Volume 44 Number 42

Appetite: NYC Food Cheat Sheet, part two


During my latest visit to my beloved New York, I spent eight days gleefully eating my way around the city, as I have done in countless trips past. I am continually asked for NY recommends as many of us in the Bay Area are either East Coast transplants, do business in both cities, or are savvy frequent travelers. Check out my Perfect Spot newsletter-archives for much more NY food and drink, but now I bring you part two. (Check out part one here.) A mini-list of great eats in varying categories:

Taverna Kyclades – You won’t regret trekking to Astoria, Queens, for an unforgettable Greek seafood feast at Taverna Kyclades. The humble, convivial space feels like a casual seafood/fish house, which in fact, it is, serving family-style platters of Greek food. House bread arrives piping hot, addictive with olive oil or one of their house dips, like yogurt-garlic-cucumber ($5.50). Peasant salad ($7.50 small; $10.95 large) is plenty large, even as a small. Plump, red tomatoes, heaping amounts of onions and olives, and a big slab of  fresh feta cheese… a beautiful salad. Mythos beer washed down grilled sardines ($14.95) and lemon potatoes, tasting vividly lemony but with an almost unnatural yellow hue. Filet of sole stuffed with crab meat (19.75) was the one ok dish: old school, not the freshest crab, reminding me of the 1950’s style of seafood entrees you find at SF’s Tadich Grill. The piece de resistance is grilled octopus ($11.95), a succulent spread of plump invertebrates, envigorated by a squeeze of lemon. Opa!

Lookin’ good at Luke’s

Luke’s Lobster Shack – In the heart of the East Village you’ll find Luke’s Lobster Shack, a humble hole-in-the-wall with a couple stools, take-out Maine seafood and a second location on the Upper East Side. Operating on principles of sustainability and New England authenticity, the prices are “cheap” for NY and for lobster rolls: get a whole Lobster Roll for $14 or an ideal “snack size” for $8. Loaded with buttery lobster from Maine and a light coating of mayo, it may not be my beloved (and the ultimate seafood stop) Pearl’s in the Village, but it’s a tasty steal. For an extra $2, get the roll with Maine Root Soda, Miss Vickie’s chips and a pickle.

Aquavit’s aquavit.

Aquavit Bistro – Aquavit, the restaurant through which chef Marcus Samuelsson left a mark on modern Scandinavian cooking, has become one of the great Scandinavian restaurants, a cuisine not easy to find in the US. I adore the region’s focus on fresh fish, salmon, caviar, herring and, of course, the namesake spirit, aquavit. Looking for deals, I dined in the spare, upscale IKEA bistro, versus the more stuffy, pricey dining room. Quality does not suffer in the bistro, while service is gracious and well-orchestrated. I ordered a $17 flight of three (or $7 each) of the house-infused aquavits, though narrowing down flavors was problematic, as all three were all lovely, from a crisp cucumber, hot mango-lime-chili, to my favorite: horseradish. Each dish delights and portions are generous. Gravlax is heaping slices of bright, cured salmon in hovmastar (a mustard/white vinegar based sauce) with dill and lemon. I equally fell for matjes herring: thin slices of herring with finely diced yellow beets, red onions and sour cream. Swedish meatballs were the best I’ve ever had, redolent with cinnamon and gentle spicing in the meat, piled next to whipped potato puree, pickled cucumbers, sweet lingonberries, and addictive cream sauce. This is a New York favorite and I’m more than a little sad not to have a place like it here in SF.



What the HTML will happen when “cloud computing” renders our desktop monoliths obsolete? I drool at the thought, while thoughts are still my own, of the coming retro fashion movement, enshrining the clumsy keyboards and monstrous monitors of yesteryear: boxy eggshell skirts, CPU tower heels, flat-screen kneepads, air can earrings, novelty glasses of scratched and sneezed-on anti-glare shields, flash drive panties, Ethernet cologne, USBriefs, “laptop ass,” “modem face,” brominated flame retardant blush, tantium base, phthalate plasticizer mascara … Alt+F fashions are freakin’ toxic in 2k17.

For now we’ve only gaseous intimations of the handheld, continuously updating future. And I’ve become addicted to the free Soundcloud.com (product placement!), on/at/in which I can listen to tens of thousands of DJ sets via my Stone Age Mac.

In fact, the unrefudiatedly dirty little secret of my dance music knowledge lately has been superstar Soundcloud user R_co (www.soundcloud.com/r_co), current online master of the techno-and-house nexus, who posts up to a dozen sets a day nabbed from famous and not-yet-famous DJs, from clubs like Berlin’s Berghain and Detroit’s Oslo (and our own Temple), from as far back as the 1980s to just last night. Soundcloud’s crouching trainspotters are quick to identify tracklists, relieving me of that whole, embarrassing “whistle it into Shazam and hope” thingy.

“I’m just a regular guy with a passion for electronic music,” R_co, a.k.a. Rico Passerini told me over e-mail. “I frequented the clubs in Manchester, Leeds, and London for most of my adult life. But I needed more, so I moved to Berlin a year and a half ago for the music scene. If I told you how I got the sets I post, I’d have to kill you. Nah, to be honest I had a big collection of music that I picked up over the years, and more recently I’ve been lucky enough to get sent music from DJs, record labels, and various club nights across the globe.”

Mike Huckaby – Long Track Radiocafé, Budapest – 16-05-2009 by R_co

So, Guru Rico, what do you love? “Mike Huckaby plays the best deep house. Sven Weisemann too. I love Peter Van Hoesen’s techno right now, and of course you’ve gotta love Ricardo Villalobos. Clubs? Berlin’s Suicide Circus is my latest favorite.”

With everyone’s sets immediately available on the Internet, and musicmakers being able to respond instantly to each others’ work, is there a danger that dance music is melting into one giant stew of similar-sounding mush?

“The Internet is definitely changing how DJs and producers hear and make music,” Rico replied. “It’s a lot easier to get samples, for one thing. I do understand how all the old school DJs are saying that music is getting worse because it’s too easy to produce it now. However, if you’re a 16-year-old kid, it’s not likely you’ve got the cash to spend on hardware, more likely you have access to a laptop and some software. So in a sense it’s a good thing, it gives new artists of all capabilities the chance to experiment from home.

“But in terms of all the music out there at the moment, everyone hearing and being influenced by each other more and more, it’s probably harder to make a unique sound. I guess we’ll never see another acid house. At the end of the day, though, we don’t write the future, so there’s no point in fighting it. There will always be good music and there’ll always be shit music. I like the good shit!”



Jeepers creepers, twisted drag queens will seize the red light and leave your city in dust as they genuflect before the goth goddess.

Fri/23, 10 p.m.–3 a.m., $12. DNA Lounge, 375 11th St., SF. www.trannyshack.com



Todd Edwards is the right hand of the house god. The New Jerseyite pioneered the prophetic cutup vocal sound that’s influenced everyone from Burial to Justice, and takes the spiritual aspect of dance music very seriously. Get lifted when he joins the Icee Hot crew.

Sat/24, 10 p.m., $10. 222 Hyde, SF. www.222hyde.com



Detroit takes over SF for a kicky house and techno reunion. DJs Gay Marvine and Jason Kendig handle the decks, clubkid Nathan Rapport accepts birthday wishes, and Juanita More oversees it all.

Sat/24, 10 p.m., $5. UndergroundSF, 424 Haight, SF.



I have to keep mum for now, but this awesome-sounding block party is the start of something big on the SF nightlife scene. A huge posse of street artists pumping up a Banksy mural and a host of bigtime DJs including Richie Panic, J-Boogie, and Chris Orr join to benefit Root Division’s youth program.

Aug. 1, 11 a.m.–6 p.m., $5. 161 Erie, SF. www.rootdivision.org

According to Matthew


It is an understatement to say that the work of Matthew Barney elicits strong reactions. Critics have alternately hailed him as “the most important American artist of his generation” (that’s the New York Times’ Michael Kimmelman) and complained of his art’s Wagnerian grandiosity, needless inscrutability, pretentiousness, and icy perfection (“loveless” was one of the words the San Francisco Chronicle’s Kenneth Baker used to describe “Drawing Restraint 9,” Barney’s 2006 show at SFMOMA).

As someone whose initial infatuation with Barney’s work is increasingly tempered by skepticism, I think there is truth to both camps. You’ll be able to deliver — or perhaps revise — your own verdict at the Roxie Theater, which is presenting all 7.5 hours of the epic Cremaster Cycle (1995-2002), Barney’s five-part, officially-never-gonna-be-available-on-commercial-DVD magnum opus. The theater is also screening De Lama Lâmina, Barney’s near hour-long 2004 film, in which he collaborates with a Brazilian Carnaval krewe to orchestrate a performance aboard a float in Salvador da Bahia’s annual parade.

Barney’s art becomes increasingly frustrating and seductive the longer one attempts to decode its carefully staged and indisputably visually stunning pageantry, which encompasses death metal covers of Johnny Cash, the esoteric intricacies of Masonic symbolism, Busby Berkeley-style revues in football stadiums, androgynous water sprites, and the complex biology of sexual differentiation in the fetus (the series is named after the muscle that controls the descent of the testes). The one constant is Barney’s display of his body: frequently nearly-nude, but more often subject to some physically demanding ordeal or engaged in an athletic feat.

As Daniel Birnbaum astutely observes in Artforum, “Barney is a believer in ‘the meaning of meaning.'” Which is to say, nothing is done just for show in Barney’s world, even if the systems of meaning he draws upon — developmental biology, Celtic mythology, Mormonism, minimalist sculpture — are themselves enclosed within, and at times frustratingly occluded by, his art’s glossy packaging and Hollywood-level production values. It’s hard not to ask: what does it all mean? But the question easily gets lost within the Cremaster Cycle‘s lavishly appointed echo chambers.

That said, Barney’s art offers no shortage of beautiful moments and otherworldly imagery. His universe encompasses elegance (Aimee Mullins as a gorgeous cheetah woman in Cremaster 3) and horror (the conception scene early on in Cremaster 2). Whether or not all this beauty is truth is still up for debate.



Robert Koch Gallery is currently home to quite the odd couple. From the 1960s to 1985, Czech artist Miroslav Tichy, formerly a painter, took thousands of surreptitious pictures of women in his hometown of Kyjov using various homemade cameras made from whatever was on hand: cardboard tubes, wood, sanded Plexiglass lenses.

The photographs — creased, badly printed, all in soft focus — are as dreamy as they are creepy: Tichy often cropped off the heads of his unknowing subjects (many of whom are in swimwear), leaving their identities anonymous while reducing them to bared legs and torsos. Despite their aura of timelessness, you feel dirty looking at Tichy’s photos. It’s hard, though, not to keep staring.

Plenty of isolated gams appear in the work of Hungarian artist Foto Ada, also at Koch, but the effect is far less sinister. Ada (maiden name, Ada Ackermann, married name, Elemérné Marsovsky) created her remarkable photo-collages from the late 1930s through World War II, clipping magazine and newspaper images of soldiers, Hollywood starlets, and industrial landscapes into sharp and humorous comments on the accelerated culture of her time. The Nazis, in particular, gets theirs: Hitler and Goebbels converse in skeleton-filled catacombs, appropriately oblivious to the death that surrounds them.


July 30– Aug. 8, $5–$9.75

Roxie Theater

3117 16th St., SF

(415) 863-1087



Through Aug. 21, free

Robert Koch Gallery

49 Geary, SF

(415) 421-0122



Trust no one


CULT CINEMA The ’70s were prime time for conspiracy theories, particularly at the movies — thanks to Watergate as well as queasy unresolved 1960s conflicts between the counterculture and the establishment.

Paranoid thrillers like Three Days of the Condor (1975) and The Parallax View (1974) riffed off nonfiction All the President’s Men. An entire independent studio-cum-distributor — Sunn Classics — made or bought "documentaries" befuddling folkloric fears around topics like Bigfoot, reincarnation, the Bermuda Triangle, and crop-circley UFO invasions. Bestselling novelist Ira Levin (The Stepford Wives, Rosemary’s Baby) unleashed antifeminists, Satanists, and more as figures of pulp speculation.

The Vortex Room’s July schedule has been entirely taken up with cinematic expressions of vintage conspiratorial paranoia. You’ve already missed some, but what’s left is choice. Thursday’s double bill offers two seldom-seen whoppers. Once-famous (if now forgotten) is The Hellstrom Chronicle, 1971’s contribution to a long line of questionable Best Documentary Oscar winners. Tricked out with extraordinary nature photography, it portentously posits mankind’s greatest peril as takeover by the insect world. Ooh … scary?

Equally swacked is 1978’s The Lucifer Complex, a bizarro patchwork — clearly shot at different times, under sharply different budgetary circumstances — eventually pointing toward a Nazi rejuvenation scheme à la Levin’s The Boys From Brazil. The Man From U.N.C.L.E.‘s Robert Vaughn is its unfortunate star.

July 29 brings the mutha lode of ’70s sci-fi conspiracy movies. First the nearly terrific action fantasy of Peter Hyams’ 1977 Capricorn One, in which such colorfully mismatched chess pieces as Elliott Gould, Karen Black, O.J. Simpson, Sam Waterston, James Brolin, Brenda Vaccaro, and Telly Savalas shuffle in a government cover-up scheme. Spoiler: we never really landed on the moon!

Five years earlier, English "Supermarionation" marionettist Gerry Anderson (of Thunderbirds fame) released his sole live-action feature. Invasion: UFO offers Swinging London perspective on a war against invading aliens in the distant future of 1980.

This typically brisk, academy-trained, Dr. Who-like Brit take on coarse commercial nonsense is woofed up by bombshells in skintight leotards and platinum-wigged minions in white/burgundy overalls. (Clearly the costume designer was heterosexual, and then some.) Although let’s face it, there’s nothing like a silver Mylar jumpsuit to bring out the disco-licious in either sex. Meanwhile, others wear mesh muscle tees well before your average Judas Priesthead started doing so. Invasion: UFO is the gift that Quaaludes keep on giving. (Dennis Harvey)


Thurs/22 and July 29, 9 p.m., $5

Vortex Room

1082 Howard, SF


Public trance-portation



THEATER When caught riding Muni, one way to while away the time and ignore the lunatic seated next to you is to gaze out on the passing scene and its traffic, at the buildings and neighborhoods and detritus of the city, at all the lovers and loners, the shiny things people wear and drive and push and collect, as well as the tattered and forgotten stuff no one loves anymore.

It’s cheerier than remembering you’re stuck on a Muni bus, anyway. It’s a big ready-made rolling show and it’s only $2. True, Antenna Theater’s new ride, The Magic Bus, costs a little more, but then it comes with an added twist: time travel. I was stuck in traffic in 1968 last weekend. How many Muni riders can say that? Maybe only a dozen, tops.

Copresented with Teacher with the Bus (Jens-Peter Jungclaussen’s wheel-bound extracurricular excursion line), The Magic Bus is Antenna Theater’s latest experiential outing. Scooping up audience-passengers in Union Square, the bus — painted in somewhat low-key shades of psychedelia and hosted by a genial “hippie flight attendant” played by either Rana Kangas-Kent or Sarah David — goes tripping through the city and back in time to the 1960s, with all their hoary contradictions, antecedents, and legacies. These include but are by no means limited to monkeys in orbit; astronauts on the moon; wars overseas; civil rights struggles at home; communes off the grid; and sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll seemingly everywhere.

The interior video and sound collage — expertly composed by a collaborative team of artists and Antenna’s artistic director Chris Hardman, who supplies the concept, script, sound design, and onboard 3-D artwork — makes the real-life scene outside the bus something like a palimpsest, only the past, rather than bleeding through to the surface, is cast over the present by video screens that automatically descend over the windows.

If there’s something a bit pat and predictable about such a project from the get-go, it would still be hard to reduce the overall effect of the ride to the admittedly too-familiar narrative it rehearses. That’s partly because you actually are moving, through a real city in real time, and stuff is happening outside those windows. The conversation between past and present is immediate and captivating.

Screens rise momentarily on the Financial District, for instance, where the Transamerica Pyramid building fills out the windows on one side of the bus and the odd pedestrian strolls by in front. Here, the voice-over introduces the pyramid structure, and the pyramid scheme it represents, amid the other soaring money towers that “reach so high as to block out the sun for most of the day.” Deceptively straightforward, the video narrative goes on to satirize, mock, and dissect the corporate ethos and the ideology of success American-style, as we hear Allen Ginsberg howling, “Molloch, whose blood is running money … “

Tried-and-true tropes, of course, and rather easy ones at that. But there’s no denying a certain willingness to embrace them, here at the edge of capitalism’s ever-expanding desert. Moreover, Magic Bus‘s narrative is lively and thoughtful even while limning well-traveled terrain. If “hobbit hippie” consciousness is with us still, in subtler but more widespread patterns of sustainable living, it’s now driven less by “a beautiful vision of the future,” notes the narrator, “than necessity.”


Through August 8, $20–$25

Union Square, SF

(415) 332-8867


Fantasy island



MUSIC The Aunt Charlie’s in the video for Myles Cooper‘s song “Gonna Find Boyfriends Today” is a massive tree with a vagina dentata doorway where cupcakes, eggs, top-hatted Mr. Peanuts and white-gloved strawberries dance, while Muppets sing a chorus. Nestled in the tenderest spot of the city’s loins, just off Market Street, the Aunt Charlie’s of San Francisco is a different place, but not really. One night a week, it’s the site of High Fantasy, a club hosted by Cooper and Alexis Penney that — as Cooper says — “belongs to the fantasies of those who come and need to imagine and party.”

Aunt Charlie’s is also one nexus of a mini-movement of sorts of truly new gay pop music in 2010. Witty, both ironic and utterly sincere, and catchier than any mega-production you might hear on the radio, Cooper’s bedroom reggaeton — or, to use his phrase, digital dancehall — debut single is one of its anthems. “I made a YouTube video to remember the song when I wrote it,” he explains, when asked about “Gonna Find Boyfriends Today”‘s genesis. “I still have it. I was on Ambien late at night. The writing took like 30 seconds, but coming up with the chord changes and sound was more cognitive. I was listening to ‘Supermodel,’ the Rupaul song, and the first line is ripped off from it.”

Decked out in gonzo cartoon cover art by Skye Thorstenson, who made the song’s video, “Gonna Find Boyfriends Today” has just been released as a 7-inch single by Transparent in England, where the fabled weekly New Musical Express recently placed Cooper ninth on a list of “The 50 Most Fearless People in Music,” one spot below Lady Gaga. Tonight, the fearless man with the brush cut and Mr. Rogers attire is camped out a table at Aunt Charlie’s, where DJ Bus Station John is prepping for his weekly night, Tubesteak Connection. “Bus Station, where is my boyfriend tonight?,” a regular calls out from the bar. “Oh, she’s around,” John answers.

Cooper is about to go on a summer trip to Chicago, then Africa, then Chicago again. Two nights before, at High Fantasy, a chorus of four performers serenaded him with Toto’s “Africa.” “I felt like somebody cared,” he says, with characteristic low-key geniality. Many people travel to Africa, but not many make music videos with close relatives during the trip — that’s Cooper’s goal. “I’m writing a song, an anthem called ‘You’ve Got to Love Your Family’,” he says. “I don’t always get along with my family, and I feel like this is a test. It’ll be funny to do the video with them lip-syncing the song. We’ll be on safari, and it’ll capture my family’s funny interaction with me. My mom never wants to be on camera.”

It’s this kind of true directness and simple originality that likely inspired NME to deem Cooper one of the 10 most fearless musicians on the globe. His surface appearance of intense normalcy is paired with wild creativity. “I got these shoes because they kind of remind me of a Noe Valley 50-year-old in a way that’s sexy to me,” he says, pointing down to his feet. “My fashion choices are perverse and I like to be in costume.” At High Fantasy, that costume might include a glitter-encrusted Bart Simpson T-shirt with Tupac tattooed on Bart’s stomach. At a Lilith Fair-inspired drag night he once put on at The Stud, his look included “a flannel skirt and a dolphin airbrushed on my ankle and and really ugly Doc Marten sandals and a tie-dyed shirt and gross curly wig.”

Cooper’s look and outlook has some connections to a recent day gig working with boys and girls aged 5 and 6. There might be moments where he wishes some kids’ face were an iPad so he can create or communicate on the job, but there’s an honest and committed through-line between his daytime life and nightlife. A recent show by his group Myles Cooper USA included giant acid house yellow smiley faces that were painted by the kids. He says he recently gave them a fashion poll: which label is better, Ed Hardy or Baby Phat? Baby Phat won by one vote, cast by him (“I like the cat on the logo”).

Cooper used to play in the Passionistas, a three-piece that put out one excellent pop-punk album in 2007 before disbanding. Going solo allows him to edit himself while giving his imagination free rein. That means he can incorporate his visits to Chicago (and greater journey to and from the Windy City and Africa) into the music he’s making today; the city is where he filmed the video for his next single, “Hair,” a many-voiced delight that places him alongside Morrissey and Jens Lekman in the hairdo-song hall of fame. “House music has always been a mysterious thing to me, because I’ve always thought of it as this perfected music that wasn’t made by people,” he says, when asked about the sound of Chicago. “I don’t think that anymore, I see how human it is. Even if the people I see are just playing records, I want to see what tempo they are, what key they’re in, what people are doing as they hear the music, and what they’re looking like when they do it.”



“I had a crush on Myles for a while, I thought he was so hot and the perfect boyfriend for me,” Alexis Penney says at Aunt Charlie’s. It’s a few weeks later, and Penney is prepping the bar for another night of High Fantasy. We’ve met at the apartment she shares with Dade Elderon of Party Effects, where she puts Band-Aids in a pair of high-heeled shoes before we head out, a little move that seems especially necessary less than half an hour later, when she’s scaling — quickly and faultlessly — a wooden ladder-like staircase to find and gather decorations. “The trick to having a club is that you have to go out a lot, so people know you,” Penney declares, gathering and arranging a train of white tulle that’s just long enough for the Bride of Godzilla.

Thing is, Penney — who grew High Fantasy out of Thing, a night she put on with Seth Bogart of Hunx and His Punx — shouldn’t necessarily need to go out to be known. Her first recording, “Lonely Sea,” produced by Nick Weiss of Teengirl Fantasy, could be the number one hit of 2010 for anyone who ever had a heart. Like Cooper’s “Gonna Find Boyfriends Today,” it takes touchstones of gay pop past — in this case, the churchy keyboard sounds and insistent crossover house beat of songs like “Supermodel” and Crystal Waters’ “Gypsy Woman” — and adds some plaintive MIDI saxophone sounds at just the right moment, while wedding it to a beautifully frank and completely modern vocal about a broken relationship.

Penney is a busy girl. She edits, writes and photographs for SORE, an online magazine that captures San Francisco gay nightlife. SORE was born in Kansas City, where Penney is from, when she and a friend named Roy and Cody Critcheloe from the group SSION decided they wanted “a sort of punk answer” to the popular lifestyle magazine BUTT. “I photograph things because I think they look funny, I don’t do it because it’s nightlife photography,” Penney says, bunching a ball of electric blue tulle into a ball against the back wall of the bar. “My ultimate fantasy for SORE, which will never happen, would be for it to be a print magazine. None of this ‘We talk about sex, but we make $100,000 a year’ material. Real gay life.”

Penney’s gay life, buoyed by friends like Monistat, is realer than most. “I wander around in my T-shirt and jeans a lot in the daytime, that’s normal,” she says. “But I needed to challenge myself with fashion. And [cross-dressing] went in line with the fact that I was dating someone [Bogart] who owned a vintage store. We were constantly thrifting and I had so much clothing at my disposal. I decided I’d just wear a bra, because you just don’t see a guy wearing a bra. Or I’d wear a bra and a lift, or a really slutty cocktail dress. I dress in women’s clothes interchangeably. I don’t trip about it. As much as people in SF say they’re trans-friendly, people really trip about gender. A lot of drag queens, they’re in or they’re out. I don’t even care.”

True. Except in Penney’s case, not caring is actually caring more than most people have the guts to in a society where every micro-subculture seems to breed conformity. It’s this directness, different from Cooper’s, or Bogart’s flirty and radically seductive candor, that distinguishes the music that Penney has made so far with Weiss. “I instantly felt a musical connection with Alexis, and the shine of her confident aura,” Weiss writes, when asked about first meeting Penney and the making of “Lonely Sea.” “My celebratory buoyant house beat mixed with Alexis’ love-lost lyrics so instantly I knew we had a hit.”

Both Penney and Bogart (as H.U.N.X.) have been recording with Weiss, and the results are everything from moving (“Lonely Sea”) and slinky and ebulliently powerful (Penney’s “Like the Devil”, the sun to “Lonely Sea”‘s elemental moon, and every bit its equal) to sexy in an existentially lonely way (H.U.N.X.’s “Can A Man Hear Me”) and hilarious (H.U.N.X.’s vampire cruising track “I Vant to Suck Your Cock”). For the prodigious Weiss, the connection to Penney might go back to a shared childhood love of Annie Lennox, particularly her 1992 album Diva. “Seth and Alexis are both really hyper-specific about what they’re going for,” he says, breaking down the collaborations. “Seth likes to work really fast and doesn’t usually go over two takes on a song. Alexis likes to throw out tons of reference points while we’re writing: ‘Give me something a little more trip hop-acid-tropical-wave-current please! And could you make it a little more world?'”

“Myles [Cooper] and I nerd out over music and songwriting over text message. He’s totally a visionary,” Weiss goes on to enthuse. In the separate but connected sounds of Cooper, Penney, H.U.N.X. and Teengirl Fantasy, all the wonderful gender-blur and sexuality of 1992 — when Lennox went solo and Boy George burst back into the limelight via The Crying Game — are remade anew, at a time when lifestyles feels like strait-jackets. There is inspiration to be taken from these artists’ love and support for one another on a daily and a big-picture basis. It’s the kind of force that can make changes within a broader culture, at least on small, rippling levels. This is gay pop in 2010: not striking mannered classic gay or rock poses, but instead allowing fabulous and tricky versions of one’s self to manifest and bloom.

“I could talk for days about nothing,” Penney says at one point, just before another night of High Fantasy begins. But really, she has something to say: “My relationship with music is that if I can’t connect emotionally with it, I just don’t like it.” And another thing: “I get really messy and really wasted but I always know where I’m at and who I am.” And another: “I always respect the person who you remember from the party. I want to be irreverent and confident enough to look like a freak.” And another: “Everyone wants to be something, but not everyone admits it to themselves.” And yet another: “I’m 23, I’ve tried every drug, I’ve never said no to sex, and here I am — I’m totally crazy.”

And — what the hell — one more thing: “I’ve got a lot to give. I’ve got a big heart, and a big boner.”


Addicts unanimous



LIT What is it about addiction memoirs? Like Pringles — something food junkie Frank Bruni might know something about — you just can’t have one. They’re easy to devour and easy to digest, as compulsively consumable as the impulsions they’re filled with.

While they certainly won’t have the final say in the matter, two recent addiction memoirs, Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man (Little, Brown, and Company; 240 pages, $23.99) by Bill Clegg and Born Round (Penguin, 368 pages, $16) by Frank Bruni, fit the genre’s high-stakes bill.

“I can’t leave and there isn’t enough,” declares the first line of Portrait, as Clegg stares at the crumbs in a bag of crack and the crumbs of his successful career as a literary agent. This is only the beginning of what quickly becomes a journey into an all too lucid nightmare.

The articles in the title suggest that Clegg’s story — while not anonymous the way Go Ask Alice was in the ’70s when readers were convinced of its authenticity — isn’t remarkable because addiction is, well, wholly unremarkable. Clegg makes this clear in his episodic telling of day after day, night after night of crack binges and self-inflicted explosions and implosions.

Clegg’s prose is like beautiful quicksand — calm in its capture, deadly in its swallow. In some of the book’s ugliest moments, he abstracts himself from the mire through third-person, conjuring an out-of-body experience and pressing himself against the glass case of his own madness. ” … He feels the high at first as a flutter, then a roar … It is the warmest, most tender caress he has ever felt and then, as it recedes, the coldest hand.” The book’s brazen unsentimentality is its best and most addictive ingredient.

Yet whatever goes down comes up. There’s always the flipside to addiction and consumption: expulsion. While Clegg, with the crack toke count rising, arrives at a sickly ectomorphic physique — perfectly captured in the perhaps unfelicitously cartoonish book cover — Frank Bruni, in his college years, aims for a similar build with the help of amphetamines and bulimia. In Born Round, he “regurgitates” — his words, not mine — his insatiable struggle with appetite as he moves up the food chain from addict to critic. It’s something he believes he was “congenitally rigged” for, he tells me in a phone interview.

Born hungry into a large Italian family of enablers, Bruni pokes fun at his gut — and his gastronomical gusto — with flippant prose that puts everything out on the proverbial five-course table. Food is Bruni’s own version of crack, and Born Round shows how his diet stood in the way of promotions, led to body dysmorphia, and found him getting cozy with the fridge on date night. (“It was Haagen-Dazs or love. I couldn’t have both.”)

In working with a genre that’s been tried-and-sometimes-true (think James Frey’s 2003 A Million Little Pieces), these books beg the question: Do we really need another addiction memoir?

“I didn’t think of keeping it fresh or whether or not the world needed another one,” Clegg tells me when I broach the question. “The landscape of other addiction memoirs didn’t occur to me. The writing of [Portrait] preceded any idea of it being published. When I first started, it was just a transcription of memories while I was in rehab.”

Bruni, former food critic for the New York Times and still a writer there, performs a similar rewinding of the memory-tape. He even goes back to a time when, as a toddler, he wept for a third hamburger. “I couldn’t just sit down and … reproduce chapters of my life,” he says during our conversation. “I had to do an in-my-head interview with myself like I would with a profile subject.”

Bruni is among a minority of men in dialogue about eating disorders today. “Almost all the discussion about eating disorders is focused on women,” he says. “Society … tells men to be stoic and that talking about ooey-gooey vulnerabilities is not masculine.”

Both memoirs get at the heart of addiction’s tedium. In each tawdry vignette of Clegg’s cracked-out narrative, he moves like a sleepwalker with no hope of waking, prodding the underbelly of New York in the mean search for a fix. It’s a broken record: cab ride, hotel room, cab ride, hotel room, and the paranoia in-between. These urban encounters are the stuff of Hubert Selby Jr.

Bruni moves at a like rhythm, throwing up meals as if it were breathing or blinking: a habit he just can’t kick. Something, as he writes, “encoded in [his] genes.”

Perhaps the act of buying into a memoir is like paying admission for a nasty, self-indulgent carnival (for example, Eat Pray Love). Or perhaps it’s just fuel for postmodern narcissism. Ex-denizens of addiction’s terrain will marvel at how both Bruni and Clegg balk at blaming others. Though if I were Bruni, I might blame his mom and her bacon-wrapped hot dogs.

There are moments in Portrait where Clegg peers beneath the detritus to blame some bad parenting, but in the end, he really blames no one. “The process of repair will be going on for the rest of my life,” Clegg tells me. “My primary work is with other alcoholics and addicts. It’s through that work I stay sober and rebuild my relationships.”

Bruni says the heavy lifting is in “constantly reminding yourself where you’ve been, where you don’t want to go, and how you got to those places that make you unhappy.” His temptations to binge remain at large. “Just last night after … a really good meal in a restaurant,” he explains, “I came close to buying a pint of ice cream. I took a deep breath and said, okay, are you really hungry? Are you thinking about the potential subtle difference you’ll feel in your pants tomorrow if you eat this?” Bruni’s a funny guy, and I want to laugh, but I don’t. “It’s … an ongoing struggle that I don’t think will ever end.”

Though there’s no end in sight for Clegg and Bruni, at least they’re not tacking on a happy ending and pulling any punches, because, ultimately, that would be relapsing.


Sun/25, 4 p.m. free

Omnivore Books

3885 Cesar Chavez, SF


Mon/26, 7 p.m., free

Books Inc.

1760 Fourth St., Berk.


Tough stuff


SAN FRANCISCO JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL Jews are not thugz, an assumption only affirmed when they commit crimes of financial-sector greed (Bernie Madoff). Jews involved in violent Godfather-style mayhem? That flies so against cultural-cliché winds as to seem inherently ridiculous.

Yet Jewish gangs battled Irish and Italian ones for turn-of-the-19th-century Manhattan turf. During Prohibition, they became more businesslike, expanded reach, and powered hitman outfit Murder Incorporated, even brokering syndicate cooperation between hitherto rivalrous “yids and dagos.”

Needless to say, such activities embarrassed mainstream Jews, providing ammo to anti-Semites. But movies seldom portrayed that reality. Hollywood has traditionally been reluctant to embrace the J-word or identity, despite Jewish artists and entrepreneurs’ huge industry contributions from earliest days. The same studio heads who imitated upper-crust goyim lifestyles and Anglicized Jewish stars’ backgrounds were disinclined to let their rare screen representations encompass machine guns and shakedowns.

Curated by former programming director Nancy Fishman, “Tough Guys: Images of Jewish Gangsters in Film” reprises a few times that policy of polite cinematic omission was lifted. Two features showcased are familiar: Howard Hawks’ original 1932 Scarface is included because it “would have had a Jewish subtext” for audiences familiar with star Paul Muni’s Yiddish theater work. Barry Levinson’s 1991 Bugsy has dithery Warren Beatty as pioneering Vegas mobster Siegel, in a soft-focus biopic with swank but little danger.

Two more, however, are seldom-revived B flicks providing pulpy fun. Pre-Fugitive TV star David Janssen plays a real-life gambler-bootlegger in 1961’s King of the Roaring 20s: The Story of Arnold Rothstein. His Rothstein grows up poor and rebellious (dad blames “a dybbuk in him”) alongside BFF Johnny (Mickey Rooney), whom he eventually betrays because winners don’t drag losers up the success ladder. There’s a steep fall for both.

Lepke (1975) has Tony Curtis in one of his edgier roles as Louis Bechalter, sole U.S. mob boss to be executed. A union racketeer turned mob assassin, he gets married in a formal “Heeb wedding,” as Italian-American gangster pals put it. There’s also a scene placing bizarre emphasis on bagels. Uninspired but entertaining Lepke was a relatively prestigious endeavor from Israeli director Menahem Golan, later the ledger-shuffling Cannon Group tycoon responsible for such marvels as 1984’s Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo. This series asks if Jewish gangster films are “good for the Jews.” Was Golan? Dunno, but he’s been great for cinematic camp.

Bringing out the dead



SAN FRANCISCO JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL The question of how to represent the Holocaust is one that rightly haunts film history — rightly, because it was the Nazis themselves who most rigorously documented their destruction of Europe’s Jews, and thus it is to the Nazis that any filmmaker incorporating archival evidence owes a dubious debt. Certainly, documentary contemplations of the Holocaust have been instrumental not only to our philosophical understanding of the history, but also to the development of documentary form itself (I’m thinking of 1955’s Night and Fog, 1985’s Shoah, 1969’s The Sorrow and the Pity, and, less readily available, the works of Abraham Ravett and Péter Forgács). But given the relative invisibility of more recent genocides and the political inflection of what Norman Finkelstein uncharitably calls the "Holocaust Industry," it seems clear that a contemporary work needs a more dimensional rationale than "never forget."

The 30th San Francisco Jewish Film Festival includes several documentaries that at least peripherally touch on the Holocaust, but two are particularly ambitious: Einsatzgruppen: The Death Brigades and A Film Unfinished. The former is an exhaustive cataloging of the Nazi execution squads’ brutal charge to render the Eastern front: Judenfrei, incorporating textbook history, eyewitness accounts (adhering to Shoah‘s trifurcated structure of Jewish survivors, local collaborators and onlookers, and former Nazis on hidden camera), and an unrelenting case of archive fever. The same color footage of starving Jewish children we see in Einsatzgruppen washes up in Yael Hersonski’s A Film Unfinished, but here it’s the provenance of these images, filmed by Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto, that’s being scrutinized.

Director Michael Prazan is primarily interested in how the Einsatzgruppen’s killing was done. This leaves plenty to sort out during the film’s three hours, especially given the still contentious issue of local collaboration — a Ukrainian woman he interviews movingly conveys the shattering realization that the murderers who spoke her language so well were indeed her people. But in Einsatzgruppen, eyewitness accounts like these are tangential to the grand historical perspective glued together by voice-over and traumatic archival images (Claude Lanzmann assiduously avoided both in Shoah). The voice-over speaks from nowhere, while the images of bloody pogroms and fresh corpses viewed from the vantage point of their killers are merely speechless.

Reappropriating Nazi propaganda is an old story — Frank Capra grabbed some of Triumph of the Will (1935) for Why We Fight (1943-1945), as does director John Keith Wasson at the beginning of his fine SFJFF film, Surviving Hitler: A Love Story. Contrary though the meanings may be, it’s difficult to sidestep the totalizing operation of propaganda. Keenly aware of this epistemological trouble, A Film Unfinished‘s Hersonski does everything she can to address Nazi footage in its specificity. Her coordination of primary documents is breathtaking, aligning the Nazi reels with the descriptive (and at times deconstructive) diaries of ghetto inhabitants and the court testimony of one of the cameramen. The invocatory effect acknowledges the gaps of the visible history as it articulates its layers. Hersonski is similarly clever in staging her interviews: she films survivors watching the reels in darkened theaters, alone, offering comments and startling yelps of recognition ("Oy, I knew that woman!")

Before a contemporary filmmaker leans on horrific archival images as self-evident documents, he or she really ought to see the clip in A Film Unfinished of Jewish prisoners being rounded up for a film shoot, terrified that they were being led to slaughter — which they were, of course. The filming was a rehearsal for the murders, and, as Einsatzgruppen shows us ad nauseam, the camera was occasionally present for the final moments as well. The death brigade’s supervisorial role in the Eastern European killings afforded them their "objective" camera positions — a fact that should give any well-meaning documentarian pause.


July 14–Aug. 9, most shows $11

Castro, 429 Castro, SF; Roda Theatre, 2025 Addison, Berk; CineArts@Palo Alto Square, 3000 El Camino Real Bldg Six, Palo Alto; Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center, 118 Fourth St., San Rafael

(415) 256-TIXX





FILM Everybody’s a curator, providing one or more terrain maps of their personality. What’s more telling, or potentially damning, than looking over someone’s iPod playlist or CD collection? My Detroit best-friend freshman roommates were first encountered pawing through my LP crate, diagnosing just what sort of hick they’d been stuck with. (Between the Sex Pistols and Dan Fogelberg, they were highly confused.)

Sussing taste in movies isn’t always as easy as perusing a shelf — not everyone necessarily cares to watch repeatedly even the films they esteem most. (Of course 1941’s Citizen Kane is brilliant, but do I own that? Nix. But 2000’s Dude, Where’s My Car? Yup.) Thus Angela Ismailos’ new documentary Great Directors is as interesting for what it reveals about the curator as for insights from "great" filmmakers themselves.

Of course "greatness" is ever-subjective, ever-more idly applied. Christopher Nolan is "the best director in the world" (according to imdb.com threads), if being good among blockbuster-franchise mediocrities measures the depth of your purview (though after the overcomplicated nonsense of Inception, even that status is questionable. Bring it on, haters!)

Ismailos has tonier taste. Good if idiosyncratic, the kind you can respect yet argue with. She’s a real cineaste. And a narcissist, falling into that realm of filmmakers who make movies about other people yet incessantly insert themselves into the frame. (Over 86 minutes, we get to see how many hairdos she can subject her dyed blonde locks to.) Still, there have been far worse offenders in the realm of Gratuitous Me: The Documentary, and Ismailos chooses her subjects — plus filmic excerpts — with beguiling intelligence.

The interviewees are very articulate. Are all "great"? Well, it’s hard to argue against Bernardo Bertolucci and David Lynch. Richard Linklater and Todd Haynes are inspired next-generation American choices. With John Sayles we enter the land of good intentions. Likewise Ken Loach and Stephen Frears, liberal 1960s-1970s BBC Two beneficiaries later orphaned by Margaret Thatcher funding cuts, subsequently taking disparate big-screen paths; Ismailos is attracted primarily by their frequent social-undercaste advocacy.

The jury’s still out on Catherine Breillat, while one truly odd choice is Liliana Cavani. Including that mostly undistinguished veteran Italian director most famous for 1974’s S–M Nazi romance The Night Porter suggests Ismailos has a thing for women directing women being sexually punished. (She also draws attention to the famous scene in 1972’s Last Tango in Paris where buttered-up Marlon Brando anally rapes Maria Schneider, while barely referencing Bertolucci’s later achievements.) Offering contrast is Agnès Varda, whose puckish cinema is hobbit-like in its denial of sex.

Ismailos deserves props for achieving 40 percent female representation in a field where careers like that of The Kids Are All Right‘s Lisa Cholodenko — three features in 12 years — are considered gender-triumphant. Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker (2009) director Kathryn Bigelow made even fewer over a longer span, and you know it’s not for lack of trying. (Neither of those women are in Great Directors, however.)

Several participants cite meaningful mentors, whether actually met or loved from a celluloid distance: Pasolini (Bertolucci), Fassbinder (Haynes), etc. More interesting still are their tales of production travails, whether it’s Breillat on the censorious loathing exercised toward her many portraits of abused female sexuality, or Lynch claiming "It’s beautiful to have a great
failure" (i.e., 1984’s Dune) since it freed him to make smaller, more personal projects like next-stop Blue Velvet (1986).

Great Directors has myriad such behind-scenes revelations. Preening and adoring these idols in camera view, Ismailos flashes her
good taste around. This would be more annoying if her taste wasn’t, in fact, pretty choice.

GREAT DIRECTORS opens Fri/23 in Bay Area theaters.

Cigar Bar and Grill



DINE As a child growing up in a smoke-filled room called America, I developed the skill of distinguishing among various sorts of fume — and there was a lot of distinguishing to be done, since all the adults around me were puffing away at some glowing protuberance or other. They were like human smokestacks. Cigarette smoke, to the child’s nose, was piercingly nasty, while pipe smoke sweetly asphyxiated, especially in the back seats of cars. Cigar smoke, however, had a no-nonsense robustness that made it bearable, at least if one rolled down the window from time to time and stuck one’s head out for gasps of fresh air.

Recently I have had occasion to rethink this hierarchy, and now I find cigar smoke fully as awful as the other kinds. It hovers, clings, and smothers, and this is bad enough if you’re just trying to breathe, let alone trying to eat, as you might be at the six-year-old Cigar Bar and Grill near Jackson Square. Tobacco smoke powerfully interferes with our sensations of taste and flavor. On the other hand, there is something to be said for the spectacle of strapping 25-year-old lads (many with their Yahoo ID cards dangling from their belts) manfully chomping on their rolled cylinders amid swirling wreaths of smoke. Did they remind me of baby robber barons, or of little boys clopping around in their fathers’ shoes, wing-tips five sizes too big? I thought of Bill Clinton, of course (who managed to do more for the notoriety of the cigar — without even lighting up! — than a thousand Dutch Masters commercials ever could), and then, inevitably, of Freud.

The saving grace of Cigar Bar is that the smoking goes on in a large open courtyard. Most of the smoke presumably rises and is carried off by the wind to join the rest of the city’s smog in the Central Valley, with only traces remaining to lend an unhealthy blue-gray haze to the window glass, like a cataract forming on an eye. Around the courtyard, in a kind of U-shaped arcade, are dimly lit, cozy dining areas with a definite Spanish flavor — low arches, adobe walls. (No smoking in these enclosed spaces.) Tobacco smoke might not pair well with any food, but Iberian design does put one in mind of Spanish-style food, and this Cigar Bar has, after a fashion.

It might be more accurate to describe the menu as offering foods of the Spanish-speaking world, given that the list of munchables includes tortilla chips ($7) with a first-rate, chunky guacamole and a pico de gallo with well-honed edges. I call that Mexican. Chorizo, on the other hand, is both Spanish and Mexican, but, as with its fellow shape-shifter, the tortilla, your expectation as to what’s coming will depend on which side of the Atlantic you’re on. Cigar’s bruschetta ($10) featured Spanish chorizo (a cured sausage with a dense, jerky-like meatiness), cut into fine dice and scattered amid basil leaves, chunks of Roma tomato, dabs of goat cheese, and some baby greens, with EVOO and fleur de sel as binders.

Other preparations seemed to lack any Spanish or Mexican influence at all — but that didn’t mean they weren’t splendid. The crispy polenta batons ($8.50), in particular, were sensational; they looked like small bricks dotted with bits of kalamata olive and cherry pepper and were topped with crumblings of bleu cheese and a few peperoncini. If you sometimes find polenta bland, here is your remedy.

The paradox of fish tacos is that they are at their most appealing and least healthy when the fish is batter-fried. If you grill your fish, as Cigar does ($9.50) — it’s tilapia, by the way, a reliable foot soldier in these kinds of operations — you do well to compensate in other areas for the lack of seducing crunch. Cigar’s answer was a generous shower of mango and jicama dice, along with dollops of chilpotle sour cream, whose smooth smokiness mingled with the fruit’s sweetness — while reminding us that we were in a smoky cigar bar.

You would expect tables-full of cigar-chomping — or, in a few cases, cigarillo-chomping — dudes to be interested in baby back ribs, at least when they’re not playing poker (do they ever play strip poker?), and the kitchen obliged. A half-slab ($11) was lightly slathered with a sauce the menu card unsurprisingly described as “smoky”; we found it just spicy enough to give a nice tingle on the tongue. The accompanying coleslaw was on the sweet side but still fresh and tangy. Would Freud have enjoyed this coleslaw, or would his attention have been riveted elsewhere?


Dinner: Mon.–-Fri., 4 p.m.–2 a.m.; Sat., 6 p.m.–2 a.m.

850 Montgomery, SF

(415) 398-0850


Full bar


Noise less of an issue than smoke

Wheelchair accessible

State of interdependence


DANCE There’s no question that dance and music live and breathe together. Anyone who has been moved to motion by a rhythmic beat or catchy melody can attest to that. Yet where the two art forms intersect and drive each others’ creative process is often harder to pin down, for they exist both independently and interdependently.

Like their respective art forms, choreographer Kara Davis and composer Sarah Jo Zaharako of Gojogo inspire and influence each other. Part of Dance Mission Theater’s Down and Dirty series, their recent performance “Symbiosis: An Evening of Music & Dance” (July 11) not only marked five years of collaboration and creative dialogue, but proved to be a stunning display of talented dancers and musicians.

The first half of the evening featured Davis’ dance company project agora, opening with Davis’ 2009 piece A Softened Law. It began with a line of dancers walking away from and yet always returning to a bright light in front of them, as if in prayer. When one dancer broke away from the repetitive and confined ebb and flow of the group, her series of expansive steps summoned a sense of freedom emerging from confinement. Under beams of gold light, the dancers — dressed in desert-toned hues — ran, leapt, and fell to the floor with passionate intensity and athletic agility. Ethereal yet grounded, Davis’ choreography flowed like a cool stream through a desert.

Because every step seamlessly initiated the next, Davis’ movement style never felt forced. This was particularly true in One Tuesday Afternoon (2008), where the dancers entered and exited the stage in interweaving duets. While the project agora dancers embody the spirit of Davis’ choreography, there is something extra special about watching Davis perform her own work. In the romantic duet Exit Wound (2006) — the first piece Davis and Zaharako created together — she and Nol Simonse graced the stage with captivating rapport. Whether swaying through simple waltz-like steps or intricate entangled arms, they never lost sight of each other. Zaharako and bassist Eric Perney were equally involved in the intimate duet. The warm violin parts of Zaharako’s composition fueled the couple’s dancing as much as their dancing seemed to fuel the music.

It was fitting that Davis ended the dancing part of the evening with the world premiere of her most recent collaboration with Zaharako, Symbiosis. Dancing with an awareness of Zaharako and her ensemble and incorporating elements of improvisation, Davis made the solo feel more like an exploration than a formulation. Each of her gestures, whether slowly moving her hand to her chin or stretching her white shirt overhead like a veil, implied a weighty yet inexplicable significance. Through their navigation of the parameters of dance and music, Davis and Zaharako brought the potential beauty of symbiosis to life.



Dear Readers:

This week’s letter of greatest interest, a well-composed rant against my supposed blind devotion to Western medicine, ignorance of same, and lack of understanding of the holistic approach to complaints such as hyposexual desire disorder, is really, really long. Here is one of the good parts:

I am an ayurvedic practitioner (traditional Indian medicine) and am obliged to look at things holistically (meaning from the perspective of the WHOLE person, not just their vaginas.) From this perspective, "HSDD" is just a name given to the complaint of low libido that could be caused by anything from poor diet to bad relationship to hormonal imbalance to stressful work-life and everywhere in between. Drugs don’t cure these things, they just give temporary "help" that you pay for in side-effects, cardiac risks, and possible worsening of the condition over time. Take away the drug, and you still have the problem. There is a cure for HSDD. It’s called education, lifestyle, diet and emotional healing, not your beloved Flibanserin.

If you want to empower women, don’t push drugs; push health, self-acceptance, and self-love.

OK, hang on there. We misunderstand each other. Keep in mind that Flibanserin doesn’t work, hence is not beloved by me or anyone else. But what’s really important to restate is this: Female desire turns out to be rather complicated and often dependant on prerequisite (feeling desired in return, fr’instance) that there just isn’t going to be a pill for. Ever.

My ayurvedic friend is completely correct when she says that many physical and emotional stressors can affect a woman’s libido, few if any of which can be addressed by a simple rearrangement of neurotransmitters. BUT. If you truly believe in a holistic approach to sexual health, you have to add those neurotransmitters to the equation — because if they are not skipping merrily across the synapses the way they are supposed to, no amount of yoga and yogurt is going to make sex happen. That’s where a drug like Flibanserin (if it worked) could be useful.

Western medicine may often overlook the importance of well-being, self-acceptance, love, and fresh vegetables in its pursuit of mechanistic fixes for poorly understood problems. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t work, although it surely does have its limits — Prozac isn’t going to "make" you happy if your life sucks. If you’re lucky, it may allow you to get out of your own way enough to begin to address some of the suckage.

I am more than happy to concede that a more holistic approach would vastly improve Western medicine. Let’s have one! And while we’re at it, let’s have an end to misogyny and sexual double standards and the "second shift."

I do not expect a one-size-fits-all drug to fit all. But I do think a brain-chemistry drug could have a salutary effect on brain chemistry. And while I would expect an approach like yours to be more effective than any Flibberwhatsis for complaints of the soul, I am taking my infected toe to Dr. Western, MD. Ayurveda may be ancient and time-tested, but so is gangrene.


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

Against nostalgia



VISUAL ART/MUSIC Whether through the distorted visual crackle of old videotape or the gauzy gaze of a photograph, there is a class of artwork that challenges the spectator to engage with something not immediately present. It’s as if there is something floating behind the image at hand, which the mind is desperately hungry to grasp, but cannot perceive. This effect we call “haunting,” and often leave it at that. But 17 years ago, French philosopher Jacques Derrida developed a way of thinking about the concept of the ghost in terms of its symbolic relevance to our experience of history, and his “hauntological” approach continues to inform strains of art and music criticism as well as political philosophy.

Inspired by Derrida along with a recent spate of hauntologically inclined British electronic music, the Berkeley Art Museum’s “Hauntology” exhibit assembles an array of such unsettling works across several media. Curated by local artist/musician Scott Hewicker and BAM director Lawrence Rinder, the small but affecting gallery is composed mostly of selections from BAM’s collection that fit in one way or another into the rubric of hauntology.

Working, with a few exceptions, from within the museum’s existing collection was ultimately liberating, according to Hewicker. “I think we wanted to take it another step further in some other open direction, and kind of be very poetic about it, and not be in this defined realm that doesn’t really have a very strict … defined realm,” Hewicker laughingly explains, on the opening day of the exhibit.

Besides that circumstantial constraint, the idea of a hauntology show presents a couple other interesting conundrums. For one thing, hauntology is not a genre of art; it’s an I-know-it-when-I-see-it affair at best, more of a critical framework than a set of conventions. For another thing, there is no defined hauntological movement in visual art (though there is arguably one in music), now or at any point in the past.

What defines hauntological art is loosely derived from Derrida’s idea, as quoted in the exhibit’s manifesto, of “the persistence of a present past,” a past not immediately perceptible but always exerting itself on the present. Hewicker and Rinder interpret this in a number of ways through their selections. The 1820 painting by an unknown artist View of Providence, Rhode Island invites questions of context — who painted this? and why? — and its ominous black grids of windows necessitate a similar curiosity: what’s behind them? In Roger Ballen’s Twirling Wires (2001), on the other hand, the question has more to do with what is actually transpiring in the photograph of a blanket-swaddled man seemingly menaced by a floating mass of wires.

Besides Derrida’s foundational 1993 book Specters of Marx, the curators point to British music journalist Simon Reynolds’ writings on electronic musicians such as Burial and the various artists on the Ghost Box label. Reynolds seems to have opened up the field for discussing hauntological aesthetics in modern popular culture. Another acknowledged inspiration is Adam Harper’s blog, Rouge’s Foam (www.rougesfoam.blogspot.com), which treats music and visual art from a hauntological perspective. Hewicker elaborates: “He was sort of the motivation for the show in the sense that he called for kind of a nonstylistic approach to art in a hauntological sense — that it wasn’t just about spooky images, necessarily, but … these things that have these layered meanings beneath them.”

Perhaps the most exciting issue raised by the show is that of medium — what it communicates (i.e. artistic medium as spirit medium), and what it means to make the medium the subject of a piece. Much of the exhibit consists of two-dimensional visual art, but the few deviations stand out. On the inclusion of video, audio, and sculpture, Rinder muses over e-mail, “People don’t think in as clearly material or disciplinary categories as they used to. So it felt natural to select from this broad range of works.”

Despite the fundamental role music plays in the exhibit’s conception, only one audio piece was incorporated into the exhibit, Ivan Seal’s Stuttering Piano (2007). Seal has produced cover art for such releases as the 2008 reissue of Persistent Repetition of Phrases by hauntological ambient project the Caretaker, but none of his visual art was in the collection. His audio works often accompany his paintings, so the curators saw this as an intriguing “solution” to that unavailability.

Lutz Bacher’s video piece Olympiad (1997) is a silent stuttering image, the deteriorated quality of which makes it disorienting to watch; many works in the exhibit similarly hound the viewer via their chosen medium. Paul Sietsema’s 2009 diptych Ship Drawing, oriented as the gallery’s centerpiece, is as concerned with medium as any piece in the show. One side depicts a drawing of a ship — note, specifically a drawing of one, since the weathered paper it appears on is also rendered in ink. The other half simply shows a blank bit of the same paper. Thus, the medium becomes the subject. In this way, even the nature of their own production is part of the past that haunts these works.

So all this art, spanning centuries, cultures, and movements, brought together at BAM — why now? Hewicker cites “ghosts that people are not addressing” as evidenced by the “Tea Party movement, the sort of revisionist nostalgia, the rewriting of textbooks in Texas.” Derrida’s ideas are still relevant to today’s political world, and that resonates in how this art affects us, whether it was created in 1658 or 2008.

As one would hope from a thoughtfully curated show, motifs emerge among the included works. There are myriad obscured faces, indecipherable objects, and artworks within artworks, as well as subtler commonalities. This conspires to reinforce the sense of hauntedness in the exhibit, as if something has come down through the ages to inspire art that not only, as Rinder puts it, “[evokes] futuristic ruins, displaced subjectivities, and uncanny silences,” but more important, leaves us ill at ease.


Through Dec. 5, $5–$8 (free for students and children)

Berkeley Art Museum

2626 Bancroft, Berk.

(510) 642-0808


Here’s lookin’ at you, Vic



FILM Ah, Friday night at the movies: chatty mobs, unable to detach from their smart phones or fathom seeing a movie that isn’t both brand-new and unnecessarily 3-D’d. With such a bummer scene in the outside world, might as well stay home and watch edited-for-TV Seagal flicks on TBS, right?

Insert screeching needle-on-a-record sound here. Third option: head to one of the city’s most offbeat repertory theaters, collectively-run Haight Street landmark the Red Vic, which celebrates its 30th birthday this week.

“So often we hear people say, ‘Oh, we love the Red Vic! But we haven’t been there in years,'” collective member Claudia Lehan says. “That’s our biggest joke. We’re still here, we’re hanging in, but we need people to come to the movies. We’re doing our best to provide what people want.”

For the past three decades, that has meant a unique space (bench-style seating; organic popcorn and home-baked treats) with programming that reflects the theater’s eclectic spirit. Along with films skating the gap between first-run cineplex and DVD (Kick-Ass, The Runaways), a recent Red Vic calendar also lists the Burning Man Film Festival, local-interest doc It Came From Kuchar, a surf-movie night, a San Francisco Museum and Historical Society-presented program on the Haight, and the cult classic Freaks (1932).

“I think we’re a unique night out,” Lehan says. “The whole experience — the movie itself, it’s such an intimate theater, and it’s community-based.”

On a recent afternoon, I met with current collective members Lehan, Jack Rix, and Susie Bell; the fourth and newest member, Sam Sharkey (who late-night movie fans will know from Landmark Theatres), was out of town. Also joining us was Jack’s wife, Betsy Rix; she, along with Jack, Brad Reed, and Terry Seefeld, cofounded the Red Vic in 1980, with the help of other key players, including Martha Beck (who appears in the Red Vic’s adorable pre-show trailer) and Gary Aaronson.



“We were all door-to-door canvassers in the ’70s,” Betsy remembers. “We’d go out after, and say, ‘There’s gotta be something better out there for us to do.’ We started thinking about starting a business together: a bookstore, or a movie theater. Movie theater seemed like a really good idea. At that time, there was a thriving repertory scene. We talked right away about having couches, nondisposable popcorn bowls — just to make it a totally different kind of movie theater. We plugged away on the idea for over a year.”

After some scouting, the group found its first venue, just down the street from its current location at 1727 Haight. “The Red Victorian Bed and Breakfast had an international marketplace that was closing up. It was a great big space,” Betsy says. “We got a lease for 10 years and renovated it.”

Visit the Red Vic’s cozy lobby, and you’ll see their first calendar hanging on the wall. You might be fooled into thinking the theater opened in 1980 on July 14, with a screening of the 1942 classic Casablanca. That was the original plan — until all of the projection equipment was stolen. Fortunately, the group was insured, but they had to delay their debut until new equipment could be ordered. When it arrived, they opened with the film scheduled for that day, July 25: 1977’s Outrageous!

Within the first month, Betsy says, they had their first bomb (1969 Oscar winner Midnight Cowboy) and their first hit, Jacques Rivette’s Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974). From the beginning, Red Vic audiences were determined to support the theater’s more unexpected film choices. A recent favorite has been Tommy Wiseau’s The Room (2003), a terrible-amazing vanity project that’s drawn hoards of devotees to its frequent Red Vic midnight showings. At $25 a pop, Wiseau bobbleheads are an in-demand item at the concession stand.



Though the Red Victorian hotel would give the Red Vic its name, the theater’s address would eventually change. “We’d had a fairly antagonistic relationship with the landlady,” recalls Betsy. “We knew for many years that in 1990, when the lease was up, we had to go.”

Fortunately, “it worked out better for everyone,” Jack Rix says. He and Betsy ended up buying the building that houses the Red Vic today, flanked by Escape from New York Pizza and the Alembic Bar. “Awesome neighbors,” agree the collective members, who tend to cheerfully talk over each other like family members. Though Jack suggests that the success of a collective is “like making sausage — you don’t really want to delve into it too much,” it’s clear the unique structure of the theater’s “management” has enabled it to thrive. The non-collective members at the Red Vic are volunteers who work in exchange for free movies.

The Red Vic’s permanent home holds 143; in keeping with the theater’s cinephile roots, “we remain committed to 35mm. We really try to show things in 35mm,” Jack says.

This dedication can sometimes lead to extremes (thanks to a distributor snafu, they once had to contact director Jim Jarmusch directly to borrow one of his films). But you’ll never see video at the Red Vic, unless the work was specifically made for it.

“If it’s made on video, and meant to be screened on video, we do have a pretty kick-ass projector,” Lehan says. “But if it’s made for 35mm … “

That projector comes in handy when local filmmakers, whose projects are often created using the more accessible video format, are on the calendar. “We really enjoy showing local films that people aren’t going to get to see anywhere else,” Jack says. “Lately something that’s worked pretty well is to rent the theater to filmmakers. It seems to work well both ways, because we get a minimum amount of business that’s guaranteed, and filmmakers get their movie shown.”



Though making gobs of money isn’t exactly the Red Vic’s goal, it has had some certified hits over the years. Used to be you couldn’t pick up one of the Red Vic’s signature red-and-black calendars without seeing trippy, time-lapse-heavy Baraka (1992) on the schedule. “We’re taking a break [from Baraka] for a little bit,” Lehan says with a chuckle.

Other success stories (besides The Room, as noted above) include two films coming up in August, El Topo (1970) and Dead Man (1995), plus anything by Werner Herzog, 1998 big-wave surf film Maverick’s (“Lines around the block,” Susie Bell recalls), and The Big Lebowski (1998), which returns every year on April 20, the high holiday for stoners. The Red Vic’s political leanings also draw crowds (“A new Noam Chomsky documentary will always do well,” per Bell), along with “stuff that’s really beautiful that looks good up on the big screen,” according to Jack.

For the past several years, the Red Vic has screened Hal Ashby’s 1971 dark comedy Harold and Maude on its birthday, July 25. It was a favorite of the late Steve Kasper, a friend and regular customer from the Red Vic’s earliest days. “He loved Harold and Maude,” Betsy says. “I don’t think we had really thought about showing it, but he brought it in. He was the one who started handing out daisies [after the film, a tradition that continues]. And it just really caught on.”

For 30 years, its cozy sense of community has remained unchanged. But the Red Vic, like other repertory theaters, has felt the 21st century pinch: DVDs, video-on-demand, and the Internet mean that less people bother seeking out off-the-beaten-path exhibitors. For the most part, though, collective members remain cautiously optimistic about the decades ahead.

“The first time we showed Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972), which is a movie I really love, it did really well. I remember being amazed that we could show something like that and people would show up to see pure art on the wall of your funky little movie theater,” Jack says, before turning philosophical. “These are tough times for repertory theaters. To a certain extent, it’s use it or lose it. If people don’t support little theaters, they’re definitely not going to be around much too much longer.” 


July 25–28, 7:15 and 9:15 p.m.

(also Sun/25, 2 and 4 p.m.; July 28, 2 p.m.), $6–$9

Red Vic Movie House

1727 Haight, SF

(415) 668-3994


Censored: calls for a revolution



The publications that have been officially banned from California’s state prisons are mostly pornographic, with two exceptions. The first is a periodical published by a white nationalist hate group, and the second is Revolution Newspaper — the self-styled “Voice of the Revolutionary Communist Party.”

While there is some confusion whether Revolution Newspaper was indeed formally banned or not, it was apparently cleared for distribution after an organization that handles inmate subscriptions, backed by the American Civil Liberties Union and a host of signatories on a petition, publicly sounded the alarm that prisoners weren’t receiving their weekly copies.

According to state regulations, the decision to confiscate publications that prisoners receive in the mail can be made by mailroom sergeants, wardens, or at the state level, so more publications may be getting withheld at individuals’ discretion than appear on the official statewide list of banned reading materials.

State regulations define as contraband literature containing sexually explicit content, hate speech, promotion of violence, or anything advocating rebellion against prison authorities. The Guardian and other alternative newsweeklies have often been rejected by prison authorities because of the escort and sensual massage ads in the back of the papers.

To date, no one at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has provided a clear explanation about why Revolution Newspaper was being intercepted by prison authorities. Furthermore, the state’s more recent decision to allow the paper suggests that the publication does not fit the criteria of contraband.

The outcry over access to Revolution raises questions about whether a segment of the population that is stripped of virtually all other freedoms while incarcerated can still access ideas and information.

Pelican Bay State Prison is a maximum-security lockup in Crescent City that houses some of California’s most dangerous inmates. Of the 800 inmates nationwide who subscribe to Revolution Newspaper, the largest single cluster, 45, reside there.

Their subscriptions are funded by the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund (PRLF), a Chicago-based organization that sends communist literature to inmates nationwide. The paper has been distributed in Pelican Bay for at least eight years, and inmates often have their letters published in Revolution’s pages.

The publication is an arm of the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), U.S.A., a Maoist organization started in 1975 in the Bay Area. While much of the paper’s content is consumed with railing against the evils of “the system,” a great deal of ink is also dedicated to effusive praise for RCP founder Bob Avakian, a cult-like figure who’s hailed as a “rare and precious leader” by party members and rumored to have gone into a self-imposed exile in France.

The RCP has weathered its share of criticism over the years, whether from right-wingers incensed by their anti-American rhetoric or from snarky columnists regarding their whole project as a yawner. Nonetheless, inmates have written to Revolution declaring the publication to be “a lifeline,” and to a mailroom sergeant at Pelican Bay, the furious calls for a revolution (or perhaps the inmates’ letters) were apparently enough to deem the newspaper contraband.

In February, the newspaper’s Chicago-based publisher, RCP Publications, received a notice from CDCR stating that the newspaper would no longer be distributed at Pelican Bay, signed by a mailroom sergeant. In a second letter, the CDCR informed publishers that Revolution would no longer be delivered to inmates at Chuckawalla Valley State Prison or any other state institution, stating, “The publication Revolution is ban [sic] from all institutions within the state of California.”

By law, each time a publication is not delivered to inmates it was sent to, the prison must notify the publishers. RCP Publications wasted no time contacting the ACLU of Southern California for help, in the meantime drafting a petition to call for a reversal of the ban. A Public Records Act request by the ACLU revealed that RCP Publications only received two letters, even though at least 11 issues were withheld from inmates.

After a few months of making the rounds online, the petition had collected the names of lefty luminaries Bill Ayers, Cindy Sheehan, Cynthia McKinney, and musicians Ozomatli and Saul Williams, among many others. Their collective statement included a disclaimer noting that they “may not agree with all or any of the content” of Revolution, but they were unified in opposition to the ban of the newspaper on principle.

“We strongly oppose the denial of freedom of information for prisoners, including the right to educate and transform themselves while in prison,” the petition states. “Any infringement on this right for California prisoners cannot be allowed to stand. It is a precedent that has ominous implications throughout the prison system in the U.S. and for broader society at large.”

Several months later, after the ACLU contacted CDCR with a Public Records Act request, Pelican Bay Warden G.D. Lewis responded with a letter stating: “To date, all issues of Revolution Newspaper mailed to [Pelican Bay] inmates in the past nine months have been delivered” and “No ban of Revolution Newspaper is in effect … I am considering this matter closed.”

Neil McDowell, assistant warden of Chuckawalla Valley prison, wrote in a separate letter: “This is to advise you that your publication entitled ‘Revolution’ does not have a blanket ban at Chuckawalla Valley State Prison (CVSP). The memo dated Feb. 16, 2010 authored by Sergeant L. Nunez was inaccurate in stating as such.”

In its earlier letters to RCP Publications, CDCR justified the ban by saying that Revolution Newspaper was “determined to be contraband because it promotes disruption and overthrow of the government and incites violence to do so” and mentioned that it “promotes governmental anarchy.”

Asked which issue or article in particular had led to this determination, CDCR spokesperson Cassandra Hockenson said she could not comment. “They know,” she said, referring to the publishers of Revolution. “I can’t comment. I can’t address what the content was. They should be able to identify it for you. I think the burden of proof should go to them.”

When we asked Mike Holman of the PRLF if he knew why CDCR made these statements, he said, “We very strongly want to get to the bottom of what process they used to arrive at those conclusions. We don’t know, and we are trying to learn, why they banned the newspapers.”

Hockenson insisted that there was no ban and that only a single issue had been considered “questionable,” even though CDCR documents identify at least 11 issues that had been confiscated based on information released in response to the Public Records Act request.

CDCR has come under scrutiny for censorship issues in the past. One signatory on the Revolution Newspaper petition is Paul Wright, who heads the Brattleboro, Vt.-based Prison Legal News — a publication he started after his own release from prison. Wright has won numerous lawsuits against CDCR after his own newspaper, which covers inmate rights and prison issues, was banned from California correctional facilities. Asked to comment on the Revolution Newspaper ban, he said, “It just seems to fall into the whole pattern of a trend toward further isolating prisoners.”

Growing pains



The medical marijuana movement was born and raised in the Bay Area, and now the city of Oakland is poised to take the next big step forward by being the first city to explicitly allow and permit several massive cannabis cultivation facilities on industrial land, making millions of dollars in taxes in the process.

It’s the latest move in a growing trend toward Bay Area cities figuring out how to regulate and tax a booming industry that could really explode if California voters approve Proposition 19 in November, which would legalize even recreational uses of marijuana and give local jurisdictions more authority to control it.

Pot growing has long been the murkiest realm within an increasingly legitimate and professional medical marijuana industry (see “Marijuana goes mainstream,” 1/27/10). While Oakland, Berkeley, and San Francisco all have well-defined and regulated systems governing the 30 licensed cannabis dispensaries in those three cities, most of their growers are underground operations with no official oversight.

Public officials on both sides of the bay — who almost universally voice their support for the medical marijuana industry — say there can be problems associated with unregulated grows. Jerry-rigged wiring can pose a fire danger, and valuable crops can be targeted by criminals. Growers can be raided by police even when they have valid paperwork. And cash-strapped city governments aren’t able to tax or regulate an industry that has kept on booming throughout the Great Recession.

“There is no system to regulate production,” Oakland City Council member Rebecca Kaplan, who has authored cultivation regulations, along with co-sponsor Council member Larry Reid. Although the city may lack resources to enforce new requirements on growers, Kaplan believes growers will sign up voluntarily: “Every time we’ve created a permitting system, people have sought to use it. They want to be above board.”

The measure would permit growing facilities of more than 100,000 square feet, charging them each a $5,000 permit fee and $211,000 “regulatory fee,” as well as a gross receipts tax to be determined. The Oakland City Council approved the measure July 20 after Kaplan agreed to have staff also create a permit system for smaller growers, with both regulatory systems slated to take effect Jan. 1, 2011.  Kaplan has also proposed a November ballot measure to increase the current gross receipts tax on cannabis-related businesses from 1.8 percent now to up to as high as 11.2 percent, which the council is set to consider July 22.

Kaplan’s cultivation proposal initially generated a backlash from some small growers and Harborside Health Center, Oakland’s largest dispensary, because of its focus on creating mega-facilities that could monopolize the market and hurt the small growers who have been at the heart of the medical marijuana movement.

“All we’re asking for is a level playing field and a fair opportunity to compete with these factories,” attorney James Anthony, who represents Harborside and its network of growers, told the Guardian. “As medical cannabis comes into the light, it’s still capitalism out here in the world.”

Oakland developer and business person Jeff Wilcox, who is new to the marijuana industry, has been aggressively pushing to create a massive cannabis growing and manufacturing facility on his 7.4-acre warehouse complex near the Oakland Coliseum, covering 172,000 square feet over four buildings.

On May 21, Wilcox and his company, AgraMed, released a report showing how the facility could produce about 21,100 pounds of high-grade marijuana per year, generating about $60 million in gross sales and more than $2 million a year in taxes for Oakland, assuming a 3 percent tax rate (or about $3.5 million if the rate is set at 5 percent). The report was based partly on information gathered from independent local growers.

“By closing the loop and regulating the entire industry, we can ensure the healthy production and use of cannabis, and ensure its legitimate standing in our society. We’re working with public health and public safety agencies to make sure we do this right,” Wilcox, who did not return Guardian calls for comment, said in his press release.

Anthony said he was wary of Oakland politicians handing so much market power to one person: “It’s not for the government to pick the winners and losers through a regulatory scheme.” But he does agree that growers are overdue for regulation. “It’s time for cultivation to come into the light.”

State law requires growers to be part of the collective that uses or distributes the product, and the facility proposed by Wilcox would contract with many collectives, a model that hasn’t been tested in the courts yet. In fact, Council member Nancy Nadel has expressed concern that what she called “a structurally flawed proposal” could be on shaky legal ground (City Attorney John Russo, who has endorsed Prop. 19, did not return our calls with questions about the Oakland measure’s legality. His office also has not issued an opinion because it conflicts with federal law).

“Though state law allows for the operation of medical marijuana cooperatives by primary caregivers and patients, it does not legitimize large-scale growing operations. Just in the past few months, the DEA has raided two medical cannabis testing labs in Colorado. We need to retain a level of good sense and discretion,” Nadel wrote in a July 13 memo to her council colleagues, urging them to hold off on approving the measure until after voters decide Prop. 19 in November.

Yet Kaplan told us that even though the council moved the legislation forward, staff would continue to work through its myriad regulatory details and no permits will be issued until January. She also agreed that “it’s really important for Prop. 19 to pass,” giving Oakland more explicit authority to regulate the industry.

Oaksterdam University founder Richard Lee, who bankrolled the campaign to place Prop. 19 on the ballot, supports Kaplan’s regulations (although he told us he would like to see a greater focus on small cultivators) and called regulation of growers “a historic next step” that further legitimizes the industry.

“I think this will help Prop. 19 pass and help Oakland be ready when it does,” Lee said, voicing support for Wilcox and other business people who seek to join this movement. “We need everyone we can get on our side.”

Most polls show that Californians are split fairly evenly on Prop. 19. Even so, several California cities are already making preparations to use the new taxation and regulation authority that the measure would bestow.

Lee said Sacramento, Oakland, Stockton, Long Beach, San Jose, and Berkeley all have been working on cannabis regulatory schemes for voters to approve. For example, on July 13, the Berkeley City Council placed a measure on the November ballot proposing a gross receipts tax of 2.5 percent on medical marijuana and a 10 percent tax on recreational pot, as well as a system for permitting up to 10 medical marijuana growing operations.

“State law is really a mess at the moment and there are a number of things happening now that violate state law,” Lee told us. “That’s why Prop. 19 is going to be a cleanup law to deal with a lot of the stuff that’s going on now.”

Kaplan, who has been working on her ordinance for almost a year and got help from students in UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy, agreed that the current legal requirements for growing medical marijuana are unclear: “There isn’t a right way [to permit cultivation facilities] under state law. The law isn’t clear.”

Attorney David Owen, who has researched medical marijuana laws for the new SPARC dispensary in San Francisco and for local growers, echoed the point. “The short answer is that we know so little about the boundaries of state law.”

Prop. 215, the 1996 measure that legalized medical marijuana, was broadly written and then codified largely by Senate Bill 420, portions of which were later struck down by the courts. But enforcement of marijuana laws has primarily been done by the federal government, which backed off after President Barack Obama took office, leaving state and local officials to regulate a fast-growing industry using standards that the courts have yet to clarify.

“We don’t have appellate court decisions to interpret a lot of key terms in state law,” Owen said. “We don’t really know what state law says.”

For example, Owen said the widely used term “dispensary” doesn’t even appear in state law. Local jurisdictions often define how much pot a patient can grow. For example, Oakland allows groups of three patients to grow up to 72 plants in 96 square feet. But most of those standards haven’t been held up by the courts. And even though state law says growers must be part of the same collective as their patients, Owen said, “In theory, you could have a collective with 37 million members.”

Although Owen said a large scale doesn’t necessarily make a marijuana operation illegal, he said permitting a 170,000 square foot facility is bound to draw attention from the feds: “I guarantee the DEA will be at their doorstep the day they open.”

Council member Nadel said Oakland could be liable then as well, noting that it would be permitting a facility that would meet about 60 percent of the entire Bay Area’s demand for 35,000 pounds of pot per year. “Thus, to prevent diversion to illegal markets and collective members outside of the cultivation collective (which would violate state law), the city must act responsibly and set a limit on the total size of cultivation allowed in Oakland. While the memo from the Council members discusses the alternative method [permitting a smaller capacity], it does not recognize the problems with projecting sales to dispensaries outside the Bay Area,” Nadel wrote.

Kaplan said the ordinance is a starting point that can be further refined by staff. But she emphasized the need to regulate the industry, warning of risks to Oakland residents. Her measure’s staff report attributes at least seven house fires, eight robberies, seven burglaries, and two homicides to unregulated growing operations in 2008 and 2009. Kaplan also said she worries about the possibility of “another Oakland Hills fire.”

Yet Kaplan, who is running for mayor, also told us the taxes are important in a city that was recently forced to fire 80 police officers. “Given Oakland’s budget crisis,” she said, “the revenue for the city is no small thing.”

Deal time



Lennar Corp.’s massive redevelopment plan for Candlestick Point-Hunters Point cleared a critical hurdle July 14 when the Board of Supervisors voted 8-3 to affirm the Planning Commission’s certification of the project’s final environmental impact report, with Sups. John Avalos, Chris Daly, and Eric Mar opposed

Board President David Chiu called the vote "a milestone." Termed-out Sup. Sophie Maxwell, whose District 10 includes Candlestick Point and the former Hunters Point Naval Shipyard, saw the vote as evidence that city leaders support the ambitious plan. Yet many political observers saw the vote as proof that Lennar and its Labor Council allies have succeeded in lobbying supervisors not to support opponents of the project.

"I’m concentrating on pushing this over the finish line," Maxwell said at the hearing in the wake of the vote, which came in the wee hours of July 14 after a 10-hour hearing. Supervisors can still amend Lennar’s development plan during a July 27 hearing and project opponents are hoping for significant changes.

Mar said he wants to focus on guaranteeing that the city has the authority to hold Lennar responsible for its promises. "I want to make sure that we have the strongest enforcement we can," he said.

Lennar’s plan continues to face stiff opposition from the Sierra Club, the Golden Gate Audubon Society, the California Native Plant Society, San Francisco Tomorrow, POWER (People Organized To Win Employment Rights) and CARE (Californians for Renewable Energy).

Representatives for these groups, whose appeals of the EIR certification were denied by the board, say they are now weighing their options. Those include taking legal action within 30 days of the board’s second reading of and final action on the developer’s final redevelopment plan, which will be Aug. 3 at the earliest.

Supervisors are expected to introduce a slew of amendments July 27, when they consider the details of the proposal and its impacts on the economically depressed and environmentally polluted.

Michael Cohen, Mayor Gavin Newsom’s top economic advisor, admitted July 19 that all these various demands will likely delay project construction. "But 702 acres of waterfront land in San Francisco is an irreplaceable asset," Cohen reportedly told the San Francisco Chronicle. "It’s not a question of if — but when — it gets developed."

Chiu already has introduced five amendments to the plan in an effort to alleviate concerns about shipyard toxins, Lennar’s limited financial liability, a proposed bridge over Yosemite Slough, and the possibility that local residents will need more access to healthcare and training if they are to truly benefit from the development plan.

Sup. Ross Mirkarimi told the Guardian that he expects the board will require liquidated damages to ensure the city has some redress if the developer fails to deliver on a historic community benefits agreement that labor groups signed when Lennar was trying to shore up community support for Proposition G, the conceptual project plan voters approved in June 2008.

Mirkarimi said the board would also seek to increase workforce development benefits. "Thirty percent of the target workforce population are ex offenders. So while they might get training, currently they won’t get jobs other than construction," Mirkarimi observed.

He supports the health care access amendment and the public power amendment Chiu introduced July 21, pointing to Mirkarimi’s previous ordinance laying the groundwork for public power in the area. "This ordinance established that where feasible, the City shall be the electricity provider for new City developments, including military bases and development projects," Mirkarimi said. "PG&E was ripped when we pushed that through."

But Sierra Club activist Arthur Feinstein isn’t sure if additional amendments will help, given intense lobbying by city officials and a developer intent on winning project approvals this summer before a new board and mayor are elected this fall.

"Chiu’s amendments gave us what we asked for over Parcel E-2" Feinstein said, referring to a severely contaminated section of the shipyard for which Chiu wants an amendment calling for a board hearing on whether it’s clean enough to be accepted by the city and developed on.

But Feinstein is less than happy with Chiu’s Yosemite Slough amendment, which would limit a proposed bridge over it to a width of 41 feet and only allow bike, pedestrian, and transit use unless the 49ers elect to build a new stadium on the shipyard. In that case, the project would include a wider bridge to accommodate game-day traffic.

"The average lane size is 14 feet, so that’s a three-lane bridge. So it’s still pretty big. And it would end up filling almost an acre of the bay," Feinstein said.

Feinstein thanked Mirkarimi and Campos for asking questions that showed that the argument for the bridge has not been made. "But it’s disappointing that a progressive Board would be willing to fill the Bay for no reason," Feinstein said.

He concurred with the testimony of Louisiana-based environmental scientist Wilma Subra and environmental and human rights activist Monique Harden, who challenged the wisdom of the Navy digging out toxins while the developer installs infrastructure at the same site.

Subra said contamination is often found at Superfund sites after they have been declared clean when contractors to later dig into capped sites and expose workers and the community to contamination. Harden said the plan to begin construction on some shipyard parcels while the Navy removes radiological-contamination from shipyard sewers is "like a person jumping up and down on a bed that another person is trying to make."

But Cohen, who has aggressively pushed the project on Newsom’s behalf, countered that there is no scientific evidence to support such concerns. "It’s a very common situation," Cohen said. "It’s the basis for shipyard artists and the police being on the site for many years … It’s safe based on an extraordinary amount of data."

But Feinstein pointed to his experience working for the Golden Gate Audubon Society at the former Alameda Naval Station. He recalls how a remediation study was completed, but then an oil spill occurred at the site, which had been designated as a wildlife refuge.

"The military didn’t know about everything that happened and was stored on site, and it’s easy to miss a hot spot," he said. "And who’ll be monitoring when all these homes are built with deeds that restrict the renters and owners from digging in their backyards?"

Feinstein said he’s concerned that only Campos seemed to be asking questions and making specific requests for information around the proposed project’s financing

"Lennar is paying city staff and consultants and promising labor huge numbers of jobs. When you are throwing that much money around, it’s hard for people to resist — and the city has been co-opted," Feinstein said. "And how much analysis and resistance can you expect from city commissions when the Mayor’s Office is the driving force behind the project? So we don’t have a stringent review. The weakness of the strategy of ignoring our bridge concerns is that when we sue, we may raise a whole bunch of issues."

Arc Ecology director Saul Bloom says Chiu’s bridge proposal "screwed up the dialogue. We were close to a deal," Bloom claims. "But while that amendment allowed one board member to showboat, it prevented the problem from being solved."

Bloom is concerned that under the financing deal, the project won’t make any money for at least 15 years and will be vulnerable to penalties and bumps in the market — an equation that could lead the developer to build only market rate housing at the site.

"It’s a problematic analysis at best," he said.

"The bigger the development, the more it benefits people who have the capacity to address it — and that’s not the community," Bloom said. "So there’ll be more discussion of the bridge, and that’s where the horse-trading is going to be."

He also said the bridge has now taken on a symbolic value. "The thing about the bridge is that it’s not actually about the bridge any more," Bloom added. "It’s about Lennar telling people, ‘You will support us.’ If they get the bridge, it will give them free rein, an unencumbered capacity to do as they see fit. They are willing to make deals, but they have to have the bridge because it defeats the people who have been the most credible and visible — and then they have no opposition."

Booze or mismanagement?



The centennial celebration of the Bay to Breakers race and party is once again being targeted for a crackdown on alcohol. But many participants say the problem is mismanagement more than booze or public urination.

Organizers this month announced that all racers and revelers in possession of alcohol will be cited and possibly detained by the San Francisco Police Department. Those pushing floats or, as event spokesperson Sam Singer put it, “alcohol delivery devices,” will be cited as well.

After hearing concerns from residents along the race route and losing corporate sponsor ING, executives from organizer AEG said its decision to curb excessive drinking is an attempt to save the venerable event.

“We received significant complaints from neighbors and residents about people peeing, puking, and passing out on their doorsteps who were not registered to race but were there to take advantage of the event and stage an open street party at expense of the community,” Singer told us. “Bay to Breakers will be 100 [years old] next year and, unless we take steps to ensure public safety, we are concerned for its future.”

Drawing more than 100,000 spectators and racers annually, Bay to Breakers is one of the largest races in the world. Even greater than its size is the reputation it has garnered as one of the city’s premier street parties, where revelers wear ridiculous costumes or sometimes nothing at all.

That reputation caused ING to pull out, announcing that it “evaluates its sponsorship programs and strategies to make sure they align with the goals of the business. The decision to not renew our sponsorship was based simply on ING’s shifting priorities.”

The company and others associated with the event last year tried unsuccessfully to ban kegs and glass bottles along with alcohol carried on floats. But opposition from participants and area Sup. Ross Mirkarimi saved the party.

Yet Singer said the outcome of the failed ban only strengthened organizers’ conviction to prohibit alcohol in subsequent years. “After the ban was put forward, a negotiation between people who are the party element took place and we ultimately allowed alcohol that year,” Singer said. “However, because alcohol was originally banned and the ban was later eased, the confusion contributed to having a safer experience. Most of the drinking element stayed away, which led us to realize we have to prohibit alcohol to keep a certain type of people away from the race.”

That “certain type of people” who seek to uphold the lenient alcohol precedent last year banded together to form Citizens for the Preservation of Bay to Breakers. CPBB cofounder Edward Sharpless said the group considers the ban a simplistic distraction from AEG’s gross mismanagement of an event whose biggest problems could be easily mitigated.

“They have no respect for the event and no interest in preserving the San Francisco tradition of Bay to Breakers,” Sharpless said. “They have failed to provide an adequate amount of Porta Potties or set up appropriate barriers. It has nothing to do with booze or floats. They are merely trying to mask their incompetence by pointing the finger yet again.”

According to the race website, AEG provided only 705 portable toilets last year. Although that number may be sufficient for the 30,000 racers, it proved too few for the more than 100,000-person event. Even Mayor Gavin Newsom last year ran in the event without registering, he told the San Francisco Chronicle.

“They just aren’t addressing issues,” Sharpless said. “Their mind-set has been to support only the 30,000 registered runners, and once those people have gone by it’s everyone else’s problem. It doesn’t work like that.”

Wayne Lanier, a resident at 256 Ashbury St., last year tried to stop a young man from urinating in his yard, informing him that he would take a photograph and notify the police. “He responded with, ‘I don’t care, I’m from L.A.,'<0x2009>” Lanier told us. “They had an attitude that expressed their right to party and who were we to question it. It was just unbelievable.”

Sharpless said he wants to heed residents’ complaints. “The management is supposed to be professional, so something like public urination and a little bit of public drunkenness should be dealt with,” Sharpless said. “The priority is the neighbors, their private property, and their well-being. Just sticking your head in sand and turning a blind eye to the problem is not a solution.”

Sharpless and others met with officials in the Mayor’s Office July 12, seeking a dialogue between community groups, residents, city officials. and AEG. Some press coverage framed the meeting as simply about drunkenness, but Sharpless said mismanagement of the event was a key topic.

“The meeting was scheduled two weeks ago, before AEG decided to announce the ban,” Sharpless said. “The reason Sam announced the ban subsequently is because he wanted to make it look like it was about a ban on alcohol when really it was a focus group on neighborhood damage.”

AEG is expected to present a plan for next year’s event toward the end of summer. “We will be working with the police department on having a larger and more strategically placed police force to help ensure safety,” Singer said. “We are also planning on doing extensive outreach and advertising to inform the public of this year’s new rules.”

Sharpless remains confident that the party will go on. “It looks like we have a good, constructive start,” he said. “Of course we don’t support the alcohol ban. This isn’t just a 12K race. This is Bay to Breakers. This is a civic institution that represents the uniqueness of San Francisco, and we will fight to save it.”

Editor’s Notes



I just got back from a short trip to Canada, the land of government health care and tight bank regulations, where business is booming. From my hotel room in downtown Toronto, I could see construction cranes everywhere. The Globe and Mail had a fascinating report on a construction company manager in Winnipeg who was learning the language of the Cree tribe and creating a new apprenticeship program for First Nations people — in large part because he was facing a serious labor shortage.

Yeah, that’s right: in Canada, they can’t find enough construction workers to fill all the jobs. And there’s a good reason (which has nothing to do with zoning or taxes or fees on developers): The banks in our neighboring country to the north have always been more tightly regulated, so they didn’t have the same meltdown we saw here in the USA.

Then I came back and read that Meg Whitman, candidate for governor of California, wants to eliminate the capital gains tax in the state. I like the Huffington Post headline: "Meg Whitman tax plan: she stops paying hers."

There are two types of people in the world, the rich and the rest of us, and the rich quite often don’t work for a living. Whitman, for example, doesn’t have a day job. She pays the bills with the money she makes by investing the billion dollars or so that she racked up working at eBay.

Actually, she probably doesn’t invest much of it herself these days; she hires someone else to do that. Which means she doesn’t do anything at all to earn the money that comes in each week.

That income is called capital gains — and the HuffPo estimates that she’s bringing in enough that she’d probably owe the state about $4 million a year in taxes at current rates. If she gets elected, and manages to repeal the capital gain tax, she won’t pay any taxes on that money at all.

Which means the state will be even more broke — or that the rest of us suckers, who actually go to work every morning, will have to pay more to make up for it.

I suppose next she’ll want to deregulate the banks.

Small biz should support Chiu tax plan


EDITORIAL It’s rare to see a fairly conservative city agency, created in part to make it harder for progressives to push measures that might affect business, come down in favor of a new business tax. But the San Francisco Office of Economic Analysis has concluded that the proposal by Board of Supervisors President David Chiu to change the local payroll tax and impose a new tax on commercial rents would actually help local businesses, particularly small businesses. The proposal presents a crucial opportunity for progressives to make the case that the Chamber of Commerce and big downtown corporations are not advancing the interests of small businesses — and local merchant groups need to pay attention.

Chiu has taken on a problem that has lingered in San Francisco for decades. The city’s business tax is terribly regressive: Only 10 percent of the companies in town even pay the payroll tax, in part because banks, insurance companies, and financial services firms are exempt under state law. That means the burden falls the heaviest on small and medium-sized companies — the ones that provide most of the net job growth in the city.

The new proposal would make the flat payroll tax more progressive and would exempt more small businesses. It would also raise $28 million more a year for the cash-strapped municipal coffers by taxing commercial rents of more than $60,000 a year.

The commercial rent levy would force the big outfits that now pay no city taxes whatsoever to take on at least some of the burden of financing San Francisco government. Smaller companies with modest leases, and small commercial landlords, wouldn’t pay the new tax at all.

Chiu originally had proposed an even broader tax, which would have raised more than $35 million. But after the Small Business Commission expressed concerns, he changed the measure, reducing the burden on small business even further. And at this point, Ted Egan, the city’s chief economist at the Office of Economic Analysis, reports that the tax would lead to greater job creation in the private sector (because of the reduction in the payroll tax) as well as greater job creation in the public sector (because of the additional revenue to the city).

It’s the kind of idea that ought to have broad-based support — progressives looking to fund crucial services see it as a way to bring in money, and small businesses ought to see it as a way to cut taxes and create jobs in the sector of the city that most needs economic stimulus.

Unfortunately, the response from small business leaders hasn’t been encouraging. The commission hasn’t taken a stand on the measure; on July 12th, the panel deadlocked 2-2, with one member absent and two slots still vacant (the mayor hasn’t filled them). That lets the big downtown players — the Chamber, the Building Owners and Managers Association, the Committee on JOBS, etc. — in a position to claim that the Chiu proposal is anti-business.

We’ve seen this pattern far to often. Small business groups allow big corporations, which have no interest in the real issues that impact local merchants, stick the little folks out front on political issues. We’ve seen it over the years with public power, commercial rent control, downtown development, and taxes — and it needs to stop.

The Small Business Commission, the Council of District Merchants, all the local community merchant groups, and anyone else who really cares about the interests of small business in San Francisco should support the Chiu measure. It’s a tax plan that’s good for small business. And if the advocates don’t realize that, they’re hurting themselves, the customers, and the city.

Repairing the initiative process – in CA and SF


OPINION I recently participated in a research trip to Switzerland to study the alpine nation’s system of direct democracy (initiative and referendum, or I&R). Its model offers fresh ideas about how to repair the dysfunctional initiative process in California and San Francisco.

In California, it takes approximately 750,000 signatures to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot — almost 3 percent of the statewide population — and about three-fifths that for a nonconstitutional statute. That’s an extremely high threshold, so in actual practice the only players able to qualify a ballot initiative are wealthy individuals or organizations that can pay an army of circulators about $3 per signature. It has been years since a statewide initiative has qualified through the work of volunteers.

Because of these dynamics, direct democracy in California has been captured by wealthy special interests. Proponents of Proposition 14, which was bankrolled by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and big business, outspent opponents by 50:1 to pass a “top two” primary that is deform masked as reform. Even when Big Money’s measures lose — as PG&E’s Proposition 16 did — they force everyone else to play defense. Ironically, this dynamic is the opposite of that envisioned by California Gov. Hiram Johnson, who in 1911 created the initiative to allow the people to counter powerful special interests like railroad tycoons.

But in Switzerland, the political leaders have crafted an impressive practice that fosters a noisy collaboration between the people and their elected representatives. That nation has a proposal-counterproposal system. Once an initiative or referendum qualifies for the ballot, the government is given a chance either to pass that law itself or put a counterproposal on the ballot. Similarly, if the government passes a law, the people can put their own counterproposal on the ballot or try to overturn the law via a referendum.

This dynamic unleashes a process that is less polarizing and fosters a healthier debate. That in turn fosters more of an ongoing dialogue between the people and their elected representatives that, over time, forges a broader consensus on issues.

But a key reason this dynamic works is because the Swiss only require about 100,000 signatures for an initiative — a bit more than 1 percent of the population — and 50,000 for a referendum. The Swiss also allow a longer period of time for collecting those signatures, up to 18 months, compared to only five months in California. So non-wealthy interests can use the I&R process and signatures can be gathered with all-volunteer labor.

Gathering 1 percent is still a sizable undertaking; it would equal about 370,000 signatures in California for a constitutional amendment. But that’s low enough that serious efforts lacking deep pockets could still play in the game.

For example, look at the Jeff Adachi-led initiative over public pensions in San Francisco. Adachi has put his fingers on the pulse of an issue that needs addressing, but many progressives feel that the details in Adachi’s measure are too harsh and polarizing. But what if a counterproposal was put on the ballot, giving the public another choice? The subsequent multichoice campaign would be less polarizing and could help find the sweet spot of consensus.

The Swiss model isn’t perfect. Like California, when it comes to the actual I&R campaigns, Switzerland has inadequate campaign finance and transparency laws. With no public financing for underfunded campaigns, private money dominates and skews the public debate.

That’s why free media time should be provided for all significant viewpoints. And shared financing for all campaigns, pro and con, should be considered; all campaigns would be required to pay 15 percent of the amount they spend on their own campaign into a common fund that is distributed to the underfunded campaigns.

If I&R in California and San Francisco is designed correctly, it has the potential to reinvigorate this age-old invention of representative government. *

Steven Hill is author of the recently published Europe’s Promise: Why the European Way is the Best Hope in an Insecure Age.




CHEAP EATS Jo Jo Hoot is a kind of a guru of the Bay Area taco truck scene. Fifteen years ago, the first time I wrote about him, he was taking me on a taco truck tour of East Oakland. Now he lives in San Francisco in the Mission District, and I run into his bright-eyed and brilliant wife, Ha Ha Hoot, at the grocery store.

Ha Ha and me were in a band together for 10 minutes, so we have a lot to talk about. We talk about taco trucks. Also, of course: love. I’m pretty sure she was one of my friends who shed literal tears with me over my Germany story after I came back, but it might have been some taqueria’s carne asada having gone downhill that upset her.

Either way, of this I am certain: we were standing up.

But the recurringest theme of our chance neighborly meetings, all non-sequitage aside, has been a taco truck called El Gallo Giro in their neck of the Mission that, apparently, I needed to know about. They have the best carnitas within the city limits, it happens, and how lucky are Mr. and Mrs. Hoot? It’s just a block from their house, at Treat and 23rd streets. And they both — being graphically designfully inclined — work at home!

There’s a playground on that corner, and on my way to see them, finally, one lunchtime last week, a soccer ball came sailing over the fence and bouncing across the street right in front of me. Immediately, six or 20 little boys with 60 or 200 little fingers were latched onto the chain linkage, pudging through it (in some cases) and looking at me imploringly.

It was interesting to find myself, for a change, on the street side of this most basic of human interactions. They didn’t even have to say, "Little help?" I was off my bike and onto the ball.

For kicks I threw it back to them, only I threw it like a girl. Meaning: it barely even made it to the opposite sidewalk, let alone the fence, but, while their various groans were still caught in their little boy throats, I hitched my skirt, stopped traffic, crossed the street, caught the fourth bounce on the top of my left foot, flicked it up to my left knee, transferred to the right, popped it high off my head and behind my back, and no-look right-heeled it back over my head, and the fence — except it hit one of those damn power lines and plopped back down to the sidewalk.

They were like, "Little help?"

I just stood there. "Didn’t you see what I just did?"

"Ball," they said.

I picked it up and underhanded it over the fence to them, then, while play resumed, went around that intersection collecting my scattered sandals, shattered showmanpersonship, jewelry, bike, etc.

Jo Jo Hoot was happy to see me. We used to play in some bands together, for 15 or 20 minutes, so we have a lot to talk about too. Mostly taco trucks. Ha Ha and me and him walked back down the block to this one, El Gallo Giro, or, the round bad wine, and ordered our tacos and burritos. Which we ate in the little park there.

Where the kids were playing soccer. We sat on a small wall, side-by-side-by- side, with Jo Jo in the middle, and watched them fall down at the slightest little jostle, writhing on the ground in overdramatized and underbelievable agony, emulating their recent World Cup heroes. I didn’t see one single attempted bicycle kick.

The Gallo Giro truck, I’m just guessing, is associated with El Gallo Giro Taqueria in San Jose and various even southerner California locations such as L.A.

Their tacos are $1.25 apiece, $1.50 if you want carnitas, and let me just explain: you do. They’re the best, except for one other place in maybe South City or Daly City or Pacifica, I forget, according to Jo Jo Hoot.

Who is, as I said, the expert on the subject. He also told me where the best carne asada was, and the best al pastor, but I forgot and forgot those two already too — which, don’t worry, only makes life more interesting for you and me, or at least me.

Something about an owl, or gold, or something, on 24th Street? Anyone? Little help! *


Treat and 23rd St., SF

Cash only

No alcohol