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Cooking in your car

The Poverty Scholarship-Poor People Led Theory, Art, Words and Tears Across Mama Earth Curriculum and Book Tour will launch at City Lights Books on February 10th at 5:00 pm, February 16 at the Fruitvale Branch of the Oakland Public Library at 1:00 pm and February 24th at the San Francisco Main Branch Library Corett Auditorium at 1:00 pm

The smell of salt, grease and fried meat filled the air, with just hint of burnt sugar thrown in. My mind wandered to breakfasts past, sizzling in a greasy diner. The only thing was, I was on my bike, riding past an empty lot in East Oakland at 6:30am. No houses or restaurants were remotely close.

And then I saw the smoke, and heard the sizzle. It was coming from one of a long line of late-model Subarus, Hondas, BMWs, Acura sedans, and even a Mercedes, no car older than 2015, parked along this hidden street. This breakfast was courtesy of a tiny grill plugged into a cigarette lighter in a 2017 Honda two-door. These humble quiet group of cars and their inhabitants were part of a rising group of unhoused peoples, teetering on a fragile middle class, earning just enough to pay a car note but not the scamlord, gentriFUKed rents of 2018 Bay Area rentals.

The Poverty Scholarship-Poor People Led Theory, Art, Words and Tears Across Mama Earth Curriculum and Book Tour will launch at City Lights Books on February 10th at 5:00 pm, February 16 at the Fruitvale Branch of the Oakland Public Library at 1:00 pm and February 24th at the San Francisco Main Branch Library Corett Auditorium at 1:00 pm

“I work every day, sometimes 12-hour shifts, but I still can’t afford the rents in Oakland or SF,” Malcolm, one of the unhoused parkers told me. “I originally got out here due to an Ellis Act eviction from my San Francisco apartment of 20 years. It costs too much to get back inside.”

Malcolm went on to tell me that he had always paid his rent on time and had dreams of buying a cheap home out of the county — and then the eviction happened. Now he is unable to raise the $5,000 to $10,000 it costs to get back into an apartment, pretty much anywhere in the Bay Area.

Malcolm is a 62-year-old Black elder and was really scared about his future. He is a contract worker (code for no health insurance, no pension, no security.) 
On today’s bike ride, which my formerly unhoused, trauma-infused self calls My Bike Rides for Sanity, cause without it I truly could not function with all of the PTSD triggers constantly rolling through my brain. I witnessed more than ten new cars added to the nine cars already there, all with folks of all colors and cultures and ages in different states of getting ready for work or school. My own past with homelessness and vehicle dwelling made me terrified for them and their safety against the police, poltricksters and hater neighbors.

“I come from a working-class family, I couldn’t afford rent and school supplies, “ Yesica, a UC Berkeley graduate and one of more than 15 fellow unhoused folks who live in RVs in Berkeley that the City of Berkeley recently  evicted from a parking lot in the Berkeley Marina, for no reason but the fact that notwithstanding the veneer of political correctness oozing out of Berkeley, the city is full of HypoCrazy and anti-poor people hate.

“They have done nothing to change the laws, there is no way to legally live in a vehicle in Berkeley,” said revolutionary lawyer for the people Osha Neuman who is working with the Berkeley RV dwellers to fight the anti-poor people hate of Berkeley. “Emeryville repealed the law on the books specifically targeting vehicle dwellers, but Berkeley uses a law that says you can’t park a commercial vehicle between 3am-5am targeting non-commercial RV dwellers.”

His words pierced my heart. I had been there for most of my childhood. We weren’t living in RVs, or late model Hondas, we were in hoopties, buckets, whatever me and my mama could buy with what we earned from a street based micro-business. We parked wherever we could, working really hard to avoid people, bougie neighborhoods and police. Usually this wasn’t very successful, and we were ticketed and towed literally all the time. Either it was parking tickets for sleeping in our vehicle or no current registration, taillights, and other poor-people crimes. When the cars were towed it was either sleep on park benches or doorways out of sight or unsafe shelter beds where we were predated on. When I turned 18, I did three months in Santa Rita County jail for the poverty “crime” of sleeping in our car.

Every Tuesday myself and other PoorNewsNetwork correspondents go out to conduct poor-people-led media and research or what we call “WeSearch” for RoofLESS radio ( which also includes healthy hot meals served to all who are hungry and hygiene kits as have them.) Every week unhoused poverty skolaz hiding in their hoopties, in parks and under tents report multiple stories ranging from “sweeps” of our unhoused bodies like we are trash, being asked to move, having their tents and belongings stolen by Deptartment of Public Works or just plain being told like the recent reports in SF that they can’t sit down at all. You could argue that the sort of middle-class car dwellers are better off because they don’t get this same non-stop hate and have a container for their belongings — but the harassment hits them too, it’s just more subtle.

“Parking enforcement was ticketing me literally every day, I’m parking here because there are hardly any residential homes here so less people to call the police on us,” an elder Latinx woman who works at a hospital spoke to me out of a 2015 Subaru. “I’ve got so many tickets I’m at risk of losing my car and ending up in a tent.”

From San Francisco to San Mateo, people are harassed all the time and the anti-poor-people laws on the stolen land support, promote, and underwrite this harassment.
Its why poverty skola elder Bobby Bogan and myself are calling for a Poor People’s Party. It’s why us Po and houseless folks at POOR Magazine are building Homefulness — a homeless peoples, self-determined solution to homelessness.

But more important, for people reading this, it’s urgent to understand and that we are in a different time. There is no room for the same old greed-filled, land stealing wealth-hoarding policies. Mama Earth is weakening. Climate destruction is increasing. More and more of us are unable to afford the insane prices being falsely placed on land. For our collective survival as human beings, it’s an emergency for us to listen and learn and follow the practices indigenous nations have been teaching and living and manifesting since the beginning of human-ness. 

“San Diego has a huge lawsuit going right now on the right to sleep in vehicles,” said Paul Boden, poverty skola and long-time poor-people revolutionary and director of WRAP ( Western Regional Advocacy Project). 

No-one owns these parking lots like the ones the Berkeley RV dwellers were parking on, because no-one owns Mama Earth. No one owns the public streets that people are parked on in San Diego, just like no one owns the (so-called) public streets in San Francisco, San Mateo, Berkeley or East Oakland.

My proposal to conscious folks like Jovanka Beckles and Cheryl Davilla and Cat Brooks who happen to walk in those politrickster halls is to unearth the property-first settler colonial laws and actually create space for us growing members of the Unhoused Nation. Decriminalize parking and sleeping, decriminalize sitting, standing, living, and being while unhoused. These practices aren’t logical in a 21st century reality, and of course never were logical, but rather undergirded this culture rooted in scarcity models, crabs in a barrel survival models, racism, classism and greed. 

Support indigenous women-led projects like Sogorea Te Land Trust and their fight to save, preserve, liberate and honor a 5,000-year-old sacred indigenous site, the West Berkeley Shellmound from more development, land-stealing, and profit-making.

Transform both private and publicly “owned” empty lots (like the thousands of acres of CalTrans owned land) and privately speculated empty houses into collective land use not rooted in “property values” and more buying, selling, and speculating.

And conscious folks reading this don’t have to wait for the poltricksters or beg them to activate. You as the housed citizen are the ones the elected officials supposedly implement and enforce all these anti-poor people laws for —  and it’s why I’m putting a call out to conscious housed people to stand with us Po and unhoused people and say: “No we don’t want unhoused people incarcerated or criminalized, we don’t want vehicularly housed people to be police harassed.” 

And if you have inherited land or resources, please understand that projects like Homefulness happened with the redistributed dollars of decolonized young people who learned from poverty skolaz at PeopleSkool  and the Stolen Land/Hoarded Resources Tour to redistribute to poor and unhoused folks for their own self-determined solutions. These are the deep and life-changing lessons shared in Poverty Scholarship – Poor-People-led Theory, Art, Words and Tears Across Mama Earth, coming out with a radical book and curriculum tour in 2019.

At the same time, stop enabling, funding and building more and more high rises and rich people housing and liberate stolen indigenous territory to poor people-led projects like Homefulness. We poverty and indigenous skolaz at Homefulness are going through a long legal and ceremonial process to take our small part of Mama Earth permanently off the real-estate snaking market, so it will always remain a space for people to live and learn and grow and heal without the threat of removal, eviction, or displacement. 

The four families who live here now (I being one of them) are all formerly unhoused folks, don’t pay rent to anyone, aren’t trying to make a “profit” off of the land and only pay toward the taxes, insurance, and utilities, and don’t want to own any part of Mama Earth- but like I always say to my son, are very certain we would be homeless if it wasn’t for Homefulness. 

“It’s not the best grill and sometimes the pancakes don’t get cooked all the way through,” Malcolm told me looking out his window, “ but it’s all I have and its better than nothing.”  
To co-lead or walk with us in the next Stolen Land /Hoarded Resources Tour or book us for a reading or workshop on the upcoming  poor peoples Textbook Poverty Scholarship email us at [email protected],com. To register for the upcoming PEopleSkool DegentruFUkation and Decolonization Seminar happening BlackAugust 25 & 26th  go to www.racepovertymediajustice.org  

Party Radar: For Navid

Navid Izadi, RIP

PARTY RADAR The Bay Area nightlife community has weathered a lot of ghastly blows in the past couple years, from Ghost Ship and the shooting of Bubbles to the passing of beloved fixtures like DJ Stef and Risk One

Tragedy struck again when, right after by all accounts a wonderful Sunset Campout last weekend, DJ and music-maker Navid Izadi perished in a plane crash along with his mother. Navid was one of the original residents of the long-running weekly Housepitality party and part of a strong, tightknit, and undersung contingent of Persian nightlifers on the scene that includes Sepehr, Rooz, Rodney Khalaschi, and Mozhgan. 

Nav had risen to become part of the influential Crew Love party collective (which includes Soul Clap, see below)—his voice appeared on several records, and he was known as an ace remixer. He had just welcomed a baby boy, Tez, into the world, and was known for his huge heart. Outpourings of emotional tributes filled social media on the news of his passing. He was eulogized in the LA Times, Billboard, and practically every electronic music media outlet.

I only ran into him once or twice in the clubs—he was adorable, perfectly stylish, and obviously talented—but we were always crossing paths on social media, and I’m glad I got to write about several of his appearances over the years. He will truly be missed! 

According to his friend Davi, there will be a celebration of his life at Monarch on Sept 7 at 7pm, save the date and stay tuned for more details. ❤ 

PARTIES OF NOTE

FRI/17 IONNALEE | IAMAMIWHOAMI The dark and perfect 120 Minutes party is back to celebrate its eighth anniversary. (This makes me miss witch house!) Appropriately, they’re bringing in mystery-doused Internet creation iamiwhoami, the electronic music and audiovisual project of Swedish musician and singer-songwriter Jonna Lee and producer Claes Björklund. 9pm-late, $20-$30. Mezzanine, SF. More info here

FRI/17 DRAG ME TO THE LANES  The awesome Siobhan Auvalot and I are DJing this drag-filled benefit for LYRIC (which helps LGBTQ youth) at Mission Bowl! If you’ve never been, this is a great chance to score some strikes and tip some queens. Persia hosts. 7pm-10pm, $25. Mission Bowl, SF. More info here. 

FRI/17 SOUL CLAP Hard to remember there was a time when dropping rare ’80s funk and African instrumentals into DJ sets was a unique and refreshing blast, but Boston’s Soul Clap steamed up a lot of little, frameless techno glasses when they brought some soul juice to the decks in the late 2000s, after all that steely minimalism. Obviously the totally huggable duo still have a huge place in my heart, and will surely steam up the Great Northern with a disco/house/garage set alongside Rich Medina and Jayvi Velasco. 9:30pm-3am, $10-$25. Great Northern, SF. More info here.  

FRI/17 CREATURE: DARK MATTER Leave your gender at the door and live as a creature of your dreams at this wild fantasia of drag, performance, dancing, and probably a few tentacles. Guest DJ Natasha Kmeto from Portland heads a stacked lineup. 10pm-4am, $10. The Stud, SF. More info here

FRI/17 JIMMY EDGAR “Glossy, erotically charged robot funk”? Well, sign me up! The longtime DJ and innovator from Detroit will be joined by bubbling up FABRIC resident Krystal Klear at the always ravey, slaways crazy Light Down Low party. 10pm-3am, $15. Monarch, SF. More info here

FRI/17 HI LIFE PARTY DJ Beejoux of Nigeria comes in to drop some Afrobeat, reggaeton, dancehall, cumbia, Afrohouse, and global bass. The party also celebrates the EP release of Izzy Wise’s “Records in the Sun” with a listening party at the beginning of the night. Hi life! 10pm-2am, free. Bar Fuxus, SF. More info here.

FRI/17 DANCING GHOSTS: SANDMAN 30TH ANNIVERSARY Love this. This darkwave party pays tribute to Neil Gaiman’s eternal Sandman comics, toasting the 30 years Morpheus has walked among us. “Dress as one of the Seven Endless or other Sandman characters and enter the audience voted Sandman Costume Contest.” 9pm-3am, $5-$8. Cat Club, SF. More info here.

FRI/17 MAKEOUT PARTY Lock lips at this too-cute monthly queer patio party and get a Jell-O shot, all while dancing to  DJs Robin Simmons and Elaine Denham. 9pm-2am, $10. SF Eagle. More info here

FRI/17 MOON BOOTS People love Moon Boots! The Brooklynite’s accessible house sets are lovely, pretty even, drawing everyone onto the floor and then pushing them up into those stars. 10pm-3am, $20. 1015, SF. More info here.

SAT/18 KYLE HALL Sublimely deep Detroit house sounds from the young master at this “Open Air” party from the As You Like It crew at the Midway, showcasing artists from the Wild Oats label. Byron the Aquarius, Sepehr, Lily Ackerman and more on tap as well. 1pm-9pm, $15-$20. The Midway, SF. More info here.  

SAT/18 SPFDJ The Stud will be decked out in roses to welcome this beloved Berlin techno DJ, making her SF debut. There will be drag (from the incredible House of Tips), delight, and even more dancing to LA’s Sha Sha Kimbo, Vin Sol, and Siobhan Aluvalot. 9pm-4am, $10-$15. The Stud, SF. More info here.  

SAT/18 OCTO OCTA New Hampshire house DJ extraordinaire joins acclaimed DC duo Beautiful Swimmers to celebrate the Brouhaha party’s fifth anniversary. But here’s the kicker: Detroit-Windsor techno legend—like for real legend—Dan Bell is playing all night upstairs in the loft. 9:30pm-3:30am, $18  Public Works, SF. More info here.  

SAT/18 FRINGE Super-adorable indie dance party that’s been going nine years strong at Madrone, with its patented overload of awesome treats, singalong choruses, and 2000s beats. 9pm-2am, free before 10pm $5 after. Madrone, SF. More info here

SAT/18 PUSH THE FEELING I’m a big fan of this party at Underground SF, which brings fresh indie and DIY dancefloor sounds to the fore. This month’s installment features Ilya, Marcogliese, Kevin Meenan, and Glenn Jackson. 9pm-2am, free. Underground SF. More info here

SAT/18 BEATPIG Walter Gomez and drag goddess Juanita More’s bacon-wrapped party welcomes LA’s sweet, sweet selector DJ Stanley Frank into the pen. Wag that squiggly tail. 10pm-2am, $5 (benefits the Transgender Law Center). Powerhouse, SF. More info here

SAT/18 D.A.D. Dads and disco at Driftwood! Sweet and hella gay, with zazzy DJ Birch Koolman delivering vibes. 9pm-2am, $5-$10. Driftwood, SF. More info here 

Arthur, Arthur!

The Washington High reunion, where an Arthur could read his poem and for a moment, remember

I was on Muni heading to my high school reunion. As an author, memory is crucial to my craft. Much of high school I have forgotten. Crowded Muni rides on the way to and from George Washington High School (aka Wash), however, have left their indelible tire tracks on my psyche.

I remember 1980, on a crowded 38 Geary bus, gazing through the fog-blurred window. Heavy rains beat the pavement, its bleat upon leaves sent trees into a shivering frenzy. Among the students looking to cram onto the bus was a student galloping down the hill. I could hear her steps—even now—as she clomped upon the pavement like an enraged bull; her momentum swift and powerful, so powerful that, in fact, she could not come to a halt. Upon reaching the bottom of the hill—in an attempt to stop—she slipped, like a graceful stage performer or fish—her feet giving way, upwards, and, in an unforgettable maneuver, she elevated several feet into the air before landing on the pavement—rump first—with a loud: Thump! I believe the bus shook.

The Washington High reunion, where an Arthur could read his poem and for a moment, remember

The reunion was a coming together of different graduating classes–1979-1985. The event was organized by Fenton—a guy I didn’t really know back in school. He graduated in ’81, a year before me. What I do remember about him was that he acknowledged you with a smile in the hall when he walked by and it didn’t matter if you were popular, unpopular, a hermit, bookworm, or athlete—he had an equal opportunity nod and smile. He was almost an ambassador of some kind of will—and not of the ill kind—but what exactly, I didn’t know with any certainty. And for folks in high school, especially the timid one’s whose only certainty was uncertainty, to be acknowledged by such a person—in any degree—was positive. What better person to organize a reunion, looking sharp, dressed in a red dinner jacket with a welcome as wide as the parting of the red sea?

The reunion started at 6pm and I was running late. I staff a community center on Saturdays—the Manilatown Center—on Kearny and Jackson Streets. The center was started by my uncle, the late poet/historian and activist Al Robles (Graduate of Galileo) to honor the former Filipino community known as Manilatown and honor the memory of the elderly tenants who were forcibly evicted from the International Hotel (Also known as the “I-Hotel”) in 1977. My late uncle loved the old song, “I remember you”. It was a song that moved him deeply:

I remember you

You’re the one who made my dreams come true

A few kisses ago

When one ceases to remember, one ceases to live, he often said.

I got off the bus. The reunion was at El Patio Restaurant, a six-block walk. I thought of my co-Washingtonians, likely pulling into the parking lot in cars, SUV’s—Uber or Lyft at the very least—and I’m hoofing it. If I were carrying a backpack or books it would be high school all over again.

I arrived at around 8pm. I thought of my uncle and that song, “I Remember you.” I felt nervous. What if nobody does, I mean, remember? I remember walking the halls complete with plaques and trophies—remembrances of glories from yesteryear; of young girls whose smiles were beautiful yet terrifying. And of being in a sea of faces and bodies sweating in gym and polishing my rifle in ROTC and what happened to Mr. A? Was his name Athanasopolous? A name no one could pronounce. And why did he think me to be a troublemaker when I was a borderline hermit with maybe one friend who halfway knew me? All those Mr. A’s & B’s & C’s & D’s & F’s—for me it was mostly C’s.

But it was too late to turn back. I entered a dining area that was sparsely occupied yet busy with the sounds of a Mariachi band entertaining the guests. In the distance I heard a thumping sound that seemed to make the floor vibrate. I headed towards it.

I walked through the door and was met by a sea of tables adorned with glasses, silverware, red helium balloons and plates stained with the remnants of mushroom gravy and green beans. Bright lights emanated from the dance floor. The DJ and his equipment looking as elaborate and sophisticated—with lights and switches—as any aircraft cockpit; for the DJ is a pilot, entrusted with the duty of moving human beings—legs, arms, torsos, bellies, limbs, minds etc.

I looked around—people were talking, mingling. And like one of those helium balloons I floated, looking for a face, a place, a purpose. I recalled a story they used to read in elementary school called “The Red Balloon”—the story of a lonely red balloon moving slowly through the world in search of a friend. I slithered about. The one place I didn’t want to end up was the first place I ended up—the dreaded punchbowl.

How many could’ves, sob stories and woe-is-me talks have ended up in its swirl, generation after generation, graduation after graduation? The punch bowl is, in some ways, a festive urinal of sorts—complete with accoutrements including fancy glasses, ladles, and occasional mist emanating from a fog machine—to add a hint of glamour and decorum to small talk that will, hopefully, enlarge or expand.

I dipped the ladle and spilled punch on my sleeve. People were on the dance floor. I looked for a familiar face. I saw several. One face belonged to a guy who’d gone into the same profession as I—radio—having gone through the City College broadcasting department. He was a bit heavier, but not overly so. “I live in Florida, now,” he said, “I work in tech.” His smile hadn’t changed as it appeared, beaming with the Florida sun, brought back home to the city known for fog.

I remember faces for a variety of reasons. One face belonged to a guy who I went to elementary school with, who ran the 50-yard dash in 7.0. I approached him. You probably don’t remember me but…He looked great, having graduated in my year. There was another guy I remember. He also ran fast. All these Black brothers from the past and the only thing I could remember was that they ran fast. But I also remembered that I was—back then—a slow brown boy.

There was a hint of recognition from the folks I approached, perhaps an indirect connection made whole by our presence that we were still here, in our diversity, in a unity that, as a whole, our city is losing. I made my way back to the punch bowl (in less than 7.0) where I wanted to punch something—namely myself—for the person I had been in high school. Why hadn’t I known these guys back then? Why didn’t we hang out? Why did I have to be so timid? Why was it so hard to talk to people? Why did I think I was being scrutinized so? Perhaps the answer was in the boy’s bathroom, when I looked in the mirror. This seemed an appropriate time for reflection. But I see their faces—in the present– their beautiful faces, their tragic faces, their faces of a thousand stories, a thousand semesters. We head to the dance floor.

I fail at dances that require movement in unison, such as the Electric Slide or Cupid Shuffle. I am always off beat, out of step, out of sync. I watch the unity in movement. My fellow classmates, schoolmates, make it look easy—dipping, sliding, catching shadows and shaping them into planets and dreams and seasons—all in the movement of their bodies, keeping time with mind and spirit.

As I look onto the dance floor I see my generation; some well-fed, some well-read, others well-wedor perhaps divorced or separated. And I see those girls I’d seen in the halls, in the cafeteria, in the bleachers—way back when—carrying a variety of attitudes along with their books. I remember thatgirl from math, I remember thatone from Family Life. They still look beautiful. And still I look and not talk.

And then the voice of Chaka Khan overwhelms: Ain’t nobody, does me better…than you. If not for music, we’d have nothing and when the body embodies or embraces music, then it’s time to get down—that is, forget all you’ve learned—just let it go and come naturally. And yes, some of my classmates are heavier, chunkier, a sag here and a sag there but they balance with grace and class all that brought them to this moment, this night. I’m overwhelmed at how good they look, and how they can still get down.

One must remember that getting down is not restricted to the dance floor—it also extends to the dinner plate (always close by) where one can be oneself in the company of those whose presence fills you the most—with laughter and memories and perhaps tears. This reunion was a blending, a diversity of the student body minus the body politic. It was a dance, a revival, a Vegas buffet line and church service all wrapped into one.

So many years have passed. What is left? I realized how much I missed out on knowing the people in my presence, those who helped shape me. I joined in for the electric slide and, again, didn’t make out well. My electric slide turned into a static slip. The girl running for the bus in the rain—landing on her well-formed rump those years ago—had more grace than I.

I made my way to a few tables, talking to folks who I never talked to in high school—a woman who had been in ROTC with me and a guy who had the most beautiful eyes back then, who now works as a counselor in a school; same beautiful eyes, now seeing possibilities. I talked to a guy who I remembered as being extremely quiet—we were in the same math class. I approached him, introduced myself. He didn’t remember me. I told him, “I remember, you were a quiet brother.” “Mmmmm hmmm” he replied. He told me he was now the pastor of a church. I meet his wife, shook her hand. She was in an elegant sequined dress—a touch of royalty to her—her hand filled with down home warmth. “We’re high school sweethearts” the pastor said.

I also sat with members of the class of ’81—all Asian—one of whom was quite lovely and nice and danced with me to Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give it Up”. I remember the class of ’81 as being rather sophisticated—in a way that I cannot articulate.

Host Fenton gave me an opportunity to recite a poem I’d written in honor of George Washington High School. He took the microphone and announced: “I’d like to call up Tony…he’s an…Arthur.”

I looked around. People were sitting, chatting, drinking—a few seemed to be reflecting. This was a lull, a pause to insert something perhaps profound. Then the most profound thought hit me: Did this guy just say I was an Arthur?

At that moment I’d realized I’d been wrong about my vocation. I wasn’t an author but an Arthur, in the footsteps of giants—Arthur Ashe, Arthur Miller, King Arthur, Arthur Rimbaud, Arthur Mercante (Jr. and Sr.), Arthur Conan Doyle, Art Carney, Art Tatum, Art Linkletter and Arthur Treacher (Of fish and chips fame), and the Palace of Fine Arts, just to name a few. To the world I might be a hot shot author, but to my fellow classmates I was the guy holding up the punch bowl, just another guy. I can hear them: Hey, I remember you, you were that guy who was always by himself. We thought you were a mute. What have you been up to, what kinda work you do?

No longer a mute, I began to recite:

Did you go to
Wash? What year
Did you graduate?

I remember homeroom
like an heirloom

I can’t wash
it out

Mr. Chandler told
me not to bend books
back to the spine because
“books have feelings”
but he also said, Don’t be
spineless

I can’t wash the
memory of the fine
sisters in the halls who
were more woman than
girl while i was more boy
than man

and that Chinese girl,
was her name Linda?
She was fine and her
mere presence brushed
across my skin like a sultry
fog that slid
then left

i can’t wash the murals
off the walls of my mind
that showed George Washington
and ex-presidents as heroes until
we got out in the world and learned
otherwise

i can’t wash
Wash out of my skin

and how the black
settled in my brown skin
to create something that
could never be washed out

i went to Wash
and you went to Wash
and i remember a young
Chinese cat who kicked
a tree branch

turned 360 degrees in
the air like a kung fu movie
and made the air pop

that won’t Wash
from my mind

and i remember taking
the bus, for a nickel
and seeing kids from Fillmore
on the 38 Geary

Kids that didn’t
remember me from
grade school, sitting
Alone in the bleachers
Contemplating splinters
That were to become poems

but i can’t
wash them from
my memory

can’t wash their
voices from my
mind

can’t forget the way
they were when
they were young

and went
to Wash

Funny thing, as I recited my poem, I noticed, in their chairs, girls I had crushes on as a student. I don’t recall them giving me a glance back then. But I noticed they were giving me their—as the teachers used to say—undivided attention. One even smiled. Oh, the benefits of being an Arthur. In reciting the poem, I felt as if I’d dived into that punchbowl, a baptism of sorts, articulating, speaking what had been inside me for so long.

After the poem there was applause. Someone even approached me and said that was some heavy shit, man. Then Fenton took the mic and said, “Ok…let’s get back to partying! And it was back to the Fatback band, the Bee Gees, Chaka Khan, Michael Jackson etc. Who needs an Author…or Arthur…when you have music like that?

Arthur makes his exit, but not before filling up a glass of punch for the road. Group pictures were taken and I watched, not being in the picture but feeling a part of this special moment, observing everything around me, creating a picture of my own that I can only express in the words: I remember you.

Arts Forecast: Hemlock Tavern closing, Polk Street Blues Fest, Erasure …

Longtime rocker Roy Loney plays hemlock Tavern, Fri/17

ARTS FORECAST More housing is coming to Polk Street, and, despite an effort to preserve it in some fashion, belovedly scruffy rock spot Hemlock Tavern is closing in October.

In an email sent out today and Facebook post entitled “HEMLOCK TAVERN SOLD AND WILL CLOSE IN EARLY OCTOBER 2018. BUILDING TO BE DEMOLISHED AND REPLACED BY CONDOS” the managers announced:

“The Hemlock Tavern, in its current physical and metaphysical configurations, will cease to exist after the first week of October 2018. We will be operating as usual and featuring a full schedule of live music from now through Sept. 30th, 2018. We will close for good after holding our 17th anniversary party on Saturday, October 6th.

The new owners of the Hemlock Tavern have not yet announced their plans for what will become of the business following the construction of the new building a few years down the road.” 

As one Twitter user pointed out, “Thinking back to when I moved here, Polk Street was bursting with music and art. Hemlock, Kimo’s, Red Devil Lounge, Space Gallery. All gone. What a brutal reminder of how this city has changed.” (They also helpfully linked to this archive of Hemlock-recorded shows for your delectation.

I can attest to a time even before the Hemlock, when it was still a suspiciously large and spectacularly seedy bar called The Giraffe, part of a queer infrastructure along Polk Gulch that has since completely vanished. I was relieved when the Giraffe became the Hemlock, because I like music, and for a long while the Hemlock hit that sweet, rare cultural spot where awesome-filthy indie rockers and gorgeous-filthy street queens (and vice versa) intermingled.

The Hemlock is one of the few live venues in SF that hasn’t been swept up by Live Nation and other corporate behemoths. Until it shuts down, it’s going strong, with shows from Roy Loney and Killer Whale this weekend. Here’s the full schedule—go get some Hemlock before it’s offed. 

UPCOMING EVENTS

ONGOING STAGE SEX AND THE CITY LIVE!  The gals are back—in drag, of course, as D’Arcy Drollinger and her merry band of queens revive the joys, sorrows, and shopping trips of the fab foursome. $27.50, Oasis, SF. More info here

WED/15-FRI/17 MUSIC ERASURE The jaunty synthpop duo whose songs soundtracked contemporary gay lib return for three nights—will they bring the giant sequined snail from previous tours?—to support latest album World Beyond. 7pm, $44+. Masonic, SF. More info here

FRI/17 NIGHTLIFE CLOSING NIGHT PARTY AT NOB HILL THEATRE Another tragic closing: San Francisco is losing its only gay strip club. But it’s going out with a “bang”! An all-star porn star cornucopia of waggling hotties—like “aerial performance artist pornstar Woody Fox”—will help Nob Hill sail off into the sunset. (If the party is sold out, but I know you, you can totally sneak through the backdoor.) Midnight, $30-$50 (splash zone seats!). Nob Hill Theatre, SF. More info here.  

FRI/17-SAT/18 FILM AKIRA The classic, brain-busting anime film paying on the big screen, at midnight? Light one up! 11:55pm, $10. Clay Theater, SF. More info here

FRI/17-SUN/19 FILM PANORAMA COLOMBIA The opening up of Colombia to tourists and commerce after its civil war has led to a huge cultural resurgence and appreciation of this spectacular country. Here’s a great little film fest that shows off some of that artistic verve, showcasing some of the most stimulating works made by a new generation of emerging Colombian filmmakers. Roxie, SF. More info here

SAT/18 MUSIC BRAZIL IN THE GARDENS “No city in the Americas boasts a richer and deeper African cultural presence than Salvador da Bahia in northeastern Brazil, and vocalist Dandara Odara’s ensemble Pragandaia serves as a conduit for sounds from this world-shaking musical hotbed.” 1pm-2:30pm, free. Yerba Buebna Gardens, SF. More info here

SAT/18 MUSIC 20TH STREET BLOCK PARTY Love this free festival from the Noisepop festival, with food, fun, and frothy tunes from the likes of Empress Of, Jeff Rosenstock, The Marias, The She’s, FAN, The Total Bettys and more. Noon-6pm, free ($10 suggested donation). 20th Street, SF. More info here

SAT/18-SUN/19 MUSIC POLK STREET BLUES FESTIVAL The eighth annual installment of this lively block party/music festival, put in by the same folks who do the Fillmore Jazz Fest and the North Beach Festival. Tons of performers, lots of food and vendors, and a little of that old polk Street soul. 10am-6pm, free. Polk between California and Post, SF. More info here

SAT/18 MUSIC GREGORY PORTER SINGS NAT KING COLE Yes! “For this exclusive performance at Davies Symphony Hall, two-time GRAMMY-winner Gregory Porter sings the timeless songs of his greatest influence, Nat “King” Cole, in fresh arrangements by GRAMMY winner Vince Mendoza, accompanied by the Magik*Magik Orchestra.” 8pm, $45+. SFJAZZ. More info here

SUN/19 MUSIC BORIS Thunderous Japanese acid rock from these legends that will melt your feet to the floor. 7:30pm, $23-$25. The independent, SF. More info here.  

SUN/19 DESI COMEDY FEST CLOSING NIGHT A veritable bevy of South Asian comics provides the climax of this annual festival, which takes place all over Northern California but lands in SF tonight. With Abhay, Azhar Usman, Kiran Deol, and more. 7pm, $40-$50. Marines Memorial Theater, SF. More info here.  

Foreign Correspondent: Trump in Afghanistan

Afghan girl who lost her arm in a bombing and fled with her family to Kabul. Photo by Reese Erlich

President Donald Trump is back on the stump, trumpeting his alleged triumphs since the 2016 elections. Somehow, he never mentions Afghanistan.

For years, Trump has denounced endless foreign wars, including Afghanistan. He tweeted in 2012, for example, that Afghanistan is “a complete waste….Time to come home!”

Once in power, however, Trump filled top advisor and cabinet positions with generals and neocons who advocate permanent occupation of Afghanistan. He suddenly became interested in the country’s estimated $1 trillion in rare earth minerals vital to manufacturing high tech products such as cell phones.  

Afghan girl who lost her arm in a bombing and fled with her family to Kabul

Then one year ago Trump announced plans to send 4,000 more troops to Afghanistan. At the time, I and many other commentators said a few thousand more troops couldn’t possibly shift the tide of war when 100,000 failed under Obama.

And, sure enough, the military situation has gotten worse for the US and its corrupt allies in Kabul. The US intensified its air war. The Taliban retaliated with devastating attacks on Kabul and other major cities. On August 10, in only the latest example, the Taliban attacked and held the key city of Ghazni for several days.

To date 2,372 US troops have died and more than 20,000 have been wounded.

An estimated total of 110,000 Afghans have died in the conflict.

US taxpayers have spent over a trillion dollars on the war so far, not counting the billions in future veteran’s benefits.

Kathy Kelly — co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Non Violence, which supports humanitarian work in Afghanistan — told me her group has long advocated that all US and allied troops should pull out, and the US should pay reparations for its war of destruction.

“This is a failed war, as are all wars,” she said.

Life in Kabul

During my first reporting trips to Afghanistan in the aughts, I stayed in inexpensive guest houses, walked to interviews when practical, and visited sources in their homes. Those days are long gone.

Dr. Hakim Young, a physician originally from Singapore, has seen dramatic changes during his 14 years of humanitarian work in Afghanistan. Today any government building could be attacked by insurgents, even the military and intelligence headquarters in Kabul.

“We avoid government, political and religious buildings,” he told me from Kabul. “We vary daily movements and schedules.”

Even talking or walking with a westerner can put local Afghans in danger because of popular anger at foreign occupation.

So they try not to be noticed by dressing in local clothes.

“It helps that I look like an Afghan,” said Dr. Hakim, “and speak their language.”

He said among Afghans in general, “the mood is one of stress, trauma, uncertainty, insecurity, frustration, anger, distrust and hopelessness. This mood is reflected in the continual outflow of Afghans seeking asylum elsewhere.”

Warlords in and out of government

Afghans don’t support the Taliban or the Islamic State, the two main insurgent groups. But it’s not like the United States has provided a viable alternative. The United States is allied with brutal, drug dealing warlords.

Recently General Abdul Rashid Dostum was back in the news. He’s a warlord with a long history of human-rights abuses, and was accused of beating and raping a rival. Oh, did I mention, he’s also Afghanistan’s first vice president.

Last year, he fled to Turkey in the middle of the night. Dostum’s supporters among the Uzbek ethnic minority have recently engaged in violent demonstrations against the government. In a surprise move, Dostum returned to Kabul in July and was greeted by major government leaders including President Ashraf Ghani. It seems unlikely that Dostum will face trial for the rape, let alone for decades of human rights abuses.

“There are multiple warlords in Afghanistan and the Taliban is just one of them,” Kelly said. “There is no functioning government right now. It’s a failed narco state.”

It’s little wonder that the people of Afghanistan want the US and its corrupt government partners to leave.

Grassroots Peace Movement

The Helmand Peace Convoy, now called the People’s Peace Movement, presents a few rays of hope these days. In March, unknown bombers killed 17 civilians and wounded 55 in the southern province of Helmand. So a group of elders, relatives of injured civilians, and civil society activists set up a peace tent in protest.

They called for a ceasefire between warring factions, opposing the policies of the US, the Taliban, and the Afghan government. Encouraged by the positive response from the public, they marched 400 miles to the capital of Kabul.

Dr. Hakim said people are generally supportive of the protestors. “The Movement has shifted the mood a little,” he said.

“We need to remain optimistic in taking tiny positive actions. The alternative would allow the exploitative, violent actors to worsen the multiple crises gripping Afghanistan.”

When the marchers reached Kabul, among other actions, they held a sit-in at the US embassy.

“If the US can topple a regime in 15 days,” the movement wrote in a statement, “then why has it not been able to bring peace in the past 17 years?”

Reese Erlich’s syndicated column, Foreign Correspondent, appears in 48Hills every two weeks. His book The Iran Agenda Today: The Real Story from Inside Iran and What’s Wrong with US Policy will be published in September. Follow him on Twitter, @ReeseErlich; friend him on Facebook; and visit his webpage.

Breed, Wiener endorse transphobic School Board candidate

Josephine Zhao is getting mainstream political support despite her transphobic statements

A startling number of local officials, including Mayor London Breed and state Sen. Scott Wiener, have endorsed for School Board a candidate who helped lead the opposition to gender-neutral bathrooms in schools, saying that the groundbreaking legislation would lead to “public moral issues, violence and even create conditions for more incidences of rape on school campuses.”

Josephine Zhao is getting mainstream political support despite her transphobic statements

Josephine Zhao also has the endorsement of Board of Equalization President Fiona Ma, Assessor-Recorder Carmen Chu, and Sheriff Vicki Hennessy.

Zhao is best known as a board member and leader of the Small Property Owners of San Francisco, a radical landlord-rights group that opposes Ellis Act reform and anti-speculation taxes.

She also spoke out in 2013 against AB 1266, a member by then-Assemblymember Tom Ammiano that allows public-school students to use bathrooms and join sports teams consistent with their gender identity.

According to translations from the Chinese-language press, at a press conference opposing the measure:

Josephine Zhao, representative of the Asian-American Voters Organization stated that AB 1266 protects only 2% of those students who are transgender or questioning their sexual identities, yet offends and violates the rights and privacies of the other 98% of students.  Allowing male and female students to share bathrooms and showers will lead to public moral issues, violence, and even create conditions for more incidences of rape on school campuses.

“President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos would cheer on Wiener and Breed for that endorsement,” trans activist Gabriel Haaland said. “In fact, one of the first things Trump and Devos did when they came into office was to rescind Obama’s guidelines/protections for transgender children, sending the clear message that they didn’t support transgender rights.”

When I asked Wiener why he appeared with Zhao at a banquet during his state Senate race, he said that he “doesn’t agree with all of my many supporters on every single issue.”

But there’s a difference between disagreements and accepting transphobia – and Wiener is now actively endorsing a candidate who has never apologized or backed away from her transphobic statements.

Breed’s office didn’t respond when I asked for comment on her endorsement.

The Harvey Milk Club Political Action Committee has voted to recommend a specific endorsement against Zhao and is planning a voter-education campaign around transphobia in the School Board race.

There are two trans candidates running for School Board, Martin Rawlings-Fein and Mia Satya. While transgender candidates have won elections in other cities, San Francisco has yet to elect a trans candidate to any public office.

The very odd Breed Administration memo on homeless policy

A tent ner Valencia and Mission: Homeless people haven't left the streets, they've just ,moved around

The Chron, which lost any hope of claiming objectivity during the mayor’s race, is now clearly on the side of the Chamber of Commerce on the fall ballot measure that would raise money from the biggest businesses in town to fund solutions to the homeless crisis.

The story is kind of odd: The headline is “SF business tax memo could result in middle-class job flight.”

It’s going to cost money to address homelessness seriously

The first paragraph makes it appear as if there is real evidence to support that claim:

San Francisco’s narrowing middle class, already squeezed by the high cost of living could take another hit if a new business tax is approved in the November election, according to the city’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development.

The entire, complete, argument for that is as follows:

But, according to a memo sent to the mayor’s office by the Office of Economic and Workforce Development last week and obtained by The Chronicle, the extra tax would disproportionately impact employees in mid-level jobs, such as administrative staff in retail companies and grocery store workers.

First: The tax would not impact any employees at all. None of them would pay a penny. It would impact the biggest businesses in town – including the Hearst Corporation, which finally had to admit that it has a conflict of interest here, since it publishes the Chron.

Second: Since when does OEWD do an analysis of ballot measures? I’ve never seen that before. The mission of that office is pretty clear -– and it doesn’t involve any partisan discussion of the costs of a ballot measure.

I don’t have the memo that the Chron has “obtained.” Maybe the paper – based on a tip or at random – asked for a copy. I’ve filed my own public-records request for it, and will share the whole thing with you when I get it.

More likely, someone who is affiliated with Mayor London Breed and OEWD sent a copy to the Chron, with the aim of undermining the tax.

The mayor has yet to make a statement on the ballot measure. However, she just appointed Joaquin Torres to head OEWD, and he seems to be pretty clearly in the opposition:

“We need to be conscious of who our revenue generating measures are affecting. In this case, it seems the potential to impact middle income jobs should cause concerns,” said Joaquín Torres, director of the Office of Economic and Workforce Development.

City departments aren’t supposed to take positions on candidates or ballot measures. The City Attorney’s Office is clear on this. It’s okay for a department to prepare an unbiased, objective analysis of a ballot measure, which must be released to the public.

This particular memo is not on the OEWD website where press releases are normally posted. The term “obtained by the Chronicle” tends to be used when the paper has exclusive access to a document that has not been released in the normal course of business.

The City Attorney’s Office says any analysis of a ballot measure should be distributed and publicized “consistent with the department’s regular practice.”

The department “should not use special methods – such as methods associated with political campaigns – to distribute its analysis.”

Okay, so as I said, that’s all a bit odd.

Now let’s get to the point of the memo.

The Coalition on Homelessness has a detailed response:

Major shortcomings of analysis indicate ideological bias:

  • Failed to demonstrate that the 300 to 400 largest mega-corporations in San Francisco that would be impacted by the measure would actually be paying less taxes than they were paying pre-Trump tax break four months ago. 

  • Conflated multiple potential ballot measures, including a statewide ballot measure and one measure that has already been removed from the ballot (the Uber tax).  The homeless revenue measure being criticized represented only 30 percent to 40 percent of the total taxes analyzed by the study. 

  • Provided no data or evidence to back up speculation about potential job loss. Even so, it was stated that such job loss was unlikely to happen immediately but would potentially happen “over decades.”

  • Failed to analyze impact of our unrelenting homeless crisis on jobs such as those in the tourism industry.  Tourism experts such as the Hotel Council have warned that “what our employees, visitors and customers confront daily on the streets of San Francisco risks our city’s future.” (Kevin Carroll, Hotel Council, quoted in SF Chronicle 4/23/18)

  • Failed to account for new employment that will be generated by the measure. The $300 million a year generated by the measure will move funds directly back into the local economy. The measure will add additional jobs in the form of case workers, middle class HSH administrative staff, and construction jobs.

  • Failed to analyze the true impact on a tax that is only an averageof .5 percent and only on income above $50 million.  A large business bringing in $54 million a year, would only pay the tax on the $4 million. Retail only pays less then 2/10th of a percent, meaning that the additional tax on retail will be only $1,750 for every $1,000,000 in gross receipts over $50 million.

In other words: Hard to see how this is going to cause any job loss at all.

In fact, the Chronicle/Chamber of Commerce position fits exactly with the failures of the tax cuts we saw under Reagan, Bush, and then Trump: Businesses haven’t used that money to invest in new jobs in the United States. The tax cuts haven’t been job-creators; they’ve just been used to further expand the wealth gap, enriching a few at the expense of everyone else.

I repeat the request I made to Jim Lazarus, vice president and policy director at the Chamber last week:

If you don’t like this tax, please tell us where you would find the money it’s going to take to seriously address homelessness. Still waiting to hear from him.

Screen Grabs: Crazy Rich Asians, young skaters, Personal Problems

Internet star Awkwafina stars in 'Crazy Rich Asians'

SCREEN GRABS Though calls rightly continue for more diversity of representation, there has in fact been a noticeable boost in the prominence of African-Americans onscreen. Stars like Dwayne Johnson and Will Smith transcend any “color line” in terms of popularity, as have films like Get Out and BlacKkKlansman, which once would have been expected to appeal primarily to black audiences. But there haven’t been equal gains for Latinos and Asians, not counting foreign films released to specialty markets in the US. 

So the arrival of Crazy Rich Asians, from the first novel in Kevin Kwan’s hugely popular series, is sort of a big deal, being the first fairly big-budget, major-studio U.S. production with a primarily all-Asian cast since Memoirs of a Geisha thirteen years ago—and that was an “exotic” costumed period piece set in another country. This is a straight-up jet-setting romcom, glossy, glam, very mainstream in style and tenor. 

Being somewhat allergic to such things (there are giant chunks in the screen ouevres of Julia Roberts, Meg Ryan, Katherine Heigl and Kate Hudson I will never see), I admit to fleeing after 25 minutes or so. But if you like such things, you will probably like this thing. And it’s an important step forward for Hollywood that will hopefully trigger more of the same, i.e. American movies starring Asians…ones not driven by martial arts, either.

This weekend another sort of history will be made at Bay Area theaters. It’s rare enough that one skateboarding movie opens, but surely unprecedented that two should do so, simultaneously. And this is no Lambada vs. Forbidden Dance-type duel between cheesy commercial enterprises, but a pair of serious, Sundance-approved indie features of variably verite origin. 

After an injury that requires stitches, Long Island teen Camille (Rachelle Vinberg) joins a Manhattan all-woman skate crew, and gets a exhilarating taste of real urban life in Skate Kitchen. The principal performers (apart from Jaden Smith as a romantic interest) are all playing variations on their real-life selves; this film has its roots in Instagram posts of their unscripted skating exploits. 

There’s not a lot of plot going on in this first narrative feature by Crystal Moselle of the documentary The Wolfpack, and it’s got a problem in that the lead is the least expressive actor here. Still, it’s ingratiating, and a fine Girl Power statement. (Be warned: Bring your impressionable daughter to this film, and she will want a skateboard for Christmas.) 

There’s less fun but more heft in Bing Liu’s Minding the Gap, which chronicles the entry into young adulthood for three Rockford, IL boys (himself included) who bonded as skateboarders as teens. All were escaping from one form of home-life stress or another, and we see how those problems—including domestic violence—get overcome or not as the protagonists deal with the reality of shit jobs, broken relationships, parenting they’re not ready for, and so forth. 

“Lately I’ve been having a lot of anxiety about not feeling like a grownup” says one of them, a statement that comes to hang like a noose over his later progress. It’s a potent verite portrait of some not-too-unusual young lives in a nation whose future is downscaling for the majority. Both films have some great skating footage, although Gap is ultimately about considerably more, and carries the bigger punch. Both open Friday. Kitchen: Embarcadero Cinemas, more info hereMinding: Roxie, more info here.

Because there’s a lot going of note going on this week (see below), we’ll just make passing note of the Roxie’s three-day Panorama Colombia,” which offers four features (including the animated Virus Tropical) and a program of shorts from that South American nation; its two-day 48 Hour Film Festival, an annual contest among filmmakers to complete a short in that two-day span; and on Tues/21 a Canyon Cinema-presented program honoring recently deceased local experimentalist and curator Paul Clipson. At the Pacific Film Archive, there’s a reprise this Fri/17 of two recent audience favorites: The End of the Ottoman Empire, a French TV documentary about the epic historical tangle that resulted in our ongoing Middle East political mess; and My Journey Through French Cinema, a three-hour mix of archival clips and commentary by one Gallic film great Bernard Tavernier. 

And let us not forget Midnites for Maniacs’ 35mm Alamo Drafthouse screening on Wed/22 of Heartbeeps, the 1981 sci fi comedy Xmas present to moviegoers that nobody wanted to open. Since then, this near-last theatrical film by Rock ’n’ Roll High School director Allan Arkush (who’s still active in TV) has acquired a certain cult allure, in large part because it was the last big-screen appearance for Andy Kaufman, who stars alongside Bernadette Peters. They play domestic-servant robots in love. It’s not a good movie, but it’s the kind you need to see once…just to grok that somebody, somehow actually thought it would be. 

Elsewhere (all opening at area theaters Friday unless otherwise noted):

ARABY
A teenager finds the journal of a young loner who’d worked at the local factory with his aunt, until he suddenly collapsed and died. This first feature by Brazilian co-writer/directors Joao Dumans and Affonso Uchoa then shows us the fairly short, unremarkable life of Cristiano (Aristides de Souza) as he’d written about it: An orphan without family or long-running friends, blundering into a prison stint, then living a largely transient existence doing nearly every kind of manual labor, agricultural to industrial. He’s both handsome and nondescript; uneducated, but not dumb; open to love, but it fails him the one time he gets it. 

Cristiano is the kind of marginal person—forever expendable, always having to start over again at the bottom of the pay-grade—that almost never dominates a movie. Certainly never one as resistant to melodrama as this one, whose only extreme twist of fate is so ambiguously staged we can’t quite be sure what’s happened. An austerely beautiful, minimalist film like this either works for you or it doesn’t. Initially just mildly intrigued, I eventually found Araby something of a revelation: A latterday mix of neo-realism and Bresson, with a fine-boned simplicity that feels both culturally specific and universally resonant. 4 Star. More info here.

PERSONAL PROBLEMS 
The late playwright, actor and novelist Bill Gunn directed just three feature films (he also scripted others), all plagued by severe distribution problems. He’s best known today for 1973’s Ganga and Hess, a mix of vampire conventions and Afrocentric identity politics that became a major cult film—such that Spike Lee remade it four years ago as Da Sweet Blood of Jesus. Gunn’s first feature Stop (1970) was never released at all after initial screenings gave Warner Brothers cold feet, and remains tantalizingly unavailable. 

Almost as impossible to see for decades was this 1980 “black soap opera” conceived by the great Ishmael Reed, written in collaboration with the frequently-improvising director and actors. Nurse Johnnie Mae’s (Verta Mae Grosvenor) already strained live-in relationship with her husband (Walter Cotton) is stretched to the breaking point by their separate infidelities—not to mention their having to take in (even more) freeloading relatives. 

Made on a $40,000 shoestring, it was envisaged as a broadcast series. Only two video-shot “volumes” were completed, however, comprising a nearly three-hour feature film by default that was shown in 1981 on KQED and in some other forums. Wider broadcast or any other release was never realized, the original tapes sitting neglected until their recent restoration. 

Uneven, sometimes disjointed, its narrative threads nowhere near resolved at the end, Personal Problems is nonetheless something rare and valuable, particularly for its era: A look at modern, urban African-American lives neither defined by criminal intrigue or milked for sitcom laughs. It’s “rough around the edges,” to say the least. (The video quality will really make you appreciate subsequent improvements in technology.) Yet there are searing confrontations here that encapsulate those moments when long-simmering domestic frustrations finally boil over, scalding everybody. Reed himself will appear to take audience questions after the Thurs/16 show. (Further Alamo showings are planned to follow, but hadn’t yet been confirmed by this writing.) Alamo Drafthouse. More info here

THE CAPTAIN
In what would turn out to be the final two weeks before the Nazis’ surrender to Allied forces, German soldier Willi Herold (Max Hubacher) faces possible execution as a deserter when he manages to flee his captors. Later, nearly starved and frozen to death, he stumbles upon a high-ranking officer’s abandoned vehicle, which contains the latter’s clothing and identification. Donning that uniform, he suddenly inspires fearful obedience—and in the extreme environ of a devastating war’s desperate last days, such power corrupts very, very quickly.

A nightmarish B&W cross between Schindler’s List and Lacombe, Lucien, with a splash of The Damned, this liberally dramatized version of a real-life case depicts human behavior already brought low, then gleefully sinking lower—a picture rendered even more disturbing by current political trends towards seductive crypto-fascism. 

Just when the story seems to go over-the-top, reaching a point where cruelty ceases to be instructive and risks exploitative sensationalism (though in fact the events depicted did occur), writer-director Robert Schwentke’s latest—his return to home turf after fifteen years of Hollywood blockbusters—takes a more surreal, grotesque, parabolic turn. This is a striking, potent film, though as with the recent (if otherwise very different) Son of Saul, some may find its assertive style almost overpowers the deadly-sober subject of Nazi war crimes. Opera Plaza. More info here

TRISTAN AND ISOLDE
Claude Heater is one Bay Area celebrity you may not have heard of before (I hadn’t), and will now wonder why. Not only did the born-and-raised Oakland resident have a celebrated operatic career—in which he switched midstream from baritone to tenor with great success—he also played Jesus Christ (albeit without lines, credit or close-ups) in the classic 1959 Charlton Heston version of Ben-Hur

Now 90, he is getting some overdue new local appreciation with this rare screening of a 1968 Belgian film version of Wagner’s opera, with Heater in his frequent, celebrated role of Tristan, and Jacqueline van Quaille as Isolde. It’s not a photographed stage production, but was shot with “period” costumes on locations including a 12th-century castle. 

Act 1 will screen Sat/18 at SF’s Legion of Honor, Acts 2 & 3 Fri/24 at the Berkeley City Club. In conjunction with these events, the newly formed Claude Heater Foundation is also sponsoring a live recital performance of the entire opera, a short pre-film lecture, and an art exhibition. For more information, click here

HARD TICKET TO HAWAII
Drive-ins may have been dying out en masse in the 1980s, but video and late-night cable rode to the rescue to ensure a continued market for B-grade cheese. A specialist in combining the requisite marketable amounts of T&A and violent action was Andy Sidaris (no relation to David or Amy), who cranked out a dozen bloody and breasty “B” movies, most within a tight 1979-1993 span. 

A particular fan favorite turned minor camp classic is this 1987 bonanza of schlock featuring no less than four erstwhile Playmates of the Month, acting just as well as you’d expect. (You know no one is taking this joint entirely seriously when one of them intones “Terry, we need to figure out what just happened! Let’s unload and hit the jacuzzi. I do my best thinking there.”)

Hard Ticket is a movie about many things—drug lords, diamond smuggling, big hair, Uzi-wielding skateboarders (again!) using blow-up sex dolls as their “shield,” people who take Frisbee throwing very seriously, a giant killer-snake puppet, a cross-dressing restaurant hostess-slash-spy, etc. But mostly, it is about boobs. No doubt many a beered-up late-night cable viewer got something hard that wasn’t a ticket, just as intended. Want some variably-intentional laughs with that eye candy? You’ll get it. 

This “Weird Wednesday” revival screening of a rare 35mm print will feature Andy’s widow Arlene Sidaris in person to answer all your questions about his onetime celluloid “stock company” and their prodigious 80s output. Wed/15, Alamo Drafthouse. More info here

A bad week for the Yimby narrative

Housing for all -- or just market-rate housing for the rich?

It is not a good week for the Yimby argument.

In a series of reports, studies, and articles, the claim that building more housing for rich people will bring down prices as been challenged, if not debunked. The new evidence suggests that the only falling rents are at the very top of the scale – for the rest of us, that new housing is not bringing any relief at all.

Mayor London Breed with Yimby Action leaders Sonja Trauss and Laura Foote Clark

From The Washington Post:

Nationally, the pace of rent increases is beginning to slow down, with the average rent in at least six cities falling since last summer, according to Zillow data.

But the decline is being driven primarily by decreasing prices for high-end rentals. People in low-end housing, the apartments and other units that house working-class residents, are still paying more than ever.

More:

“For-profit developers have predominantly built for the luxury and higher end of the market, leaving a glut of overpriced apartments in some cities,” said Diane Yentel, president and chief executive of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, an advocacy group. “Some decision-makers believed this would ‘filter down’ to the lowest income people, but it clearly will not meet their needs.”

This really shouldn’t come as a surprise. We have seen a considerable amount of new luxury housing built in San Francisco – but the demand for that housing, both from wealthy people who want to live here and from wealthy people who just want a place to park their money– is close to insatiable.

And none of that new supply is trickling down to make prices at the lower end stabilize.

In fact, Forbes – which used to use “Capitalist Tool” as an ad slogan – now reports on a recent study by the Division of Research and Statistics and Monetary Affairs of the Federal Reserve Board, which is hardly a socialist organization, and its conclusion is clear:

The private market isn’t going to solve this problem.  The notion that more supply will automatically decrease costs

relies on the most elementary and simplistic of teachings from economics, which, as anything in engineering or science, must radically simplify constraints and conditions to address any question. Too much complexity prevents manageable solutions.

Federal Reserve published report from earlier this year looks at the notion of marginal additions to housing and finds that they’re unlikely to help. Prices will march on as they have.

The report looked at the price elasticity of rent, and the researchers developed a detailed model to determine how well housing markets in major cities resemble the simplistic economic theories that the Yimbys are promoting.

“Elasticity” is a term economists use to look at how many customers you lose if you raise the price of an item. Price elasticity of demand for, say, home heating oil in a freezing winter is pretty low; raise prices and people still have to buy it. (It seems, Forbes notes, that the same goes for I-Phones; no matter how much they cost, people still buy them.)

Commodities that can be easily substituted are much more price elastic. A shortage of beef that leads to higher prices will convince people to buy chicken (or tofu) instead.

None of this is an exact science, but there are visible trends over large populations and large amounts of time.

And what the Fed researchers found is that rent is relatively inelastic based on supply. You can build a whole lot more market-rate housing, and rents won’t come down much at all:

The implication of this finding is that even if a city were able to ease some supply constraints to achieve a marginal increase in its housing stock, the city will not experience a meaningful reduction in rental burdens.

The fed writers suggest that if we made “marginal” neighborhoods more attractive – the Richard Florida approach – we might find more of a substitution effect – but that’s just what Forbes calls “a cascading gentrification engine.”

Which is what the director of New York’s City Planning Department admitted to five years ago– the city kept building housing, and prices didn’t come down:

I had believed that if we kept building in that manner and increasing our housing supply … that prices would go down,” Burden said. “We had every year almost 30,000 permits for housing, and we built a tremendous amount of housing, including affordable housing, either through incentives or through government funds. And the price of housing didn’t go down at all. 

Part of this, the academics note, is due to the basic contradiction in the theory of how housing markets work. If you assume more supply means lower prices, you ignore the fact that supply is driven not by demand but by the availability of investment capital, which is now entirely international and speculative.

If prices come down, the return on investment declines – and the capital for new housing starts to dry up as that money finds other, more profitable, places to go.

That’s why there are researchers who are talking about fundamentally changing housing markets in this country, and shifting the discussion away from market-based solutions and toward “social housing.”

This paper is a fascinating example. It argues that “large scale municipal housing, built and owned by the state, is by far the best option for solving the affordability crisis.”

Public housing doesn’t have the best record in this city (or, in general, in this country) for a lot of reasons, including the fact that politicians haven’t wanted to put resources into it.

But that’s not the only option. If you set aside Midtown, which is a unique situation, I don’t think there is a badly managed nonprofit affordable housing project anywhere in the city. The model of community-based organizations building housing with public money has worked amazingly well; there just hasn’t been enough money to fill the need.

And now the Chamber of Commerce – and by implication from this story, the San Francisco Chronicle – says that a tax on the biggest corporations in town to build supportive housing and get homeless people off the streets will destroy middle-class jobs.

I have a question for the chamber (in fact, I emailed it to their chief policy person, Jim Lazarus, who has not responded):

If you accept that resolving homelessness is going to be expensive, and that the state and feds aren’t going to help much, how would the Chamber suggest raising that money?

The community alternative is a tax on the biggest businesses in the city. You don’t like that? What’s your alternative?

Still waiting to hear.

American Psychological Association beats back military psychologists

Psychologist Dan Aalbers

On Wednesday the leadership council of the American Psychological Association (APA) voted by an overwhelming 61-33% to keep its current policy prohibiting members from working for the military in Guantanamo or any site where torture has taken place. Military psychologists had sought to rescind the policy during the APA convention meeting in San Francisco this week.

Several hundred APA leaders and rank and file members gathered for an intense debate in a hotel ballroom. They experienced parliamentary maneuvers and a decision to go into executive session in order to exclude the press.

Progressive psychologists supporting the ban had organized for several weeks, gathering letters of support from Amnesty International, and over a dozen other human rights groups and prominent individuals.  

Psychologist Dan Aalbers

“Support from the human rights groups played an important role in swaying the vote,” according to Dan Aalbers, a psychologist who helped form APAwatch: Alliance for an Ethical APA.

Fearing they might lose the vote, military psychologists attempted to postpone the decision by calling for a taskforce to study the issue. That parliamentary maneuver was defeated in a 55-45% vote.

Military psychologists argued that they simply wanted to change APA policy to allow military psychologists to counsel detainees in places such as Guantanamo. Sally Harvey, a former Army psychologist, said counseling is separate from interrogation.

“As a group we (military psychologists) are just as committed to ethics as anyone in this room,” Harvey said.

Upholders of the current APA resolutions argued that military psychologists must obey orders from their superiors and face an inevitable conflict of interest counseling detainees who are also being interrogated by the military and CIA, who sometimes used torture.

Political psychologist Arthur Kendall. Photo by Reese Erlich

“Psychologists should not work for the same boss as the guards,” said Arthur Kendall, a political psychologist who attended the discussion.

The APA has a sordid history regarding torture and abuse at Army and CIA prisons.

History of Torture

The U.S. military has a long history of using torture, dating back at least to the Spanish American war, when U.S. troops first used waterboarding.

The CIA widely used torture and murder as part of its infamous Operation Phoenix program during the Vietnam War.

Under President Bill Clinton, the CIA kidnapped and tortured suspected terrorists at secret prisons outside the United States. After September 11, the George W. Bush administration vastly expanded the program.

The CIA seized suspected terrorists, tortured and held them without trial in secret sites in Afghanistan, the Middle East and eastern Europe, a program euphemistically called “extraordinary rendition.”

Former Army psychologist Sally Harvey. Photo by Reese Erlich

Gina Haspel, now director of the CIA, oversaw a CIA black site in Thailand and later helped destroy video tape evidence showing the CIA use of waterboarding.

“People were caught up in the idea that everything is different after September 11,” said Alice LoCicero, president of the Society for the Study of Peace, Conflict and Violence, a division of APA. “Psychologists were also caught up in that, and that was part of the problem.”

In 2002 the APA changed its Ethics Code to allow psychologists who faced a conflict between ethical obligations and military orders to participate in torture to chose either, depending on their own conscience.

But progressive psychologists fought back and over a period of many years managed to change APA policies. In 2010, they eliminated the 2002 resolution.

Progressives wanted to make sure that psychologists didn’t condone torture under the guise of providing counseling to detainees. In 2015 the APA passed a resolution prohibiting military psychologists from counseling detainees in facilities where international or U.S. law is violated.

Can psychologists insure against abuse?

In response, the Department of Defense (DoD) stopped military psychologists from counseling detainees in Guantanamo. The APA’s Committee on Legal Issues argued the APA should change its policy because the presence of trained psychologists will insure against abuse.

“Psychologists can provide guidance on best practices to promote the humane treatment of detainees during efforts to gather information from these individuals,” the Committee wrote in a memo to the Board of Directors.

Progressive activist Aalbers said, as a practical matter, individual military psychologists have not refused orders to participate in torture sessions.

“None of the people who served at Guantanamo or the black sites have been held responsible for witnessing or participating in torture,” he said.

The APA experienced a small example of those conflicting loyalties during the Council of Representatives debate. An active duty Navy psychologist was scheduled to speak to the Council, but refused because reporters would be recording her presentation. She needed to get permission from superior officers in order to be quoted in the media.

So the Council voted to go into executive session, thus excluding the press, and allowing the military psychologist to speak.

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Freelance reporter Reese Erlich’s book The Iran Agenda Today: The Real Story from Inside Iran and What’s Wrong with US Policy ­will be published in September. Follow him on Twitter, @ReeseErlich; friend him on Facebook; and visit his webpage.