Volume 45 Number 11

Appetite: Last minute foodie gifts

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I’ve shared with you come of my recommended gifts for foodies and for cocktailians, but for those still searching for presents that appeal to the palate, here are some more.

SAM ADAMS INFINIUM:  There are many who would be more jazzed to toast in the new year with a fine beer rather than champagne. What if there was a drink that combined the best elements of both? Venerable Sam Adams comes out with a special holiday brew every year, but this year’s is unique. Infinium ($19.99) released this month as a two-year collaboration between Sam Adams brewer/founder Jim Koch and Dr. Josef Schrädler of Weihenstephan Brewery in Germany. It’s the first new German beer style created under the Reinheitsgebot in over a hundred years (sometimes called the German Beer Purity Law, limiting the production of beer to four ingredients – water, barely, hops, yeast). While this beer sticks to Reinheitsgebot standards, it pushes boundaries with an acidic, bubbly profile. It’s dry and tart like a champagne, malty, rich as a beer, bracing at 10.3% alcohol by volume. You can find it at many local specialty beer stores.

PURE DARK CHOCOLATE POP-UP SHOP: In the true spirit of last minute gifts, Pure Dark, a popular new New York artisan chocolate line, heads West for the first time with a pop-up shop opening December 22nd at 1775 Union Street (at the corner of Octavia). With plans to remain open until at least March 2011, they’ll sell their chocolates (slabs, bark, rounds), chocolate-dipped fruits and nuts, cocoa nibs for cooking, and holiday gift sets, including samplers. Their product has a global/roots feel, whether in gift packaging of burlap sacks or hand-woven African baskets, or in three cacao “levels”: Striking (level 1 – 60% cacao), Serious (level 2 – 70%), Stunning (level three – 80%). Opt for plain dark or go for chocolate laced with the likes of caramelized nibs, mango, cherries, macadamia nuts. This is chocolate for the hardcore: earthy, intense, robust in flavor, rustically modern in it’s rugged slabs.

HAPPY GIRL KITCHEN: Central Coast-based Happy Girl Kitchen is one of those special, family-run companies both current and vintage in their approach to canning and preserving foods from their farm. Simple packaging appeals but the real joy is the quality and taste of products from owners Todd and Jordan Champagne. A jar of Happy Girl ($5-10) is a fine representation of the boundless wealth of California produce for family or friends further afield. Happy Girl’s pickles please the pickle-obsessed. But venture beyond with spicy carrots or pickled beets, lush jams, crushed heirloom tomatoes, and seasonal offerings like preserved Bing cherries. There’s convenient samplers ($37-$43) to give a range. Find Happy Girl at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market or order online.

ZAGAT’S SMARTBOX: TABLE FOR TWO: I’ve been a Zagat member for years. Though some bemoan their lists not being the most up-to-date, paid memberships weed out some of the yahoos you get posting “reviews” on free-for-all sites (plus I like to feverishly mark up their books with my own notes). Recently landed on my desk? Zagat Smartbox, which operates as choose-your-own-dining experience or a $99 gift card in a box. A booklet details 39 eligible Bay Area restaurants and what each offers with the card: all include at least three courses for two people, some offer four or add on drinks. For one who dines out as much as I do, I’d prefer more restaurants and no menu limitations (some have them, some do not). But for the indecisive, or to give your recipient a range of options, Smartbox narrows down and even highlights under-the-radar gems locals would do well to visit, like Saha, Albona Ristorante, Matterhorn, or Lolo. There’s also Bay Area restaurants such as the winning Central Market in Petaluma, or Camino and Mezze in Oakland. P.S. There’s a Smartbox for NY, LA, Chicago and DC.

–Subscribe to Virgina’s twice monthly newsletter, The Perfect Spot

Holy high whoreiday

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caitlin@sfbg.com

SEX It started with a serial killer. Porn star-feminist Annie Sprinkle was reading about mass murderer Gary Ridgeway slaughter of, on his count, 71 prostitutes in the 1980s and ’90s. She came across this in Ridgway’s explanation of his choice of victims: “I picked prostitutes because they were easy to pick up without being noticed. I knew they … might never be reported missing. I thought I could kill as many of them as I wanted without getting caught.”

It was a wake-up call for Sprinkle. “We don’t have equal protection,” says the busty self-termed “ecosexual,” who was a sex worker for 20 years and now serves as a role model to many in the radical sex community. Sprinkle reacted by organizing the first International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers on Dec. 17, 2003. It’s an event that is now recognized in cities around the world.

In San Francisco, Sprinkle’s “whore holy high holiday” will be marked by a City Hall vigil for all the sex workers affected by discrimination and violence this year and performance art, followed by a march to the Center for Sex and Culture (sexandculture.org). All the events are free and open to anyone who wants to stand up for those that get paid to lay down.

This year, event organizers have a dangerously prude city policy in their sights: the toxic San Francisco Police Department practice of checking suspected prostitutes’ pockets for condoms to serve as proof of intent to have sex for money. It’s a policy that Mayor Gavin Newsom and the state’s first Latina attorney general, Kamala Harris, support. Sprinkle finds it completely at odds with the mission of promoting safe sex among anyone who could be walking down the street with a rubber in their pocket, as well as dangerous to sex workers. “It’s nasty, and really stupid, and so counterproductive — is that the message that we want to be sending?”

Which is not to say that Friday will be devoid of sweet, sexy joy entirely. After all, where would be the fun in gathering up SF’s sex-positive community if no one got naked? Later that evening, the Center for Sex and Culture will host a special edition of the national literary series Naked Girls Reading showcasing — yep — naked girls reading literature written by those who spread their legs to make their living.

“It’s a great opportunity for feminism and art,” says event organizer Lady Monster, who heard about Miss Erotic World 2005 Michelle L’amour’s original Naked Girl Chicago series and thought it a perfect fit for our pervy-intellectual burg. She held the first event in April and “it took off like wild blazes,” packing venues across town.

An ex phone sex operator who dabbled in private peep shows in her home state of Ohio without being told that the work was illegal, Lady Monster notes that the poor economy and demise of Craigslist escort ads in response to outside pressure has introduced even greater risks to sex workers, pressure that can lead them to accept unsafe working conditions. She feels that the nationwide observance of Dec. 17 “is a way to give people an opportunity to celebrate sex workers’ rights.”

On stage, her reading event will celebrate their contribution to arts and literature. Sexologist Dr. Carol Queen will be leafing through a book at the night’s nudie show; as well as burlesque star Dottie Lux; sex worker activist Robyn Few; Lady Monster herself (who’ll be reading from Some Girls, the memoir of Jillian Lauren, the American who lived and worked in a Brunei harem); and Sprinkle, among others. Lady Monster says the requirements needed to be onstage fall into three categories: readers must be accomplished writers, have public speaking experience, and — perhaps the most obvious — they’ve got be down to make the scene in the all together.

“Three hundred and sixty-four days a year we talk about how much we like our work, and one day a year we take time to realize that there are real victims out there,” Sprinkle says. It may be the oldest profession, but even in Gomorrah by the Bay, sex work is still a far cry from society’s respected elder.

INTERNATIONAL DAY TO END VIOLENCE AGAINST SEX WORKERS

Fri., Dec. 17

4 p.m., free

City Hall

Civic Center, SF

www.swopusa.org

NAKED GIRLS READING

9 p.m., $15–$20

Center for Sex and Culture

1519 Mission, SF

(415) 552-7399

www.nakedgirlsreading.com/sanfrancisco

 

Volume 45 Number 11 Flip-through Edition

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Undercover of the night

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arts@sfbg.com

On a hot Tuesday night in October, a huge line of eager music aficionados took over the block in front of Coda, hoping to squeeze into a unique (and sold out) show — Undercover, a collective of several well-known bands and musicians, was joining together to cover the classic album Velvet Underground and Nico in its entirety. The show was electric and the crowd decked out in its 1960s mod finest, channeling that delicious Factory vibe. A CD of the night is set to be released in January on Porto Franco Records, and in February Undercover will reunite to cover the Pixies’ Doolittle. (“We like to hear old music played in new ways by interesting musicians” is the Undercover motto.) Undercover masterminds Charith Premawardhana, Lyz Luke, and Yosh Haraguchi talked about the project.

SFBG How did Undercover come together?

Charith Premawardhana After Jazz Mafia wrapped up their residency at Coda, there was a hole on Tuesday nights. They offered it to me, and I thought it’d be fun to see what happened. Then it gets to be a couple of weeks before the first event and I don’t have anything lined up. So I called Adam Theis and Rupa, and they both agreed to do it. It ended up being this variety show with strings, and afterward Adam and I talked about the next one. We thought about this idea of doing a cover album and bringing together a bunch of different musicians.

Lyz Luke That same night I was up late. I saw Charith online, shot him a message, and he told me about his conversation with Adam. Of course I put in my two cents about my favorite album, “Velvet Underground and Nico.” So we stayed up until five or six in the morning listening to the album and figuring out who’d be the best fit to perform each song. A few hours later, we met at the Revolution Cafe and started calling every musician we knew. Everyone was on board immediately.

 


Top: Liz Phair, Mark Matos, Stephan Jenkins. Center: Sarah Palmer with Edmund Welles. Bottom: Charith Premawardhana, Meklit Hadero, Sean Olmstead.

Top and Center photos by Bill Evans. Bottom photos by Heather Bernard


SFBG What about the guest stars who participated?

CP I’ve known Stephan Jenkins [of Third Eye Blind] for about four years. I was brought in to record for Vanessa Carleton when Stephan was producing her album. We recorded the strings over at Peter Getty’s House. Then a few months ago, I played an event over there and left my phone behind. When I went back, there was a girl on the couch I didn’t know. I told her about the Velvet Underground cover project and that we still had a couple of openings for singers. She immediately starts singing “All Tomorrow’s Parties” and it sounded good. I didn’t even know who she was, she’d just introduced herself as Liz. There we were watching the Giants game, drinking beers. When I finally asked her what her last name was and she said Phair, I was like “Oh shit, I used to have your album.” She agreed to do the show, and when I saw Stephan later that day he wanted to be part of it too. He initially wanted to do “Heroin,” but I had to tell him it was already taken.

SFBG What’s up next?

LL The next album is the Pixies’ Doolittle, another favorite of mine. And we’re moving to Public Works, which is larger. We did really well at Coda, sold out two shows with very little promotion. But it was chaotic for the artists to do two shows with 11 set changes in such an intimate space, including a marimba being hauled back and forth!

UNDERCOVER: DOOLITTLE Feb. 22, 2011. 7 p.m., $15–$20. Public Works, 161 Erie, SF. www.portofrancorecords.com/monkey

Tiny Bones breaks out

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Elise-Marie Franklin, a.k.a. Tiny Bones, breezes into Four Barrel Coffee in the Mission, turning several heads in her wake, and it’s like, “Wow, dayum, star power!” (She declines a cup of slow-drip because, “I have so much natural energy, I’d probably explode.” I can see that.)

The gorgeous young singer and musician looks destined to be the first pop star graduate of San Francisco’s storied hardcore electro scene, utilizing her various talents to combine underground and mainstream elements into a bewitching and surprisingly unique style. Together with her partner in music, local fameball Topher Lafata, a.k.a. Gold Chains, she’s finally started releasing tracks on their label New California Music (www.newcaliforniamusic.com) after a long gestation period.

“We’ve been working for three years on all of this and have dozens of songs ready to go, but we wanted everything to be just right — the music, the website, the label. It’s fantastic, because now we can do things our own way.”

Tiny Bones spent her childhood in Carmel and France, training from an early age in vocal techniques and multiple instruments. But she came of punk-rock age in the famous pit of Berkeley’s 924 Gilman and, later, the electro-styley, camera-ready world of club Blow Up. Add to all that a music appreciation that runs from the Ronettes to Eazy-E (with stops at Deniece Williams and Depeche Mode), and you’ve got a powerhouse of influences.

“I love so many different kinds of music that for me it’s less about the style than the fact that something’s authentic,” she told me. “I aim for that authenticity with my own music — I put all of myself into my songs and performance, I don’t believe in holding back.”

That perfect lack of restraint comes through in her stage persona, which mixes sexiness (“Sexuality is huge in my life, and I don’t shy away from it”) and smarts (Tiny Bones is a psychology grad student at UC Berkeley). Those two sides meld to humorous-hot effect in the video for her first single, a slow-building, tropical-tinged banger called “Heat.” It starts in a boardroom, with Tiny Bones setting feminist boundaries for her marketing campaign — no bikini-clad sexploitation, no oil, no fans in the hair — and then demolishing those boundaries in a tight gold tube top, owning her hotness and slaying the fanboys.

Tiny Bones has just released her second track, “Parley,” an epic hardcore electro breakup-party ballad that expertly hits an aching sweet spot between build and release around the two-minute mark and holds you there for the rest of the six-minute track. It’s pretty breathtaking in its ballsiness, and the video is a love letter to San Francisco, with guest spots from nightlife stars HOTTUB, the Tenderlions, Monistat, Merkeley???, Richie Panic, and more.

Tiny Bones is going to soon bring that San Fran ballsiness to the world, with a tour in the works, a full album, and a lot more partying (and studying). “This has always been my dream, to be a singer and make people happy and maybe inspire someone. Now I’m ready to go for it.”

Appetite: Holiday spirits

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culture@sfbg.com

Nothing warms on cold and rainy winter nights like a good bottle of liquor — better yet, one given by (and possibly shared with) a good friend. Allow me to recommend some of my top quality favorites, including a few cocktail mixers, many of which can be found at K&L, the Jug Shop, D&M, John Walker & Company, Cask, and other local stores and suppliers.

 

FOR THE HIP COCKTAILIAN:

 

GRAHAM’S 10-YEAR TAWNY PORT ($30)

A port is really just fortified (spirits-enhanced) wine: sometimes sweet, sometimes dry, ideal for after-dinner sipping. For those who might tire of another bottle of wine, this gift travels a slightly different path. Graham’s 10-year Tawny Port is one of the more common ports but packs plenty of flavor for the price, making it a fine intro for the uninitiated. It carries floral, sweet currant, and spiced apple notes, with a whisper of creamy chocolate.

 

BITTER TRUTH TRAVEL PACK ($20)

For the cocktailian on-the-go, what could be better than a retro travel box of five of the best bitters in existence from German wonder duo, Stephan Berg and Alexander Hauck? The Bitter Truth travel box (www.the-bitter-truth.com) includes three mini-bottles of the gents’ Creole, Orange, Chocolate, Old Time Aromatic, and award-winning Celery Bitters. It’s an affordable, quirky gift that (bonus) showcases your savvy and panache.

 

SMALL HAND FOODS SYRUPS ($10–$12 EACH)

From local bartender Jennifer Colliau, this line of artisan syrups for cocktails eliminates resorting to crappy, generic grenadine — Colliau’s grenadine remains the best I’ve tasted — or attempting your own gum syrup. Small Hand products (www.smallhandfoods.com) are made with organic cane sugar, gum arabic, and fruits. There’s regular, pineapple, or raspberry gum syrups, for everything from pisco punch to tiki drinks, and an orgeat (almond syrup most commonly known as a Mai Tai ingredient) made with California almonds.

 

BOLS GENEVER DUTCH COURAGE GIFT SET ($38.99)

Go Dutch by giving the gift of Bols Genever, genever being the original Dutch gin. A bottle normally retails for the price of an entire Dutch Courage set, which includes a bottle and two tulip glasses for the traditional Dutch ritual of kopstootje (pronounced kop-stow-che). Translated as “little head butt,” it’s essentially a glass of beer, traditionally a lager, mixed with a shot of genever. Proost!

 

FOR THE DRINK AFICIONADO:

 

PARKER’S HERITAGE WHEATED BOURBON ($80)

I adore legendary distiller Parker Beam, whose Parker’s Heritage Collection remains a thrilling pinnacle of what bourbon can be. Though many will never forget his profound Golden Anniversary bourbon, this year’s release is truly unique. Instead of the corn-dominant notes of typical bourbon, this 10-year aged, cask-strength edition combines winter wheat and corn, bottled at 63.9 percent straight from the barrel. Open it up with a splash of water or sip neat. Either way, whiskey fans will marvel at bracing, rich layers of caramel, maple, and, yes, wheat … but also at the incredible smoothness for a spirit of this proof.

 

CRAFT DISTILLERS’ LOW GAP WHISKEY ($45) AND LOS NAHUALES MEZCALERO ($65)

You won’t go wrong giving any Craft spirits (www.craftdistillers.com) to an aficionado. If she isn’t already a fan of this incredible Ukiah distillery, she’ll fall in love with Craft’s brilliant brandies and grappas or exquisite bottlings like Crispin’s Rose Liqueur. Consider newer releases such as Low Gap Craft-Method Whiskey made with malted Bavarian hard wheat. Where many white whiskeys are harsh and bracing, at 90 proof, it’s intense yet balanced. Or try the recently acquired Los Nahuales Mezcalero (mezcal fans will know it as the former Los Danzantes). As with all Craft products, small production and artisanal techniques are behind this smoky-but-clean, Oaxacan-grown mezcal.

 

LAPHROAIG 18-YEAR SINGLE MALT ($99)

For the peat monsters among you … or rather, for those who don’t fancy the standard Laphroaig 10-year, which, like many in the line, hits hard with that peat. Extra aging has mellowed this Islay single malt to a robust but roundly balanced pour. Alongside peat smoke, enter honey, vanilla, hay, anise, and toffee nuttiness, minus the medicinal properties some tell me they get on the nose in other Laphroaig expressions. This one changes the game, and, in my opinion, best exemplifies Laphroaig’s possibilities.

 

TASTING ROOM SAMPLER KITS ($19.99–$29.99)

New to the market is a sampling experience a California wine fan can enjoy from home: Tasting Room (www.tastingroom.com). Discover new favorites or taste a winery line side by side (all samples are also available as full-sized bottles). Choose from six-pack sets of 50 ml bottles in groupings by winery, region, or type (for example, California cabs). Nicely packaged in a slim black box with winemaker’s tasting notes, consider it a home wine tasting for the cost of tasting at the winery itself.

Headbanging history

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arts@sfbg.com

YEAR IN MUSIC Sometimes it appears that metal is aging backward in time, like a jean-jacketed, beer-swilling Benjamin Button. A cannibalistic hunger for old tropes sends budding musicians traveling deeper and deeper into the past for inspiration. By the beginning of 2010, the corpse of thrash metal was well and truly picked over, and as a legion of teenage “retro-thrashers” began to wear holes in their all-white high-tops, a new reverence emerged, one that looked beyond the aggression and speed of the middle 1980s, hearkening back to an earlier, heavier time.

This appetite for headbanging history was nurtured by 2010’s profusion of reunion tours. Emboldened by the music’s broadening audience, aging musicians the world over have been emerging from seclusion (voluntary or otherwise) and honing in on ticket territory that recently belonged to their younger colleagues.

Traditional doom metal was robustly resurrected; cult late-1970s acts St. Vitus and Pentagram both graced the stage at DNA Lounge, with mixed results. Considering the promise evinced by its summer 2009 appearance at the same venue, Pentagram was disappointing, though a last-minute lineup change was made the scapegoat. St. Vitus was another matter, thundering forth on the strength of guitarist Dave Chandler’s dive-bombing psychedelia and singer Scott “Wino” Weinrich’s booming baritone. The renewed vigor of the legendary L.A. outfit made the recent death of original drummer Armando Acosta especially poignant, though he had not played with the band for some time.

Metal was robbed of another sainted figure this year: Ronnie James Dio, whose inimitable voice and boundless energy made him one of the best-liked musicians in the business. His performances remained impeccable almost to the bitter end, which exacerbates the sense of loss. Fans can take comfort in the fact that he died during 2010, a year that witnessed a veritable renaissance of exactly the kind of late-1970s metal Dio did so much to popularize.

The fervor for classic, “traditional” metal was on display this past summer at Tidal Wave, a free concert in McClaren Park that featured three reinvigorated acts as its second-day capstone, each interpreting genre-progenitors Iron Maiden and Judas Priest in its own particular way. Anvil Chorus was formed during the dawn of the Reagan administration, and “Blondes in Black” and “Deadly Weapons” served as catchy centerpieces to an expertly-played set. Bay Area treasures Stone Vengeance, an all-African American trio from Hunter’s Point, showed why it has been able to survive for more than three-decades, combining engaging enthusiasm, unimpeachable technique, and a deep-seated sense of humor. U.K. legend Raven was the headliner, belying its advanced years thanks to rapid tempos, vertiginous falsetto, and captivating NWOBHM licks.

Elsewhere, German legend Accept released a new album and set out on the road, and long-running S.F. veterans Slough Feg returned this year with The Animal Spirits, a potent full-length. And yet a love of melody, guitar harmony, sung vocals, and galloping drums is no longer limited to hoary veterans. This year also witnessed a crop of new bands that drew heavily on late-1970s and early-1980s inspiration to craft a compelling crop of fiery LPs.

Sweden’s Enforcer (Diamonds) and Steelwing (Lord of the Wasteland) and L.A.’s Holy Grail (Crisis in Utopia) all took advantage of their klaxon-throated singers to release albums that draw heavily on classic Judas Priest, with a particular focus on high-register vocal melody and a bevy of shredding. Breakout Olympia, Wash., group Christian Mistress took a slightly different approach. The group’s EP Agony & Opium leavens influential British outfit Diamond Head with the unique, melancholy delivery of singer Christine Davis.

If metal spends 2011 in this same archaeological mind-set, the Blue Cheer comparisons will start to fly fast and thick. But while some may decry the stultification that accompanies veneration of the retro, they cannot deny its curatorial power. Like Dio himself, the metal of the past is destined to live again, in the overburdened eardrums of the present.

Thank you later

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arts@sfbg.com

YEAR IN MUSIC The past year brought dozens of excellent albums, and hip-hop sounds topped the list. This wasn’t inevitable. Please recall 2009, when critics cited precious little rap in their favorites, save for Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx … Part 2 and Mos Def’s The Ecstatic. But in 2010, both rockists and heads reserved space for Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Big Boi’s Sir Lucious Left Foot: Son of Chico Dusty, the Roots’ How I Got Over, Drake’s Thank Me Later, and Flying Lotus’ Cosmogramma. And let’s not forget minor but important recordings such as Curren$y’s Pilot Talk and Yelawolf’s Trunk Muzik 0-60.

This winning slate confirmed that major label-backed rap is undergoing a renaissance. Nearly every artist made an impact by keeping their eye on the mainstream, from security guard-turned-bad actor Rick Ross recruiting Erykah Badu and Cee-Lo Green for his Teflon Don, to Bun B allowing Canadian teen idol Drake to call himself an “honorary member of UGK” on the former’s Trill O.G. Some complained that these rappers focused too much on claiming the hearts of soccer mama grizzlies and teens raised on Bratz dolls. But after years of boorish thugs peddling D-boy anthems and R&B gimmicks, this new pop sensibility sounded refreshing. (The sole exception may be Ludacris, who found success with Battle of the Sexes by offering a slick and familiar mix of strip club anthems and babymaker suites.)

B.o.B’s The Adventures of Bobby Ray was the most extreme product of these pop mirages. The Atlanta rapper scored two No. 1 hits (“Nothin’ but You” and “Airplanes”), but divided critics and fans by recruiting emo-rock burnout Rivers Cuomo and Hot Topic heroine Hayley Williams for his collection of gooey ballads. At its best, The Adventures of Bobby Ray had a charming innocence; at worst, it sounded like pandering. But at least it offered well-written tunes. In contrast, Nicki Minaj’s grating Pink Friday mashed bad 1980s John Hughes-approved synth-pop and soaring Rihanna choruses into a barely coherent mess. It proved that despite Nicki’s talent for ear-catching stunts, from her star turn as the bisexual chick who’ll do you and your man on Usher’s “Lil’ Freak” to her cipher-destroying rhymes on Kanye West’s “Monster” and Ludacris’ “My Chick Bad,” she was still a disappointingly underdeveloped songwriter.

Lost in the intense debate over the rap major domo was the demise of Definitive Jux. Once the mighty inheritor to the Fondle ‘Em tradition of B-boy nonconformity, and the source of key early-2000s works by Cannibal Ox, Aesop Rock, and Mr. Lif, it sagged under the weight of subpar and underpromoted releases before label head El-P mercifully pulled the plug last February. The news lit up the Internet for a day or two and then was seemingly forgotten. When Noz from cocaineblunts.com asked Yelawolf if he was “heartbroken” over Definitive Jux’s demise, the Alabama rapper answered: “I didn’t even know it ended. Well … I’m not heartbroken about it.” How ironic that Yelawolf was once a lyrical-minded backpacker too, before switching to gritty tales of deep South meth dealers.

There were other disturbing signs that Definitive Jux’s indie-rap scene was no longer ground zero for fledging MCs, from conscious rap advocates Little Brother breaking up, to Minneapolis freestyle ace Michael “Eyedea” Larsen dying at the tragically young age of 28. “Underground rap is dead,” noted Sean Fennessey in a Pitchfork essay hyping Los Angeles collective Odd Future. “In its stead, a different brand of homespun rappers have taken hold. Consider Lil B and Soulja Boy, who have been prolifically working the Web … to achieve their own kind of teenage heroism.”

Underground rap is not dead. It thrives with Bay Area imprints such as Interdependent Media (Truthlive’s Patience) and national players such as Duck Down Records (Skyzoo & Illmind’s Live from the Tape Deck) and Alpha Pup Records (Nocando’s Jimmy The Lock). Some of these labels subsist on scattershot independent distribution. Others recruit majors to achieve wider market penetration, including Stones Throw and EMI Label Services (Guilty Simpson’s OJ Simpson and Aloe Blacc’s retro-soul gem Good Things), and Decon and E1 Music (Black Milk’s Album of the Year). And who can blame them? These days, labels need all the help they can get. However, the principal philosophy of economic and artistic independence as an end unto itself has been forgotten.

In Robin D.G. Kelley’s 2002 book Freedom Dreams, a rapturous appreciation of 20th century black intellectualism, he writes, “Unfortunately, too often our standards for evaluating social movements pivot around whether or not they ‘succeeded’ in realizing their visions rather than on the merits or power of the visions themselves. … And yet it is precisely these alternative visions and dreams that inspire new generations.” Kelley could have referred to the many critics that marked Little Brother as hopelessly elitist for insisting that hip-hop should address more than the spoils of drug wars; dismissed the late Eyedea, Sage Francis, and others as silly white boys for addressing suburban middle-class concerns; and buried Definitive Jux as a repository of uncool, impossibly dense super-scientific lyricism.

By many measures, the indie-rap scene has been a failure. Unlike the network of homespun labels built by punks in the 1980s, the indie-rap scene didn’t create a thriving community without considerable financing from youth-targeting corporations, lifestyle brands, and advertising firms. And perhaps its denizens wrongly castigated dirty South rappers as ignorant, claimed that mainstream superstars like Jay-Z and Diddy were sell-outs, and turned the underground movement into a kind of purity test — all past conflicts that continue to bedevil it today. Yet these dreamers courageously imagined hip-hop culture as not only a way to entertain people and make money, but as a transformative experience that can help instill positive growth and change lives. They built a culture that holds key lessons for future rap generations.

The blog-rap generation doesn’t hold any illusions of being alternative, unless it’s manufacturing limp blasphemy like Odd Future’s use of Nazi imagery. (As Anti-Defamation League spokesman Abraham Foxman told The New York Times in a story on the Holocaust documentary Shoah, “To most kids growing up today, Hitler could be Genghis Khan.”) They’ll use any trope to be successful, from falsely claiming that they’re coke barons to bragging about their limited-edition sneaker collection and how much weed they smoke. There’s a gleeful egalitarianism in their digital miscellany. The beats bang but are same-y and indistinct, and the voices are barely distinguishable. As Wiz Khalifa simply said on his breakout single, “Black & Yellow”: “You can do it big.”

Some critics separated wheat from chaff with technical criteria such as internal rhyme schemes and double-time flow, as if MCs were ice skaters or guitar wankers. But the best artists simply illuminated their money hunger by any means necessary, effortlessly adding interesting twists to tired rap clichés. When Drake crooned on Thank Me Later, “I want this shit forever, man,” he evoked a poor man’s Nat King Cole. And when Curren$y ranted, “A gee is what I am, a jet is what I be” like a Southern Popeye on Pilot Talk II, he was insistent enough that you almost believed him.

And then there was Kanye West and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. He created a spectacle out of an hour-long justification for his obnoxiousness, invited the genre’s biggest stars to support his meanderings on chauvinism and virility (or “my black balls”) and, most provocatively, continued a public call-and-response with Gil Scott-Heron. The conversation began with West’s sampling of Scott-Heron’s melancholy “Home Is Where the Hatred Is” for his 2005 album Graduation. Then Scott-Heron replied by using West’s “Flashing Lights” melody for “On Coming from a Broken Home,” the bittersweet coming-of age tale from Scott-Heron’s valiant yet muddled comeback, I’m New Here.

West ended Fantasy by sampling a large section from Scott-Heron’s 1970 spoken-word performance “Comment #1,” and retitling it “Who Will Survive in America?” The poem originally captured the COINTELPRO era and the U.S. government’s eradication of black radicals, but West seemed to use it for a different point. Perhaps he’s saying that fame serves as a protective armor against systemic racism and how “at the airport they check all through my bag and tell me that it’s random.” Or maybe he’s making a wry comment on celebrity culture as the only way to survive in America. Fantasy‘s cryptic epilogue perfectly summarized this year’s rap dreamers, lost in the pop Matrix.

Passion Cafe

0

paulr@sfbg.com

DINE Although I deplored Julie & Julia — a dreadful bit of movie pap, except for the scene where Julie discovers that Julia hates her bloody blog; priceless! — I was mesmerized by the al fresco dinner cooked and served by the unsinkable Julie on a Brooklyn rooftop. There is a magic like no other in floating motionless above the nighttime city, with a soundtrack of soft conversation, gently clicking tableware, and the odd horn honking on the street below.

The street below the rooftop dining patio at Passion Café — opened not quite a year ago by Steve Barton and Jacques Andre — is Sixth Street, between Market and Mission, and it has more than its share of honking horns, along with speeding traffic, trash spread like autumn leaves in sidewalk tree wells, and a Dante-esque population of the shattered and lost. Sitting under an umbrella at a long picnic table 50 feet above all this on a rooftop patio framed by trellised vines and with a tall potted ficus at the end of the next table, is slightly surreal (though pleasant). If there is indeed a stairway to heaven, as Led Zeppelin once suggested, it might well begin here.

Passion Café will never be confused with the Fifth Floor, a few blocks away. Fifth Floor is higher up, totally enclosed, and all but lacking a ground-level presence. Passion Café, on the other hand, has its feet solidly planted on terra firma: there’s a large ground-level dining area, complete with exposed brick and oil paintings (for sale), just inside the door. But the draw of the place is definitely the roof, which you attain by climbing two flights of wide wooden stairs that creak. At the landing between the flights is a small tea table set for two — the perfect spot for a civilized break up, or maybe (for the less civilized) a discreet shove.

The food carries mostly French nomenclature and takes a variety of familiar French forms — the menu offers a variety of tartines, along with plates of charcuterie and paté — but the execution is strongly Californian. Many of the plates come heaped with mixed green salads, and white rice is served on a scale I have never remotely seen in France.

The ratatouille ($14), for instance, included a berm of rice that looked like something left behind by a Tonka-truck snowplow working its way through a blizzard. The vegetable stew itself, meanwhile, wasn’t a stew at all but more of what appeared to be a stir-fry of long, rather tough eggplant strips, lengths of red bell pepper, zucchini chunks, and tomato, but not enough tomato. It was as though the kitchen had thoughts of transforming a peasant’s dish, a way of using up the end-of-summer surplus from a vegetable garden, into a gourmand’s delight, as in the movie Ratatouille, but lost its nerve after a few hesitant steps. I would have liked a bit more thyme and garlic, too, but the dish was still flavorful.

Napoleons are typically confections of layered pastry one finds on the dessert cart, but Passion’s version ($14.50) was savory and made with pasta — lasagna, basically, with ground beef, baked in an oblong crock. Beside it rose a low mountain of mixed greens dotted with olives and croutons and dressed with a cumin-inflected vinaigrette.

Cumin, an easterly breeze, reminds us of the French connection in the Middle East and so it wasn’t completely surprising to find yet another hint of it in Passion’s paté ($5). The spice added a note of exotic excitement, but the paté itself (mounted on yet more salad) fell short of an ideal creaminess; despite the thinness of the slice, its texture was almost leathery. It was like a bit of old shoe sole that had fallen away into a clump of wet grass.

Views were mixed on the tomato-mozzarella salad ($5). You might wonder how anything could possibly go wrong with such a straightforward preparation — slices of ripe red tomato alternating with slices of cheese, and perhaps a drizzling of balsamic vinegar over the top — and the answer would be the bits of arugula the kitchen scattered about. Arugula has a nuttiness with a slightly bitter edge, and here the bitterness seemed to assert itself to the dismay of the table, though once we figured out what the little green flecks were, I came to admire their feistiness.

Desserts weren’t served with mountains of rice or salad (yay) or even dribblings of berries (boo). Chocolate mousse cake ($5) was fluffy and light as laundry taken fresh from the dryer, though on the sweet side, while a Granny Smith apple crisp ($5) could have used more apple character. Maybe they should look up one of Julia’s old recipes.

PASSION CAFÉ

Tues.–Thurs., 11 a.m.–9 p.m.; Fri., 11 a.m.–10:30 p.m.;

Sat., 9 a.m.–10:30 p.m.; Sun., 9 a.m.–9 p.m.

28 Sixth St., SF

(415) 437-9730

www.passioncafe.net

Beer and wine

AE/DS/MC/V

Pleasant noise

Wheelchair access to ground floor

Holy high whoreiday

0

caitlin@sfbg.com

SEX It started with a serial killer. Porn star-feminist Annie Sprinkle was reading about mass murderer Gary Ridgeway slaughter of, on his count, 71 prostitutes in the 1980s and ’90s. She came across this in Ridgway’s explanation of his choice of victims: “I picked prostitutes because they were easy to pick up without being noticed. I knew they … might never be reported missing. I thought I could kill as many of them as I wanted without getting caught.”

It was a wake-up call for Sprinkle. “We don’t have equal protection,” says the busty self-termed “ecosexual,” who was a sex worker for 20 years and now serves as a role model to many in the radical sex community. Sprinkle reacted by organizing the first International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers on Dec. 17, 2003. It’s an event that is now recognized in cities around the world.

In San Francisco, Sprinkle’s “whore holy high holiday” will be marked by a City Hall vigil for all the sex workers affected by discrimination and violence this year and performance art, followed by a march to the Center for Sex and Culture (sexandculture.org). All the events are free and open to anyone who wants to stand up for those that get paid to lay down.

This year, event organizers have a dangerously prude city policy in their sights: the toxic San Francisco Police Department practice of checking suspected prostitutes’ pockets for condoms to serve as proof of intent to have sex for money. It’s a policy that Mayor Gavin Newsom and the state’s first Latina attorney general, Kamala Harris, support. Sprinkle finds it completely at odds with the mission of promoting safe sex among anyone who could be walking down the street with a rubber in their pocket, as well as dangerous to sex workers. “It’s nasty, and really stupid, and so counterproductive — is that the message that we want to be sending?”

Which is not to say that Friday will be devoid of sweet, sexy joy entirely. After all, where would be the fun in gathering up SF’s sex-positive community if no one got naked? Later that evening, the Center for Sex and Culture will host a special edition of the national literary series Naked Girls Reading showcasing — yep — naked girls reading literature written by those who spread their legs to make their living.

“It’s a great opportunity for feminism and art,” says event organizer Lady Monster, who heard about Miss Erotic World 2005 Michelle L’amour’s original Naked Girl Chicago series and thought it a perfect fit for our pervy-intellectual burg. She held the first event in April and “it took off like wild blazes,” packing venues across town.

An ex phone sex operator who dabbled in private peep shows in her home state of Ohio without being told that the work was illegal, Lady Monster notes that the poor economy and demise of Craigslist escort ads in response to outside pressure has introduced even greater risks to sex workers, pressure that can lead them to accept unsafe working conditions. She feels that the nationwide observance of Dec. 17 “is a way to give people an opportunity to celebrate sex workers’ rights.”

On stage, her reading event will celebrate their contribution to arts and literature. Sexologist Dr. Carol Queen will be leafing through a book at the night’s nudie show; as well as burlesque star Dottie Lux; sex worker activist Robyn Few; Lady Monster herself (who’ll be reading from Some Girls, the memoir of Jillian Lauren, the American who lived and worked in a Brunei harem); and Sprinkle, among others. Lady Monster says the requirements needed to be onstage fall into three categories: readers must be accomplished writers, have public speaking experience, and — perhaps the most obvious — they’ve got be down to make the scene in the all together.

“Three hundred and sixty-four days a year we talk about how much we like our work, and one day a year we take time to realize that there are real victims out there,” Sprinkle says. It may be the oldest profession, but even in Gomorrah by the Bay, sex work is still a far cry from society’s respected elder.

INTERNATIONAL DAY TO END VIOLENCE AGAINST SEX WORKERS

Fri., Dec. 17

4 p.m., free

City Hall

Civic Center, SF

www.swopusa.org

NAKED GIRLS READING

9 p.m., $15–$20

Center for Sex and Culture

1519 Mission, SF

(415) 552-7399

www.nakedgirlsreading.com/sanfrancisco

UM alert!

1

le.chicken.farmer@gmail.com

CHEAP EATS While we waited for our tacos, I crammed pickled jalapeños, carrots, and onions into a cup to take to the bar with us. Coach was riffling through the pile of rolled up complimentary calendars on the shelf above, muttering, “Hot babes hot babes hot babes.”

“What are you doing?” I said.

“Do you need a calendar?”

I thought: new year new year new year. “Yes,” I said. More than ever, I needed a calendar. You only get one picture with this kind; that’s why they’re free. I didn’t care about the pic. It was the new number I wanted, 2011, and all those clean, square, tear-away one-through-31s.

“Well,” Coach said, “do you want a hot babe, or the Virgin Mary?”

The ease with which I made my decision surprised me. I mean, 365 days is a lot of days to look at a picture. Albeit I intend to do other things as well, next year. “Virgin Mary,” I said.

And that was that. Well, when I got home four hours later, not so much drunk as oniony, and unrolled my Taqueria Virgin on the kitchen table, I was surprised to find that the Mother of God looked mighty fine in her own right. She wasn’t by any stretch a hot babe, like many of the angels surrounding and adoring her. But she seemed a little bored, bemused, and all-in-all like someone I might like to kiss.

Whether this makes me Catholic or a lesbian I don’t know, but anyway this ends the first part of the story.

The second part takes place next afternoon. I had four hours to kill between gigs, and thought I would spend at least most of that time contemplating barbecue. There’s this new one in Alameda, see, not so awfully far from where Boink and Popeye live.

It was the meat of the afternoon, and I wasn’t particularly hungry except that I’m always pretty hungry. So instead of erring on the side of lunch, I erred on the side of dinner. Check it out: $13-fucking-75 for pulled pork, comes with two sides and cornbread. I figured I would probably end up taking half of it home, making two meals out of it, or — dare I dream — three.

I had a book. It’s a pretty comfortable place, not crowded at all, midafternoon on a weekday, two TVs showing sports talk and highlights. Sweet tea refills. I took off my coat and scarf and made myself comfortable.

The sweet tea came. It was barely sweet at all.

Then the food. “I hope you’re hungry!” the waitressperson said on her way to my table. She said this with a knowing smile, which I took at first to be in my best interest.

“Oh, I’m hungry all right,” I said. “I might need a takeout container,” I added, for the sake of realism, “but I’m hungry.”

“Good,” she said, proudly sliding my plate before me.

For a moment I just stared. My brain went fuzzy, and then I wanted to cry. “Um,” I managed to sort of say. Then, when I found my vocabulary again, “What is this on my pork?”

First of all, it was the smallest portion of pork I have ever seen. Most place have sandwiches with twice as much meat on them as this dinner did. More urgently, however … what little meat there was snowcapped in an entirely creepy, pinkish creamy thing.

Now I’ve given a lot of benefits of a lot of doubts to a lot of restaurants in my day, but, as you may know, there is one thing I can neither tolerate nor forgive, and that is um … well, it’s UM: Unannounced Mayonnaise. You learn to ask, with sandwiches, salads, and even sushi. But … barbecue?

Sure enough, that’s what it was, a mixture of barbecue sauce and (gag, puke, spit) mayo, thus the pink. Oh, they remade my plate for me, but it came back with even less pork than before. The greens were okay, the fried okra was good, and their barbecue sauces were great, but the cornbread muffin was inedibly dry from either overcooking or staleness, or both.

I couldn’t fathom, let alone eat, the cornbread, but otherwise cleaned my plate. Counting tea and tip, it was a $20 snack. At my new least-favorite restaurant. *

BONNIE’S SOUTHERN STYLE BBQ

Mon.–Thu. 11 a.m.–9 p.m.; Fri. 11 a.m.–10 p.m.;

Sat. 9 a.m.–10 p.m.; Sun. 9 a.m.–9 p.m.

1513 Park., Alameda

(510) 523-7227

MC,V

No alcohol

alt.sex.column: Squirmy

0

Dear Andrea:

I have a weird question. I have been with my boyfriend for two years and our sex life was great until recently. But I have started to get really ticklish when he touches me, and it’s putting us both off sex.

Literally when he touches my leg, I squirm away and giggle. I’m embarrassed, and we’re both bemused and frustrated. What’s going on?

Love,

Squirmy

Dear Squirm:

Giggling or getting ticklish is, of course, very common among teenagers and other young folk, and due, just as obviously, to self consciousness, unfamiliarity, and nerves. The cure is time and practice. I’m going to take a guess and say practice is your best bet.

Whatever set this off, it’s not, in a sense, real. You’re not nervous or anxious, and you’re not actually being tickled. It’s all in your mind, more or less.

The evolution of tickling does seem to have it origins in social interaction (most tickling is done by adults to kids, and only jerk parents keep going after being begged to stop). But the reaction — laughter — appears to be purely physical, not dependent on social factors like wanting the tickler to like you.

Anyway. Something has gone funny with your wiring. Probably something he did once set off a ticklish response and the next time he did something similar, the same nerves expected the same sensation and sent the same signals they would have if your boyfriend actually tickled you. Now every time he gets near you, the whole thing happens again.

I can think of two approaches that might help you.

1. Have him approach very slowly and entirely within your vision. Don’t try to “have sex” of any sort, just have him touch you and leave his hands there while you take some deep breaths and relax and let yourself feel how not tickly it is. Repeat until he can begin to move them around a little, and proceed like that till you’ve retrained yourself.

You might also try doing this in the dark. Darwin, delightfully, had some theories on tickling, observing that “tickling provokes laughter through the anticipation of pleasure. If a stranger tickles a child without any preliminaries, the likely result will be not laughter but withdrawal and displeasure.” You, clearly, are not experiencing pleasure, anticipated or actual, but there is still an aspect of anticipation at play here. If you lay down together in the dark, with no touching, until you are entirely relaxed, you might find he can touch you without your nerves freaking out.

2. Go ahead and let him do whatever he’s been doing that is eliciting the tickle response. Do this a whole lot. Hope it gradually desensitizes you. This may sound unbearable, but people do report training themselves out of over-ticklishness.

Try whichever plan sounds less odious. At least you’re pretty safe with your nice known-and-trusted boyfriend to experiment even with approach No. 2, which would be terrible at the hands of one of the many assholes out there who do not understand that in some cases “hahahahaha!” like “no,” means “no.”

Love,

Andrea

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

Let’s get budget priorities straight

0

OPINION Who will pay for California’s budget woes? For the last three years, Californians have put up with cuts to programs that are critical to our state’s future and our social safety net. Public education, HIV and AIDS programs, state universities, and CalWORKs have all come under the knife. The elephant in the room, as state and federal governments try to balance budgets on the backs of the working and middle class, is the billions of dollars we are wasting on a misguided war in Afghanistan.

Fresh evidence that the war in Afghanistan is failing rolls in on a daily basis. While the administration justifies the cost in lives and dollars as necessary to fight Al Qaeda, it also acknowledges that there are only 50 to 100 Al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan. Every soldier in Afghanistan costs U.S. taxpayers $1 million per year. With 100,000 soldiers on the ground, that means we’re spending as much as $2 billion a year on each Al Qaeda fighter.

Would we dream of spending $2 billion on every needy child in California? Or even $1 million? As U.S. and Afghan casualties rise along with the dollar amounts, with little success to show for it, we need to get our priorities in check.

At Governor-elect Jerry Brown’s budget forum this week, we were staring down a $28.1 billion budget deficit over the next 18 months. Compare that to the $46.4 billion Californians have already spent on the war in Afghanistan — $1.2 billion of that right out of San Franciscans’ pockets.

The Obama administration is conducting a strategy review this month that is expected to rubber stamp an approach that keeps soldiers in harm’s way — when doing so is not likely to make Americans or Afghans safer. At the same time, the president’s deficit commission chairs are also passing down recommendations to save money by cutting benefits for our most vulnerable citizens.

I would like to tell the taxpayers in my district who are shelling out these dollars that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, but the president is now proposing ending the “combat mission” in 2014, which could mean there will be tens of thousands of troops on the ground even after four more years have passed.

I will continue to fight for our real needs in Sacramento. But it’s time for our representatives in Washington to put an end to this disastrous war and bring our troops home as quickly and responsibly as possible. Our tax dollars should be making life in California sustainable and safe for all. We can’t afford any other way.

Assemblymember Tom Ammiano represents the 13th District.

Hiring at home

1

sarah@sfbg.com

The lame duck Board of Supervisors made history Dec. 7 when it voted 8-3 to approve mandatory local hire legislation for city-funded construction projects. The measure ends a decade-long effort to reach 50 percent local hiring goals through good-faith efforts.

“That’s a sea change in our local hiring discussion,” said Sup. John Avalos, who launched the legislation in October as part of the LOCAL-SF (Local Opportunities for Communities and Labor) campaign, which seeks to strengthen local hiring, address high unemployment rates, and boost the local economy.

The veto-proof passage of Avalos’ measure comes in the wake of a city-commissioned study indicating that San Francisco has failed to meet good-faith local hiring goals for public works projects even as unemployment levels rise in the local construction industry and several local neighborhoods face concentrated poverty.

Although Cleveland also has a local-hire law, the Avalos measure will be the strongest in the nation. Avalos’ legislative aide Raquel Redondiez told the Guardian that Cleveland’s 2003 legislation requires 20 percent local hire.

“This legislation doesn’t just have a mandated 50 percent goal,” Avalos explained, noting that San Francisco will require that each trade achieve a mandated rate and that 50 percent of apprentices be residents.

“This will ensure that our tax dollars get recycled back into the local economy, and that San Franciscans who are ready to work are provided the opportunity to do so,” Avalos said.

Avalos’ groundbreaking legislation phases in mandatory requirements that a portion of San Francisco public works jobs go to city residents and includes additional targets for hiring disadvantaged workers.

 

WHO GETS $25 BILLION?

The legislation replaces the city’s First Source program, under which contractors were required only to make good faith efforts to hire 50 percent local residents on publicly-funded projects. But the measure begins slowly by mandating levels some contractors are already reaching. According to a study commissioned by the city’s Office of Employment and Workforce Development and released in October, 20 percent of work hours on publicly-funded construction projects are going to San Francisco residents.

Avalos’ legislation, which is supported by a broad coalition of labor and community groups including PODER, the Filipino Community Center, Southeast Jobs Coalition, Kwan Wo Ironworks Inc., Rubecon, and Chinese for Affirmative Action, comes at a critical moment for the recession-battered construction industry.

Under the city’s capital plan, more than $25 billion will be spent on public works and other construction projects in the next decade — and two-thirds of this money will be spent over the next five years.

The measure has environmental benefits too. Transportation still accounts for more greenhouse gas emissions generated in the Bay Area than any other source, and San Francisco residents are more likely to take transit, walk, or bike to work than residents of other Bay Area counties. “When local citizens are able to work locally, there are fewer cars on the road and less air pollution,” Avalos said.

Sup. Ross Mirkarimi said that Avalos’ legislation is “just a start.”

“People have talked a good game about local hiring,” observed Mirkarimi, whose district includes the high unemployment-affected Western Addition.

“We are going to have to go beyond construction and start thinking about delving into the private sector,” Mirkarimi continued, pointing to the need to build 100,000 housing units over the next 25 years if the city is to keep up with a projected population increase. “Who is going to build that housing?” he asked.

Sup. Eric Mar noted that “the Sierra Club endorsed the measure early on because of the environmental benefits of having people work close to where they live.”

Sup. David Campos, whose district includes the Mission, said the measure was one of the most significant pieces of legislation to emerge from the board in recent years. “In the past, a lot of obstacles got in the way, including some legal challenges,” said Campos, who credited Avalos for navigating a complicated legal structure. “At the end of the day, I think this is going to benefit everyone.”

Mike Theriault, secretary-treasurer for the San Francisco Building Trades Council, told the Guardian he remains opposed to the legislation because the union presers to allocate jobs based on seniority, not residency. But he said the amendments make the measure “less harmful and more survivable in the short-term.”

 

THE ECONOMIC GAP

Termed-out Sup. Sophie Maxwell, who represents the city’s economically distressed southeast sector, has often noted that the construction industry provides a path to the middle class for people without advanced degrees or facing barriers to employment. She thanked Avalos for pushing legislation that promises to provides opportunities for “growing the middle class instead of importing it.”

“This industry closes the economic gap,” she said.

Board President David Chiu and termed-out Sups. Chris Daly and Bevan Dufty also supported Avalos legislation. But Dufty, who is running in the 2011 mayoral race, cast the eighth vote, which gave the measure a veto-proof majority.

The board’s Dec. 7 vote came a few hours after Bayview-based Aboriginal Blacks United founder James Richards and a score of unemployed local residents rallied at City Hall in the hopes of securing Dufty’s vote.

ABU has recently been protesting at UCSF’s Mission Bay hospital buildings site on 16th and Third streets. Its members also triggered a shut down at the Sunset Reservoir last month after a court ruled that locals promised jobs installing solar panels at the plant be replaced by higher-skilled engineers,

“It’s been too long that we have been protesting and fighting this good faith effort,” Richards told the Guardian. “We need a mandatory policy.”

Dufty is also hoping the Avalos measure could spread to other cities and benefit workers nationwide. “At a certain point I looked at labor and said, ‘Yes, I’m going for this legislation. But not just for San Francisco — you want to take this concept to other cities,’ ” Dufty said, as he made good on his promise to Richards to vote to support Avalos’ law.

Dufty seemed hopeful that Mayor Gavin Newsom would get behind the legislation. “But I respect that there may be a little bit of coming together between now and the second reading.”

Newsom spokesman Tony Winniker told the Guardian that the mayor has 10 days to review Avalos’ legislation after its Dec. 14 second reading. “He supports stronger local hire requirements but does want to review the many amendments that were added before deciding,” Winnicker said.

But will Newsom, who is scheduled to be sworn in as California’s next lieutenant governor Jan. 3, issue a veto on or before Christmas Eve on legislation that has been amended to address the stated concerns of the building trades?

That would be ironic since the amended legislation appears to match recommendations that the Mayor’s Taskforce on African American Outmigration published in 2009. The California Department of Finance projected that San Francisco’s black population would continue to decline from 6.5 percent (according to 2005 census data) to 4.6 percent of the city’s total population by 2050 — in part because of a lack of good jobs.

 

WILL NEWSOM VETO?

Avalos originally proposed to start at 30 percent and reach 50 percent over three years. But after the building trades complained that these levels were unworkable, Avalos amended the legislation to require an initial mandatory participation level of 20 percent of all project work-hours within each trade performed by local residents, with no less than 10 percent of all project work-hours within each trade to be performed by disadvantaged workers.

He also amended his legislation to require that this mandatory level be increased annually over seven years in 5 percent increments up to 50 percent, with no less than 25 percent within each trade to be performed by disadvantaged workers in the legislation’s sixth year.

A Dec. 1 report from city economist Ted Egan estimated that the local hire legislation would create 350 jobs and cost the city $9 million annually. But Egan clarified for the Guardian that this cost equals only 1 percent of the city’s spending on public works in any given year.

Vincent Pan of Chinese Affirmative Action, which supports Avalos’ local hiring policy, suggested that the mayor “check the temperature.”

“It would be leadership on the part of the mayor not to veto legislation that’s about San Francisco,” Pan said.

And Mindy Kener, an organizing member of the Southeast Jobs Coalition breathed a deep sigh of relief when Dufty’s vote made the law veto-proof. “It’s gonna go across the country,” Kener said. “We just made history.”

Mysteries of the death-drug scramble

0

news@sfbg.com

The California prison system finally released some documents on its efforts to procure the chemicals it needs to execute prisoners, and the 1,000 pages show the desperate lengths state officials have gone to procure the death drugs.

At one point, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation looked at importing drugs from Pakistan. In October, prison officials sent agents on a secret midnight mission to Arizona to acquire sodium thiopental, one of the drugs used in executions, from that state’s supply.

In the end, CDCR wound up buying an extraordinary quantity of the stuff from a supplier in London — potentially putting California in the disturbing position of serving as the death-drug dealer to the rest of the country.

The protocol for lethal injections in California, and 33 other states, calls for three drugs — sodium thiopental to put the condemned inmate in a coma; pancurium bromide to paralyze the muscles; and potassium chloride to stop the heart.

But sodium thiopental, also known as Sodium Pentothal, has been in short supply in this country, in part because the one company that currently makes it, Hospira, has production backlogs. There’s not a whole lot of need for the drug in modern medicine — it’s largely been replaced with other anesthetics — and Hospira has made it clear in repeated press statements that it doesn’t want its product used in executions.

So when the last batch of the stuff in the state’s hands expired in October, California had to put executions on hold while prison officials scrambled to find some more.

 

HIDING THE TRUTH

The whole process was cloaked in secrecy. Nobody at CDCR would tell us where they were looking for the sodium thiopental, who would be procuring it, or how the supply chain might work. That, of course, is crucial, in a grisly way: If the anesthetic didn’t perform properly (that is, if the state got a bad batch from an unregulated supplier), a prisoner could go through unspeakable agony as the second batch of drugs made it impossible to breathe.

The Guardian filed a request in October under the California Public Records Act seeking details on the purchase attempts, but CDCR stonewalled. The American Civil Liberties Union, also seeking the documents, filed a lawsuit, and a judge ordered the release of a large volume of material.

Those documents, now available at aclunc.org, is heavily redacted, and much of the material we expected to see is missing. But the documents contain some remarkable revelations.

For starters, there’s an internal timeline going back to 2007 showing that CDCR officials knew back then, while the drug protocol was being developed, that there would be problems. The Drug Enforcement Administration will only allow a doctor to order the class III controlled substances. And the federal receiver overseeing the prison system wouldn’t allow any of the three doctors on staff at San Quentin State Prison to sign the order forms, although the documents didn’t say why.

In January 2007, CDCR tried to recruit outside doctors to order the drugs — but physicians in California have traditionally declined to assist in executions. Indeed, the American Medical Association policy bars doctors from participating in capital punishment in any way, including “prescribing or administering tranquilizers.”

It wasn’t until May 2010 that CDCR was able to find doctors willing to order the deadly drugs; the names of those physicians are not in the documents.

The timeline shows that in June 2010, CDCR became aware that there was a shortage of sodium thiopental, but there was no public discussion of the situation. Plans to execute Albert Greenwood Brown, a convicted murderer set to die in September 2010, went forward.

But the courts weren’t rushing the execution — and the last batch of sodium thiopental in CDCR’s possession expired Oct. 1.

As the clock ticked down toward that expiration date, the documents show, CDCR officials — all the way up to Corrections Secretary Matthew Cate — were involved in an all-out scramble to get more of the drug.

At one point, a Sept. 16 e-mail — from an official whose name is blacked out — notes that CDCR had contacted between 80 and 100 hospitals to try to buy some sodium thiopental, but “none of them have a drop.”

The documents note that CDCR officials even suggested that there were supplies of sodium thiopental in Pakistan. An Aug. 17 e-mail from John McAuliffe, a contract worker helping CDCR with executions, says the agency is trying to get federal government approval to import the drug.

One e-mail even suggests that an unnamed CDCR employee was in the area and could make a side trip to Pakistan to pick up the stuff.

 

THE LONDON CONNECTION

There are, of course, serious issues with importing controlled substances into the United States, and the documents show efforts by CDCR to get the DEA to approve imports. The Pakistan deal apparently went nowhere — but later e-mails show CDCR officials contacting a supplier in London. The name of the supplier is blacked out on all the documents, but CDCR’s deputy press secretary, Terry Thornton, later confirmed that the manufacturer was Archimedes Pharma.

Immediately after the California order for 521 grams of sodium thiopental went through, Britain’s secretary of state for business, Vince Cable, issued an order barring any further exports of the drug for use in executions.

Like most of the civilized world, the United Kingdom does not allow the death penalty.

In the meantime, Scott Kernan, CDCR’s undersecretary for operations, was trying to get enough of the death drug domestically to carry out at least one execution. A series of e-mails show contacts between California and Arizona, which recently had imported its own supply — and there are indications that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was willing to call his counterpart in Arizona to help consummate the deal.

“I’m sure either the secretary or even the governor could make a call,” a Sept. 9 e-mail from Kernan to McAuliffe notes.

Then on Sept. 29, Kernan sent an e-mail to Assistant Secretary Anthony Chaus discussing a “secret and important mission.” Kernan wanted Chaus to send a team to a state prison complex in Florence, Ariz., a desert town about 40 miles southeast of Phoenix, to pick up 12 grams of the death drug.

At midnight Sept. 30, the warden in Florence gave the CDCD agents 24 vials, each containing half a gram of sodium thiopental. The agents drove it to Bakersfield, where another team picked up the vials and drove the rest of the way to San Quentin.

In a stomach-turning e-mail, Kernan sent a note Sept. 29 to an unnamed Arizona official saying “you guys in Arizona are life savers” and offering to “by [sic] you a beer next time I get that way.”

By then, a federal judge had delayed Brown’s execution until 2011.

Among the most startling revelation was the sheer quantity of sodium thiopental California eventually ordered from the firm in London. Even with training supplies and backup, it only takes between six and 12 grams of sodium thiopental to render a prisoner unconscious — meaning that the 521 grams that CDCR purchased for $36,413 are enough to kill between 43 and 86 people. The expiration date on the chemical is 2014.

It’s highly unlikely, given the legal hurdles and time involved in even one execution, that California would schedule more than three over the next three years. What possible use could the state have for so much death drug?

Thornton, CDCR’s press person, wouldn’t respond to our queries. But Natasha Minsker, the director of the ACLU’s Death Penalty Project, said she’s concerned that California will try to become a supplier for other prison systems. “It certainly raises questions,” she told us.

There’s a lot missing from the documents. In many instances, the names of the officials who sent and received e-mails are redacted. And there are obvious pieces of the puzzle missing from the files CDCR has released.

“There’s no e-mail from the DEA or the FDA,” Minsker said, “although CDCR was clearly contacting them. There’s nothing from the governor’s office, although it’s likely they were also involved.”

Overall, Minsker said, the documents “show how sneaky CDCR was trying to be about all of this.”

The ACLU filed another suit Dec. 13 seeking the release of some of the redacted material as well as records of CDCR’s efforts between October and December.

If those documents are ever released, they may address some of the looming questions about the material the state uses to kill people.

Local hiring — and purchasing

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EDITORIAL The local hire ordinance that the Board of Supervisors approved last week once again puts the city on the cutting edge of progressive policy. San Francisco’s law, sponsored by Sup. John Avalos, is the strongest in the country, and ultimately will mandate that 50 percent of all the people hired on public works projects live in the city.

The politics of the bill were tricky; the local building trades unions opposed it on the grounds that many of their members live out of town and that hiring decisions should be based on seniority, not on residence. But eight supervisors recognized that a local hire law not only benefits the large numbers of unemployed San Franciscans; it’s also good economic policy for the city.

Numerous studies have shown that money paid out to local residents gets spent in town, and circulates in town, and creates more economic activity. That translates into fewer social and economic costs for the city and increased tax revenue.

There are costs to the law. Someone has to monitor compliance, and that requires additional city spending. Training local workers for union jobs may raise the price of some projects. But in the end, the studies all show that keeping money in the community is worth the price.

Avalos deserves tremendous credit for negotiating with labor and other interested parties, accepting compromises that don’t damage the impact of the measure and lining up eight votes to pass it, so even if Mayor Gavin Newsom vetoes it, the board can override the veto.

Now the board ought to apply the same principle to a local purchase law.

One of the major complaints small businesses have in San Francisco is their inability to get city contracts. The qualifying process is complicated and expensive — and when big out of town corporations with plenty of resources to put together bids can also offer lower prices, locals get left out.

The city spends vast sums of money, hundreds of millions of dollars a year, buying goods and services. Every dollar that leaves town translates into far more than a dollar lost to the local economy.

In fact, a 2007 study by Civic Economics showed that 38 percent of the money spent on locally based retailers in Phoenix, Ariz., remained in town and recirculated in the local economy; only 11 percent of the money spent at chain stores stayed in town.

That’s a huge difference, and would translate into many millions of dollars for the San Francisco economy. (Over time, the impact of local hire and local purchasing laws would be much greater than the one-time burst of income expected from the America’s Cup race.)

There are complications with any local purchase law. Not everything the city needs can be bought locally. Nobody in San Francisco, for example, makes train cars or fire engines. But on everything from office supplies and cars to uniforms and consulting contracts, there are (or could be) local companies handling the city’s business.

As with the Avalos law, there would be costs. Some small local suppliers would be unable to match the price that big chains offer. But the overall economic benefits to the city would greatly exceed those price differentials.

San Francisco currently gives a modest preference in bidding to local firms. But if the supervisors applied the Avalos principle and mandated that, within five years, a certain percentage of everything the city buys would have to go to local firms, city officials would be forced to do what they ought to do anyway: look local first.

Every year during the holiday season, the mayor and business leaders urge residents to shop locally. When the new Board of Supervisors takes over in January, the members should start looking beyond rhetoric and start working on legislation that would keep the city’s money in the city.

Race against the clock

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rebeccab@sfbg.com

City officials were poised to finalize an offer to host the 34th America’s Cup after amending a sweetheart deal that had city taxpayers heavily subsidizing Oracle billionaire Larry Ellison’s yacht race. But the question now is whether Ellison will accept the new proposal.

The original deal negotiated between representatives for Ellison and Mayor Gavin Newsom called for ceding 35 acres of city-owned waterfront property to Ellison’s America’s Cup Event Authority (ACEA) rent-free, but it was criticized as too expensive for a city facing massive budget deficits (see "The biggest fish," Nov. 30).

So at the Dec. 8 meeting of the Board of Supervisors’ Budget & Finance Committee, that deal was jettisoned in favor of a cheaper alternative that shifted the race venue to the city’s Northern Waterfront and promised long-term leases on commercially reasonable terms. The new agreement appeared on track for approval at the Dec. 14 Board of Supervisors meeting, after Guardian press time.

At the same time, new doubts arose at the last minute when race organizers stated publicly that they were more likely to reject the new option than the original plan because the financial terms were not as attractive. Although expectations have been high all along that San Francisco would be selected to host the next Cup, the team cast doubt on the outcome by publicly criticizing the new plan. According to a source familiar with negotiations, that move came as a jarring surprise to city officials. Nonetheless, supervisors approved the proposal at a Dec. 13 special meeting and sent it on to the full board.

Newsom’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD) spent about four months in negotiations with Ellison’s BMW Oracle Racing Team and the ACEA to hash out a host city agreement. The Northern Waterfront scenario emerged in late November after Budget & Legislative Analyst Harvey Rose cautioned in a fiscal impact assessment that the original deal would have cost the city an estimated $128 million, including impacts to the general fund and losses from entering into rent-free leases.

The fundamental shift in the plan at this late stage, less than three weeks before the deadline for a final decision, reflected some deft maneuvering on the part of the board even in the face of intense pressure to approve a binding long-term agreement on an unusually short timeline. Sup. Ross Mirkarimi and Board President David Chiu, who expressed reservations about the original proposal but strongly favored the idea of bringing the race to San Francisco, were able to deflect a deal that would have harmed the city in favor of a wiser alternative by reshaping the proposal at the 11th hour.

"I was a little bit surprised by some of the recent press," Mirkarimi noted at the Dec. 13 meeting, referencing reports that the team was considering rejecting the bid. He asked everyone to keep in mind that "we’re working with public dollars and purse strings."

But the Mayor’s Office supported the modified deal. Press Secretary Tony Winnicker told the Guardian: "The Northern Waterfront bid is good for the city, great for the port, and will provide a spectacular experience for the America’s Cup. Hosting the America’s Cup will bring more than $1 billion in economic activity and thousands of jobs to San Francisco and showcase the city unlike almost any other event."

Speaking at the Dec. 8 committee meeting, Chiu also voiced his support for hosting the Cup. "Obviously this will have enormous benefits," Chiu said. "If this were to come to San Francisco, this will mean $1 billion and likely $1.2 billion in economic activity during the greatest recession since the Great Depression. We cannot ignore this opportunity."

The difference in the two scenarios amounts to tens of millions of dollars in savings. According to a fiscal feasibility analysis released Dec. 13 by the Budget Analyst, the net loss to the city under the Northern Waterfront alternative would be $11.9 million, compared to $57.8 million under the prior agreement (not including costs relating to the rent-free leases proposed earlier). However, that impact doesn’t account for a $32 million contribution that the America’s Cup Organizing Committee is expected to provide to the city to defray municipal costs.

Under the Northern Waterfront plan, Piers 30-32 and Seawall Lot 330 would be leased to race organizers for 66 and 75 years, respectively, on "commercially reasonable terms" with development rights included. The race organizers would receive a rent credit in exchange for investing an estimated $55 million for infrastructure improvements.

Rose’s office also found that the city would realize a net gain by transferring development rights for Piers 30-32 and Seawall Lot 330 with commercially reasonable rents, generating a net $12.3 million in new tax and lease revenues.

"This deal has significantly improved from the prior deal that went before you," Rose noted at the Dec. 13 Budget & Finance Committee meeting. The main reason for the reduction in costs was that under the original plan, ACEA would have been granted rent-free development rights to Pier 50, a 20-acre waterfront parcel needing costly renovations, for 66 years. Removing that costly improvement and shifting dredging costs from the city to race organizers made the prospect more feasible for San Francisco.

Piers 26 and 28 were added to the equation late in the game, too. Under the new plan, ACEA has the option to spend an additional $25 million renovating those piers in exchange for leasing them for 66 years with rent credits. Ted Egan, an economic analyst with the City Controller’s office, noted that the piers were expected to last for only 15 years if they weren’t renovated.

"Without the America’s Cup stepping forward, we lose them, and we lose any potential development that could take place at those piers," he noted. Port Director Monique Moyer also praised the plan at the Dec. 8 meeting, saying piers that would have continued to deteriorate could now be revitalized.

Chiu amended the agreement to secure greater assurance that the city would receive a $32 million contribution from the America’s Cup Organizing Committee (ACOC), the fund-raising arm of the race organizing team, to defray municipal costs. Prior to Chiu’s amendment, there was no guarantee that the city and county would receive that money, Rose pointed out.

Jennifer Matz, director of OEWD, noted that ACOC was "committed to using best efforts" to raise $32 million over the course of three years. Under the agreement, if the committee hasn’t successfully raised $12 million by one week after the environmental review has been completed, the city reserves the right to call off the deal.

The new plan seemed likely to pass muster even with Sup. Chris Daly, the most vocal opponent of the original plan. "One thing that’s clear is that it’s a whole lot better than the previous proposal," Daly said.

Ellison, who captured the 33rd America’s Cup off the coast of Spain and holds exclusive power to choose which city will host the next sailing match, has set Dec. 31 as the deadline for his final decision. But a source familiar with the negotiations told the Guardian an announcement was expected even sooner.

Ironically, there was little doubt that Ellison would select San Francisco until the very end of the process, when the city finally reached an agreement that seemed to satisfy the Mayor’s Office, the Board of Supervisors, and the economic analysts. At press time, it was still an open question whether Ellison will go for it.

"With this latest bit of vetting by us, I think the city has done the utmost it possibly could do in putting forth the best plan it possibly could craft in such a short period of time," Mirkarimi said at the close of the Dec. 13 meeting. "I think that San Francisco stands to be the best contender for hosting America’s Cup, and let that message ring well toward Mr. Ellison, and around the country, and abroad."