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, November 15, 2011


1.   Oakland needs you to help plant trees
2.   Contribute matching funds to help Save The Frogs
3.   Laurel Hill Playground this Saturday, the 19th - plant native plants that used to grow here
4.   Diablo Valley College plant sale - with corrected URL
5.   SFPUC residential recycled water Open Houses in east side SF Nov 15, 17
6.   Silly you; you thought companies existed to make products - another bubble forming
7.   Animals conned by plants into performing sex for them, and other devious manipulations
8.   Feedback: Daylight Savings Time/E.O. Wilson
9.   The Biogeography of Rats and Their Quest for Global Domination
10. The world is a blurred vision of itself - Jane Hirshfield
11.  Jepson Herbarium 2012 workshops
12.  LTEs: financial state v. climate/lying/population growth/one-child policy
13.  Rick Perry, Herman Cain and the Stockdale Paradox
14.  The Buddha's Last Instruction, Mary Oliver
15.  A week's worth of A Word A Day, all in one sentence
16.  The beauty of west Texas in video

1.  The Northern Alameda Group of the SF Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club has assumed tree-planting duties in Oakland following the layoff of 75% of the tree department. "We expect this work to continue until the city is able to rehire its tree workers so that new trees can be planted with public staff that is now much smaller and consumed with removing dead and injured trees only," said Arthur Boone, tree team leader. The team has planted 354 trees since January of last year and receives financial support from a fund created by Councilmember Jane Brunner. Additional volunteers are useful almost every Saturday from November through June; work is 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Contact Boone at 510/910-6451 or


2.  Help SAVE THE FROGS Win $100,000!
Dear Jake,
This is one of the most important emails I have ever sent out. Chase Bank is currently holding their annual Chase Community Giving Contest in which the Top 100 charities based on votes all win $25,000...and the winner receives $100,000. SAVE THE FROGS! needs to win this contest to grow our movement and keep frogs from going extinct. Winning this contest would DOUBLE our annual budget and kick our campaigns into hyperdrive. So please help's easy:
Please vote for SAVE THE FROGS! right now, right here!
Note that voting ends November 22nd, and you must have a Facebook account to vote. Even if you don't have a Facebook account you can still help by printing and posting the flyer in this email.

Here's How You Can Spread The Word
If you help us get even 5 of your friends to vote for us, you drastically increase our chances of success. We need your help spreading the word so that SAVE THE FROGS! wins $100,000 for our worldwide amphibian conservation efforts. Please put in an hour or two between now and November 22nd to ensure that we win this contest and thereby DOUBLE our annual budget. This is incredibly important to amphibian conservation efforts. Please help spread the word using the icons, flyers and wisdom below. Thanks!
Post this flyer at your school or office
Download the 8.5" x 11" PDF of this flyer by left-clicking and saving to your computer. Print and post! You can also download the jpeg of the image by right clicking and saving image. This image can be distributed online via your website or FB page, linked to:


3.  Hi Jake,
A work day will be held at Laurel Hill Playground (LHP):
Sat., Nov. 19, 9am - noon
On Collins at Euclid Avenue

Every other third Saturday, there is a workday at LHP.
We will be clearing for future plans for native plants that used to grace Laurel Hill Playgrounds which was the quarry of Laurel Hill Cemetery.

Over the last year, we've planted Blue Blossom, Lizard Tail and Sticky Monkeyflower.  Please joins "Friends of Laurel Hill" in collaboration with the San Francisco Parks Alliance who has managed to outreach to volunteer groups to help out on this wonderful historic native plant restoration project.  It is hoped that one day the area will be cleared for the manzanitas which once were a stronghold here since Alice Eastwood's days.

Join us for some fun!  Any questions, please contact at this email ID:  Rose.SF(at)


4.  Bert Johnson:
Hi Jake,I just wanted to let you know that I tried to email Stew Winchester at the email left on your site under item 9 of November 12 newsletter, and the "period" at end of net is in error and should be deleted.  I wanted to remind you of this so that Stew can be properly and deservingly contacted from his many admirers to show support for both him and his world renowned talent and contributions to the field of  California horticulture and education.  It is ridiculous that the "college" does not place him on their permanent budget and give him the security and permanent financial support that he so deservingly deserves.  I consider Stew as one of the great talents in our bay region, and his talents and contributions are obviously out of the "spotlight" of college administrators and budget decisions-what a shame.  Please make sure Stew's email is correct for this reason.  By the way Jake, you are also one of my plant heroes and your newsletter is both desired and essential to my daily life routine.  Thank you for this treat.  Sincerely.  Bert Johnson
Diablo Valley College Winter Plant Sale
Friday  November 18,  12 - 5 p.m.
Saturday  November 19, 9:00 a.m. - 1 p.m.

Thousands of Natives, Roses, Winter Vegetables, Herbs, Berries,
Ornamental Trees, Shrubs, Salvias, & Succulents at low prices!
Returning to Fall 2010 prices!
Covered shopping! Rain or Shine!
Gallon can, $4, 4" pot, $2.50, annual plants, $1, 5 gallon can $12.
Checks and cash only.

Horticulture Department
321 Golf Club Road, Pleasant Hill
(925) 685-1230

Plant sales support the horticulture program at DVC, including Stew Winchester's legendary botanical field classes.
For more information, please contact Stew Winchester at


5.  The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission invites you to learn about recycled water and how we can use recycled water in neighborhoods in the eastern side of San Francisco

Open Houses will be held in November, both at 6 pm:

November 15 - Southeast Community Facility - 1800 Oakdale
November 17 - Mission Bay Visitor Center - 255 Channel

Each Open House will include the same materials and information about our local water supply program and how recycled water can benefit our city.


6.  Wall Street's bubble machine, by Steve Pearlstein, Washington Post (excerpted)

Financialisation has brought higher prices and increased volatility

Silly you. You actually thought companies existed to make products and profits. You thought houses were meant to provide a place for people to live and office buildings a place for people to work. You thought food was meant to be eaten, oil and gas to be turned into energy, and metals to be turned into cars, bridges and downspouts.

You weren't sophisticated enough to realize that these really are just different "asset classes" meant to give investors something to speculate in and to diversify their portfolios.

Even worse, you actually believed that stuff about prices being set based on market fundamentals. Little did you know that it's no longer the supply and demand for companies, houses, office buildings, natural gas or wheat that sets prices. More likely it's the supply and demand for the futures, swaps and other derivative instruments linked to those things.

Maybe they thought we wouldn't notice that the financialisation of the economy brought with it higher prices and a more volatile economy, along with higher profits for the financial services industry.

The latest example is commodities:  corn, wheat, cotton, silver, copper, oil, natural gas. In the past decade, hundreds of billions of dollars have flooded the market, largely through swaps contracts and commodities index funds, ETFs and mutual funds.

These markets have long since outgrown their original function of providing producers and consumers of these commodities with a way to hedge their risks by guaranteeing supply and locking in prices. All futures markets require a certain number of speculators to take the other side of the contracts from commercial users and producers. Typically, these speculators would represent 30% of the participants in a healthy market.

But today, because of a sudden desire to earn higher returns and diversify investment portfolios, there are more people wanting to invest in corn and copper and oil than there is corn and copper and natural gas produced and consumed. No problem. The financial wizards on Wall Street have magically conjured up synthetic corn and copper and West Texas oil so that speculators can provide hedging opportunities for other speculators.  Instead of 30% of the market, these "passive investors" typically account for 70% or more.

Who are these new passive investors, as they are politely called? They are pension funds and university endowments whose overpaid consultants tell them that if they want to earn big returns like Harvard and Yale, they have to put money into "alternative" investments such as private-equity funds, hedge funds, real estate investment trusts and commodity pools.

More recently, however, they have been joined by individual investors turned off by the stock market and looking for higher returns than they can get from money market funds. While in the past, small, unsophisticated investors have been unable to invest in risky and volatile commodities, the financial services industry has rushed in to satisfy new demand .

Because most new investors hope to ride the commodities boom caused by a weak dollar and a strong China, there is an imbalance in the futures and swaps market - more people are betting prices will go up than down. That asymmetry has the effect of driving futures prices even higher, bringing more investors into the long side of the market - the herd effect common on many markets.

...Earlier this year, the chief executive of ExxonMobil, Rex Tillerson, estimated that speculation was then contributing an extra $30 a barrel to the price of oil.  No less an expert on coffee prices than Howard Schultz, chief executive of Starbucks, blames "financial speculators" for driving up the price of your double-skim espresso macchiato.

What's clear is how little the financial services industry has really changed since the crisis of 2008. The financialisation of the economy continues undeterred, creating a bubble in commodities just as it did with houses and office buildings.

The industry is still engaged in clever games to circumvent regulation, increase risk and find the cracks between one regulatory agency and another. When regulators step in to try to restore some sanity, they inevitably run into a political buzzsaw created by the industry.

You can bet what's left in your retirement fund that there's about to be a commodities bubble, one that will generate big fees for Wall Street and leave a mess for everyone else.


7.  Jan Blum:
Imagine how this might be able to help with "Sudden Oak Death" in time to actually stop the onslaught before it got to killer stage.  Like everything else in our world, it comes down to having the money.

...Remember Molly Ivins’s needle-witted quip about a Texas Congressman: “If his I.Q. slips any lower, we’ll have to water him twice a day”? She clearly misjudged the acumen of plants. Plants are not mild-mannered. Some can be murderous, manipulative, seductive, deceitful, venomous, unscrupulous, sophisticated and downright barbaric.
Since they can’t run after a mate, they go to phenomenal lengths to con animals into performing sex for them, using a vaudeville trunk full of costumes. For instance, some orchids disguise themselves as the sex organs of female bees so that male bees will try to mate with them and leave wearing pollen pantaloons. Since they can’t run from danger, they devise a pharmacopeia of poisons and an arsenal of simple weapons: hideous killers like strychnine and atropine; ghoulish blisterers like poison ivy and poison sumac; slashers like holly and thistle waving scalpel-sharp spines. Blackberries and roses wield belts of curved thorns. Each hair of a stinging nettle brandishes a tiny syringe full of formic acid and histamine to make us itch or run....

(OK, but don't underestimate Homo.  We're pretty good at turning things to our advantage--eg, using those same plant defense compounds to make us healthier, such as the antioxidants so important to us, vitamins, drugs, &c, then turning on the plants and animals, causing their demise. 

[Hmm, better think about this some more.]

We are such spendthrifts with our lives, the trick of living is to slip on and off the planet with the least fuss you can muster. I’m not running for sainthood. I just happen to think that in life we need to be a little like the farmer, who puts back into the soil what he takes out. – Paul Newman


8.  Feedback

Alice Polesky:
Loved your excerpt about daylight savings time, Jake. My husband, Nick, is a fierce opponent of daylight savings time. Once, when Nick was with a friend in Petts Wood, which is close to our place in Bromley in the UK and where there is a sundial commemorating Willett's "contribution," Nick put his hand on the sundial and said "I don't agree with daylight savings time." He actually felt a frisson, but stood his ground. I'm forwarding the Scientific American piece that you excerpted to Nick, and it might just make his day.

Hans Weber:
Hello Jake:
Have you seen EO Wilson's opinion in The Scientist? It's worth sharing; we know far too little about the incredible biodiversity of our planet--and are losing some of it, at least the macroscopic part. Of microbial species we know only a tiny fraction--although microbes have been estimated to constitute about 90% of the ocean's biomass.
Thank you for your eclectic newsletters, I do enjoy them!
Hans:  I am very familiar with E.O. Wilson; he is an icon in the biological/scientific world.

Regardless of what he says in public, he, like all biologically-literate people, is in near-despair over what we are doing to the natural systems that support our welfare--even our existence.  Everyone who looks at what is going on is anxious beyond ability to articulate.  The industrial world with its necessity to grow and consume more and more incessantly can end only in destruction, and we are seeing that happening.  The insensate machine is unable to correct itself and must crash.

I muse on the financial/economic collapse we are experiencing.  If there is any possibility of saving ourselves it could be only through a collapse of the destructive system, and I wonder if that is what will emerge out of the wrenching experience we are launched on.  The correction will be exceedingly painful and frightening, but it must happen.  The question is will there be enough left afterwards to support the multi-billions of us, even at a modest level.
I'm also quite familiar with Wilson's writings and have long admired his research and views. I even read his novel, Anthill, which creatively combines autobiographic, research, and fictional elements.
I fully agree with you about humanity's disastrous course into the future and blame a large part of our destructiveness on our irrational nature and on militant intolerance of views different from our own. Christian zealots are as much to blame as islamic fundamentalists.
Après nous le déluge!
You may be trying to simplify something that ain't, Hans.  These faults long preceded either Christ or Mohammed.  You should have stopped at "our irrational nature", which says it all.  (Sorry for this mini-rant; I hope you will indulge me, as you've triggered thoughts that occupy my mind these days.)

The older I get the more aware I am of how complex we human beings are.  Also--and this makes us uncomfortable--that we all have these destructive traits within us.  I would like to stick it to the religious zealots, but there are things about me, too, that I am discovering won't bear close examination. 

For the last few years I have become obsessed with history.  It is unfortunate that we no longer place much value on its study.  Although it doesn't necessarily repeat itself, you do see common patterns over and over.  What has happened in the past informs and illuminates situations today.  For us, everything is now.  We have lost the sense that people have faced these problems before, and how they were handled holds lessons for us. 

I find the richest lessons for the least amount of time spent is offered by ancient Greece.  It was an amazing period in human history and everyone who studies it cannot help but be impressed with its achievements.  Periclean Athens was almost 500 years before Christ, 1000 years before Mohammed, and religion played little role in its fratricidal warfare.  It makes both inspiring and depressing reading.  You cannot blame the strife on conditions particular to that time or place; it is clear it came from our aggressive and irrational nature.  It is a hard and painful lesson for me to learn, and I would deny it if I could.

What makes it doubly sad is that the Greeks were probably the most self-aware people ever.  It was not just the poets and dramatists who laid bare the deepest layers of our psyche; over the entrance to the oracle at Delphi as the inquirer passed under the temple colonnade, and before he stepped into the inner sanctum, he would have seen some letters carved into the portico:  gnothi seauton—“know thyself”.  It was a value honored throughout the Greek world, and that was what Socrates was all about.  (An aside:  The dreadful aftermath of their defeat in the Peloponnesian war left Athenians in no mood for probing questions from nosey gadflies, and put an end to his questions.)

To get to the nitty-gritty of applying it to one's life, try this:  You are what you hate

Oooh, that hurts.  No wonder we resist knowing ourselves.

Enough; I'm getting preachy.
Thank you, Jake, I accept your discourse knowing that I have simplified our complex nature, which can easily accommodate rational with irrational thinking, as exemplified by many religious scientists, ie, rational thinkers. History also interests me, as it illuminates human nature. Thinking back to my school years in Switzerland, history classes held little interest to me and my 20 classmates. History was a compulsory subject like Latin, French, English, geography, physics, chemistry, biology, etc. Even religion was a compulsory subject but was limited to readings of the old testament which bored almost everyone in our class.
My interest in history grew only later in life, during a career of medical writing dealing with chemistry, life sciences, and medicine. Growing up in a family that did not go to church, I became an atheist early in my life and have often wondered why monotheistic religions have so many followers. The Greeks and other ancient cultures had many gods, good and bad ones, and it came natural to attribute otherwise unexplainable phenomena to one of these gods or demons. To attribute everything to one supreme being looks like an unbearable overload, a huge simplification that stops any further inquiry. Could that make monotheistic religions more intolerant than polytheistic beliefs?
Back to your conclusion: I am what I hate. Does "hating" intolerance make me intolerant?
I would say yes, it does.  Hating is unhealthy and damages the hater, not the hatee, the supposed object of the hater.

Your point about monotheistic religions is good and, I suspect, valid.  I don't know how the Greeks could possibly have believed in all those gods.  However, even Zeus was not all powerful, and Hera, Aphrodite, or Apollo, eg, could sometimes thwart his will.  Not the stuff to inspire zealots, is it?


9.  EVOECOLAB: The Biogeography of Rats and Their Quest for Global Domination

"It seems that everywhere you find a group of humans, you’ll find a clan of rats hiding in the shadows. This history seems born out of opportunity for the rat, but we’ve done our part to help them get around the world rather easily. This commensalism – a relationship where one species benefits, but the other receives little or no harm – is probably the result of the sloppy nature of humans. It appears we’ve never been very good at properly stowing our trash!..."


Autumn Quince

How sad they are,
the promises we never return to.
They stay in our mouths,
roughen the tongue, lead lives of their own.
Houses built and unwittingly lived in;
a succession of milk bottles brought to the door
every morning and taken inside.

And which one is real?
The music in the composer's ear
or the lapsed piece the orchestra plays?
The world is a blurred version of itself --
marred, lovely, and flawed.
It is enough.

~ Jane Hirshfield ~

(Of Gravity & Angels)


11.  Dear Friend of the Jepson Herbarium,
The 2012 Jepson Herbarium Workshop schedule (and a link to registration information) is now available online at:

The full-color brochure is currently being printed and will arrive in your mailbox in a few weeks.

We have great programs planned for next year, including Wetland Restoration, Seaweeds of Central California, and a Late-season visit to the White Mountains.

From now  until November 20, workshop registration is open only to Friends of the Jepson Herbarium. Registration will open to the general public November 21, so act quickly to ensure you get a spot in your favorite course.


12.  LTEs, The Economist

The great British weather

SIR – Having read your article on economics and religion (“Holy relevance”, October 29th), I’d like to propose the weather as an historical indicator of a nation’s work ethic and prosperity.
If Britain enjoyed warm temperatures and 300 days of sun a year, would its people so easily accept enclosing themselves in a workshop, factory or office for eight or so hours every weekday, even if it led to increased prosperity? Isn’t life too short not to be enjoyed?

If the Greeks woke up four days out of five to find the sun was nowhere to be seen, with rain and wind more than probable, would they still opt for leisurely lunches on patios, noontime naps and short working days? One may as well stay inside and work, there’s little else to do.

How would these two countries’ economic destinies be different today had they gone through history with the other’s weather patterns?

Saro Agnerian

Fooling yourself

SIR – The real problem with mind-reading technology (“The terrible truth”, October 29th) is that we could no longer deceive ourselves.

Richard Spalding

SIR – Lying is not only at the heart of civilisation as you said but also at the heart of the human species. Telling fibs without being detected and detecting those told by others is key to our intelligence. And honestly, the truth is the most malleable of concepts.

Ranko Bon
Motovun, Croatia

SIR – Your coverage of global population growth missed one key point (“Now we are seven billion”, October 22nd) . While it is true that the world’s average family size has fallen dramatically in the past 40 years, a relatively small group of countries, including places like Afghanistan and Niger, continue to have between four and seven children on average and rapid population growth. These countries also happen to be poor, low on the Human Development Index, often treat women badly, and in some cases, like Somalia, are failed states spawning international terrorists.

You asserted “family planning appears to do little directly to control the size of families.” This is incorrect. Couples in virtually all societies have frequent sex, and therefore access to family planning is necessary to separate sex from childbearing. Most experts say that family planning has been critical in reducing family size in, for example, Iran and Bangladesh. You even mentioned in your briefing “A tale of three islands” that Bangladesh’s total fertility rate has “halved in 20 years”.

If foreign aid agencies invested heavily in voluntary family planning and girls’ education, then desperately poor countries with rapid population growth could escape from poverty and avoid becoming failed states.

Martha Campbell
Malcolm Potts
University of California, Berkeley  

SIR – Is China’s one-child policy really “a demographic disaster” as you say? When the policy was put in place some 30 years ago the official justification was that population growth interfered with economic development. They have proven that this is true, a fact not yet recognised in the West. Now they are talking of relaxing the policy because it is widely accepted by the urban Chinese whose lifestyles have vastly improved because of it.

Albert A. Bartlett
Professor emeritus of physics
University of Colorado, Boulder


13.  "Who am I?  Why am I here?"

The presence of candidates like Rick Perry and, to a lesser extent, Herman Cain, as candidates for president of the United States, evokes memories of James Stockdale, Ross Perot's (temporary) running mate in 1992.  Stockdale had Cain's refreshing openness, but none of Perry's obtuseness.  He had no business running for high political office--but neither did Perot, and hosts of others (some of which the voters actually elected president).  Stockdale:  "It was terribly frustrating because I remember I started with, "Who am I? Why am I here?" and I never got back to that because there was never an opportunity for me to explain my life to people."

Jim Collins explains the Stockdale Paradox at YouTube.  Basically, he says optimists fail because they set themselves up with unrealistic expectations that the horror of it all will be over by Christmas, or Easter, when in fact they don't know if or when it will be over.  So, to be successful in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, "You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be."  This is a quote from Vice Admiral James Bond Stockdale, who said " was the optimists who didn't make it out of North Vietnamese prison camp; they died of a broken heart."

"You can vote for whomever you want, but the government always gets in."


The Buddha’s Last Instruction

“Make of yourself a light,”
said the Buddha,
before he died.
I think of this every morning
as the east begins
to tear off its many clouds
of darkness, to send up the first
signal – a white fan
streaked with pink and violet,
even green.
An old man, he lay down
between two sala trees,
and he might have said anything,
knowing it was his final hour.
The light burns upward,
it thickens and settles over the fields.
Around him, the villagers gathered
and stretched forward to listen.
Even before the sun itself
hangs, disattached, in the blue air,
I am touched everywhere
by its ocean of yellow waves.
No doubt he thought of everything
that had happened in his difficult life.
And then I feel the sun itself
as it blazes over the hills,
like a million flowers on fire –
clearly I’m not needed,
yet I feel myself turning
into something of inexplicable value.
Slowly, beneath the branches,
he raised his head.
He looked into the faces of that frightened crowd.

~ Mary Oliver ~

(House of Light)


15.  A Word A Day (

This week had all the following words:  addlepated, apopemptic, scrobiculate, forficate, catawampus (or kattywampus, or several other variants), prompting this from a reader:
A lovely set of unusual words this week, which inspired a challenge to use them all in one sentence. Here's an effort on a topical subject:

"Berlusconi appeared somewhat addlepated during his apopemptic speech to the Italian parliament, his brow scrobiculate as the reality dawned of a forficate Europe and a political career now completely catawampus."

(All I know is I'm glad the buffoon is gone.  He may have done as much damage to the world as George W Bush, boggling as that thought is.)


16.  Wyman Meinzer graduated from Texas Tech

When he graduated, he moved back to a ranch near Benjamin so he could begin his photography.
He lived in a dugout for a few months, to be in the middle of the  roadrunners, coyotes, and snakes.
Tremendous work.

No comments:

Post a Comment