Volume 46 Number 10

December 7-13, 2011

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Volume 46 Number 10

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Cult wonder

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tredmond@sfbg.com

LIT If you’re shopping for that special thriller fan on your list, you might want to pop an I.O.U. into his or her stocking: the best thriller of the year doesn’t hit bookstores until Dec. 27.

That would be The Innocent (Crown, 336 pp., hardcover $24) by Taylor Stevens, who came out of nowhere to hit the New York Times bestseller list with her first novel, The Informationist. Stephens back with the same series character (Vanessa Michael Munroe), the same edgy but brilliant prose, and a plot that takes us into the real — and chillingly autobiographical — world of an abusive apocalyptic cult.

That’s where Stevens grew up: she was born into the Children of God, where nobody was allowed more than a fifth-grade education, adults took sexual advantage of teenagers, young women were forced into prostitution (all in the name of recruiting new members), and adults were almost as frightened to leave as to stay.

There’s a bit of a J.K. Rowling story here: Stevens started writing The Informationist when she arrived in Houston with her then-husband and two kids. With no job skills, just out of the cult, her family was living on minimum-wage jobs, barely scraping by — and after buying a Robert Ludlum book at a garage sale, she decided to write a thriller. “I was really, really just scraping by, it was horrible,” she told me in a recent phone interview.

“Selling The Informationist changed everything.” Although the money from the bestseller hasn’t fully trickled down to her, “if I want to buy something for the kids, It’s actually possible now.”

The Informationist introduced the world to Monroe, who is slight, sexy, and moves back and forth easily between male and female appearance. She kicks serious ass, speaks 22 languages and peddles black market information. Her childhood was harsh; she spent her teens living with a violent gunrunner in Africa, but the wildness and the pain were the only elements of Stevens that made it into the first book.

Yet Stevens told me she had to write about the cult world at some point. “People keep asking me what my life was like,” she said. “So I can tell them — if you want to know what it was like growing up, read this book, that’s what it was like.”

The characters, she said, are fictional, “but everything that happens in the book happened to someone.”

The Innocent is set in Buenos Aires. A five-year-old girl named Hannah is snatched and brought into the world of The Chosen, led by a charismatic figure known as The Prophet who refers to the world outside the cult at The Void.

Hannah’s father has been searching the world for her, and discovers that the cult is hiding her in Argentina. He convinces Munroe to go in and get her. That involves slipping into the world of the cult herself — and in the process, Stevens shows us a life that very few people have ever experienced. Among the most painful elements: Once Hannah is rescued, she isn’t sure she whether she wants to go back.

Along the way, of course, is vintage Michael Monroe action, including an escape from four armed men in a locked warehouse. (Munroe is better with a knife than most mob thugs.)

The Innocent, for whatever reason, isn’t as raw as The Informationist. There’s less blood and less intense violence. And Monroe is developing as a character — the cold face that she showed us last time is mellowing a bit, and in The Innocent, she even kinda, sorta falls in love. Maybe.

There’s always a challenge in continuing-series characters, and writers have struggled with it since the advent of the modern pop-culture novel. Ian Fleming got bored of James Bond after a few books, and you could tell. John D. MacDonald let Travis McGee get old before his time. Robert. B. Parker never let Spenser change much, but he was Spencer, and that was always enough. Lee Child is struggling to keep Jack Reacher from becoming a caricature of himself.

Stevens is still in the early stages; she told me she’s not even sure where Monroe is going next. Which is why, I think, The Innocent works, and the next one will work, too — you really sense that the writer is growing with her protagonist in this, the best thriller series in a long time.

Cruel revolution

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cheryl@sfbg.com

LIT “As one survivor told me,” author Julia Scheeres writes in her introduction to A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Hope, Deception, and Survival at Jonestown (Free Press, 320 pp., $26), “nobody joins a cult.”

I remembered this refrain, possibly spoken by the same survivor, from Stanley Nelson’s 2006 Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple. Recent works like Nelson’s film and Scheeres’ book suggest perceptions about Jonestown are shifting away from sensationalism. The broad strokes are well-known: a charismatic, maniacal preacher; a jungle settlement; over 900 people dead, including a Congressman; a vat of poisoned punch. But the story — explored in A Thousand Lives as a deeply disturbing human tragedy on a nearly unthinkable scale — neither starts nor ends there.

Scheeres, who keeps an office in the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto, pored through recently-released FBI files while researching A Thousand Lives. “The FBI released its files on three CDs, without a real index. So a letter that started on CD one, page 20, could end on CD three, page 350,” she remembers. “Organizing the material — 50,000 pages of documents — a lot of it was really boring shipping manifests. Crop reports. But then, oh, hey! Here’s a memo from the camp doctor discussing with [Jim] Jones how they’re gonna kill everyone.” Building from this material, the book focuses on five Peoples Temple members and views the experience of Jonestown through their eyes.

“[I chose my subjects] based on whether they were still alive, and I was able to interview them at length, or whether they had left a lot of primary source documents behind,” she says. “I also wanted to talk about the different demographics of the church, so you have old, young, black, white. A woman who has an MFA from San Francisco State, and a young black man with a GED from Oakland.”

Though A Thousand Lives does offer some background on Peoples Temple founder Jim Jones, “I wanted to know what it was like to be a rank-and-file member of the church,” Scheeres says. She uncovered powerful evidence that Jonestown was not a mass suicide, as the unfortunate phrase “drinking the Kool-Aid” suggests. Instead, she says, “it was a mass murder.”

As suggested by that sinister memo from the camp doctor, A Thousand Lives’ most startling revelation is that Jones had been fixated on killing his followers long before the events of November 18, 1978. According to Scheeres, he considered loading his congregation onto buses and plunging them off the Golden Gate Bridge, or onto a plane “and having someone shoot the pilot.” (Eerily, he even sent one of his followers to flight school in preparation.)

Soon, though, he was consumed by the idea of Jonestown: “a new society in the middle of the virgin jungle, a utopia that would be free of sexism, racism, elitism, and all other evil-isms,” Scheeres writes. The promises of Jonestown echoed Jones’ seemingly progressive message of equality, which is what attracted most Peoples Temple members to the church in the first place. It was also what had endeared Jones to San Francisco politicians, who were in awe of his ability to “mobilize thousands of people to vote,” according to Scheeres.

But in reality, “he had no desire to see his followers flourish in South America. He was already fantasizing about their deaths. Would his people die for him if he asked them to?” Turns out they had no choice. While she was writing A Thousand Lives, Scheeres took a trip to Guyana and visited what’s left of Jonestown.

“It’s remote, dense jungle,” she says. “Everything looks the same. It would be so easy to get lost. And as you’re walking through, you can hear things slithering in the leaves. Jim Jones told [his followers] that if they tried to escape, they’d be killed by ‘mercenaries’ — really, his sons that were [hiding and] shooting on the camp — or they would be killed by the jungle animals.”

Of course, when they left San Francisco, more or less willingly, Peoples Temple members — like Scheeres subject Hyacinth Thrash, an elderly African American woman who dreamed of a place where racism didn’t exist — expected to find a “utopia,” as they’d been promised.

“[Jones] was so suave and gentle in San Francisco, and would tell you what you wanted to hear, like the ultimate caring father figure. Then once he got down to Jonestown and had everyone trapped there, he just turned. You can hear him on those tapes just screaming, you know. ‘You old bitch, you’re gonna die!’,” Scheeres shudders. “The rank-and-file had no idea that he had this ideation of ‘revolutionary suicide’ until it was too late. They couldn’t escape. They were surrounded by guards holding crossbows, and behind them, a circle of guards with guns, and basically told, ‘If you don’t drink the poison, we’re going to shoot you.'”

Though she has no direct personal connection to Jonestown, Scheeres’ own background, detailed in her 2005 memoir Jesus Land, made her an unusually sympathetic outsider. “The interests aligned: race, religion, seclusion. When I was a teen, my brother and I were sent to this religious reform school in the Dominican Republic, where all of our communications with the outside world were censored, where all of these horrible things were happening that we couldn’t let anybody know about,” she says. “Obviously my situation wasn’t as bad [as Jonestown]. The head of the school wasn’t goading us toward revolutionary suicide. But the whole sense of powerlessness and feeling trapped and helpless — I could identify with that.”

Decades later, Jonestown continues to fascinate; dozens of books have been written by survivors, relatives of survivors, conspiracy theorists, cult experts, and scholars of macabre history. A Thousand Lives — meticulously researched, and written with clear-eyed, sensitive perspective — is a valuable resource for readers seeking truth, not misinformation, about the tragedy.

“Most people under 40 probably don’t remember Jonestown well, if at all. But most people have heard the phrase ‘drinking the Kool-Aid.’ I find that phrase very offensive, because they didn’t drink the Kool-Aid. First of all, it wasn’t Kool-Aid, it was Flavor Aid. Second of all, they were forced to drink the poison. ‘Drinking the Kool-Aid’ implies naïve, stupid, not thinking, kind of dumb, following the leader, and not questioning. And they were questioning. That’s what my book argues throughout,” the author says. “They argued with Jones: ‘We didn’t come down here to die. We came down here for a better life for ourselves and our kids.’ So I think ‘drinking the Kool-Aid’ needs to be excised from the cultural lexicon.”

What’s more, “I hope people will reconsider the conclusions of Jonestown after reading the book,” Scheeres says. “I think it’s a tremendously compelling tale; 918 people died that day, as a result of Jim Jones, and younger generations need to be cognizant of that. Again, he had his people trapped in Guyana, so by the time they were saying, ‘I want to go home’ — and that’s another heartbreaking thing, was finding all these notes from people to Jim Jones, saying ‘I want to go home. I want to go back to San Francisco. I hate it here. I’m miserable. My children are afraid and I don’t know how to tell them that death is a good thing’ — [it was too late]. Reading all of those notes, these voices have been silenced. Now, finally, I feel like I am the loudspeaker, or their medium for letting their voices be heard. It’s too late [to save them]. They’ve been dead for 33 years. But for the record — they did not want to die.”

www.juliascheeres.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Occupy hip-hop

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caitlin@sfbg.com

LIT The Occupy movement, though it’s been criticized by many for the lack of racial diversity among protesters, has certainly attracted its share of black rappers. Here in the Bay, Boots Riley has been a vocal supporter, participating in Oakland’s November 2 general strike. On the other side of the country Occupy Wall Street has met Kanye West, not to mention music mogul Russell Simmons (okay, he’s not a rapper) making space in his predatory debit card-selling schedule to stage rants over the influence of lobbyists on the federal government. And how could forget the furor that erupted over Jay-Z’s line of OWS-inspired Rocawear T-shirts?

The admirable efforts of Boots notwithstanding, there was a time when all of hip-hop was going to save the world, not just sell its most vital revolutions for $22 a shirt. The time is ripe, it seems, for some books to pay homage to that fact. And although they vary in the specifics, there are a few that are doing just that.

THE PLOT AGAINST HIP HOP

By Nelson George

(Akashic Books, 176pp, paper, $15.95)

Hip hop academic par excellence Nelson George is occupying the bottom half of a computer screen for a Skype-conducted interview with the Guardian.

George’s latest novel (his third, though he’s better known for his non-fiction, including the seminal Death of Rhythm and Blues) follows the adventures of D. Hunter, a security guard from the projects of Brownsville, Brooklyn. Hunter is embroiled in the murder of Dwanye Robinson, a hip hop academic who bears more than a passing resemblance to George himself. To solve the crime, Hunter must plunge into the untoward world of the hip-hoperati — the movers and shakers and producers and makers that may or may not be out to annihilate the culture’s populist powers.

George isn’t an adherent of all the conspiracy theories in the book. But he is concerned about a “chill factor” that has artists considering the views of corporate sponsors before penning lyrics that speak truth to power.

“This stuff they’re making,” he says, speaking of today’s radio stars in his characteristically familiar tone (he is, after years of writing about them and producing VH1’s Hip Hop Honors awards show, on a first name basis with many of the big guns). “They’re not even hoping for art. They’re just hoping to sell sugar water, T-shirts — whatever Jay(-Z)’s selling this week. I don’t think people were feeling that way about L.L., Eazy E.

“There was a whole period when every success, every commercial was a cause for celebration,” he says. “Now, the whole game has to change.”

And in Occupy, he sees an opportunity. Emcees have made their way down to Zuccotti Park — and not just Simmons and Jigga. Talib Kweli, Lupe Fiasco, and David Banner (of “Whisper Song” fame) have performed and listened at their local Occupy encampment. “I think this will goose people to deal with a lot of things that are going on,” says George.

Reading the rife-with-history Plot Against Hip-Hop can’t hurt one’s knowledge of the institutional forces behind what we hear on the radio. Says George before signing off: “Every book I write is a tool of education.”

THE LEGENDS OF HIP HOP

By Justin Bua

(Harper Design, 160pp, hardcover, $34.99)

Of course, not every one believes in the institutional approach to social change. Hip-hop artist and author Justin Bua follows the personal habit gospel. “Veganism, that would really change the world,” he says. “Everyone should have a garden if they can. When people lead, the leaders follow.”

This individualized vision of change makes sense in relation to Bua’s art. He is a portraitist, famous for “The DJ,” a print of which went viral in the college-dorm-room-poster sense of the word. Though he started out by painting jazz scenes, he created “The DJ” after convincing his distributor that there was a chance that hip-hop images would sell just as well. He was right — that initial foray turned out to be one of the top selling posters of all time.

His most recent project is a love ode to similarly meteoric rises: to the B-boys, graffiti artists, emcees, and producers that made it to the top of the pack. In Legends of Hip-Hop, Bua pairs his trademark expressive faces and limbs with kind-of journal entries that sum up what they to him, or to the world of hip-hop at large. Veganism doesn’t make an appearance — but that’s not to say the book is without social significance for him.

“These people are part of our history,” Bua says during his Guardian interview at vegan Mexican restaurant Gracias Madre. “It’s really in the tradition of the Grecos, the Raphaels, the Rubins.”

And where the old masters painted kings and queens, Bua paints Biggie and Queen Latifah. To Bronx-bred Bua, they are royalty and more than that, the meter sticks of our time. Hip-hop’s effects can even be seen in the Oval Office (President Obama’s is the face that concludes Legends of Hip-Hop).

Bua thinks this power can be harnessed. “If you look at all the money generated by hip-hop — that could change the world.” And by no means does he think that the animal-product-free lifestyle and that of beats and breaks are unrelated.

“I think being vegan is the ultimate expression of hip-hop,” he says before rattling off a list of dairy-free icons. (KRS-ONE, Russell Simmons, Dead Prez, DJ Qbert, and famous breakdancer Mr. Wiggles the are all vegans.) “It’s irreverent, subversive, truth — it’s about having a clear head and mind. The ultimate form of respect is to not eat each other. That’s fucking weird.”

SOME DAY, IT’LL ALL MAKE SENSE

By Common

(Atria Books, 320pp, hardcover, $25)

Common’s autobiography (which he penned with the help of ghostwriter Adam Bradley) debuted in the 20th spot of the New York Times’ hit parade. The book itself is heartrendingly earnest — you’ll find none of the sly jabs of Bua or George hidden among its pages. But in a way, it is the more personal ode to the curative powers of hip-hop than either of those authors’ tomes.

Putting aside the namedropping of ex-lovers (Erykah Badu) and current brothers (Kanye West), Some Day exposes a shocking truth. Common, he himself insists, is no more godly than the rest of us — he just chose the music as the rope that would pull him to that level. Sure, he wrote the woman-worshipping “The Light,” but don’t you still hear him using the word ‘bitch’?

Common has perhaps the most call of the three authors to strike out against Tea Party tomfoolery and mechanized mediocrity in American government. (Lest we forget, when Obama invited him to perform at the White House, the Fox News Palin-Hannity-O’Reilly cabal screeched he was a “vile rapper” in part due to his song for Assata Shakur — something he speaks frankly about.) He also seems to have realized something that many haven’t: hip-hop can be, in fact has proven itself to be, a tool towards whatever ends an artist has in mind.

The player shapes the game. Which is something, I fear, that will take a long time to start making sense to some.

Get read!

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ROCK AND ROLL ALWAYS FORGETS

By Chuck Eddy

Duke University Press

352 pp., paper, $24.95

Chuck Eddy glides through music criticism like a grumpy fanatic. Each article included in Rock and Roll Always Forgets — culled from Eddy’s vast back catalogue of music journalism articles, beginning with the early 1980s — is packed with cultural references, touchstones, facts, witty asides, a dash of snark, and acknowledgments of once-obscure acts. Yet, he approaches each band like he’s the first to have discovered it. He’s a musical anthropologist, but also, archeologist, digging up the remains of musicians past, lest we forget. Take a piece on a Marilyn Manson show, written in 1996. More than simply describing the stage and the crowd (which he does, expertly: “[they] wore too much black makeup, but they didn’t scare me — most seemed to be upper-middle-class Catholic school teens from the burbs…”). He wanders near profundity, dissecting Manson’s overall persona, his ticks, his own cultural references, and those who came before him, namely Alice Cooper, but a great many more. Most importantly, Eddy alludes to why that all matters in the least. (Emily Savage)

 

TROPIC OF CHAOS

By Christian Parenti

Nation Books

295 pp., hardcover, $25.99

Through historical research and on-the-ground reporting in Kenya, war-torn areas of Afghanistan, and other regions marked by intense conflict, Christian Parenti offers an unusual and compelling analysis of violence through the lens of the environment. Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence teases out the idea that increasingly unstable weather patterns stemming from climate change have fueled conflict throughout impoverished areas of the Global South. In the savannahs of northwest Kenya, for instance, deadly cattle raids have intensified as intertribal warfare heats up in the face of water scarcity. Recurring droughts and floods in Afghanistan have made it exceedingly difficult for farmers raise traditional crops, making them increasingly reliant drought-resistant poppy — the raw ingredient for heroin — for economic survival. Parenti also turns a sharp eye upon the repression, surveillance, and counterinsurgency that first-world nations have employed to combat growing violence in water-scarce, conflict-ridden regions, and calls for a more enlightened approach. (Rebecca Bowe)

 

CAFE LIFE SAN FRANCISCO

by Joe Wolff

Interlink Books

224 pp., paperback $20

Small quirks in this guide to the city’s cafes and coffeehouses — the sixth in a series that includes Sydney, New York, and Venice — will let you know its not strictly, strictly for locals. Java Beach is lumped in with more gearhead-oriented Mojo Bicycle Cafe and Ninth Avenue’s Arizmendi Bakery is filed under the catchall “Sunset District and vicinity.” The introduction’s discussion of “San Fran” versus “Frisco” versus “the City” is one that became boring long ago. But those things matter little. In-depth histories of some of your favorite cafes, from Java Beach to Philz’ to Caffé Baonecci are lucid looks at the facts and rewards of small entrepreneurship in the city. And Roger Paperno’s loving photography of velvet crema and foccacia sheets combines with words to create an ode to the city’s third spaces that any caffeine-laptop addict will appreciate in their stocking. (Caitlin Donohue)

 

LIONS OF THE WEST: HEROES AND VILLAINS OF THE WESTWARD EXPANSION

By Robert Morgan

Algonquin Books

497 pp., hardcover, $29.95

Biography can be the best history; stories of the people who changed the world (for better, and often for worse) are more compelling than turgid texts of dates and places. Lions of the West recounts the development of the American frontier from the end of the Revolutionary War to the Civil War era through the lives of 10 men. Yeah, all men. In fact, Morgan (by choice or by the longtime bias of American historians) makes it appear as if all of the great and evil deeds done as the nation moved Westward Ho were the province of the male of the species. At times, the profiles are a bit over the top (I don’t really care that much about Kit Carson’s personal life.) Overall, though, it’s a detailed, lively, and informative book that minces no words, especially when discussing the theft of much of the southwest from Mexico. San Franciscans will enjoy learning who Stockton, Sloat, Castro, Winfield, and a few other streets were named after. (Tim Redmond)

 

VHS: ABSURD, ODD, AND RIDICULOUS RELICS FROM THE VIDEOTAPE ERA

By Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher

Running Press

272 pp., paper, $14

Found Footage Festival founders and comedy writers Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher are apparently the Indiana Joneses of VHS, unearthing remarkable video package cover art that would otherwise be relegated to hoarder basements, bonfires, and anywhere else the worst (a.k.a., the best) videotapes go to die. I salute these dudes, even though the captions they tag each page with aren’t always funny or necessary. Truly, the covers (soft-focus and garish, tacky and baffling) speak for themselves, direct dispatches from ye olden days, long before YouTube brought WTF-ness to anyone with an Internet connection. You see, children, back in the 1980s or 90s, home viewers had to seek this shit out: instruction in squirrel-calling, chair-dancing, seduction, hairstyling (“What the Heck Am I Going to Do With My Hair?”), baby-proofing, spotting counterfeit Beanie Babies, etc. Straight-to-video masterpieces (F.A.R.T.: The Movie). Horrible exercise fads (“Bunnetics: The Buttocks Workout”). Well-meaning but also ghoulish-looking self-improvement vids (“Face Aerobics”). Every page is magical. Your mind will be blown. (Cheryl Eddy)

 

BI-RITE MARKET’S EAT GOOD FOOD

By Sam Mogannam and Dabney Gough

Ten Speed Press

297 pp., hardcover, $32.50

Bi-Rite Market is the ultimate neighborhood grocery. Shockingly small (with ambition to expand), it’s jam-packed with the best in organic produce, meats, cheeses, and artisan food products, much of it local. Now, Bi-Rite founder Mogannam has a new book loaded with recipes for such inviting delectables as white bean puree with prosciutto crespelle and strawberry rhubarb pie. But don’t relegate it to the cookbook category. Hewing to Bi-Rite’s mantra of creating community through food, the authors share extensive tips on shopping seasonally and locally for the healthiest and best-tasting products, no matter where you may live. You’ll learn what to look for at the grocery, storage and usage tips, and more. Well-illustrated sections feature produce (broken down by season), wine, beer, cheese, deli meats, butchery, baked goods, and even farmer profiles. Bonus: stay tuned for Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones, Bi-Rite’s ice cream and frozen treats recipe book from its renowned creamery, out this April. (No word yet on whether it’ll tell us how to beat the ever-present line outside.) (Virginia Miller)

 

DAMNED

By Chuck Palahniuk

Doubleday

247 pp., hardcover, $25

Welcome to Hell, as seen through the eyes of 13-year-old Madison Spencer, the daughter of a jet-setting yet eco-hyperconscious movie starlet and philanthropist. This is Dante’s Inferno meets The Breakfast Club, a film that overtly informs the plot and its main characters. As in Palahniuk’s breakout novel Fight Club, it’s hard distinguish between reality and perception as Maddy leads readers past the Vomit Pond, across Dandruff Desert, and right into Satan’s black Town Car. As she recalls her final weeks on earth, you’re pretty sure that she didn’t really die from a marijuana overdose. Clearly, things are not what they seem as the novel looses an American teenager’s perspective on modern life in both the underworld and earthly realm, with wry commentary on everything from pop culture and capitalist excess to the defeated religions whose fallen gods roam Hades. The gags alone — like the telemarketing and chatroom porn the damned deliver to Earth, and Hell’s endless loop of The English Patient — make this a tough book to put down, all the way to its slightly unsatisfying conclusion. (Steven T. Jones)

 

BEST AMERICAN COMICS 2011

edited by Alison Bechdel

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt,

352 pp., paperback $25

Chris Ware’s textbooky flowcharts; Angie Wang’s Technicolor, spiraling pistil-armed super-flower-heroine; Peter and Maria Hoy’s intricately plotted cause-and-effect grid art — the sixth year of this hardcover assemblage of the year in superlative strip art soars as a holiday gift for your fave comic nerd. Visual trickery and innovative page staging aside, many of the graphic narratives in this book hold up on plot alone. An excerpt from Kevin Mutch’s Fantastic Life effectively mines zombie philosophy, dating paranoia, and begging drinks off your service industry friends for comic gold. Many of the best pieces, perhaps indicative of the graphic novel mood these days, explore the darker side of the human psyche. But what graphic novel fan is unfamiliar with complicated? (Caitlin Donohue)

 

THE TIPSY VEGAN

By John Schlimm

Lifelong Books/Da Capo

164 pp., paper, $17

Every time I think we’re past the stereotype of the sullen, uptight vegan, I get another comment like, “Wait, don’t you only eat vegetables?” Why yes, I do eat plenty of veggies, but I also eat decadent dishes such as The Tipsy Vegan‘s Party Monster Pancakes, loaded with the sweet nectar of amaretto and drenched in syrup. This book is a carnivorous teetotaler’s nightmare, boasting 75 boozy recipes stuffed with everything from “beer to brandy” for the liquor-loving vegan cooks among us. It’s not, as I initially imagined, a book on vegan cocktails — that would be far too easy. Written by John Schlimm (Ultimate Beer Lover’s Cookbook), a member of “one of the oldest brewing families in the United States,” the book includes booze-infused treats for parties, brunch, and supper: fried avocados, slur-baaaaked peaches with Cointreau, “Bruschetta on a Bender” — all of which kind of sound like stoner food to me. An nice touch: glossy food porn shots on every page. (Emily Savage)

 

PROJECT DOG

By Kira Stackhouse

self-published

352 pp., hardcover, $34.99

Local photographer Kira Stackhouse experienced an inspiration so intense that she ditched her high-profile marketing job to pursue it: she would photograph specimens of the 50 most popular canine breeds officially registered with the American Kennel Club (“purebred dogs”) that had been purchased from professional breeders — and pair them with photos of the exact same kinds of dogs found in local dog rescues and shelters. The purpose was to start a dialogue about the effects of professional breeding and highlight the many kinds of dogs available for adoption (and also to change peoples’ perceptions about rescue dogs). But a major part of the story — and what makes this book so fantastic — is the wonderful doggy photography and sumptuous layout. Dogs are posed, or pose themselves, against iconic Bay Area backdrops, accompanied by often hilarious, always revealing, biographies and profiles. Project Dog became an online sensation: this book cements its reputation. Available at www.projectdog.net. (Marke B.)

 

LISTEN TO THIS

By Alex Ross

Picador

384 pp., paper, $18

In the expanded paperback edition of his absorbing and erudite collection of essays, Alex Ross of the New Yorker writes what could be called his mantra as critic: “I have always wanted to talk about classical music as if it were popular music, and popular music as if it were classical.” Ross listened exclusively to classical until he was 20, something he admits may sound “freakish.” But whether he’s describing Björk in her recording studio in Iceland, or composer John Luther Adams’ sound and light installation in Alaska, Ross draws from an immeasurable well of knowledge and plunges into his subject with gusto. He can find commonalities between Radiohead’s “Pyramid Song” and Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite, clear away the myths that have clouded both Franz Shubert and Bob Dylan, and thoroughly explain why OK Computer and John Cage’s 4’33” are equally astonishing. Informative, eye opening, Ross is every lover of music thrown harmoniously into one. (James H. Miller)

 

MY FAMILY TABLE

By John Besh

Andrews McMeel Publishing

272 pp., hardcover, $35

To know anything about New Orleans’ dining scene is to know John Besh. As one of Nola’s great chefs, he has a number of restaurants, including the acclaimed August, elevating local cuisine in forward-thinking ways. His original book My New Orleans is a striking post-Katrina tome to one of the greatest cities in the world and its vibrant culinary history. It’s a gorgeous coffee table volume packed with photos of the region’s people, places, and foods — more than 200 recipes from Mardi Gras specialties to gumbo, many with a contemporary twist. Besh just released, My Family Table, with welcoming, everyday recipes he cooks with his family that are healthy, fresh, simple, and heartwarming. Besh’s star power (Iron Chef champion and James Beard award-winner that he is) never dominates. Like New Orleans, it’s a visually beautiful book, but this time themed by “School Nights,” “Breakfast with my Boys,” and recipes like “Curried Anything” or “Creamy Any Vegetable Soup.” Closing with the key element of cooking, the communal, he writes: “If asked what my last meal would be, I’d reply, ‘Any Sunday supper at home, cooked with love, for people I love.'” (Virginia Miller)

 

FOUR SEASONS OF YOSEMITE: A PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNEY

By Mark Boster

Time Capsule Press

128 pages, hardcover, $34.95

John Muir would have loved this book, the spectacular result of a passionate love affair with Yosemite National Park involving all of the principals in this impressive project. Muir helped glorify and preserve Yosemite with his voice and pen. Robert Redford, who fell in love with Yosemite as an 11-year-old boy recovering from a mild case of polio, wrote an eloquent introduction to the book. Photojournalist, Mark Boster was smitten by the beauty and grandeur of the Yosemite when he first visited the park as a child with his family. He spent a year in the park detailing its seasonal changes in more than 100 magnificent pictures. “I felt the breezes, analyzed the light, listened to the sound of the rivers and falls, and tried to capture the images that moved me,” he writes in his introduction. Catherine Hamm’s delicate haiku add a poetic touch to many scenes. (The two principals who brought this project to life with loving care are Narda Zacchino, a former editor of LA Times and the Chronicle, and Dickson Louie, a former executive at both those papers. Zacchino serves as publisher and editor and Louie as president and CEO of Time Capsule Press, which specializes in creating books by using the archival content of newspapers and magazines.) Available at www.fourseasonsofyosemite.com (Bruce B. Brugmann)

 

THE PDT COCKTAIL BOOK

By Jim Meehan

Sterling Epicure

368 pp., hardcover, $24.95

Few bars have made as much impact on the New York cocktail (and thus the international) scene than PDT. Known as an early mover in the speakeasy trend, PDT revives classic recipes and invents new ones in the classic spirit. Bartender Jim Meehan put PDT on the map, and he’s since gone on to write about drink and educate bar managers and tenders everywhere. In the PDT Cocktail Book, he shares more than 300 cocktail recipes in a comprehensive collection inspired by classic tomes like The Savoy Cocktail Book. There are recipes from generations of hard-working bartenders, tips on glassware, bar tools, equipment, garnishes, techniques, a listing of seasonal ingredients, even a spirits primer. In keeping with PDT’s connection to neighboring Crif Dogs who serve creative dogs in the bar, there’s a section of hot dog recipes from big-name chefs who are regulars at the bar, including David Chang (Momofuku), Wylie Dufresne (WD-50), and Daniel Humm (Eleven Madison Park). From the comfort of home, cook up a Mason Dog fried in cornmeal and huitlacoche (corn smut/fungus, a Mexican specialty) to go with the Little Bit of Country cocktail, which mixes bourbon, maple, and jalapeño. (Virginia Miller)

 

EVERYTHING IS ITS OWN REWARD: AN ALL OVER COFFEE COLLECTION

By Paul Madonna

City Lights

240 pp., hardcover, $27.95

Like Ben Katchor’s classic “Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer,” local artist Paul Madonna’s “All Over Coffee” — published every Sunday in the Chronicle and on essential Web zine The Rumpus (www.therumpus.net) — draws me into a psychic space that is at once serene and troubled, surreal and hyperreal. The effect comes as much from the drawing style as the dreamlike non-narrative: both are direct descendants of Winsor McKay’s “Little Nemo.” Madonna gets an extra chills-up-the-spine boost from his illustrations of semi-familiar San Francisco architecture and intersections, lucid as etchings of bleached Kodachrome shots. For this second collection of the strip, he broadens his nib to include not only the City by the Bay, but Paris, Rome, Buenos Aires, and Tokyo. Overheard quotes, snatches of philosophical discourse, interior monologue snippets, existential doubts, random observations, and short stories are floated over the images to capture a peculiarly lovely eddies in the zeitgeist.

 

I DON’T WANT TO KILL YOU

By Dan Wells

Tor

320 pp., paperback, $11.95

Some of this is sick shit. You need a warped sense of humor and a love for random violence to enjoy the tale of a young man who lives with his mom in a mortuary and fights a demon made of black goo who takes over the minds and bodies of humans. But it’s a different type of thriller — complete with its own kinda sweet moments of teenage love and angst — and it’s packed with great detail. (Did you know that undertakers use Vaseline to fill up bullet holes? Cool.) John Wayne Cleaver, perfect name for a demon hunter, is a sociopath who is beastly to his mother and can’t get along with the other kids . Except for a super-hot chick who he thinks must be a demon, otherwise why would she like such a loser geek? The demon is nasty and gouges out eyes, cuts off tongues, sticks bodies on poles … you gotta check it out. (Tim Redmond)

 

RICE AND CURRY: SRI LANKAN HOME COOKING

S.H. Fernando, Jr.

Hippocrene Books

224 pp., paperback, $19.95

After a tongue-inflaming visit to the East Village’s fantastic Sigiri restaurant in NYC a couple weeks back, my interest in — and lust for — spicy Sri Lankan treats like kiri hodhi (coconut milk gravy), rossam (coriander-tamarind broth), kool (seafood soup), Jaffna goat curry, and ulundu vai (savory donuts) was, er, inflamed. Fortunately for me, author “Skiz” Fernando recently spent a year on the island rediscovering his roots and delving into the varied cuisine (later serving as a guide for that cheeky culinary colonist Anthony Bourdain). The punchy, informative Rice and Curry is the result, and includes nice introductions to Sri Lankan geography and history, as well as tips on what to stock in your cupboard to achieve the certain Sri Lankan “oomph” that sets the cuisine apart from Indian. A particular passage that profiles Leela, Fernando’s aunt’s ancient maid, offers some real insight into the island’s food tradition and customs — and yields a marvelous, corruscating crab curry from her hometown of Chilaw, just in time for Dungeness season. (Marke B.)

 

HEDY’S FOLLY: THE LIFE AND BREAKTHROUGH INVENTIONS OF HEDY LAMARR

By Richard Rhodes

Doubleday

261 pp., hardcover, $26.95

An author best-known for his 1986 Pulitzer-winning The Making of the Atomic Bomb, Richard Rhodes might seem like an unlikely biographer for movie stunner Hedy Lamarr, who lit up Golden Age films like Cecil B. DeMille’s 1949 epic Samson and Delilah. But her above-average qualities (she was called “the most beautiful woman in the world”) extended beyond the superficial. After escaping her gilded-cage marriage to an Austrian munitions magnate, Lamarr found success — and five more husbands — in Hollywood; between roles, she started inventing “to challenge and amuse herself.” During World War II, she got serious about her hobby. Showbiz circles led her to avant-garde musician George Antheil, renowned for his groundbreaking composition for 1924 short Ballet Mécanique. As Rhodes writes, “[Lamarr] began thinking about how to invent a remote-control torpedo to attack submarines just at the time she met Antheil, who knew quite a lot about how to synchronize player pianos.” Together, the “charming Austrian girl” and “the bad boy of music” worked on that torpedo, as well as “spread-spectrum radio,” an innovation that paved the way for contemporary wireless technology. Unlikely? Yes. Fascinating? Indeed. Never underestimate a beautiful woman — or a skilled writer’s ability to humanize complicated characters and bring drama to a tale loaded with tech-speak. (Cheryl Eddy)

 

COME, THIEF

By Jane Hirschfield

Knopf

98 pp., hardcover, $25

As it happens, one of Bay Area poet Jane Hirschfield’s passages currently adorns the famous Kahn and Keville auto repair shop’s marquee in the Tenderloin: “What some could not have escaped/ others will find by decision/ each we call fate.” Well, you could never blame her for not thinking big. As a well-known and approachable poet, she sports a blurb from O, The Oprah Magazine on this, her ninth collection, the first in six years since releasing her arresting After. And while her slightly witchy, be-scarved, grandiloquent persona screams marketable poetess, there’s some understated magic in her latest poems. These ones are full of plums and glass and vague Zen spells that give off, in their overall effect, an rueful, anticipatory sigh. Some childlike wonder seeps in: “Another year ends./ This one, I ate Kyoto pickles,” says “Washing Doorknobs,” my favorite from the collection. “But one thing you’ll never hear from a cat/ is Excuse me” goes “A Small-Sized Mystery.” Sometimes you can almost Hirschfield her straining for ambiguity, the poems’ heavy life lessons tearing through her delicate webs of observation. Still, each poem here showcases Hirschfield’s incisive power. (Marke B.)

 

PLENTY

By Yotam Ottolenghi

Chronicle Books

287 pp., hardcover, $35

Recently I returned to London, eating my way extensively through the city. One of my gustatory highlights was Yotam Ottolenghi’s beloved bakery and restaurant, Ottolenghi (with four locations). Not only were his baked goods otherworldly delights, his straightforward but elegant dishes using pristine ingredients were among the freshest and satisfying of my London travels. Plenty, his new cookbook, is a cleanly designed book with vivid photos of recipes like broccoli gorgonzola pie and mushroom herb polenta. Most impressive? Ottolenghi’s recipes are 100% vegetarian. The meat-free aspect is barely emphasized, and one feels no lack in the diverse range of flavors (with Middle Eastern influences) presented. Since 2006, Ottolenghi has penned the UK Guardian’s vegetarian column — and he’s not even a vegetarian! This speaks to how respected he’s become as a chef in his use of veggies and grains. Plenty shows this talent off, but most importantly delivers approachable, easy-to-replicate recipes to tickle our palates. (Virginia Miller)

 

HILLBILLY NATIONALISTS, URBAN RACE REBELS, AND BLACK POWER

By Amy Sonnie and James Tracy

Melville House

201 pp., paper, $16.95

Gazing back in time to the era when the Black Panthers were serving up free breakfast to low income youth and coming into the crosshairs of COINTELPRO, few may be aware that an interracial coalition of radical organizers included a contingent of poor white southerners bent on fighting capitalism in solidarity with communities of color. Written by a cofounder of the Center for Media Justice and a longtime San Francisco housing activist, this detailed bit of radical history spotlights the organizing efforts of poor whites, transplanted from rural Appalachia to the low-income Uptown neighborhood of Chicago, to build coalitions of poor people in solidarity with civil rights leaders. Groups like Jobs or Income Now (JOIN), the Young Patriots, and Rising Up Angry launched campaigns against neglectful landlords and cops who brutalized their youth. They represented the white arc of the multiracial Rainbow Coalition, initiated by the Black Panthers in Chicago as “a code word for class struggle.” Bizarre as it may seem, “It became common to see [Panther] Fred Hampton ‘give a typically awe-inspiring speech on revolutionary struggle, while white men wearing berets, sunglasses, and Confederate rebel flags sewn into their jackets helped provide security for him.'”

(Rebecca Bowe)

 

MR. KILL

By Martin Limon

Soho Press

376 pp., hardcover, $24

Korea in the 1970s. The United States has 50,000 troops in country, mostly near the Demilitarized Zone, and they don’t always behave. In general, the Korean authorities allow the military to police its own — but when a young Korean woman is brutally raped on a train to Seoul, and the assailant appears to be an American, all hell breaks loose. Martin Limon lived in Korea for ten years, and he does a (fairly) good job of presenting a portrait of the Cold War tensions between the two supposed allies. There’s a little bit of American bias — the author is former military himself — and his potrayal of Korean society isn’t as sensitive or oddly loving as John Burdett’s descriptions of Thailand in the Bankok 8 series. Limon’s great storytelling and his lively and compelling protagonists, Sergeants George Sureno and Ernie Bascom, pull readers past those issues. Perfect gift for someone who likes international crime thrillers. (Tim Redmond)

 

THE RECIPE PROJECT

By One Ring Zero

Black Balloon Publishing

116 pp., hardcover, $24.95

It’s part cookbook, part music journalism, part rock opus, and hell, part coffee table book. The Recipe Project (subhead “A Delectable Extravaganza of Food and Music”) is a concept spearheaded by New York-based gypsy-klezmer act One Ring Zero. The band’s co-founders, Michael Hearst and Joshua Camp, created songs using the recipes of well-known chefs (Mario Batali, Isa Chandra Moskowitz, Chris Cosentino) as the word-for-word lyrics. The meals themselves served as musical influence; each recipe inspired a different sound. While the songs are not likely ones you’d listen to say, on a long lonesome drive, they do have a glint of childlike glee. It’s conceptual. The true genius of this project is its overall cohesiveness. It’s an all-in-one package. Follow the recipe, listen to the song, get some interesting background factoids. The Recipe Project also includes full recipe playlists, articles by rock journalists, and some pretty interesting interviews with chefs. (Emily Savage)

 

CARY GRANT: DARK ANGEL

By Geoffrey Wansell

Arcade Publishing

192 pp., hardcover, $24.95

Back in print (it was originally released in 1996), this paen to the dapper star of North By Northwest (1959), An Affair to Remember (1957), Notorious (1946), His Girl Friday (1940), and approximately 10 zillion other classic films is somewhere between a biography and a coffee-table book. It’s worth picking up for the lavish black-and-white photos alone, illustrating the span of Cary Grant’s career with film stills, behind-the-scenes shots, and the occasional almost-candid image (did he ever take a bad picture)? The accompanying text is straightforward, but — as its title suggests — doesn’t shy away from Grant’s well-documented countercultural experiments. (“Grant became so enthusiastic about the value of LSD that he extolled its virtues during the shooting of his next picture.”) Nor does it gloss over Grant’s vices (he smoked 30 to 40 cigarettes a day) and sometimes troubled personal life (he was married five times). But the book’s chief focus is Grant’s brilliant career. As Stanley Donen, who directed him three times, remarks to author Geoffrey Wansell, “He’s thought of as a man who achieved a certain elegance and savoir faire. But in truth he was a fantastic actor.” (Cheryl Eddy)

 

NATURAL HISTORY OF SAN FRANCISCO BAY

By Ariel Rubissow Okamoto and Kathleen M. Wong

University of California Press

352 pp., paperback, $24.95

Drag queens, beat poets, burlesque dancers, hyphy rappers, dot com techies — the human species of the Bay Area have been well-documented, but information on the non-human dwellers of the bay itself has been left to scattered guidebooks, obscure blogs, and academic sources. Authors Rubissow Okamoto and Wong have collected a wealth of biological and environmental information in their book, published this November. The cross-country saga of the striped bass, the hidden beauty of eelgrass, the varied contentions of the California water wars are presented in highly readable, easily digestible sections. The emphasis here is on environmental impact and recent conservation developments — I did not know that it’s officially dangerous to eat more than one pound a month of fish from the bay! — and the history of decades of restoration triumphs and setbacks is related sleekly and straightforwardly. Absorbing all the information in this illuminating primer helped me appreciate the seething loveliness and churning forces that make up the place I call home. (Marke B.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just pho you

0

le.chicken.farmer@gmail.com

CHEAP EATS I can’t tell you how many times in my life I have been sitting in Java Supreme dunking a biscotti and discussing literature and pork with Earl Butter, and then I have to use the bathroom so I go home.

Yeah, well turnabout is fair play, according to Skeeter Willis and others. Some L.A. friends of Hedgehog were here, and wanted to bum around the Mission with us. One thing we did was I took them to meet Stoplight. But I don’t exactly live in my apartment anymore. We were hoping Stoplight would be out back outside (where he mostly is), and accepting visitors (which he mostly isn’t). As a result, we wound up waiting around in my building’s birdseed covered courtyard, discussing literature and pork, until I had to use the bathroom so we went to Java Supreme.

In truth, this happened twice, and both times I got coffee, because even though the Java people know me, and know that I’ve been dipping my biscotti into their coffee for 20 years, without hardly ever using the facilities … still, I like to set a good example: the restroom is for paying customers only.

So I kept drinking, to earn my pee, and then kept needing to pee on account of all the coffee I was drinking. This was a slippery slope, destined to leave me penniless and friendless, pretty much living on the toilet and pissing off basically everyone.

Except that, luckily, Hedgehog’s L.A. friends needed to be getting on back to L.A., and we had offered to drive them as far as Colma, where their car was parked. After dinner.

They wanted Chinese, but Mission Chinese doesn’t open for dinner until 5, and it’s a what, a six hour drive to L.A.? Or longer — at the end of a holiday weekend.

None of us had had lunch. We couldn’t wait. We went to San Tung, which I like anyway better than Mission Chinese. It was only 4:30. There was a parking space right in front. It was surreal: For the first time ever, we not only sat right down but had a choice of tables.

Then came one of the what-the-fuckest things that ever happened to me in a restaurant: nothing. It took them 20 minutes to find the time to take our order. By which time the place did get crowded. Another party of four sat at the other end of our table, ordered after us, and were served before. Which would be one thing. But. A half hour before??? I’m not exaggerating. And we’d ordered many of the same dishes!

Not only did we have to watch them smugly munching their chicken wings while our end of the table was dying of malnutrition, they were boxing up their leftovers, divvying up the bill, and putting on their coats before half of our dishes were even served. To get any of them at all, we had had to go knock on the kitchen door. Figuratively speaking.

That’s crap, and so is San Tung. Henceforth. In my opinion.

My new favorite restaurant is Pho Saigon II, in Richmond at the Pacific East Mall. I went there on the day after Thanksgiving, on Black Friday, to a mall! But I went there for a massage, and to eat pho, so, no, I have not lost my mind completely.

It’s that Asian mall, you know, with 99 Ranch, which I love. Well, there’s a place in there, upstairs, where you can get an hour-long massage for $20. Crawdad told me about it. The Jungle told her.

Now I’m telling you. And:

Pho Saigon II, for all its fluorescence and atmospherelessness, has good, cheap pho. I would think this would go without saying, but, get the beef. Hedgehog, who prefers pho ga, or chicken noodle soup, was sorely disappointed in hers. And I second her disappointment. The broth was lame and the chicken very dry.

The rare steak in my soup was perfect and pink, and the noodles were good, and the broth … just so.

After lunch, come to think of it, we did do a little shopping. We bought three kinds of rice noodles at 99 Ranch. Oh, and I also stepped into one of those little doodad stores and bought a cute little eraser for Hedgehog. I was their only customer. Pepper spray did not play a role.

PHO SAIGON II

Sun.-Thu.: 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. 10 a.m.-10 p.m.

3288 Pierce St., Suite A116, Richmond

(510) 528-6388

Cash only

No alcohol

 

Hey, hey, Hayes

0

virginia@sfbg.com

APPETITE For years, Hayes has been a strong dining neighborhood. Absinthe, Arlequin, Suppenkuche, the Blue Bottle garage are stalwarts. Recent additions Boxing Room and Nojo beautifully diversify Hayes’ cuisine. A slew of newer eateries have arrived, especially on the tiny lot known as the Proxy Project (www.proxysf.net), an open air setting for the new Biergarten, Smitten Ice Cream, and Ritual Coffee. I’m into Proxy’s funky, industrial areas sectioned off by chain-link fences. However, I don’t find the waits often associated with Biergarten worth it, nor Smitten’s ice cream near as delicious as the fun of watching it being made in liquid nitrogen machines.

One of the best shops I’ve been to in years is just-opened Gourmet and More. French owners stock the store predominantly with French grocery goods, from ciders to foie gras (the latter at least for now). There’s a charcuterie station with meat slicer, and an enchanting little refrigerated cheese room, including gems like a camembert from Calvados (a region in Normandy), soaked in calvados (apple brandy from the region). A local Frenchman makes L’Artisan Macarons (www.lartisanmacaron.com), selling them here individually or by the box — I tried the eggnog and pumpkin ones.

I’ve just about given up on visiting new kiddie studio-cafe, Seesaw (www.seesawsf.com). With minimal hours (Fri-Sun), it seems to be closed or booked with a private party each time I’ve come by to try the unusual offering of Danish Smørrebrød (“butter and bread”): open-faced pumpernickel rye with topping choices like egg salad or herring. Kids, or rather, their parents, sure seem to like the place.

Here are some other new Hayes Valley spots that are rising to the top:

 

PEACEFUL TEA RETREAT, SURPRISING DIM SUM

Taste (535 Octavia, SF. 415-552-5668, www.tasteteasf.com) is an Asian tea house with soothing atmosphere serving impeccable teas in a gaiwan (personal covered bowl) with housemade baked goods, run by husband and wife team (she’s the baker). Early stand-outs include soft, grassy Misty Mountain tea from Jiangxi, China ($5 gaiwan, or $8 gong fu cha for sharing). Dim sum staples like pork buns ($2.50) are OK, but unusual items shine. A red bean wheat bun ($2.75) and veggie curry wheat bun filled with potato, carrot, cabbage ($2.75) taste both healthy and comforting, warm with a dreamy, doughy texture. Tea plays prominent in pu-er macarons ($1.75), while scones are made with fresh tea leaves ($2.50). I like the earthy oolong version.

To sample more for less than it costs individually, try tea pairings for one ($18), two ($38), or three ($58) people. Order for one includes gaiwan tea, three steamed buns, one scone, two macarons, one sesame ball, and an exotic fruit bowl. Pure bliss.

 

SEXY EURO-STYLE CAFE WITH APERITIFS AND BOOKS

What: One of the charming sisters behind Two Sisters Bar and Books (579 Hayes, SF. 415-863-3655, www.2sistersbarandbooks.com) greets you as you enter this narrow strip of a cafe, lined in classic wallpaper, with a cozy window seat, a handful of small tables, and a tiny bar — all bathed in early jazz music and inspired by European travels (including a bookstore in Krakow, a cafe in Vienna, and a bar in Paris), mixed with Brooklyn funk and NorCal roots. Perfect for a casual date or performance aperitif, this is the kind of neighborhood cafe I’ve been waiting for.

Sans full liquor license, the sisters offer inspired amaro-, beer-, and wine-based cocktails. The Iggy ($7) is a salty aperitif of silky Punt e Mes vermouth and grapefruit juice with salt rim. Port of SF ($7) is likewise refreshing with Madeira, lime, ginger, and Pilsner beer. For a husky Manhattan stand-in, go with The Duke’s Son ($9): Amontillado sherry, Carpano Antica vermouth and bitters. Food is made with care in a tiny kitchen. A blanched brussel leaf salad ($8) is my dish of choice. Freshly laden with creamy French feta, cherry tomatoes, and roasted corn, it sings in lemon vinaigrette. Savory bread pudding ($6) is made with fennel, tomato, Manchego cheese, roasted garlic, and black truffle oil.

 

EAST COAST SPIRIT IN A CALIFORNIA BISTRO

Debuting two weeks ago, Dobbs Ferry (409 Gough, SF. 415-551-7700, www.dobbsferrysf.com) comes from restaurateurs with an East Coast background (Dobbs Ferry in Westchester County, NY, is the hometown of two of the owners). Executive chef Mike Yakura, formerly of Ozumo Restaurant Group www.ozumo.com, helms: they’re dubbing the place a “California bistro” with “small town” New York cooking. The three-room space is decorated in muted browns and black with white walls.

Skip the unbalanced cocktails, and head for the dishes. Salads are crisp and straightforward. Eggplant parm pizza ($14) is a pleasant pie of breaded eggplant and basil. Kudos to my waiter for offering extra red sauce: without it the slices are too bready. Crispy sweetbreads ($12) over mustard sauce with bacon are unexpectedly satisfying, while a juicy half ($22) or whole ($35) chicken scarpariello somehow evoked childhood. (Half is enough chicken for two, with gently fried potato cubes like elevated tator tots, Molinari Italian sausage, sweet peppers and a peperoncini for good measure. The broth is the clincher: tart, zingy, savory, it ties the whole uniquely comforting dish together.

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

 

State of the occupations

0

news@sfbg.com, rebeccab@sfbg.com

 

STUDENTS TARGET THE 1 PERCENT

Another Occupy offshoot sprung up at San Francisco State University Dec. 1 when about 150 students attended a march and rally that culminated at Malcolm X Plaza, now the site of the San Francisco’s newest Occupy camp.

Students symbolically blocked off ATMs, wrapped Chase Bank machines in cellophane and plastered nearby Wells Fargo and Bank of America ATMs with “meet the one percent” flyers profiling wealthy University of California Trustee Monica Lozano and California State University Regent Bill Hauck.

The highlight of the action came when SF State President Robert Corrigan arrived on the scene. The group was using the people’s mic to read a letter addressed to Corrigan, penned by the Occupy SF State General Assembly, demanding that he write two letters. One should be directed to the school’s chancellor and CSU Board of Trustees, “urging them to repeal the 9 percent tuition fee increase” that the board passed Nov. 16, and another should go to “the presidents of every other CSU campus asking them to also contact the chancellor and Board of Trustees regarding a repeal of the 9 percent tuition fee increase.”

Corrigan listened, then participated in a frank question-and-answer session with protesters, urging them to contact Sacramento legislators. Yet he refused to write those letters or declare support for Occupy SF State.

Afterwards, the students returned to Malcolm X Plaza and erected about 15 tents, which organizers said would contain “books, food, and homework help” along with providing shelter for sleeping protesters.

 

OCCUPY LA MISIÓN

In the Mission, where city officials have been encouraging OccupySF to relocate from its current home in the Financial District, a separate new Occupy effort could be underway.

Organizer Enrique Del Valle says he and other organizers have been distributing flyers and talking to people and organizations throughout the neighborhood. “We’re getting it together to have a General Assembly,” he told us.

The effort is unrelated to the OccupySF General Assembly’s Nov. 29 decision to decline the city’s offer to utilize an abandoned lot at 1950 Mission Street, he added. Before the city made that offer, Del Valle, a community volunteer with connections with many Mission groups, says he was already working on forming a neighborhood occupation.

If Occupy SF had set up shop in the space offered by the city, “We would have worked with them,” he explained, “but set up somewhere else.”

Meanwhile, Mayor Ed Lee and OccupySF are still waiting for one another’s next moves. On the evening of Dec. 1, when San Francisco Police officers surrounded the camp in steel barricades, protesters felt another raid was underway. But they resisted and took down some barricades, causing police to suddenly back down and remove the rest.

“They’ve just been mindfucking us,” OccupySF protester Markus Destin told us. “As soon as they spend all that money breaking us down, we’ll just come back in a week and re-encamp.”

Mayoral Press Secretary Christine Falvey said Lee wasn’t aware OccupySF rejected his offer: “We haven’t heard back one way or another from the group. The offer is still out there and the group has all of the information they need from us. We are awaiting a decision. Mayor Lee has made it very clear to the group that he supports their first amendment rights and their right to assemble, but that overnight camping at Justin Herman Plaza is not an option for the long term because of the health and safety problems it creates.”

 

OCCUPY AGAINST FORECLOSURE

Community members rallied outside a foreclosed Visitacion Valley home Dec. 1 before moving their protest to the offices of the company that purchased the property.

At 11 a.m., dozens gathered in front of the residence where 75-year-old Josephine Tolbert had lived for nearly 40 years. A day earlier, Tolbert had arrived home with three young grandchildren in tow to find her locks changed. Organizers say the evicted resident needs to access the house to retrieve food and medicine.

The crowd — which included neighbors, friends, and members of Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), Service Employees International Union (SEIU), OccupySF, and Occupy the Hood — demanded that Tolbert be let back in. According to Bayview resident and self-proclaimed “foreclosure fighter” Vivian Richardson, “They would not let her in to get food, diapers, or her diabetes medicine.”

Tolbert had run a daycare business from her home for 20 years. One of her regular clients, a mother with two young children, arrived during the rally. She was surprised to find that Tolbert was locked out of her home and unable to care for her children that day.

“I want to get in my home so I can resume my business,” Tolbert said. “That’s my occupation there, I don’t have any other way of caring for myself.”

The group then headed to the offices of True Compass Loan Services, LLC, the new owners of Tolbert’s home. About 20 supporters gathered at the Ocean Ave office, where ACCE organizer Grace Martinez singled out True Compass owner Ashok Gujral, who owns a $2.75 million home and multiple restaurants, according to a press release from a group calling itself the Foreclosure Fighters.

“The man is worth $10 million, and he has a bunch of limited liability companies,” said Martinez. “Everyone has been shocked at how this man could do this, he knows she is a senior.”

According to Martinez, Gujral personally refused to let Tolbert into her home Nov. 30. He and others from the company “don’t want her in there because they say she’ll refuse to leave,” Martinez added. Calls to Gujral’s office were referred to attorney Jak Marques, who did not return Guardian requests for comment.

A True Compass representative informed protesters “there’s no one here to talk to you,” then swiftly shut the door. But when a few protesters went around through a side entrance and let everyone else in, the group took their protest to the hallway inside.

They remained there for almost an hour, chanting, pounding rhythmically on the walls, and flooding the office on the other side of a locked door with phone calls, demanding Tolbert be allowed to return to her home to retrieve her medicine and belongings.

Five police officers arrived almost immediately as protesters entered company offices. One explained to the protesters that if they didn’t leave, they would face arrest for trespassing. A heated but measured back-and-forth ensued, in which protesters insisted that if Tolbert was his mother, the officer would feel differently. The officer, Lieutenant C. Johnson, responded, “If it was my mother — I don’t know. I have a house for my mother. But I feel for Josephine, and for the millions of other Americans in the same situation.”

Martinez quieted groans from protesters, replying, “You’re part of the 99 percent, and we’re not going to shoot the messenger.”

Organizers conferred and decided to leave the building voluntarily. Sergeant R. Young, who was also at the scene, told the Guardian, “It’s heartbreaking to do this. Their freedom of speech is a constitutional right that we take a sworn oath to protect.”

 

THE SEEDS OF A NEW AMERICA?

Does the Occupy movement signify a new beginning for America? Is history repeating itself? Is violence inevitable? These were some of the big questions pondered by a handful of prominent Bay Area writers, thinkers, artists, and activists Dec. 1 during a panel discussion organized by Salon.com.

Dan Siegel, who most recently made headlines for resigning as Oakland Mayor Jean Quan’s legal advisor because he disagreed with her decision to order a police raid of the Occupy Oakland encampment, was a panelist. “The perspective of Mayor Quan and other mayors, besides reflecting the 1 percent, reflects a misguided paradigm,” Siegel said. “The nation’s clearly in an economic crisis that this country has not seen since the 1930s. The mayors should be on the side of the 99 percent. They ought not be the lapdogs of Wall Street.”

Renowned author Rebecca Solnit also participated in the panel discussion. Asked if she thought Occupy symbolized a new beginning, she reflected on the past. “Huge mistakes were made on the left,” in past social movements, she said. “It was supposed to be the revolution, but the women were still expected to make the coffee.” She offered that Occupy represented an evolved manifestation that had benefitted from lessons learned over the years.

“It’s a culmination of decades of refining, searching, and building coalitions,” Solnit said. “It’s the beginning in the sense that summer’s the beginning. We’re reaping the fruit of … what’s been imagined.”

It’s also provided a spark for campus-based organizing. “The Occupy movement has given a tremendous amount of wind to the sails of the student movement and had a consciousness-raising aspect,” said Matt Haney, executive director of the University of California Student Association. “Now they are prepared in a new way to join all of those other folks who are also suffering.”

A key question put to panelists was whether Occupy ought to consider running candidates for office. In response, panelist Melanie Cervantes, an artist and activist, got to the heart of the issue. “What is political power? Is it just representation?” she asked.

Cervantes pointed out that autonomous social movements in Latin America have given rise to leftist political leaders, and she spoke of the past successes of mass-based organizations. “There were things that preceded us generationally, and they worked,” she pointed out. “There’s a lot of different ways people are experienced in trying to change things.”

Panelist Peter Coyote, an actor, activist, and founder of a radical underground group called The Diggers, offered an analogy in response to the idea of Occupy running candidates for office. “If you take a healthy goldfish and throw it into polluted water, it’s gonna get sick,” he said.

Solnit framed her answer as an analogy, too. “We live in a really crummy house with roaches and a leaky roof … Occupy is saying, let’s try to build a better house,” she said. “Our demand is for a better world, isn’t that obvious? We’re building a whole new political vocabulary, a whole new sense of possibility.”

As to the question of whether violence is inevitable as the movement continues to unfold, some panelists discussed nonviolence as a protest tactic, while others focused on the violent behavior of law enforcement officers against protesters. “You don’t hear students talk about using violence,” Haney said. “It’s more like how do we deal with violence that’s being used against us?”

Siegel stressed that the protests ought to be disruptive, yet nonviolent. “The question for our society is, who has the power?” he said. “At the end of the day, we live in a nation state, and people control things. And if they continue to control things, we’re screwed.”

 

WEST COAST PORT BLOCKADE

Occupy Oakland organizers have been engaged in planning yet another shutdown of the Port of Oakland on Dec. 12, which will coincide with attempts to shut down West Coast ports in San Diego, Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle, Longview, Tacoma, and Anchorage. “On December 12, the Occupy movements in different cities will … effectively shutdown the hubs of commerce, in the same fashion that Occupy Oakland shut down the Port of Oakland on November 2nd, the day of our general strike,” according to a Call to Action on WestCoastPortShutdown.org. “The message to you from Occupy Oakland in the face of police raids and continued disruptions of workers lives by the 1 percent is the following: The Occupy movement will strike back and rise again! We will blockade all of the West Coast Ports on December 12th in solidarity with longshoremen, port workers and truckers in their struggle against the 1 percent!” Steven T. Jones contributed to this report.

Michael Goldstein, 1953-2011

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news@sfbg.com

San Francisco lost a valued champion of progressive causes on Dec. 2 when Michael Goldstein lost his battle with stage 4 lymphoma after surviving nearly 20 years living with HIV, a disease that helped awaken his political activism.

Michael was born in 1953 in New Mexico, where he was raised. His grandparents had come to New Mexico after surviving the Holocaust, and Michael came to the San Francisco in the early 1980s. Like many gay men of his generation, Michael came here to find community, to create family, and to be welcomed when much of the country was still hostile to the LGBT community.

He worked at Neiman Marcus, dressing “the San Francisco A list,” as he used to say. He studied at City College towards a paralegal certificate and was heavily involved in student politics. He landed a job at AIDS Legal Research Panel, where he worked when he was diagnosed HIV-positive in the mid-’80s.

The news hit hard, and the treatment he began took its toll. The HIV drugs were harsh then and there were many horrible side-effects with these early drugs. At that time, there was very little information or education about HIV/AIDS and there was even less support, from families and from the public.

Our San Francisco political community became Michael’s family. He was also blessed with an amazing friend in Lorae Lauritch. They worked together at NM, became roommates, and lived together with some incredible cats that were dear to him, including Paloma, Huey, Cadeau, and Missy.

Michael was a proud feminist who valued the women in his life and community, leading him to endorse a pair of successive female candidates for the Castro’s District 8 seat on the Board of Supervisors: Eileen Hansen in 2002 and Alix Rosenthal in 2006.

Over the years, Michael served as an elected member of the Democratic County Central Committee (serving as vice president), served as President of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, and was appointed to a San Francisco City College citizen oversight board, where his questioning helped bring attention to mishandling of funds at that institution.

Michael was determined, opinionated, persistent, intolerant of bullshit, prickly, always questioning. He challenged us all to move a common agenda, come together beyond our own personal ambitions, but to also never back down out of convenience or feigned civility. “Civility doesn’t make change,” he often said.

I came to know Michael as many came to know him. Michael always showed up in support of every one of our causes. He not only showed up, he advised, opined, debated, argued, protested, got arrested, drafted policy, and so much more. Campaign after campaign, issue after issue — our friendships grew around our passion for politics, our deep concerns about everything, and a strong and unwavering belief that anyone can help make change.

Michael believed that and Michael lived that.

In the past few years, many of us noticed that Michael wasn’t feeling well. We pushed him to go to the doctor. This is a man who spent hours fighting to push through HIV/AIDS policy and funding, healthcare reform, Healthy SF — and he did not have healthcare, had not seen a doctor in nearly 10 years, and was not treating his HIV.

As many know, Michael and I were like brother and sister…often bickering back and forth on whatever was going on. We “debated” like the dear friends we had become. His lack of healthcare was one of the more important issues I would bring up often. As a long term survivor of this condition, Michael knew the score.

As the symptoms of this disease ravaged his body, he retreated from us and attempted to make sense of the unimaginable alone.

Finally at the end of September, Michael was admitted to General Hospital. With the amazing care of Ward 5A, Diane Jones, and all the amazing General Hospital workers, as well as Laguna Honda Staff and at his final resting place UCSF — his care, though coming too late, was the best in the world and gave Michael a fighting chance. He was clearly comforted and supported by his community in his final days, support that mattered so much to him.

If you knew Michael, you know there is a “what comes out of this” part. We all got to really see the results of the hard work we all participated in to rebuild General Hospital, to rebuild Laguna Honda, and to provide healthcare access to everyone, even the poorest among us. Michael, personally, was able to experience the fruits of our collective labor over these years.

He also experienced some areas where there really is a need for some work. We need to remember that AIDS/HIV is still killing people every day. We must improve people’s access to healthcare. We need to protect patients’ access to medical cannabis, even in General Hospital. We need services and we need housing, particularly affordable housing for those who need it, people struggling through this bad economy.

These are our issues and this is our agenda on the left that we have been fighting for.

I will never forget Michael. One of the last real discussions we had about politics was around election time, with Michael remembering the 2010 elections. Michael was probably more upset about what has come out of that election — the beginning of a political shift to the right in San Francisco — than many.

He has been such an integral part of the work that brought our progressive community together and he was devastated by the events tearing it apart. More than anything, he wanted to bring us together, but he ran out of time.

Michael had an agenda. His agenda was to move forward our agenda. It is time to come together and do that.

Debra Walker is an artist, activist, DCCC member, and city commissioner who ran for the District 6 seat on the Board of Supervisors last year.

Homes for the 99 percent

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news@sfbg.com

Pressed by foreclosures, evictions, and an economic crisis with the gnawing tenacity of an early winter flu, San Franciscans protested in neighborhoods throughout the city on Saturday, Dec. 3. Marches from four of the city’s most impacted neighborhoods merged in the Financial District to pressure landlords, banks, and what the Occupy movement has dubbed the 1 percent to ease the spreading hardship surrounding housing in San Francisco.

“The 99 percent tenants and homeowners can no longer let the 1 percent banks and real estate speculators destroy our city and our lives so we’re marching in the neighborhoods and on the streets today,” asserted the statement read by the Occupy SF Housing coalition to the crowd gathered in the Financial District. The message echoed through the glass and granite corridors in front of Wells Fargo, passed along in a thousand voices by the now ubiquitous “mic check” style of Occupy crowd communication.

Housing advocates warned that a steady stream of foreclosures, climbing rents, and lagging job opportunities are driving even native San Franciscans out of the city for the relatively affordable housing in the East Bay or forcing them out of the region altogether, transforming the face of San Francisco into an older, whiter, wealthier demographic.

Throughout the economic crisis, San Francisco as a whole has posted lower foreclosure rates than surrounding counties. At first glance, San Francisco, with one in 880 homes facing foreclosure, looks like a safe harbor in the state’s troubled residential real estate market compared with the statewide foreclosure rate of one home in 243, according RealtyTrac. That represents 55,312 residential units across the state. Nationally, one in 563 homes was in some stage of foreclosure as of October 2011, the most recently released numbers.

However, a near absence of foreclosures in affluent, stable, San Francisco neighborhoods like Pacific Heights and Noe Valley hide troubling foreclose rates in the city’s blue collar ZIP codes that far exceed national and statewide levels. In the 94124 zip code that includes the Bayview and Hunters Point, one in 180 homes received foreclosure filings, higher then Oakland’s overall average rate of one in 245 homes — levels that reflect the experience of some of the nation’s most hard hit areas.

Of the 1,513 homes currently listed on the San Francisco housing market, 1,255 were in the pre-foreclosure, auction, or bank-owned stages of the foreclosure process, representing roughly 82 percent of the available housing stock.

At the downtown headquarters of Wells Fargo, Occupy protesters were placing some of the blame for the deepening hardship at the feet of the big banks. According to the Occupy SF Housing coalition, Wells Fargo is the mortgage lender for 226 homes in San Francisco that are in some stage of foreclosure. That represents about 18 percent of the total homes in San Francisco under foreclosure.

In neighborhoods like Hunters Point, these evictions have turned into an economic cascade of household wealth in decline, even for those who have managed to hold onto their homes.

With foreclosures flooding the market, the median sales price for homes in Hunters Point from Aug. 11 to Oct. 11 was $167,500. This represents a decline of 13.2 percent, or $25,500 per home on average, compared to the prior quarter. Sales prices have depreciated 62.6 percent over the last five years in Hunters Point, wiping out equity families have built over years, and leaving those who hang on stuck in underwater mortgages, where their debt far exceeds the value of their home.

“Predatory equity loans make a quick profit (for the lender) at the expense of home owners in the Bayview,” said Grace Martinez of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE). “There are 11 homeowners on a two-block stretch of Quesada in default or have already lost their homes.”

While the Obama administration has tried to ease the foreclosure crisis through the federally subsidized Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), only a small percentage of people who apply through their mortgage holder for relief under the program receive a loan adjustment. At Wells Fargo, only one in five borrowers applying for HAMP relief have received a loan modification.

Protesters sitting in the streets in front of Wells Fargo demanded that the company establish a moratorium on all foreclosures until it reforms its loan modification practices, halts the eviction of homeowners who have faced foreclosure, and instead offers them a rental option to keep them in their homes — a solution they say will ease the suffering of those caught in the middle of the banking crisis.

The banking and real estate driven economic crash has lead to the largest drop in home ownership nationally since the Great Depression. At the same time that home ownership has become increasingly out of reach for many San Franciscans, increases in rental rates and high competition for rental units are driving out many blue collar San Franciscans from the transit-friendly Mission District, in favor of a generally younger, wealthier, more educated, tech-savvy population.

As rallies took place across the city Saturday in the lead up to the afternoon’s Wells Fargo protest, a group of concerned residents and community groups gathered at 24th and Mission to highlight San Francisco’s other housing crisis — the rental market. The other marches started in the Castro, the Bayview, and the Tenderloin.

Much of the turnover of long-occupied rent controlled housing units in San Francisco comes as a result of the Ellis Act, a state law that allows evictions when an owner’s family wants to move in or when the unit is taken off the rental market. Brenda Nedina’s family is facing an Ellis Act eviction at 874 Shotwell Street.

“I’ve lived in that unit my whole life. My family has lived in the unit for 28 years,” said the tearful, 25-year-old San Franciscan native. “We would love to stay here, but with rents so high, it is not likely that we would find a place in San Francisco.”

Nedina, who works a service industry job at Pier 39, says the economic crisis has made it more difficult for her survive in San Francisco. She has had to cut down her college course load to get by in the tough economy. The troubles will get more complicated if her family is priced out of the city, as critical health services that they rely on are available through their San Francisco residency.

“A lot of people suffer through this as a private problem, but we are making it a public problem, and if the problem belongs to all of us then so does the solution,” said Maria Poblet of Just Cause, hugging a tearful Nedina as she addressed a crowd gathered at 24th and Mission streets.

Latino families like Brenda’s continue to be forced out of the Mission District by rising rent, and less economic opportunity for them in the recession. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the past decade has seen a 22 percent decrease in the Mission’s Latino population.

“Landlords often abuse the Ellis Act as a way to remove tenants from rent controlled units,” Just Cause organizer Maria Zamudio told the Guardian. “I’m occupying Kaleidoscope free speech zone art space on 24th and Folsom. My slumlord landlord is not down with that mission,” said artist and gallery proprietor Sara Powell, also facing a Ellis Act eviction after pressuring her landlord to address substandard building maintenance issues. Powell’s landlord withdrew a standard eviction process that housing advocates said was unlikely to succeed before launching the Ellis Act eviction.

“With the help off the 99 percent and with right on our side we are going to fight this and we are going to win,” said Powell, whose gallery next door to Philz Coffee is a cornerstone of the neighborhood’s multi-ethnic arts scene. The San Francisco Rent Board has received more than 4,000 petitions to remove rental units from the real estate market since 1999 through the Ellis Act. While Ellis Act evictions have seen some decline during the economic crisis, more Ellis Act evictions are now concentrated in the Mission District, where 40 percent of all Ellis Act petitions are now filed. At the same time, evictions based on breach of lease throughout the city are on track to double pre-recession numbers this year as more and more San Franciscans are have trouble earning enough to keep up with the city’s exorbitant rental rates. According to Just Cause, the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the Mission District is now $2,497. “The only way to keep our Chinese, Latino, Arabic, English speaking neighborhood is to fight like hell for our homes,” said Poblet. “Even before Wall Street was occupied, we have been defending this neighborhood. This is the neighborhood of the 99 percent.”

Stop downtown’s attack on RCV

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OPINION The long-time foes of political reform at the Chamber of Commerce and San Francisco Chronicle have launched an effort to repeal ranked choice voting (RCV) and public financing of campaigns. Supervisors Sean Elsbernd and Mark Farrell have introduced a June 2012 charter amendment to repeal RCV, with public financing also in their crosshairs.

Many of us fought hard to pass these reforms, and I am reminded of when the downtown corporate interests repealed district elections in 1980. They blamed the assassinations of Harvey Milk and George Moscone on district elections and the election of Supervisor Dan White. San Francisco has a history of the anti-reformers waiting for their moment of opportunity. Now these same corporate interests think that moment has arrived again.

The Bay Guardian first reported about an anti-RCV campaign in 2009, when a meeting of downtown business leaders was hosted by Steve Falk, Chamber of Commerce CEO (and past publisher of the Chronicle) to discuss repealing RCV.

As part of that effort, polling also was done to see if they could repeal district elections and public financing. They also filed a bogus anti-RCV lawsuit which was unanimously rejected by two courts. Elsbernd’s repeal legislation is the culmination of their calculated efforts.

It’s clear what these special interests want: a return to the days when local races were decided in low-turnout December elections, and those who had the most money pounded their opponents into submission. An Ethics Commission report in 2003 found that independent expenditures increased by a factor of four during December runoffs, while another study found that voter turnout dropped by more than a third in 10 of the 14 December runoff races held from 2000-2003. Turnout in one city attorney runoff dropped to 16 percent.

Just as importantly, the December electorate did not represent the diversity of San Francisco’s population. Voters in the runoffs were overwhelmingly whiter, older and more conservative than the city as a whole, as voter turnout plummeted in December among racial minorities, the poor and young people. Simply put, a return to December runoffs will allow groups like the Chamber and its allies to dump huge amounts of money into negative campaigns aimed at the more conservative December electorate when most San Franciscans don’t vote.

In the era of unlimited independent expenditures by corporations (thanks the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United), political reforms like RCV are crucial for protecting our democracy. Both RCV and public financing have greatly improved local elections — since their inception San Francisco has doubled the number of racial minorities elected to the Board of Supervisors. Elections are now decided in higher turnout November contests, allowing more people to have a voice in choosing their local representatives. Winning candidates in RCV contests have won with an average of 30 percent more votes than winners in the old December runoffs.

San Francisco has saved $10 million in taxes by not holding second elections, money used for other public needs. Candidates also haven’t needed to raise money for a second election, which helps level the playing field. Progressive candidates have never done well in citywide elections, but this year in RCV contests Ross Mirkarimi was elected sheriff and John Avalos mobilized and finished a strong second. That bodes well for progressives’ future.

It’s no coincidence that Supervisor Elsbernd is trying to get his charter amendment on a low-turnout June ballot, when the electorate is more conservative. The downtown corporate interests are clear on what they must repeal in order to elect the candidates they want — RCV, public financing, and ultimately district elections. Progressives need to be just as clear on what reforms we must defend.

Assemblymember Tom Ammiano represents the 13th District.

You grow, girl?

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caitlin@sfbg.com

HERBWISE The average celebrity autobiography follows an arc of learning and growing. The earnestly-made mistake — whether in the form of childhood shenanigan or adult infidelity — and then the ensuing redemption. But rarely do book-sized treatises emerge from the decision to leave the celebrity fold for the greener fields of bud agriculture. Leave it to the girl from the Blair Witch Project to produce that one.

You know Heather Donahue’s snotface. Apparently too well, because as she writes in her new memoir Grow Girl: Once Upon a Time She Made The Blair Witch Project, Then She Went to Pot. Literally (Gotham Books, 286pp., paper, $26) — score nothing for succinct subtitles — too many people took the movie’s faux-reality premise seriously. Casting agents, it seems, couldn’t shake the feeling that this professional actress was merely a kid caught with a Camcorder when a malignant forest spirit got a bee in its bonnet.

But then she met a guy from Nuggettown (an actual place, renamed for anonymity). What ensued was a romance that left Donahue the proud renter of a secluded house in the wood and enough pot-growing equipment that she had to grow to stay afloat financially.

Such a pat story! Throughout Donahue’s at times overly flowery, but on the whole eminently readable narrative, the growth of her fellow (capital G) “Girls” mirrors her struggle against the confines of society — the larger, non-weed growing one but also more interestingly, the grower (capital C) Community of Nuggettown.

For not all is hunky-dory in the land of impressive tri-cone crystal formation. Women in Nuggettown are relegated to supporting roles — the kept “pot wife,” the “grow girl” that is often bossed about by her XY-chromosomed peers. On the cover of the book Donahue is clutching the top of a healthy bud plant to her naked breasts, a stereotypical male fantasy if there ever was one — but it’s ultimately all about empowerment. She blooms from a shattered ex-actress to a fuller human being, all under the Mondo Reflector she installs herself on the grow room ceiling.

One approach the medical marijuana movement might benefit from is humanizing its growers. Imagine a commercial like those for Florida oranges or California cheeses. A proud farmer fluffs up Mary Jane’s leafy bustle while a down-home voiceover plays in the background (“High CBD levels, if you want ’em. Donchaknow.”) Yes, your friendly medicine agriculturist is a person too, says Grow Girl. Possibly a person that reinforces gender stereotypes through a strict hippie code of conduct slash double standard, but a person with debts and passions and doubts nonetheless.

Donahue humanizes the cannabis industry. Some farmers, she writes, are making enough money to keep Nuggettown’s kayak store in business, but any conspicuous consumption masks the fact that it’s not really advisable for smalltown weed people to be saving their ducats in your run-of-the-mill local credit union. These are moms-and-pops, guys!

The book is slightly dated. The storyline ends in Nuggettown’s hope for a persecution-free Barack Obama presidency (Obama’s very promises rendered all the more poignant for today’s reader, informed of the President’s about-face on the issue of raiding state-legal growing facilities). For a brief moment, it seemed like cannabis would slough off the shackles of social stigma and claim to an honored position in our medical establishment.

That didn’t happen, of course — the feds raided Mendocino County’s Northstone Organics in October of this year, for chrissakes. But Mary Jane, still she rises, as does Donahue by book’s end, after agricultural disasters, horrendous break-ups, and shattered expectations.

So, Grow Girl is great if you like your marijuana stories imbued with a general sense of struggle. (And what other kind, really, exists these days?)

The problem with the tax initiative

3

EDITORIAL The Occupy movement — despite police abuse, official hostility and dismissive media — is changing the mainstream of discussion in American politics. For the first time in years, it’s actually possible to talk about raising taxes on the very wealthy. All the polls show strong, and growing, public sentiment in favor of economic equality. It’s a great opportunity to reform California’s tax system — but Gov. Jerry Brown seems unwilling to take advantage of what could be the most important moment in his political career.

At least five groups are preparing tax-reform measures for the November, 2012 ballot. One of them — the so-called Think Long proposal supported by billionaire Nicolas Berggruen and Google executive Eric Schmidt — is largely regressive. Much of the $10 billion it would raise would come from sales taxes on services, which amounts to a whopping new tax on the middle class. Another, known as the Clean Energy Jobs Act (also backed by a billionaire, hedge fund manager Tom Steyer) would force corporations to pay taxes based on sales in the state, which in and of itself isn’t a terrible idea. But that’s the beginning and end of the measure, and half of the $1 billion it would raise would be earmarked for (private sector) clean energy projects.

Then there are the income tax proposals. One, sponsored by a Los Angeles attorney named Molly Munger (whose father happens to be a billionaire investor) would raise almost everyone’s income taxes, although the wealthy would pay more; every penny of the $10 billion in new revenue would be earmarked for education. The Courage Campaign and the California Federation of Teachers want to raise taxes on incomes of more than $1 million, with the money also dedicated to education.

Then there’s the governor’s plan. Brown’s offering a mix of a half-cent sales-tax hike and higher income taxes to raise about $7.5 billion. Some major labor groups are already on board — as are some business groups, which would rather see a tax on consumers than higher taxes on big corporations and the wealthy. His plan may seem pragmatic — but it’s hardly progressive and won’t solve the state’s $13 billion budget shortfall for this year, much less restore funding to the services that have been cut in past budget battles.

All of the plans have problems. While we’re much more aligned with the Courage Campaign’s goal of taxing the rich, and we agree that education is a critical need, there are other critical needs in the state, too (affordable housing, health and social services, for example) and we’re not sure the education earmark makes sense. And most of them don’t go beyond personal income taxes, when taxes on big businesses are often scandalously low.

Brown ought to be taking the best of the various proposals, adding other ideas that have been put forward by Democrats in the Legislature, and producing a final product that would shift the state’s tax burden onto those who can most afford it. That means scrapping the sales tax and replacing it with steeper income tax increases on the highest earners and an oil-severance tax (which could alone bring in as much as $8 billion a year). Higher taxes on financial institutions ought to be part of the deal, too.

With the presidential election driving a high turnout in California, and public anger at the greed of the top one percent defining the electoral debate, it’s foolish to put forward a half-assed measure that doesn’t amount to real reform. Brown and his team need to make some major changes before a tax measure heads to the Nov. 2012 ballot.

Editor’s notes

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tredmond@sfbg.com

The private sector that Republicans see as our economic savior has been creating jobs. Not a lot, a few hundred thousand a month, but some. And yet the unemployment rate remains stubbornly high.

There’s a reason for that, one politicians from San Francisco to Washington D.C. don’t want to talk about. But the New York Times put it nicely in a Dec. 5 editorial:

“While the private sector has been adding jobs since the end of 2009, more than half a million government positions have been lost since the recession…”

“The cutbacks hurt more than just services. As Timothy Williams of the Times reported last week, they hit black workers particularly hard. Millions of African Americans — one in five who are employed — have entered the middle class through government employment, and they tend to make 25 percent more than other black workers. Now tens of thousands are leaving both their jobs and the middle class.”

Remember: Most of the biggest employers in this city are not corporations; they’re government agencies. The City and County of San Francisco, the University of California, the State of California, the United States Postal Service, City College and the San Francisco Unified School District drive the local economy more than any one private company. Between them, those public-sector operations employ more than 60,000 people. The largest single private employer, Wells Fargo, has fewer than one sixth of that number.

Most of the those public-sector jobs are unionized and offer decent benefits. They are such an important part of the city’s economic development future that it’s impossible to talk about jobs in San Francisco unless you start the conversation with the public sector.

Mayor Ed Lee is about to enter negotiations with unions representing 24,000 city employees. His office is already indicating that cost savings will be a big part of the discussion. I know there are cost savings out there — you can’t spend $2 billion on payroll and not have some waste somewhere in the package.

But if he’s serious about his campaign mantra — jobs, jobs, jobs — I hope he remembers what the Republicans don’t: Government jobs count, too.