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, December 1, 2011


1.   Ta da!  Biodiversity now joins the portfolio of concerns in San Francisco
2.   Job opportunity: Director of Institute at the Golden Gate
3.   Feedback: Women in history/GGP soccer fields
4.   Rec-Park's soccer field pitch - please pitch back
5.   The earth is rude, silent, not discouraged
6.   Stargazing evening at Lands End, Saturday 3 December
7.   Holiday gift idea:  Instead of chocolates or necktie, Adopt An Acre
8.   Nature Sounds Society Listening Party and potluck Saturday 3 December, 5-9 pm
9.   Future of High Speed Rail in CA/using military expertise to dismantle San Clemente Dam
10. Emily Dickinson:  Hope is a thing with feathers
11.  Obama continues admitting non-citizens as cheap labor
12.  GAO report links Arizona wildfires to immigrants/largest aspen grove dying
13.  Help collect and monitor native oysters Dec 5-10
14.  Join GG Audubon Xmas bird count and other activities
15.  Empires of the world rise and fall - in 90 seconds
16.  Mark Twain, a complex man, born 30 November 1835

1.  SFEnvironment: A New Champion for Local Nature - by Damien Raffa

While most San Franciscans were eating dinner last Tuesday night an extraordinary event took place in a 4th floor chamber of City Hall. With a unanimous (and heroic) vote on the part of the City's Commission on the Environment, local biodiversity has now officially joined the portfolio of concerns addressed by SF Environment. With the sponsorship of Ruth Gravanis, Draft Resolution File No. 2011-05-COE was adopted as new policy: "acknowledging the importance of protecting, restoring and enhancing San Francisco's biodiversity and encouraging development staff to seek funding for biodiversity staffing and programs."

Given the visibility of this city department, this should come as great news for aficionados and stewards of urban nature. By expanding the team, both urbanites and nature stand to benefit in substantive ways:
-Supporting habitat conservation efforts around the city
-Preventing any additional local extinctions of native species
-Creating more opportunities for city-based families, schools and summer camps to experience their living natural heritage

"The environment" can be an abstract concept for many city dwellers. From a sustainability standpoint, what better way to inspire action on behalf of "the environment" than caring for local nature? Relationship with local nature offers a vital basis for a lifetime of an ever-evolving sense of place along with a gratifying practice of caring for the place we have chosen to inhabit.

Seven generations from now what will nature in the city look like? In the words of Joanna Macy, "Let us give praise for the work to be done."

Our home. Our city. Our planet. 


2.  Job opportunity - From Randi Fisher of Pisces Foundation:

I serve on the Board of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy. The nonprofit Parks Conservancy is seeking a Director to lead its Institute at the Golden Gate. Launched in 2008, the Institute at the Golden Gate, a program of the Conservancy in partnership with the National Park Service, works to ensure the relevance of parks and protected areas into the future, promotes best practices in preservation and education, advances cross sector approaches, and links parks, protected areas, and public lands to the needs of our time. I thought this position might be of interest to someone in your professional network and hope you will help us to circulate the position details.

California Environmental Associates (CEA) is conducting the search process for the Conservancy. If someone you know is interested in this leadership opportunity, or if you are able to suggest names or organizations for additional outreach, please contact Interested individuals can also view the complete position description and apply directly on this website:


3.  Feedback

Alice Polesky:
I was interested to see your quote from Charles Babbage. While Babbage's analytic machine is credited as being the world's first computer, he did not recognize its potential. That potential was recognized by Ada Lovelace, "the Enchantress of Numbers," as Babbage called her, and she is widely acknowledged as the first computer programmer. It was her notes, appended to her translation of an Italian mathematician's treatise on the analytic engine, that set forth and defined the engine as what we would call a "computer." A brilliant mind -- mathematical and scientific, she was friendly with -- and respected by -- some of the great male scientists of her day. They helped her to basically sneak into the Academy of Science, where women were not allowed, to do her research. I became aware of her from a book review I wrote many years ago for Betty Toole's biography of Lovelace: "Ada, the Enchantress of Numbers." Here's a link to the book:

Lovelace had an amazing life. She was the daughter of Lord Byron (it was ironic that you had a quote from Lord Byron immediately preceding your item about Babbage) and Anne Isabella Byron, herself a mathematician and by all appearances, a real bitch. I remember devouring the book -- I had no idea that any woman had set foot into computer technology until 1970. Here's the Wikipedia link to her life:

Lovelace died at 36. I had a surprise when I googled Ada Lovelace to refresh my memory; she's might be honored in a movie called -- you guessed it -- "The Enchantress of Numbers," and played by Zooey Deschanel.

Speaking of gorgeous movie stars and women inventors, I just read that Hedy Lamarr, who was so beautiful, was also a brilliant inventor, and in fact, a co-inventor (with George Antheil) of a technology that was the precursor to wireless technology.

I cannot imagine how anyone, man or woman, can come to terms with mathematics. I failed basic geometry.
Thanks for this yummy item, Alice.  Very late in life I am coming across talented and courageous women who were poorly recognized, if at all.  (One of these days I will post an item about my life as a sexist, now reformed.)

Even the recognized ones, like Marie Curie, were begrudged and didn't get their full due.  Others, like Emilie du Chatelet, had to be satisfied with what a stuck-in-the-mud society was willing to grant them.  Voltaire, her lover, recognized her intelligence and talent--he even felt inferior to her.  I posted an item about her several years ago, and I will exhume it some time.

Then there was Henrietta Swan Leavitt (whose research enabled Edwin Hubble et al to calculate the distances to stars), Aspasia (Pericles' consort - and talk of a sexist society, nothing could beat Athens), Heloise, Hildegarde of Bingen, Joan of Arc, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Eleanor Roosevelt, the many women in the Suffragette movement....and on and on. 

So keep them coming.  I didn't know about this batch you just sent.

P.S.  About Eleanor of Aquitaine, she was memorably portrayed by Katharine Hepburn (wasn't everything she did memorable?) in Lion in Winter.  At the time I saw it I thought the rivalry and maneuverings were excessive and over the top.  That opinion changed when I read about her life and the machinations she, her family, and her husband Henry II went through.  No one, not even one's own children and her husband, could be trusted.  Smart woman.  The movie, alas, was not exaggerated, even though wearying--like life.
You're welcome, Jake. I remember reading a biography about du Chatelet many years ago. I believe she was the one who introduced Isaac Newton's work to France.

There are probably many, many unacknowledged women in history. Their husbands, brothers, lovers, probably just took their work and claimed it as their own. Women had no rights, and were generally scorned as having no brains, no talents, no creativity. And the women stood for it, having had these "truths" impressed on them as soon as they emerged from the womb, and of course, god is a guy, no?** When one considers how little women are regarded in Asia even today -- in China and India especially, not to mention the Muslim countries, it's not surprising. And of course, a courageous woman who thought otherwise was always (and still is) at risk of having her body parts broken, sometimes by law.

I love "The Lion in Winter" and have seen it more times than I can count. It started me reading about the lives of Eleanor and Henry. What a pair.

Oh yeh, mathematics; forgot.  I have trouble, too. 

That doesn't keep me from being fascinated by it, however.  Some of those Greeks like Pythagoras, Plato, et al; Kepler and his romance with Music of the Spheres; Fibonacci--I get subliminal insights about the universe and the nature of reality from them.  It IS a mathematical universe.  I take comfort in that, even though I don't understand it.  And it is fundamental to physics, a subject of never-ending fascination and wonder.

I take many CD/DVD courses from The Teaching Company.  When the professor gets into pure mathematics--you know, irrational numbers and all that--I get lost.  I never finished one course; I just donated it to the public library.  But others, such as the History of Numbers are comprehensible to the layperson.  I wouldn't want to be without that peek into reality, and I am increasingly engrossed in human history, in which mathematics plays an important role.

**  "god is a guy, no?"  That reminds me of a joke in the 1950s: 
"I saw god last night."
"She's black."
I agree. The comprehension of mathematics is a talent and a gift, like composing music. But it just eludes me. I remember struggling with calculus. My polymath brother used to do my calculus homework without even working through the problems -- he just looked at them and instantly wrote the answers down.  I simply could not and cannot get my head around math. It is astonishing that scientific experiential work can be predicated first on pure math.

Dan Richman:
Mr Sigg,
In response to Mr Holt’s comments RE the GG Soccer Fields Proposal: On 9/8/11 I attended a Mayoral Candidates Forum in which nine out of ten candidates catagorically opposed Rec and Park’s synthetic turf, concrete, and 60-foot spotlight plan that would encompass more than eleven acres of the hitherto rustic West End of GG Park. The one holdout waffled so hard I really couldn’t tell where he stood. Did these adamant opponents of the plan do so because of their own convictions? Or, having their ears to the electoral wind, were they merely out to please future voters? Either way, all indications are that the soccer fields proposal is highly controversial. Therefore why not lay this controversy before all the citizens of San Francisco in the form of a Referendum vote? Why not let all of us decide on the fate of GG Park instead of a handful of officials? After all, it’s our Park. And we pay for it.
Dan:  You treat this issue as unique or unusual, whereas it is a routine type of issue that we elect representatives to decide.  Otherwise govt couldn't function.  Use care in choosing your representatives, then watch those representatives very closely.  Democracy demands a lot from the citizenry, and most of us don't live up to that responsibility.  So we complain endlessly.

"Out of conviction", "out to please future voters"?  Our Supervisors are vote counters, which means it's the second one--except that they're not concerned with future voters, only present voters.
Jake:  The thing is, it is a unique and unusual controversy because there are such large and vociferously opposed camps. One man's "routine" appears to be ten thousand people's life or death, once-in-a-lifetime decision. Note Mr Holt's contempt for SFOE, an organization of neighbors run by a strong-willed woman. I believe that with a decision made by referendum, there would be much less justification for the losers to cry foul. Also, if I'm not mistaken, the bosses of Rec and Park are not elected officials.

Saxon Holt:
Jake - My rant wasn't meant to provoke another and I am amazed you took the time to respond with such detail.  Thank you.  I hope those who read the feedback in your latest post  will cut me some slack, as I certainly didn't mean to demonize SFOE or disrespect their views.  In all things I am a pragmatist and would urge this group to pick bigger battles - for all our sakes, rather than spending their energies tilting at windmills. Too often groups of all ideology, bent on promoting/obstructing this or that good/bad idea use frivolous facts and red herring to obscure the greater issues and the greater good.  Calling it out makes me a curmudgeon perhaps, but not a demonizer.

My deep concern is we are in a society where no one gets along and no one compromises.  The energy wasted on proving oneself "right" and the other side a demon is not productive.  I too pardon your exasperated tone.  Keep up the good work.

This group--meaning, I assume SFOE (San Francisco's Ocean Edge)--is focused on this particular battle, so I don't understand what you mean by  "urge this group to pick bigger battles".  This is its big battle, and one that the group was created for.  And I am grateful for its taking this on.

Becky Evans:
Jake - thanks for your excellent and thorough reply to Saxon Holt.  There's one base which you didn't cover.  I believe that Prop J (museum garage issue) prohibited additional parking in Golden Gate Park.

Here is Rec/Park's e-news announcement to attend Beach Chalet sports field Draft Environmental Review Hearing. Use the link to discourage artificial turf and excessive lighting along the Pacific Flyway at Beach Chalet. 

Tired of SF's broken sports fields? Wish you could do something to support youth sports in the city? Here's your chance to do something about it! Attend a City Hall hearing to support the renovation of Golden Gate Park's Beach Chalet Athletic Fields with synthetic turf and field lights. Your support is critical to make this renovation a reality!

What: Beach Chalet Fields Draft Environmental Review Hearing
When: December 1, 2011 at 1:30 PM
Where: San Francisco City Hall, Planning Commission Chambers, Room 400

RSVP here if you can join us! Let's tell City Hall that San Francisco deserves better ball fields!

Here is my emailed response to Rec-Park:


HOWEVER, there are important tradeoffs here, ones needing thorough consideration.  Not necessarily in order of importance:

1.  The effects of night lighting on  critical bird migration routes. 

2.  The need for dark skies so that urban dwellers can see the night skies.  Don't consider this frivolous or obstructionist.  Urban people--ESPECIALLY urban people--need direct contact with the real world.  What can be more real than the universe, or more important for us to know about?  The starry skies have inspired people and filled them with deep wonder since the beginning of time.  Urbanites have totally lost contact with that indispensable experience.

(See next item; this stargazing event would be affected by the proposed lighting in GGP.  JS)

3.  The vision of William Hammond Hall and his mentor, Frederick Law Olmsted, for Golden Gate Park.  We have not been loyal to this beautiful vision--one that hard-pressed residents are urgently in need of--and we have not been good stewards of the park.  The proposed water recycling plant and soccer fields are directly counter to this vision:

"A park should be an agglomeration of hill and dale, meadow, lawn and coppice presenting a series of sylvan and pastoral views, calculated to banish all thoughts of urban objects, and lead the imagination to picture space beyond as a continued succession of rural scenes and incidents." William Hammond Hall - 1873

(JS:  Wm Hammond Hall also specified that the park should be "an urban pastoral retreat, a semblance of nature", a vision that has been severely compromised and is still degrading.  In that day many families were unable to afford a trip to the country, and Olmsted and Hall wanted this to be a semblance of that country.  There are many people today who seldom or never leave the city.  We need to broaden our scope of what we consider human needs; active recreation is one, but quieter moments away from the din and confusion of the city are at least equal in importance.)

4.  We don't know about the consequences of this kind of artificial turf, and we need a thorough look at it before choosing it.  The public (including me) does not know about the effects of artificial turf, but the information citizens have dug up is substantial enough to warrant closer look.  Some of it is disturbing, and we deserve facts.

Jake Sigg
San Francisco


Earth, my likeness,
Though you look so impassive, ample and spheric there,
I now suspect that is not all;
I now suspect there is something fierce in you eligible to burst forth…
The earth is rude, silent, incomprehensible at first, nature is incomprehensible at first,
Be not discouraged, keep on, there are divine things well envelop'd,
I swear to you there are divine things more beautiful than words can tell.
    Walt Whitman


6.  Jennifer Greene, Parks Conservancy
Hello – This is a reminder to join us for a stargazing evening on Saturday, December 3 at Lands End.  We will meet one hour after sunset (around 6pm) in the USS San Francisco Memorial Parking Lot.    We’ll learn about the constellations and preserving the dark sky.

Please RSVP to me here – it helps us prepare and provides me with your contact information in the event we need to cancel for any reason.

You can find more information on the evening here, at our website:

You may also enjoy this recent Chronicle article by Tom Stienstra on the particular beauty of the winter night sky:

Again – please RSVP!


7.  Can't decide what to give this holiday? For friends who have all the socks and ties they'll ever need, Adopt an Acre is the perfect gift. Adopt an Acre of precious Rainforest, colorful Coral Reef or spectacular African desert habitat in your friend’s name to protect nature for future generations and ensure the survival of millions of species of animals and plants. Along with your personalized Adopt an Acre deed, select from our array of gifts: See's fancy chocolates, a nature print or box of nature cards. For more info and to order now go to SaveNature.Org.


8.  Hi Jake,
 Nature Sounds Society is having a Listening Party on Saturday, December 3 between 5 and 9 PM at Dan Dugan Sound Design's laboratory  in San Francisco.  It's a potluck of food and sound -- the best of your season's recordings - to keep the holiday spirit going.  More information can be found here:
Here's an opportunity to play your favorite field recordings from this year and get feedback from like-minded listeners. Drop by with some sounds and a dish to share. Dan's system can play back that great surround sound you captured, and the conversation is always lively, as is the food.

If you don't have sounds but like to listen, come anyway.


9.  Planning & Conservation League

Boondoggle or Beacon? The Future of High Speed Rail in California (excerpt)
California’s High Speed Rail (HSR) system has long been discussed, and remains one of the most expensive and controversial infrastructure projects in California’s history. HSR proponents see a vital project that will change California’s transportation landscape, reducing the need for new and expanded highways, and resulting in fewer greenhouse gas emissions…all while putting Californians back to work. Opponents of the current plan have been critical of its routing, financing plan, skyrocketing price-tag, and the ridership and business plan assumptions that have been made in developing the proposal.
    •    Elizabeth Alexis, Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design
    •    Denis Douté, SNCF America Inc.
    •    Dan Richard, California High-Speed Rail Authority Board Member

(I rode Amtrak recently, and I picked up a copy of the excellent newsletter of TRAC, Train Riders Assn of California.  I was appalled by the bad planning of the current HSRA board.  It manages to outdo San Francisco's Central Subway in boondoggling!  HSR will die in its present form, but it takes a dinosaur a long time to die.  Meanwhile, time is passing and the economy is coming apart.  JS)


Recently, John Woodly, the former Assistant Secretary of the Army of Civil Works, wrote an article citing previous Administrations’ efforts to utilize unique government expertise in public and private sector projects. Specifically, he highlighted a dam removal project in North Carolina as an example of a collaborative effort that brought together civilian biologists and engineers to work with military demolition experts as means of “getting more from each appropriated dollar.” Fortunately, as Woodly noted in the recent article, California too has a dam removal project ripe for government funding.

The San Clemente Dam Removal Project provides an excellent opportunity to maximize the use of public dollars to achieve multiple objectives. The project will remove an unsafe dam, help to restore a vibrant ecosystem along the Carmel River, and in the process can provide prime training for military personnel.


Hope is a thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings a tune without words
And never stops at all.
And sweetest, in the gale, is heard
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That keeps so many warm.
I've heard it in the chilliest land
And on the strangest sea
Yet, never, in extremity
It ask a crumb of me.

    Emily Dickinson


11.  President Obama Continues Admitting Millions of Legal Immigrants and Temporary Foreign Workers To Take Californians’ Jobs Despite High Unemployment 

Los Angeles, CA – November 29, 2011 – Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS) has launched a TV campaign in Los Angeles calling for lower levels of legal immigration and temporary foreign workers until Californians are working again. The ads are launching as President Obama continues to allow more than 1 million legal immigrants and temporary workers a year to come to America and take jobs despite the country’s highest unemployment levels since the Great Depression.

Marilyn DeYoung, Chairwoman of Californians for Population Stabilization commented, “President Obama had no problem circumventing Congress and invoking Executive Privilege to suspend deportation of 300,000 illegal aliens. Maybe it’s time he used his Executive Privilege to help unemployed Americans? He needs to reduce tomorrow’s legal immigration so Californians here today can get back to work.”   

In Los Angeles, the unemployment rate is currently more than 11% but several areas of California have topped 16% within the last year. The national unemployment rate is around 9%.

More legal immigrants settle in California than any other state in the country. Additionally, the Los Angeles metropolitan area is second only to New York in highest number of legal immigrants settled annually. Yet, at a time when millions in California can’t find jobs, the Federal Government continues to flood California with legal immigrants and temporary foreign workers. The policy is having a particularly insidious effect on states like California, where the state has been forced to borrow $40 million a day from the Federal Government to pay unemployment benefits.

“Even if you haven’t lost your job, you’re paying a price for the flood of legal immigration. It’s coming out of your paycheck in the form of unemployment benefits for our fellow Californians,” commented Marilyn DeYoung, Chairwoman of Californians for Population Stabilization. “But you can’t blame legal immigrants. Blame our country’s leaders for continuing policies that are simply antiquated, stale, out of touch and unrealistic.”

Recent studies by the Pew Hispanic Center and Northeastern University of Boston indicate that new immigrants are landing American jobs while Americans are losing jobs. African Americans, Hispanic Americans and new immigrants have been disproportionately affected by the bad economy, with unemployment rates twice, even three times unemployment rates of the general population.   
For more information about CAPS go to, or click to view the CAPS LEGAL TV commercial.

Homeland Security still doesn't have a mechanism in place to track when, and if, legal foreign visitors leave the country.  U.S. Government Accountability Office

In 2010, 2,816,525 temporary workers and their family members were admitted to the U.S.  U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Illegal aliens cost California hospitals more than $1 billion annually.  California Hospital Association

GAO report links Arizona wildfires to immigrants – Associated Press
A study by Congress' investigative arm shows investigators have linked 30 fires that erupted in a five-year period in Arizona's border region to people who crossed into the United States illegally.

In Utah, world’s largest ‘living’ organism is, well, dying – Salt Lake Tribune
So far, forest scientists say, no one has found any living thing bigger than the Pando clone, a 106-acre thicket of aspens arising from the same roots.

High Country News


13.  Help The Watershed Project collect and monitor native oysters!
Join us for the last two oyster events until next summer

1. Sample native oysters in San Francisco Bay
Be a part of the Living Shoreline Initiative and assist the Watershed Project and the San Francisco Bay Native Oyster Working Group collect native oysters in San Francisco Bay. This is your opportunity to put on some boots, waders, or a wetsuit and get in the Bay! You'll have a chance to learn about the efforts of local marine scientists seeking to restore native oysters back to the Bay. This ongoing study generates usable data for the Native Oyster Working Group.

►Dates: December 5, 6, 7, 8, 9
►Times:  Afternoon/evenings, dependent on tides (see flyer)
►Locations:  Multiple locations in San Francisco, Contra Costa, Alameda and Marin counties (see flyer)

2. Measure and count native oysters
The Watershed Project and the San Francisco Bay Native Oyster Working Group need your assistance in counting and measuring native oysters. Connect with local marine scientists and your community while learning about the biology of native oysters.

►Date: December 10
►Time: 10 am-12:30 pm
►When: Richmond Field Station (at the offices of The Watershed Project)

If you are interested in volunteering for one or multiple days, or want more information, please contact or call (510) 214-6897. Thank you!


14.  Golden Gate Audubon Society
There's Still Time to Register for Christmas Bird Count 2011
Oakland on Sunday, December 18 – REGISTRATION CLOSES AT 9AM ON FRIDAY, DEC. 2!!
San Francisco on Tuesday, December 27 – REGISTRATION CLOSES AT 9AM ON FRIDAY, DEC. 9!!

Click here to go to our website! 

Volunteer Opportunities
Bird Habitat Restoration Opportunities
We invite you to join us for our monthly volunteer events. For site details and directions go to the GGAS volunteer webpage.

Pier 94, San Francisco’s South Eastern Waterfront
Saturday, December 3, 9 a.m. -noon

Martin Luther King Jr. Shoreline Park, Oakland
Saturday, December 17, 10 a.m.-1 p.m.

Golden Gate Park, Buffalo Paddock, San Francisco
Saturday, December 17, from 9 a.m. to noon

Proposed Alameda Wildlife Refuge, Alameda
December 11, from 9  a.m. to noon

Map of the Middle East region, illustrating how various "empires" have risen and fallen in the past 3000 years--in just 90 seconds.


16.  Mark Twain, born 30 November 1835

Mark Twain: A Life by Ron Powers   Guardian Weekly 21.04.06 excerpts

Twain's writing career began and ended in journalism and debt, but this improvident genius made a massive fortune in his middle years and, by lecturing everywhere from Pittsburgh to Ceylon, became perhaps the most celebrated and recognisable person in the world. "The report of my death was an exaggeration," he remarked; and though he is long buried, there's a sense in which he is still with us.

At least Ron Powers, a former Pulitzer prizewinner, clearly thinks so in this enormous, enjoyable volume....There is some substance to his (irritatingly put) suggestion that Twain, through his childhood intimacy with black voices, introduced a new register into American literature: "Mark Twain's baton began to mute the Anglican symphony, and strike up the rhythms of American jazz."

...In any case when it comes to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Twain's greatest work, we don't need Powers to advertise its continuing power "to blow its outlaw jazz riffs of spoken language", for there's H L Mencken in 1913, calling it "perhaps the greatest novel ever written in English", and T S Eliot acclaiming it as "a masterpiece". Powers is protesting too much on the Twain-as-hipster front, it soon emerges, to defend his hero from the censors who denounce him as a racist and have striven to get Huckleberry Finn banned on the basis of its 211 uses of the word "nigger".

The Clemens who moves through Powers's lively, detailed treatment, with its measured and judicious advocacy, comes out as a remarkable self-educator, always restlessly "lighting out" Huck Finn-style and escaping from some prejudice in which his fellow Americans remain mired. "I have no race prejudices," Clemens said late in life, adding, with a characteristic twist: "All I care to know is that a man is a human being - that is enough for me; he can't be any worse."

But he saw how his black childhood playmates had been "comrades, and yet not comrades", thanks to the oppressive, falsifying society around them. The incursions of his country into Cuba and the Philippines and the annexation of Hawaii brought out a courageous opposition in him. "Talking of patriotism," he remarked, "what humbug it is; it is a word which always commemorates a robbery." And he announced - on returning to America after years of bankruptcy and European exile - "I am an anti-imperialist. I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land." In his final years, despite his fame, the strong views he took - on lynching and religion - were censored by his publishers, and it was one of numerous reasons he looked forward to the grave: "There is free speech there, and no harm to the family."

...Powers's immensely rich book, the record of an epic, perplexing life, succeeds above all in freshening up one's appetite for Twain's own prose and his magnificently challenging wit.

Mark Twain attended a sermon given by Dr William Croswell Doane, an esteemed orator who later became the bishop of Albany.  After the service, Twain walked up to congratulate the man on his excellent speech.  “I enjoyed every bit of it, and welcomed it as an old friend, as I have a book at home that contains every word of your speech,” Twain said.

Dr. Doane, incensed at Twain’s implication that his sermon was not original, replied stiffy, “I assure you, dear sir, that you do not.”

“Oh, but I do,” shot back Twain.

“Well then sir, I’d like to have a look at it.  Could you have it sent over to me?”,  Dr Doane said angrily.

Later that evening, the doctor heard a knock at his door and opened it to find a copy of an unabridged dictionary lying on his doorstep, with a note that said:

“I never said they were in the same order.—M.T.”

Words differently arranged have different meanings, and meanings differently arranged have a different effect.
    -Blaise Pascal, philosopher and mathematician (1623-1662)

And this, which is often attributed to Mark Twain:
My life has been full of terrible misfortunes, most of which never happened. -Michel de Montaigne, essayist (1533-1592)

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