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.

Thursday, July 28, 2011


1.   22nd Annual Bioneers Conference October 14-16
2.   Stewardship in Garber Park Tuesday Aug 2 and Sat Aug 6
3.   Feedback
4.   Sloths not lazy, they're just energy-efficient
5.   A single rose can contain all the suns and worlds of the universe
6.   Born 29 July 1805 - Alexis de Tocqueville. It took a Frenchman
7.   Worrying views on lack of leadership in Washington and Europe
8.   Great bad men as bosses; reflection on Rupert Murdoch et al

1.  22nd Annual Bioneers Conference
Breakdown to Breakthrough
Reimagining Civilization in the Age of Nature
October 14-16, 2011
Marin Center, San Rafael

Breakthrough Solutions for People and Planet -

"Bioneers has been consistently ahead of the curve.  It is a hatchery for the next wave of important ideas that five years hence people will be talking about in Rotary Clubs."    Bill McKibben, author and founder

"We face insurmountable opportunity."  Pogo

"The shift is about to hit the fan."  Tom Shadyac, film director


2.  Claremont Canyon Conservancy
August 2, 10 AM til Noon: Garber Park. We continue our Summer Stewardship, getting the weeds and grass out of our planting beds to give our natives the best chance of surviving on a dry hillside. Take a walk through the park and stop along the way to evict all the broom, Cape ivy and Himalayan blackberry at Bob's Place (Harwood Creek). We'll also collect seeds from the rich variety of flora in Garber Park. Meet at the Everygreen Lane entrance. Directions: The closest address is 136 Evergreen Lane. From Alvarado Road, take Slater Lane and turn right on Evergreen and go to the end of the street. For more information, contact Shelagh at or visit the blog at

August 6: Saturday Stewardship. We're meeting the first Saturday of August this month instead of the 2nd. Now that nearly all of our sign construction in the upper canyon is completed, we will focus on maintenance of our trails and removing unwanted vegetation that has grown up with the unusual rains we had this Spring. As usual, we will meet across from the chert, 1.5 miles up Claremont from the intersection of Ashby and Claremont, at 10 AM. See you on the 6th.


3.  Feedback

Denise Louie:
Hi Jake,
Speaking of population problems, we should raise our collective awareness of young people's issues.  It starts w/ school dropouts, leads to a vicious cycle of unprepared parents and a burden on society.  When you get to this link, click on the short "School's Out: An Overview of America's Dropout Crisis."  Reporter Claudio Sanchez has just completed a series on this issue.

I'm not sure what the answer is, but evidence shows business as usual is not working.  It's maddening that outcomes are so predictable, yet not prevented or improved.   Individual choices are okay only up to the point where they become an issue for the rest of us.  I think society needs to ask for something in return for shouldering the burden some people place on us.

Anna-Marie Bratton:
Hi Jake, Thanks for the article on quantum mechanics/physics/entanglement and the relationship to production of heat in computer use.  It's something for all
computer users - even individuals with so called energy star laptops - to think about. One must consider the enormous amount of heat produced in the buildings filled with computer servers needed to support the Internet and the ever increasing amount of energy needed to cool the ever increasing  number of buildings.  That's one reason why I spend as little time on my computer as possible.
Spend as little time at the computer as possible?  That's what I thought--until I got sucked into doing an electronic newsletter.  The climate, energy consumption, and my body and mind would benefit if I abandoned it.

Every time I chided people about leaving their computers turned on I was told that "it doesn't take much energy".  I remarked that there were millions, if not billions of people and that it added up.  Now we find out. 

I found somewhere in the bowels of my Mac instructions that say  " should put it to Sleep; if you're going to be away for several days, shut it down." (!!!!)

My Mac has a vent at the top, and the heat pours out, enough to heat my little sunroom office.

On a related subject, I once asked people why they just hit the Reply button, returning my whole message, complete with images.  A couple of people replied that I needn't worry because emails" are sent in bundles"--as if that explained anything.  If there are 8 bits to a byte, a long message would add up, especially if it has pictures.  There are bazillions of unnecessary bytes traveling the telephone wires.  I highlight the sender's message before hitting Reply.  Am I wrong in thinking this?

Brent Plater:
2.   Rec-Park Commission/Dept shenanigans to privatize our parks v. Sunshine Ordinance
They did the same thing to us when we organized a Sharp Park restoration forum at SPUR.  Threatened the staff there, etc.

Mary McAllister (to Xerces Society, regarding item 10.  NATIVE PLANTS - They're the Bees Knees! in July 21 e-newsletter):
I have seen an article in Jake Sigg’s latest Nature News in which your email address is given if there are questions about this article:  item #10 in this link:

I am writing to ask about this quote in that article:  “Over several years, Gordon Frankie and the Urban Bee Project of the University of California at Berkeley have conducted bee surveys in California. Gordon's team identifies plants growing in gardens and the bees that are attracted to them. This work has produced some eye-opening findings: native plants were at least four times as likely to attract native bees as exotic plants, and that a diversity of plants (eight or more species) significantly increases both the abundance and diversity of native bees.”

This quote is not consistent with the information on Gordon Frankie’s website (  which says, “Frankie…conducted an intensive two-year study of bees in the urban gardens of Berkeley and Albany…One surprise was the sheer diversity of native bees holding out in the East Bay –74 species representing five families.  They tended to be picky.  Only 5 to 10 percent of the plant species had measurable bee activity.  A quarter of those were Northern California natives, the rest exotics.”  In other words, according to Dr. Frankie's website, native bees in the East Bay are using 75% non-native plants and only 25% native plants.

Elsewhere on Dr. Frankie’s website (, he mentions several times that bees make use of many non-native plants, including plants that gardeners consider weeds, such as dandelions and white clover.  He also says that “Even if your priority is to have a native garden, it can be highly advantageous to include even just a couple exotic plants on the basis of their bee attractiveness.  The bees they attract will help your natives to thrive.”

Can you explain this apparent contradiction between what Dr. Frankie is quoted as saying in the article on Jake Sigg’s newsletter and the actual information available on Dr. Frankie’s website?  If not, can you or Mr. Sigg please correct the misquote of Dr Frankie?

Thank you for your help to provide accurate information to the public about the needs our friends, the bees.  Accurate information about the needs of the bees is in everyone's best interests, including the bees'

Good morning, Mary.
Our e-newsletter and Gordon’s website are talking about different things. The quotes from Gordon’s website are discussing the number of flower species that attracted bees, whereas our e-newsletter was discussing the number of bees attracted to different flower species. Yes, there are nonnative flowers that bees will visit for nectar or pollen but typically nonnative plants attract fewer individual bees or a smaller diversity of bees than native plants.

I have attached a PDF of an article that Gordon wrote and which was published in Fremontia, the magazine of the California Native Plant Society. This is a few years old but discusses his initial research looking at plants in people’s front yards. He has continued this work since then (now expanding to other parts of California) and has created a research garden in Berkeley that allowed his lab team to undertake more focused studies into particular plant-bee relationships. Gordon and his researchers have published a number of other articles in academic journals, as well as the more popular pieces like Fremontia.

Somewhere I have read that Gordon demonstrated that native plants were six times more attractive to native bees than nonnative plants, but I have not been able to find that reference recently, so could not say that in our short piece. Still, four times more attractive is a pretty significant difference in itself!

My own garden is an example of one in which native and nonnative plants combine to provide season-long forage for bees. In early spring, Spanish lavender is the bumble bee magnet. It fills a gap when few natives are in bloom; at that time willows are one of the major native forage sources for bumble bees. A few mason bees will also visit the Spanish lavender, but they mainly go to the Oregon grape on the other side of my lawn.
Matthew Shepherd
Senior Conservation Associate
The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation

Thank you, Matthew.  I am posting the exchange in my e-newsletter.

The upside of the conversation is that it keeps the subject in front of people--repetition helps.  For some reason known to her she is determined to destroy our natural areas program and is hostile to any initiative that promotes a healthy environment.  She is industrious in searching ways to undermine those working for a healthy and diverse environment.

Aside from her interest in promoting off-leash dog-running, I can't figure out WHY.  And she has a formidable friend who is equally industrious and seemingly lives down at City Hall, where she lobbies and unearths information--selectively, of course.  If only we could harness that time energy.  One of the many mysteries of life.

The Hindus and Buddhists say we're in a negative age that will eventually pass.  Don't hold your breath until 'eventually' arrives, because Buddhist cosmology encompasses inconceivable stretches of time.


4.  Wild & Weird: A Six-star Energy Rating for Sloths

You might have energy-saving appliances or lightbulbs. But do you have an energy-saving body? Consider the sloth.

New x-ray research reveals that sloths' unique anatomy lets them move much like monkeys -- but in energy-saving mode. With extra-long arms set on short shoulder blades, they get a maximum reach with minimal muscle required, and dislocations at certain muscular contact points even let them get into their famous lounging-in-the-trees pose -- putting hardly any effort into staying that way. By consuming less and staying out of fellow animals' way, sloths are mammalian "models of energy saving," says one researcher. In fact, the first sloth used for the research wouldn't even move around enough to get the right x-rays taken, earning him headlines as "the laziest animal in the world."

Turns out they're not lazy -- just, well, energy-savvy. Good news for couch potatoes everywhere.

Get more from Science Daily.


5.  “A single rose can contain all the suns and worlds of the universe...”    Anonymous

Margo Bors photo


6.  Born 29 July 1805 - Alexis de Tocqueville

July 29 is the birthday of French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville, who toured America for nine months when he was just 26, traveling more than 7,000 miles by horse, steamer and stagecoach, reports Literary  His 1835 book Democracy in America remains a staple of college courses, because he saw our young nation with a fresh eye and described it with a tart tongue.  "America demonstrates invincibly one thing that I had doubted up to now," he wrote, "that the middle classes can govern a State...Despite their small passions, their incomplete education, their vulgar habits, they can obviously provide a practical sort of intelligence, and that turns out to be enough."  He also thought Americans were restless to an insane degree:  "An American will build a house for his old age and sell it before the roof is on...In the end, death steps in and stops him before he has grown tired of this futile pursuit of happiness, which always escapes him."  High Country News, 20 July 2009

Alexis de Tocqueville: Prophet of Democracy in the Age of Revolution--A Biography, by Hugh Brogan

Liberty and democracy
It took a Frenchman
Alexis de Tocqueville's strong views on demagoguery and citizenship are worth remembering, as is clear from a splendid new biography
Nov 23rd 2006 | from The Economist print edition

"...The timing could hardly have been better. The call of Tocquevillian ideals—civic virtue, active citizens, strong community associations—has seldom been stronger. This is particularly true in America, which Tocqueville visited in 1831-32 and wrote about enthusiastically in his masterpiece, “Democracy in America”. The vogue for communitarianism may have cooled somewhat, but Tocqueville's name is heard around the White House; earlier this year President George Bush told an interviewer that he wanted his legacy to include the creation of a Tocquevillian think-tank.

"...a conviction, shared with the ancient Greeks and Machiavelli, that good citizens matter more to free societies than good institutions. Tocquevillian liberals believe that governments should encourage better citizenship. Economics liberals distrust fiddling with markets, however worthy the goal. It is unsure if the two can be more than tactical allies. Before either side says another word about Tocqueville, though, they should both read Mr Brogan."  
The Economist, 25/11/2006  (Emphases mine, JS)

“Scarcely any political question arises in the United States that is not resolved, sooner or later, into a judicial question.”  Alexis de Tocqueville


In his landmark book, Democracy in America, the 19th-century French intellectual Alexis de Tocqueville commented on the fever pitch to which American polemics can often ascend.  In a chapter entitled Why American Writers and Speakers Are Often Bombastic, he wrote:  "I have often noticed that the Americans whose language when talking business is clear and dry...easily turn bombastic when they attempt a poetic style...Writers for their part almost always pander to this propensity...they inflate their imaginations and swell them out beyond bounds, so that they achieve gigantism, missing real grandeur."  Guardian Weekly 19-25 August 2005

From Teaching Co booklet:
The purpose of the book is to educate the French about democracy by describing and analyzing how American democracy works and what it embodies….He came to believe that democracy was the way of the future for France and Europe and arranged to come to America in 1831 to examine the most advanced democracy the world had ever seen.

Liberty above equality / Alexis de Tocqueville: A Biography by Hugh Brogan / Reviewed by Rebecca Abrams, Guardian Weekly 13/2/07

With America caught in the permanent glare of critical attention for its foreign policy and France tottering from one internal crisis to the next, there could hardly be a better time to publish a biography of Alexis de Tocqueville. Even at the distance of two centuries many of his observations on democracy, equality and liberty sound frighteningly prescient. "I would think it a great misfortune for humanity if liberty had to take the same form in every place," he writes. And elsewhere: "It is difficult to induce the people to take part in [democratic] government; it is still more difficult to supply them with the experience and the beliefs which they lack, but need in order to govern well."

Unfashionable in Britain and entirely out of vogue until recently even in France, De Tocqueville's Democracy in America made him a household name in the mid-19th century and is still regarded by many scholars as the greatest work on America ever written. For Americans themselves, De Tocqueville's star has never faded. Scores of writers, film-makers, philosophers and politicians have retraced De Tocqueville's steps in order to look in the mirror that he first held up to American society 150 years ago and to discover if the image it reflects is still a true one. So ubiquitous and revered is he in American intellectual life that no major political speech is considered complete without a quotation from his work. The Washington Post compared citing the French writer to citing the Bible, and the New Republic, in editorial desperation, was driven a while back to impose a three-year ban on De Tocquevillia of any kind.

...A painstaking and scholarly work, Brogan's book stands as an invaluable contribution to our understanding of 19th-century history. To anyone with a serious interest in contemporary America and its attitude towards democracy, it is indispensable.

From the internet:
"I confess that in America I saw more than America; I sought the image of democracy itself, with its inclinations, its character, its prejudices, and its passions, in order to learn what we have to fear or hope from its progress."

"...I know of no other country where love of money has such a grip on men's hearts or where stronger scorn is expressed for the theory of permanent equality of property."

"If there ever are great revolutions there, they will be caused by the presence of the blacks upon American soil. That is to say, it will not be the equality of social conditions but rather their inequality which may give rise thereto."

"The electors see their representative not only as a legislator for the state but also as the natural protector of local interests in the legislature; indeed, they almost seem to think that he has a power of attorney to represent each constituent, and they trust him to be as eager in their private interests as in those of the country."

"Americans of all ages, all stations of life, and all types of disposition are forever forming associations...In democratic countries knowledge of how to combine is the mother of all other forms of knowledge; on its progress depends that of all the others."

"I am far from denying that newspapers in democratic countries lead citizens to do very ill-considered things in common; but without newspapers there would be hardly any common action at all. So they mend many more ills than they cause."

"There is hardly a congressman prepared to go home until he has at least one speech printed and sent to his constituents, and he won't let anybody interrupt his harangue until he has made all his useful suggestions about the 24 states of the Union, and especially the district he represents."

"They certainly are not great writers, but they speak their country's language and they make themselves heard."

"In America, more than anywhere else in the world, care has been taken constantly to trace clearly distinct spheres of action for the two sexes, and both are required to keep in step, but along paths that are never the same."

"In towns it is impossible to prevent men from assembling, getting excited together and forming sudden passionate resolves. Towns are like great meeting houses with all the inhabitants as members. In them the people wield immense influence over their magistrates and often carry their desires into execution without intermediaries."


7.  USA Inc sees red
As political forces in the world's largest economy spar over finances, investors watch warily. Even if the US resolves the issue of its debt ceiling by elevating it before the 2 August deadline, the country's triple-A credit rating may be at risk because of the reputational damage already done. As Barack Obama said this week, it's "no way to run the greatest country on earth". 
Guardian Weekly 29.07.11

Debt and politics in America and Europe

Turning Japanese
The absence of leadership in the West is frightening—and also rather familiar

Jul 30th 2011 | from The Economist print edition

The Economist:  The brinkmanship in Washington over America's debt ceiling and the struggle to keep Greece in the euro zone are different in many ways, but they both show a frightening absence of leadership. At the moment the West's politicians are not willing to make tough choices; and everybody—the markets, the leaders of the emerging world, the banks, even the voters—knows it. In our cover leader we point to the worrying similarities with Japan, where two decades of political paralysis have done more harm than the economic excesses of the 1980s.

“The gods of the market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew.”  
Rudyard Kipling

“The softest of stuff in the world penetrates quickly the hardest; insubstantial, it enters where no room is.”    Lao Tzu


Great bad men as bosses
Rupert Murdoch is typical of tycoons in combining great weaknesses with great strengths
Jul 21st 2011 | from The Economist print edition - excerpt

…Balzac supposedly wrote that “behind every great fortune lies a great crime”. It would be truer to say that behind every great fortune there is a psychological aberration. Henry Ford hated Jews. George Eastman sanctioned industrial espionage. Thomas Watson turned IBM into a personality cult, complete with company songs about “our friend and guiding hand”, a man whose “courage none can stem”. Michael Milken, the inventor of junk bonds, was jailed. Richard Tedlow of Harvard Business School argues that many “giants of enterprise” suffer from what Norwegians call stormannsgalskap, the madness of great men.

Stormannsgalskap is particularly common among media barons, not least because they frequently blur the line between reporting reality and shaping it. William Randolph Hearst is widely suspected of stirring up the Spanish-American war to give his papers something to report. Lord Beaverbrook regarded himself as a kingmaker, literally so in the case of George VI. These men’s megalomania was captured in two masterworks: Orson Welles’s film “Citizen Kane” and Evelyn Waugh’s novel “Scoop”.

The ugly side of these entrepreneurs is often just as important to their success as their admirable side. You cannot reshape an industry without extraordinary confidence in your own rightness. And it is hard to build a great company from scratch without what Mr Tedlow dubs “the imperialism of the soul”. But these negative qualities often end up undermining the empires that they helped to create. Ford’s stubbornness led him to mass-produce cars before there were many roads for people to drive them on. But it later blinded him to the fact that General Motors was beating him by giving consumers more choice. Mr Milken’s scorn for the way things had always been done allowed him to revolutionise financial markets. Yet it also blinded him to the fact that he was breaking the law. The bad side of great bad businessmen usually gets worse with age. They surround themselves with yes-men and family members (Mr Murdoch currently has two children working for his company). They become fixated on their earlier successes. Many start to believe that they are invulnerable even as their mortal powers begin to fade….

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