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, October 1, 2012


You must have been warned against letting the golden hours slip by. Yes, but some of them are golden only because we let them slip by. -James M. Barrie

1.   World Veg Fest October 6-7
2.   Franciscan manzanita - listing/recovery plans
3.   Making our streets safer - and greener
4.   Life is a garden, not a road
5.   CalExpo chief to retire - good news
6.   Public lands and 2012 election/stunning astronomy images
7.   CNN - unbiased and unloved - life is hard/on the media
8.   A Word for Today - aesculapian
9.   Genetic testing of wood can curb illegal logging
10. Edwin Wilson, gunrunner and manager of CIA front companies, dies
11.  Notes & Queries: What do indoor spiders eat?

1.  The SF Vegetarian Society ( invites everyone to celebrate:

Event:  World Veg Fest ( weekend
Date & Time:  Sat.-Sun., October 6-7, 2012, from 10 am to 6:30 pm
Place:  SF County Fair Building, 9th Ave. at Lincoln Way, next to SF Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park
FREE to everyone before 10:30 am, students with ID, seniors over age 65

This year’s Fest is also part of IVU ( Congress with delegates coming in from all over the world!

Enjoy delicious vegetarian cuisine, healthy food demos, international speakers, live entertainment, films, and our first-ever Grow Our Own Veggies (GrOOVe)booth!  GrOOVe’s intention is to inspire more people to grow the plants that we eat and promote zero waste via composting!

Please check out our events schedule at

There will be something for everyone so come with family/friends!


2.  Franciscan manzanita (Arctostaphylos franciscana)

Hi Jake,
What is your thinking about the sites mentioned as possibles in the City for reintroduction of the Franciscan Manzanita? Someone said he's pretty sure that it needs serpentine, which, of course, isn't at Corona. 
Jim Houillion

As most people know, the plant has been in cultivation for decades but unknown in the wild.  The discovery of a single wild plant in the Doyle Drive reconstruction changed that.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has responsibility for most endangered species, and the decision to List a species, as well as to authorize and approve Recovery plans, belongs to it.  Even before the current economic problems, its budget had been under pressure for decades, especially in the Bush administrations.  It doesn't have a budget that would allow it to list all the species that have scientific justification for listing (a costly process), so FWS did the sensible thing, which was to prioritize those species most at risk.  Organisms that occur on federal lands receive automatic protection, and that goes in spades for the Presidio of San Francisco, which is very visible to a knowledgeable and caring public.  Thus, FWS placed the Franciscan manzanita at the bottom of the eligible list.

However, FWS was sued by a local organization to list the plant, so it listed it as an Endangered Species and, following another lawsuit, was forced to develop a Recovery Plan (another costly process).  This was all unnecessary, the result being there are now other vulnerable species qualifying for listing which will not become listed (because of lack of funds) and are now at risk.  Not a good move.

However--like it or not--it is now Listed, and has received approval for a Recovery plan.  That means that the landowner may develop a Recovery plan; it doesn't require it to--and the expense is the landowner's.  So, although the RecPark Natural Areas Program is open to such endeavors, it is a severely underfunded program and almost certainly it is unable to develop and execute a Recovery program.  Additionally--this is an important factor that belongs at the beginning--there are different reasons why organisms are rare.  Some of them previously occurring in large numbers or playing key roles in ecosystems (keystone species) have been decimated by societal development.  Others, such as the Franciscan manzanita, are weak competitors and retreated to a substrate like serpentine where it is able to survive.  So you see, there are more urgent and important matters calling on society's scarce resources.

In summary, Jim, RecPark is doubtless not going to be taking the responsibility for introducing it to an area and to a substrate where it is not known to ever have existed, and where it doesn't have an apparent ecosystem function.

(Note:  This writing lacks the punctilious legal and regulatory language of endangered species and may thus not be completely accurate in detail.  But the substance is accurate.)


3.  Kick Off a Healthy Habit on Walk to School Day

Celebrate San Francisco's citywide adoption of safer school zones on Walk to School Day, next Wednesday October 3. Join Walk SF, State Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, Supervisor David Campos, School Board President Norman Yee and thousands of San Francisco students during this international event to encourage walking and create better streets.

Thanks to the support of Walk SF members like you, San Francisco is now the state's first city to implement new   15-mile-per hour speed limit zones citywide on a major scale. The lower speeds will calm traffic, protect pedestrians and make our streets safer and more walkable.

Look for the new 15-mph signs around 181 public and private, kindergarten through 12th-grade schools throughout the city, as you join us for Walk to School Day. 

To learn more and get your kids and school involved, visit

Check out the New Green Connections Map

See the new maps and tools designed to help residents walk, bike, and connect to parks and wildlife, which will be unveiled at the Green Connections Open House on Wednesday, October 3. The Green Connections team has held over 20 events to collect input on how to improve access to parks and the waterfront, by re-envisioning city streets and paths as "green connections." Now you can see the exciting results of this outreach (hopefully you took the survey) and hear about next steps for the project.

Green Connections Open House
Wednesday October 3 from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m.
LGBT Center, Rainbow Room, 1800 Market Street 

The Green Connections project is designing a network of sustainable corridors throughout San Francisco. These will green neighborhood streets to filter rainwater and add wildlife habitat, while also calming traffic and improving pedestrian and bicycle access to open space.

To learn more, visit   

Share Your Feedback with SFMTA 

Take this chance to speak up for safer streets and priority for pedestrians in the SFMTA Transportation Survey, out now. Demand that the City address the fact that more than 800 people are hit and hurt by cars each year.

Share your feedback at

Don't miss the comment box where you can add your own words about reckless drivers, sidewalk parking, lack of enforcement, traffic speeds, and the good things too: Walk to School Day, Sunday Streets, and more.

Tell the SFMTA what they need to do to make our streets safer.

For questions, contact Darcie Lim at (415) 701-4545 or via email.


life is a garden,
not a road

we enter and exit
through the same gate

where we go matters less
than what we notice

~ Bokonon ~

(The Lost Book)


5.  Eric Mills, Action For Animals: 

Cal Expo chief Bartosik to retire at year's end
September 30, 2012

HALLELUJAH!   Who says prayer doesn't work?  See story below, from yesterday's SACRAMENTO BEE.  Please make some constructive comments ASAP.  The sooner you do, the more people likely to read them.

Norbert "Raccoon on a Stick" Bartosik is resigning as CalEXPO's CEO and General Manager by year's end.  Can I get an Amen?  Over the years, Mr. Bartosik has been THE major obstacle for bringing about any positive improvements for the animals there, and often rude and condescending in the process.  (AND SEE THE ATTACHMENT, RECENTLY SENT TO THE FAIR BOARD.)

Hopefully the search for Mr. Bartosik's replacement will produce someone truly concerned about the welfare of the animals at the Fair.  There are also three brand-new members on the Board (see CalEXPO website).  And two current members, Willie Pelote and Rex Hime, seem honestly concerned about the farrowing crate controversy.

Note that Mr. Bartosik invited "Jungle George" to set up shop at the Fair last year, with items such a raccoon and beaver on a stick (meat from brutal out-of-state fur farms, illegal in California), bear, python, etc.  (According to an interview with "Jungle George" (George Sandefur) in the July 18, 2011 ESQUIRE Magazine:  "Last year the California State Fair called me and asked me to do something weird and wild.  They suggested alligator.  So I tried it for the first time in Phoenix, and it sold out in two hours."  ESQUIRE:  "And then you started selling everything else at the zoo?"  (Copies upon request.)

Mr. Bartosik has been a consistent supporter of the Fair's brutal farrowing crates in the Animal Nursery, where pregnant sows are imprisoned in steel-barred cages, unable to turn around, barely able to move, kept there for three straight weeks, and forced to give birth on a metal grid, with nary a blade of straw in sight.  (Under normal conditions, hogs build nests when they're having babies.)   A UC Davis vet student at the Fair this past July told me that, "the mothering instinct had mostly been bred out of the animals...."  The mind boggles.

The Fair Board has received nearly 3,000 letters and petition signatures demanding that the farrowing crates be banned.  Our cries fell on deaf ears.  Even Senator Darrell Steinberg (ex-officio board member) sent an aide to a Fair Board to give his stamp of approval to this Crime Against Nature  Do this to a dog, go to jail.  What's the difference, pray?

Mr. Bartosik has insisted that the Animal Nursery is "educational" and "what the people want."  Nonsense!  What the people DO want is to see mother animals with their 8-to-10-week old babies, not the actual birthing process itself, which can be traumatic for all concerned.  What will the Fair say to the kids when a cow or sow gives birth to dead or malformed young, or dies while giving birth?   EVERY vet study I've seen, including those from UC Davis, recommends against transporting pregnant animals about to give birth.  The Fair's birthing exhibits fly in the face of that.

The Fair also continues to have rodeo bull riding events, a disaster-in-the making for public and animals alike.  Only last month, four rodeo bulls at a Pennsylvania county fair escaped their pen.  Three were quickly captured.  The fouth ran rampant through the fairgrounds, putting 10 people in the hospital, including a paraplegic woman in a wheel chair.   Three years ago a rodeo bull jumped an 8' fence at the Red Bluff rodeo and landed in the audience, putting six people, including three children, in the hospital.  I can smell the lawsuits....

If the Fair would seriously improve conditions for the animals, I'm betting their falling attendance would improve, too, and we could give them some much-needed positive publicity and support.


And write to the Fair Board, too, with some positive suggestions.  (Note that Mr. Bartosik reads all their mail first.)  EMAIL -


Thanks for caring,  And please send me (blind) copies of anything you write.

September 11, 2012

Norbert Bartosik, CEO & General Manager
Members of the Board
CalEXPO and State Fair

Dear Mr. Bartosik and Members of the Board:
A few items I would like to see agendized at your September 28 meeting:
1.  Discussion of the farrowing crates in the Animal Nursery - As you're probably aware, Proposition 2 (the 2009 farm animal initiative) goes into effect in 2015.  In part, it prohibits keeping pregnant sows in enclosures unable to turn around.  Here's hoping our State Fair will get the jump on this humane issue before being required to do so legally.  Humane alternatives now exist.  (Re-visit the photos I gave you earlier this year showing the animal nursery at the Alameda County Fair.  The sow was in a 10x20-foot pen in deep sawdust, with a slatted partition across one corner, where the piglets were free to come-and-go, drawn by the warmth of a heat lamp, and safe from being inadvertently lain on by their mother.  (Need I remind you that CalEXPO has received nearly 3,000 letters and emails opposing these crates?)
2.  Discussion of the presence of rodeo bulls at the State Fair - a public safety issue as well as a humane issue.  Real cowboys never rode bulls--it's all hype for thrills and profits.  A few examples:
a.  At the 2012 California State Fair there was a "Mexican Extravaganza," which featured six rodeo bull rides.  Continue the Extravaganza, but please drop the bull rides, for the safety of the animals, the riders and the public alike.  I think hardly anyone would notice.
b.  At an August 2012 county fair in Harford, PA four rodeo bulls escaped their handlers.  Three were quickly caught, but the fourth animal went on a rampage, putting 10 people in the hospital, including a woman in a wheelchair.  I can almost smell the pending lawsuits.
c.  2004 - California State Fair - Rodeo bull's back broken by Cotton Rosser's accident-waiting-to happen "Cowboy Teeter-totter" event.  A bull died of a broken neck in this same event at the 2000 Grand National Rodeo at the San Francisco Cow Palace, another Rosser affair;
d.  2009 - California State Fair - Two Mexican fighting bulls escaped their enclosure during the  Fair, endangering many children.  A brave Security Guard risked her life to protect these kids, suffering broken ribs and permanent brain damage in the process.  I understand a lawsuit was filed.  How many of these can the Fair afford?  These bulls were to be part of a dangerous event called "Cowboy Poker" or "Bull Poker," risking the safety of all concerned.  Please, no more bull!
e.  2006 - Red Bluff, CA  - A rodeo bull jumped an 8' fence at the Red Bluff rodeo, putting six people in the hospital, including three children.  Again, lawsuits were filed.
3.  Lastly, a written Fair policy banning the sales of any/all exotic meats sold as novelty items - "Raccoon on a Stick," "Beaver on a Stick," python, bear, African lion, etc., as has been recently purveyed by vendor "Jungle George").  The animals and the public deserve better than this.  The cruelty involved, and the risks to public health are simply too great.
Thank you for your consideration.
Regards, Eric Mills, coordinator

Our public lands and the 2012 election:

Timothy Egan: The Geography of Nope


These lands and phenomena are forever beyond Homo sap's grubby hands:

From the BBC. . . stunning photographs from their annual competition for astronomy photography!

7.  CNN’s woes

Unbiased and unloved - Life is hard for a non-partisan cable news channel

Sep 22nd 2012 | The Economist (excerpt)

AN ELECTION should be good business for a cable news channel. Alas, this is less true if, like CNN, you try to be unbiased. When Mitt Romney says that 47% of Americans are moochers, or Barack Obama says that entrepreneurs didn’t build their own businesses, partisan viewers crave a partisan response. Either the candidate hates America or he is being quoted out of context.
Fox News assures conservative viewers that Democrats’ gaffes fall in the former category, and Republicans’ in the latter. MSNBC, vice versa. CNN tries to be fair. Viewers hate that. Its ratings in America are sliding, while Fox and MSNBC are doing well.

...When the news is about words rather than action, however, CNN struggles. Conservative viewers like to hear Fox’s Bill O’Reilly fume about “far-left loons”. Liberals like to hear MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow condescend to conservatives. Gasbags in a studio are cheaper than camera crews in the Middle East, which may be why CNN’s profit margins (around 37%) are less than MSNBC’s (46%) and Fox’s (55%).


On the media

'Media' is the plural for 'mediocre'. - Rene Saguisag

The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.”  Thomas Jefferson

Marshall McLuhan:  Americans don't read newspapers; they get into them, as into a hot bath.

"Editors simply separate the wheat from the chaff, and see that the chaff is printed."  Elbert Hubbard, American author
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)

Mark Twain's description of a publisher:  "A tall, lean, skinny, yellow, toothless, baldheaded rat-eyed professional liar and scoundrel."

The phrase "investigative journalism" is, in a sense, tautologous because all journalism should involve some kind of investigation that results in the revelation of a hidden truth.  Guardian Weekly 12-18 November 2004


8.  A.Word.A.Day with Anu Garg

At one time the Roman and Greek gods were as real to people then as our gods are to us now. They bowed before them, they built temples, they made offerings.
Yet no one today in his sane mind thinks praying to Aesculapius is going to heal anyone. Perhaps a time will come when future generations will look at our gods just as we look at gods from Greek and Roman mythologies.

At any rate, this week we are celebrating gods whose stock has fallen. If nothing else, let's thank them for enriching us with entertaining stories and descriptive words that are now part of our language.

(picture wouldn't post)

Aesculapius with his staff
Vatican Museums
Photo: Flávio Cruvinel Brandão
Aesculapian or Esculapian (es-kyuh-LAY-pee-ehn)

adjective: Relating to medicine.
noun: A doctor.
After Aesculapius, the god of medicine and healing in Greco-Roman mythology. One of his daughters was named Hygieia. Earliest documented use: 1604.
The Rod of Aesculapius (⚕), a single snake around a staff is used as a symbol related to medicinal arts, though sometimes it is confused with caduceus (☤), the staff of Hermes, with wings and two snakes around it.

Explore "aesculapian" in the Visual Thesaurus.

9.  The timber industry - Seeing the wood for the trees

Genetic testing of wood can curb illegal logging

Sep 22nd 2012 | The Economist (excerpt)

SUPPOSE you want to buy a table. But you care about orang-utans, indigenous peoples and carbon emissions, so you don’t want it made with illegally harvested logs. Or suppose you run a chain of furniture shops, and you don’t want to go to jail for buying illegal timber. Either way, you face a snag: how to tell if a log is legal?

Enter DoubleHelix Tracking Technologies, a Singapore-based firm that uses DNA testing to pinpoint where a piece of wood is from. “You can’t forge DNA,” says Andrew Lowe, its chief scientist. The firm sells its services to big retailers such as Lowe’s, B&Q and Marks & Spencer. Australian timber importer, used to rely on masses of paperwork when buying merbau, a pricey hardwood from Indonesia. Given the ease with which proof-of-origin papers can be faked, it was hard to tell where any of it really came from. Now, thanks to DoubleHelix, Simmonds can show that a piece of merbau decking assembled in Australia comes from a specific (and legit) stump in Indonesia.

“We do it for both moral and business reasons,” says Mr Simon. Customers like to know that their decking is not destroying the planet. And company bosses want to stay out of trouble. Conservation laws are growing fiercer, especially in America, where businessfolk who break them may be jailed even if they did not know their wood was illegally sourced.

...More species can be mapped, and the cost of testing will fall, as surely as a chainsawed tree. That’s bad news for the $30 billion-a-year illegal logging industry, but good for forests.


10.  Edwin P. Wilson, gunrunner and manager of CIA front companies, died on September 10th, aged 84

Sep 29th 2012 | from The Economist

NOTHING about Edwin P. Wilson was quite as it appeared. If you met him at an airport—en route to Geneva, London, New York, on joking terms with the Concorde stewardesses—he looked like any other globetrotting businessman. In fact, he was a spy. The companies on the card he flashed from his pocket, Consultants International, or World Marine, Inc., or any of five dozen others, sounded plausible. They were all CIA fronts. He was tall, loud, assertive, and a fund of great stories told over late-night Scotch—how he’d spent an evening clubbing with Somoza, how he’d killed Che Guevara. The real stories, though, he didn’t tell.

His chief business in the 1970s was shipping arms to Libya, then under Western sanctions. He didn’t advertise it. But then again, he claimed later, it wasn’t what it seemed. He sold Muammar Qaddafi firearms, some of which were used to murder Libyan dissidents at home and abroad. But that was done to “buddy up” to him, to try to use him like an asset. He offered him plans for making a nuclear bomb, but only to find out how Libya’s own bomb-making was going. The plans were bogus anyway. He recruited ex-Green Berets to train Qaddafi’s intelligence officers, and to teach them to make bombs disguised as bedside lamps and radios. He earned $1m a year from that, but also learned the officers’ identities. It was all done with CIA backing. These were patriotic acts.

Most spectacularly—and disastrously for his cover—in 1977 he shipped to Libya 20 tons of C4 plastic explosives. This was almost the whole of America’s stockpile, flown out of Houston in a DC-8 charter in barrels marked “oil-drilling mud”. Mr Wilson felt no qualms about it. He didn’t believe it had been used for terrorism. He had sent it to ingratiate himself and to get intelligence. The CIA, he said, knew all about it. But the CIA denied it.
His connections with the Company had begun in 1955 on the plane home from fighting in Korea, when he was given a name and a number to call by a man who then disappeared. He worked actively for the CIA for 15 years, destabilising European labour unions by using anything—Corsican mobsters, plagues of cockroaches—and setting up his front companies. The work was “a hell of a satisfaction” to him. He left, officially, in 1971, but only for Task Force 157 of the Office of Naval Intelligence, another super-secret outfit. Then, in 1976, he went “freelance”. The CIA contacts, and all the front companies, continued—sending arms to Angola and boats to the Congo, bringing intelligence back—right up to the moment when he stood in a federal court, in 1983, accused among other things of shipping the explosives and sending the guns to Libya without a licence.

The third-highest CIA officer in the land declared then, in a sworn affidavit, that since 1971 the agency had had nothing to do with him. Not directly; not indirectly. Contacts zero. For good measure, Mr Wilson was found guilty of offering $50,000 per head for the murders of the federal prosecutor, six witnesses and his wife (from whom he wanted his gold ring back, preferably still on her finger). Some jailhouse snitch, wearing a wire, claimed to have taped him. He was sentenced to 52 years in jail, most of it in solitary: thoroughly, royally screwed, as he put it, by “snotty law-school graduates…with too much power and too few scruples.”

The CIA’s story was that he had gone rogue. Deniability was part of the deal, of course. But it was sheer success that made him, in the end, “a little hot”. His front companies were also legitimate businesses, and they made real profits—all the more because his books were hardly audited. Asked once to itemise the cost of a trawler stuffed with surveillance gear, sold to the agency for $500,000, he quoted $250,000 for “product” and $250,000 for “service”. Fine and dandy. Kinglike, and worth $23m, he rollicked over a 2,500-acre estate at Mount Airy in Virginia, lavishing jewels on his girlfriends, entertaining congressmen and generals to picnics and hunting parties. Not bad for a poor farm boy from Idaho. There were “very, very nice” villas, with Pakistani houseboys, in Malta and in Tripoli, where he was forced to lie low for a while in 1980-82, getting too drunk on the disgusting local hooch, before agents cannier than himself tricked him into leaving and repatriated him.

Black, white and herringbone

His revenge for his framing came almost too late. In 2003 his conviction for the explosives-shipping was overturned because, wrote the judge, the government had lied. Far from no contacts with the CIA between 1971 and 1978, there had been at least 80. Several ran intriguingly “parallel” to the illegal acts he had been charged with. The next year he was released, white-haired at 76, fighting fit and pumped up with his own righteousness, to spend the rest of his days trying to clear his name.

He knew that would be a tough sell. For many he would always be a traitor and a terrorist as well as an amoral profiteer. Black couldn’t be made white, and he had to be one or the other, even though reality, as he wrote, “is actually really herringbone”. Those sounded like the words of a man who felt sorry for himself. No, he said; there was no profit in that. Just for a moment then, you might have taken him for an ordinary businessman.


11.  Notes & Queries, Guardian Weekly

What do indoor spiders eat? I worry that they are doomed to starve. Yet if I put them outside, they may freeze to death. How can I help them survive?

My husband became interested in a spider that, one autumn, made a beautiful web in our basement hobby room. He realised that the poor fellow had no chance of catching flies there so he took on the job of collecting dead ones in our attic and throwing them into her web. He felt such solidarity with the spider that we once had to turn back from an outing because he had forgotten to feed the poor soul.
The spider survived until spring and died a natural death, presumably of old age.
Marilyn Morf, Schoenenbuch, Switzerland

- We spiders have been found fossilised in ancient amber, at least one example dating from 130m years ago.We have survived the cataclysmic event responsible for the extinction of the dinosaurs and, since then, numerous other events, not forgetting the ice ages and reversals of the Earth's magnetic field.
We were around long before "indoors" existed for us to starve in and we are pretty confident that we shall remain around so long as "indoors" continue to exist, and in the ruins long after, if you humans fail to make it.
My advice to you, then, is not to worry about us: we have shown we can look after ourselves. You'd be better worrying about where your next crust is coming from, and that of your children and grandchildren.
Terence Hollingworth, Blagnac, France

Streets, roads, lanes and avenues. Is there a difference, or is it the personal choice of the developer?

Developers issue decrees
That avenues shouldn't have trees,
That squares be ovate
And crescents run straight;
To them, naming streets is a breeze.
It's sad that the differences fade
And a lane can be called a parade.
The truth is, down under,
Developers blunder;
Most haven't a clue, I'm afraid.

Jim Dewar, Gosford, NSW, Australia

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