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, September 18, 2012


If, every day, I dare to remember that I am here on loan, that this house, this hillside, these minutes are all leased to me, not given, I will never despair. Despair is for those who expect to live forever. I no longer do. -Erica Jong, writer (b. 1942)

1.   Samuel Johnson, born 18 September 1709
2.   Secret Life of Fungi in Los Altos Sept 21
3.   Vaux's Happening - hear about it at Audubon meeting Sept 20 in SF
4.   100 most threatened species first in line to disappear if nothing done
5.   Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour events/seeking gardens for spring tour
6.   Feedback:  foraging/politicians
7.   Consume/be an info-bully/display info-gluttony/save the economy
8.   Bankers wonder why success eludes them
9.   For a New Beginning - John O'Donohue
10. Provocative LTEs on belief
11.  More purple prose from ale maker
12.  Symphony orchestra play without a conductor? Perhaps/then there's von Karajan

1.  As a disinterested record of the language, a dictionary serves as an accurate window to the culture. It's not surprising that there are more words to describe people who fall on the wrong side than on the good.  (A Word A Day)

Born 18 Sept 1709                Samuel Johnson

"I hate mankind, for I think myself one of the best of them, and I know how bad I am."

Those candid words of Samuel Johnson, lexicographer extraordinaire, provide a perceptive observation on the human condition. A language is a mirror of its people.

(Love that Samuel Johnson.  He put into words a realization I have come to about myself.  I think that is why people become a little conservative when they get older; they're just catching onto themselves, and why changing the world necessitates changing oneself first.  Oy, that takes work.  Not as much fun, either.  JS)

From Bierce's Devil's Dictionary:
abrupt, adj.  Sudden, without ceremony, like the arrival of a cannonshot and the departure of the soldier whose interests are most affected by it.  Dr Samuel Johnson beautifully said of another author's ideas that they were 'concatenated without abruption'.

The Secret Life of Fungi
Speaker: Dr. John Taylor
Professor of Plant and Microbial Biology, UC Berkeley
Friday, September 21, 7:30 PM
Los Altos Library Program Room
13 S. San Antonio Road, Los Altos

The study of evolution is dominated by animals and plants, that is, big organisms. Microbes have contributed less to evolutionary studies primarily because they are too small to see by ordinary means. Beginning in the late 19th century and continuing to the present, microbes have been assumed to be everywhere and spring to action whenever the appropriate environment becomes available.

In the past decade, inexpensive DNA sequencing has allowed microbiologists to enter the debate with results that have overturned the idea that, when it comes to microbes, “everything is everywhere.” In fact, several studies will be presented that argue for fungi being the best organisms to turn the normal approach to evolution and ecology on its head in what is becoming known as “reverse ecology.”

John W. Taylor is a Professor of Plant and Microbial Biology and a Curator of the  University Herbarium, both at the University of California at Berkeley. Research in his laboratory focuses on the evolution of fungi, including fungal phylogenetic relationships, the timing of deep fungal divergences, species recognition, the maintenance of species, phylogenomics, and population genomics. He received an MS in Botany from the University of California at Davis in 1974 and a PhD in Mycology from the University of California at Davis in 1978.

Dr. Taylor served as President of the Mycological Society of America and currently is President of the International Mycological Association. He is a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Microbiology. He and his wife Delia Taylor are long-time members of the East Bay Chapter of CNPS.

Directions: From Foothill Expy., travel ½ mile on San Antonio Rd. towards the Bay, cross Hillview and turn right into the driveway; the library is on the left. From El Camino Real, travel towards the hills on San Antonio Rd., cross Edith and turn left into the unmarked driveway just before Hillview. The sign on San Antonio Rd. reads “Civic Center, Library and History Museum.” Enter through the lobby of the main entrance.

CNPS general meetings are free and open to the public. For more information, send an email to or leave a message on our Chapter phone at (408) 260-3450 and your call will be returned.

(JS:  I posted this story in my July 30 newsletter):

Save a chimney, save a swift
 As their natural roosts disappeared, Vaux's swifts turned to old, brick chimneys for refuge during long migrations. Those safe havens are disappearing, too. Luckily, the swifts -- and the chimneys -- have found a champion in Larry Schwitters.   High Country News

(Now, hear Larry Schwitters tell about it):

Join GGAS for our September Speaker Series....

Launched five years ago, Vaux’s Happening enlists volunteers to locate, observe, and gather data about communal roost sites used by Vaux’s Swifts in migration. Chimneys have proved to be among the most significant sites. Over the last 10 migrations, observers have documented nearly four million Vaux’s Swift roosting events from San Diego to the Yukon.

Here in the immediate Bay Area, the swifts roost in a stack at the McNear brickyard in San Rafael (see our September 22 field trip). Larry Schwitters will talk about this ongoing citizen science project and share images captured by chimney surveillance cameras. He will also touch on his search for waterfalls in the Pacific Northwest that host nesting Black Swifts.

Larry Schwitters has spent 30 years in what he describes as “the trenches of public education,” mostly as a middle school science teacher and coach in the Seattle area. He now works on the Vaux’s Swift project year-round, an endeavor that is nearly full-time during migration. His website for the project includes information on the most active sites and the counts.

Thursday September 20
7 p.m. refreshments, 7:30 pm program
First Unitarian Church and Center
1187 Franklin Street (at Geary) San Francisco

Free for GGAS members, $5 for non-members.


Priceless or worthless? 100 most threatened species first in line to disappear completely if nothing is done, conservationists warn

Tarzan's chameleon, the spoon-billed sandpiper and the pygmy three-toed sloth have all topped a new list of the species closest to extinction released by the Zoological Society of London and the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

..."All species have a value to nature and thus in turn to humans," says Dr Simon Stuart, Chair IUCN Species Survival Commission. "Although the value of some species may not appear obvious at first, all species in fact contribute in their way to the healthy functioning of the planet."


5.  Dear Friend of the Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour,

Sunday was the first of this fall's Select Tours; "Mow no Mo!" filled early with thirty energetic people who attended the event with shovels and rakes in hand, and in about an hour had pretty much gotten rid of Dixie Finley's Livermore lawn. (To see a photo of this group in action visit our Facebook page.) "Mow no Mo!" will be repeated in Lafayette on October 21.  If you would like to reduce your water bill—and if you have better things to do on your week-ends than to mow, weed, spray pesticides, or water your lawn—this is the workshop for you!  See Select Tour #7 for details.
Coming up this Sunday is the opportunity to visit three gardens that have never been on the Tour before.  Artistic garden designer Liz Simpson coached two Oakland homeowners who removed their own lawn and replaced it with a riotous mix of native plants and edibles, then created a tai chi spot and figure eight meditation path alongside the creek that flows in their back yard; a short block away, adjacent to a bunchgrass meadow, Liz established a “living art gallery” from delicate and sculptural succulents, which are safely perched out of dogs' reach atop terracotta pedestals; at the third garden you'll visit a sensational drought-tolerant, bird- and bee-friendly oasis where plants serve as walls in garden rooms, a breakfast nook beckons, and a secluded gazebo, fire pit, and Petanque court await. This Select Tour takes place on Sunday, September 23, from 10:00 – 3:00. Details on select Tour #2 are here. The cost is $30, and you can register for Select Tour #2 here.

Are you interested in conserving water?  On Saturday, September 29, at the Berkeley home of Margaret Norman and Geoff Holton you can learn everything you ever wanted to know about using grey water and rain water.  Attracted to the idea of reusing laundry water in the landscape? Check out the rushes, sedges, and columbine growing in the small constructed wetland in the back garden, which is watered by laundry water.  Intrigued by the thought of washing clothes or flushing toilets with rainwater?  How about storing a thousand gallons of rainwater on a small Berkeley lot, raising chickens, learning how to fully solar-power a house and potter's studio, or finding out how to create a native plant garden on a small city lot? Details on Select Tour # 3 are here; the cost is $30, and you can register for it here.

The Select Tours are filling; if you are interested in attending one of the remaining seven Select Tours scheduled for this fall, don't be disappointed; register now to ensure your space. 

A barbecued lunch will be offered for sale at the Native Plant Sale Extravaganza and Open Garden Day on Sunday, October 7.  Supplies will be limited - Prepay for your lunch to ensure you get one, pick it up at the San Pablo home of Kathy Kramer and Mike May between 11:00 and 3:00, and enjoy it in the garden.  The cost is $8, the menu is an Aidell's sausage or veggie dog, an apple, and cold water or juice.  Baked goods, a selection of native plants, and grafted fruit trees will also be available for sale. Proceeds will benefit the East Bay Waldorf School's eighth grade class' field trip fund.  Cash only.

Follow (and 'like') us on Facebook to see a changing gallery of native plant garden photos, and to stay informed about Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour events.

If you have not registered to attend the free Native Plant Sale and Extravaganza on Sunday, October 7, this is the time!  Register here to ensure your space.


Going Native Garden Tour 2013 seeks gardens

• Is your garden environmentally friendly and chemical free?
• Does your garden provide wildlife habitat and support life?
• Are California native plants a big part of your garden (50% or more)?

If so, we invite you to submit your garden for the next Going Native Garden Tour April 20-21, 2013. Share your enthusiasm for plants that are attractive to humans, birds, and pollinators – and enjoy the compliments from tour visitors. This free tour educates visitors on the value of native plant landscaping – for water conservation, habitat creation, low maintenance, and beauty. We invite you to submit your garden today!

Fill out the garden submission form at:

Submission deadline: October 31, 2012

Tour dates:
Saturday, April 20, 2013: Southern Area: Sunnyvale, Cupertino, Santa Clara, San Jose, and south
Sunday, April 21, 2013: Northern Area: San Mateo County, Palo Alto, Los Altos, Mountain View


6.  Feedback

On Sep 15, 2012, at 9:20 PM, Anderson, John wrote:
Dear Jake,

Thanks for listing the natural history talks; they sound fascinating.

I share your concerns about foraging. But many invasives are quite tasty; New Zealand spinach (raised in Australia and NZ as warrigal greens), lamb's quarters (aka goosefoot), fennel, the sweet inner pulp of iceplant fruit... the list goes on, right up to turkeys and feral pigs (although those are more challenging to gather, especially in San Francisco). Maybe the California Invasive Plant Council could supplement its terrific "Don't Plant A Pest" brochure with one on "Nosh on a Pest".

John:  How many foragers know the difference between a plant that is part of an ecosystem and an invading plant that disrupts natural systems?  There's the rub; few do.  And how many "foragers" hunt turkey and pigs?  None.  In both cases you must get a license from Dept of Fish & Game to hunt them.  DFG is part of the problem, as it purposely introduces the exotic turkey (!!) and it treats pigs as a game species rather than a pest species--so it can produce revenue.  This is really stupid and short-sighted policy, and damages natural systems, already under severe pressure.

On Sep 15, 2012, at 7:33 PM, Linda Shaffer wrote:
Re:  16.  Politicians,

No one minds having a bit of fun at the expense of politicians, but in fairness, to say nothing of being responsible, you should identify the source of these quotes before reproducing them.   The first two seem to appear in more than one book written by Ross and Kathryn Petras, all having titles starting with "Unusually Stupid...".  But where they got the quotes from isn't clear.  Snopes did not help.

Also in fairness (assuming the quotes are accurate) one should point out that these two positions are not as inconsistent as folks would have us think.  (Note for starters that the same constituent is alleged to have written letters taking both positions, so if Senator Kerry is stupid, that constituent is right there with him!)  The second quote refers to the US (and coalition) response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait  --  the goal of the response being to push Iraqi forces back out of Kuwait --  while the first refers to the different issue of whether the US (and others) should extend that 1991 response to include invading Iraq itself.  It is not necessarily inconsistent to support one policy and oppose the other.   I seem to remember many in Congress reaching the same conclusions, and that Bush Sr. did indeed decide not to seriously invade.  That, as we all recall, was left to his son, in 2003. 

Linda:  Yes, it was from a book, Lexicon of Stupidity, by Ross & Kathryn Petras.  They document their sources--mostly newspapers, journals, and other media.  These two items were from letters to a private individual (who presumably made sure the Petras' got copies).  I have printed items from this Lexicon before, and have always given credit to it; I was neglectful this time.  It was a spontaneous last-minute decision to post, inspired by the Washingtoon that preceded it.

You are right about the difference between those two wars, and the reflection on the guy who corresponded with Kerry.  Thanks for your sharp eye, and for keeping me honest.  (Sort of.)


7. "The first commandment of economics is: Grow. Grow forever. Companies get bigger. National economies need to swell by a certain percent each year. People should want more, make more, earn more, spend more - ever more.

The first commandment of the Earth is: enough. Just so much and no more. Just so much soil. Just so much water. Just so much sunshine. Everything born of the Earth grows to its appropriate size and then stops."

- Donella Meadows
  Co-Author, Limits to Growth

(Washingtoon failed to post.)

"Most of the production and consumption of modern societies is not necessary or conducive to spiritual and cultural growth, let alone survival…mankind has become a locust-like blight on the planet that will leave a bare cupboard for its own children--all the while in a kind of addict's dream of affluence, comfort and eternal progress."
    Gary Snyder


8.  Central bankers wonder why success eludes them

From The Economist Sept 8th

IMAGINE that the world’s best specialists in a particular disease have convened to study a serious and intractable case. They offer competing diagnoses and treatments. Yet preying on their minds is a discomfiting fact: nothing they have done has worked, and they don’t know why. That sums up the atmosphere at the annual economic symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, convened by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City and attended by central bankers and economists from around the world. Near the end Donald Kohn, who retired in 2010 after 40 years with the Fed, asked: “What’s holding the economy back [despite] such accommodative monetary policy for so long?” There was no lack of theories. But, as Mr Kohn admitted, none is entirely satisfying.

...In America, Britain and the euro zone, interest rates are at or near zero and central banks’ balance-sheets have ballooned, yet unemployment remains high and growth sluggish.

JS:  I have been critical--derisive, even--about governments, especially the United States' government vis-a-vis our economic/financial predicament.  All this pondering by government officials, economists, academics about how to fix the system and get the economy moving again, the universal chant. 

This is bizarre.  There are millions of ordinary people who have seen the inner contradictions of this economic system and who knew all along it was unsustainable.  What is happening was inevitable in time, and why they are mystified by the inability to create jobs is itself mysterious.  Why don't the deciders know what the man-in-the-street knows?  It's obligatory for politicians, of course, to talk about creating jobs.  But shouldn't some higher-level people be talking out loud about the deeper problem and possible ways to address it?

But then I think that all these folks have been part of the system for so long that they're no longer capable of thinking outside it.  The conclusion I've come to is there's only one way for it to happen:  The system crashes.  Only then is there a chance of looking at how we can structure a more sane system.  Pollyanna?  No; it is exceedingly frightening and painful, and I don't even know if civilization can survive it.  Fasten seat belts.

Squib from Marketplace:
‘Neither a borrower nor a lender be,’ says Polonius to his son in Act I of Hamlet. Though if Chairman Bernanke were playing the part it might be more like: ‘A borrower or a lender—beest thou most certainly.  But a saver? Not so much.

Does it strike you as odd that interest rates have been zero for years, with no end in sight?  Saving used to be a virtue, and savers were rewarded with interest.  Now we pay the government for lending it money, and Chairman Bernanke has said he'll keep printing money indefinitely.  Am I just dreaming this?  

For a New Beginning

In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.

For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.

It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.

Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.

Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life's desire.

Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.

~ John O'Donohue ~

(To Bless the Space Between Us)


10.  (JS: When informed that polls say that x-percent of Americans were religious, or believers, or whatever term they used, or that x-percent attended church regularly, I was baffled.  The figures portrayed a world that I was unable to believe existed.  Granted, that my friends and associates are not a cross-section of the population, or that San Francisco is not necessarily typical in that regard.  Still, the figures were so off-the-chart that I couldn't help but think it was the way the questions were asked.  These letters seem to bolster that opinion.)

LTEs, The Economist
The god question

SIR – Questions asked by pollsters define the kinds of answers given. “Are you an atheist?” is the wrong question (“Growing disbelief”, August 25th). “Atheist” has many negative connotations: irreligious, ungodly, unholy, graceless, sceptic, doubter, and so on. But ask a question about what atheists subscribe to—rationalism, logic, science and positivism—and a majority of people will admit that they adhere to such principles. Then ask an alternative question covering the prevalent aspects of most religions: “Do you subscribe to metaphysics, superstition, bigotry or dogmatism?”, and the majority will deny such practice.

Rethinking and rephrasing questions will reveal a vast moderate majority when positive attitudes prevail.

Peter Price
Flagstaff, Arizona  

SIR – There are also folks like me, whom you might call “irrelevantists”. I can’t imagine how belief or unbelief in a god would make any difference in my life. I’ll still try to treat my fellow man and woman like I’d like them to treat me. It really is possible to try to be good without the aid of an organised religion or belief in the supernatural.

Dave Dumin
Clemson, South Carolina


11.  Hop Manna from Shmaltz Brewing Company

In the book of Exodus, the ancient Hebrews survived 400 years of bondage before the ultimate supreme court dropped the 10 deadly Plagues on the land of the taskmasters and the lead dictator, Pharaoh.  Even then, only begrudgingly, did he Let My People Go.  The freedom ride across, nay through the sea, left a band of nomads broke and suffering, no doubt with a profound hunger - and a mighty thirst.  Enter the Manna, a glorious gift to nourish body and soul.  Manna was said to combine the tastes of everything most delicious to each individual, depending on their desire.  And as The Good Book says, Each shall gather according to one's need and shall enjoy a double portion for thine chosen day of rest.  Manna fed the entire tribe, but tradition suggests the righteous received manna ground in a heavenly mill, while the wicked had to grind it below for themselves.  Hear, o' Tribe of Shmaltz - Behold, A celebration of the flower of the craft beer revolution!  A golden opportunity to feed your inner hop head and rejoice in HOP MANNA, our newest delicacy of the modern He'brew Beer family.  L'Chaim!
Jeremy Cowan, proprietor


12.  Notes & Queries, Guardian Weekly

Could a professional symphony orchestra play the standard repertoire without a conductor?
- The query as to whether symphony orchestras could play the standard repertoire reminds me of a story that Neville Cardus told.  He saw a poster advertising a concert in which one of the Vienna orchestras would be conducted by a complete amateur and expressed surprise. But one of the orchestra members told him that anyone could conduct the orchestra for an appropriate fee. "For our top fee we will play for you as though Karajan were conducting; for our middle fee as though Furtwangler were conducting; for our lowest fee we follow your beat."
Eric Baker, Keswick, Cumbria, UK

- Last year I was in the Berlin Philharmonie listening to a concert with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Daniel Barenboim.  The last piece was Ravel's Bolero.  Barenboim leaned back, his arms crossed, and the orchestra played for him. It was beautiful.
Ingo Warnke, Berlin, Germany

-  Of course! Most professional symphony orchestra players have played the standard repertoire hundreds of times, and with the music in front of them and starting together with the signal from the concertmaster, they could easily play Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms, etc.

The only caveat would be the direction of a true musical genius, a Bruno Walter or Otto Klemperer, who might convey a unique interpretation.  But to watch the gyrating theatrics of most contemporary conductors is of little interest to today's symphony players.

I am reminded of the comment of the great English horn player Alan Civil (now deceased), first chair of the BBC Symphony, when asked by his wife who was the guest conductor tonight.  His response was, "I don't know. I didn't look up."
James H Thompson, Durham, North Carolina, US

The science of conducting

Von Karajan was right

Orchestras really can use the smack of firm leadership

Sep 8th 2012 | ROME | from The Economist (excerpt)

 …of course I was

DO ORCHESTRAL conductors do anything useful? Alessandro D’Ausilio of the Italian Institute of Technology, in Genoa, and his colleagues tried to answer that eternal question in a study published in the Public Library of Science.

Determining a conductor’s influence is tricky. Does a “good” conductor wangle bravura performances from his players, or simply preside over a self-organising virtuoso ensemble?

...The findings are in harmony with what conductors knew all along: that baton-toting despots, like the late Herbert von Karajan, do add value—but only if they rein in the uppity musicians in front of them.

No comments:

Post a Comment