Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)

Written by Ivanna Quiroz Photos by Godofredo Vasquez

@ivanna_quiroz 

Ten minutes until face off and the brown wooden benches of the Kezar Pavilion are quickly filling up. Outfitted with black Beats headphones, the DJ bobs his head up and down to mostly hip hop and some hard rock. Hoards of people enter, some juggle nachos, hot dogs, and energy drinks – most in clusters, and most clad in t-shirts supporting their gym or favorite fighter. Some groups are happy, cheerily chatting with one another, while others strut back and forth from one side of the arena to the other, game face on.

The star of this production, the cage, sits in the center, surrounded by cushioned blacks seats that constitute the “VIP area.” For the moment, the cage is empty. Its gray floor is clean and its padded corners shiny. For the spectators in the arena, the cage is unassuming, even though in just a matter of minutes, it will transform into a place of chaos. For the fighters waiting to enter, the cage is intimidating, threatening. For within the confines of this hexagonal structure, their fate will be decided. There is always one winner and one loser.

Zhong Luo, the owner of Dragon House, quickly appears for a few seconds and just as quickly disappears, talking urgently through his blue-tooth ear piece. Zhong Luo, or “Sifu” as he is called by his fighters, began learning martial arts at age three from his father and Grandmaster Luo Rong Qiang. By the age of five, Zhong Luo was already winning awards in hand-form competitions. When Luo was fourteen, he was well practiced in San Shou (Chinese kick-boxing), Mongolian-style wrestling, and weight-lifting.

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Hunger in the Horn

By Tamerra Griffin

A brief scroll down any notable news outlet’s web page will yield the latest from the turbulent political arena, which seems incomplete without an alleged sex scandal or controversial leaked footage; recaps of big-name universities’ athletic events, and the NCAA infractions thereof; multi-million dollar celebrity weddings (and subsequent divorces); not to mention the occasional, but always well-received, human interest piece that spotlights a local hero.

However, save for the now-quintessential photo of an enrobed East African woman delicately swaddling an emaciated, wide-eyed child gaping at the camera, one will be hard pressed to find detailed information regarding arguably the most severe human rights crises of the century.  In the midst of volatile international relations and a domestic morale that has certainly seen better days, it would seem that humanitarianism and philanthropic efforts would become more crucial and prevalent than ever before, used at the very least as a means of boosting a sense of global optimism.  And yet, as the famine in Somalia forges through the country and into neighboring nations in the Horn of Africa, it is ironically becoming the biggest deal that Americans aren’t talking about.  The question is: Why?

The United Nations released its official declaration of the famine in two regions of Somalia, southern Bakool and Lower Shabelle, on July 20, 2011.  Since then, however, the famine has spread to six different regions, forcing Somalis to seek refuge in neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia.  Regardless of preexisting conditions in a country, a UN-certified famine must fulfill the following requirements: acute malnutrition rates among children exceeding 30 percent, more than two people per 10,000 dying each day, and each citizen’s average daily caloric intake falling below 2,100 (or just 40 calories more than an ultimate cheeseburger and 24 oz. vanilla ice cream shake from Jack in the Box).  But while the July report ignited a global public outcry that made it seem as if the crisis had just occurred, Somalia and the greater region of the Horn of Africa has been suffering for some time.

A people’s history

The famine in Somalia did not occur in a vacuum.  In fact, no food crisis does.  In the case of Somalia, a number of factors contribute to the impending food shortage that has affected nearly half of Somalia’s population of just over 9.3 million.

Given its location on the equator, which slices through the southern tip of Somalia, the nation’s climate is mostly dry, arid, and hot, with average high and low temperatures ranging from 104 degrees to 59 degrees, respectively, each year.  Furthermore, Somalia receives very little rainfall (a condition many environmentalists cite as yet another effect of global warming), which makes it susceptible to drought.

This is precisely what happened in the summer of 2011, and the inability to produce enough crops sent the prices of such essential foods as red sorghum (a grainy cereal that looks similar to couscous) skyrocketing.  Following the United Nations announcement in July, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) released a study illustrating the extent to which Somali farmers were forced to inflate the prices of their products.  In Bakool, for example, the going rate of red sorghum increased 186 percent between June 2010 and June 2011 (to put it in context, this would be as if the price of a 14 oz. box of Cheerios went from $4.69 to $13.41 at Safeway).  The drought also had a significant effect on the local livestock, of which ninety percent reportedly have died of starvation since the onset of the drought.  With the decline in availability of these two crucial sources of food, Somalis could do little else than hope for rain to replenish their crops.

Famine in Somalia
Malnourished Ethiopians are treated in Dolo Ado, Ethiopia. Cate Turton/Department for International Development.

Developmental dilemmas, civil unrest

Additionally, Somalia’s low status on the global power pyramid means that it suffers greatly from the slightest shift in economics.  Acknowledged by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development as a least developed country–a title based on low income, weak human assets, and economic vulnerability–Somalia, according to SF State professor of Africana Studies Dr. Serie McDougal, is without the means to respond to such natural events as droughts, which is not the case in other areas.

“Somalia doesn’t have the infrastructure to deal with climate change, or even natural disasters,” he said.

McDougal exemplifies this developmental disparity in other regions as well.

“We all know about the earthquake in Haiti, but there was also one in Concepción, Chile [on February 27, 2010].  Even though the magnitude was larger, the latter dealt with it in a matter of months; with Haiti, it’s been years,” says McDougal, who  has worked at SF State as a professor for four years and currently teaches several courses in Africana studies.
The irony is that even though Somalis suffer greatly from climate change conditions, they actually leave a pretty tiny carbon footprint compared to other countries.

“If there is a flood in San Francisco, we have the infrastructure to respond to it,” says McDougal. “We also have the irrigation capacity to use conserved water to bring it to places that have drought.  But in San Francisco, with all of the industry and cars, we actually contribute more to the climate change than Somalia ever could.

“The people least responsibe for climate change are the ones most effected by it; Somalia is a perfect example of that,” he says.

The impact of these environmental factors notwithstanding, there is another element that plays into this multifaceted plight.  The political field in Somalia is extremely vulnerable right now, which has paved the way for radical groups to emerge as national authorities.  This group in question is known as Al-Shabaab, which means “the youth” in Arabic.  Opposing the leadership of the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia–which is recognized by the United Nations, the African Union, and the United States–Al-Shabaab consists of the branch of the Somali Council of Islamic Courts that overtook the southern half of Somalia in the latter half of 2006, and has since performed a number of militant acts in the country, like the Mogadishu suicide car bombing on September 17, 2009, that killed 11 peacekeeping African Union soldiers and a number of citizens seeking care at a nearby hospital.  Currently, Al-Shabaab controls southern Somalia, where the famine is most severe, and until very recently has denied the entrance of foreign aid organizations looking to provide Somalis with food and water.

Famine in Somalia
Children queue for food at a distribution center in Mogadishu, Somalia in August, 2011. James Hooley/FCO

Redefining humanitarianism?

Given all of these layers in the stratum that is the famine in Somalia, one might presume–hope even–that the case would be handled with immediacy and zeal.  But alas, unlike the earthquake in Haiti and the tsunami in Japan, this particular human rights crisis is receiving little to no attention by the general American population.  According to research done by CNN Money, Americans raised $275 million for Haiti and $87 million for Japan, both within the first week of the respective disasters.  This money was generated through non-governmental organizations; the American Red Cross raised $2.8 million towards the Japan earthquake and Pacific tsunami response on text donations alone.  Regarding Somalia, not only are statistics chronicling American donations elusive, but it was not until August 8, nearly three weeks after the UN’s declaration of famine, that President Obama permitted a donation of $105 million to be sent to the East African country. In overheard conversations regarding the topic, students still react in ways that indicate they were not even aware the famine existed.  In Professor McDougal’s classes, he notices not necessarily a disinterest among students, but an overall lack of new information.
But who is at fault for that?

According to Kate Kilbourne, the web and social media manager for the Campaign for Female Education (Camfed), this responsibility lies squarely on the shoulders of the news.
“It has to do with media attention,” she says. “I fault mass media and its outlets.  Famine is prevalent, but people don’t know about it.”

Professor McDougal takes a less critical perspective, instead looking more closely at the potential gains by developed countries in providing aid to Somalia.
“At any given time, there are a number of humanitarian crises in the world, and countries choose which ones to put at the top of their list [in terms of who to help] based on a strategic interest,” he says, citing as an example the United States’ decision to intervene in Libya, a country from which they could gain immensely, than that of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is currently undergoing a civil war that has claimed over three million lives in a five-year period.
But both Kilbourne and McDougal’s ideologies align when it comes to the importance of preventative, rather than reactionary, aid.

Famine in Somalia
Luli Hassan Ali looks after her severely malnourished child Aden Ibrahim Ali (4) with brother Mohammed (6) sitting next to them, in a clinic in Dagahaley section, Dadaab camp. Dadaab camp is the largest refugee camp in the world with people fleeing the civil war in Somalia. In recent months the rate of new arrivals has increased dramatically due to the added factor of drought that is affecting the region. It has now become severely overcrowded. Andy Hall/Oxfam

Reflecting her organization’s focus on female empowerment, Kilbourne suggests that “rather than giving money or food to countries suffering from drought or famine, we need to train mother support groups on how to grow their own food so that they are less reliant on external entities.”
McDougal concedes that while it is a good sign that Al-Shabaab has lifted its ban against foreign aid workers entering the country, he still believes that “when it comes to precautionary aspects, it is really a question of this: can we achieve a stable, representative government, and can we get international private companies to invest in water conservation and agricultural self sufficiency in Somalia?”  Until this happens, he argues, “it’s going to be this same crisis response, where we bring wheat, rice, and other food in the wake of a disaster.”
In the case of environmental disasters like the one in Somalia, philanthropy seems to take on a different meaning.

“There is definitely a philosophy of what it means to help,” says McDougal.  “What I’ve been taught is that it’s a selfless and spontaneous thing: somebody drops their bag, and you immediately help them by picking it up.  But when it comes to international relations, help is far from selfless.  It’s very quid pro quo, and it transforms help into a strategic means of exercising power.”

So until the media makes an effort to illuminate the food plight in Somalia, and until larger governmental organizations sincerely accept the concept of helping without seeking anything in return, the chances of seeing a significant improvement are disconcertingly slim.  Somalia has dropped its bag, and the rest of the world, for the most part, is taking its time in picking it up off the ground.

 

The Mission’s Day of the Dead tradition reminds the crowd to cherish the best of times.

By Victor Rodriguez

Photos by Cindy Waters

Amid the penetrating smells of the burning incense, the parade is underway with dancers in their positions, percussionists at the ready, and participants each holding one figure of the Aztec calendar. People line up on the sidewalks and curbs to watch the neighborhood pilgrimage. A morbid view is not uncommon, and many people, both adults and children, wear the traditional black-and-white face paint of a human skull to recall the better days they had with their dead.

The black lines on her face indicate careful time management in preparing for the event. A spider web on her forehead, thin and wavy lines on her cheeks that begin with plastic blue diamonds, and the skull’s teeth formed to make more of a frown than a smile. They portray her with a melancholic expression on this particular day. Holding a candle very close to her chest, Rachel Lesage watches the parade with careful contemplation.

“This candle is in memory of my mother,” says Lesage, “It’s a way of channeling with her according to this day’s tradition.”

Dia De Los Muertos
City College student Antonio Lewington shows off impressive make-up at the Dia de los Muertos celebration in the Mission District on November 2nd.

Dressed in black and carefully arranging marigolds of cloths on the bun of her hair, she has made the Mexican holiday a part of her tradition for fifteen years in remembrance of her loved ones.

Day of the Dead, a tradition crucial to the Mexican culture, dates back to Aztec times. It is a day where people pay their respects and feel a connection to the other side. Sugar skulls, marigolds, incense, and altars are common attributes to the “decoration” of this holiday, much like stockings stockings and pine trees represent Christmas. But in the Mission, the celebration does not limit itself to the Mexican population, it reaches a good amount of the diverse culture in San Francisco.

Dia De Los Muertos
Shrines and letters to deceased loved ones line the outskirts of Garfield Park during the Dia de los Muertos celebration in the Mission District on November 2nd.

“Here, I have my dad, and on the other side is my first boyfriend,” says Pedro Valverde, describing the candle he made to display the pictures of two important people in his life. According to Valverde, such a major celebration in the city is important to uphold the tradition he started being a part of in Texas.

Dia De Los Muertos
SF State students Zach Canter and Lauren Vizzini ride the Muni to the Dia de los Muertos celebration in the Mission District on November 2nd.

Glass candles, the ones common in the religious community, are custom made by the people who recall those most important in their lives. The light signifies a welcome to the spirit of the deceased, and a recollection of better moments spent with them. The wrapping around it can be colorful and intricate, but most of the light up a picture of those departed.

Dia De Los Muertos
Antonio Lewington holds a candle of the Virgen de Guadalupe at the Dia de los Muertos celebration in the Mission Distict on November 2nd.

Valverde looks up at the parade as it begins on 22nd and Bryant, holding his father’s rosary with one hand, and says, “This is a way that I can have soul access with him on a day like this.”

Dia De Los Muertos
SF State student Tara Deaton shows off elaborate make-up at the Dia de los Muertos celebration in the Mission District on November 2nd.

Yet, the parade does not call for a very silent and tearful march, as one might initially believe since it is a day of mourning. The parade is a form of ritual for the crowd to experience a joyous emotional connection. Though the humor of the sugar skulls and face-paints seems a bit dark, Michael Wilson interprets it like others do.  An event like this is important to be considerate of the dead: “It’s a cultural experience that gives us a way of being respectful of the dead.”

San Francisco’s Central Subway

By Chris Torres

Photos by Hang Chen

It’s twenty after eleven on Tuesday morning in Chinatown.  People browse storefronts, trudge up the hill, hang laundry out to dry from lines strung from a neighbor’s side window.  Folks exchanging information, glances, loose change.  A pair of tourists from somewhere in Europe armed with a map and cameras pass into a hole-in-the-wall shop selling produce and postcards.  A man hoses down the sidewalk.  San Francisco’s most densely populated neighborhood woke up hours ago.

It’s standing room only on the 30-Stockton bus between Broadway and Market.  People have places to be—it’s Tuesday.  Market Street is going to be packed.  BART is running on time.  More are boarding from all doors, and it looks like this bus is going to miss the next outbound Caltrain by three minutes.  “Please hold on.”

San Francisco has a plan to completely overhaul this crowded line.  With a cost hovering around $1.6 million, and a time commitment of roughly a decade from the plan’s inception, the city can’t afford to back out now. Ground on the project was broken last year, and the Central Subway is expected to be operational in 2019.  With 48 percent of the total funding coming from federal sources, 23 percent from the state and 29 percent from local sources, the project isn’t so daunting, at least according to the SFMTA.

Central Subway
A construction worker wields at the intersection of Stockton Street and Geary Street as pedestrians cross the street, Nov. 15, 2011. The construction is working on the wiring for the Central Subway project.

The completed second phase of the T-Third Street line, an underground subway running north along Fourth Street from King Street and the existing light-rail line along Third, will travel underneath the Market Street Subway, then continue further north under Stockton Street, and turn around under North Beach.

The new alignment is “expected to dramatically increase ride time from the beginning of the Third Street alignment to the northern terminus at Chinatown,” according to a Board of Supervisors Resolution.  The Board estimates ride time between Broadway and Market Street to be improved from 20 minutes to about 7.

There have been alternative plans tossed around, such as whether to run the subway under Fourth Street, or rather continue the line under Third to later link up with Stockton Street.
The SFMTA predicts that by 2030, the T-Third Street, including the Central Subway addition, will have a “20 percent higher ridership level than the N-Judah,” which is currently Muni’s busiest line.  Additionally, the MTA predicts an estimated 30,000 jobs will be created by the project.

Central Subway
The Central Subway construction at the intersection of Stockton Street and Geary Street creates traffic problems in the Union Square area. Only commercial vehicles are allow to drive through the construction area.

While the project’s ‘why’ might not be in question, its ‘how’ might be. SF State professor Jason Henderson, an expert in the geography of transit, is neither for nor against the plan.  But he sees the terminus at Broadway as a major flaw.  “The problem with the Central Subway is that it doesn’t come out the other side… the original versions had it actually coming out on to Geary, and then run[ning] to the west side.”  During BART’s construction, there was talk of running a line down Geary, then north over the Golden Gate Bridge into Marin County.

Somewhere during planning, it was settled that the Central Subway would turn around underneath North Beach, just past the proposed Chinatown Station.  While the line could, in theory, be further extended in the future, the $1.6 billion price tag is something that Professor Henderson finds difficult to reconcile.  It would make more sense, he says, to spend that money to augment the existing system to be more in line with San Francisco’s “Transit First” initiatives.
The Van Ness Corridor is currently undergoing tests to determine if a strictly transit lane could improve Muni’s flow along the often busy stretch of Highway 101.  Another option would be to add more limited, or express, bus lines to reduce the number of stops on the highest volume lines.

Central Subway
David Gellor cuts I-beam for the Central Subway construction at the interception of Stockton Street and Geary Street, Nov. 15, 2011. The grow is doing wiring works for the future underground project.

“There’s two problems in San Francisco that make Muni unreliable,” Professor Henderson believes.  “Number one, the cars.  The buses get stuck behind the cars… the other thing is that they [passengers] board at the front door.  There really should be all-door boarding.”

The Neighborhoods

Driving a subway line through existing infrastructure is no small task.  “The project will require the demolition of rent controlled housing stock and displacement of 19 low-income households from Chinatown,” according to an MTA impact study.

The report further predicts that the Stockton and Third Street Corridors are expected to “see a 26 percent increase in population and a 61 percent increase in employment,” as a result of the Central Subway.  Planners are hoping the line’s proximity to Caltrain and BART will allow for easier commuter access from across the Bay Area and down the peninsula.

The Stockton Street Corridor is among the busiest thoroughfares in San Francisco.  Terry Joan Baum, a playwright and activist who ran for mayor in the 2011 election, told XPress in a September, 2011 interview that she’s completely behind “solving transit needs right now with really extensive rapid transit bus [service], with infrequent stops.”

Mulling over the logic of driving a subway tunnel under existing downtown urban infrastructure, noting that it’s “absurd on the face of it to have this gigantic project because a few blocks of Stockton Street move very slowly.”  She suggests to simply fix those few blocks of Stockton Street with simple changes, such as eliminating street parking along some stretches, or making the most crowded segments bus only.

Central Subway
Muni riders packed the platform at Powell Station during rush hours.

The Third Street stretch of the line has grown in the years since construction.  Around 54 percent of Third Street Corridor residents do not own a car.  While long stretches of Third Street are non-residential, much of Potrero Hill, Bayview/Hunters Point, and the surrounding areas are.  In addition to the line’s proximity to Caltrain and BART, the T-Third Street also serves both AT&T Park and Candlestick, as well as the growing UC San Francisco developments in Mission Bay.

If the growth in South Market and along the Third Street Corridor is some indication of a neighborhood’s evolution with the addition of rapid transit, then the  MTA’s prediction of increased population andemployment could be an accurate glimpse of the future.

Subway Stations

In order for the Central Subway to come into working order, some existing structures will have to be demolished to create stations.  The Board of Supervisors has already set plans to provide assistance to those displaced by the project’s construction.  While there is no true way to immediately predict how, or if, the transit improvement might give rise to growth and development in the surrounding neighborhoods, the city does know that it will need to provide these relocation packages to build Chinatown Station and Moscone Station.  The Board of Supervisors are including provisions in the package that would allow tenants of these properties not only to remain in San Francisco, but also in or reasonably near their current location.

The first of two critical properties, a gas and smog station at 4th and Folsom in South Market, is operated by Convenience Retailers LLC, and is the planned site of Moscone Station.  The adjoining smog shop is independently owned and operated.

Central Subway
David Gellor cuts I-beam for the Central Subway construction at the interception of Stockton Street and Geary Street, Nov. 15, 2011. The grow is doing wiring works for the future underground project.

The MTA report notes that service stations are strategically placed to best serve drivers through a region’s busiest thoroughfares.  It further recognizes that such stations can’t be relocated too closely to opposing corporate entities if it would negatively impacting their business.  Convenience Retailers LLC has already relocated.

The second property, located at Stockton and Washington, is a privately owned, rent controlled, multi-unit building, and the planned site of Chinatown Station.  The building houses eight retail tenants, ranging from restaurants and hair salons to a butcher shop and office space.  Upstairs, there are 19 families living in 18 residential units, amounting to about 56 total people.  Tenants can negotiate their own relocation package, including the property owner for the building itself.

The report recognizes the area’s historical significance, as well as the tourist draw.  Much as the Tenderloin and Chinatown was reconstructed after the 1906 quake and conflagration to support a large bachelor workforce.  At present, many of these units are housing entire families and, according to the MTA’s impact report, are showing “significant signs of deferred maintenance.”

San Francisco is set to take on some distinctive changes over the next ten years.  In addition to the Central Subway, the waterfront will see some new cosmetic renovation for the America’s Cup in 2014.  The new Transbay Terminal, which should be in service by 2019, includes plans for thirteen new towers around the new terminal.  If all goes according to plan, the city’s skyline could be dramatically different by 2021.

A subway line is only one small piece of this.

Helping Youth Reach Their Full Potential

By Victor Rodreguez
Photos by Eric Verduzco

She sits cross-legged, runs her hands through her black hair and smiles between each sentence, describing a scene into a life that is now just a memory. Her parents had a hard time trying to fund her educational endeavors. By the time college rolled around, she was on her own. Yet, now as she leans in to her desk of the SMART program’s new location, she recalls the track she’s on from new career opportunities that arose finding her way through the educational system. For Nonoko Sato, the matter of trying to help local kids with the same motivation she had more than eight years ago is personal.

Students who come from various backgrounds and have tried their luck in public school, sometimes find that the end result is ineffective. A chance for higher education or even just graduating from high school can seem so distant through little or no fault of their own. That extra push to keep up the educational endurance comes from the dedication of directors and mentors of various programs who seek to make their pupils excel.

Help is wherever someone is willing to look for it. “We assist students who want to learn, but their family income and status keeps them from continuing after high school,” says Sato, executive director for Schools, Mentoring and Resource Team (SMART). “Our goal is for them to understand where education will take them if they really want it and that we are there helping them until they’re ready for college.”

At Risk Youth
Ben Buis, Director of Operations at SMART, instructs students to their next activity, Oct. 3 ,2011. SMART is an after school program that provides a learning space for selected students to develop academic skills with the help of college student volunteers.

In common terms, these students would be labeled as “at-risk youth,” but that term means so much more than just an unsuccessful tenure in public school. Different programs target different circumstances, like household income, juvenile detention, foster children, and poor academic performance, among others.

At San Francisco Court Appointed Special Advocates (SFCASA), the main goal is to help children in foster care by mentoring one-on-one to help them with life’s endeavors and a better future that would otherwise be difficult beyond their control.

“We provide mentoring and advocacy for youth in foster care on a one-on-one basis,” says Sally Coates, executive director of SFCASA. “Think of Big Brothers Big Sisters, and we mentor in a similar fashion, but beyond that, we have the legal authority to advocate for the youth in the court room based on the best interests for the youth.”

When they end with their students at the age of eighteen, those who carry on can be referred to the Guardian Scholars, an educational opportunity program at SF State. Their aim remains the same in creating a system of support that covers the students academic, social, and even financial needs. A report shows how desperately these young people need the system, since only one percent of former foster care youth go on to pursue a college education, and even then, only eleven percent of the same youth will obtain a bachelor’s degree.

At Risk Youth
Aidé Aceves, Program Associate at SMART, watches as students develop a story board , Oct. 3 ,2011. SMART is an after school program that provides a learning space for selected students to develop academic skills with the help of college student volunteers.

In a similar sense, Nick Wightman, regional director of a program at YMCA San Francisco, overlooks and assists in helping students with their primary struggles.
“We definitely work to help kids get more engaged in school and see themselves as successful so they can graduate high school, go to college or whatever it is they aspire to do,” says Wightman. “With at-risk youth, there are many factors in play that have to be addressed along the way.”

Also working one-on-one, Wightman describes the objective of the YMCA program as helping the at-risk youth academically and with social skills by partnering them up with a mentor. While not necessarily academically focused, the mentors and the program make efforts to help these students cope with their status at their normal schools, where most of them are brought by referral from counselors and agencies.

Perhaps the efforts speak for themselves when describing the dedication that each program’s volunteers offer for these kids. And not all have to necessarily address the academic front. While some programs might be more successful in achieving results than others, it is crucial to understand that there has to be a consensus between what the child wants or needs, and what the mentor can provide.

At Risk Youth
Ben Buis, Director of Operations at SMART, watches as students develop a story board , Oct. 3 ,2011. SMART is an after school program that provides a learning space for selected students to develop academic skills with the help of college student volunteers.

At least for Kaina Walker, this is the approach that she overlooks as the programs director for Youth Justice Institute, a program dedicated to transition their youths into positive members of the community when life circumstances prove too difficult.

“These are mostly students ages fifteen and sixteen, who are high-risk,” says Walker. “Many of them are either in juvenile detention or on probation, so they need lots of support.” Walker explains that the goal for mentors, most of them being college students (many from SFSU), is to provide company and address the needs accordingly for the purpose of mental health. This approach makes their kids obtain a feeling of empowerment, for the betterment of the community.

Walker claims that success is not measured by tracing the magnitude of the student, but by embedding in them that they can give something back. The importance is in planting that seed, and that the effect is unpredictable. Whether ready and immediate or sometime later, that is where success can be attributed.

Yet, to draw from inspirations that follow strenuous experiences also makes it crucial to “nip it in the bud,” meaning that students can be prevented from having to confront any rigors relevant to their education by themselves entirely. In one such example, Ben Buis comprehends the significance to be the first in the family to attain the goals that their preceding generations came short of, and therefore makes the mission of the program a part of his personal effort.
“I struggled through college,” says Buis. “There was no influence to help me through it, both financially and academically, so my need to teach and serve the program is to help the students in these types of situations.”

At Risk Youth
Ana Maria Sauthoff, Program Manager at SMART, instructs students to their next activity, Oct. 3 ,2011. SMART is an after school program that provides a learning space for selected students to develop academic skills with the help of college student volunteers.

Where as Sato overlooks and handles partnerships with schools, other educational organizations, and families associated with SMART, Buis contributes his part by ensuring that the mentoring and the program fulfills and educates the students based on their needs. “I’ve always tried to assist students directly in what they need,” says Buis. “While we try to support them academically, it also counts to support them socially and emotionally.”

It would be inaccurate to try and pinpoint that academic opportunities have greatly risen for many more students, diminishing the crowd that is have not obtained a high school diploma. The U.S. Department of Education (through the National Center for Education Statistics) charts that from 2000 to 2008, the average freshman graduation rate for public high school students has remained at an average of about seventy-three and a half percent. That’s almost three out of four students, a figure that is similar to the proportion in California.

A middle ground has to exist between the student and those interacting with the student. Where family and teachers have come up empty-handed, mentors are there to trace the source when all else has fallen short.

“Mentors are aware that this can be a scary world for these youths,“ says Walker. “While they are motivated and push college mentally, they understand that these kids need to be kept company for mental health.” Walker notes that within the program, it is essential for mentors to respect the needs of the youth.

At Risk Youth
Students at the SMART program in San Francisco, Calif., interact with one another playing activities before they meet with tutors who help them with homework. SMART is an after school program that provides a learning space for selected students to develop academic skills with the help of college student volunteers.

“In this way, mentors are also learning from the kids,” he says. Metaphorically, biology would liken this sort of rapport as a form of symbiotic relationship of mutualism.

“Many of our [SFSU mentor] students have been able to move forward in their careers,” Walker says of the program mentors over the years. “Many are now probation officers, police officers, lawyers, Juvenile Hall counselors, community service providers, moved on to get their masters, etc.”

Most of their jobs entail working with youth and helping them in many different roles. So despite the dismal job market, now it is more important for mentors to get first hand experience to compete with others. Education does not appear to be enough, according to Walker’s observations.

“Academics have been faulty, but these are students who want to learn,” says Sato, “The idea is to let them venture, [something] parents can sometimes have a hard time understanding.” She explains that each program has a role to play, to make their students reach a full potential.

Granted, not many programs can become readily available to the needs of any struggling student, but staff members work to minimize in taking no for an answer. Not to mention that any effectiveness can only come from the dedication of a staff. Denying the “no” comes from several fronts; from the governments and bureaucracies that cut the funding, from teachers and faculties who have given up, and from parents who do not believe in the causes and probabilities of higher education.

Nevertheless, bearing in mind any instances of program success, maybe they can collectively influence the attention of the general public. In a positive manner, it can raise the hope that more doors can be opened for under-privileged and at-risk youths, bringing down that percentage and giving a national dilemma a path towards resolution, starting in San Francisco.

The Dangers of Smart Pills

By Ivanna Quiroz
Cartoon by Gregory Moreno

Picture 3

Twenty one year old Suzanne* is your average SF State student. She goes to class, goes to work, studies, and finds time to go out with her friends on the weekends. Suzanne is a business major, and, like many students, she struggles with a busy schedule. Sometimes, she feels like she needs a little help and more time. Three years ago, Suzanne was a freshman and all she needed to do was ask her roommate for some Adderall. Her roommate, diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder, would frequently sell her prescribed medication to other students. It was the miracle drug that made it easy for Suzanne to focus. Studying for an exam in Macroeconomics suddenly didn’t feel so difficult and writing a ten page paper in one night didn’t feel so stressful. The secret was in the pill. The required texts were more interesting and she was doing well on all her exams. What Suzanne didn’t plan for was the way Adderall would make her feel.

“I have high blood pressure, and, when I would take Adderall, I could feel that my blood pressure was raised and that my heart was pounding. I always got really cold. I didn’t eat and didn’t sleep. I don’t do it that much anymore because I do have high blood pressure. I know that it’s really bad because you can actually feel how bad it is. Your heart is racing the whole time and you can’t calm down,” Suzanne says.

Adderall and Ritalin are drugs usually prescribed to patients with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The difference between the two disorders is based on hyperactivity. Patients diagnosed with ADHD are characterized by excessive restlessness and movement while those diagnosed with ADD are characterized by inattentiveness. Some people are diagnosed with a combination of both disorders. Today, it is common for college students not diagnosed with ADD or ADHD to use drugs, usually Adderall, to help them focus and study.

“People usually do it situationally,” explains Albert J. Angelo, a health educator from Student Health Services at SF State. “They’re doing it because of finals coming up or they feel like they need to pull an all-nighter or they are taking some kind of test that they really need to concentrate on.”

According to a 2010 study conducted by the American College Health Association, eighty-four percent of students report feeling overwhelmed by all they had to do during the year and forty percent feel overwhelmed in just the last two weeks, maybe a reason why many turn to drugs like Adderall and Ritalin.

“One time when I took it I had to write a ten page paper for an ethnic studies class,” describes SF State student Aria*. “I was in the annex and I took half a pill of Adderall with a Monster. I was up for twelve hours in the annex writing. It was really helpful. It kept me motivated and helped me focus on ideas because my mind often scatters.”

“A lot of people like to take it with alcohol or snort it for a stronger effect,” says SF State student Brianna Brostoff. “I think it’s crazy, since I’ve heard stories about people getting completely out of control on it.”

For ADD patients, Adderall has a calming influence but for those who are not diagnosed, the drug does just the opposite. Adderall and Ritalin are stimulants meaning they can temporarily improve mental or physical function. Common short-term effects include high anxiety, hypertension, insomnia and loss of appetite. One of the major dangers of the medication is that it is highly addictive says Dr. Cesar Banda, a family practice physician from Sacramento.

“It’s the same category as cocaine or morphine because it’s highly addictive,” explains Banda. “They [users] could develop tolerance meaning they would need a higher dosage to get the same result.”

“I know that it’s addictive, that’s why I use small amounts,” says SF State student Brian*. “The only amounts to get what I need to get done when it comes to studying. I use it very, very sparingly. I will not take it every day or more than twice in a week except for finals week.”

Other possible outcomes when taking Adderall can include heart complications, dependency, severe depression, seizures, aggressive behavior and even psychological problems such as schizophrenia. There have even been cases of sudden death with Adderall users who had previous heart abnormalities.

“Side effects depend on the person’s body,” explains Angelo. “If you’re taking medication without having a medical exam, you never know what could happen, especially if you’re taking some other medication or if you’re using drugs or alcohol. It could be based on what your biology is to begin with. Anything’s possible.”

The price of Adderall tends to run between five and nine dollars per pill, but can sometimes cost a lot more during finals or midterms when Adderall usage tends to peak on college campuses. Brian describes his usage as seven and a half milligrams once or twice a week, and, during finals, thirty milligrams for ten days.

“It feels euphoric at first and it helps you concentrate on something such as reading that’s very monotonous where your brain ventures off onto something else. It helps you focus on the subject at hand,” he says.

“Its [Adderall] street value is very high, especially in this area where drug culture is so prevalent,” describes an SF State student diagnosed with ADD, who asked to remain anonymous. “Initially, I sold to whomever wanted it, but in more recent days I’ve only sold it to help out friends who needed it for studying purposes. My prescribed dosage is thirty milligrams XR. I’m pretty sure it’s the highest dose available and it costs me, I believe, almost nine dollars a pill. I’ve actually sold it for less most of the time, usually six or seven dollars, but around finals time, about ten dollars each.”

Adderall sales have increased 3,100 percent since 2002 according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s becoming easier and easier to obtain a prescription for Adderall, and it’s common to hear of students going to doctors complaining of being extremely distracted and struggling to complete tasks in hopes of getting their own prescription for Adderall. A 2009 NPR.com article estimates that 25 percent of college students have used “study drugs” (Adderall and Ritalin), but the American College Health Association reports that only about 6 percent of college students are actually diagnosed with ADD.

“American kids are lazy,” Aria thinks. “It’s an easy way to get stuff done without actually making your brain work on its own. I think American kids take advantage of drugs and we’re really dependent on them to get stuff done.”

Taking Adderall without having been prescribed the medication and without having been physically examined by a doctor can lead to devastating results, all for a good grade. Bad grades happen, but there are always other options—retake an exam, extra credit or even retaking the class. Bad grades can be changed but repercussions from abusing Adderall could be permanent. So, is it worth it?

*Students wished to only use their first names to protect their identity.

California’s Green Medicine

 

By Ashley Aires
Photographs by Gil Riego (Special to Xpress)
With the return of the school year at SF State, students are trying to find ways to cope with the endless homework that they’re now faced with. Megan, a senior who declined to give her last name, has already figured out how she wants to spend some of her free time: smoking marijuana.
As she sits on the cold, metal bench across the street from State’s massive parking garage, she lights up what could look like an innocent cigarette if it wasn’t giving off a different odor. The first drag seems to take her lungs by surprise as a cough forces her to briefly clutch at her throat. As soon as the coughing stops, Megan takes another hit, and another, until she looks at her phone and realizes that she is late to a communications class.
Megan never realized that a university police car had been sitting on the other side of the street. Or maybe she knew, but had no reason to pay attention to it. Megan just got a medical marijuana card, for serious back and neck pain, which means that she can buy her medicine without worrying about getting in trouble.
Marijuana
HopeNet's Steve Smith picks buds of marijuana during a demonstration of how to create their concentrated form, called keif, in December of 2010.
The first step to legalizing medical marijuana happened back in 1996 with the passage of the Compassionate Use Act (or Proposition 215).  The act made it legal for “seriously ill Californians” to “obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes,” along with protecting patients from being punished for using or possessing the drug.
Caregivers are also protected under Prop 215, and can’t be punished by California law enforcement for possessing or growing marijuana plants. Under the law, a primary caregiver is “an individual designated by the person exempted under this act who has consistently assumed responsibility for the housing, health or safety of that [patient].”
According to marijuanadoctors.com, you can get a medical marijuana card if you have a major illness or condition that substantially limits your ability to conduct one or more major life activities, as defined in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (Public Law 101-336) and if not alleviated, may cause serious harm to the patient’s safety or physical or mental health.” If you have back pain you can receive the same marijuana as a cancer patient.
According to Stephen Rechif, the manager of a Mission District cannabis club, more doctors are willing to write prescriptions for medical marijuana. Doctors were afraid that they would lose their license if they wrote the prescriptions, but since this form of treatment has become more acceptable and the punishments for using the drug have lessened, they aren’t afraid to write someone a prescription if they really need it. In 1996, Prop 215 guaranteed that these pot doctors couldn’t be punished for writing any prescriptions, and the floodgates have been open ever since.
Legally Lawbreaking
HopeNet's Steve Smith magnifies a bud of marijuana to show the details of its crystals during a demonstration of how to create their concentrated form, called keif, in December of 2010.

Zenia Gilg, a renowned marijuana rights attorney, says that once a doctor issues you a medical marijuana card, no one can take it away except the doctor. Prescriptions tend to expire after one year and are easily renewed with another visit to your doctor. Rechif says that most doctors only require one visit, which is when you get the prescription, and then follow up visits are always optional unless you have a serious health problem.

“Patients who have something serious like leukemia have regular visits to their doctor,” Rechif explains. “But people with ADHD don’t need to check in with their doctors as often. [They] usually just wait until they need to renew their prescription.”
Once you get a medical marijuana card, you’re free to head over to a licensed dispensary (which is the same thing as a “pot club”) and buy whatever medicine you need. California Cannabis Club’s directory says that there are more than thirty clubs spread throughout San Francisco, including the Green Room, which is right in the middle of downtown’s shopping and hotels, and Medithrive, which is a few  blocks from the 16th Street and Mission Street BART stop. With a valid card, you can buy pretty much anything you want: hybrids, sativa, indica, edibles, pre-rolled joints, and clones. Whatever you want, a dispensary probably has it.

Medithrive is one of the more popular dispensaries in the Mission, if not in the entire city. If you aren’t looking specifically for the club, you will easily miss it. The only thing that announces it is a small easel that has Medithrive’s basic contact information.

There is absolutely no distinctive marijuana odor leaking out when the door opens, and no scent lingering in the lobby. Heck, there isn’t even any smell by the display.

Why doesn’t this medical marijuana dispensary smell like pot? It’s probably because there isn’t anywhere to actually use what you’ve just bought. Anything you buy, you have to take home with you, because unlike some other clubs there isn’t a lounge. That is probably a good thing too, since there isn’t a lot of extra square feet anywhere in the facility. As of right now, the owners of the club are turning the garage into an office for staff to work and relax in, since the room (which is really more of a closet) they have now isn’t cutting it.

Seven months ago, Russell Vasques decided that he wanted to do more than just use Medthrive’s products, so he started working for the club. While he works, he stands vigil next to the door, opening it for anyone he sees through the only narrow window. He asks people for their cards, types the information into the computer and if it checks out, the patron is free to go in and buy whatever they need. Vasques says sometimes people come in with fake cards, hoping to sneak past him, but he’s never worried that they’ll actually succeed.

Once you get past Vasques, you’re free to wait in line and buy what you need. Rechif, the store’s manager, says that Medithrive’s line of edibles is by far the most popular product. They have brownies, chocolate bars, caramel corn, truffles, lollipops, peanuts, pretzels, and even hot sauce, most of which are sativa dominant. The store’s line of flowers is readily displayed in little vials on the counter, which Rechif says gives the customer a better idea of what they’re buying. There’s no set customer favorite between indica flowers (the more calming, mellow type) and sativa (more energizing and happy).

“People definitely have a favorite,” he says. “But our sales are pretty much fifty-fifty.”

Right now, Medithrive has around 24 thousand clients, many of whom are regulars. For such a popular business, it’s hard to believe that it almost never opened. San Francisco’s zoning laws say that marijuana dispensaries cannot be within one thousand feet of schools, and what’s behind Medithrive? Marshall Elementary School. But thanks to a monthly contribution to the school and other community organizations, Medithrive was allowed to open its doors with the school’s blessing.

But don’t think you’re completely safe smoking your joint just because you have a shiny new medical marijuana card. Zenia Gilg says that federal agencies such as the Drug Enforcement Agency can come in to California and arrest anyone they see using marijuana. Medical marijuana is perfectly legal in California, but it’s still illegal on the federal level. Despite this, Gilg doesn’t think that the federal laws will beat state law.

“All indications are that if this issue comes before the Supreme Court, the Court will find that the state may decriminalize the medical use of cannabis while the federal government continues to prosecute,” Gilg believes.

 

If you don’t have a card, don’t be too afraid. In 2011, California’s Health and Safety Codes added section 11357 to decriminalize possession of weed. Under the code, anything less than 28.5 grams is punishable by a $100 fine and no jail time. Anything more is punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of $500.

In 2010, California lawmakers tried to pass the Regulate, Control, and Tax Cannabis Act (better known as Prop 19). If the law had passed, it would have made possessing and using pot legal in private places and establish a public place to legally purchase the drug (kind of like a dispensary without a prescription).

Local governments would be able to regulate how much cannabis citizens could possess or sell, and be able to tax whatever cannabis they allowed. The law also details harsher punishments for anyone who sells the drug to minors. When it came time for Californians to vote on Prop 19, 46.5 percent of voters wanted it passed.

Walking down a picturesque street, complete with a white picket fence in front of a blue single story house and a child walking a fluffy black Shih Tzu, no one would ever expect what is going on inside one of the cars parked along the sidewalk. Specifically the dark blue Subaru Impreza that would look brand new except for one or two scratches marking its rear door. The tinted windows prevent passersby from looking in the car and seeing the naughty activity going on inside it. The smoke could also be a factor in what outsiders see. It’s not too bad now, but the party can’t start yet.

This car belongs to Erik, who doesn’t want his last name to be revealed because of what he and his friends are doing. His friend Tony pulls a slightly used joint out of an empty box of Marlboro cigarettes as Erik reaches into his pants pocket to pull out his scratched and well-used lighter. After a few seconds of shuffling around, he finally reveals his prize and turns around to hand the lighter to Tony, who greedily takes it and lights up. After a long drag, Tony reluctantly passes the joint to Erik, who takes an even longer drag. This back and forth continues for a few minutes, and a few hazy exclamations of “dude,” until Tony decides that he’s late for work and needs to leave. Apparently, that’s Erik’s cue to kick his friend out of the car, which he does all too willingly.

Legally Lawbreaking
Balls of keif, marijuana in its concentrated form, spread across a table at HopeNet dispensary in December of 2010

Even though he just turned 18 and has been using pot for the past two years, Erik hasn’t bothered to get a card.

“Why would I do more [work] than I have to?” he asks, as he runs a hand through his freshly cut hair. “It’s too easy to find a dealer and get it without one. [And] it’s not like cops care.”

“Even my mom doesn’t care,” he laughs. “As long as she doesn’t smell it, she’s ok with me smoking. Well, maybe not ‘Ok,’ but whatever.”

But until the recreational use of marijuana is legalized in California, it’s probably safer just to go to a doctor and have him write a prescription. Who knew a doctor’s note would ever be useful outside of school?

Making the cover of Xpress

Xpress has often taken a single photo approach to create the cover for the magazine. This semester, Julio Cortez helped design a cover that was a little more daring. Here is a behind-the-scenes video on how the cover of Xpress Magazine came about.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LWau6UiM7rY[/youtube]

Special thanks to makeup artist, Sarah CoySuiGENERIS, and all the models.

A car free Market Street?

By Ivanna Quiroz
Photos by Nick Moone

It is where the Giants celebrated their World Series win. It spreads from Twin Peaks to the Embarcadero. Trolleys, streetcars, and Muni buses journey above it while the Muni Metro and BART travel below it. It’s consistently home to pedestrians, protestors, vendors, tourists, commuters, and cyclists, and it’s definitely no stranger to bumper-to-bumper traffic. All San Francisco locals know Market Street. Some flock to it, others avoid it. Today there is talk of new developments to revitalize Market Street, including an initiative to make Market completely car-free. Would it be better? Worse? How would things be different?

Car-Free Market
Market Street, the busiest and most easily recognizable street in San Francisco, runs the length of the downtown area from the Castro up to the Ferry Building and the Embarcadero. Proposed legislation would close this busy thoroughfare to private traffic, leaving it open only for taxis and busses. Photo by Nick Moone

“As someone who works over in the Financial District, and travels through Market almost daily, I feel like traffic surrounding Market would be congested,” says San Francisco native Issac Dana.  “It wouldn’t do much for pedestrians, as the street itself is still extremely busy and crowded.”
A car-free Market Street has been an ongoing debate in the city because of its ability to improve public transportation and provide a more comfortable environment for bikers and pedestrians. Mayoral Candidate and Board of Supervisors President David Chiu is at the forefront of the discussion and has called for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and other departments to implement further diversions of private automobiles on Market Street.
“A viable vision for the future of Market Street is of a world-class avenue drawing its success from the huge numbers of people it attracts through transit and taxis, and on foot and bicycle, and no private automobiles other than delivery vehicles,” explains Supervisor David Chiu in his statement to the press. “We need to act now to make this vision a reality and to speed up transit while improving the comfort of people walking and biking, and supporting the local commercial and cultural function of the street.”

Car-Free Market
Proposed legislation would close Market St., one of the busiest and most easily recognizable streets in San Francisco, leaving it open only for taxis and busses. The F-Street Market streetcar can be seen passing the Renoir Hotel, both historic monuments, along Market near the Civic Center Bart Station.

There are more than twenty transit lines that run through Market Street that constitute about 125,000 boardings a day, and, according to the SFMTA’s Bicycle Count Report, the location with the most observed bicyclists in 2010 was 11th Street at Market Street totaling in 818 bicyclists. The SFMTA’s Collision Report records that 531 injury collisions occurred in 2009 involving bicyclists.
“The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition is actively involved in the Market Street trials and committed to helping make Market Street the safest and most enjoyable street for people who walk and those who ride bikes,” said Kristin Smith, Communications Director for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.
“I understand that Market is a main thoroughfare, and that there are no other direct routes through that part of the city, but with a few other traffic changes I think it would greatly improve Market Street,” said San Francisco resident Michelle Reyes. “Creating a space that is safer for cyclists and pedestrians would greatly improve Market Street, particularly the mid-market area. There is already a revitalization effort for Mid-Market, and to remove vehicular traffic would further assist that effort.”
Both Chiu and the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) have stressed that the majority of drivers on Market Street tend to be tourists. According to research from the San Francisco Travel Association, there were about 15. 9 million people that visited San Francisco in 2010, and, collectively spent, about $8.34 billion. It’s no secret that tourism brings in tremendous revenue to the city, but endorsers of car-free Market Street have yet to explain how tourism would be affected when driving would be restricted in a popular tourist area.
“I think it would be a very bad thing to restrict cars on Market,” explained Bay Area native Arianne Torres, who often drives downtown. “The city is already bad enough to drive in with all the one way streets and no left turns. It would definitely create even more traffic than there already is.”
“But, because Market Street (luckily!) is not dominated by private cars now, removing the relatively small number (mostly lost tourists and visitors–no one in their right mind drives on Market) would not have the kind of transformative impact on the street as a place that it might have on a more conventional American street,” explained Benjamin Grant, Public Realm and Urban Design Program Manager for SPUR.
Currently, a specific plan has yet to be announced, but since many of the Mayoral candidates, including David Chiu, John Avalos, Dennis Herrera, and Ed Lee support, the initiative, a car-free Market Street could be in the city’s immediate future.

The gaming life

By Erin Bates

While Facebook continues to be the most popular Internet pastime among college students—newsfeeds aren’t always compelling for everyone. San Francisco State University student Jeremy Hedman prefers spending his free time submerged for hours in a war-torn portion of the Milky Way galaxy of the future.

Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty is a real-time outer space strategy game for PC. The 2010 game, similar to its 1998 predecessor, Starcraft: Brood Wars, features three military races that the player can command. The Zerg, an alien insectoid race, the Terrans, the human colonists from earth, and the Protoss, a humanoid psionic alien race with advanced technology.

The strategic play and thrill of winning is what Hedman says keeps him playing, coordinating and dedicated to the Collegiate Starleague, which is a network of competing teams from American universities across the nation.

Competitive Video Gaming
Onlookers are common to Southtown Arcade in San Francisco. As most arcades slowly die out, Southtown opened its doors in April of 2011, focusing on the growing popularity of fighting games. Photo by Henry Nguyen

The rise of competitive gaming

Released by RPG giant Blizzard Entertainment in 1998, the first installment of Starcraft became an instant sensation in South Korea. Categorized as a real-time strategy game, or RTS, fans of Warcraft had something new and exciting to play. In South Korea, home to numerous cyber cafes, gamers flocked to Starcraft for its balanced units, creative storyline, innovative gameplay and impressive visuals. By 2002, a professional circuit of competitive play had emerged in the country, and with it a profitable market complete with idolized star players. The gaming world had never known such a sensation before this. South Korean companies such as Samsung, SK Telecom and KT sponsored teams, much like pro-surfers and skaters gain sponsorship from clothing companies in the States. Brood Wars successfully elevated video gaming to a new level competitively, culturally and in business terms. Console games like Halo or Call of Duty now allow for online play and have their own pro players, undoubtedly inspired by the success of competitive PC gaming.

Competitive Video Gaming
Neidel Crisan, aka Haunts (foreground) cheers at a come-back KO during the King of Fighters XIII tournament at Southtown Arcade in San Francisco on Oct. 2. Photo by Henry Nguyen

Despite success in Korea, the gaming-mania has yet to have such a strong reception in the United States. The Major League Gaming Association also formed in North America in 2002, but with much less of a widespread reaction. Still, a core American audience had developed. In 2009, a Princeton student founded the Collegiate Starleague, which now spans across the nation. West coast teams now reside at every UC campus and most CSU campuses. Hedman coordinates the tournaments for the Starleague team at SFSU, which is currently ranked 6th out of the ten teams in its division. UC Berkeley is currently undefeated and ranked number one in their division, followed closely by Stanford and UC Davis.

The Collegiate Starleague made the switch from Brood Wars to Wings of Liberty last season. The 2010 release of the game was well received in America. It has been critically acclaimed as one of the best RTS games ever. Major Korean gaming channels continue to broadcast Brood Wars tournaments. However, due to legal issues with the Korean e-Sports Players Association, known as KeSPA, Blizzard Entertainment has found, after nearly three years of negotiations, that KeSPA is unwilling to compromise in sharing profits made by competitive Starcraft play. Due to these legal concerns, one of two Korean gaming channels, Ongamenet, has not agreed to the new terms required to broadcast Wings of Liberty tournaments.

Arcade Renaissance

While Southern California has been and continues to be the national stronghold for gaming, interest in the Bay Area continues to grow. Due to its status as a major metropolitan city of the west coast and its proximity to the technology industry in Silicon Valley, San Francisco attracts large gaming tournaments, events and release parties.

A recent resurgence in the arcade gaming scene right out of 1980s is visible at the SFSU campus. The bottom floor of the Cesar Chavez Center is flooded with gamers during lunchtime hours. Fighting games such as Street Fighter IV, King of Fighters and Marvel vs. Capcom III reign supreme. With only three arcades in San Francisco, the arcade scene in the city is very close-knit, which is what gave owners of the four-month-old Southland Arcade the confidence in opening their own gaming hub.

Competitive Video Gaming
Southtown Arcade holds seasonal fighting game tournaments at their location on Stockton St. near Union Square. Photo by Henry Nguyen

SFSU alumnus Art Angulo, along with friends Simon Truong and Cameron Berkenpas would regularly meet up to play console fighting games at their San Francisco homes. Angulo had been collecting handy cabs, the cabinets that resemble old school arcade machines, but instead hook up to personal consoles and display gameplay on a large screen, for a few years.

“He was paying to keep them in storage, and we thought why are we wasting these? Why aren’t we using them to play? The only issue was having enough space for the large machines. That’s when we realized it might be a good idea to open up our own arcade,” says Truong.

The three quietly opened the Southland Arcade, which still has yet to have an official grand opening, in June. With enough like-minded friends and acquaintances to sustain a steady flow of daily patrons, the small arcade on Stockton Street has also been successful in hosting tournaments on a biweekly basis. Their King of Fighters and Street Fighter IV tournaments are live-streamed on Twitch.tv/iplaywinner, where they average about 8 thousand unique viewers.

“When I saw the numbers, I realized that other people really care about this stuff. At the end of the day, it’s great to know that damn, they are really into what we’re broadcasting,” Angulo says.

Because numerous San Francisco arcades have opened and closed in recent years, friends of Angulo were skeptical when he told them he wanted to open Southland Arcade.

“I told him he was crazy,” says Angulo’s longtime friend and fellow gamer, Chris Fields. Fields works at SFSU’s campus facilities in the downtown extension, and in his spare time he plays fighting games. “We went through the Dark Ages of arcade play, where it was no longer cool to play in an arcade. Console systems came out and everyone had their own at home. Things are finally picking up again, but I still thought he was crazy to open one,” Fields says.

Gaming consoles provide excellent online gaming experiences for Call of Duty, Halo and other games, however due to lagging and bad connections, fighter games don’t yet translate so well to online play.

“One bad connection or lag can just destroy a match for you because each frame is so important in fighting games. Muscle memory is key in these games, so online play just doesn’t do them justice at this point. This is the reason having an arcade is so vital to the growth of our scene,” explains Angulo.

Looking forward: The future of competitive gaming

Competitive video gaming isn’t comparable in scope and popularity to other American entertainment staples, such as football or baseball, even in Korea. “In Korea, I’d compare it more to pro-wrestling’s popularity here in the U.S.,” says Hedman. However, he, and many others in the gaming community, foresees a conFighter IV tournaments are live-streamed on Twitch.tv/iplaywinner, where they average about 8 thousand unique viewers.

“When I saw the numbers, I realized that other people really care about this stuff. At the end of the day, it’s great to know that damn, they are really into what we’re broadcasting,” Angulo says.

Because numerous San Francisco arcades have opened and closed in recent years, friends of Angulo were skeptical when he told them he wanted to open Southland Arcade.

“I told him he was crazy,” says Angulo’s longtime friend and fellow gamer, Chris Fields. Fields works at SFSU’s campus facilities in the downtown extension, and in his spare time he plays fighting games. “We went through the Dark Ages of arcade play, where it was no longer cool to play in an arcade. Console systems came out and everyone had their own at home. Things are finally picking up again, but I still thought he was crazy to open one,” Fields says.

Competitive Video Gaming
Stacks of quarters sit on arcade machines at Southtown Arcade on Oct. 2. The arcade holds seasonal fighting game tournaments at their location near Union Square in San Francisco. Photo by Gregory Moreno.

Gaming consoles provide excellent online gaming experiences for Call of Duty, Halo and other games, however due to lagging and bad connections, fighter games don’t yet translate so well to online play.

“One bad connection or lag can just destroy a match for you because each frame is so important in fighting games. Muscle memory is key in these games, so online play just doesn’t do them justice at this point. This is the reason having an arcade is so vital to the growth of our scene,” explains Angulo.

tinued rise in interest surrounding gaming as both a personal hobby and a spectator’s sport.

Fighter games seem to need more arcades to gain players and opportunities to compete at a higher level. To put it in perspective, the annual Las Vegas event Evolution is the mecca of professional fighter game tournaments. The winner of that tournament is awarded $10,000. Compare that to MGL Starcraft tournaments, where the top prize goes for $50,000.

“Right now it’s obviously a far less profitable professional field to enter than Starcraft,” Angulo says. “But if the resurgence of fighter games, which I credit to the release of Street Fighter IV, continues, I hope that the arcade scene will also expand. If more kids are able to compete that way, then that could really turn the tables.”

Competitive Video Gaming
Southtown arcade near Union Square in San Francisco holds a King of Fighters XIII tournament on Oct. 2 Photo by Henry Nguyen

“The best part about the future of gaming is how many people still don’t know about it, which means we have such a large audience that hasn’t been tapped into,” says pro Halo player Lee Santos, who is more commonly known by his gamer tag, twylight.

Gaming is one of the newest forms of entertainment, which gives it a lot of room to grow technologically, developmentally and as a profitable industry. As children grow up in an increasingly gamer-friendly environment, it will rise in popularity by virtue of the fact that it will be seen as socially acceptable, asserts Richie Heinz, who professionally plays Halo Reach for Team Dynasty. Hedman mirrored this sentiment, citing the change he’s seen in reactions to his own passion for Starcraft. “It’s moving away from the stereotypical vision of a gamer as some pale nerd locked up in a dark basement with his computer,” says Hedman. “Nowadays it’s more like, wow that person is awesome AND plays video games. It doesn’t have to be the single defining characteristic of your personality.”

A Vegan Thanksgiving

 

By Jessica Belluomini

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rLeVOgkxFe0[/youtube]

 

Another Thanksgiving with the family and the house is filled with grumbling bellies and the overwhelming smell of food boiling, frying and simmering. The table is set with all the traditional warm autumn colors and empty plates perfectly placed.

The anticipated “ding” finally sounds from the kitchen timer, and food begins to fill the empty places on the hungry table. The bird, the glazed ham, the stuffing, cranberry sauce and beloved candied yams are being attacked with spoons, forks and knives. And then there’s me, sitting there between my feasting family members eating a microwaved vegan meal by Amy’s.

Every Thanksgiving I sit at that table with a bunch of greedy mouths, while I eat my measly microwaved vegan dinner, not feeling thankful at all. One year I thought, I’m going to make my own Thanksgiving dinner for my vegan and vegetarian friends.

Now Thanksgiving really is a time of gratitude, for the organic seasonal veggies, grains and fruits that decorate the vegan table. Best of all, I’m spared from having to sit in front of a smorgasbord of dead carcasses and smelly gravy being shoveled into carnivorous chops.

Recipes:

Vegetarian Time’s Sauteed Garlic and Brussels Sprouts

Ingredient List:

  • 1 lb. Brussels sprouts, ends trimmed
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 12 cloves garlic, peeled and quartered lengthwise
  • 1 Tbs. brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 Tbs. apple cider vinegar

1. Place Brussels sprouts in bowl of food processor. Pulse 12 to 15 times, or until shredded.
2. Heat oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Add garlic, and cook 5 to 7 minutes, or until light brown. Increase heat to medium-high, and add shredded Brussels sprouts, brown sugar, salt and pepper. Cook 5 minutes, or until browned, stirring often. Add 1 1/2 cups water, and cook 5 minutes more, or until most of liquid is evaporated. Stir in vinegar, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

The Vegan Table’s Mashed Yukon Gold and Sweet Potatoes

Ingredient List:

  • 2 pounds of sweet potatoes, quartered
  • 4 pounds of Yukon gold potatoes, quartered
  • ½ cup of non-dairy milk
  • 2 tablespoons non-dairy butter
  • salt and pepper to taste

1. Place yams and potatoes in a large pot filled with water. Cook over medium heat until soft, like 25 minutes. Drain and transfer to a large bowl.
2. Using a potato masher or electric mixer, on low speed, mix potatoes, non-dairy milk, non-dairy butter, salt and pepper until well combined.

Vegan Soul Kitchen’s Smothered Seitan Medallions in Mixed Mushroom Gravy

Mixed Mushroom Gravy Ingredient List:

  • one packet of store bought vegan gravy
  • ¼ pound of button mushrooms
  • ¼ pound of sliced baby bella mushrooms

1. Follow vegan gravy packet instruction and add mushrooms.

Smothered Seitan Medallions Ingredient List:

  • 1 pound of seitan, cut into medallions
  • 5 Tbs. of arrowroot powder
  • 1 cup of olive oil
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 5 cloves of minced garlic
  • 2 cups of Mixed Mushroom Gravy
  • 2 cups of veggie stock
  • 1 cup of finely chopped green cabbage
  • 2 minced jalapeno chiles
  • ¼ cup of sliced green onions
  • 2 Tbs. of chopped parsley

1. Coat seitan with arrowroot.
2. Fry seitan for 3 minutes with  ½ cup of oil in frying pan over medium heat. Dry oil off with paper towels, then repeat on other side. Put aside.
3. In another pan, add ½ cup of oil, increase to high heat and add onion, saute for 3 minutes.
4. Add mushroom gravy, stock and seitan. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes.
5. Add cabbage, cook for 3 minutes. Stir in jalapenos, green onion and parsley.