Saturday, December 20, 2014

Hands Up, Public Defender

A protest vigil by the Public Defender's Office, headed by Jeff Adachi below, was held at noon on Thursday in front of San Francisco's Hall of Justice, the one-stop court and jail complex at 8th and Bryant Streets.

The protest was being held in conjunction with Public Defenders' offices throughout the Western states since they are in the front lines when it comes to witnessing institutional racism in the justice system.

Adachi noted that the problem was larger than bigoted police departments, declaring that "We are all complicit. We see judges and prosecutors routinely asking for higher bail and longer sentences for people of color for the same offenses committed by whites. And if public defenders' offices provide a lousy defense, that can be the worst thing imaginable to happen to a defendant."

He pointed out that San Francisco's population is 6% black while 56% of the jail population is black, before urging the small crowd to chant, "Black Lives Matter" for the inmates in the jail above us.

Adachi mostly played emcee for a series of smart speakers, including Oscar Grant's "Uncle Bobby" Johnson above. Johnson had just returned from Phoenix where they are having their own police shooting controversy. When I Googled "Phoenix Police Shooting" to see what the story might be, it turned out that the Phoenix police have shot and killed three different people this month, but the first one was a white cop shooting and killing the black, unarmed Rumain Brisbon.

As Adachi pointed out, the problem is structural and everywhere, not just Ferguson or Staten Island or Cleveland or San Francisco.

According to Yolanda Jackson above, the new Executive Director of the Bar Association of San Francisco, lawyers of all stripes need to be part of the effort to change the system, and quantifying the injustice is going to be a huge part of that effort.

The vigil ended with four and a half minutes of silence on the Hall of Justice steps, in remembrance of the four and a half hours that Michael Brown was left on the streets to die in Ferguson.

I used to write more about local politics on this blog but found the provincial, corrupt San Francisco City Family too depressing to think about after a while. There are a few exceptions among San Francisco's elected officials, and Public Defender Jeff Adachi is first in line, the most admirable local politician I have met since Harvey Milk. He's smart, compassionate, honest, an inspiring leader, and a great speaker. We would be lucky to have him as Mayor of San Francisco, but that will never happen, partly because he had the temerity to point out during the last mayor's race that the current municipal compensation and pension system is unsustainable, particularly among public safety unions. You don't say those kind of things and get elected Mayor.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

12-13-14: SoundBox

Saturday night the San Francisco Symphony premiered a new "late-night, experimental music performance space" called SoundBox in a large, undecorated, 50-foot-ceiling room at the back of Davies Hall that is primarily used as a rehearsal space for the San Francisco Opera. Knowing the room well from decades of Opera rehearsals, I was dubious about the proposition, but the evening turned out to be a fun, surprising, exuberant success on every level. The enchantment started with the sunken orchestra pit at the entrance to the hall which had been transformed into a cactus garden where performers created an ambient soundscape "derived from John Cage's Branches" by manipulating amplified plants.

The sound installation was the background for the first hour of drinking and socializing in the dark, theatrically lit room with comfortable, low-to-the-ground seating, flanked by a full bar with stand-up cocktail tables on one side and two performing stages on the other side.

The larger stage was surrounded by vertical screens while a smaller stage to the side was dominated by a huge screen that created the fourth wall of the room, all of them featuring projections by Adam Larsen that were very striking without competing with the music.

The theatricality extended to the contingent from the San Francisco Symphony Chorus who arrived singing in a procession as if we were in a cathedral as they intoned ancient liturgical music by "Anonymous" and Josquin des Prez (Plainchant and Kyrie from Missa Pange lingua). The chorus then jumped in time to Panda Chant II from a 1984 science fiction opera by Meredith Monk, complete with choreographed stomping and hand jive movement.

Attention then shifted to the smaller stage where five master percussionists, including Jacob Nissly above, played Steve Reich's 1973 minimalist masterpiece Music for Pieces of Wood. Watching the intense concentration of the performers as they tried to stay in or out of phase with each other was hypnotic.

What was unexpected was how quiet and attentive the audience was throughout the musical sections, which were broken up by two long intermissions for drinking and socializing. The older audiences at Davies Hall concerts tend to be quiet but burdened with constant coughing fits, particularly this time of year, while you could hear a pin drop during most of SoundBox's Saturday performances.

At the beginning of the concert, Symphony Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas explained how dead the natural acoustics of the room usually are and how they had been enhanced by the Berkeley based Meyer Sound Constellation Acoustic System. I was dubious about this too, because I usually hate amplification of classical music and my experiences at Davies Hall whenever they have used electronics has been awful. I also wasn't that impressed with the Meyer Sound system at UC Berkeley's Zellerbach Hall. However, the discreet amplification at SoundBox was an unobtrusive marvel, especially since it changed properties for each musical number in a sort of sonic sampler.

The second act opened with the projection of a short, boring 1986 art film called Voice Windows by Steina featuring the incomparable voice of Joan La Barbara.

This was followed by the 1904 chamber piece Introduction and Allegro by Maurice Ravel played with grace and commitment by some of the finest musicians in the world about five feet from our ottomans. (Above are violinists Alexander Barantschik and Dan Carlson, violist Jonathan Vinocour, cellist Amos Yang, and clarinetist Crey Bell.)

The real star of the performance was harpist Doug Rioth above, flanked by Bell and flautist Tim Day.

Tilson Thomas then led a contingent of brass and percussionists in Varese's Integrales, a modernist landmark that sounded perfectly at home in the space. After another intermission, we were treated to the Magnificat from Monteverdi's 1610 Vespro della Beata Vergine, complete with chorus and soloists ranged around the room echoing each other as if they were in an Italian cathedral. The Meyer sound system came through again perfectly.

After a day of drunken Santas, racial justice protest, and a gay rugby tournament party (in the immortal words of Anna Russell, "I'm not making this up, you know"), this concert felt like the topping to an extraordinary San Francisco day. The SoundBox series continues with more concerts in early January, and tickets are only $25 for general admission. Click here to check it out.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

12-13-14: Racist Police Brutality Protest

There was signage at Muni stops on Market Street Saturday afternoon warning of a disruption in service because of a "possible protest."

On the walk down Polk Street to Civic Center, we passed from the world of drinking Santas into the finale of an earnest march against racist police brutality throughout the United States.

The march was one of hundreds worldwide which went under the various hashtags: #BlackLivesMatter #ICantBreathe #MillionsMarch.

The San Francisco Police presence was large enough that it almost looked like a Police Pride march...

...rather than a cry of shame at the institutional racism of police departments across the country...

...which has always existed...

...but now everyone with a mobile device is a potential George Holliday, the neighborhood videographer who captured the 1991 Rodney King beating by the LAPD.

Police departments are old fashioned and change is slow. They still haven't adjusted to the new surveillance reality, as evidenced by the recent federal court convictions of SFPD officers who stole for years from drug dealers in Tenderloin hotels while video captured their movements.

May the the kids above live to see a more just world. For more photos from inside the march, click here for Jan Adams' account.

Monday, December 15, 2014

12-13-14: Polk Street Santacon

We ate lunch Saturday at The Bell Tower on the corner of Jackson and Polk...

...which was loud and festive with Santacon revelers.

The annual free-form bar crawl seems to concentrate heavily in different San Francisco neighborhoods each year, and Polk Street seemed to be one of the major vectors of this year's edition...

...with long lines to get into bars and impromptu parties on the narrow sidewalks.

According to the 40 Going on 28 blog, Santacon is widely acknowledged to be "the Worst Thing in the World," but I always enjoy stumbling across the event.

The white frat-bro demographic can be a bit much, but they are generally cheerful and friendly...

...and there are plenty of other flavors participating.

It's nice to see people drinking together, and then walking rather than driving to their next destination...

...and the omnipresent flirting looks both sexier and more spiritually rewarding than shopping for Christmas presents in a mall.