Friends from other "developed nations" always express shock at the number of people begging in our city streets; they are bewildered by the casual way San Franciscans dismiss or toss coins at outstretched cups. "What makes one person more deserving than the next?" they ask. "It's just a matter of taste," I blithely respond. Is it cynicism to believe our capacity for charity is subject to our predilection for a particular pitch? Edward Bernays -- father of public relations and market research, and consequently interstate highways, political lobbies, and a CIA-backed insurrection in Guatemala -- would say it's just common sense: If panhandling is a moneymaking endeavor, panhandlers should know their market. Twenty-four-year-old Berkeley artist Cathy Davies probably didn't have Bernays in mind when she developed NeedCom, but Bernays would surely commend her technique. NeedCom is a stylish new Web site (sleek wintergreen logo in '50s script, modish black-and-white animated photos, multiple-choice bubbles) that asks you to rate the approaches of six panhandlers with cybercoin -- the $0.00 bubble for those you abhor, up to $1 for those you condone. The panhandlers are real -- the result of countless interviews and hundreds of hours sitting curbside in New York and San Francisco -- and include men and women of different ages, races, backgrounds, and mental and physical constitutions. At the end of the "Panhandling Effectiveness Survey," folks are invited to give their opinion on a number of topics pertaining to poverty, charity, panhandling, and work ethics. "Customer" responses are tallied and categorized for easy reference, as are very candid panhandler remarks on stench, blindness, hustling, taxes, "workday" shifts, and gross annual incomes. In a more idealistic time, Bernays used market research to negotiate taste and bias by accumulating data about belief systems. In the cynical time of Davies, market research is taste and bias and she uses our appetite for accumulated data to negotiate our belief systems. It's clever, it's fun, and it's free. Just think. NeedCom celebrates its launch with multiple terminals, large projections, and a running tally at Crucible Steel Gallery (2050 Bryant) on Friday, July 23, at 7 p.m. Admission is free; call (510) 883-9206. Those not in possession of their real-time bodies should log on at www.pbs.org/weblab/needcom/.
In the liturgy of youthful rebellion, the choruses "I wanna fuck the dead" and "Drinking and driving is so much fun" hold a very special place in my heart. So, even if it means half the musicians included on the Social Chaos Tour are using walkers, or should be, I would be doing my inner delinquent a great disservice not to mention that T.S.O.L., the Business, the U.K. Subs, D.R.I., Murphy's Law, D.O.A., and Vice Squad are performing at Maritime Hall on Sunday, July 25, at 6 p.m. Tickets are $25; call 974-0634.
If you've never heard of Alabina, you haven't been paying much attention. Led by the overt sex appeal of Ishtar -- a golden beauty who sings in seven languages and was the first female jet fighter mechanic in the army before she started flashing her tantalizing midriff in front of sold-out arenas with the group Kaoma (responsible for the international insanity "Lambada") -- Alabina has become the top recording artist in France, has the top-selling album in Denmark, and has reached the top five on Billboard's Latin charts. While Ishtar is billed as Alabina's lead, it is the band -- four dexterous cousins who began performing, at the age of 14, as Los Ninos de Sara -- that nimbly marries flamenco with Middle Eastern dance music and European pop, and makes Alabina much more than a Euro sensation. Deep-throated Tonio can give all the Gipsy Kings a run for their bolo ties and Ishtar makes even the Animals' "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" sound like bacchanalia. Alabina performs at the Fillmore on Monday, July 26, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25; call 346-6000.
-- Silke Tudor