Letters for the Week of June 10 

Readers sound off on jazz, graywater systems and legalizing marijuana.

"Michael Schumann's Human Interest," Music, 5/13

Jazz Is Today's Rock

Jazz musicians aren't exactly trying to "stave off extinction." Jazz is today's rock. The truly inventive musicians, such as Michael Coleman, are working in it. The lack of coverage of jazz and the tendency of jazz writers to ignore any mode of jazz but the workhorses and any performers but the mainstream are why jazz suffers. But even so, jazz is thriving, though largely in the smaller venues and at private house parties.

David Kaye, San Francisco

"Graywater Systems Gain Ground," Eco Watch, 5/13

Not the Greatest Investment

I hate to be one to throw a bucket of cold water on Eco Watch's enthusiastic report on the graywater systems being offered by WaterSprout, but I think most consumers with an eye on the bottom line will discover these systems require too much cash upfront to deliver a reasonable return on investment. This is why the cheaper, non-code compliant (illegal) graywater systems are proliferating — some owners seem to be willing to trade off health and safety concerns for low cost.

Everyone agrees that saving water is important, even critical, and an all-around good thing to do for the planet. Here's how I do the math: Using WaterSprout's numbers, a homeowner with a family of four can conserve approximately 14,000 gallons of water a year by harvesting and storing rainwater, filtering it with sand, and distributing it to the garden — all at an average cost of $7,000.00. The average cost of water for EBMUD users these days is $10.37 for every 748 gallons of water used. This system will save the average homeowner $194.00 per year on their water bill, and pay for itself in just about 36 years. A 36-year return on investment will not be very compelling for most homeowners.

How about this example instead: A homeowner with a family of four replaces their 2.5gpm shower head with a new eco-friendly 1.59gpm shower head. The latest products from folks like Evolve make a great shower head, as do others. In this example, using EBMUD's average time estimate of an 8.9 minute shower length per person, the family of four will save 11,825 gallons of water per year, and will save $164.00 on their water bill! The Lunt Marymor Company sells the Evolve shower head for $45.00 — return on investment — less than 4 months.

Just to drive the point home, let's say the same family also replaces their old 3.5 gallon flush toilet with a new eco-friendly 1.28 gallon flush HET (High Energy Technology) model. They're going to save approximately 19,447 gallons of water per year and knock another $270.00 off their water bill — not to mention the $150.00 rebate that EBMUD will contribute toward the cost of the new toilet purchase. Toilets and installation costs vary from plumber to plumber, but this water strategy is bound to break even in less than two years.

I think graywater is great, but it should be obvious that replacing shower heads and toilets is way more cost efficient and represents the "low hanging fruit" in green plumbing technology.

If your readers want to calculate how much money they can save on their own water bills by upgrading to eco-friendly shower heads and toilets, they can use the "Water Savings Calculator" found at LuntMarymor.com/green.html.

Leigh Marymor, certified green builder, Lunt Marymore, Emeryville

"The Marijuana Tipping Point," Seven Days, 5/13

A Smoky Slippery Slope

First, it was the argument that gay marriages would bring a bonanza in tax money to California in marriage licenses and gay tourism; now, it is the legalization of marijuana. I have a better idea: Legalize robbery. The more money the robber gets in a holdup, the more money the state gets in taxes. Also, taxing stealed cars, the robber keeps the car after paying the taxes to the state. Imagine the amount of money that'd be saved in police services. Since we're at it, let's also legalize the "Interspecies Marriage Act" that would allow a woman to marry her dog or a man to marry his goat. Another bonanza of tax money for the state!

It is this bunch of cowardly and degenerate politicians from the Bay Area, as well as the constituents who elect them to serve in Sacramento, who are coming with this kind of nutty proposals, like the ones in the May 19 election, because of their cowardliness to tax the corporations that do business in California.

Leo T. West, San Leandro

Better Than Alcohol

If health outcomes determined drug laws instead of cultural norms, marijuana would be legal. Unlike alcohol, marijuana has never been shown to cause an overdose death, nor does it share the addictive properties of tobacco. Like any drug, marijuana can be harmful if abused, but jail cells are inappropriate as health interventions and ineffective as deterrents.

The first marijuana laws were enacted in response to Mexican immigration during the early 1900s, despite opposition from the American Medical Association. Dire warnings that marijuana inspires homicidal rages have been counterproductive at best. White Americans did not even begin to smoke pot until a soon-to-be entrenched federal bureaucracy began funding reefer madness propaganda.

Marijuana prohibition has failed miserably. The US has higher rates of marijuana use than the Netherlands, where marijuana is legally available to adults over 18. The only clear winners in the war on marijuana are drug cartels and shameless tough-on-drugs politicians who've built careers confusing drug prohibition's collateral damage with a relatively harmless plant.

The following Virginia Law Review article provides a good overview of the cultural roots of marijuana legislation: http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/Library/studies/vlr/vlrtoc.htm

United Nations drug stats: http://www.unodc.org/

July 2008 World Health Organization survey study: http://medicine.plosjournals.org/perlserv/?request=get-


A comparative analysis of US vs. European rates of drug use can be found at:

http://www.monitoringthefuture.org/pubs/espad_pr.pdf. MTF is funded with US government grants

Comparative analysis of US vs. Dutch rates of drug use: http://www.drugwarfacts.org/thenethe.htm

Robert Sharpe, policy analyst, Common Sense for Drug Policy, Washington, DC

Don't Cage Me, Man

A sane and moral argument to continue caging humans for using the plant cannabis (kaneh bosm/marijuana) doesn't exist. Caging humans for using cannabis can only be rationalized based upon personality disorders associated with bigotry, racism, or discrimination. It's time to RE-legalize cannabis throughout North America.

Stan White, Dillon, Colorado

Miscellaneous Letters

A Shocker

Thinking public, please read Berkeley Council Item 16 for June 2, 2009, the Audit of the City's facilities leasing "system" (nonsystem is more accurate). It is a shocker.

The City of Berkeley owns about 100 properties valued at over $100 million. As of 2001, it leased out 9 properties to other entities and 15 properties were leased to the city from other entities. The current leasing figures are unknown and likely unknowable.

Despite "directives" and moneys from council and city manager, since about 2002, to institute centralized management and oversight of all leasing-related activities (inventory, negotiation, insurance, etc.), this has been blatantly ignored. Nevertheless, there is a full-time real property administrator plus the equivalent of at least 5 FTEs working on leasing in a chaotic fashion. There is no complete inventory of city properties, no complete inventory of city leases, no oversight of lease negotiations, and not even a complete set of all leases. The city may be losing millions of dollars due to this disorganization in addition to paying staff of questionable competence. 

I suggest that the city discipline/terminate all persons who are responsible for this situation and consider contracting out the entire lease management program to a competent professional organization that can actually be held accountable.

I thank the city auditor for this eye-opening report. 

 Barbara Gilbert, Berkeley

Mourning Our Historians

This has been a difficult and emotional time for those of us who knew Archie Green, Him Mark Lai, and Ron Takaki, all passing away these past few weeks. They are three giants who brought light into the human, neglected histories of our vital American heritage. In the 1980s, when I was director of the Maritime Humanities Center of the San Francisco Bay Area, Archie Green became a member of the board of directors. He had pioneered the study of Laborlore that probed the folk lives of men and women who sustain the lifeblood of our industries. The center celebrated the life and labor at sea and shore. Through Festivals of the Sea, public forums, lectures, and films at the Maritime Museum and Jack London Square, Archie contributed his insight and expertise.His insightful studies of coal miners, longshoremen, pile drivers, and seafarers made him a natural supporter of the center. He was the major force behind the establishment of the American Folklife Center in the Library of Congress. The Maritime Humanities Center is honored to have tape recordings of his interactions with longshoremen and seafarers at its many panel discussions. Our holdings will be taken over by the library at Chapel Hill in the near future.

Him Mark Lai, who I met when I was a board member of the Chinese Historical Society of America in the 1980s, was an indefatigable researcher into the lives of Chinese Americans. He was the co-editor of seminal studies, two Syllabi on Chinese in California, the other, in America, 1969 and 1971. Other editors are/were alike superb scholars, Philip P. Choy, whose latest is The Architecture of San Francisco Chinatown, and Thomas Chinn, who passed away some time ago. Mark and Phil taught those courses at San Francisco State, the first time anywhere. Mark's optimism influenced many a young researcher. I always believed the word "impossible" was not in his vocabulary, and his numerous studies on the hidden history of our American ethos are legacies to that end.

Ron Takaki's writings give incredible insight into the dynamics of ethnicity in American society. When I taught at Laney College in the 1990s, I attended his seminars on American Cultures at UCB. The seminars gave birth to innumerable courses, attended by instructors from campuses throughout California. His writings helped to spur other budding scholars into the field. Although not always mentioned in listings of his works, I will always prize my copy of the lovely, powerful study, Pau Hana: Plantation Life and Labor in Hawaii. Ron revolutionized the way higher education embraced ethnic cultures. All were dear, extraordinary people. Their demise is a painful loss to our country, especially the San Francisco Bay Area.

Robert Schwendinger, Berkeley


In the June 3 music pick on Nancy Wilson, we misstated when she signed with Capitol Records. It was during the 1960s.


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