Volume 46 Number 36

Womb raiders


TRASH A primary figure in Philippine folklore dating back centuries, the aswang is a monster that has taken many forms — shape shifting being one constant. But arguably the most prevalent, at least in pop culture today, is that of a vampiric “witch” who uses the guise of a seemingly harmless old woman to ingratiate herself wherever there are pregnant women or young families, with the goal of eventually making a snack of the newborn or not-quite-yet-born. They manage the latter selection by using an extremely long proboscis to suck the … oh, you don’t want to know. (Although surely that image will someday be used by the ever-more-hysterical anti-abortion forces.)

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ “New Filipino Cinema” series (see Film story) features a mockumentary about Lilia Cuntapay, a senior actor whose modicum of local fame has come from playing variations on these mythical creatures, notably in the never-ending Shake, Rattle & Roll horror movie franchise. But for all the aswang’s ongoing ubiquity in the Philippines — a popular costumed Aswang Festival was held for several years in provincial Capiz until the Catholic Church got it shut down as “devil worship” — it’s rarely surfaced in entertainment abroad. Of course other cultures have their own traditional ghouls to play with. But it’s hard to deny that the baby lifeforce-sucking hag is a concept rather low on international-export value

One major exception is among the great underappreciated U.S. indie horrors of the last 20 years: 1994’s Aswang, shot on 16mm in and around Milwaukee for a reported grand total of $70,000, was the first feature for young Midwesterners Wrye Martin and Barry Poltermann. Their screenplay, devised from a story idea by Philippines-raised friend Frank Anderson, was the heartwarming tale of a lass in conventional “trouble” who finds a savior who’ll do what’s best for both her and her unwanted baby. Or so she thinks.

Knocked up by an irresponsible mullet-head boyfriend, barely-legal Katrina (Tina Ona Paukstelis) refuses to abort, instead agreeing to an unusual advertised offer: she will carry the child to term, posing as the bride of Peter Null (James Spader-ish Norman Moses). The last male heir to an aristocratic émigré Filipino clan, he claims he and his actual wife cannot conceive, and must resort to this ruse to inherit the family fortune. In an uncomfortable meeting presided over by a hilariously bored lawyer (John Garekis), the parties meet and sign the necessary contractual documents.

Seven months later, now ready-to-pop Katrina and her “husband” reunite, driving from the city to Chez Null, a rambling, isolated rural property with an aura of going-to-seed grandeur. She’s introduced to regal matriarch Olive (Flora Coker), given a creepy once-over by Tagalog-only-speaking housekeeper Cupid (Mildred Nierras), and pointedly told not to visit a small adjacent house where Peter’s sister Claire (Jamie Jacobs Anderson) is, ahem, not well. An uninvited, unwelcome guest of sorts also shows up, one Dr. Roger Harper (Josh Kishline). He says he’s just renting a vacation cottage nearby, but seems to be poking an investigative nose into some Null family mischief that is most definitely not for public consumption.

It does, however, involve consumption — as Katrina finds out after being put to bed heavily drunk on Cupid’s homemade special cider. Waking groggily, she senses a disturbance under the covers. To her considerable distress, it turns out she’s getting an intrusive visit from what one crew member later called a “50-foot tongue with a mind of its own.” Thus begins, just half an hour into the film’s 82 minutes, a nonstop escalation of grotesquely funny, tasteless mortal crises that rank ought to rank Aswang up there with The Evil Dead (1981) and Re-Animator (1985) for freaky, semi-camp gore-horror ingenuity.

Ought to, but Aswang sort of fell through the cracks, despite gaining some attention (not all favorable) as part of the Sundance Film Festival’s first-ever midnight sidebar. Theatrical release never came to pass; the U.S. video distributor released it cut, redubbed The Unearthing, and dumped into low-end retail outlets. Fame and fortune did not ensue for the filmmakers, who’ve separately stayed active in various capacities — editing, producing, even directing a documentary record of Charles Nelson Reilly’s one-man stage show — but never again created anything remotely like their crazily intense debut

The Mondo Macabro DVD release, out a few years now, has helped Aswang gain a small cult following, as well as regain its original title. Among factoids revealed in the extras are that most cast members were drafted from longtime Milwaukee avant-garde company Theatre X, though male lead Moses was, incongruously, a regional stage musical star. (Despite his memorably unhinged performance here, he seems to have never made another film.)

The making-of documentary is amusingly contentious, with some participants still discomfited by the paces they were put through, others retroactively doubting the directors’ competence, scruples, or whether they even shot particular scenes. They may still not quite know what they got themselves into, but hopefully time will prove it was something perversely great. Aswang does aswangs proud.

Pinoy rising



FILM Cinema has had a long and colorful history in the Philippines, with a first “golden age” of home-grown product in the 1950s, a turn toward exportable exploitation films in the ’60s, notable new-wave directors (like Lino Brocka) emerging in the ’70s, and so forth — sustaining one of the world’s most prolific film industries despite difficulties political and otherwise. At the turn of the millennium those wheels were wobbling and slowing, however, hard-hit by a combination of too many low-grade formula films, shrinking audiences, and stiffer competition from slick imported entertainments. The commercial sector stumbled on, but as a shadow of its robust former self.

But there’s something percolating beyond hard consonants on the archipelago these days, signs of a new DIY vigor coming from independent sectors juiced by the inexpensive accessibility of digital technology, undaunted (at least so far) by problems of exhibition and income-generating at home. It’s a sprawling, unpredictable, work-in-progress scene that some figure could well become the next “it” spot for cineaste types seeking one of those spontaneous combustions of fresh talent that arise occasionally where you least expect it — like Romania, to name one recent example.

One person who definitely thinks that’s the case is Joel Shepard, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ longtime Film/Video Curator. He’s traveled to the Philippines several times in recent years (once serving on the jury at CineManila), and has previously programmed a few prime examples of the country’s edgy new voices — particularly Brilliante Mendoza, whose notorious 2009 police-corruption grunge horror Kinatay (a.k.a. Butchered) was one of the most hotly divisive Cannes jury-prize winners in recent history. Now YBCA is presenting “New Filipino Cinema,” Shepard’s first “big fat snapshot” — hopefully to be continued on an annual basis — of a wildly diverse current filmic landscape, assembled in collaboration with Manila critic Philbert Ortiz Dy.

Shepard’s program notes call the Philippines “an extremely fascinating country…but the more I learned about the place and its people, the less I felt like I actually understood anything. The truth felt more and more slippery.” One might get a similar sensation watching the films in this expansive (nearly 30 titles, shorts included) sampler, in that they’re all over the map stylistically and thematically — from lyrical to gritty, satirical to anarchistic — suggesting no single defining “movement” or aesthetic to New Filipino Cinema.

Nor should they, since these movies reflect very different cultures, politics, and issues in regions hitherto underrepresented onscreen. After all, Manila isn’t the only place you can get your hands on a digital camera; and Tagalog is primary language for just one-third of all Filipinos.

The series opener has significant local ties: Loy Arcenas is a lauded stage set designer who’s worked frequently with our own American Conservatory Theater. Unavailable for preview, in description his feature directorial debut Niño (2011) sounds redolent of Luchino Visconti and The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (as well as, perhaps, 1975’s Grey Gardens) as it depicts a once grand family of Spanish émigrés living in decrepit splendor, diminished over generations by political inconvenience and a proud, fatal inability to adapt.

Their aristocratic pretensions are a far cry from the rowdier real life captured or depicted in other YBCA selections. A bizarre footnote to the United States’ complicated, incriminating relationship with the Philippines is documented in Monster Jiminez’s Kano: An American and His Harem (2010). Its subject is a Yankee Vietnam vet whose military pension allowed him to construct a sort of one-man imperialist paradise centered around his penis. Whether he was a gracious benefactor, a bullying rapist, or both is a puzzle only clouded further by contradictory input from former/current wives and mistresses (even while he’s in prison), stateside relatives who recall a childhood ideal to shape a sociopath, and the authorities who’ve lately kept him in prison.

War is ongoing, marriage an impractical hope in Arnel M. Mardoquio’s impressive Crossfire (2011), whose young lovers in southern region Mindanao must dodge government-vs.-rebel-vs.-bandit guns as well as a rural poverty sufficient to make our heroine vulnerable to being offered as a lender-debt payoff. Their plight is starkly contrasted with the spectacular scenery of countryside few tourists will ever hazard.

Its atmospheric opposite is Lawrence Fajardo’s Amok (2011), whose thousand threads of seemingly free-floating narrative depict life dedicatedly melting down all race, age, class, and economic divisions during a heat wave passage through one of Manila’s busiest intersections. What birth and development keeps apart gets nail-gunned together, however, once this string of naturalistic vignettes hits a plot device that delivers deus ex machina to all with no melodramatic restraint. Fate also lays heavy hand on the junior protagonists of Mes de Guzman’s At the Corner of Heaven and Earth (2011), a crude but honest neo-realist drama about four orphaned and runaway boys trying to eke out a marginal existence in Nueva Vizcaya.

Should this all sound pretty grim, be informed there’s lots of levity — albeit much of it gallows-humored — on the YBCA slate. Jade Castro’s exuberantly silly Remington and the Curse of the Zombadings (2011) finds the funny in homophobia as its crass young hero (a farcically deft Mart Escudero) is “cursed” by an angry queen he’d insulted to become gay himself; meanwhile somebody goes around their regional burg assassinating cross-dressers via ray-gun. Plus: zombies, and the proverbial kitchen sink. Also on the frivolous side is Antoinette Jadaone’s mockumentary Six Degrees of Separation from Lilia Cuntapay (2011), in which the titular veteran screen thespian struggles for recognition after decades playing bit parts and occasional showier ones, notably as witchy folkloric “aswang” attempting to suck the lifeblood from newborn babes. (See aswang-related coverage in this week’s Trash column, too.)

Yet those are but moderately playful New Filipino Cinema exercises compared to the determined off-map outrages practiced by Mondomanila (2011). This gonzo eruption of spermazoidal huzzah! by multimedia Manila punk underground mover Khavn de la Cruz seeks to leave no societal cavity unexplored, or unoffended. Opening with an infamous quote from Brokedown Palace (1999) star Claire Danes, who characterized Manila as a “ghastly and weird city … [with] no sewage system,” it delivers both fuck-you and fuck-me to that judgment via 75 minutes of mad under caste collage. There isn’t much plot. But there’s variably judged arson, pedophilia, yo-yo trick demonstrations, poultry abuse, upscale mall shopping, voyeuristic pornographia, Tagalog rap, rooftop drum soloing, and limbless-little-person salesmanship of duck eggs.

Further complicating your comprehension of a very complex scene, the YBCA series encompasses avant-garde shorts by veteran John Torres and newer experimentalists. There’s also a free afternoon Indie-Pino Music Fest Sat/9, and on June 17 there’s a postscript: Lav Diaz’s Florentina Hubaldo, CTE, the six-hour latest epic in a career whose patience-testing wide open cinematic spaces make Béla Tarr look like Michael Bay. 


June 7-17, $8

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

701 Mission, SF


In the air



HERBWISE It’s Sunday afternoon and the hosts of Mutiny Radio’s Cannabis Cuts: The Next Generation have effectively commandeered the smoking lounge at SoMa’s Igzactly 420. They are deep into solving the world’s problems.

The crusade may just involve a pictorial calendar featuring sexy men smoking marijuana — a project which hosts Vaperonica Dee and Merry Toppins staunchly resist any attempts to qualify as frivolous. It’s about achieving parity in cannabis imagery, they say — much like their weekly podcast of marijuana news, product reviews, music, and banter.

“If you look at all the ads [for cannabis businesses and products], it’s sexy nurses or girls holding cannabis leaves over their tits,” Dee says between Volcano puffs. The young radio vet didn’t find that image particularly representative of her experience with the medicine (both she and Toppins are medical marijuana patients), so she jumped at the chance to work with DJ Wiid on his marijuana variety show at Pirate Cat Radio.

Merry Toppins and Vaperonica Dee plot their takeover of cannabis media (that’s not their car.) Guardian photo by Caitlin Donohue

Dee stuck with the project through Pirate Cat’s transformation into Mutiny Radio, the shuttering of its cafe and demise of its infamous maple bacon lattes — “I was excited!” she says. “I wanted to be in radio, I didn’t give a shit about the cafe” — and the exodus of her male co-host.

And when DJ Wiid moved onto new projects, it left the door open for an idea that seems nearly revolutionary in an industry filled with men: a platform for women’s perspectives on the cannabis movement.

Toppins was a natural choice as on-air co-host for Dee. The two had met when chef Toppins appeared on Cuts to hype her marijuana-infused olive oil that she had entered into the High Times Cannabis Cup. Toppins’ ebullience is the perfect compliment to Dee’s well-informed on-air tone. They both have natural radio voices, impeccable banter rhythm. “It was so cool to see a chick doing the news on a weed show,” says Toppins of their initial meeting. “I knew right away I’d either be their intern or host my own radio show.”

Listeners are responding. Toppins volunteers the following stats: 5,000 Cannabis Cuts podcast downloads each week, each one yielding an average of an hour spent with the two-hour long show. And though the women express views that aren’t always in lockstep with the cannabis establishment (a February 14 edition of the show highlighted a disempowering experience with Americans for Safe Access activists at a City Hall hearing and the two are candid about the fact that not all their tokes are strictly medicinal), many of the community’s luminaries have lent their support. They count Proposition 215 co-author Dennis Peron and Cannabis Action Network co-founder Debby Goldsberry as personal friends, and have interviewed Peron on the show.

The enthusiasm that has come their way makes sense — the continued strength of activists to improve cannabis access depends on developing and raising awareness about diverse viewpoints within the movement.

“We’re changing the idea that there could be a profile of a standard cannabis activist,” says Dee, who wants the world to know that it’s not just the grey-ponytailed Deadheads who care about access to pot. “Plus, radio doesn’t have that many women involved in it, cannabis doesn’t have that many women involved in it — the two go together.” 

Cannabis Cuts: The Next Generation Live podcast every Tuesday, 4pm-6pm. www.mutinyradio.org. Also available on www.stitcher.com and www.medicinalmarijuananetwork.org


Time’s on his side



MUSIC Nick Waterhouse no longer calls San Francisco home, but the city’s fingerprints are all over Time’s All Gone, his effortlessly fun, debut LP. The retro-minded songwriter-producer crafts perfect little tributes to the punchy 1950s R&B sounds he’s been drawn to since he was a kid, all steeped with an endearing reverence for old-school record culture and recording techniques.

“We cut as live as possible, so a lot of the record is eight people in one room playing at the same time,” he explains. “Everybody’s gotta feel it together, and if they don’t, you really don’t have a song, in my opinion.”

As a Southern California kid growing up in the Costa Mesa area, Waterhouse approached his music listening from a studious angle, soaking up the Van Morrison and John Lee Hooker records of his parents, along with the Descendents and Sonic Youth albums he found. The well-rounded sonic diet can be heard within the frayed edges and garage rock appeal that Time’s All Gone has in spades.

“I listened to everything I could because I wanted to gain as much experience as possible,” he says. “I was the kid staying up for hours with the radio under the covers.”

By 18, Waterhouse had moved to San Francisco and quickly jumped headfirst into the DJ scene, spinning and building a network of like-minded cohorts at the Knockout’s Oldies Night and Saturday Night Soul Party at the Elbo Room, which brought him in touch with folks like Ty Segall and Mikal Cronin. No connection, however, would become as important to him as his relationship with Rooky Ricardo’s, the Dick Vivian-owned oldies-R&B-soul-centric gem of a record store in the Lower Haight.

“Rooky Ricardo’s informed a lot of how I developed as a person, and it’s all in the spirit of the place,” he says. “It’s got that clubhouse feel.”


Waterhouse recorded the saxophone-propelled blast of “Some Place” in the summer of 2010, an undertaking that he says was fueled more by a desire to sell vinyl copies to friends and fellow Rooky’s shoppers than to start a full-fledged music project.

“I really had no interest in it at the time,” he explains. “I figured I’d just keep making these 45s for fun and no one would even know who I was.”

After some nagging by friends to put something together for live shows, however, he caved and began recruiting players for the beginnings of what is now the Tarots, his perfectly complementary backing band. Together with Waterhouse’s guitar playing and expressive croon, the group uses horns, piano, drums, and female backing vocals to pay tribute to soulful R&B without ever falling victim to hollow mimicry or self-conscious irony. This is warm music made by passionate people with only the purest of intentions.

When it came time to record an LP, Waterhouse did what anyone who’s heard his music might expect and found an all analog studio in Costa Mesa called the Distillery to work out of. With the use of vintage gear, old ribbon mics, and classic recording techniques, he says that Time’s All Gone was constructed entirely with vinyl in mind.

“I can’t lie and pretend that as somebody born in the late-1980s I haven’t had moments of discovery because of digital music,” he says. And while yes, he has found music digitally over the years, he doesn’t have any vivid, concrete memories of those discoveries, the way he does with physical records. “I can still remember what listening station at Rooky’s I was at when I first heard a record, or what weird flea market I found something at. Having something tangible in front of you helps you associate.”

Waterhouse recently moved back to Southern California due to his quickly escalating, hectic tour schedule, but the plan has always been to officially release his album in San Francisco. In a beautiful bout of planning, Wednesday night’s show will not only mark the release of Time’s All Gone, but will also serve as a celebration for the 25th anniversary of the day Rooky Ricardo’s first opened its doors. Expect the dance party to start early and run late, as Waterhouse has enlisted the help of some of his favorite local DJs to spin before and after his set.

“In my mind, my album was born out of Rooky’s and out of a specific period of time in San Francisco more than anything else,” he says. “So this is my party for all the people and things that really mattered to me there.”


With DJs Carnita, Primo, Matt B, Lucky

Wed/6, 8pm, $12 sold out

Verdi Club

2424 Mariposa, SF (415) 861-9199



Revival signs



MUSIC A few musicians with slick hair and black-frame glasses are seen setting up their equipment in Chicago’s Hi-Style Studio: amps, a mustard Telecaster, glittering gold drums, a huge stand-up bass, and vintage condenser microphones. What year is this?

The drum hits crack and the bass strings ripple with heavy plucks. The finger-snapping beat is unavoidable, almost cloying in its blitheness. Potent vocals reminiscent of Little Richard suddenly overpower it all. It’s Broken Arrow, Oklahoma’s JD McPherson — singing so hard a craggy vein in his otherwise smooth forehead bulges — in the video for the single that has brought him this far: “North Side Gal.”

It’s due to be inescapable this summer. “The Chicago Cubs have actually been playing that song at the stadium during games,” McPherson says during a phone call from his car, where the singer-songwriter-occasional vegetarian is waiting on an order of red pepper tofu. “It’s really exciting. There’s really no other team I’d rather have that song associated with. It’s the ultimate old ballpark, underdog team.”

Like contemporaries Nick Waterhouse (who, coincidentally, is also playing San Francisco this week, and un-coincidentally is also profiled in this issue) and Nick Curran and the Lowlifes, McPherson is tackling the invigorating rock’n’roll power and bluesy vocals of early R&B and 1950s rock, exploring retro record-making processes,while nonchalantly dressing the part.

It’s another revival, likely to sell well across the mainstream in the Heartland, but also appeal to the underground listeners throughout rockabilly pockets. Though this is beyond classic rockabilly’s precise replications of the past, past kitsch and overwhelming aesthetics. These band leaders with undeniable guitar skills and a very modern drive have something that can only be described, apologetically, as star power. Out of the smoky clubs and into the mind’s eye.

And while rockin’ McPherson may have the sound, the side-parted hair, and the analog recording process back-story like the others in this current resurgence, his own background is fairly different; if the more soulful California boy Waterhouse is Rat Pack wool suits, McPherson is dusty rolled denim.

McPherson was raised on a cattle farm in Buffalo Valley, Southeast Oklahoma — dutifully feeding the cows before school — but later fell into a nearby punk scene, and met his wife (and mother to his two young daughters) at a new wave-goth club night in Tulsa; wearing a Smiths shirt herself, she approached him to say,”You look like a Smiths fan.” She’s now his biggest supporter, sitting patiently while he runs by new guitar parts or song lyrics. She’s also the original “North Side Gal.”

But before all that, before his interest in punk and new-wave, before the wife and kids, and long before the release of his modern reinterpretation of early rock’n’roll record, Signs and Signifiers, he was just a 13-year-old kid in the Midwest learning to play the guitar.

His much older brothers showed him their ’70s-era Lynyrd Skynyrd, Allman Brothers, and Jimi Hendrix records. He grew obsessed with Led Zeppelin then Van Halen, and later, Nirvana, which led to searches for punk origins records by the Stooges and the Ramones. As a late teen, he discovered early rock’n’roll, the backbeat to all those spinning vinyl dreams.

“I found the Decca recordings of Buddy Holly, and that sort of seemed to marry the exuberance of the Ramones, with the country Arcadian aesthetic that I was growing up around. It made sense…and it got me.”

His teenage punk band began interjecting Buddy Holly’s “Rocking Around with Ollie Vee” into their sets; the sound had a pervasive pull, and he fell backwards, deeper into the roots of rock’n’roll — Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, blues artists his Alabama-born dad loved such as Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker, and early jazz musicians.

He looked to Little Richard in particular, to whom he has garnered favorable comparisons (see the beginning of this story). Because of his style, and, perhaps, his skin color, he’s also seen comparisons to Elvis. “I love Elvis, I mean, I lo-ove Elvis,” he stretches out the “of” sound in the word “love” with an endearingly twangy accent. “I don’t know if there’s a huge musical similarity between us and Elvis, maybe instrumentation-wise, but we’re way more Specialty Records than Sun Records.”

“Little Richard is my favorite recording artist,” he continues, “[I’m] way more interested in Elvis’ black counterparts and predecessors. I do love rockabilly, but we don’t interject a lot of hillbilly sounds into our rhythm and blues the way Elvis did.”

In the ’90s Midwest, pop-country was taking over the airwaves, Billy Ray Cyrus and the like — it’s what all McPherson’s high school classmates were popping in the tape decks. It wasn’t for him. Perhaps this is why he shies away from any hillbilly sounds, those that can lead to psychobilly when mixed with the punk roots. Not that he disparages rockabilly.

“There’s a subculture of all these bands that have no intention of doing anything other than just really faithfully reproducing these sounds, there’s a lot more rockabilly and Western swing bands doing that thing, [yet] these are folks that are putting out quality music.”

But in those scenes and beyond he saw a shortage of the more straight-forward rock’n’roll he loved. That’s why he and musical partner Jimmy Sutton (the gray fox thumping those stand-up bass strings in the “North Side Gal” video) decided to make the DIY, all-analog Signs and Signfiers album in the first place. “So our record basically was almost like an art project, like ‘let’s just make this record and do what we always wanted to do.'”

The drummer on the album was Alex Hall, who doubled as the engineer. Now he’s still “in the family,” often playing keyboards with the band; drummer Jason Smay is on the current tour. During the recording process, McPherson and Sutton would run through a song then Hall would head into the control booth to mix. He’d set the levels, start the tape, run in, then get behind the drums. “That was kind of the magic of it, it was essentially mixed as we recorded it. Real fast, instant gratification. It’s the best way to record.”

Like contemporary Waterhouse noted, McPherson of course has his own connections with modern technology and has used digital recording processes in the past, but he prefers the analog way, to extract that authentic sound. “I’ve seen the amazing things you can do in a digital environment, but there’s some special thing to getting a band live in the studio and recording an actual performance. And then you know, the equipment sounds amazing too.”

While the record was originally released in 2010 on Sutton’s tiny Hi-Style label, the “North Side Gal” single and album have really started picking up this year. With the homemade video as the ultimate calling card, Rounder Records signed the band and rereleased the album this spring. The video has gained half a million views as of press time, and the band’s television debut is tonight on Conan. Despite all that, they’re still relatively unknown in the US, but McPherson and his band have a huge following in the UK — they regularly play sold-out shows and festivals, and have daily rotation on BBC Radio.

During the recording process, and up until the end of the 2011 school year, McPherson was still employed in a local Broken Arrow middle school as a computer and arts teacher (he went to college for fine arts). When he was laid off last summer he says he told the band, “well, I’m getting a paycheck through the summer, so let’s tour and try to make some money while I look for another job.” They’ve been touring consistently ever since.

Perhaps this batch of ’50s-inspired rockers and analog R&B crooners will move beyond the past, and into the future musical pantheon, gaining elusive mainstream success. Or maybe they’ll remain lovable underdogs. Only time will tell. For your McPherson fix now, you could always take in a Cubs game. Check back at the end of summer ’12.


With Toshio Hirano

Thu/7, 8pm, $21

Great American Music Hall

859 O’Farrell, SF

(415) 885-0750



So close



CHEAP EATS It’s birthday season! Me, yeah, but more importantly:

Happy birthday to C. Chunk, 5. Happy birthday to K. Chunk, 4. I took the train home for C. Chunk’s birthday, and now I’m taking it home for K. Chunk’s. That’s a lot of trains, in case you were wondering, and I’m starting to feel like I could write a Jimmie Rodgers song.

What rhymes with Amtrak?

Ah, nevermind. I think I’ll play with my laptop.

Hedgehog has one more month of work in New Orleans, and then we’ll be coming home by car, and for good. But since our new car is smaller than the one we went to New Orleans with, and that one was popping buttons as it was, I am traveling with roughly half of our crap, including an electric guitar.

Shit! It’s left-handed, and both me and Jimmie Rodgers are righty . . .

I got the wrong-hand blues

My baby’s got me all turned round

Got the wrong-hand blues

My baby’s got me all turned round

This guitar won’t listen to me

It says I’m sitting upside-down

yodel-eh-hee-oh d’eleh-hee-oh d’eleh-hee

Please forgive me. It’s the middle of the night in Texas. (And elsewhere, I imagine.)

One of the nice things about going away for months at a time is you come home and things are different. Give you an example, from my last time home: There’s barbecue in the Mission!

There’s barbecue in the Castro!

This review has nothing to do with barbecue.

Yesterday I barbecued a slab of ribs the size of a small table. We could have put our plates on top of the ribs — but then what would we have eaten?

And how would we have washed the sauce off our knees?

My barbecue sauce is blueberry-based, and stains. Bacon fat, garlic, onions, cayenne, rice vinegar, maple syrup, black pepper, celery seed . . .

But this isn’t about barbecue.

It’s about Thai. The Maze said he thought there was a new Thai restaurant on 16th and Guerrero, and I said I thought I saw one there too, let’s go.

Interestingly, he was thinking of Malai, which has been there for decades and decades. Which goes to show you how much Maze loves Pakwan. He eats there all the time, and just now notices the Thai place across the street?

But there really is a new one, too. New to me, anyway. I think it’s only been there for months and months, almost a year maybe.

And that’s what I like about coming home, I’m saying: Thai food. Which isn’t very good in New Orleans. Not to mention Texas, in the middle of the night.

So, yeah, Krua, kitty-corner from Malai, and first things first: they do have duck soup. In fact, it was one of the best I’ve had, brothwise: salty and rich. The celery was a nice touch, and the noodles were good; but the bowl could have used more ducks in it was all.

As for the gold bags . . .

Well, I don’t have anything to compare them to. I never had gold bags before. In fact, what the hell are gold bags?

All the rage, according to Maze. He keeps seeing them on menus, and now probably I will too. They are dumplingy collections of shrimps, chickens, water chestnuts, and corn, tied off at the top like . . . gold bags, apparently.

Were they good? Yeah. Sure.

I forget what else we had. Probably tofu, or else I would remember. In any case: new favorite restaurant. I just can’t get over the fact that there is duck noodle soup within two blocks of my apartment, and barbecue. Even ramen now, I’m pretty sure. Within two blocks of my apartment!

Our apartment.

All we have to do now is live in it.


Daily 11:30am-10:30pm

3214 16th St., SF

(415) 913-7886


Beer and wine


Dream not deferred



On Monday, June 4, students at the Meadows-Livingstone School rehearsed for their annual end-of-the-year performance. It was bleak and rainy out, but the small, essentially one-room schoolhouse that houses the private elementary school was bursting with energy.

Twenty kids, first through sixth graders, were practicing: they sang Wade in the Water and a welcoming song in Swahili. During The Greatest Love of All, a seven-year old crooned her solo: “People need someone to look up to, I never found anyone who fulfilled my needs.” But then the kids broke out into the Neville Brothers’ Sister Rosa, (“Thank you Miss Rosa, you are the spark! You started our freedom movement!”) and then a rap about Malcolm X.

At this school, located at Potrero and 25th streets, those needs are fulfilled.

This end-of-the-year performance will showcase what the children have learned all year in an elementary school education built around lessons on African and African American history and culture. As Gail Meadows, the school’s founder and principal, puts it: “We have an Afro-centric school. We have a classical African Civilization class, and have books, videos, games, focused on African Americans. The kids learn African songs, they learn African American field songs.”

Meadows says is offers more than the cursory black history that is usually taught: “At most schools, you’ll learn about Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, and that’s it.”

All of the children at Meadows-Livingstone are of African descent. “We’re not nationalists,” Meadows says. “The kids understand the world is of many colors, and you can’t live in this world by yourself.”

But spending some crucial elementary school time specifically for African Americans, Meadows believes, does wonders for her students’ abilities to navigate that world.

As Meadows tells it, she’s motivated partly because she didn’t get the same experience as a child. “I lived in a small campus town and went to an all-white school. My mother used to say that she had to undo everything that was done.”

Her education included books shaped by her parents to include black children (“They would search tirelessly for children’s books representing people of color, or they would just change the stories”) and distrust of television (“My father would say, why watch something that doesn’t validate you as a child?”). At her school, she recalls being in “a play that included a line, ‘Don’t drink coffee. It will make you black, and that’s bad.'”

For children in San Francisco today, Meadows says this feeling of belonging is as important as ever. “There’s an exodus of people of color out of San Francisco,” she says. “That means children of color are in classrooms with people who are not educated about African American culture. And they’re educated by a media that gives them a skewed view of who they are.”

This lack of education can often lead to racist bullying. a large reason why many students transfer to Meadows’ school.

“There are students that transfer into my school after having bad experiences, and they don’t know how to confront the person who said something offensive to them,” says Meadows. “In my school they learn to confront. An angry confrontation isn’t productive. It should be direct, they should be able to explain, here’s the real story about that stereotype.”

This education helps when kids leave the Meadows-Livingstone school for middle schools across the city.

“People ask them questions like, are you in a gang? Do you have a house? All these stereotypes they’ve read about, all of a sudden they’re right there,” Meadows says. “If you know who you are, you can live through that. Its easier.”

At a recent visit to the school, some students described their own experiences.

“Sometimes, when I was at my old school, they talked about blacks badly,” said one student. “They said they were stupid and dumb. And I still didn’t believe it, but now I learned about my heritage and I learned that we’re stronger and we have more spirit.”

Or, as he said, “Black power makes me feel strong.”

A 12-year-old who would be leaving the school soon told me a story of how the school influenced. “One of the kids in my neighborhood, he said, ‘We’re all niggers,'” he explained. “I said, ‘No we’re not. We’re regular black kids.'”

As another child put it, “Black power means that you have strength and nobody can push you around, like, like you’re just a little duck and everyone else is a coyote.”

From a long line of teachers, Meadows’ life work has been dedicated to educating and empowering young people. She taught her first class at age 10, before studying education at Kansas State University. She was teaching at Montessori schools when she decided to start her own.

Meadows-Livingstone school came out of a wave of alternative education informed by 1960s liberation movements. The Black Panther party, a part of the history that the children Meadows-Livingstone learn, had a 10-point platform laying out the ways that racism intersects with inequality in education, along with housing, treatment by the justice system, and other facets of society.

Point five says, “We believe in an educational system that will give to our people a knowledge of the self. If you do not have knowledge of yourself and your position in the society and in the world, then you will have little chance to know anything else.”

Meadows-Livingstone continues this part of the Panther legacy, and not just ideologically.

“At one point in our school we had maybe 15 kids whose relatives had been Panthers,” says Meadows.

“We have a grandfather who brings fruit every week,” she says, continuing the spirit of the Free Breakfast Program. “And he was a Panther.”

The children also learn about prominent Panthers. “They play a Panther tag game, and they would cry if they couldn’t be Angela Davis or Huey P. Newton,” she said.

On Fridays, the children read poetry. “They really like to recite poems written by African Americans, it gives them hope. They’re stuck on Langston Hughes, they like Gwendolyn Brooks too.”

The school costs $700 a month, but many of the students are subsidized by The Basic Fund, a private foundation.

Meadows also uses partnerships with city institutions to enhance the curriculum. The children spend time every week swimming at Garfield public pool on Treat Street, and playing tennis, and partnering with Acrosports for tumbling lessons. The swimming lessons hold a particularly strong symbolism, as generations of African Americans in Jim Crow states were denied opportunities to swim.

Tributes to Black historical figures decorate the school’s walls. Children’s art on “Black Inventors” and “Louis Armstrong, the king of jazz” are displayed, along with a large version of the iconic photograph of John Carlos and Tommie Smith doing the Black Power salute at the 1968 Olympics.

When asked about Malcolm X, 20 hands shot up to talk about a figure important to their studies.

As one child explained it: “Malcolm X, he said if somebody’s hits you or hurts your family, he’s not going to turn the other cheek. He’s going to fight back. He’s like, you hurt my family, I’ll hurt yours. Martin Luther King, he said if a white person hits you, don’t fight back, make peace.”

“That’s nonviolence” another chimed in.

When listing their personal heroes, many kids included King and Malcolm. “Muhammad Ali, Yele, and you, Gail!” one exclaimed, the middle hero referring to the school’s drumming and African Civilization teacher, Akinyele Sadiq.

In the summer, most of the students go off to Camp Winnarainbow, the hippie-circus camp that Meadows calls “almost like an extension of our school.” Many of the children have parents who attended the school, and when I ask if they’re excited to graduate, all the kids frown and one says, “I don’t want to leave!” Others are more calm at the question. The school provides a safe haven for bullied kids and a source of ethnic pride. One 12-year-old tells me that when he goes to middle school next year, he’ll make new friends but, “I won’t follow them if they do something bad.” He sighs when I ask if he will be sad to leave. “Yeah,” he says, “But we all have to move on.”

Mayor Lee’s priorities are wrong


By Margaret Brodkin

OPINION There was much back slapping at City Hall last week as officials congratulated themselves on what was described as a welcome “philosophical shift” in San Francisco politics.

The beneficiary of the acclaim and virtual political consensus was Mayor Ed Lee’s proposed budget, the largest in history — including an unexpected windfall of new revenue. The budget’s signature element, described in glowing terms by the San Francisco Chronicle’s C.W. Nevius and warranting its own special mayoral press conference, is the expansion of the police and fire budgets — an $82 million increase over two years.

Amid last week’s ovations was an unsettling silence from voices normally willing to cut through obscure numbers and rhetoric. Not one official commented that the best way to ensure public safety is to build strong children, families, and communities.

The cumulative impact of the devastating state budget and years of inadequate funding on families and children should not permit celebration. In light of millions in unanticipated revenue, politicians should not be satisfied with addressing urgent needs simply by sparing a few city departments from cuts, as appeared to be the case. Here’s what they should be thinking about:

• Our schools face the worst budget cuts ever, with SFUSD preparing to lay off 400 employees, reduce the already-too-short school year, increase class size, eliminate most school bus lines and all high school after-school programs, and under-fund everything from food to special education.

• Our childcare system is being gutted by the state, with $20 million in losses this year on top of $9 million from last year. This will impact thousands of families and result in the closure of centers and family childcare homes. Many fewer parents will be eligible for childcare subsidies (no one with two kids earning more than $37,500 a year will qualify) — pushing parents out of work and onto “welfare,” and children out of quality care and into unsafe settings.

• Support systems for children with disabilities are being eliminated and reduced through simultaneous cuts in multiple agencies.

• Young people entering community colleges or state universities face years of uncertainty — including whether their campuses will even exist. Already, the majority of SF students who enter City College are unable to graduate — stymied by costs, lack of educational support, or the inability to get classes they need.

It appears that little of the new millions will address these problems. The mayor’s budget does not even fully fund the voter-approved Public Education Enrichment Fund, passed in 2004 to provide essential services to public schools and preschools. Funding falls short by more than $10 million. Providing schools the funds to which they are legally entitled is the least we can do when the city lands millions in new resources.

Let’s be clear: crime is at historic lows — and has gotten that way with 200 fewer officers than the mayor is now advancing. There is little rationale to suddenly swell the ranks, at a cost of $140,000 per officer. The Fire Department’s inefficiencies have been well documented by city budget experts, and many cost-saving recommendations have yet to be implemented.

Before signing off on a budget they have not yet discussed in public (as it appeared to last week), the Board of Supervisors must evaluate fiscal options in full view. Private meetings with the mayor are no substitute for a robust debate now that the revenue facts are known. This is the city’s first two-year budget, and its policy direction will impact us all for years to come.

What looks to Nevius like a positive “drama-free, signature moment” for San Francisco, looks to many advocates for children and families like an abdication of responsibility.

Margaret Brodkin is a former executive director of Coleman Advocates for Children, director of the Department of Children, Youth and their Families and New Day for Learning, and a veteran of numerous budget processes

The circus begins



Mayor Ed Lee and his attorneys are presenting a voluminous yet largely speculative case against suspended Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi in their effort to remove him for official misconduct, broadening the case far beyond their most damning core accusation -– that Mirkarimi dissuaded witnesses from telling police that he bruised his wife’s arm during an argument on Dec. 31. And so far, there’s no evidence to support that key allegation.

In fact, Mirkarimi and his attorneys insist there was no effort to dissuade witnesses, one of many unsupported aspects to a case they say should never have been filed without stronger evidence. And they say the mayor’s team is now compensating for the weakness of its case by piling on irrelevant accusations and witnesses in an effort that amounts to character assassination.

There are even signs that the city is nervous about its case. Knowledgeable sources told the Guardian that the City Attorney’s Office last week offered to settle the case with Mirkarimi, offering a substantial financial settlement if he would agree to resign, an offer that Mirkarimi rejected.

It was one of a series of rapidly unfolding developments that also included a raucous Ethics Commission hearing, the disclosure of phone records by Mirkarimi’s side, a new list of charges, and the city’s release of the video Mirkarimi’s wife, Eliana Lopez, made with neighbor Ivory Madison, documenting the bruise in case of a child custody battle over their son.

Lopez has maintained that Mirkarimi never abused her and that she’s been hurt most by the efforts to prosecute him and remove him from office.

“I hope they realize after reflection that what they have done is irreparable and perpetually damaging to me and my family,” Lopez said in a statement condemning the city’s release of a video that she fears will remain online for her children and grandchildren to see.

Yet all indications are this spectacle is only going to grow more sordid, divisive, and sensational as it moves forward — belying the statement Lee made last week as he introduced his annual budget: “As many of you know, I’m a person who does not like a whole lot of drama.”


The May 29 Ethics Commission hearing to begin setting standards and procedures for the official misconduct proceedings against Mirkarimi illustrated two sharply divergent views on when elected officials should be removed from office. It also displayed the increasingly bitter acrimony and resentments on each side, emotions only likely to grow more pronounced as the hearings drag on for months against the backdrop of election season.

Both sides would like to see the decision as a simple one. Lee and his team of attorneys and investigators say Mirkarimi’s bruising of his wife’s arm and his unwillingness to cooperate with their investigation of what followed make him unfit for office. Mirkarimi and his lawyers admit his crime, but they say that’s unrelated to his official duties and that the rest of Lee’s charges against him are speculative and untrue.

Yet there’s nothing simple about this official misconduct case — or with the implications of how each side is trying to counter the others’ central claims. So despite the stated desires of some Ethics commissioners to narrow the scope of their inquiry and limit the number of witnesses, San Franciscans appear to be in for a long, dramatic, and divisive spectacle, with Mirkarimi’s fate decided by the Board of Supervisors just a month or so before the five supervisors who have been his closest ideological allies face reelection. Nine of 11 votes are required to remove an official.

The Mayor’s Office wants to call the most witnesses and present an elaborate (and expensive) case that includes a number of outside experts on law enforcement and domestic violence, painting a portrait of Mirkarimi as a serious wife-batterer whose past and future actions can be divined from that malevolent distinction, making him obviously unable to continue as San Francisco’s chief law enforcement officer.

“The extent of the abuse was far greater than what Mr. Mirkarimi has testified to,” claimed Deputy City Attorney Peter Keith, going on to say “there were attempts to control what she ate,” an apparent reference to Mirkarimi’s decision not to take Lopez to a restaurant for lunch on Dec. 31 because they were having a heated argument. He also repeatedly referred to Mirkarimi as a batterer and said “batterers behave in a certain way.”

Mirkarimi attorney Shepard Kopp calls that portrayal exaggerated and unfair, ridiculing the Mayor’s Office claims that its domestic violence expert, attorney Nancy Lemon, can predict Mirkarimi’s behavior based on grabbing his wife’s arm once: “Apparently she’s some kind of clairvoyant in addition to being an expert,” Kopp told the commission as he unsuccessfully sought Lemon’s removal from the witness list.

Ethics Commission Chair Benedict Hur took the lead role in trying to limit the witness list, focusing on stripping it of the various law enforcement experts who plan to describe how different agencies might react to dealing with Mirkarimi. “What I don’t understand is how his ability to do his job relates to whether he committed official misconduct,” Hur said.

Mirkarimi’s team says its case could be very simple, with only Lee and Mirkarimi called as live witnesses — but the attorneys reserved the right to offer testimony to counter false or damaging claims made by the Mayor’s Office.

Hur tried to limit the case to just witnesses and arguments that relate to Mirkarimi’s actions, but he was outvoted by those who wanted to let the city argue how those actions would affect perceptions of Mirkarimi by the many people that a sheriff must interact with.

In the end, the commissioners agreed to trim the eight expert witnesses sought by the mayor down to three and to cut its 17 proposed fact witnesses down to 12, calling 15 total witnesses. Mirkarimi’s team will call 10 witnesses, down from an initial 17. All witnesses will submit written declarations and then be subjected to live cross-examination if any of their testimony is disputed.


The speculative and prejudicial nature of some of the city’s case was attacked at the hearing by Mirkarimi’s attorneys and the large crowd that came to support him.

Commissioner Paul Renne asked the Mayor’s Office attorneys why they hadn’t summarized the expected testimony of their expert witnesses and “How are any of those opinions relevant to the issues in this case?”

“I have not had time to work with the witnesses to see what their opinions are,” replied Deputy City Attorney Sherry Kaiser, prompting Kopp to incredulously note, “The mayor is preparing the expert witnesses without knowing what their testimony will be. How can I respond to that?”

The issues of bias and conflicts of interest also came up surrounding what sources should be called as witnesses. Mirkarimi’s team wanted longtime Sheriff Michael Hennessey, Mirkarimi’s predecessor, while the Mayor’s Office pushed for Acting Sheriff Vicki Hennessy to convey how the Sheriff’s Department should function.

“Vicki Hennessy was a political appoint of Mayor Lee,” Waggoner objected, although the commission decided to use that appointee.

On several critical procedural questions, the commission sided with the Mayor’s Office, ruling that the commission decision needn’t be unanimous, that guilt could be established based on a preponderance of the evidence rather than beyond a reasonable doubt, and that normal rules of evidence won’t apply, with some hearsay evidence allowed on a case-by-case basis.

The pro-mayor decisions angered the roughly 200 Mirkarimi supporters who packed the commission hearing and an overflow room, many bearing blue “We stand with Ross” stickers and flyers, which had “Respect Eliana” on the flip side. There were only a couple of Mirkarimi critics at the hearing wearing white “I support Casa de las Madres” stickers, referring to the domestic violence group that has been calling for Mirkarimi’s removal since shortly after the incident went public.

Mirkarimi got a rousing welcome from the crowd when he arrived at the hearing, his voice choking up and eyes welling with tears as he said, “I cannot tell you, on behalf of me and my family, how grateful we are.”

The crowd was boisterous during the proceedings, loudly reacting to some claims by the deputy city attorneys and offering comments such as “Ed Lee is the one you should put on trial,” with Hur finally recessing the hearing after an hour and having deputies warn audience members that they would be removed for speaking out.

Renne, a career litigator and the District Attorney’s Office appointee to the commission, raised the most doubts about both the standard of guilt and rules of evidence being lower than in criminal proceedings, telling his colleagues, “I have some reservations.”


Mirkarimi’s team also released to the Chronicle and the Guardian redacted phone records from Mirkarimi, Lopez, and Linnette Peralta Haynes — a family friend and social worker who served as Mirkarimi’s last campaign manager. The city has sought to portray Haynes, who has not been cooperating with the investigation, as a conduit to Mirkarimi’s efforts to dissuade Lopez and Madison from going to the police on Jan. 4.

Mirkarimi previously told the Guardian that he was unaware that Lopez had told Madison about the abuse incident or that they had made a video of her injury until several hours after Madison had called the police and they had come to the house to talk to Lopez, during which time Mirkarimi was in a series of meetings at City Hall.

The phone records seem to support that claim. They show that Lopez and Haynes — who is close to Lopez and recently went to Venezuela to visit her — exchanged a series of telephone calls on Jan. 4 starting at 11am. Their longest conversation, nearly 40 minutes, occurred at 11:18am.

Neither woman could be reached to describe the substance of that call. At 12:24pm, Lopez sent Madison — with whom she had been communicating by phone and text over the previous couple days — a text message indicating that she didn’t want Madison to report the incident to police, but that she would instead go to her doctor to document the injury.

A minute later, Madison called the police to report that Lopez had been abused by Mirkarimi.

Starting an hour later, the records show, Haynes and Lopez called each other but didn’t connect until 3:31, when they had a nearly 14-minute phone conversation, presumably discussing the fact that police had visited the house, with Lopez reportedly giving the phone to Madison at one point so Haynes could talk to her.

Yet the phone records indicate that neither Lopez nor Haynes tried to reach Mirkarimi until after that conversation, despite the city’s claims that Mirkarimi “or his agents” used his power to dissuade witnesses, most notably Lopez and Madison. The first attempt to reach Mirkarimi was at 3:46pm when Haynes called him twice but didn’t connect. Lopez then sent Mirkarimi a text message at 3:53pm asking “Where are you and where is the car,” but she got not reply. She texted him again at 4:18pm to say “Call me. It’s an emergency.”

Lopez made one last appeal to Madison in a 4:18pm phone conservation that lasted four minutes and 27 seconds and then she finally reached Mirkarimi by phone at 4:23pm. Mirkarimi and attorney David Waggoner say this is the first time that he became aware that Lopez had talked to neighbors and that the police had been called. Their conversation lasted a little more than five minutes.

Mirkarimi called Haynes at 5:12pm and they spoke for seven minutes. At 5:51pm, an increasingly panicked Lopez sent a text to Mirkarimi saying, “You have to call [Sheriff Michael] Hennessey and stop this before something happen. Ivory is giving the investigators everything. Use your power.” To which Mirkarimi responded 10 minutes later, “I cannot. And neither can he. You have to reject Madison’s actions. We both do. I cannot involve new people.”


On June 1, the city released an amended list of charges against Mirkarimi that was intended to be a more specific list of accusations, as Waggoner requested during the May 29 Ethics Commission hearing. In it, the city asserts that the charter language essentially gives the city two avenues by which to remove officials, defining distinct “wrongful behavior” and “required conduct” clauses. Violation of either, they contend, is enough to remove an official.

“Official misconduct means any wrongful behavior by a public officer in relation to the duties of his or her office, willful in its character, including any failure, refusal or neglect of an officer to perform any duty enjoined on him or her by law…,” begins the charter language. This “wrongful behavior” section has long been in the charter, referring to specific actions by public officials to neglect their duties.

The second “required conduct” clause of this sentence — which was created in 1996, never vetted by the courts, and which Mirkarimi’s attorneys say is unconstitutionally vague — continues, “…or conduct that falls below the standard of decency, good faith and right action impliedly required of all public officers and including any violation of a specific conflict of interest or governmental ethics law.”

In trying to indict Mirkarimi for actions before he was sworn in as sheriff, the city attempts to argue that his official duties really began with his election, claiming that in this interim period he “had the duty and the power in his official capacity as Sheriff-Elect to work with the Sheriff’s Department and its officials to prepare himself to assume the full duties of Sheriff.” And if that’s not enough, the city argues that he was chair of the Board of Supervisors Public Safety Committee during that same Nov. 8-Jan. 8 time period, further subjecting his actions to official misconduct scrutiny.

The “wrongful actions” charges against Mirkarimi were listed in the document as domestic violence, abuse of office, impeding a police investigation, and “crime, conviction, and sentence,” while the “breach of required conduct” charges were listed simply as his sheriff and supervisorial roles.

The document then attempts to paint an expansive portrait of the Sheriff’s official duties, going beyond the narrow construction of the charter to include the general law enforcement duties listed in state law, interactions with various government and nonprofit groups, administrative responsibilities as a city department head, and passing mentions in the California Family Code that police officers “must enforce emergency protective orders in domestic violence cases.”

Yet the promise that the rest of the document would detail Mirkarimi’s wrongful actions with greater specificity than the previous list of official charges doesn’t seem to be met by this document, which repeats the same narrative of actions that Waggoner had criticized for vagueness.

For example, on the pivotal charge that he dissuaded witnesses and impeded the police investigation, the new charges say that during the period from Dec. 31-Jan. 4, “Sheriff Mirkarimi participated in and condoned efforts to dissuade witnesses from reporting this incident to police and/or cooperating with police investigators,” without describing any specific witnesses or actions that he took.

And by the mayor’s team’s own admissions, the prosecutors don’t know what Mirkarimi did to dissuade witnesses, which they hope to learn through future testimony.

The closest the new document comes to directly tying Mirkarimi’s actions to the official misconduct language is with Mirkarimi’s plea to a misdemeanor false imprisonment charge: “False imprisonment of a spouse is a crime of domestic violence. The California Penal Code considers spousal abuse to be a ‘crime against public decency and good morals.'”

Mirkarimi disagrees with that interpretation, noting that he and his attorneys specifically considered whether pleading to false imprisonment -– a general charge with many possible meanings -– would violate the city’s official misconduct provisions, and he told the Guardian that he was assured by his attorneys it didn’t. Mirkarimi told us he would not have entered the plea and would have instead fought the charges in court if he thought it would disqualify him from serving as sheriff.

Waggoner told us that “The Mayor’s Amended Charges are further evidence that this entire ordeal is a political hatchet job reminiscent of a Soviet show trial. Far from being a careful analysis of any actual evidence, the new charges are vague, redundant, and conflate the offices of Sheriff and Supervisor.”

But ultimately, the case against Mirkarimi is a political one, not a legal case subjected to the normal standards of evidence and procedure. And whether Mirkarimi keeps his job will be a decision made by politicians based on a variety of factors, some of which have little relation to whatever happened on Dec. 31 and Jan. 4.

What’s next: the Ethics Commission will meet on June 19 to rule on more of the outstanding issues in the case and begin hearing testimony. To review the long list of documents from the case, visit www.sfethics.org.

Rites of passage



FILM It’s commonly said of Nathaniel Dorsky’s films that they are beautiful beyond words. Which is true as far as it goes, but then the same could be said of many poems and they are words. What’s clear is that Dorsky is absorbed with a classical fulfillment of form, and as such his films do better with poetics than interpretation (he has himself supplied a fine entry point with his slim volume Devotional Cinema). Poetics in this context means respecting the mystery and proceeding gingerly with gesture, metaphor, and detail. No one ever says of a Dorsky film, “I liked it the more I thought about it.” Conversely, watching a second or third time one marvels to find the beauty springing to life with the same force, subtler and lovelier now for this trick of renewal. No one ever says of a sunset, “I’ve seen this one before.”

A three-part retrospective at the Pacific Film Archive beginning June 10 retraces the last decade of Dorsky’s work. The Return (2011) and August and After (2012) receive local premieres this weekend, accompanied by the delicate Pastourelle (2010). June 17 brings his “Quartet,” to my mind a signal achievement of the young century. The series concludes June 24 with three earlier films confirming Dorsky’s mastery of an open (sometimes called polyvalent) form of montage: Song and Solitude (2006), Threnody (2004), and The Visitation (2002). How fitting that these films should be spaced out over consecutive days of rest! They will be shown on 16mm because that is what they are (last I checked the museums still show the Old Masters in paint).

It’s our good fortune to share a city with Dorsky: opportunities to see the films with him as a guide come a little more frequently, and the phenomena that supply his visual repertoire are that much more familiar. Here are the blossoms, the Chinatown lanterns, the drifting Muni trains, the ocean skies, and the seasons as we only dare to see them in deepest reverie.

Dorsky began making movies under the influence of people like Stan Brakhage and Gregory Markopoulos, filmmakers who strove for an intrinsic cinematic language (while the auteurists chiseled out an essential cinema, they sought cinema’s essence). After relocating to San Francisco in 1971, he reemerged with Hours for Jerome (1980-1982), a dense exercise in spiritual autobiography culled from pastoral years in New Jersey. The films began arriving with greater regularity after Triste (1998) and continue apace even after the desertion of his beloved Kodachrome.

The silence of Dorsky’s films is lush, providing intoxicating accompaniment to the slowed projection of 18 frames per second which dips the photographic action just out of the flow of representation. The crescendos that surge past the finish of his films invariably leave me surprised that I haven’t been listening to music, as the black of the theater seems clarified in the same way silence is after an expressive composition. Pushing the analogy further, the relationship between movement and stillness in his films is akin to that of sound and rest in music, the two leaved together as intonation. We really need a new word to describe the juddering movement of branches and buds that punctuate Dorsky’s films. “Quiver” is close, but it doesn’t capture the spring in the frame, like dancers on a stage.

A couple of months ago, Dorsky showed something called Kodachrome Dailies from the Time of Song and Solitude (Reel 1) at Lincoln Center: Song and Solitude-era footage in the chronological order in which it was shot. The material had a completely distinct character viewed this way. Dorsky talked of it as a journal. The loose form made it easier to relate to his eye being grasped by something in the world, and yet one missed the justice of the cuts.

If pressed for a defining quality of these films, I would say rightness —each shot developing to its fullness, tuned to what comes before and after. The fact that this formal refinement is itself the focus of the films creates a suspension of time which, after all, is a basic condition of paradise. Certainly the films are colored by experience, as August and After for instance is clearly marked by grief, yet this is never what they are “about.” Trust is placed in the self-expression of the film stock — its luster and dusk.

Dorsky’s films will reintroduce you to what branches make of the sky and how the grass gladdens when the sun reappears from its shade. I think this is what people are talking about when they say the films remind them of childhood. “A child said What is the grass? fetching it to me with full/hands;/How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any/more than he./I guess it must the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful/green stuff woven.” We could choose many lines of verse to say the same, but Whitman’s will do. There is something mystical in Dorsky’s slightly ajar illuminations of worldly objects and features. And yet so too is there something altogether sensible and almost courtly in their formal arrangements. The shots of dogs make us chuckle because we’re in a position to recognize our own recognition, all too human.

On first viewing The Return struck me as a deeply melancholy work, its darkly reflecting surfaces and doublings bearing the impression of lost sleep. August and After, on the other hand, is more immediate in its effect and a superior example of how Dorsky’s style can serve distinct emotional structures (threnody here). Tender impressions taken near the end of George Kuchar’s life, the filmmaker surrounded by family and friends, are framed in the light of long afternoons. Everything that follows is touched by these pictures of intimacy: two workers sliding down a skyscraper, a distant glass door sweeping a ray of light across a café, agitated steps into bramble. A rhythmic montage focuses on packages and fruits carried down the street, the actual things transfigured into pure color. When the film’s ship finally sails, it does so with such grace as to say love without saying.


June 10, 17, and 24, 7:30pm, $5.50-$9.50

Pacific Film Archive

2575 Bancroft, Berk.

(510) 642-5249


Don’t water down campaign laws


EDITORIAL The San Francisco Ethics Commission, which is hardly aggressive about cracking down on campaign-finance violations, has suggested some rule changes that would water down the city’s ethics laws. The supervisors should reject most of the suggestions — and start talking about real reform.

The commission has asked Sup. Scott Wiener to bring the changes to the board, and Wiener told us that he has problems with some of them and is going to be working with his colleagues, particularly Sup. David Campos, to fix the package.

It will need a lot of amendments to be acceptable.

The current proposal would make life easier for campaigns and big donors, but would make it harder for the public to figure out who’s putting up the money and where it’s going. For example, it would exempt from the spending cap all money spent complying with the ethics laws. That sounds fair at first glance — but the amounts involved are huge. For a mayoral race, as much as $147,000 would be exempted. That’s a lot of money for “compliance.”

More important, the ethics proposal would eliminate the restrictions on how much a single donor can give in an election season. Right now, the cumulative limit is $500 for each office on the ballot, which limits the impact that a handful of big-money contributors can have on an election. Under the new rule, a wealthy person who wants to make sure that every politician in town owes him or her can donate the maximum to a long list of candidates, giving more power to a few.

Wiener says that under ranked-choice voting, donors should be able to give to more than one candidate for a single office. Fine — but the cap doesn’t have to be eliminated. It could easily be amended to account for RCV.

The plan would somewhat loosen the reporting requirements in the last days of a campaign, eliminating weekend disclosures. It would decrease the transparency rules for campaign committees that shuffle money back and forth to hide its true source. It would aalow more spending by independent committees with less disclosure.

In other words, it would undermine the ability of the voters to know who is funding which candidates and initiative campaigns. There’s no reason to do any of that.

The problem with the current law is not that it requires too much disclosure — it’s that, in many ways, the controls on political money are too weak. And if the supervisors are serious about reform, there’s plenty to be done.

Ethics laws currently bar anyone who is seeking a city contract from donating to local officials. But it’s still perfectly legal for someone seeking a permit or zoning change to throw around cash. And there are endless problems with developers who need city officials on their side. Extending the contribution ban to anyone seeking special zoning or permit approval for any project with construction costs above a certain threshold — say, $10 million — would exclude, say, homeowners who want to build a new deck, but would limit the role of real-estate money in campaigns.

The amendments need eight votes to pass; before it even gets to the full board, the Rules Committee ought to ship this mess back to the Ethics Commission and tell the supposed watchdogs to try again.

Namu Gaji



APPETITE Although Asian outpost Namu Gaji is brand new, the presence of Namu restaurant itself and owners the Lee brothers — Dennis, David and Daniel — has been felt in San Francisco for years. Since 2006, the Lees have been weaving Korean, Japanese, and other Asian cuisines with California spirit in the original, now shuttered Richmond restaurant and eventually Namu’s Ferry Building farmers market stand on Tuesdays and Saturdays. In early April, the brothers opened their Mission incarnation, Namu Gaji.

Its kitchen is in direct view of the small dining room, as Dennis Lee and Chef de Cuisine Michael Kim (Craft Los Angeles, SPQR) cook at a grill fired with bincho-tan, a low smoke, Japanese charcoal. The Lee brothers’ aunt, direct from Korea, will oversee a house fermenting program, bringing with her bacteria strains from the family’s Korean village. The chefs do the usual sourcing from local farms but, in an unusual slant, have commissioned farmer Kristyn Leach to grow exclusively for them on a one-acre plot at Baia Nicchia Farm in Sunol, where she’s raising rare Korean chiles and herbs — quite a treat.

I already miss the chic, spare Richmond dining room compared to the cramped Mission space, despite its striking communal table and tree branch sculpture weaving dramatically from the ceiling. Granted, the Dolores Park location is prime real estate, particularly when it comes to daytime takeout, perfect for picnicking in the park, possibly my favorite way to enjoy Namu Gaji. But the Mission is saturated with hip dining destinations in a way the Richmond, one of our great underrated neighborhoods, is not. This was an understandably strategic move, but the new space gets progressively warmer and noisier as an evening evolves. For those who don’t enjoy yelling through dinner, I’d suggest dining early, although do note the actual dinner menu doesn’t start until 6pm.

In multiple early visits, truly unique dishes flow from the kitchen. The menu is grouped in categories like raw, broth, salad, crispy, grill, and comfort, with a handful of key choices under each heading. The “raw” section is pricey ($18), but raw King salmon, topped with pickled red onion, a dollop of whipped yuzu cream, and shiso (Japanese herb from the mint family) is generously portioned, bright sashimi. Uni sure is fantastic fried — what isn’t? — as tempura ($14) alongside fried shiso leaf, lemon zest, and market veggies, which on a recent visit were fava beans and a yellow onion. Grilled octopus ($14) is a tad bland compared to other grilled octopus dishes around town, though pleasingly plated with English peas, spring onion, fried garlic, and that fabulously pungent Korean chili paste, gochujang.

It gets exciting with an off-menu special of buckwheat gnocchi, pan seared in black garlic gastrique, with English peas and pea shoots (can you tell peas are in season?) This non-traditional gnocchi is earthy, lively, playful. “Fish parts” ($18) arrive on a wood slab, generously portioned and artfully arranged, more hearty than fussy. The fish parts change, but one night I dined on impeccable wild salmon belly and spine, with caramelized, crispy-sweet skin. Its partner requires a more adventurous palate: ahi tuna roe, cured and grilled. A dining companion bluntly called this large hunk of meat what it was: a giant egg sac. If you didn’t know, however, you’d think the pink, meaty fish a more savory, funky cut of salmon. Either way, I was delighted to be served something I’d never had before.

One evening after a 90-minute dinner, I waited nearly 30 minutes after all dishes had been served (and eaten) for a dessert which my sweet, adept server kept informing us was about to arrive. Though next time I’ll skip dessert under those conditions, I was pleased with shaved ice ($8), or shave ice as it’s known in Hawaii, which you can order doused in Four Barrel coffee and cocoa crumbles. My top choice is in coconut cream with coconut crumble and strawberries. The ice is creamy soft, feathery… and quickly devoured.

The brothers’ Korean heritage shines best in their street food-style dishes, available at the Ferry Building Farmers Market as well as during the day at Namu Gaji, ideal taken across the street to Dolores Park. Their beloved nori “tacos” ($3) and okonomiyaki ($10 lunch, $16 dinner) still delight, while BBQ belly and Korean BBQ-style marinated chicken thigh ($10) are packed into pan de mie bun layered with Swiss cheese, soy glazed onions, pickled daikon, aioli, Dijon mustard — a buttery, fatty pleasure of a sandwich. Gamja fries ($10), essentially organic fried potatoes piled with short ribs, kimchee relish, gochujang, kewpie mayo, and green onions, are the fast food of your dreams. KFC ($12) is a quarter of a Marin Sun Farms chicken tossed in sweet and tangy sauce with dashi gravy. Each of these heartwarmers not only satiate but illuminate best why the Lee brothers have become an SF staple.


499 Dolores, SF

(415) 431-6268


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