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.

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Monday, October 10, 2011


1.   Thoreau's favorite tweet
2.   CNPS field trip to the center of the Earth, Oct 15
3.   Shark-fin soup victory - now need to restrict live animal markets
4.   Ten Millennia of California Ecology, by Laura Cunningham, October 17
5.   "It's a great day in South Carolina.  How may I help you?"
6.   Joe's Internet Cafe, at the end of You Must Be Dreamin' Avenue
7.   A More Perfect Heaven: How Copernicus Revolutionized the Cosmos
8.   10,000 definitions of god and more, never fully filled, never
9.   Here Comes Trouble by St. Michael Moore


“This is the only bird whose note affects me like music. It lifts and exhilarates me. It is inspiring. It changes all hours to an eternal morning.” Henry David Thoreau
(Is this a hermit thrush?)

California Native Plant Society field trip - all welcome
Saturday, October 15, 10 am to 3 pm
Field Trip to the Center of the Earth
Leader:  Paul Heiple

When most residents think of San Francisco rocks they think of chert, for good reason.  A broad band of it trends southeast-northwest across the city, exiting into the Golden Gate west of the bridge, and resurfacing in the Marin headlands, which are composed primarily of this rock.  Bayview Hill, Bernal Heights, Mt Davidson, Twin Peaks, and Golden Gate Park are all composed primarily or exclusively of this lithology.  This trip is like Jules Verne in San Francisco:  Twenty-thousand Leagues Under the Sea as we look at deep ocean sediments; The Time Machine (by H.G. Wells) as we look back about 100 million years; and Journey (part way) to the Center of the Earth as we look at subducted rocks.  The rocks have a long and interesting story to tell, yet most people pass by without noticing them.  You'll notice them after this trip.  Radiolarian chert is a beautiful and interesting rock.  It occurs as sedimentary layers composed mostly of microscopic diatom-like organisms called radiolarians.  Their shells, in contrast to most marine mollusks whose shells contain water-soluble calcium, are made of water-insoluble silicon, which is why they survived in the form of rock.  Where they surface they are predominately reddish in color, and a cliff of them is an arresting sight, for example the high cliffs on O'Shaughnessy Blvd.  The traffic here is fast and heavy, so one doesn't have the time to appreciate their interest and beauty.  That is why we will be on foot so we can both contemplate them and look at them in their interesting and complex detail.  We will visit the famous slickensides on Corona Heights; slickensides is highly polished rock caused by rock on each side of a fracture going in opposite directions to each other. 

Join retired geologist Paul Heiple for what we expect will be a very rewarding day.  The widely-scattered locations unfortunately require that we do this by car.  For liability reasons, CNPS cannot arrange car pools.  However, we encourage carpooling, and attendees can make their own arrangements on the spot at the beginning of the trip.  Bring lunch and liquids.  Because of logistics, we need to have an idea how many people to expect.  To sign up and get information about the meeting place, send me (JS) an email.

by Suzanna Buehl & Jon Campo, SFRPD Natural Areas Program

The rocks underlying San Francisco, collectively known as the Franciscan Formation, are more than 165 million years old. Many of our hilltop parks feature outcrops of chert, a fine-grained sedimentary rock made up of the shells of single-celled microscopic sea organisms (radiolarians) which died millions of years ago.

In most ocean waters, carbonate shells dissolve before they reach the bottom, but radiolarian shells are silicon-based and do not dissolve. Millions of years ago, countless radiolarians, together with mineral dust blown from inland deserts (usually red in color), combined to form a muddy substrate on the ocean floor. Through time, pressure, and heat this red ooze compressed to form layers of chert which were later uplifted to land.

Chert can be identified by its brownish-red or pale green color, which, when exposed to air, oxidizes into an orange brown. The surface is smooth and occurs in layers one to four inches thick. A thin slice of rock under a microscope will reveal the star-shaped radiolarians.

One of the most striking examples of a chert formation occurs along the way to Glen Canyon on the western side of O'Shaughnessy Boulevard between Malta and Del Vale avenues. The layers are folded and fractured in a spectacular record of geologic forces that long-ago uplifted the chert from the ocean floor.


3.  Shark finning (AB 376) and live animal food markets
October 9, 2011

Letter to the Editor

Kudos to Governor Brown for signing AB 376 into law, and to Assemblymembers Paul Fong and Jared Huffman for introducing the shark finning bill.  "Culture" and "tradition" should never trump animal cruelty or ocean protection.

It's now time to address the live animal food markets, where the problems are much the same:  horrendous animal cruelty and an unsustainable "harvest" (esp. of turtles, nearly all taken from the wild),  The market turtles and frogs, non-natives all, are often released into local waters, where they prey upon and displace our native wildlife.

California annually imports two million bullfrogs (mostly from Taiwan), and 300,000-400,000 freshwater turtles for the markets, a major public health risk.  Recent necropsies have shown all the market frogs and turtles to be diseased and parasitized:  E. coli, salmonella, pasturella, giardia, blood parasites, even one case of malaria.  I'd sooner eat a dead rat.

Worse, a 2009 study in BIOLOGICAL CONSERVATION reported that, of the market frogs necropsied, 62% testified positive for the chytrid fungus, responsible for the extinctions of some 200 amphibian species worldwide since the 1970's.

We need a law to ban the importation, possession and sale of live, non-native frogs and turtles for human consumption.

All legislators may be written c/o The State Capitol, Sacramento, CA  95814.

Eric Mills, coordinator
P.O. Box 20184
Oakland, CA  94620
 tel. 510/652-5603


(Laura Cunningham presented this program to CNPS last week, and we highly recommend it.  JS)

4.  The Long Now Foundation in San Francisco hosts a monthly seminar series about long-term thinking, and our speaker this month is ecologist and illustrator Laura Cunningham, so I wanted to share the details with you in case the staff or members of the California Native Plant Society would be interested in attending.

Laura Cunningham will be presenting Ten Millennia of California Ecology on Monday October 17, 02011 at 7:30 pm at the Cowell Theater.  See this page for more info - Long Now members get free tickets!

Saber tooth tigers, mammoths and giant sloths in the Bay Area? Paleontologist-biologist-artist Laura Cunningham spent 20 years exploring California's archives and relic lands to reconstruct exactly what life used to look like here over the past 10,000 years - see for yourself in her Seminar for Long Now on 10/17/11 and in her new book, A STATE OF CHANGE: Forgotten Landscapes of California.


5.  South Carolina
Hello, sunshine!
How not to sell a state that’s feeling the pinch

IT’S a great day in South Carolina, and if you don’t believe it, ask Governor Nikki Haley. On September 27th the governor ordered the 16 directors of cabinet agencies under her direct control to change the way their employees answer the telephone. So now when phoning, say, the Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services or the Department of Employment and Workforce, callers are supposed to hear this cheery greeting: “It’s a great day in South Carolina. How may I help you?”

Ms Haley says the new greeting will boost the morale of state workers and help her to sell the state. “It’s part of who I am,” she declares. “As hokey as some people may think it is, I’m selling South Carolina as this great, new, positive state that everybody needs to look at.”

The blogosphere has been inundated with people mocking the new salutation and proposing alternative greetings. One suggestion: “It’s still better here than Mississippi. How can I help you?” Another was more explicit: “Thank you for calling South Carolina where unemployment is high, morale is low and political leaders are very busy wasting your resources. How may I direct your call?”
Excerpted from The Economist




7.  Copernicus’s cosmos

Oh heavens, no

How one man took on the church

Sep 24th 2011 | from The Economist
 See the revolution of the times
A More Perfect Heaven: How Copernicus Revolutionised the Cosmos
. By Dava Sobel.

THE common rule in biography is that the more important the subject, the heavier the tome—with both pages and piety. Dava Sobel flouts this convention. Famous for her delightfully quirky books on the history of science, starting with the 1995 bestseller, “Longitude”, she delivers here a refreshingly fast-paced and breezy account of the life of Nicolaus Copernicus, the Polish cleric who knocked the Earth from its perch at the centre of the solar system and put the sun in its place.

Ever since Claudius Ptolemy published the “Almagest” in the second century AD, almost all astronomers had believed that the Earth lay at the centre of the universe. The sun, the planets and the stars supposedly revolved around it once a day. It was a faith reinforced by common sense, a reverence for the wisdom of antiquity, and its resonance with Christian mythology. Geocentrism fit with several passages in the Bible, and with the church’s view of the world more generally, which held that the Earth, as the abode of God’s greatest creation, sat at the centre of everything. Ptolemy’s model was complex, with planetary orbits modified by smaller orbits (called epicycles), but it fit with observations, and could even be used to predict what the night sky would look like at an arbitrary date in the future.

It is not known when the idea of a sun-centred cosmology came to Copernicus. He was not the first to dream it up: Aristarchus of Samos, a Greek astronomer, proposed something similar around 250BC, although no details of his system survive. Copernicus’s first speculations on the subject appear in a 40-page booklet printed before 1514, which he circulated to some friends and colleagues. Although he continued to refine the theory, he was reluctant to publish, either because he feared ridicule for such an outlandish suggestion, or because he worried about a reaction from the church. Indeed the church would imprison Galileo Galilei, an Italian astronomer, for advocating the sun-centred model of the universe a century later.

But Copernicus did eventually publish his celestial theory at the end of his life. One person seems to have been instrumental in persuading him to go ahead, a scholar called Rheticus, or Georg Joachim von Lauchen, a young mathematician who arrived on Copernicus’s doorstep in 1539 and spent two years as his pupil.

In her introduction, Ms Sobel writes that she has long been fascinated by this meeting. She uses the book to imagine what took place between the two men, presenting it in the form of a play. The scarcity of surviving evidence gives Ms Sobel some poetic latitude. Readers are treated to a demonstration of an arcane machine, subplots involving pederasty and concubinage, and a conspiracy to hide Rheticus’s presence (he was a Lutheran) from the Catholic bishop of Varmia. Rheticus ultimately overcomes his own doubts about Copernicus’s theory and manages to persuade his host to commit his ideas to paper.

“A More Perfect Heaven” does a good job of giving the flavour of life in Reformation-era Europe, at least among its intellectual elite. But there is strangely little discussion of the intellectual underpinnings of Copernicus’s system of the world, and of the meticulous observations that eventually convinced him that Ptolemy was wrong. It was a giant leap suddenly to argue that the Earth orbits the sun, rather than the other way around, particularly without telescopes. Imagine trying to deduce this with the naked eye, a sextant and little else. Then imagine the difficulties of defending it against the obvious criticisms in an era before mathematically rigorous physics: why are we not flung from the Earth if it spins round so fast? Why are there not hurricane-force winds? That Ms Sobel overlooks these questions is a shame, since it rather undervalues an immense intellectual achievement and leaves a noticeable hole in an otherwise excellent book.



The Greatest Grandeur
Some say it’s in the reptilian dance
of the purple-tongued sand goanna,
for there the magnificent translation
of tenacity into bone and grace occurs.
And some declare it to be an expansive
desert—solid rust-orange rock
like dusk captured on earth in stone—
simply for the perfect contrast it provides
to the blue-grey ridge of rain
in the distant hills.
Some claim the harmonics of shifting
electron rings to be most rare and some
the complex motion of seven sandpipers
bisecting the arcs and pitches
of come and retreat over the mounting
Others, for grandeur, choose the terror
of lightning peals on prairies or the tall
collapsing cathedrals of stormy seas,
because there they feel dwarfed
and appropriately helpless; others select
the serenity of that ceiling/cellar
of stars they see at night on placid lakes,
because there they feel assured
and universally magnanimous.
But it is the dark emptiness contained
in every next moment that seems to me
the most singularly glorious gift,
that void which one is free to fill
with processions of men bearing burning
cedar knots or with parades of blue horses,
belled and ribboned and stepping sideways,
with tumbling white-faced mimes or companies
of black-robed choristers; to fill simply
with hammered silver teapots or kiln-dried
crockery, tangerine and almond custards,
polonaises, polkas, whittling sticks, wailing
walls; that space large enough to hold all
invented blasphemies and pieties, 10,000
definitions of god and more, never fully
filled, never.

~ Pattiann Rogers ~
(Firekeeper: New and Selected Poems)

Here Comes Trouble by Michael Moore - review in Guardian Weekly 07.10.11
As his 'anti-autobiography' shows, Michael Moore clearly thinks of himself as a saint

The publicity bumf for this "anti-autobiography" from the author and film-maker boasts that its format is "breaking the autobiographical mould". That's not completely true. Here Comes Trouble, as the seminary-schooled Moore will be only too aware, fits into a well-established literary tradition. It's a contribution to the lives-of-the-saints genre, its principal innovation being that its author is also its subject.
    I'm serious. It's all there, in mythic (that is, semi-fictional) form: miracles and parables; early signs of being marked out by God; precocious insight and courage in telling truth to power; and the foot-washing humility of the ordinary hardscrabble guy from Flint, Michigan. How else do you explain, for instance, a chapter called "A Blessing" which opens, with no apparent sign of humour "My priest had a confession he wanted to make to me", and whose pivotal moment comes in the positively biblical two-word paragraph: "I spoke."
Where I say "semi-fictional", by the way, I'm not sneering: that is Moore's own position. He says in a foreword: "This is a book of short stories based on events that took place in the early years of my life. Many of the names and circumstances have been changed to protect the innocent, and sometimes the guilty."
The disclaimer cuts both ways. It gives him licence to invent and embellish – but it also gives the reader licence to doubt. When he reports that, as he travelled through security on the way back from the Academy Awards, "Homeland Security officials purposefully keyed my Oscar, scratching long lines into its gold plate", you think: really?
Scenes are coloured by hack-novelistic detail – "I took a deep breath, staring at the photo, then looking away, and then looking at him. His dark eyes seemed even darker now" – and dialogue is fancifully reconstructed. There's verbatim recall of the conversation Moore had, aged 11, when he got lost in the Capitol building and bumped into Bobby Kennedy. There's verbatim recall of the admiring phone call he took from John Lennon not long before the latter's death. The above-mentioned "A Blessing" is an eight-page Socratic dialogue with the priest who blessed the Enola Gay before its mission to Hiroshima.
The overwhelming impression is that – as with stories of saints' lives – these tales have been adapted or embellished from reality to illustrate a greater, spiritual truth. (Which is, of course, a cousin of the instrumentalist defence advanced in support of the more tendentious aspects of Moore's documentary-making.) They are, duly, arranged more issue-by-issue than chronologically.
There's the one in which Moore sees firsthand the pain that intolerance of homosexuals causes (the local gay teen dances to Motown, plays with his mum's make-up, is ostracised, lashes out viciously, runs away, later kills himself). There's the one in which Moore helps rescue a female friend when a backstreet abortion nearly kills her (at the hospital, he has the presence of mind to lecture a doctor on progressive civics: "It's not a baby. She was ten weeks pregnant. It was a foetus. If Michigan wasn't so backward, she wouldn't be lying in there like that. That's all I'm mad about. Thank you for helping her.")
There's the one in which he founds an alternative paper, the Flint Voice – "a true muckraking paper that didn't care who it pissed off … our journalism was hard-hitting and relentless" – and defies the corrupt local mayor and corrupt police to inspire a national change in the law protecting newsrooms from police harassment.
There's one in which he eyeballs Richard Nixon, one in which he outwits any number of German neo-Nazis to picket Ronald Reagan, one in which he disrupts his class graduation ceremony to deliver a spontaneous lecture on disability rights and discrimination. There's the one in which he goes on a "journalism fellowship" to the Middle East sponsored by an Arab-American PR outfit (that's, I think, a fancy way of describing a freebie) and nearly gets blown up by Abu Nidal. There's the one in which – confronted by a suicidal lunatic with a shotgun at the (maverick, progressive) counselling service he founded – he disarms the man simply through the power of his words and his ordinary blokeness, sending him off into the night with his shotgun unloaded and a fresh sense of their common humanity.
There's even one in which, aged 17, he singlehandedly brings an end to institutional racism in the United States. Noting that the Elks – a club with a Caucasians-only policy, then still legal for private organisations – were sponsoring a school speech competition in honour of Abraham Lincoln, the young Moore stepped up to the plate on behalf of the Great Emancipator and delivered a withering denunciation of the Elks. He won the competition, had to redeliver his speech to the unsuspecting Chief Elk in a huge public ceremony, and soon after was turning down invitations to appear on CBS with Walter Cronkite. The resulting national outcry did for the private-members exemption. "My speech was occasionally cited as a spark for this march forward in racial fixing in the great American experiment," he admits, "but there were other speeches far more eloquent than mine." Shucks!
Moore was conceived, he tells us, after his mother made a pilgrimage to the shrine of Sainte-Anne de Beaupré in Quebec and climbed the stairs of the basilica on her knees (reputed to help barren women conceive). Baby Michael was a rebel from the off. Other kids crawled forwards, but this maverick little thing crawled backwards. And, boy, was he smart! His mom had him reading the newspaper and doing maths while the other kids were still struggling with crayons.
Where it gets really strange is in the chapter called "Pietà". In 1965 his mother took the family to the New York World's Fair, where at the Vatican City pavilion a Michelangelo Pietà was on display. While his contemporaries munched their corn-dogs, or did whatever normal children do, 11-year-old Mike was transfixed by the sculpture – insisting on being allowed to rejoin the nearly hour-long queue to see it not once but twice more. The chapter ends with a rather moving account of his mother's death, and a photograph of the author as a baby cradled in her arms. I'm sure Moore doesn't actually think he's Jesus, but "Pietà" certainly makes that interpretation available.
To say Moore's incessant boasting is annoying is not an attack on his politics. I think he is, broadly, a good thing. I remember watching Fahrenheit 9/11, well aware of the criticisms that had been levelled against it – incoherence, tendentiousness, a free hand with context – and still thinking: wow, if even 50 per cent of this is true, it's a damn good thing we know about it. I feel the same way here: if even 50 per cent of what he boasts of having done, he did, he's a better man than me.
His outlook on the world is what most of us will consider sound. He's in favour of state-subsidised healthcare and homosexual equality. He's in favour of the rights of labour to organise against capital and of women to organise against unwanted foetuses. He's against Jim Crow laws, expeditionary wars and teenagers taking assault rifles to school. Only in a country where a large number of citizens think the New York Times is staffed by socialists could Michael Moore look like a dangerous radical. That's all the more reason to be glad that he enjoys the prominence and acclaim he does.
But there's no political analysis in here. Like a short-story writer (rather than, say, a left-wing historian), Moore sees history advancing through personal epiphanies and turning points. Nixon's behaviour in Vietnam, for instance, acts on the nation like original sin: "We lost our moral compass with him and we've never gotten it back … Before Nixon there was so much hope. Since Nixon we have known only the Permanent War."
There's no real self-examination either: only a series of warm recollections of how courageous, indomitable and ahead of his time he is. Yet also, y'know, strangely humble. Were you aware that Rob Reiner said his film would have "the impact of Uncle Tom's Cabin"? And that it's "the largest-grossing documentary in the history of cinema, and the largest-grossing Palme d'Or winner ever (a list of winners that included films like Apocalypse Now and Pulp Fiction)"? I know – amazing!
The purpose of every story here is not to enlighten or surprise, but to redound to the credit of Michael Moore. You wish him every success in fighting the good fight. But you can't help wishing, too, that he wasn't such a douche-nozzle about it.

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