Volume 42 Number 29

You’ll go blind doing that


> a&eletters@sfbg.com

ISBN REAL Nobody knows better than writers that there’s nothing inherently special or ennobling about reading a book. Fiction abounds with infatuated references to studious ritual, yet there’s also no shortage of passages that portray reading as a distraction, or an ingredient in a tedious bourgeoisie mating dance. The Great Gatsby (1925) may stroke the ego with its halfwits who treat books as props, but Somerset Maugham’s The Moon and Sixpence (1919) and Edmund Wilson’s Memoirs of Hecate County (1946) get straight to the point and portray reading as a fool’s pastime.

It still brings me down a bit when I think of that blip of a minor character in Wilson’s book martyred to this belief: a sort of intellectual Margaret Dumont. Here was a woman who undoubtedly read millions of words — and good ones — and all it got her was the position of deluded gadfly.

Meta-masochism is hardly required to appreciate the point that books ain’t all that. There are plenty of sad reminders in the three-dimensional world, like an acquaintance of mine during college who sported on his backpack a button with the mating call "I STILL READ BOOKS." Clearly we had an enlightened soul on our hands, one with an intellect of such dexterity, no less, that he somehow pulled off the Orphean mental journey necessary to think Pay It Forward was a high-quality movie. The world is so full of bookworm poseurs and onanists it’s hard not to question one’s own motives for curling up by the fire.

Mikita Brottman’s new book, The Solitary Vice: Against Reading (Counterpoint, 224 pages, $14.95) takes a crack at this question on our behalf, attempting a scholarly treatise against the assumption that reading, in and of itself, makes you a better person. Brottman, a language and literature professor at the Maryland Institute College of Art, wonders if perhaps our faith in the alchemical power of the practice "draws its power from a toxic brew of magical thinking, narcissism, and nostalgia."

Them’s fightin’ words. Unfortunately, Brottman’s punches don’t land nearly as often as they should. It would be hard to find the academic who could give the hyper-literate life a sound thrashing. But to maintain a modicum of fidelity to one’s thesis, not to mention one’s doubly barbed title, seems a modest expectation. The articulate introduction of Brottman’s book, sprinkled with aperitif-caliber evidence, lugs behind it 200-plus pages of disposable items from the trove of idiosyncrasies that is modern readership. Equal parts trivia, anecdotal digression, and halfhearted cautionary tale about the perils of culture-sanctioned solipsism, the result is not easily distinguishable from a valentine to reading.

I picked up Solitary Vice expecting to intermittently yell, "Preach it!" and have my opinions about literary fetishism fortified with case studies and garnished with academic authority. I don’t buy the spiritual democratization argument put forth in books such as Mark Edmundson’s 2004 Why Read? (Bloomsbury USA, 160 pages, $12.95). A book’s availability is the democratizing factor, not its contents. It seems wise that we’re introduced in our dumb-ass youth to the many types of intellectual life ripe for the plucking if we ever become so inclined. What’s not wise is assuming that students shouldn’t shuck those disciplines they find obnoxious immediately upon leaving school — that the best examples of literature aren’t at their core well-executed indulgences of an impractical enthusiasm. My reading life has helped the world only inasmuch as the world has to put up with a much less cranky person.

I will not fault you, Mikita Brottman, if you humbly disagree.

Guide to greener living


Click here for even more green businesses and services, including Green Citizen, Green Zebra, PLANTSF and more!


Want to obey the bumper stickers and kill your television? That’s OK. But be careful where you bury it. TVs, as well as computers, DVD players, and all kinds of electronics, have no business in landfills. They’re made of plenty of metal which can be recycled, along with plenty of chemicals that are hazardous to the public. The eRecycle campaign, sponsored by the California Integrated Waste Management Board, maintains a Web site of local pickup and drop-off services for your e-waste — and thankfully, just in time for the high-def TV changeover in 2009.



Want a greener home from the ground up? This is your one-stop shop. From flooring and cabinets to decor and lighting, everything here is natural, sustainable, and eco-friendly.

2617-2619 San Pablo, Berk. (510) 644-3500, www.ecohomeimprovement.com


Finding the right dentist is tough. But Dr. Namrata Patel makes your decision easier with her new LEED-certified (that’s Leadership in Energy Efficiency and Design) office. Patel uses nontoxic products — keeping PVC, formaldehyde, and chlorine out of everything from floors to cabinetry. She’s careful about reducing waste. She uses minimal radiation and a special filtration system for dealing with mercury fillings. Even her office furnishings are made with recycled materials. And yes, she accepts insurance!

360 Post, Suite 704, SF. (415) 433-0119, www.sfgreendentist.com


Want to make sure your favorite restaurant or preferred electrician uses green practices? This online resource will point you toward businesses in SF, from bars to baby clothes retailers, who are committed to the environment.



The actual act of driving isn’t the only reason having a car is hard on the environment. Maintaining it is too. But Luscious Garage is trying to help on both accounts. This woman-owned and operated facility specializes in hybrids, and runs the whole business as sustainably as possible, from the machine shop to the office. And for these luscious ladies, sustainably goes beyond chemicals and objects — they also sustain their community by hosting classes and a hybrid car club in their beautiful facility.

459 Clementina, SF. (415) 875-9030, www.lusciousgarage.com


Like Luscious Garage’s brother, Pat’s also focuses on environmentally friendly business practices. Bring your Honda, Acura, or Subaru for services you can feel good about. Or, if you have a hybrid, you can work with Pat’s partners, Green Gears, to upgrade your hybrid with plug-in capabilities. Bonus? They offer free car classes for women.

1090 26th St., SF. (415) 647-4500, www.patsgarage.com, www.greengears.com


This SF-based business wants you to rest easy with their eco-friendly mattresses. With recycled steel in the coils, bamboo and unbleached natural cotton for fabrics, nonchemical odor-controlling and antibacterial treatments, and ingenious use of scrap memory foam bits, every mattress is as kind to the earth as it is to your body. Keetsa further reduces its carbon footprint with its innovative mattress compression technique, allowing for easier and more efficient transport. But are they good mattresses? They must be. After less than a year in business, they’re already opening a store in Fairfield.

271 Ninth St., SF. (415) 252-1575, www.keetsa.com


Just bought a new Keetsa and want to get rid of your tired old Sealy? Don’t just throw it in the trash. If you don’t live on one of those SF streets where a stranger will pick up your stuff from the sidewalk within an hour, call San Rafael–based Ecohaul. This nationwide service will pick up your furniture, appliances, yard waste, and just about anything else you can think of. Then they’ll reuse, recycle, and repurpose everything they can, diverting as much from the landfill as possible.

1-800-ecohaul, www.ecohaul.com


You’ve greened up your home, so why not find an eco-friendly home away from home? The Orchard Garden was the third hotel in the United States to be given LEED certification for its key card energy control system (SF’s first — it’s based on the European model), organic bath products, natural materials, and general commitment to sustainability. Also check out its sister hotel, the Orchard, on Union.

466 Bush, SF. (415) 399-9807, www.theorchardgardenhotel.com


Ten years ago, Epi Center was the first spa in the country to combine traditional spa treatments and medical procedures. Now it celebrates its anniversary with a new innovation: the ecomedspa. This LEED-certified arm of the original spa combines regular procedures with organic treatments in a healthy environment, all according to the principles of William McDonough’s "Cradle to Cradle."

450 Sutter, SF. (415) 362-4754, www.skinrejuv.com


Based in Penngrove, this company imports handmade Nepali paper made from bark of a white shrub called lokta, which regrows after pruning. Not only does this mean no trees are cut down, it also means employment for many women in Kathmandu Valley and financial support for village regions of Nepal. Plus, the paper’s gorgeous. Order online, or find it at Stylo, Autumn Express, Kinokuniya Stationery and Gifts, or San Francisco State University.

(707) 665-9055, www.nepalesepaper.com


Make a fashion statement with these simple, 100-percent organic T-shirts by Heidi Quante. The shirts, which are brown with white lettering saying "More Dirt" on the front are meant to capture attention and send people to Quante’s Web site, which shows people how to combat global warming through planting trees, establishing community gardens, and using permaculture techniques. Inks are made without PVC or phthalates, and shirts come in sizes for men, women, and babies.



Family owned and operated since 1984, A. Maciel specializes in recycled and tree-free papers as well as soy-based inks. What’s even better? The shop is completely wind-powered. Though the print shop is capable of doing corporate jobs, A. Maciel caters to nonprofits and community groups like the American Land Conservancy, Forest Ethics, and Greenpeace. They’re also part of Northern California Media Workers/Typographical Union. Sure beats Kinko’s.

50 Mendell, Unit #5, SF. (415) 648-3553, www.amacielprinting


All aboard the ecobus! This organization takes Das Frachtgut, the veggie oil–fueled bus Jens-Peter Jungclaussen uses as a mobile classroom, on an ecofriendly party tour. Movie nights are all about watching modern classics and then doing some kind of relevant outdoor activity (e.g., see The Big Lebowski, then bowl outside). Dance nights turn the bus into a mobile DJ booth and an instant, impromptu club. It’s fun, safe (no drunk driving, kids!), and above all, Earth friendly.


The seeds of health


› culture@sfbg.com

One warm winter day at Ruus Elementary in south Hayward, Chef Tiffany sweeps a roomful of second-graders into their only cooking class of the year. Before long, they’re shouting out the names of body parts that benefit from fresh veggies: "Eyes!" "Teeth!" "Heart!" And even if Swiss chard elicits a wary silence, the kids already know spinach from bok choy, and Chef Tiffany, known to adults as Tiffany Chenoweth, smoothly transitions from her talking points about leafy greens into the hands-on section of the class (after delivering a squirt of antibacterial gel onto the palms of each child). Meanwhile, out past the bustling blacktop, garden instructor Rachel Harris walks an ethnically diverse group of third graders through the concept of soil enrichment. They reluctantly tear down a lush patch of fava beans that reaches over their heads, pretending to pull nitrogen out of the air (hands up!) and deposit it into the soil to benefit spring crops (hands down!). This is school garden time.

If there’s a downside to teaching children how to nurture a green, nutritious school garden, it’s hard to fathom. The list of touted benefits is lengthy: students reap fresh air and physical exercise, hands-on participation, awareness of the natural environment, so called "school bonding," and an unprecedented taste for raw spinach. For school faculty, there are welcome breaks in the classroom regimen, an engaging outlet for unruly pupils, and a bridge to involvement with volunteers in the community. And parents get to share skills and experience, from farm expertise to carpentry, that once felt irrelevant to an academic setting.

But in an educational realm where standards reign supreme, the benefits of gardens can be tough to quantify. In promotional literature, the Network for a Healthy California, a funder of Hayward Unified School District’s program, stresses connections that reflect common sense, like the idea that making fresh vegetables readily accessible to low-income families will reduce the growing rate of obesity. But the future of garden instruction in the long term, when inroads against sprawling ills like obesity might become broadly measurable, is unpredictable when grants and appropriations change from year to year. Even in the Bay Area, where strawberry patches and kale flourish beside asphalt schoolyards, garden educators continually scramble to afford basic supplies, sometimes spending more time cultivating donors than mulching vegetables.

That’s how it often feels to Miriam Feiner, program director for the Willie Brown Jr. Academy Garden. "We’re pretty much our own two-person nonprofit," Feiner says of herself and assistant Joti Levy at an Arbor Day work party on March 8, where dozens of native seedlings — coffeeberry, sticky monkey flower, and other species attractive to bees — awaited planting on a weedy slope.

The duo’s fundraising efforts have been rewarded with sizable grants from SF Environment’s Environmental Justice Grant Program and Alec Shaw of the Shaw Fund, as well as partnerships with San Francisco Beautiful and Friends of the Urban Forest.

Even more rewarding though, Feiner says, weekly garden-based classes at Willie Brown have students literally begging for kale. But she concedes that ultimately the current model, which is based on constant fundraising, is "not sustainable."

Difficulties in funding aside, people like Abby Jaramillo, the youthful director of San Francisco nonprofit Urban Sprouts, will gladly explain why it’s important to find a way to sustain such programs. When Jaramillo and her team took over the Excelsior Garden, shared by the June Jordan School for Equity and Excelsior Middle School, she said she was "up to her armpits in fennel."

But the overgrown herbs weren’t the only sign of disrepair. "It was a struggling middle school desperately in need of something that would make the students have a stake," she said. Describing the community’s "food environment," a term of art in nutrition education, she listed liquor store fare and junk food as the most prevalent options. Five years and six new school gardens later, Jaramillo thinks school administrators and teachers are genuinely on board with Urban Sprouts, whose mission is to serve low-income youth in San Francisco. "When the kids come outside; they are leaders, teaching each other how to plant," she says. "We need to make the garden a core, that will remain here and make a difference."

Whether that happens depends on whether garden education becomes institutionalized, not just a supplemental benefit reliant on the assiduousness of leaders like Jaramillo and Feiner. "My dream," Jaramillo says, "is that it would be like gym." That is to say, an expected feature of the precollege landscape. I asked her if there were models for this kind of integration. She, and everyone else I spoke with, pointed to the Edible Schoolyard, the celebrated collaboration between local-food pioneer Alice Waters and Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Berkeley. At the Schoolyard, a beneficiary of the Chez Panisse foundation, the perpetual cycle of seasons meshes with the academic year as rising eighth graders ceremonially plant corn for incoming sixth graders to harvest in the fall, suggesting a garden practice that is truly rooted in the school experience.

According to the San Francisco Unified School District, out of 104 K-12 school sites in the city, 36 maintain "green schoolyards," with 45 new gardens planned over the next four years. Statewide, $10.8 million from Sacramento was awarded in the form of California Instructional School Garden Program grants in October. It’s not nearly enough to fulfill the California Department of Education’s stated goal of "a garden in every school." But as Jordan students prepare to sow enough lettuce to provide the entire school with a lunch salad for one day, Jaramillo is hopeful that showing even a small percentage of kids where food comes from will have a lasting effect, with lessons about healthy eating rippling out through them to their families and into the community.

With the infrastructure of garden education still in its founding stages, assessing its efficacy poses a conundrum. The kind of life-changing transformations that green schoolyard proponents hope for might not be apparent in the short term, while slashed budgets threaten to endanger the longevity of even the most lovingly planted plots. Still, educators like Harris aren’t daunted by the relative nonstandardization of their field. She’s seen the results first-hand — like the student at a Hayward school barbecue who traded a Butterfinger for a second helping of grilled zucchini. After our interview, as Harris left the grocery store where she’ll teach her class to distinguish between processed and fresh food, a Ruus student in pigtails greeted her excitedly. "Miss Rachel!" she cried, throwing her head back with a wide grin. "I like garden!"

Alligators, man


TOOTHY CINEMA Alligators, man. As James Bond, Indiana Jones, and Peter Pan will tell you, meeting a gator is a surefire way to add insta-peril to your script, or at least supply a pun-tastic one-liner (Arnold Schwarzenegger to recently expired gator in 1996’s Eraser: "You’re luggage!") Last year’s pseudo-political Primeval was a disappointment, and Rogue, Aussie director Greg Mclean’s follow-up to Wolf Creek (1995), never quite made it into theaters stateside. Fortunately, Mother Nature’s cuddliest predator takes center stage in a few flicks well worth your Earth Day perusal. (Note: Scientists will tell you that head shapes, saltwater tolerance, and other factors separate alligators and crocodiles. But as far as Hollywood’s concerned, same difference.)

Lake Placid (1999) Directed by Steve Miner — who helmed two Friday the 13th sequels (including the one in 3-D), C. Thomas Howell blackface classic Soul Man (1986), multiple episodes of Dawson’s Creek, and Jessica Simpson’s soon-to-be-straight-to-video Major Movie StarLake Placid has the advantages of an agreeable cast (Bill Pullman, Bridget Fonda, Brendan Gleeson, and a memorably foulmouthed Betty White) and a script by Emmy darling David E. Kelley. Lake Placid doesn’t quite achieve the critter-tastic heights of 1997’s Anaconda, but it’s adequately gruesome and campy. Trivia: the made-for-TV sequel subs in Cloris Leachman for Betty White and features laughably bad special effects, as well as way more boobs than the original.

Alligator (1980) You know how New York City is supposed to have alligators in its sewers? Chicago has a similar problem. This creature-horror sorta-classic pits Robert Forster against a gator named Ramon. Alligator would double-feature well with swamp-sploitation ‘Gator Bait (1974), which features Cajuns, incest, hick-tastic accents, and quite a few slimy reptiles — most of them human.

Eaten Alive (1977) Tobe Hooper’s follow-up to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) also concerns an isolated house populated by "a family of Draculas" that’s stumbled upon by Marilyn Burns, Chainsaw‘s blond screamer. But in Eaten Alive, the dwelling resembles a redneck Bates Motel, with a hungry croc lurking in muddy waters that abut its porch. Veteran tough-guy actor Neville Brand glowers atop a cast of horror notables — including Carolyn "Morticia Addams" Jones, Kyle Richards (one of the kids Laurie Strode babysits in 1977’s Halloween), and Robert "Freddy Krueger" Englund.

Crocodile Dundee (1986) Granted, much of the wildlife in this film is supplied by Times Square — but you gotta love that scene where Paul Hogan brains a baddie with a can of peaches.

Destination unknown


> a&eletters@sfbg.com

Jeff Greenwald has done his show Strange Travel Suggestions dozens if not hundreds of times and still has no idea where it’s going. No wonder he and his audience keep coming back for more. The unknown, an aphrodisiac to the traveler, also makes great catnip for the storyteller.

Still, there are consistent elements. There is no need to reinvent the wheel — or the impressive Wheel of Fortune that sits just off center stage, painted with a map of the globe and ringed with symbols abstract and evocative enough to conjure up myriad adventures, peak experiences, and humbling encounters from the vivid grab-bag memory of an accomplished travel writer and inveterate globe-trotter. There’s also a real grab bag, just in case, and an oversize Tarot card, a sort of visual aid cum talisman sporting a classic image of the Fool, patron saint of the traveler’s heedless leaps of faith. In the end, Greenwald’s show, as reliable as it is unpredictable, mimics a genie-from-a-bottle experience: what you get is three spins, three stories, and a lot of unexpected truth.

Greenwald is the author of several travel books, including 1996’s Shopping for Buddhas (which began as a staged monologue), 1997’s Size of the World, and 2002’s Scratching the Surface. He’s also cofounder of Ethical Traveler, a human rights and environment-conscious grassroots alliance of travel lovers who act as "freelance ambassadors" worldwide. Strange Travel Suggestions takes its title from a key authorial and ethical influence, Kurt Vonnegut, whose 1963 book Cat’s Cradle declared that "strange travel suggestions are dancing lessons from god." The current revival of the show, which originated at the Marsh back in 2003, coincides with the recent demise of another important influence, science fiction writer and futurist Arthur C. Clarke, who was a close friend of Greenwald’s since Greenwald was 16 and first met the longtime Sri Lanka–based author during a stint in New York City.

Last weekend, the first spin of the wheel sent Greenwald reminiscing briefly about his late friend, including Clarke’s surprise at humankind’s recent slight retreat from space exploration, which Clarke viewed as a promising new and necessary growth in species consciousness. Greenwald invoked Clarke’s love of scuba diving as the best earthbound analogy for space travel. After landing on the glyph for Rites of Passage (by tradition, the wheel is given a whirl by an audience member), Greenwald recalled a trip he made after turning 40, a milestone he says made him want "to rediscover the size of the world" by avoiding the homogenizing and distance-compressing effects of airports and airplanes entirely. The trip, which began with passage on a freighter from Red Hook, Brooklyn, to Dakar, Senegal, included an incredible predawn dive off an island in the Philippines that perfectly captured the extraterrestrial venture Clarke had in mind.

From there, the strange grew stranger, climaxing with a tale about a road trip (inspired by a wheel spin that landed on an Outlaw symbol) that might have been out of a movie codirected by Quentin Tarantino and the late Spalding Gray. Greenwald’s stories possess more than a fine sense of humor and knack for shrewd detail and telling observation. They also contain a Zen-inflected homespun wisdom no doubt born of leaving home on a regular basis. If slightly self-conscious at times, these stories are always genuine and appealing.

Throughout Strange Travel Suggestions, Greenwald sits on a high stool or slowly paces the stage, wearing comfortable shoes and casual clothes with ready pockets that quietly suggest the seasoned voyager. But this is hardly a costume, and Greenwald the performer is not really an actor. He is instead a talented storyteller, with a mellow, easy, and sure delivery. Even if the stories he delivers on any given night have been told before (he selects from more than 50), spontaneity keeps them fresh and limber. The only time his delivery strained was when he recited from memory a passage from one of his books. The recall was perfect, but the prearranged words forced a histrionic note. Then again, the passage itself (a scene set at the rail of a ship, describing the character of the open sea) was eloquent and apt. Ultimately, anywhere Jeff Greenwald wants to take you is worth the detour. *


Thurs.–Sat., 8 p.m., through April 26 (no show Sat/19); $15–$35

The Marsh

1062 Valencia, SF

(415) 826-5750 information; (800) 838-3006 tickets


CO2 stew


› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER It’s not easy being green, music lover. Because I’ve tried to shove my big fat cultural consumption hoof into a smaller carbon footprint, but I can’t dance around the numbers.

I’ve ponied up the green stuff for nonprofits, come correct at the composting and recycling bins, and threatened to finally get the crusty Schwinn into shape despite the near-death horror stories from bike messenger chums back in the day. But what can a music-gobbling gal do when faced with the hard if rough facts spat out by, for instance, the free online Carbon Footprint Calculator? After selecting "I often go out to places like movies, bars, and restaurants," I watched my print soar to Bigfoot proportions — thanks to my nightlife habit I supposedly generate around the US average of 11 tons of CO2 per person — rather than the mere 8.5 tons if I indulged in only "zero carbon activities, e.g. walk and cycle." Even if this out-late culcha vulcha flies on zero-emission wings to each show, I’m still feeding a machine that will prove the undoing of the planet, since the Calculator estimates that hard-partying humanoids need to reduce their CO2 production to 2 tons to combat climate change. We won’t even get into the acres of paper, publications, and CDs surrounding this red-faced, would-be greenster. I’m downloading as fast as I can, but I wonder whether my hard drive can keep up: hells, even MP3s — and the studios and servers that eke them out — add to my huge, honking footprint. Must I resign myself to daytime acoustic throw-downs within a walkable radius from my berth? Can I get a hand-crank laptop? Just how green can my music get?

Well, it does my eco good to know that a local venue like the Greek Theatre has gone green all year round: Another Planet has offset an entire season’s 113 tons of CO2 emissions; composted over two tons of cups, plates, and utensils; used recycled paper and soy-based ink on all their printed materials; and offered a $1 opt-in to ticket-buyers to offset their environmental impact. I can feel my tonnage shrinking just staring at the numbers. And while gatherings such as last year’s Treasure Island Music Festival sported zero-emission shuttles and biodiesel generators and this year’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival will team with Amtrak to provide a free train that will move campers from Los Angeles’ Union Station to Empire Polo Field sans smog-spewing traffic jams, artists like José González have embarked on green tours, adding 50 cents to tickets to support nonprofits. Yet such efforts might prove more consciousness-raising than anything else, González concedes: "For me, playing mostly solo and touring with a small crew, I feel like the actual cut down on emissions is marginal comparing it to major artists, so it’s more about the symbolic value of it, and the ripple effect it might bring."

Still, CO2 spendthrifts like me need a swift kick in our waste-line. Lining up to deliver are such music-fueled events as the free South Lake Tahoe Earth Day Festival April 19 and the Digital Be-In 16 April 25 at Temple nightclub, organized by the Cyberset label with an "ecocity" theme aimed at sustainable communities. Green practices, Be-In founder Michael Gosney says, "may not be huge in of themselves, but they set an example for communities to take these practices back into their own lives." One such community-oriented musician is String Cheese Incident mandolin player Michael Kang, who’ll perform at the Digital Be-In and appear with Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks at the free Green Apple Festival concert April 20 in Golden Gate Park.

Organizing seven other free outdoor Earth Day shows throughout the country on April 20 as well as assorted San Francisco shows that weekend, the Green Apple Festival is going further to educate artists and venues — the usual suspects that inspire me to make my carbon footprint that much bigger — by distributing to participating performers and clubs helpful Music Matters artist and venue riders: the former encourages artists to make composting, recycling, and offsets a requirement of performances; the latter suggesting that nightspots consider reusable stainless-steel bottles of water and donating organic, local, fair-trade and/or in-season food leftovers to local food banks or shelters.

But how green are the sounds? Musicians like Brett Dennen, who also performs at SF’s Green Apple event, may have grown up recycling and composting, but he confesses that environmentalism has never spurred him to craft a tune: "Things as big as global warming have never moved me to write about it, even though I’m doing what I can." And Rilo Kiley’s Blake Sennett, who plays April 17 at the Design Center Concourse, may describe himself as a "recycling animal — I love it! I go through trash at other people’s houses!", yet even he was unable to push the rest of the his group to make their latest CD, Under the Blacklight (Warner Bros., 2007) carbon neutral.

So maybe it comes down to supporting those leafy green rooms, forests, and grasslands we otherwise take for granted. Parks are the spark for ex–Rum Diary member Jon Fee’s Parks and Records green label in Fairfax, which wears its love of albums on its hand-printed, all-recycled-content sleeves and plans to donate a percentage of all its low-priced CD sales to arboreal-minded groups like Friends of the Urban Forest. Fee and his spouse Mimi aren’t claiming to have all the answers in terms of running a low-carbon-footprint imprint, but they are pragmatic ("In order to support bands, labels need to give them something they can sell to get gas money," Fee says) and know their love of the outdoors segues with many musicians. "You develop that camping mentality from touring," he offers. "You’re not showering, and you’re hanging out for long periods of time. Everyone loves to be outside." That’s the notion even those too cheap to buy offsets can connect with — until the weird weather is at their doorstep.



› annalee@techsploitation.com

TECHSPLOITATION For weeks now, analysts and armchair financial nerds have been mulling over what it will mean if software megacorp Microsoft buys Web monkey farm Yahoo! Would Microsoft-Yahoo! (known forevermore as Microhoo!) challenge Google to some kind of Web domination duel and win? Probably not. As much as I would love to see Bill Gates, Sergey Brin, and Jerry Yang in some kind of unholy three-way Jell-O wrestling match, I know it will never come to pass.

Microhoo! won’t ever have what Google has right now. Sure, Microhoo! will have some solid assets: control of most PC desktops with the Windows OS, Microsoft Office crap, and the Internet Explorer browser. After chomping up Yahoo!, Microhoo! will have a second-rate search engine used by a forlorn 22 percent of Web searchers, followed by a very confused 10 percent who use Microsoft search — I bet you didn’t know Microsoft even had a search engine, did you? It would also have a giant mess of users on free Yahoo! mail, as well as Yahoo! instant messenger. Plus it would acquire a host of Yahoo! things you also didn’t know existed, like Yahoo! Buzz and Yahoo! Answers. Along with about 8 percent of the Web advertising market.

What does Google have? Sure, it has a million things like Android and Orkut and Gmail and Reader and Blogger and Scoop and Zanyblob. But what it really has is Search. Fifty-nine percent of online searches go through Google servers. And if it can sell ads to 59 percent of the billions online? It owns the attention of the majority of the market. Google wins. That’s why the company isn’t worrying so much about Microhoo! and instead is doing things like investing in alternative energy research and letting its employees make psychotically long, company-wide e-mail arguments about whether it’s Earth-friendly to provide plastic bottles of water in the lunchrooms.

I shouldn’t be so glib. Google is making a halfhearted attempt to prevent Microhoo! from being born. The company offered Yahoo! an ad-sharing partnership where the two could pool their networks, put more ads in front of more eyes, and come out as an even more giant advertising machine. They’re doing a very limited test of the ad partnership over the next couple of weeks. Maybe we’ll see a Goohoo! after all.

I don’t think so. Most business pundits think the Goohoo! deal is just Yahoo!’s last-ditch effort to get a bigger offer from Microsoft. Apparently Yahoo! wants about $50 billion to become Microhoo!, and Microsoft is currently offering a little more than $40 billion. No matter what the price tag, my bet is that we’re going to see Microhoo! by this time next year. Microsoft is even contemputf8g a hostile takeover — that’s how serious the situation is.

So what does Microhoo! mean for us, the little guys, who just want a nice search engine that helps us find "hot XXX pussy" or "free MP3" on the Web? For one thing, it means we’ll have fewer options when it comes to online searches, using Web mail, and just plain goofing around online. Microsoft actually considered bringing News Corp, owners of MySpace, in on the Microhoo! deal. That would mean MySpace, Hotmail, Yahoo! mail, and your PC software would all come from a merged corporate entity.

Let’s say we did get a Micronewshoo! It’s online offerings, combined, would be very much a version of Google’s online offerings: mail, social networking, search, Web fun. There would be no cool new thing, no sudden breakthrough application that would transform our relationship to the Web the way Search did. It would be more of the same stuff, but from fewer players — and therefore blander and bigger, like Hollywood blockbusters. New applications and content creators on the Web will be incredibly hard to find unless they have a deal with Microhoo! or Google.

Then in 20 years, a woman in a physics graduate program in China will come up with an idea for the next cool communications network. At last, we’ll say, we finally have a network free from advertising! A place where we can share information without Big Business intruding! Not like the Web, which is all corporate content and has no place for the little guy.

Annalee Newitz (annalee@techsploitation.com) is a surly media nerd who thinks Google should start recycling dinosaur bones.

Thrill of the kill


› paulr@sfbg.com

WITHOUT RESERVATIONS In our age of euphemism, it is shocking and/or refreshing to find a cookbook author using the word "kill" when talking about where meat comes from. The author is Hugh Fearnley-Whittingsall, and the book is The River Cottage Cookbook (Ten Speed Press, $35). Fearnley-Whittingsall is English, as we can guess from his hyphenated surname (a "double barrel," as my single-barrel English friend calls the complexly-designated), and the English perhaps suffer less from euphemism disease than we do. We suffer rather severely. People no longer die in America; they "pass" — "pass away" is apparently too vivid now — or "transition," which isn’t even a proper verb.

But when Fearnley-Whittingsall has a pig killed to make some bacon, blood sausage, and charcuterie, we hear about it in blunt terms. On occasion he eases off the throttle slightly, switching to "slaughter" from "kill," but this might just be to keep things interesting. Soon enough we are back to the k-word. One appreciates the candor, of course, and the unvarnished elaborations, which culminate in the author’s declaration that he "didn’t find it all that distressing" when he delivered his first pair of home-raised pigs to a local slaughterhouse and waited about 20 minutes until the animals were "done."

"I went home," he writes, "with a bag of innards, a bucket of blood, and a clear conscience." Jolly good!

Among the planet’s carnivores, we’re easily the most effective and, at the same time, the only ones subject to pangs of conscience about our food-related violence. Hence the supermarket culture of shrink-wrapping, which protects ordinary individuals from having to consider the brutality that results in their pork chops. Fearnley-Whittingsall quite rightly suggests that people who enjoy eating meat should raise and kill a food animal at least once. Still, there are those who would never have the heart to do this. Are these people lily-livered softies, or can we identify, in their reluctance, signs of an evolutionary shift, an awareness that animal consciousness is kin to our own?

It’s hardly unnatural for humans to kill and eat animals, but it’s more of a luxury now, and one of the bloodier ones. Of course, cultured meat, when it finally comes, will make clear consciences more widely available to flesh-eaters, and The River Cottage Cookbook might need a revision.

Not for locals only


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

The Botticellis stick to the coast like gulls. Until recently, they all lived a few blocks from the ocean in an Outer Richmond flat, but drummer Zach Ehrlich decided to move into a beachfront apartment so he could have easier access to the surf. Before moving, he used a telescope pointed out his window to check for waves at Ocean Beach, but he gave that up after realizing the overall creepiness of the set-up, and he never could get to the beach in time to catch the waves he saw from his window.

Earlier this month, the band performed at Aqua Surf Shop on Haight Street. Beside surfboards propped against the walls and surf videos playing in the background, the Botticellis delivered a short set, bundled in sweatshirts and jackets against a door open to the San Francisco night. Afterward two men from the small crowd approached lead vocalist Alexi Glickman and said, "Dude, your music totally made us wanna surf." To Glickman, this was the ultimate compliment.

Their very name originates in surf culture — a botticelli is a tightly wound wave distinctive to the Southern California coast — but don’t assume the group is just a Beach Boys rip-off. While the Botticellis borrow from those hitmakers as much as any jangly indie-pop band does, their lyrics never come close to those of blatantly beach-themed tunes. The Botticellis are classier than that.

Glickman and Ehrlich grew up together in the Los Angeles area, where they developed a shared enthusiasm for music and surfing. They both began training in the Suzuki violin method in kindergarten, and have performed in original rock bands since age eight: first as an instrumental duo called Powerstrike, a recording of which Glickman says "sounds like Sleater-Kinney before Sleater-Kinney."

Now, almost two decades later, the pair is climbing toward indie stardom with their friends and fellow surfers Burton Li, Ian Nanson, and Blythe Foster as the Botticellis. Their new album, Old Home Movies, will be officially released next month on Antenna Farm Records. Local fans have a chance to grab an advance copy at their release party April 18.

Although they’ve begun headlining at SF’s larger clubs, they say they still prefer the lower-key atmosphere of spots like Aqua Surf. For these performances, the outfit brings their own sound system and mixes the vocals high to their soft-pop liking. "Every venue that we go to, we try to explain," Glickman said. "Usually people are totally unreceptive and say ‘Fuck you! Don’t tell me how to do my job!’ — which is probably why we like doing these house shows and small shows because we don’t have to go through some fucking huge PA system." With the vocals mixed down and the bass and drums cranked up, they metamorphose from a detailed, modern evocation of a ’60s pop group into a blaring indie-rock combo.

The Botticellis made a conscious decision to refine their sound: two years ago, they were a rock band with a self-released, self-titled EP showcasing guitar-driven power-pop. The transformation didn’t come easily. Some songs have been reworked and rerecorded multiple times before making it onto Old Home Movies. Seven of the new disc’s 10 tracks were laid to tape at Tiny Telephone in SF, and from the start, their goal was to re-create the crackly feel of a vinyl LP. They even toyed with the idea of releasing the recording on cassette before a quick survey of friends found that none of their pals owned a tape player.

"We were listening to Big Star records and Big Star side-project records, like Chris Bell," said Glickman. "We tried to get that sort of chewy analog mid-fi feeling." To round out that sound, the Botticellis sought out Matt Cunitz of SF’s Vintage Keyboard Repair for unusual instruments: Mellotron, folding pump organ, Minimoog, bassoon, and toy piano can all be heard at some point in the recording, beneath the fuzzy, light guitars. While Blythe Foster does not perform live with the band — she usually puts her voice toward work as an actress in local theater — the addition of her winsome vocals alongside the three male singers is nothing short of captivating.

The resulting Old Home Movies fully realizes the Botticellis attempts to bring wonder to the simplicity of California pop. And with summer coming, now is their chance to shine. One listen to Old Home Movies transports the listener back to a time when the state was known for cheerful sounds that matched clear skies. Still, the Botticellis aren’t deluding themselves. San Franciscans know that California isn’t all sun and fun, and the group’s nostalgic, delicate numbers match the melancholy nature that a July day in the Bay often holds. *


With Papercuts and the Mantles

Fri/18, 9 p.m., $10

Cafe Du Nord

2170 Market, SF


Going back


Pay no attention to the feathered and paisleyed, freaked-out and gentled-up flower child batting his bejeweled lashes behind the ruby velvet curtain. Despite the neo-glam-hippie network enmeshing his label, the Devendra Banhart– and Andy Cabic–owned Gnomonsong, and the narcotic dream-folk wafting around his San Francisco indie pop project Papercuts, songwriter-producer Jason Quever would never call himself a hippie, though heaven knows he’s tried to be one. "I have too much anxiety to be a hippie," the thoughtful Quever free-associates as he settles into his Excelsior District digs, now that his springtime rambling — spent performing with and opening for Beach House on their recent national tour — is done.

"There was a moment when I was younger when I thought maybe that’s what I am," the 32-year-old continues, sounding a wee bit wistful. "But no, I’m not very free. I have to be moving and wearing shoes — I’m just not relaxed enough to be groovy with anything. I have too much inner turmoil to pull that off, and bummer hippies are the worst — so negative."

He knows of what he speaks, as the child of "burnout hippies" who retreated to Humboldt County ("Yeah, it was funny. To get away from drugs, they lived on a Christian commune"). And though he’s always admired genuinely, "extremely relaxed" folks, Quever, by his own admission, only gets truly blissed out while writing songs.

The music making started at 5, when Quever and his friends wrote their first song: a video game ode titled "Dragon Slayer." "I still remember banging on an LP cover with chopsticks," he recalls. Songwriting became an anchor of sorts when he bought a four-track at age 15, following a summer spent adrift and alone after his mother died suddenly of a brain aneurysm.

Still, the past — and sounds redolent of tube amps, ’60s pop, magnetic tape, and a certain exquisite melancholy ornamented with chapel chimes, shivering strings, arpeggiated guitars, and thumping toms — pulls him back, although Quever appears to have built a kind of community around his current home studio, unofficially dubbed Pan American Recording "just to make it sound classy." There he’s tracked or mixed such local players as Vetiver, Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, the Skygreen Leopards, the Finches, the Moore Brothers, and Still Flyin’ — artists, Quever says, who "can handle analog recording and don’t need editing, and people who are into that sound too. People who want perfection — I can’t give them that."

Quever sounds a little dejected, much as he did while discussing reviews of Papercuts’ most recent full-length, Can’t Go Back (Gnomonsong, 2007), and writers’ focus on a perceived ’60s-vintage sound. But the singer-songwriter just as quickly cheers up: "That’s the fun thing about analog — it automatically weeds out a lot of people I don’t want to deal with. Most people who come over are relaxed and just want to have fun. The OCD obsessives just can’t obsess about it, and I do. When I mixed my last record, I obsessed over it the way you shouldn’t with analog."

Quever will have to see what the future holds now that he’s back home and writing songs, after his April 18 show at Cafe Du Nord with Papercuts’ current lineup, which includes filmmaker David Enos and Lazarus’ Kelly Nyland and Trevor Montgomery. Taking a cue from the title of Can’t Go Back, he knows there’s nowhere to venture but forward. "I’m just keeping out of jail," Quever says cheerfully — so every day, he agrees, is a success.

For more on the Papercuts’ April 18 show, see "Not for Locals Only," page 30.

Dark days


› amanda@sfbg.com

› sarah@sfbg.com

Like a lot of San Franciscans, John Murphy wants to put solar panels on his roof. He’s worried about the environment, but it’s also about money: “I want it to pay for all my electricity,” he said one recent evening as we chatted in front of his house.

Murphy pays top dollar for power from Pacific Gas and Electric Co., every month hitting the highest tier of energy use and getting spanked 34 cents a kilowatt hour for it. He’s tried to cut costs by switching to energy-efficient appliances and light bulbs with motion sensors — with little incentive from PG&E’s billing department.

Murphy thought installing solar panels would be worth the up-front cost, especially if federal and state rebates made it more feasible. His roof — sturdy and pitched toward the south, unshaded by trees or other buildings, and located in the fogless hollow of the Mission District — seemed perfectly suited for solar energy.

So last fall he invited a representative from a local solar installation company to the house for a free consultation. He was told his roof could only fit a 2.8 kilowatt system, which would cover about 60 percent of his energy needs — and cost about $25,000.

Murphy is apoplectic about the results. “What’s 60 percent? That’s like going out with her for three-quarters of the night. I want to take her home,” he said.

While the federal incentive shaves $2,000 off the cost, the state rebate program — in place since January 2007 — is a set allocation that declines over time: the later you apply, the less you get. Today Murphy can get about $1.90 per watt back from the state, whereas at the start of the program it was $2.50 per watt. To him, the upfront costs are still too steep and the results won’t cover his monthly PG&E bill.

“The snake oil salesmen of yesterday are the solar panel installers of today,” Murphy said.

But Murphy still wants to install panels — and he’s not alone. The desire for clean, green energy runs deeply through San Francisco and the state as a whole. After the launch of the California Solar Initiative, the number of solar megawatts, represented by applications to the state, doubled what they’d been over the last 26 years. Almost 90 percent of the installations were on homes, indicating that citizens are jumping at the chance to decrease their carbon output.

Yet in San Francisco, where environmental sentiment and high energy costs ought to be driving a major solar boom, there’s very little action.

Back in 2000, then-mayor Willie Brown announced a citywide goal of 10,000 solar roofs by 2010. That would add up to a lowly 5 percent of the 200,000 property lots within the city of San Francisco.

But even that weak goal seems beyond reach: it’s now 2008, and the number of solar roofs in San Francisco stands at a grand total of 618 installations by the end of 2007. In terms of kilowatts per capita, the city ranks last in the Bay Area. The city’s total electricity demand runs about 950 megawatts; only 5 megawatts is currently supplied by solar.



Well, it’s not the weather. While heavy cloud cover can hinder panels, fog permits enough ambient light to keep panels productive. San Francisco’s thermostat isn’t much of a factor either — panels prefer cooler temperate zones, not blazing desert heat.

It’s also not for a lack of political ideas — Mayor Gavin Newsom is pushing a major solar proposal and several others are floating around, too.

But Newsom is clashing with the supervisors over the philosophy and direction of his plan. It’s complicated, but in essence, the mayor and Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting put together a task force that included representatives of solar installers and PG&E — but nobody from the environmental community and no public-power supporters.

The plan they hatched gives cash incentives to private property owners, takes money away from city-owned solar installments, and does nothing to help the city’s move to public power.

While all this plays out, the solar panels so many San Franciscans want aren’t getting installed.



What makes solar work, according to local solar activists, is a combination of sun and subsidies. “Almost every area in the United States has better sun exposure than Germany, and Germany is leading the solar market worldwide today,” said Lyndon Rive, CEO of Solar City, a Foster City-based solar installer.

The price per kilowatt hour, with current state and federal subsides, is about 13 cents for solar, just two cents more than PG&E’s base rate for energy produced mostly by nuclear power and natural gas.

Still, the average installation for the average home hovers between $20,000 and $30,000. For many, that kind of cash isn’t available.

“The biggest reason for lack of adoption [of solar energy] is that the cost to install in San Francisco is higher than neighboring cities,” Rive said. It’s about 10 percent more than the rest of the Bay Area, according to a December 2007 report of the San Francisco Solar Task Force.

Why? According to Rive, system sizes are smaller. Solar City’s average Bay Area customer buys a 4.4 kilowatt system, but the average San Franciscan — with a smaller house and smaller roof — usually gets a 3.1 kilowatt installation. The smaller the system, the more the markup for retailers amortizing certain fixed costs such as material and labor. On top of that, San Francisco’s old Victorians can have issues — weak rafters need reinforcement; steep roofs require more scaffolding; wires and conduits have to cover longer distances. It adds up.

“There’s an extra cost to doing business in San Francisco,” said Barry Cinnamon, CEO of Akeena Solar and a member of the SF Solar Task Force. “I can expect $100 in parking tickets for every job I do.”

That was the motivation for Ting to establish the Solar Task Force in 2007, with the goal of creating financial incentives, including loans and rebates, to bring down the costs of San Francisco solar. The 11-member task force came up with an ambitious program that involved a one-stop shop for permits, a plan to give property owners as much as $5,000 in cash subsidies, and a system to lend money to homeowners who can’t afford the up-front costs.

The task force said installing 55 megawatts of solar would combat global warming, improve air quality by reducing pollution caused by electricity generation, and add 1,800 green collar jobs to the local economy.

The streamlined permit program is in place. None of the rest has happened.



The first obstacle was the loan fund. Newsom and Ting wanted to take $50 million currently sitting unspent in a bond fund for seismic upgrades on local buildings. Sup. Jake McGoldrick wanted to know why the money wasn’t being used to upgrade low-income housing; the city attorney wasn’t sure seismic safety money could be redirected to solar loans.

Then Newsom decided to take $3 million from the Mayor’s Energy Conservation Fund to pay for the first round of rebates. Over the next 10 years, that could add up to $50 million. McGoldrick balked again. That money, he said, was supposed to be used on public facilities (like solar panels at Moscone Center and Muni facilities and new refrigerators for public housing projects). Why should it be diverted to private property owners?

There’s a larger issue behind all this: should the city be using scarce resources to help the private sector — or devoting its money to city-owned electricity generation? “In 10 years, there could be $50 million in the fund,” McGoldrick said. “That’s a lot of money, and it’s power the city could own.”

Sup. Chris Daly agrees. “I would support this program if we were running out of municipal [solar] projects,” he said. “But we’re not.”

In addition, the progressive members of the Board of Supervisors, who have all advocated a citywide sustainable energy policy known as community choice aggregation, or CCA, weren’t represented on the Solar Task Force.

The fund Newsom wanted to tap for his project is also the source of funding for the community choice aggregation program, which the progressive supervisors see as the city’s energy plan, which in turn constitutes a far more comprehensive response to climate change, with a goal of relying on 51 percent renewable energy by 2017.

Sup. Gerardo Sandoval is working on a loan program that would allow residents to borrow money from the city for renewable energy and efficiency upgrades for their homes and pay it back at a relatively low interest rate folded into their monthly tax bills. (See “Solar Solutions,” 11/14/07.) Sandoval’s plan would enable loans of $20,000 to $40,000 at 3 percent interest to people who voluntarily put solar on their homes.

The city of Berkeley is pursuing a similar plan. But the task force never consulted Sandoval — in fact, he told us that he had no idea Ting’s task force was meeting until a few months ago.

The supervisors’ Budget and Finance Committee is slated to review Newsom’s plan April 16.

Solar installers aren’t happy about the delays: “I’m on the disappointed receiving end of that start and stop,” Cinnamon said.

While city officials duke out where the money should come from and who gets it, San Franciscans interested in purchasing panels are left in limbo. Jennifer Jachym, a sales rep from Solar City who used to handle residential contracts in San Francisco, said, “I have worked all over the Bay Area and I’d have to say it seems that the delta between interest and actual purchase is highest here.

“It was hard to get people to pull the trigger,” she continued. “What the San Francisco incentive program basically did was bring the cost incentives here to where they are everywhere else.”

The holdup has dispirited customers and solar companies. Cinnamon said he wasted 10,000 advertising door hangers because of the delay. Solar City also put on hold a handshake deal with the Port of San Francisco to rent a 5,000-square-foot warehouse in the Bayview District for a solar training academy that could turn out 20 new workers a month.

“As a San Francisco resident, I really want to see it happen there, but as a business, I have to think about it differently,” said Peter Rive, chief operating officer of the company. “Almost every city in the Bay Area is aggressively trying to get us to build a training academy in their city.”



Another reason we don’t see more panels on San Francisco roofs is that most San Franciscans are renting and have no control over their roofs. “The landlord doesn’t care. They don’t pay the electric bill,” Cinnamon said. When asked if there were any inroads to be made there, he said, “Nope. That’s not a market I see at all.”

In spite of that, solar companies still are eager to do business here, which means there’s either enough of a market — or enough of a markup.

Rive wouldn’t tell us their exact markup for panels, but said, “The average solar company adds 15 to 25 percent gross margin to the installation. Our gross margin is in line with that.”

Rive’s company has another option for cash-poor San Franciscans, a new “solar lease.” In this scenario, Solar City owns the panels and leases them to homeowners for 15 years. The property owner pays a low up-front cost of a couple of thousand dollars and a monthly lease fee that increases 3.5 percent per year.

For Murphy, the price would be $2,754 down and $88 a month. The panels would still cover only 64 percent of his energy needs, so he would owe PG&E about $70 a month. Because he would be using less energy, PG&E would charge a lower rate, which is something Solar City typically tries to achieve with a solar system.

However, people can’t make money off their solar systems. “People ask about it all the time,” Jachym said. “Especially people in San Francisco. They say ‘I have a house in Sonoma with tons of space. Can I put panels there and offset my energy here?'”

The answer, unfortunately, is no, which means San Franciscans have no incentive to put up more panels than they need and recoup their costs by selling the energy to the grid. Unlike Germany, for example, where people are paid for the excess solar energy they make, California’s net metering laws favor utility companies. If you make more power than you use, you’re donating it to the grid. PG&E sells it to someone else.

If the law was changed — which could be a feature of CCA — citizens could help the city generate more solar energy to sell to customers who don’t have panels, helping the city to meet its overall goal of 51 percent renewable by 2017.

Under Solar City’s lease program, the company gets the federal and state rebates. If Murphy leased for 15 years he’d have an option to buy the used panels, upgrade to new ones, and end or continue the lease. If San Francisco launches the incentive program, the $3,000 from the city could cover the up-front cost and he could get the whole thing rolling for almost no cash. It sounds like a sweet deal.

Except it’s not going to work. Solar City only leases systems of 3.2 kilowatts or more, and only 2.8 could be squeezed onto Murphy’s roof. “I think it’s Murphy’s Law,” Jachym says wryly. “If you have a house that wants solar, a whole row of houses on the street nearby are better suited for it.”

She says the 3.2 cutoff has to do with the company’s bottom line. “If it’s any less than 3.2 the company is losing money.” Ironically, she tells me, “the average system size in San Francisco is even smaller” — usually less than 3.1. Solar City has set the bar high in a place where many people like Murphy are prevented from leasing.

He tells us he isn’t interested in a lease anyway: “I don’t own that.” He’s now more interested in a do-it-yourself situation and wishes the city would put some energy toward that. “If they were serious they would have a city solar store,” he said, imagining a kind of Home Depot for solar, where one could buy panels and wiring, talk with advisors, contract with installers, or just fill out the necessary paperwork for the rebates.

Some people are going ahead anyway, without city support. Nan Foster, a San Francisco homeowner now installing photovoltaic panels and solar water heating, says her middle-class family borrowed money to do these projects, “because we want to do the right thing about the environment and reduce our carbon footprint. It would be a great help to get these rebates from the city.

“The public money for the project would increase the spending of individuals to install solar — so the public funds would leverage much more investment in solar on the part of individuals and businesses,” Foster argued.

There’s another approach that isn’t on the table yet. Eric Brooks, cofounder of the Community Choice Energy Alliance, told us that the city, through CCA, could buy its own panels to place on private homes and businesses, giving those homes and businesses a way to go solar — free.

“Clearly there would be a much higher demand for free solar panels over discounted ones that are still very expensive,” he said. “And because the panels would be owned by the city, all of the savings and revenue could be put right back into building more renewables and efficiency projects, instead of going into the pockets of private property owners.”

Proponents of the mayor’s plan argue that the city can build more solar panels — faster — by diverting public funds to the private sector. “While on its face this is technically true, it is actually a dead-end path,” Brooks said. “Yes, a little more solar would be built a little more quickly. However, once those private panels are built the city will get nothing from them.”

Full disclosure: Murphy is Amanda Witherell’s landlord.


Sheik it


How much hot queer Arab on the dance floor can you handle? If you’re dating me, it better be a lot.

Others can test their capacity for swivel-hipped, uluutf8g cuties this Saturday at what more sensationalist club critics might dub a "Battle of the Belly Dancers." Two gay-oriented Middle Eastern–themed parties, Bibi and Club La Zeez, butt bejeweled foreheads in different venues — on the first night of Passover, no less. But that’s a different geopolitical kettle of couscous.

Hitting up both events would be ideal, since each is put on by folks of SWANA (Southwest Asian–Northern African) descent; pumps out zills-tinkling contemporary and traditional Persian, Arabic, Latin, and South Asian floor bangers; and serves an underrepresented audience hungry for connection in these unfashionably volatile times. If you are forced to choose, I recommend Bibi. La Zeez, a monthly launched in March at Club Eight by Los Angeles playwright Saleem, is good fun but gives off a touristy vibe — "Magic Carpet" lounge, really? It also caters to a mostly mainstream gay male crowd and uses the word exotic in its press materials. Tacky.

Bibi, on the other many-ringed hand, is a quarterly charitable grassroots affair that has delighted queers of all genders for a year now and is hosted by local playboys Rostam and J. Maximilian. This time around, the party’s at Six and called Bibi Chic, so dress yourself fancy and free. Proceeds go to six queer Middle Eastern foundations, including Iraqi LGBT; IRQO in Iran; and Beirut’s fabulous new LGBT center, Helem. DJs Emancipacion, Masood, and Josh Cheon will throw down beats and performance artist Cherry Gallete and belly dancer Amira will dazzle the crowd.

And what about us queer Arab Americans who’ll be sitting down to Passover seder that evening with our gorgeous Jewish boyfriends? "Both of you come afterward! Bring cookies!" Rostam entreated me over the phone. "There’s room on our dance floor for everyone."


Sat/19, 10 p.m., $15.


60 Sixth St., SF

(415) 863-1221

www.clubsix1.com, www.myspace.com/bibisf


Sat/19, 9 p.m.–2 a.m., $12–$15

Club Eight

1151 Folsom, SF

(415) 431-1151


The SEIU strikes back


› jesse@sfbg.com

The Rhode Island Street headquarters for Local 1021 of the giant Service Employees International Union (SEIU) had several surprise visitors April 14. First, International President Andy Stern arrived from Washington DC to speak with the local’s executive board.

Then, after word of Stern’s last minute appearance got out, a group of 20 activists from Oakland–based SEIU affiliate United Healthcare Workers West (UHW) attempted to enter the building and confront Stern about what they perceive to be his anti-democratic administration. They were barred from the meeting. When the Guardian attempted to gain entrance, we were twice escorted to the exit by 1021 staffers. A source inside the union said Stern left through a back door during lunchtime.

Stern’s visit and the dissidents’ foiled attempt to meet him reflect the high level of tension inside SEIU these days. As it prepares to vote on several democratic reform measures at a convention in early June, internal fault lines have split the 1.9 million-member union.

As we reported last week ("Hard Labor," 4/9/08) Stern loyalists have pushed the boundaries of union rules, and perhaps even federal law, to beat back the slate of reforms championed by UHW’s dissident leader, Sal Rosselli.

Now, in response to our reporting and to Rosselli’s movement, leaders inside the labor giant apparently have gone into full damage-control mode.

In fact, an election committee that appears to have been hand-picked by Local 1021’s president already rejected an internal complaint about the election process — and critics are calling foul.


Two weeks ago, the Guardian reported on a controversial batch of e-mails among SEIU officials. Calling themselves the "salsa team," high-level union staffers — including Damita Davis-Howard, whom Stern appointed as president of 1021, as well as Josie Mooney, a Stern assistant — swapped campaign strategy and exchanged anti-Rosselli talking points during an election to select delegates to the upcoming convention.

On April 4, more than a dozen union members lodged a formal complaint with the organization’s local election committee. The complaint charged that the salsa team’s missives broke union rules against staff involvement in elections. Soon afterward, lawyers representing Rosselli’s union filed suit against Stern and the SEIU — alleging, among other things, that SEIU "officers, employees, and allies" interfered with delegate elections in violation of federal labor law.

While the lawsuit will not see a courtroom for some time, it didn’t take long for the union committee to rule against the members’ complaint. In a memo dated the following Monday, April 7, and obtained by the Guardian, the nine-member body reported to the union’s International Secretary-Treasurer that "the staff (directors and others) named in the challenge are members of Local 1021 and therefore have the same right as all other members" to participate in the election.

The distinction is key: union rules strictly forbid paid staffers from interfering in elections by members. And supporters of union democracy insist that a central tenet of their movement are the notions that staffers work for the membership — and that the members, not the staff, determine union policy (See Opinion, page 7).

The outcome is important not only to the union but to progressive politics in San Francisco. Local 1021 (and Local 790, the San Francisco chapter that predates it) has played a major role in supporting progressive causes and candidates.

The committee’s ruling, and the speed with which it reached its decision, outraged many inside the union. A number of 1021 staffers who declined to be identified for fear of reprisal called the memo "bullshit" when asked to comment.

Union member Maria Guillen, one of the members who signed the complaint, told us that the salsa team’s actions and their exoneration by the election committee "go against the spirit of union democracy." Guillen went on to challenge the assertion that union staff, especially top management like Mooney and Davis-Howard, have the same rights as rank and file members when it comes to campaigning in union elections.

"None of the executive board members I’ve spoken to can recall voting on that. Who had the authority to permit that? … To think that folks with all the resources and all the connections are working against us, it breaks my heart."

The makeup of the committee also raises conflict of interest issues.

According to the provisional bylaws for Local 1021, which were enacted after it was formed in early 2007 by merging 10 separate Northern California locals, 1021’s appointed president Damita Davis-Howard has control "in creating committees and naming members to such committees." Several sources inside the union told us she used this power to select the members of the election committee that apparently ruled on whether she herself broke union rules.

Davis-Howard did not return calls for comment and our attempts to reach committee chair Cassandra Burdick through staff at Local 1021 were unsuccessful.

SEIU international spokesperson Andy McDonald could not confirm whether Davis-Howard had in fact named the election committee members to their positions


In another indication of just how radioactive SEIU’s internal dissension has become, numerous Democratic politicians and party officials in California recently received a letter signed by five presidents of SEIU locals around the state, including Davis-Howard. The letter, obtained by the Guardian and dated April 2 — the day after we broke the salsa team story — seeks to reassure party members that the union will clean its own house. It also appears to warn the state’s political leaders not to choose sides between Rosselli and Stern.

With millions of dollars in its coffers, SEIU is a prime source of campaign cash for politicians.

"We have a democratic process for resolving our internal differences," the letter reads. "In fact, our members will debate and set the course of our union at our convention in June. We hope that you will respect the right of our members to decide for themselves the direction of their union and avoid involvement in our internal affairs."

SEIU’s alleged hardball tactics have extended beyond its internal conflict in recent weeks. The union has been feuding with the California Nurses Association over allegations that the nurses’ union has been attempting to woo SEIU members into switching to the competing union.

Last week, several CNA board members in Southern California claimed that SEIU staffers showed up at their doors and confronted them. SEIU confirmed that it’s sending people to CNA members’ houses, but said there was no intimidation. And last weekend, a large crowd of SEIU members allegedly stormed a convention in Michigan put on by the magazine Labor Notes. A press release from CNA claimed several people were injured and that numerous CNA officials had to flee "out the back of the hall for their safety."

SEIU’s Lynda Tran confirmed that "things got a little rough" when a group of SEIU members and staff attempted to confront a CNA official. "Folks from both sides got injured," she added.

Labor activist and author Herman Benson, of the Association for Union Democracy in New York, told the Guardian that the divisions within SEIU, and its conflicts with other unions, are nothing new in the labor movement. For nearly as long as unions have existed, he said, power struggles have taken place among union brass. "Any incumbency has enormous weapons at its disposal."

Benson praised Stern for his efforts in recruiting new members for SEIU. As the rest of organized labor has continued to decline in America, Stern’s shop has brought in nearly 1 million new members. But Benson took issue with what he perceived as intolerance for dissent within his ranks.

"Stern has a vision of an almost militarized bureaucratic labor movement … but if you can’t have criticism before your international convention, when can you have it?"

Putting power into perspective


Amount the US Department of Energy granted SF San Francisco in 2007 to help encourage the deployment of solar energy: $200,000

Amount the DOE says it has spent nationwide over the last year making solar power more accessible on the energy market and underwriting new research and development: $288 million

Amount San Ramon–based Chevron Corp. made in net income (profit) during 2007: $18.7 billion

Amount David J. O’Reilly earned in total compensation per business day during 2007 as the San Ramon–based Chevron Corp.’s chairman and CEO: $121,153

Amount O’Reilly earned in total compensation during 2007: $31.5 million

Amount Chevron spent during 2006 defeating Proposition 87, a California ballot measure that would have funded renewable energy research through a drilling fee imposed on oil producers: $38 million

Amount oil and gas industries spent attempting to influence Sacramento during 2006: $97.8 million

Amount the oil and gas industries spent contributing to federal political candidates and parties and for lobbying expenses in 2006: $94.9 million

These figures came from the California Secretary of State’s Office, the Center for Responsive Politics, Followthemoney.org, and financial documents publicly traded companies are required to maintain by the Securities and Exchange Commission.<

Bumping and thriving


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"Crazy be the knowledge of self." If you’re into conscious hip-hop, you might expect such an interpersonal refrain as this intro to Black Spade’s "Good Crazy" on his intricately self-produced debut, To Serve with Love, out last month on Om Hip Hop, an imprint of San Francisco’s Om Records. Still, there’s something new going on here, something hot that snags your mind and your kicks and refuses to let go.

Maybe it’s Spade’s technique. The rapper otherwise known as Veto Money easily shifts between samples from every genre imaginable, funked-out click tracks, alien blips reminiscent of delightfully geeky hip-hop producers such as Styrofoam, and choruses that sound like he’s singing to you personally. His tight flows simulate a head bobbing up and down and grinning by pushing syllables into full beats, with rhymes and emphases hitting on downbeats instead of more typical upbeat syncopation.

Or maybe it’s just a simple sense of freedom. Remember when freedom was fun? Om Hip Hop is doing for the experimental hip-hop community what they’ve become known for worldwide in the electronic music world: finding talented musicians who could be superstars but are more interested in the music than in superficial fame, connecting them with other mavericks, and giving them free reign to rock the house. It’s the hip-hop version of what the Los Angeles CityBeat has dubbed Om’s effective "anti-superstar-DJ music policy."

"I’ve never worked on a project I didn’t believe in 100 percent," said Jonathan McDonald, speaking in Om’s SoMa headquarters, surrounded by countless promo discs and magazines. McDonald, who started out as an intern at Om while he was working as the hip-hop buyer at Amoeba Music, is now in charge of A&R and publicity for Om Hip Hop. He was psyched two years ago when Om founder Chris Smith decided to create and devote resources to the new imprint. Hip-hop was integral to Smith’s original vision for Om in 1995, said McDonald. "But when dance culture really took off in the city, Om followed," he said. The phenomenal success of Mark Farina’s Mushroom Jazz Vol. 1 (1996)still Om’s bestselling record — outplayed early hip-hop projects such as People Under the Stairs.

With a stage name that plays on race, death, and the name of a ’70s New York street gang, Black Spade easily shifts between social critique ("Head Busters fightin’ security at the Mono / Should I sell dope or slave at McDonald’s?") and romanticism ("Excuse me miss, I know we’re fighting / But what is that smell? It’s so exciting"). Yet another Om Hip Hop artist, Crown City Rockers’ Raashan Ahmad, who now resides in Oakland, expands this sense of storytelling on The Push, which will be out in May. Considering everything from his mother’s battle with cancer to the birth of his son, Ahmad’s liquid lyricism takes us on a striking emotional ride, with stops for inspiration ("The linguist synonymous with soul power") and praise ("Hip-hop saved my life"). "I wanted to show all sides of hip-hop — and all sides of me," said Ahmad, on the phone from Los Angeles. By offering unprecedented support, Om let him create an album that even shows his "insecurities," he said. "Everything they said they’d do, they’ve done. They gave me complete creative freedom."

In June, Om will release the One’s Superpsychosexy. McDonald hopes that the Spade and Ahmad discs will help prep listeners for the Charlotte, N.C., artist’s "left field" sound, which includes hypnotic production and elastic, naughty-and-nice soul vocals. The One, né Geoffrey Edwards, would probably think of this pre-exposure as foreplay. "Superpsychosexy is music to make babies to. No, scratch that — it’s music to practice making babies to!" he said with a laugh, on the phone from his home. The One’s father is a minister. From a young age, his family was encouraged to create on multiple instruments, and on tracks such as "Drippin," and "Milkshake Thick," he summons some very hot demons.

The mixture of local and global artists has played a major role in Om Records’ success. Their Bay Area talent includes Zeph and Azeem; Zion I and the Grouch; and J Boogie’s Dubtronic Science, which has a new full-length coming later this year. Om has also formed a partnership with imeem, a San Francisco social networking site based around music, which McDonald believes will be a "driving force in new media."

It’s a perfect match. Om Hip Hop is all about community and shows no signs of slowing down. Colossus’s West Oaktown (2005), the first Om Hip Hop release, presented original funky tracks alongside hip-hop remixes, so you could feel the DJ at work. Om’s "Spring Sessions" show at the Mezzanine is bound to see some healthy human remixing, live and in the house. *


With Supreme Beings of Leisure, Turntables on the Hudson, Samantha James, and J Boogie’s Dubtronic Science

Fri/18, 10 p.m., $15


444 Jessie, SF






By Näkki Goranin

W.W. Norton

224 pages


A character on the Bush-era TV show The Hills once suggested churches’ confessionals be turned into photo booths. That idea sums up today’s brand of American narcissism, if you’re feeling pessimistic. On the other hand, Näkki Goranin’s nostalgia-drenched collection of photo booth images — and her light US history of the machine — cures such cynicism. Goranin traces the lives of photo booth inventors and pioneers (none as famous as the Lumiere brothers or Thomas Edison), then shares hundreds of anonymous images. One looks like a real-life version of 1973’s Paper Moon. A few use the booth’s privacy for same-sex affection. Couples pull faces, narcissists pose, and one or two looks could illustrate loneliness. Everyone aims to create keepsakes, a tradition that persists in the digital age. I carry a photo booth image of the guy I love in my wallet. (Johnny Ray Huston)


By Walter Mosley

Black Classic Press

190 pages


Tempest Landry is a slightly modernized, more complex, and smarter version of Langston Hughes’s ne’er-do-well sidewalk lothario Jesse B. Semple. A rogue and hustler, Tempest is also the first soul who refuses to repent at the Pearly Gates. Thus he’s sent back to Earth, along with a celestial foil, to prove his case. But if his assertion that he was predestined to have a raw deal in life proves true — if he shows that being born black in racist America forces one to place values ahead of morals — it could threaten to undo all existence. Ending eternity or going to hell for eternity — which would you choose? Tempest Tales weighs this question with an impeccable sense of pace. In dimly lit areas of modern-day Harlem, Mosley mixes a love story, an analogy for individuation, and a supernatural game of cat and mouse, throwing in a white devil for emphasis. It makes for a fun, funny, and poignant experience. (D. Scot Miller)

Nickels and dimes


We get a lot of press releases announcing that San Francisco has made it to the top of another "greenest" list. Popular Science named SF the second-greenest city in the nation last February. Sustainlane.com called this place the second-greenest city in 2006. Reader’s Digest added honors for the fifth-cleanest city in 2005, the same year San Francisco hosted the UN’s World Environment Day.

The city’s ban on plastic grocery bags is spreading, and last year Mayor Gavin Newsom won a Green Cross Award from Global Green USA alongside Irmelin DiCaprio, the mother of film star Leonardo DiCaprio.

But none of that adds up to what the city really needs: cash.

Then the US Department of Energy in late March designated three more California cities — Sacramento, San Jose, and Santa Rosa — as new "Solar American Cities" — and this award came with money attached. And the DOE has dough: the agency requested $25 billion from Congress this year.

The solar grant was worth $2.4 million. The money was divided among 12 cities nationwide, leaving each municipality with just $200,000. And that was supposed to cover a two-year period.

Berkeley, San Francisco, and San Diego made the "Solar American Cities" list in 2007. San Francisco’s Department of the Environment received the money, and a conciliatory Johanna Partin, the renewable energy program manager there, said it was the only grant from Bush’s Solar America Initiative her office had actually applied for.

San Francisco at least will able to use the money to help the owners of large buildings assess what it would take to install solar technology. We’ve already digitally mapped the city’s grandest roofs.

Margie Bates, a project manager for the DOE’s Solar Energy Technologies Program in Golden, Colo., told us that the grant includes $200,000 in additional credit for hiring local experts to advise building owners on the technology or retain the expertise of DOE officials themselves.

"The funding is allowing us to do some pieces of our solar program that we didn’t otherwise have funding for. So in that sense it’s good," she said. "But, you know, $200,000 over two years is not a lot of money."

You’ll go blind doing that


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ISBN REAL Nobody knows better than writers that there’s nothing inherently special or ennobling about reading a book. Fiction abounds with infatuated references to studious ritual, yet there’s also no shortage of passages that portray reading as a distraction, or an ingredient in a tedious bourgeoisie mating dance. The Great Gatsby (1925) may stroke the ego with its halfwits who treat books as props, but Somerset Maugham’s The Moon and Sixpence (1919) and Edmund Wilson’s Memoirs of Hecate County (1946) get straight to the point and portray reading as a fool’s pastime.

It still brings me down a bit when I think of that blip of a minor character in Wilson’s book martyred to this belief: a sort of intellectual Margaret Dumont. Here was a woman who undoubtedly read millions of words — and good ones — and all it got her was the position of deluded gadfly.

Meta-masochism is hardly required to appreciate the point that books ain’t all that. There are plenty of sad reminders in the three-dimensional world, like an acquaintance of mine during college who sported on his backpack a button with the mating call "I STILL READ BOOKS." Clearly we had an enlightened soul on our hands, one with an intellect of such dexterity, no less, that he somehow pulled off the Orphean mental journey necessary to think Pay It Forward was a high-quality movie. The world is so full of bookworm poseurs and onanists it’s hard not to question one’s own motives for curling up by the fire.

Mikita Brottman’s new book, The Solitary Vice: Against Reading (Counterpoint, 224 pages, $14.95) takes a crack at this question on our behalf, attempting a scholarly treatise against the assumption that reading, in and of itself, makes you a better person. Brottman, a language and literature professor at the Maryland Institute College of Art, wonders if perhaps our faith in the alchemical power of the practice "draws its power from a toxic brew of magical thinking, narcissism, and nostalgia."

Them’s fightin’ words. Unfortunately, Brottman’s punches don’t land nearly as often as they should. It would be hard to find the academic who could give the hyper-literate life a sound thrashing. But to maintain a modicum of fidelity to one’s thesis, not to mention one’s doubly barbed title, seems a modest expectation. The articulate introduction of Brottman’s book, sprinkled with aperitif-caliber evidence, lugs behind it 200-plus pages of disposable items from the trove of idiosyncrasies that is modern readership. Equal parts trivia, anecdotal digression, and halfhearted cautionary tale about the perils of culture-sanctioned solipsism, the result is not easily distinguishable from a valentine to reading.

I picked up Solitary Vice expecting to intermittently yell, "Preach it!" and have my opinions about literary fetishism fortified with case studies and garnished with academic authority. I don’t buy the spiritual democratization argument put forth in books such as Mark Edmundson’s 2004 Why Read? (Bloomsbury USA, 160 pages, $12.95). A book’s availability is the democratizing factor, not its contents. It seems wise that we’re introduced in our dumb-ass youth to the many types of intellectual life ripe for the plucking if we ever become so inclined. What’s not wise is assuming that students shouldn’t shuck those disciplines they find obnoxious immediately upon leaving school — that the best examples of literature aren’t at their core well-executed indulgences of an impractical enthusiasm. My reading life has helped the world only inasmuch as the world has to put up with a much less cranky person.

I will not fault you, Mikita Brottman, if you humbly disagree. *

What union democracy means


OPINION The troubles in the Service Employees International Union, and within SEIU Local 1021 in San Francisco, share a similar theme. How much do individual locals direct their work in the face of the international’s set agenda? And more important, how do union members themselves direct the vision, use of resources, and work of both their local and international union? What is union democracy and how is it made real?

Active members in Local 1021 learned a painful lesson recently when we discovered that senior 1021 staff ran a clandestine campaign during a member election to choose delegates to SEIU’s quadrennial convention this June. These same senior staff demanded that their junior staff remain completely neutral and uninvolved in the election.

A key tenet of union democracy is recognition by all parties that the union staffers work for the members, whose dues pay for their salaries and benefits, their offices, and the programs run by the union.

Local 1021’s governing bodies were appointed by Andy Stern, president of the international, at the time of the merger of 10 locals into one. Next year, Local 1021 holds its first officer and executive board elections. It is essential that we lay out bylaws and an election process guaranteeing that the direction of our local union will be led by its members.

We are at a vital juncture. Do we allow the programs and process to be driven by the international, Stern, and his loyalist staff — or do we assert ourselves as members, examine the issues for ourselves, and choose how we prioritize the work to be done?

At stake is not just the true empowerment of our union, but its credibility. We demand a sense of fair play from the employers we bargain with and consistently take a hard line against managerial favoritism.

In practically every contract campaign, there is a battle over the definition of our union and our very identity. We put forth photographs of our members, use their quotes in the press, and otherwise say to the public, the press, and elected officials that “these people are the union — the nurses, transit workers, librarians, road crews and others who serve our community.”

Meanwhile, management — as well as anti-union lobbies, officials, and think tanks — speak in more pejorative terms of “union bosses” and “big labor,” conjuring images of bureaucrats who cut deals, make the real decisions, and are disconnected from their rank-and-file membership.

It is critical that we don’t prove our opponents right. If the boss-like behavior of our leaders and the manner in which they govern this union promotes double standards, favoritism, and a lack of local autonomy, we only make it easier for anti-union forces to drive a wedge between our members and their union.

Nobody has more at stake in SEIU than the members who pay the bills and whose wages, benefits, and working conditions are being negotiated. Without the international showing respect for local autonomy or democratic empowerment at the local and worksite levels, we cannot hope for existing members to feel like stakeholders in their union, or to inspire prospective members to join us in the future.

Mary C. Magee and Roxanne Sanchez

Mary C. Magee, RN, works at San Francisco General Hospital. Roxanne Sanchez works for Bay Area Rapid Transit. They are members of SEIU Local 1021.


Wong takes wrong turn


Whether his focus is on a gangster who falls for his cousin (As Tears Go By, 1989), or a lovesick cop getting over a breakup (Chungking Express, 1994), or two men who move to Argentina seeking a fresh start (Happy Together, 1997), the world of Wong Kar Wai is always populated by heartbroken people whose unresolved emotions render them romantically challenged. The fluid cinematography, evocative music, and sublime use of slow-motion that accompanies these tales of unrequited love make Wong’s attractive cosmos all the more moving and melancholy.

Although My Blueberry Nights, the director’s first US production, has all of the above ingredients, it isn’t what one expects from Wong. Unnecessary explanatory voice-over and Hallmark-card dialogue destroys the subtlety that permeates most of his films.

During a recent phone interview, Wong attributed this lack of subtlety to the "straightforward" way he believes Americans express their feelings. But I suggest a lot of it has to do with Norah Jones being the film’s star. Although the director admitted the singer was the reason he made the film in the first place, her performance isn’t nearly as nuanced as that of Maggie Cheung’s in In the Mood for Love (2000). An equally plausible explanation might be that well-known mystery novelist Lawrence Block was Wong’s unlikely script collaborator.

Anyone familiar with Wong’s films will be disappointed by the cheery conclusion of My Blueberry Nights. But according to the filmmaker, what we witness is not actually a happy ending. Instead, we’re given what he calls "the happy beginning of another story," one whose ending is as open as it is inevitable.


Opens Fri/18 at Bay Area theaters

See Movie Clock at www.sfbg.com



A solar plan that works


EDITORIAL Solar energy makes so much sense in San Francisco that it’s crazy this city didn’t figure out years ago how to get at least a quarter or more of its power from the sun. And it’s crazy that now, with the financial benefits of solar power improving, the technology improving, and the environmental mandate getting more profound by the day, the city still doesn’t have an effective citywide solar program.

Mayor Gavin Newsom, who wants to be known as a green mayor, has a solar proposal on the table that environmental groups like the Sierra Club are reluctantly supporting. But a lot of the supervisors have serious questions — and so do we. At its most basic, Newsom’s plan is a shift of solar resources from the public sector to the private sector and does little to promote a sustainable long-term energy policy.

There’s a way to do solar right in San Francisco, and we can outline a basic blueprint.

1. Start with all the interested parties. Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting, with Newsom’s support, created a Solar Task Force in San Francisco — but none of the supervisors were invited. The Sierra Club wasn’t invited. None of the public power advocates were invited. Instead, it was dominated by solar industry people, with Pacific Gas and Electric Company along for the ride, guaranteeing that the proposals would run into political static.

2. Make it work as part of a public power plan. The future of San Francisco’s energy policy has to start and end with the notion that PG&E won’t be the long-term supplier of commercial electricity. The city has a community-choice aggregation (CCA) plan, and any solar programs should be designed to enhance and work with that plan.

3. Don’t shortchange public generation. Newsom is asking the city to take money away from a public-sector plan, which pays for solar panels on city-owned buildings, and shift it to a private-sector program, which would subsidize homeowners and commercial landlords who want to install solar panels. We’re all for encouraging solar on homes and office buildings, and we recognize that current state and federal law are skewed toward private projects. But the city has a huge interest in building its own generation capacity: city buildings now use Hetch Hetchy hydropower, and every kilowatt that can be replaced with solar frees up Hetch Hetchy power for retail sales to local homes and businesses and increases the financial rewards of public power.

4. Use the Berkeley model for private parties. The city of Berkeley is pursuing an excellent program. Homeowners and businesses would be able to borrow money from the city at very low interest (a city can raise capital at around 3 percent these days) to install solar panels and would pay the money back over 20 or 30 years through increased property taxes. This would cost the city nothing, encourages solar installations — and still leaves room for subsidies if they turn out to be necessary.

5. Look at using CCA to buy solar panels in bulk and install them free. Eric Brooks, a public power advocate, suggests this idea, and it’s a good one. A city power agency could buy panels and offer them free to property owners, with the energy going into the city grid. The residents and businesses would see their power bills drop, and the city would see environmental and financial benefits.

6. Demand two-way meters. PG&E doesn’t allow property owners to bank power that they generate beyond what they use. That means the owner of a solar system that’s actually generating surplus money is giving power free to PG&E. The city ought to be pushing for a change in state law to demand two-way electric meters. And as part of a public power plan, San Francisco could allow homeowners and commercial landlords not only to cut their power bills to zero but also to bring in cash by installing solar-generating systems.

7. Recognize that PG&E is part of the problem, not part of the solution. PG&E doesn’t want public power. The company doesn’t want widespread solar generation. In fact, the giant private utility has no incentive to do anything that keeps it from making money by selling power over its lines. You can almost judge a solar plan by one standard — if PG&E is OK with it, it must be a bad idea.

The supervisors are right to question Newsom’s plan, and in the end, they should reject it — and create a new one that meets the key tests of an effective long-term energy program for San Francisco.

Offbeat direction


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When successful actors turn to directing, you can often gauge how long they’ve been immersed in fiction by the degrees of condescension and cliché in their movies. Ethan Hawke is an unfortunate recent example. I’d say John Cassavetes is the classic one … but then people would hunt me down and kill me.

Of course, some actors can think outside themselves behind the camera: George Clooney, Sarah Polley, and Ben Affleck (who knew?) provide recent testimony. Even Mel Gibson might qualify. Though his films reveal a sadomasochistic freak flagelutf8g himself and us for God, they still express something beyond the cumulative wisdom acquired from drama school scene study and that aerial view of society one gets from the top of the entertainment industry heap.

Tom McCarthy isn’t as famous an actor, despite working steadily (on Boston Public, The Wire, and several Clooney movies) for a decade. This low profile may be an asset: while his 2003 writing-directorial debut, The Station Agent, sounded too precious, it turned out to be wonderful. McCarthy’s directorial follow-up, The Visitor, isn’t as successful. Still, it’s an unforced, gracefully crafted, emotionally rewarding (to a point) miniature that suggests he has a reliable second career option.

Walter Vale (Richard Jenkins) is an Ivy League economics professor who is as dour as a spreadsheet. He fires his fifth piano teacher in a row (stage great Marian Seldes) because he’s frustrated about poor progress at his chosen hobby. He’s a bone-dry lecturer whose office hours are coldly unwelcoming and lives in a Connecticut house too big for anyone with such a shrunken soul. His department forces him to deliver a paper at a New York University–sponsored conference, and thus he reenters, for the first time in years, his large Manhattan apartment.

Walter is surprised to discover Senegalese émigré Zinab (Danai Gurira) in his bathtub; her screams nearly bring Walter a beat-down from Syrian boyfriend Tarek (Haaz Sleiman). Once it’s sorted out that a scam artist has rented Walter’s prime piece of real estate to the couple in his absence, they set off, though they have no immediate berth.

Rousing from emotional slumber, Walter eventually invites the couple to stay. Then he starts to enjoy their company, or at least that of Tarek, a percussionist with an ingratiating personality who starts teaching him how to drum — a better musical option for Walter than the piano, even if he is the stiffest white guy attempting funkiness this side of Jad Fair. Tarek invites the stuffy 60-something to his jazz club gigs and introduces him to Fela Kuti CDs. It’s all good — until the NYPD profiles Tarek one night and he’s thrown into a windowless, characterless, Queens correctional facility, with deportation imminent.

The Visitor is beautifully acted and admirably sculpted. But in the last laps, McCarthy has Walter deliver a big speech to low-level governmental authorities, complete with an ironic fade-out on Old Glory and gives Walter a too-convenient, thwarted romantic interest.

It all leads to a routine, uplifting ending that would play better if Jenkins (of Six Feet Under and myriad supporting roles) had developed some drumming chops. This movie is a respectable follow-up to The Station Agent. But its suit-finds-groove response to globalization and deportation ultimately feels like a formula McCarthy should have already seen beyond.


Opens Fri/18 in San Francisco

See Movie Clock at sfbg.com


Twin Olsen meltdown



If you see one 11-minute video this year, make it Michael Robinson’s magnificent, hilarious, and terrifying Light Is Waiting (2007). The primordial, extreme slo-mo soundtrack is like a glitch mix from beyond the grave by DJ Screw. Robinson’s seizure-inducing blasts of stroboscopic light rival those of the Austrian film experimentalist Peter Tscherkassky.

And I haven’t even mentioned the Olsen twins.

Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen, that formerly pint-size pair of formerly perfectly interchangeable human products, are part of Light Is Waiting. Robinson uses episodes of Full House as source material. His video’s first big punch line arrives after a two-minute unfiltered blast of the sitcom replete with laugh track, bad fashions, and Candace Cameron’s feathered hairdo. Robinson’s deployment of this clip is akin to a magician juggling TVs. He then mines the show’s trip-to-Hawaii episode — a colonialist trope that dates back past The Brady Bunch to another Robinson, last-name Crusoe (and that fires up a torch that’s been passed forward into the Survivor era) — in a manner so kaleidoscopic it’s hallucinatory. A three-eyed John Stamos’ version of "Rock-a-Hula Baby" turns into a Godzilla dirge, as his white-pantsed rump does the bump with itself. One Olsen twin becomes one two-headed Olsen twin, then turns into two Olsen twins forced to smooch each other.

Light Is Waiting exorcises American pop cultural demons via video the way Kenneth Anger did with film in 1964’s Scorpio Rising. Rife with floral symbolism, Robinson’s older studious excavations of the ideologies lurking beneath scenic landscapes don’t have the same impact. He had a semi-breakthrough with 2006’s And We All Shine On, where a karaoke instrumental of "Nothing Compares 2 U" — yet more floral imagery, this time evoked via unsung lyrics — magnifies the loneliness of video game vistas. The sardonic creep factor is akin to that of Bobby Abate’s One Mile Per Min (2002), and it makes me wonder what a recent Robinson video I haven’t seen, 2007’s Victory over the Sun, does to Axl Rose.


April 27, 7:30 p.m., $6–$10

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

701 Mission, SF

(415) 978-2787