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, November 13, 2012


"The universe is full of magical things, patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper."           Eden Phillpotts

1.   Presidio Native Plant Nursery Volunteer Internship Position
2.   WalkSF projects: Polk St Nov 16/Philosopher's Walk Nov 17
3.   Dark days for whitebark pine/bark beetles boon?/Ginseng foraging, poaching on the rise
4.   Feedback
5.   We're All Venice Now
6.   Important proposed CEQA legislation hearings Nov 15, 19, 20
7.   U.S. admitting millions of immigrant workers when 1 in 3 veterans jobless
8.   Lizard Story, by Dan Liberthson
9.   7th annual Lost Landscapes of San Francisco Dec 11
10. First--ever family tree for all living birds
11.  Concrete Planet: The Strange and Fascinating Story of the World's Most Common Man-made Material
12.  Russell Means, American-Indian activist, died October 22
13.  SF Health Service System advises moving at least 3 times a week
14.  Notes & Queries

Presidio Native Plant Nursery Volunteer Internship Position

Supports Presidio Native Plant Nursery operations under direction of the Nursery Production Manager.
Interested applicants should submit an application via e-mail to Brianna Schaefer at Applications should be sent no later than November 30th 2012. PDF format is preferred but Microsoft Word versions are acceptable. The application should include a cover letter, resume, and at least two references. We will review applications received and will select some or all for interviews to be conducted at a mutually arranged time.

If you have any questions please contact Brianna Schaefer at (415) 561-4830.


2.  Walk SF

Polk Street Improvement Project Walk: Friday 11/16

Talk a walking tour of Polk Street with SFMTA and Walk SF to learn about the potential of the Polk Street Improvement Project to make the street better for people who walk, ride a bike, or take transit along Polk between McAllister and Union Streets. 
The SFMTA walking tour will explore the street's vibrant character today and talk about how to build on Polk Street's strengths by increasing safety and comfort for its users.

Polk Street Walk
Friday, November 16 at 12:00 Noon
Northwest corner of Polk and Golden Gate (in front of the Golden1 Credit Union).

Visit the SFMTA website for more background project information:

For questions, please call (415) 701-4545 or email

RSVP for the Philosopher's Way Trail-building Walk: Saturday, 11/17

Do more than just walk a trail -- help build a trail by joining Walk SF and the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department's Natural Areas program to help with the restoration and beautification of McLaren Park's Philospher Way Trail.

Philosopher's Way Trail-Building Event
Saturday, November 17, 9 a.m. - Noon
McLaren Park at Parking Lot off John F. Shelley Drive
Free to all
Space is limited: RSVP today

Lend a hand to maintain the Philospher's Way Trail where you can explore art stations and scenic viewpoints in one of San Francisco's largest, but still mostly undiscovered, urban parks.

Learn about McLaren Park's history, ecosystems and relation to the rest of the city's landscape from the Park and Recreation Department's Joe Grey as you work on restoring this natural area. Joe will provide all the necessary tools, walk/work scope details, and a safety overview at the start of the walk.
Please arrive promptly at 9 a.m. RSVP today

Our Dying Forests: Dark days for whitebarks — and for birds, bears and fishSalt Lake Tribune
The endangered whitebark may be history — and soon. Its free fall threatens a chain of creatures from birds to bears to trout.

      Our Dying Forests: Dark days for whitebarks — and for birds, bears and fish
... and for birds, bears and fish as beetles and blister rust threaten the trees and entire ecosystems.    

Canada listed the whitebark this year for protection under its Species at Risk Act. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last year decreed the tree threatened enough to justify inclusion among the nation’s endangered species, but did not list it because of funding needs for higher-priority species. The agency reconsiders its priorities each year and is counting on researchers to collect more data about the tree.  (Emphases mine, JS.)

JS comment:  The reason I emphasized words in previous paragraph is illustrate why suing to list a species as Endangered sometimes isn't a good idea.  When budgets are as tight as now, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service does the sensible thing and prioritizes listings based on perceived vulnerability.  If it is thought that an organism may perish or be at greater risk if it is not listed, that increases its chances of being listed.  That policy is a no-brainer, given the paucity of funds for this purpose.

A case of an ill-advised listing suit was that which forced the USFWS to list the Franciscan manzanita, Arctostaphylos franciscana.  It occurs on a serpentine substrate in the Presidio of San Francisco.  The lone plant--found in  the wild during the Doyle Drive reconstruction--was the center of attention and celebration, and its future in the Presidio was secure--babied and pampered as it is by a host of volunteers and government staff.  USFWS automatically placed it at bottom of its priorities, where it should have stayed.  In the whitebark pine we see one of the organisms that may have its chances of listing lowered because of the unfortunate suit to list the manzanita.


Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics

Bark beetles a boon to biodiversity - Coloradoan
Forest Service research shows that the Colorado infestation is creating more biologically diverse forests.

More foraging:
Ginseng poaching on the rise – Asheville Citizen-Times
Forest supervisor Kristin Bail said in a statement that poaching of ginseng has been on the rise this fall and law enforcement officers are cracking down on poaching in Nantahala and Pisgah national forests, which comprise a million-acre swath across the western part of the state


4.  Feedback

On Nov 12, 2012, at 9:06 AM, Kate Townsend wrote:
Was in Heathrow Airport yesterday going through security-actually waiting to have my bag wanded even though there was nothing contraband in it-when suddenly the security hall went still and all work ceased. Everyone just stood there and then I realized it was Nov. 11 @ 11am and we were observing silence for Armistice? Veterans Day. You don't need to put this in your newsletter. I love reading the poems you include. My mother, 90, died last week and in my sadness I came across the recent Wendell Berry poem you printed and it did what poetry always does: accessed a place inside that my own words couldn't put voice to...thanks. I only met you once at Mira Loma club ( Mary Harden's watercolor class) but I'm glad I got on your newsletter!


“The only thing that stops God from sending another flood is that the first one was useless.”  Nicholas Chamfort (1741-1794)

5.  We’re All Venice Now, by Gray Brechin

Three days after superstorm Sandy devastated New York CIty and New Jersey, an exceptionally high tide flooded nearly 60% of Venice but few outside its region noticed....


6.  Howard Wong, AIA:

Important hearings are coming up regarding proposed changes to CEQA.
Led by business interests and land use attorneys, there is a tactical plan to benefit the few at the expense of the greater public good.  Specific business interests have attempted to force through CEQA legislation, often in the dark of night, employing the very tactics that created CEQA in the first place---by example, the demolitions of the Western Addition/ Lower Fillmore/ Nihonmachi, rampant freeway construction, erosion of prime open space, demolition of historic resources, filling in the Bay….

·    Proposed legislation has been written by land use attorneys, paid for by business interests, and promulgated by public relations campaigns.
·    In 2011, CEQA legislation was introduced at the end of the last Board of Supervisor’s session---by a Supervisor at the end of term limits with eyes on higher office and potential campaign funds.  The measure did not pass. 
·    In August 2012, late-hour CEQA changes were introduced in the last two weeks of the California Legislative Session.  The power play did not succeed. .
·    Now, in November 2012, CEQA changes are being rushed at the Board of Supervisors---by a Supervisor contemplating a run for higher office.
Planning Commission Hearing:  THURS., NOVEMBER 15, 2012, 12PM, CITY HALL 400.
Note:  Coordination Meeting, Nov. 15, 10AM at City Hall Basement Café.
Land Use Committee Hearing:  MON., NOVEMBER 19, 2012, 1PM, CITY HALL 263.
Board of Supervisors Hearing:  TUES., NOVEMBER 20, 2012, 2PM+, CITY HALL 250.

Regulations warrant improvements over time---but not through political power plays and back room dealing.  CEQA is not the insurmountable obstacle that some portray.  Routinely, many well-designed and well-managed development projects get support, get approvals/ permits, get constructed and benefit project sponsors and society.  Project schedules are delayed by a host of issues, such as financing, availability of Planning/ Permitting staff, ADA compliance, fire code constraints, poor professional and legal CEQA planning.  We should evaluate overall needs---not undermine environmental regulations alone. 


Californians for Population Stabilization

7.  On this Veteran's Day, CAPS asks why the U.S. is admitting millions of immigrant workers when 1 in 3 young veterans is jobless 

Unemployment For Young African American Vets Topped 40% in 2011

Please view CAPS ad which calls attention to the fact that despite high veteran unemployment, the U.S. continues to admit almost a million new legal immigrant workers a year to take American jobs.

“Our young Americans fought to enforce U.S. policies in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s time we fought for them by reducing mass immigration and saving jobs for these young veterans,” commented Marilyn DeYoung, Chairman of the Board of CAPS.

More veterans settle in California than any other state in the country. And over the next five years, the number of veterans returning home looking for work is projected to increase exponentially, with more than one million veterans flooding the workplace. At the same time, states like California continue to experience a flood of another sort. Our government continues to admit about one million legal immigrant workers a year to take jobs. And they’re taking American jobs in places like California, already devastated by the Great Recession and continuing to experience some of the highest unemployment rates in the country.

The impact is being felt by all Americans. However, recently returning veterans 18-24 are being disproportionately affected. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in 2011, young male veterans had an unemployment rate of 29.1%, nearly double the rate of their non-veteran counterparts. Young African American male veterans had an even higher rate of unemployment, topping 40%.

“Our young men and women in uniform put their lives on the line for all of us so that we may remain free. The least we can do is make sure they’re at the front of the job line when they return home,” commented DeYoung.

The election is over, but the need to control immigration continues

Santa Barbara, CA – The election and the campaigns were dominated by concerns about the state of the economy. Now that the election has ended, President Obama and the new Congress must deal with a host of issues including gaining control of immigration, according to Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS).

            "Unfortunately, neither the candidates nor the media drew attention to the deleterious impact that high immigration levels have on American workers," said Marilyn DeYoung, Chairman of the Board of CAPS. "There is no difference between outsourcing, sending American jobs overseas, and ‘insourcing,’ bringing in foreign workers to take American jobs."

            While Americans reelected Obama based on their preference for his economic policies, they do not embrace his plans for amnesty. Furthermore, they want to see laws enforced at the workplace through mandatory usage of the E-verify program.

            "True immigration reform means securing our borders and reducing immigration to reasonable levels that protect American workers. In 1996, Barbara Jordan and the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform called for lower levels of legal immigration and tough measures against illegal immigration. It made sense then; it makes sense now," stated DeYoung, who served on the President’s Commission on Population Growth and the American Future in 1970.


             Lizard Story

It was a calm and tranquil day.

A lizard by the roadside basked in the sun
till my shadow touched his eye.

Frightened by the darkness,
he did push-ups
to scare the shade away:
it shifted, settled, stayed.

Off shot the lizard,
racing down the asphalt
headlong into a butterfly.
Too busy running, he lunged late.
Lunch flowered and flew away.

Lizard simmered down then
under new sunlight,
tilted his head to match his back's sway.
Into the picture a horsefly buzzed.
Lizard never noticed―too far away.

It was a calm and tranquil day.

Dan Liberthson  ©


9.  Rick Prelinger:
Tickets are now on sale for the 7th annual Lost Landscapes of San Francisco screening, which will take place  Tuesday, December 11, 7:30 pm at San Francisco's Castro Theatre. As usual, this year's show is sponsored by Long Now Foundation.

If you haven't yet attended, LL-SF is a feature-length show of rediscovered and rarely-seen film clips showing life, landscapes, labor and leisure in a vanished San Francisco as captured by amateurs, newsreel cameramen and studio filmmakers.

New sequences in this year's high-definition feast will include the Japanese-American community in the Western Addition before redevelopment; shipwrecks off the Northern shoreline; 1930s demonstrations for China Relief; even more scenes of Sutro Baths; family films from the Mission, Richmond, Sunset and Excelsior Districts; rediscovered films of San Francisco transit; and newly discovered, never-shown 35mm documentary footage of the Tenderloin and waterfront. Much Kodachrome and original 35mm material will be publicly seen for the first time.

As usual, this year's Castro Theatre screening is an interactive experience in the style of the Elizabethan theater: come prepared to BE the soundtrack, identify places and events, ask questions, and loudly discuss San Francisco's past and future while the film unreels.

Here's the link to buy tickets: I strongly advise acting very soon, as these shows tend to sell out.

If December 11 is a bad date for you, I'll be writing you soon with details of repeat screenings early next year at Internet Archive's wonderful Great Room in the Richmond District.

And coming up even sooner -- I'm going to do a "greatest hits" screening of highlights from previous Lost Landscapes programs on Thursday, November 15, at the Contemporary Jewish Museum. Here's the link:

A PLEA: If you have family or historical films of San Francisco, it's not too late to help out -- please contact me, and we'll try to have your films scanned and possibly included in this year's show!


10.  First--ever family tree for all living birds


11.  BOOK REVIEW: Concrete Planet: The Strange and Fascinating Story of the World's Most Common Man-made Material, by Robert Courland

Concrete is everywhere, especially if you live in a city. It’s used for buildings, bridges, roads, dams, sidewalks, airport runways, even burial vaults. There are already about 40 tons of concrete on the planet for every person alive, with another ton added each year.

In this wide-reaching book, Courland reviews the saga of what many may view as a mundane material, from its discovery during the Neolithic (the later part of the Stone Age) to its rediscovery in the late 1700s — made necessary after the secrets of its manufacture were largely lost with the fall of the Roman Empire.

A world without concrete simply wouldn’t look the same: Skyscrapers wouldn’t be as tall and most other buildings would be smaller; all dams would be bulky, earth-filled structures; and roads would certainly have more potholes. In short, Courland suggests, the world would look much as it did in the 1800s.

While iconic Roman-era buildings made of concrete such as the Colosseum and Pantheon have stood for nearly two millennia, Courland notes that few of today’s concrete structures will last one-tenth as long, largely because the iron and steel used to reinforce them begins to deteriorate at a rapid rate after just a few decades.

Millions of years in the future, the geologic record of today’s era will be an odd layer of rust-tainted sediment — crumbled concrete peppered with flakes of corroded rebar. In the shorter term, the manufacture of concrete is the third-largest source of planet-warming carbon dioxide, right behind fossil fuel–burning power plants and transportation. Whether looking at the past or the future, Courland makes a compelling case for concrete’s importance to humankind.  Science News

“We are slaves in the sense that we depend for our daily survival upon an expand-or-expire agro-industrial empire—a crackpot machine—that the specialists cannot comprehend and the managers cannot manage. Which is, furthermore, devouring world resources at an exponential rate. We are, most of us, dependent employees. …Edward Abbey

“An economic system which can only expand or expire must be false to all that is human.”  Desert Solitaire


12.  Russell Means, an American-Indian activist, died on October 22nd, aged 72

Nov 10th 2012 | from The Economist

DRIVING one day through the Diné lands in New Mexico—not “Navajo”, a white man’s word—Russell Means suddenly stopped the car. His wife wondered why. He had stopped to look at a shepherd among the scrubby hills, walking with his flock. No one told that man where to go or what to do. He was living with the land. Even better, he was praying, for that was what Indians did when they listened. And best of all, he was a free man. Silently, fervently, Mr Means saluted him.

His own God-given sovereignty blazed inside him, igniting the Indian-rights movement he led for several decades. He was pure Oglala Lakota, born in the sacred Black Hills of South Dakota, and with the build of a chief, strapping and tall. His hard, dark eyes seemed to stare from another century, re-running ancient battles; his handsome face was crossed with scars, though these were less ritual marks than the souvenirs of bar-room brawls in Sioux Falls or San Francisco. The long braids (never cut, for hair carried memories), the beads, the leather: everything cried out his heritage. But being Indian, he fiercely said, didn’t mean dressing in feathers like a bird and going to a pow-wow for a couple of hours. No Indian was authentic if he wasn’t as free as his ancestors had been.

He was far, very far, from that. The ramshackle Pine Ridge reservation, his birthplace, was still “prisoner-of-war camp 344” in Pentagon records. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), which oversaw such slums, was a den of corruption and incompetence. The modern tribal governments were mere puppets and collaborators. Indians everywhere (never “Native Americans”, another colonisers’ word) had been robbed, corralled and turned into cowed, self-loathing lemmings in white schools. Every treaty made by the white man with the Indians had been broken. America was “the biggest liar in the world”.

He defied the lies in small ways and large. Not for him a driving licence or a fishing permit; the land he drove on, the river he fished in, belonged to his people anyway. For 21 years he paid no income tax. He refused to carry an Indian ID card. He ran on an activist platform for tribal, state and national office (for the Libertarian Party, in 1987), though never successfully. All this time he was the leading member of the American Indian Movement (AIM), as charismatic as he was divisive. The movement had turned him, at 29, away from a drifter’s life and towards a cause.

At AIM he organised a succession of publicity stunts, including the occupation of Alcatraz Island; the seizing of a replica Mayflower in Boston Harbour on Thanksgiving Day, 1970; a prayer-vigil on top of Mount Rushmore, on Lakota holy land; and the occupation and trashing of the BIA’s Washington offices in 1972. All were tasters for the most daring stunt of all, the occupation in 1973 of the hamlet of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge reservation, where in 1890 around 300 Lakota had been killed by the American army. Chilled and starving, but steeled by the free-walking spirits of the dead, Mr Means and 200 others held out, through blizzards and machinegun fire, against massed federal guardsmen for 71 days. He tried to dictate the terms of the surrender; the Nixon administration naturally reneged on them.

An arrow to the sun

Most of the time he was angry, an anger so intense that it was almost uncontrollable. His drinking did not help. Violence dogged him. Enemies, probably agents of the BIA, tried to shoot him. He got into fights, had spells in jail, married and then neglected several women in the style of the head-buck wandering male. His years in AIM were chaotic; he resigned six times before the movement split. While other groups, blacks and women, surged ahead, America’s Indians went nowhere much. In 2007 Mr Means and several others withdrew from the United States to form the Republic of Lakota, covering thousands of square miles in five states. Not even brother-Sioux would recognise it; but their freedom was too firmly mortgaged to white men.

He lamented that his people had no natural allies: not Marxists, for they were rationalists who reduced men to machines; not Christians, for their notion of God was incompatible; not even blacks, for their experiences of repression were too different. The revolution he wanted was unlike anyone else’s. It was the revolution of the medicine wheel, the sacred hoop of life, in which all things ended as they began: in which the world was turned slowly but beautifully backwards, towards the freedom in Nature the ancestors knew.

He himself, though, went westwards, to Hollywood. In “The Last of the Mohicans” and Disney’s “Pocahontas” in the 1990s he played the sort of wise, far-seeing chief he should have been, had everything been different. He became the standard Indian, sympathetic enough, but speaking the white man’s script under the white man’s direction. Whenever his pride galled too much, he walked out.

As Chief Chingachgook in “Mohicans”, standing on a mountain top, he commended his dead son to the ancestors, crying that he would fly towards them like a swift arrow into the sun. All dead warriors went that way. So, in time, would he. But loudly and often he vowed to return as lightning, zapping to ashes in a wild, free blaze the White House and all it stood for.


13.  Catherine Dodd, Director, SF Health Service System:
"Wellness is a second cornerstone to controlling costs.  HSS is working hard to ensure members have access to services and support for living healthy, long lives…Take advantage of HSS gym discounts, enjoy San Francisco Parks and Recreation activities for all ages and move at least three times a week for 30 minutes."

(This was contained in a communication received recently from SF HSS.  Presumably it's OK to revert to being a couch potato in between these three times?  JS)


14.  Notes & Queries, Guardian Weekly

In the US, the Democrats use blue and the Republicans have red as their traditional colours. In Europe leftwing parties use red and the conservative ones use blue. Why?

Both major parties in the US use the national colours - red, white and blue - to show their patriotism. The only time a single colour is needed for a party is the production of political maps in election results. There has historically been no consistent association of particular parties with particular colours. Using colours to represent parties on electoral maps dates back to the 1950s, and these became more widespread with the adoption of colour television in the 1960s, and ubiquitous with the advent of colour in newspapers.

Early on, the commonest, though not universal, colour scheme was red for Democrats and blue for Republicans. This was used by NBC, and by most news magazines. CBS, however, used the opposite scheme and ABC twice used yellow and blue.

In 1996 there was still no universal association of one colour with one party; though the majority were using blue for the Republicans and red for the Democrats. In that year, a polling firm creating weekly campaign maps for President Clinton, used blue for Democrats and red for Republicans, as they did not want to associate the Democrats with "Red" communists. In 2000, for the first time, all major media outlets used this same scheme. The closeness of the disputed election kept the coloured maps in the public view for longer than usual, and red and blue thus became fixed in the media and in many people's minds. This scheme was again used in the 2004 elections, and the Democrats launched a national Red to Blue Programme in 2006. The terms red state and blue state have now become ingrained.

Nader Fekri, Hebden Bridge, W Yorks, UK

Q:  Can anyone confirm that somewhere in a field in the north of England there used to be a sign saying "Please do not throw stones at this sign"?  Are there other examples of this kind of helpful public information?

A.  Printed on toilet paper tissues at the Harwell Laboratories in the 1970s:  "Not for resale."

A.  Seen at the tip of Great Camanoe Island in the British Virgin Islands (1962-64):  "No trespassing without permission".

A.  Out in the wilds of Connemara there is a plaque reading:  "On this spot in 1897 nothing happened".

A.  There is a sign at the edge of a pasture in Belgrade, Maine, which states:  "If you can't cross this field in 9.9 seconds or less, DON'T TRY IT.  The bull can make it in 10."

Q.  Bumblebees and flies crash into window-panes--yet they fly away unharmed.  What is their secret?

A.  Windows only hurt computers.

A.  They have a low pane threshold.

Q.  If you can be overwhelmed, and underwhelmed, is it possible to simply be whelmed?

A.  Yes, if you're a mariner.  At least you could until about the 16th century, when it meant your ship had heeled over due to heavy seas.  Overwhelmed meant capsized, turned turtle.  It later acquired the meaning of overcome by a superior force.

The Old English verb "whelm" has become obsolete, like many other Old English (Anglo-Saxon) words that survive only in particular usages.  One is "ruth", an Old English word which was supplanted by a Norman-French word with the same meaning, pity.  Ruth survives only in the form "ruthless".

(JS:  Uncouth?  We used to say in retort:  "Well, I'm just as couth as you are!"  However, you can't find it in the Oxford or Webster's.  And have you ever known an employee who was gruntled?)

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