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.

Friday, December 14, 2012


Aldo Leopold:
“Conservation is getting nowhere because it is incompatible with our Abrahamic concept of land. We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”

“There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.”  A Sand County Almanac

1.   Want: Someone to serve on regulatory board overseeing Bay water quality
2.   Native plants in a California garden, Dec 18 in San Jose
3.   San Francisco’s hypocrisy exposed on Hetch Hetchy vote
4.   Pedestrian Action Plan needed after 18th fatality this year
5.   FCC may allow Rupert Murdoch to control more media?
6.   Community stewardship grants available for Contra Costa County
7.   Plants available for Green Hairstreak Corridor plantings
8.   A Supermarket in California - Allen Ginsberg
9.   Every breath is a resurrection - Gregory Orr
10. Jupiter at opposition - keep track of it
11.  Artists: apply for Coastside Land Trust Gallery Midwinter Show
12.  Male spiders give their lives for their children
13.  Check out SaveTheFrogs art winners
14.  Freakonomics beats up on economics propounders
15.  Economists get their lumps again, from Nassim Taleb
16.  Book choices of The Economist
17.  Scientific American potpourri
18.  Notes & Queries

1.  San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board

Baykeeper is looking for someone to serve on the  major regulatory board overseeing the Bay’s water quality—the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board.  The Regional Water Board adopts and implements all water quality policies and permits in the Bay Area region. The board is composed of highly-skilled professionals whose decisions have a tremendous impact on the water quality of the Bay and its tributaries.

Board members are appointed by the Governor, confirmed by the state Senate, and serve part-time. Two openings may need to be filled soon. You can find out more about the Regional Water Board here.

If you are—or someone you know is—qualified and interested, please contact Jason Flanders, Baykeeper Program Director, at your earliest convenience.

Native Plants in a California Garden, a talk by Patrick Pizzo
Tuesday, Dec. 18, 6:00 PM,
Vineland Branch Library, 1450 Blossom Hill Road, San Jose, (408) 808-3000

What is unique about California native plants? Do they make good garden subjects? Where can I see native plants in a garden setting? What are some of the best-of-the-best drought resistant plants? What kind of care will they need?  Where can I find or buy native plants?

Beginning and intermediate level gardeners will find answers to all these questions and more at this talk and slideshow by Patrick Pizzo, retired SJSU professor and the founder of the Capitancillos Drive native plant streetscape in San Jose. Handouts and plant lists will be available.


Dan Walters: San Francisco's environmental hypocrisy exposed Published Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012

San Francisco, it could be said, is the nation's capital of trendy environmentalism - as long as it affects someone else.

This became very evident a few years ago when it was suggested - in a series of Bee articles, among other places - that San Francisco should give up its exclusive water supply from the Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park, allowing it to be restored to its natural state.

The good burghers of San Francisco, led by U.S. Sen. (and former Mayor) Dianne Feinstein, arose in righteous anger to denounce draining the Hetch Hetchy reservoir as far-fetched and intrusive.

They parroted the position taken by American jingoists when it was proposed that the nation cede the Panama Canal to the Panamanians a few decades ago - something to the effect that they stole Hetch Hetchy fair and square in 1913 (thanks to a special act of Congress) and should keep it.

Last month, San Francisco voters rejected a local ballot measure that would
have required a feasibility study for restoring Hetch Hetchy. Virtually every local political leader opposed the measure, including Mayor Ed Lee, who called it "really stupid."
However, San Francisco's do-as-we-say-not-as-we-do attitude toward environmentalism isn't confined to Hetch Hetchy.

While its politicians were complaining about outsiders meddling in the city's water supply, they were busily pushing legislation aimed at forcing the folks in suburban Solano County to continue receiving San Francisco's garbage.

Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, carried this year's bill to overturn a Solano County ballot measure limiting expansion of a landfill disposal site, calling it, believe it or not, "garbage equity."

The ballot measure was passed in 1984, but never enforced by county officials. But then a judge decreed that it was valid and should be followed, which prompted San Francisco to flex its considerable muscle in the Capitol.

Ma's bill whipped through the Assembly, where she was a leadership acolyte, but stalled in the Senate's Environmental Quality Committee. Then she - apparently with the acquiescence of the Senate's Democratic leadership - amended its provisions into another pending bill, a process known as "gut-and-amend," to bypass the committee, and it quickly moved to Gov. Jerry Brown's desk for a signature.

That may not be the end of the Solano County garbage story, however.

Several environmental groups and local residents have taken the fight to court in multiple lawsuits and, recently, a local judge handed them a partial victory in one of the suits.

Whatever happens, San Francisco's hypocrisy on environmental issues has been exposed. It's for preserving and enhancing the natural landscape of California as long as its residents are not discomfited.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

On December 10, the city marked a tragic milestone with its 18th pedestrian fatality, cresting 2011's death toll.

Now, more than ever, San Francisco needs a Pedestrian Action Plan to fix the most dangerous corridors in the city. Help put an end to the fact that three people are hit by cars daily from 4th Street to 19th Avenue, from Geneva to Broadway, and all over downtown and SOMA.

Walk San Francisco -


There’s a case currently before the US FCC to allow Rupert Murdoch to control more media.

It’s not just about Murdoch.  It would relax monopolization of media nationwide beyond what was ever permitted.

It would undermine our democracy.

Please include this in your next Nature News.  To object:

Bob Isaacson


6.  The Watershed Project

Your Wildest Watershed Wishes Come True
Community Stewardship Grants Now Available
Grants will be awarded to watershed groups and organizations that help protect and care for the watersheds of Contra Costa County. Read more to find out if you are eligible and how to apply.


7.  Green Hairstreak Corridor
The Green Hairstreak Corridor has its own supply of native San Francisco plants thanks to volunteers who dedicate their time and space to propagate and nurture plants in their backyard.  If you are interested in helping our restoration project by becoming a member of the Backyard Native Nursery Network, please contact Deidre Martin at

Backyard Native Plant Nursery (BYNN)Exchange this Saturday

Saturday, December 15th is when we are distributing the plants to Green Hairstreak site stewards. This year we are giving plants to the 9 Nature in the City sites - which includes a new one - a neighbor, Evelyn Thompson, will be stewarding a wall strip near Mike B's site at Noriega/15th Ave. And we also promised plants to the Hidden Steps, the 16th Ave Tiled Steps, and Hoover Middle School...

Please bring plants on Saturday, December 15th to the bottom of Quintara steps between 10 & 11 am, or let me know if you have plants to donate and need them picked up.”

You can give a gift to Nature in the City, buy butterfly guides, or become a monthly sustainer!!

Please Volunteer to help maintain our website!


8.  SSPortia wrote:

The poem by Franz Wright reminds of a poem by Allen Ginsberg, I think.

In any case,enjoyed reading the poem and the Tao about water.

A Supermarket in California
Allen Ginsberg

          What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman, for
I walked down the sidestreets under the trees with a headache
self-conscious looking at the full moon.
          In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went
into the neon fruit supermarket, dreaming of your enumerations!
          What peaches and what penumbras!  Whole families
shopping at night!  Aisles full of husbands!  Wives in the
avocados, babies in the tomatoes!--and you, Garcia Lorca, what
were you doing down by the watermelons?

          I saw you, Walt Whitman, childless, lonely old grubber,
poking among the meats in the refrigerator and eyeing the grocery
          I heard you asking questions of each: Who killed the
pork chops?  What price bananas?  Are you my Angel?
          I wandered in and out of the brilliant stacks of cans
following you, and followed in my imagination by the store
          We strode down the open corridors together in our
solitary fancy tasting artichokes, possessing every frozen
delicacy, and never passing the cashier.

          Where are we going, Walt Whitman?  The doors close in
an hour.  Which way does your beard point tonight?
          (I touch your book and dream of our odyssey in the
supermarket and feel absurd.)
          Will we walk all night through solitary streets?  The
trees add shade to shade, lights out in the houses, we'll both be

          Will we stroll dreaming of the lost America of love
past blue automobiles in driveways, home to our silent cottage?
          Ah, dear father, graybeard, lonely old courage-teacher,
what America did you have when Charon quit poling his ferry and
you got out on a smoking bank and stood watching the boat
disappear on the black waters of Lethe?

Berkeley, 1955


It's not magic; it isn't a trick.
Every breath is a resurrection.
And when we hear the poem
Which is the world, when our eyes
Gaze at the beloved's body,
We're reborn in all the sacred parts
Of our own bodies:
the heart
Contracts, the brain
Releases its shower
Of sparks,
and the tear
Embarks on its pilgrimage
Down the cheek to meet
The smiling mouth.

~ Gregory Orr ~

(Concerning the Book that is the Body of the Beloved)


10.  Jupiter

Jupiter has been prominent in our eastern sky after sundown for several weeks, and on December 2 it was at opposition--diametrically opposite the Sun from our perspective.  The bright star to the south (well, Aldebaran is normally considered bright, but when Jupiter is around it’s effect is noticeably lessened--Jupiter is 30 times brighter than 1st-magnitude Aldebaran.)  There is a rather dim star to the north of Jupiter, and the three bodies make almost a straight line.  Almost, but not quite, as Jupiter noticeably moves slightly westward (well, OK, it isn’t, but it appears to be moving westward as Earth overtakes it in its move around the Sun).  I am unable to detect daily movement, but over a week or so it’s noticeable.  We have had some fairly clear nights recently.  Exciting.


11.  Coastside Land Trust Gallery

We encourage you and the artists you know to apply to our upcoming Midwinter Show, running February 3 - April 12. The Midwinter show will participate in the increasingly popular HMB SOMA HeART Walk on February 10, including an Artists' Reception at CLT Gallery.

To apply please do the following:
1. See application for criteria and submission details
2. Fill out and sign the 2-page application, return to
3. Send digital photographs of your submissions with the application to

Please see our website for more information about the gallery.



Having a mate for dinner

Male spiders make the supreme sacrifice for their children

Dec 1st 2012 | from The Economist

AMONG spiders, the female of the species really is more deadly than the male. Lady arachnids have a well-deserved reputation for polishing off their suitors, post copula, in a manner that Hannibal Lecter might have admired. But it has never been clear why this happens. Some biologists believe it is simply a mixture of female hunger and the availability of a meal that is in no position to run away. Others suspect that the male is actually sacrificing his life for the good of his genes. In other words, his becoming a meal for his paramour somehow helps the offspring of their union.

Peng Yu, of Hubei University in China, and his colleagues, decided to try to settle the question. The results of their investigation are published this week in Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology.

Dr Peng and his team collected almost 400 young wolf spiders, of both sexes, from local fields. They then raised the animals separately (in order to avoid premature cannibalistic accidents) until they were sexually mature.

Then, one at a time, they introduced the females to a male and watched until one of three things happened: the male got eaten; the male mated with the female and successfully avoided being eaten; or the male survived for half an hour, but did not mate with the female within that time. Sometimes the researchers paired virgin males with virgin females; sometimes they paired virgin males with females that had recently bred. And in one crucial set of tests they paired virgin males with virgin females that had been taken off their regular diet of fruit flies a fortnight beforehand, and were thus presumed to be feeling more than a little peckish.

After doing all this, the team chose 16 females that had mated and then eaten their partners, and ten that had mated but not done so, and followed their reproductive success. When these females laid their egg sacs, the researchers picked ten sacs at random from each group and monitored those until the eggs hatched. At that point they selected 20 spiderlings from each group for further study.

Their first pertinent observation was that, while female wolf spiders did indeed sometimes eat males before breeding with them, that happened only 10% of the time, and did not seem to be more frequent if the female had been starved. Their second observation was that if a male was deemed suitable to mate with, he was never eaten in copula—even though copulation could last as long as an hour and a half. Their third was that, 28% of the time, a male that had mated was indeed eaten afterwards. Successful suitors, then, succumbed more often than unsuccessful ones.

The crucial finding, however—which makes sense of all the others—was the success of the spiderlings. Young born of females that had eaten their partners had a 48% chance of making it through their first month of life. Those born of females who had let their partners live, had only a 12% chance of surviving that long.

That is a staggering difference—and certainly, in evolutionary terms, enough to drive self-sacrificial behaviour by males, since a male would have to mate successfully another three times to match the benefit he gains by this one suicidal act. The reason a male is almost three times as likely to be eaten if he has mated with the female in question than if he has not is thus probably that he wants to be eaten, for the good of his posterity.

Just what it is that a male meal gives, via the female’s digestive system, to the hatchling spiders, remains to be determined. Perhaps spider bodies contain some crucial nutrients which are scarcer in other forms of prey. Whatever the details, though, the general answer to the biologists’ question is now clear. In the case of spiders, fathers really do lay down their lives for their children.


13.  Delightful art


14.  Interview with Stephen Dubner
Marketplace for Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Free-conomics: Economists go pro bono
For your holiday shopping, how would you like a bit of help from … a bunch of economists? In this Freakonomics Radio segment, Stephen Dubner talks to several economist friends to find out what they like to give (and get) as Christmas gifts. Spoiler alert: economists don’t think like the rest of us. They’re more concerned with “deadweight loss” than Aunt Millie’s feelings. That’s why they write books with titles like "Scroogenomics," and that’s why they sometimes advocate just giving cash.

Scientific American

Nassim Taleb Is Annoying, but “Antifragile” Is Still Worth Reading

By John Horgan | December 5, 2012 |

Nassim Nicholas Taleb can be a pain in the ass. After I invited him to speak at Stevens Institute of Technology a year ago, he made all kinds of demands about where, when and how the event should take place and be publicized—or rather, not publicized. He loathes journalists so much that he almost backed out of his talk after learning that local media might attend. Of the 40-plus speakers I’ve brought to Stevens, none gave me nearly as much agita as Taleb.

I put up with Taleb’s prima donna antics because--as I explained in a post last year--he’s brilliant, funny and fearless and tackles consequential topics. What are the limits of science? Of understanding and prediction? Given our limited ability to know and control the world, how should we live our lives? How can we prosper in spite—and even because—of life’s vicissitudes? A former derivatives trader, Taleb made his reputation by bashing conventional economics and finance, but his scope has always ranged far beyond Wall Street. His Big Idea is that life inevitably serves up surprises, or “black swans”–from AIDS and nuclear weapons to the 9/11 attacks and the internet—that our necessarily retrospective models of reality cannot foresee.

Unlike writers who have big personalities on the page but not in in the flesh (like incendiary blogger PZ Myers, who was surprisingly mild-mannered when I interviewed him for, Taleb is just what you’d expect in person, if not more so. The first time I met him, for lunch at a café in Manhattan, he spoke with manic intensity, as if he had a hard time keeping up with his own epiphanies. You could almost see the light bulbs flashing around his head.

At Stevens, Taleb previewed a book he was still working on, Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder, which has just been published by Random House. A common criticism of Taleb has been that he harps on life’s unpredictability without telling us what we should do about it. In other words, he offers us a diagnosis but no treatment. Antifragile represents Taleb’s response to that complaint.

Here is how he sums up his message in  The Wall Street Journal:  “We should try to create institutions that won’t fall apart when we encounter black swans—or that might even gain from these unexpected events… To deal with black swans, we instead need things that gain from volatility, variability, stress and disorder.” That is what Taleb means by “antifragile.” He offers some suggestions for achieving antifragility in government, business and other spheres: “Think of the economy as being more like a cat than a washing machine.” “Favor businesses that learn from their own mistakes.” “Small is beautiful, but it is also efficient.” “Trial and error beats academic knowledge.” “Decision makers must have skin in the game.”

Reading Taleb, I am reminded of other big-egoed thinkers: The evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould, who like Taleb, emphasized life’s randomness, or “contingency,” as Gould put it. (I summed up Gould’s view of life as “shit happens.”) The mystical philosopher Ken Wilber, who fashions his neologisms into grandiose diagrams of existence. The anarchist Kirkpatrick Sale, who rails against the tyranny and corruption of big governments and corporations. The journalist Kevin Kelly, who extols the chaos and freedom of decentralization over top-down control. The mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot, who cherished his status as a cross-disciplinary maverick and had a knack for gnomic aphorisms. The psychedelic visionary Terence McKenna, who shared Taleb’s obsession with novelty.

In short, Taleb resists categorization. If I had to pigeonhole him, I’d call him an anti-guru guru. That is, he mercilessly bashes other gurus, pundits and prophets and warns you not to fall for them. He depicts himself as a brave, lonely truth-teller in a world of fools and frauds. In so doing, he becomes a guru himself, with a cult-like following. Many gurus—from Socrates to Jiddu Krishnamurti, one of the most successful gurus of the 1960s—have successfully employed this anti-guru schtick.

Like Taleb’s 2007 bestseller The Black Swan, Antifragile brims with bluster, mean-spirited diatribes and chest-thumping self-congratulation. I nonetheless recommend it, because the book is entertaining and provocative in the best sense. That is, even if you question what Taleb is saying—and you certainly should—he forces you to examine your own biases and assumptions. Yes, he can be irritating, but so are many of our most original thinkers.

The author of "The Black Swan" and "Fooled by Randomness" on why some systems actually benefit from shocks, in a 13-minute YouTube interview:


16.  Book choices of The Economist
The New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era. By Michael Grunwald.
The most interesting book so far about the first Obama administration and what the president’s $787 billion stimulus package was actually spent on, by an award-winning author and journalist. Even Republicans should read it. 

The Richard Burton Diaries. Edited by Chris Williams.
Proof that Richard Burton really was a man for all seasons; a writer and intellectual as well as an actor.

Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty. By Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson.

Nations fail because their leaders are greedy, selfish and ignorant of history. A powerful analysis that looks beyond the obvious and is full of surprises.

Private Empire: Exxon Mobil and American Power. By Steve Coll.
A forensic look at the biggest and, by some measures, the most profitable of the Western “supermajor” oil companies.

The New Industrial Revolution: Consumers, Globalisation and the End of Mass Production. By Peter Marsh.
A fizzing analysis of the history and geography of manufacturing and where it is heading by an editor at the Financial Times.

Freedom’s Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II. By Arthur Herman.
How America’s moribund military-industrial complex was able to respond to President Franklin Roosevelt’s call to arms with an astounding show of energy.

Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic. By David Quammen.
A respected and highly readable American science writer argues that zoonotic infections, such as AIDS, Ebola and Crimean-Congo Haemorrhagic Fever, that pass from animals to humans, will be the cause of the next great human pandemic. The only unknowns are where and when?

The Origins of Sex: A History of the First Sexual Revolution. By Faramerz Dabhoiwala.
A brilliantly researched account of the original (and arguably more important) sexual revolution that took place in the 18th century, when, for the first time, sexual relations and tastes were seen as largely a private matter for individuals to determine rather than a busybody state to police.

The Signal and the Noise: Why Most Predictions Fail but Some Don’t. By Nate Silver.
The Zen master to American election-watchers, who correctly called the result in all 50 states during this year’s presidential election, turns his gimlet eye on probability theory and why people should try to be more like foxes than hedgehogs—and focus on making predictions in the way that gamblers do.

Bad Pharma. By Ben Goldacre.
How doctors and the patients they treat are hobbled by needless ignorance within the $600 billion pharmaceutical industry, which does not always publish the truth about whether its new drugs work, whether they are better than drugs already on the market and whether their side effects are a price worth paying.

Ocean of Life: The Fate of Man and the Sea. By Callum Roberts.
Overfishing, global warming and pollution threaten to transform the ocean—and perhaps life as we know it. We had better fix the problem while we still can.

Music as Alchemy: Journeys with Great Conductors and their Orchestras. By Tom Service.
With infectious and easily worn enthusiasm, a British radio presenter focuses on what exactly happens when a conductor raises his baton—and offers some startling insights.


17.  Scientific American

SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN MAGAZINE: Stop Burning Rainforests for Palm Oil 
The world's growing appetite for cheap palm oil is destroying rainforests and amplifying climate change

OBSERVATIONS: Mysterious Atmospheric River Soaks California, Where Megaflood May Be Overdue

CROSS-CHECK: Nassim Taleb Is Annoying, but "Antifragile" Is Still Worth Reading

CROSS-CHECK: Why I Won't Get a Colonoscopy
Men are 47 times more likely to get unnecessary, harmful treatments as a result of receiving a positive PSA test than they are to have their lives extended

IMAGE OF THE WEEK: The Ruins of Pompeii

NEWS: Brain Cells Made from Urine
Human excreta could be a powerful source of cells to study disease, bypassing some of the problems of using stem cells, such as the risk of developing tumors and difficulties in obtaining blood samples from children

VIDEO: Oyster Mushroom Molecule Kills Cancer Cells
Israeli researchers have discovered that extracts inside the edible oyster mushroom contain molecules that bind themselves to cancer cells and kill them.

(Coincidentally, my favorite mushroom.  JS)


18.  Notes & Queries, Guardian Weekly

Mumbai and Beijing have replaced Bombay and Peking yet the Guardian calls Myanmar Burma. Why?

Both Mumbai and Beijing are the local and older versions of colonialists' attempts to approximate the names they heard – resultingn in Bombay and Peking. Myanmar, on the other hand, was renamed by the military government in 1989 and it is debatable whether they had the authority to make this name change. All praise to the Guardian for continuing to use Burma – the name that Aung San Suu Kyi would like to see reinstated.
Ursula Nixon, Bodalla, NSW, Australia

• To express support for Chins, Kachins, Shans and Karens. 
Philip Stigger, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada

• It is an act of snubbing their noses at the oppressive regime.
Andrew Muguku, Nairobi, Kenya

• So that everybody understands what the hell you are talking about.
Dick Hedges, Nairobi, Kenya

• Some acronyms are just too good to lose.
Peter Hoare, Kings Lynn, UK

Nothing down there for us

Could humankind survive long enough to cause significant environmental damage to other planets or their satellites?

At the rate we are going, I don't know how much longer either we or our planet can survive, but when we do finally destroy Mother Earth, I can imagine the Martians looking down at the deserted remains and saying, "Well, that's one planet that could obviously never have sustained life".
John Ryder, Kyoto, Japan

Googling the new deity

Is religion still the opiate of the people? If not, what has replaced it?

The internet. Google it if you don't believe me.
David Mardiros, Vernon, British Columbia, Canada

• Religion is no longer the opiate. However, arguing about it still is.
Ethan Sandweiss, Bloomington, Indiana, US

• Religion is now the Viagra of extremists.
Brian Clapson, Trébeurden, France

• For some, alas, yes. Others have replaced it with television, mobile phones, vitamin pills and sex.
Elizabeth Silsbury, Tusmore, South Australia

• Cocaine.
Richard Dennis, Gundelfingen, Germany

Any answers?

Is there an alternative to news, sport, weather?

Will McCallum, Carlton, Victoria, Australia

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