SF CHEFS, the week-long celebration of all things food and drink in SF ushered in its second year last week and it was as full, fun, and delectable as the first. From industry seminars like the intriguing Tales from the Still, which kicked off the week last Tuesday, to the Grand Tasting tent in Union Square, there was never a dull moment… nor a hungry one.
Volume 44 Number 46
8/21 LA COCINA SF STREET FOOD FESTIVAL: Everyone who was there last year recalls the nightmare that was the SF Street Food Festival: three hour waits for a bite, only to find much of it gone by the time you reached the front of the line. I went at the 11am start time last year, yet still only got to try two vendors in two hours. At least I was able to hang out in the cocktail and beer garden awhile, as I heard that, too, was an impossible wait before long.
The organizers of the event are intent on making it different this year. Only time will tell, but the physical space is seven times larger, with four times as many vendors. I have long been a fan of La Cocina as a community treasure, and there are some new people behind the scenes this year who have a good track record with organizing large events. I’m hopeful… but you’ll still find me there at 11am, just in case.
Yes, beer, wine and spirits gardens have returned. You know I’m looking forward to cocktails by bartenders from Rye, The Alembic, and Beretta. There’s an eating contest hosted by none other than Pepto-Bismol (oh, the irony!) How about a scavenger hunt and silent auction? Or an after party at Cocomo with live salsa, dancing and street food? La Cocina will host the first annual San Francisco Street Food Conference on August 22-23 following the festival, with panelists discussing the political, economic, and social impact of street food vending.
At the festival, expect 40 food vendors and restaurants, plenty of drink and a celebration of all things street food in SF. Whether you’re eating street food treats from stellar restaurants like Aziza, Nombe or Flour+Water, from actual street carts and trucks like Curry Up Now or Kung Fu Tacos, or La Cocina greats such as Kika’s and El Huarache Loco, you should not leave hungry.
Saturday, August 21, 11am-7pm
In the Mission at Folsom from 24th-26th Sts., 25th from Shotwell-Treat Sts., Treat St. from 25th-26th Sts.; Garfield Park
Passports for eating range from $25-$150 can be purchased in advance, or bought a la carte the day of
8/27-29 EAT REAL FESTIVAL IN JACK LONDON SQUARE: I also attended Oakland’s three-day Eat Real Festival last year and, being in a much bigger space with more vendors, it was considerably easier to navigate than the SF Street Food Festival. In fact, I tried well over a 15 vendors last year, finding many exciting eats and drinks from SF and East Bay purveyors. About five hours into Saturday, the heat and lines became unbearable, but I got in five great hours of eating first, with no body-to-body crowds.
Eat Real Fest focuses on sustainably produced products and regional food producers and farmers. With 80 street food trucks and carts comes a limitless amount of eating possibilities. There’s also an Urban Homesteading Zone highlighting DIY food acts like canning and preserving, cheesemaking, animal husbandry, and vertical gardening – with contests, in case you want to enter your own wares. Try fermentation tasting stations with kombucha, wine, handcrafted beer, iced teas and lemonades. There’s an outdoor short film fest, a literary portion of the festival with Bay Area writers talking food, and an entertainment stage with music, sure, but also pizza tossing, noodle pulling and a Flying Knives butchery contest.
Friday-Sunday, 8/27-29, 2pm-9pm (Fri), 10:30am-9pm (Sat), 10:30am-5pm (Sun)
Jack London Square, Oakland
Food and drink tickets will be sold on-site
From Kurt Schwitters’ dwelling-consuming accretion The Merzbau to Tim Noble and Sue Webster’s silhouette-casting garbage heaps, making art from the discard pile is by no means a new gesture. It can still be a potent one, though, as evinced by “Art at the Dump,” a 20-year survey of the fruits of Recology’s artist in residence program at Intersection for the Art’s new gallery space in the historic San Francisco Chronicle building.
Recology’s program — the first of its kind in the nation — has grown immensely since the late artist and activist Jo Hanson first reached out to the Sanitary Fill Company back in 1990 and got her hands dirty. Today, participating artists are provided with a stipend and a studio in which to create work from materials scavenged from the Public Disposal and Recycling Area (a.k.a. “the dump”). The residency also involves community outreach, with artists speaking to the more than 5,000 students and adults who annually attend tours of the city’s garbage and recycling facility.
As in any large group show, the creative mileage at “Art at the Dump” varies. More than a few residents over the years seem unified in their studied appreciation of Robert Rauschenberg’s combines and Joseph Cornell’s shadow boxes, but their final pieces often lack Rauschenberg’s precise eye for juxtaposition or Cornell’s tender hermeticism. Mark Faigenbaum’s (2005) wonderful Pop 66 (2) — a chopped-up 1966 Muni bus poster arranged into a quilt-like pattern of concentric squares — on the other hand, stands on its own as an abstract reconfiguration of its source material while also evoking Charles Demuth’s precisionist oils.
If one artist’s trash doesn’t always make for treasure, at the very least you can count on a conversation piece. A sculpture by Casey Logan (2008) consists of a section of a tree trunk whose upper half has been, as if by the intervention of some magic beavers, whittled into a two-by-four complete with barcode sticker. It is called Destiny. It makes for a humorous pairing with Linda Raynsford’s (2000) two Tree Saws: old handsaws whose rusted blades Raynsford delicately cut into the outlines of forest giants.
Other past residents have taken a craftier approach. Estelle Akamine’s 1993 evening skirt and fantastically fringed cape made from computer tape ribbon could easily pass for one of Gareth Pugh’s recent gothic runway looks.
Perhaps the exhibit’s final word belongs to Donna Keiko Ozawa’s 2001 conceptual sculpture Art Reception, a found jug filled to the top with trash produced during a gallery’s opening reception. Cleverly recalling Oscar Wilde’s famous opening salvo in The Picture of Dorian Gray that “All art is quite useless,” Ozawa’s piece also underscores that the process of art-making — from a piece’s creation to its display — leaves its own set of carbon footprints.
Robb Putnam’s also no stranger to refuse. The titular orphans in the Oakland artist’s first solo exhibition at Rena Bransten are large, cartoonish canine heads made from compacted scraps of old blankets, fake fur, bubble-wrap, and it seems whatever else Putnam swept off his studio floor.
Mike Kelley’s perverse stuffed animal sculptures and the grotesque composite portraits of Giuseppe Arcimboldo both come to mind here. But with their Augie Doggie-like curves and permanently wagging tongues, Putnam’s mutts are more pitiable than abject. Skinned and beheaded, they are mascots for the unwanted and forgotten.
The show is only up for four more days, so run don’t walk to take in all the plush sadness.
ART AT THE DUMP
Through Sept. 25, free
925 Mission, SF
ROBB PUTNAM: ORPHANS
Through Aug. 21, free
Rena Bransten Gallery
49 Geary, SF
“What you doin’ talking all night? If you have so much to say, why don’t you call a hotline? The time to talk is not right now. It’s time to dance, my friend. Share some of that energy you got on your lips, in your feet.”
So goes one of the more driving dance floor hits of the summer — Lunar City Express’s “Mr. Jack (Robag’s Edna Mompf Remix).” Agreed! I couldn’t help thinking of those words as I watched a dazzling traditional Filipino dance troupe perform at the annual Pistahan festival last Saturday in Yerba Buena Gardens. While a chiming kulintang tranced out the crowd, perfectly poised women fiercely strutted and posed with tubes of iridescent fabric (calling to mind classic Trannyshack numbers by the late Steve Lady), while men whirled and flounced around them in pirate-like hats, with a swagger that verged on sloshed staggering. But the gender roles kept switching and blurring, calling up something more primal, more human.
I adore that the dance floors at the clubs have been more crowded than the bathroom stalls and bar stations recently. Nothing beats a hot move with a little twist at the end for sexy. Mind if I cut in?
DUBSTEP BLOCK PARTY
This sounds either totally awesome or completely insane — both, actually, which is why it’s a must. Two great dubstep parties, Ritual and the Lowend, are joining forces to take over the Sixth Street and Market area where their respective venues, Anu and Showdown, reside. It’ll be indoor-outdoor woofer-blowing madness, presided over by the Irie Cartel. Highlights include a four-DJ tag-team battle and performances by Kush Arora, DJ Facemelter, and live band Bayst.
Thu/20, 9 p.m., $3 donation requested. Between 10 and 43 Sixth St., SF.
15TH ANNUAL SF DRAG KING CONTEST
California’s hottest fake-mustachioed players descend upon the city to compete for the dildo-studded crown at this consistently zipper-popping annual event. Hosted by Fudgie Frottage, The Indra, Sister Roma, and Delicio Del Toro, with special guests Jane Weidlin from the Go-Gos and Pepperspray. Plus, Reverend Will Reign Supreme marrying drag kings live on stage. (Take that, Prop. 8.) This year’s theme? “Sinners and Salvation.”
Fri/20, 8 p.m., $20 advance. DNA Lounge, 375 11th St., SF. www.sfdragkingcontest.com
One half of seminal house duo Masters at Work, producer of the song that ate the 1990s (“The Bomb” by Bucketheads), the DJ whose funky Nuyorican mixing style prophesized break beats, and just an all-around soulful beats genius, Kenny Dope is finally coming back to the Bay. SOM’s global-eared monthly Ritmos Sin Fronteras party plays host, with Be Brown and Hakobo warming up.
Sat/21, 9 p.m.–3:30 a.m., $15 advance. SOM, 2925 16th St., SF. www.som-bar.com
Paul Rose, a.k.a. Scuba, is a dubstep hero (and personal crush — meow), but the London native’s DJ sets have always gone beyond the typical low-end wobble into a deeper territory, one where the beats often take a back seat to intricate melodic buildups and groundbreaking musical ideas. This doesn’t mean an end to dancing, but don’t be surprised if you find yourself popping and locking to a zigzaggy flute sample. He headlines the bimonthly Surefire Sound party with the U.K.’s Patchwork Pirates and Oakland’s Prince Zammy.
Sat/21, 10 p.m., $10. Triple Crown, 1760 Market, SF. www.triplecrownsf.com
BAY VIBES FESTIVAL
Reggae, funk, conscious hip-hop, and other blasts of musical sunshine hit Café Cocomo when more than 20 local acts — Afrolicious, Queen Makedah and the Sheba Warriors, FishBiteFish, Native Elements, and Frobeck among them — converge on two stages to turn this summer cold wave around.
Sun/22, noon–2 a.m., $25 advance, $35 door. Café Cocomo, 650 Indiana, SF. www.bayvibessf.com
I’m finally turning 21, which means I can go to bars now! So is my favorite bear chaser, DJ Peeplay of Honey Soundsystem. The rest of the homofuturist Honey boys are throwing us “a special birthday party for workaholics: Always Tired.” They’ll be spinning Detroit, Chicago, and acid classics, and there’ll be juicy artwork from Primo Pitino and Johnny Ray Huston, plus fab tranny stylings by Kalisto and April Mei Joon and a mess of surprise guests. Work!
Sun/22, 10 p.m., $3. Paradise Loft, 1501 Folsom, SF. www.paradisesf.com
NOIR (AND NOT) FILM SERIES Like many of its hardboiled antiheros, film noir is a career criminal on the lam. Constantly eluding the clutches of the historically particular and categorically retentive, it’s especially skilled at flying under the radar only to stealthily reappear years down the line. Just look at the number of times it has been sighted (as well as cited) since its initial appearance in postwar France, when critics first identified something particulier about the 1930s and ’40s American films that filled Parisian cinemas.
Noir’s notorious elasticity is on full display in “Not Necessarily Noir,” an extraordinary police lineup of double bills organized by the Roxie’s resident noir programmer Elliot Lavine. Following on the heels of Lavine’s May series “I Still Wake Up Dreaming,” which celebrated the down and dirty world of B pictures, the two-week long “Not Necessarily Noir,” as its title indicates, includes films that scan as noir more in terms of their sensibility than which video store shelf they’d sit on. From Cold War sci-fi (the original 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers kicks off the series) to more contemporary dramas such as Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant (1992) — and let’s not forget the 1983 WTF remake of Breathless starring Richard Gere — “Noir” plays fast and loose with genre and decade but ensures that at the core of each of its titles gleams a heart of darkness.
I’m hoping that the recent return of Mad Men will boost interest in the early 1960s rarities Lavine has programmed, all of which make the bad behavior and private tribulations of the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce suits look like kid stuff. Let’s start with The Sadist (1961), James Landis’ lean and nasty B&W attempt to jump on Psycho‘s bandwagon. The picture’s reputation as an honorary precursor to 1974’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is much deserved thanks to Arch Hall Jr.’s gonzo performance as the titular thrill-killer.
With his incessant giggle, bleached pompadour, 10-yard stare, and an overhanging brow worthy of Ansel Adams, Hall Jr. is hillbilly nut-job personified, and it’s a pleasure to which him terrorize a trio of uptight schoolteachers stranded at a remote gas station. Credit is also due to the striking compositions of cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, who would in later decades become the Oscar-winning go-to man for Hollywood blockbusters such as The Deer Hunter (1978) and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).
The psychological thriller Mirage (1965) is another title that tips its hat to Hitchcock (as does Brian De Palma’s 1976 Vertigo redo Obsession, which screens in the series’ second week). Gregory Peck stars as a bewildered accountant whose world starts to fall apart when he realizes that his daily routine has actually been a byproduct of long-term amnesia. As he attempts to recover his life pre-memory loss, first with the aid of a hired detective (Walter Matthau in a great supporting bit) and then with an old flame (Diane Baker), he discovers that someone is invested in keeping him in the dark — for good.
The real gem, though, is Jack Garfein’s criminally unavailable Something Wild (1961), which plays with his only other feature, the homoerotic military school drama The Strange One (1957). You know the gloves are off when within its first five minutes the ravishing Carroll Baker, the film’s star and director’s then-wife, is graphically raped. After running away to Manhattan, Baker’s traumatized victim is rescued from a suicide attempt by Mike (Ralph Meeker, star of 1955’s Kiss Me Deadly), a drunken mechanic who locks her in his rundown flat. Though, at times, Meeker and Baker lay on the Method acting pretty thick, Aaron Copland’s dissonant original score and cinematographer Eugen Schüfftan’s remarkable black and white photography of New York’s slums and skyscrapers push Something Wild into wonderfully strange, surreal places.
Week two, which focuses more on recent incarnations of noir, might rankle purists, but offers plenty of bullets, bloodlust, and good men turned bad. Quentin Tarantino favorite Rolling Thunder (1978) offers much gruesome fun as its claw-wielding, Vietnam vet protagonist hunts down his family’s murderers. Also worthy of rediscovery are Ivan Passer’s harrowing Cutter’s Way (1981), which also centers around a group of dissolute ‘Nam vets, and neo-noir proponent Paul Schrader’s Blue Collar (1988), a similarly working-man-minded drama about the fallout of a union office heist bungled by a group of broke Detroit auto workers.
NOT NECESSARILY NOIR
Aug. 20–Sept. 2, $5–$ 9.75
3117 16th St., SF
MUSIC A jazz bassist, a roadhouse blues accordionist, and a psychedelic guitarist all walk into a bar. A few years ago, this could have been a joke with a good punchline, but these days, it’s more likely to be the actual lineup of a really good show.
The traditional guidelines for booking bands have become more or less irrelevant in the brave wave of junkyard-industrial-gypsy-calypso fusion mashup with a side of no-wave-bhangra seeping its way onto the many small stages that proliferate in the Mission District. You can’t call it a new phenomenon; low-budget artists in the Mission have been banding together during tough economic straits for years. But while historically speaking there hasn’t been much of a movement to try to affix a label to these ephemeral allegiances, the father-and-son partnership of Sergei and Peter Varshavsky believe that the term “Mission music” can stand as a brand all its own. They’ve been working to develop it via their year-and-a-half-old music label, Porto Franco Records.
Founded in January 2009 by the St. Petersburg, Russia-bred Varshavskys, Porto Franco’s Mission mission is simple: they aim to provide a launching pad for the neighborhood’s hyper-local musicians — many of whom have been previously unsigned or underrepresented — while creating an identity that unities and represents their diverse clientele within a cohesive concept.
“There’s so much great stuff going on here,” Peter explains, ensconced comfortably in the Porto Franco Art Parlor and headquarters on Valencia Street. “Yet there’s no real way to bring it out of San Francisco. By combining the music under one brand, we could start saying San Francisco’s home to some of the most innovative and interesting and off-the-beaten-path music that’s being put out right now and you can find it all here [on Porto Franco].”
“Making San Francisco a musical destination nationwide — that’s one of the most important goals of our business,” Sergei adds.
Financially, it’s been an uphill slog for the fledgling company, but its artistic vision finally got a boost with the national attention garnered by its 10th release: Meklit Hadero’s On a Day Like This, featured on NPR even before the album hit the streets and written up all over the place since — from National Geographic to the Huffington Post.
“It was a breath of fresh air,” says Peter. “And helped to show us what works [promotionally] and what we can try to do next.” One thing they’ve recently done as a business is to slash their promotional budgets by two-thirds. “They weren’t paying for themselves,” explains Peter.
Sergei concurs: “One can spend thousands of dollars having all the billboards and the TV spots and stuff, but we don’t have those budgets. And anyway, you should like the music because you listened to the music, not just because you saw it on a billboard.”
In lieu of what the Varshavskys term “carpet-bombing” the media with hundreds of promotional CDs and costly advertising, Porto Franco has dedicated more energy toward helping their artists help themselves — getting them involved with social networking, website managing, cross-marketing with other labelmates, and so forth. They also target niche publications with their slow but steady output of new albums. The Varshavskys are acutely aware that it will take more than a few Facebook pages to create the kind of long-lasting impact they’re hoping Porto Franco’s musicians will have nationally.
Ultimately, they agree, what’s important is that musicians recognize the need to stay connected to their audiences — through online channels, yes, but most essentially, in-person. Citing their one non-Bay Area-based bandleader, Anna Gerasimova of Umka and Bro, who hails from Moscow, they describe an underground entity so iconic, yet so approachable, that despite practically no conventional marketing (easy to believe of a classic rock songstress born in the Cold War-era Soviet Union) she enjoys an international reputation and touring circuit.
“She can’t fill a stadium anymore,” Peter says, “but she can fill living rooms all over the world.”
“She played here!” Sergei interjects.
“It’s not a bad place to be,” Peter concludes. “She’s pretty happy staying an underground artist while everyone else has kind of grown up around her.” Most important, it seems Gerasimova is able to sustain herself as a musician without a massive publicity machine. It’s Porto Franco’s contention (and hope) that any working musician should be able to do the same.
Mark Growden, currently touring with his debut Porto Franco release St. Judas, couldn’t agree more. “It’s great to tour when you have the support of a label,” he says. “The peace of mind — it’s an amazing gift.” From emergency expenses such as car repairs and workaday business details like managing sales and mailing flyers, Porto Franco’s commitment to the well-being of their artists is particularly hands on.
Also evident is Porto Franco’s commitment to selecting artists and albums that might not appear to have anything in common outside of location, but that actually share one other very important quality. Here, again, Growden puts it best. “The musicianship is sophisticated. It’s local. It’s mature. It’s music that the artists are still going to be able to play 10 years from now and not be embarrassed by it. Porto Franco isn’t chasing a trend [by signing these acts]. These are all acts with integrity.”
MUSIC This year’s Total Trash Fest delivers a number of reasons why the Bay Area is a peerless pizzeria of garage rock: Shannon and the Clams, Hunx and His Punx (or Punkettes), and Nobunny are on hand to serve the most powerful, flirtatious, and leporid trash, whether they’re in outerwear or underwear that’s fun to wear. But the freshest studio delivery of the event belongs to Hoboken, N.J.’s Personal and the Pizzas, who’ll be delivering 12-inch black discs of the debut album Raw Pie (1-2-3-4 Go! Records). Unlike the regular slices the group shares with lucky audiences, they ain’t free, though.
Raw Pie kicks off with the heartfelt anthem “I Don’t Wanna Be No Personal Pizza” before moving on to declare love for a girl with “Pepperoni Eyes” and make it clear that “Nobody Makes My Girl Cry But Me.” Raw Pie‘s lead guitar sound — one that bears an uncanny resemblance to the livewire riffing on a great album by a Bay Area band last year — is the one-of-a-kind sauce that makes songs like “Pizza Army” so tasty. Will Personal and the Pizzas hook up with Italy’s Miss Chain and the Broken Heelz at Total Trash? Who knows? As Raw Pie‘s most inspiring song “I Can Reed” attests, Personal is a man of few words, but I recently cornered him to get some answers about what matters most in his world.
SFBG Can you tell me about how Personal and the Pizzas met and what your upbringings were like?
Personal Uh, we met at this pizza joint called Benny Tudino’s in Hoboken [N.J.] after some rock ‘n’ roll gig in the city. We were all real young, but we didn’t go to school or nothin’. We just hung out on the street and sang Stooges songs and stuff. Real dropouts.
SFBG What pizzeria makes your favorite pizza, and what do you like on it?
P Carmine’s Original in Greenpoint [N.Y.) Totonno’s is good, too — the Coney Island one. I usually just get a regular.
SFBG What’s your favorite place — pizzeria or not — to take a girl with pepperoni eyes?
P Usually just get a pie delivered, watch the tube, and make out on the couch. Drink a few brews. Get real loose, ya know?
SFBG Personal, you’re a talented guitarist who has lent your abilities to some Bay Area bands. Raw Pie rips. What are the keys to your signature guitar sound, and how do you keep your fingers from catching on fire?
P Thanks. You know those hand grippers? Yeah, I just work out with those everyday. Do a few reps, then crank my ax to 12. The thing just starts rippin’. SMOKIN’ HOT!
SFBG This is the drug issue, so if you’re high, what would you order on your pizza? Is pizza your favorite drug?
P I don’t smoke dope. I ain’t no hippie.
SFBG “I Ain’t Takin’ You Out” is a timely song. What is your idea of a perfect night in?
P Usually just get a pie delivered, watch the tube, and make out on the couch. Drink a few brews. Get real loose, ya know?
SFBG “$7.99 for Love” makes me wonder if you might be penning a beer-and-pizza diet book sometime. Do you eat anything other than pizza and drink anything except beer?
P Uh, no. I mean, I like spaghetti.
SFBG If you curl up at night with a good book or magazine, what do you read?
P Hustler, Barely Legal, Buttman. You know, all the classics
SFBG Personal, are you a lover, or a fighter, or both?
P I’m the world’s best lover. I like to get in fights though, too, if I’m bored.
SFBG What shouldn’t be put on a pizza?
P Lay off the artichokes, man. Spinach can get lost, too. C’mon! Gimme somethin’ REGULAR!
SFBG What do you have to do to become a member of the Pizza Army?
P Gimme 5 bucks and you’re in!
SFBG When Personal and the Pizzas hit the Motor City, what are you going to do?
P Gonna burn it down! Gonna tear that mother apart! Gonna kick its ass!
SFBG What would Joey Ramone and Iggy Stooge think of Personal and the Pizzas?
P Not sure what those turkeys would think.
SFBG What’s next for Personal and the Pizzas? Any new musical directions or song subjects that you haven’t tackled before?
P We gotta new single comin’ out on Trouble In Mind in September. Got one ballad on there called “I Want You.” Gotta rocker on there, too, called “Don’t Trust No Party Boy.” Gonna stick to writin’ about real stuff. Girls. Pizza. Beatin’ up nerds. Rock ‘n’ roll. Stuff that matters, ya know? *
TOTAL TRASH FEST: PERSONAL AND THE PIZZAS
With Gentleman Jesse and His Men, Barreracudas, Wrong Words, Beercaz
Fri/20, 9 p.m., $10 ($33 for four-day Total Trash Fest passes)
1600 17th St., SF
MUSIC Moira Scar is from the Bay Area, but it would be better to put it this way: from a time and space at the edge of one of Jack Smith’s 15-hour performances in a crustacean imaginative nethersphere, the musical entity that is Moira Scar has arrived. The duo’s self-released vinyl debut Slink to Intensity is made up of seven songs. Some manifest in frenetic outer space garage sounds. Others conjure sprawling free-jazz fantasy lands just beyond the negative space of a film frame. Slink to Intensity also features three photos of the group’s LuLu Gamma Ray and Roxy Monoxide in nakedly wild attire. The spirit of Mary Daly would approve. I recently asked Moira Scar about itself.
SFBG Moira Scar moves, but not in a typical running or walking way. it meanders or sallies forth, wiggles like a wildebeest, dances or slinks to intensity. What kind of human or animal actions do you find inspiring, and what reactions do you want people to have to your music?
Roxy Monoxide To become your own mystical beast. Still influenced by the made-up animal friends of childhood, along with the ideal that we can somehow stand up with the wild animals of the world and learn to coexist as animals again. But then again, stuck between predator and prey, the tiger mouth chews on her own zebra hinds, kind of like ouroboros.
LuLu Gamma Ray Haunting tones of the waddell seals inspire, along with loud boomings of the Lyrebird, which has two sound sources and can produce a far greater variety of sounds than human beings. Animals and plants have wide ranges of emotions, vast intelligence, and can impart important information if only we’d listen.
SFBG Can you tell me a bit about the vintage-horror film analog sounds in "You Make Me Scream" and how you made them?
LLGR The eerie entrancing sounds are made with a CAT SRM2 70’s analog synth’s pulse width modulation. I play electronic music and musique concrete in the lineage of Delia Derbyshire, Ruth White, Sun Ra, and David Tudor, as well as other courageous musical astronauts.
SFBG What is Moira Scar’s favorite Nino Rota score? For me, you also bring to mind the organ sounds in the movie Carnival of Souls.
LLGR Nina Rota’s cut-up method in Juliette of the Spirits is influential, and also the camp and beauty of organists Korla Pandit and Anton LaVey. Many spirits passed and future possess the vessel’s Pelvis and Saphoid, and are warped and distorted through our lens to create the Muse-ick
SFBG What do you like about Jean Vigo’s L’Atalante?
RM The bittersweet realism with poetic montage, the slacker anarchy and feebleness of our lives expressed through human and cat coexistence aboard barge on 1930s Seine and Paris backdrops, with antagonistic relationships and the wise drunken fool; Moira Scar can’t help but being romantic in spite of our psycho-depressive tendencies, or maybe because of them.
SFBG What drug is most recommended for listening to Moira Scar?
RM Moira is the drug. We have been told that we are like watching Forbidden Zone on acid, and some fans enjoy their lubricants while dancing to Scar. But for us the muse possession is the best high.
SFBG What is Moira Scar’s vision of the future?
RM A show with Bambi Lake, M. Lamar, the Deepthroats, and Omnivourous Sinsillium; and us as vegan witches in a world of cannibal zombies.
LLGR To wake the audience from corporate hypnosis with insect and alien soundscapes. Realign nutrinos and journey through the wormhole with us!
RM and LLGR Transmogrify!
With Tongue and Teeth, Deep Teens
Aug. 26, 9 p.m., 21 and over
The Stud Bar
399 Ninth St., SF
Aug. 31, 10 p.m., all ages
2183 Mission, SF
MUSIC If “California Gurls” is the dirge of pop music, the arrival of Bethany Cosentino ought to make you consider calling off the funeral. That’s not to say her music is pop, exactly. It has pop potential but it’s not a “radio-ready” sound … yet. Her debut album, made with Bobb Bruno under the moniker Best Coast, is rife with short, sweet hooks and infectious choruses untouched by excessive production and studio intervention.
The lo-fi, almost low-effort sensibility yields roughly-hewn, simple melodies as catchy as any summer anthem. Cosentino could easily be transformed into a pop princess if she was up for it. But I don’t think she is. As per indie music’s backward-gazing tendencies this year, Best Coast on its debut LP Crazy For You (Mexican Summer) builds the scaffold of a promising pop record.
Best Coast’s pedigree of influences includes the Ronettes, the Shangri-Las, and the Crystals, as well as more contemporary groups like Wavves (frontman Nathan Williams is her boyfriend) and Vivian Girls (drummer Ali Koehler joined the band post-Crazy).
On 13 tracks, Cosentino displays emotional candor and a half-assed style of playing akin to Liz Phair when she left cassette-land for 1993’s Exile in Guyville. Here, Best Coast stages a response to 1960s beach pop, just as Phair responded to phallocentric rock music. This time, the homage isn’t an attempt to redo and revise, but almost to idolize a certain vintage style. There’s also a little bit of Hole — sans Courtney Love’s analgesic rawness — in Cosentino’s woozy, whiney vocals. Imagine Love doing a cover of “Leader of the Pack.”
Crazy For You is as much a testament to laziness as it is a tribute to ’60s girl bands. With lyrics like “I can’t get myself off the couch/ Nothing makes me happy/ Not even TV or a bunch of weed,” Best Coast’s “Goodbye” makes a bid for broken heart song of the year. In a summer of looooong albums (like Joanna Newsom’s three-disc Have One on Me, or more recently, Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs ), it’s refreshing to hear short songs — the longest track, “Honey,” clocks in at three minutes and two seconds — that come and go without ever repeating a chorus for too long. In less than two minutes, “Bratty B” provides one of the album’s sunniest and most memorable moments.
In a phone interview, Cosentino opens up about her humble beginnings with guitar. “I was probably in the seventh grade,” she says, a time when she listened to Blink-182 and Green Day in her formative years of listening. “I started playing pop punk and power chords. I took lessons for a year or two but I didn’t ever practice, so I didn’t become too great of a guitar player.”
In other words, she isn’t a guitar virtuoso. That’s where Bruno comes in. Cosentino doesn’t always seem to know where she’s going on Crazy For You, but she gets there with a little TLC. “I write the songs and send a demo version to Bobb and I’ll say, ‘Here’s this song, here’s the vibe I’m looking for,'” Cosentino explains. “Bobb has this way of making it sound the way I envision. He fills in the gaps and does what I can’t do. I really only know how to play power chords. Bobb comes in with the surf-y aspects and does all the lead guitar solos, which I can do, but only on one string so they often don’t sound as great as Bobb makes them sound.”
Though Best Coast is a product of West Coast adoration, it wouldn’t have happened if Cosentino hadn’t moved to New York for college. But the journey east, where she spent one semester at the New School, took too far out of her element. “Obviously I would never have started this band had I stayed in L.A.,” she says. “Leaving really changed me as a person,” Her romanticized vision of New York — born from Seinfeld and Woody Allen movies — ushered her into a concrete love affair that was ultimately unrequited.
A song like Crazy For You‘s opening track “Boyfriend,” with its pining lyrics that border on obsession, sounds like the work of someone desperate. But Cosentino denies this. “I don’t write songs about boys because I’m needy. I’m in a relationship. I’m not a sad girl,” she says. “I write about guys because it’s something I’m influenced by. A lot of people have been saying, ‘Oh she’s so needy, she needs a boyfriend.’ That’s not it at all.”
Like any rising celebrity, Cosentino of course has hobbies, and they often involve smoking weed. Or sometimes they involve deepening her Internet footprint. She maintains a Twitter account (www.twitter.com/bestycoastyy) that is a curio of hilarious tangents plus a blog with Ali Koehler where they rate and discuss the showers in their hotels on tour.
Cosentino also has a Twitter account for her cat, Snacks, who modeled for the album cover of Crazy For You. She’s loathe to dwell too much on Snacks in interviews. Still, it’s part of the ever-growing Cosentino mythos. “I feel like my cat gets talked about in my interviews more than music,” she says. “But I’m happy about that because he deserves it.”
Best Coast is a testament to how bands are favored and, conversely, dampened by the Internet and the hype it creates. All the meme-momentum built up for Best Coast, dating back to its early demos, might not benefit the band in the long run, but it sure is fun for now.
Crazy For You arrives at a perfect time in music, since retro-bedroom rock is the style du jour. But Best Coast is like your summer romance. Once September hits and you’ve had your kicks, you’ll be ready to say goodbye and end things in a peaceful way. Yet your old flame, since she’s a little Crazy, might try and stick around longer than you’d like.
October 26, 9 p.m., $15
Great American Music Hall
859 O’Farrell, SF
FILM The overlapping causes of liberating women and liberating sexuality have long been frenemies. There is no reconciling how the sexual revolution forwarded both women’s independence and their exploitation as sexual objects by industries overwhelmingly focused on male desire and purchasing power.
Nobody figures higher in that saga than Hugh Hefner. Fair to say he probably played as big a role in triggering said revolution (at least for men) as the pill. Yet he also cemented Slim-Waisted Young Blonde With Big Tits (real or factory-ordered) as the prevailing straight-male standard for desirability. An image that, decades later, strangleholds popular imaginations and private insecurities more than ever.
Brigitte Berman’s new Canadian documentary Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist, and Rebel acknowledges that conflict without seriously exploring it. Instead, her focus is on "Hef"’s admittedly under-appreciated role as force for progressive change. Not just in expected arenas like censorship and sex laws, but also in public-spirited concerns from racial equity to film preservation. Hef has put his money where his editorial mouth is, with a passion probably equal to (if for many incongruous with) his need to be surrounded by glossy babes now one-fourth his octogenarian age.
One can fault Berman, as the purported first outsider "granted full access" to peek past Playboy‘s corporate gates, for not being tough enough. Hefner’s personal life (such as it’s been for a lifelong, briefly speed-addicted workaholic) isn’t much touched on. First wife and family simply vanish from the narrative once our protagonist decides to become his publication’s suave, anything-but-monogamous "playboy" archetype.
No ex-wives are heard from, no kids aside from Christie Hefner, who became her absentee father’s empirical second-in-command. No ex-girlfriends either, apart from Playmate-turned-B-movie-regular Shannon Tweed, who admits that being his "No. 1 girl" still wasn’t enough because "I don’t share well."
Casting him as a First Amendment and civil rights champion, the film skimps on the full breadth of artistic-slash-business involvements, from two decades’ worth of softcore video Playmate "portraits" (do I own the 1994 La Toya Jackson one? Does it contain a gauzy music vid implying sexual abuse by Papa Joe? Double yes!) to prior dabblings producing regular movies. (The regular dabblings included Roman Polanski’s 1971 post-Manson Macbeth and Peter Bogandovich’s fine 1979 Saint Jack, not to mention hard-to-find 1973 flop The Naked Ape, a sketch-format riff on Desmond Morris’ pop anthropology tome. Its awkward, touching mix of wink-wink smut and crusading good intentions distill peak-years Playboy.) Nor does it acknowledge the Playboy empire’s latter-day struggles as the Internet has rendered print erotica a quaint antiquity.
Beyond these omissions, Berman still strains to encompass a very colorful life in two full hours. Even if it eventually feels like a very long Wikipedia bio, her film is never boring. And Hefner remains notably articulate, despite all eccentricities. (Natch, he’s interviewed throughout in silk pajamas or velvet bathrobes, currently cohabiting with just three drastically younger blondes down from a post-second marriage harem of seven.)
Playboy (initially to be called Stag Party) started in 1953 as a direct response to Hefner’s coldly unaffectionate family background and dissatisfaction with his prematurely boring home-career respectability. Raising funds himself, he gained enormous attention with a first issue featuring pre-stardom nude photos of Marilyn Monroe that everyone had heard about but few had seen.
Promoting "a healthier attitude toward sex," not to mention the shocking notion that "nice girls like sex too" Playboy then sought to pedestal "girls next door" rather than pro models or strippers swiftly brought a backlash. A successful fight against the U.S. Postal Service was just its first legal battle. As noted in the film, the most morally righteous opponents often proved the most hypocritical, including Charles Keating who pronounced pornography "part of the Communist conspiracy," then decades later went to prison for 1980s Savings and Loan fraudulence and fundamentalist Christians like late loon Jerry Falwell.
Meanwhile Hefner used the enormously popular periodical (and syndicated TV variety-show spin-offs Playboy’s Penthouse and Playboy After Dark) to articulate a "Playboy philosophy" stretching way beyond hedonistic libertarianism. He employed Red Scare-blacklisted talent; showcased African Americans in hitherto segregated contexts; and campaigned for abortion and birth control rights and against draconian punishments for sodomy and marijuana. The girly mag gave voice to countercultural and anti-Vietnam War sentiments, deliberately stirring controversy via in-depth interviews such as Roots author Alex Haley’s with American Nazi Party leader George Lincoln Rockwell.
Hefner got an eventual NAACP award, among other kudos. But as Dr. Ruth (or is it Bill Maher? Sorry, there are too many celebrities sampled to keep track) says, the "escapist" side that spun Bunny boobs into bazillions overshadowed the earnest intellectual. Veteran feminist Susan Brownmiller is cast as the unsexy scold who loses points for labeling Playboy‘s often extraordinary taste in literary and critical voices (Updike, Mailer, Bradbury, etc.) a mere clever ruse to legitimize its jismy gist. Yet who can argue with her vintage challenge that Hefner demonstrate true gender equality by going public "with a cotton-tail on your rear end"?
It would be nice to hear from more critical voices not just the odd ludicrous one, like born-again MOR crooner and repentant former Playboy subscriber Pat Boone. Blaming Hefner for "breaking the moral compass" of our nation, he’s the sole interviewee photographed against a wall of vainglorious mementos apart from KISS’ aviator-shaded Gene Simmons, presumably grumpy because for once he’s discussing someone else’s slutty serial cocksmanship. (These two have more in common than they’ll acknowledge: see Boone’s unforgettable 1997 CD In a Metal Mood.)
By any fair appraisal, Hefner looms large among 20th-century societal game-changers. This undeniably entertaining documentary celebrates his heroism. Yet it can’t help getting across on cheesier snapshots. Who can resist glimpses of Playboy’s Roller-Disco and Pajama Party, a 1979 prime-time network WTF featuring the combined talents of Richard Dawson, Chuck Mangione, the Village People, and Wayland Flowers and Madame? Plus jiggling Playmates on wheels, of course. Now that is a Rorschach of American "liberation" as fucked-up perfect as you’ll never find.
HUGH HEFNER: PLAYBOY, ACTIVIST, AND REBEL opens Fri/20 in Bay Area theaters.
DRUGS Personally, I’ll smoke any dried-up old horseshit you hand me. I don’t care. Brown buds, flat buds, wet seedy buds, leaves, stems, branches, even stuff that’s already been smoked. You got it, let’s roll it.
But I’m also not stupid: pricey gorgeous buds are the best. The tight-purple supernugs have the best smell and the best taste; they are the ultimate gateway to the total marijuana experience. On the other hand, top-shelf Prada buds will fuck you up, financially and otherwise. A dab will definitely do you.
Except at my house. If there’s weed anywhere near me, I’ll smoke it right up. I don’t care how sacred the bud is, or even if I had to scalp a hippie just to pay for it. I am a high-energy, compulsive, scatterbrained cat-lady freak-out type who isn’t a major boozer, thank God. So I’m basically the perfect candidate for chain-spliffing. And I don’t have a problem with that, in case the church people were wondering. I need my weed and I need it to be abundant and cheap. That’s why being a legal stoner smoked me dry.
It took me about three months in the fully legit scene to finally realize that my zero cash flow was entirely the weed’s fault. Oh, of course, of course: weed doesn’t smoke people; people do. I know all that. But I’m telling you, sister––you need to get a load of this dispensary weed. It will blow your mind and bring you to your knees (and don’t bother getting up, honey, because you’ll have to blow a lot of stoners to make your rent at these rates). The buds at the pot clubs are so purple, so crystal-y and seductive that it’s not offensive in the least to admit they were asking for it — for me to smoke every last one of them, that is. Like Jeffrey Dahmer, I couldn’t help myself.
No, the pressure of constant availability was simply too much. I couldn’t deal with all that convenience. Three blocks away was just too close. Realistically, the pot club would need a moat filled with cannibals and a legion of snipers with perfect aim to keep a person like me away. And imagine — I am just one Roberta Seawhore among many. I was there every other day, talking weed sass with the staff, sampling this, sampling that, always walking out with at least two to three kinds of Cannabis Cup–level bud products and paraphernalia. Long gone were the silly days of yore when I’d have to go through lazy stoner drug mules, who would maybe show up six days later, if ever, with a few scraps of pot-related plant parts that crawled directly out of a witch’s humid crotch. Ga. How plebeian.
So who did I think I was with my fancy-ass buds, anyway — the pope? I’m the kind of broad who shops flip-flops on the Payless sale rack––and now I’m some ganja quality-control expert? Please. “But it’s medicine,” I reminded myself daily. “You legally need to smoke an enormous amount of papal-quality weed, Roberta. That’s why the nice pot-doctor lady prescribed you the EZ Vape2––because you are sick. You have insomnia, dude. Because of your very critical medical-marijuana-necessitating crazy-head condition, you not only deserve the city’s sweetest buds, you simply must have them, 24/7, even if it makes you homeless. Relax, marijuana is good for you.”
Here’s what I learned: Pot clubs are perfect for yuppies who posses a freakish sense of self-control. Everyone else is too low budge.
Which is exactly why, one foggy new-moon morning, I looked deep into my dark Persephone soul and mustered the courage to do the unthinkable: I set fire to my pot card. A few bittersweet tears of relief (mixed with intense pangs of regret and panic) elbowed their way out my left eye as I watched that pretty little pot card burn in the cat dish. Sigh. Heavy is my heart under the weight of the world. Then I rolled a fat one.
From that day forward, however, I resolved to only buy buds, or whatever you call those shriveled, turd-like things, from the renegade marijuana underground — from those brave women and men who boldly said “Never mind!” to the law and scammed PG&E for the noble purpose of getting us all hella stoned. In other words: “Hey, criminals — the bitch is back. Who do I have to blow for some free shake?”
But I’d be lying if I said the financial and self-control fallouts of having unlimited access to superbuds were the only reasons I destroyed my card: In all honesty, I was getting too fucked up, thanks to the edibles.
Indeed, one of the first things I noticed when I became legit is that smoking weed is so last year. Only losers and totally boring Deadheads still smoke it. Everybody else eats it, drinks it, or swallows it, which is where, if you are not careful, you may cross the line from harmless stoner dingbat to depressing drug addict nodding off. Just ask me.
At $15 bucks a pop, the Showstopper hash cookie had better be the shit. It turns out that it is, big time. Although nothing special to look at it, this buttery, chocolate-chip morsel is similar to a ‘ludey combination of MDMA, mushrooms, and weed — a pretty sublime experience for a pot cookie. At first, half a cookie did the trick. But soon I was eating a whole one and contemplating taking two in one afternoon.
Clearly, the point of edibles is to get you majorly fucked up, and I initially had no problem with that concept because, as you will remember, I am sick! But did I really need the $50 container of hash oil, too? You bet I did. As soon as the cute hipster stonerrista at the dispensary finished explaining the proper way to spread the dark, golden oil on my spliff papers, I was thinking, “Three blocks is too far away, man. I need to be lighting this shit up RIGHT NOW.”
I ate my $15 cookie on the way home, where I smeared the hash oil on a Zig Zag with a safety pin, sparked it up, and soon started nodding off on the couch. So early ’90s, right? And it was just noon on a Saturday, and all I had to do was laundry, which prompted me to wonder, “Why am I getting this high? What am I after here? Maybe I should just start using heroin or morphine. Or maybe heroin and morphine together. What the fuck is going on, Seawhore?”
Suddenly, those lightweight days of just huffing whatever crap landed my way seemed so sweet and innocent in contrast to my new life as a hardened doper. And didn’t I feel bad for abandoning my grower peeps? Yes, I did feel bad. And stupid, too. After all, Roberta Seawhore isn’t in this habitual pot-smoking biz to get completely out of her head. I like to think of marijuana as Roberta’s little helper––not as the k-hole heroin-bomb of the plant world.
Don’t get me wrong here, people. I am thankful the dispensaries exist, and the legalization of marijuana is a huge step forward for mankind. But if you are a Payless flip-flop shopper with no self-control like me, I suggest you think twice before getting legal. Can you handle the ease? Or are you better off chasing an unreliable drug mule throughout the Mish just to get an oregano fix? Only you know the answer to that. I wish you the best.
DRUGS Remember those elementary school sleepovers when you’d pin your friend’s throat against the wall so they could experience a few moments of sweet, sweet asphyxiation? The heady realization that you could easily make yourself feel really weird, in an almost-good way? Well, that brilliant brand of adolescent inanity is back, and this time, it’s on the Internet! Enter I-dosing — binaural beats stripped from the Enya, trance, and Pearl Jam albums (sometimes accompanied by tacky Op art visuals) so that nerdy teens can pretend they’re doing something bad.
Bubble-headed hyperventilators on the local evening news have already declared a new drug menace. “Kelly, parents really need to listen up on this one,” warned one lushly coiffed correspondent recently on Oklahoma City’s News9, opening a sequence that cobbled together hilarious footage those crazy I-dosers posted of themselves. Headphone-clad teens — in blindfolds! — curling into balls, spastically clenching their muscles in the rec room. It doesn’t look like much fun, but when has that ever stopped anyone from trying to get high on the cheap?
Subsequent studies have shown that these tracks, basically a pair of tones played simultaneously at slightly different frequencies, aren’t really melting your face. No detectable variance in brainwaves was detected while listeners were I-dosing into insanity. But long-term experiments are turning up interesting results — daily use of the tracks (which start around 99 cents on Amazon), which have names like “Demerol,” “Peyote,” “Orgasm,” and the more benign “Quick Happy,” “Confidence,” and “Brain+,” can produce overall reductions in anxiety and other slightly positive effects.
That, and my parents are afraid of it? No brainer! For the sake of Guardian readers, who obviously don’t do drugs of any bandwidth, I dove into the search engine to try.
The bad: there’s a bewildering array of I-dose options. I went straight for the free stuff, the files that have been converted to YouTube video. Granted, these aren’t at the same sound quality as the $200 I-dosing tracks you can buy on such sites as www.i-doser.com — but no one’s footing that bill, lemme tell ya.
“Gates of Hades” seems to be the most downloaded of the bunch. And while I didn’t quite witness the “death and destruction” promised by its creators, I did rip out my headphones when the sounds, which began with a steady, grinding noise that made me want to vomit, then switched jarringly into a key more apt to rupture my ear drums. If we’re going to be faking trips, can we at least choose a good trip? You’d think the nervous Nellies out there would want kids to think drugs were like this.
The good: Some of the more mellow I-doses produced a pleasantly confusing buzz — like being happy at a sober rave. The free ones accompanied by visuals got me slightly out of my head, at least, with whirling circles, throbbing triangles, and jouncing animated penguins. I may not have experienced Timothy Leary-esque cosmic transcendence, but after a couple minutes of staring at my pulsating screen, my pupils got nice and Google-y. No dramatic seizures, though.
Conclusion: buy a Magic Eye book.
DINE Many of us would probably agree that a certain sort of Chinese restaurant tends to be rather plain on the inside, with lots of linoleum, severe fluorescent lighting, and chairs that look like they were bought for 25 cents each from San Quentin Prison’s annual garage sale. Hunan Chef, on Cortland Avenue in Bernal Heights, gives us a variation on this familiar theme — it is ugly on the outside. It is, in truth, in a building so ugly, so faceless and phlegm-colored, that we are left to wonder how such a structure could have been conceived, let alone built.
The good news is that Hunan Chef is reasonably appealing inside. Once there, you don’t have to look at the outside anymore, so that’s a plus right off the bat. A friendly aquarium with languid gourami burbles near the front door, and an array of tchotchkes are arrayed around the dining room, including, toward the rear, a poster for Budweiser cerveza tacked onto the wall, for a hint of college-dorm nostalgia in multi-culti guise.
The better news is that Hunan Chef serves pretty wonderful food at modest prices. Most remarkable, the table service is friendly and efficient despite the bustling takeout service. This you hardly ever see, in my experience. Takeout takes priority in the same way a telephone call trumps a customer actually standing at the counter in a hardware store. If I see takeout bags being taken out in large numbers, I usually resign myself to slow, erratic service. But not at Hunan Chef.
The long menu includes many standards, and for the most part they don’t disappoint. Only the scallion cakes ($3.95) left us feeling a little deflated; the cakes — actually a single cake cut into triangles like a pizza — suffered from dryness, which can be a symptom of having been made beforehand and then left sitting around too long.
Potstickers ($4.95 for six) more than compensated. They were as big as a baby’s fist and juicy. Roasted duck wonton soup ($6.50) was also richly satisfying, a broad bowl of golden, oily broth backfilled with chunks of roasted duck and a wealth of wrinkly, pork-filled wontons. The soup alone would have made a meal for a single (takeout?) diner.
Generally I steer clear of curry dishes in Chinese restaurants. There is a yellow harshness I associate with curry powder spooned from a can. Hunan Chef’s Singapore rice noodle ($6.50) did have the golden hue that suggests the presence of turmeric, but the curry flavor was smooth and mellow, not at all metallic. Also, there were plenty of other colorful attractions on the plate, including shrimp, shreds of barbecue pork, broccoli florets, carrot slivers, lengths of scallion, bamboo shoots, chunks of green bell pepper, and threadings of egg, which looked like ganglia as seen under a microscope.
Cabbage beef ($7.50) didn’t look like much at all: pale gray-green cabbage leaves wok-fried with chunks of beef. But if ginger zing had a color, it would have been among the most colorful items on the menu. Carrot slivers helped, a little. Cabbage is a wonderful, supple vegetable that does suffer some from drabness and a reputation as poor-people food. As a boy, I hated it; now I seek it out.
The restaurant offers a range of what might be called signature dishes — dishes with “Hunan” in the name — among them Hunan chicken ($7.50). Here we found, along with chunks of boneless flesh, swaths of bok choy, button mushrooms, broccoli florets, carrot slivers, and whole dried red chilis. These last implied a sauce with some heat — Hunan being, along with Szechuan, among the spicier of China’s regional cooking styles — and there was indeed a hint of heat in the marvelous, garlicky red sauce. This was the kind of sauce that left you wishing Chinese restaurants brought you a basket of bread so you’d have a means of sopping it up. An alternative to bread is to have the leftovers boxed up. Once you’re in the privacy of your own home, you can do as you see fit.
Service was excellent. The serving of dishes was well-paced, empty plates were removed promptly, and water glasses never ran dry. I was reminded, as I so often am at Chinese restaurants, of the prep time involved in virtually every dish, the dicing, chopping, and shredding — an expense of human effort and energy that reduces cooking times and therefore the need for scarce fuel. As the child of an energy-hogging culture that burns fossil fuels to blow leaves from the sidewalk so the wind can blow them back again, I can’t help but be impressed by this.
Mon.–Sat., 11 a.m.–9:30 p.m.;
Sun., 4–9 p.m.
525 Cortland, SF
Beer and wine
CHEAP EATS I keep finding myself in Emeryville, which is a problem. Once I was running early so I stopped at the Comeback Café and ordered a Vietnamese sandwich, pork, no mayonnaise.
The young guy at the counter wrote it all down, passed it along to the kitchen, and I picked up a Giants’ schedule from a stack by the cash register. It made me feel at home.
This is the thing about me: whenever I am running early, I wind up late. Even later than when I am running late. At least I know myself. So I called Crawdad de la Cooter, and let her know. It was a prediction, disguised as a question: “Do you want me to bring anything for the kids?”
“What do they have?”
I read the menu.
“Shrimp rolls,” she said. So good, so now I had a proper excuse for being late. And it would be in the kids’ best interest, because shrimp rolls, as a rule, rock. Everybody knows, give or take two- and three-year-olds.
It was already taking them forever to make my sandwich, and now it was going to take foreverer.
I read the whole 2010 S.F. Giants season, April to October, in one sitting, only I was standing up. And finally, my order was ready.
Not wanting to run the risk of having to share my pork sandwich with the children, I decided to eat it in the car. And that was how, just one bite in, I learned why they call the place the Comeback Café. I did an immediate U-turn and went back.
“Mayonnaise,” I said.
“So sorry, I forgot to tell them,” he said.
So they made me a new one and I was even later. The sandwich was great this time, plenty of grilled pork and fresh cilantro, shredded carrots … On the minus side, the jalapenos had very little heat, and: $5. Did I miss something? Is that the going rate for Vietnamese sandwiches these days? Even in the Tenderloin?
Well, leave it to Emeryville.
The fresh shrimp rolls ($5.50 for three) were lame. I don’t think I ever tasted a non-vegetarian Vietnamese cold roll with less flavor. Too much lettuce and not enough (if any) other green things. Cilantro? Basil? Mint?
Well, the kids enjoyed their stickiness: the rice paper wrapper and especially the rice vermicelli noodles, which they were delighted to find inside, and spread all over.
I was about to spend five days and four nights with them. In fact, I did. It’s Day 5, mom’s on the airplane home, as we speak, and I am still picking vermicelli noodles out of her two little uns’ hair and wardrobes.
Besides taking them on their first-ever BART train ride, which was the highlight of at least two of our lives, my favorite time was on Sunday when their father took us all out to dinner at Khana Peena, this great Indian restaurant at the Berkeley Hills end of Solano. I’d seen it a million times but had never eaten there because Zachary’s is just a couple doors down.
Anyway, they have this great happy hour special between I think 4 to 7 p.m. every day, where you get 50 percent off on all your food. Which I’m guessing is overpriced so maybe it comes out to “about right.”
Well, the chicken tikka masala was so good we had to order it again. And probably would have ordered it again again, if the kids weren’t starting to get fussy. Soooooo good, but I gotta say: tiiiiiny portion. Half price, order twice … Again: I don’t know, you do the math.
All’s I’m saying is I don’t remember ever loving chicken tikka masala so much. Nor do I remember ever feeling so thoroughly momlike as I did eating out with two small kids and their dad. I can’t speak for the girls, but I think I might have goofed around a little less than usual.
KHANA PEENA INDIAN CUISINE
Lunch: 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m.;
Dinner: 5 p.m.–9:30 p.m.
1889 Solano, Berk.
Beer and wine
I was halfway through an answer to a reader’s very interesting question when said reader wrote back and asked me not to. Instead we’re discussing fetishes and how they do or don’t mesh well with regular partnered sex. The questioner had done everything a body could do to accommodate the partner’s special interests, yet the fetish was proving a more powerful draw than the willing, accommodating live body, and the questioner was wondering if there was really room in the relationship for two humans and an object.
Maybe. But moving on, can a person with a very powerful attraction to an inanimate object, a disembodied bodily characteristic, or a specific and inflexible role ever be happy in a relationship with someone who doesn’t feel the same way about swim-caps or dirty feet, or who is just going through the role-play motions?
Obviously, people do manage to include a unilateral fetish in bilateral sex. It’s no weirder or more difficult to negotiate than one partner liking any other activity more than the other one does: you compromise, you do a little of this and a little of that, you try to make each other happy.
It’s actually rare for two people to be independently equally and identically interested in something like rubber or latex or boots or what-have-you, even if they met at the Leather, Latex, and Boots Ball. But if you don’t have a fetish or fringe-y interest of your own, you’re never really going to get it or even completely believe a partner who insists s/he must have X present or deployed for sex to feel worthwhile or even doable.
I think of fetishes and strong attractions to scenes like BDSM, water sports, or cosplay as readily sharable but not entirely transferable. Some will give it a try out of curiosity or just to be nice and discover they’ve been carrying an inner submissive or a pirate wench around, corked up like a genie in a bottle. Yay for you if this happens; it is a rare and beautiful thing.
But more often you’re going to find a situation where a regular vanilla-type person is taken by surprise at the revelation that a new love interest requires a French maid’s uniform and a pair of rubber waders to get off, and is happy to oblige but something is … off. Gradually s/he realizes that there is a love triangle here and the older relationship is the stronger and more compelling one. Eventually she wonders if the other person would even notice her absence, provided she left the uniform and the waders. Meanwhile, the waders-lover suspects the new partner is only humoring him and thinks the waders are pretty silly or even mildly shameful. Bad feelings ensue.
Communication, of course, is the blah blah blah, but we must remember that ability to communicate one’s feelings is not, in and of itself, a cure-all. “I don’t want to do that and I think less of you for being so obsessed with it ” is, after all, a perfectly clear communication.
Got a question? Email Andrea at email@example.com
The long-term viability of eight women’s health clinics operating under regional affiliate Planned Parenthood Golden Gate (PPGG) was thrown into question Aug. 6 when Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) announced that the affiliate would lose its accreditation.
The clinics — which serve roughly 55,000 clients, predominantly women living at or below the federal poverty level — will still be allowed to operate but must stop using Planned Parenthood’s nationally trusted name beginning Sept. 3.
Some news articles immediately following PPFA’s announcement referenced confidential internal conflicts to explain the break, but financial documents and the accounts of several former employees gathered by the Guardian suggest that the organization had reached a precarious financial position that made it difficult to meet accreditation standards.
“To not have a Planned Parenthood in San Francisco is like heresy,” a former PPGG employee told the Guardian. Yet this person and other former coworkers attributed this outcome to dysfunction at the senior management level of PPGG and said the national organization had little choice but to take action.
The Bay Citizen reported that 30 members of PPGG’s medical services staff sent a letter to Harrison and PPFA executives in October 2008 to raise concerns about “the misappropriation and mismanagement of PPGG’s funds.” The letter charges that “executive staff’s personal expenditures are excessive and are not aligned with the mandatory fiscal restrictions. Flagrant use of PPGG funds to pay for personal belongings, personal services, and exorbitant technology products is seemingly unchallenged and not subject to the same financial scrutiny that clinic supplies and staff salaries are, for example.”
A former PPGG staffer noted that employees had tried in the past to sound the alarm, including going to the media. Another noted that they had been made to sign a confidentiality agreement on leaving the organization, a practice that was common within PPGG.
While the current CEO, Therese Wilson, did not return numerous phone calls seeking comment, she was quoted in a fairly sympathetic San Francisco Chronicle article referencing the economic downturn and inability for many of the clients to pay as reasons behind the agency’s financial woes. While the recession, cuts to state funding to nonprofits, and other external factors have clearly had an impact, documents suggest that things were going awry before the recession hit full force.
An internal PPGG document provided to the Guardian displays the agency’s on-hand cash reserves compared with other affiliates, suggesting that the reserve ratios were at or below the minimum required by Planned Parenthood national for all but one year from 1998 to 2007 — and well below that of other affiliates of similar size. That is a key requirement for meeting accreditation standards.
When we asked Elizabeth Toledo, a Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) spokesperson, about this apparent pattern, she said she could not comment because she had not seen the documents. She also said the accreditation reviews were confidential. “Understanding the true financial picture for health care providers takes a very in-depth evaluation,” Toledo said. “PPFA and PPGG were working together over the last few years to resolve fiscal challenges.”
The Packard Foundation, a major donor to Planned Parenthood, awarded PPGG a $30,000 “organizational effectiveness” grant last year to “select a talented, external provider to help them think through some of these challenges.” The grant expires in September, according to spokesperson Dan Cohen.
In an era marked by high unemployment, economic instability, and deep cuts in public funding for health services, Planned Parenthood clinics provide an increasingly important safety net for uninsured and low-income clients in need of birth control, screenings for sexually transmitted disease or cervical cancer, abortion services, or information on sexual health that isn’t manipulated by a pro-life agenda. As things stand, women in rural communities seeking abortions often must travel very long distances to clinics, and any gap in services resulting from a PPGG accreditation loss could further broaden those geographical boundaries.
Since financial problems are at the root of the San Francisco-based affiliate’s problems, the PPGG clinics — which are located in San Francisco, Alameda, San Mateo, Sonoma, Marin, and Mendocino counties — are in an especially precarious position without national support, despite operating as a separate entity from PPFA. Planned Parenthood affiliates Mar Monte and Shasta Diablo plan to take over some of the existing clinics or cover gaps in service area by opening satellite centers, Toledo told us. “It’s unusual to have a disaffiliation,” she said. “But it’s not unusual for national committees to have a reallocation of service area. That part is well practiced.” She added that “every effort possible will be made” to ensure continuity of care.
The Mar Monte affiliate operates clinics in the Central Valley, Sacramento, the Sierra region, the San Joaquin Valley, and Silicon Valley. The Shasta Diablo affiliate covers areas in Butte, Contra Costa, Lake, Napa, Shasta, and Solano counties, with locations in El Cerrito and Walnut Creek. Depending on clients’ starting points, travel times could lengthen considerably and waiting rooms could become more crowded if the current PPGG clinics can’t stay afloat.
It’s too early to say just how PPGG staff members and patients will be affected by the loss of accreditation. However, it became obvious from Guardian interviews and more than two dozen Web comments on the Guardian’s online coverage of PPGG management woes that there was a high level of employee discontent at PPGG. Former staffers even keep in touch through a sort of club titled “PPGG PTSD” — a humorous reference to being shaken by the experience of working there. Yet while many were angered by the affiliate’s administrative problems, they nonetheless remain dedicated to the mission of Planned Parenthood.
“I’m a senior citizen who hasn’t needed birth control in quite some time, yet I remember when I was a young woman without resources who depended on PPGG for basic health care,” noted “Ellen,” a commenter. “They provide more than just reproductive services. They found an early cervical cancer, and I’m alive today as a result of the early diagnosis that they provided.
“It’s a tragedy that the current and recent trustees and management ruined such a fine organization,” she continued. “A friend of mine is a talented and dedicated nurse with a background of serving low-income women. She resigned from PPGG a year ago because she couldn’t handle the mismanagement any longer. I hope one of the nearby chapters is able to take over the PPGG clinics. In any case, current PPGG management and trustees need to go.”
DRUGS With polls showing that California voters are probably poised to approve Proposition 19 in November and finally fully legalize marijuana, this should be a historic moment for jubilant celebration among those who have long argued for an end to the government’s costly war on the state’s biggest cash crop. But instead, many longtime cannabis advocates — particularly those in the medical marijuana business — are voicing only cautious optimism mixed with fear of an uncertain future.
Part of the problem is that things have been going really well for the medical marijuana movement in the Bay Area, particularly since President Barack Obama took office and had the Justice Department stop raiding growing operations in states that legalized cannabis for medical uses, as California did through Proposition 215 in 1996.
In San Francisco, for example, more than two dozen clubs form a well-run, regulated, taxed, and legitimate sector of the business community that has been thriving even through the recession (see “Marijuana goes mainstream,” Jan. 27). The latest addition to that community, San Francisco Patient and Resource Center (SPARC), opened for business on Mission Street on Aug. 13, an architecturally beautiful center that sets a new standard for quality control and customer service.
“This is the culmination of a 10-year dream. We’re going to have a real community center for patients with a great variety of services,” longtime cannabis advocate Michael Aldrich, who cofounded SPARC along with Erich Pearson, told us at the club, which includes certified laboratory testing of all its cannabis and free services through Quan Yin Healing Arts Center and other providers.
Yet cash-strapped government agencies have been hastily seeking more taxes and permitting fees from the booming industry, particularly since the ballot qualification of Prop. 19, an initiative that was written and initially financed by Oaksterdam University founder Richard Lee that would let counties legalize and regulate even recreational uses of marijuana.
Oakland, Berkeley, Richmond, and other California cities have placed measures on the November ballot to tax marijuana sales, and the Oakland City Council last month approved a controversial plan to permit large-scale cannabis-growing operations on industrial land (see “Growing pains,” July 20).
In an increasingly competitive industry, many small growers fear they’ll be put out of business and patient rights will suffer once Prop. 19 passes and counties are free to set varying regulatory and tax systems, concerns that have been aired publicly by advocates ranging from Prop. 15 author Dennis Peron to Kevin Reed, founder of the Green Cross medical marijuana delivery service.
“It’s tearing the medical marijuana movement apart,” Reed told the Guardian. “It’s a little scary that we’re going to go down an uncertain road that may well scare the hell out of mainstream America.” Indeed, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder — who ended the raids on medical marijuana growers — has said the feds may reengage with California if voters legalize recreational weed.
Yet Lee said people shouldn’t get distracted from the measure’s core goal: “The most important thing is to stop the insanity of prohibition.” He expects the same jurisdictions that set up workable systems to deal with medical marijuana to also take the lead in setting rules for other uses of marijuana.
“It will be just like medical marijuana was after [Prop.] 215, when a few cities were doing it, like San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley,” Lee told us. “And for cities just coming to grips with medical marijuana, it will be clean-up language that clarifies how they can regulate and tax it.”
Indeed, the tax revenue — estimated to be around $2 billion for the state annually, according to the California Legislative Analyst’s Office — has been the main selling point for the Yes on 19 campaign (whose website is www.taxcannabis.org) and Assembly Member Tom Ammiano, who authored bills to legalize marijuana and has current legislation to set up a state regulatory framework if Prop. 19 passes.
“It makes it more seductive,” Ammiano said of revenue potential from legalized marijuana. “I’ve been working with Betty Yee [who chairs the California Board of Equalization, the state’s main taxing authority] on a template and structure for taxing it.”
Reed and others say they fear taxes at the state and local levels will drive up the price of marijuana, as governments have done with tobacco and alcohol, and hinder access by low-income patients. But Ammiano scoffed at that concern: “Even with the tax structure on booze, there was no diminishing of access to booze.”
Pearson said he believes Prop. 19 will actually help the medical marijuana industry. “Anything that takes the next step toward legalizing recreational use only helps medical cannabis,” he said. Pearson moved to California to grow medical marijuana more than 10 years ago, at a time when the federal government was aggressively trying to crush the nascent industry.
“When you’re packing up and running from the DEA all the time, you’re not thinking about the quality of the medicine. You’re trying to stay out of jail,” Pearson said. “Now, we can be transparent, which is huge.”
Like most dispensaries, SPARC is run as a nonprofit cooperative where most of the growing is done by member-patients. Speaking from his office, with its clear glass walls in SPARC’s back room, Pearson said the Obama election ushered in a new openness in the industry.
“Everything is on the books now, whereas before nothing was on the books because it would be evidence if we got busted … We are allowed to have banks accounts; we’re allowed to use accountants; I can write checks; we can talk to government officials,” Pearson said. “It helps with the public and governments, where they see the transparency, to normalize things.”
He also said Prop. 19 will only further that normalizing of the industry, which ultimately helps patients and growers of medical marijuana. SPARC, for example, gives free marijuana to 40 low-income patients and offers cheap specials for others (opening day, it was an eighth of Big Buddha Cheese for $28) because others are willing to pay $55 for a stinky eighth of OG Kush.
“Our objective here is to bring the cost of cannabis down. We can subsidize the medicine for people who can’t afford it with sales to people who can,” Pearson said, noting that dynamic will get extended further if the legal marketplace is expanded by Prop. 19.
While Pearson strongly supports the measure, he does have some minor concerns about it. “The biggest concern is if local governments muddy the line between medical and nonmedical,” Pearson said, noting that he plans to remain exclusively in medical marijuana and develop better strains, including those with greater CBD content, which doesn’t get users high but helps with neuromuscular diseases and other disorders.
Reed also said he’s concerned that patients who now grow their own and sell their excess to the clubs to support themselves will be hurt if big commercial interests enter the industry. Yet for all his concerns, Reed said he plans to reluctantly vote for Prop. 19 (which he doesn’t believe will pass).
“They’ll get my vote because not having enough yes votes will send the wrong message to law enforcement and politicians [that Californians don’t support legalizing marijuana],” Reed said, noting that would rather see marijuana uniformly legalized nationwide, or at least statewide.
Attorney David Owen, who works with SPARC, said the momentum is now there for the federal government to revisit its approach to marijuana. But in the meantime, he said Prop. 19 has come along at a good time, given the need for more revenue and more legal clarity following the federal stand-down.
And even if the measure isn’t perfect, he said those who have devoted their lives to legalizing marijuana will still vote for it: “A lot of these folks, intellectually and emotionally, will have a hard time voting against Prop. 19.”
Update:This online article contains a correction concerning the DCCC’s vote on Sup. Sean Elsbernd’s Muni pay guarantees (Prop. G). In the print version of this article, the Guardian reported that the DCCC had voted “to recommend a no vote” on Prop. G. This is incorrect. The DCCC voted “not to endorse” Prop. G. As Elsbernd points out, “This is a key distinction.”
With fewer than 10 weeks to go until a pivotal November election, the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee (DCCC) approved a package of endorsements at its Aug. 11 meeting, giving the nod to mostly progressive candidates and rejecting Mayor Gavin Newsom’s most divisive ballot measures.
This crucial election could alter the balance of power on a Board of Supervisors that is currently dominated by progressives, and that new board would be seated just as it potentially gets the chance to appoint an interim mayor.
That’s what will happen if Newsom wins his race for lieutenant governor. The latest campaign finance reports show that Newsom has raised twice as much money as the Republican incumbent, former state Sen. Abel Maldonado. But the two candidates are still neck-and-neck in the polls.
Although the DCCC supports Newsom in the race, it is resisting his agenda for San Francisco, voting to oppose his polarizing sit-lie legislation (Prop. L), a hotel tax loophole closure (Prop. K) that would invalidate the hotel tax increase that labor unions placed on the ballot, and his hypocritical ban on local elected officials serving on the DCCC (Prop. H).
Shortly after the vote, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Newsom called an emergency closed-door meeting with some of his downtown allies to discuss the upcoming election. “We just wanted to get on the same page on what’s going on locally, what’s going with the ballot initiatives, where people are on the candidates for supervisor,” Newsom told the newspaper.
DCCC Chair Aaron Peskin, who regularly battled with Newsom during his tenure as president of the Board of Supervisors, voted with the progressive bloc against Newsom’s three controversial measures. But he told us that he was glad to see the mayor finally engage in the local political process.
Sup. David Campos kicked off the DCCC meeting by rebuffing newly elected DCCC member Carole Migden’s unsuccessful attempt to rescind the body’s endorsement of Michael Nava for Superior Court Judge, part of a push by the legal community to rally behind Richard Ulmer and other sitting judges.
Things got even messier when the DCCC endorsed the candidates for supervisor. In District 2, the DCCC gave the nod to Janet Reilly, snubbing incumbent Sup. Michela Alioto-Pier, who is running now that Superior Court Judge Peter Busch has ruled that she is not termed out (a ruling on City Attorney Dennis Herrera’s appeal of Busch’s ruling is expected soon).
In District 6, where candidates include DCCC member Debra Walker, School Board President Jane Kim, Human Rights Commission Executive Director Theresa Sparks, neighborhood activist Jim Meko, and drag queen Glendon Hyde (a.k.a. Anna Conda), the club endorsed only Walker, denying Kim the second-place endorsement she was lobbying for.
But in District 8, where candidates include progressive DCCC member Rafael Mandelman, moderate DCCC member Scott Wiener, and moderate Rebecca Prozan, the politics got really squirrelly. As expected, Mandelman got the first-place nod with 18 votes: the progressive’s bare 17-vote majority on the 33-member body plus Assembly Member Leland Yee.
Yet because Yee supports Prozan and David Chiu, the Board of Supervisors president who was also part of the DCCC progressive slate, had offered less than his full support for Mandelman, a deal was cut to give Prozan a second-place endorsement.
That move caused some public and private grumbling from Jane Kim’s supporters, who noted that Kim is way more progressive than Prozan and said she should have been given the second-place slot in D6.
A proxy for John Avalos even tried to get the DCCC to give Walker and Kim a dual first-place endorsement, but Peskin ruled that such a move was not permitted by the group’s bylaws. Then DCCC members Eric Mar and Eric Quezada argued that Kim should get the club’s second-choice endorsement.
But Walker’s supporters argued that Kim only recently moved into the district and changed her party affiliation from the Green Party to the Democratic Party, and Kim’s supporters failed to find the 17 votes they needed.
“District 6 has an amazing wealth of candidates and I look forward to supporting many of them in future races,” Gabriel Haaland told his DCCC colleagues. “I will just not be supporting them tonight.”
Wiener told the group he would not seek its endorsement for anything below the top slot. “I’m running for first place and I intend to win,” Wiener said, shortly before Prozan secured the club’s second-choice endorsement.
In District 4, the DCCC endorsed incumbent Carmen Chu, who is running virtually unopposed. The DCCC also endorsed Bert Hill’s run for the BART Board of Directors, where he hopes to unseat James Fang, San Francisco’s only elected Republican.
The body had already decided to delay its school board endorsements until September and ended up pushing its District 10 supervisorial endorsement back until then as well because nobody had secured majority support.
“I think it’s because they want to give members of the DCCC a chance to learn more about some of the candidates,” District 10 candidate Dewitt Lacy told the Guardian. “I don’t think folks have spent enough time to make an informed decision.”
D10 candidate Chris Jackson agreed, adding, “The progressives in this race have brought our issues to the forefront.”
“I think it’s appropriate,” concurred D10 candidate Isaac Bowers. “D10 is a complicated district. It’s wise to wait and see how it settles out.”
The main thing that needs to be resolved is which candidate in the crowded field will emerge as the progressive alternative to Lynette Sweet, who has the support of downtown groups and mega-developer Lennar Corp.
After the meeting, Walker said different races require different political strategies. “I think it’s hard in the progressive community, where so many of us know each other and even our supporters know the other candidates and are their supporters in other scenarios,” Walker said.
“But the Democratic Party makes decisions not just based on politics,” she continued. “So the endorsement is about being viable and successfully involved in Democratic issues. And even though I want to encourage everyone to run, and we have that ability with ranked choice voting and public financing, when it comes to straight-on politics, the goal is winning.”
Walker said the vote on D8 reflected the reality that Mandelman was having trouble getting the necessary number of votes. “I know Rebecca and I know Rafael, and Rafael was my clear first choice,” Walker said.” Rafael asked me to consider voting for Rebecca—and I voted for her as my second choice.”
Walker predicts she’ll have union support behind her campaign, while Kim, who leads in fundraising, will have independent expenditure committees that will support her campaign.
“My consultant says it’s a $250,000 race, and unfortunately the viability is based on that reality, the funds, the money,” Walker observed.
On the fall ballot measures, the DCCC voted to recommend a no vote on Public Defender Jeff Adachi’s measure to make city employees pay more for the pension and healthcare costs (Prop. B), Sup. Sean Elsbernd’s Health Service Board Elections (Prop. F,) and Newsom’s three controversial measures. And they voted “no endorsement” on Elsbernd’s measure to remove from the charter Muni pay guarantees (Prop. G).
But the DCCC did vote to endorse a local vehicle registration fee surcharge (Prop. AA), Newsom’s earthquake retrofit bond (Prop. A), Sup. Chris Daly’s proposed legislation to require mayoral appearances at board meetings (Prop. C), Chiu’s measure to allow noncitizen voting in school board elections (Prop. D), Sup. Ross Mirkarimi’s Election Day voter registration (Prop. E), former Newsom campaign manager Alex Tourk’s Saturday voting proposal (Prop. I) Labor’s hotel tax (Prop. J ), Mirkarimi’s foot patrols measure (Prop. M) and Avalos’ real estate transfer tax (Prop. N).
With just about everybody opposed to Adachi’s measure going after public employee unions, Walker observed that Adachi probably wishes he had done it differently now. But looking into the future, Walker sees opportunities for the party to come back together.
“There’s an opportunity to start a dialogue because everyone is hurting,” Walker said. “The more we don’t have a proactive solution, the more we get caught at the bottom.”
And in a feel-good vote for the frequently divided body, the DCCC also voted overwhelmingly to endorse the statewide initiative to legalize and tax marijuana (Prop. 19). Normally local party committees don’t take a position on state initiatives, but because the California Democratic Party took no position on Prop. 19, the DCCC had permission to weigh in.
As Peskin put it before the enthusiastic marijuana vote, “Raise your hands — high.”
OPINION Meg Whitman’s increasingly high-profile war with California’s nurses poses important questions about a potential Whitman term as governor and the implications for California.
California’s nurses began pressing Whitman during the primary, when she was spending up to $21,000 an hour — more than many California families earn in a year — in a frenzy well on its way to smashing all previous campaign finance records.
Whitman’s pledge to spend up to $180 million out of her billionaire pocket by November to drown out all competition was accompanied by other disturbing trends. She refused to engage regular Californians in public events and avoided the public’s watchdog, the press. And she demonstrated a haughty temperament symbolized by her now-famous altercation with a subordinate employee to whom she paid a $200,000 settlement.
In short, Whitman was acting as if she was entitled to be crowned governor because of her wealth and privilege, a hubris also indicated by her failure to vote for much of her adult life but assumption that her billions and social rank alone qualify her to be governor.
Thus, the parody of Queen Meg was born, in which the California Nurses Association trailed Whitman to campaign events with a mock Queen Meg; her court, including chaperones Mr. Goldman and Mr. Sachs (in honor of her checkered career on the Goldman Sachs board); and nurses waving “Rich Enough to Rule” signs.
Whitman, who appears not to handle stress well, reacted with a full-scale assault on CNA and nurses. She demanded the home addresses of CNA members but refused CNA’s offer to meet with nurses in unscripted forums instead.
It turned out she just wanted to bully nurses, not actually talk to them. So Whitman began to bombard registered nurses in the state with multiple attack mailings and phone calls from a purchased outside list (is there anything she can’t or won’t buy?), and created a union-busting “nurse” website. What next, an enemies list?
In addition to reservations about Whitman’s temperament, attitude toward her opponents, and her royal pretensions, nurses have significant concerns about her policies as well, including her plans to:
• Slash 40,000 state jobs, creating hardship for thousands of additional California families in the midst of our ongoing recession, just as she sent 40 percent of company jobs overseas as the chief executive of eBay.
• Freeze regulations opposed by her CEO friends, presumably including many that will impair workplace safety rules, clean air and water requirements, and protections against food toxins.
• Suspend California’s new law to reduce greenhouse gases and the impact of climate change.
• Expand tax breaks for corporations and multimillionaires while pushing even deeper cuts in critical safety-net programs that will punish the most vulnerable Californians.
• Make new budget cuts that will likely reduce education funding by some $7 billion.
• Roll back public pensions, even for those who have sacrificed pay or other benefits for a more secure retirement.
• End workplace standards such as guaranteed meal and rest breaks and overtime pay.
All these programs have a common theme: they’re the wish list of the corporate CEOs who for the past seven years have taken residency in the governor’s office under Arnold Schwarzenegger. And they want more.
With Whitman, they would get it. Her pledges to “streamline” regulations, slash corporate taxes, and curtail workplace economic and safety standards, reflect the corporate agenda Whitman embodies and an escalation of the policies that have plagued our state under Schwarzenegger.
The troubling combination of Whitman’s sense of entitlement, intolerance of critics, and corporate to-do list are an ominous mix for California. She may be rich enough to rule, but her character and values say we should all be wary. *
Zenei Cortez is a registered nurse and co-president of the California Nurses Association.
Six years after the Guardian filed a lawsuit accusing SF Weekly and its chain owner of illegal predatory pricing, the California Court of Appeals has issued a precedent-setting ruling that not only affirms the Guardian’s claims but strikes a dramatic blow for small independent businesses in California.
A three-judge panel concluded Aug. 11 that the state’s Unfair Practices Act protects businesses from cutthroat predators that sell a product below cost with the intent of injuring competition. The judges, Robert L. Dondero, who wrote the decision, and James J. Marchiano and Sandra L. Margulies, who concurred, directly rejected an argument that would have undermined the historic law and concluded that the state of California has every right to provide small merchants with greater antitrust protections than the federal government.
It marked the first time that a state appeals court had weighed in on whether California’s UPA should be enforced under the weaker federal standard. The ruling offers broad protections to small companies trying to survive against the market power of giant chains.
The Guardian sued SF Weekly and the New Times chain, now owned by Village Voice Media, in 2004, claiming that the Weekly was systematically selling ads below cost in an effort to put the local competitor out of business.
Evidence presented in a six-week trial in 2008 showed that the Weekly had lost money every single year since New Times bought the paper in 1995. The Phoenix-based chain poured tens of millions of dollars into propping up the Weekly, while the Weekly’s sales staff sold ads at a fraction of the cost needed to support the operation — all with the goal of taking business away from the Guardian.
“We have before us the case of an ongoing, comprehensive, below-cost pricing scheme instigated and executed conjointly by two parties,” the court concluded.
It was a classic case study in what the UPA, which dates back to 1913, was designed to prevent: a big, wealthy corporation using its deep pockets to cripple a local competitor. The court decision notes that shortly after New Times bought SF Weekly in 1995, New Times Executive Editor Mike Lacey announced that he would use the chain’s deep pockets to assault the Guardian. “The essence of Lacey’s message was that he wanted to ‘put the Guardian out of business,'<0x2009>” the ruling states. “The sales representatives were made aware that advertising could be ‘sold below cost’ if needed ‘in order to make a sale’ and the resources of New Times would cover the loses, even over a term of many years.”
The end result, trial records showed: SF Weekly and the East Bay Express, which New Times bought in 2001, lost a total of $24 million between 1996 and 2007. (The Express was sold in 2007 to local owners.)
A San Francisco jury ruled March 5, 2008 that the Weekly and New Times had violated the law and awarded the Guardian more than $6 million. The statute allows for treble damages, and Judge Marla Miller increased the award to $15.6 million. With interest and attorney’s fees, the verdict now exceeds $22 million.
New Times appealed, raising two central issues. The verdict, the chain argued, was invalid because the Guardian never demonstrated which individual accounts it lost because of which specific below-cost sales. And the law itself was dubious because it doesn’t require a plaintiff to prove that a predatory competitor had the ability to recoup its losses after driving the smaller outfit out of business.
Throughout the trial and afterward, Andy Van De Voorde, VVM’s executive associate editor, repeatedly belittled the suit on the grounds that the Guardian didn’t present individual instances of lost ads. But the court rejected that argument, saying that nothing in the UPA mandated a showing of individual below-cost sales; the fact that the Weekly lost money for 10 years, and that its overall ads prices were far below its total cost of operations, was plenty of evidence of illegal sales. The Guardian, the ruling states, was not “required to prove the precise amounts of damages attributable to the loss of individual customers or sales.” In fact, that standard would make predatory pricing cases of this nature — with thousands of sales over many years, almost impossible to pursue — particularly, the court noted, when “it is the wrongful acts of the defendant that have created the difficulty in proving the amount of lost profits.”
The recoupment argument was critical: New Times wanted the court to force the state to adopt a federal standard that since the 1980s has pretty much gutted federal antitrust law.
The appeals court justices resoundingly rejected that claim, ruling that the state Legislature has every right to pass laws protecting small businesses against acts that the federal courts may be willing to allow. And it’s clear that the UPA contains no mention of recoupment.
“We do not lightly imply terms or requirements that have not been expressly included in the statute,” the ruling states.
New Times argued, both in court and in its published reports, that laws against anticompetitive conduct must protect consumers, not businesses; if one company cuts prices, that helps consumers — and unless there’s evidence that a lack of competition in the future would cause prices to go up, then the law shouldn’t prohibit below-cost sales.
But the Appeals Court took a different approach, concluding that this particular state law was not only designed to protect consumers in the short term, but small businesses (and thus overall competition) in the long term.
That’s consistent with the history of the Unfair Practices Act, which was written during California’s progressive era, when reformers were concerned about large businesses (particularly supermarket chains) driving local markets out of business. It was, James R. McCall, a professor at UC Hastings College of Law, wrote in the Pacific Law Journal, “the first comprehensive modern state predatory pricing statute.”
In a 1997 article, McCall noted that federal courts had undermined much of the power of antitrust laws such as the Sherman Antitrust Act, such that “by 1980, the era of expansive application of antitrust acts in federal courts had ended.” However, the California law, later copied in six other states, “is precisely drawn to eliminate defined commercial practices such as predatory pricing.”
Joseph Hearst, an East Bay attorney and appellate specialist who helped write the Guardian’s appeal brief, noted that the court had taken the questions in the appeal very seriously. “It is obvious the court did an enormous amount of independent research — quoting cases neither side had mentioned in their briefs and demonstrating a mastery of the topic,” he said. “The court was clearly aware of the issues at stake, not only in this case but in future cases involving the Unfair Practices Act. They carefully explored how the UPA is different from federal predatory pricing law and pointed out that the UPA, in some respects, sets a much tougher standard than federal law, which is why they could confidently say that it does not require the federal ‘recoupment’ standard.”
Ralph Alldredge, the Guardian’s lead trial and appellate attorney, noted that “this is the most direct attack upon the viability of the UPA since its constitutionality was challenged unsuccessfully in the 1940s. By rejecting it, the Court of Appeal has confirmed that the UPA cannot be subverted by importing federal standards which have made below cost pricing claims impossible to win in federal court.”
He added: “Think of what that means for big-box retailers, which have used below-cost selling on some products to attract customers away from small, independently owned grocery, hardware, drug, and department stores.”
The Weekly has an entire section of its website devoted to the lawsuit, which it calls “stupid” and “absurd.” The trial, the Weekly argues, was “marred by judicial error and emotional anti-chain arguments.” At one point, the paper even argued that the Guardian was delaying its response to the New Times appeal briefs because we feared losing the appeal.
But as of press time, the Weekly had not published a word on the Appeals Court ruling. It’s the first time anything has happened in the case that the Weekly hasn’t covered. I e-mailed Van De Voorde to ask for comment, but he hasn’t gotten back to me.
PS The Guardian‘s legal team, which did a stunning job at every level, consisted of Richard Hill, E. Craig Moody, and Ralph Alldredge at the trial level, assisted by Joseph Hearst in the appeal and by Jay Adkisson and Travis Farnsworth on the collection efforts.
I suppose I should be thrilled that 40 of the richest people in the United States have agreed to give away half their money before they die. Actually, it kind of makes me sick.
The concept is called the Giving Pledge, and Bill Gates and Warren Buffet started it. The two have been on the phones this summer, dialing up other really, really rich people and asking them to sign on. I’ve got nothing against Gates and Buffet (well, Gates has always been into world domination, so that’s a problem, but Buffet seems a decent sort for a billionaire). In fact, Buffet has promised to give away 99 percent of his $47 billion, which would leave him and his heirs with just a paltry $470 million.
Even that much money fits into New York Mayor (and billionaire) Michael Bloomberg’s entirely accurate statement: “The reality of great wealth is that you can’t spend it and you can’t take it with you.”
That’s the thing: You can’t spend that much money, and you can’t take it with you, and the United States used to be the kind of country that disdained inherited monarchy. Bloomberg says he wants his kids to have to work for a living, which is nice, although even after he gives away half his wealth, none of them are likely to miss any meals or have trouble paying the rent. His children, and their children, and their children, will all be able to afford to go to good schools and colleges, even if the public education system in America completely collapses for lack of adequate funding.
The irony is that, for the most part, these exceptionally rich people who feel so good about giving their money to charities of their choosing (which then honor them with awards and testimonials and dinners) oppose the notion of raising taxes on high incomes.
The problem with charity is that it won’t ever really reduce the gap between the rich and the poor in this country. The only way you do that is with aggressive, effective government action: by taxing the great wealth when it comes in (as income) and when it goes out (as estates) — and then, through a democratic process involving elected representatives, deciding where the money should go.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is wonderful, I guess, but it won’t provide mental health care for homeless people in San Francisco. That’s a government job. It also won’t ensure that every kid in America gets quality preschool, good teachers, schools that aren’t falling apart, and access to a college education. That’s what we pay taxes for.
But wait a minute. There’s never enough money for these things, because we keep cutting taxes on the rich. Instead, these guys can give money to their own pet projects — and pay no taxes at all. It’s charity! It’s a tax write-off!
I wanna throw up.
EDITORIAL Joseph Russoniello, the U.S. attorney who terrorized immigrants, city employees, and medical marijuana growers, is finally out of office, replaced Aug. 13 by an Obama nominee screened by Sen. Barbara Boxer. Melinda Haag is the second female U.S. attorney in California history and the first since the 1920s. She’s taking over an office that pushed all the wrong priorities and served as an outpost of Bush administration values in Democratic Northern California, and she needs to turn that around, quickly and visibly.
President Obama has made it clear that he doesn’t want his Justice Department wasting valuable resources busting people who grow, sell, and use pot for medicine. And while the president has been slow and far too cautious on immigration reform, he has resisted the nativist movement and harsh attacks on undocumented immigrants. But a U.S. attorney has a tremendous amount of discretion on law enforcement priorities, and Haag could easily slide along, refusing to break with the policies of her predecessor.
That would be a serious mistake, one that would reflect poorly not only on the Obama administration but on Boxer, who under the traditions of Senatorial courtesy played a central role in choosing Haag.
The new U.S. attorney should:
• Disband the grand jury that’s been investigating whether city employees violated federal law by failing to turn suspected illegal immigrants over to immigration authorities. The grand jury started sending subpoenas to city agencies two years ago and raised the specter that some local juvenile justice workers might face charges. The move set off policy changes by Mayor Gavin Newsom that have led to more than 100 young people being torn from their families and sent to federal immigration detention centers.
The grand jury operates at the U.S. attorney’s discretion, and while its activities are secret, Haag could and should announce that the investigation is closed and no charges are pending.
• Inform City Attorney Dennis Herrera that no city employee will face federal criminal charges for complying with the city’s Sanctuary Ordinance. The threat of criminal charges has given Newsom cover for refusing to implement a sanctuary law that the supervisors passed over his veto. The law, sponsored by Sup. David Campos, directs city workers not to turn juveniles over to Immigration Control and Enforcement until they’ve been convicted of a felony. Herrera asked Russoniello for assurance that city employees could implement the law without fear of federal indictment, and the Republican appointee refused. Haag should give Herrera, and all city employees, written assurance that she won’t press charges over the sanctuary policy.
• Stop the pot busts — and don’t try to undermine Prop. 19. Even after U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder made clear that he isn’t interested in harassing medical cannabis operations, local growers and outlets remain fearful of federal prosecution. And if the state’s voters legalize pot this fall, as appears likely, the weed will still be illegal under federal law. Haag needs to let the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration know that she’s not going to take any cases involving legitimate medical marijuana operations — and that she won’t use her office to undermine state law if Prop. 19 passes.
Of course, if the U.S. attorney’s office stops wasting time and money cracking down on pot growers and immigrants, the lawyers who work under Haag may have time to do some more relevant and worthwhile law enforcement. They could, for example, start looking into enforcing a federal law called the Raker Act, which requires San Francisco to operate a public power system.
About 60 San Francisco citizens voted just before 1 p.m. on Aug. 15 to adopt a progressive platform of approximately 100 policy recommendations they hope will define the agenda of candidates and elected officials in coming years and offer a contrasting vision for the city to that of downtown corporate interests.
Sunday’s culmination of the 2010 Community Congress represented almost a year’s work by some 400 San Franciscans and dozens of community-based organizations, according to the Congress’ draft recommendations. The congress convened all day Aug. 14, at the University of San Francisco’s Fromm Hall, where participants engaged in breakout groups aimed at addressing four distinct local policy categories: health and human services; Muni and public transportation; affordable housing and tenant rights; and community-based economic development.
Recommendations in the four areas were drafted prior to the congress and published by the Guardian (see “Reinvention of San Francisco,” Aug. 4 and “Ideas that work: a plan for a new San Francisco,” Aug. 11), but planning group coordinator Calvin Welch said between a one-quarter and one-third were rewritten and amended during the breakout sessions on Saturday and by the congress as a whole on Sunday. Representatives from the breakout groups are working to finalize all the last-minute amendments and hope to post a final document by on the congress’ website (www.sfcommunitycongress.wordpress.com) by Aug. 20.
“This is a group of left-progressive people trying to articulate a left-progressive view for the city that is distinct from the cynicism of the [San Francisco] Chronicle and [Mayor] Gavin Newsom’s message,” Welch told the Guardian after the vote.
Gail Gilman facilitated the final adoption session on Aug. 15, passing a microphone to those who wished to speak or propose amendments while pushing the group to stick to the schedule. “I think we produced a solid progressive platform that will gain traction in the upcoming supervisors race,” Gilman told the Guardian outside the congress. “We’re hoping to have actionable items implemented over the next five years.”
Some of the congress’ ambitious agenda had to be put on hold, either because consensus couldn’t be reached or groups simply ran out of time. The Muni group’s recommendation to delay the Central Subway Project and use those funds to address “Muni’s backlog of operating, maintenance, and capital improvement needs” was tabled, as was decentralizing control of expenditures in health and human services out of the mayor’s hands. However, several agencies that the congress hopes to create, including a “canopy” entity to manage San Francisco’s public health system, would have direct budgetary control over city departments.
Health and human services group coleader and Bayview-Hunters Point Foundation Executive Director Jacob Moody told the crowd about a question posed early in the congress that informed his group’s recommendations: How do we create a city where people can live, work, and prosper together?
Welch admitted that some of policy recommendations would be difficult to realize and would draw the ire of powerful political groups in San Francisco, but he insisted that creating a municipal bank, an economic redevelopment agency, and a health and human services planning agency, and implementing several of the Muni group’s recommendations, were actionable in the short term.
“Some others would need to wait until the election of a new mayor,” Welch said. “I hope we can get some mayoral candidates to endorse some of these proposals.”
Sunnydale/southeast neighborhood community organizer Sharen Hewitt said that although there were often disagreements at the congress, the most important aspect of the event to her was that everyone learned from the perspectives of others.
“Tension is not always bad,” Hewitt told the Guardian at the event. “Everybody came here with biases and interests. Everybody needs to leave here with more. I’m damn near 60 years old and I grew half an inch today.”
Sunday’s congress and policy platform were modeled after San Francisco’s first Community Congress, which took place in 1975. But Welch told us this congress was entirely new. “To the extent that there is a historical aspect, 35 years ago we tried to figure out a way to bring people together. And 35 years later, young people want to do the same thing.”
“Diamond” Dave Whittaker, a modern Emperor Norton-esque San Francisco personality, closed the congress with a poem. “The basis of real social change is happening here,” he said. “And we need to continue casting a wider net, finding the thread, and letting it flourish.”