Pombo on the issues


To say that Richard Pombo is an environmental skeptic is putting it mildly. When asked if Pombo accepted the worldwide scientific consensus that global warming is a fact, his spokesperson, Wayne Johnson, shilly-shallied. "What I have heard him say is the jury is still out," Johnson cautiously ventured. "For those absolutely convinced, I would not put him in that category."

Pombo entered Congress determined to "reform" the Endangered Species Act and other tree-hugging depredations on the rights of private property owners. Before arriving in Washington, he cowrote a book titled This Land Is Our Land: How to End the War on Private Property, in which he declared that he’d become politically active after a skirmish with the East Bay Regional Park District about the creation of a public right-of-way through his property. He later switched his story to say that his family’s property values had been hurt when their land was designated a San Joaquin kit fox critical habitat.

Both claims were entirely without merit. But Pombo is not one to let the facts get in the way.

Pombo says the ESA, which is widely regarded as one of the more successful pieces of environmental legislation ever, is a failure. Pombo’s “reforms,” however, recently ran into a brick wall in the Senate. If passed, the reforms would have removed the concept of critical habitat from the ESA, which means that a threatened species would have been protected, but its home territory would not have received such protection.

Pombo has hit numerous other environmental high points. Among them was his idea to allow ham radio operators to erect antennae on the Farallones Islands. He proposed selling 15 sites within the national parks as a way of raising money for energy development. He was one of the original sponsors of the legislation to allow drilling on Alaska’s north slope.

And the 11th Congressional District representative has taken interesting stands on all sorts of other issues, from civil rights to drugs to gun control to gay rights. Because he has such a wide range of conservative interests, a short list of his Congressional voting record will suffice.

Pombo has opposed stem cell research, supports banning “partial birth” abortion, and has a 0 percent rating from NARAL, the pro-choice group. He voted for the constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and against allowing gay adoption in Washington, DC.

He has voted in favor of making the PATRIOT Act permanent and supports a constitutional amendment to oppose flag burning and desecration. He supports more prisons, the death penalty, and more cops. He voted to prohibit medical marijuana and HIV-prevention needle exchange, in Washington, DC.

Pombo has a 97 percent approval rating from the US Chamber of Commerce. He opposes gun control and product-misuse lawsuits against gun manufacturers. He got an A-plus rating from the National Rifle Association.

For a more in-depth appreciation of Richard Pombo’s politics, go to www.ontheissues.org/CA/Richard-Pombo.htm, which gives him a 70 percent hard-right conservative rating. (Tim Kingston)

Research assistance by Erica Holt

Pombo on the issues


To say that Richard Pombo is an environmental skeptic is putting it mildly. Asked if Pombo accepted the worldwide scientific consensus that global warming is a fact, his spokesperson, Wayne Johnson, shilly-shallied. “What I have heard him say is the jury is still out,” Johnson cautiously ventured. “For those absolutely convinced, I would not put him in that category.”
Pombo entered Congress determined to “reform” the Engendered Species Act and other tree-hugging depredations on the rights of private property owners, and while he concentrated on that law, he has put his stamp on a host of other issues, from gay rights to gun control.  

Before he ran for Congress, Pombo co-wrote a book entitled This Land is Our Land: How to End the War on Private Property. Part of his book declared that he become active politically after a skirmish with the East Bay Regional Park district about the creation of a public right of way through his property. He later switched his story to say his family’s property values were hurt when family land was designated a San Joaquin Kit Fox critical habitat. Both claims were without merit.

Pombo says the ESA, which is widely regarded as one of the more successful pieces of environmental legislation ever, is a failure. Pombo’s “reforms,” however, recently ran into a brick wall in the Senate. If passed, they would have removed the concept of critical habitat from the ESA – meaning a species would be protected, but its home territory would not. The legislation called for a two-year recovery plan, but the recovery plan would have been voluntary rather than mandatory.

While this approach has resonated with many voters in the 11th district who agree that the ESA goes too far, it has local and national environmentalists screaming. It’s also upset his opponent, Pete McCloskey, who was involved in writing the original law.

Pombo has hit a number of other environmental high points during his tenure. Among them was his idea to allow ham radio operators to erect antennas on the Farallones Islands. He wants to lift the ban on off shore oil drilling. He has read a pro-whaling resolution into the Congressional Record. He has proposed selling off 15 sites within the national parks as a way of raising money for energy development (a proposal that advances Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s Presidio privatization to a new level). He was one of the original sponsors of the legislation to allow drilling on Alaska’s north slope. And last but not least, wants to put a freeway over Mt. Hamilton in San Joaquin County.

Pombo also voted twice to protect MTBE manufacturers from being sued for environmental damage. MTBE helps engines burn cleaner, but has also been found to contaminate water supplies in California, necessitating huge clean-up costs. Why would Pombo vote to indemnify such manufacturers? Well, several of the companies are based on Tom Delay’s district in Texas.

But the 11th district representative has taken interesting stands on all sort of other issues, from civil rights to drugs to gun control to gay rights. Because there are so many, a short list of his congressional voting record will suffice.

Pombo has opposed stem-cell research, supports banning “partial birth” abortion, and has a 0% rating from NARAL the pro-choice group. He voted for the constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and against allowing gay adoption in Washington D.C.

He has voted in favor making the PATRIOT Act permanent, and supports a constitutional amendment to ban flag burning and desecration. He supports more prisons, the death penalty and more cops. Pombo wants to prohibit medical marijuana and HIV-prevention needle exchange. He sponsored legislation that would require universities to allow military recruiters on campus, but he opposed a bill that would have boosted veteran-affairs spending by $53 million. He opposes gun control and opposes product-misuse lawsuits against gun manufacturers.

In 2003 Pombo got a 97 percent approval rating from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He also got an A-plus rating from the National Rifle Association and a 92 percent rating from the Christian Coalition in 2003.
For a more in depth appreciation of Richard Pombo’s politics, check out On The Issues at www. ontheissues.org/CA/Richard-Pombo.htm, which gives him a 70% hard right conservative rating.

Research Assistance by Erica Holt

Saluting small business


> bruce@sfbg.com

  Back in my hometown of Rock Rapids, Iowa, a flat land of tall corn and homestead farms way out in northwest Iowa, my grandfather and father ran a small, family owned drug store for more than seven decades. Their slogan, known throughout the territory, was "Brugmann’s Drugs: Where drugs and gold are fairly sold, since l902."

   The town was then and still is about 2,800 in population, and we were miles away from the nearest cities of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Sioux City, Iowa. The merchants, and the farmers and townsfolk who patronized them, had to go it pretty much alone and depend on each other for economic sustenance.  The two Brugmann families bought shoes at Jensen’s and Hornseth’s shoe stores, purchased clothes that often didn’t quite fit at Bernstein’s department store, bought our groceries from Bob Bendinger and Tony Sieparda’s grocery stores, ate meals out at Jay’s and the Grill Café, banked at the Rock Rapids State Bank and later the Lyon County bank,  went to endless church suppers in town and in the country to support the local churches, hired Jim Wells to do our taxes, used both Doc Wubbena and Doc Cook, the town’s two doctors, and had our teeth done by Doc Lee and Doc Fisch.

   My dad, as the town pharmacist, would often get called at night, sometimes twice, to go down to the store and fill a prescription for one of the doctors tending a patient who needed emergency help. My wife’s father, who owned a lumberyard in Bennet, Nebraska, and later a hardware store in Le Mars, Iowa, followed the same routine. As did her grandfathers, one who founded banks in small towns in Nebraska and Kansas, another who ran a grocery store in Topeka, Kansas.

   I asked my grandfather and my dad why they went out of their way to do all these things in town and why I always got pulled along as Con Brugmann’s boy. "We want to keep our money working in town," they would reply. "That helps the store and that helps the town." I also asked why they put regular ads in the local Lyon County Reporter, run by Paul Smith as the fourth generation of the pioneering Smith family, when everybody already knew what the store offered in merchandise and service. "That’s the price of having a good local paper in town,” my dad would say.

   Significantly, Brugmann’s Drugs and our old store building have been transformed into the B and L café, a friendly oasis featuring yummy homemade pies and soups and a unique setting full of antique furniture. It is owned and operated by Beth and Lawrence Lupkes, a husband and wife team who work long and hard to keep the café going from dawn till dusk seven days a week. Their key to economic sustenance: they keep their “day” jobs, Beth as a dispatcher for the county’s emergency services, Lawrence as a rural mail carrier and mayor. Lawrence’s sister is the main cook and they press family members into service.

   When my wife Jean Dibble and I founded the Guardian in l966, we quickly found that the cooperative small business way of life that worked in little towns in Iowa and Nebraska and Kansas worked the same way in San Francisco with its tradition of neighborhoods and communities. Small business, we found, was not only the leading job generator and a key piece of the city’s urban fabric. Small business was critical to building sustainable local economies in San Francisco and most other cities. Jean and I like to think that the Brugmann and Dibble families have been continuously making small business contributions to our communities since l902.

   A long list of studies shows that small businesses keep more money circuutf8g in the local economy than big chains. The chain money is wired out of town every night—and chains are more likely to buy from other chains, in bulk, and thus rarely patronize other local businesses. So very little of the dollar you spend at a chain store stays in the community, which means its impact on the local economy is negligible. Money that stays in town creates more jobs, more business activity, a more stable economy and a larger tax base. Thankfully, no Wal-Mart came to the Rock Rapids area, but Wal-Mart came to several other Iowa communities with disastrous consequences to the downtowns and local tax bases of three towns and seven counties. Many other studies showed similar consequences in many other areas of the country.  (The Hometown Advantage, Big Box Economic Impact Studies from the Institute for Local Self Reliance. http://www.newrules.org/retail/econimpact)

    When academics and policy makers around the country are increasingly discussing ways that cities can be more self-reliant, work more with local resources and thus be both environmentally and economically stronger, they are talking about the value of small, locally owned, independent businesses.

    Economies are all subject to business cycles. If a city’s economy is dominated by a monocrop and or a few big companies, the entire economy suffers when they take a hit. Rock Rapids is tied to the farms and the weather.  Detroit’s fate is tied to the auto industry. If Microsoft and Boeing have blips, the impact is felt across Seattle. But a community with many different local businesses in many different niches is much more able to survive and even prosper in tough times.  After the l906 earthquake, it was the entrepreneurs and small businesses that lifted the city from the ashes. After the dot-com bust, it was again the small businesses and the entrepreneurs who are helping cushion the blow and leading the recovery.

    The bottom line is that the big chains see a community like San Francisco as a place to extract money from as quickly as possible, much like the strip miners in the Sierra. Small businesses see the city as a place to invest human capital to build real community—to join merchant groups, get involved in local politics, hire local kids, patronize other businesses, work to invigorate their neighborhoods, spread the gospel of shopping local. (See the San Francisco Locally Owned Merchants’ Alliance at http://www.sfloma.org/whylocal.com)

    Jean and I and the Guardian staff are happy to salute the small business community with our second annual Small Business Awards. Our congratulations to the winners, all working in their own way to transform San Francisco into a sustainable local economy. And our congratulations to the thousands of small business people in San Francisco, and the merchant groups behind them, who daily struggle valiantly against daunting odds to keep their businesses going, their neighborhoods vibrant, and San Francisco an incomparably great city.

     This year, we give special recognition to Arthur Jackson, who for almost four decades helped thousands of people get jobs in small, independent, locally owned businesses through his employment agency, Jackson Personnel Agency. He died on April l0 at     age 58 after a courageous fight against a series of illnesses including a kidney transplant.  He lived his favorite quote: “Putting people to work is a passion for me, because the paycheck fully empowers our community.” Arthur, as we all called him, won our diversity in small business award last year and his name will live on at the Guardian in the form of our annual Arthur Jackson diversity in small business award.

Tsai me up, Tsai me down



I could have sworn that the late Susan Sontag had labeled Tsai Ming-liang a fraud. I even looked up Sontag’s New York Times piece "The Decay of Cinema," as well as the longer essay "A Century of Cinema" that was published in the 2001 collection Where the Stress Falls, for proof. But no such dismissal was to be found. And here I had formed a whole argument: "How ironic," I thought, "that an essay by Sontag about the demise of cinema disapproved of Tsai, and that around the time of her own passing Tsai would unveil perhaps the greatest film about the decay of cinema to date, 2003’s Good Bye, Dragon Inn."


It turned out I misattributed the remark — in fact, it was a film historian who dismissed Tsai as "your archetypal pretentious festival fraud." Yet I wonder if Sontag cared as much for Tsai as she did, say, Hou Hsiao-hsien, since Tsai has participated in the very "internationalizing of financing" that she laments in A Century of Cinema, noting its destructive effect on her beloved Andrei Tarkovksy. Tsai’s Taiwan-France coproduction What Time Is It There? (2001) might be the weakest of his works, yet there’s still something to be loved about its presentation of Paris as a tourist’s hell, even if Sontag might not have cared for such a treatment of that city.

But enough of Craig Seligman<\d>style routines: I’ve come to praise Tsai, not to answer Sontag’s erudition with casual conversation. Creating a follow-up to the majestic loneliness of Good Bye Dragon Inn could not have been an easy task, and yet Tsai has done just that with another Taiwan-France coproduction, The Wayward Cloud, a work that is as glaringly vulgar as Dragon was cavernous and shadowy, as sexually graphic as Dragon was furtive, as contemporary as Dragon was nostalgic, as disturbing as Dragon was melancholic, and as hilarious as Dragon was … hilarious.

One of the first thoughts I had while watching The Wayward Cloud was this: Matthew Barney can eat Tsai’s shorts.

A few weeks ago, a Guardian writer fantasized about a DVD box issue devoted to a pair of contemporary directors, and I thought, "It really has come to this: A devoted young movie lover can’t even realistically imagine a rep house program devoted to the career of one of his current favorite filmmakers." The Wayward Cloud is about to play the palatial Castro — not the TV at the local video store or the flat-screen in someone’s apartment — and I can’t wait to be there. In fact, I will fantasize about a film series devoted to all of Tsai’s movies to date, the kind that places like the Castro used to give to directors like Fassbinder. The type of event where a certain breed of celluloid-loving maniac could meet up every night and become friends over shared dark laughter, drugs, you name it.

I can’t think of another contemporary director whose work would flourish so well with that type of presentation. Take Tsai’s relationship to his muse, Lee Kang-sheng, who has starred in every one of his features to date as the character Hsiao-kang. In The Wayward Cloud, Hsiao-kang is dissolute, and there is something really disturbing and honest about his look, and the way Tsai in turn looks at it. There is something deep — not fraudulent — in the way Tsai has tracked this young man through passages of his life, in the way What Time Is It There? was built from Lee’s grief and loss, for instance. There is something awesome I can’t yet pinpoint about the way The Wayward Cloud, with its jaw-dropping (anti-) climax, manages to rhyme off of the crying-jag final shot of Tsai’s Vive l’Amour (1994), the harsh porn appraisal of his follow-up The River (1997), and the musical, apocalyptic rains of the Tsai movie after that, 1998’s The Hole.

Tsai’s seven features may be a cup-and-ball game stretched over 12-plus hours. But you could say life is a cup-and-ball game too, and the harsh truth is that The Wayward Cloud, a major work by one of the best filmmakers on the planet today, does not have a distributor. It might not play anywhere in the Bay Area after it screens at the San Francisco International Film Festival. Tsai’s movies sell tickets at festivals, but in commercial runs they result in the kind of empty house that he explored so tellingly in Dragon. Yes, Tsai Ming-liang is "the quintessential festival" genius, all right. See his movies while you can.<\!s><z5><h110>SFBG<h$><z$>


(Tsai Ming-liang, Taiwan/France, 2005)


Sun/23, 9:30 p.m., Castro

Tues/25, 10:15 p.m., Kabuki

April 26, 3:30 p.m., Kabuki

April 28, 9:15 p.m., PFA

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.

28 years later


If you live in or truly love San Francisco, you’ve seen The Times of Harvey Milk. Rob Epstein’s 1984 movie is one of the best nonfiction features ever made. It’s also one of the greatest movies about this city. Only time will tell whether Stanley Nelson’s new documentary, Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple, is a work of similar importance, but the fact that I’m even mentioning it in the same context as Epstein’s movie says something about the reserved precision of its journalistic reasoning and the overwhelming emotional force of its finale.

Of course, there is another reason to connect Jonestown and The Times of Harvey Milk. The murder of Supervisor Milk and Mayor George Moscone by Dan White took place 10 days after the deaths of Jim Jones, Congressman Leo Ryan, and more than 900 members of Jones’s Peoples Temple in Jonestown, Guyana, on November 18, 1978. One tragedy claimed the life of a man who was already a civil rights hero, while the other led mainstream media and true crime sources to portray a human being as a monster. Just as Epstein’s movie profoundly humanizes Milk, Nelson’s movie digs beneath stereotypes of pure evil to reveal a different Jones than the one used to sell quickie television and paperback biographies.

Twenty-eight years later, the tragedy in Guyana and the Milk-Moscone murders still have an effect on San Francisco politics: In very different ways, they represent the death of progressive, district-based local activism and its afterlife. (Garrett Scott, codirector of the superb documentaries Cul de Sac: A Suburban War Story and Occupation: Dreamland, was in the early stages of making a movie about the two events and their relationship to SF politics when he died earlier this year.) It seemed appropriate to have New York native Nelson discuss his movie with a contemporary political figure whose knowledge of local history runs deep. On the eve of Jonestown’s screenings at this year’s San Francisco International Film Festival, former San Francisco mayoral candidate Matt Gonzalez agreed to interview Nelson about the roads leading to the cataclysmic events of 1978 and the roads leading away from it.

MATT GONZALEZ I want to start by saying I had a typical impression of Jim Jones as a cult leader whose message was a hustle to get people into his church so he could take advantage of them when they were vulnerable. The thing that jumped out immediately to me in this film was that the fundamental part of his message throughout his ministry was this idea of racial integration and equality. The main component was there at the beginning, and in a place like Indiana, when Indianapolis was a Ku Klux Klan stronghold. It made me rethink and see him as someone who exhibited a certain genuineness and courage at that time.

Did that surprise you about him?

STANLEY NELSON The depth of his commitment surprised me. During one of the anniversaries of the deaths in Guyana, I heard some Peoples Temple members talking about it on [the radio]. I started thinking, “This involved over 900 people all these people weren’t crazy. So what was it that drove them to the church?”

Research made me realize that there was something much deeper going on and that this was a real political movement for a lot of the time the church was in existence.

MG Jones had been a member of a human rights commission out in Indiana. That also underscores a very self-conscious relationship between his church and what was happening in society.

SN Yes. [In the film] there’s that incredible audiotape when he’s giving his own history, where he talks about how his father didn’t want to let a black kid in his house. Jim Jones says, “I won’t come in either,” and he doesn’t see his father for years after that.

I don’t think it was a hustle at all, I think it was something he truly did believe in. Jim Jones was a very complicated individual. Everybody’s complicated there are no simple people but Jim Jones was much more complicated than most of us.

MG How hard was it to find folks in Indiana who knew Jones?

SN It was hard. But Lynn [Jones’s hometown] was very small, and we were able to find one person who could lead us to others. One thing that’s amazing when you do research is that you can go to high schools and grade schools, and they still have yearbooks. You find people’s names, use the phone book, and just start calling.

MG Over time, Peoples Temple gets a financial foundation because its members give their property to Jones. He’s then able to set up communal living arrangements. But when he’s in Indiana, if I’m to understand correctly, he’s selling monkeys door to door or something like that.

Was his message about communal living a part of the hustle, or do you think that was also a belief that he genuinely held?

SN I think he genuinely believed it. That component really came out of Ukiah, in Redwood Valley, where they [Peoples Temple] had this farm. People actually did travel with him from Indiana [in 1965], so how were they going to live when they’d sold their houses? They could live communally.

One thing that I found fascinating is that the older people who lived in these communal houses got better treatment than they ever could have gotten from the state or welfare or Social Security, because not only were they housed and fed, they were also loved. All of a sudden they had this family the old people were revered in Peoples Temple.

MG Would you say those two components racial integration and property held in common were the cornerstone of his preaching?

SN I think they were a big part, but it was also more than just racial integration. There was a sense that “we have this power that none of us has as individuals.” This was a time when a lot of people were smoking dope and dropping out, but Peoples Temple members were active. They saw themselves as activists; they saw themselves changing the world with the church as a tool.

MG In 1971 Richard Hongisto was elected sheriff of San Francisco, and it was a very liberal campaign. [George] Moscone was elected mayor in ’75, and we know Peoples Temple played a part in that. Hongisto’s election was an early sign of growing liberal strength in San Francisco, enough so that you can look at the Moscone victory and not simply say, “Peoples Temple caused this to happen.” But there’s no question given how close the election was that they played a major role. How do you see their political impact then?

SN Peoples Temple was part of the mainstream politics of the Bay Area. I’m from New York. I had no idea that Jim Jones was head of the Housing Commission in San Francisco or that politicians came to Peoples Temple events and gave incredible speeches praising Jim Jones. That was something I discovered while making the film.

It’s part of the history of Peoples Temple, but it was also like a birthday caketimes-12 to the politicians. The politicians didn’t look too far behind this gift horse, because [Peoples Temple] was highly organized. People did what Jim Jones said. At one point they had 13 buses. They’d fill up the buses and

MG a politician could have an instant press conference.

SN Just one phone call and Jim Jones could come with buses. You’d have 500 people at your march.

MG Do you get a sense that what happened in Jonestown reverberates politically today? The players then aren’t necessarily in politics. Jackie Speier still is, but Moscone, Willie Brown, and others are not holding political office. Still, do you see any aftereffects?

SN I’m not sure on a local level, but one thing I think it did was help kill the idea of communes in this country [at a time] when there was a strong movement saying, “Let’s live together; let’s live on the land; let’s pool our resources.” All of a sudden that was associated with “look at what happened in Guyana.”

MG As I understand it, there are about five survivors who were there when the massacre took place.

SN There were about five people actually there [who survived], and of those, there are, to my knowledge, three left alive. Two of them are in the film.

MG People closely associated with Peoples Temple spoke to you and revealed some, I would think, very difficult, personal stories about sexual assault or the use of authority to express dominance. Was it difficult to get people to talk honestly?

SN It was surprisingly easy for us to get people to talk honestly. Time has passed. Partly because of a play [Berkeley Rep’s The People’s Temple] that was produced here in the Bay Area, I think people understood that maybe we were ready to hear a different version of the story that was much deeper.

MG In the film you see that Jones is abusing prescription drugs and probably has a mounting paranoia that’s associated with some mental condition. Is there a sense that he changed while he was in San Francisco, or was Peoples Temple headed toward this sort of cultlike finality from its inception?

SN We interviewed people who knew Jim Jones when he was a kid, and they talk about the fact that he was not normal even as a six- or seven-year-old boy. But I think that his behavior did get more extreme as time went on. He had this incredible power within the church, and he was this warped individual, and the combination affected his behavior. In the end, when they [Peoples Temple members] are isolated in the jungle, that’s [a reflection of] who he is.

MG Tell me about the wealth of material you have. There is film footage of a healing that is rather dramatic and recordings of his various sermons.

SN Going in, I had no idea that there was so much film footage. But we found a guy in LA who had shot in Peoples Temple over two days using three cameras and 16-millimeter film and had lit the whole church. His footage is just incredibly beautiful. The healing service, Jim Jones preaching, and the congregation singing and dancing are all part of that. He’d sold off bits and pieces to places like NBC, but we came along at a time when he felt that the film he wanted to make would never get made, so he agreed to sell us some footage.

We found members of Peoples Temple who had footage that had never been seen before. There are actually shots from the plane of them going down [to Guyana] you can hear Jim Jones describing what he’s going to do and shots of Jones cutting through the jungle with machetes.

Also, we were working very closely with the California Historical Society library, which has a Peoples Temple collection.

MG There was a recent book [Dear People: Remembering Jonestown] that compiled some of that material.

SN Also, Jim Jones recorded himself and his sermons at Peoples Temple. They actually audio-recorded the night of the suicides. As the people are dying, Jim Jones is encouraging them to drink the poison. There are audiotapes of the children and the women and men screaming and dying.

MG As a filmmaker going into a project like this, are you trying to present the truth? Are you trying to present an alternative reading of what happened? Are you trying to warn people?

SN I’m not trying to warn people or tell an alternative history, although obviously what we did turns out to be an alternative history. I was just trying to tell this incredible story and tell it with as much honesty as I can. Everybody in the film had a part to play in Peoples Temple. We really wanted it to be a film told in the voices of the people who lived through it.

MG In my notes I have a reference to the various CIA-related theories [about what happened in Guyana]. You don’t pick that up in the film, and I wonder if you might say something about that.

SN There are different theories that Jim Jones was a CIA agent and this was all a scary mind-control experiment. You know, we found nothing to back that up, and it just didn’t make sense for us to go down that road.

MG As I understand it, a lot of these theories stem from [the fact] that the government withheld documents related to Jonestown. I guess Congressman [Leo] Ryan had a bill pending, the Hughes-Ryan amendment, that would have required that CIA covert operations be disclosed to Congress before those operations could be engaged in. You didn’t find anything related to that?

SN No, we didn’t find any hard evidence. I’m trying to operate as a filmmaker and also as a journalist.

MG So you had access to material

SN and we just didn’t find it [evidence].

MG I’d be interested in seeing what the original accounts were like in the local press in San Francisco during the time of Guyana and the Milk-Moscone murders. There was probably a sense of how Moscone’s opponents might use his ties to the Peoples Temple for political purposes.

SN One reason for the article in [the magazine] New West that first exposed Jim Jones and called for an investigation of Peoples Temple was to discredit Moscone. Part of the media follow-up was that “here is someone that Moscone supported.” So that was already happening around a year before the deaths in Guyana.

MG There are folks who find objectionable the idea of referring to the deaths as mass suicides. Did you reach a conclusion about that?

SN The film has no narration, so we didn’t refer to that other than in a title card at the end that I think calls it the largest mass murder-suicide in history. It’s impossible to say exactly what went on that day, but it is very clear that the kids something like 250 people who were under 18 were all murdered.

It was something we struggled with: “What do we call it: suicide or murder?” I think by the end of the film you feel that it’s kind of both at the same time.

MG If Jim Jones had died in Guyana prior to Ryan’s visit, is your sense in talking to the survivors or those associated with the church that this is a project that would have sustained itself?

SN I just don’t know.

MG You don’t want to engage in a bit of speculative history?

SN I think they had a real problem in sustaining themselves. They were growing food, but they were bringing in food too. Financially there was a burden.

One fascinating thing about that day is that there weren’t a lot of people who left with Congressman Ryan less than 20 people. It was more Jim Jones’s insanity, him thinking that 20 people leaving is devastating [that led to the massacre].

MG Other than the sermons, are there other records of his thoughts? Are there tracts and manifestos?

SN There are some things that he wrote. He didn’t write a definitive book of his philosophies, but there is a piece in which he picks apart fallacies in the Bible.

MG On the one hand, Jones could be critical of the contradictions in the Bible, and on the other, he could pick out the parts that were useful to him.

SN One thing that everybody said was that Jim Jones knew the Bible he wasn’t just talking off of the top of his head. He was incredibly smart, prepared, and cunning.

MG What did you learn from making the film?

SN It’s a film I’m glad to be finished with. All films are hard to make, but it really took a lot out of me. We’ve only had two screenings, and both times afterward there was a kind of shocked silence. One was for the members of Peoples Temple and their friends to let them be the first to see it.

MG How it was received?

SN The Peoples Temple members loved the film. We screened the film in a small theater, and we had a reception outside. The Peoples Temple members who were there with their families just stayed in the theater for about 15 minutes talking among themselves. It made me a little nervous [laughs]. But when they came out they all said they loved the film and felt it was a powerful way of telling their story — a story that hadn’t been told that way at all.


April 29, 6:15 p.m.; April 30, 7 p.m.; May 1, 7 p.m.; May 2, 4:30 p.m.

Part of the San Francisco International Film Festival

Various venues

Call (925) 866-9559 for tickets and (415) 561-5000 for more information.


Marry, marry quite contrary


In the coming year the federal government will unfurl a $500 million grant program with the sole purpose of encouraging low-income people to get hitched. The idea is that advertising, counseling, and mentoring by real, live married couples will increase the marriage rate in "at-risk" communities — leading to increased prosperity.

Conservatives have long argued that pushing marriage is just smart social policy. After all, studies have shown that married people tend to have more stable, financially secure lives that are more conducive to child rearing. Though the jury is still out on exactly how this correlation works (it’s possible that financially secure people are simply that much more likely to wed, rather than the other way around), President George W. Bush has been championing marriage since at least 2001.

His plan to promote the institution among the poor immediately generated opposition from feminists, domestic violence activists, libertarians, and advocates for the poor. And Congress proved unwilling to find the money — until this month.

Buried in the federal budget reconciliation bill approved Feb. 1 was language that directs up to $150 million a year through 2010 to programs meant to encourage marriage and "responsible fatherhood." Each year up to $50 million will go to "father-oriented" grants; the rest will go to promoting wedlock.

Though the funding got almost no press coverage, skepticism remains high among advocates for women and the poor. And it’s fed by a seemingly inconsistent provision in the bill, one that will make it so that two-parent families on welfare are less likely to get cash assistance — just because they’re married.

The first and probably most obvious complaint about marriage promotion is that the state should not be involved in people’s personal decisions about if, when, and whom to marry. For some, the emphasis on traditional, heterosexual unions also smacks of religious and moral fundamentalism.

There’s also the fact that a marriage — no matter how loving, satisfying, or good for the kids — doesn’t directly help someone’s economic standing. Some advocates for the poor would prefer to see money invested directly in services, job training, or cash grants.

Plus, some marriages just aren’t loving or satisfying or good for the kids. Studies have shown that roughly 65 percent of women who are receiving welfare have been battered during the past three years. Pushing victims of domestic violence into unions could have tragic consequences, activists say.

But the most basic criticism of this approach — and one that’s particularly common among women who are familiar with the welfare system — is that having a man around doesn’t necessarily improve a woman’s economic status, no matter how much more men tend to be paid.

Albany resident Renita Pitts, who has five kids and was married for close to 20 years, told us that having a husband can often feel like "having another child — another grown child. At least the little ones mind."

Pitts says that, except for a few years when she was working, she and her ex-husband spent most of their marriage on welfare and using drugs. On occasion, he also beat her.

"The minute my husband left, I was able to get off drugs," she said. "My whole life just opened up. I started going to school full time; I became a citizen in my community. It seemed like my life improved financially, emotionally, and physically."

Pitts is now getting a Bachelor of Arts from UC Berkeley, where she also hopes to complete a PhD in African American Studies. In her free time she works with the Women of Color Resource Center because she wants to show other women that even when it doesn’t seem like it, they have options.

Pitts is worried about marriage-promotion policies, which she described as "another way or form to control low-income women’s bodies." If the government wanted to help women find stability, she said, they would focus on education, health care, and job training. Saying the bill is "contradictory in so many ways," Pitts pointed out the inherent discrimination against gays and lesbians and the incongruence with welfare laws that privilege single-parent families.

As the director of Welfare Policy for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal think tank in Washington, DC, Sharon Parrott was one of the first people to note that particular inconsistency. In a Jan. 31 policy paper, she pointed out that during legislative negotiations Republicans had backed off of earlier plans to eliminate rules that penalize married couples. This resulted in a strange contradiction in the bill: It earmarks unprecedented funding for marriage promotion, but also requires states to enforce newer, tighter work requirements for two-parent families on welfare. Those requirements are so strict that analysts like Parrott believe states that offer assistance to two-parent families will be penalized automatically — and might stop giving couples the same kind of help that’s currently available to single adults.

Parrott told us that the contradiction seems to be the result of complicated legislative rules dictating what can or cannot be included in a budget bill — rather than some intentional and nefarious plot to reduce welfare rolls. But she said that the contradiction shows that, "for all the lip service they’ve played to marriage, when it comes to helping poor two-parent families, they are not so committed."

She also pointed out that the fiscal 2007 budget proposal Bush sent to Congress Feb. 6 suggests upping the annual investment in marriage and fatherhood promotion to $250 million per year. *

Warriors, stay in and playiyay!


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)