Volume 47 Number 15
Rockin’ Kids Singalong
Licensed clinical social worker and former punk rock singer-guitarist Stephanie Pepitone leads this musical play group for kids of all ages. Stephanie “leads families in about an hour’s worth of singing, dancing, music-making, and fun/chaos” with original tunes and familiar favorites.
Fridays, 10:30-11:30am, $10 per family. La Pena Cultural Center, 3105 Shattuck, Berk. www.lapena.org
Haitian Folkloric Dance
Live drumming accompanies instructor Portsha Jefferson’s class for all levels, which promises that “you will experience the meditative Yanvalou, the fiery rhythms of Petwo, the playful and celebratory dances of Banda and Rara. Expect a high energy class in celebration of a rich, spiritual tradition. Bring a long, flowy skirt if you have one.”
1:30-3pm, $13. Dance Mission Theater, 3316 24th St., SF. www.dancemission.com
Feeding Your Soul: Mindful Cooking and Eating in the New Year
Let the onslaught of New Year’s resolution-keeping commence. Kick off the year with an intro to mindful eating, and get away from psychologically compulsive, physically harming habits when it comes to nourishing yourself. Life coach Carley Hauck and chef Greg Lutes (known for his uni crème brulee!) team up deliver a lecture and cooking demo — aimed at helping you recognize wasteful food behaviors and reinvigorate your love for creating and enjoying healthful dishes.
$25 18 Reasons members, $35 others. 18 Reasons, 3674 18th St., SF. www.18reasons.org
Understanding Chinese Medicine
A six-week course at the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine that will introduce you to the basic life force concept of Qi, and then broaden your knowledge into acupuncture, Chinese herbs, tongue and pulse diagnostics, yin and yang, five elements, and the Chinese concept of internal organs.
Thursdays, 6pm-8pm, $120. Pioneer Square and Shuji Goto Library, 555 De Haro, SF. www.actcm.edu
New Year, New Poems: Celebrate Your Muse!
“In our day together we’ll read and talk about an array of accessible, provocative poems by fine writers including current poet laureates Kathleen Flenniken, Juan Felipe Herrera, and Natasha Trethewey, and we’ll do some whimsical, illuminating writing exercises to bypass our inner critics and experiment with themes and tones, phrases and rhythms. We’ll listen closely and encouragingly to each other’s voices. By the end of the day we’ll have shaped a handful of budding poems and sharpened our vision for future writing projects,” says Writing Salon teacher Kathleen McClung.
10am-4pm, $95 Writing Salon members, $110 others. Writing Salon, 720 York, SF. www.writingsalons.com
Kongolese Contemporary Dance
Extremely charismatic instructor Byb Chanel Bibene revisits his Congolese roots, in which contemporary and traditional movements intertwined to produce a unique, exhilarating style. No experience in dance is necessary for this warm, fun, and inviting workshop.
10am-noon, $12-15 sliding scale. Also Jan. 20. Counterpulse, 1310 Mission, SF. www.counterpulse.org
Exploring San Francisco District Six
Sometimes education begins with looking more closely at your community. Supervisor Jane Kim leads a tour of her district — including South of Market, Mid-Market and Tenderloin neighborhoods — highlighting some of the recent successes and challenges affecting its residents’ quality of life.
3:30pm, $10. See www.spur.org/events for more info.
Bagel Making Workshop
Hole yes! You’ll never need complain about the state of West Coast bagelry again when the good folks of Sour Flour workshops lead you through the basics. You’ll begin by mixing flour, starter, salt, and water and then learning to develop the glutens through various techniques. Finally you’ll find out about boiling and baking techniques. Bring a plate to roll your creation home.
12:30-2:30pm, $80. La Victoria Bakery, 2937 24th St., SF. www.sourflour.org/workshops
Introduction to Coptic Bookbinding
The Coptic style of bookbinding allows a book to be laid open flat, making it ideal for sketchbooks and journals. Offered at Techshop, the epicenter of hands-on DIY yumminess, this seminar allows you to take home your own handmade journal! (To blog about?)
10am-4pm, $95 TechShop members, $110 others. TechShop, 926 Howard, SF. www.techshop.ws
Revered Beat poet, former New College professor, and Guardian GOLDIE Lifetime Achievement Award-winner David Meltzer takes us on a uniquely persona tour of poetry and poetics, exploring “the roots of poetry, the invention and mythology of writing systems, divination, Kabbalah, and the page.” The four-week course (Tuesdays through February) will cover a lot of transcendent ground.
7:00-9:30pm, $200. Mythos, 930 Dwight Way #10, Berk. Contact email@example.com for more info.
Career Toolbox with Suzanne Vega
The acclaimed neo-folk singer introduces us to her concept of the “career toolbox,” which “contains a unique mix of creative, strategic and marketing skills that helped her in the early stages of her career.” Honest self-reflection and an understanding of necessary skills to survive a competitive marketplace are key. Plus, hello, Suzanne Vega.
11am-2pm, $52 CIIS members, $65 others. California Institute of Integral Studies, 1453 Mission, SF. www.ciis.edu
Wild Oakland: Nature Photography Basics at Lake Merritt
Amid its passel of no-cost classes, including weekly courses on Eskrima, the Filipino combat system and herbal medicine, the East Bay Free Skool offers great one-off tutorials. Nature group Wild Oakland hosts a few of these that entail happy tromps about Lake Merritt. Today’s is a wildlife photography class taught by Damon Tighe, whose freelance shots appear in Bay Nature and other publications.
Noon, free. Meet in front of Rotary Nature Center, 600 Bellevue, Oakl. eastbayfreeskool.wikia.com
Introduction to Neon
Surely there are few among us who could not use a custom-made neon sign. Perhaps you would like it to be clear that you are open for business. Maybe your roommate could use a permanent reminder that please Buddha Christ our savior we don’t leave our coffee mugs on the dining room table (ahem.) At any rate, this is one of this West Oakland metal mecca’s entry-level courses — check its online course schedule for more offerings in blacksmithing, welding, jewelry, glass, and more.
Sundays through 10am-6pm, $400. The Crucible, 1260 Seventh St., Oakl. www.thecrucible.org
CAREERS AND ED When Ford Models announced that its newest menswear model was a woman — Olympic swimmer and New York artist Casey Legler — in the same month that Yves Saint Laurent chose Saskia de Brauw as the face of its spring-summer 2013 menswear collection, it became clear that men’s fashion was opening itself to the fact that not all people who wear suits and sport rugged looks are male-identified.
But not every butch looking for a fly three-piece has the gamine, broad-shouldered physique of Legler and de Brauw. What’s a dapper gent to do?
Enter the new wave of menswear (or, “masculine of center,” as we’ve seen the look defined on some style blogs) brands specifically tailored to the female-born or identified. Happily, downtown San Francisco’s Crocker Galleria will be the site of the first permanent menswear store to cater to the genderqueer.
“My mother started teaching me [to sew] when I was eight,” Tomboy Tailors’ 48-year-old, butch-identified owner Zel Anders writes me in an email interview. Anders has long been a fan of suits over dresses when it came to formal occasions, but was frustrated that she could never find a well-fitting outfit — even here in the Bay Area, where she’s lived since she was 17. She says the process of suit shopping grew painful, and found it necessary to steel herself before hitting the dressing rooms.
No such toughening up will be necessary at the new shop, which has already garnered a loyal Internet following despite the fact that it won’t open its doors until February 2nd. Tomboy Tailors’ staff will help customers find suits that fit right across the chest, hips, thighs, and seat, customizing them so that each garment fits its new owner.
The store will stock not only its in-house line (Anders especially touts its three-button, notch lapel suit for heavier clientele), but items from other brands selected for a pangender crowd — including a selection of men’s shoes in smaller sizes, like a Dalton wing-tip lace-up Oxford and saddle shoes from Carlos Santos and Walk-Over.
“I am having so much fun just watching people ponder and choose from the several hundred fabrics that they have as options,” Anders says about her Tomboy Tailors experience to date. ” Not only do they have to think about what color they want their suit to be, but they have to decide if they want a solid, herringbone, pinstripe, chalk stripe, plaid, or even a bird’s eye, nail’s head, or houndstooth check pattern to the fabric.” Finally, options.
Tomboy Tailors is hardly the only option for fly transpeople, dapper dames, and other genderqueers — transgressive men’s fashion site dapperQ (www.dapperq.com) recently published a list of fab online labels like Marimacho (www.marimachobk.com), The Original Tomboy (www.theoriginaltomboy.com), Saint Harridan (www.saintharridan.com), and Androgynous (www.androgynousfashion.com) that all have a mission to provide fashion for all points on the gender-fashion spectrum.
TOMBOY TAILORS OPENING PARTY
Feb. 2, 2-6pm, free
50 Post, first floor, SF
CAREERS AND ED Like most skills, acting can be honed and refined, and the number of disciplines and techniques an actor could familiarize themselves with are practically infinite. Fortunately for the professional and amateur actor alike, there’s a number of theater companies who offer the same actor trainings to the public that they utilize in the creation of their own work.
Ranging from techniques such as Suzuki Method or Viewpoints, skill sets such as improv or stage combat, or theatrical forms such as Bouffon or Kyogen, these classes help keep working actors in artistic shape, and offer a way for even rank beginners to acquire translatable performance skills. And since unlike acting schools or conservatories, there’s rarely an audition process or prerequisite for attendance, they’re accessible to a fairly broad demographic.
Ensemble theater-making is East Bay company Ragged Wing‘s focus, and therefore also the focus of the trainings it offers to the public. Utilizing techniques such as Viewpoints, mask performance, puppetry, music, and myth-based story creation, Ragged Wing introduces actors and theater-makers of all levels (including total newbies) to concepts such as devised theater, imagination play, and the psycho-physical exercises of Michael Chekhov. It even offers a workshop for teachers in applying ensemble theater techniques in the classroom. Visit its website for an overview of last year’s program, and this year’s upcoming dates, which will occur later this spring.
We like this next class so much we awarded it a Best of the Bay in 2011! Taught by Naked Empire Bouffon Company artistic director Nathaniel Justiniano, the Intro to Bouffon Workshop guides up to 20 participants on a journey to find their “personal bouffon” (or “inner psychopath,” as we termed it). Alternating between weekend intensives and four-week workshops of two-hour sessions (one of which just started on January 15), Intro to Bouffon includes instruction on creating within ecstatic play, movement-and-vocal-based improv, and blatantly violations of the usual boundaries drawn between audience and performer. In addition to teaching at the warehouse Main Street Theater, Justiniano has also recently joined the Circus Center faculty where he will teach a seven-week course on Bouffon beginning in April.
$60–$80, 20-hour intensives $200, Circus Center intensive $3200. www.nakedempirebouffon.org
Another theater company offering training in the specialized theatrical format it also performs is Theatre of Yugen, which offers a series of art of performance workshops as well as an apprenticeship program on Kyogen and Noh techniques. This year’s public trainings begin on January 26 with a weekend intensive on “Physical Character” in the Kyogen style of performance. Private apprenticeships are granted by audition, and last for an entire calendar year during which apprentices train and eventually perform with the company, sometimes staying on as company members after their graduation.
$80–$100 (with discount for taking multiple classes.) Enrollment is limited. www.theatreofyugen.org
Sure you can act if someone hands you a script. But how about when there isn’t one? At its best, improvisational theater makes use of a whole range of techniques, and requires a huge amount of focus and cooperation between players in order for a scene to work. It’s also one of the most accessible theatrical art forms for beginners to get involved with, particularly in the Bay Area. One of the newer kids on the block, EndGames Improv is nonetheless one of the most pedigreed. Offering instruction in “long form improvisation” à la Upright Citizens Brigade and Second City, EndGames Improv holds classes in four levels and stages weekly performances at Stagewerx, including its infamous “F!#&ing Free Fridays.” Seven-week classes are capped at 16 participants. January is sold out, but keep an eye on the website for future dates.
$199; $225 for upper levels. www.endgamesimprov.com
They’re not a stand-alone theater company, but I can’t resist mentioning Dueling Arts San Francisco. Providing instruction to performing artists in a wide range of stage combat skills — including quarterstaff (what up Little John?), rapier, dagger, broadsword, and unarmed combat — the instructors of Dueling Arts are also accomplished fight directors and performers in their own right, for a diverse array of companies including IMPACT Theatre, Shotgun Players, Thrillpeddlers, ACT, Berkeley Rep, San Jose Rep, SF Playhouse, and California Shakespeare Theatre. Certification class sizes are generally between six to 12 students, and there are no prerequisites for the beginning levels.
Quarterstaff Level 1 Certification Class begins March 17, $200. www.duelingartssf.com
There’s no shortage of high-end housing in San Francisco. If you can afford to pay $6,000 a month for your rent or mortgage, you’re going to find a nice place to live. And there’s no study anywhere in any corner of the City Planning Department suggesting that current San Francisco residents really want new luxury condos downtown.
In fact, all evidence suggests the contrary — the market for high-end downtown housing is new residents, people who are moving here to take tech jobs, empty nesters moving from the suburbs, or world travelers looking for a pied-a-terre in one of the greatest cities on Earth.
But when the City Planning Department analyzes a project like 75 Howard, that’s not part of the discussion.
The Dec. 12 preliminary environmental study on the “market-rate” (read: $1 million and up for waterfront views) project never addresses the question of what value this type of housing would bring to the city. Instead, it talks about projections from the Association of Bay Area Governments, which says that San Francisco will grow by 52,000 households by 2030.
So a project that’s creating fewer than 200 housing units, and creating a net of 77 jobs, isn’t big enough to be a factor in the future of either jobs or housing.
But in the process, the study makes a remarkable statement, one that underlines everything wrong with city planning policy. Buried on page 48 of a 151-page preliminary study is the following: “In addition, the demand for housing by the net increase in number of employees would be more than offset by the dwelling units that would be constructed on site under the proposed project or its variants.”
That sounds like bureaucratise, and it is, so allow me to translate: The project will create 186 housing units and 77 jobs. More housing than jobs; what’s there to worry about?
Well: The 77 employees at 75 Howard will work in the restaurants and stores, or in the garage under the building, or in maintenance. Not one of them will make even remotely enough money to afford to buy one of the condo units in the building.
So the project — like so much of the development that happens in San Francisco — will create jobs for people who can’t afford to live here, and housing for people who don’t currently work here. That imbalance is utterly unsustainable, spells disaster for the future of the city — and is pretty much hard-wired into current planning and housing policy.
There’s a blocky, unattractive building near the corner of Howard and Steuart streets, right off the Embarcadero, that’s used for the unappealing activity of parking cars. Nobody’s paid much attention to it for years, although weekend shoppers at the Ferry Building Farmers Market appreciate the fact that they can park their cars for just $6 on Saturday and Sunday mornings.
But now a developer has big plans for the 75 Howard Street site — and it’s about to become a critical front in a huge battle over the future of San Francisco’s waterfront.
Paramount Partners, a New York-based real-estate firm that also owns One Market Plaza, wants to tear down the eight-story garage and replace it with a 350-foot highrise tower that will hold 186 high-end condominiums. The new building would have ground-floor retail and restaurant space and a public plaza.
It would also exceed the current height limit in the area by 150 feet and could be the second luxury housing project along the Embarcadero that defies the city’s longtime policy of strictly limiting the height of buildings on the waterfront.
It comes at a time when the Golden State Warriors are seeking permission to build a sports arena on Piers 30 and 32, just a few hundred feet from 75 Howard.
Between the proposed 8 Washington condo project, the arena, and 75 Howard, the skyline and use of the central waterfront could change dramatically in the next few years. Add to that a $100 million makeover for Pier 70, the new Exploratorium building on Pier 15, and a new cruise ship terminal at Pier 27 — and that’s more development along the Bay than San Francisco has seen in decades.
And much of it is happening without a coherent overall plan.
There’s no city planning document that calls for radically upzoning the waterfront for luxury housing. There’s nothing that talks about large-scale sports facilities. These projects are driven by developers, not city planners — and when you put them all together, the cumulative impacts could be profound, and in some cases, alarming.
“There hasn’t been a comprehensive vision for the future of the waterfront,” Sup. David Chiu told me. “”I think we need to take a step back and look at what we really want to do.”
Or as Tom Radulovich, director of the advocacy group Livable City, put it, “We need to stop planning the waterfront one project at a time.”
Some of the first big development wars in San Francisco history involved tall buildings on the waterfront. After the Fontana Towers were built in 1965, walling off the end of the Van Ness corridor in a nasty replica of a Miami Beach hotel complex, residents of the northern part of the city began to rebel. A plan to put a 550-foot US Steel headquarters building on the waterfront galvanized the first anti-highrise campaigns, with dressmaker Alvin Duskin buying newspaper ads that warned, “Don’t let them bury your skyline under a wall of tombstones.”
Ultimately, the highrise revolt forced the city to downzone the waterfront area, where most buildings can’t exceed 60 or 80 feet. But repeatedly, developers have eyed this valuable turf and tried to get around the rules.
“It’s a generational battle,” former Sup. Aaron Peskin noted. “Every time the developers think another generation of San Franciscans has forgotten the past, they try to raise the height limit along the Embarcadero.”
The 8 Washington project was the latest attempt. Developer Simon Snellgrove wants to build 134 of the most expensive condominiums in San Francisco history on a slice of land owned in part by the Port of San Francisco, not far from the Ferry Building. The tallest of the structures would rise 136 feet, far above the 84-foot zoning limit for the site. Opponents argued that the city has no pressing need for ultra-luxury housing and that the proposal would create a “wall on the waterfront.”
Although the supervisors approved it on a 8-3 vote, foes gathered enough signatures to force a referendum, so the development can’t go forward until the voters have a chance to weigh in this coming November.
Meanwhile, the Paramount Group has filed plans for a much taller project at 75 Howard. It’s on the edge of downtown, but also along the Embarcadero south of Market, where many of the buildings are only a few stories high.
The project already faces opposition. “The serious concerns I had with 8 Washington are very similar with 75 Howard,” Chiu said. But the issues are much larger now that the Warriors have proposed an arena just across the street and a few blocks south.
“Because of the increase in traffic and other issues around the arena, I think 75 Howard has a higher bar to jump,” Sup. Jane Kim, who represents South of Market, told me.
Kim said she’s not opposed to the Warriors’ proposal and is still open to considering the highrise condos. But she, too, is concerned that all of this development is taking place without a coherent plan.
“It’s a good question to be asking,” she said. “We want some development along the waterfront, but the question is how much.”
Alex Clemens, who runs Barbary Coast Consulting, is representing the developer at 75 Howard. He argues that the current parking garage is neither environmentally appropriate nor the best use of space downtown.
“Paramount Group purchased the garage as part of a larger portfolio in 2007,” he told me by email. “Like any other downtown garage, it is very profitable — but Paramount believes an eight-story cube of parking facing the Embarcadero is not the best use of this incredible location.”
He added: “We believe removing eight above-ground layers of parked cars from the site, reducing traffic congestion, enlivening street life, and improving the pedestrian corridor are all benefits to the community that fit well with the city’s overall goals. (Of course, these are in addition to the myriad fees and tax revenues associated with the project.)”
But that, of course, assumes that the city wants, and needs, more luxury condominiums (see sidebar).
Among the biggest problems of this rush of waterfront development is the lack of public transit. The 75 Howard project is fairly close to the Embarcadero BART station, but when you take into account the Exploratorium, the arena, and Pier 70 — where a popular renovation project is slated to create new office, retail, and restaurant space — the potential for transit overload is serious.
The waterfront at this point is served primary by Muni’s F line — which, Radulovich points out, “is crowded, expensive, low-capacity, and not [Americans with Disabilities Act]-compliant.”
The T line brings in passengers from the southeast but, Radulovich said, “if you think we can serve all this new development with the existing transit, it’s not going to happen.”
Then there are the cars. The Embarcadero is practically a highway, and all the auto traffic makes it unsafe for bicycles. The Warriors arena will have to involve some parking (if nothing else, it will need a few hundred spaces for players, staff, and executives — and it’s highly unlikely people who buy million-dollar luxury boxes are going to take transit to the arena, so there will have to be parking for them, too. That’s hundreds of spaces and new cars — assuming not a single fan drives.
The 75 Howard project will eliminate parking spaces, but not vehicle traffic — there will still be close to 200 parking spaces.
And all of this is happening at the foot of the Bay Bridge, the constantly clogged artery to the East Bay. “Oh, and there’s a new community of 20,000 people planned right in the center of the bridge, on Treasure Island,” Peskin pointed out.
Is it possible to handle all of the people coming and going to the waterfront (particularly on days where there’s also a Giants game a few hundred yards south) entirely with mass transit? Maybe — “that’s the kind of problem we’d like to have to solve,” Radulovich said. Of course, the developers would have to kick in major resources to fund transit — “and,” he said, “we don’t even know what the bill would be, and we don’t have the political will to stick it to the developers.”
But a transit-only option for the waterfront is not going to happen — at the very least, thousands of Warriors fans are going to drive.
The overall problem here is that nobody has asked the hard questions: What do we want to do with San Francisco’s waterfront? The Port, which owns much of the land, is in a terrible bind — the City Charter defines the Port as an enterprise department, which has to pay for itself with revenue from its operations, which made sense when it was a working seaport.
But now the only assets are real estate — and developing that land, for good or for ill, seems the only way to address hundreds of millions of dollars in deferred maintenance and operating costs on the waterfront’s crumbling piers. And the City Planning Department, which oversees the land on the other side of the Embarcadero, is utterly driven by the desires of developers, who routinely get exemptions from the existing zoning. “There is no rule of law in the planning environment we live in,” Radulovich said. So the result is a series of projects, each considered on its own, that together threaten to turn this priceless civic asset into a wall of concrete.
OPINION The so-called Fiscal Cliff has been averted. But the country actually has a much bigger issue — the debt ceiling.
For the uninitiated, the debt ceiling is exactly what it sounds like, an artificial limit imposed by Congress the keep the president from borrowing money. The ceiling was originally passed back in 1917 to prevent the government from excess spending during the First World War. Besides its constitutionality being questionable, it’s also useless and dangerous.
The far right goes bananas about the national debt, and points to the ceiling as a way to keep it from growing. But the debt growth in question is simply to pay back bills on products and services that Congress already used. So to impose a ceiling now is not to cut growth, but to default on US creditors.
The Republicans are refusing to raise the debt ceiling unless they get huge cuts in social programs — and if current spending hits the ceiling, the United States would be unable to pay its bills.
But there’s a solution, a way President Obama could get around the GOP and its threats altogether. It’s a unorthodox — but legal. Call it debt hacking.
Obama could simply direct the Treasury to print a series of platinum coins in denominations of at least $1 trillion. It’s not perfect, and it’s not without potential cost — but compared to defaulting on debt or cutting Social Security and Medicare, it’s not a bad option.
The president is legally barred from asking the US Mint to print more money — gold coins or paper bills — without the permission of Congress. But under an obscure 1996 law, there’s an exception for platinum.
So upon realizing that the GOP leaders in Congress will push the republic into default, President Obama could direct the Mint to produce, say, three coins — each with the face value of $1 trillion. The coins would be deposited into the general treasury account at the Federal Reserve. This would then be converted into credit to buy back and retire enough debt to give Obama, and the country, some breathing space.
In fact, Obama could do something even bolder and create more coins, to go beyond breathing space and pay off almost all the national debt except for that held by Social Security. But that sort of action — the government just printing new money — can, many economists warn, create hyperinflation.
Still, the Federal Reserve magically produced about $30 trillion to help bail out banks not long ago, and there was little discernible inflation. The government wouldn’t actually be creating new money — it would simply be replacing debt that the country pays interest on with paper (or digital accounting) that it doesn’t. And right now, inflation is the least of our national worries; a little inflation might even help homeowners and those with heavy credit-card debt pay off what they owe with cheaper money in the future.
Of course, no government can do this on a regular basis. The US Dollar could lose its reserve status if investors start to fear the potential of future platinum coins appearing. But what are the alternatives? US dollars and US debt are, and will remain, trusted investments. China may not purchase as many bonds in the future, but the money we save on interest payments could be well worth it.
It’s a crazy idea, but these are crazy times — and if the GOP continues to threaten to destroy the economy, Obama might want to consider something bold.
Johnny Venom is an economist and commodities trader.
EDITOR’S NOTES Everybody’s talking about the new data on the price of housing in San Francisco, which is in part because everybody talks about the price of housing in San Francisco anyway and in part because the figures are just so alarming. The figures show that the median rent in San Francisco is $3,100 a month — and while it’s hard to know exactly what that means, since some three-bedroom and larger units are in the mix, most San Francisco rentals are smaller, and I’m hearing tell of people paying more than $2,000 for a studio.
Insane. This hurts everyone, particularly small businesses. The much-reviled payroll tax doesn’t really affect the bottom lines of most businesses, but the cost of housing absolutely does, since it drives up the cost of employing people. High rents are way worse for business than high taxes. I don’t get why all the downtown types refuse to see that.
At any rate, I was listening to KQED’s Forum this morning, and the guests, including an economist from Trulia, the real-estate analysis outfit, kept talking about the “healthy” housing market. Again: Insane. This housing market is about as unhealthy as any capitalist market anywhere in the country. It’s increasing the wealth gap, impoverishing thousands, forcing vast amounts of displacement and making the city less diverse. In what economic universe is that “healthy?”
When I write about this sort of stuff, my beloved trolls all say that’s just how markets work and that any form of regulation (say, rent controls on vacant apartments) just makes things worse. (Not true — see Berkeley in the 1980s.) But it all raises a fun question, and gives me a chance to make a very immodest proposal that is no more outrageous than the existing situation for people who want to live in San Francisco.
Maybe we should take housing in this city out of the private market entirely, regulate it like a public utility — and assign it by seniority.
Remember the college housing lottery? First year, you got stuck with a small dorm room, just like everyone else. You lived with it, and with the roommates they assigned you; rich student, poor student, we all lived in the same place under the same conditions.
Sophomores had a little more choice, and by senior year you could pick the best housing on campus. Nobody complained about unfairness; that’s just how the deal worked.
So imagine if everyone who first arrives in San Francisco (or graduates here and enters the job market) had to live in a small SRO or mini-studio. Twitter executive, nonprofit worker, unemployed person — all of us start out with the same housing conditions.
After you’ve stuck around a while, demonstrating a commitment to the community, you move up — say, after five years you get a one-bedroom apartment, after ten you get a flat, and after 20 years you get a house of your own. People who start families would get more space, but on the same type of schedule. Everyone pays the same monthly rent for the same size place, and eventually, after time, vests into home equity.
What should cities encourage? Stability, community involvement, respect for elders … all of those things fit into this plan. People who might otherwise never meet each other would be thrown into living in the same places; high-paid professionals would learn what life was like for working stiffs (and vice versa).
It’s an eminently fair way of allocating a scarce resource. Anyone have a better idea?
FILM With Django Unchained-related posts currently filling up your Facebook feed (and box-office receipts stuffing Quentin Tarantino’s pockets), now seems the perfect time to amble over to Berkeley for the Pacific Film Archive’s spaghetti western series.
Six-part “The Hills Run Red: Italian Westerns, Leone, and Beyond” highlights some of the genre’s most notable B-sides, with three examples of ‘ghetti subset “Zapata westerns,” plus a Monte Hellman oddity, a leather-clad display of youthful Burt Reynolds charisma, and a Lee Van Cleef classic. Expect multiple train heists and shootouts, dubbing that runs the gamut from questionable to surreal, class warfare, much macho chest-beating, and some stellar Ennio Morricone ear candy — including scores sampled by Tarantino over the years. Do not expect any political correctness whatsoever.
Plot incoherence and generous helpings of cheese are also on the menu in 1971’s Duck, You Sucker!, also known as A Fistful of Dynamite. Director Sergio Leone took the gig reluctantly; he’d wanted a break from westerns after 1968’s Once Upon a Time in the West, but came aboard after Peter Bogdanovich, Sam Peckinpah, and Giancarlo Santi (Leone’s assistant on West and 1966’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly) jumped ship for reasons both personal and producer-mandated. The casting of leads James Coburn (as an Irish explosives expert) and Rod Steiger (as, uh, a Mexican bandit) also came after a round-robin of choices were bandied about — including George Lazenby, fresh off his first and last James Bond portrayal, for Coburn’s part.
At any rate, Duck opens with a Mao quote that reminds us “The revolution is an act of violence.” We meet Juan (Steiger, whose accent foreshadows Scarface by 12 years) peeing on an anthill and weaseling his way onto a stagecoach populated by snobby gringos. After an uncomfortably extended sequence comprised of extreme close-ups of richie-rich lips and teeth — chomping food, hurling insults at the peasant in their midst — Juan reveals he’s actually a serial robber, helped along by his extended brood of scrappy sons. Sure, there’s a revolution going on, but he’s in it for personal gain. “My country is not my family,” he mutters later in the film; revolutions, he says, are planned by men who read too many books — and carried out by poor people, many of whom don’t live to see the end result.
This observation proves eye-opening for Mallory (Coburn), who gives his first name as John, though his true name is Sean — which, to my ears, is one of the recurrent motifs in Morricone’s score (“Shon! Shon!”) On the run from his IRA misdeeds — shared throughout the film in superfluous, soft-focus, slo-mo flashbacks — the dynamite addict joins Juan’s crew to help rob a bank, or so Juan thinks, until he realizes the Irishman has neglected to mention that the vault contains political prisoners, not gold. Having sprung hundreds of captives purely by accident, Juan becomes the world’s most reluctant revolutionary hero. Meanwhile John/Sean works through his own demons by applying generous amounts of TNT to bridges, trains, etc.
Shorter than Django by 20 minutes or so, Duck is still overlong, with a tone that careens from fist-raising earnestness to kitschy over-the-topness. The latter is only enhanced by the performances — Steiger’s, mostly, though Coburn isn’t immune, and neither is the hollow-cheeked actor who plays the duo’s army nemesis; who knew brushing one’s teeth could look so … evil? Duck may be an imperfect movie — particularly in the context of Leone’s slender yet masterly filmography — but it has the Zapata western format down pat, with its dual heroes (typically, one’s a simple Mexican capable of unexpected heroics; one’s a European or American whose refined dandiness belies his secret propensity for bad-assery), dusty period setting, and political themes. It’s predated by two structurally similar films included in “The Hills Run Red”: Sergio Corbucci’s The Mercenary (1968) and Damiano Damiani’s A Bullet for the General (1966).
Corbucci’s Navajo Joe (1966) also plays the PFA series; it’s a more conventional tale of a rogue Native American who brings hope to a crook-plagued frontier town, distinguished mostly by hot-young-thang Reynolds and a screamy, tom-tom-y score by one “Leo Nichols” (a.k.a. Morricone). But The Mercenary is the film to see if you’ve gotta choose. You’ll still get your Morricone, whistle-heavy as ever, but you will also get Franco “the original Django” Nero playing gunslinger Sergei “the Polack” Kowalski, opposite Tony Musante (giallo fans will recognize him from Dario Argento’s 1970 debut, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage) as loopy rabble-rouser Paco. Plus: Jack Palance as demented heavy “Curly,” a character that hardly resembles the Curly he’d win an Oscar for playing in 1991’s City Slickers.
The Mercenary is nuts, in a good way. Within the first five minutes, there are rodeo clowns, the sight of Kowalski forcing a cheatin’ gambler to swallow his own weighted dice (in a glass of milk), and Paco cackling through the only-in-westerns punishment of being buried up to one’s neck in a spot frequented by thundering hooves. The unflappable gringo — prone to striking matches on whatever’s convenient: a hooker’s cleavage, a dead guy’s dangling feet — agrees to help train Paco’s ragtag rebels, though Paco doesn’t take direction well, and Kowalski is a bit of a douche. Meanwhile, Curly lurks, seeking revenge on both men, lending his BAMF skills to the Mexican army, and rocking a jaunty carnation in his lapel. (If this all sounds a bit similar to Corbucci’s 1970 Compañeros — well, it is. Except Palance doesn’t smoke weed or own a hand-pecking hawk in this one.)
Even more unhinged is A Bullet for the General, a.k.a. El chuncho, quién sabe?, (score by Luis Bacalov, supervised by Morricone), which gives away its endgame in the title and kicks off with a rapid-fire voiceover offering some historical context: “From 1910-1920 Mexico was torn by internal strife … scenes of this kind were commonplace.” (“Scenes of this kind” being an army firing squad mowing down common folk, natch.) Prim American Bill Tate (Lou Castel) is visiting Mexico in the service of a shadowy plan, which first involves helping a gang of gun-stealing rebels, led by El Chuncho (frequent Leone star Gian-Maria Volonté), rob the train he’s riding. Chuncho can’t figure him out, either, but he’s won over quickly, deducing “You are a smart young gringo!” and dubbing him “El Niño.”
The plot proceeds apace, with the duo pursing the ultimate prize, a machine gun (“more beautiful than any woman!”), but Bullet has one golden ticket that none of the other “Hills Run Red” films can boast of: wild-eyed Klaus Kinski, a frequent spaghetti-er who plays Chuncho’s half-brother. “That man is a lunatic!” a bystander observes. Yep. There are interpretations of Bullet that suggest the film addresses current events of the time (Vietnam; the CIA’s influence in Uruguay, Chile, Bolivia, and other parts of Latin America), but anytime Kinski is onscreen, forget about any subtext. Or subtlety.
The other films in the series don’t fit into the Zapata mold; Gianfranco Parolini’s Sabata (1969) most resembles Navajo Joe in its tale of a drifter whose appearance in dusty Daugherty City, Texas means trouble for the local criminal element, though he’s not exactly law-abiding himself. Star Lee Van Cleef — “the man with the gunsight eyes” — lives up to his nickname here, brandishing some creatively souped-up weapons as he takes on the fey local land baron, who dwells in a hilariously over-decorated manse complete with duelling chamber. Other town residents include an “Indian” whose acrobatic skills are as random as they are impressive (seriously, though, get that guy off the rooftop); a sloppy-drunk Civil War vet who Sabata takes pity on; and “Banjo,” whose instrument fires off both musical notes and bullets. All this, plus lines like, “When I stop laughing, you’re dead!” Essential viewing for Van Cleef fans — was there ever a cooler cat in all of the west?
The offbeat sixth film in the series is Monte Hellman’s 1978 China 9, Liberty 37, neither his first western nor his first film to star Peckinpah favorite Warren Oates. If 1971’s Two-Lane Backtop remains the best-known collaboration between the two, China 9 is worth a look just for its dreamy, melancholy mood. It’s kind of the least-garish, “and Beyond” part of the PFA program, mercifully light on the racist characterizations of Mexicans that make other spaghettis so problematic.
China 9 was an Italian-Spanish production, which accounts for the casting of Italian heartthrob Fabio Testi. He plays Drumm, a quick-draw king who’s granted a last-minute pardon when he agrees to off Sebanek (Oates), a stubborn old cuss who refuses to sell his farm to the railroad. (When the railroad’s on its way in, you know any romantic notion of a wild, wild west is on its way out.) But it gets complicated: Drumm actually likes Sebanek, and he really likes his much-younger wife, Catherine (Jenny Agutter, two years past Logan’s Run, introduced while bathing in a river). When Drumm and Catherine run off together, a left-for-dead Sebanek gives chase.
Because it’s the 1970s, there’s a circus scene (and an end-credits twanger by Ronee Blakley). Everyone’s angry, but everyone’s kinda sorry about it, too, and the movie rambles its way to an uneasy, downbeat conclusion. The hills, however, run red as ever.
THE HILLS RUN RED: ITALIAN WESTERNS, LEONE, AND BEYOND
Jan. 10-27, $5.50-9.50
Pacific Film Archive
2575 Bancroft, Berk.
APPETITE Although I’m not an island girl, I crave sorrel — that cinnamon-spiced, rosy-purple juice made from the petals of a sorrel plant — or multi-colored Scotch bonnet peppers, both common in the Caribbean and ideal together, the sorrel cooling off the pepper’s scorching heat. One of my closest friends is Jamaican and we’ve been exploring local Caribbean food for years, despite the lack of abundant local options.
We were saddened to lose Penny’s Caribbean Cafe, a tiny Berkeley dive with excellent Trinidadian home cooking, when Penny moved back to Trinidad a few years ago, I’ve trekked to San Leandro for festivals (Jamaican cornbread fritters) and curry goat at Sweet Fingers, savored the more Americanized food at Primo Patio Cafe tucked away in SF’s SoMa (the sunny patio is lovely), dined at the now-defunct popup Kingston 11 in Berkeley, and appreciated Sarah Kirnon’s inventive Caribbean fusion (Jerk Cornish hen!) from her days as chef at Oakland’s Hibiscus.
Caribbean foods can also be found at Oakland grocers like Minto Jamaican Market and Man Must Wak where you can stock up on authentic ginger beers and Ting (beloved Jamaican grapefruit soda). I’m curious about San Francisco-based caterer Lehi Cooks Jamaica.
But thanks to my dear friend and her family who get their Jamaican food fix at this tiny haven, I’ve found my favorite Caribbean outpost in the most surprising of locales: Menlo Park.
BACK A YARD
With squeaky front porch door and perpetual line out the door, the closet-sized Back A Yard is clearly a locals’ favorite in suburban Menlo Park. The term “back a yard” refers to the way things are done back home, appropriate to this humble, comforting spot. Chef Robert Simpson began his cooking career in Jamaica, gained European perspective in Belgium, then cooked at various Caribbean resorts before coming to the Bay Area.
Under fluorescent lighting, crammed into a handful of tables, I down a Ting which cools off the effects of the tender curry goat special ($12.75, Thursday-Saturday only). Generous platters come with sides of sweet plantains, green salad, and coconut-laced rice ‘n beans, different from New Orleans’ version but equally moist and cheering. Another fabulous side dish consists of warm, honey-sweet festivals, a doughnut-meets-cornbread fried pastry. Jerk chicken ($9.50) appropriately shines, although jerk tofu ($8.95) likewise exhibits meaty, grilled tones amidst silky texture. Friday’s special is escoveitch (the Carribean version of escabeche, or fish marinated in a hearty vinegar sauce): it was snapper on a Friday I visited. Choose a grilled fillet ($12.75) or whole fish (market price), head and eyeballs intact, not so much an immaculate fish dish as Caribbean comfort food, recalling days I’d polish off a whole grilled fish in the countryside of Vietnam.
Jamaica’s national dish, saltfish and ackee, is a must, served here only on Saturdays ($14.50). Salty cod is sautéed with Scotch bonnet peppers and subtly sweet, soft ackee, a fruit related to the lychee. This version shines compared to others I’ve had, confirmed by my friend as authentically reminiscent of the saltfish and ackee she grew up with in Jamaica. Dessert ($3.25) is the one letdown, whether a blandly cold sweet potato pudding or key lime pie lacking the tart oomph I crave in what is one of my favorites. Nonetheless, this hole-in-the-wall is a treasure bringing heartfelt Caribbean cooking to South Bay folk… and worth a trek for hardcore foodies.
1189 Willow Road, Menlo Park, 650-323-4244 (also 80 N. Market, San Jose, 408-294-8626), www.backayard.net
Chef Sarah Kirnon (formerly of the aforementioned Hibiscus) launched Miss Ollie’s at the beginning of December, currently open only for Tuesday-Friday lunch in a corner location of Swan’s Market in Old Oakland. During the first week lines were already long and waits for food even longer (30 minutes), not ideal for a low-key, eat-in, or takeout lunch. Despite opening kinks, Oakland is clearly craving quality Caribbean, packing communal wooden tables in a spacious, spare dining room.
Named after, and in tribute to, Kirnon’s grandmother, the food is decidedly more casual than that of her Hibiscus days, modeled after the Caribbean one-stop shops she grew up with: affordable (under $10) daily changing dishes from curry goat to her popular fried chicken — grandma’s recipe. Initially, dishes were uneven, whether flavorless, cold Creole ham and sweet potato salad ($7.50), or a two-note (salty and HOT) saltfish and ackee ($8), begging for more plantains and ackee to contrast Scotch bonnet peppers and over-salty cod. But Miss Ollie’s sorrel is a superior, refreshing rendition, while lamb patties ($7) in a puff pastry evoke an Indian-Caribbean empanada, redolent of cardamom and allspice.
Daily specials, like fresh loaves of Jamaican hard dough bread or Chicory coffee sweetened by condensed milk with Creole doughnuts, are announced via Facebook. Miss Ollie’s fills a needed void and is certainly one to watch.
901 Washington, Oakl., (510) 285-6188, www.facebook.com/MissOllies
Subscribe to Virgina’s twice-monthly newsletter, The Perfect Spot, www.theperfectspotsf.com
CHEAP EATS It’s like a rubber band. It breaks.
Happy Current Year from the not-too-distant past! We celebrated New Years Eve at the Manse de la Cooter with good luck sausages, kale, and (for some of us) perhaps a little too much vino.
Oddly, it wasn’t Chicken Farmer who over-indulged, though I expected her to drown her sorrows in the grape since earlier that day her knee doctor broke the news. Or rather, he tore the news: ACL.
"In the wind," as McNulty would say. Only permanently. Like, Chris escorted her left knee’s ACL into a "vacant," and Snoop followed behind with a bucket of quick lime and a powder-actuated nail gun, you feel me?
But, in spite of her bad case of S.A.D. (Sad ACL Discovery) the farmer stoicly sang and storied the Chunks de la Cooter to sleep, and soberly designated drivered me home, where we’ve been burying our heads ever since, recording Sister Exister music.
And so, in deference to my honey’s questionable sports future and entirely unsporty present, I’m going to focus my portion of the column on the thing I now know more about than I did last week: music in San Francisco.
What’s that? The BG already has music writers? So? They already have a food writer, too. My new twist is: Us! That’s right, it’s 2013 and Sister Exister (sisterexister.bandcamp.com) is primed for world domination. We are everywhere. We tweet, tumble, face the book, kick the songs, camp the band, and cloud the sounds with our patented brand of "What the hell was that? Are they serious?"
And it is thanks to my self-appointed role as the band’s link to all things digital that I’ve discovered gasp we are not the only band in San Francisco. This epiphany was mostly Soundcloud’s doing, since we never go outside, let alone to bars, let alone to bars playing loud, live, amplified music.
But maybe in 2013 we should because . . . The High Witness Co. (www.soundcloud.com/highwitness)? Digging the "Leonard Cohen and Calexico in a blender" vibe of "Borrowed Time." And the Street Eaters (www.soundcloud.com/streeteaters)? Fuck yeah! And not just because of their name, either.
Chick drummer, fella plucking the bass, and that’s it. And they sound like a full orchestra! OK not really but dang, only two people? Yowza. Check out their track "Blades" and forget what I said about there being only two people in the band. And then be amazed when I say again: all that energy is coming out of only two people!
This, and then all the bands we already know with all the people we already know in them, like the Verms, Yard Sale, the Low Rollers, 17 Reasons . . . In fact, everybody in the greater Bay Area is in a band! If this isn’t true, if you in fact are not in a band then guess what? You, like us, have got a lot of audiencing to catch up on!
CHEAP EATS continued
Yeah but now I can’t go out because I look like Rocky Balboa. I lasted just one round with the bathroom floor yesterday morning and now I have a broken nose, a black eye, and a swollen eyebrow full of dried blood, in addition to my depressing ACLessness. So I can’t even dance, let alone be seen.
Go on ahead without me, Hedgehog.
I’ll be here on the toilet, where I’ve spent most of 2013, when I wasn’t Hillary Clintoning off of it.
She found me, dear reader, in a puddle of blood. Not Hillary Hedgehog. And that awesome moment was the highlight of my year this year so far.
Oh. This morning I ate a half of a bagel with jam on it, and I held it down!
Or up, as it were. Other than that it’s been white rice and dry toast on my menu. But you don’t want to hear about this! Go give a listen to happier times, courtesy of Hedgehog . . .
DANCE After a decade of dancing and choreographing in the Bay Area, Cid Pearlman departed for Los Angeles, spent a year in Estonia, and now lives in Santa Cruz.
At last May’s San Francisco International Arts Festival, she re-introduced herself with This is what we do in winter, choreographed in 2010 for both her own dancers and performers from Tallinn, Estonia’s capital. In that piece, dance as social activity beautifully co-existed with the art as rigorous practice. This is what made you wonder what else this choreographer might have percolating.
It turns out to be the premiere of the intriguingly named Your Body is Not a Shark, a collaboration between Pearlman, composer Joan Jeanrenaud, and poet Denise Leto. Maya Barsacq, music director of chamber orchestra Cadenza, instigated the project. The women came together with a common interest in exploring constraints — physical and otherwise — as a generative force in art making. “In dance,” Pearlman says, “the young athletic body is the norm. I want to explore physical differences because I am interested in complicated stories that show people at different stages in their lives.” Shark’s seven dancers range from 18 to 64.
As a no-longer-young dancer, the 49-year-old Pearlman knows about the fragility and vulnerability of the human body. But, as she pointed out in a New Year’s Day conversation from Santa Cruz, “there are different kinds of virtuosity. There is hugely physical, deeply embodied dancing in your 20s and 30s which relies on strength and sharpness technique. Older dancers bring maturity to their work. If they can’t jump so high, don’t ask them to. You ask a performer to do what they are good at.”
“Limitations can hit you any time,” she adds. “It’s part of the human condition.” Her collaborators know whereof she speaks. Poet Leto, who wrote the text for this production, likes to present her works orally. A few years ago, she developed dystonia, a neurological disorder that has affected her vocal chords. “Sometimes she can get the words out, sometimes she can’t,” Pearlman says. But like the dancer who finds new ways to use her body, Leto has developed new strategies for presenting her poetry. Among them is the presence of a co-reader, “so if her voice gives out, the other person picks up.” Jeanrenaud was a cellist with the Kronos Quartet who had to alter her musical career in 1999, when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She too adapted to the changed circumstances by becoming a solo performer and composer with wide-ranging works in many media.
Each of these three artists has faced the restrictions on their expressiveness by expanding their reach. (And as Pearlman points out, sharks die if they stop moving.) At the core of Shark are Leto’s poems, each written within the constraints of separate, highly formal parameters: a sestina, an oulipo, and a tanka. She then turned the verses over to Jeanrenaud, who generated a sound collage and an instrumental score to be performed by herself, percussionist William Winant, and members of the Cadenza chamber players. Leto too will be on stage.
Shark’s most demanding task by going farther afield may well have been Pearlman’s. Having immersed herself in the verses’ technical demands — some of them sound like algorithms — she shaped her choreography along the same rules. Leto seems to be happy with how her partners have worked with the poems. “Taken off the page — by the movement of bodies and the movement of sound — they have become something altogether different,” she says in the introduction to the texts’ printed version.
But what about the rest of us? With its intricately interweaving of formal questions and demands, will Shark be readable to an audience? “It’s not a problem,” Pearlman laughs. “They don’t have to know how it works. It’s an experiment. It’s meant to be a puzzle.” *
“YOUR BODY IS NOT A SHARK”
Fri/11-Sat/12, 8pm; Sun/13, 3pm, $18-$24
3153 17th St, SF
CAREERS AND ED I bought my friends. For 2,500 of them, I paid $26 — and you can do it too.
It bore reflection one day last month: Why does New York journalist-party disaster Cat Marnell have 20,000 more Twitter followers than me? Her quote about quitting her xoJane editorship to do angel dust was gold, but still.
In a world where relevancy is determined by your profile stats, I’m not alone in this, surely. No matter how much time some of us spend hashtagging, cross-linking, shouting-out, one never has as much social networking impact as one would like. Twitter baffles me sometime.
Thankfully, we live in a world where these perceived inadequacies can be dispersed with the click of a mouse.
Welcome to the business of paying for Internet followers. Spend five seconds on a quick Google search (try “buy Twitter followers,” for example) and like Jezebel posts on insensitive media trends, they will appear: firms that contract with overseas programmers who spend their days creating fake online profiles, or bots, that can be summoned to announce their proclivities for anyone willing to brave this ethical gray space. Fake Internet celebrity, if that’s not too redundant a term.
These fakeries are the cheapest thing you can buy in this world. My mouse hovered over the button on a site called Intertwitter: really 2,500 for $26? Hell yes — wisdom of handing over one’s credit card information to a person who creates fake Internet profiles be damned.
It would take three to five business days, said the site, for my newfound flocks to assemble. Biding time until relevance, I reached out to several of the fake follower companies, hoping that they’d share a little with me about the business of fake friends. Somewhat to my surprise, most were polite and forthcoming about their mission.
The vice president of my benevolent friend-finder Intertwitter, Armani Prescott, assured me that the business of fake friends attracts all kinds of Internet entities, “from oil sheiks in Dubai to small mom-and-pop operations in West Virginia,” he wrote me in an email. “Celebrities, politicians, professional athletes, start up companies, and just average, ordinary people” use his services. It has to do with search engine optimization, he said, but also just with creating confidence in whomever’s browsing your profile.
And, real talk: “People use our services for all kinds of reasons including brand impact,” Prescott told me. “But also just because they want to have more [followers] than their friends.”
Over the course of 24 hours on July 21 of last year, perpetually robot-faced presidential candidate Mitt Romney picked up almost 117,000 Twitter followers. The campaign’s sole tweet from that day was a link to a contest whose winner would join Mittens for a day on the road to the White House — hardly a revolutionary breakout for a social media campaign whose last follower increase of that size had taken roughly a month to accrue.
Of course, the uptick was fake. Romney’s campaign denied buying the fake followers, but if people really gauge worth by perceived Internet influence, the incident could be a sign of the darker side of buying Internet popularity. President Obama’s rockstar Twitter account (which at 25.5 million adherents is one of the top most followed accounts on the site, as compared to the now-defunct Romney account’s paltry 1.6 million) could have an even higher percentage of bot followers than his 2012 campaign opponent, some researchers have found.
When digital marketers Advocate Media ran a check on our national elected representatives, it found that members of US Congress had an average of 38 percent fake followers. Senators had an average of 42 percent fake and inactive accounts following them. When social media analysts PeekYou examined the honorable Newt Gingrich’s Twitter account during his not-yet-failed presidential campaign, it uncovered that no less than 92 percent of his followers were figment.
Although as Zach Moffat, the Romney campaign’s digital director, pointed out while denying claims he had bought bots, if Twitter followers were everything, we’d have been looking at a President Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber presidential win in 2012. To be fair, Gaga and Beebs never asked us to vote for them, so his logic is slightly off.
The major fallacy in all this, of course, is that these followers are not real people. Regardless of how witty my live tweeting of family members’ peccadillos over the holidays would turn out, the bots would never retweet me. Romney’s and Obama’s bots did not turn out for their rallies or cast ballots. Sure, they make your profile page look nice, but do fake followers really lead to more real-life influence?
“I can say that from my experience, that is 100 percent correct,” wrote the CEO of FanMeNow.com, who identified themself as A. Delgado. FanMeNow, Delgado told me, is Brooklyn-based and employs three full-time workers and five independent IT contractors. “I have seen first hand, and also received testimonials from clients, that right after their boost, they began receiving many real followers. The only correlation I can make is their new social presence being the cause for this drastic change.”
“I do know that when I’m looking for a song on YouTube and there are several videos with the song title in it, I pick the one with the most views,” wrote Prescott in response to the same question. “I’m assuming the majority of people out there do the same — or maybe I’m just an odd ball?”
Not everyone agrees. Jeremy Scott created video marketing firm Viral Orchard, which employs all sorts of techniques to grow the popularity of online brands among meat puppet Internet users. Scott advises clients away from buying fake views and followers.
“The savvy brands know there’s long-term value in more than just a simple view,” he explained. “The engaged viewer shares the content, discusses it, and comes back for more. Bought views don’t translate into comments, likes, or shares the way real views do. And at the end of the day, if all you can really say about your video is that it had a lot of views and not much else, then I don’t see a lot of value in that.”
Scott insists that the fake followers are only good for the initial boost that your profile gets. But to his way of thinking, you’re better off just buying a sponsored ad slot on social networking sites, which can target your content towards viewers who are picking up what you’re putting down, as it were.
Plus, there’s the potential for discovery when you buy fake followers. Run a Twitter handle through StatusPeople’s search engine (fakers.statuspeople.com) and you’ll see in seconds that around 85 percent of my flock hails from bot land.
Awareness about faking it on the ‘Net is growing. At the end of last month, YouTube removed more than 2 billion views from major label recording artists. Will.i.am, Nicki Minaj, Beyonce, Chris Brown, Avril Lavigne, and Michael Jackson’s page were all docked, YouTube claiming that the views had been arriving at through artficial means. Websites like Business Insider have published lists of the top business fakers that include Google (47 percent fake), YouTube (33 percent), Twitter (47 percent), and Twitter Español (61 percent.)
Of course, not all bots are bought bots. Ever received a freaky link from one of your followers on Twitter? Some bots are meant for virus transmission, and latch onto popular accounts to increase their perceived legitimacy. Perhaps being followed by more accounts makes you more suspectible.
ARE MY BOTS RACIST?
The bots came sooner than I anticipated. Though Intertwitter had predicted I would see my 2,500 new friends join the party within three to five days, most came overnight. In fact, I saw even more than the promised amount drop in.
Because every writer needs to know her audience, I investigated my bots. @CandraObrien, with her profile photo featuring a shock of bleached blond and deep blue hair, looked like someone who might follow me in real life. I clicked to her feed and the first tweet to greet my eyes was awfully, unnecessarily racist. A nursery rhyme with slurs plugged in. The n-word? Candra, why?
It was a moment of panic. Would I be judged by my racist bots? Why the hell would the overseas programmers that my fake follower hawkers had described write racist tweets for my shadow minions?
But generally, bot feeds were comprised of sweet, generic affirmations (“Move on past your divorce & plan for the future, as that’s where u are going to spend the rest of your life & it is so bright it glimmers.”), crude outbursts (“I Wanna Fuck Those Huge Melons !!!!!!”), and marked by a mix of languages unlikely to occur in any one person’s nomenclature (@BenitaSheppard3 supplied us with all these gems — her feed also includes tweets in Portuguese and multiple Asian languages.)
Some day, I will write slam poetry created from the tweets of my bots. My fake follower experts told me these profiles would stick by my side for a year. I hope they stay for ever. Besides the racist one. (Candra, get help.)
Though I knew it was the utmost in superficiality, suddenly having 3,000 Twitter followers felt like an Internet boob job. I was getting more real-life followers than usual, too: an aspiring NASCAR driver, activist group ACT UP, a Philadelphia journalist I’d looked up to for years, porn professionals, weed smoker networks, an organic restaurant in Seattle, an apocalypse-inspired visual artist, an SF vogue dancer, and a Ukrainian foodie.
I realized that my entirely questionable social networking had paid off while bonding with a colleague over drinks. “I just wanted to tell you that your writing has been going so well!” she enthused into our third beers and mutual writerly appreciation. “I was just reading over your most recent articles, they’re amazing. And you’re doing so well on Twitter — 3,000 followers!”
She dissolved in embarrassment when I confessed my scheme, insisting that the number hadn’t overly influenced her compliment. In fact, after a round of direct messages to some of my new real followers, not a one would admit that my pixelated new breasts had been what had impressed them sufficiently to hit that “follow” button, per se. “Did you follow me because I tricked you with spam bots?” is a weird question to answer to in the affirmative.
Although: “&yes — it’s assumed if you have lots of followers you have an entertaining/funny/ culturally relative twitter and I should prob follow you,” Desiree Hersey, an SF club promoter/X-rated crafter extraordinaire told me.
“In general I am more likely to follow someone on Twitter who I don’t know if they have a lot of followers. But it’s not just the number of followers, but the spread between the number of ‘follows’ and ‘followers,'” explained Philly’s investigative journalist Daniel Denvir.
BUT IS IT RIGHT?
Did Romney’s bot army get him closer to the White House? Was my Intertwitter boob job a breach of Internet morality? I put the question of ethics to the fake follower professionals.
“Is it ethical to recall all of the gold and silver in the world’s currency and hand out worthless paper in its place?” wrote Prescott in a somewhat distractionary paragraph that left me with rather more questions than less. “Is it ethical to allow collateral damage in war, in the form of woman and children? Is it ethical to take the citizens’ guns and leave them defenseless against a tyrannical government? Bottom line, ethical’ness’ is different for everyone in regards to their perspective on the matter.”
Delgado stuck closer to the point, inasmuch as celebrities are always the point.
“I believe it is ethical only because Celebrities [all capitalization Delgado’s own] have been doing this for years. Way before companies like ours started offering these services, it was exclusively only offered to Top Notch Celebs. It isn’t hard to see that it would be very difficult for someone to compete in an industry where only the Elite were allowed to use these services. I am helping to close the barrier.”
I liked Delgado’s egalitarian thinking. Hell, if I was willing to spend another $1,500 on bot love, I could be the next Mitt Romney.
SUPER EGO So, there is a hipster church called Reality SF. (Not to be confused with the pretty great, all-singing, some-dancing hipster synagogue, the Kitchen — www.thekitchensf.com. “Slow down, Jew up.”) I’m not sure what all goes on there because Jesus is kind of mainstream. But I do know that every Sunday morning when I’m crawling home from whosever’s house, there’s this amazingly fly and fashion-forwardy crowd of young people on the sidewalk outside Swedish American Music Hall. The hot hair alone had me praising the Holy Spirit. I needed to know more.
Turns out the Reality church dealie — www.realitysf.com, founded in 2010 — comes with indie-flavored music (plus set lists and free downloads), slick videos and podcasts, roving locations, and a charismatic leader named Dave. And, for the month of January, the glamorous congregation is meeting at Everett High School for “slow church” Sundays, including food trucks and a climactic re-baptism using a giant kiddie pool. Paging Portlandia: our SF reality is basically writing your next season. In any case: yes, it’s gay-friendly, but it’s still a bit conservative, so you probably won’t get laid there. However, you may get some great tips for your 2k13 look.
Faith, now with food trucks. Can a super-twee mobile artisan church-truck, possibly called Holy Rollin’, be far behind? I’m still waiting for my mobile leather bar/sex club truck, Glory Holellujah.
ALLAND BYALLO VS. DAVE AJU
The effervescent Housepitality weekly pairs two of SF’s international techno heavyweights, the now-Berlin-based Byallo and the globe-hopping Aju, for some juicy tag-team table collab. It’ll be a little bit wiggy, a lot dancey. With Craig Kuna, Joel Conway, and JP Soul.
Wed/9, $5 before 11pm, $10 after. Icon, 1192 Folsom, SF. www.housepitalitysf.com
H-FOUNDATION AND SLAM
Classic Cali house DJs Hipp-e and Halo, aka H-Foundation, are flying in fresh from Mexico’s heated BPM Festival with some major comeback tailwind. They’re appearing with premium Glaswegian techno duo Slam, bringing some great ’90s energy.
Fri/11, 9:30-3:30am, $15–$20. Public Works, 161 erie, SF. www.publicsf.com
Is minimal techno retro yet? Of course, the scintillatingly clean sound (once dubbed “Windex music” by our own Greg Bird of the Kontrol crew) never really went away. But essential minimal label Poker Flat was launched in 1999 (the same year Richie Hawtin dropped seminal Decks, EFX, & 909) — next in line, after a forthcoming drum and bass revival, on our retro creep up the ’90s. Poker Flat founder Steve Bug’s appearance should be a treat for those who want to revisit the sound — and see what tech-house-y things Bug’s been doing with it.
Fri/11, 10pm-4am, $12-$15. Mighty, 119 Utah, SF. www.blasthaus.com
RJD2 AND PREFUSE 73
One of my musical high points of 2010 was seeing dreamy glitch-hop pioneer Prefuse 73 at Slim’s, engaging in a ear-blowing impromptu jam session with a live guitarist and gonzo future bass guru Gas Lamp Killer on drums. As the live opener for beloved Philly trippy-hopper RJD2 (also live), I’m sure more sparks will fly high.
Fri/11, 10pm-3am, $20–$25. 103 Harriet, SF. www.1015.com
THREE SOME THING
The party list this week is so full of dudes. We need some drag queens up in here, for sers. Happy third birthday to the weekly Some Thing party, put on by my favorite trio of theatrical gender clowns — Glamamore, VivvyAnne ForeverMore, and DJ Down-E — who really know how to put on shoooow. One of the best things in the city is Haute Gloo’s genius interactive craft table. I made a swan out of porn mags and pancake batter! DJs Stanley Frank and Robin Simmons play delightful tunes from all over.
Fri/11, 10pm-late, $8. The Stud, 399 Ninth St., SF. www.tinyurl.com/something3
BRENMAR AND SALVA
Two diabolical bass-bounce kids, bringing it down at the youthful, Angelfiery, green-screen-dream Y3K party. With Nanosaur, Joaquin Bartra, candy, bubbles, and lasers.
Fri/11, 10pm, $10 advance. DNA Lounge, 375 11th St., SF. www.dnalounge.com
BRUTAL SOUNDS EFFECTS FESTIVAL #72
Really looking forward to some earhole mindfuckery from various experimental electronic crews at the bleeding edge Lab space. With Antimatter, Pulsating Cyst, Ebony Cubbyhole, Beast Nest, Moo Kao, Ribspace, and more. I made none of the above names up.
FILM Robert Carlyle is the kind of actor who usually elicits a slow-dawning response in realm of “Oh, right … that guy. What was he in again?” Well, a lot, but if you’re not British (let alone Scottish), his visibility has probably been erratic and infrequent — plus he does that exasperating English thing of taking TV assignments like they’re perfectly OK, as opposed to the US approach of doing series work only when your big-screen career is in the toilet.
His persona, to simplify a bit, is usually that of the aging boy-man sad sack whose self-deprecation and pleading eyes are attractive until you realize he’s as likely to slide out of any commitment with a muttered excuse as easily as he’ll slide off that bar stool. In other words, a long-odds but redeemable loser. In that vein his quintessential role was as the main guy trying not to disappointment everyone yet again in The Full Monty (1997), an unusually bleak and satisfying “feel good” movie that spawned umpteen softer ones. He’s played variants on that part enough times that you might forget just one year earlier he was the terrifyingly vivid psychotic Begbie in Trainspotting.
Indeed, he’s played a Bond villain (albeit in 1999’s The World Is Not Enough), a cannibal (in 1999’s Ravenous), an evil wizard (2006’s Eragon), even Hitler (in a little-seen 2003 TV film), and if you get BBC America you might well think he’s the most versatile actor on the planet. But the projects in which he most frequently surfaces here — discounting American broadcast money gigs like SGU Stargate Universe — are little UK art house dramas. Often directed by people such as Ken Loach or Shane McMeadows, they customarily find him as protagonists who’d have been Angry Young Men a generation or two earlier. But now they’re not even angry; defeat has been bred in since the cradle, and there’s likely to be a good deal of pathos in any attempts to buck the odds.
Bruised losers going down — albeit not without one last noble act or effort — can be a beautiful line for an actor to make his own, from Jean Gabin to Liam Neeson (before he abruptly turned geriatric action hero). If the shabby shoe fits, might as well wear it. So Carlyle is a producer on California Solo, the kind of movie that often prompts critics to evoke ones from an earlier era (1972’s Fat City, 1981’s Cutter’s Way, 1975’s Rafferty and the Gold Dust Twins, etc.) No one went to those, either. But they were good, small, “personal” films with a genuine fondness for gritty characters and milieus.
Writer-director Marshall Lewy’s drama revolves around Lachlan MacAldonich, a lanky fortysomething Scotsman who’s somehow found himself managing an organic farm for its cranky but loyal owner (A Martinez) in that deep SoCal nowhere rendered agricultural only by the contortions of water-rights trafficking politicians.
He lives alone, he drinks alone; whatever past he’s got is one he’s cut himself off from. He does have an interesting “hobby” that might provide a clue: boozily hosting a weekly podcast from his kitchen table called Flameouts, “the show where we discuss the tragic and sometimes spectacular deaths of the world’s greatest musicians.” If anybody actually listens, we aren’t told, and he probably doesn’t care.
But Lachlan’s genial not caring much about anything, it seems, when he’s stopped careening home down the highway after bar-time. The resulting DUI charge, even its four-month drivers’ license suspension, wouldn’t be such a big deal if it didn’t turn out that a long-prior pot conviction makes him eligible for deportation despite his green card. And Lachlan really, really does not want to go back to the UK He’s buried himself here precisely to avoid the massive fuckup that no one there would be likely to have forgotten — that he was once the guitarist in “Britain’s biggest band” (at least for one NME minute), and that the major casualty of his stupid rock-star antics was the “British Kurt Cobain,” his brother Jed. When he crawls to the Beverly Hills manse of erstwhile music biz associate Wendell (Michael Des Barres, disturbingly well cast as an oily industry survivor) to beg for immigration lawyer money, the latter snaps “I was never your manager. I was never your friend. Jed was the band.”
Cue further self-destructive impulses, not at all eased by the pleading cow eyes Lachlan makes at sympathetic Beau (Alexia Rasmussen), a much younger customer he chats up at the farmer’s market each Sunday. (It’s even more embarrassing when Danny Masterson as her age-appropriate DJ boyfriend realizes “who he is,” and pours on the hero worship.) Even more painful are Lachlan’s attempts to re-establish some relationship with the bitter mother (Kathleen Wilhoite) of his now-teenaged daughter (Savannah Lathern) so he can claim his deportation would be a hardship to them.
Those last sequences are truly squirm-inducing, because the gap between Lachlan’s desire to do something right for a change and his haplessness at actually doing it is so palpable — we know it’s unfair he’s looking like a “reet eedyut,” but we also know he’s entirely brought it on himself. This is where an actor like Caryle knows how to go for the throat without seeming to reach for effect at all. He makes the depth of Lachlan’s self-loathing so palpable you want to hug him. After you’ve slapped him … but still.
Lewy also wrote and directed the very astute indie drama Blue State (2007), and if he didn’t craft Solo specifically for its Carlyle’s floppy-haired, ever-apologetic charm — well, didn’t he? This is the kind of very good movie that surprises when it actually turns up in theaters, however few. No matter that whoever actually sees the undeniably depressing-sounding California Solo will likely find it — and its star — endearing, poignant, ultimately upbeat. It’s even sort of a perfect early-date movie, softening up the emotions with male fragility redeemable by female generosity and forgiveness.
CALIFORNIA SOLO opens Fri/11 in Bay Area theaters.
TOFU AND WHISKEY Ah, the tormented love song. Chelsea Wolfe does it well. Vocally, she transfixes, sometimes sounding like she’s calmly wringing every ounce of blood from a relationship totem, at other points whispering cries of help from a enveloping darkness, the vibrations of the plucked-hard guitar strings reverberating in the distance. This rush of gloom and pain, in a genre she’s past described as “doom folk,” came forth in a fierce package in 2011’s electric Apokalypsis, and steadily zigzags beautifully through 2012’s meandering Unknown Rooms: A Collection of Acoustic Songs.
This weekend, the LA-via-Sacramento singer-guitarist comes to SF with a fellow dark folk spirit, King Dude (Fri/11, 9pm, $15. Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell, SF. www.slimspresents.com). The two once recorded a split seven-inch together, and have played a few shows here and there, but this will be their first full tour together, which surprises King Dude, as tells me via phone from his homebase in Seattle, because they’re longtime pals who “got on like a house on fire” when they first met.
They’re both on the spectrum of a bubbling rebirth of neofolk and gothic Americana roots, inspired by acts like Death in June, and seen elsewhere in musicians like Emily Jane White and Father John Misty, but really driven recently by Wolfe and Dude, in unique ways.
Though King Dude — a.k.a Seattle’s T.J. Cowgill of black metal bands Teen Cthulhu and Book of Black Earth, and clothing label Actual Pain — also has some experience with tortured love songs. His baritone vocals often sound as if there’s a gravelly demon inside, clawing to get out. The lyrics of his 2012 release, Burning Daylight, tend to reflect inner, unearthly struggles, the occult, fears of death, and tragic old world tales. Or as he told another publication, he’s inspired by “death, religion, love, Lucifer, nature, primal feelings.” Most of the tracks have fully imagined narratives.
There’s the song “Barbara Anne” in which he growls, “I’ll shoot that man in the head if he hurts you, Barbara Anne” and “I’ll run away with you if you’ll have me, Barbara Anne.” It’s the tale of small-town love, set in 1940s, around two characters — a boy and the girl he wants, who’s been wronged by the town. “I think it’s probably the best love song I’ve ever written,” Cowgill says. “The kid is like: ‘I’ll kill everybody in the town for you, if that’s alright with you.’ That’s the most loving thing I think anybody can say for somebody else.”
In his reality, his allegiances lie with his musician wife, Emily, and their seven-year-old black lab, Pagan, the latter of which is currently at the vet getting checked before King Dude heads out on tour with Wolfe, just to make sure everything is OK.
For the complete King Dude interview, see sfbg.com/noise.
There have been countless articles dissecting every shot of Quentin Tarantino’s newest revenge fantasy, Django Unchained. From “the Django moment” (when white people laugh) to Kerry Washington’s costume designer’s secrets to “Why Django Had to Be a Spaghetti Western,” bloggers and squawkers have been raising important, sometimes frivolous theories about the controversial, often brutal film, set in an alternate version of the antebellum era of the Deep South. But what stood out to me, was the Django Unchained soundtrack; no big shocker, given the director.
The music takes over and transports immediately, with “Django (Main Theme)” by Luis Bacalov and Rocky Roberts, a powerful, full-throated song that was also the title track to the 1966 Spaghetti Western, Django. The opening credits are startling enough, setting a vividly emotional tone, but the song adds the outlining whomp, the exclamation mark. The dusty plucking and Elvis-like vibrato of “Jane-gooo” just stick in your brain. While on “Little Steven’s Underground Garage” show on Sirius Radio, Tarantino discussed his reasoning behind the music in the film. Of the theme he said, “When I came up with the idea to do Django Unchained, I knew it was imperative to open it with this song.”
The soundtrack weaves through ominous and plucky original Spaghetti Western themes, Brother Dege’s twangy stomper “Too Old To Die Young,” John Legend’s funky blacksploitation-style anthem “Who Did That To You” (which ended up on the soundtrack after Legend recorded it on cassette and mailed it to Tarantino), and pummeling hip-hop bangers, “Unchained (the Payback/Untouchable)” — a mashup of James Brown’s “The Payback” and 2Pac’s unreleased “Untouchable” — and “100 Black Coffins” by Rick Ross and Jamie Foxx.
Tarantino said on the radio show that this was the first time he’d included new music in one of his films, and it was thanks to the star and title character, Jaime Foxx, who ran into rapper Rick Ross at the BET Awards and invited him back to the set to work on a song together. The song is clearly influenced by the surroundings, with a Western whistle underneath a molasses beat and lyrics like “revenge is the sweetest.” and “I need 100 black coffins for 100 bad men/…I need 100 black bibles while we send ’em all to hell.”
There’s also the deceivingly calmer moments thanks to songs like Jim Croce’s “I Got a Name,” as Django is given his freedom, which left another lump in my throat. That track also has the needle drop and minimal fuzz of the record collector nerd Tarantino is. He’ll often use his own vinyl on the soundtracks. It’s a “whole record experience,” as he describes it. “Pops and crackles be damned.”
NEVER SLOWING DOWN?
It’s true, prolific garage rocker Ty Segall has yet another new band. This one’s called Fuzz, and it includes Segall on drums and vocals (just like in his pre-Ty Segall Band band, Traditional Fools!) and longtime collaborator-pal Charlie Moothart on guitar. The dudes just released new single “This Time I Got a Reason,” played Vacation last weekend, and will be a part of Noise Pop 2013: Feb. 28 at the Knockout ($8).
After a period of moody silence, underground Harlem rap duo Cannibal Ox has returned — to the stage, at least. Vast Aire and Vordul Mega announced a one-off reunion show in NY late last year, and that must have gone well, ’cause now they’re heading our way on a full tour. Also noteworthy: Aire and Mega only put out one album as Cannibal Ox, 2001 indie hit The Cold Vein, produced by El-P. Now they’re working on a 2013 followup on Iron Galaxy Records.
With Keith Masters, Double AB, Kenyattah Black, I Realz
Sun/13, 9pm, $15. Brick and Mortar Music Hall, 1710 Mission, SF. www.brickandmortarmusic.com.