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 8, 2011


1.   Desert of Forbidden Art, a daring project in Soviet Russia - TONIGHT at Stanford
2.   HANC Recycling Center and Nursery are open as usual - earn/spend some of your Xmas $ here
3.   Long desired:  CA Resources Agency undertakes review of Dept of Fish & Game
4.   The world does not need words. It articulates itself in sunlight, leaves, and shadows
5.   Feedback: penguins with loose morals
6.   Final battle in 15-year-long Arana Gulch Saga?
7.   Introduction to residential greywater Dec 10
8.   Feedback on conceptual artist and her lichen in NYC project
9.   Invasive Argentine ants may be less persistent than once feared
10. Alameda County considering mandatory recycling and composting ordinance
11.  It could happen any time, tornado, earthquake, Armageddon. It could, you know
12.  Christmas bird count in the Alameda Creek Watershed Dec 16
13.  Crows/ravens: help in differentiating
14.  Chase CEO:  "I don't get it"
15.  Richard Branson gets it: Screw Business As Usual
16.  Atheists and humanists coming out of the closet
17.  How to use shibboleth in a sentence

1.  For those of you in California in the San Francisco Bay Area, please join us for the Camera As Witness and Stanford Institute for Creativity and the Arts (SiCA) screening of the UNAFF 2010 film THE DESERT OF FORBIDDEN ART  and a Q&A with the award-winning filmmakers.

Thursday, December 8 at 7:00PM
Annenberg Auditorium, Cummings Art Building, Stanford University

FREE and open to the public. We hope you can join us!

Directors/Producers: Amanda Pope, Tchavdar Georgiev

During the era of Soviet rule artists who stay true to their vision are executed, sent to mental hospitals or to Gulags. Their plight inspires young Igor Savitsky who pretends to buy state-approved art. Instead he daringly rescues 40,000 forbidden works by fellow artists and creates a museum in the desert of Uzbekistan, far from the watchful eyes of the KGB. Though a penniless artist himself, he cajoles the cash to pay for the art from the same authorities who are banning it. Savitsky amasses an eclectic mix of Russian Avant-Garde art. But his greatest discovery is an unknown school of artists who settle in Uzbekistan after the Russian Revolution of 1917, and who encounter a unique Islamic culture, as exotic to them as Tahiti was for Gauguin. Ben Kingsley, Sally Field and Ed Asner voice the diaries and letters of Savitsky and the artists.


2.  from Greg Gaar:
The Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council Recycling Center and Native Plant Nursery are open as usual.

No, HANC has not been evicted.

Fewer folks are using our facilities because of rumors that the center has been evicted.

The Native Plant Nursery sales have dropped from $1800 average per month
to $420 in November.
Where are all the native plant lovers? Hello--It's planting season.
The nursery has sixty species of San Francisco natives and over 5000 individual plants.

The acre of native plant gardens that surrounds the center are coming out of dormancy, thereby promising a multicolored, Spring wildflower season.

The Kezar Community Gardens should be operating soon at the HANC site and the Nursery will happily give the new gardeners native plants for their plots. The native plants will attract native pollinators for a healthy crop of whatever you grow.

The Recycling Center and Native Plant Nursery are open Monday-Saturday from 9-4 and Sunday from 12-4. If you want money for California redemption beverage containers come by Monday-Saturday from 10-3.
Located at Frederick and Arguello next to Kezar Stadium in Golden Gate Park.


3.  (JS:  I don't know what this initiative will accomplish, but I welcome anything to make CDFG's function more rational.  Two examples:  1) Feral pigs, a very damaging invasive species, is not treated as a pest species, but as a game species.  2) CDFG introduces wild turkeys from the east without studying potential impacts.  Private studies have documented turkey damage, but CDFG pays no attention.  The disruptions of these two species is degrading the landscape and ultimately costs everybody.)

A great opportunity to support state funding for invasive plant programs!
(please circulate to other interested parties)

The Natural Resources Agency is undertaking a review of the Dept. of Fish & Game, and they are currently accepting comments. (Information on this review process, called the Fish & Wildlife Vision, can be found at

Email comments to (The deadline is Dec. 16, but it sounds like a little later is OK, too.) Below is the core content of comments Cal-IPC will submit. Please personalize your message, mention your own work if it's relevant, and include your organizational affiliation if appropriate.

Doug Johnson, Executive Director

Core Content of Cal-IPC's comments:

[FYI, the mission of DFG is "to manage California's diverse fish, wildlife, and plant resources, and the habitats upon which they depend, for their ecological values and for their use and enjoyment by the public."]

Invasive plants are a top threat to the state's ecological communities. DFG and the Natural Resources Agency need to address invasive plants as an essential part of managing these resources.

Funding for CDFA's invasive plant management programs (such as county-based Weed Management Areas) has been eliminated. CDFA focuses on agriculture. For invasive plants damaging the state's wildlands, the Natural Resources Agency must take the leadership role.

DFG and the Natural Resources Agency should:
    •    take the lead role in addressing invasive plants in California's wildlands
    •    dedicate significant funding to invasive plant management.
    •    partner with WMAs, Cal-IPC and others on invasive plant management programs.
    •    take an active role in leading the interagency Invasive Species Council of California and implementing the actions recommended in its Strategic Framework.
    •    educate the public on the wildlife impacts of invasive species, and how citizens can help reduce the problem.

Consider CCing folks on the Stakeholder Advisory Group, which they encourage:

Mark Biddlecomb, Ducks Unlimited:
Jay Ziegler, The Nature Conservancy:
Kathy Wood, Tulare Basin Wildlife Partners:
Dan Taylor, Audubon California:
Kim Delfino, Defenders of Wildlife:
Eileen Reynolds, Tejon Ranch:
Nita Vail, California Rangeland Trust:
John Carlson, Jr., California Waterfowl Association:
Bill Gaines, California Outdoor Heritage Alliance:
Karen Buhr, California Association of
Darla Guenzler, California Council of Land Trusts:


Only those things are beautiful which are inspired by madness and written by reason. -Andre Gide, author, Nobel laureate (1869-1951)


The world does not need words. It articulates itself
in sunlight, leaves, and shadows. The stones on the path
are no less real for lying uncatalogued and uncounted.
The fluent leaves speak only the dialect of pure being.
The kiss is still fully itself though no words were spoken.

And one word transforms it into something less or other --
illicit, chaste, perfunctory, conjugal, covert.
Even calling it a kiss betrays the fluster of hands
glancing the skin or gripping a shoulder, the slow
arching of neck or knee, the silent touching of tongues.

Yet the stones remain less real to those who cannot
name them, or read the mute syllables graven in silica.
To see a red stone is less than seeing it as jasper --
metamorphic quartz, cousin to the flint the Kiowa
carved as arrowheads. To name is to know and remember.

The sunlight needs no praise piercing the rainclouds,
painting the rocks and leaves with light, then dissolving
each lucent droplet back into the clouds that engendered it.
The daylight needs no praise, and so we praise it always --
greater than ourselves and all the airy words we summon.

~ Dana Gioia ~

(Interrogations at Noon)


5.  Feedback

Keith Howell:
Hi Jake
Male Adelie penguin are not the only ones with loose morals when it comes to gathering rocks for nest building. Check out Maggie McKee's article "Material Girls" in the, regrettably defunct, California Wild magazine Spring 2004. A nightmare to reach the online version, but click on
then click on Back Issues, then find 2004 No 2.
Keith Howell
(Note:  Keith was the editor of California Wild until CAS discontinued it.  JS)
Thanks much for this website, Keith.  I am still grieving for the Academy's decision to discontinue the magazine; I loved it, and it was in an easily assimilable form for me. 

I saw "A nightmare to reach the online version" and it stopped me dead in my tracks.  One of the most painful feelings I know is the frustration when I encounter electronic situations I can't handle.  Nevertheless I decided to take the plunge, and everything was going swimmingly.  I opened Back issues and got to Spring 2004, but couldn't find anything about penguins.  I hit the Back issues button again and it told me "Requested page could not be found".  Go figure.

I may try again some time, because there was a column (I think it may have been 2004) by Jerold Lowenstein (I loved his columns) about the health effects of walking--one of my hobby horses.  You deliciously put a picture of a fitness center with about 7-8 steps (empty), with an escalator alongside the steps that was crowded with people.  Are you sure you didn't pose that picture?  It was too much.  I would love to post that to my newsletter, including the photo, but I am unable to find that copy of CW.  (I saved all the CWs.)  I will be cleaning my basement in the not distant future, and possibly it may turn up, but it would be much better to have it in electronic form already.

Final Battle in 15 Year Long Arana Gulch Saga?
Bay Area Indymedia
A long simmering battle over a proposed bicycle path through the Arana Gulch Greenbelt in Santa Cruz is being brought to a head at a hearing of the California Coastal Commission in San Francisco on December 8th. On one side are local cycling advocacy groups, including People Power, the Santa Cruz Cycling Club, and Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz. On the other side are open space advocates, including Friends of Arana Gulch, and local environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and the California Native Plant Society.
See all stories on this topic »

Bay Area Indymedia


Sponsored by the SFPUC

Date: Saturday, December 10th, 2011
Time: 10am - 12pm
Location: Garden for the Environment, 7th Ave at Lawton Street, San Francisco
Instructor: Laura Allen, Greywater Action
Cost: FREE

Interested in learning how to reuse your greywater in your own garden? Residential greywater, which is wastewater generated from domestic processes such as washing dishes, laundry and bathing, is a valuable water resource that can be recycled to irrigate plants! Join GFE and Greywater Action for this workshop where you'll learn about the best low-tech, low-cost systems, and how to maintain them. You'll also get practice with the components as you plumb a demo greywater system!


8.  From Tim Milliken:

Regarding the article about conceptual artist Elizabeth DeMaray and her lichen project.

This project simulates the one I worked on at SF MOMA.
More info on my project comes from an interview with CMG’s Kevin Conger.

Here’s the piece abstracted from the interview.
The SFMoMA Rooftop Sculpture Garden extends the exhibits outdoors and features garden walls and other natural elements. The garden also includes unique textural elements, like a lichen-covered wall. Why did you use lichen? On your website, you write: "By planting a lichen wall, we take a bullish position on improving air quality." Can you explain that story?

The sculpture garden was a competition we did with Jensen Architects. They invited us to join their team. When we were in the early stages of the competition, we realized that it's not a really big area, only about 16,000 square feet. Their program for art was pretty all consuming. What they really needed was a big outdoor gallery that would give them a lot of flexibility for putting sculptures and different types of art in there. They wanted as much flexibility as they possibly could get because they didn't want to limit what artists in the future could do. Their need was really for a big outdoor gallery, or a big box, that allowed them maximum flexibility.

But we really wanted it to be a garden. To us, a garden meant a few things. It meant that there was a increased connection between the people that would be visiting or using the space, the art, and the nature, the forces of nature. To us, that meant it should be about the passsage of time. A garden brings a sense of change and temporality. That was important to us. It should be about beauty and explore how to control or not control nature. Those are all the cultural aspects that make gardens so compelling and essential for our civilization.

The idea of lichen came about because lichen is very slow growing. We became interested in it because it's kind of the antithesis of the art world, where everything is very fast, immediate, and available to you right away, for the most part. We thought where everything is so fast, where you're so quick to consume it, we would do something that was really slow. It was essentially a slow garden. It would be something we would start but you would really have to wait for literally hundreds of years before it fully grew in. It was all about the potential of the lichen.

People were pretty excited about the idea of the lichen during the competition phase. We had done some Internet research and found someone who claimed they had propagated lichen, so it all seemed pretty straightforward. After we won the competition we came to realize that our Internet source was bogus, and in fact no one had actually propagated lichen before, so we had to admit that we didn’t know if it was possible or not. Fortunately, SFMOMA is a fantastic client, and they were still interested in the idea, so we commissioned a lichenologist named Tim Milliken and a researcher, Elise Brewster, to work with us to find a way to cultivate lichen.  We collected samples and made hundreds of tests with different formulas applied to all different base materials and put under different sun and moisture conditions. After a year we finally got some tiny specs of life in some of the samples, and that was enough for SFMOMA to give us the green light.

On day one of the garden, we inoculated the walls with this organism. It's really one of the organisms that first colonizes places where nothing else is growing. As the lichen grows, it begins to gather a little bit of dirt, that then grows a little bit of moss, that then eventually gathers more dirt, that then, maybe a plant will colonize in there, so it's an early colonizer. We liked that idea of the slowness, the fact that you can't control it, you just have to kind of watch it. It's an experiment and conceptually interesting at the same time.

What's interesting is that lichen does not exist in cities for a couple of reasons. Things are power washed and always cleaned so the lichen is erased before it has a chance to really take hold, perhaps with the exception of places that are really neglected, and then you might see it take hold. Lichen also doesn't grow where there's poor air quality. In some cities, they map what they call lichen islands. They'll take lichen panels or stones that have lichen on them and put them on roofs of buildings and see over time if the lichen actually survives. So for our project, we are optimistic that the air quality will remain good enough that it's suitable for this lichen to grow long term. You have to be optimistic to be in this profession anyway, but the idea of planting something that may not be visible for a decade, and not really highly visible for 100 years, is a new level of optimism in garden design.


9.  Invasive species

Boom and bust

Invasive Argentine ants may be less persistent than once feared

Dec 3rd 2011 | from The Economist
Ready for take-off

DESPITE their name, Argentine ants are a well-travelled lot. Human commerce has allowed them to hitch rides from their homeland to every continent on the planet, with the exception of Antarctica. And when they arrive, they often thrive. At least 15 countries now host colonies, which frequently prosper at the expense of native species. This flexibility, combined with an aggressive temperament, makes them one of the world’s best-known and most-hated invasive species.

Yet, as any general knows, establishing a beachhead is not the same thing as conducting a successful, long-term occupation. Argentine-ant colonies sometimes collapse suddenly, and with no obvious explanation. In a paper just published in Biology Letters, a group of researchers at Victoria University of Wellington, in New Zealand, led by Meghan Cooling and Phil Lester, describe their attempts to study such disappearances systematically.

The researchers examined 150 sites across the country where Argentine-ant nests had been recorded. At 40% of them they found that the ants had vanished. At many of the other sites, ant numbers were much reduced, with areas that once sported dozens of nests over hundreds of hectares reduced to just one or two colonies covering much smaller tracts of land. And with the invaders gone, native ants seemed to be re-establishing themselves, suggesting that the Argentine ants’ impact on biodiversity had been transient, rather than permanent.

A statistical analysis of the data yielded an estimate for the likely survival time of a typical colony of between 12.9 and 15.3 years, and suggested that warm and dry conditions were more favourable for survival than cold, wet ones. Exactly what caused the collapses is still not clear, although the researchers suspect that unfamiliar diseases may have played a role.

Unity is not strength

It is a plausible theory. Because they grew from a small number of founder colonies, or possibly even a single one, New Zealand’s Argentine ants are genetically similar to one another (the same is true of most infestations outside the ants’ homeland). That may be one reason for their success: ant researchers hypothesise that, being so closely related, the individual insects are unable to distinguish their nest mates from members of other colonies, which causes ants from different nests to co-operate as if they were kin, and has led students of the field to speak not of hundreds of individual infestations, but of a single, country-spanning “super-colony”.

But a shallow gene pool can be a weakness, too. If one nest proves susceptible to some environmental factor—be it disease, predation, or even a cold snap or wet spell—then it is likely that all the other colonies will share that vulnerability.

Now that they have documented the extent of the collapse the next step, says Ms Cooling, is to test the hypothesis of genetic vulnerability and try to work out precisely what causes the sudden reversals of formicine fortune she has seen. And it is not just ecologists who will be waiting for the results. New Zealand’s government had reckoned it might have to spend NZ$68m ($53m) a year keeping the newcomers under control. If Mother Nature can do the job instead, then it would represent a tidy saving for the country’s exchequer.



Across the bay from the first city in the nation to pass legislation banning single use plastic bags from supermarkets and pharmacies, Alameda County is garnering attention for their stepped up efforts to reduce waste.  While Alameda has proposed a similar bag ban as what was passed by their neighboring city San Francisco in 2008, it is the proposal by the Alameda County Waste Management Authority (ACWMA) that, in some circles, is garnering the most attention.

ACWMA wants to make recycling mandatory and hold violators to penalties for non-compliance.  The objective of the proposal is to redirect 90 percent of recyclable or compostable materials from city dumps by 2020 - right now, that number is only at 69 percent.  The hope is to begin implementation of phase 1 by July of 2012, requiring businesses, haulers and the owners or managers of multifamily buildings such as apartments to begin diverting refuse, with Phase 2- mandatory composting beginning by July 2014. This proposal goes further than the mandatory commercial recycling rules on the books in cities such as San Diego, San Carlos, San Francisco and Sacramento....

Planning & Conservation League (excerpt)



It could happen any time, tornado,
earthquake, Armageddon.  It could happen.
Or sunshine, love, salvation.

It could, you know.  That's why we wake
and look out -- no guarantees
in this life.

But some bonuses, like morning,
like right now, like noon,
like evening.

~ William Stafford ~

(The Way It Is)


12.  Christmas Bird Count in the Alameda Creek Watershed December 16

Join the Alameda Creek Alliance and Ohlone Audubon Society for the 3rd annual Eastern Alameda County Christmas Bird Count on Friday, December 16.

The Christmas Bird Count is an annual nationwide volunteer-based bird survey effort to promote bird conservation and assess long-term trends in winter bird populations. The Eastern Alameda County bird count covers the upper Alameda Creek watershed. Last year 83 birders tallied 150 bird species during the count; our fledgling count was 94th nationally in terms of number of species seen!

Please contact Rich Cimino ( to participate in the count.

The post-count dinner this year will be held at the Callippe Preserve in Pleasanton - dinner cost is $5 per person, and there will be an open bar.

Click here for more information on the bird count.


13.  The following results from a dialogue with Adrian Cotter about the difference between crows and ravens, as my experience is that few people know the difference. 

Howdy Jake,

Got a close up of a few of them with some classic wedge tails

Here's a little montage of other goings on the same evening (last saturday)


14.  Chase CEO: 'I don't get it'

Marketplace for Wednesday, December 7, 2011
This final note today from the Marketplace Desk of "I Don't Think You Quite Understand."  JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon was speaking at a financial industry conference today organized -- for what it's worth -- by Goldman Sachs.

Anyway, Dimon was asked about banks and how everybody seems to be mad at 'em nowadays. Here's what he said:

Jamie Dimon: I mean, acting like everyone who's been successful is bad and that because you're rich you're bad, I don't understand it. I don't get it.

(Hang in there, Jamie; you'll get it eventually.  Did you get out of your office and speak to some of those who were Occupying your street outside a couple of weeks ago?  JS)


(Here's one who gets it.)

15.  Richard Branson

Ricky’s schemes

How to have fun, do good and make money

Dec 3rd 2011 | The Economist

Screw Business As Usual. By Richard Branson.

THE phrase “business as usual” has probably never been used to describe anything Sir Richard Branson has done. So there was a danger that a book called “Screw Business As Usual” would contain nothing new. This is a man who has been a larger-than-life advertisement for entrepreneurship and adventurous living ever since the first of what his mother called “Ricky’s schemes” back in the 1960s. He launched a student magazine and a sex- advice centre, then signed the Sex Pistols to his Virgin music label and started an airline. Yet Sir Richard (pictured) has provided a tantalising glimpse into the workings of the global elite that some say now run the world, as well as plenty of food for thought for the new generation of business leaders who say they want to make the world a better place as well as turn a profit.

Sir Richard’s main goal is to begin what he describes as a new, caring approach to business called Capitalism 24902 (because that in miles is the circumference of the Earth, in case you wondered). He says it “will lead to more fulfilling lives for all of us and a much more fair, more equitable and healthy global village.” The author has updated his old creed of “have fun and the money will come” to “do good, have fun and the money will come.” Those familiar with his career will not be surprised that there is nothing selfless about his brand of philanthrocapitalism.
Sir Richard’s “new” approach—which has much in common with Michael Porter’s latest “shared value” theory and Jed Emerson’s “blended value”, to name but two—eschews profit maximisation (investors in his schemes over the years may feel that making them a profit has never been a high priority for him) and champions getting involved in solving thorny social problems, often by going into partnership with non-profits. The main vehicle for this good work is Virgin Unite, a philanthropic body that he designed to be far more entrepreneurial than the typical charitable foundation. Sir Richard rightly argues the case for rejecting the “golden cheque” approach to grantmaking in favour of “becoming a true partner for frontline organisations and leveraging absolutely everything we possessed in order to drive change.”

The subplot of the book is about the growing influence in tackling the world’s problems of a small group of wealthy philanthropists and business leaders, and how Sir Richard has become a catalyst among them. He provides plenty of detail about the good work done by C.K. Prahalad, the bottom-of-the-pyramid business guru, Jeff Skoll, the philanthropic first boss of eBay, Peter Gabriel, a rock star turned human-rights activist, and Jane Hewson, founder of Comic Relief and Pilotlight Australia, which finds jobs for ex-prisoners. Other people’s stories make the book an easier read for those who find Sir Richard’s self-promotion hard to bear.

The book starts and ends with the fire that recently gutted his house on Necker Island, a luxury Caribbean retreat where so much of Sir Richard’s good work is done, by tempting saintly folk to have some fun in the tropics and hatch virtuous plans while they are at it. Archbishop Desmond Tutu learnt to swim there, and ideas have been dreamed up such as The Elders, a troubleshooting group of retired politicians selected by Sir Richard’s pal, Nelson Mandela, and the Carbon War Room, which is plotting strategies to reduce carbon emissions in several industries. Sir Richard also makes a convincing case for businesses to back entrepreneurs in Africa and to campaign against the unwinnable “War on Drugs”. Who knows if this creativity is really replicable at other companies, but can anyone really doubt that the world would be a better place if this sort of stuff were to become business as usual?


SciAm on the Branson book:


16.  From Alice Polesky:  FYI -- good to see the atheists and humanists coming out of the closet.

Exciting news! Today, registration opens for the Secular Coalition’s 2012 Lobby Day for Reason and we wanted you to be among the first to know.

Join us Friday, March 23, 2012, for the free Lobby Day for Reason: in the morning receive lobbying training followed by the opportunity to meet with Congressional staff in the afternoon, to discuss secular issues that are important to all of us.

The 2012 Lobby Day for Reason coincides with the Reason Rally on Saturday, March 24, which is expected to be the largest secular gathering in American history, and it is co-sponsored by the Secular Coalition for America and several of our member organizations, including American Atheists, the Secular Student Alliance, the American Humanist Association, Camp Quest, the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, the Society for Humanistic Judaism, and the Atheist Alliance of America. 

Last year our lobby day included more than 80 people who made almost 50 lobbying visits on the Hill. This year, we want to flood Congress with secular voters like you. It is time to let our elected officials know who secular Americans are and remind them that we are paying attention to the issues and we vote!

It’s going to be a weekend you do not want to miss.

The Lobby Day for Reason is free and will begin at 8:30 am on Friday, March 23, 2012, at the Hyatt Regency, located at 400 New Jersey Ave. NW, Washington, DC. Lunch, snacks, and materials are included.


(As a friend of mine said after Obama was elected:  "Do you think we'll ever elect an atheist?"

D'accord.  JS)

Can't you hear it now?:

"Although my family always goes to church and gets down and prays every night, nevertheless, some of my best friends are atheists."

Alternatively:  "Further, my opponent is a secular HUMANIST!!"


17.  Heard on Says You - contestants were asked to define a word and to use it in a sentence.  The word was shibboleth, and here's how Barry Nolan used it:

"I don't listen to talk radio because I know they're full of shibboleths."

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