Volume 44 Number 01-
October 7 – October 13, 2009
Sex and violence are old bedfellows in art cinema. A line can be drawn from the sliced eyeball in Un Chien Andalou (1929) through A Clockwork Orange (1971), Bonnie and Clyde (1967), and David Cronenberg’s earlier films, right up to Charlotte Gainsbourg’s clitoridectomy in Lars von Trier’s latest provocation Antichrist. The quickest way to expose the hypocrisies of bourgeois morality still seems to be the willful conflation and graphic depiction of bodily harm and bodily pleasure.
The late ’60s and early ’70s films of Koji Wakamatsu showcased in Yerba Bunea Center for the Arts’ thrilling retrospective, "Pink Cinema Revolution" present a fascinating case for the political uses of gratuity. Extremely low-budget, alternately frenetic and plodding, frontloaded with sexualized violence, grizzly killings, S&M and rape, and pulsing with the radical politics of their era, Wakamatsu’s films are disturbing, messy, and electric. When, by a fluke, Secrets Behind the Wall (1965) got past Japan’s film rating board and screened at the Berlin International Film Festival that year, the audience couldn’t have prepared themselves for the sight of a stifled housewife hungrily licking the keloid scars of her lover, a Hiroshima survivor.
Although he was a contemporary of Seijun Suzuki, Shohei Imamura, and Nagisa Oshima, Wakamatsu doesn’t slot so easily into the cannon of the nuberu bagu, Japan’s response to the cinematic new waves churning across Europe at the time (noted Japanese film scholar Donald Richie still contends that Wakamatsu "makes embarrassing soft-core psychodramas"). A farmer’s son who had worked odd construction jobs and served time before ever stepping behind a camera, Wakamatsu fell into filmmaking without the formal training or academic background held by many of his peers. Hired by Nikkatsu in 1963, he quickly started churning out pinku eiga or "pink films," the highly profitable genre of soft-core quickies that often displayed wild creativity in the face of a the (still-standing) taboo against onscreen genital realism.
Wakamatsu eventually quit Nikkatsu (after the studio, fearing government action, gave the potential embarrassment Secrets a low-profile domestic release despite the acclaim it received in Berlin) and formed his own studio, Wakamatsu Pro, using the pink film industry mainly as a distribution network for his increasingly extreme experiments, which could barely be described as "soft-core." In Violent Virgin (1969), men and women brutally subject a young couple to all manner of sexual degradations, resulting in the woman’s crucifixion; Violated Angels (1967), based on Richard Speck’s 1966 killing spree, ends with the killer surrounded by a bloody rosette of his flayed victims; Go, Go Second Time Virgin (1969) follows the strange, nihilistic love that develops between two abused teenagers.
Paralleling the growing output of Wakamatsu Pro was the off-screen rise of the radical left wing and student movements. Extremist political groups like the Red Army Faction, and the closely related Japanese Red Army and United Red Army (whose twisted genealogy and downfall Wakamatsu follows in his most recent feature United Red Army (2007), which closes out the series), held the Japanese government accountable for aiding and abetting the U.S. in Vietman and demanded a complete overhaul of the standing social and political structure by any means necessary.
While one can see in the radical assaults on the status quo of sexual relations, filmmaking, and normative citizenship staged in Wakamatsu’s films as being in concert with the rhetoric of the extreme political left, he was not above pointing out its ridiculousness as well. More often than not, the leftists in Wakamatsu films are a confused bunch whose political motives are frequently (and humorously) cross-wired to their libidinal impulses. In Ecstasy of the Angels (1970) the hormonal militants (named, perhaps in a nod to G.K. Chesterton’s anarchist satire The Man Who Would be Thursday, after the days of the week) spout secret code meaningless even to them in between having sex at the drop of a hat.
A fitting close to the series, United Red Army finds Wakamatsu taking a sober look back over the era that fuelled his most prolific years as a filmmaker, accounting for both the revolutionary promises and grim dissolution of Japan’s student protest movement. Combining documentary footage with staged reenactments, United Red Army is a stylistic 360 from Wakamatsu’s earlier work. The grueling, three-hour history lesson spares no detail in documenting the titular faction’s descent from idealism into the sadistic purging of its own members to its highly publicized last stand at a mountain ski resort.
Much like Uli Edel’s The Baader Meinhof Complex, another recent film that examines ’60s political terrorism, United Red Army is difficult to watch because of the factual nature of its exposition and its refusal to judge, even when depicting the URA’s darkest hours. It’s a surprisingly objective coda to the wild, dark films that precede it in "Pink Cinema Revolution," which are as much documents as products of their time. As Jasper Sharp writes in his recent survey of pink cinema, Behind the Pink Curtain, Wakamatsu’s films are, "not only visual testimonies to an era of new sexual frankness and a deep uncertainty in which oblivion seemed to lurk around the corner," but they also offer, in retrospect, prescient glimpses of the underlying forces that would propel the radical left to its own dissolution.
"Pink Cinema Revolution: The Radical Films of Koji Wakamatsu"
Oct 8-29, $8
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
701 Mission, SF
(415) 978-2787, www.ybca.org
FILM "Some of our most exquisite murders have been domestic, performed with tenderness in simple, homey places like the kitchen table," Alfred Hitchcock observed.
While Hitch was the doyen of everyday suspense capturing the foreboding whistle of a boiling kettle or the pendulous noose formed by a necktie his vision of the violent-domestic was hardly singular. This year’s Mill Valley Film Festival showcases two very different films dedicated to exploring the tenuous relationship between crime and the domestic front, in all its various incarnations.
In Noah Buschel’s traveling noir homage The Missing Person, a case of domestic subterfuge becomes a laconic meditation on loneliness and absolution in the post-9/11 New York City. Starring Michael Shannon (2008’s Revolutionary Road) as gin-soaked private investigator John Rosow, The Missing Person begins with the classic tropes of the Philip Marlowe feuilleton a mysterious caller, aided by an attractive secretary (Amy Ryan), offers the down-and-out PI a sum of money to follow a unnamed man on a LA-bound express train from Chicago. The surly and self-deprecating Rosow immediately takes the case, though it appears his decision is motivated as much by boredom and a nasty hangover than by lucre. From a nearby compartment, Rosow surveils the very innocuous-looking mark who travels with a young, Hispanic child. Presuming the worst, the PI puts two and two together and speculates that he’s been hired to tail a serial pedophile. However, the story is much more complicated than it initially appears: a family has indeed been torn apart but it is not the one Rosow suspects.
While the meticulous narrative of Buschel’s film takes the de rigeur twists and turns of classic noir, The Missing Person‘s plot is, by and large, immaterial to its penetrating meditation on person and place. Despite his chronic dipsomania, Rosow is charming and witty, spinning slangy argot, gruff one-liners and double entendres around every chance encounter, as if he were some hybrid of Mike Hammer and Noël Coward. "I’m in the hide and seek business," he responds to a potential female conquest when asked of his profession. "That’s a game that kids play," she continues. "Well, if you add some money to it, it’s for adults," he shoots back. "Well, what are you doing hiding or seeking?" she asks. "I’m drinking," Rosow concludes, finishing off his highball.
But Buschel is careful not to inundate his audience with a wisecracking "talkie;" rather he seduces them with long, silky strands of West Coast jazz all saxophones and tinkling piano as Rosow crisscrosses the parched sands outlying Los Angeles, lurches into an anonymous motel room in a drunken stupor, or fantasizes (in the rich cobalt shades of a Blue Note album cover) of a wife and life he left long ago. In other moments, Shannon’s ungainly frame and wall-eyed gaze dominates the frame, reacting and reflecting upon the sadness that appears to pervade his postlapsarian, cloak and dagger world.
If one is tempted to pronounce The Missing Person a unique and innovative form of filmmaking, it is because such deliberate care taken in the details: its soundtrack, cinematography and mise-en-scene are rarities in the slick, post-80s crime drama. Filmed on 16mm and bleached of the sharp hues common to contemporary cinema, the colors and textures of Ryan Samul’s cinematography have the odd, anachronistic feel of mid-70s neo-noir. The Conversation (1974), Chinatown (1974), and The Long Goodbye (1973) come to mind. All the more remarkable is The Missing Person‘s pastiche of cinematic influences in that they mingle seamlessly with images and stories of Manhattan, post-9/11, as the secret of Rosow’s mark is unearthed. When the hallowed spotlights of the WTC memorial appear at the film’s conclusion, they have the painterly senescence of a dog-eared comic book.
If Raymond Chandler bestows the focal literary references for Buschel’s opus, then Agatha Christie is the materfamilias of Larry Blamire’s "old dark house" spoof, Dark and Stormy Night. As Christie once quipped of her metier to a Life reporter, "I specialize in murders of quiet, domestic interest," and that is precisely what screwball director Blamire has in mind in this country-estate, will-reading-ensemble gone amok. Comprised of Bantam Street Film’s stock company, most of whom starred in Blamire’s previous Hollywood send-ups (including 2001’s The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra and 2007’s Trail of the Screaming Forehead), Dark and Stormy Night recreates every riff, trope, and motif of the late 30s genre from the exterior miniatures to the canned special effects all situated in a lavishly decorated and seemingly haunted house, replete with winding floor plan and secret passages.
A disparate crew of hopefuls have assembled at said estate to hear the pecuniary bequests of the late Sinas Cavinder during a particularly ominous evening, as the title promises. Among the crowd are competing reporters Eight O’Clock Farraday (Daniel Roebuck) and Billy Tuesday (Jennifer Blaire) hoping to land a hot scoop; demure ingenue Sabasha Fanmoore (Fay Masterson); brooding nephew Burling Famish, Jr. (Brian Howe) and his unfaithful wife, Pristy (Christine Romeo); the very Yiddish psychic Mrs. Cupcupboard (Alison Martin); the epigramming dandy Lord Partfine (Andrew Parks); and the hilariously-christened butler, Jeens (Bruce French).
As might be expected, a serious hitch in the evening arises when the secret addendum to Cavinder’s will is stolen and bodies begin piling up following the requisite "lights out" interlude. Unfortunately, a centuries-old phantom, the ghost of a dead witch, and an escaped maniac are all on the loose and vying for blood … and the only bridge off the estate has been washed away by the storm. So, whodunnit? The answer is not nearly as entertaining as the long night of sight gags, double-takes, screwball repartee, and an inexplicable, wandering gorilla Kogar (played by legendary prop master and gorilla-suit regular Bob Burns). Shot in HD with enough digital plug-ins to simulate RKO-era film stock, Dark and Stormy Night is as much a loving homage as parody. Late-night B-movie fans and nostalgics will enjoy just how light this "dark" comedy can be.
Mill Valley Film Festival
Oct 8-18, most shows $12.50
Various North Bay venues
CHEAP EATS At a pretty good restaurant in a small town, other side of the mountains, we were greeted and seated by a small boy, age 9, 10, 11 tops. We looked at each other, looked at the kid, looked at each other, shrugged, and followed him to our table.
"Can I get you anything to drink?" he said.
We had just emerged from Death Valley, where the heat was intense and the scenery surreal, and milk was the last thing on our minds.
"Um, what kind of lemonades do you have?" I said, scanning the menu very quickly. It was an inside joke between me and me one of my specialties.
Romeo ordered a beer. He lives in Germany, and his favorite brew is Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.
Well, we were doing it. Setting up camp together, if not house. After a few days of cooking on fires, sleeping in tents, squatting in the bushes, and not washing at all, Romeo said he felt like he had got to meet Dan Leone. He said he liked him OK, but maybe we should get a motel room for one night.
I agreed. It was weird to be cut in half like that and, though I have never been one to run from weirdness, I do prefer speaking of myself in the first person. A bath seemed like a very good idea.
A bath, a pluck, a night of mattressousness, change of clothes in the morning, and I would be myself again. But first, while I was still Dan Leone, I had to order a buffalo burger with bacon, cheese, barbecue sauce, and chili on it, because … I mean, come on, were we or were we not a couple of smelly cowboygirls just in from a roundup?
Of course we were. The more interesting question is what was the fuck re: the fourth- or fifth-grade waitchild. Sixth-grade tops. Do we have child labor laws here? My German wanted to know. I think so, I thought, but maybe they don’t apply to family-run restaurants in tiny middle-of-nowhere towns. Clearly that was what this was, a family. There was a strong resemblance between the kid, a slightly older kid also waiting tables, a slightly-older-than-that kid, and the cat in charge, their father, who seemed too young to have three kids, including at least one teenager, so maybe he was the oldest brother, I don’t know.
Anyway, it was a school night.
And I still can’t decide if the whole thing was cute or creepy, so I’ll just tell you that the burger was great. Even though it may well be mean, unfair, and irresponsible of me to tell you so, according to a whole pile of e-style mail waiting for me upon my return to civilization.
Apparently a popular restaurant that I slagged a couple weeks ago is run by a positive force in the community, and so therefore I shouldn’t say anything bad about their carne asada. Which sucked. But most of the people who called for my resignation, apologies, do-overs, and so forth, admitted that they were vegetarians, and so presumably have never had the carne asada (which sucks) at their favorite restaurant.
Really, I doubt I’ll like the vegetarian food there either, because the rice and beans didn’t impress me and the salsa was even worse than the meat, but I am nothing if not a good sport. I will re-review the Sunrise, and I will order something vegetarian this time, provided one of the vegetarians calling for my head/job/apology agrees to a) pay for it, and b) sit across from me and eat carne asada.
You’ll get your do-over, and I’ll get to watch a vegetarian eat meat. Which is one of my favorite pastimes.
Just so you know though: I’ll say exactly what I think about anything I eat, I don’t care if Jesus Hisself runs the joint. I calls ’em like I tastes ’em, and if I don’t like His bread and wine, or carne asada …
Oh, but I did like that buffalo burger, very much. What a shame, that a child labor law scofflaw and/or mean dad can be a better cook than a sweetie-pie.
MOUNT WHITNEY RESTAURANT
Daily: 6 a.m.9 p.m.
227 S. Main, Lone Pine
Beer & wine
L.E. Leone’s new book is Big Bend (Sparkle Street Books), a collection of short fiction.
It was very interesting to me that you wrote about tickling last week ["Ticklish allsorts," 09/30/09]. I actually had that experience as a kid, being tickled by an uncle (actually he was my father’s cousin, but same thing) and not being able to get him to stop. Nobody thought it was a problem except me, so he did it for years, until I was about 10. Nobody should do that to a kid! It made feel helpless because I was helpless. Yuck. Also, nobody else thought it was a big deal so I felt embarrassed for crying about it. I still feel horrible thinking about it, and I’m 40.
Don’t Tickle Me!
I’m so sorry! Both that that happened to you, and that I brought up bad memories for you through the column. How very useful of you though, to write in about it and bolster my argument that tickling kids can be, and often is, abusive in a particularly insidious semi-sexual manner, which not only causes pain but shame and makes it hard to talk about.
I’m pretty sure I’ve written about this before, and I’ve certainly talked about it, but it came up for me again recently through some very raw online discussions with women who were abused as kids by stepfathers or family members. Some actually were tickled, specifically, but all spoke about trying to distance themselves from unwanted attention and being told that Uncle So-and-So was just being friendly and why won’t you sit on his lap or let him wrestle with you or whatever. Don’t be such a spoilsport!
It isn’t only the abuse that causes damage, but not being believed and/or protected by the people whose job it is to keep you safe can cause just as much scarring.
One thing that came out of these discussions, for me, was a keener awareness of our duty to let kids develop their own boundaries. And no, it isn’t altogether a matter of "bad touches" and "don’t talk to strangers." Children naturally have a pretty good sense of what is and isn’t OK to do to them. They come with a certain amount of radar-for-weirdness already installed. We can, however, damage our kids’ creep-dar by laughing off their objections. If your kid really doesn’t want that person kissing her, even if it’s your harmless old Great-Aunt Enid, don’t force it. You don’t want to get her in the habit of thinking other people know better than she does about who gets access to her body.
OK, all this seems a bit heavy and dire and over-reactionish when we were just talking about something as inconsequential as tickling. Except, obviously, it isn’t. Just because something makes you laugh doesn’t mean it’s funny.
I was leery of Gavin de Becker’s much-touted books The Gift Of Fear and Protecting The Gift," which I’d heard about for years and distrusted because the author shows up too often on daytime talk shows and seems a bit self-impressed. I finally read the first one a few years ago, though, after enough friends recommended it, and here I go, passing on the recommendation. Of course I can sum up his stuff in 50 words or less (trust your instincts; don’t be afraid to be rude, watch out for people who try to manipulate or embarrass you into "being nice" to them, teach children that no adult needs their help finding a lost puppy), but that’s always the case with "here’s a problem and here’s my patented solution system" books, even the one I hope to write one of these days. No excuse not to buy them and read them carefully!
I like to tickle women too! Don’t you think you came down on that guy a little harshly in your column? Not everyone who does a little tickling is a sadistic bastard!
Don’t Slander Me!
True, but enough are that I thought I’d take the opportunity to wave my robot arms around and go "Warning! Warning! Danger, Will Robinson!" It’s not like ticklers write in so often that we’ve done this one to death here, like the guys who want to try a threesome or something.
I must have pointed out already that what makes tickling special is that, unlike other pain-delivery techniques, it also causes laughter, and laughter is easily laughed off. I don’t care what you do as long as you stop when your victim or "victim" begs for mercy. That’s it. I do realize, of course, that willing and unwilling recipients are going to sound pretty much the same ("Stop! No, no! Please stop!"), but what are safe-words for, if not to allow one the leisure to beg for mercy and not be granted any unless one wants it? Promise me you use one and I’ll grant you absolution.
I just wish little kids got to have safe-words too. Wouldn’t that be nice?
See Andrea’s other column at carnalnation.com.
MUSIC Gina Birch, discussing a Raincoats gig earlier this month at the National Portrait Gallery in London, pauses for a moment over the phone from home in England. Although the resurgence of interest in her band’s music began well over a decade ago, she still sounds a bit surprised at the Raincoats’ esteemed status in the rock lexicon today.
"We’re being more embraced by the cultural elite, which is quite funny, really, " Birch explains, humbly. "It’s just at that point where the people who liked us when they were young are in positions to offer us this kind of thing." The Raincoats, it should be said, just plain deserve acclaim anew. Birch started the band with Ana da Silva in 1977 while they were art students in London a daring lark that still resonates deeply with sounds you hear today, as evidenced by the line-up they’re headlining at the Part Time Punks Mini-Fest.
It’s an admittedly nerdy delight to hear Birch talk about punk’s early days in London. In addition to bands like the Buzzcocks and Subway Sect, she says that she and guitarist-singer da Silva were inspired by the Slits, whose original guitarist, Viv Albertine, will be joining the Raincoats at the Part Time Punks show. "It was definitely seeing other girls doing it that made me feel like I could give it a go," she explains. Seeing such bands, she says, "gave me the courage to wear the clothes I wanted to wear, chop up my hair … feeling like I could let rip a little bit!" The Slits’ drummer, Palmolive, would join da Silva and Birch who sang and learned bass as she went along in the Raincoats’ original lineup, along with violinist Vicky Aspinall. The band put out a few albums with Rough Trade before initially dissolving in 1984.
Since the Raincoats’ original break-up, they’ve reunited sporadically, recording an album (1996’s Looking in the Shadows, on DGC) and playing the occasional show, all the while being sure to "leave a little room for mistakes," because, says Birch, "it’s much more manageable!" Their current live lineup features violinist Anne Wood, who’s been with them for 15 years, and local drummer Vice Cooler, known to many in the Bay Area for Hawnay Troof and his work in xbxrx and KIT.
The Raincoats are playing here in support of a stateside LP reissue of their 1979 self-titled debut, out Oct. 13 on Kill Rock Stars. Although the group is perhaps best known for its debut single, "Fairytale in the Supermarket" and their cover of the Kinks’ "Lola," every one of the Raincoats’ recordings sounds fresh inviting but often dark, alternately vulnerable and indignant, hopeful and deeply human. The pastel pink, green, and yellow sleeve of their "No One’s Little Girl" b/w "Running Away" 7-inch (Rough Trade, 1982) caught my eye at a record fair in England a few years ago, and it’s easily one of the best records I own, especially because of its B-side: a sweet, trumpet-punctuated cover of Sly Stone totally unreal, and just one side of their multifarious brilliance.
Both da Silva and Birch have solo projects these days, and Birch, a longtime filmmaker, is working on a feature-length Raincoats documentary due out next year, featuring loads of old footage and a look at their more recent endeavors. More reissues are on the way as well, Birch assures, as they continue to forge ahead on "the fringes."
"I find it much more inspiring and interesting and heartwarming in the world where it’s more human and strange," Birch says. "There’ll always be the fringes, and long live the fringes! That’s where interesting stuff happens."
This brings us to Grass Widow, local openers on the Part Time Punks bill, who embody much of what makes the Raincoats so extraordinary: rooted in raw punk and peculiar, intricate harmonies, they produce songs vivid enough to summon a visual counterpart. "Our music crosses over into the subject matter I end up making films about," says bassist Hannah Lew. During a recent meet-up, Lew articulated the group’s excitement about playing with the Raincoats by stating that even if they weren’t playing the show, "we would go anyway." This year, Grass Widow released a self-titled LP (Make a Mess) and a 12-inch EP (Captured Tracks/Cape Shok). In January, they’re headed to Portland, Ore., to record another album. Get there early to see them.
PART TIME PUNKS PRESENTS THE RAINCOATS
With Grass Widow, Section 25, Gang of Four DJ set, and more
Fri/9, 8 p.m., $20$25
444 Jessie, SF
"Power Exchange is currently closed due to unfair Fire Department restrictions," states the message on the telephone answering machine of the embattled sex club, which plans to open and possibly reignite its battle with neighbors and city officials as soon as this weekend, Oct. 11.
Owner Michael Powers had hoped to open Oct. 2 after being shut down for alleged Fire Code violations on Sept. 18, shortly after opening for business in its new home at 34 Mason St. in the Tenderloin. But things are taking longer than Powers expected after he failed another city inspection Oct. 1. The seemingly endless paperwork from the various city agencies and the bewildering bureaucratic process are causing Powers to lose money and patience with each passing weekend.
Power Exchange isn’t just a venerable sex club, it’s a popular gathering place for the transgender and BDSM communities and a hub for unfettered sexual fun of all types, drawing customers from all over the Bay Area. Yet along with its strong following, the club has garnered significant opposition that recently forced its closure.
For 13 years, business boomed at the previous location at 74 Otis St. But Powers’ landlord and business partner went into bankruptcy, so Powers tried to reopen on Gough Street. But the Brady Street Neighborhood Coalition mobilized an opposition campaign with flyers and phone calls and the lease was terminated. Powers says the closure wasn’t because of the neighbors, but because the area had undergone a zoning change, making it difficult to acquire necessary permits.
So Powers found the location at 34 Mason and claims he was told by the Planning Department that it had previously housed Crash nightclub with an assembly permit already in place, and that no conditional use permit hearings were required. As far as he knew, Power Exchange was good to go.
Then the San Francisco Chronicle starting agitating against Power Exchange, quoting opponents and linking the club’s opening to incidents at the Pink Diamond nightclub and Grand Liquor, two Tenderloin businesses plagued with violence and liquor license issues. In the Sept. 12 article, "Backlash Against Sex Club in Tenderloin," news columnist C.W. Nevius wrote, "The club’s workers just moved in, opened for business, and apparently assumed that no one would say a word. They are in for a surprise."
Yet a subsequent news article ("Sex Club’s Presence Raises Concern," Sept. 17) cited zoning administrator Lawrence Badiner from the Planning Department and Department of Public Health spokesperson Jim Soos as indicating Power Exchange was a legal use for the site. "Even though the club operates from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m., it does not need an after-hours permit or a public hearing before the Entertainment Commission, nor does it need a permit from the health department because it does not sell food or alcohol or operate whirlpool tubs," reporter Meredith May wrote, although she indicated that city officials were looking for ways to heed the concerns of some neighbors and stop the club from opening.
Powers was preparing to open when he was told that the building did not, in fact, have a permit for assembly. Fire Department spokesperson Mindy Talmage claims, "Crash never obtained a permit to operate. Nothing. So they were in there illegally."
Fire Department inspector Kathy Harold met with Powers in early August and gave him a list of improvements to acquire the proper permit. He completed all but two, and had a work order for the remaining items. Harold told Powers they could issue a conditional use permit, allowing him to open.
Powers eagerly awaited Harold’s follow-up visit on Sept. 16 when she was to issue the conditional use permit. But Harold was, unexpectedly, joined by inspector Donal Duffy from the Building Department. Instead of a conditional use permit, Powers was issued a "cease all operations" citation.
"Apparently the Building Department had an issue with Powers. They never called to say they did everything on the list. Normally we could issue them a conditional public assembly permit. However, the Building Department issued a cease operations permit, and they supercede us. We can’t overrule that," Talmage said. So the party was over before it had much of a chance to begin.
A frustrated Powers went ahead and opened Sept. 18, but city officials showed up to shut it down. He’s convinced that this is about more than a few building improvements or filing a change of use document for the appropriate permit. "It’s not about whether that building is safe. It’s safe as safe can be right now," he claims.
Tenderloin Station Police Capt. Gary Jimenez disagrees. "We want to prevent them from opening up because the location is dangerous. It’s a fire hazard, we’re not sure the sprinkler system is hooked up, and they don’t have an occupancy permit from the Fire Department. Nor will they be able to get one until they clear the building inspector violations."
Yet city officials seemed OK with the club until neighbors and the Chronicle turned up the heat.
"The feeling most residents have is that they’re already dealing with significant crime and quality of life issues. This is the last thing that they wanted to move into this largely residential neighborhood," says Daniel Hurtado, executive director of the Central Market Community Benefit District.
Patrons say the discreet club has gotten a bum rap. "Power Exchange has always had good security, a good relationship with its neighbors and customers, an open-door policy on concerns, and a sense of giving back to the community," Dori, a longtime Power Exchange patron, told us.
Powers, who ran for mayor in 2007, remains defiant: "Currently I look like I’m closed down because I’m defying the law. The reality? You’re not going to prohibit me from being open because of paperwork. If I need to file a new document, fine. Let’s move on."
But after failing to get the green light during an Oct. 1 inspection, Powers is feeling frustrated. "The Planning Department, again, is doing their hocus-pocus over their interpretation of the business. If you’re going to say we’re not restrained from going in there, what does it matter what type of business we are? If Badiner would just say we’re not prohibiting them from opening, the Fire Department will let us kick the doors open."
Devoted patrons of Power Exchange echo this frustration. "We all want a safe club and appreciate the need for inspections related to safety and expect the city to work quickly and fairly with the PE to remedy any safety issues so it may reopen for business soon for me and the whole community," Robin said.
Powers describes his "complete and utter frustration with the finger pointing of the different bureaucracies" as maddening. But the ball is rolling. When they do reopen, it remains to be seen if residents of San Francisco known to be open-minded and accepting will allow Powers to just settle in. For now, neighborhood groups wait with watchful eyes as Power Exchange patrons prepare to play once again.
To prepare for the inevitable decline in fossil fuel production, San Francisco’s Peak Oil Preparedness Task Force (see "Running on Empty," 1/30/08) has concluded the city needs to rapidly implement the community choice aggregation and its related renewable energy projects, beef up "buy local" programs, convert unused land (including some park and golf course property) into public food gardens, and consider implementing city carbon, gas, vehicle, and fast food taxes.
The task force presented its findings, contained in a 125-page report, to the Board of Supervisors’ Government Audit and Oversight Committee on Sept. 24. It notes the city’s weak current position with respect to the economy, food security, and transportation, yet it remains to be seen how the Board of Supervisors will answer the task force’s call. Sup. Ross Mirkarimi says he will look for ways to initiate some of the short- and long-term recommendations "to legitimize its most salient parts."
San Francisco is the largest U.S. city to produce a sweeping report on the potential impacts of peak oil, a term that refers to the point of maximum oil production, after which extracting dwindling supplies gets steadily more difficult and expensive. Although there isn’t consensus on when the peak will come, the task force’s message is clear: action must be taken now. "The transition cannot be done quickly; the city faces a limited window of opportunity to begin, after which adaptation will become enormously difficult, painful, and expensive," concludes the report. Without sufficient preparation, dwindling supplies of oil and fossil fuel could have dire impacts on San Francisco’s economy, food supply, and security.
Many actions recommended by the task force focus on developing local sustainability. For example, disaster planning needs to cover peak oil phenomena. If delivery of food is delayed or reduced due to fuel shortage, food prices could soar, creating a great need for local options, particularly for low-income families. So the report recommends maximizing the amount of time San Francisco can sustain itself locally.
Specifically, implementing an aggressive "Buy Local First" program that prompts public institutions to purchase regionally produced food when possible would encourage more local food production. A fast food tax could further support this goal. Other recommendations include establishing food production education programs and conducting a comprehensive evaluation of which public lands could be converted to food production. Although the Bay Area is capable of producing enough food to sustain itself, food currently being produced is not diverse enough, and much of it is exported.
The report also warns of the social unrest that could result from improper preparation. San Francisco’s economy depends heavily on travel and visitors, with about 18 percent of city revenue coming from tourism. Escautf8g energy costs and its myriad impacts could send the economy into a prolonged downward spiral.
"With food becoming increasingly expensive, travel and the distribution of goods significantly affected, and unemployment climbing, economically vulnerable populations including a high percentage of people of color could experience increasing malnutrition, and some may not be able to maintain health without government intervention," the report reads.
Such future scenarios should affect today’s decisions in all realms, including transportation. Tom Radulovich, executive director of Livable Cities and an elected BART board member, said at the Sept. 24 hearing that it doesn’t make sense to fund highway expansions when future resources might not be able to support even the current number of automobiles on the roads.
In fact, he said, there is a cultural shift already underway in which people want to move away from the car-dependant suburbs and into more pedestrian-friendly urban areas, although policymakers haven’t caught up with this trend yet. While BART and Muni fight uphill battles to expand public transit service with dwindling resources, Radulovich pointed out that the Bay Area Metropolitan Transport Commission (MTC) is proposing to direct $6.4 billion toward highway expansion, despite a decline in vehicle miles traveled. Livable Cities coauthored a resolution, recently approved by the Board of Supervisors, urging the MTC to redirect these funds toward improving transit.
As oil becomes scarcer, the need to create and improve communities where people can safely get around by foot or bicycle will be paramount. Ben Lowe, a task force member specializing in transportation security, noted how important it is to look for regional solutions that go beyond individual cities. There is no magic single solution, but dealing with limited-supply and cost-prohibitive oil requires numerous small solutions as we make this transition.
The main obstacle, as Mirkarimi sees it, is that the sense of urgency is not there. Public officials need to educate the public and "to find something, key pieces of legislation, to rally around," he said. He plans to look into formal ways to keep the seven task force members involved in this process, for example, by matching them with policy experts who can facilitate creation of pertinent legislation.
The task force’s mantra for dealing with forthcoming shortages in oil is to integrate peak oil consideration into government planning and all the decisions made by the mayor and Board of Supervisors. Mirkarimi warns that it would be myopic for San Franciscans not to deliberate on the dangers and opportunities outlined in this report.
Read the report at www.sfenvironment.org/our_policies/overview.html?ssi=20.
One of San Francisco’s largest and most notorious landlords and the many shell corporations under his control have been withholding money from their tenants, the banks that financed their rapid real estate acquisitions, and even San Francisco’s public treasury.
But while the banks have acted, seizing property from the delinquent borrowers, city officials have let Skyline Realty, CitiApartments, Lembi Group, and related corporations stonewall the city and pay far less property taxes than they should have owed, depriving city programs of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The various corporations run by real estate mogul Frank E. Lembi (who has not returned our calls seeking comment) have earned a terrible reputation in San Francisco, even as they’ve expanded their rental property holdings in recent years.
An award-winning, three-part Guardian series ("The Scumlords," March 2006) documented how the companies used intimidating goons and an arsenal of nefarious tactics meant to drive out low-income tenants from rent-controlled units, prompting City Hall hearings and an ongoing lawsuit against the enterprise by the City Attorney’s Office.
Then, earlier this year, many tenants joined a class action lawsuit against the Lembi enterprises, alleging the landlords have been illegally withholding deposits from departing tenants as a routine business practice, even after admitting that the tenants were entitled to full refunds (see "CitiApartments once again accused of mistreating tenants," Politics blog, July 15).
Attorneys for the firm Seeger Salvas LLP filed the complaint, which tells several appalling stories, including that of Joy Anderson. When Anderson went to retrieve the deposit she was owed, CitiApartments employees allegedly threatened her in front of her eight-year-old son, telling her that if she wanted her money back, she should talk to a lawyer.
Yet in that lawsuit and the one filed by City Attorney Dennis Herrera, which deals with harassment of tenants and other business practices that the city contends are illegal, Lembi’s empire has refused to cooperate, employing a variety of delay tactics. The city’s lawsuit has been stuck in the discovery process for years.
A court filing by the city alleges Lembi’s enterprise has participated in "well over a year of discovery gamesmanship." New counsel for the defendants has promised to speed things up, but Herrera told us it is still an ongoing battle. "It has been incredibly hard to get documents and information in this case. He’s been stonewalling us," Herrera told the Guardian.
Seegar Salvas attorney Brian Devine said six defendants named in his complaint didn’t respond to discovery requests and were found to be in default by the judge, meaning they basically opted not to contest their culpability. Meanwhile, 75 other defendants did respond but haven’t turned over any documents to the plaintiffs, dragging out the discovery process.
"It’ll take sometime for anything to happen," Devine told us. "There’s no Matlock moment where it all comes to a head. There are a lot of procedures to go through."
And apparently the Lembi enterprises know a little something about how to use legal and bureaucratic procedures to hang onto their money for as long as possible, judging from how they’ve worked the process to avoid paying the full amount of property taxes on their holdings.
At last count, there were 13 property foreclosure lawsuits pending on Lembi properties because he couldn’t pay the loans. The banks have seized many of his properties and started selling them off. But while the banks are getting their due, the Assessor’s Office and city taxpayers seem to be getting stiffed.
Lembi has been on the radar of city officials for quite awhile, but he is still managing to avoid getting some of his recently purchased properties reassessed, according to a Guardian investigation of city records. For example, one Lembi-controlled corporation Trophy Properties X snatched up a Russian Hill parking garage for $4.7 million in 2007.
Under Proposition 13, that property should have been reassessed when it was purchased, but it wasn’t. The current taxable price tag on the property is still slightly more than $443,000, a gap that costs the city upwards of $50,000 a year in taxes.
In general, property is reassessed at fair market value when there is a change in ownership, increasing the taxes owed on the property. According to the California Board of Equalization, the purchase price is the basis for reassessed value in most cases, although officials can also take into account comparable sales and other factors to increase value even more.
Yet nearly three years later, this property still hasn’t been reassessed.
Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting told the Guardian the reason for the delay is because Lembi hasn’t been cooperative in providing the information needed to do a reassessment. We obtained an October 2007 letter sent out by the Assessor’s Office requesting Lembi’s limited liability corporation provide information on the acquisition of the property and statistics on the garage itself. That letter and others went unanswered.
Common sense suggests that the sale price be used to reassess the garage and be done with it. Yet Ting said he fears that using that price would result in an inaccurate reassessment, which in turn might screw up the amount of taxes the city could ultimately collect. Then again, simply waiting on the unresponsive Lembi enterprise has resulted in less taxes being collected on the parking garage last year and again this year, according to public tax records.
"We try to get it right the first time. If we don’t get it right the first time, then oftentimes it creates a lengthier appeals process and a much lengthier, more adversarial [relationship] between us and the taxpayer," Ting said. "We absolutely don’t want to reassess that property too low because of Prop. 13. You only get one chance, so you have to be high."
Ting told us that the only recourse he has with an uncooperative taxpayer like Lembi is to reassess using information from similar properties in the same area. Once this is done, the negligent taxpayer can either agree with or challenge the new market value, a move that would switch the burden to Lembi. But that wasn’t done for the Russian Hill parking garage.
"That’s the only recourse we have, meaning that we can’t fine them; we can’t subpoena them; we can’t force them to give us the information," Ting said. "By law, they’re supposed to give us the information. But there are no real enforcement powers behind it."
According to Section 480 of the Revenue and Taxation Code, the assessor does have an option and can levy a penalty if a property owner fails to file a change in ownership statement, which can be up to 10 percent of the taxes due on the newly appraised value.
Several other Lembi-controlled properties have been reassessed recently after a delay, including 19,650-square-foot apartment building down the street from the parking garage at 2238 Hyde St. Before the reassessment, the property was valued at a little over $1 million. The current value is $11.7 million, which amounts to a tax bill of more than $137,000 this year.
Lembi bought the building in December 2005, and the Assessor’s Office got in just under the wire of the four-year statue of limitations for reassessments. Last year the taxes paid on the building came to a little more than $13,000, based on its previous $1 million value.
Then there is the 31,812-square-foot apartment building on 1735 Van Ness Ave. that Lembi bought back in June 2006. According the city records, the taxes paid last year on the property were nearly $48,000 based on a market value of $3.9 million. Recently the building was reassessed with a value of $9.6 million. This year’s taxes amount to more than $114,000. Whether or not the Van Ness Avenue building is a case in which the Lembi Group also withheld information is currently being looked into by the Assessor’s Office.
Yet on the Russian Hill parking garage, Lembi is still getting away with withholding the necessary documents for an accurate reassessment and time is running out. In a little over a year, the statue of limitations runs out and the city will no longer be able to collect anything from Lembi.
Further complicating the city’s efforts to collect is the fact that some other the properties in question have been foreclosed on.
When the Russian Hill garage and other Lembi properties went back to the banks, the Assessor’s Office looked into what could be done to collect the city’s lost revenue. Its solution: a transfer tax. But that was not an option because the bank held the main mortgage, so it wasn’t considered a change of ownership.
Even though the parking garage and other properties have slipped out of Lembi’s control, he is still responsible for the taxes on them during his period of ownership, according to Ting. But given the experiences of others who have tried to collect money from Lembi, that could be a long, expensive process.
While the Lembi enterprises may be stingy in giving the city and tenants their money, they haven’t had a problem making political campaign contributions. Taylor Lembi, grandson of Frank, gave $500 to Mayor Gavin Newsom’s reelection campaign in 2006, according to public campaign contribution records, although Newsom’s campaign offices returned the money exactly two months later (Newsom’s campaign office didn’t respond to our questions about the contributions or reason for returning it).
Skyline Properties, parent of Skyline Realty, also donated $100 to Newsom’s initial mayoral campaign in 2003, and supported Mayor Willie Brown before that. Lembi continues to be a prominent landlord, the subject of a sympathetic profile by the San Francisco Apartment Association in August 2008.
Yet with lawsuits mounting, the banks foreclosing, and the real estate market slumping, the multigenerational Lembi empire that once controlled more rental units in San Francisco than any other entity appears to be in trouble.
And lest anyone slide under its control unaware, the Lembi empire’s many enemies have organized into a group called CitiStop, supported by groups that include the San Francisco Tenants Union and Pride at Work, which argues that "nothing frightens CitiApartments more than knowledgeable tenants."
GREEN CITY When three women from the Berkeley Hills banded together in 1961 to halt monstrous development plans that would have filled in huge swaths of the San Francisco Bay, it became what some have characterized as the first-ever grassroots environmental campaign in the Bay Area.
Critics dismissed Catherine Kerr, Sylvia McLaughlin, and Esther Gulick as "enemies of progress, impractical idealists, do-gooders, posy pickers, eco-freaks, enviro-maniacs, little old ladies in tennis shoes, and even almond cookie revolutionaries," Gulick once told a crowd at UC Berkeley. But their critics were defeated in the end, and popular support for preserving the bay prevailed.
Organizing initially over almond cookies and tea, the trio of housewives forged ahead with the Save San Francisco Bay Association, which later evolved into Save The Bay. They drummed up widespread support for stronger coastal protections to curb rampant bay fill and garbage dumping along the waterfront.
Their efforts eventually helped spur the creation of the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC), which later served as a template for the creation of the California Coastal Commission and influenced the push for federal coastline protection.
This bit of history is the key narrative to Saving The Bay, a four-part documentary series produced by filmmaker Ron Blatman, KQED, and KTEH to tell the story of the San Francisco Bay. Narrated by Robert Redford and featuring luminaries like oceanographer Sylvia Earle, former Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall, and renowned California historian Kevin Starr, the four-hour documentary is the most comprehensive history of the bay ever produced.
The filmmaker refers to it as "the project that ate my life," since it took seven years to complete. His production crew amassed about 1,000 images from 70 different institutions, he says, and even collected historic film clips to illustrate the story through the lens of various eras. The funding was provided by a host of public agencies and corporate donors.
"The title comes from the three women in the Berkeley Hills," explains Blatman. But the series begins at a much earlier point in history: the time when the Miwok and Ohlone were the only people who inhabited the area, which was rich with natural wonder and teeming with fish and wildlife.
In some ways, the story of the San Francisco Bay is depressing. Viewers are confronted with the dramatic impacts that 160 years of industry and development have had on the region’s once-thriving ecosystem. From the loss of native tribes to the collapse of fisheries, to fill projects that permanently altered wetlands to lingering toxic byproducts of heavy industry, San Francisco’s transformation from a sleepy little town before the Gold Rush era into today’s thriving metropolitan hub has brought no shortage of irreversible environmental consequences.
Still, Blatman says that in the end, it’s a feel-good story. "If you went back 40 years and drew a projection of what the bay would look like today, you’d never get this picture," he points out. The Save the Bay movement revolutionized the way people thought about the San Francisco Bay, he says, and the preservation mindset has marked a positive turnaround. Today, wetland restoration projects abound, and people are accustomed to the idea that the shoreline is a resource that is equally shared by all members of the public even though these were radical concepts several decades ago.
The inception of this documentary project was accidental, Blatman says. It started because Will Travis, executive director of BCDC, needed something better than the low-quality educational slideshow he used to bring new BCDC commissioners up to speed on the natural history of the bay. A mutual friend introduced the two, and the filmmaker agreed to produce a half-hour educational piece. But the project grew deeper, wider, and much longer.
Lately, Travis says his focus has shifted from educating people about the past to warning them about the future. As a consequence of climate change, sea levels are rising, and the bay is projected to expand. "I hate to tell Ron," Travis jokes, "but he’s going to have to make another film."
Saving the Bay premieres on KQED Channel 9 Thursday evenings Oct. 8 and 15 from 8-10 p.m. (repeating overnight and Sundays Oct. 11 and 18 noon-2 p.m.). The series will then run on KTEH four successive Thursday evenings Oct. 22 to Nov. 12 from 9-10 p.m. For more, visit www.savingthebay.org.
The H1N1 virus has already taken a deadly toll in San Francisco, and is expected to hit young people harder than any other group this fall, San Francisco public health officials warned.
Although the virus, also known as swine flu, is reportedly no more serious than conventional strains of flu, health officials told the Guardian that the number of young patients contracting the illness could be significantly higher due to a lack of partial immunity against the strain.
"In terms of the severity of the illness, we are not seeing a difference at all between normal and H1N1 swine flu," said Susan Fernyak, director of communicable disease control and prevention at the San Francisco Department of Public Health. "Yet while a lot of people have partial immunity to seasonal influenza, most people have no immunity from this virus.
"It might not have a higher transmission rate or be any more severe, but we are predicting more illness in the community," she added.
According to Fernyak, vaccinations will soon become available for "high-risk individuals." These include pregnant women, health care workers, people between 25 and 64 with underlying chronic health disorders, and everyone between the ages of 6 months and 24 years.
In late August, the Castro District community was left in shock when 41-year-old Doug Murphy, co-owner of Moby Dick and the recently opened Blackbird bars, died after contracting the H1N1 virus.
Blackbird co-owner Shawn Vergara spent most of his working life with Murphy and shared the same birthday (Aug. 3) with his friend. He said the community was left speechless at the loss of such a prominent and important member.
"It is a tragic loss for us here at Blackbird, and we are suffering terribly from the death of our friend," Vergara said. "We thought he had a cold and had absolutely no idea how serious it was. People should be careful and just use good common sense when taking precautions from this virus."
Although people over 65 are usually the ones who require hospitalization or die from conventional strains of flu, younger people have been most affected by the H1N1 virus, local doctors said. "The difference with this virus is that people who are over 65 are underrepresented in the number of people getting sick, going to hospital, and dying," said Dr. Lisa Winston, an epidemiologist at San Francisco General Hospital.
Experts believe there might be some preexisting immunity among the older age groups, she added. Although initial data from Australia suggests people will be immune from the virus within 10 days of taking the vaccine, Winston is still concerned about the impact H1N1 will have within the community.
"Hopefully we can make the impact less if we get a lot of the vaccine and distribute it properly," Winston said. "But it could still impact a lot of areas, from schools to employment, and place a severe burden on the healthcare system.
"We are still concerned that even if we only have a small number of people having bad outcomes from the virus, there could still be a substantial number in hospitals," she said. "We know there is still some H1N1 circuutf8g and expect a peak, but we are not sure when it’s going to be. There is anxiety around it, and a lot of that is appropriate."
According to Winston, two-thirds of the people who have been hospitalized and died from H1N1 have had underlying medical conditions. Unlike with seasonal flu, those who are morbidly obese also have been highlighted as being possible high-risk patients.
El Monstruo: Dread & Redemption In Mexico City is a perverse love letter to the most contaminated, crime-ridden, corrupt and conflictive urban stain on the western side of the planet, where I have been touched to live for the past quarter of a century. My life is now hopelessly entangled with the life of this monster of a megalopolis.
El Monstruo was indeed a monstrous book to write. The slagheap of materials that I sucked up — hundreds of volumes of history, slagheaps of newspapers, mountains of personal recollections — fill my threadbare room at the Hotel Isabel in the old quarter of this city from floor to ceiling. The narrative I have assembled spans 50,000,000 years give or take a few minutes, dating from the Paleocene to last spring’s Swine Flu panic with significant stops for the doomed Aztec empire, the war of liberation from Spain, the Mexican revolution of 1910-1919, the student massacres of the ’60s, the Great 1985 earthquake, and the erratic governance of the electoral left for the past 12 years.
It is a long story.
The Mexican Revolution was in many ways a war against Mexico City, a capital for which the rest of the country was named and from which all power continues to radiate. The great revolutionary leaders Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa viewed Mexico City as a Sodom & Gomorrah that had to be destroyed if the country was to be redeemed and they did their best to do so. The excerpt that follows speaks to the Monstruo on the eve of the downfall of dictator Porfirio Diaz and the inception of the first great revolution of the landless in the Americas.
WHAT THE LAND WAS LIKE
Back home in Morelos, Emiliano Zapata was elected village leader, entrusted to recover Anenecuilco’s lost lands, granted to the Indians by the Crown in the 17th century. The sugar planters, many of whom were foreigners, had gobbled up the Nahuas’ land and water without remorse.
“Land and Water” was in fact the slogan of Madero ally Vicente Leyva’s campaign for governor of Morelos in 1909 against Díaz’s gallo (rooster), Pablo Escandón, the scion of an immensely wealthy criollo family that had first struck it rich in real estate during Juárez’s Reform, and also a sugar planter who rarely bothered to visit the tiny state. Zapata aligned Anenecuilco’s fortunes with Leyva and Madero. Escandón won by a landslide of course, without ever having to leave El Monstruo. To Zapata, Escandón WAS El Monstruo.
By 1910, 2 percent of all Mexicans owned all the land—save for 70 million hectares held by foreigners with family names like Rockefeller and Hearst and Morgan. One hundred percent of the good farming land in Morelos was occupied by 17 haciendas operated by absentee patrones (bosses). The haciendas sucked up all the groundwater, leaving villages like Anenecuilco dry as a bone. The unequal distribution of water continues a century hence. Wealthy Chilangos have overrun Morelos with their golf courses and palatial second homes, leaving the villages just as thirsty as they were in 1910.
Years ago, I rented a large house in Olintepec, a colonia that shares ejido land (communal farmland) with Anenecuilco, and was able to see how the land must have looked to Zapata when he rode through these fields. I walked out through the tall sugar cane along the irrigation canals to the Caudillo’s humble adobe home, now a museum, on a back street in Anenecuilco, and each young horseman barreling down the country lanes could have been the Caudillo all over again.
But an hour and fifty-five minutes later, when I stepped down off a bus in the belly of the Monstruo, the urban hurly-burly swirling all around me, I always got a whiff of the profound culture shock Emiliano Zapata must have suffered when he was forced to visit this city he so detested.
Francisco Madero’s call for the revolution to commence November 20, 1910, stirred sparse response. Up in Puebla, Díaz’s agents murdered Madero’s lieutenant, the revolutionary shoemaker Aquiles Serdán, and his family, two nights before the festivities were slated to kick in. In Morelos, Zapata and the peasant army he had assembled bided their time, waiting to see who would make the first move first.
Mexicans are never on time. Finally, in January, Doroteo Arango AKA Francisco “Pancho” Villa, a popular Chihuahua desperado of Hobsbawmian proportions, and his ruthless cohort Pascual Orozco, declared themselves in revolt and were immediately joined by the Maderista governor of Coahuila, Venustiano Carranza and his “Constitutionalist” Army. Díaz’s Federales were beaten back at Ciudad Guerrero, Mal Paso, and Casas Grandes. Villa laid siege to Ciudad Juárez on the border, the vital railhead that linked Mexico City to the United States and was the lifeblood of the country’s commercial transactions.
By February 1911, with the synchronicity that sometimes made the Mexican Revolution work, the Zapatistas had advanced to Xochimilco. Workers in the heart of the city suffering from what the Porfirian rag El Imparcial tagged ”huelga-manía” or strike fever, declared seven major strikes that paralyzed the Monstruo in 1910–1911. Demonstrators were emboldened enough to assemble in the Zócalo and shout “Death to the Dictator!” beneath Don Porfirio’s balcony by spring. Others menaced his mansion on Cadena Street in the Centro Histórico and were repelled by the gendarmes.
Pablo Escandón fled Mexico for Europe, kvetching to the press that Mexico had fallen into “niggerdom.” Don Porfirio’s class of people was stunned by this threat to their carefree lives and comforts. Indeed, the leisure class had not changed all that much from when the criollos and Gachupines cowered inside the city as Hidalgo’s Indiada advanced on El Monstruo.
After three and a half decades in power, the Dictator remained a figure of adoration in the mansions of La Condesa. For the university students, largely the sons of the ruling class, Don Porfi was the epitome of modernity. To them, Villa and Orozco and Carranza were the Barbarians of the North, Zapata the Attila of the South, and they cast the Dictator as the savior of civilization as they knew it.
But the old man was 81, and it hurt just to keep a stiff upper lip. The medals weighed heavily on his chest. He knew in his heart of hearts what his adorers could not admit—the jig was really up. Ciudad Juárez was days away, even via the modern rail system he had built, and the army’s mobility to supply his troops was restricted. Don Porfiriopochtli, as political cartoonists were drawing him now, had, like the Aztecs, expanded his empire to a point where he could no longer defend it.
In May, the Dictator sent his vice president, Francisco León de la Barra, to the north to negotiate an easy exit to his 34 years on the throne of Mocuhtezuma, and on May 24, 1911, having brokered an agreement with Madero that León de la Barra would remain as provisional president for the next six months, the old man set sail from Puerto, México, for Paris, France, aboard the German steamer Ypringa with this famous caution: “The wild beasts have been loosed. Let us see who will cage them now.”
Wild celebrations broke out in Mexico City as if to underscore the old man’s dictum—15,000 workers invaded the Chamber of Deputies and marched on the National Palace, where the Dictator’s police opened fire, wounding scores. The offices of the Porfirian mouthpiece El Imparcial were set afire. By July, the Monstruo was shut down by a general strike. The wrath of the Mexicans had indeed been loosed, and Madero’s intentions to cage it up again would dictate the next phase of Mexico’s cannibal revolution.
THE GODS ARE SKEPTICAL
After a discreet pause to make sure the old man was really gone, Francisco Madero started off on the long train ride from Ciudad Juárez to Mexico City in early June. There were many treacheries up ahead and he had plenty of time to consider his options as the train lurched from state to state. As he passed through Zacatecas and Aguascalientes, jubilant mobs overran the train depots waving Mexican flags and shouting “¡Vivas!” until they were hoarse and Madero’s train long out of sight.
The presumptive president of Mexico arrived in the capital at Buenavista terminal, the great northern station, on the morning of June 9, and the tumult was overwhelming. Kandell compares it to Juárez’s return to rekindle the republic. I stare at the news photographs. People are excited, even exhilarated. They push and jostle for a view of the little Lenin look-alike. But some are more reserved. They stand back from the jubilant throng. They have come more out of curiosity than conviction. Their faces seem to ask, what next?
From Buenavista, Madero rode through the city in a Dupont motorcar, the sidewalks bursting with well-wishers and flag wavers. Many residents of the metropolis were relieved not so much because of the hope the little man brought with him as for the fact that this change of power had taken place with a minimum of damage to themselves and their city.
When Madero entered the old city for the final jog to the National Palace, he mounted a white horse. In the Palacio, he met with León de la Barra and they reaffirmed their bargain—Porfirio’s stooge would govern for the next six months while Madero campaigned for presidential elections set for November 2. The two emerged on the president’s balcony and “¡Vivas!” erupted from the joyous mob that filled the Zócalo below.
But the old Gods of Tenochtitlán were skeptical about Francisco Madero’s grasp on the presidency. At 6:00 that afternoon they rendered their verdict, upstaging his triumphal arrival in the capital with a deadly earthquake that surged out of the Pacific Ocean along the Jalisco coast and wrought havoc throughout that western state, killing 400 in Zapopan and setting off the Volcano of Colima before smashing into the north of Mexico City and leveling Santa María de la Ribera and San Cosme. There were no Richter scales in those days to measure the quake, but an uncounted number of lives were lost in the capital—perhaps hundreds, reported El Imparcial, which published three extras that day but paid scant attention to Madero’s arrival, burying the story beneath the fold.
Hear Ross read from El Monstruo and sign copies Nov. 18 at Modern Times, 888 Valencia, 7:30 p.m.
WRITERS The Eighth Annual Living Word Festival focuses on fresh young voices and includes readings, musical performances, art and fashion workshops, a youth town hall on healthcare reform, and live graffiti and B-boy battles. Below are two selections from the festival, which takes place Oct. 8-18 in San Francisco and Oakland.
By Dennis Kim
… and I saw a shorty swimming in a white shirt baked brown by degrees and the air before him was bent by the lashes of the sun on the ground and there was no water to speak of. He was standing on a pile of crumpled mattresses behind our building. I recognized the bed on top, ravaged and stained by my childhood. Shorty wobbled with the thick air and he had no strength to jump. "Sun," I said, and he shielded his eyes. "Son, why are you standing there with no strength? Go inside." He lowered his hand and his eyes were like dried out lakes, gardens ground under the knees of a monstrous thirst, a treeless landscape, a toothless Eden. He said, "Water."
And my eyes died of thirst and I repented of my vengeance. I had made desolate the mansion and the alley and felled the seed for it laid in rotten fruit. The pure and the assassin stumble over the same stones and lie facedown in the same ditch.
I crave living water more than I do dead blood. Father above, let it rain.
Let it rain for the brother who cried facedown into the train platform, "Don’t shoot "
And the ancestor who met the police with fingertips touching the sky and caught the bullets where he would carry a child …
Let it rain for soldiers draped on streetlamps and mailboxes, kicking at blank spaces the disappeared leave with curses that turn to dust in their mouths.
Let it rain for the thief and the man he robs when both discover they have nothing. They exchange greetings and go their way to new poverties.
Let it rain to wash the blood of the murdered into the gutters and the sea, where it meets the blood of ancestors turned to shark and anemone.
Let it rain to absolve all mothers …
Let it rain for the restless who twist into impossible signs on their beds, afflicted by the sickness of penitence …
But let it rain most of all for the child who opens his mouth to cry but cannot, for the city collapsing inside him. Let it rain because my children are thirsty and they can do nothing but cover their eyes.
Father above, break the sky in two.
Let it rain.
Dennis Kim at Living Water: Youth Speaks to Spirit (Oct. 18, 2 p.m., free. Glide Memorial Church Sanctuary, 300 Ellis, SF. www.youthspeaks.org).
PROLOGUE FROM MIRRORS IN EVERY CORNER: A PLAY
By Chinaka Hodge
I thought he was out of my league. Real tall, well put together. Big palms. Pretty, almost. This metered way with words. Had a steady job. Was wearing ties to work at the time. Built around rigor, and routine. That man loved to make a list. Checklists and to-do lists and have-done lists. Ought-to-do lists.
He sets the alarm for seven. Hits snooze once. Up for real at 7:30. Leans at the edge of the bed for two and a half minutes. Clears his throat through his nose. Turns the shower on. Forgets something in the bedroom. Back to the bathroom. Showers for ten minutes. Out the door by 8:13. Evening is the same. Asleep five nights a week by 10:56. Fifty-six. Clockwork with him.
And for him, there’s an honesty in that. To say I was drawn to that stability doesn’t really do the feeling justice. More like the compulsion we have as children to metronomes and see-saws. There is something absolutely mesmerizing about the rhythm of his predictability. Science. Like how you know how fast honey will dissolve in hot water. He sweetens me on time. Budgets the exact minutes it will take him to love me. Don’t know how he does that. Did that. When even I didn’t know what I needed.
Plus we were proportioned right. Nice heights for walking places, and for lying down inside each other. For talking copious amounts of shit. He was a good card partner. Conservative in his bids, leading with the suit he’d like me to return in. Not a stellar dancer, but better than me by far. And so we stuck fast to each other.
We had fun. Before Watts came and the wedding even, just sitting watching our shows. I remember the Cosby premiere with him. How on the weekends he’d stay up late late with me, cause I’d guilt him off his schedule, and he’d make jokes all in my hair. Push the laughs right through me. And I’d hug him in the mirror, make him watch how happy we were. To remind us both of the enchanted nature of what we were doing. In the time we were doing it. A fearless act: Black family in the middle of an epidemic. Intellectuals at play. The ease of our engagement.
So imagine our surprise when they told me the baby was white. White.
Chinaka Hodge and Universes at the Living Word Festival (Thurs/8-Fri/9, 8 p.m., $10$20. CounterPULSE, 1310 Mission, SF. www.counterpulse.org).
WRITERS Four provocative haiku and a tanka from the Haiku Poets of Northern California, who’ll be reading at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 17, at Anthony’s Cookies (1417 Valencia, SF) as part of LitQuake’s massive citywide Litcrawl. Check out www.litquake.com for more info, and www.hpnc.org for more on HPNC, including a contest.
the poultry truck returns
with empty cages
we walk among
to hide all secrets
on the weaving machine
sharing my heart
to slice it
WRITERS Mired and I were off to a Bon Voyage! party for our friend, Shawna, who was moving to Cleveland. It might not be totally true to say that Shawna was our friend. Shawna was my friend. We’d worked together, years ago, at an auto parts store and had dated for a few months. Mired was a jealous person in the first place, and she was of the opinion that Shawna still had a crush on me, though I kept trying to tell her that there was nothing going on between us.
Once we arrived, Mired started drinking vodka tonics. Really drinking. Rock star drinking. She was mad because Sh Sawna pronounced Mired’s name wrong, calling her Meer-red.
"It’s pronounced like the verb," Mired said to her. "You know: mired in depression, mired in immense mental anguish."
"Got it," Shawna said.
"That’s what you said last time," Mired said, batting her eyes like a sly homecoming queen.
While the other twenty guests and I were in the living room, talking about Shawna, and Cleveland, and all the opportunities that awaited her there, Mired sat alone in the kitchen. Every once in a while she’d yell, "I’m sure going to miss you, Shawna," and she’d laugh and I’d deflect by droning on about Cleveland being the best city splattered on our continent.
You see, these other guests weren’t just learning that Mired drank too much and had a sailor’s mouth and didn’t like Shawna. No, they soaked up the fact that there was barely trust between Mired and me, and the trust we did have was heavy and rundown, a burden we lugged behind us like concrete shadows.
After an hour or so, and probably seven drinks, Mired blurted, "Derek, maybe as a going away gift, you should have sex with Shawna."
Forty humungous eyes and twenty tongue-tied guests. Shawna looked at me. I was supposed to do something, this was clearly supposed to be handled by me, but I didn’t know what to say, so I tried to change the subject, asking, "Does anyone know the average rainfall in Cleveland?"
Guests reluctantly nibbled on chips and slurped the bottoms of their empty cocktails, chewing ice cubes, everyone too uneasy to replenish supplies.
Then Mired slurred, "Shawna, are you sure you wouldn’t like to give Derek a blowjob for old time’s sake?"
All astonished, riveted eyes fixed on her.
"We’ll all watch," Mired said.
Twenty other guests and forty scathing eyes, their naked disgust, all staring at Mired as she embarrassed herself, embarrassed us, me. Their awed eyes ricocheted from Mired to Shawna to me and back around, a vicious carousel, all these gazes grazing each of us.
Mired aimed another homecoming smile toward Shawna, who said, "Out of my house!" and she hopped up and ran toward the kitchen, but some of the guests got in her way. Shawna turned to me and said, "Get her out of here," and I said, "Fine, fine," and didn’t even get a chance to say Bon Voyage! Instead, I helped Mired stagger to the door and stagger down the stairs, almost falling twice, and I put her in the passenger seat and drove us home.
The whole ride she kept saying, "Drop me off and go give it to her."
Our conversation vanished, though, as Mired passed out right in the middle of our latest screaming match. I pulled up to our lousy apartment building, and she was out cold. I shook her, said, "Get up," but she didn’t move or say anything. The key was still in the ignition so I turned the car on and found a radio station playing Lynyrd Skynyrd because Mired hated that hillbilly shit. I made the music blare and gave her a few shakes, but she didn’t move so I shut the car off and went to her side, opened her door and said, "Can you walk on your own?" but since her eyes had shut again and her head swiveled every direction like a broken compass, I knew she couldn’t.
I threw her arm around my shoulder and guided her. We only took two steps before her legs went boneless, flaccid, falling, but I was able to catch her, swooping her up in my arms, the way a groom carries a bride on their wedding night.
We lived on the second story, and I started struggling up the stairs, and she said, "Admit you want to have sex with her," and I didn’t say anything, concentrating on climbing those steps, tried pretending that my ears were locked like safes and her words didn’t know the combinations, but it didn’t work. I had no guard from anything that came out of her mouth. Mired said, "Go back and screw her," and I tried to cinch my ears closed. I said, "Shut up," and she said, "I deserve more than you," and I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, couldn’t fathom how she figured she deserved more. It didn’t make any sense, since I was the one trying to do the right thing.
I was halfway there, only six steps left. My arms shaking. I looked at Mired’s face as she kept telling me how much better she deserved, which got me thinking about how much better I deserved, which led me to the very notion of love, and I remembered that old cliché: If you love something set it free.
I arched my back because she seemed to be getting heavier with every stepshe’d been getting heavier for months now, every time she said mechanics don’t make enough money, every time we had our maintenance sex, something we did these days to avoid a breakdown, like getting an oil change.
I craned our combined weight up to the next stair, my biceps burning, arms unable to hold her as high, which put increased pressure on the small of my back. Mired said, "You should love me more, Derek," and I felt a puncturing, like a nail jammed into a tire, except there was no tire, just me. Like something had ripped into my skin and there I was, leaking affection and patience and resilience. Spilling love.
My feet worked their way around, doing a one-eighty on that thin step, and I faced the bottom, and I let my arms go limp and dropped her and she hit right at my feet and flipped backward and then bounced all the way to the bottom of the stairs and landed in a contorted heap, tangled like human laundry.
She didn’t make any noise, didn’t move.
I looked around to see if anyone was watching. There didn’t seem to be so I rushed down the stairs and crouched next to her mangled face.
I said, "Are you all right?"
I said, "Jesus, baby, you fell down the stairs!"
Excerpt from Joshua Mohr’s Termite Parade.
WRITERS We asked Guardian readers to contribute stories or poems that reflected their Bay Area experiences. The catch? Each entry had to be exactly 123 words. So many excellent submissions poured in. Unfortunately, we could only pick 10 winners, which are printed below. The writers will receive a gift certificate to Books, Inc.
revolved around how wonderful it would be to die in an
earthquake that killed her at the exact moment
she was looking up at the shelves in the Macy’s women’s department.
The handbags were being swept into the air and
were floating down towards her. A
set of Moschinos fell like giant colorful raindrops
and her hands were extended towards them, like a desiccated cave-woman about to
the end of a drought. This moment
would be captured as her afterlife when a glass sliver
slipped between her eye and eyelid and gracefully penetrated her brain. She wanted the perfection
of the leather satchels, which she had no hope of ever owning, to eclipse all
other moments of her life.
i take the book you made out for coffee, walk along clay until it crests over hyde and i can smile again, weave past grace cathedral, 40s and shorts on the swing set and i fall in love with you at Front Porch drinking drinks with kumquats and rum, flicks of salt disappearing, lips pressed to mason jars, wrappers leftover from japanese candy, 111 minna, some girl’s gold necklace, lamp light reflecting, gray goose and art galleries, thick throated and insecure, while north beach vomits strip clubs and boutiques, scares away hipsters, and at 3am i make a home for you in the space between my breasts, mismatched fabrics hanging over head, cork board alley smiles and
what’s your name again?
LABOR DAY 2009
I slip on my pants like a fireman, quick, with practiced determination. I careen my head toward the window. Watch daybreak bang the gray sky back. The closed Bay Bridge arches towards darkness, towards Frisco. I have never seen it without cars lights.
I shuck the sheets off you.
Up, I demand, a drill sergeant.
I snap my bra on, twist it around. I can smell myself, fecund, moist pits. Nervous like a mother. I hate myself.
I ball my shirt up; hurl it at you.
You look up.
I’m going to be a mom, I spit. Taste the implication on my tongue.
You hoist yourself up.
Where you going?
To bike that bridge. What can they do? They can’t stop me
BEFORE LIGHT CHANGES
Pick a hill. Jump between vantage points. You can spring the entire city, like a kinged checker, or a queen. Morphing like Mad Magazine, folding corners B to A, bending time.
A pharmacy goes BBQ. Sushi boats drift through your unconscious. You got dragged aboard, then woke with a craving. Across, in that park: you’ve tasted heartbreak, and smelled funny dancing, and shot hoops with crumpled resumes, and been winded by a jog.
The city gasps for air just before rush hour, after running all day, breathing hard. Cue the fog. Now it’s dim: the ‘Sco does twister yoga, or the funky gargoyle, gone buck or cupcakin’. A sushi float parades the bay, always revolving, barely perceptible; you’re on board, and circling too.
Mother wanted me to be the dentist to the stars. I wanted to be the next Hemingway. Mother insisted writers were alkies and wife abusers. I could write prescriptions. Graduated NYU Dental in 1959. Only mention that Al Pacino and John Travolta were patients because I’m a namedropper. For the next 20 years, I inhaled tons of toxic mercury vapors, was bombarded with enough stray radiation and nitrous oxide to turn my toenails and my mien black. After my second wife left me, I fled to San Francisco. Bought a restored Victorian at 164-166 Castro with my cousin, Hal Slate. Hal owned the Cauldron bathhouse and sang in the Gay Men’s Chorus. Hal lived upstairs and I was on the bottom.
Dr. Stanley Finkelstein
Just a cougar by the seawall. Summer, errr, autumn in the Sunset, she stole a boy from the surf shop. He literally lived in the surf shop.
Gawky girl, watched him get amateur tattoos. Watched him sell pot to Trouble. Bought him pizza. Bought a phone, learned to text.
Kisses and secrets pressed against the seawall. Realize: nothing is lost by getting older.
Ocean Beach is not made of fog, just ghost lovers and culture clashes. Wu Tang Clan and Elliott Smith. Office girls and Rastafarian skate rats. Wearing rings and gangsta players. Foodies and shysters.
She returns home with sand in her highlights and guilt on her sleeve. Then makes love with two men, one by the shore, one as a whore.
I always smell coffee when I cross the Bay Bridge.
Mom would point out the Hills Brothers building on the right. "Grandpa
used to work for them."
He kept nails in a red coffee tin. Every summer, my parents would send
me back to the city to live with my grandparents for a bit. He’d get me
to pull nails out of old planks and save the good ones.
Years later, my wife and I came to clear out their house. She rattled a
tin full of rusty nails.
"It’s a real mess. I guess people who lived through the Depression saved
The old factory is gone, but I still smell coffee on the Embarcadero.
And think of honest work.
Dominic Dela Cruz
A PAINFUL CASE
Outside of a Shattuck Laundromat a form appeared and paused. I could see just above the pages of my book a squat mass.
You like Joyce?
There waited a gray-haired wheelchairbound woman, her thin puppetlegs below a square, dense torso.
She spoke about Finnegan’s Wake, about her triptoirelandfathersdeathlovers53disabledlesbianconvertedjewsuicide
conjuring Linnaeus to lift herself from the gelid human sea.
I politely cut her off.
There were three women alongside me folding laundry. A man watching clothes tumble behind a porthole. Two coeds umlike trying to use a machine. The TVfixed attendant stood folding underwear. Eight people in a small room and no one spoke to the other.
I turned my gaze toward the street vainly hoping to tell Shewhospoke
Carolyn Rae Allen
Ice cream is my observation food.
I’m sitting on the curb by the Castro Station, watching a nighttime exodus of dapper gay couples and catching snatches of passerby dialogue between bites of an It’s-It.
I listen to them talk about things I know nothing of, though I still strain to hear. Each person walking by, I realize as I munch, is their own story, their own person, and I feel a strange urge to follow them around.
Instead, I look up at the city lights and semi-starry sky, both of which frame a giant flapping flag, whose wind-aided whipping is just audible above the sounds of cars and people.
My snack drips, I wolf it down, and then descend into the station’s glow. arim Quesada-Khoury
There are people in this city whom even God does not love. I have spoken to many of them (phoning from the safety of my SOMA office) about diminished social services and life’s decline. The most wretched of San Francisco’s sick, discouraged, and deprived tell me they keep living for one reason alone: their pets. When every last lover’s tolerant embrace has turned cold, dogs and cats do not waiver in their devotion. I only remember to feed myself because Josie needs to be fed, too. She knows I’m sick and ugly, but she loves me nonetheless. Oh Lord, because your charitable light sometimes eludes man through the Bay’s perpetual fog, please lift up this city’s pets and help them do your work.
From Jack London Square to Jack Kerouac Alley, Dashiell Hammett Street to Armistead Maupin backroom, the Bay’s geography is dotted with ready reminders of its old-school literary heritage. (Meet us on your hover bike at the intersection of Violet Blue Way and Calle Mission Mission in the bloggable future.)
And yet movie trailer narrator voice here in a silicon age of textual blah-blah and publisher hype, of writers with a capital "W" and writers with basic HTML, of our virtual reality’s underlying coders and an invigorated zine interest in for-your-eyes-only … well, whatever, word. The pleasures of the text surround us, and a flock of new voices is always chirping in the wings.
We wanted to take advantage of the happy confluence of two major Bay literary events celebrity-studded reading avalanche LitQuake (Oct. 9-17, www.litquake.org) and the thrilling, youth-oriented showcase Living Word Festival (Oct. 8-18, www.youthspeaks.org) to highlight some writers participating in each, and a few local others we dig, like poet Arisa White, comics artist Eric Haven, and the cheeky Peter magazinesters. We also toss in the winners of our LIT123 contest. Garnishing our locavore word salad is our cover image from Steve Rotman’s excellent new San Francisco Street Art (Prestel Publishing, 91 pages, $14.95). Grab your silver metafork and dig in.
The folks at SEIU Local 1021 have been getting the mayor’s panties in a bunch lately and it’s caused Newsom to make something of an ass of himself.
The union, which represents city employees, is still seething about the mayor’s failure to follow through on a deal he cut during the summer budget crunch. The way it was supposed to work, the union members gave $38 million in concessions, and Newsom agreed to hold off on major layoffs until this November when he was going to support a measure to raise new revenue for San Francisco.
That never happened, and the layoff notices more than 600 of them have gone out, mostly to women of color who work on the front lines in the Department of Public Health. At the same time, the city’s forcing some skilled workers into lower-paid job classifications, in essence slicing their pay by more than 20 percent.
So the union put out a flyer demanding that Newsom stop the layoffs and when a Local 1021 member handed it to the mayor at an event Sept. 28, Newsom went ballistic. According to union member (and certified nursing assistant assistant) Evalyn Morales, the mayor "said, ‘this is a lie,’" referring to the flyer. He then went on to say: "I don’t want to do anything to deal with the union. I hate Robert [SEIU organizer Robert Haaland]. What you’re doing now is hurting me … I hate Robert. I don’t want to do anything for the union."
Which is all too typical of how Newsom responds to criticism particularly when the critics are going around to his gubernatorial campaign events and reminding people that this is the mayor who, like (Republican) Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, produced an all cuts, no-new-taxes budget. He gets pissy. He loses his shit. He looks like … well, like someone who isn’t quite ready to be the governor of the nation’s most populous and probably most complex and contentious state.
EDITORIAL San Francisco’s chance to create a semblance of public power, through community choice aggregation, faces a devastating threat from Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and the city needs to move with a sense of real urgency to get this program off the ground.
CCA would allow San Francisco to buy electric power in bulk and sell it to customers at a reduced cost. It wouldn’t create a true public-power system PG&E would still own the transmission facilities. And while customers would see price breaks, the city wouldn’t make much money off the deal. But it would be a major step toward breaking PG&E’s illegal monopoly.
The giant private utility desperately wants to avoid that, but right now its options are limited: The state law that authorizes CCAs, written by then-state Sen. Carole Migden (D-San Francisco), bars utilities from interfering with or trying to shoot down community attempts are creating the buying coops. So PG&E is paying to collect signatures for a statewide ballot initiative that would mandate a two-thirds vote before any city, county, or public agency can attempt to create or expand a public-power utility.
We all know what the two-thirds vote requirement has done in Sacramento it’s paralyzed the Legislature. The PG&E initiative would do the same thing, making it almost impossible for any community to get rid of the dirty, high-priced power the utility peddles.
It’s going to take a huge statewide effort to defeat that initiative, and San Francisco — the only city with a federal mandate for public power — ought to be leading the way. Sup. Ross Mirkarimi has been pushing the issue, and the supervisors have passed a resolution opposing the measure. That’s a start, but city officials need to do a lot more. We suspect the initiative may violate Midgden’s law by any reasonable standard, PG&E is interfering with the rights of local government here and San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera is investigating the issue. He needs to move aggressively and quickly to determine whether the city has a legal case that could get the measure thrown off the ballot. If so, he needs to connect with city attorneys in other public-power cities and launch a full-scale legal assault.
But if it looks as if a legal strategy won’t fly. Herrera, Mayor Gavin Newsom, the city’s state Legislative delegation and every other elected official in San Francisco needs to be speaking out against the measure and working to set up a statewide coalition that can raise money to defeat it. The measure can’t be fought just with a few press conferences and statements of support every public-power city, including Los Angeles, Sacramento, and Santa Clara, needs to be on board, with a high-profile campaign committee and public officials across the state holding fundraisers and looking to build a war chest in the millions of dollars.
And in the meantime, San Francisco absolutely must be moving at full speed to get its own CCA measure passed, in place and under way before this initiative gets on the ballot. For several years now, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission has been dragging its feet on CCA, and General Manager Ed Harrington is hardly making it a top priority. That has to change, now. Mirkarimi, as chair of the board’s Local Agency Formation Commission, is pushing the PUC to get the process moving, and the mayor, who claims to support CCA, needs to direct Harrington to press forward as if there were a hard deadline of next spring for implementation. Because if the PG&E measure makes the spring 2010 ballot, and wins, San Francisco’s program will have to be fully under way or it will be dead.
Other than Mirkarimi, who is trying to organize statewide opposition, nobody at City Hall seems to be taking this threat seriously. It’s time to wake up, folks the future of public power, and all the benefits it could bring San Francisco, is on the line. *
SUPER EGO The only place social constructivism and its attendant corollary, relativism can fully fluoresce as a philosophical trope is in poetry. There, I said it. Never mind simply reverse-engineering facts to reach a mere equivocation. The "deep metaphysical vision" that John R. Searle attributes to constructivists in a recent New York Review of Books article is actually a deep metaphorical vision, one in which objects gingerly materialize through the screen door of mental language, sometimes banging open, sometimes clicking locked. Situations arise from their own plots.
Dressed in green
Wears silk stockings
With golden seams
Was this at last our Balearic summer? Did dance music decisively turn from tracky loops to center instead on a sunny little something called "songs"?
"That Balearic era of music was so formative for me. The Stone Roses, Primal Scream, Happy Mondays, and the Verve are some of my faves," Gavin Hardkiss (www.gavinhardkiss.com), one of San Francisco’s classic Hardkiss Brothers, told me over e-mail, limning the baggier side of early rave. "Recently, I downloaded about 100 Balearic anthems from that era. I didn’t like most of them, though, so it’s not like the entire era was golden." As Hawke, a nom du disque he’s recorded under since 1993, Hardkiss has just released a nifty album, +++ (Eighth Dimension), full of sing-along electronic tunes that not only call up past Madchester glories, but also the intricate audio daydreams of Ultramarine and Orbital.
Hardkiss will forever epitomize the ’90s Lower Haight techno scene graffiti on concrete, stars in eyes. But he’s all grown up now, and his musical complexity is complemented by the simple, practical lyrics of a new dad. "I love to make beats for DJs, but the new challenge became making songs. For this album, I had no audience in mind other than the fans who live in my house, something the family would enjoy listening to over and over. My two-year-old keeps singing my lyrics, ‘You took my money … you took my money’ and that makes me happier than anything."
He also asked several edgy artist friends to create works based on +++ tracks, which will be displayed Oct. 7-16 at Project One Gallery (251 Rhode Island, SF. www.p1sf.com), accompanied by various party events, including an opening shindig (Wed/7, 7 p.m., free), a sharp Honey Soundsystem kiss (Fri/9, 9 p.m., free) and an appearance by brother Robbie Hardkiss (Oct. 16, 9 p.m., free). Gavin promises that the art "isn’t 15 Swiss Army knife emblems."
I’ve been creaming my Sergios for trip-disco lately, which stretches and tweaks rare classics without losing the red-light sensuality of the originals. Coming to a similar conclusion, but with original compositions, is Brooklyn "cut-and-paste" disco duo In Flagranti, who’ve developed an entire aesthetic that incorporates slinky synths, ’70s graphic design, bad ad piracy, horny housewives, and tunes that turn on the fog machines all by themselves.
Wed/7, 10 p.m., $5, 18+. Poleng Lounge, 1751 Fulton, SF. www.hacksawent.com
BLACK, WHITE, AND READ
No, not that kind of "read," you queen the kind you do (or once did) with a book. LitQuake kicks off its citywide verbal smackdown with a "book ball" that hearkens back to Truman Capote’s celebrity-ridden master masques of yore. Mask yourself as your favorite scribe, light a Thai stick, and flip through the night with DJ Juanita More, rappers Khalil & Glynn, and the SF Jazz High School All-Stars. Perfectly, Miss More will also perform Carmen McCrae’s "I’m Always Drunk in San Francisco."
Fri/9, 8 p.m., $19.99. Green Room, Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness, SF. www.litquake.org
OPINION How many horror stories will it take before Congress decides to act on the most ignored problem in the present healthcare debate, denials for people with insurance?
In September, San Francisco’s KPIX-TV reported the story of Rosalinda Miran-Ramirez of Daly City, who woke up one April morning with her left breast bleeding and her shirt soaked in blood.
She was rushed by her husband to the emergency room at nearby Seton Medical Center, where doctors found a tumor. Fortunately the biopsy was benign. Less benign was Miran-Ramirez’ insurer, Blue Shield which initially approved her emergency room claim, then denied it, demanding she pay the full charges, $2,791 under the dubious assertion she "reasonably should have known that an emergency did not exist."
After reporter Anna Werner called Blue Shield, the company decided to pay. Big of them.
We’ve seen this act before. In 2007, Cigna denied a liver transplant, recommended by her medical team, to 17-year-old Nataline Sarkisyan of Northridge. After national protests organized by Nataline’s family, community, and the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee, Cigna relented — a week too late, and tragically Nataline died.
In a recent interview with New America Media, Cigna’s then-communications director, Wendell Potter, now an insurance critic, noted that "this is not an isolated case. People need to realize that there is a corporate executive who often stands between a patient and his or her doctor. That’s the reality."
Why? It pays. Insurance companies make money by selling policies they never intend to make payments on.
In August, researchers with the California Nurses Association and National Nurses Organizing Committee uncovered previously hidden data on the California Department of Managed Care Web site revealing that six of California’s biggest insurers have denied on average nearly one-fourth of all claims every year since 2002. For the first six months of 2009, PacifiCare rejected 40 percent of claims, Cigna 33 percent.
Predictably, the insurers went ballistic, issuing a stream of denials about their denials. It’s all paperwork, or merely battles with doctors and hospitals, they insisted. These denials don’t mean people are being denied care.
But, they are, every day. The insurers claim the procedure is "investigational" or "experimental" or the policy did not cover that procedure, or the patient had neglected to disclose some prior health problem.
Even if many of the denials the insurers themselves reported to the state are just "paperwork," they are a reminder that 30 cents of every private insurance healthcare dollar is wasted, much of it on warehouses of bean counters looking for reasons to deny claims.
Fortunately, California Attorney General Jerry Brown is now investigating the denial scandal.
But Congress and the Obama administration remain appallingly silent. Too timid to propose the most comprehensive reform single payer that would actually lift the hands of the insurers off our necks. Too timid to crack down on insurance company price gouging or denials of care.
Deborah Burger, RN is co-president of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee.