By Anna Pulley
By Erin Sherbert
By Chris Roberts
By Erin Sherbert
By Rachel Swan
By Joe Eskenazi
By Erin Sherbert
By Erin Sherbert
No, it was, courtesy of the Human Rights Commission, Big Fat Buttinsky time.
In response to complaints, the commission sent a letter to SF Weekly, using language insinuating the possibility of government-orchestrated retaliation and demanding an apology for the cartoon.
Beyond the obvious First Amendment issues -- among other things, there isn't a court in the nation that wouldn't spank the city of San Francisco if the commission had followed through on its menacing letter -- there is, once again, a practical policy problem created by limiting debate. In San Francisco, politicians play our ingrained culture of identity politics like a harpsichord. The resulting code language -- perennial campaigns to "clean up" ethnic or poor neighborhoods; "resistance to downtown interests" in response -- is navigable by only the sharpest of insider sharpies. The insiders are thus free to shape policy to suit themselves.
Somehow, the Human Rights Commission imagined that its role included stopping cartoonists from making fun of this phenomenon.
Way to go, Buttinsky.
More recently the commission has been investigating and chastising a Castro gay bar called Badlands for allegedly handling personnel and clientele in a racist way (see "Acts of Commission," page 14). If it's true that the bar was violating anti-discrimination laws, this Human Rights Commission inquiry raises a big, fat, and as yet unasked question: Why is the Human Rights Commission treading where police or the District Attorney's office belong? If we don't trust real San Francisco law enforcement officials -- perhaps because we suspect some of them are prejudiced pigs -- isn't the lack of trust something San Franciscans should be talking about? Is it truly better to paper over the perceived problem of insensitive or even biased law enforcement by putting Human Rights Commission hacks on the case?
If these issues spark your curiosity, be careful how you phrase your questions -- lest you get a menacing Big Fat Buttinsky letter from the government.
While the cases of the Thought-Criminal Cops, the Indelicate Cartoonist, and the Bad, Bad Bar offer ample (if, thanks to the commission, wasted) fodder for potential public debate, the Squaw Teeth Affair stands a cut above in terms of debate inspiration.
In a 2001 essay, University of Colorado ethnic studies Professor Ward Churchill wrote that the victims of 9/11 airplane attacks on the World Trade Center were "little Eichmanns" because, like the Nazi bureaucrat, they were cogs in an evil imperialist system. Conservative talk radio got hold of Churchill's rhetoric -- and ran. Political uproar in Colorado ensued. The governor reportedly asked that Churchill be dismissed. Churchill, however, is a tenured professor and can't be fired for his views. So detractors have had to content themselves with researching claims that Churchill has lied about his supposed Native American ancestry.
This ruckus has made Churchill a hero among free speech advocates and fringe-left paranoids. So in March, he was invited to give a talk in Berkeley. Somehow, students who know Churchill happened into Eddie Rickenbackers, Hobday's bar at Second and Mission streets, and noticed the tiny squaw-teeth display in the back. They told the professor, who added fern bar patrons to his Death to American Nazis shtick.
"What kind of mentality imbues the people who habituate the bar that turned it into a place where they socialize and have recreation finally find this to be an acceptable kind of adornment to their environment?" Churchill said, according to a recording of the Berkeley speech on the leftist Web site Indybay.org. "And I've got an answer for you. And that answer is: Eichmann! Eichmann! That is the mentality of Eichmann!"
Dixie Block, who's studying at Chabot College to be an emergency medical technician, attended Churchill's speech. Block phoned the bar, contacted Indian groups and other leftist activists, and posted extended missives about the squaw-teeth display on the leftist opinion Web sites Indybay.org and Indymedia.org.
"I would like to see that turned around, and to see that mentality that allows the bar to exist here is part of a much larger system," she explained when I spoke with her last week. "This is part of this empire, and the Bush Administration, and it all links back because it's part of the prison industrial complex. And Peabody Coal has links to Lehman Brothers, which has links ..."
At about this point, Block lost me.
Back in the bar, after talking a bit with Hobday, it became clear that, despite his coarse language and appearance, the barkeep is no rube.
He's credited with bringing the very concept of casual, whimsically decorated, office worker-packed watering holes called "fern bars" to America when he set up a joint called Henry Africa's, which thrived during the 1970s. Eddie Rickenbackers is of a kind; it's hung thick with Hobday's collection of antiques, including a pack of Indian brand motorcycles and a glass case in the back containing a banner that says, "Deadly tools of the Indian fighter." The case also displays some revolvers and carbines used by cavalrymen during the western Indian wars. It used to contain the box of squaw teeth, which Hobday bought along with some other items at a 1995 auction of Col. George Custer memorabilia.