Saturday, May 30, 2009

Budget Tsunami 1: a-g

While hundreds of people were massing for a protest at City Hall on Tuesday evening over the Proposition 8 ruling, dozens of high school students were staging a rally at San Francisco Unified School District Headquarters demanding "a-g" classes be available to all students.

Thoroughly mystified by the term "a-g," I discovered that it stood for University of California class requirements in seven categories: a) History/Social Science; b) English; c) Mathematics; d) Lab Science; e) Language Other than English; f) Visual and Performing Arts; g) College Prep Elective. It seems that a number of high schools in San Francisco aren't offering these classes to their students, thereby taking them out of the university track.

The student protestors were charming, though I pitied them on two levels: first, that they were stuck in high school; and second, the California budget collapse is about to hit the school system harder than anybody can imagine. They'll be lucky if they are offered a-c classes, let alone d-g, particularly in San Francisco where people of means send their kids to private schools and don't give a fig about the poorer kids around them.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Schubert and Berg, Together At Last

Michael Tilson Thomas' annual three-week "Festival" with the San Francisco Symphony is devoted to two Viennese composers, Franz Schubert and Alban Berg, who span the forming of the Austrian Empire, the subsequent Austro-Hungarian Empire and the total dissolution of Austria and Vienna as a world power.

In an entertaining interview (click here) with the mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung, who sang Berg's "Seven Early Songs," Cedric asked her:
You sang Schubert here with MTT, and now you're doing Berg, as part of the Schubert and Berg Journey. Do you see the connection?

It's hard to say. Obviously, MTT has some connection in mind, which is why he's doing it. I personally don't know what it is. I'm anxious to hear it and talk to him about it.

I believe the reason is that Tilson Thomas probably just loves the music of both composers, and Schubert is meant to balance out the harsh dissonances of Berg. The only problem is that I don't much care for the way Tilson Thomas conducts Schubert who has never been a favorite composer anyway. Though it would have been a harder sell, I wish he had just gone all the way and given a Second Viennese School Festival with Schoenberg and Webern in all their dissonant scariness.

Michelle DeYoung, looking like an Amazon and exuding energy to the rafters, was a thrilling, exquisite soloist. Though I'm not a big lieder fan, she had everyone convinced that what she was singing was of the utmost importance.

At intermission, I stumbled across The Blogger Table with the Opera Tattler in modified dirndl drag (click here), The Ambassador (click here), and Axel Feldheim (click here), all of whom have written about last night's concert using their Robert Louis Stevenson secret society pseudonyms.

The second half of the concert consisted of Schubert's "Unfinished" Symphony and Berg's "Three Pieces for Orchestra" (Monster Orchestra above!), and we all basically agreed. The Schubert wasn't a success but the Berg was awesome.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The MTA Budget Controversy at the Supes

A special Board of Supervisors meeting was held at noon today to discuss whether or not to reject the Metropolitan Transit Authority's upcoming budget which relies on 25% fare hikes to its customers along with reduced service.

The new Board of Supervisors president David Chiu was the first to bring up the idea of rejection because the Mayor's Office has been using the MTA as its personal cash cow, authorizing work orders for everything from salaries for Newsom's "environmental" aides to $80 million in compensation towards the San Francisco Police Department for vague, undefined, nonexistent security.

The board was split pretty evenly between those who don't give a damn about their constituents who ride Muni and those who do, so I asked Hope Johnson (above) what was going to happen. "It all comes down to Sophie Maxwell. She's the swing vote. Everything else is just posturing."

As usual, Hope was absolutely correct. Supervisor Avalos, who had marched over to Nathaniel Ford's offices a couple of weeks ago demanding a more transit-friendly budget, started off with a grandstanding speech about "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" which didn't make a lot of allegorical sense.

Then it was time for Nathaniel Ford, the $350,000+ Executive Director of the MTA to tell us what had changed in the budget since last week's Board of Supervisors meeting, which turned out to be virtually nothing.

His mendacious presentation, delivered in fluent bureaucratese, was followed by a presentation from MTA Board Chairman Tom Nolan, who is originally from the Peninsula where the car is king. (For some background on how we got here, click here for an article in Streetsblog by Bryan Goebel and click here for an article by Marc Norton on how the $2 fare has been planned for years.)

After speeches by Supervisors Ross Mirkarimi, Eric Mar and David Campos on why the MTA budget was a disaster, Sophie Maxwell stood up and complimented her "colleagues on feeling so passionate about this subject." However, she had obviously been "persuaded" somehow before the meeting to vote with the old power structure, and she then proceeded to stab her colleagues and all of her constituents in the back.

Supervisor Chris Daly, sitting next to Maxwell, had kept his mouth shut throughout the entire meeting but his colleague's speech obviously stretched whatever patience he was displaying so he slipped around the back of the chamber and went to joke quietly with the press section.

As bad as Maxwell's speech was, the vote and speech from Board President David Chiu was worse. Since his initial challenge of the MTA budget, Mr. Chiu has been weaseling his votes this way and that in one committee or another, and today was no different. He started by proclaiming that he was the only one who didn't have a car and who dependended on Muni for transportation, and that the Board had managed $30 million in concessions during this MTA budget controversy which was a new record. In truth, he has been playing both sides against the middle, and who got shafted were the citizens of San Francisco (click here for Greg Dewar's rant on this point at N Judah Chronicles).

Whenever I go to City Hall to buy my 25% more expensive Fast Pass every month, I'll be sure to remember Mr. Chiu and Ms. Maxwell along with Supervisors Bevan Dufty, Sean Elsbernd, Carmen Chu, and Michaela Alioto-Pier who was smiling and giggling in her wheelchair during most of the meeting.

Above all, I will be thinking of our phony baloney environmental Mayor Newsom and his retinue of chauffeurs and guards.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Prop 8 Arrests at Grove and Van Ness

At 12:30 PM, a homophobic minister (above) was being screamed at by a small horde of angry people... he crossed McAllister and Van Ness right in front of the California Public Utilities Commission building...

...with the state seal at its entrance which is always handy for media video crews.

The action at Grove and Van Ness had turned into a long, slow arrest process...

...of mostly young people sitting in the intersection.

A good klezmer trio was playing in front of Davies Symphony Hall while the brilliant lawyer David Waggoner (below) sat nearby and watched the show.

There are plans for a march from City Hall to Yerba Buena Center downtown at 5PM this evening which makes no sense symbolically at all. Are people supposed to be protesting bad modern art at MOMA and the Contemporary Jewish Museum, rich people who live at the Ritz-Carlton Residences, or what?

It would make a lot more sense to march to the home of San Francisco Archbishop Niederauer who helped organize the Mormon campaign for Proposition 8. It's also way past time to stop giving a dime of city and county money to the Catholic Charities organization, an issue you might want to talk about with your City Supervisor.

Shutting Down Van Ness for Proposition 8

The news choppers were circling the Civic Center area to pick up coverage for their noon broadcasts...

...of civil disobedience action at the intersections of Grove Street and Van Ness Avenue...

...where traffic was being diverted for the protest.

The organizers of this protest had set up arrangements with the police department at least a week ago...

...and the entire affair was about as nonconfrontational as a traffic blocking protest could be...

...with the police even providing a wheelchair for a protestor who seemed to need it.

The Proposition 8 Ruling in San Francisco

A crowd of a couple of thousand people gathered in front of the California Supreme Court on McAllister Street Tuesday morning.

They were there for the announcement of the court's ruling on the constitutionality of Proposition 8...

...and from the looks on most people's faces, it was obvious the court had ruled to uphold the proposition making it California law that "marriage is between one man and one woman."

They also upheld the same-sex marriages carried out between their initial ruling and the passage of Proposition 8 which feels a bit like Solomon insisting on a child being split in half so both competing mothers can have a piece.

There were protestors of every shape and size...

...including the religious zealots who believe they are a bulwark against "The Homosexual Agenda."

Mostly, it was a media clusterfuck with thousands of cameras of every variety being pointed at everyone else.

Even would-be blogger and former Chronicle editor Phil Bronstein made a cameo appearance.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Birthday at the Mercury Lounge

The third in the "Davies After Hours" series of post-symphony parties at Davies Hall took place Friday night, and I pretended that the entire affair was being put on specifically to celebrate my birthday.

Louisa Spier and all the people in the San Francisco Symphony P.R. department played along, even presenting a cool birthday present and card.

This was an embarrassingly welcome gesture since I had spent the day clinically depressed, wondering why the world didn't stop in its tracks to worship me, a pathology probably brought on by a fifth year birthday party which was so spectacular that everything since has been a profound disappointment.

As Beth Spotswood wrote, "I have a bunch of friends who aren't wild about their birthdays. I don't get it. You know me. I love my birthday. It's like Christmas and I'm Jesus." Beth is proactive about being worshiped on her special day, however, while I lean towards major self-pity.

The party itself, billed as "Mercury Lounge," was a wonderful success with some of the most interesting music I've heard in Davies Hall.

It was a mixture of Benjamin Schwartz, the soon to depart leader of the Youth Orchestra...

...conducting live music by Luciano Berio ("Call"), John Luther Adams ("The Light Within"), and Steve Reich ("Eight Lines")...

...and composer Mason Bates playing DJ between musical sets.

Though I'm not a big fan of techno music, the ambient sound was perfect for a party, and the live performances were superb.

The secret to enjoying these parties, I was told and it was true, is to go somewhere else for the first thirty minutes and then join the party on the upper terrace when the crowd thins out and you can hang out with beautiful hipsters in comfort.