Super Moon, Super Blue Moon


The Super Blue Moon, after shining spectacularly over San Francisco Bay and the surrounding mountains and countryside, continued doing its spectacular thing as it soared majestically over my skyscraper neighbors. The sight above was glimpsed from the roof of my building.

A spectacular summer’s end for the moon.

My summer began with this moon over Decatur, encircling itself with a gauzy Georgia haze.

And later, an August moon shone over Montana’s Bridger Mountains, clearly trying to outdo itself.

Speaking of which . . . when it appeared above St Mary’s Cathedral, as seen in mid-summer from my balcony window, the moon or the phone or an eerie phenomenon (I choose that last) created a nifty blue dot as a prophecy of moons to come

And sure enough, the Super Blue Moon, in all its brilliance, rolled across the late August sky.

Good night, moon.

Solving the Abortion Rights Problem


Photo by James Wainscoat on Unsplash

I don’t know why nobody’s thought of this before.

Recent news of the Florida Solution (isn’t Florida coming up with great policies right and left?) to its peacock problem suggests the perfect answer to the testy abortion debates. Universal Vasectomy!

(We will set aside the peahen here. Peahens have never had access to reproductive choice so what do they know? We could ask growing numbers of women in choice-less states. But it’s mostly the peacocky guys making laws anyway, and they pay little or no attention to the reality of us peahenny women.)

Clearly, if Universal Vasectomy were put into place the whole abortion problem would go away, and women could set about accessing the reproductive care that they — and presumably peahens — deserve. 

This policy, as described in a New York Times article, “would allow peacocks to continue acting like dominant males, displaying their dazzling feathers and assembling their harems, though they could no longer fertilize eggs.” Does this make sense, or what?

The same issue of The Times carried another article which sums up the need for UV: An 89 year old man voting against Ohio’s sneaky attempt to restrict abortion was quoted thusly: “If men was having babies there wouldn’t be none of this nonsense.”

OK, how is this going to work, you ask. Easy peasey.

All we have to do is set up a national trap-and-release program for all males of the species. Each will then be given the choice — imagine! individual choice! — of either assuming full responsibility, in perpetuity, for any fertilized egg that may result from any future sexual adventure for the rest of his natural life — or, Snip! 

There will admittedly be costs involved, for things like reimbursement to physicians administering the simple procedure (I suggest that thousands of women MDs who have endured harassment or worse will eagerly sign up for the program.) Solution: take it out of the defense budget. Who’s going to notice a few billion there? Especially after the need for dazzling- feathers displays concurrenty diminishes, a peripheral benefit. 

Once this innovative program goes into effect in the U.S., countries around the globe will recognize it as widely satisfying and at the least cost-effective, and quickly follow.

Voila! World peace.

I rest my case.

Should You Eat That Eel?


Not for dinner! An eel at the Academy of Sciences aquarium in San Francisco (Author photo)

The eel in the aquarium is among my favorites. He (or she, as the case may be) just has an enigmatic grace wondrous to behold. You can’t watch an eel and not calm down a little.

But take him home for dinner? Nahhh.My husband loved eel. He was prone to pay exorbitant prices for it; and to my protestations would say, “It’s only an Anguilliform!”

Which is true.

Eels are also catadromous, meaning they migrate from freshwater to salt; and they can swim forward or backward, all sensible traits. Two drops of eel blood, however, and you’re dead. This never increased my fondness, but it explains why raw eel isn’t a menu item. The blood cooks out; I still prefer not to think about it. And lobster is cheaper!

Still. An eel in an aquarium is a joy and a blessing. 

The Price of Politics Today


KQED’s Marisa Lagos with Representative Adam Schiff, July 21 (Author photo)

“I can’t stand that millions of people hate you,” Eve Schiff said to her husband Adam not long ago. (Yep, Adam & Eve are married.) “You just have to accept it,” Schiff observed.

Why? When did hate become something to “accept and move on (from”) in the once kinder, gentler U.S.?

Not to mention cruelty. When the moderator kept to that topic Schiff told of another episode, something that bothers him a little more: a package came to his DC office containing two bullets; each had the name of one of Schiff’s young children written on it.Is that one more thing we simply accept?

“There’s nothing I can do about it,” Schiff said; “other than to get a new job. The first time I mentioned getting death threats to (former Speaker) Nancy Pelosi she said, ‘Welcome to the club.’” Pelosi knows a little more about this stuff than most of us would like, having had her 83-year-old husband bashed in the head in the middle of the night by a crazed guy who didn’t like her politics. He wanted, actually, to wait for Rep. Pelosi to come home (though she was in DC and crazy guy David DePape was at her San Francisco home) so he could break her kneecaps.

Surely it’s time for us kinder/gentler citizens to stand up for a return to civility. Even at the risk of getting knee-capped.

Decades ago, when my children were growing up (in the pre-internet age,) I was working as a freelance newspaper and magazine writer. I often covered city and county commission meetings or hearings on highly controversial issues. New highways, housing developments, policies that would directly affect communities and citizens alike. I remember more than a few events that came close to fistfights, and one that did get violent before police removed an inebriated objector. This was before anyone had to worry about guns.

I remember people calling other people names, swearing lifelong enmity, vowing to get an opponent removed from office or defeated at the polls.

But cruelty? Death threats? Anonymous messages suggesting terrible things might happen to families and children? Enough already.

Surely it’s time for the majority of us — and I know we are in the majority — to stand up for civility. Confrontation is out, since we have become a culture of guns and one friendly word can get your head blown off.

But we can write letters to editors. We can let those who support cruelty know that it won’t be tolerated. Calls and emails from outside a politician’s district might get tossed aside, but enough of them at least get his or her attention. Calls and emails to your own representatives might not get personal responses, but they get tallied. 

We can support the nonprofits working to protect and build the vote. VoteForward. GOTV (Get Out the Vote) campaigns. We can work hard to replace evildoers with civil-doers. 

We can vote.

Watching an Urban Mall Die

Downtown America stares into a challenging, unknown future

Westfield Mall’s main entrance on a Saturday afternoon

To be clear: I love San Francisco. I love Union Square. I love Market Street, the whole every-shifting stretch of it from the Ferry Building southward through the gritty blocks of too many drug deals and doorways inhabited by the down and out. Of course I particularly love the beautiful parks and hilltop views of the Pacific Ocean or San Francisco Bay, the museums, the stately homes and funky ones, the great food and most of all the people. San Francisco people, despite the influx of too many rich and techie, are still a wondrous mix of every color, creed and national origin — not to mention political opinion, which few citizens of San Francisco are shy about expressing. To be further clear, I never loved malls. I spent a lot of time in them in the 1970s and 80s, the glory days of retail when I was writing for (among other somewhat more interesting magazines) National Real Estate Investor and Shopping Center World. I would often spend a week or so before a major mall opening just hanging out, gathering details, interviewing store managers and PR people. Fun times for a writer!

Looking down on near-empty escalators from the top of Nordstrom’s multiple floors

In the glory days of malls there were innovations such as waterfalls and lush greenery. In downtown San Francisco, Westfield (originally San Francisco Centre) boasted a spiral escalator connecting the multiple floors of anchor store Nordstrom with the Market Street entry floor and a top-floor restaurant. On opening day in 1988 this was the nation’s largest Nordstrom store. And despite my anti-mall proclivities, I loved Nordstrom from the moment of my arrival in San Francisco in 1992. But it’s closing now. There’s a lot of sadness, though little surprise. Inside, there are theoretical sales designed to keep a few customers coming, but for the most part the closing is in full swing. Plywood sheeting and yellow tape are scattered everywhere. It’s hard to imagine that the smaller shops on each floor will survive. Or Westfield Mall in any form.

Many of the smaller shops have ‘gone dark’

Westfield Mall is hardly an exception. Since the glory days of the 1980s, when some 2,500 malls dotted the urban/suburban landscape, that number has dwindled to around 700. One estimate is that only about 150 will still be around in another decade. Which leaves both sadness and an uncertainty tinged with a tiny excitement. Something new will evolve. As in many other cases, the pandemic helped hammer in the nail of Westfield’s coffin. But more nails were provided by the city’s struggle to find solutions to homelessness and drugs on the street. Increased security presence can’t really stop the ever-growing problem of thievery.

Not-so-busy Security guys

I’m not saying goodbye, only farewell. Downtown San Francisco will return. And here’s a rebuttal, meanwhile, to all that bad press: The waterfront is still a wonder. The Ferry Building and its surroundings remain a great place to spend the day. The parks and museums and tree-shaded hillsides are still unequalled for urban strolling. Shopping areas like the Fillmore, Polk Street, Hayes Valley, Potrero, the Mission, the Castro are scattered everywhere and are still enchanting. The Presidio is a national treasure. History is just around every corner. Do you really travel the globe just to visit another mall exactly like the one at home? Downtown San Francisco won’t come back as it was. Change happens. Change doesn’t happen overnight. But when the city’s core does revive it may well be more interesting, more vibrant and more inviting than the 1980s mall scene ever imagined.

Walking out the door, into the cool, sunshiny summer air, I had no shopping bags but a lot of memories. Give us time. San Francisco has risen, all new, from the ashes before.

People-Watching at the Museum


(View of the water, and Holocaust Memorial, from in front of the Legion of Honor Museum)

People-watching at its best: looking at strangers looking at art!

I visited San Francisco’s beautiful Legion of Honor Museum recently just before the opening of the next big show — The Tudors: Art and Majesty in Renaissance England opens June 24 to great fanfare. Between shows is a fine time to avoid the crowds, enjoy the rest of the art — and people-watch.

At this more leisurely time you can find a fascinating mix of the casual and the hard core viewer.

(Close examination of Mary Cassatt pastels)

The hard cores are easy to spot. They include members of the Close Examination school who push the boundaries of musuem-advised social distancing by studying selected works up close and personal. 

Also among the hard cores are the Group Discussion clumps. They are inclined to hang out in front of a particularly intricate work and discuss every possible tiny detail until you wonder if they might have rooted themselves to the floor.

(Intense group discussion underway)

Group discussion clumps are frowned upon (and generally impossible unless they are with a docent) in the major shows. But when the galleries are sparsely populated you’ll find these groups standing, pointing, arguing, laughing and enjoying the art, which is, after all, what museums should be about.

Somewhere within a hard core/casual mix are the families — who particularly enjoy a museum in between major shows because they have the place pretty much to themselves. If nobody’s around to bother you, it’s open season on shouting about displays and putting your nose to the glass.

(Introducing baby sister (barely visible) to ancient art)

But often the casual art watchers are the most fun of all to watch:

(Casual viewer taking an art break during a bike trip)

This one was biking to meet some friends but took a detour to see the small show of recent works-on-paper acquisitions. “It’s the best part of my day,” he said in a museum-quiet voice; “any time I can stop by the Legion.”

(Lone looker in the Porcelain Gallery)

Also having a lovely day was this solitary visitor to the Porcelain Gallery, studying the Worcester teapots. Having the whole place to oneself is a secret treat not common to museum-goers.

But for this people-watcher, here was the prize:

(A little art, a little fashion)

Carolyn Hadley, spotted in the museum cafe with her mom, had chosen a place mat to take home so she could continue art-watching at her leisure. It was hard to switch the eye from one artwork to the other. But Carolyn, in her museum-quality dress, holds the promise of a bright future for art and people-watching alike.

Four Things You Cannot Fix at 3 AM


Photo by Megan te Boekhorst on Unsplash

1 — That small, niggly message from your stomach that says it needs a couple of peanut butter-filled pretzels. Maybe just three or four? Please? You can ignore this, but you can’t fix it — unless you get up and go find that bag of peanut butter-filled pretzels. Really bad for the teeth.

2 — The problems your favorite niece is having with her mother. OK, the parents’ divorce was hard on her and now she doesn’t like the stepfather. So she’s going to drop out of school and join her brother in the ashram. You can rewind that reel as many times as you want; it’s going to come out the same. Have you ever fixed anything with that bunch?

3 — Democracy. I know, I know. You should’ve signed up for another few hundred postcards or letters with Activate America or Vote Forward or whatever, but you quit. Should you get up and fill out another form? Or send $5 to a few more candidates? Before breakfast? C’mon. Really now.

4 — World hunger. You are in that tiny percentage of people around the globe able to hunker down in a comfy bed after a perfectly good dinner, without a care in the world. Guilt will not lull you back to sleep.

You could, however, get up and go find the bag of peanut butter-filled pretzels.

The Brave New AI World


Photo by Andrea De Santis on Unsplash

I was confronted with an ad on a busy urban thoroughfare, promoting the newest thing in my chosen profession.

That is, writing. I have been a writer forever. You could say Journalist, or occasional Essayist. Columnist. Author. Proud MFA in Short Fiction graduate. Periodic ghostwriter when I needed the money.

But over a bunch of decades I have just said, when someone asked what I do for a living, “I’m a writer.”

Alas, I have been replaced. By a bot.

Author photo

Needing to understand the competition, I looked this up. Here’s what I learned:

You — company manager, CEO, whoever — don’t really need to hire a person who knows how to write stuff, because a friendly bot can “accelerate content” while remaining “on brand.” Jeez Louise.

I already knew my once-beloved profession was in trouble the first time I heard the phrase “content provider.”

Well, anyway. Who am I to stand in the way of your unlocking the power of generative AI?

In the olden days, every press club worth its salt had a touch football team.

Photo by Francesca Runza on Unsplash

Maybe you missed a deadline, or somebody else scooped you on a great story, or you were just brain-weary from too many words. You could always find a pick-up game with a bunch of writers needing to work out their literary frustrations. (Then you went for drinks.) I’m satisfied that similar collegial opportunities to blow off steam still exist, even if my football days — as you can tell from the attitude here — are over.

All that generative AI can replicate your voice, and stay on-brand for optimum marketing potential, and you can refine its integrated content to align with your pre-approved messaging . . .

But can it play touch football?