Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Hawk of Lincoln Park

Before Canada allowed for gay marriages, I was coupled up in the 1980s with a Canadian from Calgary named Colin Logiss (above). After five years, the long-distance love affair became insupportable in more ways than one, and we proceeded to break each other's hearts, and then not speak for ten years.

Out of the blue there was a phone call from him on Thursday evening as he was in San Francisco for the weekend and had decided to swallow his pride. After a lunch at h. Brown's wild Burrito Salon, we played golf on Friday afternoon at the Lincoln Park Municipal Golf Course, which is to soon be given away to a "private non-profit entity" by the criminally mismanaged San Francisco Recreation and Park Department.

On the cart path between the first and second holes, the largest hawk I have ever seen swooped down between us about five feet away, and gave us both the eyeball for a couple of minutes before flying away directly towards my current Domestic Partner Tony who was taking the photos. The hawk told me, "Stay alert, all of you, but learn how to forgive. And while you're at it, make sure this place isn't given away to Sean Elsbernd and his cronies." I took both messages to heart.

Friday, June 29, 2007

The $6.1 Billion San Francisco Budget Fiasco

There was a day-long Finance Committee meeting in City Hall's Board of Supervisors Chambers on Thursday which you probably won't read about in "The San Francisco Chronicle" or its website, SFGate, because they are too busy featuring writer Andrew Ross and his fellow neoconservatives calling the Board a pack of "fruits and nuts" and posing the evenhanded question for reader comments, "Are the Supervisors irrelevant as well as dysfunctional?"

The Mayor's proposed budget, which the Finance Committee has been going through department by department along with the City's Budget Analysts, is a bloated $6.1 billion for 750,000 people, the highest per capita spending of any city and county in the United States. By contrast, New York City has a budget of a little over $59 billion for 8.5 million people, 13% less per capita.

On top of this, the various departments are always crying poverty, with the police saying they don't have enough money to hire policemen and the rec and parks department saying they don't have enough money for gardeners and the department of public works saying they don't have enough money to keep the streets clean or repair potholes. What these billions of dollars are actually being used for are something of a mystery.

Part of the problem, I believe, can be laid at the feet of Willie Brown, Jr., the openly corrupt previous mayor who after decades in the California State Assembly had a lot of favors to pay off, so he hired literally thousands of people with six-figure salaries who were loyal to him. This was during the dot-com boom when there were millions of dollars flooding into the city treasury. However, the boom is long over, and most of these people are still in those positions where they will be collecting fat pensions even though they haven't improved the quality of life in San Francisco for anyone.

So every group with an issue has to come to the Board and plead with them for funds, such as Mark Grunberg above, the taxi driver activist who has had to deal with an outrageously dysfunctional commission and corrupt industry for decades.

Supervisor Chris Daly was thrown off of the committee last week after attacking Mayor Newsom in a speech about the mayor's personal hypocrisy in defunding drug abuse programs. This was done by Board President Aaron Peskin, seen above making a not-so-secret deal with the Nigerian Yomi Agunbiade who is charge of the criminally mismanaged Recreation and Parks Department.

Getting rid of Daly didn't bring universal hearts, flowers and civility to the process as Supervisor Elsbernd at one point attacked Supervisor Mirkarimi when the latter started to question some of the numbers from the Department of Telecommunicatoins and Information Services that seemed to be wildly inflated. Elsbernd said to Mirkarimi, "Give me some actual facts, not your opinion, the department spokesman is giving me a fact, and you're not." Peskin called for a reexamination of the numbers and in truth Mirkarimi was correct. They were wildly inflated, but this didn't seem to prompt any apology from Supervisor Elsbernd or the department's mendacious representative.

The only issue that Elsbernd seems to care about is giving away the Harding, Fleming and Lincoln municipal golf courses away to private entities, which from the tone of the egregious Dawn Kamalanathan from the Rec and Park Department is essentially a done deal. This is because the six municipal golf courses are a huge multi-million dollar drain on the city's treasury, not because most of them are losing money, but because the makeover of Harding Park in Elsbernd's district for a PGA tournament a few years ago was a $25 million money pit that is being absorbed by ALL the courses.

Hence, there's no way for any of them to break even, particularly since all the gardeners and resources have been directed to Elsbernd's home course, leaving the rest of the courses to rot away. Do Supervisor Elsbernd or Mr. Agunbiade show any remorse for what's happened and the lies that were told so that $20 million could be lifted from the Open Space Fund for the Harding makeover?

Of course not. Thankfully, Supervisor McGoldrick gave an impassioned speech about this giveaway of public treasures, and though he was too longwinded as usual he was also unusually eloquent.

"What the Recreation and Parks Department is essentially saying," he stated, "is that we don't know how to run golf courses so let's just throw up our hands and do nothing while we give away historic, public treasures. This is a disgrace."

And it is.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Pallid Prokofiev Piano Festival

After their nine month season is finished at the end of May, the San Francisco Symphony puts on an annual "festival" around a different theme each year during the month of June.

The best and most exciting festival was one of the first in Michael Tilson Thomas' tenure, called "American Mavericks," that started with an audience participation version of Terry Riley's "In C" and included huge chunks of wild American music that is rarely heard in American concert halls.

This year the two-week festival was called "Russian Firebrand, Russian Virtuoso: The Music of Prokofiev" that included all five piano concertos being played by four different Russian/Ukranian pianists. The announcement of this weirdly titled series appeared rather late in the season, and had the feeling of a thrown-together-at-the-last-minute affair that was being marketed to the huge new wave of Russian Jewish immigrants who have moved to San Francisco in the last decade.

It's not as if the Prokofiev piano concertos are exactly rare at regular symphony concerts, so I was hoping for some obscure pieces to accompany them, but for the most it was the same old chestnuts like "Lt. Kije" and "Romeo and Juliet" and "Cinderella" ballet music. This was a real shame since a lot of Prokofiev is still being discovered. His absolutely brilliant opera from the 1930s, "The Fiery Angel," wasn't performed in Russia until the late 1980s, for instance, in a wonderful production that traveled to the San Francisco Opera in the early 1990s with a young Gergiev conducting. This brings me to the real problem I had with the Saturday night and Sunday afternoon performances I heard this weekend, which is that Tilson Thomas' conducting of Prokofiev's music sucked. The composer, particularly in his early work, is sardonic and rhythmic in about equal measure and I figured this would be right up Tilson Thomas' alley, but it wasn't, and his rhythms in both concerts were slightly flaccid and schmaltzy when they should have been driven and witty.

The best parts of both concerts were the solo recitals by the pianists in "pre-concerts" held an hour before the main event. Mikhail Rudy played a lovely selection from the early "Visions Fugitives" by Prokofiev and followed it with one of the most hilariously vulgar piano pieces I've heard in my life, a transcription of scenes from Stravinsky's ballet "Petrushka" that was written by Stravinsky for Arthur Rubenstein along with a few additional movements written by the pianist Rudy himself.

The next afternoon's concert had the young Ilya Yakushev playing "The Corelli Variations" by Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev's short Piano Sonata No. 3, and he was sensationally good. It even made up for all his missed notes in the previous evening's mediocre rendition of Prokofiev's First Piano Concerto, which is one of my favorite pieces of music in the entire world, with its unbridled 19-year-old's funny and sexy energy. (I'm not alone. Charles Amirkhanian, the Other Minds Festival Music Director -- click here -- came bounding out of the hall going, "Isn't that music just the greatest?") Yakushev then started the main concert with Prokofiev's final Piano Sonata No. 7 and continued with a fine rendition of the Piano Concerto No. 4 for Left Hand.

The second half was devoted to a choral piece from 1917 called "Seven, They are Seven" which runs for, yes, seven minutes and sounds like a warm-up for the fabulous, insane and demonic finale to his opera "The Fiery Angel." However, instead of actually performing something interesting like the final act of "The Fiery Angel" with its chorus of nuns going insane in staccatto High C's punctuated by a Bass Grand Inquisitor and an orchestra gone completely mad, Tilson Thomas and the Symphony played "The Scythian Suite," which couldn't have been more boring. The fact that MTT openly expressed his contempt for the music in remarks to the audience before the second half just made it worse. Plus, watching a huge chorus sitting in the back of the orchestra going unused except for seven minutes during the entire afternoon seemed like a really stupid waste of resources.

So here's a note to the symphony management. If you're going to have a "festival," please try to make it something out of the ordinary. This was just dull, and Prokofiev is anything but.

Besides the piano recitals, the highlight of the weekend was finally running into Patrick Vaz who writes the culture blog "The Reverberate Hills" (click here). And for your Culture Vulture Tip of The Moment, the real classical music excitement this June has been at the opera house rather than the symphony. I saw "Iphigenie en Tauride" for the second time Tuesday evening, and it was even better than the week before. There is only one more performance, this Friday at 8PM, and if you want to keep your Bay Area cultural connoisseur credentials, you better see it before the run is over. And if you don't believe me, go over to The Standing Room, and M.C- will tell you the same thing (click here).

Monday, June 25, 2007

San Francisco Police Story

There is something very wrong with the San Francisco Police Department at the present moment, and I don't have a clue as to the real reasons.

However, just about every person I know in San Francisco, of all political stripes, feels the same way and that opinion is reaching some kind of critical mass, which the police department and the politicians are ignoring at their own peril.

At the Saturday Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market, in the streetcar mess in the middle, a policeman had stopped a street musician who was drumming on plastic pails in a brilliantly entertaining manner that was not only skillful but charming, and there were a score of people watching him. (And damn you, Willie Brown, for not putting the effing cars underground as somebody proposed at the time this area was being redone, so there would now be a real public pedestrian plaza.)

The crowd started to boo the cop and I heard people muttering, "why the hell don't you go find a real criminal?"

In San Francisco, it feels like the cops have become full-time goldbrickers who only show their faces during large public gatherings, where they mostly ignore the public and create their own little bubbles of privacy.

There's a "Memorandum of Understanding" before the Board of Supervisors currently up for a new contract with the police department that includes an outrageous 24.5% raise and a whole bunch of other goodies and the entire deal is being slipped under the radar. On Tuesday morning at 10AM there is a Public Safety Committee meeting in Room 263 where the MOU, as the acronym goes, is going to be discussed.

In front of my apartment building, a block away from City Hall, we are greeted every morning by the sparkly, beautiful sight of broken glass on the sidewalk from car break-ins overnight. If there are nightly car break-ins, it would seem wise to possibly have a police stakeout in the neighborhood, but to my knowledge that has never been done. In fact, I recently watched a mugging in front of the San Francisco School Board building across the street while a police car drove slowly by, completely oblivious.

My friend Marc Salomon has sent out the following political analysis, and it pretty much says it all. Do read if you're interested.

1. The MOU includes a 24.5% raise over 4 years based on performance. There are no objective standards for performance nor are there prohibitions on giving officers with past records of discipline and legal settlements big raises. This rewards bad cops as well as good cops.

2. The MOU carries forth language from the previous agreement which allows the POA to call for contract renegotiation whenever the Police Commission changes the departmental general orders. That language should be restricted to only requiring "meet and confer" in the cases mandated by state law, no more.

3. The MOU offers up $20,000 gifts to officers for down payments on homes in San Francisco. We all want cops to live in the City, but no other down payment assistance programs in the City offer up grants rather loans to be repaid upon sale of the dwelling. The MOU should offer loans of twice as much, $40,000 to facilitate officers to move to the City. Let's save the gifts for the City's lowest paid workers, not the highest.

4. The MOU current runs for four years, being renegotiated during mayoral election season. The current MOU was one of Willie Brown's last acts as mayor. The MOU should be slated to be renegotiated during a year when the Mayor and Supervisors are not on the ballot. This MOU should run for 2 years and for four years subsequently after that.

5. The MOU needs to include language which requires the officers to seek and receive affirmative civilian permission to cooperate with the state and federal government law enforcement agencies such as the Interagency Task Force in prosecuting federal and state marijuana and immigration laws.

6. The MOU claims that the reason why the SFPD cannot recruit cops is because of low pay but this ignores the fact that the department is in turmoil, its reputation precedes it, and that is a reason as much as money for poor recruitment and retention.

7. The MOU needs to include language which creates two career paths based on where the officer lives. While resident in San Francisco, advancement would be faster, while living outside the city, advancement would be slower.

8. There has not been budget analysis on the impacts of a 24.5% raise on the liability of the City retirement fund in the out years. Officers retire making 90% of their last salary. How does this impact revenues and expenditures in the "out years?"

Marching With Corazon

When a heterosexual buddy asked if we wanted to watch the Gay Pride Parade on Sunday with him...

...I replied, "God, no, it's way too long and boring. Let's march in it instead."

So, a trio of us headed for the headwaters of the parade at Spear and Market, checking out all the people queueing up, with politicians standing in vehicles, scantily clad dancers on floats, and earnest organizations proclaiming they were gay/lesbian/transgender, etc.

After decades of putting up with stops for traffic crossing Market Street, the parade finally moves without interruption, but the various contingents still seem to have a hard time keeping together... that there are occasional huge gaps where the three of us found ourselves the star attraction as we hurried to catch up with the next group.

Our goal was to find the float with the best live music and march alongside them...

...and we eventually found it in the "Corazon de Mision" (Heart of the Mission) contingent...

...with its beautiful musicians...

...of every color and gender...

...banging out the beat for wonderful dancers.

At the end of the parade, I asked a policeman why he had imprisoned all the people on the other side of the fence, and he said, "They think it's you that's in prison but I guess it's all a matter of perspective."

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Commodification of Gaylandia

The Gay Pride Weekend's invasion of the Civic Center neighborhood was heralded by a rainbow color scheme at the San Francisco Opera House Friday night.

On Saturday morning, the tents and booths and $5 donation gauntlets were being set up all over the neighborhood. When I asked the greeter if he was trying to profit off of my fabulous homosexuality, he laughed and I continued freely on my way home through the plaza.

The commodification of the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender/questioning/what-have-you scene has been going on for many years, but it really is beginning to hit new levels of absurdity.

For instance, what in god's name is a "Gay Home Loan" and how is it different from, say, a Jewish or a Chicano Home Loan?

Then there's the relentless cheap liquor marketing...

...along with calling plans that were using a small army of beautiful young salespeople who didn't look particularly gay, which in itself was fairly heartening.

In the middle of Civic Center Plaza, Cheer was practicing. This is yet another organization that started in the fertile period of the late 1970s and early 1980s when affinity groups galore were being created. It began as a few gay boys from Hayward who used to be high school cheerleaders, and over the years has morphed into a huge collection of ex-high school cheerleaders of all genders and sexual preferences who just want to have fun.

Also staring down at the Civic Center is the large Pink Triangle on Twin Peaks which is supposed to make us think about being victimized Homos in the Nazi era, but instead reminds me of a nice, iconic representation of a woman's private parts, and you can come up with your own name for them yourself.