Volume 45 Number 22

Appetite: Betelnut’s secret Malaysian menu, March 8 until May 8


Foodies, take note. If you like offal, Malaysian food, or adventurous eating, there’s a “secret” offal menu through Blackboard Eats. Sign up for the Betelnut special on March 8th only. You’ll get a passcode to give to your waiter at the restaurant during any dinner until May 8th. 

It has been awhile since I visited Betelnut, though I used to frequent it in my early years of living in SF. Chef Alex Ong has been there about that long (10 years), serving Betelnut’s ever-popular mix of Asian cuisines. He gets to bring a bit of his Malaysian roots to this secret menu, combining street food from his home country in family-style dishes for four or more people.

Sampling these generous dishes is both approachable and comforting. Don’t be afraid of animal parts you may not have eaten before. There’s adventure here but in a presentation reminiscent of heartwarming Asian bar food.

Start with crispy chicken livers in black pepper sauce ($9.88). A street food snack, Chef Ong says he’d get these on skewers in a plastic bag they’d eat at the movies in Malaysia. Served here in a bowl, lightly fried livers are tender and slightly crisp, lush with oyster sauce and roasted onions.

In a delicate, sashimi/tartare-like presentation, cured lamb tongue ($11.88) is thinly-sliced, bright with lime juice and chilies, topped with freshly grated galangal root and crispy taro. It’s Malaysia by way of Thailand.

Salt & pepper veal sweetbreads ($12.88) combine Chef Ong’s French-training and French classic, sweetbreads, with Cantonese-style salt and pepper sauce, scallions, ginger, garlic.

My favorite may be the 3-lb. fish head in tamarind curry ($15.88). Served in a giant pot, the fish head holds fall-off-the-bone, flaky fish meat (beware the eyeballs! Eat up the tender cheek meat!) It rests in a bold, coconut milk, shrimp paste, spice-heavy curry that is creamy, textured. Okra dots the dish, as do Fresno chilies. Pickled in vinegar & sugar, these chilies were so good, adding a needed contrast to the rich sauce, that I asked for a side of more. With South Indian roots, this dish is an example of Nonya cuisine (a mix of Malaysian, Indian, Chinese foods), and is served at celebratory meals in Malaysia.

P.S. For more fun, Betelnut roasts whole pigs on Tuesday nights… get there early as they will stop serving this off-menu special once pigs run out.

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


Appetite: Three reasons to visit Gitane


Sexy, sultry Gitane had me at “hello” when it opened over two years ago. There is no other place in SF with quite its seductive charm. (In the neighboring alley to Gitane’s Claude Lane, Irish Bank is a festive, beer-soaked hang-out.) Gitane lures you into its tiny space with sherry cocktails and Spanish-Moroccan food. 

With a chef (Bridget Batson) and bar manager (Alex Smith) change months back, Gitane blossoms into further radiance. Still evoking romance with a bold, modern spirit, its charged with new tastes that should draw you back if you’re already a fan, or bring you in if you have never been. Do yourself a favor and make a reservation or pull up to the bar for dinner soon… 

P.S. Reservations often need to be made weeks ahead for prime hours as tables are few, and don’t forget to check out what is one of the more fascinating bathrooms around. 

1. Alex Smith’s Cocktails

If you subscribe to my Perfect Spot newsletter, you’ve been hearing me rave about Smith’s sophisticated cocktails over the past month. Sip the increasingly meaty, much-lauded La Convivencia ($12), made of Four Roses bourbon, East India sherry, sweet vermouth, Nocino, and Smith’s house-made chorizo bitters (vegetarian version also available). Or try the light, luscious La Tardor ($13): No. 209 gin, ruby port, cherry heering and lime, soft with honey and egg white, with sweet, earthy nuance from vanilla bean and white peppercorn. Ask for the off-menu Autumn Flip ($11), creamy with whole egg, Laird’s bonded apple brandy, bitter cinnamon cordial and salted maple syrup. You won’t even need dessert. Cocktail aficionados will marvel at the complex layers of Martyr of Cordoba ($14): Copper Fox‘ white rye, Dry Sack sherry, Dimmi, absinthe, apricot liqueur, sweet vermouth, Peychaud’s bitters. There’s just a hint of each element. When you think you are about to call out the ingredients, they slip away, elusive and intriguing.

Lamb Tatare at Gitane. Photo by Virginia Miller

2. Lamb Tartare

Order this dish. Do not fear the raw lamb. Do not expect gaminess. Rather, prepare for fresh, succulent meat to rival the better beef tartares you’ve had. Chef Batson’s lamb tartare ($18) is an unexpected surprise of silky meat, bright with flavor. The added bonus is three dollops of worthy spreads, from an eggplant compote to a mix of pomegranate, walnut, red pepper. There’s currently no other dish like it in town. 

3. Grilled (and stuffed) Calamari

After two recent visits to Gitane, I violate my usual policy of always ordering something different to re-order grilled calamari ($16) stuffed with bacon and onion in a cast-iron skillet. Swimming in an addictive, buttery garlic and herb broth, dotted with Manzanilla olives, cherry tomatoes and heirloom potatoes, I sop up the broth with grilled toasts, my breath happily redolent of garlic. It’s a hefty portion and works as dinner on it’s own. 

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


Soul with a “Q”


MUSIC How do you know spring is coming in San Francisco? Trusty Mission venue El Rio starts throbbing once a month to the sweet soul sounds of yesteryear, and a hot, youthful crowd of queer dancers (and friends) floods the spacious patio to capacity. Although there are many parties in the city that cater specifically to gay men, Hard French is one of a handful that has built a successful formula on welcoming everyone — lusty femmes, trans jocks, DIY freaks, fairy stoners, vinyl junkies — while staying true to its spirit of retro-tune vitality and lean toward old-school R&B.

The packed party, which takes place every first Saturday, is a (hopefully) warm weather affair — its season opener Sat/5 will also mark its one-year anniversary. We e-mailed the six-member Hard French team, composed of Devon Devine, Tina Faggotina, Jorge P., Amos G., DJ Carnita, and DJ Brown Amy, to talk about their success and plans for future Frenching. True to the party’s collective spirit, and like a funky hot-pink Borg, they preferred to answer as one entity.

SFBG Hard French has quickly established itself as a major Bay Area queer destination. Obviously you wanted to be successful, but was the reaction a surprise?

Hard French We came together to throw a party where twinks and chubsters and queens and plushies and punks — basically all our friends — could come together to French hard and dance it out every month. As we move into our second year, our intentions haven’t changed a bit (although we want more leather daddies). We saw room in our communities for a different kind of dance party a place to dance in the sunlight with a bunch of weirdos. It just caught on real fast. People saw Hard French as a special thing. Since our community inspires us, being able to enrich it in the way that Hard French has is awesome.

We’ve ended a number of our parties with “Everyday People” by Sly and The Family Stone. It’s kind of our unofficial anthem because it seems to capture the essence of what we do and what we believe in. Hard French is for everyone; we are all everyday people who just want to ensure that our everyday brothers and sisters have a great time. It’s really our crowd that creates the right vibe and aesthetic — it of course helps that they are crazy sexy babes who make us want to dance ourselves into a frenzy and make out all day long. Luckily, our Jiggalicious Hard French Dance Club photo booth captures the ones we missed so we can seek them out later.

SFBG Let’s talk about soul — it seems like such a natural match, queers and soul, yet Hard French is unique in bringing the two together. It also seems like soul and San Francisco in general make a great pair …

HF Unbeknownst to many, the Bay was a hub of soul music during the 1960s and ’70s. It was home to better-known artists like Sly and The Family Stone, as well as some of our more personal favorites like Sugar Pie De Santo and Darondo. The soul resurgence today is largely due to the San Francisco’s wealth of amazing soul DJs who have been digging through records and throwing great parties here for a while now. We’ve been honored to have some of these DJs, like Lucky of Soul Party and Primo of Oldies Night, be our guests at past Hard Frenches. We’ve heard from these DJs and others that the difference between our party and other soul parties in the city is that we reach out to everyone. We don’t just attract “soul people” — we attract everyone, which makes us unique.

SFBG This question seems kind of mean, since there’s so few left, but what’s your favorite record store for soul scores?

HF Rookie Ricardo’s Records (www.rookyricardosrecords.com) in the Lower Haight. The owner, Dick Vivian, has been dancing to these 45s since they were originally pressed — and he now shares them with all the DJs who take an interest. Also, Dick is our total record daddy dream babe. The aforementioned soul scene in San Francisco would not exist without Rookie’s.

SFBG Any new record scores the DJs are stoked to debut on Saturday?

HF “Since the Days of Pigtails” by Chairmen of the Board, “Do the 45” by the Sharpees, Ruby Lee’s “Gonna Put a Watch On You,” and “Soulful Dress” by Sugar Pie DeSanto. Plus a bunch more — we’ve basically spent the last three months digging through acres of vinyl.

SFBG What’s been the most memorable Hard French moment so far?

HF Our most mind-altering moment had to have been the Hard French Winter Ball we threw in January at the haunted Brookdale Lodge in the Santa Cruz mountains. More than 400 people — from Santa Cruz locals to folks as far as New York, Toronto, and New Orleans — dressed in their finest formal fashions and completely took over the lodge. Seriously, every room was booked, the hotel bar was overrun, there were drag queens putting on face in the bathrooms, queers frenching in every nook and cranny, and even double dutch happening in the famous Brook Room, a beautiful room with a river that runs right through it! The event was hosted by the one and only Lil Miss Hot Mess, who curated a show that featured jaw-dropping performances by Glamamore, Alotta Boute, and others. There was also a dance contest, a highly competitive coronation … Oh, and we made it snow — inside the hotel. No big deal.

SFBG Any plans to take the party abroad? Will you ever be able to say Hard French is big in Japan?

HF Though it’s easy to forget, Canada is abroad, and Hard French has had mind-blowing parties in Toronto (as well as New York). But yes, we do have a few other international buns in the oven. As a note, if anyone out there wants to pay for six round trip tickets, a few hotel suites, a couple pitchers of margaritas, and some regional cuisine, Hard French will roll into your town and throw the best damn dance party that Iceland, Croatia, Zanzibar, or wherever has ever seen.

SFBG Describe Hard French in a haiku.

HF: Make out with hot babes/ Inside soul shaken sunlight/ Daytime adventure.


Sat/5 and every first Sat., 3 p.m.– 8 p.m.

$7 (free BBQ from 3–5 p.m.)

El Rio

3158 Mission, SF.


What can’t be said


DANCE Rehearsing The Unsayable at the Margaret Jenkins Dance Lab, the performers of Hope Mohr’s newest work march together. The row of marchers is composed of her company members (Cameron Growden, Derek Harris, Risa Larsen, Rogelio Lopez Garcia, and Tegan Schwab), and artistic partners who are war veterans (Carol Roye, Katharine Conley, Paul Ramirez, and David Fish). They stand erect with puffed chests, and settle only slightly when a voice calls, “At ease.” Taking turns, the performers speak, shift formation, and splinter into dance, bravely sharing personal anecdotes, including the ugly, the tender, and the uncomfortable.

Mohr’s deeply human collaboration springs from work with VA medical centers in San Francisco and Palo Alto, and Swords to Plowshares. “We’re a country at war, and it’s easy to forget about that. The project is in part my response to feeling isolated from that,” she explains, in interview. “I wanted to do something to engage dancers and the general public in the emotional reality that we are a country at war.”

Mohr conducted seven months of outreach, culminating in workshops with a small group of veterans. Influenced by Daria Halprin and the Tamalpa Institute, the workshop process involved first creating a safe space for the highly-charged work. Ground rules made clear that workshop participants could select what would be included for the performance. Each veteran maintained ownership of his or her story.

Improvisations pairing dancers with veterans incorporated drawing, text, and movement to explore themes like home, the flag, and the body. In drawing the dancing, and dancing the drawing, Mohr aimed to “try to triangulate that relationship, so the stories go beyond the head space and it becomes a more body-based, physical storytelling process.”

Workshops for The Unsayable adapted the methodology Mohr developed in 2008 when working with cancer patients for her piece Under the Skin. While her goal is not to heal anybody, the collaboration provides an opportunity for creative expression and community engagement while commenting on the role of art in time of war. “This project reflects my interest in making work that is not only socially engaged but also aesthetically sophisticated,” she says. “It’s been a huge challenge to balance the integrity of a group emotional process and also to make choreography that is very well-crafted.”

Using transcriptions from the workshops, novelist Bart Schneider compiled the script and voice-overs for the performance. “My role coming in was to help facilitate conversations between the veterans and the dancers,” says Schneider, when asked about this process. “Even from the first session, it was really intense stuff. And it’s an interesting process when you don’t happen to be a therapist, because stuff comes up and you can really tap into some deep material that can go any which way. I think as a group we did a really good job of building a sense of trust.” In the studio, eye contact and careful listening helped build compassionate relationships between the dancers and veterans.

“I think it was a transformative experience for everyone.,” says Schneider, who has also worked on VA oral histories. “[The veterans felt] ‘Wow, I’m not alone, these people are really listening, and I get to experience the complex qualities of my experience in more ways than just verbally.’ I think sometimes when material like this is involved, the art is a bonus. The experience itself is what really matters.”

Regarding the transition from workshops to stage, Mohr says, “The performance piece is an important part for the veterans. I’m trying to support them in performing with their senses open, so that it’s a continuation of a process that’s about self-awareness and bodily awareness. I really believe in the dancing body. As dancers, we are trained in the somatic sense, having a self-sense of where we are in space and time — being really present in the moment and in our bodies; being really connected to what’s going on internally. I think all of those skills are relevant for healing from trauma.”


Thurs/3–Sat/5, 8 p.m.; Sun/6, 2 p.m.; $10–$18

Z Space

450 Florida, SF


The unseen enemy


Trevor Paglen’s photography has always been about making the unseen visible. His luminous chromogenic prints unsettlingly reveal that the machinery of war and surveillance controlled by the military-industrial complex is more often than not hiding from plain sight; one need only have the right high-powered lens to gaze back.

One of the ironies of Paglen’s work, owing largely to the great distances from which he must photograph his purposefully obscured subjects, is how minuscule and non-particular they appear within the photographs themselves (this is also why Paglen’s work, in particular, suffers in reproduction). Test sites are twinkling oases amid vast surrounds of rock and sand, orbiting satellites are often no more than streaks of light, and unmanned planes are but black flecks against large expanses of sky. The human element is absent or left implied.

“Unhuman,” the title of Paglen’s second solo show at Altman Siegel, is thus quite appropriate, calling to mind the unmanned and auto-piloted craft that he repeatedly shoots while also drawing attention to the reality that much of this technology will continue to exist and perhaps, one might speculate, even continue to operate long after we have vanished. The recent work in “Unhuman” zeros in on both concerns.

Take the black and white photograph, Dead Military Satellite (DMSP 5D-F11) Near the Disk of the Moon, in which the titular forgotten object, lighted only by a half-veiled moon, is barely visible amid the surrounding darkness of space. The shot could easily be mistaken for a matte painting from Alien, and its seeming impossible vantage point makes Paglen’s dogged tracking of the dead satellite somehow all the more poignant.

Other photographs are less subtle. In the diptych Artifacts, a black and white photograph of the famous Anasazi cliff dwellings in Arizona’s Canyon de Chelly National Park hangs next to one that captures the glowing traces of spacecraft perpetually orbiting thousands of kilometers above the equator. Although the score-marked cliff face in the first photo forms a nice formal counterpoint to the hatch-markings of time-lapsed stars in the second, the pairing (perhaps a nod to Kubrick’s bone-satellite?) offers too heavy-handed and easy a comparison.

But Paglen doesn’t need to spell things out so directly. The show’s most stunning pieces are a series of lush skyscapes in which reaper and predator drones hover mote-like amid large, gaseous swathes of color seemingly lifted straight from a Rothko or Turner. The abstract beauty of these images is held in tension by the near-unseen menace that their titles call attention to. It’s a tension exacerbated by the limits of Paglen’s own machine-enhanced vision, such as when he photographs a similar type of dronecraft in a blurry, enlarged “close-up” two miles from the Indian Springs, Nev., site where it sits parked.



For her debut at Silverman, local Deva Graf looks to both midcentury Minimalist sculpture as well as her ongoing studies at the Mount Baldy Zen Center in California’s ski country. The pairing isn’t so unlikely, and the two installations Graf has created on either side of the small space evoke both the simple shapes and natural materials of de Maria and Smithson sculptures as well as those of objects used in Zen practice.

To the right is Mother’s Vigil, an arrangement of three small stone sculptures of Buddhist deities surrounded by lighted candles (around 40 are used for the piece each day) set into earthenware bowls filled with sand. In Bindu, on the opposite side, a lighted pyramid-shaped candle on stone pedestal sits below an eye-level framed piece of paper with a black India ink square at its center. An arc, also done in India ink, is traced on the wall above both painting and candle.

The features and iconography of each installation overtly solicit the viewer’s contemplation and concentration. Alas, that’s a tall order when floor-to-ceiling windows are the only thing between you and heavily-trafficked Sutter Street.


Through April 2

Altman Siegel Gallery

49 Geary, Fourth Floor, SF

(415) 576-9300



Through March 12

Silverman Gallery

804 Sutter, SF

(415) 255-9508



The mayor’s race: beyond compromise


EDITORIAL The race for mayor is now fully underway, with eight candidates declared — and at least four are fighting for the progressive vote. It’s a remarkably open field — and the fact that there’s no clear frontrunner, no candidate whose money is dominating the election, no Willie Brown or Gavin Newsom, is the result of two critical progressive reforms: public financing and ranked-choice voting.

In fact, those two measures — promoted by the progressive, district-elected supervisors — have transformed the electoral process in San Francisco and undermined, if only somewhat, downtown’s control.

As Steven T. Jones points out in this week’s issue, the leading candidates are all sounding similar, vague themes. They all say the city can work better when we all work together. That’s a nice platitude, but it reminds us too much of President Obama’s promise to seek bipartisan consensus, and it’s likely to lead to the same result.

On the big issues, the Republicans don’t want to work with the president, and big downtown businesses, developers, and landlords don’t want to work with the progressives. In the end, on some key issues, there’s going to be a battle, and candidates for mayor need to let us know, soon, which side they’re going to be on.

Sup. David Chiu, who entered the race Feb. 28, may have the hardest job: he actually has to help balance the city budget. As board president, he’ll be involved in the negotiations with the Mayor’s Office and the final product will almost certainly carry his imprimatur. It’s unlikely the progressives on the board will agree with the mayor on cuts; it’s much more likely that some will seek revenue enhancements as an alternative. Whatever Chiu does, he’ll be on the record with a visible statement of his budget priorities.

We’d like to hear those priorities now, instead of waiting until June. But either way, the remaining candidates, particularly those who want progressive and neighborhood support, need to start taking positions, now. What in the city budget should be cut? What new revenue should be part of the solution? What, specifically, do you support in terms of pension reform? How would you, as mayor, deal with the budget crisis?

Every major candidate in the race has enough familiarity with city finance to answer those questions. None should be allowed to duck or resort to empty rhetoric about everyone working together.

The same goes for community choice aggregation and public power. There is no consensus here, and will never be. Either you’re for public power and against Pacific Gas and Electric Co., or you’re opposed, weak, or ducking — all of which put you in PG&E’s camp.

There are many more issues (condo conversions, tax breaks for big corporations, housing development, help for small business, etc.) on which there has never been, and likely never will be, agreement. The people who make money building new condos will never accept a law mandating that 50 percent of all new housing be affordable (although the city’s own Master Plan sets that as a goal). The landlords will never accept more limits on evictions and condo conversions.

We’re all for working together and seeking shared solutions, but the next mayor needs to be able to go beyond that. When the powerful interests refuse to bend, are you ready to fight them?

Editor’s Notes



I’ve been trying to think of a good metaphor for the public-employee pension story, a way to explain what’s going on without making it so complicated that it becomes a battle of political slogans. Here’s what I’ve come up with.

Imagine you and your friends all work at a resort hotel, and you’ve been there a while, and you approach the boss and say it’s expensive to live in the area and you want a raise. But your boss isn’t handing out any more cash — he wants to hire his girlfriend for a cush job, and he wants a promotion in the resort chain, so he has to keep the bottom line tight.

But he can’t afford to lose the group of you, so he offers a deal: no raise, but you and your coworkers can eat lunch free at the resort restaurant. It’s a painless offer for him; the restaurant is booming, so much cash coming in that nobody will notice a few free meals. Still, it’s a benefit you didn’t have, so you accept.

Then a year passes, and resort traffic drops off, and the price of lunch food goes way up, and the guy who handles the books at the restaurant has been skimming and pocketing a big chunk of the proceeds — and suddenly, the free meals aren’t so free for your boss. So he starts pointing fingers at you, telling all the other diners that it’s unfair you get to eat free. The cry goes out: “No free lunch!” He starts to demand that you pay “your fair share.”

Now: you realize like everyone else that the resort is in financial trouble, and you’ve already accepted unpaid overtime and fewer work days. You also realize that a couple of your greedier friends have been taking extra sandwiches home in their pockets and they need to knock it off.

But the huge chain that owns the resort is still doing fine; the percentage profits off the top never change. No cuts there. And your free lunch isn’t “free”; it’s part of your pay. And you suspect that at some point, the economy will pick up and the restaurant will be flush again — and if you give up your benefit now, you’ll wind up with no raise and no lunch either.

But somehow, it’s all your fault. You are the ones bleeding the resort dry.

Look at it that way, and the picture is a little different.

Should Lyon-Martin be saved?


OPINION Last month, when the startling news broke that Lyon-Martin Health Services, a community health clinic that serves primarily queer women and transgender people, was about to close its doors forever, the community rose up even before the official announcement was made.

Within hours of first hearing the news, more than 150 clients, former clients, and members of the community gathered at an emergency town hall meeting to fight to save the clinic. People testified about what Lyon-Martin had meant to their health. Many expressed fears it would close and anger that they hadn’t known the clinic was in trouble.

To their credit, two members of the board of directors and interim Executive Director Dr. Dawn Stacy Harbatkin came to the meeting to answer questions from the community. This powerful meeting transformed and dramatically altered the outcome. In response to the opposition, the board backed off closing the center for at least a month and promised the community that there would be at least a month to find ways to save the clinic.

However, the board members also explained that the clinic was in serious trouble and needed to raise more than $500,000 to stay open. By the end of the meeting, a "Save Lyon Martin" coalition was born.

Within a week, more than 700 community members came to a fundraiser that raised more than $60,000, and within a month, more than $300,000 had been raised.

But at the same time, some have asked: should we save Lyon-Martin?

It’s a legitimate question. Over the past two years Lyon-Martin expanded its services, almost doubling its staff and patient load. However, the management failed to build the infrastructure to accommodate these changes. One of the known factors that led to the current situation was Lyon-Martin’s inability to stay current with its Medi-Cal billing, and there was a significant loss in revenue as a result. A substantial amount of debt is owed to the IRS and a long-term bank loan. Given the financial problems, some say, we should close the clinic; other community health clinics could simply incorporate the 3,500 patients served by Lyon-Martin.

While it’s true that the financial issues are troubling, and that hard questions need to be answered, dumping 3,500 patients into a public health system that has been cut to the bone over the last few years would be a disaster in San Francisco. The clinics that serve queer and transgender people are already stretched to the limit. No other place in the city has the capacity and culturally competency to serve this population.

Lyon-Martin has taken on the mission of caring for a group of low-income, mostly uninsured patients who have rarely, if ever, gotten culturally competent care. Almost 90 percent of Lyon-Martin patients are uninsured; 87 percent have incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty line; 17 percent are homeless; 33 percent are people of color.

As a transgender person who has received poor and even hostile treatment by a health care provider, it doesn’t surprise me that in a recent survey more than 50 percent of transgender individuals reported that they have had to teach their health care providers about transgender health care. More than half of lesbians, bisexual, or transgender people report that they avoid health care for fear of discrimination.

In this context, closing Lyon-Martin is simply not an option.

We have many questions about how Lyon-Martin got into this situation and what needs to be done to avoid it happening again. We want the community to have stronger oversight over this important resource. We want people held accountable. But most of all, we want to ensure that we continue to have access to the excellent care that Lyon-Martin has provided to so many of us.

On March 2 at 4 p.m. at the Budget Committee of the Board of Supervisors, Sup. Ross Mirkarimi will be holding a hearing addressing these questions. We hope you can join us.

Gabriel Haaland is a member of the Save Lyon-Martin Health Coalition, and a former transgender client of Lyon-Martin.

Tasers vs. talk



At a Feb. 23 Police Commission hearing, San Francisco interim Police Chief Jeff Godown told the civilian oversight board he wanted to investigate Tasers as a less-lethal weapon for San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) officers. Speaking to a room crammed full of community advocates who had turned out to rail against the idea, Godown seemed to try to preemptively address a concern that opponents were sure to raise during public comment.

“This is not about mental illness,” the chief said. Along with police commissioners who favored the Taser proposal, Godown drove that point home several more times throughout the evening, stressing that Tasers were not being sought as a law enforcement tool for dealing with violent, mentally ill individuals. Nevertheless, he said situations could potentially arise in which the stun guns would be used against the mentally ill, if officers were authorized to carry the devices.

At the end of a marathon meeting, SFPD won approval to spend 90 days investigating Tasers and other less-lethal weapons as possible additions to the police arsenal, which now includes pepper spray and batons as well as firearms. Advocates raised concerns ranging from misuse of the devices to accidental deaths caused by Tasers to documented overuse of the weapons in communities of color. The SFPD, meanwhile, emphasized that it saw Tasers as a way to improve officer safety while limiting the use of lethal force.



Throughout the discussion, concern about the use of Tasers as a tool against the mentally ill persisted despite the chief’s assurances. “Like it or not, these issues are intertwined,” said American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Police Practices Director Allen Hopper. He referenced comments made by former Police Chief George Gascón, who now serves as district attorney.

On Jan. 4, SFPD officers fired twice at Randal Dunklin, a wheelchair-bound, mentally ill man who was brandishing a knife outside the city’s Department of Public Health building. Dunklin allegedly stabbed an officer and suffered a nonfatal gunshot wound to the groin after he had tossed the knife. In press comments delivered in the aftermath, Gascón said the situation illustrated why the SFPD ought to carry Tasers.

“Not only was that not an appropriate circumstance for the use of a Taser, there were so many things wrong with the way police handled that situation,” Hopper said, referencing a YouTube video of the shooting that served to highlight key differences between the official police account and the events caught on tape.

Dunklin was the third person in recent months to be shot in an altercation with officers. Vinh Bui, who was 46, was fatally shot in Visitacion Valley in late December 2010. Michael Lee, who was 43, was fatally shot in a residential hotel in the Tenderloin a few months earlier. Both had a history of mental illness.

Police Commissioner Angela Chan told the Guardian that in light of these tragedies, she became concerned that the first commission meeting of the year initially featured a discussion about Tasers.

“I thought, this does not make any sense,” Chan said, because commissioners hadn’t yet looked at creating a specialized police unit for dealing with psychiatric crisis calls, a move she’d urged the department to consider. The commission schedule was rearranged to reflect her concern, and Chan rushed to book experts for a detailed presentation about crisis intervention training (CIT). In a unanimous vote at the Feb. 9 meeting, the police commission approved implementation of CIT.

The specialized policing technique is patterned after the so-called Memphis model, which originated in Tennessee in 1988 in the wake of a public outcry that arose when white officers gunned down an African American man with a history of mental illness.

Memphis model policing emphasizes de-escalation, which is quite different from the everyday command-and-control method cops are trained to use against suspects. Under this model, officers are taught to consider things such as the tone of voice they are using to communicate with the mentally ill person, the distance they are standing from them, and how the individual might respond to their behavior. Whenever it’s safe to do so, officers are encouraged to allow the mentally ill person the time they need to calm down.

Samara Marion, an attorney and policy analyst with the Office of Citizen Complaints, traveled to Memphis to witness CIT officers on duty. “I was absolutely impressed,” Marion said. “It is community policing at its best.”

CIT has been credited with a dramatic reduction in officer-involved shootings against the mentally ill in Memphis. Randolph Dupont, a clinical psychologist and professor at the Memphis-based School of Urban Affairs and Public Policy, told the Guardian that studies had shown mentally ill people who dealt with CIT officers were more likely to be in treatment three months later than those arrested by non-CIT officers. “Mental health is a community issue,” he said. “You don’t want it to be a police issue to resolve.”

In San Francisco, the program envisions training about 20 percent of the police force to create an elite unit of CIT officers, selecting those who are more experienced and have better track records in dealing with the public. Once in place, 911 dispatchers would alert CIT when SFPD receives calls involving psychiatric crises. On arriving to the scene, a CIT officer would be responsible for taking charge of the situation and directing other officers.

This is the second time an attempt was made to move forward with crisis intervention in San Francisco. In 2001, the department implemented generalized crisis training to all officers instead of intensive training for a specialized unit. However, that low-level effort was canceled last year due to budget cuts.

While CIT won resounding support from the community, the Feb. 23 discussion about Tasers drew tremendous opposition, with around 50 advocates speaking out against the plan. Hopper’s criticism, echoed by several mental-health providers, was that SFPD’s campaign for Tasers sent a mixed message and threatened to overshadow the CIT effort by seeking a quick fix based on a tool instead of a tactic. And rather than moving toward the goal of de-escalation set by CIT, Hopper said, the use of Tasers could exacerbate a situation instead, making it more dangerous for everyone involved.

“The Police Department — we think to its credit — has recognized that [addressing] mental health issues is a departmental priority,” Hopper said. “We think it’s putting the cart before the horse to give police Tasers before they put that plan into effect.”

A mental-health advocate who said she is “living the Kafkaesque world of a family dealing with mental illness” urged the commission to hold off on talking about Tasers until after CIT had been implemented, saying the two were closely connected.

“If you vote to purchase Tasers, you’re undercutting the message that they need to learn de-escalation,” another mental-health advocate noted.

Yet Marion said she thought adequate time was being allotted to study less-lethal weapons, and did not think this would undercut the CIT effort. “As long as the department continues to be motivated and engaged, I don’t see it being a problem,” she said.

Chan told the Guardian that the day after the Feb. 23 commission hearing, Godown phoned her to say he remained committed to CIT. Although she voted to allow police to move forward with investigating Tasers, Chan said her final support would depend on the success of CIT.

“If CIT is not doing well … I am going to be strongly opposed to any adoption of any pilot program,” Chan said. “I do prioritize one above the other.”



A Taser is an electroshock weapon that can administer 50,000 volts through two small probes, disrupting the central nervous system and bringing on neuromuscular incapacitation.

While Taser proponent Chuck Wexler, a researcher who spoke at the hearing, emphasized that Tasers “are for saving lives,” studies have shown that the risk of death or serious injury increases under certain circumstances. Someone who is Tasered while fleeing police can suffer serious injuries if they can’t break their fall. There are dangerous implications for people whose heart rate is accelerated due to cocaine or methamphetamine, and as the Memphis Police Department learned many years ago, Tasers don’t mix with flammable substances, like an alcohol-based pepper spray that has since been discontinued.

“Lots of times it’s not about the product itself, it’s about … risk factors,” said Maj. Sam Cochran, who worked with Dupont in Memphis to create CIT. “Under some circumstances, things can happen very fast.”

Safety concerns are heightened when it comes to the mentally ill. It’s common for people experiencing psychiatric episodes to behave violently, speak incoherently, and ignore commands, creating the kind of scenario where law enforcement would likely opt to deploy a Taser. According to an extensive research inquiry on Tasers published by the Braidwood Commission on Conducted Energy Weapon Use, Tasers can be especially dangerous when used against people who are delirious.

“First responders should be aware of the medical risks associated with physically restraining a delirious subject or deploying a conducted energy weapon against them,” according to Dr. Shaohua Lu, who is quoted in the study. “They likely have profound exhaustion and electrolyte changes before delirium kicks in. At that stage, any additional insult (e.g., struggling or fighting) can lead to the body just giving out, resulting in cardiac arrest and death.”

Since 2004, when the city of San Jose first equipped officers with Tasers, seven people have died following police Taser deployments. At least one was mentally ill.

MaryKate Connor, a mental-health provider who founded the now-defunct Caduceus Outreach Services, told the Guardian she didn’t think the police officers could separate the issues of less-lethal weapons and tactics for handling the mentally ill. “The promise of the CIT program, whether the police want to acknowledge it or not, is that this is a huge cultural shift,” she said. “It’s not about finding a new weapon. It’s about finding a less lethal way to respond, period.”

Joyce Hicks, director of the Office of Citizen Complaints, sounded a similar note during the hearing. “No weapon can substitute for sound tactics,” Hicks said.

The American dream, for sale



For Mao Huajun and Wen Lin, a trip to San Francisco is a chance to stock up on American retail. With at least five bags in each arm, the couple from China is all smiles. Through an interpreter, they point to the tags on their new clothes and cologne and explain: "Made in China."

Consumer products devised here and made there are too expensive or not available for Chinese shoppers, so Mao and Wen, who come from Wenzhou, where Mao made a fortune in wood products and real estate, are taking full advantage of their trip.

But don’t confuse them with typical tourists. The two are on a boutique pre-immigration tour of the Bay Area, tailored for rich people who want to move to this country — without the typical problem of getting documents.

An anti-immigration wave is sweeping across the country. The Obama administration has overseen the deportation of a record 390,000 people in the past year. College kids who came here as young children are finding they can’t stay and work. The much-anticipated DREAM Act, which would allow college graduates a chance at citizenship, is in a Republican-induced limbo. Poor and working-class immigrants are getting kicked out of the country every day.

But private companies are going overseas and recruiting investors with the promise of a little-known federal program: For half a million bucks, you can get yourself a green card.

If you’ve got the cash, the promoters say it’s easy. Invest that sum with a broker who’s doing some sort of development in a low-income area and you’re guaranteed the right to move to the United States, immediately, with your entire family. You can live anywhere you want (not just in the area where you invested). And you’re on track to become a U.S. citizen.

But the program, known by its federal moniker of EB-5, is riddled with loopholes and lack of oversight. It has a history of creating few or no jobs, and the projects it funds can harm low-income communities. The immigrant investors aren’t safe, either. They put their fate in the hands of brokers and immigration officials, and if everything doesn’t go according to plan (and sometimes they have no control over that plan), they lose their money and face deportation — sometimes years after settling into their new lives.

In truth, the real winners in this program are the private brokers who profit by connecting immigrant investors with projects that desperately need funding.

San Francisco has been late to enter the EB-5 game — but now long-time political figures, including former Redevelopment Commissioner Benny Yee, are getting in on the action. Oakland has several EB-5 centers looking for money.


The federal government has long offered employment-based visas that allow people with exceptional skills or who are otherwise valuable to the American economy to immigrate to the U.S. But EB-5, created in 1990, is different: it places value on immigrants based on their wallets, not on their brains.

When Congress debated the creation of EB-5, politicians and members of the public saw it as a bona fide way to create citizenship opportunities. The rationale: people who create jobs with their money deserve to live here.

Federal officials and EB-5 experts told us how it works, at least in theory. To gain initial residence visas for themselves and their families, would-be immigrants have to invest $1 million in a new business or an existing and struggling one. If the business is in a Targeted Employment Area — defined by law as "a rural area or an area that has experienced high unemployment of at least 150 percent of the national average" — the investment requirement drops to $500,000.

The EB-5 applicants can invest on their own or they through a broker, known as a regional center. Regional centers make the process easier for investors; they also pool investment to generate the capital necessary for big projects.

Each investor must create or preserve at least 10 full-time sustainable jobs within two years to stay in the country permanently.

Exact numbers aren’t available, but government data shows that the vast majority of investors opt for the $500,000 plan — and few invest on their own. Luz Irazabal, spokesperson for United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency overseeing EB-5, estimates that 80 percent to 90 percent of visas are granted through the regional centers.

So in practice, the program allows private, unregulated brokers to take the money of wealthy people and invest it in projects that are supposed to create jobs in low-income areas. It’s not necessarily a bad idea, and there’s nothing wrong with opening the most possible paths to legal residency.

But it doesn’t always work out — for the immigrants or the community.


The EB-5 program is booming. Only 11 regional centers existed in 2007. Today 133 businesses are designated as regional centers allowed to offer EB-5 visas to foreigners in exchange for their cash and 180 applications for the status are pending.

And while EB-5 started out slowly (only a few hundred green cards were issued in the first few years) and still isn’t a huge factor in immigration (1,886 permits were issued last year), most observers agree it’s on the rise.

"As domestic money has gotten tighter, project developers have discovered the EB-5 program as a possible way to obtain foreign capital," said Stephen Yale-Loehr, a professor at Cornell University Law School, veteran immigration lawyer, and self-described "guru" of EB-5."

Some are dubious. Henry Liebman, the Seattle-based CEO of one of the oldest and most successful regional centers, told us that "most of these [new] regional centers aren’t going to raise a nickel." He added that EB-5 is "not going to be the panacea that’s going to lift us out of the great depression."

And it’s something of a Wild West. The federal agency that runs the program doesn’t regulate the regional centers once they’re approved for business. And even though the centers make loans and invest money, the Securities and Exchange Commission doesn’t monitor them. Indeed, there’s no real regulation at all.

Yale-Loehr says the program helps everyone. "Project developers can win because they can get access to capital for their projects. U.S. workers win because the EB-5 money will create jobs. U.S. taxpayers win because EB-5 money stimulates the economy and creates jobs at no expense to taxpayers. And foreign investors win because they get a green card through their investments."

Not exactly. A Dec. 22, 2010 Reuters news service report notes that "thousands of immigrants have been burned by misrepresentations that EB-5 promoters make about the program, inside and outside the United States. Many have lost not only their money, but their chance at winning U.S. citizenship."

In fact, the news service found that in 2009 "four Koreans who invested in a South Dakota dairy farm through EB-5 lost their entire investment when the price of milk collapsed and the operators of the farm stopped paying the mortgage. When the four, who had invested a total of $2 million in the dairy, tried to step in and save the venture, they discovered their partner had left their names off the title. When they tried to sue in state court, the case went nowhere."

If a project falls apart and no jobs are created, the immigrants face deportation.

And there’s little guarantee that the projects these investors fund actually create any jobs for the communities where they’re located.

Regional centers have plenty of ways to win. According to center executives, they typically charge the investors a fee for facilitating the program they charge their clients. In some cases, the immigrant investors become part owners of a business enterprise; the investors and the regional center gets paid when the business turns a profit. But it’s far more common for the regional center to lend the money for projects and collect the interest. Usually immigrant investors get paid only around 1 percent in interest and the regional center picks up the rest.

It’s certainly worked for Liebman. He owns and runs 10 regional centers with offices throughout the United States and one in Tokyo. All his investments have gone into commercial real estate. "You don’t get to be Bill Gates through EB-5, but it certainly raises your game," he said.

Yale-Leohr did say the program must be "done correctly" and that it’s no piece of cake. "It is hard to set up a project that meets all immigration and securities-related requirements."


Everyone agrees that the program exists primary because it’s supposed to create jobs. "There is a lot of scrutiny of job creation because that is the foundation of the program," Irazabal said.

But that scrutiny is actually limited.

It shouldn’t be hard to determine if an investment is creating jobs in the community; either there are people working in a local business or not. But EB-5 experts told us that most of the EB-5 investment doesn’t create direct jobs. Sharon Rummery, also a spokesperson for the Citizenship and Immigration Service, said she suspects most of the jobs are indirect. But after checking with agency staff, she told us there’s no data.

The difference is critical. Say, for example, some investors build an electric car factory in a neighborhood with high unemployment. They hire 10 people to build cars, and create 10 direct jobs.

But when the workers go out to lunch and the deli counter down the street hires more help, that’s indirect job-creation — and how one specific investment creates other jobs is essentially guesswork.

Of course, the electric car factory has to buy materials and parts — say, computer chips — that might be made halfway across the country (and possibly in an area that doesn’t have high unemployment). Those jobs count, too. According Irazabal, USCIS has "no requirement for the [indirect] jobs to be in the geographic area" that is struggling economically.

The geographic flexibility USCIS allows is interesting considering that, according USCIS rules, regional centers must have "plans to focus on a geographical region within the United States and must explain how the regional center will achieve economic growth within this regional area."

The most interesting question is whether any of the indirect jobs are ever really created. And the bottom line is, USCIS never checks.

Here’s the process, according to USCIS officials. Regional centers create business plans. Then they hire consulting firms to evaluate how many indirect jobs will be created if the business plan all goes as projected. USCIS signs off on the report and the E-5 visas are approved.

The government never does its own studies or reports, never tracks actual indirect job creation, and rarely questions what the private consultants say.

Economist Peter Donahue, who runs PBI Associates in San Francisco, told us the job creation promises under EB-5 amount to a "parable." Models used to track indirect jobs "give the appearance of the science but its probably someone’s best guess," he said. "I’m not persuaded this stuff adds up."

Assumptions inherent in the models are not commonly verified, he added, and often fail to calculate the net effect of an investment, like when a new firm crowds out existing firms.

Tom Henderson, who’s setting up an EB-5 center in Oakland, told us the indirect jobs model "is all smoke and mirrors — it’s bullshit" (see sidebar).

Still, Irazabal says, "numbers don’t lie." USCIS checks that business plan and the job creation strategy is "viable, can be reproduced, and is practical. We have people whose area of specialty is looking at this."

To make things more complicated, most EB-5 money isn’t going into creating goods or services. It’s going into real estate development. And unlike a factory, a new building by itself creates barely any direct jobs.

It may have the opposite effect. High-end office development often displaces existing businesses, particularly industrial ones. And those lost jobs aren’t taken into account.


Mao said his No. 1 reason for seeking residency in the United States is the prospect of better education for his two sons, 5 and 17.

It’s ironic. Mao’s American Dream for his children is no different from the dreams of immigrants like Shing Ma "Steve" Li, a 20-year-old nursing student in San Francisco.

Li has lived in San Francisco since he was 12. speaks Cantonese, English, French and Spanish. He was arrested Sept. 15, 2010 by ICE agents, held in a detention center for two months, and threatened with deportation because his parents lacked the proper documentation.

Li, like tens of thousands of others, has talent and education and a lot to offer the United States. But he doesn’t have $500,000.

Immigration activists like Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, aren’t against EB-5 just because its immigrants are privileged. "We don’t believe there are good immigrants or bad immigrants when it comes to folks who contribute to this nation," he said.

But, he added, "We are looking for equity in our immigration system."

Immigrant-rights activists properly support almost any program that helps open the doors, particularly at a time when the right-wing is exploiting anti-immigrant sentiment. But it seems unfair that one class of immigrants, the ones with large sums of extra money to invest, are getting recruited to come to the U.S. while a much larger group — including people who have lived here for years, worked hard, built businesses and contributed to the nation — is being shown the exit door.

Francisco Ugarte, an attorney with the San Francisco Immigrant Legal and Education Network, made the point: "We disagree with legal standards that make it easier for rich people to immigrate than poor people.

"Our legal system is designed to protect the rich and powerful," he added. "People who are coming out of necessity have a much harder time immigrating than wealthy people looking to move."

"It is," he added, indicative of a broken immigration system." *


Tom Henderson’s clients call San Francisco jiou jin shan, meaning "old gold mountain" in Mandarin and referring to the Gold Rush era impression that San Francisco must be awash in opportunity.

His soon-to-be-unveiled San Francisco Regional center is still waiting on final government approval, but Henderson has already been lining up investors to participate in the program.

He spends a third of his year in China and has done business there for decades. Armed with an international network of business relationships and a quirky charisma, Henderson has won over people like Mao Huajun, low profile but extremely wealthy potential investors with sights on America.

Although more than 20 regional centers are certified to do work in Southern California, only a handful are operating in the Bay Area — although applications for more regional centers are in the pipeline.

Featured prominently on the website of the Synergy Regional Center are two prominent local figures: former Mayor Willie Brown and former Redevelopment Commission member Benny Yee.

The website has pictures of the Synergy management "meeting former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, to discuss about how EB-5 investment can stimulate the local economy."

Yee is listed as one of six principals at the firm. He didn’t return our phone calls seeking comment. Neither did Brown (who, to be fair, may have simply been part of a photo op since it appears the picture was taken at a fund-raising event for his institute).

According to Synergy CEO Simon Jung, Yee joined after initially "giving [Jung] advice on how to do business. He can help us bring deals in San Francisco we don’t have access to otherwise."

James Falaschi heads the Bay Area Regional Center in Oakland. His website that features three potential projects — all real estate developments in downtown and east Oakland.

Sunfield Development is the company building at the Fox Uptown and at Seminary and Ninth streets, two of the projects the Bay Area Regional center is working on. Sunfield CEO Sid Afshar said EB-5 is "a very good idea because it is a win-win for everyone."

The new player on the scene is Henderson, and he is unveiling an EB-5 vision with a lot of promise.

Mao was bombarded with options when he first heard of EB-5. As a savvy businessman, he was wary of jumping into something sketchy. Through an interpreter, he told us he went with Henderson because he "can see the way Tom is doing this business is transparent, so [he] know[s] the step by step."

Henderson has yet to reveal what his projects will be, but he says they are all businesses, not real estate projects. He said all the companies he is setting up will inhabit industries the city has identified as central to Oakland’s economic growth.
"I was born in Oakland. I work in Oakland. I live in Oakland," he said. "I won’t do projects that don’t create direct jobs."

Something wild



FILM There are few contemporary filmmakers who grasp narrative as an expressive instrument in itself, and even among them Apichatpong Weerasethakul seems special. Like other influential artists from the provinces — he grew up in the rural northeast of Thailand — Apichatpong has developed a sui generis style by rethinking the shape of the container. When the transitional cinema of 2000-10 is recalled, his shorts, gallery installations, and five primary features (let us now praise them: 2000’s Mysterious Object at Noon, 2002’s Blissfully Yours, 2004’s Tropical Malady, 2007’s Syndromes and a Century, and now 2010’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives) will appear uniquely evolved.

For those yet unconvinced, it’s important to note that while Apichatpong is sometimes pegged as a critic’s darling, he’s also highly esteemed by other filmmakers. I think this is because he entrusts the immersive qualities of sound and image and the intuitive processes of narrative. Like animals, his films change form as they move. Their regenerative story structures and sensuous beauty betray a motivating curiosity about the nature of perception as filtered through memory, desire, landscape, spirituality, and social ties. All of Apichatpong’s films have a science-fiction flavor — the imaginative leap made to invent parallel worlds that resemble our reality but don’t quite behave — but Uncle Boonmee is the first to dress the part.

It goes like this: Jen and her son Tong visit her brother-in-law Boonmee at his rural farm. Every evening, his attendant Rai, a migrant worker from Laos, drains Boonmee’s failing kidney. Spirits gather for the dying uncle; in a wonderfully framed and acted long scene around the dinner table, he is met by the ghost of his wife Huay and his son Boonsong, who since disappearing into the jungle with his camera has taken the form of an ape creature with electro-red eyes. Back in daylight, Boonmee tours Jen around the farm. They taste honey together, and he tells her that he thinks his illness is karmic retribution for killing too many Communists in the forest.

Before Boonmee finally commits himself to the cradle of a cave, there are excursions to the past; to unnamed alternate realities (a fantastic interlude in which, you may have heard, a princess finds love with a catfish); and to dreams of the future. Back in the city, Jen and her daughter tally donations for Boonmee’s funeral. Tong comes to the door, only now he’s a monk. He wants a shower and something to eat — earthly things.

This is the gist, but not the grain. For that, you need the enveloping sound field of the jungle; the sly style of cutting that configures the jumps between worlds as if they were reaction shots; the day-for-night jungle saturating every inch of the frame; the many unenclosed shelters from porch to cave. These formal features are porous, as should be the film’s appeal. That the film won the Palme d’Or at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival was instantly claimed as a triumph for film culture (which it was), but Uncle Boonmee has something to say to those interested in Buddhism, installation art, Jung, astrophysics, experimental music, animism … I could go on. If that list makes it sound a very San Francisco-appropriate movie, that’s not wrong either.

Within the film itself, the central themes of transmigration and reincarnation are widened every step of the way. The supernatural visitations clearly echo the presence of illegal “aliens,” for instance, just as the monkey-spirits and omnipresent insects evoke the lingering memory of those massacred Communists troubling Boonmee’s final hours. And yet Boonmee feels nothing like a dutiful allegory, in part because its unordered clusters of association ensure many prisms through which to apprehend its compounded light.

Another is cinema. Apichatpong has explained that he conceived of Uncle Boonmee‘s stylistic shifts as a panorama of film history. Distinct passages recoup Thai costume drama, idyllic French verité, TV family drama, and Apichatpong’s own long take style. The transformations call attention to yet another medium, and work to crystallize two resonant aspects of cinema’s temps perdus: its disembodied nature and vicarious consummation of the past. Film has itself entered a Boonmee-like twilight, so when Apichatpong refers to Uncle Boonmee‘s spirit of lamentation in interviews, he’s talking as much about the vessel as the story.

But one need not decipher symbols to enjoy Apichatpong’s films — it’s a matter, rather, of sharing in his sensibility. Like all his work, Uncle Boonmee has a strong basis in Apichatpong’s own idiosyncratic personal history. But the film has the same relationship to autobiography as Mysterious Object at Noon did to ethnography. That film used the surrealist game of exquisite corpse as a model to interact with documentary subjects. Apichatpong traveled from city to country on narrative threads invented, elaborated on, and acted out by those appearing on camera. The premise is that the kernels of individual experience and insight can be followed to something like collective knowledge — that we might locate the self, in other words, between selves. None of the secondary readings are remarkable in themselves; it’s the connectedness that counts.

UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES opens Fri/4 at the Sundance Kabuki.

alt.sex.column: Once bi-tten


Dear Readers:

In a recent column I asked the, um, asker (how can I have had this column for over a decade and still not know what to call the people who ask me questions?) what exactly she thought people would assume about her if she came out with it and identified herself to new acquaintances as bi.

We all know that for a fair number of people the first thing that springs to mind when they hear “bi girl” is some version of “slut.” But there’s another whole anti-bi bias that’s rarely discussed: bisexuals are assumed by some Kinsey 6 types to be luxuriating in hetero privilege, and are scorned, if not actively shunned. While I grant you that a bi person out with a date of the socially sanctioned gender will be presumed straight and may be welcomed in a way she surely would not be had she chosen to spend that night with Eve instead of Steve, this is indicative of a far farther-reaching social ill we all need to be working on and not, you know, the fault of that harmless bi-chick heading for the hipster bar to drink PBR with some guy she met volunteering at the film festival. And boy, can there be a lot of judging going on about such things.

I urged my correspondent to come out and be proud — because how else will we ever achieve our fabled place at the table? — but bisexuality comes with a set of problems that are especially galling: nobody really knows what the hell it is.

There are the mostly straight folks who fooled around with same-sex friends back when everyone was doing a lot of X. There are people who have long, stable, serially semi-monogamous relationships with no gender preference whatsoever. There was a guy who sat in the Bi Guy chair on sexual preference panels at San Francisco Sex Information trainings who later admitted he hadn’t had his Bi Card stamped in so many years it ought to be revoked. And there was the other guy at SFSI panels who sat in the Straight Guy chair who explained that he once had a long, serious, romantic, and sexual relationship with a man but eventually realized that it wouldn’t work because he is, in fact, straight.

So, bisexuality. Often not what you think it is. Tell them you’re bi and who knows what they’re going to hear. So having told my original correspondent that, yeah, of course she should come out with it whenever appropriate, I think I will reconsider. Yes, she should (we all should) continue to stop and correct people who assume we’re heterosexual just because we look or do how/whatever it is they think only heterosexuals look or do.

But you have to be prepared to explain yourself. And honestly, there are times when you just aren’t gong to feel like it. You don’t have to feel like you’re letting down whatever side if just sometimes you’d just rather skip it.



Got a sex question? E-mail Andrea at andrea@mail.altsexcolumn.com

Adieu, Paris



CHEAP EATS Dear Earl Butter,

Here’s a funny thing. I am supposed to be on a plane right now, and I’m not. You know in movies when the tearful lover is in line at the gate, wearing sunglasses, even while the other lover, the one with better sneakers, is dashing through the airport, leaping over luggage, dodging go-carts, and generally knocking over ordinary citizens in a desperate attempt to stop her?

Well, this was nothing like that. Not even a little. Hedgehog has an ingrown toenail and is in no condition to dash, dodge, or leap. In consideration of which I had tried to get her to purchase an airplane ticket to somewhere, but she was all like, why?

“Um,” I explained, “because — hello — my feet are fine?” In fact I am training for opening day of the SFWFFL on March 12, and running through airports is pretty good for me.

She was all like, oh. Still … did she buy herself an airplane ticket? No, she did not. At 11 a.m. this morning, when my flight to France took off without me, I was sitting on my slave quarters bed, calmly sipping coffee and reading the Sunday Times.

Hedgehog was home reviewing post offices for Yelp. Sure, she is happy I’m still in New Orleans, as am I. In fact, tomorrow afternoon we are going to sit on her porch! So you know, though, two other people are even happier than we are that I didn’t get on that plane. I speak of course of the Doughboy’s moms, Butterby and Super Duper Flashlight Mom, who have been threatening since my arrival to cut off my feet by way of keeping me here.

Time and again, I have argued that without feet I would not be much use to their baby. Eventually, after many repetitions and PowerPoint demonstrations, they “got” this — thankfully because I wouldn’t have been much use to my football team either.

Butterby cried when I told them I was staying. She had to leave the room. It wasn’t the first time I made her cry. The first time, I was explaining barbecued eggs to her, and when I got to the part where I wrap the bacon “scarf” around the bell pepper, she started to go emo on me.

Super Duper took me to the Krewe du Vieux parade and caught throws for me. She’s tall, aggressive, and Southern by birth, so she says “y’all” with authority. But you know what? So do the Asian people at Nola’s many fine Vietnamese joints.

My moms’s child, my charge, is perhaps the most edible thing our planet has ever produced. It’s all I can do to keep my own teeth out of the fuzzy skin behind his ears, let alone ward off the dogs and coyotes of New Orleans. When we are at the zoo, all the animals, even the vegetarians, come right up to the edge of their domains and stare at him in a kind of a trance.

Do you think he might be Jesus?

Dear You,

That is great. Me and Joel went to the Pad Thai Restaurant near where he now lives, which is Bernal, and that’s sad for me in that he no longer lives in the building, but great all-in-all because he has a great setup with a great lady and a terrific little boy wherein he can now get a little weepy listening to pop songs when he thinks about how wonderful life can be. It was Presidents Day, and I was wondering if it was all presidents, including the Bushes.

Joel said no, just two of them.

At Pad Thai, there is no confusion because they have pictures of all the dishes they serve. No lunch specials to speak of, but everything is around $8 or $11. We split a mango salad, which had shrimp and squid and was lime-y and good-spicy. And I got the Egg Bomb because if it’s on the menu, you have to get it. And Joel got the chicken with green beans. Except for the egg, our dishes were very similar. Delicious.

Yers, Earl

Pad Thai

Mon.–Fri. 11 a.m.–10 p.m.;

Sat.–Sun. noon–10 p.m.

3259 Mission, SF

(415) 285-4210


Beer and wine

No easy baskets for St. Mary’s



SPORTS It was January in Nashville, and it was cold as balls. Snow had fallen two days earlier and was still lying on the skinny slivers of road where the cars hadn’t repeatedly passed over yet. Inside Vanderbilt University’s Memorial Gym, a cold reality of a different sort was being served up by the Vanderbilt Commodores to San Francisco’s accomplished St Mary’s men’s basketball team, ranked 22nd in the nation by the Associated Press at the time.

For those who don’t keep a close eye on college basketball, St. Mary’s team had flown under the national radar for the past few years until it really began turning heads about a year ago. That’s when the tiny Catholic college from the East Bay town of Moraga upset second-seeded Villanova in the second round of the NCAA tournament and advanced to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 1959. At viewing parties across the country, salsa was spit out of mouths, glass coffee tables were karate-chopped, remote controls were flung to shatter priceless antique mirrors. And the following Monday that cocky asshole from accounting had to walk over to the 20-year old intern who’d probably never filled out an office pool bracket in his life and hand him a wad of his beer money.

None of that magic came with St. Mary’s Gaels to Nashville. They lost 89-70. It still ranks as their worst loss of the season, and it came on the heels of 11 straight wins. But as they prepare for this week’s West Coast conference tournament in Las Vegas and then the national tournament — assuming they qualify — should all conclusions drawn from one game like this one be thrown out the window? Or is it noteworthy that some weaknesses were exposed?

“Definitely you can learn a lot of lessons,” says Gaels guard Matthew Dellavedova, sitting and facing a cluster of postgame cameras and reporters after the Vanderbilt game. “And we’re going to learn some from today.” With the Australian’s shaggy hairdo, it might help to imagine a pothead younger brother, if you’ve got one, or at least a very misplaced surfer. That kind of stigma was amplified, and seemingly justified, once Dellavedova was bombarded by strange Southern interviewers with slow drawls that must have seemed pretty foreign from the perspective of the sophomore, who himself speaks in deep, slow-cadenced Aussie near-mumbles. He hesitates after every question and glances over at his coach, as if to make sure he’s heard everything right. “Definitely it could have been a different ending if we could have taken the crowd out of it,” he says. “But, yeah, we did have chances. We just didn’t make the most of ’em today.”

But Dellavedova didn’t really owe anyone much explanation after the loss. He scored 19 points, while other usual hot hands, like the more conventional scorer Mickey McConnell (six points), went suspiciously silent. And Dellavedova maintained his focus through the Vandy student section’s syncopated chants of his nickname, “Psych-o Cave-Man … clap, clap, clap-clap-clap,” every time he stepped up to the free throw line in Nashville.

Dellavedova is one of the best hard-nosed street ball type players in America. A deft ball-handler, his name can usually be found among the country’s leaders in assist-to-turnover ratio. Some of those unorthodox shots he makes really drew out a humorous cross-firing of spattered curse words from the flustered opposing fans in Nashville.

The problem was that after playing so well early in the season, the St. Mary’s team had to seriously struggle against the Commodores’ brutish man-to-man defense. St. Mary’s was limited to 41.9 percent accuracy in shooting from the field, and went 6 for 23 from the three point range. The Gaels came in second in the country in field goal percentage (.511) and made three pointers per game (9.6).

The Commodores achieved these unprecedented results with their notably longer-armed players. In the South, that’s the norm; to West Coast teams, it presents problems offenses aren’t used to. Vanderbilt, a team easily among the best 20 or 25 in America, had a hand in every passing lane and contested nearly every shot. “Length is all over our league,” says Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings. “When you step out of your league and play in a league like ours, it can be bothersome. St. Mary’s is a much better team than we saw today.” The question now is, how much better?

St. Mary’s followed its loss to Vanderbilt with an impressive win at Gonzaga (the first of two games the teams played against each other the season). But having lost the last three games to the University of San Diego, Utah State, and its round two with Gonzaga, the Gaels once again have something to prove. They came into this season with pundits saying they’d struggle to replace last year’s star big man Omar Samhan, but Dellavedova and McConnell’s play silenced that early negativity. Now they will be playing for their tournament lives with the conference tournament looming and, if all goes well, the NCAA tournament after that.

It is in those tournament formats that the Gaels have succeeded most in the past. Teams are left to scramble to prepare for their unique offense, often with much quicker turnarounds between games than in the regular season. But given the way Dellavedova and McConnell shoot coming off a ball screen, it would be unwise to rule out the possibility of the Gaels getting back to the Sweet Sixteen.

If they do make it back, their coach, Randy Bennett, will look like a genius in the eyes of the national writers for scheduling a tough non-conference road game in late January, against convention. Just don’t expect the Psycho Caveman to get too bothered by any regular season loss. He says the memory of last year’s tournament run will make his team respond as they continue their fight for a tournament berth. “They played pretty good defense today,” Dellavedova says. “And hopefully that helps us later in the season.”



UC Berkeley: The Golden Bears have a good shot at the NIT. They played one of the country’s most difficult schedules this season, but their conference and overall records are hovering just above .500.

Stanford: The Cardinal is in a similar position to Cal. But with the team’s softer non-conference schedule, it really needs to make a big splash in the Pac-10 tournament to turn any heads.

San Jose State: The Spartans will not get into the NCAA tournament unless they win their conference tourney. But since they are near the bottom of their standings, there is little reason to expect it this season. Even so, the team still has a shot to finish with a winning record.

University of San Francisco: The Dons have proven they can beat every team except St. Mary’s. To earn a trip to the big dance, they will either have to beat the Gaels or hope someone else does.

Santa Clara: Like the Dons, the Broncos have lost twice to St. Mary’s. They will end up with a winning record this season, but to take the next step they will need to get past the Gaels.

Get hammered



Until recently, its existence has played out quietly in Alabama basements and Vermont backyards. If you’ve seen anyone engaging in it, chances are it was a group of raucous bros on YouTube or Elijah Wood and Jimmy Fallon on The Late Show. If you saw it up close, you may have fled the general area.

Though its origins are obscure, most agree that Stump, the rather insane game in question, comes from some densely wooded part of Maine. It’s since been zigzagging its way across the country, through college campuses and rowdy backyards. Recently it made its way to the Bay Area.

“I first learned about it because I walked into my friend’s basement and there were 20 people screaming drunk throwing hammers. It turned out they’d been having these Stump parties every week for a while,” said Richmond resident Elon Ullman. “After a while, we got good at it and started adding our own variations.”

“Beer pong and flipcup are pretty one-dimensional,” adds Penn Chan, who attends Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y., (where the game was introduced by a Wisconsin girl called “Sparky”) with Ullman. “Stump evolves as people who’ve played in different areas come together and discuss how they’ve played.”

The fundamentals are simple: a hammer, some nails, and a stump. You toss the hammer in the air so that it revolves completely, catch it, and bring it down on the nail without breaking its momentum. If you drive your opponent’s nail all the way into the stump, you win. It’s usually played as a drinking game — you drop your hammer, you drink. You catch it awkwardly, you drink. You drink if you miss the nail and hit the stump, or if you hit your own nail, or if somebody else hits your nail, etc.

Rowan McCallister demonstrates a double toss

Because Stump is usually played in large, chaotic groups, hitting anything at all is a matter of chance. But if you take it seriously as a game of skill, a whole series of choices opens up, starting with where to place your nail. A stump that’s seen a few games has its own unique geography. Nail “cities,” twisted lumps of jagged metal, spring up in heavily used areas of the stump. Danger can attend: it’s possible to put your nail so close to an opponent’s that, in trying to hit your nail, he risks shredding his knuckles.

“The first rule of Stump is, if you bleed you have to bleed on the stump. The second rule is, no coagulating,” says David Liefert, who’ll be a junior at San Francisco State University this fall. On a warm Saturday a couple weeks ago, he invited me over to watch a few games. He and his friend Rowan McCallister, also a student at SF State, started playing Stump with Elon last summer, and created their own variations. Longer, thicker nails make for a longer game. Gold nails sink faster. Players can flip the hammer more than once, and can choose whether to flip it forward or backward.

Blood on the stump

Then there’s the question of the hammer itself. Metal hammers are evenly weighted, while the head of a wooden hammer is much heavier than the shaft. This tends to make the hammer spin fast and wild — it’s harder to control, but it’s also easier to make it flip over twice. Liefert and McCallister play a few rounds with a wooden hammer, then switch to the metal hammer for a two-flip game. The change throws them both off. On his first toss, McCallister miscalculates and wings the hammer over his shoulder. “Shit,” they both call out automatically, following the arc of the flying hammer.

“It looks like we’re doing something really wrong,” Ullman says. “I’ve always wondered what would happen if I were to play in Golden Gate Park. Could we be charged with anything?”

San Francisco park rangers could not be reached for comment, but Article Four of the city’s Park Code — under the heading “Disorderly Conduct” — contains at least three sections that might apply, including injunctions against “throw[ing] or propel[ling] objects of a potentially dangerous nature,” damaging or removing existing wood, and, crucially, “consumption of alcoholic beverages in the Panhandle, Stanyan Meadow, and Sharon Meadow.”

When I’ve watched people playing Stump, I’ve been struck by how often the word “respect” comes up. If a player flubs a throw and graciously declines to take his shot, it’s traditional for his opponents to say “respect” and drink. Unlike other drinking games, though, correct technique is emphasized and style is rewarded. “It’s chaotic but intellectual,” says Ullman. “It’s like physical chess.”

If you’re interested in playing Stump, e-mail David Liefert at baystump@yahoo.com.




DINE When Absinthe opened in Hayes Valley in 1998, it was meant to evoke an aura of Provence. Meanwhile, the restaurant’s name carried a whiff of naughty Parisian excitement. Absinthe was the grog Oscar Wilde drank himself to death with in the French capital after his release from Reading Gaol, and not too many years later it was banned in France (and here) on suspicion that, like masturbation, it caused blindness and insanity.

These days, absinthe is enjoying a small revival, having largely been exonerated of its devil’s-brew reputation. And the restaurant — which, along with Jardinière, represented revival in a part of town unsettled for years by contentious freeway demolitions and the symphony strike that began in December 1996 — has not only thrived but settled into an identity it might have been meant to have all along. If you’re a latecomer and you want some sense of what Stars was like back in its heyday in the late 1980s and early 1990s, you’ll find a taste of it at Absinthe. The restaurant offers a bit of the old feel: hints of low-key elegance and even glamour, a look both established and fresh that combines the sunny Mediterranean and the fog-bound, gleaming city, and exemplary food (emerging from a kitchen now run by Adam Keough) that brings together a world of influences into a distinctively Californian balance.

New high-profile restaurants in the city tend not to be like Absinthe. They are often hard-edged, spare, and cold, concocted from glass, steel, and plastic. And they are noisy. Fair enough. But Absinthe, to my mind, is the height of what San Francisco restaurants were, and were like, before the city became a suburb of Silicon Valley. It is a credit to the owner, Billy Russell-Shapiro (who ran the wonderful Rosmarino near Laurel Village before launching Absinthe) that he has let his restaurant evolve into Stars’ successor, or dauphin, without renaming it or otherwise clumsily tinkering with it. Evolution is undervalued, I would say, in our revolution-worshipping culture — tear it down, throw them out, get a new one — but evolution is how most real change is achieved.

Keough’s menu does retain some definite Provençal trappings, although — since these sorts of trappings are typical of a lot of the rustic-Mediterranean cooking that’s the foundation of California cuisine — they tend to enhance one’s sense that the style is distinctively Absinthe’s and not a dutiful attempt to recreate old dishes from the other side of the world as if from Nonna’s recipe book. The berbere-spiced fried chickpeas ($4) were not only addictive but the kind of thing you might find in a restaurant near the old quay in Marseilles.

The fabulous garlic pretzels ($7), on the other hand, like a cord of thumb-sized fire logs ready for dipping in a mornay sauce of Vermont cheddar, could have been a witty take on Oktoberfest. And the marvelous potato tart (a bit pricey at $14) had a distinctive northern, even wintry, flair, with its leeks, egg, long length of crispy smoked bacon, and large effusion of frisée on the side.

If any dish is supremely characteristic of Provence, it would have to be the seafood stew called bouillabaisse, and Keough does serve up a lovely version ($15). It’s listed with the share plates, but it’s plenty big enough to be a main course unless you’re ravenous or a carnivore. The stew was chockablock with manila clams and PEI mussels, along with a huge sea scallop, a beguiling broth of puréed red-bell peppers scented with garlic and bacon, and, on the side, levain toasts spread with an ebullient herb rouille. The stew did not seem to have been finished with pastis, the French version of the anise-flavored liquor that’s ubiquitous around the Mediterranean, but the bacon’s tang was a worthy alternative.

Speaking of worthy: a skirt steak ($24) that was actually tender as well as tasty. The meat was served with black-garlic mashed potatoes (black garlic being fermented and slightly sweet), which were not in fact black, more of a caramel color, but still dramatic. Less dramatic but important in supporting roles were a green-peppercorn jus and braised artichokes.

No sweet confection has ever disappointed me more than German chocolate cake. Despite Germany’s formidable reputation in chocolate, German chocolate has long seemed unpersuasive, and it isn’t even the right color. Absinthe’s version ($9) did have the fearsome hepatic pallor, but it was layered with crushed almonds, capped with dollops of coconut-like foam (like little meringues), festooned with candied walnuts, and altogether had a complex, not-too-sweet chocolatiness even a skeptic could love.


Tues.–Fri., 11:30 a.m.-midnight;

Sat., 11.a.m.–midnight; Sun., 11 a.m.–10 p.m.

398 Hayes, SF

(415) 551-1590


Full bar


Well-managed noise, but not quiet

Wheelchair accessible


Choose or lose



FILM With its plentitude of female political stars, the Tea Party finds U.S. feminism at an interesting if inevitable developmental stage — wherein people who never would have gotten this far without liberationists’ path-clearing reject progressivism altogether. They no longer identify with a historically oppressed viewpoint, but rather from an angry, gender-neutral stance of entitlement allegedly stolen by cunning have-nots and slippery liberals.

They’ve never felt enough second-class citizenry to see gender as “the” issue. Yet right-wingers’ international panic button, “Islamic fundamentalists,” are also all about family values. Christian nations dominated world politics for so long it’s understandably hard for Westerners to grasp, let alone accept, that a different age-old faith looks set to control that discourse in our immediate future. (Buddhism, where are you? Oh yeah: busy ignoring all this.)

And the driving forces aren’t assimilationist, like those presumably nice folks whose mosque peacefully shares my Lower Polk neighborhood with a famous tranny nightclub and fire house. Rather, they are the pissed-off rank citizens, recruited by more privileged leaders to relatable activity outrage toward a deep disapproval of perceived Western moral decay. Just like Sarah Palin!

Does she see women’s issues as a significant concern? Most unlikely. She’s never been constrained by her family — more likely, as copious public exposure suggests, she’s been Santa-whipping its cadre of very stupid reindeer toward some destination, even if off a cliff (hello, Bristol, hello).

Palin would doubtless be horrified at the injustices dramatized in potent German drama When We Leave. It’s about Umay (Sibel Kekilli from 2004’s Head-On), who leaves a seriously abusive Istanbul husband with their young son Cem, seeking shelter from her Turkish family in Berlin. Initially welcoming, they grow hostile once the shame of her spousal abandonment ripples endlessly outward.

To keep Cem from being kidnapped and taken “home,” she eventually moves into a safe house. She gets a job, potential new boyfriend (the endearing Florian Lukas from 2008’s North Face), new apartment. But the pull of family is inexorable, and no location-shifting games are ultimately able to protect her.

Feo Aladag’s feature writing-directing debut goes out on a narrative limb with an improbable risk Umay takes at the two-thirds point. It strains credulity, but does heighten dramatic tension. It’s no spoiler to reveal that When We Leave‘s first moments reveal it deals with that near-unbridgeable cultural gap known as honor killings. Still, it might spoil something to say Aladag subsequently licks, seals, and otherwise pushes her emotional envelope to an excessively manipulated degree — D.W. Griffith himself might cry melodrama’s corn level exceeded.

Nonetheless, the real-world realities are more than real enough. Twenty years ago the 1991 Sally Field vehicle (imagine a world in which such things existed!) Not Without My Daughter struck many as suspect and kinda racist for dramatizing a real-life American woman’s attempt to flee her husband’s Iran with their child. Now When We Leave comes as no surprise.

Today, notions of the roles and rights of women in a just society differ painfully around the world, “developed” and otherwise. A basic tenet of U.N., E.U., and other bodies’ diplomatic interventions is that women be given equal rights — or at least legal freedom from domestic violence, rape, underage marriage, and other abuse. After so many decades of progress, it now seems the driving planetary political tide no longer pushes that-a-way.

When We Leave is a flawed drama that nonetheless underlines an increasing, confusing divide between ideological extremists “East” and “West.” How can we be on the brink of global chaos when both most-agitative sides basically agree women should be barefoot and pregnant? Excepting the exceptional women now in political power — too many are often silent, whether due to compromise or sheer denial.

WHEN WE LEAVE opens Fri/4 in Bay Area theaters.

Burn this culture



LIT “I didn’t want to write a love letter to Burning Man.” Those words may come as a surprise out of the mouth of Guardian City Editor Steven T. Jones, who has been covering the freaky desert art festival and its year-round scene for nearly seven years in these very pages. They’re also surprising given that news of the book has already spread across the country by the vast Burning Man network: listserves, counterculture word-of-mouth, and through an important nod by the festival itself, which included a mention of Jones’ in-depth exploration of 2004-10 burner culture, The Tribes of Burning Man (Consortium of Collective Consciousness, 312 pages, $17.95) in its Jack Rabbit Speaks newsletter, which lands in 70,000 inboxes across the country.

Although Jones critiques many aspects of playa life, the book seems to be resonating with people immersed in the DIY, creativity a-go-go, Black Rock City milieu. “Man,” a burner friend told me on a recent trip to Washington, D.C. “You just don’t see books about Burning Man around these parts!” Which is kind of the point — Jones wanted to highlight a culture he says is vastly underreported yet culturally significant (and have a good time in the process). The book may be the most researched history of the festival to date, and romps through some of the biggest parties and most innovative art experiments on the playa in first person. “I was lucky to be reporting on this event at this time,” Jones says. “It was really epic stuff.”

Love the burn? Find yourself in the book’s pages — and at Jones’ series of readings all over town, he’ll be holding to celebrate its release. Hate everything it stands for? Read it and you’ll never have to go. I sat down with Jones at the newly remodeled Zeitgeist last week to learn more about the Man.

SFBG Why did you write this book?

Steven T. Jones Burning Man has been largely misunderstood and marginalized. Even those who know something about the event assume that its moment has past, that it’s “gone corporate” or otherwise lost its essential energy and appeal. Those who aren’t familiar think of it as just a festival. But it still absolutely floors newcomers, giving them what many describe as a chance to rediscover some more authentic sense of self in this strange and challenging new world. In recent years, this culture has expanded outward all over the world, a development that has begun to be even more important than the event itself to many people. It’s spawned vast social networks of creative, engaged people pursuing really interesting projects, and I’m honored to be able to tell their stories.

SFBG What initially drew you to write about Burning Man? You’re the Guardian city editor and most of your pieces are about politics.

SJ I think it’s hard to separate political culture from the counterculture. This book is probably more about San Francisco than it is about Black Rock City. Burning Man is the most significant culture to come out of San Francisco in years, especially considering its longevity and reach. I mean, some of our progressive political views have spread, but there are groups of burners in every major American city.

SFBG Who are the burners?

SJ There’s a census taken every year, so we know exact demographics on this one. There’s a wide age range and a wide cultural range in terms of ethnicities and geographic regions, and a range of how people live. There are the super-conservatives …

SFBG Really?

SJ Yeah, there are plenty of libertarians there. That’s how it was founded — the gun nuts and the freaks. Then the hippies discovered it. There’s the old hippie-punk divide at Burning Man that we see play out in San Francisco politics all the time over the last 40 years.

SFBG Throughout much of the book, you’re struggling with Burning Man’s political significance. In 2008 you even took a break in the middle of the festival to attend the Democratic National Convention and Barack Obama’s nomination. What was your final conclusion — is Burning Man important, politically speaking?

SJ It’s a good question. I wanted it to be. Larry Harvey wanted it to be, given what was going on with the rest of the country at the time. Ultimately, it just is what it is. I think it’s at least as relevant as the Tea Party — it’s got a better thought-out ethos and value system, but it doesn’t get as much press. It is a city, and the example the city offers is very relevant to the rest of the country.

SFBG Let’s say I’ve never gone to Burning Man and I’m never going to go. What does this book have for me?

SJ Burners are my main target audience, but it was important to me to make this book interesting and accessible to those who don’t go to Burning Man. I firmly ground this book in an intriguing sociopolitical moment in 2004, when the country really lost its mind. Bush was being reelected president and things were about to turn really ugly with the Iraq War and Hurricane Katrina, events that would further divide an already fractured country. I don’t think it’s an accident that the country hit its nadir just as Burning Man hit its zenith. People were desperate for authenticity, creativity, and a life-affirming way to spend their time. The most innovative and impactful cultural developments often happen on the margins, so to ignore Burning Man is to be incurious about what is animating the counterculture in San Francisco and other cities — people who will help lead this country back from this cultural desert we’re in, if that is ever going to happen.

SFBG Are you going to continue to write about burner culture as extensively as you’ve been doing?

SJ No, I think I’ll back off on it. I’ve got a few ideas for the next project — I’m fascinated by bike culture. I think it’d be fascinating to explore the international bike movement in the fashion of this book.


“Burning Man and the Art of Urbanism”

Tues/8 6 p.m., free for SPUR members, $20 for nonmembers


654 Mission, SF

(415) 781-8726


“Tribes of Burning Man Reading and Powwow”

Fri/11 7:30-10 p.m., $5–$20

Westerfield House

1198 Fulton, SF

Facebook: Tribes of Burning Man Reading and Powwow

Leather forever


Every year since 1989, 25 movies are added to the National Film Registry, deemed worthy of preservation for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” Their current number encompasses Eraserhead (1976) and Enter the Dragon (1973), the Zapruder and Hindenburg footage, The Muppet Movie (1979), “Let’s All Go to the Lobby,” Stan Brakhage and Kenneth Anger films, and This is Spinal Tap (1984) — as well as, you know, Citizen Kane (1941) and stuff. Which is to say, it is one of those ways in which democracy just kinda works.

However, even a list as diverse in age, genre, theme, and purpose as this one is capable of heinous omission, the kind that makes you question the whole system and wonder why somebody just doesn’t do something. You may not even want to continue here, because what you are about to read will infuriate you. It is this: there are 550 movies at present in the National Film Registry. And not one is Heavy Metal Parking Lot (1986).

You could argue it is not there because the Library of Congress does not want future generations to know a truth that ugly — but then, how to explain the presence of Hoosiers (1986)? Simply, it is an injustice that can only have been orchestrated by evildoers who hate freedom. They do not want you to rock.

Fortunately here in San Francisco we know how to rock out — yes, frequently with our cocks out — and will be doing so particularly when the Found Footage Festival returns to the Red Vic. This is good news enough, but it is made extra-special because in addition to their debonair live commentary on the latest batch of mind-boggling VHS clips culled from garage sales and thrift stores, FFF curators Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett will be presenting a 25th-anniversary screening of Heavy Metal Parking Lot.

In 1986, Jeff Krulik and John Heyn had the extremely good idea of taking their camcorder to the late Capital Centre stadium in Landover, Md., before a Judas Priest concert and letting the fans outside just … be. The resulting anthropological study went viral in an analog era, spurring countless homages and imitations, eventually getting a theatrical release (opening for Chris Smith’s longer 2001 documentary Home Movie — much as Dokken opened for the Priest!) and, once a few music rights issues were ironed out, a deluxe DVD. Not afraid to milk it, the filmmakers later explored further vistas of hot pavement in Neil Diamond Parking Lot, Yanni Parking Lot, Michael Jackson Arraignment Parking Lot, Pro Wrestling Sidewalk, Science Fiction Convention Lawn, and so forth. Proving there is, perhaps, endless variety between groups of people who are exactly like each other.

Which in Heavy Metal‘s case means shirtless, drunk, mullet or teased-haired, and absolutely certain everything either sux (like Dokken) or rüles (duh). What really sucks, of course, is everything not metal, like the musical and societal blight known as “that punk shit.” With inimitable logic, one young buck opines “Madonna can go to hell. She’s a dick.” But he’s unusually verbose — most of the kids here stick to sentiments short enough they’ll have no trouble heaving them onto the cement a couple hours later.

The titanium-strength cluelessness on display is enhanced by one’s knowledge that this sea of fist-pumping testosterone was shortly about to worship the rare metal lead singer who not only looked like he’d stepped out of the Folsom Street Fair, but probably actually had. (Denial is the most powerful weed: even I was shocked along with the rest of a 1978 Queen concert’s Kalamazoo, Mich., audience when Freddie Mercury acted kinda … you know. I mean, who’d have guessed?)

Heavy Metal will just be only one of the many amazing artifacts excavated and edited for your edification by the Found Footage Fest dudes, who have been doing this for seven years now and might actually make money at it. Their current program of video oddities from the golden age of VHS includes montages devoted to ventriloquism instruction (oddly creepier even than the sex-hypnosis segment), real-life Elmer Fudds’ hunting calls, things strange even by public-access-channel standards, horrifyingly dull seminar speakers, and the inevitable vintage exercise-video grotesquerie.

Other highlights include a bit from How to Spot Counterfeit Beanie Babies (what Pruehler calls “this adorable crime”), the lowest of all Linda Blair career lows, and something called “Rent-A-Friend,” which stares into an existential void more terrifying even than Heavy Metal Parking Lot.


Fri/4–Sat/5, 7:15 and 9:15 p.m., $12

Red Vic

1727 Haight, SF

(415) 668-3994