In the beginning this blog was centered on San Francisco parks and open space issues with special emphasis on natural areas and natural history. Over time it began to range into other areas and topics. As you can see, it is eclectic, as I interlace it with topics of interest to me.

I welcome feedback: just click this link to reach me.

Monday, April 9, 2012


“I stuck my head out the window
this morning and spring kissed me
bang in the face.”
    Langston Hughes

1.   Can the world learn from Bhutan?
2.   A Morning Offering by John O'Donohue
3.   Pacifican wins County plaudits for adoption of 'secret' waterfall
4.   8th Annual San Francisco Native Plant Garden Tour April 15
5.   Rec-Park park bond listening session April 18, not 11
6.   Prepare for 4th annual Save The Frogs Day April 28
7.   That's Tuolumne in My Tap workday at Sunset Elementary 4/14
8.   Paddle to the Sea at Commonwealth Club 4/17.  How to participate
9.   Heron Watch at Stow Lake - season opens April 14
10. Feedback:  Jake Sigg is an April Fool
11.  Conversation on Galileo's Daughter
12.  Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve & Searsville Dam TONIGHT at SLAC
13.  Overpopulation Top 10/wisest fool/is illegal illegal?/interesting statistics
14.  Become involved in mapping Sudden Oak Death
15.  Is disgust only learned?
16.  Is King Lear's fate going to be common in China?
17.  In a mist of light - Wendell Berry

1.  Bhutan rails against world's 'suicidal path'
Himalayan nation calls on heads of state to come to capital for summit on way countries measure progress

Bhutan's PM, Jigmi Thinley: 'We do not need to accept as inevitable a world of impending climate chaos.'

The tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, aghast at what it calls the world's "suicidal path", has called on heads of state and leading economists to come to the capital Thimphu for a global summit to reform the international financial system and the way countries measure progress.

"We need to rethink our entire growth-based economy so that we can thrive more effectively on our own resources in harmony with nature. We do not need to accept as inevitable a world of impending climate chaos and financial collapse," prime minister Jigmi Thinley will tell the UN in New York on Monday.

Bhutan – sandwiched between China and India with a population about the size of Birmingham – has avoided social and economic chaos, he says, because it is not hooked to the materialist bandwagon and because it measures progress by the level of happiness among its citizens and not by gross domestic production.

It proposes that purely economic measures of growth which count resource depletion and pollution as gains lead to ecological destruction and over-consumption.

"Economic growth is mistakenly seen as synonymous with wellbeing. The faster we cut down forests and haul in fish stocks to extinction, the more GDP grows. Even crime, war, sickness, and natural disasters make GDP grow, simply because these ills cause money to be spent", Thinley will say in Bhutan's submission to the UN ahead of the Rio +20 earth summit in June.

"The [global] economic system is in rapid meltdown. It is based on the premise of limitless growth on a finite planet. It has produced ever-widening inequalities with 20% of the world now consuming 86% of its goods, while the poorest 20% consume 1% or less and emit 2% of the worlds greenhouse gases.".

Bhutan's leaders argue that institutions like the World Bank and IMF, set up in 1944 to govern commercial and financial relations between the world's major states, are now perilously outdated and must be reformed to avoid catastrophe.

In their place, they say, must come new systems of fair trade, rewards for good behaviour, prompt responses by countries to resource depletion and new ways to measure social, economic and ecological progress.

"The world is in need of an international consensus for the creation of a new economic paradigm with well-being indicators, new national accounting systems that count natural and social capital, and incentives for sustainable production", Bhutan says.

The clarion call for a new system of financial governance is supported by the UN and 68 countries so far. Last year the UN adopted Bhutan's call for a "holistic approach" to development, aimed at promoting wellbeing and happiness.

Its adoption of a new type of economy has encouraged it to take a global lead. Four years ago it launched a gross national happiness index to guide all public policy. Its constitution now ensures that at least 60% of the country remains under forest cover in perpetuity and its aim is to be 100% organic in its agricultural production.

Life expectancy has doubled in two generations, 99% of primary age children are in school, and the country has vowed to always be a carbon sink. However, it remains one of the "poorest" nations on earth, with 25% of its people living on less than $1.25 a day, and 70% without electricity. Until 1974, no tourists were allowed into the Buddhist nation.

"[Our] measures of progress and GNH index clearly show that producing and consuming more stuff does not make people happier. On the contrary when they overwork and go into debt to buy ever more goods and pay the bills, they get more stressed. Working, producing and consuming less is not only good for nature but gives us more time to enjoy each others", says Thinley.

"Instead of progress [the world] has perilously accelerated ecosystem decline. Humanity is now using up natural resources at a 35% faster rate than nature can regenerate. This ecological destruction is not separate from global economic realities that are dividing rich from poor", Bhutan will say in its submission.

The New York meeting will lay the groundwork for countries to adopt new "sustainable development" goals at the Rio +20 meeting, the follow-up to the historic 1992 "Earth summit" which saw the introduction of global treaties to address climate change and biodiversity loss.

“In this age, when a meager utilitarianism seems ready to absorb every feeling and sentiment, and what is sometimes called improvement in its march makes us fear that the bright and tender flowers of the imagination shall all be crushed beneath its iron tramp, it would be well to cultivate the oasis that yet remains to us, and thus preserve the germs of a future and a purer system.

        Thomas Cole, from Essay on American Scenery   


A Morning Offering

I bless the night that nourished my heart
To set the ghosts of longing free
Into the flow and figure of dream
That went to harvest from the dark
Bread for the hunger no one sees.

All that is eternal in me
Welcome the wonder of this day,
The field of brightness it creates
Offering time for each thing
To arise and illuminate.

I place on the altar of dawn:
The quiet loyalty of breath,
The tent of thought where I shelter,
Wave of desire I am shore to
And all beauty drawn to the eye.

May my mind come alive today
To the invisible geography
That invites me to new frontiers,
To break the dead shell of yesterdays,
To risk being disturbed and changed.

May I have the courage today
To live the life that I would love,
To postpone my dream no longer
But do at last what I came here for
And waste my heart on fear no more.

~ John O'Donohue ~

(To Bless the Space Between Us)


3.  Ian Butler:

San Mateo County has featured my work cleaning up the secret Waterfall in their Health Hero program:

(Ian discover this waterfall several years ago.  How can a 60' waterfall running year-round not have been discovered before this?  It ain't easy, but the waterfall managed somehow, and it harbored many native plants.  It also was a fountainhead of plastic and other garbage, because storm flow from Daly City and Pacifica streets, plus highways, also fed into it.  He and his daughter have been hauling tons of garbage from it for many years now.  Love of the land and taking responsibility for its care motivated Ian, as it should all of us.  JS)

Earth Day is April 22. If you're interested in joining Ian and thousands of other San Mateo residents to clean up the coast and celebrate Earth Day on Saturday, April 21, visit You can also view other volunteer opportunities at

April 15, 11:00am to 3:00pm
Garden Tour: Annual Native Plant Garden Tour of Native plant gardens throughout San Francisco

The Yerba Buena Chapter of the California Native Plant Society announces its annual Native Plant Garden Tour. Join us Sunday, April 15 from 11AM to 3PM for a free, self-paced tour of San Francisco native plant gardens. This is a special chance to see, up-close, wonderful local gardens as well as talk with their owners and care-takers. Native plant gardens conserve water and provide vital habitat for wildlife. Come enjoy the peak of spring on the Native Plant Garden Tour April 15th.
Directions:  Visit the Annual Garden Tour page for a list of gardens, maps, and more information.


5.  Recreation & Park 2012 park bond listening sessions

(JS:  I verbally announced at a recent meeting that this listening session would be on April 11.  The date has been changed to the 18th.  Other listening sessions for other districts are posted at  It is important that advocates for nature be heard at these sessions.  The 2008 bond issue was well spent and has the confidence of the public.  Let's repeat that this year.)

Districts 1, 4, and 7
Co-Hosted by Supervisor Eric Mar, Supervisor Carmen Chu, Supervisor Sean Elsbernd, and the San Francisco Parks Alliance
Wednesday, April 18th - 6:30pm to 8:00pm  
County Fair Building (Auditorium) - 1199 9th Ave.,


The 4th annual SAVE THE FROGS Day is coming up, April 28th 2012 ( Our goal is to have 200 events in 30 countries and we are currently only at 21 different countries.  if you and your friends could organize an event to educate your school and/or local community about amphibian conservation.

A great way to come up with event ideas is to look at what others have done in past years:

Here are some possible ideas:
-give a presentation that centers on frogs and the environment (you can download one of our slideshows here:
-building a frog pond will provide habitat for local amphibians!
-hold a fundraiser or bake sale
-start a Save The Frogs Chapter at your school (

If you do plan to hold an event, please make sure to register it at this link:

Once you register, you are eligible for free educational materials for your event, see:

Finally, if you would like us to send you a 2012 Save The Frogs Day poster ( for your classroom or office, please email a request including your mailing address to

Please contact us if you have any questions or suggestions and do not forget to check out our student webpage at (

Garden Workday at Sunset Elementary
Saturday, April 14th
1920 41st Avenue, San Francisco
10:00am - 3:30pm (but come for as long as you wish!)

As part of Tuolumne River Trust's "That's the Tuolumne in my Tap" environmental education program in the Bay Area, we're installing a dry creekbed and rainwater catchment system and planting and maintaining a low-water food and native plant garden to teach students and their families about water conservation. Gloves, tools, and any necessary training will be provided. Potluck lunch at noon. To volunteer, email or call (415) 882-7252.

Commonwealth Club Paddle to the Sea Hour
Tuesday, April 17th
Commonwealth Club Gold Room, 595 Market Street
5:30pm Reception / 6:00-7:00pm Presentation
$20 general admission / $7 students

TRT Executive Director, Eric Wesselman, and Paddle to the Sea Director, Jessie Raeder, have been invited to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco to present Paddle to the Sea. If you're still curious about how you can participate in this year's paddle-a-thon and why it's so important to the Bay Area, or just want to know what all the fuss is about, please join us. Tickets are required. Purchase tickets by clicking here.

For more information, please contact Jessie Raeder at or call toll-free 888-994-3344.

San Francisco NatureEducation presents Heron Watch at Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park - free and open to the public
Opening Day APRIL 14!
6 Saturdays: April 14, 21, 28 and May 5, 12 and 19
Stow Lake, follow sign at Boathouse to observation site
FREE Observation Program at spotting scopes 10am -1pm
Come and see the Great Blue Herons and their chicks!
The first chicks have already hatched at Stow Lake!
Interns and Volunteers will answer your questions and explain the behavior of the Great Blue Herons and their chicks
Nature walks 10:30-noon, Children FREE, Adults $10
Contact Anastasia Marin at or 415-387-9160 for more information.

San Francisco Nature Education Copyright 2012


10.  Feedback

Patrick Schlemmer:
Hi Jake,
You will probably hear from people, so I should warn you that the story about Nature and Science teaming up was an April Fool’s joke. The article is pretty clever. It was published in the online version of Science magazine.

"Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog.  Few people are interested and the frog dies of it."
-E. B. White
A very important correction, Patrick.  Thanks.

It seemed credible to me in that peer review is happening online now, allowing many people, expert and otherwise, the opportunity to poke holes in the theses they're reading, therefore avoiding necessity of circulating to only a few pairs of eyes.  I am not of this academic world and my understanding of the potential flaws in this process is limited.  So I am an April Fool.
Every man is a damned fool for at least five minutes every day. Wisdom consists in not exceeding the limit.
-Elbert Hubbard, author, editor, printer (1856-1915)
I have often pined for a secretary or some kind of assistant to help me put this newsletter together.  One of the many problems is that I have thousands of quotations or pregnant passages that want to be mated with others, especially current events.  Trouble is finding the right one for the occasion.  I sometimes find them--after the newsletter has been sent.
I know what you mean! The word document where I keep my quotations is 781 pages long now. Which means I have collected something on the order of 8,000 quotes. I just search for key words when I am looking for one.
“He wrapped himself in quotations- as a beggar would enfold himself in the purple of Emperors.”  - Rudyard Kipling

Keith McAllister:
Uh, Jake, you did notice that this article is dated April 1, 2010?
"doing away with the archaic peer review system" would produce a literally "unbelievable" publication.
Probably the most interesting story this month is that the two great science journals, Nature and Science, have set aside their decades-long rivalry and agreed to work together on an unbelievable new publication. They are doing away with the archaic peer review system and are switching to a more modern, democratic publishing model. Read more about it in this article: Science, Nature Team Up on New Journal.
I did not read the item, merely passed it on.  Not the first time I've been suckered on April 1st.

John Anderson:
Hi Jake, Item 10 was great! I was getting vaguely suspicious of it until the very end, when the reference to "Rick Rolling" let me know I'd been had.

It's reassuring when the editors of a major scientific institution show they have a sense of humor, particularly in the face of events such as passage of the Ryan budget, which would essentially end basic research. Thank you.

John Anderson

Nancy Dunn:
Item #10 about Science and Nature teaming up had me consulting the calendar: Could this item be Jake's April Fool's Day prank? That's how unlikely it would seem to be.
Nancy:  I scarcely even noticed that the announcement called for a merger of the two journals, which, if I had noticed, would have raised questions in my mind.  Junking the current peer review practice and substituting wide distribution online is what I focused on, and that is happening.
Yes, I actually really like the current practice at some peer-reviewed journals to either preview articles online or to allow general readership access after a year of paid-subscriber only access. Online publication does allow the specialized journals to control costs, but somehow the journals need to raise some dough to pay the overhead of managing the process and paying for professional editing, layout, and chart production and the like.

But maybe they're about to belong to the same big publishing conglomerate???? Perhaps I'm too cynical for my own good?
Can one be too cynical?  Not easy these days.

(Mail from alert readers pointing out my April Foolishness continue to roll in, so I will not post them all.  JS)

(JS:  Following my special astronomy edition starring Nicolaus Copernicus, I had a conversation with a friend who made sure I would come to appreciate Galileo and give him his due.)

Bob:  I finally carved out time to listen to the CDs you kindly sent me.

Dava Sobel's "Galileo's Daughter" book will absolutely change your outlook on this important, outstanding scientist.

You nailed it there, Bob.  My conversion is complete. 

What a guy, and what a couple.  What a trial.  And what an experience.  I feel ashamed of myself that I could allow Arthur Koestler to poison my mind against him.  But I'm over it now.  Koestler had his own weird needs and satisfying those needs came out in peculiar ways.

All the elements that have strong appeal to me are there:  science, astronomy, history, theater, high drama, suspense, beautiful language, rich human interactions, wild in its complexity and unpredictable twists and turns.  It was a pleasurable and painful experience, one of the most intense I've had in recent years.  By the third and fourth day of his tormenting questioning I was Galileo, and the stress weakened me so much I was afraid for my own health.  Imagine if you were sitting there and had to come up with answers to their questions.

And what a pleasure to listen to the voice of Fritz Weaver.  That rich baritone was of such pleasing quality that I would enjoy listening to him reading the California Corporation Code or a list of the elements of the Periodic Table.  Thank you for recommending it and cutting the CDs for me. 

I loved the florid style of expression current then.  Florid has a negative connotation today.  But that elaborate, embellished style was the perfect vehicle for expressing the deep affections between Galileo and his daughter, not to mention the dialogues with and between the church and its various spokespeople.  It dramatized, almost even dignified, the purblind stupidity of the church at its highest levels.  Language has power.

Whenever I have a powerful experience like this I am bereft and feeling lonely afterwards, like I don't have the company of that experience anymore.  So I go looking for something to fill that hole.  Can't find any, of course, and the feeling gradually subsides.

Starting to babble.  I'd better stop.

Original email:
Dear Jake:
Thank you very much for this special astronomy edition.  By coincidence, I have just finished revisiting Dava Sobel's earlier book "Galileo's Daughter".  Galileo is a GIANT among astronomers!  A case could be made that Galileo founded the science of astronomy...  As the developer of the telescope, the discoverer of sunspots and the moons of Jupiter, and especially as the champion of Copernicus' view of the solar system, Galileo stands tall!  This doesn't even get into Galileo's pioneering work relative to the mechanical oscillator ("pendulum")...
Dava Sobel's "Galileo's Daughter" book will absolutely change your outlook on this important, outstanding scientist.  Sure, there are warts on his no-punches-pulled biography.  What human being is free of these??  Galileo himself respected church leadership;  the notion that Galileo rebelled against the church is Protestant vanity, I think.
I have the 5 disk audio book of Galileo's Daughter, and could probably mail it to you if you care to commune with Ms. Sobel via sound rather than by straining your vision...  My woman friend (who is a flea market maven) produced a used copy of the audio book after I mentioned to her it is an EXCELLENT book...  She's known as "the book lady" at local flea markets...  I'll bet either hard copy or audio
book is available at the EXCELLENT SF public library, too.  I absolutely LOVE dropping in and browsing at the SF main library at the end of my occasional work days in SF before entering BART to transport me away from The City...
There is a SURPRISE ENDING to Galileo's Daughter, by the way...  I was not ready for it, and it blew me away both when I read the book the first time, and even in recently listening to the audio book with full awareness of what I was about to hear at the end...

"Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve and Searsville Dam"
Presentation by Philippe Cohen
Co-Director at Jasper Ridge, Stanford University
Full announcement here

Philippe Cohen, administrative director of Stanford's Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve, will speak at SLAC in Menlo Park (directions here) on Monday, April 9, about Searsville Dam. The talk will begin at 4:15 p.m. in Panofsky Auditorium, with refreshments served beforehand at 3:45 p.m. Cohen is responsible for the continuing ecological health of the Stanford-owned preserve. He is the primary contact for interacting with the surrounding communities on issues of mutual concern.

A recent article (here) in the Drake Magazine includes an interview with Philippe, and author Steven Hawley's comment:

"It’s strange to hear the co-director of a biological preserve at one of the world’s foremost research institutions weigh the future of listed endangered species against a possible listing for a dam on the national register of historic places."

Find out more about Searsville Dam safety, impacts to ecosystem health, and a unique opportunity


13.  From the archives:  OVERPOPULATION TOP 10

Born-again population expert David Letterman recently informed “Late Show” viewers about the Top 10 signs that there are too many people on the planet.  Among them:  a two-year wait to date Madonna; Rhode Island phone books weighing more than a full-grown elephant; and the constant deafening whoosh of more than 5 billion people breathing.

The Economist had a competition for the wisest fool of the past 50 years.  Some nominees of interest:  Ronald Reagan, Yasser Arafat, Michael Moore, Albert Einstein, Paul Ehrlich, Saddam Hussein, Prince Charles, and Fidel Castro.  Here is the winner:

Barry Cornell of Sevenoaks, Kent:  My nomination is the person who has, through his cunning, played a major role in the defeat of communism, and through his idiocy helped consign the third world to a poverty induced largely by his opposition to birth control.  Step forward that almost medieval manifestation of Christendom, His Holiness the Pope.


Immigrants are "Persons lawfully admitted for permanent residence in the United States."
    Department of Homeland Security

Remember Sonny Bono's response when asked to comment on illegal immigration? "Well, it's illegal, isn't it?

The importance of the quote has to do with our society's rampant use of the phrase "illegal immigrants" or even "immigrants" to refer to foreign nationals who are illegally entering and residing in the U.S.  It's a complete oxymoron, like "invited burglars" or some such thing. Immigrants, by our own government's definition, are legally present in the U.S. and therefore accounted for and subject to all our laws.

The proper term for such people is "illegal aliens." Most of the media, however, and all of the champions of so-called undocumented workers, have decreed that "illegal aliens" is racist, hurtful, politically incorrect, etc.  It is their way of cowing immigration reformers and legitimizing the illegals' presence. Words are powerful tools.


In 2001-2002 California spent $16 billion educating students with a native language other than English.
    California Department of Education

The growth of energy consumption in the U.S. is being driven by population growth, not by SUVs and pick-up trucks.
    Professor Donald Anthrop, San Jose State University

Public schools must find space and teachers for an additional 50,000 or so students each year, translating into roughly 1,700 new classrooms.
    Dan Walters, Sacramento Bee

California needs 250,000 new jobs a year to keep pace with growth of the labor force.
    Dan Walters, Sacramento Bee

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

60% of the increase in elderly immigrants is due to the growing number admitted as relatives of U.S. citizens, permanent residents and refugees.  Internet Journal of Healthcare Administration

64% of California voters say illegal aliens are a major strain on the state budget.  Rasmussen Poll

California has more recipients in key welfare categories than the next eight states combined. 
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services

California fire dangers increase dramatically with urban sprawl.  U.S. Geological Survey study

Los Angeles and Orange Counties have the highest populations and the highest cancer-related health risks from hazardous air pollutants.  Environmental Protection Agency

Since the 1850s, 90% of California's original coastal wetland acreage has disappeared.  California Coastal Commission

Become involved and help to map the distribution of Sudden Oak Death (SOD) in California by joining the group of hundreds of citizen scientists who have been helping for the past four years by participating in local SOD BLITZES.  Attend a one-hour long local training offered by U.C. Berkeley scientist Dr. Matteo Garbelotto, obtain your SOD collection package, and then collect symptomatic plant material in the 48 hours following the training.  Plant material will be processed at Berkeley and results will be posted on an interactive web-available map on October 1. Do not bring material before you attend the training session, as plants need to be sampled following a precise although simple protocol!

Whether you have already participated in a SOD BLITZ, or it is your first time, California oaks need you:  residents with confirmed local SOD infections in their neighborhood can in fact protect their trees from becoming infected rather inexpensively.  Training sessions on how to manage SOD are offered monthly at U.C. Berkeley, and weekly during the Fall in various California locations.

Main reasons to participate in a 2012 SOD-BLITZ:

-       SOD changes distribution every year

-    2011 was a major year (a "wave" year) for SOD spread, most of the spread occurred AFTER the 2011 Blitzes were conducted

-        Years following a  "wave" year are also conducive to the spread of SOD. Hence, we predict the pathogen will spread further in 2012

-     2012 Blitzes will follow a NEW protocol that will allow us to estimate the actual local SOD infection rate, rather that just informing on local SOD distribution!

East Bay - Orinda - Saturday April 28, 10:00am
Garden Room, Orinda Library, 26 Orinda Way
Contact: Bill Hudson -

East Bay - Berkeley - Saturday April 28, 1:00pm
Rm. 159 Mulford Hall, UC Berkeley,
Register Online for UC Berkeley Meeting at
Contact: Susan Schwartz - or Kimra McAfee -

A full list with times and locations of 2012 SOD BLITZES can be accessed by going to

That's Disgusting, by Rachel Herz

Casu marzu is made in Sardinia by adding fly larvae to sheep's cheese and allowing the concoction to rot.  It is eaten with thousands of little maggots still squirming inside it.

Disgusting?  Not to the Sardinians who find it delicious with a nice strong glass of red wine.  And it's the same for many other sights, sounds and smells:  What's disgusting is in the queasy stomach of the beholder.  Herz, a research psychologist specializing in the sense of smell, set out to understand the science behind disgust after being tapped to judge the National Rotten Sneakers Contest in Montpelier, Vermont, and finding it not as bad as she had expected.  She becomes the reader's brave guide to all kinds of topics that are normally avoided.

First Herz surveys what kinds of things disgust people, and then she tries to explain why by exploring disgust's physiological basis (people with damage to some brain areas don't feel it, for example) and behavioral research on  how people develop and respond to disgust.

Disgust is the only basic emotion that is largely learned (young children don't feel or recognize it), and Herz argues that it may be the most recently evolved.  Disgust, research suggests, evolved from fear and took hold because of its ability to help protect people from their top predators, pathogens.  From there, it has been elaborated upon by associations and connections in the brain, such that today all sorts of violations (ketchup on ice cream) can trigger disgust.  But these feelings can be harnessed, Herz says, and in the end her lesson on disgust has a lot to say about how we as humans feel about ourselves.

Book review in Science News 07.04.12


16.  Excerpts from two articles by Tania Branigan in Guardian Weekly 30.03.12

…The National (China) People's Congress's  70 richest members added more to their wealth last year than the combined net worth of the US Congress, the president and his cabinet and the US supreme court justices, Bloomberg reported recently.  Their average worth of $1.28bn not only makes the favorite for the Republican presidential candidacy, Mitt Romney, look impecunious; it indicates how intertwined political and economic power have become….

Trouble in store when society gets old before it gets rich

While hundreds of millions of Chinese families toasted the new year together, 84-year-old He Daxing huddled on the doorstep of his daughter's home in Chongquing.  On the most important date in the calendar, not one of his six grown children - born before the country's one-child policy was imposed - would take him in.

Filial piety is so embedded here that officials offered to help him sue his offspring when he fell ill after four nights outside:  Chinese law requires adults to support their parents.  Yet his case shows that traditional ideals are under growing pressure in a fast-changing, increasingly individualistic society.  China may soon have more He Daxings.  It faces a soaring number of old people and a shrinking number of young adults who are also less able - and sometimes less willing - to support their elders.

…In 2009 there were 167 million over-60s, about an eighth of the population.  By 2050 there will be 480 million, while the number of young people will have fallen.  "It's a timebomb," warned Wang Feng of the Brookings-Tsinghua Centre for Public Policy in Beijing.

(JS:  Of all the dismal stories of today, this one hit me hard.  I have admired and taken some comfort from beautiful aspects of the ancient Chinese culture, its endurance and stability.  Although it was strained and severely damaged in the Maoist years, Cultural Revolution and so forth, it seemingly largely survived.  But can it survive consumerism and population pressures? 

To arbitrarily select a couple of salient points: 

The damming of the Three Gorges on the Yangtze and relocation of 1.3 million people whose ancestors have been there for countless generations.  There are, and have been, many such massive relocations as China in its insatiable energy demands is damming rivers and making massive water transfers.  All this causes massive relocation of people, which is having tragic consequences.

The obliteration of Beijing's (and doubtless other cities') old districts to be replaced with industrial-scale residences is going on apace.  History and culture were destroyed along with the buildings and quaint streets.  Can society survive such dehumanization?

Now this -  The The King Lear fate of He Daxing.)


In a mist of light
falling with the rain
I walk this ground
of which dead men
and women I have loved
are part, as they
are part of me.  In earth,
in blood, in mind,
the dead and living
into each other pass,
as the living pass
in and out of loves
as stepping to a song.
The way I go is
marriage to this place,
grace beyond chance,
love's braided dance
covering the world.

~ Wendell Berry ~

(The Wheel)

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