Volume 47 Number 28

Volume 47 Number 28 Flip-through Edition

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New forms

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caitlin@sfbg.com

STREET SEEN What’s in a lookbook? When you’re a styling collective that works with one-of-a-kind vintage items, the question is somewhat challenging. Only one person can buy each outfit in Retrofit Republic‘s newest “Tastemakers” style book, after all.

But co-founder Julia Rhee explains to me in an email that her brand is about way more than call-and-response trend manufacturing. “We could’ve exclusively sourced from the big box stores when we started our business,” she writes. “But we wanted to show clients that we don’t have to live in a throwaway culture that constantly churns out fast fashion with no regard to the environment.”

Rhee and co-founder Jenny Ton counsel clients who make appointments at their private showroom for styling tips that unique pieces that don’t quite fit can be adjusted. “When in doubt, roll it, cuff it, belt it,” she says.

 

“Tastemakers” lookbook: Brown Boi Project founder B. Cole

 

>>CLICK HERE TO READ LAST YEAR’S SFBG PROFILE ON RETROFIT’S STYLE 

Angie Chang, founder of Women 2.0 and Bay Area Geek Girl dinners

 Given the preponderance of grown-and-sexy types at the release party for their newest lookbook on April 13 at the SoMa-sleek Tank18 tasting room, it would seem that SF (a town whose picked-over thrift stores should tip you off on our luv for secondhand) is down for the Retrofit message.

Or maybe there’s another message the party people were responding to. Because instead of populating their campaigns with traditional models, Retrofit is known for making mannequins out of the Bay’s social changers. “Tastemakers” features food justice activist-sustainable chef Bryant Terry, feminist tech networker Angie Chang, founder of genderqueer youth leadership advocates Brown Boi Project B. Cole. Past books have included Supervisors Jane Kim and David Chiu.

Founder of Four Barrell Coffee Jeremy Tooker

“As people of color, we’re not often given the space to be positively highlighted and affirmed that we are beautiful,” Ton writes. “So instead of waiting for that space and change to happen, we decided to take it into own hands, on our terms, to be the change we want to see in fashion and in this world.”

CAN YOU SAY Мишка?

Мишка lookbook photos by Chris Brennan

Five-panel ball caps printed with fresh fruit, outer galaxy scenes, or Harvey Comics panels. A cutely patterned cut-and-sew collection that includes button-downs speckled with astrological signs, classical sculptures interspersed with spray paint bursts, pot leaves and one-eyed skeleton heads arranged in Nordic ski sweater patterns. This is the look of Мишка (pronounced “Mishka,” in case your Cyrillic skills are rusty), the Brooklyn brand that opens its first SF store this week.

Are we really becoming the outer borough to Silicon Valley’s Manhattan? The fact that Мишка, a Greenpoint brand, is opening up its first store in the city next to a tattoo shop on 25th Street in the Mission is one sign that: yep, maybe. Or maybe it says more about how the Internet is globalizing hipster culture — the brand already has stores in Tokyo and Los Angeles.

Мишка is the kind of low brow movie-inspired streetwear brand (read: many hats and t-shirts) that inspires hordes of young enthusiasts so gung ho that the brand’s national marketing coordinator Leigh Barton tells me, her bloodshot eyeball-adorned fingernails lightly gripping a cappuccino cup in a Haight Street coffee shop a few blocks from where she was hosting last week’s warehouse sale, kids will show up to stores ready to work for free, just for good vibes and freebies to further their sartorial addiction.

The company already has a passionate Bay Area fan base, and co-founder Mikhail Bortnik tells me in an email the feeling is mutual. “The art, music, and culture that has been oozing out of the city for decades has influenced our brand and art greatly,” he writes.

SF store manager Chris Brennan actually shot a lookbook last summer featuring the Bay’s new crop of hip-hop heartthrobs: Chippy Nonstop, Antwon, and Trill Team 6 were among the models — which makes sense given that Мишка’s a hybrid project — Bortnik and co-founder Greg Rivera also run Мишка Records, which recently released Cakes Da Killa’s rad sophomore effort The Eulogy and had its hand in Das Racist’s early mixtape glory as well. Keep an eye out to see how the company will be contributing to the ongoing rhythms and melodies here in the Bay.

Мишка SF opening party Fri/12, 7-9pm, free. Мишка, 3422 25th St., SF. www.mishkasf.com


Natural woofin’

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culture@sfbg.com

PETS If you shop at the farmers market, drive a Prius, have a compost bin, and read this newspaper, chances are you care about the environment. Doesn’t that mean that your dog does too, by extension? Diminish your canine’s carbon paw print with these eco-friendly pet products and services. Not only will they alleviate that non-existent doggie guilt, but used correctly, li’l buddy will be looking fly for this weekend’s amazing McKinley Elementary School fundraiser DogFest (Sat/13, 11am-4pm, free. Duboce Park, Duboce and Noe, SF. www.mckinleyschool.org/dogfest).

JEFFREY’S NATURAL PET FOODS

Prepared fresh five days a week, everything at local pet food store chain Jeffrey’s is fresh and locally sourced. This food contains high-quality raw, free-range meats, organic vegetables, vitamins, and minerals. Why go raw? Uncooked meats and vegetables contain a host of essential fatty acids, beneficial bacteria, and antioxidants in their natural state. This type of diet can result in better weight control for your baby, healthier skin and coat, and energy and stamina for endless rolls in the grass.

284 Noe, SF. (415) 864-1414; 1841 Powell, SF. (415) 402-0342, www.jeffreysnaturalpetfood.com

EO DOG SHAMPOO

After a play in the park, rinse Fido off with this gentle wash that combines essential oils with other natural botanicals for freshly scented canines. EO’s natural shampoo is made in Marin and consists primarily of herbal, organic ingredients like French lavender oil, aloe vera, chamomile, and white tea. The biodegradable shampoo is made without irritating sodium laureth or lauryl sulfates, and is perfectly safe for hands-on doggie scrubbing.

Available at various Bay Area stores. www.eoproducts.com

GREEN PAWZ DELIVERY PACK

If prefer receiving your puppy supplies in a manner similar to Chinese-food delivery, here’s a trick for you. Cole Valley’s Green Pawz Pet Boutique specializes in providing customers with environmentally friendly supplies and services. Become a Green Priority customer and receive scheduled ongoing deliveries of regular supplies like its in-house line of shampoos and natural pet foods. Priority customers are also sent information on store specials, coupons, free goodies, and invitations to Green Pawz events.

772 Stanyan, SF. (415) 221-7387, www.greenpawzsf.com

PRIMAL PET FOODS RECREATIONAL BONES

San Mateo-based Primal Pet Foods’ products abide by the “BARF” (bones and raw food) diet, so think raw, meaty bones, muscle meat, organs, fresh fruits, and veggies. We recommend Primal’s raw recreational bones, which are 100 percent human-grade (er, suitable for human consumption, as in stocks and such) and procured from ranches across the US. Choose from buffalo marrow, beef marrow, venison marrow, or lamb femur.

Available at various Bay Area stores. www.primalpetfoods.com

HOLISTIC HOUNDS ANESTHESIA-FREE TEETH CLEANING

You and your pup may love to snuggle, but when her breath is less-than-pleasant, tough love may be required. Walk your dog over to Berkeley’s Holistic Hounds for an annual anesthesia-free teeth cleaning. All cleanings are done on-site at Holistic Hound by Dawn Leiske and her staff at Waggin Smiles and are supervised and checked by veterinarian Dr. Jennifer Luna-Repose. Check Holistic Hound’s website to see when Dawn Leiske is next available to make your pup’s teeth sparkle, sans drugs.

1510 Walnut, Berk. (510) 843-2133, www.holistichound.com

Silent sting

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rebecca@sfbg.com

If the FBI is trying to track down a suspect in your neighborhood, investigators could sweep up information from your mobile device just because you happen to be nearby.

It’s been going on for years with little public notice or attention.

Records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act request shed new light on a surveillance device known as a Stingray that allows law enforcement to automatically collect cell phone data from potentially hundreds of subscribers in a given area — even when the vast majority of those affected have nothing to do with the criminal investigation at hand.

The documents came in response to an FOIA request from the Bay Guardian and the Northern California Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Stingray is a brand name; the devices might also be known as a Triggerfish, a digital analyzer, a cell site emulator, or an IMSI catcher, the latter being a technical term describing the gadget’s ability to detect International Mobile Subscriber Identities. It essentially behaves like cell phone tower, putting out a strong signal that tricks mobile devices into connecting automatically.

If there are 200 cell phone customers in an area where it’s being deployed, all of their phones will automatically connect to the device.

Once cell phones are talking to the Stingray, the device scoops up digital information and uses it to help agents ferret out their target. Some Stingrays have the capability to capture actual content — texts or telephone conversations — while others act like eyes and ears that can guide police to the precise geographic location of a targeted suspect, even within a couple meters.

And it doesn’t even require a warrant.

“You can operate it without having to involve the cell phone providers at all,” Peter Scheer, executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition, told us. His organization helped a journalist obtain records about the Los Angeles Police Department’s use of Stingrays.

“The service providers, while they don’t stand as a major barrier, tend to insist on police having some kind of judicial authorization,” Scheer said. “It has been an important check on police use of these technologies.”

MANY AGENTS USING IT

The FBI initially refused to provide the documents, but after the ACLU filed suit, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California finally released some information, including a particularly juicy set of internal emails documenting federal agents’ use of these devices.

In one of the emails, Criminal Division Chief Miranda Kane wrote: “Our office has been working closely with the magistrate judges in an effort to address their collective concerns regarding whether a pen register is sufficient to authorize the use of law enforcement’s WIT technology … to locate an individual.”

(“WIT technology” is described as a box that simulates a cell tower and can be placed inside a van to help pinpoint an individual’s location with some specificity.”)

Kane added: “Many agents are still using [this] technology in the field although the pen register application does not make that explicit.” In a clarifying email sent later on the same thread, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kyle Waldinger noted: “Just to be super clear, the agents may not use the term ‘WIT’ but rather may be using the term … ‘Stingray.'”

Kane’s reference to a “pen register application” describes a request for court approval to use an investigative tactic that can trace the outgoing numbers dialed from a particular phone. While Stingrays can potentially sweep in hundreds of cell phone customers’ information, pen-register wiretaps focus narrowly on the digits being punched in by one individual.

The US Supreme Court ruled in 1979 that the use of a pen register is “not a search under the Fourth Amendment,” Susan Freiwald, a law professor at the University of San Francisco, told us. That means law-enforcement agents don’t need a full-scale search warrant. And court orders permitting pen-register wiretaps are “really easy to get,” Friewald explained.

To secure a judge’s blessing, law enforcement agents need only to submit complete applications and show that the phone numbers dialed are “relevant” to an investigation.

Kane’s email, dated in 2011, is significant because it suggests that “many agents” were using Stingrays for investigations after clearing only the low hurdle of court approval for a pen register. “The federal government was routinely using Stingray technology in the field, but failing to make that explicit in its applications to the court to engage in electronic surveillance,” ACLU Staff Attorney Linda Lye wrote in a recent blog post. “When the magistrate judges in the Northern District of California finally found out what was happening, they expressed ‘collective concerns,’ according to the emails.”

The revelation is closely tied to an electronic surveillance case that’s currently making its way through court, most recently prompting the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation to file an amicus brief challenging the constitutionality of a Stingray use.

TRACKING A HACKER

It all began back in 2008, when FBI agents used the technology to track down a hacker and alleged fraudster named Daniel David Rigmaiden — a guy who sometimes goes by an alias, represented himself in court, and seems to possess enough technical savvy and disposable income to challenge his prosecutors at every turn.

Through discovery proceedings, Rigmaiden “managed to get the government to admit that it has used this location tracking technology to find him,” Lye noted. “That is quite extraordinary, because there have been suspicions that that this device has been around and in use for quite a long time, but there are really very few cases where we talk about it, and this is the only criminal case where the government has plainly admitted to using it to locate a suspect.”

Because FBI agents used a Stingray to locate Rigmaiden, they not only figured out that he was inside a Santa Clara apartment building, but successfully sniffed down to the level of his exact unit.

But the request for court orders that authorized this investigation made only a fleeting mention of a mobile tracking device, without conveying just how powerful the surveillance tool actually is. “When we read the orders, we were very, very surprised and troubled,” Lye said. “Because the government was arguing in the criminal proceeding in Rigmaiden, yes, we acknowledge that we’ve used this cell site emulator, and we’re even … acknowledging that the device is intrusive enough in the way it operates to constitute a search — which is a significant concession.”

In this case, the FBI agents obtained a court order to use a pen register, and separately obtained court approval to solicit Verizon’s help in locating Rigmaiden, which the government claims constituted a warrant (though this is a point of contention). But nowhere did agents make it clear to the judge that in order to work, this surveillance device vacuums up vast amounts of third-party data. The search potentially affected hundreds of subscribers in Rigmaiden’s apartment complex, none of whom were suspected of any involvement in wrongdoing. The government noted in court filings that it purged the third-party data after the fact, presumably as a way to deflect privacy concerns.

“It did not explain that the device broadcasts signals to all devices in the area, receives information about other devices in the possession of third parties, potentially disrupts the connections of third-party devices, and penetrates the walls of every private residence in the vicinity, not solely that of the target,” the ACLU-EFF brief argues.

At the end of March, Lye argued in an Arizona federal court hearing that evidence gathered using a Stingray should be suppressed in the Rigmaiden case, because the government used the tracking tool but failed to tell the federal magistrate judge that it was doing so. But in the course of that hearing, “the government stated … that ‘use of these devices is a very common practice,'” Lye note in an update following the hearing. “It also stated that there were many parts of the country in which the FBI successfully obtains authorization to use this device through a trap and trace [pen register] order.”

Nor is it just federal agencies that use these surveillance tools. The results of a FOIA request filed by a Los Angeles journalist with the assistance of the First Amendment Coalition revealed that LAPD used this technology in 21 out of 155 cell phone investigation cases — from June to September of last year alone. The devices were used to investigate five homicide cases and a roster of other offenses, including a burglary, a narcotics investigation, two suicides, a robbery and three kidnappings.

For civil liberties advocates, the aim is to require stronger judicial oversight and a warrant before this kind of surveillance practice can be used. “The argument here is about, well this technology is so powerful and so intrusive — it really needs to be under extensive oversight by members of the judiciary,” notes Friewald, the law professor. “And in order for that to happen, the judge needs to have that technology described to them.”

Food fight

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le.chicken.farmer@yahoo.com

SPORTS Did you see what Jed Lowrie (swoon) did last Wednesday, on the very day my column about him hit the streets? He propelled the A’s to their first win of the regular season, going 3-3 with a walk, the game-winning 2-run double, and a home run. In fact he hit two doubles that game, then two more the next — also a win.

This means he loves me too. Although . . . it’s hard to imagine he got a very good look from way down there on the field.

Well, I stand by everything I said about the new A’s shortstop. In fact, taking his lead, I double it.

Almost everything else about last week’s column, however, I have to retract.

Or correct. As in: of course the A’s record-breaking 20-game win streak was in 2002, not 2001. Last year was the 10-year anniversary, and last year was 2012. And math is math.

More importantly, and even more wrongly, I said that AT&T has better concessions than O.co.

What I meant by that careless assertion was that AT&T has a greater variety of fancier (and generally bad) things to eat for even more money than O.co. I know because Hedgehog and I got ourselves to two of those Bay Bridge Series warm-up games, one on each side of the bay, by way of our own li’l Spring Training.

Surprise surprise. I can’t believe a) how many people go to those games, b) how many innings they are willing to miss while standing in line for garlic fries, and c) that Oakland’s garlic fries are better than San Francisco’s.

What the — ?

I thought I remembered AT&T’s garlic fries being awesome, not to mention edible. True, their fryers, like Marco Scutaro, might not be in mid-season form, but you would think at least some of the fries would have at least some amount of crunch to them.

Nope. Greasy soggy seagull food, every single one.

O.co’s garlic fries had a little more crunch to them for a couple dollars less, but then they don’t have the gluten-free hot dog option over there, or gluten-free beer. I asked around, for my boo, who — believe it or not — is more into the game of the game than I am. Plus she was test-running a new score-keeping app she’d paid $10 for and couldn’t leave her seat.

At AT&T, I’ll tell you: the gluten-free stuff is at section 112 in the Promenade Level. Otherwise, you don’t have to walk far in any direction to find all kinds of tempting yummies. To name a few: carving board sandwiches, bacon-wrapped hot dogs, Chicago dogs, and, for the tourists, clam chowder bread bowls and Dungeness crab on sourdough.

After about four-and-a-half innings of prowling, I pulled the trigger on a Cha Cha Bowl from Orlando’s Caribbean Barbecue in the center field food court, and I paraded it back to our seats like a hunter bringing home her kill: Look, Boo! It’s gluten free too!

Yeah, but not very good. Dry jerk chicken, white rice and black beans, with shredded carrots and zucchini. Best thing about it was the pineapple salsa on top.

Whereas . . . and this is a big whereas: O.co’s gluten-free kill turned out to be barbecue barbecue. As in sloppy, sopping spareribs and sliced pork, or Ameri-cue. And it also turned out to be awesome. Not just for stadium food, either. It was legitimately good ‘cue. And to think, last season I couldn’t even find barbecue at Oakland games. Now this: Ribs n’ Things.

Ribs n’ Things, it turns out, is an actual restaurant in Hayward, and — at the risk of reviewing a restaurant in my sports column — let me tell you that I would go there, if I ever went to Hayward. That’s how good it was. The best of both stadiums.

Okay. I conclude my two-part baseball season preview with sauce on my pants, yes, and the smell of barbecue under my fingernails. But as much as I love these things, and Jed Lowrie, the closing shot comes from the first night of the Bay Bridge Series, in San Francisco.

Not too cold, but not exactly warm either. It’s been a beautiful Spring, rain and all. Hedgehog and I are huddled together in the upper deck, facing the bay, and there is that classic late-inning blizzard of seagulls going on around us. Really, it looks like it’s snowing big white bird-shaped flakes, aglow in the stadium lights. The game and the greasy garlic fries have long since lost our interest, but this is something. It feels like we are on a first date. There’s a big orange moon rising up over the water, attended by wisps of clouds. A plane flies in front of it. Its lights go: blink.

What cabs really do

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tredmond@sfbg.com

EDITORS NOTES There are two ways to look at the taxicab industry in San Francisco: Either it’s purely a business, out to serve customers with the products that are most profitable — or it’s part of the city’s public transportation infrastructure, and thus subject to regulations that ensure all parts of the city are properly served.

If you take the first approach, then you’re like the entrepreneurs who founded Lyft, Uber, Sidecar, and Tickengo. They offer a product that the market clearly wants — rides that can be summoned with a smart phone and tracked by geolocation (no more “when the hell is that cab going to get here?”), with both drivers and passengers rated on a Yelp-like system.

The newcomers have no interest in the city’s old-fashioned regulations, which really do, in some ways, date back to the days when cabs were buggies pulled by horses. They’ve got a business model, and they’re going to follow it.

The problem here is that cabs are not just a business. (Housing isn’t just a business, either; that’s why we have, for example, rent control, eviction protections, and code enforcement.) Taxis are an essential part of the transit system in San Francisco. They backfill where buses and trains can’t or don’t go. They provide a lifeline for disabled people and seniors who need a ride, for example, to and from health-care appointments or supermarkets.

They are absolutely essential to the tourist economy, which is the city’s biggest and most lucrative industry (tech is still far behind).

There are problems with this part of the transportation system, as there are problems with Muni and BART and airport shuttles. There need to be more cabs on the streets, particularly at busier times. The existing drivers and operators need better technology and a better dispatch system.

But taxi drivers — the old, traditional type — are required to pick up anyone and drive anywhere; they can’t cherry pick the most attractive rides. They have to go through screening and training that ensures the public is safe.

They are, like many other utilities, almost a part of the public sector. There’s a good reason for that. And it’s what the city and the state regulators should be looking at.

Where the wild dogs are

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San Francisco has more dogs than children, which might be a comment on the price of housing — even the largest canine companion doesn’t need a bedroom. But with all of those furry beasts seeking exercise in a dense urban area, the city’s made a point of finding places for dogs to run, romp, and play — with some success, and some … well, not such great success.

We’ve taken on the task of finding some of the best dog parks, and offer this opinionated guide. Remember, not all dog parks are created equal. Some are great if you just want open space to toss a ball; others are better for the dog that likes to wander around and explore. Some are perfect for the social animal that loves lots of canine company; some serve the more solitary types.

Our ratings reflect the level of cleanliness (will I be constantly stepping over, or in, poo?), friendliness (are the park-goers, human and canine, nice to be around and welcoming, or is there a cliquishness or conflicts between different types of users?) and dog-fun terrain (Just dirt? Lots of trees and bushes? Gophers to chase? Water to drink — and play in?)

Results below.

BERNAL HILL 

Legal status: City park, off-leash allowed

Cleanliness: 2 paws

Friendliness: 4 paws

Terrain: 3 paws

Lots of room on this often-windy hilltop. Hiking trails offer spectacular city views; paved roads are nice for jogging. Amazing rock formations surround a couple of open flat areas for romping and ball-chasing. Dog and human water fountains. Very friendly; everyone who uses the place is used to off-leash dogs. Sadly, some take the vegetation and rocky hillsides as an excuse not to clean up; if you’re off trail, watch where you step. Entrances at the top of Bernal Heights Boulevard and at Folsom and Ripley.

GLEN CANYON PARK

Legal status: City park, on-leash rules are not tightly enforced

Cleanliness: 3 paws

Friendliness: 3 paws

Terrain: 4 paws

You can walk a few hundred yards into Glen Canyon and feel miles away from the city. The canyon floor, with a creek (mud! exciting!) running through it, is cool and shady with trees, thickets, and blackberries. The hillsides are grassy, steep, and sometimes attract rock climbers. Most days, there are off-leash dogs walking and playing — but there are also picnic areas, ball fields, and a (fenced) kids’ playground where it’s best not to allow dogs to roam freely, and sensitive habitat restoration areas where off-leash dogs can wreak havoc. Sometimes users complain about off-leash dogs; if you keep poochie on leash, it’s still a great hiking area. Absolutely do not let your dog wander off in the deeper parts of the canyon, where coyotes have made a home; it’s best for all parties if they are undisturbed.

The south side of the park is undergoing renovations right now, but you can enter at Diamond Heights and Sussex (watch the traffic, there’s no crosswalk) or at the end of Bosworth.

McLAREN PARK

Legal status: City park, off-leash areas

Cleanliness: 3 paws

Friendliness: 3 paws

Terrain: 3 paws

The second-largest park in the city is often overlooked, but it’s got some nice wooded trails — and the only pond in the city where dogs are actually allowed to go swimming. It’s not a nasty, slimy-covered puddle, either; the water’s clear and there’s a (concrete) doggie beach where your canine can ease into a dip. It’s shallow enough near shore for those with short legs and deep enough and long enough for the big dogs to have a nice refreshing swim or practice their water-retrieval skills. There’s some misinformation on the web about how to find the dog-swim area. You don’t want McNabb Lake, on the east side of the park; that’s a playground and picnic area with a nice duck pond where dogs are not terribly welcome. The parking lot for the dog area is off the westernmost part of the John F. Shelley loop, near the big blue water tower. You can see the pond from the road, and it’s a very short walk down. Bring a towel and be prepared to get wet; humans can’t swim there, but the beach is small and wet doggies love to shake.

John F. Shelley Drive.

DUBOCE PARK

Legal status: City park, off-leash area

cleanliness: 2 paws

Friendliness: 2 paws

Terrain: 2 paws

This popular spot used to be called “dog shit park.” It’s the place where Harvey Milk famously announced his legislation mandating that people pick up their canine companions’ stinky piles. It’s a lot better now — in fact, this is a rare place where the interaction between dogs and children is well-managed and everyone seems happy. The kids are fenced off in the upper area, the dogs run free in the lower area, and people just out for some sun sit in between. Still: watch where you walk. The ghost of Harvey’s soiled shoe remains.

The dogs here tend to be a bit rambunctious, perhaps because of the limited space, so don’t be surprised if a few more aggressive ones bound up to you as you enter, which can intimidate the more skittish of both species. The (human) regulars tend to know each other. McKinley School’s Dog Fest turns the place into a grand celebration of the canine spirit every spring.

Duboce Avenue and Noe.

FORT FUNSTON

Legal status: National park, off-leash areas (for now)

Cleanliness: 3 paws

Friendliness: 3 paws

Terrain: 4 paws

The walkable trails — surrounded by lush trees, non-native plants, and flora — that lead down to sandy dunes, cliffs, and Ocean Beach itself make up Fort Funston, a former military base, and current highly traveled dog park. In fact, it’s one of the Bay Area’s most popular mixed-use canine-friendly sites, usually sweeping the Bay Woof’s Beast of the Bay awards, this year winning “Best Hiking Trail” and a runner-up for best overall dog park. There are multiple pathways to explore, great views, and a few doggie amenities along the way. On the rare warm weekend (always with a breeze), there might be dozens of pups lapping up the cooling dribble of water from one of the small water fountains. It gets crowded (some dog owners say it’s too crowded) on the weekends, but is less congested during the week. The off-leash factor is also currently up for review, so those in charge caution owners to pick up after and keep a close eye on their pets. It’s part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and is operated under the authority of the National Park Service.

Park in the lot off Skyline Boulevard.

ALAMO SQUARE DOG PARK

Legal status: City park, west half is off-leash.

Cleanliness: 4 paws

Friendliness: 3 paws

Terrain: 2 paws

The dogs atop the sloping west side of Alamo Square Park like to play — and they do so in the rather small dirt-and-grass area allotted for off-leash fun. It’s typically a hyper bunch of small pups, chasing, fetching, leaping after frisbees, and entwining regulars in the old twisted leash dance on the vertical pull up the hill. Thankfully, the typically business and/or tech-veering dog owners in Alamo Square are usually quite friendly, pick up after their pets, and won’t give you side-eye if your darling drools on another’s chew toy. There’s also a water fountain for thirsty pups and a give one/take one plastic doo-doo bag stand at the base of the hill. But be forewarned, the other side of that hill is the one with the classic SF view of the Painted Ladies, so it’s where tour buses dump the masses for photos ops. Fido is less than welcome there without a leash, and it can get scary for less sociable pups. Plus, just below, the park dips directly into the busy intersection.

Hayes and Scott.

CRISSY FIELD

Legal status: National park, off-leash areas (excluding the Crissy Field Tidal Marsh and Lagoon)

Cleanliness: 3 paws

Friendliness: 4 paws

Terrain: 4 paws

With boardwalk walkways, grassy play areas, a bombshell view of the Golden Gate Bridge, and long stretches of California coast, Crissy Field, part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, is a frisky pup’s beachy playland. There are even small outdoor showers, specifically for washing the sand off paws, not human feet. The regulars know where to avoid walking without a leash, and will kindly tell you so on arrival. And there’s plenty of room for running, fetching, and playing (canine) or catching up (human). Plus, check out interesting wave formations due to sand bars, and the marshy areas of the former Army airfield, first opened to the public in 2001. There’s also enough sanded open space to keep a distance from other pets, if you’re dog’s the less-than-cordial type.

Beach and Mason, in the Presidio.

UPPER NOE RECREATION CENTER DOG PARK

Legal status: City park, off-leash

Cleanliness: 2 paws

Friendliness: 2 paws

Terrain: 1 paws

This relatively diminutive fenced enclosure is more typical of suburban neighborhoods — a very pre-planned park feel. Connected to the Noe Valley Recreation Center, it’s helpful that this dog run is in the heart of the city, fully gated, and easy for humans to access, for a quick game of fetch or poop jaunt. The entirely fenced in park is great for new dog owners and those with easily spooked puppies. Weirdly, this kind of enclosure seems a rarity in the city. But other than convenience and safety (both considerably important in the pup playtime world) it offers little amenities to the average pup or companion. Also, there is sometimes a slight urine odor, likely due to the closed in nature, and while friendly, the crowd often seems more focused on getting in and out, quickly.

299 Day.

Sneaky surveillance

19

steve@sfbg.com

After public outrage stopped the San Francisco Police Department from instituting controversial — and unconstitutional, say civil libertarians — new video surveillance requirements in bars and clubs more than two years ago, the department quietly began inserting that same requirement into new liquor licenses, a move met with concern at City Hall last week.

In late 2010, the SFPD proposed a draconian set of new security requirements for drinking establishments in the city, including requirements that they do video surveillance and take an image of all patrons’ identification cards and make them available to police upon request, without a warrant or any other controls (see “Going to a club — or boarding an airplane?,” 12/7/10).

That proposal ran into a wall of opposition from the American Civil Liberties Union, California Music and Culture Association, progressives on the Board of Supervisors, and others, who said such a blanket policy violates privacy protections in the California Constitution. The Entertainment Commission held a hearing on the proposal in April of 2011 and voted unanimously to reject the proposals.

At that point, they seemed to just disappear, but they didn’t. Instead, SFPD internally decided at that time to begin asking the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control to insert a video surveillance requirement in most new liquor licenses in San Francisco, which escaped public notice until Sup. Scott Wiener raised the issue at the April 2 Board of Supervisors meeting.

“If you have an establishment that perhaps has a track record of bad things happening, that’s one thing. But absent that, I don’t believe that this is justified,” Wiener said as he voted against the requirement in a pair of new liquor licenses. Although Wiener was alone in opposing those applications, Sup. David Campos said he shared Wiener’s concern and the pair called an upcoming hearing on the new policy.

Two days later, at the board’s Neighborhood Services and Safety Committee meeting, Wiener again raised the issue and sought to have the new requirement removed from a pair of proposed liquor licenses: Cesar’s Ballroom on 26th and 3rd streets, the latest project of veteran local club owner Cesar Ascarrunz, and Nosa Ria, a market in Hayes Valley that will import gourmet food and wine from Spain.

“It’s the exact opposite of some kind of rowdy bar or nightclub where people are going in and getting drunk and really bad things are happening,” Wiener said of Nosa Ria, for which he persuaded fellow Sups. Eric Mar and Norman Yee to vote to remove the video surveillance condition before approving the application.

That condition stated: “The petitioner shall utilize electronic surveillance and recording equipment that is able to view the outside of the premises, including all entrances and exits, and that is actively monitored and recorded. The electronic surveillance shall be utilized during operating hours. Said electronic recording shall be kept at least 30 days and shall be made available to the Department or Police Department upon demand.”

Mar said he agreed with Wiener that “a broad discussion of electronic surveillance requirements would be important for this committee,” but Mar then voted against removing that condition from the Cesar’s Ballroom application, saying, “I think we need surveillance in certain spots on a case-by-case basis, and I think this is an area that needs surveillance.”

SFPD IS WATCHING

When SFPD first sought new video surveillance tools — back in 2005, when the department asked for 71 video cameras at high-crime intersections around the city — it was rigorously debated in public hearings for months. And when they were finally approved by the Board of Supervisors, they included an extensive set of controls on when SFPD could request footage — the department wasn’t even allowed to control the cameras directly — how it could be used and when it must be erased.

The legislation also required a follow-up study of their effectiveness in deterring and prosecuting crimes. Conducted by the University of California’s Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) in 2008, the report found the cameras had no impact on violent crime rates but a small deterrent impact on property crimes in the filmed areas.

As a tool for prosecuting crimes after the fact, “There has been limited success with the cameras acting as a ‘silent witness,’ with footage standing in for witness testimony; some anecdotal evidence suggests that the existence of CSC program footage can actually deter witnesses from cooperating under the assumption that the cameras have caught all necessary evidence,” the report said, also noting that twice in the 120 police requests made by 2008, footage resulted in charges being dropped or downgraded.

But today, SFPD apparently believes that times have changed, and that the rigorous oversight and evaluation of video surveillance tactics and their implications on people’s privacy rights — or even the need to notify the public that SFPD is seeking new ways to watch citizens — are no longer necessary.

“Over the last few years, we’ve increased the number of recommendations for video surveillance, for a few reasons,” SFPD spokesperson Gordon Shyy told the Guardian, citing how cheap and ubiquitous the technology has become and the role that video footage can play in solving crimes.

Yet attorney Michael Rischer with the ACLU of Northern California, who actively opposed the SFPD’s proposal in 2011 and was dismayed to hear the department secretly and unilaterally expanded its video surveillance reach after its proposal was rejected, said that reasoning is exactly why there are legal controls on the expanding police state.

“Both of those justifications are exceedingly troubling and they demonstrate why the San Francisco Police Department should not be doing this in some room sealed off from the public,” Rischer said. “The police have this totally backward. The ease and cost of doing this is a reason why these protections are in place.”

PRIVACY PROTECTIONS

Unlike under federal law, Californians have an explicit constitutional privacy guarantee and a body of case law defining that right in great detail. But the SFPD doesn’t seem to be aware of the nuances of that case law, such as the distinction it makes between people’s expectation of privacy on public streets versus in private businesses.

“When you enter a bar or restaurant, you don’t have an expectation of privacy,” Shyy told us.

But Rischer said that just isn’t true under the law. He noted that people do indeed have a reasonable expectation that they can enter a gay bar without being outed, for example, or that police won’t be able to demand video from a gathering in a bar where subversive political ideas are being discussed. And those concerns are exacerbated by SFPD’s policy that bar owners must simply turn over footage “upon demand.”

“The notion that the government is requiring a business to conduct surveillance of its patrons and to turn it over to the Police Department without any judicial oversight or even rules is deeply troubling and probably unconstitutional,” Rischer said.

Shyy said SFPD will “only request them when a crime has been committed,” but he also admitted that the conditions it is requesting on liquor licenses don’t set that limit and the policy hasn’t been reviewed by the Police Commission or other local oversight bodies.

ABC spokesperson John Carr told us his department doesn’t have a position on video surveillance and hasn’t tracked whether other jurisdictions are seeking the condition. As for whether it routinely includes SFPD’s recommended conditions, he said, “ABC reviews each application on a case by case basis.”

There are indications that SFPD sometimes resorts to bullying bar owners into turning over video surveillance without legal authority to do so. Jamie Zawinski with DNA Lounge last month blogged about Officer Simon Chan telling the club that it was required to keep video footage and turn it over upon request, which club operators informed the SFPD wasn’t true. “It’s just another sneaky, backdoor regulation that ABC and SFPD have been foisting on everyone without any kind of judicial oversight, in flagrant violation of the Fourth Amendment,” Zawinski wrote.

Regarding that incident, Shyy would only confirm that most bars aren’t yet required to keep and turn over video footage. And he said SFPD will cooperate with the hearing Campos and Wiener have called. “At this point, we don’t believe we’re violating people’s constitutional rights, but we’re willing to have that discussion,” Shyy said.

Wiener said that on April 3, he discussed the issue with Police Chief Greg Suhr, who indicated a willingness to cooperate with public hearings on the policy. But Wiener said he’s bothered by the fact that SFPD seems to have put this new policy in place right after being unsuccessful in doing this through a public process in 2011.

“I and others expressed opposition to this and I and others thought the Police Department had backed away from it,” Wiener said at the April 4 hearing, noting that “I’m not philosophically opposed to surveillance,” only with how SFPD instituted it. “I have an issue with the Police Department deciding to insert this on its own without a broader policy discussion.”

Stop making sense

0

cheryl@sfbg.com

FILM A woman, a man, a pig, a worm, Walden — what? If you enter into Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color expecting things like a linear plot, exposition, and character development, you will exit baffled and distressed. Best to understand in advance that these elements are not part of Carruth’s master plan. In fact, based on my own experiences watching the film twice, I’m fairly certain that not really understanding what’s going on in Upstream Color is part of its loopy allure.

Remember Carruth’s 2004 Primer, the DIY filmmaker’s $7,000 sci-fi tale about time travel? Did you try to puzzle out that film’s array of overlapping and jigsawed timelines, only to give up and concede that the mystery (and sheer bravado) of that film was part of its, uh, loopy allure? Yeah. Same idea, except writ a few dimensions larger, with more locations, zero tech-speak dialogue, and — yes! — a compelling female lead, played by Amy Seimetz, an indie producer and director in her own right.

There are YouTube videos of Carruth’s post-screening Q&A at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival (where Upstream Color debuted and won a prize for its innovative sound design), where he answers “What did that mean?”-type questions with fast-paced references to “the architecture of a story,” “speaking with emotional language,” and his interest in how people who’ve been shattered by trauma fumble their way toward creating new narratives for themselves. Or something.

At any rate, “trauma” is a somewhat mild description of what happens to Kris (Seimetz) at the start of the film. Upstream Color‘s first quarter is its most coherent, appropriate since it takes place before Kris’ health and sanity are compromised by an unnamed character (dubbed the Thief in the credits, and portrayed by Thiago Martins). At first, he appears to be some kind of hipster mad scientist, fiddling with plants and worms in his home lab; there’s no apparent connection between the Thief and Kris — a well-adjusted yuppie type, with a fast-paced job and tasteful wardrobe. This makes it all the more shocking when he stun-guns her in a restaurant and forces her to swallow a worm that turns her into a docile zombie. Before long, she’s emptied all of her bank accounts and signed her house over to him. She snaps out of her fugue state remembering nothing, but the aftereffects are grim: she’s fired, her ATM card doesn’t work, and there are weird things wriggling under her skin.

From there, things go from creepy to confusing, and it takes a few beats to get into Upstream Color‘s new rhythm of randomness. A pig farmer who is also fond of making field recordings and exudes zero menace helps, maybe, Kris by hooking her up to a machine that links her to a piglet and … is that a tapeworm? Then the story moves forward an unknown amount of months or years; the formerly put-together and content Kris is now sporting a chopped-short haircut and a skittish expression. On the train, going to her unglamorous job in a sign shop, she meets the haggard, similarly on-edge Jeff (Carruth) and there’s an instant connection.

Were Upstream Color a rom-com, or even a more conventional sci-fi flick, this pair of lost souls would use their new romance as a springboard for healing. But since “there isn’t a molecule of Hollywood” in Upstream Color — per Carruth, in an insightful post-Sundance interview with Wired magazine — there’s way more abstract weirdness to come, with occasional happy fragments sprinkled in to suggest there’s still hope for Kris and Jeff despite all of their multiple layers of damage.

If it hasn’t already been made clear, enjoying (or even making it all the way through) Upstream Color requires patience and a willingness to forgive some of Carruth’s more pretentious noodlings. (You also have to be OK with having a lot of questions left unequivocally unanswered: why is the pig farmer obsessed with making recordings? Why Walden? Aaarrrgghh!) In the tradition of experimental filmmaking, it’s a work that’s more concerned with evoking emotions than hitting some kind of three-act structure.

Upstream Color has been compared elsewhere to 2011’s Tree of Life, in that it uses avant-garde techniques and focuses on one small story to explore Big Themes. A key difference between Carruth and Terrence Malick — whose poised-to-polarize To the Wonder also opens this week; see Dennis Harvey’s review in this issue — is that Carruth is operating, as mentioned above, completely outside of Hollywood. No Ben Affleck or studio bucks here; Upstream Color was made fast and on the cheap, stars virtual unknowns, and is being self-distributed by Carruth (who, in addition to starring and directing, is also credited as writer, co-producer, cinematographer, composer, and co-editor).

There was word some years back that Carruth’s follow-up to Primer would be an ambitious, medium-budgeted sci-fi epic; it was endorsed by A-listers like Steven Soderbergh. When that fell apart, the story goes, he turned to Upstream Color as his on-my-own-terms rebound project. If that back story influenced his uncompromising (for better and worse) vision for Upstream Color, it’s a subtext that makes the end result even more profound; Hollywood would never take a chance on something so risky as this bold effort, which somehow manages to be both maddening and moving at the same time.

 

UPSTREAM COLOR opens Fri/12 at the Roxie.

Food fight

3

le.chicken.farmer@yahoo.com

IN THE GAME Did you see what Jed Lowrie (swoon) did last Wednesday, on the very day my column about him hit the streets? He propelled the A’s to their first win of the regular season, going 3-3 with a walk, the game-winning 2-run double, and a home run. In fact he hit two doubles that game, then two more the next — also a win.

This means he loves me too. Although . . . it’s hard to imagine he got a very good look from way down there on the field.

Well, I stand by everything I said about the new A’s shortstop. In fact, taking his lead, I double it.

Almost everything else about last week’s column, however, I have to retract.

Or correct. As in: of course the A’s record-breaking 20-game win streak was in 2002, not 2001. Last year was the ten-year anniversary, and last year was 2012. And math is math.

More importantly, and even more wrongly, I said that AT&T has better concessions than O.co.

What I meant by that careless assertion was that AT&T has a greater variety of fancier (and generally bad) things to eat for even more money than O.co. I know because Hedgehog and I got ourselves to two of those Bay Bridge Series warm-up games, one on each side of the bay, by way of our own li’l Spring Training.

Surprise surprise. I can’t believe a) how many people go to those games, b) how many innings they are willing to miss while standing in line for garlic fries, and c) that Oakland’s garlic fries are better than San Francisco’s.

What the-?

I thought I remembered AT&T’s garlic fries being awesome, not to mention edible. True, their fryers, like Marco Scutaro, might not be in mid-season form, but you would think at least some of the fries would have at least some amount of crunch to them.

Nope. Greasy soggy seagull food, every single one.

O.co’s garlic fries had a little more crunch to them for a couple dollars less, but then they don’t have the gluten-free hot dog option over there, or gluten-free beer. I asked around, for my boo, who — believe it or not — is more into the game of the game than I am. Plus she was test-running a new score-keeping app she’d paid $10 for and couldn’t leave her seat.

At AT&T, I’ll tell you: the gluten-free stuff is at section 112 in the Promenade Level. Otherwise, you don’t have to walk far in any direction to find all kinds of tempting yummies. To name a few: carving board sandwiches, bacon-wrapped hot dogs, Chicago dogs, and, for the tourists, clam chowder bread bowls and Dungeness crab on sourdough.

After about four-and-a-half innings of prowling, I pulled the trigger on a Cha Cha Bowl from Orlando’s Caribbean Barbecue in the center field food court, and I paraded it back to our seats like a hunter bringing home her kill: Look, Boo! It’s gluten free too!

Yeah, but not very good. Dry jerk chicken, white rice and black beans, with shredded carrots and zucchini. Best thing about it was the pineapple salsa on top.

Whereas . . . and this is a big whereas: O.co’s gluten-free kill turned out to be barbecue barbecue. As in sloppy, sopping spareribs and sliced pork, or Ameri-cue. And it also turned out to be awesome. Not just for stadium food, either. It was legitimately good ‘cue. And to think, last season I couldn’t even find barbecue at Oakland games. Now this: Ribs n’ Things.

Ribs n’ Things, it turns out, is an actual restaurant in Hayward, and — at the risk of reviewing a restaurant in my sports column — let me tell you that I would go there, if I ever went to Hayward. That’s how good it was. The best of both stadiums.

Okay. I conclude my two-part baseball season preview with sauce on my pants, yes, and the smell of barbecue under my fingernails. But as much as I love these things, and Jed Lowrie, the closing shot comes from the first night of the Bay Bridge Series, in San Francisco.

Not too cold, but not exactly warm either. It’s been a beautiful Spring, rain and all. Hedgehog and I are huddled together in the upper deck, facing the bay, and there is that classic late-inning blizzard of seagulls going on around us. Really, it looks like it’s snowing big white bird-shaped flakes, aglow in the stadium lights. The game and the greasy garlic fries have long since lost our interest, but this is something. It feels like we are on a first date. There’s a big orange moon rising up over the water, attended by wisps of clouds. A plane flies in front of it. Its lights go: blink.

 

Rambling man

1

arts@sfbg.com

FILM Terrence Malick has had an extraordinary career for a Hollywood hermit making art-house films in an industry that finds him commercially irrelevant and artistically erratic at best. Even his consensus-agreed best movies are the kind that alienate many potential Oscar voters — too abstract, too ambiguous, too poetical, too “European” — so the potential prestige involved is of a marginal critical- and cineaste-appealing stripe no sane US producer would hitch his or her wagon to at this point. Yet Malick’s movies cost money — a lot of money — and it doesn’t all come from international companies willing to take a loss if they can take home some modest returns and major cred toward their next artistic investments.

In a way, it should be a source of joy that Malick keeps getting to make large, personal, indulgent, un-commercial movies when almost no one else does. Other mainstream US filmmakers have had their intellectually or artistically ambitious follies (see: 2006’s Southland Tales and The Fountain, or 1980’s Heaven’s Gate), but they’re generally allowed just one. No one else has had the long ride Malick has. He is indeed a poet, a visionary — but has he ever had more than passages of brilliance? Are the actors and producers who treat him with awe as some exotic shaman actually enabling art, or mostly high-flown pretensions toward the same?

To the Wonder does provide some answers to those thorny questions. But they’re not the answers you’ll probably want to hear if you thought 2011’s The Tree of Life was a masterpiece. If, on the other hand, you found it a largely exasperating movie with great sequences, you may be happy to be warned that Wonder is an entirely excruciating movie with pretty photography. For all but the diehards, it could be a deal-breaker — the experience that makes you think you might very possibly never want to see another by this filmmaker again.

The one movie in which Malick’s variably over-the-top compassion, philosophy, idolatry of nature, and generally spellbound-by-beauty instincts were best supported was 1998’s The Thin Red Line, an abrupt return to activity after two decades’ complete absence. No matter that the reeling narrative bore limited resemblance to James Jones’ novel, or that Adrien Brody’s leading role got almost entirely cut out — he wouldn’t be first or last to cry foul at a Malick edit drastically altered from the original screenplay. To the Wonder apparently employed the talents of Jessica Chastain, Michael Sheen, and Rachel Weisz — all of whom ended up on the cutting room floor. To make room for … what? A movie that could have been wholly shot by the second unit, for all its interest in actual character, narrative, insight, and acting.

Instead, we get handsome shots of Ben Affleck and Olga Kurylenko (or sometimes Affleck and Rachel McAdams) wandering around picturesque settings either beaming beatifically at each other or looking “troubled” because “something is missing,” as one character puts it in a rare moment of actual dialogue. (Generally we get the usual Malick wall-to-wall whispered voiceover musings like “What is this love that loves us?” delivered by all lead actors in different languages for maximum annoyance.)

Just what is missing? Who the hell knows. Apparently it is too vulgar to spell out or even hint at what’s actually going on in these figures’ heads, not when you can instead show them endlessly mooning about as the camera follows them in a lyrical daze. The “plot” goes like this: Neil (Affleck) meets Parisienne Marina (Kurylenko) and her 10-year-old daughter from a failed marriage. They swan about Europe making goo-goo eyes at each other, then mother and child accompany him back to Oklahoma, but it doesn’t work out. Which allows him an interlude to get involved with old flame Jane (McAdams), but that doesn’t work out. Then Olga returns and … just guess. Meanwhile, Javier Bardem turns up as a Catholic priest, playing the Sean Penn Tree of Life role of a peripheral figure that does absolutely nothing but walk around looking bummed.

These people aren’t enigmas, they’re just blanks the actors can’t fill in because the writer-director won’t let them. He wants to express pure emotion, but emotions have contexts, too, much as Malick might like to think that women are all organic instinct. When Sissy Spacek spoke vacant “poetry” and ignored her (murderous) man Martin Sheen’s faults in 1973’s Badlands, it seemed her youthful inexperience was meant to be humorous. But since his career restarted, Malick has suggested dumb ‘n’ ethereal is his feminine ideal. Kurylenko is the apotheosis of that image: she’s part naked sex puppet; part indulged toddler who knows the adults think everything she does is adorable; part twirly-dancing girl at a Dead show; part family dog that only wants to be loved and played with.

Apparently, Malick thinks he’s celebrating femininity, but his appreciation omits the possibility of intelligence. He thinks women are marvelous, instinctual animals, while men bear the burden of emotional and intellectual complexity, even if they can’t articulate it. Could anything be more condescending? (To the Wonder was autobiographically inspired by his own failed marriage to a Frenchwoman; I’d rather see the movie she’d have made about it.)

No doubt some will find all this profound, because they’re primed to and the film certainly acts as though it is. But at some point you have to ask: if the artist can’t express his deep thoughts, just indicate that he’s having them, how do we know he’s a deep thinker at all? 

 

TO THE WONDER opens Fri/12 in Bay Area theaters.

Spring breakers

0

culture@sfbg.com

DRINK San Francisco: the best bars, mixologists, and produce — not to mention drinkers — in the country. And once the weather warms up (fingers crossed), can a bloom of excellent fruity cocktails be far behind? In honor of the lengthening sunlight, here’s a full day’s selection of spring drinks picks.

 

DAYTIME JAM: RICKHOUSE

This bustling bar nestled in the FiDi — and brought to us by the contemporary speakeasy minds behind Bourbon and Branch and Tradition (see below) — gets a lot of attention. In fact, I couldn’t stop hearing about its cocktails (most $10–$12) made with fresh fruit and local produce. And when I stepped inside early one sunny afternoon, I wasn’t disappointed. The bar was stocked with vibrantly colored jars of berries, citrus, and mint leaves. Joined by a friend, I quickly dived in.

Our first round of drinks consisted of the Kentucky Buck and the Paloma, a Mexican classic. The Buck, served with soda, is a combination of Bourbon infused with organic strawberries, fresh lemon juice, ginger beer, and bitters. It’s a smooth drink that still packs a punch, so don’t be deceived. The Paloma, a fizzy mix of tequila and grapefruit soda (in Mexico, usually Jarritos or Fresca; here housemade, of course), could be considered a more refreshing version of a margarita. True to the meaning of its name (“dove”), it’s light and floaty.

(Perhaps inspired by our fruit journey, our friendly bartender next treated us to his own invention, consisting of strawberries, cinnamon, and whiskey. It wasn’t named or even perfected yet — but when it’s on the house, I’ll gladly take it.)

Next round: the Pleasant Evening and my personal favorite, the Berry Bramble. With sparkling wine, crème de cassis, peach bitters, and grapefruit juice, plus a beautiful lemon twist garnish, The Pleasant Evening is also perfect for a warm and boozy afternoon. But the Berry Bramble topped my spring-quest list. Crushed berries and gin with crushed ice yields an invigorating but not overly sweet cocktail, uncloyingly fun, tropical without all the cheesiness.

246 Kearny, SF. (415) 398-2827, www.rickhousebar.com

 

HAPPY AND HALF-OFF: NIHON WHISKEY LOUNGE

I’d been dying to go to lovely Mission outpost Nihon for its expansive, Japanese-leaning whiskey collection — and its selection of half-off happy hour drinks (many of them $6) provided the perfect opportunity. When I looked at the impressive cocktail menu, I knew I wasn’t ordering anything neat.

I asked our waitress for her recommendation for a nice springtime cocktail and she came back with the California Love, a pretty bourbon cocktail with orange juice, yellow chartreuse liquor, and orange oil. The citrus snaps the bourbon to life, but the drink is a bit too strong for early afternoons: you’ll want to sip this one after work while watching the sun set through Nihon’s windows. (Warning: it does get a bit crowded). If you want my advice, though, grab the Luxury Mojito instead. Topping off silver rum, nigori sake, mint, lime, and sugar with a dash of champagne turns this summer favorite into a bubbly springtime joy.

1779 Folsom, SF. (415) 552-4400

 

FLY BY NIGHT: TRADITION

With its emphasis on presenting a global selection of cocktail favorites, there isn’t really a season you shouldn’t drink at Tenderloin hotspot Tradition. But I have a great cocktail for you to try during a cool spring night: the Paper Plane ($10). Made with bourbon, Aperol, bittersweet Amaro Nonino, and fresh lemon juice, its zing will launch you skyward. (The drink isn’t on the regular walk-in menu, but appears on the extended menu offered with table reservations, so call ahead.) A variation with honey, adding a level of smoothness, is also amazing. Before you know it, you’ve downed several of this babies, and left any lingering winter blues far behind.

441 Jones, SF. (415) 474-2284, www.tradbar.com

 

Loud, with clouds

2

arts@sfbg.com

GAMER BioShock Infinite (Irrational Games/2K Games; Xbox 360, PS3, PC) presents an experience that video games are best suited for: plopping players in a captivating fantasy world and saying, “Check it out!” The sequel to BioShock, a first person shooter set in a city beneath the sea, Infinite takes us instead to the clouds, in an alternate version of 1912 America that includes a floating city called Columbia.

Columbia is perhaps not as interesting an environment as Rapture, that underwater metropolis from the original BioShock, but few locations in gaming can match the claustrophobia and terror that decaying city evoked, and Columbia has charms all its own. With its barber shop quartet that sings an a capella version of the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows,” and its well-populated artificial beach complete with turn-of-the-century boardwalk pavilion, the desolation felt within Rapture’s ruins is replaced by liveliness. If you ever wished you could have wandered the underwater city before its fall, Columbia is the next best thing.

Infinite‘s narrative twists American history into something sinister, and it is almost startling to stumble upon locations and characters that remark on intensely political subjects like classism and race relations — this, in a game where the principal mechanic is to shoot people’s faces. As the game begins, former Pinkerton agent Booker DeWitt is hired to retrieve a young woman who is held captive within the city. Haunted by his collusion in the slaughter of Native Americans in the famous Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890, DeWitt appears to be a prototypically gruff, emotionally damaged male protagonist … but there are hints that not all is as it seems.

Infinite‘s idiosyncrasy could result only from having handed the creative reins over to an auteur game designer, and Infinite‘s singular vision springs from the mind of Ken Levine, chief architect of the BioShock franchise. It was Levine’s union of narrative and mechanics that elevated the original game from shooter to thesis subject and Infinite does not disappoint as the follow-up entry to his abstract game theory. To say more would spoil the fun, but any game attempting to challenge players intellectually is a curiosity in an industry that designs its games largely by committee and consensus.

On the down side, Infinite‘s shooting mechanics remain among the least of its triumphs. Even with a gallery of magical abilities called vigors that allow you to perform such feats as hurling fire or actual crows at your enemies, firefights tend to feel like mere barriers to more content. Perhaps Infinite‘s ambitions to be an experience took precedence over the game play, but to walk the city streets of Columbia is alone worth the price of admission. Liberty, justice, nightmare-churros, and animatronic George Washingtons for all!

Don’t hold your breath

1

arts@sfbg.com

MUSIC Every passing year, the clamor gets louder; the rumors get more outlandish. An all-vegetarian Coachella. Fifty million dollars for five shows. Sixty-seven copies of the movie version of Moby Dick and a football helmet full of cottage cheese. While the rest of the world waits with baited breath for his old band to reunite, the perpetually unfussed Johnny Marr simply gets on with it, focusing on what’s ahead instead of what’s behind.

Since the Smiths called it quits in 1987, their ever-reliable guitarist has stayed more than busy. He’s been a full-time member of myriad different groups, such as Modest Mouse, the Cribs, and The The, while finding time to start a few bands of his own, notably his criminally underrated collaboration with New Order/Joy Division’s Bernard Summer, Electronic. He’s also an accomplished producer and has made countless guest appearances.

Surprisingly, it took the serial band-jumper 25 solid years to make the decision to strike out on his own. “The record really only happened because I had all these ideas that I wanted to turn into songs,” Marr says during our phone call. “I had been touring for such a long time, and I decided that I had to go into the studio and turn these ideas into songs. I didn’t have the plan of doing a solo album, rather I just had this need to get all of these songs recorded. It all happened totally organically.”

The result is The Messenger, an impressive return to form that shows the 49 year old still has a hell of a lot left to say. Over the album’s 12 tracks, Marr sounds refreshed, focused, and teeming with inspiration. From the direct battle cry of an opener, “The Right Thing Right,” to the punchy, double-stop stomp of “Generate! Generate” to the moody, lush “New Town Velocity,” Marr shows off his underrated songwriting chops and warm vocals. Though there is plenty of sonic variation, he manages to stay out of Dad Rock zone by mostly staying in his lane and letting his signature top-notch guitar work do much of the heavy lifting.

As with any Marr release, the guitars come first, second, and third, and the master is up to his old tricks again. Deliciously intricate arpeggiated riffs? Check. Triumphant, cascading melodies? Check. That signature, impeccable jangle? Stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before (sorry, had to). Though he has fairly limited vocal range, his impeccable playing more than makes up for it, and most of the real memorable melodies (i.e. the soaring “European Me”) come courtesy of his legendary Fender Jaguar.

While Marr’s guitar heroics are worth the price of admission, it’s not the only fascinating thing about the fertile LP. As the consummate sideman to some of the biggest personalities (read: egos) in music — Morrissey, Isaac Brock, Chrissie Hynde — he hasn’t ever really needed to divulge much about the man behind the music. While you’re never going to get cathartic confessionals from the private, low-key Marr, he offers listeners plenty of enlightenment into his perspective.

“Really, it’s just a lot of my own personal observations, about my environment. It’s about the world as I see it,” Marr says. “I wanted it to be about the speed of life that I live.”

After drawing rave reviews on a run of shows across the pond, Marr rolls into town to play the first solo SF shows of his storied career. Sporting a nice mix of Smiths classics, hidden gems, and new material, Marr’s ardent spirit has spilled over into his live performances.

“We’ve been playing 11 new songs every night, and it’s really all gone down well,” Marr says. “Every night feels like a celebration, and people are really digging it…This group has a sound that really suits us, and we only play old songs that fit that sound, which really makes the old ones feel like new songs.”

One of the things that always stood out most about Marr was his incredible ability to make it all look so damn easy. No matter how complicated the guitar line, you’d never see a pained look on the perpetually dapper guitarist’s face. He famously wrote three all-time great songs — “William, It Was Really Nothing,” “How Soon Is Now?,” and “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want” — in one weekend. For that reason, we shouldn’t be surprised that he has taken all the break-ups, rumors, and changes with a nonchalant grace, constantly focused on moving forward rather than looking back….no matter how much everyone seems to want him to.

“Definitely what I’m doing now is a new chapter,” Marr concludes. “I’ve always believed in moving forward with everything I do, and I’m excited for this next step.”

Translation: If you are waiting for that dream Smiths reunion, you might want to stop holding your breath and give The Messenger a spin.

JOHNNY MARR

Sat/13, 9pm, $29.50 Fillmore 1805 Geary, SF www.thefillmore.com

 

Good grief

1

arts@sfbg.com

THEATER “Oh, this stupid war. I don’t know who to blame anymore, do you?”

So asks aging American divorcée Mary-Ellen (Marcia Pizzo), in 1975 Southern California, of Vietnamese war refugee Bao (Jomar Tagatac), who has lost his entire family back home. It’s a fraught question that, maybe fittingly, receives no answer. But it’s made all the more complicated and troubling in the Magic Theatre production of Julie Marie Myatt’s 2009 comedy-drama, The Happy Ones.

That’s because Bao and Mary-Ellen’s precarious perches, at the edges of the so-called American Dream, do not get pride of place. The narrative center goes to Walter Wells (a sure Liam Craig), cheerful business owner and middle-class patriarch who suffers an irreparable loss after his adored wife and two children die in a head-on collision with a car — driven by Bao.

Of course, the causes of suffering, and the consequences of violence, are very different when comparing a road accident with a war of genocidal proportions. But in The Happy Ones the emphasis on grief as universal, the overweening urge to see everybody just get along, obscures reality, substituting easy humor and sentimentality for a serious look at either systemic violence or, for that matter, the nature of happiness. No wonder Mary-Ellen doesn’t know who to blame.

Helmed by California Shakespeare Theater’s Jonathan Moscone, the production stresses the play’s emotional comedy about sorrow, forgiveness, shared pain, and the power of friendship, offering able performances and well-shaped scenes that smoothly unfold a palatable nostalgia trip whose sentiments are rooted in a claim to a certain class-based suburban memory.

Erik Flatmo’s set is a shabby period living room in a white Orange County suburb, complete with a blown-up studio portrait-photo of the happy family hanging over the fireplace with its untouched Duraflame logs. Martinis, audible splashing from a backyard pool, Sundays at the Unitarian Church, hickeys, tuna casseroles with crumpled potato chips on top — it’s the Kodachrome image of the American 1970s as advertising agencies would have us remember it.

Myatt has worked the terrain of war, home front trauma, uneasy solidarity, and vague spiritualism before to more profound effect. Her earlier play, Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter (produced locally by TheatreFIRST in 2011) dealt head-on with the Iraq War and the plight of its American veterans with its titular character, a black female soldier deeply traumatized by her experience on the front lines who finds some respite among a community of misfits on the desert-edge outside Los Angeles. It’s a perhaps looser but also more acute investigation that wrestles with class, gender, and race in a more vigorous way. The distance offered by the nostalgic period setting in The Happy Ones, by contrast, seems to have made it too easy to hold all of that at arm’s length.

“Things change,” the grief-stricken Walter propounds to his concerned friend Gary (Gabriel Marin), a hapless and commitment-phobic Unitarian minister now dating Mary-Ellen who seems to have been in love with pal Walter’s wife and life. Yes and no, the play suggests — somewhat unwittingly — as we’re left at the launch of a buddy movie instead of on the brink of the world we’ve in fact inherited.

Bao turns out to be the only one who can help Walter navigate his grief. As Gary and Mary-Ellen make awkward attempts to cheer up their friend, it’s Bao who actually helps — taking the place of Walter’s late wife as the person who cleans, cooks, buys groceries, keeps house. Having tried to kill himself just after the accident, Bao now literally begs to serve Walter, in terms that imply a kind of living erasure that has a very gendered dimension to it in the patriarchal culture of the ’70s.

“I’m invisible! I promise!” shouts Bao. “Please! I have to help you.”

“You can’t repay me for killing my family,” objects Walter. “It doesn’t work like that.” Reparations, of whatever kind, seem to be running in the wrong direction here. Would this relationship remain as conceivable as it supposedly is here if Bao were an Iraqi refugee in 2013? If the playwright means for the lines to appall us, as they should, the production seems indifferent to this subtext.

So Mary-Ellen’s rhetorical question about the responsibility for the war lingers between two relative outsiders who, with a combination of pity and desire, orbit around a central character whose social position is the normative one — with real-world power and privilege that neither Bao nor Mary-Ellen can match, and the one most directly associated by reason of class, gender, and race with the interests promulgating war abroad.

This should be the basis of a painful awakening in the audience, a scathing critique of the solipsism of power. But it ends up seeming more like the re-inscribing of the same order. The racism, imperialism, and sexism shaping the lives of Bao and Mary-Ellen are gently broached at best, trivialized at worst. Walter’s grief and personal transformation remain paramount. And if Bao and Mary-Ellen seem to have gained some hopeful ground by the end too, it is only because each has, desperately but also willingly, hitched his or her future to a white man. *

THE HAPPY ONES

Through April 21, $22-$62

Magic Theatre

Fort Mason Center, Bldg. D, Third Flr., SF

www.magictheatre.org