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, December 20, 2011


1.   A thought for the day from Christopher Hitchens
2.   Children pay a price for ignorance about their place in world of nature
3.   Feedback: climate denial/the violent universe/du Chatelet
4.   Violent universe: galaxy gets ripped apart by the Milky Way
5.   A reflection while shaving on the finite speed of light
6.   Long-awaited Higgs boson possibly sighted? Much rides on it
7.   Important advance in CA plant systematics: Jepson eFlora
8.   Delightful frog art and poetry contests
9.   Executive Order - direction to plant native plants on federal lands/new invasive species plan
10. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac - are we heading for an eventual repeat?
11.  Economists' consensus: market behavior is irrational
12.  UC scientists want your dirty socks
13.  Did National Park Service bow to pressure from Coca Cola on bottle ban?
14.  Alamo - mythology trumps historical accuracy/Geo Washington, reluctant president
15.  Rilke: All creation holds its hear you, I keep silent
16.  Notes & Queries

Beware the irrational, however seductive. Shun the 'transcendent' and all who invite you to subordinate or annihilate yourself. Distrust compassion; prefer dignity for yourself and others. Don't be afraid to be thought arrogant or selfish. Picture all experts as if they were mammals. Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence. -Christopher Hitchens, author and journalist (1949-2011)


2.  Children pay a price for ignorance about their place in world of nature

Children and Nature:  Psychological, Sociocultural and Evolutionary Investigations
Edited by Peter H. Kahn Jr. and Stephen R. Kellert
Reviewed by William Kowinski (author of "The Malling of America") SF Chronicle, Sunday, 7/14/02

In his 1982 book, "Nature and Madness," human ecologist Paul Shepard  made an astonishingly sweeping and convincing case for the  proposition that from early childhood through adolescence,  interaction with the natural world is crucial to human mental and  emotional development, and without it, humans are growing up
immature, unbalanced and demented, as well as absurd.

Reading this, cultural historian Morris Berman exclaimed, "How could  psychologists have missed this?"

In the essays anthologized in Children and Nature, psychologists as  well as cognitive scientists, educators and political scientists  follow up on the pioneering work of Shepard, Rachel Carson and Edith  Cobb with more systematic examinations of childhood experiences of  nature in today's world. They aren't missing the connection anymore.

In an era of disappearing nature, their findings are disturbing. The  complexities of plant and animal life and their multiple roles in our  lives are crucial in learning to classify and compare in early  childhood - differentiating models of the neighborhood's SUVs just  isn't the same thing. Watching animals on TV is perhaps better than
nothing, but there is no substitute for real-world experience in a  child's conceptual and emotional exploration of what life is and what  it means.

Caring for creatures or plants is often the child's first experience in the feelings and practicalities of caring for another, as well as in responsibility. Animals provide lessons in distinguishing the self from others, and in their dealings with the "other" - the similarities and differences - children learn empathy as well as a healthy regard for dangers. These and other experiences help form conceptual and moral thinking of an appropriate complexity (for example, an animal can be both lovable and dangerous), and a grounded sense of reality.

Such experiences arc increasingly rare. Even the living lessons called common sense embodied in language expressions that use animal and natural metaphors are disappearing or have lost their experiential references. Fortunately, some authors here find hope in programs that involve children, and especially adolescents, in the
natural world, from forcst outings to engaging high school students in protecting a wildlife sanctuary. They encourage parents to actively integrate experiences with nature in their children's lives at every stage.

Eventually teenagers and children respond viscerally to wildlife experiences; the call of the wild to the wildness within is still strong. We are, as Shepard often pointed out, genetically the same beings formed by close interaction with nature for millions of years, and share most of our genes with fellow animals. Books like this,
edited by two distinguished scientists, help us understand how we can and must find ways to honor these affiliations and deep human needs in our own societies today.


3.  Feedback

On Dec 19, 2011, at 12:24 PM, Judy West wrote:
I appreciated the article in National Geographic that documented how natural forces have cause rapid global warming as recently as the Paleocene/Eocene, even more pronounced that what we are witnessing today. While burning fossil fuels may contribute to climate warming, earth processes outside of our control are far more significant and no change in our energy policy could ever override the powerful natural forces at play.

I am glad to see the evidence mounting in the public sphere, that global warming is more complex than politicians would have us believe. To suggest that eliminating the Keystone Pipeline would have any impact on global climate change is misleading to the public and fuels our dependancy on the Middle East. The current discussion in the legislative chambers is about the proposed route, not about climate change. This whole thing is part of a political agenda aimed at undermining private industry in favor of a government controlled economy.
Global warming more complex than thought?  Not really; it has always been recognized as a complex phenomenon, and many scientists have been very slow in coming to conclusions regarding both warming and its cause.  As a geologist you must have an understanding of the scientific process, although that understanding is not apparent in your email. 

And "...than politicians would have us believe"?  Politicians are more likely followers than leaders on the issue; it is not primarily a politically-driven issue.  In fact it is an extremely difficult issue for most politicians, especially national leaders, who dread telling constituents the bad news, and that life might be more difficult for us because of it.  There is almost no reward for a politician to grasp this thorny issue, especially in a time of high unemployment.  It is entities such as science, the public, the Dept of Defense and all large insurance companies that are most concerned.  Are you stacking your credentials against theirs?

As  for the Keystone Pipeline, there are many reasons why it is so strongly opposed, and many of them have nothing to do with the climate. 

Why are you hostile to the now-prevailing view of science, a view hard come by?  By your statements you put yourself in the Denier camp rather than the Skeptic.  Skepticism is a respectable position, but it also takes a lot of work and a lot of knowledge to question the evidence.  Your statements are eye-brow raisers, in particular your final statement.  I see on the website that you are in Environmental Site Assessment for real estate, Geologic and Seismic Assessment, Real Estate Permits and Entitlements, and assisting subdivisions & entitlements for real estate development.  Is there a connection between these and your climate views?

Greg Suba:
Destroying species is like tearing pages out of an unread book, written in a language humans hardly know how to read, about the place where they live.
    Rolston Holmes III, American philosopher (1985)

Yes, yes, and Y.E.S. Just wanted to agree with that statement.

Ed Bedard:
What is the opposite of micro-management?

On Dec 18, 2011, at 2:18 PM, Ed Bedard wrote:
Contrary to what St. Thomas Aquinas imagined, stars do not live in harmony. Each individual star is quite violent. When stars get too close to each other there can sometimes be great violence as one might rip the other apart. For life to evolve to the level we are at, the star must be in a peaceful location for a very long time. We don't know how common or how rare this is.
Ah yes, how true.  But no one even knew what stars were then, much less how violent the neighborhood may be.  And some of them are big enough to go through violent fits and eruptions for a million or so years before ending life in the blast of all blasts, a supernova.  Violent neighborhood?  You wouldn't want to be within a hundred light years of it.

We do know, however, that the smaller a star is the longer it lives, and the bigger/brighter it is intrinsically the shorter its life.

How would creationists handle this?  I mean, we know that stars, planets, galaxies, everything has a finite life.  They are born, go through youth, middle-age, old age, and die, either spectacularly as in a supernova or in a slow diminution taking billions of years.  I shouldn't ask how creationists handle it--they don't.  They ignore anything that doesn't fit their self-created little universe.  (Also, see next item, after Feedback)
Exactly. That's why I said he imagined this. The existence of galaxies was not even imagined until the early 20th centuries. Those "stars" he was looking at actually included a lot of galaxies, some stars, and a few planets.

On Dec 16, 2011, at 4:48 PM, ML Carle wrote:
Re: Emilie du Chatelet
Did you see where Bell probably stole the credit for the invention of the phone with an one hundred dollar bribe? How can all that be taken back from the history books and the cultural mindset?
OK, spoiler.  Now I suppose you're going to tell me there's no Santa Claus.  Seriously, what is the skinny on Bell?  You mean it's not true, huh?  Educate me.
I've often wondered what good, in an evolutionary sense, it was/is to have a fine mind. Now we have products we use daily - if not incessantly- designed by the highly intelligent which do not seem to improve our evolutionary future. One could argue that we are more helpless and clueless as a result, perhaps destined for the trash heap for species which couldn't adapt. When technology is beyond our capacity to understand it, we can only fail to take control from those who would manipulate us for quick profit. Maybe we are getting dumber because now there is too much to learn. We react defensively, impervious to sophisticated arguments. (Just sit me down with a word problem from the second semester of Algebra 1 and I'll show you how it's done.)

I wonder what an isolated, uneducated farm wife on the 1800s prairie did with her brilliant mind?
Only in recent years have I begun to wonder about such things.  My musings began in regard to music.  I especially love piano, and I can remember when this particular thought came into my mind.  One of my very favorite all-time pianists was a Brazilian woman, Guiomar Novaes.  I still listen to her playing a lot.  What got my attention was that she was the 19th child of a poor Sao Paolo family.  I don't know the details, but somehow her talent was recognized early, and she was given training somehow.  First mystery:  how was she recognized?  How many extremely talented people are never discovered and never get the chance to develop?  She was lucky.  Incidentally, she performed before a jury consisting of Debussy, Faure, and one other famous one I forget.  The rest is history.

I pick on her to illustrate the point you made.  It is painful to realize how much talent and intelligence went down the drain in world history.  It is regrettable that du Chatelet never got her full due because of her gender.  How many never got even as far as she did?  Life is full of tragedy, more than we can ever know.

Dan Richman
Lights and Birds.
 Mr Sigg,
 “The storm clouds over the top of the city lights made it look like a nice, flat body of water.” Thus Mr. Griffin explained why a couple of thousand birds slammed down on a parking lot in Utah. (Item 13 in your 12/16 email) And this tragic occurrence illustrates all too well one of the primary objections to Rec and Park’s push to install 60-foot-high floodlights over astroturf at the west end of Golden Gate Park, beneath and adjacent to a habitual flight-path of tens of thousands of migratory birds. Although I heard one gentleman at the EIR public hearing mention the dangerous optical illusion created by clouds or fog disseminating powerful light, I don’t remember finding one reference to it in the inch-thick EIR report itself.  Did I miss something?

On Dec 19, 2011, at 10:40 AM, David Wiesner wrote:
JS comment:  That c2 is a biggie; after years of contemplating the mysteriousness of the nature of light and the profound role that the speed of light plays in the working of the universe, and why its speed SQUARED should figure mathematically into the shaping of the universe and its events (eg, Einstein's E=mc2)--that, I have not begun to understand.  This Emilie du Chatelet sounds like quite a woman.

If you study basic chemistry or physics you will go through the process of deriving Newtonian physics mathematically.  Kinetic energy is the amount of impact energy an object has.  KE = 1/2 mass (M) times velocity squared (KE=1/2MVsquared), since the acceleration of an object accelerating at a constant rate can be expressed as initial velocity (for instance miles per second) times the increase in velocity in a given time (1 second).  (The reason for the 1/2 is that the object starts off with 0 velocity and ends up at V velocity.  The midpoint of a seesaw is the average height of all the points on the seesaw and it is 1/2 the height of the high end.  An object that started standing still and accelerated to V had an average V of 1/2 its current speed.)

Since the speed of light (C) is just a given value of V, it would make sense that any measure of E relating to C would share the same exponents as above.  In fact it would be mysterious if it did not.

Thank you for this.  I understand it conceptually.  And I understand that extending the physics in your first paragraph to the speed of light and its implications in the famous E=mc2 may "just" be an extension of the mathematics. 

Nevertheless, I am awed by the phenomenon itself, and at the power of the human mind that could figure it out.  On top of that, her courage in the face of prevailing gender attitudes impresses me no end.  She should be recognized for her achievements, even if that recognition is a couple of centuries tardy.
In fairness, Voltaire had more of an influence on society.  As for her effect on physics, she deserves some credit, not least for this:

Was her contribution Nobel quality?  I don't think so.

She might have done true breakthrough work with the same educational opportunities as men had and had she not been debilitated and died early from an STD.

(JS: I recommend a short visit to the above Wikipedia site for a little more information on this remarkable woman.  I paste the following from that site):
Although the classical mechanics of du Châtelet are not approached with the same accuracy as Einstein's concept of mass and velocity,[14] in his famous equation for the energy equivalent of matter E = mc² (where c represents the velocity of light), modern biographers and historians continue to see a neat accord with the principle E ∝ mv² first recognised by du Châtelet from over 150 years before.[15][16] It should be emphasized, however, that from a physical point of view, du Châtelet's principle is a correct assessment of the kinetic energy in classical mechanics, and is the first term in an expansion of Einstein's Mass–energy equivalence.


4.  Alien visitor from afar

Even the most unassuming neighbor can hide a giant secret.  New calculations of the orbit of a dim, low-mass star just 300 light-years from the solar system suggest the body may be a runaway from another galaxy.  After analyzing the speed and direction of motion of the tiny star, (researchers) report that the object’s orbit indicates that it may have originated from a galaxy beyond the Milky Way.  They propose that the star may have come from a small galaxy that ventured close enough to the Milky Way to be ripped apart by gravitational forces.

Science News 4 July 2009

A reflection while shaving on the finite speed of light

Stars are further than we comprehend.
We view at last the news they send
and read the past.  This face I see
is out of date, a counterfeit, a sham-
someone I was looking out at who I am.
    Graham Walker


6.  A hint of the Higgs boson, a crucial piece of information on the nature of reality.

Investigations into extra dimensions and the nature of dark matter will provide plenty more work for the Large Hadron Collider.


7.  An important advance in systematics of California plants:

The Jepson eFlora is now on line.

The Jepson eFlora initially parallels the second edition of The Jepson Manual, Vascular Plants of California, which is the work of 300 authors and editors being published by the University of California Press. 

The eFlora includes all of the taxonomic treatments of the print Manual and has in addition treatments for taxa that were excluded from the print Manual because of doubts about naturalization status. Interactive distribution maps linked to specimen data from the Consortium of California Herbaria are included.  Words that were abbreviated to save space in the print Manual have been expanded.  Keys are linked to the treatments to which they refer. Accepted names and synonyms can be searched for.  The eFlora is linked to the Jepson Online Interchange, and from there to numerous electronic tools.

The Jepson Herbarium will work with the treatment authors and users to keep the eFlora in sync with advances in California botanical knowledge.

8. for delightful art contest and poetry contest


9.  Susan Karasoff:

Dear Jake,
Executive Order 13514 looks like direction to plant native plants on federal lands (as well as a lot of other good ideas), including
Avoid development of prime farmland
Preserve areas with permeable soils
Protect floodplain functions
Preserve or restore continuous riparian buffer widths
Preserve threatened or endangered species and their habitats
Streets should be designed to promote and facilitate safe
pedestrian and bicycle activity
Reduce or eliminate use of potable water for landscape irrigation and water
Choose plant species which are native to the area and therefore likely to require less
irrigation water
Preserve existing native vegetation
Use appropriate, non-invasive plants (already covered in 13112, but I had missed that one)
Use native plants: Where practicable, use vegetation native to the ecoregion
Conserve plant communities native to the ecoregion
Restore plant communities native to the ecoregion
Use regional materials
Rooftop gardens, community gardens, and vertical gardens inside or outside of buildings,
adjacent or connecting to the landscape should be considered in order to promote
educational programs, food access, and gardening activities for morale and community

President Obama's Executive Order 13514 directs Federal agencies and facilities to improve sustainability across their operations. The Executive Order, in addition to its call for agencies to implement sustainable practices when constructing and operating high performance Federal buildings, establishes goals for the conservation of water resources on Federal facilities including potable, industrial, landscaping, and agricultural water.

This was the change I was looking for.

Forest Service unveils new invasive species plan – Knoxville News Sentinel
Invasive species cost the American public an estimated $138 billion each year, and nowhere are the stakes higher than on the 193 million acres of national forests and grasslands managed by the U.S. Forest Service.


10.  Marketplace, 19 December 2011
Kai Ryssdal: It's gonna be years yet before the effects of the financial crisis work their way out of the economy. Same can well be said for the justice system, too.

On Friday, the Securities and Exchange Commission charged the former CEOs of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for their role in the subprime mortgage scandal. They're accused of intentionally understating how exposed Fannie and Freddie were to mortgages we now know were bound to go bad. Those losses led to the government takeover of Fannie and Freddie and a call for more regulation of the financial industry.

But commentator and business historian John Steele Gordon says there's still unanswered questions. 

...Here's something that's vital to understand. Fannie and Freddie had their very own set of regulators -- just for them. The Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight allowed them to take on ever more risk, while their top executives cooked the books to ensure big bonuses for themselves. They hired lobbyists by the hundred, and made large, and often illegal, political contributions. Banks knew they could off-load to Fannie and Freddie much of the risk in giving mortgages to people with dubious credit and they began to do so with a vengeance.

Yes, the Dodd-Frank bill regulates the banks. But who is going to regulate the politicians in Washington who put their own interests ahead of the country's? The law doesn't do that at all. Indeed, Dodd-Frank doesn't even mention Fannie and Freddie.


11.  LTE, Guardian Weekly

The consensus among economists is that the market's behaviour is irrational.  In fact, didn't someone win a Nobel prize for coming to that conclusion?  Instead of throwing the furniture out the window in an attempt to pacify this lunatic creature, isn't it time to get out the straitjacket?

Samuel Reifler
Rhinebeck, New York, US


12.  UC Scientists Want Your Dirty Socks 

Anyone frustrated with the mounting pile of single socks orphaned after every laundry load can put those lonely socks toward research.

A team of University of California wildlife researchers is requesting socks for their studies on a rare weasel in the Sierra Nevada, UC research officials said this week.

The team, led by UC Berkeley wildlife biologist Rick Sweitzer, is examining the effects of forest thinning on the health of local wildlife and forest and water resources. As part of the Sierra Nevada Adaptive Management Project, or SNAMP, the team has determined that socks are the ideal receptacle for hanging weasel bait in trees.

The weasel is called the Pacific fisher, officials said. The baited socks are hung in trees in view of motion-activated cameras. When the weasel moves the camera takes photos for the scientists.

The data collected shows the fishers' movements, habitat preferences, and survival techniques. The Pacific fisher is a small, nocturnal carnivore that once dwelled across high-elevation forests in the Sierra Nevada and along the coastal mountains of northwestern California.

Now the fishers are only found in two populations near the California-Oregon border and in the southern Sierra Nevada. The researchers go through about 250 socks a month to complete their research, which adds up in time, money and resources when prime research time is spent shopping for socks.

The SNAMP team is putting out a call for any and all socks that are gently used in an effort to reduce, reuse, recycle and relieve laundry frustration. Socks can be delivered or mailed to 40799 Elliott Drive, Oakhurst, Calif., 93644.


13.  High Country News

Did the Park Service bow to pressure from Coca Cola on its bottle ban?
News - From the December 12, 2011 issue by Nathan Rice
It was an ambitious plan: Ban the sale of individual plastic water bottles in the Grand Canyon to cut waste in the nation's second-most visited national park. But in December 2010, just two weeks before the prohibition was to take effect, National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis postponed it indefinitely, citing impacts to concessionaires and public safety risks in the hot desert setting. A recent New York Times article reports that Steve Martin, the park's superintendent at the time, was upset about possible corporate influence on the decision. The Coca-Cola Company, which sells Dasani and other bottled water brands, had expressed concerns about the ban to the National Park Foundation, which handles donations to national parks. "Banning anything is never the right answer," Coke spokeswoman Susan Stribling told the Times. The Park Service met with Coke, the bottling industry and concessionaires to discuss it. In November, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility sued the Park Service for access to records on the switch; agency officials insist there was no corporate meddling. It's unlikely a ban would have hurt Coke much, but setting a precedent for other parks could be bad for business.

309,000 Approximate number of plastic water bottles disposed of in Grand Canyon National Park in 2010

30 Estimated percent of those bottles that was recycled 

30 Estimated percent of Grand Canyon's waste stream composed of plastic water bottles

$289,000 Dollars spent by the park to install 10 water-bottle filling stations in preparation for the plastic bottle ban 

$300,000 Estimated retail value of bottled water sold in the park in a given year

$14 million Minimum amount that the Coca-Cola Company has donated to all parks over the last 40 years, including money for a recycling program on the National Mall

$22.4 million Grand Canyon National Park's 2010 operating budget 

$35 billion Coca Cola Company's 2010 net operating revenues 

2009 Year in which Zion National Park received a National Park Service environmental achievement award for banning plastic water bottles

60,000 Minimum number of water bottles eliminated in the first year of Zion's program

SOURCES: National Park Service, The Coca-Cola Company


14.  LTEs - Smithsonian 20 April 2011

Alamo Myth
Once again, mythology trumps full historical accuracy.  In the item about the 175th anniversary of the Alamo and Texas's independence from Mexico, no mention is made of the fact that Davy Crockett and other defenders of the Alamo died for a cause lacking in nobility.  A major motivation for the conflict was Texas's desire to own slaves.  Mexico had abolished slavery in 1829, which left transplanted Americans wondering how they would keep their slaves if Mexico enforced its new law in Texas.  Alamo "hero" Jim Bowie himself was a slave trader and slave smuggler.  When such details are omitted, we're left with a mythologized view of our true history.

Steven Kale
Junction City, Oregon

Model Leader
The article "The Reluctant President" about George Washington taking up the leadership of a new nation is particularly timely in light of recent events in Egypt.  I hope people will read it and learn from it.  Understanding how a government is created and maintained is a complex undertaking.  Even though George Washington was reluctant to take office, he admirably carried out his duties.  This country was fortunate to have had a man who shunned self-aggrandizement.  Such lessons should be disseminated around the world.

Linda Kay Rose
Delaplane, Virginia



Why am I reaching again for the brushes?
When I paint your portrait, God,
nothing happens.

But I can choose to feel you.

At my senses' horizon
you appear hesitantly,
like scattered islands.

Yet standing here, peering out,
I'm all the time seen by you.

The choruses of angels use up all of heaven.
There's no more room for you
in all that glory. You're living
in your very last house.

All creation holds its breath, listening within me,
because, to hear you, I keep silent.

~ Ranier Maria Rilke ~

(Rilke’s Book of Hours:Love Poems to God, translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy)


16.  Notes & Queries, Guardian Weekly

Ants just might be nicer
Do any creatures besides humans and ants deliberately enslave their own species?
Good to know we're right up there with ants.
John Benseman, Auckland, New Zealand

• Kookaburras and white-winged choughs practise a form of domestic slavery. Their young are expected to contribute to raising the newest hatchlings of a couple of seasons before they are free to mate and breed.
Ursula Nixon, Bodalla, NSW, Australia

• Honeybees of the worker cast are true slaves within the species.
L Whitten, Christchurch, New Zealand

A pint of pale ale, please
Why is it unacceptable to go beyond the pale?
My OED describes a pale as "a pointed piece of wood for fencing"; "a boundary". So, the ignominy would come from crossing the picket line.
Anthony Walter, Surrey, British Columbia, Canada

• There is no point in going beyond the pale because the best Guinness is found in Dublin, not the back of beyond.
James Carroll, Geneva, Switzerland

• A palaeontologist might be able to dig up an answer.
Margaret Wyeth, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada


Rubbing two sticks is next
Why do Londoners smoke?
Because they're difficult to light in damp conditions.
Roger Morrell, Perth, Western Australia

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