Psychic Spies with Mayo 

Searching for psychic spies, liverworts, and a woodpecker.

Baby baby: Being "snubbed" by seatmate Jane Goodall at an Academy Awards ceremony was another downer during Peggy Orenstein's six-year pursuit of a successful pregnancy. Waiting for Daisy (Bloomsbury, $23) is the Berkeley author's account of bouts with cancer, miscarriages, and a Japanese D&C to remove an empty egg sac: "Dr. Makabe inserted four match-sized sticks of compressed seaweed, called laminaria, into my cervix. Over 24 hours, each stick was supposed to swell to the size of a pencil in a slow, steady dilation." After prepping for the job with "injections of nun pee and hamster eggs," an egg donor brought salvation. Somewhere along the way, Orenstein attended shul with Ayelet Waldman and Michael Chabon. "I'm a Jew," she informs us. "I consider kvetching my birthright."

Oh shoot: It's no consolation to whoever just got capped, but America's crime rate has plunged. According to UC Berkeley law professor Franklin Zimring's new book, The Great American Crime Decline (Oxford, $29.95), the 1990s saw a 40 percent drop. Finding no single conclusive cause, Zimring notes two factors: Fewer young males exist than before, and more folks are incarcerated.

Oh shore: On a January Saturday at Ocean Beach, Brad Newsham made his long-awaited wish come true: spelling out the word IMPEACH! in live prone human protesters as airborne news crews buzzed overhead. The Oakland author of Take Me with You and All the Right Places toasts his sandy success with aerial photos at But ... impeach whom? When? It didn't say.

Dine another day: What rock critic Greil Marcus always liked about Chez Panisse was that "there were no pretensions, there were no choices." In the exhaustively researched Alice Waters and Chez Panisse (Penguin, $27.95), poet Thomas McNamee dishes on ... dishes. Plus hirings, firings, lovers, and the Berkeley restaurant's 2001 thirty-year anniversary bash, at which mulberry ice cream cones were served to 600 guests who paid $500 each and Michael Tilson Thomas sang his "Marche Triomphale de la Cuisine." Sample lyrics: Haute cuisine of revolution! CHEZ PANISSE! CHEZ PANISSE! ... We lead off the ev'ning news with our stews and ragouts. ... We refine obscure old goop into ecstatic soup. ... We won't whisk our meringues for those who harangue. It's not likely that we'll beat around the Bushes!

Oh Shiite: The Western United States and Iran are really so much alike — not in terms of our dress codes for females or our positions on torturing homosexuals, but at least in terms of mosses and liverworts. Barbara Ertter, coauthor of The Flowering Plants and Ferns of Mount Diablo, California (California Native Plant Society, $25) and curator of Western North American flora at UC Berkeley's herbaria, recently donned a headscarf and long coat, joining Iranian botanist Fosiee Tahbaz to collect specimens in Iran and consult with colleagues there. Plans are afoot to return to the Zagros Mountains this summer, but Ertter isn't packing her bags yet, having learned that a Shiite militia group fled Iraq to these slopes a few weeks ago.

ESP 4U: Over the phone, an Arkansas dowser located a harp stolen after an Oakland concert from the daughter of UC Berkeley psychology prof Elizabeth Lloyd Mayer. This spurred Mayer to research and write Extraordinary Knowing (Bantam, $26), charting encounters between hard science and ESP — including "Star Gate," the CIA's 24-year program aimed at creating a crew of psychic spies. Mayer consulted clairvoyants while working on this book, which hit the shelves this month. Did any of them see — or say — that she would die in her sleep of an intestinal ailment at age 57 just after completing the manuscript?

Abracadabra: Walnut Creek's M.J. Ryan knows a woman who lost 43 pounds after switching from regular to light mayo. In This Year I Will ... (Broadway, $15.95), Ryan recommends writing lifestyle-change contracts for yourself and signing them, with witnesses. A sample contract she offers says: "I, _____, will move every day for at least seven minutes." See? And you thought you'd have to move for nine.

Toon out: An army recruit morphs into a sad-eyed dog; a Canadian political cartoonist conjures a 'round-the-world fantasy, and "once Dale starts drawing those pickaninnies he can't stop." After decades spent collecting vintage cartoon books, the artist currently known as Seth describes some of his scores in Forty Cartoon Books of Interest, a palm-size charmer tossed in free with Comic Art magazine ($19.95). It's new from Oakland's Buenaventura Press, the outfit whose 2006 Comic Book Holocaust sported two billowing smokestacks on its cover. This ish of Comic Art includes a piece on Krazy Kat in Navajo Country and a serious history of the word balloon.

Gray area: A 94-year-old flower arranger. A 95-year-old snake handler. Berkeley social worker Amy Gorman profiled twelve talented women aged between 85 and 105 for Aging Artfully (PAL, $20). Greg Young's film Still Kicking follows six of those twelve. Gorman and Young headline a teatime reading and screening at the Berkeley City Club (2315 Durant Ave.) on March 2 along with Joan Diamond, aging specialist and author of the e-book Is Anybody Listening? She endorses elastic waistbands, claspless jewelry, and Harold and Maude.

Wingman: It's called the "Lord-God bird." Widely believed to be extinct despite a couple of sightings, the ivory-billed woodpecker is American birdwatchers' Holy Grail. UC Berkeley engineering prof Ken Goldberg is on a team that devised a unique high-res intelligent robotic video system newly installed in an Arkansas bayou to spot the larva-quaffing, eighteen-inch 'pecker in its historic natural habitat. Dubbed "Colabcam," this "collaborative lab camera" sports sky-facing lenses feeding oodles of data to mechanisms performing real-time analysis, filtering out false readings instantly. A video clip could prove that the bird still exists. Goldberg is editor of The Robot in the Garden: Telerobotics and Telepistemology in the Age of the Internet (MIT, $25) and is married to Webby Awards founder Tiffany Shlain. Isn't it cool that one of the researchers on the project is surnamed Song?

Tot plot: Inflate their egos further by turning kids' writings and artwork "into magnificent, handcrafted, hardcover books of unparalleled quality" — Orinda-based The Little Author, Inc. does the job at $42 to $68 a pop. "You can't bear to throw them out as they were created with love and respect just for you, but what can you do with them? They are starting to fade, or rip and tear, and you wish you could do something to preserve these memories forever. Look no further," we read at "The last page" of each 24-page book "is a great place to include a photo of the author and 'about the author' information."

Splitsville: You said "I do." You don't. Roderic Duncan, named Judicial Officer of the Year by the California State Bar in 1990, disses his own home turf in A Judge's Guide to Divorce: Uncommon Advice from the Bench ($24.99), new from Berkeley's Nolo Press. Judge Duncan advises connubial combatants to split sans costly, clumsy courtroom scenes, but offers etiquette and strategy tips for those with no choice. Wacky anecdotes include one in which he watched a plaintiff toss a baby, ball-style, to a pal.


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