Dog Bites

Golden handshakes, cat scans and tree controversy

Return of the Golden Handshake Reader Poll!
If all goes as planned, which of course it won't, Hearst will close the Examinerand complete its purchase of the Chronicle Feb. 15, after receiving no bids on the new Ex sales package, which now includes presses, delivery vehicles, and other things actually required to run a newspaper. (The new package was created when spoilsports complained the original sales package -- consisting of the Examinername and three boxes of paper clips -- was -- how can we phrase this? -- worthless.)

In the meantime, we've certainly been entertained by all the speculation about exactly what the Examinerpackage might be worth; we seem to recall reading in one of the dailies that a single delivery truck would go for around $33,000. Now, Dog Bites spends an inordinate amount of time at the Kelly Blue Book Web site (it's a long, long story; say, want to go test driving with us next weekend?) but never knew that. And we bet you could double-park the thing a lot, too!

So, OK: building, delivery vehicles, printing press, cute editor -- but, of course, no share of the Joint Operating Agreement with the Chron, which, as far as Independent Publisher Ted Fang is concerned, means no deal. "Would a person have to be crazy to buy the paper without a share of the JOA? Yes," says the man whose name is regularly bruited about as a possible Ex purchaser. Nevertheless, Fang seems somewhat disgruntled by the Guardian's recent snipe that "[m]ost observers agree that the Fang family would have nowhere near the kind of money needed to buy even a stripped-down version of the Ex."

Look at those little feets! It's a cat scan.
Cliff Bleszinski
Look at those little feets! It's a cat scan.

"That's interesting," he says. "We have gone from being the wealthy Fang family to being the poor-boy Fang family."

Oh well. Now that failed mayoral candidate and icky suit wearer Clint Reilly has actually filed his lawsuit attempting to prevent Hearst from purchasing the Chron, Fang may have more time to come up with the cash -- and Dog Bites will be interested to see whether U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker is persuaded by the argument that a one-newspaper San Francisco equals a monopoly.

Walker, a conservative, multimillionaire Bush appointee who nevertheless favors legalizing drugs, is perhaps best known here in dot-com land for blowing Apple's famous look-and-feel lawsuit against Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft out of the water. As a law school dropout, Dog Bites is frequently called upon for impromptu legal opinions, particularly in the area of tort law vis-à-vis hair care products, and thus feels uniquely qualified to comment here. Do we think Walker will laugh at Reilly's suit? Well, let's put it this way: Are there file folder icons on your computer's desktop?

Once this small matter has been cleared up, the business of consolidating the two papers may, of course, proceed. (And let us say here that we hope a combined paper does not adopt the Ex's weird practice of referring to local residents as "Bay Areans"; who thought that one up, anyway?)

So now seems as good a time as any to revive our Golden Handshake Reader Poll, in which we ask our readers to select the Chronicle and Examinercolumnists they think will be first up against the wall -- that is, first to get lucrative unsigning bonuses -- when the two papers merge.

Though we admit we've let things slide a little, we tallied the results only this morning and found Ken Garcia with a solid lead. Please visit our Web site (www.sfweekly.com) and use the pull-down menus to make your predictions on which columnists will survive the coming anschluss, which will, um, leave to pursue other interests, and when those leaving will leave. Remember, your vote counts!

Pick the columnist you think will be the first to receive the Golden Handshake:
He or she will get canned on:

My e-mail address is:

The Dog Bites Golden Handshake Reader Poll -- Interim Results

(Note: Due to rounding down -- except in the case of Jon Carroll, where we rounded up -- and the fact that we had to take now-deceased society columnist Pat Steger off the list, because it seemed in poor taste to leave her on, percentages do not total 100.)

Ken Garcia -- 29 percent

Lord Martine -- 17 percent

Stephanie Salter -- 10 percent

Jon Carroll -- 8 percent

Joan Ryan -- 7 percent

Ray Ratto -- 5 percent

Matier & Ross -- 5 percent

Art Hoppe -- 3 percent

Adair Lara -- 3 percent

Scott Ostler -- 3 percent

Rob Morse -- 2 percent

Leah Garchik -- 1 percent

C.W. Nevius -- 1 percent

Here, Kitty, Kitty
It is an unusual artist indeed who can participate in his very-first-ever group show -- in this case at the small and funky ESP Gallery on Valencia -- and claim he is already internationally reviled. But Cliff Bleszinski is a true pioneer. And he has the hate mail to prove it. Like this note from Iris, in Germany: "Hello, You Muck Rate, May the cats scratch out your eyes and bite off your manhood. Scorch in cat hell."

Whoa!

Bleszinski is a 24-year-old video game designer who, in his spare time, creates, um, art. His technique is simplicity itself: He places a cat on the glass of his computer's flatbed scanner, hits the button, and records the result. (See photo accompanying this column for further details; we find ourselves unwilling to attempt a description.)

How did Bleszinski, who moved from SoCal to Raleigh, N.C., to work at Epic Games, come up with the idea that led to the creation of his oeuvre? "I was just hanging out at my place in Ontario," he says. "It was one of those 120-degree days, and I was bored. The cats were hanging around my computer, and it was like, 'Cat. Scanner.' I just had this inspiration. It was like the chocolate hitting the peanut butter. You know -- 'Hey, your chocolate's in my peanut butter.'"

Bleszinski posted some of his cat scans ("I was like, 'Get it? Cat scan,'" he says) on a Web site (www.cat-scan.com), at which he also invited others to explore the possibilities of this often-underutilized medium by scanning their own cats and sending him the results. It is this enterprise that has brought him worldwide infamy and multilingual death threats from those convinced Bleszinski, a self-described cat lover, is encouraging cruelty to animals. "Well, sure, you gotta hold them a little bit," he admits. "But bathing a cat is probably more traumatic for it than scanning it."

Many correspondents tend to disagree, and Bleszinski posts their hate mail on his site: "I guess you do not realise that you don't give a shit for your cat since you scanned it!!! You americans are really the country of controversy you say?? (i m french)," writes one Nicopas. "Next time scan your girlfriend's eyes very very close and I bet you will love being cut into pieces by her nails!!! You are an irresponsible person!!"

ESP curator Tony Meredith, on the other hand, saw the cat scans online and e-mailed Bleszinski to ask if he'd like to participate in the six-person show "Emotionally Annoyed." Explains Meredith: "I went out and tried to look for people whose work showed things that were really kind of" -- he pauses -- "fucked up."

Seen en masse, the 77 Bleszinski works in the show become almost abstract; Dog Bites admits to having been transfixed by the repetitive images of fur, paw pads, and (awww!) the occasional tiny tooth. Or, as the artist himself puts it: "They have this kind of aesthetic, surreal beauty to them. ... Uh, I sound like an idiot."

The show continues through Feb. 18, but Bleszinski is already planning his next step. "Someday I will make money off this," he says. "I've thought about having mouse pads or calendars made. Or one thing I'd really like to do is a coffee table book." Say -- memo to Chronicle Books!

Well, how much would an original Bleszinski go for? "Whatever somebody's willing to pay for it," says the artist. "I mean, if you've seen the Web site, you can own one. All you need is a color printer."

Meanwhile, the cat scans have even received a small mention in the latest issue of international art journal Frieze. ("And artists are bleeding from the eyes to get into Frieze," notes Meredith.)

"I suppose I was somewhat discovered in the art world," says Bleszinski. "And you know, why the hell not?"

Natural Blues
Unless you grew up in San Francisco -- oops. Can. Worms. All overfloor.

Um, let's just start over. If you attended elementary school in the city, you'll doubtless already be familiar with the Randall Museum. If you didn't, it's the nature museum tucked away on the shoulder of Corona Heights, an aging, algae-stained cinder-block building visited by 15,000 schoolkids a year, home to such wildlife as a blind possum, a friendly raven, and an owl with a broken wing, inspirer of poems to guinea pigs that include such lines as, "Don't be scared. I won't bite./ I will promise to love you with all my might," and, of course, repository of much enthusiastically poster-painted artwork.

So sure, the Randall doesn't seem like the kind of institution you'd imagine as the villain in a bitter neighborhood battle. "For us to be the bad guys was really hard for a lot of us," admits Ben Harwood, the museum's director of development. "It's not a position most of us ever thought we'd be in."

Well! Apparently, museum staff should have thought of that before they decided they were going to cut down trees!

As part of a planned two-phase renovation of the museum -- whose present building dates from 1951 -- the Randall has marked 14 trees on its 16-acre grounds for removal. For one thing, the museum needs to build new disabled access ramps; for another, the staff hopes to increase space in which to hold outdoor classes. "We're taking out pavement on the east and west sides of the museum and replacing the asphalt with parkland," says Harwood. "We thought the community would think that was pretty great."

But at a recent meeting some angry Corona Heights residents made it clear they didn't think the scheme was great at all. Though the plan calls for each tree that's removed to be replaced, using native species like toyon and live oak, the disgruntled locals demanded a halt to the redevelopment until further hearings could be scheduled. "The whole argument that we'd be planting native trees was kind of lost," Harwood says. "There were about a dozen people, but they were very vocal. There was a lot of anger." Nevertheless, he says he believes "the spirit of cooperation" will prevail.

Dog Bites, visiting the Randall on a recent weekend (to be honest, we think we have this communication thing going on with the raven; it's actually kind of freaky), noticed several of the trees marked for cutting were stunted pines on islands in the parking lot. "It did surprise me that those would be a point of contention with people," says Harwood. "But I guess a tree is a tree."

Tip Dog Bites -- especially if you're disgruntled. Phone 536-8139; fax 777-1839; e-mail dogbites@sfweekly.com.

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