Spring 2015



I think I ran into San Francisco's worst parking meter officer today (note how I'm so enlightened I didn't call her a meter maid).

On April 13, at around noon, I parked my piece-of-crap car off of Third Street and Mariposa (where the boats are). On one side of the street there was one of those new-fangled machines  that have replaced many parking meters. The ones where you input your parking space number and pay for your parking that way – or if there are no parking space numbers it gives you a receipt to put on your dashboard. One side of the street had the machine, the side I was on didn't. But considering how The City is always looking for a way to make a quick buck, I figured I'd ask the meter maid – uh, I mean Parking Meter Officer – or One of Those New-Fangled Machines That Have Replaced Many Parking Meters Officer – if I needed to pay for parking. Better safe than sorry, as the old maxim goes.

After asking her my slightly stupid question, I got a really stupid answer – in a loud, bombastic, hip-hop type fashion:

“It's a 2 hour zone!” She yelled, raising her arms.

I told her I knew it was a 2 hour zone. But there are signs in town indicating 2 hour zones where there is free parking, and signs indicating 2 hour zones where there is paid parking. So I needed a “Yes” or “No” answer.

“It's a 2 hour zone!” (Again with the arms).

I think I asked her a third time and got the same result. Then I tried to inspire her to give me the right answer, a la Edward James Olmos in “Stand and Deliver”:

“Come on – am I in a paid parking zone – yes or no? Nobody can be this stupid!”

But I was wrong. She was. If anyone has a Parking Meter Officer story out there worse than mine send it to:

(By the way, most parking meter officers I've encountered have either been apologetic when handing me a ticket, or politely cold in a “It's not personal, it's just business” manner. Nothing against the vast majority of you guys. Keep up the good work.)


Apologies to local filmmaker Doc Zee (who's from Pakistan and is also a doctor at UCSF, hence his nickname/stage name) for missing the February screening of his horror movie House of Temptation, which he shot in Bodega. There's an interview with the film's lovely leading lady, Jena Hunt, at Watch the movie on


Go to a search engine and read Phelim McAleer's piece about Michael Moore's 2011 book “Here Comes Trouble” at Moore claims in his book that after his movie Fahrenheit 911 was released, he had to hire former Navy SEALs to protect him from crazed right-wingers bent on his destruction. Moore details several incidents of being physically attacked and then rescued by his bodyguards.

However, McAleer investigated and found no police reports or media accounts for any of the claims made by the filmmaker.


Speaking of liars, some guy wearing a straw pork-pie hat stopped me on Market Street and told me that it was my lucky day. That he was really an incredibly wealthy man disguised as a bum, and that if I gave him $25, he would give me $10 million to repay someone with a good heart like me. As he gave me his pitch, I noticed we were standing next to San Francisco's last clock tower, the Samuels Clock, installed by Samuels Jewelers in 1915. It doesn't work despite it being a city landmark. Not only that, it's been vandalized. A letter has been posted on it from a 64 year old resident of the city admonishing the person who did it.

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Insured by Lloyd's of London! You can see a reflection of the guy in the pork-pie hat in the glass.

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Thanks to Kirsten Voss, PR rep extraordinaire, for getting me into the 25th anniversary of Cinequest, the film festival of Silicon Valley.

As usual, I just attended opening and closing nights. Which is a shame, because neither played the one film on the calendar the intrigued me, Meet the Hitlers, a documentary about people unfortunate to be born with the uber-infamous last name.

Opening night presented Batkid Begins: The Wish Heard Around the World. Remember recently when all of San Francisco stopped what it was doing to help the Make-A-Wish Foundation let a kid with leukemia pretend he was the Caped Crusader for a day? This documentary showed how all that came to be. The closest this film has to villains are some people who wrote letters to the Chronicle claiming that funds used for the stunt could have been better used elsewhere.

Closing night featured 5 to 7, about an aspiring New York writer who has an affair with the wife of a French diplomat. Initially it felt like a Woody Allen-influenced comedy (think Naked in New York starring Eric Stoltz from 20 years ago) but it really progressed beyond that. I don't think Allen, as talented as he is, could have pulled off the sad, romantic ending of this film. The closing moments of Annie Hall, and especially Manhattan, are poignant, but 5 to 7 has them beat. 

5 to 7 stars Olivia Thirlby, Anton Yelchin, Berenice Marlohe, Glenn Close, Lambert Wilson, Frank Langella, and... that's right... Eric Stoltz. The movie was directed by Victor Levin.


Also in Silicon Valley: Recently James Griffiths opened the world's first salon solely dedicated to the hair-straightening technique known as Brazilian Blowout. Now he has competition... from himself. He's opened another Brazilian Blowout Salon in downtown San Jose at 489 S. Market Street.


I rang the door buzzer of a small office in the Mission District. I asked if the Ben Manilla whose name was on the door was the same Ben Manilla who was a DJ at WLIR, the radio station I listened to in the early 1980s back in New York. It was, and Ben was nice enough to put up with me for a few minutes.

As it turns out, Ben moved out west and became a successful radio producer, responsible for the “House of Blues Radio Hour” with Dan Aykroyd (now retitled “Elwood's BluesMobile”) and “Philosophy Talk” out of Stanford University.

I listened to WLIR when it went “New Wave”around 1982. Before that it was “The  Radio Station” that played the Grateful Dead a lot. Though that was when Ben got to be the most creative. “I could play anything – like “The First Family” by Vaughan Meader, then “Breakfast at Tiffany's” by Henry Mancini, a Linda Ronstadt song, followed by Jimi Hendrix,” he recalls.

The New Wave format heralded bands like A Flock of Seagulls, The Clash, Berlin, U2, etc. It was more playlist-driven and less creative for a DJ, but – dammit – they were on a mission to bring punk-inspired music to America (or at least Long Island).

I generally preferred the UK  bands to the US ones, but Ben disagreed. To him the English ones were all alike (“Tortured British homosexuals with funny hair”) while artists like the Talking Heads, X, Patti Smith, the Blasters, and Devo represented a diverse spectrum of American music.

We were getting along fine, until I looked him in the eye and said, “Ben, I have two words for you: Dead Virgins.”

He looked puzzled and asked if they were a band.

I told him yes. They were friends of mine. I designed the cover of their record. And when they kept lobbying Ben to play them on his punk show, he told them to quit bugging him - and offered, “Maybe your mothers will listen to it!”

Ben looked more puzzled. Had I spent over 30 years tracking him down to avenge the dignity of the Dead Virgins?

No, I hadn't. As it turns out, I looked the band up online and they moved out west, too – to Utah! Regardless, if Mitt Romney had won the 2008 presidential election I don't think they would have performed at his inaugural.

Ben is a Peabody Award winner and a lecturer at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.  He's a nice guy, too (despite what the Dead Virgins think of him).


Special Supplement to the San Francisco Herald Newsletter:

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The Death of Print Media:
Could it have been stopped?

(And if so... why?)

In the mid-1990s I, like many people, was very excited about this new invention called the Internet. Or, more specifically, the World Wide Web. As someone who got his comics published in college newspapers while pursuing a useless degree, only to be shunned by newspaper editors once I graduated, I liked the idea that I could start my own online publication and not have to worry about what established newspaper publishers thought of my work. As a matter of fact, I couldn't wait until all newspapers were decimated.

Well, the buzz about the Internet killing off print wasn't really wrong, but it was early. By the late '90s newspapers were still going strong, so in 1998 I started my own paper, the San Francisco Herald.

It got off to a good start, and then hit a wall in 2001 (the recession and 9-11). After a few years of hanging in there, advertisers returned, but they wanted their ads at cheaper rates than before. I obliged. Then a year later they started dropping out. And it wasn't just happening to me, it was an industry-wide conundrum.

After breaking the Herald up into numerous micro-editions as a way to get more advertising, I finally threw in the towel a few months shy of the Herald's tenth anniversary. Other, much larger, papers have folded since then, so it was the right decision. (Not as right as never starting a paper, though).

Almost 20 years later, I think it would have been better if the Internet diminished, not decimated, the print media.

The plan was to have advertising support the digital press, just like it had the print press. But the revenue turned out to be so low for web advertising that hasn't been the case (search engines and social media best adopt ads to the net, not newspaper websites). A newspaper may save, on average, 70% of their budget by publishing online only, but they'll get only 5% to 10% of what they used to get for a print ad. (Actually, now that mobile devices have taken off, it's more like 1%.)

Web advertising has been a bust. The click-through rate for online ads is abysmal. The Internet is about you searching out information you want. You don't notice online ads the way you do print ads. But web advertising is so cheap that advertisers flock to it over print. And it doesn't help that newspapers don't make the case that print ads work better, as they're trying to sell digital ads for their websites – even thought they don't bring in enough revenue.

Reporting requires money. So here's my solution to help save newspapers: quit giving your new content away online. This 20 year old experiment of newspapers trying to make money off the web has been a failure. A newspaper website should just have old material to reference as a public service for readers. It should look like it was designed in 1997. As soon as it starts to look modern there's too much of a temptation to try to make a profit off of it. Ad revenue is so low that only global companies like Google and Facebook can make money via the web. And there's no reason to pick up the print edition of a paper if the current issue is online.

Also, it's time daily papers quit publishing daily. There are enough radio and TV stations, blogs, etc. to report up-to-the-minute news (which print can't do). Dailies should switch to publishing weekly - a thick Sunday edition with an analysis of the week's events, as opposed to churning out thinner and thinner dailies.

The Internet is a Godsend for publications that lose money in print (small magazines, company newsletters, non-profit publications, etc). It's great for uncovering news stories the mainstream press ignores. But you can over-do anything, and even thought it's pleasing  that there are less discarded pages of newspapers blowing around, littering the city, the remaining ones might as well serve a purpose.


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Photo by David at San Fran Cup Blogspot


Still experiencing withdrawals because our 48 year old “progressive” newspaper, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, ceased publication a few months ago? Well, let's give you a shot of an entertaining piece from 1999 in the New York Press titled...

A Daily Paper Buys a Weekly; Bay Guardian's Brugmann Busts a Gut

Here's the subtitle...

The Advocate Papers Have "Sold Out" to Times Mirror. But Should Anyone Care?

And here's the first paragraph from its writer, Andrey Slivka...

Bruce B. Brugmann - the cantankerous publisher and editor of the left-wing weekly San Francisco Bay Guardian- is on the phone from California, foaming at the mouth about why federal intervention's needed to stop more so-called "alternative" newspapers from selling out to big media conglomerates."The daily paper should not be allowed to buy its direct competition!" he roars. "This is a clear violation of antitrust!" he thunders.

At the end of the article, Slivka  publishes a transcript of a phone conversation he had with Brugmann. Here's an excerpt...

BB: That's not the way anti trust law works. The daily paper is buying its direct competitor. This is why it's so serious. This is a stake planted in the heart of the alternative press. Every daily paper can now go and buy its own competition, whether it's an alternative paper, a community paper, an ethnic paper, whatever. We fought this battle for years and years and years!

AS: Does that then preclude somebody starting a third paper?

BB: No! It doesn't preclude them, but it makes it extremely difficult! And then the third paper starts, and then they can buy the third paper.

AS: Good.

BB: It gives the chain the opportunity to buy out its competition, which we consider a violation of the Clayton antitrust act! That's why we... Look, g**dammit! Are you trying to get some answers, or are you just trying to be argumentative with me? I don't want to waste my time.

AS: Well, I'm not-

BB: Are you trying to be a reporter or a g**damn argumentative artist?

AS: I'm not trying to piss you off-

BB: Well, you are, because you're an a**hole the way you come on!

AS: I'm not an a**hole!



BB: Well, you sure as hell are! You sure as hell sound like it! You sure as hell aren't a reporter!

AS: We shouldn't argue about this.

BB: You don't even know...  about the federal suit in Hartford to block this?

AS: Yes, yes.

BB: Well that's good. You at least know something. I hope you put it in the paper.

AS: I just think it's different-

BB: IT'S NOT DIFFERENT, G**DAMMIT! This is buying your direct competition! You cannot buy your direct competition! And they did this quietly! There were no public hearings! It rolls through the Justice Dept., nobody writes about it! It's a scandal the way this has happened!

AS: Well, I'm not going to convince you-

BB: Hell, there's no convincing! I've been working on this issue for 33 years!

AS: I know, I know.

BB: We got a suit filed on it, and we're gonna ultimately make this an issue in Congress with the Justice Dept. and we're going ask for a moratorium on these kinds of deadly mergers and see if we can get some kind of law to protect the independent press from this kind of buyout...

AS: Isn't this just a business cycle?

BB: No! No! This is an invasion of the antitrust act! Nobody should be allowed to dominate an industry in their community like this, and certainly not the newspaper industry... Why should the city of Hartford be under the thumb of the Los Angeles Times and the city of Los Angeles, California?

AS: It doesn't need to be. I mean, information can circulate freely.

BB: Oh, bulls**t! How?

AS: Well, I thank for your time. You've been extremely helpful.

BB: Yeah, great.

And that's all he wrote. Time moves on and people mellow. Heck, Bruce mellowed so much that he eventually sold his weekly paper, the Bay Guardian, to a daily paper, the San Francisco Examiner, and retired.

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The San Francisco Herald newsletter is written and copyright 2015 by Gene Mahoney.