Help Us Support the Bay Area Ridge Trail

This Saturday (Apr 22 2017), our family will be hiking 17 miles to help raise funds to complete the Bay Area Ridge Trail – your contributions most welcome!

The vision of the Bay Area Ridge Trail is a 550-mile continuous loop that traces the ridgeline above San Francisco Bay. 370 are currently open for hikers and cyclists. Help us break 400 in the next three years!

Fundraising page

Skeptoid on Rhino Horn

In the mid 2000s, a rumor circulated that an unnamed politician in Vietnam had been cured of cancer by consuming powdered rhino horn. Fast forward 17 years, and rhino horn is now worth around $25,000/pound on the black market. That rhino that was shot by poachers and had its horn removed with a chainsaw in the middle of the night at the French zoo a few months ago? Its horn was like a quarter-million-dollar pile of gold sitting out in the open.

Not only is there NO science on the anti-carcinogenic properties of the keratin in rhino horn (chemically the same as your own fingernails), the belief isn’t even derived from ancient Chinese health literature. All of this literally stems from one rumor gone viral, combined with public willingness to buy into rumor as truth. Rhino species are going extinct rapidly, and poaching is a huge part of the reason why.

The Skeptoid podcast is one of our national treasures, as far as I’m concerned. This episode is particularly good.

Rhino Horn: Cure or Curse?

Believe, Believe

Believe in this. Young apple seeds,
In blue skies, radiating young breast,
Not in blue-suited insects,
Infesting society’s garments.

Believe in the swinging sounds of jazz,
Tearing the night into intricate shreds,
Putting it back together again,
In cool logical patterns,
Not in the sick controllers,
Who created only the Bomb.

Let the voices of dead poets
Ring louder in your ears
Than the screechings mouthed
In mildewed editorials.
Listen to the music of centuries,
Rising above the mushroom time.

~Bob Kaufman

Iceland 2017

Just returned from nine days in Iceland – two days of work and seven days of pure exploration. It was winter, so days were short, and it was gray/stormy the whole time, so no Northern Lights for me, but the trip still managed to blow my mind. Misc notes and photos below. For lots more photos, check out my

Flickr Album – Iceland 2017 (full-screen please!)

Iceland driving tip: While it might be tempting to tune in to the Icelandic death metal station while wending your way through miles of snow- and moss-covered lava rock, one notch up on the dial is the “public culture” station, where the only words you can decipher from the lilting Elvish language are “Yoko Ono,” “Steve Reich,” and “John Cage” (and then they play them).

Blue Lagoon - Waterfall

That station works way better with the landscape. No sleep in 36 hours, but made it to the Blue Lagoon, where 464-degree superheated geothermal water from half a mile down in the earth brings up white silica powder which meets cold sea water, creating these gorgeous warm swimming holes; the color of sky refracts off the silica in the water, making it intensely blue in the right conditions (it was more greenish today). Allegedly great for psoriasis sufferers. Exhausted but blissed.

Blue Lagoon Selfie
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Weird Math

I just got called “a radical leftist” who is “angry because I’m not getting my way.” It occurred to me that that is probably how many Trump supporters see protestors against his regime – as radicals. So, I want to know: what “radical” ideas have any of us promoted in the past 18 months? Is it “radical” to not want the U.S. to torture? Is it “radical” not to want our government run by inexperienced bankers, bloggers, oil tycoons and reality TV hosts? Is it “radical” that we want to preserve crucial environmental regulations? Is it “radical” that we stand with and for America’s history as a refugee-friendly country, symbolized by our own Statue of Liberty? Is it “radical” that we believe in the 1st Amendment and recognize that a free press is fundamental to a functioning democracy? Is it “radical” that we want to turn to expert scientists who dedicate their careers to understanding and explaining the physical world to us? Nothing on this list is radical. No one on the left is even proposing change in this fight – we are just trying to protect our good bits. Meanwhile, we have a president who is throwing Molotov cocktails into the middle of…. pretty much everything, actively working to tear down as much of our government, our principles, our culture as he can. And we’re the radicals? Weird math.

My Head Hurts

My head hurts, literally and figuratively. Can’t glimpse media for 10 seconds without being overwhelmed and terrified by a torrent of news about the rise of authoritarianism in our own back yard. There is SO much of it, no one knows which story to focus on. It’s been like this since the beginning of the campaigns – a daily shit storm brilliantly engineered to keep our heads spinning. No one knows which end is up. For a year and a half, one man has completely dominated our social media, our conversations, our news, our nightmares. Friends are fighting with friends, family ties are strained by disagreement. Part of me wants to just check out and remember that there is more to life than this one man, that he can’t ruin everything. The other part of me feels like it would be irresponsible not to be vacuuming up every piece of news, not to be rising up. I want to re-share every damn thing, and I also want to post puppy pictures. I know I’m not alone. I see otherwise sane people claiming emotional fatigue and “checking out,” and part of me wants to join them. We’re torn between needing to carry on with life so Trump doesn’t “own” us and needing to stay awake. Meanwhile, who has the time to deal with all of this? We have jobs and families and stuff to do, and media was already a time suck even before Trump – now there’s no way to keep up. Did I mention my head hurts?

Cross the Aisle for Climate

It’s overly simplistic to say that liberals believe in anthropogenic climate change while conservatives don’t. Not true! Large numbers of Republicans are fiscally or socially conservative, but are still willing to let scientists (who are THE experts and professionals in the field) do their jobs. Lately, those experts are ringing very loud alarms. With Democrats holding a House minority, the only hope we have of making critical climate progress over the next four years is in reaching across the aisle and aligning with climate-agreeable conservatives.

Toward that goal, I’ve signed on with Rodney Salvador Reyes to build the web component of Cross the Aisle for Climate, a non-partisan group working to identify climate-related issues that liberals and conservatives can agree on, and work toward bi-partisan decision-making in those areas.

We’ve just launched the first version of the site, which is mostly about outlining the vision – we’re just getting started. For now, please check out the site’s Be Heard tool, which lets users contact their reps via email based on zip code. Lots more to come.

Mojitos with Fidel

With yesterday’s passing of Fidel Castro, I have to share my personal (and surreal) Castro story. In 1994, I spent 10 days in Cuba on a journalistic visa with my then-girlfriend, attending an International Film Festival. Unforgettable trip, and great films. On the last day, Fidel threw a party in his palace to entertain the international visitors (PR move?). I remember the palace being spacious and well-appointed, but not gaudy — green slate tiles on both the floor and the walls, brass sconces. Palace bartenders kept the mojitos flowing, and Castro himself was mingling with the guests. We joined a circle of people listening to him passionately answer questions about how hemp farming could benefit Cuban workers and the economy.

Then, suddenly, my friend leaned in and pointed coyly toward a wiry-haired old man with big bushy eyebrows standing near Castro and said “Do you recognize him? It’s Grandpa Munster!” Sure enough, it was Al Lewis himself, (much older than he had been on the TV show of course). And then the weirdness of the moment dawned on me: I’m standing in Castro’s palace, drinking mojitos with Grandpa Munster and Fidel Castro, talking about marijuana legalization at a time when our own country wouldn’t even contemplate it. Unforgettable.

Feeling Erased

I get the feeling that many on the right don’t understand why people are so upset, and why the upset does not seem to be subsiding. Last night I heard a report that Trump plans to sign a record-breaking 25 executive orders in his first few days in office, which together will amount to effectively erasing Obama’s legacy – essentially undoing his life’s work. This morning I woke up feeling like the same was happening to me, on a smaller scale. We (leftists) work every single day to teach our children inclusivity, and how to identify/address racism when we encounter it. We teach our kids to pick up trash if they find it in the woods, to take a bicycle rather than a car when feasible. Because every little bit helps, and the small sacrifices are so very much worth it. We donate to environmental and human rights causes, work to raise awareness about industrial practices that can hurt humanity or the earth, and so on.

So when you wake up one day and find that the new regime is installing one of the nation’s most prominent white nationalists in a top position, that a climate skeptic will head the EPA, that plans for mass deportations are under way…. all together it feels like your life’s work is being erased. And that, in turn makes us feel equal parts furious, helpless, and depressed. We are not protesting because we lost the election, and we’re not protesting because the conservatives are in. We are protesting because of extreme, sweeping changes that are about to happen that will collectively undermine our lifes’ work.

That’s why we’re angry: We feel erased.