Volume 45 Number 06

Appetite: Rare tequilas I sampled in Mexico


In my travels last week through the magical land of Tequila, Mexico, I tasted, yes, a ridiculous amount of tequila from a wide range of distillers. After watching it being made and sampling it its homeland, I gained a deeper appreciation than I already had for the agave spirit. Here are three superb but uncommon tequilas only found in Mexico or here in the states with some investigative cunning. Of course, the incomparable Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant often stocks all of these by the pour if you wish to sample.

San Matias Gran Reserva Anejo
San Matias’ Gran Reserva Anejo is distilled in Ojode Agua, Jalisco, aged three years in French oak barrels, and is a shocking value in Mexico at less than $20 a bottle. Recommended to me by a restaurant owner on the outskirts of Guadalajara, I was pleased by its gentle amber color and subtle notes of orange peel, roasted apples and smoke playing off the herbaceousness it thankfully retains despite age (a fault I sometimes find with anejos). When asking locals why it’s so cheap compared to other anejos, they said it’s because it’s about 80% agave vs. a high quality 100%. Their website says otherwise, claiming to be 100%. I may never know the truth, but I can say this was a favorite find during my time in Mexico and certainly the best deal.

Arette Unique Reposado
Arette was one of the distilleries I visited in Tequila and has become a favorite, specifically for their fabulous, reasonable — around $60 a bottle in US, $30 in Mexico — Reposado Artesanal. (They also have a basic reposado). But the one everyone claims can only be purchased in Mexico is their Unique Reposado (there’s a Unique Blanco and Extra Anejo as well). Though I see K&L Wines can special order it and even if I actually prefer the Artesanal repo, the Unique impresses with its refined balance, aged 11 months in white oak bourbon barrels. Nuanced and subtle, it’s a fine reposado intro for the uninitiated.

I was more excited by the rare, small production Gran Clase Extra Anejo, aged over three years with woody mellowness yet herbaceous, agave properties… and the extra anejo El Gran Viejo with its artistic, unusual bottle. It’s warm with vanilla, almond richness, rested six years in bourbon barrels.

Reserva de los Gonzalez Blanco
Another sip recommended by a Mexican local, Reserva de los Gonazalez has Don Julio ties. Its directors are Eduardo and Francisco González, sons of none other than Don Julio González. Produced in Los Altos, Jalisco, and made from the Tequilana Weber blue agave plant, the Reserva Blanco is 100% pure agave, clean, reminiscent of Don Julio’s blanco with a gentle sweetness, floral, grassy notes, and plenty of agave.

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Oi yay!


MOVIES WITH MOHAWKS Punk and the movies met when the former was very young. When punk eventually grew up, the movies still insisted on viewing it as a child. Their union, nowadays perverted by mutual materialistic bloat, has been rather like an arranged marriage: long-lasting, with moments of real understanding, but fundamentally fraudulent.

Zack Carlson and Bryan Connolly’s hefty new tome Destroy All Movies!!! The Complete Guide to Punks on Film (Fantagraphics, $35) chronicles this tragicomedic marriage in A-Z encyclopedic form encompassing more than 1,100 movies, 450 pages, and lots of vintage promotional imagery.

Eleven hundred? Really? Well, sorta. For every documentary, concert, film, or serious drama (1998’s American History X, 1986’s Sid and Nancy, etc.) reflecting some genuine subchapter of punk history, there are movies in which ersatz “punks” are cartoonish villains either intentionally funny (1987’s Surf Nazis Must Die) or not (retiree-terrorizers getting their sneers removed in 1985 by Death Wish 3‘s ever-vigilantic Chuck Bronson).

Let us not forget the many sci-fi futures in which everyone is kinda punk (most famously 1981’s The Road Warrior, 1982’s Blade Runner, and 1981’s Escape From New York). Punks seemed a natural fit — at least filmmakers thought so — for horror flicks, whether being sexy-scary (1987’s The Lost Boys) or zombiefied (1985’s Return of the Living Dead).

Destroy All Movies!!! fittingly spotlights such actual punk scene-bred, variably underground talents and movies as Lizzie Borden, 1984’s Repo Man, Jon Moritsugu, 1984’s Desperate Teenage Lovedolls, Derek Jarman, 1982’s Liquid Sky, and Penelope Spheeris. Many of these get the benefit of elongated discussion and related interviews.

But the book also has room for characters confined to just a scene or background — anyone remember punks in 1986’s Hannah and Her Sisters or Crocodile Dundee? The editors do. They’ll likewise remind you when punks infiltrated After School Specials (1987’s The Day My Kid Went Punk), porn (1985’s New Wave Hookers), and the Linda Blair ouevre (too many to mention).

The Roxie hosts book-signing and screening festivities in honor of Destroy All Movies!!!‘s upcoming release. Festivities includes free mixtape and onstage punk haircut giveaways, punk trailers, and 35mm prints of two prime 1980s artifacts. Exhibit One is Times Square (1980), producer Robert Stigwood’s attempt to do for punk-new wave what 1997’s Saturday Night Fever had for disco. His editorial interference muffled the Sapphic tilt of the underage runaway heroines’ BFF relationship, but a guilty pleasure and great double-LP soundtrack (featuring XTC, Patti Smith, the Cure, and more) survived.

Pleasures guiltier still lie in 1984’s Surf II, whose title is the first anarchic joke (there was no Surf I). Its “plot” involves a mad scientist (Eddie Deezen) turning surfer bullies into indiscriminately hungry punk zombies (that again!) via radioactive Buzz Cola. It features a young Eric Stoltz, L.A. mod revivalist band the Untouchables, and Love Boat refugees Ron “Horshack” Palillo and Ruth Buzzi. Unleashed amid umpteen 1984 teen sex comedies, Surf II was dismissed as demented and arbitrary — exactly why we like it now.


Nov. 19, 8 p.m., $10

Roxie Theater

3117 16th St., SF


The jazz don



MUSIC Adam Theis says his school teachers always told him that to succeed, he’d have to learn how to focus. Surely what they meant was that he’d have to find enough things to focus on. For like all great connectors, Theis finds his genius in the multitudinous.

At least, that would explain why Theis’ loose network of funky jazz bands and musicians, the Jazz Mafia, has expanded to 70 members over the past decade — and why he has difficulties naming all the instruments he’s proficient at playing. His primary toy is the trombone, followed in no particular order by the electric bass, keyboards, tuba, conch shells, didgeridoo, and laptop.

Theis thrives on the large scale, and his current project has more moving parts than any he’s attempted in the past. A recent grant gave him the means to take a break from his 30-gigs-a-month schedule to compose a 50-piece orchestral symphonic score, Brass, Bows, and Beats. It debuted at the Palace of Fine Arts in 2009 and has since been touring jazz festivals across the continent. The production gathers together some of the Mafia’s finest wind, string, and percussion players, seats them behind hip-hop vocalists and MCs, and does much to convince one of the epic grandeur of hip-hop — if anyone still needs convincing in this day and age.

Brass, Bows, and Beats does all this while mixing a lot of other genres into the pot. Theis says he isn’t bothered by critics’ allegations that the work doesn’t rightly fit into the hip-hop tradition. “We’re not trying to do something that’s pure,” he says. “That’s pretty much never been the trip with our groups.” A friend who caught the piece’s SF debut summed up the scene aptly enough: “It’s like you’re watching something that has maybe never been done before.”

In the early aughts, Theis and many of the original members of his networks played a regular Tuesday night gig at North Beach’s Black Cat Club. The theme of those nights — when the Mafia was conceived — was improvisation. “We would always invite musicians to jump up — we’d give them space to do something and we’d vibe off it,” Theis says.

A recent transplant to the city, Theis couldn’t stop inviting in more players. “I’d meet an amazing new musician every day,” he explains. From these impromptu sessions came many of the Mafia’s lasting artistic collaborations. Even now, most Shotgun Wedding Quintet (Theis’ touring group) shows begin with a jam — some versions of which have made it into the score of the symphony.

You’d think that the guy that holds the Mafia baton would have an overarching vision for the crew. They’ve reached symphony status, and another orchestral piece is in the works. What’s next, a jazz army? A hip-hop city-state?

For now, Theis seems happy to let the capable musicians surrounding him riff off his beat. When I ask him about plans for the decade to come, he envisions his network becoming looser (“more of a structure for other musicians”), and the Jazz Mafia website (www.jazzmafia.com) morphing into a blog where one can read news about the bands involved, perhaps getting more involved with youth music education. Theis already holds concert-classes for hundreds of schoolkids at a time.

Which, of course, could mean Theis is on the hunt for new lieutenants. What can the Cosa Nostra do for you, young trumpeter?


Featuring The Realistic Orchestra with Latyrx

Sat/13, 9 p.m., $15–$20


444 Jessie, SF

(415) 625-8880


The designer as performer


MUSIC/VISUAL ART It’s late at night, and I’m sitting at my laptop transcribing an interview with visual designer Adam Guzman, when I notice the graphics on my screen, twitching along dully to the sound of our recorded conversation. A fuchsia tube made out of small crosses rises up against a black background, something between a digitized sand worm and a Slinky, and opens its yellow maw in a pointless sort of way that’s familiar to anyone who uses Windows Media Player. All I can think of is how much Guzman must hate these visualizations.

Guzman, you see, is one-half of Fair Enough, a design partnership with Julia Tsao. In the last year they’ve been working in creating concert visuals for musicians. But these aren’t your typical, canned images projected near the stage; stock footage and trippy clip art looped or automated to roughly coincide with the beat. “We wanted to do the opposite,” Guzman says during our phone interview. “We both hated that. You go to a concert and someone is playing, and the visuals have nothing to do with what [the sound] on stage. They’re just found clips of stuff. This doesn’t make sense, and I was sort of tired of that. We wanted to make simple things that were synced to [the music] and do it in a different way.”

The Fair Enough project started when Guzman was studying at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. Through Tsao, Guzman was introduced to Jason Chung, who records and performs under the name Nosaj Thing. “I actually lived with him for a little bit,” Guzman says. “He got to talking, and he was really into doing a synchronized show inspired by [shows by the Japanese rock innovator] Cornelius. At the same time, I was starting my thesis and I was really into doing projects with music and sound experiments. It just made sense to do a project with him, and it turned into this thing that consumed me for a year.”

A great deal of Guzman’s process for the project is documented on his thesis blog, aleome.tumblr.com. But it began the way it does usually for him, with exploration. “When I started, I didn’t really know what direction it was going to go in,” he says. “I started drawing and shooting video, trying to edit it together, playing with MIDI controllers and stuff like that. I tried programming too, but wasn’t really into that. Julie had been gone, and when she came back, everything just sort of clicked and we decided to do something really simple. You know, embrace our constraints. Because I’m not a pro at animation or programming or anything. Neither is she. We just wanted to use that as a design tool.”

The final product is a stunning presentation, blanketing Nosaj Thing, his DJ booth, and the music under a series of graphic banners. Whereas typical concert visuals bombard your corneas with collages of disparate elements, each image of Fair Enough’s presentation is simplified down to an aesthetic essence. The displays range from organic suggestions with flowing blobs and swarming fireflies to geometric patterns shuttering crosses and a succession of colors. But each stands out on its own.

“We modeled the show after Jason’s set,” Guzman explains. “It made sense, because for his songs there’s pieces, and he calls them up when he’s performing. A bassline, or a synth, the drums, parts of the song. We thought it would be cool to do the same thing with the visuals and have parts of songs that we could call up as well. I was into the idea of the designer as performer, and what that [might] mean. I developed what the show is today from that. It’s the same. We have two MIDI controllers, and for each song there will be anything from three to seven clips that go with different parts, and we’re mixing and calling them up live.”

Guzman goes back repeatedly to the idea of the designer as performer. It was the subject of his thesis, Sound and Vision. Interested in musical artists who have pushed visual performances to the forefront — Daft Punk, Kanye West, U2, and especially the Talking Heads and Jonathan Demme’s 1984 concert film Stop Making Sense — he initiated the project as a way of exploring how sound influences visuals and how visuals create music. As David Byrne puts it: “Music is physical. The body understands it before the mind.” What Guzman and Tsao have created is a musical appeal to the sense of sight.

For Nosaj Thing’s November tour, they’re essentially members of the band, rehearsing, traveling on the bus with the other acts — Toro y Moi (who they also designed visuals for) and Jogger — and performing live at the shows.

Did Guzman see this happening when he was studying design? “I always knew I wanted to do something like this,” he says. “I didn’t envision this, though. I’m really excited about what’s happening.”

If Guzman wanted to explore the relationship between design as performance, he has done so — by becoming a performer. *


With Toro Y Moi and Jogger

Fri/12, 9 p.m., $15–$18

Rickshaw Stop

155 Fell, SF



Bless the beasts and children


HAIRY EYEBALL It’s hard not to look at Ryan McGinley’s road-trip photographs — in which his young, often nude, subjects, having ventured far from civilization, run through the woods, climb trees, dance amid a Vulcanic cascade of sparklers, and leap into the void — and not sigh a little. What now separates them from the images he shot for Levi’s current “Go Forth” campaign, seemingly plastered on every other Muni shelter, is frequently a conspicuously displayed pair of jeans.

McGinley has built his reputation on capturing Edenic visions of youth running wild. His pictures are gauzy and nostalgic, shot through with the sexy frisson of their in-the-moment documentation of a way of living that rebukes authority and throws caution to the wind. No one is at work in a McGinley photograph (an irony, perhaps, given the faux-literati, “we are all workers” sloganeering that Levi’s uses elsewhere in the campaign). Rather, people, such as the New York area taggers he started off photographing early in his career, create. Or, as in the road trip pictures, they drop out, escape.

No wonder Levi’s came calling. McGinley’s photographs deliver the promise of youth and all its freedoms in a sexy visual package. When McGinley is at his strongest, though, his pictures also offer up flashes of mystery and unaffected joy. Sometimes, when his subject’s eyes lock with his camera they seem to transmit the promise of a secret to be shared.

The road-trip photographs make up roughly half the images in “Life Adjustment Center,” McGinley’s current exhibit at Ratio 3. However much they dazzle — Tom (Blue, Pink and Orange), a male nude study, gives George Platt Lynes a glowing Technicolor kiss — they are not the true draw. The animals are.

The other half of the show consists of black and white studio portraits of models (again, nude) posing with all sorts of fauna: deer, a domesticated mutt, a peacock, a butterfly, and a coyote. They are the inverse of the road-trip scenes: nature has been brought inside. Both creatures and humans address us with unblinking stillness that, at first glance, gives the impression that the former are stuffed. However, the press notes inform us that the animals are real, which makes a photo like India (Coyote) all the more riveting.

The coyote is draped around India’s shoulders, her hands balancing it in place, in a pose that echoes classic depictions of Christ as shepherd holding aloft his allegorical lamb. The coyote — its tongue hanging out — appears at ease, as does India. Their proximity to each other is nonetheless unsettling (we are left to guess whether or not the scars that criss-cross India’s torso and legs were acquired while posing or before the shoot).

The photograph also makes me think of Josef Beuys’ famous 1974 performance in which he stayed in the René Block Gallery with a wild coyote for eight hours over three days. By the end of the piece, the coyote had become tolerant enough of Beuys to allow the artist to give it a farewell embrace.

In McGinley’s remarkable photographs animals and humans pose together, but there is no hierarchy of prop and subject. In these double portraits McGinley has captured a momentary, and intensely tactile, experience of trust and vulnerability shared between unlike creatures.



I have one thing to say to fans of 2005’s Brokeback Mountain and Warhol’s Lonesome Cowboys (1968) who haven’t yet seen local animation wunderkind and 2008 Goldie winner Samara Halperin’s epic, stop-motion same-sex cowboy romance Tumbleweed Town (1999). Get thee to YouTube.

A brief plot synopsis is in order. As Todd the Tonka cowboy hitchhikes his way across the Texas desert he navigates a rugged world of plastic masculinity only to find true love in the arms of a two-stepper at a raunchy roadhouse.

Currently in residence this week at Southern Exposure, Halperin has been converting the space’s sizeable gallery into a set for West of the Wonder Wheel, her much-awaited sequel to Tumbleweed Town, which trades wide, open spaces for the enclosed, topsy-turvy world of the carnival.

Halperin’s miniature amusement park, complete with rides and games of skill, was greatly inspired by Coney Island’s recently demolished Astroland Park, one of the subjects of a Halperin-curated series of short films about amusement parks that is shown alongside the film set/sculpture.

The last tiny detail is set to be glued in place this Friday, and to celebrate Halperin is hosting a pre-filming carnival-themed party with live music, games, and, of course, cotton candy.


Through Dec. 11

Ratio 3

1447 Stevenson, SF

(415) 821-3371



Through Nov. 15 (carnival reception Fri/12, 7 p.m.–9 p.m.

Southern Exposure

3030 20th St., SF

(415) 863-2141 www.soex.org

Side of the road



FILM Kelly Reichardt wrote and directed a pair of arresting short features in the 1990s — River of Grass (1993) and Ode (1999) — but it was the two poignant recalibrations of the road movie she made during the George W. Bush years that put her on the map. With so much American independent cinema gone upwardly mobile, Old Joy (2006) and Wendy and Lucy (2008) were films that dug back in to that minor place that gives the 1970s cinema of Monte Hellman (1971’s Two-Lane Blacktop), Bob Rafelson (1970’s Five Easy Pieces), Barbara Loden (1970’s Wanda), and Eagle Pennell (1978’s The Whole Shootin’ Match) its plaintive appeal. Reichardt’s characters (the recent ones all developed with the help of Portland, Ore., author Jon Raymond) are side-winding, shipwrecked, or otherwise in limbo. The films do not engineer uplift, but instead reserve empathy for melancholy souls who, for one reason or another, feel themselves cut off.

Some of the elements of Reichardt’s “naturalism” include her subtle direction of actors (an emphasis on gesture and rhythm); her deceptively unhurried pacing which, as in the best short stories, reveals the continuity of life in its interruptions; her sensitivity to the emotional registry of politics; and the strong regional accents of all her films. If you’ve seen the two earlier movies, you know that Reichardt has a strong feeling for the southeast’s glades, but she’s since come to be associated with Oregon’s overcast skies (her new film, Meek’s Cutoff, was shot upon the state’s hardscrabble plains). Reichardt could probably make a good picture in any out-of-the-way place — a lot of America, actually.

Reichardt’s films unfold as ballads: a cast of two, with occasional walk-ons, observed from a near distance. The incremental addition of events anticipates heartbreak or worse, with context and emphasis left between the lines. Always, we find ourselves in an America where it’s hard to escape and easy to get lost. However the meaning of “escape” and “getting lost” might vary, the characters emerge similarly bruised: walking the strip, stuck in traffic, riding a freight train, or back at home without consolation. Many of Reichardt’s memorable scenes — and there are already many — might have been torn from Robert Frank’s The Americans.

Like all good ballads, the stories strike us as being emblematic. In interviews, Reichardt has made it clear that she intends her films to remind us of the times, whether evoking the left’s ineffectual ties in Old Joy or the lack of a public sphere in Wendy and Lucy. As with her ’70s forerunners, the films invite a pastoral daydream (renewal in the wilderness or out on the road) only to have it dissipate in responsibility or a dead end. Something Cozy (Lisa Bowman) says in River of Grass hangs over all Reichardt’s movies: “It’s funny how a person can leave everything she knew behind and still wind up in such a familiar place.”

Even before learning that Meek’s Cutoff (which premiered at the 2010 Venice Film Festival; no local release date has been announced) was to be set in 1845, it seemed reasonable to assume that we wouldn’t soon see a computer or text message in one of Reichardt’s films. Her characters all have difficulty communicating — this can be vexing, especially in Wendy and Lucy — but the films finally turn on the repressed energies and vulnerabilities that only surface in the midst of a genuine encounter. In Reichardt’s early work, intimate productions provided the right scale for these fragile relationships. That began to change in Wendy and Lucy by virtue of Michelle Williams, and now Meek’s Cutoff represents another enlargement of cast and budget. Reichardt will be in conversation with film scholar B. Ruby Rich following the Pacific Film Archive’s screenings of Old Joy and Wendy and Lucy, and it will be interesting to hear whether the extra attention has made it any more difficult for her to keep to the byways. 


Nov. 11–13, $5.50–$9.50

Pacific Film Archive

2575 Bancroft, Berk.

(510) 642-5249 www.bampfa.berkeley.edu

Viva l’Italia



FILM Boy meets girl. Boy marries girl. Boy cheats on girl. They yell. A lot. If the story sounds familiar, it might be because you’ve seen it in any number of contemporary Italian films. That’s not to discount modern Italian cinema as a whole — for every rehashed infidelity plot, there’s a subtler treasure.

Ferzan Ozpetek is one of those original voices. With his Turkish background and queer identity, he brings a unique perspective to the table. And his best films showcase aspects of Italian culture that might otherwise go unexplored.

The San Francisco Film Society honors Ozpetek as part of its “New Italian Cinema” festival — screening his most recent movie, Loose Cannons, along with some of his past work. For those unfamiliar with Ozpetek, this is a primo opportunity to get acquainted. And if you need added incentive, he has a knack for procuring plenty of Italian eye candy.

Ozpetek’s first film, Steam: The Turkish Bath (1997), is likely his most amateur effort — and that’s to be expected. But there’s still plenty to enjoy about this surprisingly restrained drama. The porny title is a tad misleading, though Steam does establish Ozpetek as a filmmaker who can make a film sensual without baring it all. It also introduces his recurring themes of sexual awakening and culture clash. The film’s protagonist, Franceso (Alessandro Gassman), is an Italian living in Turkey — a reversal of Ozpetek’s status as a Turkish immigrant.

Ozpetek really hit his stride with 2001’s His Secret Life. While it’s not screening as part of “New Italian Cinema,” it’s certainly worth checking out. The film has a charmingly unpolished feel, with great performances from Margherita Buy and Stefano Accorsi. You might recognize them from about a dozen other recent Italian movies.

Thankfully, the festival is screening Ozpetek’s best film, Facing Windows, a drama that manages to integrate the Holocaust, forbidden gay love, and voyeurism without becoming overwrought. The script, which Ozpetek cowrote with Gianni Romoli, is tightly woven. Much credit is also due to Giovanna Mezzogiorno, a welcome presence in all her films. Yes, there are extramarital shenanigans, but the story feels fresh. And who wouldn’t concede to a dalliance with Raoul Bova?

It’s regrettably tricky to find a balanced, thoughtful queer film — much less when it’s an Italian import. That’s why it’s important to honor filmmakers, like Ozpetek, who challenge their viewers and subvert the norm.


Nov 14-21, $12.50–$20

Embarcadero Cinema

One Embarcadero Center, Promenade Level, SF


Rock rolled



FILM Danny Boyle is a director whose projects seem chosen largely to have nothing in common with anything he’s done before. Mid-career at 54, he’s been good at a lot of things. But what, exactly, is his ideal fit?

Falling in the “good” department are 202’s 28 Days Later, which revivified the zombie flick at the cost of subsequent overexposure, not to mention introducing that whole “fast-moving zombie” conundrum. Children’s fantasy Millions (2004) had real charm almost overwhelmed by ADD; Sunshine (2007) was sci-fi so gorgeous you could almost ignore the black hole its narrative vanished into.

Not so hot were 1997’s A Life Less Ordinary and 2000’s The Beach, the latter from a novel that “couldn’t miss.” Which proved Boyle is capable of seizing on an approach entirely wrong for his material, his confidence unflagging to the bitter end. Shallow Grave (1994) was a cunning debut that owed a lot to John Hodge’s screenplay, yet made sure you couldn’t miss the directorial panache.

Which leaves 1996’s Trainspotting, the one perfect match of gonzo content and hyperactive execution. Plus 2008’s Slumdog Millionaire, of course — a Piccadilly masala of tragedy, coarse humor, melodrama, spectacle, outrageous fortune, grotesquerie, and whipped cream. Did Boyle and company truly fuse those elements, or just smash them haphazardly together? Most people were too dazzled by exoticism to care. But will its brief vogue eventually look like one of those pop anomalies more puzzling than nostalgic?

After that large-scale, Oscar-draped triumph, 127 Hours might seem starkly minimalist — if Boyle weren’t allergic to such terms. Based on Aron Ralston’s memoir Between a Rock and a Hard Place, it’s a tale defined by tight quarters, minimal “action,” and maximum peril: man gets pinned by rock in the middle of nowhere, must somehow free himself or die.

More precisely, in 2003 experienced trekker Ralston biked and hiked into Utah’s Blue John Canyon, falling into a crevasse when a boulder gave way under his feet. He landed unharmed … save a right arm pinioned by a rock too securely wedged, solid, and heavy to budge. He’d told no one where he’d gone for the weekend; dehydration death was far more likely than being found.

For those few who haven’t heard how he escaped this predicament, suffice it to say the solution was uniquely unpleasant enough to make the national news (and launch a motivational-speaking career). Yes, it was way worse than drinking one’s own pee.

Opinions vary about the book. It’s well written, an undeniably amazing story, but some folks just don’t like him. Alternating chapters between the canyon crisis and prior “hair-raising adventures,” Ralston is the life of every party, the apple of every eye. He’s forever leaping gung-ho into avoidable near-catastrophes (risking death by bear attack, drowning, etc.), then marveling at his luck in surviving them. Stuck passing long, possibly final hours in Blue John, he briefly experiences “regrets about not focusing on the people enough” in pursuit of “the essence of experience.” Example: once he lost two good friends by recklessly getting them near-killed in an avalanche. But oh well!

This being a Danny Boyle movie, it has of course has a much cooler soundtrack than Ralston would have mixtaped (it’s a no-Phish zone), albeit one sometimes quirky to a jarring fault. While hardly a pop-culture felon à la Baz Luhrmann, Boyle still easily errs on the side of excess flash. His 127 Hours has passages where the MTV-like cinematic gymnastics performed to keep us interested in a trapped hero are just trivializing and gratuitous.

Still, subject and interpreter match up better than one might expect, mostly because there are lengthy periods when the film simply has to let James Franco command our full attention. This actor, who has reached the verge of major stardom as a chameleon rather than a personality, has no trouble making Ralston’s plight sympathetic, alarming, poignant, and funny by turns. His protagonist is good-natured, self-deprecating, not tangibly deep but incredibly resourceful. Probably just like the real-life Ralston, only a tad more appealing, less legend-in-his-own-mind — a typical movie cheat to be grateful for here.

127 HOURS opens Fri/12 in San Francisco.

Uncanny Xsnake



>>Alas! We’ve just heard word that Tensnake has had to cancel his appearance here due to visa and family issues. Hopefully he’ll make it here soon!

SUPER EGO I adore history, it’s all so pointless. It’s fun to play around with, too — stick your mitts in the used fork drawer of the past and clatter about a bit, just to make new noise. Artists do this all the time, grab stuff from different eras and pastiche them together to create unique and dreamlike emotional states. Bygones!

That sensibility is making a comeback in dance music. Over the past few years, there’s been a fascinating wave of sonic rummagers digging through five decades of strobe-lit tunes, Frankensteining together ambitiously funky, mostly midtempo tracks that knock sample-trainspotters sideways. What these posthistorical freaks come up with, creating songs that sound like they belong to a not-quite-placeable era, is uncanny, just a tad left of reality, something the wordy Germans call unheimlischkeit. Think DJ Shadow in neon Ray-Bans, collaging together decelerated Minneapolis and Motown samples, Heaven 17-ish synths, early ’90s R&B basslines, rolling Balearic keyboards, and half-forgotten garage house vocal snippets.

Rocketing to the top of the history-shuffling heap is Hamburg tunesmith Tensnake, whose riveting tracks like “In the End (I Want You to Cry),” “Holding Back (My Love)” and breezy monster hit “Coma Cat” open little windows into an imaginary dance floor past. Take, for instance, Tensnake’s phenomenal remix of Azari and III’s “Reckless (With Your Love),” in which he transforms an already post-postmodern ode to late ’80s house into an insanely bouncy Soul II Soul homage that breaks, at the climax, into a full-on sample of C+C Music Factory’s “Gonna Make You Sweat.” WTF? Which Midwestern gay bar am I wearing ripped jeans and a bolero jacket at?


“Playfulness is key to who I am and what I do.” Tensnake, Marco Niemerski, told me over e-mail. “Some of my music is more deep and dreamy, while other tracks are more open-armed and made for piano connoisseurs, ha. I do have a love and respect for dance music history but like any producer who cares about what they do, I want to look ahead, not back! Whenever I am referring musically to some old tunes, I think I am just trying to have a great time while producing a new one.”

Tensnake’s new double-disc mix for the Defected in the House series and his upcoming tour of the States are sure to expose a lot of European artists working with the new sensibility to American ears. We have our own reps in acts like Wolf + Lamb and Soul Clap, but it’s weird to hear such crate-digging audacity and soul sonics coming from across the pond.

“After the minimal sound, which was huge for a few years, people were hungry for more soulful stuff again,” Tensnake said. “I was never into minimal, so I’m glad that re-edits and classic tracks have come back to the fore. And I think this was always an American sound, the Chicago, Detroit, and New York sound. Very few house records from Europe were important to me. This trip will be the first time in America, so I’m very excited to see how my live show and tracks go down.”

Does he feel part of a revolutionary dance music movement? “I am not a big fan of labeling music or names and numbers — well, maybe apart from the number ten. I just like great music and melodies. To me a great song could be Saint Etienne, Prefab Sprout, or even Janet Jackson. There is just more of a melting pot at the moment and I think that’s incredibly healthy.”

TENSNAKE Fri/26, 9 p.m., $10. Public Works, 161 Erie, SF. www.publicsf.com



Fluff up your pretty pink crinoline: “It’s like I’m becoming a woman again — except without the vaginoplasty,” drag princess Ambrosia tells me of her fab-sounding doble quinceañera birthday celebration. Including a mariachi band with accompanying live vocals from drag luminaries, DJs Javi en Rose and Juanita More, a traditional quinceañera waltz, Juanita Fajita’s fajita cart and the tamale lady, this will be one of the kooky-magical parties of the year. Doble the pleasure, darling.

Sun/14, 8 p.m., $8. Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell, SF. myspecial15.blogspot.com

Paradise Pizza & Pasta



DINE The current pizza vogue reminds us that pizza is always in vogue. Pizza is timeless; have you ever met anyone, or even heard of anyone, who doesn’t like it? Yet the welter of new and ballyhooed pizzerias, in all their worthiness, can sometimes make us overlook the older, time-tested spots like Cathy and Sal Alioto’s Paradise Pizza and Pasta at the edge of West Portal.

Paradise has been “family owned and operated since 1989,” according to the menu card, and that’s a lot of restaurant years. (Restaurant years are even briefer and more brutal than dog years, which is saying something.) The restaurant also claims to offer the “best crust in the city.” This is a complex matter in which personal taste inevitably figures, as we shall see.

But first, the setting. It’s clean and modernish, with a semi-exhibition kitchen and bright green tabletops illuminated by a small spotlight in the ceiling — a mercy for those of us who were born before, oh, let’s say 1989, and now have difficulty reading menus by the dim light in so many of our more au courant restaurants. The interior design does contain one oddity, and that is the large fish composed of pizza pans mounted above the kitchen. It looks like some sort of Christian symbol while implying that the restaurant is some sort of seafood house, which it isn’t.

Which isn’t to say there aren’t glimpses of seafood on the menu. There are, including sautéed shrimp, fettuccine with shrimp, and shrimp on a pizza. Ahi even turns up occasionally, in tissue-thin flaps, almost like prosciutto — on a plate of bruschetta ($10.95) in the company of caramelized onions and juicy, late-season tomatoes.

The pizza crusts strike a nice balance between anorexic (in vogue at the moment) and foccacia-puffy, which I have always found to be bloating as well as flaccid when soggy. Paradise’s crusts are thin and crisp enough to hold a firm point (with good chewiness) while flashing some well-blistered puff along the edges.

As for toppings: they come pre-bundled for your convenience, under a variety of alluring names (all containing the word “paradise”), or you can put together your own consortium, starting from $10.95 and rising in increments from $1 to $1.50 per extra topping, depending on the size of the pizza. The ingredients, although not exotic, are fresh and vivid, the Italian sausage in particular, which skillfully balances the assertiveness of its two principal players, garlic and fennel seed.

The triumph of the pizza over the calzone in this country is something of a mystery to me. Does it have to do with the comparative ease of cutting up a pizza into slices for sharing, whereas a calzone is usually too big to be a finger or hand food? Paradise’s calzoni (all $12.95) are splendid to look at, each a sizable mezzaluna bulging with tasty goodies and with a subtle sheen, like that of a good (if blistered) brioche, on the outside. The salsiccia edition, filled with crumbled Italian sausage, chopped mushrooms, and mozzarella and ricotta cheeses, would pretty easily be enough for two people, especially if preceded by a starter course of some kind.

One such course we weren’t impressed with was a cream of artichoke soup ($4). The soup was certainly creamy — indeed, it seemed to be nothing but creamy, as though the kitchen had poured a carton of half and half into a pan and gently heated it. We did detect a faint hint of lemon in all that unorganized richness, but of the headlining ingredient … bupkes.

Paradise does a lively takeout business, which — as at every other such place I’ve ever been to — does slow the sit-down service. The servers themselves are attentive, knowledgeable, and prompt, but because the kitchen is busy baking pizzas for an unseen host as well as for the people sitting at tables, there can be a bit of a wait. But the beers and wines are moderately priced by city standards, and the crowd is spectation-worthy, a true neighborhood potpourri ranging from greatest-generation couples out for a simple dinner to packs of high school boys in their Giants regalia — black and orange, so reminiscent of Halloween. Halloween has just passed, but, like pizza, it never goes out of vogue in our town.


Daily from 4:30 p.m.

393 West Portal, SF

(415) 759-1155


Beer and wine


Moderately noisy

Wheelchair accessible


Flesh of our flesh



DANCE When I think of the term “landscape” in a broad sense, it seems that beyond referring to any certain vista, the word connotes an integrated whole, a thing beyond its particulars. In this sense, a painting is a landscape. Its details are never separate from and exist to serve the whole. It was this feeling of watching a landscape that is most prevalent throughout ODD, AXIS/inkBoat’s new show, which premiered November 5-7 at ODC and continues Nov. 12-14 in Oakland at the Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts. Dancers enter and exit. Duets transpire. Bodies merge. Yet the individual elements feel inseparable from the entirety of the scene.

I had never heard of Odd Nerdrum before initially reading about ODD. An acclaimed Norwegian figurative painter, Nerdrum’s paintings are the source of inspiration for choreographer Shinichi Iova-Koga’s aptly-named piece. I Googled “Odd Nerdrum” after seeing the show, and as image after image filled the screen, I realized that although I ‘d never browsed through any of Nerdrum’s paintings, many of the images were strikingly familiar. I’d seen the living embodiment of many of them through the course of the show.

The paintings are dark. Flesh is a recurring element. There is also a distinctly Old World feel. These themes are found within ODD: the stage is dimly lit and at times almost murky. The motif of flesh is explored in the costume choices and particularly when many of the dancers bare their squirming muscular backs. I was particularly intrigued by the ways in which the androgynous quality of the paintings are recreated in the dance. No dancer stands out from the rest. Individual gender, color, personality, and physicality seem to disappear.

Perhaps the one exception is Iova-Koga himself. Assuming that the majority of his audience has little to no knowledge of Nerdrum’s work, he introduces quotes and personal thoughts on Nerdrum as a sort of prelude to the piece. Later, Iova-Koga walks into the choreography awhirl onstage and begins a monologue of hermaphrodite facts. As represented by the mythological Hermes and Aphrodite, a hermaphrodite was once considered a near-perfect being. In the popular song “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” by the Beatles, Desmond and Molly are switched in the gender stereotypical lyrics, adding a hermaphroditic element to the song.

Acclaimed cellist Joan Jeanrenaud provides musical score and accompaniment to ODD. At the point when Iova-Koga begins his monologue, Jeanrenaud incorporates snippets of “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” into the instrumentation. While her music supports the androgynous landscape throughout the work, this pop culture reference in particular fuses music to motion.

The end of the piece departs dramatically from the meditative landscape of bodies floating in and out of each other. Iova-Koga is torn from his soliloquy, a stampede of accessory dancers storms the stage, and chaos essentially breaks loose. Although the piece hitherto had by no means been boring, I had definitely slipped into a reverie and was caught unaware by the explosion of action onstage. While ODD piece retains its landscape quality through to the end, this quality becomes more colorful and vibrant. The excess of bodies moving in tandem provides a unity and sense of completeness previously unfound.

Hermaphrodites, the Beatles, two dance companies, a cellist, and a painter’s body of work: ODD takes on enormous proportions, and the resulting piece is incredibly dense. There is the melding of dancers with mixed physical abilities. There is the fusion of dance and music. There is the dancing itself, a parade of overlapping solos, duets, trios, and group work. Yet it is the morphing landscape of bodies and sound that prevails. The androgynous bodies moving through space lose their individualism and become the landscape itself, creating a compelling live interpretation of Nerdrum’s work.


Fri/12–Sat/13, 8 p.m.; Sun/14, 2 p.m.

Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts

1428 Alice, Oakl..

(510) 625-0110


Dark power



DANCE With stunning classically trained dancers and a repertory that features emerging and legendary choreographers, it’s no surprise that after bringing four West Coast premieres to Cal Performances at Zellerbach Hall (Oct. 29-30), Hubbard Street Dance Chicago left audience members in awe. Under the artistic direction of Glenn Edgerton, former dancer and artistic director of Nederlands Dans Theater, HSDC continues to uphold a long tradition of exceptional dancing and exciting contemporary choreography.

In the show’s opening piece, Nacho Duato’s Arcangelo (2000), warm hues of dark yellow and gold (lighting by Brad Fields) illuminate a lustrous gold backdrop as the dancers (Laura Halm, Alejandro Piris-Nino, Penny Saunders, Jesse Bechard, Ana Lopez, Kevin Shannon, Jacqueline Burnett, and Pablo Piantino) bathed in light move through a series of intimate duets and solos with grace and power. Duato’s choreography subtly juxtaposes severe movements — hunched backs, flexed feet, and jagged angular undulations — with an overall classical and streamlined aesthetic. In doing so, Duato emphasizes the heavenly lightness and deep emotional currents inherent in the music of Arcangelo Corelli and Alessandro Scarlatti. The piece ends in ethereal light and grounded darkness, as three couples lie motionless on the floor while the fourth couple climbs a long dark silvery cloth and — hanging, bodies outstretched — is pulled upward toward an imagined heaven.

The middle portion of the evening featured two works by Hubbard Street dancer and resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo. The curtain rose on Cerrudo’s Blanco to reveal four spotlights (set and lighting design by Nicholas Phillips), each illuminating a woman beneath a billowing cloud of smoke. Even in stillness, the four exquisite dancers, Halm, Jessica Tong, Meredith Dincolo, and Robyn Mineko Williams, exhibited strength and conviction. Dressed in attractive blue-gray leotards, sometimes moving together and at other times breaking off into solos, the dancers remain for the most part contained in their own personal spotlight. While the four women move like sculptures of contained perfection, an organic fluidity and drive to break free lies beneath the calm. Precise arm gestures and firm shapes melt into subtle head rolls and seamless transitions to the floor. The dark, driving piano melodies by Mendelssohn and Charles-Valentin Alkan emphasize a raw, dramatic emotion at the core of Blanco.

In Deep Down Dos, Cerrudo, “inspired by imagery and sounds of tectonic plates, crystalline caverns, and blazing infernos,” launches his dancers into shadowy darkness and continual motion. The dancers (Lopez, Burnett, Saunders, Kellie Epperheimer, Benjamin Wardell, Pablo Piantino, Jason Hortin, Jesse Bechard, Kevin Shannon) run and leap across the floor in a fast-paced frenzy of activity. Although this extreme physicality generates a wonderful excitement, Cerrudo’s choreography in this work at times feels disconnected. When the four men dance together, their lighthearted jazz leaps seem to go against the piece’s dark atmosphere and the compellingly dissonant music score by Mason Bates. Is this disconnect between movement and atmosphere intentional or accidental? Regardless, Cerrudo’s work stands up well alongside legends Kylian and Duato.

The evening ended with Jiri Kylian’s 27’52”, staged by Christina Gallofre Vargas and Gerald Tibbs. Set to eerie and electrifying music by Dirk Haubrich, Kylian brings his six dancers into violent and vulnerable contact. Cutting though space like exploding glass, the dancers crash, clash, pull, push, resist, and manipulate their way through quick gestures and athletic partnering sequences. On Oct. 30, the way in which dancers Tong, Hortin, Epperheimer, Piris-Nino, Piantino, and Halm expressed a sense of human vulnerability amid such fierce and gutsy movement was perhaps the most awe-inspiring aspect of the entire night. After an emotionally intense duet between Tong and Hortin — in which the two beautifully intertwine, lean, and lift each other through a struggle of resisting and giving in — the pair ultimately end up lying alone on opposite sides of the stage as thick white sheets, used as scenery throughout the piece, come plummeting to the floor.




CHEAP EATS Where were you when the Giants won?

I was eating Buffalo wings at NY Buffalo Wings with the Maze and Kayday, and when it was over we decided to spill into the streets.

What a great city our city was! This was the way that I was feeling, that San Francisco was the best place on Earth and had the best pitching. All that remained was to set a police car on fire.

“That’s what they do in Philadelphia,” Kayday explained.

Yeah, but we’re not Philadelphia, or Texas, are we? No, we are not. Besides better pitching we have district elections, the view from Dolores Park, and bike lanes. We have Buffalo wings, Philly cheese steak, Texas barbecue, Chicago pizza and Buster Posey. We have players with pretty hair, dyed beards, and cool names.

I don’t really follow baseball anymore. Baseball lost me a few years ago. Oh, I still appreciate good pitching when I see it. And a sacrifice bunt — which is not after all “hit,” but “laid down” — is still my favorite Thing in the whole wide world of sports. Executed properly — which is to say, poetically (see Aubrey Huff, top of the seventh, Game 5) — the sacrifice bunt makes me all buttery inside, and crispy outside, like the fried yucca at Limon Rotisserie.

I will never get tired of it. In fact, thanks to the tingly feeling I still have for power hitter Huff’s li’l push-n-puff between the mound and first base, I might just become a baseball fan again. Fuck Edgar Renteria. Fuck the sweet and sour punch of Lincecum-Wilson. They all might have won the game, according to sports sections, but — even before his thong-related antics at the parade — Aubrey Huff had won my heart. And which, in the long run, is really more important?

Oh, yeah … I guess you’re right: probably for sure the game, now that you mention it. This is why you’re not supposed to answer rhetorical questions.

But why am I writing about a week-old baseball game in the food section instead of dates and shit? Don’t answer that!

I want to. Because, like a lot of other wahoos hanging out of SUVs and minivans or dancing in intersections, on boats, or flying through the air, I was and still am beside myself with pride and joy for the city I live in and the people I live in it with.

Kayday was right. It was almost our civic duty to set things on fire. I wish I’d thought of this beforehand, but I’ve never been in a city that won the World Series before. As a result, I didn’t have matches or a lighter and that’s why I was at the corner of 18th and Mission streets rubbing two sticks together when the party started.

The Maze, who had come straight from the airport to wings and still had his luggage in tow and isn’t much of a baseball fan (lapsed or otherwise) and was tired, went home.

Kayday had her iPhone out and was taking pictures or making movies.

And I, like everyone else who has ever rubbed two sticks together, eventually gave up and started looking around for something to tip over, or at least kick.

All mayhem-related kidding aside, I love how everyone loved each other and seemed to want to hug or at least high five me. As someone who errs on the side of eye contact, who tends to smile and/or say hello and isn’t always (or even often) requited in this, I was like a kid on a choo-choo train.

I’d never felt anything like it.

So I stayed out late, in some cases dodging glass bottles, because I guess I wanted one more hug. One more high five. One more woohoo, ain’t we great.

Yeah, we are.

But I forgot to tell you about dim sum. Last week, and now, nearly, again. There’s this one out on the avenues, in the Richmond, that claims to be “the Very First Chinese Restaurant on Clement.” I don’t care about that. I barely care how good the dim sum was, which was, for the record, pretty good. What I do care about: $1.95 per plate, weekdays.

Ergo: new favorite restaurant!


Sun.–Thu.: 8 a.m.–1 a.m.;

Fri.–Sat.: 8 a.m.-2 a.m.

332 Clement, SF

(415) 668-8070


Beer and wine

alt.sex.column: Love stinks



Dear Andrea:

I am newly pregnant and confused. I’m wondering about “pregnancy nose” and why all of a sudden my husband smells so bad to me. I have subtly hinted that he should take a shower before bed, but he showers in the morning and thinks I’m crazy to suggest taking another one. Lots of things smell bad to me right now. Garlic is gross, and I usually love garlic. Cheese and meat are completely disgusting, so much so that that all of a sudden I’m mostly a vegetarian. I can live with that — but thinking my husband is disgusting is not okay.



Dear Nose:

One of the many perks of pregnancy is that we get to announce what we require of other people, partners especially. I have certainly seen women abuse this privilege, becoming iron-fisted little martinets ordering coworkers to change their eating habits or insisting that strangers on the next park bench over extinguish all smoking materials. But I suspect such people were nasty pieces of work before they got pregnant. Nice people are still nice enough even under the influence of bonkers hormones. You may wish to leap up and spray the garlic-beef consumers at the next table with Lysol, but you wouldn’t do it, right?

Neither will you let loose on your husband and tell him to get his OMG-stinky-paws-off-you-Jesus-Christ he makes you sick. But you have my permission to let him know, gently, that your wacky pregnancy hormones have produced the phenomenon often referred to as Bionic Nose and, through no fault of his own hygiene habits, you are having a hard time dealing with his entirely normal mammalian pong.

The Bionic Nose phenomenon is a weird one. It’s pretty clearly estrogen-fueled — women in general, um, smell better than men do, and it’s heightened in pregnancy and during ovulation, when it almost certainly plays a role in partner-choice and the increased randiness most women report at midcycle.

Obviously a heightened sense of smell and its associated squeamishness can help steer a pregnant hunter-gatherer away from tainted or toxic choices, but it comes in less handy when it renders stomach-turning otherwise perfectly nice things like a roast beef sandwich or your husband.

All well and good, you say, but what to do now with Ol’ Stinky there? As we’ve already covered, ask him to shower. Blame it on the hormones. I’m actually opposed on principle characterizing hormones as funny little imp-things that possess you and make you do and feel ridiculous things. Hormones and neurotransmitters are why and how we feel things, and I’m sorry to say that the ridiculous things we do and feel are real; they both cause and are caused by the release and reuptake of body-and-brain chemicals. That’s how it works. But you are pregnant, and I’ll cut you some slack. Go ahead, blame the ‘mones.

Oh, here’s an interesting side note, and one you can use if you need to mollify a husband who now feels stinky and rejected: many women discover that postpartum (and perhaps throughout the entire breast-feeding period) they stink like goats. Maybe that helps?




An Iggy Pop Woody Allen


COMEDY Marc Maron is old school. He’s the kind of comic who will talk your ear off about the pitfalls of modern technology and the lost art of conversation while actually making a point. He doesn’t do characters or hide behind awkward self-consciousness. He criticizes YouTube and the oversaturation of stand-up comedy, hankering for a return to the “emotional thought” of comics he grew up admiring. And in what seems to be a symbolic “fuck you” to the modern world, the guy is still rocking his America Online e-mail account. “No numbers or any of that shit — nice and clean,” he says. “I’m trying to make it sound really cool and retro.”

Maron specializes in a type of stand-up comedy that seems to reject any kind of self-censoring, perhaps best comparable to the like-minded Louis C.K. He is brutally honest when discussing his own thoughts and opinions, and vehemently flustered while ranting about personal relationships, the state of the country’s mental health, or why the hell he felt the need to buy a Blackberry (he compares his text messaging ability to pounding out letters on a stone tablet). His success has led to the creation of “WTF with Marc Maron” (www.wtfpod.com), a podcast full of comedy bits, interviews with comics like David Cross, Sarah Silverman, Bob Saget, and Maria Bamford, and most recently, even a bit of Maron’s newfound love for performing music live.

SFBG I was at a comedy show last week and on the way out I heard this woman ranting to her friend about how offended she was by some of the comic’s material. I was kind of baffled that someone could take it so seriously. Do you deal with this very often at your shows?

MARC MARON Part of the tradition of stand-up comedy, and of the comics who I’ve enjoyed personally throughout my life, is challenging people and making them a bit uncomfortable. You want to make people think rather than just sit there passively. If you’re doing your job well, you should have two or three of those people a show.

SFBG You talk a lot about technology’s impact on communication and your struggles to constantly try to adapt to it. If you could go back in time and freeze technological advancement at a certain point, when would that be?

MM (Laughing) Shortly after the invention of the automobile.

SFBG Do you mean that personally or in the grand scheme of things?

MM I guess in the grand scheme of things.

SFBG It’s interesting listening to your comedy about technology, because you walk a line between hating having to constantly keep up and knowing you have to in order to survive and benefit from it. Like the podcast, for example — has that turned a lot of people onto your comedy who hadn’t heard you previously?

MM It’s a whole other world, man. I can be doing a show and get an e-mail from a guy in Chile who’s listening to the podcast while climbing a mountain, and that’s really cool. But too often, I think technology encourages cowardice. You can hide behind a computer, you can hide behind a screen name. Or if you have to talk to someone, you just think, “I’ll just text this guy.” It can be draining to deal with certain things, and that can make it easier. But at some point you need to just man up.

SFBG The podcast is a nice compliment to your stand-up in that you don’t always have to play things strictly for laughs and can often just pick the brains of your guests in a really open, honest way.

MM Yeah. The podcast is unique in that it’s often just two people sitting down, having a conversation. And it seems like sitting down with another person for an hour-and-a-half of interpersonal conversation is too rare or hard for some people these days.

SFBG You’ve talked before about your love for music and playing guitar, and you’ve recently started to perform live a bit. What do you find different about performing music on stage compared to comedy?

MM In terms of baring your soul, I think music is the ultimate form for that. It’s amazing how much you can lose yourself playing music. As for stand-up, I would say it’s definitely a more vulnerable and high-risk art form in that people might not laugh and it’s just you up there. You don’t have your bandmates to fall back on.

SFBG Do you find that it becomes more difficult to stay angry the older you get?

MM Sure. I’ve recently started to come to a place where I’ve learned to accept a lot of things for how they are. I haven’t been doing very much topical or political comedy over the past few years, which is something I used to do a lot of. To do that type of comedy, you really need to be up to date. I used to read everything and get pissed off, and at some point I think I got a little disillusioned with it all. So I don’t do that very often these days. But don’t worry, ’cause I’m just waiting for the shit to hit the fan. And it definitely will.


With Ryan Singer and Janine Brito

Thu/11, Fri/12 and Sat/13

Punch Line Comedy Club

444 Battery, SF

(415) 397-PLSF



Dodging bullets



Progressives in San Francisco dodged a few bullets on election night, which was the highest hope that many held in a campaign season dominated by conservative money and messaging. The Board of Supervisors retained a progressive majority, Prop B’s attack on public employees went down, the wealthy will pay more property transfer taxes, and — perhaps the best news of all — Gavin Newsom is leaving for Sacramento a year before his mayoral term ends.

But economically conservative and downtown-backed campaigns and candidates scored the most election-night victories in San Francisco, killing a temporary hotel tax hike pushed hard by labor and several progressive-sponsored ballot measures, and winning approval for the divisive sit-lie ordinance and Prop. G, removing Muni driver pay guarantees, which had the widest margin of the night: 65-35 percent.

“Ultimately, downtown did well,” progressive political consultant Jim Stearns told us on election night, noting how aggressive spending by downtown business and real estate interests ended a string of progressive victories in the last several election cycles. He cited the likely election of Scott Wiener in District 8 and the strong challenge in District 2 by Mark Farrell to perceived frontrunner Janet Reilly, who had progressive and mainstream endorsements.

A preliminary Guardian analysis of reported spending by independent expenditure committees shows that groups affiliated with downtown or supporting more conservative candidates spent about $922,435, the biggest contributions coming from conservative businessman Thomas Coates and the San Francisco Board of Realtors, compared to $635,203 by more progressive organizations, mostly the San Francisco Democratic Party and San Francisco Labor Council.

That spending piggy-backed on national campaigns that were also skewed heavily to conservative and corporate-funded groups and messaging that demonized government and public employee unions, playing on people’s economic insecurities during a stubborn recession and jobless recovery.

Stearns said voters are having a hard time in this economy “and they don’t like to see the government spending.” He said national polls consistently show that people are more scared of “big government” than they are “big corporations,” even if San Francisco progressives tend to hold the opposite view.

And even that narrow defeat came after an almost unprecedented opposition campaign that included every elected official in San Francisco except the measure’s sponsor, Public Defender Jeff Adachi, and both the labor movement and many moderate groups.

“The campaign on this was extraordinary and caught fire at the end,” Alex Clemens, founder of Barbary Coast Consulting, said at SPUR’s Nov. 4 election wrap-up event. In particular, the message about how much Prop B would increase the health care costs on median-income city employees seemed to resonate with voters.

“We are really happy that Prop. B is going down because it was such a misguided measure. It was not well thought through,” Labor Council President Tim Paulson told the Guardian at the election night party labor threw with the San Francisco Democratic Party at Great American Music Hall. “San Francisco voters are the smartest in America.”

Paulson was also happy to see those voters approve taxing the transfer of properties worth more than $5 million, “because San Franciscans know that everyone has to pay their fair share.”

In the Board of Supervisors races, it was basically a status quo election that shouldn’t alter the body’s current politics dynamics much. Sup. Bevan Dufty will be replaced with fellow moderate Scott Wiener in D8 and Sup. Chris Daly by progressive Jane Kim in D6. The outcome of races to replace ideological wobbler Sup. Sophie Maxwell in D10 and conservative Michela Alioto-Pier in D2 may not be conclusively known for at least a few more days (maybe longer if the close races devolve into lawsuits), but neither is a seat that would diminish the board’s progressive majority.

Progressives could have made a gain if Rafael Mandelman had won in D8, but he was seven points behind Wiener on election night and even more after the initial ranked choice tally was run on Nov. 5. And in D6, fears that downtown-backed candidate Theresa Sparks might sneak past dueling progressive candidates Jane Kim and Debra Walker never materialized as Sparks finished far behind the lefty pair.

Consultant David Latterman, who worked for Sparks, told us on election night that he was surprised to see that Kim was the choice of 32 percent of early absentee voters “because we targeted those voters.” By comparison, Walker was at 20 percent and Sparks was at 21 percent in the initial returns, which tend to be more conservative. By the end of the night, Kim had 31.3 percent, Walker 27.7 percent, and Sparks just 16.5 percent.

“If she did that well with absentees, it seems like it was Jane’s race to win. If they choose Jane, they wanted Jane. It’s just that simple,” Latterman told us on election night.

At her election night party, Kim credited her apparent victory to a strong campaign that she said fielded 400 volunteers on Election Day, most wearing the bright red T-shirts that read “See Jane Run” on the back. “I feel good,” Kim told the Guardian. “What I’m really happy about is we ran a really good campaign.”

In the end, Kim’s campaign was put over the top by the second-place votes of Sparks’ supporters, with 769 votes going to Kim and 572 to Walker in the first preliminary run of ranked-choice voter tabulations. But despite the bad blood that developed between progressives in the Kim and Walker campaigns, Board President David Chiu, an early Kim supporter, sounded a conciliatory note, telling the Guardian on election night, “Given where Debra and Jane are, I’m glad that we’re going to keep this a progressive seat.”

How to fight the GOP


OPINION Now what?

Now we need to build a grassroots progressive movement — wide, deep, and strong enough to fight the right and challenge the corporate center of the Democratic Party.

The stakes are too high and crises too extreme to accept “moderate” accommodation to unending war, regressive taxation, massive unemployment, routine foreclosures, and environmental destruction.

A common formula to avoid is what the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. called “the paralysis of analysis.” Profuse theory + scant practice = immobilization.

It’s not enough to denounce what’s wrong or to share visionary blueprints. Day in and out, we’ve got to organize for effective and drastic social change, in all walks of life and with a vast array of activism.

Yes, electioneering is just one kind of vital political activity. But government power is extremely important. By now we should have learned too much to succumb to the despairing claim that elections aren’t worth the bother.

Such a claim is false. For instance, consider the many hundreds of on-the-ground volunteers who rejected the paralysis of analysis by walking precincts and making phone calls to help reelect progressive Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Arizona). Grijalva won a tight race in the state’s southwestern district and will return to Congress next year — much to the disappointment of the corporate flacks and xenophobes who tried to defeat him because of his strong stance against the state’s new racial-profiling immigration law.

The mass-media echo chamber now insists that Republicans have triumphed because President Obama was guilty of overreach. But since its first days, the administration has undermined itself — and the country — with tragic under-reach.

It’s all about priorities. The Obama presidency has given low priority to reducing unemployment, stopping home foreclosures, or following through with lofty pledges to make sure that Main Street recovers along with Wall Street.

Far from constraining the power of the Republican Party, the administration’s approach has fundamentally empowered it. The ostensibly shrewd political strategists in the White House have provided explosive fuel for right-wing “populism” while doing their best to tamp down progressive populism. Tweaks aside, the Obama presidency has aligned itself with the status quo — a formula for further social disintegration and political catastrophe.

The election of 2010 is now grim history. It’s time for progressives to go back to the grassroots and organize with renewed, deepened commitment to changing the direction of this country. If we believe that state power is crucial — and if we believe in government of, by, and for the people — it’s not too soon to begin planning and working for change that can make progressive victories possible in future elections. 

Norman Solomon is co-chair of the Healthcare Not Warfare campaign, launched by Progressive Democrats of America. His books include War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us To Death.

Prison for killer cop



On Nov. 5, former BART Police officer Johannes Mehserle was sentenced to two years in state prison for fatally shooting Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old African American rider, on the Fruitvale train platform on New Year’s Day 2009.

Mehserle, who is white, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in July in an incident that has become charged with racial undertones. He received credit for 292 days served in jail so far, which will considerably reduce his time in prison. It was the lightest prison sentence he could have received for the crime.

Grant supporters gathered in Frank Ogawa Plaza in downtown Oakland to express anger and sorrow upon hearing news of the sentence. “I’m not shocked,” said Cat Brooks, who helped organize an afternoon rally for the Coalition for Justice for Oscar Grant. “But I’m disgusted and distraught. It seems like the justice system didn’t work.”

After the rally came to a close and night fell, protesters spilled into the streets and marched toward the Fruitvale BART Station, the scene of the crime. But after a dozen car windows were smashed along the way, police officers in riot gear corralled the group into a residential neighborhood. Police then placed 152 protesters under mass arrest, mostly on charges of unlawful assembly. Roughly two-thirds of those arrested were Oakland residents, according to the Oakland Police Department, while others were from Berkeley, San Francisco, Hayward, and other local cities.



A stage outside Oakland City Hall was transformed into a venue for personal expression in the wake of the sentencing. Community members lined up to air their frustrations and resolve to keep fighting. They piled flowers onto a shrine that had been created with a picture of Grant’s face. Some painted pictures, while others gave spoken word or hip-hop performances. Several told stories of loved ones who’d died in police shootings.

Cephus Johnson, Grant’s uncle, was at the Los Angeles courtroom where Mehserle was sentenced, but shared some thoughts with the Guardian beforehand. Asked what he’d thought when the verdict had been announced, Johnson said, “My first thought was that we’re witnessing the criminal justice system failing to work as it should have worked.” If the sentence fell short of the 14-year maximum, he said, “it will be another slap in the face, signifying that black and brown men are worthless.”

East Bay labor organizer Charles Dubois was among those attending the Nov. 5 rally. “Every black parent, every brown parent, lives with this nightmare of their children being killed by some cops because they thought they had a gun,” Dubois said in an interview with the Guardian. “It’s been happening since I was a kid. It’s been happening then and it’s happening now, and it’s going to keep happening until we do something.”

California Assemblymember Tom Ammiano (D-SF) also weighed in during a phone call with the Guardian. “This verdict is outrageous,” he said. “It’s Dan White all over again.”



Judge Robert Perry sided with arguments presented by Mehserle’s defense attorney, Michael Rains, when he levied a reduced punishment. Mehserle could have served up to 14 years prison for involuntary manslaughter committed while wielding a gun, but Perry tossed out the firearm enhancement.

“No reasonable trier of fact could have concluded that Mehserle intentionally fired his gun,” the judge was quoted in media reports as saying. But that appears to be what the jury found, as the prosecution argued in a presentencing memorandum.

“The evidence was presented regarding the use of the gun, and in discussing the use of the gun in the jury room, somehow or another the jury decided he had used the gun illegally,” criminal defense attorney and National Lawyers Guild observer Walter Riley told the Guardian. “One has to believe the jury expected him to have exposure to a greater amount of jail time because of that.”

Perry said he believed Mehserle suffered a “muscle memory accident” that led him to draw and fire his service weapon instead of his Taser, a cornerstone of the defense’s case.

Rains wrote to the court prior to sentencing that jurors should never have been allowed to apply the firearm enhancement to an involuntary manslaughter conviction “because in this case, there is no logical way to square a verdict of involuntary manslaughter and a finding that Mehserle intended to use his gun.”

Prosecutor David Stein of the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office countered that the jury’s conviction showed they believed Mehserle intended to shoot, but not to kill, Grant. Yet Perry agreed with the defense, conceding he had mistakenly permitted the jury to enhance Mehserle’s sentence.

Riley said he sympathized with frustrations over the gun enhancement getting dismissed. “The use of guns is too prevalent in circumstances where law enforcement comes in contact with young black people,” he said. “Our society — our civil society, our judicial authority, and our communities — have to hold government and law enforcement officers to a higher level of accountability in their interactions with citizens. When people with guns shoot an inordinate number of people of one group, it’s worth tremendous scrutiny.”



Twice before, activists took to the streets in furious protest over this case. In January 2009, things escalated to the point where cars were set ablaze. In July 2010, a street rally gave way to rioting and looting. So on Nov. 5, many downtown Oakland storeowners boarded up and closed business early in anticipation of a third wave of vandalism.

Yet the turnout was smaller than the previous events. And while there were reports of smashed car windshields and other instances of vandalism along the circuitous path of the march, there was far less property destruction.

The community affair outside Oakland City Hall ended around 6 p.m., when the permit expired. Soon after, activists spilled into the intersection of 14th and Broadway streets, then began advancing down 14th Street chanting “No Justice! No Peace!” and “The whole system is guilty!” The march turned right onto Madison Street, then left onto 10th Street.

A police helicopter with a spotlight kept pace overhead while it progressed, and when protesters reached Laney College, police officers in riot gear blocked them in. So protesters cut through a park and wandered in a pack until they reached the intersection of East 18th Street and Sixth Avenue in a residential neighborhood. Once again, police surrounded the protesters. This time, the crowd was trapped.

Rachel Jackson, an activist who was barricaded in, began sounding off. “We were going to Fruitvale,” she explained. “We wanted to go to the scene of the crime. All night the police have been trying to suppress our free speech.” When a nearby TV news reporter asked her about windows that had been busted along the march, she was incensed. “We will not equate glass with Oscar Grant’s life!” she responded. “If we have to come out ourselves and board up windows, we’ll do that. But what we are concerned with right now is murder.”

Reporters were allowed to exit the confined area, but if anyone else had been inclined to leave peacefully, they were unable to. Police issued a call on a megaphone telling activists, “You are all under arrest. Do not resist arrest.” By the time the mass arrest was underway, public information officer Jeff Thomason told a group of reporters that there were more police officers on the scene than protesters.

“When the rocks were being thrown, it was declared an unlawful assembly,” Thomason explained. He said a dispersal order had been issued simultaneously. Yet it would have been impossible for the trapped crowd to comply with such an order.

Meanwhile, a resident of the Oakland neighborhood who had come outside when the commotion began told the Guardian that she sympathized with the protesters. “The only thing I don’t condone is the vandalism,” said Dyshia Harvey, who surveyed the scene from behind a fence with her six-year-old son.

Harvey had been anticipating word of Mehserle’s sentencing. “I was upset. I was frustrated, angry, and hurt” by the outcome, she said. But she wasn’t surprised. “I already knew we weren’t going to get no justice,” she said. “For taking a life, 14 years isn’t enough. It makes you feel like there’s no justice in the justice system.”



Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley has not stated whether her office will appeal Perry’s ruling. Rains told reporters in L.A. that he would appeal Mehserle’s involuntary manslaughter conviction.

Meanwhile, the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice released a statement indicating that a federal investigation is in the works. “The Justice Department and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California have been closely monitoring the local prosecution of this case,” a USDOJ prepared statement notes. “Now that the state prosecution has concluded and consistent with department policy, we will thoroughly review the prosecution and its underlying investigation to determine whether further action is appropriate.”

BART settled a civil lawsuit filed on behalf of Grant’s daughter in January that is likely to total $5.1 million, according to civil rights attorney John Burris’ website. Two other lawsuits, one on behalf of Grant’s mother and one on behalf of five other men on the Fruitvale station platform that night, have been consolidated into a single trial that will begin in May 2011, Burris told the Guardian.

Meanwhile, Grant’s death marked just one of three police shootings that occurred Jan. 1, 2009 — the other two cases also sparked allegations of civil-rights violations, since both victims were African American men. Adolph Grimes, 22, was fatally shot 14 times, including 12 times in the back, by a group of New Orleans police officers, who erroneously believed he was a suspect who’d fled the scene of a shooting.

The same night, Robert Tolan, 23 — the son of a Major League Baseball player — was shot and seriously injured outside his home in an upscale Houston suburb by a police officer who mistakenly believed Tolan had stolen the vehicle he was driving. Sgt. Jeffrey Cotton, the white officer who shot him, was ultimately acquitted.



Not everyone in Oakland reacted to Mehserle’s sentence by charging through the streets. The Oscar Grant Foundation, which facilitated live art performances at Frank Ogawa Plaza Nov. 5, is calling for youth groups, Bay Area schools, and adults to participate in an art and poetry showcase inspired by Grant. Information can be found online at IamOscarGrant.org. The foundation is advertising a $1,000 grand prize. Three artists from the Trust Your Struggle Collective didn’t wait to join a contest, however, and spent the afternoon of Nov. 5 adorning plywood covering the Youth Radio building windows at 17th Street and Telegraph Avenue, a few blocks from Frank Ogawa Plaza.

The mural displayed a prominent image of Grant holding his daughter, Tatiana, who was four years old when Grant was killed. The pair are flanked by the names and figures of more than 20 people killed by police.

“We asked the youth inside what they wanted to see,” Miguel Perez, an artist with the Trust Your Struggle Collective, told the Guardian as he looked over the mural. “They said they wanted to see the names of people killed by police nationwide, not just in the Bay Area. The list is so huge, it’s hard to pick out specific names.”

Perez said Trust Your Struggle is a group of artists and educators with social-justice backgrounds who create art as activism. “Being a person of color, I’ve had racist stuff said to me by the police,” Perez said. “It seems like it’s slowly been changing for the past hundreds of years, but it’s still not enough — enough being fairness.” *

The next mayor



By the time a beaming Mayor Gavin Newsom took the stage at Tres Agaves, the chic SoMa restaurant, on election night, enough results were in to leave no doubt: the top two places on the California ballot would go to the Democrats. Jerry Brown would defeat Meg Whitman in the most expensive gubernatorial race in American history — and Newsom, who once challenged Brown in the primary and dismissed the office of lieutenant governor, would be Brown’s No. 2.

It might not be a powerful job, but Newsom wasn’t taking it lightly anymore. “We can’t afford to continue to play in the margins,” he proclaimed proudly, advancing a vague but ambitious agenda. “There is absolutely nothing wrong with California that can’t be fixed with what’s right with California.”

But around the city, as results trickled in for the local races, the talk wasn’t about Newsom’s role in the Brown administration, or the change the Democrats might bring to Sacramento. It was about the profound change that could take place in his hometown as he vacates the office of mayor a year early — and opens the door for the progressives who control the Board of Supervisors to appoint a chief executive who agrees with, and is willing to work with, the majority of the district-elected board.

At a time when the Republican takeover of Congress threatens to create gridlock in Washington, there’s a real chance that San Francisco’s government — often paralyzed by friction between Newsom and the board — could take on an entirely new direction. It’s possible that the progressives, long denied the top spot at City Hall, could put a mayor in office who shares their agenda.

This could be a turning point in San Francisco, a chance to put the interests of the neighborhoods, the working class, small businesses, the environmental movement, and economic justice ahead of the demands of downtown and the rich. All the pieces are in place — except one.

To make a progressive vision happen, the fractious (and in some cases, overly ambitious) elected leaders of the progressive movement will have to recognize, just for a little while, that it’s not about any individual. It’s not about David Chiu, or Ross Mirkarimi, or Chris Daly, or John Avalos, or Eric Mar, or David Campos, or Jane Kim, or Aaron Peskin. It’s not about any one person’s career or personal power.

It’s about a progressive movement and the issues and causes that movement represents. And if the folks with the egos and personal gripes and career designs can’t set them aside and do what’s best for the movement as a whole, then the opportunity of a generation will be wasted.

Folks: this is a hard thing for politicians to recognize. But right now it’s not about you. It’s about all of us.

It’s an odd time in San Francisco, fraught with political hazards. And it’s so confusing that no one — not the elected officials, not the pundits, not the lobbyists, not the insiders — has any clear idea who will occupy Room 200 in January.

Here’s the basic scenario, as described by past opinions of the city attorney’s office:

Under the state Constitution, Newsom will take office as lieutenant governor Jan. 3, 2011. The City Charter provides that a vacancy in the Mayor’s Office is filled by the president of the Board of Supervisors until the board can choose someone to fill the job until the end of the term — in this case, for 11 more months.

So if all goes according to the rules (and Newsom doesn’t try to play some legal game and delay his swearing-in), David Chiu will become acting mayor on Jan.3. He’ll also retain his job as board president.

On Jan. 4, the current members of the Board of Supervisors will hold a regularly scheduled Tuesday meeting — and the election of a new mayor will be on the agenda. If six of the current supervisors can agree on a name (and sitting supervisors can’t vote for themselves) then that person will immediately take office and finish Newsom’s term.

If nobody gets six votes — that is, if the board is gridlocked — Chiu remains in both offices until the next regular meeting of the board — a week later, when the newly elected supervisors are sworn in.

The new board will then elect a board president — who will also instantly become acting mayor — and then go about trying to find someone who can get six votes to take the top job. If that doesn’t work — that is, if the new board is also gridlocked — then the new board president remains acting mayor until January 2012.

There are at least three basic approaches being bandied about. Some people, including Newsom and some of the more conservative members of the board, want to see a “caretaker” mayor, someone with no personal ambition for the job, fill out Newsom’s term, allowing the voters to choose the next mayor in November, 2011. That has problems. As Campos told us, “The city has serious budget and policy issues and it’s unlikely a caretaker could handle them effectively.” In other words, a short-termer will have no real power and will just punt hard decisions for another year.

Then there’s the concept of putting in a sacrificial progressive — someone who will push through the tax increases and service cuts necessary to close a $400 million budget gap, approve a series of bills that stalled under Newsom, take the hits from the San Francisco Chronicle, and step out of the way to let someone else run in November.

The downside of that approach? It’s almost impossible for a true progressive to raise the money needed to beat a downtown candidate in a citywide mayor’s race. And it seems foolish to give up the opportunity to someone in the mayor’s office who can run for reelection as an incumbent.

Which is, of course, the third — and most intriguing — scenario.

The press, the pundits, and the mayor have for the past few months been pushing former Sup. Peskin as the foil, trying to spin the situation to suggest that the current chair of the local Democratic Party is angling for a job he wouldn’t win in a normal election. But right now, Peskin is no more a front-runner than anyone else. And although he’s made no secret in the past of wanting the job, he’s been talking of late more about the need for a progressive than about his own ambitions.

“If the board chose [state Assemblymember] Tom Ammiano, I would be thrilled to play a role, however small, in that administration,” Peskin told us.

In fact, Peskin said, the supervisors need to stop thinking about personalities and start looking at the larger picture. “If we as a movement can’t pull this off, then shame on us.”

Or as Sup. Campos put it: “We have to come together here and do what’s right for the progressive movement.”

Two years ago, the San Francisco left was — to the extent that it’s possible — a united electoral movement. In June, an undisputed left slate won a majority on the Democratic County Central Committee. In November 2008, Districts 1, 3, 5, and 11 saw consensus left candidates running against downtown-backed opponents — and won. In D9, three progressives ran a remarkably civil campaign with little or no intramural attacks.

The results were impressive. As labor activist Gabriel Haaland put it, “we ran the table.”

But that unity fell apart quickly, as a faction led by Daly sought to ensure that Sup. Ross Mirkarimi couldn’t get elected board president. Instead that job went to Chiu — the least experienced of the supervisors elected in that class, and a politician who is, by his own account, the most centrist member of the liberal majority.

This fall, the campaign to replace Daly in D6 turned nasty as both Debra Walker and Jane Kim openly attacked each other. Walker sent out anti-Kim mailers, and Kim’s supporters charged that Walker was part of a political machine — a damaging (if silly) allegation that created a completely unnecessary rift on the left.

And let’s face it: those fights were all about personality and ego, not issues or progressive strategy. Mirkarimi and Daly have never had any substantive policy disagreements, and neither did Walker and Kim.

In the wake of that, progressives need to come together if they want to take advantage of the opportunity to change the direction of the city. It’s not going to be easy.

“We’re good at losing,” Daly said. “I’m afraid we’re doing everything we can to blow it.”

The cold political calculus is that none of the current board members can count on six votes, and neither can Peskin or any of the other commonly mentioned candidates. The only person who would almost certainly get six votes today is Ammiano — and so far, he’s not interested.

“I know you never say never in politics, but I’m happy here in Sacramento. Eighty-six percent of the voters sent me back for another term, and I think that says something,” he told us.

It’s hardly surprising that someone like Ammiano, who has a secure job he likes and soaring approval ratings, would demur on taking on what by any account will be a short-term nightmare. The city is still effectively broke, and next year’s budget shortfall is projected at roughly $400 million. There’s no easy way to raise revenue, and after four years of brutal cuts, there’s not much left to pare. The next mayor will be delivering bad news to the voters, making unpleasant and unpopular decisions, infuriating powerful interest groups of one sort or another — and then, should he or she want the job any longer, asking for a vote of confidence in November.

Yet he power of incumbency in San Francisco is significant. The past two mayors, Newsom and Willie Brown, were reelected easily, despite some serious problems. And an incumbent has the ability to raise money that most progressives won’t have on their own.

Chiu thus far is being cautious. He told us his main concern right now is ensuring that the process for choosing the next mayor is open, honest, and legally sound. He won’t even say if he’s officially interested in the job (although board observers say he’s already making the rounds and counting potential votes).

And no matter what happens, he will be acting mayor for at least a day, which gives him an advantage over anyone else in the contest.

But some of the board progressives are unhappy about how Chiu negotiated the last two budget deals with Newsom and don’t see him as a strong leader on the left.

Ross Mirkarimi is the longest-serving progressive (other than Daly, who isn’t remotely a candidate), and he’s made no secret of his political ambitions. Then there’s Campos, an effective and even-tempered supervisor who has friendly relationships with the board’s left flank and with centrists like Bevan Dufty. But even if Dufty (who I suspect would love to be part of electing the first openly gay mayor of San Francisco) does support Campos, he’d still need every other progressive supervisor. Campos also would need Chiu’s vote to go over the top. Which means Chiu — who needs progressive support for whatever his political future holds — would have to set aside his own designs on the job to put a progressive in office.

In other words, some people who want to be mayor are going to have to give that up and support the strongest progressive. “If there’s someone other than me who can get six votes, then I’m going to support that person,” Campos noted.

Then there are the outsiders. City Attorney Dennis Herrera has already announced he plans to run in the fall. If the board’s looking for a respected candidate who can appeal to moderates as well as progressives, his name will come up. So will state Sen. Mark Leno, who has the political gravitas and experience and would be formidable in a re-election campaign in November. Leno doesn’t always side with the left on local races; he supported Supervisor-elect Scott Wiener, and losing D6 candidate Theresa Sparks. But he has always sought to remain on good terms with progressives.

All that assumes that the current board will make the choice — and even that is a matter of strategic and political dispute. If the lame duck supervisors choose a mayor — particularly a strong progressive — you can count on the San Francisco Chronicle, Newsom, and the downtown establishment to call it a “power grab” and cast doubt on the legitimacy of the winner.

“But choosing a mayor is the legal responsibility of this board and they ought to do their jobs,” Peskin said.

The exact makeup of the next board was still unclear at press time. Jane Kim is the likely winner in D6 and has always been a progressive on the School Board. She’s also close to Chiu, who strongly supported her. If Malia Cohen or Lynette Sweet wins D10, it’s unlikely either of them will vote for a progressive mayor.

Newsom also might try to screw things up with a last-minute power play. He could, for example, simply refuse to take the oath of office as lieutenant governor until after the new board is seated.

Chiu’s allies say it makes sense for the progressives to choose a mayor who’s not identified so closely with the left wing of the board, who can appeal to the more moderate voters. That’s a powerful argument, and Herrera and Leno can also make the case. The progressive agenda — and the city — would be far better off with a more moderate mayor who is willing to work with the board than it has been with the arrogant, recalcitrant, and distant Newsom. And if the progressives got 75 percent of what they wanted from the mayor (as opposed to about 10 percent under Newsom), that would be cause to celebrate.

But to accept that as a political approach requires a gigantic assumption. It requires San Franciscans to give up on the idea that this is still, at heart, a progressive city, that the majority of the people who live here still believe in economic and social justice. It means giving up the dream that San Francisco can be a very different place, a city that’s not afraid to defy national trends and conventional wisdom, a place where socioeconomic diversity is a primary goal and the residents are more important than the big companies that try to make money off them. It means accepting that even here, in San Francisco, politics have to be driven by an ever-more conservative “center.”

It may be that a progressive can’t line up six votes, that a more moderate candidate winds up in the Mayor’s Office. But a lot of us aren’t ready yet to give up hope.

Additional reporting by Noah Arroyo.

Editor’s Notes



Way back in 1986, Tom Hsieh Sr., an architect and one of the most conservative members of the Board of Supervisors, called his colleague Harry Britt — by all accounts the most liberal supervisor — and asked for a meeting. The way both men described it to me at the time, Britt was a little mystified; why would someone who was on the opposite end of the political spectrum want to be pals?

Well, it turned out that Hsieh had a message for his colleague. "Someday," Hsieh told Britt, "the gays and the Asians will be running this town, and we might as well get along."

It’s taken a while, but Hsieh (whose son is a moderate-to-conservative political consultant and activist) was prophetic. One of the little-noticed facts about this supervisorial election is that the majority of the members of the next Board of Supervisors will be either Asian or gay. And the odds are pretty good that the person in the Mayor’s Office in 2012 will be Asian (David Chiu, Leland Yee, Phil Ting) or gay (Tom Ammiano, David Campos, Mark Leno).

I mention that bit of interesting history as a sort of a prelude to the fascinating historic challenge facing progressives in San Francisco today. At a time when the rest of the country seems to be drifting (at least for the moment) to the right, San Francisco has a chance to go to the left. There hasn’t been a mayor the progressives supported in this town in at least 20 years (and that’s if you count Art Agnos, which is a bit of a stretch). With Gavin Newsom (will he be San Francisco’s last straight white mayor?) leaving early in his term, the supervisors could profoundly change the direction of the city.

And they could also duck, punt, or make a terrible mistake.

If the board wants to appoint someone who’s going to promote a progressive agenda, that person not only needs to be able to get six votes in January, but hold on to the seat until November — when the competition will be intense. And any progressive mayor will be vilified by the local daily papers, mocked by the national media, and held to an almost impossible standard by his or her constituents.

You wonder why anyone would want the job.

But taking on that insane challenge is also about history, and about proving that this city is (still) different. And the person in the job is going to need a whole lot of help and support. I have to believe that we’re up to it.

How not to choose a mayor


EDITORIAL There are plenty of good arguments among progressives about who would be the best person to replace Gavin Newsom as mayor and how the Board of Supervisors should make that decision. It’s a complicated situation: The next mayor will face a horrible budget deficit, all sorts of tough decisions — and then face the voters in 10 months. And if the board appoints a progressive, that person will face a hostile daily newspaper and several well-funded opponents in the fall.

But we know there are some very bad scenarios, some things the board and the potential mayor contenders shouldn’t do — because in the end, the process needs to be free of any sort of backroom taint.

Here are some basic ground rules for the next two months.

Newsom shouldn’t try to mess around with the selection of his successor. The mayor decided to run for state office with the full knowledge that he would leave behind a vacancy that the supervisors would fill. He has no business playing political and legal games to skew the results. For example, some say Newsom is considering delaying his swearing in, now set for Jan 3, 2011, for a week to prevent the current supervisors from voting on an interim mayor. That would be a bad faith, manipulative move. He made his choice; now he needs to get out of the way and let the City Charter process work.

The current board should have a fair shot at electing Newsom’s replacement. The day after Newsom takes office as lieutenant governor, the current board will meet for one last time — and by law, they should and will have a chance to find a candidate who can get six votes to serve out Newsom’s term. Any parliamentary moves that serve only to delay the vote and push the decision to the new board would be inappropriate.

The idea of a “caretaker” mayor is fraught with problems — and Willie Brown shouldn’t even be on the list. Newsom is pushing the idea of a true interim mayor, someone who won’t run for the job in November and will simply keep the lights on for 11 months. That means ignoring the city’s serious structural problems. A caretaker would have no authority and little ability change things. And the notion that’s being floated around of former mayor Willie Brown stepping in is disgraceful. Brown was a terrible mayor, and a rerun of that nightmare — even of only 11 months — is the last thing San Francisco needs.

Kamala Harris shouldn’t be a player in this game. If Harris, the current district attorney, is elected state attorney general, her job will be open too — and it’s easy to see how Newsom could use that as a plum to get his way. If Harris resigns before Newsom is sworn in, Newsom would get to appoint her replacement — and if that appointee is currently on the Board of Supervisors, Newsom would get to fill a seat on the board too. Harris needs to stay out of that unseemly sort of deal.

All the rules and procedures need to be made public, now. The legalities of this transition are tricky. Could the current board appoint an interim mayor now, knowing that a vacancy will occur, or must they wait until Newsom has actually resigns? Could Newsom delay his swearing in? The supervisors need to get legal advice on every possible scenario — and make it public. The last thing anyone needs in this confusion period is secrecy.

Plenty of people will be unhappy with whatever plays out. But if the process is bad, the result will be a mayor with no legitimacy.