Archive | September, 2010

My Pressi Espresso Goes Anywhere

Posted on 21 September 2010 by John Rippo

Talk about brilliant. The My Pressi is a portable espresso machine that can pull a credible shot—once you know how to finesse the machine—and can go anywhere.

Imagine finishing off a fine picnic lunch with a double, or perhaps offering a credible espresso to your friends at a concert. This little jewel can make it happen.

The My Pressi is merely a water reservoir that sits atop a group head. The coffee container in the group head can take pods, or a stainless steel basket that yields a single shot or a double. Power comes from a CO2 cartridge in the handle and the whole thing is brought to life by a trigger beneath the handle. It’s an elegant piece of design and fits the hand well, for the most part.

Right out of the box, we got our test model up and running in short order. The My Pressi comes with everything needed to do the job; especially welcome is the plastic tamp that fits the group head perfectly. We started with a Yrgacheffe that we ground a bit finer than we might have otherwise, and we quickly discovered that the My Pressi tends to like finer grinds than other, bigger machines might. The tamp is critical, too. A firm plunge finished by a smooth twist to the left paved the basket. It’s important to wipe away any loose grounds that ride atop the basket lip to ensure a good fit between the halves of the machine, and as we quickly found, the machine is much more dependable when using the double basket rather than the single. Though it has an optional pod case, we think of espresso pods the way we think of tea bags—strictly for amateurs.

Assemble the group head into the frame, place the water chamber on top–and pre-heat the chamber to 200 degrees. Pour out the water, replenish with water at boiling point and let go with the trigger. Don’t miss the cups. That’s all there is to it. After a few seconds, a gentle hiss is heard, followed by a trickle of thick, syrupy espresso into the cups. A 20 or 21 second shot yields a double or two singles with generous crema and fine form that taste like an espresso. We were impressed.

Like any micro maker, the My Pressi demands patience and finesse from its operator. For flawless function, it has to be kept thoroughly clean between shots since the slightest grounds left lurking anywhere will spoil the next shot or at least rob the cartridge of pressure. It comes with six CO2 cartridges and we think CO2 is the best to use, though nitrous oxide can be substituted, who wants espresso to taste like laughing gas? It has to be carefully manipulated so as not to damage the threads holding the halves of the brew head onto the frame or the rear screw onto the handle, and to do this properly for repeated use, the operator will need an oven mitt, since the metal water chamber stays hot once it gets that way. And you have to watch how tightly you twist the screw onto the handle, too. Too much pressure will needlessly strain the CO2 cartridge. Also, there is the trigger–the one serious weakness of this design. The trigger is not only permanently exposed, but its incredibly easy to touch it off when you don’t want to; this can be messy or at least embarrassing and once the brew head is loaded and the water reservoir is filled, you’re committed, since without a safety of any kind, you can’ t put the machine down without risk of discharge. Like handling a gun, it’s best to keep the trigger finger extended alongside the grip right up to the moment of discharging the shot.

We think the My Pressi needs some accessories to make it completely portable, it ought to have a kettle, heating element, grinder, stand and coffee bean bin and plenty of rags to clean it with. These things can be put together on one’s own of course, but a matched set of all the needed components in a carrying case would add to the machine’s cache even as it bumps up the price. Ours retails for around $170, give or take a few bucks and with reasonable care it should last a long time.

Overall, the My Pressi is perhaps the best of its class we’ve seen. It actually does what it is supposed to do and it does it with reasonable ease of effort, too. Once accessorized, it’s just the thing for home, home office or travel, and the price point is reasonable. Find it at MyPressi.com.

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CD: Enrique Domas–Fire with a Gypsy Heart & Flamenco Soul

Posted on 21 September 2010 by John Rippo

Enrique Domás isn’t really Spanish, but he should be. He’s an accomplished guitarist with an operatic background that brings a whole new take on ancient Flamenco music. For one, his lyrics are in English of all things, and this is a pleasant surprise, though on first listen it’s a bit disconcerting.
As if that weren’t enough, Domás comes from Phoenix, didn’t study the guitar until he was 28 and had no teachers of Flamenco nearby. So he taught himself about the art form and eventually wound up in Spain where he likely impressed the original originators on their home turf. His music certainly impressed us; his two CD offerings Flamenco Rose and My Gypsy Way are a homage to the art form itself and a masterful earful of talent in their own right. Domás captures all the passion, drama and movement inherent in the music and his guitar work is subtle, but elegant. His voice lilts in a manner usually unsung by English speakers and this brings a Spanish authenticity to his work that is completely captivating.
My Gypsy Way is a homage to the dead of 9/11 and resounds with songs of loss and lament. The influences of course are both Jewish and Arabic and the Lament (aka Toranto in the original Spanish) echoes the cries of all who lose those close to them suddenly and without warning. Flamenco is like that and the music is a thinking person’s Country; it pulls the heart strings but it doesn’t descend into maudlin self abnegation. One of few songs sung in Spanish, No Me Dejes (Don’t Leave Me) says the same message every song of its kind always does, but it does it with dignity. Same with Adiós Cáriño Adiós. The Carmina, another lament is simply a vocal triumph.
Domás spends much of his time these days calling coffeehouses everywhere, asking if they’d play his music. So far, the returns have been good, in widely scattered areas of the US. They should take off here, once he’s better known, as he should be.

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Today’s Scones at Rebecca’s Coffeehouse

Posted on 21 September 2010 by April

THURSDAY, JULY 26  : Blueberry Cream Cheese are the scones for today at the coffeehouse located at the corner of 30th & Juniper in Golden Hill.  619. 284-3663.

Now taking pie orders: Pecan and Coconut Dark Chocolate pies!  razespresso@yahoo.com for email order form www.rebeccascoffeehouse.com

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Exclusive Interview With the Late Howard Zinn

Posted on 19 September 2010 by John Rippo

by Jason Holloway
Howard Zinn was asked about FBI involvement in counterculture activities that spanned more than a generation and affected his life and work as well as the times he lived in.
JH: Could you tell me what you know about Cointelpro?
Z: Cointelpro was a program that was set up with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Cointelpro stands for Counter Intelligence Program. I twas most active in the 1960′s in relation to the movements of that period. It was a secret program of course-so much of what the FBI does is secret. The program consisted of all sorts of activities; surveillance, wire tapping-but included also a lot of illegal activities. That is, wire tapping without a warrant, breaking into people’s homes or offices without a warrant. They sent anonymous letters to the members of political organizations to try and stir up animosity amongst different organizations and individuals. It was under the Cointelpro program that an anonymous letter was sent to Martin Luther King suggesting that he ought to get out of the way. There was a veiled suggestion that he ought to do away with himself. Cointelpro was in fact investigated by a Senate Committee.
JH: I have read the Church Committee Report. (A Senate investigation in 1975 into illegality of US intelligence gathering procedurs, headed by Sen. Frank Church, D-ID)–ed.) I found it to be very shocking. On of the things I found to be most shocking was that in the “Supplementary Detailed Staff Reports” there is a memo from William C. Sullivan to Alan Belmont. William C. Sullivan was the Director of the Domestic Intelligence Division. The memo outlined a plan for a “new negro leader” to replace Martin Luther King when he’d been “neutralized” . Do you know if they ever implemented that plan?
Z:I don’t think so. I remember reading that, too. I never heard of that being implemented.
JH: Another shocking thing about the report is that it shows how the FBI manipulates the media. There are members of the media who are actually FBI agents and through them the FBI can plant whatever story they want. Can you comment on that?
Z: This was a very troubling thing about the activities of the FBI and also the CIA. There were two kinds of operations they had. There was one operation where they planted their own operatives inside the media with jobs that gave them the opportunity to plant stories as they wanted. The other was using existing reporters, who already had jobs as professional journalists, make contact with them and utilize them in the name of patriotism to plant stories that the FBI would consider useful. You know about the Church Committee Report which goes into great detail about their illegal activities. There was a special report on Martin Luther King. And they did a lot in connection with the Black Panthers. I think its known that the FBI colluded with the Chicago Police in the 1969 raid on the Chicago headquarters of the Black Panthers which resulted in the deaths of two of the leaders of the Black Panthers. It’s a very, very sordid story.
JH: I want to take a page from ancient history and apply it to today. Do you think the the FBI or the United States intelligence services are a contemporary version of the Roman Praetorian Guard?
Z: All police agencies that operate unscrupulously to violate people’s rights in the the service of emperor or the government have something in common. And I suppose that you could easily make that analogy. You can even make an analogy with the Gestapo. People are annoyed when you make any analogy between the US and Nazi Germany, but analogies are not intended to say that two situations are identical. Analogies are a way to say that certain features of one phenomenon are similar to the features of another phenomenon. The FBI intimidates people by calling them in for interrogation and the Gestapo calls people in and intimidates them by interrogating them. It’s fair to say then that some of their activities are analogous to one another.
JH: In the media we are often told that we are a free country. It is more often repeated that any other lie and since we have this FBI manipulation of media or even direct control sometimes, how “free” are we? Do we have a free press? How many freedoms of the Constitution actually exist?
Z: The question of how free the United States can’t be answered definitively yes or no; true of false, because it is a matter of degree. It is a matter of comparing ourselves to-what? If you compare the US to a totalitarian state where the press is totally controlled and there is no opportunity for any dissenting voice. Then by that standard the US is free. Although it is more reasonable to say it’s freer that a totalitarian state, but if you compare it to the amount of freedom in the American press to the kind of freedom that should exist in a Democratic society. That is, if you compare the US to a situation where there would be equal access to the news where the organs of public opinion are not controlled by a small number of people. By that standard the United States falls short. In the United States the major media is controlled by a small number of very powerful corporations. The corporate connections with major media are startling. It would be bad enough if ABC, CBS, and NBC were the major sources of news for the American people and they that they have very few other sources to go to, but when those three sources are themselves owned by financial and industrial corporations like Westinghouse, General Electric, Disney and Viacom, then we are in a situation where the major organs of public opinion are owned and controlled by the few powerful and rich entities. What we have in the United States is a kind of limited freedom. Limited in the sense that we can have community newspapers. We can have all sorts of alternative sources of information on a small scale because money determines what can be controlled in the country. Money determines how large a piece of the airwaves you can control. The amount of freedom we have, you might say, is proportionate to the amount of money we have. The question, “Do we have free speech?” is not a question of yes or no; the real question is, “How much free speech do we have?” It might be argued that everyone in the United states has free speech. But some people have an enormous amount of opportunities to speak freely to huge numbers of people and other people-the great majority of people-have very, very few opportunities to speak to more than a handful of people.
JH: At some point, does media control become mind control of the American people? If you reason on the facts given by the media and if corporate entities and capitalists control media, aren’t they then ultimately controlling the thoughts of the American people?
Z: Unquestionably. People make up their minds about what is going on in the world on the basis of the information that is fed to them. They aren’t born with that information. It is accumulated. Therefore, the people who can feed the information to them will control their thinking. We have an immediate example of it today where it seems that the majority of American people believe that weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq. In fact, they have not been found, but because the media are dominated by the voices of the Bush administration and because the media give the greatest opportunity to the voices of the government, we as a result have a public that is terribly misinformed and whose minds are full of falsehoods. This is a situation that suggests we don’t have a democratic society.
JH: Do you think this media control is a response to the left wing? For the most part we have a right-wing media that is constantly lying to the people. Telling them that the media has a left bias makes it hard to believe that right-wing entities that own and control media would have a left bias. How can we get to a day where people have more control over the distribution of wealth if we can’t wrestle the power of the media from these people’s hands?
Z: That is a profoundly important question. What you’re asking is how can we change the economic system that we have? In order to do away with the enormous disproportion in wealth and therefore disproportion in control. I think it will take a new great social movement in the United States-a citizen’s movement. It will take a movement in the say that we have had movements in the past which have had partial success in changing the control over people’s lives. The trade unions, when they were strong, had a partial success changing the way corporations control their lives. Black people in the South through their movement against racial segregation were able to change the ratio of power in the South and gain some degree of power for themselves. So, the task of changing of the concentration of wealth in the United States is much more formidable-more fundamental one-than winning the eight hour day or getting higher wages from Ford Motor Company or General Motors. A more difficult problem that getting the segregation laws eliminated from the southern states. It’s the most difficult problem that we have had in the history of the this country. It will take a movement of immense proportions; a movement that combines the power of the movements that we have seen already; the power of Black people, Latino people, of women; of newly invigorated labor movements and of those who people who are working to protect the environment. It will take an enormous coalition of people with all sorts of grievances against the system who will come together and demand changes. These changes are not going to come all at once. I don’t think that bringing about the change that I am talking about is a matter of a kind of revolutionary seizure of power. The classical idea of left-wing groups was that they would build up and that they would seize power from the capitalist class. I don’t think that it will happen in that kind of revolutionary moment. I think it will happen as the result of a series of struggles in which territory is won little by little. In which, for instance, the movement becomes strong enough to establish a really graduated income tax, which would very, very severely limit the fortunes that have been accumulated by the present tax system. If we reach a point where the social movement becomes strong enough to insist on a minimum annual income for every family, free health care for everybody, free higher education–in other words, one by one, the needs of the American people and the elements of of the American economic system will have to be transformed by a very powerful social movement. I think that that is the way to me-it seems is the way it can happen in the future.
JH: Do you think that since the US has invaded Iraq and has imposed hegemony over the world’s oil resources, is Marx’s prophecy that if we don not have some sort of socialist revolution or democratic control over the economic resources, that we’re going to come to the ruination of the two classes?
Z: Either there will be a change or the results will be disastrous for everybody-including the capitalist class. I think thatrquote s an analysis that makes sense. Of course, the problem is that the capitalist class itself is planting the seeds of its own demise by what it is doing. The American leaders by their actions are making it inevitable their own end because the fate of past empires is going to be the fate of the American Empire. Empires fall because they grasp too much. They go too far. They are driven to accumulate, accumulate, accumulate and expand, expand, expand and expand beyond their capacity to control things. Expand beyond the capacity of their economic resources to keep up with their ambitions. I believe the American invasion of Iraq and the so-called “War on Terrorism” are really the beginning of the end of the American Empire.
JH: On the Patriot Act; when you take another page from history, Rousseau had made this analysis; so did Hegel and Gibbon–that the Roman Empire really began when all of the powers of the Roman Senate were put in the hands of one man, the Emperor. Now that we see that we are having these military tribunals and black budget that the President controls–essentially, the powers of the purse and the judiciary have all become subsumed under the president. It looks like we’re becoming more like dictatorial Rome.
Z: There is no doubt about the concentration of power. The Congress has become impotent. The Supreme Court has become simply the tool of whoever conrtols the Executive Branch. Yes, the Executive Branch has taken an enormous amount of power and when you have a budget that’s over two trillion dollars, you are in a situation where the economy is more and more in the hands of government. The connections between Corporate Power and Political Power have become overwhelmingly close.
JH: Hasn’t that been true since at least World War II? There was a document that was published by the United States Senate named “Elimination of German Resources for War” . In that document, they talk about the “Unofficial Government” of Germany which was mainly the Thyssen and Krupp families. Who would you say on the American side of things are the prime families that are really pulling the strings behind scenes; really controlling the government?
Z: In the case of Germany, you can concentrate on the Thyssen and Krupp families. In the United States, I don’t know if you can identify one, two or three families. Back in the 1930′s there was an American social analyst named Ferdinand Lundberg who wrote a book called America’s Sixty Families. He traced power and wealth of the United States to the holdings of sixty families. Since the 1930′s those families have certainly diminished down to I don’t know how many families: ten, fifteen, five. I don’ t know how many there are and I don’t know if I could identify them but there is no doubt about the increasing concentration of wealth power.
JH: Aren’t these people also above the law? I remember reading also that I.G. Farben had merged with Standard Oil in the 1930′s and that Standard Oil shared the patents for synthetic oil and rubber with I.G. Farben. And this made World War II last longer. And these people were never brought to justice.
Z: The ties between American companies and German companies has been documented a number of times. There is all this information now. In fact, Kevin Philips in his new book talks about the Bush family and their connections to Nazi business firms. His book might be worth looking at.
JH: Getting back to the Civil Rights Movement and Martin Luther King-in 1968, he was going to lead a Poor People’s Campaign to Washington. He was inspired by the Bonus March. So there was going to be poor people camping out in the shadow of Capitol Hill, but he was assassinated before that could happen. What is your opinion about the assassinations of the 1960′s in general and in particular about Martin Luther King’s?
Z: I know that there are all sorts of theories about the government conspiring to kill Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, possibly John Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy. I have been very dubious about these theories. Although there is no doubt that it was to the benefit of the government to get rid of Malcolm X and it was to the benefit of the right wing forces in society to get rid of Martin Luther King. Especially at that point, when King was turning the Civil Rights movement into an Economic Justice Movement. He recognized that the real problem now was the capitalist system and he put it that bluntly when he talked to his staff. He said that capitalism and militarism are twin evils. So, yes, theoretically it would have been logical for the government and for the corporate power in this country to see Martin Luther King as the greatest threat to their continued holding of power. I say theoretically; What actually happened in the assassination, and who actually is responsible for it; I have no idea.
JH: Do you think James Earl Ray was the shooter?
Z:I don’t know.
JH: In 1999, Coretta Scott King brought a civil court case against a man named Lloyd Jowers. She was represented by an Oxford Professor by name of William F. Pepper. I was wondering if you are aware of this work and what is your opinion of it?
Z: No, I remember that the King family questioned very much the official version of the assassination of King and that Coretta King and her children had very serious doubts about the official version. I don’t really know how strong the evidence is for their claim. I haven’t looked into it in detail enough to sort of give a strong opinion of it one way or another.
JH: I know that a man you have worked with; James Lawson, is a big believer that the government did participate in the assassination. He testified in the trial. The US Department of Justice under Janet Reno also conducted an investigation into the new developments in the King case brought about by William Pepper. The US Department of Justice on their website published a report critical of the complaint that the King family brought. In the report, there is talk of two members of King’s circle that the King family believe participated in the assassination. They are referred to as the SCLC minister and the Memphis minister. They are respectively, Jesse Jackson and Samuel “Billy” Kyles.
Z: I have never looked closely into that whole thing. I think I’m probably going to have to go at this point. If there is a final question, I would be happy to answer.
Here, the interview ended.—ed.

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Aqui es Texcoco Offers Mexican Fare Unlike Any Other

Posted on 19 September 2010 by John Rippo

I have to confess a lifelong love affair with Mexican cuisine. Generally speaking, Mexican food not only excites my taste buds, but it has a primitive yet noble character that just makes me feel good. This comes from the relatively simple ingredients that form its dishes, slow cooking and imaginitive seasoning that yield wonderful and sophisticated taste sensations; for example, what can be more elemental than masa—the corn flour used for tortillas? Even the way tortillas are prepared is primitive; mixed with water, lime and salt and beaten on a stone, then patted by hand and used to hold no end of fiery, savory morsels, the corn tortilla was ancient in America long before the Spanish came. It is a yin to the often rich, peppery, combination of textures and spice yang inside the carrier torilla, yet no matter how magnificent the meal, it can’t be complete without the humble masa tortilla alongside it.
Living in California, we all know a good deal about Mexican food—or we like to think we do, since we’ve eaten so many staple dishes over the years from a variety of places. Everyone has a favorite little hole in the wall taqueria; people rhapsodize about the mole or al pastor at this place or that, but when you stop to think about it, there must be much, much more to Mexican cooking than the common dishes we know. Some people seek out other restaurants where Mexican forms of preparing fish and other seafoods make up the menu, while a few brave ones visit the ethnic markets to learn about chiles, queso and the about the mysteries of how to cook properly on open fires to get the peppers to roast just the right way. That kind of effort can be richly rewarded in San Diego; there are many people here who can prepare all the regional forms of Mexican cooking and many of the ingredients common to much of Mexico are here or can be imported. We can eat of their cuisine as well as anyone can. Fortunately, there is another fine place in which to sample some excellent forms of the cuisine.

It was a great pleasure to luck into Aqui es Texcoco in Chula Vista. I happened to meet the owner, Francisco Perez, one day at a local trade seminar and he told me about his restaurant; the specialty of lamb and rabbit meat used in the dishes, the show for the patrons where the cook chops the lamb shanks on a block for all to see—and the vegetable dishes, including a kind of cross between a quesadilla and fritatta that is filled with fried zucchini flowers, mushrooms and what translates into English as “corn blossoms”. I had to try that, and the dorados de sesos that are a regular feature on the menu and a big hit with the Mexican folk that crowd the place daily. Next day, I showed up for lunch.

This was fun! There’s nothing better than trying new places and new menus and Aqui es Texcoco was a small gem of its kind. Bright and spare, neat as a pin and filled with people devouring plates heaped with food, it had all the proper visuals going for it. There was a crush of kids with their parents ahead of me at the door and I asked one of the kids what she was going to eat. “Cabeza,” she said, smiling. Her sister piped up to say she couldn’t wait for a platter of “Flautas de Barbacoa y salsa verde.” It’s a foolproof method to quiz intelligent-looking children in order to find something interesting to eat in an unfamiliar place. I have rarely been disappointed with this method so, I followed the kids’ example and started with an order of rolled tacos filled with barbecued lamb.

These flautas (flutes) of lamb, as the rolled tacos are called, were excellent. The lamb was done to perfection and was as juicy and tender as necessary. The rolled tacos were quite long and the order of three were liberally covered in shredded lettuce and a slightly tart crema fresca and finely grated queso fresco—a sort of Mexican take on parmesan cheese. Two sauces are available with the lamb; a piquant red that relies on brightness for flavor instead of mere heat from the peppers, and a milder salsa verde. I went for the red and deeply enjoyed the combination of the base note of the rich lamb contrasted with the crunch of the tortilla, and denseness of the crema set off against the red salsa’s top note to the dish. These flautas disappeared in no time; the small order of hot lamb broth on the side, filled with garbanzos, onion and rice (this is a wonderful cold weather soup and perfect for this summer’s lingering June gloom) settled the rolled lamb tacos very nicely and I would have been just fine with a good espresso and maybe some flan at this point—but much work remained to be done. I was on the job and would have to eat more.

After a decent interval, I ordered the cabeza de borrego. This is lamb’s head. In case you’re wondering why anyone would want to eat the head, let me tell you that the head of the lamb has a finer, lighter and more delicate taste than the body does. This is true of other animals, too, whether cows, pig or even goat. When I was a kid, my grandmother would give the kids a plate of the head meat from the goats my grandfather would roast over a charcoal fire in the yard. In Aqui es Texcoco’s offering, the rendered meat is extremely tender, rich and light in taste. It is presented on a large platter with plenty of tortillas, salsas, lemon wedges and diced onion and cilantro. One can vary the condiment seasonings until finding the right mix of tastes. I pretty much left off the lemon and salsa verde; the cilantro added much to the lighter head meat—and I was really beginning to like this place.

Aqui es Texcoco offers lamb ribs and mixtures of lamb and rabbit in a combination plate that you can assemble yourself from the variety of ingredients presented. Sides are also unusual; in addition to the usual beans, rice and potato tacos, a wonderful rendition of nopales salad (cactus fronds) are available as well as honeyed yams. Honeyed yams go with lamb and rabbit the way mashed potatoes goes with fried chicken and gravy and this combination will leave you filled, but happy.

Last thing on the list for the brave souls among you—or at least those not raised in ethnic households that enjoyed foods missed out on by many Americans—are the dorados sesos. These are brains of lamb, grilled to a crispy golden texture. Brains are pure protein, smooth and mild in taste. They’re a cross between a fairly firm tofu and baked potato in texture and taste much like hashed browns, only better because they’re richer. One secret about brains that you likely don’t know is that in many cultures, they are used to give body and richness to sauces. This lasts only until the American customers find out and soon thereafter many cooks substitute cream, butter or mere flour for thickening. If you’ve ever had a particularly rich sauce on meat, duck or even ravioli, you may have had sauces enriched with brains. At Aqui es Texcoco, lamb brain is grilled and served in tacos or in sopes, which are a kind of round masa pocket. These are tasty—and addictive.
To complete the experience, you can enjoy Sangria with your meal or have any of several iced, fresh fruit flavored waters. They serve a café olla—a Mexican bean coffee brewed in clay pots, flavored with cinnamon which is a good way to end the meal along with flan and if you’re in the mood, you can top it all off with rice pudding, too.

Meats are available to go in large quantities by prior arrangement.

Aqui es Texcoco is a carnivore’s delight and gives excellent value for the money. You can be fully stuffed for under ten dollars per person and can easily and happily spend much more. The place is one of those offbeat gems that most Yankees won’t find so if you want to impress friends from out of town with a new form of Mexican cuisine this is the place to go. See you there soon.

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CD Review: Run With It–Raw Power Blasts Against Sex Biases

Posted on 19 September 2010 by John Rippo

Danielle Lo Presti and the Masses just issued another in a long line of triumphs in the form of a new CD entitled Run With It. It’s complex, infinitely engaging and deftly subversive as well as timely. Human dignity and the struggle for it always is—and Run With It is all about these issues .
Run With It took four years to make and is a finely ground axe that takes a well-aimed swing at the imbalance of status of women—and others—in society. That well-aimed swing is delivered by Lo Presti’s Wall-of-Power vocals backed up on both flanks where needed. Mostly, it isn’t needed; Danielle Lo Presti’s voice can move clouds and shift tides on an off day, and Run With It is void of off days.
For all that power, there is delicacy and even mournfulness; title track Run With It is a tale of love fugitive on time’s slow treadmill. Percussion echoes the painful pounding of one’s heart as it leaps into the mouth at the final goodbye—the last time the now ex-lover will ever be seen. Strings sting along intermittently like the shrill goosebumps that sort of last glimpse forms on the back of your throat to poison anything that might struggle out. “But I’ve emptied all my boxes of tools trying to find one that will help me learn to live without you…”We’ve all been there, and Run With It will take you straight back there, damn it.
No More No Less is a song for our times; lilting strings and a haunting piano offsetting Lo Presti’s angelic voice telling a tale of blunt discrimination by those who live on hate, fear and a 52-percent majority vote in California that took away the right of gay people to marry. It’s a beautiful, tragic, haunting and grim melody; one hopes that someday No More No Less will become an historical artifact—a kind of gay Our Day Will Come. Even if it doesn’t, it will be no less powerful; the kind of music that will rally the good guys and shame the bad while becoming one of those tunes that stays in the brain for days—a persistent ear worm.
And then there’s Objectify; sexy siren voices luring the unsuspecting into a change of pace that reverses roles and serves cold vengeance to cold hearted thugs who treat women like ass instead of equals. Payback’s a bitch, boys, and they’re everywhere, layering tonal complexities alongside the anger.
Run With It is a multifaceted bit of genius that will let you enjoy it any way you want. It’s themes have something for everyone and its tunes are a captivating bit of seduction that you shouldn’t live without.

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Feminism Reaches the iPhone

Posted on 19 September 2010 by John Rippo

by R. Reitman

Locate your parked car? Identify songbirds? Check surf conditions? Yeah, there’s an app for that. With over 100,000 active applications currently available for the iPhone —and more added constantly—there’s no foreseeable end to the stream of creative software designed to interface with the popular mobile phone from Apple. The newest addition to the roster, launched in July, brings a fresh twist to mobile application technology: documenting street harassment.

The application is the brain-child of New York activist collective HollaBack. According to co-founder and director Emily May, “Street harassment is on a spectrum of violence against women.” She points out that between 80% and 100% of women internationally face some type of street harassment, yet it is largely unreported.

What is street harassment? It’s a term activists still struggle to define. Typically targeting women and the LBGT community, verbal street harassment can range from “Hey baby” to a violence-tinged sexual tirade. Street harassment also includes flashing, public masturbation, groping and sexual assault.
While most people—as well as criminal statutes—agree that a stranger’s unwanted groping on a subway is a clear violation of one’s physical privacy, many other forms of street harassment are harder to define. Where do men and women draw the line between flirtatious and frightening?

“It’s really up the individual, which can make it tricky for defining street harassment. Anything that’s sexist or sexually explicit, anything that involves touching, anything that doesn’t stop, is over the line,” explains Holly Kearl, a national expert on street harassment and author of Stop Street Harassment: Making Public Places Safe and Welcoming for Women. She says that, “Most of it’s not illegal as long as it’s not a threat or touching or masturbation.”

But legal doesn’t mean welcome. “We felt victimized,” stated May in a recent telephone interview, “When we would say something to the guys it could just escalate the situation — and the police wouldn’t care.”
So May and a group of likeminded men and women turned to the Internet to vent their frustrations – and HollaBackNYC.com was born.

HollaBack offered a unique solution to street harassment—the ability for victims to share experiences, advice, and consolation online. For the most part, victims just tell their stories.

Immediately after its 2005 launch, the HollaBack website found a warm welcome with both the Internet community and the media. And it’s not just New Yorkers who wanted to stand up to street harassers. HollaBack now has independent outposts in five US cities as well as international groups in Australia, Mauritius, the UK and Toronto. While each group currently operates independently, the advent of iPhone app, interest from the press and several years of experience make this a fortuitous time for the HollaBack collective to try its hand at creating a more cohesive, connected, and official nonprofit.

And it’s clear that mobile technology is going to play a big role in HollaBack’s future.

The new iPhone application, which achieved its fundraising goal May 28 through Kickstarter.com, will allow individuals in New York to document street harassment as it happens. Victims can choose to make a report with or without a photograph and will choose a category for each incident: verbal, groping, flashing, assault or other. Users will also be able to provide additional details via email at a later time. Incidents will link up to an online mapping system.

This won’t, however, provide a real-time map of street harassment in New York City. To prevent abuse of the technology, HollaBack will vet entries before they are posted, resulting in an unspecified delay before submissions are published. (Among other things, HollaBack does not allow posts from heterosexual men harassed by women or posts that could be interpreted as racist.)
Of course, there’s no reason to think that iPhone owners in New York suffer a disproportionate percentage of street harassment. What, then, for the rest of us? May refers to the current application as a “beta” version— HollaBack is getting the technology working in New York before opening up to those outside the city as well as smart phones other than the iPhone. Initially, though, incidents outside of New York City can be documented via the iPhone application but won’t be published on the online map.

There is also hope for the victims of street harassment with less-than-smart cellular phones. HollaBack is combining efforts with activists in Egypt who are raising funds for a “Harassmap” which will allow women to report incidents via SMS text messages. Once this system is fully functioning, HollaBack plans to integrate the international Harassmap with New York’s own HollaBack mapping system – a collaborative effort with an ambitious target launch of December, 2010.

All of which begs the question – can an iPhone application, or even SMS posts to an international Harassmap, really combat street harassment?

The answer isn’t an easy one to address. Street harassment is, to all appearances, a series of unrelated incidents perpetrated by (mostly) men who have no connection to one another, no coordination of activities and little or no planning. Often these men don’t consider their actions to be demeaning, harassing or intimidating; they may even consider it a form of flattery. (What woman wouldn’t want a stranger to compliment her breasts when she’s on a morning jog?) So, would fear of public castigation and online notoriety deter potential street harassers?
Even measuring the efficacy of a program to combat street harassment is challenging. In Boston, an ad campaign on subway trains targeting sexual harassment resulted in a significant jump in the number of harassment incidents reported. However, because most street harassment is still widely unreported, it’s difficult to measure whether the ad campaign was an effective deterrent against harassers or simply encouraged more individuals to make reports.
“The solution is always going to have to be multi-layered,” according to Kearl. She believes the best way to deal with street harassment is a program that involves education campaigns, public awareness campaigns, laws and the empowerment of women and girls to stand up to street harassment. Kearl also praises the new iPhone app: “It’s very useful for raising awareness and for the self empowerment of women. I think that documentation through the iPhone app of HollaBack is really the next step so that we can approach lawmakers and say that this is a big issue.”
HollaBack certainly hopes so. According to their website and Kickstarter.com, this application will “track street harassment through data points to quantify and communicate its impact to legislators.” The end result of collecting all of this data is to see “significant improvements in policy and a reduction in crimes against girls, women and LGBTQ individuals.” The data collected through the system will be reviewed and analyzed by researchers from the Barnard Center for Research on Women to better understand the nature of street harassment.

With all of this data and scientific analysis, should we look for stronger laws in the coming years? Not necessarily. May spoke glowingly about the benefits of public policy and legislative reform, but then cautioned that, “Developing laws around it aren’t going to be nearly as effective as educating people and creating a cultural shift. That’s because women don’t want to report it — and I don’t see that changing at any time in the near future.”
While HollaBack is quick to point out the benefits of empowering and educating people, they studiously avoid discussing privacy implications on their website. In fact, the only place they address the issue directly is via an FAQ section. They posit: “But aren’t you worried that your site will fuel the latent vindictiveness within women and LGBTQ-identified folks across the country, leading to a massive witch-hunt and rampant Soviet-style denounciations of countless innocents?” HollaBack’s answer? “No.” They then provide links to two articles that deal with government surveillance of citizens.

This is a cavalier response to an issue that merits at least a thoughtful, open discussion. While, as a general rule, in most situations it’s not illegal to take photographs of adults in public spaces and publish them on the Internet, there are concerns about what the future of our society will be if vigilante justice via cell phones becomes a widespread tool.
In the late 1700s, the English philosopher Jeremy Bentham invented a model prison known as a “panopticon” – a prison in which the inmates would never know whether or not unseen guards were observing them. As mobile technology becomes more prevalent and our daily lives increasingly are spent in cyberspace, do we run the risk of inadvertently creating our own citizen-run panopticon? While it might be an effective mechanism for holding street harassers accountable, will we be one step closer to a world in which any activity in a public space will be considered fair game for posting in perpetuity on the Intenet? While these issues may be more a function of the increasingly mobile and connected world we live in than HollaBack’s new iPhone app, it might behoove HollaBack to address these concerns with sensitivity and attention. After all, many of the individuals who are clamoring for privacy on the Internet are the same individuals who turn to the HollaBack site to share anonymous stories – sexual and gender minorities and the victims of sexual abuse, assault and stalking.

Reading through the stories submitted to HollaBackNYC.com is disturbing. Women report being attacked on the way home from school at night, being the object of masturbatory fantasy on subway trains and the subject of sexual speculation when they walk down the street. One who spends enough time on the website might begin to wonder if a course or two in self defense and quite possibly weaponry might be needed for a woman to venture out safely in New York, especially on the subways. The incidents date back years, hundreds of pieces of evidence woven together to show that women are routinely treated as sexual objects when moving in a public space. Kearl describes street harassment as a mechanism for disrespecting women: “I think that it says that women don’t deserve as much respect as men, and it’s almost a way of gender policing. You’re attacked if you meet the societal beauty standards and you’re attacked if you don’t.”

If nothing else, the stories posted to HollaBackNYC.com serve as evidence that America’s struggle for gender equality is in no way finished. Which, for readers who enjoy partaking in the democratic process, might merit a phone call or letter to one’s representatives in Congress. That is, if you can find the right number.

And yes, there’s an app for that, too.

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Heard in the Houses

Posted on 19 September 2010 by John Rippo

Some guys just don’t get it: Guy dazzled by a blonde beauty at Rebecca’s tries to say something, anything, to catch her eye, and fails. Tries again, only to be told by blonde’s girlfriend that the blonde is taken— by her. Guy doesn’t understand; speaks again to blonde who finally tells him, in loud, pidgin English: “I am gay. No like guys. No like you. Get lost now!” Guy wanders off toward the Whistle Stop.

Had a magnificent espresso at El Shaddai, on South 43rd for only FIFTY CENTS! You read that right; 50 cents for a single!

Woman walks into Santos, looks at coffees available and asks “Which coffee is most like Starbucks?” Barista was dumbfounded; woman bought coffee anyway.

Meltdown at Cream—Guy opens laptop, checks email and learns his paramour has broken up with him. Tries to act cool but his sudden, sharp contortions, gasps, tears and bolting out the door ruffle others’ feathers. Two hours later, he’s still punching air on the corner as his laptop battery runs out of juice. Eventually, the laptop fades to black, the coffee grows cold and the guy walks around the block for the twentieth or thirtieth time.

A couple sat one evening at Carpe Diem, chatting about their military service. He was a helicopter mechanic, returned from Iraq; she was a machine gunner in a helicopter there. They told war stories about shooting people from helicopters in Iraq that got them odd, pointed looks from several others in the place.
The new Filter opened at University and Richmond Streets. This place has wide open walls that face the corner. A group of women got their drinks and sat facing the street in the huge doorway to watch the show go by; reveling in their leading-edge seats. This lasted only a short while before the charm wore off. When the first one mentioned that she was cold, they all beelined deep into the interior of the new coffeehouse.
It never ceases to amaze better classes when peasants act out: A group of Argentines sat discussing their team’s loss at soccer at Cup o’Joe. Their Spanish conversation brought out rude comments from nearby Ugly Americans who told them to go back to Mexico. The Argentines told the Yanks to go back to their own planet, STF up and leave them alone. Since there were eight Argentines and two Dweebs, the matter ended there—fortunately.

Drive thru dilemma at Better Buzz: Walt and Marcia recently moved to PB, where Marcia goes through withdrawal daily as Walt takes her to Better Buzz on the way to where they work instead of supporting Sbux—which is where Marcia always gets her coffee. Marcia tried to order her fave drink at BB using Sbux lingo and was calmly, politely translated back to English by the patient, sweet-voiced barista. Flustered, frustrated Marcia finally calmed down when she got her caffein. YT thinks she must love Walt a lot to put up with this kind of thing. So does Walt.

Even though the war on tobacco is all but won, there are still some brave holdouts against the split of coffee and the demon weed. Tabac had a full house of outdoor tables smoking cigars as YT passed it one day, and Liberty Tobacco is looking to finally add a coffee cart to its lineup so that its clients can gloriously marinate in two addictions instead of just one. Even Racine & Laramie which has wasted a decade wondering if there’s a link between coffee and tobacco seems to have finally discovered West Bean Coffee Roasters.

OB is the scene of a growing battle between scruffy, slacker youth out for spare change from whomever they can intimidate it from and everyone else. Some riff raff has learned to stay away from several of the coffeehouses (which we won’t name) that have run said people off with baseball bats, dumped hot water on aggressive panhandlers or in one case, shot a dog that some fool was using to threaten people. YT thinks it shooting the dog was entirely too cruel—shooting the fool using it as a weapon would have been better.
Con Pane fled the corner of Rosecrans and Cañon Streets and is now at Liberty Station. Their landlord has been foreclosed on and now the building sits empty, waiting for another café bakery to take its place.

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A Long View of a New Library

Posted on 19 September 2010 by John Rippo

The SD City Council recently voted to start building a new downtown main library with a school on top. The so-called “Schoolbrary” has been long anticipated, much debated, hotly condemned for its price tag of $185 million and ridiculed by those who insist that libraries are as necessary in the age of the Internet as sails on a submarine. We can demolish the contentions of the Library-is-obsolete crowd with one hand tied behind our backs; the trickier sticking point is the $32.5 million shortfall that the new library project needs to cover its costs—money that has to be in hand by January, 2012 for the project to go forward. Fortunately, there’s light at the end of that tunnel, too.
Perhaps the best reason to form a strong and healthy central library is because libraries generally are repositories of tangible things—books, articles, art, photos and images, surrounded and conserved by assistants who can help researchers make the most of their collections. Collection and organization define a library and give it reason for being. Collections can be specific and unique as is the one in Central’s Wangenhein Room and the more collections, the better the library. The net, for all its wonder, speed and versatility is no substitute for primary source materials, original editions of printed works, manuscripts and other forms of written record. And the net offers no assistance in the form of skilled archivists who know where everything is, either.
The library is Real; the net is Memorex and the two merely compliment each other. The net is not now and perhaps will unlikely ever be able to completely take the place of what a good library can offer. San Diego’s new Central will be able to offer much that will make its system indispensible—and worth every dollar of its budgets.
Another positive addition is space. The basement at the Central is filled with not only books, but amazing works of public art, maps, pictures and historical records from the world over—much of San Diego’s early history is quietly hidden in their climate controlled basement and needs much more room if it is to be accessed by researchers. More space for better organization, interaction and public access will give everyone not only a better library, but one that’s more responsive and useful. It will be easier for users to learn more. Though the branch libraries are in most cases exemplary of their form, a new and better Central location will better serve those branches—and users—needs by having much more available for them to use and borrow.
The Public Library system is now linked with the County Library and university libraries here through an inter-loan plan that makes millions of books and other materials available to anyone who needs them. This is a magnificent asset to every San Diegan and a self-directed learner’s dream come true. It’s also a valuable asset to business and industry here; private sector research pays off handsomely to those who make use of it, and more resources that are more accessible mean more profit to be made from mining data.
If the best spent fortune is the one we pour into our heads, it makes sense to spend a fortune on increasing the flow that we can pour—especially from well run and organized sources—like libraries. Libraries with great reputations for resouces and collections matter, and always will, so long as people put pen to paper or care to read what others have written, and free repositories of that knowledge, available to all, will continue to yield intellectual utility permanently.
But where will that missing $32.5 million come from that has a due date of January, 2012? And how will the Library’s needed budgets be met in the future?
Perhaps part of that answer should come from those who benefit from using the library. There is no such thing as a free lunch after all, and if those who profit from a free learning center don’t pay some kind of tuition—or at least rent—then they won’t have those assets very long.
We need to change that. We need to adopt the library.
Café Society—you and I and everyone who regularly oils their brains with caffein in coffeehouses—ought to be in the forefront of supporting the new library by actively using it—the same way we support independent coffeehouses over chainstore coffee. Coffeehouse patrons have always supported bookstores, the arts, learning in all its forms and everything to do with the life of the mind for centuries, everywhere. We need to do that again, here, by helping Central get built and on its feet and by using the library regularly—and by giving it money.
If you don’t have a library card now, get one! If you haven’t used the library for research, try it—you may be surprised at how many resources are available to you, especially if you get involved in the inter-library plan that opens doors to other libraries here.
Beyond that, here are some numbers to keep in mind. Some in the local coffee traders estimate that San Diego’s coffee culture is regularly supported by roughly one-eighth of San Diego’s public. (ESPRESSO thinks this may be too high, but that’s beside the point.) One eighth of SD’s current county population is roughly 375,000 people—out of more than three million total. $33 million (rounding the figure up) divided by 375,000 comes out to $88 each. Translated into the cost of a cup of coffee at $1.90 each—it amounts to coffee for 46 days at a cup per day. If all Café Society spends the equivalent of a cup of coffee per day for the new Central Library until 2012, they’ll get their $32.5 million. Think of it as a short term investment with a long term payoff for you and your kids paid with the kind of coin Café Society has minted for hundreds of years where ever coffeehouses have thrived. Best of all, the new library promises to have a coffeehouse (local; organic) on the premises at 11th and J Streets, too.

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Identity of OB’s “Bums” Revealed

Posted on 19 September 2010 by John Rippo

Not long ago, OB’s famous head shop, The Black, offered bumperstickers for sale that read “Please Don’t Feed the Bums”—a reference to a new crop of presumably able bodied youths who aggressively panhandle and threaten locals with harm if they don’t come across. The new crop of dog-handling, arrogant, unwashed Debris-by-the-Sea is a new and virulent strain of Aggro-Beggar; as different from the traditional, easily ignored OB waif as a broken bone is from a broken nail.

The Black’s management have since defended their actions in the face of criticism, and their friends have seen fit to publicly water balloon one poor soul who had the temerity to protest their stickers. OB has had a lot of problems with crime for years and this has gone hand in hand with its charms for years. The price of the vibrance, creativity, joie de vivre and egalitarianism that is OB can be balanced against the rough-edginess that’s to be expected to come from the mix of its characters.
But if the business owners of OB want to rid their ‘hood of their debris-meets-the-sea kind of crowd, they should look in the mirror first—and clean up their own act. After all, no neighborhood is better than the business community that serves it and a community’s merchants go far to define—and manipulate— the community.
And of all the businesses that has shaped OB for better and worse over the years, The Black stands pre-eminent. It has made its money selling every counterculture item to every kid who wanted to drop out, tune in and be a flower child on the beach, even if that meant hustling a buck from the citizens for beer money. Now, they’re reaping a new generation of what they’ve sown.
It’s unfair and disrespectful to the children of OB culture for The Black to point fingers and call them ”bums.” Had The Black not been so successful at merchandising since the days when Dago Choppers bought its nirvana goods, maybe OB would be a different place now. It’s something to consider as the OB business community struggles to re-shape OB into another La Jolla in the future.

In a town with logic in high places, The Black would be looked on as a blight and treated accordingly—along with bars that promote public drunkenness. It isn’t the people of OB that are the only problem—the merchants who feed off the characters they created share the blame.

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