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Sunshine smoke screens


EDITORIAL There are danger signals coming out of City Hall these days, some not-so-subtle indications that the city’s open-government laws might be quietly coming under attack. Consider:

The City Attorney’s Office has filed an action in Superior Court to have library activist James Chaffee declared a "vexatious litigant." That would stop Chaffee from filing any more legal actions to try to force the Library Commission which has a terrible record on open government issues to comply with state and local laws.

Chaffee is a former chair of the Sunshine Task Force. In 1999 and 2002, he filed a string of suits against the library (all of them lost, the city says) and he’s filed a few actions since then. He’s acted as his own attorney in almost every case. Some of them, frankly, were a little obscure: Changing the public-comment time at a meeting from three minutes to two minutes isn’t the sort of thing that typically requires a lawsuit to resolve. But his work, in and out of court for 31 years, has unquestionably had a positive impact on library openness and has infuriated the Library Commission, which is pushing this action. Chaffee’s last lawsuit was filed more than a year ago. Why go after him now?

The Chaffee litigation comes at the same time as a Sunshine Task Force committee has been quietly discussing ways to handle activists who file repeated, numerous, and extensive records requests. The target in that case is Kimo Crossman, who has filed dozens of requests seeking information related to the city’s dealings with WiFi contractors. We realize he’s flooded the City Attorney’s Office with requests, and it’s costing the city a whole lot of money to deal with them. But his basic point that the entire WiFi contract talks have been far too secretive is absolutely true.

And the question never came before the entire task force, which should have had an open, well-publicized discussion on the issue and sought ways to address it. Instead, David Pilpel, chair of the task force’s Education, Outreach, and Training Committee, called a special hearing on the matter March 22. The meeting, on "abusive, burdensome, excessive, and/or harassing" records requests, was poorly noticed and poorly attended, and Pilpel gave the City Attorney’s Office and the library plenty of time to make their cases, while limiting Crossman and Chaffee to three minutes each.

The full task force essentially rebuked Pilpel at the next meeting, March 28, and task force attorney Ernest Llorente has drafted new rules for special meetings.

Meanwhile, Sunshine Task Force chair Doug Comstock may lose his seat. The supervisors have reappointed all of the sitting task force members except Comstock; Sup. Sean Elsbernd is making an issue of Comstock’s role as a campaign consultant. This one ought to be simple: Comstock was a key part of the campaign to pass the Sunshine Initiative in the first place, led the effort on the latest round of reforms, has been an excellent chair and has been on the public-interest side of every significant issue that’s come before him.

All of this backroom dealing and overreaction has us worried. The issue of "excessive" public records requests is tricky and has the potential to lead to some terrible legislation or rules. It needs a lot more public discussion; the task force ought to schedule a full hearing on it, with plenty of time to thrash out all sides, before anyone proposes any possible solutions. There’s no need to go to court against Chaffee right now, and it sets a bad precedent. City Attorney Dennis Herrera ought to drop the case and tell the Library Commission that it ought to act like open government matters and if it wants to silence critics, it can find the money to hire its own lawyers.

And the supervisors need to reappoint Comstock, who is exactly the kind of person the task force needs as a leader at a critical time like this for open government. SFBG

For more background, including an open letter from Chaffee and the City Attorney’s motion, go to

Read James Chaffee’s response


Contact: James Chaffee 584-8999 /

Being Vexatious Down At the Public Library Is a Virtue

Open Letter to the SF Bay Guardian

The one thing that history has taught us is that if there is going to be responsible democratic government, there better be process, openness, access and respect beforehand, because there will never be accountability afterward. 

I use to think that there would be accountability, yet the forces of privatization have sucked our public library dry like any parasite, and everyone knows it.  Yet corporate philanthropy acts as if we are supposed to be grateful, and our city officials comply.

The San Francisco City Attorney has filed a motion to have me declared a vexatious litigant.  I confess that I am a bit shocked.  I never thought they would try it.  It is obvious that it is politically motivated and it needs to be addressed politically. 

There is no mistaking the source of this move.  There was a recent meeting of a committee of the Sunshine Task Force that had been called in the service of City departments reacting against document requests that were "annoying."  That was not the word, but something like that.  A representative of the City Attorney’s office, Matt Dorsey, stated that one of the City Attorney’s options was to seek redress in the court of public opinion.  Of course, it seems all too obvious to make an example of someone like myself who does not shrink from the term "Gadfly" but in fact embraces it.

According to the papers that were served with the motion for vexatious litigant, I have filed 20 lawsuits in my 31 year career as a Gadfly at the San Francisco Public Library.  When I started at the San Francisco Library Commission, there was no public attendance, no public comment, and I am sure the Library Commission never imagined there ever would be.  At that time the Library staff complained because the Library Commission had de facto meetings at the home of the director of the library’s private partner, at that time called the "Friends" now called the Friends and Foundation.  A prominent member of the Library staff solicited me to complain about violations of the Brown Act.  I had never heard of it at that time.  That was a long time ago.

At about the time that I started there was a Robert Redford movie called, "Three Days of the Condor."  It was about an historical society that was a front for the CIA.  I was a fly on the wall in those early Library Commission meetings, and that is what it was like.  No one cared about the library as a public institution.  They were going to suck it dry in the interests of private fund raising.  I was the first person to break through the barrier to attendance at Library Commission meeting and that first meeting was more challenging than any open meeting issue I have faced since.  Having done this, I felt it was my duty as a citizen to expose what I saw.

It is openly acknowledged at the Library that there would be no compliance with sunshine or open meetings laws without my lawsuits.  As a matter of fact, at the recent meetings of the Technology and Privacy Committee that was convened to pave the way for implementation of RFID, there was a proposal to use on-line conferencing software in an illegal way.  Commissioner Coulter made a joke that they had better not or they would get sued by me.  Some joke.  There is no respect for what is right, or what is legal, not to mention actual respect for the public.  The only thing that deters them from brazen violations of the law is getting sued.  The only thing that deters them from naked rip-off of the library is what little openness there is.

Yet after all of this time of being successful in creating some semblance of compliance with Sunshine and open meetings laws, if however grudging, their only response is to sue me as a vexatious litigant.  It is the opposite of the three  strikes law.  The concept is that after twenty strikes they want a get-out-of-jail free card.  One would think they would be ashamed that after this long string of illegalities, but they want to blame me for fixing it. 

This vexatious litigant motion is nothing but slander and intimidation in its purest form.  Labeling me as a vexatious litigant has no chance of success.  Such a motion is neither legal, lawful or even valid.  If any responsible authority in City Hall sees this missive, please be informed that the San Francisco City Attorney’s office is in desperate need of adult supervision.

One never knows what a judge is going to do, but even if I were to lose and end up being slandered as a vexatious litigant, it is a small price to pay.  There is a sense in which I lost the battle, but won the war.  There is public attendance at commission meetings, agenda items, public comment (no matter how much they laugh and rattle their M&M’s), and copies of documents under discussion (most of the time).  None of those things were implemented willingly.  The library Commission fought against them just as hard as I fought for them.  Most of the time it doesn’t matter much, but when the staff wants a City Librarian who has an MLS or the pre-school gets kicked out of Bernal Heights, there is a forum for people to speak and the Library Commission’s arbitrariness does not go down quite so easily. 

For those who believe that Coke is the Real Thing, Progress is Our Most Important Product, and Military Intelligence knows where the Weapons of Mass Destruction Are, they may also believe that corporate money in the library is "positive."  Everyone else has long ago acknowledged that I was right about the stream of lies that ruined our library and benefited private interests, and continues to do so.

The motion does not make sense without some discussion of the substance of the suits along the way.  The City Attorney in its memo uses the terms "meritless lawsuits over and over again," and "repetitive meritless lawsuits."  What the City Attorney does not mention is that three of those appeals resulted in published opinions.  When the Court of Appeal publishes an opinion, the court is saying that it is a significant point on which lower courts need guidance.  The published opinions went against me, but that is a result of the political climate not the significance of the issue.  

The law on vexatious litigants uses the term "adverse judgment."  Let’s take just one example.  The library refused to hold the required Library Preservation Fund neighborhood hearings on open hours in the branches.  I filed suit.  After the suit was filed, the Library Commission scheduled new hearings, and then claimed to the judge that the case was moot.  Is that an adverse judgment?  The city seems to think it is.  In fact, in the law there is something called a "prevailing party" standard.  Under that standard, if you get what you were originally asking for you are the prevailing party.  Under the "prevailing party" standard I have won the vast majority of the suits.

Let’s take another example.  One of the lawsuits was on a closed session.  The judge demanded to see the tape recording of the meeting "in camera."  The Library Commission claimed that they had "lost" the tape, unquestionably as a coverup.  The judge had no choice but to dismiss for lack of evidence.  Is that an adverse judgment?  The city seems to think it is.

Of course, there was the case that I won hands down.  At least two of the cases were about the Fuhrman Fund (See Bay Guardian of Dec. 22, 1993) where they had to get the law and the will changed to retroactively indemnify themselves.  Quentin Kopp got involved and there was a major public discussion public trusts.  (Don’t forget the Director of the Friends and Foundation was the same person who had attempted to divert the Buck Trust in Marin County.  Marin County was successful in protecting itself, but San Francisco failed.)  How meritless was that?

I could go on like this at some length, but the point is, these were all crucial issues and now I am defending myself against this superficial and malicious SLAPP.

I am grateful for the Bay Guardian’s support, but I think it makes one small faux pas.  The editorial refers to some of my lawsuits as "a little obscure."  All of the suits were about distinct and important points.  I never sued over anything that I didn’t consider both significant and a deliberate violation on the part of the Library Commission.  The Library Commission does not negotiate or compromise.  When I began the door was completely slammed in my face.  I started by establishing a beachhead and advancing openness point by point.  Myself, Kimo Crossman, Christian Holmer, Timothy Gillespie, Doug Comstock and so many others — including Bruce Brugmann — have been fighting for sunshine and open government against a door that has been slammed in our face by those who think that because of their money they are aristocrats or "good people."  There was nothing obscure about it.

The reason that this is so prejudicial is that I am in fact in "pro per" and people make certain assumptions about that.  What no one wants to admit is that the City Attorney is what is called "Rambo litigators from Hell."  Until one have been through at least a dozen lawsuits against them, one is helpless against the dirty tricks that one is up against.  Just as an indication, there are court rules that every case must have a settlement conference and a mediation.  In my entire history, I have never had either.  They never negotiate.  They never discuss.  They don’t have to.  If there were any truth in the matter, the City Attorney would be declared "vexatious."

The fact is that democracy exists because public-spirited citizens fight for it.  The better question is, Why did the Library Commission fight against it at every turn?   It is important to look at the broad perspective of who is, and has been, fighting for the democratic principles of openness and public process.  The fact is, Kimo Crossman and I, as well as others, have been fighting for democratic principles that are important to everyone and it is a good thing that we do, no matter how often we lose.

For those who saw my public comment at the Board of Supervisors meeting of April 11, you saw 35 newspaper headlines exposing problems in SFPL while I mentioned everything from the book dumping scandal to the retribution against staff whistleblower scandal, and many in between.  Would the City and the society as a whole be better off if none of that were exposed?  Of course, the library administration did not willingly allow the sunshine that brought those issues to light.  One of the weapons that they use most relentlessly against openness is personal calumny against those who would uncover the truth.  I have been called a lot worse things than vexatious litigant.  Every gain for democracy comes at the expense of the aristocracy’s prerogatives.  They don’t like it, but that is the way it works.

In the end it wasn’t about the Brown Act.  Figuratively speaking, I was smuggling wheelbarrows. It was about establishing a beachhead for democracy so that there would be public discussion about the issues of the privatization and destruction of the public library.  It is true that some of the Brown Act lawsuits were about relatively small points, but it began with brazen and open contempt for sunshine and ended up with more of the truth coming out than anyone thought possible.

The next step is putting Library Commission meetings on SFGTV.  How many departments with a $70 Million annual budget are not broadcast on cable access or available on Video on Demand?  The one thing that will make it difficult for the Library Commission to privatize the Public Library is to allow the people to see what is going on.  That is where "sunshine" comes from.  "Sunshine is the best disinfectant."

The right housing fees


EDITORIAL The San Francisco Chronicle has finally noticed what we reported a month ago: The Board of Supervisors has effectively put in place a moratorium on new market-rate housing on the east side of the city. We hear that city planners are looking for loopholes to undermine the temporary ban, but the intent of what the supervisors did is clear: Until there’s a detailed and valid review of how new high-end condos and lofts impact blue-collar jobs and low-income housing, the developers will have to let their demolition and excavation equipment idle.

Meanwhile, Sup. Chris Daly is moving to increase significantly the amount of low-cost housing that private developers have to build to win permission for future projects. Daly’s legislation is a good start and sets the right tone for the debate, but the board should go even further.

The Daly plan would apply to almost all new market-rate housing built anywhere in the city and would take effect whenever the moratorium ends. It would require most developers to offer 15 percent of the units of any project for less than market rates, and that number would jump to 25 percent if the affordable housing was built on another site. In other words, a builder who wants to put up 500 luxury condos in SoMa would have to build 125 affordable units somewhere else in the city.

That’s nice, but it’s not enough.

The city’s own general plan makes it clear that 72 percent of all new housing needs to be affordable to moderate- and low-income people. And the planning process for the eastern neighborhoods has still offered no proposals for how to make that happen.

At the same time, of course, the plans to intensely develop an area poorly served by transit and generally bereft of public infrastructure and open space utterly ignore the fact that it will cost hundreds of millions of dollars to create real neighborhoods (instead of clusters of heavily fortified, gated buildings).

Daly’s got the right idea: Developers are making a fortune building million-dollar condos in San Francisco, and they can well afford to give the city a whole lot back. But it’s worth taking a longer approach here and considering the price of bringing as many as 100,000 more people to SoMa, Potrero Hill, Dogpatch, the central waterfront, and BayviewHunters Point and figure out who is going to pay for it.

Daly could start by asking for a detailed independent study of what it really costs a developer to build new condo units in the city and what the current profit margins are. Then take the city’s affordable-housing needs, the need for public-sector development, and the estimated new tax revenue and compare: Can fair taxes and requirements on the developers raise enough money to meet the city’s needs?

And, if not, we get back to the question this paper has been asking for over a year: Why are we building any new market-rate housing, anyway? SFBG


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Editor’s notes

I used to say San Francisco politics was a contact sport, but these days I think it’s more of a steel-cage match, which is generally fine with me. I have no beef with blood sport, and most of us are consenting adults who chose of our own free will to participate in this high-stakes game. But even ugly fights have unwritten rules, and one of them is that you don’t make disparaging comments about people’s gender, race, or sexual orientation. It’s just not OK.

I mention this because there’s a pretty serious furor in the queer community over an attack by developer Joe O’Donoghue on transgender activist Robert Haaland.

Ol’ Joe, who also likes to think of himself as a poet, is fighting with Haaland over Proposition D, which would bar the city from sending some mentally ill people to Laguna Honda hospital (and would, as an aside, rezone lots of city-owned land for private nursing homes). Haaland works for the big city-employee union, Local 790, which is campaigning against Prop. D; O’Donoghue, who is a major backer of the measure, has decided to personalize the campaign. In a lyrical missive that’s been widely distributed, O’Donoghue refers to "our transfigured Robert" and (in the not-so-subtle cloak of biblical language) suggests that Haaland is a bitter and angry human being because he was born a woman. Another letter refers to Haaland as "Robbi" and threatens to donate to the Prop. D campaign the same amount of money as the city had to pay to Haaland to settle a transgender police-harassment case. It’s actually pretty vicious stuff.

Some queer leaders are arguing that there ought to be a city law banning political "hate speech," which is entirely the wrong approach: You can’t outlaw any kind of speech without bad First Amendment problems. But we all can, and should, tell O’Donoghue (whose political statements are getting increasingly mean-spirited and personal) that he’s crossed a very big line and that if he’s going to pull shit like this, he’s no longer welcome in local politics. The guy has a lot of campaign money to throw around, and it’s tempting even for folks on the left to take it. But every decent San Franciscan ought to tell him to take a hike.

Now this: I’ve enjoyed all the historical stuff in the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Francisco Examiner about the 1906 earthquake, but everyone’s leaving out one of the best parts. It was the failure of the private Spring Valley Water Company to maintain its pipes that helped doom firefighting efforts and that was a big factor in the passage of the Raker Act, which gave the city a public water system. Of course, the Raker Act also required us to run a public power system, which (as I’ve probably mentioned a time or two) has been blocked by Pacific Gas and Electric Co. all these years.

And this: The axes are falling with fury over at the Village Voice, where longtime Washington bureau chief Jim Ridgeway one of the top alternative press reporters in the country was canned the first week in April, and writer Jennifer Gonnerman resigned. Sydney Schanberg, the Pulitzer Prizewinning media columnist, had already left, and the Bush Blog had been canceled. All of this drew the attention of Democracy Now, which did a lengthy report April 13. They even got me out of bed at 5:30 a.m. to join the East Coast discussion. Somehow, though, nobody from the Phoenix-based New Times crew that just bought the Voice was available for comment. Chickens. >SFBG

For a full transcript, go to

In SF, health care for all


OPINION The question before us as San Francisco voters, health care providers, activists, legislators, and consumers is: "Can our community provide access to health care for people who work?"

In a surprising, welcome, and wise political partnership, Sup. Tom Ammiano and Mayor Gavin Newsom have joined their hearts and minds in a two-pronged approach to improve health access. The scope of the problem is simple.

In San Francisco, 84 percent of workers are privately insured. Employees contribute through premiums and co-payments. But there are now 82,000 uninsured adults in San Francisco. They rarely use preventative or primary care health services and (because of cost) only pursue health services when acutely ill. The overwhelming majority find their way to the overburdened emergency department at San Francisco General Hospital, where the taxpayers pick up the cost, estimated at more than $29 million a year.

It’s difficult and prohibitively expensive for individuals to get private health coverage. So group insurance is the obvious solution and right now, that means insurance from employers.

The first of two complementary endeavors, initiated in November 2005 by Supervisor Ammiano, is the Worker Health Care Security Ordinance. It would direct employers with 20 employees or more to provide health insurance or contribute financially toward paying the cost of health care services for uninsured employees who work at least 80 hours a month.

The second part of the initiative comes from Mayor Newsom, who appointed a 37-member Universal Health Care Council, which will submit recommendations by May 2006 for a "defined benefits plan" establishing a "medical home" for the uninsured. It will also clarify the scope and cost of defined services, such as prevention and primary care, including behavioral or mental health services, dental health services, and prescription drugs, all in a plan delivered by the Department of Public Health clinics and the nonprofit coalition of community clinics.

San Franciscans overwhelmingly support universal health care.

By May the Universal Health Care Council, led by Sandra Hernandez, who runs the San Francisco Foundation, and Lloyd Dean, CEO of Catholic Health Care West, will recommend the scope of a plan, and health care benefits and costs, for both uninsured employees and the unemployed. For uninsured employees, this defined benefit plan could be heard at the same time as the final hearings on the Worker Health Care Security Ordinance currently in the budget and finance committee.

The opportunity to legislate a defined health care benefit for 30,000 uninsured working people in San Francisco is a historic step forward in improving the health status of all San Franciscans. Let us join both Sup. Tom Ammiano and Mayor Gavin Newsom to make history by the summer of 2006 and expand health coverage to working San Franciscans. SFBG

Roma Guy is a member of the clinical faculty of the Health Education Department at San Francisco State University and a city health commissioner.

Arnold and Emily


This is a story about a muscle-bound governor, a nine-year-old girl, and some polar bears. The governor is Arnold Schwarzenegger, the girl is Emily Magavern, and the polar bears or at least photos of them served as backdrops for a pair of speeches the two gave on global warming.

Emily, the daughter of a Sierra Club lobbyist, gave her speech in Sacramento on April 3 at a press conference outlining legislation that Democratic lawmakers have introduced to create a mandatory limit on greenhouse gases.

“I don’t want the polar bears to lose their homes,” Emily told the gathering.

That bill was triggered by a report from the Climate Action Team, which was commissioned by Schwarzenegger in June 2005 to recommend how California should address global warming. The report’s suggestions include a tax on gasoline, the monitoring of factory emissions, a cap-and-trade system (which caps the amount of greenhouse gases that factories may produce and sets up a trading market in which businesspeople can buy or sell emissions credits), as well as other less contentious initiatives.

But when Schwarzenegger came to San Francisco April 11 to outline his recommendations, he embraced almost none of the controversial schemes, with the exception of mandatory reporting of emissions (something most factories don’t now report), even as he claimed climate change to be a “most pressing issue.”

“The debate is over, the science is in, and it’s time for action,” boomed Schwarzenegger, who then contradicted his own call to action by telling the crowd that he was concerned about scaring businesses out of the state. “Must take cautious steps and the right steps.”

There are telling contrasts between the approaches of our tough-talking governor and this soft-spoken little girl. In some ways it seems their roles are reversed, with Schwarzenegger unwilling to connect cause and effect and Emily taking a more mature view of the problem.

Emily diagnosed what is essentially a simple problem. Humans are causing cataclysmic, global climate changes through excessive consumption of fossil fuels. The changes are having a negative impact on many species, including polar bears in the Arctic and animals closer to home, like California’s state bird, the California quail.

Some of the top contributors to the problem are the humans living right here in California, which is the world’s 12th largest producer of greenhouse gases, of which 58 percent come from cars. The solution: Burn less fossil fuel, even if that’s a difficult thing to do.

“We can’t rely on oil forever,” Emily said.

In contrast, Schwarzenegger spun a compelling vision of what California’s future would be like if it cleaned up its greenhouse gas emissions. Yet he remains politically intimidated by business interests, such as the California Chamber of Commerce and the California Manufacturers and Technology Association, which says that addressing global warming would hurt the state’s economy.

In the beginning of his speech at San Francisco City Hall, Schwarzenegger touted the need for immediate action by developing a mandatory reporting and cap-and-trade system, emphasizing the economic benefits of recently implemented initiatives. Yet he later said he opposed caps, leaving it unclear how such a system would work or exactly what he’s calling for.

“We should start off without the caps until 2010,” Schwarzenegger said. “Caps could scare off the business community.”

Schwarzenegger’s response has many global warming advocates feeling deflated, while a number of businesses are breathing sighs of relief. The governor also appears to be letting the driving public off the hook by refusing to support the gas tax that his committee recommended, a problem addressed by Emily.

“If people try to not drive cars as much and try to drive cleaner cars, that would help the problem,” Emily said.

There are also many grown-ups out there who agree with Emily and say that dealing with global warming may be difficult, but doing so proactively and taking a lead role in the effort might actually help the state’s economy by encouraging development of new technologies and industries rather than hurt it.

“The chamber’s very good at having 20/20 vision in the rearview mirror,” said Bob Epstein, cofounder of Environmental Entrepreneurs. “All businesses need are the creation of simple rules, and then the legislators can step back and let business innovate.”

That seems to be what the legislature is trying to do, with Assembly Bill 32 seeking to cap factory emissions and reduce them by 30 percent by the year 2020. But whether the governor will sign this bill (and others to come) and start saving the polar bears and Emily’s generation is a question he seems unwilling to address. SFBG


Invisible minority


A new community-based research report on Pacific Islanders Tongans, Samoans, Hawaiians, Fijians, and other Polynesians reveals disproportionately high dropout, arrest, and depression rates among the population in Oakland.

In the 2000 to 2001 school year, for example, 47 Pacific Islander ninth graders were enrolled in the Oakland Unified School District. By the 2003 to 2004 school year, when those students would have been seniors, only 14 Pacific Islanders were enrolled in the 12th grade.

Pacific Islander youths also have the second-highest arrest rate in Alameda County and the highest arrest rate about 9 in 100 Pacific Islanders each year in San Francisco County, according to the Asian/Pacific Islander Youth Violence Prevention Center.

Often grouped under the larger Asian and Pacific Islander category, Pacific Islanders’ experiences are overshadowed by larger groups like Chinese and Japanese Americans.

"We’re invisible," Penina Ava Taesali, a researcher of the report, told the Guardian. "All we have is anecdotal data on issues. In every segment of the government city, county, state, and federal there’s no data."

Taesali, who is the artistic director of Asian/Pacific Islander Youth Promoting Advocacy and Leadership, said that when she first began working for AYPAL eight years ago, she expected to see a program for Pacific Islander youths and was surprised to see none. She helped create the youth program Pacific Islander Kie Association (PIKA) in 2001.

She is among those now trying to figure out why this relatively small cultural group is having such disproportionate problems and how they might be solved.

Culture Clash

The first wave of immigration from the Pacific Islands came after World War II. During the war many Pacific Islands, including Hawaii, Tonga, and Samoa, were occupied by US troops. Previous to that, many Pacific Islands were colonized by Europeans.

After the United States loosened its immigration policies in 1965, more and more Pacific Islanders moved to the US, as well as to New Zealand, Australia, and Canada. First men, then women, moved abroad for better jobs to send remittance back to the islands. Between 1980 and 1990, the US population of Tongans rose 58 percent.

When the 2000 US census was released, many were also surprised to learn that there are more Pacific Islanders living in California than in Hawaii: 116,961 compared with 113,539. The Bay Area including Oakland, San Francisco, and San Mateo is home to 36,317 Pacific Islanders.

Now a new generation of Pacific Islander Americans is growing up and learning to navigate family, school, and church but many are feeling alienated from all three social structures.

"A lot of times, within Pacific Islander families, the children are very much seen but not heard," Venus Mesui, a community liaison at Life Academy and Media Academy high schools in Oakland, said. "They’re not really able to express themselves at school or at home. Depression comes along with that, because they don’t have the know-how to express themselves in a positive manner. They don’t have a space, or they don’t feel safe, to voice their opinions."

The report also revealed that several youths who were interviewed said domestic violence and corporal punishment occurred within their families.

Pelenatita "Tita" Olosoni, 18, told us she wished more parents would visit the schools to see what’s really going on.

"Parents think school out here is easier than back on the islands," Olosoni said. "It would be helpful if they took time off from work to see what kids are going through every day."

According to Mesui, parents need to be trained in how to support their children, particularly if they attend underperforming schools.

"I know all of the parents want their kids to succeed, but unfortunately, older siblings are asked to take care of the younger ones, and this doesn’t prepare them with good habits that will make them successful in school," Mesui, who is Hawaiian, said.

Olosoni said she and other Pacific Islander students have had to stay home and miss weeks of school to take care of their younger siblings and cousins.

Christopher Pulu, a 15-year-old freshman at Oakland High whose father is a landscaper, said, "That’s what the majority of our fathers do." Most Pacific Islanders in the US are laborers, and 32 percent live below the national poverty level, according to 2000 US census data.

"They always need an extra hand," Olosoni told us. "So the boys will drop school and see it as an easy way to make money and work with their dads."

"Big-boned and heavy-handed"

Like many minority groups, Pacific Islanders suffer from stereotypes. The prevalent minority myth that all Asians (though most Pacific Islanders do not consider themselves Asian) do well in school actually hurts groups like Pacific Islanders, Cambodians, and Hmong, according to Andrew Barlow, a sociology professor at UC Berkeley and Diablo Valley College.

"Most people say we’re big-boned and heavy-handed," Olosoni said. "When Tongans get in trouble, the whole Tongan crew gets in trouble."

Olosoni remembers the day she, her sister, and three friends were called into the principal’s office after a lunchtime fight at Castlemont High School in East Oakland. The security guard called another guard on his walkie-talkie and said, "Gather all the Tongans in the office," Olosoni recalls.

"I was like, ‘No, they didn’t go there,’" she told us. "It was just the five of us involved in the fight, but they called in all the Tongans." After the fight, the five Polynesian girls were given a one-week suspension.

Because Pacific Islander youths only make up 1.2 percent of a district’s population, they are usually a small but visible group within each school. While security guards may not be able to call "all Latinos" to the office, for example, they can do so with a smaller population like Tongans, Barlow said. He said that being so easily targeted increases solidarity within the community but may also lead to insularity and even more stereotyping.

"When people are denied opportunities and when they’re treated unequally, the way they’re going to deal with that is increasing reliance on their community and increasing ethnic solidarity," he said.

Barlow, who teaches courses on race and ethnicity, told us stereotypes are just a part of the problem. Larger systemic issues such as the economy, access to jobs, and educational role models are just as crucial.

"Tongans are already coming into American society with a lot of problems caused by colonialism," Barlow says. "If you don’t have access to a very wealthy school district, if you don’t know people who have access to good jobs, if you don’t have a high degree of education, then you’re in trouble."

A New Generation

Pulu said he hopes to be the first in his family to attend and graduate from college. He has received at least a 3.5 grade point average every semester and attends church regularly.

At the beginning of the school year, his multicultural education teacher asked him to go to the front of the class and point out Tonga on a world map.

"It doesn’t stand out," Pulu said. He is energetic and enthusiastic and doesn’t mind educating others about his culture. "Most people think it’s a part of Hawaii."

Mesui said Pacific Islanders have come a long way. Though the report focuses on a lot of struggles, Mesui said that she has personally seen increasing numbers of Pacific Islanders graduate from high school and go on to college, including her three children.

She believes schools should address the issue of youths who don’t have support at home.

"When they’re not in school, they’re doing something else," Mesui said. "The majority of the arrests are due to them not going to school and getting in trouble on the streets. And I think it falls on the school we’re not doing something to keep them here."

Olosoni said she knows of 3 Tongan youths in the last school year who were kicked out of Castlemont out of about 15 Pacific Islander students in the school for cutting class.

"It comes from the lack of them getting help from people of their own kind to help them understand things better," Olosoni said. She is now attending adult school and working on her GED.

Over the years Taesali has pushed for more programming in the community. PIKA now has about 40 youths who meet every Tuesday afternoon at an Oakland high school.

"If we got more Pacific Islander staff and teachers, there would be immediate results," Taesali said. "I have no doubt about it."

Taesali sees Pacific Islander students engaged when they learn about their own culture.

"Every time we’ve done workshops on Pacific Islander history and culture, [the students] just don’t want to leave," she said. "They are so happy to be learning about their culture." SFBG

Dede Wilsey’s whoppers


An aggressive and misleading campaign against Saturday road closures in Golden Gate Park by the Corporation of the Fine Arts Museums spearheaded by its board president, Dede Wilsey appears to be backfiring as the proposal heads for almost certain approval by the Board of Supervisors.

Yet the Healthy Saturdays proposal by Sup. Jake McGoldrick which would close from May 25 to Nov. 25 the same portion of JFK Drive now closed on Sundays, a six-month trial period to study its impacts still needs the signature of Mayor Gavin Newsom, who has not yet taken a position.

And there are rumblings that even if the measure is approved either with Newsom’s signature or an override of his veto Wilsey and her supporters intend to attempt a referendum that would effectively kill the project if they can gather 20,000-plus valid signatures within 30 days. City law requires the targets of referendums to be placed on hold until the vote, which would occur this November.

The proposal got its first hearing April 14, when the Land Use Committee unanimously recommended it be approved by the full board (which will consider the matter April 25). The long and emotional hearing showed sharp divisions between the environmentalists and recreational park users who support closure and the de Young Museum benefactors and park neighbors who oppose it.

It also unmasked the deceptive tactics being employed by Wilsey and museum director John D. Buchanan, who coauthored an April 7 letter to de Young Museum members and April 4 memos to museum trustees and staff urging opposition to Healthy Saturdays and implying the museum’s survival was at stake.

"Closure of JFK Drive on Saturday has twice been voted down by the electorate and has been shown to be unpopular in polls for the last decade. While Sunday closure is a reality, road closures severely compromise access to the museum, particularly for seniors, families, persons with disabilities, and anyone who cannot afford the cost of the parking garage," they wrote. This information was parroted by many who argued against the closure.

Yet the letters were grossly misleading and at least 16 museum members wrote angry letters to the museum protesting the Wilsey-Buchanan position. The Guardian obtained the letters through a Sunshine Ordinance request. One writer called the museum campaign "self-serving and deceptive," while another wrote: "I take issue with undertaking a letter campaign using my donations."

Contrary to what the April 7 letter implies, people with disabilities are allowed to drive on the closed roads, and McGoldrick has now incorporated into the measure all recommendations of the Mayor’s Office of Disability. The letter also never indicates that the closure is temporary, that free parking is available a short walk from the museum, or that the public voted on the proposal just once, albeit on two competing measures that were each narrowly defeated, in November 2000.

At that time, with polls showing public support for the Saturday closure proposed in Measure F, museum patrons tried to scuttle the closure by qualifying a competing Measure G, which would have delayed the Saturday closure until after completion of the parking garage. In the ballot pamphlet, Wilsey, the California Academy of Sciences, and other opponents of Measure F wrote arguments for the ballot handbook promising to support Saturday closure once the garage was completed, as it was last summer.

"The Academy supports the closure of JFK Drive on Saturdays once the efforts of Saturday closure have been studied, alternative transportation measures are in place, and the voter-approved, privately funded parking facility is built under the Music Concourse," one statement read.

At the hearing, McGoldrick asked Wilsey why she is reneging on her promise. Wilsey said that she wrote her statement in 1998 while her husband and dog were still alive, before she had raised $202 million for the museum renovation, and back when "we were not in a war against terrorism. Almost nothing that was true in 1998 is true today."

Wilsey did not respond to our request to clarify her response or explain other aspects of what appears to be a calculated campaign of misinformation. For example, she and other museum spokespeople have been saying publicly that museum attendance on Saturdays is far higher than on Sundays because of the road closure.

When we spoke with museum spokesperson Barbara Traisman, she said the de Young receives 15 to 20 percent more visitors on Saturdays than on Sundays. Yet she refused our request to provide the attendance data to support her statement just as museum officials have ignored requests by McGoldrick for that data for the last three weeks telling us: "That’s too onerous to ask someone to do that."

So on April 13, the Guardian made an immediate disclosure request for those records under the Sunshine Ordinance. The next day, just as the hearing was getting under way, Wilsey turned those records over to McGoldrick.

The documents showed that on 10 of the 23 weekends that the de Young has been open, attendance on Sundays was actually higher than on Saturdays. By the end of the hearing, even committee chair Sup. Sophie Maxwell who had voiced concerns about Saturday closure and was not considered a supporter voted for Healthy Saturdays, joining the board’s progressive majority of six that has already signed on as cosponsors. SFBG


PG&E vs. Greenaction



Pacific Gas and Electric Company has been promising for years to shut down its filty, dangerous Hunters Point power plant. Now state regulators have signed off on the plan, and it should be happening any day. But PG&E and Greenaction — which has been the group leading the charge to close the plant — have very different ideas about the timeframe.


Here’s PG&E’s claim:



   PG&E Completes Potrero-Hunters Point Transmission Line
                               in San Francisco

      Utility on Target to Closing Hunters Point Power Plant This Spring

    SAN FRANCISCO, April 7 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ — Pacific Gas and Electric
Company has released into service a new underground transmission line in San
Francisco, bringing the utility closer to its goal of closing its last San
Francisco power plant.
    The Potrero-Hunters Point Cable is a 115,000-volt transmission line that
improves electric reliability and increases electric capacity in San
Francisco. Built at a cost of about $40 million, the Potrero-Hunters Point
Cable spans 2.5-miles and is entirely underground, connecting two large
substations in southeast San Francisco. Construction on the line began in June
    The Potrero-Hunters Point Cable is the second-to-last of nine transmission
projects PG&E has completed in its effort to obtain California Independent
System Operator approval to terminate the must-run contract for the Hunters
Point Power Plant. The California ISO has required PG&E to run the plant to
assure continued reliable electric service in the region, but completion of
the transmission projects will allow PG&E to maintain reliable service without
the plant.
    The final transmission project, the Jefferson-Martin 230-kv Transmission
Line, is scheduled to be completed this spring, even though excessive rain
during March and April has posed challenges. PG&E is investing approximately
$320 million in the nine projects that will increase electric capacity,
improve reliability and also allow for the Hunters Point Power Plant to close.
    Ten business days after PG&E notifies the California ISO that the
Jefferson-Martin line is in commercial service, the "reliability must-run"
contract under which PG&E is obligated to operate the plant will terminate, at
which point PG&E will immediately close the plant.
    "PG&E worked closely with the community, the City and the Port of San
Francisco to get the Potrero-Hunters Point Cable project approved and built in
a timely manner," said Jeff Butler, senior vice president of energy delivery
at PG&E. "Everyone understood the project’s role in closing the Hunters Point
Power Plant."
    "The Close It Coalition and the A. Philip Randolph Institute have been
instrumental in seeing that Hunters Point Power Plant close," said Lynette
Sweet, a community resident and advocate, and board member of the Bay Area
Rapid Transit District. "I’m grateful that PG&E listened to the community and
worked hard to keep their promise."

    For more information about Pacific Gas and Electric Company, please visit
the company’s Web site at

SOURCE  Pacific Gas and Electric Company
    -0-                             04/07/2006
    /CONTACT:  PG&E News Department, +1-415-973-5930/
    /Web site:


Here’s what Greenaction has to say about that:

For immediate release: April 7, 2006


For More Information Contact: 

Marie Harrison, Bradley Angel, Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice, (415) 248-5010

Tessie Ester, Bayview Hunters Point Mothers Committee for Environmental Justice, (415) 643-3170


                  Showdown at PG&E Hunters Point Power Plant


           Greenaction and Community Groups Set Tuesday, April 11, noon

                as Deadline to Shut Down PG&E’s Polluting Power Plant


PG&E claims plant will close, but fails to set date & makes conflicting statements about closure

Tired of broken promises over the last 8 years, residents issue ultimatum


San Francisco, CA – Fed up with PG&E’s refusal to set a specific date to close the dirty and outdated PG&E Hunters Point power plant and tired of years of broken promises to shut it down, Bayview Hunters Point community residents and Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice will take nonviolent action at the power plant on April 11th at noon to ensure it closes once and for all. 


The power plant is located at Evans and Middlepoint, San Francisco, in the heart of the low-income Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood. As one of California’s dirtiest and oldest power plants, it has polluted the community for over 77 years.  Residents suffer very high rates of asthma and cancer.


PG&E officials have recently made numerous conflicting statements about the supposed upcoming closure of the power plant. First, in September PG&E told the California Independent System Operator (ISO) that the plant should be able to close by early April. Next, in November they wrote a letter to the ISO stating it should close by the end of the second quarter (by end of June). Then, two weeks ago a PG&E official told Greenaction that construction of transmission lines required for ISO approval for the shut down had been completed, and were undergoing testing. Early this week PG&E told a City Department of the Environment official that construction had not been completed. On April 6th PG&E Vice President Bob Harris told an environmental group representative that the plant would be closed "8 days after the rains stop." It is very unclear which rains the PG&E official was referring to.


PG&E has had so-called community groups that it directly supports praise the company, ignoring the ongoing criticism from residents who actually live next to the plant and suffer every day from dirty air.


Tessie Ester, resident of the Huntersview public housing project located across the street from the PG&E plant and chair of the Bayview Hunters Point Mothers Committee for Environmental Justice, said "After years of watching our children suffer with all these illnesses, we won’t be singing or dancing until it closes, and we will be there on April 11th to ensure that, in fact, it finally shuts down."


On April 11th, residents and their supporters will gather in front of the PG&E Power Plant to ensure that the plant closes, by community action if necessary. "Residents and Greenaction will be at the front gates of PG&E on April 11th to make sure this dirty polluter is shut down once and for all," said Marie Harrison, community organizer for Greenaction. "We are tired of delay after delay and broken promises from PG&E and government officials, and we will be at the front gate on April 11th."

                                                                                # # #







April 5–11


March 21-April 19

Aries, everyone’s got a little bit of the people-pleaser in them, even you. You might annoy the shit out of yourself this week as you notice all the ways you refine your personality to suit what other people want or need from you. Pay attention to which of your closest relationships provoke such chameleonesque activity.


April 20-May 20

Your dramas actually have a higher purpose, Taurus. They’re not just happening because the earth deities are pissed at you for your lackluster recycling habits. Nope. Frustration offers you the opportunity to ground your ass in such a way that you coast through your stress with unbelievable balance and authenticity.


May 21-June 21

Gemini, you’re going to have to take a risk. May we suggest that such a risk be taken from your happy place, as opposed to your crazy place, where you’re currently renting a room. We shouldn’t have to tell a weird-ass sign like yourself not to be scared of doing things unconventionally, but fear can make even the zaniest of the zodiac turn overly prudent.


June 22-July 22

Every time you encounter crap, Cancer, (and you will encounter crap in fact, you might want to check the bottoms of your shoes right now), we want you to seize the opportunity to use the stanky muck as compost and hustle yourself some flowers out of the situation.


July 23-Aug. 22

Awwww, finally, someone has a nice horoscope. You deserve it, Leo. You people have truly been putting the horror in horoscopes lately. But not this week! You should be beaming with pride at how open you are to cultivating a new level of understanding what love and passion actually mean to you.


Aug. 23-Sept. 22

Welcome to our crash course in how much you can and cannot control things, Virgo. We think you’ve been enrolled in this particular program before, but hey, sometimes it takes a few tries for information to really sink in. Your homework: cultivating humility in a way that doesn’t diminish your vitality.


Sept. 23-Oct. 22

Libra, it’s going to be tricky to not compulsively submerge yourself in the society swirl. While it may be enticing to throw your cares to the wind and take up a regimen of partying, frankly, your self-esteem can’t handle such immersion in humanity. Have a bath, a cry, or a primal scream instead.


Oct. 23-Nov. 21

Sometimes, Scorpio, all you’ve got is your little personal truth. Your point of view. Your slice of life. And it looks like you’re on a Slice of Life Sandwich diet. The meat in your sandwich this week is (a) you can and should totally trust your needs, and (b) you seriously need to assert some frigging boundaries.


Nov. 22-Dec. 21

Sagittarius, there is such a thing as too much push and not enough yield. And you are all about that thing right now. Yes, we’re saying you’re being pushy and uncompromising. While we are fans of asserting your individuality, and of assertiveness in general, you have officially gone overboard in pursuing what you want.


Dec. 22-Jan. 19

Education isn’t always about acquiring information, Capricorn. Sometimes the most crucial lessons are those that teach us to unlearn what we thought we knew — and undo the damage such mistaken smarts have created. Such knowledge brings loss. Nothing catastrophic, you’re just learning to let go.


Jan. 20-Feb. 18

Ah, it’s another pupil in this week’s School of Hard Knocks! Your specially tailored curriculum concerns ambiguity. How do you achieve some level of comfort when murky situations make you want to scratch your eyes out? How do you ground your intentions and pursue what you want while trapped in enigmatic circumstances?


Feb. 19-March 20

Pisces, you’re coming from such an emotionally funky place it’s getting to be wicked hard to ride good vibes. Just try to stay checked in with yourself and take special pains to make sure you’re not behaving in a way that’s reactionary. Let your behavior reflect what you truly want, not just your tantrums.

Danger! Danger!


Dear Andrea:

Being in my second trimester, I’ve read volumes about the so-called danger of air embolisms caused by blowing air into the vagina during oral sex. Now, I can’t imagine I’m part of an elite few who have had the somewhat embarrassing, occasional “vaginal farts” during or after sex. What do you suppose is the risk of the infamous air embolism occurring from simply getting air forced into the vagina from your basic act of intercourse?

Airy Mary

Dear Mary:

I’ve actually looked into this subject some while in the process of putting together a talk on all the horrible things that can happen to you while having what you thought would be nice, normal, even salubrious sex. You can break your penis or someone else’s penis! You can burst a previously unsuspected ovarian cyst! You can well, never mind. You can do all sorts of horrible things to yourself or someone you are quite fond of, but chances are, you won’t.

A few years after essentially pooh-poohing the embolism issue (“Don’t sit on an air compressor,” I believe I wrote), I had the opportunity to interview and then work with Dr. Charles Moser, the unchallenged expert on how to avoid killing yourself or others in the pursuit of sexual gratification, and he succeeded in convincing me that air embolisms really are a potential danger, even (occasionally) in nonpregnant women. But not even the good doctor suggested that intercourse was likely to cause one, except in certain very specific circumstances that we will get to shortly. A quick review of the literature turns up many articles on air embolisms due to (poorly executed, one assumes) oral sex, although the cases themselves are pretty scarce and often not fatal. You get to go to the hyperbaric chamber, like Michael Jackson!

Since “vaginal farts” are caused by air pumped into the vagina during intercourse, not, heaven forfend, into the uterus, there is likely no correlation whatsoever between your propensity for producing them and any possible danger to you or your fetus. The air has to get into your bloodstream, and the most likely route for that would be through the (open) cervix into a (possibly damaged) uterus. You will, of course, have had a thorough exam, including an ultrasound, to clear you for any cervical or placental abnormalities, before taking my word on anything like this. If you haven’t, we are not having this conversation.

Now, those few fatalities. They were mostly due to intercourse too soon after delivery, a thought that makes me cringe anyway, although I have spoken to women who felt ready to go as soon as the doctor cleared them for takeoff. Doctor and cleared would be the operant words there.


Dear Andrea:

My girlfriend and I always have sex with a condom, and only when she is on birth control, to play it extra-safe. Recently, however, she’s been noticing the antiabortion displays that show up on our college campus sometimes. She now refuses to have sex, because she is so freaked out about becoming pregnant and needing to have an abortion, and she talks about seriously never having sex again because of it. I obviously want to talk to her about this and reassure her, but everything I say, no matter how understanding, makes her think I’m just trying to persuade her into giving me sex. How should I help her calm down about this situation?

Out in the cold

Dear Cold:

You realize your girlfriend’s reaction is way out of the norm, right? That is to say (not that I recommend putting it this way when you do have that conversation), she’s gone a little off-plumb, at least where her risk assessment abilities or lack thereof come into play. Or was she always a little nutty on this topic, as evidenced by the doubling-up of pill plus condoms, which is borderline nutso overkill for birth control purposes (although perfectly rational for disease prophylaxis)?

Look, I have walked through those antiabortion displays. Quite recently I arrived at the restaurant where I was meeting my husband a little pale and shaky from having to walk through two rows of giant, dismembered-fetus posters. They were stationed outside of what I believe was an obstetrician’s convention, and I confess I could neither eat nor engage in small talk until the ghastly images, mixed with my anger at the fact that these assaultive theatrics were aimed at doctors who provide essential health care to women, had faded. But, dude, I got my groove back. There is something going on with your girlfriend that cannot easily be laid at the feet of the antichoice brigade, not that it wouldn’t give me great pleasure to heap blame upon them.

Suggest that your girlfriend go see a nurse practitioner or someone who can calmly walk her through the actual risks (essentially nonexistent) of condom-wrapped, hormonally blocked intercourse. If that plus taking a different route across campus when the crazies are afoot don’t work, well, I hope you like blow jobs. I hear they’re quite popular.


Andrea Nemerson has spent the last 14 years as a sex educator and an instructor of sex educators. In her former life, she was a prop designer. Visit to view her previous columns.

Arbitrary anachronism


TECHSPLOITATION We listened to 1930s music in the car, pretending we were on a country jaunt in our new automobile. But when we finally made it out to the country or at least to Yolo County Fairgrounds we had to go a lot further back than 70 years. Standing in the muddy parking lot, we shed our jeans and sweats and button-<\h>down shirts and put on the garb of medieval peasants. We could see the colorful peaks of royal pavilions over the roofs of several RVs parked nearby. Just as I was pulling my handmade linen underdress over my head, a knight clanked by in his armor. He was talking on a smartphone.

Quinn, Jesse, Danny, and I followed another set of peasants toward a very non<\h>medieval chain-link fence that would be the gateway to our strange adventure. Little Ada, wearing a tiny quilted princess dress with purple trim that matched her sash, wasn’t impressed by anything not the Russian ladies in their fur, not the Renaissance rapier fights taking place next to eighth-century cudgel matches, and not the magic potions for sale next to leather vambraces.

“I’m cold,” she declared definitively. “Let’s go home.”

But we couldn’t turn back now. We had come from afar to see the bout to end all bouts. Its winner would ascend to the throne of the Kingdom of the West. Weaving between dogs in jester outfits, humans in thick leather belts and thicker capes, tents full of strange supplies, and a group of women with beaten copper mugs of mead and bags of Doritos, we at last arrived at a wide, marshy promenade around the battlefield. One end of the football field<\d>size arena was devoted to practice, while at the other end the current king and queen of the West presided over the fights that would determine the kingdom’s future. The fighters, whose efforts were getting them muddy and grass-stained, came from every place and time. Some were dressed in the garb of Arthurian legends, while others had studied early-<\h>modern British history and had perfectly re-created weapons of the period. Some had meticulously knitted their chain mail out of repurposed coat hanger wire, while others had ordered it on the Internet.

“He’s hit! He’s hit!” someone yelled enthusiastically as a knight fell to his knees. When a fighter has been hit on the leg, he or she must keep fighting while kneeling. A hit to the arm means no more using that arm in the bout.

“A hit to the head or torso usually means death,” a serf from Southern California told us. “But ultimately the fighter determines whether it’s a killing blow. Only the fighter can judge, and it’s a matter of honor to take hits when they fall. Certainly some have become king by not acknowledging hits, but they’re in the minority.”

“What time exactly are we in?” I asked.

“The Dark Ages,” replied the serf.

“But this can’t be the Dark Ages,” I argued, gesturing at all the early-second-millennium finery around me. “The Dark Ages come after the fall of the Roman Empire and stretch into about 500 AD. Really, this is the Middle Ages, which start in the 500s and stretch into the early-modern period, say the 1400s.” I neglected to tell him about the Battle of Maldon, which marks a key turning point in Anglo-Saxon history of the 900s. It’s when the Anglo-Saxons finally kicked Viking ass. Although my companions were dressed as Vikings, I had decided I was an Anglo-Saxon.

“Well, we just call it the Dark Ages,” the serf said, edging away.

Quinn rolled her eyes and started snapping pictures of the final bout. A cute herald with long blond hair called out the names of the fighters, the ladies for whom they fought, and their standards. She was interrupted briefly by another herald, who announced that somebody’s car was being towed. Then the fight was on. An Arthurian knight in white who bore a broken lance instead of a shield was fighting a lanky 12th-<\h>century fellow in what looked like black Kevlar. At last the Arthurian knight struck the killing hit. After much heralding he was crowned king, and crowned his lovely partner queen, in a ceremony that was both touching and theatrical.

Night was falling, and the cold was getting to us. We decided to skip the feasting and head straight to Fry’s Electronics without changing our garb. Wandering the warm, clean aisles, we were one of many strange, anachronistic groups who had traveled through time and/or space to buy laptops and WiFi equipment. Nobody looked twice at us. It was just another Saturday night in geekland.

Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd whose favorite Anglo-Saxon poem is The Wanderer and whose new king will be announced on

Laying on of hands


From the outside, the faceless office building at 22nd Street and Mission looks like a misplaced Soviet ministry, but its blank walls enclose a candlelit warren, a hideaway where women facing tough times can close their eyes and leave behind some of the strains of illness.

Last December the Charlotte Maxwell Complementary Clinic opened its doors in San Francisco, offering female cancer patients free alternative treatments to accompany Western cancer therapies. Staffed by professional practitioners who volunteer their time on Friday evenings as well as on Saturdays and Sundays, the clinic provides massage, homeopathy, acupuncture, and other therapies to women who can’t afford to pay.

The San Francisco clinic is an offshoot of the Oakland-based Charlotte Maxwell Complementary Clinic, which got started in 1991 and continues to operate five days a week from its location on Telegraph Avenue. The organizers decided to expand into San Francisco in order to cut transit times for current clients as well as to increase the total number of women it could serve.

Beverly Burns, a practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine and clinic cofounder, explains the need for a San Francisco–<\d>based clinic, citing the huge demand for the services in Oakland. “When we first opened, we were amazed at how far people came for treatment…. If you are doing chemo, and you are ill from cancer or ill from the treatment, it is hard to get to us, even with drivers.”

In addition to its logistical advantages, Burns says, the SF clinic is a locus for cooperation with public hospitals. “The city and county of San Francisco have worked very hard to orchestrate community and agency involvement. The Department of Public Health and San Francisco General both work with community agencies…. Being in San Francisco will enhance our ability to collaborate and block some of the holes that are opening in the safety net.”

Dr. Donald Abrams, chief of hematology-oncology at San Francisco General, believes the CMCC San Francisco will be an important resource for his patients. In addition to his practice at SF General, Dr. Abrams works with cancer patients at UCSF’s Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, which offers a combination of Western medicine and alternative therapies like acupuncture and homeopathy. “Taking care of women with cancer at SF General, I sometimes feel frustrated that they don’t have access to the same kind of complementary care that people at the Osher Center do. Beverly and the people at the Charlotte Maxwell Clinic have taken a big step forward in making those treatments available.”

Dr. Abrams is convinced that alternative therapies help to control the side effects of cancer and chemotherapy. “Pretty much every patient I see in my Osher Center practice, I recommend that they use traditional Chinese medicine,” he says.

Many patients and providers are eager to spread the word about the benefits that alternative treatments can provide to cancer patients. Sabina (last name withheld) recently switched to the San Francisco Clinic after four years as a client at the Oakland location. A strong believer in alternative therapy, she says, “I know for sure that acupuncture definitely helps. I have experienced it myself.”

Along with the physical benefits it provides for its clients, the Charlotte Maxwell Clinic offers a place of emotional support for women who sometimes feel isolated by their illness. “No matter how good a friend is, they will never really know the experience you are having, because they don’t have the same illness,” Sabina says. “That’s the really nice thing about the Maxwell Clinic: There are women there who have the same experience.”

Annie Sprinkle, a breast cancer patient who has been visiting the San Francisco clinic since it opened, found women there who could identify with her situation. “The support groups at the hospital certainly they’re lovely, but … they seem to be women whose finances were not an issue. For someone who was going through some stress about finances and cancer, it was helpful to meet other women going through that too.”

Likewise, both women cherish the attention and concern they receive from Maxwell’s practitioners. Sprinkle says, “In a word, love and compassion is what you get at the clinic. It takes the form of a social worker, acupuncture, or a massage…. Love heals, and you need that.”

Charlotte Maxwell Clinic, San Francisco

2601 Mission, Suite 201, SF

(510) 601-7660

Real tolerance


OPINION On March 24, 2006, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to pass a resolution opposing the message that a group called Battle Cry for a Generation was set to deliver the following Friday on the front steps of City Hall. The appearance of Ron Luce’s teen program at the site had nothing to do with the group’s apparent reason for being in the city, which was to promote Christianity amid smoke machines and rock bands at SBC Park. Luce decided to rally on the steps of City Hall specifically because gay marriages had been performed there two years earlier.

The intent to somehow purify the steps with prayerful teens, the quick response by citizens of San Francisco, and the meaning of that entire encounter was lost completely as local journalists and former politicians rushed to smear the Board of Supervisors with labels like "clueless" and "intolerant."

In doing so, John Diaz at the San Francisco Chronicle and Joanna Thigpen at the San Francisco Sentinel both missed an opportunity to summarize for their readers the meaning behind the meeting of two groups. Instead, both city leaders and organizers of the counterprotest were admonished for their lack of tolerance.

For those in need of a working definition of tolerance, the American Heritage College Dictionary offers the following: "The capacity for or the practice of recognizing and respecting the beliefs or practices of others." The key word within that sentence is recognize, which is hard to do if all you do when the Christian right comes to town is stay home and fume. Engagement (another version of recognition) is also a value, one that walks hand in hand with tolerance as the citizens of this fair city go forward in search of bigger and better expressions of human and civil rights. Showing up and shouting back don’t indicate intolerance. And staying away doesn’t display tolerance, just benumbed passivity.

Curiously, the charge was made that by issuing resolutions and press statements, both Sup. Tom Ammiano and Assemblymember Mark Leno were attempting to stifle Battle Cry’s right to free speech. Supervisor Ammiano’s office, which was the primary sponsor of the resolution, was contacted by neither the Chronicle nor the Sentinel. What he would have pointed out was that no one in city government made any attempt to silence anyone. The resolution was simply the progressive community’s proverbial two cents thrown into a debate Battle Cry started when the group assembled on City Hall’s steps. No public official ever came close to opposing Battle Cry’s right to frankly indict both queers and women who have chosen abortion or who support its legality.

Civic engagement like the sort displayed by Ammiano and Leno is what makes this city a haven for those who could not get tolerance for themselves, on their own terms, elsewhere. Far from impeding the right of Battle Cry to spread a message of hate disguised as love, we are forwarding the rights of speech to those whose voices are still being suppressed by fear and hate disguised as Christian love and tolerance.

Elizabeth Creely
Elizabeth Creely works with the Bay Area Coalition for Our Reproductive Rights.

The condo war continues


EDITORIAL The San Francisco Planning Department is having a little trouble dealing with the fact that for the moment no more condo developers can build high-priced units in the eastern neighborhoods. In the wake of a Board of Supervisors decision demanding an extensive environmental review of a condo project at 2660 Harrison St., planners have been ducking and weaving around the reality that the supervisors have effectively put a moratorium on market-rate housing projects and on anything else that could displace blue-<\h>collar jobs (see “A Grinding Halt,” 3/22/06).

The latest installment is a March 31 memo from Paul Maltzer, the department’s chief environmental review officer, who concluded that yes, indeed, all developments in the vast eastern neighborhoods project area that could affect affordable housing or jobs would need detailed environmental review. That’s an admission, of sorts, that no more market-<\h>rate housing can be quickly approved, but it comes with a caveat: The memo states that projects will be evaluated on a "case-by-case basis" and leaves an awful lot of wiggle room. It also suggests that as soon as the city’s official broad-based environmental impact report on the eastern neighborhoods rezoning is completed, the floodgates will be opened again.

That EIR is on the fast track: Maltzer projects that a draft will be completed by late this summer and a final report by March 2007. But there’s a huge problem: An EIR has to evaluate a specific project, and the "project" a rezoning of some 3,800 acres of the city is pretty damn vague at this point. For example, there’s nothing about affordable housing in the scope of work that was put forward for the EIR.

So it’s entirely possible that the Planning Department will produce a report next spring that glosses over the biggest issues surrounding the future of the eastern neighborhoods and that developers will use it as a green light to begin a new building boom that will forever change the city.

We’d like to hold a few facts to be self-<\h>evident: San Francisco doesn’t need more million-<\h>dollar condos for young single people who work in Silicon Valley. The city can’t build the equivalent of another good-size town, with a population of perhaps 100,000 new residents, in eastern San Francisco without massive improvements in infrastructure, particularly transportation. The costs of the new streets, bus lines, train lines, and pedestrian walkways will run into the hundreds of millions of dollars and there’s nothing anywhere in any Planning Department document about who will pay for it.

And there’s nothing in the current proposals for the eastern neighborhoods that’s consistent with the housing element of the city’s own general plan.

The housing element is clear: San Francisco needs a lot of new below-<\h>market housing housing for families with kids, housing for people who work in the city and make moderate wages, housing for people living on fixed (and not gigantic) incomes. Housing for teachers and firefighters. Housing for the people who change the sheets at the hotels and clean the bathrooms at the convention centers that keep the city’s biggest industry thriving. In fact, it says, 40 percent of all new housing needs to be affordable for low- and very-low-<\h>income people, and another 32 percent needs to be affordable for families with moderate incomes. That kind of housing simply won’t be built under the current plans and that means any EIR the planners (or any private developers) prepare will be fundamentally flawed.

There’s a solution here, and if the Planning Commission won’t demand it, then the supervisors must: Any final EIR on the eastern neighborhoods has to consider not only the current rezoning plans but also an alternative that would bring the city into compliance with its own general plan. Asking planners to comply with their own plans shouldn’t be a radical notion. And until the Planning Department can explain how that might happen, this entire process and all new market-<\h>rate housing needs to be on hold, indefinitely.

Make Wal-Mart pay


EDITORIAL According to the University of California’s Labor Center, the state spent $86 million last year paying for heath care and social services for the families of people who work at Wal-Mart. That’s right: Wal-Mart pay is so low, and so few of its workers have decent health insurance, that a lot of employees wind up using public health clinics and the taxpayers foot the bill.

It’s unfair not only to the Wal-Mart employees and the rest of us who have to pay the bills for one of the most successful and lucrative companies in the world, but also to other employers in the state, particularly small businesses that struggle to provide health insurance.

State senator Carole Migden has introduced a bill that would force Wal-Mart to quit demanding millions in public subsidies. SB 1414 would require any business with 10,000 or more employees in California either to put 8 percent of its total payroll into health insurance for workers or pay an equivalent amount of money to the Department of Industrial Relations. That’s still a fairly low payment a lot of companies spend far more than 8 percent on health benefits, and Wal-Mart can well afford to do better. But it’s a good start, and it sends the message that employers who won’t pay a living wage can’t just count on California to make up the difference.

Wal-Mart is under fire from activists around the country for its cutthroat competition and its attempts to keep unions out and wages low. But it’s by no means the only employer that is trying to get out of paying health benefits. Migden’s bill would only hit the biggest of the big, but it’s similar to legislation proposed by Sup. Tom Ammiano that would force San Francisco businesses (including much smaller companies) to provide some sort of health care.

In the end, all of this is the wrong model: Employer-based health insurance is an unstable, inefficient, and hugely expensive way to cover medical bills. At some point, even the Wal-Marts of the world should realize that paying taxes to fund a national single-payer health system is cheaper and better for everyone.

But that’s not happening today, and Wal-Mart’s corporate welfare is. The legislature should pass Migden’s bill posthaste.

San Francisco needs better candidates


The last time we had a major Democratic primary race for state assembly in San Francisco, you didn’t see a lot of head-shaking. In 2002 you were for Mark Leno or you were for Harry Britt, and either way you had very few doubts. Two strong candidates, two people who were eminently qualified to represent San Francisco in Sacramento, two people who had the credentials to be Democratic party leaders.

But I’ve talked to a lot of people about the June 6, 2006, race to fill the spot of Assemblymember Leland Yee, who is trying to move on to the state senate, and what I’m getting is: Gee, well, yeah. Gotta vote for somebody.

The thing is, Sup. Fiona Ma, the front-running candidate, has been absolutely horrible in office, a terrible vote on everything I care about. Her lukewarm supporters say she’d be a good liberal compared to most of the state legislators, and that may be true, but it’s hardly a ringing endorsement. Her opponent, Janet Reilly, is taking some excellent stands on issues, running hard to the left of Ma but she’s never held any elective office before, and, frankly, not that many people in San Francisco even know who she is. If she didn’t have a lot of money, she wouldn’t be much of a factor in this race.

Then you look slightly southward, at the race for state senate. The candidates: Yee, who has done almost nothing to distinguish himself in the state legislature, and Mike Nevin, a former San Francisco cop and San Mateo County supervisor. I don’t know a single person in the progressive San Francisco world who can get a bit excited about either of them.

San Francisco has got to start doing better.

Leno’s term will be up in two more years. I can think of a lot of great Democratic candidates (Tom Ammiano, Chris Daly, Robert Haaland), but we all ought to be thinking about it, now, the same way we need to be thinking about the next mayor of San Francisco and the next member of Congress. Otherwise we’ll have a lot of Fiona Mas and Bevan Duftys in our future.

Now this: Speaking of politicians who need to get out of the way, Leslie Katz, the chair of the local Democratic County Central Committee, recently pulled an act of world-class political sleaze. She opposes Sup. Chris Daly’s Proposition C, a measure that would force the mayor to serve on the Transbay Terminal board, but the committee wasn’t quite ready to take a stand. So March 22, shortly after noon, she filed an official no-on-Prop.C ballot argument on behalf of the San Francisco Democratic Party.

In other words, she decided on her own to file a legal document to appear in the ballot handbook committing the party to a position it hadn’t taken.

In the end the party did vote later to oppose Prop. C. But Katz sent a clear signal that she had the committee wired and wasn’t even going to wait for the formality of an actual vote. Nasty business. It sends the exact wrong signal about the local party. She ought to resign in disgrace.<\!s><z5><h110>SFBG<h$><z$>

Family business


Frank Edward Lembi has spent nearly six decades turning San Francisco’s hot housing market into his version of the American dream, in the process creating nightmares for many struggling renters.

The aging patriarch still resides at the top of the Lembi family’s colossal accumulation of capital, Skyline Realty, also known widely as CitiApartments, the second-largest owner of rental units in San Francisco, as the company describes itself.

Skyline owns somewhere between 130 and 150 apartment buildings, hotels, and commercial properties throughout the city. Over the past few years, the company has spent tens of millions of dollars buying new properties everywhere from the Tenderloin to Russian Hill, quietly making the already controversial Skyline an even more ubiquitous force in San Francisco’s housing market.

As the Guardian has reported over the past few weeks, some Skyline tenants claim the company has developed an aggressive business strategy intended to empty newly purchased buildings of unprofitable tenants with rent control by either offering onetime buyout deals or simply frightening and coercing them until they leave.

Records from the San Francisco Department of Building Inspection also show violations of the city’s building and housing codes leading to complaints from tenants of roach and bedbug infestations and inoperable heating systems and elevators at some of the company’s properties. Such allegations have resulted in two lawsuits filed by the city and several more by tenants. Skyline also filed more eviction attempts in San Francisco Superior Court last year than any other single year during the past decade, according to a review of court records. Those cases have climbed fastest over the past four years and don’t reflect the true volume of notices to vacate that appear on tenants’ doors and are resolved before the matter appears in court.

From additional interviews and a review of publicly available records, corporate filings, and old press accounts emerges the portrait of a man, Frank Lembi, who has survived some of the darkest periods of the past few decades of American capitalism and retained his position as one of the city’s most powerful real estate moguls.

A San Francisco native, Lembi returned from serving in World War II and founded Skyline in 1947. Today he still lists the same Burlingame home address he had at least a decade ago when his longtime wife, Olga, passed away. The stark white and pea-green split-level is modest considering the wealth he’s accrued since Skyline began its ascension.

He and Olga had five children, two of whom would join Frank’s list of chief business allies. Yvonne Lembi-Detert is the president and CEO of a Skyline-affiliated company that owns a handful of posh boutique hotels. His son Walter joined the real estate business in 1969.

"I learned nepotism from my father," Frank told California Business in 1987. "He came to this country from Italy and started his children off pretty much the way I’ve started mine. It’s a way of life for us."

Frank and Walter eventually founded Continental Savings of America in 1977, a savings and loan association that propelled the family beyond the simple purchase and resale of small apartment buildings. At its peak, Continental maintained a staff of nearly 200 and more than half a billion dollars in assets. The company was making individual real estate loans of up to a million dollars by 1983.

During the ’80s and early ’90s, federal deregulation of the S&Ls encouraged a push for much more profitable, yet risky, high-interest loans and resulted in a race to the bottom. It was the era of financial scandal, and paying back federally insured depositors who had invested in failed S&Ls eventually cost taxpayers billions.

Continental began posting major losses in the ’90s as the company’s capital sank, and in 1995 the Office of Thrift Supervision (OTS) took it over, fearing insolvency. Not long beforehand, just before Continental went public, Frank stepped down as chair, owing to a conflict of interest tied to Skyline’s HomeOwners Finance Center. But Frank and Walter both remained major shareholders in the company.

It was a bad time for lenders, nonetheless, and Frank was apparently not happy. The feds had to file a restraining order against him after he allegedly threatened to plant security guards at Continental’s 250 Montgomery St. doors to "physically prevent" the confiscation of its office furniture, according to court records.

In the end, according to an OTS official we contacted, the cost to taxpayers amounted to about $22 million. But it clearly didn’t send the Lembis to the poorhouse: Since the Continental Savings collapse, Skyline Realty, along with CitiApartments, has grown to become a very lucrative focal point of the family’s enterprises.

Skyline Properties alone generated approximately $36 million in sales during the 2004 fiscal year, according to the Directory of Corporate Affiliations. But the company has founded more than 100 corporations and limited liability companies, each owning individual Skyline properties, and making it difficult to ascertain Skyline’s real annual revenue.

Its business model is not uncommon, but the complex web of affiliates has enabled the company to keep some legal liabilities aimed away from Skyline and Lembi and make sizable political contributions to various candidates and causes — nearly $40,000 since 1999 — all of it in small amounts stemming from several different entities. In one case, Skyline’s affiliates donated $20,000 on a single day to help defeat a 2002 ballot initiative designed to increase utility rates and improve the Hetch Hetchy water system.

The company has declined to answer further questions for this series, but Skyline manager David Raynal stated in response to a list of e-mail questions in early March that the company’s "plan is to restore apartment buildings to the highest standard." He wrote that Skyline supports the creation of special assessment districts that benefit those neighborhoods. "Every year we renovate many apartments, upgrade common areas, and improve neighborhoods."

Since we began publishing stories on Skyline, former employees have contacted us with tales about how the company conducts business. A onetime Skyline employee who requested anonymity said she was well aware of the company’s buyout offers to rent-controlled tenants and added that the company was "pretty heavy-handed." She also said she was encouraged to enter tenants’ units without prior notice.

"We were told we were making the community better, but we knew that was a bunch of bullshit," she said.

She added that Skyline had trouble retaining employees. High turnover rates are hardly uncommon in the real estate industry, but another former employee who also asked that his name not be revealed said Skyline’s group of hotels had similar issues.

"[Frank Lembi] is not the friendliest man in the world," he said. "Salespeople would get frustrated and move on."

Dean Preston, an attorney for the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, said he’s assisted at least 100 Skyline tenants with legal advice over the last five years.

"I deal with tenants, as well as landlords, all across the city," Preston said. "In my opinion, CitiApartments is the most abusive landlord that I deal with in my practice." *

Trannyshack east


Apparently all drag queens work for tips.

Last year, a gay club owner in Manhattan wanted to copy the aberrant-behavior-fest known as Trannyshack, unaware that its San Francisco founder, Heklina, owns legal rights to the name. Upon finding out — he paid her for it. Now, on late Sunday nights in Chelsea, New York City’s gay tourist ghetto, something akin to Trannyshack®-Lite transpires between Desperate Housewives and shirtless dancing. The talent is tamer and better rehearsed, the audience more jaded, and the venue a thumping 10,000-square-foot disco cavern called Splash Bar New York.

Imagine your favorite public access TV show has gotten picked up and retooled for Bravo: That’s how the legendary Tuesday night at the Stud translates at Splash. Unlike similar versions in Los Angeles, Reno, and (come April) London, which are Heklina’s own offspring, Trannyshack New York is the bastard spawn she rarely visits.

On a recent Sunday night, hostess Sweetie strolled out at 12:45 a.m. and warned the crowd, "I’m running on fumes!" Moments ago, meaty go-go dancers had yanked up their thongs and scurried away, and small, metal tables with candles had been rolled out for the show. Sweetie, a nightlife veteran who paints her face "for the back row," introduced Miss Bianca Leigh, "the Donna Mills of the drag set." (Leigh has a bit part in the transgender-themed road trip flick Transamerica.) The would-be Knots Landing understudy has the slender figure, sculpted cleavage, and sweet smile of a suburban trophy wife. Her gown plunging deep, her long, blown-out reddish hair swaying just this side of Farrah Fawcett, she performed a sultry version of "Sisters" — drag legend Joey Arias’s signature at the old Bar d’O, before he stopped channeling Billie Holiday there for a living and moved to Vegas.

"We’re going to send these bitches packing!" Sweetie barked before the next act, with the viciousness of a reality show judge. Like much of life in New York, Trannyshack here is a cynical competition with no real prize. Sweetie, we learned, had been cast as a hooker named Olestra in RuPaul’s new movie, a hush-hush transploitation flick, and she’d woken up early to do a shoot with various porn stars and dragsters. "I’ve been working this face since eight a.m.," she announced, but her day-old mug looked flawless.

And then Miss Debbie Taunt was bounding across the stage like a Saint Bernard in hose and heels, gyrating to a diva medley. Behind her the floor-to-ceiling mirrors featured working shower heads for the naked strippers who usually earn their rent there. Miss Taunt’s short black overcoat concealed neither her barrel-shaped torso nor her large white panties, out of which poked two hamlike thighs. Sweetie praised the "shameless, shameless bitch" for her gratuitous crotch shot and then set the stakes: "These girls are competing for a $50,000 Jeep Cherokee full of Latino hustlers picked up at the Port Authority!"

Mother Flawless Sabrina, a stately figure and contemporary of Andy Warhol, performed next, tottering under a large wig that looked like a vanilla ice cream tsunami wave with chocolate swirls. With her taut pale skin, she could have been Warhol himself in a gold-beaded flapper dress and black eyeliner. Using a prop telephone, she phoned her deceased pop artist friend to tell him about cell phones, Internet sex, and the fact that speed is back.

Appropriately enough, a statuesque queen named Miss Tina performed last, neck-rolling, convulsing, and shaking her buxom booty to ’70s funk. Composed of thigh-high boots and a hooded, backless, shredded outfit assembled with safety pins, her look said "Flashdance burqa meets sexy new wave pirate."

The most choreographed and leggy of the bunch, Tina was the clear crowd-pleaser — but as diehard Trannyshack fans know, the winner never wins. With Tina doomed, Sweetie, whose low-battery light was by that time blinking, pitted Flawless Sabrina against Bianca in a scavenger-hunt tiebreaker. Among the 16 items: an out-of-state driver’s license, lip balm, a cock ring, a straight female, a condom, breath strips, one white athletic sock, a six-foot-tall man and poppers. Before the girls could hit the floor, a drunken crowd rushed the items to the stage. And the winner was … Miss Bianca Leigh!

San Francisco phenoms rarely translate well in New York (long live the Cockettes!), and Splash isn’t serving Trannyshack à la Heklina. But Sweetie’s show is tasty too — even if it is lite. *

Paul Freibott writes about New York and San Francisco and will travel anywhere for a good drag show.


When to go Trannyshack NYC celebrates its first birthday March 5. Avoid the cover by signing up on the Web site before 6 p.m. that night. Go early for the beer blast ($8 for 10 Buds) and go-go boys showering onstage; end the night drunk, horny, and wondering when the dancing beef slabs in G-strings morphed into singing drag queens.

Where to stay The Chelsea Lodge and Chelsea Lodge Suites (1-800-373-1116, offer historic panache in a renovated brick townhouse; $99 a night and up. The gay-friendly Colonial House Inn (1-800-689-3779, has a clothing-optional roof deck (seasonal); $104 a night and up. Rooms at the Chelsea Inn (1-800-640-6469, are mere slivers without private baths, but it’s right next door to Splash.


50 West 17th St., New York

(212) 691-0073

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Dear Andrea:

My boyfriend has not been coming during vaginal sex. I finally asked him if we hadn’t given him enough recovery time between go-rounds and he said yes. Thing is, it happens when we haven’t had sex in a day or so. I want to let him be the expert on his own penis, but I also worry that he’s not telling me about a problem.

He initiates sex often, even when I think he’s probably still too soft from the last time and should wait. I’ll suggest fooling around more, etc., but it’s frustrating to be constantly saying "no" and "wait" and "how about a blow job first?" Up to this point it’s been fantastic, and though I gained a few pounds over the holidays, I am dieting and he claims to find me attractive.


Unwilling Expert

Dear Ex:

Of course he finds you attractive. However much of that horrible green bean and Campbell’s soup casserole you may have consumed back in December has nothing to do with it, or with anything, really.

I think letting him be "the expert on his own penis" is an excellent plan; why don’t you do that? If he tries to accomplish "intromission" (sex books don’t really use words like "intromission" anymore, do they?) and he’s not quite up to it, surely he has the good sense to wait a few moments without any advice from you? And if he does get it in there and can’t come, does he simply flail away until the morning alarm goes off, or does he give up after a while, allowing you to step in with a heroic blow job to save the day?

It’s not that I want you to be a passive recipient of whatever passes for sex chez you, far from it. It’s just that you’re overthinking this. If you really believe he might be concealing some secret shame or unnerving health problem then ask him about it, but not while he’s actually in the process of using the penis he’s supposed to be the expert on. Never works.



Dear Andrea:

I can only orgasm from vaginal penetration and usually do so between one and five times. I rarely come during oral sex; I can probably count the times on both hands in the past 20 years. I feel like I’m disappointing my boyfriend — he says most women he’s been with come this way and thinks it’s a little odd that I can’t. Is this psychological in some way or is it just the way my body works? I don’t know if this matters or not, but I was sexually molested by an older female when I was eight. I’m way past it, but not sure if it may have something to do with it. I’d like to understand my own body and not feel like the odd woman out.



Dear Back:

Nobody’s ever satisfied! It’s true, as far as it goes, that far more women can climax easily from oral sex than from intercourse. It is also essentially meaningless. Most of those women spend at least some small proportion of their free time bellyaching to girlfriends or sex advice columnists that they can’t come from intercourse, anyway.

If your long-ago abuser did do something oral sex–like to you then it is certainly possible that your body just doesn’t want any truck with it, and who could blame it? You could consult a therapist but do be careful — it sounds as though you have made your peace with the events of your childhood, and it may be best, in the long run, simply to leave that particular hornet’s nest alone.

There are reasons neither physiological nor directly related to the abuse that could explain why you don’t come from oral sex. The most common is probably the sort of stage fright to which many people, particularly women, are prone: Being the center of attention is so much more awkward than pleasing someone else, and, omigod, what if he wants to stop already and I still haven’t come, will he start to resent me? In a word, no, he won’t, but try to convince your shyest innermost teenager of that. Your particular partner isn’t helping matters much when he opines that it’s "odd" of you, either. Odd is as odd does, whatever that means. You have my permission to tell him that you understand that it’s unusual in his experience and so on but bringing it up again is not helping and he is welcome to shut up. Well, leave the last part off, if you like. That was just me.

Do keep in mind that not everybody likes everything and sometimes it’s just that simple. If that doesn’t satisfy and you want to know whether your body to can respond to oralish stimulation in the absence of stage fright, try a trickle of warm water in the bathtub or, if you’re up for more, a pulsing showerhead. Water is like a tongue, sort of, but it never says anything to make you feel bad.



Sex on the brain? Interviews for San Francisco Sex Information’s spring training start this Saturday and they fill up fast. If you want your chance to be a know-it-all like me, sign up now at

Andrea Nemerson has spent the last 14 years as a sex educator and an instructor of sex educators. In her previous life she was a prop designer. Visit to view her previous columns.




Feeling everybody up


One of the things I love about that place known fondly as "the Interwebs" is the way it allows researchers to graph things that should never be graphed. For example, have you ever wondered exactly how excited people really were about the release of the most recent Harry Potter book? Thanks to MoodGrapher, an application created by three Dutch information theorists, you’ll discover that reported feelings of excitement were up 130 percent on the day millions of copies of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince flooded into stores.

MoodGrapher works by collecting information from the "mood" tags associated with millions of entries on popular diary site Every time you write something on LiveJournal, you have the option to tag your post with a mood from a pop-up menu that includes everything from "bored" to "drunk" (for those feeling eccentric or curmudgeonly, there is also a "fill in your mood" option). After aggregating these moods over time, the Dutch info geeks were able to see clear patterns. Drunkenness spikes on Fridays and Saturdays, for example. Frustration plummeted on New Year’s Day (but loneliness was on the rise). You can search for moods over time yourself if you visit the MoodGrapher at

The idea of tracking the moods of an entire global population sounds like something from a movie about a dystopian future in which humanity’s computer overlords monitor everyone’s feelings so they can dope us up or feed us rock and roll accordingly. And that’s not far from the truth. The MoodGrapher’s creators published a paper earlier this month suggesting that their tool could be used to predict the success of a given movie by measuring the warmth of people’s feelings about it before release.

Some might argue that this is a consumer-centric development, in which our feelings are taken into account before new pop culture is thrust upon us. But in point of fact, measuring people’s moods about something before it comes out merely reveals how much buzz has been generated by advertising campaigns. Thus, the MoodGrapher’s results simply reflect how much money has already been blown on getting LiveJournal weenies amped up for the latest Franz Ferdinand album or M. Night Shyamalan’s stupid new movie. There are some exceptions to this, certainly. But you’re unlikely to see mass upticks in excitement for a new thing — whether it’s Windows Vista or Joss Whedon’s Wonder Woman movie — unless it’s already being hyped to death.

What’s truly interesting about the MoodGrapher isn’t its marketability but its use as a diagnostic tool to measure how much events in the news affect people’s emotions. In a paper called "Why Are They Excited?" the MoodGrapher team explain how they figure out what’s causing unusual spikes in the mass mood. First they use a simple algorithm to search for massive mood upturns or downturns in a given period of time (usually a day or an hour). Then they search the journal entries of everyone who has reported the popular mood, looking for words or phrases that are used repeatedly. Once they’ve gotten five or six recurring words (like book and prince, for example), they search a news database to find out whether the words are turning up there too.

Using this methodology, the MoodGraphers found that a peak in "excitement" on July 16, 2005, was heavily correlated with the use of words like book and read and Potter. Similarly, they found that a peak in the mood "worried" during late August 2005 was associated with uses of the words hurricane, gas, and Katrina. Quick searches of those words against their news database revealed what you’d expect: They were ripped from the headlines.

The news-driven mood swings on LiveJournal are simultaneously hopeful and disturbing. It’s comforting to know that when something literally earth-shattering happens — like Hurricane Katrina — people are genuinely worried about one another. We’re not a bunch of numbed-out blog zombies. We’re members of a human community, and we care when we read about other people being hurt.

Of course, the more we care about what the media tell us, the closer we get to having our feelings crassly manipulated — especially if cool hunters and other dipshits of the brandosphere start using the MoodGrapher to figure out what makes us excited and drunk and happy. Worse, politicians might study MoodGrapher for ways to tweak national sentiment. Sometimes, it’s just better to keep your feeling tags to yourself. *

Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who never had a mood she could sum up in a tag.

The lessons of East Timor


Chega, the 2,500-page, recently completed final report of East Timor’s Commission for Reception, Truth, and Reconciliation, will probably attract little notice in the United States, and it’s not clear whether it’s the Timorese or the Americans who will be the worse off for that.

If Americans were to take the document seriously, the benefit for East Timor would be obvious: The tiny, half-island nation off the north coast of Australia might hope to receive justice for what it has suffered, rather than just the charity of wealthier nations on which it now depends.

Less obvious is what Americans stand to gain from the report: an understanding of just how far off the mark mainstream political discussion really is when it comes to the legitimate role of the world’s only remaining superpower.

A single sentence from Chega (which means enough in Portuguese) says it all: "In response to the massive violations that occurred in Timor-Leste [East Timor’s official name] in September 1999, President Clinton threw the considerable influence of the United States behind efforts to press the Indonesian Government to accept the deployment of an international force in the territory, demonstrating the considerable leverage that it could have exerted earlier had the will been there."

The "massive violations" referred to were the killings of more than 1,000 Timorese and the burning down of virtually every structure in the emerging country following its vote for independence from Indonesia. The United States’ "considerable influence" stemmed from the fact that it supplied the bulk of Indonesia’s weapons, as it had done throughout the entire occupation of the former Portuguese colony. The prompt effectiveness of a US government that was actually motivated to end the carnage after the 1999 plebiscite demonstrated what some had argued all along: As a junior military partner, Indonesia could never have invaded East Timor in 1975 without tacit US approval.

Five presidents occupied the White House during the Indonesian occupation: Republicans Ford, Reagan, and Bush; and Democrats Carter and Clinton. For 24 years, none of them opted to utilize America’s "considerable leverage," despite repeated United Nations condemnations of the invasion and occupation.

The history is very relevant: In this case we find a dramatic reminder of the continuity of American foreign policy — from the cold war to the war on terrorism — in the person of Paul Wolfowitz. The neoconservative Wolfowitz, now president of the World Bank, served as undersecretary of defense at the start of the Iraq War, and a lot of people who might have known better took him at face value when he argued that the war was all about democratizing the Middle East.

Wolfowitz, however, displayed no such overriding concern for democracy in East Timor when he served as ambassador to Indonesia from 1986 to 1988, nor as assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs from 1982 to 1986. In 1997 he told a congressional committee that talk of East Timor’s independence was "destructive," a view he maintained until 1999.

Chega demonstrates the truth of the exact opposite point of view. In 1999 the US government acted effectively to end the suffering of East Timor because it finally lived up to a principle that ought to be the cornerstone of our foreign policy: It required that one of our allies live up to the ideals we demand of our enemies.

Tom Gallagher

Tom Gallagher was a United Nations election officer in Lospalos, East Timor, during the 1999 plebiscite.

A selective guide to political events



Pro-choice films

Join the Bay Area Coalition for Our Reproductive Rights and New College as they screen two films that comment on the state of reproductive rights in the United States. Remember the haunting image of a woman lying dead on a motel room floor from an illegal abortion? That story, of the late Gerri Santoro, is told by Jane Gillooly in her film Leona’s Sister Gerri. Imagine what would happen if South Dakota’s ban on abortion spreads from state to state. Raney Aronson-Roth addresses this issue in her film The Last Abortion Clinic.

7 p.m.

Roxie Cinema

3117 16th St., SF

$8, $4 students

(415) 437-3425


The 9/11 Commission’s omissions

Is there a story out there that is just too big to touch? David Ray Griffin, theologian and philosopher, has pointed out the proverbial elephant in the room and is attempting to jump on its back and ride it to Washington, DC. In his lecture "9/11: The Myth and the Reality," Griffin discusses crucial omissions and distortions found within the 9/11 Commission Report.

7 p.m.

Grand Lake Theater

3200 Grand, Oakl.


(510) 496-2700


A laughing matter

You know all about the tragic San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906, in which thousands lost their lives and hundreds of thousands were left homeless. But do you know about the vaudeville shows and circus acts that rose from the fire’s ashes? In the aftermath of destruction, wit and humor kept spirits high. Starting today, April Fools’ Day, and lasting throughout the month, the San Francisco Public Library puts its collection of memorabilia from the era on display. The exhibition includes cartoons, theater programs, and postearthquake items that may leave you chuckling uncomfortably.

San Francisco Public Library, Skylight Gallery

100 Larkin, SF


Bayview women in politics

Attend a one-day leadership seminar designed by the National Women’s Political Caucus to get Bayview women politically involved in their community. Enjoy free child care and lunch while listening to speakers, including Willie Kennedy of the Southeast Community Facilities Commission.

10 a.m.–2 p.m.

Bayview–Hunters Point YMCA

1601 Lane, SF

Free, RSVP required

(415) 377-6722,

Creative resistance

Hear a report from local artists Susan Greene and Sara Kershnar on their efforts to bring about Palestinian freedom and on recent events in the West Bank and Gaza. Other Cinema hosts an evening of discussion with these two muralists and the premiere of their video When Your Home Is a Prison: Cultural Resistance in Palestine.

8:30 p.m.

Artists’ Television Access

992 Valencia, SF


(415) 824-3890

Running clean campaigns

Listen to Trent Lange of the California Clean Money Campaign and Jim Soper of Voting Rights Task Force talk about the effort to strip political candidates of large private donations and demand that politicians answer people’s needs.

12:30–3 p.m.

Temescal Library

5205 Telegraph, Oakl.


(510) 524-3791


Debate SF demographics

Join Inforum, a subgroup of the Commonwealth Club, in a discussion of why San Francisco is losing its young workers and families owing to the state of the public schools and a dearth of affordable housing. A panel will address what is needed to keep young families in the city.

6 p.m.

Commonwealth Club of California

595 Market, second floor, SF

$15, free for members

(415) 597-6705


MLK against the war

Read Martin Luther King Jr.’s "Declaration of Independence from the War in Vietnam" and listen to live music on this day of remembrance. Today marks the day he publicly denounced the growing war effort in Indochina. It was also the day he was assassinated.

7–9:30 p.m.

The Kitchen

225 Potrero, SF

$5 suggested donation

Free medical care

Receive free medical information and tests at City College of San Francisco’s health fair. Services include dental screenings, acupuncture, cholesterol tests, women’s health appointments, HIV tests, and a blood drive.

9 a.m.–noon

City College of San Francisco

1860 Hayes, SF


(415) 561 1905 *

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