Recently in Local Category

Rising Tides

I just ran across the Rising Tides design competition, "an open international design competition for ideas responding to sea level rise in San Francisco Bay and beyond" sponsored by San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission. Submissions are due by June 29.

Per their website:

"Nearly every day, we learn more about sea level rise - one of the most critical impacts of global warming. Individually and collectively, people are seeking solutions to this climate challenge. The issue of sea level rise is clearly of global importance, and both simple and complex design interventions will be needed to sustain quality of life, preserve the environment and ensure continued economic vitality of shoreline communities throughout the world. Challenges include:

  • Rethinking how to build new communities in areas susceptible to future inundation
  • Retrofitting valuable public shoreline infrastructure
  • Protecting existing communities from flooding
  • Protecting wetlands
  • Anticipating changing shoreline configurations

At the intersection of rising seas and our coastal human settlements, your ideas are needed. The Rising Tides ideas competition is open to everyone. All are encouraged to bring forward their vision of a future estuarine shoreline that is applicable to San Francisco Bay and beyond."

Depressing news from the Daily Californian:

"An April 7 draft report released by the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission predicted that the sea level in the Bay Area will rise 16 inches by mid-century and 55 inches by 2100, flooding areas of the Berkeley Marina and a few blocks of West Berkeley." (read more...)

For more details, look at the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (SFBCDC) climate change planning site.

The East Bay Express ran a great story on Berkeley's graffiti wars last week, exposing a secret conflict over public space that's been going on under our noses.

We know Berkeley's home to graffiti, stickers, and tags. But the Express outed a fascinatingly weird new figure in the mix: Jim Sharp, a.k.a SIlver Buff, a 62 year old man who goes around spraying silver paint over unwanted graffiti, stickers, and tags--increasing the amount of vandalized property, and spurring on counter-attacks. Sharp is an active member of the Berkeley community, and appears to be involved with a variety of local preservationist / anti-development causes. Suddenly, the presence of all that crazy silver paint I've been seeing around town makes sense.

Sharp's identity was discovered by Nathan Wollman and Max Good, the makers of Vigilante Vigilante, an upcoming PBS documentary on Berkeley's graffiti wars, in a tremendous piece of local detective work reported on in the article.

I have complicated feelings about graffiti and stickering. I love discovering unexpected underground art around town. It makes me pause and reflect, and helps me connect to what folks around town and thinking and feeling. The downside, of course, is the unauthorized takeover of public and private space. And for that matter, ugly graffiti or graffiti that's particularly disrespectful of others just pisses me off (most tagging falls in this category for me). I don't know that I can easily reconcile these two tendencies, but I won't apologize for appreciating good street art.

Life is easier when, like Jim Sharp, you can turn those grays into stark black and white. I don't know that I have an answer to urban visual pollution, but I'm pretty sure anti-graffiti vigilante vandalism isn't part of it.

SFIAAFF logo 2009

B and I spent the weekend at the San Francisco Asian American Film Festival, watching about 12 hours of movies. We're big SFIAAFF junkies, and look forward to spending days shuttling back and forth between the Castro and the Kabuki.

Half Life was by far my favorite movie at the festival. It's a dark dreamy Bay Area drama about a suburban Northern California family dealing with personal crises, against the backdrop of near-future global warming scenario.

The Love of Siam, a Thai gay teen romance, wasn't what I expected. I expected it to focus primarily on angsty young men discovering their sexuality, but it turned out to be a family drama with a wide range of sub-plots: a missing family member, an alcoholic parent, boy band troubles, children's friendships, straight teen voyeurism and crushes, and a woman on the edge trying to protect her family. (And yes, some aww-inducing Thai gay teen romance holding it all together.) This was the first Thai film I've seen, and it was fun to watch.

Heaven on Earth, about a woman from India who joins a working-class Indo-Canadian Sikh household as a new arranged bride, was painful to watch and gut-punchingly good. Of all the movies we watched, this spurred on the longest conversations, days after we watched it. There's a lot here, and I'd love to see a prequel, a la Wicked, telling the story from the point of view of one of the other characters.

Ocean of Pearls was pretty much the exact opposite--a sweet, somewhat predictable, feelgood movie about a bright Indo-Canadian Sikh doctor grappling with identity issues and medical ethics. I liked the fact that the Q&A afterwards touched every angle, from a medical professional discussing the medical dilemmas raised in the movie, to a man asking about Sikh representation on film.

The Mosque in Morgantown is a tight documentary about Wall Street Journal writer Asra Nomani's battle to bring gender equality and moderate politics to her hometown mosque in West Virginia. The documentary's strongly biased toward Nomani's struggle, but you see glimmers of the complicated undercurrents of community opinion. It left me thinking about the role of insider-outsider strategies, and the importance of standing up to take on awkward issues in our community spaces.

The 3rd I South Asian International Shorts program was mixed. I enjoyed Andheri, about an eventful day in the life of a Mumbai household worker, and Midnight Lost and Found, a love story between a nighttime drugstore clerk and a prostitute, played out over the course of nightly condom buying runs.

Festival season's not over yet. This Friday, we have tickets to go Fruit Fly, which is supposed to be in the same vein as the awesomely fabulous Colma: The Musical.

No Fremont A's

I'm delighted that the planned move of the Oakland A's to Fremont looks pretty dead.

Stadium deals are pretty uniformly bad deals for the affected communities, which often end up paying huge subsidies to private businesses, while dealing with unwanted environmental, traffic, and economic impacts.

The Fremont A's stadium proposal isn't all that different. In the midst of an incredibly rancorous and one-sided debate, local activists seem to have been able to do a reasonable job of getting their message heard, giving context, rebutting A's statements, and organizing neighbors, one person at a time.

Wow. There are enough jobs in the U.S. government/public transparency sector that the Sunlight Foundation has a whole website for jobs in the transparency field. Who knew?

Among these, at least two of the jobs are in Berkeley--Research Associate and Program Assistant positions at's a great resource on bills, issues, and politicians. Here's Barbara Lee, my representative, and Loni Hancock, my state assemblyperson. (They both get love from unions and lawyers. Go figure.) I also love the interests view; while nobody always gets what they want, some do better than others, e.g. animal rights campaigners vs. international trade associations.

Know transparency-minded campaigners and hackers? Pass this along.

Color this Berkeley desi happy. The new Tamil movie Vaaranam Aayiram has several scenes set in Berkeley, including a few song sequences shot in Berkeley and SF. Watch for loads of local shots.

Here are snippets from an undoubtedly unauthorized copy of the movie on YouTube.

Part 1

Part 2

(My fave bit? Dancing in the Bancroft Library, at 3:56 into the second video.)


I'm sick and tired of local businesses I like shutting down. In the last few days, we lost Cafe de la Paz, Elephant Pharmacy, and Cafe Intermezzo.

I'm trying to muster up a little sadness, maybe a smidgen of outrage, but it's not coming. After losing Cody's, I'm ready to see it all go.

So here it is, my (in-progress) list of favorite Berkeley businesses. The way I see it, knowing my luck, they're all going to shut down anyway, so why delay the inevitable? I can start mourning now, even as I continue to patronize them, knowing any day could be their last.

  • Cheeseboard
  • Vik's Chaat House
  • Thai Temple brunch
  • Amoeba Records
  • Moe's Books
  • Black Oak Books
  • Comic Relief
  • The Other Change of Hobbit
  • Impact Theatre
  • Aurora Theatre

Dammit. The Sharffen Berger factory in Berkeley is being shut down by new owner Hershey, with all production being moved to another facility. Scharffen Berger, our much-beloved local chocolatier, has been operating in Berkeley since 1996.

B told me about Scharffen Berger's free factory tours the first time we had dinner. Her description of chocolate dust really spoke to my inner 12 year old, and I ended up visiting myself a few weeks later, as part of a company field trip. Boy, was it cool. I'm still far from a chocolate snob, but it makes a big difference, understanding some of the hows and whys. I've taken the tour again with my family, and it was just as fun the second time. I wish I could do it one more time, but it looks like tours have been halted, to prepare for the April 3 shutdown.

Most frustratingly, according to the East Bay Express, the shutdown may not be directly linked to the economy; Hershey's Q4 earnings were 52% year over year, and the company projects 3% growth in 2009.

Scharffen Berger factory closing in the news:

I headed down to UC Berkeley's Sproul Plaza yesterday to see Obama's inauguration on a massive JumboTron. There was a huge crowd, reportedly totaling nearly 10,000 students, faculty, staff, community members, and local schoolchildren. I started getting involved in electoral politics on Sproul Plaza as a UC Berkeley undergrad, volunteering to work on local and national campaigns. Closing the loop at the same place felt very right.

The crowd was happy, electric, friendly, diverse; I loved seeing such huge numbers out to cheer on our first President of Color, a once (and future?) progressive, and someone who might stand up for some semblance of "San Francisco values."

Obama did well, though as happy as I was to see him namecheck Hindus, Muslims, and nonbelievers, it was equally irritating to see him gloss over our major environmental crises, suggesting "we will not apologize for our way of life." Damn straight, we'd better apologize, and start working toward more sustainable futures.

A new president's honeymoon period is lovely, before he's gotten a chance to disappoint us all. As I worry about how to hold Obama accountable on the environment, health care, and the war, it's nice to be able to enjoy a day or two of good thoughts.