Day 338 5/29/14: 10 Fascinating Facts about Overpopulation

Tonight I was lucky to attend a talk by Alan Weisman, author of The World Without Us and most recently Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth?

Here’s a few illuminating things I learned:

1. The world’s most effective form of contraception is the education of women.

2. Every four days we add one million people to the planet.

3. 40% of the non-frozen land on this planet is devoted to feeding one species: humans.

4. Debunking the myth that a decreasing population means a withering economy, Weisman cited Japan as the country that can teach the world how to “shrink and prosper.”

5. Japan is also the world’s largest producer of robots, some of which are designed to fill in gaps in the labor force and care for the country’s elderly population. Some of these robots are able to help elderly people into wheelchairs or into bed, but dealing with bathroom-related issues remains a challenge.

6. Some of these robots resemble giant teddy bears.

7. To provide and disseminate universal contraception care would cost about $8 billion dollars annually, the same amount we spent daily in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

8. In Pakistan, abortion is punishable by death. Every year, 400, 000 women in Pakistan undergo dangerous, illegal abortions.

9. If universal contraception were available, the number of worldwide abortions each year would drop from 40 million to 14 million.

10.  While “There’s no condom for consumption,”* lowering the number of people who consume is within our power.


*Weisman attributed this snappy saying to Paul Ehrlich, author of the controversial 1968 book “The Population Bomb.”

Day 327 5/18/14: Marxist Philosopher Slavoj Zizek on JAWS

What does the rise of fascism, class struggle or the brutality of capitalism have to do with the marauding great white in JAWS? Although I don’t always agree with Zizek, I do like his take on my favorite film….

Day 320 5/11/14: The Marvels of BeeKeeping 101

a“Any volunteers? It’s full of protein,” said the beekeeper, holding up two small globs of larvae on something that looked like an exotic fork or comb.


“I’ll try it.” A woman raised her gloved hand and unzipped her bee hood.


A murmur rippled through the similarly suited crowd at the Los Angeles County Beekeepers Association Beekeeping 101 class.


We fell silent as she chewed.


“It’s…not very good…it tastes like leaves,” she said.

The larvae looked alien and white and we looked alien and white. It’s impossible not to channel a lonely B-movie robot when stepping inside the bee suit, with its strange square veil stretched over a “Dr. Livingston I presume” style hat and Jackie-O inaugural-length gloves that are heavy leather, not satin.

My dear friend Lisa is starting her very own hive and needs a friend to help her, so I travel to a beautiful rambling spread beneath the Wildlife Way Station once a month and learn about smokers and drones and excluders.

There’s no more useless feeling sometimes than being a poet. I space out while the master beekeeper explains how to clean the smoker without lighting oneself on fire, but will take up these weird fragments of trivia to my grave:

“Do NOT use powdered sugar and water in your feeder. The bees will become constipated. Use C&H cane sugar.”

That a bee might become constipated is almost as wild as a bee having mites. Today the beekeeper pulled the frames out of the bee box and held them up to the light to check the swarming brown bodies for parasites the size of half a rice grain. Passing a couple frames to a pair of eager students he exclaimed, “Get some sun in those cells!”

The students held the frames toward the sky, like weird amber mirrors. I imagined that his command involved some impossible scientific feat, that we had to allow the sun into the most forgotten, hidden and most obscure parts of ourselves.

I hoped he might say it again.

It’s easy to lose someone in a crowd of net-headed beekeepers, but I found Lisa and we crowded close to watch a drone birth: a single antennae waving from a plugged up cell.

I learned that the living bees eat the dead—another marvelous protein source.

A few weeks ago, I’d been deathly afraid of being stung when I finally donned the bee suit. Although every “I’m afraid” experience is preparation for the shark cage, I still remember getting stung when I was 12 years old, reading “A Catcher in the Rye” on our screened in front porch in Massachusetts. I remember the pain and then the cold. The ache in the arms and back. But today the bees swarmed around me. The sound is really sort of mesmerizing and wearing the bee suit  gave me some odd power of invisibility, as if I lived in a cone of silent strength.  And besides, I’d been told that these were polite bees with good, gentle, decent bee genes. And they were slightly loopy still from being “smoked out” of their hive, which dulls their aggressive hormones. The hormones smell like bananas.

The beekeeper who wore a hood but no gloves, opened the pollen drawer at the bottom of the hive, a tray overflowing with gold nuggets of dust and a few marauding ants. (Ant invasion can be stopped with repellent called Tanglefoot–a word I liked).

The pollen drawer!  Nature doesn’t have to try. It’s gorgeous and practical, functional and mysterious.

I felt sad when I had to leave early, change out of the bee suit Lisa had loaned me and drive all the way across the city to a workshop on “Ulysses” and the stream of consciousness technique. As I drove through the green, pollen-rich canyon, on my way to experience another kind of richness, I felt that being a poet was a pretty good thing, a way to inhabit a lot of worlds. As the great poet Frank O’Hara once said:

“Grace to be born and live

as variously as possible.”


Day 278 3/31/14: Free Sunder: An Elephant’s Story

september-3Why is it that human beings so often seem to revere the symbolic embodiment of the animal to the thing itself?  As Alice Walker once wrote,  “Animals are forced to become for us merely images of what they once so beautifully expressed.”  We can wipe out the grizzly bears in the wilds of California, while  proudly displaying them on the state flag. In India, Ganesh, the elephant god ( “destroyer of obstacles”) is revered, yet the living embodiments of this divinity are treated like lowly slaves. Sunder,  a captive temple elephant in India suffers incredible abuse at the hands of his captors, while his ostensible function as a holy mascot is to bestow “blessings” on human visitors.

When he traveled to India in 2012 Paul McCartney, whose animal activism is truly an inspiration, fought to secure Sunder’s transfer to a sanctuary.

However, the 14-year-old elephant is still chained, regularly beaten and forced to live in a chicken shed.

Today is the day that activists around the world are rallying to get Sunder to a sanctuary.

Please help! It only takes a few seconds to tweet, copy and paste a letter to the Indian consulate or sign a petition to free Sunder.


Day 277 3/30/14: The Coolest Shark Site…EVER…..

great-white-shark-wallpapers_35944_852x480The ocean is oddly silent and still, then a white shark bursts out of the water, nearly sending a startled kayaker into the water. A surfer watches a black dorsal fin slice the surface and disappear. Headless seals wash up on the beach. These are just some of the thrilling dispatches from Pacific Coast Shark News, my favorite feature of Ralph Collier’s Shark Research Committee website. I have learned a tremendous amount about shark behavior and intelligence just from reading Pacific Coast Shark News. But keeping detailed and accurate records of shark activity along the Pacific Coast is only a small part of SRC’s very important work. They are currently working on a pioneering non-invasive DNA project that if funded could revolutionize shark conservation. The identification and migration patterns of specific shark populations through DNA, could help researchers predict the chances of future attacks offering an alternative to the barbaric retaliatory slaughter of sharks, like the “cull” happening in Australia right now.

For a $20 donation, you will receive the fascinating SRC Quarterly e-mail newsletter and for $70, you will receive Ralph Collier’s utterly riveting, lavishly illustrated book Shark Attacks of Twentieth Century.

Please consider making a donation of any amount, even $10–to help SRC continue its essential conservation and education efforts.

Day 245 2/25/14: Divers Save Dying Shark

shark-1-A-Human beings never cease to completely baffle me.

In Australia, tiger sharks are being hooked, drown and shot as part of an ineffective “cull” program, while in the same waters divers and veterinarians collaborate in an elaborate attempt to save this grey nurse shark from being suffocated by a piece of plastic wound tightly around its neck.

(Tip of the fin to Connie for sending this one!)

Day 225 2/5/14: Take the Exciting Climate Change Anxiety Poll!

Yesterday a fortune cookie came with the soup I ordered for lunch. I cracked it open and found it empty. I felt an odd shiver of anxiety as if I had just seen a vision of my own extinction: empty cookie=looming void. Imminent Death. I immediately asked for another cookie, another shot at having a destiny. Then I felt enraged with the banality of the fortune: If you look in the right places, you can find some good offerings.  I longed for nothingness.

Later, I decided to direct my free-floating anxiety towards something worth freaking out about: climate change. This is the first article I have read which documents the trauma people are experiencing as a result of natural disasters and the looming threat of a warming planet. I felt oddly comforted by it. As scary and depressing as climate change is, I think it’s even weirder when people don’t talk about it. I wonder how other people feel.

Day 207 1/18/14: Ram Dass: Living The Mystery

imagesIn “Instant Karma!” a song written and recorded in one day, John Lennon posed the eternal question: “Why in the world are we here?” answering the unanswerable with a single, powerful certainty: “Surely not to live in pain and fear.”

In this humble blog, one of my recurring questions has been how not to shut down in the face of suffering–both my own internal sadness and the suffering of animals, of aging parents, etc.

Today I  discovered this terrific and invigorating podcast that grapples with all of these things–a 1996 Ram Dass lecture called Living the Mystery which I highly recommend. (NOTE: Skip the introductory part. Ram Dass is funny and dynamic.  Listening to this narrator is like hearing someone describe a movie in exhaustive detail and thereby  sucking all the energy & surprise out it. START listening at 17:59!