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.

Monday, November 7, 2011


1.   Can political systems cope with the strain of overpopulation?
2.   Empire of the Beetle: How Human Folly and a Tiny Bug Are Killing North America's Great Forests
3.   Santa's little helpers, a gift in time for Christmas from the U.S. Air Force
4.   Above and Below San Francisco Streets; In Search of Eradicated Landscapes - Nov 9
5.   Liam O'Brien wants your help finding Monarch butterfly clusters
6.   Footloose Forays with famed Michael Ellis at SF Naturalist Society Nov 10
7.   Pacifica Gardens native plant sale Sunday 13 Nov
8.   Urban Gardens to Open Range: The Present and Future of Bay Area Food Landscapes, Berkeley Nov 16
9.   Community Stewards of Heron's Head Park schedule
10. Merced Wild and Scenic River Plan Alternatives Workshop Nov 9 in the Presidio
11.  Composting in Occupy Wall Street
12.  Pithy George Orwell quotes
13.  More on crows
14.  Porgy & Bess in the Tenderloin this Friday noon
15.  Ebola scary? Just wait: The Viral Storm: The Dawn of a New Pandemic Age
16.  Jane Hirshfield: It is foolish to let a young redwood grow next to a house
17.  Did I die?  I had no idea.  Mark Twain wasn't the only one

1.  Child six billion hopes for peace as population races on to next milestone
Adnan Nevic, 12, hopes child 7 billion will see world peace. Is it possible in a world of growing competition for resources?

Adnan Nevic in Visoko. Photograph: Elvis Barukcic/AFP

...Although fertility rates have declined slightly from their 1960s peak, there is now a demographic "bulge", a boom in the number of young people, that will ensure growth continues at a clip for the next few decades. By around mid-century, if the predictions are right, population will for the first time in centuries begin a slow decline.

These are just guesses. Many experts believe the UN's nine billion to be a gross underestimate, and predict 11 billion or 12 billion as more likely.

Previous predictions have been too low: the UN's forecast in the early 1990s was that population would peak in 2050 at 7.8 billion, a level now virtually certain to be exceeded in the next 15 years.

This year, the seven billionth person will not be named; instead, the UN is merely celebrating the arrival on 31 October.

According to the UN, this is because all babies born around the time will be equally marked. But Adnan's family suspect the real reason may be embarrassment. His parents have been bewildered by the way the UN has behaved since singling out their only child for attention. Since that day, they have received almost no communication from the organisation and certainly no support.

"We saw Kofi Annan as almost like a godfather to him," says Adnan's father, Jasminko.

"He held me up when I was two days old, but since then we have heard nothing from them," says Adnan. The disappointment is palpable. Adan's father is unwell, and his pension and a small stipend paid by Sarajevo as long as Adnan remains in education are the family's only income.

For the boy singled out as the five billionth person, the story is remarkably similar. Matej Gaspar is also aggrieved at the way the UN picked him out at birth and then ignored him for the rest of his life. Adnan and Gaspar are friends on Facebook and have discussed what they regard as their unfair treatment.

It would not be surprising if the UN is touchy about its approach to population questions. For two decades, population concerns have been pushed to one side as governments have become increasingly sensitive about the issue.

There are several reasons – fear on the part of rich countries of being seen to attempt to control the fertility of developing nations; an emphasis on other problems, such as diseases, that seemed less intractable; and religion, which took population firmly off the international aid agenda for the whole of George W Bush's US presidency.

Even usually outspoken green groups have censored themselves on the subject, avoiding the question of whether the number of people on the planet has an impact on our ecology in favour of pointing out that the west consumes a far larger share of available resources than the south.

Some of this reticence is well-founded. Previous discussions under the heading of "overpopulation" implied that some of the world's inhabitants were surplus to requirements, an unpleasant suggestion that carried overtones of eugenics. Population experts lament that these fears prevented a frank discussion for years of whether we should be trying to curb the growth of population in our own interests.

Women's rights are central to this framing of the argument. Hundreds of millions of women around the world, but mainly in developing countries, have families bigger than they wish, because they are being denied the ability to control their own reproductive health, according to Population Action International.

Although the planet may be able to support billions more people than are forecast to join us, the question of how all of those new people can live decently, rather than in unnecessary misery, will not be answered by nature or technology but by politics.

Whether our political systems can cope with the strain – of competition for resources, of the distribution of Earth's natural wealth, of the potential for runaway climate change, and of the economic and social crises that will follow – without collapsing into destitution or war is a matter for conjecture.

Asked what he hopes for the seven billionth child, Adnan is unhesitating: "I wish that the birth of the seven billionth child brings peace to the planet."

From someone else, this might sound like a pious cliche. But from Adnan's fourth-floor bedroom window, you can look out to see another block of flats close by. More than 15 years after the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina officially ended, the walls still bear the scars of hundreds of bullets.

Guardian Weekly 28.10.11 (excerpt)

"I have endeavored to guard myself against the enthusiastic partiality which believes our civilization to be the most precious thing that we possess or could acquire, and thinks it must inevitably lead us to undreamt-of heights of perfection. I can at any rate listen without taking umbrage to those critics who aver that when one surveys the aims of civilization and the means it employs, one is bound to conclude that the whole thing is not worth the effort and that in the end it can only produce a state of things which no individual will be able to bear."  -Sigmund Freud, Civilization And Its Discontents

Asked what he thought of Western Civilization, Mahatma Gandhi said he thought it would be a good idea.


2.  Science News BOOK REVIEW:
Empire of the Beetle: How Human Folly and a Tiny Bug Are Killing North America's Great Forests, By Andrew Nikiforuk

It’s amazing that a small sackful of bark beetles, each no larger than a grain of rice, can in a matter of days kill a tree more than a century old. Yet maybe it’s not surprising, considering that these voracious pests descend upon forests in swarms that can easily weigh more than a pod of killer whales.

Nikiforuk, a Canadian journalist, chronicles the plague of bark beetles that in the last quarter-century has killed more than 30 billion pine and spruce trees from Alaska to New Mexico. No creatures except humans, he says, can change a landscape as dramatically and quickly.

Several factors have conspired to set the beetles free of their natural constraints. A century of fire suppression has nearly tripled the proportion of old trees, which don’t produce enough resin to create a gooey protective barrier against beetles. Climate change plays a role, too: Trees stressed by heat and drought can’t mount a strong defense against a beetle blitz, and winters in many infested regions are no longer cold enough to kill the pests in large numbers.

Nikiforuk draws on interviews with scientists, foresters and rural residents to paint a nuanced picture of beetle outbreaks and their long-term implications. By managing woodlands to maximize timber, humans have taken patchy and diverse forests and transformed them into all-you-can-eat smorgasbords for beetles. Although climate change has rung the dinner bell for hungry beetles, the author suggests, human arrogance has surely set the table.


3.  Mr Sigg, Were you aware of these toys being developed just in time for Christmas by Santa's little helpers?  Dan Richman
Air Force Keeps ‘Micro-Aviary’ Of Tiny, Bird-like ‘Bots, By Spencer Ackerman  November 2, 2011  |

If Air Force researchers have their way, the military’s next flying robots of doom will be tiny, and indistinguishable from the naked eye from small birds, bats or even insects. And they’ll take their first flight in a freaky “Micro-Aviary” in Ohio, where engineers make mini-machines modeled on those creatures of the sky.
Miniaturization is a major trend in drone tech. The Army’s new Switchblade drone is a semi-autonomous missile shot out of a mortar tube for kamikaze missions. Some robotic aircraft manufacturers, like the micro-machinists at AeroVironment, have even started experimenting with super-small drones that look like hummingbirds — and even dragonflies.
The Navy took the next step. Rather than merely modeling a drone chassis on a bird or insect, the Navy started studying the behavioral and migratory patterns of birds, fish and bats to develop a more realistic robot facsimile. The Air Force, however, is taking the step beyond that.
At the Micro-Aviary at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, researchers rig the walls with super-sensitive motion capture sensors that track a tiny plane or helicopter’s position ”within about a tenth of an inch,” according to researcher Greg Parker. Information from those sensors helps engineers develop “flapping-wing flight” drones — “very, very small flapping-wing vehicles,” in Parker’s phrase.

And how. One of the vehicles on display in the video above, released by the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Pat, is a robot dragonfly. It doesn’t appear to be much more than a circuit board, a super-tiny motor and two insect-like wings. And it fits, like a bug, on the tip of someone’s finger.
Fitting a camera on a drone that small is a the next hurdle that miniaturization tech will have to clear if the “Micro-Aviary’s” birds are to be practical. Another option: Engage in a little insect vivisection to create a swarm of spying cyborg bugs.
That extremely gross goal is the point of Darpa’s Hybrid Insect Micro Electromechanical Systems (HI-MEMS) program. To “provide control over insect locomotion” One researcher in 2008 inserted a mechanized system into a moth’s thorax during its larval stage. Insect tissue actually grew around the machine.
Still, that’s, er, gross. (Seriously, don’t click this link if you have a weak stomach.) The Air Force’s Micro-Aviary is a lot less creepy and arguably more practical. In a few years, the chirp you hear from the bird perched on the telephone line outside your apartment might be the whir of a robotic hummingbird as its camera adjusts its aperture.


Shaping SF Public Talk

Glenn Lym's "Above and Below San Francisco Streets — In Search Of Eradicated Landscapes"
NOV 9, WED at 7:30PM - FREE

It is a common assumption that street grids were imposed easily on San Francisco’s original landscape, resulting in the city’s photogenic hillside streets that poke up from otherwise large flat planes. Digging under the streets of early San Francisco, we will find that much of San Francisco’s flatland was created from land forms that were quite different from what we know today.

1310 Mission St.
San Francisco, California 94103

For More Information Check Out  -


5.  Help Me Find Monarch Clusters in SF County
As anyone who has taken one of my walks has heard me say "All of our eyes come into play today, whether you know your species of butterflies or not..." Well, I'm broadening the scope of that statement here and putting out a Call To Arms to the entire San Franciscan nature community as we enter the season when I survey the much celebrated return of Danaus plexxipus - the Monarch - throughout our county. I'm also assuming most everyone is familiar with this orange, showy glider...if not, visit my website: For the last few years, I've returned to historic roosts (overwintering sites): Fort Mason, Rob Hill/Presidio, Golden Gate Park for the monitoring program for the Xerces Society (results: and have searched in vain for the phenomenon of "clustering" in the eucalyptus trees. John Hafernik reported numbers in the hundreds in the late 90's. Of course, the low, single numbers I've been able to report have much more to do with a worldwide drop in this creature's presence in the last decade.  But I acknowledge that with all the Eucalyptus in town it is quite possible a cluster (a mass of numerous Monarchs hanging together, thermoregulating their body heat by proximity to one another) has been over my head and I've missed it.  I have hundreds of days in the field in San Francisco, yet I've still never been witness to this event. So...this is what I'd like: If you see a bunch of Monarchs (say, more than five, flying about together - usually on a southern facing wall of eucs) this might be a sign of a nearby cluster. Please don't contact me for the sighting of a single Monarch.  We are trying to figure out how many use our city to overwinter amass. The survey goes from November 20th - December 3rd. You can really be a part of citizen science here.

Editorial Soapbox Moment: And may I ask all of you to consider during this time (and, for that matter, the rest of the year) handing back any enveloped, live Monarch whenever you are at a wedding, or funeral, or sundry event and say, "No thanks." This garish fad has got to stop: the releasing of native birds was outlawed in 1947 and it's time we dignify butterflies for what they truly are: wildlife - not  party favors.  I dream of San Francisco becoming the first county in the nation to legally ban this vapid, absurd practice and multi-million dollar industry.  Can you just imagine what it does to the data of folks trying to still study the complex nature of this creature's worldwide migration?
I thank you all for your passionate "sets of eyes" in the weeks to come....Liam O'Brien

Photo taken 5 Nov 2011 on Albany Hill by Bill Shephard

San Francisco Naturalist Society
Thursday, November 10
Footloose Forays, with Michael Ellis.

Randall Museum, 199 Museum Way, San Francisco. 7:30-9 pm. Free and open to everyone.

Michael Ellis is well known for his Ask the Naturalist column in Bay Nature magazine and as a longtime contributor to the Perspectives series on KQED. He has also been a repeat guest on Michael Krasny's Forum program, most recently this last August: .

Since founding Footloose Forays in 1983, Michael has led over 10,000 people to see the planet's greatest natural wonders. His travels have taken him from the rainforests of the Amazon to the deserts of the Kalahari, from the wildflowers of Turkey to the wildebeest of the Serengeti, and from the mountains of Madagascar to the coral reefs of Micronesia.

Michael has broad expertise as a naturalist. A Bachelor's in Botany and Masters in Marine Biology were just the starting point to a lifelong study of nature. He's studied elephant seals at the Farallones, taught seminars on dragonflies, and birded from Alaska to Antarctica and everywhere in between. He is currently leading back-to-back trips through the Kalahari Desert, the Okavango Delta, and the mountains of Uganda and Rwanda.

For more information, go to or contact Patrick Schlemmer at or (415) 225-3830.


7.  Native Plant Sale

Sunday, November 13, 2011, 11 am - 3 pm
at Pacifica Gardens
830 Rosita Road, Pacifica, CA

Purchase Local Native Plants for your Garden!
Native plant consultants will be available to assist you with your plant selections.
All proceeds go directly to Pacifica Gardens, a non-profit urban agriculture project.


8.  What: "Urban Gardens to Open Range: The Present and Future of Bay Area Food Landscapes", a lively public forum at the David Brower Center to highlight and promote discussion of the possibilities for sustainable food production in the Bay Area.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011 at 7:30 PM
Goldman Theater, David Brower Center, 2150 Allston Way, Berkeley
Featured speakers are local farmers, food producers, and thought leaders in the sustainable agriculture movement.

Featured speakers:  Sue Conley, Cowgirl Creamery, Point Reyes; Jered Lawson, Pie Ranch, San Mateo Coast; Magdalena Ridley, LandPaths/Bayer Farm, Santa Rosa; Jason Mark, Earth Island Journal/Alemany Farm, San Francisco; Sibella Kraus, Sustainable Agriculture Education (SAGE)

Background: The Bay Area is known as the cradle of the environmental movement.  And it has been a major source of energy for the emerging movement for local,
sustainable food production. Now Bay Nature magazine is collaborating with Sustainable Agricultural Education (SAGE) and the Bay Area Open Space Council to bring these two vital movements closer together. "Local, organic, sustainable" are terms that sound good, but what do they mean to the people who actually
produce food in the Bay Area? This event will provide a forum for a lively discussion  with local producers and advocates on the joys and challenges of sustainable agriculture.

The forum follows Bay Nature's publication of an eight-page supplement and foldout map that gives a vivid picture of the Bay Area's local foodshed.  Urban Farms to Open Range: Putting Bay Area Food Landscapes on the Map is available as a standalone supplement or bound in to Bay Nature's recently published October-December issue:

$10 Donation requested from the public. Space is limited, so reservations are encouraged.  RSVP To:



Community Stewards of Heron’s Head Park,

This Saturday’s program activities will last from 9am-12pm and may include planting, weeding, and general care of HHP.  All tools and safety gear are provided.  Please wear layered clothing that can get dirty and don’t forget a refillable canteen for water.

Upcoming workdays:  December 10, January 14, February 11

Location of Heron’s Head Park:  Corner of Cargo Way and Jennings Street

Merced Wild and Scenic River Plan Alternatives Workshop
Wednesday, November 9, 2011, 5pm - 8pm
SF Film Center, Palm Room
39 Mesa Street In the Presidio
Click for event flier

We want to hear from you at this important stage of the planning process. Don't miss this opportunity to engage proactively in planning the future of Yosemite.

Golden Gate National Recreation Area has no direct affiliation with this project. We are simply extending the invitation on behalf of our sister park, Yosemite.


"Chaos often breeds life, when order breeds habit." –Henry Brooks Adams


12.  George Orwell:

"Who controls the past controls the future.  Who controls the present controls the past."

“In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible.” 


13.  LTE, Science News

Count on crows to know
Regarding “When birds go to town” (SN: 8/27/11, p. 26), I have observed other corvids that recognize a specific animal that has proven to be a threat. We had a cat that successfully caught a Steller’s jay chick. For the remaining five years of the cat’s life, she was a marked assassin! She could not leave the house without invoking a posse of jays constantly squawking and following her. We had a second cat who was at best a spider hunter. He was mostly unnoticed by the jays. Incidentally, we did not find him being followed by spiders.
Larry Sage, Truckee, Calif.

My father, whose vendetta against crows was legendary, always kept a shotgun by the back door. As hundreds of crows gathered each evening across the pond, he would grab the gun and “stealthily” sneak around the house, hoping to blast a few of “the dratted critters.” It was a joke among us kids, because the instant he peeked around the house, all the crows — with more racket than you can imagine — took off immediately. We began to experiment, sending my mom out with a broom using the same “sneaky” behavior exhibited by my father. The crows figured out the ruse immediately, sitting calmly on the ground or in the trees, drinking from the pond and generally thumbing their beaks at us.
Ann Harmer, Costa Mesa, Calif.

P.S. My father managed to kill only one crow in his 50-plus years on the property. The crows came and went with impunity.


The birds are back and making a killing
Guardian Weekly note

Ravens occupy a special place in our folklore.  Half a dozen are kept in the Tower of London, and it's said that if they ever leave, the kingdom will fall, which is why their wings are clipped.

Their cousins in the country have no such restrictions.  They are growing in numbers, which is good--but not for farmers.  They claim, in a Hitchcockian echo, that the huge, glossy black birds are ganging up on lambs and even calves, using their immensely strong bills to peck the poor animals to death.  The farmers want to kill the ravens, but the birds, once threatened with extinction, are protected by law.


14.  Opera in the Tenderloin? 
Well, not quite but please come to hear our local group - the San Francisco Recovery Theatre - put a special spin on the music of George and Ira Gershwin in their performance of Porgy and Bess.  The Concert is on Friday, November 11th, from 12:30 to 1:30 PM at the Historic Cadillac Hotel, 380 Eddy Street.  Please come to support our own special group!  For more information on the San Francisco Recovery Theatre please check out their website at


15.  The Viral Storm: The Dawn of a New Pandemic Age, by Nathan Wolfe

If you thought Ebola was scary, just wait.  Wolfe, a pandemics expert who has traveled to the sources of HIV and other deadly viruses deep in African forests, says that lots more nasty pathogens, ones you've never heard of, are out there.  They're lurking in monkeys, in bats, in animals that will be hunted and slaughtered and eaten. And when that happens, some of those bad boys will literally go viral.

Wolfe makes a convincing case for the threat, first walking readers through a world seen from the perspective of viruses and showing how they infect and spread.  Next he shows the developments in human evolution and culture that have made pandemics not only possible, but inevitable.  (You'll never look at roads quite the same way.)

Wolfe's own research has demonstrated the role of hunting and eating wild game in introducing new diseases into the human body.  The more closely related hunter and hunted are, the more likely a microbe will be able to adapt to its new host.  Already, as Wolfe details in scenes practically scripted for the next epidemic thriller, humans have picked up Nipah virus from pigs, HIV from chimps and Ebola (probably) from bats.

In later chapters, Wolfe details his work establishing monitoring networks aimed at catching pandemics before they start.  This effort is in its infancy, but it couldn't get better advertising than it does here.  Sometimes the scariest thrillers are those that could play out in real life.

Review in Science News



It is foolish
to let a young redwood
grow next to a house.

Even in this
one lifetime, you will have to choose.

That great calm being,
this clutter of soup pots and books-

Already the first branch-tips brush at the window.
Softly, calmly, immensity taps at your life.
        Jane Hirshfield, from Given Sugar, Given Salt, HarperCollins, 2001

Hirshfield published her first poem in 1973, shortly after graduating from Princeton as a member of the university’s first graduating class to include women. She put aside her writing for nearly eight years, however, to study at the San Francisco Zen Center. “I felt that I’d never make much of a poet if I didn’t know more than I knew at that time about what it means to be a human being,” the poet told Solari. “I don’t think poetry is based just on poetry; it is based on a thoroughly lived life. And so I couldn’t just decide I was going to write no matter what; I first had to find out what it means to live.” While Hirshfield does not use Zen terminology in her verse, she once told Contemporary Authors that “it is my hope that the experience of that practice underlies and informs it as a whole. My feeling is that the paths of poetry and of meditation are closely linked—one is an attentiveness and awareness that exists in language, the other an attentiveness and awareness that exists in silence, but each is a way to attempt to penetrate experience thoroughly, to its core.”


17.  Did I die?  I had no idea

by David McKie in Guardian Weekly

Reports of my death, like Mark Twain's, were exaggerated. Sadly there was no Guardian obituary

Lenin in 1918, speaking to crowds celebrating the first year of the revolution in Moscow's Red Square. In the same year he was wrongly reported to have died when a young woman shot him.

It was disconcerting to learn recently from a much used reference source that I had died on Friday August the 26th. True, one's memory gets more fitful as one grows older, but I didn't remember this happening. When I looked that day up in my diary, I found that I had noted it down as "a very empty day" when it rained and nothing much happened. Empty, perhaps, but not as empty as that. Still, there it was, in all its bleak finality, in a summary on Wikipedia: "David McKie (1935 – 26 August 2011) was a British journalist and historian."

The Guardian, I note, did not favour me with an obituary. That is all the more disappointing because in an ideal world we would all get a chance to read our obituaries while we still had the chance to suggest emendations, and even in extremis to ask for a right to reply.

A journalist friend whose obituary I compiled when he died a few years ago had prepared a fact sheet setting out the main events of his life, which his widow sent me, thus sparing me (and him) from at least two conspicuous errors. There are dozens of well-known cases of people who lived to discover what the world thought of them, usually because publication of the obituaries that newspapers, as is their habit, had prepared ahead of their deaths was accidentally triggered by false reports, confusion of names or malicious invention.

In 2003 CNN inadvertently opened its website to public inspection, thus revealing its verdicts on (among others) Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, Nelson Mandela and the comedian Bob Hope. There is, I hardly need add, a Wikipedia entry that marshals large numbers of victims, headed by Pope John Paul II, whose death was wrongly reported three times, and Bob Hope, to whom it happened twice.

My rule with Wikipedia during the life it so recently terminated has always been to regard it as a valuable gateway but not the final word on the subject. It's a pretty good practice to find a second source for its claims – though that is more difficult than it seems, since the second source has frequently lifted its information unchecked from Wikipedia.

Some of the entries here, though, are happily indisputable. There's no reason to doubt that Mark Twain, accidentally killed off in 1897 and again 10 years later, said that reports (not as often quoted, rumours) of his death had been exaggerated; we have these words in his handwriting. Osama bin Laden was certainly killed once or twice by wishful thinkers before it eventually happened (if it did, which some still deny).

There's good evidence that Ernest Hemingway liked to read his premature obituaries over a drink. The civil rights activist Marcus Garvey, though, had to complain to a paper that reported he had died "broke, alone and unpopular".

"It is said", I read on another website – we journalist/historians are always a bit uneasy with the formula "it is said" – the arms manufacturer Alfred Nobel would never have founded his peace prize but for a premature obituary saying he had grown rich "by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before".

One celebrity the websites seem to have missed is Lenin, who was wrongly reported to have died when a young woman shot him in Moscow in September 1918. As the Guardian nobly recalled on 2 September, just seven days after my death, the Manchester Guardian, while saying the death had not been confirmed, ran an editorial marking it: "Sooner or later his murder was expected, for he had enemies in his own country who seldom make mistakes … He was an uncompromising fanatic, but he was by far the strongest and ablest man produced by the Russian Revolution." He died, still unmurdered, in January 1924.

They also omit the crime writer Ngaio Marsh, prematurely killed off by me in 1982 when, having seen a report of her death in the London Evening Standard, I alerted the Guardian's obituaries editor who duly ran an appropriate piece. The dead woman, to whom I wrote to apologise, was generous and forgiving, saying it had been a real pleasure to read such a kindly account. She authentically died just a few weeks later.

Wikipedia, I see, welcomes corrections. Indeed, its section on premature obituaries accepts it is incomplete and appeals for more, well-sourced, entries. So now I shall write to correct their error, possibly pointing out as I do so that they've somehow missed out both my latest book and my unexpected summons to wear the No 10 shirt once reserved for Wayne Rooney in England's Euro 2012 campaign.

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