Volume 43 Number 26-

March 25 – March 31, 2009

  • No categories

Meaner streets

0

Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and Damned

(Rockstar North; Xbox 360)

GAMER Ever since the "next-gen" consoles shipped with capacious hard-drives and easy access to the broadband interwebs, gamers have been paying the price. Picking up where the boxed expansion pack model left off, publishers realized they could nickel-and-dime their fans with "downloadable content packs," recalling the "Batmobile sold separately" chicanery of action figure advertising and failing to deliver even the most rudimentary bang for your buck.

It comes as something of a relief, then, when a developer eschews horse armor and warmed-over levels too crappy for the retail version and provides some downloadable content actually worth the bandwidth, let alone the greenbacks. Grand Theft Auto IV makers Rockstar North restore some hope with The Lost and Damned, a worthwhile 10-hour nugget of episodic expansion that once again turns gamers loose in the open-world cesspool of Liberty City.

You play Johnny Klebitz, a surly biker with bad tribal tattoos and a cadre of "brothers" in the Lost, one of the metropolis’ warring biker gangs. Engaged in a power struggle with the gang’s atavistic head honcho and mired in the world of crime that defines Rockstar’s dystopic settings, Klebitz is soon fighting for his life.

In keeping with the expansion’s hog-wild characters, Rockstar has retuned the motorcycle physics, making two wheels the optimum number for peeling around the vast gameplay environment. Your character has access to a handful of powerful new weapons, and your easy-riding cohort is a phone call away if you’re in need of manpower, horsepower, or firepower. New multiplayer modes cater to the bike-centric gameplay, including a new race mode in which competitors with baseball bats reenact Electronic Arts’ classic Road Rash series.

The writing and motion capture is consistent with the GTA series’ surpassing quality, and Rockstar again proves that careful characterization and plotting makes for a more engrossing gaming experience than a coterie of anonymous sidekicks yelling "boo-yah!" The events of The Lost and Damned intersect intriguingly with the original game, but this is both a blessing and a curse. Despite the developers’ best efforts, Johnny Klebitz isn’t half the protagonist GTA IV’s Niko Bellic is, and the moments when Bellic shows up are an unfortunate reminder of this fact. As with Bellic, the writers make an ill-conceived stab at humanizing their star criminal in Klebitz, presenting him as a voice of reason and moderation. But this all flies out the window once he’s mowing down cops in the dozens. Then again, when you’ve got a fully automatic shotgun to play with, who cares about psychological realism?

Dirty duo

0

› a&eletters@sfbg.com

In what maybe can only be considered a sign of the times, bad attitudes abound in two lean productions on either side of the Bay this week. The first comes courtesy of Dostoevsky, badass of 19th-century Russian literature, whose rascal Raskolnikov (an excellent Tyler Pierce) stalks feverishly across Berkeley Rep’s Thrust Stage in a bracingly focused new adaptation of Crime and Punishment by Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus. The 90-minute intermission-less crime-and-punishment spree — which marks the return of director Sharon Ott, the Rep’s artistic director from 1984 to 1997 — is largely psychological in nature. It takes place after the fact of the double homicide at the novel’s heart without any doubt about the perpetrator or the motive — although Inspector Porfiry (a charmingly avuncular but cunning J.R. Horne), playing smooth cat to Raskolnikov’s bumptious mouse, would have his only suspect believe otherwise for now. (Delia MacDougall rounds out a fine cast as the prostitute Sonia and others in the immediate orbit of Raskolnikov’s fervid, convoluted designs.)

No, this is a man already caught; he just hasn’t realized it yet. In the play’s shrewdly concentrated vantage on the novel, it’s Raskolnikov’s slow dawning grasp of his actions and fate that matters. And even then it’s only, for Dostoevsky the Christian existentialist, the beginning, as evinced by the echoing question, "Do you believe Lazarus rose from the dead?" To this end, Christopher Barreca’s inspired scenic design evokes the reclusive and open-ended nature of his predicament at once: so daunting the difference between inside and out, but so many ready passages spring open too through these thin partitions, as a mind "unhinged by theories" contemplates what separates itself from the other.

This division comes back in an aggressively funny, coolly insouciant piece of theater terrorism now up in a laser-focused, captivating production (and I mean captivating — you don’t dare budge for the 60-minute duration) from Cutting Ball Theater. The Bay Area premiere of Will Eno’s Thom Pain (based on nothing) is nothing you want to miss, or a nothing you want very much to see, especially if you ever wondered what might have happened if Groucho Marx had postponed his birth until he might be cast in Reservoir Dogs (1992). Bay Area audiences were introduced to Eno’s blazing wit and word play last year in Berkeley Rep’s local premiere of Tragedy: A Tragedy, but Thom Pain, a tortuous and wonderfully hostile-hospitable monologue exploring that same thin membrane between a Me and a You, achieves a kind of ideal setting and performance in this intimate production executed to the hilt by a very impressive Jonathan Bock, under admirable direction by Marissa Wolf. The less you know going in, the better. Just go, dig a finger into your collar, clench you buttocks, a try not to laugh for an hour.

CRIME AND PUNISHMENT

Through Sun/29, see stage listings for schedule

$16.50–$71

Berkeley Repertory Theater, 2025 Addison, Berk.

www.berkeleyrep.org

THOM PAIN (BASED ON NOTHING)

Through April 5, Thurs–Sat, 8 p.m.; Sun, 5 p.m.

$15–$30

Cutting Ball Theater

Exit Theater, 277 Taylor, SF

www.cuttingball.com

Body language

0

In watching Jess Curtis/Gravity in The Symmetry ProjectStudy #14(re)Presentation, it becomes immediately clear why sculptors from Michelangelo to Maillol to Moore couldn’t keep their hands off the human figure. There is a tactile quality to skin — whether it has the silken gleam of white marble in Maria Francesca Scaroni or Jess Curtis’ scuffed cragginess — that is irresistible. Given how hard these two dancers work, olfactory sensations also become integral to this latest version of an extraordinarily compelling investigation of how we perceive each other and ourselves.

Symmetry premiered last year. Now it is less monochromatic and even hints at an emotional trajectory — from the animalistic to the über-civilized. Is this an improvement? Probably, it adds new forms of inquiry. Does it make the work more theatrically accessible? Yes. Should you go and see it? Yes. Symmetry is brainy, sensuous, and asks important questions.

Mostly Symmetry is performed in the nude. The dancers at first shed false skins, i.e. fur coats, only to reinhabit them later in the form of evening wear. Though improvised, the work adheres to a strict concept: symmetry — balance, complementarities, and stability — as a physical reality. It could have been as deadly as looking at rows of cabbages or graph paper. But in Scaroni and Curtis’ bodies, both alone and together, Symmetry becomes a vibrating, pulsating state of presence by what they call an "inter-corporeal kaleidoscope of flesh."

The piece moves from a sculptural and placid connectedness to a fragmentary and volatile one (think electroshock) to Cabaret-style isolation within togetherness. In the first part it’s strong buttocks; sensitive hands and astoundingly interlocking body parts are particularly compelling. In a grand coup, Symmetry ends with Scaroni rocking on her heels and looking into the black hole of her vagina. Did she see just a kaleidoscope of flesh?

Composer Klaus Janek’s subtle underpinnings — especially the breathing section — were beautifully responsive to the dancers’ needs. (Rita Felciano)

JESS CURTIS/GRAVITY

Thurs/26-Sun/29, 8 p.m., $18–$20

CounterPULSE, 1310 Mission, SF

1-800-838-3006

Alloy trio

0

› a&eletters@sfbg.com

It’s another typical afternoon at Zeitgeist: mid-’80s punk rock roaring from the jukebox, the constant clang of beer bottles, the pervasive smell of burgers. "I like these industrial dudes over here," says Brian Hock, the drummer of SF three-piece Bronze. He looks at a gloomily outfitted bunch a few tables away in the gravel pit. "They’re fucking rocking it hard style."

On hearing Hock’s keen observation, I confess to his bandmate Joe Oberjat that when I arrived to meet Bronze on this semi-overcast Saturday afternoon, I initially mistook him for someone at that picnic table — a surly-looking, gothed-out version of Mickey Rourke sandwiched in the middle of the pack.

"Which one? The industrial dude?" Oberjat asks.

"He looks a little pissed off," says vocalist Rob Spector. "But he’s about to pound a double shot of whiskey."

While this is my initial in-person meeting with the band, I first caught Bronze last summer, when they gave an unprecedented performance at a July 4 CELLspace event, cleverly titled "Born on the Fourth of Julive." That day, the trio was an unknown element of an awesome bill that included the likes of Death Sentence: Panda!, No Boss, Sic Alps, and Tussle.

Bronze’s set commenced with Hock, Oberjat, and Spector garbed in matching military suits and sitting side-by-side with their heads tilted downward. Three friends then sheared the trio’s locks while a patriotic number spouted over the speakers. After what seemed like nearly 15 minutes of clipping and cutting, the band members finally rose to their feet and played a knockout batch of tunes. The sound: seriously blissed psych drone-scapes and kraut goodness, à la Can and Harmonia, with smatterings of Flowers of Romance-era P.i.L.

"July 4 was definitely a very strategic-type thing," Spector says, laughing. "The haircuts took a really long time — I knew [they] were going to take longer then we expected."

"It was also our drunkest show," Oberjat adds.

Drunk or not, the band — which formed from the remnants of groups like Fuckwolf, the Vanishing, and Night After Night — has a knack for performances that please the eyes as well as the ear. It’s possible to get a sense of this by checking out some of the YouTube videos on Bronze’s MySpace page (www.myspace.com/copperclub). During one clip, shot in Big Sur, Spector teeters back and forth in a crazed manner, his Dave Thomas-tuned warble getting locked in a groove between Hock’s kinetic beats and Oberjat’s jacked-up, skittering synth sounds. A flood of bright colors spills over the group as Oberjat lurches about in the forefront, toying with his signature custom-made boxed-shaped instrument while swooping down occasionally to joust with a heap of floor pedals.

"We enjoy being a bit theatrical sometimes," Hock explains. "We’ll always [do] slight things that maybe no one will notice, but once in a while we ham it up a little bit. If we play, we want to put on a show in some fashion."

Though Bronze has yet to put out an official release, that’ll change in 2009. Queen’s Nails is set to drop the band’s 10-inch self-titled debut, and Hex will issue a 7-inch single. The band is also deep into recording a full-length for Tigerbeat6, which they hope to have ready before heading out for a European tour in the fall.

BRONZE

with T.I.T.S.

April 1, 9 p.m., $5

The Stud

399 Harrison, SF

(415) 863-6623

www.studbar.com

Eclectic city

0

Beyond the comfy crib of steady gigs like the Symphony or, say, Beach Blanket Babylon, working musicians survive by adapting to myriad habitats. Popping up all over town, they transition from El Dive-o one night to Lé Deluxe Lounge the next. It’s audiences who enjoy the luxury of worshipping regularly at the same musical temple, with the same congregation, be it hipster, hippie, or hip-replaced.

That’s why it’s likely — and intentional — that attendees of the Second Annual Switchboard Music Festival feel a little out of place. Billed as a "genre-defying spectacle," Switchboard promises to pull the rug out from under the audience — whether they’re used to beer stains or rich upholstery — and wow them with a first-class variety show of adventurous Bay Area acts. "We definitely got a good mix of contemporary classical music fans and indie-rock type people last year," says festival codirector Jonathan Russell, taking satisfaction in having enabled ironic and un-ironic tweed jackets to brush suede elbows in cultural camaraderie.

Among the many wonders on display at Dance Mission Theater this year are Melody of China, an ensemble with mastery of both traditional Chinese music and contemporary classical compositions on Chinese instruments; Zoyres, the buoyant purveyors of "Eastern European wild ferment;" Pamela Z, known for her gloriously experimental vocal ingenuity; and Edmund Welles, the world’s baddest (if not only) black-metal bass clarinet quartet. Oh yes … and Moe!

"It’s hard to describe," Russell laughs when asked to pin down the percussive tour de force Moe! Staiano. "He sees the entire world as a potential percussion object. You never quite know what’s going to happen next." Like Moe!, Russell and festival codirector Ryan Brown cultivate the kind of musical versatility that Russell admits "doesn’t fit neatly in the usual genre categories." A composer himself, he’s hip to music that gets played at clubs in the Mission, where fans of "new music" composers featured on the festival bill (like Damon Waitkus, David Lang, Mason Bates, Max Stoffregen, and Ken Thomson) might not normally venture. "We wanted to present that music in a little bit more of a concert setting, as opposed to noisy clubs." So Switchboard was born, with the idea that lovers of all kinds of new sounds might actually like each other — and each other’s favorite bands. Er, ensembles.

If founding an upstart festival seems ambitious these days, don’t expect Russell and Brown to twiddle their thumbs until sunnier times arrive. "Major funding organizations have a lot less money to throw around," Russell concedes. "But it emphasizes all the more that we need to be self-sufficient and take control of our own scene." To wit, Russell and Brown raised the bulk of Switchboard’s funds themselves, scaring up a deliciously eclectic lineup without any fussy institutions footing the bill. "Although," Russell notes, "they’re welcome to give us money if they want to."

SWITCHBOARD MUSIC FESTIVAL

Sun/29, 2–10 p.m., $10–$35

Dance Mission Theater

3316 24th Street, SF

(800) 838-3006

www.switchboardmusic.com

Sweet symphony

0

› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Has the Parenthetical Girls’ extreme makeover reached completion, or are their collective sleeves still hoarding hidden tricks to be revealed in future remakes/remodels?

The Portland, Ore., avant-popsters — formed in 2002 and originally calling themselves Swastika Girls after a Brian Eno/Robert Fripp song — first grabbed the ears of the listening public three years ago with a double-dose of fractured melodies and droning lo-fi noise. Pivoted around leader Zac Pennington’s preening, twirling vocals, 2006’s Parenthetical Girls and Safe as Houses (both Slender Means Society) jumbled childlike whimsy with bit-lip sexuality, electronic glitchery, and dizzying song structures.

Glockenspiels mingle with unnamable blips and squelches, quivering confessions shove up against tense, volatile arrangements — unabashedly fraught with drama, these recordings inevitably garnered more than a few comparisons to the work of fellow art-damaged experimentalists Xiu Xiu. Still, both discs offer plenty of testimony to Pennington’s distinctive vision. Strip away the songs’ tendencies to scratch and scrape, and one can’t help but notice his fondness for playful, extravagant composition.

That said, few could have predicted the baroque gleam-and-shine of last year’s sumptuous orchestral-pop oddity, Entanglements (Tomlab). Having teamed up with a rotating crew of collaborators in the past, Pennington at last finds his ideal partnership with a quintet of like-minded string-lovers. Additionally, more than a dozen classically trained musicians are brought into the studio: the result is a twisted, trilling naughty-boy stepson to Van Dyke Parks’ Song Cycle (Warner Bros., 1968)

Entanglements‘ title couldn’t be more fitting: flitted out in borderline-Shakespearean verse, a tale of young, doomed love unfolds as body parts and fluids are exchanged fitfully and freely among the heaving rise-and-fall of cellos and violins. Pennington’s vocal pirouettes remain as enchantingly fey as ever, particularly when dishing out pearls as snappy as this couplet from "Young Eucharists": "And what such fates we two betray, as your sacred legs gave way?"

PARENTHETICAL GIRLS

with No Kids

Fri/27, 9 p.m., $10

Cafe du Nord

2170 Market, SF

(415) 861-5016

www.cafedunord.com

Cat’s cradle

0

› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Independent, slyly defiant, and given to zigzags, the cat is the spirit animal for a certain breed of cinematic gleaners. The films of Warren Sonbert and Chris Marker are packed with the feline kind. A kitty or two shows through the lucid abstractions of Nathaniel Dorsky’s recent work, and Agnès Varda’s La Pointe-Courte (1954) uses the animal as a structural device. Accordingly, Ben Rivers’ This is My Land (2006) opens with a lithe creature snapping its head to face the camera. There are several other such mysterious cameos across the 14-minute film, one of several bricolage studies Rivers has composed of off-the-grid settlers who are themselves catlike in both appearance (the whiskers and quick smile) and manner (gentle wildness).

Rivers must appreciate the cat’s association with the gothic, given his propensity to label his shorts as either horrors or portraits. The London-based filmmaker and programmer comes to town this week for two rare programs split along these lines, though it isn’t as stark a divide as it might first sound. The films are all exquisite documents of overgrown spaces, the kind in which the past is made palimpsest, audible in the creak of floorboards and everywhere apparent in the makeshift and ajar.

There are traces of Murnau, Dreyer, and Herzog in Rivers’ work; the films are welcome demonstrations that Expressionism is nothing so much as a feeling for how the physical world relates to the spiritual one, though musical references are equally revealing. The beards, spirits, and foliage evoke the deep English folk of the Incredible String Band and Roy Harper. In addition, the field recording quilt-work done by Lucky Dragons and the Books provides a useful analogue to Rivers non-sync style. Shot with a wind-up Bolex, Rivers processes the film stock himself, leaving grain and light flecks unpolished, with sound and image each representing an autonomous, well-portioned montage. The films open the same rich interstices of avant-garde, documentary, and ethnography as Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s work, but with an intense intimacy that makes them seem like home movies of the highest order.

The old dark house imagery of Rivers’ gothic curios strike a particularly English chord, but the back-to-the-land portraiture has a special resonance in California. We too know these beards, this tumble of wilderness, this particular migration. If these figures seem to age differently, it’s because their living choices represent a decisive approach to both space and time, something Rivers represents with great cinematic adroitness. The specter of global warming and natural disaster thickens these reclusive reliefs. Rivers has admitted his fondness for ’70s postapocalypse moves, a ripe genre rearticulated in the lunar landscapes and scrapyard play of Ah, Liberty! (2008). Horror, in this context, is a kind of awe. It is inseparable from nature — it is, in fact, nature reclaiming civilization.

"[There are] all kind of wild animals [here], and it’s only because I let it get wild. And that’s my point, but nobody will get it," the central figure of Astrika (2006) explains. Rivers, of course, does get it. The homesteaders’ scattered debris suggests Rivers’ own secondhand materials, improvised objects like a birdfeeder made from a milk container reflect his films construction, and the ethos of self-sufficiency is admired and enacted. The human warmth of his filmmaking emanates from these affinities, which go beyond sympathy to touch the elusive nerve of experience. Rivers’ wind-up camera means that no single shot can exceed 30 seconds. But when the pitter-patter of his images settles on something strange and moving, like a distant view of a horse rolling in the snow, it reminds us that beauty is often a humbling drama of the glimpse.

"THE POETIC HORROR OF BEN RIVERS"

Sat/28, 8:30 p.m., $6

Other Cinema at Artists’ Television Access

992 Valencia, SF

(415) 824-3890, www.atasite.org

"THIS IS MY LAND: BEN RIVERS’ PORTRAITS AND LANDSCAPES"

Sun/29, 7:30 p.m., $10

San Francisco Cinematheque at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

701 Mission, SF

(415) 978-2787, www.ybca.org

Outsider art

0

Kiyoshi Kurosawa, director and cowriter of Tokyo Sonata (2008), is likely best known stateside for his contributions to the J-Horror genre (like 2000’s Pulse). But the scruffily low-key director is the first to admit, with assistance from translator Taro Goto, that his kindred Nipponese overlords of the urban-chills are generally regarded in their homeland as "eccentrics." It’s peculiar, he observes wryly, "that [J-Horror directors] are seen as the representatives of Japanese cinema around the world!"

Yet one suspects Kurosawa relishes his outsider label. Following the trajectory of Hollywood craftsmen like Sam Fuller, he has worked within genre to reach for a more acutely poetic, fantasist’s reality. It has allowed him to pursue lines of inquiry that extend beyond commercial concerns and strictly scary story arcs, though his association with J-Horror has somewhat obscured a continuing fascination with capturing a rapidly changing Japan. The tenderly isolated parents and children of Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story (1953) would recognize with shock the disintegrating recession-era family in Tokyo Sonata, but the horror here stems from the unspoken context of a country where once-ironclad norms concerning patriarchal power and filial piety are melting along with the boundaries between the virtual-spiritual-fantastic and the physical-mundane-realistic.

When Tokyo Sonata‘s lost, laid-off salaryman Ryuhei Sasaki (Teruyuki Kagawa) goes through the motions of leaving for an imagined office, he’s like a ghost deprived of his machine. Intriguingly, Kurosawa empathizes: "I’m in a rather unstable position myself, as a filmmaker, so it’s possible I’m projecting some of my own experiences onto my characters. But I don’t see it as a completely negative aspect of my life. I think it gives me the chance to potentially achieve freedom from certain elements of society, morals, laws, interpersonal relationships, and those things that do tend to constrict us in life." (Kimberly Chun)

TOKYO SONATA opens Fri/27 in Bay Area theaters.

Fluffy bunners

0

› superego@sfbg.com

Look about you, horny toad. There may not be wee lambykins gamboling on your microlawn or the scent of fresh asparagus pervading your water closet yet, but all the mad party signs of spring are sneaking up to floor you: secret sunset shindigs (www.pacificsound.net), hunky Jesus Easter bonnets (www.thesisters.org), blackout drag road trips to Reno (www.trannyshack.com), and, that ultimate in vernal equinoxious signals, a flood of out-of-state gay porn stars looking for extra cash on Rentboy.com and the back pages of the Bay Area Reporter. Spring has sprung! And will probably be passed out in its stiff leather chaps, turquoise Lycra dress shirt, knock off Gucci wraparounds, and George Michael stubble on the corner of 18th and Market soon.

That’s right, those "Oscars of gay porn," the annual GayVN Awards, are coming upon us yet again, as the Castro Theatre plays host to the biggest circle jerk in the butt biz for another year. Downsizing, of course, is out of the question, despite the rash of porno pink slips being fisted out across the industry, which has been hit hard by a combo of economic deflators, internal tussles, and continued grappling with amateur Web competition. (We’ll see if the upcoming onslaught of 3-D dick flicks provides the stimulus package our local studios — second only to backwoods Eastern Europe in terms of sticky-fingered output — so sorely need.)

No, GayVN organizers are gut-pumping all the lubricious glitz they can into a whole weekend of kiki hurrah, with pre-parties, post-parties, Tupperware parties, and brunches that no one will eat at galore. Inflatable personality Janice Dickinson hosts the awards ceremony itself, with backup from homegirl Margaret Cho and Alec Mapa from Ugly Betty (ha!). Online erotic video-on-demand powerhouse Naked Sword, a.k.a. the giant candy-colored Flash octopus that froze my dinky Windows and made me cry with my pants down, will host the official afterparty, Shameless — "the party you’ll never forget, or remember!" — with some big-name DJs and performers I already can’t! It’ll be a wondrous semi-tragedy unfolding in fast motion, worth it if only to ogle the prancing scene. Just please try not to look at the camera when it’s over.

GAYVN AWARDS CEREMONY Sat/28, 7 p.m., $95. Castro Theatre, 429 Castro, SF. gayvnawards.avn.com

SHAMELESS GAYVN AFTERPARTY Sat/28, 10 p.m., $25. Wunderland, 181 Eddy, SF. www.nakedsword.com

———–

TINGEL TANGEL CLUB


The louche cabaret monthly celebrates a year of mingling salacious New York City talent and West Coast underground hotness. Original Cockettes Rumi and Scrumbly, singer Novice Theory, "hypersexual" musicians SlowMo Erotic and more light up the stage, and ever-crushable JD Samson of Le Tigre will Sam Ronson the turntables afterward. Tingel Tangel Le Tigre — it’s an anagram.

Wed/25, 8 p.m., $16. Café du Nord, 2170 Market, SF.

————-

FUCK MIAMI


Oh dear, is it that time of year again? Half our stellar nightlife talents (and a lot of pre-tanned wannabes) will be sucked into the studiously Spandexed and belotioned black hole that is the Winter Music Conference in Miami. If you’re too broke — or too allergic to aggressive slickness and pushy V.I.P. chicks — to jet to the coca beach, share the moment with a slew of worthy left-behinds at this lengthy affair.

Fri/27, 4 p.m.- 2 a.m., free. Mars Bar, 798 Brannan, SF.

————

"HOMELESS NIGHT"


This party promises to be wronger than shitting in a urinal: anarchic drag weekly Charlie Horse is hosting a homeless-themed night. Partially controversial gender clown Monistat joins perky Percocetted hostess Anna Conda to present shameful acts by talented messes to actually help benefit homeless services. La-da-dee, la-da-dah, don’t try to rip the wigs off these queens or they will cut you.

Fri/27, 10 p.m., free. The Cinch, 1723 Polk, SF.

————

LOOK OUT WEEKEND


Happy hours are all the populist rage, especially in these queasy economics, no? One of the biggest and brightest, Look Out Weekend, is moving into new quarters at Vessel off Union Square. The delicious electronic stylings of Oh Land and DJing by the Magnificent Seven complement yummy eats and fashionable freaks at the relaunch. Will L.O.W. 2.0 be as raucous as the first version? Hey, it’s free, so go see for yourself.

Fridays, 4 p.m.-9 p.m., free. Vessel, 85 Campton Place, SF.

————

ROYALTY


Well! It may be a bit bombastic, but the name just fits. SF soulful house music king DJ David Harness inaugurates a new monthly to rain some of that ol’ hands-in-the-air spirit down on the children-in-waiting at the lovely Triple Crown. The Crown’s sound system is winning extreme plaudits, so be prepared for a high-fidelity throwdown.

Fri/27, 10 p.m., $5. 1760 Market, SF.

————-

DEVOTION


A few years ago, DJ Ruben Mancias packed up his little glam-house weekly at the EndUp, Devotion, and skedaddled to NYC to find fame, fortune, and a lot of really neat T-shirts. He’s occasionally popped back into town to show off each, and remind Latin- and soul-tinged house fans of past EndUp glories. Devotion’s eight-year-anniversary will find him back at the space with Oakland house princes Cecil and Dedan warming up. Memories!

Sun/29, 8 p.m.-4 a.m. The EndUp, 401 Sixth St., SF.

Bar Johnny

0

› paulr@sfbg.com

Until quite recently, you did not often see the word "bar" associated with food-serving establishments in this part of the world. Hungry people slipping into Bar X for a bite were most likely in Europe, or the pages of a Somerset Maugham novel, not on the streets of San Francisco. But in the past few years, "bar" has become a consequential rival to "bistro" and "café" as a restaurant signifier, and we have seen a profusion of Bars: Jules, Bambino, Tartine, and let’s not forget Johnny, which opened about a year and a half ago on the swank flank of Russian Hill.

Unlike a number of its Bar-designated siblings, Bar Johnny really does seem to have some flavor as a bar in the American sense. The space (previously home to Tablespoon) is narrow, deep, and rather dimly lit, and its front half is dominated by a big, mirror-backed bar, complete with a flat-screen television showing sports events. The crowd tends to be young and boisterous, although (given the endless stream of ESPN) surprisingly mixed in gender. I have never seen San Francisco as being a city of blondes, but there are pockets, and Bar Johnny appears to be near the center of one of them. A certain Marina-ish haze hovers.

I also caught a whiff of urinal cakes one fine evening. The scent, at the rear of the public space and quite near the flapping double doors that lead to the kitchen, added to the bar spell while implying a degree of tidiness, but did not quite whet the appetite. This might be thought a daring strategy in an establishment that makes money by serving food to people. Are they so confident in their food that they can afford to run this risk? I wondered. Or is everyone here just supposed to get blotto and not notice much of anything? Bar Johnny does bear a subtitle — drink kitchen — and "drink" could be listed first for alphabetical reasons or ideological ones.

Bar Johnny’s nearest conceptual relative might be the Alembic on upper Haight, by which I mean: if you want to treat it as an ordinary bar, with drinks and interesting nibbles, you can. Chef Roland Robles’ menu opens with what are called "bites"; these range from a bowl of smoked habañero potato chips ($3) — fabulous if slightly under-salted — or warm mixed nuts ($5) to a grilled pizza ($13) bearing actual grill marks on the bottom of the nicely blistered crust. Pie toppings vary but do include entrants from the bianca ("white," i.e. no tomato sauce) family, such as bacon and mushroom. We found this to be a smoky, richly autumnal combination, subtly amplified by the grill char. The nuts, mostly peanuts and pistachios, with a few almonds and dried currants thrown in, were less fragrant but nonetheless both gobbleable and shareable. And while I don’t see any Cheers-type crowd hankering after kale — ever, under any circumstances — I do think Bar Johnny’s garlic-braised kale ($8) is as appealing as any of the other bites, despite its shocking virtuousness. The greens are tender, tasty, and a beautiful deep green — what more can we ask of any kale?

Bar Johnny does part ways with the Alembic and other tapas or small-plates menus by offering bigger plates under the aegis "more … " More food doesn’t necessarily mean more money. For the most part, these main courses cost in the mid- to upper teens and, considering how good they are, offer a pretty strong value. We did have a mild difference of opinion about the seared tuna loin ($17), which had been rubbed with five-spice powder — which for me tends to taste predominantly of cinnamon — before hitting the pan, from which it emerged a beautiful, deep-purple rare inside. A hint of bitterness in the seasoning was detected by a set of lips across the gorgeously burnished gray marble of the tabletop. But the accompanying Thai salad, a mound of finely shredded green cabbage accented with mint and basil, won general acclaim.

Also roundly applauded was a flatiron steak ($17), cooked to the rare side of medium-rare, sliced, and arranged atop a cauliflower purée napped with jus. The flatiron steak is taken from the shoulder and is a near relation of the chuck roast, from which hamburger is typically ground. If our chief concern is tenderness, we would probably be looking elsewhere, beginning with filet mignon. But Bar Johnny’s flatiron, while not exactly buttery, was tender enough and — the usual compensation for a hint of toughness in meat — very tasty.

At a lot of bars, the vegetarian option would be vodka. But Bar Johnny offers a real one, and it’s a full plate of food, not a bite, nibble, or nosh. It’s called "beans and rice" ($13) and includes some combination of legumes and rice — chickpeas, say, plump and glistening and colored up like a bit of Christmas with diced red pepper and slivers of pistachio. It’s flavorful and satisfying while leaving room for dessert, which — again, atypically for a bar — Bar Johnny offers with some panache.

It’s hard to go wrong with a basket of chocolate-chip cookies ($9) warm from the oven. One small hitch is that, as with a soufflé, there’s a wait of 15 minutes; another is that the cookies can stick together. Still. Another worthy possibility is the fruit cobbler ($7), which late in the winter might take the form of a boldly spiced apple crisp, topped with several globs of vanilla gelato and served in a shallow cast-iron pail complete with a handle. Perfect for your next visit to your favorite sand bar!

BAR JOHNNY

Dinner: 6–11 p.m.

2209 Polk, SF

(415) 268-0140

www.barjohnny.com

Full bar

AE/DS/MC/V

Can get noisy

Wheelchair accessible

Volume 43 Number 26 Flip-through Edition

0

Desperado

0

› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS I did the math. This is Part Five of a Three-Part Series, and therefore the last part. Henceforth, I will leave my neighborhood alone and just live in it.

Speaking of five, I had five first dates in five days. I should say, I made five dates but only had four of them. The first was in an accident on his way to see me and wound up in the hospital.

He sent a picture of the car. One of those ones where you wonder how the driver survived. Well, he’s a fireman. My best guess is that firemen know how (to survive). Which is dangerous knowledge to have. He calls every day, addresses me as dear, and is in a lot of pain.

Shhh. He doesn’t know about my man on the train, to whom I am not technically betrothed, but committed, yes, because I looked deep into his bloodshot eyes and said what he wanted to hear: that I would represent him.

One of my favorite things about being romantically connected to a recovering gangster who was being taken into police custody the last time I saw him is that you can pretty much start fooling around immediately.

And I use the words "fooling around" loosely … No, really, I only actually carried on with one of the five first dates. Meaning my very very seriously irretractable vow to never ever EVER under any conceivable circumstance have sex on a first date, not even once, is still 80 percent intact! For the week.

Nobody approves of the choices I make. Except this one guy. But most of my girlfriends and all of the women’s magazines and dating advice columnists … it’s unanimousish: don’t be desperate. Whatever you do, you’re not supposed to be, or seem, desperate.

"But what if you’re desperate?" I have to ask. It is almost my job to ask, and I think maybe it is my job to answer. Or try.

Well, desperation has a bad rap. Which is easy for me to say. I embody desperation. I am one of desperation’s foremost practitioners and appreciators. Desperate people who don’t embrace, or at least act out of desperation, will never get to lick a ruby in a dangerous drunk’s front tooth, for example. Or …

Or …

There are other examples too unmentionable to mention.

This one isn’t: The best kisser I ever kissed, the man who will now, for me, set the standard for quality kisses, was of course All Wrong, by the book, and an act of desperation on my part. He was the one-in-five, and technically still married. I kinda knew I’d never see him again, and I definitely knew I would want to. Oh, and he wasn’t even very good-looking, nor well-spoken — which turns me on more than good looks. But: none of that. He was an amazing kisser, and I wasn’t wrong to guess that that would translate to great sex.

Minus my being starved for affection, however, it never would have happened. And I never would have made the five dates in five days, probably, if I hadn’t been so impressed and/or horrified by my shenanigans with that man on the train. Not because he was a gangster; because, cool dentistry notwithstanding, he was a terrible, terrible kisser, all force and no finesse.

Somebody save me! Right?

This is not what I want. It’s what I’ve got. I will work with it, laugh and enjoy and wrangle it into words, as always, for your amusement, but it wouldn’t be true desperation without the underlying fact that it ain’t what I want. I want sweet, sexy boredom and juicy burritos with a reliable, commitment-capable man with a soft, spicy tongue, safe driving habits, something to say, and question marks for eyes.

I know you’re out there. Sort it out and step up, please, sir. It’s hard, I know. I know it’s scary. But imagine the meals we will make, and all the great restaurants in our oystery world, as simple as salt plus what?

You’ll figure it out.

Meanwhile, when I am absolutely desperate for a burrito:

THE BURRITO SHOP

Mon.–Sat.: 10:30 a.m.–9 p.m.; Sun.: 11 a.m.–8 p.m.

5259 College, Oakl.

(510) 658-7646

No alcohol

MC/V

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

A third in the hand

0

Dear Andrea:

I’ve always wanted to have a threesome and my wife is willing, but she would prefer to do it with her first boyfriend. At first I was all for it, but I’m getting more concerned that it might rekindle an old flame. Otherwise, I wouldn’t care if she had sex with a different guy every week, as long as she was safe and came home to me. I’m not jealous. I have a very high sex drive and could still have sex five or six times a day if time allowed. I love my wife and I know people are going to say if that was true, why would I let her have sex with another man? I say, variety! Spice of life!

It seems that her ex and I are similar as far as sex goes. She has only been with four partners in 20 years, including me. She has always believed in being dedicated to one person, and until I asked her about this, she never thought of straying.

She feels that if she were to do the threesome, she would prefer to do it with her ex. They didn’t part on bad terms, just grew apart with careers and family. She said she would contact him if I wanted, but I’m starting to worry. She says I’m her soulmate, but I’m not sure I should put our relationship on the line for a fantasy.

Love,

Wanting, but Worried

Dear W:

The best way to avoid having people say stupid things about your private life is to actually have a private life. People do talk, and most of what they say is pretty stupid.

I do admit to feeling a bit uneasy about partners who profess no feelings of jealousy whatsoever — do they actually, um, care? — but there’s a lot of variation in people’s baseline territoriality levels. I won’t think ill of you as a husband unless you let on that really you don’t give a damn what she’s up to, or whether she’s (re)developing feelings for the ex, or what her intentions are toward you. At that point, you get demoted from husband to acquaintance with benefits, and you lose your right to vote on what she does with anyone. Since you’re plenty engaged and plenty involved and plenty affectionate, though, I have nothing mean to say to you.

I fully understand why you might be feeling a little hesitant about the ex thing, but I think it’s a pretty safe bet. Understand that if he’d caddishly dumped her and she’d spent years madly pining for him, I would certainly feel differently, but a "just grew apart"-type break-up plus all that intervening time — much of it spent, apparently, pursuing an unusually hectic sex-having schedule with you — just doesn’t sound that risky.

Your wife wants a lot of safety and a little danger, which is pretty much what most people are going for when they start looking to act out a fantasy. The ex is, presumably, a known quantity, can be trusted to accurately report STD status and recent sexual history, is pleasantly familiar and congenial, shares a worldview and a sense of humor, and has proved compatible and worthy of her favors. How many Craigslist guys can you say that about? If it works, think about all the yuck and ew and dreariness you could get to bypass, including but not limited to horrible disgusting strangers you wish you’d never heard back from, people who seemed appealing but are dreadfully dull on closer inspection, druggies, drama kings, married cheaters, and people who are OK but want something you would never want to even think about doing yourself.

I also suspect that your wife may be what I call a love fetishist, by which I mean nothing unusual at all, particularly for women. She doesn’t want to have sex with anyone she doesn’t have feelings for. So why not this guy, safely ex but once, at least, the One? We all know that once loved, people do not automatically become unloved. We just don’t usually have any useful ways to take advantage of that often-inconvenient fact.

Of course, no matter how endlessly you and your wife process this, it’s no longer up to just you. Even if you decide to go ahead, you still can’t without the third party’s interest and availability. Nobody’s even approached him yet, right? Chances are excellent that not only is he otherwise occupied, he will be alarmed, if not appalled, to be approached after all this time. Even if he does cheerfully sign on, everyone will have to agree on when, how, what, how much, and how to stop if things get weird, all of it as explicitly as possible. Yes, it does sound like work (there’s something to be said for simply no longer having time for this sort of thing). Good luck, though, and remember you don’t actually have to do this. Everybody might be relieved if you just decided "yeah, no" after all.

Love,

Andrea

Don’t forget to read Andrea at Carnal Nation.com.

Off the wall

0

› johnny@sfbg.com

It’s Saturday morning, and Michael Rosenthal Gallery is crowded — because it’s playing host to a baby shower. The current show of paintings by Terry Hoff is partly obscured by the small celebration. In one corner, Rosenthal sits on a couch. Aside from the dark circles around his eyes, you wouldn’t know that he’s caught up in perhaps the strangest of a string of recent art thefts at SF galleries.

At 3 a.m. on Friday, March 20, police notified Rosenthal that his Valencia Street space had been vandalized. Arriving at the site, he was surprised to discover that while a pair of computers, an expensive printer and scanner, and a bag of Nikon cameras were still there, four paintings from the current show by Hoff were amiss. "The first two cops [to arrive] were totally uninterested," Rosenthal says, adding that when he gave the missing works an estimated value of $40,000, the answer he received was blunt: "They said, ‘Too bad — if the paintings were valued at $50,000, everyone would be here’" (SFPD didn’t return calls for comment.)

The theft of the Hoff paintings marks the third time in the past six months that a street-level San Francisco gallery was the target of a robbery. On Oct. 15 last year, two paintings by the late Margaret Kilgallen were stolen from the SoMa space Gallery 16, which was putting on a 15-year retrospective. (Unlike the majority of the exhibition, neither Kilgallen piece was for sale.) Less than a month later, someone walked into the Mission District gallery Triple Base and took a painting by Jay Nelson from the wall.

"It’s horrible," Gallery 16 owner Griff Williams says, when asked about the Kilgallen theft. "The whole experience continues to be horrible because we haven’t settled any of this. There’s a personal sadness — Margaret wasn’t interested in the art market, and didn’t sell her work by choice in the shows we did with her. It also points to the ugly side of the way things are valued, and how insurance companies want to undervalue the work."

"People don’t know that if they steal artwork or buy stolen artwork, it has no value in the market," says Triple Base codirector Dina Pugh. "It doesn’t have value unless you have the title to the work, and the gallery is always looking for stolen pieces."

The three recent thefts, while not necessarily related, share some commonalities beyond the street-level position of the galleries. Kilgallen, Nelson, and Hoff all knew or know the San Francisco artist Barry McGee, the sole focus of a lengthy April 2008 Artforum article on the proliferation and market value of stolen artworks. (In fact, Hoff owns work by both Kilgallen and McGee.) In a 2006 issue of ANP Quarterly, Darryl Smith from the Market Street gallery the Luggage Store recounts an experience buying a piece by McGee on the street.

"[The thefts] point to all these issues that the art world deals with in terms of valuation," says Williams, whose space has been vandalized more than once without any art being stolen. "As an art project, you could take someone’s work and see what you can get for it on the street. With Barry’s [McGee’s] work, there’s a street cred to stealing it."

The theft of the Terry Hoff paintings differs from the Gallery 16 and Triple Base robberies in one crucial way: the artworks were recovered. At press time, both the San Francisco police and the individual who returned the paintings were unavailable for comment. However, at 2 a.m. March 21, Rosenthal was awakened by a call from police informing him that the Hoff paintings were recovered, albeit with some scratches and damage. "It was a whirlwind of emotions," Hoff says of the experience.

In the current market, art might not seem to have strong value. "You’re gonna sell Terry Hoff paintings on Market Street?" Williams asks, only somewhat rhetorically. Pugh has a pragmatic view of the situation. "With the economy going down the tubes, there are so many things that come along with it — violence, robbery. People are desperate, and I expect more [thefts] to happen. It’s making galleries be more cautious and vigilant."

When protesters become ‘terrorists’

0

› rebeccab@sfbg.com

When does passionate protest become a terrorist threat? Is it when activists choose to target someone’s house, or when the subject of the protest feels scared? Why single out animal rights activists for special treatment? And if the definition of terrorism is expanded for them, what group is next in these turbulent times?

These are the questions being raised by the federal prosecution of four local animal rights activists. Joseph Buddenberg, Maryam Khajavi, Nathan Pope, and Adriana Stumpo pleaded not guilty March 19 to charges of using threats and violence to interfere with University of California animal researchers, in violation of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA).

A coalition of civil liberties defense groups have come to their defense, arguing that the law is unconstitutional and that the activists were merely exercising their freedoms of speech and assembly.

AETA specifically protects research institutions, pharmaceutical companies, and other businesses that use animals from individuals who "interfere with" their operations. Anyone using threats, vandalism, property damage, trespassing, harassment, or intimidation to cause someone connected with an animal enterprise to have "reasonable fear of death or bodily injury" can be tried under the law. But critics say the statute is over-broad, arguing that legal activity like boycotts can be construed as a form of interfering with a business’ operations.

"In its abstract form, and now with these arrests, the AETA is a full frontal assault by the U.S. government on the First Amendment," says San Francisco-based attorney Ben Rosenfeld, a member of the National Lawyers Guild. "Everybody, whether they identify with animal rights causes or not, ought to be very alarmed."

According to an FBI affidavit filed by special agent Lisa Shaffer, the activists took part in actions targeting UC researchers who conduct experiments on animals. They didn’t free caged animals, torch laboratories, or slash tires. Instead the defendants were caught picketing, chanting, and creating flyers. And while the complaint cites an alleged assault, it never states that any of the four defendants was responsible. Yet they each face up to five years in prison.

In October 2007, the complaint alleges, the defendants joined a group of protesters outside a UC researcher’s home in El Cerrito where they marched, chanted things like "vivisectors go to hell!" and rang the doorbell. The second incident took place in January 2008, when a group of about a dozen people "wearing bandanas over their nose and mouth" allegedly drove to a number of researchers’ homes in the East Bay. They "marched, chanted, and chalked defamatory comments on the public sidewalks in front of the residences."

The complaint says UC researchers felt harassed, intimidated, and terrified. Heidi Boghosian, executive director of the National Lawyers Guild in New York City, says AETA is flawed in that prosecutions are based on the targets’ reactions, not the protesters’ intent. "Basing prosecutions on the subjective feelings of individuals to whom no harm was inflicted undermines the foundation of criminal law, which punishes those who commit crimes with the intent to do so," Boghosian told us. "Demonstrating — even noisy, angry demonstrating that may be uncomfortable to others — is still protected under the First Amendment."

During the third incident, six bandana-clad protesters allegedly approached the home of a UC Santa Cruz researcher. Her husband heard banging on the glass pane of the door, opened it, and then "struggled with one individual and was hit with a dark, firm object," according to the complaint. The protesters dispersed, and one allegedly yelled, "We’re gonna get you!" Santa Cruz police later seized a vehicle belonging to one of the activists. Bandanas found inside the car were later sampled for DNA, linking them with three of the defendants.

The complaint doesn’t indicate whether any of the four defendants struck the researcher’s husband or yelled a threat. But that hardly matters. "Another flaw of the AETA is its ‘course of conduct’ language," Boghosian said. "If one protester commits a single unlawful act at a protest … but five others were present, all may be charged with engaging in a course of conduct that interferes or attempts to interfere with the operations of an animal enterprise."

Finally, the FBI charges that in July 2008, a stack of flyers listing the home addresses of two UC professors under the headline "murderers and torturers" was discovered at a Santa Cruz cafe. The FBI tapped security camera footage and Internet use logs to link three of the defendants to the stack of flyers.

Several days after the flyers were discovered, a firebombing took place at one of those researchers’ homes — but the federal complaint doesn’t mention it. When asked if there might be a connection, FBI special agent Joseph Shadler told the Guardian that the complaint speaks for itself.

Several civil liberties groups have been wary of AETA since it was enacted. "The law is so overly broad and so vague that no one knows what’s legal and illegal," Odette Wilkins, who is pushing for a repeal of the bill through her organization, the Maryland-based Equal Justice Alliance, told us. "The USA Patriot Act makes it very, very clear what terrorism is. It’s anything that causes mass destruction … or places the entire civilian population in fear. I don’t see how people exercising their First Amendment rights … rises to the level of terrorism. It’s ludicrous."

FBI special agent Schadler sees it differently. "As far as the distinction between free speech protected by the Constitution and what we would consider terrorism, whenever somebody’s purpose is to cause fear to get their point across, that’s terrorism," he told the Guardian. "The definition of terrorism is using threat of violence, or violence, to accomplish a political means. And the threat of violence — when you are actually going out and threatening to hurt people, or causing people to believe that they’re going to be hurt, or actually hurting them to get your movement or your political voice heard — then you are committing terrorism."

Lauren Regan, executive director of the Eugene, Ore.-based Civil Liberties Defense Center, helped create Coalition to Abolish the AETA. "We were working on putting together a civil lawsuit simply challenging the constitutionality of the law when the criminal indictments happened," she explained.

Regan has been on the case since a previous law, the Animal Enterprise Protection Act, was in place. That statute was upgraded to the AETA in 2006 in the wake of aggressive tactics employed by a radical animal rights group, Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC). "Many felt [the AEPA] was also unnecessary," she told us. "Because there are already statutes for burglary, theft, vandalism, arson [etc]. Any of the crimes that could have fallen within the AEPA were already federal and state crimes."

Sen. Dianne Feinstein cosponsored AETA along with Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), saying it would "ensure that eco-terrorists do not impede important medical progress in California." Before the bill passed, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) voiced the lone complaint against it. "I am not for anyone … damaging another person’s property or person. But I am for protecting the First Amendment and not creating a special class of violations for a specific type of protest."

No one else was persuaded. The bill was bundled with other legislation deemed to be noncontroversial then passed by voice vote. The American Civil Liberties Union didn’t oppose it after an amendment was added guaranteeing that it wouldn’t restrict First Amendment rights. The ACLU declined to comment for this story.

Regan says broadening the definition of terrorism can stifle important campaigns. She points to the example of a widely publicized video released by the Humane Society last year that showed disturbing footage of downed cows at a beef processing facility. Though it spurred one of the largest beef recalls in history (and saved school kids from consuming an unsafe meat product), the cameraperson could be tried as a terrorist under the AETA, Regan says, because it was necessary to trespass to shoot the film.

She also criticizes the FBI’s excessive use of paid informants. "This has happened across the country — if someone posts a vegan potluck, the FBI is showing up to see who’s there and what they’re doing," she says. Between 1993 and 2003, the FBI’s counterterrorism division increased 224 percent, according to its Web site.

While advocates are quick to point out that there are no documented deaths associated with animal rights activism, the movement has a history of employing firebombs, threatening phone calls, and other creepy tactics in pressing to end animal cruelty — a trend that led to the passage of the domestic terrorism bill.

"The AETA has backfired, causing an increase in underground activism," says Los Angeles-based activist Jerry Vlasak, whose inflammatory language against animal researchers was quoted extensively during the 2006 Congressional hearing on AETA. Vlasak is a media contact for the North American Animal Liberation Press Office, which operates a Web site featuring anonymous "communiqués" sent in by clandestine activists. In a posting dated March 6, a group called the Animal Liberation Brigade takes credit for burning the car of a Los Angeles primate researcher. "We will come for you when you least expect it and do a lot more damanage [sic] than to your property," the message reads. "Where ever you go and what ever you do we’ll be watching you as long as you continue to do your disgusting experiments on monkeys. And a special message for the FBI, the more legit activists you fuck with the more it inspires us since wer’re [sic] the people whom you least suspect and when we hit we hit hard."

Will Potter, a Washington, D.C.journalist who runs a Web site called Green Is The New Red, testified before Congress prior to the passage of the AETA, arguing that the law would not deter underground activists. Instead he predicts it will have a chilling effect on protests staged in broad daylight. "This legislation will … risk painting legal activity and nonviolent civil disobedience with the same broad brush as illegal activists," he said.

That, says Rosenfeld, is precisely what’s happened. "The whole underpinning of a democratic society is that it’s rights-based, and government power is limited and checked by law," he says. "Here we have a complete perversion of that process. The government gives itself this over-broad, sweeping power to go after anyone it wants and then seeks to reassure people that it will only use those laws against the real bad guys."

Monopoly money

0

sarah@sfbg.com

Employees at the San Francisco Chronicle are anxiously awaiting the March 31 deadline that its owner the Hearst Corp. has set for accepting buyout offers, after which the ax could fall on any employee at any time. The California Media Workers Guild has voted to accept 150 layoffs and to end seniority considerations at the city’s major daily.

Hearst claims that amendments to the union’s contract are essential to avoid closing or selling the 144-year-old paper, although the company refuses to open its books, making it impossible to verify claims that the Chronicle is losing $1 million a week. Rather than challenging that corporate prerogative, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi wants to explore allowing a local monopoly like MediaNews to buy the Chronicle, the last major Bay Area newspaper MediaNews doesn’t already own through its Bay Area News Group subsidiary.

In a March 16 letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Pelosi wrote: "I am confident that the antitrust division, in assessing any concerns that any proposed mergers or other arrangements in the San Francisco area might reduce competition, will take into appropriate account, as relevant, not only the number of daily and weekly newspapers in the Bay Area, but also the other sources of news and advertising outlets available in the electronic and digital age, so that conclusions reached reflect current market realities."

Holder responded March 18, telling reporters, "It’s important for this nation to maintain a healthy newspaper industry. So to the extent that we have to look at our enforcement policies and conform them to the reality that the industry faces, that’s something I’m going to be willing to do."

Sara Steffens, chair of the Guild’s Bay Area News Group East Bay unit, recently raised her concerns about that strategy. "Consolidating some or all Bay Area News Group operations with the Chronicle could prove the financial salvation for our struggling newspapers, potentially guarding against bankruptcies or outright shutdown," she wrote on the union’s Web site. "But it could also pave the way for further job loss and erosion of standards."

Justice department lawyers have in the past ruled against mergers that created newspaper monopolies, but media analyst Alan Mutter believes times have changed. "It’s just a question of who is going to qualify," Mutter told the Guardian.

Retired UC Berkeley journalism professor Ben Bagdikian, author of books critical of media monopolies, said the Chronicle‘s "surprising announcement" that it might have to shut down could be a scam. He notes that this news comes "not long after Hearst and [MediaNews owner Dean} Singleton, who owns all the East Bay dailies, formed a partnership to buy media in other parts of the country.

"Hearst a few years ago — granted, in boom times — gifted the Examiner to the Fang family along with a stunning gift of $56 million to the Fangs to take it and make it into a daily," Bagdikian said. "I think it has never before happened in the news business or any other business to pay someone else to compete with them. It was clearly part of a larger plan to get rid of this operating agreement for exemption from antitrust [laws]."

Other critics believe that large newspapers, which are tied to huge printing presses and gas-guzzling delivery trucks, could become extinct, and that nimbler prototypes that deliver news by mobile phone and integrate social networking on their Web sites could assume the old media’s traditional role as public watchdogs.

Jeff Elder, who is studying the newspaper industry as a Knight fellow at Stanford University, told the Guardian, "You either see a daily newspaper as an old railroad station, a really cool part of the city’s history that you maybe can’t afford to save, or an at-risk public school whose continuance is fundamental to democracy."

Elder, a columnist for the Charlotte Observer, was one of a wide variety of media professionals (including Guardian publisher Bruce B. Brugmann), who gathered March 17 in the San Francisco Public Library to discuss the Chronicle‘s future.

"There is no minimizing that it’s a real sad situation for the people being laid off," Elder said. "But there is a real danger in propping up print products by strengthening monopolies. You’re draining off resources while propping up a business model that is becoming increasingly irrelevant."

The polluting Port

0

› news@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY Manuel Rivas is an independent truck driver working at and living near the Port of Oakland, where diesel exhaust from old idling vehicles has created a serious public health threat.

Officials have long talked about addressing the problem (see "ImPorting injustice," 7/17/07). In the meantime, however, Rivas and his twin boys — whom he has cared for alone since his wife died in a car accident 12 years ago — struggle with respiratory problems on low wages and with no health insurance.

"I’ve spent 21 years working as a truck driver. This is where I’ve spent most of my life, and I don’t have anything from it. You can see for yourself," Rivas tells the Guardian in Spanish, gesturing to his small, rundown house and showing us his empty refrigerator. "We are people, not slaves. We fuel the economy not just here in Oakland, but throughout the country."

Rivas works eight to 10 hours per day and says he takes home about $5.55 per hour after the expenses for his truck. Deregulation of the trucking industry has left drivers, many of them immigrants, as independent contractors with low wages and few benefits.

"We don’t get any vacation time," he said. "We don’t get health insurance. If we get sick, then we have to pay out of our own pockets."

And they do get sick. Diesel exhaust is a toxic air pollutant. The Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports organized an asthma screening in West Oakland last month to address problems around the Port. "Small particulates get breathed into the lower reaches of the lungs and cause irritation and inflammation, an increase in respiratory problems like asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and a long term risk of lung cancer," said Dr. Robert Harrison, a UCSF professor who participated in the screenings.

Sandra Witt of the Alameda County Health Department said West Oakland residents are exposed to three times more diesel particulate matter than the rest of the Bay Area, thanks to the Port and nearby freeways.

"We’re driving all day, every day, and at this moment my throat is very dry and it hurts, so I take cough drops," Rivas said. He is concerned that one of his sons recently came down with bronchitis and was unable to play soccer.

Harrison says that children and the elderly are most susceptible to toxic air. "Bronchitis is one of the symptoms of respiratory problems from diesel pollution," Harrison said. One in five children in Oakland has asthma, the highest rate in California.

But treating a large population for respiratory problems is difficult. "There really isn’t any way to treat the community unless you reduce air pollution," Harrison said. "I found that the independent status of truck drivers keeps them vulnerable to health problems."

Port Commissioner Margaret Gordon, a longtime community activist before joining that body in 2007 (see "Port tack," 10/10/07), has pushed the Port to take responsibility for its contribution to the problem. "Diesel is bad in any way it comes. In trucks, trains, ships, cargo, or cabin equipment, it’s bad. But the closest thing to the people of West Oakland are the emissions from the trucks," Gordon said.

Swati Prakash of the Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports hopes that new legislation will alleviate some problems from diesel pollution. "For the first time you have state regulations coming down the pipe," Prakash told us. "The California Air Resources Board has recognized how deadly diesel pollution is."

On Jan. 1, 2010, pre-1994 trucks will not be allowed on Port land and 1994-2003 trucks must be retrofitted to reduce diesel particulate matter by 85 percent. But Rivas can’t afford a new truck, so he and other drivers are hoping to become employees of trucking companies.

The Port’s Comprehensive Truck Management Plan (CTMP), which will address diesel pollution and related issues, is now being drafted and is set to go before the commission for approval in June. Richard Sinkoff, the Port’s director of environmental programs and planning, said staff is working at an accelerated schedule because of the urgency of the issue.

"I think the board really understands that public health is a concern for all of us," Sinkoff said. "Time is always of the essence when dealing with a recognized public health issue."

Appetite: Hookahs on Mission, gnocchi deals, Midi in FiDi, and more

0

midi0309.jpg
A delicious-looking dish at Midi. See “Openings” below.

As long-time San Francisco resident and writer, I’m passionate about this city and obsessed with exploring its best food-and-drink spots, deals, events and news, in every neighborhood and cuisine type. I have my own personalized itinerary service and monthly food/drink/travel newsletter, The Perfect Spot, and am thrilled to share up-to-the minute news with you from the endless goings-on in our fair city each week on SFBG. View the last Appetite installment here.

———–

NEW RESTAURANT AND BAR OPENINGS

Whew! There are a slew of openings this week. Here’s a rundown of four and stay tuned for many more …

Missionites’ new all-day cafe-wine bar-resto combo: The Corner
Weird Fish, the Mission’s quirky, sustainable seafood joint, debuted a sister spot next door last week, The Corner, which should begin all day hours this week. Seeking to be all things to all people, it’s a cafe with wifi and Four Barrel coffee in the am, BLT Paninis at lunch, and at night, DJs, unique wines by the glass and dishes like duck and medjool dates or fennel-crusted pork chops.
2199 Mission, SF.
415-932-6939

Mission take two: Morak Lounge, a new Moroccan hookah bar
Sixteenth and Valencia has no lack of global eating options, all within a couple block radius. What it hasn’t had up till now is a chic, Marrakech-style lounge where you can smoke a double-apple flavored hookah while sampling Middle Eastern bites (the usual: hummus, baba ghanoush, skewers) or Cardamom-infused martinis. Enter Morak Lounge. Behind bronze doors, bright curtains and comfy cushions equal a sultry space to linger and puff away long into the night (open until big city hours of 3am on weekends).
3126 16th St., SF
415-626-5523

Midi: FiDi’s new French Asian restaurant
Joie de Vivre luxury hotels debuted a new restaurant this past weekend, open for lunch and dinner with a downstairs bar open all day for the Financial District set. Midi, with Chef Michelle Mah of Ponzu at the helm, has been in the works for two years but is finally open in the former Perry’s space. The French Asian fare reinvents classics like duck leg confit with a ginger-rhubarb jus, with Euro-Asian offerings from Hawaiian kampachi crudo to pork rillettes with Dijon mustard. It all goes down nicely post-work (or during a lunch break) with a Lavender French 75 cocktail or with one of seven craft beers or 15 wines by the glass.
185 Sutter Street
415-835-6400
www.midisanfrancisco.com

Barlata, tapas bar from B44 chef, debuts Oakland
Chef Daniel Olivella has helmed Belden Lane’s mainstay, B44, for years… and still will. But he’s branching out with an anticipated East Bay locale, Barlata. Experience Spain from the mile-long list of tapas, bite-sized pinchos and paellas to share. Don’t forget Spanish wines, sherries or (non-Spanish) beers as you join friends at the marble bar or communal table to dine on boquerones, garlic soup, grilled sardines or oxtail in red wine sauce.
4901 Telegraph Ave, Oakl.
510-450-0678
www.barlata.com

———–

EVENTS

March 26: Wine Enthusiast magazine’s Toast of the Town
Another pricey deal, this one’s your chance to pretend that you’re the elite, sipping wine for a local charity at the classy War Memorial Opera House for Wine Enthusiast mag’s Toast of the Town gala. Dress up and splurge for the VIP gig at 5pm or buy slightly more reasonable 7pm tix to sip wines from over 70 producers and taste bites from 30 restaurants like Ana Mandara, Campton Place, Millennium, Rivoli, Shanghai 1930 and Slanted Door, to name a few. A charity auction for SF Food Bank gives some meaning to your decadent imbibement.
7pm
$75 Early Bird Online/$95 at the door
War Memorial Opera House
401 Van Ness Avenue
415-829-7530
www.wineenthusiast.com/toast

whisk0309.jpg

March 28: Whiskies of the World is back as part of Artisanal Spirits Fest
How can you not love that San Fran has been the setting for the unique Whiskies of the World celebration for 10 years now? Not only are there classes on Cigar Making or Mixology (using, what else? Whiskies), but the setting is downright idyllic. As the sun sets from aboard the San Francisco Belle, smoke your cigar (BYO or buy there) as you roam the deck while Celtic pipe and drum music plays, and sipping whiskies is the collective activity. Sampling booths cover three floors of the boat, staffed by spirits experts from distillers to blenders, while a dinner buffet shores up the stomach for all that imbibing. On top of whiskies, the Indpendent Spirits Fest portion means there’s also local vendors of other types of spirits like St. George Spirits, Charbay, Anchor Steam, Square One, and Osocalis. It’s pricey, yes, but I can think of fewer more enjoyable ways to go…
Sat/28, 6pm, $115-$120; additional classes: $15-20
San Francisco Belle, Pier 3
610-326-8151
celticmalts.com/events.asp

————-

DEALS

FREE Monday morning coffee at Four Barrel
I didn’t want to have to mention this and make the waits for a capp at Four Barrel longer than they already are, but as the word is leaking out everywhere this week, I thought I’d mention this generous turn from owner, Jeremy Tooker. Playfully calling it an “F.U. Recession” giveaway, get an 8oz. cup of French Press coffee, brewed just right… don’t say I didn’t warn you about looong waits for it, though!
Mondays through April 20th, 8-10am
375 Valencia, SF.
415-282-0800

Weeknight prix fixe and Gnocchi Tuesdays at Bar Bambino
Every time I go to Bar Bambino, I walk away feeling like I was just in my favorite enoteca in an Italian town, sipping Italian wines, robust coffees from both North and South Italy, eating housemade charcuterie and cheeses Bambino’s been making before everyone in town was. Like many lately, they’re offering special menus like an early evening three-course prix fixe for $30. Primi (first course) could be soup, salad, or pasta. Main course is a meat or eggplant polpette, with gelato or signature Citrus Polenta Cake for dessert. Another fun element (for gnocchi fiends like myself) is their Gnocchi Tuesdays, playfully mirroring the tradition of Roman trattorias serving gnocchi dishes on Thursdays. Chef Christian Hermsdorf makes them from scratch, of course, different each week, with past gnocchi made of red kuri squash with sage cream sauce or a Venetian-inspired pumpkin gnocchi in cinnamon and brown butter. Yum…
Sundays-Thursdays, 5-7pm, $30
2931 16th St., SF
415-701-8466
www.barbambino.com

Jovino’s Saturday night Spaghetti Feed
Spaghetti with Niman Ranch meatballs sound good to you? What if you throw in a glass of house wine all for the price of the wine: $9? Now you have a deal. A low-key Cow Hollow cafe, Jovino is a good place to drop in and unwind — and fill up for less than $10.
Saturdays 6-9pm
2184 Union, SF
415-563-1853

Pricing women out of health care

0

OPINION While California faces some of the most challenging economic times in recent history, many residents are losing their jobs — and as a result, their health insurance. And businesses of all sizes are struggling to make ends meet, which often means slicing employee benefits.

As more people are forced to turn to the individual market for their health insurance, women in California are at a distinct disadvantage. Under a practice known as gender rating, health insurers are allowed to charge higher premiums based on a person’s gender. Consequently, many women pay higher premiums than men for identical coverage. This unfair and discriminatory practice affects more than 1 million California women who currently purchase their health plans on the individual market — and undoubtedly prices many more women out of health coverage altogether.

A recent survey by the National Women’s Law Center showed huge variations in premiums charged to women and men for the same health care coverage. In some cases, women paid premiums that were slightly higher than what men paid for the same policy. But in other cases, women were charged more than 50 percent more — and as much as 140 percent more — for identical health plans.

Gender rating violates the California Constitution’s equal protection guarantees and goes against the state’s good public policies that favor preventive health care and affordable health coverage for all Californians.

While insurers argue their insurance rate differentials are based on the actual cost of providing health care to women (even for plans that do not include maternity care), gender rating is a relatively new phenomenon. Gender rating was not significantly used by the state’s top insurers until mid-2007, according to a preliminary analysis from the California HealthCare Foundation. Surely the cost of caring for women has not increased exponentially in the past two years, while medical expenses for men have remained stagnant.

In pricing women out of affordable health care coverage in the individual market, we set in motion a series of events that harm women, children, families, and entire communities. Uninsured women are less likely to receive preventive care. They’re most likely to discover, and seek treatment for, serious disease in the later stages of an illness. One serious disease or illness could potentially bankrupt an entire family and pose a health risk to the community. In addition, the costs of caring for uninsured women ultimately fall to either the local or state government, draining already strained public resources.

More than 40 years ago the insurance industry voluntarily abandoned the practice of using race as a rating factor for setting health insurance premiums, despite their arguments that those premiums were also based on actual health care costs. Ten states across the country have already outlawed gender rating, with no negative consequences to the rest of the insured in those states. Without a doubt, it’s time to do the same in California. *


Sen. Mark Leno represents the third Senate District, which includes Marin and parts of San Francisco and Sonoma counties. He is the author of Senate Bill 54, which would prohibit the practice of gender rating in California.

Saving SF’s human services

0

EDITORIAL San Francisco stands to get more than $50 million in federal stimulus money designed to prevent cuts to health and human services. That could be a huge help to the city’s efforts to close a half-billion dollar budget gap. And the Department of Public Health is counting on its $27 million share to prevent layoffs and program closures.

But the city’s Human Services Agency, which ought to be able to spend some $25 million in federal money to keep alive programs for the homeless and the needy, is refusing to include that revenue as part of its budget for next year. That’s a terrible mistake that will literally cost lives.

The money comes under the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage program, known as FMAP. When President Obama announced that the additional funding would be available to cities and states Feb. 23, he specifically stated that the cash should prevent a loss of services: "This plan will also help ensure that you don’t need to make cuts to essential services Americans rely on now more than ever," he told the nation’s governors at a press event.

Somehow, though, Mayor Gavin Newsom doesn’t see it that way. The Newsom administration seems to believe that since the money is a one-time grant, it shouldn’t be used to pay salaries and keep ongoing operations afloat. That has infuriated critics, like Sup. John Avalos, who chairs the Budget Committee. "I’d like to see us use the money to prevent cuts to human services," he told the Guardian. "I think maybe the Newsom people want to make cuts and eliminate service programs anyway, and this doesn’t fit their plan."

We’re talking about employment services, homeless supportive housing, the Tenderloin drop-in scenter, job training for homeless people, and more essential services. Obviously, the city is facing a spike in unemployment and homelessness — the last thing that makes financial or policy sense is to cut the programs that unemployed and homeless people rely on.

We understand the problems with one-time federal grants. Money like that is typically put toward one-time uses — setting up a new program that will have to find its own funding later, or building something, or funding a temporary position. Use one-year grants for regular operating expenses and you run into trouble when the money is gone.

But this is an emergency situation, and the money that Washington is handing out is designed specifically to prevent cuts to health and human services. The stimulus money is supposed to be spent, now — and saving jobs, programs, and lives by preventing further budget cuts is exactly the sort of thing Obama intended when he made the money available.

But this is the best Newsom’s press flak, Nathan Ballard, can offer: "The mayor has not decided yet how this additional revenue will be used to solve the city’s $575 million budget shortfall," Ballard wrote us, "and he and his staff will be working with the directors of the DPH and HSA throughout the course of this decision-making process."

Mayor Newsom ought to be doing two basic things right now: Looking for every dollar that’s on the table or can be grabbed from somewhere to prevent the worst of this year’s budget cuts, and convening meetings and putting together a proposal to fix the city’s long-term revenue problems. We suggested holding a special election this spring or summer to put some new tax measures before the voters, but Newsom opposed that idea — and it’s looking less and likely to happen. But there’s no way to pass a credible budget in this city without planning for, and counting on, some significant revenue package in November.

Newsom’s still acting as if this budget crisis is nothing much to worry about. It’s time he took it seriously.

Editor’s Notes

0

› Tredmond@sfbg.com

I spent the weekend with my head under the kitchen sink, experiencing that loop of doom that makes old San Francisco houses so charming. The drain was stopped up, so I figured I’d pull the trap and clean it out, but the pipe broke in half the minute I tried to unscrew it. When I bought a new one, the pipe it attached to started to crumble, and when I replaced that one, the seals on the next pipe were shot, and after the third trip to Cole Hardware, I realized that I was going to have to pull out all of the kitchen plumbing and replace everything.

So I was lying there on my back, with dirty water and little pieces of whatever foul gunk had adhered to the insides of the old pipes dripping into my eyes, and all of the Sunday ads and advertorial sections of the Chronicle next to me to sop up the mess, and I started thinking about why I subscribe to The New York Times.

We’ve considered cutting it off — it costs a lot of money, and we’re trying not to spend a lot of money these days. Also, if I want to, I can find all the entire paper on the Web anyway. I don’t even get most of my world news from the Times; I read the British papers, the Guardian and The Independent.

But every morning while I’m sitting at the counter eating my breakfast, I turn to the Times op-ed page and get some of the most intelligent, interesting insight and commentary you’re going to find on a single sheet of paper anywhere in the world. And I thought: If the Times was in such dire financial straights that it had to fire half its staff, and Bob Herbert was one of the unfortunate souls chosen for a pink slip, I’d be joining the national uproar. There would be petitions, and editors’ inboxes would be jammed with e-mail, and marchers would mass in Times Square.

Ditto Paul Krugman, who is one of the few prominent economists in America who isn’t full of shit. And Thomas Freidman, who is sometimes full of shit but thinks so clearly and makes such cogent arguments that it’s a pleasure to get mad at him. And Nicholas Kristof, who routinely travels to some of the nastiest places on the planet to bring back the stories of how American policy affects human beings who otherwise would have remained in the shadows for life. That page alone is worth $1 a day; in fact, it’s one of the greatest bargains on Earth.

I don’t know whom the Chronicle is going to fire March 31 when the cutbacks are supposed to happen. I have kinda, sorta friends there, and there are some good, honest reporters, and I hope they all survive. But is there any political opinion columnist whose pending demise would get me out of my chair to a rally? Uh, no.

I love Jon Carroll, but he writes a lot about cats and mondegreens and there’s a good reason he isn’t on the op-ed page. Debra Saunders? Sorry, she’s an idiot. (And not just because I disagree with her — William Safire is one of my favorite writers ever. Saunders? Idiot.) C.W. Nevius? Belongs in the suburbs. John Diaz? Eh. Whatever.

I still pay for the Chron, but I’m not surprised that hardly anyone else I know does.

“Old Times” and “The Homecoming”

0

PREVIEW Don’t get too cozy at home this weekend. Two Harold Pinter domestic dramas (if so prosaic a term can apply to the psychological warfare underway in them) are opening, and each ranks among his most stingingly taut, darkly hilarious, and downright creepy works. So take a pause for Pinter, the late and great, and unsettle the nest a bit — beginning with TheatreFIRST’s offering of Old Times, an eerie 1971 three-hander (featuring a rare opportunity to see the excellent L. Peter Callender on something other than the largest of local stages). The good ol’ days are the purported topic of conversation, but like the spare farmhouse shared by married couple Deeley and Kate — into which Kate’s old friend Anna comes for a visit after 20 years — the cold hard facts don’t extend far beyond three characters in a room. The rest is a contest for control that uses memory as malleable chess pieces in a ruthless game played for keeps. Then there’s Off Broadway West’s presentation of The Homecoming, one of the meanest, sauciest, and depraved family reunions ever staged. Talk about your nice nights in!

OLD TIMES April 2-18, $10–$28. Gaia Arts Center, 2120 Allston, Berk. www.theatrefirst.com.

THE HOMECOMING April 2-May 2, $15–$30. Phoenix Theatre, 414 Mason, F.www.offbroadwaywest.org

Ballerina

0

REVIEW If comparisons between Bertrand Normand’s Ballerina and Daniel Geller and Dayna Goldfine’s 2005 Ballets Russes are inevitable, it’s perhaps mostly indicative of how infrequently a feature-length ballet documentary gets made and distributed. Then again, one could argue that the stark differences in subject and scope are historically significant. Richly researched and packed with archival footage and modern-day interviews, Ballets Russes depicts the milieu of dancers, choreographers, and impresarios exiled from postrevolutionary Russia in the early years of the 20th century. Ballerina trains its focus on the world they left behind, or what became of it, concentrating on the grueling, somewhat circumscribed lives of five female dancers making their careers in present-day, post-Soviet Russia, in St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theatre, where the world-renowned Kirov Ballet has its home. Where Ballets Russes describes the historical arc within which modern ballet as we know it was created, Ballerina describes the smaller, personal arcs of two newer dancers making their painstaking way out of the corps de ballets and three principal dancers, one who is returning to work after a lengthy injury. Interviews and footage of unending classes, rehearsals, and performances clarify the single-minded conviction and commitment with which these young women approach their vocation, accepting physical pain and deprivation as a daily reality, while instructors and artistic directors sketch the larger picture of a profession in which early retirement is a fact of life. Still, the film has a flatness of tone that is literally conveyed in the somewhat run-of-the-mill narration ("A ballerina’s work is never done") and paralleled by the flat affect of most of the subjects. The performance footage is lovely — though also offering ample evidence of the Kirov’s aged repertoire — but perhaps the most visually startling moment occurs during an admissions exam at St. Petersburg’s premier ballet school, in which 10-year-old aspirants are put through their paces virtually naked, their limbs manipulated by ballet masters attempting to divine the future.

BALLERINA opens Fri/27 in Bay Area theaters.