Volume 43 Number 40

Art or ARG

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ALTERNATE REALITY GAMES It starts, as most quests do, with a question. "What the hell?" A flyer advertising the Aquatic Thought Foundation, a division of the Jejune Institute devoted to Human-Dolphin interaction. And even though you’re probably the type to resist even the perverse pleasure of sitting through a bullshit Scientologist e-meter reading, something about the prospect of communing with dolphins is absurdly compelling. You call the number. A recondite family awaits.

So begins stage one of an ongoing self-paced scavenger hunt/walking tour/alternate reality game devised by a pseudonymous cabal of Bay Area artists and pranksters. As anyone with even a passing familiarity with the clumsy graphics and overblown hyperbole of cultist media will recognize, the shadowy overlords behind the Jejune Institute have done their homework well. Their office digs on California Street are pure cult cliché — from the op art adorning the walls to the shelves of new age esoterica and obsolete radio equipment to the videotaped welcome message from Institute founder Octavio Coleman, Esq. Upon completion of the "induction," the inductee embarks on a clue-finding expedition through Chinatown, armed with a treasure map and an official Jejune Institute pencil. The mysterious trail wends lo and hi, from the St. Mary’s parking garage to the back balcony of a shabby-retro edifice on Grant Street, places not exactly on even the most well-honed urban explorer’s radar.

Level two, hosted by rival branch the Elsewhere Public Works Agency, takes place in the Mission District, hitting a series of beloved independent institutions — Faye’s, Force of Habit, Adobe, Paxton Gate — as well as the site of a former Native American cemetery, a spate of interdimensional hopscotch, and a visit to what might be the district’s smallest micro-neighborhood. If the Jejune Institute is a picture-perfect façade of cult imagery, the EPWA is an even more fully realized vision on both the physical plane and that bastion of obfuscation, the interwebs. Clues as well as false leads can be gathered online from phony Wikipedia pages, faked Chronicle archives, and bogus blogs as well as out in the real world via micro-transmission radio broadcast, CDs, custom-printed books, teeny-tiny letters and a charmingly illustrated map. Piecing together the puzzle is the least part of the game’s ultimate value — the stealthy introduction to an underlying artist’s philosophy, to resist "false nonchalance" yet cultivate a sense of wonder and discovery in even the most familiar places is compelling and apt — and the revelation of secret locations hidden in plain view a welcome prize.
www.jejuneinstitute.org
www.elsewherepublicworks.com

Isthmus insanity

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a&eletters@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER Roberto Gyemant, a.k.a. DJ Beto, doesn’t need to tell you how extra-zesty Panamanian music is: all he has to do is play "Juck Juck Pt. 1," by Sir Jablonsky, off Panama! 2: Latin Sounds, Cumbia Tropical and Calypso Funk on the Isthmus 1967-77 (Soundway), the new compilation curated by the San Francisco native. The bubbly calypso-reggae-funk mutant of a track gets its playful tenterhooks into you — and refuses to let go. "If someone can tell me the genre of that song, I’d love to hear it," Gyemant marvels over fruit juice in the courtyard of Haus. "This guy! ‘I juck them in Spanish, and I juck them in English,’ then he speaks in patois. You’re like, ‘OK, this is a special country!’"

Gyemant’s taken his hot shoe back to the burning avenues of Panama more than 20 times since he first discovered the country’s brassy, highly spiced musical hybrids baking in forgotten grooves buried in neglected radio station LP libraries. At the time, in 2003, he was living in Costa Rica, working on a novel. But the music — and an ever-expiring tourist visa — brought him back to root out more old long-players and to get the stories behind the songs, a major endeavor since the pressings in the tiny country were so small and little info existed on musicians like Papi Brandao, whose infectious, accordion-propelled "La Murga de Panama" runs a Puerto Rican bomba through his tipica (folklorico) ensemble’s Afro-Cuban influences. The fruit of Gyemant’s loving labors: Panama! (Soundway, 2006) and now its tipica-flavored sequel, as well as at least one book, a forthcoming encyclopedia on Latin jazz and dance music from 1930 to 1975.

Gyemant — who also put together Soundway’s 2008 comp Colombia! and the upcoming Colombia! 2 — first got bit by the bug in David, Panama, where he stumbled on a radio station willing to part with its old LPs, crammed floor-to-ceiling in a back room. "The guys really let me loose on it," he recalls. Without a portable turntable, Gyemant tried to figure out which albums and 7-inches were worth buying (hint: he stayed away from the ones listing boleros and clung to the records that mentioned, say, Afrofunk). Talking to collectors and fans led him to such players as Francisco "Bush" Buckley of Menique el Panameno con Bush y los Magnificos, who drove him around Panama and took him to old musicians’ hangouts. Still, the writer wasn’t sure if he was on the right track until he started selling funk LPs on eBay, and Soundway head Miles Cleret bought them all. The two began trading MP3s, which led to the comps.

What makes Panama’s musical blend so sizzling? The nation’s complex, fluid multicultural melting pot. The Afro-Antillean workers of Caribbean descent who came to build the canal — and who made up about 20 percent of the small population — played a major part, opines Gyemant. "Per capita, I’ve never found so many calypso boogaloo records," he raves. "It’s like, what?! Or soul guaracha. Or bossa funk. But I think the music speaks for itself."

PANAMA 2 RELEASE PARTY

With DJ Beto, DJ Guillermo, and Vinnie Esparza

Fri/3, 10 p.m., $5

Elbo Room

647 Valencia St

(415) 552-7788

www.elbo.com

————

TARTUFI GETS ITS FOURTH OFF

Get it straight: Tartufi is not playing the Fourth of July eight-band marathon at El Rio that the duo’s Lynn Angel has organized for four years. Nevertheless, during a break from the rock band summer camp at Sausalito’s Bay Area Discovery Museum, where she and Brian Gorman teach 4- to 7-year-olds how to write songs, Angel makes a case for the holiday. "We have a healthy addiction to fireworks," she says, while Gorman chimes in that he likes the ones the make his stomach shake. San Franciscans must wait until August to shake for Tartufi at the Rock Make Street Festival. Before then, the endlessly creative, good-humored duo hit the U.K., where the excellent rock-symphonic Nests of Waves and Wires (Southern) is garnering raves. "We’ve been getting compared to Animal Collective every other day, which is kind of strange to me," says Angel. "I can’t see the connection myself, but I won’t turn it down!"

BIG TIME FREEDOM FEST

Sat/4, 1:30 p.m., $8

El Rio

3158 Mission, SF

www.elriosf.com

ROCK MAKE STREET FESTIVAL

Aug. 23, noon, free

Treat at 17th Ave., SF

www.myspace.com/rockmakestreetfestival

Daydream city

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a&eletters@sfbg.com

In the Bay Area’s labyrinth of low-lit warehouses, cramped house parties, and grimed-out dive bars, it’s a cacophonous tug-of-war for the three-chord crown.

This latter-day resurrection of traits from the late 1960s — the Sears Roebuck guitars; the off-key, offbeat attack; the onstage fearlessness — has brought many unpretentious all-for-one-and-one-for-all shows to the scene. Poised to snag a bit of the shiny rock ‘n’ roll royal headdress is Oakland’s Snakeflower 2, a trio whose blistering, bare-bones repertoire seems to spring newly alive from a dusty, attic-dwelling bin of decades-old abandoned vinyl.

Vocalist and bassist Matthew Melton’s lo-fi roots stretch — like the world’s longest amp cord — all the way back to his hometown in Memphis. There, he grew up playing in garage bands and jamming with prolific punk hero Jay Reatard.

Discontented with the Memphis scene’s lack of fire, Melton eventually put together a ramshackle, road-ready outfit that became Snakeflower’s first incarnation. The group played what Melton, a lover of subgenres, describes as "art punk non-songs." Moving his musical dreams and new band to California instigated a gift-and-curse scenario. "We decided almost overnight to go on tour," he says. "It was really ill-conceived. We did a full U.S. tour literally calling venues from the road, jumping on these bills and having pretty crazy shows along the way."

Snakeflower mark one had wilted by the time the group made it to San Francisco, and Melton’s bandmates stranded him in the city and left for Los Angeles. Nonetheless, he decided to stick things out and reform the band with two new members, drummer Billy Badlands and guitarist Tim Tinderholt.

"Where I grew up in Memphis, you can be guaranteed that no one’s gonna pay any attention to you," Melton says. "Here, there’s much more energy in the scene. Plus, being surrounded by so many great bands is a motivation to keep making great music."

It’s easy to hear what the California scene has done for Snakeflower 2’s live shows and recordings — the group’s aggression is undeniable. The late 2008 release Renegade Daydream (Tic Tac Totally) is steeped in the dire urgency of a fragile heart under pressure. It grooves hard, thanks to dagger-sharp hooks and vicious chord progressions, all registering at shit-hot speed to keep up with Melton’s nervy vocal swagger. "Memory Castle," the album’s single, pairs psychedelic tunnel-vision reverb with a rumination on lost dreams and the courage it takes to get them back.

Melton’s already looking in a new direction for the group’s next album. When his other brainchild, the smooth-punk outfit Bare Wires, gained popularity, Snakeflower 2’s gigs took a hiatus. But during that time, he devoted himself to writing fresh, epic material.

"I’ve actually been working in secret to write and record a 14-minute long cantata called ‘Forbidden Melody,’" he explains. "I had to set time aside to isolate myself [and] work with really pure ideas. [The new music] is something totally different, almost like a rock opera. I’m trying to go a little bit further, really trying to come up with something new."

While much of the local garage scene sticks to the ordinary and familiar. leave it to Melton and his mates to shoot the moon and score an album in the process.

SNAKEFLOWER 2

With the Vows, In the Dust

July 13, 9 p.m., $5 (day of show only)

Elbo Room

642 Valencia, SF

(415) 552-7788

www.elbo.com

Michael Jackson, 1958-2009

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It was a strange day. It didn’t start normally, nor did it end that way. It began with a disturbing run-in with one of my roommates. I was getting ready to work at 6 a.m., while he was trying to hook up after pulling an all-nighter. After that awkward encounter, I made my way into work with an uneasy, ill feeling. It was inexplicable. My sour mood took twists and turns and like the onset of what I imagine feels like a nervous breakdown. Something was wrong. Everyone knows peripheral, typical job frustrations, but I had a scowl on my face for my entire shift. I work in a newsroom at an all-news radio station.

Early on, the death of Farrah Fawcett was announced. Hmm, that’s too bad, I thought to myself. I heard it was cancer. She was very much an icon and sex symbol, but her bout with the disease was lengthy, much publicized, and we all saw it coming. Let’s see … Ed McMahon, Farrah … uh oh. Famous people die in threes, right? Something bad was going to happen.

After leaving work, I wanted to stop at a few record stores before going home. In between Rasputin and Rookie Ricardo’s, I got a text from a friend who had dressed as Michael Jackson along with me a few Halloweens ago: "MJ in the hospital!"

My previous inkling about trios of death had now become more of a dark premonition. I thought it was strange that the story had completely evaded the wires in the newsroom. I was off the clock, and I had been scooped. Things soon took a dire turn when the friend called to say she got an IM that TMZ had confirmed his death. Yet I remained skeptical. It was a bit much to process so quickly.

Once I was inside Rookie’s, people came out of the woodwork via text message and I started to believe the unbelievable. I’m not usually one to make a fuss or bring attention to myself, but this was one instance where I just had to know: Did Michael Jackson really die? I was more than moved, compelled even, to make a public announcement. Actually it was more of a question. So I went ahead and shouted out in despair to the clerk and all four customers, "Did you guys hear about Michael Jackson?" Everybody sorta perked up and looked at me strangely. "I think he might be dead." A patron checked his iPhone and the sad truth was revealed. I left soon after. I was in no mood to look at the old soul records that were the primary foundation of Michael’s musical roots.

In the early 1980s, MJ just looked cool. The jherri curl, aviator shades, and that mysterious sequined glove were all signs that someone special was about to do something great. Up on stage (the place where, like many icons, he claimed to be most comfortable), his tall, slender body was perfect for much of the angular choreography he created. He took inspiration from and expanded on the stage moves of his hero, James Brown, to create his own repertoire. He popped and locked in the ’70s to the Jackson 5’s 1973 "Dancing Machine," doing the robot with such precision, I’m convinced to this day that he must have been at least part alien. I don’t need stock footage or YouTube to remember when he debuted his mind-blowing moonwalk at the Motown 25 TV special. His voice had a flair for high notes, but could also make the walls resonate like thunder. Listen to him shudder toward the end of "The Lady in My Life," on Thriller (Epic, 1982), or as the Scarecrow in The Wiz (1978) during his opening number "You Can’t Win." So deep. Quintessential soul. He will probably always be every bit as enigmatic as he was charismatic.

No one will ever truly know the inner turmoil of Michael Jackson. But his decaying exterior over the years is a good clue. People tend to disregard his creative efforts post-Bad (Epic, 1987). But there is much to be said about MJ’s latter-day lyrics. His mood and tone can be cold, agonized, and despairing. On "Will You Be There" from Dangerous (Epic, 1991), almost crying instead of singing, he assures us that he’s only human (despite the monster that we’ve made him out to be) and prone to mistakes — essentially, a child that needs to be held. The lyrics are of a shocking introspective nature, most poignant during a spoken passage at the song’s close where he expresses loneliness and violent frustration. Clearly it is gospel-influenced. He’s singing for salvation.

The opening lines of "Stranger in Moscow" (a new track on the 1995 Epic compilation HIStory) couldn’t have been more clear. I was wanderin’ in the rain / Mask of life feelin’ insane, swift and sudden fall from grace. At that point, MJ was aimless — having achieved uncharted greatness, but the glory behind him. In a sense, his mask, or face, was both his fault and ours. We are the ones who put him on the pedestal since childhood and gave him the fame that would eventually eat him alive, whether he liked it or not. We saw him grow up then blow up and couldn’t get enough. Maybe he didn’t want to be recognized anymore. Maybe he wanted to become a monster so that we would leave him alone. If so, it all backfired and made "Jacko" a laughingstock to the mainstream media for the remainder of his life.

The same song also contains the line "Armageddon of the brain." Those four words always resonate with me when it comes to analyzing MJ’s psyche. They paint a picture of an explosion inside his head, a virtual inferno of the mind. Perhaps a reference to the moment he snapped or reached his breaking point.

Yeah, I am a genuine fan of Michael Jackson. His musical gift, contributions, and accomplishments are unfathomable. I don’t blame people for calling him a freak. I know he’s misunderstood, and if I were in his shoes I’d probably have slit my wrists long ago. I don’t know what he was guilty or innocent of in his private life, but I do know that in death, he’s free of persecution. If anyone believed in magic, it would be MJ, so maybe he knew I was having a shitty day and gave a true fan a final parting gift. He knew I needed all those texts from people checking on me to see if I’d heard the news, showing they cared. I guess you know who your true friends are when Michael Jackson dies. God bless tortured souls.

Volume 43 Number 40 Flip-through Edition

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Forever our kings

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a&eletters@sfbg.com

The simplified, VH1 history of rock music tells us that Black Sabbath’s landmark first two albums Black Sabbath (Warner Bros., 1970) and Paranoid (Warner Bros., 1971) buried the 1960s rock aesthetic with the strength of a thousand Sha-Na-Nas at Woodstock. But Sabbath wasn’t quite the peerless anomaly that popular mythology makes out. Under the group’s massive transatlantic shadow toiled an eclectic assortment of rock bands just as disillusioned with the pop music of the past decade, and just as compelled to forcibly harsh some vibes.

Pentagram has remained the most vital of these groups. The OG southern Hessians have maintained a cult fan base throughout a 38-year career, but the 2002 compilation First Daze Here (Relapse) helped a new generation of metalheads embrace their lo-fi proto-metal. Classic tracks like "Livin’ in a Ram’s Head" and the power chord masterpiece "Forever My Queen" justify Pentagram’s doom legend status, while softer numbers like the garage rock ballad "Last Days Here" and a relatively faithful cover of "Under My Thumb" serve as reminders of the band’s musical roots.

Pentagram is coming to town, and whether or not the various kick-ass opening acts on the bill were influenced by them, there’s a distinctive retro vibe at play. Since 2007’s Instinct: Decay (Southern Lord), Nachtmystium has been experimenting with old school electronic effects, lacing its basement black metal sound with Pink Floyd-like Moog and theremin drones. Last year’s Assassins: Black Meddle Part One (Century Media) finds Blake Judd and company taking their experiments in blackened space rock even further — the headbanging energy of the songs’ traditional verse-chorus structures is complimented by Sanford Parker’s haunting electronic textures. Since Nachtmystium’s current approach is tailor-made for live drone-jams, it’ll be interesting to see how the Chicago black metallers’ set plays out.

Some enterprising dork could probably spend a lifetime documenting all the leftover Summer of Love tidbits that have informed the San Francisco music scene over the years, but trying to fit a band as innovative as Hammers of Misfortune into a greater rock canon is a total cop-out. Peter, Paul, and Mary they ain’t; clean, folky vocal harmonies take on a warped life of their own in the context of Hammers’ elegantly doomy guitar work, making what in lesser hands would be an obnoxious gimmick into an integral part of the group’s sound. They’re also way too fucking metal for their own good.

Be forewarned, indeed.

PENTAGRAM

With Hammers of Misfortune, Nachtmystium, Orchid, DJ Rob Metal

Thurs/2, 8:30 p.m. (doors 8 p.m.), $20–$25

DNA Lounge

375 11th St., SF

(415) 626-1409

www.dnalounge.com

Capitalmania

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a&eletters@sfg.com

REVIEW UC Santa Barbara sociology professor William I. Robinson was recently in the news for having the temerity to criticize the Israeli military’s assault on Palestinian civilians in Gaza. Right-wing groups including the ADL orchestrated a campaign attacking Robinson with the implication that any criticism of Israel’s military abuses in the occupied territories somehow equates to anti-Semitism.

It would be nice if Robinson also received some press for the incredibly rich body of work he has produced in his career. His current volume Latin America and Global Capitalism (Johns Hopkins University Press, 440 pages, $55) is an important book for anyone interested in where our imperiled planet is headed. Robinson, author of the brilliant 1996 study of U.S. foreign aid Promoting Polyarchy, is admirably thorough in his overview of the direction capitalism has taken in Latin America since the 1970s. Robinson uses research from years of on-the-ground work, and sifts through rafts of data to map out how neoliberal trade agreements and other mechanisms for greasing the machine of global commerce have increased profits for global elites while deeply disrupting traditional patterns of life and balance with the natural world.

One glaring example Robinson focuses on is the shift toward intensive farming of soy, which has massively displaced small farmers and production of dairy, fruit trees, horticulture, and other grains. Soy production is now much more profitable than food production for local consumption — hence malnutrition is on the rise in soy producing areas.

Plans for expansion of biofuel production, Robinson writes, "could well obliterate small and medium producers and consolidate a new empire of corporate agribusiness, biotechnology, chemical and pharmaceutical TNCs [transnational corporations] in South America. The ecological devastation would undermine any gains in terms of a reduction in carbon-based fuels, and we would face a situation — absolutely absurd from any social logic yet consistent with the logic of capital — in which cars would replace human beings as the main consumers of world cereal output."

In addition to these new agro-exports, Latin America and Global Capitalism analyzes the spread of maquiladoras, the transnational tourist industry, exported labor, and remittances from abroad sent home. Robinson makes no bones about being a politically engaged academic, or of shaping his thorough, rigorous work with the intent of it being useful for popular progressive struggles. His sentiments are clearly with the indigenous resistance movements he chronicles in Latin America, as well as the immigrants’ rights movement in the United States and the continuing Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela. The ruling elites have their well-funded, right-marching think tanks churning out public intellectuals cultivated to defend the status quo. Grassroots radicals need more like William Robinson.

Zine it like you mean it

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johnny@sfbg.com

INTERVIEW Nestled in the corner of the old New College building, true seekers will find Goteblüd. Matt Wobensmith’s zine emporium keeps the building’s dedication to countercultural self-publishing alive. As characterful as it is small, Goteblüd places shelves of photocopied DIY writings amid a brown shag paneling motif that wittily references the cat-scratch antics found within Ed Luce’s comic Wuvable Oaf, the store’s main link to contemporary publications. Currently the space also hosts "Yes I Am, But Who Am I Really?," a showcase of queer zine and queer punk memorabilia: zines, photos, and letters (including a pissy postcard from Henry Rollins) create a terrific one-of-a-kind wallpaper, while t-shirts for bands hang from the ceiling, as if asking to be filled by new rebellious bodies. After scoping out the show, I recently asked Wobensmith about Goteblüd’s origins, its contents, and its future plans.

SFBG How did Goteblüd come about?

MATT WOBENSMITH I’ve been collecting zines since I was a teen. In the past few years, I’ve heard people say things like "I just threw out four boxes of zines," and I say to myself: That is wrong! Why do people think old zines are worthless? They’re priceless. So I began to take zines off peoples’ hands, and started putting them in storage boxes. After a while, this pastime became more of an obsession as I tried to fill gaps in the collections by actively buying from people. When I found the space, I knew it was time to launch a vintage zine store.

SFBG A book titled Queer Zines (Printed Matter, 180 pages, $25) was recently published. As someone who played a major role in an important period of the queer zine and queer punk movements, what did you think of it?

MW I was active in the queer punk and then homohop music scenes for a while, but that’s kind of history. It’s through this weird zine collecting thing that I find myself faced with my past again.

I saw the Queer Zines book that accompanied the show Printed Matter did in New York City last year. It was inspiring and also satisfying that this era of self-publishing was finally getting more exposure. I don’t know who I’d be without some of those zines!

At the same time, I felt that the queercore phenomenon was different from the larger queer zine genre. It’s focused around music and music culture, had lots of young people, and was connected to a radical subculture loosely based on punk rock. The name of the show is paraphrased from a Team Dresch song: "Yes I Am, But Who Am I Really?" It’s a slight dig at Melissa Etheridge, but ultimately sums up the struggle for identity and purpose and survival.

Also, it’s a scene where women played an enormous role in shaping the dialog and aesthetics. The influence of the riot grrrl movement was not insignificant, either. Some people attribute queer zines to things like Straight to Hell or [William S.] Burroughs, but these zines are far more likely to have been inspired by radical music figures: Black Flag, Throbbing Gristle, the Shaggs, Yoko Ono, female rockers, as well as good old 1980s hardcore. In many ways, queercore was an alternative to an alternative. And it had a soundtrack.

SFBG Looking back at the materials in the current show, what surprises you — what do you see anew now, years later, or wish was more present in current society or social currents?

MW What I really value in old zines is this incredible sense of urgency. There’s some insane, obsessive person trying to reach out and find like-minded people, so they make a zine. It’s a search for kindred souls, and an almost desperate bid for creative and intellectual validation. It can be fun, but is ultimately quite serious. It has a lot of integrity. I love that spirit and dedication.

That same feeling is totally lacking in today’s culture. The Internet has released much of the pent-up need to connect, to find information, to really put effort into communication. Today’s pop culture is also highly self-aware and navel-gazing, and people seem more obsessed with mundane actions of others — via tweets, social networking, whatever — than creating original ideas and taking risks. Old zines have original ideas and risks in spades.

SFBG What kinds of zines will people find in Goteblüd?

MW We try to carry a wide assortment of popular and unknown zines; the more DIY, the better. Though we do have some indie glossies, we carry tons of underground music, pop culture, art, skateboarding, graffiti, lowrider, comic, and experimental zines from the past four decades. We try to focus on older stuff because it’s harder to find and it gets people excited. We are always buying and trading too. I love when people challenge me to find a certain zine for them, and I have it!

SFBG One section of Goteblüd is devoted to Ed Luce’s Wuvable Oaf comics and paraphernalia. What do you like about Wuvable Oaf, and what plans do you have in connection with the comic?

MW Ed’s work, in one word, is fun. It’s also really smart and has no small amount of sharp observations on human behaviors and interactions. It’s a "post-bear" comic, but we hate the b-word. It’s set in a city that looks suspiciously like San Francisco and we all write the stories together. We try to juxtapose big and small, human and animal, and we love to show people in awkward situations. It’s not ironic; it’s loving and earnest.

The comic fits into the store — oddly — as it is an encapsulation of so many different sensibilities. Ed’s constantly referencing his icons of fashion, bad horror movies, and music — particularly Morrissey. I think it’s like a gayer Love and Rockets but that doesn’t begin to do it justice. Our next issue will spotlight our house cartoon band, Ejaculoid, and we’ll be releasing a limited edition record of their music — which is "disco grindcore."

GOTEBLÜD is at 766 Valencia in SF and is open weekends only from noon–5 p.m.

Daughter of darkness

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Whether by dint of nature, nurture, or nepotism, Jennifer Lynch’s small resume to date hasn’t fallen far from the paternal tree. Tie-in novel The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer annotated Twin Peaks, doing a good job too, even if one still better left to your own vile imagination. That series’ Sherilyn Fenn wound up starring (after Madonna, and then Kim Basinger, famously dropped out) in 1993’s Boxing Helena, a "controversial" amour fou tale somehow much more intriguingly offensive in anticipation than actuality.

After a very long unexplained hiatus, Lynch is back with her second feature as writer-director. Surveillance again drafts talent from dad’s stable, notably Bill Pullman, star of 1997’s Lost Highway. And again, there’s a certain hollow jonesing after shock value, where David’s cinematic heart of darkness always seemed both frighteningly real and unpinnable. Yet modern desert noir reveling in nastiness, Surveillance does have its sardonic pulp satisfactions.

FBI agents Pullman and Julia Ormond arrive at a dusty rural police station to investigate two murky incidents producing a lot of fresh corpses. Sole survivors are one precocious little girl (Ryan Simpkins), one still-high skank (Pell James), and one very defensive patrolman (co-scenarist Kent Harper).

While their sometimes fibby testimonies are teased out — what really happened being revealed in flashback — three more bodies turn up in grotesque tableau at a nearby motel. Plus, authorities are on high alert for a natural-born thrill-killing couple on the loose, precise whereabouts unknown.

At its core, Surveillance is just cruel, without any true empathy or moral weight attached. But it’s also just clever enough to invite re-viewing, no matter how far off you spy the big twist coming. Lynch has honed her directing chops; things rumble and explode with precision, no matter that credibility wobbles ever wider like an ill-bolted wheel. Some unexpected names (Cheri Oteri, French Stewart) blend seamlessly into a sharp ensemble. With this Jennifer Lynch starts to be interesting on her own — even more since her already-wrapped next, Hisss, is an India-shot horror fantasy based on local mythology. Which, at last, is a project one can’t even imagine David Lynch doing.


SURVEILLANCE opens Fri/3 in Bay Area theaters.

Buttered up

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le.chicken.farmer@gmail.com


CHEAP EATS First I want to say that, in spite of everything, there is no danger of me not coming back. That sentence is dedicated to Jennifer and all my other friends, moms, and childrens. Yes, I am having the zeit of my leben, but the restaurants here in Berlin charge extra to put butter on your bread. Ergo …

At the top of my list of Things To Do upon repatriation: invent a purse with a small, stick-o’-butter shaped cooler in the bottom of it.

Then: who knows?

Now I want to tell you about my love. It’s not going to be easy, because there’s a language barrier. Between me and him, between me and my heart, his and his … I am studying German. It’s like: I want there to be more ways to not be able to express myself. I want to be bilingually speechless. If possible, I would like to be incoherent in even more than two languages.

For example, he’s French. Of which I know merde.

The language of love is easy when you’re in it. You want to say everything in the world, but don’t have to say anything at all. Maybe just each other’s names, half-whispered, half-begged in the half-dark. And his does sound pretty dang pretty this way, you should hear me:

"Fabien," I say.

He says, "Chicken Farmer."

In candlelight he looks a little like David Bowie, only with even happier eyes and way better lyrics. A smile that would melt Gary, Indiana. We do this, the looking and laughing, sometimes even crying, and very very often other things. And occasionally there’s the outside world, and, you know: beer. Coffee. We walk on wind and raindrops, and kiss on streetcorners, intoxicated and oblivious. Many times have we been pert near creamed by rent-a-bikes.

And tonight when I see him, he has promised to massage my back with butter. At least I think that’s what he said.

Berlin has outdoor Ping-Pong tables like we have basketball courts, so we play a lot of Ping-Pong. He’s good. So far we have not kept score. I can count to 21 in four languages, none of which are French. But we don’t keep score, and that, not French, is the language of love.

The language we have most in common, of course, is this ‘un. Yo, the one I writeth. So that’s how we conduct our truly important business, like ordering lunch and deciding who gets to sit at which end of the bathtub. Then comes German. We can both say some things in Italian, too, like ti voglio bene and la bella luna. I should probably know more Spanish than uno dos tres, and so on, but all else I have retained from two years of college classes and 20 years of exposure is "Me llamo Miguel Gomez," which is a patent untruth, so I rarely if ever find occasion to use it.

Although … dada does go well with googoo and gaga. In case you were wondering.

Everyone said, "Don’t get your hopes up about the eats in Germany." I’m glad they said this because one of my favorite things in life is being taken completely by surprise. With my Frenchy, the surprise was not complete. I mean, we met months ago in person, if not exactly by name, and although I couldn’t have possibly imagined the depth or height or width or the dizzying scent of it, I guess I kinda knew I’d stepped in something wonderful.

But the news news here is the food, and the Ping-Pong. Who knew, and knew, respectively? And I don’t just mean currywurst. There’s great Turkish, some good Asian … I’ve had excellent brick-oven pizza, some wonderful pasta dishes, spätzle of course, and the one night I cooked in, guess what I cooked: pork liver!

You never even hear of pork liver in the states. I was just wondering about this, and then: boom, Berlin! Saw it on a menu, got all excited, ate somewhere else, checked the meat counter at the grocery …

So, I’m just saying. Trying to say. There’s the butter thing, or maybe truthfully it’s more than that. More like the butter "situation," or "crisis." Oh, and one other flavor missing, but it’s a biggie: barbecue. That might help me get onto three more airplanes, in spite of everything, oh merde merde merde, because I just discovered this one before I left, and do sorta somewhat miss it. My new favorite restaurant:

BRICK PIG’S HOUSE

Tue.–Sat., noon–8 p.m.

5973 Shattuck, Oakl.

(510) 923-1789

No alcohol

M/V/D/AE

If it IS broke, don’t fix it

0

andrea@mail.altsexcolumn.com

Dear Andrea:

I met this guy ("Dave") a couple of years ago through other friends and we became friends. I think he was attracted to me, but we were both involved in relationships. Then both of us broke up with those other people, but not because of each other. We started running into each other more and hanging out, and got to be very good friends. One night we were kind of drunk and we kissed, and then agreed that we didn’t like each other that way. And then we did it again! So after that, we had sex. It was good and I thought, OK, so Dave and I are going out. We said the "I love you’s, and then a few weeks later, he said there was something stopping him from doing it with me any more — but he didn’t know what, it just felt wrong. He still wants to hang out and maybe have oral sex or something sometimes, though, just not sex, or being in a relationship. Then he changed his mind and we had sex and then he changed his mind AGAIN. So what is going on with him? What kind of things could be stopping him from having a relationship with me?
Love,

Flummoxed

Dear Flum:

If we’re going to talk about this at all, we have to get our terminology right, so let me get schoolmarmish on you for a sec and say that oral sex is sex, so what he doesn’t feel "right" about is intercourse. And then let me turn Andrea-ish again and just say: "Run! Run for your life!"

Oh, it’s not that he rings some "that man is criminally insane" bell with me. He doesn’t. He does sound broken, though, in a way that is common, moderately inexplicable, and tedious. And if you keep messing around with him and trying to fix him you will get, if not broken yourself, certainly hurt. Why not not do that, while you still have a choice?

Here’s where I admit that, while dating advice is ostensibly part of my job and it’s my responsibility to keep up, I never could bring myself to read either The Rules or He’s Just Not That Into You. You don’t have to, either, since you had the good sense to write to me instead of spending a lot of money on gimmicky books. Here’s the secret, the nugget, the important truth buried under all the trendy exhortations to wait so many days before returning a phone call, or never to make excuses for a Person of Interest’s caddish behavior: it does not matter why someone does not behave toward you the way you would like him to; it only matters that he doesn’t.

Way back when my friends were all in law school, they named the "reasonable man" who is posited in many contracts law hypotheticals "Dave." So Dave remains for me the perfect fill-in-the-blank name, for reasonable and unreasonable men alike, like so:

Unless your Dave finds intercourse physically uncomfortable and has failed to adequately explain this, leaving you to assume that he does not want to have intercourse with you, he has some sort of intimacy issues. The act of intercourse, generally considered pretty intimate, tweaks these. Perhaps he was poorly treated in a previous relationship and fears a repeat. Maybe he was poorly parented, and thus has never been able to develop the sense of trust necessary to let down his guard and be truly intimate with you. Perhaps he has "performed" (I hate this concept, term, and usage, but it’s kind of unavoidable) poorly in the past and been jeered at or dumped for it and fears a repeat. Perhaps he .. but, wait. What did I just say, above?

None of it matters. As soon as you start thinking of him as wounded and wondering what happened to the poor lamb and how it could be remedied, you have started making excuses for his wretched behavior toward you. Unless you are both under, say, 19 (that’s majority plus one grace year I extend grudgingly), he has no business starting things with you that he is too damaged to follow through on. As an adult, it’s his responsibility to know what he is capable of and what he needs to work on before he’s in any position to promise anything.

"He’s just not that into you" may be reductivist, somewhat insultingly simple-minded, and insufficiently inclusive (what about shy guys who are that into you but too paralyzed with fear to call yet?), but the core concept is very useful: if you need to wheedle, support, excuse, or manipulate a guy into giving you what you want, he doesn’t really want to give it. It doesn’t matter why. It doesn’t matter what you do. And offering yourself to him on terms that you find essentially unsatisfactory will gradually grind away at your self-esteem and joie de vivre until you don’t have any. And you’ll need those later.

Love,

Andrea

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

Father Miguel’s homily

0

P>news@sfbg.com

Editor’s Note: Nick Buxton covered the June 24-26 United Nations Conference on the World Financial and Economic Crisis and Its Impact on Development for the Guardian.

Shuffling into the room, Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, informally known as Father Miguel, is every bit the avuncular priest — squinting through his glasses, saying we all need to take Jesus’ message of love more seriously.

At 76, the U.S.-born naturualized Nicuarguan citizen doesn’t look like a major threat to the established economic order. But as the elected president of the United Nations General Assembly, d’Escoto has touched a raw nerve among the world’s most powerful nations.

Since late May, European Union and U.S. negotiators have accused him of putting the entire U.N.’s credibility at stake. In the May 24 New York Times article "At U.N., a Sandinista’s Plan for Recovery," reporter Neil MacFarquhar accused Father Miguel of "serious delusions of grandeur." At the end of June, the criticisms reached a loud crescendo as the whole United Nations met for a summit on the global economic crisis.

Last September, d’Escoto was unanimously elected to the one-year presidency. Typically seen as a low-profile convener, d’Escoto, a former foreign minister for Nicaragua under the left-wing Sandinista government, soon showed his colors when he openly condemned U.S. "acts of aggression" in Iraq. When the financial meltdown occurred in October 2008, d’Escoto convened a high-level commission chaired by Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and started to organize a U.N. conference on the global economic crisis.

He also started to deliver presentations, more like priestly homilies, that challenged the "pandemic selfishness and egotism" that led to the economic crisis and warned of ecological collapse and the need for a renewed veneration for "Mother Earth."

Yet despite the rich nations’ best attempts to isolate him politically, many of d’Escoto’s reform proposals received support from the misnamed Group of 77 nations — which actually represents more than 130 developing nations. D’Escoto made clear his decision to side with the majority against a false unity with a powerful minority: "The U.N. is made up of 192 countries …. I criticize the rich countries, made up of about 25 countries, because they don’t represent the majority but pretend they do…. We must ensure those countries most affected by the crisis have a voice in resolving the crisis."

D’Escoto’s role reflects the emergence of a more confident and powerful southern hemisphere, with nations like India and China presenting an economic challenge to traditional powers in the northern hemisphere and with Latin America posing a vocal political challenge through the likes of presidents Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Rafael Correa of Ecuador.
Many point out that the United Nations charter (drawn up in San Francisco in 1945) gives the job of global economic coordination to the United Nations Economic and Social Council. Yet this job was usurped by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, which are largely controlled by the U.S. Treasury. The Obama administration’s U.N. representative John Sammis’ assertion at the recent U.N. Conference that it believes "any decisions on reform of the international financial institutions or the manner in which they conduct their business are the prerogative of their shareholders and their respective boards of governors" is clearly a blatant rear guard attack on d’Escoto’s efforts to bring democratization to the global economic system.
Beyond the geopolitics, d’Escoto’s probing challenge to the world’s economic powers also gives voice to a breakdown of faith in the credos of free markets, unlimited economic growth, and living to consume. His homilies may occasionally be esoteric, but when d’Escoto proposes the creation of a Global Economic Council or speaks to the importance of values such as solidarity, compassion, and cooperation, they seem much more lucid than the U.S. determination to continue with "business as usual."

Shifting gears

0

rebeccab@sfbg.com

Bicyclists throughout the city cheered as the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency board unanimously approved 45 new bike-network improvement projects June 26, a move that was hailed as a major step forward for cyclist safety on city streets and a win for the environment.

In a historic decision, SFMTA accepted the findings of an environmental impact review associated with the long-stalled San Francisco Bike Plan and green-lighted almost all of its near-term project proposals, a decision that could trigger the construction of 34 new miles of bike lanes throughout the city starting as early as August.

Plans also call for innovative improvements such as colored bike lanes, converting on-street parking spaces from cars to bikes, thousands of new bike racks, and an effort to ramp up education about safety for bicyclists and motorists. Three years after a court injunction came down on bike-network improvements in the wake of a lawsuit for failing to conduct a full EIR, the board’s vote was widely applauded as a pivotal moment for bicycling in San Francisco. Now that the EIR has been adopted, the process of lifting the injunction has been set in motion.

The vote followed more than three hours of testimony from avid San Francisco cyclists, who asked for more bike lanes and greater accessibility for would-be bicyclists such as children and seniors. Fewer than 20 people turned out in opposition and most people on the thumbs-down side voiced their general support for enhanced bike lanes, but took issue with some flawed aspects of one of the projects.

For a comprehensive design that could ultimately remove more than 2,000 parking spaces from city streets to accommodate bicycle infrastructure, there was remarkably little discussion about the loss of parking.

An old familiar debate about bikes vs. cars continues to grind away — but even Mayor Gavin Newsom called this squabble a thing of the past, touting the Bike Plan as progress for San Francisco and focusing his comments at a press conference on sustainability and livability instead the competition for space on city streets.

IF YOU BUILD IT …


Moments after the MTA Board announced its decision, a crowd of die-hard bike enthusiasts from the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition exchanged hugs and congratulations outside the City Hall hearing room. The vote was hailed as a major, hard-won victory.

"This is a momentous day for better bicycling and a better San Francisco," said Leah Shahum, executive director of the 10,000-member organization. The city "has taken a significant step forward in proving its commitment to smart, sustainable transportation choices, and we expect to see the numbers of people choosing to bicycle to increase dramatically."

Still, there are undoubtedly some who only expect to experience a dramatic increase in frustration when looking for a parking space. There are 880 lane-miles of streets in San Francisco’s roadway network, and according to SFMTA spokesman Judson True, a total of 880 parking spaces throughout the city would’ve been removed if the MTA Board had approved all 46 Bike Plan projects. (The board okayed 45 out of 46 projects; the hotly debated Second Street project, which would have stripped out a handful of parking spaces to accommodate bike lanes, was continued for further study.)

Amid the hundreds of pages of comments submitted during the EIR process was a complaint that the Bike Plan — often touted as a win for sustainability — could adversely impact San Francisco’s air quality by causing more drivers to circle in search of parking.

"More time will be spent by persons in cars as a result of a lack of on-street parking (already at a critical lack of capacity) searching for an available parking spot or stuck in traffic jams due to removal of car traffic lanes," one member of the public complained.

In response, the EIR points to San Francisco’s Transit First policy, which essentially says that the city will provide more of an incentive to take public transit than drive. "The social inconvenience of parking deficits, such as having to hunt for scarce parking spaces, is not an environmental impact," the EIR notes. "There may be secondary physical environmental impacts such as increased traffic congestion at intersections, air quality impacts, safety impacts, or noise impacts caused by congestion. In the experience of San Francisco transportation planners, however, the absence of a ready supply of parking spaces, combined with available alternatives to auto travel … induces many drivers to seek and find alternative parking facilities, shift to other modes of travel, or change their overall travel habits. Any such resulting shifts to transit service in particular, would be in keeping with the city’s Transit First Policy."

The underlying idea is that the Bike Plan can help to clear the air, fight climate change, and boost public health by making it more convenient to go without a vehicle — and more of a headache to drive.

As one commenter pointed out, the Bike Plan could also make life easier for people with disabilities who have to drive by replacing cars with bikes and thus freeing space in traffic lanes.

BRAKING THE HABIT


There are, of course, many sound arguments for nudging people away from driving. At a June 26 press conference, Newsom noted that 54 percent of the city’s greenhouse-gas emissions are related to vehicle traffic on the city’s roadways — and reducing those carbon emissions would go a long way toward making the city more climate-friendly, not to mention healthier for cyclists and non-cyclists alike.

Meanwhile, Bert Hill, chair of the city’s Bicycle Advisory Committee, noted that 40 percent of car trips in the city cover two miles or less, a distance easily traversed by bicycle. If more people opt to go by bike, the result could be calmer traffic, cleaner air, and possibly a boost for business. "No one goes shopping on the highway," one commenter pointed out during the SFMTA Board hearing. For all of these overarching benefits to be realized, of course, many motorists will have to change their behavior by electing to leave the car at home.

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition points to evidence suggesting that many frequent drivers are in fact ready to transform into frequent bicyclists. "New bike lanes will … attract tens of thousands of new bicyclists," an SFBC press release noted. "More than one-third of San Franciscans say they would ride if streets had more bike lanes and were more inviting for bicycling."

Newsom sounded a similar note, calling the Bike Plan "inevitable" and asserting that the debate that "used to be framed in terms of two wheels vs. four … that is behind us." Instead, he added, it’s time for "a new narrative of collaboration and partnership" between people who share the road.

Still, a battle continues to be waged against the implementation of the Bike Plan. Mary Miles, the attorney responsible for securing the three-year Bike Plan injunction (see "Stationary biking," 5/16/07), momentarily ruined the party at the SFMTA hearing by showing up, casting an icy glare, and warning the SFMTA board to "just stop now. We are appealing these actions." In the overflow room on City Hall’s first floor, Miles’ comments elicited hoots of laughter from a crowd of cyclists.

Miles’ client, Rob Anderson, is known for his cynical view that most people will never be encouraged to ride a bike, and that the Bike Plan unfairly rewards cyclists, a "special interest" group, at the expense of the majority of people, who drive.

Anderson and Miles are expected to appeal the SFMTA’s decision, possibly throwing one last monkey wrench into the process of moving the Bike Plan forward. Construction of new bike lanes can’t begin until the legal issues are resolved and the injunction is lifted.

PARK(ING) IT


A frantic driver who has just found a parking space might be thrilled to seize it, but Matthew Passmore has sparked a different sort of appreciation for parking spaces. One of the founders of Park(ing) Day, Passmore helped draw international interest in 2005 by temporarily transforming a parking space in the Mission District into a public park.

Since then the trend has caught on all over the world: all it takes is some Astroturf, a couch, and a few coins to pay the meter fare — and suddenly the public space usually reserved for cars is transformed into an attractive mini-park for pedestrians and passers-by.

The Park(ing) Day exercise, an event that takes place in September, has since prompted the creation of some 600 parks, free clinics, and other temporary "spaces" as part of the wider commentary about the allocation of public space. In Passmore’s view, "far too much of our city is dedicated to the automobile," and Park(ing) Day is just one way of illustrating this point.

For the soon-to-be 79 miles of bike lanes in the city, after all, there are still 880 lane miles built for cars, and San Francisco streets still accommodate a whopping 320,000 parking spaces. For his part, Passmore characterizes the removal of a few parking spaces as mere "growing pains," but emphasizes that in the long run, the Bike Plan will benefit everyone — not just cyclists.

The nativists are restless

0

news@sfbg.com

The comments sections of the Guardian‘s Politics blog and the San Francisco Chronicle‘s SFGate Web site have been lit up over the past week with angry (and sometimes overtly racist) denunciations of Latino immigrants, triggered by the latest Chronicle stories challenging San Francisco’s Sanctuary City policies and by Guardian revelations that Chronicle writer Jaxon Van Derkeken accepted an award and substantial cash payment from a controversial nativist group.

While Van Derbeken, two Chronicle editors interviewed by the Guardian, and other critics of San Francisco’s longstanding policy of not notifying federal authorities about the arrests of undocumented immigrants have denied trying to stir up nativist furor, the tone and content of many of these comments seems to indicate they’ve done exactly that.

The saga began June 19 when we published “Chronicle accepts award and cash from anti-immigrant group” on our Politics blog. The story began: “San Francisco Chronicle reporter Jaxon Van Derbeken recently accepted an award and cash prize (he refuses to say how much) from the Center for Immigration Studies — which a Southern Poverty Law Center report in February 2009 criticized for its overtly racist roots and extreme anti-immigrant agenda — for his controversial articles on San Francisco’s Sanctuary City policies.

“CIS paid for Van Derbeken to accept the award at the National Press Club and conservative Chronicle columnist Debra Saunders to introduce him earlier this month, an appearance they used to make derogatory comments about San Francisco, its values, and local immigrant rights activists, while saying little to rebuke the group for stirring up hateful nativist furor around what has become perhaps the country’s most divisive issue.”

Van Derbeken would only address the issue by e-mail, sending us two terse replies to our inquiry and refusing to answer most of our questions, including much how cash he received for a prize that we discovered paid $1,000 in 2001 (the complete e-mail exchange is include in our post).

“No one should mistake their decision to endorse my work for my endorsement of theirs,” was Van Derbeken’s most substantive comment, although he refused to offer an opinion on CIS or the SPLC report, which he didn’t read until after accepting the award. “I haven’t drawn any conclusions about it.”

CIS executive director Mark Krikorian, author of The New Case Against Immigration, Both Legal and Illegal (2008, Sentinel), responded to our inquires with an e-mail blaming the “jihad against dissent from the elite consensus for open borders” and referring to a column he wrote for National Review Online criticizing SPLC’s fundraising.

But in the past, Krikorian has called for the federal government to cut off funding to San Francisco and even prosecute local elected officials, writing in his CIS blog, “Local neutrality on immigration is no longer possible. Every jurisdiction in the country has a choice to make: Either buttress federal efforts at immigration control or subvert them. San Francisco has chosen the second option. It should now learn the consequences.”

We did phone interviews with Van Derbeken’s editors, Managing Editor Steve Proctor and Assistant Managing Editor Ken Conner, who both defended the stories and the decision to accept the award. Neither would reveal how much cash was involved, and neither would admit that it represented validating a group that recently has been vying for mainstream legitimacy.

“All issues have proponents and opponents,” Proctor told us, equating the award to those given for education and legal affairs reporting and denying that the immigration issue is more divisive and controversial. “At the end of the day, it isn’t about this group but about Jaxon’s stories,” Conner told us.

Those stories continued in high-profile fashion a few days later as Van Derbeken essentially rewrote a June 21 Los Angeles Times scoop about how San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris allowed a half-dozen undocumented immigrants to enroll in a rehabilitation program rather than turning them over to the feds. The details became front-page lead news stories in the Chronicle on June 22 and 23.

Local immigrant rights activists criticized the Chronicle stories and the paper’s decision to accept the CIS award and money.

“When I read these kind of stories that lead us down a dark path and play on people’s fears and paint immigrants with a broad brush — as a threat, as criminals, as dangerous to the community — I do think that there are anti-immigrant nativist centers egging on reporters like Jaxon down this dark path by giving him cash awards,” Phil Hwang, a staff attorney for the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, told us. “It’s part of the strategy these anti-immigrant groups are employing. It’s why they created this award. And if you look at who founded CIS and their vision, it’s clear that they believe America is under threat from non-white immigrants,”

Angela Chan of the Asian Law Caucus, whom Van Derbeken mentioned by name in his CIS award speech, said she is worried this latest round would weaken Harris’ support for Sanctuary City policies. That’s what happened to Mayor Gavin Newsom last fall, when Van Derbeken wrote the stories CIS honored.

“I’d hate to see another series of anti-immigrant scapegoating being used to make hasty policy decisions that violate the rights of immigrants, tear apart families, and increase the state of terror in immigrant communities,” Chan told us.

Harris, who is running for state attorney general, defended her decision to let undocumented immigrants complete the Back on Track program after their presence was brought to her attention, but has since changed the policy to bar them from enrolling. “No innovative initiative will ever be created without some unanticipated flaws to be fixed along the way, but this must not stop us from tackling tough problems with smart solutions,” she said in a prepared statement.

“These are tough economic times,” Hwang added. “People are very nervous about their jobs. And that is often when the [anti-immigrant] rhetoric ramps up.”

The Chronicle writer and editors and Krikorian stopped responding to Guardian inquiries. But the blogs were lit up with comments — hundreds of them from around the country at the bottom of Van Derbeken’s latest stories — that had some disturbing themes, accusations, and suggestions. They indicate that the radical nativists are using this issue — and the Chron‘s spin on it — to promote a dangerous agenda.

Here’s a small sampling:

<\!s> “Illegal aliens are like a plague.”

<\!s> “Kick out all Illegals, return the city to its rightful owners”

<\!s> “For God’s sake, STOP pandering to the ILLEGAL ALIENS and get rid of them!”

<\!s> “Anyone caught crossing the border illegally should be shot as a spy.”

<\!s> “The border ought to be land mined.”

<\!s> “What is this sham that diversity is great? It is tearing this country apart.”

Such sentiments — which we usually counter on the Guardian Politics blog — were met with silence by Van Derbeken.

Kinda Kink.com

0

johnny@sfbg.com

It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood — won’t you be my neighbor? That classic American question is all trussed up and ready to go thanks to "Safe Word," a new exhibition at Chris Perez’s gallery Ratio 3 that peeks inside a nearby Mission District space: San Francisco’s lively new gargantuan factory of BDSM imagery, Kink.com.

An all-too-rare site-specific appraisal of urban landscape and activity is intrinsic to this show. Even before Kink.com took over the 200,000-square-foot San Francisco Armory, the landmark’s fortress-like appearance and mammoth scale cried out for this kind of creative response. Back in 2003, reviewing a show of mixed media cubic works by Will Yackulic at the now-defunct gallery Pond, I used the block formations in Yackulic’s art and Pond’s across-the-street proximity to the Armory as an opportunity to take stock of the structure formerly known as San Francisco National Guard Armory and Arsenal, a neo-medieval brick goliath that was fully erected in 1914 and registered as a historical landmark in 1978.

At that time, the Armory was long dormant, but three years later, Kink.com purchased the site to use it as a production studio. While Kink.com’s location and activities have, unsurprisingly, generated a vast variety of local reportage, the five contributors to "Safe Word" don’t attack or celebrate the company — and its curious macrocosmic 21st-century update of old Hollywood’s studio system — so much as use its complex notions and representations of literal site and virtual space as trampolines for their own artistic imaginations.

In comparison to the clutter and overload characteristic of many group shows, "Safe Word" spreads nine works by a handful of artists across Ratio 3’s roomy confines in a manner that prevents any one piece from going neglected. To some degree, the standout works are those one first encounters upon entering the gallery. On the immediate right are four oil-on-panel paintings by Danny Keith that depict screen captures of grappling men from NakedKombat.com and UltimateSurrender.com. In Keith’s paintings, two torsos become one — not through the penetration shots one associates with hardcore porn, but through beast-with-two-backs-and-one-head physical images that momentarily occur during wrestling bouts. The compelling puzzle of these human pretzels is that Keith’s carefully selected and at times broodingly emotive visions bypass or subvert or transform the power games present in the titles of the source material. (In contrast, an orange-hued painting by Francine Spiegel remains elliptical as a visual response to Kink.com.)

Amanda Kirkhuff’s two graphite drawings (one on a large sheet of paper, another on a wall) are confrontational. On the far side of the room from Ratio 3’s front door, they greet viewers with (in one case) human-scale and (in another) larger-than-life full-frontal female nudity. Kirkhuff’s The Oldest Profession is like a 21st-century female answer to de Kooning. Thanks to a tit mountain and triangular patch of pubic forest, the piece’s faceless female torso flirts without sentiment with monumental abstraction — less obviously, and more wittily, Kirkhuff uses the magnified pixel or fractal block patterns of video in a manner that evokes Kink.com’s brick façade. Kirkhuff’s The Burden is the closest thing to a self-portrait in the show. Its subject meets the viewer’s gaze with a casual strength and defiance. Viewed within the context of Kirkhuff’s past hilarious renderings of pop culture icons and monsters such as Monique and Dr. Laura, these works prove she’ll likely excel in a solo show context.

Two pieces within "Safe Word" reconfigure material from Kink.com. Takeshi Murakata’s installation Because I Know How to Relax, I Can Work and Play Better matches woman-on-woman BDSM video with new age relaxation audio. There’s a comic frisson between the imagery and the verbal instructions: when the voice-over asks one to imagine a hand reaching inside one’s body, a semi-literal corollary takes place on screen. And connections between BDSM and meditative practice becomes quite clear. The idea is a bit glib and easy, though. More evocative is Anthony Viti’s looping five-minute video Mission & 14th, a card-shuffle barrage of fast-forward on-the-set screen captures of men and women at work and at play before and around the camera. At the same time that Viti’s piece demystifies or ignores the rigid barricades that characterize Kink.com activity, it also — like Keith’s paintings — defies the rules and perhaps rigidity associated with BDSM. Here, desire isn’t bound or laying down the law. Instead, it manifests as a polymorphously perverse blur.

SAFE WORD

Wed–Sat, 11 a.m.–6 p.m.; through Aug. 8

Ratio 3

1447 Stevenson, SF

(415) 821-3771

www.ratio3.org

Turning point

0

MORE ON SFBG.COM

>>Deconstructing the politics of parking in San Francisco

>>Safer streets for cyclists cause growing pains for motorists

news@sfbg.com

San Francisco has been a "transit-first" city since 1973, when the Board of Supervisors first adopted the policy of officially promoting public transit, pedestrians, and bicycles over the automobile. But the label has really been in name only — until this year.

Through an unusual confluence of policy initiatives that have been moving forward for several years, San Francisco is finally about to have a serious discussion about the automobile and its impacts. And parking policies are being used as the main tool to reduce traffic congestion, better set development impact fees, increase city revenue, and promote alternatives to the automobile.

"Our parking requirements need to be revised to support this [transit-first] policy by limiting parking supply — the single greatest incentive to drive — where transit and other modes are viable alternatives," reads the city’s Better Neighborhoods Plan.

While the very notion of deliberately limiting parking will likely be met with howls of protest by many drivers — indeed, urban planners already acknowledge that it’s probably not politically feasible to make drivers pay for their full impacts — they also say it’s the only way to decrease the over-dependence on the automobile.

"Without limiting parking, people will choose an auto-oriented lifestyle and continue to drive. Traffic will continue to worsen, and we will never shift the balance in favor of ways of getting around that are more effective in moving people," the plan continues.

Yet the push isn’t as dire for drivers as its stark language suggests, thanks to some innovative initiatives that could ironically make it even easier to park in some areas than it is now, in the process easing traffic congestion by eliminating the number of cars circling the block looking for parking spaces, which studies show can often account for up to one-third of the cars on the road.

DEMAND-BASED PARKING PRICES


The SF Park program is scheduled to begin later this summer in eight pilot areas, providing real-time parking data to give drivers better information on where to find spots and controlling demand with a market-based pricing system that raises rates when spots are scarce, encouraging turnover and freeing up spaces.

It is just one of many current initiatives. The city is looking at extending meter hours to nights and Sundays and adding parking meters in Golden Gate Park (those are simply revenue measures aimed at city budget deficits). Another study is examining the nexus between parking and developer impacts that could be used to charge new fees for construction. There’s also a comprehensive study of on-street parking policies that will be going before the Board of Supervisors (sitting as the San Francisco County Transportation Authority) next month after nearly five years in the works.

Yet creating more progressive parking policies requires political will, which will surely be tested in the coming months. Indeed, this year’s battle over the Municipal Transportation Authority budget — whose $128 million deficit was closed by Muni fare increases and services cuts rather than parking increases by a ratio of about 4-1, thanks to pressure from drivers and Mayor Gavin Newsom — was an early indicator of the pitfalls that exist within the politics of parking.

Using a $20 million federal traffic congestion management grant, SFMTA has spent years developing the SF Park program, approving most of the details last fall and planning to roll it out by summer’s end.

"Under-regulated on-street parking results in limited parking availability, inefficient utilization of spaces, and excess vehicular circulation," begins the San Francisco On-Street Parking Management and Pricing Study Final Report, which is headed to the Board of Supervisors next month. "This program will assess the effectiveness of using pricing and complementary strategies as a way to manage demand for parking."

The program will be rolled out in eight areas, coordinating parking information in more than 6,000 street spaces and 20 city-owned parking garages, and using that information to adjust parking rates — charging more when spots are scarce and for additional hours — to try to achieve a parking occupancy rate of about 85 percent.

"An on-street parking occupancy of 85 percent has been demonstrated by parking experts … as the benchmark for the practical capacity of on-street parking. At 85 percent occupancy, approximately one available space is expected per block, thus limiting the cruising phenomenon and generally assuring the availability of a space," the study reads.

SFMTA spokesperson Judson True called SF Park "the future of parking management, adding that "we are taking a big bite of the parking management pie with SF Park, which is the most advanced parking management system of any U.S. city."

THE TRUE COST OF CARS


It’s just the latest work product from transportation planners that have spent years behind-the-scenes developing programs to deal with the city’s over-reliance on the automobiles. "It’s all part of a strategy of using parking as a demand management strategy," said Zabe Bent, a planner with the San Francisco County Transportation Authority.

She is working on the parking policies, as well as a proposal to charge motorists a congestion fee for driving into the downtown, which comes before the Board of Supervisors this fall (although implementation is probably at least three years away).

Bent said city officials are working on a number of fronts to shore up San Francisco’s "transit-first" status and prepare for growth in what is already one of the country’s most congested cities. So some of the decisions coming up are bound to be tough.

"It’s a tradeoff we need to make to achieve our goals," she said, noting that the central question transportation planners are wrestling with is, "How do we achieve a more sustainable growth pattern?"

Such noble intentions can always get hung up on politics, and the ever-present question of how to pay for it during an era of fiscal crisis. So it appears the city may have to get creative with funding its new approach to parking.

Alica John-Baptiste, the assistant planning director overseeing the parking impact fee study, said that while it does appear to be a big year for new parking policies, "this conversation has been underway for a number of years. A lot of the discussions we’ve had are now being studied."

Most recently it was the citizens committee that developed the Market-Octavia Plan — one of the first to cap how much parking developers may build along with the projects — that sought guidance about what the city could legally do to recover the full costs associated with automobiles.

"There were a bunch of questions that came up about parking as an issue," she said of the Market-Octavia process. So the Planning Department and other city agencies began to explore the cost of parking as part of the city’s update of the Transit Impact Fee that is charged to new development, with the idea of expanding that to include impacts to all modes of transportation.

"We are looking at parking as a land use and its impact to the [transportation] system," she continued. "This is a city that really wants to support other modes than just transit."

The contract for that parking nexus study was awarded to Cambridge Systematics earlier this month with initial recommendations expected by the end of the year. That study is expected to show that developers and drivers don’t come anywhere near paying for the full cost of the automobile to San Francisco. "These nexus studies usually suggest a much higher fee rate than is feasible to provide," she said.

In other words, drivers and developers would freak out if asked to pay for their full impacts, arguing that that doing so would stifle development, hurt the economy, punish those who need cars, etc. So the fees will likely be set lower than needed to cover the city’s costs.

Even in the short-term, simply extending meter hours into the evenings — as SFMTA is now studying to help the city deal with its budget deficit — is likely to trigger a pitched battle between progressive supervisors and politicians who side with some merchant groups that consider parking sacrosanct.
David Heller, president of the Greater Geary Merchants Association, will be one of those leading the charge. By way of argument, he criticized San Francisco as "a very business-unfriendly city" compared to competitors like Colma and Burlingame and laid out this scenario: "After 6 p.m., there are no power lunches going on. People want to relax. Imagine you sit down to a nice dinner. You’ve got your wine and are enjoying your appetizer and in the middle of your meal, you have to get up and feed the meter. When you return, the ambiance has been lost. What are the chances you’ll return to that restaurant?"
And so it goes with the politics of parking, where pressing realities clash with visceral reactions, driver prerogatives (such as the "right" to feed the meter, which actually isn’t legal), and other distracting entitlement issues.
Gabriella Poccia and Rachel Buhner contributed to this report.

———–

PARKING BY NUMBERS


Number of on-street parking spaces in SF: 320,000

Number these spaces that have meters: 24,000

Total parking spaces in San Francisco: 603,000

Number of cars and trucks registered in SF: 441,653

Annual revenue from meters and city-owned garages: $64.5 million

Annual revenue from parking citations: $90 million

Number of street spaces in 8 SF Park pilot zones: 6,000

Hourly meter rates in the zones, depending on demand: 25 cents to $6

Hourly garage rates in the zones, depending on demand: $1 to $10

Number of residential parking permits issued: 89,271

Cost of purchasing an on-street residential parking permit: $74 per year

Number of temporary permits: 2,867

Annual revenue from residential parking permits: $5.7 million
Cost of purchasing SF parking on Craiglist: $100 to $500 per month
Annual city revenue if residential permits were market-based: $320 million

The mobility of space

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sarah@sfbg.com

Jason Henderson is standing on Patricia’s Green in Hayes Valley, shielding his eyes from the midsummer sun, as he explains how this area, which once lay in the shadowy underbelly of the Central Freeway, was reclaimed as a pedestrian-friendly park.

"In 1989 the freeway went all the way to Turk Street," said Henderson, an assistant professor of geography at San Francisco State University, describing how the raised concrete roadbed, built in the 1950s, cut across this neighborhood and blocked the sky — until the Loma Prieta earthquake hit and damaged the final section so badly it had to be torn down.

That natural disaster triggered a public discussion about the use of the surrounding space, and a 15-year fight that culminated in 2005 in the dedication of the Green, which is part of the Octavia Boulevard Project. Neighbors and business owners pushed the city to convert a damaged freeway into a landscaped park.

That sort of change fascinates Henderson. "I am interested in how people move around cities, and how urban space is configured for movement," he said.

The young professor was raised in New Orleans and wrote his dissertation on transportation and land use debates in Atlanta — which, as Henderson notes, is "the poster child for sprawl but became a hotbed in the ’90s of a national discourse about how we should grow, which became this very interesting debate about reurbanizing."

Henderson’s research focuses on the politics of mobility. He decided to move to San Francisco in 2003 because he saw it as an opportunity to live in a city where a car is not necessary and to study the history of the city’s freeway revolt, which began in the 1960s.

And while he is proud of this park, which was dedicated as Hayes Green then renamed for the late Patricia Walkup, a Hayes Valley resident who tirelessly advocated for the park until her death in 2006, Henderson thinks the local politics of parking have reached "a spatial stalemate."

"During the freeway revolt of the 1960s, San Francisco rejected the freeway but not the automobile," Henderson explained. "But even as San Francisco residents decided that they did not want big gashes of freeway through their waterfront, the Marina, and Golden Gate Park, the city continued to have laws that said every housing unit was to have one parking space.

"So the city adopted a transit-first policy on paper, but didn’t take space away from cars. And if you don’t do anything, you’re not solving the problem."

The problem in San Francisco is what he called the "essentializing of cars."

"A core idea within the parking debate is that there is a universal love affair with the automobile," Henderson explained. "But Obama is downsizing GM and Chrysler, and for the first time since 1960, vehicle miles traveled have started to go down. Until last year, the mantra was that Americans are going to drive. But then we found out that at $4 a gallon, this country freaks out and changes."

Earlier this year, Henderson published a paper that analyzes the city’s politics of parking through the lens of two ballot initiatives from the November 2007 San Francisco election.

"San Francisco’s parking debate is not just about parking. It is a contest over how the city should be configured and organized, and for whom," Henderson wrote in his paper, titled "The Spaces of Parking: Mapping the Politics of Mobility in San Francisco."

His research led him to conclude that progressives, who want to make the city more bike- and public-transportion friendly, are pitted against the more conservative elements (he calls them neoconservatives), who want to increase space for parking and cars at all costs, with the moderate (or in his words, "neoliberal") factions tangled in between.

Part of Henderson’s critique involves estimating the hidden costs of parking — and as it turns out, that can be done using Google and Craiglist. According to a San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency 2008 fact sheet, there are an estimated 320,000 on-street parking spaces in San Francisco, including metered spaces, each consuming, on average, about 160 square feet.

According to a 2002 presentation by Jeffery Tumlin, a national transportation consultant, if the city rented these spaces for the lowball rate of $1,000 a year, San Francisco would rake in $320 million annually.

There would be no shortage of demand — market prices are way higher. Henderson’s review of Craiglist unearthed folks who looking to rent parking spaces in San Francisco and willing to pay from $100 to $500 a month.

But SFMTA — which issues more than 89,000 residential parking permits annually and recently opted to cut Muni service and routes and increase fares on public transit rather than extend parking meter hours to balance its budget shortfall — decided to increase the cost of these parking permits, starting July 1, by only $2, from $72 to $74 — per year. That’s less than 10 percent of market value.

The resulting revenue will be dedicated to the cost of administrating the program — not to offset the hidden costs of parking, which include carbon dioxide emissions, air pollution, congestion, and occupying valuable space.

Henderson is intrigued by the relationship between parking policy and a complex set of factors that include public health, obesity, and the cost of affordable housing. He notes that if a city’s housing policy requires developers to provide a parking space for each housing unit, too often developers don’t build that housing, or build it smaller, or build it as part of a luxury complex.

"The progressive response to this dilemma is to try to get government to eliminate the one parking-space-per-unit goal and cap the total amount of parking built. Meanwhile, the neocons, who believe government should be active in creating more parking, rail against more bus lanes," Henderson said.

As he notes, common to both groups is the desire for government to help them achieve their vision.

"Much as we see San Francisco as a progressive place, it’s also peopled by neoliberals and very conservative folks — and progressive and neoliberals coalesce on the issue of ‘smart growth.’ And there are lot of progressives who have a car and say, ‘I don’t want to be car dependent; I’d like to do city share, but I’d feel stranded.’ And those who say ‘I always want to have my own car, but I only drive it once a month.’"

Conceding that "tweaking the system" will cost money, Henderson cites congestion pricing as an area where the various factions can find agreement.

"The important question is, what will the revenue be used for?" Henderson said, noting that some will argue that if you charge motorists to use roads, then the money should be used to improve the roads, which is what has happened with toll roads in Texas.

But in San Francisco, activist are pushing the opposite approach. "Whereas the sustainable transportation movement in San Francisco wants to use the revenue from congestion pricing to fix Muni and discourage driving," he continued.

In his paper on parking policy, Henderson details exactly how parking allocations push up the price of housing — and change the face of ongoing developments.

A typical off-road parking space takes up 350 square feet when room to move in and out is factored in — and that’s comparable to many offices and living spaces in San Francisco. The parking alone costs $50,000 to $100,000 to develop — a cost that’s passed on to the homebuyer.

But in most neighborhoods, developers can’t avoid parking, because of planning laws. "This means that neighborhoods like the iconic North Beach simply could not be built today," Henderson wrote, noting how mandatory parking provisions mean that the lower floors of new buildings are likely to contain parking garages, not storefronts and cafes, and garage entrances take away street parking and limit where street trees can be planted.

"But at least contesting car space is on the table in San Francisco" Henderson said. "That makes it an intriguing bellwether for other places."

Wading in

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a&eletters@sfbg.com

Yeah, it’s a big one — "going boating" — for the working-class castaways in New Yorker Bob Glaudini’s 2007 Jack Goes Boating, a surprisingly poignant comedy now making a strong Bay Area debut at Berkeley’s Aurora Theatre. Who would propose such a thing lightly? The word even sounds funny, at least in the mouths of the three friends assembled in the scene — longstanding couple Clyde (Gabriel Marin) and Lucy (Amanda Duarte), and Clyde’s best friend and perennial bachelor Jack (Danny Wolohan). Their tongues trip unfamiliarly on the "t" like it was a pinky finger extending suddenly from their coffee hand.

The two relationships at the center of Jack Goes Boating — one very tentatively setting forth, the other possibly foundering after several years — make for less than smooth sailing, plot-wise, but a class act all around, especially as delivered by director Joy Carlin’s excellent ensemble. And yes, the aquatic metaphors are heavy in the mix, as Jack, with his friends’ encouragement, makes it his mission to finally woo and win a love of his own. That would be Connie (Beth Wilmurt), a mortician’s assistant and, presumably, boating enthusiast whom senior colleague Lucy and Clyde have helpfully pointed in Jack’s direction.

An aging, bashful, lifelong single guy turned dedicated stoner of the reggae-saturated "positive vibes" school, Jack’s vaguely embarrassing enthusiasm for Rastafarianism smacks of the quiet desperation of the well-meaning dork, especially as visually crowned by a budding nimbus of white-guy dreads. But it also points to a crucial motive in Jack’s fledgling love life, namely some sort of anchor of decency and solace in a sea of urban chaos and confusion, a context made palpable in the comically supple Wolohan’s charmingly perplexed, almost painful determination as Jack.

It’s clear early on that some sacrifice is in order. To make everything turn out right for Jack and Connie’s little borough romance, it behooves Jack to first learn how to swim (Clyde to the rescue: when he’s not driving a limo like coworker Jack, he’s a swimming instructor). Moreover, owing to a little misunderstanding on Connie’s part, Jack needs to learn how to cook (Clyde to the rescue again, this time by suggesting Jack study with an assistant pastry chef Clyde knows to have been lately and uncomfortably acquainted with his own dear Lucy). Clyde’s attempts to do good are themselves problematic, however, having at points a competing agenda of their own (conflicting motives Marin plays to superb effect), centered on the baggage he and Lucy (a feisty and sharp-witted match in Duarte’s terrific characterization) have accumulated over many years. In fact, as Jack slowly wades into the deep end of the pool, literally and figuratively, Clyde and Lucy’s increasingly obvious dirty laundry begins to look like unintentional warning flags.

But Jack perseveres. Not yet at the oars, he’s nonetheless set a firm course already. He’s on board for this love thing. And, according to Glaudini, it’s as much a matter of self-survival as self-sacrifice. His swimming lessons with Clyde inch him ever so gently toward the deep end of the pool. But in a sense he’s already there, surrounded by the vortex of urban stress and mayhem as well as his own whirling emotions, all of it manifest in the predatory competition of other men — more often than not reduced to synecdoche in the dialogue: an aggressive erection on the subway, a stray hand on an unsuspecting breast, a philandering cannoli — and his own explosive temper. It’s the dicey but also ennobling power of love that makes Jack and Connie (whose own neurotic complexity gets its full due in Wilmurt’s shrewdly unnerving yet sympathetic characterization) able to navigate these waters finally, rather than merely treading them in a self-induced fog of pot smoke or "positive vibes."

Veteran Bay Area actor-director Carlin guides this beautifully designed production with sure comic instincts, making for an enjoyable ride all the way. But she and her cast also know the play gathers much of its momentum from deeper, darker waters just below its romantic comedy surface.

JACK GOES BOATING

Through July 19

Wed-Sat, 8 p.m.; Sun, 2 and 7 p.m., $28-$50

Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison, Berk.

(510) 843-4822, www.auroratheatre.org

Farallon

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paulr@sfbg.com

Since restaurants tend to age in dog years, a restaurant that reaches its 12th birthday — like Farallon — might be called venerable. It has survived its perilous youth to achieve, perhaps, the stability of middle age, and the good news is that while not all that many restaurants see their 12th birthday, the ones that do stand a reasonable chance of seeing quite a few more.

Mark Franz, who cooked at Stars while that glittering spot was still in the hands of founder Jeremiah Tower, has been the man at Farallon from the beginning — the man, at least, in the kitchen. The designer was Pat Kuleto, and the restaurant’s interior décor shows a definite kinship with other Kuleto projects from the mid-1990s; like Boulevard (1993), it is rich in fanciful lamps and light fixtures, and like Jardiniere (1997), it includes a conspicuous sweeping staircase.

But mostly there is the Captain Nemo effect, the sense of being in some magical grotto at the bottom of the sea. Many of the visual effects are not subtle: the huge faux scallop shell that forms part of the ceiling and the row of lamps like line-caught fish hanging in front of the exhibition kitchen are two that spring to mind. But Kuleto did not neglect the finer touches, even if it takes a bit longer to notice them. The tiled mosaics on the wall arches, for instance, are quietly spectacular in their byzantine colors and details. The mosaics have worn well. They lend an air of permanence and impressiveness, and they’re what you find yourself staring at long after you’ve stopped noticing the more outlandish stuff.

The menu describes the cooking as "coastal cuisine," an au courant designation for imaginative or contemporary seafood. The restaurant’s obvious peers are Aqua and Waterbar; it’s less monumental than the former and cozier than the latter, and because it’s just a few steps from Union Square, I wondered if we would find some pandering to tourists — some version of cioppino, say. I didn’t notice any such over-obviousness. The theme instead is one of discreet sophistication, cleverness that does not call attention to itself.

Sashimi of ahi tuna ($18), for example, is the kind of thing you could get at dozens of restaurants around town. But Farallon’s kitchen gave the glistening ruby tabs of flesh a sly Spanish twist, with an overlay of a boquerón (a white anchovy), a scattering of slivered almonds, and a nearby berm of ñora-chili purée, like an honor guard.

A buckwheat blini (part of a four-course, $65 prix fixe) was soaked — and I do mean soaked — in melted butter, then topped with alternating lengths of gravlax and sturgeon, themselves capped with crème fraîche and a brief hailstorm of salmon roe, like little pebbles of orange glass. The lesson here was butter, its delicate, singular richness. Accept no substitute, because there is none.

The combination of cantaloupe and prosciutto is friendly to the point of cliché, so a little inventiveness is welcome. Farallon’s summer melon salad (also part of the prix fixe) featured a core of cantaloupe dice wrapped in swaths of prosciutto and topped with what looked like simple shaved ice but turned out to be verbena granita. Since we intuitively associate color with flavor, it was startling to find so much punch packed into something that looked as if it had been reclaimed from a hotel ice bucket.

The menu does not beat you over the head with screeds about sustainability, and perhaps this restraint is wise, since seafood choices are so often fraught ones. I love arctic char — a milder, eco-friendly relation of salmon — and I very much liked the way it was handled here ($35): gently roasted, then finished in a cast-iron pot with some white wine and a succotash-like medley of corn kernels, summer squash dice, and cubes of Spanish chorizo. But: the fish had been taken in Icelandic waters, which are quite a few carbon footprints away.

Also carbon-footprinty, though delicious, was soft-shell crab, available as a starter ($18) on a bed of corn kernels, and as the third of the prix-fixe’s four courses, with Puy lentils (a bit overcooked, I thought) and basil-roasted tomatoes. In both cases the crab was fried "naked," which meant without being dipped in batter. Fried batter has its golden, crunchy charms, but it can be overbearing. When you are trying to enjoy crab — especially soft-shell crab, the essence of crab — the best crust is no crust.

Also, crustlessness shaves a few points from the calorie count, which leaves wiggle room for dessert: a warm (prix-fixe) brownie, say, with a pat of malted-milk-ball ice cream bisected by a chewy chocolate tuile, or, for the more restrained, an array of chocolate bites ($6), including a liqueur-filled truffle and two bites of a sublime milk chocolate-peanut butter pavé. Just the sort of thing the 12-year-old in each of us loves.

FARALLON

Dinner: Mon.-Thurs., 5:30-9:30 p.m.;

Fri.-Sat., 5:30-10 p.m.; Sun., 5-9:30 p.m.

450 Post, SF

(415) 956-6969

www.farallonrestaurant.com

Full bar

AE/CB/DC/DS/MC/V

Comfortable noise level

Wheelchair accessible

Appetite: Honeycomb coladas, Italian wines, French prix fixe, and more

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Every week, Virginia Miller of personalized itinerary service and monthly food, drink, and travel newsletter, www.theperfectspotsf.com, shares foodie news, events, and deals. View the last installment here.

appetite629_Donato.jpg


NEW OPENINGS
The Plant Cafe Organic’s second location with Bay views

The Embarcadero goes organic with The Plant Café Organic‘s second (and much larger) locale on Pier 3. Stunning Bay views, Blue Bottle and smoothies in the morning (in the cafe side of the space), lunch and dinner (restaurant side) with Spicy Fava Bean & Cherry Tomato Bruschetta or Chicken (organic, of course), Caramelized Onion, Point Reyes Blue Cheese & Fennel Pizza. If breezes kick in, there’s heat lamps outside, while inside the air is fresh with a wall plant installation. Watch the sky turn shades of pink and blue at sunset with a Honeycomb Colada (coconut milk, pineapple juice, rum, honeycomb and toasted coconut garnish) in hand.
Pier 3, The Embarcadero
(415) 984-1973

www.theplantcafe.com

Donato Enoteca debuts in Redwood City
Take a Michelin-starred chef from Italy, place him in the Peninsula and you have Donato Enoteca, Redwood City’s newest destination restaurant. Chef Donato Scotti highlights his Northern Italian roots in a menu using farm-fresh produce and Italian ingredients, like imported burrata, prosciutto and olive oils (the latter available in sampler tastings). While choosing from more than 100 bottles of (mostly) Italian wines, dine on handmade pasta, hand-pulled braised wild boar, octopus carpaccio, or spicy sausage/broccoli rabe pizza from the wood-burning oven. The place soothes in white and brown tones, with wine cellar, and a wrap-around patio replete with couches and chairs – an ideal Summer evening setting from which to sip an apertif.
1041 Middlefield Road, Redwood City
(650) 701-1000
www.donatoenoteca.com

appetite629_Grand.jpg

EVENTS
7/14 – Bastille Day at Grand Cafe
Let them eat cake.… and eat it for free at Grand Cafe‘s Bastille Day celebration. Exec chef, Mauro Pando, prepares special French dishes for the occasion, which you can order a la carte or as an optional three-course prix fixe menu ($58 with wine pairings), featuring beloved French classics like Coquilles San Jacques (scallops) or Duck Coq Au Vin. As you sip on flutes of champagne, French wines (some half-priced) or seasonal cocktails, a vibrant Marie Antoinette graces the ballroom to rousing tunes played by an accordionist. Then there’s cake, glorious cake. Celebrate France’s independence and storm the bastille!
July 14, 5pm
501 Geary, SF
(415) 292-0101
www.grandcafe-sf.com

CONTESTS
Calling all Mixologists to compete at SF Chefs.Food.Wine
"SKYY’s the Limit": a cocktail competition open to all bartenders who want to compete for "Best Cocktail 2009" at August’s upcoming SF Chefs.Food.Wine bash in Union Square (and thereabouts). The spirit to be used? Campari, Italy’s delightfully bitter, rose-tinged apertif. Submit your own Campari creation to David Nepove himself (at davidnepove@southernwine.com) by July 6 and the top 15 recipes will be selected on July 21st, with the overall contest including judges the likes of H. Joseph Ehrmann, Martin Cate, Victoria D’Amato Moran, Scott Beattie and Marco Dionysos. Semi-finalists make their own creations during the festival on August 7 and 8 using Skyy Spirits and one secret ingredient revealed each day. With semi-finalists narrowed down from these competitions, two finalists compete August 9th for a grand prize of two round trip air tickets in the US with Virgin Airlines.
Deadline for recipe entry: July 6
www.sfchefsfoodwine.com

The Tallest Man on Earth

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PREVIEW In strictly literal terms, the Tallest Man on Earth’s Kristian Mattson is not the tallest man on the globe. He is probably the Best Bob Dylanesque Tall Dude on Earth, and also perhaps the Tallest New Swedish Musical Talent on Earth, but I suppose those monikers wouldn’t have quite the same ring. Along with no-nonsense yet playful songwriting chops, one of the things I find most fetching about his debut album Shallow Grave (Gravitation, 2008) is its direct zest. Mattson fingerpicks melodies with sprinter’s speed but never loses a nimble grace. The Tallest Man on Earth toured the U.S. with the equally austere Bon Iver recently, but I have to say I prefer Mattsson’s energetic acoustic spirit to the comparative mope of Bon Iver leader Justin Vernon. Shallow Grave‘s gloomy title is a bit misleading — on one of its signature tunes, "I Won’t Be Found," the underground dwelling is a quite lively mole hole.

The keening nasality of Mattson’s vocals are his most overt link to the Dylan tradition. His songs traverse comparatively narrow territory though, bypassing societal commentary for explorations of emotion and more intimate human relationships. In lesser hands, such intent yields forgettable schmaltz — or worse yet, the kind of music you want to forget and can’t. But Mattson avoids sentimentality and vagary through earthy imagery and a vital energy that avoids easy softness. The sonic equivalent of a splash of ice-cold water on one’s face in the morning, his songs are a bracing alternative to the melancholy brooding of his countryman José Gonzalez. The Tallest Man on Earth is also a contender for the Handsomest Tall Man with a Ceiling-Scraping Pompadour on Earth, a factor that can’t possibly hurt him as a live draw.

THE TALLEST MAN ON EARTH With Nathaniel Rateliff and the Wheel. Thurs/2, 8 p.m., $12–$24. The Independent, 628 Divisadero, SF. (415) 771-1421. www.independentsf.com

“Sex Positive”

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REVIEW Richard Berkowitz ought to be lionized as an early crusader in the fight against AIDS. Instead he is not only largely forgotten now, his efforts earned him hostility and a kind of blacklisting within the gay community during the U.S. epidemic’s destructive apex in the 1980s. Blessed with a still-living, charismatic subject, Daryl Wein’s documentary puzzles out that injustice. A campus radical turned S&M daddy-for-hire, he found a new outlet for highly vocal activism when the disease first began taking a significant toll in the hitherto carefree, wide-open New York City gay scene. He and the late Michael Callen cowrote a first-ever "safer sex" guide. But with HIV transmission routes/risks still a matter of conjecture, Berkowitz’s own community excoriated that concept — not to mention his pleas to rein in multiple-partner promiscuity until more medical facts were known — as reactionary. He was decried as a lowly hustler perversely bent on shaming gays back into the chastity closet, a bizarre charge reflecting the besieged community’s off-chart levels of terror and denial at the time. Most of his ideas later proved wise, but by then Berkowitz had retreated into obscurity and substance abuse, his budding journalism career nipped by still-skittish gay media outlets. Still young-ish, devoid of self-pity, he’s an interviewee with considerable flinty charm, while the movie efficiently assembles archival materials to illustrate his rocky backstory. Hopefully his pioneering crusade will be better appreciated as a result of Sex Positive — though don’t expect any such belated kudos from fellow first-wave AIDS activist survivor Larry Kramer, who in predictable fashion here sour-grapes the contributions of anyone who is not dead or Larry Kramer.

SEX POSITIVE opens Fri/3 at the Roxie.

Summer Slaughter Tour

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PREVIEW Summer metal tours, notably Ozzfest, operate like feudal hierarchies. As night descends and the stages get bigger, lesser known vassals doing fealty in the parking lot give way to the landed headbanger aristocracy, who in turn cede the stage to some anointed monarch of metal.

In recent years, package deals like Summer Slaughter have taken a more republican approach, recruiting bands of middling stature to represent a vast array of black-hoodied constituents. Though the ticket buyer is not snared by the ermine-furred eminence of a Maiden or a Priest, a large number of quality upstarts can cast a wide net. Throw in three or four majority whips with reliable fanbases and good reputations, and you’ve got yourself a Congress of carnage.

Suffocation is the biggest name on the bill, and the veteran New York City death metal band will cater to the "never-too-brutal" crowd with its bludgeoning low-end assaults, including cuts off a new full-length, Blood Oath (Nuclear Blast). Death-heads will also be there for cult German tech outfit Necrophagist, whose impossible chops and mind-bending arrangements justifies its headlining spot.

D.C. thrashers Darkest Hour is embarking on its first U.S. run without departed lead guitarist Kris Norris, and will be eager to show its many detractors the fighting fitness of a new lineup and a new, Norris-less album, The Eternal Return (Victory Records). Folk-inflected Finnish battlers Ensiferum round out the tour’s Big Four, promising the best in war-kilts and anthemic, epic barrages. Whatever your particular poison, slaughter is imminent.

SUMMER SLAUGHTER TOUR With Winds of Plague, Dying Fetus, Born of Osiris, Origin, Beneath the Massacre, After the Burial, Decrepit Birth, Blackguard. Wed/1, 2:30 p.m. $30. Regency Grand Ballroom, 1290 Sutter, SF. (415) 673-5716. www.regencycentersf.com/grand

July 4 Dining Deals

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PREVIEW Fourth of July tends to be a casual, low-brow, pre-packaged-potato-salad-and-cheap-beer kind of holiday. But it doesn’t have to be. This year, Bay Area foodies can celebrate our country without compromising their culinary standards. CAV Wine Bar and Kitchen will host a BBQ with ribs and fixins, as well as vegetarian options. ($35/person. 1666 Market, SF. 415-437-1770, www.cavwinebar.com). That Hayes Valley beacon of class and culture, Jardiniere, will sport red, white, and blue tablecloths and family-style dining while serving haute twists on classic dishes like
pickled watermelon, Berkshire pork ribs, and lobster rolls. ($55/person. 300 Grove, SF. 415-861-5555, www.jardiniere.com). For a bit of French flair (we are a melting pot, after all), La Folie will be open for the first time this July 4 (2316 Polk, SF. 415-776-5577, www.lafolie.com). Or check out Paul K, whose Dine About Town deal has been extended through July 5, for summer classics like heirloom tomato salad, pan-seared white seabass, or flatiron steak ($34.95/person. 199 Gough, SF. 415-552-7132, www.paulkrestaurant.com).

JULY 4TH DINING DEALS. Various times and locations. Check individual

Websites for information.