Volume 46 Number 09

November 30-December 6, 2011

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Silence is golden

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FILM With the charisma-oozing agility of Douglas Fairbanks swashbuckling his way past opponents and the supreme confidence of Rudolph Valentino leaning, mid-swoon, into a maiden, French director-writer Michel Hazanavicius hits a sweet spot, or beauty mark of sorts, with his radiant new film The Artist.

In a feat worthy of Fairbanks or Errol Flynn, Hazanavicius juggles a marvelously layered love story between a man and a woman, tensions between the silents and the talkies, and a movie buff’s appreciation of the power of film — embodied in particular by early Hollywood’s union of European artistry and American commerce. Dashing silent film star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin, who channels Fairbanks, Flynn, and William Powell — and won this year’s Cannes best actor prize) is at the height of his career, adorable Jack Russell by his side, until the talkies threaten to relegate him to yesterday’s news. The talent nurtured in the thick of the studio system yearns for real power, telling the newspapers, “I’m not a puppet anymore — I’m an artist,” and finances and directs his own melodrama, while his youthful protégé Peppy Miller (Bérénice Béjo) becomes a yakky flapper age’s new It Girl.

Both a crowd-pleasing entertainment and a loving précis on early film history à la Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, The Artist never checks its brains at the door, remaining self-aware of its own conceit and its forebears, yet unashamed to touch the audience, without an ounce of cynicism. And if you blink, you might miss the allusion to The Artist‘s backstory: in the opening film-within-a-film, Valentin dons a mask and a top hat in a swift tip of the topper to iconic French villain-antihero Fantômas, which provided the initial inspiration for producer Thomas Langmann to approach Hazanavicius.

Langmann wanted the director to do a remake of the 1960s Fantômas movies starring Jean Marais. “I said, ‘No, I can’t do that. It doesn’t interest me,'” recalls the director on a recent visit to San Francisco. Langmann, however, insisted on a movie with the director, who had made the Bond-parody OSS 117 series with Dujardin. “So I said, OK, I’ll do your Fantômas — not your high-tech one, but the 1905 one, the real one, and I’ll do it in black-and-white, and silent.”

In the end, Langmann gave the go-ahead for a silent movie untethered to the Fantômas franchise — “I knew when we met that he was crazy enough to follow me and to support me,” quips Hazanavicius — and with the Valentin character on his mind and two scripts on hand, one for The Artist as it stands and one for the adventure comedy that materializes as the initial film-within-a-film, the director made the silent he had dreamed of, shooting at Hollywood locales such as the Paramount Studio and Mary Pickford’s mansion and utilizing far-from-analog technology when needed (for example, the Hollywood sign is transformed into its original “Hollywoodland” state digitally, and the film’s luminous black-and-white was rendered using 500 ASA color film to get a grainier look).

One of the keys to casting the period spell was keeping everything simple, rather than highlighting obvious tropes. “I put a lot of things out of the frame, always,” Hazanavicius explains, “because when there are too many things, it’s just too much. You show the audience, ‘Look it’s the ’20s! It’s so ’20s! Did you not know we were in the ’20s?’ Sometimes you have to just show a white wall, and that’s enough. The audience is there to believe, so the more you let them believe, the better it is.”

Likewise the lightest touch was required with the actors, who worried about replicating the silent era’s performances and were tasked with conveying everything with the briefest flicker of emotion dancing across the face, or body language (which Béjo memorably plays with in a scene when she mimes an embrace with her would-be heartthrob’s jacket). “I know it was stressful for the actors in the beginning because they wanted to know if I asked for something very special, but I didn’t,” says the director. “They don’t play silent, really — they play ’20s, and I think it’s different. We think [silent film players] overact not because the movies are silent but because the codes of the ’20s are very different from the codes of acting today.

“So what I said to [Dujardin] was very simple: ‘Don’t be upset with the silent thing,'” Hazanavicius continues. “‘You don’t have anything special to do. You have to do what you usually do — you come with your face, your body, your smile, your charm, and you embody the character, and you respect the situation, and everything will be fine.'” Also fueling the feel was the fact that The Artist was shot at 22 frames a second, rather than the standard 24. “It gave us a very small acceleration in the gesture so the way they move is a little bit too fast, so that gives a flavor of the ’20s,” adds the filmmaker.

For Hazanavicius, the draw to make a silent was multipronged. “I wanted to share my experience as an audience member because I love the way the story is told to you in a silent movie,” he says. “There’s a lot of room for you. You can make your own movie. You participate in the storytelling process. I really like it because you’re very close to the story — it’s your voices, your dialogue, your sound design — you’re part of the process, so I really love that.”

Another enticement was the formal challenge of not only assembling the narrative about early film stars, which incidentally echoes that of John Gilbert and Greta Garbo, but shooting in a silent style, playing with era’s visual codes. To that end, Hazanavicius and leading lady (and romantic partner) Béjo did enormous amounts of research, poring through the period’s films and actors and directors’ biographies. “I hope my future movies will be better thanks to this one,” says the director.

“When I wrote the script, I sent it to the script supervisor, and she said to me, ‘You really want to, I don’t know how to say, show off!'” he remembers. “‘You really want to be remarked [upon].’ I said, ‘Yes!’ I think we all want to be remarked [upon]. I don’t want to make a discreet movie that nobody wants to see.”

Sounds like the words of a real artist.

 

THE ARTIST opens Fri/2 in San Francisco.

Volume 46 Number 9

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Clark shadows

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TRASH If you were around in the waning days of drive-ins and urban grindhouses, the heydays of video stores and 1980s late-night cable, or were a Mystery Science Theatre 3000 fan, the name Greydon Clark might ring a faint bell — maybe even a warning bell.

For 25 years Clark was a prolific independent director, writer, producer, and even bit-part actor in the realm of low-budget exploitation movies designed for quick playoff in second-run theaters, graveyard-shift broadcast slots, and on rental shelves. Most were retreads of well-worn genre trends, a couple outright imitations of recent hits; they rarely hit the radar of mainstream critics, let alone awards-giving bodies — not even the Golden Raspberries. Though his last two features were futuristic adventures, Clark himself was relegated to cinema’s past by the turn of the millennium, having “aged out” in a business where an obsession with youth trickles down even to the least prestigious off-camera creative roles.

Now just short of 70, Clark is still around, selling memorabilia on his website, appearing at fan conventions, and the like. This Friday he’ll be at the Roxie for a Midnites for Maniacs tribute triple-bill featuring rare 35mm screenings of features long out of circulation.

First up is 1978’s Hi-Riders, a hybridization of then-current Smokey and the Bandit (1977) knockoffs and the earlier biker-flick vogue that’s one of his most enjoyable films. Frequent Clark collaborator Darby Hinton and busy stunt performer (through 1997’s Titanic) Diane Peterson are the nominal stars of a raucous action cheapie that pits muscle-car aficionados against each other, then against trigger-happy yokels ordered to kill by a vengeful fat cat who proclaims “Animals like that should be exterminated!” Acting pitched at a 10 on the hysteria scale, skinny dipping, and good crashes involving an actual bitchin’ Camaro ensue.

This is followed by Joysticks (1983), a prior Midnites for Maniacs midnight selection that remains a giddy high-lowlight in the short-lived 80s subgenre of movies about videogaming. How can it miss, with Porky’s-style gags, a hero named McDorfus, secondary “punk” villain King Vidiot (played by Napoleon Dynamite’s future Uncle Rico), and a theme song Tipper Gore might have taken exception to (“Jerk it left, jerk it right, shoot it hard, shoot it straight, video to the maaaaaax!!!”)?

Last and quite possibly least is 1982’s Wacko, one of several Airplane!-like slasher spoofs at the time. Its genial flailing about in search of laughs ropes in several of Clark’s favorite falling stars (Joe Don Baker, Stella Stevens, George Kennedy) and one future celebrity (pre-“Dice Man” Andrew Clay, as Fonz-y high school stud Tony Schlongini). If you were 10 years old (or 15 and stoned) in 1982, this was probably the funniest thing ever. So regress already.

But this selection offers just the tip of the native Michigander’s celluloid iceberg. Driving west on a whim in the 1960s, Clark managed to score work as both an actor and scenarist with Z-budget multihyphenate role model Al Adamson, including the incredible Satan’s Sadists (1969) and incredibler Dracula vs. Frankenstein (1971).

Those experiences empowered him to direct, co-write, and act in 1973’s The Bad Bunch (Kiss The Establishment Goodbye was one of several alternative titles), a drama of Vietnam War-era racial tensions that was shot in Watts for less than $15,000. It was clumsily crafted and crudely melodramatic, but serious-minded enough — despite gratuitous boobs and opening song “Honky Mutha Nigga Lover” — to set him on a more determinedly commercial, costs recouping path from then on.

Thus 1976’s Black Shampoo, an outrageous blaxploitation cash-in on Warren Beatty’s heterosexual hairdresser lothario hit, followed quickly by the unforgettably named (if otherwise forgettable) Satan’s Cheerleaders (1977), tentacled-alien-Frisbee-creature horror Without Warning (1980, with a very young David Caruso as one victim), and so forth. They inevitably featured once-hot, now economically-priced Hollywood names of a certain age (Clu Gulager, Jack Palance, Yvonne De Carlo etc.), attractive youngers mostly never to be heard from again, and Clark regulars like actress spouse Jacqueline Cole. (The fact that so many of his actors and crew came back for more suggests that he’s a pleasant guy to work for.)

Some of these movies actually require the MST3K treatment they got (i.e. 1985 Joe Don vs. Mafia shoot ’em up Final Justice) to be watchable. Some, like 1990 psychological thriller Out of Sight, Out of Her Mind or 1980 sci-fi fantasy The Return (a rare upgrade to then-current B-level stars in Cybill Shepard and Jan-Michael Vincent), didn’t get it and aren’t.

But others are inspirationally silly, with enough hints to make it clear that their creator was in on the joke. Probably the most widely seen of his films is acknowledged camp classic The Forbidden Dance, one of two lambada movies released on the same day in 1990. It stars former Miss USA and future Mulholland Drive (2001) enigma Laura Harring as an Amazonian tribal princess who comes to Beverly Hills (accompanied by “witch doctor” Sid Haig) to attract attention to rainforest destruction via the healing power of public ass-grinding. All this and an ozone depletion message make it Clark’s Inconvenient Truth, just as The Bad Bunch was his Crash.

Less socially conscious but equally nuts are Uninvited (1988), in which a yacht full of the expected veteran actors and hot young ‘uns are terrorized by a mutant lab-experiment cat puppet; and Russian Holiday (1992), a daft espionage thriller with Susan Blakely as a tourist haplessly playing Nancy Drew amidst Moscow neck-snappings.

Then there’s 1989’s Skinheads: The Second Coming of Hate. Its hilarious racist, sexist, swastika-emblazoned goon squad makes the mistake of pursuing clean-cut “good” kids into the wilderness lair of survivalist Chuck Connors, who fought in World War II and knows just what to do with a buncha neo-Nazi scum. It’s pretty much the Reefer Madness of Reagan-era fascist punk gang movies (1982’s Class of 1984, 1984’s Savage Streets, etc.) — a category that surely calls for its own Midnites for Maniacs tribute.

 

“MORE FUN THAN GAMES! A TRIBUTE TO GREYDON CLARK”

Fri/2, triple-feature starts at 7 p.m., $12

Roxie Theater

3117 16th St., SF

(415) 863-1087 www.midnitesformaniacs.com

Astral projections

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arts@sfbg.com

THEATER A savage and seductive performer with a potent skill set, Erin Markey has been busy these last several years conquering New York’s downtown performance scene. But she’s no stranger to San Francisco. The rising 30-year-old performance artist, actor, and playwright credits visits to the Bay Area with some formative experiences, including her introduction to pole dancing — subject of her acclaimed one-woman play, Puppy Love: A Stripper’s Tail — and the invention of her drag persona, Hardy Dardy, the Michigan patriarch of her new multimedia, multi-character musical solo show, The Dardy Family Home Movies by Stephen Sondheim by Erin Markey. So it’s fitting as well as plain badass that the new piece receives its world premiere here, this week, under the auspices of the San Francisco Film Society’s KinoTek program.

Why SFFS? Markey was last out in San Francisco in 2009, on a bill with Beth Lisick and Tara Jepsen, when Film Society programmer Sean Uyehara saw her and was floored. “I thought, ‘This woman is going to be famous,'” remembers Uyehara, who describes Markey’s ferocious ability to woo and alarm and audience at almost the same moment. He stayed in touch. Later, Markey’s proposed Dardy Family piece, which avails itself of several screens for live camera feeds and pre-recorded video projections, made it a candidate for KinoTek, Uyehara’s bailiwick — though he admits it’s the most theater-like piece SFFS has taken onboard since initiating the cross-platform programming stream in the mid-aughts.

“We’re presenting a play, essentially,” says Uyehara, adding, “It’s based around this idea of home movies and how these home movies interact with a ‘normal’ Midwestern family. So I could see the potential for a hybrid program developed out of that.”

Markey, reared in the South and Midwest, studied theater and gender studies at the University of Michigan, where renowned NEA Four performance artist and faculty member Holly Hughes became a critical influence. Today she enjoys a growing reputation as an intensely charismatic shape-shifter in the queer performance and cabaret scenes, and a sharp and daring actor at large (her turn in an intimate, site-specific production of Green Eyes, a violent and erotic Tennessee Williams one-act, won her raves at last January’s Under the Radar Festival, in a production now headed to Boston.) I spoke with Markey by phone from New York about the background to The Dardy Family Home Movies.

San Francisco Bay Guardian You’ve said you became a stripper to save money to move to New York, but were inspired by the pole dancers you’d first seen in SF. It almost sounds like a post-graduate program for you in performance. Was it a big adjustment?  

Erin Markey It was a big adjustment. The dynamics between the girls that work there are really complicated. I knew I was leaving, so I had a different relationship to it than most. But it was hugely influential. It’s such an isolated, specific, weird context, with arbitrary sets of rules that you can only figure out by doing it wrong. It was almost the perfect thing to do for somebody who was studying queer studies and theater practice as well. It was constantly surprising me, and defying everything that I was reading about, in terms of feminism. Because there are camps — people being pro-porn or anti-porn, for example.

But it’s just so complicated. There’s almost nothing else to do but make creative work around it, just to reflect and acknowledge how complicated it is. I think it does that work much more service than being just “for” or “against.” The experience really changed my relationship to storytelling. Performing there feels really similar to performing for any crowd. But in that context you never know what exploitation means, if you’re being exploited or if you’re exploiting them because you’re affecting this interest. It feels similar to acting and doing cabaret and stuff like that. So I tried to tease out what felt the most sincere, even if it was really absurdist and ridiculous — that feels most sincere sometimes. Those just go in and out: being really absurd and being hard and real.

SFBG Can you explain who the Dardys are?

EM Actually, maybe 10 years ago, I don’t remember when, but in San Francisco I went to a drag king competition. There was a workshop, and I took it. We were all making drag king characters. I used to sing a little song in my head all the time, like a gibberish song: “hardee, dardee, hardee, har …” So I just decided to name my guy Hardy Dardy. He ended up being my go-to drag persona. He’s actually been in almost every show I’ve ever made on some level, even if he wasn’t named as Hardy Dardy. He was in Puppy Love, and he was in a show that I made about being my sister’s maid of honor.

He had his own show called The Curse, which was talk-show style. During that show, I ended up having to flesh out more of his life. His wife was first introduced in Puppy Love, actually. He mentions briefly that he went to the strip club when he got upset one day. So Molly became his wife, and I became very interested in her. She’s definitely not my mom, but she could be very good friends with her. I started making the Dardy Family Home Movies based on Molly’s experience mostly — her dealing with her kids leaving home, and having to re-understand her entire identity. I watched my mom go through that. All she wanted to do was be a good stay-at-home mom. It’s not like other professions where the older you get supposedly the higher up you get in the ranks, and the more you become what you wanted to be in the first place. You prepare these children to leave and be good people, and then they leave.

SFBG It’s sort of built-in obsolescence.

EM I thought about that a lot when I thought about the women at the strip club — how they depreciate in value over time, because youth is a really important part of making money in that context. It seems like this dark cloud hanging over these women’s heads. As an actor, I know what the value of being young is in this industry. It hangs over our heads as well. This show [includes] the conversation between Molly and her daughter, Kelly — who’s “a lot like me,” heh, heh — and who’s ultimately talking about being a performer. These things I’m talking about aren’t crazy explicit [in the show] necessarily. It’s a family of characters that I’ve been developing over years. But in the subtext of everything, this stuff is definitely there. 

THE DARDY FAMILY HOME MOVIES BY STEPHEN SONDHEIM BY ERIN MARKEY

Through Dec. 11

Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m., $15

SFFS New People Cinema

1746 Post, SF

www.sffs.org

The ones you love

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arts@sfbg.com

MUSIC There are certain people in your life that you will always forgive. No matter how noxious or unreasonable their actions, you’ll always find the silver lining, like a delusional Sam Spade. They could be responsible for defiling a gaggle of farm animals, and you’d convince yourself that the roosters were asking for it.

Generally, you are either bonded to these people by blood or have been friends with them for years. However, if you are tragic enough, sometimes this extends to people that you have never met. These are not symbiotic relationships. They don’t care about you, but for whatever reason, you care enough about them to defend them to the death. It’s called being a fanatic.

In April of 2009, I made an absurd decision. When roughly 60% of your monthly income goes into paying for your crappy apartment, spending $100 dollars on a concert ticket — ANY concert ticket — is an impossibility. If Jesus Christ and Alexander the Great were in town performing In The Aeroplane Over the Sea in its entirety for a hundred bones, I’d probably settle for watching the clips on YouTube. But this was different. The Moz was in town, and I had to go. Even if it meant eating nothing but ramen for the next 47 days, I had to go see him.

Those who had tickets to that Oakland show know what happened next. The day before the gig, Morrissey canceled, claiming that he had returned to England because he had been “sickened” at the smell of barbecue at his recent Coachella performance. As absurd as that excuse was, it turns out that it wasn’t even true. He was photographed hanging out at the DNA Lounge the night of the scheduled gig. Reports later surfaced that he really bagged the show because the Fox Theater wasn’t close to sold out. Maybe it was because tickets were 100 FUCKING DOLLARS a pop. I don’t know. I’m not a concert promoter.

As angry as I should have been about this, I wasn’t. In fact, I kind of understood. This is Morrissey. As he’s said a million times over, he’s not sorry. And, you know what? He shouldn’t be. How dare the brutes at Coachella infect his air with the smell of murder? How dare the unwashed masses criticize where the great Mozilla spends his evenings? He will play for us when he’s damn well ready.

And ready he is (we hope). And like a battered wife, here I am again, prepared to make the exact same absurd decision. Maybe he’ll break my heart again, but I’m willing to take that risk just to see the frontperson from my favorite ever band roll through a couple of his old classics (even if it’s just a couple). Why? It’s because I am a fanatic. And I’m not sorry either.

MORRISSEY

Thurs/1, 8 p.m., sold out

Fox Theater,

1807 Telegraph, Oakl.

(510) 302-2277

www.thefoxoakland.com

Carved up

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emilysavage@sfbg.com

MUSIC Mexican garage punk act Le Butcherettes has been making a clamorous bang touring ’round the world — that noise thanks in no small part to wild ringleader, Teri Gender Bender. Back in early fall, Bender was expertly matched to fellow wild child, Iggy Pop, in a tour that seemed destined to rule. Tragedy struck when Pop was injured during a live show, and the future of the tour was unclear. Fast-forward three months and the rescheduled shows are finally here, going down at the Warfield. Before the tour, I spoke with the enigmatic Bender — a feminist, a performance artist, and most importantly, a rock’n’roll force to be reckoned with.

SFBG What was the reaction when you heard you’d be opening for Iggy Pop?  

Teri Gender Bender All three of us absolutely fell apart with joy. It’s a dream come true for sure, still pinching myself that it can’t be real.  

SFBG Any particularly memorable moments from the tours with Dead Weather, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, or Deftones?

TGB Getting to play in Mexico very early on in this band with Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Dead Weather were such mind blowing experiences. I was only 19 and they were our first big shows. It was a great [yet] nerve racking experience and a real eye opener. We did the Deftones tour with our new lineup, Gabe Serbian who is now the drummer, and Jonathan Hischke who plays bass — I did not have a bass player in the early days of the band. We had a lot of good times and weird times — it’s always strange to play first in front of people who really are there to see the headline band so it’s very hard work to get them to open their ears and minds to a band they have no idea about.

We had a lot of fun also with the Dillinger Escape Plan who were also on the tour. Both Gabe and Jonathan were friends with all of them from their days in their old bands the Locust and Flying Luttenbachers, they all had toured together before. It was also a great honor when Chino invited me to sing with him during their song “Knife Party” each night during the Deftones set. Overall we just feel really fortunate to be able to play with and for all kinds of people, not just one genre.

SFBG How did Serbian end up joining the band?

TGB Gabe joined in December of 2010, I met him through my manager Cathy who has known him for a while and suggested that I try jamming with him. We clicked immediately and that was that. She also introduced me to Jonathan, who lives at her house and was also friends with Gabe, he had just finished his touring with Broken Bells and said he would love to jam with us and again it just felt great. Our first real shows as the band we are were this year’s SXSW, which we all had a blast playing.

SFBG What music did you grow up listening to?

TGB I am not too proud to say I was all about Spice Girls, when I was really You Go Girl power. But I grew up with the music of my father who was all about classic rock and bands like the Beatles played constantly in our house when I was young. However, I will say that definitely the Spice Girls were not Gabe and Jon’s first CDs.

SFBG What inspires your lyrics?

TGB My sadness. Loss, expectations, deceptions, women’s rights.

SFBG Does the live show still include food, blood, and/or animals?

TGB The live show does not have any of those things now, when I first started the band I used many things like blood and meat as metaphors and symbolism — the meat represented how I felt women were treated, but I grew to realize that people don’t see or necessarily understand that was the message meant by the blood and meat but instead took away a whole different meaning and it became bigger than the music and more the talking point of our show from media — it was not meant as some kind of gimmick, so as soon as [I] felt like that was what it was becoming, I stopped because that was not ever the intention.

It came from a place of rage and I channeled those emotions into the music now versus having anything that could be called antics. The only thing left from that period is my bloody apron which really is the notion of the housewife stereotype rebellion. That will go away soon now too as it is also becoming a focus that does not really have the same importance or message once it is co-opted into an icon of the band. 

 

LE BUTCHERETTES

With Iggy Pop

Sun/4 and Tues/6, 8 p.m., $47

(415) 345-0900

www.thewarfieldtheatre.com

How does it make you feel?

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arts@sfbg.com

MUSIC Africa Hitech makes intoxicating music. Programmed polyrhythms snake over punchy bass lines. Synthetic chord progressions crescendo and fall, disrupted by surges of 808 kicks, constellations of snares, outbursts of electric energy.

All the while, an offbeat rhythm assaults the interweaving drum patterns, unsettling any steady flow that might have taken shape. This tension pulls the music forward, destining outwards, while the bass anchors the body, whether on the dance floor or just mesmerized inwardly, a head in the groove.

The sound builds in momentum, in suspense, but with subtle patience, producing a great gathering of intensity — which if you happen to hear on the right sound system — exceeds its limit, and disorients, overwhelms, destructs, rejuvenates. It’s the Dionysian rave rewired for our times.

“We grew up in that whole bass line culture in the UK with dub, reggae, soul, and everything that’s come about after it and around it,” says Steve Spacek, who together with Mark Pritchard makes the duo Africa Hitech. “We try to tap into that amazing feeling of the frequency in the club when everyone’s getting down together on one vibe, one of the best feelings imaginable.”

Seasoned producers-vocalists Spacek and Pritchard have pursued this utopian vision of sound in their latest project. In the past couple years, Africa Hitech has released three EPs, including this month’s Do U Really Wanna Fight on Warp, and dropped a brilliant record earlier this spring, 93 Million Miles. The songs navigate two topological poles: the cosmic and the streets. While “The Sound of Tomorrow” and “Light the Way” evoke otherworldliness, the ecstatic openness of galactic space channeled by the likes of George Clinton’s Mothership and Sun Ra’s Arkestra, “Blen” and “Gangslap” gurgle in the enclosed terrain of frenetic polypercussion and dread inducing low end. Their vocals wreak both havoc and bliss on language: soulful croons give away to disembodied vocoder chants; or, Spacek unleashes a growling patois, and sample cuts dissipate in mutilated mantras, reconfigured on a stuttering trigger pad: “Out/ Out/ Out/ Out in the streets/ Out in the streets/ They call it murrderrrrr.”

“We’re trying to preserve the Jamaican sound system in the music we make,” says Spacek. “There’s all these so-called different genres, but we just see them as all just one family. In the end they’re just different tempos and sensibilities of the same rhythm.”

That rhythm, the swing, carries traces of its past. Its body has been dispersed across the Atlantic: marked by violence, labor, hybridization, creative upheavals and reversals, restless paths of migration and commerce, moments of resistance and dreams of redemption. In these diasporic unfoldings, the swing has evolved, adapted, mutated. Those struck by the rhythm have both reinvented its prosthetic origins and conjured alternative prophecies, sometimes in folkloric traditions, sometimes in the margins, on the limits of popular music or in the neglected underbellies of familiar acoustic space. Recall the recent ancestry. Mystic purveyors of dub armed the bass line in a highly weaponized electronic form; techno rebels programmed the soul of the machine with analog drum machines, keyboards, and sequencers; hip-hop and jungle collagists digitized the beat through cut and paste sample techniques, effect, and manipulation. Today, footwork, dubstep, funky, and all their kin tap into the same alchemy, spread spontaneously through the planetary dissolution wrought by cyberspace. Africa Hitech picks up here.

For Spacek and Pritchard, sonic oscillations between the cosmic and street, inner and outer, traces of the past and hyper-tech future, collapse in the simple and pure feeling of the intoxicating bass line. “We’re not trying to make music that’s deep and meaningful. We’re trying to make music that feels good … the kind of feeling that you can’t escape, and you don’t want to, you get lost in it,” says Spacek, the words now rushing out. “The bass becomes so immense that it’s literally rattling your ribcage. Some call it spiritual. It resonates. It makes sense, intuitively. But there’s some kind of emotion in there that we don’t quite understand. To some degree, we don’t want to understand it, maybe we can’t. We just want to feel it.”

AFRICA HITECH

With Jonwayne, Kush Arora, DJ Dials

Thurs/1, 10 p.m.

Public Works

161 Erie, SF (415) 932-0955

www.publicsf.com

Ongoing research

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caitlin@sfbg.com

HERBWISE The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) is better known for its scientific research on hallucinogenic drugs than on marijuana. That’s because the federal government is holding, but it won’t share with the decades-old nonprofit.

“The National Institute of Drug Abuse is ‘the National Institute of Drug Abuse,'” said MAPS director of field development Brian Wallace in a recent phone interview with the Guardian. “It’s not ‘the National Institute of Drug Research’. Its members are focused on the abuse of drugs, not their potential applications.”

Wallace — who was in the midst of preparing for “Cartographie Psychedelica,” next week’s MAPS 25th Anniversary Conference in downtown Oakland — was speaking about the NIDA’s decades of refusal to sell clinical study-grade cannabis to his organization. MAPS’ mission is to learn more about the potential of psychedelics and marijuana in treating ailments that Western medicine has proven ineffective in mitigating.

“It’s a conflict of interest that they have the monopoly on that cannabis,” said Wallace, adding that a farm located on the outskirts of the University of Mississippi is the only enterprise legally permitted by the federal government to produce buds.

The continued rebuff means that studies that could potentially prove the medicinal properties of cannabis are impossible to conduct. Not that there aren’t better buds out there. “Any medical marijuana patient has access to better weed in California’s dispensaries,” says Wallace, noting that government-approved weed isn’t available with the same diversity of cannabinoid levels.

Ironically, MAPS has had more luck obtaining MDMA for its clinical studies than marijuana, which they hope someday to test in post-traumatic stress disorder among veterans.

But the group has had its share of victories to celebrate over the last few decades. Enter the anniversary conference, five days of lectures, workshops, and parties that will assemble drug experts to speak on the past, present, and future of drug research. The event will feature a banquet to honor the progenitors of holotropic breathwork, a self-healing technique that involves quickened breathing and music engineered to take listeners to another stage of consciousness. The conference’s “most festive occasion,” according to Wallace, will be Saturday, Dec. 10’s late-night “Medicine Ball,” featuring glitchy DJs like LA’s Sugarpill and Canadian soul vocalist Ill-Esha.

Of course, it won’t be all fun and games at the Oakland City Center Marriott. The days’ programs are filled with hallucinogenic and marijuana-themed lectures and workshops. Cannabis enthusiasts will be stoked on opportunities to learn about the cutting-edge of research theories, even if the government is being prohibitive about testing the theories out. A full day’s workshop on the science and politics of medical marijuana is planned featuring doctors and activists for Friday, Dec. 9. Those unwilling to sit through that many hours of dishing on dank can check out University of California San Francisco Osher Center’s Donald Abrams, who will be giving a run-down of the past two decades of medical marijuana research in a lecture on the afternoon of Saturday, Dec. 10.

Wallace hopes that the conference will provide a learning opportunity — even to those who are not died-in-the-wool drug users.

“We have people that come dressed in a suit and tie and we have people that come dressed in tie-dye,” he says of his organization’s reach. “The MAPS community is expanding and growing to be much more expansive, to the point that a veteran who is affected with PTSD will know about the work that we do.”

“CARTOGRAPHIE PSYCHEDELICA: MAPS 25TH ANNIVERSARY CONFERENCE”

Dec. 8-12, all access conference pass $310–$455

Medicine Ball Party

Dec. 10, 8 p.m., $25–$35

Oakland Marriott Civic Center

www.maps.org/25

 

Dead horses and fool’s gold

1

arts@sfbg.com

HAIRY EYEBALL What more can art tell us about our culture’s conflicted relationship to celebrity, let alone its own conflicted relationship with celebrity? Not much, I suspect.

Kim Kardashian needs Barbara Kruger, who collaborated with the self-branding phenom on a now infamous cover portrait for W magazine’s 2010 art issue, like a fish needs a bicycle. And Warhol’s silk-screened Marilyns, or even Jeff Koons’ ceramic tribute to the King of Pop and his pet primate, seem positively quaint next to the hollow extravagance of Siren (2008), Marc Quinn’s life size statue of a yoga-posing Kate Moss cast in solid gold. I’m sure, though, that Kruger and Quinn appreciated the press their pieces netted them.

So, kudos to Bay Area artist Ray Beldner for attempting to scout some new routes through well-trod terrain. His two series of portraits at Catharine Clark Gallery are as much about the processes used to create them as they are the famous (and sometimes infamous) faces they depict. The results are decidedly mixed.

For the ghostly digital portraits in the first series, “101 Portraits,” Beldner overlaid the first 101 results that came up in a Google image search for a given subject, resulting in a hazy composite of that person’s publicly circulated image at a particular moment in time that reveals little of their actual likeness.

Some subjects are recognizable by a certain feature (Sarah Palin’s trademark up-do, Barack Obama’s prominent ears), whereas others (Michael Jackson, Britney Spears) are nearly unidentifiable, eraser-marks of their former selves.

The portraits invite allegorical speculation. Is the recognizability of Palin and Obama’s outlines a testament to the consistency of image in politics? Does the illegible smudginess of Jackson and Spears offer a formal comment on their respective falls from grace? But why over think things? Beldner’s composites are at their most intriguing when viewed as useless data sets; palimpsestic reminders that for all of the algorithms Google has churning out its top results, the internet is still something of an impenetrable jungle.

Gimmickry gets the better of Beldner’s other series, “Drawn by the hand of…,” hung in the gallery’s rear space. Wearing silicone gloves made from casts of other people’s hands, Beldner applied colored ink directly to paper. The resulting ventriloquized finger-paintings — whose sparse, monochromatic figurations recall Raymond Pettibon — are too stylistically uniform to say much about the potential affective affinities between the hand used and the person depicted.

Rather, the paintings come off as obvious and sometimes ghoulish sight gags: Jackson (again) was drawn using the hand of a young boy; for Jaycee Lee Dugard’s kidnapper Phillip Garrido, Beldner used the hand of a young girl. If the gesture seems familiar, it’s because it’s old news: another Young British Artist alum of Quinn’s, Marcus Harvey, caused much pearl-clutching with his 1995 portrait of British child murderer Myra Hindley, created by applying gray and black acrylic paint using a plaster cast of a child’s open palm.

 

 

ROCK TUMBLER

 

Leslie Shows’ large-scale mixed media portraits of the many faces of two pyrite chunks are the formidable and beguiling standouts of “Split Array,” her first solo exhibit at Haines Gallery. Despite Shows’ subject matter — fool’s gold — there is no joking around here. The pyrite portraits are the 2006 SECA Award recipient’s most technically finessed exploration of the parallels between geologic formation and the material process of painting to date.

Shows has worked layers of Plexiglas, colored ink, Mylar, crushed glass, metal dust, and mirrored shards onto thin, reflective aluminum panels (which she also engraves) to create trompe l’oeil effects that give her compositions dimensional heft despite their bas relief-like surfaces. When viewed head-on, a silvery pyramid-shaped outcrop seems to emerge from the upper left section of Face K (2011), pulling away from its striated Plexiglas backing. Similarly, Face P (2011) seems to extend infinitely back into the upper right hand corner of its aluminum “canvas” even as bloodied streaks (ink stains, perhaps?) in the lower half foreground the entire composition’s flatness.

However dazzling, the pyrite portraits are not merely the sum of such special effects. A deeper kind of alchemy is going on here beyond Shows’ transformation of industrial materials into representations of a mineral which is, by and large, useless to industry. I’m still trying to put my finger on it. Robert Smithson’s dictum “Nature is never finished” comes to mind as a signpost, although I’m guessing he would’ve had beef with the Faces series.

In Smithson’s gallery installations, the mirrors placed to infinitely reflect piles of shells or dirt were reminders of these natural components’ infinite variety and unknowable totality. Nature could be brought into the white cube but the white cube would never fully exhaust it. Show’s pyrite faces — with their man-made materials and Cubist collapsing of multiple perspectives — arrive at a similar conclusion, but through overt representation rather than presentation. To attempt the latter would risk evoking a naive transcendentalism which in this day and age could amount to a fool’s errand.

RAY BELDNER: PORTRAITS

Through Dec. 23

Catharine Clark Gallery

150 Minna, SF

(415) 399-1439

www.cclarkgallery.com

LESLIE SHOWS: SPLIT ARRAY

Through Dec. 24

Haines Gallery

49 Geary, Fifth Flr., SF

(415) 397-8114

www.hainesgallery.com

Swing, shift

0

arts@sfbg.com

DANCE Have you ever climbed a steep mountain but were unsure that your lungs or legs would hold up to get you to the top? Or felt a relationship slip through your fingers before you were barely aware of what happened? How about feeling your feet firmly planted, only to land suddenly on your behind? The performers in Stacey Printz’s new Hover Space, her most ambitious project yet, are finding out that their dance floor is putting the lie to such basic concepts as grounding, balance, gravity, or momentum. The space moves up and down and tilts at precarious angles, and yet the dancers appear to have the times of their lives.

At a late rehearsal in Z Space at Theater Artaud for the upcoming Hover Space, they giggle and struggle, accommodate and resist the demands of this unstable environment. The 75-minute work may be physically challenging, but thematically Printz believes that it rests on a solid, if volatile, base.

“How do long-term relationships sustain themselves?” the dancer, choreographer, wife, and mother asked herself. “What does it look like in a place of contentment when you have peace and support, though you have learned to listen and compromise?” For Printz it means being feeling grounded, and therefore being secure enough to take larger risks, “do crazier things” and expand into more new worlds. For some people that solidity comes through relationships, she says; others find it in themselves though “this space cannot be static because the moment you lose the ebb and flow, it’s dead.”

It’s good reasoning from a dancer-choreographer who has always refused to be pinned down. Still an awesomely strong performer, Printz draws on jazz, modern, some ethnic forms, and hip-hop, disciplines in which she has both trained and performed. If the term “fusion” didn’t suggest borrowing, perhaps even an essential lack of artistic independence, she wouldn’t mind the description. “But this is who I am,” she says. “This is how I push myself the most.”

Having a foot in several worlds has given Printz access to a creative freedom that informs the choreography for her own company but which is most strongly seen in her own dancing. For instance, last October’s WestWave Dance Festival piece If You Knew — a duet with beatboxer-musician Tommy Shepherd — was a fulminating explosion of rhythm and motion, with the two of them challenging each other to an ever-higher degree of virtuosity. But she has also challenged her own (and other) dancers to step beyond their own comfort levels. In the 2009 spitfire Cross Talk, the members of the National Folk Theatre of Ireland loosened up their torsos while Printz’s barefoot dancers shone in pristinely precise footwork.

In addition to choreographing for her own 11-year old company, Printz regularly collaborates with Marc Bamuthi Joseph on his multi-genre theater pieces. “I have known him for a long time, and I know how his body moves, so I can give him what he needs within a specific context,” she explains. But working with Bamuthi gives Printz what few choreographers working on someone else’s show get: time and respect. “He is brilliant and has the resources and a big umbrella under which we all can work together for months,” she says.

She also learned that “if you bring in collaborators, let them do what they do best.” Bamuthi lets her make her own gifts to his projects.

Printz’s primary collaborators for Hover Space are her 12 dancers, the largest group she has ever worked with locally. The choreography of a dozen or so distinct episodes includes looks at the relationships of three very different couples. While she often uses pre-recorded music, for her first evening-length piece Printz has invited DJ-composer Kraddy (a.k.a. Matthew Kratz) to join the team. Designer Sean Riley suspended the 12×15 movable platform from Z Space’s ceiling. David Szlaza created the lights; Catherine Myre signed on for the costumes.

HOVER SPACE

Wed/30-Sat/3, 8 p.m., $22–<\d>$25

Z Space at Theater Artaud

450 Florida, SF www.brownpapertickets.com

It’s all in the angle

0

caitlin@sfbg.com

SEX “It’s hard when you’re making out with a babe and it’s really hot and you realize you’ve been videotaping a wall for two minutes.”

No one ever said that making self-filmed feminist porn was easy. But for local self-proclaimed “slut kitten” Maxine Holloway, it’s an important — and incredibly arousing — process. Holloway is the newest webmistress on Femina Potens gallery founder and sex activist Madison Young’s Feminist Porn Network. Holloway’s sub-site Woman’s POV (www.thewomanspov.com) is perhaps the first to feature only shoots which are filmed by the actors themselves — the letters in the title standing in for “point of view,” of course.

Hence, her phone interview with the Guardian last week had turned to tricky camera angles. It can be incredibly difficult to film your own orgasm, Holloway says. But she’s learned a lot since her first POV scene (in case you were wondering, it involved a passel of “Italian babes” and a hotel room). The key, she says, lies in reconfiguring the way you look at having sex on camera — which inevitably involves spending a lot more time in your viewfinder.

Which is not necessarily a bad thing. “You see things that you wouldn’t normally have the time to focus on,” Holloway explains. “Twitching fingers, a hand on a thigh that looks amazing.”

And she’s hoping that fingers will walk to the site to check out its clothes-on segments, also. “We have these really sexy, amazing, vivacious women on our website, and I want people to lust and jerk off to them. But I also want them to hear what they have to say.” Woman’s POV has posted interviews with Kink.com fetish model Eden Alexander on what it’s like to work in the porn industry. Holloway has penned educational letters to the syphilis infection (Hitler, Van Gogh, Beethoven, and Lincoln, it says, were all rumored to be victims of the STI), and conducted an interview with erotic comedian and dandigrrl AfroDisiac.

“We’re showing the wholeness of what makes women attractive,” she says. “It’s not just their breasts or how they fuck, it’s what’s on their minds.” Bay Area women will have a chance to be featured on the site at Mission Control’s monthly queer sex-dance party Velvet on Fri/2 — Holloway and Young will be trucking out a dirty videobooth for self-filmed couplings (or singlings), not to mention conducting a workshop on the empowering and relationship-boosting aspects of filming your hook-ups with a partner. It will be a “fun and safe place for people to explore their exhibitionism on camera,” promises Holloway.

This kind of multi-lateral approach to sexuality is just what Young intended when she started her first website, Madison Bound, in 2005. Although she was already a successful sex performer who had been curating sex-art shows at Femina Potens for five years — having recently pulled together “White Picket Fences”, a multi-disciplinary look at what family and future mean to local queer artists and sex workers — she found the web to be a particularly useful tool when it came to advocating alternative sexualities.

“The Internet has the capacity to reach a lot more people,” she told the Guardian on a recent afternoon in the large, white Mission-Bernal Heights studio that is serving as the Femina Potens office space while the gallery is between brick and mortar locations. “I’m a girl from Southern Ohio and I’m always thinking about the girl from back there.” Despite her central role in a burgeoning alt sex community here in the Bay Area, she feels a responsibility to make images of queer sex available for Middle America. “You’re just not going to have this stuff happen in front of you in Iowa.” Other subsites on the Feminist Porn Network include Perversions of Lesbian Lust, a slutty take on lesbian pop novels, and Femifist, a site devoted to the much-maligned practice of fisting.

Young has known Holloway for years — Holloway has hosted many of Femina Potens’ “Other View” panel discussions on BDSM, consent, and the anti-rape movement — and over the past two has watched her develop a distinctive voice when it comes to directing porn. “I wanted Woman’s POV to be a place where she could explore that voice,” she says. “It’s super empowering for [the webmistresses and actors] because they’re able to find out what they think is hot. Women aren’t usually put in that position to be able to find what turns them on. People are like ‘oh my god that’s hot. Oh my god that’s me!'”

That kind of discovery, Holloway says, isn’t just sexy — it strikes back at the disempowering way that society treats sex workers. She mentions that she sees the site as an important step in the sex workers’ rights movement. When asked to elaborate, she says that the movement’s about “the ability to support yourself safely and creatively.” In other words, it’s not enough to have a safe working environment for adult film actors — although that’s important too. It’s important that sex workers have the opportunity to portray the kind of intimacy that turns them on. What better way to do that than hand them the camera? 

VELVET

Fri/2 8 p.m.-2 a.m., $20 free membership required

Mission Control

Private location, see website for details

www.missioncontrolsf.org

www.womanspov.com 

 

Grand re-entrance

3

le.chicken.farmer@gmail.com

CHEAP EATS It was one of those rainy rainy cold cold days, when all you can think about, if you’re me, is a steaming bowl of noodle soup. It was Sunday. Hedgehog was taking an all-day welding class at the Crucible. My football season was over, and I couldn’t play soccer because I’d yanked my hamstring playing football the weekend before, then ripped it playing racquetball. So I was under doctor’s orders to sit the hell still for a time.

Tick.

Times like these, the then-impendingness of my favorite holiday (the food one) notwithstanding, make me bat-shit crazy. I sat in our cozy little cottage in my mismatched pajamas, looking out the window at the rain, falling out of shape, and just generally going to guano.

I felt bad for my soccer buds, because — even though I’m the worst player on the team — they kinda needs me. For numbers. I tried to get Papi, who’s actually good, to play in my place, but (go figure) she didn’t feel like running around in the rain.

I did! Except I couldn’t, so I told my team I would show up and just stand on the field, just stand there, if it meant we wouldn’t forfeit. That’s how desperate I was.

“Don’t worry,” they said. “It’ll work out.”

Which it did: we won without me. Plus Papi wanted to get dinner later, so that gave me something to think about and look forward to. Then do, when Hedgehog finally finished welding.

We trucked over to the city to dine with Papi. At the re-grandly opened Lotus Garden! Their words: “Re.” “Grand.” “Opening.” On a banner hanging off the awning. (The punctuation is mine.)

I would have put that differently, and I don’t mean Grand Reopening; I’d have said Do-Over, Redo, Take 2, or even Mulligan.

The menu has changed. The décor has changed even more dramatically than the menu. And, finally, I have changed: 11 years ago or so when I reviewed Lotus Garden — not long after they grand-opened for the first time — I complained about small portions and probably tablecloths. Even though the people there were the friendliest people in the world and the food was, in my own words, great, I never went back. Word.

What a lug nut! I lived four blocks away. Vietnamese is my favorite kind of food. It always was. But I was more interested in quantity than quality, back then, as a matter of policy. And I thought this was cute.

Ergo, the mulligan is as much mine as theirs. Or — as a do-over implies having screwed up the first time — it’s all mine, I should say. Lotus Garden never did anything wrong. They caught on fire. Or the building next door did, last Spring, and they got licked by it. And by smoke and by water.

Blue Plate, on the other side of the fire, was back in bidness the next day. They didn’t get as licked. It took Lotus Garden half a year to re-grand-open, in which time they changed some things: They got rid of the table cloths. Or maybe they just burned away. But I’ll be damned if it doesn’t look lower scale than it used to. I like that.

I love this restaurant.

Here’s the hell why: in addition to all the usual pho and hot and sours, they have lemon grass noodle soup! I’m pretty sure that’s one of the new things, or else I’d have ordered it eleven years ago. I just loves me my tom yum, and this was practically that, only with noodles, and not only shrimp but catfish too! When beautiful things like that happen, we’re talking new favorite restaurant.

Papi thumbs-upped her vegetarian pho (also new, I’m thinking), and my beloved welder was wild about her grilled lemon-grass chicken, wrapped with lettuce, carrots, cucumber, mint, and peanuts in do-it-yourself rice papers. This is Lotus’s signature dish. Or signature-ish, anyway. The owner of the place grills it at your table.

She apologized for the wait: “Sorry it took so long. We had to go out back and catch the chicken. And kill it. And cut it up. You know,” she said. “Ha ha ha.”

It was love at first goofiness, as far as Hedgehog was concerned. Me too.

LOTUS GARDEN

Tue.-Sun.: 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; closed Monday

3216 Mission, SF

(415) 282-9088

D/MC/V

Beer and wine

 

A spirited winter

4

virginia@sfbg.com

APPETITE Whether hunting for the latest unusual spirits as a gift or searching out an ice-breaking pour for holiday festivities, these brand new products — a number of them local — are standouts from my incessant sampling.

 

TEMPUS FUGIT CRÈME DE MENTHE AND CRÈME DE CACAO

Praise be for the arrival (finally) of these game-changing liqueurs! I had the privilege of tasting early prototypes of local Tempus Fugit’s crème de menthe and crème de cacao well over a year ago. One taste and I could never go back to the cheap-tasting versions of both we’ve been stuck with for decades.

As popular elements in classic cocktails (you’ll find them all over the quintessential 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book), the Tempus Fugit team revives the crèmes to their original glory using natural herbs and botanicals. Just as they’ve done with Gran Classico and Creme de Violette, they recover recipes popular long before chemical additives and mass production. As I’ve said before, my guilty pleasure cocktail is a Grasshopper (confession: it was my first favorite cocktail at age 21), and no Grasshopper is more revelatory than one made with TF’s menthe and cacao with a splash of cream.

The crèmes also reinvigorate classic cocktails like the Stinger (brandy, crème de menthe) or a Brandy Alexander (cognac, crème de cacao, cream). Crème de menthe is crisp, minty, like breathing in fresh mountain air. Crème de cacao is earthy, dark chocolate with a light, subtly sweet hand. Waiting on label approval, TF has two more treasures in store for us, hopefully by early next year: a Fernet (less menthol, more layered herbaceous notes than Fernet Branca), and a Kina — a bitter, bright aperitif most closely related to Lillet. Again, tasting early versions of both historical recipes, I’m not surprised: they’re beauties.

$29.99 each, www.tempusfugitspirits.com

 

ESSENTIAL SPIRITS BIERSCHNAPS

Sergeant Dave Classick, master distiller and Vietnam War vet is known for his gold and silver rums (www.sgtclassick.com). Besides being a Bay Area local — his distillery is in Mountain View — he also runs Essential Spirits, producing a grappa, bierschnaps, and a pear brandy. All three (and the rums, for that matter) make worthy gifts, but “most unusual” points go to the bierschnaps.

Distilled in an Alembic still, this clear, Bavarian spirit is brewed from, you guessed it: beer, a California Pale Ale, light on the hops, which the Essential crew brews themselves. Smooth as a quality vodka, it evokes elements from spirits as varying as grappa to tequila, retaining a dry finish from American malt. Enjoy this rare German treat on the rocks, as a martini, or in Sergeant Classick’s own Classick Lime Rickey.

$34.99, www.essentialspirits.com

 

BITTERMENS SPIRITS AMÈRE SAUVAGE

Each November, the Indy Spirits Expo offers excellent small production pours, and even I find a few new surprises every year. This time, a winner was New York’s Bittermens Spirits (yes, of the popular indie bitters line), with a brand new line of five bitter liqueurs ($29.99).

Each is a worthy purchase, whether it be Amère Nouvelle, an Alsatian-style bitter orange liqueur used in classic cocktails like the Amer Biere (pale lager, bitter orange and gentian liqueur), or the limited edition Hiver Amer, a bitter orange-laced cinnamon liqueur, ideal in egg nog or toddies. My favorite at first taste was the Amère Sauvage, an alpine gentian liqueur. Tempering famously bitter gentian root herbs, it is earthy and lush in a White Negroni.

$29.99 each, spirits.bittermens.com

 

OLD WORLD SPIRITS GOLDRUN RYE

Old World Spirits, a small gem of a distillery just south of San Francisco in Belmont, produces a whole line of winners, from California-spirited Blade Gin and its aged counterpart, Rusty Blade, to the lushly spiced Kuchan Nocino black walnut liqueur. New release Goldrun Rye is the right gift for whiskey fans. K&L Wine Merchants (www.klwines.com) is stocking some of the first bottles available of this long-anticipated rye.

With an Old West label, the Gold Rush-inspired rye whiskey calls up warm cereal and whispers of molasses and caramel; it’s smooth enough to convert bourbon drinkers to the spiced pleasures of rye, the “other” American whiskey. Unlike many ryes, the spice doesn’t overwhelm. Rather, it tastes as a fresh as just-baked loaf of rye bread.

$36.99, www.oldworldspirits.com

 

CAORUNN GIN

In my recent travels through Scotland, I sampled a brand new Scottish gin called Caorunn, pronounced “ka-roon.” (Scottish gin? We’re seeing more, like Bruichladdich’s Botanist and Darnley’s Gin, made in England but with Scottish connections). Besides employing typical London dry style botanicals like juniper, Caorunn goes a different direction with Scottish ingredients like heather, dandelion, rowan berry, bog myrtle, and Coul blush apple (a total of six traditional and five Celtic botanicals make up the gin).

Despite its traditional roots, Caorunn plays against type with rosy apple notes, a crisp body, and dry finish. For gin lovers, it’s a slightly different take. In experimenting at home, I find it works best with rustic apple juice, bringing out a vivacious fall spirit evocative of the gorgeous Scottish Highlands in which it is made (it’s distilled at Balmenach Distillery).

$35, www.caorunngin.com

Bonus ideas: Any or all of the three stunning new gins from St. George‘s will warm their hearts. Art in the Age (a Philadeliphia-based company that created Root and Snap liqueurs, www.artintheage.com) just released Rhuby, a spirit based on 1700s American rhubarb tea recipes, made from rhubarb, beets, carrots, lemon, petitgrain, cardamom, pink peppercorn, coriander, vanilla, and pure cane sugar. And stay tuned for my palate-pleasing Scotch gift suggestions on the Pixel Vision blog.

Subscribe to Virgina’s twice monthly newsletter, The Perfect Spot, www.theperfectspotsf.com

The message of 1968

4

By J.H. Tompkins

LIT On October 16, 1968, in Mexico City, American Olympic sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos electrified the world by accepting their medals with heads down and gloved fists thrust proudly in the air. Their defiance provided a fitting end for a year that began with Czechoslovakia’s Prague Spring and America’s military humiliation during the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, and saw the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and its explosive aftermath, the general strike in France, the riveting presence and influence of the Black Panther Party, mushrooming opposition to the draft, and rioting in Chicago during the Democratic Convention.

Like Mohammed Ali, who in 1967 went to prison rather than fight in Vietnam, Smith and Carlos wrote an important page in American history. Like Ali, they have remained true to the principles they embodied years ago. Now, 43 years down the road, it’s hard to find anyone to speak against what they did.

But at the time, precisely because their enemy was weakened by exposure and their supporters inspired, they faced a blistering backlash. They were banished from Olympic Village, and sent back to the United States. Their crime? Smith and Carlos were allegedly guilty of tarnishing the spirit of an Olympic games that were supposed to be above and beyond politics.

Author-columnist-cultural critic Dave Zirin, who with Carlos has just published “The John Carlos Story: The Sports Moment That Changed the World,” has more than a few things to say about the sanctity of sports and the way political context shapes athletes as well as the games they play. These days, a conversation with Zirin has a special quality: not only has he written a book that sheds new light on an important, long-ago event, the present moment is energized by political turmoil that brings to mind the 1960s.

“I was an absolute sports junkie in the ’90s, when I was in college,” Zirin told me in a recent interview. “I memorized stats, followed every sport, it was my oxygen. I didn’t follow politics, much less politics in sports, until something happened that stopped me cold: In 1996 [Denver Nuggets guard] Mahmoud Abdul Rauf made a decision not to stand during the National Anthem. He was asked whether he understood that the flag was a symbol of freedom and equality throughout the world, and he said it may be to some, but to others it’s a symbol of oppression and tyranny. This was before the spread of the Internet, and Rauf’s stand was only covered by the mainstream media. They crushed him.”

Zirin realized then that there was an aspect of sports history he hadn’t concerned himself with, “the place where social justice and sports intersect,” as he put it. It has shaped the work he’s done since.

Among many other things, Zirin writes a column, “Edge of Sports” for the Sports Illustrated Website, has a weekly radio show called “Edge of Sports Radio” on XM, and contributes regularly to The Nation and SLAM Magazine. Along with “The John Carlos Story,” he was written books including “What’s My Name, Fool? Sports and Resistance in the United States,” “Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics, and Promise of Sports,” and “A People’s History of Sports in the United States.”

As Zirin and Carlos point out in the book, the futures of both runners were shaped by what they did in Mexico City. They struggled to find jobs, stability, and peace of mind. Still, Zirin writes “Unlike other 1960s iconography — Woodstock, Abbie Hoffman, Richard Nixon — the moment doesn’t feel musty. It still packs a wallop.”

It resonates because the injustices they protested are still rife in America, and because the arena in which they took their stand — sports — creates common ground for so many people.

“I don’t think there’s any place where the contradictions in American society are on such sharp display as in sports,” Zirin told me. “Think back to African American boxing champions Jack Johnson and Joe Louis. Neither made explicit political statements, but they had representative political power, representing power and pride in the context of racism and white supremacy. They weren’t just entertainers but in fact their presence, the inspiration they provided, was a threat to the established order of things.”

In sports today, there’s no doubt that athletes, in particular African American athletes, play a similar role. NBA hall of famer Charles Barkley once objected — perhaps with his tongue somewhat in his cheek — to the idea that he was a role model. Zirin laughed at the mention of this, saying, “Yeah, and the sky isn’t blue. You don’t chose to be a role model, you are one. It’s an objective thing. And if people are going to be role models, like it or not, then we all have to examine what they’re modeling. If you believe that the fact that a player can dunk makes him a great person, that says one thing. If having a sense of purpose in politics is important, then that says something very different.”

When Zirin and Carlos planned their book, both agreed that they weren’t interested in producing a sports memoir. “We didn’t want to say ‘look at me, genuflect at my athletic greatness.’ We wanted to say that not everyone can run at a world-class speed, but anyone can live a life dedicated to a sense of purpose.”

That approach runs head-on into a mainstream media that has made a point of emphasizing how “today’s pampered athletes,” as the media often put it, want nothing more than a fat pay check. There’s truth in this perspective — although it should be noted that both the NFL and NBA have experienced lockouts this year and that the same media outlets rarely describe the fabulously wealthy owners of professional franchises as pampered billionaires.

“I wrote an article,” he explained, called “‘NBA Players: Welcome to the 99%.’ Despite their money and privilege, they found themselves in a position where they were facing arrogant billionaires asking for a bailout because they made a lot of bad business decisions as NBA owners. It’s just like Wall Street bankers want American working people to cover all their bad bets. Will their proposed savings go back to fans? I don’t think so, they’ll just get a bigger slice of the pie.”

Besides, Zirin pointed out that there’s a lot more to the story that rarely reaches the public. Professional sports will publicly punish athletes who are caught crossing certain lines. But when it comes to speaking to the politics of injustice, the leagues try to deal with transgressions behind the scenes.

“There’s a ton of corporate and financial pressure on these athletes,” he says. “And these players talk to each other about guys like Craig Hodges [a guard on three Chicago Bulls championship teams], who in 1992 passed a note to Bush Sr. about Iraq War I when the Bulls visited the White House. He was drummed out of the league for that and these stories are passed down almost like scare stories. At the end of the day, we have to remember what Carlos and Smith did was in the context of global revolt and crisis. It was a symbol of the moment and a perfect merging of movements and moments. We can’t forget that.”

Although Zirin makes a point in his work to include athletes of all nationalities and sexual preferences, he has particular insights into the role African American athletes play in American culture.

“John Thompson says that Black athletes have the blessing of the burden of representation,” he noted. “It’s a burden because if one athlete does something, then it’s an issue for all Black athletes to deal with, for instance Michael Vick’s involvement with dog fighting. It’s not Peyton Manning’s problem that Chris Herron [a white one-time basketball standout from the mid-2000s] got on drugs. It works in a different way for Black athletes. The blessing part is the you’re part of a tradition, you stand on the shoulders of men and women like Jim Brown, Bill Russell, Wyomia Tyus, and Mohammed Ali, and you have an ownership of that tradition. It’s true that Steve Nash and all athletes are part of the tradition, but it runs more seamlessly through the African American community.”

These days, the sports world is talking about another scandal, this time the ugly situation at Penn State. Zirin discusses those problems in the context of a bankrupt culture, where the NCAA — the self-proclaimed moral arbiter of college sports — refuses to speak to hypocrisy that links all the problems in order to ensure its own survival.

Sooner or later, he said, the NCAA will either sink beneath its own corrupt weight, or athletes — who because of the professionalization of youth sports know each other in many cases from their early teens — band together and demand some compensation for the money that they generate. College presidents are the loudest complainers and the most important enablers.”

Public health and Occupy

8

By Sasha J. Cuttler

OPINION On November 17, Mayor Ed Lee’s administration declared OccupySF a "public health nuisance." The mayor and other city officials are using this declaration as a justification to evict the OccupySF camps.

But rather than being a nuisance, the Occupy camps are reclaiming public space and voices while making health disparities more visible. Dozens of health organizations are making statements of solidarity, including the American Public Health Association, with more than 30,000 members, which recently passed a resolution with overwhelming support of the Occupy movement.

San Francisco officials say that overcrowding and inadequate sanitation are causing a threat to public health and safety. But as noted by public health nurse Martha Hawthorne, "When is the last time city department heads have left their offices and taken a walk through the Tenderloin, just minutes away from the San Francisco Occupy site? Smells of human waste? Evidence of street drug use? Garbage on the street? It’s there and has been for years, the inevitable consequence of the lack of affordable housing and years of cutbacks to mental health and substance abuse funding in San Francisco."

As far as overcrowding of tents, Hawthorne goes on to note: "Overcrowding? Go anywhere in the city with a public health nurse. You’ll see multiple families living in one flat, sharing a kitchen, having their own tiny room if they are lucky and can afford it. People sleep in shifts and live elbow-to-elbow in garages, basements, closets, old office spaces — and they are the ones we nurses can see, because at least they have an address. "

The one percent is attempting to maintain control by blaming the victim. Rather than blame the marginalized for their misery, the Occupy movement opens an opportunity for dialogue and mass mobilization while providing tangible assistance to those in need of help right now. Homeless and mentally ill individuals have been receiving food and shelter at Occupy encampments everywhere.

The Occupy movement is making visible the public health consequences of insatiable corporate greed. Income inequality is closely paralleled, unsurprisingly, by poorer health outcomes. The rich are not only getting richer, they are living longer, healthier lives than the majority of us in the 99 percent.

Despite months of Occupy experience world-wide, the only evidence of ill health and injury directly related to the camps can be found in the hundreds of nonviolent activists exposed to clouds of tear gas, fountains of pepper spray, myriads of beatings, and volleys of rubber bullets. These incidents of state-sponsored violence can cause lasting health impacts on the individuals who are exercising their right to free speech and assembly.

We can do better than this. We need to use this gathering as a reminder that health care is a human right and do everything in our power to help, not hinder, the populations we serve.

Like thousands of other public health workers, I believe that the Occupy movement is creating an incredible opportunity that needs to be protected and expanded. Public health does need to be protected — and one of the best ways is through engagement with the Occupy movement, not through its eviction. 2

Sasha J. Cuttler, R.N., Ph.D, is a nurse and SEIU Local 1021 activist

The food divide

4

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Antonia Williams is part of a slow, quiet food revolution. After battling obesity for much of her adult life, the 26-year-old lifelong Bayview resident did some research. “I realized it had a lot to do with the food I consumed,” she told us. “As a result of growing up in the neighborhood, I suffer from obesity. I’m overweight because of the lack of options for good healthy food.”

“It’s what I grew up on, McDonald’s and a lot of fried food for dinner,” she recalls. “The grocery stores in the area were very limited in what they offered. I believe my parents weren’t as educated or aware” about health and nutrition.

Williams managed to escape this bad foods trap, change her personal diet, and now works as a “food guardian” for the nonprofit Southeast Food Access (SEFA), helping to bring more nutritious fare to the Bayview.

The complex of challenges Williams faced simply to eat well—the fast food all around her, the dearth of grocery stores, and lack of awareness—reflects the array of systemic barriers to good food that keep tens of thousands of San Franciscans in chronically poor health.

Under the weight of recession and double-digit unemployment, San Francisco’s chronic food divide has grown deeper and wider. From regions of the city like Bayview, Excelsior, and other Southeast neighborhoods, to seniors surviving on marginal fixed incomes, to the city’s swelling unemployed and underemployed who rely on food pantries, access to fresh food is a daily geographic and economic battle.

Roughly one in five San Franciscans each day has no reliable source of adequate sustenance and must scramble for food from soup kitchens, food pantries, or other “emergency” supplies that have become a structural part of the city’s food system, according to the San Francisco Food Bank.

Each month, more than 100,000 families rely on the Food Bank to help feed themselves — nearly double the amount from 2006. Economic recession has dramatically increased the number of city residents using food stamps (known as “CalFresh”) each month, rising from 29,008 in 2008 to 44,185 in 2010.

Yet even that rise belies a far deeper need: only 47 percent of those qualifying for CalFresh are actually accessing benefits, according to a data analysis by California Food Policy Advocates; at minimum, more than 40,000 additional city residents are entitled to get this help, and thus eat better.

Across the city, parallel economic and food divides compound one another, spelling serious trouble for people’s basic nutrition and health — in turn depleting their energy, cognition, and ability to do everything from succeeding in school to getting a job.

 

BEYOND GROCERY STORES

In Bayview, where poverty and unemployment run about double citywide averages, these geographic and economic food divides come to a head. District 10, encompassing Bayview/Hunters Point (BVHP), features some of the city’s most grocery-impoverished neighborhoods, and has the highest rates of CalFresh usage.

This confluence of lack and need—compounded by a prevalence of fast food and liquor stores over fresh food offerings—has inspired Antonia Williams and other residents to fight for better food in their neighborhoods.

As one of four paid Food Guardians for SEFA, Williams spends about 20 hours a week examining grocery store shelves in Bayview, talking with consumers and food retailers, and educating both about the need for more fresh non-processed foods.

One recent victory: armed with customer survey data, she convinced the Bayview Foods Co. to stock low-sodium tomato paste. Next on Williams’ food improvement list is getting more low-sodium products, less cholesterol, and more fiber on the shelves.

These may sound like small steps, but they’re part of a larger effort to get healthier food in Bayview, where chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease are rampant. “I think a lot of people just don’t know the link between the food we are eating and these chronic diseases,” says Williams.

The Bayview is among the city’s most food-deprived districts, with just 63 percent of residents living within a half-mile of a supermarket (in Excelsior, it’s 57 percent), compared with 84 percent citywide. That ratio improved somewhat with the arrival this August of Fresh & Easy supermarket on Third Street, but access to fresh produce remains limited — a situation that numerous studies show contributes greatly to chronic undernourishment and disease.

Indeed, statistics show Bayview area residents suffer by far the city’s “highest rates of everything negative,” as former district supervisor Sophie Maxwell puts it: obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

Ironically, the Bayview’s Third Street is home to the city’s bustling produce warehouses, which rattle early every morning with trucks and crates full of fruits and vegetable, “but you have to go out of the district to get it,” says Maxwell, who helped spearhead a Food Security Task Force while in office. “I was very much aware of [the food access problem] because of what I had to do to get food myself.”

Much of Third Street remains a boulevard of liquor stores and fried and fast food. According to Tia Shimada of California Food Policy Advocates, “A lot of what we see instead of food deserts is food swamps, where the amount of healthy nutritious food available is overwhelmed by all the fast food and junk food.”

Despite a seemingly diverse landscape of food businesses, “There’s a saturation in neighborhoods with unhealthy choices,” SEFA’s Tracey Patterson argues. “When the cheapest choice in front of you is fatty comfort food and fast food, that’s what you get accustomed to eating. The easier options quickly become habit.”

Kenny Hill, a 23-year-old food guardian and Bayview resident, puts it like this: “What we have in our community, that’s what we eat.” But he says history and culture play a role, too. “We need to change the culture of what’s considered good…Growing up eating salad, people would say, ‘Why are you eating that? That’s white people’s food.'”

In other words, it takes more than getting a grocery store—which itself involved a nearly 20-year struggle for Bayview residents and leaders. “Food access is just one part of the issue. Even if you get a grocery store, that doesn’t solve the problem,” says Patterson, whose group, SEFA, espouses “three pillars” to fix the area’s food problems: more grocery stores; education and health literacy; and expanded urban agriculture. “None on their own is enough.”

 

HUNGER CROSSES LINES

Getting a job isn’t enough either, statistics show. A recent study by the USDA cited by the Food Security Task Force shows that 70 percent of families nationwide with “food insecure” children have at least one member working full-time. And in San Francisco, the task force found, “39 percent of the households that receive weekly groceries through the SF Food Bank include at least one working adult. Only 18 percent of clients are homeless.”

At least by federal definitions of poverty, food insecurity isn’t just for poor people anymore — particularly in San Francisco, where exorbitant housing and other costs compound people’s struggles to meet their food needs. “If you just look at the poverty level, you’re missing a lot of people who are struggling to make ends meet,” says Colleen Rivecca, advocacy coordinator with St. Anthony’s Foundation. “Hunger and health and housing are so interconnected.”

Indeed, while the Federal Poverty Level for a family of three is $18,310, cost-of-living research by the INSIGHT Center for Community Economic Development found that in San Francisco, this family would need almost $40,000 more than that to make ends meet.

Rivecca says the ongoing recession is simultaneously deepening the food divides and undermining efforts to address it. For instance, SSI recipients must make do with $77 a month less than they got in 2009, while California is the only state where SSI cannot be supplemented by food stamps.

According to the Food Security Task Force, San Francisco “has an inordinately high number of residents who are elderly, low-income and/or blind and disabled — over 47,000 residents receive SSI.” Many are homebound, socially isolated, and living in SRO units without kitchens, and no means of preparing their own food. So it’s no surprise that these same people, who need help the most, often get it the least.

Due to “misconceptions about what qualifies,” says CFPA’s Kerry Birnbach, only 5 percent of Californians eligible for Social Security participate in CalFresh. “Senior citizens are more isolated, and the more isolated you are, the less likely you are to know about it.” Birnbach says that leads to lower nutrition, less energy, and greater hospitalization rates. “It’s not having food on the table — choosing between food and medicine.”

A 2006 study by the San Francisco Department of Aging and Adult Services found that while the city’s elders “received approximately 12.2 million free meals through all of the programs in the City including food pantries, free dining rooms, and home delivered meals, the gap between the number of meals served and the number of meals needed was somewhere between 6 [million] and 9 million meals annually.”

 

BAND-AID FOOD SYSTEM

As television cameras made clear on Thanksgiving, there’s no shortage of food and meal giveaway programs, soup kitchens run by churches and nonprofits — a whole constellation of ad hoc benevolence spread across the city. But this kind of “emergency food assistance” has become a structural part of the city’s dietary landscape.

Another main ingredient in the city’s food infrastructure is seemingly cheap fast food, which for many poor people becomes the diet of first and last resort. Sup. Eric Mar recalls meeting with teenage mothers and hearing one parent speak about dumpster diving at McDonald’s for what she called “fancy dinner.”

“The cheapest possible food like McDonald’s is seen as a luxury,” says Mar, who last year passed legislation preventing fast food chains from selling kids meals with toys unless they improved their nutrition content. “Poor people rely on whatever’s out there, and when McDonald’s or Burger King sells cheap, it undercuts families’ efforts to get healthy.”

District 10 Sup. Malia Cohen sees the impacts of fast food and junk food every day in Bayview. “There is no infrastructure out there to de-program people” from long-standing fast food habits. “I don’t fault people for eating fast food, but I do want them to think twice and know they have a choice.”

So what is the choice, and how will the city address its deep food divides, which cut across geographic and demographic lines?

So far, it’s a patchwork project. As one step, the supervisors in April passed a new zoning ordinance designed to encourage more urban food production. In Bayview, Cohen says, “We’re looking at urban agriculture as something that’s viable” to feed low-income residents.

Despite the arrival of Fresh & Easy, BVHP remains a critical flashpoint for the food security fight. Markets for fresh produce are few and far between. In 2006 the Department of the Environment teamed with Girls 2000 and Literacy for Environmental Justice to create the Bayview Hunters’ Point Farmers Market, but for a variety of reasons, the customer base wasn’t sufficient for farmers to keep selling there, and the project stalled. Now there is talk of reviving a farmers market in the area.

But for larger, more structural change to take hold, Mar argues, the food gap “has to be a citywide goal and priority.” And, he notes, bigger forces — notably agribusiness lobbies and congressional agriculture committees — make local progress more difficult. “It’s hard because the Farm Bill allows these food companies and commodity groups to keep their prices lower, and small businesses and producers have a hard time keeping their prices low,” encouraging more fast food and obesity and other diet-related diseases.

 

GREEN GLIMMERS

On a chilly gray late afternoon the day before Thanksgiving, we met with Patterson, Williams, and two other food guardians at Bridgeview Community Garden on the corner of Newhall and Revere in Bayview. Perched on a small chunk of slope overlooking houses and freeway traffic, the plot offers a thriving little harvest of tomatoes, kale, leeks, basil, and other vegetables and herbs. It’s not a lot of food, but along with other nearby agriculture, such as Quesada Gardens and the larger Alemany Farm, it helps bolster residents’ weekly dose of fresh produce.

Equally important, it gives budding food activists like Antonia Williams and Kenny Hill reason to believe things can change. After yanking a healthy crop of leeks from the soil, fellow food guardian Jazz Vassar, 25, notes, “There are a lot of community organizations doing good work here. We have high hopes to change things.”

Even as they work to nourish a different food future, the food guardians are acutely aware of the jagged rocks and stubborn old roots that need to be cleared. Asked what the city should do about Bayview’s many-layered food struggles, Hill responds: “Realize there is a problem in Bayview, and allocate resources here. There are statistics that this is a food desert, there are high rates of crime—people have to wake up and see that people here have been disenfranchised.”

It’s not about having the city do it for them, says Hill. “Give us something to latch on to so we can help ourselves.”

Former Bay Guardian city editor Christopher D. Cook is the author of Diet for a Dead Planet: Big Business and the Coming Food Crisis.

Hungry much?

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By Hugh Biggar

news@sfbg.com

Here’s something to chew on with your bagel and coffee—assuming you can afford that in these trying times. Roughly, 2.3 million Californians are receiving official help getting enough to eat, but nearly 3 million others who qualify are not.

In fact, California’s low enrollment in the federal food stamp program, known officially as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or in California, CalFresh, is costing the state both socially and economically.

“There’s a deepening crisis,” Matthew Sharp, a senior advocate with the nonprofit California Food Policy Advocates, said. “California’s high housing costs and extreme unemployment are two forces that have put pressure on households.”

Despite increasing need, however, less than half of those eligible for Cal Fresh assistance receive it, placing California next to last nationally. In other states, about 75 percent of those eligible for federal food stamp help take part, and some states are well above that threshold. Oregon, for instance, reaches about 90 percent of those who qualify.

In California, though, just about 43 percent of those eligible take part.

Socially, this means, of course, that millions of people are not getting enough to eat, leading to a range of other issues including health problems and hungry children underperforming at school. (In California, about 17 percent of children live in poverty, including roughly 3 million who qualify for free or reduced price meals.)

Economically, low participation in CalFresh also leaves money on the table at time when businesses and California’s tax bureau are badly in need of funds. While the money per day may seem small, $4.50 for individual or about the cost of that bagel and coffee, it can still go a long way. Weekly CalFresh assistance equals $31 for an individual, or $325 monthly for a family of four.

“Food stamps stimulate the economy in a variety of ways,” explained Chris Wimer, associate director of the Stanford Center for the Study of Poverty and Inequality.

For instance, the U.S. Department of Agriculture—the federal administrator of the food stamp program—has found that every $5 spent from food stamps generates about $9 in related economic activity.

Additionally, CFPA has found that boosting California’s food stamp participation to the 75 percent level would generate about $131 million in sales tax revenue, including $27 million for non-general fund expenses.

But instead, low enrollment means California’s loses out on about $5 billion annually or nearly $9 billion in related economic activity. On the county level, this includes losses as well. Los Angeles County is estimated to lose out on $1.3 billion in direct assistance and $2.4 billion in related activity; Alameda County, $106 million and $191 million; San Diego County, $354 million and $634 million.

At the same time, the level of need continues to increase due to a stalled economy and flat wages.

“Overall wages have dramatically declined, particularly in the services industries such as hotel workers,” Sharp said from CFPA’s Los Angeles office, noting that falling incomes have made Cal Fresh an increasingly common supplement to family’s budgets.

In addition, the type of person in need of help has also shifted, and can include college students, those with jobs but not making enough to get by, and senior citizens.

“The variety of households taking part has increased astronomically,” Sharp said. “This includes families that have never struggled with unemployment before and it has had a staggering effect on them.”

Elizabeth Kneebone, a senior research associate at the Brookings Institution, also said the changing face of poverty now increasingly includes the suburbs as well as inner-city neighborhoods. In California, inland cities such as Riverside and Fresno have seen rapid spikes in suburban poverty, she said, sometimes double the levels in urban areas. (In a report published this month, Kneebone also determined that Fresno ranked fifth nationally for neighborhoods with extreme poverty.)

Despite this grim news, California is making some strides towards helping those in need.

In October, for example, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law several bills that eliminated obstacles to CalFresh enrollment. Assembly Bill 6, for example, ended California’s unusual requirement that mandated that everyone 18 and over in a household receiving CalFresh be finger printed. New laws have also ended a rule requiring CalFresh participants to file quarterly reports. Instead, California will switch to simplified semi-annual, or roughly twice a year reporting, beginning in 2013.

But there are still challenges and threats ahead.

“The recession has erased a lot of the social gains made during the 1990s, so it will take a number of years to make that up,” said Caroline Danielson of the Public Policy Institute of California in Oakland. She also points to a need for smarter policies such as placing jobs closer to communities and public transit.

There is also concern that the current deficit reduction talks at the federal level could also add to the burden on households, increasing their need for supplemental help.

“The [deficit reduction talks] could reduce support for low-income families,” Stanford’s Wimer said. While the food stamp program may not be target, he added, related services such as a women and child component known as WIC could be on the chopping block.

“We’ll have to see how it plays out,” added CFPA’s Sharp. “But right now there is extreme pressure on households and they are struggling to find adequate resources. It is certainly not unreasonable to try to close that 50 percent [CalFresh] gap.”

This story was funded by a grant from the Sierra Health Foundation to do independent reporting on the topic of food access in California.

Whose park?

150

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Golden Gate Park and Ocean Beach have long been destinations for locals and tourists to take in natural beauty within an urban setting, but a controversial plan to build a complex of artificial turf soccer fields at their intersection is drawing opposition from neighbors and environmentalists.

The project seems to belie the original intent of Golden Gate Park as a uniquely wild setting. The Master Plan for Golden Gate Park, drafted in 1995, emphasizes environmental stewardship and maintaining the park in a natural, multi-use way. Among its provisions are “major meadows and lawns should be adaptable to host a wide variety of activities, rather than designed for a specific use.”

But the Recreation and Park Department (RPD) and sports advocates are pushing a plan to install seven acres of synthetic turf fields, complete with 60-foot, 150,000-watt lighting that will shine until 10 p.m. year-round.

The project will have its first major public hearing before the Planning Commission on Dec. 1 at 5 p.m. in Room 400 at City Hall. Public comments on the project’s Draft Environmental Impact Report, which was released in October, will be accepted at the Planning Department until 5 p.m. on Dec. 12.

Critics of the plan, including the Ocean Edge Steering Committee, have been distributing educational materials and trying to energize people to oppose a project that the group says runs counter to the park’s purpose and which will harm wildlife and cause other negative impacts.

The fields are slated to be installed over the four existing run-down grass fields in the Western Edge of Golden Gate Park, which sits directly across from Ocean Beach and next to the Beach Chalet historical building and restaurant. The project is projected to cost up to $48 million, about $20 million of which comes from the Clean and Safe Neighborhood Parks bond measure approved by city voters in 2008.

Advocates for the synthetic fields — most notably the City Fields Foundation, the main proponent of converting grass to turf in city parks (see “Turf wars,” 10/13/09) — say that this project will only take up a fraction of the natural space in the park, and that turf has many benefits over natural parkland.

“You can put a grass field in, but then you have to limit public access,” said Patrick Hannan, communications director for the City Fields Foundation. “If you want to have grass, there’s only so much sports play that can happen.”

Hannan says that this project is a response to the high demand for usable athletic fields and the limited play provisions of grass fields and availability of usable fields also limits the number of adults and children able to play sports.

RPD spokesperson Connie Chan was not responsive to Guardian questions about the project’s consistency with the Master Plan, and on the main project, she referred to a statement on the RPD website: “We are proposing to renovate the dilapidated Beach Chalet Athletic Fields in the western end of Golden Gate Park with synthetic turf, field lights and other amenities because Beach Chalet is one of three primary ground sports fields in San Francisco but unfortunately, these fields are in abysmal condition, often closed, and lacking spectator seating.”

But activists say the RPD shouldn’t disregard its own planning documents. “It took a long time to draft the Master Plan,” said Shawna McGrew, an activist who worked at RPD for 30 years. “They have no legal obligation, but a moral obligation to uphold the Master Plan.”

The grass soccer fields have been run down due to lack of maintenance and a continuing gopher problem. But environmental advocates argue that installing the planned light fixtures and synthetic turf will interfere with the wildlife, particularly the nesting birds.

“It’s been referred to as the mothership landing,” said Nature Trip tour guide and bird watcher Eddie Bartley, discussing the impact of the proposed lighting fixtures.

Environmentalists are seeking a greener alternative to this project.

“We feel that there’s a compromise alternative that should really satisfy the concerns that everyone has,” said Katherine Howard of the Ocean Edge Steering Committee. She said her group’s goal is “to renovate the athletic fields, but to do it with real grass. They need a good drainage system, a state of the art irrigation system, gopher control barriers, and top notch grass.”

Howard has spent a significant amount of time approaching people at Golden Gate Park to inform them of the upcoming plans. She believes that not enough park users have been notified about the proposal to install the synthetic turf.

“I had no idea that they were going to do that,” native San Francisco resident Rick Rivero said in response to Howard’s description of the plans. “I played soccer in this field myself and I don’t want to see them changed.”

Rivero said that he hadn’t seen any flyers around the park mentioning plans to change the soccer fields.

RPD originally tried to do the project with conducting an EIR to study alternatives and environmental impacts, but groups like the Golden Gate Audubon Society and Ocean Edge objected. The resulting DEIR stated that, after a few alterations and formal recommendations, the project will have a “less than significant impact” on the biological resources of the area. But environmentalists are dissatisfied with the report.

Among their objections was the report labeling some trees as “tall shrubs” in order to allow for their removal. Studies cited in the DEIR state that water toxicity from the runoff of synthetic turf fields — which can contains plastic and other waste products — “decreased over time” and should have no effect on those using them.

But there have been conflicting studies of that issue, the subject of controversy through the country. Environmentalists noted that water used in natural fields filters down into the underground aquifer where it can be reused, whereas runoff from the turf will be need to be treated as wastewater, a fact given short shrift in the DEIR.

“In our opinion, the EIR is inadequate and incomplete,” Howard said. “And we will be submitting letters to that effect before Dec. 12th, as well as testifying to that on Dec. 1st.”

But the DEIR doesn’t wholly endorse the project. For example, it also states that the project’s impact on cultural resources, referring to the original intent of Golden Gate Park, will be “significant and unavoidable.”

Some parents and sports enthusiasts are disappointed with this backlash and argue that the turf fields will provide an important asset to the city.

“I’m 60, but a few decades ago I played soccer on the Beach Chalet Fields. They were in crappy condition [then] and they’re still in crappy condition,” said Tim Colen, a “soccer parent” we were referred to by Hannan. Colen is also executive director of the San Francisco Housing Action Coalition and someone who regularly testifies at City Hall in favor of large development projects.

“It surprises me that a small minority of people has been able to obstruct this project,” Colen said, noting that many parents support the project because the shortage of fields is forcing families out of the city and toward the readily available fields in the suburbs.

Community meetings and even mayoral forums have addressed the proposed Beach Chalet fields. As reported by the RichmondSF blog, mayoral candidate Joanna Rees showed up to a debate wearing her daughter’s soccer jersey and voiced opposition to the artificial turf. Board of Supervisors President David Chiu also reminisced about the joy of playing soccer on grass fields.

Other community meetings have been flooded with youth soccer players from San Francisco and beyond advocating the installation of the turf fields. But local environmentalists say Golden Gate Park was meant to be a refuge for all city residents and visitors.

“Golden Gate Park was created as a place for people to get away from the city,” Howard said. “The amount of contiguous park land is very important.”

The problem of the UC police

0

EDITORIAL Twenty years from now, when people look back on the Occupy movement, one of the indelible images will be the video of the University of California police officer casually dousing a group of peaceful, seated students in Davis with pepper spray. It’s a video that’s been seen millions of times around the world. It reflects a serious problem not just with one officer but with the way officials at all levels have responded to the protests — and with the way institutional police forces operate in this state.

In the video, a group of students involved in the OccupyUC movement are seated on the ground with arms linked. Lt. John Pike walks up and down the row, indiscriminately shooting the orange spray — which causes severe pain and breathing problems — over the students, who make no move to resist. It’s horrifying and stunning, the sort of thing that you wouldn’t believe unless you saw it yourself.

The Davis chancellor, Linda Katehi, has been reeling from the incident and is facing calls for her resignation. Pike and the chief of the U.C. Davis police have been put on administrative leave pending an investigation.

But now Assemblymember Tom Ammiano of San Francisco wants to go a step further — he wants to hold hearings in Sacramento not just on this incident but on how police agencies across the state have dealt with mostly nonviolent protesters. He’s absolutely right — and his hearings should also raise a critical question: Why does the University of California need its own armed police force?

The problems with the police at Davis mirror problems with the behavior of the UC Berkeley police — which mirror problems with the BART police. And all of them stem from a central problem: These little police fiefdoms have poor supervision, poor training and limited civilian oversight.

The chancellor of UC Davis doesn’t know anything about running a police department; she’s an electrical engineer and an academic. If she resigns, she’ll be replaced by another academician who knows nothing about law enforcement. And if the UC police misbehave, where do people go to complain? There’s no independent auditor, no office of citizen complaints.

If the Oakland police ran rampant — and they have been known to do exactly that — at least the elected mayor can be held accountable. Same for any city that has a municipal force. But when campus and transit security operations turn into armed paramilitary agencies, it’s a recipe for trouble.

At the very least, the UC police — like the BART police — need an independent oversight agency to handle complaints. But it might be time to discuss whether campuses can best be protected with unarmed security guards supported by local municipal police. The University of California will never take that step on its own, so the state Legislature needs to evaluate whether lawmakers should force the issue.

Editor’s Notes

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tredmond@sfbg.com

I want to take a few Republicans on a road trip.

A few days after the GOP-led Congress cut off funding for high-speed rail in California, I drove to Los Angeles for Thanksgiving. I wish the critics of the project were with me in the car, with two kids fighting in the back seat, constant traffic delays, and about as unpleasant an automobile excursion as you can imagine.

I hate driving. When I was 16, in the New York suburbs, all I wanted to do was drive; now I can’t stand it. But when you’re invited to a friend’s house 380 miles away and flying is too expensive and the one rail line that lumbers along the north-south corridor takes 14 hours and is always three or four hours late, there’s not much of an option.

And even by my standards, I-5 is a miserable experience. It’s crowded, it stinks like the piss of 5,000 doomed cows, and it goes on forever. On and on and on, through fields where big agricultural corporations using heavily subsidized water grow cotton in the desert, up the grapevine, down the grapevine, fighting trucks and too many cars, no place to stop and stretch your legs … I-5 isn’t a working road like 101, where people commute to work and go shopping and get on and off after a few miles. Most of the way from Sacramento to L.A., there’s nowhere to go — 40 miles or more between exits. Everybody on the road — all 10,000 or 20,000 or 50,000 or however many gasoline-powered steel boxes were crammed onto the concrete ribbon Thanksgiving week — were in it for the long haul. People drive I-5 to get from one end of the state to the other; that’s why the thing exists.

And that’s why it’s about the best place in the country to run a high-speed rail line.

Seriously: I bet 90 percent of the people on that wretched roadway Thanksgiving week would have been thrilled to take a train directly from downtown San Francisco (or Sacramento) to Union Station in L.A. — particularly if the ride took half the time of the drive and cost about the same.

I can talk forever about fossil fuels and climate change and air pollution and all the reasons people should get out of their cars. But all you have to do to convince any reasonable person that driving from S.F. to L.A. is a bad idea is to do it.