/Brooklyn combo, which celebrates its new self-released CD, Beneath the Hooves of Time. With Grayceon, Nero Order, and Wanteds. Sun/1, 8 p.m., $8. Parkside, 1600 17th St., SF. www.theeparkside.com


Oakland’s own takes out his classic throwback R&B once again, after a series of dates opening for Columbia labelmate John Legend. Tues/3, 8 p.m., $32.50. Fillmore, 1805 Geary, SF. www.livenation.com

Two’s the charm


You could dig up what you need to know about Baltimore, Md.’s Thank You on the Internet pretty easily: names, dates, discography, samples, and pics. Friends of mine released a real labor-of-love album recently, and a preliminary Lycos search turned up a review that was 90 percent press release. This is the kind of disappointment that makes me think rock criticism à la Richard Meltzer — the kind that trades in imaginative, frequently lazy yet still illuminating misinformation — is due for a comeback.

Judging by the name, I thought Thank You was the sort of band to be "in" on these sorts of pranks at rock’s expense. But search "thank+you+band" and blam, there it is. Thank You has a bona fide album on a serious indie, Terrible Two (Thrill Jockey, 2008), and, depending on your perspective, it can count as a long EP or short LP.

The opening track, "Empty Legs," is an oceanic expanse of faux-metal churn. The whistle toots toward the beginning reach out to fellow Thrill Jocks OOIOO’s ecstatic, kinda impenetrable Taiga (2006), but once the musicians settle in, the flashbacks are of the Don Caballero/Storm and Stress variety. It’s perverse post-rock all the way, but you probably knew that anyway, based on song titles like "Embryo Imbroglio."

Terrible Two‘s best quality is precisely that we don’t know what to make of it. That’s the point of the album and what makes the band a close fit with post-rock’s steez. Many standard-issue indie descriptors apply to Thank You’s music — it’s rhythmic and sports chanty vocals and so-called tribal percussion — but there’s a lingering question over what we’re supposed to do with it. Zone/make/freak out? The music doesn’t hang together in an album-as-statement way: it just drifts in and out of cymbal-showered cosmic grooves.

Thrill Jockey describes Thank You’s sound as a resource for "beat-diggers and electronic artists," raw material for repurposing, but don’t be discouraged by the ambiguity. The toxic assets spilling out of indie’s boom and bust aren’t crispy organs and tuned tom-toms — instead they’re everything embodied by Beirut and Jeremy Jay. Those dudes took it too far, while Thank You, like tourmates Mi Ami, take it further out. For examps, the only reason to tune out of the chugging, hypnotic middle section of the slothy title track would be to peep the mind-melting percussive discourses of N’Diaye Rose Sabar Group’s video clips — though you’d still end up coming back to finish "Terrible Two" off.

Chris Coady, who’s worked with fellow Charm City residents Celebration, mixed Terrible Two and gives it the saturated, subtly warped tone that sounds like a really classy 4-track, a sound Beach House also go in for. The production enhances the already-glassy quality of the songs. I imagine Thank You’s process for composing as something I christen "deep jamming": discarding the first dozen ideas that you stumble upon as a group, then reducing the 13th riff by half and looping indefinitely. In this sense, Thank You could have existed in the mid-’90s without arousing suspicions of time travel: it sounds like the ensemble mainly uses the computer to check out A Minor Forest’s brainwashed.com page and play Minesweeper.

As far as Bmore bands go, this threesome out-Apollonian Animal Collective. Or out-Dionysian. We can leave that to the unspecified future lady/dude with the sampler to figure out.


With Mi Ami and JAWS

Fri/27, 9:30 p.m., $7

Hemlock Tavern

1131 Polk, SF

(415) 923-0923


Ridin’ the synergy


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Listening to Keelay & Zaire’s debut, Ridin’ High (MYX Music Label), is like being transported back to Bay Area hip-hop in the early ’90s. Remember those glory days? Hobo Junction and Hieroglyphics battled for supremacy; the Invisibl Skratch Piklz and Bomb Records sparked the turntablism movement; and Celly Cel, Spice-1, Richie Rich, and the Click created mob music.

Production team Tim "Zaire" Lewis and Kyle "Keelay" Pierce evoke that era with balletic numbers such as "I’m on Swerv," with its Zapp-style — not T-Pain style — Auto-Tunin’, and laid-back gangsta soul like "Alright with Me" and "Nurf to the Turf." The cast itself isn’t Bay-specific. Its geographical makeup — a product of connections made through MySpace pages and online community forums — ranges from Raleigh, N.C. (Phonte Coleman and Darien Brockington) to Bloomberg, N.J. (rising producer Illmind’s group Fortilive). It’s a result of Internet hustling, and the chorus line raps, sings, swaggers, and jostles for attention. But the smooth, breezy, Dayton-tires-rolling-on-concrete tone remains.

"We really just wanted to make something that would give the listener the feeling of riding around in a car," says Keelay by phone. A Salt Lake City transplant, he enrolled at San Francisco State seven years ago. "After college, I just didn’t want to leave," he remembers. "I loved it in the Bay Area. It quickly became my home."

Keelay met Zaire on the UndergroundHipHop.com — once ughh.com — message boards. Both work 9-to-5 gigs: Keelay is a computer technician for Wells Fargo. Zaire, who lives in Newport News, Va., is a government contractor who mysteriously performs "intelligence work." ("I don’t know what he does!" answers Keelay when pressed for details.) Without a label deal, they painstakingly cobbled together Ridin’ High over two years, paying for the guest appearances themselves, though, Keelay adds, "a lot of people were really generous," and did it for free. "Me and Zaire had to send beats and sessions back and forth" via e-mail, he says. "We did it all through the Internet."

Now MYX Music Label (MML), who signed Keelay & Zaire to a deal last fall, has chosen Ridin’ High as its first major release. MML is a subsidiary of ABS-CBN Global, a Philippines media company that launched a U.S. version of MYX TV in 2007. According to Karim Panni, who manages the imprint, the "music lifestyle channel" can only be seen on DIRECTV in the Bay Area. But it is working on various deals that will widen its reach. Meanwhile, Comcast carries MYX’s most popular show, Built from Scratch, through its On Demand channel.

"There’s a lot of work that goes into getting added onto Comcast. But we’re working on it," says Panni, also known as Nightclubber Lang, one-third of the Seattle group Boom Bap Project. "I was on tour with Brother Ali, and the owner [of MYX] asked me if I wanted to run his record label."

It seems odd that a multimedia company with international ambitions would choose an indie rapper to launch a record label. And judging from MML’s release slate — including 20 C Energizers, described in press materials as a "hip-hop CD produced solely by Asian MCs, producers, DJs and singers," and MYX TV-affiliated DVDs such as Slanted Comedy, which showcases Asian American comedians — MYX appears to target Asian youth culture. But when asked about MYX’s Asian identity, Panni bristles. "I’m not trying to be typecast as an Asian label," he says. "We’re not trying to market to a niche audience. We’re reaching out to everybody."

"These days, with the Internet, the lines between major and underground are really fine. So instead of looking for this type or that type of rapper, I just look for the people who are making really good music that I would like," Panni adds. His expectations for Keelay & Zaire are modest: "Really, to establish themselves in the Bay Area, in the California market, and then become one of the elite production duos in the game. This is a good jump-off to show what they can do."


With Blue Scholars, Grynch, and DJ Vin Roc

Sun/1, 9 p.m., $12–<\d>$15


333 11th St., SF

(415) 522-0333


Speed Reading



By Robert Flynn Johnson

University of California Press

208 pages


A shop in the Tenderloin sells anonymous photos. The pictures are messily packed in boxes and labeled according to whether the subject, sometimes but not always graphic (there are plenty of head shots of failed actors, for example), is heterosexual or homosexual. As digital images fly and float through the Internet, I’ve thought about those boxes of snapshots, their mix of allure, mystery, and depressing banality. With The Face in the Lens: Anonymous Photographs, a sequel to his acclaimed monograph Anonymous (Thames and Hudson, 2005), Robert Flynn Johnson both expands and refines the type of gathering and organization I discovered in that store.

Alexander McCall Smith’s brief intro, which imagines stories around some of the book’s images, isn’t as effective as Johnson’s essay, which connects obvious critical sources such as Susan Sontag with aphorisms on sight and photography from W.H. Auden and Jean Cocteau. Johnson is out to find the many spaces between the sentimentality of humanistic projects such as the 1955 book and exhibition, The Family of Man, and the morbid focus of monographs such as 1973’s Wisconsin Death Trip. He does so with 1880s daguerreotypes and late-1980s color snapshots. We see Robert F. Kennedy on the day of his death, mass hangings in the Soviet Union, flying leaps from flaming buildings, storm troopers in suburban backyards, kids smoking, infants in dresses holding rifles, men in drag or kissing by Christmas trees, and naked women soldering. Few images are obvious or dull. Some are worthy of a Ralph Eugene Meatyard or Weegee. The power of others resides in the relationship between clueless photographer and defiant or sad subject. (Johnny Ray Huston)


By Trevor Paglen


324 pages


In 2006’s Torture Taxi: On the Trail of the CIA’s Rendition Flights (Melville House), Trevor Paglen worked with former Guardian writer A.C. Thompson to reveal the subculture of "planespotting" and the realities behind terms such as "rendition" as practiced by clandestine U.S. forces. The book also provided an interesting entryway into, or extension from, Paglen’s work as a visual artist, with Thompson’s journalistic voice seemingly braided in and out of Paglen’s more academic tone.

Blank Spots on the Map is a more mainstream book, as evidenced by its publisher. This aspect has its assets and drawbacks. One asset is that Paglen’s writerly voice has improved greatly, growing more versatile and characterful as it shifts to first-person. A look at the rendition programs of the CIA is just one element of his overall effort here, which involves revealing hidden spots used by the U.S. for covert activities throughout the globe — and in the skies above it. Early on, he cites facts showing that the number of federal government employees working on classified projects far outnumbers those working aboveground. At times, Paglen relates discoveries in a manner that suggests that he alone has made them. But for the most part, Black Spots is a bracing, real-life through-the-looking-glass antidote to Tom Clancy–style escapism. (Huston)

Rights way


Ask any filmmaker: facts and figures may horrify, but images are what leave the most lasting impression. With raw and shocking footage of worldwide atrocities, the movies featured in this year’s Human Rights Watch International Film Festival speak multitudes — even when their narrators are silent. Rather than attempt to encapsulate the entirety of the injustices committed, these films focus on the human side of things. And so we get glimpses: a mother weeping over the daughter taken from her, a student cradling her bloody head as she leads a protest.

Two particularly effective films restrict their focus to the women involved in these struggles—as perpetrators and as victims. Tamar Yarom’s To See If I’m Smiling (2007) avoids such labels and focuses on female Israeli soldiers as individuals. Some might criticize the film for its apolitical tone. While many of the women lament war crimes, they have little to say about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a whole. But the story that emerges from these interviews is a unique one, and a valuable addition to the ongoing debates. To See If I’m Smiling doesn’t seek to justify the actions of the Israeli Army, but rather to give its subjects space to reflect — both on their rights and on the rights they served to protect.

The scope of Julie Bridgham’s The Sari Soldiers (2008) is considerably wider. Her female subjects are the civilians of Nepal, the Maoist rebels, the Royal Nepal Army soldiers. Some are loyal to the king, while others march in protest. Bridgham wisely avoids coming down on one side or the other, allowing us to see that these women are united not by ideologies, but by their shared belief in a better Nepal.

One film can’t sum up a human rights quandary — and it surely can’t solve it either. At the very least, though, this festival gives a voice to people in dire need of speaking, whether through pictures or words.


Wed/27–Fri/27, $5.50–$9.50

Pacific Film Archive, 2575 Bancroft, Berk.

March 5–26, $6–$8

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission, SF


Beautiful nightmare


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

If the U.S. really is entering a new period of transparency and team-playing, that might take a while to swallow for some nations that have known us best as an unreliable fair-weather ally. One of the Vietnam War’s lesser-heralded tragedies was what happened to neighboring Laos. Early in Ellen Kuras’ The Betrayal, we see JFK in 1961 saying of Laos, "All we want is peace, not war. A truly neutral government, not a Cold War pawn." Whatever earnestness that statement possessed, it was raped under Presidents Johnson and Nixon, despite all official denials.

The CIA drafted and trained Laotian military personnel as secret guerilla units gunning for North Vietnamese fighters along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. U.S. aircraft began dropping bombs on Laos — 3 million tons’ worth over nine years, more than in both World Wars combined. Vietcong were targeted, but civilians suffered plenty from the bombings as well as from a Yank-supported South Vietnamese invasion.

Nixon’s disgraced resignation drove one last nail in the coffin of this "unpopular" war. The 1975 "fall of Saigon" withdrawal was accompanied by abrupt pullouts of American interests and muscle in Laos. Though not quite as ghastly as what ensued in collaborating Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, the fast overthrow of Laos’ "neutral" U.S.-backed monarchial government by Communist forces had similar consequences. Pathet Lao’s oppressive new regime closed itself to the world, arresting, executing, or otherwise persecuting anyone suspected of ties to the prior epoch.

The Betrayal fascinates like other rare, intimate documentaries shot over long periods — Michael Apted’s Seven Up series being the most famous example. This one began a quarter-century ago, when Kuras contacted 19-year-old Thavisouk Phrasavath (credited as co-director and co-writer, and the film’s sole editor) for lessons in speaking Lao for an unrelated project. His personal story — past, present, evolving — took up any time not occupied by Kuras’ cinematography career, which has encompassed features and docs by Spike Lee, Rebecca Miller, Harold Ramis, Jonathan Demme, Mary Harron, Jim Jarmusch, Michel Gondry, and Sam Mendes.

Phrasavath’s father was a Royal Army officer seduced by better pay and the promise that his own country’s best interests were being served — even when he plotted its bombing targets. After long service, the Americans’ abrupt pullout got him arrested, sent to re-education camp, and assumed executed by loved ones. Considered traitorous along with her 10 children, his wife Orady desperately bribed smugglers for their safe expatriation. When that happened, it was so sudden she had to leave two briefly absent daughters behind. She chose the United States as an asylum destination, believing that a government grateful for her husband’s sacrifices would "take care of us when we get to America." The clan got dumped in a decrepit mid-1980s Brooklyn apartment shared with other Southeast Asian refugees, next to a crack house and surrounded by gang violence.

Kuras was there then, and later on when some startling changes occurred in the Phrasavath family saga. But The Betrayal is as soft on narrative detailing as its color palette, which finds rainforest green and Buddhist monk-robe saffron echoed even in the harshest New Yawk/Joisey landscapes. Her visual impressionism is a gift, especially in the abstract illustration of teenage Phrasavath’s solo escape across the Mekong. But such poetical shorthand also frustrates — we’d like to know far more than Kuras and Phrasavath allow about what happened to immediate blood beyond himself and his mom.

But that stuff could be forgivably relegated to DVD extras. A rare new documentary that really belongs on the big screen, The Betrayal‘s flowing lyricism gracefully connects a poignant family history to larger socio-political and extra-large spiritual themes. It’s an almost sinfully beautiful movie about ugly global realities.

THE BETRAYAL opens Fri/27 in Bay Area theaters.



› le.chicken.farmer@gmail.com

CHEAP EATS I’ve been eating a lot of spaghetti and meatballs lately because it’s Boink’s favorite thing to make. Meatballs. Makes sense, right? Making meatballs has everything that kids love: pouring milk somewhere that milk doesn’t belong (on bread), smushing with a fork, cracking eggs, beating, tearing parsley leaves off of stems, sticking your hands into meat and other slimy things, rolling it into balls …

And then the key to cooking with kids, I learned the hard way, is to get the unfinished product, in this case a tray of meatballs, out from under them before they give you a lesson in entropy. To Boink, who is almost four, there is as much fun or more in the act of catastrophic dismantling as there is in the act of ordered creativity. One time a carefully assembled counterful of ravioli turned into a mountain of sludge while I was using the bathroom, for example.

I’m old enough to know about entropy in a firsthand, personal, and bodily way. I don’t need these demonstrations. I mean, conceptually at least, three- and four-year-olds have got nothing on me when it comes to an understanding of thermodynamic principles. I love entropy; it’s just that I prefer ravioli. Especially for dinner.

So I have learned to hover, watch like a hawk, hold my bladder, and time my dive perfectly. From the counter to the stove, virtually no time at all passes — so that from Boink’s point of view, the meatballs were there, then they were gone.

It’s sad in a way to have to scramble such a pure, scientific mind with a sense of magic. But dinner has to happen. It’s in my job description.

Speaking of which, since I’m still trying to review you a restaurant now and again, and since I have a whole new neighborhood of restaurants to explore …

What’s that smell?

Oh yeah, I almost didn’t recognize it, it’s been so long, but here comes a three-part series. What I love about Rockridge is that for all the hoity-toit and hullabaloo, it turns out there are plenty of down-homey, down-to-earth, and downright reasonable restaurants to duck into, if you’re me.

And I don’t mean Pasta Pomodoro or Barney’s, although both those places have their place.

Soi 4, the great date destination, is not that much more expensive than other Thai restaurants, as I recall. And Zachary’s, for all its lines and overknownness, is manageable during off hours, and you can always order half-baked to take home. I’ve been back to the Crepevine a couple times, and still love it.

But what I didn’t know about Rockridge was the Rockridge Café (which rocks), Christopher’s burger joint (which is up there with Barney’s but has a much more jointlike feel), Sabuy Sabuy (cheap cheap Thai food), and a pretty gritty looking burrito place, the name of which escapes me.

I should rein it in before my little three-part series turns into a five-part three-part series. On the other hand, reining it in is not exactly my style.

So, to add a fifth to the mix, I was standing outside of Currylicious with the Maze, debating between going on in or crossing the street for an all-you-can-eat Indian buffet we’d passed on the way.

This rarely happens: the owner of Currylicious walked up from the other direction, handed us take-out menus, discussed the small matters of rice and tea with us, and we were sold. Well, the Maze was sold. I was already planning on Currylicious because my new landlordladypersonpeople had recommended it.

I think it’s the newest place on that part of College Avenue, but what do I know? I’m even newer!

Great food, good free tea, labyrinthine layout…. What a dumb name, though. They sound like they were named by Yahoo, or some dating site, because their first five choices were already taken.

I’m not going to hold it against them. Lamb cholay, which is garbanzo beans and three big lumps of lamb in a nice, spicy curry ($6.99), naan ($1.49), and the Maze got vegetable biriyani ($6.99), and that was good too.

New favorite restaurant! Across the street from my new favorite bar, McNally’s, which has a fireplace and a pool table. Exactly on the way to my new favorite post office … and, by the way, I mean it. I’m not a post office reviewer, but this one looks like it is run by three-year-olds. It’s a mess! I can’t wait to go back.


Daily: 11 a.m.–10 p.m.

5299 College, Oakl.

(510) 450-0644

No alcohol


Appetite: Steak, pork, Victoria Lamb and an El Carajo cocktail or two


Welcome to Appetite, a new column on food and drink. A long-time San Francisco resident and writer, Virginia Miller is passionate about this incomparable city, obsessed with finding and exploring its best spots, deals, events and news. She started with her own service and monthly food/drink/travel newsletter, The Perfect Spot , and plans to pass along up-to-the minute news to us. View her last installment here.

New openings

FiDi’s A5 Steak Lounge for the urban-chic carnivore

Frisson was one of the coolest restaurant spaces I’ve seen: a modern-day-chic meets the ’60’s vibe with orange couches, a round room and striking dotted-lighting ceiling. Though closed awhile, the space is now reincarnated. The same round, dome ceiling remains, though this time the room is redone in softer, sleeker hues with faux-alligator chairs and cream-colored booths. Steve Chen and Albert Chen (not related), are the new owners, creating a current-day steakhouse for the urban carnivore, A5 Steak Lounge. A5 refers to the highest grade of Japanese Wagyu beef, which, yes, will be served along with some choice US Prime beef. Chef Marc Vogel helms the menu, which refreshingly offers a range of sizes and prices in steak cuts – even those who just want a taste can order, let’s say a 4 oz. rib-eye (around $12), an 8 oz. slab (low $20’s), on upwards. You can have your steak and eat it (all), too.

A5 is in the middle of a soft opening until the official launch date of March 10. Be the first to try it out (with reduced prices) during the limited, four-nights reservations, with the caveat that you provide feedback as the staff hones the menu and service prior to opening.

244 Jackson Street
Email for reservations: rsvp@a5steakhouse.com

Tipsy Pig gastrotavern debuts in the Marina on Feb. 24

The Marina restaurant take-over of Nate Valentine, Sam Josi and Stryker Scales (behind Mamacita, Umami and Blue Barn Gourmet) continues with The Tipsy Pig, opening today in the former Bistro Yoffi space. The Tipsy Pig will start out only with dinner, but will eventually serve brunch and lunch as well, and the bar will be open till 2 a.m. I hear it’s a rustic, wood space separated comfortably into a Living Room (with bar, leather booths, wood tables), the Library, and an inviting back patio pleasantly aromatic with citrus trees, seating up to 50 people at communal picnic tables. Produce will, by-and-large, be sourced from Sonoma’s Oak Hill Farm for a locavore nod, while over 50 artisanal beers are available on tap or by the bottle along with — what else? — classic american cocktails. Menu items include a Spinach Salad with kabocha squash, plenty of pig dishes and a Brussel Sprout/Apple Hash. Whether or not we need another gastropub, the Marina doesn’t have one and I think all things combined (patio, beers, yummy-sounding menu, open all day…), it sounds well worth checking out.

2231 Chestnut Street

Special events

Tuesday, 2/24: South Fundraiser for Australia’s bushfire victims

Dine for a cause tonight at our local Australian/New Zealand gem, South. Aussie chef Luke Mangan wanted to help his homeland and is doing so with a special, four-course dinner benefiting victims of the Victorian bushfires. For $125, there’s dinner, wine pairings (from South sommelier Gerard O’Bryan) and a live auction with proceeds donated to the Australian Red Cross Bushfire Relief Fund. The menu is listed on the website with Down Under-influenced dishes like Victorian Lamb with rhubarb, nettles and parsley puree, or for dessert, Creme Fraiche Panna Cotta with kumquats and caraway. Seating is limited, so RSVP — and note a credit card is needed to hold your place.


330 Townsend Street, Suite 101
RSVP to: info@southfwb.com

Dungeness Crab Week runs through March 1st

So it’s been a lackluster crab season, but what’s there is sweet and succulent as ever… and 44 SF chefs from 54 restaurants (do the math?) are featuring signature crab dishes on their menus this week. Visa is a sponsor, so if you pay with a Visa Signature card, you’ll get a complimentary cookbook featuring a slew of crab recipes from some of the chefs and restaurants involved. Some of my faves are participating (like Incanto, 1300 on Fillmore, Bix, Jardiniere, Pesce, Shanghai 1930, etc… and there’s no meat I’m more crazy about than crab, particularly our West Coast Dungeness.

For added fun, there’s the annual Crab Cracking Contest in Union Square on Saturday, 2/28, from noon-3pm. It’s free, though you’ll need to purchase tickets for food, beer and wine tastings. There’ll be Union Square chefs (like Jen Biesty of Scala’s and Adam Carpenter of Ponzu) and San Francisco 49ers (yeah, you heard right) crackin’ crabs together, with live music from Diego’s Umbrella, who myspace lists as Experimental-Flamenco-Rock, booths for kids, and plenty to drink.

Details and list of participating restaurants here.

Make reservations here.

Bar news

Get sultry with Brazilian Wednesday Nights at Pisco Latin Lounge

In these rainy days, one of the best ways to warm things up is a well-crafted drink and lively music. Pisco Latin Lounge offers you both in weekly Brazilian-themed Wednesdays. I recently enjoyed an ideal end to a long day here, sipping the El Carajo cocktail ($12, made of Veev Acai Liquor, St. Germain and Aji amarillo pepper), while watching spicy Brazilian music videos on the flat screens. DJ Anjo Avesso spins while you sip a specially-priced $7 Caramelized Caiparinha and chow down on Latin small plates. This Wednesday, 2/25, bring your business card or email address to possibly win a magnum (double-sized) bottle of Cachaca. Lindo maravilhoso!

Wednesdays, 7-11:45pm
1817 Market Street


Foreign Cinema’s three-course prix-fixe honors 10th anniversary

Foreign Cinema may not be the latest hotspot anymore, but it still packs ’em in with the mystique of being located on a dodgy Mission block, down a candlelit hallway, into an oasis of foreign film, a roaring fireplace and quite tasty food (I’ve long been partial to the pot de cremes for dessert). In honor of the restaurant’s 10th anniversary, a special prix-fixe menu is available every night of 2009 (!) for $36 per person ($55 with wine pairings, including a dessert wine pour), though menu items and wine flights change daily (I hear so far the Pot de Creme has been seen on the prix fixe menu, along with dishes like Fried Oysters with spinach, smoked bacon and preserved lemon).

2534 Mission Street

Mission Beach Cafe ushers in Pot Pie Sundays and Let Them Eat Cake!

One of my favorite cafes for its eclectic decor, friendly service, and, best of all, Blue Bottle coffee and amazing house-made pastries, Mission Beach Cafe further sweetens the ‘hood with two new specials. Pastry chef Alan Carter is already known at MBC for his flakey pot pies – that’s what baking and living in Paris did for him. Lucky us, he’s sharing his pot pie magic skills every Sunday night creating pies filled with rabbit, beef, duck or veggies. Sounds like a perfect winter dinner to me. On Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights, you can further rack up the calories (happily so) with a Let Them Eat Cake offer from 5:30–6:30 pm: a free slice of cake with each entrée ordered. Knowing how decadent the pastries and pies are, I’ve no doubt the cakes will give you sweet dreams, too.

198 Guerrero Street

It’s a rainy day – today


OPINION As San Francisco’s health and human services face unprecedented loss of funding under Mayor Gavin Newsom’s glaringly disproportionate budget cuts, forcing layoffs of city and nonprofit health care workers who work on the frontlines of a strained system, now is the time when the moral implications of budget decisions mean the most.

The midyear cuts alone have eliminated HIV/AIDS services for an estimated 2,660 San Franciscans. Many core health service programs are wrestling with the reality of closing their doors entirely when the next round of cuts arrives in June. As the city scrambles to come up with any and all possible solutions, Supervisor Chris Daly has introduced an amendment to the Rainy Day Fund that would offer up a much-needed safety net for San Francisco’s vital services.

Currently, San Francisco’s Rainy Day Fund contains a provisional trigger focused on protecting the San Francisco Unified School District during tough times. When the Controller’s Office identifies the need and pulls the trigger, Rainy Day Funds can be appropriated at the discretion of the mayor and the Board of Supervisors to offset the costs of maintaining education during the upcoming budget year.

Daly’s clause, which would take effect in years when the city’s deficit exceeds $250 million, would provide a similar safeguard to public health and human services, services that are no less critical than education but tend to bear the brunt of budget cuts during challenging economic times.

Some have argued that we should save this money for the (perpetual) "next year," with the timeless hypothetical that it could get worse. Yet for those who may lose their lives this year because of colossal cuts to vital services, this argument offers little consolation, and in fact begs the question of how we define a rainy day to begin with. While city workers are being asked to cut salaries and business leaders are being asked to support new revenue, now is the time to reach into our reserves to protect the programs that protect lives.

San Francisco’s HIV/AIDS services have become, in many ways, models for the rest of the country, yet the years of battling for and finessing of these services seem to be taken for granted as we brace ourselves for the possibility of losing them overnight. Strained as our safety net may be, it still provides much of the best care available for those at risk of or living with HIV/AIDS, and in these complex budget discussions, we have yet to hear a consideration of what it would cost to reconstruct such a landscape of services.

Finding solutions to this year’s budget crisis will not be easy. It will require a complex solution, and even with givebacks by city workers and even with new revenue, there will be significant cuts to programs. We need to think about all of the possibilities and understand that it will take extraordinary measures to protect a model health care system. Now is the time when San Franciscans need access to their safety net. Today is a rainy day, and baby, it’s cold outside.

Stephany Joy Ashley is on the steering committee for the Coalition to Save Public Health, an executive board member of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, and the harm reduction coordinator of the St. James Infirmary.

Losing the tax argument


EDITORIAL The lead topic on the local cable TV show City Desk News Hour Feb. 21 was the state budget, and a panel of local reporters were talking about the mix of tax increases and service cuts the Legislature finally passed. After a bit of back and forth, Scott Shafer, host of KQED’s California Report, piped up. "Everyone knows it’s a bad idea to raise taxes in a recession," he said.

Shafer, who was a press secretary to former Mayor Art Agnos, is hardly a conservative commentator. In fact, at the risk of damaging his credentials as an unbiased reporter, we might even call him a liberal. And to judge from the response of most of the panel, nothing he said was particularly controversial. Sure, raising taxes in a recession is bad; so is cancer, and violent crime. Next question.

But that’s not just a limited viewpoint — it’s factually inaccurate. Raising taxes during a recession can be an excellent economic idea, if it’s done right. Because the one thing almost every credible economist outside of the far-right intellectual swampland agrees on these days is that cutting government spending during a recession is a terrible idea — and if the only way to keep the public sector jobs, the social services, and the welfare payments going is to raise taxes, then raising taxes on those who can afford to pay is not only good politics, it’s good policy.

And it’s infuriating that this point seems to have dropped out of the mainstream of debate. That’s a major failure of the Democratic leadership, in California and nationwide.

Historians can argue forever about the direct impact the New Deal had on ending the Great Depression. But it’s pretty clear that what Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman calls the great jobs program of World War II turned the American economy around. And during World War II, tax rates, particularly on the wealthiest individuals and corporations, were exceptionally high. The top marginal income tax rate exceeded 80 percent. Corporations that made more than a modest return paid a high excess-profits tax. The high income tax rates on the richest Americans remained through the postwar boom era, a time when inequality declined and overall wealth grew.

That money went into the public sector, not just for the war but for retooling and rebuilding U.S. industry. High taxes on the rich paid for the interstate highway system, the University of California system, the California Water Project, the birth of the Internet. It took almost half a century for the Republicans and no-taxers to wreck the economic gains of that high-tax era.

And yet, despite all the consistent, clear evidence, we still hear the news media, the commentators, and even liberal Democrats saying that tax cuts are good for the economy and tax hikes are bad.

What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.

One of the most important goals of the next year or two, under the Obama administration, is to change the national debate over public and private priorities. That won’t be easy. President Obama has started off in the right direction, although the Republicans forced him to include several hundred billion in wasteful tax cuts in his stimulus bill. The tax hikes in the state budget plan are almost entirely regressive (sales taxes and a flat increase in the income tax.)

Here in California, and here in San Francisco, elected officials who claim to represent the Democratic Party’s future need to stop mouthing the old Republican line. None of the Democratic candidates for governor, including Mayor Gavin Newsom, have been our front about the need for more government spending, even if it means higher taxes on the wealthy (say, a business tax that hits harder on the biggest and less so on the small). In fact, Newsom has taken the opposite line, writing in a Feb. 13 San Francisco Chronicle op-ed piece that "we have to reduce spending." The San Francisco supervisors are at least talking about new revenue sources, but polls show that will be a hard sell.

Why do the polls show that? Because people like Newsom — and to some extent, the supervisors — aren’t using their bully pulpits to change the tone of the discussion, to make the case for economic sanity, to challenge the demented wisdom that’s brought us to this nightmare.

That has to change, now, or there will be no way out. *

Editor’s Notes


› Tredmond@sfbg.com

You’d think Gavin and Jennifer were the king and queen or something, or that the San Francisco Examiner had turned into People magazine, to see all the fuss about the First Baby. Seriously, the Ex devoted a full two-page spread to the kid, who isn’t even past the first trimester. Sample baby names, a composite photo of what His or Her Little Highness might look like, an entire story on the political implications of fatherhood (hint: family photos look great in campaign mailers) … it’s not as if it’s been a slow news week.

Does anybody really care that much if a married couple decides to procreate? Jesus, when Willie Brown was mayor and impregnated his fundraiser, who was about 30 years younger than he was, it was a collective civic "whatever."

The mayor doesn’t typically take my phone calls (imagine that) so I passed along my best wishes through his press secretary, Nathan Ballard, who doesn’t take my phone calls, either, but does occasionally deign to respond to my e-mail. I don’t know if he got that one, since he never wrote back, so perhaps I’ll just say it again, in public:

Congratulations, folks. It’s a wonderful and crazy world out there, being working parents with busy careers and raising a kid. I hope you never need all the family services you’re about to cut.

Cloth diapers are much more ecological, but that absorbent stuff they use to make the disposables is so incredibly cool that you just want to take them apart with a scissors and pour colored water on them just to see how they expand. (Trust me, things like this will become fascinating at 5 a.m. when you’ve been up all night.) A tiny little square of that stuff sucks up about 50 times its weight in liquid. It’s one of the great inventions of the 20th century.

When the kid’s a little older, you can ride the Muni trains. That’s what my son and I used to do every weekend. You come to appreciate Muni as performance art. It doesn’t really matter when the train shows up or how slowly it moves; you aren’t going anywhere anyway. And you’ll meet all kinds of people who will give you all kinds of tips about child-rearing, and maybe a few about how to run San Francisco. And it only cost $1.50; kids still ride free.

Then it’s time to send your kid to public schools.

I get a lot of shit when I talk about this; my blog post complaining about the Obamas choosing a private school got all sorts of comments from all over the country, every single one of them negative. But I soldier on: elected officials should send their kids to public schools. If the San Francisco schools aren’t good enough for the mayor’s kid, then the mayor needs to be working harder to fix them. I know it’s none of my business, and that you have to do what you think is right for your own child and all that, but … if the mayor, or the president, or the school superintendent, or the school board members, or the supervisors choose private schools, then they’re saying that public education is good enough for the poor kids, but not for their own.

Hell of a statement, huh Gavin?

San Francisco has some great public schools, and I suspect you can figure out the admissions process. Or just gimme a call. I’ll pass along some tips.

“Michael Light: New Work”


REVIEW After viewing Trevor Paglen’s contribution to the SECA Art Awards exhibition at SFMOMA, you can stroll six or seven blocks to Hosfelt Gallery, for a small — yet vast — sample of new work by Michael Light. The walk is a revealing one in terms of SF’s urban landscape, and once you’ve had the Alice-like experience of stepping out of Clementina’s abandoned-alley atmosphere through the Hosfelt’s enormous door, you can dwell on the influence that San Francisco resident Light has had on Paglen’s photography, and the back-and-forth (not to mention the up-and-down) between their vital visions.

"I work with big subjects and grand issues," Light told Robert Hirsch in a 2005 interview. "I am fascinated about that point where humans begin to become inconsequential and realize their smallness in relation to the vastness that is out there." In the past, this fascination has revised moon landings and nuclear testing in a revelatory manner. Light’s current work has him shooting the American West as part of an ongoing project that has sported tentative titles such as Dry Garden and, more recently, Some Dry Space: An Inhabited West. This project ricochets off of Paglen’s recent written and photographic studies of black spots in Nevada, as well as Olivo Barbieri’s aerial film-and-photo endeavor, Site Specific_Las Vegas 05, which had a stay at SFMOMA not too long ago.

The film segment of Barbieri’s Site Specific_Las Vegas 05 followed a trajectory from the ambiguous Nevada desert to Hoover Dam and then Sin City. The overall flight path of Light’s project is even more ambitious. While Barbieri’s imagery is stunning, it lacks the figurative and symbolic depth of Light’s gorgeous, absurd, disgusting, and lovely shots of landscapes under human siege. Light has argued that the oracular power of books is strengthened when set against the playpen of the Internet. The book he’s put together for this show — a citizen’s update of Timothy O’Sullivan’s congressional railroad surveys of the 1870s, displayed on a cinematic camera tripod — is too good for a screen and awesome on the page.

MICHAEL LIGHT: NEW WORK Through March 21. Tues.–Sat., 11 a.m.–5:30 p.m. Hosfelt Gallery, 430 Clementina, SF. (415) 495-5454, www.hosfeltgallery.com

‘The end of the goddamn family dog’


› news@sfbg.com

Former Bottom of the Hill and DNA Lounge doorperson Greg Slugocki wakes up every morning at 4 a.m. to feed and care for 75 rescued dogs at Milo Sanctuary, one of the largest dog and cat rescue sanctuaries in the country. It’s one-third the size of Golden Gate Park and tucked in the mountains of Mendocino County, north of Ukiah.

Slugocki has worked like a dog since he was hired last November, part of a crew of two who cover 283 acres of mountainous terrain. But it’s something else that has recently made his head spin.

"The rate of animals we’ve had to take because of foreclosures is astronomical," Slugocki said. "I’ve taken more dogs in the last three months than in the last two years."

Milo Sanctuary holds adoptions in Berkeley, Oakland, and San Rafael, and he communicates daily with Bay Area shelters and rescues, which also have reported unprecedented increases in animals reluctantly turned over by their desperate owners.

Slugocki may be in the backwoods of Mendocino County, but he’s not alone in this dilemma. Shelters all over the country are reporting rising numbers of dogs, cats, horses, and all kinds of family pets made homeless by the home foreclosure crisis.

In January, San Francisco Animal Care and Control — the municipal shelter and adoption department obligated to take all animals — documented, for the first time, an unprecedented increase in owner-surrendered animals. The report found that since August 2008, there’s been steady monthly increase in such animals, amounting to a 13 percent average rise since last year. Last month saw the highest number of owner-surrendered animals, with an increase of 35 percent.

Though there may not be a clear, quantifiable way of determining whether those owner-surrendered animals are in fact casualties of the foreclosure crisis, animal rescue folks say there is overwhelming anecdotal evidence that this is the case. "Our rescue partners are stretched," SFACC director Rebecca Katz told the Guardian. "We’re stretched."

Indeed, almost every kennel contains a dog with a tag reading "owner- surrender." Animal Care and Control runs a "no kill" shelter — which means animals are euthanized only if they are too sick to be treated or too aggressive to qualify for adoption — has had to spill some of its new arrivals over into its adoption kennels rather than give all the new arrivals a chance for the owners to reclaim them.

"I’ve been dealing with this shelter for 15 years," said Paley Boucher, founder of volunteer-run Rocket Dog rescue, which saves almost 200 dogs from lethal injection each year. "It used to stand out when you saw a dog that was owner-surrendered. But now almost all of them are." Linda Pope with Nike Animal Rescue Foundation says dogs adopted and returned due to foreclosures is an entirely new phenomenon to the center.

Cat Brown, deputy director of the San Francisco SPCA, reported a rise in owner-surrendered animals. "We feel it’s directly related to the economy," she added. "It’s about people losing their jobs and thinking about what they can give up."

Gary Tiscornia, executive director of Monterey County’s SPCA, says there have been a high number of foreclosure animals and a lack of communication between the shelters and the banks, real estate agents, property inspectors, and other entities that find abandoned animals in vacated homes.

Tiscornia said that Realtors in California have found animals in all kinds of conditions in vacated homes, including rottweillers abandoned with a few bags of food and a tub of water, and a dog left for dead in an empty house. It hasn’t always been the case that such incidents were reported to animal shelters.

The disconnect between corporate entities and shelters has been exacerbated by California laws requiring that inspected property, including animals, be left untouched. A new law that went into effect last month addresses the problem. Assembly Bill 2949 requires anyone who encounters an abandoned animal in a property that has been vacated through lease termination or foreclosure to immediately contact a local animal control agency.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) issued a statement on foreclosure animals Jan. 29, offering the following advice to those facing foreclosure or eviction: Check with friends, family and neighbors to see if someone can provide temporary foster care for your pet until you get back on your feet. Make sure pets are allowed — and get permission in writing — if you are moving into a rental property. Contact your local shelter, humane society, or rescue group in advance of moving, and provide your animal’s records to help it get placed in an appropriate home.

To love and lose a home is a hard thing, but to love and lose a home and a furry family member is worse, especially when people don’t know where their pet will end up. "People don’t know what to do," said Boucher, citing an example of a Bay Area woman who kept her dog in the backyard of her foreclosed home long after she had moved, and another of a family that asked the subsequent owners of their foreclosed home to care for their dog.

"We’re perceived as a no-kill city, but that’s just not true," said Boucher, who rescues pit pulls, the most frequently euthanized of all dogs. Like many rescue agents, Boucher disagrees with the standards set by the temperament tests that determine whether a dog is suitable for adoption, arguing that many perfect dogs would not pass the test.

Slugocki also takes issue with temperament tests. "Let’s say I’m a dog that hasn’t eaten for weeks and I get picked up and taken to a shelter and they put down a bowl of food as part of the temperament test. Take it away and see what I’ll do."

"This is a huge disaster, a quiet emergency," Boucher said. "I hope people can open their minds to fostering an animal."

Despite the spike in economy-related homeless animals, Katz says SFACC is still under control, at least for the time being. "We have not seen an increase in euthanasia and we hope not to." About 84 percent of animals that end up at the SF shelter are saved, compared to the depressing national average of 30 percent.

"We do everything we can to save animals’ lives. We reach out to every rescue we know of," Katz said.

But with shelters, rescues, and sanctuaries swamped with a growing wave of owner-surrendered pets, caring for the displaced animals is bound to get tougher, particularly if foreclosure crisis gets worse, as many economists predict. And with budget cuts in the offing in the city, SFACC staff fear cutbacks could drive up euthanasia rates.

Slugocki says his sanctuary has something other shelters don’t: space. He has 283 redwood-adorned majestic acres of it, and he’s willing to take every dog, no matter how many have failed the temperament tests that would guarantee a swift lethal injection at the pound.

"I can take dogs that don’t stand a chance. I can take them crippled, heart worm positive, deaf, blind, you name it," Slugocki said. Half of the 75 dogs at Milo are unadoptable and will live peacefully among the redwoods for the rest of their days. He says he can take up to 1,000 dogs but he’s missing one thing: sufficient staff to build enough dog pens and feed and care for a small city of dogs every day.

"I desperately need volunteers," Slugocki said. "I know there is a crowd of people, that 30 to 60 tattooed, pierced, old rock ‘n’rollers, new Buddhists, lifelong punks who are older and maybe have kids now." For now he’s taking as many dogs as he has pens for and is working 14-hour days to help save the discarded critters of the economic crisis.

"It’s the end of the goddamn family dog," Slugocki lamented. "Nobody who has a dog and has lost a home will ever think about having a dog again."

To contact Greg Slugocki, call (707) 459-0930 or email milo.sanctuary@yahoo.com.





We wanted to correct some misperceptions about the mission and work of the City Fields Foundation as quoted in your Feb. 18 article "Wrecked Park Department."

San Francisco has long had too few athletic fields for all the kids and adults who want to play. Each weekday afternoon during fall, more than 4,000 kids use Rec-Park athletic fields for school sports, league sports, and recreation center programs. Many of the existing fields are in poor condition due to constant, year-round play, abundant gophers, and scarce resources. To remedy this situation, City Fields and Rec-Park teamed up in 2006 to increase athletic field playtime citywide, largely by renovating a handful of high-use athletic fields with artificial turf and lights. Rec-Park manages and maintains the fields and allocates their use through the department’s permits and reservations office.

The Playfields Initiative partnership has already resulted in more than 62,000 hours of additional playtime for San Francisco’s athletic field system and transformed four worn-down athletic fields into safe, high-quality play spaces. But to fully appreciate what this means to the city’s kids, go after school one day to the new athletic fields at Garfield Square, Silver Terrace, Crocker Amazon, or South Sunset Playground and ask the kids playing how they like their new field. They might even stop playing long enough to tell you.

Susan Hirsch

project director, City Fields Foundation

San Francisco


The cover art for Sarah Phelan’s "Ship of Fools" story (2/11/09) portrays an SFPD ship adrift at sea, but one-third of the article is focused on political appointees with limited influence on day-to-day crime in the city: Joseph Ruissionello and Kevin Ryan. Ryan is a surrogate for the mayor, but he has no real law enforcement power and those who think otherwise are naive.

The Guardian heightens Russionello’s influence by discussing sanctuary, an issue that receives disproportionate attention when it comes to discussing crime. Sanctuary is a juicy story that involves immigration law, race, and geopolitics. For most people who deal with crime on a daily basis, sanctuary is a back-burner issue at best.

The real tragedy of crime in this city is felt by those who have lost a loved one to needless homicide. There are neighborhoods in this city that smart politicians seem to have forgotten, where drug and gang-related violence are a part of life.

Scott M. Bloom

San Francisco


I liked the column (Green City, 2/11/09) showing that San Francisco will be increasingly using biofuels created locally. This is much better environmentally than using fuels that have to be shipped long distances, which causes more oil consumption and creates more pollution, including global climate change. However, I must point out a common misconception that also appeared in your column.

Burning biofuel instead of a petroleum-based fuel does nothing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Every fuel that is burned creates carbon dioxide. Global climate change will not be mitigated by using biofuel or by any other technological means. It will only be mitigated — it cannot be averted, it began decades ago and will continue to some extent regardless of what we do — by humans living more simply and burning less fuel of all types.

Jeff Hoffman

San Francisco

The Guardian welcomes letters commenting on our coverage or other topics of local interest. Letters should be brief (we reserve the right to edit them for length) and signed. Please include a daytime telephone number for verification.

Corrections and clarifications: The Guardian tries to report news fairly and accurately. You are invited to complain to us when you think we have fallen short of that objective. Complaints should be directed to Paula Connelly, the assistant to the publisher. We’d prefer them in writing, but Connelly can also be reached by phone at (415) 255-3100. If we have published a misstatement, we will endeavor to correct it quickly and in an appropriate place in the newspaper. If you remain dissatisfied, we invite you to contact the Minnesota News Council, an impartial organization that hears and considers complaints against news media. It can be reached at 12 South Sixth St., Suite 1122, Minneapolis, MN 55402; (612) 341-9357; fax (612) 341-9358.



REVIEW In the giant, rundown apartment buildings of Naples and Caserta, organized crime doesn’t run afoul of the law — it is the law. Based on the best seller of the same name by Roberto Saviano (who co-scripted), Matteo Garrone’s Gomorrah has already hauled in European laurels galore, including the Grand Prize at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival. Inexplicably not nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar (not uplifting enough? too violent?) or any Oscar for that matter (see: 2002’s City of God), this multicharacter drama examines the Camorra crime family from the ground up, zeroing in on personal stories to show how gangsters have their paws in everything from street-level drug dealing to toxic waste dumping to Italy’s famed haute couture biz. It’s a long movie, dense with characters and subplots, but standout moments shine above the desperation and grit: after an initiation ritual, baby-faced teenager Totò proudly rubs a gunshot-sized bruise on his chest, sustained through a bulletproof vest; cackling at the joy of finding a weapons cache, a pair of ne’er-do-well Scarface fans scamper in their skivvies; an educated young man realizes his lofty job is actually exploiting children, not to mention poisoning the environment. Filming in the Camorra’s actual stomping grounds, Garrone realistically replicates a world where everyone is in cahoots with the bad guys — whether they choose to be or not.

GOMORRAH opens Fri/27 in Bay Area theaters.

No service area


› Rebeccab@sfbg.com

A little less than an hour before the Tenderloin Health Resource Community Center is scheduled to open for the afternoon, a line forms outside and stretches down Leavenworth Street. If they arrive early enough at this drop-in center for the chronically homeless, people can get health services or be put on a list for a bed in a homeless shelter. For many, the drop-in center is simply a place to use the bathroom, have a snack, or take refuge from the street.

Once the doors have been unlocked, every seat inside the center is filled. Most clients are African American men. A few are in wheelchairs. One has a hacking cough. The atmosphere feels like a rundown waiting room at a doctor’s office, filled with dispirited patients. Standing quietly near the entrance is a security guard, dressed all in black with a pink mask covering her nose and mouth.

Tenderloin Health is contracted to provide services for 6,000 individual clients per year, according to Colm Hegarty, the organization’s director of resource development. In reality, it serves twice as many.

But it appears that the center’s days are numbered. Its initial city funding of $1 million a year was halved in 2008, Hegarty explained. In the latest round of deep budget cuts — dealt to address next year’s gaping budget deficit — the rest of its funded was eliminated.

While the decision hasn’t been finalized, Hegarty says, the center will likely have to close its doors for good June 30. It’s just one of many San Francisco health and human services programs that will be affected by looming budget cuts, which were mandated by Mayor Gavin Newsom to balance an unprecedented shortfall, projected at more than $500 million for the coming fiscal year, that was triggered by the economic downturn. Newsom, meanwhile, has twice vetoed legislation passed by the Board of Supervisors calling for a special election to ask voters to raise taxes to save programs such as this one.

For the clients of Tenderloin Health, just a stone’s throw from City Hall, the deep cuts have real-life consequences. "The question is going to become where will these people go?" Hegarty wonders.

Brendan Bailey, an occasional client at the drop-in center who says he’s currently staying in a shelter, echoed Hegarty’s concern. "I’d think that they would rather have them here than wandering the street," he said, gesturing toward the center’s crowded waiting room.

Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness, sounded a similar note at a recent Human Services Agency budget hearing, where it was announced that homeless shelters might also be shut during the day in an effort to save money.

"We were basically putting forth this idea that if they’re both going to close the Tenderloin Health and close the shelters during the day, it really ends up being a recipe for disaster in terms of people’s ability to get off the streets," Friedenbach said. "It just would be incredibly problematic … They need to be somewhere."

Another blow to homeless services are cuts to the Mission Neighborhood Resource Center, which operates a program that caters to homeless women. All told, Newsom wants 25 percent slashed from the Department of Human Services budget for the 2009-10 fiscal year. According to a list of proposed reductions presented to the San Francisco Human Services Commission Feb. 12, at least 62 staff positions will be eliminated. That figure doesn’t include layoffs that are taking effect in the next couple months as a response to the current year’s midyear budget adjustments.

Another eliminated component of human services is the agency’s Civil Rights Office, which consisted of two full-time staffers who were responsible for investigating complaints from clients who felt they had experienced some form of discrimination. When the Guardian contacted one of those staff members, she declined to comment but did acknowledge that her position had been written out of the budget.

Steve Bingham, an attorney with Bay Area Legal Aid, notes that state law actually requires the city to have a civil-rights mechanism in place. "The law doesn’t require that there be specific full-time people to do it. The law requires that somebody be designated and that certain work be done," he explained, adding that he’d been told the civil-rights responsibilities would now be shared among several staffers.

"I’m very disturbed that they’re basically going to divvy up responsibilities," he said. "We are constantly bringing to the attention of management in the department deficiencies that are essentially civil rights deficiencies. For example, somebody who just can’t process written information misses a meeting with a worker that he was informed about with a notice. Accommodation means that you figure out that that person needs a telephone call. If you miss a meeting with a worker, you get a notice that you’ve been terminated from benefits."

Human Services Agency executive director Trent Rohrer did not return repeated calls requesting comment about budget cuts.

Meanwhile, in the Department of Public Health, the consequences of deep budget cuts are already taking a heavy toll. Over Valentine’s Day weekend, 93 certified nursing assistants employed at Laguna Honda and SF General hospitals received pink slips, a blow that represents just one of several rounds of layoffs being administered in the wake of midyear budget cuts. (An earlier round, which included 19 CNAs, took effect Feb. 20.) The fallout from budget reductions for the 2009-10 fiscal year won’t take effect until May 1, according to Deputy Controller Monique Zmuda. Everyone the Guardian spoke with expects that round to be worse because there’s a much larger projected deficit.

Ed Kinchley, healthcare industry chair and executive board member of SEIU Local 1021, is employed as a social worker in SF General’s emergency room. He says the cuts have diminished the quality of service the hospital can provide. "Part of my job is trying to hook up the patients who are coming into the emergency room with services, and almost every week when I come into work, there’s some service we have had in the past that isn’t there anymore," he says.

"The biggest thing they’re doing is what we call ‘de-skilling,’" Kinchley continues. "For example, in the first round, they took 45 unit clerks — the clerical people who sit at the centralized desk and make sure the right labs get done and sent to the right place — and replaced them with clerks who don’t have any medical knowledge. That’s at the clinic where all the people go who are supposed to be getting quality care under Healthy San Francisco."

Reassignments are another issue, he says. When an African American nurse was reassigned, she was made to leave her post at a program that offered therapy for youth and adolescents that had suffered sexual abuse. Since many of those clients are African American, Kinchley points out, her removal diminishes the culturally competent service that was previously in place for these youth. Sometimes the new assignments shake up people’s lives: staffers in the process of completing nursing programs who were recently reassigned to completely different work hours, for instance, have had to abandon their studies because of the scheduling conflict.

The end result, in his opinion, is a decline in both the quantity and quality of service at SF General, even in the wake of voters approving a bond measure in the November election to borrow some $887 million to rebuild the facility.

"I have worked there since 1984," Kinchley says. "Right now, morale is lower than I’ve ever seen it."

As the cuts create ripple effects in the lives of health and human services staffers and the clients they serve, a City Hall fight over raising city revenue continues between the Board of Supervisors and the mayor. In the face of opposition from Newsom and the business community, the special election proposed for June 2 has been pushed back to late summer at the earliest.

"I firmly believe that moving forward precipitously with a special election not only puts the success of needed revenue measures at risk, but bypasses our responsibility for finding long-term and enduring budget solutions," Newsom wrote in a Feb. 13 veto letter to the Board of Supervisors.

Labor, meanwhile, continues to advocate for raising city revenues, saying it’s the only way to stave off cuts to the most critical services. A group called the Coalition to Save Public Health, comprised in part of SEIU members, will host a forum called State of the City: Budget Crisis Town Hall to discuss across-the-board cuts (See Alerts for details).

"If the voters of San Francisco are willing to vote for a tax increase — or even if they’re not — if they’re given the opportunity to vote for it, then they’re not going to hold that against [Newsom]," Kinchley says. "The initiative is coming from the Board of Supervisors anyway. All he needs to do is get out of the way."

Home improvement


› culture@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY If you’re thinking of greening your home, you might imagine that your that only option is to install expensive energy-efficient appliances — which many renters can’t do and many homeowners can’t afford. But don’t despair. There are ways to reduce your carbon footprint without significantly reducing your bank account, with or without a landlord’s help. Below are several tips from San Francisco’s premier green architect and eco-remodel guru Eric Corey Freed, principal at organicArchitect. His advice should make your home better for the environment and your utility bills.

Fridge Fundamentals The refrigerator is the single largest user of electricity in a household. Why make it work harder, pushing up your energy costs, by keeping it next to the oven? "Having a fridge and oven side by side is the stupidest thing I can think of that people do in kitchens," Freed laments. "An oven makes things hot, and a refrigerator is supposed to keep things cold — the two don’t belong together." Using the same rationale, it’s also a good idea to keep your fridge out of direct sunlight.

Also, if your fridge is more than a decade old, get over your attachment to the dated design and trade it in for a newer, energy efficient model. Pacific Gas and Electric Co. offers free pickups and a $35 rebate.

Think Thermal Heating your home is another major energy sucker. With more winter cold snaps on the way, investing one afternoon and less than $100 to heat smart will produce almost immediate results in lowering heating costs. The first place to look is your windows. While we love the light windows give, they are weak spots for heating. Freed suggests picking up a package of disposable window coverings ($20 for six windows). You may also be able to caulk around windows and vents to keep heat from escaping. Tubes cost less than $5 a pop.

Once you have your windows all snugged up, turn on the heat only when you need it. Freed recommends a programmable thermostat, which costs about $40. Once installed, you can set the heating to go down when you go to bed at night, kick on just before you get up in the morning, and shut off again when you leave for work. "It’s great, you just set it and forget it," Freed says. No more thumping your forehead at lunchtime realizing you left the heater cranking at home, using precious resources to warm empty rooms.

Shower Saver Most showers pour out 2.5 gallons of water per minute, but for $40 you can pick up an easy to install, water-conserving, lowflow showerhead that still gets you squeaky clean. Since many San Francisco buildings are old and hot water is slow to arrive, consider a model with a pause cord or stop switch. This holds the water in the pipes until it is warm and saves gallons of perfectly good water from being dumped down the drain while the heater warms up. Plus, renters can take the showerheads with them when they move to different digs.

Friendly Flushing Another way to conserve water — one that’s free and easy — is to add a full, two-liter water bottle to the toilet tank. This only takes a minute and eliminates a significant amount of water from being wasted every time you flush. Bottles are better than bricks, which also displace water but can damage your tank. If you’re feeling a little handier, grab a screwdriver and lower the float an inch or so. And if you’re feeling innovative, consider installing a toilet-top sink, which gives waste water a chance to be used more efficiently. This graywater system collects the tap water you use to wash your hands, then uses it to flush the toilet rather than sending it straight down the drain. (You’re washing with tap water, not toilet water, so there’s nothing dirty about it.) Sinkpositive.com sells toilet-top sinks for about $100. It’s also an appliance you can take from home to home.

Sabertooth Zombie


PREVIEW Savage and bloodthirsty as a werewolf in heat under a full moon, Sabertooth Zombie is heavy hardcore punk at its ear-splitting finest. The North Bay quintet mixes overdriven drums and guitar riffs with swampy stoner-metal power chords and a vocalist whose pipes ring with the same rage and ruin as legendary Discharge frontman Cal Morris. Every time this brutal cocktail hits the stage, audiences unravel into throbbing disarray. The flailing limbs, clenched fists, and furious headbanging only add to the band’s when-it-rains-it-pours aesthetic.

The group’s newest seven-song EP, Dent Face (Twelve Gauge), stares back at you with a cover adorned with infamously crazed Britney Spears fan Chris Crocker. He sports a Sabertooth Zombie shirt, his hands on his miniskirt-clad hips and a shit-eating grin on his face. The music — in stark juxtaposition with Dent Face‘s tongue-in-cheek representation of a Zombie superfan — careens across the rugged punk rock blacktop with ferocious songs for true Hessians. On the title track, an avalanche of chord progressions creates a snowball effect as the song thrashes and heaves under sarcastic lyrics about hollow-brained contemporary American youth. "Campaign" throws a curveball with multiple tempo changes, trading an enormous double bass drum intro for a cut-time juggernaut riff and rare guitar solo. The number slows to doom-metal pace, swells with a freeform saxophone solo, and ends as suddenly as it began. Such musical twists keep Sabertooth Zombie at the front of the local thrash pack.

SABERTOOTH ZOMBIE With Grace Alley and Prize Hog. Mon/2, 7 p.m., $5. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. (415) 923-0923, www.hemlocktavern.com

Street fight


› steve@sfbg.com

On a drizzly Feb. 17 evening in First Baptist Church, near the intersection of Market and Octavia streets that has become notorious for bicycle versus car collisions, more than 200 members of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition came together to plot a major offensive.

"We honestly weren’t sure how many people would come out tonight, so this is very impressive," SFBC executive director Leah Shahum told the young, engaged crowd. "We are embarking tonight on the biggest, most ambitious project that the Bike Coalition has ever taken on."

For almost three years, the bicycle advocates have been waiting. Since the city’s bicycle plan was struck down by the courts in 2006 for lack of adequate environmental studies, there’s been a legal injunction against any bike-related projects, leaving an incomplete network of bike lanes even as the number of cyclists in the city soared and SFBC’s membership reached 10,000.

Now, with city officials expecting to have a new plan approved and the injunction lifted by this summer, SFBC has set the ambitious goal of getting all 56 near-term projects mentioned in the plan approved by Bike to Work Day, May 14.

"We’re in a fine position to get the whole enchilada, all 56 projects," Shahum said, a goal that would boost the current 45 miles of bikes lanes to 79 miles and the 23 miles of streets with the "sharrow" bike markings up to 98 miles.

While some knowledgeable sources in the bicycle community say a three-month timeline isn’t realistic for this whole package, the energy and coordination displayed at that meeting shows that this will be a formidable campaign with the potential to rapidly change the streets of San Francisco.

"There’s nothing more to stop this city from going forward with these projects," Andy Thornley told the crowd, sounding more like a military strategist than the SFBC program director that he is. He flipped through slides and stopped at one showing members of the Municipal Transportation Agency Board, which will consider the projects.

"Your mission is to convince these seven people," Thornley told the crowd. "They are the people who say yes to traffic changes or no to traffic changes."

The crowd was divided into nine groups representing different neighborhoods in the city. On the tables at the center of each group were maps, timelines, and other documents, along with sign-up sheets that would be used to organize everyone into online discussion groups to plot strategy and discuss progress and obstacles. Large pieces of butcher paper headlined "Key Stakeholders" and "Issues and Opportunities" were laid out for group brainstorming.

But Thornley made clear that each group would work toward a common goal. "We’ve got to have a whole network," he said. "I don’t want people to lose sight of the fact that the network is the thing."

SFBC community planner Neal Patel defined the expectations: "Every week or every other week, we’ll be asking you to do something."

The groups plan to reach out to supporters and potential opponents in the neighborhoods to make decisions on preferred options within each project, rally the support of political leaders and other influential people, generate media coverage, develop persuasive arguments, and generally create a grassroots political blitzkrieg.

"It’s very easy for the city to say no," Amandeep Jawa, an SFBC board member, told the Mission District group. "The best thing we can do is give them a pile of reasons to say yes."

This wasn’t just the old veterans and familiar faces, but also fresh, young activists like Jennifer Toth, 26, who moved to San Francisco a year ago and has already become invested in this fight.

"The injunction has really held back new biking infrastructure, just at the time when cyclists are increasing exponentially, as people turn to bikes as an alternative to cars. I myself sold my car as soon as I moved here, and really enjoy biking across town," she told the Guardian.

Toth, who has been a part of antiwar and anti-globalization movements, said she was impressed by the SFBC’s approach: "It was really well coordinated, and I love how they made great strides to link neighbors up together."

The next day, at the downtown office of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, Oliver Gajda, SFMTA’s bike program manager and the point person on the bike plan, led a smaller and more subdued forum on the bike plan.

Gajda noted that the city’s transit-first policy prioritizes safer bicycling over automobiles, which he said is appropriate given that San Francisco is the second most dense city in the country. The most recent SFMTA traffic survey found that 6 percent of all vehicle trips in San Francisco were by bicycle last year, and the number of cyclists increased by 25 percent from the previous year.

The 56 near-term projects identified in the bicycle plan, Gajda said, are designed to quickly make the system safer by improving dangerous sections and addressing the question, "How do we fill those gaps and really complete the bike network?"

He placed the price tag for those first 56 projects at about $20 million, about $4 million of which is covered by existing grants, while longer term projects in the five-year plan would come to about $36 million.

Yet in response to questions from the audience, Gajda admitted that the approval process for some of the more significant near-term projects — such as the bike lanes proposed for Second, Fifth, and 17th streets, which would involve the loss of traffic lanes or parking spaces — could be complicated and controversial.

SFMTA spokesperson Judson True said the agency was still figuring out how to handle the bike projects. "We’re looking at what we can do, how fast, but we share the goals of getting the EIR completed and paint on the street as soon as possible," he said.

True said he welcomes the SFBC campaign. "We’re happy they’re pushing because we want to head in the same direction. We’re definitely stretched, but the commitment to the Bike Plan is enormous at the agency."

That commitment really rankles Rob Anderson, who filed the lawsuit that resulted in the injunction and pledges to oppose SFBC’s campaign. He characterizes bicyclists as a vocal fringe group and said the city shouldn’t take space from Muni or cars to promote bicycling.

"It’s a zero sum game on the streets of San Francisco," Anderson told the Guardian. "They’re going to have to decide how much we want to screw up the streets for this small minority."

While Anderson concedes that the studies now supporting the Bike Plan are "pretty thorough," he notes that many projects will have what the EIR called "significant unavoidable impacts." And he thinks it’s crazy to give over more street space to bicyclists, particularly on crowded corridors like Masonic Avenue.

Anderson’s group, Coalition for Adequate Review (CAR), has never been large — it’s mostly just Anderson and attorney Mary Miles — but he’s likely to find allies among businesses and residents who fear lost parking spaces and other roadway changes as the projects move forward.

"I’m looking forward to this process," Anderson said. "This is crunch time."

For details on all the proposed projects, visit www.sfbike.org or www.sfmta.com/cms/bproj/Bicycle_Plan_Projects.

Jerome Bel’s “Pichet Klunchun and Myself”


PREVIEW In Europe, French dancer-choreographer Jerome Bel’s work has earned him the nickname of the "pope of anti-dance." While it’s true that Bel has a tendency toward pontificating on contemporary performance theories, and his work — minimalist in terms of movement, maximalist in terms of embracing the ordinary human body — stays far outside the parameters of what dance audiences might expect, he is anything but anti-dance.

He lives and breathes dance — the relationship between performer and choreographer, the persona and the person, the meaning and the content, the concepts of absence and presence. This type of theory-driven work has gained him ardent admirers as well as virulent detractors all over Europe.

To some American observers, his approach recalls the coolness of the Judson Church dancers of the early 1960s. But Bel is much more a creature of the theater than the Judson people ever were — or pretended to be. Communication with an audience is a key motivating factor of his practice. With Pichet Klunchun and Myself, Bel has succeeded in reaching his viewers more than he ever thought he might: the work has been a hit ever since that first, almost accidental encounter between Thai dancer Pichet Klunchun and Bel during the 2005 Bangkok Fringe Festival. Some super-savvy presenter hooked them up for an interview onstage in which the two artists were supposed to question each other about their respective disciplines. What has evolved from this meeting is an evening of wide-ranging conversation and dance demonstration by two artists whose lives literally evolved worlds apart but who found themselves connected and separated in ways neither could have dreamed of.

JEROME BEL’S PICHET KLUNCHUN AND MYSELF Tues/3, 8 p.m., $15–$20 (ticket buyers receive 50 percent off to David Rousseve’s Saudade March 5–7). Novellus Theater, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 700 Howard, SF. (415) 978-2787, www.ybca.org

A search for patterns in the light – and dark


A search for patterns in the light — and in the dark


Trevor Paglen’s section of the 2008 SECA Art Award exhibition is somewhat centrally located — you have to pass through it to get to Jordan Kantor’s room, as well as to a small room containing pieces by all four awardees. This positioning resonates, for Paglen is nothing if not conscious of maps and their meanings, and his contributions have visual connections to the other three artists. The dizzying, multicolored swirls of Nine Reconnaissance Satellites over the Sonora Pass, a c-print from 2008, aren’t far from Tauba Auerbach’s post-op art graphics. The night skies in Paglen’s photography aren’t far from the deep blues and flaring lights of Kantor’s 2008 oil-on-canvas Untitled (lens flare), where the painted camera effects are also suggestive of one of Kantor’s Paglenesque earlier subjects, the 1986 Challenger explosion.

Such ties are helpful, because the flagrantly governmental subject matter and complicatedly political perspectives of Paglen’s work make it too easy to downplay or ignore its artistic facets. The white spots of 2008’s PARCAE Constellation in Draco (Naval Ocean Surveillance System, USA 160) are a photo-corollary to those found in Bruce Conner’s lovely late-era ink drawings. (Like Paglen, the late Conner kept his eye on activities the U.S. hides in plain sight, and that awareness adds undercurrents to works of his that might otherwise be coded as purely spiritual.) When Paglen, from a mile away, uses a long-lens camera to uncover the ambiguous activities of an unmarked 737 in a black spot in Las Vegas, I’m reminded of the telescopic images of cruelty at the end of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1957 Salò. But unlike Pasolini, Paglen is far from being in full charge of the staging, so his seductive images can only blurrily hint at barbarism or sinister motive.

"Photography — and this is especially true after September 11 — is a performance," Paglen told Thomas Keenan in an Aperture article from last year. "To photograph is to exercise the right to photograph. Nowadays, people get locked up for photographing the Brooklyn Bridge." Paglen’s pictures are the most successful portion of his SECA contribution — his presentation of emblematic Pentagon patches, while provocative and even aesthetically playful, raises (much like William E. Jones’ so-called 2007 film Tearoom) problems of authorship. By looking up at the sky and revealing that it’s looking back down at us, Paglen creates a grounded answer to the work of aerial photographers such as Michael Light, whose visions reorient one’s perspective. Paglen isn’t out to make you see clearly. He wants you to look deeper. And wonder. (Johnny Ray Huston)

For a review of Trevor Paglen’s new book, Blank Spots on the Map (Dutton), see Lit, page 42.


Tauba Auerbach is shaking up her spin-off sphere of the so-called Mission School with optical investigations into that interzone between the figurative and abstract, representational systems and what they communicate, order and chaos. This Bay Area native — at 27, the youngest of the current SECA Award winners — was likewise shaken to the core as an eight-year-old during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. "Actually I was at gymnastic class on Judah Street and on the uneven bars," she recalls by phone from New York City, where she now resides. "I was swinging from the low bar to the high bar when it just moved away from me and I fell. It was absolute chaos. Adults screaming conflicting instructions to us. I saw the windows bow in and out, and I remember driving home over the hill and seeing smoke and thinking our house was gone."

The memory bubbles up — as vivid and close to the surface as Auerbach’s perusal of chance and broken glass, Shatter II (2008), in the SECA exhibition — while she talks about her latest project: a piece for the Exploratorium’s "Geometry Playground," which opens in September. The title sounds like a perfect fit: a brain-teasing sense of play underlies many of Auerbach’s projects, including the design of new mathematical symbols for Cambridge University logician Byron Cook’s research into computer science’s famed termination, or halting, problem. "I think there are shortcomings in any coding system," she muses. "Binary is so interesting because the components are so limited…. Every time you want ambiguity in a binary system, you have to simulate it."

Auerbach’s darting intelligence peels off in many directions, much like her eye-boggling patterns. The artist’s old day job, in which she learned the lost art of sign painting at New Bohemia Signs in the Mission District, dovetails with her witty, abstracted deconstructions — or explosions — of writing and semaphore systems, assorted alphabets, Morse code, and eye charts. Two such 2006 works, The Whole Alphabet, From the Center Out, Digital V and …VI, which layer letters drawn from a digital clock, are on display at SFMOMA.

Penetrating glances into chaos and change yielded Auerbach’s largest pieces — the 2008 Crumple paintings — in which she crumpled paper, photographed the results, and then translated the creases onto canvas with halftone printing and paint carefully applied by hand. The folds materialize as one steps further back — and break down into dizzying pixels close up. Multiple entry points exist down this rabbit hole, first carved out by Op artist Bridget Riley. But as with Auerbach’s 2008 Static chromogenic prints, which saw her looking for randomness in analog TV static, the hidden spectrums and other visual tricks are rendered with an elegance a scientist would appreciate. (Kimberly Chun)


In Jordan Kantor’s paintings, meaning is candid. When the word "candid" entered the English language in the 17th century, it was closer to its Latin roots, meaning "bright," "light," "radiant," "glow," or "white," with whiteness symbolizing purity and sincerity. Later, as the word approached then copulated with the critical language of photography — that crazy new field of "light writing" initially accused of everything from demonic possession to being a potential assassin of traditional visual arts like painting — "candid" gave birth to its common usage today, meaning "frank," "blunt," "severe," a harsh snapshot, brutally honest vision. So severity in art became intertwined with truth.

Kantor’s local gallery, Ratio 3, with its emphasis on projects’ overall coherence, is a welcome home to his current trajectory. His pieces for the SECA Art Award exhibition are alive with many truths at once, their spaces equally negative and positive. The three Untitled (lens flare) paintings and Untitled (HD lens flare), all from 2008, make you step back, only to feel as if your are standing closer than before. Untitled (Surgery) (2006–07) and Untitled (Eclipse) (2008) glow with negative light. This work is in stride with Kantor’s participation in important group shows at Galeria Luisa Strina in São Paolo ("This Is Not a Void," 2008) and New York’s Lombard-Freid Projects ("Image Processor," 2007) that dealt with our unstable relationship with images. It confirms that he is a photographer who just happens to use paint. I see aspects of Linda Connor’s slow, large exposures here, as well as Cindy Sherman’s foxes-in-the-headlights humans.

Kantor isn’t hardened by academia, though he has a PhD from Harvard and teaches at California College of the Arts. The brilliant candidness in his pictures is tied to an aesthetic understanding of human desires and scientific pursuits, but also to a humanistic refusal to be neutral. If you spend enough time with his work, you start to see that it is candid in its celebration, not just in its criticism. It reminds me of the ending to poet James Wright’s "A Christmas Greeting," from Shall We Gather at the River (1963), where the dead and the living ask the same questions: "Charlie, I don’t know what to say to you," the poet pines to someone he might have known or just imagined, "Except Good Evening, Greetings, and Good Night, / God Bless Us Every One. Your grave is white. / What are you doing here?" (Ari Messer)