In the beginning this blog was centered on San Francisco parks and open space issues with special emphasis on natural areas and natural history. Over time it began to range into other areas and topics. As you can see, it is eclectic, as I interlace it with topics of interest to me.

I welcome feedback: just click this link to reach me.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


0.   Supervisor Wiener trying to divert $4 million in RecPark bond.  He should be stopped
1.   More financial risks of Central Subway/sign the petition
2.   Pedro Point Headlands work party Sunday 24th
3.   South San Francisco weed warriors Friday 22 and Saturday 23
4.   GG Audubon annual meeting and Magical Madagascar, Thursday 21 in Berkeley
5.   Come explore the Amazon, Colombia et al - vicariously
6.   Parasitic plant steals genes
7.   Inept candidate for Supervisor Dist 7
8.   Forever Oneness, by aboriginal poet
9.   Michael Sandel challenges idea that markets are morally neutral
10. One, by Mary Oliver
11.  London low-keys its Olympic show
12.  Amusement from verb placement in sentence
13.  Two British historians analyze the 20th century's worst conflict.  Grim
14.  Naming organisms: fujigmo may not make it past your spam detector
15.  Cat

There is something beautiful about all scars of whatever nature. A scar means the hurt is over, the wound is closed and healed, done with. -Harry Crews, novelist and playwright

0.  Supervisor Scott Wiener is attempting to divert money proposed for trails in the 2012 RecPark bond to some other unspecified purpose.  He must be dissuaded from this unwise maneuver.  Contact him and Supervisors Farrell, Elsbernd, and Chiu, members of the Government Audit & Oversight Committee, due to meet this Thursday 21 at 10 am, Room 263 City Hall.  The committee will probably not take testimony at the hearing, so you should email or telephone members and Wiener in advance. 

These are talking points if you need help; however, put in your own language.  Urge friends to act also.  Call or email me with questions - 731-3028

The Supervisors have not been hearing from the environmental community, but are hearing plenty from Natural Areas Program opponents, in particular the SF Forest Alliance.  As a consequence, Supervisor Scott Wiener is trying to insert language into the 2012 RecPark bond that may reduce or eliminate bond money that is currently slated to go to trails and associated plantings.  It is critical that Supervisor Wiener and the Supervisors that sit on the GAO committee hear from interested citizens before the item is re-heard at the Board Committee hearing.

Scott Wiener will attend to push his proposal to excise the trail money and associated projects from the bond proposal.  The language should stand without change.

Contact information:

Here are some talking points, I'm sure there are others:

    1.    The trail projects that have been constructed as part of the 2008 Bond have been a great success. The community meetings have been well attended and the projects themselves are supported by the community. In order to continue the good work of the 2008 bond, there should be no restrictions on the 2012 bond. Don't mess with success.

    2.    According to the Recreation Assessment, trails are the number one thing that San Francisco residents want in their parklands. Don't eliminate resources that will meet the needs of San Franciscans.

    3.    It would be good to remind Supervisors that the City is responsible for maintaining 31 open space areas--that is where the trails are--and these areas had had no maintenance before the Program was created and staffed in 1997.  The heavy use of these areas for a great variety of active and passive recreational use has created a huge backlog of deferred maintenance.  People wander in all directions higgledy-piggledy, and severe erosion results.  Some areas, such as Bernal Heights, Glen Canyon, Buena Vista, and McLaren Park are in urgent need of attention.  The trails need repair if we are to preserve the environment and provide recreation to city dwellers

    4.    Don't let a few agitators mar the reputation of this important and popular program of the Recreation and Park Department.

    5.    Environmental organizations may not support the bond if funds are not made available for trails and resource conservation.


Save North Beach From Central Subway Construction Nightmare: CONSTRUCTION MORATORIUM NOW!
North Beach residents and merchants are extremely angry by the Central Subway's two years of proposed street tear-ups, lane closures, traffic and bus reroutings---all suddenly dropped on the neighborhood with little warning. 
North Beach residents and merchants are  trying to get the Board of Supervisors to halt Central Subway construction in North Beach for the time being.   The 2 years of work will overlap with the America's Cup, negating its potential benefits.



Central Subway LRT Project, San Francisco Muni (SFMTA)

While federal funding reviews are still in progress, the SFMTA is employing its public relations staff and media consultants to lobby the citizenry, press, officials and its own Board---to manufacture support.
In the next three months, the Federal Transit Administration, the Office of Management & Budget and Congress will be reviewing the Central Subway's funding.  Read more accurate news.  Then,SEE BELOW FOR HOW YOU CAN HELP.

BAY CITIZEN:  “Funding delays could increase cost of Central Subway” (Internal SFMTA emails).

SF WEEKLY:  “Muni: Our Transit Agency has Neglected Maintenance for Years”

HUFFINGTON POST:  “SF Central Subway Construction Begins:  Get Ready for Traffic Disruptions & Muni Delays”.

KQED FORUM:  Radio discussion with Quentin Kopp and SFMTA on Central Subway. (see small “Download Audio” link).

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *
The Specter of Central Subway Cost Overruns
Nearly all large infrastructure projects have big cost overruns.
In the FTA Letter, dated January 7, 2010:  “Please be advised that, consistent with FTA’s established policy, the amount of New Starts funding is fixed at the time of entry into FD [final design].”  The City & County of San Francisco must pay for ALL cost overruns---further threatening Muni’s future.

“Central Subway---Too Much Money for Too Little Benefit.”
See Page 17:  Cost overruns seem likely even though construction contingency was 20% at the time of the report..  But the contingency dropped to 14% in 2012 (see KQED radio show below).   And in official SFMTA Budget Sheets, the “Unallocated Contingency” is only 4% (see below).  

The Central Subway Project is Churning Fees to Pay Personnel.
With systemic deficits, the MTA is churning fees and draining funds from the Central Subway Project---jeopardizing project delivery, risking cost overruns and threatening more future service cuts.
Soft costs are a stunning 23% of total project costs ($361,568,360)---over half of which is for Project Management ($191,025,800).  MTA is churning the project for fees---funding large numbers of personnel.  Normally, large projects have smaller soft cost percentages---in the 8%-12% range.
Unallocated Contingency is only at 4% ($63,341,742).  If the project has cost overruns, the contingency will have been eaten up by personnel charging out this project.   ATTACHED:  Central Subway Budget.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *
Thanks to everyone who donated to our Washington Lobbying Trip.  We are diligently working with congressional staffers, providing data and documents.  Our lobbying will be timed with congressional reviews.
DONATIONS NEEDED for our local PAC (Political Action Committee). has been developing local strategies---but need funding to implement.
Please send Checks (written out to Howard Wong, AIA) to:
Howard Wong, AIA
126 Varennes St.
San Francisco, CA 94133


2.  Hi Pedro Gang! 
 It is time to get your hands dirty.  Join us on the Headlands for another restoration "play" day

This Sunday, June 24th
9.45am - 1pm

Meet at the Pedro Point Firehouse
1227 Danmann Ave
we will carpool up through the green gate
RSVP Is So Appreciated

Our Plan will be to water the plants in the recently planted slide area, widen the arroyo and middle ridge trails, check out the new property added to the Pedro Point Headlands, and have fun.  Oh yea, we might  collect more native seeds.
    BY THE WAY, Dr. Vasey will be leading the work day.  Join me in congratulating him on YEARS of hard work !!!


I don't know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve. -Albert Schweitzer

3.  Join the SSF Weed Warriors on San Bruno Mountain

Friday June 22nd and
Saturday June 23rd
9am to 12pm

Come out Friday or Saturday - or both days! - and help with this critical stewardship work to restore native grasslands that are important butterfly habitat.
    •    gloves provided
    •    wear long pants and layers
    •    wear sturdy shoes
    •    bring water!
Check out the San Bruno Mountain Watch website for all volunteer opportunities in our Stewardship Programs and Upcoming Events

San Bruno Mountain Watch (415) 467-6631
or email leaders Chuck and Loretta

We focus on the removal of non-native & invasive plant species

Meeting location:  behind the Mills Montessori School at 1400 Hillside Blvd in South San Francisco
View Google Map


4.  Join Golden Gate Audubon Society for two inspiring events in one evening this Thursday --

Annual Meeting and Magical Madagascar

Annual Meeting & refreshments - 6:30 pm
What do you like about GGAS, and what do you think we could do better? What should be our goals for the coming year? How can we achieve our vision of making the Bay Area the most bird-friendly urban area in North America?   Come share your ideas at our Annual Meeting. Enjoy refreshments, see birding friends, and find out the latest about our upcoming programs, conservation initiatives and strategic planning process.

Magical Madagascar - 7:30 pm

Ninety million years ago, Madagascar broke away from the last fragments of Gondwana, the great southern continent. Since that time, life on Madagascar has been evolving in its own unique way, isolated from Africa by 300 miles of the Mozambique channel. Five or six families of birds are found only on this fourth-largest island in the world, and more than half of the world’s chameleons live only here. Lemurs are found nowhere else.

Bob Lewis -- a GGAS board member, birding instructor and award-winning wildlife photographer -- will share slides from his recent trip to Madagascar. He'll introduce us to Cuckoo-Rollers, Asities, Mesites, Vangas and other Malagasy birds, as well as some of the many species of lemurs that call the Madagascar forests home. 

Northbrae Community Church
941 the Alameda, Berkeley
(Between Solano and Marin)

The Magical Madagascar presentation is free for GGAS members, and $5 for non-members.

For more information, call us at (510) 843-2222.


5.  Come explore the Amazon, exotic and mysterious Salvador da Bahia, Brasil, and the El Dorado Land of Colombia as author and adventure-traveller Craig Carrozzi reads from and discusses his South American adventure-travel trilogy "Wedding of the Waters", "Festival of Conception" and "The Road to El Dorado" at The GREEN ARCADE Bookstore on Tuesday, June 26th at 7 pm.

The GREEN ARCADE is located at 1680 Market @ Gough in a vibrant San Francisco neighborhood.

For more info contact:          (415) 431-6800   

6.  Parasites

A gene thief

Jun 16th 2012 The Economist

Plants of the genus Rafflesia are among the oddest on the planet. They have the largest known flowers (up to a metre across) and are parasites, growing on South-East Asian vines of the genus Tetrastigma. The latest research, though, shows that Rafflesia take more than just nutrients from their hosts. A study by Charles Davis of Harvard and Joshua Rest of Stony Brook University, in New York, just published in BioMed Central Genomics, has shown that at least one species, Rafflesia cantleyi, has also snaffled 49 genes from its particular victim, Tetrastigma rafflesia (named, like Rafflesia itself, after Sir Stamford Raffles, founder of Singapore and of the London Zoo). The genes in question, which have a wide range of functions, are fully operational and have become integrated into the nuclei of cantleyi’s cells. Such gene transfer between species is common in bacteria, but rare in more complex organisms. Yet another curiosity, then, about an already curious vegetable.


7.  Email to Mr Joel Engardio (candidate for Supervisor, District 7):

Mr Engardio:
I don't know you or your background, other than what was on your door hanger today, Monday.  Your study of public policy at Harvard attracted my attention.  Then I noticed your bullet point:  Focus on kids, families, neighborhoods...Parks are for families and pets to play safely together, not native plant museums....

Hello?  Are these imcompatible? 

And what's this about native plant museums?  That sounds like a contemptuous putdown of the City's Natural Areas Program, a very popular program that, even with severely limited staff, organizes and coordinates more volunteers to help the city than any other City program.  Surely you don't want to discredit it?  Are you aware that the trail projects that have been constructed as part of the 2008 Bond have been a great success?  The community meetings have been well attended and the projects themselves are supported by the community. In order to continue the good work of the 2008 bond, there should be no restrictions on the 2012 bond. Don't mess with success.

Is turning San Francisco's botanical clock back to 1776 a common sense use of tax dollars? Do we really need to get rid of the non-native trees and plants introduced after 1776? Where will the owls sit when our Eucalytpus trees are gone?

*  According to the Recreation Assessment, trails are the number one thing that San Francisco residents want in their parklands. Don't eliminate resources that will meet the needs of San Franciscans.

*  The City is responsible for maintaining 31 open space areas--that is where the trails are--and these areas had had no maintenance before the Program was created and staffed in 1997.  The heavy use of these areas for a great variety of active and passive recreational use has created a huge backlog of deferred maintenance.  People wander in all directions higgledy-piggledy, and severe erosion results.  Some areas, such as Bernal Heights, Glen Canyon, Buena Vista, and McLaren Park are in urgent need of attention--and Mt Davidson has its own set of problems.  The trails need repair if we are to preserve the environment and provide recreation to city dwellers.  Have you thought about consequences of ignoring these areas?

*  Don't let a few agitators mar the reputation of this important and popular program of the Recreation and Park Department.

*  Environmental organizations may not support the bond if funds are not made available for trails and resource conservation.

You really came a cropper by swallowing the propaganda of the discredited SF Forest Alliance, hook, line, and sinker.  If you want to represent us citizens of District 7 you need to learn the issues and think hard about how to address them.  I can't support you this time around; perhaps you will do some homework before trying again in 2016.

To start training for 2016, consider coming on my tour of Mt Davidson on June 30.  You will not find in me someone who wants to relive 1776.  For one thing, I love the Tasmanian blue gum and have no intention of getting rid of it.  But the issues are more complex than that.  Let me know if you'd like to be on the tour.

Jake Sigg

P.S.  I viewed this video, and I was glad to know the SF Forest Alliance has dropped its lie about this owl nest.  At the presentation to SHARP in April, Eric Miller stated that this tree was cut down while owls were nesting in it.  Asked why Natural Areas Program director Lisa Wayne cut it down she said "because the funding was running out". 

The tree is still standing, there have never been plans for cutting it down because there is no reason to.  Did the SF Forest Alliance just invent it out of thin air?  BTW, the purpose of the Program is to preserve native animals and plants and their habitat.  Does this tell you something about the SF Forest Alliance? 

(His response to my email was disappointing; he thinks in stereotypes and sound bites and displayed no interest in alternate views.  He betrayed no understanding of governance or the need to look at consequences of actions before they're taken.  JS)


Forever Oneness,
who sings to us in silence,
who teaches us through each other.
Guide my steps with strength and wisdom.
May I see the lessons as I walk,
honor the Purpose of all things.
Help me touch with respect,
always speak from behind my eyes.
Let me observe, not judge.
May I cause no harm,
and leave music and beauty after my visit.
When I return to forever
may the circle be closed
and the spiral be broader.
 ~ Bee Lake ~
(an Aboriginal poet)


9.  What Money Can't Buy by Michael Sandel

Review by John Lanchester in Guardian Weekly

Michael Sandel challenges the idea that markets are morally neutral

Walmart … able to benefit from 'janitors insurance' policies.

"Dead peasants insurance" is a term that sounds as if it comes straight out of Monty Python. If only that were true. Here's an example of what it means: in 1999, Michael Rice, a 48-year-old employee of the supermarket firm Walmart, collapsed while helping a customer carry a television to her car. He died a week later, and an insurance company paid out $300,000 for the loss of his life.

What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets by Michael Sandel

So far, a sad but not unusual story; the twist was in the identity of the people who benefited from the insurance. It wasn't Rice's family, who didn't get a penny, but Walmart. In a subsequent lawsuit, it turned out that Walmart had hundreds of thousands of such policies on employees, so every time one of them died, the huge corporation enjoyed a tiny windfall. And that's dead peasants insurance, or, as it is also known, "janitors insurance". They are forms of what the insurance industry calls Stoli, or "stranger originated life insurance" – in other words, an insurance policy taken out on your life by someone else, not on your behalf but on theirs.

Michael Sandel is a professor of politics at Harvard, and is one of the best known public intellectuals in America. He enjoyed a worldwide hit withhis last book, Justice, the subject of a famous lecture course at Harvard, and gave the 2009 Reith lectures. His new book, What Money Can't Buy, is a study of "the moral limits of markets". For him, the story of dead peasants insurance is an example of how the encroachment of market values can change the character of an industry. Sandel shows how life insurance, which had its origins in the idea that we can mitigate the economic impact of death on survivors and dependents – an idea which was always controversial, and indeed was illegal across much of Europe – was gradually corrupted into a form of betting against other people's lives.

Another example of this process was the development of "viaticals". These were insurance policies that had been taken out earlier in their lives by people who were dying of Aids. The life insurance policies of these dying patients were valuable – so a market developed in which these policies were bought by investors, who would give the Aids sufferer a lump sum and would pay for their care during the terminal illness. Then, when the patient died, the policy would pay out: kerching! The catch for investors was that the longer the patient lived, the less money they would make. "There have been some phenomenal returns," said the president of one company that specialised in viaticals, "but there have also been some horror stories where people live longer."

This trajectory, for Sandel, is paradigmatic. We can all instinctively understand the idea of life insurance; most of us will feel an instinctive repugnance at the thought of the viatical industry or dead peasants insurance. As market thinking penetrated the life insurance industry, a moral line was crossed, and the application of market ideas was taken too far.

That shows what has happened with the increasing ubiquity of market ideas. "Over the past three decades," Sandel writes, "markets – and market values – have come to govern out lives as never before." Sandel is no socialist and isn't against markets per se. He is forthright about the positive impact markets can have in their correct sphere. "No other mechanism for organising the production and distribution of goods had proved as successful for generating affluence and prosperity." His focus, perhaps unexpectedly, isn't on the 2008 crash and the great recession that followed. Instead, Sandel is interested in what he sees as a deeper and more consequential loss of our collective moral compass. "The most fateful change that unfolded in the last three decades was not an increase in greed. It was the expansion of markets, and of market values, into spheres of life where they don't belong."

This might make it sound as if What Money Can't Buy is mainly a work of polemic. It's not: Sandel isn't that kind of philosopher. He is clear about what he thinks, and the direction of his argument is clear too, but he progresses patiently, through the accumulation of examples from a number of fields. Too patiently, perhaps, for some readers. Anyone who is already in agreement with the ideas Sandel is advancing – a fairly numerous group of his readers, I'd have thought – may well want a more sweeping, angrier book, one that is more heated about the morally debased landscape brought to us by the ubiquity of market thinking.

I had moments when I wanted What Money Can't Buy to be more charged, to use more of the language of right and wrong and less of the bloodless vocabulary of "norms". But Sandel, I came to realise, is doing something very specific in this book. It's a work of political philosophy more than it is a polemic: he wants to make it unambiguously clear that markets have a moral impact on the goods that are traded in them.

To understand the importance of his purpose, you first have to grasp the full extent of the triumph achieved by market thinking in economics, and the extent to which that thinking has spread to other domains. This school sees economics as a discipline that has nothing to do with morality, and is instead the study of incentives, considered in an ethical vacuum. Sandel's book is, in its calm way, an all-out assault on that idea, and on the influential doctrine that the economic approach to "utility maximisation" explains all human behaviour.

Sandel is methodical about assembling evidence to refute the idea that markets are amoral and have no moral impact. Paying people to queue, for example: Sandel studies this practice in areas such as US congressional hearings and free outdoor theatre performances. In both cases, companies have come into being to allow the well-off to hire a homeless person to go and hold a place in the queue until the rich person turns up just in time for the main event. This is an example of something which is supposed to be a communal good being marketised and turned into cash. This has two consequences that often recur and are stressed by Sandel: one is that the process is unfair, and the other is that it is corrupting or degrading to the thing being marketised.

He sees this dual phenomenon, of unfairness and the degradation of values, at work in many areas: from the market in sports memorabilia to carbon trading to on-call doctor services to Chinese population control policy to the growth of executive boxes at sports grounds – "skyboxification", as he calls it. That leads to one of his most direct statements of political engagement: "Democracy does not require perfect equality, but it does require that citizens share a common life. What matters is that people of different backgrounds and social positions encounter one another, and bump up against one another, in the course of ordinary life."

There's one example in particular that comes close to summing up the entire argument of What Money Can't Buy. It concerns an Israeli daycare centre, which responded to a problem with parents turning up late to collect their children by introducing fines. The result? Late pick-ups increased. Parents turned up late, paid the fine, and thought no more of it; the fine had turned into a fee.

The fear of disapproval and of doing the wrong thing was based on non-monetary values, and was a stronger force than mere cash. The daycare centre went back to the old system, but parents kept turning up late, because the introduction of market values had killed the old ideas of collective responsibility. Once the old "norm" of turning up on time had been marketised, it was impossible to change back.

This is such a vivid illustration of Sandel's thinking that it is almost a parable. Let's hope that What Money Can't Buy, by being so patient and so accumulative in its argument and its examples, marks a permanent shift in these debates. Markets are not morally neutral. Let's all be clear about that. As Sandel concludes: "The question of markets is really a question about how we want to live together. Do we want a society where everything is up for sale? Or are there certain moral and civic goods that markets do not honour and money cannot buy?"


10.  One

The mosquito is so small
it takes almost nothing to ruin it.
Each leaf, the same.
And the black ant, hurrying.
So many lives, so many fortunes!
Every morning, I walk softly and with forward glances
down to the ponds and through the pinewoods.
Mushrooms, even, have but a brief hour
before the slug creeps to the feast,
before the pine needles hustle down
under the bundles of harsh, beneficent rain.

How many, how many, how many
make up a world!
And then I think of that old idea: the singular
and the eternal.
One cup, in which everything is swirled
back to the color of the sea and sky.
Imagine it!

A shining cup, surely!
In the moment in which there is no wind
over your shoulder,
you stare down into it,
and there you are,
your own darling face, your own eyes.
And then the wind, not thinking of you, just passes by,
touching the ant, the mosquito, the leaf,
and you know what else!
How blue is the sea, how blue is the sky,
how blue and tiny and redeemable everything is, even you,
even your eyes, even your imagination.

~ Mary Oliver ~

(Why I Wake Early)

The Olympic opening ceremony
Little Britain
Jun 16th 2012 | from The Economist

Ever since 1984, when Los Angeles hosted the Olympic games, opening ceremonies have become ever more grandiose. Greece’s, in 2004, offered a rather worthy Classical history lesson. Four years later Beijing’s emphasised Chinese discipline (in the form of massed drummers), national innovations (fireworks, paper, printing) and thrusting ambition (astronauts). How to top all that? Danny Boyle, a film director who is in charge of London’s opening ceremony, has decided not to try. On June 12th he unveiled a model of the opening set. It features an idealised countryside, complete with real chickens, sheep and cricket players—a sight that endures mostly in children’s books. There will be clouds and rain, just in case nature does not provide them, as well as a walkway evoking the M25 motorway, known for its gridlock. Opening ceremonies are a country’s opportunity to sell itself to the world. Britain appears to be selling irony.


12.  A Word A Day:
In English the verb goes in the middle of a sentence (I love you), while some languages relegate it to the end (I you love). This may sound preposterous to those not familiar with such a language (German, Hindi, Japanese, among others), but it's quite common.

Any discussion of the positioning of verbs in a sentence brings to mind Mark Twain's words:
Whenever the literary German dives into a sentence, that is the last you are going to see of him till he emerges on the other side of his Atlantic with his verb in his mouth.

Your German example is trenchant -- I assume you know the old joke about the diplomat who is sent to Germany?
He speaks no German, so is assigned a translator. His first meeting is with some muckety-muck who blathers on in German for a very long time. The diplomat keeps looking at his translator, who is clearly listening but not saying anything. Finally he hisses, "So what's he saying?"
The translator holds up a finger and replies, "Shh... I vait for ze verb!"

There's this old joke about the German encyclopedia in two volumes. All the verbs were in volume 2.

JS:  I had a Jewish friend from New York who told me a story of kids playing ball in a vacant lot:

(Coming to the window) "What is it, David?"
"Mama.  Cut me up and smear me up and throw me out the window (drawing deep breath) a piece of bread and butter please!"

The second world war

Counting the cost

Two British historians analyse the 20th century’s worst conflict

Jun 9th 2012 The Economist (excerpts)