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Leno, Kim backers adopting ranked-choice voting strategy

Mark Leno's kickoff featured Sophie Maxwell, Sandra Lee Fewer, Aaron Peskin, Fiona Ma, Phil Ting, Alex Randolph, Hillary Ronen, and John Rizzo

The established progressive leaders and organizations in San Francisco appear to be leaning toward dual endorsements of Mark Leno and Sup. Jane Kim for mayor.

The Tenants Union endorsed both. The Harvey Milk Club is moving in that direction. Sup. Hillary Ronen has endorsed both.

Mark Leno’s kickoff featured Sophie Maxwell, Sandra Lee Fewer, Aaron Peskin, Fiona Ma, Phil Ting, Alex Randolph, Hillary Ronen, and John Rizzo, flanked by lion dancers

Saturday at Leno’s campaign kickoff, a long list of progressives, including Ronen, Sup. Sandra Lee Fewer, Sup. Aaron Peskin, and D8 candidate Rafael Mandelman, were on hand and spoke in favor of Leno.

They were joined by former Sup. Sophie Maxwell, Rudy Corpus Jr. of United Playaz, and Lt. Yulanda Williams, president of Officers for Justice.

Assemblymember Phil Ting and Board of Equalization Member Fiona Ma were also speakers.

I suspect that if Kim has a similar event, some of the same people will be there.

Hillary Ronen said Leno would shake up City Hall

Ronen, who has been the most outspoken person at City Hall about the need for a dramatic change from the policies of former Mayor Ed Lee, set the tone for the way Leno is framing his candidacy:

“At this critical point in SF history, he’s going to shake shit up,” she said. She called for a mayor who would change “the past 22 years of the same-old, same-old.”

Fewer gave a firebrand speech, talking about how “the very essence and soul of who we are is at stake. … We have had enough. It’s time to regulate greed.”

Rudy Corpus Jr. of United Playaz said he was throwing down for Leno

Peskin said “Mark Leno is the change we so badly need.”

So the progressives and the people who are deeply dissatisfied with the direction of San Francisco are looking at a ranked-choice voting strategy that focuses on Leno and Kim as the best alternative to the prospect of Mayor London Breed, who was closely aligned with Lee and has the support of Lee’s major backers, including former Mayor Willie Brown.

Not clear what happens with Position Three on the ballot. The Teacher’s Union gave Breed the bronze medal on the slate. The Tenants Union endorsed only two.

The RCV strategy of two progressives running together worked in Oakland, when Jean Quan and Rebecca Kaplan essentially ran together against Don Perata. Don was the establishment candidate, the one with the power structure behind him. Thanks to the RCV strategy, in which pretty much everyone who voted for Quan put Kaplan second and everyone who voted for Kaplan put Quan second. Perata won the initial round with 40,000 votes to Quan’s 29,000, but when they ran the RCV counts, Quan passed him and won.

As Election Day gets closer, it’s also possible that the strategy may evolve, based on who has a better chance of winning. If Kim looks like she’s in the lead, more people may put her as number one; if Leno holds that position, he may get more first-place votes.

At any rate, this is the first time a mayor’s race could be decided by two candidates running an RCV strategy. If Breed winds up winning, there will be a lot of talk in a lot of circles about getting rid of RCV and returning to the old system of runoffs.

Progressive debate offers a bit of candidate clarity

What a difference two weeks and a different venue makes.

The three leading candidates for mayor all said they supported, more or less, Sen. Scott Wiener’s housing bill that would upzone almost the entire city in the first mayoral debate, orchestrated by the economically conservative United Democratic Club. Now they all say they are against it.

That was one of the key takeaways from Wednesday’s debate, hosted by progressive organizations.

Sup. London Breed skipped the event. Angela Alioto, Mark Leno, Amy Farah Weiss, and Sup. Jane Kim all tried to burnish their progressive credentials.

Alioto said she wouldn’t back SB 827; in fact, she said she’s against higher density on Geary, an area many say is perfect for more housing. “I don’t think so,” she said. She also talked about the loss of flower stands and the denial of a permit for the 50th Anniversary of the Summer of Love.

Leno said that “as it is written” he “could not and would not” support the Wiener bill. Kim was more nuanced, saying she supported more density on transit corridors — but in the end, she said she would not support the bill in its current form because it gives tremendous new value and wealth to property owners but doesn’t include any requirement that they provide additional affordable housing.

That comes in the wake of a scathing report from the SF Planning Department and a growing grassroots movement to block the market-driven measure.

There was, like the first debate, a lot of agreement: All the candidates who showed up support a tax on vacant apartments and storefronts. They all support a municipal bank. They all want to see the city reach 100 percent renewable energy by 2030. They all want to see “dark money” out of politics and want better disclosure rules for superPACs. Leno and Kim both said that addressing the homeless problem starts with preventing evictions.

This is something the left in the city should cheer: Many of the ideas that progressives have been pushing for years are now in the mainstream of the debate.

But Alioto lost any progressive credentials she might have had when she talked about how wonderful the San Francisco Police Department is and how the cops should all be armed with Tasers. “On the whole, SF has an excellent Police Department,” she said. “You want the police to come when your baby is choking and you call 911.”

Actually, you don’t. You want the Fire Department, which is staffed with trained paramedics. That’s who responds to 911 calls involving medical emergencies. But never mind; after the Taser comment, nobody took her too seriously.

Leno offered two policy ideas that appealed to the audience. He suggested that the city create a mental-health justice center as an alternative to arresting mentally ill people and putting them in jail. And he said that he would sue speculators who are using the Ellis Act over and over again to clear buildings of rent-controlled tenants and flipping them for profit.

He said that he has always been critical of Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb. He talked about how the “radical” amendments that then-Sup David Campos proposed on then-Sup David Chiu’s Airbnb legalization bill now seem to make perfect sense.

Leno did not support Campos over Chiu in that race. 

In fact, he had the most trouble when he was asked about his endorsements. He’s running as a progressive – but in the past, supported Willie Brown over Tom Ammiano for mayor, supported Gavin Newsom over Matt Gonzalez for mayor, and supported Wiener over Kim for state Senate.

That’s one of the biggest challenges for progressives thinking about Leno: He has a solid record in Sacramento, was a leader in affordable housing legislation on the Board of Supervisors – and has repeatedly supported people who have undermined everything the progressives have tried to do.

Leno said he supported Brown because Brown appointed him to the board, and that loyalty is important to him. That’s why he endorsed Wiener, who has always endorsed and supported him.

“Like it or not, I prefer to be judged on the work I do,” he said.

He also said that his recent endorsements have included Hillary Ronen, Sandra Lee Fewer, Rafael Mandelman and Matt Haney. 

Kim pointed out that 400,000 people have left San Francisco in the past 15 years, and that our growing economy has also created radical wealth and income inequality.

She offered the bold proposal of a $1 billion bond act for the November 2018 ballot that would go for building affordable housing and acquiring existing housing to take it off the market.

She also suggested that the city create a rental-registry so that the city knows exactly how much rental housing exists and how it’s used – which would make it easier to impose a tax on vacant units.

She talked about the medical-respite shelter that she helped open as a 24-hour facility people facing health issues, and putting nurses in every homeless shelter. That has cut the number of 911 calls from shelters.

She wants to raise the public-funding match to 6-1.

She questioned the “build-build-build” mentality, saying that while we need more housing, we also need to make sure the infrastructure is in place. But she stopped short of saying that we are growing too fast and didn’t offer a financial plan to make sure that developers pay the cost of growth.

So we got some more information on the candidates. But we still haven’t heard anyone say that the policies of the past seven years have been a mistake. I am waiting.

The campaign continues.

Rapping the ‘Housing Crisis’

ALL EARS “With the passing of Ed Lee, I think we’re at a crossroads in terms of the future of housing in this city, which will be largely determined by his successor,” local rapper and longtime music scene presence SCS tells me over email.

“Will our next mayor continue to give our city away to big businesses and short-term rental services? Or will they act on behalf of their constituents, advocating for stronger tenants’ rights? As we’ve seen with Lee, the mayor can have a profound impact on our city’s housing situation, and it is my sincere hope that our next one stands up for the people and curbs the displacement of so many working and middle-class San Franciscans.”

That kind of forward-thinking critique comes through in the long-awaited (and gorgeously shot) video for “Housing Crisis,” released on his label Richland Records. In the video, shot in various locales around the city, he calls out tech billionaire Ron Conway and political corruption, and asks “What happens when the bubble bursts?”

As artists with a political edge are forced out of the city, it’s refreshing to get such a direct take on the current state of things. I talked to SCS about hip-hop’s ability to engage with our moment, the struggle to survive in SF as an artist, and the need to speak out about the inequality that’s torn the city apart. 

48H You’re taking on some big, timely issues with “Housing Crisis”—and several tracks on the album directly confront political crises. Why do you feel it’s important to do this through hip-hop, and how are you hoping to inspire other kinds of activists?

SCS I’m someone far to the left on the American political spectrum, and I feel like it’s often an uphill battle to deliver my hard-hitting messages or critiques through conventional channels like scholarly articles or op-ed pieces. Rather, hip-hop provides a liberating medium for me to express my views through rhythm and poetry. Depending on how you inflect certain lines or where you place certain words and syllables, you can freely manipulate meaning.

Hip-hop is a global phenomenon, empowering its artists to deliver their messages around the world. With the way that music and videos are so accessible these days via the Internet, it’s relatively easy for me to get my content out to the masses and reach people who traditionally would be less inclined to read a relatively dry article in some academic journal. I certainly don’t set out to inspire other kinds of activists, but if I do, that’s fantastic. I honestly don’t even really consider myself much of an activist; I’d call myself a concerned citizen who loves using hip-hop as a platform to get my messages out there.

48H It’s become harder and harder to stay in SF as an artist, musician, writer… Hip-hop has felt especially stung. (It feels like we’re missing an entire generation of Fillmore rappers.) What’s it like for you and the people you work with to survive as hip-hop artists these days? What are you seeing that’s giving you hope for the hip-hop scene? 

SCS Most of the hip-hop artists I know are funding themselves or working with boutique labels. As audio streaming has completely changed the landscape of the music business, it’s much more difficult for artists to sell thousands of copies of their CDs out of the back of their cars. It generally benefits artists to learn as much as they can about the music business and various income channels that may be open to them whether it’s digital album sales, YouTube monetization, synch licensing or something else entirely.

Certainly there are ways for hip-hop artists to make money out there, but by and large, artists typically have to invest in themselves (or have someone invest in them) prior to “making it” in the biz these days. I’m fortunate because my bartending work typically enables me to pay the bills and still have some left over to invest in my music and videos, and I’m confident that if I and my label continue to improve by increasingly stepping up our content, we’ll eventually find the success that we’ve been seeking.

48 Hills I know you as a fixture of the Lower Haight scene. Tell me a bit about your background as a hip-hop artist and history 

SCS I fell in love with hip-hop when I was in grade school in the ’80s in New York hearing songs like “Rappers Delight” by Sugar Hill Gang, “Jam on it” by Newcleus, and “Planet Rock” by Afrika Bambaataa. When Tribe Called Quest’s “Check the Rhime” came out in ’91, I fell completely head-over-heels with the genre, and by the time high school was wrapping up in the mid-90s, I was freestyling with friends at a neighboring school. Later when I was in college in the outskirts of Philadelphia, my friends and I would freestyle for hours in dorm stairwells, and I later broke out my pen and pad to start writing down rhymes and developing a bit of a persona.

However, it wasn’t until after graduating college and moving out to San Francisco in ’99 that I really pursued my goal at the time to start a little recording studio. I started recording myself and other local artists in my Lower Haight studio while working at Bean There café and later bartending up the street at The Top. When I moved out of the Lower Haight to Bernal Heights in 2005, I started to record more people and decided I wanted to start releasing their music. As such, I founded my label Richland Records the next year, the name inspired by the street that I was living on at the time in Bernal: Richland Ave.

In the years that followed, I put out music from some different hip-hop artists and was even working with a talented artist outside of Philly at one point, but I kept asking myself, “Our label’s music is good, but the way the world seems to be going to hell in a hand basket right now, can’t we be using our music in a more positive way to try and create change in the world around us for the better?” It was actually a dream I had in Vancouver a night or two before New Year’s 2016 that really encouraged me to start putting out my own music in earnest. I took an audio recording class at City College that Spring Semester and was able to impress upon my wonderful instructor that I intended to make a hip-hop album for a good cause, and she essentially believed in me and my goal and gave me the keys to the recording studio for the semester.

I basically locked myself in there for half a semester to record and by the time summer came around, my debut album First Day of School was finished. Unlike many mainstream hip-hop artists who drone on incessantly about drugs, cars, women and money, I addressed what I felt to be more substantive issues: racism, child labor, corporate welfare, central banking, animal rights, and prison-for-profit schemes. I really consider my music to basically fall into two camps: “sticking it to the man” and “watering the seeds” (you know trying to provide the youth with some positive messages instead of the negative ones they’re constantly being bombarded with.)

The album I released last year called Leaps & Bounds has more social justice-related songs (calling out 45, Paul Ryan, Big Oil, Mainstream Media and the Federal Reserve) as well as some positive tracks for the youth. I’ve already started writing my third album, that I’m planning on dropping next year.

Homelessness and the SF mayor’s race

This is life for a homeless family in San Francisco

“Don’t turn left, because that area is full of ‘bums’ and it doesn’t reflect on the real “San Francisco.” The cab driver clicked his teeth together as he rattled on about which sights to see in his beautiful San Francisco (which ironically, due to a gentrification-inspired eviction, he no longer lived in).

 “Wow, I guess you’re talking about me,” I said. “I’m one of those ‘bums’ you speak of. I was homeless with my mama and then later with my son for more than 10 years of my life.”

Street art by Romanowski

The cab driver sputtered a sorry under his breath and we all kept driving in silence.

For my entire life I have heard people talk about me as the “other.” From “you people” to “why don’t you just get a job?” or a slip into third person while talking to the supposedly housed me about me.

“Try to avoid those bums over there,” I heard. And my all-time favorite: “What are we going to do … or how can we clean up/get rid of /eradicate/end… the homeless problem,” said by politrickster and housed resident alike.

The last group has always irked me in a special kind of way because it objectifies our homeless and formerly houseless, broken lives and bodies into things, equates our mere existence with dirt and trash, and groups all of us different aged, gendered, colored and spirited humans into one gigantic class or thing, like a lot of flat tires or a pile of dirty towels. 

As I have written about so many times before, this happens for many racist, classist and violent reasons, not the least of which is that most US residents have all collectively bought into the concept that the lack of humans and things in a landscape means cleanliness, when in fact that is just a corporate aesthetic that we all now collectively buy into. And the mere vision of us, in (not really) public spaces with all of our now exposed belongings, is automatically equated with criminality.

In most cities across stolen, occupied Turtle Island, newer, meaner and more violent anti-poor people laws, actions and moves are implemented  every day to criminalize, incarcerate, hate, and violate unhoused peoples for the acts of dwelling, sitting, standing, parking, and sleeping. From violent architecture, such as spiked window sills and metal bars installed on park benches and light fixtures that spray water with chemicals in it, to the most recent sick move by San Francisco to “arrest” service resistant San Franciscans.

This last one has a terrifying twist to it, rooted in the original 19th century settler colonizer pauper laws/ugly laws, where the “service provider” works in tandem with the plantation prison system to incarcerate people who “refuse” service, i.e., humans who for many different reasons, always stemming from trauma, mental and/or physical divergent personalities or police terror, don’t trust or want to receive forced services. 

In the era of the Ugly Laws (powerful book of the same name by Susan Schweik) of the 19th century, settlement house workers who were the early social workers would “offer” services to houseless and poor people — and if they didn’t accept the services they would tell the police, who would arrest, incarcerate, or seize unhoused disabled people and offer them (read “force”) them into living as in-patients in the settlement houses, where the settlement houses would receive government funding to provide “services” to the inmates.

There are all kinds of folks living houselessly for all kinds of reasons. From the severe PTSD associated with survival from 21st Century colonization, white supremacy/racism, ablism, sexism, etc. to the struggle of the working poor, very poor families, children and elders to even pay rent, which was my mama and mine’s struggle — we just couldn’t make enough money in our very small, poor people vending business to afford the rent — to the very specific struggle of eviction of elders and disabled peoples from their long-time homes and then the inability to get “back inside,” which demands an endless amount of money, credit, resources, strength, etc. 

These reasons are varied and nuanced, because unhoused people, are in fact, people, with multiple issues, struggles, beauty, talents, love, and trauma. Peoples whose existence isn’t “solved” by creating more laws, launching more academic over-funded studies, launching more non-profit organizations, writing more stories, media, photo essays about us without us, citing, arresting, profiling, incarcerating us or building more corporate (not really) affordable housing on more stolen indigenous land.  

No Matter how many times you arrest, research or study me, it doesn’t get me a home.

It’s because of this ongoing and increasing hate, othering, criminalizing and politricking that I and other poverty skolaz at POOR Magazine work so hard every day to manifest a homeless peoples solution to homelessness. Which we call Homefulness. Which is extremely hard precisely because we are folks coming out of struggle  and hold all this collective pain, herstory, colonization and trauma in our hearts and are still trying to so hard to heal each other.

This hate and increased pimping/politricking is also why myself and other unhoused and formerly unhoused poverty skolaz are working on the Homeless 4 Mayor Campaign in San Francisco 2018:

To Put The Economic And Political Leadership On Notice That Those Experience Poverty And Homelessness Due To Neglect And Social And Economic Apartheid Policies Perpetuated By City Hall And The Elite Class Of San Francisco, Our Voices Will Not Be Left Out Of The Mayoral Contest. We Will Not Just Demand A Presence, We Will Be A Presence, We Will Be A Competitor, We Will Claim Our Human Right To Self-Determination And Occupy Political Space In San Francisco 

— excerpt from the draft description of The Homeless4MayorCampaign

Like any “mayoral” campaign we have a campaign platform and proposed solutions to all the problems we as humans face in 21st Century stolen Turtle Island. Unlike other mayoral campaigns, our candidate is not a popularity contest or based on someone who has raised insane amounts of hoarded blood-stained dollars. In fact, it’s not about one person “running” at all, it’s a collective candidacy, where a collective of unhoused, formerly unhoused Black, Brown, poor white and indigenous people who have the shared experience of the trauma of houselessness, poverty and criminalization in this stolen land are “running” together to make sure our lives and bodies are no longer pimped for more philanthro-pimped, politricked, agendas, leaving us not only the same but worse off than we were before each new mayor takes office. 

Our campaign outreach, headquarters and leadership is rooted in our unhoused communities, encampments,  across the Bay Area. Our platform is crafted from our struggle, resistance and our own self-determined poor people-led solutions and something we call WeSearch at POOR Magazine

We aren’t asking for campaign contributions or trying to raise millions of wasted, hoarded wealth to promote a corporate agenda, or prop up a sexy personality. What we do have are actual solutions not rooted in our destruction, criminalization and silencing. Our tag-line is one we Po’ folks at POOR Magazine/Prensa POBRE have been saying for years which we collectively voted in, No More About Us Without Us… 

We are on Facebook at Homeless4Mayor Campaign or email [email protected]
  

Campaign Trail: Breed, SuperPACs and D8 campaign money

SuperPAC money has been one of the defining issues of the early parts of the mayoral campaign. Mark Leno and Sup. Jane Kim have both signed a pledge to not only reject but to denounce and distance themselves from any so-called independent-expenditure committees that may wind up supporting them or attacking their opponents.

Sup. London Breed has been a little more subtle in her response.

Rafael Mandelman and Jeff Sheehy with moderator Mirisa Lagos at a recent debate. Sheehy has received $12,500 from senior execs of just two real estate developers — a big chunk of change from companies that do a lot of business in SF

The IE’s are the source of the most dramatic, insidious corruption in SF politics. Because of federal court decisions, IEs can raise and spend as much money as they want, with no limits on contributions. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that if it weren’t for the IEs, David Campos would be in the state Assembly and Jane Kim would be in the state Senate today. Both faced withering attack campaigns, mostly funded by Big Tech money, orchestrated by plutocrat Ron Conway, who wanted David Chiu and Scott Wiener, who are more friendly to his business interests.

Chiu and Wiener were big supporters of Airbnb. Campos and Kim tried to more tightly regulate the company. The message his IE attacks sent: If you mess with me and my ability to make money in SF, I will take you down.

Conway has endorsed Breed, and both Leno and Kim have made that an issue.

Tuesday morning, Sup. Aaron Peskin announced he’s introducing emergency legislation to require increased disclosure from IEs and the wealthy donors behind them.  

Breed issued a campaign pledge Feb. 6 that includes the following:

I will not solicit, accept, encourage or coordinate with any independent expenditure effort; and I will denounce any campaigns, independent or otherwise, that attack any candidates in this race.

The first part simply says that she will follow the law: Candidates can’t solicit, accept, encourage, or coordinate with IEs. The second part says she will discourage negative campaigns.

That’s a tricky position. In the past, candidates like Wiener have argued that an ad that points out a candidate’s position on an issue isn’t an attack – even if its framed in the most misleading, brutal way. “We all have to be accountable for our votes,” he told me.

So if you want to be nuanced, you can argue that the attack on Mark Leno by the first superPAC of the season was just pointing out the records of people voting on an issue.

But there’s a deeper reality here. Candidates can’t coordinate with or encourage IEs – but if they really want, they can make it clear that they don’t want to see this stuff happening. And as far as I can tell, she has not “denounced” the first SuperPAC attack on Leno.

If London Breed didn’t want her ally Andrea Shorter to run an IE that attacks Leno and Kim, the superPAC would most likely shut down. Leno just called for that to happen; Breed isn’t likely to join him.

We don’t know who is funding that superPAC, and we won’t know for a while. Nichole Derse, the campaign manager for that committee, says it’s individual, concerned women. Conway says he has nothing to do with it – and frankly, given how toxic he has become, his money most likely won’t go into any of these campaigns.

But that doesn’t matter – he has allies in Big Tech who will give money if he asks them to. That’s how plutocracy in SF works.

I have no insider knowledge of this, but I would guess that at some point soon Leno and Kim will do some sort of joint endorsement. That’s the only way they can avoid splitting the progressive vote and making room for Breed.

The San Francisco Tenants Union endorsed both of them, jointly, without ranking. That leaves room for others to do the same thing. (In the past, observers have often noted that the four major progressive endorsements that make the most difference are the Tenants Union, the Milk Club, the Sierra Club and the Bay Guardian. Milk, the Sierra Club, and the Bay Guardian have not yet endorsed.)

SEIU Local 1021, which represents city employees and has been a major player in the local political scene, endorsed Kim as the Number One choice – but put Breed as 2 and Leno as 3.

City College Board Member Rafael Mandelman, who is challenging appointed D8 supervisor Jeff Sheehy, pulled off an unprecedented feat this week: He got the sole endorsement of both major LGBT clubs, Harvey Milk and Alice B. Toklas. The two have never agreed on a D8 race. That gives Mandelman even more momentum in a race where the incumbent seems to be flailing.

Since the mayor’s race is so short, candidates who filed in January haven’t had to make public their campaign contributions yet. But the race for D8 supervisor started much earlier, and both Sheehy and Mandelman have filed reports with the Ethics Commission for July to December 2017, and they are interesting.

For starters, they both have two committees and have filed two sets of reports – one for the June election, and one for the November election. Since Sheehy was appointed to the job, he has to face the voters as the next possible election; since the D8 seat is up in November anyway, whoever wins in June will be running again in six months.

Mandleman the challenger, raised more money in that period that Sheehy, the incumbent, which is by itself unusual. More: Sheehy’s money is mostly for June ($181,000); he has raised only $38,000 for November. Mandelman raised $165,000 for June – and $59,000 for November.

More striking, though, is that the vast majority of Mandelman’s contributions are below the $500 max; he has a long list of donors giving $25, $100, $250. Most of Sheehy’s donors put up $500.

There’s another element that struck me.

Corporations aren’t allowed to give money to local candidates. So if a real estate developer really likes someone running for office, that company can’t directly help out.

But the employees of a company can donate.

Sometimes, the workers don’t share any interests with the bosses. A unionized staffer at a local hotel may despise the corporation that pays her salary, but if she donates money, she has to list that company as her employer.

But when senior partners and officials at a company all donate to one candidate, it’s worth noting.

The disclosure reports show that top staffers at two real-estate operations – Build, Inc and TMG partners – combined to give Sheehy $12,500.

Fourteen high-level people at Build, which has numerous projects underway or pending in the city, and 11 at TMG (same) put up the maximum $500.

The reason the city limits contributions to $500 is to prevent any one donor from wielding too much influence over an elected official. In this case, around seven percent of all the money Sheehy raised came from people who run two big real-estate interests that do a lot of business in San Francisco.

I saw no similar patterns in the Mandelman filings.

Examined Life: Love and the lost art of friendship

Photo by Linda Castleson

EXAMINED LIFE We all know when it’s here. The chocolate hearts, the smell of cut flowers, the pink and red greeting cards and stickers and advertisements promoting dinner specials, couples massages, and just about anything that can, in any way, be connected to Eros. Modern culture (and capitalism) has gone off and running with this annual celebration of romance, which likely originated in a barbaric Ancient Roman fertility festival called Lupercalia before catapulting into commercial popularity (via Hallmark) a couple thousand years later. Today, Americans collectively spend close to 20 million dollars celebrating the Love Holiday, which makes some of us happy and some of us sad and some of us wondering if there might not be a better use for the 20 mil. But there is one thing on which we can all agree: Everyone knows what’s up on February 14.

And we’ve always known. Since we were young, we’ve learned that romantic love is the pinnacle of social experience—that you’re incomplete without your prince/princess/better half/missing piece. But the anecdotal suffering that this fairytale perpetuates for the partner-less, along with current sociological research, suggests we’re placing too much emphasis on romantic love—and not enough on friendship. The dollars tell the same story. Americans spend money on the things they care about, and we’re not spending millions of dollars to celebrate our pals each year.

Deep social connections have always been important. Historically, our species lived in tribes, and becoming disconnected from the tribe could result in your demise. In spiritual practice, close community has always been valued strongly. In Buddhism, the sangha (or community of practitioners) is considered to be just as important as the teachings. Today, studies show that social integration is one of the most important factors for a healthy and satisfying life, for both single and married folks. And we also know that a lack of solid friendships increases the risk of depression and suicide. Remember when Elvis sang, “I’m so lonely, I could die”? It wasn’t hyperbole. For many people, loneliness and isolation can quickly devolve into a precarious life-or-death situation.

Light social connections, of course, are easy to have. Personally, I have 1,134 friends. On Facebook. You may have less or, if you’re more of an extrovert than I am, you might have a great many more. But of those gobs of likers and political-posters and joke-makers and meme-sharers, how many of those friends are really … friends? That’s not to say acquaintances aren’t important. We benefit from having good coworkers, fun activity partners, and friendly neighbors; these connections contribute to the fabric of our interconnected lives.

Real friendships, however, are different. Like marriage, real friendship is a contract. You may not sign an actual paper (or have to pay lawyer fees if the friendship doesn’t last), but we’d be a better functioning society if we took our friendships more to heart. And friendship has been a lost art for some time. CS Lewis was bemoaning the devaluation of friendship in his 1960 tome The Four Loves, way before social media, quite literally, changed the definition of the word “friend.”

So, what is a real friend? It may sound hard to quantify, but here are five basic principles to embody—and look for—in a true friendship.

  1. Dependability and kindness Yes, this is number one because it’s that important. Good friends show up for one another in a consistent, open-hearted way. They stay in touch and check in if they haven’t heard from the other person in a while. They’re happy to sacrifice their own personal comfort to care for one another in a time of need. They return calls and messages quickly, and show up to—or inquire about—important events. They feel comfortable asking for reasonable favors. They care deeply and are present in one another’s lives.

  2. Authenticity and devotion You want to be able to be yourself around a real friend, and vice versa. That means sticking it out through hard times. A real friend won’t break the friendship contract because the other person is suddenly depressed or ill or acting neurotic. A real friend stays the course. There’s a positive-thinking theory that says we should only have successful friends who challenge us to grow, but guess what? Depressed friends challenge us to grow, too! From a Buddhist perspective, having friends who are experiencing success will teach you to have mudita or sympathetic joy; caring for friends who are going through a hard time will teach you karuna or compassion. Also: Studies show that positive thinking is more contagious than negative thinking in friend circles. If you’re in a good place in your life, consider it an honor to be there for a stressed-out friend, and lift them up. (Of course, if a friend is no longer dependable or kind, that’s a different story, and you may have to reevaluate the connection.)

  3. Evolution Friendship, like any important relationship, presents an avenue for developing oneself. That development might be emotional, creative, physical, or intellectual, but the sign of a true friendship is that you are evolving within it.

  4. Dedication despite romantic relationships Even if you are in a secure relationship with a wonderful partner who fills all the roles of best friend, lover, and advisor, you still need friends. For one, studies show it’s good for your marriage to have friends! Plus, there are people out there who need you. Friendship is an essential way of contributing to the world in which we exist. And if you’re newly in a relationship, remember: Your friends still need to feel needed. So, even if your partner shows up for all the trials and tribulations in your life, ask your old friend to show up, too. And return the favor whenever possible.

  5. Shared value of friendship In order to have strong friendships, both people must value the sanctity of friendship. You may think you do, but there’s likely one item on this list you could work on—and probably one you’d like a friend to work on. If both of you value friendship, you can have a conversation about your friendship contract and work together to strengthen it.

If you’re feeling lonely and isolated, it may very well be that your real friend ability and/or your real friend supply is depleted. Check in with yourself and ask if you’ve been showing up in the way you value. Then, write down the names of the people closest to you, and consider the above list. How do they fare?

Oftentimes a friendship is failing because the two friends no longer have the same friendship needs. Having unavailable friends can be worse than having no friends at all—and take a toll on your self-worth. If you feel like you’re showing up more than your buddy, you’d do well to have a talk; if that’s not successful, consider moving away from the friendship—or at least, holding it with less importance—to make space for another committed friend to come into your life. Everyone should have at least five real friends (near or afar) who are willing to invest in the connection, and if you’re spending a lot of time hurting over an unavailable or unkind friend, you’re missing out on time that could be spent investing in a new, more available friend.

Many friendships will come and go over time. Just because you and a friend are in a deep friendship for part of your life doesn’t mean it will last forever. But with care and commitment, some friendships can last a long time, even a lifetime. And on Valentine’s Day, that’s just as worthy of attention as a capitalist version of Lupercalia.

SF planners blast Wiener housing bill that would upzone entire city

The areas in orange and yellow are the places Scott Wiener's bill would upzone. It's pretty much the entire city. SF Planning Dept. map

The San Francisco Planning Department – which is not known for its anti-development tendencies – has issued a blistering critique of state Sen. Scott Wiener’s new housing bill that points to a long list of problems the legislation would have for the senator’s home town.

The areas in orange and yellow are the places Scott Wiener’s bill would upzone. It’s pretty much the entire city. SF Planning Dept. map

The department memo, delivered to the Planning Commission Feb. 8, has received little news media attention. But it’s a critical document that explains why this city – and other dense cities with rich transit infrastructure – could be damaged by the latest state housing mandate.

The bill, SB 827,

would remove residential density and floor area ratio (FAR) limits, minimum parking requirements, and impose minimum height limits statewide for residential projects on residentially zoned parcels within defined proximity to transit stations and corridors that meet certain minimum criteria. The bill would also prohibit the enforcement of “Any design standard that restricts the applicant’s ability to construct the maximum number of units consistent with any applicable building code.”

The entire city of San Francisco, minus a couple of tiny areas, falls within the defined proximity to transit. So, the memo notes, the bill would “significantly upzone most of the city.”

The bill doesn’t limit the state’s exiting density bonus, so in a lot of neighborhoods, the minimum height limit for housing could go up to 100 feet.

The zoning changes would also upzone substantial areas recently rezoned under such plans as the Market & Octavia Plan and Eastern Neighborhoods, which are density decontrolled (in such districts as NCT, RTO, and UMU) but where height limits are lower than 85’.

Oh, and the bill doesn’t require increased level of affordable housing when the allowable heights – and thus profits to developers – increase.

This proposal will do little or nothing to deal with the radical imbalance of jobs and housing in Peninsula cities that accept the tax money that comes with office expansion but refuse to allow more housing density.

That’s because those cities don’t have terrible robust transit – and the mandatory upzoning only applies in areas within a short distance of major transit line.

So the Peninsula cities that helped create the housing crisis in San Francisco skate – and San Francisco has to accept the role of overcrowded bedroom community for Silicon Valley.

Perhaps more radical for the SF Planning Department is the analysis that this bill would provide a huge windfall to property owners – without allowing cities to charge reasonable fees to provide the infrastructure needed to serve massive new growth.

San Francisco spends years crafting rezonings that try to balance demands for housing and jobs, while also capturing a portion of that value for public benefits, including inclusionary housing, impact fees for local infrastructure, and other measures. The proposed bill would neither allow this local planning process to take place concurrently, nor would it give a path for local jurisdictions to conduct necessary studies and implement programs to capture an appropriate level of the increased value for public benefits and impact mitigation at the same time as the intensified zoning is implemented.

When the San Francisco City Planning Department says that a bill is huge giveaway to a handful of developers and property owners, it’s a signal that this is beyond even the normal neo-liberal policy that governs land use in this city and state.

The League of California Cities opposes the bill. And yet, every major candidate running for mayor of SF accepts at least its premise, and most endorse it.

That’s pretty alarming.

Perhaps, a real mayoral debate

Chron Editorial Page Editor John Diaz moderated the first debate, which was pretty moderate

Tom Ammiano called me this morning to say he was going to dial 911. “I just realized I agree with Willie Brown,” he said.

Chron Editorial Page Editor John Diaz moderated the first debate, which was pretty moderate

That doesn’t happen often to me, either, but I get his point: Brown’s analysis of the mayor’s race reflects the problem we are seeing with this short-track sprint:

The real story behind all this is that there isn’t a cigarette paper’s worth of difference between the candidates on the major issues.

All are calling for more affordable housing. All are calling for compassionate but firm care for the homeless. All say auto break-ins have to stop and that traffic is terrible.

But none of them has a concrete answer for how they will do any of it.

That was my response to the first debate, where there was too much agreement and none of the candidates stood out.  It’s still the problem today.

Brown is, of course, wrong in his overall position: There are very significant differences between the candidates. Mayor Jane Kim or Mayor Mark Leno would take the city in a very different direction than Mayor London Breed (or, in her wildest imagination, Mayor Angela Alioto).

But the voters don’t know that yet – and the election comes closer every day.

We may see that change Wednesday/14, when the first forum organized by progressive groups takes place at the Women’s Building. The forum is hosted by he SF Progressive Alliance, The SF Latino Democratic Club, The Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club, San Francisco Tomorrow, [email protected] Young Democrats of San Francisco, The SF Berniecrats, The SF Green Party, Progressive Democrats of America SF, South Beach D6 Democratic Club, SF For Democracy, and more.

Here’s the question I would ask, if I only got one: Do you believe that rapid growth has been good for San Francisco, and that job growth in the tech sector – encouraged as a key policy by the administration of Ed Lee — has had a net positive impact on the city’s economy, on social justice in the city, and on the quality of life for all residents?

I said “net positive impact.” Don’t tell me there are upsides and downsides; on balance, are we better off as a city then we were before Ed Lee too office and Ron Conway began calling the shots at City Hall? Yes or no. Don’t waffle.

The event starts at 6pm.

The Board of Supes Finance Committee once again takes up a huge complex set of campaign-finance and ethics reforms Thursday/15, and the supes are in a strange situation: If they don’t approve everything that the Ethics Commission has proposed, that commission has the ability to put the issue directly to the voters, as is.

The more I learn about this, the more frustrating it gets: Almost everyone on the progressive side of things agrees with 90 percent of the reforms, and those are the most important ones. (The reforms that we really need, dealing with independent expenditure committees, aren’t in the package, in part because of the US Supreme Court and in part because that doesn’t seem to be the priority of Ethics right now.)

But Ethics is insisting on a couple of elements that directly impact nonprofit organizations, many of which are doing important work in the community. 

The key issue is “behested contributions,” which means that a city official has asked some individual or group to give money to a nonprofit (or in some cases, a government agency). The problem is that big corporate donors can do a favor for, say, the mayor by supporting his or her favorite charities – but since it’s not a direct campaign contribution, the amount is unlimited.

Ethics wanted to ban the practice entirely, but wound up settling for a set of disclosure rules that are going to discourage some people from giving money to nonprofits.

As a working group for local charities notes, the legislation

dramatically expands current law in ways that would create major impediments for public officials who engage in charitable activities to support nonprofits in our community

The legislation as written says that anyone who in any way seeks to influence city policy can’t give money to a nonprofit at the behest of a public official without both the individual and the official filing a report.
That means, for example, that someone who goes before the Board of Supes to testify at a hearing in favor of Sanctuary City can’t give $1,000 to a nonprofit without filing forms – if a member of the board asks for the donation.

The city just enacted a similar provision, written by Sup. Aaron Peskin; it became law Jan. 1, 2018. It defines “interested party” as someone who has a financial stake in a public-policy decision, not just someone who (like a huge number of San Franciscans) testifies on some issue at a board or commission. From the nonprofits memo:

The broad definition of interested party will be impossible to track or enforce. It would apply to anybody who speaks at a hearing, calls or writes their legislator, participates in a public rally, or even signs a petition. It fails to draw a distinction between advocacy around a financial interest with personal gain versus the public expression of one’s opinions under the First Amendment. It would apply to people who speak only at a subcommittee hearing outside the public official’s presence, and speakers who exercise their right to testify anonymously.

The other issue is that the law, as proposed, would make it impossible for a lot of nonprofit board members or staff to serve on any city commission.

Board members (and I know this from serving on two nonprofit boards) are supposed to help raise money for the organizations. If you are also on a commission, and you call people and ask for money for your nonprofit, you start to fall into the area where this new legislation would put you in potential legal jeopardy.

The threshold for triggering that reporting process is $1,000. And both the donor and the official have to file the report. (48hills doesn’t get many $1,000 donations, and I’m not on any commission, but I can tell you that if I told those donors they would have to file a report, they would probably say: Well, then never mind.)

Again, from the memo:

These requirements are overly onerous, duplicative to the public official’s filing, create a disincentive to charitable giving, and imply to donors that their contributions are somehow suspect. This requirement will most surely result in a decline of charitable contributions by any potential donors defined as interested parties – which as we highlighted in the section above, would apply to a dramatically expanded group of people – with minimal benefit to the public. The proposal may also result in sanctions when a donor fails to file the required report, even if the public official fails to notify the donor of the reporting requirement. This new double-reporting standard just creates a set of potential traps for unwary donors who simply are willing to make a $1,000 donation to a local charitable organization.

In contrast, we are supportive of reasonable reporting requirements for recipients of major behested contributions ($100,000+). While this provision would impose additional compliance costs for those organizations, contributions of this magnitude are rare and large enough to justify additional scrutiny.

More tricky: I also know that some people like to give money to nonprofits anonymously. No commissioner who is also on a nonprofit board could ask for a contribution from someone who doesn’t want their name made public.

There are real issues with behested payments. When Mayor Ed Lee asked big corporations to chip in for the America’s Cup and the Super Bowl, he was in their debt. That should at least be reported.

And as Larry Bush, a member of Friends of Ethics and a supporter of the legislation, testified last week, the existing behested-payment filings don’t show any small nonprofits; they are all the big guys.

But that’s based on the state’s definition of behested payments, not the definition that would be in this law.

The nonprofit community – and most smaller nonprofits are not corrupt or creating conflicts of interests – is united against this part of the law. I don’t see why Ethics can’t, as Peskin asked at the last meeting, give the existing law a chance to work.

Meanwhile, Peskin is proposing that donors to independent expenditure committees – the superPACs that are the real source of political corruption in this city – be required to file economic interest statements. That’s a fascinating idea.

But overall, it seems as if the city could enact a strong, much-needed set of new ethics rules, with pretty much unanimous support, without attacking legit nonprofits.

But the supes aren’t in control here; Ethics can put this on the ballot anyway. And anti-corruption laws tend to pass pretty easily on the ballot in SF.

The hearing starts at 10am in the Board of Supes chamber.

The full board hears an appeal Tuesday/13 of the Community Plan Evaluation of a proposal to replace a laundromat on Mission Street with 55 units (or more) of market-rate housing.

The issue at hand is somewhat technical – does the project conform with the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan, which means it doesn’t need further environmental review. But what’s really going on here is that the community has been pushing for the city to buy the site and develop 100 percent affordable housing – and the owner has set the price so high that the city can’t do it.

The legalities are difficult here: The supes probably can’t say that the developer has to sell to the city or he won’t get a permit. But it’s tempting.

That hearing starts sometime after 3pm.

A new guerrilla folk opera immerses you in 2014’s Ukrainian revolution

ALL EARS Protests are a form of performance, of course—even the most spontaneous ones. The attempt is to seize the public stage to proclaim certain ideas as (at least temporary) fact.

Two upcoming performances intend to immerse audiences in the “polyphony of protest,” making them part of the action, as all hell breaks loose around them. February 22-March 22 we get the exciting The Compton’s Cafeteria Riot, “an original, interactive theater piece directly inspired by the historic riots that launched transgender activism in San Francisco.” That’s co-written by Tenderloin ladies who may not have been at the pivotal Compton’s Cafeteria Riot, often called the original Stonewall, but who’ve lived through several decades of the neighborhood’s changes. 

But first we turn toward another more contemporary, highly charged instance: The 2014 Maidan Revolution in Ukraine. Can the experience of this monumental event half a world away, the implications of which are still roiling through our own politics, be conveyed via a guerrilla folk opera occupying the massive Oakland Metro Operahouse? 

Counting Sheep (Fri/16-Sun/18), tells the story of a very recent street protest—one which took over downtown Kiev and involved violent confrontations with riot police and still unidentified shooters, culminating in the ouster of Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych—through traditional Ukrainian folk songs. 

Audience members are invited “to dance, sing, and eat—and hurl foam bricks, dodge men with guns, witness violence, and join in the rituals of public mourning” in an attempt to recreate the raucous, thrilling, panicked, and very dangerous environment of the protest itself. Found footage is projected on the walls. Masks are worn. Joy mixes with sorrow. All to great music.

Counting Sheep is performed by Toronto “guerilla-folk party-punk band” Lemon Bucket Orkestra, which usually performs Romany-inspired Balkan and klezmer tunes (hugely popular in nightlife these days, as evidenced by SF’s own Inspector Gadje brass band and beloved Kafana Balkan party, which turned 11 last weekend with lines around the block).

But the traditional Ukrainian folk turn—winter-solstice songs, marching songs, wedding songs—isn’t such a far cry from the band’s regular sound, which becomes especially poignant in the revolution’s context: It was born of the conflict between staying in the Eurozone or become more closely allied with Russia. (The revolution was soon followed by Russia’s invasion of Crimea, and it all still remains a very messy situation.) This music can transcend borders and conflicts, Europe and Asia, cities and mountains, history and imagination, all while being firmly rooted in tradition and, best of all, beauty. (And a good bit of dancing as well.)  

Counting Sheep was written by two people who were actually there for the Kiev protests, which started out peacefully but then became a battle zone: Marichka Kudriavtseva, a Ukrainian French chanson singer whose band’s gigs were canceled by the eruption of street protests against the president’s move towards withdrawing from the European Union on January 21, 2014, and Lemon Bucket Orkestra’s Mark Marczyk, who had just landed in Kiev to work on a film score. 

“My director said, ‘Don’t even think about going down there. Everybody has to stay in the hotel,'” Marcyk told writer Mark Fisher of Playbill about the experience. “As soon as he said that, I went down. I just wanted to see what it was.” He recounted being amazed by the size of the protest site, with its makeshift library, medical center, kitchens, and barricades, and how the urgency of the situation that was springing up around him compelled him to help. 

Kudriavtseva, meanwhile, didn’t think of herself as a political person, but once she heard people were being shot in the streets she joined the protests in 20-degree temperatures, and was soon shoveling snow into barricade bags. “When this happened in my country, I could not sit by and watch.”

The experience brought Kudriavtseva and Marczyk together (The two were married in 2015 and Kudriavtseva now lives in Toronto) to figure out how to turn what they had witnessed into theatre. After clunky attempts, they finally hit on the immersive model: “For me, community was the Number 1 important thing,” Marczyk told Playbill. “I came to Ukraine, I didn’t know anybody and my language was not that good, and I found a connection to people through music.”

That sentiment spurred the idea to jettison all dialogue, and let the story tell itself through the country’s traditional melodies. “What if we just tell the story using these 1,000-year-old songs in which the weight of Ukrainian history is embedded in every single note?,” Marczyk said. 

Ultimately the success of the show depends not just on the performances but the willingness of the audience to empathize with the people in such fraught situations. “The show is a choice,” Marczyk said. “How do you choose to react when you’re faced by these kinds of questions? If we’ve done our job correctly and activated your emotions then you will open yourself up to answering those questions for yourself.”

COUNTING SHEEP 
Fri/16-Sun/18, $12.50-$25
Oakland Metro Operhouse, Oakland.
Tickets and more info here.

What we saw at Sundance 2018, round two: Women fight back

Assassination Nation

Read part one of Jesse Hawthorne Ficks Sundance 2018 coverage here. 

FICKS’ PICKS Sundance sported some of the best Midnite Movie entries in recent years, which not only found raucous sold out audiences but attracted the distributor NEON, who has purchased the North American theatrical rights for both Coralie Fargeat’s debut feature Revenge and Sam Levinson’s Assassination Nation

Both movies explore the theme of female vengeance: There will undoubtedly be many debates and even some serious arguments as to how these films handle such violent and controversial subject matter. Revenge is perhaps the more straightforward of the two, following a tried and true rape-revenge structure—ala Meir Zarchi’s I Spit on Your Grave (1978) and Abel Ferrara’s Ms. 45 (1981).

(Warning: Spoilers ahead.) Utilizing gorgeously saturated cinematography, the film is framed in a fairly protective way towards its victim’s initial violation, which allows audiences to understand the situation as opposed to experience the horror. Director Fargeat then follows Jen (Italian newcomer Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz) as she hunts down the three married men who did the act. The audience most definitely cheered at every stabbing or shotgun blast to the culprits, but what I found most intriguing was how the director spent much more time deconstructing and punishing the men’s despicable behavior, rather than focusing on the empowered victim herself.

Revenge

While Revenge works quite well, I lost my mind and flipped head over heels for Sam Levinson’s prophetically high-strung Assassination Nation. Symbolically set in Salem, Massachusetts, the movie follows a group of high school girls banding together as their town is attacked: A data hack is exposing every person’s internet history. Assuredly self-aware and purposefully provoking (a trigger warning precedes the film), this hyperkinetic social satire has the most eye-popping and overwhelming opening sequence in many a moon. 

During the world premiere’s post-film Q&A, Colman Domingo, who plays the principal of the school, said the film was “a war on toxic masculinity, at all costs.” The film consistently questions the misogynistic world its characters are trapped in, and so plays into the dilemma of the year: Does Assassination Nation become part of the psychotic social media that it set out to satirize? What makes Levinson’s exploitation flick most unique to me is how it never wavers from the perspective of its four female leads and never expects any nudity from the actresses. Controversial and triggering, there is no other film I can recommend higher from this year’s festival. Be warned: Some viewers will (aggressively) disagree.

Night Comes On

Jordana Spiro’s debut feature Night Comes On is a third revenge flick at Sundance, but it most definitely follows the beat of its own drum. Following two young girls (age 17 and 10) as they track down a man from their past, this poetic expedition does a remarkable job at allowing space and time to affect its characters as well as its viewers. Lead actors Dominique Fishback and Tatum Marilyn Hall deliver such moving performances that you will be thinking about them days after. Much like the melancholy movies of the early 1970s, this cinematic experience was a major standout in Sundance’s NEXT category, which is dedicated to “pure, bold works distinguished by an innovative, forward-thinking approach to storytelling.”

While the trailer for Ari Aster’s Hereditary has already hit the streets, the release date isn’t until June 8, meaning it can build as much anticipation as possible. Already coined “the scariest film of the decade” this absolutely terrifying familial ghost story is led by a jaw-dropping, gut-churning, career-defining performance by Toni Collette. Not since The Babadook have I withstood the kind of uncomfortable silences, followed by glass shattering, high-pitched shrieking from a movie theater audience. In fact, I watched two audience members speed walk out of the film, one whispering to the usher, “This is too scary!” and the other covering the front and back of their pants. Only one of them returned.

Mandy

The most talked-about and difficult screening to get into this year was the world premiere of Panos Cosmatos’ psychedelic mind-melter Mandy, which boasts a legendary battle-axe performance by Nicolas Cage. The follow-up to the director’s debut cult classic Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010) is structured into distinctive sci-fi chapters, loading each sequence with a cluster-fuck of Jim Jones-esque cult leaders and a full-on “Nouveau Shamanistic” turn by Nicolas Cage, who sincerely guzzles a giant bottle of vodka while screaming and battling an army of Hellraiser-like cenobites. Punctuated by a brain-pounding synth score by the legandary Jóhann Jóhannsson, this very personal extravaganza (with a very long running time of 121 minutes) is most definitely recommended, and is still seeking a distributor. 

An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn

Jim Hosking’s extremely divisive, surrealist second feature is An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn. With more audience members walking out of this than any other film in Park City this year, I found this follow-up to Hosking’s The Greasy Strangler (2016) surprisingly romantic and addictively hilarious. Even though the film starts off clunkily, the abstract nature of Aubrey Plaza’s comedy really starts to gel as soon as Jemaine Clement graces the screen. In an unprecedented move, the publicist for the film offered free marijuana to the press, further reinforcing the imminent legacy of this modern day cult classic.

Ficks Picks’ Round Three is up next, covering documentaries.

Jesse Hawthorne Ficks is the Film History Coordinator at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco and curates/hosts the MiDNiTES FOR MANiACS series at the Castro and Roxie Theater. He is also a member of the San Francisco Critics Circle and writes film festival reviews for 48hills.