Volume 48 Number 24

Volume 48 Number 24 Flip-through Edition

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Digital Warrior

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Few have shaped the Internet like Aaron Swartz. A programmer and Internet freedom advocate, Swartz’s activism challenged the notion that information should be owned. An open web, he argued, is key to the betterment of humanity.

His life ended abruptly, at the age of 26. Many hail him as a hero. Fighting through his demons, Swartz pioneered technology dedicated to free and open access to information. He helped inspire an ongoing national movement against online censorship.  

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This illustrated story also appeared in this week’s Bay Guardian newspaper, which you can find in newsstands around the Bay Area, and digitally below.

Boss fight

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joe@sfbg.com

GAMER Imagine Mario telling Nintendo to piss off.

Fed up, he gathers his fellow video game characters for a venting session: Princess Peach, Master Chief, Lara Croft, Nathan Drake, Sonic the Hedgehog, and other characters, waxing philosophic about more inclusive video games. Games where the damsel isn’t stashed in a castle, but included in the hero’s journey. Afterward, inspired, they go back to the digital world and make those games a reality.

The Lost Levels un-conference — the brainchild of indie game developers Harry Lee, Fernando Ramallo, Ian Snyder, and Robert Yang — is just like that. Gamers, mainstream developers, and developers-in-training sit in the grass of Yerba Buena Gardens to brainstorm ways to make video games more inclusive for women and other oft-ignored groups in the gaming industry. March 20, it marks its second year, though its location this year may change.

The renegade gamer gathering is held in the shadow of the bigger, better-known Game Developers Conference, a mainstream video game industry meetup at the Moscone Center. Thousands of game developers flock to the annual event, ready to hear ideas from the biggest names in the industry. But an oft-leveled critique of those big-time game developers is that, in America at least, they are often male, straight-identified, and white.

The differences between the two conferences are defined by who’s talking, and who’s listening. “Lost Levels is a place for those who don’t have access to GDC but still need a voice,” said Mattie Brice, a newer addition to the Lost Levels organization. GDC’s passes start at $195, but seeing all the panels will set you back a cool $1,495. That’s a daunting chunk of cash for the classic garage-start-up gaming developer, bootstrapping his or her way into the gaming industry. Lost Levels, by contrast, is free.

Fringe indie developers often push boundaries, making games about queer culture or including main characters from different ethnic backgrounds. But Lost Levels talks aren’t just limited to ideas on diversifying games. Gamers are invited to jump in with any idea for a presentation. Having one’s say about the future of video games is as easy as penning an idea on a bulletin board with a sticky note.

Last year the ideas ranged from outlandish to just the right amount of wacky — say, if the Madden series is getting stale, why not create a fusion football-dating simulation game?

Sometimes the talks were just about getting to know each other. “Whenever we got pizza as a kid, my brother and I would rush to eat it so we had this whole cardboard land,” said one scruffy-haired game designer at last year’s Lost Levels, speaking in a video on the Lost Levels website. “We’d take a sharpie and fill it in to make our own legend of Zelda map. We’d make our own weapons. I started programming at 14 and made games similar to that.”

A peek at 2014’s presentations ensures one thing: Talking about the future of games doesn’t have to be all that serious. “Sound as a Commodity: I rant about music and how sound is employed/how to employ sound in popular music because MUSIC, GAMES, IT’S ALL THE SAME IF YOU THINK ABOUT IT!” video game composer and sound designer Liz Ryerson writes. And this, from presenter George Buckenham: “I dig eSports and I don’t care who knows. I’ll talk about how rad they are in some capacity.”

Some discussions branch out beyond games, but all are welcome. Few subjects are taboo, and that’s the point, Brice says. “The best way to get people speaking about what they really find important is to just let them do it.”

The growing interest in Lost Levels, and the issues it and other alternative conferences (like GaymerX, a San Francisco convention aimed at LGBT gamers) raise, may be having an influence on GDC. The event tends to center around technical improvements, but recently made tip-toe advancements into realms of inclusivity. This year, Brice, a noted LGBT gaming advocate, will speak at GDC in a workshop entitled “How to Subversively Queer Your Work.”

GDC is making strides in including women as well. Anita Sarkeesian — famous in the gaming world for calling for better representation of women — is slated to receive an award for her “Tropes v. Women” YouTube series. But though the award is nice, mistreatment of women is still a large part of video game stories today. In the mainstream, at least, the tide is far from turning.

To that end, one indie designer is sitting out GDC this year: Anna Anthropy, designer of Dys4ia, The Hunt for the Gay Planet, and others. This year she’s focusing her energy on Lost Levels. “I’ve been invited to give several talks at GDC and I’ve turned them all down,” she says. “It’s stressful and corporate and exclusive.”

At Lost Levels this year she’ll touch on shifting queer games’ focus away from coming-out narratives. Though she’s careful to say she doesn’t speak for everyone, those in the queer community “play games not to re-experience their victimization, but to escape it,” she says.

Last year she tried to encourage GDC audiences to think more about their role in equality, reading from her poem “John Romero’s Wives,” named for the creator of the classic shooting games Doom and Quake. It read, in part, “Had to be mistaken for a booth babe. Had to be told to stop talking about it. Had to be the indie game developer who told my friend she could give him a blowjob. Had to hate other women because you were taught to. To call us “females” like we’re another species. Had to be John Romero’s wives.”

When we asked about the audience’s reaction, Anthropy told us many women came up afterwards, telling her they were affected by her reading. The men? Not so much, she said. *

 

Lost Levels will be held March 20, tentatively at Yerba Buena Gardens. Check out LostLevels.net for location updates.

Shooting straight

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arts@sfbg.com

FILM The last time Elaine Stritch was in San Francisco was in 2003, at the Curran Theatre, for the Tony Award–winning Elaine Stritch: At Liberty. Then in her mid-70s, the legendary actress and singer appeared on a bare stage in her trademark suggestion of an outfit — black stockings and an oversized dress shirt — for a revealing, song-studded solo confessional about love, ambition, alcoholism, and the jumble of a career in a theatrical golden age. It was an irresistible look back at (and behind) a brilliant and rocky Broadway (as well as film and television) career that began in 1946, and continues.

Stritch advances and expands the conversation started in At Liberty with her latest appearance, onscreen in director and producer Chiemi Karasawa’s 80-minute portrait, Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me. Arguably still more fascinating and frank in her mid-80s, Stritch proves once again an undeniable presence — uncensored, irascible, charming, and witty — but it’s all now balanced with a more pronounced vulnerability, captured in disarmingly honest moments of reflection, struggle, and even crisis.

Made over the course of two years of intimate observation, the film chronicles Stritch as she prepares for a number of returns. One is to the stage, to sing Stephen Sondheim again, the composer with whom she is indelibly identified thanks, in no small part, to her original interpretation of Joanne and “The Ladies Who Lunch” in 1970’s Broadway smash Company. Rehearsing with longtime musical director, accompanist, and friend Rob Bowman (a stalwart presence here), Stritch, then on the cusp of her 87th birthday, becomes a study in perseverance and hard-won skill in the face of an aging body menaced by diabetes.

“It’s hard enough to remember Sondheim’s lyrics when you don’t have diabetes,” notes Stritch. “But everybody’s got a sack of rocks, as my husband [John Bay] used to say.”

En route to a gig in East Hampton, Stritch shows she’s not above playing up the senior citizen at times: When a siren hoots at her limo (illegally parked in the fire zone outside a Starbucks), Stritch, a large blended beverage in her hand, doesn’t miss a beat. “Oh, it’s the cops. I’ll limp,” she decides, successfully deflecting the local fuzz.

But the next morning, Bowman breaks the news that the gig has been canceled owing to the threat of a hurricane off the coast of Long Island. Still in bed and feeling less than 100 percent, the star is elated. A short time later, she spirals into a diabetes-induced breakdown, plagued by mental confusion and fear, eventually losing her capacity to speak coherently as an ambulance arrives to rush her to the hospital. It’s a harrowing scene, but its unabashed honesty is part of what makes the documentary more than the usual star bio.

At the same time, the film records another return for Stritch, as she makes the momentous decision to leave her Upper East Side home to relocate back to Michigan, where she grew up in the 1930s, the youngest of three daughters in a well-to-do Irish-Welsh family of devout Catholics headed by an executive at B.F. Goodrich. It had been some 65 years since the bold but wholly innocent young Stritch, fleeing the safe but stultifying confines of her childhood home, arrived to conquer the Big Apple, cutting her teeth in Erwin Piscator’s Drama Workshop at the New School alongside such classmates as Marlon Brando (Stritch offered up details of the steamy relationship there in At Liberty).

The years spent shooting the life of a living legend, an elderly yet very active one with a well-earned reputation for being difficult, could not have been a walk in the park. Shoot Me (whose playful title might be thought to run in two directions at once) makes a virtue of that at times, no doubt, exasperating bargain. Stritch says she had to think about it before accepting the project.

“I wasn’t crazy about the idea,” she admitted in a recent phone conversation while she was on a promotional swing through New York. “I was a little skeptical, and afraid of being bored. But I wasn’t bored for a minute.”

And the camera, there every step of the way, seems for its part thoroughly mesmerized and intrepid. Stritch, after all, is not above directing the show herself. “I think you should be watching me unpack the muffins,” she insists at one point, turning a desultory scene of domestic routine into a just slightly uncomfortable confrontation with a conciliatory cameraman. At other times, the camera is her confessor, as when, from a hospital bed, she relates her mixed emotions and convictions about meeting the inevitable end of life.

“Your tendency might be, if you didn’t know her, to disregard how vulnerable she is, and how deep her insecurities are,” says Hal Prince, whose storied accomplishments on Broadway include producing and directing Company. One of several impressive interviews of Stritch friends and colleagues, Prince here sounds a note that echoes throughout an untidy but deeply personal, touching but rousing documentary profile: “She’s complicated and she’s an eccentric. But you’ve got to deal with Elaine’s eccentricities because, ultimately, they’re worth it.” *

 

ELAINE STRITCH: SHOOT ME opens Fri/14 in Bay Area theaters.

The art of martial arts

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cheryl@sfbg.com

CAAMFEST Prolific producer Sir Run Run Shaw, an iconic figure for kung fu movie fans, died Jan. 7 at age 106 after an epic career in cinema. (Amazingly, he did not retire until 2011.) CAAMFest screens a trio of films in tribute: Li Han-hsiang’s musical The Kingdom and the Beauty (1959); King Hu’s Come Drink With Me (1966), a major influence on Ang Lee’s 2000 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon — both feature lethal leading lady Cheng Pei-pei; and Chang-hwa Chung’s cult classic 1972 King Boxer (Five Fingers of Death), which one assumes Quentin Tarantino can recite in his sleep. (You only have to get as far as the title sequence to hear music he used to memorable effect in the Kill Bill films.)

Hong Kong International Film Festival Society Executive Director Roger Garcia penned Shaw’s obituary for the Jan. 13 Wall Street Journal, noting that “[Shaw’s] life and career grew alongside movies’ evolution from the black-and-white silents to today’s global media industry.” Shaw and his brother Runme opened Hong Kong’s largest studio in 1959, “a potent artistic and business combination that ushered in the era of Mandarin film production.” Shaw Brothers Studio “revolutionized the martial arts genre” via collaborations with directors like Come Drink With Me‘s Hu; it also served as a launch pad for actors who became international stars, like Jackie Chan.

I caught up with the HK-based Garcia by email to ask him a few more questions about the late, great Sir Run Run Shaw.

SF Bay Guardian The Shaw Brothers had an enormous filmography. What stands out about the three films in CAAMFest’s tribute?

Roger Garcia The films reflect some of the characteristics of Shaw Brothers Studio’s output at the time, when Mandarin language production dominated the HK film scene. Li Han-hsiang’s King and the Beauty is exemplary of the “quality” costume picture and Huangmei opera films of the time. It also features the great director King Hu in it — he was Li’s protégé. [He directed] Come Drink With Me, generally regarded as a groundbreaking martial arts film with its innovative staging. The film made a star of Cheng Pei-pei. She had previously featured in some Shaw Bros musicals and was a dancer originally. King Boxer is interesting because it was made by one of the best Korean action filmmakers, Chang-hwa Chung. It was a characteristic of the Shaw Brothers to bring in directors from other Asian countries to basically remake some of their native hits. [Another example] is Umetsugu Inoue, who specialized in remaking his hit Japanese musicals into Mandarin Shaw Brothers movies.

SFBG What other Shaw Brothers films do you recommend?

RG The most interesting are the films by Lau Kar-leung, especially Executioners From Shaolin (1977) and Dirty Ho (1979), which are masterpieces of the genre. 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978) is also popular and an enjoyable film.

Other works are the coded lesbian and gay films, especially 1972’s Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan, which is a staggering work about lesbian love and intrigue by Chu Yuan. It is a pinnacle of gay cinema. I also find the camp aspect of Chang Cheh’s The Singing Thief (1969) quite charming.

SFBG What is Shaw’s lasting legacy?

RG I think in terms of film — because we must not forget he created TVB, the major Chinese TV corporation, and was also a major philanthropist in the last years of his life — he brought Chinese cinema to the post-war world. He also had a vision of pan-Asian cinema with distribution and production around the region that we are perhaps only catching up with now! *

“TRIBUTE: RUN RUN SHAW”

Sat/15, 2pm, The Kingdom and the Beauty; 5pm, Come Drink With Me; 8pm, King Boxer, $12 per film

Great Star Theater

636 Jackson, SF

www.caamedia.org

 

Telling tales

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cheryl@sfbg.com

CAAMFEST The feel-good movie of last year’s Center for Asian American Media film festival was The Cheer Ambassadors, a documentary charting the high-flying accomplishments of Bangkok University’s cheerleading team. This year’s The Road to Fame taps the same performance theme, but there’s an undercurrent of melancholy that tugs at each of its peppy subjects. The setting is Beijing’s Central Academy of Drama, where young adults envision careers like those of celebrity alums Gong Li and Zhang Ziyi. The reality, of course, is that the majority of them will struggle to get any job after graduation, much less realize their show-biz fantasies.

Added pressure is applied by the kids’ parents. Though Chinese youth may have adopted Western-style dreams of the spotlight, many in the older generation were denied the chance to go to college or experience any freedom of occupational choice. All of The Road to Fame‘s featured subjects are in the 19-to-21 age range, born in the era of China’s one-child policy, so the incentive to succeed is particularly urgent, for both financial and emotional reasons. With two parents and four grandparents looking on, “There are six pairs of eyes on only one child,” points out drama teacher Liu Hongmei, whose own martial-arts movie career was supplanted by her desire to work with students.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uzaI2IW0hLk

Given all of these factors, the choice of musical Fame — about a performing-arts school teeming with wannabe stars — as the kids’ final showcase is wonderfully apt. As a bonus, American teachers with Broadway bona fides (the lead has a hint of Corky St. Clair flair) have come to China to work with the students, including standouts like charismatic Chen Lei, who comes from “a simple family” that expects her to take care of them, frustrating her desires to work abroad; and Wu Heng, a talented singer with luxuriant pop-star hair whose parents joke (or are they joking?) about him supporting them. Tension arises during casting, and the expected backstage drama ensues as “A” and “B” casts are chosen and the kids — already fearing the uncertainty of life post-graduation — start to get a sense of how difficult making it will be. On a side note, The Road to Fame is the latest from Chinese-born, US-educated blogger and filmmaker (2005’s Beijing or Bust) Hao Wu, who was detained by Chinese authorities in 2006 while filming a documentary on Christian Chinese house churches. (Presumably, the government viewed musical theater as a more “appropriate” topic.)

Along with The Road to Fame, CAAMFest’s documentary competition is composed almost entirely of urgently contemporary tales. In American Arab, Iraqi American filmmaker Usama Alshaibi takes a deeply personal look at what it’s like to live in the US — specifically, small-town Iowa — post-9/11 with the first name “Usama.” (The results are not entirely surprising.) More compelling is Dianne Fukami and Eli Olson’s Stories From Tohoku, a sensitive study of Japanese still struggling to rebuild after the devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Interviews with survivors, as well as Japanese Americans (including Kristi Yamaguchi, who visits the region to lend support), illuminate the incredible resilience of people whose communities were completely flattened.

“My history has disappeared, so at this point, all I can do is enjoy my life,” says one woman as she points out where her house used to stand. Though not everyone reacted with such calmness — a chef who volunteered at a relief center recalls becoming resentful amid increasing demand for his services — there’s an overall sense that the culture’s embrace of what Zen Buddhism terms “Gaman,” or “enduring the seemingly unbearable with patience and dignity,” helps Japanese recoup from tragedy, be it war, internment camps (in the case of Japanese Americans), or natural disaster.

Less elegantly crafted but no less searing is Duc Nguyen’s Stateless, about the handful of Vietnamese people still holding out hope for resettlement after years or even decades of living as illegal aliens in the Philippines. Aided by a determined lawyer whose practice seems to be their only source of advice and hope, the refugees — unable to return home and live under a post-war regime that’s marked them as troublemakers — struggle to get by, with the golden promise of asylum in the US shimmering just out of reach. It’s a moving tale, but it’s compressed into a 55-minute film that sometimes comes up short on context.

The sole film with experimental leanings in the documentary competition is Lordville, a quiet exploration of the nearly abandoned town of Lordville, NY. Though a few determined eccentrics have kept the population of the oft-flooded burg from dipping to zero, it’s the past that filmmaker Rea Tajiri, a Lordville resident, is most interested in, thanks to her ownership of a home owned by one of the town’s founders. Native American history, misty roads, broken-down houses, ever-present flowing water, and the musings of neighbors, a genealogist, and an environmental scientist fill in this portrait of a place where natural and human history are often at odds, and yet are inextricably bound.

The remaining films in the doc competition: Tenzin Tsetan Choklay’s Bringing Tibet Home, about a Tibetan artist who smuggles soil out of his embattled homeland for an installation in India; Masahiro Sugano’s Cambodian Son, about Cambodian American poet and activist Kosal Khiev; and Esy Casey’s Jeepney, about the Philippines’ iconic public-transport buses. *

CAAMFEST

March 13-23, most shows $12

Various SF and East Bay venues

www.caamedia.org

 

Women with movie cameras

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arts@sfbg.com

CAAMFEST A beautiful butch moviemaker with a penchant for Peking opera divas. A dogged indie documentarian willing to stalk her prey, be it politically radical or the hard-partying dead. These are but a few of the unusual suspects caught in the viewfinders of CAAMFest 2014‘s Asian and Asian American female directors.

Is there a way to knit together their concerns, essentialize their imagery, and boil down their movies to something beyond stereotype and cliché? It would take a revolution in imagination, underlined by a political charge and peopled by well-defined personalities pushed to the margins. Their few numbers on a larger directorial stage dominated by white men throws their strong subject matter into sharp relief.

You can feel it in even the shortest of documentaries, like the 26-minute festival-closing documentary Delano Manongs, by Emmy-winning Berkeley moviemaker Marissa Aroy, who gives Filipino bachelor farmworkers and organizer Larry Itliong their due in the formation of the United Farm Workers union. Or in films that span more than a half a decade of interviews, such as American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs, even when LA director Grace Lee quips in a voice-over aside that while interviewing Detroit activist and citizen intellectual Boggs, she’s not immune from “going back and forth with her on Skype trying to understand what she’s talking about.” (More on that film below.) What gets lost in translation? These directors, more often than not, foreground their attempts to read between the lines and penetrate a fog of forgetfulness and counter-histories in order to get to a few truths, subjective and otherwise.

Such is the case of Hong Kong documentarian S. Louisa Wei, who unearths the once-dumpster-relegated tale of SF Chinatown-born-and-bred Esther Eng, the first Chinese American woman director, in Golden Gate Girls — with rich, mixed results. Now little-known due to the loss of many of the 10 Cantonese-language features she made in the US with producer Joseph Sunn Jue (whose Grandview Film Company gets its own CAAMFest tribute), among others, and Hong Kong during its first “golden age” of moviemaking, the inspiring, enterprising Eng appeared to take difference in stride. First, she was a producer of likely the first Cantonese-language film made in Hollywood (the 1936 nationalist melodrama Heartaches), and then the versatile director and writer of women-centered features starring her favored Peking opera performers. All the while, she lived as an out lesbian who liked to be called “Brother Ha,” wore suits and her hair styled in a boyish crop, and cohabitated with one of her leading ladies and “bosom friends” in 1930s Hong Kong on the brink of Japanese invasion.

Candid about her struggles and sidetracks in uncovering the facts of the director’s life, Wei interviews intimates, like Eng’s youngest sister Sally, cohorts who knew her as a trans-Pacific moviemaker and film distributor who hobnobbed with legendary figures like James Wong Howe, and finally as a popular NYC restaurateur. The documentary maker fills out the cultural context of Eng’s life, with lengthy, at times highly editable, comparisons to Hollywood counterpart Dorothy Arzner and Anna May Wong; riddles the movie with fascinating if weird factoids (the infant Bruce Lee, for example, made his first film appearance in Golden Gate Girls as a baby girl); and regretfully loads on some rather cheesy, cheap-looking digital animation. Still, the sheer interest of Eng’s lost history makes up for any shortcomings.

Wei and Brooklyn Filipina American director Esy Casey know the road to piecing together a documentary is rarely a direct one. Casey’s affectionate Jeepney takes its time over the course of 61 minutes to enjoy the vibrant colors and refracted lights in its ride into the world of the wildly imaginative, color-splashed, mural-and-tagline-spangled jeeps, once in service to World War II US armed forces, now souped-up cheap-fare city buses. The chaos of Manila street traffic, as well as Casey’s interviews with jeepney auto painters, craftspeople, drivers, policy makers, and passengers, as taxes rise and threaten to put customizers and drivers out of business, spur the question “where next?” and add up to a freewheeling and pungently poetic slice of urban Filipino life.

With American Revolutionary, Grace Lee goes deeper with one of the subjects of 2005’s The Grace Lee Project — her study of women who share her surprisingly common name — and plunges into an inspiring life. To say Boggs’ story could only happen in America is a grotesque understatement: Hers is an exceptional tale of American individualism working on behalf of those left behind by American exceptionalism.

Lee details her beginnings as that rare Asian American woman to earn her Ivy League doctorate in the ’30s, only to discover that she was barely employable due to her race and gender; the film then moves to Boggs’ organizing efforts in the African American community before and after the civil rights movement, her role as a grande dame in Black Power circles, and more recently as a community activist instrumental in founding the leadership-nurturing gardening and artmaking projects of Detroit Summer. Less grand but nonetheless revealing are the question ducks, the intellectual battle royales, and the moments when, say, Lee cuts Boggs’ hair in her kitchen. These instances — along with Lee’s highly entertaining 2007 mockumentary, American Zombie, also playing CAAMFest — reveal that Lee is also uniquely and, despite her protests to the contrary, compassionately, one of a kind. *

CAAMFEST

March 13-23, most shows $12

Various SF and East Bay venues

www.caamedia.org

 

All disquiet

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marke@sfbg.com

SUPER EGO “There is no previous book to this book. There is no Selected Ambient Works Volume I book, just as there is no record by the musician Aphex Twin bearing the title Selected Ambient Works Volume I. There is, however, a Selected Ambient Works Volume II album, released by the British record label Warp in 1994, and this is a book about that album.”

So begins the latest entry in the great, ongoing 33 1/3 book series from Bloomsbury Press, which unleashes one notable writer on one seminal album and prints the often-poetic results. In this case, the “extravagantly opaque, willfully vaporous” chillout room masterpieces of electronic composer Richard D. James, aka Aphex Twin — basically what everyone in the 1990s listened to as they swept up/came down after the rave — get the business from incisive SF writer and archivist Marc Weidenbaum. And really, the pairing couldn’t be any more delicious.

Since 1996, Weidenbaum’s been quietly documenting from the Richmond District all manner of experimental and electronic sounds on his incredible Disquiet.com site. (Some have referenced the site as one of the earliest blogs.) It’s one of our great sonic secrets: Pretty much once a day for the past 18 years he’s been opening ears to everything from random satellite-based sound sculptures and square wave coding antics to looped Sumerian myths and compressed Fugazi-discography experiments.

ego1Named after mysterious early 20th century Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa’s “factless autobiography” The Book of Disquiet, Disquiet.com itself had a disquieting beginning. “When I founded Disquiet, I had quit a job I’d had for seven years,” Weidenbaum told me by email. He’d started at Tower Record’s Pulse! Magazine as an editor, then went on to launch its classical magazine and found its first digital publication. “I’d joined Tower because I wanted to work for a magazine that covered all music, which back then was quite an unusual thing. But in time I realized that my seemingly disparate listening had a core thread: that which I first thought of as electronically mediated sound, but eventually I recognized as ‘technologically’ mediated sound.

“Aphex Twin was part of a new generation of musicians who helped focus my ears. Wagon Christ. Shinjuku Thief. DJ Krush. Skylab. Oval. Spring Heel Jack. DJ Olive. Grassy Knoll. They were layered on top of the earlier generations of electronic experimenters, who I was already fond of: Brian Eno, Gavin Bryars, Pauline Oliveros, Laurie Anderson, Robert Fripp, Nicolas Collins, Ikue Mori…. Recognizing that technological focus gave me the comfort to move on.”

And now he’s written a book channeling his feelings for the technological mediation that Aphex Twin brought to the fore. The tricky thing, of course, is that Aphex Twin — who’s recently reemerged to perform with and produce insane South African zef-rave act Die Antwoord — is known not just for ethereal, era-framing atmospheric ambience, but satanic electronic audiovisual combustions like “Windowlicker” and “Come to Daddy” as well.

“It’s difficult to name direct descendents of Aphex Twins’ work, because his is a difficult template to fill: that mix of conflicting sounds, both unnerving and soothing; a steady retreat from the public eye, despite obvious extrovert tendencies; moving from a hidden subculture to broad awareness. It’s hard to figure out what past figure he was himself a contemporary version of. But so many musicians bridge the worlds of club and art music these days” — Weidenbaum mentions SF-founded duo Matmos and local composer Mason Bates — “and part of the reason is because of the ground that Aphex Twin broke.”

Fitting therefore, that the release party at City Lights bookstore on March 20 will also be a showcase of contemporary electronic music. “I’ve run an online music-making group since the start of 2012, called the Disquiet Junto, and that’s put me in touch with a lot of musicians,” Weidenbaum said. “So I’ve been inviting musicians, many though not all from that association, to perform new, original works informed by the Aphex Twin record, and by my book’s take on the record. Specifically, they’ll be doing electronic work derived from the wind chime, which I single out as an early ‘generative’ instrument. I’ll read from my book, and they’ll play live. At City Lights it will be the incredibly talented Marielle Jakobsons, Jared Smith, and subnaught, all of whom live in the Bay Area.”

EXPLORING THEMES FROM APHEX TWIN WITH MARC WEIDENBAUM AND FRIENDS

Thursday, March 20, 7pm, free

City Lights

261 Columbus, SF.

www.citylights.com

 

SHADOW CHILD

Some smooth house from this UK rising star — his cute remix of AlunaGeorge’s “Best Be Believing” got him places — and a nice Thursday knees up with the Lights Down Low crew.

Thu/13, 10pm, free with some YPlan app download business. Mezzanine, 444 jessie, SF. www.mezzaninesf.com

 

GUI BORRATO

Revered Sao Paulo techno playboy is back to support protégé act Wish, shooting some sunny vibes all over our last winter weekend.

Fri/14, 9pm, $20. Mezzanine, 444 Jessie, SF. www.mezzaninesf.com

 

MARTYN

Ethereal UK bass master Martyn joins house hottie Midland and an insane home team lineup including Ghosts on Tape, Bells & Whistles, Kenneth Scott, and the whole As You Like It crew for a top-notch overload.

Fri/14, 9pm-4:30am, $20. Mighty, 119 Utah, SF. www.mighty119.com

 

OSUNLADE

One of my favorite not-so-secret pleasures, Yoruban mystic DJ Osunlade takes listeners on a journey deeper than deep. Straight-up spiritual vibes — and he’s playing with deep LA genius Marques Wyatt, too.

Fri/14, 9:30-3:30am, $15–$20. Public Works, 161 Erie, SF. www.publicsf.com

 

MODULAR ANNIVERSARY

The seriously good Modular deep house crew has been throwing its ace parties for a year now, filling some conspicuous holes in the scene — bu mostly making us dance the right way. This party showcases theGerman Stil Vor Talent label, with founder Oliver Koletzki, Sascha Braemer, and Nicone.

Sat/15, 10pm, $10-$20. Harlot, 46 Minna, SF. www.modularnights.com

 

PORTABLE AKA BODYCODE

Fantastic, complex-yet-totally-jackable electronic music a la mode from this UK underground favorite, who’ll be bringing his live show to the latest Honey Soundsystem shebang.

Sat/15, 9pm-4am, $10–$20. F8, 1192 Folsom, SF. www.feightsf.com

 

RITA MORENO

The first gay-themed movie I saw was 1976’s infamous The Ritz starring the unconquerable Rita Moreno as “Googie” — I grew up thinking all gay men hung out in kooky bathhouses making hilarious jokes and having hilarious sex. Thank goddess! Moreno’s in town for a special Castro showing of the camp milestone with towel-clad go-go dancers and a tap-dance tribute.

Sat/15, doors 7:15, show at 8pm, $38. Castro Theatre, 429 Castro, SF. www.tinyurl.com/RitaRitz

 

MIGHTY REAL

The fantastic deep house monthly showcases essential Bay Area label Moulton Music, with classic NYC DJ Mr. V and our own gorgeous David Harness moving the crowd into the light.

Sat/15, 10pm-late, $10–$20. Mighty, 119 Utah, SF. www.mighty119.com

 

East Bay grace

0

arts@sfbg.com

DANCE Though it’s gone mostly unnoticed by us San Francisco-dwelling dance watchers, a remarkable thing has been growing across the bay on the other side of the tunnel. On March 6, the Walnut Creek-based Diablo Ballet celebrated its 20th anniversary with a gala — without fancy gowns, but with an hour-long program that did what galas are supposed to do: look at the past and the here and now, and say thank-you to a lot of folks.

While it might have been gracious to have acknowledged the contributions of co-founder Lawrence Pech and brothers Nikolai and Viktor Kabaniaev — all of whom danced, choreographed, and contributed to running the company — Diablo Ballet is the product of that still-rare breed in American ballet, a woman artistic director.

When she set out to create Diablo Valley’s first professional ballet company, Lauren Jonas had a lot going for herself: a brand new, beautifully equipped theater in what is now called the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek; generous private support by ballet-loving local entrepreneurs; and an audience willing to take its chances on a small, easily accessible company. I can’t remember how many times in those early years I heard people during intermission commenting on how happy they were “not to have to fight the tunnel.”

Above all, Jonas had taste, standards, and knowledge of the available repertoire. Locally trained at Marin Ballet, she had performed in national companies as well as Oakland Ballet under Ronn Guidi, in both 19th and 20th century classics. She also knew that the Bay Area, and other parts of the country, had plenty of professional ballet dancers who were eager to perform, and on whose talent and experience she could draw.

At the gala, the petite and charming Jonas was repeatedly praised for her commitment to community and her capacity for work. She must also have an iron determination to carry out her vision of professionally-danced professional choreography. It may not be easy to say “no” to her.

The auspicious beginnings, which included an orchestra, didn’t last. Money dried up because of the economy but also because foundations redirected their priorities. The first to go was the live music; eventually the Lesher facility became too expensive for a full season. There were times when Jonas went back on stage to perform because she couldn’t afford to hire another dancer.

That’s when Jonas’ backbone kicked in. She didn’t change her vision but adapted to the changed circumstances by shifting her performances to the Shadelands Arts Center, one of Walnut Creek’s neighborhood rec centers, where the company rehearsed. They attracted new audiences who could never have afforded the ticket prices in the downtown venue.

In some ways Shadelands seems an impossible place for ballet. With no theater lighting, a stage the size of what looks like a large table, and terrible sight lines — recently improved by installed risers — it was difficult to imagine ballet dancers whipping pirouettes and traveling jetés. But they did and they do. The opportunity to see these experienced artists close up, noticing the impetus behind a move or even the fatigue creeping up on them, makes up for much of what is lost in scale.

The gala, which included some history and many tributes, started with a simple but charming waltz by an octet of former dancers. It ended with “Variation and Finale” from Balanchine’s Who Cares? Rearranged for six dancers by Jonas, with a fine interpretation of Gershwin by Diablo music director Greg Sudmeier and his jazz trio (live music remains important to Jonas), the sextet got the spirit though not always the precision of the original. Robert Dekkers’ casual charm, however, didn’t keep him from delivering “Variation”‘s spitfire turns and beats with utmost confidence.

Dekkers, also Diablo’s choreographer in residence, premiered his lengthy and goofy cares you know not for Mayo Sugano and Diablo’s newest dancers, Tetyana Martyanova and Justin Vanweest.

Welcome contributions came from Derek Sakakura and Rosselyn Ramirez’s pas de deux in Eugene Loring’s Billy the Kid, a ballet that in 1938 was much condemned for including gestures drawn from life. Roy Bogas contributed the spiffy piano arrangement of Aaron Copland’s cowboy tune-flavored score.

Making good and practical use of available technology allowed filmed versions of parts of a ballet which then continued live on stage. Tina Kay Bohnstedt and David Fonnegra shone in a torrid pas de deux from Val Caniparoli’s Lady of the Camellia. The dancers in Kelly Teo’s Dancing Miles at first looked like sparks in the night but live, they filled the stage with jazzy energy. On film, Teo, who danced and choreographed for Diablo, declared his gratitude: “I left my profession fulfilled; I had accomplished what I had wanted to do.” Not a bad record for 20 years. *

www.diabloballet.org

 

SF bans water bottles

27

San Francisco continues to lead the way in the nation’s environmental policy, with the Board of Supervisors on March 4 voting unanimously to bar the city from buying plastic water bottles and to ban distribution of plastic water bottles smaller than 21 ounces on city property starting Oct. 1. The ban excludes city marathons and other sporting events.

"We all know with climate change, and the importance of combating climate change, San Francisco has been leading the way to fight for our environment," Board President David Chiu, who authored the legislation, said at the hearing. "That’s why I ask you to support this ordinance to reduce and discourage single-use, single-serving plastic water bottles in San Francisco."

Chiu held up a water bottle at the board meeting, a quarter of the way full with oil, to illustrate how much oil is used in the production and transport of plastic water bottles. He also reminded San Franciscans that the current fad of buying bottled water only started in the 1990s when the bottled water industry mounted a huge ad campaign that got Americans buying bottled water.

Somehow, Chiu noted, "for centuries, everybody managed to stay hydrated." (Francisco Alvarado)

Mass action against Keystone XL

Nine environmental activists were arrested in San Francisco for marching through the financial district and entering One Spear Tower on March 3, the building that houses local offices of the State Department, to express opposition to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

A day earlier, a mass protest against the oil pipeline was staged outside the White House in Washington, D.C. Roughly 200 protesters were arrested after using plastic zip ties to lock themselves to the White House fence.

Meanwhile, thousands more have made a vow — at least in the sense of clicking to add their name to a petition — to engage in peaceful civil disobedience if President Barack Obama grants ultimate approval for the oil infrastructure project, which would transport 830,000 barrels of crude oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast.

Nonprofit Credo Action has created an online petition urging people to get ready to respond with peaceful civil disobedience if the pipeline wins final approval. (Rebecca Bowe)

City weighs lawsuit over Airbnb

The San Francisco City Attorney’s Office is finally preparing to take action against the illegal short-term housing rentals facilitated by Airbnb, something we’ve been hearing that the Examiner also reported on March 6 ("SF landlords could face legal fight over rentals on Airbnb, other services"), an action that would address the company’s apparent stall tactics.

Despite a business model that violates a variety of San Francisco laws — most notably zoning, planning, and tenant regulations — and Airbnb’s flagrant flouting of a two-year-old city ruling that it should be collecting and paying the city’s transient occupancy tax (see "Into thin air," Aug. 6), the City has appeared unwilling or unable to enforce its laws or address these issues.

"We’re aware of multiple housing allegations, including some that community leaders have brought to us," City Attorney’s Office spokesperson Matt Dorsey told the Guardian, confirming that the office is considering taking legal action to enforce local laws governing short-term housing rentals but refusing to provide details.

Board of Supervisors President David Chiu took on the problem over a year ago, working with the company and its critics to develop compromise legislation that would legalize and tax the activities of Airbnb and its hosts, but the multi-layered legal and logistical challenges in doing so have so far proven too much for the otherwise effective legislator.

"My staff has held meetings with Planning staff and its enforcement team to discuss enforcement and related challenges. We’ve also been in touch with the City Attorney’s Office on these issues," Chiu told the Guardian, saying he and his staff have recently been focused on other tenants and secondary unit legislation, but they "plan to refocus on our shareable housing efforts soon." (Steven T. Jones)

Blaming pedestrians

ABC7 News Investigative Team’s new "investigative report" on pedestrian safety stirred controversy last week as street safety advocates called out the video for its insensitivity towards pedestrian deaths and lax attitude towards unsafe drivers.

Streetsblog SF and others in San Francisco said the report engaged in "victim blaming."

ABC7’s pedestrian safety coverage comes on the heels of a number of high-profile traffic collision deaths, including that of 6-year-old Sofia Liu, killed on New Year’s Eve. Since then, the Walk First program to create safer streets has garnered more attention, culminating in Mayor Ed Lee’s announcement today to partially fund safety improvements to the city’s most dangerous intersections, to the tune of $17 million — improvements that languished due to funding gaps since the program was announced in April.

But making all the needed improvements though would cost $240 million, according to city estimates, and that funding has yet to be identified. Suffice to say, the traffic enforcement debate still rages in San Francisco, with emphasis on the word ‘rage.’

"We’ve seen ‘blame the pedestrians’ from police and in the media," Leah Shahum, executive director of the San Francisco Bike Coalition, said at a pedestrian safety hearing in January. Police Chief Greg Suhr that night apologized for his officers’ lax enforcement of drivers, and focus on pedestrians, and pledged to change policies to focus on drivers going forward.

It’s too bad ABC 7’s I-Team didn’t get that memo.

"In San Francisco, simply stepping off the curb can be deadly," ABC reporter Dan Noyes narrates in their video report. The word ‘deadly’ is capped off with a Hollywood-style musical flourish, like a horror movie moments before the big scare.

"Pedestrians are making mistakes over and over again," Noyes narrates. The video cuts to pedestrian after pedestrian looking at cell phones, jaywalking, or otherwise engaging in unsafe behavior. It’s fair to say the piece, headlined "I-Team investigates what’s causing pedestrian deaths," places responsibility of pedestrian safety squarely on the shoulders of pedestrians. (Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez)

High-speed challenges

The California High Speed rail project has been facing resistance that threatens to derail the project. Not only has public support for the $68 billion project wavered in recent years, now the project faces a legal battle that could delay the project before the first rail is laid.

On March 4, Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny ruled that a lawsuit brought on by King County can go to trial. The lawsuit raises questions about the legality of using 2008’s voter-approved Prop 1A funding, $9.95 billion worth of bonds, to upgrade and electrify Caltrain’s tracks and incorporate them into the high speed system.
Another concern was that the proposed high-speed system would not be able to pull through with its promise of a 2 hour 40 minute nonstop ride from downtown San Francisco to Los Angeles’ Union Station if the high speed system had to share tracks with Caltrain.

The lawsuit also threatens to leave San Francisco’s new $4.5 billion Transbay Terminal without its planned underground high speed rail station, which could be disastrous for that project as well.

None of this seems to faze Rod Diridon, executive director of the Mineta Transportation Institute based out of San Jose State University and former founding board member of the California High-Speed Rail Authority Board. He told the Guardian: "I think that [the project] will happen now. I think that our wonderful governor and our legislative leaders are going make it happen now…. If it was delayed it would only be a matter of time before it came back." (Francisco Alvarado)

Soda tax is social justice issue

129

Eric.L.Mar@sfgov.org, John.Avalos@sfgov.orgtom@tomammiano.com

OPINION

We are fighting for a soda tax because public health leaders have sounded the alarm that sugary drinks are a serious threat to our public health. Now is the time to get the word out about the latest facts that tell the story.

Our work on the issue began when community leaders and medical experts started educating us on the impact of sugary drinks. The resulting legislation that we crafted along with four other members of the Board of Supervisors will not only slow soda consumption, but it will fund the anti-hunger and physical activity programs we dearly need.

Most folks know soda is bad for you, but not how bad. Many are also unaware that Big Soda is specifically targeting communities of color and children. Our task is to spread the word about the health disparities this creates.

The lack of healthy food choices is an injustice that is hitting communities of color the hardest. Fully three-fourths of adult Latinos and African Americans in San Francisco are obese or overweight and one in three Americans will soon be diabetic, including one in two Latinos and African Americans.

The disparities are geographic as well. The highest rates of diabetes hospitalizations and emergency room visits are among residents of the Bayview, Tenderloin, SoMa, and Treasure Island. Close behind are the Excelsior and Visitacion Valley. These are also the neighborhoods that lack access to healthy food and are among those consuming the most soda.

We are already paying the high price of soda consumption. San Franciscans spend at the very least $50-60 million a year in health care costs and sick days due to obesity and diabetes attributable to sugary drinks. The fact that sugary drinks are the biggest single source of added sugar in our diets sets it apart from other unhealthy foods.

The revenue generated has tight controls and must be used to mitigate the harm Big Soda causes. Steered by an independent committee and targeted to communities suffering the most from health inequities, the tax will bolster funding for everything from school meals, healthy food retailer incentives, physical education, and other deserving programs.

Big Soda has hired high-priced lobbying firms and public relations folks who are employing a small army of young people, deploying them into the Bayview, the Mission, and Chinatown — those communities most impacted by diabetes and soda consumption. They’ve set up a front group — San Franciscans for an Affordable City — to capitalize on the anger in SF about the cost of housing and living.

But think about it: Have Big Soda companies helped us in our fight for affordable housing? Are they fighting for a living wage for communities of color in San Francisco? They have never cared about an affordable city. They care about protecting their profits, period.

We need affordable housing, healthy foods, and physical activity — issues we are working on every single day. On the other hand, our communities need affordable soda as much as we need cheap cigarettes and booze. It only makes us sick.

There are things our communities are doing to promote good health, like transforming corner stores into healthy retailers, building community gardens, and expanding physical and nutrition education. The soda tax as it is written now can provide these programs and dramatically improve our communities’ health.

This isn’t a ban but a reasonable first step to decrease soda consumption. This is a research-proven way of getting people to use less of an unhealthy product — it worked with cigarettes and it worked with alcohol. Finally, the tax will fund a range of great programs that will actually provide healthy choices for everyone.

It’s time we make the healthy choice the easy choice for low-income communities and all San Franciscans.

John Avalos represents District 11 (Outer Mission, Excelsior) and Eric Mar represents District 1 (the Richmond District) on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, Tom Ammiano represents Assembly Dist. 17 (eastern San Francisco) in the California legislature.

 

Glimmers of sunshine

3

rebecca@sfbg.com

For 29 years, San Francisco Bay Area journalists have gathered in mid-March — around the birthday of founding father and free-press advocate James Madison — to recognize reporters, attorneys, citizens, and others who fight to shake or keep information free.

The act of standing up to defend the principle of freedom of information can be rather unglamorous, sometimes leading to grueling lawsuits. It’s grown even more complicated with the rise of the Internet, the decline of traditional newspapers, and the dawn of an Information Age that delivers instantaneous material that is at once more slippery and abundant than ever.

And yet, the digital realm has opened up a whole new battlefield in the fight for open access to relevant information the public needs to know. This year, the Northern California chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Freedom of Information Committee took the rare step of granting a posthumous Public Service James Madison Award to Internet activist Aaron Swartz.

As a leader in the digital rights movement, Swartz, who died at the age of 26 by taking his own life, was on the forefront of a movement that fought to uphold open access to information in the face of a corporate power grab that threatened to result in online censorship.

The fight against SOPA (the Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (the Protect Intellectual Property Act) in early 2012 marked just one of Swartz’s accomplishments as he fought for free and open access to information. Among his other contributions was RECAP, an online listing of court materials that allowed free access to documents held in the federal, paywall-protected court filing system called PACER.

To commemorate Swartz’s work, the Bay Guardian presents in this issue an illustrated history of his activism. While recipients of James Madison Awards have typically been individuals who took on government bureaucracies to wrest information out of the shadows and into the public eye, Swartz’s battle revolved around freeing information that is locked up by private interests, or protected by copyright.

“We need to take information, wherever it is stored, make our copies and share them with the world,” he wrote in a 2008 essay titled “Guerilla Open Access Manifesto.” “We need to take stuff that’s out of copyright and add it to the archive. We need to buy secret databases and put them on the Web. We need to download scientific journals and upload them to file sharing networks.”

But first, here are a few updates on the fight for open access to information in San Francisco and beyond.

 

NO SHINING EXAMPLE

In 1999, San Francisco voters enacted a law to strengthen citizens’ access to government records and public meetings. To ensure that the open-access law was properly upheld, it also created a local body called the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force.

At each meeting, San Franciscans frustrated by their inability to get the information they sought from city bureaucracies appear before the board to air their grievances, in the hopes that the decisions to withhold documents will be reversed. Typically, citizens lodge around 100 complaints per year, according to task force clerk Victor Young.

But the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force has not been going at full speed for some time now. There’s a backlog of 62 cases, in part because the body could not legally meet for five months in 2012 because it did not have a member who was physically disabled, in accordance with the law establishing criteria for who can serve. (The previous member to meet the criteria, Bruce Wolfe, was denied reappointment. In an op-ed published in political blog Fog City Journal, task force member Rick Knee links this and the Board of Supervisors’ general foot-dragging on Sunshine with a political skirmish dating back to 2011, when the task force found the Board of Supervisors to be in violation of the Sunshine Ordinance.)

There have been two vacant seats on the task force for around two years, as well as two holdover members whose terms have technically expired. Applicants have sought out those seats, but the Board of Supervisors Rules Committee hasn’t gotten around to appointing new members; the most recent appointment was made in October of 2012, according to Alisa Miller, Rules Committee clerk.

Come April 27, meanwhile, all of the current task force members’ terms will expire. Miller said she expects the Board of Supervisors to revisit nominations before the end of April. There are a grand total of 10 applications for all 11 seats. Given all of this, plus a lawsuit revolving around the city’s refusal disclose how the City Attorney’s Office advises agencies on Sunshine Ordinance interpretations, San Francisco is going through some dark days for open government.

 

NAVIGATING FOIA

Anyone who’s ever tried to request public documents from government officials under the Freedom of Information Act knows that it feels more like a bureaucratic nightmare than a federal right. But a new project from the Center for Investigative Reporting is hoping to streamline the entire process into a (relatively) painless procedure.

FOIA Machine (foiamachine.org) is a website to request public documents at the federal, state, or local level, and is described by its creators as the “TurboTax for government records.”

“We wanted to make the FOIA experience better for journalists,” said Shane Shifflett, a data reporter at The Huffington Post who helped build the tool. “We built up a prototype and applied for grants. Then we put it on Kickstarter and it went crazy. That gave us a lot of confidence to see it through to the end.”

On Kickstarter, FOIA Machine raised over $53,000 from more than 2,000 backers, more than triple its goal.

FOIA Machine allows registered users to prepare requests, search a database of contacts, track the status of a request, and work with a community of fellow users.

Shifflett considers the community aspect to be the site’s strongest feature. “It’s crowdsourcing, so as people create requests, they can add contacts into the database. Now there will be a history of who worked with who, and it makes the process of figuring out where to send requests so much simpler.”

The site is still in development, and users who try to register promptly receive an email asking them to “stay tuned” for information in the coming weeks and months. Shifflett said that the group hopes for FOIA Machine to be up and running by June.

 

LEAK US YOUR DOCUMENTS

From time to time, sources have told us at the Bay Guardian that they would love to share sensitive information for news articles, but fear they would be retaliated against or even terminated from employment if they were to do so.

We have found a way around that.

Sources who wish to retain their anonymity while sharing information they believe the public has a right to know now have the option of using an encrypted submission system to anonymously send documents to our news team.

Created by Bay Area technologists in partnership with the San Francisco Bay Guardian, BayLeaks uses the latest cryptography software to protect the identities of our sources. This is a secure, anonymous way for concerned citizens to communicate with journalists to release information.

Our system uses SecureDrop, a whistleblowing platform managed by the Freedom of the Press Foundation, and Tor, an online anonymity network that has gained the trust of Internet users around the world.

To learn more, visit sfbg.com/bayleaks-intro

 

MONEY IN POLITICS

It’s not really a secret that big money has a colossal influence on politics, but the groups and individuals that write those hefty checks to lawmakers often prefer to stay secret themselves. And while political donations aren’t illegal, most voters would like to know exactly who is funding a piece of legislation or a political campaign, and where that money is coming from.

Fortunately for us in California, we already have a resource to easily find that information.

“There’s a collective influence of money in our political system,” said Pamela Behrsin, spokesperson for MapLight, a nonpartisan research organization based in Berkeley that tracks the influence of money in politics. “Our founders said, ‘Look at all this money, and how this legislator voted on this bill. Do you think the money had any influence on how the legislator voted?'”

Through the website, users can also search by bill or proposition to find, for example, that big companies such as Philip Morris spent nearly $48 million to defeat Prop. 29, a proposed cigarette tax in California, on the June 2012 ballot. Supporters of the tax, such as the American Cancer Society and Lance Armstrong Foundation, could only muster a quarter of that amount.

“There’s a whole breadth of people wanting to understand the problem of money and politics,” Behrsin said. “This is one of the largest issues in our democracy right now. People are starting to stand up and say unless we get money out of our system, it’s going to be that much more difficult to fix.”

Lee must pay for his promises

19

EDITORIAL

Mayor Ed Lee has made a lot of promises to San Franciscans, but he has been unwilling to pay for them with money from the city or his wealthy backers, transforming these statements in hollow political platitudes — or, less charitably, calculated lies meant to mask the true state of the city.

Lee pledged to build 30,000 units of new housing — a third of it affordable to those with moderate incomes and below — by 2020. By that same year, Lee set the goal of increasing bicycling to 20 percent of all vehicle trips in the City. Lee also directed city departments to develop strategies for reducing pedestrian deaths by 50 percent by 2021. And so Muni’s aging fleet can keep up with population growth, Lee’s SF2030 Transportation Task Force said the transportation system needs a $10 billion capital investment over the next 15 years, a target Lee endorsed.

These were all admirable goals, and in each case, city agencies studied the problems and developed detailed strategies for getting there. And in each case, Mayor Lee chose to fund just small fractions of what the city would need to make his promises come true.

Actually, the housing problem is still being studied, but nobody thinks this goal will be met — as even the pro-development San Francisco Business Times said in a recent editorial — particularly given how the Mayor’s Office structured the business tax reform and Affordable Housing Fund ballot measures in 2012, with giveaways to developers and favored economic sectors, such as tech.

Lee’s WalkFirst program would need $240 million to meet his modest goals — far more to actually realize the VisionZero goal of eliminating all pedestrian deaths, which Lee said he supports — and the Mayor’s Office has only pledged $17 million in funding. The cycling goals would take more than $500 million, not the $30 million currently pledged. Even with approval of the two transportation ballot measure proposed for this fall, and those planned for future years, that only gets the city about a third of the way to meeting San Francisco’s future transportation needs.

Meanwhile, a downtown SF congestion pricing charge that has been studied using federal funds — which would reduce traffic and pedestrian deaths while raising $80 million annually — is being ignored by Lee, as is the once-promising idea of downtown transit assessment districts. Lee is refusing to seek the city’s share of the tremendous wealth now be generated in this city.

As a result, Lee is making promises that he knows he won’t deliver on. And last week, in the five-year budget projection his office is required to issue, we all saw the results of Lee’s economic policies: growing budget deficits for this booming city. Next year’s $67 million deficit is projected to balloon to $340 million by 2017-18. Mr. Mayor, “getting things done” requires more than just words, it requires the political courage to make your promises comes true.

They deported my mom

8

Eight months ago, I kissed my mother goodnight and walked down the hall to my bedroom. Eight months ago, I was a few weeks away from attending Seattle University. Eight months ago was the last time I saw my mom.

In the early morning, my sister barged into my room. Phone in hand and tears in her eyes, she said, “They got her again.” Sitting up in my bed, still half-asleep, it took me awhile to process what was going on. “Huh?” I replied. “Mom, she’s getting deported,” my sister sobbed. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested her on the way to work. They had watched us until they knew my mom’s routine.

My sister left and I had a minute to think. From then on, I knew everything had changed. I wasn’t going to Seattle. How was I supposed to pay for it now? And my mom was getting deported. Again.

My mother came to the US in 1992. Her plan was to work for a few years and send money back to Mexico to support her parents. She also wanted to save money so she could return to Mexico and finish nursing school. But she met my father, a law school dropout who came to the US to work and save money for law school. Long story short, I was born and they decided to settle down here in the States. They knew that we had better opportunities in the US.

 

VULNERABLE TO SCAMS

Later, my parents decided that it was time to “become legal.” They sought the legal services of attorney Walter Pineda. He told my parents, and countless others, that if they had been in the country for longer than 10 years, had no criminal record, and had kids that were born in the US, he’d get them a green card in 12 months. Oh, and he wanted $10,000 per person. My parents couldn’t pay $20,000 at once for the both of them so they decided that my mom should be the first one to get a green card.

The thing is, Pineda wasn’t telling the truth. There was no such law that stated, “If you have been in the country for 10 years or longer, have no criminal record, and have kids who are US born, Uncle Sam will mail you a green card.” But Pineda took the money and filed an asylum claim for my mother. Since my mom wasn’t seeking asylum, the claim was denied. (It also didn’t help that Pineda never actually went to court, leaving that to his assistants). My mother was handed an order of deportation instead of a green card.

Pineda, a native San Franciscan and a graduate from San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco, was later investigated by the State Bar of California and was accused by the bar of a “despicable and far-reaching pattern of misconduct.” He later resigned from the State Bar when he faced charges of legal malpractice in 41 cases he handled. Records indicate Pineda left the area, and our efforts to reach him for comment were unsuccessful.

After those legal avenues were shut down, our family ran. We moved from house to house. My parents lived in the shadows, like escaped felons. They got nervous each time they signed any paperwork for fear that it would alert ICE. We would gather around the TV every night and watch the news, hoping to hear that immigration reform was on its way. But all we ever saw was members of Congress shaking their heads and saying, “Not this year,” year after year.

I remember learning about what the plaque at the foot of the Statue of Liberty says, “Give me your tired, your huddled masses yearning to be free.” I thought about what a lie that was. My parents, and everyone like them, aren’t welcomed here. They’re “illegal aliens.” Me, and those like me, we’re “anchor babies.”

We moved some more. Years passed. We all forgot about the order of deportation. We bought a car, a dog, and a few years after that, we were thinking about buying a house. The American dream, my mom’s dream, was almost within her reach.

 

KNOCK ON THE DOOR

I was in the seventh grade; my sister was in third. I kissed my mom goodnight and went to sleep. At 3am, I heard a knock on the door and “police.” I opened it and there were two immigration agents. They were there to inform me that they were taking my mom and then left. 

As it turns out, they had been watching us for at least a few days because they knew that my mother leaves the house at 4:30am to go to her job as a sous-chef at a catering company. They knew my name.

A few months later, my mom was back. Yes, she returned illegally. But when your options are paying a guide $2,000 and walking a few hours or paying a lot more than $2,000 for a lawyer to file papers and then wait years with no guarantee that you’ll be let into the US, the choice for my mom was easy. Cross the border and come back to her kids.

More years passed, we moved some more. We forgot. Once again, ICE had been watching us. It knew where she worked. Her route. The license plate number on her car. Everything. Then, my mom was picked up on her way to her job at a fast food restaurant.

We called lawyers. “There’s nothing I can do,” was all they said. There was no hearing; no judge; no day in court; 24-hours later, my mom called me from a phone booth in Tijuana. That was eight months ago. My mother is still in Tijuana, unable to enter the US, legally or otherwise.

mom1

ILLEGAL PEOPLE

I will not deny that my mother has broken laws. I won’t deny the fact that the 11 million undocumented residents who are currently in the US have also broken laws.

But my mother, and others like her, were victims of predatory system. They were lured by a country that offers opportunities here and pursues policies that shut them down elsewhere. They turn to attorneys who, out of greed or spite, waste the time and money of many immigrants whose only intentions are to become “legal.” They live amid a citizenry that values the products of their cheap labor but denies their basic humanity.

Many others are victims of predatory employers, who have no second thoughts about forcing immigrants to work long hours in hazardous conditions, and even rape some employees, because they know that their worst nightmare is being deported, and separated from their loved one, rather than enduring the indignities of individual predators.

All of them are victims of a broken immigration system.

Many who face deportation, and who have been deported, were and are upstanding members of society. They have families, hopes, and dreams. Many, like my mother, have no criminal record, not even a speeding ticket to their names.

They pay taxes and support the Social Security system, knowing they will never be able to collect those retirement benefits or anything of the sort. Their only crime, my mother’s only crime, was that they, like so many millions before them, crossed an imaginary line to seek a better life.

Watchdogs in action

1

news@sfbg.com

The Society of Professional Journalists, Northern California, will honor the following James Madison Freedom of Information Award winners during a March 20 banquet. Details on their work and the dinner are available at www.spjnorcal.org.

 

VOICE FOR PRISONERS

Throughout his 29-year journalism career, Peter Sussman, a retired San Francisco Chronicle editor, advocated for greater media access to prisoners and fought to uphold the rights of inmate journalists. In the 1980s, federal prison officials cracked down on inmate Dannie “Red Hog” Martin for writing to Sussman to share what life was like behind bars.

The retaliation spurred an epic battle over free speech within prison walls, and Sussman responded by publishing Martin’s regular writings about prison life, and later co-authoring a book with him titled Committing Journalism: The Prison Writings of Red Hog.

In the mid-’90s, Sussman fought state prison officials’ restrictions on media interviews with prisoners. He also helped write and sponsor statewide legislation to overturn limits restricting media access to prisons. Sussman will receive the Norwin S. Yoffie Award for Career Achievement.

 

GUIDING ASPIRING JOURNALISTS

Beverly Kees Educator Award winner Rob Gunnison is a former instructor and administrator at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, where he arrived after spending 15 years covering government and politics in Sacramento for the San Francisco Chronicle.

As a longtime instructor of a course called “Reporting and Writing the News,” Gunnison has continued to educate hungry young journalists on how to seek public records and carry out investigative reporting projects.

 

EXPOSING ATROCITIES

Peter Buxton will be honored with the FOI Whistleblower/Source Award. In 1972, Buxton played a key role in alerting the press to the ongoing operation of the Tuskegee syphilis experiments, where African American sharecroppers were intentionally exposed to the disease, without treatment or their knowledge, so researchers could study its progression.

By the time the story was related to the press, 28 men had died of syphilis, and 100 others had died of related complications. That leak helped spur Congressional hearings on the practice beginning in 1973, ultimately spurring a complete overhaul of federal regulations. A class-action lawsuit was filed, resulting in a $10 million settlement.

 

EXPOSING BART’S SCHEME

Reporter Tom Vacar of KTVU pushed for records determining whether replacement drivers that BART was training to help break last year’s labor strike were qualified to safely operate the trains, eventually finding that they had been simply rubber-stamped by the California Public Utilities Commission.

Those findings proved gravely significant on Oct. 21 when two workers on the tracks were killed by a BART train operated at the time by an uncertified trainee, an accident still being investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board.

 

STANDING FOR SUNSHINE

California Sen. Leland Yee is once again being honored by SPJ Norcal for his work on sunshine issues, including last year criticizing Gov. Jerry Brown and other fellow Democrats who had sought to weaken the California Public Records Act, instead seeking to strengthen the ability of the courts to enforce the law.

 

FIGHTING THE CITY

Freelance journalist Richard Knee’s Distinguished Service Award caps a 12-year fight for open government in a city eager to stash its skeletons securely in closets.

Knee is a longtime member of the San Francisco’s Sunshine Ordinance Task Force, created in 1994 to safeguard the city’s Sunshine Ordinance, and he has fought to maintain its power and relevance.

Over the years, many city agencies have fought against the task force, from the City Attorney’s Office to a group of four supervisors who claimed the task force was wasting public money, a struggle that is still ongoing.

 

BADGES AND ACCOUNTABILITY

The Lake County News and its co-founders Elizabeth Larson and John Jensen will received a News Media Award for a protracted legal battle with local law enforcement for a simple journalistic right: interview access.

The scrappy local paper detailed allegations that Lake County Sheriff Frank Rivero and his deputies wrongfully detained suspects on trumped up charges, made threats, conducted warrantless home searches, and violated suspects’ civil rights.

Rivero’s office responded by blacklisting the paper from interviews, a fundamental building block of news coverage. The paper sued the Lake County Sheriff’s Department, eventually winning its battle to obtain the right to keep asking the sheriff the tough questions.

 

PROTECTING THEIR SOURCES

When Saratoga High School student Audrie Potts committed suicide in September 2012, her parents alleged she was pushed over the edge by cyber bullying over photos of Potts at a party. High school journalists Samuel Liu, Sabrina Chen, and Cristina Curcelli of The Saratoga Falcon scooped the sensational national media outlets that descended on the story, but they were subpoenaed by the Potts family to reveal their sources.

They refused, citing California’s shield law in a successful legal defense that strengthened the rights of student journalists. As Liu said, “We are not willing to destroy our journalistic integrity by giving up our confidential sources, we got this information on the condition of anonymity, from people that trusted us.”

 

BUYING FRIENDS AT CITY HALL

Bay Guardian News Editor Rebecca Bowe and Reporter Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez are being honored with a Journalist Award for “Friends in the Shadows,” (10/8/13) our investigation of the shady ways that developers and other powerful players buy influence at City Hall.

“Their detailed and thorough account explored a trail of money through myriad city agencies and departments,” the awards committee wrote, noting how the paper “used public records, interviews and independent research to probe how developers, corporations and city contractors use indirect gifts to city agencies to buy influence.”

 

NEWS FROM INSIDE

For accomplishing “extraordinary journalism under extraordinary circumstances,” The San Quentin News is being honored with a News Media Award. It is California’s only inmate-produced newspaper, and one of the few in existence worldwide.

The San Quentin News publishes about 20 pages monthly, and has a press run of 11,500 for inmates, correctional officers, staff, and community members. It’s distributed to 17 other prisons throughout California.

Under the scrutiny of prison authorities, the inmate journalists and volunteers wound up covering a historic prison hunger strike, the overcrowding of the prison population, and the denial of compassionate release for a dying inmate, an octogenarian with a terminal illness.

 

EXPOSING TORTURERS

The Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), better known as the name it held prior to 2001, the School of the Americas, is a combat training school for Latin American soldiers and commanders, with many graduates going on to commit human rights atrocities.

School of the Americas Watch founder Judith Litesky, a former nun, and Theresa Cameranesi, filed a lawsuit in federal court in San Francisco seeking the list of those who had gone though courses that include counter insurgency techniques, sniper training, psychological warfare, military intelligence and interrogation tactics.

Last year, the pair won a significant victory when a federal judge in Oakland ruled that the government could not cite national security reasons in withholding the names. Although the case is ongoing, they are being honored with a Citizen Award.

 

FIGHTING CORPORATE SNOOPS

In 2008, journalists from The New York Times and BusinessWeek looked to Terry Gross of Gross Belsky Alonso for legal counsel in a case against Hewlett-Packard. In a staggering display of corporate snooping, the tech giant had illegally obtained private telephone records of the journalists, in an attempt to gain access to the identities of their sources.

Gross has also defended journalists against police in cases regarding media access for breaking-news events, and he’s helped to expand the rights of online journalists. This year, Gross will receive the FOI Legal Counsel Award.

 

BAD BRIDGE, GOOD JOURNALIST

Sacramento Bee Senior Investigative Reporter Charles Piller will be honored with a Journalist Award for exposing corrosion problems in the long delayed, cost-plagued eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. His breaking story and subsequent follow-ups revealed Caltrans’ inadequate corrosion testing, as well as inadequate responses to bridge inspectors who for more than two years warned Caltrans of water leaks and corrosion — only to go unheeded.

 

SUNSHINE COLUMNIST

Editorial and Commentary Award winner Daniel Borenstein, who writes for the Bay Area News Group, issued a strong response to a legislative attack on California’s Public Records Act last year, ultimately helping to defeat proposed changes that would have gutted the law.

“Without the state Public Records Act, we would never know about the Oakley City Manager’s $366,500 taxpayer-funded mortgage scheme, the Washington Township hospital CEO’s $800,000-plus annual compensation or the retired San Ramon Valley fire chief’s $310,000 yearly pension,” Borenstein wrote in one of his columns. “We would be ignorant of broken bolts on the Bay Bridge, the cover-up of Moraga teachers sexually abusing students, a BART train operator who collected salary and benefits totaling $193,407, the former BART general manager who received $420,000 the year after she was fired or the Port of Oakland executives who spent $4,500 one night at a Texas strip club.”