Volume 48 Number 46

Outside Lands 2014: The view from the photo pit

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Were you there? Were you among the approximately 200,000 human bodies smashed together for warmth at Golden Gate Park this past weekend, because you somehow couldn’t stand the idea of wearing anything but your midriff-baring tube top with your whimsical animal hat and/or flower crown?

Whether you spend this week recuperating from 72 straight hours of partying at Outside Lands or patting yourself on the back for steering clear of the whole thing — never fear, we were there to capture the weekend for you. Check our review here, and click through the slideshow above for some of our favorite live shots by Guardian photographers Matthew Reamer and Brittany M. Powell.

Volume 48 Number 46 Flip-through Edition

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Call the Pope

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culture@sfbg.com

THE WEEKNIGHTER It’s a funny thing to be filling out a job application and have to put your previous employer as Tony the Pope. But that’s the name I know him by, and truthfully, I don’t wanna know his real last name, anyways. I prefer to have at least a little bit of mystery in my life.

I had been working at The Unresolved Love Life of Evelyn Lee, which may be the longest name for a bar ever, when I got news that the bar had been sold to Tony and would now be called Mission Hill Saloon (491 Potrero, SF. 415-552-5545)… again. It had been Mission Hill before it was Evelyn Lee, and apparently Tony was changing it back. Regardless, I came to love working at the place and didn’t care what it was called as long as I had a shift or two.

Depending on the bar, the regulars can either be the best or worst thing about it. The jury is still out about which category Mission Hill’s falls into. Or at least, that’s the kind of shit I’d talk to them while behind the bar. A bartender’s best weapon is his wit, and working at Mission Hill Saloon was a good test of mine every time I was at the stick. The crowd ranges from hipsters to cooks and construction workers — and all of them are prepared to give you a hard time for absolutely no reason at all. And that’s just how I like it.

I experienced one of my most ridiculous San Francisco moments ever while working there. I’d been chatting with a girl on OkCupid, and we had made plans to grab a drink on Sunday evening. We never discussed where I worked so we were both surprised when she came in on my Thursday night shift. Coincidently, she lived above the bar. That is some serious San Francisco shit right there. We went out once and decided it would be easier to just be friends considering she lived above the bar I worked at. [Good call — Ed.]

The Mission Hill Saloon is in an old building. I’m not sure of its age, but it’s old enough. One night, Raph, one of the regulars, told me — as I was closing the bar at 2am — that the place was seriously haunted and that he wouldn’t want to be in there all by himself at night. He gave me a wink as I ushered him out the door and locked it behind him. The asshole knew I had at least an hour of closing duties, by myself, in that old bar. I didn’t want him to know that his saying that shit really spooked me, and I put at least $5 in the jukebox so I wouldn’t hear any late night creepy old building sounds. Nothing ghostly ended up happening. Or if it did, I couldn’t hear it over the jams.

Unfortunately I only worked at Mission Hill Saloon for a little while. After Tony bought the bar he decided to work as many shifts on his own as he could, just to keep costs down. I completely understood, and I knew he’d be a great reference for whatever my next bar gig would be. Which is why I found myself filling out an application and using Tony the Pope as a previous employer. Tony may not be a religious man, but he sure does pour some strong-ass holy water. Plus, now it’s nice to be on the other side of the bar — so I can join the peanut gallery and give him shit.

P.S. This Weeknighter is dedicated to Ashley Dickinson who loves Mission Hill almost as much as I do.

Stuart Schuffman aka Broke-Ass Stuart is a travel writer, poet, and TV host. You can find his online shenanigans at www.brokeassstuart.com

Innocent bay stander

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arts@sfbg.com

THEATER Sarah Cameron Sunde will be standing in the water at Aquatic Park this Friday. She’ll stand from low tide, at 9:26 that morning, through high tide at 4:09 in the afternoon, and back to low tide again at 10:31 that night. Thirteen hours and five minutes of being still, while everything around her changes.

When it comes to the near and distant impacts in store from sea level rise brought on by the planet’s changing climate, Bay Area residents might be expected to know more than most. The bay’s distinctive shape is already being modified by creeping water levels. New efforts at shoreline protection are underway, but with an expected rise of six feet by the end of the century, the bay and San Francisco are destined to be different places no matter what.

How conscious we are of that fact remains a question. It’s one thing to know the figures and another to “feel the rise,” as Sunde puts it in her invitation to locals. For the New York–based theater director and interdisciplinary artist, the awesome movement of the daily tide shift acts as a visceral metaphor for larger cycles, and momentous changes afoot. Even those who choose to watch from the shore might grasp something of this larger theme, tucked into an ephemeral moment, merely by registering the bay’s embrace of a human tidal gauge.

That, anyway, is Sunde’s hope as she embarks on the third iteration of her 36.5 Water Project. The venture began last August in Maine, while Sunde was at an artist residency near Bass Harbor. But its roots go back a little further, to 2012 and Hurricane Sandy.

“When Hurricane Sandy hit New York,” she says, “it was the first time I truly, deeply understood that everything is temporary.” This despite being married to a water engineer from the Netherlands, whose first impression of New York City was tantamount to a liver specialist encountering Dean Martin. “And I didn’t believe him,” she admits. “Then [the hurricane] hit, and I understood. It changed the way I think about these things.” Sunde realized there was a real and dangerous deficit in long-term vision. “We know how to rally after a disaster but there’s no forward, future thinking.”

Sunde — whose theatrical work has largely revolved around her position as deputy artistic director of New York’s New Georges theater company, as well as her role as the foremost American translator and director of the famed contemporary Norwegian playwright Jon Fosse — was at that time also moving away from new play development toward her roots in more experimental, devised performance-making with a group of interdisciplinary collaborators collectively known as Lydian Junction. Its experiments, informed in part by the writing of Norwegian writer Knut Hamsun and by issues of sustainability in the arts, explore art’s relation to suffering and sacrifice.

“In Maine, I was thinking about all these things. I was thinking about New York sinking. I was thinking about art and sacrifice and suffering, sustainability. And I was on this bay, this tidal bay, where there is a ten-and-a-half foot tidal shift. That meant that it was a mudflat during low tide, and then during high tide it was a bay, a full-on bay of water. I had never seen the environment change so drastically with the tide before. I was watching this huge rock out in the bay get swallowed. There was something really beautiful about this.”

Suddenly, an image came to her director’s eye.

“I thought, I see a human being standing there up to the neck, and then the water going back down again. I thought, I have to do this. How can I create this spectacle? I thought about my collaborators and I thought, shit, they’re not going to do it; I guess I’m going to have to do it myself. I decided to do it three days later because it was my half birthday — I always try to do something that is related to my own tracking of time. I’m a little obsessed with time, the expansion, the contraction of it, the perception, all of it, the routine, the anti-routine. That’s why it’s called 36.5, because I turned 36 and a half that day.”

Since then, Sunde has developed some more thinking around the shape of her piece and its intentionally simple design. She plans to travel to six continents, drawn to places with some personal connection. (Having grown up in Palo Alto, Sunde has roots in the Bay Area that run especially deep.) Each iteration will involve specific local partnerships. Aptly enough, the after party for Friday’s performance takes place at the Long Now Foundation at nearby Fort Mason. And the number in the title ends up being significant in several ways: The average person needs 36.5 cubic meters of water a year; at the current rate of climate change, oceans could rise 36.5 inches by the century’s end; and ditching the decimal point leaves the number of days in a year. The connotations underscore the way the personal and universal remain deeply entwined here.

The invitation to the public to test the waters with her, meanwhile, adds a new wrinkle in this globetrotting project, granting space for direct participation in the experience. At the same time, it means the performance becomes a collective action, however peripheral or absurd it may appear on the surface. Small steps just might sound greater depths. *

36.5 WATER PROJECT

Fri/15, 9:26am-10:31pm, free

Aquatic Park

Hyde at Jefferson, SF

www.365waterproject.org

 

Boxing lessons

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arts@sfbg.com

While still a child in early-’80s San Francisco, Boots Riley witnessed something he didn’t quite understand but that would stick with him for the rest of his life. Walking into a theater performance at the venerable Mission District art space Project Artaud, Riley saw actors in body paint writhing around him in apparent agony on all sides. It was meant as a simulation of the AIDS epidemic, with the actors portraying the afflicted. But it didn’t enlighten him much as a kid.

“It just scared the hell out of me,” Riley recalls. “You walk into this place, and it’s like a whole city, with people all around you.”

Given how Riley’s own work with long-running hip-hop group The Coup likewise mixes political activism with overwhelming performance energy, it’s fitting he would look back on this experience as the inspiration for The Coup’s new multimedia project, Shadowbox. Featuring the work of street artist Jon-Paul Bail, videographer David Szlasa, and a host of other bands and performers, Shadowbox casts the Coup’s music in the context of an all-encompassing artwork that attacks the audience from all sides. He’s debuting the project at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts on Aug. 16, but he hopes to eventually take it on the road to wherever an art establishment is willing to fund it.

Riley prefers to remain secretive about what the performance actually entails. He’s described it in the past as featuring puppets, drones and “Guantanamo Bay go-go dancers,” whatever those may be. To Riley, having the audience come in blind is key to maximizing the impact of the show.

“Some of the things that would make people probably want to come to the performance are things I don’t want to talk about before they happen,” Riley says.

What we do know is that it’ll feature multiple stages and a dizzying roster of collaborators, from socialist hip-hop militants Dead Prez to dream-pop duo Snow Angel, comedian W. Kamau Bell, chamber orchestra Classical Revolution, and the New Orleans-style second line unit Extra Action Marching Band. All of it will be encased by Bail’s black-and-white artwork, which will give the audience the impression of being in an actual “box of shadows.”

Bail, a Bay Area street artist perhaps best known as of late for his “Hella Occupy Oakland” poster, was one of Riley’s early heroes on the Bay Area art scene. The two met in the late ’80s amid a wave of neo-Nazi skinhead activity in the Bay Area, which the two of them helped fight to counter.

“When I was in high school I would hang out at Alameda Beach,” Riley recalls. “Back then Alameda was still a navy town and they didn’t like a lot of black folks coming around. Police rolled up to harass us, and the police insignia on the car was covered in a swastika. The first thing I thought was: ‘Who the fuck did that?'”

It turned out to be Bail, and the two artists quickly bonded, putting up anti-Nazi posters around the city. They’ve remained friends through the years, but they haven’t collaborated on a large-scale project until now.

“He was the first artist I ever met who was trying to do something more with art than just make art,” Riley says. “He had a collective at California College of the Arts at the time, which had the slogan — ‘no art for art’s sake.'”

The Yerba Buena Arts Center connected Riley and Bail with videographer (and Theater Artaud collaborator) David Szlasa, who helped design the video elements of the project. Together, they form Shadowbox’s core creative axis, responsible for the aesthetically overwhelming experience Riley hopes the project will be.

Though Shadowbox contains elements of both a gallery exhibition and a theatrical performance, Riley ultimately hopes that Shadowbox will feel more like a show than anything else, in line with the Coup’s high-octane concerts.

“A lot of the time when you’re doing something theatrical people just want to stand around,” Riley says. “But our shows have always been known to be a dance party, and we’re keeping the audience with us and not just watching us.”

The performers and artworks are intended to surround an audience, which will be able to move around and examine the exhibit at first. But as the room fills, Riley hopes the crowd will solidify and focus on the music. The musical element of Shadowbox will mostly consist of Coup songs, but each of the additional musical performers will play one of their own songs in addition to collaborating with the band.

The Coup didn’t write songs specifically for the performance, rather choosing to perform works culled from the band’s six-album, 20-plus-year catalog — including a few unreleased tracks and songs they don’t generally perform live. Though calling Shadowbox an augmented Coup concert would surely sell the event and its collaborators short, it seems as if all the key elements of a Coup show will be there: the songs, the audience-bludgeoning power, and especially the politics.

Though the title Shadowbox primarily refers to the effect Bail’s artwork creates on the performance space, Riley sees multiple meanings to the title. Shadowboxing is the practice in boxing of “fighting” an imaginary opponent to prepare for a match, and Riley sees parallels between this practice and the way in which the Coup “prepares” its listeners to fight real-life injustices. He’s aware political art can’t always change the world on its own, but it can inspire listeners to take action.

This gives rise to a third, even more poignant meaning to the title: that the social issues depicted in the work are only shadows of what’s really happening in the world, contained within the clearly defined “box” of the performance space.

“There are a lot of terrible things happening in the world that we’re talking about in the performance,” Riley said. “But the artwork is just a shadow of what’s really going on.”

THE COUP’S SHADOWBOX

Saturday, Aug. 16, 5 and 9pm, $25-$30

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

701 Mission, SF

(415)978-2700

www.ybca.org

Cubicle cult

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arts@sfbg.com

FILM For anybody who has ever had to put up with a creepy boss, annoying co-workers, or a soul-sucking work environment — and that is most likely all of us, at some point in our lives — Mike Judge’s 1999 comedy Office Space has become a supremely entertaining and highly relatable touchstone for its razor-sharp take on office politics and corporate culture.

Written and directed by Judge, who also created Beavis and Butthead and King of the Hill, along with the recent HBO show Silicon Valley, the movie has gone on to become a cult classic, with a variety of quotable lines (“Yeah, I’m gonna need you to go ahead and come in tomorrow … that would be great”) and cultural references (do you have the requisite pieces of flair?)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_IwzZYRejZQ

Office Space fans are in for a treat this weekend when SF Sketchfest presents a special 15th anniversary screening in 35mm at the Castro Theatre, with actor Stephen Root — who plays the stapler-obsessed Milton — in person for the festivities.

“I don’t think there’s a set that I go on where some part of the crew doesn’t have something for me to sign from Office Space — it’s its own little animal, much like Rocky Horror was in its day,” says Root.

“For me it’s a constant amazement that it continues to get a new audience; people who weren’t born [when it came out] get it, people who enter the work force get it, and it keeps a life of its own. It’s about the interplay of the people in the office. That’s universal.”

While Root has fond memories of working on the film, he says that bringing the mumbling, mistreated, and bespectacled Milton to life did present some challenges, particularly when it came to wearing the character’s signature glasses.

“They were a nightmare!”, he remembers. “They were about a half an inch thick at least, and I had to wear contact lenses behind those glasses to be able to see at all. I didn’t have any depth perception whatsoever, so whenever I had to reach for something during a scene I had to practice it because I couldn’t tell where it was — just reaching for the stapler and putting it to my chest, I had to practice that, because I could have reached out and missed it by five inches.”

That stapler, the red Swingline that Milton prizes (and loses), has gone on to become a pop culture icon of its own — a fact that still makes Root laugh.

“There was no red Swingline stapler [when the film was made]. I have one of the props, and Mike [Judge] has another one. Who knew it would start a cottage industry for staplers? I see them every week — people want me to sign them. It is what it is, it’s crazy, but it’s great, and it makes me smile.”

While he has appeared in many other films and television shows (including NewsRadioKing of the Hill, and Boardwalk Empire) since Office Space, Root admits that he’s recognized as Milton most of the time — and that’s fine with him.

“I always tell everybody, my obituary will be ‘Milton’s dead!'” Root laughs. “And I’m okay with that!” 2

OFFICE SPACE 15TH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION

Sat/16, 9pm, $12

Castro Theatre

429 Castro, SF

www.sfsketchfest.com

 

Beyond the force

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cheryl@sfbg.com

FILM In the 14 years since Sir Alec Guinness’ death, his fame has only grown, thanks to the enduring cult of the biggest hit of his long career — a film he famously dubbed “fairy-tale rubbish.” Star Wars (1977) made the stage-trained thespian a very rich man. It also meant that he was forever branded as Obi-Wan Kenobi in the minds of every moviegoer born in the post-lightsaber era.

Star Wars is notably absent from “Alex Guinness at 100,” a slate of digital restorations (and one archival print) screening at the Smith Rafael Film Center — just down the road from George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch, as it happens. The series does include the actor’s two Best Picture-winning collaborations with director David Lean: 1962’s Lawrence of Arabia, in which a heavily eyeliner’d Guinness plays a supporting role; and 1957’s The Bridge on the River Kwai, for which he won Best Actor. These films are, obviously, glorious and best seen projected onto a theatrical screen, particularly when they’re being offered in sparkling 4K resolution. So if you haven’t seen either, this is a great opportunity. But the real attractions of “Alex Guinness at 100” are its lesser-seen selections, including several post-war comedy classics made at London’s venerable Ealing Studios.

The earliest among them (and the first film in the series, which begins Sun/17) is Robert Hamer’s Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), made a year after Guinness’ turn as Fagin in Lean’s adaptation of Oliver Twist. Technically, he’s not the star of Hearts — that’d be Dennis Price as Louis Mazzini, whose deeply involved and darkly hilarious explanation of how he became a serial killer unfolds from his elegantly appointed prison cell, where he’s penning his memoirs the night before his execution. Born to a poor father and a mother disowned by her aristocratic family, Louis learns he’s eighth in line to be the next Duke of Chalfont. Spurred on by a number of factors (revenge for his mother’s treatment by her snooty family; his longing for a pretty childhood friend, played by the husky-voiced Joan Greenwood, who won’t take him seriously as suitor while he’s toiling as a sales clerk), he decides to start takin’ down the D’Ascoyne family, one branch of the tree at a time.

Hearts‘ most enchanting gag is that all of the D’Ascoynes are portrayed by Guinness, who dons wigs, facial hair, costumes, and even drag, but has such a way with characters that he barely requires the enhancements. Some of the heirs are more odious than others, and some of them conveniently pass away before their number comes up, but Louis’ victims all meet ghastly-yet-posh ends, like a plunging hot-air balloon (thanks to a carefully-aimed arrow) and an exploding jar of caviar. Throughout, the script is full of zingers (“My principles would not allow me to take a direct part in blood sports,” insists the bloodthirsty killer before a hunting excursion), an escalating parade of hats (worn by Greenwood’s conniving character), and the thrill of wondering in which guise Guinness will pop up next. In 2013, a Broadway musical based on the same source novel — Ron Horniman’s Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal, retitled A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder for the stage — won a Tony for Best Musical.

Guinness moved to the forefront for Charles Crichton’s 1951 caper The Lavender Hill Mob, which netted him his first Oscar nomination (T.E.B. Clark’s script won for Original Screenplay). He’s bank worker Henry Holland, who oversees the delivery of gold bars from foundry to vault — and has been cultivating a persnickety, detail-obsessed persona for 20 years, biding his time until he can pull off the ultimate heist. Enter new lodging-house neighbor Alfred Pendlebury (Stanley Holloway), who’s in the souvenir-trinket trade (“I propagate British cultural depravity!”, he says proudly), and has access to a foundry of his own. The first-time crooks round out their gang with two career criminals, and the conspiracy creaks into motion only to hit a major snafu in the form of one wayward, solid gold miniature Eiffel Tower. Keep your peepers primed for a pre-fame Audrey Hepburn (bangs already on point), who pops up in an early scene.

Also in 1951, Guinness starred in Alexander Mackendrick’s satire The Man in the White Suit, about textile-factory genius Sidney Stratton, who gets his kicks tinkering with fabrics on a molecular level. (That he’s a mere loading-bay worker is only a slight inconvenience, since he still manages to con his way into the research lab.) With the help of his boss’ daughter (Greenwood again, here playing a woman turned on by nerdiness), the socially-awkward Sidney creates a seemingly indestructible cloth — terrifying both factory management and the labor union, which join forces to obliterate the invention that’ll render their jobs obsolete. Lots of goofiness in this one, including Sidney’s bleep-blooping chemistry setup, which wouldn’t be out of place in Willy Wonka’s HQ. More juicy cameos, this time for classic horror fans: Hammer Film Productions player Michael Gough plays Greenwood’s uptight beau, and Ernest “Dr. Pretorius” Thesinger shows up to wave a cane around as an anxious senior executive.

Guinness and Mackendrick teamed up again for 1955’s The Ladykillers, remade in 2004 by Tom Hanks and the Coen Brothers. The original — which features a young Peter Sellers, The Man in the White Suit‘s Cecil Parker, several rascally parrots, and Guinness in comically ill-fitting false teeth — remains the better version, with several Ealing Comedy motifs in play: boarding-house shenanigans, a heist gone wrong, one or more ludicrous chase scenes involving hapless cops. Ringleader Guinness, as “Professor” Marcus, assembles a group of ne’er-do-wells, who pretend to be a string quintet for the benefit of their kindly but meddlesome landlady, Mrs. Wilberforce (Katie Johnson). Her creaky home overlooks a train station, which is perfect positioning for the faux musicians’ robbery scheme. But, naturally, nothing unfolds as intended. “All good plans include a human element,” the Professor muses through his choppers. “But no really good plan would include Mrs. Wilberforce.”

The seventh film in the series, 1959’s Our Man in Havana, is neither Lean epic nor Ealing farce, but it has its own impressive pedigree: director Carol Reed (1949’s The Third Man), screenwriter Graham Greene (who adapted his own novel), an authentic pre-revolutionary Cuba setting, and a supporting cast of Noël Coward, Ralph Richardson, Maureen O’Hara, Burl Ives, and Ernie Kovacs. Guinness is brilliant as an expat whose desire to provide a better life for his materialistic teenage daughter (Jo Morrow) leads him to set aside the vacuum-cleaner biz and accept a gig as a British secret agent. Thing is, he’d rather just sip daiquiris than engage in espionage, so he fakes his way, with luck and imagination, into being “the best agent in the Western hemisphere.” With spy-jinks galore and a plot that veers from silly to suspenseful, Our Man is probably the gem of the series — and it’ll unspool in an archival 35mm print. As Lavender Hill Mob‘s Pendlebury would say, “Capital! Capital!” 2

“ALEC GUINNESS AT 100”

Aug 17-Sept 28, $7.75-$11

Smith Rafael Film Center

1118 Fourth St, San Rafael

rafaelfilm.cafilm.org/alec-guiness-at-100

 

Touch of class

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culture@sfbg.com

 

INPUT AS NOISE MUSIC WORKSHOP

Bask in the simplest element of electronic music — noise — and tickle your tech fancies simultaneously. This workshop is described as “not so much, or not only, a software workshop, but rather a composition course in electronic music which takes as its starting point the use of noise.” So treat your ears to the basics of sound and your imagination to the endless possibilities of music, without having to take your fingers off your precious electronics.

Aug. 23, noon, $10 suggested donation. NOHspace, 2840 Mariposa, www.tinyurl.com/noiseworkshop

 

HOMEMADE FETA

Have you stood in the cheese aisle at your favorite market, marveling at the choices, but feeling a little guilty for buying something you could make? 18 Reasons is offering a class that will give you the skills to finally create homemade creamy deliciousness. Cheese veteran Louella Hill, aka the San Francisco Milk Maid, will teach you everything you need — and want — to know about cheese and making feta.

Aug. 25, 6pm-9pm, $65 for non-members/$55 for members. 18 Reasons, 3674 18th St, www.tinyurl.com/homemadefeta.

 

LEATHERWORKING

Up your street cred by having your nice leather belt — and making it, too. The class, taught by SF crafter and owner of leather shop Tilt Adornments, will teach you to make a custom leather belt, totally personalized, with perfectly placed holes. All supplies for dyeing and assembling your belt are provided. Bonus points: There will be alphabet stamps and beer.

Sept. 4, 7pm-10:30pm, $68. Workshop SF, 1798 McAllister, www.tinyurl.com/makeabelt.

 

ACID TEST

Acid isn’t just for hippies. Editor, journalist, and two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Tom Schroder will discuss psychedelic drugs’ ability to heal and help those with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression, and addiction. Recent trials show that drugs now associated with trippy artwork, the 60s, and Ken Kesey may be the secret to mental health. This lecture will cover the past, present, and future of psychedelic therapy. Far out.

Sept. 25, 7pm-9pm, $20 for non-members, $15 for members at door. CIIS, 1453 Mission, www.tinyurl.com/acidlecture

 

NINJA ROLLING AND FALLING WORKSHOP FOR CYCLISTS

Cycling past backed-up car traffic in SF feels badass enough, but the danger adds an extra edge. Prepare mentally and physically for accidents, whether they’re car- or pebble-induced, in a padded environment. This workshop is designed to help cyclists save face (and limbs) in the event of a collision. Plus, what motorist would want to mess with a cyclist who has ninja skills?

Sept. 9/Oct. 5, 1pm-3pm, Free. Mission Yoga, 2390 Mission, www.tinyurl.com/ninjacyclist

 

WINE TASTING FUNDAMENTALS

Award-winning sommelier Eugenio Jardim will lead you through the wafting and sipping and lip smacking of wine tasting. This class promises to provide the necessary skills for enjoying great wines and being able to talk about them. Six wines will be tasted during the class. And after you’ve mastered the fundamentals, you can pour your skills into the SF Cooking School’s region-themed tastings, including New Zealand, France, and Italy.

Oct. 2, 5:30pm-7:30pm, $85. San Francisco Cooking School, 690 Van Ness,

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Science of inclusion

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news@sfbg.com

Tammie Jean Bellinger had been unemployed for 14 years, and when she was 48, she decided to enter the tech industry. “My son told me that if I wanted to start my life over, I should do it in San Francisco,” Bellinger said. “He said no one would notice my age, or anything about me.”

She’s Hispanic, Native American, a little bit Ashkenazi, and female. That doesn’t sound like the tech industry, where data illustrates the lack of workforce diversity. Between 60 and 70 percent of employees at Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Yahoo are men, while 91 percent of U.S. employees at Google, Facebook, and LinkedIn are white and Asian.

Bellinger, however, wasn’t setting her sights on the software or programming sectors but rather biotech, where female representation in major companies like Genentech is now over 50 percent, according to Fortune. In 2010, women held 46 percent of all positions in the biological and life sciences. A far cry from the frat boy image often associated with tech, things are different in the science-based field that tinkers with the building blocks of life.

First, though, Bellinger needed a way in. She found it at City College of San Francisco’s Bridge to Bio program, which accepts students who have no prior background in science. And it’s affordable. In-state students pay $46 per unit at City College, far below the $3,000 price tag for a full semester at San Francisco State University. Bellinger found herself learning alongside an eclectic mix of former school bus drivers, cooks, ballerinas, and bartenders. Many were female, people of color, and over 30.

Before long, Bellinger found herself completing internships in science labs where she cataloged human tissue, urine, and blood samples for cancer research.

“I know it sounds stupid, but a light bulb went off. My whole family has been affected by cancer,” Bellinger said. “I’ve been that family member. The doctor is on the other side, and there’s nothing you can do. I just hope that the person reading the tissue has as much passion as I do. That’s all I want.”

 

FUTURE SCIENTISTS

When Bellinger went to look for jobs, she was concerned about her age, but her worries vanished when she was offered a lab tech position at Genomic Health. “Biotech is different. Pretty much all … the recruiters are all women,” she said. “My knowledge is all new. If I talk the talk, and walk the walk, and it’s all updated, they’ll take me in.”

But even now, she has trouble seeing herself as a scientist. “I feel like an artist,” she said. “If you can stain a perfect nuclei and bring that cell to life when they’re performing cancer treatment, that’s kind of an art. The tissues come alive. They tell a story.”

Bellinger wants all young girls to see themselves as future scientists. This September, she’s going to start a program called Tech Bridge for those in the Livermore area. With a coral reef she built with her son, she’ll teach the Livermore Girl Scouts how to test water and play around with nitrates.

Tech Bridge is mirrored after Nexgene Girls, launched by Bridge to Bio graduates Jeanette Wright and Marlena Jackson. Through Nexgene Girls, young girls in Bayview-Hunters Point complete internships where they work alongside professional scientists and conduct their own experiments, like extracting DNA from bacteria in the salt marshes of Heron’s Head Park. By 2015, Nexgene Girls is looking to take a science field trip to Botswana.

Before Jackson became a scientist, she drove a school bus. In Hunters Point, where she grew up, breast cancer rates among women under age 50 are twice above average.

“I looked around and I thought, ‘I’ve got to do more’,” Jackson said. “You look around at the divisions in Bayview Hunters Point, and science seems like a way you can really change the community. My mother survived breast and cervical cancer. I know the power of medicine.”

After graduating from Bridge to Bio, Jackson got a job at Genentech in 2006. At that time, there weren’t many African Americans employed by the company. “I looked around, and I realized there weren’t many women that even looked like me,” she said. “That was how I started thinking about how I could go and give back to my community. I wanted to inspire young women to see themselves differently.”

Now, when young girls complete NexGene Girls programs, Jackson said, they have a different perception of what a scientist looks like. “They come in with the perception that a scientist is a guy, and he’s white,” Jackson said. “But when they’re done, and they’re asked to draw a scientist, they draw a girl. They’re not even drawing a woman. They’re drawing themselves.”

While Nexgene Girls focuses on inspiring young girls, another women-led biotech organization in the Bay Area — part of a larger, national network — is Women in Bio. For them, the mission is not to introduce more women to biology-related fields, where women already make up a substantial percentage of the workforce, but to bring females to leadership positions. Of the 18 Bay Area life sciences companies that had gone public since the start of 2012, women made up only 12 of the 129 board posts. Ten of the companies have no women on their boards.

Chris Meda, now CEO of medicine consulting firm RxDxLink and the chair of the San Francisco Chapter of Women in Bio, found herself struggling to find female mentors when she entered the industry 30 years ago. “If you look at my resume, you can see how many companies I’ve worked for. I wasn’t willing to wait around. If they didn’t want to give me the opportunity, I would find someone that would,” she said.

Now, her mission is to mentor young women through Women in Bio, which also runs monthly programs including workshops to help women network, start their own companies, and gain technical skills.

 

CURIOSITY AND GLOWING PLANTS

Others, like Sunny Allen, have found their bridge to biology outside of the industry and within DIY bio hackerspaces, like BioCurious in Sunnyvale. That’s where Allen learned how to make algae glow in the dark.

“I’m the poster child for the kind of girl all these STEM programs are trying to reach,” said Allen, who grew up in Kentucky. “In the seventh grade, I fell in love with the micro-science world. I wanted to be a marine biologist. I applied for this magnet school for high school. I got in. But then I hit a wall. I got kicked out of the program, and I thought, ‘This is too hard for me. I can’t do it.'”

Later, she fell for a programmer and followed him to the Bay Area, where she felt alienated by the male “brogrammer” culture. “You have guys making six figures and taking Adderall to see who can code the most,” Allen said. “And they have these girlfriends who aren’t programmers, because most girls aren’t programmers. Suddenly there’s this imbalance of power. Women take care of them like infants. They’re like coding monkeys.”

But at BioCurious, she said, it was different. “Out there, I finally felt like I could do something. Biology is accessible tech for women,” she said. “For me, what really happened was that a lot of succeeding in biology is not dependent on being able to do the problem sets, like the physics and the math, but a lot of it is reading comprehension. I could get in.”

She soon launched Biomonstaaar, an open source bioreactor project (a bioreactor is an engineered system that supports a biological environment). She now lives in a hacker house in Sunnyvale and has big dreams of escaping the service industry through the world of robotic sex toys. Indeed, she’s now the creative director of a yet-to-be-named robotic sex toy company with a launch date three weeks away and a crowdsourcing campaign on the horizon. She’s in charge of testing the sex toy, and critiquing it. The other two scientists involved are men.

“They needed a woman’s touch,” she said.

This robotic sex toy is like a vibrator that knows exactly what the user wants: It senses pressure and motion, and then reacts to it. After trying out the prototype, Allen wrote to other scientists involved, “Congratulations, we’ve invented a new kind of sex.”

Jihyun Moon is another female scientist who found her place in biology through DIY bio roots. When Moon saw an advertisement calling for scientists who might like to help make a glowing plant, she signed up.

Now, she works at the Glowing Plant Project, a controversial endeavor that uses synthetic biology with DNA laser printing to create plants that glow in the dark. The project raised more than $450,000 on Kickstarter and drew national media coverage, becoming the focal point of a debate over DNA modification. The bioengineered plants are expected to ship later this year. “I’m the scientist here,” Moon proclaimed from her lab in SoMa. “I make DNA.” Her job is to take the enzyme genes from fireflies and marine bacteria, and put those pieces of DNA into plants.

Moon says that as far as she’s concerned, DIY bio is the gateway to biology. For other women, biology is the door to biotech. And that’s the door to a whole lot else.

Public hospitals are too Lean

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OPINION

The San Francisco Department of Public Health is paying Rona Consulting Group, an out-of-state consulting firm, $1.3 million of taxpayer dollars to implement a program called “Lean,” allegedly to improve patient services. The “Lean” program is based on the Japanese Toyota automobile production model.

Hospital quality improvement schemes such as the Lean promise decreased waiting times, improved communication, more satisfied patients, and safer care. Quality care should also decrease the incidence of hospital-acquired conditions so that patients leave the hospital without getting new infections, falling, or getting pressure ulcers such as “bed sores.”

Hospital administrators are telling health care workers and patients that Lean will achieve these widely shared goals. Yet despite years of efforts, there is no evidence that it works, and growing concern that resources must be increased rather than prescribing the Lean diet to an already starving public health infrastructure.

Health care should be based on the best available science — not corporate sales. The Lean program encourages the hospital staff to consider its workplace as a factory shop floor, and to consider their patients and work as a product. The competition for well-insured patients and improved satisfaction for reimbursement has caused hospital administrators and Lean consultants to propose surgical clinics that resemble Nordstrom or the Hyatt Regency.

Lean’s management methodology, based on Toyota’s selected Japanese words, is used to mystify and dazzle. Instead of the pharmacy window, we are told that all staff must go to the “gemba,” which the consultants (not the dictionary) say is Japanese for “where the work happens.” Many highly paid hospital administrators and even clinical staff have been re-named as “kaizen promotion office” leaders. Those who have completed advanced training are awarded a “black belt.” The use of Japanese terms is clearly meant to add a sense of authority.

Evidence-based medicine and nursing have been examining high-quality studies of the effectiveness of improvement schemes such as Lean. According to “Guiding Inpatient Quality Improvement: A Systematic Review of Lean” (The Joint Commission, 2012), “the true impact of these approaches is difficult to judge, given that the lack of rigorous evaluation or clearly sustained improvements provides little evidence supporting broad adoption.” This leads to very expensive, wishful thinking. When consultants are paid from $4,700 to $25,000 a day from public funds intended to construct a seismically sound hospital (see “Toyota work methods applied at General Hospital” San Francisco Bay Guardian, May 7, 2014) it seems important to consider what randomized controlled trials tell us. The taxpayers have a right to know what to expect from this scheme, but there are no controlled scientific studies to tell us.

Despite more than 10 years of multiple published studies, very few consulting firms even report statistics. Those that do show weak evidence of effectiveness, and none show sustained improvement. If Lean were a medication, it would never receive approval from the Food and Drug Administration, as we don’t know if it helps or hurts the care of patients. As it is, hospitals are performing a single-group intervention study without ethical approval or consent from the workers and the patients.

Hospitals should be providing their patients with the best care, not the cheapest. Even if Lean didn’t come with a price tag to taxpayers ranging in millions of dollars for consultants to do the work that administrators should be doing, the underlying notion of speed is dangerous in health care. Public health patients are even more vulnerable with increased prevalence of poverty-related co-morbidities, from diabetes to tuberculosis. If there were a way to more quickly cure our population of its many ills, we would embrace Lean.

Nobody likes to wait around, but the human connection between caregiver and patient takes time. Efficiency should not be valued over safety. Furthermore, many patients would be unhappy to learn that they are being viewed as inanimate products on an assembly line. Nor does it please health workers to think of themselves as robots.

Hospital safety under Lean is being modeled after the same automobile corporation that was just forced to pay $1.2 billion for concealing safety defects (“Toyota Is Fined $1.2 Billion for Concealing Safety Defects” New York Times, March 19, 2014). The safety defects were implicated in unintended acceleration of some Toyota vehicles that led to injury and death. Speed was certainly not helpful in that situation. Perhaps DPH should critically examine Lean before prescribing a diet to our vulnerable safety-net patients. Maybe we need more, not faster, health care workers.

Ed Kinchley has worked for DPH for 30 years, after spending nine years in Japan.

Airbnb must work with SF

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EDITORIAL

Airbnb and other companies that facilitate illegal short-term apartment rentals to tourists visiting San Francisco need to engage in a more honest and direct dialogue with this city’s political leaders and stakeholders, something that became clear during last week’s Planning Commission hearing on legislation that would legalize and regulate short-term sublets.

This is a complicated, vexing issue that defies simple solutions, as Board of Supervisors President David Chiu learned as he and his aides spent more than year developing the legislation. They did a pretty good job at striking a balance between letting people occasionally rent out their homes and preventing Airbnb from being used to remove apartments from the already strained local housing market.

A key provision for striking that balance was to limit rentals to no more than 90 nights per year, but the Planning Commission — dominated by appointees from Mayor Ed Lee, who has long coddled Airbnb’s scofflaw approach to the city (see “Into thin air,” 8/6/13) — removed that provision, which the Board of Supervisors should reinstate.

The commission also seemed to side with landlords who want to prevent their tenants from renting out rooms, calling for landlords to be notified when their tenants seek to become Airbnb hosts, another provision the board should reject. Landlords using Airbnb to get around rent control laws is at least as bad as tenants who violate their leases by subletting rooms, and this legislation shouldn’t favor one group over the other.

If the city decides to end its decades-old ban on short-term apartment rentals, it should have a compelling reason to do so. Maybe we want to allow struggling city residents to make some extra money while they’re out of town, or to have some flexibility in renting out rooms without taking on permanent tenants, which are legitimate if difficult policy questions.

But it seems like much of the discussion is about how to rein in the widespread violation of city housing and tax laws caused by Airbnb, which has refused requests to share more of its occupancy data, dodged its obligation to collect the city’s transient occupancy tax, and failed to even send a high-level representative to last week’s hearing. Yet the legislation would require the company’s cooperation to help enforce the regulations.

If Airbnb and its hosts want the city to legalize lucrative short-term rentals in San Francisco, then the company should be willing to engage in high-level public discussions with city leaders to shape this important legislation, rather than simply whipping its hosts into a libertarian frenzy with deceptive public relations campaigns.

Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky has gotten rich with a business model that is illegal in its home city, so the very least he can do is show up at City Hall next month to make a good faith effort to help solve the divisive problems that his company is creating.

 

Chinese youth rally for a brighter future

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High school students with Youth Movement of Justice Organizing (Youth MOJO), a teen leadership program affiliated with the Chinese Progressive Association, rallied at San Francisco City Hall Aug. 7 in a show of support for two citywide measures slated to appear on the November ballot.

The first would raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2018. The second, known as the anti-speculation tax, would impose a steep financial penalty on real estate investors who sell apartment buildings within five years of purchase, an effort to reverse the rising trend of Ellis Act evictions and limit skyrocketing rental prices.

High school student Alice Kuang, who has been active with Youth MOJO since last year, said she felt the effort to preserve affordability was critical for Chinese families who typically earn low wages. “I lived in an SRO in Chinatown for 13 years,” she explained, referring to a single-room occupancy hotel, a dormitory-style housing complex. Throughout the city, thousands of low-income tenants rely on SROs for affordable housing, but these units have been subjected to price increases and have started to become lost as affordable housing stock when they’re listed as short-term rentals on Airbnb.

“In the SRO, it was like one big community,” Kuang said. “Everyone supported each other. Like my mom knew exactly who was boiling water and then, to make sure the water didn’t spill over, she would run up to knock on people’s doors and be like, hey, your food’s done. It was a really strong community. I remember living there since I was born. It was a very small room. The four of us lived in it — we had a bunk bed, and another bunk bed, basically.”

Jessica Ng, a recent high school graduate and Youth MOJO member, said she was focused on advocating for the minimum wage proposal. “One of my parents became unemployed last year so it really took a toll on me, and made me realize that I have to also help,” she said, “like paying my part of the bill, or paying for groceries even.”

She said an internship with Young Asian Women Against Violence helped her earn some supplementary household income. “When I started getting a paycheck every three weeks or so, I started to pay my part of the bill,” she said. “With an increase in the minimum wage, it would really help with people who are my age who are going to college and want to help their families.”

 

Gaza protests continue

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Bay Area demonstrations held in response to the Israeli-Gaza conflict continued last week, and planning is underway for more.

Activists with Arab Youth Organization joined other coalition members at an Aug. 6 rally outside the San Francisco Federal Building, where Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s office is located, to call upon the U.S. government to end aid to Israel.

“We’re here because humans are dying,” said Linda Ereikat, a 17-year-old Palestinian American who was born and raised in the Bay Area and recently spent a month visiting her grandparents in the West Bank. “We’re not here because we’re part of a political party. We don’t care about Hamas. We care that our people are dying, and our people are under siege. And it’s just crazy.”

Ereikat said her travels opened her eyes to the stark contrast between her carefree life in America and her extended family’s day-to-day reality in the West Bank. During one night of her visit, she said, Israeli soldiers raided her grandparents’ village. “It was in the middle of the night. We heard tear gases,” she said. “We heard dogs, because they brought their dogs to search. There were so many soldiers in our city.” Her fellow activist Samha Ayesh, a 21-year-old organizer with AYO, said he had family in Palestine and had lost some friends in the conflict.

On Aug. 16, a coalition of pro-Palestine activists plans to stage a protest at the Port of Oakland — which could involve blockading a ship with ties to the Israeli government.

These aren’t the only Bay Area street demonstrations being held in response to the Israeli-Gaza conflict. Hundreds turned out for a pro-Israel march in San Francisco last weekend. And on Aug. 3, pro-Israel activists staged an action where they sounded a long emergency whistle while activists threw themselves face-down on the ground in Union Square, as someone on a microphone intoned: “In Israel, you get 15 seconds to run for your life before a rocket from Gaza strikes.”

Trans former prisoner honored as civil rights hero

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For 38 years, the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club has celebrated queer progressive politics in San Francisco with its annual Dinner and Gayla, held this year at the Mission campus of the endangered City College of San Francisco.

A slew of awards went out to commemorate the contributions of elected officials and advocates who went to battle to save City College from losing its accreditation, a fate that would bring the college’s 79-year history to a grinding halt while leaving 90,000 students in the lurch with few other options. Activists from San Francisco’s Housing Rights Committee also won accolades for organizing to defend long-term tenants from eviction.

The evening’s keynote speaker and guest of honor was CeCe McDonald, a transgender African American woman who served a 17-month prison term for what she’s described as an act of self-defense in response to a transphobic attack. She was with friends in Minneapolis in July 2011 when an attacker made racist and homophobic comments and then assaulted her; in the end, he was fatally stabbed with her pair of scissors.

A campaign clamoring for McDonald’s freedom drew nationwide attention as supporters rallied in her defense, saying she shouldn’t have been incarcerated for surviving a hate crime. Her story is now the subject of a documentary that’s being co-produced by actress Laverne Cox, who portrays an incarcerated trans woman in Orange is the New Black.

Honored with the Milk Club’s Bayard Rustin Civil Rights Award, McDonald gave an emotional speech.

“I never thought I would make it past the age of 16, and to know that I’m here, 10 years later, really means a lot to me,” she said. “It’s really important for me to have a voice. There is a revolution brewing, and I’m so glad that I’m a part of it. … For me, I’ve been through so much, and I would never regret one part of it, because it made me a stronger person. It made me realize that I’m worth something. It made me realize I’m put on this planet for a reason. Nothing is ever going to take that away from me. I swear I’m going to fight the fight to the end.”