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Third time’s a charm

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It says so right there in the bio: A rock album that all others will be judged against this year was recorded in the same spot where Lionel Ritchie created "Dancing on the Ceiling."

Bear Creek Studios no longer has so much to answer for. To others, that name may conjure visions of an ex-Commodore tripping the light Astaire-style on some drywall. To me, it’s now known as the birthplace of Standing in the Way of Control (Kill Rock Stars).

In my household, up until now, the word on the Gossip has been that their recordings don’t catch the wildfire of their live shows. When Beth Ditto and company first toured the United States with Sleater-Kinney, Ditto was already hinting she could make punk’s great siren of the ’90s sound small, but you wouldn’t find proof in the pinched, monochromatic quality of the 2001 debut album, That’s Not What I Heard, on which each track largely resembled the one before or after it.

The first big hint of a difference came with 2003’s Movement. Some people think its songs aren’t as strong, but the first things I noticed were that the drums had more kick, Ditto’s voice didn’t sound like it had been shrunk by a cramped studio and crappy mic, and the ballad "Yesterday’s News" showed her blues were getting deeper and darker. C’mon, I thought. Bring it.

Then, early last fall, I walked from Bimbo’s 365 Club’s lush lobby into the main room and saw and heard the Gossip that you’ll find on their amazing new album. Ditto had ditched the swirl ’do and basic black fashions for shoulder-length straight hair and a striped, strapless dress. Together with guitarist Nathan Howdeshell and excellent new drummer Hannah Blilie, Ditto launched into what I now know is the title track, and it was obvious from the bumptious hooks and beats that the Gossip were communicating with post-punk disco’s rawest queer spirits, both alive (ESG) and dead (Arthur Russell). This was a band reborn.

Except "born again" doesn’t quite fit the Gossip, who’ve been true believers in a lot of great things like the power of a woman who says what she wants to say and does what she wants to do from day one of their life in the Arkansas swamplands. Strong enough to initially work over both Olympia labels that begin with a K, their guitar-drums-voice approach may have owed some spare change to the Spinanes, or come across as the fun flipside of Heavens to Betsy’s extreme angst, but when it first hit town, you best believe it scorched Fifth Avenue, Washington Street, and the heartless Martin.

Standing in the Way of Control isn’t rocket science just a recording by Guy Picciotto, of Fugazi, that finally captures the sweaty, untamed energy of Ditto and company in concert, letting you start your own dance party whenever and wherever. With a band this great this alive that’s no small feat. The strut of Ditto’s voice is lighter and there’s more snare happening in the rhythms. On "Listen Up!" a cowbell kicks in behind her as she schools children: "There’s some people that you just can’t trust … on the playground, you learn so much."

Ditto’s awesome voice is a source of pure energy and uplift there’s something wonderful about the way it acquires a razor’s edge as it reaches higher on a ferocious anthem like "Yr Mangled Heart." Yet while she sounds upbeat, her words on these songs are haunted. The title track’s stance of defiance amid the everyday-and-endless brainwash bullshit of the Bush era is typically stressed-out.

One song later, on the somewhat Romeo Void<\d>ish "Jealous Girls," Ditto’s wrestling with a feeling that kills girl love and doing so in way that goes beyond sloganeering she explores the pain of the emotion, and the paths that lead to and away from it, before tacking a declaration of independence ("No matter what the price, they can’t take me") to a chugga-chugga finale.

"Coal to Diamonds" could almost be a ballad by the Soul Queen of New Orleans, Irma Thomas from its empty nighttime atmosphere to its sudden, bereft ending. Even if the instrumentation doesn’t move beyond thrift-punk sparseness to include a string arrangement, Ditto is still more than equipped to carry the song on her own. One thing is for sure: There isn’t a more powerful or charismatic frontwoman frontperson in rock these days. Karen O? Please. Frankly, Ditto could teach most of today’s slick R&B ladies with the exception of Mary J. and Keyshia how to go rage as they race up and down the scales.

At the moment, the Gossip have 4,305 friends on MySpace. That number is about to grow. Listening to Standing in the Way of Control, I can only back up what one of those friends has to say: "It even got the little hair on the back of my neck dancin’."

THE GOSSIP CD-RELEASE SHOW

With Numbers, Tussle, and Dynasty Handbag

Jan. 27, 9:30 p.m.

Bottom of the Hill

1233 17th St., SF

$12

(415) 474-0365

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DO NEW MEDIA move more quickly? The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s media arts curator, Benjamin Weil, will officially resign Sept. 3. Starting at the museum in 1999 at the zenith of the dot-com boom, Weil was responsible for commissioning well-regarded pieces by Christian Marclay and Pipilotti Rist, whose work is on view until August. He also reinstated the film program and presented numerous sound projects at the museum. He’ll see through upcoming shows featuring Jeremy Blake’s Winchester Trilogy and six works by Gary Hill, which open in February and March 2005, respectively. But Weil will devote most of his time to Eyebeam, a think tank-like art space in New York City where he’s served part-time as curatorial chair since 2003. The serious multitasker is also curating Villette Num&ea cute;rique 2004, a Paris-based new media festival that opens this fall.

I was lucky enough to go on a recent hard-hat tour of the M. H. de Young Memorial Museum, and I have to report that the building will be a breathtaking surprise when it opens next fall. Architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron’s vision melds with the park location, not to mention the northern California landscape – the copper surface suits the atmosphere, while the inset windows and courtyards allow for the park to be almost omnipresent. And the view from the much-contested tower? A stunning 360 degrees! The larger interior does raise an important question, though: can the de Young’s curating choices live up to this new and improved structure? Stay tuned.

‘Winner’ takes all

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IF YOU CONSIDER  it amazing that New York Times best-selling author Augusten Burroughs was able to maintain a lucrative job in advertising while consuming enough alcohol nightly to poison a small town (see the opening pages of Dry), consider the talents of Evelyn Ryan, who, through the ’50s and ’60s, not only supplied America’s merchants with enough advertising jingles to last the century but also raised a family of 10 while avoiding the wrath of a husband who also consumed enough alcohol nightly to poison his own small town. Unlike Burroughs, Ryan never really did get rich off her advertising campaigns – she won just enough prize money to keep her family fed and housed, and her husband never quite made it into rehab. But her daughter, Terry Ryan, did write a winning memoir about her mother’s startling and subversive stay-at-home career conquering the jingle contests popular at the time. And this weekend Ryan’s memoir hits its own jackpot, as the Jane Anderson-directed film of the book, The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio, opens. Anderson (the TV director of Normal, as well as the 1961 segment of If These Walls Could Talk and When Billy Beat Bobby) turns the perky pre-post-feminist into a model of good-humored heroism.

The leaf doesn’t fall far from the tree. Despite her recent diagnosis with stage-four cancer, Terry Ryan, a tech writer and cartoonist who lives in Noe Valley with her longtime partner, Pat Holt, former book review editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, amiably entertained journalists from a room at the Ritz-Carlton a few weeks back. She said she was incredibly happy with the film, though she can barely remember it; she says she was too amazed by Julianne Moore’s re-creation of her mother to concentrate. The most difficult aspect of the whole project, she says, was the death of her mother, which led to the discovery of the vast jingle archive she used for her memoir research. In her papers, Terry Ryan also found evidence of her mother’s real poetry – witty rejoinders to poems by the likes of Edna St. Vincent Millay – as well as the rhymes that paid the milkman and the mortgage, like "For chewy, toothsome, wholesome goodness / Tootsie Rolls are right – / Lots of nibbling for a nickel / And they show me where to bite."

Like her resourceful mother, the younger Ryan is also a poet (published), and, following in family tradition, she too found her way to the contesting world. One of her most memorable wins? A Bay Guardian cartoon contest more than 25 years ago. (Susan Gerhard)

‘The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio’ opens Fri/30 at Bay Area theaters. See Movie Clock, in film listings, for showtimes.

Eat the old

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THERE’S NOTHING LIKE  in-the-moment enthusiasm to make you lose critical perspective. I can think of a hundred albums that have excited me to the point of thinking, "This is the best band ever." That a handful of those albums belong to early-’70s-era Funkadelic makes it that much harder to be unbiased, especially since the recent reissues of their Westbound Records catalog have been parked in my disc changer for the past month.

 So when I call Funkadelic the best rock band of the early ’70s, I’m aware of the possible hyperbole – but I still think I’m right. Yet the recent reissue of their first seven studio albums – with liner notes, original artwork, remastered sound, and bonus tracks – is the first time these records have been given the archival treatment they deserve. Funkadelic and Free Your Mind and Your Ass Will Follow (both 1970), Maggot Brain (1971), Cosmic Slop (1973), and Standing on the Verge of Getting It On (1974) are all start-to-finish classics in my book, with the transitional, uneven America Eats Its Young and the more casual, jam-oriented Let’s Take It to the Stage just a notch below them.

 Taken together, these albums represent an amazing progression of sounds and styles, from acid rock, Detroit soul, and studio-based psychedelia on the earlier ones to heavy funk-rock, sicko novelty songs, and soaring R&B ballads on the next few. There are also hints – especially on America and Stage – of the anthemic funk style that sister band Parliament and the later, slicker version of Funkadelic made famous, but not as many as newcomers or casual P-Funk fans might expect. After all, I remember how surprised and blown away I was when I heard Maggot Brain’s proto-metal masterpiece "Super Stupid" for the first time. I had only heard a Parliament greatest-hits CD before, and I somehow thought I knew e xactly what this whole P-Funk business was all about. Boy, was I wrong.

 One of the remarkable aspects of the Westbound-era Funkadelic is the sheer variety of their music. Commercially, this variety probably worked against them – as if there weren’t enough strikes already against an acid-dropping, guitar-wielding black rock band with a bunch of uncredited vocalists and no true lead vocalist. But the range encompassed in these albums is part of what gives them depth and makes them so interesting to listen to over and over. Funny songs, angry songs, sad songs, uplifting songs – they did ’em all equally well, thanks to leader, producer, and chief songwriter George Clinton’s casting instincts as well as the vast pool of talent he had on hand.

 It’s true of the much-lauded Maggot Brain as well as the purposefully slicker Cosmic Slop. In addition to Clinton’s grim Vietnam War monologue on "March to the Witch’s Castle," Slop includes a tasteless recounting of a transvestite groupie encounter ("No Compute") followed by an old-school R&B tearjerker ("This Broken Heart") – a remarkable contrast that gives both songs a resonance they wouldn’t have just on their own. Such contrasts are one reason why you can’t just buy a greatest-hits album and get what Funkadelic were about. They were an albums band, not a singles band – in contrast to Parliamen t, which made several fine albums but excelled more at making concise, catchy dance-floor anthems.

 The liner notes to these reissues do a helpful job of sorting out the group’s confusing, on-again, off-again personnel changes. After Maggot Brain, the lineup changed so much that Funkadelic was less a "band" than a conglomerate (although not nearly as loose a conglomerate as the P-Funk All-Stars touring act). This revolving-door cast included legends such as guitar shredder Eddie Hazel and keyboardist-arranger Bernie Worrell, as well as lesser-known heroes like drummer Tiki Fulwood and vocalist-guitarist Gary Shider, a VIP on the post-Maggot Brain albums. America Eats Its Young alone includes some 40 musicians and vocalists, while the others average around 10. (Yes, bass icon Bootsy Collins is one of them, but he wasn’t a major player until later, beginning with Let’s Take It to the Stage.)

If you’re an old fan who’s just interested in bonus tracks, Funkadelic, with its many alternate versions and B-sides, and Maggot Brain, with its alternate, full-band mix of the monumental title track, are the standouts. If you haven’t heard these albums, just start with the first and go in chronological order from there, skipping America Eats Its Young and saving it until after you’ve heard Cosmic Slop and Standing on the Verge. (America is less of an a rchetypal Funkadelic LP and more of a hodgepodge of various P-Funk ideas.) I love ’em all, though, and  will continue to generate hyperbole on the band’s behalf until stations like the Bone drop the Guess Who and Grand Funk Railroad and start playing "Super Stupid" and "Funk Dollar Bill," or until journalists quit perpetuating the booty-shaking party-band aspect of Clinton and company’s legacy at the expense of all the other incredible music they made. Don’t hold your breath.

Mystic ore

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The roiling ghosts of mercury-tainted miners. Petrified Keebler elves. An entrance to Fingal’s Cave. The One Ring. These are the sorts of magical things any sensible, perhaps slightly stoned backpacker (or Rush fan) could hope to find in a glaciated valley called Mineral King, whose jagged dogwood- and spruce-steeped slopes lie at the southern tip of Sequoia National Park, in the Sierras. Marmots drunk on antifreeze are not. Nor, surely, is a squeaky gaggle of buxom, bleached-blond suburbanite moms gathered in a spirit circle for Sunday Campfire Worship, singing "He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands" and wiping $10 chicken salad sandwiches off their kids’ faces. Yet somehow, on a recent camping trip, the pickled vermin and swaying kumbaya-yas seemed to tie in perfectly with the region’s fool’s gold mythology.

 The sense of accomplishment once you turn off the "main" Mineral King road and into the region itself is overwhelming. Lone, half-starved prospectors in the 1870s used to journey for weeks to reach this ore-rich spot, and you can’t help admiring their greed. The valley now encompasses a loose collection of scattered campgrounds, half-constructed lodges, and broad-chested ranger stations covering 12,600 acres. The campgrounds are first-come, first pitch and, despite the torture of arrival, can fill up quickly with Gwen Stefani-blasting family reunions and that most ubiquitous of modern campground-dwellers, the Loud Nirvana Fan with Acoustic Guitar.

 Hiking is the main draw of Mineral King, and the hiking bible for the area, touted at all the local bookstores, is Day Hiking Sequoia, by Steve Sorensen. Do not buy this book. Although it tells you a lot about the area’s history, after five hours of wrestling with its skeletal mapping system, we eventually just gave up and got lost. (The best bet is to check in at the ranger stations and ask for more detailed directions.) We never made it to the fabled Mosquito Lakes or the treacherous Timber Gap, but we lunched under Mosquito Creek waterfalls, rolled in a zillion wildflowers, sniffed bear droppings on rounded slate outcrops, and picked up Casey, a pale monarch butterfly who hitched with us a couple miles. Most important, we went a whole day without seeing other people. It was heaven.

 Silver City has also undergone a recent plague of cable-chewing marmots, addicted to antifreeze highs. Visitors everywhere are warned ("Warning: Marmots!") to check under their hoods before driving off, potentially transferring dozens of tipsy little mammals out of their natural habitat and into the wilds of Metropolitan Los Angeles. Alas, we saw no neon-lipped marmots, nor entrances to Fingal’s Cave. But Mineral King was still a mythic trip.

Trip planner

Silver City Resort, on Mineral King Road, three miles west of the main ranger station. Open Memorial Day through October. 1-805-528-0730 www.silvercityresort.com.

Glamorous disease

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 DO YOU LIKE  to celebrate Christmas? Do television commercials fill you with desire for the products advertised? Do you wear gender-appropriate clothing and hairstyles? Do you think everyone should have a job, get married, and have children? Have you ever laughed at someone for acting "weird"?

 If you answered yes to any of those questions, you might just be a neurotypical. The term, coined by autism and Asperger’s syndrome activists in the neurodiversity movement, is being used more and more within this community to describe the sort of person whose fixation on "normal" mental activity is tantamount to discrimination. As diagnoses of Asperger’s and autism skyrocket, especially among the most driven members of the scientific and arts communities, the idea that people whose minds work atypically are suffering from a terrible disease is starting to ring false. That’s why the non-neurotypicals are rebelling.

 At the Institute for the Study of the Neurologically Typical, a parody site that has lived since 1998 at isnt.autistics.org, a pissed-off autistic writes about the spreading problem of normal personality, which is "a neurobiological disorder characterized by preoccupation with social concerns, delusions of superiority, and obsession with conformity."

 On Wikipedia you can find lists of famous people who have Asperger’s, including electronic music pioneer Gary Numan and Steven Spielberg. For anyone familiar with minority politics, it should be no surprise that there are also lists of people who might be non-neurotypical because they exhibit autistic traits. Bill Gates usually tops such lists. It reminds me of similar lists on queer rights Web sites, in which activists try to figure out which famous people might be gay.

 When BitTorrent programmer Bram Cohen came out last year as having Asperger’s, it was like a 1960s rock star saying he’d done LSD. His altered mental state became part of his allure, part of what inspires him to think creatively. Among the geekigentsia these days, you just aren’t glamorous unless you can lay claim to being a little obsessive-compulsive sometimes, or at least unable to engage in ordinary social interactions.

 In another era, non-neurotypicals would probably have been called eccentrics: notoriously weird but still lovable and socially useful. Nicola Tesla, who invented AC power and only ate food whose volume he had calculated before consuming it, would certainly have been one. Modernist poet Wallace Stevens, who wrote by dictating poems to his secretary at Hartford Insurance, would have been another. The novels of Charles Dickens are full of such characters. They’re weird but certainly not diseased, and they even have an honored place in their communities.

 Clearly, the neurodiversity movement is aiming at a similar kind of acceptance for autistics and Aspies. As someone who could hardly be accused of neurotypicality, I can’t say this isn’t a worthy goal. But there’s an important difference between celebrating eccentricity and glamorizing Asperger’s. Eccentricity describes a behavior, while Asperger’s is an identity.

 The non-neurotypicals may have taken the pathologizing sting out of the names for their conditions, but they’re still rallying around the words that doctors came up with to label them freaks. Even this strategy isn’t a bad one. I love it when epithets like queer become badges of pride; even better is when a term like hysterical, spawned by a sexist medical community hell-bent on suppressing women’s sexuality, gradually gets converted into a slang term for something that’s hilariously funny.

 But I must admit to a bit of a squicky feeling when people seek to define their entire identities in terms of one particular thing, whether that’s Asperger’s or femininity or being an alcoholic. I’m especially leery when that particular thing, in this case Asperger’s, becomes a kind of personality chic.

 The glamour of being non-neurotypical elides the very real issues people face when they suffer from full-blown neurological trauma. It also, in some sense, deprives people of the ability to take credit for their own behavior. Cohen’s considerable talent with the Python language becomes not a spectacular behavior but merely an outgrowth of being an Aspie. I guess what I’m saying is that I’d rather act eccentric than be non-neurotypical. The former lets me take responsibility for my weirdness, and the latter lets other people define me by it.

 Annalee Newitz (atypical@techsploitation.com) is a surly media nerd who refuses to eat chocolate-covered garlic. Her column also appears in Metro, Silicon Valley’s weekly newspaper.

Warriors, stay in and playiyay!

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AN ENTIRE GENERATION was introduced to the 1979 cult classic film The Warriors in 1993 when Ol’ Dirty Bastard warbled "Warriors, come out and playiyay!" on Wu Tang’s "Shame on a Nigga." That’s why I rented it. It was one in a long string of rentals prompted by the Wu, and just like Shaolin vs. the Wu Tang, Shogun Assassin, and Master Killer, it was great. Now the most controversial company in video gaming has made a game based on The Warriors. Yes, the company that brought Grand Theft Auto to the world and prompted Hillary Clinton to declare war on vulgar video games, is at it again. As expected, The Warriors (Rockstar Games; PS2 and Xbox) is chock full of violence, street culture, swear words, and antisocial missions. The game loosely follows the movie with recognizable scenes and characters popping in and out, but unlike the movie, it is pretty monotonous: How many hobos and hookers do you have to mug to prove you’re capable of strong-arming digital victims, especially when there’s no variation or challenge in the act? And swearing? Unless there are hidden new swears that were recently invented, I’ve heard and grown bored with them. The fighting engine is pretty simple and easy to use: Kick, punch, and grab buttons allow you to kick, punch, knee, and throw people. It’s somewhat cumbersome and generally leads to button-mashing, but if you have patience and press buttons in certain sequences or twice in a row, special moves occur. Rembrandt, the new blood, sprays paint in his enemy’s face while yelling, "In your face!" Ouch. The game starts a few months before The Warriors are framed for killing gang kingpin Cyrus, which is when the movie begins. The story mode leads you through missions that involve tagging, jumping in new members, and other junk. Unlockable levels reveal the backstory and history of The Warriors. Rumble mode features minigames and a Create a Gang feature. A two-player mode allows you to play through the game with your best pal. Rival gangs like the Satan’s Mothers present all kinds of problems, but you’ll be all right. Each level has you play as a different character, which is great. Playing Rembrandt is the best because you get to tag walls. Tagging is accomplished by navigating a spray can over an on-screen pattern with the analog stick. If you veer from the line, the stick vibrates and paint is wasted. To get more spray paint, you just buy it from a guy on the street, which is totally realistic. To get money to buy paint, you can steal car radios, rob stores, and mug people. If you manage to get whooped by a rival gang while tagging, mugging, or looting and you find yourself lying lifelessly on the ground with a red cross floating above you, a fellow Warrior will revive you if you have Flash, a street drug easily purchased from drug dealers hidden in dark alleys. If I saw my niece playing this game, initially I would want to murder the game designers, but then I’d come to the conclusion that if a kid is stupid enough to want to buy drugs because he/she saw them restore his/her health in a video game, that kid is probably a moron and should be on drugs. In GTA you hump hookers to restore your health; in The Warriors, you do drugs. Big deal; Rockstar loves shocking people. Sex and drugs? Dudley Moore desensitized us to those long ago. Video game voice-overs have improved dramatically in the last few years. This game features great voice actors, including DMC, Aesop Rock, and some people from the original film. The city walls feature art by artists like Futura 2000 and DONDI (RIP), and SEEN’s Hand of Doom car is in the game. The soundtrack is an eerie horror drone occasionally interrupted by rock and soul songs. (Nate Denver)

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Does Mills make sense?

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It wasn’t supposed to go like this.

 When Virginia-based mall developer Mills Corp. used political pressure by then-mayor Willie Brown and a partnership with the YMCA to narrowly win Port of San Francisco approval, in 2001, for the exclusive right to build a shopping center and office park at Piers 27-31, the project was supposed to slide right through.

 The Board of Supervisors was effectively cut out. All that elected body – which includes some supervisors who have been critical of the Mills project – could really do was tinker with the environmental impact report, or maybe just refuse to certify it and risk getting sued.

 But that was before a little-noticed change in a fairly noncontroversial ordinance put the board in the driver’s seat.

 Now a clearly concerned Mills Corp. has launched an aggressive lobbying and public relations campaign – including a series of full-page newspaper ads – urging the public to convince the board to certify that the project makes long-term financial sense when supervisors consider the matter next month. Otherwise, the project could be dead even before its EIR is complete, setting up the port to chose another developer when the Mills contract expires next year.

 Board president Aaron Peskin won approval last year for his Fiscal Responsibility and Feasibility Ordinance. "The whole notion of the ordinance is before you go headlong into these projects, let’s make sure the city has the resources to maintain it over time," Peskin told the Bay Guardian, noting how many projects in the city get built without solid plans for the long-term operating funds needed to maintain them.

 The ordinance covers projects that get over $1 million in public funds and other taxpayer-backed subsidies, and in July of this year, with the Mills project in mind, the board modified the measure to include in its definition of public funds the lucrative rent credits Mills is getting.

 "I think [Mills executives] are scared. They didn’t expect the board to be able to weigh in on this before the end," said Jon Golinger, who is leading the opposition to the project. "The board now gets to assess whether we can trust this company to do what they say they’re going to do."

 And trust seems to be a key issue in this case. Under state law and Prop. H, in which San Francisco voters required a recreation plan for the northern waterfront, Piers 27-31 are supposed to be geared toward offering recreational amenities to San Franciscans. Mills and port officials say the project’s YMCA and the "recreational retail" focus of its shops will meet that requirement.

 Critics in Golinger’s group say the project is little more than a glorified mall using the recreation label to pass legal muster, an accusation that Mills Corp.’s 2003 annual report does little to contest, calling the project "an attractive entertainment, dining, shopping and office center" and never once using the word "recreation" (a word added to the label in its 2004 report).

 An otherwise breathlessly laudatory economic study commissioned by the developers and released in July also indirectly raises the question of whether the 164,700 square feet of office space in the project will generate enough cash to pay for all the developer’s promises. Based on statements made by Mills executives, the report notes, "the project is unlikely to be built unless it can achieve minimum net rents of $35 per square foot which represents a major premium over current rents, that few if any existing tenants would be able or willing to pay."

 San Francisco has one of the highest office vacancy rates in the country, and rents average well below what these developers expect to receive. But Mills spokesman Dave D’Onofrio said the offices will be unlike any in the city, and "the market is clearly there" to support such high rents.

 In addition to these areas, Peskin said the board will consider Mills Corp.’s deal with the YMCA, which will be required to pay back the $30 million in capital costs fronted by the developer, on top of the ongoing operating costs needed to maintain this project as a recreational facility open to all.

 "They’re going to have to show how they’re going to fund the Y," Peskin said. He and others have noted that none of the financial documents released by the developer shed much light on that arrangement or other financial details of the project, although the port is currently preparing another financial document set for release to the board Sept. 28.

 Neither port nor YMCA officials returned our calls for comment, but D’Onofrio noted that the YMCA will pay just $1 per year in rent and that he is "utterly confident that the Y will be successful."

 Mills officials have publicly blamed opposition on businesses on Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf, who fear competition from the project. "But there’s no validity to that argument," said Chris Martin, whose family has owned The Cannery and has been involved in northern waterfront planning issues for more than 30 years. He said the northern waterfront is already a congested mess on weekends, and an intensive project like this will make things much worse.

 In response to our inquiries, Mills project manager John Spratley issued a written statement saying in part, "The Board of Supervisors will find that The Piers is financially strong and a tremendous economic benefit for San Francisco and the Port."

 Peskin said he has an open mind about the project but said it is incumbent upon the developers to provide more information showing how the open space, recreational amenities, and other public access aspects to this project will be maintained over the long run: "To them, I say that if your project is so great then it will be great in the future."

 E-mail Steven T. Jones at steve@sfbg.com.

SF weekly sold

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Bill gates bought the sf…

‘MirrorMask’

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EVEN IF YOU aren’t familiar with any of MirrorMask’s touchstones

Does Mills make sense?

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Does Mills make sense?

Peskin measure gives supervisors an early say over a controversial waterfront development
By Steven T. Jones

It wasn’t supposed to go like this.

When Virginia-based mall developer Mills Corp. used political pressure by then-mayor Willie Brown and a partnership with the YMCA to narrowly win Port of San Francisco approval, in 2001, for the exclusive right to build a shopping center and office park at Piers 27-31, the project was supposed to slide right through.

The Board of Supervisors was effectively cut out. All that elected body

Little girls lost

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FREQUENT VIEWERS OF the Lifetime Movie Network know it, as do the producers of Nancy Grace’s eponymous “debate” show: Barring the availability of a convenient serial killer (or killer storm), nothing draws viewers like missing children. Sure, war violence is scary, but kidnappings, which are seemingly more frequent and inevitable than ever, are in many ways far scarier. You can almost feel the parental paranoia spike with every new AMBER Alert.

In Flightplan Jodie Foster plays Kyle Pratt, a jacked-up Lifetime mom who faces not just stranger danger but also terrorism when her six-year-old daughter, Julia (Marlene Lawston), implausibly vanishes aboard a jumbo jet. The small family is traveling from Berlin to New York with a tragic mission: to bury Dad, whose coffin is loaded into the plane’s belly as Julia solemnly watches. Director Robert Schwentke, working from a script by Billy Ray (Shattered Glass) and Peter A. Dowling, foreshadows gleefully, playing off travel fears in the manner of another recent in-flight thriller, Red Eye. Not only is there a group of Arab men aboard (who will later be harassed by a frantic Kyle, who declares she doesn’t care about being politically incorrect), but the plane takes off amid icy, unsettling weather conditions. Above and beyond all that, Schwentke establishes a general air of danger that cloaks Kyle from the start

Monkey business

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 STEPHEN LISBERGER IS a scientific star. His decades-long research into how the brain registers and responds to visual stimuli is considered groundbreaking. His colleagues are effusive in their praise. William Newsome, a Stanford University neuroscientist who investigates similar terrain, told the Bay Guardian that "it could take decades, or even centuries" to assemble a complete, working map of the brain’s essential functions. "And Steve is one of the few people in the world who’s making progress on this."

The federal government thinks he’s worth a fair chunk of taxpayer change: The National Institutes for Health gave Lisberger $1.6 million in grants this year, and since 1992, an NIH database shows, he’s received 31 grants worth a total of more than $12 million.

But Lisberger’s work involves fairly invasive experiments on live subjects, and since you can’t exactly stick electronic probes into the brains of human beings, Lisberger uses rhesus monkeys, those red-faced staples of biomedical research. His experiments have made him the bane of many critics of animal experimentation – and over the past decade he’s become the poster boy for opponents of animal experimentation at UCSF.

Lisberger declined to be interviewed for this story, so we gleaned the outlines of his work from federal documents and UCSF records.

It’s not a pretty picture.

According to the scientific protocol for his experiments, filed with UCSF, Lisberger’s monkeys undergo several different surgeries, under anesthesia, to prepare them for the research. First, each monkey has a restraint device attached to its head with a combination of metal plates, bolts, and screws. That will later allow the monkey’s head to be locked in place for experiments. One or two holes are drilled in the skull, and then cylindrical recording chambers are secured over those holes so that microelectrodes that will allow precise neural activity to be measured can be inserted into the brain with ease. (The electrodes themselves don’t cause discomfort because the brain lacks pain receptors.)

Sometimes, small wire coils are sutured to the monkeys’ eyeballs. Other times the monkeys have spectacles attached to their faces that either magnify or miniaturize everything they see.

The monkeys in Lisberger’s lab are put on a fluid-restriction program, so that each day they are scheduled to "work" they will obey commands for "rewards" of water or Tang. Each monkey is taught to move from its cage to a "primate chair," and once in the chair, its head is locked into the restraining device. Then the animal is prompted to move its eyes in certain ways to receive a reward. Monkeys typically work for two to four hours a day on alternating weeks, often for three years or more.

Lisberger’s protocol states that his work could eventually lead to "the cure for many diseases of learning and memory such as Alzheimer’s Disease."

Suzanne Roy, from In Defense of Animals, says she started looking into Lisberger’s experiments in the late 1990s, after IDA got anonymous complaints from people who said they worked for UCSF. "What struck me was the highly invasive nature of them and the duration of them … " she said. "He’s making the monkeys so thirsty they’ll move their eyes in a certain way for a juice reward. How could anyone do this to an intelligent monkey?"

In 2002 Roy asked Lawrence A. Hansen, a neuropathologist at UC San Diego who is unusual in his willingness to question animal research, to evaluate Lisberger’s protocol. "I have never previously encountered experiments that would deliver quite so much suffering to higher primates for so comparatively little scientific gain…." Hansen wrote afterward. "While I do not doubt that these experimental manipulations will generate valid scientific data, such information is purchased at too high a moral and ethical cost. Even the primary investigator seems to feel it necessary to disguise his actual motivations, which are those of a fundamental research scientist, by invoking a link to a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. This is one of the more ludicrous stretches from basic science to human application that I have ever encountered in my 20 years of research into Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative diseases affecting human beings."

When we spoke to Hansen recently, he criticized Lisberger’s grant applications and said, "He’s picked a part of the brain that’s not even involved in Alzheimer’s."

Lisberger’s studies are "basic science," meaning that they aim to answer larger scientific questions about how something works – in this case, the brain – rather than to invent or test a treatment. Although it might be somewhat easier to stomach an experiment that might cure Alzheimer’s than one that seeks to understand how the brain functions, it is hard to dispute that this is valid science: How can medical researchers cure problems they fundamentally don’t understand?

But even if you agree that the goals of Lisberger’s research justify his use of animals, you might be troubled by Lisberger’s record. Documents show that some animals enrolled in his research have a difficult time coping with the physical stress involved – and that Lisberger has resisted efforts to make his experiments more animal-friendly.

Clinical notes gathered by IDA and other groups show that Lisberger’s monkeys routinely undergo six or eight surgeries just to deal with their various implants and the infections they sometimes cause, or to remove scar tissue that has built up on the monkeys’ dura, the protective layer between skull and brain, because of repeated electrode insertions. Several monkeys in Lisberger’s lab have shown a significant decrease in body weight, and others have displayed a habit of self-mutilation, biting at their limbs and tearing out their hair.

Several years ago, when the internal committee that oversees animal research at UCSF raised concerns about whether monkeys in Lisberger’s experiments would receive sufficient water, particularly if they were "worked" on consecutive weeks, Lisberger responded in writing. "I am not willing to tie my laboratory’s flexibility down by setting guidelines or limits, or by agreeing to a negotiation with the veterinary staff when we do this," he wrote in a June 1998 letter. "I believe that the experimental schedule in my laboratory is an issue of academic freedom and that the Committee on Animal research lacks that [sic] standing to regulate this schedule."

In fact, the Animal Welfare Act was amended in 1985 to give the committee the primary responsibility for watchdogging researchers and ensuring that measures are taken to minimize the suffering of lab animals.

Less than two years after that bitter exchange, UCSF was cited by federal inspectors for AWA violations linked to Lisberger’s experiments. In one report the inspector wrote, "In my professional opinion, the nutritional requirements for these animals were not met for either food or water." He also noted that a monkey identified as #17652 – who, according to other documents, was enrolled in a Lisberger experiment – had remained assigned to the protocol and was even placed on "long-term water restriction," despite the fact that he had chronic diarrhea.

UCSF temporarily suspended Lisberger’s study and paid a $2,000 fine to settle the matter. And, despite his gaffes, UCSF defends Lisberger.

Vice Chancellor Ara Tahmassian described Lisberger’s lab as a "model program" and said Lisberger is one of the only UCSF researchers who has hired veterinary technicians to work exclusively in his lab and "make sure that everything that happens is done in accordance with proper standards of care." He added, "It’s critical for him, because of the nature of his research, that his animals are properly taken care of." Tahmassian also said that, in an academic setting, "there are times that individuals do believe that an oversight committee such as IACUC is getting into areas of science which the faculty members don’t believe is in their jurisdiction…. It doesn’t mean that the IACUC is going to just back off."

IACUC members also told us that, these days, Lisberger is cooperative. "I think the committee has a very good working relationship with Dr. Lisberger," IACUC chair Linda Noble said.

Even if Lisberger has cleaned up his act, it’s hard to see why UCSF would put him in charge of training the scientists of tomorrow how to work with animals. Yet, according to online course information, Lisberger sometimes lectures UCSF students on "Philosophical/ethical issues in animal experimentation," relevant regulations, and "pain minimization."

Animal instincts

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Animal instincts

As the struggle between animal rights activists and scientists rages on, what’s really happening inside UCSF’s animal labs?
By Tali Woodward

ON JULY 14, while doctors and medical students in surgical scrubs scurried about, a motley band of 30 or so people marched back and forth outside a medical building on Parnassus Avenue, waving blown-up photos of lab animals and passing out flyers saying that monkeys in experiments run by the University of California San Francisco were going “insane.”

“How does it feel to kill those that trust you?” they chanted.

As a mother led her young son along the sidewalk, doing her best to dodge the protesters, the boy looked up in horror at a photo of a monkey with Frankensteinian screws protruding from its skull. Someone took the opportunity to offer the woman a pamphlet, and when she hustled her child away, the protester, perplexed, said to her fellow animal activists, “How sad: He’s seeing these upsetting images, and she doesn’t even want to learn more.”

Moments later, a man in a lab coat strode by. Before entering the building, he glanced over his shoulder to shout, “Die of cancer, then!”

It was another day, another demonstration at California’s premier public health-sciences facility. The animal rights groups show up every few months to march and hand out sensational flyers describing secret horror shows deep in hidden labs. And university officials do their best to not even engage them.

The struggle over animal research is polarized and emotional. It’s not uncommon for animal rights activists to characterize researchers as barbarians who cut up innocent animals out of joy or greed

Poster child

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Biz News

Poster child

Artist Favianna Rodriguez makes history with her politically conscious graphics company.
By Momo Chang

IF YOU WENT to college in the Bay Area during the mid-to-late-’90s, chances are you’ve seen Favianna Rodriguez’s work. She’s the woman behind many of the ubiquitous peace and protest posters displayed on college campuses and in storefront windows, championing such issues as “No on Prop. 209” (the anti-affirmative action initiative) and demanding ethnic studies education.

She projects her radical messages onto high-contrast, boldly outlined figures, but she’s not just someone who rants and raves in a fist-in-the-air kind of way. The 27-year-old is clearheaded and visionary about her art. Though she follows in the traditions of Chicano poster-makers of the ’60s and ’70s, like Malaqu??as Montoya of Sacramento and the artists at Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts’ Mission Grafica (2868 Mission, SF. 415-821-1155), she came of age in the digital era, when hundreds of posters can be designed and printed overnight.

Digital designing allows her company, Tumi’s Designs (3028 International, Oakl. 510-532-8267, www.tumis.com), to have a fast turnaround, which is important in these politically turbulent times. Rodriguez

Paige two

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I WAS TURNED  on to my new favorite restaurant, Jodie’s, by Satchel Paige the Pitcher’s dad, Mr. Paige the Pitcher. Indirectly. Mr. Paige the Pitcher ate there with a friend, and then raved about it to Satchel Paige the Pitcher, who told me. "It’s a tiny place. Six seats. A counter. The guy working it’s supposed to be a character."

 "What kind of food?" I said.

 "He said they have everything."

 "Like what?"

 Satchel Paige the Pitcher called Mr. Paige the Pitcher on the phone (this was months and months ago, when Satch was visiting from Thailand), and asked him what kind of food.

 "They have all kinds of stuff, Satchmo," his dad said. "You wouldn’t believe it."

 "What kind of stuff?" asked Satchel Paige the Pitcher.

 "Everything."

 Satchel pressed. "Like what?" he said. "For example."

 And here’s what Mr. Paige the Pitcher said. He said, "Hamburgers."

 We got a big kick out of that. We’re easily amused. And I made a mental note: "Jodie’s – everything, even hamburgers." And I underlined hamburgers three times, mentally, and filed it between my memory of raisin pie in the backseat of Grandpa Rubino’s Buick and how I know how long to cook the spaghetti. I need a better filing system.

 Months passed.

 Then my brother Phenomenon told me he’d been to a great place in Albany – Jodie’s.

 "Oh, yeah? Cool. Did you try the raisin pie?" I said.

 He said, "Huh?" And he told me how to get there, but the first time I tried, I couldn’t find it, to give you some idea how small of a hole-in-the-wall this is. It’s on Masonic Street just south of Solano, across from the BART tracks. The second time I tried, first thing in the morning after we got back from Idaho, there it was and there I was, wrapping myself around a barbecue omelet with hash browns and an English muffin. Guy down the counter, only other person there, was taking care of my coffee needs, and his.

 The overall feel of the place is reminiscent of Ann’s Café, RIP. Check your attitude at the door. Everyone’s friends. And Jodie is putting on a show. He showed me the menu, but he was quick to point out that that wasn’t everything. "What’s not on there," he said, pointing to the menu, "is on there," and he gestured over his shoulder to a wall full of oddball specials printed out on little paper signs. "And if it’s not on the menu and it’s not on the wall, then I keep it up here," he said, pointing to his head.

 I hope he has a better filing system than I do.

 What I really wanted was fried chicken, but Jodie only makes fried chickens on weekends, so that left me with only a couple hundred things to choose from. Really the decision was easy. As I might of mentioned last week, I’d been eating barbecued chicken, beef, and pork all weekend in Idaho, so, by way of a change of pace, I went with the barbecue omelet. Off the wall.

 You can have it with beef, pork, or "American" sausage, whatever that means. I got pork. The sauce on top of the omelet, a homemade tomato- and vegetable-based concoction, was delicious. The hash browns were delicious. Everything was great.

 But it wasn’t fried chicken, so I had to go back on Sunday morning, bright and early, because Jodie told me it goes fast.

 Hey, happy 40th birthday to Grandma Googy-Googy, who lives up the hill from Jodie’s, runs past it every morning, and was supposed to meet me for breakfast all sweaty and shit, but showed up showered and s weet-smelling instead, ruining everything.

 She did let me taste her sausage, and it was delicious and all, but God damn I love fried chicken for breakfast. Only they don’t have waffles to go with it. You can get it with pancakes, eggs, or French toast. Nine bucks. Your call: white meat, or dark. And here’s where Jodie blows the chicken farmer’s mind. In a good way: White meat is the breast, and dark, against everyone else in the world’s worser judgment, is a leg, a thigh, and a wing. For this, if it was up to me, I’d award Jodie the Nobel Prize in Physics, or Peace, or both.

 But it’s not up to me, so I’m going to give him a carton of eggs the next time I see him. And a waffle iron for Christmas because pancakes are good, but they’re not waffles. As I’ve pointed out time and time again.

 Jodie’s. 902 Masonic Ave. (at Solano), Albany. (510) 526-1109. Tuesday-Sunday: 8:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m.; closed Monday. Takeout available. Credit cards not accepted. No alcohol. Wheelchair accessible.  

 Dan Leone is the author of Eat This, San Francisco (Sasquatch Books), a collection of Cheap Eats restaurant reviews, and The Meaning of Lunch (Mammoth Books).

Hidden at home

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It took a landscape architecture professor from Columbus, Ohio, an historian from Dallas, Texas, and a filmmaker from Modesto, Calif., to tell the story of the biggest scandal in San Francisco history.

barrett-fe.jpg

In the past few months, two academic researchers

Film: Critic’s Choice: ‘San Francisco’s Broken Promise’

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Thurs/29, Delancey Street Screening Room

WHEN A GROUP  of Modesto Junior College students began looking into what Bay Guardian editor and publisher Bruce B. Brugmann calls "the biggest scandal in American history involving a city," most of them knew nothing about Hetch Hetchy Valley, and none of them had ever heard of the Raker Act. But spurred by a series of Bay Guardian stories and led by their instructor, Carol Lancaster Mingus, a veteran public television producer, they spent 17 weeks researching the story, doing interviews, and putting together archival footage. The result, San Francisco’s Broken Promise, is a remarkably clear, cogent account of how Pacific Gas and Electric Co. kept public power out of San Francisco. In just half an hour, the documentary summarizes one of the great stories in the city’s history, hitting all the major points. It describes how the fight over the damming of Hetch Hetchy Valley was the first major nationwide environmental battle, how the Sierra Club and John Muir fought to save the spectacular twin of Yosemite Valley twin, and how Congress agreed to let San Francisco build the dam, but only with a very specific condition: The dam had to generate electricity, and that cheap, public power had to be used to keep PG&E’s monopoly out of town. Obviously, the Bay Guardian (and its editor-publisher) play a key role in the doc. But the real star is Joe Neilands, the retired UC Berkeley biochemistry professor who first got onto the story in 1969. Neilands describes in his calm, soft-spoken way how the entire premise behind the Raker Act has been actively violated for more than 80 years. In the end, the film is a bit soft on the "restore Hetch Hetchy" movement, which wants to tear down the dam (a move that would be a deadly blow to public power in the city). And I would have loved to see some Michael Moore-style confrontations of PG&E executives and key public officials (like US senator, and former SF mayor, Dianne Feinstein, who figures prominently in the story but gets away with simply "declining comment." But Mingus and the student crew do a fine job of telling a complex tale without the use of a narrator, just splicing together a series of interviews. The film provides a wonderful public service: It gives a solid primer on the immensely complicated story of a scandal involving hundreds of millions of dollars – and does it in a way that’s entertaining, understandable, and wrapped up in a 30-minute package. Screening this week as part of the San Francisco World Film Festival, San Francisco’s Broken Promise ought to be aired on KQED, on local cable, and in classrooms and meeting rooms all over the city, and it ought be considered a mandatory part of any local activist’s basic political education. Thurs/29, 5 p.m., 600 Embarcadero, SF. $10. Festival runs Thurs/29-Sun/2; call (415) 725-0009 or go to www.sfworldfilmfestival.com/festival.html for a complete schedule. (Tim Redmond)

Army of glum

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ANY GIVEN FIVE minutes of Battlefield 2 (Electronic Arts) play can resemble the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan. You’re riding in an amphibious tank with your squad across enemy waters. Rumbles from explosions start getting louder and closer. Stray bullets hit the tank’s armor and the water outside. Suddenly you’re on land, the tank stops, and your squad leader yells, "Move!" over your headset. You jump out into utter chaos, bullets flying everywhere, your teammates falling around you. You run for cover as a stray grenade explosion blurs your vision and rings in your ears. With a giant whoosh, a support bomber passes overhead and takes out some enemy tanks. You blitz the checkpoint, trying to pick off remaining defenders and hoping you didn’t miss anyone in the huts that you’re sprinting past.

One of the most realistic war-themed action games ever made, rivaled only by its predecessors, Battlefield 1942 (EA) and Battlefield Vietnam (EA), BF2 is rightfully one of the most popular action games in the country today. It seamlessly integrates land, sea, and air vehicles into lush, photo-realistic maps where trees shake from the force of chopper propellers and snipers hide in swaying blades of grass. And the game play is just as slick as the graphics, allowing you to coordinate complicated team strategies through a simple command system and speak with your squad mates if you have a mic with your computer. The most dynamic part of the game stresses teamwork. Because of its massive strategic depth, if you want to accomplish anything other than annoying people online, you’ll have to work with your team to capture checkpoints and win matches – a feat never quite achieved on this level by other games.

This is the game I dreamed of when I was a kid playing Rogue Spear and Counter-Strike, diet versions of this action-packed feast. But that was before the current ridiculous war and all the oh-my-god footage coming back on television and in films like Fahrenheit 9/11 and Gunner Palace. As the previous games in the series did with WWII and Vietnam, BF2 trivializes the trauma of our current war in Iraq – and a possible future war with China – by making it into entertainment.

The game claims to sidestep politics by presenting a fictional conflict between a hypothetical Middle East Coalition (MEC), China, and the US Marines. The MEC and China switch off battling an invasive United States for strategic checkpoints that your team must camp at for a certain amount of time to gain control of. From the opening cutscene that plays like an action movie with all its destruction-glorifying grandeur, it’s clear that only a nation-player with the will to achieve total military dominance over other countries – and a complete ignorance of the ramifications for the people in those conquered countries – could take pleasure in acting out these scenarios. I’m glad most gamers playing BF2 probably don’t have firsthand experience with military oppression, but games such as this present a disconnect between reality and fantasy that contributes to the acceptance of US military actions.

After 9/11 and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, it’s safe to say that we’ve ceased to live in a bubble. Yet, although BF2 is just a game, its release at a time when 30 percent of soldiers returning from Iraq are reporting mental health issues stemming from the horrors they’ve witnessed, is a sign that our entertainment-industrial complex has shirked its responsibility by uncritically celebrating a very complicated issue, however inadvertently.

The problem is that the premise for war games acts as its own excuse. Nina Huntemann, director of the 2000 film Game Over: Gender, Race and Violence in Video Games, describes how some military games rely on the narrative of neutralizing a terrorist threat without questioning what makes someone a "terrorist" or why we should "neutralize" them. Though BF2 includes little narrative, the idea that there could possibly be a military conflict between the Middle East, China, and the United States is so obvious and predetermined that none of these types of questions even come to mind.

I don’t fault Digital Illusions, BF2’s developer: It’s difficult to sell sensitivity, but it’s easy to sell explosions. I blame a general immersion in entertainment that is predicated on the lie that fantasy is divorced from reality. The fantasy that we are removed from the war in Iraq is one of the things that allows the reality of it to continue.

Video games haven’t just become more like war – war has become like video games. I’ll never forget the moment in Fahrenheit 9/11 when a kid talks about how he listens to the Bloodhound Gang while he sits in his tank and shoots at people. That sounds a lot like what you do in BF2. The war in Iraq is at least partly being fought by kids whose first ideas of war were shaped by video game simulations before they experienced the reality. Like the tactics of dehumanizing the enemy to ease the ethical hang-ups involved in killing them, this extra layer of detachment enables kids to reconcile participating in potentially traumatic events.

Even the US Army actively tries to sell war as a video game. Recently I’ve caught Army recruitment commercials of guys working at computers and coordinating attacks from the comfort of a tent, perpetuating the idea that war can be fought on a flat screen without real-world messiness. Naturally, BF2’s commander screen, on which you can zoom in on different parts of the map and order squad movements or artillery strikes, looks a lot like the graphics flying around an Army commercial.

The Army also invested more than $6 million in a g ame called America’s Army, which it released for free over the Internet in August 2002, less than a year after 9/11 and seven months before war was declared on Iraq. Possibly one of the most sinister forms of propaganda to fly under the media’s radar, America’s Army essentially indoctrinates players into military life through a graphically advanced action game. Openly billed as a recrui tment tool, the game has players make their way through virtual boot camp and then move on to military operations.

Of course, games have always revolved around war and violence, from dodgeball to capture the flag. War is about strategy, problem-solving, and competition, just like most video games. Its popularity as a theme for video games is no surprise, just as it’s no surprise the Army wants to tap into that recruiting pool. These games aren’t desensitizing kids to real violence or instilling them with a lust for it. But the games’ latent values feed an unquestioning acceptance of the United States’ current militarism and normalize it for future generations. I don’t know if we – or the world – can afford another detached generation. Until we find a way to give kids, and, for that matter, adults, a real context for the fantasies provided by the entertainment industry, the enabling disconnect will continue.

Cruisin’ for a bruisin’

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EVER SINCE THAT fateful day on the family farm when our stud calf Beauregard threw me from his back and rammed me several times against a large oak, giving me one heck of a concussion, I knew I was destined to become a leather queen. I was only 11 at the time, and the options were few for actual experience, but dammit — if I couldn’t have the sex, then at least I’d have the outfits. “And what are you?” my innocent neighbors would ask when they opened their doors at Halloween. “I’m Freddie Mercury!” I’d reply with a wiggle of my little homemade chaps (Hefty bags and duct tape) for emphasis. And then they’d give me candy.

Nowadays everyone’s got to have at least one kinky fetish on their sexual resume — thanks, Madonna — yet often the men, women, and “other” of that twisted tribe known as the Leather Community still get a bad rap, especially among young gay club patrons. Part of this is fear, of course: Doesn’t all that pain hurt a little? And part of it is shame: The leather generation that came of age in the ’70s and ’80s has had to shoulder not just the burdens of age and rejection, but also a ridiculous cross between jealousy for living through the hedonistic homo heyday and blame for AIDS. And then, of course, there’s the primal terror of turning into one of those old men with cottage-cheese buttocks and a basketball belly who strut around the Eagle wearing nothing but rainbow flip-flops and a leash.

Oh sure, we’ll let them take us home and spank us on weeknights, but when we see them at the disco, we just shudder and throw shade.

In response, it seems, the leather queens closed ranks. No longer feeling welcome, they became a kind of secret society in the ’90s. Once-omnipresent social institutions like the Imperial Court of San Francisco and the Rainbow Motorcycle Club went underground ��� and, sadly, saw their profiles dwindle. Tight-knit contingents like Mama’s Family and the Men of Discipline sprang up, with their unique rituals and dress codes, shunning the clubs in favor of charity Golden Gate potlucks, cabaret fundraisers, and converted-garage play parties promoting safe-sex awareness. (Leatherfolk are all about the benefits, these days.) The sash circuit moved to the suburbs. Half the community morphed into bears. Even the dawn of the Internet connection only increased the generation gap.

But as the first Arab American leather hip-hop disco clubkid muppet queer San Francisco Drummer Boy 2001 (runner-up), I feel it’s my deep responsibility and honorable duty to reprazent my peeps in the hide. If there’s one thing my leather dad (love you, Ray) taught me, it’s respect, and if there’s another, it’s how to keep from passing out after hanging upside-down for 40 minutes. It’s time for all this nonsense to stop. This year may have seen three more local leather haunts — Loading Dock, My Place, and Club Rendez-Vous — close to become upscale, straight-type martini lounges; the baths are still outlawed; and creepy tweekers have invaded the sex clubs; but the leather lifestyle is still brilliant and vital, bouncing back up through the queer underground and swelling its ranks with curious alternaqueers and radical faeries, who fetishize being open-minded.

Today, the only places the whole queer community can come together regularly are our precious few leather bars. Daddy’s, Aunt Charlie’s, Marlena’s, and The Eagle have all undergone recent renaissances, fueled by a combo of renegade young promoters, indulgent owners, and a healthy new lust for the underground. Where else can beef and chicken meet? Not to mention old punks, baby dykes, hustlers, drag queens, bull daggers, grandpas, gymbots, ex-clones, Aberzombies, club kids, A-gays, bikers, circuit boiz, transgendered hotties, Log Cabin Republicans, and the odd closeted TV anchorman. It seems the more the mainstream media bleaches out our filthy abominations, the more we return to our fruitful past, when lust was the glue that held us together, and abomination was a kind of gang handshake. We may be more diverse than ever, but leather’s still our common ground.

Daddy’s. Daily, 9 a.m.-2 a.m., 440 Castro, SF. (415) 621-8732, www.daddysbar.com.

Marlena’s. Mon.-Fri., 3 p.m.-2 a.m.; Sat.-Sun., noon-2 a.m., 488 Hayes, SF. (415) 864-6672.

Aunt Charlie’s. Mon.-Fri., noon-2 a.m.; Sat.-Sun., 10 a.m.-2 a.m., 133 Turk, SF. (415) 441-2922, www.auntcharlieslounge.com.

The Eagle Tavern. Daily, noon-2 a.m., 398 12th St., SF. (415) 626-0880, www.sfeagle.com.

E-mail Marke B. at superego@sfbg.com.

Techsploitation

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APPARENTLY IT’S BIG news that the human brain is still evolving. A couple of US researchers announced recently that they’d isolated two genes connected with brain size that appeared to have evolved only over the past two dozen millennia. In other words, our brains changed in the past hundred generations. Why this would be surprising to anyone even glancingly familiar with evolutionary theory is beyond me. As long as we keep engaging in sexual reproduction, we’re going to be evolving. The process ain’t teleological, people.

Greg Wray, a Duke University evolutionary genomics professor involved with the study, told the Associated Press, “There’s a sense that we as humans have kind of peaked.” But, he added, “it’s almost impossible for evolution not to happen.”

Nevertheless, people both in and out of the scientific community were bemused by the study. I’m tempted to say that’s because the intelligent design dorks are making so many headlines that any new information about evolution