Science marches on!

The three of us–Dave (my husband), our friend Peggy, and I–headed to Justin Herman Plaza via BART and arrived just as the speeches were starting. I don’t know how many people were there, but it felt pretty full. We looked in vain for the rest of our group, Indivisible Berkeley, but settled on a spot on the steps where we could sit. We figured we could join up with them later.

There were scientists, teachers, engineers, and just a lot of people who appreciate science cheering on the speakers. It’s crazy that in this day and age we have to march to show our support of science, but it was encouraging to see that plenty of folks still value it in the Bay Area.

And the Clif Bars company had people handing out free Clif Bars to everyone. Thank you, Clif Bars!

As the speeches were ending, Peggy, Dave, and I moved to the back of the plaza where we found our group with the Indivisible Berkeley banner unfurled and ready to go. About a dozen of us positioned ourselves behind or alongside the banner ready to march. And we waited. Because we were at the back, it took quite a while before we actually got to move, but we had fun taking selfies and pointing out all the great signs.

In fact, I think the signs were my favorite part of the march. So much creativity, thought, and humor went into them, and many were handmade and unique. Several used scientific language and symbols to bring home their points.

I loved one that read “You know it’s important when even introverts march.” A girl of about five years had a sandwich board-style sign on her front that read “Be part of the solution” and one on her back that read “Don’t just be a precipitate.” But I hadn’t seen the one in front and couldn’t actually remember what a precipitate was, so I was puzzled until Dave explained it to me.

I saw a sign that was just a cut-out of the Lorax, one that featured two stranded penguins, a few that read “I’m with her” and pointed to Earth, and lots that just pointed out the ways that science is a good thing. I liked the simplicity of the one that said “Hug a science teacher,” held presumably by a science teacher.

Some people, like me, were there as part of a group and proudly held banners or wore matching t-shirts. Others came with friends and/or family. A group of elementary-school children chanted jubilantly WE LOVE SCIENCE!


There were atheists and religious people there with different views of god but who marched together for science.

The dynamic duo–Bill Nye & Neil deGrasse Tyson!



Of course, as at any protest, a few people used the opportunity to spout their particular beliefs. Hence the sign held by a guy sitting on the side of the march route that claimed “9/11 was an inside job.” To which my husband, Dave, replied, “Well, the planning probably did take place indoors…”




But most of the signs were on point and even spelled correctly. And everyone was in a pretty good mood, despite looming climate change and the impending decimation of the EPA.

I saw one person in a polar bear suit and another in a brown bear suit. Luckily it was a cloudy day, and the temperature stayed in the low 60s. Otherwise, those would have been some hot bears…

Alongside the marching route was a trio portraying some of Trump’s cabinet picks, some people selling homemade baked goods to hungry marchers, and some people who preferred to watch as the parade went by rather than march in it.

We landed at the Civic Center where there were tents set up and a Brazilian dance group was just starting to perform. But we were tired, and we’d done what we’d come to do. So we found the closest BART station and headed home.

It’s tiring having to march for something that should just be a given. But if it makes any difference at all, it was worth it.




At the dog park

Rufus @ P.I. May 2013

A man asked if I could spare a poop bag.A man asked if I could spare a poop bag. I gave him one. It occurred to me that there are not too many other places where this would be considered a normal interaction. I heard him calling after his dog, “Fifer!” And here’s what struck me as funny: Fifer was the name we’d chosen to name our child if we’d had a boy. (Kylie reminds us often that she is glad she was born a girl, if for no other reason than she couldn’t imagine going through life as Fifer.) But if she had been born a boy, I would be giving a poop bag to a man to pick up the excrement of a dog with the same name as my son. It’s just something to think about…

Two women were walking together, and one says to the other, “And she said, ‘I could be halfway around the world in the time it takes him to put on his pants.’ I don’t know what that means, but it’s funny!”

My dog, Rufus, is sniffing furiously at a woman, so I feel the need to say something: “He likes to smell.” She responds while motioning to her dog, “She likes to smell too.” We share a momentary bond based on our dogs’ mutual habit of sniffing.

It was Shore Clean-up Day, so people on one side of the fence at Pt. Isabel were carrying big trash bags to pick up garbage, and people on the other side were carrying smaller bags to collect their dogs’ poop. Everyone was doing their share to make our world a little cleaner. Except the dogs.

Eve Ensler is a standing-ovation inspiration

Eve EnslerMy daughter Kylie recently came home for the summer from college and wanted to visit our favorite local independent book store, Pegasus. While perusing books, I noticed a small poster advertising an appearance by author activist Eve Ensler at the First Congregational Church in Oakland, sponsored by the Berkeleyist of radio stations, KPFA.

I loved Vagina Monologues, and I’ve seen it performed three times now. It’s the only show that Berkeley High does every single year. Kylie was a narrator in her college production. I thought it might be a nice mother-daughter outing, and the bookstore was selling tickets,  so I bought them.

I didn’t know how much I was going to love Eve Ensler.

The ticket price included a copy of her latest book, In the Body of the World, a memoir that includes meeting women in the Congo who were beaten and raped, her battle with uterine cancer, and her thoughts on the current and ongoing devastation of Earth.

Not exactly upbeat fare.

But Ensler was amazingly positive, inspirational, even funny, and genuinely grateful for being alive. She recounted how, through her cancer treatment, she got to really know her sister and how she finally inhabited her body in a way she never had before. And she discovered that the love she had sought all her life had been there all along.

She read passages, or, as she called them “scans,” from her memoir that had her audience cheering and sobbing. An especially memorable and humorous one was “Farting for Cindy,” an account of her recuperation in the hospital after her surgery that removed a tumor from her uterus “the size of a mango.” As anyone who is trying to recover from surgery today knows, the event everyone awaits eagerly to signal that your body is getting back to business as usual is farting and/or pooping. Cindy, a sort of fart whisperer, was dedicated to making that happen and had a gift for producing what she called “music to [her] ears.” When Ensler discovered that Cindy was an unpaid volunteer, she felt even more compelled to pass gas, just to please her.


Ensler read aloud beautifully from her memoir that often took the form of poetry. She did not read as a rape victim and cancer survivor—she read as a woman who successfully fought her demons and has great faith that humankind will figure out a better way to treat the Earth and each other. With tears in our eyes, we gave Ensler her third standing ovation of the evening.

And my daughter and I walked back to the car hand in hand, holding our signed copies of her book, filled with hope for the future.

Life After Shopping Gospel preaches against consumerism

Reverend Billy Talen has a mission—to spread the word that consumerism is the devil’s playground and we need not walk through the valley of the shadow of debt. Part performance artist, part eco-warrior, and part political activist, the sum of Reverend Billy’s parts adds up to entertaining consciousness raising.

Whereas most street preachers warn their audience away from sin, Reverend Billy stakes out a spot near the Disney Store in Times Square and affirms that there is life after shopping. With the flair of a TV evangelical minister and moussed hair reminiscent of Elvis, the reverend also boards buses, crashes Starbucks (who has a restraining order against him coming within so many feet of any of their ubiquitous coffee shops), and urges folks to host Thanksgiving dinners in bank lobbies. He also showed up at quite a few 99% events, spreading the gospel of Life After Shopping (previously the Church of Stop Shopping). The Stop Shopping Gospel Choir backs him up with songs about the evils of consumerism.

The subject of Morgan Spurlock’s documentary What Would Jesus Buy? Reverend Billy has been around for awhile. But he keeps talking the good talk. Or yelling it.

You gotta love a guy who has so much fun making his point. And by creating this persona who wears white suits and carries an oversized megaphone, Billy Talen is more entertaining than the typical activist. Face it—most activists have good intentions but not much in the way of a sense of humor.

Billy describes himself this way: he puts the “odd back in God.”

He is based in NYC but used to live in San Francisco. I hope he comes back to the Bay Area at some point to tour because I would relish being in a crowd that gets to shout Hallelujah when a charismatic speaker in a pompadour preaches. And, being a devout atheist, I don’t get that chance very often.

See videos and more on his website:

Eco artist was ahead of his time

“Without an environment which is befitting to man and without peace with nature an existence worthy of man is impossible. These peace negotiations with nature must begin soon or it will be too late.”

It sounds like something an environmentalist might have said in recent years, but the speaker’s ideas were formed well before the current rush to be green.

Friedrich Stowasser  (December 15, 1928 – February 19, 2000) was an Austrian painter who made up and took on the unwieldy name, Friedensreich Regentag Dunkelbunt Hundertwasser, which means “Peace-Kingdom Hundred-Water.”

A controversial but popular figure in his home town of Vienna, Hundertwasser had distinct ideas about architecture being in harmony with man and nature, and he often lectured on this topic.

The federal chancellor suggested to Vienna’s mayor that Hundertwasser be given the opportunity to design public housing. And thus Hundertwasser House was born. It took years to find the right spot and negotiate Hundertwasser’s requirements. The original architect left the project, skeptical that this artist’s crazy ideas would ever be implemented. But it was completed in 1986 and is still a point of pride for the city.

Believing that “an uneven floor is a divine melody to the feet,” Hundertwasser designed the apartment complex to have undulating floors. The roof is covered with earth and grass, and trees grow from inside the rooms, branches protruding from windows. Speaking of these “tree tenants,” as he calls them:

“They are a gift of the house to the outside world, for the people who pass by the house. Man gives voluntarily small territories of his dwelling space back to nature, from which we unlawfully appropriated and destroyed large areas.”

Another feature of the apartment complex springs from Hundertwasser’s belief that every tenant has a  “window right” to personalize the area around his windows on the outside of the building.

Composting toilets contribute to the eco-conscious atmosphere, as does a whole water-treatment system that cleanses used water for reuse.

What happened? With all this forward thinking thirty years ago, why aren’t there variations of Hundertwasser Houses all over the world? It’s not just a theoretical concept—it’s a proven commodity. It’s a living example that’s been in operation long enough to deem a success on many fronts: government-sponsored housing, art, architecture, and environmentally friendly habitation in the middle of a big city.

So I’m formally challenging governments and private industry around the planet: follow Vienna’s example. I propose tree tenants, window rights, and composting toilets for all!

Vampire bats are coming, vampire bats are coming!

I credit Steve Newman’s “Earthweek: Diary of a planet” for today’s scary bit of news: vampire bats could be moving in.

A rabid vampire bat bit a 19-year old last summer in Mexico, but he didn’t become ill until he was working in a sugar cane field in Louisiana where he collapsed.  His heartbeat slowed, he got hypothermia, and he stopped responding to stimuli before he was taken off life support and died.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention counted this as the first rabies fatality in the U.S. linked to a vampire bat attack and warned that the habitat of the vampire bat could be expanding to include the United States due to climate change.

Wait a minute—the article stated that the young man had been bitten in Mexico, not Louisiana. So what exactly is the base of CDC’s dire prediction? I guess even the CDC isn’t beyond a little sensationalism. It does make for a scary article. Although seriously, you could write a story about unicorns and rainbows, and it would still be pretty darn frightening with this photo of a vampire bat next to it…

Melting polar ice cap poisons us all

Scientists discovered that the polar ice cap has begun releasing toxins into the environment as it melts. Apparently poisons such as DDT, PCBs, and lots of other deadly combinations of letters that were previously inactive are now making their way zombie-like to our air and water.

It sounds like the work of an evil genius. Back in the  ’70s some villain stored all these pollutants knowing that global warming would someday set them all free. That would give him time to build his hermetically sealed bubbleship where he could live safe from all the poisons. Now he’s laughing at all of us here stuck with contaminated air and water because we will slowly die off and leave him everything.

Of course these chemicals are toxic to plant and animal life too, so he’s going to be eating a lot of freeze-dried dinners and Twinkies that were packaged before the pollutants reached the factories where they are infused with their cream-filled centers.

And there will be no new books, music, or art created. This evil genius will never be able to watch live theater or go to a concert. There won’t even be any new TV shows or movies. He’ll be stuck watching the same reruns again and again. So it really won’t be any fun for him. Ha—serves him right for polluting our environment in the first place.

Except, guess what? Humans are the evil geniuses, except we’re not actually evil and maybe not all that smart. Let’s hope we are smart enough to stop the polar ice cap from melting before the poisons make their way through the globe.

That’s my wish for the day.