Sunday, October 31, 2010

Ulmer vs. Nava and the Judicial Shakedown

Peter Keane (above) is one of the most respected and accomplished legal scholars in the country. He served as Dean of the Golden Gate University School of Law from 1998 to 2003, was president of the San Francisco Bar Association, Vice-President of the California Bar Association, and has provided legal commentary for everyone from NPR to CNN. Last Friday, the San Francisco Chronicle published an "Open Forum" op-ed by Mr. Keane where he accused the San Francisco judiciary of "borderline ethical (if not downright unethical) campaign tactics by San Francisco judges to elect Ulmer." (Click here for a link to the whole article.)

Keane prefaces his accusation with the following:
"First, put aside whether you favor incumbent Superior Court Judge Richard Ulmer or challenger Michael Nava (above). Whoever the voters choose is qualified and will be a fine, capable judge."
Keane voted for Ulmer in the primary election but has decided to change his vote to Nava this Tuesday because:
"With lockstep unanimity, the judges of the San Francisco Superior Court have savaged the democratic process and cheapened the important principle of protecting the independence of the judiciary. To their personal discredit, they have done this out of a self-serving fear that potential competitors will run against them and that the voters might legitimately and democratically decide that others are better qualified to serve."

Keane continues:
"Last summer, all former bar presidents and I received a cryptic e-mail from Presiding Judge James McBride speaking for the entire court. It urgently summoned us to a meeting in the conference room of a prominent downtown law firm for the evening of July 7...

At the meeting, McBride and a delegation of other judges, announced that they spoke for all of the judges of the San Francisco Superior Court. They proclaimed that a Nava victory would be the destruction of judicial independence in San Francisco...

But that was not the most distressing part of the meeting. The bar presidents were then given marching orders by the judges to raise $350,000 to defeat Nava.

Remember now that present in that room was the top legal establishment of San Francisco. These were the heads of virtually every large, wealthy San Francisco law firm. The lawyers of those firms appear every day before San Francisco Superior Court judges in cases where huge amounts of money are at stake. Every lawyer in that room understood how essential the goodwill of San Francisco Superior Court judges is to the prosperity of their practices and to the success of each individual firm member.

This was a shakedown."

As commenter cosmo wrote, "It's really amazing--lawyers NEVER use this kind of language, so when a mainstream guy like Keane does, it carries extra force."

The San Francisco Chronicle has endorsed Ulmer over Nava, but I would urge you to do the opposite. Nava is thoroughly qualified to be a Superior Court judge after a long and varied legal career, but he's not a member of this self-selected club, which only increases the prospect that he will embody true "judicial independence." Above all, Mr. Keane is to be thanked for speaking out from behind a wall of judicial silence. He's a salutary example of what a professor of legal ethics should be.

Friday, October 29, 2010

SFMOMA's The Art of Looking 1: Exposed

Two huge, traveling photography exhibits are opening this Saturday at SFMOMA.

There was a press preview on Wednesday morning, complete with delicious refreshments that included a bacon clothesline.

On Thursday afternoon I published a two-part post about the exhibits but took them down for revision on Friday at the request of the p.r. department at SFMOMA. They asked me to do so because of possible copyright violations, admitting they had wanted to use several of the images I'd put in the earlier posts, but hadn't even received permission themselves. They were very apologetic and polite, but firm.

At the Asian Art Museum press previews, photography of traveling exhibits is encouraged to help boost attendance, and I'm not quite sure why that shouldn't be the case for SFMOMA in the twenty-first century. I don't think it's the museum's fault, by the way, but instead the copyright holders who want to absolutely control the distribution of imagery even though that horse is already out of the barn thanks to the internet. I understand wanting to make sure nobody is profiting off of one's work and imagery, but the images I am publishing on a noncommercial site are 400 pixels wide, which is completely useless for any form of reproduction.

SFMOMA's Sandra Phillips (above) co-curated "Exposed," which is on the fourth floor of the museum, with Simon Baker at London's Tate Museum, where this exhibit originated earlier this year, and Ms. Philipps confessed that the show is a bit "creepy."

According to the press release, "Exposed traces how voyeuristic observation with cameras in the 19th century influenced street photography in the 20th century...Exposed highlights five types of voyeuristic photographs: street photography; the sexually explicit pictures normally associated with voyeurism; celebrity stalking; photographs of death and violence; and surveillance in its many forms."

There is signage everywhere warning that this show probably shouldn't be seen by children, and for once they're not exaggerating.

From Nan Goldin's "Ballad of Sexual Dependency" (above) slide show to Larry Clark's obsession with teenage lust and Robert Mapplethorpe's fixation on black penis, there are a lot of sexually explicit images.

Much more disturbing, though, are the explicitly violent images, and most of them don't end happily like Enrique Metinides' 1971 "Suicide Rescue..." above.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

SFMOMA's The Art of Looking 2: Henri Cartier-Bresson

Henri Cartier-Bresson was a patrician "puritan pacifist," born to a wealthy family in France in 1908 and dying in the same country in 2004 after a long life as a gypsy photojournalist all over the world. He was possibly the greatest photographer in history, an artist who forged a combination of snapshots that he called "decisive moments" with astonishingly beautiful and sophisticated compositions.

HCB was the eldest of five sons of a wealthy textile manufacturer in Normandy who rebelled at joining the family business, tried to become a painter, had a doomed affair with Caresse Crosby who was the quintessential Bostonian Lost Generation expat in Paris, went to Africa and almost died of fever, and in the decisive moment of his life, met the young photographers David Seymour (the Polish David Szymin) and Robert Capa (the Hungarian Endre Friedmann).

After documenting the 1930s and World War Two separately, they formed a photojournalism agency in 1947 called Magnum which initiated the revolutionary concept of photographers owning the rights to their own images and having some control over them, rather than being at the mercy of magazine and newspaper publishers. A book and exhibit in the late 1980s commemorating the agency (above) is extraordinary, but even amongst the dozens of great photographers, two stick out as being in a different league altogether: Henri Cartier-Bresson and Sebastiao Salgado.

The current exhibit of over 300 prints at SFMOMA was culled from the collection of the Foundation Henri-Cartier Bresson which is run by his second wife, Martine Franck (above), who was also a Magnum photographer.

If there is any disappointment in the exhibit, it is that the prints are older and small.

The MOMA photography curator, Peter Galassi (above left, talking to a Coastal Travel reporter), curated the show in New York, and explained that the large-scale prints we see at museum exhibits are a fairly recent phenomenon, and that these prints were all archival, hence their size.

The exhibit wanders all over the globe and time, from the early 1930s to the late 1980s. There are sections devoted to photojournalism and portraiture, along with portraits of Soviet Russia and Communist China alongside an early 1960s corporate report photo shoot for a New York City bank.

The art critic in The New Yorker magazine, Peter Schjeldahl, reviewed the show in April when it opened in New York, and had a few major reservations:
"The problem of Cartier-Bresson’s art is the conjunction of aesthetic classicism and journalistic protocol: timeless truth and breaking news. He rendered a world that, set forth at MOMA by the museum’s chief curator of photography, Peter Galassi, richly satisfies the eye and the mind, while numbing the heart."
Be that as it may, Henri Cartier-Bresson was god, and the inspiration for more good (and bad) photographers than probably any other person in history. You should check out the show.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Giants World Series

I twice went to the World Series to see the same game, and yes, it was in 1989 when the Loma Prieta earthquake halted the miserable series sweep by the juiced-up Bash Brothers from the Oakland A's. Let us fervently pray that things go a bit better this time around.

After watching Candlestick Park turn into a wiggling jello mold while standing in a beer line twenty years ago, the desire to be in a sold-out stadium has never really returned. For those going to the games, have a great time. I'll be haunting one-story public taverns around town instead.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Night/Light in City Hall's Basement

Anchored by Stephen Thomson's now-iconic 2006 photo above, "Raccoons at the Legion of Honor," the San Francisco Art Commission and PhotoAlliance has installed an exhibit of night photography by a host of local artists in City Hall's basement.

The lighting is too bright and reflective in the ugly corridors near the Department of Elections, but the photographs are mostly wonderful, including Vanessa Marsh's eerie outdoor photographs (above) that look like an updated version of Bergman's "The Seventh Seal" procession.

Oren Lukitz (above) has a trio of night shots on public beaches...

...Cynthia Wood captures "Nana" exhaling (above) and Lenny Greenwald (below) has a whole series of spooky photos taken on the abandoned Naval base of Mare Island.

The place looks genuinely haunted.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Post-Impressionist Russians at Stow Lake

Part two of the Musee d'Orsay collection of Impressionist paintings has been installed in the touring exhibits basement of the de Young museum.

I visited the exhibit a couple of weeks ago with the painter David Barnard. He has a membership so we didn't have to pay the $20-$25 surcharge the museum is extracting from the public.

When we visited part one of the exhibit in the summer, the crowds and claustrophobia were intense but bearable. However, this time the smallness and darkness of the rooms, coupled with the hordes of patrons bumping into each other while staring at the multimillion dollar paintings, almost sent me into a panic attack.

I lasted about fifteen minutes before fleeing into the surrounding Golden Gate Park on a beautiful afternoon, ending up at Stow Lake nearby.

There are still a few joggers who use the paths around Stow Lake as a track for their exercise routines, but the vast majority of people on a weekday afternoon were Russian senior citizens.

Though a few of them had grandchildren in tow, most of the grizzled old characters were sitting on benches and gossiping with each other in Russian while casting suspicious glances at people like me. With the crumbling Stow Lake wooden boathouse selling ancient snacks in the background, the scene looks like a decaying Black Sea resort straight out of a Cold War era John Le Carre novel.

In the ten years I have been taking candid photos of virtual strangers in San Francisco, the people who most consistently object and shoot dirty looks at me have been Russian emigres. There's probably a good reason for that, having to do with coming from a surveillance culture, so I didn't take their pictures this afternoon.

If you do go to the clunkily titled "Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne and Beyond: Post-Impressionist Masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay," the best stuff is in the middle of the exhibit, with three separate rooms devoted to very famous paintings by each of the title artists. The quality level then falls precipitously, with the exception of my favorite painting in the exhibit, Henri Rosseau's "The Snake Charmer" (below).

In person, it is much larger and more explicitly erotic than you'd imagine. It's almost worth enduring the physical hell of the exhibit.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Giants Baseball by the Bay

There are occasional days when it feels like a privilege to live in San Francisco, and Tuesday afternoon was one of them.

After watching the first couple of innings in Game 3 between the Giants and the Phillies at home, I jumped on a bus from Civic Center to South of Market for a more communal viewing experience.

The Giants scored their only three runs while I was being slowly conveyed by Muni, but that made lunch at Zeke's Sports Bar on 3rd and Brannan less stressful. The place was crowded with fans playing hooky from work, the female staff was a kick, and the hamburger was delicious.

Brian Wilson, the closing pitcher with the dyed beard for the Giants, went in at the top of the ninth inning with the score 3-0, and I decided to catch the finale at the ballpark two blocks away.

Just rounding the corner of the stadium as the Phillies hit into a game-ending double play, I watched a rainbow appear and fireworks go off.

The crowd was so ecstatic they looked as if they would levitate.

The mood was surprisingly mellow, and security even let me into the stadium to use the bathroom without a ticket.

The bathroom line was something else, though, and a few guys such as the gentleman above simply peed on the wall of the facilities.

Thousands of people walked along the Embarcadero towards the Ferry Building after the game, creating a makeshift parade and party.

The Hi-Dive saloon along the waterfront was soon jammed with revelers, including the mother and son reunion above.

A ride on the Sausalito Ferry seemed a perfect way to end the unspeakably beautiful day.

And then the Giants did it again Wednesday night in a knockdown, dragout 6-5 win. I wonder what will happen today.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Portrero Hill Festival 2: Politicking

The Michael Nava campaign for San Francisco Superior Court Judge joined the Potrero Hill Democratic Club booth at the festival on Saturday, joining a huge slew of candidates working the streets, such as Margaret Brodkin (below).

Brodkin is running for School Board in November, after being dismissed rather shabbily by Mayor Newsom from the Department of Children, Youth and Families last year.

Nava's campaign has picked up support from just about every group in San Francisco except for the Republican Party, the sitting judiciary who don't believe they should be forced to engage in elections at all, and the local dead-tree dailies. The latter have instructed their respective attack dogs, C.W. Nevius and Ken Garcia, to demean and belittle Nava in their opinion columns as often as possible.

The San Francisco Chronicle has also endorsed former BART board member Lynette Sweet for District 10 Supervisor, which encompasses the southeast waterfront from Potrero Hill to Bayview/Hunters Point. The endorsement is in spite of Ms. Sweet's well-documented ethical challenges, and is probably because she can be trusted to do whatever the old power structure of San Francisco wants her to do.

Though she has a campaign headquarters at the bottom of Potrero Hill, I didn't see Ms. Sweet at the festival, but did run into DeWitt Lacey (above), who has been endorsed by the San Francisco Democratic Party.

Steve Moss (not pictured), who has lately been demonized in the Bay Guardian weekly, was wandering around...

...while Community College Trustee and District 10 candidate Chris Jackson photogenically posed in front of appropriate signage.

I have no idea who you should vote for in District 10, and in fact am still ambivalent about my own District 6. Do vote for my friend Michael Nava for Superior Court judge, though. He will make a great jurist.