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

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

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


Garrett Hardin
Fundamentalists are panicked by the apparent disintegration of the family, the disappearance of certainty and the decay of morality. Fear leads them to ask, if we cannot trust the Bible, what can we trust?
However, I think the major opposition to ecology has deeper roots than mere economics; ecology threatens widely held values so fundamental that they must be called religious.
Moreover, the practical recommendations deduced from ecological principles threaten the vested interests of commerce; it is hardly surprising that the financial and political power created by these investments should be used sometimes to suppress environmental impact studies.

1.   Food, Inc on Channel 9 tonight, 8 pm
2.   Building nests for urban critters workshop Dec 16
3.   The highest good is like water - Lao Tzu
4.   Night Walk, Franz Wright
5.   Knowland Park update
6.   Regional Parks Botanic Garden classes through June
7.   CNPS plant identification workshops resume in February at SFSU
8.   Anatomy of a seminal work, the penis
9.   Sharp Park golf course decision
10. Spectacular Earth photos by NASA satellites
11.  Feedback: religion as opiate/population v climate
12.  Where did the Book of Genesis come from?

1.  Food, Inc KQED TV Tuesday 8 pm

This film, featuring Michael Pollan, has shown around the last two years.  It is surprising that there is anyone still going to the supermarket and buying conventionally produced meat.  How can they?  See it.


2.  Nest Building
A workshop in making nests for urban critters with Amber Hasselbring and Lisa Lee Benjamin

San Francisco is one of the densest cities in the country, yet it includes and is adjacent to many natural areas. The city is also a bottleneck in the Pacific Flyway through which migratory birds pass on seasonal migrations. Creating habitat, rest stops and food sources for insects and birds helps to encourage biodiversity in our city and beyond. Please join us for a workshop in creating nests for our urban critters.
Participants will each build a shelter inspired by the nesting habits of insects and birds. For example, mason bees build nest cavities in existing wood holes. Carpenter bees bore deep into wood to make nests, packed six or seven galleries deep, each provisioned with pollen and an egg. Songbirds use grass, hair, downy seed heads, wool, and lichens for building nests. Spiders use warm, dry cavities filled with sawdust, sand, or grass to make their dens.
The workshop will be taught by artist and naturalist Amber Hasselbring of Nature in the City and the Mission Greenbelt Project in collaboration with designer Lisa Lee Benjamin of Urban Hedgerow. All materials will be provided and participants will each create a nest to take home. These make wonderful gifts for the holidays! Families are encouraged to attend.

Sunday, December 16th
Studio for Urban Projects
917 Bryant Street
San Francisco

$25.00 per person.  Please register with EventBrite



The highest good is like water.
Water gives life to the ten thousand things and does not strive.
It flows in places men reject and so is like the Tao.

In dwelling, be close to the land.
In meditation, go deep in the heart.
In dealing with others, be gentle and kind.
In speech, be true.
In ruling, be just.
In business, be competent.
In action, watch the timing.

~ Tao Te Ching ~

(Translation by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English)

Night Walk

The all-night convenience store's empty
and no one is behind the counter.
You open and shut the glass door a few times
causing a bell to go off,
but no one appears. You only came
to buy a pack of cigarettes, maybe
a copy of yesterday's newspaper --
finally you take one and leave
thirty-five cents in its place.
It is freezing, but it is a good thing
to step outside again:
you can feel less alone in the night,
with lights on here and there
between the dark buildings and trees.
Your own among them, somewhere.
There must be thousands of people
in this city who are dying
to welcome you into their small bolted rooms,
to sit you down and tell you
what has happened to their lives.
And the night smells like snow.
Walking home for a moment
you almost believe you could start again.
And an intense love rushes to your heart,
and hope. It's unendurable, unendurable.

~ Franz Wright ~

(God's Silence)


5.  Dear Knowland Park Supporters,

Check out the new blog post by Laura Baker on our website at

- a commentary with some great info on the animals of Knowland Park featured in the latest videos from wildlife photographer Christian Naventi! All these short videos were taken within the area where the zoo plans to bulldoze and build - right on these creatures’ occupied habitat. And all with the purpose - according to the zoo - of teaching kids how important it is to save our California native habitat. Ironic is truly the word for this plan.

During the Measure A1 campaign, zoo employees wrote opinion pieces claiming there was nothing worth saving in Knowland Park, that it was all degraded, and, basically, that animals were better off inside the zoo. But we’re not sure the animals caught on Christian’s camera would feel the same way.

Unfortunately, the zoo seems to believe in a version of “conservation” that - boiled down to its essence—means “let’s tell people how neat nature is.” But authentic conservation has to mean something different than that. It means actually fighting the tough fights and making the hard decisions NOT to develop habitat - actually conserving habitat for the wildlife who use it, rather than using it for one’s own purposes. It’s true that the animals shown in these videos are not available to us on demand for physical, real-time display - as Laura’s blog points out, they are often shy and elusive. But simply because we have not figured out how to make money by displaying them does not render them less valuable—and that’s the lesson our children really need to learn if we are to protect and defend our remaining natural wildland parks.

Donate—why do it NOW?

A BIG thank you to everyone who pitched in and sent contributions to help toward our goal of raising $7500 by year-end to launch the 2013 phase of our campaign to save the Park! But we still have a long ways to go to make our $7500 goal, so please be as generous as you can and help us keep going. Right now we have a $1000 matching grant on the table, so every bit you donate up to $1000 - through December 31 - will be matched by two generous donors! But EVERY donation helps. We just don’t have the deep pockets of some of the developers supporting the zoo, and we probably never will, but we have numbers—and if enough of us chip in, we have shown again and again that we really can hold our own.

If you haven’t done so yet, PLEASE make a tax-deductible contribution. Unfortunately, for the moment we do not have PayPal, while we transition from electoral campaign mode, so please just do it the old-fashioned way: Take out your checkbook or use your online banking to write a check to “California Native Plant Society, Knowland Park fund” and send to our Treasurer, Lee Ann Smith, 111 Shadow Mountain, Oakland, CA 94605. We know that it’s holiday time and all that, but maybe you’ll be happy to have that extra tax deduction next April—and because Friends of Knowland Park is entirely volunteer-supported, every bit of donated money goes directly toward our expenses working to save the Park. (And please forgive us if you have not yet received a thank you note for Measure A1 campaign contributions—they came in so thick and fast we couldn’t keep up, but we are getting there!)


We’re planning some Knowland Park activity days in the New Year! Can you volunteer a few hours in the park to work on cleaning up litter, documenting native plant communities, pulling invasive French Broom? If so, send us an email at and we will let you know when work (and play) parties are happening. There’s nothing like actually getting out into the park to renew your commitment to saving it for future generations to enjoy.

Help another “Friends of” group:

Those of us who work to save our parks and habitat need to support one another. Knowland Park is one among a number of open spaces along the south Bay hills that may be threatened with development. But beyond the west side, another fine example of Alameda County's unusual native habitats that is at risk is the State Parks-owned 3,400-acre Alameda-Tesla parcel in the easternmost part of the county. Right now, this parcel is threatened with a destructive land use policy under development by State Parks’ Off-Highway Motorized Vehicle Recreation Division (OHMVR), which is proposing to turn it into an off-road vehicle course.

Friends of Tesla Park is an alliance of individuals and organizations, including our partners, the California Native Plant Society, that is dedicated to protecting the biologically unique and culturally significant landscape of Tesla Park as a non-motorized historic and natural resource park and preserve. They are asking for our help.
Please contact your local State Assembly and Senate members to let them know you want them to urge State Parks to allow only gentle-to-the-landscape recreational use of this wonderful place. And visit to learn more about this threatened parkland.
Keeping the Connectivity:

From Jim Hanson comes this note: The connection between the Bay, Arroyo Viejo Creek, and Knowland Park’s highland watersheds was illustrated on a KQED Forum program called "Preserving the Spine of the Continent". The writer, who was visiting the Bay Area, talked about efforts to keep connectivity for wildlife all along the Rockies from Canada to Mexico. It's one of the big ideas in conservation today and part of why respecting the natural values and integrity of Knowland Park is so important. Here's the link:

Spread the Word:

During the Measure A1 campaign, so many of you helped us spread the word by re-posting our updates to your neighborhood listserves, following us on Twitter, friending and liking us on Facebook, Reddit, and other social media, and just talking to your friends and neighbors. That’s another kind of connectivity we really need to sustain to save the Park, so please do continue to do all those things and keep people aware. While—thanks to all of you - we won the battle to defeat Measure A1, the fight to save the Park is not over as long as the zoo continues to insist on this particular development plan! So let’s keep the buzz going.

After seeing the videos of Knowland Park’s native wildlife, it’s clear: This isn’t a vacant lot - it’s their home. They won’t know that the contribution you send today is helping to protect it—but it’s up to all of us to make the effort or they, too, will one day be gone - with only a few specimens left to display in zoos. And humanity will be the poorer for it.

Friends of Knowland Park

Regional Parks Botanic Garden
Class Schedule Winter/Spring 2013

To enroll, print out the Class Registration Form and send it with your check payable to the order of Regional Parks Foundation to: John Rusk, 1354-B Lincoln St., Berkeley, CA 94702.

(Advance registration is required for all classes. Drop-ins are not permitted.)

Manzanitas of Mount Tamalpais  
Sunday, January 27, 10 am–3 pm
Endemic Taxa of the Coast Ranges of Northern California
Saturday, March 9, 9 am–12 pm
Redwoods, Coastal Chaparral, and Riparian Forest in Purisima Canyon
Saturday, March 23, 10 am–3 pm
The Vernal Delights of the Feather River Region
Friday and Saturday, April 26 and 27
Using the Myriad Shrubs of the Rosaceae Family in the Native Garden
Saturday, May 4, 10 am–2:30 pm
Photography and Natural History in Monterey: A Workshop
Saturday, May 4, and (optional) Sunday May 5, 9 am–1 pm
Workshop on the Diverse and Enigmatic Asteraceae
Saturday and Sunday, May 18 and 19, 10 am–2:30 pm
Backyard Fruit Trees: Summer Pruning
Saturday, June 1, 10 am–12 pm
Create Your Own Miniature Landscape or Beautiful Container with California Native Plants: A Workshop
Saturday, June 15, 9 am–12 pm

CNPS Yerba Buena Chapter Plant Identification Workshops
San Francisco State University
Second Thursday of the month, starting 14 February 2013
6 pm - 7.30 pm
Hensill Hall Botany Lab, Room 440
Leaders:  Volunteer graduate botany students
Bring:  Jepson Manual, hand-held lens

Learn to key plants and increase your plant skills in an informal, relaxed, plant identification workshop. 

The penis

Cross to bare

Anatomy of a seminal work

Dec 1st 2012 | from The Economist
Behind the figleaf

God’s Doodle: The Life and Times of the Penis. By Tom Hickman.

THE problem with penises, as Richard Rudgley, a British anthropologist, admitted on a television programme some years ago, is that once you start noticing them, you “tend to see willies pretty much everywhere”. They are manifest in skyscrapers, depicted in art and loom large in literature. They pop up on the walls of schoolyards across the world, and on the walls of temples both modern and ancient. The Greeks and Japanese rendered them on statues that stood at street corners. Hindus worship the lingam in temples across the land. Even the cross on which Jesus was hung is considered by some to be a representation of male genitalia.

Yet the penis has also been shamed into hiding through the ages. One night in 415BC, Athens’s street-corner statues were dismembered en masse. Stone penises were still causing anxiety in the late 20th century, when the Victoria and Albert Museum in London pulled out of storage a stone figleaf in case a member of the royal family wanted to see its 18-foot (5.5-metre) replica of Michelangelo’s “David”. Nothing, save the vagina, which is neither as easy nor as childishly satisfying to scrawl on a wall, manages to be so sacred and so profane at once. This paradox makes it an object of fascination. Tom Hickman, a Sussex-based writer and journalist, tells the story of its ups and downs with enthusiasm and a mostly straight face in “God’s Doodle”, a biography of what the dust jacket calls man’s “most precious ornament”.

Mr Hickman examines his subject from various angles: its physical attributes, its role in society, its vulnerabilities and the “violent mechanics” of its fundamental purpose. Referring to sources that range from parliamentary records to Howard Stern, Mr Hickman goes, like so many men have gone before, where the penis takes him, and in the process answers a number of questions. Did Shylock want to castrate Antonio in “The Merchant of Venice”? Possibly. Is ingesting semen harmful? Quite the opposite. Mr Hickman claims it could protect against breast cancer. Where does Viagra get its name? Through the fusion of “virility” and “Niagara”, as in the falls. “God’s Doodle” is a seminal work.

(I have no idea whether this court decision on the Sharp Park Golf Course is good, bad, indifferent, or all three.  There are more wrinkles to this issue than a bushel of prunes, and there will be appeals and, perhaps, further suits. Always in the back of my mind:  Be careful what you wish for.   JS)


10.  Some eye candy photos of earth taken by NASA satellites


11.  Feedback

Burt Meyer:
    About opiates of the people.  I believe SCIENCE is the new opiate.  An uncompromising view that if you call something scientific it must be correct regardless of the way science actually works as a discipline or scientist mix politics and ideology in their dogma.     Burt Meyer

Not enough science believers, Burt.  In fact we have a whole political party devoted to ignoring or denying science when it tells them unpleasant things.  Possibly faith in technology may sort of qualify as an opiate, but many question technology, especially when it acts against them rather than helps them.  (I'm thinking of my struggles with computers and printers, for one.  Grrrrrr.  :-)

Actually, we have a lot of opiates, and to each his own.  I would say the prevailing pain killer or deadener is consumption:  things, clothes, toys (iPads &c) stuff, food, alcohol, you name it.  And did I mention conspicuous consumption?

On Dec 8, 2012, at 2:21 PM, Bruce Wolfe wrote:
Jake,I don't see how the LA Times piece relates to climate change having any effect on overpopulation.  It completely offers the rise to poor family planning and lack of contraception.  While an environmental effect on needs that climate change has an effect on consumables like food, it not the other way around.
Also,  a blurb about the impending soon of the HANC Recycling Center would be good.  It needs action from your readers to contact the Mayor to stop his nonsense.

Bruce:  Climate change is driven by population as much as it is driven by anything.  More people, more activity, more jobs, more production, more consumption, more polluition, more cars, more fossil fuel burning, and so on.  Seems obvious to me.

We deride Republicans for denying climate change.  A greater problem is population growth.  Yet Democrats and Republicans are equal deniers of this problem, and it bewilders me no end why.  Because it's a sensitive subject is a reason to pretend it doesn't exist?  It threatens our very existence as well as, presently, our quality of life.  I fear it may already be too late to do much about it.  That ‘sapient’ in Homo sapiens is a double-edged--and very sharp--sword.

A scenario that plays over and over in my mind is that the world will find itself in the predicament that forced China to adopt its one-child policy.  That is a very harsh thing to do, and it has caused all sorts of problems and suffering for the Chinese people and their government.  Nasty business, but something had to be done.  We can choose to avoid that, but we pretend there's not a problem.

I fear other nations are heading for a similar drastic situation, India being #1.  Indians love large families.  If the monsoons fail again as they have in previous decades (and which climate change may aggravate), we could see mass starvation there rather than a one-child policy.  We don't understand that humans can't always exert control over nature.  We've been largely successful at it for centuries, but nature has given indications that it will not be told how to behave, and climate change may be but the prelude to nature's different understanding.

Not a pretty picture, but I don't see pretty pictures in the world's future.
(Too bad Noah didn't miss that boat.)
P.S.  My understanding is that the HANC recycle center eviction is all but a done deal.

Bible studies

The starting point

Where did the Book of Genesis come from?

Dec 1st 2012 | from The Economist

The Book of Genesis: A Biography. By Ronald Hendel.

“IN THE beginning, God created the heaven and the earth,” reads the first sentence of the Book of Genesis. Or does it? An equally plausible translation runs: “When God began to create the heavens and the earth,” with no hint of the idea (popular since the late second century AD) that this momentous event was the beginning of time, when the universe was conjured out of nothing.

Biblical scholars cannot decide whether the authors of “Genesis”, whoever they may have been, thought that the earth and heavens were crafted from material that had always existed, as the ancient Greeks maintained. Maybe some of the authors believed in an eternal, Greek-style universe, and others believed in a big beginning. For one thing that scholars can agree on is that “Genesis” is a compilation of writings from three main sources, as Ronald Hendel, a professor of Hebrew Bible studies at the University of California, Berkeley, explains in “The Book of Genesis: A Biography”.

If any book deserves to have a biography written about it, it is the opening to the Bible, which was assembled between the tenth and sixth centuries BC. Not only is it the source of some of the Western world’s best-known stories—from Noah’s brush with climate change to the entrepreneurial success in Egypt of his distant descendant, Joseph—it has also led a rather eventful life. Its account of the creation of the world and of the early days of mankind, with its parade of deceptions, retributions and covenants, has been subjected to many kinds of interpretation. “Genesis” has been not one book but many.

Only recently, for example, has it been championed by some as the literal and inerrant word of God, to be believed in every plain detail. Biblical fundamentalism has its strongest roots in the late 19th century. Before then, the faithful, if they read it at all, were on the whole freer in their interpretations—not because they were any less devout, or less convinced of the book’s divine inspiration, but because puzzles in the text seemed to point to deeper, hidden meanings. Long before anyone worried that “Genesis” seemed inconsistent with the facts of history or science, people had noticed that it was inconsistent with itself. It contains, for instance, two conflicting accounts of the order of creation. (According to Professor Hendel, some fundamentalists account for such apparent slips by holding that the original version of scripture was all literally true, but that the Bible we now have is corrupted in a few places.)

Philo of Alexandria, a Hellenistic Jew who was born at the end of the first century BC, was one of the most inventive discoverers of cryptic messages in the Bible. He read the two creation stories as referring to two different types of creation, the first concerned with ideal Platonic forms and the second with everyday matter. This tactic served both to harmonise Greek philosophy with biblical cosmology, and also to explain why the Bible seems not to be able to keep its story straight. Three centuries later, St Augustine was happy to use philosophical and allegorical readings when required. He argued that whenever solid science seems to contradict a piece of scripture, this means that the offending biblical passage should be interpreted figuratively, not literally. Unlike his ecclesiastical successors in the 17th century, Augustine would, in theory, have had no problem with Copernicus or Galileo.

Martin Luther, the Protestant reformer who began his church career as an Augustinian monk, had no patience with allegorical readings: scripture was written for plain folk, not philosophers or mystics. He admitted that parts of “Genesis” could be obscure. But the Holy Spirit—working through the conscience of believers themselves, not via the official pronouncements of a church hierarchy—would somehow inspire people to accept it, and draw out its morals. The snag is that the Holy Spirit seems to have offered conflicting guidance to different believers. Defenders of African slavery, for example, found a biblical justification for it in Noah’s curse on Canaan, the son of Ham, on the grounds that Ham is said to be the ancestor of several African peoples (even though Canaan himself is not). Abolitionists, on the other hand, found biblical rationales for their views, as well. The story of Eve, and its implications for the role of women, have been a bone of contention too.

Professor Hendel rightly gives plenty of space to the views of Baruch Spinoza, a 17th-century Dutch-Jewish heretical philosopher. Spinoza’s “Tractatus Theologico- Politicus” is, in effect, the founding text of modern biblical scholarship, though it took two centuries before most scholars caught up with him. Spinoza made the shocking claim that the best way to find out what the Bible means is to drop the idea that everything it says must somehow be true. Investigate the Bible as if it were any other historical document, written by fallible people affected by the outlook of their time and place, and you are more likely to get to the bottom of it. Once you are prepared to accept, for example, that the two creation narratives were written by different people, it is easier to explain why they say different things. Some readers may, however, wish that Professor Hendel had spent more time describing the fruits of such historical research, and less on theorising about it.

One legacy of Spinoza’s rationalism was a broader appreciation of what the Bible has to offer, at least by some. Emily Dickinson, a 19th-century American poet, came to see it as an “infinitely wise” and “merry” work of art. Professor Hendel discusses how she, Franz Kafka and other modern writers have mined “Genesis” as a source of literary inspiration. Once the Bible came to be regarded as a human artefact, religious stories could be seen as literature—especially by those for whom literature is a religion.

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