Volume 44 Number 41

Appetite: Paging through M.F.K. Fisher’s kitchen

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Like any self-respecting food lover (and writer), I’m well aware that, hands down, M.F.K. Fisher (Mary Frances) is our greatest food writer, and I’ve been pursuing the pleasurable endeavor of working my way through her entire catalog over the years.

As with my literature preferences, I find myself more often drawn to the classics, or, in this case, first flush of food writers who set the tone mid-20th century, like A.J. Liebling (read “Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris”) and Angelo Pellegrini (read “The Unprejudiced Palate”), though none have the impact on me that Fisher does.

She writes of food, travel, life but most importantly, she writes… drawing you in, enveloping you first and foremost with her person, heart, and poetic style.

There have been numerous books written about her over the years but one that landed on my desk was a 2008 UC Press edition of M.F.K. Fisher Among the Pots & Pans by Joan Reardon.


The book is a straightforward biography summarizing key points in Mary Frances’ (I love that Reardon calls her by the name she preferred to be called) life and complicated relationships, but through the intriguing slant of the many homes she lived in, particularly the kitchens she cooked in, from California to France.

Irish illustrator Avram Dumitrescu paints warm vignettes of her kitchens, imparting a friendly glow to the book, and complimenting photos of Mary Frances. Whether it be the cover illustration of her kitchen in Hemet, CA, or those in her St. Helena and Glen Ellen homes, one gets a glimpse into Mary Frances, the cook, though she was first and foremost a writer.

As her birthday recently came and went on July 3rd (she would have been 102), it’s as good a time as any to read and reflect on one of our most gifted writers, who just also happened to love food.

Undertaker in reverse

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A window in Sean Smith’s apartment looks across the street at the park. To the left of this window, inside the room, there’s an old sign that says Undertaker.

Smith is the kind of devoted undertaker who finishes what he starts. He’s a reverse undertaker: the kind that brings things to life, instead of escorting them through death. In recent years, he’s released solo albums of instrumental guitar music, and he’s also put together a pair of compilations devoted to guitarists of the Bay Area. Smith’s dedication to the instrument and its myriad possibilities isn’t selfish. Through 2006’s Berkeley Guitar and this year’s Beyond Berkeley Guitar (Tompkins Square), he’s helping to shine a light on fellow talents like Ava Mendoza, whose new album Shadow Stories (Resipiscent) can turn from Sonny Sharrock-caliber noise to skipping melody at the drop of a dime.

Smith’s own musical ability is vast and alive. He recently finished recording an impressive pair of albums with Tim Green. At a time when designer reissue labels like Numero Group are spotlighting guitar instrumentals, there should be room on a label of note for Smith’s commanding new albums, which stretch from solo interiors to epic band sounds while maintaining the same purity and high intensity. This week, at the Mission Creek Music Festival, Smith will emphasize his quieter, solo side. I recently talked with him about music.

SFBG   Sacred Crag Dancer, Corpse Whisperer (Iota, 2006) veers toward improvisation, while Eternal (Strange Attractors, 2007) has more of an ensemble quality. How was putting them together different?

SEAN SMITH I had a lot of energy towards improvisation at the of Sacred Crag Dancer. My dad bought me a guitar. He’d been wanting to contribute for a while. I found one I wanted and he bought it for me and as soon as I got it I went home and would hit ‘Record” and play. I recorded 3 hours of music and pared it down to 34 minutes.

SFBG What was the process of paring it down like?

SS It was easy. We were quick to hear what worked and what didn’t work in the improv. It’s more like spontaneous composition. I’d try to repeat things or make compositions, cohesive journeys from A to B, rather than fuck around.

There were three levels of editing: first, there’s immediate editing while you’re playing, when you just stop and say “This sucks”; second, there’s determining what works and what doesn’t; and third, determining what works to make a cohesive album that reflects the span of the work.

SFBG In terms of coming up with titles, you’re different from some instrumental artists, who will keep things stark. Some people will pour all their heart into a work and then leave it untitled. Your titles are striking, not throwaway.

SS Well, I hope none of my work is throwaway.

There’s a lot of variation and possibility in titling. You might have your own idea that you start with before the music comes to you.

With Sacred Crag Dancer, the music came first, it was sprouting forth from nothing, and titles had to be created to fit it.

“Extrance” is an exit and entrance — you’re leaving your world and entering a world where the character (of the album) dictates your experience.

SFBG There is a lot of deathly imagery in that album’s titles.

SS “Sacred Crag Dancer, Corpse Whisperer” comes from something I thought I heard Daniel Higgs say one time when I saw him play. The energy of the album was definitely inspired in part by him. I was moving in that [improvisational] direction and then I saw him play for the first time and everything just shifted.

It seems like each of my albums has a character creating the environment. The Sacred Crag Dancer Corpse Whisperer is a conjurer of a weird spiritual realm.

The title “Some Men Are Born Posthumously” is a line from Nietzsche. He was talking about how no one would understand his work during his lifetime.

SFBG I like “Jeweled Escapement.”

SS I’m sure as a journalist you have typed on a typewriter — my typewriter’s escapement key has a jewel on it. All the titles of the album are typed on that typewriter.

FBG Making the kind of music you’re making, which isn’t tied to a particular trend, I figure you probably get responses from all kinds of people —

SS Or nobody.

SFBG Yes. In a sense doing the Berkeley Guitar and Beyond Berkeley Guitar compilations is work on your part to counter that lack of a profile, and perhaps hint at a movement. It’s almost like journalism in a way.

SS It’s been a general problem in the world of solo guitar that most of the people in that world squander their talents in obscurity.

Some people who end up on these collections won’t necessarily do anything else. Adam Snyder (from Berkeley Guitar) is a brilliant musician. He’s written hours and hours and hours and hours of music. He’s obsessed. When we lived together he couldn’t hold a job because all he wanted to was be at home playing. Yet he hasn’t made a record. I don’t know if he ever will, but I’m sure he’s still obsessively playing music.

I’m more into documenting music.

SFBG Do you like Harry Smith?

SS Yes. My mentality stems from that, from thinking, “Wow, thanks to this guy, we have all of this music,” a document of a time, of people, and of culture. If it wasn’t for him, those songs would have remained on back porches. He was able to capture something so the rest of the world could hear.

SFBG It’s a generative thing.

SS And the music becomes more generous to the listeners in the process. It becomes potentially influential.

SFBG What has it been like to work with Tim Green?

SS Great. He doesn’t say a damn thing unless it’s really important, so when he does, it means something.

I’m bummed that the (Fucking) Champs disbanded — that music is like from my dreams or something, instrumental music that powerful. With music like that, no one ever says, “When are you going to start singing?” I haven’t gotten there yet — people still ask me.

This newer music I recorded with Tim is being met with a lot of confusion. Eternal was, too. People are like, “Wait, it’s not solo guitar, but it’s instrumental, and there’s solo guitar and crazy electric guitar on it.” It doesn’t fit neatly into that finger picking American primitive thing.

SFBG Will you always be shifting in relation to that sort of traditionalism?

SS Absolutely. There’s no one way for me. There never has been.

The finger picking or instrumental thing has just been a means of expression.

When I was in 4th grade, I wanted to play saxophone, really badly. They wouldn’t let me, they wanted me to play clarinet. I tried it out for a couple of weeks and didn’t like the tone of it. But I always say that if they’d have let me play the saxophone, I’d probably be a saxophone player right now.

When I found the guitar, I realized I could express myself with it. If I didn’t have a guitar I would find a way to express myself. I’m not just in some pop band. I’m never going to break up with myself. I’m always going to be making music because I’m compelled to.

I particularly don’t want to write lyrics. I’m not interested in singing, because that’s not my instrument. The guitar is my instrument and I struggle enough with that, trying to progress and expand and play authentically.

That’s a huge part of music, too — playing authentically, playing genuinely.

SFBG Figuring that out when making music is difficult. There are different challenges that sort of have to converge. There’s the struggle to make music that to you — to your hearing and intuition — sounds good so that you like it. And at the same time, you have to do that without killing it by trying to make it too good. You have to allow it to be alive.

SS A lot of that is lost simply due to the ways in which things are recorded today.

Everything is AutoTuned. Now, in pop music if it isn’t AutoTuned, people are thrown off by it.

Even more intensely, when it comes to playing honestly, my song on Beyond Berkeley Guitar is called “Ourselves When We Are Real.” That comes from Mingus’ solo piano album [Mingus Plays Piano, 1963] — the first song on it is called “Myself When I Am Real.” When I heard it, it was so disturbing, because it’s so honest. It sounds like all these little thoughts in your head, your inner monologue mixing with the outside world, the way you look at yourself in the mirror and the way your voice sounds.

I wanted to shift that title, and I wanted to call [the composition] that because it was the most authentic piece of music that I had ever written.

SFBG Is that what you were striving for with Tim Green?

SS It’s your own process. He’s not interested in telling you what to do. His question is, “What are we doing today?”

He has tons of old funky gear to work with. He prefers to record to tape, and so do I. He sleeps until around 1 in the afternoon. You never start before 2 or 3 p.m. He likes to go late, and he’s the most patient person in the world.

For the most part, if I don’t get something by the second take I move on, because I don’t want to do it to death. But there was one time when I was playing a guitar line, and I realized I’d been playing it for two hours trying to get it right, and it was making me crazy. Tim was sitting there reading a magazine and never getting frustrated. He’d say, “That one sounded alright — do it again.” He was hearing things.

There’s a drawing in the studio that someone did of Tim sitting at the board. He’s always got a leg kicked out with his black Samba Adidas, and he’s drawn so that he has these huge elephant ears.

SFBG Have you listened to (the Numero Group compilation) Guitar Soli?

SS I haven’t heard it yet. I looked at the track listing and was vaguely familiar with most of the people on it. Even though it’s super obscure I’ve spent the last ten years of my life digging around for solo guitar records. I play a George Cromarty tune, “Topinambour.” Eternal starts with it.

SFBG There are a fair amount of reissues connected to solo guitar as of late — people like Sandy Bull are getting a new surge of attention.

SS This is the age of reissues and revisiting.

I’m in a Black Sabbath cover band with three members of Citay. I find it’s probably the most rewarding band I’ve ever played in. A friend was saying that a cover band now isn’t like this 1986 cruise ship playing Top 40 hits now, it’s a legitimate type of music.

SFBG This might be overstating, but maybe it’s like a spiritual pursuit. If you decide you’re going to cover Sabbath, you know you’re going to go deep into Sabbath.

SS For me, I want to play in a relevant way, so I want to bring the experience of seeing Black Sabbath at their prime to the audience.

SFBG What’s the band called?

SS It’s called Bob Saget.

 

SEAN SMITH

as part of the Mission Creek Music Festival

with Howlin Rain, 3 Leafs, DJ Neil Martinson

Sat/17, 9 p.m., $8

El Rio

3158 Mission, SF

(415) 282-3325

www.mcmf.org

Appetite: With Campo de Encanto, SF gets its own pisco

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You might have heard? There’s a new pisco on the streets “for bartenders, by bartenders”: Encanto Pisco, created by Duggan McDonnell of Cantina, sommelier and spirits guru Walter Moore, and Peruvian master distiller Carlos Romero. Although an authentically Peruvian pisco (distilled — and already making waves — in Peru), it’s a homegrown San Francisco product, a labor of love from locals who know their spirits.

I had the privilege of tasting this acholado (blended) pisco before its release and now with the finished product, am delighted at how balanced it is: floral, with hints of citrus and white pepper. It stands up on its own, going down smoothly much as a brandy or eau-de-vie would, but also an ideal base for cocktails, with a large number of bars around town already stocking it. Alembic was the first to do so, it’s also at pisco havens La Mar Cebichería and Pisco Lounge, while Carlos Yturria showcased it with fig, sage and lemon at the inaugural Pickled, in Absinthe’s back room.

Campo de Encanto means ‘Field of Enchantment’, a romantic spirit evident in gorgeous, vintage-style bottling to the artisanal production of this grape brandy in the Ica Valley of Peru, combining three different grape varietals: Quebranta (76%), Torontel (6%), and Italia (18%). Encanto is sustainably harvested and distilled without preservatives, sugar or even a drop of water.

San Francisco has a rich history and love affair with pisco, inventing some of pisco’s greatest drinks like the Pisco Punch, so it seems fitting that we now have a pisco to call our own. And one of the finer, more approachable piscos at that.

You can purchase Encanto at stores like Cask or The Jug Shop

www.encantopisco.com

Volume 44 Number 41 Flip-through Edition

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Deja vu all over again

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Crackdown 2

(Ruffian)

Xbox 360

GAMER In a case of super-stealthy marketing, Microsoft placed access to the eagerly-anticipated 2007 Halo 3 beta on the disc to Crackdown, a then-unknown IP. Gamers bought the unproven game for a sneak peek at the biggest game of the year, and found themselves ensnared by Crackdown‘s hyper-realistic superhero universe and carrot-on-a-stick gameplay, which rewarded gamers for exploration. Three years later we get Crackdown 2, developed by an offshoot from the original team, and not much has changed in the game’s fictional Pacific City. Set 10 years after the first title, once again you play an agent for a shady company called simply the Agency and are tasked with saving the city from destruction.

While Crackdown was a stylized take on the Grand Theft Auto series, the sequel is influenced by recent zombie successes like Left 4 Dead, trading gangsters for undead “Freaks” who now litter the city and its numerous underground caves. Other than the new enemies, Crackdown 2 is pretty much the same game we saw three years ago, with a slew of brand new problems. Setting aside the numerous bugs and frame rate issues I experienced in Pacific City, it’s disappointing to see that there remains little story beyond the above one-sentence synopsis. With no incentive for their actions, players are forced to make their own fun in an open-word environment that they probably visited just a short time ago. Repetition has always been the name of the game — dispatching foes is secondary to hunting down hidden orbs scattered throughout the city, increasing your stats and making your agent leap higher and live longer — but playing Crackdown 2 is itself an exercise in repetition, because it’s the same city and the same stats as the first game.

Crackdown 2‘s development cycle was reportedly somewhere in the range of eight months, and in that time developer Ruffian has given the game an unattractive facelift and added the ability to play against 16 other players. Granted, eight months is not long enough to build a full-blow sequel, but Crackdown 2 is a full-priced, glorified add-on to the first title and that’s likely to upset gamers expecting bigger and better. Since 2007 a number of companies have taken a stab at the idea of an open-world superhero, most notably Prototype and Infamous, but the spirit of competition has not done Crackdown any favors. If you liked the original, you might be able to look past the problems its sequel tosses at you for the pure joy of collecting stuff, which remains the series’ best feature. But if Ruffian doesn’t make a big change in the franchise’s next iteration, it’s going to find itself left in the dust. 

Point of entry

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MUSIC Blessed with the pipes and vocal chords of an angelic opera singer but willing and able to deliver the type of piercing wail that would shock a banshee, Rob Halford has long been considered one of the greatest rock vocalists of all time. Rightfully dubbed “the Metal God” by fans, he has been making his mark in music for nearly 40 years, from his iconic role as front man for the legendary Judas Priest, through his tenure with Fight in the 1990s, and some excellent solo ventures during the last decade.

Halford is embarking on a summer tour with his own eponymous band. It kicks off in a San Francisco club before joining the mammoth OzzFest, so local fans are in for a rare, intimate treat. “I think San Francisco is still a very important part of America as far as the music scene. And it’s a place that has a lot of great memories for me personally,” says Halford, speaking on the phone from his home in San Diego.

“I remember one of my first ever visits to the Bay Area, in the late ’70s, when [Judas] Priest came over to the States. The big climax of that was a surprise performance with Led Zeppelin. And then some years ago, the guys from Pansy Division took me around to some cool places they thought would be of some interest to me besides Fisherman’s Wharf,” he adds, laughing.

The set list for the tour promises to touch on all facets of Halford’s career, not just Judas Priest. “That isn’t what this is about for me. It’s about playing the Halford material and the Fight records,” he explains. “The music from them is still quite potent and show off what the Halford band is able to achieve, more than anything else.”

Soft-spoken and humble, Halford is still happy to discuss his old band’s accomplishments, including Judas Priest’s classic album British Steel, which received a deluxe 30th anniversary rerelease earlier this year. “Music is like a time machine in some aspects” Halford muses. “[The rerelease] just reinforces that a great song is able to last forever. If a song you wrote in 1980 can still touch people in 2010, then I think you’re doing your work well.”

Next month Halford’s own Metal God record label is releasing the concert DVD and CD Halford: Live In Anaheim, and he hopes to enter the studio later this year to record a new album with his current band before Judas Priest roars back into action in 2011. Obviously, the 58-year old rocker shows no signs of slowing down. Indeed, he says that he loves to keep busy and wouldn’t have it any other way.

“The great thing about music is that there’s no gold watch waiting in the wings,” he says. “You keep doing it for as long as you want, and I’m always grateful because I wouldn’t be able to set foot out of the house without knowing this tremendous and resilient fan base is going to be waiting.” 

ROB HALFORD

Sat/17, 9 p.m., $37–$40

Regency Ballroom

1290 Sutter, SF

(800) 745-3000

www.theregencyballroom.com

Gryp the surgeon

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arts@sfbg.com

MUSIC The bass. The accents. A scary little man in a hooded jacket. On first introduction to Die Antwoord via the video for their breakthrough jam, “Enter the Ninja,” I was officially freaked out: intimidated by their honest anger, rank lyrics and ultrahip haircuts. It was early February of this year when the Ninja, Yo-Landi Vi$$er, and DJ Hi-Tek of South Africa entered my life, and only days after we met on the ‘interweb,’ I was officially obsessed.

Blowing up their videos to full-screen, I inhaled their stench, injected their music-laden virus, and swallowed mouthfuls of diseased, infectious theatrical genius for hours on end, letting all that is Die Antwoord swim to my brain, pump through my veins, and wallow in the depths of my stomach. I felt sick, happy, and addicted — and apparently, so did the rest of the world.

Die Antwoord blew up almost immediately after a couple quick posts from influential music tasters. Only six months into their new-found fame, these sick bastards have already played — and wooed — Coachella, signed with Interscope, and gained shows with MIA on their first official U.S. tour. Even gross celebrities like Fred Durst and Katy Perry have typed their praises. Their show at the Rickshaw Stop sold out in less than an hour.

They’re white trash with skills: super-slick production, extra-catchy hard core beats, and personas that should be employed by the traveling carnival. Images of sexpot Yo-Landi and her tween-like frame rotate between cracked-out fiend, a shy classmate I met in the fourth-grade, and a sexy, antiestablishment Swedish lesbian. It’s probably not OK that I find her at all attractive. The tiny-lady MC is totally cool being covered in rats, freely kisses the critters, and holds them upside down by their tails. I am quite jealous of her ability to rock wicked-short bangs.

Then there’s Ninja; a rail-thin, pasty man with a mouth as rotten as San Francisco’s Sixth Street. His collection of tattoos are horrible. My favorites include a large, erect penis; his non-gangster “very secret fairy forest”; and phrases like “If you don’t like funerals, don’t kick sand in a ninja’s face.” His prime video moment: a close-up of his seemingly giant balls aggressively keeping beat to a sick bass line, hidden only under the thin fabric of his “Dark Side of the Moon” boxers.

Die Antwoord’s third member, DJ Hi-Tek, is basically mute and/or hasn’t fully developed his character quite yet. Stay tuned.

So nasty. So raw. So are they real? The Web is stocked with videos of Max Normal TV, Ninja’s, a.k.a. Waddy Jones’, former project that included Yo-Landi Vi$$er as his assistant. They’re art punks and all their projects before now simply laid the groundwork for Die Antwoord.

People’s concern with the legitimacy of the group is out of style. Since when don’t we like people who take on alternate public personas? Would we really like them more if they were, as one Videogum writer put it, “actually borderline mentally retarded poor children from ghettos covered in generic Cheetos dust and meth crumbs?” No. Because either way they’re fokken intense, intoxicating, absurd, and pumping some serious Zef flow. (Says Ninja: “Zef = flavor, ultimate style, fokken cool, more than fokken cool. A zone. A level. And we’re on the highest level.”)

What any fan needs to figure out is how to translate the crazy-thick accent and constant use of Afrikaans slang. Yo-Landi finds it hilarious that fans attempt to sing along, unknowingly screaming absurdities that would make anyone blush. The song “Jou Ma se Poes in ‘n Fishpaste Jar” translates to “Your mother’s cunt in a fishpaste jar,” which, unsurprisingly, has a corresponding picture. Just don’t go around spouting off the lyrics in front of Grandma.

DIE ANTWOORD

With DJ Jeffrey Paradise

Fri/16, 8:30 p.m., sold out

Rickshaw Stop

155 Fell, SF

(415) 861-2011

www.rickshawstop.com

Group think

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arts@sfbg.com

HAIRY EYEBALL “Calder to Warhol,” San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s giant introductory survey of the Fisher collection, isn’t the only big summer show happening right now. With its wanted poster-style flyer design and a menacing title that could have come from a hardboiled paperback, “They Knew What They Wanted” is an exquisite corpse of a group show, pieced together and then strewn across town by four artists at four different galleries: Shannon Ebner at Altman Siegel, Robert Bechtle at John Berggruen, Katy Grannan at Fraenkel Gallery, and Jordan Kantor at Ratio 3.

Allusions to criminality aside, the artists/curators of “They Knew What They Wanted” would more likely be found on the forensics team than the wrong side of the law. All are steely observers whose art could broadly be said to share a focus on the dynamics of surveillance at work within postwar portrait and landscape photography, particularly photography that looked at what was booming outside of America’s urban centers. Although Grannan is the sole photographer in the group, Ebner’s temporary installations of handmade signage placed in public settings — which she then photographs in black and white — and Bechtle and Kantor’s photo-based oil paintings also fall under the sign of the photography.

It’s not surprising then that multiple pieces by each of the curators can be found across all four galleries, as well as certain names (Lee Friedlander, Miriam Böhm, Trevor Paglen, and Ed Ruscha in particular) whose work shares an aesthetic affinity with that of the curators. This form of cross-gallery display gives “They Knew What They Wanted” a cohesion that is often rare in group shows, while still not being so insular as to make it hard to differentiate each artist-curator’s own aesthetic sense.

Bechtle’s selections offer the least surprises, summoning the same post-1960s Western suburban milieu evoked by his photorealistic paintings of driveway-bound vintage cars. After a few rounds of viewing, though, Robert Adams’ vintage snaps of Colorado ‘burbs, Friedlander’s skewed takes on small town architecture, Isca Greenfield-Sanders’ aquatint etchings of backyard swimmers, and Tom McKinley’s oils of cool modernist interiors start to add up to the visual equivalent of tract housing.

Ebner and Kantor’s picks are more interior-minded than the mainly street-level and exterior scenes crowding John Berggruen. They also veer the furthest from each artist’s own work. For example, Sol LeWitt’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it painted electrical wall plate at Altman Siegel is just a few Home Depot aisles away from Rachel Whiteread’s stainless steel castings of light switches over at Ratio 3. Back at Altman Siegel, Fletcher Benton’s 1983 bronze tennis racket, “Adjustable Racket for Short Heavy Hitters,” leans dejectedly in a corner, in wait for a yard sale that will never come. Grannan’s grab bag at Fraenkel is the most photo-heavy, and her selection ventures furthest — with mixed success — from the thematic territory staked out by Bechtle, Ebner, and Kantor.

In a way, Ebner, Bechtle, Grannan, and Kantor have beat SFMOMA to the punch. The museum is set to restage the landmark 1975 photography exhibit “New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape” — which presented dispassionate documentation of parking lots, construction sites, and other forms of ex-urban development — at the end of the month. But for a sustained exploration of the meteor-like impact of “New Topographics” on the photography and painting that followed in its wake, one couldn’t ask for a better art historical crash-course than “They Knew What They Wanted.” *

 

THEY KNEW WHAT THEY WANTED

Through July 31, free

John Berggruen Gallery

228 Grant, SF

(415) 781-4629

www.berggruen.com

Through Aug. 7, free

Altman Siegel Gallery

49 Geary, SF

(415) 576-9300

www.altmansiegel.com

Through Aug. 13, free

Ratio 3

1447 Stevenson, SF

(415) 821-3371

www.ratio3.org

Through Aug. 21, free

Fraenkel Gallery

49 Geary, SF

(415) 981-2661

www.fraenkelgallery.com

The woman remembered

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The changeover from silent to sound cinema revolutionized the world’s most popular entertainment form. As in most revolutions, some heads got lopped off. The industry saw this upheaval as a chance to clean house, getting rid of pricey or difficult talent by claiming they couldn’t make the transition. The public went along, suddenly hungry for all things talking, singing, dancing, and new, eager to dismiss yesterday’s favorites as old-fashioned.

Certainly stardom’s internationalism was largely over — those with heavy foreign or regional inflections were kaput. But myths persisted for decades about native-born stars like John Gilbert whose nasal, “light,” or otherwise unappealing voices purportedly derailed their careers. Heard today, Gilbert seems just fine — was MGM simply punishing him for being an expensive pain in the ass? If so, it worked: by 1936 he’d drank himself to death.

A similar aroma of failure hovers around Norma Talmadge, one of the biggest stars of the silent era yet largely forgotten now. Critics howled at her supposed vocal uncouthness in 1930’s Du Barry, Woman of Passion. Talmadge took equally famous, already retired sister Constance’s advice, quitting while she was still ahead — at least financially, thanks to mama’s trust fund setup. Yet clips from the era reveal nothing at all wrong with her voice. Was she a victim of simple out-with-the-old, in-with-the-new media frenzy? Perhaps an affair with actor Gilbert Roland ended the career support of her husband, powerful executive Joseph M. Schenck. Was she being punished?

She and Roland star in 1928’s The Woman Disputed, her last silent vehicle and one of many highlights in this weekend’s 15th San Francisco Silent Film Festival. She’s an Austrian prostitute — not exactly named as such, of course — who barely escapes a murder charge after a seeming john instead uses her flat to kill himself in. Two wealthy rescuers then become romantic rivals for this hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold, whom they help attain respectability. (The other man is Arnold Kent, an Italian actor fatally struck by a car after playing this final role.)

Directed by Henry King (an A-list Hollywood director through the 1950s), Woman moves from heavy tragedy to disarming romantic comedy and back again — then World War I intervenes. The fervency of its trio’s romantic friendship is very touching. No matter that the concept is typical Hollywood fantasy ignoring class-impasse reality: the film finesses its corn syrup via discreet handling and potent star power. Doing the most emotive heavy-lifting, Talmadge has moments that make her appeal very clear.

Thrust forward by a world-class stage mother, Talmadge was huge throughout the 1920s. According to screenwriter pal Anita Loos’ memoir, her screen retirement was addled by stupefying addiction to arthritis painkillers. It’s said she started the Hollywood Walk of Fame by accidentally stepping into wet cement. It’s also said she inspired the monstrous Norma Desmond in 1950’s Sunset Boulevard, as well as Jean Hagen’s Brooklynese-screeching imploding silent star in 1952’s Singin’ in the Rain. Yet again these may just be derogatory rumors that have had decades to harden into pseudo fact.

SAN FRANCISCO SILENT FILM FESTIVAL

July 15–18, free–$30

Castro Theatre

429 Castro, SF

(415) 621-6120

www.silentfilm.org

666-ZOMB

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arts@sfbg.com

FILM Yes, vampires and werewolves are getting pretty dang tired lately.

Yet even they haven’t risked getting so overexposed as our shuffling undead friends.

George Romero’s last couple Dead films felt tapped out — if you were Romero, wouldn’t you be bored with zombies by now too? We’ve had remakes of Romero sequels, fer chrissakes. Plus we’ve had so many zombie comedies (2004’s Shaun of the Dead being the gold standard) that parodying the genre has itself become a cliché. There’ve been Zombie Strippers (2004), Nazi zombies (last year’s Dead Snow pretty much completed that concept), gay zombies (Bruce La Bruce’s oddly poignant 2008 Otto), a zombie feature made by an 11-year-old girl (Emily Hagins’ 2006 Pathogen), a documentary about that (2009’s Zombie Girl) … yada, yada. Of course there’s still fun to be had on occasion. But mainstream hit Zombieland (2009) worked not ‘cuz of zombies per se, but because Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg were funnier than their routine spoofy material.

Let’s face it: zombies are a limited concept. You can make them go slow or fast (pausing naturally to debate whether “fast zombies” betray all things sacred). They can be silent, grunty, or banshee-screamy. That’s about it. Vary the formula much farther and you’re outta zombie territory.

[Rec] 2 does fudge matters somewhat. This sequel to the successful 2007 Spanish original (decently Hollywood-remade in 2008 as Quarantine) elaborates its hints that what’s going on here is not just some bite-driven viral thingie but a supernatural evil. It’s home-lab “contagious enzyme” germ warfare — meets Satan. The zombies are, indeed, recently-munched living beings who can be perma-killed with the traditional headshot. Yet they are also Exorcist-y “possessed” who speak in many voices, including the classic Mercedes McCambridge-through-Linda-Blair obscene croak. Whatever.

Explication wasn’t the first film’s strong suit. It isn’t for this superior follow-up, either, which starts with [Rec]‘s memorable final shot (which Quarantine shamelessly surrendered in trailers): last survivor Ángela Vidal (Manuela Velasco) dragged from first-person camera range by something that surely ended her career as both glam TV reporter and living human.

Picking up moments later, [Rec] 2 then switches to the camcording POV of special-forces cops speeding to a Barcelona apartment building whose residents, responding firefighters, and fluff-story-pursuing TV news guests are now presumed undead. No one is allowed in or out save the SWAT-equivalent team whose imposed outside leader (Jonathan Mellor) turns out to be no Ministry of Health official, but a priest.

After various really bad things happen, their camera dies. [Rec] 2 cleverly then restarts the narrative from other live-video viewpoints, first wielded by three neighboring bourgeois teens who elude site barriers in search of “something really cool.” Once they realize what they’ve gotten themselves into, they do what comes naturally: panic and demand adults save them. But mummy and daddy can’t help you now.

Returning writing-directing duo Juame Balagueró and Paco Plaza know the slow build won’t work a second time, so [Rec] 2 quickly turns headlong. That it works pays testament to their screenplay — which cleverly develops original tropes rather than simply reprising them — and ability to invest the exhausted mockumentary form with visceral potency. (A couple deaths here are truly memorable despite the usually obfuscating shaky-cam format.)

There are silly ideas — otherwise invisible ephemera can be seen by night-vision cameras? Satan hasn’t covered his Radio Shack ass yet? — but [Rec] 2 proves there’s still imaginative life in zombie cinema, even if it requires bending the rules. [Rec] 3 and 4 are reportedly moving forward. This might become the rare film series — living or undead — that steadily improves.

[REC] 2 opens Fri/16 in Bay Area theaters.

 

She’s a briiide

0

marke@sfbg.com

SUPER EGO A couple of Friday evenings ago, Hunky Beau and I went out on a bourgeois love date in SoMa. It was there that I was reminded that, along with loquats, plums, figs, and fat guys on the Internet pretending they’re in armed militias, we are in the midst of bachelorette season. Children, be warned!

To kickstart our romantic rendezvous, Hunky had called me from Mr. Smith’s, a bar that still exists, where he’d gathered with coworkers for clock-out cocktails. Alas, I couldn’t hear him over all the squealing. “Always a bridesmaid. Always.” he texted. “Run for your wife!!1!” I pecked back. We sheltered ourselves in the tidy environs of Terroir (www.terroirsf.com) on Folsom Street, a chill unmarked wine bar that reminds me of Seattle’s Living Room, with a nifty furnished mezzanine and vinyl Shins and Cure on the phonograph. Settling in with a few glasses from the smart and sassy list and some fatty-licious French food cart grub from Spencer On the Go across the street, we commenced our rendezvousing. Until a look of terror clouded the cute Terroir co-owner’s face and the screaming started streaming in. No exit! Bachelorette attack! It was Sex and the City 3-D: less menopause, more claws.

Hastily, the besieged Terroirier apologized, saying “We’re not usually this back country.” I would’ve gone off, but mocking roving bachelorette parties (or BPs, ’cause that shit’s toxic and endless) is like shooting Kardashians in a barrel. Viva stereotypical drunk heterosexuals, all is full of love. So I just plugged my good ear with a Bordeaux cork and marveled at my favorite BPers: the sheepish bridesmaid of color, the childhood friend who can’t stop making toasts to hide her unfathomable bitterness, the warring former college roommates, the pushy “leader,” and — bestest— the puggy one with bad bangs and a lemon face who wanders around picking fights with random strangers, slurring, “Leave ‘er alone … sh-sh-she’s a briiide.” Snooki lives. And I want a girls night out with 10 of her.

Treasure Island preview: Get your Long John Silvers out — the lineup’s been announced for this year’s festival on Oct. 16 and 17, and it’s pretty rad. “Electronic music” highlights? Four Tet, Holy Fuck, our own Wallpaper party boys, LCD Soundsystem, and (zef yes!) Die Antwoord. Kruder and Dorfmeister will be drifting us back to the early ’00s. I am typing the name Deadmau5. Full lineup and tickets at www.treasureislandfestival.com

 

HOT WAX

An all-vinyl night always guarantees my nightlife blessing — and this regular one at 222 is too-too-too nice to pass up. This month’s installment is themed “Ladies of the ’80s,” with an all-female DJ crew that includes Sweaterfunk’s DJ Mamabear, Shred One, Chungtech, and Sabrina spinning you delightful, deep-crated retro R&B and soul shakers of the XX-generated variety.

Thu/15, 9 p.m., $5. 222 Hyde, SF. www.222hyde.com

 

DJ DRM

I’m loving the jazzy beats revival raining down this summer, spawned by the choppy R&B re-edits scene, dubstep’s more melodic turn, a Latin funk infusion, and a general interest in sparkling, danceable vibes. Killer weekly Loose Joints is bringing in Brooklyn sizzler DRM of Bastard Jazz Recordings to get swingy. Loose Joints regulars Tom Thump, Centipede, and Damon Bell warm it up.

Fri/16, 10 p.m., $5. Make-Out Room, 3225 22nd St., SF. www.makeoutroom.com

 

SOME THING ELSE

Fresh off its cheeky “9/11 in July” night, weekly dragstravaganza Some Thing is getting even more dangerous, with an imposters night that sends up San Francisco’s most boisterous queens of stage and toilet. Newcomers will impersonate — with affection! — old-schoolers. Expect some bewigged heads to explode as some big fish in our little pond get roasted, one birdseed boob at a time.

Fri/16, 10 p.m.–late, $7. The Stud, 399 Ninth St., SF. www.studsf.com

 

RAIZ

Vividly named L.A. brothers Vangelis and Vidal Vargas, formerly known as Acid Circus, have aptly switched monikers to Raiz, but still deliver the throbbing, bass-heavy minimal tech that razes the roof. They’ll be in town, accompanying local melodic thumper DJ Zenith, to celebrate the fierce monthly Tekandhaus party’s first anniversary.

Fri/16, 10 p.m., $5. Anu, 43 Sixth St., SF. www.tekandhaus.com

Pera

0

paulr@sfbg.com

DINE If books and movies can have subtitles, then why not restaurants? A subtitle is like a bit of extra seasoning, a way of emphasizing certain meanings, and this is particularly important at a time when restaurant names can seem increasingly whimsical or obscure.

Pera’s subtitle (printed at the top of the bill and on its website) is “a Mediterranean affair,” which makes it sound like a cheesy movie about poor, doomed Princess Grace of Monaco. “Turkish cuisine” would be a bit more exact, but “Mediterranean affair” certainly sounds a romantic note, and Pera does have its low-key atmospherics, especially on summer evenings when elongated twilight stretches over the north face of Potrero Hill and glints through Pera’s windows.

Pera opened last November, under the auspices of Irfan Yalcin and his wife, in a space held by the Chinese restaurant Eliza’s since the early 1990s. (Eliza’s still exists at its longtime California Street location.) Turkish cuisine seems to be enjoying something of a boomlet around here in recent years, and why this is so is nearly as great a mystery to me as why we have so few Greek restaurants.

As it happens, and despite the long-term tensions between Greece and Turkey, Greek and Turkish cuisines are plainly related. Pera, whose menu tilts toward foods from Turkey’s Aegean coast, even offers versions of pastitsio, the baked pasta dish that is Greece’s answer to lasagne, and moussaka, the pastitsio-like dish of layered eggplant. But chef Muhammet Culha also turns out items I haven’t seen before on Turkish (or Greek!) menus around town.

Conspicuous among these is the talas boregi ($16), whose closest relation in the American food lexicon is probably chicken pot pie. The dish arrived as a triangle of phyllo wading in a shallow pool of coconut curry sauce (I had never before come across coconut milk in Turkish cooking). Within the pastry envelope was a piece of smoked, boneless chicken breast, while elsewhere on the plate lay a garnish of green apple, sliced thin, and some currants. In a sense, this dish was the philosophical opposite of that other great Mediterranean cuisine, Italy’s. The Italian kitchen emphasizes simplicity, directness, and the primacy of a particular ingredient or seasoning. By contrast, Pera’s talas boregi orchestrated a diverse cast of characters into a bewitching harmony, a sum greater than its parts.

But Turkish cooking can be just as direct and simple as Italian. Sometimes, in fact, it can seem Italian, as with spanaki ($6.50), spinach sautéed with garlic and pine nuts just as it is in Sicily. (“Spanaki,” we should note, is the Greek word for spinach — the Turkish word is “ispanak” — and Sicily was settled by Greeks in pre-Roman times.) The condiment consisting of yogurt, cucumbers, dill, garlic, and olive oil, whether called tzatziki or cacik ($2.50) is also about as basic as it gets and shares a deep and obvious root with the Indian yogurt sauce raita.

You can get the tzatziki, along with a host of treats to dunk in it, as part of the meze platter ($14), which is a sampler and therefore irresistible. The ensemble includes dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), saksuka (roasted eggplant with bell pepper, potato, and caramelized onion in a garlic tomato sauce — a lot like caponata), and zucchini cakes, along with olives, feta cheese, and triangles of warm pita.

Since the Aegean is a sea, we might expect to find seafood on the menu, and we do, including wonderful fish patties, or balik kofte ($10), a pair of hamburger-flat disks presented with concasse tomatoes and mango dice. (Do the Turks grow mangoes?) Also quite nice was a filet of grilled salmon ($18), topped with a Meunière-like sauce of white wine, lemons, garlic, and capers and plated with vegetables and what the menu card called (in Greek) patates tiganites, or fried potatoes — sautéed cubes, really.

For dessert you can have baklava, if you like your phyllo drenched with honey, but the more compelling choice is yogurt with honey ($6), which must be counted as a dessert that is actually, definitely good for you. (Both yogurt and honey are fermented foods, rich in probiotics.) Yogurt from the eastern Mediterranean is especially creamy and rich, as here — almost like tangy-sour cake frosting. One small surprise: no cherries on the menu, for dessert or otherwise, though the cherry is profoundly — or we might even say majorly — associated with Asia Minor.

PERA

Dinner: nightly, 5–10 p.m.

Lunch: daily, 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m.

1457 18th St., SF

(415) 796-3812

www.perasf.com

Beer and wine

AE/DS/MC/V

Manageable noise

Wheelchair accessible

 

Minty fresh

0

DANCE/THEATER After rapidly selling out its two-week premiere in May 2009, the Joe Goode Performance Group returns to San Francisco’s lavish Old Mint for a luxurious one-month run of Traveling Light. JGPG’s haunted tour of SF’s oldest stone building, a monument to money power, unfolds as a series of made-up but history-laden vignettes scattered throughout the edifice, adding up to an inspired meditation on greed and desire, success and failure, the material and immaterial. On the eve of opening night, acclaimed Bay Area–based director-choreographer Joe Goode — who says the piece has changed only slightly since last year (“We’re filling up the space better and perhaps telling the story more clearly”) — spoke to SFBG from his East Bay home.

SFBG In addition to Traveling Light, you premiered another site-specific work last year, Fall Within, at the Ann Hamilton Tower in Geyserville. What’s the appeal with site-specific work? Do you approach such pieces very differently?

Joe Goode You have to in a way because there’s no front. People can see things from many different vantage points. Also some theatrical illusions are taken away from you. On the other hand, you have the personality, character, and history of the site, which is contributing enormous amounts of information to the moment. That is really exciting and delicious, and there’s a lot that you can do with it.

The way I work with performers—the way I elicit material from them so that it feels personal to them—[remains] similar. I’m interested in an intimate, close-up glimpse of a real human experience. Many site artists get involved with the contours of the architecture, the aural properties of the site. I’m interested in all that, too, but retain my interest in that personal narrative.

SFBG That personal aspect, though, intersects with the Mint , an edifice reverberating very strongly with a larger social crisis, namely the enormous, growing disparities in wealth.

JG That’s ultimately what the piece is all about. There’s a kind of grandeur to some of the interiors of the building, which is just a disgraceful, ostentatious display of wealth. You can’t help but feel it when you walk in there. This is the disparity that’s been present in this city since 1850! I tend to think of San Franciscans as this very egalitarian, alternative, radical, and thoughtful group of people, when in fact there’s an underpinning of those who have and those who don’t. Those who have make a lot of decisions about what happens in this city. Those who don’t, don’t have a voice particularly. [The Mint] reflects that for me.

SFBG How is that relation between social systems and personal narratives worked out in creating the performances?

JG A lot of it comes from my imagination. I spent a lot of time in those rooms. Some of the narratives don’t have anything particular to do with the history of the building, but there’s a gilded balcony or a particular corner that makes me think of a narrative—a particular time, a person, what they might have been going through. Then I begin to weave the characters, again working very intimately with the performers, asking them their stories and how they felt about this issue, what it brought to mind for them. And I go off and write it. That’s how it works.

SFBG You’ve used the term “felt performance” in referring to your work and your teaching method. Can you explain that term?

JG My theory is that I can’t make a resonant, rich, performative moment on onstage, or in a site, unless I’m having that experience. I can’t just package it. Really the job for the performer is constructing a road map, or an obstacle course even. You’re not working to create an experience for someone else; you’re working to create an experience for yourself. Human beings can share that. We have a very good authenticity meter in our hearts and minds. We [the audience] can get on the boat with you. But you have to be taking the ride as a performer; that’s what’s essential. If you’re not taking the ride, there’s no way we’re going to take it.

SFBG In your approach, dance-theater it’s sometimes called, you’ve been synthesizing forms, dialogue, movement, text, music, for over 30 years …

JG And I’m only 40! How does that work?

SFBG It’s a precocious body of work. But there must have been dance purists and theater purists who balked at the synthesis …

JG Well, there still are. Don’t suffer the illusion that those people have gone away. There are people who look at my work and say it’s not dance. There are certainly people who look at my work and say it’s not theater. It falls between the cracks; they’re unsettled by it and they don’t want any part of it. I think the contemporary viewer — I mean, we’re so much about the mashup; we’re so much about computer animation infiltrating live action. All these collisions are happening in media. For a younger audience to see dancers speak? They don’t care. “That’s cool, whatever, why wouldn’t they?” And that’s how I always felt.

There’s another element there too. When I started making this kind of work: I wanted to have some frank expression of myself as a gay man. Not in a silver jock strap waving a rainbow flag, but as a fully- dimensional human being. Not hiding that very essential part of my identity, but somehow bringing it in. I felt I needed my voice to do that. My body was going to get to an essential part of that, but there was another whole part that needed to be addressed. And pretty much from the beginning, there was a huge audience for it. I feel like I’ve definitely found my place with it. I don’t feel like there’s any going back, that’s for sure.

Free as the breeze?

0

arts@sfbg.com

>>Read Robert Avila’s interview with Joe Goode here

DANCE/THEATER Walking behind the tour guide who led us through the old San Francisco Mint’s elegant rooms for the Joe Goode Performance Group’s striking Traveling Light, I kept thinking of the Medicis and the Ming Dynasty. For their own selfish purposes, these corrupt supercapitalists commandeered and bought great beauty, of which we are the beneficiaries. On a more modest scale, the Mint, as so accurately described by Goode, was a temple of money. It was also a splendidly designed locus of hope for ordinary Joes and Janes who placed their trust, and their cash, in a place that promised the security that an expanding, institution-building nation could provide.

That’s why the Mint’s exquisite architecture speaks loudest in the basement. Jack Carpenter’s magisterial lighting creates shrines to the ordinary citizens on whose shoulders the Mint — and the country — was built. Carpenter ignores the presence of chandeliers — in a basement of all places! — and places red spots along the brick walls, transforming the hallway into a gallery.

Deep inside the safes — protected by exquisitely crafted steel doors — Goode places his works of art: a woman knitting, another in a bathtub, a perhaps homeless couple, and a tea-drinking Victorian lady tied down by propriety. Masterfully, Carpenter’s murky lighting transforms them into silent witnesses of a problematic past. Yet the atmosphere feels like one of your favorite watering holes on a Friday night.

Upstairs, Goode moves his seven dancers, supplemented by eight additional ones, through the Mint’s ostentatious public rooms and stark courtyard. For the next hour, they bring to life finely designed mini-dramas that possess a diorama-like quality. Watched over by a splendidly uniformed Fire Marshall who is quite at home in the building’s opulence, Traveling Light becomes an elaborately designed machine with interlocking gears that shuttle witnesses from one station to another.

I happened to be with the people who first see wealthy and bored Damara Vita Ganley abandon her “exalted” position to mingle with the groundlings. Here, worldly goods mean clean water. At least, the thinking went, these folks have each other. Out of robust duets and trios two men peel off, sent into a better future. Noble sentiment, terrible dramatic ending.

In the courtyard, which suggests a prison yard thanks to Carpenter’s lighting and Goode’s omnipotent voice from above, Filipe Barrueto-Cabello struggles as a poor working man. Haunted and perhaps supported by female spirits, he is barricaded against the elements, but longs for beauty. Andrew Ward and Alexander Zendzian are marvelous as W.C. Fields-like storytellers. The courtyard yields one of the evening’s most poignant moments: Barrueto-Cabello hugging and losing some cabbages as a solo clarinet wails. (Jay Cloidt’s score is first rate and invaluable throughout.)

In one of the inside rooms, Carpenter covers the chandeliers and hangs empty picture frames to better facilitate a detailed trip down memory lane. Jessica Swanson, a proper middle class lady, muses about a summertime affair with a young man (Melecio Estrella) whose calloused hands linger on in her mind. Their stiff-limbed yet passionate struggle doesn’t need words to be eloquently rendered. Elsewhere, in a Virginia Woolf-like touch, Patricia West searches desperately for a quiet place to get her life on track. Buffeted by intruders, she is caught in a turmoil that has more than a current of violence. It leaves her wan, alone, with only the echoes of her own words.

The carefully-honed Traveling is a very special vehicle for Goode’s excellent dancers-actors-singers, who are well supported by the additional cast. At one point Cloidt gives a quartet a four-part a cappella harmony, and they sail through it with ease. Goode badly wants the world to be a better place, but that’s not why we keep watching him and listening to him. We go back because his work sings, dances, and speaks with rare eloquence. I think what we want — and get — is what Barrueto-Cabello hungered for: beauty.

TRAVELING LIGHT

Wed-Sun, 8 p.m. (also Fri.–Sat., 10 p.m.), through Aug. 1, $29–$44

The Old Mint Building

88 Fifth St., SF

(415) 561-6565

www.joegoode.org

 

At your cervix

0

Dear Andrea: As long as I can remember, I’ve had a fascination with gyno play and playing doctor. I’ve grown more and more interested in the idea of cervical dilation/cervical insertions, but have been unable to find any literature on the subject. I understand that any cervical penetration has the possibility of causing cramps and/or other pain, but I am anxious and willing to experiment with this aspect of such play. Any advice?

Love, Stretch me

Dear Stretch: Questions like this always remind me of a kids’ science show I used to watch, starring Paul Zaloom and some guy in a rat costume. In one episode Paul was in the middle of explaining how to grow a particularly odoriferous bacteria colony in an old tennis shoe when he broke off mid-sentence and said, “Don’t even do this.” That’s how I feel when people ask me about certain extreme and possibly harmless but just a little bit potentially fatal practices.

It isn’t the pain that worries me. I understand that you’re up for that, and, you know, go crazy, although having been the recipient of several antepartum “internals” I can assure you that the sensation is … let’s call it “challenging.”

So yes, cervical stretching hurts like 12 kinds of mofo but that’s not our concern here. I’m afraid you may perforate something or introduce outside-world bacteria to your insides (or both). I don’t need to tell you how badly that could go for you, and only you can decide if it’s worth the risk.

It’s not true that there’s absolutely no information on this out there — there’s just very little of it. There’s probably something in BME, the “body modification e-zine.” A place called Eros Boutique carries every conceivable type of sound and catheter, and medical books and sites with instructions for inserting an IUD could walk you through the steps necessary to prepare for messing with your cervix. That’s all I’ve got.

This is very strange for me — up until now whenever someone has asked me about inserting things into the female urethra, I’ve said, in a word, “don’t,” and for good reason. The female urethra is only a few inches long and fragile. It’s a very short trip to the bladder, which really doesn’t want you dragging in dirt all over its nice clean floor. So while I generally counsel people, to leave the urethra alone and go play someplace safe, like the vagina, I’m going to take a flier and suggest the urethra as a slightly safer alternative if you absolutely must go poking in places where you’re not invited. At least you can sort-of resanitize it by peeing afterward. You may also feel free to be cranked open with a speculum and prodded about the cervix with a gloved finger. It is possible to create some intensely painful sensations in that region without ever attempting entry. But I can’t, in good conscience, support your playing doctor in the sanctum sanctorum there.

Love, Andrea

Andrea Nemerson is on vacation. This column ran last year.

Got a question? Email Andrea at andrea@mail.altsexcolumn.com

Bad faith

3

steve@sfbg.com

Mayor Gavin Newsom and his business allies are actively trying to sabotage the various revenue measures that have been put forth by the labor movement and progressive members of the Board of Supervisors, employing deceptive rhetoric, sneaky tactics, and a refusal to bargain in good faith.

In fact, Newsom — the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor — is so averse to supporting anything that could be called a “tax” that he rejected a hard-won compromise measure created by powerful developers, affordable housing advocates, a pro-business think tank, the building trades, and his own directors of housing and economic development.

Just as that story was breaking in the New York Times (produced by Bay Citizen) on July 9, members of the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee discovered that Newsom’s proposed ballot measure to close loopholes in the city’s hotel tax that favored airline employees and online travel companies — a widely supported change, but one worth just $6 million per year — contains language that would nullify any increases in the hotel tax. Earlier in the week, labor unions turned in signatures on an initiative to increase the hotel tax by 2 percent, which would bring in more than $30 million per year.

“This poison pill is an intentionally deceptive, underhanded move,” Gabriel Haaland, an organizer with Service Employees International Union Local 1021, which sponsored the hotel tax, told us. “It’s so frustrating. It’s not even a good faith fight. He’s trying to create confusion and fool the voters. If our measure passes fair and square, it should be implemented.”

Meanwhile, Newsom and business groups have been attacking a reform measure by Board President David Chiu that would make the currently flat payroll tax more progressive, exempt more small businesses from paying it, and create a commercial rent tax to spread the tax burden more widely than the 10 percent of businesses who now pay tax to the city.

Critics complained that the measure would hurt local businesses — but that’s just not true. The city’s Office of Economic Analysis concluded that Chiu’s original proposal would have no effect on private sector jobs and would generate $34 million annually for the city, preserving some government jobs and spending.

Then Chiu amended the measure to spare even more small businesses. Now the OEA says that the measure would actually create private sector jobs — and still bring $28 million in to the city. Yet Newsom and the business community are still withholding their support.

This trio of Machiavellian moves comes just a week after Newsom pulled out of budget negotiations with board progressives concerning about $40 million in board add-backs to programs that Newsom proposed to cut after they wouldn’t agree to his precondition that they withdraw unrelated measures proposed for the November ballot, such as splitting appointments to the Rent, Recreation and Park, and Municipal Transportation Agency boards and requiring police officers to do foot patrols.

The series of events has led many progressives to say that conservative ideological blinders — a knee-jerk opposition to anything that saves government jobs and services or that Republicans might criticize — is the only logical explanation for the intransigent stance adopted downtown and by Newsom.

“It’s ideological. It’s not economic, and it’s not even political,” said Calvin Welch, the affordable housing activist who helped negotiate the transfer tax compromise with developer Oz Erickson, San Francisco Planning Urban Research Association director Gabriel Metcalf, Mayor’s Office of Housing Director Doug Shoemaker, and others.

That measure would have created a transfer tax on sales of properties over $875,000 and generated approximately $50 million annually for affordable housing (funds that were drastically reduced in Newsom’s proposed 2010-11 budget) while cutting in half the current requirements and fees on market-rate developers to create below-market-rate units. The plan would have stimulated both types of housing and created desperately needed construction work — an approach those involved called an elegant solution to several problems.

“To me, this was a win-win, solving two problems that are each a big deal,” Metcalf told us. “I don’t know what his reasons were for not supporting it. I was surprised.”

But Welch said, “It collapsed straight up because the mayor didn’t want to support a tax.” Although Newsom told the Times it was because there wasn’t broad enough consensus yet, “the mayor’s reason is whole-cloth bullshit,” Welch said, noting the role of the Mayor’s Office in brokering the deal. “The mayor walks away from it because everyone wasn’t in the room? Well, it’s your room, motherfucker. Show some leadership.”

Newsom Press Secretary Tony Winnicker refused to discuss these issues by phone, responding to our written inquires by noting that Newsom opposes taxes and thinks the best way to address budget deficits are privatizing city services and pension reform (although he opposes Public Defender Jeff Adachi’s initiative, the only pension reform measure on the fall ballot).

“The mayor is opposed to the Board of Supervisors’ proposals to increase taxes because they’re not needed to balance the budget and they will strangle our still young economic recovery,” Winnicker wrote, refusing to answer follow-up questions or support a statement about Chiu’s measure that the OEA concludes is not accurate.

Like many political observers of all stripes, those from downtown and progressive circles, Welch criticized Newsom for his lack of engagement with city business and its long-term fiscal outlook, contrasting him with former Mayor Willie Brown, who met regularly with former Board of Supervisors President Tom Ammiano even as the two ran a bitter campaign for mayor against one another in 1999. “They dealt with the city’s business like two adults who cared about the city,” he said.

Welch acknowledged that there was still work to be done building political support for the transfer tax measure. He and other progressives would have had to win over city employee unions who wouldn’t like the budget set-aside aspect, and Erickson and Metcalf would need to placate some of their downtown allies who oppose taxes on ideological grounds. But given how downtown groups are behaving right now, that might not have been an easy sell.

“There are members of the small business community that are averse to any taxes,” said Regina Dick-Endrizzi, director of the city’s Office of Small Business and staffer to the Small Business Commission, which was withholding a recommendation on the Chiu measure but planned to meet again to consider it July 12 (look for an update on the sfbg.com Politics blog). She said the small business community is having tough times and “they are just not sensitive to keeping city workers employed.”

Larger commercial interests are being even more forceful in opposing the revenue measures. While a parade of workers, social service providers, and progressive activists testifying at the July 9 Budget Committee hearing implored supervisors to place all the proposed revenue measures on the ballot, representatives from the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) and San Francisco Chamber of Commerce were the only two speakers urging supervisors to drop the measures and focus instead on creating private sector jobs.

“You’re trying to create a little revenue here and it’s not going to work,” said Ken Cleaveland, director of BOMA SF, arguing that big banks and financial services companies — entities exempt from the payroll tax that Chiu is hoping to target with the commercial rent tax — will buy their buildings to avoid paying the tax. “They aren’t going to create more jobs and they really aren’t going to create more revenue.”

Yet Chiu noted that it was the business community and fiscal conservatives who pushed to create the Office of Economic Analysis, whose work they have regularly used to attack progressive legislation. Now that the office has concluded that a piece of progressive legislation is good for the local economy, Chiu told Cleaveland and the Chamber spokesperson Rob Black at the hearing, “I ask you to respect the work this office has done.”

Black said the Chamber board will consider Chiu’s amended legislation, but said businesses are in no mood to help the city. “How many times have you gone to your neighborhood merchant and had them say, ‘Gee, my rent’s too cheap’?<0x2009>” he said during his testimony.

Yet Chiu said landlords of small tenants (those paying less than $65,000 in rent per year) are exempt from the rent tax and only 26 percent of SF businesses would pay any city business tax under his plan. “I hope the mayor will support this proposal and the business community will give it a good look,” Chiu said as the hearing ended.

At the beginning of the hearing, Chiu framed the dire situation facing San Francisco, citing Controller’s Office figures showing this year’s $500 million budget deficit (out of a $6 billion total budget) will be followed by a $700 million deficit next year and a $800 million gap the following budget cycle as a result of a deep structural budget imbalance.

“We have budget deficits as far as the eye can see,” Chiu said at the hearing. “We have to consider measures that will provide more stable sources of revenue.”

He also noted that city employee unions have agreed to give back about $250 million in salary and had their ranks reduced by about 2,000 workers in the last two years. So he and the other progressive supervisors say it’s time for the rest of San Francisco to help address the problem.

“We, as a city, should not be trying to balance this budget simply through cutting,” Sup. David Campos said.

Sup. John Avalos, the committee chair, amended his transfer tax measure in the wake of Newsom’s rejection of the deal by making it a simple 2 percent tax on properties that sell for more than $5 million, and 2.5 percent tax on properties over $10 million. He estimates it will bring in about $25 million per year from the city’s wealthiest corporations and landlords.

“That’s who we’re socking it to,” Avalos told us, saying he was disappointed the compromise fell through. “The amendment is going to be more progressive than what was originally planned.”

Even Sup. Sean Elsbernd, a strong fiscal conservative who announced early in the hearing, “You want to do that [balance future budgets] by adding taxes, but I want to do it through ongoing service cuts,” later told the Guardian that he was intrigued by the amendments Avalos and Chiu made to their measures and has not yet taken a position on them.

Sup. Ross Mirkarimi is also sponsoring a measure to increase the city’s tax on parking lot operators from 25 percent to 35 percent, the first change to that tax in 30 years, and will include valet parking for the first time. The measure would bring in up to $24 million per year, and OEA analysis shows it would decrease the number of cars trips by 1.3 percent, another benefit.

SFMTA supports the measure, with board member Cameron Beach testifying that the money will be used to subsidize Muni and “it links the use of private automobiles and is consistent with the city’s transit-first policy.” Mirkarimi, who chairs the Transportation Authority, also has proposed a $10 local vehicle license fee surcharge that would bring in another $5 million per year for Muni.

All the revenue measures require six votes by the full Board of Supervisors, which is scheduled to consider them July 20, after which they would need a simple majority approval by voters in November to take effect.

The mayor has the authority to directly place measures on the ballot, so the committee hearing on his hotel tax loophole measure and a $39 million general obligation bond that he’s proposing to create a revolving loan fund for private sector seismic improvements were mere formalities, so supervisors criticized aspects of each but were unable to make changes.

Avalos even grudgingly acknowledged the hotel tax poison pill was an effective way to kill that revenue source, saying at the hearing, “This is very smart. I don’t agree with it, but it’s very smart.”

Haaland was less charitable, criticizing a provision designed to confuse voters. “This kind of move means both measures won’t pass because now we have to oppose [Newsom’s measure],” he said, criticizing the mayor for running away from the hard decisions facing the city. “He won’t be around next year, when we have an even bigger structural budget deficit, to clean up this mess. Absent new revenue sources, this city starts to fall apart.”

Beyond the rage

46

rebeccab@sfbg.com

Downtown Oakland became supercharged with emotion in the hours following the July 8 announcement of the verdict in the trial of former BART police officer Johannes Mehserle. And in the days that followed, the city remained electrified as residents struggled to make sense of the verdict, the rioting that occurred in its wake, and the historic significance of these developments.

But as the emotions dissipate, the issues behind the verdict and its aftermath remain — along with a series of questions that could determine whether this intensely scrutinized shooting of an unarmed man will lead to any changes in police practices or the justice system, as well as how the community will react if the judge imposes a light sentence.

After being moved out of the Bay Area because the publicity surrounding the case, a Los Angeles jury found Mehserle, a white officer, guilty of involuntary manslaughter for fatally shooting Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old unarmed black man who was detained on a BART train platform in Oakland on Jan. 1, 2009 following reports of a fight.

The verdict stood out as an almost unprecedented conviction of an officer in a case involving deadly use of force, and a departure from an all-too-familiar narrative in which tragedies resulting from police shootings bring no consequences for those responsible for pulling the trigger. However, in the wake of the verdict, Grant’s family members made it clear that they did not believe that justice had been served.

“This involuntary manslaughter verdict is not what we wanted, nor do we accept it,” Oscar Grant’s uncle, Cephus “Bobby” Johnson, said at a July 10 press conference at True Vine Ministries, a West Oakland church. “It’s been a long, hard road, but there are chapters in this war. The battle’s just getting started.”

To Grant’s relatives and a coalition of supporters who came together in response to the shooting, the trial is intrinsically linked to a long history of police brutality that occurs with impunity in cases involving youth of color. Meetings organized by clergy and community members have been held weekly in West Oakland over the past 19 months with the ultimate goal of bringing about greater oversight of the BART police and effective police reform on a broader scale.

On July 9, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that its Civil Rights Division, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and the FBI have opened an investigation into the shooting and would determine whether prosecution at the federal level is warranted. Defense Attorney Michael Rains also made a motion to move Mehserle’s sentencing to a date later than Aug. 6, the date it was originally expected.

As the events of July 8 solidify into the Bay Area’s collective memory, attention is now shifting toward the next steps, and to lingering questions. Mehserle’s sentencing is key: will his sentence be light, reflecting the jury’s conclusion that he simply made a mistake — or will it include substantial prison time, reflecting the fact that he shot and killed an unarmed man without justification? Will he receive a lighter sentence than someone else without a criminal record found guilty of involuntary manslaughter simply because of his identity as a former officer with law enforcement organizations still in his corner? If Mehserle receives a long sentence, will it signify a shift in a justice system that many perceive as biased — or a stand-alone result of intense public scrutiny?

And as a result of all this, will the BART police finally get the type of training and serious civilian oversight they so badly need?

 

RAW REACTION

On the day the verdict was announced, thousands turned out for a peaceful rally near Oakland’s 12th Street BART Station and City Hall to hear speakers sound off about how their lives had been affected by police brutality.

As night fell, looting and rioting began to break out as the media covered scenes of rage set against small trash fires, causing anger and frustration for many Oakland residents who were dismayed and frightened by the chaos and disorder. More than 80 arrests were made, and dozens of stores including Sears, Whole Foods, Subway, Foot Locker, and numerous banks were damaged or looted. Police efforts to respond to the situation gave downtown city blocks the feeling of a war zone for several hours.

Reactions to the verdict, and the chaotic aftermath that followed, varied in the following days.

“The truth is that in American history, this is both a high point and a low point,” Olis Simmons, executive director of Youth UpRising — an Oakland nonprofit that works with youth of color — told the Guardian the following day. Speaking to the fact that an officer had been convicted in a case involving a wrongful death, she said: “I think it really is a signal that America is changing. This is the farthest we’ve ever gone.”

She said she hoped that people who were infuriated enough to react violently on the evening of July 8 would channel that energy toward constructive goals of pushing for a more satisfactory outcome. Before rallies and later rioting began that night, Youth UpRising sent people into the crowd to hand out glossy flyers proclaiming “violence isn’t justice.”

Davey D Cook, an independent radio journalist who extensively covered activity surrounding Grant’s death on a news site called Davey D’s Hip Hop Corner, said he thought the mainstream media was ready to have “a field day” with the riots, pointing out that they ran special coverage in the days leading up to verdict, building up anticipation of violent outbreaks. He also said that the scope of the rioting should be kept in perspective.

On his July 9 KPFA radio show, Hard Knock Radio, Cook added a salient point: “Broken windows can be replaced, and in two weeks, they will be. Stolen merchandise can be replaced, and it will be. But who’s going to replace this justice system that got looted? What insurance policy takes care of that?”

Just before the July 10 press conference, a town hall meeting was held inside True Vine Ministries. It was crammed full of supporters from Oakland, San Francisco, and beyond who listened as Minister Keith Muhammad — a representative of the Nation of Islam who has worked closely with the Grant family and traveled to Los Angeles to watch the trial — spoke at length. Muhammad was dressed immaculately in a suit and tie, and spoke with an air of fiery conviction.

“In the outcome of this case, there is surely more to be resolved that has yet to be addressed,” Muhammad said. He emphasized that “we’re not satisfied,” but added: “You should know that dissatisfaction is the foundation of all change.”

He raised a number of questions about the proceedings, asking why there was an absence of African Americans on the jury, and why the judge called an early recess when Grant’s teenage friend, Jamil Dewar, sobbed uncontrollably on the witness stand — but not when Mehserle sobbed on the stand. He noted that Grant’s friends were kept in handcuffs for six hours after witnessing Grant’s death.

In the days following July 8, much was also said about mainstream media coverage of the events, in particular the notion that “outside agitators” would come in and start trouble. “I do not like this divisive campaign to divide our community and protestors by calling people outsiders,” Oakland defense attorney Walter Riley wrote in a statement posted on Indybay.org. “This is a great metropolitan area … we expect people from all over the map to participate in Oakland. Calling people outsiders in this instance is a political attack on the movement. The subtext is that the outsiders are white and not connected to Oakland. From the days of the civil rights movement to now, the outsider labeling failed to address the underlying problems for which people came together. We must engage in respectful political struggle. I understand the frustration. I do not support destruction and looting as political protest.”

 

LOOKING FORWARD

Mehserle’s conviction suggests the jurors believed his defense that he meant to draw and fire his Taser instead of his gun. In legal terms, settling on involuntary manslaughter, rather than second-degree murder or voluntary manslaughter, means the jury was not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that Mehserle had malice toward Grant. But the jury found that he was criminally negligent when he failed to notice that he had his gun instead of his Taser in the moments before he pulled the trigger.

“In California, and really in any state, it is extremely difficult for jurors to convict a police officer. There’s an extreme reluctance to do that,” Whitney Leigh, an attorney who formerly worked in the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, told us.

“There are undoubtedly instances where things like this have happened at some time in the past in California, that weren’t videotaped,” Leigh continued. “But for the videotape, if you walked 10 witnesses in who said that what happened, happened, no one would believe them if the officer took the stand and said that’s not what happened. The only reason there’s a case at all is that there’s a videotape.”

Leigh said he thought that unless the public develops a better awareness that police misconduct regularly occurs, “individuals are going to continue to be victimized by a system that effectively encourages officers to believe that they can act with significant impunity.”

Asked whether he thought it was likely that the federal government would decide to step in after concluding its investigation, he said it was a tough call. “The Justice Department is highly selective in the cases it chooses to prosecute for these crimes,” he cautioned. “That said, the kinds of cases they choose are ones that tend to have a lot of public attention and concern, so this fits within that category. Since it’s such a public case, it can have more of a widespread impact.”

If Mehserle was prosecuted at the federal level, the case would invoke Criminal Code 18 U.S.C. Sec. 242, used when a government agent or an individual acting under the color of authority denies someone their civil rights through force, threats, or intimidation, based on their race, gender, or another protected category.

Then again, the federal government’s decision over whether or not to step in may be linked to the degree of severity of Mehserle’s sentence.

California Penal Code Section 193 specifies the mitigated, midterm, and aggravated sentences for involuntary manslaughter: two, three, or four years in state prison, respectively. Because Mehserle’s case involves his personal use of a firearm, a sentence enhancement of three, four, or 10 years can be added to his prison time under California Penal Code Section 12022.5.

The judge will weigh circumstances to determine Mehserle’s sentence, possibly including his record as a police officer, his criminal record, age, remorse, and other factors, explained Jim Hammer, a former prosecutor and current San Francisco Police Commission member. The judge could toss out the sentence enhancement for personal use of a gun — and there’s a possibility he would deem extreme circumstances, such as his police record, to warrant probation rather than prison time. But Hammer said he thought both of those outcomes are unlikely.

“The judge will want to appear more than fair, not giving special treatment,” Hammer said. “Judges have to stand [for] election too, and in the light of the fact that somebody’s dead, I think the chance of probation is incredibly slim.”

Even if Mehserle receives a light sentence and then faces prosecution at the federal level, there is a chance that information about his past record as an officer — which was not admitted as evidence, thanks to laws that afford protections for police officers in these kinds of cases — would continue to be shielded. The protection applies even though Mehserle resigned.

“The average person just wants courts to be fair,” Leigh said. “And there’s an inherent unfairness in a system that allows a government or a police department that has all the resources and records to … use against you while shielding what might be much more serious and relevant acts by police officers. That’s one change that would be great if that did happen.”

A key legal issue in the case and any possible federal case is reasonable doubt, Hammer said. “Reasonable doubt is everything, and no one talks about it. They just say, ‘Oh, he didn’t have intent.’ That’s not the issue. Can anybody really, honestly say that they don’t have some doubts about his intent?”

At the same time, Hammer tempered his legal analysis with some understanding of Grant’s mother’s pain in light of what happened to her son and as the verdict was reached.

“If the dictionary had three pictures of murder for a picture image, one would be shooting somebody in the back who is unarmed,” he told the Guardian. “What she’s saying is not outrageous. If it were my relative I would probably call it murder too. She’s not crazy.”

As things continue to unfold with Mehserle’s sentencing and the federal civil rights investigation, civil litigation is in the works too. Wrongful death civil lawsuits will likely be filed against BART by Oakland civil rights attorney John Burris on behalf of Grant’s mother, as well as another suit by five friends who were with Grant the night he was killed. BART settled a suit filed on behalf of Tatiana Grant, the slain man’s five-year-old daughter, in January. That total settlement should amount to more than $5.1 million, according to a media release on Burris’ website.

During an interview after the July 10 press conference, Johnson was asked how Grant’s young daughter was doing. He responded: “Tatiana is still struggling with the issue of when her daddy’s coming home. So it’s going to take time for her, when she does understand that he is not coming back home.”

Outside Grant’s family, many observers hope to see systemic change come out of this tragedy. Assembly Member Tom Ammiano introduced legislation to create civilian oversight of BART police after the shooting, but was unhappy to see how it was watered down during the legislative process. Now he wants to see stronger reforms.

“I think Oscar Grant’s death was inevitable based on the lack of caring about how those police were trained,” he told us. “If you’re going to have the kind of independent civilian oversight that’s going to prevent a repeat of what happened to Oscar Grant, you can’t have this namby-pamby law. The mantra has been, well, this is better than nothing. Unless they’re made to do it … it’s not going to happen the way we want.”

Fix the BART police force – or disband it

0

EDITORIAL Who murdered Oscar Grant? Part of the equation is the years of neglect of the BART Police. — Assembly Member Tom Ammiano

We’re angry, too.

Angry that a police officer who shot and killed an unarmed man could wind up with little or no prison time. Angry that the news media whipped up such a fervor over the potential for a riot in Oakland that it almost guaranteed someone would show up and break a few windows. Angry that the jury who decided this case was 400 miles away and included no African Americans.

But mostly we’re angry that 18 months after a BART cop shot Oscar Grant, the transit agency still doesn’t have effective police oversight. And until the BART board recognizes that it still has 200 poorly trained, poorly supervised,* armed officers on the streets — and that this shooting wasn’t an anomaly, it was simply the latest in a series of criminal acts by BART police officers that led to the deaths of innocent people — and until the BART Board starts treating this like the emergency that it is, the problems are going to continue.

There are elements of this case that are historic — and very positive. This is the first time we can remember that a police officer in California has faced murder charges for an on-duty shooting. That alone sends a powerful message — and the Alameda County District Attorney deserves immense credit for taking the case to trial. And let’s not forget: Johannes Mehserle was, in fact, convicted. With the additional penalties for using a handgun, he could wind up with a sentence of more than 10 years.

Much of that is now in the hands of Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Robert Perry, who will sentence Mehserle later this summer. The judge in an involuntary manslaughter case has considerable discretion; he could, conceivably, sentence Mehserle to probation, and the killer of an unarmed man could walk away with no jail time at all. Perry could sentence him to five years (of which the former officer would probably serve no more than three). He could also go as high as 14 years, which seems more reasonable.

Most of the protesters in Oakland were peaceful; most recognized that the verdict was mixed, that at least Mehserle was convicted, and that there’s still a chance justice will be done. It’s hard to imagine that the patience of the community will last long in the wake of an unacceptably short sentence.

But even if Perry issues a sentence that reflects the crime, there’s still the problem of the BART Police. This isn’t the first time a BART cop has killed an unarmed person; twice before, the subway system’s finest have committed crimes just as heinous as the one that put Johannes Mehserle in the dock. The difference is that the previous shootings — which we covered in depth and the mainstream media ignored — were never caught on video. BART never took either killing seriously, never changed police oversight procedures — and shouldn’t be surprised that nothing changed.

Now the agency, with much reluctance and gnashing of teeth, has created a modest civilian oversight program. But it’s not enough — and the reason is simple: The BART directors don’t want to spend the time it takes to monitor and control an armed police force. They’ve always happily delegated that job to someone else — a general manager, an assistant general manager, a police chief — and never done the job they were elected to do.

Now time’s up. The BART directors need to take direct control of the police, including holding hearings on disciplinary action and quickly acting on complaints against problem officers. Or they need to recognize that they can’t run a police force, disband the BART police, and let a professional law enforcement agency from one or more of the BART counties take over.

Editor’s Notes

0

tredmond@sfbg.com

Broken windows can be replaced, and in two weeks, they will be. Stolen merchandise can be replaced, and it will be. But who’s going to replace this justice system that got looted? What insurance policy takes care of that?

Davey D Cook, Hard Knock Radio, KPFA, July 9

I’m not going to argue with the jury that convicted Johannes Mehserle of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Oscar Grant. I didn’t sit through the entire trial; I didn’t hear all of the testimony; I didn’t get the judge’s instructions on the law. I know it looks a lot like murder when you take a gun and shoot someone in the back, but the law requires intent, and the jury clearly believed — based on the evidence presented at trial — that the white officer made a mistake and never wanted to kill the young black man.

Based on the evidence I’ve seen — the videotape of the shooting, which, like many Bay Area residents, I’ve watched dozens of times— Mehserle had plenty of opportunity to back off, to recognize that he was about to fire a weapon at a man who was already on the ground and under police control. And remember: a Taser can also be lethal.

But the jury didn’t see evidence of murder, and voluntary manslaughter is a strange amalgam that’s very hard to fit with this case. If the judge sentences Mehserle to something close to the maximum (14 years), then some form of justice will have been done.

I say some form because it’s impossible to talk about this case without talking about race.

If Oscar Grant had been a white guy — even a drunk, belligerent, obnoxious white guy — I don’t think he ever would have been shot. The cops deal with annoying white people all the time, and they don’t get beat up, shot, or abused anywhere nearly as often as black people. That’s just reality.

Well-trained police officers working for professional law enforcement agencies are taught to be sensitive to race issues. They’re also taught how to make sure not to confuse a pistol with a Taser. It doesn’t always work — anyone who follows the criminal justice system knows that racism is very much a part of life. (And, of course, the BART police force is not a professional operation, and its officers aren’t well trained.)

If Mehserle had been a black kid from Hunters Point who was involved in a shooting death — even if he didn’t pull the trigger, even if he never meant to kill anyone — he’d be going to prison for a long, long time. The very fact that people are discussing the possibility of probation or a short sentence for Mehserle is a statement about the unfairness of our justice system.

And that’s not going to get fixed in two weeks. *

Get rid of the water bond, now

0

OPINION A Field Poll released last week showed decent support among progressives for Proposition 18, the $11 billion water bond on the November ballot. We shouldn’t let the bond’s cheery name fool us. Prop. 18 is a con job.

Sold as the Safe, Clean, and Reliable Drinking Water Act, Prop. 18 has been getting a lot of press recently for the “pork” that was added to it to gain votes when it went before the Legislature last November. But for progressives, the real concern isn’t the pork; it’s the other meat in the bond. Prop. 18 would maintain a status quo that’s bad for our budget and water supply.

With polls showing lagging support for the bond, Gov. Schwarzenegger asked the Legislature to delay the measure until 2012. Bay Area residents have nothing to gain from the measure — this year or in two years. We need our legislators to fight for the bond’s termination, now.

Prop. 18 provides a $2 billion downpayment for a peripheral canal to send more water from the Sacramento Delta to deep-pocketed interests to the south. In 1982, Northern Californians overwhelmingly rejected the peripheral canal; we should do the same with the bond. The Westlands Water District, Beverly Hills billionaire-owned Paramount Farms and other megafarms stand to gain immensely from any additional water these projects might bring. The Bay Area does not.

Worse, some of these landholders skip farming altogether in order to resell the water we’ve subsidized at a huge profit to real estate developers. They pay about $25 to $50 per acre-foot of water, but can easily resell the water for over $200 per acre-foot. Corporate giant Cargill is looking to buy water from landowners in Kern County to supply its proposed 12,000-unit housing development on bay salt marshes in Redwood City.

The meat of Prop. 18 is $3 billion for the construction of more dams, an expensive and inefficient way to manage water. California’s rivers already have hundreds of dams. The water that evaporates from them each year is enough to supply 4 million people.

With interest, Prop. 18 would add $24 billion in debt to the state’s General Fund — roughly $16 million a week for 30 years. Already facing a $19 billion deficit, California has made drastic cuts to vital public services like education, housing, and healthcare — and this bond will make things worse.

Although there is some money in the bond for projects that could actually benefit us, it’s too little, too late. And the state still has $7 billion available from past water bonds that has not been spent. When the Legislature passed a bill in 2009 to invest that money in regional water projects, the governor vetoed the bill. The same will likely be true here. And even if we do see that money someday, will the trade-offs be worth it?

There is no question that California needs to invest billions in rebuilding and upgrading our vital water infrastructure. Here in the Bay Area, we are already spending billions on rebuilding our sewer and drinking water systems. Unfortunately, the bond provides only a trickle of money for such important investments or to boost conservation and efficiency in the urban and agricultural sectors. It’s no wonder that the Sierra Club, Food & Water Watch, San Francisco Baykeeper, Clean Water Action, the California Teachers Association, and United Farm Workers all oppose the bond.

Fortunately, state Sens. Mark Leno, Leland Yee, and Ellen Corbett and Assembly Members Tom Ammiano, Loni Hancock, and Nancy Skinner all voted against placing this bond on the ballot. We now need them to step up and urge their colleagues not just to delay but to repeal this bond, now. *

Elanor Starmer is the western region director for the consumer advocacy nonprofit Food and Water Watch (www.foodandwaterwatch.org).

Jumping jack flash

0

le.chicken.farmer@gmail.com

CHEAP EATS Rode my bike to my second favorite neighborhood, the Tenderloin. I was hoping to find the place where me and Sal the Porkchop ate crawfish and garlic noodles one night after watching dance, or something somewhat cultural, at any rate. I remember I was dressed a little dressier than usual and worried about squirting crawfish juice on my skirt.

After that my memory was erased — there’s a slight chance by space aliens. But it’s also possible that the crawfish were that spicy. That’s why I wanted to find the place. And will, another time.

This time I got distracted. Three lanes of oncoming traffic when you’re riding a bicycle the wrong way down a one-way street, such as Gough Street, will do that to you. I wish that didn’t seem like a metaphor for my life, but it does.

Because I do, ultimately, want to continue living it, I zipped over to the sidewalk and there was a bike rack. I started to lock up without even looking around first. I was on the other side of Market Street. Nothing else mattered.

Then, yes, I looked around.

With every intention of still going in search of crawfish afterward, I ducked into a place called Go Getters Deli, only the "o" was a green olive with a pimento in it. Plain block letters on the window advertised burgers and burritos, but that wasn’t why I chose the place.

I chose it because all six or seven of the people inside were sitting on the same side of their tables, facing the same direction, and looking upward. So I took that to mean there was a TV, with a soccer game on it.

And there was and there was, and so crawfish would have to wait.

But I couldn’t decide which idea I liked better: eating a burrito in a burger joint, or a burger in a taqueria. Since it was already almost half-time, I wouldn’t be able to do both. So, being predictable, I went with Plan C. Which, in this case, was a chicken sandwich with "flaming sauce," red onions, and tomatoes.

Flaming sauce = chipotle, and the sandwich was damn good. The bread tasted homemade, which seemed strange, unless they are in cahoots with Go Getters Pizza across the street and down a block. And, come to think of it, why wouldn’t they be? With a name like Go Getters Deli.

Well, the chipotle sauce wasn’t exactly "flaming." But that’s why I keep a bottle of hot sauce in my purse. With which … yum, yes, hot hot hot. And a lime Jarritos.

And an exciting half of World Cup soccer, and I forgot all about the crawfish place I had already forgotten about.

While the players were still hugging each other or else lying in the grass crying, taking off their shirts, and so on, I polished off my Jarritos, put on my sunglasses, smiled at my fellow sports fans, thanked the owners and kitchen and counter people (who had all come out to watch the end of the game), and walked into the doorjamb because I had my sunglasses on.

It was one of those days: on the edge between foggy and sunny. I buttoned up my jacket halfway, saddled my Schwinn, and huffed back to the Mission. Where some guy was doing jumping jacks on the sidewalk.

Normally I would have stopped and talked to such a someone, but he didn’t look quite crazy enough for me. He looked like a really fucking normal person, in fact, dressed in a regular way. Just happened to be doing jumping jacks on the sidewalk is all. Valencia Street. Facing a telephone pole.

And who am I to argue with that? I had a big scratch on my face. It looked like I’d been in a fight with a cat, or a catfight, but in fact (and as usual) the story was much less interesting. It starred a two-year-old, with a cracker. These things happen. Crackers are sharper than you think.

I mean, it was an accident.

I mean, physical fitness is important. *

GO GETTERS DELI

Mon.–Sat. 9 a.m.–8 p.m.; Sun. 9 a.m.–6 p.m.

100 Gough., S.F.

(415) 863-4149

D/MC/V

No alcohol