Volume 46 Number 01
SUPER EGO It’s a busy weekend coming up — the rains may threaten, but dammit we’re going to eke out an entire summer of our own in the clubs. I love fake weather! It’s the future, like penicillin Mentos. So let’s get right into parties. A few quick words, though, about what I’m living for lately: outlandishly tasty five-dollar margaritas at El Amigo Bar (3335 Mission, SF), all-night vegan pizza at DNA Pizza (371 11th St.), DJ Doc Sleep and her mesmerizing deep techno sets — and absolutely zero of the Paris collections so far. I mean, they might as well just dump a Hummerload of Quaker on the runway and call it “oat couture” it’s so bland up there this season. DIY for 2012 indeed.
Shoegaze, dream pop, C86: The fine minds behind perfectly retro ’90s alternative party Debaser are launching this tribute to Creation Records and its ilk, rolling the heavenly oceanic sounds of bands like My Bloody Valentine, Chapterhouse, and (personal favorite) Curve as well as more catchy, twee expressions into Public Works for a new biweekly party. Don’t cut your bangs. Ever.
Wed/5, 9 p.m., $5 (free before 11pm.) Public Works, 161 Erie, SF. www.publicsf.com. Facebook: Shine On.
One of the hardest working DJs and groovesters on the scene, J-Boogie, is back with a third album with his live Dubtronic Science collective, “Under Cover” (OM Records) and jazzing up the hip-hop funk. He’ll be the perfect focal point for the spokes-busting monthly Bikes and Beats party, also featuring Fort Knox Five, Kush Arora, Max Tannone, and a lot of people with amazing thighs.
Fri/7, 9 p.m.-3 a.m., $10/$15. Public Works, 161 Erie, SF. Facebook: Bikes and Beats
TIGER AND WOODS
This UK duo may cling to the somewhat tired anonymity thing (does anyone really care who they really are?) but they’re my favorite recent musical act — going beyond mere re-edits of funk and disco classics to seriously chop the shit out of old tracks, run them through a blender, and then go back and Ronco them some more until they’ve become something quite new. “Gin Nation,” their Nude Descending a Staircase version of Imagination’s “Music and Lights” was my favorite track of last year: live they should take the crowd deep. SF’s own re-edit masters 40 Thieves make a rare live appearance as well at this party from the As You Like It crew.
Fri/7, 9 p.m.-4 a.m., $15/$20. Beatbox, 314 11th St., SF. Facebook: As You Like It
LOVE WILL FIX IT
Oh, our fractured world! DJ Bus Station John aims to heal it with this new monthly at the Hotspot that showcases his extensive vinyl collection of funk, soul, and “R&B from A-Z, from ’77-’83,” as he puts it. I guarantee you’re going to hear some unrecognized cuts that will blow your mind (and feet!). Unlike BSJ’s gay-oriented bathhouse disco nights — RIP his infamous Le Perle Degli Squalor parties — all comers are welcome to throw down at this musical tribute to his youth. (Cell phones and other interruptive digital devices are still frowned upon, however. Verisimilitude!)
Sat/8 and second Saturdays, 10 p.m., $5. Hotspot, 1414 Market, SF.
Recent single “How Deep Is Your Love?” by post-postpunk-dance (or what have you) pioneers the Rapture surprised with a contemporary club-friendly direction that still sounded unique: part Juan Maclean house revival, part baggy Madchester throwback, but still the work of a rock band whose performances can stoke a crowd that’s down for whatever. Which almost perfectly describes the Blow Up crowd: this edition of the wildly youthful and nubile Blow Up Forever party will be glitter-nuts as usual, the Rapture will beam it up. With Treasure Fingers, Fred Falke, Poolside, and more.
Sat/8, 9:30 p.m.-3 a.m., $18–$25, 18+. Sound Factory, 525 Harrison, SF. www.blowupforever.com
Following in the footsteps of live techno, live house music is making a comeback. (The difference? Better technology only recently made live techno an option for most venues, whereas live house music, with its more standard instrumentation, can basically be traced back to jazz.) Local musician Sen-Sei was one of the original residents of the 2nd Sundays party and is a wiz at accompanying a DJ, in this case Brian Salazar, with his keyboards and taking the music to cosmic places. He’s returning to close out the 2nd Sundays season — and those of you who know me know I would only recommend a 2nd Sundays party if the music was going to be exceptional. With Mark Farina and Honey Dijon, so you know.
Sun/9, noon to midnight, $20. Kelly’s Mission Rock, 817 Terry Francois Blvd., SF. www.2ndsundays.com
CHEAP EATS Arrgh, the best laid plans of hedgehogs and chicken farmers!
I was so homesick I eventually convinced my love to leave her besoddened home town in the capable (snicker snicker) hands of FEMA and commence via Hyundai toward San Francisco. Mostly I cried. But also I promised to eat her pussy once for every state line we crossed.
So our route home, which was routed by Hedgehog, would best be described as zany. On the first day, for example, we crossed from Pennsylvania to West Virginia to Ohio to West Virginia to Ohio to Indiana and then back into Ohio, for gas. As if Indiana doesn’t have gas stations!
But that ain’t what I’m aarghing about. I’m aarghing because a few days later in Colorado (and I’m pretty sure I’m the first person ever to enter Colorado via both Florida and Montana) word came down from Bloomsburg that the fair was back on. Or not on; it was just that the vendors, denied their yearly chicken and waffle profits, were setting up in parking lots and on the side of the road, trying to sell off their wares. Their chickens, that is. And their waffles.
And now it was Hedgehog’s turn to cry.
“There there,” I said, eating her pussy.
Hedgehog lives for the Bloomsburg Fair, and this was a twisted sort of triple-edged stab in the back, to her. The fair had been cancelled, so she left, and now it was being kind of uncancelled, happening behind her, spontaneously and in spite of itself — like A Year Without a Santa Claus, only she was missing it. Her hometown friends very very helpfully were posting pictures on Facebook of hot sausage stands along the side of the road, and discussing where they went for lunch and where they were going to go for dinner.
“It’s like a whole town of food trucks!” she said, looking forlorner than I had ever seen her. A town of food trucks being Hedgehog’s dream town.
And where were we? Grand Junction.
Grand Junction isn’t anyone’s dream town. It’s a dismal place with nothing to eat in it. Nothing that’s food, at least.
“Hmm, we could forego all this incessant circuitousness and just beeline for John’s Snack and Deli, or San Tung, or …” And here I named a number of Hedgehog’s favorite San Francisco restaurants, but didn’t say anything at all about Burlingame. So how did we wind up there?
Long story, with a mosquito named Mozart in it, and an oil change. Now, normally I’d of told you that one, but I seen when I got back home that the real writer for this paper’s food section had packed it in.
Technically Hedgehog saw this, and told me, and then I read the same thing for myself and with tears running down my cheeks. Because now I was going to have to step up and at least try and say something intelligent about a restaurant now and then, to maintain the Bee Gee’s food section’s reputation.
If not the reputation of all of print media.
That’s a lot of pressure to put on the shoulders of one li’l chicken farmer whose eyes glaze over and whose brain goes blank every time she bites into something with butter on it. Not to mention tea leaf salad, curry chicken, and spicy fish with asparagus. Mango salad.
I think I was thinking about what would happen if you mushed all these zingy things together and froze them into Popsicles when my cell phone ba-boop-a-doop-a-dooped. Which I would normally have ignored except that Hedgehog was smart-phoning away across the table from me, all this while, either writing a book or maintaining 10 Facebook friendships simultaneously.
So fuck it, I looked. It was an email. From Hedgehog!! In it, she’d diligently recorded the name of the restaurant we were eating at, which was Mingalaba, the type of food that it was, Burmese and Mandarin, and get this: how much everything cost! Hold on a sec: $4.95, $8.95, and $11.50.
Alls I had to remember was that the asparagus was tough, the potatoes were undercooked, but the chickens and fishes they accompanied were excellent. And the mango salad! Yum!
“You could mention the mango-green pepper thing,” Hedgehog’s email concluded. No I can’t, though. I’m out of space.
Daily: 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m.
1213 Burlingame Ave., Burlingame
Beer & wine
FILM You could drive (or if you have the time, public transport) to the 34th annual Mill Valley Film Festival solely for movies like period drama Albert Nobbs, which is already generating Oscar buzz for Glenn Close. Hot tip, though: anything with the words “Oscar buzz” attached to it, or “critically acclaimed” (including believe-the-hype entries Martha Marcy May Marlene and Like Crazy), will likely arrive in San Francisco over the next few months.
However, Mill Valley also offers a huge schedule of films you haven’t heard of yet, like Bill Couturié’s Thumbs, a zippy doc about swift-fingered teens battling to win the 2010 US National Texting Championships. Before you shake your head in disbelief, Grandpa, note that the top finishers rake in major skrilla (first place: $50,000). Thumbs, which owes much to earlier competition docs like 2002’s Spellbound, has already taken aim at its target demographic by airing on MTV, but it holds up beyond the small screen. Kids will dig the wholesome protagonists: the punky small-town girl who argues with her mother via text; the soft-spoken swim-team standout. But anyone who doesn’t hang with the class of 2014 will find Thumbs an eye-opening (and surprisingly positive) peek at high-school society in the digital age.
Using technology in a completely different way is Granito: How to Nail a Dictator, acclaimed documentarian Pamela Yates’ follow-up to her 1983 doc about the Guatemalan civil war, When the Mountains Tremble. “How does each of us weave our responsibilities into the fabric of history?” Yates wonders in her introspective voice-over. When a human-rights lawyer working to charge Guatemalan military leaders with genocide asks Yates for her Mountains outtakes, the filmmaker scours her archives, digging for evidence and eventually becoming deeply involved in the case. Granito is a legal thriller, but it’s also a personal journey, for Yates and, most potently, survivors still traumatized by Guatemala’s years of repression and violence.
On the lighter side is Smokin’ Fish, a low-key profile of wry businessman Cory Mann (who also co-directs). Born in Juneau, raised in San Diego, the half-white, half-Native American (“For a long time, I thought I was Mexican!”) puts his mail-order company on hold for a few months every year to catch and smoke salmon using traditional methods in rural Alaska. More than a character study, Smokin’ Fish is also a portrait of what it means to be an “authentic Indian” in the 21st century, in a world where you can spend one day tangling with the IRS and the next trading fish for fresh moose meat.
A far less gratifying tradition is the subject of The Forgiveness of Blood, the sophomore effort from Maria Full of Grace (2004) director Joshua Marston. The Los Angeles-born, internationally-minded Marston travels to Albania for this fictional drama about the decades-old conflict between two rival families — and the devastating impact the eye-for-an-eye feud has on the younger generation. Already tapped as Albania’s entry for Best Foreign Language Film at next year’s Oscars, Forgiveness is definitely gonna be one of those MVFF films you’ll be able to see theatrically. Make sure you don’t miss it.
Got no transition here, just another recommendation. Guru: Bhagwan, His Secretary and His Bodyguard, a Swiss documentary about the late Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh — and two of his most devoted followers, bodyguard Hugh Milne and secretary-spokesperson Sheela Birnstiel. “When did it begin to go wrong?” asks Milne early in the film, which utilizes a bounty of archival footage to chart a movement that started in the 1970s, when a charismatic guru first enthralled thousands of spiritual, sexually adventurous hippies. Milne (mournful) and Birnstiel (incredibly, still a believer) reconstruct the confusing, emotionally exhausting years that followed; the subsequent web of culty weirdness culminated with the hostile takeover of a rural Oregon community, and, most famously, an unholy collection of Rolls-Royces.
Mill Valley’s shorts programs are always strong, from the “5@5” selections to the films paired with longer features throughout the fest. Of local interest, the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism presentation Pot Country (part of the “5@5: Circle of Life” program) travels 200 miles north of San Francisco to hang with marijuana farmers. The film interviews both the world’s smarmiest pot lobbyist and a veteran grower prone to poetic, philosophical musings (“We didn’t move here to grow marijuana. It came to us as a gift”). Directors Kate McLean and Mario Furloni are particularly interested in divisive Prop 19 (which would have legalized weed for personal use, but had the potential to squeeze out small farmers), and the fact that, like, everyone grows pot these days. “We came [to Northern California] to be away from the mainstream culture,” remarks the grower. “Now, we’re in it.”
Screening alongside two other shorts in a program dubbed “The Barber, The Brush, and the Baton” is Paige Bierma’s A Brush With the Tenderloin, which follows muralist Mona Caron as she creates her landmark piece at Jones and Golden Gate Streets in San Francisco. Despite the neighborhood’s bad rep, its residents — no matter how intimidating they may look — rally around Caron’s efforts with positivity and pride.
The art theme continues with Library of Dust, screening before William Kurelek’s The Maze. Directed by Ondi Timoner and Robert James, Library draws inspiration from David Maisel’s photography collection of the same name. His subject? Abandoned canisters of human ashes discovered at the Oregon State Hospital. Library recounts how the canisters were found and how Maisel’s haunting artwork came about; it also delves into the troubled history of mental health care. Despite the tragedy of the forgotten ashes — very few have been claimed to date, though the “reunions” captured on camera are poignant — the resulting media storm was enough to convince voters that Oregon was long overdue for new mental health facility. Powerful stuff, all vividly explored in the span of 16 minutes.
MILL VALLEY FILM FESTIVAL
Oct. 6-16, most shows $13.50
Various North Bay venues
APPETITE Ireland is a green land of rolling hills, sheep, and craggy coastline, to be sure. The people enchanted even more: a generous, welcoming, hilarious lot. One of my favorite people in recent Ireland travels was Liam O’Leary, distillery operations manager at New Midleton Distillery in County Cork, near the southern coast of Ireland.
The name New Midleton may not mean a lot to some, but if you follow Irish whiskey, you know there are merely three distilleries producing publicly sold spirits in all of Ireland and this one’s the mother. Most famously, it’s the home to Jameson (founded in 1780 by John Jameson and originally produced in Dublin at the Old Jameson Distillery, which I also visited). New Midleton also produces numerous Irish whiskies including Midleton, Powers Gold Label, Tullamore Dew, Paddy, and smaller pot still brands like my longtime favorite Irish whiskey, Redbreast, and new love Green Spot. (Oh, that it would become available in the States).
Liam hosted the Renaissance Man and I on a private tour of the grounds. Spending pleasurable hours talking of whiskey and his 40-year history at Jameson (long before it was the huge company it is now), we soon delved into a subject dear to my heart, and, it seems, to every local I spoke to: music. We watched mass distilling in action, and finished with a hearty Irish lunch in the distillery restaurant.
The New Midleton facility is to date the most colossal, high production I’ve yet seen: towering stills, control panels, endless storage buildings stacked with barrels, and the world’s largest pot still (able to hold up to 125,000 liters, or roughly 33,000 gallons), which is no longer in use but is viewable in the Old Midleton museum. Numerous copper pot stills operate simultaneously, holding a massive 75,000 liters each. The facility whirs and buzzes continuously, recalling Ireland’s past, creating its future.
Exploring New Midleton, it was only fitting we talk Jameson. Possibly the highlight of my trip to Ireland — and there were many — was tasting Jameson 20-year whiskey straight from bourbon barrels (of which the majority of Jameson is aged in), and alongside it, 10-year whiskey in sherry barrels, both of which are blended into higher-end final product.
Both were superb, the purest forms of Irish whiskey I’ve tasted, particularly the golden, 20-year in bourbon barrels. Its layers kept unfolding: warm, honeyed and bright, spicy, fresh with grain and fruit. Already perfection, this stuff should be bottled at cask strength on its own. The sherry cask whiskey adds round, dark notes, giving it fullness and sensual depth.
As I taste through the Jameson line here at home, notes from those unforgettable barrels come back to me. I pick up various strains from the bourbon and sherry oak, all with that ever-present smoothness Irish whiskey is known for as it is generally triple-distilled. As the biggest selling Irish whiskey in the world, Jameson has done much to advance the category. Here are my tasting notes:
Jameson Rarest Reserve, $279: Rarest Reserve is the granddaddy of the line. Winning numerous awards (including this year’s Double Gold at the SF World Spirits Competition), it’s an expensive but truly special imbibement. After one explores the full-bodied aromas of ripe plum and spice, the taste impresses with toasted wood, dusty peach, dark chocolate, a hint of slate, leather, and earth. Here I find encompassed the approachable yet elevated possibilities inherent in Irish whiskey.
Jameson 18-year Limited Reserve, $86.99: The 18-year is another big award-winner, hitting my taste buds with an intense amount of peach. For me it evokes a golden summer freshness. Though I prefer it neat, it’s also lovely on the rocks. A couple drops of water allow other tastes to unfold, including orange marmalade, gentle spice, nuttiness, and biscuit. It’s soft yet bright, and could convert the non-whiskey drinker.
Jameson Gold Reserve, $60.99: Gold Reserve is a richer whiskey than the 12-year or Jameson Irish Whiskey. I get creamy apple on the nose, a gentle honey texture, and a peppery finish.
Jameson 12-year Special Reserve, $39.99: The 12-year won Gold this year at the SF World Spirits Competition. It’s sweet and spicy with sherry, wood notes. Oddly enough, I find its astringency is softened and rounded out with food.
Jameson Irish Whiskey, $24.99: The original Jameson has never been my Irish whiskey go-to. I find it a bit hot and thin, despite sweet fruit, vanilla and nuts. But this is the great global seller in Irish whiskey, often the first introduction many have to the category.
Subscribe to Virgina’s twice monthly newsletter, The Perfect Spot, www.theperfectspotsf.com
FILM Recent urban unrest in London and elsewhere induced the same shocked response England has rolled out some years now at signs of what’s been termed “Broken Britain” — as if it were a complete surprise that the poor won’t always be content to suffer in polite near-silence. Propriety and gentility may be shrinking in the U.K., but they still have a powerful grip on the nation’s sense of itself.
Similar tremors were felt five decades ago when things were at last waking up both economically and artistically after the long post-World War II slough. Back then, the “Angry Young Man” school excited international interest even as it triggered alarm and disdain from various native bastions of cultural conservatism. Alan Sillitoe’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1958) discomfited many by depicting a young factory grunt who frequently wakes in a married woman’s bed, chases other available tail, lies as naturally as he breathes, calls neighborhood busybodies “bitches and whores,” and on one Friday night entertains himself by drinking till he falls down a pub staircase — deliberately. “What I’m out for is a good time. The rest is propaganda,” sneers beady-eyed Albert Finney in the 1960 movie version, airing his contempt for all things cozy, dull and complacent.
Today British movies (at least the ones that get exported) are still more or less divided as then, by a sort of class system. There’s the Masterpiece Theatre school of costumed romance and intrigue on one hand, the pint-mouthed rebel yellers practicing gritty realism on another. Except contemporary examples of the latter, from Fish Tank (2009) to Attack the Block now allow that Angry Young Men might be something else beyond the radar once tuned to cocky, white male antiheroes.
The “something else” is gay in Weekend, which was shot in some of the same Nottingham locations where Finney’s Arthur Seaton kicked against the pricks in Saturday Night. The landscape has changed — street level is now 14 floors down in a council flat building — but still nondescript, the boozy clubs still loud but with different bad music. It’s at one such that bearded, late-20s Russell (Tom Cullen) gets loaded, waking up next morning with a hangover next to no married lady but rather Glen (Chris New). You get the feeling Glen has been the guy a lot of Russells have woken up next to; he enjoys the upper-hand power of remembering more about last night than they do.
It would be unfair to reveal more of Weekend’s plot, what little there is. Suffice it to say these two lads get to know each other over less than 48 hours, during which it emerges that Russell isn’t really “out,” while Glen is with a vengeance — though the matter of who is more emotionally mature or well adjusted isn’t so simple.
Writer-director Andrew Haigh made one prior feature, a semi-interesting, perhaps semi-staged portrait of a male hustler called Greek Pete (2009). It didn’t really prepare one for Weekend, which is the kind of yakkety, bumps and-all romantic brief encounter movies (or any other media) so rarely render this fresh, natural, and un-stagy. Both protagonists are average in their way — even Glen’s cynical pretensions are pretty standard-issue, such that you might decide he’s full of shit if in more-kindly-disposed Russell’s position — but the somewhat improvised ways they talk and act aren’t banal or predictable, just credible. They fuck (the movie isn’t graphic, but it’s frank about stuff like wiping splooge off one’s stomach), do too much cocaine, argue, and face a paths-parting deadline imposed by the fact that Glen will shortly leave to study for two years in the U.S. This may not be true love, but even the frail possibility of that is enough to usefully unsettle them both.
Weekend makes its small but somehow stirring impact for a number of reasons, but not least because it’s British working-class anti-miserabilism — the Angry Young Man conventions so taken for granted that simply being working class no longer means anyone actually has to be angry. Despite a fag-baiting catcall or two, the problems these blokes face aren’t social (they’ve both got accepting straight friends, if not family) but internal. Two strangers connecting despite themselves is such an intricate thing it’s no wonder movies seldom get it this right. *
WEEKEND opens Fri/7 in Bay Area theaters.
HERBWISE When asked to describe herself, Green Cross Dispensary patient Nicole Williams laughs. “I work full time, I go to school, I care for my mom. My brother’s taking the LSATs on Saturday — what else should I say? Native San Franciscan, long time resident.”
She’s being interviewed by the Guardian to gauge the demand in the Excelsior neighborhood for a new business that’s relocating to the neighborhood where it will be the first of its kind: the Green Cross’ new marijuana dispensary walk-in facility. Currently, the company is the city’s sole licensed delivery-only dispensary.
The Green Cross is hoping to have a little more luck with 4218 Mission than it did with its first location, which opened in Noe Valley in 2004 as a more professional alternative to the stereotypical cannabis club with “long haired hippies behind the counter,” in the words of dispensary employee Caren Woodson.
But the idea attracted so many customers (some garnering complaints that marijuana was being sold on the street) that the city’s planning department rescinded owner Kevin Reed’s permit for the space. After a disappointing attempt to open a location in Fisherman’s Wharf, an aide to the Mayor encourage Reed to try for a delivery-only permit instead. Now, the dispensary hopes the third try’s the charm. A public hearing to discuss its application to re-open in the Excelsior is scheduled for Nov. 17.
“We’re going to make sure we’re addressing the neighbors’ concerns,” Reed says, sitting on a stool in the Green Cross delivery and call center, which operates out of the front rooms of his comfortably-appointed SoMa apartment. In front of him are the flashing screens of 32 security cameras — a glaring reminder that Green Cross’ first commitment is to safety.
Green Cross employees dress in business casual — even, as this reporter witnessed, when they’re up to their elbows in bowls of weed nugs they’re breaking apart. Though currently located in a mostly residential building, Woodson claims that the business has never received a single neighborhood complaint.
The delivery service has now served over 3,000 clients. Having sunk a half million dollars into failed permitting procedures, Reed hopes he’s created a comprehensive plan that will pass the expectations of the various city agencies through which one must venture to open a weed dispensary.
The new location will necessitate a focus on discretion and security. Monroe Elementary School and the Mission YMCA are both a few blocks away. Plans include a wall that would block all view of the goings-on inside the dispensary. Plans do not include a space for on-site smoking, and members will have to sign a code of conduct that says they’ll be respectful of the surrounding neighborhood.
350 patients in the Green Cross’ database live in the proposed site’s 94112 zip code. Williams is one of them, and has been a patient since Green Cross’ Noe Valley days. She’s nowhere near the image of a troublemaking pothead, but it’s small wonder she was “pretty excited” to hear that she might be getting a new neighbor.
“You’re just looking for a safe place where you can get your medicine and go home.”
GREEN CROSS MANDATORY REVIEW HEARING
Nov. 17, time TBA
Room 400, City Hall
One Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett, SF
An ordeal that began with a hiking trip on July 31, 2009 in Northern Iraq came to a close Sept. 21 when Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal were released from Tehran’s Evin Prison. They’d languished in an 8-by-13-foot cell for 781 days while their friends and supporters waged a creative, behind-the-scenes campaign to free them.
Bauer and Fattal were ferried out in a convoy with Swiss and Omani officials and flown to Oman, where news cameras captured their joyful reunion with loved ones. Waiting on the tarmac with their family members was Sarah Shourd, Bauer’s fiancée, who’d been arrested with them and was released last September after spending 410 days in solitary confinement. It was the first time since their arrest that “the hikers” — as the trio came to be labeled in the campaign calling for their release — were together outside prison walls, free at last.
Watching their reunion from Seattle, their friend Shon Meckfessel — who went to Northern Iraq with them but hadn’t felt up to hiking that day — was overjoyed. “It’s like I’ve collapsed from relief,” he told us by phone. “I just feel like I’ve been asphyxiated for the last two years, and suddenly I remember what air smells like.”
In the Bay Area, friends who’d pulled together to work toward their release breathed a huge, collective sigh of relief. “It was just a crazy, amazing adrenaline rush of happiness,” said Jennifer Miller, who befriended Shourd years earlier while doing human rights work focused on violence against women in Juarez.
Bauer and Fattal had stood trial only weeks earlier in an Iranian court, on charges of espionage and illegally crossing an unmarked border between Iraq and Iran. They were found guilty and sentenced to eight years each in prison. Their release coincided with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to the United States for the United Nations General Assembly conference.
As Bauer, Shourd, and Fattal remained isolated at the mercy of guards they could barely communicate with, their family and supporters kept up a steady drumbeat calling for their release. They recruited actors, intellectuals, and foreign diplomats to urge the Iranian government — which has not had diplomatic ties with the U.S. Since 1979 — to let the Americans go. Once Bauer and Fattal were free and wandering around New York City, they’d morphed into minor celebrities — strangers approached them in the streets to wish them well.
In the end, nobody can say just what persuaded the Iranian government to release Bauer and Fattal. “Sarah was talking with diplomats in all kinds of countries. The thing is, none of us really knows what the calculus was,” said Liam O’Donoghue, a friend who helped out with the campaign.
The campaign was multi-faceted, with friends and family coordinating parallel efforts from various locales. While Bauer and Fattal’s group of friends in the Bay Area are quick to note that their work reflected just one slice of the overall push for the young men’s freedom, the grassroots organizing effort they created clearly had some effect in the end.
“If Shane, Sarah, and Josh were just three random people who didn’t have this group of friends who were so proficient at organizing, I think they would have still been in jail,” O’Donoghue mused.
Shortly after Bauer and Fattal were freed, Iran’s foreign ministry issued a statement acknowledging the involvement of the Sultan of Oman, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, and — more surprisingly, given his adversarial relationship with the U.S. — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who enjoys a close relationship with Ahmadinejad.
Once reports surfaced emphasizing Chavez’s involvement, the news broke that actor Sean Penn had played a role, too — by flying to Venezuela to encourage Chavez to approach Ahmadinejad about the case.
Yet the stage had already been set by friends of the hiking trio, a small crew of passionate social justice activists based in San Francisco and Oakland. They possessed skills as organizers, but this time the goal was more personal — they wanted nothing more than for their friends to be free.
TIME TO ORGANIZE
Based on the 17 alarmed messages on his voicemail, David Martinez knew something terrible had happened involving Bauer and Shourd. An independent filmmaker, Martinez was close to both and had collaborated with Bauer in 2007 to produce a film about Darfur.
Soon after learning that they were being detained in Iran, he found himself swept into a whirlwind, ad-hoc grassroots organizing effort as friends and family of the hikers contacted one another, fired off rapid emails, and organized conference calls to try and determine how to respond.
“We created this working group, this conference group — we wanted everybody’s expertise,” explained attorney Ben Rosenfeld, who has known Shourd for more than a decade and offered free legal representation to Shourd’s mother. “We set out to build a brain trust, essentially, and we did that very, very quickly.”
Shourd and Bauer had been living in Damascus, Syria, at a Palestinian camp when they decided to take a short trip to Iraqi Kurdistan. Shourd was teaching English to Iraqi refugees, and Bauer — a photojournalist — was writing articles about the Middle East. Fattal, an environmental educator, was visiting them. They journeyed along with Meckfessel to Kurdistan, a forested region of Iraq known as a safe destination for U.S. citizens. But once they arrived, Meckfessel felt groggy, so he opted to stay behind while the other three went off in search of a waterfall.
“I was on a bus to meet them and got a call from Shane that they were being arrested by Iranian authorities,” Meckfessel told the Guardian. After notifying their families, he flew to Istanbul to stay with a friend.
Back in the Bay Area, word of the hikers’ plight was starting to make news. “I had producers from morning shows like Good Morning America ringing my doorbell from the beginning,” Rosenfeld said.
Martinez was on a conference call with the core group of organizers when Meckfessel contacted him via Skype from Istanbul — and by that point, the national media was hungry for a statement from the elusive fourth hiker. So the group worked with Meckfessel to craft a statement for the press.
The first challenge they faced was this: Should they emphasize that Bauer, Shourd, and Fattal were humanitarian activists, or should they downplay their political leanings by casting them as adventuresome Americans with a love of the outdoors? Both portrayals were true, but the most important audience, as Rosenfeld pointed out, was ultimately their captors.
Meckfessel said he thought highlighting their politics would help their case. “The first minute after I got the phone call [from Bauer] … I thought that basically our involvement in the region as journalists, as academics, and as educators, and our long public record speaking out for human rights and as critics of US foreign policy in the area … would get them out,” he said.
Meckfessel later created a website, FreeOurFriends.eu, to emphasize the humanitarian and journalistic work that the three were engaged in. In the summer of 2010, he maxed out two credit cards to go on a 30-city European tour to drum up support overseas.
Despite the group’s initial contact with the Committee to Protect Journalists as well as Bauer’s editors at The Nation and Mother Jones, some were opposed to emphasizing the journalism aspect. “Think back to July 2009 in Iran,” Martinez said, referencing the popular uprising known as the Green Revolution that had sent shockwaves through Iran just months earlier. “Our friends were and are journalists involved in social movements and people’s movements. I’m pretty sure if you did a Google search with ‘Iran, July, 2009, activists,’ you’d come up with something like torture, prison. That is why we thought … let’s just say they’re hikers.”
So they came to be known as “the hikers,” and a website was created to go along with the campaign, called Free the Hikers.
“We wanted to make sure we weren’t divulging details about them that they weren’t divulging to their interrogators,” Rosenfeld said. “We wanted to be careful not to piss off the U.S. or the State Department. And, if we seemed too orchestrated, it might feed into Iran’s paranoid theories that they were spies. So we had to try to solve for all of these variables at the same time.”
It began to dawn on them that they were contending not only with the soured relationship between the U.S. and Iran, but an internal power struggle within Iran that had intensified in the wake of mass internal dissent. “The government that grabbed Shane, Josh, and Sarah was at war with its own people,” Martinez reflected. “They were prisoners of the historical moment.”
Nor was the trio the first in their circle of friends to stumble into a horrendous situation overseas. Tristan Anderson, of Berkeley, was attending a nonviolent protest of the Israeli occupation in a Palestinian village at the beginning of 2009 when he was hit by a high-velocity teargas projectile fired by Israeli Defense Forces, and sustained serious brain injuries.
“Tristan’s like a minor celebrity in Iran,” Meckfessel noted. “He’s known not only for initially getting shot … but Tristan’s whole case got a lot of sympathetic media in Iran.” When his three friends were captured, “the first thought I had was, we have proof that we’re all friends with Tristan,” he said.
On Feb. 10, 2010, Anderson’s parents, Nancy and Mike Anderson, sent a letter to Ahmadinejad. “It pains us greatly, on top of the tragedy we have already suffered, to see Tristan’s close friends made to bear the burden of grievances between nations,” they wrote.
GAME OF DIPLOMACY
The idea to approach the Venezuelan government started when Raymor Ryan, an Irish author who lives in Chiapas, phoned Martinez. “He said, ‘The only thing that’s going to really affect them is state power — this is a game of diplomacy,'” Martinez recounted. He suggested Venezuela — a country that is not only on friendly terms with Iran, but has connections with social movements. Martinez liked the idea, but first he ran it by another friend, famed academic Immanuel Wallerstein.
In an email, Wallerstein summarized for the Guardian the advice he gave. “The Iranians are using this as part of their struggles with the United States,” he wrote. “The least likely way to obtain their release is to allow U.S.-Iranian relations to be the issue, or to allow the virtues of the Iranian regime to be the issue. I suggested that they try to work with various left-of-center governments in Latin America, which have friendly relations with Iran, and see if they will intervene with the Iranian government. I did not single out Venezuela. After that, I was out of the picture.”
In October of 2009, Rosenfeld reached out to an attorney he knew through the National Lawyers Guild, Eva Golinger, who’s authored seven books, lives in Caracas, and occasionally serves as an adviser to Chavez. She agreed to help.
Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela’s foreign minister, told her he thought Chavez would be open to helping. “The foreign minister went to Tehran, and they told me they were going to broach the subject,” Golinger said. “When they came back, they told me unfortunately, it wasn’t a topic that was received favorably by the Iranians.”
Rosenfeld and Martinez were crazed, but they had another idea. Perhaps Chavez would be more responsive to appeals from lefty luminaries. Thanks to behind-the-scenes arrangements made by campaign organizers working every connection they could muster, a letter dated Feb. 26, 2010 was sent to Chavez on behalf of Noam Chomsky, Angela Davis, and Harry Belafonte.
“All three of the hikers are dedicated to improving living conditions for poor and oppressed people throughout the world, and to fostering a better understanding among their fellow citizens of the U.S.’s hegemonic role in global politics and economic privation,” they wrote.
Soon after, Golinger had a chance to speak with Chavez directly, when she was invited to join him on a trip to Uruguay to attend the presidential inauguration. “He said, ‘do you think they’re spies?’ I said, look, I don’t think they’re spies. I think they were gringos in the wrong place at the wrong time,” she recounted. “Chavez said, yeah, no problem. I’ll help.”
Soon after, the campaign recruited anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan to write to Chavez, too. But the months rolled by without word of a trial date, let alone a release. Rosenfeld thought up a new way to reach Chavez — by encouraging actor Sean Penn to speak with him.
Penn enjoyed a good relationship with the Venezuelan president and had been regularly traveling to the region to aid in earthquake relief efforts in Haiti, which Venezuela was deeply involved in. Rosenfeld asked Matt Gonzalez, chief attorney of the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office and a friend of Penn’s, to mention it to him.
Within months, Penn discussed the hikers’ case with Chavez, according to Golinger. Then, in September of 2010, Shourd was finally released. Bay Area friends described it as a moment of sheer joy, but also bittersweet, because Bauer and Fattal remained behind bars. Miller invited friends and organizers over to her place in Oakland to join her in the surreal experience of watching their friend deliver a speech on television.
Meckfessel was in Rome as part of his “Free Our Friends” tour through Europe. “I got a text message from somebody that she had been released, and I burst into tears of relief,” he said. “Then, just as I was preparing to do my presentation in Rome, I got a call — and it was Sarah. I just shouted and cried in front of this big group of Romans, and everyone was applauding.”
Upon her return, Shourd wasted no time throwing herself into the campaign. “I just have so much admiration and respect for Sarah,” Miller said. “She went from coming out of prison, and needing time to heal from that, to becoming a full-force, 24/7 international diplomacy worker.”
Shourd, Bauer, and Fattal were unavailable for an interview for this article, but their families emailed a statement. “As Josh and Shane said when they got home, many of their friends put their own lives on hold to fight for their freedom,” they wrote. “We are grateful to the many people who worked in many different ways to help Shane and Josh. Every single effort mattered and made a difference.”
When the day of their release finally came, Golinger watched in Caracas as television broadcasts showed Bauer and Fattal bounding down the steps of the plane and leaping into the arms of their loved ones. She sent a text to Maduro, the Venezuelan foreign minister, who was in New York for the UN General Assembly. “I asked … were we involved?” Minutes later, she received a text in response. “He said, fundamentally, yes.” The Iranian foreign minister had told him that the release went through because of Chavez’s request.
Days later, in New York, the hikers visited the Venezuelan consulate. And on the same trip, their first time back on U.S. soil, Bauer and Fattal held a press conference.
“The only explanation for our prolonged detention is the 32 years of mutual hostility between America and Iran,” Bauer said. “The irony is that Sarah, Josh, and I oppose U.S. policies towards Iran which perpetuate this hostility. We were convicted of espionage because we are American. It is that simple.”
He went on: “In prison, every time we complained about our conditions, the guards would immediately remind us of comparable conditions at Guantanamo Bay. They would remind us of CIA prisons in other parts of the world, and the conditions that Iranians and others experience in prisons in the U.S. We do not believe that such human rights violations on the part of our government justify what has been done to us, not for a moment. However, we do believe that these actions on the part of the U.S provide an excuse for other governments, including the governments of Iran, to act in kind.”
LIT Poet Nick Hoff is best known for his acclaimed translation of Friedrich Hölderlin’s Odes and Elegies (Wesleyan, 2008), while Matt Borruso has achieved some notoriety as a visual artist (his “The Hermit’s Revenge Fantasy” is at Steven Wolf Fine Arts through Sat/8). Yet both are also seasoned book scouts, those scavengers of estate sales, thrift shops, and flea markets who find saleable treasures buried in otherwise worthless piles of printed matter. And it’s in this capacity that they’ve embarked on a collaborative experiment in what one might call “conceptual commerce:” Scanners, a used bookstore that opened October 1 and closes at the end of the month.
The impulses behind Scanners are various. In the face of what Hoff calls “the media’s hysteria about the death of print,” both he and Borruso remain interested in the book as material object rather than simply bearer of text, easily replaceable by more efficient digital media. But in an immediate sense, the project is informed by their experience in a profession that, like many, has felt the digital squeeze. The word “scanner,” says Hoff, is a derisive term among book scouts for the increasingly numerous competitors whose knowledge of a book’s value solely stems from their mobile barcode scanners.
“At a library sale,” Hoff continues, “for every person without a device, there’s 50 people scanning books. The device tells them whether it has value. The traditional book scout who knew about book culture is becoming a thing of the past.”
While scanners have drastically increased competition, devaluing that knowledge built through long practice, Borruso and Hoff are quick to own the advantages of the digital age; their ability to sell books online directly to consumers rather than a book dealer has offset the blow to their bottom line. And knowledge retains its edge. “Not everything has a barcode,” Borruso says with a sly smile, and throughout our conversation, it’s clear both men value the thrill of the chase at least as much as its results. Borruso speaks of the “adrenaline” that comes from finding that overlooked tome, while Hoff dwells on the more profound relationship a reader has with a long-sought book than with an instantly purchased text. Both savor the role chance plays in their acquisitions.
With Scanners, they seek to replicate the conditions for such discovery. Herein lies the name’s opposite sense, of scanning physical shelves for the book chance may bestow. To this end, the duo intends to organize the store according to non-traditional categories — replacing the specific “economics,” for example, with the open-ended “money” — and emphasizing face-out visual display. Perhaps inevitably, the artist Borruso is more interested in the display aspect, while the writer Hoff is eager to see what categories will emerge from the 400 boxes of books they’ve stashed away over the past year.
Much of this, Borruso says during our interview, “is still theoretical,” as they only had a three-day window at the end of September to set up shop, using a break in the exhibit schedule of the Mina Dresden Gallery to inhabit its foot-traffic-friendly Valencia space. There’s something appropriate about staging this bookstore in an art gallery, for the project is at once scrupulous and absurd, requiring all the effort of opening a real bookstore — cash registers, credit card capability, etc. — even as they intend to close in a month. “It’s not a viable business model,” Borruso laughs.
Being temporary, as Hoff notes, makes the bookstore “into an event itself.” Nonetheless, there will be events within the event, beginning with a conversation on bookselling between William Stout, owner of William Stout Architectural Books, and Paul Yamazaki, bookbuyer for City Lights. Upcoming events — listed on the store’s website — focus on archiving in the digital age, the neuroscience of reading, and artists’ use of found source material, reflecting Hoff and Borruso’s diverse interests in printed matter.
“Our idea is to highlight things people will respond to a physical level,” Borruso concludes. “To base a store on things you wouldn’t be able to appreciate in digital format. Some of these things you might see and think, ‘I want that,’ but you would never know that seeing it even in jpeg form. You need to see it as an object, as a thing.” 2
“ON BOOKSTORES AND BOOKSELLING”
William Stout in conversation with Paul Yamazaki
Wed/5, 6:30 p.m., free
312 Valencia, SF
MUSIC It’s tough to pin down a busy bee like Chris Taylor — Grizzly Bear’s bassist, an in-demand producer, and now the leader of his own pack called CANT — but once you manage to, he’s as disarmingly engaging as his new dispatch from a darkling, excruciatingly personal plain, Dreams Come True, released on his own Terrible Records.
So it shocks him when he hears critics describe his music as cold, even chilly. “When people say it’s impersonal, it’s like, wow, man,” Taylor marvels from Portland, Ore. “If anything, you should be saying, ‘This record is too emo.’ That was what I was expecting, that people would say, ‘This guy is way too emotional. Go see a therapist and cool out.’
“I was intentionally trying to figure out the worst kind of fears, fears of falling in love and not being able to let go, or fears of losing it when you think you have it. Scary, unpleasant realities.”
But realities rendered far from heartlessly. A probing soulfulness runs throughout Dreams Come True, which often sounds more like a wrenching, pitch-black nightmare than a blissful reverie. Yet the LP teems with pleasures, and the deeper you penetrate, the harder its pull. It’s in the way that Taylor beautifully couples gristly, screeching scads of industrial noise, reminiscent of both Nine Inch Nails and horror-movie violins, with celestial synth in the title track and “Rises Silent.” Skittish electronic beats bang up against gamelan-like percussion in the echoey, prog-pop opening track, “Too Late, Too Far,” while Satie-esque (and Thom Yorke/Radiohead-like) impressionism is paired with an undercurrent of ’90s-era post-punk dissonance in “Bericht.” Brass that cues wee-hours soul bounces off elastic bass notes in “The Edge,” and a softly insinuating Velvet Underground-ish guitar vamp adds menace to “She Found a Way Out” — a song that makes one wonder if that way out was, akin to Joy Division’s “She’s Lost Control Again,” something like a permanent check-out.
“It’s about the sort of feeling you feel when the biggest love of your life walks out the door, and you deserve it, and she’s better off for it — it makes you want to scream,” explains Taylor with a rueful chuckle. “No, she didn’t die! She went to grad school. She’s getting smarter by the day.”
Taylor’s education into solo music-making began with his forays into singing with Grizzly Bear — CANT’s name plays off that definition, among angles. After completing production on Twin Shadow’s Forget (4AD/Terrible, 2010), he sat down with TS’s George Lewis Jr. for about two weeks to work on Dreams, playing most of the instruments themselves. Work continued after Lewis departed, contributing to the music’s sense of ratcheted-up intimacy. “I was by myself, and it’s just the worst, especially not having written lyrics before,” says Taylor. “You’re like, does this suck? And it’s just crickets.”
Songs such as “Answer” — with its pacing synth line, moodily ascending string sounds, and brooding refrain, “It’s been a while since you needed me / It’s been a while since I needed you, too” — spoke directly to old demons. “It’s about my ongoing and often difficult relationship with my dad — one of the more trying relationships in my life,” confesses Taylor, whose parents divorced when he was 5.
“It’s about feeling loved, and at the same time, there’s so much, like, meanness. It’s really confusing when a kid is told they’re loved and then treated so badly…” And it’s mystifying, and maybe a relief, that the track’s inspiration has no idea what role he played in its making — and that pain can be transformed so completely into pop. “I think,” says Taylor with disbelief, “when the song premiered on Pitchfork, [my dad] said, ‘I like that!'” CANT With Mirror Mirror and Blood Orange Wed/5, 8 p.m., $15 Independent 628 Divisadero, SF (415) 771-1422 www.theindependentsf.com
MUSIC When John Steven Morgan and John “Thatcher” Boomer III — who make up the John Brothers Piano Company — finished their last set at the 54th Annual Monterey Jazz Festival last month, my eyes weren’t watering alone. It wasn’t the barbecue smoke from the nearby food tents, or the too-bright afternoon fairgrounds sun. The John Brothers shake their listeners to the soul, because these piano-playing souls are shaking too. And MJF was their formal music venue debut.
Most other days, the John Brothers work together electrifying SF street corner audiences with skillful, joyous frenzies on one of their Craigslist-freebie upright Wurlitzer pianos. And they hope to soon bring their music to new cities. Over the course of the last year, they’ve compelled perhaps hundreds of local passersby to stop and watch. That’s gold for Morgan and Boomer, who say they want to give the listener the most visceral possible reaction. “I’d like to trigger a miscarriage,” Boomer deadpans.
The John Brothers put their own bodies into their art, hefting their piano to locations on a custom dolly, in and out of “the Contender,” a crumbling 1991 Jeep Cherokee. It’s not clear how much longer they’ll be hulking piano for a living. While their plan is to save up for a giant cargo van and tour around the U.S. just the two of them, by the end of the MJF they were in talks with a potential manager. “It’s just too much stress,” says Boomer of managing themselves, alluding to the CDs they forgot in Oakland on the trip to Monterey.
The CDs, which they sell out of a top hat, are filled with just one example of their repertoire. Morgan and Boomer’s original compositions are often mistaken for ragtime, but Morgan explains, “It’s not ragtime. Our influence comes mainly from the ’20s and the ’30s: Fats Waller, James B. Johnson, Art Tatum.” The two self-taught musicians have distinct styles, producing together a wild, organic, often playful mashup of classical, Morgan’s “gypsy stride,” Boomer’s blues, and a little jazz. Their ever-morphing reinterpretations oscillate from tender to eviscerating, raunchy to prim, mad to whimsical.
Local filmmaker Dan Reed of NextBooth.com, who accompanied the band to document their MJF appearance, met the John Brothers on the street, and asked immediately if he could use their music in his short films. “Other [musicians’] songs capture moments — their songs are full narratives,” he says. Reed used the John Brothers’ track “Computer Duster” as the soundtrack to his short Curious Chris, about an innocent man who gets bamboozled. The duo’s music both enlivens and takes new meaning from the film, as Morgan carries the listener from an expansive, melancholic opening, an unpopulated landscape with the delicate curiosity of a child, which blends into apprehension mixed with determination, building seamlessly to a swaggering, gypsy caravan staccato finale. Morgan says he’s eager to score future Reed films.
As the opening number for their first set at the jazz festival, Morgan, his broad shoulders bending over the keys, tore “Computer Duster” apart to create a novel Frankenstein of madness, thick shoulder-length hair swinging in his face, dissolving into chaos and in a moment resolving to the melody, the crowd simultaneously alienated and mesmerized; they were cheering by the end.
The John Brothers Piano Company perform regularly in San Francisco’s Union Square on Friday afternoons and evenings.
THE JOHN BROTHERS PIANO COMPANY Fri/7, 5-8 p.m., free
Union Square, O’Farrell and Geary, SF
MAXIMUM CONSUMPTION Looking to gorge on super-sweet, Swedish-made indie pop? Peter, Bjorn, and John, the nearly-twee trio who made whistling cool again for a minute in 2006 with indie hit “Young Folks,” is returning to the States for a thematic “All You Can Eat” tour. The band’s food-friendly jaunt includes multiple nights in each city, and specialty food truck tie-ins. I spoke with John Eriksson via phone while he hovered near a grilled cheese truck:
San Francisco Bay Guardian: Where did the idea for “All You Can Eat” originate?
John Eriksson: We wanted to make a tour for the fans, like when you were a kid and you came to your grandmother’s house and you could eat as much candy and cake as you wanted — that feeling. We wanted the fans to get as much as possible. In some cities like New York, we’re playing as much as six shows. So it’s more venues and they see it over and over again until they throw up almost.
Also, we have connected it with some food trucks. We have one here [in Miami] — it’s a grilled cheese food truck. The fans can go to the truck, say the right password, and they get something free. That came after the idea of the tour. We wanted to fill the fans with as much PB & J music and as much calories as possible. It’s not really connected with the music but it’s a fun thing to do — something different. And we love food. One of the most fun things when you’re out touring is trying to find good places to eat.
SFBG: What are the comfort meals of your childhood in Sweden?
JE: A lot of rustic Viking food. Food you’re supposed to eat after working 12 hours shoveling snow [laughs]. I come from a small town in the north of Sweden and we have a signature dish there called palt. It’s like a potato bun filled with the fat of the a pig. It’s very good actually. You put butter inside the ball of fat, which make it even better. That’s the only time I eat meat.
SFBG: Your most recent album ‘Gimme Some’ (Startime) had an interesting back story.
JE: We had an idea to make our 2.0 version of the history of pop and rock’n’roll. So we stole shit from all over the place, from all the music history, and put it together like some kind of Swedish version of American English pop. It’s our version of the history of pop rock and the future of pop rock.
SFBG: What songs are you playing on this tour?
JE: Keeping with this “All You Can Eat” thing, the idea was to play all the songs. When you have the opportunity to play in a city several nights in a row, you can play different songs every night. We’ve done six records so far, so it’s a cool mix of new and old songs. Of course we play “Young Folks,” some people like that, we play “Second Chance” from this record, which features a cowbell, which seems to drive people wild.
With Hanni El Khatib
Thurs/6, 9 p.m., $20
Great American Music Hall
859 O’Farrell, SF
With Mister Loveless, DJ Nako
Fri/7, 9 p.m., $20–$25
579 18th St., Oakl.
With Release the Bird
Sat/8, 9 p.m., $20
333 11th St., SF
Maximum Consumption is an unseasoned look at the increasingly overlapping fields of music and culinary arts. For more, visit the Noise blog on SFBG.com.
TRASH When it comes to home viewing, gratuitous violence is always a selling point for genre fans — the censorial gloves that handle most theatrical films are off, “unrated” becomes a plus rather than commercial suicide, “director’s cut” usually means more blood and maybe a little flesh previously removed at the MPAA’s behest. The flood of obscure old exploitation titles now being released to DVD and Blu-ray are duly advertised as high on mayhem, whether that’s actually the case or not. (One mid-70s Swedish sexploitation item just released is billed as a “violent cult classic,” though apart from a bit of fetish whipping there’s nary a violent moment in it.)
Sometimes one even wonders if the writers of back-cover copy even bothered to watch the film itself, a question that recalls the halcyon days of VHS when box descriptions of cheap back-catalog titles often seemed to be about other, perhaps imaginary films entirely.
Nonetheless, you don’t have to look too far to find retro schlock living up to its hype, reminding that in grindhouse days of yore big-screen movies could get away with considerably more crassness than they do now. One such cheerfully nasty oldie is Ruggero Deodato’s 1976 Italian Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man, invitingly labeled as “ULTRA VIOLENCE from the director of Cannibal Holocaust.”
That 1980 milestone in the annals of yecch was still years away when Deodato and scenarist cop-flick specialist Fernando Di Leo delivered this crazy exercise in vigilante justice with a badge. Ray Lovelock and Marc Porel do the Starsky and Hutch thing as a Roman “special squad” police duo who always get their man — though to the exasperation of their superiors, said man always meets an bloody “accidental” death in the process of apprehension. In fact it’s acknowledged that the pair has criminal instincts. They’ve only chosen this side of the law to wreak as much violent havoc for kicks as possible and get away with it.
Swiss Porel and Italian Lovelock were two of the most beautiful men — we’re talking Alain Delon level here — in movies then. Deodato lets them act not just like a flippant thrill-crazed comedy team nonchalantly distributing harm everywhere they go, but like a couple close-knit in other ways. We see that they share the same bedroom (if not bed); the few times they express sexual interest, it’s to “take turns” with a woman in each other’s company. Such interludes clearly do no more than kill time for our prankster-hero psychopaths between the greater visceral rewards of reckless motorcycle chases (reportedly shot without permits in the heart of Rome) plus blowing and shooting stuff up. They’re adorably lethal.
Speaking of vigilantism, few U.S. films ripped off the Death Wish (1974) formula — aside from Death Wish sequels, of course — with more lurid tactlessness than 1980’s The Exterminator, now out in a DVD/Blu-ray pack. Writer-director James Glickenhaus’ magnum opus has Robert Ginty as a Vietnam vet whose avenging of a comrade’s assault by Class of 1984-style “punks” snowballs into a general NYC cleanup campaign utilizing a flame thrower, machine gun, soldering iron, giant meat grinder, electric carving knife, and jazz great Stan Getz — well, he’s featured in a rare non-violent, wholly incongruous scene at a nightclub.
Lest we object to this unlawful justice, the perps pulverized include hoodlums who gut-punch old ladies and pimps who “serve young boys to perverts.” Tea Party logic is affirmed in an ending where FBI operatives, having slain our antihero (or so they think) on government orders because successful vigilantism makes public officials look bad at election time, smirk “Washington will be pleased.” Yeah, they’re all out to fuck ya! NRA 4-ever!
The Exterminator offered a cheap-thrills alternative to the original slasher wave. Gleefully surfing the latter’s blood tide is Alex Pucci’s Frat House Massacre, a belated DVD release that reprises the excesses of that era and then some.
With nary a dull (or tasteful) moment in its 116-minute director’s cut, this 2008 campus flashback has it all: psycho fraternity president, deliberately fatal hazings, rampant cocaine abuse, nasty sex and nastier sexism, boobs, a surprising surplus of well-toned male nudity, ludicrously gory murders, a disco production number, brutal towel-snapping, music by one of the Goblin guys (of 1977’s Suspiria fame), zero narrative continuity, and lines like “Studying always gets me horny.” Frat House Massacre would be a guilty pleasure if it weren’t clearly in on its own joke.
DUM DUM GIRLS
ONLY IN DREAMS
Midway through a tour with the Vaselines last year, Dum Dum Girls singer-guitarist Dee Dee was summoned home to say goodbye to her ailing mother. “I wrote the majority of the record after she passed away, within a few months. So I can only assume that’s why such a significant portion of the record deals with death,” says Dee Dee. That visceral catharsis comes through in songs like “Teardrops on My Pillow” and the yearning Mazzy Star-esque “Coming Down.” Less blue tracks like “Bedroom Eyes” bridge the gap between the Dum Dum’s upbeat reverence for Wall-of-Sound gems and more now, the Pretenders’ clean rock. What initially began as Dee Dee’s own lo-fi project, has grown into a fully functional band — all four women contributed to Only in Dreams, and the group effort shows, in honey-toned harmonies and crisp guitar lines, along with Dee Dee’s stirring vocals. (Emily Savage)
TASSILI + 10:1
Tinariwen hasn’t released a bad record yet; in fact, everything it has put out reaches levels of transcendence. Soulful desert blues with the ability to hypnotize and sway bodies in ways that most Western psychedelic rock bands want so much to reach. Meditative guitars, sweeping rhythms, hypnotic vocals, chant and response refrains, all the elements that have come to define its sound, yet time and after time it delivers with such a commitment to excellence. This time out some famous folks from bands like TV On The Radio, Wilco, and the Dirty Brass Band appear at moments throughout the record, but its a testament to Tinariwen’s strong influence on these artists that they merely just add subtle touches and blend into its sound, instead of trying to upstage the group. Swaying back and forth has never felt so right on. (Irwin Swirnoff)
The luxurious, vintage-inspired cover of Dominant Legs’ Invitation is fully indicative of the sound within. Reminiscent of retro radio-rock like Fleetwood Mac and Bruce Springsteen, these sunny and nostalgic synth-pop jams arrive, fittingly, amidst San Francisco’s warmest stretch of the year. Founding member and Bay Area native Ryan Lynch began recording sincere, approachable songs in 2008 and was later joined by fellow San Franciscan Hannah Hunt on vocals and keys. Now a fully formed five-piece, Dominant Legs serves up lush, shimmering feel-good music with a melancholic undertone courtesy of Lynch’s delicate falsetto. Invitation has some bubbly dance tracks, a few smooth ballads, and a whole lot of reasons to fall in love with Dominant Legs. (Frances Capell)
WORK (WORK, WORK)
There’s been no shortage of groups tapping into undeniably pleasurable sounds over the last few years, but for every cool-sounding witch house and glow-core record, the one thing that has been missing is a true sense of human emotion. On Work (Work, Work), HTRK channels the severe loss it experienced into an album that slowly and subtly glides you into a floating and mournful state of mind. Losing their bassist to suicide last year, and the producer of their last album to cancer, this is a group in the midst of severe tragedy who have channeled their heartache into a mesmerizing work of airy melancholy. Stripped down electronics, shoe-gazed and dazed vocals, secret melodies, and that indescribable sensation of closing your eyes and freezing time when the world around you is moving in miserable ways. This is sensual goth. (Swirnoff)
Editor’s Note: These are our full endorsements for the 2011 election on November 8. Our Clean Slate clipout guide to take to the polls is here. Listen and watch our interviews with many of the major candidates here. For information about San Francisco voter registration, early voting, and other city election provisions, click here.
The way the San Francisco Chronicle is reporting it, this city isn’t paying much attention to the Nov. 8 election. An Oct. 2 story cited a rumored poll showing that a third of the voters still think Gavin Newsom is mayor. And “nobody has a really big, attention-grabbing personality.”
And yet, this is a crucial election. The city’s in serious trouble. The budget has a huge structural imbalance, blue-collar jobs are vanishing, affordable housing lags far behind condominiums for millionaires — and planning decisions that are made in the next administration will change the shape of the city for decades to come.
Meanwhile, a discredited political machine run by former Mayor Willie Brown is trying mightily to get its sleazy tentacles back into City Hall.
There are important races for sheriff and district attorney, too. San Francisco has a long history of progressive sheriffs, dating back to Dick Hongisto in the 1970s. Now, after 30 years, Mike Hennessey is retiring — and it’s possible that the city could lose the distinction of having a national leader in alternatives to incarceration, anti-recidivism and humane treatment of prisoners.
San Francisco has another distinction, this one less laudable: This is the first city in modern history to have a police chief become district attorney. And three challengers are trying to change that.
We’ve spent weeks meeting with the candidates. We’ve held a series of forums on the key issues. Our interviews are all on the politics blog.
So don’t sit this one out. Vote early, vote often, and vote as if the future of the city is at stake. Our recommendations follow.
1. John Avalos
2. Dennis Herrera
3. Leland Yee
The first mayoral election in San Francisco to feature ranked-choice voting and public financing has opened the way to a broad field of candidates. There are eight contenders who have served either as supervisors or as citywide elected officials — and if the interim mayor, Ed Lee, had kept his promise and stayed out of the race, this would be perhaps the most competitive field in modern history.
Unfortunately, Lee — who was chosen to replace Gavin Newsom only because he vowed to be a caretaker and not run for a full term — backed down from his promise, and, thanks to a boatload of special interest money, is now the clear favorite.
But Lee still lacks the support of a majority of the voters (polls show him with around 30 percent, meaning 70 percent are either undecided or voting for somebody else), which gives the rest of the field — or at least, a few of the top contenders — a fighting chance.
In some ways, Lee has been refreshing. After years of the arrogant and superficial Gavin Newsom, Lee has brought humility, a sense of humor and a degree of openness to the office that has won him fans across the political spectrum.
But frankly, the entire process that brought us to this position stinks of backroom deals involving some very unsavory characters. Lee, a career bureaucrat, wasn’t even interested in the job (and wasn’t even in the country) when the Board of Supervisors met to choose Newsom’s replacement. At the last minute, Newsom, Chief of Staff Steve Kawa, former Mayor Willie Brown and a few others orchestrated a deal that aced out Sheriff Mike Hennessy — the progressive choice — and put Lee in Room 200. And then, after denying for months that he had any intention of running in the fall, he changed his mind — telling Sup. David Chiu that he was “unable to resist Willie Brown and [Chinatown powerbroker] Rose Pak.”
In a recent interview, Lee said he would give Brown an A+ for his time running the city.
That’s a very bad sign. The years when Brown was mayor were awful. Between 1996 and 2001, some 20,000 people were driven out of San Francisco. Evictions ran as high as 200 a month. It seemed as if every day, another low-income family or senior citizen or artist community was forced out of the Mission to make way for rich dot-comers and illegal live-work lofts. At one point, Brown even said that the city was so expensive that poor people shouldn’t live here.
Developers ran the Planning Department. Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (which now has Brown on a juicy legal retainer) ran the Public Utilities Commission. The city was deeply damaged by cronyism and corruption. Anyone who thinks those years were anything other than a disaster has no business in Room 200, City Hall.
Even with all of that, we were willing to give Lee a shot. It’s been tough to find three candidates to endorse, and we were hoping he’d come talk to us, impress us, and leave us the option of putting him on the list. But after taking weeks to schedule an endorsement interview, he didn’t show up.
The Brown-Newsom legacy has been terrible for San Francisco. This is a city where the rich are getting richer, housing prices are out of reach for working-class people, tenants are getting screwed, affordable housing is falling far behind the need — and the Planning Department is talking about building housing for another 40,000 rich people, destroying blue-collar jobs in the process. City Hall badly needs change.
It’s critical to end the 16 years of regressive policies and bring in a mayor who is independent of the old, corrupt political machine. And while we are strong supporters of Sup. John Avalos, with ranked-choice voting, we believe that it’s important to round out the slate with candidates who also have a reasonable chance of winning.
Avalos is by far the best candidate, the strongest on the issues, the one who can be counted on to bring a progressive reform agenda and an age of innovation to City Hall. More than anyone else in the race, he understands the crisis facing the city and the need for dramatic action to protect tenants, poor people and what’s left of the city’s middle class. He realizes that San Francisco can’t continue to allow developers to build million-dollar condos without mandating a more-than equal amount of below-market-rate housing.
He realizes that the public sector is under attack nationwide, and that San Francisco needs to fight back — and that means raising taxes on the rich to preserve and expand public services. He told us he’d like to see the city’s revenue increase by $500 million a year by the end of his mayoral term — enough not only to halt the ongoing budget cuts but to begin to restore essential programs that Newsom gutted. He’s already begun exploring legislation to create a municipal bank to take money that now goes to Wells Fargo and Bank of America and use it to make loans to local small businesses.
He also realizes the danger of secrecy, corruption and cronyism in undermining faith in government. He’s been an excellent supervisor, and the city would be well served by an Avalos administration.
Our second choice is City Attorney Dennis Herrera. We’ve had problems with Herrera in the past — his office disqualified a referendum on redevelopment in Bayview Hunters Point on the basis of a ridiculous interpretation of state law that he could easily have challenged. He’s promoted gang injunctions that are anathema to civil liberties. His office has allowed city departments to keep secret more documents than necessary. He’s weak on housing, declining to call for a moratorium on new market-rate units until affordable housing catches up.
But he, as much as Newsom, was responsible for promoting and defending San Francisco’s landmark same-sex marriage campaign, he’s got a strong record on consumer and environmental protection — and on most issues, he’s a decent progressive. By all accounts, he’s a good manager. He has a solid grasp of public policy issues. He agrees that a big part of the solution to the city’s budget crisis has to be new revenue. He promised not only to introduce and lead a public power campaign but to appoint public-power-friendly commissioners to the Public Utilities Commission.
He would replace the Brown-Newsom hacks on key city commissions and in top administration positions — and we’re convinced that he’s principled enough to put an end to pay-to-play, unregistered lobbyists and the growing tide of sleaze in the Mayor’s Office. He’s a hard worker with strong executive experience, and San Francisco would be well served by a Herrera administration.
Then there’s the third choice — which was, to put it mildly, a challenge.
There are a few decent candidates out there who have good things to say. The Green Party’s Terry Baum, one of only three women in the race, is right on all the issues, but has no electoral experience — and honestly, little chance of winning.
Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting has been great on Prop. 13 and has gone after big business and the Catholic Church on tax issues; his “Reset SF” campaign relies a little too much on the idea that crowd-sourcing policy solutions will save the day, but we like Ting. Unfortunately, he’s barely registering in the major polls and his campaign hasn’t developed the kind of traction it needs to make him a viable challenger.
Supervisor David Chiu was a progressive once, and he claims he still is. He’s personable and accessible and votes the right way more than half the time. But he is single-handedly responsible for giving the conservatives control of the Board of Supervisors. He was a swing vote for Ed Lee for mayor, he supported the Twitter tax break, he’s trying to block Sup. David Campos’ move to close a loophole in the city’s health-care law — and in general, he’s too quick to compromise and move to the center.
Bevan Dufty is the only candidate who shows a consistent sense of humor (“I’m a little Strawberry Shortcake meets Hello Kitty”), and he’s often the star of the candidate forums. He’s the only candidate talking seriously about the crisis in the African American community. He opposed the sit-lie law. He’s got some wonderful wild ideas, like getting Virgin Airlines to decorate the inside of Muni buses to make the ride colorful and exciting. He actually cares about city workers. We appreciate having Dufty in the race.
But he’s been abysmal on tenant issues, and told us that he thinks landlord tenant battles “are too adversarial.” Overall, his voting record on economic issues has been consistently with the conservative wing of the board. We hope the next mayor finds a spot for him in city government; he has a lot to offer. But we just disagree on too many issues.
Jeff Adachi has been an excellent public defender and talks passionately about social justice. He has strong roots in the progressive community. We give him credit for forcing pension reform onto the agenda. But he seems a bit too willing to attack the public sector as the source of the city’s economic woes — he refused to support the last public power measure and his main budget proposal is to make city employees pay more for their pensions –without in any way pairing that with a hike in the taxes that big businesses and wealthy people pay. And his lone-wolf approach to the pension issue has been divisive and doesn’t play well in this labor town.
Joanna Rees has offered some interesting, independent ideas, but she’s never held any elective office or had any involvement in local politics.
That leaves Sen. Leland Yee. A classic lesser of the evils.
Yee has a very mixed record. He was a conservative School Board member who wouldn’t even talk about higher taxes and once tried to split the wealthier West Side off into its own school district. He had a pretty bad voting record on the Board of Supervisors, particularly on tenant issues. He didn’t support health benefits for transgender city employees. But on a board almost entirely controlled by then-Mayor Brown, he was something of an independent, one of only two or three supervisors ever willing to go up against the powerful mayor.
And he’s moved to the left in the past couple of years. He has fully apologized for his vote on transgender benefits, has been strong on labor issues — and is (and always has been) a leading voice on open government. He has 100 percent voting scores from the leading labor and environmental groups in Sacramento. He has the support of a lot of local progressive groups, including SEIU Local 1021. He is supporting the proposal by Sup. David Campos to close the loophole in the city’s health-care law. He told us he would oppose any effort to change district elections.
Yee makes us nervous. As we noted in a profile (see “The Real Leland Yee,” 8/30/11):
“He’s grown, changed, and developed his positions over time. Or he’s become an expert at political pandering, telling every group exactly what it wants to hear. He’s the best chance progressives have of keeping the corrupt old political machine out of City Hall — or he’s a chameleon who will be a nightmare for progressive San Francisco.
“Or maybe he’s a little bit of all of that.”
But in the end, after 24 years in public life, it’s safe to say that Yee is not part of the old machine, not part of the Newsom/Kawa/Brown team that put Lee in office, not part of anyone’s corrupt operation. He’s himself, for better and for worse, and he’ll clean house in the Mayor’s Office. And at a time when City Hall could too easily drift back into the very bad old days, we’re willing to take a chance on Leland Yee.
1. David Onek
2. Sharmin Bock
3. Bill Fazio
District Attorney George Gascon is not a bad guy. He was a better police chief than many of the people we’ve seen in that job. He has a history of standing up for immigrants under very, very difficult circumstances — as the chief of police in Mesa, Arizona he had to tangle with a rabidly anti-immigrant sheriff and a conservative population, and he emerged with solid credentials. He brought some much-needed professionalism and stronger management practices to the SFPD. He’s personable, accessible and works hard to stay in touch with the community. As D.A., he’s worked well with the public defender and has (finally) come around to opposing the death penalty.
We just wish that Gavin Newsom hadn’t decided that the way to advance his own political career and agenda was to put his police chief in the District Attorney’s Office.
There are reasons that no police chief in the United States has become a district attorney — certainly not in modern history. The D.A. and the cops have to work together, but they also have to have a certain degree of separation — or there are inevitable, unacceptable, unworkable conflicts of interest. And while Gascon talks about transparency, he’s fighting the release of a crucial memo on problems in the crime lab.
So we’re looking for a new district attorney, and there are three contenders, each of them with strengths and weaknesses.
Our first choice is David Onek, whose career in nonprofit and academic work leaves him short of the courtroom and management experience we’d like to see in the next D.A. but who has by far the strongest credentials and agenda for reform. He starts off every interview and discussion by saying that the criminal justice system in California is broken — not bent, not sprained, not in need of a little attention, but utterly broken. The entire premise that’s driven criminal law in the past several decades — that offenders, including nonviolent and drug offenders, need to be sent to prison for longer and longer terms — has proven a failure. “We’re arresting and prosecuting people just fine,” he told us. “We need to reform the system.” And San Francisco could make a national statement by electing a district attorney who wants to change criminal justice, not just make it work better.
Onek’s strong focus on juvenile justice would be a profound policy shift — juvie is typically a secondary thought in the justice system. Onek promised never to charge a youthful offender as an adult without going before a judge first — and would do that only in rare cases. His plan is to get kids out of the justice system before they become hardened criminals. He’s also talking about working on employment opportunities for ex-offenders. He has always been opposed to the death penalty, and we think he’s taking seriously the need for more aggressive investigation and prosecution of political corruption.
Onek has never tried a case — a major drawback. On the other hand, neither has the incumbent. We acknowledge that putting someone with negligible prosecutorial experience in the top job is a stretch — but the justice system is such a mess that we’re willing to gamble on an idealistic reformer.
Two qualified, experienced prosecutors are also in the race. We give a slight edge to Sharmin Bock, who has spent her career in the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office. Bock’s spent a lot of time working on crimes against women and portrays herself as in independent, which is both good and bad: Good because it would give her an outsiders perspective on the office, bad because, unlike Alameda County’s D.A., San Francisco’s prosecutor is part of the local political infrastructure. But she does have some background prosecuting bad cops — she was part of the office that went after Oakland’s notorious Riders.
Bill Fazio, who was a San Francisco prosecutor and is now a defense lawyer, shares Bock’s courtroom experience. And his days on the defense side of the aisle have changed some of his perspectives — the one-time tough-on-crime guy who in 1999 ran for this office as a death-penalty advocate now agrees that executions are a terrible mistake. He’s a little shaky on drug crimes (“it’s only a problem when it’s a problem”) and to this day, he says the prosecution of the Fajitagate cops was “ridiculous” (wrong, Bill — there was a systemic cover-up, and it’s too bad the top brass got away with it). But we’ll give him our final nod.
1. Ross Mirkarimi
Mike Hennessey has been sheriff of San Francisco for so long, and has done such a great job, that hardly anyone in town really thinks about the politics of the office any more. We take it for granted that we have the most progressive sheriff in the state, maybe the nation. We just assume that the jails will be run well, that the deputies will be held to a high standard of behavior, that alternatives to incarceration will be part of the program, that evictions will be handled in a humane way, that anti-recidivism programs will be funded and given priority, that immigrants won’t face automatic deportation — and that San Francisco’s top elected law-enforcement official will be a leader in innovative ways to approach law enforcement.
But it wasn’t always that way, and it won’t necessarily be that way in the future. This is a crucial election, pitting a progressive reformer who comes from the civilian world against two career law-enforcement officers. It’s a chance to vote for someone who will continue Hennessey’s legacy or to risk turning back the clock. That’s why we’re strongly endorsing Ross Mirkarimi, and only Ross Mirkarimi.
Hennessey was never a cop. He started off as a poverty lawyer, working in prison legal services under Dick Hongisto, who launched the tradition of progressive sheriffs in this city. He ran as a civilian and won — and there’s a value to that. The Sheriff’s Office in San Francisco has no Police Commission, no Office of Citizen Complaints; the only oversight of 850 sworn officers is the elected sheriff.
Since Hennessey’s election, law enforcement lobbyists have managed to make changes in state law that bar anyone without formal police training from serving as a sheriff. Under current law, Mike Hennessey — who is widely respected by his peers — wouldn’t be allowed to seek the office.
Mirkarimi meets the qualifications. He went through the San Francisco Police Academy as an investigator for the District Attorney’s Office and graduated as president of his class. He holds the Peace Officers Standards and Training certificate and is thus in an unusual position: He can run for sheriff without being part of the law-enforcement fraternity.
It’s not as if Mirkarimi is a stranger to the issues. He spent much of his first term in office working on public safety. When he took office in 2005, District Five, particularly the Western Addition, was plagued with violent crime. He personally appeared at every homicide scene, pushed for more police on the streets and for foot patrols and worked to organize the community around crime — and it worked. The murder rate dropped dramatically.
These days, Mirkarimi is working on anti-recidivism programs and wants to bring that approach to the office. Which is critical: Over the next two years, as the state implements a prison-system realignment, hundreds more inmates will be entering the San Francisco County Jail system — and while Hennessey has made a lot of progress, almost three quarters of the people who leave jail in San Francisco wind up getting in trouble with the law again.
The person who knows the job best is Hennessey — and he’s made his position clear. When Hennessey decided three years ago that he was going to retire at the end of his term, he met with Mirkarimi and told him he’d like to see the supervisor as his successor. In fact, Hennessey told us, he offered to appoint Mirkarimi as undersheriff, so he could learn the job and run as the second-in-command. But that wasn’t possible — city law prohibits sitting supervisors from taking another city job (unless it’s an elected position).
If Hennessey had become acting mayor he would have appointed Mirkarimi sheriff. “Ross is the person I want to see in the job,” Hennessey said. He noted two important reasons.
First, he said, “one of the hardest parts of any law enforcement management job is maintaining discipline in the ranks. And that’s very hard to do if you’re an insider. I’ve always considered myself a citizen more than a peace officer, and that’s allowed me to do the job.”
Second, Hennessey told us, “One of the reasons I was successful is that I’ve been an innovator. I see Ross as having that spirit. And I don’t see that in the other two candidates.”
If John Avalos isn’t elected mayor, Mirkarimi could become the only truly progressive person holding citywide office in San Francisco. In seven years on the Board of Supervisors, he was not only a leader on environmental and public safety issues but was an utterly reliable progressive vote. He represents part of the next generation of progressive leadership in San Francisco, and we’re proud to endorse him for sheriff.
There are two other candidates running — Chris Cunnie, a former San Francisco cop and head of the Police Officers Association, and Paul Miyamoto, a captain in Hennessey’s department. Both have experience, and both vowed to carry on Hennessey’s progressive legacy. But we can’t support either of them.
Cunnie was head of the POA when that union opposed the police reform measure that gave the supervisors three appointments to the Police Commission. He made a habit of blasting progressive District Attorney Terence Hallinan for not being nice enough to the cops. And under his leadership, the POA opposed a promotions plan designed to bring more women and people of color into leadership positions in the SFPD. He’s done some good things, and told us he wants to work to get people with substance abuse problems out of the legal system and into treatment (he was a very successful executive at Walden House, the treatment facility). But he’s endorsed by POA President Gary Delagnes, who has been a major obstacle to police reform.
Miyamoto spent his life in law enforcement and has the management experience, but lacks the kind of innovative agenda that Hennessey told us the next sheriff needs.
The bottom line is simple: All three candidates spend a lot of time touting the legacy and great work that Hennessey did, and all of them vow to continue in his footsteps. But Hennessey himself says the only candidate who can continue his legacy is Ross Mirkarimi.
That’s a pretty clear choice.
San Francisco ballot measures
A lot of the educational facilities in San Francisco are in need of repair and renovation, and some of these improvements are critical for meeting health and safety standards. They include elementary schools, middle schools, high schools and child development centers, many of which are located in the city’s southeastern neighborhoods. This measure would allow the San Francisco Unified School District to issue $531 million in bonds to repair and rebuild facilities.
The expenditure comes with a number of safeguards and strings attached. SFUSD is required by law to conduct an annual financial audit to ensure that funding is being properly used, and an independent citizens’ oversight committee will be created within two months of approval to inform the public about how the proceeds are used. Vote yes.
STREET REPAVING BOND
There are few more basic functions of government than maintaining the streets. This $248 million general obligation bond would fund improvements to benefit drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists, and public transit users. And if San Francisco doesn’t make this investment now, it will cost even more later to fix the roads once they’ve begun to degrade, so this really is a no-brainer. Some — particularly the right-wing, anti-tax scolds — might argue that keeping the roads in good shape should be part of the city’s annual budget rather than being paid for with borrowed money repaid by increased property taxes and rents. We might even agree, if the wealthy were being fairly taxed and the city was bringing in at least $248 million in additional annual revenue. But in this era of declining government resources, this bond is desperately needed. Most of it, almost $150 million, goes to resurfacing the streets, while $50 million goes to new improvements (including improved bike lanes) and $22 million each go to signal upgrades and sidewalk and ramp improvements. Leaders from across the political spectrum support it. Vote yes on B.
We’ll admit to a bit of political crankiness on this one: Our initial instinct was to oppose both of these measures. Sure, there are abuses in the city’s pension system (particularly among public safety employees). Sure, since the stock market crash, the cost to the city of funding the pension system has risen to levels unsustainable in our current fiscal environment. And at some point, the supervisors were going to have to deal with it.
But there’s a basic unfairness about all of this that bothers us: The city workers are being asked to give up part of their pay — but the wealthiest individuals and big corporations in San Francisco are giving up nothing. It’s part of the national trend — the poor and middle class are shouldering the entire burden of the economic crisis, and the rich aren’t suffering a bit.
That said, there’s political reality here — both of the pension reform measures will probably pass, and the one that gets more votes will take effect. And there’s really no choice between them — Prop. C, the measure written with the input and support of the mayor, the supervisors and labor, is the better option.
The two proposals are complicated. Both would reduce the city’s obligation to pay into the employee pension plan, particularly in years when the economy is bad, the stock market is down and the pension fund portfolio is shrinking. Both require city employees to work longer for lower pensions. Both have complex formulas for how that would happen.
Prop. D, written by Public Defender Jeff Adachi, has a slightly better formula for allocating the pain: Under his plan, employees making lower salaries would pay less than employees at the high end of the scale. His is also stronger on pension “spiking” — pensions would be based on the average pay of an employees last five years. Under the City Hall plan, that would be a three-year average.
But overall, Prop. C is a better measure — in large part because it reflects a legitimate process of collective bargaining. Adachi did his plan all by himself, with no input from labor or others at City Hall. Prop. C was hammered out in a series of meetings with members of the board, the mayor, and representatives of the city employee unions that will actually pay for the changes. That, generally, is how the process ought to work.
We would have demanded tax reform before we supported any pension reform, but given the options facing us, we’re going Yes on C and No on D.
CHANGING VOTER-APPROVED MEASURES
The right of the people to directly reform government laws when their elected representatives fail to do so is one of the most cherished and effective electoral reforms of the Progressive Era, when the initiative, recall, and referendum were established. But this measure would have the people voluntarily give up some of that power by allowing the Board of Supervisors to alter or repeal voter-approved ballot measures. Supervisor Scott Wiener, who pushed this measure with support from the big business community, never really explained why it was necessary or what legislation he was targeting — but among the potentially vulnerable measures are tenant protections and the city’s transit-first policy.
Wiener argued that this was just about not cluttering up the ballots with minor administrative tweaks. Do you see anything like that on the ballot? No, neither do we, and we aren’t buying that this is a problem in need of such a radical solution. The deck is already stacked against grassroots groups forced to resort to gathering signatures or persuading progressive supervisors to sponsor a ballot measure. Supervisors shouldn’t be able to undo what voters decide, not with a simple majority vote (after seven years) or even a two-thirds vote (after three years), particularly when they have plenty of power to place new measures on the ballot to address problems unintentionally created by voters. Vote no on E.
CAMPAIGN CONSULTANT RULES
Proposition F contains some straightforward, housekeeping-style changes to the city’s ethics rules governing the activities of campaign consultants. But it also includes a provision that’s fundamentally disempowering to the voters.
On the positive side, the measure would allow the Ethics Commission to accept reports from political consultants electronically, which makes sense, and it would require reports to be filed monthly rather than quarterly. But this is one of those cases of the bad outweighing the good. The definition of a campaign consultant would change from an individual earning $1,000 per calendar year on campaign activities to an individual earning $5,000 per year, effectively dimming the concept of sunshine in open government and making it harder for members of the public to learn of activities that affect local government.
More importantly, F flunks the smell test when it comes to accountability to voters, since it would make it possible for politicians, not just voters, to change the law governing campaign consultant activity. This is a departure from the current system, which requires the voters to weigh in on any change to campaign consultant law. This effectively grants elected officials greater control over the rules their own political consultants must follow, eliminating an important safeguard. Vote no.
SALES TAX INCREASE
San Francisco desperately needs new tax revenue to slow the steady decline in government funding and services over the last 10 years. We’d like to see a variety of options for voters to choose from, particularly options that primarily hit the richest individuals and corporations in the city (such as a local income tax, a commercial rent tax, transit impact fees, etc.). And if there were better options, we might not support Mayor Ed Lee’s plan to maintain the current sales tax rate rather than letting it drop by a half-percent as the state rate sunsets.
Sales taxes are regressive, hitting the poor harder than the rich, and not the best funding mechanism. We’re also not fond of this measure’s provisions to set that money aside to fund public safety programs and services to seniors and children, which is clearly a gimmick by tax-averse politicians to sell this measure to voters.
But the bottom line is that years of deep cuts have taken a disastrous toll on the city budget — threatening core social services and, yes, even public safety programs — and the city needs the money. Besides, this simply keeps the city’s 8.5 percent sales tax rate where it is, at a level we’ve already budgeted for. We’ll endorse Prop. G — but we look forward to seeing some more progressive measures on the ballot next fall.
Prop. H is a policy statement that would have no immediate impact — but it’s still dangerous. It’s an attempt to undermine the School Board’s assignment policy, a system worked out over more than two years after dozens of hearings and meetings. The current system isn’t perfect — but there’s no way to create a perfect way to assign kids to schools in a city where some neighborhoods are still segregated by race, the quality of local schools is unequal, the district offers special programs at school sites scattered across the city — and parents want the right to chose schools outside their neighborhoods.
So the assignment process allows parents to chose seven schools, weighs the demographics of the family and makes an effort to both ensure diversity and give as many families one of their choices as possible. It works more than 80 percent of the time. Prop. H would mandate that geography — proximity to a school — was given the highest priority in assignment. That means kids in rich neighborhoods would go to better schools — and some schools would be effectively re-segregated by race. It’s a terrible idea, and needs to be defeated. Vote No.
The Guardian endorsements were prepared by our editorial board, Rebecca Bowe, Bruce B. Brugmann, Tim Redmond and Steven T. Jones.