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Dog Bites 

Phil Matier and Willie Brown raise eyebrows by doing TV together; no cow eyes at the Exploratorium; and more!

Wednesday, Feb 11 2004
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Matier & Boss

A Chronicle columnist and former mayor Brown raise eyebrows by doing TV together

This just in (Dog Bites has always wanted to write that): The Society of People Completely Inured to Questionable Mixtures of Business, Politics, and Journalism in San Francisco (of which Dog Bites is only an associate member) has rewritten its bylaws, authorizing one raised eyebrow in February. To understand why, you need to know about a television show that played at 9:30 p.m. on Sunday: Live With Willie & Phil. As in former Mayor Willie Brown and Chronicle columnist Phil Matier.

Hoping to hear an entertaining attempt to justify allowing the newspaper's most prominent political columnist to partner with a still-potent and oft-investigated political deal-maker, Dog Bites called Chronicle Executive Vice President and Editor Phil Bronstein, but was, alas, disappointed. Bronstein said that Matier has had a long relationship as a political commentator at KRON-TV (Channel 4), but when the Chronicle discovered, late last week, through a KRON promotion, that Matier would co-host a show with Brown, conversations were, ahem, held. Sunday's Live With Willie & Phil, Bronstein said, would be the last. (Yes, you heard Dog Bites correctly: Matier's bosses apparently found out he was co-hosting a television show with a former mayor from a promotion for the show.) "For us that was not a tenable situation, because it went from Phil having some kind of presence on air with Willie as a guest, to them having some kind of business enterprise together," Bronstein said. Even though Brown is no longer mayor, Bronstein noted, "Willie, everyone anticipates, will be involved in city politics." (Given that Willie Brown has had a headlock on Sacramento and San Francisco political life for decades and is a major backer of new Mayor Gavin Newsom, Dog Bites gives Bronstein a 99.7-out-of-100 score in SF Weekly's annual Understatement of the Year competition.)

Because the show had already been taped, produced, and promoted, Bronstein said, KRON declined to pull the Feb. 8 episode, which featured a lengthy interview of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, "but agreed that this particular format wouldn't go forward."

Matier essentially confirmed Bronstein's account of the situation, saying Willie & Phil was a one-time affair "as far as I know and as far as I'm concerned." He said he respects the Chronicle's concerns about the format, but those concerns "hadn't entered my mind going into it." He said he will now be sole host of a Sunday show on KRON.

"I think the communication between the news organizations could have been better, and I fault myself for that," Matier said, earning a 99.8 score in the understatement contest.

Stacy Owen, news director at KRON, had a different take. She said her station had planned a show hosted by Matier and Brown as a natural extension of political commentary shows in which both had appeared regularly. "And my feeling is nobody owns Phil Matier; he is a strong reporter and journalist in his own right," Owen said. When told of Bronstein's comments, Owen said, "Am I aware that the Chronicle has some concerns about that? Yes. Do I have those same concerns? No, I don't. I give Phil [Matier] more credit than that."

Still, she said, the Sunday show will be renamed 4 the Record, will have Matier as the sole host, and will be expanded "to have sort of a panel of people to talk about the week's events in news, the arts, public affairs, all sorts of things." That panel, she said, could include former Mayor Brown. Dog Bites lifted an eyebrow, then ran to set the TiVo for Sunday night. (John Mecklin)

How Now, Blind Cow?

Two weekends ago, we found ourselves strolling through the dim, cavernous halls of the Exploratorium, marveling at how our passion for scientific inquiry surges as the weather gets crappier. As usual, the kid-friendly, hands-on museum was a delight for all ages (especially, we assume, for the two darling teenagers in the walk-in kaleidoscope, who spent 10 minutes learning about each other's bodies while Dog Bites snickered outside).

We soon discovered, however, that all was not hugs and kisses here. On the second floor, Dog Bites watched a middle-aged guy approach a young museum volunteer to ask about that afternoon's scheduled science experiment; the volunteer -- standing behind a demonstration counter bereft of beakers, bowls, or body parts -- shook his blond curls sadly. "We're not dissecting a cow eye today," he said with a sigh. "It's the whole mad cow thing. And it sucks, because the cow eye dissection was, like, our most popular attraction."

Dog Bites found that hard to believe, having just come from the "Energy From Death" exhibit. (Really, what's a weekend without sniffing the skeletal remains of a maggot-ridden mouse?) Still, we counted ourselves among the devastated, decided that this mad cow thing had gone too far, and a few days later, called the museum and asked for a more detailed explanation.

"Well, we're not receiving any cow's eyes," said museum spokeswoman Linda Dackman, who told us the dissection has been a regular feature of the Exploratorium since the early 1970s. The Exploratorium, it turns out, had been receiving twice-weekly shipments, the frequent deliveries ensuring the organs would be fresh for slicing and dicing. "We get them from a meat supply company, and last week came -- no more supply. It's strictly a lack of availability."

Given the global concerns over the spread of mad cow disease, Dackman said, the museum staff understands its supplier's decision to halt shipments. But evidence also suggests that mad cow disease -- a rare and fatal disorder believed to be caused by a prion, an abnormal protein that affects structural changes in a cow's brain -- is spread only through ingestion of infected meat. "I don't know that there is any danger from a dissection," Dackman said. "It's a cow eye. This is not anything that's consumed."

"Thank God," Dog Bites thought; you never know with those scientists.

A Sissy Protest, Fur Sure

Speaking of animals and the implements that maim them, Dog Bites dropped by the San Francisco Ballet's premiere of Don Quixote last week, where security around the Opera House was braced for a confrontation. Word had spread that members of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals would protest at the event in their inimitable fashion, seeking to change the minds -- and clothes -- of fur-clad ballet patrons. And PETA is known for changing minds the hard way: Lisa Franzetta, coordinator of the ballet protest, was arrested last year at a fashion show for pouring red-painted cash over the head of designer Michael Kors while shouting, "Here's your blood money, fur pimp!"

Hoping to catch a similar confrontation, Dog Bites arrived to find the SFPD already deployed on the steps of the Opera House. PETA hadn't shown up yet, but the mere prospect of splattering red paint sent ripples of tension through the chill winter air. "I just seen some fur go in," said one security guard of a ballet patron who arrived ahead of the protesters. "She dodged a bullet."

Not literally, we hoped, but just as we were steeling ourselves for the anti-fur firing squad, six ballerinas -- five women and a man -- pirouetted forth, wearing tutus and fur stoles stained red. "Don't wear fur, it hurts my tutu," cried the guy, his toes pointed and lips painted. He identified himself as Luciano, and told us he and Franzetta had dreamed up the "bloody ballerina" concept mostly because he wanted to wear pink for PETA.

A noble goal, Dog Bites thought. But for PETA, wasn't the approach a little, well, sissy?

Franzetta confirmed that the kinder, gentler exercise was a conscious decision to use "humor and camp and sex" to get the PETA message across. Indeed, the mood on the sidewalk was decidedly warm and (dare we say it?) fuzzy.

But this was a PETA protest, after all. Steve Wells soon showed up wearing a chest-mounted video screen, which displayed footage of animals being trapped, caged, and skinned. One scene depicted two men electrocuting a fox by clamping an electrode to its nose and inserting another in its anus. Some balletgoers resented the addition of an anal probe to their evening's entertainment, and one of them -- not wearing fur -- thrust his belly at Wells in defiance.

"You talk about cruelty to animals?" he cried, gut-bumping Wells. "I'll be cruel to you!" Then he climbed the stairs to the entrance, shouting, "Fur is great!" at operatic volume.

By this time, Dog Bites, quite chilled through, had rediscovered the difficulty of taking notes while wearing gloves. "I wish I had some fur," we muttered to one of the cops in the security detail, Lt. Terry Barrett.

"No, no -- not fur," the lieutenant said. And from the pocket of her pants, she produced a pair of warm cloth mittens. (Anna North)

Newsom, P.I.

Staggering to our mailbox on a cloudy afternoon, we were delighted to discover a package, in keeping with our law enforcement theme, sent by new Mayor Gavin Newsom. Gnashing apart the pink ribbons (nice touch, Kimberly), we found ourselves the proud owner of an Official Gavin Newsom Crimefighting Kit. We'd read the San Francisco Chronicle stories about Newsom's "surprise visits" to murder scenes in the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood, and how his interviews with witnesses were rankling investigators, but we never dreamed the new mayor would produce his own toolbox for aspiring detectives. And as it turns out, he knows his stuff. Each Gavin Newsom Crimefighting Kit includes:

Magnifying glass with Fabergé handle

DVD compilation of CSI: Miami episodes

Map of limousine routes through Bayview-Hunters Point

Pen, notebook, and mini me of Chronicle City Hall scribe Rachel Gordon, to take notes that never vary from the mayor's thinking

Split of champagne

Life-size inflatable Gavin Newsom Crimefighting doll, in case bullets are still flying

Copy of Berkeley High School Slang Dictionary (which, its publisher says, "contains words that students in Berkeley High's Communication Arts and Sciences [CAS] program have identified as part of the cultural and linguistic fabric of spoken English. CAS promotes the investigation of discourses in the communities we encounter -- many of which are marginalized. Words come from African American, Chicano, Jewish, and sports cultures, and include era-specific slang from the beatniks, '60s African American church, movie culture, hip hop, and drug subculture. This is an eye-opening adventure into the way different cultures and communities communicate and take ownership of their language in creative and pragmatic ways").

The first hundred citizens to request a kit will also, Dog Bites has learned, receive a complimentary copy of the Official Gavin Newsom Crimefighting Handbook, featuring his introductory essay, "What Encyclopedia Brown Meant to Me."

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